Untold Stories of Retro Gaming
Forget the emergency rooms, retro gaming has way better untold stories. You have heard of the Untold Stories of ER, right? That show where people who mostly do stupid things decide that a better way to prove their stupidity is to tell their own ridiculous stories using actors who can’t even reach the credibility of an 80’s porn actor? No? Geez… you guys don’t watch TLC much. I guess I’ll stop referencing it, but you don’t know what you’re missing. Another thing you might have missed are come stories of old video games. (flawless segue) These plots remained hidden in manuals for years, never to be discovered. In an era where we thought stories didn’t matter as much, how many great stories did we miss?
Old arcade-type games showed off very little plot in an actual playthrough. A game like Arkanoid, for example, seemingly consists of a paddle bouncing a ball on various blocks and obstacles with the sole goal of clearing the stage presented in front of you. Taking its roots from the arcade classic Breakout and expanding it with power-ups and other tricks, one could believe that this arcade-style gameplay is all that Taito has to offer. Without saying that it popularized the gameplay, Arkanoid certainly reached the masses and is still considered a classic to this day, without any specific mention of its story. Yes, Arkanoid has a story. A story of survival, courage, perseverance, love and evil giant space Easter Isle heads.
An earth-like planet was destroyed by evil destroying aliens(-like)… But the survivors managed to escape in their spaceship, called Arkanoid (probably named after their hatred of the Domino’s mascot). They roamed the galaxy, in search of a new home until they were attacked by evil destroying aliens(-like). Survivors manage to get away in the small Vaus spaceship only to be trapped in a distorted space surrounded by space walls. Your only means of fighting back is bouncing your energy ball against Vaus to break down the space walls and escape, room by room. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. That’s some real nerve-wrecking, tear-jerking story telling, especially for the NES era.
When you take a look at other similar games, you find a lot of other great untold stories. Qix, Snake, Hachoo!, Boinggg, Pong, Kaboom!, Yar’s Revenge and other scream-friendly titles, just to name a few, all have great hidden plots. Surprisingly enough, even the famed Marble Madness falls under this category. Boasting a classic reputation and an arcade style gameplay, few know of the actual plot behind the game. What you see and control is a marble navigating through an isometric maze, sometimes getting attacked by ball-sucking leeches, dark marbles, acid pools or simply by the vast emptiness surrounding you. If only it were that simple.
As the limited edition strategy guide states, you are not a mere marble, but a human guinea pig trapped in a motorized spherical cage. The only thing you race to is your freedom. You play as Mike Jackson whose car breaks down during a thunderstorm. After wandering in an abandoned factory looking for help, he gets trapped by the self-defense mechanism. Trying to get away, Mike realizes the factory might not be abandoned after all. Now prisoner of the evil scientist Dr. Reckington who, according to the guide, “lost his marbles,” you are forced to test out his Roller Cage in what appears to be a virtual reality environment. Dr. Reckington informs you that working your way through the different stages will grant you your freedom. He also warns you that, due to the instability of his invention, some anomalies could cause some effects such as death should you fail the maze. With confidence in your abilities as an athlete, you tackle the first maze with ease, but something seems amiss. Observing what is supposed to be a virtual reality, you start noticing the organic movement of your enemies. Through the tinted glass of the black marbles, you catch a glimpse of a… human face? Are there other victims in here? Looking closer, you realize these “humans” have but a blank soulless stare. Trapped in the maze where they failed, they wander about, impeding your way, hoping for you to join them. Pushing through you reach the “silly race” where your only instruction in the game greets you:
With no time to ponder you push through, avoiding the dark birds, waiting to scavenge your virtual corpse. Eventually beating the ultimate race, you can’t help but feel relieved, waiting for the freedom that was promised. But, as the words of the Silly Race resonate, the doctor does not seem to respond. Where is he? Was he really the one behind all this? Did he even exist? Do you?
I don’t want to reveal too much about this incredible ending as it truly is one of the best moments in gaming history. You probably noticed the proximity to Portal. Valve did take a few pointers from this classic in terms of plot, proving that no great story is ever truly forgotten. I know a lot of you have a lot of experience with Marble Madness and retro gaming in general. You might look at all this and tell yourself: “I had never heard of that. This is weird. How did I not hear about all this? Wow, that Jonathan guy is really amazing; knowledgeable, yet sexy.” Before you start Googling your night away in either of the possible interpretations of “googling,” let me explain the situation in a way that will reconstruct your blown mind.
Marble Madness doesn’t have a story. Why? Because it’s an effin’ marble going through a maze, nothing more! Nobody cares about the difficult background of a marble, it’s just a game! People playing the game do not need a valid reason to pursue a greater good! They understand simple concepts like: Control this, go there, win. Then, why did I go through all the trouble to write a perfectly nonsensical story for this game? Well, I don’t know. Why don’t we ask Taito who felt the need to have THEIR stupid story in THEIR stupid manual?
WELL? Dang it, Taito! Nobody cares about your stupid energy ball bouncing spaceship! It doesn’t even make sense. Did they get attacked twice by the same aliens? How weird does the villain have to be to make an alternate dimension with stages made in perfectly delimited metal surroundings? Why do some of the space walls look like references to actual objects or even the Space Invader Logo? If you’re clearing space walls above you to progress, why do you exit the stage by the right side? Is that really a giant Easter Isle head? I thought it wasn’t Earth that was attacked? Nothing makes sense! Stop trying to shove a story somewhere it doesn’t belong! You are wasting everyone’s time with your gibberish. And while we’re at it, don’t make sequels that emphasize the story! This is the kind of behavior that encourages fan fictions! You’re lucky I didn’t have an impossible furry love story in there! Just keep your stupid game to what it really is! A stupid overrated Breakout ripoff.
Stupid Taito… See you in two weeks!