WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... ALL THE HEROES? - March 1992
|Y'know, chums, sometimes it seems like they just
don't make heroes like they used to. With one notable eggsception (ahem), most C64
game stars these days either seem to be wimpy cartoon characters (ref. The Jetsons, Ruff
And Reddy and so on) or cheesy sprite interpretations of hunky chaps with big guns from
various movies (ref. Arnie in Total Recall or Terminator 2, whatsisname from Darkman etc).
And let's face it, they're all a bit crap. Where are all the great heroes of
yesteryear, all the characters with real character? Well, it's funny you should ask
that, because we were wondering the exact same thing ourselves recently, so we set Stuart
Campbell the tricky task of finding out...
Got a light, mac? No? Oh well, the dark brown overcoat will just have to do. It gets chilly in here these days, but not as cold as it was in the winter of 1991 when I took on The Case Of The Disappearing Heroes. What's that? You want to know more about it? Well, buy me another shot of tequila'n'strawberry milkshake and I'll spill the beans...
It all started when the head honcho behind a sleazy publication called Commodore Format sent me on a mission to find some missing characters. Not just your everyday run-of-the-mill character, though. These were computer game characters. Huge stars of their day, every one of them had mysteriously vanished from the public eye over a period of a couple of years. The FBI suspected Communist involvement, but I knew better - don't they watch the news any more? Times were hard, so I took the case. I got my first lead when a tall blonde walked past my office window. I knew she was tall because my office is on the third floor. I figured anyone that size would be bound to know where a town's misfits would hang out, so I parachuted out of the window and pulled her up.
'Let go of my up!', she squealed. I tightened my grip.
'Not so fast, sister', I growled. 'I want to know about Agent 4125.'
'What, you mean the guy out of IMPOSSIBLE MISSION, that classic platform-leaping and puzzle-solving platform game?', she gasped.
I'd struck on something here. 'That's the one', I replied. 'Last time he was heard of, he'd foiled the evil Elvin Atombender's plans for world domination for a second time in IMPOSSIBLE MISSION II and was heading for a well-earned holiday in the Bahamas.'
'Look, all I know is that he went for a drink at the Tangential Trout Club the night before he left for the airport. I saw him in the crowd while I was doing my exotic animal dance act with MONTY MOLE. He looked drunk, but I swear I never saw him after that...'
I could tell she didn't know any more, so I let her go. The 'mistreatment of a dumb animal' charge could wait until another day. It seemed like I needed to pay a visit to the Tangential Trout. I set off down the long dark alley which led to the seedy nitespot's back door (it didn't have a front door), but I was only halfway down when two hefty figures loomed out of the shadows and blocked my path.
'Well, well, if it isn't my old friends Billy and Jimmy from the DOUBLE DRAGON series. I thought you boys were safely tucked up in Sing-Sing for the duration...'
'You thought wrong', Billy sneered. 'We got sprung.'
Aha! I'd often suspected a link between these two reprobates and Thing, star of THING ON A SPRING and THING STRIKES BACK. Now it seemed as if he'd used his powers of metallic elasticity to free this ugly pair from captivity. I'd look into that later, but for now I had an imminent-severe-violence scenario to get myself out of. Fortunately, I hadn't come alone. I let out my low emergency whistle and in a blur of black cape and nunchakus, my old pal Armakuni leapt from the fire escape above us and set about the two thugs with a vengeance. And a big stick, too. Billy and Jimmy's conversation got a bit stilted after that, but it went a bit like this;
'Oof! Ugh! Arrgh! Hey man, I thought you'd retired after the last of those LAST NINJA games! Gnnf! Ouch!'
'Not so. After defeating Kunitoki, I have no way to earn riving. Good fliend Stuart pay rousy wages, but plotecting him flom bad guys rike you at reast keep me in tlim.'
Three heavy manglings (Billy, Jimmy, and the English language) later, we made it to the door of the Tangential Trout. I told Armakuni to act as bouncer for a while and dissuade any unwelcome visitors from entering while I had a look around. I kicked the door down (a dramatic entrance always pays dividends, I find), which was unfortunate for the character who'd been lurking behind it at the time.
'Well, now at least I know why they call you RICK DANGEROUS', I said as the chunky one-time explorer retreived his battered hat from a puddle of vomit on the floor. 'Haven't you had enough of dicing unnecessarily with death?'
'That's easy for you to say', he replied through bleeding gums. 'What with the NHS cuts and everything, it's not so easy for some of us to get proper medical attention for our masochistic personality traits. At least down here I can get knocked around by people I know.'
Pausing only to whack Rick brutally over the head with a jagged bit of broken door (hey, even we private eyes can be compassionate when we want to), I swaggered through the club towards the bar. Even I had to blink in surprise when I saw who was serving there.
'RENEGADE!', I exclaimed. 'I thought you were one of the good guys!'
'Yeah, well, I used to be', he grunted. 'But after Mr Big kidnapped my girlfriend for a third time, I finally realised that I was never going to be free of him, so I figured I may as well join forces. There's always room for a bit of muscle in his organisation.'
'So I've heard. It's not long since I put old BOMBJACK away for a ten-stretch after he did all those gangland assassinations. He never talked, but it didn't take a genius to guess who he was working for. Anyway, I've had enough of dealing with the monkeys - where's the organ grinder?'
Just then a ray of strong light knifed into the gloomy bar. Squinting, I saw that it was coming from an open doorway on the other side of the room.
'Looking for me?' enquired a strangely familiar voice.
'Waddaya know', I sneered, 'If it isn't old Babyface himself. Or should I call you JACK THE NIPPER? Moved up in the world since those two dodgy arcade adventure games, haven't you?'
'Less of the Babyface stuff, mac. Nowadays they call me Mr Big.'
'Call yourself what you like, you'll always be The Whiffy Nappy Kid to me. Where's Agent 4125?'
Jack's chubby face broke into a grin. 'Why don't you step into my office and I'll show you...'
Warily, I followed the evil criminal mastermind into his lair. I couldn't believe what I saw when I got there.
'Not a pretty sight, is he?', Jack laughed. 'But don't worry, he's only half done. He'll look a lot more respectable when he's finished...'
The contents of my stomach joined each other in a mad race for freedom and I ran as fast as I could from the club, just before the winner (funny, I didn't even remember eating the diced carrots) hit the pavement. Armakuni looked on in surprise.
'What up, old buddy?', he asked concernedly.
'It's, it's...it's too horrible', I gasped. 'Let's get out of here.' I couldn't bring myself to inflict the terrible knowledge of what I'd seen on another human being. Besides, who'd believe it? All I can say as I carry my secret to the grave is that the next time you're playing Smash TV and slaughtering all those hideous zombies without a care in the world, give a thought for all the old heroes who fall on hard times and have to resort to the most desperate measures to scratch an existence, however short and brutal it may be. Or did you think that cannon-fodder bad guys just grew on trees...?