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Blaster Master cover BLASTER MASTER (1988)

I thought this game was called “Master Blaster” until just a few minutes ago, which just goes to show how memorable this game was. There are no sequels that I know of, and aside from the one childhood friend who actually owned and played the game (I mostly just watched), no one else I know or ever knew ever mentioned this game, nor read any magazine or internet gaming site that extolled its virtues. And I wonder why, with a plot as vibrant and believable as this one:

The game starts with a person named Jason who has a pet frog named Fred who, one day, decides to leap out of his fish bowl and out the door. Fred then touches a radioactive chest, and he grows to an enormous size; Fred and the chest then fall into a hole in the earth. Jason chases Fred down the hole, which leads to a large underground cavern. There, he finds an armored tank named SOPHIA THE 3RD – a vehicle designed to battle radioactive mutants that live inside the earth. Jason mounts SOPHIA to find the whereabouts of Fred and to destroy the mutants and their leader – the Plutonium Boss.

Yet, with all that being said, Blaster Master might have been one of the greatest games ever, NES or otherwise. Not only do you tool around in  super-fast tank that can jump hundreds of feet into the air — and blast a bunch of stuff, as the game’s title suggests — but your tiny dot of a character can jump out of the tank whenever he pleases and go on separate adventures of his own. It’s difficult as hell and can be frustrating far too often, but you still get to drive and blast the shit out of a bunch of monsters. Isn’t that really all we want out of a video game?

Mega Man X cover MEGA MAN X (1993)

We don’t continue to follow our heroes after the game is over, do we? Sure, we pick up with Mario or Link or Samus once their next adventure begins, but we don’t have to live in the world they live in and deal with the mess Koopa/Ganon/Mother Brain has caused. We get to have all the fun, but, of course, we don’t sweep up afterwards.

X is quite dismayed at the end of this game, because the “Mavericks” (sentient evil robots) have already done considerable damage, and he is partly to blame. Obviously things are better with the bad guys out of the way (for now, insert dramatic music here), but the victory is bittersweet. Link and Zelda have it pretty good in Ocarina of Time, in the sense that Ganon is banished to another dimension and all of his evil acts have been wiped clean. Koopa never gets around to doing whatever he was planning to do to Princess Peach, and the metroids are prevented from spreading throughout the universe.

I’m pretty excited to see the new Denzel Washington movie “Flight,” coming out this Thanksgiving. The previews make it clear that not every hero gets a happy ending.

Mega Man 3 cover MEGA MAN III (1990)

This is more are review of all the NES Mega Man games (1-3), because my memories of playing these games has grown hazy with time. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy playing these games, it’s just that the differences between Mega Man 1 and Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3 are trifling at best. All three games play by the same basic playbook — beat a specific amount of “boss bots” in order to unlock Dr. Wiley’s fortress, which is usually longer and more difficult than all the boss levels put together — except Part 3 is more memorable because it has the robot dog. Robot dogs are cool, especially if you’re a little kid like I was when I last played these games.

Mega Man 2 coverYou know what? After beating Mega Man 3, I would have killed Dr. Wiley. I know, I know, you really can’t get away with killing an unarmed man who is begging for his life and of no real threat (once you blew up all his evil robots, that is), but at some point you have to conclude that this guy is just going to build another fleet of super robots capable of taking over the world or whatever, and that killing him now will almost certainly save more lives in the future. Now, I’m not a proponent of capital punishment in real life, but in a situation where a psychotic genius has REPEATEDLY committed the same crime and, I assume, has been incarcerated for his crimes more than once just to get out commit the same crime again and again…why must Mega Man make the same mistakes all other superheros do?

Mega Man coverThe endings for each game look nice enough for NES games, but other than Dr. Wiley begging for his life there’s not much content to them, other than after you beat #3 you get the sense that Mega Man has some strong-yet-awkward feelings for his ambiguously-gender’d “brother” Proto Man (I’m pretty sure it’s revealed that he’s a she later on, although my memory is very fuzzy about all that).

Okay, there isn’t really a lot I have to say about the Mega Man games, and I’m just wasting space as an excuse to put all 3 game covers onto this page, because other than being a lot of fun (and very similar in play style to Metroid), the story never resonated with my like Mario’s and Zelda’s did. I’m pretty sure Mega Man has been retconned to death, and maybe I’d give more of a fuck about X or whatever his real name turned out to be, but I lost interest a long time ago.

Star Fox 64 cover STAR FOX 64 (1997)

So, after that touching reunion with Ghost Dad, the ending to this game is just a whole lotta flying and running. Which is unfortunate, because the game has a pretty good story: The Star Fox team are mercenaries hired by the Cornerian army to defeat Andross and his army, who was exiled from Corneria for experiments that nearly destroyed the planet and, oh yeah, he also killed Fox McCloud’s dad. So, it’s not business, but personal…although that doesn’t stop him from getting paid.

It’s a fun game but the ending is really just about sitting around and waiting to enter your high score, so you can compare how awesome you are in comparison to past iterations of yourself.


Super Mario Bros, The Plumber Who Fell, by Josh Millard.

This is a little abstract, though that could for the sake of argument be the pit just after the hidden 1-up on World 1-1.  More to the point, this is what happens to Mario an awful lot all over the place.  And it’s especially what happens to him a lot when you’re eight years old and you’re playing SMB for the first time at your cousin’s house.

It’s hard to remember being brand new to this game.  It was such a profound discovery for my young self at the time, but I have only hazy memories of those specific early gameplay sessions.  Of trying and failing at the basics, of being proud when I was finally getting to World 1-2 consistently. 

It’s odd to think what video game history would look like if Super Mario Bros had been a stinker instead of a trailblazer.  I’m not sure history would be shaped much different — Nintendo put out plenty of other great games early on, the time was ripe for a reblossoming of the industry, etc — but the Mario franchise, and Mario himself, are such central touchstones in the last twenty-five years of video game culture that it’s hard to know how the void would be filled if he’d never caught on.

Also, I don’t know why I dressed him like a lumberjack here.  Maybe he changed clothes after the thousandth falling death, in vain hope that it’d make life #1,001 luckier.

I imagine Donkey Kong and King Koopa commiserating over scotch, and DK snapping his fingers and realizing, “So, THAT’S how you beat Mario: random holes in the ground. Why didn’t I think of that?”

Metroid Fusion cover METROID FUSION (2002)

As I said while discussing Super Metroid, improvements in gaming consoles won’t really improve the basic gameplay of the original Metroid series, as Fusion has the same basic 2d shooter format that Super Metroid had, with obviously sleeker graphics. However, while the play of the game wasn’t significantly changed, the updated backstory (which borrows even more heavily from the Ridley Scott Aliens movie collection) is a lot more nuanced and interesting, without being overly preachy or complicated.

With the (presumed) eradication of the metroid species, the “X” species had lost their only higher rung in the food chain, and with their almost-indestructible body composition and ability to copy any living thing it touches and reproduce asexually, posed a threat to the rest of the universe (sort of). Pretty strong environmental statement on the repercussions of messing around with ecosystems a video game is making, and that’s just the start of the story.

So, our hero Samus is the first human to be infected by the X, but before it can fiugure out our species and destroy us all, Samus is literally torn out of her fighting suit, and is injected with some kind of Metroid serum that not only kills the X inside her, but, of course, makes her resistant to the X (in their natural state) so that she wouldn’t immediately die the next time she came upon one. A bit of a stretch logically, but it’s really the only way the game is even remotely playable.

Instead of fighting on some alien world you’re now infiltrating a human science lab, which, also “coincidentally,” just so happens to have various compartments designed to mimic Metroid worlds of past games….because, completely unknown to anyone else, the scientists there were experimenting on a few more metroids that were thought to have been completely eradicated (POLITICAL INTRIGUE!). The X from your original suit have taken over parts of this space lab, then reproduced exponentially, and in your ignorance you give them access to the rest of it. Well, not just your ignorance; your ship has a artificial intelligence that links up to the space station, helping you navigate throughout the lab and giving you power ups, again coincidentally, right when you need them, instead of all at once at the beginning. Because that would be too easy, obviously.

You’re not just fighting against the X, though, as when you find out about the metroids the ship traps you in one of hose navigation rooms, as for the humans in charge would rather blow up the lab (with you in it) than have you get out and tell the universe about their nefarious plans. I would be fine with self-sacrifice, if the X were as dangerous as the game claims, but of course Samus somehow deduces that the X could survive the self-destruct, and even one of them that survives could still repopulate and….you know, destroy the universe, or whatever.

Somehow, Samus convinces the ship to let her go so she can destroy the lab a different way, that not only ensures the X’s destruction but, of course, lets her live. This is done because the ship’s A.I. is based on the memories and experience of various human leaders, including some guy named Adam that Samus is totally hung up on. I guess Adam is supposed to represent the human soul, or some concept of humanity that an artificial intelligence should not be able to understand (aka every story arc ever used with anything resembling A.I.).

Now Samus can kill the evil X that has become an effective Dark Samus, free a couple of good aliens that we came across in Super Metroid, and, oh yeah, have another impromptu run-in with the Mother Brain (“Omega”) metroid and, for reasons never really established, the “Dark Samus” X sacrificing itself to save you, so you can kill the Mother Brain. Other than the X having a serious hard on for the metroids, this act makes little sense, but in any case you get off the lab just as its about to crash into a planet, thereby ridding the universe of the X. Presumably.

That’s a pretty deep, multi-layered plot for a video game that came out 10 years ago, even though said plot borrows heavily from other alien-related media, as well as wedging in a well-worn government coverup meme. It’s all a bit dense, but the plot really doesn’t get in the way of killing aliens and blowing stuff up. And really, that’s all you want from a Metroid game.

Super Metroid cover SUPER METROID (1994)

Really, the same basic plot of the first two Metroid games, although the console upgrade makes a huge difference in the gaming experience (where Super Mario World and A Link to the Past were somewhat-different games with the same basic characters and premise, Super Metroid was truly a sequel). You could always improve the graphics with better consoles, but I think this is the definitive 2D Metroid game; Metroid Prime and all the other sequels might be really great shooter games, but that’s not the Metroid I know. That’s a whole ‘nuther game. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Wii game out with a new Metroid that played similarly to this version, but better graphics aside, I’m not sure you can really improve on this game. Super Metroid just gets it right.

Another moment when video games make you feel a little too much: The nice Metroid sacrificing itself to save you and defeat the Mother Brain monster thing. Didn’t think you could get me to tear up, Super Metroid, but there you go. It’s just too bad you couldn’t give Mother Brain and even bigger beatdown after that, almost as if blasting it into a pile of dust wasn’t a big enough punishment. Fuck you, Mother Brain.


Metroid (Metroid Cocktail)


1/2 shot Bacardi Big Apple Rum
1/2 shot Coconut Rum
1/2 glass Kiwi
Strawberry Minute Maid (or Kool-Aid)
A little less than 1/2 a glass Sprite
3 Strawberries

Directions: Shake the two rums and Kiwi Strawberry Minute Maid and pour into a lowball glass.  Add the Sprite for a bit of flavor and carbonation. Drop in three strawberries as a garnish.  If you choose, you can use your ice beam freezer to cool the alcohol before you make the drink.

(Drink created by The Drunken Moogle.  Photography by Meredith Shelton)

I plan on eradicating every one of these from planet SR388.

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