WED, 11AM: No One Lives Forever (PC)
Despite the fact that I hadn't played it in years, I long considered No One Lives Forever to be maybe my favorite first-person shooter of all time. It's legit funny in a way that most spy spoofs aren’t (the humor gets borderline proto-Venture Bros. at points), the level design is top notch, it gets that circa-1967 atmosphere down fantastically, the choice of being either stealthy or guns-blazing is implemented remarkably well, you can fight bad guys in zero-gravity or while falling out of an airplane without a chute, and despite moments of ridiculous cleavage exhibition, Cate Archer has that certain kind of beguiling Emma Peel cool that works really well in a female protagonist. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, seven years after it was released, it's held up nicely – the graphics are a little clunky but the over-the-top character animations still crack me up (the enemy deaths in particular are super-melodramatic), and pretty much every PC-version control standard it used in 2001 still works today. I'm picking up this game where I last left off, Scene 1 of the "Berlin By Night" mission, where I have to sneak into an East German research facility and figure out what those wacky Reds are up to.
11:00 AM: This is going to be the only game where I can't easily switch between playing and writing, so this will probably be short, low on detail and kind of disappointing. Kind of like the NOLF series' pseudo-sequel Contract J.A.C.K. Zing. (I do not have the energy for an exclamation-point zing.)
11:16 AM: The stealthy approach works for all of twenty seconds. Then I get the idea that hucking an explosive lipstick at the guards is probably more time-efficient and fun. After ducking into the sewer (which contains a sign reading "MANDATORY FPS SEWER") and sneaking my way towards the guard post, I fuck up, get spotted and set off a massive security alert that results in about six or seven guards bearing down on my ass. Well, if they didn't want me to go in there guns blazing, why'd they give me an automatic rifle? Jeez.
11:40 AM: On to Scene 2: I have to take a couple photographs of important documents and set three detonator charges in specific areas around the East German base/facility/whatever it is. Problem being, obviously, that my previous adventures left me with a few additional holes that weren't meant to be in places like my arms and torso and what-have-you. Fortunately, reflexes and craziness-slash-bravery prevail, I get armored back up, espionage is espioned, and all the explosives get planted. Do I get to see anything get blown up, though? No. Wotta ripoff.
11:50 AM: Anything involving stealth and the avoidance of being seen is completely beyond me right now. All my sleepless reptile brain is capable of instructing me to do is run and gun and go crazy-ass Rambo on everything. It's a shame, because most of the great humor in this game shows up during conversations between unsuspecting guards and other NPCs who don't even know you're there. In other words, I'm Doing It Wrong. It's kind of funny because in Scene 3, where I am supposed to infiltrate a science lab and find a Dr. Schenker, he is easy to find because he's the one scientist who isn't cowering behind a desk because of all the gunfire. Someday I'll be able to give this game the playthrough it deserves.
WED, NOON: N+ (XBLA)
I put off buying this game when it hit Live Arcade because nobody made the effort to come up to me, eyes wide, arms flailing, yelling "HOLY SHIT MAN THIS IS LIKE LODE RUNNER ON CRANK". If somebody had the common courtesy of informing me of this, I would've snapped it up sooner. Basically you are a ninja (no, I know, hold up, bear with me) who is in a large, square 2-dimensional side-scrolling room filled with a wide variety of platforms and obstacles and enemies. You do not have any weapons – all you have at your disposal, actually, is a remarkable jumping ability, which you can use to wall-jump and carry your momentum over huge gaps. You start at a certain point, and it is your goal to hit a switch, open a door and go out that door, which can and usually will be as far away from where you are as possible. You collect gold to extend your life timer (which also counts as your score). If your life timer runs out, you die. If you walk over a mine, you die. If you fall too far down, you die. If you’re hit by a rocket or a gauss gun or an electrified robot or anything else, you get free ice cream. (And by "get free ice cream" I mean "die".) This is all rendered in minimalistic, highly-stylized geometric graphics that use this stark simplicity to give every level limitless potential when it comes to killing you and/or facilitating your escape from things bent on killing you.
12:00 PM: I admit I'm kind of flagging here. I'm definitely still awake, and if I'm awake now doubtless I'll be awake seven hours from now, just because I feel like I've hit this ideal second wind point and nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnna/o klllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll
haha just kidding, I did not pass out on my keyboard. Jeez. But as far as applying my observational and linguistic skills to activities I am currently in the process of... activitying... I am starting to stare at my keyboard and, occasionally, yell at it. What do I yell? It's better you don't know. Anyways, I spent a lot of time with N+ over the past several days so I'm just about at the point now where every level I tackle will be bastard hard. Woop woop party zone
12:08 PM: The experience of playing N+ is really hard to put into words to someone who hasn't played it, especially when you're trying to describe a specific level and the best you can come up with is "there's some mines on this ledge that you have to walljump over and then you need to duck under the platform so the gauss gun can't actually hit you, plus also watch out for the chaser because that chumpass can corner you like nothin'." Right now I'm working through a level called "All Terrain Flow", which is basically a series of humps with mines strategically placed just barely above head level. If you run too fast over these humps, your momentum will fling you up further than you might be otherwise, and you'll careen directly into a mine and get blowed up real good. There's a lot of really sneaky, tricky physics in this game -- hell, its entire thing is sneaky, tricky physics.
12:26 PM: This whole "try and tackle the harder levels" thing is a massive, horrible failure. I admit that it takes many, many times seeing this little monochromatic stick figure ninja get battered and thrown about the entire length of a room for hitting a mine or getting zapped by a Chaser robot, but between Super R-Type and Bubble Bobble I've had enough masochistic failure for one day. I'm going to see what I can do to better my times on some of the earlier levels.
12:41 PM: I just unlocked a new Xbox 360 achievement: I got 15 gamerpoints for dying 1000 times in singleplayer mode. The name of the achievement is "Practice Makes Perfect". I have had this game for three days.
12:50 PM: It appears that I have somehow gotten stuck on 02.04, which involves hopping from tiny platform to tiny platform and not much else in the way of taxing dexterity tests. This whole fatigue thing is gonna get worse before it gets better.
WED, 1PM: Streets of Rage II (Genesis)
Something that always kind of bugged me about console versions of the old arcade-standard beat-'em-up genre: how much gameplay can you really get out of one, and, more importantly, how much should you pay for it? I can imagine spending ten bucks in quarters trying to plow through Final Fight or Konami's X-Men, especially if you've got friends with you, but paying $50-plus bucks for a cart version of a genre that works mostly as a two-hour quarter-sucker? But then, well, duh: video stores rent games, right? Yeah. So theoretically I could've actually paid more in Wii points to own this than what it is actually worth as far as gameplay hours go, since the usual three-day rental window afforded by Blockbuster circa 1993 might just be all you needed to play, beat and get bored with this game. Take “beat” out of the equation and one hour might do it now.
1:00 PM: I am not kidding when I say this is probably going to be the biggest threat to my consciousness. Punch punch kick, jump punch buttonmash, blah blah knife, etcetera. The only thing that can keep my momentum going is how hilariously early 1990s it all is.
1:02 PM: For instance: Skate. The character Skate is a young black teenager (I almost want to capitalize that term) who wears a backwards baseball cap, a yellow and white street-ball outfit and rollerblades. He kicks your ass with rollerblades. How could this possibly get more 1992?
1:03 PM: Oh yeah -- the music. It's amazing how much this Stage 1 theme sounds like a 16-bit bastardization of Juan Atkins. And look who shows up in the first 30 seconds: a dude in a mohawk and a trenchcoat and sunglasses! Man, I thought Mike Haggar got rid of all those dudes back when Final Fight came out three years previous.
1:10 PM: I cannot believe how little a dude Skate is. Seriously, the top of his head comes up to most enemies' chins. Is he partially based on Phife Dawg or something? Also, I have a hard time trusting any beat-em-up game that presents an open manhole cover yet does not allow you to fall down into it.
1:14 PM: Here comes Jack, a knife-wielding dick who acts as Stage 1's first miniboss. Zero prizes for guessing which 1970s-originated rock and roll subculture he belongs to. (Here is a hint: every single urban-themed beat-em-up ever has at least four fo these guys.) I quickly smack him upside the mohawk, thanks in part to Skate's desperation super attack move, which is really just him spinning on his head like a breakdancer. Cultural awareness!
1:20 PM: I think I'm in Streets of Rage 2's idea of some kind of seedy dive, except it looks all Olde English and classy with lanterns on the pillars and lots of exposed brick and a grand piano. Hell, this is practically a supper club. Who let all these punks in sleeveless denim jackets in here? Eventually I run afoul of miniboss #2, a whip-wielding blonde dominatrix named Electra, and man is this wrong for a myriad number of reasons.
1:22 PM: Oh hey, looks like the Stage 1 end boss is the bartender. A bartender... who knows karate! It's like Cocktail meets Road House! His name's Barbon, at least for a while, and then it's Ow Stop Kicking Me in the Face With Your Rollerblades You Snotnose Kid.
1:25 PM: A fake Prodigy-circa-Experience tune welcomes us to the obligatory bridge stage, as seen in Narc and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Simpsons arcade game and shit knows what else. Will I be attacked by hard-to-hit dudes on motorcycles? Bet your life on it.
1:27 PM: Oh, nice fake Road Warriors getup there, Storm. "Storm". Pfft. What, I bet you have friends named "Gale" and "Fog" too, right? Ha ha ha... oh.
1:28 PM: Man this game is dumb.
1:30 PM: Another member of the Inclement Weather Road Warriors Dirtbike Gang is named "Tempest". I'll take "Games I'd Rather Be Playing" for $500, Alex.
1:33 PM: I get all up in the back of this truck just to fight some big kung fu guy and all he can do is slap me like twice before I completely knock him out? That's like a microminiboss. Try harder, Streets of Rage 2.
1:38 PM: OK, when I said "try harder," I didn't mean "introduce a rat-faced longhaired guy on a jetpack with all kinds of cheap bastard-ass attacks and a piledriver that takes off a shitton of your health". Fah.
1:40 PM: Hey, an amusement park level. I'll just start heading over to the right and guargh, what in crap's name is this? Apparently somebody botched the whole parallax thing because the lampposts in the foreground are moving at a completely different pace than all the stuff in the background, and it's making me nauseous.
1:45 PM: I'm at that irritating point in the game where the enemies suddenly realize that they outnumber you and therefore do the two-on-the-left-one-on-the-right thing where they basically ping-pong you back and forth between punches and it sucks. So I'll just mention one more thing before I quit this game and go downstairs to check my mailbox: the sheer meta weirdness of destructible arcade cabinets appearing in this game emblazoned with the name "Bare Knuckle" -- the title Streets of Rage went by in Japan -- is maybe one of the few things about this game I have it in me to appreciate now.
WED, 2PM: Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)
The second in a classic Genesis doubleheader, in which goofy anime cartoon laser-blaster-wielding supersoldiers fight their way through side-scrolling stages where everything moves at a ridiculously breakneck pace. I missed out on this one the first time around, so there’s no nostalgia to color my opinion of this. In fact, I hardly know Thing One about this game, so I'll just let it all hit me like one big first impression.
2:00 PM: LASERS!
2:05 PM: Choices. I can choose Free Shot (where I can move while shooting) or Fixed Shot (where I can't move while shooting, but I can shoot in eight directions). I figure this is a move-or-die type game so I'm going with Free Shot, and picking the Chaser gun because it follows enemies and I'm lazy like that. And hey, I even get to choose my stage, so I'm going to go after "Black, the Lord of the Strange Fortress" because he looks like Penn Jillette and he "has a gem", which is a sure sign that he is a complete bastard in dire need of comeuppance. Time to get ill.
2:08 PM: OK so I'm shooting at some guys and some flying robots and when they get close to me I give them this crazy judo throw and everything's exploding and I'm leaping all over the place and then this crane comes by and shoots this huge gatling cannon thing at me and it takes off almost half my health but I defeat it by throwing a bad guy at it to make it explode and then I start getting really ganged up on and then I slip up and fall down into a bottomless pit and die. What in the hell just happened?
2:16 PM: OK so now I'm shooting at a bunch of dudes and blowing them up and just generally kicking ass with a side order of taking names and then I enter what I think is the door to the next part of the stage and I wind up in some kind of board game and I throw this dice and I get to go into a room with some powerups and then I wind up throwing the dice again and get stuck in some stupid platform maze that I lose and then after another die roll I wind up fighting what I think is a boss but he's just this really little super-tiny dude that just hops around and stuff and I swear to god this is not my brain rebelling against me for depriving it of rest.
2:20 PM: OK so now I'm stuck and I can't do anything except jump in one place and shoot. I can't roll the die or anything. What in the.
2:21 PM: Never mind, I got it to work. And now I'm shooting some... uh... smiley faces? And a floating wall? For some reason? And it's called a "PIT"? I thought this was gonna be some kinda cartoon Contra. Did Suda51 have anything to do with this?
2:35 PM: The next few things that happen: I fight some hop-around character called "PHANTOM"; I fight some kind of laser-shooting computer core that flat-out kills me, I start the Dice thing all over again, except I fight and easily defeat a disembodied shark-toothed clown face named "Melon Bread" (??) and a weaponless crane that I blow up in about four seconds, I blow up the shithead computer core that killed me previously, I fight a cheerful-looking blob monster that spawns deviled eggs, and something called the "Super Gondola" (which is basically just a conveyor belt of Death Lazers) finishes me off. Uh.
2:40 PM: You know what? I'm just going to keep playing and I won't post anything else until this game stops being excessively weird.
2:57 PM: It didn't stop.
WED, 3PM: Rock Band (360)
You know what this is. Sadly, I only have the guitar (carried over from my 360 copy of Guitar Hero II), but this will not stop me from being King Badass of All Rock and Roll Ever. If all goes well, an accomplice will be over to actually take footage of this whole ridiculous farce. If not, you’ll have to settle for a kind of bland-looking list of my scores and stars. In case you're curious, my guitarist looks like an amalgam of Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, even though none of the songs by these musicians (or much of anything a Funkensteinian creation such as this would actually play) are represented in this game.
3:00 PM: Jeff has shown up with a camera. Oh no.
3:24 PM: So I clobbered a few songs on the Seattle tour on Medium -- "Black Hole Sun", "Main Offender", "Suffragette City" -- and then, to my eternal shame, I completely tanked the solo on "Don't Fear the Reaper". Buck Dharma I am not.
3:30 PM: From here on out: nuttin' but Bowie.
3:47 PM: "Heroes": four stars; 48,800 points, 94% with a 130 note streak on Medium. "Moonage Daydream": five stars; 54,386 points, 97% with a 7 8note streak on Medium. "Queen Bitch": four stars; 39,801 points, 92% with a 73 note streak. I'm like Mick Ronson and Carlos Alomar and Robert Fripp all in one, man.
WED, 4PM: Contra III: the Alien Wars (SNES)
As if I hadn’t already picked out enough games calculated to beat me into the ground and leave me a shattered husk of my once-proud self. I used to play the hell out of this game when it was in the Super Nintendo display at the Target on University Avenue in St. Paul, which is probably why they put an auto-restart timer on the damned thing. I vaguely remember being relatively decent at it, oddly enough, though I completely expect every ounce of alleged skill and ability I had with this game to be entirely out of my system after 15 years. I probably played it on Easy with the max number of lives anyways.
4:00 PM: 7 lives, easy difficulty. Yeah, whatever, sue me.
4:10 PM: It took me eight lives, one continue and some trial and error, but I've made it past the first stage, which can only mean that I am totally good at Contra. Now it's Stage 2, with all those snazzy Mode 7 SNES special effects put to use for a top-down maze level. Will I get through with my sorry carcass intact?
4:14 PM: Kinda. Continues count, right?
4:18 PM: Wow. OK, I'm now pretty sure that the timer on the Super Nintendo at Target shut the thing off before I could get past the halfway point at Stage 3; otherwise I would've known just how badly I could get my ass beaten at this game. Sheesh. Lemme try something.
4:20 PM: up up down down left right left right B A yeah it's time to -- hey wait
4:21 PM: THE KONAMI CODE DOES NOT WORK FOR THIS GAME
4:22 PM: D:
4:27 PM: Well, I made it to the Stage 1 boss without having to use a continue. Then his cracked-out Gamera-lookin' ass pulled this cheap shot maneuver where he shot a laser out of his mouth but also spit some kind of bullet out of his chest, therefore absolutely guaranteeing that I was going to die no matter what I did. Fantastic.
4:28 PM: I wonder what this game's like on Hard, anyways.
4:30 PM: I went from 7 lives to dead in about 50 seconds. Well, there's another mystery solved.
4:31 PM: I am not sure I want to continue playing Contra III, but to stop playing would reneg on the rules I set for this marathon, and to do so at this late point would be horrendously stupid. Maybe, however, if I opted to do some activity that could represent the game by proxy, such as punching myself in the groin every 9 seconds.
4:45 PM: Or I could set it back on easy difficulty and make it to Stage 3 without needing to continue this time. Live and learn.
4:51 PM: Note I said "to Stage 3" and not "past Stage 3."
WED, 5PM: Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space.
5:00 PM: This is so weird. I feel so lucid, like I'm actually fully rested and not at all out of it. It's as though my state of tiredness was like an old arcade game's high score, where it went all the way past 99,999 and had to roll over back to zero. The second to last game here is a modern classic -- and I say this as someone who could hardly care less about Mario as an icon or a mascot or the subject of endless tedious webcomic gags, but am completely enthralled by how Super Mario Galaxy somehow manages to be relaxing and exciting, naturalistic yet challenging, traditional and futuristic all at once. And the music is jaw-dropping.
5:18 PM: It's still kind of hard for me to describe some things at this point -- there is just something really engagingly weird about the Mario universe gone all 2001/Forbidden Planet/Buck Rogers/Star Wars, and some of the things you experience in this game -- miniature orbits, bizarre little constantly-shifting mechanisms, all sorts of nutty gravity stuff -- are just flat-out beautiful. Right now I'm in the last (?) level of Battlerock Galaxy, where I have to find out some kind of way to knock out this weird top monster contraption so Mario can set things right again, and it goes past the usual Disney-style ubiquity of the whole Mushroom Kingdom saturation into just a weird sort of Other, familiar yet really confounding at the same time.
5:45 PM: Looks like Battlerock's all sorted out, so I've just unlocked something called "Bowser's Star Reactor", which looks to be one of those big epic huge boss fight type things. Sure enough, I have to guide Mario up this crumbling platform, get him to confront Bowser and initiate a big throwdown -- and, of course, just as I'm about to figure it out, I wind up getting Mario's goofy ass stomped on and set on fire and sent back home all broken and beaten. But this isn't the kind of game that actually makes me mad when I lose, so it's hard for me to feel too defeated over it. Especially now that I have just over an hour left to go before this marathon can be officially declared a success. Of sorts.
WED, 6PM: River City Ransom (NES)
Saving the best for last, and by "best" I mean "best NES game ever." Not Mario, not Zelda, not even a Metroidvania is as ridiculously fun to me as River City Ransom. I am totally not kidding. The makers of Double Dragon came up with a cartoony high school beat-em-up-slash-pseudo-RPG that does for juvenile delinquency and ridiculous fisticuffs what Donkey Kong did for barrels, and it is glorious. I refuse to even acknowledge the mere existence of the Super Smash Brothers series until they include Alex and/or Ryan (or Kunio and Riki for you anti-localization types), you can throw pipes at Yoshi, and make Mario yell "BARF!!!"
6:00 PM: I don't remember much about the first time I played this game except that it was when it originally came out and it just seemed massively weird to me, all these high school gangs beating the crap out of each other but in a completely tongue-in-cheek goofball way. I don't remember being that good at it, though if you know what to do it's supposedly beatable in roughly ten or fifteen minutes. Me, I don't know what to do, and I'm pretty happy for it.
6:05 PM: OK, first off, the music in this game is fifteen flavors of hell yes and if any (hopefully competent) indie rock band specializing in NES themes has ever covered this, I'd really like to know. It's this super amped-up rockabilly/jump blues number that, for an 8-Bit chiptune, is really good at capturing the whole "greasy street thug bent on revenge, chain-fight style" aesthetic.
6:15 PM: I think I broke the game: I went into a store to buy a new fighting technique, called "Dragon Feet", and it allows me to deliver this ridiculous machine gun kick that can flatten just about anyone I've run across so far. I suppose this could make things too easy for me if I wasn't prone to also get into things like garbage can fights (I have a garbage can; an enemy has a garbage can; winner is the person who hits the other person with their garbage can) and weird situations where some dick actually throws me to death. This game is the best kind of bizarre.
6:20 PM: It should be mentioned that every gang member in this game has a first name, and it's usually tied in somehow with their gang theme. There's a fratboy gang and their members all have WASPy prick names like Logan and Trip. And there's the Generic Dudes, whose names all rhyme with each other (Terry, Cary, Gary, Larry, etc.) The sole exception is a guy named Ralph.
6:22 PM: I forgot to mention that the frat guys all wear pink shirts. This is a game that came out in 1989. Prescient. If it was a 16-bit game they'd probably have popped collars, too.
6:27 PM: I meet this doe-eyed deb on some bridge or another and she says she has inside info on who kidnapped Ryan's girlfriend (NOTE: that is the plot; someone kidnapped Ryan's girlfriend). "You have to beat the Twins first," she says, to which I say piece of cake because their starting pitchers are erratic and Morneau's their only reliable power hitter, ba-da-bum-ba-dum-bump.
6:35 PM: My usual routine of beating the crap out of fratboys is interrupted by this greaser-looking gork named Moose, who tries tossing an orange crate at me and beating me with a motorcycle chain and utilizing other horribly underhanded methods which I totally do not use ever. I Dragon Feet him until he kisses pavement, the dope. Maybe he has something to do with Slick, the dude what kidnapped
Peach whatever Ryan's girlfriend's name is.
6:41 PM: I make a wrong turn and run afoul of a couple purple-shirted dongs named Benny and Clyde who completely beat the crap out of me and leave me for dead. They're so wanton in their violence and destruction that when I am done with, one of 'em actually hits the other in the head because he is that goddamned outta control.
6:47 PM: Well, OK, maybe Dragon Feet isn't a gamebreaker: every gang I've run across in the last 10 minutes or so has laid a severe hurting on me. Which is just as well, since I'm about ten minutes away from hitting the 24 hour mark, and all of a sudden I have this extremely distinct sensation of imminent unconsciousness. Probably because my brain is starting to accept it as a viable option now.
WED, 7PM: What I've Learned
-Putting stupid amounts of horsepower into a car with little regard for weight distribution or overall lightness is a perfectly viable way of making it better than any other car
-Ninjas die pretty easily, surprisingly enough
-War eventually turns entropic sooner or later
-JRPGs are not automatically horseshit
-There is zero shame in selecting "EASY" difficulty
-If a game involves black backgrounds, flashing colors and really intense music, it is automatically fun
-Zombies are churchgoin' folk
-A society built on puzzles often winds up with an undercurrent of solipsistic paranoia
-Sagat is the fucking bomb
-Bubble Bobble is good in five minute bursts and somewhat less good the longer you go past that
-Throwing things and/or people from great heights is your best entertainment value
-I still can't judge a breaking ball to save my life
-If Yakuza members were meant to be sneaky they'd be ninjas, which they're not; besides which they're apparently a lot harder to kill than ninjas
-Tim Schaefer + surrealism = quality
-The whole point to being a spy is to eavesdrop on implausible and/or ridiculous conversations.
-The early '90s were, in many, many ways, either cruel or stupid
-Do not put a goddamned jetpack on an end boss
-Interrupting a sidescrolling shooter to pit the player in some kind of weird boss-rush dice game only confuses them
-Buck Dharma is not easy to emulate
-Konami hates you very, very much
-Stomping on turtles is a lot cooler when it's on one of those The Little Prince planets
-Dragon Feet do not an invincible fighter make
-I can go some 34 consecutive hours without sleeping
-I can't go 35