It's ephemera time again, and you should know how this works by now: five little nuggets of inconsequential gaming fluff that make me happier than they probably should, arrayed before you for your viewing pleasure. Let's get to it!
Serious Neck Strain
As a launch game for the SNES, F-Zero's main goal was to impress consumers with it's amazing Mode-7 graphics and unparalleled sense of speed, a goal which it accomplished admirably. It still feels hyper-charged today, despite looking flatter than a pancake house after a run-in with a steamroller. Beside the obvious technological innovations, one other thing about F-Zero's graphics always impressed me...
You can see Captain Falcon's head move when he turns a corner! Why did this amuse me so much as a kid? I have no idea. Small minds, and all that. It's a charming piece of graphical frippery, although now I'm older I worry about Captain Falcon's neck muscles. Formula One drivers have to do special neck-strengthening exercise to cope with the G-forces on the track, and the vehicles in F-Zero can get up to a thousand kilometres an hour. Captain Falcon must have a neck like a goddamn tree trunk. No wonder he never takes off his helmet, he's probably neck all the way up.
In Sega's Megadrive beat-em-up Golden Axe II, you sometimes have to fight wizards. This is to be expected, given the fantasy setting, but these wizards don't have much in the way of actual magic at their command. They can shoot a ball of energy at you, and that's about it. They make up for their shortfall in the Dark Arts by sometimes attacking while riding a dragon, or if they're feeling particularly sneaky, they'll creep into the hero's camp disguised as a frog.
When they turn back into their wizardly form, they have a quick stretch to limber themselves up because being cooped up in the shape of a tiny frog takes a toll on the body, especially when you're an ancient and shrivelled man of mysticism more accustomed to sitting in a big chair reading foul grimoires than doing the actual feet-on-the-ground hero-slaying bit. I just love that little flexing animation, and as someone whose third decade of life is approaching with terrifying speed I can sympathise more now than ever before.
So, you're the mayor of a large American city. Your wardrobe is going to consist mainly of suits and ties. But you're a little unusual, for a mayor, and sometime you're called upon to beat street punks into a wet red paste with bits of plumbing. For those occasions, you wear your comfy brown trousers, but you go topless aside from a single across-the-chest suspender. That's fine, the voters won't mind. Then the mid-life crisis kicks in and your sartorial choices go bananas.
This is how Mike Haggar, Mayor of Justice, is dressed in Final Fight 3 for the SNES. The first thing that catches the eye is just how eye-wateringly tight those cycling shorts are. Not much room for the little councilmen in the mayoral office, if you get my meaning. Then there's the ponytail. As someone who cultivated a ponytail for many years, I can tell you that they are not cool. Not even Mike Haggar can pull one off, and if Mike Haggar can't pull something off it's not worth doing.
Those boots are a real enigma, too - the rest of his body is barely clothed, but those boots look like they could withstand a direct hit from an artillery cannon. They'd make more sense if Haggar was all about kicking people but nope, he's a grappler. All I can think is that they are weighted especially in order to help balance out the colossal mass of his upper body and prevent him from toppling over at the slightest touch.
The Knees of the Emperor
Perennial Street Fighter favourite Sagat is a fighting game icon - self-proclaimed Emperor of Muay Thai, built like a brick shithouse that's been on an intensive three-week exercise program designed to help brick shithouses bulk up, his menacing appearance capped off by his bald head and fearsome eyepatch.
He doesn't look quite so menacing in the original Street Fighter, where he is the final boss. That's not the face of a man determined to ruthlessly crush all those before him, that's the face of a man who has just told a really bad joke that he thinks is hilarious but no-one else is laughing. It's not Sagat's face that I'm interesting in today though, it's his knees.
Specifically the fact that they're right down the bottom of his legs. The man has shins the length of matchsticks. This is perhaps a "you had to be there" moment, with me thinking of my friends saying things like "how does he walk?" and "every pair of socks in knee-high for Sagat" while I was trying to avoid his Tiger Shots, but that doesn't stop me from smiling every time I remember that his knee bone's connected to his foot bone. Maybe that's why he's so good at Muay Thai, he can knee you right in the shins with no trouble and that has to hurt. At some point between this game and Street Fighter II he underwent experimental shin-lengthening surgery, but I'll always remember how he looked in the olden days.
In Konami's PS1 RPG Suikoden, there's a section where you are tasked with destroying the dread vampire Neclord. I assume the "nec" in his name comes from necromancy, not because he's Lord of Necks, although that would make sense for a vampire too. Anyway, his castle contains all the trappings you'd expect from a vampire's lair: rooms filled with coffins, devious puzzles and zombie minions. Some of these zombies are less loyal than others, and one of them will supply you with hints if you're willing to give him some cash.
He has four payment rates, starting at 100 bits and going up to a whopping 25,000 bits. The first three give you hints on how to solve one of the castle's puzzles, so I feel sure that providing this zombie with 25,000 hard-earned bits will reveal Neclord's deepest secrets to me
I won't tell anyone, Mr. Zombie. I swear. So what's this big secret?
Yes, yes? Oh man, the suspense is killing me!
You goddamn son of a bitch zombie I'll kill you all over again!!
There's a happy resolution, really - one of your party members calls the zombie an idiot, and the zombie sees that you're not impressed with his attempts at humour and gives you your money back. Still, a zombie shouting "gooogly goo!" at me is just so precious that I think it's well worth the 25,000 bits, and because shortly after this scene you kill his dark master the zombie would have melted once the necromantic spell holding him together was undone you could have just taken your money back from his re-deadened corpse anyway. This way, we all get a laugh, and really what more could you ask for in a vampire's castle?