RETRO GAMING ROGUES’ GALLERY (Part 1)
The core of almost every decent video game's story is conflict. Whether it's the fierce hand-to-hand hoops of NBA Jam, the brutal martial arts murder of Mortal Kombat, or DOOM's epic battle against Hell
The core of almost every decent video game’s story is conflict. Whether it’s the fierce hand-to-hand hoops of NBA Jam, the brutal martial arts murder of Mortal Kombat, or DOOM’s epic battle against Hell… you’re fighting. Fighting for something or someone (usually the whole world), against something or someone (who usually has a ton of friends who want to kill you too).
Video gaming is nothing without its heroes or villains, but what about those “friends” the Big Evil Bad Guy has filling up warehouse districts and mushroom kingdoms all across the multiverse? Without goons and henchmen, the Ganons and Bowsers of the world wouldn’t stand a chance. Dudes like Dr. Wiley would be issuing ultimatums at sunset and getting their shit pushed in by dawn. Let’s give a little love to the ubiquitous “baddie.” We’re going to have a look at some of the more colorful guys, gals, monsters and robots who decided that under-the-table cash from a cartoon psychopath sounded better than the drive-thru or the Merchant Marine. This will likely be a multi-part series, but I’ll do five at a time. Get out your autograph books!
I was kidding, you fucking nerd. Put that shit away and pay attention.
Special thanks today to the people on various websites who rip every sprite out of every game, thus making this an easy image hunt. Also thanks to Jakub Steiner for showing me that you can, in fact, make animated gifs in GIMP, and that it’s not that hard. My dumb ass just never knew it was there. Mind like a steel trap. Anyway…
Super Mario World, 1990
Blargg’s responsibility of swimming through molten rock isn’t difficult in terms of complexity or stress level. He’s just the only one on the crew who’s able to survive doing it. You can tell on his face that he doesn’t give a fuck. His job’s secure. His job is easy (for him). And you know what? It’s fun. At least he can make it fun.
I’ve always appreciated the look on this character’s face. To this day, when playing through SMW, I can’t suppress a laugh when I see his ol’ razzle-dazzlin’ ass lurch upward from the lake of fire. Blargg, you make lava a not so bad place to hang out… unless you’re killing me, in which case, you can go fuck yourself.
Castlevania series, 1986 – present
I have played the Castlevania games for more than twenty years now, and this little bastard’s weird jumping behavior still gives me apoplexy about half the time. I don’t think “hunchback” is a terribly nice thing to say about someone who can’t help being shaped like an unspeakably ugly Fibonacci swirl, so we’ll call him Fleaman (his name in later titles in the series). Fleaman is a professional, fully bonded and accredited asshole. He is a state-registered, card-carrying, world-class piece of shit. I think Fleaman bites you to hurt you, but since all most enemies in Castlevania have to do is touch you, he could just be doing that. Gently pressing the palm of his hand on your chest while you scream in agony.
The best part about his little animations is that he’s very clearly laughing at you. Simon Belmont, you may think you’re a bad motherfucker, but this freaky little dude slightly larger than a house cat will just start bouncing around when you show up, giggling at you like you just told a joke. Stow the Vampire Killer whip for these guys and just get a good 12-gauge shotgun and some buckshot.
In later installments of the series (SotN for example), Fleaman even gets some gear upgrades. Dracula issues him a pint-sized suit of plate armor and an axe twice that must weigh more than three of him. He makes it work, trust me. Fleaman will never look a gift horse in the mouth. If you’re giving him something to murder with, his arms are wide open.
Fuck these guys, but they’re also a fantastic poster-child for the concept that Castlevania monsters take their employment with Dracula very seriously. Who the fuck wouldn’t? If your boss was a legendary ancient vampire with unspeakable magical powers, the combination of leadership morale and piss-dribble terror would be pretty motivating.
THIS STUPID WITCH OR LEPER OR LIZARD PERSON OR WHATEVER
Ninja Gaiden (NES version), 1988
Projectile attacks from enemies in video games are capable of devastating fuckery, especially when one is trying to jump, dispatch more immediate threats, and generally not die. The Hammer Brothers are well-known pros, but whatever this thing from Ninja Gaiden is supposed to be, it’s got them handily outclassed in two ways:
• Adding insult to injury by knocking me backward mid-jump with what looks like a wooden toy sword so that I fall off-screen
My mind sees this thing and immediately assumes it’s female, not even because of the pink robe or because the green skin screams “Halloween witch.” I can’t find the names of any Ninja Gaiden NES enemies besides the bosses. Here’s my head-canon/theory for a 32-year-old NES game:
Sewer Bitch was born with the green skin of a mythological hag, but sadly she had no talent for black magic, nor for the morally ambiguous soup recipes. She couldn’t even use a cauldron without burning her knees while she stirred it. Seething with dysphoric wanderlust, Sewer Bitch left the bright lights and chrome lining of hag society, taking up residence in a sewer (hence the name). To further divorce herself from her peers, she discarded the designer leopard-skin-print leotard worn by all modern hags. A soiled old white bedsheet, tinged pink from probably having been washed with someone’s color load, would serve her purposes much better.
To arm herself against the omnipresent rats, the outcast spent years of her idle hours gathering property stakes and packing twine in order to fashion some weapons. Not being terribly bright, and having seen someone play Legend of Zelda once on a rainy night through their bedroom window, Sewer Bitch handmade hundreds of crude, ungainly wooden “swords.” At first, opponents and onlookers would mock. Oh, how they would mock… but Sewer Bitch knew something they didn’t and couldn’t know. She’d alley-oop that chunk of wood upward as if granny-shooting a basketball, and the dumb bastards would inevitably walk right into it.
Eventually, the strange talents of the filthy monster-woman came to the attention of Jacquio, who hired her on the spot.
“Just stay here on this one impossibly tall pillar,” the demonic sorcerer told her. “Move back and forth a little bit, sure, but there’s not much point. Just keep dropping your shitty wooden knives into the space between this one and the one to your left. Ryu Hyabusa won’t even know what to do. He’ll just turn around and go home.”
SMILING TRAMPOLINE (I KNOW IT’S NOT AN ENEMY, IT HELPS YOU, SHUT UP, I’M STILL PICKING IT)
Felix the Cat (NES), 1992
I really can’t help but admire, even envy this fella. He’s a little springboard Felix can jump on to get some extra height, usually so Felix can find giant bags in the sky and crawl into them. Trampy (his name for the purpose of this article) doesn’t worry too much about that. He doesn’t need to know what the cat does inside the giant floating bag. He’s happy right where he is. Joyous, even.
This sentient, sapient being’s sole function in life is to literally wait for Felix (or God forbid, someone else) to jump on him. The poor bastard exists to be stepped on. There’s no better way to phrase it.
And he’s fucking smiling.
Trampy, I hope you’re still doing well, wherever you are. I hope you’re still smiling out there, giving cheerfully of yourself without any expectations of compensation, living a life of friendly altruism in some pleasant 8-bit meadow. You always helped me when I needed you, and when Felix needed more tiny round pictures of himself so that he could finally transform his weird little car into an even weirder tank. I ain’t even tryin’ to talk shit on you, my man. Stay golden. I just wanted everyone to see you shine. You’re beautiful.
BUBBLE (YES, IT’S CALLED BUBBLE, YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE)
Legend of Zelda II: the Adventure of Link, 1987
Zelda II is a fucking abusive game. If Zelda II were a human father, he’d never wear a belt, because it’d never leave his raw-knuckled fist. Zelda II is swinging the buckle end because it’s had too much to drink again. The two types of Bubble behavior exemplify the game’s needless cruelty perfectly. Normally, Bubbles move in a fairly slow diagonal pattern in the Palace areas, bouncing from floor to ceiling. They can be a pain in the ass when the ceiling is low, but otherwise they’re manageable. Bubbles can even be killed for 50 XP, as opposed to their antecedents in the first game, who cannot.
So first of all, let’s clear this up right now: while you can kill them, choosing to do so is both time-consuming and risky. They drain life and magic, so they aren’t really to be fucked with unless your Zelda II skills are tight as a drum or you have some ready means of recovery handy that being drained of magic won’t fuck up for you. You have to get pretty close to them even with Link’s fully-charged sword, and every split fucking second a Bubble isn’t being hit, it’s moving… toward you.
That brings me to my second observation… some of the little floating skully bois move with an alacrity that would make a hummingbird pack up its shit, forfeit, and go home to cry. They travel in the same 45° bumper-path, just much faster. That’s really all the Bubble requires in order to be to be scary in Zelda II. Catching one of these in a low-ceiling walkway is more stressful than being audited by the IRS while your house is on fire and you’re trapped inside it. Best of luck. When multiple slow and fast Bubbles occupy an area, you’re in for a real Kentucky-fried shitfest. Just spread ’em and think of Hyrule, Link.