Written by Gav Russell. Twitter is here.
I’m a man who likes an impossible challenge, just ask my wife haha!! I’m only kidding. We’re not actually married. But, um… no, I do often set myself wildly monolithic and pointless tasks; usually to validate whatever meaningless exercise I’ve decided to spend my time doing. For example, last years challenge where I pledged to write about at least one new game every week for the whole of 2015, which I partially failed after the first few weeks when I started writing about the same games week after week and then eventually gave up on all together. Good times.
Anyway, enough deconstructing the sort of person I am, here’s the latest in a saga of potential failures : ROMDOM NUMBER GENERATOR. What is it? Each month throughout 2016 I’m going to play 4 ROMs, randomly picked by a number generator, then play each one for a minimum of 20 minutes and write about them afterwards. What could go wrong? Aside from either you or I actually giving a fuck, I guess…
The first game out of my digital luckly dip is the world renowned classic Izzy’s Quest For The Olympic Rings. The text that greets you upon booting the game up reads ‘The ring guardians of the Greek village have hidden their ring to keep Izzy from taking it out of their world on his quest to reach the Olympic games’. Anyone who knows me will realise instantly that this is a plight that is very dear to my heart, so I couldn’t believe my luck. Izzy, it turns out, was the mascot of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics and this is a generic-as-all-fuck platform game tie-in. So, yes, its pretty boring; you saunter around the countryside as Izzy, bouncing on walking trees and collecting coins in the hope of stealing what is presumably a sacred artifact from the Greeks in order to bring it to its new rightful home of America. But did you know that, in real life, Izzy didn’t go down well as a mascot and was dubbed by media outlets as ‘the sperm in sneakers‘? No, you did not.
Where will we be taken next?! Well, before we go on, let me explain how this all works. The big 4 nostalgia-gasm videogame systems (NES, Sega Master System, SNES and Sega Genesis) will each be assigned a number between 1 and 4 and the first number drawn designates the system I’ll be emulating. The next number will decide which letter of the alphabet I’ll be choosing from (so number 10 will be the letter J) and then the final number will decide which game starting with the letter J i’ll be playing, counting down the list of available ROMs. Easy, yeah? Anyway, onward…
Let me tell you something, the music to the 1988 Master System classic Lord of the Sword is fucking banging. And, all in all, this is actually a pretty decent game for something that came out when I was only 4 years old. There’s an absolute fuck load of exposition text at the start, which at one point even breaks down into a numbered list of things that you, the brave warrior, have to do to save the kingdom. All you really need to know though is this – it’s a side scroller and you have a sword and bow with infinite arrows; kill shit.
And there’s a pretty varied and dynamic series of things to kill, too. Within our alloted 20 minutes I had seen snakes, fish, ninja men, floating demons, fire bats, giant floating eyeballs, wolves, spiders and a thing that looked like Lion-O from Thundercats. I mean, there’s zero thematic consistency but Sega were obviously having a blast. There’s a touch of the Dark Souls too, with the village NPCs you encounter between combat areas revealing more and more dialogue if you keep speaking to them and plenty of obtuse secrets and hidden paths. I was actually going to play on past the timer but I got to the screen below and literally nothing would happen. I had a book in my inventory but couldn’t use it. Dunno. So, yeah, Lord of the Sword is DECENT.
Here’s a thing I didn’t know: there’s a NES game called Nuts & Milk. You learn something new everyday, I guess. And I won’t beat around the bush; its a joyless cunt of a game. It does have some distinction though: released in 1983 by Hudson Soft it was the very first third party video game to be released on a Nintendo console. So, there is that. The plot is minimal, but no less disturbing. You play as Milk, a small pink blob who is desperately trying to get home to his wife, Yoghurt, who is locked in her house at the top of the stage. To get her door to open, you must consume all of the fruit you can find. HOWEVER, you are being relentlessly pursued by Nuts, a small blue blob, who will kill you (and presumably your wife) at every opportunity. It’s gritty stuff. What might look like a simple platform puzzler is actually a masterclass in sustained tension. Each and ever-oh who am I kidding, it’s shit. I got to stage 3 and it took me almost the entire 20 minutes to figure out how to do a horizontal jump.
What do the numbers 3, 4 and 93 mean to us on the quest? Why, they mean the SNES, the letter D and the computer game Donkey Kong Country 2 : Diddy’s Quest, the critically acclaimed sequel to Donkey Kong Country. Ahh, 1995, a simpler time. Back when Rare software were in their prime, belting out gem after gem, before being smothered to near-death by an enforced and ultimately doomed relationship with Kinect. DK2:DQ is one of the games that Nintendo likes to keep alive too, resurrecting it for re-release on the GBA, the Wii and eventually the Wii U. For good reason too; it remains as excellent as ever. There’s probably not a lot more I could tell you about it that you don’t already know and likely haven’t already experienced but in a nutshell – water-tight platformer starring a monkey and his girlfriend, out to thwart a fat crocodile. You can’t go wrong. I played it way past the 20 minute timer because its smoother than a ducks nuts. Jumping about all over that opening pirate ship area; throwing my girlfriend at beetles. HERE’S SOME DONKEY TRIVIA – a donkey’s pregnancy period is 12 months. This game was released just 12 months after its predecessor. Coincidence?!