Sunday, February 5, 2012

Heroes Of Vidya Games

So far, with some special exceptions, I've mostly stuck to movies, and TV movies, but here, I jump to the next media after films, the video game.

These are characters that are as recognizable to "the man on the street", as, say, Superman, or Batman.
To my way of thinking, when a character becomes that, that's culture, no matter what the medium is.
Therefore, the video game cannot be denied by even the most stubborn of traditionalist elitists.

And, there's no real way an honest list of fictional heroes can leave them out.

This was actually hard to compile though....there are a lot of great games, even massively culturally significant games, that have no running protagonist.

Either, because there's a new batch of characters with each entry of a series, or, the characters within the game itself rotate with no clear frontrunner, or, because the game uses user-created personal characters to make the player the star of his/her game,'s a first-person-shooter with a faceless ego that directly makes the player the character, with "Asteroids", or "Tetris", has no character at all.

A looot of 'em were like that.
"World of Warcraft"?
Culturally, a behemoth.
A Juggernaut.
No protagonist.

And...there were a lot of wonderful games that I have deeply loved....but, "the man on the street", doesn't know them.
Gaming culture knows them, but that's not enough.
It has to be mainstream culture, like movies, or the list would be so huge, I'd be doing games forever.
So, painful cuts had to be made.
I dearly would have liked to thrown in "Sam & Max", or "Earthworm Jim", shit, they even had TV shows, but....where are they now?
And then, that would've opened the door, and the list would have exploded.
I had to use the iron fist.
I had to always ask "is this character as well known (today!) as Mario?".
If it didn't pass the Mario test, it was dead.
More often than not, I'd think of a game, and it would fall into the "no protagonist", category though.
Especially the modern stuff.
It's all leaning more and more towards "you are the star".
So...a lot of entries here numerically, but collecting 'em was actually (and surprisingly) a slow thin trickle. pretty much felt like a game quest.


From here.

Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man

Loved the games, but as a dopey kid, was more into the make-believe "world", of the games.
Y'know, the albums, the cartoon, the color books, the toys, all that shit.
Probably cuz I sucked at the game.
It let me still be hip to the trend.
Although....I did finally get good at it on Atari at 11-13, got all the way up to the keys, and the limes.

Course, today's games, the soundtrack, the cartoon, they ARE the game.
The game looks like a cartoon, and the music is IN the thing.
It's all mooshed together.
So, I was ahead of my time in digging that stuff, just the tech hadn't caught up to make it real yet.

But, I had faint visions of it getting there.
I didn't quite know why games couldn't look like a real show, or why you couldn't seize control of a show, and shoot characters you hated.
Didn't grasp the science of it.
But, I had ideas along those lines.
A lot of us kids did.
The smarter ones grew up and pulled it off.
Always been the idea guy, not so much the nuts n' bolts guy.

Anyway, yeah, goes back to Pac-Man, this "multimedia", stuff.

And from here...

Namco Museum

A retroactive purchase, once I had PS2, but this has the real arcade versions of Pac-Man, Ms Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Pole Position, Galaga, and Galaxian.
And also, Pac-Mania, and Pac-Attack (a crummy puzzler).
But, those two aren't arcade ports.
So, I got all those old classics back.

Also, unlike the others on this list...for being such a remembered character,...he doesn't have many games under his belt.
Depending how strict you wanna get...only the one.

The "sequels", changed characters from Ms., to Super, to Junior.

"Pac-Mania", (great game, BTW) is sort of a remake.
Ditto" Pacman Arrangement".

And...stuff like "Pac In Time",...I have a hard time acknowledging.

You certainly couldn't get the shmoe on the street to remember that stuff.
Nope, it's all off the success, and nostaligia, of the original Pacman.

Whether that's a testament to the actual fun level of the game, or, the right piece of tech at the right cultural time, I'll leave for the individual reader to decide. generations keep rediscovering it on the internet, so....

Oh, yeah, almost forgot...this.

Yep, when you have a charting hit song, you've made it into the big time.

Ms. Pac-Man

Very quickly Mrs., but, whatever.

Her game was essentially "Pacman 2", in every regard, being what they were, game designers must have figured they had to redesign the look of everything, including the character, to distinguish it as a new game to people.

Anyway, this was such an improvement to Pacman, most people actually prefer it to Pacman.

This one had changing mazes, and moving bonus items you had to chase down.
Important upgrades that would be taken for granted in later games.

"Jr. Pac-Man", would complete the "trilogy", but, not many arcade units were made, and for whatever reason, it's not on any of the Namco/Pacman collections for modern platforms, and even to emulate, it's a bitch to wrestle down.

Yeah, Jr. Pac is definitely part three, there's a little running storyline in the between-level cinema scenes of Pac, and Ms. Pac, that Jr. picks up on.
The rest ain't got that.

But..sadly, because of the rarity, Jr. can't be on the list, cuz he didn't punch through to "man on the street", levels.
Although, you could easily argue, his mommy and daddy drag him along as part of the Pac-Family.


Made his debut in "Donkey Kong", became the villain in "Donkey Kong Jr.", and then his breakthrough role was in "Mario Bros", which immediately spun off into "Super Mario Bros", and then, the rest is history.

From here...

Super Nintendo. 

Ahhh, I still get warm and gooey inside remembering this. Lotta great memories. Well, like I ranted about Pac-Man, and then NES, this was the final evolution toward TV realism.
Games finally looked like cartoons, the reality barrier had been cracked. Well, the arcade had had 16 bit for a long damned time, but us unwashed masses finally could bring it home. Yeah, games have come a long way after this, and get realler and realler with each jump in console generations, but from 16-bit onward, you really knew what you were looking at. There was no mistaking. If you couldn't get your point across with 16 bit, you sucked. Then, towards the end of it's run, they pushed even further, with lineal bitmap scans of 3-D computer models (Donkey Kong Country), photo captures of real people (Mortal Kombat), and even claymation (Clayfighter). So, yeah, they got a lot out of this little system. Lot of inventive stuff, lot of great games. Ironically, the N64 had way less of a lineup in comparison. Some jokingly call it "the Goldeneye Entertainment System", because Goldeneye was its best game. Anyway, yeah, SNES was great. I didn't get any new systems after this until all the way up to Playstation 2. 


Super Mario World

The game that started it all off for the SNES. Now, this one is great, and I do love it, but I actually think Super Mario 3 was the better game. 
Indeed, when SMB3 was remade in 16 bit for "Super Mario All Stars", it truly did dominate, even in the updated "Super Mario All Stars + Super Mario World". But, this one was pretty damned good. As said above, Mario finally looked like a cartoon. From all the way back to Pac-Man, games had paintings, and/or cartoons, on the arcade cabinet, or on the cartridge box, that you were supposed to imagine the characters looking like. Well, now there was no more play-pretend, there the characters were, right there onscreen. No more bullshit.

Yep, and then, Mario launched a wave of merchandise that dwarves even Pacman at the heights of Pacmania.
And Mario became Nintendo's Mickey Mouse.

Also, there was of course The Movie...and that wasn't so hot.

Also-also, this...


Player 2 in all the Mario games.
Poor shmoe.

Donkey Kong

Premiered as the villain in "Donkey Kong", became the victim/captive in "Donkey Kong Jr.", was in the shitty and forgotten "Donkey Kong 3", the shittier "Donkey Kong Math", and vanished for almost a decade until he resurfaced in the "Donkey Kong Country", series of games.

From here...

Donkey Kong Country

Cute game, never beat it all the way through, though.
I thought they could have gone a long way with pushing the bitmapped 3-D model trick, and squeezed some more years out of the system.
I think they even could have cheated a bunch of the N64 games., they had a new console to sell, so, these were the waning years for good ol' reliable SNES.
Tch, alas.
Cuz the first generation of 3-D was pretty clunky and ugly.
I thought DKC actually looked nicer than a lot of the N64 lineup.
Anyway, the times, they were a changing.
Like it or not.


Mario & Luigi's pet.

Premiered in "Super Mario World", spun off in "Yoshi's Island", and "Yoshi's Story"
The less said about that latter one..the better....
Also, a big player in "Mario Kart", and "Smash Bros".


From here...

The Legend of Zelda

WOW did that game ever dominate a chunk of my life.
What Sgt. Pepper was to records, and Empire Strikes Back was to movies, this was to games up to that point.
Quite an event.

And then, of course, he went on, and reincarnated as various ancestors and descendants also called "Link", in the various sequels/prequels.
Smarter people than me have tried to sort out the timeline, it can't be done.
The creators have more or less admitted as much.

Samus Aran

From the "Metroid", series of games.

Samus is actually a hot chick underneath that huge robotic armor.
But, in every game, you have to beat the game with certain requirements (usually time) to unlock that secret.
It's out of the bag by now, so I'm not spoiling anything.

Metroid came along in that first wave of NES games along with Mario, and Ghosts N' Goblins, and Duck Hunt, and such.
It didn't get a lot of hype though, never had a TV commercial, it was kind of a sleeper hit built up by a cult.
I think it boiled down to that the Japanese market didn't give a shit about it, so, it was a surprise hit in the US.
So, this is a series that exists solely on the willpower of American fans.
In an odd way, it's kind of the Star Trek of Nintendo games in that respect.

From here...

Metroid II: The Return of Samus

Quite possibly the best game on Gameboy. No, it is. It even looked best in color (compared to other Gameboy games) on Super Gameboy later on. Yep, I loves me the whole Metroid series.
These were up there with Mario, Megaman, and Castlevania for the all time great platformers. Y'know, it's funny, this one's kind of vanished. Metroid 1 gets re-ported to other systems, and is an unlockable in "Metroid Prime", "Metroid: Zero Mission", is a remake of 1, "Metroid Fusion", is a direct sequel to "Super Metroid", and the entire "Metroid Prime", series squeezes between 1 & 2, so the series is acknowledged, can't really get 2 anymore. Either you gotta get it on Ebay, or, emulate it. Sad, they should all be remade, and put onto an "all-stars", for the latest system. What'd that be? Wii I guess... Well, Nintendo has always had a tight leash on their properties to the detriment of the fans.
Every other game nowadays, is on multi-platforms, but not Nintendo.
Never Nintendo.
Nope, you could only ever play Nintendo properties on Nintendo systems.
Mario, Metroid, Zelda, these were always jealously gaurded like a dragon's hoarde.
No need of it.
It just made their games die along with their obsolete systems.
Bad business.
Well...anyway, at least I have my memories of Metroid 2 if nothing else...


Super Metroid

Metroid finally came back to console.
And it was worth the wait.
Very good entry in the series.
Beautiful graphics.
Although, I miss the spider-ball power from 2, that was awesome.
One of the best game powers ever.
Maybe they brought it back, or its equivalent, in Metroid Prime, I dunno.
I'll never know, I ain't got Gamecube.
But, this one was good.
I love how one of the later levels is the first level of the first game, so, it's literally going back home.
I love nostalgic shit like that.
Well...hence these lists, eh?

And from here...

Metroid: Zero Mission

Remake of the original.
Mentioned it in 90's 3. 


Metroid Fusion (That should be Metroid Prime)

Didn't have Gamecube, so didn't get to play it, but, it looked awesome.
The rare one I actually regret missing.

But anyway, it's the milestone of the Metroid series stepping into the 3rd dimension.
Mario, Link, and the Belmont family had already done so, it was finally Samus's turn.
I won't hold my breath on a "Kid Icarus 3-D", any time soon....

Little Mac

The guy from "Mike Tyson's Punchout".

Most average people would give you a confused look if you threw "Little Mac", out there in a discussion, but...everyone knows Punch Out.

From here...

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

Great game, shitty guy.

Well, between this, n' Zelda, I guess they skipped the NES, and focused on particular games.
Sloppy, VH1.
And no Mario?
Really? WTF?
Saving that for an 80's-4 that they never made?
Anyway, Nintendo was a revelation in and of itself.
I first laid eyes on Super Mario Brothers, and that's how video games always should have looked, how they looked in my head.
Finally, gone at last, and forevermore, were blocky things you had to imagine what they were.
See my Pacman rant, things were finally pushing towards the television realism I was craving.
Although...I honestly believe Atari 400 could have handled SMB.
But, the Atari company imploded, so...
But yeah, my jaw was on the floor when I saw SMB.
It only got better from there.

There, that little sub-rant completes the game evolution trilogy from the 80's rants...

Simon Belmont

From the "Castlevania", series of games from Konami.

Simon (in this particular universe) is the arch nemesis of Count Dracula.
This is long before Van Helsing comes on the scene, understand.

I happen to think these games were heavily inspired by the Vampire Hunter D films.
(Read the link for those details)

The formula is relatively simple, slaughter your way through an army of henchmen, waste Dracula, then it's rainbows and puppies, and kittens, and jellybeans...until the next sequel.

Simon is the star in "Castlevania", "Castlevania II: Simon's Quest", and "Super Castlevania IV".

Then, it starts to jump all around the timeline with ancestors, and descendants.
Kinda like Link, but, they have different names.

But...if they have a whip, they may as well be Simon.
Who are we kidding?
Trever? Richter? Christopher? Sonia? Leon?
You ain't fooling anyone with that.

Anyway, rerun time again...

From here...

Castlevania 3

I loved the Castlevania series of games.
This one was fucking hard though.
But, it's the origin of Alucard, who'd be the star of "Symphony Of The Night", so it bears mentioning.


Super Castlevania 4

I think this might quite possibly be almost the best platformer game of all time.
You could do anything.
You had this whip, that you could crack in all 8 directions, or spin around, or do all sorts of loopty-loop tricks with, or use as a grapnel in some spots. Simon's whip in this one was an even better weapon than Megaman's metal blade. The character movement was smooth, you didn't die doing jumps, play control was absolutely perfect. Just a wonderful gaming experience. Shit, I want to fire it up right now.

*Races to the Dingoo*


Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night

Best platformer game ever.
Remember, I said "Super Castlevania IV", was ALMOST the best platformer ever.
This one truly had everything.
You had 3-D exploration like Metroid, you had item screens like "Final Fantasy 4-6", and you had the smooth rapid fire fighting play control of Castlevania.
And, you had real music, and voice acting, like a CD-ROM game, which this was.
They really pushed platform to its zenith just before everything went over to 3-D polygon style games.
And, as mentioned with "Castlevania 3", Alucard returns as the main character, rather than Simon Belmont, or his descendants.
Although, if you beat the game, you can replay it as Richter Belmont, which increases the challenge, because he can't achieve the power levels of Alucard.
And man, Alucard fully powered up can fucking do anything.
He can turn to a bat, or a cloud of poisonous gas, or he can summon sidekicks.
Nevermind his arsenal of spells and gizmos.
My favorite summoned sidekick is the little purple devil with a trident who flies around stabbing airborne enemies, and occasionally shouting "DIEEE!!!".
Hee hee, little stuff like that tickles me.
Yep, very impressive game.
And the castle in this one is HUGE, and you have to play it twice, once regularly, then again in a mirror universe upside-down.
So, you get a lot of play out of it.
The only downside, as virtually everyone who's played it has the crummy voice actors.
The drama scenes are pretty damned corny because of it.
Otherwise, almost the perfect game.
Many overlooked it, because it was on Playstation 1, and it was either neglected outright by those who opted instead for N64, or, the system was about to be replaced by Playstation 2, so there was little enthusiasm even from Sony.
So, it was kinda underground.
I didn't get it until long after I'd gotten my Playstation 2 in the 00's.
PS2 being able to play PS1 games, y'see.
Other Castlevania games have come out for portable systems, and emulated the style of this one, but...this will remain my favorite.
Although, it only edges out "Super Castlevania 4", by a nose hair.

And from here...

Castlevania: Lament Of Innocence

An interesting game, better than the N64 ones,, it lost the flavor of the classic ones.
And the levels were bland, and repetitive.
After the visual gorgeousness of "Devil May Cry", and hell, even "Super Castlevania 4", they should've really stepped up to the plate.
They didn't.
For shame.
Eh...after letting this sit for over a couple years, I sold it back for store credit, and then a movie, at the now defunct "Saturday Matinee".
I got like, a couple bucks for it, what a screwing.
Wish I'd've kept the game now.
Ah, well.

Solid Snake

Star of the "Metal Gear", series, also from Konami.

Odd series, the original "Metal Gear", and its followup, "Snake's Revenge", were 8-bit little adventure games, the graphics were shitty even for 8-bit, they were very hard, you didn't get hardly anything for beating the things, no one you ever knew had beaten the things, it was just that pain in the ass game everyone had, and didn't play anymore.

Later on, on the internet, it was known for its howlingly bad Japanese/English translations.
"I feel asleep!".
"The van have started to move!".

And that's it.
For 20 years.

That might have been the end of it.
That should have been the end of it. the PlayStation era, along comes "Metal Gear Solid", and its sequels, and the series fucking exploded.

I dunno, imagine if they had made...a 200 million dollar movie about...the board game "Operation",...and it kicked fucking ass.
That's how unlikely this was.

Metal Gear is beloved now.
Snake is Konami's Samus, and video-game-dom's Terminator.
The releases of these are as huge as Grand Theft Auto, or Halo.
Well...nothing is as huge as Halo..but y'know...

Mega Man

The plucky little android who's the star of his own self titled series of games, and a shitty Saturday morning cartoon.
Two, if you count "Captain N".
He's Capcom's Mario.

From here...

Mega Man 3

Well, this one was good, but it was essentially a rehash of 2, and 2 was my favorite.
But, 2 was late-80's, so I had to use this one as my way in to ranting about Mega Man.
Great series of games.
Just enough challenge to make you keep playing.
And the items were the best part.
Great powers they had through the whole series.
Metal blade from 2 was one of the greatest video game weapons ever.
A big circular saw-blade you could throw in 8 different directions, even in mid jump, or even off of ladders, and it could kill pretty much anything with 2 shots.
And it didn't use a lot of energy.
And since you could mow through literally whole swarms of enemies, you were guaranteed a steady flow of energy dots to refill the thing, so it really never ran out.
3 had a similar thing I think, but you could only throw it in 4 directions, and it had limited range, and came back like a yo-yo.
Not as good...
Oh, yeah, right, 3 added Megaman's dog, Rush, who could change into 3 vehicles.
Well, there were vehicles in 2, just without personhood, so...Rush was just some storyline razzle-dazzle, really.
3 was a rehash in every way.
But, you had new levels to play, so...
Anyway, fun games.
Kept me fairly well entertained.

And here...

Mega Man Anniversary Collection

As I mentioned in 90's 3, I love me some Mega Man 2, but really, all of 'em are fun, and this has all of 'em.
Even the 8th one for Playstation 1 I missed out on.
Great series.


Deceptively cute, incredibly powerful, and versatile.
Like Pacman, he became a star with the least amount of games.
And...the only one I can think of who broke through big on the Gameboy first, before going to the NES.
And...the only one to have a blockbuster hit on the NES when it was virtually dying out in the days of SNES.
Yes, this little creature upset a lot of precedents.

So, his power...think...Pacman meets Yoshi, meets Megaman.
He can suck up and eat his enemies, and absorb their powers, or spit them out as projectiles.
Or, he can suck up air, inflate, and fly.
And...a bunch of other powers I can't remember.
Yeah, li'l ol' Kirby even threatened to topple Papa Mario off his perch, his games were pretty fuckin' cool.
Luckily, he was Nintendo's boy, so it wasn't exactly a threat.

Sonic The Hedgehog

Sega's Mario.

His thing was, running hella fast.
Tech wise, that speed was to show off the Genesis's rendering speed compared to Super NES.
It gave up an eentsy bit in graphics for that speed though.

Sega gave Nintendo quite a good show as a competitor for awhile in the 16-bit console market, but nowadays, they develop games for Nintendo, and Sonic regularly hob-nobs with ol' Mario.
(As can be seen in the video game crossovers).

And, he was star of a TV show, and a long running comic book (same entry).

Also, this.

Ken and Ryu

From the "Street Fighter", series of games from Capcom.
And man, did they ever linger at part 2 for a long-ass time.
Am I right, folks?

So, yeah, there's a jillion characters in their games now, but...they're the closest thing to protagonists.
It's even a little bit more Ryu than Ken, but...yeah, it's these guys.
Maybe Guile, but..nah, them.

As I mentioned a few entries back, they seem kinda based on Bruce Lee and John Saxon in "Enter The Dragon".

Like the Mario Bros, they had a shitty live-action movie based on them.

And, they had a pretty decent anime movie.

Also, they feature in pretty much every "Capcom vs___", game.

So, these fellas really get around in the multiverse.


Chun Li

As much the hero of the "Street Fighter", series as Ken & Ryu, and...almost as beloved by horny fanboys as Lara Croft.
I split her off, merely because, she had her own spinoff movie.
A shitty spinoff movie, but...there ya go.

Her deal is those thick drumsticks of hers can kick up a kangaroo tornado of death.
Bet she goes through a lot of thighmasters...

Fox McLoud

From "Starfox".

Man, there are a zillion space shooter games, but...I can't think of any of 'em where you get to know the pilot.
I think Fox is our only goddamned pilot.

So, obviously, he's from some far off alien galaxy where forest animals became people.
Course, this isn't new, back in my day, there was Marvel's "Rocket Raccoon", and then, in the 90's, there was "Bucky O'Hare", and I'm still trying to forget that fucking theme song.

My take on it?
I conjecture Nintendo couldn't license Star Wars (at the time) for a big X-Wing game, or, if they could, Lucas wanted them to jump through certain hoops that would have made the game less fun, so they were like "fuck it, we can make our own universe".

They made the right call, whatever the case.

And, it worked, Fox is the Mario of space shooters, and his games are anticipated at least as much as a Mario Kart.

And, its universe was heavily fanficced, from what I hear.
So, people took to the mythology.

Anyhoo, "Starfox", was the first to use the SNES's SuperFX chip, and the first console game to use polygon graphics.
Nowadays, everything's polygons.
So, that's an important milestone.

And...that takes us up through the SNES era.
I'll stop here.

Up next, the N64, CD-Rom, Disk-console era.

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