Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for 8 Bit Representations of Michael Keaton (Beetlejuce and Best of the Best Championship Karate)


I was getting ice cream yesterday, and behind me in line was a very upset child. I am usually one of those people with a certain minimalist tolerance for the reproductive errors of others. Not childfree by any measure - I desperately want kids. But my attitude towards them is much like my attitudes towards dogs - I intend to like my children. Other people's can bugger off. But I digress.

This kid, I found tolerable, indeed endearing. His initial objection, indeed his objection through most of the line, was that because he could not read, he could not know that he was ordering the ice cream that he wanted. Accordingly, he was insistent that his father read to him the entire menu board. This struck me as a fundamentally rational request. His problem was not so much that he was not getting what he wanted as that he understood enough to have a clear and cogent vision of how the world ought to be, and he was deeply upset that it was failing to adhere to this understanding.

Which brings us to the unplayably bad Beetlejuice. Somewhat astonishingly, and I say this primarily out of a sense of fear, Beetlejuice is not a regular on worst-NES-games-ever lists. One of the things I have not done a lot of in this blog is discuss what makes a game bad. This is surprising, because it's actually a fairly straightforward answer - most games are bad because they behave unexpectedly. That is, the game sets the player up to fail. Some examples from Bettlejuice.

  1. Enemy knockback (i.e. when you hit you fly backwards) that is about a quarter of a screen, making it incredibly easy to get knocked down pits.
  2. Enemy knockback that occurs from things that are not actually enemies.
  3. Deeply unpredictable rules on whether backtracking downwards will kill you or not.
  4. Enemies that appear to follow a pattern right up until you try to jump past them, at which point they break the pattern and murder you.
  5. The thing that appears to be Beetlejuice's attack... isn't. Or at least, it is wholly ineffective in hitting bad guys.
What is depressing is that Beetlejuice has so many of these, not that it has them at all. And our other game of the day, Best of the Best Championship Karate, is similarly frustrating, as I found out after a lengthy battle that despite the fact that I knocked my opponent to the floor roughly 50 times, the "knock my opponent to the floor" attack does not actually do "damage" as such, and so I was basically being totally useless.

Which brings us to the kid, and my suspicion that the ice cream place would be much less traumatic for him if only he'd been playing video games his entire life. Or, at least, if he'd been playing shitty old video games his entire life. Because seriously, those prepare you really well for the horrifying realization that you are completely impotent in the face of a callous reality that in no way conforms to your will or expectations.

And then you can shut up and enjoy your ice cream without pissing me off.

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