Retrograding News Report 06.07.03

Welcome to Retrograding! We’re shaking up the line up here at 411, and Retrograding is now going to be the weekend fixture in our games section. It’s not daily news updates like Ron, Lee, Bryan, Stanley, and Bebito do, but I’ve always been the one to buck the trends here, from talking handhelds to bitching about how all when I was a teenager, Mutant League Football was the best Sports Game around and we liked it! Hopefully you readers won’t mind having this come out on a weekly basis instead of three columns one week, and only one the next. A little stability will probably be appreciated by all.

This week, I want to talk about licensing. This is when a company decides not to create a new character or world, and instead decides that something from TV, the movies, or a comic book would translate into a video game pretty damn well. Maybe it’s something like Tron where it’s almost pleading to be made into a video game, or maybe it’s something that you never would have expected to make the translation into an electronic piece of art, like Def Jam Vendetta. But something fans the flame of imagination under a studios belt and after some legal wrangling and some good publicity, a video game featuring anything from Simpsons Road Rage to Marvel vs. Capcom is born.

Sadly, somewhere along the way, something goes wrong. Either hardcore fans end up hating the games for whatever reason, or a company manages to take a license that should be easy money in the bank and screws it up so royally that even Pawn shops won’t take it. These are games like Vampire Hunter D and all but the GBA version of Robotech. At the same time, there are some games that may not ever be considered works of art, but still manage to sell decently and receive average or above average ratings from reviewers like myself. These include Activison’s recent Spider-Man games, and also the Slayers games only released in Japan. (Lee, as an anime nut you have to try those). But sometimes, in very rare instances, a licensed game managed to be so incredibly good or so horrendously bad that it becomes an important piece of the overall legacy of the license; something even casual fans of the product know about, and most likely have even played. And those are the games we’ll be looking at today.

Now I’ll be honest. Sometimes a license or title is enough to make you pick up a game you’d otherwise avoid. All you have to do to get me to pick up a game is stick the word Cthulhu on it. Or my fiancée and Muppet Monster Adventure. Sometimes, if we’re passionate about something, we won’t hesitate to plunk down 50$ for a video game version of it, even if our common sense is screaming at us for being total twats. Luckily in certain cases, that love of a certain name or character gives you a game worth playing, as is the case with my Lovecraftian obsession. It introduced me to Shin Megami Tensei. And sometimes it’s a big mistake and you wonder how the creator of something you love could give their name out to a giant pile of cartridged crap like Beast Wars: Transmetals or Sony’s horrid Bram Stoker’s Dracula games. < br>

So let’s take a look at both some of the best and worst games ever to come out of a twisted marketing deal. Some of these games are ones that are still loved by video game fans a decade after their creation. And some weren’t in stores for more than a week before the hate and mob justice began.

GOOD GAMES

1. G.I. Joe (NES)

Man was this a great game. Now I loved GI Joe as a kid, but Transformers, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Voltron, Robotech, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and The Real Ghostbusters were all cartoons I enjoyed more than the American answer to brainwashing kids into believing American propaganda towards international relations at an early age. I like Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow like every kid did, but I hated Duke, Hawk, Flint, and practically every other GI Joe. I wanted to butcher Shipwreck and Bazooka, and until Sgt. Slaughter came along, I was rooting for Cobra and their ruthless terrorist organization in nearly every episode. I kept waiting for Cobra Commander to turn into a plane and usurp control of the Decepticons. He and Starscream have the same late voice actor. GI Joe was neat, but it wasn’t in my top five by any means. However, it was the only one of the aforementioned cartoons to have a game except for Ghostbusters on the Master System, and that game was pretty crummy and tedious. (Note: I do know about The Mystery of Convoy, and even own it. But that wasn’t until I was about 16. And even then my Japanese was too limited to understand what Ultra Magnus’ motive d’etre was.)

So I picked up GI Joe for the old Nintendo. And what surprises me is even now when I play it, it’s still a lot of fun, and the graphics are damn good for an old 8 bit clunker like my venerable NES.

In GI Joe, you have a combination of a side scrolling action game with some RPG elements. You create a team of three Joes. Each level has a different leader you have to take, and then from the list of Duke, Capt. Grid Iron, Blizzard, Rock N Roll, and Snake Eyes, you can pick two others. Each Joe has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, from Snake Eyes having the best jump, but the worst firearm (ninja Magic), but the magic never ran out, unlike everyone else’s bullets. My Team was usually Snake Eyes, Duke and Grid Iron, except for those damn levels where I had to take Blizzard and Rock N Roll. On the last level of the game you get to play as General Hawk, who has a jet pack and makes the game a hell of a lot easier.

Throughout each level you kill routine cobra grunts, pick up power up and eventually fight a big Cobra boss at the end. These boss battles were very well made and actually required some strategy and skill as attacks were both patterned and randomized at the same time. Sadly, Cobra Commander at the end of the game was pretty damn easy to beat with Hawk, which takes a bit of the fun away. But still, GI Joe was the first scroller to allow customization, a variety of playable characters, and gave us a licensed game that was fun, even for non GI Joe fans. Even girls I dated which stuck to Jem and the Holograms in their teenage years found GI Joe fun. When I dug out an old NES to use in college after I took back my Sega Saturn from the communal Dorm lounge, GI Joe was the most played game out of the ones I let people use, even more than the first Final Fantasy or Super Mario 3. That should tell you something about how good this game is.

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (Arcade and NES port)

And another great game. TMNT was lucky enough to have a good non-arcade game for the NES before this. One where you played as all four turtles and kicked Krang and Shedder ass all over the place. But then came the Arcade game. Like the first NES game and every piece of Turtle merchandise, this game was based on the cartoon instead of the comic book. But man, for its day, And even now, the graphics for the arcade game were incredible. It was as close to playing a cartoon as you could get back in the 80’s. We didn’t have no stinkin’ cell shadin’ and we LIKED it! The added bonus was the four player ability. This was the turning point for Multiplayer games. TMNT: The Arcade game, coupled with three other big Games (Dungeon & Dragons, WWF Wrestlefest, and X-Men; two of which are on my list) allowed more than two people to play a video game at once. There were four of you banging on the screen, jamming quarters down the slots and swearing as you died over and over and over again. It allowed Video Game fun in a way never thought possible before. Maybe I’m still a Video Game geezer, but I found four people on TMNT in the Arcade surrounded by the noise and sounds of other gamers to be a lot more fun than jacking into X-Box Live or playing a game over the Internet where for all you know the guys on the other end of the computer could be the albino from Deliverance.’ But enough of that.

TMNT: The Arcade game was one of the most successful multiplayer arcade games of all time. And it wasn’t just because of the license attached to the game. TMNT had simple controls that allowed anyone to play, but also required both the ability to beat up 6-10 enemies on the screen at once to actually having the skill to dodge Krang’s missiles and various weapons and traps. It was simple, but addictive with graphics that were pretty ahead of its time, even for arcade games.

When the port to the old NES was announced, a lot of hardcore fans of the arcade game wept. They assumed it would be a disaster. And they were thankfully proven wrong. Aside from a graphical downturn and the ability to play with three other friends was shunted down to one, the game was identical. It was just as great as the arcade version, but with the ability to have all four turtles fighting at once being lost, the game did lose something. As well, it’s just not as much fun with continues instead of quarters. You just don’t have to try as hard as in the arcade when you realize you’re down to your last buck 4 games and so you play your ass off because you really want to beat the game this time. And yes, there was a time when a game only cost a quarter. Hell, I’ll plug Wonderland in Beaverton Oregon where the games only cost a nickel still. That was a great Arcade!

3. X-Men: The Arcade Game (Arcade)

I can’t believe this has never been released on to any system. This game was so incredible, words can’t define in. Not only was this a multiplayer game, but although the majority of the arcades had a four person setup, a rare few across the US had a SIX PERSON configuration. Yes. Let me repeat this. Six people could play at once. How awesome is that? This is the game that caused every arcade maker to try and spawn a multiplayer beat ’em license; from the Simpsons to even rehashes of this very game with Spider-Man and the Avengers. But none came close to this game. None at all.

Ironically, the best X-Men spin off was based on the worst. The video game was the sequel to a one shot pilot for an X-Men cartoon entitled “Pryde of the X-men.'” The cartoon was a horrible pile of crap that merely made everyone wish Spiderman and His Amazing Friends was still on TV. The voice acting was terrible, the animation was sub-par and the characterization was worse than trying to enjoy the Kane/HHH/Katie Vick story line. It is the dark secret of every X-Men fan. It’s just not mentioned. Even the Ultimate X-Man guide that game out with X:2 doesn’t mention this disaster. So that should tell you something.

But I’ll be damned if the Arcade game wasn’t every bit as good as the cartoon was horrid. A lot of it did have to do with the multiplayer aspect, and there was usually a long waiting line for this game, so there was added prestige about finally being able to play it. But what was neat was the fact that unlike TMNT where all the characters were exactly the same, in X-Men you had six distinct characters each with their own playing style. You had Cyclops, Dazzler, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine. Can I just say right now I hate the current Marvel Artists and the movie for forgetting Wolverine is supposed to be a 4’11” hairy Canadian with a very strong accent? Okay, rant over.

Like TMNT, you had a game with simple controls of fight, jump, and a special attack that did massive amounts of damage but took some of your life away. But you also had bosses so insanely tough, you had to use your power over and over again and use 1-2 quarters just to get past them. X-Men was made to take money from people who had become addicted to the game. It was evil marketing genius. And we all fell for it and praised them all at once. Evil Evil Evil.

I always played as Dazzler or Nightcrawler. They were by far the best characters in terms of special attacks. But maybe that’s just me. I never knew anyone who liked playing as the big dumb commie. Maybe because Mr. Rasputin was a big time pedophile having sex with young 13 year old Kitty Pryde?

Anyway, over a decade later, there is still a strong fan following for this game. It has a cult feel to it, and I am surprised, it’s never been ported to any system. Even with its age, it could still have a great home on any of the current systems and would sell like hot cakes. If anyone knows of a six player configuration, let me know immediately as I have money to spend on that puppy!

4. Dungeons and Dragons: The Arcade Game (Arcade and Sega Saturn Port.)

Honestly, this is by far the best Arcade game ever made. And the first one I ever bought for my home. This is another four-person game, but it takes everything encountered in TMNT and X-Men a step further. In the first D&D Arcade Game you could choose between four entirely different characters: Elf, Dwarf, Cleric, Warrior. In the second, you had an Wizard and Thief to choose from as well. Each character had wildly different abilities and powers and you could also gain levels and become more powerful just like in the actual tabletop game. There were also hidden weapons, powers and items you could get. Truly, this was multiplayer Arcade gaming in its most perfect form. I remember I’d get together with my friends in High School (specifically Rick Byzewski and Doug Myster. Just thought I’d see if they read this… and we’d play the game all damn day. I’d always take the cleric which they thought was stupid…¦until they really needed that healing spell. Then we saw who had the last laugh. I’d make them promise to give me all the gold and items and extra XP we found just for a simple cure spell. See how easy it is for a holy man to do bad things?

What really and truly made D&D great besides the totally different characters and originality that went into the game was the fact there were many different story paths you could take. The game was linear, but allowed you different choices in terms of world to go to. In certain points in the game you would be given a choice, and depending on how you answered you would be given access to a different levels in the game. And anyone who is a fan of this arcade game will tell you with fond memories of how hard it was to get the path that would lead to the Horrible, brutal, so vilely evil and hard to beat Red Dragon. And then once you were there how many quarters went into trying to kill that bastard! But if you beat it, you got a Little dragon next to your name on the High Score list. Trust me gamers, getting that red dragon icon was like Beating Ikaruga on the Challenge Mode without losing a life. HUGE bragging rights amongst other gamers and assorted geeks.

This is the first Arcade game I ever bought, and for a long time, the only one I owned (The only other is SNK Vs Capcom in case you were curious) and it’s still what I consider to be the best Arcade game ever made. From the incredible use of the D&D license to the originality and excellent work Capcom put into this engine, Dungeons and Dragons: The Arcade Game was something Capcom eventually released in a Japan only collection for the Sega Saturn called Dungeon and Dragons Collection.’ I still wish Capcom would have released the compilation for the DC and hope that like X-Men, it will find a home on a next Gen System. Capcom was good enough to sell me the parts for my home console so I could play D&D 2 and even D&D 3 on it! And for a hell of a lot less than they should have charged me too, for which I am eternally grateful.

Seriously, if you have never played this game, you are missing out on one of the greatest Arcade Games ever made. I say that from the bottom of my heart. If you know of an arcade where you can still play this game, run there now and play it while you still can. It’s old, but it’s a classic and one you’ll fall in love with after just a few games. This is what Arcade gaming is about.

5. Shadowrun (Sega Genesis)

Yes, I know. There is a Super Nintendo version as well. And it’s a good game. But it’s 1) not as good as the Genesis version and 2) takes some real liberties with the Shadowrun world, the continuity, and the gaming system FASA created. The Genesis version is a perfect translation of the Tabletop game to an electronic medium and is hands down the best ever licensed game ever. Even people who had never played the Pen and Paper game but have played this are crazed fanatics for this game. They will sing the praises of this game and dance around it, worshiping in some sort of Pagan ritual. Even Ron Yip has Shadowrun stories to tell about how fanatical people he knows are about this game. So great is this game, people become addicted to just WATCHING it. It’s that good, even in 16 bit Cartridge form.

You have your choice of three character types to choose from: A Decker (Think Neo from The Matrix’), A Street Samurai (Cyborg) and my personal favorite, the Gator Shaman. I find the decker really sucks and you get a Street Samurai sidekick at the end of the game, so the Mage is your best choice as you get healing magic, Hellblast and access to big ass guns.

What’s very cool about this game is that it is the first non-linear video game ever made. Sure they’re a main story line and a plot that you should follow. But you don’t have to. You NEVER have to. If you beat that storyline the game does end, but there is an unlimited amount of stuff to do as well thanks to the randomly generating missions you can go on. These range from killing hoodlums to breaking into corporations to delivering packages. It’s great fun and when you hire other Shadowrunners to join your team, it becomes even more fun. There are roughly a dozen CPU controlled runners you can have join with you, from elfish mages to Dwarven Rat Shamans. Some you’ll have join with you only to steal their stuff and kill them, while others you will find are worth your time and you’ll grow quite found of. My personal team was the Street Samurai who joins you towards the end of the game and also a mage.

As I said before, the game technically can go on for ever while you do missions, level up and get more powerful, but there is an important plot revolving around subterfuge, evil corporations, the Decker Harlequin, and a very old Feathered Serpent. The game’s main story is one you have to pay close attention to, and one that is hard to complete thanks to a certain quest towards the end that is night impossible to complete if you take even one wrong turn in the caves. But it’s a great game and one that is so addicting words can’t describe it. This game has fought long and hard with Shining Force for the title of Best Game ever released on the Genesis’ and to be honest it’s still a hard call nearly ten years later. Seriously people, this is a game that I would even endorse finding the ROM for, as it is that good. It’s a game everyone should play once. It’s an action game, a Role-Playing Game, and a strategy game all in one. It’s something really and truly wonderful and I will never be able to understand why they didn’t make a sequel to it. As I’ve said before, the SNES game is a great one, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the true incarnation of the Shadowrun license. Get this game. Get this game. Gets this game. Get this game.

Next week will be a lot more amusing, as I’ll be taking you through five of the WORST video games ever made through license. Games with terrific characters and licenses that should have turned out to be big money makers, but through wanton stupidity, greed and inept game designers turned into piles of crap that are only mentioned in hushed whispers or in between massive amounts of laughter.

Hopefully you enjoyed Retrograding’s new home as the Weekend News’ Report here at 411. I’ll miss the column section, but that’s what Retrograding: ADVANCE, Mailbag, and Reviews are for right? Stay tuned for this next week though guys, as Bebito is making a return to 411! Yep, the Rod Farva to my Arcot Ramathorn is finally making his much needed return to 411Games, so remember to give him lots of praise and emails thanking him for making your lives a less dreary place. And as always we’ll have Bryan and Lee, two people who really rose to the occasion while Bebito and I were away. They’ve blossomed into two of the best VG journalists on the net and I’m proud to say I knew them when they were first starting out. And of course Ron Yip is returning, and Joseph Stanley will be doing columns once again as well. Both are great guys to talk to and a lot of fun to read, even if Ron does smell like Cat Food.

Aren’t I forgetting someone? Oh Yeah, that Chris guy. But all he does is manage us, ensure the Games section doesn’t go to Hades, and work extra hard in the Wrasslin’ sections as well so he doesn’t really count. KIDDING! KIDDING!

Let me just end this three paragraph rambling by saying the gang’s all here, back doing what they do best and ensuring that 411games is going to be one of the best independent Video Games sites on the web. And one I strongly advise you to read daily. Especially my stuff.