China 2009-a: The Awesome Asian Arcade

My day was made by finding the sort of wonderland Asian arcade I'd always dreamed of. A palace of play, a magic land of clean floors, adequate lighting and well maintained machines. It was utterly different from any Western entertainment emporium. For one thing, it was still alive. For another, it actually cared about the games and players, while any Western arcade I've ever played in viewed the same way an exterminator views rats: the reason they're able to make money, and there the only remotely positive property ends.

They had the very latest game, Street Fighter IV, and it was glorious to behold. Two machines sitting back to back on a raised stage, huge cardboard cutouts and all, a chain fence to make sure the maestros in action weren't hassled and digital relay screens set up so that the entire audience can get an unobstructed view.
The least athletic cage-match ever
Even better, one machine was free! I failed to contain a squeal of joy, told my tokens they were going to a better place and sat down at the machine. Which instantly connected me to death.

What I didn't know (despite it being quite obvious in retrospcet) was that the machines were set up back-to-back for epic two player matches, so my innocent tokens had pitted me against the Chinese teenager at the other machine. Let me just say: on my best game, on my best day, I could maybe draw against a Chinese teen with a bad cold and one hand amputated. Here I can't tell you how quickly I was obliterated because I wasn't carrying my atomic clock.

I decided to wait my turn, but the only thing able to to beat him was the final boss, Seth (aka "Fast Dhalsim-with-a-Dragon-Punch"), and every time it did he'd run down the clock, put in his coins and start again. Clearly the only way to play was to beat him and let me tell you: if you have the mental skill level to do so you'll find it easier to just Force choke him.

Luckily this drove me to tour the vast, multi-roomed recreation center, where I found RAMBO.
You're goddamn RIGHT I want to play that!
The best light gun game I've ever played, and I've played their entire history.

My very first home console game was Duck Hunt. I used to play Wild Gunman drawing the Zapper from my pocket, despite how that made it physically impossible to beat level 5. For the PS1 I owned TWO GunCons back when there were only that many reasons to own one (Time Crisis and Point Blank, and yes I'm counting the entire Time Crisis series as one game). Of all those and a thousand more, beating every House of the Dead and Silent Scoping the safety of a nation, RAMBO fucking RAMBOes them to smithereens then machine-guns every single smithereen into smithereenettes.

1. It uses actual scenes from the movies as cut scenes. This alone should make it the best game ever as nothing will make you want to shoot things until they explode more than watching John Rambo kill an entire army.

2. It's intelligent about the plots of the later movies, if putting those two concepts in the same sentence doesn't make the universe explode, by realising it just doesn't matter. Chapter 4 happens before Chapter 1, with 2 and 3 several years later, just so that the game opens with the "at the border epic battle" - no make-you-wait for the good stuff bullshit here.

3. It uses the "little clock above their head until they shoot you" system, but the sheer number of enemies means it works. In other games that turns even the most desperate NYPD showdown into a fairground game of shoot the harmless targets with the occasional gradually threatening duck. Here it forces you to prioritise, and since any unattended enemy can start ticking you still have to kill quickly.

4. You can blow up ANY unarmoured vehicle, and when you shoot a grenade out of the air? It kills anyone near the explosion. This game loves explosions, and if you're careless enough to let a few seconds of the first stage pass without blowing something up your allies will goddamn do it for you, pussy.

5. Yes, you get to take out a chopper with a bow and arrow. Yes, it is fucking awesome.

6. This game understands Rambo - there is absolutely NO reward for burst fire or conserving ammo. With a clip the size of the Empire State building and the classic "don't do this with a real gun" finger over the sensor reload (outside of the screen is strictly scrub territory) you can shoot forever. But it still rewards accurate fire, without which even the most otherwise perfect gun game is pure pointlessness.



Your reward for effective shooting things and explosions is AN INCREASED ABILITY TO SHOOT AND EXPLODE WHILE RAMBO YELLS. This is without question the best thing every to happen in an arcade game, and I was shaking with adrenaline and maniacal laughter as I shredded a population roughly equivalent to Luxembourg in five seconds. I would play this game every day if I could. Hell, I'd couple the coin slot to a timer and use it as an alarm clock, the only problem being I'd need a solid steel coffee pot and an armour plated shower to survive ME JUST KICKING THEIR ASSES.

To calm down I played the worst light gun game in existence, Jurassic Park III. Or rather, Jurassic Park III rendered on the most horrible gun cabinet ever - I would normally say I wouldn't have inflicted this arcade abomination on anything, but if I was, it would be Jurassic Park III. I was spurred to this mistake by fond memories of the Jurassic Park game, and found that III is very faithful to the movie - in that it is to the good first game exactly what the third movie was to the good first movie.

The machine's only gimmick is a large curved potential screen area. I say "potential" because the damn thing can still only display a regular-sized screen
, crudely directed by mirror onto a large seventy degree arc. In theory this means the game can excitingly pan up to attacks from above, in practice it means the game spends a third of the time in badly deformed squashed-o-vision, and since the display has to slowly pitch up there its about as surprising as knitting.

Once you're finished being underwhelmed by the screen, you can get down to the business of being disgusted by the guns. Ribbed purple plastic with smooth sections they look like nothing but dildos - and they'd likely work better as those, as they're certainly uncontaminated by anything as uncomfortable as "sights". You check in amazement thinking that maybe some vandal broke them off - but no, smooth plastic. Then you see the crosshairs on the screen. The horrible, floaty sights which make it clear why there are no sights - there are calculators better at detecting aim than this game.

Of course the game itself sucks. I'll only tell you that the first mission is to rescue a guy who, on being attacked by a few tiny dinosaur, runs out of the army base and into the large-dino filled jungle. I can honestly see this looking like sensible behaviour to the game designers, but only if they couldn't find any napalm to cover themselves with.

China 2009-a: Hanging Out in Hang Zhou

We spent a weekend in Hang Zhou, a city famous for its beautiful lake - and rightly so. Even almost hidden in mist the thing was more scenic than any three sun-dappled glades you care to mention. Walking over the obviously misnamed Broken Bridge, you could take a photo in any direction and pass it off as an asian painting: mist-hidden waters, a one-man boat visible in the distance, fog-shrouded pagodas on layers of forested hillsides looking so damn asian you expect a martial artist to fly out of them on invisible wires and kick you in the face.

We visited Ling Yin temple, and I have to tell you - that is one hell of a lot of temple. I was almost templed out. Climbing through the various buildings, full of amazing statues (and in one case, an actual art gallery) it began to feel like a video game - after clearing each stage of temple, there was only a large staircase and the clear threat of even more temple. By the end I was expecting an epic final boss: my first glimpse through the ultimate doors was of vast arms, metal piping and swastikas. "Awesome!", I thought, and started compiling strategies to defeat a CyberNazi Buddha (I was strongly counting on some kind of glowing red weak point on his ample belly). Alas, the metalwork was scaffolding for the workmen maintaining the vast statues, and the symbol was of course the poor, misappropriated and mirrored Wan symbol of Buddhism.

Descending the stairs again took a shockingly short time - it seems that the climb had not actually been long, simply so full of artistic and cultural input that it seemed to take much longer. It's one of the best things about visiting an entirely different place, where your brain opens up the intakes and time seems to stretch like when you were a kid.

The other side of the lake is a much more Western view, a stretch of waterfront taken up with every expensive brand you've ever heard of, and many your tax bracket means you haven't. We're not just talking TAG Heuer, we're talking Vacheron Constantine. Who frankly make TAG look like novelty watches won by knocking over coconuts. The Vacheron store was smaller than its own banner but that hardly matters - at US$300,000 a watch it could have stocked enough in there to match Jordan's gross domestic product. When a store can outstock a country, that is one exclusive store.

There was a Rolls Royce showroom. I don't know how many people pop out to admire the view and declare "Dash it all, I'll treat myself to another Rolls while I'm here, don't you know", but the answer is obviously non-zero. Even though such customers obviously have a lot of zeroes, often with a tasteful "one" placed artfully in front of six or seven of them, to spend.

If I was to pick up the King of Cars, it wouldn't be in a downtown Hang Zhou store unless the sales staff could prove to me they had a working teleporter. One that could transport my new possession at least out of the city and preferable out of the country. The Chinese view roads as merely treated surfaces for cars to drive on, and if you're thinking "but that's what roads are" it's because you're assuming all kinds of rules that simply don't apply here. Every major Hang Zhou intersection has a forest of traffic lights to attempt to direct the traffic, and at least one police officer to attempt to get people to listen. Think Mad Max without the weapons, but with the extra aggression channelled into the driving instead - nowhere else will you see a taxi try to bully a coach out of its lane. From inside the taxi, if you're unlucky.