Saturday, February 23, 2019

What Hath GameSpot Wrought?! 15 Years After "32X: Short Name, Short Life, Big Fun"

What did you want to be when you were a kid, and did you actually follow through on it? For some, they dreamed of being something more "traditional", like a firefighter, police officer, or business owner, while others might dream a bit more extravagant, like an actor, musician, or even politician. While some do stick with those dreams & end up fulfilling them, others just don't. As for me, when I was a kid I wanted to be a game show host; a reasonable dream, I know. Obviously, that didn't come to pass, though I have had host-like experiences, so I guess I met my dream halfway down the road. Anyway, while also being a kid I loved reading gaming magazines like GamePro, & when internet access became more easily available I eventually found my way to gaming sites, like GameFAQs & GameSages (which would later become IGN), but the site that was my favorite, without a doubt, was GameSpot.

The early-to-mid 00s were just such a great time for GameSpot, and it was really due to the staff of writers & editors it had. People like Greg Kasavin, Brad Shoemaker, Alex Navarro, Ryan Davis (RIP), Ryan MacDonald, Joe Fielder, Andrew Seyoon Park (who single-handedly made GameSpot the only major outlet still covering the Neo Geo in its last years), & Jeff Gertsmann just all had this knack for writing reviews that hooked me, and the on-screen presence of them for video productions was undeniable. Eventually, as I grew older & entered high school, I decided to move away from my game show host dream & go for something more reasonable by becoming a journalist, and it wouldn't be too much of a leap to say that the people at GameStop were a notable influence towards that change in life direction for me. Still, what really made me want to stick with journalism, at least enough to get an actual bachelor's degree in it from Rutgers University, was one opportunity that came about 15 years ago which allowed me to be published on GameSpot... And it all started because of a happy little accident, as the late Bob Ross would put it.

During this 00s era, the people at GameSpot tried a bunch of wild ideas; for example, remember when they had a game show? One of those ideas was GameSpotting, which was effectively a weekly blog that some of the writers would contribute to, giving their own personal feelings about some sort of gaming-related subject. It was a really cool idea, essentially predating the actual rise of blogging by a few years, and wound up running for 149 weeks, from August 8, 2001 to June 29, 2005. What was easily the most interesting part of GameSpotting, though, was GuestSpotting, which was a contribution from a fan that the GameSpot editors liked & wanted to put up on the site; sometimes, they even dedicated entire editions to nothing but fan contributions. Yes, after one year, GameSpot actually solicited fans to submit their own articles, and one day I had a thought:

"I wonder if I could write something like that?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Grappler Baki: "Ai Believe" in "Child Prey"

Debuting back in 1969 (and, yes, I'll be doing something to celebrate the 50th Anniversary this year), Akita Shoten's Weekly Shonen Champion magazine did start off with its own run of influential & iconic manga, like Go Nagai's Abashiri Family, Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Babel II, Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack, & Shinji Mizushima's Dokaben. Still, the magazine really didn't seem to truly find its place in the shonen manga landscape until the start of the 90s, when it started to become the place where the limits of what could honestly be considered "shonen" were constantly pushed. Eventually, the magazine would become infamous for gore-fests like Apocalypse Zero, absurd fanservice-fests like Eiken, & utterly insane interpretations of real-life things, like cooking manga Iron Wok Jan!. The man who undeniably started this new direction for Champion, though, was Keisuke Itagaki.

Making hid debut back in 1989 with MakeUpper (yes, a manga about hot-blooded makeup artistry), Itagaki quickly made a name for himself when he debuted Grappler Baki in Shonen Champion in late 1991. A former member of the Japanese army & practitioner of Shorinji Kempo, Itagaki used his passion for self-defense & martial arts to create what is today the most well known "MMA manga" out there. In fact, Baki actually predates organizations like Pancrase & the UFC by a couple of years, kind of making it ahead of its time. The manga became a giant hit for Akita Shoten, and is still running to this day, as Itagaki has split it up across multiple series, and right now is is at a total of 132 volumes. As for anime adaptations, the manga has so far seen three. First, in 1994, Knack produced a 45-minute OVA based on the very beginning of the manga; don't worry, Knack's OVA output of the early 90s was actually pretty good. Then, throughout 2001, record label Free-Will produced a 48-episode TV series, animated by Group TAC, that actually adapted all 42 volumes of the original Grappler Baki manga across two seasons. Most recently, in 2018, was TMS' 26-episode TV anime adaptation of the first 2/3 of the second manga series, New Grappler Baki: In Search of Our Strongest Hero (or simply Baki), which Netflix has so far made the first 13 episodes of available internationally. With the second half of Baki set to debut on Netflix next month, I figure now is the perfect time to check out & review what Group TAC did 18 years ago, and we're starting off with the first 24 episodes.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Obscusion B-List: The Most Important Fighting Games Forgotten with Time

Fighting games have definitely evolved over the years, and though Sega's Heavyweight Champ from 1976 & Tim Skelley's Warrior from 1979 did technically come first, it's Data East & Technos Japan's Karate Champ (Karate-Do in Japan) from 1984 that's generally considered the originator of the genre that we know today. That would make 2019 the 35th Anniversary of the fighting game genre (which would be the Coral or Jade Anniversary, if you're curious), and to celebrate I want to shine a light on some of the most important games, from a historical perspective, that you either don't know about, or simply didn't realize what they actually did for the genre as a whole. Sure, Street Fighter II created a standard that all have since followed, Mortal Kombat brought violence & gore to the equation, The King of Fighters '94 may be the first real "crossover", Virtua Fighter introduced polygons to the equation, & Battle Arena Toshinden took the genre into "true 3D", but everyone knows about those games & what they did. These, on the other hand, are six of the most important fighting games that have been forgotten by the sands of time... Or at least the clicking of the arcade sticks of bigger names.

The Genre Will Not Be Monopolized
When Karate Champ came out it was a notable success for Data East, and later that year a new version saw release in arcades that allowed for two players to fight each other; understandably, it was called Karate Champ - Player vs. Player internationally. Still, there wasn't really anything else quite like what Technos developed for Data East on the market, so it's only natural that it would inspire others to make similar games. One person in particular was Archer MacLean, a British computer programmer who made his gaming debut with 1984's Dropzone for Atari's line of 8-bit computers. MacLean then followed that up with his next game, International Karate, which saw release in late 1985 by System 3 for various European computers, like the ZX Spectrum. The game saw you play as a gi-wearing karateka, as you fight other karateka in locations around the world, utilizing a point system in order to win. To no surprise, this was similar to Karate Champ, which saw you play as a gi-wearing karateka, as you fight other karateka, & in Player vs. Player you fight in locations around the world. Sure, the reasons for the fighting were different, as IK utilized a simple kumite, while KC PvP was all for the affections of various women, but it's easy to tell that MacLean used the arcade game as the basis for his computer game.