Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Boy, Nintendo never cared about Virtual Console, huh

I've been retranslating the credits for Super Robot Wars J this past evening (one of the side effects of having a Brazilian non-native English/Japanese speaker translate a game: he gets lots of things wrong that you have to correct later. The credits are just one element of many - and yeah I plan on writing more about the game at some point, sit tight). As a result, I've been stumblin' onto all sorts 'o wacky web pages for subcontractors involved in the game's development at some level or another.

Qwintet, for example. Who are these guys? I thought they were Quintet at first. They were apparently responsible for SRWJ's loathsome sound design.

And Ancient! I don't pay much attention to what those guys are up to these days, but they've got a link to Streets of Rage 2 on their page, at least. That's reassuring. The link is actually to Sega's Japanese Virtual Console page, which is pretty dang remarkable. Every game has its own video, along with detailed information, character artwork and so on. I'm a little blown away at how nice this site is, actually.

Point is, the videos they made for these games are really something compared to the equivalent videos on Nintendo of America's Virtual Console page. Check out the one for Shinobi III! Shit, that is some classy video editing. Sync's up with the music from the intro, and it shows off everything cool about the game in about a minute or two.

Compare that to Nintendo of America's version. I think it speaks for itself. NOA clearly never gave a shit and whoever's handling Sega's Japanese VC page clearly does, but yeah, this is all pretty obvious. I mostly just wanted an excuse to link to Sega's classy virtual console page, maybe inspire somebody to go out there and play some awesome Genesis games. With that in mind, some favorites:
  • Alien Soldier's video smartly doubles as a tutorial on how to beat the game's towering, gently pulsating mountain of gross boss monsters. That is to say: make sure you're at full health, and then do that awesome zero dash thing that does like a million damage. You're a pro already! It also has a clip of the game's most important moment. See if you can spot it. I played through this game recently with some friends just to see it, so you're saving some time here (HINT: it might remind you a little of Altered Beast).
  • Shadow Dancer is apparently still not available for purchase from the US virtual console. I want to say that it's because of the twin towers on the title screen, but Vigilante has those too, so I'm gonna shrug my shoulders on this one. Shadow Dancer has really chunky, heavy music that goes down like a big bowl of soup, ninjas jumping down from scaffolding on the Statue of Liberty, a dog you can sic on enemies, one-hit deaths, and a bonus stage where you jump off a building because that's what ninjas do and throw shuriken at dudes on the way down. It's the Genesis' Ninja Spirit equivalent, and you should ninja get it.
  • This is going to put me in the unfortunate company of the slightly insane Dave Halverson, but I fucking love Dynamite Headdy. Like, a lot. The backgrounds alone, man! Headdy's driving concept is that it takes place in a puppet theatre, which means that everything's a prop, and the whole place is barely holding together under the workmanship of a very hardworking and tired group of (entirely unseen) human beings. You're never explicitly told any of this by the game, but the game pulls off its aesthetic vision with such confidence that you can't not figure it out. The game slingshots from one idea to the next with Treasure's usual ebullience, enough to almost make you not care about what a giant punch in the face the final boss is.
  • I've written about Toe Jam & Earl before, but it bears repeating.
  • Musha Aleste (known in the west as M.U.S.H.A.) sums up Compile's design ethos in one game. 8-minute long stages. Power-ups that render you as a god. Enemies barely capable of firing at you. On default settings, Musha Aleste has a breezy quality to it that folks weened on modern arcade shooting games might find quaint or hilarious. That's just the way console shooting games were back then! Hudson Soft was king of the pack, and shooting things without fear of reprisal under the stern guidance of Master Takahashi's violently vibrating index finger was the de facto design standard. And of course: the noisy FM metal soundtrack and steampunk-meets-sengoku era setting. Can't forget those.
Well, that's another entry that got away from me. Until next time!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Moses at the Movies: Streets of Fire

Streets of Fire is a rad movie. Oh it's got problems, baby. Problems like you wouldn't believe. But that doesn't stop it from being rad, oh no.

Directed by Walter Hill back in 1984 (shortly after writing 48 Hrs. and The Warriors), Streets of Fire seeks to combine Cool Things from the '50s with Cool Things from the '80s, and I must carefully dance around the fact that I probably don't have enough cachet in '50s pop culture to properly analyze this movie. That's okay! Analysis is not what Streets of Fire is all about.

What it is about is pretty cut and dry. Willem Dafoe, who wears inconsistently ridiculous-looking clothes throughout the movie and runs a biker gang, decides to kidnap the lead singer of the coolest band on the block: "Ellen Aim and The Attackers" Much like the rest of the movie, they look '50s but sound '80s. Big time. They consist primarily of members from new wave group Face to Face. That explains it.

Shortly after his hazy, smoke-filled reveal, Willem Dafoe grabs poor ol' Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) and runs off on a motorcycle. One can only assume that she was dizzy, the result of flailing around at the end of the above musical number. Her manager, played by Rick Moranis, gets punched off the stage almost immediately. The twist is that he is also a money-grubbing jerk, I guess!

After that, we get introduced to ex-soldier Tom Cody, played by the fairly career-dead Michael Paré. He's back in town at the request of his sister, who runs a diner. We also find out that he is ripped in a decidedly old-school, pre-steroids way, and capable of beating up entire gangs by throwing them through windows. About a minute after that, he runs into McCoy (Amy Madigan), a tomboyish ex-soldier who "ran out of wars" and wants to help him stick it to Willem Dafoe on his own turf. Oh yeah, Tom Cody used to be Ellen Aim's girlfriend, and begrudgingly agrees to bring Rick Moranis along for the Big Showdown down in The Battery.

Streets of Fire being what it is, the Big Showdown happens twenty minutes into the film. Tom Cody rescues Ellen Aim, blows up a lot of motorcycles, and exchanges deadpan one-liners with Willem Dafoe on a flaming street. Then everybody hightails it outta there, and the movie forgets what it's doing for about 45 minutes. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the whole shebang nearly falls apart on itself by the halfway mark.

Thankfully, the last 15 minutes of this movie manage to right the vessel in time for a climactic showdown with an important lesson to impart on the viewer: Don't bring guns to a sledgehammer fight. Yes, you have to watch this for yourself, I'm afraid. It'll do you good.

The dialogue in this film is incredible: It wouldn't surprise me to find out the screenplay was written entirely without the use of commas. Ebert's review sums it up nicely:
"The language is strange, too: It's tough, but not with 1984 toughness. It sounds like the way really mean guys would have talked in the late 1950s, only with a few words different, as if this world evolved a slightly different language."
There's an enthusiastic messiness to the proceedings that reminds me a lot of charming '80s OAVs, which this movie may or may not have inspired. Characters do nonsensical shit on a regular basis just because it's awesome. More than half the named cast in the movie is worthless and seem to exist by accident, as if Hill and Larry Gross forgot to hastily whiteout their lines from the screenplay and just kinda rolled with it. And the style in this movie! Every damn street in the city seems to exist beneath L Train tracks. There are two cops policing the entire city, both corrupt. And the music - of course - which is so prominent as to almost dominate the proceedings entirely. Tonight is what it means to be young, and you better not forget it.

The original DVD release that I watched has a smearily awful sub-VHS transfer, but the first thing I looked up after the credits rolled was the HD DVD release: it may be a dead format, but it looks like it's the only way to watch this movie the way it was intended. That's... oddly fitting.