You Found a Secret Area!

Gemini: Heroes Reborn – A puzzle platformer based on the biggest TV show of the 2000s.

If there’s anything I kinda miss about the modern age of video games is that there’s not enough tie-in games based on TV shows or movies. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s where we had classics like Disney’s DuckTales and Goldeneye, and were rather ubiquitous during that 8 and 16-bit video game boom. They slowly started dying off by the early 2010s, during the start of the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 era, and haven’t really shown up since. These days when I think of promotions with licensed properties, it’s usually as crossovers in other games, like Bingo Story and The Price Is Right, or John McClane of Die Hard fame in Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War. The most recent tie-in game I can think of is, amusingly, a game based on Space Jam: A New Legacy made by the people at Digital Eclipse.

Even though they’re not as common these days, there is still a video game based on a TV series or movie released here and there. Most of them are relegated to mobile devices, but sometimes a game or two does make it to the mainstream gaming consoles – or in my case, Steam. Gemini: Heroes Reborn is one of those rare cases.

“Hey, could you like, help me here? I can’t dodge bullets and lift people forever!”

Developed by Phosphor Games – a studio mostly known for making mobile games and Virtual Reality titles – the game was released in early 2016 as a tie-in to the TV series Heroes Reborn, a science-fiction drama that is a sequel series to one of the biggest 2000s-era TV shows: Heroes.

Would you believe it was pretty hard to find a good promotional image like this?

Admittedly I don’t watch a lot of television, so my knowledge of Heroes is through friends that did watch it: The show’s premise involves a giant corporation simply called “The Company” that was experimenting with human beings and giving them superpowers, of which a small group of people slowly find out that they have through a solar eclipse. Eventually they team up to stop the big-bad-of-the-week and eventually figure out the Company’s ulterior motives. Basically a serial TV show that would sow the seeds for things like the later Marvel Cinematic Universe.

From what I gathered, Heroes started out great in its first season, then the Writers Guild of America had a strike midway through the second season. The strike basically threw the whole planned storyline out of whack in such a way that the show never really recovered, eventually getting canceled after the fourth season concluded in 2010. In 2016, a sequel series called Heroes Reborn came and went for a single season, of which its story is the basis for Gemini‘s plot.

(Warning: Plot spoilers for Gemini: Heroes Reborn follow.)

I assure you that this game doesn’t have cutscenes that look like they were hastily made in Photoshop.

You play as Cassandra Hays, a woman who suffered amnesia as a teenager. She’s taken to an abandoned military base called “The Quarry” by her friend Alex to hopefully make sense of what happened to her. Eventually Alex gets captured by soldiers who apparently are still at the building, and Cassandra must find a way to save him. Cassandra later finds out she has special powers that allow her to travel through time, switching her between the then-present timeline of 2016 and the near-past of 2008, when the building was still operating. Eventually acquiring telekinesis powers in the past, she uses that and her time abilities to figure out what happened to her and what the purpose of “The Quarry” was.

Our antagonist, Trevor Mason. I wonder if he has a brother named Alex

The plot itself isn’t particularly remarkable. It falls into a lot of the common fiction tropes of characters double-crossing you and having to do bidding for the big bad – who’s unique to this game, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes of all people – while also figuring out the mystery of Cassandra’s family and her past.

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Peggle spinoffs: Popcap has the crossover fever.

As of this writing, the famous Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3 for short – has come and gone. Lots of companies announcing hot new games slated to come out later this year or the next, people pushing polygons to the limit, and your favorite franchises coming back for a new installment, often yearly.

Electronic Arts, being the rebellious type, decided to skip E3 this year for a catch-all “EA Play” event sometime in July. I fully expect them to show more of their notable franchises such as Madden NFL 22 and FIFA 22 and Battlefield 2042. And I expect them to once again ignore one of their notable franchises from when they acquired Popcap Games in 2011. One that has a notoriety due to its announcement at a past E3. The one of memes everywhere.

It’s a shame we’ll never see this guy announce a Peggle game like this ever again.

I’m talking about Peggle, the simple bouncing ball and peg game loosely inspired by pachinko. Originally released in 2007, the game became a big hit for Popcap Games, primarily due to its simple yet challenging nature and cutesy design. Oh, and the smart use of using “Ode to Joy” when you successfully completed a level.

Admittedly my experience with Peggle is the original game and no further. The game’s followups have not been reliably available on PC, with the infamous Peggle 2 being locked away to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, consoles I don’t own; and Peggle Blast, which is only on mobile phones. But there are other Peggle games, of which I’ve actually played.

Likely as good cross-promotion, Popcap Games decided to make two Peggle spinoff games, crossing over with two major video game companies around 2007-09. While ostensibly similar to the original game, they have their own little quirks.

That sun with the G-Man face is… rather offputting.

The first is Peggle Extreme, released in 2007 and available on Steam. 2007 would be a lucrative year for Valve as they released the critically acclaimed The Orange Box, which featured the second expansion in the Half-Life 2 saga, the long-awaited Team Fortress 2, and a quirky little puzzle game called Portal. As promotion, Popcap’s Peggle Extreme would be released alongside it, free to owners of The Orange Box. Nowadays if you have a Steam account, you can play it for free regardless of whether you own any of the Orange Box games.

This really doesn’t jell with Peggle’s overall aesthetic, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

If you’re not familiar with Peggle, I do recommend playing Extreme to get a good handle on the game’s mechanics. The basic goal is to eliminate all the orange-colored pegs around the arena. You shoot a ball to have it bounce around the various pegs and score for points. The more orange pegs you hit, the more points you get. In addition there’s purple pegs which give huge points, and green pegs that do special abilities depending on the playable character you choose. Finish off all the orange pegs before running out of balls and you get an Extreme Fever, where you score big points on any extra blue pegs you hit before dropping it down a hole for a huge bonus. It’s a really simple game that anyone can play, and it’s pretty fun.

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Taken from the Secret Area Vault.

For a good long time I was feverishly recording all kinds of stuff off VHS, just in the off-chance I have something interesting to remember by. Most of these were game shows, since that was my favorite thing for a long while (and still is!). Eventually I stopped recording things regularly, and had amassed over 80 VHS tapes of different things recorded from 1992-2007.

From then on, those tapes sat on shelves in my room, collecting dust. While hanging out with a few friends on Discord, I had mentioned I was casually watching game shows, which spurred the idea of watching said shows with friends. After mentioning I had these tapes, I was encouraged to finally tackle one of my passion projects: Converting the tapes to digital files.

A sampling of some of the tapes I had converted.

In April I bought a simple capture device – an Elgato video capture – and later, a better VCR – a JVC HR-S3800U to replace my Panasonic VCR/DVD-R combo unit – and got to work converting some of the tapes. The following month in May, I started phase two of this project: Putting this stuff on YouTube. That’s where the Secret Area Vault comes in.

The Vault’s premise is simple: Preserving bits and bobs of TV ephemera I’ve accumulated from these tapes. Since I’m a game show junkie, About 90% of the content will be random episodes of classic game shows. Some of these shows, such as the 1980s revival of Hollywood Squares hosted by John Davidson, and a game show based on the board game Scrabble, haven’t been aired on television in nearly 30 years. Other times, it’ll be episodes of shows not readily available else, like Family Feud and The Newlywed Game.

In addition to the game shows, I’ve also been compiling other interesting bits from my VHS collection that I think is worth showing off, such as commercials. As far as I know, most of this stuff hasn’t been seen on YouTube, and I think these are just as important to highlight as much as the game shows.

You’re probably wondering why I still have all these tapes. Well, keep in mind that before the days of streaming services and DVRs, it was entirely possible a show may never run again, even if it’s a rerun of a show from 30 years ago. Even these days, I’ve been finding the stuff that isn’t readily available online, and the Vault is a good repository for TV preservation.

Before I get started, I’d like to thank maple mavica syrup for giving me inspiration to start this VHS project in earnest; and Matt of Dinosaur Dracula fame, who’s done similar commercial montages on his blogs, and his site was a minor influence on the Secret Area’s humble beginnings. That being said, let’s get started.


Nyquil advertisement circa 1993 (with Nathan Lane!)

What better way to start off this compilation but with a now fairly notable actor shilling cold medicine?

Granted, Nathan Lane is a fairly ubiquitous actor nowadays – the voice of Timon in Disney’s The Lion King films, The Birdcage, a supporting role on Modern Family, The Producers on Broadway – but in the early 90s, he was much like any other struggling actor, doing any gig that’ll give him work and money.

The premise is a bit silly: Lane’s character is feeling sick, so he starts asking his neighbors for Nyquil, constantly getting shut out until… a guardian angel appears with a full bottle? I can’t tell if he’s having a fever dream or they didn’t want to shoot a scene of him walking to the corner store in his pajamas to grab a bottle. He eventually feels triumphant, getting his cold medicine so he can properly sleep.

I wish *I* had a guardian angel to give me free over-the-counter medicine…

Surprisingly Nathan Lane did at least one more Nyquil commercial, which is already online elsewhere. But I thought this one was more surreal than that one.

I’m honestly glad I have this one recorded. At the time young me didn’t understand preserving stuff very well, so I often over-recorded over shows on the same tape. One time I accidentally hit record while the TV was on a show called Street Justice, a police procedural starring Carl Weathers that aired for two seasons in syndication. This commercial comes from that accidental over-record session. Granted that meant I lost some USA Network game shows, but getting a commercial like this was worth the over-record.

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Weekend Writing: BioShock Infinite, the polarizing third installment.

It’s been about several months since I last wrote a Weekend Writing post. Admittedly me playing games has slowed down considerably in 2021, due to a multitude of personal factors. Fed up with playing Bingo Story and Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War all the time, I decided to tackle a game in my backlog. One that has sort of an infamy among gaming circles. A game that’s particularly very polarizing, to a point where people who praised it as the “Game of the Forever” and considered its creator a genius now consider it the worst game in the entire franchise. And since I talked about BioShock 2 back in 2019, I feel it’s fitting to play the third – and as of 2021, the most recent – game in the BioShock series.

So. much. bloom.

BioShock Infinite is one of those games that I heard had sort of a legacy behind it. When released in 2013, the game was unanimously praised for its storytelling and gameplay, and won a myriad of awards. As time goes on, though, the general consensus has taken a 180 – damning criticism and people calling creative director Ken Levine a talentless hack. Even when I wrote about replaying BioShock 2 a few years back, that sentiment seemed to still be true, with some people even re-evaluating BioShock 2 as probably the best game in the series.

But hey, I always believe in playing things for myself rather than blindly going with what others say, so let’s see if this is infinitely amazing or infinitely terrible.

(Content warning: Plot spoilers for BioShock Infinite follow. While the game is eight years old as of this writing, I always assume that someone who’s reading this might not have played the game yet, much like me.

In addition, this game does go into themes of racism and political movements, of which I’ll also talk about here.)

Must these games always start with a lighthouse?

The plot of BioShock Infinite starts thusly: Booker DeWitt must go to Columbia – a magical city in the sky, via lighthouse – to rescue a girl by the name of Elizabeth, for a bounty. As the game goes on, it turns out the goal is not that simple as we think, partially due to Elizabeth’s magic ability to create “tears” in the world that go to alternate timelines and worlds. Thus Booker and Elizabeth must stop Zachary Comstock and the world of Columbia he’s made, while also figuring out the mystery of why Booker’s there in the first place.

As I went through the intro world of Columbia, there was a rather unsettling sense of christian white supremacy in the early story beats, which is a rather strong but somewhat upsetting start. Before Booker even gets the chance to visit Columbia, he must be baptized. Eventually Booker starts seeing the Vox Populi, the rival group of people demonized by the Founders that basically hate the cleanliness that Comstock’s Columbia brings. You would think that since there’s a clear hero/villain dynamic to the world that Booker would just be able to work with the Vox Populi and cause a revolution, right?

If only this was a reality. Well, technically it is, but… it’s complicated.

Well, technically no. Booker just wants to get out of Columbia with Elizabeth, being rather selfish. There’s a point in the plot where through a special ability that Elizabeth has brings the two of them into a timeline where Booker was the Vox Populi leader who became a martyr, but the rest of the plot tends to lean that both the Founders and Vox Populi are evil in their own distinct ways. I couldn’t roll my eyes any harder when they got to that point in the story.

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Terrorist Takedown: More like Stereotype Shooter.

(content warning: Depictions of violence and war within.)

In 2021, it was announced that the previously canceled game Six Days in Fallujah was being brought back. With some of the original development team handling development, it naturally got a lot of backlash now just as it did back in 2009: by glorifying a specific military conflict as a good thing, and feeding into middle eastern stereotypes of them being nothing but terrorists. So much so that the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked for major publishers to drop support for the game. It will likely come out to poor reception, if it actually comes out this time.

A promotional screenshot from the original 2009 version of Six Days in Fallujah. Sure looks generic until you find out the game’s backstory.

Seeing this made me think a lot about the glut of military games made in a post-9/11 world. While war games existed before that tragedy – Novalogic’s Delta Force franchise was modestly popular around the late 1990s – they ballooned to being rather ubiquitous once the War on Terror started. We got games like SOCOM, Conflict, lots of Tom Clancy stuff, even Battlefield dipped its toes into modern warfare. There were so many that actual US military organizations started getting involved, with games like as America’s Army and PRISM: Guard Shield. Nowadays, the only franchise from that period still around making similar war games is Call of Duty, but that might be considered a stretch by some.

Why all this preamble? It’s so I can talk about one of those games made by a budget label that cashed in on the War on Terror, and is a bad game, not just on a technical level, but a moral one as well. One game I’ve had for several years, going back to 2013, and this has lately been a year of looking back, so let’s travel to 2003 and look at one of the more bad games.

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Yeah, this cover looks incredibly generic alright.

Terrorist Takedown is the first installment in a franchise made to capitalize on the war on terror. Developed by Polish developer City Interactive, this would be one of their early breakout hits. Nowadays they’re known as simply CI Games, but their overall message has been consistent: Make games based on war conflicts old and new, and sell them in bargain bins everywhere. For Terrorist Takedown however, City Interactive didn’t have much of a presence outside of Europe, so another budget publisher, Merscom, handled the release here in the United States. Merscom even touted that some of the profits of the game would be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which I think is a conflict considering this game’s premise.

Probably the blandest menu screen I’ve ever seen.

There is no story to Terrorist Takedown. You play a bunch of no-name, faceless soldiers as you’re sent from one conflict zone to the next, taking down terrorists left and right by any means necessary. The “Terrorists” in this case are generic middle-eastern soldiers presumably meant to stand in for Al-Qaeda insurgents, but it’s kinda hard to tell in this game.

Charlie Don’t Surf this ain’t.

The missions themselves are rather varied: The first mission has you in a helicopter gunship mowing down anti-air emplacements and random soldiers. The second mission has you protect a convoy from enemy soldiers and RPGs. Each mission is similar in structure: Survive a conflict of terrorists while protecting objectives and not dying. At least it spices things up a bit, from using machine gun turrets to flying a helicopter, to controlling a targeting reticle on a surface-to-air-missile.

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Candy Crush: From mobile game phenomenon to short-lived game show.

As someone who loves the world of game shows, I’m honestly amazed that there haven’t been many game shows based on video games. We have game shows based on board games – Monopoly, Scrabble, Scattergories, stuff like that. We had game shows that used a bunch of video games as its base like Starcade and Nick Arcade (ugh). But rarely one adapted from a single video game.

There’s only been one other attempt to make a video game into a game show, and that was the rather short-lived adaptation of You Don’t Know Jack way back in 2000. Cut to 2017, where a major television network greenlit a game show based on a video game property that, while still big, was well past its prime. And it floundered for nine weeks in primetime.

No “saga”s to be found here.

For a brief period in the summer of 2017, CBS aired a game show based on the hit mobile game franchise Candy Crush Saga. Called simply Candy Crush, it definitely fulfilled my curiosity of “what would a game show based on a popular mobile game be like?” But does it actually work as a game show? Judging by how short-lived it was, the answer is “probably not.” Despite that, I’m still curious about it. I’d seen an episode before when it was still new, but I needed to refresh my memory on whether or not it was any good, or if it deserved to be sent to the trash.

Since this game show is based on a hit mobile game, naturally I had to play a bit of the game show’s inspiration first.

A sample Candy Crush Saga game in action.

Candy Crush Saga, the first in a long-running franchise by King Games, has a fairly simple premise: Using a board of various pieces of candy, one must try to match three of the same kind of piece by swapping two pieces connected to each other. Every level has a goal: hit a score threshold, eliminate a specific number of pieces, etc. Failure to do the challenge gives you the option of either spending gold bars – the game’s premium currency – to get extra turns, or losing a life and starting the level over. Each level introduces new hurdles to the gameplay, and there’s really no end goal, the levels keep going until you get bored or bother to complete them all, of which there’s over 1,000 levels worth.

I’m familiar with match-3 puzzle games – Bejeweled was played many a time in my high school years – but the sickly sweet style of Candy Crush Saga was a bit off-putting to me. It doesn’t help that a lot of the time the game often played itself, where I’d make one move and suddenly set off massive chain reactions for big points. But I understand the game’s addictive appeal, including how friends talked about the progress they made back in the day.

Hearing some guy go “Tasty” when I do big combos is rather offputting, combined with the ’70s looking font being used everywhere.

Fun fact: Until this article, I had never actually played any of the games in the Candy Crush series. Mobile and Facebook games are not something I dabble in too much these days – save for the occasional blog post like the most recent post about Bingo Story’s cross-promotion with The Price Is Right – but I figured it would be wise for me to finally get in on the game just for a better frame of reference on what the show was about. It was alright, but I stopped at around level 147 due to the game constantly losing connection and making it difficult to make progress. I wonder how far my friends ever got.

But enough about Candy Crush the video game. How the ever loving heck do you make a game show out of it? Let’s find out.

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I mean, you’re certainly not getting someone like Todd Newton to host your big money game show.

This show was hosted by actor/TV personality Mario Lopez. Getting a somewhat-notable TV personality to host your game show is the expected for game shows in the modern age, and does surprisingly well despite not having a lot to do. Naturally, there’s a bit of post-production voiceover in spots, but otherwise he seems nice, friendly, and genuinely wanting to be there. He gets a B+ in my book.

Shockingly, this is not Mario’s first foray into game shows, as he hosted the second season of the oft-forgotten, yet fascinating Masters of the Maze in the mid-1990s. Now that’s an interesting kids game show that nobody really remembers.

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Bingo Story presents The Price Is Right: Stuck in Contestants’ Row.

I’ve been struggling to find motivation to play new games lately. I’ve gotten a bunch of games thanks to them being on deep discount, but then I don’t play them and just default to playing Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War instead. However, I did finish Battleborn before its shutdown for a recent blog post, and I did finish Wolfenstein: Youngblood with friend of the site Bobinator from Hardcore Gaming 101 less than a few weeks ago. But trying something new is a bit harder for me lately, more so than normal. This is due to motivation and several outside factors.

Yet during this time, I somehow got roped into playing a free-to-play mobile game for the first time in probably years. Only because it had a game show themed event to it. And anything that combines game shows with video games just piques my interest instantly, so I couldn’t resist trying it.

Well, I will say that developer Clipwire Games clearly didn’t half-ass this art wise.

Starting in February, the free-to-play mobile game Bingo Story got probably one of the most unexpected crossovers yet: A two month long event featuring the popular game show The Price Is Right – one of my favorites, whether we’re talking about the current version, or classic 1980s episodes thanks to The Price Is Right: The Barker Era on Pluto TV – with one of the more unusual crossovers I’ve seen yet. And I played Cookie Jam, a Candy Crush clone that had cross-promotion with Wheel of Fortune late last year for a blog post that didn’t go anywhere.

I don’t think I really need to explain bingo, but it is a fairly simple game: Balls numbered 1-75 will be called one at a time and your job will be to mark the balls called on your card and eventually get a bingo – often times just five across in any direction horizontally, vertically or diagonally; getting the corners of a card, or covering the entire board – a blackout. First to do so wins and gets a prize. At least this is how it is in the United States, it may vary in other countries.

It’s mostly associated as something usually elderly people play, but it is a game that’s somewhat entertaining for all ages if you wanted to play something simple for a little bit. It was definitely something my mother’s family were into, as I was roped into bingo halls many a time while vacationing in Seattle.

While I can’t say I’m a bingo fan, I am fascinated by things related to bingo, including game shows like Lingo, and video games that use bingo elements such as Slingo. So wanting to capitalize on the bizarre nature of this event, naturally I had to try this.

Yeah, this feels like a modern mobile game alright.

I was wondering how the heck Bingo Story was going to incorporate one of the longest-running daytime game shows into a bingo mold, and the answer seems to be “put in the most basic of effort while also doing some relative deep cuts.” Let’s Come On Down and see what’s the next item up for bids, shall we?

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A normal session of Bingo Story in action. Hope this isn’t too convoluted.

Bingo Story plays differently compared to conventional bingo: You’re playing by yourself, and you’re given 30 balls to daub on your marker to make as many bingos as you can. After marking a few numbers on the card, you can activate a powerup that vary from auto-daubing random numbers on your card, to doubling your overall score, to other event-related items. Once all 30 balls have been called, you have the opportunity to stop and take your final score, or spend bingo tokens to call 5 more balls, repeating until you run out of tokens or blackout both cards.

Once done, your score is added to a leaderboard where you can get rewards at the end of the event – usually lasting no more than a few days – where you’ll get rewards like more powerups, various amounts of currency, stuff like that. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ironically, despite being called Bingo Story, there is no story mode to this game whatsoever, the “Story” refers to the game’s motif of using storybook characters to prop up the game’s style. Admittedly I was disappointed finding this out at first, but I learned to get used to the fairy tale motif the game normally has.

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Covering the end of Battleborn: A MOBA with an identity crisis.

I never thought I’d be starting 2021 with an article about a game that’s shutting down. While I’m often behind the curve and don’t play games until years after the fact – some of last year’s posts being about games that are 5-10 years old – this particular game is one of the rare times I was at least fairly current with.

When I’m reminded that a game that I paid money for is shutting down, I might as well give it one last hurrah. It’s a shame the game in question is a bizarre genre mashup, made by one of the more infamous game studios of the 2010s.

If only the game looked nearly as cool as this introductory cutscene.

We’re talking about Battleborn, a game by developer Gearbox Software. At the time, Gearbox was mostly known as the makers of the fairly popular Borderlands series of first-person Diablo-like looter shooters. Battleborn would end up being their first original franchise made by them in the 2010s.

This bundle was released around July of 2016, not long after the game’s release. Being part of the $15 tier, the highest one, was already a warning sign.

My experience with this game was getting this in a Humble Bundle. To be specific, the “Humble 2K Bundle 2,” a collection of games published by 2K, such as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, NBA 2K16, Mafia II and Duke Nukem Forever. Battleborn was unlocked at the $15 or more tier — the highest tier, and a few friends of mine decided to chip in that $15 and give the game a try.

We eventually tried a bit of the game’s campaign mode, then we all dropped the game and moved on to other things. For me, I had forgotten about the game’s existence, even as recent as 2019 when I wrote about a Loot Crate featuring the infamous “Thanos Oven Mitt,” which featured a Battleborn pin as part of that month’s theme. The game just faded away into obscurity.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be writing about the game had the news not broke in 2020 that 2K was shutting the game down on January 31, 2021. In early 2020, they had already shut off purchases for premium currency in the game, and the announcement of the game servers shutting down seemed to feign as much interest as the game did when it was released.

So let’s take a look at the game touted as being “badass,” when in reality it was just bad and ass.

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A lot of action going on at once. Hope you can follow along.

Battleborn is a rather unusual game. It’s a first-person MOBA — think League of Legends or DOTA2 — with some elements of real time strategy and tower defense. 

The gameplay mostly involves killing enemy minion bots and protecting your own minion bots to destroy an enemy sentry drone. Throughout your journey, you’ll kill said enemy minion bots that’ll drop shards which you can use to build turrets or drones, or to upgrade gear to give you and your squad buffs. Defeating enough minions or other players will give you the chance to level up your character with passive buffs for your character’s abilities. Kill enemies without yourself getting killed. Fairly commonplace stuff for the MOBA genre.

These cutscenes really feel like concept art repurposed for the final game.

There is a story mode, split between eight episodes that last about 40-60 minutes apiece, which consist of a bunch of rag-tag soldiers trying to stop an evil villain from destroying a planet for materials. Or something like that, the plot is mostly doled out through an introductory cutscene before the episode starts, and a lot of the plot is told throughout the game, but I couldn’t really tell you what happens in it. All I know that there are multiple enemy types and a few warring factions, which probably remind me a lot of different factions from other games like Destiny 2 or Halo.

The MOBA elements still come in play in the story mode, as you can select a character, upgrade their abilities upon leveling up, and even purchasing a set of gear items with shards that can buff certain character and team abilities. Even the story missions are designed similar to the standard multiplayer, where players are basically defending minions or a boss to get to an objective while killing enemies throughout. 

Players share lives and accumulate points through random crates strewn around the game world, and the points seem to really only matter in giving experience for your character and your overall rank in the mission. Exclusive to the story missions are power-ups you can pick up that can lower your ability cooldowns, boost your overall speed and give you extra shields.

A bit of the “Meltdown” mode in action. Naturally played with bots since finding matches these days is impossible.

Since it’s a MOBA, the game has a versus mode that plays more like traditional MOBAs: Squads of five shepherding minions through enemy areas to destroy sentries, while trying to protect their own. There’s not a whole lot else to say about this, it’s no different than other games in the genre, but it has more of a shooter/slasher bend like Smite.

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Cybermania ’94: An extremely ’90s video game awards show.

It’s that time of the year again. The Game Awards, an awards show that’s ostensibly about giving awards to the biggest games of the year, has come and gone. A continuation of the Spike Video Game Awards from years past, The Game Awards is peppered with occasional celebrity guest talent and reveals for hot new games. It’s more of a spectacle than an actual awards show.

I really don’t enjoy watching these shows. Especially during the Spike era, which was peak “dudebro TV” where one year they literally had models body painted to look like the games being awarded. I wrote about some of the more “notable” moments of the awards show back in 2012 – updated in 2019 – that you can read about here if you wanna see how I felt about them, and how I feel about The Game Awards now.

So instead, I’m gonna head back into the past. To look into the days when video games were just considered a technical marvel and not quite a billion-dollar industry done to shill sneak previews like it’s a mini-E3. An awards show that was only attempted once, yet is quite the embodiment of the 1990s: Cybermania ‘94.

Yep, this is totally ’90s as hell alright. I mean, when you get pop artist Peter Max to do it, what do you expect?

Airing on TBS in late 1994 (natch) and filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood, this award show was the prototype to the future Spike VGAs and Game Awards. In 1994, video games were starting to gain more traction in the United States, especially in the era of 3D graphics and full motion video. The show was made during the peak of the multimedia trend of the mid 1990s, and it shows throughout the whole event.

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It’s like they went “who are the two most affordable and oddball actors we can afford here?”

Our hosts for this event are actors Leslie Nielsen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. A rather bizarre combo to be sure, which was probably bolstered primarily by the difference of age between the two actors. Both of them were still fairly popular – Nielsen had recently starred in The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, and JTT was on one of the biggest sitcoms of the ‘90s, Home Improvement – but the two couldn’t be a worse fit. Nielsen’s age means he’s clumsily talking about future technology as if he’s impersonating Phil Donahue like in The Naked Gun 33 1/3, and Taylor Thomas has the problem of just being awkward and inexperienced next to Nielsen. Granted, it’s probably better than the later game awards where we got David Spade or Joel McHale, but not by much.

Can this style make a comeback, please?

We start Cybermania ‘94 with The Gate to the Mind’s Eye, the third in a series of computer-generated videos that were fairly popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Afterwards, the show starts in earnest with Nielsen and Taylor Thomas standing in front of a computer as a Hillary Clinton impersonator tries to turn it on, Nielsen realizing it’s not plugged in, plugging in the power and having the computer explode in front of the “first lady of the United States,” giving her a cartoonish explosive face before walking offstage. This introductory segment is a strong indicator of what the show is going to offer.

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Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts Volume 3: The Sludge of Hi-Tech Expressions.

Several years ago, I had came up with one of the silliest music-related posts yet: Comparing iconic game show themes to NES versions of the same. Since there were a lot of game show games on the NES, I figured it would be an interesting little thing to write about. In addition, it was an exercise to see how composers took the Ricoh 2A03 sound chip on the NES and make good tunes out of them, while also seeing how accurate their arrangement of the show’s theme was.

Volume 1, published back in 2013, covered most of the first wave of GameTek game show games, which were all developed by Rare. David Wise, who at the time was Rare’s sole composer, did a fine job in most cases, even if it felt like he deviated from the source material in some cases, like with Double Dare.

Volume 2 was published several years later in 2019, and covered the post-Rare era of GameTek game show games from 1990-92, where various companies such as Softie, Incredible Technologies and Imagitec were now developing the games. In that post, we had we had fairly notable composers like Barry Leitch and Rob Wallace, to lesser-knowns like Leif Marwede and Mike Pierone give their own unique spins of the likes of stuff like American Gladiators, or in the case of stuff like Classic Concentration, completely original work.

But GameTek wasn’t the only publisher of game show games for the NES. There was another. One publisher that was known rather infamously for their average to poor quality games. As someone I know from the game show community once said, “If the game features this logo, stay far away.”

The bane of many a licensed game from the 80s to the mid 90s…

Hi-Tech Expressions is a fascinating publisher. They never created any original works, they were strictly a company who licensed existing properties and had contract developers make those games for them. The modern equivalent these days would be someone like GameMill Entertainment: Their bread and butter strictly making games based on existing licenses from TV shows or movies, rarely if ever making original IP of their own compared to similar publishers who’d go on to do bigger things, like THQ.

Most of Hi-Tech Expressions’ games were mediocre-to-bad, and their NES output was no exception. They graced us with three NES game show games, all in varying levels of quality. But we’re not really here to gauge if the games are any good, we’re here to see how accurate the composer’s tunes were to the theme song the show was based on. Let’s get to it.

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Fun House (1990)

If only the game was as cool and flashy as this title screen was.

The NES version (composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger):

COMPARED TO:

The Fun House theme from 1988-1990 (Composed by an unknown composer at Score Productions):

Fun House on the NES is a rather… bizarre beast. Rather than taking the Double Dare approach of trying to translate the action-filled gameplay of the kids game show to the NES, they opted to make a completely different game entirely. In Fun House for the NES, your character rollerskates around arenas while grabbing tokens and avoiding obstacles under a stringent time limit. It takes some of the elements of the TV show and slaps it into something that is only tangentially related to the source material. It’s the most oddball out of all the game show games I’ve ever played, that’s for certain.

This game wreaked havoc on my thumb for the brief amount of time I played it.

Lennard Feddersen of Ironwind Software came up with the original concept, and this game really feels like a reskin of an existing idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hi-Tech just took his proof of concept, slapped in 8-bit J.D. Roth and called it a day. (Feddersen would later make a spiritual successor to this game on the Game Boy a few years later called Out of Gas.)

It’s a funny coincidence that I get to cover another game composed by George Sanger, aka “The Fat Man.” I liked his music in the recent entry I made about Lexi-Cross, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. It’s clear Sanger wasn’t given the theme to adapt to the NES sound chip, so he opts for original tunes instead. It doesn’t resemble the rockin’ theme song from the show, but it’s a good tune in its own right.

8-bit J.D. Roth is… weirdly smiling at you.

The rest of the soundtrack has a fair share of catchy tunes, but they do sound a bit loud and shrill in spots. Most of the time, the music is overshadowed by the obnoxious sound effects. For a game released in 1990, it’s rather disappointing. The music’s probably the only good thing about it. Then again, I can’t think of a game where The Fat Man’s music was actually really bad.

Surprisingly, Fun House’s composer credit is currently unknown, as of 2020. A majority of the other Score Productions themes over the years now have proper credits, of which I’ve been using for the past “Game Show Themes vs. Their NES Counterparts” entries. I have an inkling that the composer might be Michel Camilo, Paul Epstein or even Edd Kalehoff, but until someone has proof, this will go uncredited for the time being.

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