TBT #12 – Kill your double in Nintendo’s Urban Champion

Originally published at Examiner.com on February 18, 2014.

This was the last article I wrote for Examiner.com.  Two more (at least) were planned, but never came to fruition.  Perhaps this is the place to bring them into existence.

Either way, I’m done with Examiner.com forevermore.

 – Randall Malus, 12/10/2015

There’s a terrible stigma that comes with a thing being called “classic”.  To many, the word is synonymous with “unwanted”.  Suggest a classic film, and all your friends will groan.  Suggest playing a classic game, and all your friends will look at you quizzically.  Suggest traveling to a classic event via bridge between the fourth and fifth dimensions, and your friends will have you committed–that is, they will if you don’t first put on your invisibility helmet made of cheese and fueled by grave dirt (as per leprechaun instruction), but even then the thing rarely works for more than a few moments so it’s not worth mentioning anyway.  Yes, the common belief is that “classic” is “unwanted”.  Somehow sub-par.

Urban Champion proves those beliefs to be 100% true.


It’s like Kitty Genevese, but with more testosterone.

It’s not that Urban Champion is a bad game, it’s just that it’s a confusing one.  Confusing, some might say, in its simplicity.  You play a gentleman whose whole point in life is, apparently, to meet other gentlemen (who look exactly like you) in front of buildings and beat them to a pulp.  With punches.  No kicks.  Once finished, a resident of said building who has been watching the action will rain confetti down on you–or, if you happened to lose, onto your opponent.  It apparently never occurs to the resident that police intervention might be required to handle the random outburst of violence that just broke out in front of their building, but I digress.

So, simple, right? Yes, but, as I said, confusing. Who are these people that the player fights? “Bullies”, states the manual, but that doesn’t explain their similarities to the player character. No, dear reader, they’re not mere bullies. They’re something more. What kind of “more” is the “something” that they “are”?

The answer is frightening, yet exciting in a boring sort of way:

They are all doppelgangers.

You see, I believe this game to be an NES adaptation of the classic (there’s that word again) German gothic novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers entitled The Student of Prague.  In the novel, the titular student Balduin (or “Urban Champion” as he’s never referred to) makes a deal with the devilish Scarpinelli whereby Balduin sells his reflection for riches.  The reflection steps out of the mirror and, over the course of the novel, harasses Balduin to no good end.

Of course, the major plot points of the story are lost on Urban Champion.  There are no cut scenes, the city looks really basic (nothing indicating the fact that it’s Prague at all), and there’s nothing said of the student (the titular Urban Champion) being a pretty good fencer.  That’s forgivable, though, since this is an early NES game–and they were a lot more basic back then.  Heck, there’s so little of King Kong’s story in the NES adaptation entitled Donkey Kong that I won’t even bother writing an article about it (article forthcoming).

In addition to the obscured plot, the title itself is somewhat confusing.  “Urban Champion”?  Are we to take from this title that everyone who survives a single day in the inner city is to be considered a “champion”?  While likely true, I have to wonder what being a “suburban champion” would entail.  Would it involve complaining to one’s spouse about the stifling rules instituted by the development association in order to keep the tulpa living under the gated community happy?  Can a person consider themselves a “suburban champion” if they leave a passive-aggressive note in their neighbor’s mail box because their neighbor’s driveway was poured too short and only has room for two cars but their neightbor owns three, and so one hangs out over the sidewalk slightly, forcing the person in question to–heaven forbid–step onto the apron and then back onto the sidewalk during said person’s morning jog (I know it was you, Cheryl, you tramp)?

Well, whatever is truly going on in the game, one thing is for sure: it is a classic in the purest sense of the word.  So, the next time your father wants to dust off his phonograph player and asks you to watch an ancient film like The Fast and the Furious with a very much alive Paul Walker, be sure to bring up Urban Champion.  He may just reconsider.

TBT #9 – Fiction vs. Reality: Farmville vs. SimCity

Originally published at Examiner.com on November 25, 2009.

This article was meant to be the start of a series I’d have called “Fiction vs. Reality”, where I would take a hyper-realistic game and compare it to a game with a similar theme but rife with fantasy elements.  Of course, that never came into being–but maybe I’ll resurrect the idea here, on this blog.

The best part hands-down was the comment I received about five years ago, at the bottom of the article by someone calling herself “some chick”:

you need to calm the eff down about farming. the point of the sim is that it ISN’T real, and i’m sure the people of facebook are aware of that. sheesh

Obviously, someone didn’t get the joke.

– Randall Malus, 11/19/2015

Facebook has recently suffered a boom of simulation games, or “sims“–and by “boom”, I mean “an atomic bomb just exploded in your house, sucked all the air out of it for ten minutes, and has left so much radiation behind that you, your family, and your descendants will suffer horrifically painful mutations that will put you at odds with the rest of humanity for what will likely be the rest of time”. And what do I mean by that? Well, whereas past simulation games were so realistic as to be almost hyper-realistic, these Facebook sims are unsettlingly unrealistic. To illustrate my point, I present you with the Facebook sim known as Farmville and the sim classic known as SimCity.

First, allow me to introduce you to Farmville. As you may have guessed by the title, this game allows you to farm. You plow land by clicking on it with your mouse, you buy seed for various vegetables with in-game coins, plant the seed by clicking on the freshly plowed plot of land, and wait for anywhere from three hours to several days. When the seed has grown into corn, eggplant, or whatever it is you may have purchased (it truly doesn’t matter), you harvest the vegetables by clicking on them, watch your character stand still as a green progress bar counts down until your harvesting is complete, and then watch as your in-game coin count grows because apparently “harvesting” also means “selling your produce at market”. Occasionally, you might earn enough coins to purchase an animal that will grow to maturity in about three years (real time), at which point you can click on the animal, watch another progress bar, and assume that the animal has, like the plants, been sold at market.  And that’s about it.

farmvillefinal(2)Actually, this is probably an accurate portrayal of how plowing happens in real farming–green progress bar included.

See what I mean?

The game doesn’t even come remotely close to resembling a real farming experience.  For one, there’s no actual animal slaughter! How does one become a farmer without slaughtering animals in the most grotesque and inhumane ways ever conceived by a human being? Also, there’s no suffocating fear of one’s family farm becoming the property of some soulless corporation, ultimately resulting in one’s inevitable (yet tragic) suicide! And where’s the “city folk’s” perception of farmers as nothing more than sexual deviants involved with incest and bestiality? The people who programmed this game obviously don’t understand what farming is all about. It’s about PETA’s accusations of animal cruelty, among which is cited a true farmer’s ability to stuff twenty-eight live chickens in a wooden crate that’s no bigger than one cubic foot. It’s about large government subsidies that allow true farmers to sit on their duffs and drink moonshine. It’s about “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” and the children of the sleepy little farm town who kill all of the adults (and any unwary outlanders) in the his name. It’s about a true farmer driving a lonely country road at night with his wife after they’ve tried in vain for years to conceive a child, only to witness a meteor crash in a nearby field which, upon investigation, contains a child whom they adopt and, sometime later, who the farmer hits accidentally with his tractor only to discover that, while the child was unharmed, the tractor has been decimated and, upon noticing this, also discovers that his son will one day fight for truth, justice, and the American Way. I mean, a game like this can’t be taken seriously if a mere city boy like me just schooled its programmers in what real farming is all about.

Well, now that we’ve seen the unrealistic end of the spectrum, let’s take a look at the realistic side of sims!

In the hyper-realistic SimCity for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the player becomes the mayor of a nameless city.  Sounds boring, right? I bet you think that there’s nothing more to being a mayor than the ho-hum job of explaining to the public how a derelict coke fiend could kill eleven women and stuff them in every nook and cranny of his house without the police noticing until about five years after his spree had begun, or answering the District Attorney’s questions on how you’re related to the corruption charges levied against the County Administrator’s Office.

Well, you’re wrong. 

As SimCity teaches us, being a mayor is roughly synonymous with godhood.  Howso?  In SimCity, the mayor has the power to build cities, generate revenue, and, most shocking of all, create disasters. That’s right, folks, the mayor gets to decide who lives, who dies, and who is worthy to serve under him. According to SimCity, all of one’s megalomaniacal dreams can be achieved by becoming a mayor. Why, a mayor can create tornadoes and hurricanes, call upon fire and flood, cause numerous plane crashes and nuclear meltdowns, and summon UFOs and monsters (such as Bowser, the main antagonist of the Super Mario Bros. series) to level the city that once praised him.

See?  Being a mayor isn’t so boring, after all!

simcityfinalInteresting note: In the PC version of SimCity, it is Godzilla, not Bowser, who is summoned.

So, what have we learned today, dear reader? In addition to learning how to kill a few moments here-and-there, we’ve learned that SimCity is possibly the most realistic sim every created. As for Farmville, well, Farmville could stand to learn something about farming by watching Smallville–namely that farming is less about harvesting vegetables and more about freak-of-the-week super-villains attacking the local high school, only to be stopped by an old farmer’s adopted alien super-powered son. Now that’s what I call farming.

TBT #8 – “Rockman” becomes a rock opera thanks to the talented Protomen

Originally published at Examiner.com on October 21, 2009.

Sadly, it takes about 100 years for the Protomen to write, record, and release new music, so a third act (new album) hasn’t yet been released.  But, one is indeed on the horizon I hear, and should be coming soon.  As long as the quality is as high as it ever was, it will be well worth the wait in my humble opinion.

In terms of comments on the article itself, this one came from “Joe Doakes”, from about five years ago:

Kanye West is a total douche. You might want to write an article about that.
It’s a reference to a facebook “feud” I had with this kid I knew from high school about Kanye West’s now-infamous interruption of Taylor Swift at the Grammy’s.  I found the whole obsession with the event to be hilariously trivial, and so anytime this guy would bring it up, I’d talk about how Kanye’s a genius and, as a genius, he’s exempt from the rules of etiquette.  This made him extremely angry and he blocked me.  Apparently, he felt the need to get the last word as Joe Doakes, an alias he used often.  Which is fine.  I’m still better at life in general, and I’m sure this guy will be eating his words when Kanye and Taylor take the White House in 2020 (not serious about that, but we’ll see how well President Trump does during his first term in office).

– Randall Malus, 11/12/2015

Pop quiz, hotshot:  What do Jesus and Mega Man have in common?

Aside from both being robots from a distant future, Mega Man now joins Jesus in the prestigious honor known as the rock opera.  And the Protomen have made it all possible.

Honestly, words cannot express how awesome the music is.  The Protomen have released two albums thus far and already it’s obvious that these folks are going to go far.

TheProtomen_TheProtomen_jpgGet equipped with the Protomen.

The first album, simply entitled The Protomen, tells the story of Protoman a heroic android built by the benevolent Dr. Thomas Light (to save humanity from a dystopic robot-filled society ruled by the megalomaniacal Dr. Albert Wily) and Mega Man, Protoman’s android “brother”.

Protoman fights valiantly for the humans of the city, tearing through Dr. Wily’s forces with wreckless abandon, but ultimately Protoman is killed in battle while the humans he was charged to protect look on in indifference.  Wracked by frustration, guilt, sorrow, and rage, Dr. Light goes back to his workshop and builds Mega Man.  Though Dr. Light at first tries to convince Mega Man not to fight for the uncaring populace, Mega Man disobeys Light and rushes into battle, determined to avenge his fallen brother.  What Mega Man finds near the end of his journey, however, is a bit more than he bargained for.

The second album, entitled Act II: The Father of Death, is a prequel.  Taking place more than twelve years before the events of the first album, it chronicles the events that lead to Dr. Light’s tarnished reputation and Dr. Wily’s rise to power.

Though obviously not the strictest adherents to accepted Mega Man continuity, the Protomen paint the Mega Man story as an epic with heart, soul, and a message.  The music itself seamlessly blends hard rock with bursts of synth reminiscent of the electronic beats found in the Mega Man series as a whole.  If you love rock, love Mega Man, or just love quality, the Protomen will fill you with so much awesome that your heart will burst from your chest and attack your friends like a xenomorph from a Ridley Scott film.  But, enough talk.  Below are a few selected tracks and the usual obligatory links.  Do yourself a favor and give them a listen.  Even better, buy the albums and support this incredible band.  You won’t be sorry.


Selected tracks from Act One: The Will of One, Vengeance 
Selected tracks from Act Two: The Hounds, Light Up the Night

TBT #7 – Offensive Stereotypes? In my classic games?! It’s more likely than you think!

Originally published at Examiner.com on September 8, 2009.

The story that starts this article is 100% true.  At the time, I thought the guy was insane for placing Italians above…well, above every other “minority” currently competing in the Oppression Olympics.  Little has changed over the last six years (thirteen if I consider the time since I truly attended that lecture).

I won’t even attempt to comment on racism and how to fix it.  Unlike so many SJWs out there, I won’t pretend that I have the answers.

Instead, I offer my own sarcastic take on the list fad that has infected so many websites as of late.  I guess I was ahead of my time.  Also, I literally just noticed the link at the bottom of the page.  After every Examiner.com article, we were encouraged to provide a link to one or more outside sources, so that folks could learn more about the subjects talked of in our articles.  I followed the instructions, but…apparently I’m just a dick.

Again, the pictures are approximations of the originals.

 – Randall Malus, 11/05/2015

About five years ago (“five” being an arbitrary number I‘m throwing out there since I have absolutely no concept of time and, as such, the point in time of which I speak could have realistically been anytime from “before I was born” up until “yesterday“), I attended a college lecture by some guy who said some stuff about how Italians are the most downtrodden victims of stereotyping in modern America.  During his spiel about how he, as an Italian-American, did not want to be associated with the romanticized, noble, anti-heroic criminals known as “mobsters”, I realized that my professor would give me credit just for showing up and that I could leave at any moment.  And so I pulled my half-asleep carcass from the chair and left.

But was he right–not just concerning Italian-Americans, but other ethnicities and social groups as well?  Does offensive stereotyping, anachronistic as it may seem, still happen in modern America?  And how does this stereotyping relate to video games?  Real-life lawyer Jack Thompson seems to be more than a little irked by video games in general, so is there something to this “offensive stereotype” thing?  To examine this, I’ve taken a look at five (there’s that arbitrary number again) classic video games, picked intentionally at random, and have found undeniable and shocking proof that, yes, offensive stereotypes still exist–and have since at least 1982 AD (sadly, Google didn’t exist before 1982, so I couldn’t find any instances prior to that year).  Observe, but be warned: these are not for the faint of heart.

offensive01Mama mia!

Super Mario Bros.: Perhaps the most vile instance of an Italian-American stereotype I’ve ever had the displeasure of crossing, Super Mario Bros. portrays Italian-Americans as honest, hard-working, blue-collar individuals who will put their own lives and sanity at risk by traveling to alien dimensions and facing hordes of monsters led by malicious fire-breathing reptiles in order to save a woman in distress or bring peace, prosperity, and happiness to the known world.  Absolutely scandalous!

NinGaiEven ninjas find the strangest women in bars.

Ninja Gaiden: What ignorant sod created this game?  I mean, am I truly to believe that the Japanese are noble, family-oriented people who place honor and justice before anything else?  Am I supposed to accept at face-value that they would selflessly travel the world and put their lives on the line in order to stop a dastardly demon cult from bringing forth a vengeful, destructive eldritch god that would only lay waste to our planet?  Nice try, Harry S. Truman, but I’m not buying into your racist agenda.

Mega“Beep boop beep”, indeed.

Mega Man: If this game is to be believed, all super fighting robots are heroic doers of good who fight the evil creations of malevolent scientists bent on world domination.  I often wonder what the robots employed at CERN would think (CERN being that Swedish science place in Switzerland which has tried to blow up the world no less than three times now).  If you asked them, I’m sure they’d reply with something witty like “please insert girder” or “beep boop beep”, but behind every flashing light and whimsical, silly “beep“, their tin robotic hearts would break at the pain caused by such an offensive portrayal.

PacI’m stereotyping those cherries as looking 100% delicious.  Mmm, mm!

Pac-Man: I once got punched in the face by a drunken, disgruntled Pac-Man because I made a snide comment about how all Pac-Men are good for is “running around fluorescent mazes whilst being chased by ghosts and gobbling balls”.  I learned the hard way that Pac-Men find this stereotype to be highly offensive and completely false.  The “wakka wakka” sound they’re said to make while they walk, though?  Totally true.

Well, there you have it.  Five games that prove my point on offensive stereotypes in modern America’s classic games–as well as display my inability to count.


TBT #5 – Classic Gaming 101: Where can I buy classic games in Cleveland?

Originally published to the Examiner.com on August 16, 2009.

This article came about after I received an email (a form email sent to all writers, not a personalized email indicating that anyone on staff had any actual notion or knowledge of my work) mentioning that I might get more readers if I did something with a bit of a local flavor.  It was to be sort of a beginner’s guide to the city in which I live as it relates to my area of “expertise” (i.e. the title of “Classic Games Examiner”). Taking the form email to heart, I decided to put my own spin on the idea.

I like how the article turned out, but it’s a litter bittersweet for me looking back.  Borders Books (mentioned briefly in the article) is now closed, as are a number of BuyBack$ locations.  Thankfully, Examiner.com (for whatever reason) kept the BuyBack$ picture–but the others are replicas.

– Randall Malus, 10/22/2015

Cleveland’s truly an awesome city.  Anyone who’s seen Mike Polk’s “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video” on Youtube can attest to this.  Sure, I admit that we did have a bit of a vampire problem that once prevented those but the most courageous of us from venturing out of doors after sundown in the late 1980s, but a rise in violent gang activity during recent years has alleviated that problem and made the streets safe for our gun-toting youths.  With Cleveland’s revival as a city has come a revival in secondhand mercantilism, especially where classic video games are concerned.  Whether you want to start a collection of classic video games or you’re looking to add a few new pieces to an already existing collection, there are a number of stores in Cleveland that are suited to your needs.  I recently investigated three such stores in the surrounding area, though allow me to offer one piece of advice: do not visit any of these stores after they’ve closed.  Take it from me, the selection is nowhere near as great as when each store is open.  Also, peering into darkened store windows whilst holding a crowbar bought from Home Depot only moments before is…not advisable.  Anyway, here’s what I found!

cg01Cheap, rare movies are also a huge draw of BuyBack$.

BuyBack$ is one of those stores that has made me feel like I’ve been living under a rock for most of my life.  Within the past year or so, a number of them have popped up in the area (with little to no fanfare until after they’ve arrived), though I’m certainly not complaining.  BuyBack$ offers a fairly sizable selection of NES, SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, and GameBoy games at (typically) eBay prices.  Some system peripherals are also offered, though the selection is variable.  Please note that these items are often loose, so mint-in-box collectors may be better off looking in our next store.

1021151959aIt’s not just for records anymore.  Actually, it’s not at all for records anymore, not since the invention of the 8-track.  Wait, that’s not right…

I’m sure plenty of people reading this article already know about the Exchange, but for those who don’t, it’s a lot like BuyBack$–but with a greater selection.  There are also more store locations, since the Exchange (formerly Record Exchange) as a chain has been around for awhile.  If you’re looking for games from the NES, SNES, N64, PlayStation, Atari, Genesis, Master System, GameBoy, GameBoy Color, or Game Gear, I’d advise checking out the Exchange.  Each store has an adequate selection of loose and mint-in-box items, as well as a good number of peripherals at reasonable prices.  Pay them a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

1021151959I once found a copy of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale for $1.00 in here.  Of course, it was after paying, like, $15.00 for a new copy at Borders.  Yes, I’m aware you don’t actually care.

Now, some of you are probably puzzled.  Why Half-Price Books?  Well, while it’s true that they mostly deal in secondhand games from the last two generations (N64, PlayStation and onward), one platform that the other two stores fail to cover almost completely is the PC.  Half-Price Books, oddly enough, picks up the slack like some sort of slack-picking-up champion.  When I checked their North Olmsted location, I found some old Star Wars CD-ROM PC games (Dark Forces, Rebel Assault) for under $10.00 each, all mint-in-box; Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987 floppy disk version) for around $30.00 mint-in-box; and various other video game adventures from PC antiquity.  PC game collectors should check their local Half-Price Books for similar gems.  Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me, either.

While this is by no means a complete list of secondhand classic game stores in the Cleveland area, the three stores on this list are a good starting point for new collectors and veterans alike.  In my experience, these stores certainly offer the most reasonable prices for the most diverse product, and, since they’re chain stores, they’re accessible everyone in the Cleveland area (suburbs included).  Good luck, and happy hunting.


TBT #4 – Gobble some balls with Namco’s Pac-Man

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 22, 2009.

This is the beginning of the end in two significant ways. 

First, after posting weekly (consistently) for a month, I realized that Examiner.com did little to drive viewership for anything that wasn’t an article about reality show television stars who now have “the clap”–and so this was my last consistent post.  They would eventually start to taper off into monthly, then into less than that…

Second, I became really comfortable really quickly when I realized that no one (on staff, such as it was) cared about what I wrote.  Thus, some of my best work at the Examiner began with this post.

– Randall Malus, 10/15/2015

Namco originally wanted to call the game Puck-Man, but wisely decided against it after considering that the name may be altered by vandals to something not so kid-friendly: Fire Truck-Man.

Now, I know what you’re all saying after reading that title: “Why on earth would he review Pac-Man? It’s the single most famous video game on the face of the earth!” You’re right. Namco’s Pac-Man is the most recognizable title in the history of video games. It’s been copied, emulated, compiled, and remade, with few changes (if any) to the old formula of a character being chased in a maze. It’s been on virtually every system known to man (and probably plenty of systems that are unknown to man). What, then, could I have to say about the game that hasn’t already been said? Admittedly, not much. But I can point out a few things that some may have forgotten (or, perhaps, ignored) about the game‘s finer points. First, I shall talk about the storyline, as it’s the easiest and fastest to explain. Ahem. There is none. Next!

pacman2I’ve always wanted to eat a ghost, but I could never justify consuming the empty calories.

Wait…that can’t be right. No story? Even in Japan? Come on! When you really step back and take a look at how bizarre Pac-Man actually is, there must be some story. Any story. Well, sorry, folks, but there’s none. Pac-Man’s just a round thing with a mouth in an incandescent maze who eats yummy balls and gets chased by ghosts. When Pac-Man eats big, shiny balls, the ghosts turn blue and Pac-Man can now chase and eat them (Note: I could make several comments about that last sentence but, in the interest of maintaining at least some semblance of maturity, I won’t say a word). But, yes, there’s no deep storyline to Pac-Man. No rampaging minotaur threw Pac-Man into an endless labyrinth where the ghosts of those previously felled by the monster haunt the current hero. Nope. Just a circle. Eating balls. With ghosts. In a maze. And people have loved it for about three decades.

pacman3I sometimes wonder, “What kind of evil, vengeful god would trap Pac-Man in an endless maze of horror and death?” But then I wonder, “Meh, who am I to judge?”

And, while we‘re not on the subject, what is the deal with Ms. Pac-Man? Are we to believe that the only gender-identifying organ on the Pac-Man race happens to be a bow? Scientists would have quite a hard time explaining the evolutionary importance of that. Or, is it possible that Ms. Pac-Man is really just Pac-Man in drag, as the word “man” is still very prominent in her name? It would certainly explain why J. Edgar Hoover loved playing this game (for those who don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover was the inventor of the vacuum cleaner–and a cross-dresser). And let’s talk for a moment about the character known as Jr. Pac-Man. It’s Pac-Man…in a beanie. Is Jr. Pac-Man really a game starring Pac-Man’s offspring, or is Pac-Man just reliving the childhood he never had in some Freudian delusion of ghost-tainted fear and ball-munching madness? Oh, well. Some of these questions may never be answered, but for gamers, that’s okay. Namco’s classic has stood the test of time, and still remains an incredibly addictive game. There’s a reason why it’s been copied, ported, and cloned for all this time. I mean, really, the game is literally everywhere. And it rarely ever changes. Here’s hoping it never will.


For more info: Pac-Man Wiki

TBT #3 – Namco’s Dig Dug: An arcade classic remains so after all these years

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 14, 2009.

After the financial fiasco that was the Moonwalker article, I decided to stop holding back and just be as wacky as I wanted to be.

So of all games, why Dig Dug?  Because of a high school memory.

Way back when, a Catholic theology teacher and moderator of the Sci-Fi Club I was a part of had a Dig Dug cabinet in his room.  If the room was empty and you had the quarters, you could play for as long as you liked.  Well, someone did, and someone got the high score.  That someone also named themselves “ASS”.  So, every time the attract mode flipped over to the high scores, ASS was very plainly displayed at the top.  Every teenage student thought it was hilarious, and it took weeks (and increasing bribery from said theology teacher) to replace the high score with a more PG name (I personally tried several times, with the intention of replacing ASS with “FUK”, but to no avail).

Of course, the thing the teacher didn’t know was that there’s a switch inside the cabinet that clears the scores…and we didn’t tell him until after ASS’s score was beaten.

The same problem with this article applies as before–the original pictures were lost in the unpublishing, but these are close approximations to said originals (in fact, I think the first two might indeed be the originals).  Also, Cy Brown’s site is no longer operational–which is a shame.  He pretty much built a bunker in his backyard and chronicled the entire process.  Thankfully, you can find it by using the Wayback Machine and typing in the original URL, which is indeed below.

– Randall Malus, 10/08/2015

digdug1Title screen from the NES version of Dig Dug which is, in truth, like every other version.

Ah, Dig Dug. You are so awesome a game that Namco could not possibly think of a better title than one which combines both the present and past tenses of the word “dig”. But you don’t just break grammar rules, Dig Dug. No, no. Not you. You also spit on Einstein and his theory of the cosmological constant by having absolutely no end. Indeed, you go on forever, eating quarter after quarter for round upon round. And story? Who needs that? Not you, Dig Dug. Oh, sure, in Japan there’s a whole epic saga concerning your main character and his quest to rid the land of monsters or something. Here in the good ol‘ U.S. of A., though, you’re just a game where some guy digs holes under someone else’s garden and uses a bicycle pump to blow up dragons and bespectacled spheres. I have no idea from whence the bicycle pump comes or into which orifice the bicycle pump finds itself, nor do I have any concept of which law of physics is broken when a non-elastic creature is popped like a balloon. All I know is that you, Dig Dug, are fun and addictive and, unlike drugs, most will never be able to quit you.

digdug2Picture courtesy of Cy Brown, a master hole-smith.  This is pictorial proof that holes exist.

Yes, folks, Dig Dug is a slice of fun from long ago (1982 to be precise). But what, pray tell, was the inspiration for such a game? Why, digging holes, of course! You see, in real life, a person can dig holes and, once the person has done so, the holes themselves will have been dug. How does one go about digging a hole? A shovel and loads of strenuous work. Don’t ask me anymore than that as digging is manual labor and, due to a manual labor allergy I have, I avoid digging like the plague. But holes themselves (the aftermath of digging) certainly have their usefulness. Holes dug in a cemetery (more commonly known as “graves”) keep the dead from rising and assaulting the living at night. Historically, Austrian dictators have used holes called “bunkers” to escape justice. Long holes often called “tunnels” aid in the transportation of goods and employees. And not one of these uses apply to Dig Dug in any capacity whatsoever.

digdug3Tactical digging action.

As has been said, Dig Dug is a game about digging holes and popping monsters. The holes themselves are seemingly dug for the purpose of popping monsters (with popping monsters not being a secondary concern to digging holes). Skilled players can use rocks to aid them in their monster-killing and, occasionally, vegetables that the player can pick up for extra points will appear, but the above stated is generally the main object of the game. Even though this is a simple concept (as is common for early arcade games), the game has stood the test of time and remains a popular arcade classic to this day. Classic gamers searching for a touch of old time can find Dig Dug on virtually any Namco compilation disk (most recently on Namco Museum Virtual Arcade for the Xbox 360), the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, and literally billions of flash-based game sites on the internet.

If you haven’t played this game yet, you’re the only one on earth and I highly suggest you play it immediately. It certainly beats digging.


TBT #2 – Remembering the King of Pop: A look back at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker for the Genesis

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 7, 2009.

This article started out as a review of the game and quickly turned into an opportunity to celebrate the life of an artist I greatly respected–as an artist, if nothing else.  I published it on the day of Michael Jackson’s funeral as a personal memorial and was surprised when a literal ton of people viewed it.  Unfortunately, Examiner’s policy of shelling out a shiny penny per person viewing it assured that I wouldn’t receive anything for it. Though only my second article, already I was disenchanted.

The thing I like about this article in retrospect is that I’m starting to be a little more myself here.

As was the case with the first article, I’ll have to approximate the pictures again, as Examiner’s unpublishing has eliminated the originals.

– Randall Malus, 10/01/2015

moonwalker01Hoo!  Who’s bad?

So, I recently went to see Public Enemies (which is, for those of you who don’t know, a loose account of the life of mob boss Al Capone where ol’ Scarface is renamed “John Dillinger” for reasons unknown to me) and, though it certainly is a good film, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to the greatest gangster movie of all time: Moonwalker.  I mean, that motion picture had everything a human being, animal, or plant could ever want in a gangster film.  There were guns; dance numbers; Joe Pesci kidnapping children and sporting a ridiculous topknot; Wesley Snipes learning what it truly means to be “bad”; and, arguably the two most necessary components for a good gangster film, Michael Jackson turning into both a car and a robot.  Ah, Moonwalker.  What an awesome piece of the 1980s you were.  Sega, in its infinite wisdom, saw Moonwalker for what it was always meant to be: a money machine.

moonwalker2You would think that these superfluous moves would at least restore

health…especially the crotch grab…

And so in 1990, Sega developed a game for the Sega Genesis that celebrated the King of Pop’s music career within the confines of Moonwalker’s largely incoherent storyline.  Those who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s know that this game needs no review and no introduction.  For those of the new generation, however, I’ll try to give you a brief run-down of the object of the game.  Starting out in the Club 30 pool hall (with “Smooth Criminal“ playing in the background), the player as Michael Jackson must rescue all of the children kidnapped by Mr. Big (Joe Pesci’s character from the film).  This is a requirement in order to advance in the game; Bubbles the Chimp won’t lead Michael to the stage boss until the player saves every single solitary child in the area, whether hidden behind doors, inside car trunks, behind tombstones, or out in the open.  To impede the player’s progress, Mr. Big employs several henchmen ranging from mobsters and street thugs to zombies, dogs, and what look like Cobra Vipers from GI Joe.  From Club 30, Michael makes his way through the streets (with “Beat It” playing as the background theme), a graveyard (“Another Part of Me” in the background with “Thriller” playing during the dancing sequences), caverns (“Billie Jean” as background theme), an inner sanctum that resembles the Technodrome (“Bad” as background music), and a final battle in which the player pursues Mr. Big via Michael’s “Battle Plane” while speeding through space.  Each level plays out like one of Jackson’s music videos, with the exception of the cavern level.  Really, how does one associate caves with “Billie Jean”?  The final level is a bit of a departure from the platforming in the rest of the game, as well, since the perspective shifts to a sort of flight simulator (Michael’s in a spaceship, so it makes sense).

moonwalker3This picture is somehow appropriate.  This joke, however, is not.

Michael comes up against some pretty steep odds in the game.  Jacko’s not unarmed, though, and this is where the game gets even more interesting.  The player can utilize what I can only guess is fairy dust in order to dispatch foes, as well as Michael’s patented spin, hat, and something called “dance magic” in which all enemies on-screen will dance with Michael for a few seconds before dropping dead.  In addition to these offensive attacks, the player can make Michael perform a number of moves that have no in-game affect whatsoever, including the incredibly cool moonwalk and the infamous crotch grab (no one can ever accuse this game of being an incomplete Michael Jackson experience).  At random, a star will fall from the sky and, if the player can catch it quickly enough, Michael will change for a short time into a robotic death machine that fires bombs from its shoulders and lasers from its eyes, effectively killing every enemy in sight.  Absolutely classic.  The game is difficult, sometimes to the point of being ridiculous (especially during some of the boss fights), but this is a minor flaw that is easily disregarded.  Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is an above average game and truly worth a try (which, considering the game’s recent status as a “collector’s item”, might be easier said than done).

All joking aside, I can think of no better thing to do on the day of Michael Jackson’s memorial service than play this game.  Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Michael Jackson changed music forever.  Though his actions within the confines of his personal life were scandalous and, by most accounts, unpalatable and unacceptable, let us mourn the artist at his craft if we cannot mourn the man.  This isn’t for Michael Jackson the father, Michael Jackson the son, Michael Jackson the husband, Michael Jackson the brother, or Michael Jackson the accused.  This is in memory of Michael Jackson the musician.  Here’s to Michael Jackson, forever the King of Pop.  Respect him or beat it (pun intended).


TBT #1 – This Week in Wii: Sega’s Fantasy Zone 2 comes to the Virtual Console

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 2, 2009.

In the last week of June 2009, I applied to be the “Classic Video Games Examiner” for Cleveland, OH.  I hadn’t written for awhile, and though I was primarily a fiction writer, I thought that perhaps it would be good to keep my skills sharpened with a few articles.  The background I submitted displayed, I’d hoped, my talents and personality:

[Randall Malus] graduated from Saint Ignatius High School (located in Cleveland, Ohio) in 2001, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English from John Carroll University (located in University Heights, Ohio) in 2005–two facts which should explain his behavior perfectly. Video games have been a big part of [Randall’s] life since as far back as he can remember, and his intolerance towards change (coupled with his unhealthy love of the Atari and Nintendo Entertainment System) make him the perfect candidate to tackle the subject of “classic video games”. Above all else, [Randall] fancies himself a humorist of sorts and seeks to put an unconventional (yet deeply thought-provoking) spin on life, the universe, and everything (42) as they relate to classic video games.

Within a few days, I was accepted, and my background became my profile.  As soon as I was able, I started posting articles.

This article was the first I’d written for Examiner.com, and was my “audition” piece–which means there wasn’t a lot of me in it yet.  It was also originally intended to be part of a series called “This Week in Wii”, which would have taken a closer look at the classic gaming releases to the Virtual Console of the Nintendo Wii in that month. 

This isn’t my favorite article, and certainly not my best–though it is probably my most straight-forward.  Unfortunately, the original pictures were removed when the Examiner staff unpublished the article, but I’ve approximated the originals as best I could.

– Randall Malus, 09/24/2015

fz3I feel like I just fell into John Lennon’s acid trip.

This week’s Wii Virtual Console release is a game for the Sega Master System called Fantasy Zone 2 – The Tears of Opa-Opa.  A shoot-em-up (or “shmup”) from Sega’s early 8-bit console days, Fantasy Zone 2 follows its cult-classic predecessor by combining game play elements from other popular shmups of the day with upbeat music, psychedelic backgrounds, and surreal enemies.  Truly, many of the game’s antagonists (both basic enemies and bosses alike) are more likely to be at home in a Looney Tunes animated short than a side-scrolling video game.

fz2Like all good shmups, the story only rears its ugly head during the prologue and ending.

The storyline itself is just as zany as the level design and adversaries.  The player assumes the role of Opa-Opa, a sentient spaceship who freed a group of planets (the titular “Fantasy Zone”) from malevolent invaders led by Opa-Opa’s father in the “Space Year 6216”.  Ten years later (in this game’s present), the Fantasy Zone has once again fallen prey to an attack by invaders from the planet “Nenon”.  Determined to put an end to this new threat and uncover the mastermind behind this most recent evil plot, Opa-Opa speeds off toward the Fantasy Zone once more.  It’s all quite melodramatic and a good primer for the game itself.

fz1It’s like Salvatore Dali had one too many Pixie Sticks.

And what of the “game itself”?  For the most part, the levels are as free-roaming as a game from 1987 can allow; the player can move both left and right along an infinitely looping background, similar to the original game.  Like the original game, enemies, when defeated, drop money which can be used to purchase weapons and ship upgrades in shops hidden at key points in each level.  In order to advance to the boss of each stage, as in the original game, the player must destroy all enemy “bases” scattered throughout the area.  A new feature found in Fantasy Zone 2 is the sheer size of each level.  Indeed, all levels in the game are broken into three sub-stages (connected loosely by warp zones), with each containing its own unique background and set of enemy bases.  Another change from the first game is found in the boss battles.  Instead of facing each boss and shooting somewhat aimlessly as in Fantasy Zone, every boss in Fantasy Zone 2 has a specific pattern, weakness, or series of obstacles setting it apart from the other bosses in the game.  The basic enemy flying and shooting patterns have also been enhanced, making the game more difficult and, ultimately, more rewarding.

So, is this game worth the 500 Wii Point price tag?  While it shares much in common with its predecessor (perhaps too much for some), Fantasy Zone 2 takes the best elements of the original game and gives the player more.  Whether it’s the challenging bosses, wacky scenery, or classic shmup action, casual gamers and hardcore shoot-em-up fans alike will find something that makes Fantasy Zone 2 – The Tears of Opa-Opa seem like a steal at its current price.