There were a handful of Star Trek titles released for early PCs and home consoles like the Apple II, TRS-80, VIC-20, Commodore 64, Atari 2600 and Vectrex in the early 1980s, but they were all on platforms I either didn't have at a formative age or are so arcane they're difficult to get ahold of these days. Considering the way the pagination for Volume 2 is turning out, I may try to take a look at a few of them to flesh that book out, but we're skipping them for the time being. The Star Trek video games I'm most familiar with date to the late-1980s and early 1990s and we'll talk about those when the time comes, but, as it turns out, Dirty Pair: Project E.D.E.N. predates them all. In the meantime, a whole bunch has happened in the video game industry, namely that there is now in fact a video game industry that has been around long enough to not only crash thanks to market saturation and Atari's sloppy management, but come back bigger than ever before thanks to toy company from Japan called Nintendo.
The Famicom Disk System is a strange beast within the history of Nintendo. It was a Japanese-exclusive add-on for the Famicom (or Family Computer), which is what the NES (or Nintendo Entertainment System) was called in its home country. This naming discrepancy actually reveals a lot about how the history of the game industry in the United States differs from how it played out in Japan. See, by 1985 video games were seen as a dead fad thanks to the collapse of the monopolistic Atari that dragged the whole industry down with it in 1983. Because of this, Nintendo had to market the NES as essentially a children's toy to get it to sell its first Holiday season, in the process changing the way video games are thought of even to this day (before Nintendo's US success, video games were seen as social things for everybody, though primarily young, single, active adults). However, this was only true in the US, and in Japan, the console was marketed as what it straightforwardly was: A home computer designed for family entertainment.
(You can see this attitude play out even today: In the US, in spite of the industry's major inroads in recent years, video games still can't *quite* shake the stigma of being thought of as expensive playthings for lazy, socially maladjusted children, or adults with the mentality of socially maladjusted children. In Japan, the Nintendo 3DS is as ubiquitous as the iPhone.)
So, the Famicom Disk System is something that Nintendo would only ever have released in Japan at this time, along with the modem that also existed for the console at the time (yes, you could access something a lot like the Internet on your Famicom in 1983). Nobody would think the kids' Nintendo toy would need a floppy disk drive, but it makes perfect sense to have one for something called a “Family Computer”. Furthermore, the Disk System existed to correct some of the Famicom's inherent drawbacks: There was only so much performance you could squeeze out of the thing, and this severely limited what developers could do with the system even as early as 1985. The Disk System alleviated all of these problems, allowing for more vibrant and detailed graphics, crisper, more dynamic sound, the ability to save without battery backup and more general processing power. In fact, a lot of the games we think of as being iconic to the NES were actually designed with the Disk System in mind, including classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania.
(So much so that it took a *lot* of compression and optimization to shrink those games down so that they'd fit on NES cartridges, meaning the versions we got in the US were *severely* stripped down when compared to their Japanese counterparts. In particular, there's simply no comparison between the NES and FDS versions of Castlevania and Metroid: Aside from the better graphics and sound, the addition of an actual save feature makes them both entirely different experiences. If you ever get the chance to play the original FDS versions of these games, I strongly recommend it.)
So, a Dirty Pair video game for the Famicom Disk System sounds like exactly the sort of thing we would expect to see come out of the Japanese video game industry at this point in history. 1987 was in many ways the series' annus mirablis, with Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture getting a major theatrical release, the premier of the direct-to-OVA second TV series Original Dirty Pair (not to mention With Love from the Lovely Angels) and even the publication of Haruka Takachiho's third light novel, Dirty Pair's Rough and Tumble, where Kei and Yuri team up with Studio Nue's mascot team the Crushers to hunt down a renegade sexbot in the middle of a simmering revolution. And, given the United States' reticence at the time about anything anime that wasn't Macross, Robotech, Voltron, Speed Racer or a first-party Nintendo franchise (combined with the console's inherent regionalism), Dirty Pair: Project E.D.E.N. is sort of the definition of an “Only In Japan” game.
And really, Dirty Pair is custom-tailored for the video game medium if you think about it. I have a theory that one of the unique virtues of video games as a form of artistic expression is their ability to convey ideas, themes, emotions and stories without relying on a conventional linear narrative. Part of this is because video games, probably more than any other kind of media, rely on an implicit and innate understanding of the dynamic interaction between the positionalities and agency of two or more parties (in particular, the players and the developers). The best video games, in my view, directly and overtly play to this, understanding (as oral storytellers do) that their stories will be retold slightly differently every time the game is played. The reason Dirty Pair is a natural fit for video games should be self-evident by this point: The biggest strength, and biggest failing, of Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture was the vestigial nature of its plot when compared to the era-defining, paradigm-shifting power of its music video structure. A video game following in the wake of such a landmark work could take all of that to the next level without any of the drawbacks that come with being shackled to cinema. A post-Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture video game could be a true shamanic vision for the Nintendo age.
Unfortunately for all of us, it sucks.
|I genuinely have no idea who this is supposed to be.|
|There's an English translation of this game, if you can find it.|
|Kei's earring in World 1, Level 1.|
|I can only guess what these hearts are for.|
(Interestingly, there is apparently a strategy guide for this game done as a manga with exclusive artwork. It's a cute idea and I'd love to read it and add it to my collection someday. I'm sure if I had that, or more to the point a translated version of it, all of this would make a *lot* more sense.)
|Beware the Alpha Hoppers and evil cinnamon rolls.|
|Yuri faces the camera in World 2, Level 1.|
|These guys seriously just materialize with no warning out of *nothing*.|
I know I've spent a lot of time critiquing the mechanics, which probably seems odd given my stance on video game writing elsewhere, but the thing about mechanics is that they're supposed to be intuitive and invisible, and the moment you actually notice them they become the only thing you think about throughout the entire experience. Video games have an almost transcendent ability to invoke within you a heightened state of consciousness, and always having to fret about movement speed pulls you right back down. The fact is, things like control, level design and combat are a constant problem in this game, and this is on top of the pre-existing issue that it's just resoundingly uninspiring to look at, listen to and play. And it's not like I'm being unfair to a dated relic from another time, I don't think I am. Not in 1987 when Super Mario Bros. 1 and 2, Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid and Mega Man all exist already, each of which was a groundbreaking, evocative and memorable trip all its own. Dirty Pair deserved to be treated like a classic on the Famicom, and Dirty Pair: Project E.D.E.N. simply isn't.
That's really the fundamental problem with Dirty Pair: Project E.D.E.N.: It's utterly joyless and uninspiring. Even in its weakest moments, animated Dirty Pair always has a sense of wonder and fun about it. That's what saved the very movie this game was based on after all; it simply looked like absolutely nothing else and effortlessly, masterfully captured your imagination. That there's no trace of that magick to be found anywhere in the Famicom Disk System game is the most egregious and comprehensive betrayal of all. Though its moment in the sun seems to have passed, I can only hope that the video game medium will someday give Kei and Yuri the royal treatment they deserve. And not just video games-Dirty Pair warrants love and respect everywhere. Few science fiction works have done so much for us or have such heart.
Until then, I'll still have my dreams of starlight and cosmic highways.