Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Well, I'm back after a blogging hiatus! For your reading pleasure, I played through the game Astyanax, the title screen of which is displayed above for your viewing pleasure.

Astyanax was one of the games that came in a box of NES games that we were given long ago, in the early 1990s, by some friends of the family. There were some classic gems in there, like Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3, and the two NES Zelda games.

And then there were games like this one. Games that might have languished, forgotten on some shelf, if they had not ended up in the room of a eleven-year-old girl who thought it was better to sit inside and play video games during summer vacation than to do something more productive, like go outside in the sunshine and let my body manufacture some vitamin D.

As a kid, the farthest I ever got in this game was the first big boss. It's quite difficult in gameplay, because the computer essential just pelts you with repeating enemy after enemy, and they don't stop coming until you move. (Sorry, Jurassic Park fans: The enemy will see if you stand perfectly still.)

I decided to save myself the headache in re-playing this game for the blog and got myself some Game Genie codes and completed the game in the span of an hour. And I would say about half of the time I spent playing was devoted to the plot of the game.

Of course, with this being a fantasy game, the end goal is to save a princess. This particular lady is named Rosebud, and it turns out she's been contacting the title character through his dreams and interrupting his time palling about with his high school gang of kids who roll up the sleeves of their T-shirts.

Yes, yes, Astyanax, very good. He then goes on to tell us that his name comes from Greek mythology.

Now, keep in mind this kid will, through the course of the game, become a powerful hero. Because that's what happens in games like this. But let's take a look at the Greek legend, and who he was, and what he did.

According to Wikipedia, Astyanax was the infant son of Hector of Troy and was murdered by the invading Greeks, who were worried that as the son of the heir to Troy's throne, Astyanax would grow up and want revenge when he reached adulthood. Now, Wikipedia offers a few different versions of how the infant actually dies. In some cited literature, the Greeks throw Astyanax from the city walls. In another version of the tale, the Greek Neoptolemus ended up clubbing the Trojan king Priam to death with Astyanax's dead body.

What a wonderful choice for the name of a video game hero.

Anyway, back to the plot:

So young Astyanax (the one that wasn't thrown from the walls of Troy or used as a deadly weapon) keeps having dreams that some hot chick is calling his name, which probably isn't all that unusual for a teenage boy.
Yeesh. You can draw all kinds of lewd conclusions here.

So anyway, one day, Astyanax is walking around, minding his own damn business, and gets yanked into some crazy fantasy land by a Jazzercizing fairy named Cutie, who begs him to save the princess of Remlia, Rosebud, who is incidentally the hot chick that Astyanax has been dreaming about.Check out those leg warmers! Now, I'd like to add something here. It looks to me like Cutie's got grasshopper wings, and in a second here, Astyanax asks her if she's a talking butterfly. Sounds like someone didn't pay attention during the entymology unit...


And Astyanax himself is suddenly dressed in battle armor. Observe:

I was left wondering, after Cutie somehow poofed away a minor's clothes and replaced them with armor, why she didn't poof him a pair of pants. That's a little creepy.

Anyway, back to the plot. Turns out Rosebud's been kidnapped as part of some nefarious plot by the evil sorcerer Blackhorn, who wants to take Rosebud's power, whatever that is. You never really find out. All you know is that some freaky little fairy kidnapped a teenage boy and told him that he had to save a princess and sent him into the world without pants to fight monsters.

So here's Blackhorn, and his henchman, who I'm going to call Skeletor:

That's Blackhorn. He is white, orange, and green. If you're having trouble figuring out what he looks like from that image, it's because YOU SHOULD NOT USE ORANGE AS AN OUTLINING COLOR.

And the henchman:

He has a name, but I forgot what it was. So he'll be known as Skeletor.

So basically, the big bad guys are pissed off that Astyanax killed the first big monster, a creature ridden by some little freak in armor. The creature's head comes off and flies around, and you have to hit it with the weapon until you have to fight the freak in armor.

All of the major boss fights are like this: Some monster comes in from the right, and it moves back and forth and spits things at you until you whack it in the head enough times to kill it. (Alternately, some monsters have a jewel embedded in their chest that you have hit. But they still move back and forth across the screen.)

As the game progresses, you get more hemming and hawing from the incredulous bad guys, and we're treated to a bonding moment between Astyanax and Cutie:

The whole conversation takes place while Cutie, who also has no pants, is sitting provactively on Astyanax's shoulder. She asks him a very obvious question--if he's homesick. Of course, he answers that yes, he is. Cutie offers to guide him through some Jazzercize routines, but he politely turns her down.

Now, if I was actually put in that situation--that is to say, some magical little creature plucked me away from everything that was familiar and dropped me, pantsless, into a strange land and forced me to fight a bunch of damn monsters--I would not be having a civil conversation around a campfire. Oh, no. I would demand a pair of pants and march straight home.

But not the boy who is named after a legendary prince who was thrown from the walls of Troy or maybe also used as a blunt object in the murder of his grandfather! He seems to be just fine with all of this.

Anyway. Then you fight some more monsters and come to the big battles at the end of the game. Of course, the first battle is against Skeletor. (As I'm looking through my screenshots, I see that his actual name is Thorndog. I'm sticking with Skeletor.)

So Astyanax fights and defeats Skeletor, but that wily bastard has a trick up his sleeve! He does some magical thing that makes it so Astyanax has to die as Skeletor is dying.

But wait! It turns out that Cutie is more than a flying aerobics instructor! She somehow trades places and dies with Skeletor instead of poor, pantsless Astyanax.

And here, we can see Astyanax go through the four video game stages of grief:

1. Bargaining

2. Anger

3. Denial

4. Vowing revenge

Of course, Blackhorn does die, because I used Game Genie codes.

So anyway, Astyanax rescues the hot chick/princess, and she wants to take him back to her homeland for a celebration. He refuses and asks if she can please just send him home where he can put on some damn pants.

But wait, dear reader! This is no tragedy!

Astyanax goes back home, hangs out with his gang some more, and is once again walking down the street, minding his own business, when...

Why, Cutie is alive and well, looking for a position as a Jazzercize instructor in late 80's/early 90's Big Modern City! How can this be??

Oh, that Princess Rosebud! She's sneaky, putting herself into the burning hot sun like that and bringing her friend back to live in another dimension somehow, even though she was fine with letting the fitness-loving fairy die and stay dead back at home.

So there you have it. You can take a kid, give him a REALLY lame name from Greek mythology, and he'll go save a princess in another world and come back with a girlfriend who used to be some sort of grasshopper/Jazzercize fairy creature. Just make sure he takes an extra pair of pants with him wherever he goes.