Last Monday, I announced yet another hiatus from social media. As much as I try to curate my newsfeeds, stupidity still manages to leak through. Frankly, I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. So for the past week, I’ve been re-evaluating things.
First, the Dire & Bette videos will be continuing. No worries there.
I’ve taken a small step towards resuming writing. This hasn’t been easy. I’ve faced so many setbacks over the years that I have to wonder if I still have the drive to do so. Then again, maybe I’m just overthinking things. I really don’t know.
The specter of my own mortality is probably playing a factor in this as well. I hit fifty in a couple years, I’m about to become a grandfather again, and I feel like all of my best years, the ones I could have spent working on my writing, are behind me, spent with a woman that didn’t appreciate what I was doing, or me, or even her kids in the end.
But I had drive back then. I was capable of being creative, writing entire novellas while collaborating with some very talented friends.
For the most part, all of that has changed. My friends, the ones I collaborated with, have to deal with what life is throwing at them. Whether the issue is medical, or mental, or just business-oriented, they have to do what they have to do.
I do understand that, and I don’t begrudge them that at all. But I don’t work well on my own. It’s best when I have someone I can bounce ideas off of daily, and it helps if they too are writers. When that doesn’t happen, I backslide. The lack of energy I’ve had since nearly dying isn’t helping either.
Nor does it help anything else. I have a nice stack of videogames I could be playing right now, but instead of doing that, I’ve been binge-watching Frasier. And knowing full well there are fewer years ahead of me than there are behind me, you’d think I’d be doing my best to enjoy that time.
Holy hell, there’s a new West Mansion update! Plus I uploaded a new video to the YouTube channel my wife and I run, Dire & Bette… which I haven’t mentioned here until now. Anyway, go check everything out!
So, here I am. It’s been some time since I updated here. But lately, I feel like I’ve been at a crossroads regarding gaming. I posted on my Twitter account not long ago (https://twitter.com/VirtualCaveman) about whether or not it might be time for me to give up gaming. I got a lot of good responses there, and a lot of food for thought.
But as it turns out, my issue didn’t have anything to do with gaming. It has more to do with my state of mental health than anything else.
As some of you may know, in September of 2020, I almost died. This had nothing to do with Covid-19, but rather, fatty liver disease, coupled with an internal bleed. The doctors weren’t sure I would pull out of it, and even advised my wife to prepare for the worst. I remember virtually none of that first weekend, as my brain was swimming in blood ammonia (which I still have to take medication for). When I finally regained consciousness, nearly three days had passed. I was out of the hospital by the end of that week, and back at work the next. This proved to be a problem, as I had not completely recovered. I still had to take time to go to doctor’s appointments, plus there were still days that I just felt sick and had to call in, as they’d usually be followed by vomiting. My employer’s idea of giving me recovery time was to drop my hours to part-time, and then, after a particularly grueling round of appointments, my FMLA time that I had to take in early 2021 was about to run out, and as I was in no real shape to return to work, they considered my request for an FMLA extension as a “voluntary resignation.” Real nice. Luckily, I was able to go on unemployment because of the severity of my illness, although it was a rough couple months until it kicked in.
Because of all of this, though, things changed. I had to change my diet completely, I found myself having trouble driving, and with Covid still running rampant, I was mainly self-isolating due to the liver disease compromising my immune system. There were a few other things that happened as well that I’m not going to talk about here, but the end result was my life-long depression rearing its ugly head for the first time in years. I felt (and still do, to a degree) like a burden to my wife, who not only still works full time, but has her own medical issues to deal with. I’d say the best thing to happen to me in the past year was the birth of my first granddaughter and second grandson (grandson number three is on the way, btw), and while there are times that I’m perfectly capable of helping out my granddaughter’s mother with her, there are times that I just can’t. This bothers me. I know my ex-wife thinks I was a horrible father (and husband), but I did learn a lot back then. I know the stress my step-daughter has to deal with, and I want to do what I can to alleviate that, but there are times I just can’t, and then she has to step in and help take care of me, which is an added burden she doesn’t need.
Believe me, this has not just been a long vacation. This has sucked hard.
This makes me equal parts depressed and angry. And since I’m not about to take that out on anyone, I focused on my games. To an extent, they became something that defines me. I call myself “the Splatterhouse guy,” after all. I brought back West Mansion not just because I knew it would make a lot of people happy, but as a way to re-establish my relevance in a world that’s changed so much from when I first started it. Do I want the “clout,” as the term means these days? When it comes to Splatterhouse, yes. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Back in the first decade of this century, whenever someone thought Splatterhouse, they thought of me and my work. I helped keep the franchise alive, to the point where Namco Bandai came to me when they were making the 2010 game, because I had the connection with the fanbase and I saved them a ton of time in research with the info had gathered on West Mansion.
That’s not the case anymore. Granted, I didn’t help matters any when I shut the site down in 2011 and kept it closed for a decade, but these days, whatever clout I have has dispersed. YouTubers, streamers, and so forth have made it easier to learn about the series than by wading through the multiple walls of text and images I have on the site. I’m still stubbornly hanging onto the old ways, even still hand-coding my own HTML. I’m a Web 1.0 guy in a soon-to-be Web 3.0 world, and I’m having the hardest time adapting.
“But why not stream or make videos about Splatterhouse yourself?” some may be asking. Believe me, I’m doing you a favor by not doing that. I’m an ugly fat guy with bad teeth (thanks, non-existent affordable healthcare!) and a weird voice: the very prototypical nerd stereotype, which would be complete if I were a single virgin and living in my parents’ basement. Luckily, I avoided all that.
See? See right there? That’s the depression kicking in. I could have gone back and edited that whole thing out, but no, this is me: warts and all.
Anyway, all that aside, what about quitting gaming for good? Was it something like this?
As it turns out, no, it wasn’t (although there are times when I feel absolutely lousy that it can be). And I just can’t quit, either. It’s been part of my life for far too long. After discussing things with a couple of good friends of mine, plus reading all of the responses on Twitter, I realized something. I’ve been so focused on discussion and writing about games that I haven’t really taken the time to properly play them recently. So it’s not that I want to give them up, but rather, I need to get back to basics and play. I fully intend to take a different approach this time, too, by playing games from genres that usually don’t appeal to me: RPGs, FPSes, sports and such. We’ll see if this works.
Still, they’re going to be games for consoles I already own. I don’t have the cash to afford a Switch or anything past the PS3/Xbox 360 era. So I figure I’ll start with a few of the classics from the time. I have an ongoing quest in Final Fantasy II (SNES) that I intend to get back to. I figure that’s a good starting point. And hey, for the most part it’s all new to me, hence the newness of the old.
I’ve decided to cover another early arcade-style title today, one with major historical significance.
Nuts & Milk – Hudson Soft – 1983
Given how Nuts & Milk looks and sounds, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it came straight from the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto himself, but this one’s not by Nintendo. It’s by Hudson Soft. Not only that, it was Hudson’s first Famicom game ever, and the first third-party game released for the console. Talk about a historic piece of software.
You play as the adorable little pink blob with googly eyes and little feet, Milk. Milk’s equally adorable fiancee, Yogurt, who looks just like him aside from the twin hair bows and eyelashes (they kind of have a Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man thing going on), is trapped in a house, and he must gather all of the fruit in the stage to open the house, then work his way to said house to get her. But Yogurt’s captor, Nuts (who looks just like Milk but is blue), isn’t going to let Milk get to her without a fight. He relentlessly stalks Milk through each stage, and is sometime joined by more Nuts.
There are so many jokes I could make here…
Anyway, as if the game wasn’t weird enough, helicopters and blimps will fly by. Milk can jump on the helicopters for points, but the blimps will kill him. So will falling in the water at the bottom of the screen. On the plus side, if Nuts falls in the water, it will take him out for a few seconds, which can be a help if you need to get a piece of fruit that he was blocking you from. On top of that, occasionally fireballs (similar to the fireballs from Mario Bros.) will appear. Avoid those at all costs.
Milk gets around by jumping and climbing on chains, similar to the ones from Donkey Kong Jr. There are also strategically placed springboards as well. The screen wraps around too, so Milk can exit either side of the screen and appear on the opposite side. However, Nuts is equally skilled at climbing and jumping, and he will pursue you no matter where you go. He’s like the Terminator, if the Terminator was a cute blue blob with huge googly eyes.
Every third stage is a bonus round, where you must gather fruit and get to Yogurt before the time runs out. Succeed, and you’ll get a screen showing them standing in a heart-shaped field of flowers, with a giant heart above them. In a surprising change, Nuts & Milk isn’t just played for score. At the end of stage 50, the game ends. The ladders and platforms in that stage even spell out the words END.
That’s Nuts & Milk in a nutshell (pardon the unintentional pun). If you love the golden age of arcade games, it would be worth your time to check it out. Until you can… how about checking out a longplay?
Only a few of Nintendo’s early first-party Famicom games didn’t make it across the Pacific. Not counting a good chunk of their Famicom Disk System games, the only ones I can think of offhand were F-1 Race, Gomoku Narabe Renju, Mahjong, Popeye no Eigo Asobi and the subject of today’s entry.
Devil World – Nintendo – 1984
Tamagon the Dragon has been trapped in Devil World, which is basically a big maze surrounded by a moving wall. The Devil sits at the top of the maze, directing his followers to move the wall in the hopes of crushing Tamagon between the moving wall and the walls of the maze. Tamagon isn’t totally defenseless, as he can pick up crosses and bibles (which look suspiciously like the spellbook from the original Legend of Zelda) and shoot fireballs at the Devil’s minions. Hit one of them, and it’ll be transformed into a fried egg, which Tamagon can eat for points. There are three minions: one that looks like a cyclops in a pink robe, a mini-Devil and an orange-robed cyclops. Get killed by one of them, and your next Tamagon will hatch out of an egg.
As one might expect from a game of the era, this wasn’t a game you played to get an ending, you played it to get the high score. To clear the first part of each maze, Tamagon has to eat all of the dots scattered around, but he can only eat the dots while holding a cross. There are also bonuses that occasionally appear, in the form of ice cream cones that travel along the moving wall. In the second part of each maze, Tamagon has to gather the bibles floating around in the corners and use them to fill the gaps in the walls of the center chamber (can’t miss it, it’s marked with a skull). Once the gaps are filled, the Devil transforms into a small bat-like demon and flies away. To round things off, there’s a timed bonus round called “Bonus Box,” in which Tamagon must get the bonus boxes floating around the maze. Arrows on the floor will change the direction the maze is scrolling when they’re walked over.
As you’ve undoubtedly guessed by now, this was Nintendo’s attempt at making a Pac-Man style maze game. There are definitely enough unique twists in it to separate it from all the other Pac-clones out there, so it’s not just another walk in the maze like the ones that helped cause the Great Crash of ’83 in the U.S. One might suspect that the overabundance of Pac-clones in the early ’80s was why Nintendo chose to pass on releasing it in the U.S. (it did get a European release), but I’m pretty sure the main reason can be summed up in three words: the Satanic Panic. With the hardcore Evangelical Christians rallying against pretty much everything that could “corrupt the children” (and I blame Phil Philips’ book Turmoil in the Toybox for a lot of this fearmongering), do you honestly think a game called Devil World, starring Satan himself, was going to be released without a major outcry? I don’t think so!
It never received a sequel, but Devil World wasn’t forgotten by Nintendo (unsurprising, as it was the first Famicom game that both Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka worked on). The sound of Tamagon’s egg hatching when he respawns was later reused in Super Mario World as the sound of a hatching Yoshi (could Tamagon and Yoshi be related? Anything’s possible). Tamagon himself appeared as a trophy in Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube), and the Devil appeared as an assist trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii), as well as the subsequent SSB games. He also appeared in the Asian-exclusive Wii game Captain Rainbow. References to Devil World have popped up in other Nintendo games as well.
Frankly, it’s a shame that Devil World was never released in the U.S.. It’s a fun Pac-Man variant, and it would definitely have been appreciated by those that enjoyed arcade-style games. Check out this longplay to see it in action.
Never let it be said that I don’t (eventually) give the public what it wants.
Crisis Force – Konami – 1991
Not a single one of Konami’s Famicom shooters could be considered “bad”, or even “average”. All of them were outstanding. But only a couple of them could be considered “phenomenal”. Crisis Force, Konami’s last Famicom shooter, is one of those rarities.
In the year 199X, Tokyo City is attacked by the mechanized forces of the lost civilization of Atlantis. All seems lost, until two twins, Asuka and Maya, who are descendants of the people of the ancient civilization of Mu, board their Aura Wing fighters and begin a counterattack. Their battle will take them from Tokyo City to the heart of Atlantis, where the Atlantean ruler, Pharaoh, awaits them.
The Aura Wings have three forms. The first, Front Offense Type, is strongest against enemies that attack head-on. Side Offense Type fires both to the front and to the sides, making it the most versatile of the three. The final form, Rear Offense Type, is handy for blasting the enemies that come up from behind you. You switch between the three types by pressing A. You also have a stock of bombs that can be triggered by pressing A, but only while you’re holding down B to fire. This setup can lead to some accidental bomb triggers in the heat of battle, which is one of the only flaws the game has.
There are also the requisite speed power ups, of course, and two types of weapon power-ups that can each be leveled three times. Each weapon is used by each ship differently: for example, the wave shot power up used by the Front Offense Type becomes a homing shot when you switch to the Side Offense Type. There are no shields, but every time you get hit, your shot power goes down a level. If you don’t have any power-ups, that’s instant death.
Then there are the items you pick up that resemble blue jewels. Collect five of those without dying, and the Aura Wing transforms into an invincible laser-spewing killing machine. You have a timer which counts down before reverting back to normal, and every time you take a hit, it goes down faster, but if you collect more blue jewels, additional time will be added to the timer.
Now that the basics are out of the way, it has to be said: Crisis Force is gorgeous. I once called Crisis Force “the Axelay of the Famicom”, and years later, I still stand by what I said. The enemies are all colorful and nicely detailed, several of the bosses are screen-filling monstrosities, each stage has new graphical surprises, and there’s even an insane amount of parallax scrolling! It is one of the games that needs to be seen in action to believe. On top of that, it has one of the best OSTs Konami ever came up with for the Famicom. This isn’t a shock, because Konami’s games are known for their fantastic music, but it’s good that they didn’t drop the ball at the very end.
The Atlanteans are a mixed bunch, ranging from standard robots and ships to craft inspired heavily by the work of the ancient Aztecs, Mayans and Egyptians – especially the Egyptians, starting in the later stages. Stage 5 is nothing but an assault against a fleet of ancient Egyptian-themed battleships, culminating with a boss fight against a beautifully detailed multi-screen mega battleship.
Does the game have flaws? Of course. Besides the one I mentioned earlier, it is a bit on the short and easy side – but on the flip side, you can easily be nailed by some cheap hits. Also, instead of composing different pieces of music for every single stage, a couple of the early stage themes were reused in later levels. But those are the only flaws I can think of.
If you like shooters and NES games, you owe it to yourself to play Crisis Force whatever way you can. Until you’re able to, though, why not check out this longplay?
Sorry guys, I’m not feeling up to writing today (that’s what liver disease can do to you). So for those of you expecting my write-up on Crisis Force, it’ll have to wait. Again. I’ll rest up this weekend and pick up fresh on Monday.
But just to whet your appetite, here’s some cool Crisis Force-related things.
First, the Aura Wing, as it appears in the PlayStation 2 game Airforce Delta Strike.
Second, a remix of the first and sixth stage theme from Crisis Force as heard on the Otomedius Excellent OST, “Re-entry.” Say what you will about the Otomedius games, but they sure did have decent soundtracks with load of remixes from other Konami OSTs.
I think as far as Namco is concerned, just one: Druaga’s tower (as thoroughly explored in the games The Quest of Ki, The Tower of Druaga and The Return of Ishtar). The story of Gil and Ki was passed down by the people, and became legend. But as was once said, “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.” And centuries later, the tower still stands, but is now rumored to be the home of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
One intrepid archaeologist is determined to enter the crumbling tower and find the Hanging Gardens.
His name is Indy.
Babel no Tou – Namco – 1986
And boy, does he have his work cut out for him.
Babel no Tou is a puzzle game. A very devious, insanely difficult puzzle game that involves the proper placement of L-shaped blocks to get to the exit of each floor, which give Indy access to vines and moving platforms. Indy has a limited amount of strength he can use to pick up the blocks (they’re easily as big as he is, and can crush him if handled improperly), but this can be replenished by finding hidden pitchers. There are plenty of treasures scattered around the different floors of the tower, but sometimes they aren’t worth the effort to pick up. The exception to this would be the crystal balls, because sometimes you have to get them to open the exit door.
But it’s not all just moving blocks around, oh no. There are also plenty of creatures guarding the tower (surviving minions of Druaga’s, maybe?). Luckily, most of them can be defeated by crushing them with the blocks. Still, they make Indy’s life just that much more difficult. Luckily there’s no time limit, or he’d really be screwed. Another thing that makes life easier is a password system, as well as the ability to pause the game and view the entire room by pushing up and down on the d-pad.
Now, if you want to see the real ending of the game, you have to know what to do in the occasional “statue rooms” you come across. If you perform the correct task, an image will appear in the middle of the screen, among them a scorpion, a Japanese “money cat” and Pac-Man. There are eight total. At the very end of the game, you find yourself in a room to enter the password made up of the symbols you found. If you found all eight and put them in the correct order, Indy ascends to the Hanging Gardens and you get the code for the Pro mode.
Babel no Tou is definitely a challenge and a half. Anyone wanting to play this one all the way through had better be prepared to die, a lot.
Next time, I’m going to talk about a Famicom game that wasn’t by Namco. Until then, check out this longplay of Babel no Tou.
So just how did Princess Ki end up as a stone at the top of the Tower of Druaga? Find out in…
Kai no Bouken: The Quest of Ki – Namco – 1988
Years before the events of The Tower of Druaga, the Blue Crystal Rod was bestowed upon the land of Babylim (Babylon) by the god Anu, who placed it in the sky above the kingdom, where it brought about an era of peace. Babylim was then conquered by Emperor Balarant of Sumer, who forced the people of Babylim to construct a tower to reach the Blue Crystal Rod. However, angry about the blasphemy, Anu destroyed the tower and damaged the Rod, letting Druaga loose. Druaga rebuilt the tower and hid the Rod at the top. The goddess Ishtar then found a sorceress – Ki – and gave her a magic headband that enabled her to fly, and instructed her to ascend the tower and get the Blue Crystal Rod from Druaga.
Now that you know that…
I’ve decided that I like the idea of the Druaga games, not so much the games themselves, because the execution is flawed in a lot of places.
This is one such place.
The Tower of Druaga, for all its flaws, at least played fairly well. The Quest of Ki, on the other hand, looks like a traditional platformer, at first. But instead of using stairs or ladders to get to a higher platform, you have to press the jump button and watch as Ki practically flies into the stratosphere. You do have some control when determining where Ki lands, but if you whack her head on a ceiling, she’s knocked back down and you have no control until she hits the floor. Better hope there aren’t any enemies below her.
This is The Quest of Ki‘s biggest flaw, and at the same time, its most innovative gameplay mechanic. That, I think, must be some kind of paradox. It definitely puts a unique spin on traditional platforming, but it’s so frustrating that most players can only take so much of it before they give up and switch to a different game.
Ishtar and the dragon spirit Quox occasionally pop up between stages to give Ki hints, but unless you’re playing the English translation or can read Japanese, they’re worthless to you.
The ending sets up The Tower of Druaga nicely, at least. It explains exactly what happened to Ki and the Blue Crystal Rod, as well as what happened to Quox (who’s an enemy in Druaga), and you’re told that Ki’s lover Gil would ascend the tower and rescue her. Of course, they don’t mention how the two of them worked their way down the tower to escape, as seen in The Return of Ishtar.
Namco liked to do a whole “shared universe” thing with a lot of their earlier games, and I believe that there’s a chapter of the Druaga saga that takes place in the distant future. And even though the legend of Druaga, Gil, Ki and Ishtar had faded into myth by that point, the tower still stands, now home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But what man would brave those crumbling walls and attempt to find the Hanging Gardens himself?
Only one man has the courage, skills and intelligence to attempt such a feat.
While you’re waiting to find out what happens next, check out this longplay of The Quest of Ki.