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When I was a kid, once I had my own NES, I was able to rent a game for it at least once a month or so. At the local All The Best Video where I lived, they had a surprisingly decent game rental selection for a small town, and their NES stock was, I’d wager, at least 100 or so games deep at one point in time. Sufficed to say, from about late 1990 to mid-1995, I rented myself a fair share of games. I’d even go so far as to say that over that time I probably rented well over half of what they had available. Every once in awhile we’d rent from a different store, but it was usually All The Best, and so I got well acquainted with their rental section.
I was the kind of kid that would check something out just to check it out, and playing game roulette was pretty much like any other form of gambling: sometimes you won big, sometimes to lost hard.
The worst game I ever rented, hands down, was “Defenders of Dynatron City”. Now mind you, I rented some really shitty games, games that were barely playable, crappy stories (if there even was one), you name it, but I almost always stuck with them and tried to beat them if I could. I didn’t mind if a game was “bad” as a child, I just loved playing video games. But there was one in particular that stuck out as just pure, unadulterated horseshit, and even in my childhood innocence and tolerance, this was one stinker that I just couldn’t put up with. It was so bad, I only played it one time after renting it, and only for about an hour before I probably literally said “fuck it” (to myself, quietly of course). Honestly, I might have to do a whole article on that shit-fest someday, as obviously I’m already having flashbacks and going on about it way too much.
But of course, for every stinker I rented, I’d have to say that there were at least two decent games I’d also get, I lucked out in usually having some pretty good taste. A lot of times, all you had to go on to key you off on what you should try, was box art. Box art back in the 8-bit era genuinely was ART, literally it was typically hand-drawn, some cool image to draw you in. Sometimes the image was a total lie and the game was crap. Other times you lucked out and the image was a preview of how awesome the game was going to be. Every once in awhile, I’d really strike gold, and get a game that, at least to me, was pure awesomeness. One such game was an obscure little nugget by the title of “Monster Party”.
Just look at that box art. One quick glance at it should be all you’d really need to see why I was instantly attracted to this game. Hell, if I’d never played this game in my life and saw this cover today, it’d STILL draw me in. To be fair, not all those monsters pictured are actually in the game. I’m not sure there was a Gillman, nor a Yeti/Sasquatch/Whatever that thing is, or Dracula. But that hardly matters, what matters is that that art is freakin’ awesome, and seeing it at 10 or 11 years old, I absolutely HAD to play it.
For a bit of background, the game was developed by a group called Human Entertainment, creators of the equally bizarre NES game “Kabuki Quantum Fighter”, as well as the Japan-only Fire Pro Wrestling series, and the slightly more well known Clock Tower series which would later appear on the original Playstation. It was published by toy company Bandai, who had a video games division mostly used to promote their properties like Mobile Suit Gundam. The game originally released in the states in June 1989, but I didn’t personally play it until probably around 1992 or 1993, I’m going to say. As for the game itself, in a nutshell, the story features a young kid named Mark, who is on his way home from a baseball game, when he was suddenly happened upon by a gargoyle of a fellow called Bert. Bert needs his help in ridding his home world of evil monsters who are out of control. Mark says “No thanks”, but Bert convinces him it’s totally kosher, grabs him, magically fuses with him so they are one being, and away we go to “Dark World”.
One look at the title screen, with it’s weird but oddly cheery music, that toothy-grinned monster face, and a parade of monsters that pass by the screen if you wait awhile (all of which are bosses later in the game). Just look at that green slime, and even the Jack O’Lantern icon with which you choose “Start” or “Continue”. This game right from the get go just kind of screams “Halloween Game!”, which is why I’m here talking to you about it now. Catchy music? Check. Cool looking title screen? Check. Jack O’Lantern? Check. Parade of interesting monsters that makes me want to see more? Check. Everything in order to make me super interested in this game, right from the first screen. So you press start and…….
As you can see, this is the very next screen you get after pressing start. I must tell you, as a kid I had never ever seen anything like this in a game before. I was so momentarily shocked to see a dripping blood-filled screen with bloody skeletons, that I’m pretty sure I must’ve done a double take, and then looked over my shoulder to make sure my grandmother didn’t see. Because if she had, it might’ve been game over before I even got to really play the thing. Deep down inside, I was probably excited (if not also a little scared) by this image, but even though I should have known better, seeing this didn’t prepare me for what would come…
So the very NEXT screen you get to, is the first level, and you are immediately smacked in the face by an overdose of bright and colorful and cute. I was probably as genuinely surprised by this as I was by the bloody screen before. The music is bright, chirpy and bouncy, there’s hot pink in the background, the platform blocks are smiling at you. I mean what’s a few flaming ninjas trying to kill you and human legs sticking out the ground trying to kick you between friends? Even the first boss encounter is fairly tame, a talking plant that spits bubbles at you. The gameplay was solid, it seemed fun, I could get over the weirdness of going from bloody bones to happy faces. What the hell, I was digging this game. And thus I was totally suckered in, just like the game wanted me to be, totally unprepared for what happens when you reach the screen above….
So like I said, you get to this huge, weird looking tree with happy faces all over it, which comes at about the stage’s half-way point, everything seems normal, hunky dory, no problem. Then you take a few steps from left to right on the screen, and suddenly the game has a flashing lights seizure. When the lights stop flashing, it goes from cute to what you see above. Gooey, gory, grotesque and just….goddamn. Again, as a kid, I had never seen anything like this in a game before, and even that “Round 1” bloody bones screen before had not prepared me for the “GOTCHA” transformation moment this game pulls on you in the middle of the first level. It isn’t just that bright colors and happy faces are replaced by slime and bloody skulls and melting zombie faces. The happy, bouncy music also changes, to a slow, dark, brooding (and awesome) piece that really sets the change in tone, even more so than the graphics. Just so you know, this is the only time anything like this happens in the game. The rest of the levels, while all unique and bizarre in their own right, stay what they are the whole time. But then again, to be fair, I’ve never played any other game where something like this happens. So just for this first level shake-up alone, the game is noteworthy. But that is hardly all.
This is one of the “bosses” from the game, in fact the second one you happen upon before the level goes batshit. This one picture pretty much tells everything you need to know about Monster Party. It has a quirky but dark, sense of humor that pervades throughout, and an overwhelming (but still cool) cloud of “What the hell?” weirdness that just kind of hangs over everything. The way the game works, is that you play as Mark most of the time, but can change into Bert buy getting the occasional “Dr. Mario” looking pill capsule, that will temporarily transform you. Of course, you WANT to play Bert as often as you can, because he’s a cool dragon/gargoyle man who can fly and shoot beams from his eyes. Mark is cool too, but I mean, really, he is just a kid with a baseball bat. As Mark, you hit things with your bat, or as you quickly learn is better for boss encounters, you hit projectiles that some enemies shoot back at them. As Bert, of course, you flap around and try to shoot them from a distance with your beams. As for those boss encounters, the way this game handles bosses is a bit different from most, as with the exception of the very last boss, there are no real “end of level bosses”. Instead, there are rooms scattered throughout the level you can enter. Some have nothing in them, but a few (usually 3-4) in a given level will hold a boss you must defeat. You have to destroy all the bosses in a level to get the key to open the gate at the end and move on. And of course, all of the bosses are very, very strange.
The “Sorry I’m Dead” monster is more of an in-game joke than a “boss”, as it’s already dead when you get there, and you get a little question mark power up from it (usually) for doing nothing. But the other bosses in the game, with only one real exception, you actually have to fight. Some aren’t so bad. Others, like this Jerk O’Lantern above, can take some real effort (and patience) to beat. He in particular jumps around the room and shoots tiny pumpkins at you in various directions. The bosses in this game vary wildly, and most are weird as hell.
The picture above shows a boss encounter from the second level. The background is a visual homage to the 1980s “The Fly” remake, and the boss itself consists of three different kinds of giant friend Japanese food that you must fight one at a time, as they bounce around the screen trying to kill you. Other bosses include a mummy that throws it’s wrapping at you, a giant spider that wants to drink your blood, a zombie rock star with a killer mohawk, a super annoying dragon, the Grim Reaper, and even an adorable kitten that turns evil and throws TINY KITTENS at you, which you have to bat back at it to kill it. Yup.
Another thing about the game’s bosses that should be noted, is that each of them says something right before the battle starts, and a lot of the quotes are very off-kilter or even cheesy. For instance, at one point you fight a Sphinx statue that complains it’s legs have fallen asleep. There is a giant Samurai ghost who tells you he’s a slowpoke, which he is. A minotaur that yells “MOOOOVE IT!” (get it, MOO?), before hurling cows at you. A giant Pharaoh head that exclaims “Oh boy, Mark soup!”. And perhaps the most dastardly of all, a pair of zombies that rise up out of the ground, and tell you to “Watch My Dance”. The reason this is dastardly, is because you naturally assume that like all the other bosses, you have to beat the shit out of this boss until it dies. Problem is, you beat it and beat it and beat it, and they just keep getting back up and dancing some more. Quite frustrating. It isn’t until you give up in exasperation and just sit there for a minute, that you realize these zombie guys never once attack you. Literally all they do is dance. And if you watch them dance long enough, their song will end, they’ll melt back into the ground, and you get your reward. “Watch My Dance” indeed.
It kind of goes without saying by this juncture that Monster Party is one of the single oddest and most outrageous games ever made. The fact that so few gamers have probably ever heard of it, let alone played it, makes that both better and also worse. Better because it’s like this awesome secret that only you and a few others have shared. But also worse because it’s a good enough, and weird enough game that you know it’s a secret other people NEED to get in on. Any gamer worth their salt, as far as I’m concerned, needs to check this game out. It’s hard as hell (especially towards the end). And it’s even sadistic at times if you don’t know what you’re doing (such as with the goddamn haunted house maze level). As you can see, you’re able from level one to build up a lifebar that stretches the whole length of the screen almost. But the trick is, it’s harder than hell to actually KEEP it anywhere near full, and you don’t regenerate much health between levels. This game is, in fact (while I kinda hate the phrase), the epitome of “NES hard”. But it’s still totally worth playing. It puts you through eight stages of hell. But it’s a hell that if you’re persistent enough, and also a bit lucky enough, you’ll maybe get through, and be glad for it.
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South Park: Chef’s Luv Shack
There are hardly any South Park games released on home consoles nowadays, but back in the late nineties a trio of titles based on the show were developed.
There was an FPS (South Park), a racing game (South Park Rally) and a party game (Chef’s Luv Shack).
Despite the difference in genres, they all shared one common trait – they were all at their best when played with friends.
It isn’t just a recommendation that you play Chef’s Luv Shack with friends though – but almost a requirement.
Set up as a quiz show, the game has you competing with up to three other players in order to gather the highest number of points (or dollars) at the end.
It’s as shallow as a puddle in terms of modes, with no dedicated single player option (you can choose how many rounds you play, from 2 up to 8 – and that’s it) but fortunately the main body of the game is enjoyable enough.
Each round consists of a few quiz questions and a mini-game. Questions fall into certain random categories, such as ‘people who eat people’, ‘aliens, assholes and anal probes,’ and ‘DNA holes.’
Sometimes questions are simple, and other times they’re purposefully random – making answering them a gamble. Getting one right wins you 500 points, and getting it wrong deducts the same amount.
You have to press a buzzer to attempt to answer the question as well, which inevitably makes thing very frantic indeed if there are several contestants.
There are some variations to break up the question and answer format, such as the wheel of fortuitousness (where if you land on a certain section you get a points bonus or are allowed to play an extra bonus game) or a pressure round – where if you get enough questions right a huge anal probe/drill is rammed up Cartman’s…well, you can guess where.
As you might expect, the mini-games are where the most fun is to be had, and most of the challenges are incredibly simple but perfectly suited to simultaneous competitive play.
‘Asses in space’ is an Asteroids clone for example, and has you destroying as many rear ends as you can before you lose all your lives. It’s easy to pick up, and with more than one ship on the screen things can get joyously messy.
A game that requires button mashing is ‘Eat this,’ which has you taking part in a pie eating contest. You have to press A and B to eat the pies, and the d-pad to get rid of the empty tins, and if you can get a rhythm is enjoyably hypnotic.
One other example is the Game & Watch inspired Scuzzlebutt, which has you moving left and right to bounce falling water balloons off a trampoline onto a tree (that’s on fire and has scuzzlebutt trapped on top of it).
Although each game is basic, they each have a slightly different concept or control scheme behind them, and there’s enough of them to stop the game from getting dull too soon.
It goes without saying that you have to play it in short bursts to keep it fresh though, but brief plays are what it’s seemingly been designed for anyway.
The game still holds up fairly well today as well – for two main reasons.
One is that the basic graphics actually depict South Park fairly accurately, and secondly there’s very little out there quite like this, even today. Sure, there are slicker quiz game experiences – but none of them have the cast of South Park.
The game admittedly isn’t as funny as the show, but there’s more than enough here to satisfy fans.
Overall, the anarchic nature of the show is well suited to the party game format – and if you’re a South Park fan this is an essential purchase. It’s fairly cheap nowadays as well.
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Well known as being a crushing disappointment when it was released back in 1998, it’s difficult to know exactly who would want to play Mission Impossible nowadays.
What’s really surprising about revisiting it today though is how you can still see the potential underneath the myriad of design missteps. It wasn’t dubbed ‘dissapointing’ for nothing.
Based on the TV series rather than the movie, the game opens with that tune and with some truly shonky looking character introductions.
Supposedly made to look like each person is twirling towards the screen, they instead look like they’re suffering from some serious spasms.
Things don’t get any better with the opening cutscene, which is woodenly animated and incredibly ugly and angular. It was never going to look good next to modern titles, but it’s still noticeably poor.
The first mission is also dull, and lacks any of the verve or excitement of the opening of say, Goldeneye.
You’re tasked with infiltrating a frosty Scandinavian (well, I presume it’s Scandanavian – the game gives all of its locations fake names for some reason) base and destroy the submarine within it.
Sounds promising, but it’s almost insultingly simple. You go into a building once you’re into the base, knock out a guard, disguise yourself as him (face changing is a big part of the game) and then stroll to the exit.
You then get to the next section, and have to find some bombs (why you didn’t bring your own is never explained) and plant them onto the sub and escape.
This had the potential to be a tense and stealth-based affair, but the game allows you to alert all the guards in the complex and still survive.
Thanks to the huge health meter (that’s the fuse at the bottom of the screenshot above) you can take hit after hit and grab the bombs, attach them to the sub and escape with no trouble at all.
It feels cheap, and there’s no satisfaction to be had from defying the odds as it was so easy.
Still, it’s perhaps fortunate that stealth wasn’t an pre-requisite in the mission, as the controls are woeful if you’re hoping to avoid detection. The main reason for this is because it’s nearly impossible to control the camera.
You have to move your hand off the analogue stick and use the d-pad to rotate the camera, which is as clumsy as it gets.
This means the C-pad is used to select your items and the d-pad for the camera, whereas it should have been the other way around.
So after this limp opening you may be ready to give up hope, but the next mission is markedly better – or at least, it starts off well.
You must access the important areas of a Czech embassy while disguised as a waiter, while also having to rig the air ducts with gas bombs and assume the identity of the Ambassadors Aide.
The way you achieve the last objective is actually surprisingly enjoyable and amusing. You not only have to spike his drink, but also have follow him to the bathroom and knock him out (and then change your face to his).
Most amusing is the cutscene where you drag the unconscious aide into the bathroom. You see him being slowly pulled in, and it looks incredibly dodgy – this clip must have been included as a joke.
What even more hilarious is when you take out the female assassin in the same place. Look 4 minutes and 53 seconds into this video to see for yourself:
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This section ultimately makes you feel like an undercover agent though, and is a great example of why people’s hopes for this game back in 1998 were so high.
Somewhat inevitably it’s followed by a highly tedious trudge through a poison gas filled labyrinth however, which requires you to know exactly which explosive boxes to destroy to get through.
Choose the wrong route and you’re pretty much finished, as you only have a limted amount of ammunition.
To make matters worse the game froze while I was playing this section for no reason whatsoever, but with the game’s reputation for being a buggy this was no surprise.
My recent time playing the game is a perfect demonstration of the game as a whole. Small, promising snippets followed by crushingly dull or frustrating troughs.
Mission Impossible is not a complete disaster, but is sadly a case of a potentially great license squandered.
That reason was because Link from the Legend of Zelda was a playable character. Spawn was in the Xbox version while Heihachi from Tekken was in the PS2 version. I remember some fanboys of the other two systems saying Link didn’t even fit in the SC universe. Yeah I’m sure a weaponless fighter and an african-american demon from hell are perfect matches too. Link fit well with his master sword, bow, and bombs.
The rest of the game was good as the arcade version but with more modes and whatnot. Spent many hours playing this game. Unlocked all the characters, bought most of the weapons, even read some of the awful back-stories. My favorite in the series, and for the record I thought Soul Calibur IV was a big disappointment.