I love the Castlevania franchise. That mixture of atmosphere, gameplay and whipping skeletons so hard their heads fall off just keeps me coming back for more with each new game. Sure it loses its way sometimes (yes, I mean you Castlevania: Judgement), but the one thing it always seems to get right is the music. From the first NES titles to the modern releases, the Castlevania series has produced some of the best soundtracks in videogaming history. With that in mind, here's a roundup of some of the best Castlevania remixes!

Virt: Once Upon a Time in Transylvania (Clockwork)

Let's start with a real masterpiece. Virt takes the "Clockwork" track and gives it a remix that's part spaghetti western, part speed-metal extravaganza and one hundred percent awesome. You should all visit his website and check out his other stuff, because the guy is good.

Sixto Sounds: Wicked Six (Wicked Child)

More metal, this time with an almost prog feel. Nice use of organs to give it that perfect vampire-killing vibe and some excellent soloing make this a great track.

Konami Kukeiha Club: Op. 13 (Slash)

In 1994, Konami released Perfect Selection: Dracula Battle, a CD of Castlevania track arranged by Naoto Shibata of Japanese metal band Anthem. It's a real classic, possibly the best arranged videogame music album ever released, and I could have easily filled this list by using tracks from it and it's companion Perfect Selection: Dracula Battle II. I struggled to decide on a track to use, but eventually I settled on Op. 13. There's a bit of confusion here, because while the track is listed on the album as "Op. 13", it is actually a remix of a different Castlevania track, "Slash". Whoops. Still, don't let that distract you: just play this track, preferably at high volume.

Midi Pro Power 6: Crystal Teardrops

An odd one, this: it's a remixed midi version of Symphony of the Night's "Crystal Teardrops" produced for an album called Midi Pro Power 6. I rather hesitated with this one, because despite it being a good remix, the limitations of the midi instruments really show. I went with it in the end because "Crystal Teardrops" is a fantastic song that doesn't get remixed nearly enough, and plus I have to fill my quota of slightly cheesy tracks.

Konami: Dracula's Castle (Castlevania: Judgement version)

Castlevania: Judgement was, let's face it, a disaster. While maybe you could make a good Castlevania beat-em-up, this certainly wasn't it, with dull combat and some of the worst "re-imagined" characters I've ever seen. However, C:J has one thing going for it in a big, big way, and that's the soundtrack. Jam-packed with remixed tracks from across the franchise, it's the best soundtrack on the Wii and possibly the best soundtrack of this generation of consoles. Again, I had trouble deciding on a favourite for the list, but I've gone for this version of "Dracula's Castle" from SotN. If this was a fair and just universe, this music would play whenever I walked anywhere.

Dhsu: A Clockwork Vampire (Clockwork / Vampire Killer)

Another version of "Clockwork", but this time a beautiful, pared-back piano version. A nice change of pace if you're not a fan of the heavier remixes, it really lets the quality of the composition shine through.

nintendude8VG: Bloody Tears SNES Remix (with Megaman X sounds)

Remixing tracks using old SNES soundfonts is a trend that I can get behind. Here's a great version of the legendary "Bloody Tears" recreated using the sounds from Megaman X2, and it'll having you pining for some king of Megaman / Castlevania crossover.

?: Divine Bloodlines Rock Remix

As the title suggests, a rockin' version of Richter's theme, with great guitars and synths. Perfect for storming the castle of an evil vampire lord. If anyone knows who arranged this, please let me know.

goat: Pools of Rust (Stream / Aqueduct Stage)

An overlooked theme gets an excellent guitar workout, with a nice piano break in the middle. goat's remixes are consistently very good, so of you enjoy this I recommend you look him up.

Powerglove: Vanquish the Horrible Night (Medley)

And to finish, here's some full-on heavy metal Castlevania madness courtesy of Powerglove. A great medley of tracks in this one, with something for everyone, assuming they like metal versions of Castlevania tracks. If you don't, why are you reading this?

So, that's ten great Castlevania remixes. I hope you enjoyed them, and that they made your cursed night a little less horrible.



ARRRGH DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA PEW PEW I'M A PEACE-LOVING CITIZEN BRRAP BRRAP OH HI THERE, sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of Midway's 1991 arcade bullet-a-thon Total Carnage!

First, a bit of a history lesson. In 1982, two men called Eugene Jarvis and Larry deMar released an arcade game called Robotron: 2084, a top-down shooter in which you played as a little guy who has to blast swarms of robots. So far, so much like every other arcade game involving robots. However, Robotron had an ace up it's sleeve: the control system. Instead of pointing at an opponent with the joystick and then pressing a button to fire, Robotron featured a dual-joystick control system. The left-hand stick moves your character, and the right-hand stick fires your robot-smashing weapon in whatever direction you push it. It's a fantastic control system that still feels great today. Apparently it came about because Jarvis, having damaged his hand in a car accident, couldn't use the standard joystick-plus-button systems. Fun facts!
Then in 1990 came Smash T.V., a true classic in the often-crowded field of "videogames where you shoot a lot of stuff". Again designed by Eugene Jarvis, Smash T.V. took Robotron's gameplay and control system and placed them into the plot of the greatest movie ever made: The Running Man. So, unlike Robotron's hero trying to save humans from robots and their agonizing steel probes, Smash T.V. casts you as a contestant on an ultra-violent gameshow try to win (as the game itself puts it) big money and big prizes, mostly by shooting up room after room filled with squishy human meatlumps. Imagine (if you're old and British enough) Pat Sharp's Funhouse but with approximately four million percent more screaming, bullet-riddled death and no mullets.
Finally, in 1991 Midway released Total Carnage, a spiritual sequel to Smash T.V. which retains the same basic gameplay and replaces the gameshow plot with that of an 80's action film. And that's the game I'll be looking at today!

I've already pretty much covered the gameplay: the left stick moves your character, the right stick fires in the direction pressed, NOW KILL ALL. You can also press the Start button to drop a bomb on the floor, which is useful for blowing things up good. There is a story, although I'm sure you've already guessed it's not up there with The Godfather or No Country For Old Men or even The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Total Carnage was released in that little pocket of time just after the Gulf War and the fall of Communism, when the villains in American media were shifting from Russians to vague Middle-Eastern types. Total Carnage's villain is one of the latter, a military leader dressed as a doorman called General Ahkboob, leader of the far-out and wacky nation of Kookistan.

I am honestly surprised he isn't called Sodamn Insane.
He's creating "bio-nuclear" mutants, whatever the hell they are, and he must be stopped. You know all this because you're warned in the introduction by a journalist called Candy Blitzer, possibly named for CNN journalists Candy Crowley and Wolf Blitzer. I'm going to have to have kids now so I can name them all Wolf Blitzer. I hope I have octuplets so there're eight Wolf Blitzers runnin' around, blitzing things and acting like wolves.

Candy Blitzer bears a disturbing resemblance to Robert Z'Dar, a B-movie actor once accurately described in an episode of MST3K as "a catcher's mitt with eyes". Cut to some military guy who decides that there's only one course of action: send in the Doomsday Squad! The Doomsday Squad consists of two men, making a mockery of the word "squad". Player one plays as the nattily-named Captain Carnage, while player controls Major Mayhem. Why is Major Mayhem Player 2 when he's the higher-ranked officer? Who knows. I'm pretty sure it's not normal for Majors to be running around on the battlefield anyway.

A couple of unusual things await you at the start of the game. One is that there is a password system, allowing to warp to the later areas by walking on a teleporter thingy and entering a four-letter code. Very unusual for an arcade game. Secondly, you're told that if you collect 220 keys during the course of the game, you will be allowed access to the "Pleasure Domes". More on those later, but first it's time to shoot things.
Well, the main enemies are your average troopers. There's are also big bald fellas called Mr. Butane who fill a similar role to Mr. Shrapnel from Smash T.V., i.e. taking more than one shot to kill and generally getting in the way. There's also a lot of heavy ordnance to dispatch such as jeeps and tanks. You generally have to blow them up with your supply of bombs, and doing so will net you a "Big Stuff Bonus". Then there's Ahkboob's bio-nuclear-enhanced troops. Their enhancements seem to mostly consist of having skin in a variety of x-treem '90s shades like neon green, being slightly better at murdering people with axes than a normal human and projectile vomiting. There are also spiders, large and small, which is always a treat. To round things off, there are plenty of inanimate stuff that'll kill you, like landmines and barrels that explode if you walk near them, just like barrels do in real life. That's why I quit my job as a cooper, folks.

You start with might be considered a piddly little machine gun, but because most enemies die in one hit you can use it to create widespread carnage faster that a lion with a bomb strapped to its teeth. There are other weapons to pick up too; they're only temporary, and they run out after a certain amount of time, or possibly after you've used all their ammo. It doesn't matter, because you are constantly firing in Total Carnage so it works out as being the same thing. As most of the enemies do die in one hit, the advantages of the other weapons isn't necessarily their killing power but the fact that they either fire faster or their projectiles take up more space on the screen. So, there's an upgraded machine gun which pours out even more molten death, rocket launchers with nice wide projectiles and a grenade-launchery thing that fires in an arc. The best weapon by far is the blue flamethrower, simply because it fills 80% of the screen with fiery, lung-boiling plasma every time you pull the trigger. This is handy because it give you more time to concentrate on running the fuck away.

Yes, Total Carnage is tough. Real tough. Tougher that concrete jerky encased in vulcanised rubber. You die in one hit from... well, everything. That's pretty standard for an arcade title of the time, but what Total Carnage has on its side is the sheer volume of things that want you dead. Foes pour in from all sides pretty much constantly, and even though you tear through them quickly and gorily enough to give Keith Vaz a heart attack you're often simply swamped by weight of numbers. It's like being killed by a terrible accident in a tissue paper factory.
This leads me onto something I rather like about Total Carnage: the overwhelmingly hostile atmosphere. This is not a game that wants you to do well, and it lets you know what if thinks of you, you pathetic little oik. Right from the start it's telling you that you must feel "pain before pleasure" and new areas are announced with proclamations such as "YOU ARE SURROUNDED. PREPARE FOR TOTAL CARNAGE!" and my very favourite "YOU ARE THE WEASEL MAN. YOU SHALL ABSORB TOTAL PAIN!". Personally, I find this constant hectoring tone rather enjoyable, especially when you blow something up good. Feels like you've achieved something, you know?

The difficulty gets even higher during boss battles. There aren't that many, but the ones you do have are against giant mutants, like this cheerful chap: Orcus.

He's described as "The Mother of all Boss Monsters", and that's not far off. I'm fairly certain there aren't enough metal ores in the entirety of the Earth's crust to create the amount of bullets required to take him down. It's a fight that goes on, and on, and on, but at least Orcus has the decency to show some visible damage so you know you're actually hurting him.

Yep, that looks pretty sore. One of the nice things about the Total Carnage bosses is that you really do feel like you're pulverising them. As well as their visible damage, they get buffeted around the screen by your bombs and recoil from your shots. It's a nice change from a boss in, say, Gradius where most of the time you only know you're hrting them because they flash a different colour. Orcus is a mean son of a gun, attacking with his gun-arms, by rolling around the screen, by shooting fire out of his nose and by firing hundreds of giant tongues at you. That is disgusting. Resident Evil wishes it had enemies this grim. Eventually even this mighty green bastard will fall under a relentless hail of bullets, however.
Total Carnage is definitely fun. It's pure arcade action, where the only imperative is to fill the enemy with more holes than the plot of an Uwe Boll movie, and the control system is such a simple yet perfect match for the gameplay that it's a joy to use. Sure, it's hard like a granite viking, but that's why I recommend you play the arcade version over the SNES port so you can just keep chucking credits in (and you'll want to chuck credits in).

Graphically, it's above average bordering on good. The sprites are nice and sharp if not massively well-animated, but they get by on sheer charm, with nice touches like individual animations for each cause of death. The art style used in the cutscenes is, well... you saw Candy Blitzer in the intro, right? The music isn't anything to write home about either, but one area where Total Carnage hits just the right note is the sound effects. The gun noises and particularly the explosions sound great, but the best thing is the digitised speech, and there's plenty of it. Your commander's cry of "Send in the Doomsday Squad!" gets things off to a good start, and Orcus shouting "My eyyyyeeee!" when you shoot him in the face is as satisfying as it sounds. Best of all is General Ahkboob, who is constantly berating you inbetween claiming that he's "a peace-loving citizen". Best of all, he tells you "I'll buy you for a dollar!", a nice twist on Smash T.V.'s "I'd buy that for a dollar", which in turn was shameless plundered from Robocop. Interestingly, Ahkboob's voice is provided by Ed Boon, who later went on to co-create the Mortal Kombat series.

And what of our nemesis? Eventually you'll battle through enough goons to reach Ahkboob's lair. As a boss, he's surprisingly normal-looking.

He rides around in his metal chair thingy, firing approximately 78,000 lasers a second at you and shouting "Now survive this barrage of missiles!" (don't worry, you won't). Do him enough damage, and he reappears as a giant disembodied head. As you do.

Again, the basic formula of shooting him and not getting hit applies. But wait! Ahkboob has one last trick up his sleeve! Are you ready for the final revelation?
...Really, are you ready?
Okay then, here we go:

Yes, it turns out he was Hitler all along, Of course he was. In fairness, this was a plot twist that I didn't see coming, thus giving Total Carnage a better plot than any M. Night Shyamalan movie. There is no explanation given as to how Hitler survived the Second World War, became a giant disembodied head and took over a middle-eastern nation. That's a shame, because fuck me that's gotta be one hell of a story.
Once you kill ol' Adolf, he turns into a gloopy red skull and dies. Except he's not dead, because Hitler/Ahkboob attempts to escape by releasing a horde of clones. You have to bump into them all as they run past and find the real Ahkboob. If he escapes, you get a slightly worse ending. If you capture him, however, you put him in the electric chair for his genocidal crimes, turning mankind's ultimate sanction into a button-mashing minigame. Classy. Enough button presses and...

Well, he's dead now.
One final thing. Remember the Pleasure Domes I mentioned at the start? Well, forget that. I didn't collect enough keys. I was too busy trying not to die to collect keys. I'm not even sure there are 220 keys in the game. Fuck you keys, is what I'm saying. But wait, there's the password system! Hallelujah! And there is indeed a code to get into the Pleasure Domes.

It's just a short corridor with no enemies that's stuffed full of items that you can collect for bonus points. There are also a couple of statues of Mutoid Man from Smash T.V., which is nice. Once you reach the end, you're treated to a picture and some text.

A pair of identical twins and Lucy Lawless await. The guys from Smash T.V. are there too, as though this is some kind of weird Valhalla for shirtless gun-toting psychopaths. The ending text berates you for not collecting every single item of treasure in the Pleasure Domes, and vaguely hints at some kind of extra reward if you collect it all. However, no-one has ever done this. Apparently people have even gone into the game code to look for anything different, but there's nothing there, meaning the whole thing was just a tease on Midway's part and in no way justifies the pain it would take to collect 220 keys and then get every bit of treasure. Imagine I'm shaking my fist at you, Midway, and hang your collective heads in shame.

And that's Total Carnage. It really is fun, and the more I've played it, the more I've enjoyed playing it. Go on, give it a try. As the announcer from Smash T.V. would say: "I LOVE IT!"



Licensed games, eh? Sure, there are a few that buck the trend and aren't soul-curdlingly terrible, but on the whole they're a way to slap a recognisable face on any old dreck and hope that seeing, say, Superman's chiselled mug beaming out of an advert or some boxart will get gullible saps to part with their hard-earned. Hooray for capitalism and clueless grandparents buying games for their spawn. The NES has its fair share of awful licensed titles (I'm looking at you, Conan), but I'm going to redress the balance with some fake title screens from licensed NES that don't exist. You'll wish they existed, though, oh yes. You'll wish so hard your eyes turn into tomatoes and fall from their sockets, splattering on the floor in a chunky red paste. First game please!

Blade Runner

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What would a Blade Runner game for the NES be like? Well, it wouldn't be like the PC game, and by that I mean it would be neither a detailed, 3D point-and-click adventure, and nor would it be good. It would have almost certainly been a side-scrolling platformy shootery thing, like Megaman, but again; not good. There would probably have been a terrible on-rails section where you piloted a Spinner, with one hit kills and everything. Also, there's something about the combination of those particular orange and brown colours on Deckard's coat that just screams "NES graphics", don't you think?

Clockwork Orange

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Surely this would have been a River City Ransom-style scrolling beat-em-up, complete with chiptune version of "Singing' in the Rain" that plays as you kick a tramp to death. Also included would be a button-mashing minigame where you have to hammer the buttons like the mighty Thor himself to help Alex resist the Ludovico Technique. Or course, you cannot resist the Technique, and you're left with an inability to listen to the music of Beethoven as well as irreparably damaged thumbs.

Ghost World

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A Zelda-style RPG where you much travel the city collecting vicious put-downs and cynical quips. Call Steve Buscemi a Klansman! Wait for a bus! As a sub-weapon, you get to hurl rare blues vinyl at people. Comes with a warning label due to strong language and the fact that Steve Buscemi's digitised face is terribly, terribly disturbing.


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Did you know that there almost was a Hellraiser game for the NES? Color Dreams, a company infamous for making NES games with license from Nintendo, were working on a Hellraiser game that was apparently so advanced it required a special "Super Cartridge" to work. Sadly, the whole endeavour was just too expensive and the game was cancelled. You can read a bit more about it here, if you like.
This version would have been better though. Imagine Metal Gear, but instead of avoiding soldiers you're trying to sneak past a group of sadomasochistic demons who want to drag you back to hell with them so they can do horrible things to you involving chains and hooks and possibly the music of Peter Andre. Sounds fun, huh? Well, I've played Haunting Ground, and that wasn't fun, but then again it didn't have Pinhead in it. More's the pity.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000

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All I can imagine is that an MST3K videogame for the NES would play like a primitive version of Guitar Hero, but instead of pressing a button to play a musical note you have to press it to make jokes at the expense of a cut-scene that is playing in the background. The films start off gentle, perhaps with something like Jack Frost, but they get more and more painful to watch until the final confrontation with Manos: The Hands of Fate.
P.S. This one is my favourite.

The Shining

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Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece of isolation, madness and creepy guys in bear suits as a videogame? Why the hell not! There are two ways you could go with this one: either play as Wendy and hide around the hotel, trying to avoid Jack and his axe. Or, play as Jack and attempt to brutally murder your wife and child. Hmm, that one might not have got past the censors.
I'd like to imagine it'd have cutscenes like the ones in Ninja Gaiden (the NES version, not the new ones) of the opening scenes, with a little pixellated car driving along some winding mountain roads. That'd be great.

And that's your lot. I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into a parallel world that could have been. I hope you're not too disappointed that these games don't exist: if you are, I'd like to remind you that they would have been licensed NES games, and therefore would have been shit.



Allow me to take you on a journey to the outer reaches of the bad videogame, a place where words like "fun", "fairness" and "excitement" are forbidden, replaced with an unending stream of bullshit and baffling design choices. A place of darkness, hopelessness and smashed control pads. A place called Dragon's Lair on the NES.

You might already know about Dragon's Lair. If you don't, it was an arcade game released in 1983 featuring Dirk the Daring and his attempts to rescue Princess Daphne from a dragon. Its main claim to fame was its graphics: stored on a Laserdisc, Dragon's Lair featured beautiful cartoon graphics created by former Disney artist Don Bluth.

The gameplay was, in essence, a series of Quick-Time Events where you had to press a direction or the Sword button in reaction to whatever was happening on the screen. The gameplay wasn't up to much but the graphics, especially when compared to contemporary titles like the original Mario Bros. (released the same year,) were astounding and made Dragon's Lair one of the most successful arcade games ever. So, it's a pretty sub-par game elevated to a much higher status by having good graphics. That's fair enough. However, the success of DL meant that publishers were very keen indeed to release versions for the home consoles of the time. Home consoles that could not come anywhere close to recreating the graphics of the arcade version, robbing DL of the one thing that set it apart. This is where our tale of woe begins.

Much the same as Pierre le Chef, I was bought the NES version of DL when I was a child by a relative who was no doubt well-intentioned but had unwittingly exposed me to one of the greatest sources of pain in my short life. Whoever bought it for me, I forgive you. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea, with its cartoony cover and promises of thrilling battles with evil dragons. You weren't to know. The wounds are still there, but I hope this article will go some way to aiding the healing process.
Some of you might be thinking to yourselves "If this game is so bad, why did you play it?" That's because when I was a child, the arrival of a new videogame was a rare and wondrous event, with usually only birthdays and Christmas supplying a fresh batch of pixellated joy. When we got a new game, that meant we had to play the game as much as possible, because it was all we had and the thought of playing a terrible videogame was much more appealing than the thought of playing no videogames at all. So Dragon's Lair and I became rivals, bitter enemies who spent years inflicting pain on each other. It was like being married to an adulterous, short-tempered, brain-damaged cobra.
Onto the game itself, then. Rather than the QTE extravaganza of the arcade version, NES owners were lumped with what might be described as a “platformer” but more accurately described as a “lurch around slowly while dying a lot simulator”. Pictured above is the first screen of the game .You play as Dirk the Daring, the lanky knight on the left. The first thing you'll notice if you are ever unfortunate enough to play Dragon's Lair is that Dirk is incredibly, glacially slow. He's less a knight, more a vaguely humanoid pile of molasses. You'll also notice that pressing B makes you jump and A makes you attack, meaning the controls are the opposite of pretty much every NES game ever. Speaking of attacks, Dirk clearly has a sword: he walks with his hand on the hilt, so he should know where the bloody thing is. Sadly, you never get to see him use it, because pressing attack makes you throw small daggers instead. Once you move (very slowly) forward onto the drawbridge, some bats appear, some of the floor disintegrates and a goofy dragon pops his head up.

Obviously, the first thing you'd try and do is jump over the dragon and into the castle. Okay, so you give it a try. You're over the dragon! He can't turn around and hit you, so you're fine. Then you notice that the door has closed. Well, that's okay, maybe you just have to walk into it, maybe press a button. Oh no. Oh no, no, no. You see, walking into the closed door kills you instantly. Well, it doesn't just kill you; touching this eldritch oaken barrier causes Dirk to lose all his skin and crumble into a pile of bones.

What the fucking Christ. As you can see, the bullshit-o-meter is running pretty high, and we're still on the first screen. You restart back at the start of the screen, ready to try a different strategy. Walk forward, kill the bat, trigger the dragon's appearance and make your way back to the left hand side. Okay, now to just throw some daggers at the dragon. That'd be all well and good, but your daggers sail harmlessly over the dragon's head. If you crouch and throw, the dragon ducks too. The solution to this is something it took me a long, long time to figure out when I was a kid. What you have to do is get right to the left-hand side of the screen and throw your daggers so that they hit the dragon as they arc downwards. Oh, and make sure you duck in time to avoid the dragon's occasional fireballs, which will kill you instantly. Well, it's a little more understandable than the killer doors, I guess.

You do actually have a health bar, but touching anything other than the very smallest of enemies will simply kill you outright. Well that's fine, you might say, there are plenty of games where you die in one hit. Yes, but in those games you're not usually trying to control something with all the responsiveness and grace of a tranquilized walrus. Eventually, if you're very lucky, you might just make it into the castle...

...where you will be instantly killed by prisoners feebly throwing pebbles from their cells. Pebbles. Instant death. I think you see where this is going. Just ahead are some spikes that move up and down. They kill you in one hit, too. How the fuck did Dirk even become a knight? He's so delicate he'd probably have exploded in a shower of bones when he put his helmet on. No wonder he never uses his sword, he's probably afraid it'll turn on him and stab him in the junk.

Then some snakes magically pop into existence. Not out of cracks in the walls, not falling from the ceiling, they're just there suddenly. They also spit pebbles. Deadly, deadly pebbles. I mean, of all the places where a snake might magically appear out of thin fucking air and spit a small rock at you, an evil dragon's castle is probably one of the most likely, but come on; this is the second goddamn screen of the game.

Oh yes, and this prick. The Lizard King. No, not Jim Morrison's ghost, but a snake in a dressing gown who randomly appears and floats around, trying to bump into you. He's invincible but luckily he doesn't kill you in one hit, which is a refreshing change in the same way that having a mouthful of battery acid is a refreshing change from having a mouthful of your own faeces.
The boss, if you want to call it that (and if you do, what is wrong with you?) is a small corridor where the mystical snakes keep appearing, spitting their deadly rocks at you. Jesus, even Splatterhouse let you get hit more than once!

After that, you're placed on an elevator, traveling downward. A small platform appeared at the side, so I jumped off and confidently stepped into what I assumed what stage two. Except it wasn't stage two, it was STAGE FUCKING ONE. Getting off the lift at the wrong place forces you to do the stages you have previously passed again. How is that physically possible, anyway?! I traveled down, but ended up at the same vertical level that I started the game at? Can I ignore the laws of physics now? Huh? CAN I? If so, I'd like to teleport far, far away from this goddamn castle, take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Eventually (after dying a couple of times trying make the jump from the elevator) I made it to stage two. I think. For all I know, it could be stage eighty-seven, or stage three thousand, four hundred and ninety-one, or stage Why The Hell Am I Still Playing This Game. Stage two is a mine-type area, still full of bats and insta-death sliding blocks, but with the added complication of nigh-invisible moving platforms.

You have to walk in time with the platform, or it just rolls out from under you and you fall onto a giant fluffy pillow. No, I'm kidding, you die. Does Dirk have no friction on his feet? I'm pretty sure that if you stand on something that's moving, you move with it.

The boss is a pair of dwarves or goblins or some other Tolkien nonsense. They hide in some mine carts and throw rocks at you. I dunno, maybe Dirk has a rare and fatal allergy to rocks. You're a knight, goddamit! Just walk up to them and slice their heads open with that sword that you clearly have right there, you're resting your hand on it right now, STAB HIM! After that's done with, it's back to the elevator of doom and on to stage three. I'd just like the mention that the exits of the elevator change after each level, so odds are that you'll get off the lift at the wrong place and have to redo a stage you've already completed. Oh ho ho, doesn't that sound like fun, children?

Stage three is full of floating skulls, including one floating skull who bobs up and down until you hit him, which makes him stop in place, spinning on his axis and firing death-rocks at you. Of course, as soon as you see him your first instinct is to throw a dagger at him. Bad move! Now the skull has stopped right in the middle of your path, blocking your way, and he won't move again until you die. You have to remember that he's coming up and make sure you hit him at the top of his arc; otherwise you can't get past him. I really am losing the will to go on at this point. There are also some swinging-ball death-trap things, but they're surprising easy to dodge. You can also get a weapon upgrade!

You can get throwing axes instead of your daggers. Joy of joys, rapture unconfined. Just beyond the axe is this little area:

Doesn't look like anything special, right? Well, what you are looking at here is one of the worst sections of any videogame I have ever played. I have played a lot of bad games. I've played the Transformers game for the NES. I've played Hooters Road Trip. I've played E.T., goddamnit. But in all my years of videogaming, this, this is the worst area. You see, there's a small platform that moves back and forth across the gap. Okay, that's fine. I can deal with that. It doesn't quite cover the whole gap, so you can't walk onto it. Again, that's fine, I'll just jump it. Except, you see that small piece of the ceiling that's hanging down? That impedes your jumping. You bounce off it and travel backwards slightly. So the only way to get onto this platform is to purposefully smash Dirk's head into the wall and time it so that as he bounces, dazed and bloodied, off the protruding ceiling, he falls backwards onto the platform. You must them immediately hold right, otherwise the platform slides out from underneath you. Did I mention that there are skulls constantly spawning just over the platform? Because they are. They are also literally unavoidable, so your health is constantly being drained. Then, because the platform doesn't reach all the way across the gap, you have to make Dirk jump across, but because he is SO. GOD. DAMN. SLOW the platform usually moves from under you before you can jump. Oh, but it gets worse. Just at the edge of your destination platform, right in the only spot you can land on because Dirk has all the jumping power of a quadriplegic rhinoceros, is a power-up(down) that takes away your newly-acquired axe and gives you your daggers back.
Welp. I'm almost speechless. I hate this game so very much.
Somehow, I found the mental fortitude required to keep playing. After that last area, I think I might have ascended to a higher plane of consciousness because the rest of the stage floated by in a dreamlike haze. That or I was so full of rage I had an aneurysm and I’m in dire need of medical assistance.

The stage’s boss is Death, the Grim Reaper, the Ultimate Answer, a bony fellow with a scythe. You get the idea. I ran towards him, eager for his embrace and an end to the suffering, but then I remembered I hadn’t seen all the stages yet, so I shot him in the face until he died or un-died or whatever happens to Death when you batter him hard enough. Compared to the rest of the game, this battle is fairly easy. Fairly easy for Dragon’s Lair, I mean; if you were playing as Super Mario, it would be embarrassingly easy, but Dirk’s sluggishness and his tendency to die at the faintest of touches make sure that it becomes an exercise in grinding frustration.
A quick point; like Castlevania, Dragon’s Lair has Death as a boss but not the final boss. In many ways, DL is like a poor man’s Castlevania: a lone hero enters an evil castle, fights Death, and has trouble jumping. Except Castlevania is a true classic of the 8-bit era and Dragon’s Lair plays like it was programmed by a blind four-year-old.

Right then, the final stage. Gird yourself, everyone. The stage is set in a swamp of some kind, and the first thing you encounter is a bubble. Touching bubbles hurts you. Dirk, a grown man, a knight no less, wearing chainmail and a helmet is hurt by touching a bubble. You’re not surprised, right? I know I wasn’t. Dragon’s Lair has turned my into a paranoid schizophrenic, terrified that everything is out to get me, although in DL’s case it actually is. There are also some very difficult-to-kill baby dragons that are fatal if touched, and right at the end there’s a jump set up in such a way that you are almost guaranteed to pick up the daggers, making the final boss fight pretty much impossible.

And here is the final boss; Singe, the titular Dragon. He’s a fat, floppy-necked beast who fires smaller dragons out of his gut and breathes deadly smoke at you. He’s one of the most difficult, unfair and broken bosses that I have ever had the misfortune to fight. He’s like a thousand Geese Howards trapped in the body of podgy old dragon. He’s got two methods of attack: first, he can fire baby dragons at you, and they in turn can shoot fireballs. Touching either the baby dragon or its fireball is instant death. Singe can also fire puffs of smoke (he doesn’t breathe deadly, oh I don’t know, fire or anything, just smoke,) either at head height or along the ground. These are also lethal. Due to the NES’s limitations, sometimes the smoke puffs flicker or even disappear altogether, which will make your life a little more difficult.
If you come into this fight equipped with the daggers, forget it. Save your time, just turn the game off and walk away. I think it might actually be impossible to finish the game with the daggers: each of the baby dragons takes four daggers to kill, and you simply cannot kill them fast enough to avoid all the fireballs and smoke. Remember, the game laid a trap just before this fight whereby you are almost certain to pick up the daggers. It’s like getting to the end of a Final Fantasy game and having all your equipment removed just before the climactic battle, or getting to the final lap of a race in Gran Turismo and suddenly having your wheels fall off.
My hatred for this game reaches depths that have rarely been imagined in the history of humanity. I want to find all those responsible for its creation and force them to play it, over and over and over until Ragnarok begins and a giant pixellated dragon with a floppy neck descends from the sky and incinerates them all in a cloud of flickering smoke.
Singe’s attacks are random and unlearnable, and Dirk controls like a drunken moose, and everything kills you in one hit. Eventually, after a titanic battle – the battle to not stab myself in the face with pencil, I mean – Singe is finally defeated. Do you want to have a guess at the ending?

Of course. It’s just a single screen with some text and a badly-rendered picture of Dirk and Daphne. It seems rather fitting. They probably (and justifiably) figured that no-one would ever see it, but I have seen it. I’ve completed Dragon’s Lair. It’s over, and now I am at peace, the demons of my youth laid to rest.
So that’s Dragon’s Lair, a steaming pile of shit in the vague shape of a NES game. I’m trying to think of something, anything positive to say about the game so that this article doesn’t just come across as a hate-filled rant, but that’s precisely what it is. The only thing I can think of is that Dirk is quite well animated, and you have plenty of time to appreciate this as he slowly trudges around the screen. Apart from that, there’s nothing but pain and disappointment waiting for you here. The NES version of Dragon’s Lair can stand forever as a testament to the folly of putting graphics before gameplay: just don’t ever attempt to play it.



Bonjour, mes amis, and welcome to another installment of Fighters of the World! Last time it was the fighters of Russia that were under the spotlight, but today we'll be moving westward, to that great nation of culture, romance and incredibly foppish men and women with swords: France!
Lets face it, the French are not known for their fighting ability. In fact, you could say that they are known for being a bunch of cowards who run away with their baguettes between their legs at the first sign of any physical violence. This probably explains the relative scarcity of beat-em-up characters who hail from France, but there are a few out there. Unlike the Russians, who have a whole raft of stereotypical attributes that can be turned into a fighting game character, the French only really have their cowardice and their love for food and wine, neither of which are really enough to base a brawler around. So, Japanese developers ignored that and did the next best thing: they invented some new stereotypes! What are they? Well, let's find out.

King, King of Fighters

King is a woman who pretends to be a man. She mostly accomplishes this subterfuge by kicking seven shades of shit out of any man who challenges her, which is a fairly decent strategy. I've always liked King as a KoF character, partially for her fighting style, but mostly for her taunt, in which she says "Cam awn, baybee!" in English that is beyond broken and into "irreparably mangled" territory.

While King is certainly one of the less stereotypically French characters in this list, she does have certain traits that will keep cropping up later. First of all, she's blonde. Pretty much every French fighter is blonde, which is odd, because all the the French people I have ever met have been dark-haired. That's probably down to Japanese game developers usual stance that everyone outside Asia has blonde hair. Also, roses. She has a special move called "Surprise Rose":

Roses are going to become a theme here, trust me. Any hayfever sufferers many want to leave now.
So, that's King. French, but not, y'know, super French, like an anthropomorphic Eiffel Tower smoking Gitanes while drinking red wine and sneering at the English. She is, at least, a wine connoisseur.

Janne D'Arc, World Heroes

Appearing in ADK's World Heroes, Janne is based on on Joan of Arc, pretty much the only French person to ever be famous for fighting (unless you count Napoleon, but he just suffered from Short Man Syndrome). Sadly, due to ADK's blatant disregard for historical accuracy, she doesn't hear voices in her head, doesn't lead the French in the Hundred Years War and doesn't get burned at the stake. Instead, she fights with a sword that can turn into a whip and worries about not finding a husband because men find her strength off-putting. Lucky for her, really.

Janne introduces another trait that the French often have in videogames: swords. While she doesn't carry the usual French rapier, she is a swordswoman, and in a shocking twist on the usual designs for female warriors, she wears armour that might even be useful in combat. Shock! Not a chainmail thong or tiger-fur bikini in sight. Kudos to ADK for that, at least.

Charlotte, Samurai Shodown.

Yes, another blonde lady with a sword. Granted, she appears in the Samurai Shodown series where everyone has a sword, but at least they gave her a rapier (by the way, Raphael from the Soul Calibur series is also French and uses a rapier). In many ways, Charlotte is a more serious version of Janne, to the point where I wonder if SNK were influenced in her design after seeing Janne. Indeed, SNK worked closely with ADK during the Neo-Geo's lifespan, and after ADK went bust they bought all ADK's intellectual properties. It's a close call, but I think Janne came first. The main difference between them is that Charlotte appears to be wearing Janne's armour after it was given a heavy course of steroids. Those shoulder pads are bigger than her head!

Charlotte is suposedly based on the main character of the massively popular manga/anime series The Rose of Versailles, and it's my personal theory that this is where many of the French stereotypes found in videogames of the nineties originate. Long blonde hair, rapiers, roses, it's all there.

Abel, Street Fighter IV

But what of the French men? Probably the most famous French fighter at the moment is Street Fighter IV's Abel, an amnesiac who fights using combat Sambo. As he's more modern than the rest, he's a little less stereotypical, but he still has blonde hair and he's still more of a gymnastic-type character than, say, an out-and-out brawler. Sadly, he has no roses or bladed weapons: that role in Street Fighter is already taken by Vega.
My main problem with Abel is not that he's too stereotypical, it's just that when I look at him, all I can see is lesbian psychopath and skydiving-based murder enthusiast Lydia from the British soap opera Hollyoaks:

That is uncanny.

Jean, Fighter's History

Okay, now we're really getting into it. Jean is a gymnast who, after receiving a score that wasn't perfect, left behind the deeply macho world of gymnastics and became a street fighter in order to improve himself. As you do. I think this should become standard practise during the Olympics: any gymnast who doesn't score a perfect 10.0 must spend the next four years participating in illegal underground cage fights.

As you can see, Jean is blonde, and he has a rose. Also, I reckon that's what Leonardo DiCaprio would look like if they ever made an anime version of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. I've no idea why the French have been saddled with the "gymnastic-type" tag, although I assume it's due to them supposedly being elegant and graceful. However, if you've watched French football, you know that this isn't true.

Pielle, Breakers

You didn't think we'd get through this article without running across a fighter called Pierre, did you? I know it says "Pielle", but that's obviously just your standard Japanese L / R confusion. Pielle appears in the little known yet actually really good arcade fighter Breakers, made by a company called Visco in 1996. Pielle is definitely my favourite on this list, because a) he is by far and away the most French and b) he looks a little like Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.
How French is he? Incredibly so. He has an obsession with roses, even using them in his attacks. He fights like a fencer, using a rapier / épée thing. He's blonde. And best of all, whenever he does anything in the game, he makes a noise in an incredibly fey French-accented voice, thus making him one of the most irritating fighters you will ever battle against. He's right up there with Storm in Marvel vs Capcom 2 and her constant "HOOO HOOO HOOO HOOO" sound effects. Check this video out to see what I mean. Skip to about 2:30 in to see it all kick off.

I particularly love his not-at-all camp exclamation of "Zandaa... Risaa..." when he does his super. He truly is a macho man who you should not be messing with. Also note his move where he pirouettes across the screen whilst covered with roses. You don't get that with Ryu and Ken, I tell you what.

What a handsome son of a gun.

Well, that's the fruity world of French beat-em-up characters revealed. If you're thinking of designing a French fighter and you can't be bothered to read this whole article, here's a quick checklist for you:
Just follow that and you won't go far wrong. See you next time!

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