Monday, February 29, 2016

An Ode to the Old School "Porky's" Video Games

The amazing thing isn't that, back in the day, somebody thought it was a good idea to make a video game based on a ribald teen sex comedy - it's that somehow, we ended up with TWO of them. 

By: Jimbo X

Pretty much any console released prior to the NES just doesn't get enough love, in my humblest of opinions. Indeed, today's kids have probably never played anything older than the first Super Mario Bros. game, with the possible exception of Galaga or Ms. Pac-Man. Setting them down with a Colecovision is like asking them to operate an old school P.C. sans a mouse or a GUI - it's a piece of archaic hardware they simply can't wrap their minds around. 

Sure, the graphics on the Atari 2600 were, well, primitive, to say the least and the gameplay on the Intellivision was EXTRAORDINARILY limited. Show a middle schooler today the Magnavox Odyssey and they'll likely have no clue what the hell it's used for - and when you tell the PS4-weaned wee-uns that it's for a gaming system, they'll probably laugh their asses off. 

But what those little turds don't understand is that it is PRECISELY that bare bone simplicity that makes the pre-Nintendo consoles so awesome. No online nonsense, no fancy-schmanzy high-resolution visuals and no bombastic audio (although the sound effects on the 2600 were pretty fucking boss if you ask me; just listen to stuff blow up in Yar's Revenge and tell me that ain't some cool shit.) Here, sheer gameplay reigned supreme; it was just you and a glowing cathode ray tube television screen, and the only thing standing  between you and man's eternal battle against machine? A worn and weathered joystick. 

That said, there were still plenty of dubious video game ideas in the pre-Mario market. We all know the really egregious ones - games based on dog food commercials, games based on the Kool-Aid Man, games based on literally raping Native American women, etc. In the big scope of things, I suppose making a video game based on Porky's isn't the WORST idea for an Atari game - did I mention there is a game on the 2600 about raping Indians? - but it' still a downright bewildering license choice. 

Yes, someone indeed made a video game based on the "classic" 1982 teen sex comedy. In fact, they made TWO of them, although mechanically, they are the same offering, just on different platforms. 

The first iteration was released on the Atari 2600 in 1983 by Fox's fledgling video game subsidiary. For what it is worth, it does follow the plot of the movie as well as an Atari game can, I suppose. As the player, you control protagonist Pee Wee, who according to the game's manual, is out to "get some" - revenge against Porky, that is. 

There are four levels, each representing (sometimes abstractly) sequences from the film - the first being a practically unwinnable Frogger variation that segues into weird swamp-themed pole vaulting mini-game. 

There's really no way to describe this thing unless you have the controller in your hands. Even watching videos online, you really can't grasp just how much precision it requires; to the layman, it looks relatively simplistic - if not needlessly repetitive - but I assure you, this shit necessitates a whole lot more manual dexterity than it appears. It's not just as simple as hitting a button when you get to the edge of the pond, you have to pull off the button and swing the joystick up at JUST the right time and JUST the right direction or else you'll fall into the abyss. It took me forever to get the timing down, but when I did, it felt oh-so satisfying on the mechanical level, like finally hitting the right power chord on a guitar or determining just how much jiggling you need to open a door with a worn and rusted key (which, in turn, saves you about $20 on a new lock you would otherwise have to go on down to Home Depot and purchase.) 

From there, we move on to a Donkey Kong-esque platforming sequence in which you have to navigate your way through the girl's locker room (complete with pixel boobies!) before Coach Balbricker gets a hold of you (and if she does, it's back to the swamp level.) There are about a half dozen different items on screen - ranging from a rope to a cowboy hat to one of those over-sized ACME detonators - each time you access the stage. While conventional wisdom suggests these are items that can be used to slow down the she-wildebeest chasing you, you are actually supposed to drop them down the chasm in the bottom of the screen (you'll see why in a minute.) As with the swamp pole vaulting section, precision here is key. You have to align yourself at JUST the right spot in front of the ladders to move up them, and you have to stand at the very edge of the pit and jump or else you won't have enough air to clear the hurdle. But once you do all that, you get to return to that damn Frogger permutation...

...which should actually be  a bit easier, since all of the hustle and bustle stops because the items you dropped down the locker room abyss - for some metaphysical reason - has stopped the traffic dead in its tracks, allowing you to not only squeak across the playing field sans any worries, but make the most incredible bleep-bloop-bleep-bloop sliding sound in the history of video games while you do so. 

Up next is easily one of the most frustrating segments in the history of humanity (yes, even worse than the Year Without a Summer - probably.) Your little avatar guy is supposed to scurry across those scaffolds - as you can see, however, there are 16 access points to escape the stage, and wouldn't you know it, all but four of them result in dead-ends and you sliding down all the way to the bottom (where Porky will abduct you and send you back to the swamp.) The shameless trial and error gameplay is bad enough on its own, but the controls here are very slippery - sometimes, it feels like you are connecting with the poles, but as soon as you latch on, you fall through. And sometimes, you just get stuck on them, vibrating like crazy until you HAVE to drop all the way to the bottom to rinse and repeat. You will hate this sequence with everything you have in your heart, I assure you. 

On the plus side - just like your mama - the game does have a pretty awesome grand finale. Once you finally make your way up the scaffold, you are treated to a sequence in which Pee Wee gets to run across the stage, hop on a detonator and BLOW the shit out of Porky's establishment, complete with some idiosyncratically awesome Atari explosion sounds. Sure, it may not be Gunstar Heroes quality fireworks, but hey - if your heart doesn't flutter just a bit watching your CRT television flash like a Silver Shamrock Halloween mask commercial, you sir, have no business living in my America, buck-o. 

So, all in all, it's a pretty unremarkable game that you can literally finish in 10 minutes once you know how everything works. Alas, would you believe the same fine folks who made this game made an update for the Colecovision, too?

OK, technically, this game never got released, but a finished prototype was manufactured, and by golly, that's good enough for me. As you can see for yourself (and if Stevie Wonder is reading this, I apologize), this iteration is MUCH improved graphics-wise. Really, the visuals here are about as good as the first wave of NES games, which is something that ought to shock the shit out of all you rugrats that didn't think home gaming was worth a toot until Zelda. The sprites are more defined (the people actual look like people instead of hieroglyphics), the landscapes are more detailed and the sound is vastly improved. In terms of sheer aesthetics, the game is unquestionably a quantum leap ahead of the Atari 2600 version.  

Gameplay-wise, it is basically identical to the 2600 version, although a little more cumbersome to control due to that fucking' dial joystick. The Frogger opening from the 2600 game is removed, so you cold open collecting - uh, bullets? Doorknobs? Ladder rungs? - in the swamp. The same pole vaulting mechanics are in play here, but like I said, they are WAY less intuitive. Once you make your way out of that passage, it's off to the girls' locker room, where a much more distinguishable Coach Balbricker ambles after you. As before, if you like, you can push banana peels and other assorted bric-a-brac down the hole in the middle of the screen to slow down traffic, but for some reason, the protector of the glory hole is MUCH slower than in the Atari game. In fact, the controls here are a little about TOO smooth, as you can easily make your way up the three sets of ladders (unlike in the Atari version, you don't have to stand beside them, you only have to stand in front of them and move upward) before the dong-yanker even shows up on screen. 

Now we get to the Frogger homage. This section is way easier than in the 2600 - all you have to do is stand on the right side of the screen, wait for the naked pink chick pulling her hair out to be in the middle of the screen, make sure the blue car is out of the way and your avatar literally floats to safety. I could criticize it for not being challenging enough, but considering what comes next, there is no way in hell I'm chiding the title for being too easy

Yep, it's that sequence again, and it's every bit as frustrating as it was on the Atari. In fact, due to the sloppy controls, I think it's actually WORSE on the Colecovision, which is saying a whole damn lot. Anyhoo, it is the same protocol as before. There are 16 entrance points, but only four of them lead you to freedom. Oh, and if you don't find the right pattern, you find yourself plummeting down the scaffold, and you'll have to go all the way down and repeat the process all over again. So yeah, to reiterate: fuck this part of the game

Adding insult to injury? The big explosion finale once you finally figure out the scaffold labyrinth? Even compared to the Atari, it's pretty lackluster. The screen flashes different colors a few teams and the building just kind of slowly sinks under the screen. When motherfucking 2600 games are outdoing you in the razzle dazzle department, you know somebody fell asleep on the job. 

A video game about committing indecent exposure, stalking and felony invasion of privacy? It'll sell more copies than Pitfall!
Granted, neither of the games are really all that good. However, as products of their time - augmented, of course, by such a bizarre license - they are probably worth experiencing at least once. (And thankfully, you can access both the Atari 2600 version and the unreleased Colecovision iteration over at The Internet Archive any time you see fit.) Even as mediocre offerings however, they display a certain old-school charm, and it is pretty fun to kick back for an hour testing your mettle against the antediluvian titles. With 1980s remakes all the rage, one has to wonder if we're not that far removed from a long-awaited third Porky's video game, be it a home-brew or a $0.99 app. Considering the vast upgrade in technology since we last saw the franchise in interactive form, I'm rather excited at the prospect: I mean, who doesn't want to run around fighting Klan members and driving Corvairs into lakes and having your junk inspected by Bayou prostitutes - especially with today's touchscreen hardware? 

That's right - nobody, that's who. 


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