Top Five Items of Nostalgia

Nostalgia is something that, as a creative and critic, I’ve learned to address as a powerful element. It’s something that heavily affects what we like, and as such it’s very important to recognize it when criticizing or judging anything. There goes the old statement: “They don’t make games/music/movies/swords like they used to,” and “The classics were the best.”

I guess that makes the definition of classic “Something that didn’t suck enough for people to forget about it.”

This can be said in regards to any media, and there’s some interesting psychology behind why people, as they age, look fondly on their younger years. Often enough, to the disdain of the current era. Part of this is the Nostalgia Factor, something I’ve touched on more than once, particularly when I’m talking about music.

Here I’ve compiled a list of particularly powerful nostalgia items for yours truly, though not all of them are necessarily physical. Each of these has a memory attached, and there is a reason they each have such a strong hold on those little neural synapses in the memory part of my thinking-organ.

1) The ThunderCats

hooooooNow before I get started, let me make it clear that it’s not the entirety of the ThunderCats that I loved, or even remembered. To be honest, I had only seen three or four episodes – tops – mostly on account of my family not having access to television until I’d grown into other media.

When I mention the Thunder Cats, what evocative imagery springs to mind? Spandex-clad bodybuilders in 80’s hair, no doubt, but for me it was one, specific episode that I’ll never forget. I had watched an episode named “Trouble in Time” again and again on account of it being the only VHS available at the nearest video-rental, a small mom & pop place about ten miles away from my the old family warren.

For those of you whipper-snappers reaching for the Google Translate button, “80’s hair” means really big and radical tresses, a VHS is what we used before .avi and .mpeg files existed, and a mom & pop was a store where people bought things before your corporate masters infiltrated the minutia of daily life.

Or something else that supposedly ages well.

Here we see Tygra, aged like a fine bottle of Sean Connery.

This episode of ThunderCats thoroughly messed with my perception of the world. One of the characters, Tygra, wanders into a chasm and finds himself rapidly aging, and we later discover this place to be known as the Caves of Time. Inside its barren corridors, Tygra comes across the bones of less fortunate organisms that also ventured here, and by the time he realizes he needs to get the hell out of dodge, he’s already emaciated, going gray, and quickly losing his ability to walk back out.

To this day, I generally don’t go underground for a variety of other reasons, but one can count this as something of a pivotal element in my formative years, shaping a sense of caution in me that no doubt kept me alive while living in the woods of Upstate New York.

2) The Last Unicorn

never_run

Sound advice. Also applicable to JCPenny salesmen.

While I count The Dark Crystal and Conan the Barbarian as my top fantasy movies, The Last Unicorn will forever hold a special place in my heart.

This story is gorgeous, and the Rankin/Bass animated production — which happens to also be the studio behind The ThunderCats — is full of wonderful quotes, atypical (AKA memorable) characters, and music that echoes through the decades. This is the story of a unicorn, the *last* one in fact, gasp, who sets out on a quest to find out what happened to all the others, and it is an adventure indeed. She meets friends, encounters other mythological creatures, and inadvertently gets turned into a human — a hugely traumatic event, since one of the first things she exclaims after regaining consciousness is:

“I can feel this body dying around me!”

Based on the novel by Peter S. Beagle, this story has its childish comedy, the occasionally awkward voice-acting (with a star-studded cast, actually, including Jeff Bridges and Christopher Lee), and tons of excellent, quotable, unexpectedly wise moments. A particularly unforgettable moment for me comes out of Schmendrick the Magician:

“There are no happy endings, because nothing ends.”

Dan Avidan (a musician who also goes by the name of Danny Sexbang of Ninja Sex Party), does a thoroughly awesome and respectful job covering the Last Unicorn song.

3) Street Fighter and the SNES

Unabashedly teaching me that it’s okay to hit girls so long as they hit (kick) you in the face first.

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my writing that videogames had a profound affect on my upbringing and my perceptions as a kid. I’ve spent numerous posts praising and applauding specific titles for their qualities as media; the enjoyment derived from adventuring, the immersion of the story arcs, the euphoria of their soundtracks.

But one distinct memory stays with me from the beginning, as it was the gateway drug of games for me.

When I was a sprout no older than six, my older brother (nearly double may age at that time) took me to a local Mexican food place called Taco Juan’s. Those of you familiar with Woodstock, NY might recall the place, but at that age the cuisine concerned me about as little as the lifting of US Trade Sanctions with China that same year.

No, there were arcade machines in the back room, and when my older brother showed me these magical machines, I watched with wide eyes as he chose a character and beat the tar out of people.

snesA short though undetermined amount of time later (however I’m inclined to think it was that same year), the Super Nintendo hit the shelves of North America. Having almost no idea what it was as my brother unboxed it at home, I stared in wonder as the T.V. flickered on and Super Mario World rolled across the screen, in all it’s vibrant primary-color glory.

“You know the best part?” my brother said to me. Wide-eyed, I shook my head. He grinned. “You don’t have to put quarters in it.”

mindblownWhen something blows your mind at age six or seven, few experiences compare ever after. And it did, of course, begin a long career in gaming.

4) Transformers: The Movie

transMovie

You got the touch.

Another animated film that seriously shaped the way I saw things, Transformers: The Movie came into my life despite my having watched almost none of the original Transformers series.

The movie itself is something of a season finale, a full-length feature film of higher-quality-than-the-industry-produced episodes of a series, and as such there were moments when characters died, early on, that really had little impact on me. More loyal fans might gasp to see characters like Ironhide and Optimus Prime (yes, Optimus) get gunned down.

gunnedOh, did I spoil it for you? The movie’s been out since 1986.

Optimus DIES in like the first fifteen minutes.

What makes this movie really stand out, though, is the antagonist, the Greater Scope Villain. An artificial planet by the name of Unicron, the theme song of whom is badass. Just hearing those first couple notes in the opening remind us that in the cold void of the universe, there always lurks the potential for a foe greater than anything we’ve ever imagined. This has profoundly affected the arc of one of my own novel projects, as well as had me looking to the stars whenever I hear about humans having a war dispute over which religion is more peaceful.

Unicron is an artificial planet that seems to focus on devouring other planets, and possesses strength and abilities far beyond that of the transformers, both Autobot and Decepticon alike. Bonus points for unfolding into a massive transformer himself, suggesting either a common origin or that, perhaps, all great non-organic intelligences eventually evolve into something transformative.

This movie showcases some of the best things to come out of the 80s: wicked story premises, screaming hair metal, and another use for term matrix before 1999 came around.

5) Aliens (Xenomorphs)

We weren’t a rich family, but I did have a collection of action figures accumulated in part for myself, as well as hand-me-downs. Toys came in different phases, and while LEGO, Definitely Dinosaurs and even Stone Protectors occupied a lot of my time as a kid, one line of toys stood out from all the others in how badass they were.

Gorilla_Alien_kenner_comicThese toys where the very definition of action figure to me. Unlike a lot of T.V. shows and product lines created with the very specific intention of selling toys, the concept of these particular aliens came around long before anyone made toys for ’em. Every figure had a unique effect to it, sometimes imaginative and sometimes simplistic, but all of them different. And there were a lot.

Between soft rubber heads that could be filled with water (to be squeezed, imitating the creature spitting acid), pressing a button on a figure’s back with your thumb to flap its wings, or even just a little spring-powered mechanism that, when released, would send a harmless, bouncy projectile to rain DEVASTATION on the enemy, these things were rad.

Not only were they fun in and of themselves, but each came with a mini-comic packaged alongside it, along with some manner of ‘flavor.’ The Space Marines came with weapons, the Aliens came with a translucent facehugger of a corresponding color, and together, with all the mini-comics, a rather extensive story could be pieced together. Impressive for a line of media that stands completely apart from (or perhaps alternate/parallel to) the storylines of the movies.

A number of models were not available in the far-off toy stores back in the day, before the age of internet-ordering, so I had doubles of the Gorilla Alien and, I think, three Scorpion Aliens, but only ever one of any other kind. Add to that the fact that they would release a model that was identical in all ways except the color of the plastic they poured into a mold.

That’s nothing new as far as toy lines are concerned, but as I kid, when I first came to understand that the tan and copper Cougar Alien was the exact same thing as the black and silver Panther Alien, I think the first seeds of doubt and distrust toward large toy companies were planted.

Be that as it may, I always loved them (though I had my favorites) if handed one now – twenty plus years later – my hands would readily and easily find the old latches and buttons cleverly hidden on their backs.

They were, for all their parasitic tendencies, very polite.

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The First Time I Wish I Was At E3

E3 has come and gone, and naturally I – like much of the world’s populace – was unable to attend. In fact, I confess little interest at the time; for so long have I been up to my neck in other things that I’ve rarely been able to indulge in actually keeping up with video game news, let alone actually play anything.

Though, much like the acorn, I am small largely inconsequential, but I dream of forests.

It would appear that the participants of the Electronic Entertainment Expo has had more than a few dealings with dreams this year.

Stepping back a bit, I want to say that I’ve hardly kept up with this stuff for the last few years. Much like my views on the Movie Industry have gotten increasingly jaded (directly proportionate, perhaps unsurprisingly, to my apparent acquisition of age), so too have my views of the Gaming Industry similarly degraded.

The cynic will say that it is not one’s perception that has degraded, though, but in fact has undergone augmentation. Whether this is from age, or a legit declination in quality of the media, is up for debate.

E3 of 2015 shattered that pretext for me. Like I said, granted I haven’t kept up with things lately, so perhaps it could be said that my insensitivity threshold has also lowered, so it’s easier to be Wow’d by the graphics and concepts and gameplay mechanics. I stand before you and say no, that is not the case. At least not to the best of my perceptions; games are less interesting these days because they’re more and more the same, and in a desperate attempt to make something different, a lot of developers have resorted to ‘ye olde schoole’ tried and true techniques; like Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze’s obvious throwback to the ancient 1994 release, Donkey Kong Country, which is a side-scrolling 2-D platformer.

That’s not necessarily a criticism, by the way. Very few games translate seamlessly from 2-D to 3-D environments, just look at Sonic the Hedgehog and Megaman. Some transitions are passable.

super-mario-bros-deluxe

mzaa

Others are not.

giphysonic

Still, developers will come out with a new title and I’ll look at it thinking, “Alright, so it’s Tomb Raider but with robot dinosaurs.” Again, don’t get me wrong, this looks pretty cool. In fact the concept is rather neat, but already I can see how its not exactly breaking new ground. For many of us, that’s enough, or else they wouldn’t keep making these Over The Shoulder shoot + roll games of which I’ve seen a hundred and one reincarnations.

Except for works of art such as The Last Guardian, the teaser for which I saw back in 2009. 2015’s E3 showed that yes, the project is in fact still alive, and looking better than ever.

Truly this is a game of masterwork visual storytelling; without a word of exposition or any kind of preamble, I find myself holding back tears from dropping down into my palak paneer as I watch the footage in my office chair. I never really had any interest in spending money on expensive consoles like the Playstation 4, but on seeing this the thought crossed my mind.

Yet even the raw emotions evoked by The Last Guardian, emotions the likes of which might be ascribed to pure adolescent wonder (and the sheer joy that I can only dream of experiencing, that moment we always see when a character realizes that Magic is Real), step aside for but a moment in silent awe at another thing that graced the light show of E3.