Peaceful Solitude: Beiderbecke Inn

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Today the road brought me to Davenport, IA.

I had just completed my first full stage production in nearly 6 years and I needed a weekend to wind down from it.  How to do just that?  Of course!  Road trip!!

I decided a return trip to Algonquin, IL would fit the bill just nicely.  I could get a little gaming in at the Underground Retrocade and enjoy the comfort and hospitality of Victorian Rose Garden Bed and Breakfast again.

But I needed something for that first night.  A little research led to the discovery of Beiderbecke Inn of Davenport, IA owned by Pam and Dennis LaRoque and the deal was sealed.

Getting out of town was a bit of an adventure.  When I awoke Friday morning, I glanced out the window to check the weather and found Omaha was in the throes of a winter storm.  Luckily the accumulation only amounted to an inch, but the way it was blowing around made it seem a lot worse and cut the visibility down to nearly zero.  A view of weather reports showed me that the storm was localized to the metro area so once I got past Council Bluffs I would be OK, provided that things tapered off by 11am which, mercifully, they did.

It was a little slow going getting out of the city and then my low pressure signal came on.  I rolled my eyes and pulled off to a Casey’s in Council Bluffs to pump up my tires.

After that it was pretty smooth sailing.  My MP3 was pulling up some great long unheard tunes and the driving was smooth after Council Bluffs.  My schedule was thrown off a bit by the slower driving I needed before I escaped winter’s fury so I ended up stopping for lunch later than I anticipated.

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Iowa’s Best Burger Cafe. Don’t be deceived by the appearance as they serve a great burger.

On several occasions I had passed a little gas station/café in Kellogg, IA called Iowa’s Best Burger Café which allegedly served the best burgers in the state and I decided to put that to the test.

The place serves a mighty mean burger.  I had a ¼ hamburger with the works and it really hit the spot.  Juicy, charbroiled, and just flat out good.  A side of crinkle fries completed the meal and it does come with a beverage, too, albeit no refills.  So if you’re hungry and you are close to Kellogg, IA, this place is definitely worth a visit.

From there, it was back on the road until I reached Beiderbecke Inn.

The inn is located in Davenport’s historic neighborhood and had been the dream home of Charles and Louise Beiderbecke who made their fortune selling groceries and coal wholesale.  Their home is built near the bank of the Mississippi and has a beautiful view of the river.

Beiderbecke Inn is a Victorian mansion and a classic B & B.  Stepping inside made me feel as if I was transported to the inn of The Boscombe Valley Mystery of the Sherlock Holmes tales.  I was greeted by Pam and I met her grandchildren (both official and unofficial) as they practiced a dance routine in the massive greeting hall.  The bottom floor includes the hall, dining room, library, den, and billiards room.

After paying for my stay, I met Dennis and was led to the Victorian Room which had the two things I needed for a bitterly cold night:  a fire and a Jacuzzi tub. I heaved a contented sigh and set up for the night.

Due to the lateness of my lunch and the cold outside, I decided to stay indoors for the night.  I thumbed through the impressive DVD library and selected Maverick.  I then finished a novel, started the electric fire, and drew a hot bath.

The bath felt great as the gentle jets soothed my weary body and reactivated my tired mind.  I stayed in the tub until I soaked up all of the hot water.  Then I went through my nighttime ritual and got under the covers to watch the movie, but didn’t get very far before I conked out.

The next morning, it was time for breakfast.  Waiting at the table were goblets of orange juice, milk, and water along with a dish of berries (strawberries, I think) mixed with a cream that made them oh, so sweet and tasty.  The main course was an omelet stuffed with peppers, onions, and bacon which served as great fuel for the road.

If you’re in the Davenport, IA and want to stay in a classic B & B, Beiderbecke Inn is definitely the inn for you.  And, as we’re close to the holiday season, I’m told the inn looks particularly nice at Christmas.  Hint.  Hint.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Return to the Rising Sun, Day 4: Going Home Again. . .Well, Sort of

When it rains, it pours.

And I mean pours.  I awoke at about 4:15am and rain was just coming down in buckets over Shinagawa.  Still, there was something peaceful about listening to the rain pelt the ground as I went to the kitchen to post pictures and write yesterday’s article.

We ended up being pinned inside the apartment until nearly noon when the rain finally let up and cleared.  We decided to make our way to Ikebukuro which had been our base of operations for the Tokyo Maximum tour four years ago.  The place had changed a bit in the intervening four years.  A few new businesses had sprouted and the McDonald’s where we had eaten a few meals had been remodeled.

The first thing we tried was to relocate the Mountain Dew machine for Dave.  Alas, our efforts were for naught as the machine was no longer there.  Instead we walked to the ramen joint that always has a line out the door to find that there was a line out the door.

We debated waiting, but as it was already 1pm, we opted to have okonomiyaki instead.  I settled for a regular okonomiyaki and water while most of the other chose sets which included rice and cabbage salad.  We had a leisurely lunch and then left to start walking around the district.

The sky had clouded up during lunch and a few sprinkles began to fall.  With the sunshine, I had left my umbrella at the apartment.  Dave asked me if I were going to buy a new one, but I declined as a few sprinkles were not going to bother me.  Mother Nature proceeded to call my bluff as the rain began to intensify.  I ran into a nearby 7-11 to purchase yet another umbrella, but Andrew bought one big enough for us to share and we shuffled around the district to Tokyu Hands.

Tokyu Hands is a department store and I took a brief glance around the store before heading outside to wait and did some people watching.  Saturday was a good day to get an idea of the massive population size of the city as the streets were jam packed with people.

Eventually our group came together and began making our way to Sunshine City, though we had a brief stopover at Super Potato, a vintage video game store.  This time Mat’s GPS did not fail as we reached Sunshine City in record time.

Most of the group opted to go to a Pokemon store, but as I had no interest, I watched a rather interesting Hawaiian dance demonstration going on at the bottom of the mall.

When the rest of the group came out of Pokemon, we decided to grab some dinner at Café Miami Garden known for pasta and pizza.  I split a pepperoni pizza with Andrew who kindly picked up the tab.

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After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening at the arcade.  I found a machine that had Elevator Action and played a few rounds on it before teaming up with Mat to do some major league damage on Luigi’s Mansion.

It had been a long day and we returned to the apartment for another night of rest.

A Holiday Excursion, Days 2-3: Mushing and Slushing to Dug Road Inn

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It was a gray and blustery day.

I’m still in shock that I am able to tell you this story.  The winter storm caught up to me with a seething ferocity.  The snow blew so hard that it was nearly a complete whiteout.  Then it happened.  Some nut in a red Corvette came roaring by in the other lane like a bat out of heck.  The unknown driver cut me off and clipped the front end of my car.  My car careened off the road and rolled over 4 times.  I have a vague realization of my seat belt coming loose and being thrown from my vehicle.

I awoke in a hospital somewhere around Dows, IA.  Both of my arms were broken and the nurse to whom I’m now dictating this story informed me that my gas line had ruptured and my car had exploded.  Its burning carcass was seen through the snowy haze by motorists who summoned help and I was found thirty feet from the smoldering remains of my Focus.

Wow!  That’s a great start to a fiction story.

But what really happened was that the drive was not too bad.  Des Moines was the worst of it so I took things very slowly until I reached I-35.  There wasn’t a lot of snow, but it was blowing around quite a bit due to the strong wind and would get whipped around pretty good when semi trucks drove by.  I kept things well under the speed limit to be extra safe unless I was on completely clear stretches of road.  I was aided by the fact that the roads were virtually empty and what few motorists were on the road also drove quite safely with one or two exceptions.

Due to my safety measures, an extra 90 minutes were tacked onto my drive, but I wasn’t in a rush in the first place.  About 2pm, I found myself in the Norwegian community of Decorah, IA.  Thankfully, the owner of my next inn, Dug Road Inn, had given me a call to check to see if I were still coming and he let me check in an hour early due to the weather.

Dug Road Inn is an Italianate style home originally built by Lt Colonel William T Baker back in the 1860s.  Its current owners are Doug and Shirleen Sturtz and the inn is touted as an eco-friendly B & B famed for its 3 course organic breakfasts.

I was greeted in the driveway by Doug who helped me get my luggage into the house.  He led me to the Duncan Room which would serve as my headquarters for the next 2 days.  After getting my stuff settled, I returned to the living room where Doug brought me a glass of wine and we spent a little time conversing about my project and Iowa football.

After our conversation, I returned to my room where I continued reading a new Nero Wolfe novel before the exhaustion of my long drive caused me to doze off for a brief nap.

When I awoke, I glanced out the window and was met by a night and day difference.  The storm had reached its peak and snow was falling steadily and the wind was howling.  I really did not want to go outside, but I needed to eat.  Luckily, the main drag was only 2 blocks away, so I donned my coat, hat, and gloves and headed outside.  I decided not to press my luck and just eat at the first available place I could find.

That would end up being the Old Armory BBQ which is one of the top 10 BBQ restaurants in Iowa.  When I entered the place, it seemed as if they were closing up and that fact was confirmed a few moments later by one of the employees.  They still had some food left out and said they could prepare something for me.

I settled for a hamburger with homemade pickles which was pretty good, though I couldn’t linger over it as I didn’t want to keep these people in here longer than necessary.  I’m grateful that Old Armory kept me from going hungry that night so I left a good tip for the sandwich before trudging back to Dug Road Inn.

I drew a hot bath after I returned to my room though the jets on the Jacuzzi tub didn’t seem to be working.  But I enjoyed the bath as it was just the right temperature.  Afterwards, I read myself to sleep with Rex Stout’s brilliant, if slothful, detective.

The next morning, I met Doug’s wife, Shirleen, who had prepared my breakfast.  The first course was a dish of mixed fruit (apples, grapes, and, I believe, pomegranate) in a dish of cream.  The second course was baked bacon with a small salad of greens and tomatoes, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, and a wonderful food item that I could best describe as a stuffed pancake.  The third course was a dessert course consisting of chocolate gelato and lefse.  This meal I did do justice to as I blissfully enjoyed every bite.  Regrettably, I had forgotten my camera upstairs so you’ll have to use your imaginations for this meal.

I wanted some exercise so I got into my winter accessories and wandered around the downtown area to work off the meal.  Downtown Decorah reminds me very much of my grandparents’ old hometown of Storm Lake, IA as it is mostly locally owned businesses.  There is even a small J.C. Penney on one of the corners just like the one in Storm Lake.

My meanderings brought me to GamesXP.  If you’re a vintage video game connoisseur like I am, then this is the store for you.  I was amazed by the classic games and systems this store had.  Odyssey, Intellivision, Atari, Super Famicom, this place had it all.  I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to continue building my Sega CD library as their selection was limited and didn’t have anything I wanted, but this is a store that I will surely visit again if my journeys bring me back.

I returned to the inn where I found Doug scraping the ice from my vehicle, a personal touch of hospitality which I very much appreciated.  I read a few more chapters before getting into my car and seeing what there was to see.

I had hoped to visit the Ice Cave, but when I reached the road leading to it, I found it covered with snow.  Remembering my misadventure back in Greenfield, I opted to turn back.  However, I did find Dunnings’ Spring which has a 200 foot waterfall.  I hiked up the steep hill through the new fallen snow and managed to grab some good pics of this natural beauty.

Afterwards, I drove back to the inn where I read for a while and dried out my clothes.  Around 4:30, I decided to take another hot bath to get the chill out of bones.  After soaking for nearly an hour, I headed back downtown in search of supper.

I ended up at Restauration in the famed Hotel Winneshiek.  This is a small fine dining establishment that is well worth a visit.  My meal began with a mixed green salad with a homemade ranch dressing with some homemade bread.  The main course was an Iowa specialty, pork chop, with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, and red onions).

The salad was excellent, though I had hoped for hot bread.  The presentation of the main course was superior, especially the grill marks on the Iowa chop which was, mmm, cooked to perfection.  The vegetables were fresh and crisp, but the potatoes needed some more garlic.

After the satisfying meal, I went back to Dug Road Inn and called it a night.

I really didn’t want to get out of my comfortable bed the next morning, but the smell of fine cooking galvanized me to make the attempt.  The Inn’s regular chef was able to make it in today and the meal once again began with mixed fruit (orange, grapes, pomegranate) with cream and granola.  The main entrée was a tiny dish of cherry tomatoes in a dressing with Eggs Florentine cooked with parmesan cheese and spinach.  Also included were fried potatoes with feta cheese, oregano, and chili powder and sausage.  Each bite was heavenly.  For dessert was apple-cranberry crisp with whipped cream that melted in my mouth.

I was disappointed when my meal ended for I knew that my stay had come to a close.  Dug Road Inn is certainly well worth a visit and Decorah is a fine little city, though probably best visited in the warmer months when there is more to see and do.  If your travels brings you to Decorah, get a room at Dug Road Inn where you’ll enter as strangers and leave as friends.

Off to the Cotton Patch, Day 1: A Journey to Luxury

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It is with a sense of utter glee and joy that I share this series of articles with you, dear readers.  I never thought it would happen, but I have embarked on an adventure that is merging all facets of my blog into one.

In one of my earliest theatre tales, I mentioned that one of my favorite plays is Cotton Patch Gospel.  While not a well known play, it was a big hit when it first appeared back in 1982.  A few years ago, I started keeping my eyes on a fansite for the show that marked where it was playing in the United States.  Given the subject matter of the show, it usually plays in the South, but I always hoped it would one day get to Omaha or close enough so that I could see it in person.  A few months ago, I saw that the show was going to be produced at the Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall, MI.  It was a long drive at slightly over 10 hours, but definitely doable.  When I found that Whitehall contained some B & Bs as well, I decided to buy a ticket to the show and break up the drive so I could review a few inns along the way.

So it was that I found myself on the road again on a spring-like summer’s day making the long journey to Whitehall.  For the first day, I would travel as far as West Dundee, IL, a village that is a mere 34 miles from Chicago.  I once wrote that Mapquest directions seem to assume that a person is driving 10 miles under the speed limit as I always seemed to arrive at my destination a good hour before the directions said I would actually arrive.  This time proved to be a different tale.

Just past Des Moines, IA, I stopped at a rest area to stretch my legs a bit and once I got back on the road, traffic immediately ground to a halt.  It turns out the state was repainting the lines on I-80, so I spent 45 minutes plodding along like a turtle while I listened to the comical rants of Lewis Black to pass the time.  Mind you, there was no warning about the painting. . .at least not up front.  As soon as I got past the painting vehicles, there was a massive digital sign blaring the warning, ROADS BEING PAINTED.  EXPECT DELAYS.  “Oh!  Is that what was happening?” I flippantly thought to myself.  State of Iowa, in the words of Jeff Foxworthy, here’s your sign.

The drive progressed pretty smoothly for a while, until I crossed the border from Iowa to Illinois.  At that point, things slowed to a snail’s crawl again because Illinois was performing heaping amounts of construction on the interstate.  To make a long story less long, I ended up arriving in West Dundee nearly two hours later than planned.

But it was well worth the drive.  I think I just may retire to West Dundee.  This is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.  There are so many historical homes here that I would have exhausted my camera’s memory card trying to take pictures of them all.  And I was going to get to stay in one!!

I found my way to The Mansion and my jaw dropped.  This inn, owned by Steve Fang & Eda Tomasone, is rivaled only by the Inn on Crescent Lake in terms of luxury and grandeur.  I was greeted by Steve who informed me that I had been upgraded to the best room in the house at no additional charge.  He said I would have room to spread out and that was understating things quite a bit.

I stayed in the Terrace Room which boasted a master bedroom, a sitting room, a private terrace, and a Jacuzzi bathtub and shower. I quickly settled in, dug out my camera, and began my explorations of The Mansion and the town of West Dundee.  The long walk felt good for my legs and worked up my appetite for dinner.

The master bedroom of the Terrace Suite.

The master bedroom of the Terrace Suite.

My private terrace

My private terrace

Jacuzzi tub and shower

Jacuzzi tub and shower

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

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Dinner was at the Village Squire, a nice bistro in the town that boasts live entertainment.  As soon as I stepped inside, the singer/guitar player began singing the classic Beatles tune You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away and I knew I was going to be in for an enjoyable meal.  I tipped the singer for playing music from my favorite band and sat down to enjoy a Chicken Caprese Panini with a side of steak fries.  I lingered over a tasty meal while listening to live classic soft rock and enjoying the escapades of the obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk.

After dinner, I made my way to Main Street where I went to the Underground Retrocade.  For a good portion of my youth, I was an avid video gamer and this place offered me a chance to relive a bit of my childhood.  It’s two floors of classic arcade and pinball machines.  All you have to do is pay a $15 cover charge and you can play to your heart’s content and, believe me, I more than went through the cover charge in the 2.5 hours I was there.  I felt just like a kid again as I battled the Sea Hag and Brutus in Popeye, dueled with Donkey Kong, served drinks in Tapper, and chased down criminals in A.P.B.

Underground Retrocade

Underground Retrocade

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It was still a pleasant night as I walked back to The Mansion.  Once I returned, I took a long soak in my Jacuzzi tub and then sank into the mattress of my bed.  My lights were out until the morning.

I awoke, fully rejuvenated and ready for a great breakfast.  Breakfast consisted of orange juice, scrambled eggs (with a splash of sriracha sauce), sausage links, and pancakes.  I savored my meal and ended up having a terrific conversation with Steve who shares my interests in music and theatre.  After 90 minutes, I returned to my home to finish today’s story.

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Shortly, I begin the 4 hour trek to Whitehall where the White Swan B & B and Cotton Patch Gospel await.  But if you find your way to West Dundee, get a room at The Mansion.  You’ll be glad you did.

The Fun and Flop of FMV Games

Back in the day, I was a pretty avid gamer. Nowadays I’m more of a dilettante. I break out my systems once in a while, though I have a particular passion for vintage systems.

Back when I was a teenager, I purchased a JVC X’Eye, essentially a combo Sega Genesis/Sega CD player. When the Sega CD came out, I was fascinated by the types of games that would be available, especially the full motion video games also known as interactive movies.

FMV games were a pretty polarizing lot. People either loved them or hated them. Most probably hated them, citing poor writing, acting, and low replay value among the many flaws. I don’t disagree with these criticisms, but I always found the genre to have a certain charm. If I could find a way to immerse myself in the story, I found that this style of game could have a very high replay value.

Today’s article is going to focus on the FMV games that I felt were the most enjoyable of the lot and why I liked them.

Dracula Unleashed

This game is one of my two favorites of the genre and it proved a bit of a challenge at first. The game takes place ten years after the events described in Bram Stoker’s novel and centers on Alexander Morris (the considerably younger brother of the novel’s Quincey Morris) as he tries to learn the circumstances behind his brother’s death. This search leads him into a desperate hunt for a revived Dracula before the vampire kills Morris and his friends.

In the game, you travel from location to location watching video clips that may or may not provide important clues and/or items. You have 4 days to unmask Dracula and you must complete a set of tasks each day in order to progress and it is much harder than it sounds. The key to progressing is bringing the right item to the right place at the right time. Failure to do this will result in the demise of Alexander at the end of each day.

It took me nearly a week to get off of the first day. One of the difficulties of the game is that there are no clues to tip you off as to what you need where. The only clues you’ll get are usually after the fact and are vague. For example, failure to bring an odd Romanian manuscript to a meeting where Van Helsing tells the others that Dracula has been returned to life will cause the group to split. Afterwards, Alexander laments in his diary that he wishes he could have convinced them of the danger.

Sometimes it isn’t obvious at all as to what item you need to proceed. I struggled for a long time on what was needed to convince Jonathan Harker to open up about Quincey’s death. My brother suggested, “Why don’t you try the knife?” I said, “Yeah, like he’s going to threaten Harker,” but I tried the knife. . .and it was correct.

The highs of this game are the atmosphere, costumes, high production values, sense of danger, and long gameplay (even if you know it perfectly, expect at least 90 minutes of play). The downs are the constant traveling around to find valid clues and clips, figuring out what item will move the story along, and the acting.

The acting is very shaky. The lead actor, Bill Williamson, is pretty stiff and wooden. Louis Markert, as Devlin Goldacre, is an overacting disgrace. Though strong performances are given by Jay Nickerson as Arthur Holmwood and John Arthur Olson as Professor Van Helsing.

The Beast Within

Had it not been for the lack of danger to the main character, this game would have easily been number one on my list.

This game is the second of a trilogy featuring the Schattenjager (supernatural detective), Gabriel Knight and the only one done in FMV format. In this case, Gabriel attempts his first case as Schattenjager as he investigates the murder of a young girl by a werewolf.

The story is very deep and involved and count on hours of gameplay to complete it. Some of the puzzles are a little unfair, but on the whole, it’s a very worthwhile effort. The production values are a little lacking since most of the backgrounds are green screens, but the writing and acting are very top quality. Undoubtedly the best acting I’ve ever seen in a FMV game.

Particular kudos need to go out to Peter Lucas for his extremely subtle portrayal of Baron Friedrich Von Glower. It is a powerful performance and worthy of film and stage.

The only gripe I have is that Gabriel Knight faces no true danger until the last couple of chapters. Prior to that point, you will get past each day if you solve the puzzles. If the level of danger in the last few chapters was present for the entirety of the game, it would be the absolute best FMV game of all time.

Double Switch

This game was a lot of fun and focuses on you shifting between cameras in an apartment building to trap intruders. The game is split into 3 parts. In the first part, you need to help Eddie, the main character, escape from the basement. In part 2 you need to protect the residents from a killer disguised as a mummy while searching for a hidden treasure. In part 3, you need to stop the unmasked killer and find the treasure.

The game is extremely fast paced which is one of its downfalls. You need to capture far more intruders than you can let escape (and I mean a LOT more). Failure to do so will result in having the plug pulled on you. Since you have to keep catching baddies, you will often miss out on quite a bit of story since everything happens simultaneously. It will take a few go rounds to figure out how to watch most of the story while keeping the villains out. The trap sequences are also repetitive, but quite amusing.

I felt very immersed in this game. From the beginning, you really feel like a part of it as the game is presented in such a way that it does seem like Eddie hacked into your computer system in order to get your aid.

Arguably, the game also has the most star power of any FMV game. Featured roles are played by Corey Haim, Deborah Harry (of Blondie fame), Oscar nominee, R Lee Ermey, and character actor, Irwin Keyes. This results in some pretty solid acting and a fun story.

Ground Zero: Texas

This was probably the most professionally produced of any FMV game. It was made by a real production company, had high production values, was directed by an experienced film director, and had competent actors. Regrettably, they could not afford good scriptwriters as the dialogue is utterly laughable in some spots and painful in others.

In the game, you’re brought to the little town of El Cadron, Texas as a tactical expert. Utilizing four cameras, you scout around the town shooting aliens disguised as humans and, later, robotic stormtroopers.

The game is split into 4 parts. In part 1, you stun the disguised aliens and protect your 4 partners as the aliens try to kidnap them . As you save a partner, you will receive part of a code. In part 2, you need to locate the alien stronghold, stun the undisguised aliens, and correctly enter the code that will let you into the aliens’ arsenal and prison. You will also rescue kidnapped partners if the aliens nabbed them. In part 3, the aliens send in their robotic stormtroopers to start wrecking the town and you get to blow them to smithereens. In the last part, take out the mother ship lest the military launch a tactical nuke that will stop the threat and wipe out the town.

I really enjoyed the gameplay and was intrigued by the fact that the aliens are aware you are watching them. They are trying to shoot out your cameras in order to stop you. Shields will briefly protect your cameras, but can be destroyed. As your camera breaks down, the picture quality goes down as well, fading to black and white and pixelating. You can get a couple of repairs, but lose too many and you’ll get fired most emphatically. This game had numerous endings which really made it a joy to play.

Prize Fighter

This is a boxing game and, while the game was fun, I felt there was a truly great game trying to break out hidden within it. The cinematography was absolutely gorgeous and the game had a Raging Bull feel as it is filmed entirely in black and white and has some beautiful, close-ups of your opponents being pummeled. The game was directed by Ron Stein, known as a fight coordinator, and I believe he also created the boxing sequences used in Raging Bull.

The game does have the feel of a real professional boxing match right down from the walk to the ring to the introductions by Michael Buffer. I think the game could have used more opponents as you only fight 4 people. The game is also diabolically hard. It is incredibly difficult to figure out what type of punch to thrown when and expect to take a beating for a while until you figure it out. I would advise to use Training Mode to start. In this mode, the first round will indicate where and what type of punch to utilize and it will help you get a field for the fighters’ styles.

The game does have a surprising amount of replay value as there are 3 ways to beat every fighter (KO, TKO, and decision). The fun is winning in every possible way to see all of the available movies. The game is also pretty well acted, again making use of talented character actors.

Supreme Warrior

This game is guilty pleasure fun. If you like cheesy kung-fu films then this is the game for you. It’s essentially Prize Fighter only in color and martial arts. In 16th century China, your character, often referred to as Silent One, comes upon a village being attacked by the evil Fang Tu and his warlords. Fang Tu wears half of a mystical mask that grants its wearer unimaginable power. “He who controls the full mask controls the world,” says Fang Tu and he wants the half his former sensei, Kai, holds (To be more specific, you’re holding it as you were carrying it to the village). Kai refuses to hand it over. Fang Tu gives Kai 24 hours to hand it over or else he’ll put every villager’s heart on a stake and feed Kai’s to his warlords. It then becomes up to you to defeat Fang Tu and his warlords and bodyguards to obtain his half of the mask.

The game actually does contain some well-known actors in the genre of kung-fu movies such as Roger Yuan, Vivian Wu, and Richard Norton. The fights aren’t as difficult as the ones in Prize Fighter though it is sometimes tricky to figure out when to strike your opponent. If your opponent is close you will punch or strike. If they’re farther away, you will need to kick.

The dialogue is ludicrously bad, but I think that is done on purpose as the actors clearly play it tongue in cheek. The locales are cool and the characters are entertaining. Playing it on easy mode will show you where and when to strike your foe. However, beating it on hard will show you the full, over the top ending.

Night Trap

The final game we’ll look at is Night Trap. This was the game that actually kicked off the FMV genre and generated quite a bit of controversy back in the day. This game was actually pulled from the shelves due to the brouhaha surrounding it and was responsible for the creation of the video games rating system.

Having played it myself, let me assure you there is nothing untoward about the game. It is a cheesy B horror comedy. Similar to Double Switch and Ground Zero: Texas, you play a tactical expert for S.C.A.T. (Sega Control Attack Team) investigating the disappearance of teenaged girls at the home of the Martins. Having hacked into their security system, you roam from camera to camera catching augers (half-vampires) and members of the Martin family.

A lot of the controversy stemmed from the incorrect beliefs that you were hunting the girls, the game was excessively violent, and the girls were running around in their undergarments. Well, you’re not, it’s not, and they’re not. What little violence occurs is bloodless and so over the top it’s funny.

The actors are pretty bad for the most part. The only decent actors are John R Kamel and Molly Starr as Victor and Sheila Martin, J Bill Jones as S.C.A.T. leader, Simms, and Dana Plato (best known as Kimberly Drummond from Diff’rent Strokes) as Kelly, the undercover agent investigating the Martin home from the inside.

A big downfall of the game is that you have to continually catch augers to keep from having the plug pulled on you a la Double Switch. It is very difficult to get the whole story so I would recommend going to YouTube as it has been spliced into a full movie if you want to see it in all of its hammy glory. It is possible to catch every threat in this game which leads you to a special perfect good and bad ending. The good ending has Kelly walking off into the sunset. The bad. . .well, you can see for yourself.

That wraps up my little retrospective. I sold my X’Eye about 12 years ago, but I admit that writing this article has given me the itch to play these games again. If the price is right, maybe. . .just maybe I could be convinced to own this underappreciated console and library once again.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 5: Catastrophe at the Castle (N Coasters)

It’s amazing how nearly dying truly opens up the mind.  As I sailed through the air, I saw the whole truth of the mystery for a brief flash, but it faded as I blacked out.  

I survived thanks to dumb luck.  While Arizona Mat’s lawn was the last thing I saw before fading into oblivion, the trajectory of the blast actually put me onto the roof of his house making my fall only a few feet.  I was slightly banged up and bruised, but none the worst for wear.  Later we found the remains of a bomb in Arizona Mat’s pool.

“Great!!  Now they’re after you,” said Arizona Mat.

“No, they’re not,” I replied.

“Did you hit your head when you hit my roof?”

“Think about it.  What do you normally do at night?”

“I take a swim.”

“Right.  The assailant was expecting you to be in the pool that night.  It was just coincidence that I happened to be in there.”

“I can’t take this anymore.  I’m scared!!” cried Arizona Mat as he ran to his bedroom and hid under the covers.

I paced around Arizona Mat’s living room, trying to think through this mystery.  I desperately tried to regain the momentary flash I’d had as I flew through the air.  I sat down on the couch for a moment and saw that Arizona Mat had left his phone unlocked.  I idly grabbed it and noticed it was on his FB page and there made an amazing discovery.  I was now certain as to the identity of the culprit, but knew I needed to give it an acid test.

After arranging the stage, I knocked on Arizona Mat’s door.

“Go away, Mr. Killer,” said Arizona Mat.

“It’s me.  I think we need to get out for a while.  I read about this place called Castles N Coasters.  Why don’t we stop there?”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Arizona Mat.

“So far, the attacks have been focused solely on you and the attacker has tried to avoid Mongrel and myself.  If we’re in a place where there’s a lot of people, I think you’ll be all right.  You can even wear your disguise.”

There was silence for a moment.  Then Arizona Mat opened his door a crack.

“OK.”

Castles N Coasters is a small fun center/amusement park in the downtown Phoenix area.  It boasts 4 miniature golf courses, a decent arcade which includes a section for classic games, and a little amusement park area with 2 roller coasters, a log flume, bumper cars, and other such rides.

Despite 2 of the courses being closed, we actually had a grand day and Arizona Mat began to loosen up a bit.  He managed to defeat me at mini golf as a couple of bad holes at the end finished me off.  We enjoyed playing classic games such as Tron, Killer Instinct 2, Joust, Donkey Kong, and various pinball machines.

At 5pm the rides section opened up and I crushed Arizona Mat in a Go Kart race, rode the log flume multiple times, enjoyed a spin on the roller coaster, and dueled Arizona Mat on the bumper cars.  As we got ready to leave the park, I persuaded Arizona Mat to do the obstacle course at the front of the park.  We got hooked up as if we were going to go ziplining and had some fun walking balance beams, rickety rope bridges, and walking high wires.

“This was actually a good idea,” said Arizona Mat as he walked the rope wires on the third level.

Suddenly a shot rang out severing the rope Arizona Mat had been holding.

“This was a terrible idea,” said Arizona Mat.

After the first shot, I unbuckled myself from my harness.  I grabbed the severed rope and swung for all I was worth.  Using my feet, I gave Arizona Mat a mighty shove and pushed him to the far edge of the platform where he would have some cover under the pylons by the stairs.  A second swing brought me over to his position.

“How did he find me?” blubbered Arizona Mat.

“Because I used your phone to post that we would be at Castles N Coasters,” I replied.

“Why would you do such a thing?!!!!”

“Because I needed to confirm a theory and now I’ve done that.  Why do you think I suggested doing the obstacle course?  I knew it was the best time for the assailant to make another go at you.”

“Are you insane??????”

“Relax.  I took precautions.  See, there’s the police coming now.”

“I truly admire your bravery in the face of my danger,” said Arizona Mat.

“Don’t mention it.”

With the wail of the sirens, I was able to get a visual of the shooter.  She or he was too far away to see, but the person immediately got into a nearby car and burned rubber getting out of the lot.  The police were in hot pursuit and I prayed that they were able to catch the attacker.

They didn’t.

“I’m going to die!!!” squealed Arizona Mat.

“You’re not going to die,” I said.  “In fact, if the officers are willing to come back to your place, I’m ready to reveal who’s behind this whole scenario.”

To be continued. . .

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 6: Odaiba & Gundam & Tricks & Onsen

So the whole gang was together again for a visit to Odaiba.  After breakfast, we caught the subway to Odaiba and made our way to the Diver City Mall.

We had actually seen Odaiba from the top of Tokyo Tower back during the sightseeing tour on the first day.  Specifically, we could see Odaiba’s Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge (a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge).  Seeing them again up close was just as awe inspiring as seeing them from a distance.  After soaking up the scenery for a bit, we headed to the top of the Diver City Mall which housed the Gundam Museum.

The museum is dedicated to Gundam Wing, a very long running anime series in Japan.  I’m not overly familiar with the series, but it has the vein of humans piloting giant robots to fight off giant monsters.  It was a very intriguing exhibit which showed the history of the series and had innumerable toys, clothing, and various other swag available for purchase.

After wandering through the museum, we headed outdoors to see the famed 60 foot Gundam statue.  It was truly an awesome spectacle and the statue had a light show later at night that we would watch.  From there we went back inside the mall and headed to the Tokyo Trick Art Museum.

This was one of my favorite events of the trip.  This museum has all of its walls painted in such a way that it almost seems 3D and allows people to become part of the art for photos.  We got pictures of myself showing my death defying martial arts skills as I balanced on the tip of a sword wielded by my ninja opponent, Mat suffocating under glass, and Dave holding open the jaws of a hungry beast to keep from being devoured.

When we had finished our tour of the museum, we got to split up and go off on our own for a while.  Mat, Dave, and I searched out a place for lunch and ended up being persuaded to eat at a ramen joint when the owner promised us free rice.  Now that I think about it, none of us got any rice.

From there we found a classic arcade in the mall and all of us enjoyed a little blast from our past.  Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Kung Fu Master (known as Kansu Master in Japan) were just some of the games from yesteryear that we played.  After funning ourselves out and a little more exploration, we met up with the group by the Rainbow Bridge to get ready for the second half of the day’s activities.

The group was given the choice of one of two activities:  going to the SEGA Joypolis amusement park or going to Tokyo Oedo Onsen Monogotari, a Japanese hot springs.  Now I love amusement parks, but I wanted to experience something indicative of the Japanese culture and had opted to go to the hot springs.  Dave was the only other person who opted to go to the onsen.  I suspect Mat would have preferred that activity, but he has a couple of tattoos and people with body art are not permitted in public hot springs.

So Dave and I were off to the onsen where we became part of the traditional Japanese culture.  For starters, we had to take off our shoes before entering the hot springs.  We were also required to wear a yukata, a Japanese robe, inside the onsen.  The inside of the onsen was set up as a medieval Japanese village and market place.   There were places to eat and games to play, but the hot springs is what it was all about.  They were so peaceful and relaxing.  After luxuriating in the hot water for a bit, I went and had a 40 minute massage and then went to the enjoy the outdoor hot spring.  Dave and I both agreed the outdoor spring was the best as a light rain had started to fall and the combination of that plus the hot water really induced relaxation.  I really wish we had a couple of more hours to spend there.

Before we knew it, our time was up and we headed back to Diver City and took in the spectacular Gundam Statue light show before heading for our hotel.  My relaxing time at the onsen plus all of the running around we had been doing for the past week finally caught up with me on the subway as I dozed off on my seat.  Yukie said I fit right in with the Japanese businessmen who often take catnaps on the train.  Dave gently shook my shoulder to awaken me right before our stop and it was back to our room to unwind and sleep before our last day in Japan.

 

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 4: Lines, Lines, Everywhere’s a Line

At long last we were going to experience the centerpiece of the Tokyo Maximum Tour.  Today we were heading to the Tokyo Game show, the second biggest video game show on the planet and the biggest that is open to the general public.

Back in the day I was a pretty avid gamer.  Even today, I break out my old systems once in a while to enjoy my collection.  So the idea of getting to see new technology and test games that hadn’t hit the market yet held a certain appeal for me.

Our group had special passes that allowed us entry to the show an hour before it started.  This was the best part of the day as there was time to slowly explore all of the vendors and get some sneak previews of new games.  But once the show was open to the rest of the public. . .Whoa Nellie!!!

Now I knew what a sardine must feel like.  Over a quarter of a million people were at the event and I felt squashed.  Lines to sample new video games quickly stretched to multi-hour waits.  Fortunately, I had my trusty Kindle to pass the time in line, but standing in line for 2 hours to play a new game for 15 minutes didn’t seem worth the wait.  I had hoped to play Resident Evil 6, but that ended up being one of the most popular games at the venue.  The wait got so long that the line was actually shut down on a couple of occasions.

Not that there weren’t interesting things to watch while I waited and wandered.  Legends in the video game field appeared for discussion panels and to introduce new games.  The legendary Japanese pro wrestler, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, made an appearance to promote a new wrestling video game and even competed in a match at the show. 

After a while, I managed to find a quiet corner where I could read and people watch until it was time for our group to head back to Ikebukuro.  If I had to do it over again, I probably would have cut this day short and gone to Tokyo Disneyland which we passed on the way to show.  In fact, I just may hit that place up when I return to Japan.

We were on our own for dinner that night, so Mat, Dave, and I did a little exploring on the streets of Ikebukuro.  A parade broke out in front of us a few blocks from the hotel and we found a little festival going on.  After wandering about the festival a bit, we continued up the street where we found a McDonald’s.

I admit I did want to eat at a McDonald’s in Japan just to say that I did it.  I expected to be able to find one, but what I didn’t expect is that I would find one every 6 blocks.  They were everywhere!  Aside from the fare one would expect, the menu also contains items for the Japanese palate.  Mat and Dave ordered Tsukimshi (Moon Viewing) burgers which were hamburgers topped with a sunny side up egg.  Egg burgers are quite popular in Japan.  I opted for a lettuce and pepper sauce burger which I found quite tasty.  I definitely wouldn’t mind this sandwich finding its way to America.

After dinner, the three of us met up with Mike and Yukie and we left to enjoy one of Japan’s favorite pastimes. . .karaoke.  Mat opened us up with a rendition of the opening theme to Golgo 13 (an anime series) which he sung in Japanese.  I followed up with a powerful rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire.  From there we were all took turns singing our hearts out for the next two hours and we closed the evening singing five part disharmony.  What a festive night.

It was back to our rooms to rest up for the next day.  This would be our first free day that we could use to examine Tokyo any way that we desired.

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 3: Of Shopping and Sushi

Day 3 of this expedition was an all day shopping tour.  Shortly after breakfast, our group of gaijin headed to the subway station and set on off to the Ginza district.

Our first stop was the Sony Building.  Sony was celebrating the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Bad album.  A life-sized cutout of Michael was set on a stage outside the building and people were encouraged to take pictures.  I got a photo of myself doing the moonwalk while Mat took a before picture of himself giving “Michael” the bunny ears followed by a photo of himself sprawled out on the ground, unconscious.  I guess “Michael” showed him who’s bad.

After perusing and purchasing various knickknacks in the Sony Building, Yukie took us outside the restaurant of a legendary sushi chef.  I don’t remember his name, but he had recently been the focus of a documentary.  His restaurant is incredibly small, but reservations must be made a month in advance in order to eat there.  There is also no menu.  The food is whatever the chef feels like preparing that day.  If you want to eat there, bring lots of money as the cost is a staggering $300 per person to sample this legend’s wares.

From there, it was off to the Shinjuku district where we visited the Square Enix store.  Square Enix is a video game company best known for creating the Final Fantasy series of games.  It was a very small shop, but it had lots of interesting models to look at.  I ended up picking up some mystery monster toys for my niece and nephew. 

After our visit to Square Enix, we headed over to Harajuku where we enjoyed a late lunch at a ramen restaurant.  I ordered a Kanoban (spicy) pork ramen.  Dave and Mat ordered similar dishes, but theirs had eggs in them.  When we received our meals, they inspired the classic Matism, “I can smell the porky goodness.”  And it was a delicious meal.

Once we had recharged our batteries with the food, we explored the market in Harajuku which has a more underground feel.  I bought a t-shirt for myself that had a kanji which translated to “I’m in Japan” and bought a Hello, Kitty thingamajig for my sister-in-law.  I also caved to peer pressure as I bought a crepe along with Mat and Dave.  I’m usually not much for sweets, but this was an excellent dessert.

Soon our time was up and our group of merry wanderers made its way to Shibuya where we stopped at a bazaar.  I did most of my souvenir shopping at this place as there were all sorts of items to choose from.  I chose several beautiful items made out of ceramics for my friends and family like fish, lotus blossoms, and a few interesting stones.

Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel for a little bit of down time before our group headed out to a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant for dinner.  The name is just what it sounds like.  We sat around a giant centerpiece that had all kinds of sushi being moved by conveyor belt.  If something caught your interest, you grabbed it and enjoyed it.  When you were finished eating, the plates would be counted up and that’s what you would be charged.  I seem to recall that the price was 118 yen (a bit over $1) a plate.  Mat, who has a superhuman metabolism, said he had polished off 18 plates of sushi when he had eaten at this place 2 years previously.  Mind you, the plates are about the size of a tea saucer with a just a piece or two of sushi on each dish.

Once we had dined, it was back to the Hotel Tokyo Metropolitan where we took it easy for the rest of the night.  We were going to need all of our strength tomorrow as we were heading for the centerpiece of the Tokyo Maximum Tour. . .the Tokyo Game Show.