What constitutes a videogame “star”?
Today’s game is Blazing Dragons, a Playstation (1)/Sega Saturn adventure game from nearly 25 years ago. I am also a thing from over 25 years ago, and I purchased this game back when it was new. Well… fairly new. I was a young buck on vacation, and I want to say this Playstation jewel case was glimmering back at me from a discount bin somewhere around Delaware. Under normal circumstances, I likely would have paid Blazing Dragons the same heed I’d grant Bubsy or Gex, but this game featured one important phrase on its cover:
“Starring the voices of Terry Jones & Cheech Marin”
Now, even though I was technically officially a teenager at this point, I could not give less of a damn about Cheech Marin. I was a nerd, and was not nearly cool enough to know anyone that could ever acquire a drug. But, thanks to that previously mentioned nerdity, I could probably quote every third thing Terry Jones had ever said. Yes, I’m sure my audience will be shocked to learn that I was a Monty Python fan, and, just about when Blazing Dragons was new(ish), I was old enough to finally get all those sex jokes that flew completely over my head in my younger years. The Meaning of Life finally made sense! And included tits! Double bonus! Thus, seeing a videogame (my favorite medium!) featuring one of my favorite writers/directors/actors was practically a no-brainer for wee(ish) Goggle Bob. And it was on sale! Score!
But, even as a dedicated Monty Python fan, I could understand why Blazing Dragons was wallowing in the discount bin. It’s a Sierra-esque adventure game with no death conditions (that I could find…) and about three minigames that actually require a controller. So, to begin with, it’s a game practically made for the mouse on a pair of systems that didn’t have (easy) access to that peripheral. Beyond the controls, this is typical adventure game fare, and you must collect every random object lying around the kingdom, and then use it on every other object in a desperate attempt to find the proper solution to puzzles like “where is my corn” (you have to use a sheet) and “save the princess” (you have to use a mirror to hypnotize the court jester and then use a suitcase to dress him up like a lady). It’s clear that the “humor” of this universe applies to the puzzles, so solutions are often deliberately obtuse (sneak into the castle by wrapping prunes in newspaper and then tying it up with ribbon), but at least the lack of failure states means you only have to spend the afternoon clicking (not clicking) one thing against the other until something finally works. And, hey, you’ll probably remember to grab the hair tonic to menace Rapunzel the next time you play, so replays are usually pretty breezy. A speedrun of this game would probably take less time than listening to some nerd act out the whole Knights Who Say Ni bit.
But does the game adequately capture the spirit of Monty Python? Is Terry Jones permeating this little black disc? Heck no. Blazing Dragons does its best to follow the general humor of Monty Python and similar comedies of the 70s/80s. There’s an emphasis on parody here (see, it’s the dragons that are the good guys, and the expy for King Arthur and Merlin are the bad guys), a few fairytales are ribbed beyond the obvious Arthurian parallels, and, of course, there’s the old trope of men imitating women because Michael Bell throwing his voice is always assumed to be funny. And, uh, everyone has outrageous accents, so that helps. Blazing Dragons isn’t exactly a disappointment on the humor front (it is still generally funny, like watching a wannabe billionaire’s toupee flap around in the wind), but it’s certainly no Flying Circus. If you’re attracted to Terry Jones (not like that) (… though maybe like that), you’ll be generally entertained by the maybe 15 minutes of dialogue he recorded for this adventure, but sidesplitting isn’t on the menu.
But Terry Jones is the reason this game is in my collection. I wouldn’t have given it the time of day, but Terry Jones, man. Terry Jones! Life of Brian! Blazing Dragons might have been a dud, but would I buy another product featuring Terry Jones? Spoilers: of course I would (and did)! But another videogame? Well, maybe not. Writing an amazing movie or book doesn’t mean you can make a fun videogame. It might seem obvious, but that was news to me twenty years ago.
But that got me thinking: what star’s name would actually get me to buy a videogame today?
First of all, to get the obvious out the way, a specific actor/comedian/performer isn’t going to cut it. We live in a world where Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas got all of the talent in Hollywood (and James Woods) to show up in 2004, and all anyone remembers from that game is fun times with rocket launchers. Nowadays, we’ve got full motion capture and graphics capable of rendering an actor’s real life eye boogers, and it’s equally useless for creating truly good videogames. Nobody cares if the next Katamari Damacy title (may there be one) features the prince or an undead mocap of Prince: it’s all about rolling those sweet, sweet balls. And even more acting-based games like Telltale’s output may be enhanced by a decent performer in a role, but Tom Cruise isn’t going to make me care about clicking on random objects. Sorry, Maverick, but I’d prefer a maverick hunter.
But what about the orators of the videogame world? I keep noting actors and writers that were successful in other fields, but not necessarily videogames. Christopher Lambert might play a mean Raiden in a movie, but that doesn’t mean he can deliver the uppercuts required to be a successful thunder god in the digital space. Where are the Spielbergs or Tarantinos of the gaming world? The men and… crap, it’s inevitably going to just be men… the people that can just stick a “presents” on anything in their medium and score a hit, from Ready Player One to Tiny Toons? Where are the videogame rockstars?!
Oh, right, I’m posting this on the eve of the release of Death Stranding, a Hideo Kojima Presents joint. As Kojima has noted on his own Twitter, Kojima Productions started when he had to leave his home at Konami, and was left with only his wit, ingenuity, a dedicated team of professionals, the massive success of every game he ever slapped his name on (except Boktai), and Norman Reedus’s personal cell number. Hideo Kojima managed to transform that grab-bag of practically nothing into a very successful videogame… or at least what is probably going to be a very successful videogame, because, again, as of this writing, the game isn’t even released yet. But! The internet seems to report on everything Kojima says (or when he farts in the general direction of a cosplayer), so Death Stranding is likely going to be an unprecedented (completely precedented) hit. It combines everything you loved about his old games, plus that guy from The Walking Dead peeing! Who could ask for anything more?!
But… this seems familiar to me. I remember the last time an amazing videogame director was ousted from his parent company, and was forced to strike out on his own to create an all-new, maybe slightly familiar franchise. I’m wracking my brain, I just can’t quite remember…
There are no videogame stars. And never judge a game by its credits. “Stars” are monsters.
FGC #457 Blazing Dragons
- System: Playstation 1 and Sega Saturn. You’d think there would be a PC version, but I can’t seem to find any evidence of one.
- Number of players: Solitary dragon quest.
- Favorite Puzzle: In order to properly impersonate the villain of the piece, you have to grab a mask of his face, and then dunk said mask in a pile of manure. This is possibly the least subtle joke in history, but it does give you a firm grasp of the various odors of this universe.
- Other Stars: Cheech ‘n Terry got the cover blurb, but Harry Shearer, Jim Cummings, and Charlie Adler all hit the recording booth for this adventure. The rest of the cast is a murderer’s row of 90’s VA talent, too, even including seemingly the entire cast of Rugrats. How many games can say that? Well, aside from Rugrats: Search for Reptar.
- Waiting: The load times on this sucker are atrocious, and they occur every ten seconds or so. I’m pretty sure Blazing Dragons is optimized for some system that never hosted the poor thing.
- Personal Vengeance: This game wiped out my original PSX memory card. I didn’t quite understand what “formatting” meant back in the day, and the instruction manual claims that the “format memory card” option is necessary to save your game. And that’s the story of how I lost my first Wild Arms save.
- Secret Shame: In my younger days, I had a crush on Princess Flame. Yes, she’s a four-legged, hairless dragon, but I do have a thing for exotic accents, and the heart wants what the heart wants.
- An end: The finale is basically an extended bit with Terry Jones complaining about adventure game tropes while marginally in character. So put Blazing Dragons in the pile with the other games that aren’t comfortable in their own skin.
- Did you know? This game was delayed seemingly so it could be released at the same time as an accompanying animated series… that only seemed to air in Canada. And it was completely off-model and vaguely unrecognizable compared to its source game (Princess Flame, what have they done to you?). But Terry Jones got a created by credit, so at least it’s similar enough for the lawyers.
- Would I play again: How about I just read a FAQ and nebulously recall what happens when you use the pipe cleaner on the termite mound? Sounds about equally enjoyable…
What’s next? There’s a certain holiday coming up, so we’re going to look at a game that is slightly scary. … Or at least it was when I was young enough to dress up every year. What could it be? It’s a trick! Or a treat! Please look forward to it!