Arcade of My Youth: Landstuhl

A lot of us had childhood arcades, and most of us saw them change. If you’re my age, you might’ve watched a gallery of varied offerings, Final Fight and Ghosts ‘N Goblins and Raiden and all, shift into a throng of Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, and every fighting game aping their success. If you’re older than I am, you might’ve seen an arcade trade pop-culture staples like Pac-Man and Space Invaders for things with vaguer goals and smaller crowds. If you’re younger than I am, you might’ve had time only to observe a neighborhood fixture waste down to a few prize-grabber machines and an Area 51 cabinet with one defective plastic pistol. Then it finally closed and signaled that the modern world has little space for childhood arcades.

I say all of this in envy, because I never had much of a childhood arcade. I spent five years of that childhood in Germany, as my father was in the Air Force. Instead of living on an American military base, we lived in a German village, and if that warren of half-timbered homes and dangerously sharp turns had an arcade, I never found it.

The closest I had was the small arcade at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. It was a mere nook in the base cafeteria, but it was my best vision of quarter-devouring culture in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The selection was the video-game equivalent of the Armed Forces Network, where you’d see current TV shows like ALF and In Living Color aired in tandem with black-and-white movies. Older Kung-Fu and Tiger-Heli cabinets would sit alongside Cabal and Golden Axe, and I couldn’t be sure if a game would stick around for the next time my family dropped by the BX.

In this arcade the size of a small moving van, I remember three games most vividly.

WARDNER 
Arcades intimidated me, and I doubt I was alone. A game on the computer or NES could be practiced in your own home, but arcade titles were merciless and impatient. You put in a quarter and tried to grasp the gameplay through a joystick and buttons, and heaven help the slow learners.

My mother always admonished me against playing arcade games. I once thought she merely disdained them as unproductive wastes, but I now think she had a more insightful motive. She didn’t want me spending money on arcade games because I was terrible at them.

That’s why Wardner got my attention. Arcade games tended to kill you off in barrages of enemy bullets or throngs of street punks, but Wardner was less threatening at first. It was a side-scrolling game where a pudgy hobbit bounced across forest floors and threw fireballs. It was a lot like Super Mario Bros., and I already knew how to play that! This Wardner thing should be easy!


Well, it wasn’t. Wardner is an action-platform game from Toaplan, a company better known for crafting impressive shooters like Batsugun and Outzone. Those shooters are tough, and so is Wardner. It sees its rotund hero waddling through a fantasy realm in search of his girlfriend, who’s encased in crystal and offered to the local tyrant, Mr. Wardner. Our protagonist can boost his fire magic and don a protective cloak, but at the game’s start he tosses only one limp flame at a time, and a single hit does him in. I’d later learn that his name is Dover, but after losing a few quarters to the game, I was more inclined to call him Fatsy Bumbledick.

As frustrating as Wardner was, it fascinated me with the loose, unexplained logic arcade games often put forth. The second level is a dilapidated factory where Fatsy faces whirling blades, conveyor belts, spiked drones, and other challenges required by any game where someone can jump. Yet I was intrigued to see all of this pop up after a stage full of forests and castles and dragons. Was Mr. Wardner trying to industrialize this peaceful land, like something out of that unnecessary chapter at the end of The Lord of the Rings? Or did Wardner actually occur in the future, when gnomes and fairies live among the ruins of humankind and an entire factory still treads on in ignorance, slowly devolving into one massive death trap?


I also liked what awaits at the end of the factory. You’ll see a woman pacing in a locked room, but once the level-boss dragon is defeated and the door is opened, she turns into a generic ghoul. If that occurred only on the second level, I just knew that the game held stranger twists later on. Perhaps the real villain would be Fatsy’s crystalized sweetheart or some mutated, long-lived survivor of whatever catastrophe had ended human civilization!

Wardner wasn’t worth my speculation. As I found out years later, it grows wearisomely hard by the last stage, and there are no shockers apart from Mr. Wardner transforming from an aged sorcerer to a hirsute demon. That's really a standard disappearing-handkerchief trick among the dark sorcerers of video games. Wardner is just an average action title with a few neat ideas and solid Toaplan execution. It’s Ghosts ‘N Goblins after a big fatty meal, but for a little while it opened up a post-apocalyptic fantasyland for me. In several ways.

Nintendo Power's Greatest Gossip Gremlins

Nintendo Power had a fascinating look in its early years. It was, of course, a promotional sheaf for all things Nintendo, but the magazine’s staff enjoyed an unprecedented relationship with Japanese publishers. With that came artwork and layouts rarely spotted in America.

Within Nintendo Power you’d see spindly Clash at Demonhead heroes, plastic Blaster Master and Metal Storm models, Mega Man robots somewhere between an American cartoon and a Japanese comic, and lavish art for the lesser-known likes of Astyanax, Code Name: Viper, and Legacy of the Wizard. And you’d see the detailed illustrations of the now-respected Katsuya Terada adorning features for Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, and Ultima. Even the comic-strip adventures of Howard and Nester, the former based on Howard Phillips and the latter a bratty little mascot, had distinct manga styling. Nintendo Power wasn’t just a bundle of previews and tips and news about video games that would define an embarrassing volume of childhoods. It was a kaleidoscope gaze into another realm.


The Gossip Gremlins had a small but memorable role in this. No doubt borrowed from Japanese publications, the Gremlins were fanciful critters who popped up at the bottom of Nintendo Power’s Pak Watch previews section. They spouted tidbits about games too early to have plentiful screenshots or solid details, giving the magazine a cute package for random information.

The Gremlins also offered some of the most creative art in Nintendo Power, as they weren't based on actual games. Unburdened by commercial demands, the artists cut loose and drew marvelously odd creatures from the heart of Japan’s late-1980 pop culture. And I picked out my favorites.
 
THE EYE KNIGHT 
January/February 1989 
If the Gossip Gremlins rarely came from real NES games, many were cut from the same aesthetics. The Eye Knight is a perfect example, familiar enough to make young readers wonder if they'd encountered such a creature in The Legend of Zelda, Dr. Chaos, or the inner reaches of Deadly Towers that few had the patience to reach.


An armored warrior with a huge Technodrome iris where his face should be? That’s almost too good of a design to waste on a blurb about Defender of the Crown—a blurb that’s half inaccurate, since the game isn't really about Robin Hood.


In fact, Nintendo Power liked the Eye Knight enough to use him (her?) twice. The creature shows up again in the March/April issue to mention some news about Hi-Tech. Too bad, Eye Knight. You deserved to be skewered by Link in Zelda II, not reduced to bandying Chessmaster rumors.

Mega Man's Legacy

The Mega Man Legacy Collection is not the first time Capcom reissued and repackaged the initial six Mega Man titles, but it might be the most precise. Capcom and Digital Eclipse intend to preserve Mega Man’s initial outings just as they were on the NES, complete with slowdown and flicker and various filters. It’s an important step in game archiving and presentation, and the press releases and interviews liken it to the Criterion Collection and its artful packaging of notable movies. And Michael Bay’s Armageddon.

That’s a close comparison, but the Mega Man Legacy Collection lacks one essential piece of a Criterion set: a long and possibly misguided explanation of a film’s cultural importance. Capcom plans to release a physical version of the Legacy Collection next year, so there’s still time to outfit its instruction manual with an essay about Mega Man’s inner meanings.

And I have just the essay.

A Leap Ahead

I reviewed Lost Dimension earlier this month, and it was a tough game to judge. It has novel ideas and flows pretty well, but it just doesn’t make an impact. Hunting a traitor in your midst is intriguing. The battles are fast-paced and fun. On the whole, however, Lost Dimension can't summon the memorable characters or intricate approach that an interesting game really needs. It passes through like a cereal commercial.

Yet I’ll say this for Lost Dimension: it lets you stand on someone's head.


Technically, only one character in the game can do this. Lost Dimension puts you in command of an elite squad of psychic soldiers infiltrating the fortress of a world-dominating villain, and one of the special agents is Nagi Shishiouka. She’s a laconic and efficient woman who’s spent perhaps too much time as a military operative, and she glides around the battlefield in her impractically long combat dress. Position her just right, and Nagi can perch on a teammate’s head. Sadly, she can’t attack from that position. Nor can the other characters move with Nagi atop.

Standing on another character’s head is a feature too often ignored in video games. Plenty of action cavalcades let players leap momentarily upon an enemy, but it’s usually just a means of attacking. Seldom is it merely a neat trick to be enjoyed. And I think that’s a shame.

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 clich├ęs 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.

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.

5. MAVDA FROM PANDORA’S TOWER 
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.

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. There was a problem with every pursuit I devised, whether it involved seeing Hokkaido in the winter or trying out weird arcade prize-grabbers in their native habitats. It 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 a cheese-and-sausage platter you get at Christmas. Let's unwrap it.

F-ZERO 
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.

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 most prevalent rumor 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 or otherwise editing the game 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 right now. 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.

Unexplained Readings: 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.

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.

PANEL ONE 
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?

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

PANEL THREE 
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.

Explanations

As you know, I don’t update very often. I’d like to have new stuff at least once a week, but the uncomfortable truth is that this website is my seldom-watered houseplant. I want to fix that. To give it more attention, I’m going to expand its scope just a little. So don’t worry if you see something here that has nothing to do with games or cartoons. Rest assured that most of my updates will remain focused on old Compile shooters, canceled anime series, or a spill of cranberry sauce that forms the Angel Cop logo.

Hmm. That’s pretty lean for an entry, so I’ll explain something else: the name Kid Fenris.


The short answer? It’s a play on Kid Icarus, the old Nintendo game. For those unfamiliar, Kid Icarus is a staple of the early NES library, an action-adventure game that stars a plucky, heroic version of Icarus. In Greek myth Icarus flew too near the sun and became an avatar of overconfidence, and Nintendo just made him a little archer who saved a goddess from the clutches of Medusa. He also appeared in the Captain N cartoon, but we can't hold that against him.

The strange thing is that I didn’t even like Kid Icarus during the NES days. I only played it at demo stations, and I was frustrated at how barren the levels seemed, how easy it was to fall off the screen, and how Icarus collected hearts for money instead of health. That went against everything Star Tropics and The Legend of Zelda taught us! I’ve since come to appreciate it (though I still prefer its structural cousin Metroid), and I really enjoyed Kid Icarus: Uprising on the 3DS. I even like playing Pit and Palutena in Super Smash Bros.

Back in 1991, there wasn’t much Kid Icarus. We had an NES game and a Game Boy sequel, and that made many young Nintendo cultists wonder about a Kid Icarus title on the Super NES. I imagined something more ambitious. If Nintendo could make Kid Icarus out of bowdlerized Greek myths, why not make a similar game out of another legend? And at the time, I liked no legend better than the Fenris-wolf from Norse canon.

A Huddle of Huddles

I liked watching football more than any other sport when I was a kid. Part of that came from the dynamism of play, how it was possible for either team to score and even pull ahead at any point during the game. What’s more, football helmets and gear looked cooler to a kid than anything baseball or soccer allowed. And I never played football in the organized, school-validated way, so the sport had the gravity of some arcane ritual involving first downs and wide receivers.

More than anything, though, I think I liked football because of the NFL Huddles.


Football teams had mascots since the league’s inception, but it wasn’t until 1983 that the NFL put together a line of plush toys and little rubber figurines called Huddles. Each represented a particular team, some more creatively than others. I’m not sure if they were sold in toy aisles or in the sporting goods section. I suspect they went to both. Huddles were aimed just as much at kids as they were at adults who wanted to festoon every inch of the living room with Chargers or Packers merchandise.

I bought one or two Huddle figures on my own, and my grandmother got me the rest as a birthday present. I suspect she nabbed them on the discount racks, as this was several years after their debut. Indeed, the Huddles didn’t last long, and praise for them is scant even on an Internet that finds nostalgia for Macron-1 and Food Fighters. They seem to have passed through the toy market without much attention, but they’re an adorable pop-culture collision of football and toys.

The Finest Art of Gift-Giving

Did everyone have a good Christmas? I certainly did, and that was partly because of a wonderful present from a friend who prefers to be known as Magic Trashman. He’s an artist and comic-maker, and since he doesn’t yet have a website I’ll have to settling for linking to his DeviantArt page. For his gift, he seized upon an idle Twitter post I made years ago about bugging him to put canceled video-game characters into classic works of art.


I forgot all about that post, but Mr. Trashman did not. This past Christmas he sent me a framed portrait with this response on the back.


And what’s inside the frame? No, he didn't draw characters from canceled video games. He drew something better.


It’s wonderful. It repopulates one of the dogs-at-poker portraits with things I like. The brownish creature on the left is Quilli, heroic porcupine from Quill Quest. It's a video game I sketched out as a child (before Sonic came around, I swear). His fellow players should be more familiar, as they're from Mystery Science Theater 3000, Monster World IV, Darkstalkers, and my favorite shot of actor Billy Barty. Maybe there's even a Bounty Arms reference someplace. I'll have to look closely.

The table shows that Quilli is betting with power-ups from Quill Quest: a hamburger, a watch, and even a Mondo Magnet. Also on the pile is a Mighty Orbots figure, which mystified me at first. I’ve never been more than a mild fan of the show; it has some of the slickest animation ever seen in a Saturday morning cartoon, but even as a kid I found the robots dopey and irritating compared to Robotech or any Transformer. Upon investigation, I realized its purpose: a line of planned Orbots toys was never released, so it’s possible that someone, likely Crow or Tom Servo, put this ultra-rare prototype up as a gambling chip. How clever of the artist to include it.