April 26, 2007

Love the smell of feet?

Every hardcore gamer needs three things: 1) a steely resolve, 2) an ability to completely immerse oneself in their virtual environment, and 3) a clunky, vinyl mat, that may or may not play 5 games.

If only had the latter, that is good enough for me.

The NES PowerPad was a brilliant piece of ingenuity that the good folks at Nintendo thought would look good atop your pile of worthless Nintendo accessories. The PowerPad's intentions were pure, no doubt, as Nintendo surely believed that they had finally solved the problem of how to make games more tedious and unresponsive while still making it possible for fat kids to keel over while playing them. The Powerpad, upon its release in 1988, quickly revolutionized stomping your feet. No more would gamers have to wildly mash at their A and B buttons while playing Track and Field...now, at long last, they could wildly stomp on a gigantic pad with arbitrary numbers and letters on it.

Don't get me wrong, it was kind of a good idea...but the technology behind the aptly named PowerPad was just not quite there and sadly, harnessing the ultimate power—body power—was at least 10 good years down the road. Parents probably put these bad boys under the tree hoping that junior would finally get some excercise and give his Nintendo thumb some time to heal, but with a whopping 5 games that were compatible with the PowerPad, the "fun" never really took flight. Another thing that got me about the PowerPad is that apparently it was Verboten to wear shoes on this thing (probably damaging to the complex circuitry or maybe just left scuff marks), so any time the old Pad was dragged out, it brought with it the intoxicating aroma of sweaty feet. Feet are not all smelly, mind you, but for 9-12 year old boys that bathe once a week and wear the same shoes to church, soccer practice, school and swampmucking definitely have a corner on the market.

The PowerPad, though not as worthless as the Powerglove, worked poorly at best. Any hopes of increasing your sprinting technique went out the window when the Pad was plugged in. Players had to resort to a kind of shuffle step to actually see results and then jump to other "buttons" or off the pad completely for hurdling or *shudder* pole-vaulting. All in all, the PowerPad was probably the 3rd best Nintendo accessory right behind the zapper and the electrical cord. It was probably best to just avoid anything with "power" in the name.

April 19, 2007

L 7 Square

Tetherball? Are you kidding me? No, no… the biggest waste of time during elementary school recess? Four-square as played under “Siedenstricker Rules”.

Don’t get me wrong – Four-square was the most popular of all 5th grade recess games. The bell for recess would ring, and the stampede would begin, the race would be on! We would run as fast as we could to get to that gravel-covered asphalt court, emblazoned with bright white squares. Those that were too slow to make it into a square, would stand on the sidelines, hoping to take the place of the next loser. One square was always occupied by our teacher, Mr. Siedenstricker. He would call “Siedenstricker Rules”, and we would play as hard and fast as we could trying to get him out of the “winner square” by the end of recess. Big kids, little kids, ugly kids, popular kids – everyone united with a single goal – Beat Mr. Siedenstricker.

Looking back on four-square with our arch-nemesis teacher, I realize that he was just a mean teacher with “little-man-syndrome”. Those rules ensured that he would win every game. What a loser! Making rules so that 5th graders can’t win a recess game? So, in hindsight, four-square may have been fun, but getting beat by our height-challenged 5th grade teacher was not so cool.

April 18, 2007

Pole Position

Ah, hindsight, my trustworthy friend—tell me what game wasted more of your time growing up...

What's that you say? Tetherball? Oh yes, tetherball. The game of champions. A game where only the nimble, strong and crafty survive!

Tetherball was a great game to pass the long lunch recess hours and a fantastic spectator sport, but I have to tell you: tetherball is not as cool as I remember.

First off, you could NOT play a game of tetherball for more than 30 seconds without your hands getting absolutely filthy. It was like you just tossed a clay pot on the potter's wheel, plus this was well before Purel hand sanitizer was invented. Also, if you took just one semi-flat tetherball to the face, you might as well have been hit by a truck. The worst part of tetherball, however, was the neverending litany of rules. There were usually no less than 20 rules for each game which usually sounded like this: "Alright, first one to officially 'tether' the ball to the steel pole wins...BUT, there will be none of the following: ropies, fruit loops, helicopter spins, airplane dizzies, hand-jives, around-the-worlds, striking the ball with an open palm, roundhouse kicks etc..." The game was FREAKING TETHERBALL! The sole purpose of this game should've been to not strangle yourself with the nylon cord!

Then the cheaters came. Most tetherball games were so fraught with infractions that the outcome was violently disputed. The most agregious cheaters (besides those that used roundhouse kicks) would enlist a chum who would give them a boost so they could "jack up" the cord to the top of the pole, thus making it too hard to defend against a tether by those of average elementary school height (2'6")

All told, tetherball was a decent way to mix things up from the usual recess routine of chasing girls, throwing rocks and silently crying in the music room...but as far as sports go it was lame—unless you play with NO RULES WHATSOEVER...cuz that's how I roll.

April 12, 2007

Third times a charm...unless your last name is 'Macchio'

For the film purist, nothing is more desirable than a story about young love, teen angst, unbridled passion and young and old learning from one another—except,maybe,a story about karate, pottery, decorative trees and a millionaire industrialist/vietnam hero/martial arts expert/Steven Seagal lookalike. What movie could possibly fulfill this tall-cinematic order, you ask? I will tell you... if you promise to never run off and join a cult-like karate dojo—and never, I mean NEVER use the crane technique for anything but good, and the occasional dance competition. We have an agreement? Very well. The film of which I speak is none other than Karate Kidd part TRÉS. Karate Kid III begins much like Karate Kid II, explaining just what the heck happened to Daniel-san's girlfriend from the previous movie. I think that each KK movie wanted Daniel to have a clean slate, or maybe girls were interfering too much with Larusso's true love—a geriatric Okinawan by the name of Mr. Miyagi. Karate Kid III, no doubt in anticipation of a Karate Kid IV, decided to not get into the whole messy girlfriend business with this one and decided rather to give Daniel a girlfriend with whom there is no chance of romance because she is only in California for the summer and already has a boyfriend. Back to the story...Daniel once again, wisely decides to forego his own future and invests all of his college money on a bonsai tree shop for Miyagi, did I mention that Daniel-san loves Mr. Miyagi? It seemed cute in the first two, but in KKIII, Daniel has a full on crush on the old guy. We soon find out that John Kreese, the sensei from the dreaded Kobra Kai dojo has fallen on hard times, presumably because one of his students lost to Daniel Larusso in the all-valley karate championship. Apparently, Kreese's whole livelihood was destroyed when Larusso won the karate championship from Kreese's star pupil, Johnny...makes sense. Kreese seeks out the help of an old army buddy by the name of Terry Silver to get his life back on track. I should mention now that Terry Silver is probably in the top 5 of all evil people named "Terry" in history—just behind Terry Bradshaw, Terry Hatcher, Terry Dactyl and Terry Bin Laden...I mean, this is one bad dude. Not only is Terry Silver a multimillionaire martial arts expert, but he dumps toxic sludge in developing countries, sports a maniacal ponytail and bathes almost exclusively in large, marble bubble baths. Terry Silver elects to help Kreese out the only way he knows how—by taking Kreese's sworn enemy under his wing to train him for a tournament he was forced to enter...and punch sundry things with his bare knuckles. A small montage of Terry Silver's most diabolical moments are below...please note, these are not for the faint of heart.

As you can see, Silver and Kreese spend a lot of time laughing about their nefarious plans. These plans are as follows:have Daniel-san defend his title against a "ringer" that they have brought in by the name of Mike Barnes. If you haven't heard of karate's bad boy, Mike Barnes, then just where have you been hiding? Mike Barnes is good at one thing and one thing only, roundhouse kicks...and punching women in the stomach...and breaking bonsai trees in half...and having a flat top. Okay, Mike Barnes is good at a LOT of stuff and they all involve being a bad boy. The problem here is that Daniel will not sign up to defend his title, much to the chagrin of Mike Barnes. Barnes is quite persistent in his attempts to get Larusso to pony up and eventually gets him to sign on the dotted line (and all it took was three beatings and dangling Daniel over a cliff). The fight is on! Daniel gets wise to Silver's deceit and finally gets Miyagi to teach him some "good" karate, but not before Miyagi gives the Kobra Kais the slowest beating of their lives. Building toward the climax, do I really need to tell you what happens?! Larusso retains the title (against all odds) by using Miyagi's "kata" technique, which resembles a slow and deliberate yoga session, remains good friends with his female companion and asks Mr. Miyagi if he'll marry him.

Karate Kid III lacks the punch (no, PUN INTENDED) of the first two. Too many speeches, too few groin kicks...too many pottery montages, too few Peter Cetera songs. You get the idea; Karate Kid III, while necessary to complete the greatest film trilogy ever devised, was just not as cool as I remember. I'd love to champion some of its finer moments, but like a true visionary once said "the enemy deserves NO mercy."

What's NOT to love?!

The Powerglove was indeed, bad—but not in an ironic, Michael-Jackson-wearing-black-leather-covered-in-zippers type of way. The Powerglove was a craptastic piece of crap, so crappy that the Colecovision voice modulator looks at it and snickers. Why did the Powerglove suck so badly and profoundly? I mean, it looked cool, right? Well, for starters (and enders) it didn't work. The smooth-as-silk movements of the Wizard's antagonist (who we'll just call the love-child of that dude from The Greatest American Hero)could NOT be duplicated in actual gameplay. Usually, the lucky person who donned the Powerglove spent his time making jerky motions, mashing buttons and trying to get the dumb sensor bars to quit falling off his TV. The Powerglove, rather than providing an edge for the gamer, (or at least a fun experience for the gamer) was actually a frustrating, disappointing steaming pile—but man, did it look AWESOME! The BEST part of the Powerglove was putting it on (feeling like a medieval warrior strapping on a gauntlet with velcro straps), putting your acid-washed denim collar up and then wildly flailing around for a half-hour playing Kid Icarus. The SECOND best part was taking it off and using the regular control so you could actually play your games. By the way, Fred Savage OWNED that punk with his snappy comeback, end of story.