Game Developers on Acid: Megaman 2

Probably not the developers' fault. Still terrible, though.

Probably not the developers' fault. Still terrible, though.

Look, I’m not here to bash Megaman 2. Far from it. It’s one of my favourite games of all-time, and it is undoubtedly the crowning moment of awesomeness for the entire Megaman series (with Megaman 3 a close second, naturally).

While we’ve all heard the tale that Keiji Inafune and his team at Capcom somehow managed to produce this epic masterpiece during their spare time — a true labour of love, if you will — that doesn’t mean that the developers are completely infallible, however. In fact, some of the stuff in Megaman 2 is absolutely batshit insane, enough to make you scratch your head (although probably not literally, unless you have lice or something) and mutter to yourself, “just what in the blue hell were they thinking?

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Subterranean Fire-Breathing Dogs

Woodman, wanting to stay close to his roots, lives in a forest. Okay, makes sense to me. Forests usually contain animals. Yup, I’m with you there. One of the animals featured in Woodman’s menagerie of arboreal terror is a wolf. Nothing out of the ordinary. Things start getting a little bit fuzzy, however, when you realize that these wolves can only be found in underground caves. Oh, and they spit fireballs, too.

There are many things wrong with this picture.

There are many things wrong with this picture.

Okay, the kickass dragon at the end of the first Wily Castle level, it makes perfect sense for that guy to shoot fireballs. You know why? Because it’s a freakin’ dragon. But a dog? That lives in a cave? And shoots fireballs in a perfect parabolic arc? That just makes my brain hurt.

Forest, Rainforest … What’s the Difference?

Wrong type of forest, jerk.

Wrong type of forest, jerk.

While we’re on the topic of retarded enemies found in Woodman’s stage, there’s one bad guy that just doesn’t seem to fit in with all of the others. I can imagine the conversion between Inafune and his crew going something along these lines:

Inafune: “Okay, so we’ve got bats, rabbits, subterranean fire-breathing dogs, and rampaging chickens … but we still need some more enemies in this level. What other animals live in a forest?”

Developer: “Gorillas?”

Inafune: “Yeah, sure, why the fuck not.”

Dr. Wily’s Greatest Creation — Flying Hamburgers

These guys didn’t make any sense when I was in the second grade, and they sure as hell don’t make any sense now. Yes, I’m talking about the ridiculous rotating robots that hover about the territories of Heatman and Crashman and can only be described as flying hamburgers.

Would you like fries with that?

Would you like fries with that?

Could Dr. Wily have created a patrol drone that was any less threatening? Well, probably. Maybe flying robo-kittens wrapped in pink ribbons, perhaps. But at least they would theoretically have claws and mouths with which to shoot fireballs at you. The flying hamburger, on the other hand, just spins and slow bumps into you. Truly terrifying.

The Fish That Shoots Shrimp

Not as bad as the robotic Richard Simmons, of course.

Not as bad as the robotic Richard Simmons, of course.

Bubbleman: “I suggest you leave immediately.”

Megaman: “Or what? You’ll release the fish, or the shrimp, or the fish with shrimp in their mouths so when they bark they shoot shrimp at you? Well go ahead, do your worst!”

Yes, it’s true. The Simpsons outright stole the idea of dogs with bees in their mouths from Keiji Inafune and Megaman 2.

Like any giant enemy in the Megamaniverse, the fish has to shoot something, but since it lives underwater, even the developers realized that fireballs were out of the question. But why rocket-propelled shrimp? I would have accepted other fish (in the same vein as the frogs that spit little tiny frogs at you), or bubbles, or even electricity from its hanging bulb. But shrimp? Really?

Suicide Crabs

I went to Bubbleman's stage and all I got was a bunch of crabs.

I went to Bubbleman's stage and all I got was a bunch of crabs.

Still in Bubbleman’s realm for a moment, at the very end of the level you encounter a rather odd enemy — the rare flying crab. At least, it’s possible that they’re flying crabs, descending from the heavens to destroy Megaman like a bunch of avenging crustacean angels.

Of course, it could be that the crabs simply possess lemming-like qualities, causing them to leaping en masse over the edge of the waterfall that is prominently featured in the background of the level. They don’t even try to land on Megaman’s platform (but if they do, hey, whatever), instead choosing to blissfully plunge to their watery graves. If this is indeed the case, it would make the suicide crabs perhaps the stupidest AI Dr. Wily has ever programmed.

Yes, even dumber than the flying hamburgers. At least those make a conscious effort to annoy Megaman.

Hothead Gets Lost

Alright, let’s take a long, hard look at the following enemy:

Hey guys, I'm here for the party. Guys? Hello?

Hey guys, I'm here for the party. Guys? Hello?

He’s red. He’s got a big flame on his head. He throws angry little fireballs at you. His name is Hothead. So naturally he’s found in Heatman’s level, right?

Bahahaha! Keiji Inafune laughs at your pathetic logic!

Hothead, the enemy robot that perhaps fully captures the essence of heat and fire (yes, even moreso than Zippoman — er, I mean, Heatman), is actually only found in Quickman’s level. Buh? That would be like having the fat guys with fans in their stomachs appear not in Airman’s stage, but in Woodman’s. Was this a programming error? Deliberate mistake? Inside joke? Seriously, what’s the deal here?

Wily’s Not Even Trying Anymore

Wily intended to sell these in Australia.

Wily intended to sell these in Australia.

What is this thing? A boomerang dispenser? Sentient springs? Wobbly lasers? Come on, Dr. Wily, have a little pride in your work and at least construct something useful for a change.

Indeed, there’s a lot of crazy stuff in Megaman 2, and I’m fairly certain that not everything can be attributed to Japanese / North American cultural differences. But hey, the game turned out to be one of the greatest of all-time, so who am I to tell the developers at Capcom what to and what not to smoke while they create their masterpieces?

Virtual Sports Illustrated News Update, Vol. 2

Today’s top stories from the world of virtual sports:

NBA IN MOURNING AFTER TRAGIC DEATH OF SHAWN KEMP

The NBA and its fans are still in shock following yesterday’s sudden death of Seattle Supersonics power forward Shawn Kemp. During the third quarter of last night’s game versus Atlanta, Kemp spontaneously combusted in a ball of flames, writhing in agony on the court as the blaze engulfed his entire body. Paramedics at the scene extinguished the fire and attempted to resuscitate the fallen superstar, but his injuries were too severe. Kemp was pronounced dead en route to hospital.

RIP Shawn Kemp: 1969 - 1994

RIP Shawn Kemp: 1969 - 1994

Sources from inside the Seattle locker room claim that Kemp had spoken to trainers during halftime with complaints that he was “heating up”. It has been reported that the trainers brushed him off, however, believing that the “Reign Man” was instead referring to the elevated stature of his game that night, having registered an incredible 42 points at the half.

Understandably, Kemp’s teammates are devastated by the sudden passing of the team’s franchise player. “I still can’t believe he’s gone,” said a teary-eyed Detlef Schrempf. “I mean, he was playing so well. You always hear about a player being ‘on fire’, but I never thought in my wildest dreams that it could, you know, actually happen. I can’t even put into words how I feel at the moment.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern issued the following statement: “The National Basketball Association expresses its deepest condolences to the entire Kemp family, both legitimate and illegitimate. This is a very sad day for the remaining basketball fans across this great country. Please, MJ, with Kemp out of the picture we need you back more than ever. Come on, we both know this baseball thing isn’t gonna work out. Just come back home. Daddy needs you.”

DOPING SCANDAL ROCKS KARTING WORLD

Racing fans across the world were stunned by the news that fan favourite kart racer Yoshi has tested positive for illegal performance-enhancing steroids. As a result of the positive test, Yoshi will forfeit all points earned during this season’s Mario Kart Grand Prix and will be suspended for the entirety of next season. Yoshi had been in second place in the overall GP standings with 24 points, just behind Luigi, who had 36 points.

Alleged doper and disgrace to kart racing.

Alleged doper and disgrace to kart racing.

Mario Kart officials first became suspicious of Yoshi’s conduct following a string of unbelievable second place finishes, including last month’s race on Koopa Beach. At the time, the entire racing community was buzzing about its incredible finish, which saw Yoshi knocked into the last place with only a half-lap to go courtesy of a well-placed Luigi green shell, only to storm back and finish in second place — just milliseconds behind the winner, Luigi.

“I think we all knew, in the back of our minds, that something wasn’t right about the way Yoshi performed on the track”, said fellow kart racer Toad. “You always heard rumours of the rubber bands in his engine, but in the end, I guess his skills were too good to be true, I suppose.”

Others were less forgiving, including his chief rival, Luigi. “Yoshi is a dope fiend and should be banished from this great sport,” he said.

While Yoshi himself declined to comment, his representative issued the following statement on his behalf: “Yoshi! Yoshi yoshi yoshi! Bowowowowow! Yoshi! Brrrrrap! Dum dum dum dum. Yoshi!”

GRETZKY SETS NHL SCORING RECORD AS KINGS BURY HABS

It was a night to remember for #99, as “The Great One” scored 38 goals during the last night’s 61 – 0 romp over the Montreal Canadiens. The Kings got to Patrick Roy early and often, seemingly scoring at will against one of the league’s best netminders.

Los Angeles ran up the score by continuously lobbing the puck on goal from the middle of the ice just outside the Montreal blue line. Time and time again, the puck would sail in a perfect arc up and over Roy, who just stood there at the lip of the crease, seemingly frozen by the ridiculousness of the half-shot / half-dump.

“I don’t know what happened. I just can’t explain it,” said Roy following the game. “Maybe the lights got in my eyes or something. Yeah, that’s it. The lights.”

Patrick Roy fishes yet another puck out of the net.

Patrick Roy fishes yet another puck out of the net.

Montreal coach Jacques Demers took some of the blame for the loss. “I should have recognized the situation and made adjustments on the fly,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was no option in the pause menu to configure my defensive strategy, so really, I was powerless to do anything to affect the outcome of the game.”

BOXING MATCH CANCELLED DUE TO UNRULY FANS

Irate boxing fans are asking for their money back after veteran WVBA referee Mario Mario called off yesterday’s main event at the Iowa State Fair between Glass Joe and Don Flamenco halfway through the second round.

Is Don Flamenco more concerned about his hair than his career?

Is Don Flamenco more concerned about his hair than his career?

The two boxers, both looking to avoid a loss that would send them tumbling down the WVBA rankings, both employed an extremely defensive strategy for the fight — in fact, the first punch wasn’t thrown until approximately 40 seconds into the opening round. Flamenco spent the majority of the round taunting his opponent and asking to be hit, while Glass Joe simply stood his ground, perhaps mesmerized by Flamenco’s world-famous hair. What punches were thrown during the first round were nothing but weak hooks and were few and far between, prompting the fans to boo the two pugilists mercilessly.

When the lack of action spilled into the second round, the fans soon started throwing debris into the ring. With the canvas littered with pop bottles and popcorn bags, Mario had no choice but to call the fight.

“It was-a for the safety of the fighters,” said Mario. “The fans, they were going-a crazy. They wanted blood.”

When reached for comment about the fight, Flamenco simply said: “People like my hair. Don’t mess my hair!”

WVBA officials have not yet decided if the fight will be rescheduled for a later date.

Virtual Sports Illustrated News Update, Vol. 1

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world of virtual sports this week:

TORONTO COACH FINED FOR OFFICIATING REMARKS

Toronto Head Coach Pat Schwinn has been fined $5,000 for comments made following last night’s 4-2 loss to Chicago. During the post-game media scrum, Schwinn ripped into the referees as he lamented the numerous “blown calls” he witnessed throughout the game.

“I don’t know if they’re blind as bats or what, but when our guy is coming out of the zone and gets punched in the face by the Chicago player, who then goes and takes the puck up for a breakaway, that’s gotta be called, no questions asked,” Schwinn said. “I understand these are rookie referees, but these sort of non-calls have been happening far too frequently against us. Like that time the other team instigated a fight, but our guy was the only one sent to the box. It’s a joke, I tell ya. A big, fat joke.”

When asked about the fine during this morning’s practice, Schwinn had no comment.

Is it time to crackdown on fighting and roughing?

Is it time to crackdown on fighting and roughing?

HOCKEY CANADA, IIHF REACH AGREEMENT ON UNIFORMS

For months, Hockey Canada and the IIHF have been trying to find a compromise to “Jerseygate” and the use of Hockey Canada logos on team equipment, including the sweater itself. At a joint press conference today, the two sides announced that a compromise had been reached and Team Canada will take to the ice for the upcoming World Championships in a brand new uniform — in a colour that might take some Canadian hockey fans by surprise.

Team Canada's shocking new colours.

Team Canada's shocking new colours.

Gone are the days of the red, white, and black. Instead, the new sweaters will be predominantly green with slight black trim, and in a shocking twist, completely void of any Hockey Canada logos. When asked about the bold new colours, Hockey Canada issued the following statement:

“The Russians had dibs on red for whatever reason, and white would have blended in with the ice. So, we put a bunch of colours into a hat and pulled out green. Could have been worse, though. Fuchsia was one of the options.”

TEAM CANADA SELECTS ROSTER FOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Team Canada is an early favourite.

Stacked with Fat Guys, Team Canada is considered an early favourite.

After weeks of speculation, Team Canada management has announced its final roster for the upcoming World Championships. Featuring three Fat Guys and one Skinny Guy, this year’s edition of Team Canada will be strong up front, not afraid to take the body, and boasts a bevy of blistering shots from the blue line.

“We feel we have a real strong team this year,” says General Manager Jacques Poutine. “With the players we selected, we’re confident that we match up extremely well against the likes of URS and TCH.”

One puzzling omission from this year’s squad is Medium Guy, who has enjoyed a breakout season.

“Although Medium Guy had a solid year, he just hasn’t shown the skating or face-off skills that Skinny Guy can bring to the table,” Poutine said. “In a tournament this short you need specialists, not generalists, and we believe we have that in spades.”

With such a high level of talent, many are considering this year’s edition Team Canada to be the early favourites to bring home the gold.

SURVEY: UTAH JAZZ DECLARED “UNSTOPPABLE”

They're heating up!

They're heating up!

A recent poll of NBA coaches and general managers has come to one conclusion: the combination of Karl Malone and John Stockton is practically unstoppable.

With Malone’s “monster jams” and Stockton’s uncanny ability to nail three-pointers “from downtown”, the Utah Jazz are a force to be reckoned with and have definitely raised eyebrows around the league.

“Those two guys work so well together,” said one GM. “When they really get clicking and using their strengths to their advantage, they’re unstoppable. They’re on fire.”

The poll, which asked coaches and GMs to name the most-feared one-two punch in the league, saw Malone and Stockton take top honours, followed by Olajuwon and Horry of the Houston Rockets.

BLUE JAYS SLUGGER PLACED ON 15-DAY DL

The Toronto Blue Jays will have to find a way to win without the big bat of W. Jack, who has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with contusions to the knee and thigh. The incident, which occurred during the second inning of yesterday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, saw Jack violently shatter his bat over his knee after being struck out on three consecutive pitches by Boston ace S. Heat. Jack limped back to the dugout and proceeded directly to the dressing room, where he was evaluated by team medical staff.

This has been a troubling season for Jack. In addition to slumping in the batter box, he continues to fight allegations that his name is actually a pseudonym and that his true identity is “Joe Carter”.

Team doctors are still removing the splinters.

Team doctors are still removing the splinters.

The Nintendo 64 Era: Gaming’s Red-Headed Stepchild

From retro classics like the NES and the original Game Boy to newer consoles such as the Wii and the Xbox 360, I’ve played a lot of video games over the years. And like any games enthusiast, I like to, on occasion, revisit the best games of days gone by. You know, a round of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! here and there, a quick run through Megaman 2, a delightful romp through Hyrule as seen in A Link to the Past … that sort of thing. Unfortunately, there’s one generation of games that is rather difficult to go back to and play again …

The N64: The uncle you don't want to visit anymore.

The N64: The alcoholic uncle you thought was cool, but don't want to visit anymore.

It’s not the NES. Sure, it had some downright terrible games, but the true classics from that generation have passed the test of time. No, gaming’s “red-headed stepchild” is the generation that witnessed the original leap to 3D — the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation (and whatever awful console Sega was producing at the time, I suppose).

While these systems may have reigned supreme at one point in history, they’ve aged about as gracefully as a beauty queen turned meth addict. That is to say, not very well at all. So what happened since the mid-1990s? What makes the games from this once-great generation so damned miserable to play through once again?

Is it the graphics? Well, I’m no graphics whore — I don’t own an HDTV and the Nintendo DS is my current platform of choice — but I’d be lying to you if I said that the blurry, smeary, low-res, low-poly graphics of the time don’t have something to do with it. While we may forever hold titles such as GoldenEye, Mario Kart 64, and Ocarina of Time close to our hearts, have you actually played any of these games recently? It’s enough to make your eyes vomit.

Wow! It's like San Francisco has come to my living room!

Wow! It's like San Francisco has come to my living room!

Really, how anybody could look at the screenshots for these games back in 1997 and truly believe they were “cutting edge” and “state of the art” is beyond me. They looked like shit back then, and they look like decades-old fermented shit now.

There's low-poly, and then there's this guy.

Polygons rule!

In my opinion, one of technology’s greatest crimes is the fact that it forced us to trade in the gorgeous hand-drawn sprites of the SNES years for blurry textures and characters that looked like they were made up of about 24 polygons each (and that’s being generous). It was one step forward, two giant steps back for video game aesthetics.

But what about the 8-bit systems, you ask? The NES had its fair share of terrible looking games, right? Well, yes, but it’s a different kind of horrible.

You see, looking at old-school games such as Bubble Bobble, Final Fantasy, Ice Hockey and hundreds of other NES titles is like looking at a really awesome Lego sculpture. You know that it’s Lego, and as such, you expect it to be blocky, jagged and pixellated — but at the same time, you can appreciate the simplicity in its design and how the artist was able to adapt to the constraints of the medium itself to capture a unique artistic vision. The games of this generation had a certain charm that still holds up to this day.

Now take a look at N64-era atrocities such as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Shadows of the Empire, or Cruisin’ USA. While the graphics on the NES are certainly outdated, they don’t look as appallingly hideous or grotesque as the early 3D attempts of the N64 and PlayStation. Although gameplay should always be paramount, it’s easy to get turned off by a game when you’re wading through blurry textures and pea soup fog to mask its piss-poor draw distance.

Did you know that Turok took place in England? True story.

Did you know that Turok took place in England? True story.

I think the overall problem with the games of this generation is that the developers tried to do too much with too little, refusing to make the most of what they actually had to work with. Tantalized by the 3D temptress, they tried their damnedest to make ultra-realistic worlds, but their delusions of grandeur were ultimately derailed by limited power and resources. As a result, the games weren’t really optimized for the medium like they were on the NES — instead, gamers received a dumbed-down version of what was actually going on inside the developer’s mind. It’s like a painter trying to recreate a Monet with nothing but crayons and macaroni — the intent is there, but the results will never be anywhere near satisfactory.

Even the games that were once considered godly are not immune to the ravages of time. GoldenEye was the king of the N64, but it’s practically unplayable these days due to its clumsy controls, blocky graphics, and retarded AI.

That's an interesting shooting position you got there, soldier.

That's an interesting shooting position you got there, soldier.

And while I know deep down that Ocarina of Time is still a great game with a fantastic soundtrack and expertly designed dungeons, it’s still damn hard to even consider playing it again, simply because the N64 wasn’t up to par with what the game was trying to accomplish. It wasn’t until Twilight Princess came along that we got the true, definitive version of a 3D Hyrule — instead of the empty field with a couple of trees and fences that we found on the N64. It’s as though Ocarina was the beta version of Twilight Princess — so why play it again now that the final version has been released?

Sorry, Ocarina ... but time has passed you by.

Sorry, Ocarina ... but time has passed you by.

Of course, not all games from this generation are entirely unplayable. StarFox 64 can still be fun to blast through from time to time (the hilarious voice acting makes it an entertaining ride from start to finish), and they still haven’t made a wrestling game that matches the awesomeness of WCW/nWo Revenge or WWF No Mercy.

For the most part, though, I think we should leave these games to the good graces of nostalgia, because they simply don’t fit in with today’s gaming scene — not retro enough to be cool, but not advanced enough to be anything more than a stark reminder of the growing pains gaming had to go through to get to where it is today.

The Lost Art of Video Game Instruction Booklets

I’ve got a confession to make — I’m one of the few people on the entire planet that actually reads the instruction manual before playing a new video game. Always have, always will.

The instruction booklet, seen here in its glory days.

The instruction booklet, seen here in its glory days.

Sure, knowing what the hell each power-up did was great, but for me, the reading of the instruction manual was always about the story and the characters. I wanted to know about the world I was about to enter, the monsters I was about to kill, the people I was about to play as, and their motivations for doing all of the insane stuff that developers would shove into their games.

It wasn’t enough to just play the game — I had to understand the mythology of the game, too (an affliction that still haunts me to this day, as I’ve spent many an hour looking up pointless things such as the chronology of the Metroid series, for example).

Perhaps it was the fact that the NES was a fairly simple console and therefore didn’t need pages upon pages explaining motion controls, alternate controls, memory and storage options, online settings, online troubleshooting, etc., but whoever was tasked with writing old-school instruction manuals had a lot of empty space to fill. Combined with the fact that most games never really told any sort of story during the actual gameplay (meaning that the writers could make up pretty much anything they wanted), you get a whole lot of crazy shit winding up in the hands of children across the world.

Take, for example, Super Mario Bros. According to the instruction booklet, the game’s plot goes a little something like this:

One day the kingdom of the peaceful mushroom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horsehair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin.

The only one who can undo the magic spell on the Mushroom People and return them to their normal selves is the Princess Toadstool, the daughter of the Mushroom King. Unfortunately, she is presently in the hands of the great Koopa turtle king.

Mario, the hero of this story (maybe) hears about the Mushroom People’s plight and sets out on a quest to free the Mushroom Princess from the evil Koopa and restore the fallen kingdom of the Mushroom People.

You are Mario! It’s up to you to save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!

Wait … what? Black magic? Only the Princess can reverse the spell? Mario is actually slaughtering the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom with each brick he destroys? And all of this nonsense applies to a game where you run constantly to the right and eat mushrooms how, exactly?

To be fair, the very concept of the Mario series is so messed up that anything the writers could have concocted back then wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense, really. At least they tried, and in doing so they produced a classic piece of video game literature.

The victim of black magic, apparently.

The victim of black magic, apparently.

In my opinion, the best part about the instruction booklets for the NES Mario games were the detailed descriptions of the run-of-the-mill baddies Mario would encounter during his adventures. Without these ridiculous blurbs, I wouldn’t have terms such as Goomba, Lakitu, Spiny, Bullet Bill, Cheep-Cheep, Podoboo, Koopa Paratroopa, Beezo, Pokey, Sniffit, Trouter, Birdo, Monty Mole, Thwomp, and Ludwig von Koopa burned into my brain until the day I die.

And just like the main plot, the backstory for some of the baddies had to be fleshed out a bit (especially when their only characteristic was “walking left”), often with glorious results.

In the Mushroom Kingdom, slowly moving left makes you a "wild fighter".

In the Mushroom Kingdom, walking slowly makes you a "wild fighter".

Unfortunately, classics instruction booklets a rare breed these days. Maybe Miyamoto and the boys assumed that we already knew what the hell a Goomba was (which is true), but the manuals for recent Mario titles such as New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy contain nary a single word about Mario’s enemies. These new manuals are sterile and soulless, featuring a rundown of the numerous control schemes and a brief explanation of the millions of power-ups found throughout the game — and nothing more.

And that’s a damn shame, because the colourful writing and sheer personality found in the older manuals was part of the unique Nintendo charm.

I'd much rather read this insanity than learn how to troubleshoot my Wi-Fi connection.

Admit it, you'd much rather read this insanity than learn how to troubleshoot your Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

Granted, at least Nintendo still puts in some semblance of effort with its newer Mario manuals. Lots of pictures and pretty colours, and all in all, they do a pretty good job of explaining the game mechanics. However, a lot of other game companies have completely done away with the in-depth manuals of old, replacing them with cheaply produced black-and-white inserts that explain practically next to nothing about any aspect of the game save for a tiny controller map outlining which button does what.

I suppose the justification is that since hardly anybody reads the manuals (besides me), there’s no point in devoting time and resources to the project. And while this makes sense, it hardly dampens the harsh blow of disappointment that festers inside me after skimming through yet another sub-par instruction booklet.

Luckily, the lost art of awesome instruction booklets isn’t completely lost, as a select few companies still “get it”.

Useful? Not really. A good read? Most definitely.

Useful? Not really. A good read? Most definitely.

While the manuals for the Grand Theft Auto games will never be accused of being particularly useful (they’re more form than function), they’re always an entertaining read, as Rockstar Games presents the elements of the game through a series of well-written Liberty City phone books ads, tourism brochures, police bulletins, etc. It’s a truly great way to introduce the reader to the world they’re about to enter.

Meanwhile, Konami’s manual for Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS was hilariously old-school, written entirely in over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, grammatically-incorrect language designed not to bore you with technical details, but to get you pumped about putting the boots to the alien menace. Even better, it also featured a list of enemies you’ll face along the way, including the ever-so-awesome “Ingrid Birdman” and “Missile Hugger 3000”.

While a few torchbearers of the craft remain, I fear for the future of the good ol’ instruction booklet, mostly due to the impending full-scale arrival of digital download delivery methods. Will the freedom of the digital form spark a renaissance for well-written and detailed manuals? Or is the instruction booklet as we know it witnessing its final days, soon to be replaced with mere FAQs and text files? Probably the latter … but I hope I’m wrong.

All video game manuals were sourced from ReplacementDocs.com. Check it out … it’s a great trip down memory lane, if I do say so myself!

Punch-Out: The Rise and Fall of the World Video Boxing Association

There once was a time when boxing was considered the sport of kings … the sweet science … the merry art of fisticuffery. To the disappointment of many, that time has long since passed, as boxing has been marred for several years by shady promoters, criminal pugilists, and downright boring fights.

If you want to pinpoint the exact moment of boxing’s decline, you’d have to start with the arrival of an upstart organization known as the World Video Boxing Association (WVBA) — because that’s when everything started going to hell.

There’s nothing wrong with a new league trying to establish itself in the market and competing with the bigs. In fact, the more professional organizations, the more opportunities there are to make a living in combat sports. A win-win situation for everybody, right? Unfortunately, the WVBA made a complete and utter mockery of the sport of boxing, to the point where it still hasn’t — and probably never will — recover.

Are you a hopeless drunk? Welcome to the WVBA!

Can't stop drinking? Then you've got what it takes to be a contender!

The Early Years

The problem started with the types of boxers that the WVBA attracted to its organization. The promoters didn’t try to emulate the WHA of the 1970s, which successfully picked off numerous NHL superstars with insane contract offers. No, the WVBA pinched its pennies by hiring a bunch of scrubs and tomato cans from around the globe — the cast-away boxers that either couldn’t draw in the bigs or simply couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag.

I'm pretty sure disappearing isn't allowed by the Athletic Commission.

I'm pretty sure that disappearing is against the Commission's rules.

It didn’t matter if you were grossly overweight, had a raging substance abuse problem, a history of concussions, a 99-fight losing streak, or were a comically insensitive racial stereotype — the WVBA hired you on the spot. Indeed, with sad-sacks such as Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, and Don Flamenco filling out its roster, in addition to rampant allegations of cheating by fighters such as Great Tiger (all of which were conveniently ignored by league officials), the WVBA was home to the most pathetic collection of professional boxers in recent memory.

The only reason the league was even able to scrape out a niche for itself was the explosive brutality of its champion, Mike Tyson. This man was a killer, a heavyweight boxer with knock-out power second to none. And when this man was shockingly upset by a scrawny kid in a pink tracksuit by the name of Little Mac, the WVBA promoters collectively shit their trousers, as they had lost their one and only meal ticket. Without Tyson, they had no star attraction — after all, who in their right mind would want to pay to see jerks like Piston Honda and King Hippo fight for a shot of Little Mac’s title? Nobody, that’s who.

The precise moment when boxing was ruined forever.

The precise moment when boxing was ruined forever.

The Next Generation — “Boxing’s Greatest Sideshow”

With attendance plummeting and the organization leaking money, the promoters had to figure out some way to put more butts in the seats. And so, in the mid 1990s, the WVBA dropped any notion of professionalism and opened its doors to any chump who knew somebody with a pair of boxing gloves. Lumberjacks? Clowns? Lucha libre wrestlers? Actors? Old geezers? Welcome to the WVBA!

To accommodate these less-than-stellar athletes, it no longer mattered if you actually knew how to box. In fact, the boxing rulebook was tossed out completely, with fighters actively encouraged to use headbutts, flying kicks, wooden sticks, juggling balls, and a variety of other weapons and illegal tactics. Boxing purists were outraged, but the fans absolutely loved it. The WVBA was back in business!

The new generation of WVBA "boxers".

The new wave of WVBA "boxers".

The WVBA’s new business model was to put on the craziest, zaniest, most extreme boxing show on the planet. Even though boxing insiders and sports commentators deemed it a “laughing stock”, the revitalized WVBA routinely sold out arenas across the country, as everybody wanted to know what sort of freak show would step inside the ring on any given night. As a result, the league’s promoters often found themselves sleeping on top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies.

All natural, baby.

All natural, baby.

But it wouldn’t last forever.

Fresh off of its crackdown of Vince McMahon and the WWF, the United States government came down hard on the World Video Boxing Association — not for match-fixing, gambling, or even its profane mockery of the once-great sport, but for its unchecked steroid usage. The evidence was quite damning — just one look at top attractions such as the Bruiser Bros. or Super Machoman and you could practically see the bull shark testosterone and HGH oozing from their pores.

Even the league’s champion and all-around good guy Little Mac had been on the juice, directly supplied to him by WVBA officials. Indeed, millions of children wept openly as their hero confessed to his years of steroid abuse in a federal courthouse. Boxing’s one true shining light — the one-in-a-million shot from Brooklyn, the kid with a heart of gold and determination of a lion — had been extinguished.

Before and After. Note the roid-rage induced glint of insanity in his eyes.

Note the roid-rage glint of insanity in the eyes of the "After" shot.

Devastated by the scandal and financially ruined by tremendous legal fees, the WVBA was forced to shut its doors in the late 1990s. By then, however, the damage was irreparable. Boxing was now seen in the eyes of the public as a fraud and a joke (a froke, perhaps), no longer worthy of its time or attention.

As the years went by, the WVBA became an afterthought in the world of combat sports, remembered only be a few lonely souls on the Internet basking in the nostalgia of larger-than-life characters like Bear Hugger and Mad Clown.

That is, until recently …

The Revival

Over the past few weeks, rumours have been swirling like crazy that the WVBA is being resurrected by an unknown group of foreign investors. If this is true, all sorts of questions need to be answered.

First, what sort of fighters will we see in the revived World Video Boxing Association — the broken down has-beens of the early years, or the cartoon characters of the mid-90s? Is the public ready to forgive Little Mac, who has reportedly pledged his support to the new WVBA? What is the target market that the promoters are going after? And finally, can a revitalized WVBA bring boxing back to the top of the sporting landscape?

Little Mac and Glass Joe fight again.

Can Little Mac reclaim his lost glory and bring the WVBA back into the spotlight?

Time will tell, friends. Time will tell.