Friday, September 10, 2010

When Comics and Videogames Clash, Madness Typically Ensues

So, as you may or may not know, in addition to being a comics blog, a Mad Men blog, an SF blog, and whatever-the-hell-else-I-feel like blog, we also occasionally cover video games. However, I have not yet addressed those moments where comics and video games intersect. Now don't worry, this is not gonna be a long rambling dissertation on Arkham Asylum, or Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, because that's not quite my thing and because time and tide have caused me to drift ever so slightly away from the current comics zeitgeist, generally when I bring up comics, they're like 15 years old or whatever.

Besides, where comics and games meeting isn't as interesting to me now as it was back then. You see, for all that we can make Batman games that feel like Batman movies (and that's great, don't get me wrong) or Marvel games where it feels like a whole big universe . . .if I'm honest, I have a soft spot for those moments when they hadn't got it quite right, and earnest good-faith efforts to make games that evoked the brightly colored action and excitement of the comics inevitably got a bit . . .well, strange.

Join me as we part the veiled curtain of yesteryear and take a look at these, won't you? I mean, who doesn't love list threads, right? So, in no particular order, for your delectation, here's 5 Goddamn Insane Comic-Based Video Games.

1-X-Men-- While the games journalists pat themselves on the back because we live in the age of the auteur games creator or similar bullshit, it's worth noting that most of the things that defined video games had more to do with commerce than with creativity. The idea is to get as many of the customer's quarters or tokens in as possible, so you bait him by allowing to continue the game until he finishes. Thus, a fifty cent game becomes worth about five dollars. Couple that with you and your friend and holy shit, now you've made ten dollars in the same amount of time it used to take you to make five.

So when the first Ninja Turtles game hit, I have a feeling someone totally 'gasmed. "Let me see here . . .all four people can play . . .it's a long game . . .and. . .and . . .they'll die a lot . . .but they're still having fun and . . .uh . . .five times four is . . .twenty dollars for a whole play through . . .YYYYEESSSSS!" And so this became the profit model for games for a number of years--the four player paradigm lent itself from the Ninja Turtles, to Battletoads, to the Simpsons, and the X-Men seemed like the most natural thing to do. I mean, you could have all the X-Men everyone gives a shit to play as (plus Dazzler, the Meg Griffith of the X-Men) playing at the same time and . . .yeah, I won't do the 'gasm transcript again. Come back now.

Anyways, so armed with little more than a videotape of Pryde of the X-Men, a whole clutch of Japanese guys got together in a room and tried to make sense out of an American comic book informed by and large by Chris Claremont's narrative obsessions with slavery, mind control, redheads, and the group Steeleye Span.

This is what happened:

Please note Magneto goes cross-eyed immediately after saying "X-Men." Given that he later describes himself as the "Master of Magnet," the following clip isn't all that much of a surprise:

Despite this, the actual game isn't all that bad--it's far too long for its own good, and it gets a bit monotonous two stages in. It's supposed to be--it's designed to take all your money after all. But all this is made up for by the little insane things that pepper it, making no sense and nagging at you even if you've only ever read one X-Men comic, like: Magneto is going to rule the world . . .with mutant-hunting Sentinels? Juggernaut needs a bazooka now? Why does the White Queen have such a mannish laugh and a pimp backhand that can knock you across the room? Why is all Magneto's dialogue done by someone with a brain injury? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

Ordinarily, these would be severe drawbacks, but if any comic property deserved to have its various foibles turned into a dadaist parody of itself, god dammit the X-Men sure as hell did.

2-Spider-Man-- Once the floodgates were open for this sort of thing, there was no stopping them (just like in the movie Breakin') so here into this came Sega, who bought the Spider-Man rights in the early 90's and just went nuts there with games for awhile. This one is one of their less well known ones, but damn well deserves to be more well known, because it is dangerously insane.

Back in the day, you see, Spider-Man didn't have four associated characters to allow for co-op play. He was a longer, it was part of his deal. In fact, there was some controversy when he joined the Avengers because of the whole "loner" thing. Now it would be easy as hell to pepper a Spider-Man game with playable characters, but at the time, this was all you had, so you could either have Spider-Man and . . .uh, three other different-coloured Spider-Men and pretend that made any god damned sense (as they did in the Superman arcade game) or you could improvise.

In Sega's case, "Improvise" meant "pull names out of a hat," because in this thrilling game, Spider-Man teams up with Hawkeye, the Black Cat, and . . .the Submariner (because why wouldn't they, really?) to beat the shit out of a New York that has been overrun by mimes:

It's not a bad game by any means--occasionally things zoom out and you do some platforming or fight a King Kong-sized Venom, it's just . . .well, the most bizarre episode of Marvel Team-Up ever is about the most succinct way I can put it. That and this game would be even more awesome if he had his giant robot and Speed Racer car.

3-Captain America and the Avengers-- If you say you hate this game, then sir or madam I tell you that you hate joy and beg you to cast your eyes to the skies again and remember how you felt when your heart was young and the world was new. Avengers is certainly the nadir of this particular period, because holy cow this game positively revels in excess--it's far too long, far too loud, and every speech sample is SHOUTED at you, e.g. "YOU WILL BE THE ONE ESCAPING!" "YOU CAME HERE TO DIE!" and "WHY SHOULD IT GOES WELL!"

The plot, such as it is, is very loosely based on "Acts of Vengeance," and taken as a whole, probably makes more sense than "Acts of Vengeance" ever did. The Red Skull threatens the world with a giant laser, so Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Vision decide to break his fucking television (it's the Chicago way) they are bad enough dudes to whip some ass and throw rocks and soda cans at people.

Hilarity ensues:

This game, for those of you baffled by its previous appearances, was the source for this gag:

Print photo at home

4-X-Men (Genesis)-- I'm not even going to talk about the thing I usually bring up when I think of this game--namely that bullshit about having to reset the Genesis at the end of Mojo's stage is an utterly asinine thing to have included and yeah it may have been a clever break of the fourth wall but fuck you anyways. No, what I'm going to talk about is how none of this game makes any damn sense at all. I mean, what the hell is Apocalypse doing in Excalibur's Lighthouse?

I like to think he needed the john, and I would like to think that his justification went something like this: "Apocalypse required the use of a suction flush commode and a can of Lysol. The tacos I had for lunch were unfit to remain in my colon. The salad, however, is worthy to survive there."

Lord, I hate Apocalypse. What a stupid, stupid character.

5-Marvel Super Heroes -- Well, eventually these multi-player arcade games had to give way to something and that was fighting games, and Capcom fighting games at that. This one is actually pretty well stocked--it had Captain America, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Doom, Thanos . . .

. . .and to be obtuse, someone stuck in Shuma-Gorath, an obscure Doctor Strange villain who ended up being an amazingly effective character, because after the biggies are in, what the hell, fill out the numbers with whoever you want. Let's watch!

So, as you see, if all you look for in the nexus of comics and videogames, you miss out on a hell of a lot of damn fun stuff. Now, before we go, how about a . . .

BONUS ROUND: While you'll never be able to do better than "does whatever a spider can," if it's up to me . . .this is not my first choice for Spider Man game's theme music:

Yes. That was a hair metal band singing a song vaguely related to Spider-Man. You can try to forget, but we both know there is no turning back.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Oh my God I remember that X-Men arcade game! Didn't know the characters well enough at the time to see the discrepancies, but credit where it's due, they got the Blob just right. :)

Also: was I hallucinating or does Shuma-Gorath's winning pose include folding its tentacles in front of its eye and squinting/glaring like Vanilla Ice circa 1993?

I can recall a few other absurdities: back in the DOS era there was a game based on "Fall of the Mutants" which, to this day, I can neither understand nor play for more than five minutes; there was a Spider-Man game where you had to save MJ from Mysterio, and you could walk on walls and ceilings but Spidey moved so slowly you could literally fall asleep walking from one side of the room to the other.

Conversely, the game I most enjoyed was probably "X-Men Legends 2" - a nice blend of action and RPG character development, excellent voice acting (Patrick Stewart!!!), and you got to choose from a mixed cast of Brotherhood and X-Men members for your squad. It was a nice tour de force of the franchise without ever getting stuck in the particulars. :)

Kazekage said...

Man, that game was awesome--I make fun of it, but up until that point there really hadn't been and X-Men game up to that point (there was that shitty NES one, but we don't talk about that) and it just blew our damn minds to see it. Yeah, Blob and Pyro both come out fairly comic-accurate, as none of them needed a bazooka or anything.

Nothing makes me happier than the notion of Vanilla Ice as a tranny Lovecraftian demon thing, because as someone who lived through the Ice Age, there is no more fitting assessment. :)

I've heard about that game! I can only imagine that, based on one of the most depressing story arcs ever, I can imagine playing it leads to much the same outcome to play it. The Spider-Man game sounds familiar, but I think all those games start to gel together after awhile.

I have yet to play that! I wonder if they have it for my new PSP . . .

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

The only problem with that game was that you needed either a team of three or four players to get to the end, or enough quarters to just buy the damn thing and haul it home. :)

Is it odd that he always reminded me of Max Headroom? :)

It was utterly bizarre: every stage gave you a choice between three possible zones, and you had to track down and defeat a pair of Brotherhood agents. Except they could be hiding in any of the three zones, and the only way you'd know was to blast through all of them, kill every living thing and check every nook and cranny just in case they were hiding. And if you couldn't find them by the end of an in-game week, you automatically lost and got eaten by the Adversary. Poster child for Nintendo Hard, that was.

I'm quite sure there's a XML2 port for the PSP - not sure how it compares to the PC/console versions, though...

Kazekage said...

To my undying shock, I was amazed that the X-Men arcade will soon be available for download for XBLA and PSN. I'm so seldom ahead of the curve on things, I'm kinda amazed.

Only if it's this one.

That sounds like a brutally sadistic game indeed. Also, curiously, very much like the NES version which was also obtuse insane and seemed determined to keep you from doing any X-Men shit you might wanna do.

If I can find it used I'll have a go at it!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Technically, it's been available on PC for ages thanks to arcade emulator programs... I must admit, though, it's not quite the same thing. :)

Ha! He even got the indecipherable mumbling right! :)

About the only thing they did right was give the player 20 X-Men to choose from, and they made a token effort to differentiate between the powers (ie: Rachel Summers can flash-fry almost any regular mook, Shadowcat goes hand-to-hand but can get the whole team through walls on the overhead map and so on). Not enough to make it worth playing, of course, but it's nice that the superhero genre has improved in at least one medium...

Kazekage said...

Well, I meant as an "official" release. :) I'm tempted to buy it, but as my HD space is limited at the moment . . .

I cannot tell you the deep and undying love I have for that video. That something so insane can get unleashed on TV (illegally) and then the guy never gets caught is proof of . . .something. :) Not sure what.

That's pretty cool! I quite like the idea of different powers adding to the team dynamic. It reminds me of the two X-Men games for the Genesis and Super Nintendo that had all these levels that only specific team members could complete.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I'll admit I don't know much about XBLA (or X-Boxes in general) but I doubt an old-school arcade game would take up much space...

Hope for mankind, perhaps? :)

Of course, both those games had some rather major flaws - if I recall correctly, the SNES one had some gems as dropping Storm into an underwater level, and as you pointed out, the Genesis one had that horrible, horrible wannabe-meta sequence with the reset button...

Kazekage said...

Well, they've got to code it for the system, and they'll probably lard up a bunch of Achievements (or trophies for us PSN guys)so it'll probably be big, but not as big as later games.

Great Justice, Diana. GREAT JUSTICE. ;)

Oh, the Genesis one had so many problems--what the hell is Apocalypse doing in Excalibur's lighthouse, for instance? But . . .yeah, they were both all sorts of crazy. I dunno if we really got a good X-Men game that felt close to the comic until the fighting game came out, and even that's debatable.