Little Things: Tricky Kick

I suspect that Tricky Kick wanted to be obscure even by the standards of TurboGrafx-16 games. It presented a deliberately confusing front back in 1990. The title suggests a soccer game, but it isn’t. The “family” label suggests a party game, but it allows only one player. And the box art, with its cave-guy and samurai and schoolgirl standing on an eye puzzle, fits nothing so much as the cover of an unclassifiable prog-rock album with a title like Precambrian Odditure.

The Escherian topography of the cover hints at the truth: Tricky Kick is a puzzle game. Its characters advance through stages by booting an enemy, usually a harmless one, around the screen until it collides with an identical foe and vanishes. That’s about it. A few creative obstacles and enemy-launching gadgets pop up, but the game remains too limited, both in what you see and what you can do. It never gets even half as interesting as The Adventures of Lolo or Kickle Cubicle, but TurboGrafx-16 owners didn’t have much in that category. If they wanted to shove things around a screen with little threat involved, Tricky Kick had them captive.

The best parts of Tricky Kick have nothing to do with the gameplay. Each character gets a cute, short introduction and a unique setting: elven hero Oberon takes on an evil sorceress, schoolgirl Mayumi finds her way to her classmate Biff’s party (yes, Biff), a kid named Taro undergoes some haunted-house hazing, the feudal Japanese prince Suzuki schemes his way to rule the nation, and an Ultraman knock-off called Udon punts giant monsters around city streets. Oh, and a caveman known as Gonzo heads out to slay a big meaty mammoth.

Gonzo’s intro is my favorite piece of the game by far, due to its delightful vision of Paleolithic life. The matriarch of the family, in the absence of modern diapers, has swaddled her youngest child in her mass of untamed cavewoman hair. Gonzo’s eldest son takes after him, one of his daughters takes after her mom, and the remaining kids look like troglodyte versions of Charlie Brown…or Bonk, the bald cave-boy who became the TurboGrafx’s only respected mascot. In fact, we might be seeing Bonk’s origin right here! And maybe the purple-haired girl grew up to become Flare from The Legendary Axe or the mysterious assassin from The Legendary Axe II! It’s another point for the Grand Unified Theory of TurboGrafx games!

Most of all, I like Gonzo’s expression. You can see a determined grimace there in his beard, but a quicker glance makes it look like he has the smiling, noseless, innocent face of a Lego figure. I like that duality, even though Gonzo’s obviously not supposed to look upbeat. He knows that he faces a harsh task and perhaps a harsher return home. Should he survive his foray, he could come back to find that one of his children was snatched up by a Haast’s eagle, that his family was devoured by a sabertoothed tiger, or that his entire tribe was wiped out by an avalanche or some neighboring clan that just invented spears and genocide. But he can’t let anyone know that.

Interview: Fester's Quest

Fester’s Quest is a curious sight in the landscape of NES games based on movies and TV series. The Addams Family wasn’t particularly prominent during the late 1980s, and yet Sunsoft created a game all about it—and not just a predictable action game starring the members of Charles Addams’ macabre clan. No, Fester’s Quest is all about Uncle Fester fending off an alien invasion, with the rest of the family popping up to provide the pasty hero with potions, whips, and restorative vises.

That alone would mark Fester’s Quest as an oddity, but there’s more to its reputation. It's one of the toughest NES games around. Tougher than Battletoads. Tougher than Ninja Gaiden. Perhaps even tougher than that Captain Planet game. Fester can take only two hits (four if you uncover secret health boosts), enemies are relentless, and defeat sends Jackie Coogan’s finest television role back to the very start of the game. It vexed children of the NES era to no end, and many hate Fester’s Quest to this very day. I don’t think it’s a bad game, though. It feels a lot like the overhead sections of Blaster Master, and it has that sort of hyper-catchy music that Sunsoft always pulled off in their NES games. Plus it gave us this!

A lot about Fester’s Quest puzzled me, so I went to the source. Richard Robbins was the game’s producer (and pretty much its creator), while Michael Mendheim served as designer as well as the illustrator for the game’s cover (and over a dozen other game boxes). Both went on to more popular things: Robbins worked on the Desert Strike series and Crüe Ball, while Mendheim was part of Battle Tanx and the Army Men series. The two of them also crafted the cult classic Mutant League Football. In fact, Mendheim and others revived it this year—check out the website! Before all of this, though, they were the minds behind Fester’s Quest

Fester's Quest has a strange premise for a licensed game. How did Sunsoft decide to combine The Addams Family and an alien invasion? And why make Uncle Fester the hero?

Robbins: I had a dream, literally, for a game called "Uncle Fester's Playhouse." Pee-wee’s Playhouse was airing then. We came up with the alien idea as a quest, to save the family.

The Addams Family seems to have been a fairly quiet property in the late 1980s. Why did Sunsoft option it for a game? Did they get it as a package deal with Platoon?

Robbins:  I was a huge Addams Family fan. I called Charles Addams’ widow Lady Colyton literally at a chateau in France and started a dialog. It took many, many expensive long-distance calls and a sort of romancing to convince this regal lady to let us do a game. Lady Colyton kept talking about a movie deal, which I thought was a bunch of baloney at the time. The Japan folks at Sunsoft were extremely skeptical and gave me a real hard time. They really questioned who would care about this really old weird TV show.  

Three Irrelevant Things About The Sega Saturn

The Sega Saturn turns twenty years old today, November 22. That’s going by the launch date in Japan and not the sudden and problematic American debut. But no matter where you pinpoint the console’s birth, it’s a favorite of mine.

The Saturn doesn't get enough credit. The poor thing trailed the Sony PlayStation for nearly its entire life, and Sega never recovered from the damage done there. I had a PlayStation first, and yes, I liked it a little better. But I also bought a Saturn and realized how underrated it was. The Saturn had excellent ports of Capcom and SNK arcade games. The Saturn had weird, cool little titles like Burning Rangers and Sakura Wars and the Panzer Dragoon series. The Saturn let you play import games with ease. The Saturn turned me into a bigger game geek than I had ever been before, and it made me enjoy that.

Plenty of websites took a look at the Saturn this week, and you’ll see no shortage of recommendations when it comes to the system’s best games. It’s easy to find a rundown of just about every notable Saturn release. And I don’t know if I could really say anything new if I just went on and on about Darkstalkers or Steamgear Mash or Last Bronx.

So I won’t. Instead I’ll discuss three things that I remember about the Saturn and its under-appreciated library. Not one of these things really mattered in making the Saturn a magnificent sleeper system, but they were important to me. That's what counts here.

Time of Eve-rors

Animation mistakes are inevitable. They’re also amusing. Some fans laughed over a braid whiffing through Elsa’s arm during that big musical number in Disney’s Frozen. Others got angry about it, and that was doubly hilarious. After all, such mistakes are everywhere, from gleaming cinematic treasures to those dollar-bin knockoff cartoons seemingly composted of nothing but animation mistakes. Mike Toole put up a column and a Tumblr dedicated to anime gaffes, and this feed shows us that you’ll find goofs in just about every big-budget animated film.

But hey, those little slip-ups seldom harm the story. A security guard’s misshapen arm or a magical schoolgirl’s chameleon eyes won’t confuse the audience that much. At most, a few kids might wonder why Brawn and Windcharger show up in the background of third-season Transformers episodes even though they died horrifically in the movie. Then their parents can explain that cartoons are not always perfect and shatter one key childhood illusion.

My favorite animation error comes in Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Time of Eve, and it may be the only time that such a mistake altered the entire context of a scene.

Time of Eve, or Eve no Jikan, is a six-part series set in a future where androids can pretty much look human—so much so that they wear legally mandated hologram halos. The TV even runs commercials admonishing citizens not to fall in love with machines. Average teenager Rikuo notices some odd datestamps surrounding his family’s house-bot, Sammy, and he and his friend Misaki track the mystery to a café called Time of Eve. Inside, androids discard their halos and act like regular humans, leaving newcomers like Rikuo and Masaki unable to tell just who’s a robot and who’s a meatform. 

Cry On Over

No video game ever made me cry. Nope, not one. Many games get to me in some way, because I’m a big, sappy, hopeless mark when it comes to full-bore blasts of melodrama. Yet I have a hard time remembering any game, book, movie, song, comic, painting, sculpture, water ballet, or 15th-century Italian woodcut that’s brought me to tears. I suspect I’m just not built to sob over fiction and art. That part of me prefers that I just sulk around stunned and despondent.

I don’t think I would’ve wept over Cry On, but I wish I could’ve found out.

Making us weep was, believe it or not, the goal of Cry On. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi hoped that the game would make players cry, both in joy and sorrow, and so great was his ambition that he put it right there in the title. Cry On wasn’t a weird side project, either. Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker studio announced it late in 2005, with publisher AQ Interactive and developer Cavia on board. Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu signed up for the soundtrack, the illustrations came from Drakengard artist Kimihiko Fujisaka, and the budget hovered around $8.5 million.

Cry On promised more than wailing and rending of garments, of course. Described as an action-RPG, it showed a world not that different from a rudimentary Final Fantasy spread of medieval mythic scenery speckled with airships and other machine anachronisms. Here humans live alongside Bogles, glazed golems that transform from small totemic statues to fearsome giants. A particularly intelligent Bogle partners with the game’s heroine, a young woman named Sally.

Players were to control Sally, but the Bogle may have been the real star. According to interviews, the little ceramic gremlin would ride on Sally’s shoulder as she explores and solves those environmental puzzles that every action game demands somehow. Yet the Bogle would transform into its larger incarnation, changing its general form each time, and it could accessorize itself with rubble and other debris. The Bogle would handle much of the fighting, though Sally does have that knife on her.

Halloween Moods

I wanted to do this for a good while.

Over the past month, Dinosaur Dracula readers have posted Halloween Mood Tables of all sorts. I liked the idea, but I didn’t have that much in the way of Halloween decorations or scary movies. So I improvised with Darkstalkers stuff and Ghosts 'N Goblins, and I stretched the definition of just what a scary movie means (I even used Titanic: The Animated Movie, which is scary in several ways). Here’s a less moody version if you want a better look at the accessories!

Happy Halloween, folks! Play Darkstalkers games if you got ‘em! And, uh, if you’re old enough.

Little Things: Ninja Combat

I remember it with perfect and disquieting clarity: a line from an early 1990s issue of GamePro. A writeup about a new arcade game stated “the all-girl round is imaginative, and it starts with a surprise that we can’t reveal here, but watch out! These women are MEAN!”

This evocation of feminine mystery must have lodged deep within my borderline-teenage brain, because it stayed with me long after I forgot even the title of the game it was talking about. I recalled only that it was some side-scrolling brawler, and the arcades of the 1990s practically used those to prop open doors and whack cockroaches. Well over a decade later, I remembered that curious phrase and finally figured out that it described Ninja Combat for the Neo Geo.

The second stage of Ninja Combat leads the player to a group of women menaced by the game’s generic ninja. They even call for help with a plaintive sound effect. And you, as the hero, clearly should rescue these women just as you would a kidnapped president.

Then comes the surprise. Once you advance, the terrified hostages reveal themselves to be disguised ninja women and attack you. I’m not sure why the Gamepro blurb connoted this as “mean,” but I'll say this much: it would have surprised my younger self. Hostages were a cliche in arcade games even back in 1991, but we were used to freeing them for bonus points, whether it was the children in Moonwalker or the stone-encased citizens of Black Tiger (all of whom were old men for some reason). It’s a tradition that lives on today in any arcade light-gun shooter where unfortunate civilians cringe and dash through zombie outbreaks or anti-terrorist firefights. These citizens are inevitably mowed down by unwary younger players, who learn that shooting the innocent costs soldiers or police officers only a chunk of life meter. Or a few weeks of paid leave until the investigation clears them.

Ninja Combat isn’t very good. It’s the sort of primitive arcade title that gave the Neo Geo a reputation for mediocre games costing $200 and lasting about forty-five minutes. Yet it’s not without some invention. Enemy mid-bosses become playable characters once defeated, the cutscenes have some hysterical acting, and the enemy ninja include such novelties as harpy ninja, fan ninja, and burly executioner ninja whose Klansman-like hoods weren’t changed to appease North American audiences.

Is there more to Ninja Combat's little joke about captive damsels in arcade brawlers? Is it subtly telling us that the concept of helpless, imperiled women pleading for rescue is an outdated and chauvinistic ideal, and that those who accept it do so to their ninja-swamped misfortune?

Probably not.

Rygarfield Returns

I'm afraid that Rygarfield has not yet emerged as this century’s hottest new comic strip. At first I didn’t know what the problem might be. It has everything kids like: video games, webcomics based on video games, and ironic Garfield humor. Then I realized what was wrong. Rygarfield had only one panel instead of the multi-panel format used by every good comic that isn't The Far Side!

Now Rygarfield is the complete work that it should have been at the start. It also delivers biting commentary about cats and the marginal secrets of old NES games. It's like Howard and Nester meets Heathcliff!

Good Box Art: Advance Wars

Remember when I used to write about awful box art? Well, I actually updated the old gallery with an entry on Wing of Alnam. Lots of people discuss bizarre game cover illustrations these days, but as far as I can tell, nobody's taken a crack at this one just yet. Besides, I enjoy pretending that the last ten years haven’t happened.

I also want to highlight good box art—the stuff that sells a game better than any panting laudatory quotes or pre-order gadgetry ever could. I’ll start, in no way alphabetically, with Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s original Advance Wars.

Advance Wars is a game of jovial strategy, a game where little rounded helicopters and puttering tanks and squat, rifle-toting troops clash in big colorful battlefields. And the cover illustration captures it perfectly. Three young heroes commandeer a tank and rush into battle with such energy that the treads lift off the churned concrete. Andy, an Orange Star officer, mans the controls with a maniacal cartoon grin. It’s all a good taste of what’s inside Advance Wars.

Yet Advance Wars, like many outwardly cute video games, is rather depressing when you think about it too hard. The most disposable pieces of any Advance army, as Andore Jr. eloquently points out, are the humble soldiers in your basic infantry units, and at least a few of them are guaranteed death every time they rise to attack or defend. Advance Wars may be precious and gleeful, but it’s still about wars.

This brings me to my favorite part of the cover. Andy may brim with gusto as he guns that tank toward victory, but his companions don’t. Max wears a look of grim caution, while Sami stares numbly before her. Because they know.

Darkstalkers Redirection

Sometimes I have to ask myself why I have a set of Darkstalkers novelty head-wings. The answer is complicated.

It’s exactly what it looks like: a promotional Darkstalkers Resurrection band that you can wrap around your head like a Burger King crown. The bat-wings imitate the headgear of Morrigan, as she’s the focus of the Resurrection art and the main character of the series. Darkstalkers is notable in that respect. Street Fighter and Guilty Gear and Tekken and most other major fighting games deem men their iconic leads, but Darkstalkers has Morrigan. I suspect that's because she usually looks ready to spill out of her demon-lady costume if someone so much as pats her on the back, but hey, small victories.

Capcom gave away these bat-crowns at conventions back in 2012. They had just announced Darkstalkers Resurrection, a collection of the two best games in Capcom’s monster-fighter series, and so they put together a large booth for the game. It was a fine time to like Darkstalkers, as I certainly do. Resurrection was a great repackaging of the series, and Capcom strongly implied that they’d make an all-new Darkstalkers if the reissue did well enough.

A little blot of dread grew in me. As excited as I was at the promise of a new Darkstalkers, I suspected that Resurrection wouldn’t do so well and that Capcom wouldn’t make much Darkstalkers merchandise beyond this little strip of paper that looks vaguely like a crab's maw if you view it from behind. So I resolved to save mine. I made sure I that I got it home in one piece, and I didn’t try wearing it at the convention, even though that would’ve given me a shot at winning a free download of Resurrection (I was content to buy the game twice, once on Xbox Live and again on the PlayStation Network). I would not tarnish so wonderful an artifact with my slovenly nerd-brow.

I was right. Horribly, horribly right. Resurrection didn't sell nearly well enough to begin a new golden age of Darkstalkers, and Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono, who for years claimed “Darkstalkers are not dead,” is now a shade more taciturn about the subject. Yet Capcom still keeps Darkstalkers alive with artbooks, this poster set, and suggestively posed Morrigan statues that I wouldn’t put on my shelf. So the series will survive as long as fans lurk in the wastelands of Resurrection’s online lobbies or needlessly remind people that Morrigan is a succubus and not a vampire. They’re keeping the faith, and so am I.

Drakengard 3: Four

Drakengard 3 arrived last month. It’s a very strange game, abusive and self-mocking and technically graceless. It’s a monster that won me over in ways I never expected. It’s a lot of things, but it’s most clearly a portrait of Zero, a goddess-like Intoner who goes around a twisted medieval Europe and murders her deified sisters with a mixture of vicious abandon and blasé cruelty. I’ve talked at length about just what Drakengard 3 did to me, and it’s time for an addendum about one of the game’s more interesting characters. She’s not who you might think.

Four is the least threatening among Zero’s numerically named sisters, all of whom decided to rule the world and rather rudely didn't invite Zero. We meet them when Zero attacks their city stronghold. One is the rational leader, Two is cheerful, Three is spookily distracted, and Five is hedonistic to no end. Four seems the most reluctant to fight; during an initial free-for-all with Zero, Four pleads for her sister to reconsider such violent rebellion. Later in the game, Four is the second victim in Zero’s conveniently numbered murder spree. En route to a mountain fortress, Zero tells her companions that Four is an uptight virgin and that “deep down, she’s evil.”

If Four’s evil, we don’t see it in the prime stretch of Drakengard 3. Upon confronting Zero, Four again begs her to stop and proclaims how highly she thinks of the murderous Intoner. So great is Four’s faith in her sister that she’s even willing to fall for a blatant and deadly ruse. Later, as the game’s timeline unravels into chaos and paradoxes, Four reappears as a lunatic, driven mad by the ominous floral entity that birthed all of the Intoners. She’s a piteous sacrifice, hiding in poorly concocted innocence and a mess of happy, Zero-centered memories that aren’t even real.

For a look into Four’s true depths, one must venture beyond the central game. The short stories available on the Drakengard 3 website introduce Four as a teetering stack of neuroses. Traveling with her sisters (minus Zero), Four worries about her sibling Intoners, mends their clothes, tries to keep a borrowed house clean…and then explodes into a room-wrecking fury and seethes with hate for her family. And herself most of all.

Dark Matters

[The following article discusses rape and other forms of sexual assault as they are depicted in video games. Please avoid reading further if this subject upsets you.]

Video games seldom take a responsible tone when addressing rape. It’s rare to see a title acknowledge sexual assault as anything more than an exploitative dash, a cheap, nasty surprise for a vulnerable and usually female character. It’s a brilliant package deal for the careless writer beleaguered with demands for maturity. What better way to paint a villain as instantly loathsome, stoke the player’s righteous fury, and elevate your game above the childish superficialities of past eras! After all, trashy films, sleazy anime, and execrable comics with titles like Stormfang Saga do it, so why shouldn't video games?

The latest such attempt is in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It drops the elder of the saga’s two Snake operatives into a secret American military compound, from which he must rescue operatives Paz and Chico. Along the way, the player can uncover recordings of the game’s villain, Skullface, torturing the prisoners. Both Paz and Chico are raped. Chico is forced to rape Paz. The audio log concludes with Skullface and his surgeon planting two explosive devices in Paz—the second one apparently hidden in her vagina. Should you doubt this, the scene provides the squelching, visceral sounds of a bomb going somewhere it probably shouldn’t.

This may be the most horrifying of Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima’s uses of rape, but it sure isn’t the first. The original Metal Gear Solid strongly implies that Meryl is sexually assaulted during Revolver Ocelot’s torture sequence, the second game finds once-laughable nerd Otacon confessing that his stepmother raped him, the third has some disturbing notes about undercover agent Eva, and Metal Gear Solid 4 luridly mixes sexuality and trauma into The Beauty and the Beast Corps. The entire Metal Gear Solid web weaves together grim realities and goofy fourth-wall assaults, and Kojima’s infusion of radio-drama rape and vagina disploda is both, entwining the absurd and the horrific.

Kojima is no lone provocateur. Numerous other games trot out rape scenes with all the care of a backhandedly misogynistic romance novel, a torture-porn flick, or the Raveonettes’ “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed).” You can find it callously applied in Heavy Rain’s TV-movie interludes, F.E.A.R. 2’s finale, and just about any game where a female character’s backstory boils down to “she was raped” and little else.
Is that all video games can do? Do any of them treat the subject with a modicum of respect?

Introducing Rygarfield

You know what’s wrong with webcomics? They just don't have broad appeal. Name any webcomic, and you can find a great mass of people who hate it or, worse yet, ignore it.

Fortunately, I have devised a new project to scale magnificent heights in online comedy and profit. It is a webcomic that no one could shun, a webcomic that fuses the Internet’s boundless affection for old video games with the proven success of one of the past century’s most marketable characters. I call it Rygarfield.

Rygarfield is available for syndication, merchandising, and whatever funding you might care to send me. Feel free to make ROM hacks and memes about Rygarfield, so long as you credit me and pay me royalties. And if anyone points out that Rygarfield is a blatant arrogation of copyrighted material, tell them it’s OK under the doctrine of fair use. Just don’t tell them to look up what the doctrine of fair use actually means.

Be sure to check back for regular Rygarfield comics about sarcasm, dog abuse, and that weird, unreachable door in the water just above Dorago's lair!

Off-Kilter Instinct

I’d like to talk about Killer Instinct and B. Orchid. Really.

I admire Killer Instinct in a strange historical capacity. It’s not the reluctant fondness I have for the considerably trashier BloodStorm. It’s more of a distant appreciation for the way the original Killer Instinct summarizes all of the trends that video games toyed with in the mid-1990s. It’s a fighting game, of course, and it has plastic-looking computer-rendered graphics, profuse guitar licks, comical violence, preposterous sexism, an announcer squawking excitedly about BLASTER COMBOS, and a lineup of stereotypes exploiting everything from the Predator to Jurassic Park. And all of this came from Nintendo, who by then was sick and tired of Sega pretending to be the more daring game-industry titan.

If you want to experience a good game from 1995, play Chrono Trigger, Panzer Dragoon, or Metal Warriors. If you want to know what games were really like in 1995, play Killer Instinct.

B. Orchid is part of that, of course. Her design is an amalgamation of every unfortunate stereotype inflicted on women by that decade’s video games. She gallivants around in a skin-tight suit with “HOT” on the side, moans provocatively during her post-fight footage, and, for a “No Mercy” move, whips open her top and shocks her male opponents into cardiac arrest. Yet there was a time when people were hopeful about B. Orchid.

The above profile comes from a 1994 issue of Nintendo Power. I can sympathize with the writer who had to find good things to say about Orchid, looking as she does like some hideous 1960s Eastern European knockoff of a Barbie doll. In a bout of vague optimism, Nintendo Power suggests that Orchid will change the way female characters are portrayed in video games. In hindsight, the kindest view of Orchid is that she didn’t influence such depictions one way or the other, that she was a symptom and not a catalyst.

Little Things: Kid Kool

Some mysteries are compelling not because they’re important, but because they’re so weirdly insignificant. For one example, consider the king’s butler in the awkward and rampantly detested Kid Kool and the Quest for the Seven Wonder Herbs. He's a miniscule oddity in a lousy old NES game, and that makes the enigma itch all the more.

Kid Kool’s interminable story sequences introduce only four characters: the ailing king, his butler, the titular Kid Kool, and, in the best endings, a princess. The butler doesn’t serve much of a purpose beyond rattling off the details of Kool’s herb-gathering mission and announcing the hero’s demise. The latter happens a lot in Kid Kool, because Kid Kool despises everyone who plays it.

But it isn't the butler's dialogue that's puzzling. It’s his appearance. His haircut, glasses, and snaggletoothed nerd visage clash with the King’s Garfield-like appearance and the mundane anime-kid design of Kool and the princess. And why do his shorts clearly say “T YAN”?

It all suggests that the butler is a caricature of someone, possibly this T. Yan individual. But who could that be?

The most obvious explanation would be that the butler is a leftover joke from Kid Kool’s original Japanese version, Kakefu-Kun no Jump Tengoku: Speed Tengoku. It was a vehicle for Kenji “Kakefu-kun” Sagara, a popular child actor in Japan during the late 1980s. Vic Tokai’s Americanization of the game replaced his Hanshin Tigers baseball cap with a spiky coiffure and changed his name to the less expensive Kid Kool, but the other characters were left alone. One clue crops up in the Japanese credits: the butler’s name is listed as “Dirty Echigoya.” It also lists the king’s name as Nioccory V of Poconioccory and his daughter as Josephine Nioccory, and I have no idea what that might mean.

Yet I think I know who T.Yan is.

The Men, Women, and Weirdos of Bangai-O

Treasure’s Bangai-O games are wondrous menageries of destruction. They drop tiny robots into zoomed-out stages and let them wreak havoc with lasers, baseball bats, grenades, and blinding storms of enough missiles to choke an Ichiro Itano dogfight. This brand of adorable chaos is easy enough to find. Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury is still on Xbox Live, and Bangai-O Spirits is pretty cheap among DS games. They’re both decent games, and yet they lack one endearing point of the original Bangai-O: nonsense-spouting bosses.

The dialogue is one of the best parts of Bangai-O, odd as that may be for a shooter with no real storyline. Robot-pilot siblings Riki and Mami get advice from a bored housewife and a medium who channels long-dead celebrities, and every stage caps off with some bizarre boss who pilots a rival mecha or sits in a computer core. In localizing the Dreamcast version of Bangai-O, Conspiracy Entertainment intentionally left the text unpolished. It reads like something fresh off a buggy, wheezing translation machine, and it suits Bangai-O perfectly.

Conspiracy even carried the tone over to the boss profiles in the manual. The rest of the booklet is fairly straight-faced about everything, but every boss gets a description rife with absurdity. My favorite is 86, the SF Kosmo Gang leader who communicates entirely through sketches.

The entire set of character profiles can be found here. Bangai-O fans will note that very little of this backstory ever sees mention in the game itself. For example, you’ll never learn about the heroic Yomeiri Masuke’s hit TV series unless you read the manual.

Several Dreamcast games made their way to modern systems in recent years, but they’re limited to Sega offerings like Sonic Adventure and Space Channel 5. I hope that Treasure, now pursuing Steam development, sees fit to reissue Bangai-O in its blithering Dreamcast glory. Perhaps they’ll include the manual, so that all who play it can appreciate things in full.

Yes, Riki. It really is.