Features, Games

Retrophiliac Vol.2 – In Retrospect

Looking back to your childhood and those treasured TV shows that you grew up with; that you couldn’t wait to watch each morning; and that made you laugh and gave you shocks – with the cynical eyes of experience makes them seem foreign and unsettling! “Mr Ben has never paid that shop owner once the free-loading git”, “Sure the clangers was good, but that whistling would have got right on my nibblets”,”Should the British Government really be spending the defence budget on training one-eyed rodents as intelligence agents?”

My point is that despite it being painful to dredge up the memories of old and judge them by today’s standards, you sometimes can’t help but be amazed by either the Nostradamus like ability of the games developers to predict future headlines, or their astounding naivety to overlook a glaringly inappropriate element of their design.

The first game I played recently that gave me that uneasy feeling was Ring King on the NES. It’s a basic 8-bit boxing game that is actually pretty good. With a slightly isometric view you look down on the ring and watch 2 boxers dance around and occasionally smack each other. It sounds very simple but like with most NES games, easily more fun with two players.

Ring King was published by Data East, a company that back in the day brought out many games that can easily be classed as classics – Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja; Burger Time; Windjammers and Shadow-run on the SNES which is an amazing RPG that perfectly creates a cyberpunk world mixed with fantasy characters.

Ring King had it’s début in arcades in 1985 and was ported by Data East in 1987. The NES version has become synonymous with what I can’t even class as undertones, but flat out tones of sexual content. Boxing isn’t my thing, but I learned everything I needed to know from the Rocky films and Every Which Way But Loose with Clint Eastwood – 2 dudes punch each other until 1 is left standing, possibly with an orangutan on standby although I’m still not sure on the WBF regulations for including simians.

Every so often in boxing the men get tired and to break up the action; they grab each other and take a breather. In real life this seems a bit…odd, but when put onto a pixel based NES game this just doesn’t work, the men grasp each other in a loving embrace and seem to dance on the spot. It’s a wonder the ring announcer’s mic doesn’t drop with the lights as he starts to croon “Lady In Red”.

Now this on it’s own would just be insinuation, however at the end of each round it cuts from the fighting to a shot of each boxer stood in their corners with a man/woman on their knees, head bobbing up and down. I’m pretty sure I can’t libel pixels so I’m ok here.

It’s obvious the game is running on a family console, otherwise it wouldn’t have been released if they were doing what it looks like they were doing.  But there’s something about Ring King that just doesn’t sit right. It’s a wonderful moment when a game leaves you speechless – sometimes because a character bites the dust or sometimes because an amazing kill or cut scene happen. Rarely does it happen from sheer dumbfounded awkwardness.

Someone at Namco or Data East should have been sat in a board meeting one day and whilst everyone was talking figures and finance that numb their brain, that one guy should have just slowly raised his hand and said “Ah, excuse me… sorry to butt in… I know this isn’t on the agenda but…erm…has anyone actually played Ring King?” That guy would have been a hero, a legend, promoted on the spot. Instead the game has become famous amongst those who have actually played it for the touching story of 2 dudes with an afro and moustaches getting lucky. Kinda like “Brokeback Boxing” for the NES.

The second game that I wanted to bring up is “Moonwalker”, or rather “Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker”. For those unaware of this gem, the games are actually movie tie-ins. “Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker” film is a series of shorts based around his music. I saw it once many years ago and it just confirmed my lack of interest in Michael Jackson since he stopped blaming everything on the boogie. Apparently that doesn’t stand as a legal defence anymore…

Moonwalker, the game, has a plot – this should be noted and then ignored.

The plot as far as I can decipher goes along the lines of “Michael Jackson is a dude who can turn into a car, then into Michael Jackson in a white suit, who then goes into a club to save little kids”. I’m sure you can see where I’m going by this stage, and to be honest I’m not going to labour the point.

The game is a side-scrolling platformer that was released in 1990. The version I’m referring to is the Sega Mega-drive (genesis) version not the arcade version of the game wherever everything seemed weirder as it involved Jackson turning into a 12 foot Mecha-Jackson that shoots lasers.

Your weapon of choice on the Mega-drive is your feet and fists – although it may sound great, it’s more  Wayne Sleep than Jackie Chan. Your body popping and signature kick to the side produces starry sparkles that kill enemies whilst your enemies are suited and booted gangsters that hang out in a 1950′s club, where dancer’s and pianos get in your way and force you to find alternative routes to the kiddies. The children are placed over the level and it’s your job to find them.  When you do save them, the little tykes grab your leg, give you a hug then fly away on a star. I know what you’re thinking, but lets move on.

Once the enemies have all been defeated the game takes a turn… a turn down a dark alley…an alley that has drifters in it… drifters that are eating kittens. Bubbles, Michael Jackson’s real life chimp buddy, rocks up and hops on your back pointing to somewhere on the level. It’s now your job to find a specific door he’s pointing to. Once you navigate the horrible platforming following instructions from the monkey you reach a closet, a closet that has one last child inside crying…

Not to speculate about tones within this game or art and life mirroring each other would be wrong. But to bring you back to the start of this piece. Cynicism and retrospect gives you a different angle on things – what originally looked like gangsters trying to kill you, now looks like 1950′s detectives trying to stop you. The dancers that step in your way could be worried parents looking for, or protecting, their daughters. The monkey on your back is just way too apt a metaphor…

The simple fact is that these games are over 20 years old at this point. It’s stupid to think that the designers had any intentions of any innuendo or allegations to be taken from their games. It was a more innocent age. But this is the thrust of my article – just because you didn’t intend for it to be in there, it is. And even in a further 20 years, I’ll still find 2 boxers with moustaches slow dancing to be hilarious.

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Ruaidhri

Big-Boss of PixelBedlam.co.uk
Ruaidhri has been writing for a number of sites over the past few years, spewing his vitriol and love in equal measures on all topics from Video Games to Film and Board Games to Geek Culture. He started PixelBedlam in September of 2012. Follow him on Twitter!