Back in the early nineties if you were a gamer you undoubtedly spent plenty of time at your local arcade, pumping all of your hard-earned allowance and any extra quarters you could mooch, beg, or steal into the big noisy machines that promised massive entertainment for as long as you had the cash. Unless you were either very rich or incredibly skilled, there was little in the way of long-lasting achievement; your high score was probably gone by the next week when the machines were turned off as their owners collected the precious metal tokens you would jam into them relentlessly. Truly, it was a fine object lesson in capitalism for many a youngster.
One of the most shameless games to suck your funds though, was Smash TV.
The set-up was simple. You, and possibly a friend, were competing in a game show of the future where you were handed a leftover Double Dare costume and a machine gun, and had to work your way through several rooms of a large television studio while hordes of thugs, bombs, tanks, monsters and robots were thrown at you; all for the sake of collecting toasters, home games, roadsters, “Super VCRs”, cold hard cash and the attentions of skinny models with big Texan hair. America watched to see if you survived, and a very exuberant announcer shouted catchphrases at you from the sidelines.
Stuff like,” Good Luck! You’ll need it!”, “Big Money! Big Prizes! I LOVE it!” and of course “I’ll buy that for a dollar!”
The game was (and still is) brutally difficult since the developers wanted you to lose your lives so you would give them more money. It was actually a fair bit of crass, violent fun, so it worked. So these catchphrases from the MC were burned into the collective consciousness of an entire generation.
That’s where the “I’d buy that for a dollar” comes from, it’s a quick reference to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 classic action/satire featuring a cybernetic police officer who doesn’t so much as uphold justice as shoot the criminal underworld in the crotch. Along with The Running Man (the other obvious inspiration for Smash TV), Robocop predicted a future where America was caught in massive economic turmoil and recession, people drove huge gas-guzzling SUVS, corporations had more control than government, and ridiculous reality TV ruled the airwaves.
Huh. With the exception that both the films and the game thought reality TV would still be limited to the game show format, as opposed to the atrocities we’re actually getting, these movies unfortunately turned out sort of accurate predictors of our current economic and cultural climates. Just with fewer robots.
Anyway, here at the Metro City Reform Committee, we’re familiar with hard times (mostly since we deliver them to our enemies); we know that sometimes you need to save a bit of cash to eat or pay rent or whatever. We graduated from the school of Hard Knocks after all, getting a doctorate in awesome – sometimes this means we give back fistfuls of caring rather than our usual knuckle sandwiches of words. Let’s do this by borrowing an already borrowed phrase, and using that as our theme!
So with our pocketbooks in mind, the desire to help out in our hearts, and the unnecessary back story for the article’s title out of the way, let’s take a look at a few different games that you can purchase for exactly one dollar – and don’t suck. Though there are a few avenues to take here, let’s start with the Xbox LIVE Indie Games marketplace, shall we?
Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes
Hailing from Japan, a little group called 8-bit fanatics delivers this little gem of a game. It keeps true to the company name, delivering a graphical style that hearkens back to the days when the NES was king, and you were it’s loyal servant. The game offers us an Indiana Jones clone who sports a mean Abraham Lincoln beard and throws knives at scorpions while hunting trap-filled tombs for treasure. If you don’t think everything in that last sentence was totally amazing, get your pulse checked, because you’re probably dead.
Even if you haven’t perished yet, you will during the course of this game. You get 1000 lives for the entire adventure (hence the title, though there are plenty of spikes), which is more than fair, but considering the instantaneous death you’ll constantly suffer along the path, the limit creates palpable tension. The music is great, the levels are fun, and it’s great platforming action. Plus you get a little thumbs up whenever you beat a level.
Oh, and if you end up liking that, and just won the lottery so you can spend three dollars instead of just one (way to showboat rich guy), try another game made by these maniacal dudes from the east: Tempura of the Dead: The Zombie Head Jugglers. It features President Obama teaming up with a Samurai to fight off zombies that have taken over America. If that doesn’t sell you on the game – nothing will.
Actual Price – $1
Price Adjusted for Excellence – $40 (the cost of any solid NES game when they originally came out)
OK, so let’s say you have that dollar, and you don’t like 2D adventures, or the prospect of dying over and over again. Let’s say you like a good shmup instead. Well then the folks at Mommy’s Best Games have got you covered with Shoot 1up.
The basic concept here is that rather than going through your lives one at a time, as in every other game, whenever you get a 1up you get another ship on screen right then and there. So you’re actually controlling a small squadron of fighters rather than a lone assault craft. It’s a conceit that works really well, and truly gives this game a fresh feeling in territory that’s taken the concept of “well tread” to levels only Goodyear Tires has seen.
The game doesn’t have the fanciest graphics or animation, and the score-pickups are uglier than the guy from Robocop who gets his face melted off, but the music is excellent, the gameplay is excellent and it has an immense amount of customization. Simply due to the array of options it offers, it’s probably one of the most feature-rich dollar games I’ve yet to see. Check out the trailer above, then don’t buy those two tacos from Jack ‘N The Box. You might be a little hungrier, but you will be a lot healthier.
Actual Price – $1
Price Adjusted for Excellence – All of the change you’ve ever spent on the shmup at the laundromat waiting for your clothes to dry.
So a couple years ago when Microsoft blatantly ripped off the Nintendo Miis and made their Xbox Avatars a required part of gaming on the 360, the only consolation for most folks was that there was a chance that they might be able to do it better. In some ways they did: though far costlier they’re a lot more customizable, and they seem to be fairly easy to toss into games as an option rather than using another boring protagonist that you’ll never care about; like any Dynasty Warriors character. Microsoft even seemed to want us to use them in free public forums for their gaming community with the likes of 1 vs. 100, and the promise of an avatar racing game further down the road.
Well, it turned out that the avatar racing game was delayed forever, and is now only for those with Kinect, and 1 Vs. 100 was canceled because . . . well I guess because it proved too popular and fun and they weren’t making enough money off it. So what is there to do with the digital impersonation of yourself you have to have if you can’t show it to the world in these games?
Well, the Indie Games section on Xbox LIVE has about a billion answers, but unfortunately most of them terrible. You can get in terrible snow ball fights with avatars, make ugly babies with avatars, get “massages” from avatars, fights with avatars as well as your controller, and of course, shoot zombie hordes with avatars. They’re easy to use for many making these garage-band games, so they show up all the time, but in 90%of all instances, the games are just brain bogglingly bad. Luckily my searches through awful avatar games haven’t been totally in vain; I’ve found one that you might actually enjoy playing!
Avatar Ninja! from Milkstone Studios is pretty much as simple as a game comes. You mash the A button to keep up your rhythm, and press the other 3 buttons to jump, duck, and shuriken your way past obstacles as your avatar runs atop the water line of a river during ninjutsu training. It’s the definition of a trifle, or at least should be. There’s just something about it, whether it’s the catchy bits of music and audio, clean presentation, or addictive “high score” oriented simple gameplay I’m not sure, but it’s very easy to come back to and try “just one more time” over and over again.
So again, it’s not going to win any sort of awards, but it’s easy get into and it costs less than any avatar prop you can get. Plus you might actually have fun with this, rather than just proving to the world that you’ve spent actual money on digital accessories for your little cartoon doll. . . which I can’t really judge since I’ve done it too.
Actual Price – $1
Price Adjusted for Excellence – All of the money you’ve spent on your avatar clothes. Combined. Or about $7, which ever comes first.
Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
So you say you want something a bit more substantial than just river-ninja Hopscotch? OK then, how about a turn-based JRPG with a solid sense of humor? Enter BD7:TB, or as I like to say out loud, “Bid-Sev: Tibb”.
BD7: TB from Zeboyd Games is a fun little romp through HD enhanced 8-bit gaming starring Dem, a skeleton knight who fights for undead justice after the apocalypse. From the opening intro that parodies a varied range of influences like Mega Man and every Dragon Warrior game ever, to dozens of references strewn throughout the adventure, the game proves to have its tongue planted firmly in-cheek.
For an RPG it’s a pretty short excursion, lasting a quick four to five hours. But in a genre that usually demands your full attention for sixty to eighty hours of monotonous grinding, quick quests can actually prove very fun indeed. Plus the game does offer some innovation in little conventions, like in the limits it places on random encounters as you travel through dungeons. It also features a nifty level-up system that encourages experimentation, which is something more expensive RPGs have done, but doesn’t feel as risky in this game probably due to the short duration.
All that “innovation” aside, the game is genuinely funny, which is something very few games are actually good at with any regularity. Though it’s apparently a little more common in the “Indie-Parody-Old-School-JRPG” genre BD7: TB resides in. Regardless if the only other notable games in the genre are this game, it’s spiritual successor Cthulu Saves the World, and of course the greatest, most monumental achievement in the history of “Things Done by Humans” – Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden.
Actual Price – $1. Starting to see a trend yet?
Price Adjusted for Excellence – 127 Hours. No relation to the movie or book of the same name. That’s just the amount of time you’d save per year if you never touched an overly long JRPG ever again.
Halfbrick studios, an Australian group, is finally finding massive success these days. They have some popular smart phone apps, like Fruit Ninja, a frolicking bit of fun in their full Arcade release Raskulls, and are even trying to craft an adorable recurring character in the delightfully named “Barry Steakfries”. Before this, they were mostly making ports of other studios’ licensed titles, a thankless job that no one in the industry ever really wants, as it combines high pressure of big budget game work with low regard from both critics and no respect from fans.
Their first foray into making their own games occurred with Echoes, a simple little top-down corridor runner, in the vein of Pac-Man, but with a novel twist. Playing as . . . some girl with a straw hat, you move through levels collecting gems in a sequence as they appear on the map. As you move, you create a trail of footsteps in a classic cartoon fashion, and when you nab one of these gems it creates a shadow clone (or Echo, duh) of the girl who moves along the path of footsteps you’ve just laid out.
OK, wait, that sounds confusing to explain. Maybe a picture would help?
Trust me, it’s simpler than it seems. It’s also definitely a clever twist on classic design, and it’s complimented with some excellent music, a huge amount of levels, and as with Shoot 1up a bunch of options and variations to keep people satisfied for quite some time.
Oh and did I mention it’s a barrel of fun? If you could turn enjoyment derived from playing this game into physical matter it would literally fill up a standard barrel. Possibly an oil drum even. you may even need to look in the phone book to find your local Cooper to produce such a barrel, if such a profession still exists. Just remember, this game, the one that’s getting all this praise? Still only one dollar.
Actual Price – $1 yet again.
Price Adjusted for Excellence – $4. That may not seem like much but it’s just the co-pay on the medical procedure that removes your Pac-Man Fever, a procedure that normally costs upwards of Twenty Grand.
There you have it folks. Five games. An adventure, a shooter, a rhythm game, an RPG and an action-puzzler-thing (that’s kind of tough to explain easily), each for only a dollar. If that’s not a public service, we here at the MCRC don’t know what is.
We really hope it is, and that it counts towards our community service for destroying that guy’s car last week.
Oh, and since they’re on the LIVE service they all have demos you can check out, so if you’re really being cautious with the few bucks you have, and Echoes only fills a yogurt cup with fun for you, or you just don’t like RPGs, you can check out all of these games before you buy them. There’s pretty much no way you can go wrong here.
Of course you can always just you know, not buy one $5 footlong from Subway, or your new velour socks, and you’ll have the money to spend. Once you do, you can end up as happy as this guy when you say . . .
– This Public Service has been brought to you by the Metro City Reform Committee-
“Because we care about your monetary justice, not just us.”
As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the “California Literary Review,” who still haven’t decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional “Missile Command” high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to “follow” him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas