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Sunday, July 17, 2011

6 Particularly Obscure Video Games that are Odd and Cool.

I am a big geek and sometimes I like to scour the internet for rare or obscure things. In the case of video games, there's some diamonds in the rough out there. Games that weren't released because they were so strange and odd and original that they were deemed bad. The following are a selection of truly odd (but good) games that not many folks (other than weird internet geeks know about).

1. Taito's Hit the Ice (Rom: http://freeroms810.freeroms.com/nes_roms/08/hit_the_ice.zip)

 Roaming the wastelands lookin' fer beers eh!
Hit the Ice boggles my mind. It's basically what you'd get if you threw Ice Hockey, Dragon Quest, and Slapshot into a blender. You are a Canadian tough guy hockey player who is told by his coach to go out into the wastelands of Canada and win the VHL championship. As a Canadian, I'm interested in how a Japanese company would portray the great game of Hockey and also wonder how it would translate into an RPG genre of game. Basically, Japan perceived us Canadian types as neanderthal gorillas who wander around a giant wasteland searching for hamburgers, chicks, hockey games, and fistfights. I think they hit the nail right on the head with this one. 

All the elements of an RPG are there, you travel the worldmap getting into random encounters (except you don't fight gremlins and shit, instead you are attacked by rival hockey teams who you play 2-on-2 hockey matches against).The trick to winning these battles is to score one goal, then pick-a-fight and punch your opponent in the face until the clock runs out, then hot chicks come out and you celebrate gaining 5 EXP points.

Secret Tips:

1. Do not go into the arenas until you're good, the opposing teams are as fast as fuck and can literally uppercut you across the ice.

2. Eat Hamburgers all the time. Burgers give you vital nutrients and EXP points.

3. Watch out for rowdy arenas in opposing cities where rowdy rednecks will pelt you with beer bottles.

4. Cherry pick. There's no two-line passes or offsides so while your goalie holds the puck skate into the opposing zone then pass it across the entire ice surface and shoot.

5. Use "Dicky" Fontaine cause he has the best name in the game.
6. You can't swim so you have to buy an apple to give to an old man who has the life saving inner tube which you can use to cross rivers and streams at will!

Wonder Project was an SNES game that tells the story of a guy who makes a robot kid and introduces him into the world of humans. Blind to the ways of mankind this modern day Pinocchio must adjust to the world around him. You don't even control the character you just reward him and punish him depending on what he does. Each stage of the game has different situations and obstacles that require him to react in certain ways, and in order to get him to react in certain ways you must teach him through painstaking repetition and drills. 

For example for some levels of the game he needs to be nice and tame in order to help an old lady or something...while at other times in the game you have to beat the nice out of your son/robot in order to make him aggressive in order to compete in a fighting or athletics competition. It's a strange concept and you really have to play it to understand what I'm talking about. Some behaviors that you taught him at the start of the game have to be washed out of his mind to get him to interact with an object differently for a later stage in the game, it's really difficult to know what you have to do in a lot of cases. He has to be smart at times (make him read the encyclopedia all day), and other times really stupid (make him read comic books all day) in order to progress the game.

The ending is surprisingly terribly heartwrenchingly sad (unless you got 100% in each of the stages).

Photoboy is the fucking best game, whoever made this is a great, reliable, and trustworthy member of the human race. You play as this deranged-faced golden haired youngster who's parents died in a horrible plane crash and now makes a living by taking pictures of fucked up shit for a local newspaper (whacky premise). The gameplay is really addictive and by the time you beat it...you'll look back and wonder what the heck just happened, but you'll know you are a better person for having played it. 
Secret tips: 

1. There's a really rare occurrence in each level that will net you a shitload of points, they are really brief and hard to capture but keep your eyes peeled for EXTRA insane nonsense going on around you (such as the Back to the Future Dolorean going back in time or the Terminator attacking some kid).

2. You can rapid fire at a lot of occurrences and catch them more than once, which is so cheap but once you master it the game is actually quite easy.

3. In the boss stage where your editor is popping up in random boxes and taunting you to take pictures of him you can cheat by clicking the button nonstop which slows the game down to a virtual halt.

Photoboy always reminds me of my childhood dog "Cubby". When I played the boss and didn't know about the slow down trick, I was going at such a pell-mell rate to keep up with the editor that I knocked a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch off the desk and all over the poor dog. He didn't consider either the milk or cereal as real food and didn't seem to care at all that he was covered in it.

4. Seta's Bio Force Ape (Rom: http://www.mediafire.com/?x055azokohdyvys)

Bio Force Ape is quick little 3-level side scroller with slick animations and a great story. It's about this monkey who's friends get kidnapped so he drinks this solution that renders him into a testosterone-ridden, enhanced, super ape who suplexes the hell out of any anthropomorphic bee-humans or crocodile-legged sub-bosses that stand in his way. I love the way he tries to wrestle his way out of any elevator he accidentally goes in, and how he reverse face plants the dinosaur guys.

This game developed a myth around itself between collectors and NES folklorists who knew it existed and knew it was awesome. As questions of how cool it was grew and grew, someone fanned the flames tenfold by releasing ficticious photos of the game which painted it as being too awesome and too hilarious for it's own good.

Bio Force Ape is what Cheetamen 2 aspired to be but failed...the super-mammal side scroller of the ages.

5. Itoi's Mother ZERO (Rom: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=SA5OA1TB)

Shigesato Itoi's Mother series has developed a cult following over the years, the games are satirical of the RPG genre yet are very deep and very well written. It's as if the spoof is actually of higher quality than the spoofed you might say. The complete story of how this was ported and translated is available at lostlevels.org.
What makes the Mother series good? It's hard to say, the graphics suck, the gameplay of an RPG in general is repetitive and boring, it tries at times to be annoying on purpose, and the characters are bland. How is it good? It makes no sense...but it just is. 

Tim Rogers from Large Prime Numbers wrote the best review of Mother 2 that I've found and I think he may have figured out why this stupid nonsense is good. He states,

"Shigesato Itoi, producer of Mother 2 and two other games, says in a recent interview that videogames are, at their best, like prostitutes. A prostitute, he is quick to distinguish, is a lot like a lover, only that it requires no emotional input from its momentary significant other.

[Mother 2] is a prostitute that's missing one tooth somewhere you won't discover unless you look at her really hard, and she has this shitty grin on her face for some reason or another. She does nothing to provoke you to be cruel to her. And between the time she takes her stockings off and the time she puts them back on, she's going to tell you a story so creepy you will never be able to forget it. Your time with her will not be entirely comfortable, nor will it be entirely enjoyable." 

- Rogers, T. Literature of the Moment (a critique of Mother 2)

Video games are prostitutes? I think maybe what makes this series fascinating is that its creator is a very odd yet intelligent fellow himself and that his oddness and intelligence carries itself very well from his head into his work. I think Rogers may be right in his assessment of Mother 2, that quote might be the best way to describe the game.

Mother ZERO might fit that description even better, it is unique from start to finish. My favorite character in the game is a lonely soul who helps you out of your own mind as you finish up journeying through it. I don't know how he did it but with just two colors, a handful of pixels, and some words...Itoi managed to make me feel complete empathy for a character in a really silly video game. You can't escape your own mind unless you answer this guy's questions correctly and how are you supposed to know which answers are correct? I have to try and figure out what this guy wants? He wants me to ignore him? Okay, if it will let me get out of my own mind I will gladly ignore you I guess...jeez...what is this game up to? What kind of shtick is this Itoi brother pulling? The whole game is like this too. It's an interesting one that's for sure.

7. Square's Live A Live (Rom: http://www.rom-world.com/file.php?id=33303)

Squaresoft used to make SNES games that were really good, it made one or two good Final Fantasy games (VI & VII) and that really great effin' game Chrono Trigger which has a well written story and beautiful music score. Right before they made Chrono Trigger they made a strange game called Live a Live which is sort of hard to describe. It tries to cover a lot of different genres, from western to sci-fi to kung fu...and it makes for an interesting thing. See this site for a more in depth summary.

The Western and Kung Fu chapters are particularly good, I think the key is that it doesn't take itself too seriously which has made recent Square games (anything past 1997) totally awful and dangerously emo.

If you make anything creative, whether it's a song, a story, a video game (etc.), you really have to make sure you don't take it too seriously. A video game is supposed to be fun above all other things. The games they make these days take themselves too serious.