What are you doing here?
I gave you fair warning that we would be back, and you didn’t have the good sense to be somewhere more productive like here or here, or over there or over here or somewhere in that general area. Now you’re boned. Nothing left to do but sit back, close your eyes, and let the knuckly goodness smash into you like a chilly hailstone- painful yet oddly invigorating.
Onward, to violence.
Bad Dudes (Data East-1988)
“Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?”
Well, that all depends. But probably not.
A huge hit upon its release, arcade classic Bad Dudes is more than just a stellar game. It is exceptional, solitary in its strangeness for a variety of reasons. Channeling the 80’s zeitgeist of disharmonious ninjas suddenly wreaking havoc in America, Bad Dudes is a thrilling experience in concordance with other classic works of the period such as The Ninja, American Ninja, Enter the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, Ninja-Ninja-Bo-Binja and Dude, Where’s My Ninja? Except that you’re not a ninja.
No, in Bad Dudes you take control of surly anti-hero Blade or his equally asocial life partner Striker, two misanthropic street toughs that have been co-opted by Arnold Schwarzenegger to rescue the president, who has been kidnapped by what appear to be Asian men in blue hooded pajamas; I don’t know what they’re called. It is a little known fact that when the president is in mortal danger and the most sophisticated military in the world is powerless to stop it, we must turn to two young men of dubious sexuality to rectify matters armed with nothing but a prickly disposition and a sweet pair of high-tops.
Bad Dudes is a fine game with cool animations, a smattering of items and special moves to mess around with and shitloads of ninjas to beat down. It’s also one of the first games that I’ve ever played with a charge mechanic: hold down the punch button for a few seconds and you charge a powerful short-range attack. It may have been a tad ineffectual, especially when compared with the super-spinning-win-the-game kick you can abuse from the very beginning, but what was a novel mechanic 25 years ago is now an industry standard you will find in almost every action title.
Another idiosyncratic detail: this game supposedly has a Michael Jackson undercurrent throughout its design. The designers have stated that they had borrowed a lot of ideas from Michael Jackson’s Bad, which was wildly popular at the time of Bad Dudes’ release, when drawing up the character and costume designs, poses, and music. It never ceases to amaze me, all the correlations between physical violence and space-age pop star homunculi.
Lastly, Bad Dudes enjoys a sort of charmed status among internet cognoscenti, having spawned more than a few memes, retro reviews, homages and remixes for all the young people out there that live on the surface, near the buzzing ropes that stretch along the Black Sands. It’s a popular title still present in the minds of many gamers, though the possibility of a modern revival is unlikely. But if all you want is to watch an out-of-place white guy kick the hell out of some Asians:
Golden Axe (Sega-1989)
Continuing their storied tradition of stalwart heroes and terrible villains battling for the fate of the world in their underwear, Sega’s Golden Axe is another arcade franchise adored by the gaming public for quite a few years over a number of sequels. Though it replicated much of the accessibility and appeal of other brawlers, Golden Axe distinguished itself with a medieval fantasy lean, an area in which the Japanese don’t exactly have a lot of experience. Regardless, the end result was a fun, atmospheric title with some brutal action and an air of mystery.
You control one of three heroes: Ax Battler, a wannabe Conan avenging his dead mother; Tyris Flare, a former Las Vegas showgirl avenging her dead parents; and Gilius Thunderhead, a handicapable dwarf avenging…the foreclosure of his brother-in-law’s hut or something. I don’t know. I can’t read.
The only member of the cast with a name that doesn’t sound like that of a hardcore porn star is the villainous Death Adder. He’s evil and, unsurprisingly, you have to kill him. To that end you can jump, dash, and hit things. Whoopie. Golden Axe, engaging and unusual at the time of its release due to the high fantasy setting, wouldn’t really be on par with a lot of games on this list if not for one minor detail: if you see some dude riding a giant monster, you can transfer ownership of said monster to yourself through the universal language of punching, then ride that bitch all over town like a Segway. There’s little more thrilling than randomly claiming mutated otherkin as a mode of personal conveyance.
Well, maybe one thing:
River City Ransom (Technos-1989)
Unlike the vast majority of titles on this list, River City Ransom was not a success by any means upon its release in 1989. Not with American audiences, anyway- the Japanese gobbled it up like a hooker gobbles…mints? (See, I take you one way, then I juke the other.) Here in the States River City was more of a boutique game, something I would see at the occasional friend’s house stacked next to the Nintendo amid power players like Zelda and Mario. I would then play it and even in those days as a naive, fresh-faced youngster I would wonder, “Why doesn’t everyone have this game?”
A mystery for the ages.
An absolute smash from top to bottom, River City Ransom is a visionary brawler that broke new ground, empowered by something nobody else had considered at the time: a focus on slightly more than just punching. While this gutsy deviation might have been considered anathema by brawling purists of the era, in later years River City would find a great deal of success as a cult classic.
On the surface, River City Ransom is a lot like other 2D titles, specifically Double Dragon. You control either Alex or Ryan, high school students who take it upon themselves to rescue Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi and the entire goddamned school from the clutches of a criminal mastermind who goes by the name of “Slick.”
Doesn’t it freeze your heart solid in your chest?
This peerless evil genius has somehow managed to unite all the gangs of River City against you, so if you ever wanna grope Cyndi behind the bleachers after 5th period again you are going to have to tighten your jeans, fluff up the ‘do, and whoop some serious ass.
Though taking on an entire city with your bare hands is hardly even worth mentioning on its own this far along in the article, the cutesy graphics and innovative sense of momentum make doing so in River City Ransom a total blast. Your punches, kicks, and throws feel like they have real weight, an uncommon quality among home console titles of the time. But even though it’s always fun to smash some punk over the head with a garbage can and take his lunch money, that particular milkshake is not what brought all the boys to the yard.
“____ with RPG elements” has become common industry parlance these days. For those of you that don’t know (casual readers FTW!), RPG stands for role playing game. A role-playing game is a massive, sprawling opus about 40-80 hours in length, wherein you take hold of a lowly no-name character from some tiny hamlet that ventures out to explore an enormous fantasy world, fighting monsters, making friends and uncovering mysteries along the way. Over time he goes from Tim, Level 1 Sheepfucker to Timodeous Maximillius the Misbegotten One, Level 70 Darkmaester and Scourge of the Four Points of Nyordelorath.
Realizing that this type of gaming experience isn’t for everyone, developers have since incorporated “RPG elements” (i.e. gaining experience and leveling up to obtain new skills and equipment) into every type of game imaginable in an effort to spice up their lame-ass World War II shooters and cooking simulations. Doing this now is par for the course: Technos did this over 20 years ago. In River City Ransom you could hit the mall and buy food and books with the money redistributed from your foes. Some would boost stats like strength and speed, others would teach you bitchin’ techniques with names like Grand Slam and Dragon Feet! That’s definitely cool enough to close on:
No, wait, I fucked up.
With a quirky sense of humor, surprising depth and plenty of opportunities to recreate the scenario depicted above, you may just want to get it over with and shell out whatever they’re asking for the River City Ransom.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami-1989)
Yes, I know the theme song, and unless somebody pays me some money, no, I won’t sing it.
One of the most lucrative and well-known franchises of all time, it is virtually impossible to be unfamiliar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Leombardo. Donatella. Raffiki. Mitch. As hyperintelligent mutant turtles trained to mastery in the ways of the ninja, the four young brothers lived in a sewer with their father, a giant ninja rat. Their two best friends were the only news reporter in town (Leonardo tapped that, by the way) and a psychotic vigilante in a hockey mask that sounded like Clint Eastwood. Their archnemeses were a metal-clad super-ninja and his odious malefactor, a talking brain in a robot suit from another dimension. Clearly, these characters were birthed from the incogitable psyche of an alcoholic madman; this explains my deep and abiding connection with them.
Released into arcades in 1989 under the blood-red banner of world-devouring megalith Konami, TMNT was a solid brawler with superb controls, vibrant graphics, and a beloved license that was basically guaranteed to draw fans. Unfortunately, in a lot of ways it doesn’t stand up to the test of time. You can’t block (master ninjas! with weapons! and a SHELL! but can’t block), there isn’t much in the way of move variety, and as in life, Leonardo is the best and there is no reason to pick any other Turtle.
Yes, I understand that when Raphael is in one of his crazy berserker fuck-the-world modes he can beat down all the other Turtles, but do you know who else is like that?
Meth fiends. Do you support that in your household? Raphael has an illness and he needs help. If you or anyone you know has a friend or family member like Raph that exhibits erratic behavior such as beating mafia hitmen to a pulp or brooding atop a stone edifice in the rain, please…help us help them.
Developed by the same crack team that would later produce the inimitable GoldenEye, Battletoads was in no way an attempt to cash in on the success of a certain other group of mutated fighting amphibians of the time. Not that it would have mattered in any case, since Battletoads is such an excellent game that even if it were a cheesy ripoff it would still rock the house.
Continuing in the vein of implausible set-ups established by their older green mutant cousins, Battletoads is the story of Rash, Zitz and Pimple (yes, seriously), three anthropromorphic bounty-hunting space toads that travel throughout the cosmos on a giant bird-ship, breaking shit and busting heads. But lo! Tragedy strikes! Some smokin’ hottie that’s way into leather has kidnapped an idiot princess and your boy Pimple, so it’s up to Rash and Zitz to tighten up their spiked bracelets, beat up the beat, and show motherfuckers what’s what.
Lamentably, that is not what is going to happen when you play this game. Rather, Battletoads will show YOU what’s what. Over and over again, leisurely but with great relish. If you type “Battletoads hard” into a Google search, you will get almost 2 million results, all of which state within the first three sentences that Battletoads is one of the most difficult games in existence.
Much of the challenge is borne out of the fact that unlike many other brawlers, Battletoads is actually one large game with 3 or 4 totally different smaller games sprinkled liberally throughout. There’s the requisite punching, throwing, and smashing things of course, but you will also find yourself racing for your life on a speedbike, fighting off bastard crows while you plummet down a mine shaft, and hopping around like a jackass in a snake maze among other things. This breaking up of potentially repetitive action was a novel idea that gamers fully embraced, in spite of the fact that some of these smaller stages were next to impossible without a healthy dose of memorization to temper the insanity. Regardless, every element of Battletoads is loaded with heaping helpings of fun. I mean, you can physically transform into a wrecking ball. How many other games can say that?
In addition to being a legendary font of super-awesome win, Battletoads is also well-known for having spawned a rather annoying internet meme wherein young men with no lives would call their local Gamestops asking for Battletoads, a game that came out 20 years ago for a system that no longer exists. Evidently, this was hilarious. In light of this, I will now close out on something I find hilarious:
Well, that does it for this installment, people. C’mon. Get up off of the floor, wipe the encrusted vomit from the edge of your mouth, call yourself a cab and go home. Yeah, I know; I love you too, buddy. Mm-hmm.
Uh, yes, it would be pretty weird if we were to make out. Even for a minute. No, it’s cool, I promise I won’t tell anyone. Your cab’s here. Get some sleep.
Until next time!
But why stop now? Revisit PART ONE here.