No matter how much I may try to come across as a Sensitive New Age Guy, I like watching shit blow up. I can’t help it – there’s just something hard-wired into me that sets me to giggling like a club kiddie tripping balls on E whenever I see something explode in a massive ball of flame.
I’ve always been this way. You can’t even blame my upbringing for this – I was raised in a household where my parents were incredibly conscious of what kind of movies and television shows I was watching, and while my mother didn’t like us having realistic-looking cap guns or water pistols in the house (her general distaste for firearms stemming from her father being 25-year veteran of the police force), both my brother and I were allowed to play violent video games growing up. I always preferred the kind of old-school adventure games made by Sierra On-Line and LucasArts back in the 80’s and 90’s over anything else, though.
There was one “violent” game that I loved, though it was of the heavily pixelated 8-bit variety, and it combined my love of making shit blow up with my other pre-teen love: big, badass World War II-era fighter planes. I’m talking of course about 1943: The Battle of Midway, a game made by a Japanese company where you fly an American fighter plane and blow the ever-loving hell out of the entire Imperial Navy, up to and including the God Damned Yamato (that’s it’s official name; I checked). If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is.
The game came out late in 1988. I was ten years old at the time, and I was pre-pubescent balls deep in that son of a bitch, dedicating way too much time to blowing up Zeros with the most awesome fighter plane that ever saw service in the Pacific Theater: the Lockheed P-38J Lightning. The P-38 wasn’t the best dogfighter out there, especially because its rate of roll was a little too slow, but the Luftwaffe nicknamed it “the Fork-Tailed Devil” after a squadron of 26 P-38s shot down around 31 planes while escorting a squadron of B-17s in northern Africa.
The P-38 was practically indestructible. Out of the 130,000 sorties made during World War II, the plane only suffered 1.3% overall losses, and downed more than 1,800 aircraft in the Pacific theater alone. Not only that, but it was designed by the same aviation company that came up with the SR-71 Blackbird, the first model airplane I ever built (it hung from the ceiling in my bedroom, right next to my NCC-1701 Enterprise refit from Wrath of Khan).
Now that the history lesson’s over, I have to confess that I could not get enough of that goddamn game when I was a kid. It was one of the greatest vertical-scrolling shoot-em-ups to come out on the NES, and once you got deep into it, there was enough shit flying at you for the game to qualify as one of those “bullet hell” style shooters, though that particular sub-genre was still quite a few years away at that point. The sound the game played whenever your plane was low on health is ingrained in my psyche to the point where it’ll trigger a fight-or-flight response in me nearly a quarter of a century after the fact.
Video games have gotten incredibly more fancy than they were a generation ago, I don’t know if it’s because the industry has changed or if it can be attributed to the inexorable march of time, but I’ve yet to recapture the experience that I had with 1943 with any other modern game. This isn’t me wearing nostalgia goggles, either; the game wasn’t perfect by any means, since it suffered from that common NES shoot-em-up game problem where things would slow to a crawl when there was too much shit on the screen. On top of that, the password feature was enough to tempt me to throw the controller at the wall in pre-teen fury, but it was an excellent balance between challenge and frustration and it kept me coming back, even after wiping out right before the end of a level because I’d run out of health and there were something like one hundred fifty thousand little white bullets vomiting out of Nameless Imperial Navy Battleship #853.
Could you imagine being a Japanese programmer or play-tester for Capcom back in the late 80’s working on this, spending months of your life on a game where the main goal is to blow the shit out of planes and ships manned by Japanese pilots and sailors? Do you think they would talk to their families on the phone, discuss the new project they were working on, only to get disowned because their father or uncle had been creamed by a P-38 in World War II? It would be like an American company making a game where you play a Viet Cong operative planting land mines in the Mekong Delta, and you could only progress to the end of the game if you blew off the legs of enough American servicemen.
This leads me to believe, even more than the blog post I made yesterday, that the Japanese are a fucked up people. They know how to make awesome games, though.