Arcade Bootleg Hour

Bootleg culture is a wonderful thing. Something admirable about the cottage industry of cheaply made shit born from a Venn diagram of “things I saw on TV once” and “jokes your drunk, shirtless neighbor would laugh at.” There will come a day where I will finally give up, put on a denim jacket, a bootleg Simpsons shirt, and step into my shitty car with an “I Brake For Monster Booty” bumper sticker. That day will be funny as hell, in a cosmic sort of way.

I will take that shitty car, and drive it to some shithole arcade. At that shithole arcade that smells of cigarettes, sweat, and parental disappointment, I will play all of the classics. Sorry, I meant “classics.” Because it’s not just shirts and hats that get popular licenses haphazardly thrown onto them. To the surprise of nobody reading this, video games have been bootlegged out the ass since their inception, when people were straight up reselling Pong without giving money to either Ralph Baer or Nolan Bushnell (depending on who the courts tell you). I want to take a look at a selection of these cynically produced monsters that tried and (mostly) failed to fight the good fight against copyright law.

You’ve heard of Frogger before, right? Classic game about a frog crossing the street without getting violently murdered by cars. It was in an episode of Seinfeld.

Well, how about Frog?

Figured that I would start with the least inspired bootleg of all time. I mean, it’s called Frog. I’m sure this suckered a few greasy pizza joint owners into buying it. It’s not like now, where TV Games are a multi-billion dollar industry, even bigger than movies, according to literally every mainstream article written by an idiot. Back then, nobody had a fucking clue what these things were. They weren’t going to double check and make sure that they had an official Konami © 1981 product. Who cares? Put your quarters in the damn machine, and then either buy some pizza or get the fuck out!

Otherwise, this is literally just Frogger. Frogger is fine enough. There will eventually be some more bootlegs that get real weird with it. But hey, Frog!

This next bootleg is pretty special. It’s also a strange one, as it is not plagiarized from an already existing game. Rather, this is an original game, complete with its own mechanics. What makes this a bootleg is the prominently featured, unlicensed likeness of Doraemon.

This is “Dora-chan.”

Aside from a cursed title screen that makes me feel as if I will be killed in a week by a vengeful ghost, Dora-chan doesn’t follow any sort of average game conventions. You drive around in a tiny car, picking up dots and avoiding large animal heads that will either go about their business or tear ass at you full speed. This is not, however, a “dot game” like Pac-Man. The dots are only there for points, and endlessly spawn on the field. Your actual objective is to drive through a hole in the wall at the top of the screen, and ram right into a hapless Doraemon. The hole is, of course, constantly moving and shifting, so you have to avoid crashing like an idiot. There’s also a bonus level after each standard level where Doreamon shoots a single heart at a moving line of animals at the top of the screen. You can shoot any animal you want, but it looks like you get the most points from hitting another Doraemon.

Now, to say that Dora-chan feels like an unfinished, disorganized mess would be absolutely, 100% true. Like a lone programmer was testing out an idea for a game, and then his rough draft was put on a PCB board and sent out to all sorts of unscrupulous arcade owners who didn’t give a fuck. Dora-chan is a game in the loosest sense of the term, but it doesn’t matter, because that’s what makes it awesome. This fever dream disaster that looks like a game that someone on the internet made up, but is very real. The developers, Craul Denshi, would later change their name to Alpha Denshi, and make games like Magician Lord and World Heroes for the Neo-Geo. Insert a tired, unfunny joke about upgrading from bootlegging to merely ripping off here.

Dora-chan was not only popular enough to see legal action brought against it, but to be referenced in other games, as well. In Namco’s hilariously titled Tinkle Pit, if you type “Alpha” into the high score table, the game will change the name to “DORACHAN.”

The whole concept of a bootleg Doraemon was popular enough to make an appearance in Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Clearly, Dora-chan had an effect on more than a few people.

Now, are you familiar with Irem’s mega smash hit, Moon Patrol? Of course you are! We all know that the history of Irem’s shooting games begins and ends with Moon Patrol and nothing else!

Now what do you know about…

…Moon Rangor?

This is it, right here. The thing about bootlegs that’s so interesting and lovable: that distinct lack of effort. Some dude hacked together this logo in the hopes that it would hoodwink an unsuspecting arcade/laundromat owner, then realized that “shit, this is hard” after ten minutes, leaving us with what you see here. Go ahead, say Moon Rangor out loud to yourself; I like to stress the second half of Rangor, like Moon Rain-Joor. I can only hope that some kids sat around the playground in the early-mid 80s, talking about their new favorite game, Moon Rangor.

Moon Rangor is another bootleg that doesn’t do anything different. It’s merely a way to cash in on Irem’s games without Irem getting any money from it. The game itself is fine, too.

There are so many more bootlegs to cover. I’ll probably do more of these posts if people are interested. But before I end this and hit “publish,” there is one more bootleg. As far as I am concerned, it is the bootleg. Everyone knows about Donkey Kong, right? Seminal Nintendo game that launched a thousand IP’s. However, for as much as you may have liked Donkey Kong, you have never truly- truly lived a day in your life until you have played Monkey Donkey.

Monkey Donkey is what happens when you, as an individual, well and truly embraces the mediocre. It is Bootleg Simpsons in arcade game format. Liquor stores don’t have arcade machines, but if they did, they would all be carrying Monkey Donkey. You go in for some cheap cigars and those tiny “sampler” bottles of rum, wearing your “Bart Simpson but now he’s Black” shirt, a hat for either the local rock radio station or a restaurant called Big Cock McGraw’s Fuck Shack, and you throw a few quarters into Monkey Donkey before you leave to a good night’s meal of a TV dinner and a M.A.S.H rerun.

This grumpy motherfucker is constantly changing colors and taunting you. See, in the original Donkey Kong, he says, “how high can you get” punctuation as found. Donkey Kong is merely challenging you, while Monkey Donkey is stating the fact that the best you’re going to do is try, bitch. Try me, you stupid motherfucker. That’s what Monkey Donkey thinks.

Unlike the other bootlegs here, this one is totally fucked up. There’s the changing colors, the music is missing several instruments and is now a series of high-pitched beeps, the collision detection is wonky, and Monkey Donkey’s animations don’t match up to his actions, leading to him launching barrels out of his ass at high speeds. Monkey Donkey is bootleg to the core: it looks like a name brand at first glance, but the lack of craftsmanship rears its head if you look a little bit deeper. It’s incredible. Oh, and I almost forgot: Jumpman lets out a “hi-yaah!” every time he jumps. Mario can’t do that.

he also turns a frightening shade of red when he gets killed by pies

As I already said, Monkey Donkey is the bootleg. The bootleg to which I judge all others. A fucked up facsimile that reminds you of its seedy nature at every opportunity. This is my preferred way of playing Donkey Kong, to be honest. Why isn’t Billy Mitchell cheating his way to a high score in this one? Fuck.

monkey donkey breaks his fucking neck and dies when you win!

In any event, bootlegs rule. Fuck The Man.

gonbee no i’m sorry

The wonderful thing about emulation and games preservation is that it allows us to discover a new treasure every day. In the nearly infinitely large library of video games, you are never at a loss for something to check out. There’s always some new discovery to make, a new favorite to add to your list.

And then also really weird fucking shit like this.

I’m Sorry is the biographical tale of Kakuei Tanaka, the former Prime Minister of Japan, and later a member of its House of Representatives, who fell from grace after he got caught taking somewhere between $1.8 million to $3 million in bribes from Lockheed-Martin in exchange for better negotiations for new fighter planes. This game features a lot of moments of this time in his life, such as: punching Japanese comedians with a fist nearly as large as his head, running from a statue of himself that somehow came to life, picking up lots of gold bars and bringing them back to the House of Representatives, and jumping over a rolling barrel. Surprisingly realistic for 1985.

I’m Sorry is like Pac-Man meets Dateline. It’s a maze game where you have to avoid an ever-threatening group of enemies, while collecting as much as gold as you can carry back to the home base. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that. It does however, get really fucking hard really quick. I would be lying if I acted like this game was a new discovery for me; I played the shit out of this as a teenager. Or at least, as much as one could play the shit out of an arcade game that never ends. Finding this ROM hanging around on the internet and wondering what exactly the fuck an “I’m Sorry” is led me to this wonderful game. And I’m Sorry is a good game. It’s difficult, yes, but also a lot of fun. Probably more fun than it has any right to be, but still fun nonetheless.

Something that I’m Sorry shines in is its use of pop culture. Tanaka’s enemies in this game are far worse than public opinion or any oversight committee. No, he has to deal with movie stars and musicians!

The first enemy you encounter (aside from the ever present and murderous Barrel) is famous Japanese comedian Tamori. When I played this as a teen, I had assumed that he was like a yakuza member, or whatever Japan’s equivalent to a tax agent is (probably a tax agent). Tamori is an early-game preliminary enemy who vanishes after the fourth level. He doesn’t really do much, other than run around and try to catch you.

But when he does catch you? You are treated to what is easily the single greatest death animation in the history of video games. Here it is:

The medium of games peaked in 1985, and nobody knew about it.

This next enemy, the internet informs me, is supposed to be legendary pro wrestler Shohei “Giant” Baba. Bull shit. This is obviously a buff Bill Cosby. I mean, this was the 80’s, a time when we all believed Cosby to be America’s Dadtm, and not a craven sex criminal. Anyways, Bill Cosby takes about a million punches to kill, so you’re better off trying to jump over him. What a fucking sentence.

Here’s a cool picture of Giant Baba (the REAL Giant Baba) smoking a cigar:

Here it is, everyone: Michael Jackson’s first appearance in a Sega game. Other than Moonwalking everywhere, he’s more or less a replacement for Tamori. He at least turns into a zombie and bites you, sticking to the canonical ending of Thriller.

I have no idea who this is. He’s some dude who jumps around all over the level. Judging from the attire and the hair, I’m going to assume that it’s a time traveling Kurt Angle, making a video game appearance 11 years before he won the Olympic gold with a Broken Freakin’ Neck.

And then there’s Madonna. She’s there. She blows long range kisses that can kill you. I’m not much of a Madonna fan, sorry to say.

Despite the game relying entirely on knowledge of contemporary Japanese politics to understand it, I’m Sorry managed to, somehow, get a release in the US. I can’t imagine that it was a big release or anything; never saw it at any arcade I ever went to, but that’s definitely the strangest and most baffling thing about this game. Maybe Sega and Coreland thought that it would succeed on the strength of it’s unofficial celebrity endorsements and kids at school telling their friends about this game “that’s kinda like Pac-Man, but with like, more stuff to do.” Games have thrived on less.

Something about I’m Sorry that I really appreciate is that I kind of miss this era of games. A time where you could make whatever weird ass shit you wanted and release it into the mass market. You can only do that on an independent level now, to a much smaller, more focused audience. It’s a real shame.

Now then, M2, where is our I’m Sorry Switch port?

space invaders

Something that I’ve mentioned here and there in passing, but have never done an entire post about (until now anyway) is how much I fucking love Space Invaders. I’ve struggled for literally years to try and explain what it is about that game that’s so important to me. Not just because it’s a great, timeless classic that spans generations; a lot of games fit that description.

I’ve written about this one particular time in my life multiple times (see examples: Mega Man 9, No More Heroes), probably because it was a more formative time than I had previously thought; having a bad job with weird hours that kept me from being social. It’s hard to go out drinking with twenty-somethings when you have to be up at five the next day. So as a result, I would come home, tired as fuck, and just sit at my computer until bedtime. One of the first things I did when I got this job was going out and buying a new, “better” computer; a 2006 eMachines is still better than the 1999 eMachines my parents got for me as a teenager. And one of the things I did on that computer was download and play whatever MAME ROMs had interesting enough titles off of PlanetEmu (which is still alive and kicking, God Bless). I had (have) this thing for the aesthetic of old arcade games. That pre-1993 era of coin-ops.

In my weird ass brain, this old arcade style is something I find massively pleasing. Bright foreground colors to offset the solid black background. Rough, tiny sprites that manage to be detailed enough for your imagination to fill in the gaps. The loud sounds designed to reverberate through an entire arcade and get your attention. There are a number of games that fit this mold perfectly. Listing them all here would read like a passage from Ready Player One, so I won’t do that. But what I will do is say that, as far as I’m concerned, Space Invaders is the definition of the arcade aesthetic. The kind of game to keep your attention while you freeze your ass off in a shitty apartment while reading LiveJournal posts.

This is one of those posts that’s kind of weird to write. Mostly because you can’t really review Space Invaders. Everyone has played this game. Your mom has played this game. It’s on every system known to man. You can play it on your calculator, or on your watch, or in your web browser. The invader designs are so ubiquitous to the point of complete annoyance; every shitty “Gamer Aesthetic” account has to have at least a hundred pictures of these things painted on a building by some two-bit Banksy wannabe. What can I say, Space Invaders is good? No shit! It rules! It’s a timeless classic! It is literally perfect. It’s probably the most popular video game in the world, and I am utterly obsessed with it. This hypnotic, zen-like piece of art. It’s comfort food for the Depressed Gamer.

I guess I’ve already made my point about why I like Space Invaders so much, as best I can, anyway. Think maybe I’ll pad the rest of this post out with some notable versions/collections.

SPACE INVADERS (SG-1000)

The Sega SG-1000 was…it was something. A woefully underpowered console that made the mistake of coming out the exact same day as the Nintendo Famicom, which ultimately and immediately crushed it. But it did have some nice games on it, one of which being a really good port of Space Invaders. It’s easy to overlook now, but back then, having a home port of an arcade game that looked even remotely like the original game was nothing short of a miracle, which the SG-1000 managed to accomplish.

I mean, it’s not 100% accurate, but it has nice colors, you can recognize the graphics, and the screen resolution ends up working out well. Which is more than can be said for whatever the fuck the Famicom ended up shitting out.

what the fuck is this

SIMPLE 1500 SERIES VOLUME 73- THE INVADERS (PLAYSTATION)

This is a compilation pack. It contains all four version of the original Invaders (black and white, cellophane overlay, upright cabinet with the mirror reflecting the game background at you, and color). Also has a VS mode, where you fight another player/CPU to send as many invaders to their side until they lose, a Time Attack, and a 3D mode (pictured above), which is a neat gimmick, if nothing else.

There were two other compilations on the Playstation, but they aren’t as good, because they don’t have as much stuff. Play this one.

SPACE INVADERS ANNIVERSARY (PLAYSTATION 2)

Admittedly, this is pretty much the same as the previous compilation, except that this has Space Invaders Part 2. Well, there’s the aesthetic, where all of the games are played through a virtual game center. It’s interesting because the games are played directly on the machines themselves, without loading up a different screen. It’s a neat effect.

Oh, right, one more thing: you can play different background music from other Taito games! As someone who fucking loves Taito music, this rules. Just wish that there were more songs. For fucks’ sake, the ISO is less than 40 megs, I think you could have fit a few more tracks onto the DVD, guys.

Play this one, too. The PS2 collection is great.

why can’t i go into the space invaders bathroom?

SPACE INVADERS POCKET COLLECTION (PSP)

This collection is…okay. It has all four versions of Space Invaders, includes Part 2, Return of the Invaders, Majestic Twelve, and Space Invaders ’95. Won’t be covering those, as I’m trying to focus specifically on the original game here. Rest assured, they’re all fucking great. The selection and variety is great. The problem though, is that the screen resolution is really small, and cannot be adjusted for the PSP’s wide screen. Now, playing this in an emulator, this isn’t a problem. But if you’re playing on an actual PSP, like I was, it’s hard as shit to see things sometimes. That being said, it’s a big collection of games that you can play on the go, so it gets a mention here.

SPACE INVADERS (GAME BOY)

This is Space Invaders. Space Invaders on Game Boy. That’s about it.

UNLESS

Unless you plug the game into a Super Game Boy, in which case it then turns into Space Invaders: The Original Game! Granted, you could buy the compilation as a stand-alone SNES cartridge, and it was missing content from the arcade game, but whatever. Shit like this is awesome.

SPACE INVADERS DX (ARCADE)

This was the game the SNES port was based off of. An arcade game that was, again, a compilation, and had a versus mode. However, it also included a “parody” mode. This was really just more Space Invaders, but the graphics were replaced by characters from other Taito games. That’s fun.

OMAKE

I ordered these Space Invaders headphones from Japan around 12 years ago. I remember the sound quality on them being pretty okay. However, the cheap plastic used to put the whole thing together? Not so much. The electrical tape I put on to try and fix them wasn’t as sturdy as I had hoped, so I haven’t used them since then. Thought I would post about it here because why the fuck not.

Anyways. That’s Space Invaders. I love it, and it owns.