A lit bomb left unattended does not explode…
Back when I was a passionate twiddler of joysticks (and joypads), a well-known "rule" stated that video games based on movies were invariably crap. The truth of this assertion was established early in the medium's history with Atari's wretched E.T tie-in (still making frequent appearances on "Worst Video Games of all Time" lists).
Here (for those who never suffered the trauma of playing it) is an unpleasant taste (skip forward to about 2:08 to see the game itself):
Some years later, when games had achieved significant cultural dominance, movie producers began reversing the direction of this trend with the release of a host of films based on popular games. These, as it turned out, were invariably shit too.
Still, this cross-pollination has left a lasting legacy – with contemporary games stuffed to the gills with interminable "cinematic" cut-scenes, as well as (fairly) detailed plots, a degree of characterisation etc.
It was not always thus. In gaming's early years a visit to the the arcade often involved more abstract, decontextualised experiences. While it's true that machines housed in their original (often beautiful) cabinets usually had rudimentary printed instructions, these tended to explain only the game's mechanics, not its back-story.
Observant and imaginative young lads and lassies could, of course, glean further clues (as to the game's universe) from the evocative cabinet art, but such art was not always present. As the 80s moved on it became (in Ireland at least) increasingly common for games to be housed in dull, plain, generic cabinets – a cost-cutting exercise I'm sure.
Given this likely dearth of visual information about the "plot" one often had to endure the cocky pronouncements of a game's self-appointed local expert. Take Bomb Jack (one of my all-time favourite single-screen efforts) for example.
When I first encountered this gem (in Lahinch I think) a conversation along these lines ensued…
Local Bore: You played it before?
Me: (lying) Yeah.
Local Bore: Y'know the story so?
Me: (lying again so as not to betray weakness or ignorance) Yeah…
Ignoring these affirmative (if hesitant) responses our friend proceeded to give me the following brief and unlikely explanation. I paraphrase of course:
"You're like Superman and you have to fly all over the world stopping these Russian robots. They want to blow up the world."
Well, it was 1984…so he could be forgiven for this Cold War spin I suppose. The actual plot (at least according to the game's Wikipedia entry) was somewhat different, but no less daft:
The player controls Jack, a superhero who can leap and glide. Someone has planted 24 bombs at famous tourist sites (the Sphinx and Great Pyramids, the Acropolis, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, and two cityscapes resembling Miami Beach and Hollywood, which appear only as screen backgrounds rather than unique game locations). Jack must fly around the screen to collect the bombs.
Who that "someone" was (and why they felt the need to blow up Neuschwanstein Castle) I never did learn. Did it matter? Not in the slightest. Jack could have been collecting cherries or…er…bags of heroin for all we cared. As with a lot of frantic single-screen classics (like Pac-Man) one was far too busy wiggling one's way out of impossible corners to give a hoot about the whys and wherefores. No time for contemplation…it was all about rapid (hand-numbing) reaction.
I should point out that the above YouTube video does not show me playing the game. The player in question is obviously (scoff!) a rank amateur, as he/she sets about collecting the bombs willy-nilly and in random order. Hardcore Bomb Jack-ites will recall that the secret was collecting all the lit bombs in sequence, thus ensuring a substantial bonus.
Actually, collecting the bonus was the only reason for seeking out the lit bombs, as the Wikipedia article confirms:
The lit fuses have no strategic purpose other than the bonus; a lit bomb left unattended does not explode.
A lit bomb left unattended does not explode?! Talk about incompetent terrorism. Perhaps the real focus of the plot was simply to lure Jack to these exotic locations in the hope that the "Russian robots" would kick the shit out of him. Given that Jack can't actually fly (he merely jumps quite high before gliding slowly to the ground) it seems an excessively ornate plan to dispose of such a modest superhero.
I blame the botched terrorist act on everyone's favourite video game villains – Kung Fu Master's "Several Unknown Guys".
P.S: For those, like me, who have recently felt a fusty lack of enthusiasm for the current dreary crop of first-person-shooters, driving games, movie tie-ins (etc) that fill Game's shelves, I strongly advise you to seek out the wonder that is Super Mario Galaxy. Like the peerless Super Mario 64 before it, it'll make even the most fogeyish among you believe again.
January 8, 2008