Lunar Pool

Publisher: FCI
Genre: Sports

You’ve probably never had to program a physics engine from scratch. I mean, anyone can program a simple physics engine these days in Python, Java, or whatever, but there was a time when all that sort of programming was groundbreaking.

Share my annoyance, won't you?
Share my annoyance, won’t you?

Continue reading “Lunar Pool”

Double Dribble

Publisher: Konami
Year: 1987
Genre: Sports

“The thing about video game basketball is that the computer decides whether or not the ball goes in when you shoot. So say you’re playing against the computer team, you’re down by one and let’s say you take a last-second shot to win the game. It’s the same program you’re playing against that decides whether or not the digital ball goes through the digital hoop on that final shot. So it can arbitrarily make you lose or arbitrarily let you win.” – John Dies at the End

A sports game named after a rules violation. That's promising.
A sports game named after a rules violation. That’s promising.

While the above is obviously applicable to a wide variety of video games (essentially any game with a random element), it is especially true of basketball video games in a peculiarly infuriating way. Yes, there is a significant element of skill involved – you do, after all, have to control your little basketball player man as he runs down the court and make sure you don’t accidentally commit offensive charging or some other foul. At the end of that court, though, you leap up to shoot a basket or make a dunk and the game decides, completely on its whims, whether your shot is successful or not. That isn’t to say that some shots aren’t more or less likely to go in the basket, which, of course, gives you the illusion of control. In the end, though, I’ve had a series of seven or more dunks fail in a row while a single half-court shot sinks instantly.

(Although, if you enjoy exploiting coding errors, you can take a shot jumping out of bounds in the upper corner next to the basket, and the shot will go in every time. Every. Single. Time.)

The exception appears to be free throws – when you shoot a free throw, there’s an indicator that shows you when you should hit the button to successfully take the shot. Why isn’t there a timing based element to every shot? Hell if I know.

If your sportsball team gets more goal-ins than the other one, a winnar is you!
If your sportsball team gets more goal-ins than the other one, a winnar is you!

John’s Rating: 2.0 out of 5. It’s not an unplayable game, it just doesn’t have any enduring element of fun. Once you’re proficient at moving on the court, the game has one of two outcomes – you beat the computer consistently, thoroughly and viciously, or you lose completely on the computer’s whims. Why? Because it gets to decide.


Athletic World

Publisher: Bandai
Year: 1987
Genre: Power Pad

Do you own a Power Pad? The answer to that is, “No, you do not own a power pad because no one does.” The Power Pad was part of an insidious plot to convince us to use video games as a way of staying fit and healthy. How stupid is that? So stupid that DDR made huge amounts of money off the idea. So stupid that all three major game systems of the 21st century are courting that same fitness nut “gamer” crowd through motion sensing cameras and motion capture controllers. So stupid that Pokémon Go is the most popular mobile game of all time. It’s all part of conspiracy to make gamers use games as exercise, and it finds all its roots here.

Family "Fun" Fitness
Family “Fun” Fitness

Without a Power Pad, this game is a dull button masher. WITH a power pad, this game is a dull excuse to not go outside because you can get all the energy you need staring at a TV.

I "won," but at what cost?
I “won,” but at what cost?

John’s Rating: 0.0 out of 5.0, because I don’t have a power pad, and I’m not going to get one, and you can’t convince me that I’m making a poor life decision.


Year: 1985
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Sports – Tennis

I believe that, since my childhood, there has been not only a general tendency to make games easier (which is super-good) but also a dumbing down of expectations. Players were once required to control every aspect of the game’s interaction, whereas now there exist a good many games that take parts that would have once fell out of the player’s purview out of their hands. Take, for example, the Nintendo version of Tennis vs. the analogous Wii Sports subgame.

Tennis Title Screen
I could have just reviewed Tennis, but that would almost certainly be less interesting.

Continue reading “Tennis”


Year: 1985
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Sports – Golf

I have never actually played the sport of golf. I’d like to try sometime – I understand that playing golf is a prerequisite for a career requiring any degree of PR – but I just haven’t ever had the opportunity. I once hit a golf ball with a golf club and, in an impressive feat of pure beginners luck, hit the post I was told to aim for.

But I’m skeptical of video games that try to take an already relaxing and generally unathletic* activity and turn it into a relaxing and generally unathletic game experience.

*Hate mail in 3… 2… 1…