Virtual Insanities: Where Are They Now?

Sometimes it gets hard to write an article about what’s happening in video games. Most often, that’s because nothing really interesting is happening. In this case, there was indeed some news that sent a little tingly feeling down my spine, but nothing that can possibly be worth writing an entire column about. Stuff like:

– A Soul Calibur adventure game will be coming to the Wii. If it’s anywhere near the level of quality achieved by the previous games in the series, this should be a blast.
– Square-Enix is bringing a brand new intellectual property to the Xbox 360 and PS3. Nice to see them develop something that has nothing to do with Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest for once.
– Seven songs were announced for the 80’s songs pack for Guitar Hero II. No need to rush to check the list if you haven’t already. Other than Twisted Sister, there’s nothing exceptional there.
Ninja Gaiden made it to the Virtual Console! Let’s see if I now have the skills to take on this game. This used to be my nightmare as a kid, and it’s probably the reason why I was still wetting my bed when I was seven.

The rest of the week’s headlines have been hogged by the new game based on The Simpsons and by how bad each and every version of Spiderman 3 sucked. I haven’t played any of them, but usually, when thousands of people get together and agree about the numerous flaws of a game, there’s a good chance they might be right. But then again, millions of people thought that the Backstreet Boys made good music in the 90’s and bought their CDs, so I guess you can never really trust the masses. Other than that, the most appealing game released this week is Touch the Dead for Nintendo DS. Even with the necrophilia-themed title, I don’t think it looks that interesting or that much fun to play. Sometimes I really wish the video club on Ontario Street carried DS games.

So, what can you do when the gaming world gives you nothing to write about? You turn to the past for a round of…

Where Are They Now?

This came about because I was cataloguing my collection of video games the other day, and while looking at the discs and cartridges, I noticed that a lot of the heroes from my childhood were now nowhere to be found. Some of them fell to the side because their developer went bankrupt; others were simply abandoned for newer, cooler mascots. Some of them simply were victims of shitty games, which were often preceded by great games in their respective series which they failed to match in quality. No matter what the reason, these characters did have some time in the spotlights back in the days, so let’s either wish for their return, or bid them farewell while hoping that greedy developers will let them rest in peace and no longer tarnish their memories. If the body is buried and rotten, I think we should just leave it where it is.

Name: Lolo
Famous for: Adventures of Lolo (NES)
Last seen: Revival! Eggerland (PC)

Lolo is a peculiar guy. He is nothing but a blue ball with eyes and limbs. Curiously, he was created by HAL Laboratory, a company which also created Kirby, another ball with eyes and limbs, but pink. I guess we can conclude that HAL has a minimalist art style, but I don’t think we can really complain because the art direction in HAL’s games is always top-notch with colourful graphics and cheerful designs. However, one can only wonder why Lolo was pushed aside while Kirby was kept around despite their similar look. Could it be because Kirby has a mouth and Lolo does not? After all, Kirby’s primary attack is to swallow. You can all pretty much draw your own conclusions from that fact.

Lolo was all about solving puzzles. In this series, the plot most often (if not always) consisted of Princess Lala being kidnapped by evil-doers and placed in a dungeon, with Lolo giving chase and going through numerous rooms before reaching his goal. To clear a room, one has to collect the heart gems and get a pearl from a treasure chest, which sends the player to the next room. Of course, all of this happens while enemies act as obstacles, sometimes only being activated once all the heart gems have been collected, but often trying to stop you before you even reach the first one. Fortunately, the different levels were always well-designed, meaning that the experience of solving the puzzles is always challenging and rarely frustrating.

Lolo’s moderate success originated on the MSX systems in Japan with the series original name being Eggerland. In North America, it became relatively popular on the NES, with three games released on the console, and one more being made for the Game Boy. The solid puzzle design and the constantly challenging gameplay were the biggest qualities of the series. Its major flaw was that each new game was only more of the same, with one or two new enemies, one new obstacle and new puzzles. Yet, it was more than enough for players eager for more of Lolo. More recently, the blue ball has tried a comeback on the PC platform in 1996 with Eggerland 0, and in 2000 with Revival Eggerland. The first one was actually a demo for the second one, and both displayed improved graphics when compared with the NES era. However, the games had a couple of bugs, such as the in-game music actually needing to be disabled for it to run smoothly. In the end, Lolo’s star had already faded and these games did not enjoy as much success as the developers would have hoped.

Today, Lolo is nowhere to be seen, but HAL Laboratory confirmed that his adventures would be released on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Finally, he also appears in the anime Kirby: Right Back At Ya! on Fox along with Lala, but with the much more ridiculous names Fololo and Falala.

Should this character attempt a comeback? : Yes. With the resurgence in popularity of puzzle games, I think that a Lolo game would be a welcome addition, as it would show that puzzle games are not all about falling blocks and switching pieces on a board.

Name: Bad Mr. Frosty
Famous for: Clayfighter (SNES)
Last seen: Clayfighter 63 1/3: Sculptor’s Cut (N64)

Usually, snowmen are nice and cuddly – although cold – creatures. They look all jolly and funny with their top hat, carrot nose and mouth made of coal, but Bad Mr. Frosty is not a guy like that. He started his career as a bad guy in the SNES/Genesis fighting game Clayfighter. He was pretty much a standard snowman back then except for the evilness, but then came Clayfighter 2: Judgement Clay and its witty title, and along with it came a revamped Bad Mr. Frosty, now with attitude and a backwards baseball cap. According to the game’s story, he was so bad that he even seized control of the North Pole from the hands of Santa Claus. Apparently, he had a change of heart just before the series moved to the N64, because he went back to the top hat, thus turning him face at the same time. His goal in Clayfighter 63 1/3 was to stop the evil Dr. Kiln from turning Klaymodo Island and the entire world into clay, but things were not so simple because Santa Claus was also back with a vengeance as a sumo wrestler, trying to snatch the North Pole back from Bad Mr. Frosty. Wow, life sure is exciting when you’re the baddest snowman in video games history.

Bad Mr. Frosty and the Clayfighter series came at a time when the fighting games genre was at its peak. Console makers were at war trying to get the best version of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat for their system, and countless of clones were being released nearly weekly. Games like World Heroes, Rival Turf and other copycats were clogging the shelves with their lack of originality, so at the time, Clayfighter came as a breath of fresh air. It poked fun at every clichés in the genre, and even parodied other medias. It had a roster consisting of a fat Elvis imitator, a mad clown, a man made of taffy and others unusual sights. Bad Mr. Frosty was the star of the bunch, and he was successful enough to warrant a sequel, with some new characters and the originals being redesigned. It was still fun enough to play, with responsive controls and imaginative attacks. The graphics were decent enough for a Super NES game, and things looked good for Frosty and friends.

Then came the N64 and with it, the promise of a new Clayfighter game from Interplay. The screenshots looked good and the new characters looked fun, but the developer wanted too much too soon. They promised a fall 96 release which ended up being fall 97, and even then, most new characters had to be scraped because they were still behind schedule. Graphics were grainy, the fighting system was unresponsive and the game looked unfinished. Interplay acknowledged the shortcomings, and a couple of months later, they released a rental-only Sculptor’s Cut of the game, with the new characters being reinstated and a somewhat ameliorated control scheme. Still, it was too late, and the series never recovered. Bad Mr. Frosty went down with it, and has yet to be seen since. Despite dripping with charisma, the snowman with an attitude could not carry an entire franchise on his shoulders. He died young, but he lived his life to the fullest.

Should this character attempt a comeback? : No. With Interplay being bought and the new owner’s financial problems, several of Interplay’s intellectual properties are being sold, and I don’t think it comes as a surprise that Clayfighter has yet to be bought by another developer. If Bad Mr. Frosty and co. flopped when transitioning to 64-bits, it would take a miracle to get a good game out of it now.

Names Olaf, Baleog and Erik a.k.a. The Lost Vikings
Famous for: The Lost Vikings (Multiple Platforms)
Last seen: The Lost Vikings II (Multiple Platforms)

Before Blizzard Entertainment created the worldwide phenomenon known as World of Warcraft, they used to make other fascinating games. An example would be The Lost Vikings, a side-scroller combined with a puzzle game where the object was to take three time-travelling Vikings back to their era. You had to use their respective abilities to get them through each level. But why were the Vikings lost in time? Well, an alien emperor named Tomator wanted them for his inter-galactic zoo. I guess that dressing up actors was not enough for him, since he travelled back in time to get the real deal. Much of the fun from the Vikings’ games came from the clever puzzles, but a huge factor was also the hilarious dialogues going on between each level.

Because of the success of the first game, a second one was developed, with the three Vikings visiting even more time periods. They even added two companions, which were a werewolf and a dragon. The Vikings also sported robot parts, such as prosthetic arms and rocket boots. Still, the game was as enjoyable as the first one and was eventually ported to PC under the name Norse by Norsewest: The Return of the Lost Vikings. The only difference from the console version was the art direction, which used more deformed versions of the protagonists.

With only two games under their belt, the Lost Vikings disappeared and have yet to reappear in a game of their own, except for a GBA port that went under the radar. There has been no word about their future; however, this doesn’t mean that they are nowhere to be found. Indeed, they have been busy making cameos in other Blizzard projects, such as the very underrated Rock N Roll Racing for the Super NES. More recently, they even had a role in a dungeon in the biggest MMORPG on the planet, World of Warcraft, where they appeared as mobs in some quest the players can do.

With Vikings being bad-ass from the start, it was pretty much a given that the games would rule. Why did Blizzard stop making games starring the Nordic trio? No one knows really, but if you’re still itching for some more old-school Viking puzzles, just go straight to their website and try the online flash demo of the game. Good times guaranteed.

Should these character attempt a comeback? : Damn right they should. I replayed the original game for the sake of this article, and if Blizzard can find some time on their incredibly busy Warcraft-filled schedule, I’d be all over a Lost Vikings game full of new puzzles.

In Closing

I considered other characters for this article. Guys like the Battletoads, Jimmy and Billy from Double Dragon or even the Killer Instinct crew could have been featured here, as each of them used to be a big part of the video games universe, yet fell off the face of the Earth. I’m not sure I’d be up for another round of Double Dragon though, especially if the developers decided to port the series to 3-D. I think that Final Fight showed that some games are better left in 2-D.

You can expect another Virtual Console game review from me soon, although I have yet to choose which game it’s going to be. I thought about picking up Ninja Gaiden, but the fear of being humiliated by a video game once again makes me very anxious at the thought of downloading this classic.

Finally, there might be a slight delay between now and my next column/review. I have had a steady rhythm of one column/review a week since starting at Inside Pulse, but next week could be the exception since I will be in Boston. I will do try to get something up as soon as I am back, so you might not even notice.