There are plenty of reasons to deride the current “AAA gaming” philosophy. Micro transactions, incomplete games requiring patches, incomplete games requiring DLC, face melting, too many games where you can play with random puppers… it all gets a bit overwhelming after a while. And gone are the days when you could just “buy a videogame”, as this AAA environment has created a scary world wherein a “launch copy” might not even work without downloading a 40 GB patch, or the latest version of a beloved franchise now includes enough clothes ripping to legally consider it a porno. In short, the AAA environment has created a whole host of new and exciting problems.
But my main problem with the domination of AAA game development? It’s weeded out the weird!
Videogames used to be weird! They used to be weird as hell! Nowadays, even once you make it past the brown shooters, you’ve only ever got market tested, board of directors approved nonsense. I don’t blame companies for wanting to make money, but, come on, this is an industry founded on a chubby dude eating enough mushrooms to beat a lava turtle! Nowadays, the best we can hope for is a Yoko Taro release, and, even then, it’s pretty clear the marketing department got initial approval. I mean, come on, it must not have been that hard to sell Square-Enix on “sexy lady commits wanton violence” and “sexy lady commits wanton violence, but now with a cuter butt”. “Weird” is relegated to sidequests, and, even when you’ve got a talking cat, you still spend more time planning your daily schedule than fighting freaky monsters from the depths of the human soul.
But, according to Taito Legends, there was once a time not so long ago when weird ruled the roost.
Let’s take a look at the arcades according to Taito. Want to do this in chronologically released order? We can do that.
On its own, Jungle Hunt isn’t all that weird. It’s the story of some random explorer dude saving his woman (Wife? Girlfriend? …. Mom?) from cannibals, as one does. However, what’s worth noting here is that Jungle Hunt itself was originally intended to be a Tarzan game, but someone noticed that that dude in a loincloth swinging along vines miiiiiiight just infringe on a couple of copyrights. So the noble Tarzan became Sir Dudley, and maybe a vine was transformed into a rope. And that’s it! Tooootally different, tooootally lawful.
But it didn’t end there! Because it was assumed that the children of 1982 were complete morons, Jungle Hunt became Pirate Pete in short order. It was the exact same game, just now with a pirate theme. Swinging from rope to rope became…. Swinging from rope to rope. Huh. Basically, with as little effort as possible, this title somehow became three “different” games. It’s an auspicious start.
Again, we start with a pretty basic premise: Zeke is a zookeeper, and it’s your job to help Zeke keep all the animals penned up. However, someone decided to get some proto-Super Mario Galaxy action going, and Zeke…. orbits his zoo. And, somehow, as long as Zeke has his feet planted on the ground, the mere act of running will generate bricks (fences?) to trap rampaging lions. One would suppose this is some manner of “compensation” for the good old days of 80’s graphics, and the whole thing would be in 3-D if it were released today, but… It’s peculiar. Zeke’s zookeeper gravity is just plain weird, and gives the impression that Zeke’s Zoo is the literal center of his world. I… kind of feel bad for the poor guy. He’s not very good at his job, and it’s all he has.
Oh, and his girlfriend gets kidnapped by a monkey every three levels. But, hey, that kind of thing happened back then.
Nothing is more exciting than elevators!
We’ve spoken of this title at length before, but, since bubble dinosaurs have become normalized in society, I just want to note that, again, we’re talking about a pair of boys that were cursed to become dinosaurs that blow bubbles and hunt monsters in a 100-floor dungeon. Also, their girlfriends have been kidnapped by a giant wizard monster, and he must be defeated with lightning bubbles. There is not a single bit of this plot that has ever appeared elsewhere in human fiction.
It’s the sequel to Bubble Bobble, but this time, instead of a dinosaur that shoots bubbles, you’re a human that farts rainbows. And your ultimate opponent is Dinosaur Death, the death that comes for all dinosaurs. It’s disappointing that the third Bubble Bobble title did not feature mutant giraffes that belch tiny suns at cosmic horrors.
You would think that someone learned from the whole Jungle Hunt thing, but experience is for quitters. Here’s Conan the Barbarian except… nope. It’s just Conan the Barbarian. Did Conan ever fight endless hordes of lizard people? Well, Rastan totally does. Maybe that’s new? I don’t know. I’m not a barbarianologist because, apparently, that’s not a real thing. Thanks a lot, Obama.
No game could ever live up to that title. I’m not even going to… aw… It’s a submarine shooter? That is totally lame.
New Zealand Story
Another tale as old as time: Tiki and Phee Phee are young kiwis in love, but tragedy strikes when Phee Phee and her phriends are kidnapped by a blue leopard seal (which is totally not a walrus). And, rather than go ahead and eat said kiwis like some manner of toothy mammalian horror, Phee Phee and the gang are stuffed into cages across various mazes filled with an oddly high number of ballooning monsters (that is to say the monsters are using balloons to travel, I don’t mean to imply the monsters are getting fat). Tiki is ready for battle, though, as he’s equipped with deadly arrows, and has the ability to steal weapons from the corpses of his defeated foes. Oh, and he can steal a flying swan balloon, too. Because it’s adorable, that’s why.
While this might all sound like basement level insanity (this isn’t even the only old school game to be based entirely on the deliciousness of kiwi birds), what really pushes this one over the top is the “New Zealand Story” angle. Yes, kiwis are indigenous to New Zealand. And, yes, after every stage, you get a real life map of New Zealand. And, as you progress, you will learn the geography of New Zealand, and which areas potentially include enormous, kiwi-eating whale bosses. Was this title made with a grant by the New Zealand tourism board? Or, more likely, did some random dudes in Japan just spin a globe, point randomly at the Pacific Ocean, and base a game on the first country that happened to appear? Which option is more sane?
By 1990, you couldn’t cut it with bubble-based dinosaurs anymore, so it was time to give in to the times and release a beat ‘em up. Except… nobody at Taito had any idea how to make a beat ‘em up, so they made something that’s a little more Mega Man than Streets of Rage. You take damage for simply touching an opponent, ranged attacks are king, and most enemies go down in one or two hits. Despite the fact that the beat ‘em up genre was well established at this point, it almost feels like the long lost missing link between 2-D action games and Mike Haggar’s Big Day. It’s an amusing proto-beat ‘em up from way back when! Nothing weird about that!
Oh, except the fact that you’re fighting against a literally satanic cult.
And your main characters are puppets.
And every attack slices your opponents in half.
And it’s the source of this image
And it’s kind of racist.
And… man, it’s just weird.
Games used to be really weird, guys!
FGC #346 Taito Legends
- System: Taito Legends was released for the Playstation 2 and Xbox, but most of the featured games here are primarily arcade releases. Except Bubble Bobble, of course, which only appeared on the NES Classic.
- Number of players: Two players allow for better quarter consumption than one. Four is even better!
- Favorite Game (Compilation): Okay, technically it’s Bubble Bobble, because Bubble Bobble is love. But New Zealand Story is a close second, and there’s a part of me that feels like it should have been another Contra or alike that holds the run ‘n gun mantle for the early days. Or I just like fighting not-walruses. Could be one of those.
- Shoot ‘em Up: There are a number of light gun games on this compilation, too (including the sublime Operation Wolf), but there is zero light gun support. And did this thing ever appear on the Wii? Noooooo.
- Did you know? No, really, The Ninja Kids is racist as hell. The most general “thugs” are big-lipped African Americans that are about as powerful as kittens and are recklessly bisected by your favorite ninja. It is disturbing. And this is a game that involves a satanic cult!
- Would I play again: Well…
What’s next? We’re not quite done with Taito Legends yet, as there’s one game on this compilation I want to give a closer look. Which game am I talking about? Well, please look forward to finding out!