Thursday, July 20, 2017

B-Movie Review: Beer (1985)

It's a mid-'80s comedy that aspires to make fun of the television advertising industry. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way it forgot the part about being funny.


By: Jimbo X
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@JimboX

Satire ain't easy. That's why for every legitimately great work like Look Who's Back and Four Lions we've got about 20 Canadian Bacons,  30 American Dreamz and I'll be goddamned if it isn't about 40 or 50 Americathons

The problem with satires is that people STILL overlook that thing that makes satires work. A good 95 percent of Hollywood satires are all firmly tongue-in-cheek and exude an air of smug superiority over the content they're mocking or parodying. The movies like to think they don't exist in a vacuum and that not only are they smarter than the stuff they're making fun of, they also think they're smarter than the audience itself. Just take a look at something like Borat, a film that - when it was initially released - was praised as a revolutionary comedic masterpiece but ten years down the road feels dated and has lost almost all of its initial shock value.

You see, the key to a good satire can be found in the greatest satirical work of 'em all, Johnny Swift's A Modest Proposal. What made that satire work was what makes all satires work - simply put, people didn't know it was a satire. If you come out with an over-the-top premise and present it as prima facie absurd - a.k.a, what South Park does - you're defeating the purpose. So many would-be comedians think "satire" is just winking at the audience and creating material that posits itself as intelligent and self-enlightened. WRONG. Satire is meant to make a fool of the crowd and stir within them misplaced emotions. The whole point is to make them think what you're presenting is valid or sincere, and the intrinsic comedy of the situation is the audience reacting to the material as if it was 100 percent serious

People honestly thought Johnny Swift wanted people to eat babies. People honestly thought Daniel Defoe wanted to imprison the homeless and orphans. People honestly thought Bernie Mandeville wanted publicly-subsidized whorehouses. And that's precisely what made them good satires ... because people completely missed their inherent comedy

And the same principle holds true for the cinematic form. So many self-declared satires have come down the pipes over the decades, but the absolute best satires of them all have never been classified as formal comedies. For example, A Clockwork Orange is a tremendous satire about changing sexual mores and the psychiatricization of society, but hardly anybody would label the film "funny." The same holds true for Robocop, which to this day remains the greatest Marxist criticism of the free market ever ... yes, even better than Das Kapital, IMHO. Yet even the greatest "pure" comedy satires of the 20th century - Blazing Saddles and The Kentucky Fried Movie immediately spring to mind - likewise work because they fool the audience into thinking the material is something drastically different than what the filmmakers are really showing them. 

In that, box office non-factor Beer from 1985 is the epitome of a failed Hollywood satire. It's a movie that thinks its perspective on television marketing is so enlightened and above the pitiful considerations of the aggregate American pleb, when absolutely nothing it throws on screen is anything we haven't already thought ourselves a million times before while taking quicker than expected shits. This is the kind of movie that has just convinced itself it's skewering its intended target to death and there's no way said target can ever recover from the lambasting (perhaps what today we call "the Drumpf factor.") It's a film so preoccupied with appearing informed and above the material it's mocking that along the way, it forgets to demonstrate any greater common truths about the human experience that makes us laugh. The Marx Brothers figured that out. Charlie Chaplin figured that out. Preston Sturges figured that out, and this was all before World War II. Beer is a movie that in no way, shape or form attempts to form some sort of communique with the audience, instead blasting its winded diatribe for an hour and a half like some sort of unfunny space heater. And for that, this 32-year-old relic of the Reagan Years is more than worthy of revisiting, if only to demonstrate to young up-and-coming auteurs everything you DON'T want to do as an alleged comedic filmmaker. 

The film begins proper with this Germanic beer baron watching an actual Michelob Light commercial. He's pissed because his marketing firm can't make commercials that good, so every body in the office gets a memo telling them to drag their lily-livered asses into the executive boardroom. 

Anyhoo, sales for Norbecker Beer are plummeting and the CEO (named Mr. Femur, or something that kinda' sounds like it) just berates the shit out of his crew. A creative director pitches an ad featuring construction workers drinking beer and he gets shit canned. Then LORETTA SWIT (yep, Hot Lips from MASH) proposes they trot out a new "everyman" spokes-character - "A man's man that every guy can relate to ... a man driven to individuality when society demands conformity." Damn, she reminds me of Dr. Blight from Captain Planet. I mean, a lot. 

So the CEO signs off on the idea, even though he's not entirely sure what she's talking about. Then Loretta and RIP TORN walk around New York talking about ad ideas while people break dance on the city streets. Torn (his in-universe name is Buzz) is apparently a washed-up, alcoholic old actor. Meanwhile, two guys who just lost their jobs drink foamy beer at a bar. Then David Alan Grier walks into a law firm and asks if he can get an advance and his boss tells him to stay in bankruptcy so it gives him experience handling his own case.

Rip goes into the bar and a real Budweiser commercial plays in the background. Then Grier and the two unemployed guys from earlier start drinking together (and for maximum guffaws, I'm pretty sure the unemployed cowboy guy is the dad from Boy Meets World.) Anyway, there's an armed robbery and Rip asks the gunman why he doesn't just go home and shoot himself, than an old drunk throws the would-be robber's gun back in his face and Grier and the two unemployed dudes tackle him. A follow-up broadcast let us know he killed four dudes at a drive-in theater last year, and Norbecker, of course, offers the three dudes who tackled them jobs as ad characters.

Long story short: if it's a comedy about boozing it up and it DOESN'T star W.C. Fields, cash your chips in early, boys - it's guaranteed to suck a big one.

Grier argues with his wife about leaving his job as a bankruptcy lawyer. "I worked my whole life to keep big radios off your shoulders," he tells his boombox carrying kids. Elsewhere, the Italian bush-headed ad guy is at a wedding or a dinner or something and staring at this one chick who - if I know Italians they way I think I know Italians - is prolly his underage cousin. His grandpa is apparently some mafia heavy hitter. You can tell because they start playing The Godfather-like music as soon as he rolls into the shot.

We've got another meeting with the beer baron guy. He says all beer is the same, referring to it as "fermented, piss colored water." He has apprehensions about banking an entire ad campaign on virtual unknowns and Swit assuages him by saying America wants average Joes instead of has-been football players. And during the spiel, one dude almost chokes to death on a grape, because apparently, somebody thinks that's just funny as shit. 

The cowboy guy talks to Swit about getting his car out of an impound lot for $75. I think she's trying to seduce him, but he's just too stupid to pick up on her advances. For the first commercial, the ad company actually bails out the guy who shot up the bar to reprise his role. But, uh, didn't he kill a whole shit load of people, though? Damn, now that's some clout if you can spring a nigga' from death row just to make a stupid advertisement. 

We see the full commercial, which is an exaggerated pastiche of what actually happened in the robbery. And it goes on for like three minutes. A bunch of drunk bums at a bar say they love the ad and demand the bartender start stocking Norbecker. Then there's a fist fight because one of them called the other a communist and from there we've got ourselves a full-on barroom brawl while the cheesy commercial music plays in the background. Oh, and there's a midget running around doing stuff, too, because ... the director REALLY wanted a midget in there somewhere, I suppose?

Time for a montage of commercials being filmed. The actors are featured on People magazine and apparently, the cowboy guy is sleeping with Hot Lips now. At the next boardroom meeting, another exec forces a woman to shotgun a beer and talks about its implied sexual overtones. Than Hot Lips tells Grier he isn't black enough so he starts watching Def Comedy Jam to sound more like a brotha'. He even practices saying "shee-it" over and over again in a mirror. He shows up for the next commercial dressed like he's in RUN-DMC and calls everbody a blood. Then he break dances, terribly. "When I said black, I didn't mean "black-black," Hot Lips admonishes him.

The dad from Boy Meets World, Blankman's brother and some generic dago - talk about a dream ensemble!

The marketers are worried because women only represent 20 percent of the brand's base consumers, so Hot Lips creates an ad where the trio drives off for a fishing trip with a new catchphrase - "whip out your Norbecker" - and it looks like they are holding a Hispanic woman hostage and forcing her to give the cowboy a hummer against her will. Naturally, the womenfolk ain't too keen on the ad, so the three guys have to go on a Phil Donahue-like talk show except they spend the entire appearance just talking mad shit about feminists in the audience and it's just super. 

The Italian guy goes to confession and tells the priest he can't get his cock up no more. Then the next commercial's tagline is revealed: "I can always get a better girl but I can't get a better beer." The CEO unveils plans to conquer the European market, and it's supposed to sound Hitler-esque because back then, it was OK to laugh about Nazis. Then Grier turns into a slob who just sits around drinking beer and watching TV all day. He sees an ad where he's wearing a Hugh Hefner robe and hanging out with a fine black gal, and then his wife bonks him over the head with a beer bottle because domestic violence is HIGH-LARIOUS when the aggressor is a woman.

Now the feminists have come out in full force to protest Norbecker. Hot Lips says every time they open their mouths, sales go up by a half point. By now, the brand almost has a 50 percent market share. "Divorce, violence in the streets," she says, "we're doing great!"

Then we get this LONG subplot about Rip Torn and the guys getting lost in the desert. Hot Lips suggests they pump the media well dry by taking advantage of their disappearance. Rip films them while they climb over rocks and shit, then the actors wander through the desert half-dead from dehydration. When they are finally rescued, they all have insane sun burns. Well, except for the black guy, but that kinda' goes without saying.

The ad execs review the footage from the desert and decide to recreate the whole affair on a sound stage. Rip Torn is fired and he stumbles into a giant ice bucket. LOL, that is totally hilarious ... NOT. Then the actors get upset and walk off the set, and the cowboy guy says Hot Lips has turned into a fake just like in the commercials she makes. Regardless, she wins a Clio award (a real award for commercials, in case you didn't know) and Grier turns into a full-blown alcohol that gets tossed out of bars for trying to start shit. He unwittingly walks into a gar bar and starts singing songs about turkeys with leather bears, then a barroom brawl breaks out. The whole thing becomes  a great big scandal and beer sales plummet. Alas, the incident gives Norbecker's CEO an idea for a new marketing campaign - one that involves him sitting in a sauna with a bunch of homosexuals drinking light beer. The new catchphrase? "Take it in the bottle or the can!

So Grier becomes a normal family man again, the Italian guy moves back in with his huge ass family and the cowboy dude gets his car back. And that's the end of the line, folks - an engrossing grand finale, to be sure. 

I wouldn't tap it pre-MASH and I sure as hell wouldn't tap it post-MASH, neither.

Well, that was all shades of mediocre, wasn't it? Per the IMDB, this is the only movie directed by Patrick Kelly and it was the first writing gig for Allen Weisbecker - a dude who would then go on to write a couple of episodes of Miami Vice and that's about it. 

Strangely enough, the movie represents rare misses for two of the finest technical wizards in Hollywood history. Believe it or not, the movie's cinematographer Bill Butler also worked on Jaws, Grease and Child's Play, while the music was supplied by none other than BILL FUCKING CONTI, a.k.a they guy that gave us the single greatest soundtrack in motion picture history. I guess I could say it's surprising that guys with such exemplary track records turned in such underwhelming work here, but then again, considering the source material, did anybody REALLY expect them to bring their A game with them?

I couldn't find any substantial box office data on the film, but I guess it's safe to assume it didn't exactly make a killing at theaters. Even worse, the movie didn't even become a late night cable staple, leaving it an untouched obscurity destined to collect dust at mom and pop video stores from coast to coast for the better part of two decades. Pretty much everybody in the cast went on to do bigger and better things - yes, even Rip "Freddy Got Fingered" Torn - but I doubt any actor or actress in the film has any worthwhile recollections of working on the film. I, for one, can't wait to bump into David Alan Grier and grill him about his performance in this flick - how long do you think it'll be before he tries to floor me with a left hook? 

So, all in all, Beer is a real throwaway of a movie, whose inherent forgettableness makes it a great companion piece alongside such equally unimportant '80s comedies as Million Dollar Mystery and The Pope Must Die

It's not a downright awful movie, but it doesn't really have any saving graces, either. Like a flat can of Budweiser, this movie is just there, occupying space as a reminder that you could be enjoying far better things in life. Like musicals about dancing Pakistani terrorists on a mission to assassinate Salman Rushdie - we could all certainly use more films of the like in our day-to-day lives, no? 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fun with Coca-Cola's Ill-Conceived 'Share A Coke' Generator!

Surely, the suits at Coke had to have seen such tomfoolery coming, right?


By: Jimbo X

On one hand, I have to give the marketing department at Coca-Cola all the credit in the world for their seasonal "Share a Coke With ..." campaign. It's such a simple strategy, but oh so effective. Who'd thought that simply slapping a couple of common first names on the side of a soda label would've aroused so much consumer attention and spurred summertime sales? 

But maybe it shouldn't be that surprising. After all, such gimmicks capitalize on consumers' innate egotism, and it's the kind of commercial pornography that's just ripe for social media exploitation. And now that they're throwing out cans and bottles with surnames on 'em, it's just a matter of time until ever Tom, Dick and Susan in the country is flooding Instagram with their personal information spelled out in fizzy drink packaging form. Privacy, shmrivacy, if pushing two aluminum cans together is all it takes to get 100 likes on Facebook, the aggregate American will do it in a heartbeat. 

Which brings me to this poorly thought-out marketing ploy from the House of Sprite and Mr. Pibb. By now, we should all know that it's NEVER a good idea to give the Internet hoi polloi the ability to submit any kind of user-generated content on a company's official website or social media feed. Remember that time "Hitler Did Nothing Wrong" was selected as the official name of the latest Mountain Dew variation, or that time the New England Patriots' Twitter bots sent a shoutout to a user named "ihateniggers?" Hell, this isn't even the first time Coca-Cola has had the rug pulled out from under it using the whole "Share a Coke With..." shtick, as this article from 2015 elucidates upon. Simply put, nothing good could come from Coca-Cola re-opening its online "Share a Coke With..." bottle generator, and I took it as a personal challenge to fuck with the thing as much as humanly (and hilariously) possible.

Designing a bottle is about as simple as it gets. You get to choose from one of four different bottle designs, and you have about 20 characters to get your message across. After you're done, you can load the thing into your virtual cart and, for $5 plus shipping and handling, you can have the custom-made bottle zipped along to your home address.

Of course, the name generator does have some built-in safeguards. The really obvious stuff - the "n-word," the "f-word," Hitler, etc. - are already pre-banned, as well as the terms "fat," "diabetes" and "obesity" (gee, I wonder why?) Interestingly enough, even a couple of proper names are verboten, including Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, David Duke and Stalin. Even weirder, the word "black" itself is on the pre-banned list, even though "white" isn't, and even weirder than that, while "ISIS" is on the do-not-print list, "Nazis" is totally OK. So, from the get-go, we just know there's going to be a lot of gaps in their language filter, and within three minutes, I was already having a field day.

Say hello to Coke's new, limited-edition /pol/ flavored colas.

Apparently, Coca-Cola needs a refresher course on contemporary ethnic slurs. Pretty much every non-"nigger" pejorative for the black people you can think of flies by undetected, and practically every Nazi-related term that ain't "Adolf" or "Hitler" passes the smell test. 

And sometimes, you can get all three in one package!

There's a couple of other filter oddities afoot, too. For example, "obesity" all by itself is off-limits, but if you wedge a "morbid" in front of it, all of a sudden it becomes permissible for print. Similarly, you can get away with making a bottle that says "Black Panthers," but they won't let you print one that says simply "Black People." 

Something tells me that old "I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke" commercial would've played out way differently had they used THESE bottles.

Of course, anybody into vaporwave can already tell you there's an easy way around ALL of Coke's censorship. If you just have to have a Coca-Cola bottle in your possession that has "Hitler" or "Niggers" emblazoned upon it, all you have to do is put a single space between each letter and the filter is none the wiser. That said, consider me shocked a plenty that the formal filtering algorithms DIDN'T include "cunt" on the insta-banned word list. I mean, isn't that like a top five swear word everywhere in the Western world?

Man ... what a great idea for a sitcom!

The possibilities here are pretty much endless. Whatever offensive, deplorable or insensitive thing you can think of, Coca-Cola's half-assed censoring mechanisms are pretty much powerless to stop you from printing them. I spent an entire Saturday evening trying to conjure up the most disgusting, depraved and demeaning bottles I could, and by the end of the night I felt pretty confident that - if I truly wanted to - I could easily order a small platoon of Coca-Cola bottles lined with an endless panoply of swears and epithets. Of course, the real fun would be ordering the bottles and then sneaking them into actual businesses and slipping them into real display cases in an all-time awesome prank that would probably draw international coverage and goad Coca-Cola into issuing a never-ending stream of public apologies. 


I mean, what kind of trouble makers do you think we are, anyway?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Double Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming / Despicable Me 3

Spidey and the Minions once again return to the Silver Screen ...but should they have?


By: Jimbo X
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@JimboX

Am I the only person out there who is just plum sick of people using the word "community" as if they were real places

You hear this shit all the time on the news. There's the "black community," and the "gay community" and the "Muslim community" and the "transgender community" and "the feminist community" and well, just about every other "community" you can think of. Interestingly, though, you never hear media people refer to right of center interests groups as communities. You'll never flip on the TV and hear Martha Raddatz use the term "the Christian community" and you'll never read anybody on HuffPo refer to "the gun community." And I'm pretty sure no one has EVER used the terms "the white community" or "the male community" or "the straight community" at any point in history. Some in-groups, it appears, are simply beyond representative identity politicking, I take it.

What I can't fathom, however, is how the media keeps getting away with using the term "community" to describe the perceived opinions of millions of people. For example, how many times did your hear CNN and MSNBC and Fox News use the term "black community" during all that Ferguson and Trayvon claptrap? Does that mean that every single black person in America is part of some AARP-like organization? Does every black man, woman and child in the country get a newsletter every month and a plastic card to keep in their wallets as renewable reminders of their own intrinsic blackness? Does it mean blackness alone supersedes all other factors, including socioeconomics and geographical location, in determining one's overall societal value

I mean, is it really a "community" if the members of said "community" have a.) never met 99.999 percent of the people allegedly inside it and b.) don't even have an existential awareness that 99.9998 percent of the people allegedly inside it were ever born and coexist alongside them at the same point in time and space? You know what, let's take a look at Merriam-Webster's entry on "community" and see if the "insert random special interests group here" definition of the word is even technically applicable ... 

What a minute ... doesn't this make people who live in communities, technically, a bunch of no good, stinkin' COMMUNISTS?!?

Strangely enough, the same word keeps popping up - "common." As in, for a community to exist it has to have "common interests," a "common location," a "common history" and "common characteristics." 

Well, right out the gate we can put a big old red "X" over "common interests," because there's no way any group of a million-plus people - let alone one numbering in the hundreds of millions or even billions - can share the exact same interests. Does a multi-billionaire Saudi oil baron have the same interests as some Muslim family bringing in $40,000 a year living in Dearborn, Mich.? Are the interests of Jay-Z and Thomas Sowell identical? Does Peter Thiel have the same interests as some homeless drag queen living in Hell's Kitchen? Not even close, bud. They might share one common trait, but their socioeconomic and political wants - and even existential, day-to-day needs - fluctuate immensely.

Put another big red X over the part about "a common location." So black dudes living in Anchorage have the exact same set of self-preservation interests as black women living in Miami, and transwomen living in San Francisco work under the same conditions as a closeted homosexual living in Riyadh? Sorry, but contemporary circumstances completely outweigh any sense of perceived brotherhood here. Despite that one celebrated communal trait, their divergent surroundings create entirely different existential needs and ideological wants, and that makes any attempts at erecting a pan-cultural identity logically impossible. 

A "common history" doesn't come into play here, either. Does a black guy in Mississippi who comes from a long line of sharecroppers and slaves have the same "common history" as a guy who just moved to New Jersey after working I.T. in Lagos for ten years? Do Muslims in Indonesia have the same "common history" as Iranians? Do gays and transgenders in New York have the same "common history" as gays and transgenders in Moscow? If community is steeped in a sense of shared ancestry, then there's NO WAY the contemporary media definition of "community" is anywhere close to being possible. 

And then there's that stuff about "common characteristics." This one, I suppose, makes a good bit of sense, but at the same time - isn't saying people who share similar physical features have to have the same opinions and outlooks on life just BECAUSE of those features just a teeny, tiny bit prejudiced

Doesn't using such terms belittle individuals and subsume their personal beliefs and character in a giant vacuum of ascribed traits? Don't such collectivist labels thrive on sweeping generalizations about entire groups of people? Aren't such descriptors enforcing an opinion on people and appointing whoever's using it as the legal guardian and spokesperson for millions of individuals without their permission? 

I mean, isn't saying all black people think alike, you know, kind of racist? Isn't saying all homosexuals have the same values systems a bit homophobic? Isn't saying all Muslims share the exact same ideological views the definition of xenophobic and bigoted? And on top of that, don't you think it's plum stupid - and literally impossible - for millions of people to foster the same central beliefs based on just one common characteristic or trait?

You know, let's just come out and say it - "community" ain't nothing but a slightly ritzier way of propagating stereotypes and deriving individuals of their right to represent themselves in the public eye. But that's modern day collectivism for you - an unyielding obsession with identity politics, but only the identity the liberal Wehrmacht wants you to have.

Spider-Man, seen here symbolically giving the white patriarchy what-for by scaling a giant cock-shaped monument to George "Slave-Killer" Washington.

Speaking of things that prolly shouldn't exist, Spider-Man: Homecoming might just be the worst Spider-Man movie yet, and considering how bad the two Andrew Garfield movies were, that's saying something

The really disappointing thing about Homecoming (which, indeed, revolves around an actual homecoming dance at Pete Parker's P-TECH high school) is that the first act is just tremendous. You've got a downright fantastic subplot about Michael Keaton stealing alien technology from the first Avengers movie and using it to sell black market death lasers to low-level hoods and gangbangers and watching Spider-Man run around trying to find criminals to thwart (only to accidentally web up a dude for breaking into his own car and spending the rest of the afternoon blowing up Iron Man's phone talking about churros) is a hoot and a half. Alas, everything after the 40 minute mark gets progressively (regressively?) worse, complete with a third act so bland and by the numbers that they may as well have just spliced in the grand finale from Power Rangers and I don't think anybody in the audience would have been none the wiser. Sheesh, at least Logan and Get Out had the decency to only start sucking in their respective third acts, guys -  meanwhile,this one doesn't even wait until we sneak up on the one hour mark before it starts blowing the proverbial goat.

In case you're wondering how heavy they're laying on the whole hooray for diversity/political correctness is our only true god shtick, we're less than ten seconds in before Michael Keaton's character is criticized for using the term "Indian" instead of "Native American," and for that one linguistic transgression alone we just know he's evil incarnate. Anyhoo, he's your average pissed off old white guy who's mad because the gubberment came in and kicked him off a job cleaning up all the destruction at the end of The Avengers, so naturally, eight years later he's become some kind of weapons kingpin that flies around town in a furry bomber jacket hijacking transfer trucks for the LULZ. 

We watch some cell phone footage of Spider-Man's appearance in Civil War, then Spoon's "The Underdog" starts playing while he walks around his technical high school talking to his morbidly obese Filipino friend about Lego Star Wars toys (so, yeah, this is basically the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man, except Miles Morales is a white British kid trying to sound like he's from Queens.) 

Of course, this is Diversity High we're talking about here. Peter's physics teacher is a black woman, Flash Thompson is now a scrawny Indian and we've got not one but two competing love interests retconned from white girls into biracial actresses (including a stand-in for Mary Jane who literally looks more like Dale Gribble's son from King of the Hill than Kirsten Dunst) And just so you can rest you worried little head easy at night, this incarnation of Spider-Man is also a conversationally fluent Spanish speaker, which comes in handy when he accidentally blows up the local Cuban-owned deli. 

So Spidey swings around to "Blitzkrieg Bop" and his fat friend finds out his true identity and convinces him to be his sidekick and all the girls in P.E. play "fuck marry kill" with the cast of The Avengers and Captain America shows up in a detention video and Betty Brant is doing the morning news program at school and Peter goes to a party in the suburbs and realizes his web shooting powers are practically useless there and we encounter a bunch of crooks using anti-gravity weapons and electro-earthquake gloves to jack ATM machines.

Everything up to this point is pretty hunky-dory. In a way, it almost becomes sort of spiritual adaptation of that old '90s comic Astro City, kinda-sorta-somewhat showing us what civilian life is like in an alternate reality where giant space monsters just fall out of the sky and dudes wearing their underwear outside their pants shoot laser death out of their eyeballs to stop purse snatchers. The subplot about the low level criminals becoming super villains by stealing alien technology is absolutely fucking brilliant, giving us great depictions of C-leaguer bad guys like Shocker, The Prowler and even the goddamn fucking Tinkerer and I loved all the little touches that showed how the superhero industrial complex permeates every nook and cranny of "normal human being life" in the MCU. 

And then, the movie starts losing momentum. Aunt May (played by Marissa Tomei) does nothing but squander valuable screen time (although her Tara Tainton-esque looks will undoubtedly inspire a plethora of Rule 34 incest porn on the Netz) and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man shtick (he plays a mentor of sorts to Peter) has become a watered-down self-parody at this point. And then we learn Spider-Man's high-tech suit has a Siri-like voice-activated virtual assistant inside it named Karen, and good gracious, is their interaction boring and unfunny as shit. And hey, wouldn't you know it, a good 15 minute chunk of the movie is dedicated to Spidey and Karen bickering back and forth while stuck in Damage Control's deep storage vault - lucky us. 

By the time Spidey and the local Academic decathalon team make it to the nationals in D.C. (interestingly, the school has no jocks to speak of - then again, why celebrate athletic ability in THIS cinematic universe when technology and experimental liquids can turn you into physical death machines without even once having to hit the gym?) the movie has completely ran out of gas. The elevator collapse in the Washington Monument (which Zendaya's character won't go into because she claims it was built it by slaves) is without drama or intrigue (why the fuck is Spider-Man afraid of heights, anyway?) and the allusion to the first Raimi movie kiss comes off as hokey and even mildly retarded (although I did like one student likening the perilous incident to, of all things, a Bon Jovi concert.)

The last hour of this movie is like having to push a dead car uphill. We watch Spidey monkey around with "enhanced interrogation mode" voice changers and he pulls a barge together in a scene ripping off I mean, homaging Spider-Man 2 and Tony Stark takes his costume away and we learn Liz Allen's dad is actually the Vulture (small world, eh?) and Spidey has to fight Shocker while wearing a crappy homemade suit with ping pong ball eyeballs and, inevitably, Spidey and the Vulture get involved in a poorly lit, abandoned warehouse fight (complete with an ode to The Amazing Spider-Man #33) and there's one more nightvision sky battle and the Vulture is bested in battle and Liz Allen has to leave town while her dad's on trial and Zendaya is appointed the new academic decathlon captain and Tony Stark wants to make Spidey the newest member of the Avengers but he turns it down so he can finish high school and at the very end, Spidey gets his old, cybernetic costume back and Aunt May sees him putting it on and she says the "f-word" and the movie ends. 

Sam Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies felt like honest-to-goodness, self-contained stories with a beginning, middle and end. This movie is just one, long, continuous and ultimately, unimportant middle that feels more like a random episode of your favorite sitcom than a standalone feature film. So, yeah - it definitely feels like a real Marvel Cinematic Universe offering, alright

We've got one dead body. No breasts. Multiple heists. One carjacking (committed by Spider-Man, if you can believe it.) Exploding deli. Exploding barge. Gratuitous Ramones. Gratuitous references to larb. Gratuitous overly-complicated hand shakes. Kung fu. Anti-gravity gun fu. Laser cannon fu. School bus fu. And, of course, thing thing more or less responsible for the movie existing in the first place, diversity quota fu.

Starring 21-year-old Tom Holland as the 15-year-old Peter Parker, even though the actor himself looks more like he's 12; Michael Keaton as the Vulture, although it's woefully apparent he'd rather be starring in a Birdman sequel; Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, basically Spider-Man's Avengers-appointed babysitter; Zendaya as a half black version of Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club; Marissa Tomei as the most fuckable version of Aunt May in any form of media; Jacob Batalan as the token fat friend always asking Spider-Man questions about his webbing; and Robert Downey Jr., as the guy phoning it in for another $20 million payday. 

Directed by Jon Watts, whose previous films Clown and Cop Car are actually pretty fucking great, who also co-wrote the script alongside five other credited writers, the bulk of whom sound very, very Hebrew

All I can afford it is one and half stars out of four. Jimbo says check it out, but only if you leave at the 40-minute mark and don't pay for the ticket.

I, for one, was shocked by the surprising number of anal rapings throughout the movie.

While we're on the subject of franchise cash cows, we might as well mull over the latest Despicable Me movie while we're at it. Now, I've got no problem saying it, I'm one of the few people out there who unironically adores the Minions. I thought Despicable Me 2 was just peachy and I thought their 2015 spin-off was even better. Hell, I almost came this close to buying a jug of Minion-shaped shampoo that smelled like bananas recently

But this Despicable Me 3 is just a big old disappointment, through and through. It starts off decent enough, with one of them South Park homos playing this mustachioed child actor turned omnicidal Dr. Doom clone whose entire armada of doomsday weapons based on 1980s kitsch using bubble gum to steal a humongous diamond. But since Gru and his wife can't apprehend him, both of 'em get shit-canned by the new head of the international coalition of secret agents or whatever the hell it's called, and I'll be damned if she isn't animated like the most obvious caricature of a Jewess you've ever seen. Seriously - she's *yay* close to being the Happy Merchant's long-lost sister, and it's amazing

So the Minions get sick of Gru's bullshit and they go on strike and then we've got a new subplot about Gru's dad being a hitherto unmentioned super villain himself and what do you know, he also has a twin brother he didn't know about neither living in the faraway kingdom of Freedonia (hmm, does that name sound just a wee bit familiar?) where he pretends to be a pork kingpin but - of course - he secretly wants to be a super-duper villain, too. So we get a lot of long-lost sibling bonding and even MORE subplots about cheese festivals and some fat kid trying to marry one of Gru's daughters and another daughter trying to hunt down a unicorn and the Minions go on Sing and get arrested for breaking into the building and they all get sentenced to prison where they slowly but surely realize Gru isn't that bad of a master, after all. 

You know the ending already. Gru and his brother steal back the diamond from the '80s-flavored villain but they have a falling out over whether to keep it for themselves or take it to the secret agents commission. Sure enough, the villain manages to get his revenge by abducting Gru's daughters in a giant mech, and from there, only the combative siblings and the Minions on a dirigible mostly made out of toilet parts are the only thing that can keep Hollywood from being incinerated by death lasers. 

What a pity it is to see what was the closest thing Hollywood had to a modern day Marx Brothers franchise turn into just another predictable, by-the-numbers "apocalypse porn" summer bummer - I haven't been this disappointed at the local Multiplex since that time I took Nancy Kloppendinger to go see G-Force and my zipper got stuck at the 50-minute mark. 

We've got no dead bodies. No breasts (and for fuck's sake, if you're looking for 'em in a movie like this, you deserve to have Chris Hanson and the po-pop paying you a visit.) Gratuitous Michael Jackson. Gratuitous dance-fighting. Gratuitous shin-kicking. Bubblegum fu. Rubik's Cube fu. Key-tar fu (complete with the opening solos from both Van Halen's "Jump" and Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing.") Tranquilizer dart fu. Giant robot fu. Laser death ray fu. And the thing responsible for the movie existing in the first place - Universal Pictures being totally out of new ideas fu

Starring Steve Carell in a dual role as Gru and Dru (even though their voices are practically identical); Kristen Wiig as Lucy, this time around a much more assertive mom than she was in the last flick; Trey Parker as lead bad guy Balthazar Bratt, who at one point calls another character "a son of a Betmax"; Julie Andrews as Gru's mom, who was paid millions of dollars for about four lines of dialogue; Miranda Cosgrove as the bookish daughter who has to rebuff the marriage proposal of an obese boy at a cheese festival; and Dana Gaier as the precocious middle child, who proposes Gru try online gambling to supplement his income. Written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (who apparently need a break after churning out stuff like Hop and The Lorax every year or so) and directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, both of whom are so clearly so sick of this shit it's actually kinda' depressing. 

I give it two stars out of four. Jimbo says check it out, even though you'd probably have more fun making your hair smell like bananas instead. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Southern Fried Gameroom Expo 2017 BLOWOUT (Part One!)

The Internet Is In America returns to Atlanta's premier celebration of all things retro gaming ... and there was so much awesomeness that it's going to take us two articles to show you everything.


By: Jimbo X
JimboXAmerican@gmail.com
@JimboX

For the last two years I've been singing the praises of this here thing we've got in Atlanta called the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo. For the uninitiated, it's this big old festival dedicated to old school gaming - that includes coin-ops, vintage consoles and pinball. While the event does have a lot of extra tomfoolery going on - concerts and tabletop gaming and costume contests and, if you can believe it, pro 'rassling - the central appeal of the event is that it's basically a gigantic arcade - plucked straight out of 1997 - that rolls into town once a year. For that one glorious weekend each June, all of of us old nostalgic souls can relive our wayward youths and play a dizzying array of long, long forgotten coin-op ephemera - and without having to pluck one damn quarter in any coin slots, to boot.

In short - it's utterly fantastic, and it might just be my favorite annual event anywhere. And this year's show definitely did not disappoint. As always, because there's just so much content to trudge through, I have to break this stuff up into two separate articles - the first one (i.e., the one you're looking at now) focusing on the expo's video game elements and the second (which'll be posted in a week or two) focusing on its pinball offerings.

So what are you waiting for, folks? Let's go on ahead and hop right into the retro-tastic, joystick-twaddling, trackball-rolling, button-smashing awesomeness, why don't we?


Virtua Fighter!

It is not often you see an original VF cab in the wild, so I definitely spent as much time playing this one as I could.


Sega's pioneering polygonal ass-kicker never really got the acclaim it truly deserved back in the '90s. Despite having a combat system that was about 300 times better than Mortal Kombat, most kids just sorta passed this one by to go play the latest and greatest blood-spattered brawler like Time Killers and the oh-so creatively titled Blood Storm. In short - we were some dumb, dumb motherfuckers back then.


Although the game does feel a little shallow compared to its sequels (to this day, I consider VF 4 to be the greatest 3D fighter ever) the original Virtua Fighter is still plenty of fun, and winning bouts by ringout is every bit the hoot and a half it was back in '94. Although looking at the character display underneath the screen, something did catch me by surprise. Can anyone explain to me why Akira is depicted as the Iron Sheik here? (EDITOR'S NOTE: Some thoughtful reader by the name of Mega Jump was kind enough to let my ignorant ass know that originally, Akira was supposed to be some kind of turban-wearing karate fighter, as these screens clearly indicate. Apparently, the folks at Sega forgot to update the arcade artwork, which means this is one of the earliest versions of the game ever released and probably a collector's item worth a shit-ton of money ... or, at least, a couple of extra quarters, I suppose.)


Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters!

I've played the game before on various home consoles, but this was my first time getting a chance to play it as an upright coin-op. Alas, the upgrade in graphics didn't really do a whole lot to warm me up to the I.P.


This is one of those games with really clumsy isometric controls. You get eight way directional shooting, but the movement is so slow that it's pretty much impossible to rattle off some shots without getting crept up on by something. There's a lot of stuff going on on-screen, and I guess if you really applied yourself you could get into a solid rhythm, but a good 10 minutes with this 'un left me really uninspired and unimpressed.


But it wasn't all bad, though. I, for one, was absolutely gobsmacked by just how much the two avatars resembled muscled up versions of Beavis and Butt-Head. Go ahead, look at that character art - complete with the bouffant hairdos! - and tell me Mike Judge didn't swipe the design.


Mappy!

Fuck, Mappy is a game with a subversively dark premise. After all, it is a game about cops murdering home invaders (which, itself, is the inversion of the general principle behind the cult classic Sega game Bonanza Bros. - a game in which YOU play the criminals.)


Personally, this one's always been a tad too peculiar for my liking. You don't really have a formal attack, you just have to lead your enemies into specific death traps (which, in this game, primarily come in the form of doors and extremely powerful microwave blasts.) You have to use trampolines to get from point A to point B and you collect points by retrieving TV sets and 1983-era personal computers. Oh, and almost all of the sound effects are borrowed from Galaga, which feel REALLY out of place when you're playing as a police officer mouse.


This is one of those old school games that just feels a bit too basic. The gameplay mechanics are easy enough to figure out, but the core gameplay just feels hobbled. Your character either moves too fast or too slow and the backdrops are extremely boring - sorry, Namco, but you didn't hit Pac-Man gold a second time around with this 'un.


Blaster!

I had never heard of nor seen Blaster prior to the expo and I was pleasantly surprised by what this Williams' offering had to ... well, offer.


Long story short, this is pretty much Star Fox ten years earlier and about ten times better. The proto-polygonal graphics actually look pretty decent and the controls are fuckin' spot-on. And the game provides plenty of challenge without coming off as painfully cheap - a real rarity for coin-ops this aged.


There's just something about early '80s shooters like this that I love that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's the psychedelic (yet minimalist) visuals? As primitive as the level design may be, that aesthetic just gets me every time - assuredly, if people could've traveled to Saturn in 1984, this game is what the travel brochure would've looked like.


Kangaroo! 

This game is Atari's answer to Donkey Kong, and I've got to say, it's not a bad little imitation. If nothing else, it certainly beats the pants off Congo Bongo - Sega's attempt to outdo D.K.


The premise behind Kangaroo is simple enough. You play a mama kangaroo - equipped with boxing gloves - who has to travel up ladders to rescue her baby 'roo. The only problem is, there are these fuckin' monkeys all over the screen hurling apples and shit at you, and you have to get right up next to them before you can punch their lights out. Of course, if they touch you it's an instant kill, so perhaps you can see the importance of spatial skills heading into this particular coin-op.


It's a bit of an arbitrarily difficult game, though. It's not hard so much because of the gameplay as it is the control scheme. You just can't hit a "jump" button like any non-retard game designer would've programmed it, you have to tilt your joystick at a 45 degree angle to hop forward or backward. Naturally, enemies have a nasty tendency to close the gap on you while you're jumping, so half the time your leap concludes with your avatar landing ass first on a monkey and subsequently dying. With enough practice I suppose you can get the timing down, but as a first time player, this thing was a major rectal pain right out the gate.


Still, I enjoyed it. I love any and all things related to kangaroos, so that probably hampers my objectivity, but I really did find this one to be a far above average platform/puzzler from an era absolutely inundated with them. It ain't the easiest game to pick up and play, but once you get the hang of things, it's an absolute blast. And come on - how can anybody hate a game that lets you punch the simian shit outta' monkeys?


Wizard of Wor!

Every time I see this game, the first thing I think about is that segment in Nightmares where Emilio Evestevez ditches his girlfriend at a pizza parlor so he can play Battle of Bishop over and over again until the machine comes alive and sucks him into the video game world through the coin slot. I mean, the similar titles can't be mere coincidence, can they?


According to Walter Day - who was a special guest of honor at this year's SFGE - this is quite possibly his favorite game of all-time. You know how I know that? Because he literally told me in-person. He also said that he and Billy Mitchell still like to hit up random arcades and tag team this sumbitch, which honestly, sounds like it has all the makings of a wacky 1980s teen sex comedy. Except, you know, everybody is like 60. And nobody has sex. Ever.


But, uh, oh yeah, the game itself. I can't say I was particularly enthralled by the gameplay - basically, you just run around mazes shooting stuff at griffins (who, on the coin-op marquee, actually look more like outer space lizards) so it's an only slightly modified tweak on the old Pac-Man formula. Still, the controls were fluid enough and you just have to dig those minimalist visuals - or not. It's a free country, after all. 


After Burner!

There are two versions of After Burner that everybody remembers - the huge cabinet you got to sit in - and this version, which was immortalized in that classic of early 1990s cinema, Suburban Commando.


This was the game at my local Pizza Hut back in the day. It had enough knobs to fiddle around with to almost make it seem technically legit, but the arcade action was straight-forward enough that even a clumsy, mechanically-deficient first grader such as myself could at least get to the second mission. Sure, it was just a blatant ripoff of Top Gun, but I sure as hell would rather get my thumbprints all over this game's joystick than watch Tom Cruise deny his latent homosexuality for two hours.


Like a good 99 percent of my cohorts, I never "beat" After Burner. Some clips on YouTube suggest the full game can be completed in just 16 minutes, but I don't think I ever spent more than four playing it. It's a game you can appreciate for its technical aspects, but I never really considered it compelling, per se. Still, it beats the shit out of Space Harrier, and for that, we should all be eternally grateful. 


Primal Rage!

This game came out right at the apex of arcade fighters so we had already seen Samurai Shodown II and Super Street Fighter II and played about a hundred or so piss-poor knockoffs of the best the genre had to offer. Primal Rage is a game that kinda falls somewhere in-between being a decent post-genre-zenith fighter - think, Darkstalkers - and a really crummy Mortal Kombat wannabe like Way of the Warrior and Survival Arts. But there's no denying it has a hell of a hook - it's basically Pit Fighter with motherfuckin' dinosaurs!


Technically, Primal Rage ain't a good fighter. It's playable, but it leaves a lot to be desired - just contrast this game's combat system with something like King of the Fighters '94 or Virtua Fighter 2 and the argument is made for me. Still, what Primal Rage lacked in depth, it kinda' sorta' made up for it with sheer presentation. For example, you could pick up and eat cave people for bonus health and one of the fatalities involves a giant monkey literally pissing acid on his adversary. And how could any wayward youth circa 1995 NOT want to see prehistoric beasts giving each other golden showers in playable, animated form?


So yeah, Primal Rage is one of those games we all remember, but it's not exactly memorable for any legitimate reasons. It's not a bad game and it's certainly not a good game, but beyond the really chintzy stuff - again, with the monkey piss - it's just a kinda-there, lukewarm brawler from a time period with literally hundreds of superior genre competitors. That said - I'd still love to play the sequel, someday...


NFL Blitz!

Every year I find that one game that I totally forgot was fuckin' awesome. Well, this year's Arch Rivals was undoubtedly Midway's original NFL Blitz, the blatant NBA Jam clone that actually managed to provide an even better arcade sports experience than its inspiration.


It's been a really long time since I've played any of the Blitz games, and I sorta' remembered the titles as being very herky-jerky and simplistic, with some of the worst rubberband A.I. in the history of gaming. Well, one quarter playing the arcade original certainly changed my tune: this game is just phenomenal, with some of the finest arcade football gameplay and controls any of us are likely to experience.


The game is a lot deeper than most people give it credit for. I totally forgot how robust the playbook was, and I didn't even remember the title having a running game. Much to my jubilant surprise, though, this is a shockingly great football engine, made even better by all those concussion-causing late hits and pro 'rassling-style tackles that would probably get modern NFL players arrested and banned for life from formal competition. I fucking love this game, and if you don't love it, too, fuck you.


Bump 'N' Jump!

Believe it or not, this was the first time I ever played the arcade version of Bump 'N' Jump. And to borrow the immortal words of one Georges St-Pierre, I was not impressed by its performance.


It's really nothing more than a slightly faster than average top-down racer. There are no real "driving" mechanics at play - you just move the button up to keep going and slam the joystick downward to deaccelerate. Of course, the big variable in this one is that you can hop over obstacles and other racers a'la Herbie the Love Bug, which I'm pretty sure is what the people who designed it originally wanted it to be. Alas, shit happens, and that shit includes this game.


Am I being too hard on "Jumpin' John" and his solo contribution to video game lore? Eh, probably, it's just that compared to so many other racing games from the time frame, this one doesn't really offer anything new or especially well-done. Some people consider it a classic, but I consider it ho-hum at best - Pole Position II, this sumbitch certainly ain't.


Turbo Outrun!

The follow-up to Outrun isn't anywhere near as ubiquitous as its forerunner, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it wheeled out at this year's expo. 


Now, to the best of my knowledge, there were two versions of the game released; the one we see here (which was a stand-up coin-op unit with a steering wheel and pedals beneath the screen) and a version that basically just upgraded pre-existing Outrun cabinets (y'know, the huge honkin' ones that were built to make you feel like you were riding in a plastic Ferrari.) Gameplay-wise, it had some considerable tweaks (adios branching paths, for starters) and the proto Cruis'n U.S.A. level layout was RIFE with geographical oddities. Por exemple? You see that snow covered stage pictured above? According to the designers of this game, that's what Atlanta looks like.


And here's the rest of the get-up. Mashing the gas and the brakes is actually a lot more natural-feeling that it would appear, and personally, I dig the whole two-level manual shift feature. You can either drive low or you can drive high ... and come on, who among us doesn't love driving high!


Time Soldiers!

I've played this game on the Master System, and I wasn't really impressed by the port. Alas, as weak as that game was, its arcade big brother might actually be even lamer.


At first glance, Time Soldiers looks like your dime-a-dozen Ikari Warriors imitator. And what do you know, IT IS! The big problem here is the control set up. You see, instead of being given an eight-way directional joystick, you have this bizarre octagonal stick that moves your characters in increments of 1/8th. So basically, you're dialing the obelisk to aim your avatar's attacks, and that sounds every bit as clumsy and stupid as you'd imagine it to be. 


It's a hard game, but not because of the game design. The controls are so iffy that even making 45 degree turns takes way longer than it should, thus leaving you open to a flurry of attacks from the million-billion enemies onscreen at all times. The graphics are pretty good, but that doesn't make up for the underwhelming core gameplay - and, of course, that awful, awful control-phallus


Cloak & Dagger!

Now here's one I've never heard of before. Despite sharing its namesake with an obscure-ass Marvel comic, I assure you this game has nothing to do with teenage runaways gaining hard-to-describe supernatural powers. Instead, it's a game where you dress up like a lime green version of the Hamburglar, steal a whole bunch a shit in caves and shoot arrows at people, and yeah, it is kinda' awesome.


It's hard coming up with a good comparison point for the game. It looks like Dig-Dug but it plays more like a REALLY lo-fi version of Robotron. The controls take some time to get used to, but when you do it becomes a really fast and fluid experience. The graphics and audio ain't much to write home about, but there's no denying the gameplay is smooth and addictive.


And damn, do I LOVE the character design. Just look at the dude you're playing as and tell me he couldn't be an unused villain from Steve Ditko's Spider-Man run. I'm not sure what his canonical name is (I just dubbed him "Green Stealing Motherfucker"), but he definitely deserves to be in the next Smash Bros. game based on aesthetics alone.


Quick & Crash!

Now we're getting into the REALLY obscure stuff. Although the ampersand may lead you to believe it's an underadvertised sequel to Lucky & Wild, this weird-ass Namco coin-on is actually a shooting gallery game that lets you plug REAL metal ball bearings in miscellaneous objects, such as tea cups. 


Naturally, they don't give you a gun that fires actual projectiles. You're still tethered to a bright green plastic gun which sorta-kinda-but-not-really corresponds with the little cannon that launches ball bearings at targets. The Duck Hunt rule set is in order here; you have to leave the (fake) gun in the holster, and when prompted, you have a few seconds to blast the shit out of whatever the gallery throws at you, be it a simple paper target or something considerably more explodable


I can easily see why this one never became an arcade favorite. The maintenance on this thing has to be a bitch and a half and I suppose it's the onus of the operator to keep stocking the machine with fresh breakables. Gameplay-wise, this thing is super-duper-slow, so all you fans of "quick-spurt" arcade actions are definitely S.O.L. It's an interesting oddity, for sure, but it loses its novelty fast - we're all better off playing Beast Busters for the four-millionth time, unquestionably. 


Pop 'n Music!

A good six years before Guitar Hero, there was this rhythm-action series from Konami. I've heard of the series before (primarily, through a series of ANCIENT YouTube videos showing Japanese dudes playing the game absurdly fast), but this was my first time ever seeing a cabinet in person.


Since the unit was in Japanese, I can't really tell you too much about the storyline (if there is one.) All I know is that there are a lot of chibi anime characters on the screen and you have a pretty large mixture of songs to choose from - ones running the gamut from symphonic takes on classical music to your oh-so-expected grandiloquent, over-the-top J-Pop. Naturally, none of that stuff is necessarily my musical bag, so I can't say I was too enthused by the soundtrack options. But that's kind of an aside - what's really important is the control scheme.


So, yeah, it's pretty much a glorified game of Simon Says, except way, WAY harder. Just like Rock Band, you follow the notes onscreen, but since there are almost A DOZEN buttons to mash, things can get real confusing in a real hurry. I was fucking dead in the water less than 30 seconds in, but apparently, there are some people out there who are just as gung-ho about this shit as there are inevitable school-shooters into DDR. Still, it was cool seeing a game this obscure at the show, and let's just hope such is a sign that at next year's expo, I'll finally be able to get my hands on that one Japanese arcade game where you have to stick your fingers inside a giant, plastic butthole for bonus points.


The Irritating Maze!

If I had to pick one title for "find of the show," it would DEFINITELY be this ultra-obscure SNK coin-op. This thing was weird as fuck and fun as all hell to play, and I'll prolly never get a chance to get my hands on it ever again - which, in a way, sums up why shows like SFGE are so dadgum important to retro-enthusiasts such as myself.


The Irritating Maze has a really, really simple premise. Using the oversized trackball pictured above, it's your job to manuever the onscreen bubble around a giant maze littered with obstacles. So I guess, in a way, you could describe it as a new take on Marble Madness, except the fact that game is overrated trash and this game fucking rules


Naturally, hitting anything will kill you. Touch the barriers, get zapped by electricity, accidentally bump into a lever, just barely scratch a column and that's it, buster. Thankfully, the controls here are just ace, and you won't have any technical problems learning the ropes on this sucker in no time at all. Yes, it's an insanely basic idea for a game, but shit, is it just so much engrossing fun - you wouldn't expect it at first glance, but this really is one of the most nerve-racking arcade games ever made. 


Oh, and the best part? Every time your bubble gets popped, there's this little chamber beneath the screen that blasts you with a gust of hot air. And since this particular unit is so old, the residual blast smelled just like a super rank fart, which made losing the game especially demeaning. Pride is pride, but getting warm stank on your clothes? Yeah, that's definitely an incentive to kick Player 2's ass and ruthlessly


Xybots!

I suppose I can't fault Atari for at least trying to stay relevant in the late 1980s arcade market, but games like Xybots really make me wonder if their resources weren't better suited for home console and portable development instead.


This is easily one of the most convoluted arcade games I've ever played - this shit is so confounding, it makes Missile Command look like freakin' Pong. While the graphics are solid and I'll give the designers some dap for trying to make a more intricate game world than the average arcade title from the era, there's just way too many bad design choices hampering the fun. I mean, why in the hell would you relegate the action to just one fourth of the screen? Imagine playing Turtles in Time, only three-fourths of the screen is cluttered with maps, inventory screens and a big, neon green rectangle flashing "PRESS START" over and over again like some kind of malfunctioning VCR. I can kinda' understand what Atari was getting at, but the execution here is just all sorts of bungled.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I'd say this little image says at least a thousand and one - primarily, "why aren't you playing something that's actually fun instead of gawping at the bottom left corner of the screen like you had Down syndrome?"


Raiden!

I've must've played Raiden and its endless permutations on at least half a dozen different consoles by now. Interestingly, I don't think I ever actually played the original arcade version, and needless to say, it smokes the home console iterations like a big, phat doob.


You really need the vertical arcade screen to truly grasp how large the playing field is. At the time having that much real estate to fly around in was fairly uncommon in SHMUPS, and you definitely needed as much lebensraum as you could muster because there is shit blowing up around you EVERYWHERE. Maybe it's the arcade unit's processing power, but this iteration just feels so much more intense than the ports we got on the Genesis and SNES (and the Lynx, too, but I guess that sorta' goes without saying.) This is a hardcore game for hardcore gamers ... and by golly, do I fucking love it.


Sky Skipper!

And lastly, we come to something REALLY special - a long-lost Nintendo coin-op that hasn't been seen since the early 1980s!


The backstory on this one might take awhile, so hang tight. Sky Skipper was a game Nintendo was working on right after Donkey Kong, but apparently the suits at the Big N got some cold feet when they saw the finished product and decided to scuttle the whole project at the last second. The thing is, the whole game was pretty much finished and the cabinets had already been designed - in fact, a whole lot of 'em wound up being converted into Popeye units, so there's a pretty good chance that if you scraped all the paint off one of those old arcade cabs you might see the original Sky Skipper artwork. While the game itself was never lost (in fact, everybody's been able to emulate it online for years now), these guys called The Sky Skipper Project decided to create their own upright cabinet and take it barnstorming across the globe. And wouldn't you know it, the very first stop on their worldwide tour was RIGHT HERE AT SFGE 2017. 


Oh, the pomp and circumstance on this shit was off the scale. There was a big unveiling with Billy Mitchell and Walter Day present (complete with the theme from 2001 as the game was booted up) but even cooler, the cabinet was soon wheeled on the show floor so SFGE attendees could play it there damn selves. So, uh, what exactly does this 35-year-old "lost" Nintendo game offer? 


Well, it's kinda' hard to tell you. Continuing the proud anti-Simian prejudice of Donkey Kong, this game once again has you doing battle with oversized apes, only this time, you do so while piloting a biplane. A biplane, I might add, with really wonky controls. The basic idea is you fly around a stage bumping off monkeys and avoiding hitting obstacles (or running out of gas) until you find a castle (just like in the original Super Mario Bros.) and then the whole shindig begins all over again. So, yeah, this ain't exactly a classic on par with, say StarTropics or Punch-Out!! - it's more of a Donkey Kong III type deal whre you're not entirely sure WHAT the hell you're supposed to make of the situation. To compare it to some of Nintendo's other obscure arcade offerings, I'd say it's noticeably better than Balloon Fight but still WAY behind Devil World in the fun department. Regardless, it's just plain cool that something like this even exists in our modern world - and, if absolutely nothing else, it certainly gives us all hope that one day, we will all get a chance to play Marble Man: Marble Madness 2 the way the Gods of Gaming originally intended.


And that's that for the video game portion of this year's SFGE retrospective. Bookmark this shit and be patient - 'cause we're about to hit your ass with so much vintage pinball goodness in part 2, you may NEVER recover...

HEY! Looking for some fine, fun and dandy retro gaming reading material in the interim? Check out our absurdly in-depth coverage of the last two Southern-Fried Gameroom Expos at the handy-dandy links below, why don't you?