Friday, June 22, 2012

Video Game 30th Anniversary of the Month - Super Pac-Man

In last month's video game feature, I mentioned that Mario was "the most famous videogame character of all time," and I stand by that assertion. However, in 1982, this was not yet the case. Mario didn't really hit it big until the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System (in 1985) started promoting his character with every console sold. In 1982, Pac-Man was still the videogame character du jour. In 1982, Pac-Man not only started to hit the home console market, but had his own Saturday Morning cartoon show (Mario may have been a part of Saturday Supercade, but he wasn't even the featured star of the segment he appeared in), had a top-ten Billboard single, and Super Pac-Man — the third game of the Pac-Man arcade franchise — was released (we'll deal with #4, which also came out in 1982, in a couple of months).

At first glance, Super Pac-Man looks like a simplified version of Pac-Man. The maze isn't as complex, and there aren't as many items to have to eat, while the standard four energizers remain on the corners of the board (these are invisible in the image above because, as with the original game, they flash on and off, and that particular shot was simply taken during an "off" instant). As before, eating one of those energizers will turn the ghosts blue and vulnerable to being eaten by Pac-Man. Fruit remains a part of the game, although with an increased role, actually taking the place of the standard dots that populated the original Pac-Man board (but still changing after every board). But there are a few additional twists that make that apparent simplicity become more complicated quite quickly. The first of these are the keys scattered across the board, which must be eaten to open up various parts of the maze before Pac-Man can enter them.

The main change, however, comes from those two yellow dots near the center of the screen. You may have guessed from the preceding screenshots that these dots change size, growing and shrinking rapidly back-and-forth. When Pac-Man eats one of these dots, he becomes "Super Pac-Man" and grows to twice his normal height and width (too large, in fact, to actually fit within the maze properly, although the Super Pac-Man character seems not to be bothered by this). Super Pac-Man cannot be killed by the ghosts (who appear in a squashed form while Super Pac-Man exists) and he moves right past them as if they're not even there (I suppose that the idea is that you're flying over them). Also, Super Pac-Man is able to eat right through the doors that would otherwise require a key to open them, and is capable of extra speed at the touch of a button. Like the standard energizer, this mode is only a temporary one, and the end of the time is signified as Super Pac-Man flashes between white and yellow a few times before resuming his normal Pac-Man size. Super dots and energizers can be combined, not only granting you both powers at once, but also prolonging the time before you revert to normal.

Like the original Pac-Man game, there is a bonus that appears in the center of the screen. In this case, however, it is a star that must be eaten while the two blocks on either side of it flash between several other icons. If you're very lucky, when you eat the star, the icons on either side will match, thereby increasing your bonus (if you really want to see unmatched icons, you can click this link).

Another new feature of Super Pac-Man is a timed bonus stage. No ghosts, and you get to be Super Pac-Man for as long as the time lasts. But even with the extra Super Pac-Man speed, it is a challenge to get all of the items (donuts, in this case) cleared away before the time runs out. If you do, of course you will get points corresponding to how much time remains.

Super Pac-Man contains an oddity that, I think, is unique among Pac-Man games in the fact that you can actually enter the ghost haven in the center of the board. I usually only do this as Super Pac-Man (it's safer, after all), but you can actually enter as normal, vulnerable Pac-Man... if you dare!

Sadly, this game is considered among the least successful of the Pac-Man franchise of the 1980s. A couple of the reasons aren't too hard to guess. While the extra speed feature in "Super" mode is nice to have, it can result in making it hard to control the character through the maze, and the oversized icon messes with your hand-eye coordination as you try to maneuver through those bends and turns, making things doubly difficult. Suffice it to say, Super Pac-Man didn't do so badly that Namco stopped making Pac-Man games. But I'll get to the next game in the series in due time....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Transformers Feature: Shattered Glass Galvatron

Not all BotCon exclusives are created equal.

Now, there are probably any number of ways in which that statement is true. Probably most people will think of the fact that some exclusives are such absolutely brilliant ideas that of course they're going to be popular. While there's no denying that some exclusive ideas are more popular and/or inspired than others, that's not really what I'm getting at here. What I'm thinking of for the purposes of this post are exclusives that arise out of concepts that were not originally created with the express purpose of creating an exclusive toy in mind, but which were nonetheless demonstrated in a Fun Publications comic or other related piece of fiction, and which were only later made into toys available to those who attended the convention. Razorclaw and Elita-1 (sold together as the "BotCon Anniversary Pack" in 2009) were two such toys. Shattered Glass Galvatron is another.

Shattered Glass Galvatron first appeared in 2009 in issue #30 of the Transformers Collectors' Club magazine, which closed out the club's original five-year-long story arc with the long-awaited introduction of Nexus Prime. A couple of issues previously, the Megatron of the Shattered Glass universe had been attacked by his version of Cyclonus and was considered beyond hope (incidentally, Shattered Glass Cyclonus is another toy that was made well after the basic character design had been demonstrated in fiction, although in that case, one could notice some subtle changes in the design after it's first appearance, clearly made after it was determined that a toy would actually be produced). Much like the original Megatron was changed into Galvatron by Unicron in the animated Transformers: The Movie (setting a pattern that has been repeated numerous times since), Shattered Glass Megatron was reborn as Galvatron (in this case, through Nexus Prime's help).

Shattered Glass Galvatron was designed by Jesse Wittenrich, who has worked for Fun Publications as one of their "resident" artists for some time now. As the story goes, he had an extra Universe Springer toy he didn't want (I don't blame him. I only bought that set for Ratbat, myself, and sold Springer at the earliest opportunity). Presumably noticing that the mold's head was reasonably close to G1 Galvatron's iconic three-pronged crown, he painted it up using G1 Galvatron colors, and even observed that Shattered Glass Megatron's tank accessory could attach to the mold's arm.

A few changes were apparently made to the concept's color scheme before Galvatron actually appeared in the comic, and so the toy that was eventually made available at BotCon 2011 (alongside Shattered Glass/Action Master Thundercracker) actually does resemble the art from the character's 2009 magazine appearances more than Wittenrich's custom toy that it arose from. Did Fun Publications actually have plans to introduce the Shattered Glass Galvatron toy so many months before it actually became a reality? No one has confirmed that, to the best of my knowledge, but the evidence of the art does lean at least somewhat in that direction....

Friday, June 15, 2012

(Mostly) Transformers Feature: Reveal the Shield "Goldbug"

Old-school Transformers fans will be aware that Goldbug was the name given to the character of Bumblebee as that character was given a 2nd toy (almost unheard of at the time for a Transformers character) in 1987. After that, Hasbro reverted back to the Bumblebee name, relegating the Goldbug name to something of a footnote in history. Although BotCon, which rather specializes in obscure fan-oriented references, did an evil Goldbug toy just a few years ago, Hasbro tends only to use the Bumblebee name on toys released to general retail (and there are a lot of retail Bumblebee toys these days. There's even a debate in the fandom about the fact that Hasbro is doing so many Bumblebee toys, it's sometimes hard to find other toys on the shelf amid the seemingly endless supply of Bumblebees!). Thus, even a toy that's clearly intended to be a Goldbug homage was given the name "Gold Bumblebee," and even that toy wasn't given a proper "Goldbug" head, but simply repainted the existing Bumblebee head (it was just a redeco of a previously existing figure, after all) in blue.

It is therefore left to the fans to come up with a proper Goldbug update, and a couple of third-party businesses have stepped up to make this a little easier. Renderform, for example, has produced a "Gold Scout" (to come right out and use the "Goldbug" name would be to invite legal trouble) custom head intended to be used with the Classics Bumblebee mold. Having picked up the recent Reveal the Shield version of this mold when it was being offered at Ross stores for a mere $7, I took advantage of an offer through Captured Prey that made the "Gold Scout" kit available again (the Renderform site having sold out some time back). Thus, I now have my own Reveal the Shield "Goldbug."

Besides the head, the "Gold Scout" kit comes with four guns. Three of these (already more than a single figure can carry in its hands!) are standard, while an extra clear purple "dark energy" gun is exclusive to orders placed through Captured Prey. While I found that one can "store" the two extra guns behind "Goldbug's" head (either with or without the "Wave Crusher" accessory), it really seems better to give those weapons to other figures, so here's a shot with my other toys that share this mold; the original Classics Bumblebee and Classics Cliffjumper (also sporting a custom-added head, courtesy of War for Cybertron Cliffjumper).

Granted, most fans who buy this "Gold Scout" kit don't seem to be using it on this toy. By all indications, most fans are using this head on the United Bumblebee toy from TakaraTomy in Japan, which happens to be painted in a shiny metallic gold color. While this would indeed make for a more name-accurate "Goldbug," this toy is a fair bit more expensive to get, and I feel that I've already spent enough on this project. Besides, it's not like the original Goldbug (seen here alongside the original Bumblebee) was really "gold" either (G2 Bumblebee was far more so!). Given that Hasbro is far less likely than TakaraTomy to go the metallic-paint route, anyway, I figure this is a pretty fair interpretation of a modern-day "Hasbro Goldbug."
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