Has it been three years already? September 5, 2011, I posted the very first article here on Lark’s Island. Things have changed a lot since then, and activity has been occasionally sporadic, but I’m still here. So, I thought I’d do a little retrospective.
I was previously a contributor to a blog called LVLs., which belonged to an online friend. (It’s defunt now, but you can still find the affiliate link over on the sidebar.) At some point, I decided I wanted to have my own space and create my own blog.
Now, I’m not terribly good at coming up with names, so “Lark’s Island” probably sounds kind of random, but I can explain where it came from. When I first created the blog, I was browsing through the different WordPress themes, and I decided to use the “Beach” theme because it wasn’t too common, and I liked the way it looked (even though it had nothing to do with video games). So, to run with it, I thought it would be appropriate to call the blog an “island.” But what kind of island? After going through a few ideas, I settled on “Lark,” based on a character from the game Pilotwings 64.
You see, Lark was inspired by the old Nintendo Power comic strip character Nester, which is where I got my online handle from, so I thought it worked as kind of an obscure reference. (Lark, himself, was also a pun referring to both the bird and a lighthearted joke.) Maybe it’s a little too esoteric for its own good, but I have started using “Nester the Lark” as an extended name for myself.
The focus for the blog has always been video games, but the angle has changed a lot over the years. Currently, it’s just a personal outlet for me to write about whatever I want, which I guess is what a personal blog is supposed to be for. On October 19, 2012, I started a separate Tumblr blog called “Lark’s Lagoon,” which I use for posting news and other interesting game-related stuff I come across. Meanwhile, I keep my own written pieces here on WordPress.
As for just this past year, I’d like to point out some of my favorite posts I’ve made:
- StarTropics: Test of Island Courage
A retrospective of Nintendo’s short-livewd StarTropics series.
- The Wizard: Road To the Past
A look back at the ’80s video game movie The Wizard.
- Deeper Waters – Sonic the Hedgehog: Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5
A full analysis of the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Maybe it’s not that well done, but I’m having fun with it, and it’s still in progress!
I don’t really have any regular readers that I’m aware of, just random visitors. But if you’ve stumbled across this blog somehow, I hope you’ll have a look around! Thanks for visiting!
The Labyrinth Zone is Sonic‘s version of the water level trope seen so often in classic platformers, and here, the gimmick is milked for all it’s worth. Sonic must traverse a confusing submerged maze, but unlike Mario, he can’t swim, and unlike Mega Man, the water doesn’t make him more buoyant. Rather, being underwater makes Sonic painfully slow and clumsy, which is completely at odds with the speedy theme of the game and the flowing control we’ve gotten used to up to this point. To make matters worse, Sonic can only hold his breath underwater for so long before he drowns (accompanied by one of the most panic-inducing audio cues in all of classic gaming), so you must always seek out air bubbles or get back to the surface in time. And aside from the water, the zone is filled with spikes, traps and enemies that don’t seem to be inhibited, so the overall difficulty is cranked way up here.
Yeah, the Labyrinth Zone is like a cruel joke from Sonic Team.
An interesting pattern does start to emerge, however. Green Hill was wide open and speed oriented. Marble was more linear and methodical. Spring Yard went back to fast and open. And again with the Labyrinth Zone, Sonic is slowed way down and guided through narrow passageways. The constant change in tempo does keep things interesting and adds variety to the platforming.
The background makes the zone look completely enclosed, and the narrow passages serve to make the Labyrinth feel very claustrophobic. There are several branching paths that take Sonic through different routes, but he’ll ultimately end up at the same point anyway, so it’s not quite as maze-like as it at first seems. Still, the feeling of not being sure of where you’re going with the added danger from drowning makes navigating the level quite stressful.
There are some areas where the water level changes, and in some cases, it needs to rise in order to float some platforms that Sonic needs to stand on. The floating platforms can also crush Sonic if ends up between them and the ceiling.
The most interesting gimmick, perhaps, are the water slides that send Sonic helplessly down steep slopes, usually into the water. However, the beginning of Act 3 starts with a series of waster slides that actually repeat in an infinite loops. Figuring out how to get past this area involves jumping at a specific point to find a switch that opens a wall behind a waterfall. It’s kind of a clever puzzle, and it’s this kind of imagination and variety that helps make the game a classic.
The fight with Robotnik is also a little different, and more challenge, than it has been so far. In fact, you don’t really need to fight him at all, but rather chase him up a long vertical shaft filled with traps while the water level rises beneath you. It’s quite difficult, particularly if the water catches up to you, which not only inhibits Sonic’s movement, but also imposes a time limit since there are no air bubbles. Once you reach the top, however, Robotnik simply flies off, and you finish the stage. It actually is possible to hit Robotnik eight times and defeat him before you reach the top, but it’s extremely difficult and not really worth the effort.
The Labyrinth Zone is a unique level in Sonic the Hedgehog, and in a way, doesn’t really feel like it belongs in the game because it’s so counter-intuitive to the theme. It does add variety, but it’s kind of a drag to play through. However, submerged levels would, for better or worse, become a mainstay of the classic Sonic games. Yet, despite the spike in difficulty, the game is about to cut you some much needed slack.
Screenshots taken from a longplay video by RickyC.
One of the interesting things about going back to look at older games is seeing how they evolved from relatively primitive forms into the established genres we’re familiar with today. Konami’s Yie Ar Kung-Fu is obviously one of the progenitors of the one-on-one fighting game genre, and while it plays quite differently from today’s fighting games, there are also some interesting similarities.
You play as Oolong, and you fight a sequential series of increasingly difficult opponents, many of which wield weapons. You have one punch button and one kick button, but the interesting thing is that pressing those buttons alone do nothing. Rather, you are require to use them in conjunction with one of the eight joystick directions, each one corresponding to a different attack. You also cannot attack while jumping, but the long, floaty jumps serve more as a means of moving around the screen.
Yie Ar Kung-Fu was not the first fighting game, preceded by the likes of Karate Champ, but it still came before even the original Street Fighter, and so you can see how it experimented with the concept of two characters battling it out. It’s a fairly simple game, but it does have a learning curve as you get familiar with the different attacks and opponents.
I don’t recall playing this game in the arcade more than maybe once or twice, but I did see it occasionally. It’s kind of funny, but I was a fan of Irem’s Kung-Fu Master (specifically the NES version), and the fact that both games had “Kung-Fu” in the title made me think that they were somehow related, even though I knew they really weren’t.
Yie Ar Kung-Fu has been ported and re-released numerous times on many platforms, usually as part of a Konami compilation. There was also an obscure sequel released only for home computers.
Modern fighting games like Street Fighter or Tekken are obviously far more sophisticated than this early specimen, but with its larger number of opponents, moves and controller combinations, we can start to see the genre digging deeper in Yie Ar Kung-Fu.
Hardcore Gaming 101 – A comprehensive retrospective.
It’s not exactly a new post, but I’ve now added an index for the Arcade Mania feature so you can browse past articles! I hope you’ll check it out!
Once again, I apologize for neglecting the blog the past couple of weeks, but I’ve had a lot of personal things to deal with this past month.
I don’t want to say the blog is going on hiatus because I do want to keep working on it when I can, but at the same time, I have to give it a lower priority while I deal with other things. So, output will probably continue to be sporadic for the time being.