Flicky

Brad: Last week we had Rampart, a game that really did hit the arcades in 1990 before coming over to the Genesis a year later, but looked and played as though it had been created several years before.  This week we have Flicky, an actual, honest-to-goodness arcade game from the early 80s that, for reasons mankind may never fully understand, Sega decided to port over to the Genesis.  In 1991.

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It’s hard to know why anyone thought this was a good idea.  Flicky was an arcade game in Japan only, so it’s not like there was a big nostalgia factor.  And it wasn’t miraculously ahead of its time, either – its simple, repetitive, and loses its appeal after a few minutes.  Which is fine if I’m dropping a quarter into it to amuse myself in between games of Spy Hunter and Rampage.  For a Genesis game, this is a bit disappointing.

Flicky is a pretty simple concept – you run around an apartment collecting chicks (baby birds – this game wasn’t made by EA in one of their more panderific moments, like say, Normy’s Beach Babe-O-Rama), and leading them in a conga line to the door before you are eaten by a cat.  It’s sort of like Mappy, but since nobody’s ever played that, a more relate-able example might be Pac-Man, except the dots follow you and you have to jump to higher platforms.  Hmm, that’s not a great example either.  You know what Flicky is really like?  It’s like the song “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” – it’s not that great but somehow keeps ending up on Best of Genesis anthologies (oh c’mon, we’ve been doing the project for a year now – you had to know it was only a matter of time before we broke down and made this kind of a joke).

As it is, if I had paid $50 for the Genesis version when it first came out, I’d be pretty mad.  In fact, even paying $4 today to buy it at a a used game store seems a bit like a rip-off, which probably explains why Stryker never managed to sell either of the copies of the game that got traded in.

Stryker: Well, i still say its because you kept scaring off my customers with your non-stop chattering about how somebody should make a Jason and the Argonauts game.  But anyway…  Flicky’s big problem is that there isn’t much reason to keep playing for more than 10 minutes.  The levels don’t change that much, and you get the same enemy on every level, until you reach level 10, at which point, you’ll be up against the same TWO enemies for the rest of the game.  Once you’ve gotten that far you’ve pretty much seen everything Flicky has to offer.  Well, unless finding out what color the background is on each level is enough to keep you coming back for more.

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Mutant League Football

Brad: Hmmm, that’s funny – I specifically remember this game NOT sucking back in 1993.  Was I on drugs?  Had I suffered some kind of head trauma?  Or had endless exposure to Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” video warped my mind to the point where I began to think anything on TV that wasn’t an Aerosmith video was automatically the greatest thing ever – regardless of whether it was a movie, a tv show, Mutant League Football or even just a Sprite commercial starring Kris Kross (a yo Kris/What up dawg/What’s that in your hand?/It’s the S to the P to the R-I-T-E can)?

ML Football000

Tell me this doesn’t look like an NFL Europe Broadcast

No, I think our standards for football games were probably just a lot lower back then.  Mutant League Football is based on the Madden ’93 engine, which was only the third console game in the history of that series (sorry children, Madden ’92 is NOT actually the first Madden game.  EA released a game simply called John Madden Football the year before – and the PC version of the series dates back even further than that).  At the time, the concept of a football video game that kinda sorta resembled actual football was still pretty novel.  Especially for those of us who grew up playing games where Dan Marino threw 80 yard passes all the time and that Bo Jackson had never been tackled in his entire career.  But the Madden series still had a long way to go – in those early years, there were more than a few plays that worked almost every time, the players ran around like the field was covered in ice, and a lot of the on-field action (like whether or not you got through a block, caught a pass, or broke a tackle) seemed to be determined mainly by how much the computer liked you that day.

Still, the worst part of those early Madden games – and Mutant League Football – were the passing windows.  Admittedly, it was a decent idea, and the programming to make it work is pretty darn impressive, at least for back then.  But in execution, they were awful.  For those of you not familiar, let me explain – by pressing the C button when the quarterback had the ball, three small picture-in-picture type windows would appear at the top of the screen showing you each of your eligible receivers.  In theory, this should have allowed you to see which of them were open and throw them the ball.  But in practice, the windows were so small that the player took up almost the entire space.  While this was very helpful in checking to make sure your players still exist, you couldn’t really see enough to know if an opposing player was nearby.  Oddly enough, the windows would actually pop up right over the portion of the field where the receivers were 90% of the time, so you probably had a better chance of seeing them before they appeared.  Luckily, it only two EA another two years to figure that out, and by Madden ’95 the passing windows were gone in favor of an unobstructed view.

ML Football002Receievers B and C look open.  Except for the defenders standing just outside the window.

Even from just a pure marketing perspective, you have to wonder about the strategy of making two different games based off the Madden engine.  How did EA think this was going to work out?  Essentially, you just end up competing against yourself.  The only way you’re not is if you truly believe that there’s a burgeoning market of people looking to buy two football games a year, yet somehow wouldn’t be more interested in either a college game or one made by a different company.  Either that, or you’re trying to pass off Mutant League as a football game for people who don’t like football, which means attempting to sell a product specifically to people who don’t like said product.  This is an even more impossible approach, as evidenced by the failure of every book store ever opened in Ohio.

So yeah, what you have with Mutant League Football is a very early version of Madden where some of the players are skeletons or aliens and the guys kill each other.  Like Madden ’93, it was good for its time, but it’s pretty damn brutal to play now.  Who knows?  Maybe if a new one had come out every year we could have seen a nice gradual evolution, and by Mutant League ’96 or so, we’d have something that was still fun to play even today.  Alas, we’re left with a game that’s close, but just not quite good enough to crack our Top 100.

Stryker: I love, love, love the idea of MLF – a arcade-style football game where you can win just as easily by killing enemy players as you can by scoring touchdowns.  But basing it off the same engine as the most realistic football game at the time is counter-productive.  Even with all the carnage, trick plays, and fewer on-field players, MLF still plays too much like real football, and if I’m going to do that, I might as well just play Madden.  Nobody comes into a game like this hoping for “3 yards and a cloud of gore” NFC-style power football.

ML Football005

Liability Insurance must cost these teams a fortune.

Mr. Do!: Skeletons that bleed when you hit them?  Did they not understand the concept of a skeleton or something?

Rocket Knight Adventures

Brad: One thing that has consistently been a source of shame for me over the last 20 years is that I don’t really know how to do the Humpty Dance.  This was particularly frustrating because about a third of the song is dedicated solely to giving you instructions on how to do it.  Worse yet, the other two thirds were mostly about how awesome the dance itself was, which only served to make me want to master it more.  This, I assumed, would be the key to me becoming able to get busy in a Burger King bathroom.  But even with the prospect of unlimited lavatory sex in fast food restaurants hovering just out of reach, I still couldn’t get the hang of it.  If you pay attention to some of the lines from the song though, it’s not hard to figure out what the problem is.  For example:

It’s supposed to look like a fit or a convulsion

You look like MC Hammer on crack, Humpty

No two people will do it the same / You got it down when you appear to be in pain

Think about that – the “no two people will do it the same” part is pretty much an acknowledgment that there really isn’t a Humpty Dance at all – notice he’s not saying no two people will do it exactly the same, it’s more like nobody is doing the same thing at all.  Just do whatever you want and call it the Humpty-Hump.  The rest of the descriptions make it sound like you just get on the dance floor and start spazzing out, then once people begin holding you down and trying to keep you from swallowing your own tongue, you’re doing it right.  It’s supposed to look like a convulsion?  I was under the impression that how you dance is supposed to be an indication of how you are in bed – I heard that in a Will Smith movie, so it must be true.  If that’s the case, then the Humpty Dance seems like a trick to scare all the women away from you and into the arms of the non-Humpty Dancing members of the Digital Underground.  So yeah, thanks Humpty, but I didn’t really need instructions on how to dance like a white person.  Kinda knew that one already.

Rocket-Knight-Adv004

In Brad’s mind, this has something to do with the Humpty Dance.

The point is, the Humpty Dance actually isn’t a very good dance at all.  You just think it is because throughout the song he keeps telling you how great it is.  What the hell does this have to do with Rocket Knight Adventures?  Well, it’s the same idea – I had never played RKA before doing this project, but I assumed it was good, because everyone kept telling me it was.  And when I first started playing it, I already believed them.  But after a while I came to realize that it really wasn’t anything special.  That’s not to say that its bad, just kind of average, and the sequel does pretty much everything better.

Stryker: We’re not very big on sequels here, so for more than one entry from the same series to make the Top 100, both have to really amazing.  And that’s just for normal games.  For two games starring an opossum knight with rocket powered armor to make the list… well, science has not advanced enough yet to be able to calculate just how awesome both of those games would have to be.  We’ll drop this one and grant a Seal of Quality to its successor.

Mr. Do!: This game kinda sucked, but I will always remember it for helping me discover that there’s a Wikipedia category for “Fictional opossums”.

Dark Castle

One of the really nice things about being a big, successful publisher like Electronic Arts is the opportunities it gives you for cross-promotion.Every copy of Madden or Road Rash you sell can be packaged with a small catalog full of ads for your other games.People will look at it and think, “Hey, I liked NHL ’94, and I liked Might and Magic; so I bet I’d like Dark Castle, too.”The downside to this approach is that it can cost you customers in the long run because once they actually play Dark Castle, those people will probably become become Amish just to make sure they never have to play a Genesis again.

Dark Castle began its life as a Mac game in 1986, and at the time it seemed like a dazzling technical achievement. You know what else seemed like pretty impressive technology back then? Trapper Keepers. So… yeah. Anyway, EA later converted to the Genesis and released in 1991.It was mildly popular on the Mac, but considering that most of the other “games” available for the Mac in the mid ‘80s were either about munching numbers or ill-fated trips to Oregon, Dark Castle’s relative popularity may have been just a bit misleading. Electronic Arts had some good fortune converting PC games to the Genesis, but most of those games, like Populous and Starflight, were pretty unique compared to the rest of the Genny’s library. Dark Castle was a horribly designed platformer with God-awful control. The Genesis had like a million of those, and the other ones usually at least had a movie license.

In the game, you play as Prince Duncan and attempt to navigate the titular fortress in order to face the Black Knight.Being a spectacular dumbass, you endeavor to do this armed only with a bag of rocks, with the plan to obtain a magic shield and fireball spell during your explorations of the castle.Sure, it’s only a Dark Castle, filled with traps, monsters and your worst enemy.Why not take your time and make a few extra stops to pick up all your equipment after you get there?

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Mr. Mullet ponders whether to try his luck in the mystery rooms, or just take the middle door to Burger King.


As silly as that plotline is, story is really a small part of any Genesis game, and DC’s most significant flaws lie elsewhere.The biggest problem is control.And level design.And graphics.And sound.

The castle is broken down into 4 areas, creatively named Shield, Fireball, Black Knight and Trouble.Each area is then broken out into 3 or 4 stages that you must progress through.Except that you probably never will, because this is one of the most unfair games you’ll ever come across.Each stage contains multiple enemies that can kill you instantly by touching you, and your only defense is to throw rocks at them, which are difficult to aim.Rather than simply pressing the direction you wish to throw the rock, moving up or down makes clockwise-counterclockwise adjustments to your arm’s angle, and pressing the button throws a rock.Killing each enemy requires a fair amount of trial and error, which would be fine if all your enemies were asleep or didn’t move around much.It doesn’t work as well when they are kind of fast and trying to kill you.Also, your arm remains pointed at whatever angle it was last aimed, which not only makes the game harder, but also looks ridiculous.

If you throw a rock at a high flying enemy, you’ll probably spend the rest of the stage holding your arm up as though you were carrying the imaginary torch in the opening ceremonies of the Crazy People Olympics.

And should you run out of rocks, you’re really in trouble.There are plenty of extra bags of rocks lying around, but I never figured out how to pick them up.My best guess is that they forgot that button when they converted the game over to the Genesis (the only copies of the game I could find were cartridge only, apparently not too many collectors felt the need to preserve Dark Castle’s instructions or original box for posterity).Of course, that’s the least of the game’s control problems.Walking off even the most minuscule edge (including ones so small you don’t always see them right away) will cause your character to fall down and become stunned for several seconds, which almost always means getting eaten by bats.You can jump, but you have no control over how far, so every time you press the button your character launches himself like a world class track and field champion.This means that you’ll have to find to exact right spot to jump from or risk leaping way past your intended target, to almost certain death either from falling or from landing on some enemy.There have been games that were successful despite putting similar control limitations on your characters (think Jumpman or Pitfall!), but those games accommodated for it by allowing you a little bit of leeway.With it’s brutal controls and unforgiving level designs, Dark Castle is basically handing you a jumbo crayon and asking you to paint the Mona Lisa.

Herzog Zwei

I know there are some of you out there who are probably surprised, if not upset, that we would dare eliminate Herzog Zwei today.  Or at least there would be if they were anyone out there following this project.  “But Brad,” these fictional readers would say, “you can’t deny a Seal of Quality to Herzog Zwei!  It was the first Real Time Strategy game ever made.  It’s historically important!”  Then, since all our readers are fictional, they would ride off on their unicorns while proving once and for all the infallibility of supply-side economics.  And yes, these fictional readers have a point – Herzog Zwei is historically significant in the history of gaming.  And you know what else?  The Wright Brothers’ plane is historically significant is terms of flight history.  You still wouldn’t want to fly that deathtrap from New York to Los Angeles.  I think there’s a point somewhere in that example that I was trying to make, but screw it – it’s late and I’m almost out of cookie cake.

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Well, the menu screen is certainly… utilitarian.

I will admit that Herzog Zwei is an amazing achievement for its time.  But it’s also an RTS missing a lot of key features that we take for granted in these types of games. Like being able to issue commands to your units after you’ve deployed them.  Or controls that are even remotely intuitive.  Or a map that you can see while playing the game.  You know, things that would help make it what those of us who write about games for a living like to call “functional”, or in layman’s terms, “not a pain in the ass to play”.

“But Brad,” those fictional readers from the first paragraph will say after coming back from a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl parade, “it was 1990.  Those things hadn’t been thought of yet.”  Well guess what?  It’s not 1990 now.  A lot of the old Genesis games from those days held up pretty well and are still fun to play even now.  Herzog Zwei isn’t one of them.  The point of this project isn’t to make a list of the 100 best Genesis games for their time.  It’s to make the list of the best Genesis games right now.  Why?  Because Stryker and I don’t have a time machine, and even if we did, we probably wouldn’t go back to the early 90s anyway.  Knowing what the best games of 1990 were isn’t that helpful to you, me, or any of our imaginary readers.  We’d much rather know which Genesis games are still worth dusting off once in a while, and which ones are better left in a cardboard box in some forgotten corner of the attic of Stryker’s parent’s house next to the Atari 2600.  And once you’re almost 15 years out from when they stopped making games for the system, the risk of these rankings changing gets to be pretty low.

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A tactical map might have been handy before I stumbled into the enemy base.

Even so, you can’t say Herzog Zwei’s influence isn’t still felt today.  It was the first Real Time Strategy game ever made.  It’s also the first one to show us that RTS games don’t really work on a console.  Almost 20 years later, that rule is still as true now as it was back then.

Rampart

Brad: Well, I think we can safely eliminate this one under the same logic that we knocked off Ms. Pac-Man, Double Dragon, and all those other arcade classics – because it came out way before the Genesis did, it’s not really fair to call this a “true” 16-bit game.

Stryker: Actually, it came out in 1990.  The Genesis version came out a year later, and it was one of the first home systems that it came out on.

Rampart000

Brad: Wait, are we talking about the same game?  Rampart?

Stryker: Yep.

Brad: You’re kidding, right?  This looks and plays like it should be crammed in between Missile Command and Defender in some dark arcade while “Invisible Touch” plays in the background.

Stryker: Nope.  It came out in the same year as Super Mario Bros. 3.

Brad: This game?  The one with single screen that never moves, painfully simplistic gameplay, and graphics that look an Atari?

Stryker: Yes…

Brad: …Came out after Spy Hunter, Final Fight, Castlevania

Stryker:  …and Gauntlet and Rampage. Yes.

Brad: You’re trying to tell me that – chronologically, at least – Rampart closer to Vanilla Ice than it is Loverboy?

Stryker: Yes.

Rampart002

Brad: How?  How could that even happen?  Was it completed and then lost in a warehouse for 8 years?  Did it fall into a wormhole and transport itself to the future?  Were the people who made it part of some experiment where they were isolated from the rest of society and tricked into thinking it was still the early 80s?  I mean, were they trapped in some compound with no news of the outside world, forced to wear shredded jeans and ringer tees, and the TV just played a loop of Knight Rider and Family Ties reruns?  Were they kept there until the game was complete?

Stryker: I don’t believe so.  I’m pretty sure the developers just thought this was consistent with gamers’ expectations and standards at the time.

Brad: Wait, are you SURE we’re talking about the same game?

Rolling Thunder 2

Rolling Thunder 2 is a decent game that plays similarly to Shinobi or Sunset Riders.  It’s fun in a “This game’s ok, but not really fun enough to put on the Top 100, plus we already too many games like this” sort of way.  What really makes it interesting though is that the original arcade version was released in 1990,  which means that the “80s Hangover” that you see in so many games, TV shows and movies released around that time is in full effect here.

Playing Rolling Thunder 2 feels kind of like opening a time capsule from the late 80s.  So while the game isn’t good enough the keep its Seal of Quality, we still couldn’t just throw away so much nostalgic goodness without at least sharing a bunch of screenshots with you:

Rolling-Thunder-2000

Brad: I have to admit, being assigned a partner codenamed “Albatross” doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence about this mission.

Stryker: Nice tux, though.  The pink shirt is a particularly inspired choice.

Brad: It looks like the end of every 80s show – just freeze this frame, cue the theme song, and and roll credits!

Rolling-Thunder-2005

Stryker: I think he’s supposed to be looking at her, but it seems more like he’s fixated on that one hair sticking out over his forehead.  Seriously, are you Razor Ramon?

Rolling-Thunder-2007

Brad: I can’t help but wonder if this was a mistranslation – like the Japanese development team asked some producer in the US about different American criminal organizations, he mentioned the Black Panthers, and then they took it literally.

Stryker: That explanation only works if there’s also a gang I don’t know about called the Stone Pussy Eaters.  Seriously, what’s going on in the corner there?

Brad: Actually… if they were taking everything literally and there was such a thing, that guy would be eating an cat made of stone.  Oddly enough, I think this is the only context I’ve ever seen in which that would actually be less disturbing than what’s already going on.

Rolling-Thunder-2002

Brad: Albatross, what happened to that snazzy tux?  I’m disappointed.  And what’s she pointing at?

Stryker: It’s the 80’s, right?  Probably some used hypodermic needles on the beach.  Did that problem ever get fixed, or did people just stop talking about it?

Brad: I’m assuming it fell out of vogue so people assumed it had been fixed.  You know, like the rainforest.

Rolling-Thunder-2004

Brad: You walk around Miami, get into gunfights constantly, and everyone’s trying to kill you.  It’s like the developer had a premonition and decided to make a Burn Notice game 15 years before the show came out.   Why someone would do such a thing is beyond my comprehension.

Stryker: Rolling Thunder: Vice City.

Rolling-Thunder-2001

Brad: This is the music test screen.  I have no idea what the fuck is supposed to be going on, and it kind of scares me.

Stryker: I suppose no 80’s nostalgia would be complete without a tribute to Showbiz Pizza Place.

Rolling-Thunder-2009

Brad: If I was friends with G. Gordon Liddy, I’m guessing he’d send me postcards that looked like this whenever he went on vacation.

Stryker: Dear Brad, Having a “Blast” with the ladies in Miami!  Wish you were here.  Also, socialism is killing Free America.  Yours,  GGL

Rolling-Thunder-2011

Brad: Oh, Albatross – ha, ha, ha!  But seriously, this is why nobody ever invites us to parties in the first place, you lunatic.

Stryker: I’m trying to decide if a “Bring Your Own Bullets” party is better or worse than one where the host provides the bullets for the guests.  I think I’ll just stay home, actually.