Sunday, May 31, 2020

Godzilla Chronicles: All Monsters Attack







Well it's that time again, for another entry of the Godzilla Chronicles! Last time, I looked at what is to many the crescendo of the original Showa series, Destroy All Monsters. This time, I'm gonna slow things down a bit, and talk about what to many fans, is the lowlight, the least, of those films.





One of the VHS covers.




As I've mentioned in the past, in the early to mid 90s, as a kid gradually heading into my pre-teen years, I was obsessed with monsters and monster movies. And nothing truly helped fuel that for me MORE, than TNT's MonsterVision. In that pre-Joe-Bob Briggs era (bless him), that less people seem to remember or be familiar with, I was hit with wave after wave of awesome (and sometimes kinda terrible) old movies, most of which I had never seen before. MonsterVision helped me to experience many Ray Harryhausen films I'd never yet seen. It also helped me to see many other films considered classics, such as This Island Earth, and The Thing From Another World, and The Time Machine.

But MonsterVision, through a couple of (to child me) incredibly awesome weekend marathons, ALSO allowed me to experience FAR more Godzilla and related Toho films than I otherwise would have been able to. After we finally got a VCR in 1990 or so, I was able to talk my grandmother into buying the occasional Godzilla VHS tape from Walmart. This is how I came to own some of my first Godzilla films, perhaps the first I'd ever seen, such as favorites Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, as well as a stand-alone film like Rodan. Thanks to these "Godzillathons", I was able to see movies like Mothra vs. Godzilla, War of the Gargantuas, Godzilla vs. Gigan, and Terror of Mechagodzilla. My grandmother even let me use blank VHS tapes to record these movies off of TV, to technically add to my collection.

But there was ONE movie that was part of that set, that was not like quite like the others...





Just a lonely boy...




Called "Godzilla's Revenge", it's American title, this 1969 curiosity was like nothing else I'd seen. But at the time at least, not necessarily in a good way. Directed by Ishiro Honda, the main guy behind a majority of the best known Showa era Toho monster/sci-fi films, this film known as All Monsters Attack, was the result of, I believe, a combination of Toho being cheap, and Honda himself perhaps getting tired of doing monster movies, which by that point in his career, was all about all he made anymore. Instead of your typical Godzilla flick, focusing on some alien mystery, or new monster threat roaming the countryside, this was a much more small scale, intimate story.

It centers around a little Japanese boy named Ichiro Miki, who is a so-called "Latch-key" kid, meaning both of his parents work and are gone from home a lot, so he will often find himself at home, alone, after school. Ichiro is a lonely boy who seems, at least at the outset of the story, to have almost no friends, except for a girl named Sachiko, and his neighbor Shinpei Inami. Shinpei is an older man, and a toymaker, who also happens to help look after Ichiro sometimes, cooking him dinner, and things like that. Ichiro's main source of strife in his life, besides his loneliness, are a group of school bullies, led by big-kid Sanko Gabara, who seem to torment him on a regular basis on his walks home from school.







Friends come in all shapes and sizes.




Now, just on the surface, it would seem that there was certainly a lot that kid-me could relate to in this film. Ichiro is a lonely, only child, with barely any friends, who uses his vivid imagination as an escape, and is obsessed with monsters. That was basically me growing up, to a T, minus the fact that I didn't even have parents as he did, but rather, a (sometimes tyrannical and somewhat abusive) grandmother. But the thing is, at that age, around 12 or so years old, I wasn't watching MonsterVision, let alone GODZILLA movies, for a story about a little boy and his lonely life. While I'm sure I recognized the parallels with my own life, I wasn't able to really appreciate that then, because what I was there for, as ANY "Monster Kid" would be, was, you guessed it, the MONSTERS!

And the thing is, All Monsters Attack HAS those. Just not quite the way it should have. To help him escape his boredom and loneliness, as well as a way to cope with the daily stress of being bullied (something else I would come to identify all too well with, years later in my teens), Ichiro used his powerful imagination to dream up fantastical things. In particular, using parts given to him by Shinpei, he would utilize a little TV/radio type set, to daydream that he was travelling to Monster Island, where Godzilla and the other monsters are now kept. He would go there to visit his friend, Minilla, the eponymous Son of Godzilla, who in this tale could shrink down to his human child size. 






Meet Gabara, the King of Jerks.




In Ichiro's daydreams, Minilla (alternatively called Minya), is having his OWN troubles with a big bad bully, who just so happens to ALSO be named Gabara. This Gabara, however, is a giant, no-good monster, with green scales and a magic horn, who seems to be able to electrocute with a touch. He tries to goad Minilla into fights, picking on the weaker monster of course, seemingly just for fun. Much like Ichiro himself, Minilla simply doesn't know how to deal with this, and doesn't truly WANT to fight.





Overmatched.




Of course, he does try to fight him, because his pops, Godzilla, would want him to. Unfortunately, he's just too small, and hasn't yet mastered his dad's thermo-nuclear radioactive breath attack. Gabara winds up beating him, and he winds up having to have his dad come to his rescue. Much like in his own debut film Son of Godzilla.






Father and Son.





And really, especially for kid me, there-in lies the problem: the monster fights. I think I would have enjoyed this movie a lot more, and really been able to better appreciate it at that age, if not for one thing: most of the monster fights are canned! Meaning, that in a very cheap move on Toho's part, most of the monster scenes are stock footage, taken from Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla. No joke. The scenes with Gabara are brand new, and he is an interesting enough monster, even though he only exists in Ichiro's dreams. But as a kid, starving to see NEW Godzilla films with NEW Godzilla fights, the fact that it just re-uses a lot of scenes of Godzilla battles from OLDER movies, was really lame. To be perfectly honest, I felt very let down and cheated by that.






The new Blu Ray art.





In the course of the story, Ichiro finds himself being taken hostage by a couple of numbskull bank robbers, who hold up in some abandoned factory, trying to avoid the police. Naturally, Ichiro uses his imagination as both an escape and a means to cope with this situation. And through watching Minilla grow up and learn how to stand up for himself against the monster Gabara, he himself learns to find the courage to escape from the robbers. He later even finally stands up to HIS real-life Gabara, as well.

At its core, All Monsters Attack is far from a bad film. In fact, I think at its heart, its a very GOOD story, with a good message, that as an adult I'm able to fully take in and appreciate. In some ways, the human story happening in the film is probably one of the best that Honda ever directed. But as a MONSTER movie, as a GODZILLA movie, specifically because of the lazy use (or even OVER-use) of stock footage fights, it winds up being rather lacking. It could have, and should have, been a stronger film that it is, and its unfortunate that it was undermined by Toho's cheapness. Because really, it ISN'T a bad movie, and doesn't deserve most of the hate it gets.

As I always say with these articles, if you are someone who hasn't seen many, or ANY, of the old Godzilla movies, I would not recommend this one as something to start with, at all. You aren't going to miss it if you never see it. BUT, if you ever do wind up watching this obscure and curious little gem, I think there are things here worth seeing. I definitely think for anyone who has kids, this would be a good movie to watch with them, ESPECIALLY if they aren't able to recognize the old stock footage fights!



                                                               ******************




For now, for any who may have missed them, here are the other Godzilla Chronicles articles, in order:




1. The Beginning

2. Gojira (aka Godzilla: King of the Monsters)

3. Godzilla Raids Again

4. King Kong vs. Godzilla

5. Mothra vs. Godzilla

6. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

7. Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero)

8. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster

9. Son of Godzilla

10. Destroy All Monsters










Thursday, April 30, 2020

My Top Favorite NES Games: Revisited







For those of you who have been following along with this blog, or my Youtube videos, for years now, it will come as no surprise then that my favorite video game console of all time, is the original Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. In this man's humble opinion, while later systems certainly had more horsepower, more sophisticated graphics and sound, more buttons, etc., none have ever, or will ever, top the NES. Firstly, this console richly deserve its celebrated status as the thing that "resurrected" a dead home gaming market in North America (specially the U.S.). While arcades and home computer gaming were growing and going strong in the mid-80s, it is a fact that the flooded home console gaming market caved in upon itself in 1983, with too many systems (Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Odyssey 2, Vectrex, Intellivision, Colecovision, etc.), and in Atari's case, too many unregulated games flooding the market. When Nintendo took a chance and test-released the NES in New York in late 1985, it began what is rightly seen as the renaissance of home gaming in America. For that alone, the console is legendary.

But more importantly, I think, and what caused it to BE that success, and help revive home gaming, is the fact that over time it had an outstanding library of, for their time, truly remarkable and even incredible games. Surely, as every popular system since the 2600 has, the NES also got its share of "crap" games, in spite of Nintendo's efforts to ensure better quality. But the sheer volume of anywhere from really solid, to truly great games that came out for this thing, is if you ask me, pretty staggering. We're not just talking legendary titles like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, innovative, ahead-of-their time masterpieces that helped define entire genres for decades to come. We're also talking about the fact that this system introduced us to so many classic games, or franchises, including but not limited to: Mario Bros., Zelda, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania, Adventure Island, Gradius, Metal Gear, TMNT, Double Dragon, Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior (Quest), Tetris, Dr. Mario, Punch Out, Mega Man, and the list goes on and on.

For many, especially of my age/generation, this was the system that took home video gaming from being neat on Atari, to being amazing, and if you were like me, a childhood obsession. In the past, I did a two part article where I discussed what, at the time, I thought was a pretty solid order of my favorite games for the console. You can find those here and here. But looking back at that list, it doesn't truly reflect what I feel, now, is the proper order. So I'm here to revisit the topic, and this time, instead of listing games that, in many cases, I felt SHOULD be on the list, I am now going to endeavor to use my heart, not just my head, and suss out a proper list that actually represents the games I love most of all. So without further buildup, let's get to it!




                                                                               **************





 1 – Game: Super Mario Bros. 3, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1988 (’90 in NA)


Simply put, while SMB1 was the game that got me to become obsessed with gaming, SMB3 was the game that stole my heart, and made me fall in love with gaming. As far as I’m concerned, it is the greatest game, the MOST flawless video game ever crafted, of all time. This was Nintendo in their prime, at their absolute best, getting the most they could out of that NES hardware in the late 80s, and stuffing as much content as they could into that little gray plastic cartridge.

They perfected the platforming/side-scrolling controls and mechanics that they themselves had pioneered. They had honed the “Mario formula”, which they had been tweaking and messing with, down to its finest and most distilled elements. They took the ridiculously catchy nature of SMB1’s music, and composed a bouncy soundtrack that simply refuses to get the hell out of your head. They provided a wide array of worlds, with a plethora of challenges and unique experiences contained in each. They presented gamers with an enormous menagerie of different monsters to overcome, and a bad ass arsenal of new power-ups with which to do so. This game established so many precedents, such as the Mario Suits, the Koopa Kids, a fuller picture of what the Mushroom Kingdom/World actually looked like, etc.

Simply put, this game has a bit of everything, for everybody. And while it’s easy for anyone, of any gaming experience level, to just pick up and play, and enjoy, it also happens to be arguably the hardest Mario game ever made, as it has some downright sadistic levels contained within it. There was a time when I played this game SO often, that in my childhood years (ages 9-13), I got so good at it that I could go through the entire game, without warping or skipping levels, while losing very few lives at all. I’m not sure I’ve ever done a DEATHLESS run, but I was goddamn good at it. In my old age now? Not so much.

But as mad as this brilliant classic now makes me sometimes, I still love it to death, and I easily and gladly maintain that it is my very Favorite Game of All Time.








2 – Game: Mega Man 2, Publisher: Capcom, Originally Released: 1988 (’89 in NA)


Very similar to how SMB3 shows Nintendo at it’s finest, firing on all cylinders, you could easily make the same case for Mega Man 2. While later Mega Man games would, little by little, add neat little elements that more often than not really did add to the overall experience, such as the slide, the charged Mega-Buster shot, and Rush the robo-dog, MM2 really kinda was the old school Mega Man team at their very best. And while it seems popular to say that “MM2 is the best Mega Man ever”, it really kind of is, with there being some very specific reasons for saying so.

This game was, simply put, a pure passion project. This was Keiji Inafune and his team at their height of caring and dedication, as the original Mega Man was actually not a big hit, and Capcom did not desire a sequel. But Inafune-san more or less begged them to allow his team to make another game, and they gave him permission to do so, so long as they did so in their own free-time, while they were also working full-time on whatever game Capcom actually wanted them to make. And the very fact that this game was a passion project, bleeds through in every single pixel and bloop you experience.

Like SMB3, it takes the basic mechanics and formula that MM1 established, but refines and pretty much perfects them all. The controls are tighter, the bosses are cooler (all of them), the level designs are more intricate and creative, many of the boss powers tend to be far more useful. And the MUSIC! My god, the music. This game has the reputation, by many, of having the single greatest soundtrack of any game ever made, and while I’m not certain I would say THE SINGLE best of any game ever, personally, I absolutely will say it’s right up at the top. It isn’t just incredibly catchy, it’s actually damn good tunes! MM2 may not fully perfect and refine the Mega Man formula the way SMB3 did for Mario, as sliding, and Charge Shots are pretty damn cool/useful. But it IS, I would argue, the most “perfect”, top to bottom, for what it is, of any Mega Man game, or for that matter most games ever made.

I think I would, in fact, actually go so far as to say that I think MM2 is the second greatest game ever made.






 3 – Game: Kirby’s Adventure, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1993


There may well be a recurring theme here, at least for these Top 3 games. The original game, Kirby’s Dreamland, released for the Game Boy in 1992, and was one of the earlier big hits for Nintendo’s original portable console. It was a fun, but short and very simplistic game, basically perfect for the “on the go fun” vibe that GB was originally all about. But it was with the NES sequel, Kirby’s Adventure, in its full glorious 8-bit color, that Iwata, Sakurai and Co. went absolutely nuts, making what would turn to be a rather huge game. In just about a year’s time, it would seem, they managed to churn out not just a “by the numbers” sequel, but to put it in modern gamer vernacular, a “Megaton”.

This was the same basic deal, in many ways, as MM2 and SMB3 before it, in that they took a formula, added to it, refined it, and perfected it. When I rented this game in the mid-90s, even though what I had seen of the SNES (didn’t own one yet) and Genesis and of course Arcades were “way ahead” of it, I was still blown away by this game. It floored me just how much content they stuffed in this game, from the fact that it has 20 (yes 20) different powers, a huge slate of enemies and bosses, a wide variety of very different and very creative levels, catchy tunes, hidden secrets, and awesome mini-games. The final (full) world, “Rainbow Resort” by itself, with its crazy level designs, even providing a “grayscale” Game Boy style level, really impressed me. What they achieved on aged NES hardware in 1993, was honestly every bit as impressive and innovative as anything that had been achieved during that same era on a variety of considerably more powerful consoles. It isn’t just a major achievement, I don’t mind calling it a masterpiece.

This instantly became one of my very favorite games of all time, permanently winning a spot in my heart, both for the Kirby character, but also for this game specifically. They even made an awesome remake of this, 16-bit style, on the Game Boy Advance, years later, called “Nightmare in Dreamland”. You even get to play as Meta Knight if you can 100% the game! However, no matter how many new Kirby games come out in the series, much like MM2 and SMB3, to me THIS game will always be the quintessential Kirby experience. It’s the best Kirby, in my opinion, ever created.









4 – Game: Star Tropics, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1990


I originally rented this game, and liked it a lot, even though it’s challenging, as a kid. I eventually wound up owning a copy, and beat the entire game. I don’t mind telling you that when I beat this game, it was a major childhood triumph, and to me at the time, the (unusually elaborate for the console) ending was totally worth it. Star Tropics is an oddity, in that it was developed in-house by Nintendo, but specifically for the “western” market, meaning that it was never originally released in Japan. Which of course makes zero sense, because I think Japanese gamers would have loved this gem just as much as Americans and Europeans did.

Now, this game may be an acquired taste for some. It features, to put it nicely, rather rigid gameplay, with a lot of well-timed jumping being the key to greatest success. It’s not quite as “pick up and play” as Mario or Zelda, or even Kirby. But it’s also not all that hard to get into, or get used to, and once you get the “cadence” of the jumping down, you really can conquer this game. The main challenge actually lies in a few moments of rather clever (and even devious) puzzle solving you are tasked with, including an infamous submarine code that could (originally) only be discovered by dampening a piece of paper that came with the game. But all in all, with it’s tongue-in-cheek, self-aware cheesy dialogue, catchy soundtrack, cool story, and sense of wonder and exploration, it’s a game that I would say any gamer should at least try.

It was a unique and fresh experience for it’s time, that still holds up to this day.








5 – Game: Monster in My Pocket, Publisher: Konami, Originally Released: 1992


As detailed here, probably my single favorite toys from my childhood, were a line of monster figures called “Monster in My Pocket”, released in the early 90s. Thankfully, someone decided to cash in on the (sadly) temporary craze, and made a game of it, because it turned out to be one of the best games I’ve ever played. Developed by Konami, back when they actually made good games (or actually made games at all, really), I would say this was one of the best games they ever put out. You play as Vampire and Frankenstein’s Monster, and go against a legion of other monsters from the set, all possessing the same point values the figures themselves did (nice touch). You journey through five or six stages of miniature mayhem, before finally taking on the master of disaster himself, the Warlock. It’s a great game, lots of fun, with co-op 2-player, and a bad ass soundtrack.








6 – Game: Super Mario Bros. 1, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1985


I wondered to myself which of the original two Mario games I thought should come before the other in this list, but the original won out. The primary reason being, as mentioned before, it was this game, specifically, that made me go from having a passing childhood interest in video games, thinking they were neat, and fun to play if I could get my hands on them, to growing into an outright childhood fixation. This game captured my attention upon first seeing it at my friend Harold's house, and captured my imagination and my heart, as soon as I was finally able to own an NES myself, a late-comer to the scene, in 1990.

This game drove me nuts at age 8/9, to the point at least once of crying when I got to one of the last levels and couldn’t beat it. But it also became ingrained in my psyche, as I would very often pass the time or distract myself from homework, etc., by imagining Mario running and jumping around my house, or wherever I happened to be at the time. The main Mario tune, in fact, to this day is still always somewhere playing in the back of my mind. And I was very proud that I was the first kid I knew to figure out that goddamn last castle, and beat the game. I even showed Harold and his brother how to beat it. I felt like I was the shit, for that.

But this is also THE game that more or less revived console gaming in the United States, and it also single-handedly made the NES the king of consoles in the mid-to-late 80s. It’s one of the best games ever made, and the only reason SMB3 tops it, is because it took everything about this game, and perfected it.







7 – Game: Arkista’s Ring, Publisher: American Sammy, Originally Released: 1990


The first games that I owned, were the SMB1/Duck Hunt cart that came with so many NES units. The other two earliest games I remember owning, were another Light Gun shooter called “To The Earth”, a space-based shooter that was hard as hell, but I did somehow beat, and this obscure gem. At first glance, I’m sure to some it seems like a Zelda clone. In fact, my grandmother stopped me from actually renting Zelda 1 myself (a heinous crime, to be certain), because she claimed it “looked too much like that other game you own, try something different”. However, it is actually not much like Zelda at all.

It’s an odd little game, that comes straight from the arcade era of gaming. It literally seems like it would be a port of a 1980s arcade game, as it has the style, the points, the simple, limited stages, etc. But nope, it’s an NES original, and it’s actually a lot of fun. You play Christine, a female warrior elf, trying to save the kingdom, etc. etc., you use a bow and arrow, though you can upgrade to fireballs and a couple other odd powers. The game features about 31 stages, and true to older type games, you have to beat it not twice, but THREE times over, to get the “Ending”. Otherwise, it’s a great, underrated gem that I think more people should try.








8 – Game: Adventure Island 2, Publisher: Hudson, Originally Released: 1991


The Adventure Island games are a classic part of gaming history. And the way they’re set up, you could argue they were some of the first to lend themselves to “speed running”, as that is literally what you have to do: run for your life and avoid obstacles before your meter runs out. Originally “Wonder Boy” in the arcades, published by Sega, Hudson Soft partially licensed that game, and continued and refined the formula as “Adventure Island” on the NES. Meanwhile Wonder Boy actually went on to become something totally different on the Sega Master System. I actually only rented the first of this series myself as a kid, though I did play either 2 or 3 at a friend’s house. I chose AI2 because it’s my favorite, and my pick for best of the NES set, though they’re all highly fun (and challenging) games.









9 – Game: Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout, Publisher: Kemco, Originally Released: 1990

I will say that this is, to date, still the best Looney Tunes game I’ve ever played. I rented Kemco’s older “Crazy Castle” game as well, and while it has its own old school charm, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one. This was a title that I first rented, and wound up later owning, thanks to that awesome Christmas box that included Dr. Mario and SMB3. The game stars Bugs, on his way to a birthday party (the game is celebrating his 50th anniversary), and his “friends”, the other Looney Tunes, seem to suddenly be out to get him, trying to stop his progress. You eventually face off against most of the LT greats, like Daffy, Elmer, Tweety, Sylvester, Pepe Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn and Yosemite Sam. And you do get to bash everything with a huge hammer, so there’s that. Far from a masterpiece, but an underrated gem that I greatly enjoy.







 10 – Game: Yoshi, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1990 (’91 in NA)


To be perfectly honest, there are probably many games that I could make an argument for deserving a Top 10 spot. Maybe even some games that, at some time or another, I have played the living shit out of and have loved more than this game. BUT, it just so happens that, behind only “Puzzle Bobble” (aka “Bust a Move” in NA), this game is probably my second favorite puzzle game of all time. Most people seem to know of its more bizarre cousin, “Yoshi’s Cookie”, which released on NES and SNES a year later, but somehow this little treasure is more obscure to the greater gaming consciousness.

And that’s a damn shame too, because it is, I don’t mind saying, a far better game than Cookie. Part of it’s immediate allure to me as a kid, of course, was that the puzzle “pieces” that you have to match up in this particular Tetris-inspired puzzler, happened to be actual, honest-to-Boswer enemies from Mario games. More specifically, their sprites were obviously inspired by the enemy designs of Super Mario Bros. 3, which just so happened to be my favorite game. The game featured Yoshi, an invention of “Super Mario Bros. 4” (World) on SNES, but it otherwise screamed SMB3, which suited me just fine.

But beyond aesthetics, it’s a genuinely fun, addicting, and clever puzzle game, wherein you have to stack up enemy monsters to clear the game board. That in and of itself isn’t terribly unique in a post-Tetris world, but the clever part of the gimmick, was that you could also sandwich monsters in between halves of a Yoshi egg, and depending on how many monsters you stacked before putting the top on, you would get a bigger Yoshi, and thus more points. It's just a colorful, cheerful, simplistic and fun little game, that I think is criminally underrated in the world of puzzle gaming.







11 – Game: Final Fantasy, Publisher: Squaresoft, Originally Released: 1987 (’90 in NA)


This game gets up pretty high on the list for two reasons. The first being, it was basically the first console rpg I ever played. I had played a couple of old PC rpgs, such as Sorcerian (great game) and Times of Lore, but this was the first so-called “jRPG” styled game I experienced. The second reason being, while it is VERY “old school”, very simple and even obtuse in certain ways, it is still a really, really good game. Having to buy your magic sucks, and having to grind for days for levels and gold can get old, but the original Final Fantasy has a lot to offer, and hard-as-nails or not, it still captured my imagination, and I eventually beat it. I was rather proud of myself.







12 – Game: Super Mario Bros. 2, Publisher: Nintendo, Originally Released: 1987 (’88 in NA)


I’m very glad, personally, that this is the “Mario 2” that we got. Because, while not a bad game, in my opinion at least, what would later come to be known to us as “The Lost Levels”, the original Japanese Mario 2 is an uninspired, professional hack of Mario 1. Some people love it, and I can understand that, but I can also fully see and appreciate why Nintendo decided against bringing it stateside. Instead, they gave us THIS masterpiece, which was not originally a Mario game at all, but they covered it with Mario paint (pun-intended), and it is now forever part of Mario lore. I specifically remember originally renting this game and not liking it all that much, because “hey, THIS isn’t like Mario 1 and 3 at all!”

But I later came to own it, played it more, and came to appreciate it for the brilliant little platformer that it is. In fact, I really wish they would make another 2D Mario game in this style. Or hell, even a game starring Toad or SHY GUY (one of my fav. Mario enemies), so long as it has this same gameplay and takes place in Subcon, the land of dreams.








13 – Game: Kid Klown, Publisher: Kemco, Originally Released: 1992 (’93 in NA)


A very similar case to “our” Super Mario Bros. 2, this game was originally released in Japan as “Mickey Mouse III: Balloon Dreams”, and part of me wishes we had gotten this game, if only so that the NES would have had a GOOD Mickey game. But, I am alternatively glad we got a repurposed game, because on the one hand he’s a cool original character, and on the other, we got the amazing name for the new bad guy: The Night Mayor! That name alone sells the game all by itself, as far as I’m concerned.

But in all seriousness, this game is a LOT of fun, plays very well, and features a defining game mechanic that I have perhaps never seen a developer make better or more diverse use of, in any other game. Your main (only) weapon are red balloons, but with these balloons, you can throw them (including varying distances), you can hold them as a shield, you can drop them on the ground to jump on (giving you a boost), throw them straight down to jump on mid-air, and even hold them in the air to float-jump. If for no other reason than that multi-purpose balloon action, I would say retro game lovers owe it to themselves to try this game out.










14 – Game: Mighty Final Fight, Publisher: Capcom, Originally Released: 1993


A late NES era rental that I fell in love with, Mighty Final Fight is a somewhat miniaturized port of the arcade classic. But in all honesty, while it is missing two-player, one of the areas from the arcade, it is still in many ways, at least in this man’s opinion, the best port of FF. The action is crisp and responsive, the soundtrack is rockin, and the game even features a “Double Dragon”-esque leveling system that is unique to this version. Plus, unlike the SNES port, you get to choose between all three characters, Cody, Guy, and Haggar. This game, while maddeningly tough at times, gets my vote for best beat ’em up on the NES.









15 – Game: Xexyz, Publisher: Hudson, Originally Released: 1988 (’90 in NA)


Probably one of the most obscure games, and certainly the most obscure Hudson game on my list, this was a game that I’m pretty sure I just somehow randomly came to own. There were multiple stores that went out of business in the early 90s in the town I grew up in, and I reaped the benefit of them having clearance sales. This may have been one of those. But regardless, it is a very unique sort of game, not fully comparable to anything else. It alternates between side-scrolling action/platformer levels, in which you must earn money to upgrade your weapons and abilities, and horizontal space shooter levels. Both of which task you with some pretty epic boss fights. And it’s all in the name of saving your love, and the world. Naturally. It’s a very little known, but really great game.









 16 – Game: Bonk’s Adventure, Publisher: Hudson, Originally Released: 1993

 Originally released in 1989 on a console that was, in many ways, Hudson Soft’s own console (they made many of the big hits for it), the Turbografx-16 (known in Japan as the “PC Engine”), Bonk’s Adventure was a fun and unique platformer. Bonk himself became something of a mascot for the TG16 in NA, as he would go on to have a trilogy of games for the console. But in 1993, Hudson, who had maintained friendly relations with Nintendo for most of their history, and had continued making games for their consoles as well, decided to release a slightly downsized (but still awesome) port of the game for NES. This version is missing a bit of content, but overall, it’s a very faithful port, and wall-biting, head-bonking action is every bit as fun.









 17 – Game: Monster Party, Publisher: Bandai, Originally Released: 1989

That one picture pretty much encapsulates everything this game is. An odd, obscure, out-of-left-field experience at every turn, and all the better for it. In this game, you play a young baseball playing boy named Mark, who is approached by a gargoyle looking alien (because why not), to come help him save his world. The alien melt-melds with the poor kid, and whisks him away. This game was a rental for me, never owning it till adulthood, but I fell in love with it based on the first level alone. The game starts very bright, cute, bouncy and colorful, with smiles everywhere and happy music. And then midway through, BOOM, the entire level transforms into blood, and darkness, and monsters, and creepy music.

It shocked me, but it also got me hooked. The game features a ton of little boss fights, almost all of them weird as hell, from killer Tempura, to dancing zombies that you don’t actually have to fight (spoilers), to an already-dead corpse that you literally don’t have to fight. The game’s difficulty isn’t too tough for much of it, as you shift between baseball kid and gargoyle with special pill power-ups. But lemme warn ya, late in the game, the last level especially, it becomes a very special brand of f***ed.








 18 – Game: Felix the Cat, Publisher: Hudson , Originally Released: 1992

Another rental of mine, this is another Hudson classic. And let me just take this opportunity to point out, that Hudson Soft really was one of the best developers of all time. Not just in anyone’s personal opinion, but objectively, beyond one of the most popular franchises of all time in “Bomberman”, they made such a high volume of quality games over the years (including the original “Mario Party” games). That said, this game is no different, cashing in on a slight Felix revival that was happening in the early 90s, and featuring his awesome magic bag from the old 50s cartoon, this is a very solid platformer, in which you can upgrade his bag into all sorts of powers, including a tank, plane, etc.









 19 – Game: TMNT 2, Publisher: Konami, Originally Released: 1990

One of the best arcade ports ever made, right up there with the SNES port of its sequel, “Turtles in Time”. Right in line with a lot of other weirdness of my childhood, directly to do with my grandmother and her inconsistent views, I was not allowed to watch the classic TMNT cartoon as a kid, which is a damn shame, because I likely would have loved it. But I DID get to experience the arcade game, both at a local Pizza Hut, and a local skating rink. And from what little I got to play it, I thought it was awesome. And this NES port, while certainly downsized, is very true to the arcade, even adding an extra level and boss or two. I will say that as part of being downsized from the arcade original, the animations and thus beat em up action doesn't feel AS good or satisfying, but it still holds up well on the 8-bit hardware. The final boss, Shredder, is an absolute son-of-a-bitch, but this game rocks. And FYI, I’m a Donnie guy.









  
20 – Game: Castlevania, Publisher: Konami, Originally Released: 1986 (87 in NA)

The one game on this list that you might be surprised to know DIDN'T officially make the original list, but absolutely should have. It was a heated inner-debate about which game should take up the 20 spot here, but ultimately, true to my word about heart over head, I kept feeling a slight tug at the old heartstrings, every time I considered this classic. I have no childhood memories or experience with the Castlevania series, outside of my beloved cartoon series Captain N: The Game Master. I don't know why, in fact I'm quite sure I had access to them, but for some reason I never rented any of the three original NES games as a kid. I should have, considering how much I loved monsters, and in spite of its difficulty, I feel I really would have enjoyed this game a lot at that age.

What swayed me to choose this over other games that I had a more personal connection with growing up, was that it genuinely is a total package ordeal. The only major flaw this game, or any of the classic entries in the series have, is those god awful, stiff as hell jumping mechanics. Once you jump in a given direction in this game, be it to either side, or even straight up, you basically have to commit, because you cannot adjust yourself in mid-air, ala Mario. I discuss this more in-depth here. To be blunt, that shitty jumping in Castlevania is the main reason its so hard. But outside of that, it has everything else going right for it: great, moody graphics (especially for 1986), varied level designs, cool sub-weapons, one of the best soundtracks to ever grace a video game, and most importantly to the "Monster Kid" who still lives inside me, one of THE coolest things about this series has always been the fact that it makes liberal use of a plethora of monsters, many taken right out of folklore, mythology, even old literature and movies.

It's too simple an answer to say "It Has Monsters" as the reason I included this in my Top 20 list, but at the same time, it's also 100% fair to admit that that was the deciding factor.

                                                                       ***********

For any who have read the original two-part list, you may note that not only is the order largely different here, but there are also many games I put on that list, that are not present on this one. In the interest of completeness and fairness, I will now include a short appendix list, basically filling out more games, in no specific order, that I also like or even love for the NES. In the cases of those games I included on the original list, I will add an asterisk next to them, so that if you feel like, you can read what I had to say about them there. Some of the other NES games I like include:


Tetris*
Double Dragon
Double Dragon 2

The Legend of Zelda*
Zelda 2*
Kid Niki
Breakthru
Star Tropics 2*
Joe & Mac
Duck Tales*
Godzilla*
Godzilla 2
Quattro Arcade*

M.C. Kids 
Rescue Rangers
Adventure Island 

Adventure Island 3
Adventure Island 4
Metroid
Totally Rad
Mega Man 6
Flying Warriors*
Gargoyle's Quest 2
Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle
Castlevania 2
Castlevania 3
TMNT 3
Tiny Toon Adventures




                                                                     
***********




Thanks for reading, as always, and stay tuned next month for the next installment of Godzilla Chronicles!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Forgotten Gems: The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout






As I've related in the past, I grew up a poor kid, who didn't get a Nintendo Entertainment System until late 1990, as an early birthday present. My NES system came with the infamous Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cartridge, which of course I played the ever loving shit out of (IE as much as my grandmother would let me). In the handful of months between when I got my NES early, as an incentive to be more focused about doing homework (I was allowed to play only if I got it done), and Christmas, I actually did get at least a couple of other games, including another Zapper shooting game called To The Earth, and one that would become an instant favorite, Arkista's Ring.

But thanks to our fairly close proximity to an "All the Best Video" store, which was obviously one of my favorite places growing up, we also rented a fair few games too, just trying out what was on the system. In the future, I will have to write up a piece on the now mostly lost glory of rental stores and game rentals. But for now, sufficed to say, in that same span of time, I was allowed on some weekends, to pick out a game to try. And I want to say that, as I recall, I gravitated early on, to a game based on Bugs Bunny, one of my childhood heroes.





One of my earliest game rentals.


THREE Sylvesters, now THAT'S trouble!




That game, as seen above, was called The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle. Though I wouldn't know this for many years, it was originally released in Japan on the Famicom, as simply Roger Rabbit, the first video game to be based off of that amazing piece of late 80s cinema. Not having the Roger license in North America, however, Kemco decided to tweak the graphics a bit, and released it as a Bugs Bunny game instead.





The Roger Rabbit original.


Mickey Mouse on Game Boy.




As you can see, the Roger-based Famicom game and the Bugs Bunny game I rented, are basically the same. Roger's sprite was swapped out for Bugs, and the Weasels from the movie, were instead turned into multi-colored Sylvesters. He would be joined by other Looney Tunes favorites, such as Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote and Yosemite Sam. The complicated and interesting nature of game licenses doesn't merely stop with Roger and Bugs, however. In Japan, Kemco continued the series on Game Boy as Mickey Mouse games. But they didn't have the Mickey license for NA, so again, they became multiple Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle installments in the States instead. But to go ever FURTHER, what was known as Mickey Mouse II on Game Boy in Japan, was Bugs Bunny in America, and a game based on the character Hugo, over in Europe. Not only that, but for extra fun, what was known in Japan on Game Boy as Mickey Mouse IV: The Magical Labyrinth, in America became based on The Real Ghostbusters, and in Europe, on the beloved cat Garfield! That might well be the only time in gaming history, certainly that I know of, where a video game series featured six (ultimately seven if you count a Woody Woodpecker game on Game Boy Advance) different licensed properties across its games.


I can't say for 100% certain, but I vaguely remember beating this game, probably the first such rental that I beat. Which is no small feat, considering the game has, as I recall, around 50 stages of gradually increased difficulty. The game itself, regardless of incarnation, revolves around simplistic arcade style action, wherein you have to collect all of a certain item in a given stage, and then reach the exit, without getting caught by the baddies. In Roger Rabbit, you had to collect hearts. In the Bugs game I played, you have to collect, naturally, carrots. In the later games on Game Boy, regardless of character/region, you instead have to collect keys. But all in all, the Crazy Castle games are, in this man's opinion, good simple fun. I am most nostalgic for the first Bugs game I rented, of course, but I would say any of them, with perhaps the exception of the Woody game on GBA, are well worth checking out.





Mickey Mouse


Kid Klown





As a quick aside, this tangled Crazy Castle series, also had a spin-off of sorts. Originally released in Japan as a Famicom sequel to the first two Game Boy Mickey Mouse games, this spin-off was called Mickey III: Balloon Dreams. In it, Minnie has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, and with the aid of some awesome magic balloon abilities, you have to go save her. In all honesty, it would have been pretty great if they had managed to release this as a Mickey game in America, because as Mickey games go, it's one of the best. But, their Mickey license remained Japan-Only, so for the NA release, they transformed the game into a vehicle for a brand new, Kemco original character, known as Kid Klown! This too was a childhood game rental for me, quite some time later, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed, and wish I had owned back then. It, like the game I'm actually here to talk about today, is one of my top favorite NES games.





One of the greatest stars of animation, ever.



The Evolution of Bugs Bunny.




As fortune would have it, while the original Crazy Castle game was released in 1989, 1990 happened to be the 50th birthday of Bugs Bunny himself. Technically speaking, as you can see above, a white rabbit, sometimes referred to as "Happy Rabbit", essentially a prototype version of Bugs, was first featured in the Porky Pig short "Porky's Hair Hunt". A goofier looking, gray rabbit with black-tipped ears, would appear in a couple of early Elmer Fudd cartoons. But what is considered to be the first "Official" Bugs Bunny cartoon, was released in 1940, called "A Wild Hare". This was the first time Bugs had his now infamous look, and the first cartoon in which his well-known personality was truly on display.





That wascally wabbit!





To capitalize on this monumental anniversary, Kemco made a new game, technically unrelated to the Crazy Castle franchise. In this particular case, the game released in all regions basically the exact same, and it was dubbed The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout (or Happy Birthday Bugs in Japan). The game's plot, in fact, was based around Bugs' birthday, and it was, for its time, strongly promoted with the anniversary tie-in.





If only he knew...


It's a trap!




This game was an early rental for me as well, as I guess I must've been on a Bugs kick. And I must admit, that while I enjoyed Crazy Castle, I instantly loved Birthday Blowout much more. A side-scrolling platformer, you play Bugs, who has received a mysterious invitation to a party. Little does he know, that it was sent by his fellow Looney Tunes stars, who apparently are jealous that he is so popular and gets all the fame. So to GET to this party, he has to traverse what turn out to be vast lands, including rolling hills, scorching deserts, haunted caves, and even a live volcano!

The basic gameplay is still pretty simple, but more involved than that of Crazy Castle. As Bugs, you can run and jump, staples of the platformer genre. In fact, being a rabbit, Bugs can jump fairly high, in comparison to most other such games. As his method of defending himself from the variety of traps and monsters that have been set against him, he employs the use of a rather sizable gray mallet, which you use to bonk enemies, and smash blocks in your way. As a kid, I found the block smashing to be rather fun, and even imagined that Bugs' day job must be some sort of construction (or in this case demolition) worker.





Remember this guy?




Another focus of the game, like Crazy Castle but not, is collecting carrots. In this game's case, you collect them for use in the between-level bonus games. In point of fact, this game can be rather generous with the extra lives, IF you're good at collecting carrots, and if you don't just completely suck (or not touch the controller at all), during the bonus games. The most typical bonus stage you get, is a kind of number match game, that is, frankly, nigh-impossible to actually get the numbers you want, due to them cycling by at ridiculous speed. So it's more of a game of chance.

At the end of every world, however, you get the bonus game seen above. It stars the lesser known "Willie the Weasel" character, featured in a few Foghorn Leghorn shorts, and it's basically Whack-a-Mole. You have much more control over whether you get 1-Ups or not, as you have to whack as many Willies as you can within a given time limit. If you reach the next required number whacked, you continue on. I always found this bonus both fun, and a bit frustrating, as sometimes the Willies will psych you out and not actually pop up when you think they will.





Cowabunga, dudes!





The game features six worlds, each with four stages, for a total of twenty four levels. These include grassy hills, a desert, a fiery mountain, haunted caverns, a wild jungle, and finally, an ancient (super dangerous) temple. Each level features an end boss, which happens to be one of your fellow Looney Tunes "friends". The most common is Bugs' friend/rival Daffy Duck, though he is also by far the easiest. I guess ol' Daffy's heart just isn't really in it, as his "fights" require you to avoid him, while getting to a giant carrot that turns into a hot air balloon. In a few of these, it really requires no effort to avoid him, whatsoever. But to be fair, Daffy is also the only boss you can't hit, either.

On the other hand, all of the game's OTHER bosses, feature actual fights, where you have to avoid their attacks, whilst bashing them with your giant hammer. These bosses include: Tweety Bird, Sylvester J. Cat and his son Junior, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn, Pepe Lepew, and Yosemite Sam. At the end of the game, the final boss is none other than the Tasmanian Devil himself, who instead of employing his trademark spin attack on you, he throws...footballs? Very slow motion footballs. While none of the game's bosses are SUPER hard, the fact is, getting through that last Temple level is actually fairly challenging. And beating Taz once you get to him, is not. That is, unless you're super low on hearts, thanks to the damn level prior to him.





Someone forgot to color Bugs in!





 When I rented this game all those years ago, I didn't beat it, though I did enjoy it. I don't think I LOVED it at the time, certainly nowhere near the level of Super Mario Bros., or even Arkista's Ring. But I did enjoy it. So when Christmas 1990 came along, and I got that glorious big brown box, filled with Nintendo goodies, I was rather pleased to find that one of the three games inside, was none other than good ol' Bugs Bunny. Unfortunately for Bugs at the time, not only had I recently played it, but it was also far overshadowed by the MAIN event of that box, the game that would become my instant childhood obsession for years, and still remains my favorite game of all time to this day: Super Mario Bros. 3. But once the initial "HOLY SHIT I OWN MARIO 3" shine toned down a little, I went back to Bugs, and eventually beat that bad boy too!

For some reason, amongst so-called "Retro Gamers", Kemco games, especially Kemco NES games, seem to get a bit of a bum rap. But to me, they produced some genuine gems on that console, two of which, Kid Klown and this, being probably two of my favorite games of all time. Birthday Blowout is a bright, cheerful, fun game, with bouncy tunes and solid gameplay. The game isn't a nail-biter by any means, in fact like Kid Klown, I'd say much of it goes along at a somewhat leisurely pace. But that's OK, because to me that is part of their appeal. Bugs certainly presents challenge, but it isn't so hard it makes you want to throw anything across the room. It's not so long a game that it gets tiresome, but it also has enough meat on them bones, and enough variety (including the bonus games), that there is plenty to come back to. If you've never given this Looney Tunes classic a whirl, I highly suggest you do so, because in this man's humble opinion, it is one of the better games on the system. Certainly one of the best Looney Tunes games ever crafted, I think. 





If you'd like to see the game in action, and don't mind some spicy, goofball commentary (and colorful language), then I'd also suggest you watch my recent playthrough, over on the Retro Revelations Youtube channel! Until next time, T-t-t-t-that's All, Folks!








Monday, December 23, 2019

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer







One of the most infamous and popular characters in modern Christmas/Holiday folklore, is Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Pretty much all kids hear about him and his story growing up. But the story of Rudolf isn't merely a fun tale centered around Christmas. It's the story of a misfit, an outcast, someone who is different, and thus doesn't fit in with "normal" people. A lot of us can identify with that, which I feel is a huge part of why the Rudolf mythos has remained so strong over the decades.





The legendary song.




Rudolf was born out of the imagination of one Robert Lewis May, in 1939. The department store Montgomery Ward had been giving out coloring books for kids for years, but wanted to save money by releasing their own story, instead of licensing out others. So they hired May to create a coloring book for them, and what he ultimately came up with, was the tale of a misfit reindeer with a shiny red nose. Originally outcast because of his difference from other reindeer, he eventually gets accepted, even celebrated, when his unique nose helps Santa save Christmas.

The book was a huge hit, becoming a repeat seller in later years. It also got turned into a popular song, which most of you are familiar with, originally sung by country-western singer Gene Autry. As insane as it sounds, that record was so popular, that it sold over 25 million copies, and was the second best selling album of all time until sometime in the 1980s (I'm going to imagine it got unseated, perhaps, by Michael Jackson's "Thriller"). The song alone is one of the top "Christmas Songs" people tend to associate with the season, along with other perennials like "Frosty the Snowman", "Silver Bells", "White Christmas", etc.





The original cartoon.




On November 11th, 1948, Max Fleischer released the first ever film adaptation of the Rudolf story. Produced at the time to help advertise Montgomery Ward, it was one of his last major projects, after such a successful earlier career with properties like Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and Superman. This theatrical short, takes more after the original book than the song, in fact the first release didn't even include the song. But it is a great piece of animation, and a faithful, simple telling of Rudolf's story. It's widely available to watch now for free online, as it's in the public domain, and I highly suggest if you've never seen it, dedicating eight minutes of your life to experience what you could rightly call Fleischer's last masterpiece.






The one EVERYONE knows.





The more famous adaptation, of course, wouldn't come until roughly sixteen years later, in 1964. Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass, who had founded the production company called "Videocraft International", later known as Rankin/Bass Productions, were just starting what would be a long and successful career for them as creators of (mostly) television content.As Fate would have it, the project which would become their first major success, would be a new adaptation of the Rudolf story. In point of fact, it would go on to become THE most enduring and popular telling of it.





Different from birth.




Narrated by the great folk music legend Burl Ives, himself known for some great Christmas songs, in the friendly guise of Sam the Snowman, the Rankin/Bass telling was based more around the by-then famous song. Rudolf, born to Santa's lead reindeer, Donner, and his wife, is immediately noticed by his parents for being different. Even Santa, who stops by to see the child, takes note of the "Shiny Nose", and Donner swears he'll grow out of it. Except that poor Rudolf DOESN'T grow out of it, prompting Donner to fashion a silly looking fake black nose, to make his son look "normal".

Meanwhile, Hermy the Elf, a completely new character who doesn't especially love Christmas or making toys like all the rest of Santa's elves do, instead has aspirations to be a dentist. This gains him the ire and derision of his fellow elves, making him a misfit as well. I'll note here, that Hermy also doesn't seem to look like the other elves, outside of being short. Most notably, he has rounded, human-like ears, instead of pointy ones. This is never addressed in the special, but one would imagine his looking different, like Rudolf, would also set him apart.





The dashing young doe, Clarice.





When it comes time for young Rudolf to play in the "Reindeer Games", where they get trained to fly and such, he immediately makes what seems to be a friend, in Fireball, the son of Comet. He also takes notice of a pretty young doe named Clarice, who seems to be the daughter of another of the famous Eight Reindeer who pull Santa's sleigh. He works up the courage to talk to her, and she tells him she thinks he's cute, which sends him leaping off into the air, flying better than any of the other young reindeer. Comet, the coach, is impressed, until Rudolf's nose, after roughhousing with Fireball, is revealed to all. He is, as the song goes, forbidden from playing in any more "Reindeer Games", all because of his looks.

I'd like to take the time to point out that in this special, Santa Claus, a character for whom I have great life-long affection, spends most of his time acting like a stressed out grump. Mrs. Claus spends her time trying to get him to eat, because he's "too skinny" at the time. And Santa, upon seeing Rudolf's nose, which he didn't grow out of, is shown expressing disappointment to Donner, even telling him "you ought to be ashamed". While I love this special, I think the portrayal of Santa is silly, as realistically, this character who is supposed to be the embodiment of jolliness and generosity, would not be so petty and low as to care about, much less shame, Rudolf's odd "malformity". But I digress.





New best friends.


Their savior, Yukon.





After Rudolf runs away, being ridiculously shunned by the other reindeer, Clarice runs after him, telling him she doesn't care about his nose. In fact, she seems to have taken quite a liking to him, though her father shows up, and tells Rudolf in no uncertain terms that "no doe of mine is going to be seen with a red-nosed reindeer!" This is the final straw, and Rudolf, after a chance meeting with the equally shunned Hermy the Elf, decides that together, they are going to run away, since they're not wanted.

This leads them out into the frozen wastes of the North Pole, and they find themselves having to hide Rudolf's nose in a snowstorm, lest they be seen, and presumably eaten, by the Monster of the North, the Abominable Snowman. Somehow surviving the night, even though they clearly have no idea what they're doing, their fortunes change when run across a new friend, a human named Yukon Cornelius, who has traveled so far north with his sled-dogs, in search of Silver and Gold. Ol' Yukon shows them the ropes, and helps them to survive, though they run afoul of "Old Bumble" once more, causing them to flee on an ice drift.





The Bumble.


King Moonracer, of the Island of Misfit Toys.





They wind up on a hidden island, The Island of Misfit Toys, where toys seemingly unwanted for various defects, live because allegedly no child would want them. They are introduced to the island's ruler, King MoonRacer, a magical winged lion, who tells them of the toys' plight. They resolve that they should eventually return home, and tell Santa about the toys, in hopes that he'll find homes for them. Rudolf, still believing himself to be a danger to others, takes off on his own, returning home first, only to find that his parents and Clarice have gotten lost somewhere, out looking for him.





What a hero.

Finally being recognized.




He tracks them down, only to find that they are endangered by the Abominable himself, who Rudolf stands up to, only to get knocked out. Ultimately, the day is saved by Yukon, who seemingly perishes falling over a cliff with the monster. The reindeer return home, in time to find that Christmas is in trouble, because the worst snowstorm in years is making it so Santa won't be able to fly his sleigh to take presents to the world's children. But wouldn't you know it, he sees Rudolf's glowing nose, and EUREKA, he realizes that it could act as a lamp to light their way! Christmas is saved, and Rudolf, who has been unjustly ostracized all along for something he can't help, is finally not only accepted, but is the hero of the day.





The NEW lead reindeer.


The Misfit Toys.





They also manage to keep their promise, and stop by the island, to pick up the Misfit Toys, whom Santa finds homes for. They even learn that Yukon survived, because duh, "Bumbles Bounce", and that Hermey, who had stayed behind to look for him, used his dental accumen to remove the poor monster's teeth, rendering him harmless. Not only harmless, but friendly, as he helps put he star on the North Pole Christmas Tree! All's well that ends well, and everyone seems to live happily ever after.




Sam the Snowman.


Voiced by Burl Ives.





As a kid, like many kids I'm sure, I saw this special at an early age. Early enough, in fact, that I had already seen it multiple times by the time I was in pre-school, and knew how it went. So when they showed it at school, I stated matter-of-factly that I had "already seen it", and was allowed to go play with toys while the other kids watched, even though I still watched some of it anyway. Pre-school snootiness aside, I've always been a fan of this Rankin/Bass Production, as I was of many of their other creations (including the 80s shows Thundercats and Silverhawks). I remember being afraid of the Bumble monster, and even at a young age dreaming of finding "my own Clarice".

In its own way, this special is a masterpiece. The stop-motion animation, handled as most of their animation was in Japan, while certainly not up to the standards of theatrical excellence that Ray Harryhausen set, is still rather good. The characters are memorable, as are the songs, mostly sung by Burl Ives, including one of my favorite Christmas standards that he made famous, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas". I actually remember my grandmother owning some Burl Ives tapes, one of which was a Christmas album, which I would listen to often as a child. His voice, in many ways to me, was the "Voice of Christmas" as I was growing up.





Lending a helping hand.





All in all, the story of Rudolf itself, I think endures because it is a tale of difference, and being accepted for your differences. The Rankin/Bass special, has played on TV every single year (sometimes multiple times), since it's debut in 1964, which makes it the longest running Christmas special of all time. A pretty cool distinction if you ask me, though to be fair, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, have also been shown pretty much every year since their debuts as well.

To me, as a life-long fan of stop-motion animation, I'm glad that the Rudolf special endures, because it allows the art-form, as well as the great special itself, to be seen by new generations of kids. And I think that's important, personally. If I ever get to have children, while they are of course free to like whatever new stuff they want (even if I hate it), I am absolutely going to raise them on all of the classic things that I myself love. I'm going to share my passions with them, and this special, and others like it, will be a part of that. And it goes without saying, that yes, my kids will be allowed to believe in Santa. I think it's ridiculous, even mean-spirited, to not allow that. Santa, and the Christmas Season in general, meant so much to me as a kid. It's such a time of wonder, and fun, and I think every kid, regardless of culture or religion, deserves something like that.





Anyways, I hope that you all have a Holly Jolly Christmas, or whatever you celebrate. And if you get a chance, give the old Rudolf special a spin, especially if you have kids who have never seen it before!