Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Terminal Penguin Disease

It's trite to tell everyone how you're thankful for your family or your newly rebuilt house or your one good eye, so I'm taking this day before Thanksgiving to share something I'm thankful for: a video game I never played. Like actors who once appeared in McDonald's commercials, some now highly respected video game creators had less than auspicious beginnings, and has collected a few of these early forays into the industry. Included in the round-up was the video game debut by Hideo Kojima, the guy whose name is today synonymous with the Metal Gear Solid series and all associated espionage, plot twists and James Cameron-esque military mech. Kojima's first game was not that. It was a 1986 release for the MSX titled Penguin Adventure.

Yeah, this is what it looks like. Given Kojima's rep among gamers as an innovator and an auteur, this should be funny. (If you are not laughing and don't know what a Metal Gear is, do keep reading. It gets better.) Never having played an MSX, I've never gotten my hands on Penguin Adventure and have therefore never been able to help Penta (heroic blue penguin) venture off to find a magic golden apple in order to cure the ailing Princess Penguette. Not that I would have wanted to. You see, even if this game might have starred cartoony, anthropomorphic penguins, Kojima still had a hand in the development and slipped one of his now-trademark "gotcha" moves on the player. If you reached the end of the game and retrieved this stupid golden apple, you'd return to your little penguin-apolis to find that… Princess Penguette is dead, for you arrived too late. In the spot where she breathed her last, all that remains is a portrait of her in healthier times.

In fact, according to 1UP, the only way to get a "good" ending, in which Penguette's insides didn't rot and boil in her own penguin body, was to pause the game "once and only once" during play. The instruction manual and the in-game text offered no hint about this, which doubtlessly led to Princess Penguette dying a thousand needless deaths and young video game players being soured on penguins forever. So while I applaud Penguin Adventure for including one of the single most dicked features in any video game ever, I have to say that it's easier to appreciate its evil genius from afar, from the perspective of someone who never played it.

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