Rygarfield: The Third Impact

I realize that I let Rygarfield fall behind schedule, as I've made only two strips in fifteen months. I’m not worried, though. All of the best webcomics and many of the terrible ones go on long, largely unexcused hiatuses, so it’s only natural that Rygarfield reflect its medium. And I think the third strip is the best yet!

Abysmal webcomics aside, making Rygarfield led me to appreciate the NES version of Rygar more and more. It already occupied a special place in my nostalgia, since it was the first NES game I saw nearly in its entirety. A neighbor kid had mastered most of it, and he spent one afternoon showing me the whole game up to the final boss. I was so fascinated by the sprawling scenery, the cool monsters, and the little secrets that I didn’t realize I never actually got to play the game. Rygar may as well have been a crude pixel movie for me.

More to the point, Rygar is highly impressive for a 1987 NES offering. Most of that period’s worthwhile games came straight from Nintendo themselves; the majority of third-party titles were simple arcade derivatives or crude side-scrollers. Yet Tecmo recast the boring arcade Rygar as a spacious NES quest that mixes overhead stages with horizontal stuff, offering the player RPG-ish leveling and an arsenal of neat accessories (well, the grappling hook is neat; the rest are rarely used). The creatures encountered are remarkably varied, and there’s a lot to explore as each new item opens up previously impassible areas, like some fantasy-themed Metroid. It even has one of the earliest floating castles in an NES game!

I’m surprised that Rygar didn’t become a series-launching cult classic along the lines of Castlevania or Mega Man. Tecmo tried a PlayStation 2 remake, but it doesn’t count.

No matter. I’m sure that Rygar will see a parasitic resurgence once Rygarfield lands itself a movie deal, a low-budget CG cartoon, and fields of merchandise. Maybe someone will make bootleg T-shirts that show Rygarfield peeing on, say, a Sega Master System.

A Lack of Lunar, Elucidated

The first two Lunar games remain cases of RPG clichés done unimpeachably right. They button up every little part of the genre that grew old during the early 1990s, but they do it all with exceptional artwork, grand music, likeable characters, and cinematic aplomb (oh, and goofball Working Designs localizations that I still find irresistible). That’s especially true of the second game, Lunar II: Eternal Blue. In fact, in the whole skein of RPGs where plucky young heroes meet mysterious, blue-haired women, Lunar II is the best damn RPG where a plucky young hero meets a mysterious, blue-haired woman. And you can quote me on the box.

The original Lunar: The Silver Star gets most of the attention when it comes to remakes, but you’ll find that Softbank’s Lunar artbook, source of early production art and other things, grants a touch more space to Lunar II. For example, the second game gets this comic strip by artist Akari Funato. In it we see Eternal Blue protagonists Hiro and Lucia visiting their makers at the Game Arts offices.

It’s easy to follow if you have even a minor understanding of Japanese and game-development gags, but here’s a rough translation anyway.

Lucia: Welcome to the development room for Lunar II! Today, we'll check out the demo!

Lucia: “Please press button.” Press a button to begin, huh?

(Sound effect: Potch!)

Staff Member (off-panel): AAAAUUUUGH! YOU ERASED ALL OUR DATA!

I like this comic for several reasons, and the precious button-jabbing onamatopoiea of “Potch!” is only one of them. It’s also a humorous glimpse of just how fragile game preservation can be. Companies were often sloppy about archiving data in decades past, and today one might hear that a small developer or major publisher no longer has the source code for a famous creation. It may well be that the original data files for Panzer Dragoon Saga or Bouncer vanished just because someone hit a button they should’ve have.

There’s even more to the comic. Since Lucia and Hiro are both characters in the game currently under development, Lucia is deleting their own existence by accidentally wiping the computer at hand. In a far more graceful handling of the concept than Star Ocean 3, this comic brings video-game characters face to face with their own digital mortality. Hiro, dimly aware of this, dashes from the scene in some instinctive attempt to outrun his impending obliteration. Lucia, however, confusedly ponders the metaphysical issues raised here.

Funato also provided this art of Hiro praying for Lunar II’s safe completion while Althena, the goddess introduced in Lunar: The Silver Star, sheepishly brushes off his intercessions. This is highly appropriate given Lunar II’s jaundiced view of religion.

The question of divine meddling aside, Lunar II came out just fine. Funato drew several Lunar manga before moving on to original titles like the Victorian murder mystery Under the Rose and Desert of Stars. She didn’t go back to Lunar comics, possibly because there was no call for them after the 1990s. As far as I know, no one actually wiped out Lunar II’s data stores, but that doesn’t matter. When it comes to remakes or PlayStation Network reissues or even new comic strips, Lunar II may as well not exist.

Five Amiibo I Would Buy

Nintendo’s Amiibo figures drive people mad. You might not suspect that from a glance at the Amiibo displays in Target or Toys R Us, where plastic effigies of Mario and Link and other popular Nintendo marketing tools are in good supply. It’s the rarer figures, often based on less prominent characters, that send collectors into fits. Otherwise honest adults camp outside of Wal-Marts, refresh pre-order webpages like lab rats, rip open shipping boxes before store employees can touch them, and forge pre-sell tickets so they can trick some unsuspecting Toys R Us cashier into reserving them an exclusive piece of plastic and microchips.

The Amiibo craze isn’t quite as insane as the Star Wars frenzies of the late 1990s, but it’s approaching that critical mass. And, as with all waves of consumer hysteria, it’s fun to sit back and watch.

Have I bought any Amiibo figures? Nope. I don’t have any Wii U games that interact with them, and none of the character selections compels me. I like Bowser and Luigi and Kirby just as much as any kid who grew an overactive video-game fixation like a brain tumor twenty years ago, but I don’t like them quite enough to buy a twelve-dollar figure that I can’t put to its intended use. Yet there are indeed some Nintendo characters that I’d buy in Amiibo form, interactivity be damned. I doubt I’ll see any of them, but they’re all under Nintendo’s aegis in some way. That makes them extreme longshots instead of mere ridiculous fantasies.

Pandora’s Tower is the darkest thing to come out of Nintendo since the finale of Mother 3. True, Nintendo only funded and co-produced Pandora’s Tower while Ganbarion, an outfit known mostly for One Piece games, did most of the work. Yet Nintendo had to approve the idea of a priestess named Elena suffering a curse that gradually mutates her, which sends her boyfriend Aeron into a ring of towers suspended above some hellish fissure. He slays beasts and brings their organs back to Elena, who must devour them (reluctantly at first, then rapaciously) lest she turn into some misshapen horror. All with the Nintendo seal of quality, of course.

Aeron and Elena are good kids, but the most interesting character from Pandora’s Tower is Mavda…or rather, Mavda and her husband. Mavda is a mysterious peddler who knows way more than she lets on, and that giant skeletal nightmare on her back is her spouse, rendered monstrous and gibbering by some alchemic misadventure long ago. He’s a nice fellow, though! And he and Mavda would make the most delightfully unorthodox Amiibo.

That won’t happen, of course. Pandora’s Tower is pretty obscure already, as Nintendo didn’t even publish it here. And Mavda and Mr. Mavda are far too elaborate a pair to capture in Amiibo plastic. But I’d like to see Nintendo try.

One of the strangest fascinations of my childhood: porcupines. I thought they were the best animals ever, next to the long-extinct ankylosaurus. Perhaps my subconscious hoped to warn me that I needed thicker skin in the adolescent years ahead. That was lost on me, however. All I knew was that Super Mario Bros. 2 had an enemy called Porcupo, and I couldn’t wait to face them. I even vowed that I wouldn't kill them. Porcupines aren't predators, after all. They don't deserve a barrage of deadly turnips.

Imagine my disappointment when Porcupos showed up rarely in the game. They’re nowhere near as common as Shy Guys or Bob-ombs or Birdos, and you can miss them entirely if you use the game’s warp vases. No wonder I wanted to make my own porcupine-centric game.

Porcupo didnt lodge in the grander Mario canon. Shy Guys and Birdo drive around in Mario Kart, but no one remembers Porcupo. Only my younger self really liked them. So if Nintendo actually made a Porcupo Amiibo, I would be powerless before that unfulfilled phantom of my childhood.

I really like Treasure’s Sin and Punishment shooters, and I’m peeved that the second one, Star Successor, apparently sold so poorly that we’ll never get a third. Yet I don’t know if I’d buy actual toys based on Sin and Punishment. Yasushi Suzuki’s art is exquisite, but the base designs for the heroes and villains range from stock anime looks to really dumb outfits.

Dumb is what Star Successor hero Isa (left) wears, anyway: shorts and boots that make him look like the star of some low-budget cartoon where a space-faring kid and his dog fly around and/or learn about the solar system. However, I think heroine Kachi (on the right) merits an Amiibo for her more defined period attire. Between the hover board and the pink jeans jacket, she’s a vision of late-1980s pop future fashion. It was an age when many just assumed that Jordache and Members Only would dominate sartorial trends well into the human race’s intergalactic era.

That would make Kachi a good Amiibo in concept, but probably not in reality. From what I’ve seen, the more realistically proportioned characters in the Amiibo lineup, such as the Fire Emblem heroes, often have the faces of bootleg anime figures. So it’s best to leave Kachi in the Back to the Future II storyboards.

If someone threw money my way and made me get an Amiibo, I’d probably pick Mega Man…or Metroid star Samus Aran. Metroid was my favorite of Nintendo’s major properties in the NES days, when its stark mazes and plethora of space monsters snagged me just a little tighter than Mario or Zelda. And nothing, from the Captain N version of Mother Brain to the cutscenes in Metroid: Other M, made me give up on Metroid.

But a Samus figure would be too predictable. I’d like another Metroid hero, even if there aren’t many aside from Samus. No one wants Armstrong Houston from Nintendo Power’s Super Metroid comic, for example. So I would turn to the Etecoons and Dachoras. They appear to help Samus in Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, and they'd make desktop decor that anyone would find cute.

I like The Last Story a good deal. Maybe I shouldn’t. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi went for clichés at every turn in his Wii RPG (and his last big-budget RPG). Our hero is Zael, a young mercenary who dreams of knighthood. Our heroine is Calista, a count’s niece who has to be rescued more often than any woman should in today’s video games. I dug the game anyway. Maybe it’s the battle system, which folds ideas from action games and cover shooters into an RPG spread. Maybe it’s the exceptionally likeable supporting cast, from the nature-loving mage to the hard-drinking ladies’ man. Maybe it’s just the well-done British voice acting. I’d play through Sword of Sodan and the old PC version of Mega Man if they had affable Brit accompanyment.

Zael and Calista make an appealing couple, both in the game’s traditional fairy-tale pandering (including a take on Dragon Quest’s “Dost Thou Love Me?” vows) and Kimihiko Fujisaka’s original artwork. This makes them too detailed for a mere Amiibo to do justice, but even compromised sculpts would be worth the effort.

Of all the entries here, Zael and Calista stand the best chance of becoming Amiibo. They’re both trophies in Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U, along with other seldom-venerated characters. Nintendo doesn’t seem to remember The Last Story enough to reissue it, but Sakaguchi’s mobile game Terra Battle kept it alive with a really hard (and temporary) side-quest that lets players recruit Zael and Calista. Nintendo could take a hint from that. And then I’d be standing in line outside Target or weaseling my way into GameStop pre-orders. No rush, Nintendo.

My Super Famicom Vacation

Not so long ago, I thought about visiting Japan once more. That idea fizzled due to a lack of time and money, but in the aftermath I decided to list all the things I want to do on such a trip. Everything I devised, whether it involved seeing Hokkaido in the winter or trying out weird arcade prize-grabbers in their native habitats, required me to be within the actual borders of Japan.

Yet the list had one feasible, low-priority entry: buy some cheap old video games. It’s very easy to find imported games on eBay these days, and many of them aren’t even expensive. Sellers frequently put up lots of potentially decaying cartridges and start the bidding low, counting on their exorbitant shipping fees to turn a profit. I watched for a few weeks before deciding on my inexpensive and possibly damaged vicarious Japan-trip shopping spree: a bundle of four Super Famicom games.

Were these games that I’d buy on a trip to Japan? Well, one of them is. The others are just a sampling, the Super Famicom version of those cheese-and-sausage platters you’ll get at Christmas now and then. Let's unwrap it.

Condition: Decent front, faded back
Working: Yes

F-Zero was very important to the Super Famicom’s Japanese launch in 1990. It was slightly less important on the Super NES a year later. The Super NES had a wider array of games when it arrived in North America, but on that November 1990 morning at Japan’s toy and electronics shops, the world's first Super Famicom owners had F-Zero, Super Mario World, and nothing else.

Both were necessary. Super Mario World was the better game, and yet it looked and played like a prettier version of Mario’s older, regular-NES outings. F-Zero was something new, a dizzying futuristic racer that did things Nintendo’s old hardware never could. You played Super Mario World much more, but you showed F-Zero to parents and friends who scoffed that this “Super” Nintendo was the same old circus.

Today, F-Zero wants for impact. It’s a solidly designed game, but so much has happened since its debut. It doesn’t have weapons or a split-screen multiplayer mode, and the player gets only four different hovercraft to control. The designers make the most of what was brand-new hardware, though you'll note that later courses are just tighter, meaner versions of previous tracks. It’s a show-off game.

The Japanese version of F-Zero is the same as the U.S. version, aside from a slightly different ending. The cartridge label, however, sports an elaborate tagline entirely in English: “THIS IS THE FIRST ADVENTURE OF OUR NEW HERO ‘CAPTAIN FALCON’. LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT HIM, EXCEPT THAT HE WAS BORN IN THE CITY OF ‘PORT TOWN’ AND HAS BECOME THE GALAXY’S GREATEST PRIZE HUNTER.”

It’s odd to see Captain Falcon built up as an enigmatic Samus Aran, since F-Zero has no story mode. The hovership-selecting screen doesn’t even list the craft’s pilots. And why’s it so important that our hero was born in “Port Town”? Did Nintendo hope that Captain Falcon would be their next breakout star? Well, he’s in Super Smash Bros., so that counts for something.

Will I keep it? Ehhh. It’s straightforward fun, but I’m not attached to F-Zero. I don’t really need to prove the technical prowess of my Super NES to anyone now.

Condition: Filthy front, clean back
Working: Eventually

Konami’s Twin Bee series is yet another long-running moneymaker that’s huge in Japan and scarce in North America. In fact, only one Twin Bee was released over here, and we knew it as Stinger on the NES. Europe also saw more Twin Bee games than North America, in a strange reversal of the usual trickling effect seen in 16-bit localizations. This doesn’t nettle me as badly as a certain other game that skipped my home country, but we’ll get to that later.

Like a brighter, better version of Stinger, Pop’n Twin Bee is a merry vertical shooter that sends its two semi-anthropomorphic ships through levels full of panda projectiles, pastel underwater arcologies, trudging pineapple soldiers, and endlessly upbeat music. I’d call it a cute-‘em-up, but I never liked that term.

There’s more to it than pink hippos and mad scientists, of course. Pop’n Twin Bee has plenty of ideas: close-range punch attacks, satellite followers, and power-up bells that change their bestowed ability as you bounce them across the screen with your shots. It even has a “couple” mode where enemies prefer to target one player, presumably the more skilled of the two.

Pop’n Twin Bee isn’t bad at all, but something bothers me. You know how games like Xevious and Dragon Spirit and the rightfully forgotten XX Mission give you separate shots for aerial enemies and ground-based ones? I hate that. Can’t we, the players, assume that whoever is piloting that starfighter or helicopter or dragon is skilled enough to fire on terrestrial and airborne targets without our help? It’s a needless separation that rarely makes a shooter more interesting. The Twin Bee titles do  this, so Pop’n Twin Bee has the same discrete weapons. At least it's forgiving in its shot detection. Yes, even the bullets are laid-back.

Will I keep it? Probably not. It’s worth playing through once, but I’m sure I can find someone who likes Twin Bee games more than I do.

Condition: Dirty label, faded all over
Working: Yes

An observant soul once noted that “RPGs are the sports games of Japan.” Just as you’ll find Madden and NHL titles aplenty if you look for old video games in North America, retro-hunts in Japan turn up cheap RPGs aplenty. While I’m not sure if RPGs are the most common find in the Japanese market (what about pachislot games?), they’re much easier to come by there. This Chrono Trigger cartridge would command ridiculous eBay prices were it the North American version, yet its Japanese equivalent probably goes for less than a vending-machine soda in its native land.

Of course, it’s still worth playing. It’s Chrono Trigger, the inventive time-travel RPG that brought together major talents from both Square and Enix, who by 1995 dominated the genre. Chrono Trigger is breezy, compelling, and backed by some of the best music and visual design to hit the Super NES. If you want proof of its quality, look to the insufferable twits who’ll tell you “There’s only one Japanese RPG I like,” as they swirl the “Japanese” part like it’s a mouthful of spider venom. Their next words will be Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, or perhaps Panzer Dragoon Saga. Clearly, Chrono Trigger has undeniable appeal.

My Chrono Trigger isn’t in the best condition, and upon starting it up I saw save files from previous owners. This made me suspect a degraded battery, but the game recorded progress just fine. Whoever sold it simply wiped out the saves. That was thoughtful, but a little disappointing.

Will I keep it? I think so. I own Chrono Trigger on the DS, but there’s something comforting about having the original cartridge on hand, worn as it is.

Condition: Pretty nice
Working: Yes

This brings me to the real reason I picked up these four cartridges. One of them is Tenchi Souzou. It's known as Terranigma in England, France, Germany, Australia, and, well, a lot of countries that aren’t the U.S. or Canada. That’s because Nintendo never released it on these shores, despite their having a perfectly valid English translation. This remains a terrible oversight, as Terranigma is the third, final, and best part of an unofficial trilogy that includes Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. It’s all the work of Quintet, a talented studio that made innovative, thoughtful action-RPGs during the Super NES era and then drifted off into puzzling obscurity. Their current Schrodinger status is one of the biggest mysteries in the game industry.

Playing Terranigma makes its creators’ vanishing all the sadder. It’s an action-RPG that sends its hero Ark from a warped hollow earth to the newborn world above, and it succeeds as much as a melancholic saga of chaos and renewal as it does a fun little game in the overhead-view tradition of Zelda, Crystalis, and Secret of Mana. It's the work of a developer at the top of their craft, and its late-stage Super NES graphics and music ably evoke the fragile wonder of creation and the inevitable loss that all change brings. I’d call it the best Super Famicom game never released in North America, a shortsight not even amended in this era of Virtual Console reissues.

Enough people want Terranigma to make it very expensive today, but you can land the Japanese version for much less. It’s easily the best find among these four games, and the cartridge is in surprisingly good shape. I halfway suspect that the seller pegged Tenchi Souzou as the centerpiece, the prize in a box of old cereal, and padded out the auction with three weather-beaten cartridges serving as a mound of stale Cookie Crisp. I don’t care, of course, because a Super Famicom grab-bag was precisely what I wanted.

Better yet, this Tenchi Souzou cartridge has old save files! It’s always great to encounter someone’s record. The rise of CD and DVD media obviated the need for saved games, but you’ll see them still on the 3DS, the DS, and just about any old cartridge RPG. Whenever they appear, you’re given the task of deducing the former owners’ personalities and value systems based on nothing more than how long they played and what they named their characters. This culminates in you deciding which file to delete to make room for your own. Propriety suggests that you bump off the one with the shortest playtime, but I see to it that any save with a name like “SHITMAN” or “BUTTZ” is first for the chop. The only exception is Final Fantasy V, where Buttz is an acceptable transliteration of the main character's name.

At least two players enjoyed this Tenchi Souzou cartridge before me. MIX made it all the way to the game’s bizarre pseudo-historical China, while Tsunami only lasted a few hours and took Ark to the planet’s surface. Even so, Tsunami was a better player than I. It took me 45 minutes to make it past the first tower.

Will I keep it? Yes, of course. This was the Super Famicom game I wanted most, and if I came back from Japan with Tenchi Souzou alone, I’d call it a good haul. Besides, MIX and Tsunami left me a challenge, and I don't want to disappoint them.

Mega Man Legends Untold

Sony’s Greatest Hits line is straightforward and mostly beneficial: publishers shamelessly reissue their games, and any interested holdouts or impulse buyers get to nab previously full-priced titles for about twenty bucks. These Greatest Hits revivals show slightly new packaging, however. Original PlayStation re-releases have a neon green border, while PlayStation 2 and 3 titles bear red standards. This doesn’t sit right with some collectors, who resent those colors glaring at them from a shelf otherwise filledwith traditional Sony-brand black labels.

I suppose that’s important, but I’d like to tell you about one Greatest Hits game superior to its original release.

That game is Mega Man Legends, the first in a series that reimagines Mega Man as a 3-D action game in a world of floating isles and mechanized treasure hunting. It’s a wonderful line carried by capable designs and adventurous charms (for which Capcom looked more to Yatterman than Astro Boy), and I recommend all three titles.

I’d like to say that Capcom will put them on the PlayStation Network in North America just as they’ve done in Japan, but that’s unlikely. The word is that Capcom doesn’t want to re-license the English voice acting. Using those performances might be controversial, anyway, since Teisel Bonne’s voice actor was convicted of child porn possession in 2008. Recording new voices would be expensive and contrary to Sony’s PSN standards. And Mega Man Legends never was a huge seller in the first place.

If you want the Legends games legitimately and in English, it’s the second-hand market for you. Mega Man Legends 2 and The Misadventures of Tron Bonne already climb to exorbitant prices, but the original Legends is more common and thus costs less than it did brand-new back in 1998 (and by the recently ballooning standards of retrogame collecting, that’s a bargain). If you go for it, don’t be ashamed of getting the Greatest Hits version and its day-glo cover. Here's why.

This is what you’ll find if you open the original black-label version of Mega Man Legends. The manual’s back cover promotes Breath of Fire III. Lacking the impressive artwork that accompanies even mediocre Breath of Fire games, the ad isn’t all that interesting. By the way, I stole the photo from this auction, so let’s be nice and visit it for the next few days.

And what about the Greatest Hits edition? It may be the color of a radioactive party favor, but within lies a nice surprise.

Yes, the back of the manual shows Data, Mega Man’s loyal Save Monkey! Fans of the series seem to adore the Lego-esque Servbots, but Data is every bit as cute. He saves your game, provides upgrades, and even does a little dance if you stand there and watch him. He’s much better than some pitch for a middle-ground Capcom RPG.

You’ll note that the Greatest Hits disc itself is a stodgier black instead of the original release's authentic Mega Man blue. Yet that's a cavil easily pushed aside. The Greatest Hits version of Mega Man Legends has a precious little monkey-robot welcoming you every time the case pops open, and so it emerges as the better choice.

Even so, those persnickety collectors may have a point about the Greatest Hits label. It looks a little strange in my game library.

Reading: Flying Saucers and the Scriptures

No grade school class is complete without one kid fascinated by the paranormal. I did my best to fill that role. I read books on UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, Bigfoot, assorted lesser cryptids, and anything that fell under the label of “the Unexplained.” I watched Unsolved Mysteries faithfully, hoping each time for a UFO case or a haunting instead of those tedious “Fraud” stories. And of course I spent bedtimes and evenings in the fearful hope that a UFO would zag across the sky or, better yet, an alien would phase into my living room.

I read fewer and fewer of those books as I got older, and I was far more skeptical when I returned to the ideas as a teenager and a warped adult. I realized that there’s little credible evidence for extraterrestrials, that Bigfoot would’ve been captured by now if it existed, and that, heartbreakingly enough, Nessie is a fish, a fake, or a swimming deer. Oh, and the Flatwoods Monster, Mothman, and the Hopkinsville Goblins all were just owls.

Of course, that doesn’t shake my fascination for the Unexplained, even when it’s easily explained. I love weird creatures and crazy theories and anything that lurks just outside of the plausible world. So when a friend of mine mentioned a book called Flying Saucers and the Scriptures, I knew I’d have to read it one day. This was due in part to a minor mystery. My friend had borrowed it from the library of a Christian college in Ohio, but it had disappeared from the shelves when he sought it out years later. Someone or something wanted this book to be forgotten. That, or they wanted to sell it to me for twenty bucks on Amazon.

Books that combine UFOs and the Bible generally take one of two paths. Devoted UFO nuts maintain that scriptural accounts of Ezekiel’s fiery flying wheel or the Book of Enoch’s fallen angels are veiled descriptions of alien visitations, refracted through a culture that had no concept of such things. Many Christian interpretations take the opposite track: UFOs, including those of the modern age, are either heavenly or demonic messengers, and today’s secular science interprets them as alien in origin. Flying Saucers and the Scriptures leans toward the latter school of thought…but it’s not what I expected.

John W. Dean’s Flying Saucers and the Scriptures devotes itself entirely to the contactee movements of the 1940s and 1950s, when Americans wanted a flying-saucer craze but hadn’t yet developed UFO abductions and gray aliens and lost time. It was a much simpler era. Contactees usually met perfectly human-looking aliens, took rides in rockets or car-shaped spaceships, and saw the vast civilizations of Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and undiscovered planets. Much of it started with George Adamski, whose encounters with suspiciously Nordic “Space Brothers” led to others claiming they’d taken joyrides with aliens who had cities on the moon and dire concerns about nuclear war. The culture brought around such enduring fiction as the Book of Urantia and the Church of Scientology, but most UFO contactees faded from sight after a decade or so of writing books and giving seminars and founding short-lived, semi-profitable cults.

Dean backs all of them. Issued by the self-publishing charlatans at Vantage Press in 1964, Flying Saucers and the Scriptures is his attempt to reconcile alien contactees with Christian tenets, and it’s a weird collection of uncritical reportage and gullible pseudo-science. Dean recounts the tales told by notable contactees: Adamski’s Space Brothers, Buck Nelson’s dead civilizations of Mars and Venus, and Reinhold Schmidt’s spaceship rides and coffee chats with extraterrestrials. He also reprints benevolent letters from space people, and he charts known planets as well as the Earth’s undetected alternate-orbit sister world, Clarion. It’s perpetually on the other side of the sun, so we can’t see it. You know, just like Gor and Hestia and Melancholia!

When not credulously recounting these stories, Dean points out the religious aspects of the alleged aliens’ beliefs. Schmidt, for example, relayed that Jesus had ascended to Venus after his time on earth and would return around 1998. The Spacemen of contactee stories have laws resembling the Ten Commandments, cosmologies that include Jesus and the Creator, and an enlightened, peaceful way of life. Dean finds all of this superior to the people of his own blighted planet, and he chides NASA and the government for spending millions on space exploration when they could talk with contactees who clearly explored the vast forests of Mars.

It’s an awkward read in many ways. Free of professional editors, Dean apparently dumped a single rambling lecture into the book. He leaps one subject to another, with no chapter breaks, and his mixtures of astronomic measurements and goofy space stories sound delusional even by the standards of the 1950s. Surprisingly, there’s not much exploration of scripture. The author occasionally delves into Elijah and Ezekiel’s possible encounters with flying saucers, but he’s far more concerned with giving credence to contactee accounts, even when they contradict each other.

Dean also provides drawings and photographs of UFO interiors and star charts. To those who doubt their accuracy, he charges “if you say they are fake, then try to fake one yourself.” Of course, most of the pictures are primitive shots of flying saucers obviously superimposed in the sky, interspersed with photos of contactees. The only mysterious one is a blurred photo of a Venusian named Bucky…and it’s right below a shot of an authentic dog of Venus.

Most of the stories recounted by Dean are routine. Space-folk pick up a contactee, show him or her a few cities, reveal the greater truths of the universes, and perhaps cure some earthling maladies. It’s tame, unimaginative stuff compared to those haunting, vaguer accounts from abductees who floated out of their rooms and awakened on operating tables ringed by huge-eyed greys. If I’d found this book as a kid, I’d have lasted only a few paragraphs before trading it for Monster Hunting Today or Intruders or Mysteries of the Ancient Americas.

If nothing else, Flying Saucers and the Scriptures is an interesting look at just how seriously some people took the contactee movement and how they made no effort to dress up their chicanery—they didn’t even put alien antennae on their Venusian dogs. It’s hard to tell if Dean was running a con or if he was raptly convinced that aliens gave humble Missouri farmers outer-space versions of holy writ, but there’s something amusing about his guileless presentation of just about every detail fed to him. I especially liked this exchange from Dean’s interview with a contactee named James Hill.
Are those from different planets of different heights?
Yes. Some are giants ten feet tall. There are also small men and women—midgets and pygmies—not many, but more than here on earth, and they are not segregated.
Are there any fat ones?
Spacemen of the 1950s may be avatars of interplanetary peace and Biblical truth, but they’re not above fat-shaming.

Poorly organized and dull it may be, but I liked Flying Saucers and the Scriptures for its quaintly insane flying-saucer stories. It’s a look at an era when pop-culture alien encounters meant visits to the cities of Jupiter instead of nighttime kidnappings and cow mutilations. A lot of modern UFO fans ignore that era, perhaps because it seems so silly next to today’s creepier, hazier extraterrestrial sightings. Yet people believed in it enough to write and read books about it.

In fact, John W. Dean believed in it so much that he wrote more books. His Flying Saucers: Close Up came out in 1970 with a special message on its cover.

I think I have to read it. I still have a role to fill.

A Demo Demo Dilemma

I discussed the Demo Demo PlayStation series here before, partly because it has the only publicly released bit of Bounty Arms and partly because it’s a neat relic of the PlayStation’s uncertain first year. The Demo Demo line appeared in store kiosks shortly after the PlayStation’s debut in late 1994, when Nintendo and Sega and even the NEC-Hudson alliance dominated much of the game industry’s giant Risk board. Demo Demo lasted only a few years and was soon forgotten, but it helped show off Sony’s new system in time of need.

Demo Demo discs weren't sold commercially, but they had to catch the eye in stores. That’s why a lot of them have comics on their covers. They’re simple strips with a few recurring characters, and among them are two girls who serve as a doofus and a straightman (or “boke” and “tsukkomi” if you want the Japanese terms) as they promote Sony products. I previously looked at one of their cover comics, and I now present their first appearance, which comes on the only Demo Demo PlayStation disc I still own. Through no coincidence, it’s the one with the Bounty Arms demo.

I guessed wildly and incorrectly when I summarized a Demo Demo comic before, so I’ll translate it here. Neither character has a name as far as I can tell, and it’s tempting to label them Demo and Dummo. But I'll be consistent.

Brown-Haired Stupid Girl: I wonder if these games are any good…
Blonde-Haired Smart Girl: Why don’t you just go to the store and try them out on Demo Demo?

Smart Girl: Check out videos of new and upcoming games! Play demos yourself! And there’s a new edition every month!

Stupid Girl: Wow, this game’s really interesting! Oh, but so is THIS one! Uh oh, which one do I want?
Smart Girl: Sigh. There she goes…

There’s less of a joke here than we see in the girls’ later outing, but it revolves around the fact that someone can’t decide what PlayStation game to get. And why? Because every PlayStation game is amazingly good. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nekketsu Oyako or Cosmic Race or TAMA or Toshinden or Kileak: The Blood, my dear, because you’re guaranteed to love it!

Our indecisive heroine’s friend could just tell her to get Ridge Racer, which was the console’s most impressive first-round release and still plays well today. However, Sony has a Demo Demo quota to meet this month. Something’s gotta move PlayStations, and I’m afraid it won’t be Bounty Arms.