Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mario, Morton and Wendy: 80s Icons (Updated)

All the downloadable versions of Episode 36 appear to now be corrected. The AVI version has been re-encoded, which seems to have fixed the blockiness that started in the Big Challenge Dogfight Spirit segment. If anyone finds any more problems, please report them.

(Note: I apologize in advance for spending so much time discussing non-video game stuff in this post.)

Choices!  So many choices!  Chrontendo Episode 36 is now available in a variety of formats, including the standard AVI, the fancy 30 fps h.264 MP4, and MKV, which is some kind of weird format normal people don't use.  The MKV version uses the same codecs as the MP4, but maybe you can impress your friends by knowing what MKV is?  All of this is available to download or stream at Archive.org.  Or, you can stream it in good quality at Youtube.  My 15 minute restriction has been lifted ("Congratulations," said the Youtube message), so you can see the whole darned thing in one piece.  You'll probably want to choose the 480p option.

Let's not beat around the bush.  Just as Chrontendo Episode 5 is the "Super Mario Bros." episode, so will Episode 36 forever be the "one with Super Mario 3."  Finally, all of Nintendo's innovation, hard work, clever marketing ideas, artistry, and thuggish strong-arm tactics paid off in a huge way: with the best-selling video game of all time.*  In the US, at least, SMB 3 is the NES game - the game that defined the 8-bit generation.  In Japan it seems to have slightly less cache. If you recall the earlier post about the 2005 Famitsu reader's poll of the best games ever, you might remember SMB 3 placed at #99, below Kung-Fu and RBI Baseball!

Wait a sec? How does she even know where the warp whistle is hidden?

Commenter Chris Sobieniak calls SMB 3 "the game nobody would shut up about," and that's not about to change today, as I prattle on at some length during the actual episode.  In this post, however, I'll just discuss a couple bits of miscellany.

One thing that undoubtedly baffled kids back in they day was the Tanooki suit.  It's interesting that Nintendo didn't try to localize this item as a "raccoon suit" or something.  For those of you who don't know what a Tanooki is, it's simply the Japanese name for the animal we call the raccoon dog.  Japan seems quite smitten with the little creatures, and frequently depicts them as magical little guys with... there's no polite way to say this, I suppose... enormous testicles.

Yep, extremely large testicles.

As you might gather from the tanooki's English name, they are in no way related to raccoons, and are actually canines.  Probably the only time raccoon dogs have received any attention in the US was a few years ago, when it was revealed P Diddy was selling coats with raccoon dog fur trim.  Since raccoon dogs are basically dogs, people got a little upset and the coats were recalled.  Curiously, I've occasionally heard people of Japanese descent refer to Tanooki simply as "raccoons," so I suppose not everyone is aware that they are a completely separate species from the common raccoon.

Think about it.  This man was selling real-life Tanooki suits.

Another odd thing in SMB 3 is the renaming of the seven Koopalings.  Well, perhaps the idea that Bowser has children is kind of odd to begin with.  This means we know that Bowser has had sex, perhaps up to 7 times.  Take a moment to try to visualize that happening. (If you value your sanity, DO NOT click that link!)   In the Japanese version of the game, they were simply given generic names based on animals.  For the US release, they were named after talk show hosts and musicians.  Five of these names are still familiar today: Roy Orbison, Iggy Pop, Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Larry King.  The other two, however, might not be recognizable to those who weren't alive in the 1980s.

Morton Downey Jr was an acerbic right wing talk show host who became enormously popular in the late '80s.  He was sort of the prototype of the Rush Limbaugh conservative blowhard.  (No one in my city is particularly proud of this fact, but Downey and Limbaugh both had their careers launched by the same local talk radio station.  After Downey was fired, the station looked around for someone similar, and hired Rush Limbaugh as his replacement. Downey ended up with a TV talk show, and Limbaugh's show became nationally syndicated.)  Downey's TV show mostly consisted of him insulting his guests; he was known for popularizing the phrase, "Zip it!"   His rise and fall happened with amazing rapidity, so that by the time SMB 3 actually hit shelves in 1990, his show had been canceled and he had virtually disappeared from the public consciousness.

Naming a Koopaling after Wendy O Williams was even weirder.  One of the odder relics of the 70s/80s punk revival, Williams' band The Plasmatics briefly found a degree of fame for their outrageous stage shows.  The onstage antics involved chainsaws, Williams running around topless, and, most famously, blowing up cars.  The Plasmatics' music never really entered the punk rock canon; it's telling that their highest profile gig was opening for KISS - who were not exactly punk icons. In some ways they were more of a novelty act than a legitimate band.  However, in the early 80s, the US mainstream media didn't really know what to make of punk rock, and the Plasmatics' wild costumes, hairstyles and stage act seemed emblematic of the genre as a whole.   The result was an awful lot of media attention given to the band, with such figures as Tom Snyder claiming the Plasmatics were considered to be "the best punk rock band in the world."

While Williams and the Plasmatics became quite well known, this never translated in record sales.   You can only blow up so many cars before people start losing interest, and when SMB 3 was released in the US, Williams had disappeared from the public eye.**   At a time when bands like the Misfits were posthumously growing in stature, the Plasmatics were vanishing from the collective memory.  Of course, you can't really blame The Plasmatics for being gimmicky; there were tons of gimmicky punk bands at the time.  Once, while talking to Mike Watt, of Minutemen and fIREHOSE, I asked him about the distinctive flannel shirts that Minutemen wore.  He said that at that time, punk bands all had their own crazy costumes.  "Some of the bands wore garbage bags... we wore flannel shirts."  Apparently, Minutemen singer/guitarist D. Boon was a huge John Fogerty fan.  Interestingly, Watt later ended up backing Iggy Pop by playing bass in The Stooges. (Did you see what I did there? Brought everything back around full circle, to show the interconnectedness of the universe?  I'm like the Kieślowski of video game blogging!)

That concludes our tour of some of the lesser lights of 1980's pop culture.  What about the rest of the games this episode?   They're mostly a bunch of crap, but here's a quick look.

Jeopardy!/Wheel of Fortune


Wipe that fucking grin off your face, Marty.

One of the overarching stories we'll see unfolding throughout Chrontendo is the emergence of the US video game market.  Another chapter begins today, with the appearance of GameTek, a Miami Beach based publisher which specialized in games based on preexisting properties.  Their first two releases were developed by Rare, and proved that spending an entire game spelling out words using the d-pad is not very fun.  I was also quite outraged to find a spelling error in Jeopardy!, especially since the game penalized my (correct) spelling as the wrong answer.

Knight Rider

You would think having a shoot-out on I-5 would attract some attention from the California Highway Patrol....

Here's a surprisingly fun game.  I say "surprisingly" because the nameas on the outside of the boxes are Pack-in-Video in Japan and Acclaim in the US.  Knight Rider is very basic little drive-and-shoot game, but compared to Cobra Command, it's not bad.  I'd like to apologize in advance for using the Knight Rider game as an opportunity to make fun of German musical tastes.  I do it out of love, guys -- not only for cool German bands like Neu!, but also for awesome-yet-unhip stuff like Kraan.

Incidentally, Activision also had a bit of involvement with this game. (The entire interview, with Tom Sloper, is quite informative, BTW)

8 Eyes

Simon who?  I have no idea what you're talking about.

I don't really care for 8 Eyes, but the game sure has its fans.  Despite some protestations to the contrary, 8 Eyes is a blatant rip-off of Castlevania.  It does add a twist - you have a hawk (or is it a falcon?) that can be launched from your shoulder to attack enemies.  It also has really good music.  Give it a try.

Vegas Dream/Viva Las Vegas

Oh hai there, slot machines!

Sure, this is just a gambling game!  But this HAL-developed title adds in some nutty randomized NPC encounters between rounds of slots and roulette.  For example, a strange women approaches you and asks you to "escort" her to a show.  Later that night, she steals half your cash!   I think I can read between the lines:  beware Vegas hookers, kids.


During the actual episode I compare Daisenryaku to Hydlide: both were innovative games that had the misfortune to reach the Famicom after a superior, yet derivative game (Famicom Wars and Dragon Quest, respectively).  The granddaddy of Japanese military simulation games first hit computers in 1986.  Two years later, it got a console port.  A little too late, it turns out.

Genpei Toumaden: Computer Board Game 

A really ugly dog is about to attack me.

Way back in Chronsega 19 we saw a Konami game called Getsufuu Maden, and I pointed out its strange similarity to a Namco arcade game called Genpei Toumaden.  Well now the shoe is on the other foot, Konami!  Because Namco released Genpei on the Famicom, and made it look kind of like Getsufuu Maden!  It's gone from being a side scrolling action game to a top-down RPG.  It's also one of the most Japanese games ever - even the numbers are displayed in Japanese characters.

Erika to Satoru no Yume Bouken

An obscure adventure game from Atlus and Namco.  It would be almost completely forgotten if a programmer hadn't left an insane Easter egg in the game.

And at the bottom of the heap we have:

Cobra Command

Is Cobra Command the least faithful port of an arcade game ever?  The original arcade title was a laser disc game with high quality animation.  For the Famicom version, Data East turned it into a Choplifter clone.   That doesn't sound too bad, but Data East equipped your 'copter with missiles that cannot hit anything.   Even stranger, the screen scrolling is set up so that when you move forward, your 'copter ends up pressed against the far left side of the screen, making it unreasonably difficult to dodge enemy fire.  My least favorite game this episode....

Big Challenge! Dogfight Spirit

If this screenshot makes the game look boring, that's because it is.

... except for possibly Dogfight Spirit from Jaleco.  You fly a helicopter in this one too, though Dogfight Spirit is a vaguely Compile-inspired vertical shooter. Except that you spend the entire game flying over boring scenery evading screenfuls of enemies who constantly fire aimed shots directly at you.  That would be fine, except your helicopter is equipped with worthless, lame weapons that cannot be powered up.  One of the worst shoot-em-ups we've seen so far.

Dandy: Zeuon No Fukkatsu

No, it's Okay.  You can just totally leave the top 2/3 of the screen completely blank. No one is going to care.

An extremely ugly Zelda/Action RPG type game for the FDS.  Not much can be said about the game itself, but the history behind it is a little interesting.  The original Dandy was an old Atari 400/800 game that served as the inspiration for GauntletDandy's creator John Palevich asked Atari to include his name in Gauntlet's credits; Atari didn't do this, but a couple years later released a similar game, Dark Chambers, that was credited to Palevich, though he seemingly had nothing to do with that game.

Donald Duck/Snoopy's Silly Sports Spectacular

All right!! An Disney game... from Kemco.  It seems Hudson and Capcom weren't the only ones with rights to Disney characters.  Released as a Donald Duck game in Japan and a Snoopy game in the US, this is simply a collection of uninteresting sports minigames.  A few years later, Kemcom did a similar number when it released Game Boy Mickey Mouse games as Bugs Bunny games outside of Japan.

Black Bass II

Don't laugh. It's still much better looking that the first Black Bass game.

Or, in the USA, just plain The Black Bass.  Sure, this is better than the dreadful original Black Bass, but it's still just a dull fishing game.

Ultraman Club

While not as bad as earlier Ultraman games, this one replaces the standard side scrolling action with a strange turn-based battle system.  So it looks like an RPG, but it's really not!

I've been informed that I incorrectly typed in the number 20,000,000 in this episode.  I can't beleive I overlooked that, but remember that all episodes of Chrontendo are sold "as is."  And speaking of 20 million insane people, I wanted to point out that Chrontendo sometimes adds on a little MST3K-style stinger at the very end.  I'm quite amused by the crying ladies hugging each other at the end of this one, so make sure you watch past the credits.  And, by the way, I now have that stupid song in my head.

Last time, some folks indicated that they were having problems with the MP4 playing on Quicktime.  I tested this episode on QT and didn't get an error, so hopefully it will work for everyone else.  If not... then I guess Steve Jobs is giving you freedom from Chrontendo as well as porn.

So anyway, Chrontendo 36: check it out now.

* A record held until the Wii days, I think.  Not counting games bundled with hardware like SMB 1.

** Williams released one final, hip-hop flavored album in 1988, then retired from music.  After a few unsuccessful suicide attempts, she fatally shot herself in 1998.


qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Great show as usual, but why why why did you had too remind me of the fucking Kelly Family? They were so damn huge at the time, and I didn't understand it. Okay, I listened to Punk-Rock at that time, so I couldn't really understand it, but it doesn't change the fact that they were smelly irish hippies, living on a houseboat in a river. And still today they hold their faces in the direction of every german camera that records, whether one of them gets busted for illegal forms of demonstration, or just for some documentary soap shit in which they show that they can't do anything.
God I hate them...!

Helm said...

Oh man, youtube? I don't know if I can stop my ritual of getting excited over a new episode, then downloading the best quality version over the slow-ass archives server and setting aside time to devote to the episode later. Now I can just click on youtube and watch it right now. What do I do?!?!

GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I always enjoyed playing two-player NES Jeopardy. I guess it's the little things: the characters' crazy facial expressions on getting questions right and wrong, the fact that you can make repeated buzzing sounds if you try to buzz in after getting a question wrong, the fact that you can enter whatever extra letters you want after having entered the correct answer and still get the question right, leaving ample leeway to get very surreal or heap all kinds of abuse on Alex Trebek--okay, maybe my friends and I were easily amused. But it was fun!

Anonymous said...

Do we know that the Koopa kids are actually Bowser's kids? Wouldn't Morton Koopa Jr's father be the heretofore unknown Morton Koopa?

I like to think that Morton Jr is Bowser's nephew, son of his brother Morton. Morton, of course, being a law abiding junior executive with an up and coming Mushroom Kingdom tech company who bails Bowser out of jail and lets him sleep in the basement after each time Mario captures him.

Doctor Sparkle said...

An excellent question, Anon! One might think the Koopalings are Disney-style "nephews," but the SMB 3 manual makes several references to them as being Bowser's "children" and "kids." Morton Koopa Jr, even refers to Bowser as "father," from which we must draw the conclusion that Bowser is just a nickname and his real name is Morton. Though I'm not sure where this leaves Bowser Jr.

Anonymous said...

WoW/Plasmatics and Minutemen references on Chrontendo?! My worlds are colliding!

Anonymous said...

great episode as usual! am i crazy for being interested in that Knighr Rider game?

synt4x said...

Nice, just in time for my birthday. And what a present it is! :D


elblanco said...

Fantastic stuff!!!

Jonothan said...

I'm of two minds about the Donald Duck game. On the one hand, it's perfectly in-tone with his cartoons for him to be continually messing up at various tasks, but on the other, Goofy's the Disney character most associated with sports.

Jonothan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kendra said...

hey doc, as you are reprocessing can you keep an eye on the compressing of the avi file as well? it went super blocky for most of the last third. thanks!

Jungman Jansson said...

A handy hint for 8Eyes: Use the two-player mode even if you're playing by yourself.

You'll usually have plenty of time to do whatever needs to be done with Cutrus while leaving Orin unattended, and it's a lot less infuriating this way.

I'm still not particularly fond of the game, however.

Anonymous said...

Morton could be named for an uncle.

Is it just me, or do the NES's 3 colors per sprite limitations improve Super Mario 3's atmosphere? Can you imagine Mario wearing black and red now?

Chris Sobieniak said...

Curiously, I've occasionally heard people of Japanese descent refer to Tanooki simply as "raccoons," so I suppose not everyone is aware that they are a completely separate species from the common raccoon.

And that's how Disney got around the issue with dubbing Studio Ghibli's lesser-known classic "Pom Poko". They just simply called 'em raccoons and said their scrotum were "magic pouches" or something. Chalk it up to good ol' fashion ingenuity (being sarcastic and silly here)!

I remember the Morton Downey Jr. Show and it's weird-ass mouth logo!

Jonothan said...
I'm of two minds about the Donald Duck game. On the one hand, it's perfectly in-tone with his cartoons for him to be continually messing up at various tasks, but on the other, Goofy's the Disney character most associated with sports.

Perhaps it should've just been a game of those two then. Oh well.

Reminded the animation in both Cobra Command and that driving game mentioned before that Data East released as LD games in the arcade were produced by Toei Animation, though the quality of the animation is on par with your average G.I. Joe episode I'd say.

Reading the hidden message from "Erika to Satoru no Yume Bouken" makes me wish Boomaga of YTMND fame would do a reading of that!

Thanks for name-dropping me, DRS!

Chris Sobieniak said...

I was just thinking of the tanuki thing before and mentioning "Pom Poko", I'm reminded Isao Takahata, the director of that, also did a film a decade before called "Jarinko Chie" (or "Chie the Brat", which I alluded to some episodes ago). In that film, we see a few cats depicted with honestly-drawn balls, and it becomes rather a cute joke in the film concerning one cat who dies after having lost a 'ball' in a fight with a cat belonging to Chie. She discovers his demise while talking to his owner, a Yakuza boss who gave up his gambling room in favor of operating a restaurant after losing "Antonio"...

Anonymous said...

It's also interesting to note that Wendy O' Williams and Lemmy of MotorHead were an item at one point.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

May I watch another CHRONTURBO?

Thank you,
Hungry child

Cornervizion said...

Hi Dr S, I'll gonna be watching this shortly (I've been knicked offline again) but I remeber seeing footage of Morton Downey Jr. On the UK show "Sunday Night Clive" with Clive James, I remembered one clip when he was ranting about something or other and declared whilst waving a noose to "Hang them by their Testicles!"

A year later when Teenage Mutant Hero (That's what it was called) Turtles was shown there's an episode called "Turtles on Trial" in it they are publically Lambasted on TV by a character called Clayton Kellerman who sort a resembles an overweight version of Morton.

Quylls I agree with you on the Kelly Family, They were fortunately not big in the UK (Despite being featured on Eurotrash, an affectionate look at European culture with strong-nudity and sex, luckily not with the Kelly Family) but they seemed a bit too Cheesy for the UK to accept as pop stars. Maybe it was for the best.

Kevin Moon said...

Just wanted to check in with you, Dr. Sparkle. How's the new job going? Life in general? I miss seeing your posts more often, but "real life" is more important. I hope all is well with you and always look forward to the next episode of Chron+(fillintheblank). I'm with you for the whole journey.

Manolis 13 said...

Hello Sir!!!

1st of all, THANX SO MUCH for this show.. I can't believe how I didn't know anything about it until I was linked here ... You do a GREAT work on video games history , PLEASE keep it up mate!!! Endless Respect to your great work..

Now, this is somthing tiny, but for the sake of it, on Chrontendo Episode 2, at some point there's a game you review and you're saying "and what does a black hole in the ocean" , well I think since it's blue, it's probably a maelstrom :)

Thanx for everything mate :)

xerxes said...

Is it just me, or does the car in the Knight Rider game span the width of the entire freeway?

Looks like you're driving effin' Gravedigger.

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