Archive for January, 2013

Pac-Man Fever

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

The other day, when talking about the Pac-Man Bag in my possession, I linked to a song called “Pac-Man Fever”. Now, depending on how old you are, you either thought that was a one-off song from a bygone era or you reminisced about how that song made it to #9 on the Billboard charts at one time. Or maybe you just liked the song and wondered if there were any other songs by this mysterious group.

I kind of fell into a combination of all three. I knew about that song for a long time, and it keeps coming up from time to time when talking about or having anything to do with video games more than about 25 years old, and I knew that the album existed, but I never bothered to track it down. So, I decided to do a little digging. I picked up the CD and gave it a listen. The songs definitely have an old-school feel to them, but the title track wasn’t quite the same as I remembered. It turns out that due to some rights issues, the original recordings could not be re-issued, so they all had to be re-done. Eh, no big deal, right?

Let’s see what we have here.

Bare-bones presentation

Bare-bones presentation

Pretty basic stuff. Vaguely Pac-Man-shaped characters on the label, track listing, and not a lot else. No lyrics, no foldout full of album art. But we don’t need frills like that. We’re here for the music, right? So let’s run down each of these songs and see what this is all about, shall we?

  • Track 1 – Pac-Man Fever. The title track and most popular song on this collection. It’s got an infectious combination of camp and cheese, which makes it very earwormy. It really captures the excitement of heading to the arcade in the 80’s. Seriously, it’s difficult to stay in a bad mood during this song. Defining lyric: “All my money’s gone, so I’ll be back tomorrow night, because I got Pac-Man Fever”.
  • Track 2 – Froggy’s Lament. A little slowed down for this song. From the opening command by our gravelly-voiced singer to “Pluck your magic twanger, froggy” to the fairly matter-of-fact explanation of how Frogger works, this track didn’t do much for me, other than weird me out a little bit. Defining lyric: “You gotta keep on hoppin’ ’till you get to the top”.
  • Track 3 – Ode to a Centipede. A song talking about Centipede (obviously). A game notable for being designed by a woman in an era where that just didn’t happen all that often (and still doesn’t happen nearly enough). So it’s weird that this song features a creepy voice telling the centipede that “you can’t get away” and that “I’m right behind you” in just about the most stalkerish way possible. This track actually made me feel a little uncomfortable. Defining lyric: “Go ahead, run your little legs off… do you have Nikes for all of them?”
  • Track 4 – Do the Donkey Kong. It’s the dance craze that’s sweeping the nation! You put your hands over your head and stomp on the ground, just like Donkey Kong! Right? No? Yeah, me either. This track tries really hard to be catchy (and succeeds, boy, does it succeed), but the odds that you’ll catch me doing the Donkey Kong in public are pretty slim… unless we can organize a flash mob. Also, keep an ear out for the fake-out fade-out. Defining lyric: “You pick the hammer up and then you put the fire out”
  • Track 5 – Hyperspace. Unless you’re familiar with arcade games from the 80’s, you might think that this song is about a game called “Hyperspace”, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually about Asteroids, which, if you look at the arcade cabinet’s controls, had a Hyperspace button. The Hyperspace button would make you disappear and reappear in a random location on the board. It was a definite last-ditch option. This song is pretty frantic, and captures the stress of an extended play session pretty well. The only real oddball thing about this song is the way the singer gives us the word ‘Thrust’. He goes from pretty normal at first to sounding like he’s trying to… erm… evacuate… if you get my meaning. Defining Lyric: “I’m invisible now, but I’ll be back again”
  • Track 6 – The Defender. Again, we’re slowed down into what could maybe be a song for a sitcom theme song from the 80’s. For anyone that’s played Defender for any length of time, you will recognize the sounds of the aliens appearing out of nowhere to take the people that you’re supposed to be the defender of… And. They. Never. STOP! Whoa, sorry, had a flashback to playing this game. Defining lyric: “Here comes a bomber now, this is my chance / to fire the laser, and watch him dance”
  • Track 7 – Mousetrap. This is the only song based on a game that I have not played. Mousetrap apparently starred you, as a mouse, who had to pick up cheese and stay away from cats. If you collected a bone you could turn into a dog and defeat the cats. Also there was a hawk that gave you troubles. Hey, makes sense to me. Just knowing that makes the lyrics a little less insane. Other than that, this song didn’t do much for me, and since there aren’t any sounds from the actual game, this just kind of stands out as an oddball song in almost every conceivable way. Defining lyric: “I can turn into a dog if I only had a bone, and could press the doggy button, they would leave me all alone”
  • Track 8 – Goin’ Berzerk. Ah, Berzerk. Kind of a predecessor to games like Smash TV, this takes you through lots of randomly-generated rooms to destroy robots, with the occasional appearance by Evil Otto (who cannot be destroyed). This song starts off talking about the game, but it kind of devolves into a song that seems to borderline on obsession. It just progressively gets more creepy toward the end. Defining lyric: “Berzerk! Berzerk! Berzerk over you!”
  • Track 9 – E.T. (I Love You). This song (and the one that follows) is a bit of an oddity. It’s not about the terrible E.T. video game, but about the movie. I guess it’s supposed to be a slow, sweet song about E.T., but it just seems out of place on this disc. Not to mention a little hokey (but, hey, E.T. was also pretty hokey, so it fits there, I guess). Defining lyric: “I shared your thoughts, your hopes and dreams. I watched you make the flowers grow.”
  • Track 10 – Hostage. The last song seemed out of place, but it was at least a song about a movie from the same time period as the games the rest of the songs were based off of. But this song? It came way out of left field (which makes sense, since it was originally from a totally different album). It starts out as a pretty upbeat song, but it soon takes a weird government-protest bent. It kind of turns this CD from a fun trip down memory lane into an awkward political statement. This song usually gets a skip from me. Defining Lyric: “Brady bill, poppin’ pills, people headin’ toward the hills. Devastation, aggravation, politicians kill my nation”

I saw it mentioned that Buckner & Garcia didn’t want to become pigeonholed into being known for making songs about video games, so they branched out and made songs like Hostage. Which is fine, I’m not going to tell anyone what they should do with their careers. I just would have liked to have seen more video-game related music out of these guys because that’s my bag, and after 30 years, the songs they made about video games still hold up reasonably well.

But I’ll take what I can get.


The Last Starfighter

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

I really tried a couple of times to get through The Last Starfighter (the movie), but I never could do it. So it kind of stands to reason that I never sought out the video game adaptation. But that all changed this past weekend when I made an interesting find.

I didn't pay $12.95 for it, either.

I didn’t pay $12.95 for it, either.

“Big deal,” I hear you say? Well, okay. I admit that the game itself wasn’t the whole reason for me picking up this particular Ruined Cartridge. But I did find this interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, look at that case. It’s pretty typical of the cases you would get if you would rent a NES cartridge at some point in the NES’s heyday. It’s even got something approximating the box art on the front. And on the inside?

The Last Starfighter Case Internal

Pretty standard stuff… except, what is this?

The Last Starfighter Detail

A sticker for The Video Vault in Radcliff, KY? A business that no longer seems to be in operation?

Oh, right. The other thing.

The Last Starfighter Insert

What we have here is an excerpt of the manual of the game, typed out and pasted to the carved up box and wedged into the plastic cover of the game. For anyone growing up in the age of games coming in DVD cases, you might not be familiar with the concept of disappearing manuals. But if you have a manual the size of a doubled-over postcard but without all the durability, you create a situation where the first person to rent a game would get a manual, but the second person would get a manual with no cover, and the third person would get a couple of staples (if he was lucky). This seemed like an elegant solution to that problem, rather than wasting time making photocopies or some other such nonsense.

Compute!’s Guide to Nintendo Games

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Before I had ready, (practically) always-on connectivity to the sum of human knowledge, I spent a lot of time playing video games. And when I wasn’t playing video games, I was reading books about how to play video games. This is mostly due to the fact that we didn’t have a whole lot of money growing up and video games were (and in most cases still are) pretty expensive, while books are generally pretty cheap.

One of the books I spent a lot of time with was Compute!’s Guide to Nintendo Games. I mean, take a look at this thing:

Compute!'s Guide Front

Compute!'s Guide Back

How could anyone resist those bullet points?

  • Keys to Nintendo Mastery? I love mastering things!
  • Screen Shots for 45 games? They’re black and white, sure, but they’re better than nothing. I don’t have to imagine what the graphics are like
  • Special Super Secrets Chapter!? I’m so there

What I really like about this book is the conversational tone that it takes with the game reviews. They’re broken down into graphics, sound, and the bog-standard categories, but when I’m reading this, I get the feeling that it’s just Mr. Schwartz talking to me about some new game he’s played, and not some cut-and-dried analytical review. It’s a style I tried to work in to the mini-reviews posted over at

Also worked into the book is a section dedicated to controllers (most of which I’ve never even seen in person), a tongue-in-cheek review of the Nintendo Cereal System, Super Secrets, and a Parent’s Guide to Nintendo Games (which we’ll get to in a minute).

Each of the game reviews has a few hints, tips, and strategies, but the Super Secrets section has tips, tricks, and strategies that are so useful, so amazing, and so informative, that they’re almost like cheating. And to disguise these tips so that you couldn’t just idly flip back to them in a moment of weakness. The Super Secrets were printed in reverse, so that you were supposed to find a mirror to hold the book up to to be able to read them. I, of course, made myself learn how to read reversed text instead. I think I made the right call, that’s a life skill that’s proven invaluable.

But the one of the sections that kind of didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me until many years later is the Parent’s Guide to Nintendo. I’m not a parent, but there are a lot of issues Mr. Schwartz brings up that seem relevant today when he’s talking about how video games can have an impact on kids, and he advocates that parents take an active role in monitoring what their children play. Check out this section of the Parent’s Guide called ‘A Call for Better Games’

There’s little reason we can’t expect more imaginative plot lines; ones that don’t stress violence or a kill-or-be-killed attitude. It’s easy to create another violent game: kill a lot of things, reward the player with power and hit points as he does, and work up to the final confrontation with the evil lord of the monsters. It’s difficult, on the other hand, to come up with an imaginative, nonviolent adventure that rewards problem-solving skills and is still fun to play.

The portrayal of women in games could also stand some work. Other than the heroine Athena and the Princess in Super Mario Bros. 2, women are usually depicted as kidnap victims. The only nonvictims that come to mind are the whip-wielding Lindas (Double Dragon) and Pretty Amy (Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf). It’s nice to see some females in NES games, but I don’t think it’s necessary to make them gang members or add Pretty as part of their names.

I’d also like to see a greater potential for early education and more games written specifically for young children. The Nintendo is a good tool for developing eye/hand coordination and problem-solving skills. To be really useful for young children, however, games have to be created that require only elementary reading abilities, and simpler rules and controls. The Sesame Street games from Hi Tech Expressions are a good start toward this goal. More cartridges of this type will undoubtedly appear as additional manufacturers move to fill this market gap.

Keep in mind that the above was written in 1989. We’ve certainly come a long way since then, but we still have a long way to go. Games with female protagonists are still very rare and sell poorly, and (as of this writing) GameStop has 22 educational games available for the Wii (arguably the most kid-friendly platform) as opposed to over 100 shooters. If that’s all the progress that we’ve made in 24 years, maybe we do still have some work to do.

Pac-Man Bag

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

I’m not going to take too much time introducing you to Pac-Man. Unless you were born yesterday (in which case, welcome!) you already know enough to appreciate the little yellow guy with the bottomless appetite.

But say you’re a kid in the early 1980’s or so, and you have Pac-Man Fever (or maybe Pac-Man Elbow). So, obviously, you need something that will tell the world about your Pac-obsession while also doubling as a handy tote-bag.

Pac-Man Bag with The Python Book

Pac-Man Bag with The Python Book

Or maybe you just want to carry around a big ol’book about Python. Either way, the Pac-Bag is probably what you would want. It’s a pretty standard canvas tote bag, big enough to hold one Python book (or maybe a few smaller books, if you have any), it has a snap on top so you don’t lose the contents when you’re doing windmills while walking down the street, and it has a convenient spot to write your name. Or someone else’s name if you want.


But, that does make it a little harder to locate it at the lost and found (and to prove that it’s actually yours), should you need to do that.

Wesley Alexander’s Werewolf Cartridge

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

If anyone knows Wesley Alexander, you might tell him that I have his Werewolf cartridge.


I was able to clean up the stray marker… er, marks, and the contacts with some rubbing alcohol.

Unfortunately, this awful game now works perfectly.

uDraw Pictionary

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Odds are that you know all about Pictionary, the game where you draw something, and someone else has to guess what it is. Even if you’ve never played Pictionary proper, I’m sure you’ve played (or at least heard about) something similar.

But you may not be familiar with the uDraw tablet, since practically nobody bought one… except me.

The uDraw is a tablet and a stylus, similar to something that you might get for manipulating graphics on a computer, except smaller, and cheaper (much cheaper).

The tablet itself is really good for one thing: drawing and scribbling. Hm, I guess that’s technically two things.

Regardless, here’s some footage of me and some family members playing the Ultimate edition of Pictionary.

I recommend looking away when the clues are revealed so that you can play along, but it’s certainly not mandatory.

Game Boy Wallet

Thursday, January 10th, 2013


You’ve heard of the Nintendo Game Boy, right? Hand-held gaming device, spinach-green screen? Came in lots of variations and revisions including the Color Game Boy (came with colored shells), Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color (came with a color screen), Game Boy SP, and on and on? Looked kind of like this:

Game Boy... kind of

Hm, most Game Boys didn’t come in tins, so this may not be the real deal. Let’s open this up and see what we have.

It's a Game Boy, it's a bi-fold wallet. It's madness.

It’s a Game Boy, it’s a bi-fold wallet. It’s madness.

That looks practically the same. Well, sort of. What you’re looking at here is a representation of the Game Boy in the finest leather (well, maybe not the absolute finest, but pretty close). With pockets for cash, credit cards, and ID cards, but you’ll probably fill it up with receipts and phone numbers without any names attached to them.

So, it’s almost as fun as a real Game Boy, and it uses fewer batteries. That’s pretty awesome, right?

Nintendo Mini Lunchbox

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Super Mario Kart seems to be one of those games that most people have heard of, even if they don’t play many video games. For the two or three of you that haven’t heard of this series, it essentially takes a selection of Nintendo’s characters from the Mario universe, sticks them in go karts, and makes them race around increasingly-ridiculous tracks. It’s pretty great.

And, with anything that’s even remotely decent, it spawned… er… ‘inspired’ lots of similar games, including something called Diddy Kong Racing. Diddy Kong Racing is a whole lot like Mario Kart with a couple of minor differences: the Mario Universe characters were replaced with mostly original Rare characters, the go karts were replaced with, erm, go karts, planes and boats (reminds me of something that I can’t quite place) lots of licensed non-video-game things for you to waste your money on. Including this thing.

Mario Kart lunchbox.

Mario Kart/Diddy Kong Racing lunchbox.

Pretty great, right? Popcorn, double-dipped (in what I assume is chocolate), tiny lunchbox covered in racers from both of these fine racing games? What else could you want?

What’s that? This lunch box is too small to put a sandwich in without folding it in half? Hm, yeah, that could be a problem.

And what did the popcorn taste like? Unfortunately, I don’t know. I figured that opening a lunch box to eat 15-year-old popcorn wasn’t the best idea, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Nintendo Campus Challenge Cups

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013


Around the early 1990’s, it wasn’t terribly uncommon to find video game tournaments scattered around the country, focusing on the ol’ NES. Heck, there was an entire movie about one such (fictional) contest. I even participated in (and lost) my fair share of local competitions, but one that I never was able to find around my old stomping grounds is the Nintendo Campus Challenge.

Campus Challenge Drinkware

A couple of cups from the Nintendo Campus Challenge

Above are some cups that I managed to get hold of from this challenge, and, in fact, were the first that I had actually heard of the thing. It turns out that in the NES’s heyday (1991, it seems), Nintendo sponsored a video game tournament held, you guessed it, primarily at universities. And since I was 12 years old at the time, I didn’t really spend a whole lot of times at college campuses. But if one did spend time at one of the campuses where this event was held, you might have played a special cartridge where you got to compete in portions of several NES games (Pin-Bot, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Dr. Mario) and get the highest score possible, for the chance to win Big Money. You might have even had the opportunity to drink out of one of these cups.

Well, probably not one of these specific cups, but you get the idea.

Aardvark Video

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Let’s get things started with this gem that I found.

Be Kind, please rewind

Be Kind, please rewind

I like this for a couple of reasons. First is the obvious sticker reminding me to rewind the cartridge when I’m done with it. It may not make a lot of sense to you younger readers out there, but for some reason, at least around these parts (and it would appear elsewhere, too) that game cartridges were called ‘tapes‘. My guess as to why is because, according to popular lore, Nintendo didn’t want the NES to look like a traditional game console, since the video game market had just crashed, so they made it look something like a VCR instead.

And what do VCRs play? Why, tapes, of course. This kind of gets complicated later when Nintendo does release some actual tapes that are intended to go in your VCR, but we’ll get to those another day.


The other reason that I like this is that it was formerly of Aardvark Video. I don’t know where Aardvark Video is or was, and The Googles aren’t much help (this was the only close thing I could find). But I am digging the cartoon aardvark warning me that tampering with the ‘cassette’ will result in me purchasing the cassette and revocation of my membership. Of which, one of those things has actually happened.