One thing I love about games from the early 90s is that they weren’t afraid to be honest. If you wanted to know what was really going on in the world, there was no need to bother with a newspaper or TV. Unlike today’s games, considered realistic just because they take place in “Unnamed Middle Eastern Country” (way to halfassedly try to make your games culturally relevant in the future, guys! If you don’t specify a name, no one will know WHAT Middle Eastern country America was supposed to be at war with in 2008!), games from the early 90s told the stone cold TRUTH about what was going on in the world. I’ve rounded up some examples of this, as well as reviews of the games in question…
Vendetta (Arcade, 1991, Konami)
Vendetta tells the classic story of June 21st, 1991, a day that will live in infamy. A little history lesson for our younger readers: in the late 80s and early 90s, the streets of every major city in America were overrun with garishly dressed, neon-haired criminals and many signs written in Japanese, which, if I remember correctly, was common at the time. It was up to America’s muscled strongmen and agile ninja to defeat them. Metro City was cleaned up by the legendary mayor Mike Haggar, Washington, D.C. by the Bad Dudes, and 64th Street by Mike Haggar’s gay detective brother Rick and his life partner Allen.
On June 21st, 1991, however, an event more exceptional and more important than any of these crime busts occurred, an event more rare, more beautiful, and certainly more important than the alignment of all the planets occurred: on that day, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, Jean Claude van Damme, and Mike Tyson (collectively, the Cobras) teamed up to RAPE CRIME.
Vendetta tells this story.
You may notice that the game doesn’t use their real names. To this I say, “of course not!” As is necessitated by the game’s mechanics, the characters can be killed. Of course, it is impossible for any of these chosen four to die in real life, and to suggest otherwise could bring physical harm or even death upon the programmers, so the name change was necessary.
Again drawing inspiration from real life, the game replicates the same impetus for this city-wide criminal hunt. The Cobras received this photograph with an attached note, as seen in the game:
Of course, the Cobras could not let some chick they didn’t know be kidnapped, so they leapt into action. However, despite what the note says, the Cobras didn’t “know where to go.” So, instead, they merely walked down the street beating everyone in sight until they inevitably found someone who was either twice the size as the rest of the criminals or who was carrying a giant weapon. These were, of course, the “boss” criminals. After beating them to near-death, they would extract a tidbit of information from the criminals, then move on to their next projected location. This continued until nearly everyone in the town was dead. However, they found that chick they were looking for, took turns railing her, and walked into the sunset. And the chick? You may know her better as Heather Locklear.
This really is a great game. Besides being one of the better beat-em-ups of the early 90s, Vendetta actually tackles its subject matter with an element of humor. Intentional humor, I should note. My favorite thing to do is cram enemies heads inside of buckets then watch them wander around nonchalantly instead of just, you know, taking off the fucking bucket. The game was also incredibly brutal, even for a beat-em-up. Highlights include hitting people with bats so hard it smears them into the background wall and the look of sick pleasure Mike Tyson gets from firing a shotgun into someone’s stomach at point blank range, and I ‘d like to note here that I’m upping this game’s score to 11/10 for allowing me to type that sentence. Overall, though, I must say that a lot of this game’s charm for me comes from getting to kill people as Hulk Hogan, which is something I think most wresting games from the era lacked.
Earth Defense Force (Super NES, 1992, Jaleco)
Thanks to the liberal and/or conservative media, one of the things you never saw in the news of the time was the great job our international fighting men and women were doing in space. Yes, this game tells the true story of the EDF, the elite spacewar army formed by the nations of the world to fight various threats coming from other galaxies. Although it is common knowledge today, at the time, Earth’s frequent wars with the armies of space were top secret. Among others, the Bydo Empire, the Bacterians, and the Cranassians waged war against us mercilessly, and it was up to the EDF to stop them. Unfortunately, due to the strategic nightmares involved with a multinational army, they typically could only get 1 or 2 ships off the ground at one time. Thankfully, that’s all they really needed. Most alien empires, for whatever reason, always seemed to underestimate Earth’s technology, and used a strategy of sending wave after wave of mindless drones that could be shot down in a single press of a button. It was a strategy similar to that of Maryland’s army in the American Revolution, who sent 200,000 untrained children to London to kill King George III.
In any case, Earth Defense Force tells the story of the EDF’s finest hour. When threatened by yet another alien empire, the EDF jumped into action, this time heading to the dark side of the Moon to destroy the alien base, or, if you go by the arcade game’s story, to Earth’s atmosphere to destroy a rogue satellite bent on destroying humanity. (You’d be surprised at how similar those two environments are.) They of course eventually emerged victorious, and Earth’s atmosphere was filled with hundreds of thousands of alien bioship corpses, thus staving off global warming for several years.
Earth Defense Force is a game I always felt didn’t get the credit it deserved. It was one of the first Super NES games I owned, which obviously will earn it at least a little nostalgia value to me, but even ignoring that, it’s still a rock-solid horizontal shooter. It’s neither too easy nor too hard, which is rare for shooters, so while it may not be ludicrously difficult enough for hardcore shoot-em-up fans, it was accessible to just about everybody else. The best part of the game, however, lies in the weapon system. Like a few other contemporary shooters, the game gives you the option of choosing a weapon before starting. However, EDF has a much wider variety of weapons than most other games I’ve seen, and also allows you to alter the way the weapons work by allowing you to switch between a more powerful shot with a lower firing rate to a weaker, but much wider and faster shot with 2 revolving bits.
The weapons are pretty fucking diverse by themselves, though. Whereas most shooters give you a choice between the powerful straight shot, weak homing shot, and some kind of weirdass choice (I.E. a vertical or backwards shot), EDF has pretty much every kind of weapon you could think of, with the added bonus of not having any that are worthless (I.E. a vertical or backwards shot). The weapon you choose can make you change the way you play the game significantly, and it adds a ton of replay value. Also adding replay value is the leveling system, whereby your ship’s weapon system would level up into a more powerful form after killing a certain number of enemies.
Just for the record, this game has nothing to do with Earth Defense Force 2017, a recent 3rd-person shooter that, while awesome, doesn’t quite match the quality of its similarly titled predecessor.
NBA Jam (Arcade, 1993, Midway)
Way back in 1993, the sport now known as Endorsement Hunting was called “Basket-ball”, or “Basket-B” for short. At the time, rather than just being a means of getting free Nikes and sweet, sweet Gatorade money, the ritual competition that takes place before the doling out of endorsements was the primary feature of the sport. These men were capable of great feats, such as slam dunking so hard that the goal would be ripped off it’s moorings, catching on fire in order to run faster, and showing up to award ceremonies in suits instead of stabbing people. NBA Jam chronicles this early era of the sport, while managing to also be fucking awesome.
The act pictured above was called the “slam dunk”. This method of scoring was often performed from mid-court. This particular dunk was called “the Windmill”, and involves spinning quickly at about 20 feet about the goal before slamming the ball into the goal so hard that the goal was often destroyed, which fortunately would suddenly reappear before the ball was put back into play.
Also notable was the presence of a defined “main team”, the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are the primary team in the game, and all other teams in the game existed only as opponents for them. It is unknown if the actual “basket-ball” game was like this, but it is believed that this is the case, judging from advertising from the era, and as they are very similar to the Harlem Globetrotters, a team from an analogue sport which still exists today.
Sadly, all vestiges of the non-endorsement-related sides of this sport have been lost, but “basket-b” still lives on through games like this, and to some extent, games like NBA Live (which showcases a similar sport that appears to be less true-to-life and less rooted in showmanship).
For the longest time, NBA Jam was my favorite sports game. This is due in no small part to the fact that other sports game in this era tended to be targeted toward people I didn’t like, people who poured over statistics and owned a Sega Genesis solely for Madden. These people later sold all of their games, thus ensuring that all used game stores had a separate $0.99 section for Genesis sports games, and therefore, I hate them even more now.
Sadly, the series more orless died off, partially thanks to the NBA, who for some reason didn’t want people coming to basketball games expecting to see players performing spinning backflips to the goal from half-court while on fire. I sure as hell know that’s the only thing that would have brought me to a basketball game at that time (other than Michael Jordan, of course). There was a sequel that was more realistic, and as such, it was utter shit. I think there was a more recent sequel that was more true to the original game’s spirit, but I didn’t hear great things about it, and I’ve been up for well over 24 hours now, so I really don’t give enough of a fuck to look. You know how to get to Google. Figure it out for your fucking self.
Man, I’m hostile. I better get some sleep. See you fuckers next time.