Tag Archives: midway

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

This is how reproduction worksIf you’re at all interested in videogames, you’ve probably heard of the horrors of game preservation. Videogames are, almost by design, ephemeral. They’re here on the current software, and, if a game is a hit, you can be sure you’ll see it return in the next generation (maybe with a HD remaster!). If a game is a “cult classic”, you might spy a few nerds getting really excited when it shows up on what passes for the next generation’s virtual console. But, if it fails to make an impact, and it fails to have a big name attached to it, then it is likely gone forever. There are literally thousands of games that have languished on their original hardware, never to be seen by an audience ever again.

And this is, without question, a bad thing. More than any other medium, videogames are iterative and absolutely rely on what has come before. Sure, we all like to look at “defining” games like Mario and Zelda to explain where gaming has originated (and where it’s going), but the failures are just as important as the successes. Krion Conquest shows us exactly how to make Mega Man wrong. Early Metroidvania titles (Goonies 2 comes to mind) exemplify what features should be left on the cutting room floor (like God damn birds that steal your items). And the early xeroxes of Doom and Final Fantasy 7 demonstrate exactly what can go wrong in a FPS or JRPG. A bad movie is generally just a bad movie, but there is so much involved in a bad videogame, that there is much to learn past “don’t do that”.

And then there are chunks of our history that are lost forever not because they were somehow unworthy, but because of the great equalizer of all mediums: the legal department.

Munching alongJr. Pac-Man is a Pac-Man arcade game from 1983. The title made it to the Atari 2600 in ’86 (four years after the initial, disastrous Atari Pac-Man), and DOS/Commodore 64 two years later. In other words, it made the rounds in its day. However, you won’t see Jr. Pac-Man past 1990. It did not appear on any of the “modern” consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was not an unlockable in the arcade of Pac-Man 2. And, even today, when you score a Pac-Man collection on your platform of choice, it does not contain Jr. Pac-Man. The character of “Pac-Man’s son” might pop up from time to time, but his titular videogame is nowhere to be found. What happened?

Well, the answer to that is simple: Jr. Pac-Man never should have been born. Namco is the creator of the once and future Pac-Man, and merely licensed the property to Bally-Midway for release in the states. Then Pac-Man fever infected the nation… and Midway needed to sell more arcade machines. Everybody already had Pac-Man, and, thus, only arcade owners were raking in the quarters, not the arcade cabinet manufacturers. So, in a desperate bid to revitalize the Pac-Market, Midway released a slew of new Pac-Content. Ms. Pac-Man is the most famous example, but we also saw Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and the abhorrent Pac-Man Plus, a game that I’m almost certain is naturally haunted (not talking about the ghosts, they’re normal). And, from this bumper crop of Pac-Merchandise, we also saw Jr. Pac-Man.

So flashyAnd Jr. Pac-Man might be one of the best of the Midway Alterna-Pacs. It’s never going to dethrone Ms. Pac-Man, but it has some pretty interesting mechanics. For one thing, for better or worse, it’s the first Pac-Man title designed with a scrolling maze. This means bigger stages, naturally, but also a little more tension with monsters that could be doing anything when they’re off screen. And the bonus items now have much more of an impact on gameplay: an item (no longer just fruit, now we’ve got bicycles, trains, and… a cat?) will move around the maze of its own volition, and “fatten” the traditional pellets. A fat pellet will grant Junior more points, but they also slow this Pac down the tiniest bit… which can make a significant impact when there’s a ghost on your tail. But that’s not all! In a move that can only be described as a betrayal of everything a bonus item stands for, if an item comes in contact with a Power Pellet, both the item and the pellet will explode! And you’re down a Power Pellet! Oh, the humanity!

And, most bizarrely of all, Jr. Pac-Man decides to add to the Pac-Mythos. The round clear cinema scenes of Ms. Pac-Man showcased the pairing of two Pacs, and the attract mode of Jr. Pac-Man features the stork dropping off the new Pac-Bundle. Jr. Pac-Man scenes show another love story, but one between Junior and… a ghost! Yum-Yum is Blinky’s daughter, and it’s clear that he does not approve of these star-crossed lovers. Will Pac-Man Jr. run off with a tiny ghost with a bow in her hair (“hair”)? Play the game to find out!

Or don’t, because you can’t play the thing anywhere.

So verticalFor the sin of creating a licensed-but-unapproved Pac-Man title, Bally-Midway will no longer see any profits from the adventures of the second-littlest Pac. As a result, Jr. Pac-Man is not allowed to appear in any Pac-Collections, and, should you mention Jr. Pac-Man in polite company, the duchess shall be offended, and you will be asked to leave the premises. Jr. Pac-Man may be an interesting twist on the Pac-Formula, but it is nothing more than a redheaded step child to Namco, so it must be thrust out into the cold, never to be seen again (except maybe at Thanksgiving).

And more’s the pity.

Jr. Pac-Man isn’t the best Pac-Man game out there. It might not even be in the top three. But is it better than Pac-Land? Is it more of a Pac-Man game than Pac-Man 2? Does it have more to say about Pac-Play than Pac-Mania? There’s a clear “yes” to each of those questions. Jr. Pac-Man might not be an instant classic, but it’s unavoidably part of the Pac-Pantheon, and should be regarded as such. Jr. Pac-Man deserves a seat at the table, and that means someone born after 1988 deserves a chance to play it.

But it’s never going to happen, because of a licensing dispute from thirty years ago.

Videogame preservation is important, but it seems like the legal department is more important.

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

  • System: Arcade, Atari 2600, DOS, and Commodore 64… and then never again. If you can’t tell, you’re seeing Arcade and Atari 2600 for this article.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Does this means the Pacs have two sons?
  • Attempted Preservation: In an effort to find some version of Jr. Pac-Man, I managed to turn up a random flash version online.

    Not wakka

    It is… not great.

  • Continuity Issue: Actually, Jr. Pac-Man first appears as part of Ms. Pac-Man (the game… man, the phrasing on that sentence is weird) being dropped off by the stork as part of a later cinema scene. But then he arrives at the start of Jr. Pac-Man, when the Pacs have a home? Which is it, Pac-Authors?
  • Favorite Item: The final released maze is the “beer maze”. Let’s just go ahead and assume that’s a root beer, and Jr. Pac-Man is not trying to get drunk with his bad-influence ghost girlfriend.
  • What’s in a name: The orange ghost of Jr. Pac-Man is known as… Tim. Maybe he’s a ghost wizard?
  • Did you know? Ms. Pac-Man was a Midway hack, too, but Namco liked it. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I would like to, but there’s no way I’m fighting the Atari into playing this cartridge anytime soon. I suppose I could always drop a quarter in this guy, though…

    WAKKA WAKKA

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocket Tennis Color for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! It’s going to be 399-Love here at the FGC. Please look forward to it!

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

So I figure there are two ways we can go with this article. One, we could take a look at this:

Wakka wakka

And laugh uproariously at this primitive attempt at a portable Pac-Man. It’s super tiny! They couldn’t fit the entire maze on the screen! There isn’t an attempt at “new” mazes, despite the fact that Ms. Pac-Man was released years before. There’s no color!

Or, second choice, we could address Pac-Man for Gameboy as the most important game that was ever released.

Let’s go with that second choice.

I did not purchase, new or used, Pac-Man for Gameboy. I did not have a legit Gameboy as a child, and the few games I purchased for my Super Gameboy were significant and precious. Pac-Man was never even in the running. Pac-Man, even by the release of the Super Gameboy, was fairly played out, and, if we’re being honest, primitive. OG Pac-Man had like one maze and four directions. There wasn’t even a jump button! I want to say that I didn’t consider purchasing a Pac-Man game until The Age of the Download, because, seriously why bother? Besides, ol’ Paccy seemed to pop up often enough in other, more complex games. So, ya know, screw it. If I want to get lost in a maze, I’ll just play god-damned Fester’s Quest again.

No, I did not ever think to purchase Pac-Man for Gameboy. This game was inherited. This game once belonged to my grandfather. And that’s kind of important.

According to Pokémon Go (this is how I do research), the local arcade was founded in 1976. Pac-Man, according to Wikipedia, was released in the spring of 1980. Given my grandfather notoriously enjoyed Space Invaders since its initial release two years earlier, I’m guessing the man first played Pac-Man in that arcade. Here, for reference, are the two “original” Pac machines still floating around that arcade, nearly forty years later:

Wakka wakka

You’ll notice that OG Pac-Man is not pictured. That’s because the old man got tossed sometime around when The World’s Largest Pac-Man Cabinet showed up. Then again, it may have gone to the dumpster well before that, as Ms. Pac-Man has always, no questions, been better than her hubby. It’s a Pac eat Pac world, and even Junior can conquer the old man. Regardless, I’m going to ahead and assume Pac-Man was first played by my ancestor somewhere around that general area pictured above.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. Pac-Man, despite being a boring old man compared to the rest of his family, was ubiquitous for nearly a decade. In my youth, I saw Pac-Man cabinets in every restaurant lobby, hotel, motel, and Holiday Inn in the country. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few of the sit-down Pac-cabinets in doctor’s offices. Pac-Man was everywhere for a while, and I could see my grandfather first playing the game at any of those locations. He was a dedicated husband and father, but my mother has always eaten about as slow as a particularly anemic snail, so I could easily imagine my grandfather sneaking off to a diner Pac-Man cabinet to munch pellets faster than his daughter could devour potatoes. … Or maybe I’m just confusing my own childhood with his adulthood…

Regardless, I can tell you one place my grandfather did not play Pac-Man for the first time: his living room. It’s hard to even imagine now, but gaming used to be exclusively an outside activity… or at least outside the home. You could not play videogames in your living room, you were stuck going to any of those (many) locations listed to get your gaming fix, because the technology just wasn’t there. Did you see those arcade cabinets? No way anything like that would fit in your bedroom.

But when you did get something home…

Wakka wakka

It might not have been so hot. That’s Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. I know for a fact that my grandfather owned that game, because I played “his” Atari roughly 28,000,000,000 times as a kid. But I didn’t play Pac-Man that much (Combat, man, Combat), because, even as a toddler, I knew a compromised port when I saw it. And my grandfather agreed. In the same way one might have a cherished memory of an elder telling a tale of a bygone age/lemon tree, I can distinctly recall my grandfather sitting me on his lap, and saying, “Bobby, let’s save this game for the arcade.” And we did. And it was good.

Looking back, it’s obvious why Atari Pac-Man was so terrible. We didn’t know the numbers at the time, but the Atari literally had 32 times less memory than the Pac-Man arcade board, so trying to get ol’ Pac going “perfectly” on an Atari was about as likely as running Windows on the Sesame Street Cookie Counter. But back in the earliest of 80’s, the message seemed to be that, no matter what, we were never going to get “arcade realism” on the humble home console. I’ve spoken of this phenomenon before, and, yes, it even applied to games where the hero is a yellow circle and no participants even have recognizable appendages. Regardless, it seemed like that would be the status quo forever, and “home computers” would never be advanced enough for something so complex as a yellow pizza man.

The originalAnd then… they were. Whether you want to point to the Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, or even the later Atari 5200, we did eventually get an “arcade perfect” port of Pac-Man (or close enough to forget that that earlier Pepto-Man ever existed), and Pac-Man actually could be enjoyed at home. We made it! What could be better?

Well, Pac-Man anywhere you want, of course.

Pac-Man had a few portable iterations in his heyday. I’ve never seen one in person, but google the Tomy Tronic Pac-Man if you ever want to see the glorious old days of pac-portability. And the Coleco portable Pac-Man “cabinet” had a similar, early portable styling in that whole “light up blocks” a number of people remember from the Tiger Electronic portables. Oh! And those Pac-Man electronic watches! I hear people have died over those things. All of those whacky devices technically provided a portable pac-perience, but if Atari Pac-Man was a compromised port, this was an excuse that was somehow even less. I’m pretty sure you could get a more robust experience out of a damn wall mural than those stupid watches.

But then the Gameboy came, and Pac-Man was good.

And, sure, there wasn’t any color, and sure, you had a choice between teeny tiny graphics or actually, ya know, seeing the whole screen, but it was pretty damn Pac-Man. All the cinema scenes are here, and I’m pretty sure the ghost/power pellet times are arcade accurate. All the little intricacies of Pac-Man are available on the go, even if it’s kind of difficult to tell Blinky from Inky. And, while it seems obvious to say that people notice details, it’s those little things that separate atrocious Atari ports from the kind of games that can pry Tetris from that lone, precious Gameboy slot.

So, yes, today, Pac-Man for Gameboy seems primitive and, frankly, kind of sad. This is a version of Pac-Man that is meant to be played on a screen barely larger than an Amiibo base. But then again, that’s kind of the point: when Pac-Man was released, it could only be contained in an arcade cabinet that weighed hundreds of pounds and cost hundreds of dollars. But, in just a decade, Pac-Man could gobble down ghosts while being powered by a mere four batteries.

Yeah!And my grandfather always had those four batteries available. Essentially. He suffered from a stroke around 1999, so, being partially paralyzed, he didn’t really keep up with videogame advances. But one image I’ll never forget would be from about two years before he died (incidentally, roughly ten years after the stroke). He was sitting at his computer in his wildly disorganized “office” (a place my grandmother never visited), and he was chatting with his brother. My grandfather lived in New Jersey, and his brother of some eighty years lived in Florida. They were chatting via a messenger service (probably AOL), and my grandfather had somehow jury-rigged a modern webcam to a tripod from roughly 1956, and there was his brother on the screen, chatting away, and likely with some similar piece of makeshift webcammery on his side. They were talking, or, to be more particular, my grand uncle was talking, and my grandfather was listening. And, while my grandfather was listening, he was playing a game of Pac-Man in the other window. It’s not hard to play a videogame with four buttons with one hand. But I’ll always remember that scene: two men from the early 20th Century, talking across miles and miles as if they were in the same room, and one is still nursing a case of Pac-Fever.

Pac-Man came a long way, and technology came with him.

And that’s always going to be important.

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

  • System: I have got to find a better system than making the system part of the title and then denoting the system directly below the title. Also, I should say “system” less.
  • Number of players: Two! Via link cable! I have no idea how that works, because I never saw a second Gameboy with Pac-Man in my youth… but it’s probably lame. I mean, this ain’t Pac-Men.
  • Further Photographic Evidence: I wasn’t kidding about the Gameboy screen being the size of an Amiibo Base.

    Wakka wakka

    Also, for the record, that Gameboy is playing my copy of Pac-Man, you just absolutely cannot see it. Oh well.

  • Two in one stroke: I’m also going to claim that this article covers Atari Pac-Man, so that way I never have to touch that one again. Yes, I did also inherit that “beloved” childhood memory, too, because of course I did.
  • Did you know? Yes, I live in a town where I can still walk to an arcade. Multiples, depending on the season.
    Wakka wakka

    And, yes, at least one arcade has OG Pac-Man.
  • Would I play again: Pac-Man, yes, Gameboy, no. I have respect for the first decent portable system in history, but respect doesn’t do anything for eyestrain.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 5! Or maybe he didn’t choose it at all, and I just feel like writing about a game I played for a hundred hours. Who could say? You get Persona 5 either way. Please look forward to it!

Wakka wakka

FGC #283 Paperboy (N64)

Welcome to HellWhen I was a young boy, my father forced me to get a job. There weren’t many places that would hire a child, so I became a paperboy. Thus, for two years, I had to wake up at the crack of dawn, bike down to the newspaper office, pick up a stack of papers (that was easily heavier than I was), and deliver papers all through the neighborhood. There was no way to enjoy this. If I failed to deliver to the right house on time, I was punished. If I delivered to the wrong house, I was punished. And, of course, if I was late to school because of some stupid dog or a particularly chatty old lady, I was punished there, too. Every morning, in the scorching heat or the freezing cold, I was out there delivering papers, while my contemporaries slept, cozy and unemployed in their beds. “Surely,” I thought to myself for two endless years, “This job must be Hell.”

In time, I grew older, and finally graduated to a job that could at least be done inside and at a reasonable hour. And, while I may have cursed his name for a number of reasons over the years, I suppose my father’s lesson did pay off, as I learned I never, ever wanted to have another job outside performing manual labor ever again. I went to college. I got degrees. I became a white collar professional, and, while I may have had to step over a few broken bodies to attain excellence, I eventually found myself quite content with my station in life. And, if I may say so, watching print media slowly die did offer me some small amount of schadenfreude, even if it meant I couldn’t push my own children into the same “cycle” my father started. I suppose that may have been a good thing.

Though I guess I didn’t do enough good things, as, upon my death, I found myself in Hell.

And, with no explanation whatsoever, I found myself back on that same bicycle, back in that same neighborhood, back with those same papers. I was a boy on his paper route, again, and damned to be one for all of eternity.

WIN!At first, everything was pretty straightforward: I pedaled down familiar streets, delivered papers to expectant subscribers, and then, when I was done, I was forced back to the newspaper office to start the process all over again. Sometimes the weather would change, sometimes I would be told different homes were my targets, but, more or less, it was what I remembered. Then… things started to change. The first major switch-up was that the newspaper office outright disappeared. I suppose some infernal demon realized I could actually take a whole five minute break while I was picking up fresh papers, so, nope, I’m stuck pedaling forever, my calves growing more swollen by the day. Now I have to pick up new bundles of papers from the streets themselves, and, should I run out, I’m chastised just the same as when I miss a house (or damage a window or pedestrian… I admit I may have initially tried to… rattle the chains of my captors). What’s more, the “hazards” of my childhood have all come to revisit me continually, so I am faced with marauding dogs and vicious neighbors. I am nearly mowed down by an errant car every other minute. What’s more, I am beset by dangers I only imagined in my mundane childhood, like statues that spew flames, or the specter of Death himself. I know… in my rational mind… I know that I am already dead… but still… that pale, ghastly visage continues to haunt me.

But this… even this I could get used to. The punishments, the monsters… it did become what was simply my life (or my afterlife, as the case may be). I’d bike down the same streets, deliver the same papers, and that was it. It was Hell, but it was my Hell, and I expect that could be enough.

But this is Hell. They found a way to make it worse. After fifteen years, I was inflicted with the greatest punishment they could imagine: freedom.

OwieMy route had always been a straight line. I would pedal down endless streets and deliver endless papers. It was distressing, but, after a while, I learned that it required very little thinking. I’d keep my eye out for my targets, and if I missed, that was that. I did everything I could, after all.

But now… now they decided to grant me autonomy. Horrible, mind-destroying free-will.

I realized the change almost immediately: I could now pedal in any direction. I could turn around. I could visit the other side of the street. I could… jump. At first, I was elated. “Finally,” I thought, “Someone thinks I’ve paid my dues. I might still be stuck down here, but I’m not stuck in that awful, robotic rut. I can do whatever I want!” But, no, the reality of my unreality quickly caught up with me. I still had to deliver papers. I still had to dodge homicidal dogs. I still had to do everything I did before, but now I was granted the teeniest, tiniest taste of independence… only to be doomed to never enjoy it. I still had a strict, condemning time limit. I could leap my bike over ramps, feel the wind in my hair, and enjoy my existence for once… but if I did that… If I spent too long on pleasure… then the pain… the punishments would be even worse. And then I would have to start the whole route over again, knowing full well that the “fun stuff” was there and available, but experiencing it again would mean… I don’t want to think about it.

Hell… Hell had become more hellish.

Might as wellAnd they taunted me even more! Where once I was constrained to my old, familiar neighborhood, now I was forced to deliver papers in more exotic locales. A trailer park might not seem like anyone’s idea of a vacation, but the smell of barbecue and kids playing outside while you’re stuck pedaling and pedaling is… cruel. And then I was forced to deliver at a camp ground! And the beach! When I eventually found myself in a dark, monster-infested town, complete with Frankenstein’s Monster and a vampire or two, I thought someone was just plain running out of ideas. But I didn’t have time to think that for long, as now I was being chased by dogs with three heads. And then I was back to my old neighborhood again, forced to relive the loop of changing neighborhoods until I delivered enough papers.

But it’s never enough. I can never satisfy the quotas. I can never escape this Hell. I will be here… I will be here forever.

I am the paperboy now, and that’s all I will ever be.

FGC #283 Paperboy (N64)

  • System: Probably N64. Let me check here… Yep! N64.
  • Number of players: There can be only one paperboy.
  • Or Papergirl: Oh, yes, the game does offer you the option of being a papergirl. It’s kind of weird that most of the Papergirl’s canned voice clips compare herself to Paperboy, though. Eat your heart out, Paperboy, indeed.
  • LaboratoryMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s an attempt to make the original Paperboy more of a “modern” (circa 1999) game, but… it doesn’t really work so well. The original Paperboy is basically a shoot ‘em up with an unusual premise and perspective, and attempting to add collectibles and “free roaming” is about as effective as making a Gradius game that plays like Mario 64. This actually may have been an impressive concept back in the bygone past of the 20th Century; but nowadays, it’s right up there with Atari revivals like Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. Oh, also, it’s ugly as hell.
  • And there are bosses: Yes, there are bosses in a game about delivering papers. Yes, the bosses are simple “throw papers at the weak point” affairs. Yes, it is completely boring and flimsy.
  • Favorite Neighborhood: Pelican Beach has friendly dolphins! Or it should!
  • Did you know? Neither Paperboy nor Papergirl wear a helmet while delivering papers. This is dangerously unsafe.
  • Would I play again: I compared the game to an eternal hell. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Drakengard 3 for the Playstation 3! Let’s drag this dragoon into fun times! Please look forward to it!

FGC #248 Cruis’n USA

CRUISE IT!Nothing ever changes.

There are always controversies in the videogame world. They’re generally about as “controversial” as someone preferring Dr. Pepper to Coke, but they’re there, and they’re constant. And you’d be forgiven for assuming these controversies are inventions of digital writers in need of the next big headline, or marketing companies desperate for any press, good or ill, that is going to get their name out there; but, no, these same controversies have been going on for decades. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the strange case of Cruis’n USA.

You may remember Cruis’n USA as “that racing game for N64”. It was featured in a lot of Nintendo Power coverage, saw a lot of play at the local arcades, and was lauded as “a game that isn’t Mario 64” for your brand new Nintendo 64 64-bit videogame system. It used partially digitized graphics to simulate a real race across the United States, and, unlike many racing games that were constrained to tracks or Mushroom Kingdoms, Cruis’n USA featured real locations like Golden Gate Bridge or the Redwood Forest. Of course, it was all about as real as a walking tour of Zebes (fun fact: the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore are about 15 hours apart from each other, not two minutes), but it’s all fun enough, and even “fake-real” racing was a change from the standard of the day (we were still a few years away from Gran Turismo).

But Cruis’n USA had its fair share of problems, practically from its inception. For instance…

THE DEMO IS A LIE!

Dead presidentsCruis’n USA saw release on the home consoles in 1996, but it was an arcade game released upon the public in November of 1994. The summer before that, it was first demoed at CES. It didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it was a stimulating experience for everyone involved, and there were many excited reports about Midway’s latest racer. This was the company that revolutionized the fighting game genre with Mortal Kombat a few years earlier, so, hey, maybe they’re going to strike gold again. Who doesn’t like hot cars and hotter venues?

But more important than the game itself was the announcement that Cruis’n USA was running on Ultra 64 hardware. The N64 was still two years away, and any information on the upcoming Nintendo system was like precious mana from Miyamoto. Cruis’n USA was running on the same tech as the successor to the Super Nintendo? Damn, son, that means the next Nintendo system is going to be off the chain! Did you see those digitized trophy girls? Or those sweet rides? The N64 is going to obliterate that silly Sega Saturn! Sony Playstation who?

Except… it was a fake.

Cruis’n USA was not running on Ultra 64 hardware. It was revealed that Cruis’n USA was made well before the U64 development tools were released, and only Rare, Nintendo’s super best friend 4eva, possessed said tools at all. Cruis’n USA was built on pretty typical arcade hardware of the time, and, shockingly, when the game was ported to the N64 two years later, it looked like your typical, downgraded “arcade port”. It was recognizable, but… not the same. Not quite the system seller everyone expected. Oh, and speaking of selling systems…

DELAYED AGAIN!?

Let's rollHere is a comprehensive list of Nintendo 64 launch titles:

  • Mario 64
  • Pilotwings 64

And that’s about that! Now, of course, there were more games to come, but to call the launch anemic is kind of an understatement. This was the first Nintendo system with native four controller support, and there wasn’t a single game available that offered more than a one player experience. Did anyone notice that? There literally was NO reason to purchase a second N64 controller at launch, left alone another two. Yes, we would eventually see a few fighting games and maybe some Wave Racing, but the initial N64 launch was… well, let’s just say they got lucky that Mario 64 was one the best games of all time.

Cruis’n USA was originally intended as a launch game… but it didn’t happen. And it’s a shame, too, because it really could have cleaned up and sold the N64 as a truly next generation, “adult” experience. This was the age of the rise of Playstation, when all the kids that had been weaned on blue robots and chubby elves were now teenagers and desired “maturity”, “real life situations”, and maybe “spine ripping”. The N64 launched exclusively with kiddy ‘intenda games when the gaming public was raiding the metaphorical liquor cabinets and looking for the hard stuff. It might not have made much of a difference, but Cruis’n USA could have at least said, “hey, you’re getting your driver’s license in a few years, let’s hit the road, cool kids!” as opposed to a line-up that asked, “wanna bake a cake?” Oh, and Cruis’n USA was two player, too. Might not have been a reason to buy a full four controllers, but at least it’s a fine excuse to show your new system to your friends. Spread the good word of Nintendo.

But Cruis’n USA didn’t get many good words, because…

CENSORSHIP!

PurpleAs a point of fact, I am a friend to animals. I like most animals, dogs and cats in particular, more than I like most people. If a human is mad at me for no reason, I assume that human is an asshole. If a cat is mad at me for no reason, I douse myself in tuna and purchase an excess stock of laser pointers. I like all the little critters of nature, and, when I’m driving, I will deliberately swerve to avoid a goose, turtle, or any other wayward creature that wanders into the road.

In Cruis’n USA for the arcade, however, you can mow down wildlife at your leisure. Cows and horses wander into the road, and you can transform them into bloody chunks for your amusement (though it does slow down your car). For some reason, this was removed from the home port, presumably because no one wants to explain the full ramifications of the phrase “bloody chunks” to a kid that just finished finding a tiny dinosaur on the roof of a magical castle.

And, thinking of the poor children, there were additional edits to make Cruis’n USA dramatically less sexy. In the original, first place earns you a trophy and a woman in a bikini top to go with it. On the N64, she put on a damn shirt (albeit one that appears to be painted on). And speaking of sex appeal, the arcade version ends with Bill Clinton in a truck-hot tub with a couple of 90’s babes atop the White House, while the N64 version only features your car on the roof (though there are still a few Secret Service dudes milling about… and a cow, for some reason). And, most ridiculously, the final leg of the Washington DC race features a tunnel made of giant hundred dollar bills on the N64, but the arcade version features those bills with Hillary Clinton smoking a cigar instead of ol’ Ben. I.. uh… guess that’s political commentary. And, good news, it’s somehow relevant and saddening twenty years later! Hooray?

Naturally, people noticed this overt editing (the arcade version saw two years’ worth of credits prior to home release, after all), Purple againso the fans inundated Midway and Nintendo with letters regarding this clear violation of freedom of speech and ludicrous censorship. We want to see our half-naked ladies, dammit!

Sound familiar? Nothing ever changes, folks. The gaming industry has been pulling the same tricks and making the same “mistakes” for decades, and they’re going to keep doing it. Next time there’s some gaming controversy, remember that it’s not the first time, and those issues are just gonna keep on cruis’n.

FGC #248 Cruis’n USA

  • System: N64, and arcade, technically. It’s also on the Wii Virtual Console. Or it was, at least.
  • Number of players: Let me tell you, back in the day, I routinely played my N64 on a screen roughly the size of an iphone. You do not want to know how difficult it was to play two-player split screen races on that. We still did, mind you, it just probably permanently marred my vision. Squinting 4 life!
  • Favorite Car: I don’t know… the red one? I’m not much of a car guy.
  • Don't know whyFilthy Cheater: Oh, wait, I do have a favorite car! It’s the school bus that you can only get through entering a secret code. In keeping in the theme of this article, I’ll note that if this game were released about fifteen years later, that bus would now be impossible-to-access DLC.
  • Did you know? I want to say that this was the first game I ever played that made saving to the N64 memory pack standard. Couldn’t spring for a damn save battery, Midway? Screw you guys.
  • Would I play again: I loved this game when it was first released. And… I don’t think I’ve touched it since the release of Final Fantasy 7. Think I’m going to keep that up.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ogre Battle! Get your chess pieces ready for an epic battle that nobody fully understands! Please look forward to it!