Archives for Retro-Active
This week we cover a lot of ground by discussing the Marvel movie news, Tomb Raider reboot, a new Kirkman TV show without zombies, PS4, and retro comics!
In the last couple years several high profile video game developers have gone bankrupt and closed their doors, as well as one pretty large lawsuit between former employees of Infinity Ward and Activision. Plus there is rampant speculation about the next generation of home consoles and the growing claim that PC gaming has on the consumer market. With all of this chaos in the air how can home video gaming consoles ever survive? All you have to do is look back thirty years.
In 1983 the Atari 2600 had such a stranglehold on the video game market that there was no doubt everyone else was playing for second place. But the cracks where already starting to show. In 1980 Atari sued Activision (which was made up of former Atari employees) to stop them from developing games for their system. After Atari lost the suit a tidal wave of developers flooded the market with sub-par games. It wasn’t bad enough that the market was flooded but a few high profile properties hit the system with less than stellar results.
The game E.T. is generally blamed for bringing down Atari and the whole home console market but there are other factors involved as well. Atari’s port of Pac-Man was a huge failure as well as the Swordquest franchise never reaching completion due to low sells. Add into this the over saturation of product and stiff competition from upstart consoles (Colecovision, Intellivision) and the stage was set for a bubble to burst. I remember going into the local department stores and seeing bins of 2600 games marked down to $5 and loving it. I could now buy a bunch of games for the same price one used to cost me. But most of those games were crap and ever inexpensive crap is still crap.
Probably the final nail in the coffin of this first wave of home consoles was the Commodore 64. During its lifetime the Commodore 64 sold more than twelve million units and its graphics far outpaced anything available from the “big three.” And the Commodore 64 was an easier sell to parents because it was considered a computer and could be used for educational purposes. But in the early days of home computing the gaming aspect was what sold the kids. By 1984 Atari and Intellivision had been sold and Odyssey had closed its doors. It would take Nintendo releasing the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 to kick start the market but even they faced a slow start in the beginning.
All of this doom and gloom back in 1983 led many to speculate that the Atari 2600 was just a fad and that video games would fade into history along with the Pet Rock and Mood Rings. But here we are thirty years later and the video game industry is just as bloated and tumultuous as it was back then. I doubt we’ll ever see the home console go away but the industry needs to look back at its own history and learn from its mistakes. But if we see games for $5 again I wouldn’t complain too much.
In June 1986 my dad owed me some money. I was twelve years old and five months earlier, for my birthday, I had received a substantial amount of money for my age, $300.00. My Dad had borrowed said money for bills and I had never let him forget that I was owed that money. Finally, after school had let out for the summer I had been granted the right to spend said money. Initially I wanted the cash but as the months wore on something else had captured my eye. There was this strange new gaming console that had piqued my interest a few months back. Its name: the Nintendo Entertainment System.
I can still remember the commercials: Two kids sitting in a living room (one of them would later play Scott, the kid who was friends with David Silver until David got cool new friends, on Beverly Hills, 90210) playing various Nintendo games until the sheer power of the NES blasts their suburban home into space. To further emphasize their point the voice over simultaneously announced “Now You’re Playing With Power!” as the slogan flashed across the screen. I HAD TO HAVE ONE!!!
For months I had been obsessing. I needed this new gaming system! My old Atari 2600 was still kind of cool but this new Nintendo system blew that old seventies hold over away. The future was here and its name was NINTENDO!
On a Friday evening in June, 1986 my Dad had to play a make-up softball game due to a rain out. I was still too young to play in the league but was anxious to get started. Still, that night was strange. During batting practice Dad was pitching to our own team and caught a line drive in the forearm. I, being only twelve years old, was less concerned with his condition and more concerned with my video game. I had been promised we would go to Target after the game and purchase my new obsession. I was concerned with Dad’s well being but I HAD to have my new game. Tomorrow was just too far away!
To Dad’s credit he played the entire game and led our team to a victory with a fractured forearm. And, to my eternal gratitude, he passed on the hospital opting for a minor emergency clinic instead. We were there about an hour when they finally told him he had a hairline fracture and a cast would not be necessary. I was glad he wasn’t injured but I had bigger plans for that night. Target was still open and I had a destiny! Luckily the clinic was just down the road from Target and there was still about forty-five minutes before they closed. To me time was running out!
Once there I went straight for the electronics department. I knew where Nintendo lived and I was not about to let it slip through my hands. I rounded the corner, ran full force and stopped dead in my tracks in front of the end cap that housed my destiny. Dad followed slowly behind and eventually found me jumping up and down in place. He lifted the console bundle off the shelf and into the basket. I was set, the bundle included Super Mario Bros., a light gun and two controllers. That’s all I needed! The system was on sale for $149.99 and I figured I would pocket the rest of the money for later. But a monkey wrench was thrown in my plan.
Dad asked me if I wanted any other games. I was not prepared for this. Suddenly a strange euphoria came over my twelve-year-old person. I had more money to spend. This was a development that I could not control. I had to spend more money! And I did. Hogan’s Alley, Pro Wrestling, Gumshoe, Duck Hunt and Excitebike all came home with me that night. Being still young enough to have a bedtime, even during summer months, I only had time to hook-up my new vice and play Super Mario Bros. for about a couple hours.
All night I dreamt of my new acquisition in wanton lust. This was the future of gaming and I had one. I had the power to master all things digital! I would be the best there was at every game put in my path! Saturday morning rolled around and I arose early to face my new temptress. I played every game I bought the night before. I played and played and played until my Dad came into my bedroom with an angry look on his face.
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” he asked with a face of stone. “I don’t know, 10 o’clock?” I replied. “It’s 2:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “Now turn that thing off and come eat some lunch.” I could not believe that I had lost almost 7 hours of the day to video games. I was in heaven but my parents didn’t see it that way. Strict regulations befell my video game playing from there on out.
Over the next few years a lot of video games passed threw my NES. Ghosts n Goblins, Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Golf, Legend of Zelda, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Top Gun, and Double Dribble just to name a few. I lost countless hours and several summers to the Nintendo. I entered a local competition when I was sixteen at a video rental store. The game was Ninja Gaiden. I had only played Ninja Gaiden 2 but still ranked in the top five. That same summer I went to Bush Gardens with my family and happened upon an Excitebike competition. I placed third.
Because of Nintendo I went to the theater and saw the movie The Wizard with Fred Savage and Jenny Lewis just because it was going to preview Super Mario Bros. 3. If you’ve seen that movie you know my shame. Yes, I owned the Power Glove. No, I never learned to use it and if you owned one you probably never learned to use it either. As the years went by other gaming systems came along and on a fateful late spring day in 1993 I discovered a new video game system I couldn’t live without. I sold my Nintendo the next day and bought a Sega Genesis. But that’s a Retro Active for another day….
Back in the 80’s it seems toy makers were doing some special drugs and came up with some of the strangest ideas ever. Case in point, M.U.S.C.L.E. What was M.U.S.C.L.E. you ask? Well M.U.S.C.L.E. stands for Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere. They were 2” tall non-articulated pink plastic toys that were intergalactic wrestlers. Yes, wrestlers. From outer space. I couldn’t make this up.
In the first wave there were 236 figures available and were packaged in three different ways. There were blister packs containing four figures, ten packs in clear plastic trash cans and boxed twenty-eight packs. Also available was a wrestling belt that also doubled as a carrying case and a wrestling ring. The second and third wave of figures were repaints of the existing figures which added new colors to the mix besides the pink fleshy color of the earlier toys. One of the cool accessories from this toy line was a mail-away poster that had a picture of every available figure. This is where we learned that there were two named characters, Muscle Man and Terri-Bull.
And since M.U.S.C.L.E. was based on a Japanese toy there was a crazy back story about Muscle Man leading the Thug Busters and Terri-Bull leading the Cosmic Crushers in a battle for intergalactic dominance through wrestling. Granted it’s not as crazy as some other toys (I’m looking at you Sectaurs) but who comes up with this stuff? I had a ton of these things but never quite completed my collection. And some of the sculpts were pretty insane.
M.U.S.C.L.E. was only distributed through Mattel and were only available from 1985-1988 but they did become very popular during their short run and even had a video game on the NES. Like I said, I had a ton of these things as well as the wrestling ring and I enjoyed many hours of playtime. Sadly, most of my M.U.S.C.L.E. figures disappeared over time and I now just have one but I do have a special place in my heart for these unusual small creatures and I like to think they are still battling for intergalactic dominance. Where ever they lurk.
As a side not, JAKKS Pacific has a new line of toys coming out later this year called S.L.U.G.S. which they have openly admitted are inspired by M.U.S.C.L.E. I cannot wait to start my collection!!
Not many people remember Robotix, at least not the cartoon. To be honest I barely remember much about it. My first exposure to this toy line was through the Super Sunday cartoon anthology. I wasn’t very impressed with the cartoon and neither was anyone else as it never found an audience and only the fifteen six minute shorts were produced. However, the toys were really cool. Much like Erector toys Robotix came with motors and wenches and each set could be made into many different designs. Unlike Erector sets each individual piece did not have to be screwed together. Robotix looked a lot like Legos with motors.
I had a couple of these sets when I was a kid. The first one was Argus. He was the leader of the Protectons and had a definite tyrannosaurus look to him.
The second one I owned was Tyrannix. He was a member of the Terrakors and I must say that I liked his color scheme quite a bit.
As I said I was never in to the cartoon or the comic book published by Marvel Comics but I was a big fan of these toys and loved building all the different designs. But the coolest thing was that each one of these toys came with a pilot. These figures were dressed in flight suits with helmets that did not come off their head but the visors could be raised to see the pilot’s face. These figures were not given any names but the cartoon tried to build a back story for the humans and a mythology for the robots. Part of me would like to find one of these sets and see if they are as cool as I remember but I’ve been burned by nostalgia before (I’m looking at you Dungeon & Dragons the Animated Series). Maybe I’ll find some Zoids instead.
And speaking of Zoids, I am surprised to find this toy line still available not only as a toy but also as a series of video games on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance, Sony Playstation 2 and the Microsoft Xbox 360. But the version I remember is from the early 80’s.
These robotic toys were on the small side which made losing parts pretty easy. Like the Robotix toys there was a short lived comic book and each toy came with a pilot. These non-descript little men were tiny and painted gold. I often used them with my Indiana Jones action figures as the treasure Indy was seeking. On a similar note I often used my Zoids as enemies in my Star Wars or G.I. Joe battles. I know that there is a version of Zoids still on the market these days but I’m a fan of these original American Zoids. I say original American Zoids because there have been twenty-six different releases for Zoids over the years. It’s hard to imagine a toy lasting so long that most people don’t remember but in the end both Robotix and Zoids hold a special place in my heart.
Everyone remembers the big toys from the 80’s like the Transformers or G.I. Joe but I have fond memories of some of the lesser known and stranger toys from that era. Over the next few installments of Retro Active I will share my love of some lost treasures from my childhood. First up, the Inhumanoids!!
This was one of my absolute favorite toys from the 80’s. For those of you who do not remember this toy line or the short lived cartoon that was meant to sell the toys, let me educate you. The Inhumanoids are three large monsters (D. Compose, Tendril and Metlar) who lived beneath Earth’s crust. The heroes of the series are the Earth Corps (Herman “Herc” Armstrong, Dr. Derek Bright, Eddie “Auger” Auguter, Jonathon “Liquidator” Slattery) and each member of the Earth Corps had a special exosuit with a stylized attribute. The Earth Corp also had some help in their fight against the Inhumanoids in the Mutors (Redwoods, Granites and Magnakor) who are the elemental beings who cast the Inhumanoids into the depths of the earth. In the cartoon series there were other Inhumanoids as well as Earth Corp allies not listed above, none of them were given representation in the toy line.
Now, the best things about these toys were the size and features. All three of the Inhumanoid figures were 14” tall, the coolest of which was D. Compose who had an exposed rib cage that could open and the Earth Corp figures could be imprisoned inside. All the figures had a “glow in the dark” feature in the head or helmet that would glow when exposed to direct light. I can still see that green glow on the “good guy” figures in my mind. In truth, the red glow feature on the Inhumanoid figures wasn’t very impressive. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to possess all of them!!
Sadly I never did, as a child. But a few years ago I did almost complete my collection via eBay. I only needed one vehicle to complete my collection but a need for money and an overwhelming sense of “why the hell do I have these?” mandated selling my plastic treasures. But from time to time I still peruse the online auction sites to scope out my prospects of re-creating my collection.
As I mentioned earlier the Inhumanoids also had a cartoon. It started out with a five episode mini-series and later was granted eight additional episodes. The cartoon was interesting in that it was pretty gritty for being targeted at children. In the mini-series one of the main characters is turned into a zombie by D. Compose and later in the ongoing series D. Compose turned a crowd of teenagers into a mob of zombies who terrorize San Francisco. That’s pretty heavy gruesome stuff for kids to watch. I can only imagine what might have happened in later adventures.
But alas, the toy line and cartoon never caught on and both were soon discontinued. One interesting point about the mini-series is that it originally ran on a Sunday morning cartoon block called Super Sunday that was a collection of shows which included Jem, Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines and another short lived toy line that I loved, Robotix!! I wonder what my next Retro Active will be about….
For more on Inhumanoids go to http://www.action-figures.ca/inhumanoids.htm
1991 was a spectacular year for music. Even if you are not particularly fond of the bands or the style of music they played there is no denying that many classic albums were released during that twelve month period. It’s hard to believe that it has been twenty years since all that great music was released. And it is equally hard to believe just how far the music industry has fallen since then. But before I start sounding too much like a bitter old man let’s take a look at some of the highlights from 1991. …continue reading
When I was a kid there was almost nothing I loved more than the corner convenience store. Over the years that particular store has changed hands so many times I couldn’t begin to give all the different names it had. But the one that sticks out in my mind was when it was The Pantry. …continue reading
In the last year two of the nation’s largest home video rental retailers, Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery, have gone out of business and Blockbuster Video has filed for bankruptcy. Both of these not so surprising events have gotten me to thinking about the early days of the home video rental business. You see kids, there was a time before the internet and streaming video. And there was a time before dvd and even vhs. I know this is a radical concept but it’s true. Before the vcr became affordable (roughly $400) if you wanted to see a movie you had to wait until the studio decided to re-release it to theaters or one of the three (yes, only three) networks secured the rights to air a re-cut, sanitized version suitable for broadcast. This was both cool and maddening all at once.
I got to see a lot of classic movies in the theater. Some of them were first run (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and some of them were re-releases (all the classic Disney cartoons and seriously, I saw Stars Wars so many times in the theater it’s not funny). Once again, this was before the internet so finding out that these movies were coming back to theaters meant either seeing television spots or seeing the print ad in the movie section of the newspaper. Either of these finds would lead to massive discussion at the lunchroom table. The anticipation was intense. But then something happened. I started hearing about this new device called a vcr that would play movies on your television. This was the best news I had ever heard! Now I could watch Star Wars any time I wanted, kind of.
What the movie studios figured out was that a) they couldn’t make people pay to see their movies over and over and b) this meant they had to re-release these films one last time before finally releasing it to home video and possibly never seeing another dime of revenue due to this new technology allowing consumers to make illegal copies and distributing said copies to everyone in the world. Sound familiar? Through all this the accepted time frame for video release was about six months after its initial theater release. This model still exists.
The advent of the vcr also led to a lot of video stores opening and closing in a small amount of time. One other phenomenon was that grocery and convenience stores got into the home video business. I remember vividly the small convenience store at the end of my street having a modest rental section for a couple years. I also remember them always being out of the movies I wanted to see. Kroger also entered into the business and their video rental section lasted into the late nineties when dvds took control of the market.
As time wore on most of the smaller “mom & pop” stores closed or moved into the adult business. This was mainly due to the price of vhs tapes. The movie studios charged rental stores an ungodly amount of money for the movies. This coupled with the potential for someone to rent a movie the store paid upwards of $100 for and never returning the tape was a little too much risk for some retailers. The six months after release schedule was only for rental. To own a copy of your own there was usually another six month window before the price came down to a reasonable $19.99. It was several years before I finally had a copy of Star Wars for my own.
In the late nineties I worked for Movie Gallery. I never knew the movie Clerks was a documentary until I had that job. At that time the big two (Hollywood Video and Blockbuster) had an unbreakable hold on the industry. And it was a very popular and profitable industry. I remember having to work on Christmas day in 1998. I thought this was ludicrous. Little did I know that I would have a line waiting outside the door when we finally opened the doors at one o’clock in the afternoon. When I left that company in 1999 dvd was starting create a buzz. By the year 2000 dvd had established itself as the new media of choice. George Lucas saw a new way to make money.
Over the last decade the brick and mortar rental store has taken a massive hit and led to Movie Gallery buying Hollywood Video then both closing their doors forever. Blockbuster Video has also had many financial troubles and look to be on the verge of closing as well. With the current state of media flux the future of home video looks to be in the digital download. Although Blu-Ray is trying to keep a foothold on tangible media I think it is time to just accept Netflix as the future. But I do like to reminisce about those early days of the video store. I spent a lot of time browsing over the shelves in a store with walls covered in movie posters. And on those shelves I discovered a love of movies. A part of me feels like a piece of pop culture was suddenly silenced.
Welcome to Retro-Active a new CineGeek column where writers from the site take a look back at the classic pop culture icons of our youth and the potential for their revitalization or the reasons for their staying power if they are still around. check often for updates abd strole down memory lane with us or discover a brand new addiction!
When I was a child and went to the store with my mom I would always sneak off to the magazine rack to flip through the latest issues. Those glossy pages with the behind the scenes pictures and interviews were the only way I could find out about things outside of my town. …continue reading