Hipster Tuesday: Talking Hedgehogs, Talking Chipmunks, and Non-Talking Unicycles - tstitan Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Hipster Tuesday: Talking Hedgehogs, Talking Chipmunks, and Non-Talking Unicycles

 

Please allow me to adjust my pants, so that I may dance the good time dance.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Hipster Tuesday is upon you again.  Here, obscurity reigns and the mainstream gets pissed in.  Today, we travel back in time to bring you a video game selection from an age when books sucked, a movie selection from when music was crap, and a soundtrack to a game from a time when...uh...polygons were...bad...

 

F*ck it, just keep reading.


Rezident Hazard: Uniracers (SNES)



 

I’ve long been fascinated with games that are “true exclusives.”  Not like Xbox exclusives that almost always end up on another console or PC later on, not like “console exclusives” where a game will only appear on a Microsoft or Nintendo console, but still also appear on PC. Or even “company exclusives” like a Zelda game—almost none of which are exclusive anywhere under Nintendo’s hat.  As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, Majora’s Mask is literally available and playable on four Nintendo consoles. This makes wanting it ported yet again not only wasteful, but downright stupid.  There’s really no reason not to play it if you want to—it’s everywhere

 

Uniracers is a true exclusive, and no, I don’t count illegal emulators for you PC Masterrace Nazi d-bags out there that love to jump to that asininity.  Uniracers only appeared on the SNES and was made by DMA Design—nowadays better known as Rockstar North.  Yes, those Grand Theft Auto guys. 


Uniracers is a one-on-one side-scrolling racing game starring unicycles, referred to as “Unis.”  In traditional Nintendo fashion, it’s set up in Cups that the player must charge through with ever increasing complexity and difficulty (like Mario Kart or Punch-Out).  The game was designed to show off that the SNES could handle high-speed processing antics as a kind of attack on Sega who routinely boasted of the “Blast Processing” of the Genesis (which was generally only shown off in Sonic games).  Granted, Uniracers did not have a lot of graphical detail, featuring simple tracks and very basic backgrounds—but it did flow very smoothly and it is very fast. 

 

Players pick up speed by preparing for various track changes by notable graphics changes in the floor or track—green and blue, for instance, generally meant the area was safe for some screwing around.  Red was a cautionary area which tended to mean drastic loops and changes coming up and that jumping was probably not a good idea. 


The only way to pick up speed was to use those green “safe” areas to perform stunts, as each stunt increased speed.  There are also massive ramps and jumps everywhere which launch the Uni into the air giving players time to churn out a range of stunts before landing—and you’ll need to stick that landing to get your bonus.  Land on your side and you lose speed.  Landing on the tire was necessary, and sometimes, angling the Uni properly mattered as well. 



And those stunts?  The game used every button on the SNES controller for different kinds of stunts.  The Uni could be rotated forward or back, turned on its side, flipped, and all manner of moves—as well as combining them.  Fairly easy to learn, extremely challenging to master, the game was frenetic, high-speed racing at its best delivering not only a kind of Sonic-challenger, but also one of the first stunt-based racers.  To top it all off, the final circuit was against a boss character called the Anti-Uni, which actually played tricks on you, such as changing the scrolling of the background (Barf Mode) to putting the game in extreme slo-mo mode (Hedgehog Speed).


Alas, a nasty lawsuit from Pixar of all places put an early end to the game, citing the unicycle designs as being too similar to their own unicycle-based animation around the same period.  Production was halted, and the rights of the game essentially dashed.  This is why it has never been ported or revived in any way over the years.  You want to play it?  You’ll need an SNES and the actual cartridge. 


And if you’re playing it on a PC in emulation, you’re not being some cool hipster, you’re just a poser.


tstitan: Enchanted Journey

 

When discussing feature-length Japanese animation, thoughts generally turn to Studio Ghibli and the wonderful films created by Hayao Miyazaki.  Much like Disney in the West, Studio Ghibli is synonymous with quality animated production.  Most everybody has seen/heard of at least one Studio Ghibli film, even those self-righteous d**che bags that denounce anything labeled ‘anime’ (yet secretly fantasize about Sailor Moon).  Yes, Studio Ghibli is a well-known, well-respected production studio…

 

And this movie selection has nothing to do with them.

 

Enchanted Journey is the only film produced by the unknown Studio Korumi, more relevant for their animation work with larger studios (even that work is obscure).  This charming little cartoon first released in Japanese theatres in 1981 and eventually saw a dubbed version release in the states in 1986.  Despite its age, Enchanted Journey holds up surprisingly well against the onslaught of time, with smooth animations and a timeless plot; a domesticated chipmunk named Glicko yearns for a great adventure outside the confines of his master’s apartment, where he parkours endlessly to the chagrin of his sister.  One morning, he has an encounter with a wise old pigeon named Pippo, who informs Glicko of an expansive forest to the north (creatively titled The North Forest), where countless chipmunks roam free outside cages and walls.  Intrigued, Glicko leaves his sheltered life behind and begins a feature-length exodus to the forest, making new friends and finding a girlfriend along the way while dodging the predatory advances of terrifying beasts of the wild (seriously, the antagonists in this cartoon are nightmare-inducing).  Obligatory musical segments occasionally rear their ugly heads, but they are thankfully brief and never ensemble a la Disney.

 

As was once the norm for animated films, Enchanted Journey does not feature a star-studded cast of actors.  The cast does a fine job turning out an English dub, staying true to the innocent nature of the film’s premise while providing a layer of learned wisdom when appropriate.  Gamba the rat is voiced by Jim Backus in a stand-out vocal performance in the film.  Beyond Backus, another voice stands out even more amongst the no-names; Hollywood magnate Orson Welles.  Welles provides the voice of Pippo the pigeon, bringing his soothing grandfatherly voice to convey wisdom and direction through the old pigeon.  This is not Welles’ only voice role in an animated feature (see 1986’s Transformers: The Movie), but it is a rare treat to see Welles step beyond his role as the grave Hollywood presence he’s most known for.

See you in your nightmares, kid

  As an animated film directed primarily at children, Enchanted Journey keeps to simple story-telling throughout the majority of its 85 minute runtime.  As a child watching this on VHS, I of course loved the cartoon based solely on the merits of animated, talking animals.  As an adult, the deeper/heavier themes are far more evident and interesting to observe; the illusions of freedom in captivity (probably why Welles got involved), starvation and survival, the pain of mortality, companionship and taking leaps of faith.  Though the film never feels bloated or crushing with its more mature themes, they are present for the enjoyment of the older crowd (most likely forced to watch at the behest of the younger audience eager to watch talking rodents sing songs and run around).  For the connoisseur of classic cinema, this film is an interesting tassel on the tapestry of animated history. 

 

Good luck finding a way to watch it…

…ok, fine, I’ll help you.


TWBW???: Sonic Adventure [Soundtrack]


It shouldn't come to anyone's surprise that one of the best videogame soundtracks of the PS1-era belonged to one of the best platformers of the time as well (well, if you ignore the various game-breaking glitches, uncooperative camera angles, repetitive missions, and loose controls). Sonic Adventure was a childhood masterpiece for many gamers who grew up with the Dreamcast, but it's shocking to see how many people forget to include the OST of the game to many of those fond memories and nostalgia.


The soundtrack was composed by Jun Senoue, Kenichi Tokoi, and Fumie Kumatani. Clocking in at a whopping 150 minutes of original music and 69 songs filled with variety - the game easily had one of the beefiest soundtracks of any Dreamcast game that wasn't "Space Channel 5". It can't even be claimed that it has a certain vibe to all of it, besides the feeling of energy throughout. The amount of options and sheer diversity were both pluses for me. Off of the top of my head, the second song on the initial album, Welcome to Station Square - features electrical guitars and a heavy amount of brass, and then you get into Strain which bombards you with a more sinister mixture of conga drums and piano, before using those same electrical guitars to turn up the sense of panic and speed. There are even varied vocals in a fair amount of songs - my favorite vocalist being Karen Brake, who sung Tails' theme song, Believe In Myself. Admittedly, the songs with vocals aren't usually too deep lyrically, but the game is originally for a younger crowd, so that's to be expected. I did with that a few of the songs with vocals were longer -you rarely here them in the game, and even on the album they're typically short in length, but that's a reservation I'll live with. All in all, there is a lot of variety in the album, and I appreciated how much time and effort was clearly put into this. Emerald Valley never felt this refreshing. 


I do think that the soundtrack did a lot to boost the game's prestige (even if people don't consciously recognize it). Sonic Adventure by itself, while a great, inventive game for its time, doesn't stand up too well in this day-and-age, for the reasons stated above. However, if there was one reason I would recommend going on the journey, it would be because the soundtrack is excellent. Every character had their own songs that really gave their individual stories flavor, even if they were all just doing the same missions over-and-over again.The boss fights also were greatly elevated by the use of proper, fear-instilling songs. Any song that can make me fear a walking puddle gets an "A" in my book. Even if one isn't interested in the game, the OST sounds great and stands just as fine by itself, the album is more of a centerpiece than a mere complement. There aren't many soundtracks that can say that about themselves,and it goes to show just the amount of dedication went into it. And to this day, I have yet to see a platformer that can stand toe-to-toe with Sonic Adventure's OST, including the rest of the Sonic games since the series' 25-year debut into the 3D-arena. 

 


Sonic watches you play Uniracers


The album is entirely free on Youtube if you want to check it out, and the recently released 20th Anniversary Edition Original Soundtrack can be purchased from Amazon.

 

And so ends this tale of Hipster glory and golden obscurity.  Don't worry...in one week, we'll have more brilliant selections for you to fill that gaping hole in your life, punched out of your chest by a cold, unfeeling mainstream society that has nothing better to do than to run around punching holes in people's chests...jerks.

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