Monday, July 11, 2011

#0020: Sand Lizards

I was a proud kid of the 90s, and like any other generation, the 90s came equipped with its own arsenal of crap. Cartoons like Ren & Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead began to push boundaries of acceptable youth programming, and it was cool to wear lots of colourful, baggy clothes with stripes all over them, and a word like ‘juice’ shaved into your head.

A beautiful time to be alive. And, certainly, beautiful trends in toys would follow. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were hitting their stride and churning out one hundred different things for Bebop the warthog to do. And, as aforementioned in a prior article, midway through the decade, the hot ticket was grabbing an assload of Beanie Babies.

Today, I shall delve into a lost obsession that is slightly akin to Beanie Babies. Indeed, these too are collectible soft toys, but their time near the top was incredibly brief. Furthermore, the hold of their fabric was often even briefer. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to my little sand lizards.

Those unfamiliar with middle-class North America in the 90s probably won’t get a kick out of this article, but if you grew up like I did, the above image should have at least garnered a little ‘oh yeah, I remember those’.

Overall, the 1990s were a good time for plush toys. The thing is, though, that each line had to have their own little quirks in order to differentiate themselves from the rest. In the case of these tie-dyed critters, their calling card laid within their bellies; a body full of sand. As such, you could bend and flop them about to your delight, piff them around and watch their limbs flail about in the breeze, and… well, that would have been it, because by that time, their seams would have split, and your bedroom would be filled with so much sand you’d expect David Hasselhoff to set up shop.

These particular lizards have been in my possession for a long time, now. The blue one’s name was Tropic, and the reddy pink dude was a party animal dubbed Zooba. They would get up to all sorts of mischief and shenanigans, leaving a steady stream of entrails behind them. Like some sort of creepy, cuddly Mortal Kombat spinoff. With lizards!

What was the appeal of these things? I have no idea. Just looking at them now fills me with grim dismay, their zip-lock bags saturated with sand and their use in today’s society trivial at best.

They look kinda cool, I guess, and come in various varieties of creature. This was likely all we needed as kids to justify dragging our parents into Northern Getaway and demanding that they fork out the dosh for an army of limp lizards, frogs and seahorses. In retrospect, what a bizarre sense of entitlement we felt as kids, eh? We expected our parents to buy us whatever we wanted, simply because we wanted it. Their not buying it felt like a betrayal of some unwritten contractual obligation. I hate to think of it from their perspective.

“I worked forty hours this week to buy my son some sand.”

I’m sorry, mom and dad. I ruined their marriage with my stupid lizards.

But we cannot undo the past. We cannot deny our Macarena sessions nor our Milli Vanilli obsession. We cannot deny our sand lizards. They are our gift. They are our curse.

And in actuality, just posing them for these photos has led for them to spit sand at me as though it were a defence mechanism. They’re like those kids who couldn’t control their bladders; you wouldn’t hang out with them for very long, and their presence was a nuisance, no matter what the situation. And like most lame kids, the lizards wear tie-dye, too. All the pieces fit. Like a sand castle, perhaps?

I guess the world just wasn’t ready for sand lizards. Manufacturers lacked the heavy duty technology required to keep them alive in our brutal eco-system, and the surviving sand populous has dwindled to record lows. Their fragile bodies are abominations upon nature itself. They’re like the mutated Ripley clones of Alien Resurrection, or Snooki.

And there’s only one place for them now.

Friday, July 8, 2011


As is appropriate for a wrestling video game, SmackDown! Just Bring It refuses to go out quietly.

So I thought, as a final farewell, I'd highlight the game's best feature, and one that, for whatever reason, was absent from later editions.

It's an 8-man battle royale! The top superstars of the era (The Rock, Steve Austin, the Undertaker, Triple H, Kane, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit) square off for INAKA bragging rights.

So go on, place your bets! ...I know you wanna.

Monday, July 4, 2011

#0019: WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It

Partly because my overview of top 20 favourite games has reminded me that certain games are poor and need not be in my collection, and partly because selling Madden scored me a cool four-dollar profit, I press on with another gaming sacrifice.

This time, it’s with one of my earliest PS2 games, my third ever if I recall correctly. Upon purchasing it, I thought it was all sorts of splendid and invested lots of time in it. Just one year later, when I picked up its sequel, I was finally able to see just how abysmal it truly was. It was like unmasking the Phantom of the Opera. What once seemed beautiful had now had its scars revealed. Just with less Andrew Lloyd Webber, and more Perry Saturn.

Ladies and gentlemen, now entering the ring… WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It.

Sometime in the late 90s, I became a fan of World Championship Wrestling. I recall with glee my weekly viewing of Monday Nitro, taking in the action of Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Sting, and my bishi Lance Storm. Grand times for all involved; thinking it all to be real, trying to understand the sanity behind a fifteen minute David Flair promo, and listening to a hip hop song by Konnan after each presentation. Battle followed by boogie.

Perhaps it was a series of poor creative choices, or perhaps it was because I just didn’t love it enough, but in 2001, after thirteen years of man-slammin’ mayhem, WCW ceased.

Immediately, my world became deprived of sweaty men hitting each other with foreign objects. It was a tragic event, but fortunately for me, the brand hadn’t folded outright, but rather, had been purchased by the rival World Wrestling Federation. I had been trying without much success to get into the WWF to get my fill of the rasslin, but when I spotted Storm strutting around the mat, I instantly was re-hooked into wrestling. Rear hook suplexed.

So my fandom of WWF was still fairly young when Just Bring It hit the shelves, the third in the SmackDown! series, and the first for the PlayStation 2. I had only owned one other wrestling game prior to this, No Mercy on the N64, so understandably the leap in technology from one generation to the next had me thinking I was looking at something fantastic.

Funnily enough, my dad had seen me playing Dead Or Alive 2 prior to this, and when he saw the blurry pixelated tattoo on the jagged model of the Big Show for the first time, he asked me plainly, ‘are you sure these graphics are okay?’

Indeed, a valid question, papa.

When you first pop JBI into your PS2, you soon realise that it is a ravenous beast that will eat your memory card alive. It commands a whopping 4,173 KB to hold a save file. To put this in perspective, SmackDown vs. RAW, the sixth title in the series, requires only 498 KB. Sometimes I wonder what exactly JBI needed all that extra space for. It’s probably not accurate to assume it must all be for Steve Blackman. It could be, though. He was a powerful man, you see.

The next thing you will learn is that the graphics are atrocious, especially if you’re like me and have your daddy nearby to point this out for you. The character models have low polygon counts and animate like stop motion figures. You’ll likely feel especially cheated if you gained high expectations after watching the opening sequence, which features graphical quality you will never see again, as long as you live.

Kurt Angle doesn’t look much like his real-life counterpart, Kane’s hair animates like a broom, and my created wrestler has a head shaped like a sausage.

The third and final thing you shall discover before turning the PS2 off and crying yourself to sleep is that this game has some of the worst commentary you have heard since Mattel introduced the Intellivoice in 1982.

Tazz and the ever-irritating Michael Cole bring you commentary that ranges from disjointed to downright bizarre. An example of the script will yield such gems…

Cole: Welcome to Raw is War!
Tazz: I’ll be announcing tonight’s event.
Cole: We can’t miss… Raw tonight!
Tazz: That’s dumb.
Cole: Michael Cole and Tazz at ringside.
Tazz: How can you miss that?
Cole: They’re colliding in the ring!
Tazz: Just look!

Those might seem okay on their own, but in actuality that is a segment taken from the opening twenty seconds of a match. Tazz sounds like a cranky toddler. But sitting next to Michael Cole would make me cranky, too. My primary regret throughout the SmackDown! games was never being given the chance to put him through a table.

JBI offers a multitude of match types and a bizarre story mode that involves running around the backstage area looking for friends to team up with and competing for titles you don’t want, followed by curiously worded arguments that border on playful. Actually, it sounds a bit like the premise to a My Little Pony cartoon when you think of it out of context.

As a standalone title, JBI might have been okay. After all, I was big on it at the time, but the fact of the matter is that just one iteration later, everything was improved astronomically. The increase in quality would only ever be in minor increments after that, so the big gaping hole that lies between JBI and #4, Shut Your Mouth, makes the former look like a big silly pink elephant in comparison.

The main thing you must learn is when to press the square button. Once you’ve seen the animations and read the AI enough, you will be able to counter any move at all with the mighty square button. Grapples, strikes, flying leg lariats, the whole gamut. That square button holds such raw power it might be president someday, so better get chummy with it now.

Successfully spamming the counter button is fun. What’s also fun is discovering how far you can progress in the menu after ejecting the disc.

Apparently, the game offered me an opportunity to meet a WWF superstar backstage at a live WWF event in the USA. I never took them up on this chance, though I’m tempted to give it a try now. Even though a live WWF event these days would limit me only to shows about panda preservation and discussions about your favourite type of shrub. …For this is what I assume occurs in the workings of the World Wildlife Fund. It’s no more ignorant an assumption than a KB-hungry Steve Blackman, really.

And if that didn’t confuse you, perhaps this will…

Mind fucked.