Little Things: Casino Kid and Casino Games

I’ve recently come to appreciate casino video games. For a long time I considered them routine, disposable pieces of a game system’s library, and I paid them about as much attention as the NES version of Pictionary. As with all games, however, it’s a matter of just how much effort a developer applies, and some developers of casino titles went far beyond the basics.

Sofel’s Casino Kid is a good example. It’s a straightforward selection of gambling diversions, but it progresses with an RPG-like overhead view as the title hero roams a casino. In between blackjack and poker matches, the player can talk to the various dealers, waitresses, and assorted patrons. Instead of just scrolling up a text box, the game cuts to a separate screen of our protagonist grinning cockily at the conversation.

Most of the encounters in Casino Kid are terse and slightly odd. My favorite comes from this waitress.

Some of the women working at the casino say “I’m pretty!” for no apparent reason, but this green-haired waitress takes it a step further. She’s telling the Kid that she thinks she’s pretty, as though she’s spent the morning mulling over her self-worth and concluded that she doesn’t need others to validate her appearance. She may be wearing a Playboy bunny costume in a casino, but she’s not looking for anyone, not even a blond smirksome video-game hero, to bolster her confidence. She thinks she’s pretty, and that’s all that matters.

Other chats paint a less stable portrait of the staff. In fact, one waitress is openly upset.

Sure, she mostly likely just wants her shift to be over, but we might extrapolate more from this single line. Is she being held there against her will? Is the casino a front for human trafficking? And are you, the player, complicit in its crimes by ignoring the clues dropped before you? Eh, probably not. This waitress just wants to go home to a drink and a TV showing a little pixelly version of Beverly Hills Buntz. 

It’s a strange thing to remember fondly, but I miss the era of quick, cheap, and easily misinterpreted video-game translations. Today’s localizations are competent and often written better than the typical YA novel, but there’s a lost and undeniable joy in old games that deliver nothing but the crudely translated basics and, in doing so, give us plenty of blank space to fill.

While NES owners were puzzling out Casino Kid, the Sega Master System hosted its own unexpectedly charming title in the same vein. Casino Games doesn’t look like anything special at a glance, but it’s an excellent anthology of card games and pinball fare. I first became aware of it through Dinosaur Dracula’s writeup years ago, and the game became a source of steady fascination for me.

What drew me to Casino Games? Well, it’s is the work of Compile, one of my favorite old-school game studios. I love them for The Guardian Legend and Golvellius and MUSHA and a lot of other amazing shooters that cost more than certain islands. Casino Games wasn’t an A-list project, but Compile didn’t stick Sega with a potboiler. They loaded it with personality at every turn. It’s there when the clerk greets you with a welcoming tilt of her head. It’s there when your opponents at the poker table range from the passive and guileless Nancy to the obnoxiously confident Charley. It’s there when your avatar turns a horrified shade of purple upon going broke.

And it’s especially there when a gray alligator sometimes wanders across the screen when you’re losing at poker, like he’s the Casino Games version of Pepsiman in Fighting Vipers.

Dino Drac’s review covers just about every interesting nook of Casino Games, but one question lingered for me: does the game have an ending? A trip to GameFAQs suggested that it does, but I couldn’t find it online. YouTube playthroughs of the game all stopped before any finale, and even the normally exhaustive Video Game Museum doesn’t have the ending of Casino Games.

So I uploaded it myself.

And there it is: the very simple ending of Casino Games. It’s a little disappointing when you consider how much extra detail Compile added to the rest of the game. At the very least, we should see all of the characters, the gray alligator included, at our main character’s poolside party. I suppose you might theorize that the two women are in fact erstwhile poker rivals Nancy and Janet, as they share the same hair colors (though not hairstyles). These are important things to consider.

It’s likely that Compile just didn’t have time for a big sendoff. They had to cut a few corners already: you can play as a “Mr” or “Ms,” and the game cares enough to change Charley’s opening taunt from “Come on, boy!” to “Come on, girl!” However, you’re still the same blond guy when losing—or relaxing by your mansion.

Compile also likely put together a short and basic closer on the assumption that no one really plays gambling titles for the endings. Considering that I had to dig up the conclusion of Casino Games on my own, Compile was right.

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