Friday, May 27, 2016

The NES cartridge that was too scary for me (not fake this time)

This was a former rental, as you can see

When I found this old cartridge in my big box of games it really brought me back to my childhood (as NES games tend to do). This one, however, brought me back to a very specific part of my childhood: the part where I was afraid of anything.

I owe a lot of my problems to Schoolhouse Video, my local video store. The front counter had Pogs and comics, the shelves were lined with 8 and 16-bit games that I rented over and over, and in the back room -- the horror section. Many of these movies I saw way, way too young -- and a few had such upsetting VHS box cover art that they gave me nightmares even without seeing the feature presentation. A couple of these come to mind...The Evil Dead 2, with its starkly lit, weathered skull peering out with human eyes. Ghoulies, a box that asks the question: what if a goblin was in your toilet.

Even though I was basically in a state of constant terror from my unshakable conviction that Freddy Krueger was hiding under my bed and Charles "Chucky" Lee Ray was just waiting for me to open the closet door, I miss that overactive imagination I had. Even things that weren't supposed to be scary would give me the mild creeps -- to pick a totally random example, NES games. The blank, black scenery in Super Mario Bros' underground stages were downright eerie to me. 

Metroid too. Screenshots from here and here.

Though it was of course a result of the limitations of mid-80's NES development, this bit of visual shorthand came across to me as mystifying and somewhat sinister--what's going on back there that the player can't see?

Maybe that sounds like a bit much, or maybe you felt something similar when you played these games. I'll be the first to tell you that I let the most innocuous things get to me as a child, but at least I wasn't alone in having the shit scared out of me by Friday the 13th's maze like cabin areas and Punch-Out style Jason attacks.

I'm digressing too much. What I wanted to talk about today was the game in the photo...when I was around ten years old I found myself alone in the room with a game I just couldn't stand to look at. I took a kitchen knife and scraped the label off!

as you can see, I've gotten a lot better at removing cartridge labels

 Look familiar? If you're really up on your NES packaging you can probably guess what was so god damn scary I had to destroy a game that now (as of this writing) sells for upwards of $60+ on eBay:

The Miserable Dead Now Welcome Your Company

...I know, pretty spooky. Looking back on this now I have no idea; she's wearing a beautiful dress and carrying a parasol. Maybe if she didn't have those Judge Doom-esque eyes it would be a little less silly, but most likely this label got to me because I had in-game context for the image that truly traumatized me:

I swear to you this was terrifying in 1991! Even when I knew how to beat the skeleton I was reluctant to play this part for fear that I'd slip up and use the wrong item somehow, triggering the boneface and scary music.

Considering how I was too scared to look at the box art for Evil Dead 2, I think my biggest fear might just be skeletons with eyes. So that's the story of how I couldn't handle the label art for Uninvited. Maybe I should have saved this tale of terror for my Halloween posts?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Dungeon of Flowers (Famicom)

One Thousand Dungeons! One Million Monsters!
Experience the Flower of Adventure.

Dungeon of Flowers is my entry for this year's Famicase Exhibition, which you can see more of in my previous post (and everywhere else on the blog).

The premise involves a hellish monster cave that becomes a pastel underworld when a mysterious series of earthquakes leads to thousands of sinkholes, peppering the formerly dark dungeon with shafts of sunlight. The resultant explosion of floral growth sends the monsters into an uproar--but some of them might like the change?

In this dungeon crawling game in the tradition of Wizardry, the player takes the role of a knight sent to investigate the unrest in the newly dubbed "Dungeon of Flowers", while making a few friends along the way. With their help, can you bring color to the deepest, darkest levels of the dungeon? What about the thing that created the earthquakes?

When I drew this I just liked the idea of a cartridge label with the hero surrounded on all sides by enemies, but the idea that THESE guys (even the screaming skeleton) are the allies that want to help you spread the flowers around is too good, so I'm going with that. And yes, the skeleton would only communicate with tormented, reverberating screams.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Famicase 2016 - a few of my favorites

It's summer, and you know what that means. No, dummy, I'm talking about Famicase

My Famicase Exhibition is the annual expo for artists and retro game fans to create an original cartridge design for an all new, all fake Famicom game! I missed it last year but am glad to be included this time--more on that next post. Today, I wanted to feature a handful of my favorite designs. This is no exhaustive list, either. Check the Famicase site for plenty of other great cartridges that I couldn't fit here!


It's Island Time! A super clean, super linear drawing style sets this apart from a lot of the more illustrative entries and I like the effect. The serene Moai head and bouncy logo give this a fun presentation. The premise of a game where you just relax around the world is a great idea too!

Elliot Gray 

Lovely logo design here. The splatter effect over the text gives an aged and gritty look while also serving as the broken glass from the window the figure is flying from too. Nice use of off-white for the label and cartridge, which meshes wonderfully with the distressed look of the logo. Reminds me of a vintage movie poster!


Just plain solid illustration and color work overall. Cool use of gradient in the character's hair that I'm totally stealing. The mysterious arm flying from her backpack and the sinister little faces appearing in her hair are a neat contrast with the cheerful style and suggests a dark, weird element to the plot of the game (that, being in Japanese, I unfortunately can't read).


Awesome premise! A dungeon crawler within the body of a giant monster that comes with the risk of even more monsters inside. I'm way into the color palette and the whimsical detail of using a stepladder to get into the monster's mouth is A+.

Daruma Studio

Can we call Spanish designer Daruma Studios "Mr. Famicase"? This must be at least their fifth consecutive entry to the show. The wonderful logo design and monochromatic illustration works really well with the choice of cartridge color. I dig the way the subject is so tiny on the label; it invites closer inspection and really emphasizes the feeling of the cat hero floating alone through space...or is it really a GLIMPSE INTO HIS OWN MIND???


I really, really enjoy the cute simplicity of this one. The thin line strokes and limited color palette give it a clean and timeless look that is evocative to me of Japanese style, though the submission is from the UK! This designer knows his shit.

I had a list of about 12 that I wanted to put here, but decided to keep it brief--there are LOTS of great entries this year (it might be the most participation Famicase has gotten to date).

I was particularly surprised to find that the six featured above is a very multinational collection! Only one Japanese entry, where I was expecting the majority to come from Famicase's home country. It really shows the universal appeal of being able to create your dream game (label).

More of the same old shit from me to come, including some photos of my Famicase entry from this year that you've already seen if you follow me on Twitter!