Sunday, June 6, 2010

Days in the Badlands...

Oh wow, we're really going back for this one as my memories of this are still quite vivid. In the time between 1983 & 1985, pre-NES, console gaming had experienced a drought of sorts, and the only way many kids my age could stay out of the desert heat outside of a trip to the movies was to head out to Palm Desert's only mega-mall, the good old' Town Center on Highway 111. And one of the bigger highlights of glimmering temptation for kids was the near overblown cool that was Yellow Brick Road, which was the kind of video game arcade many would consider now to be of the golden age of arcade gaming. This place had everything from Coin-Op standards like Centipede to newer, edgier titles like Gauntlet. Covering what had to be roughly an eighth of the size of the mall itself, they place even had a working carousel dead-center!

But of the games featured there, among the ones I was most hypnotized by was a wacky new spin on the still very experimental Laser Disc animated action games. Among the most popular of these by far was Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair which featured good ol Dirk The Daring as he attempted to rescue hapless Princess Daphne from a flurry of monstrous badness. The point of all this was to help Dirk get past a number of timing based challenges whether it be slashing at beasts, or jumping through treacherous chasms. Our only controls were an Action button, and a pass button for the chickens. And depending on whether you hit the Action button at the right time, the animation would display your fate. Simple on blog screen, but at times quite frustrating as the LD technology wasn't as precise as we'd probably like it to be. Either way, Dragon's Lair, and later Space Ace would typify this short-lived, but curious piece of video game history. And yet it was Konami/Centuri's Badlands that truly captured my imagination.

Dunno. Perhaps it was a bias at childhood. Something about the clearly anime-esque visual tropes, and completely bat-shit insane events laid forth in even the intro that kept me coming back to this machine.

Take a look, and tell me what's wrong here....

Okay. Maybe now I know why I loved this game so much. When you break out not only some seriously grim introductions to the opening animation, but also what looks to be a killer Kappa & dinosaurs(!!!), you know it's a winner with me. This coupled with some classic anime sounds effects, funky music, & some of the most violent death & tonal destruction I had ever seen in a video game at that time, I was such a sucker for it all.

We played as Buck, lone rancher after his wife and family are killed senselessly by a formidably big gang of criminals for seemingly no reason! The mission? Revenge, of course? Hey, it's the mid-80s, revenge was chic! But for a game so grim in its intro, we had no idea just how crazy/goofy the whole thing would be.

The machine was often pretty abandoned in that corner, which was cool by me. I loved being able to go there with pals, and see if they could stop the railroad from being blasted, or the lady from turning she-witch and killing you. And it wasn't always reliable in trying to hit the Pass button on some of the more challenging staged either. Very often I'd just get killed, which was always a big part of the fun...

Unfortunately, games like this didn't last too long, and we eventually entered the Double Dragon era of arcade gaming. But a part of me still has a soft spot for the more experimental days of video games. And that Yellow Brick road certainly is still out there, somewhere.

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