A Pixel-Spent Youth: Part III

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In part II of this meander down memory lane, I talked about my friend Oliver and how he introduced me to the Atari ST. At some point in the late 80’s I must have been talking about Atari quite excessively, because eventually my aunt revealed that she too had an ST and that I could go round and play it with her. Holy crap, I though, my AUNT has an Atari ST?? pac01-401e2f3

Besides catapulting her instantly to Star Aunt status, it also introduced me to several new games and genres. The first of which was “Pac Mania”. Now, most people know and have played some version of the original Pac-Man — I had often played it myself at arcades and such. The aim was to guide Pac-Mac around a maze, eating up little point pellets before a timer ran down. Trying to stop you were the ghosts, who roamed around the maze and killed you when ever they touched Pac-Man, causing you to lose a life.

The biggest and most obvious difference with Pac Mania was a shift from the traditional top down view to an isometric, pseudo-3D view, which to my 9 year old mind elevated the game to all new levels of awesomeness. The visuals, compared to the original were impressive, with bright colourful levels and a catchy soundtrack that I can still remember to this day — in fact, I was humming the “Block Town” tune just now causing my fiancé to turn up her Keane CD to maximum volume.

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Another new addition was that Pac-Man could now jump, allowing you to jump right over some of the ghosts, helping to get you out of some tricky situations. However, also new was a green ghost that could also jump, leading to some tense moments as you tried to time your own jump just right to avoid the greenie meanie. Then there was the new gray ghost which you couldn’t jump over at all. Add to this some new ‘power pellets’ which caused Pac-Man to move much faster or doubled the point values, and Pac Mania was, in my opinion, an improvement in every way over the original.

Pac-Man, and by association Pac Mania, is one of those classic franchises from the heyday of video game arcades, spawning more than 30 officially licensed spin offs alone. Pac-Man himself is also recognised by over 94% of American gamers, making him the character with the highest brand awareness in the US. Even my sister, who has almost zero interest in video games, has adorned the walls of her office with Pac-Man ghost mosaics inspired by French urban artist Invader. In short, the little yellow pellet eater’s rise to popular acclaim has been spectacular, especially when I think back to sitting hunched over a tiny CRT screen in my aunty’s living room trying to outwit those darned ghosts.

Another game that my aunt introduced me to was “Double Dragon”. Coming, as I had, straight from the co-op fest that was SWIV, Double Dragon’s two player, side scrolling, beat-em-up came into my life at the perfect moment.

Double Dragon was the follow-up to Japanese developer Technos’ Nekketsu Kouha-kun (Renegade, in the west). On the face of it, the plot was somewhat flimsy — Billy and Jimmy Lee are twin brothers (and martial arts experts, naturally) who embark on a mission to rescue Billy’s girlfriend Marian, who has been kidnapped by the Black Warriors. Damsel in distress tropes and racial stereotyping aside, the plot at least explained what all the fighting was about.

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However, on looking further into the matter I’ve discovered that in the Japanese release, the game’s plot is slightly different in that the game takes place in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. That would certainly explain the state you find New York in, as well the deranged hobo-biker gang style of attire on the bad guys, who incidentally I can now understand being described as black having been horribly burned and deformed in the nuclear war. It’s a shame that this was cut from the western release because it makes the whole premise that much cooler. I mean seriously, even the Japanese release game poster is more awesomeerer (it’s a word — trust me).

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Anyway, there were two big differences between Renegade and Double Dragon. Firstly, DD featured a two player co-op mode, allowing you and a friend to team up and take on the Black Warriors together. Just like with SWIV, playing with a friend, or super cool aunt, was the definitive experience. Working through the levels with a buddy made the victories that much sweeter, right up to the shocking (at the time) climactic twist.

The other new addition was the ability to disarm the bad guys and then pick up their weapons to use against them. These days, such a mechanic is second nature, but back then it was mind blowing. The idea that I could directly influence the game was electric. Pac Mania was fun, but the player was bound by a set of rules that were unchangeable. In DD, suddenly a player could alter the status quo of the game, by changing the dynamic between the player and the bad guys. It lent the player a sense of power and control and made Double Dragon wildly popular. I was going to list the different platforms on which the game — and it’s ports — has been released, but frankly it would be easier to list the ones on which it hasn’t.

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My experience with Double Dragon really hammered home the notion that video games were best enjoyed when played with other people. Before the internet and online multiplayer, there was Double Dragon and SWIV. But at that time, video games were about to enter a whole new era — the era of home consoles.

About Sebastian Young
Sebastian has been playing games since the age of 8, cutting his teeth with Nintendo and Sega, and now can usually be found dying repeatedly in online FPS’s. Really, he should just quit. Open world RPG’s and grand strategy games also see him lose his sense of reality for several months of the year. You won’t him on twitter though since he lives in a cave