Monday, August 29, 2016

8-bit Fridays: The Backlogs II - August 26, 2016

It's been a disturbingly quiet week for me, but hopefully that means the weekend will be quiet too. With that said I was surprised to get about an hour and a half of play in shortly after getting home from work on Friday, which was a nice change of pace. But before I get into some of my plays...

This Fridays Buy's

Star Trek Generations: Beyond the Nexus (Gameboy) - Yes, I got the PC version last week. Obviously, they're not the same game, but they do share in the fact that they are equally obscure as far as Star Trek games go.

The Raiden Project (PS1) - Basically, although not openly named, this is Raiden II & III, and the only way of getting Raiden II on any system. 

This Weekends Plays

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf (SNES) - This is another in the “Strike” series of games, and I believe the first one in the series to appear on the SNES. I had covered the third game in the series Urban Strike in another 8-bit Friday article sometime back. This particular game is a CIB, and I picked up at Midwest Gaming Classics in April, but have just now gotten to play it. Basically this follows the typical “Strike” series format of controlling an attack helicopter in an isometric view, and killing baddies, and rescuing folks, all with a overly serious plot line. With that said they are pretty fun games albeit formulaic, in play and story line. There are three “Strike” titles on the SNES Desert Strike, Jungle Strike, and Urban Strike and they where released in that respective order. I will be covering Jungle Strike later since it is with the SNES games I hope to get to this weekend.

Phantom 2040 (SNES) - This is another Midwest Gaming Classics buy that I’m just now playing. I kind of like the old Phantom comics, and I liked the movie, and the way it was very stylized to fit the era when the comic was popular. As far as Phantom 2040, I don't know much about it. I can't recall the cartoon show it was based on back in the mid to late 90’s, but the game is published by Viacom and it has a game based on show feel to it. As far as the game itself it's actually kind of mediocre at best, I got stuck in some room on the first level and the magnetic rope wouldn't work, so after 10 minutes of trying I gave up to avoid a headache, or throwing my controller across the room. I may check out a playthrough on YouTube later, but for now I will set it aside. Anyway, for the type of game it is, comic book/cartoon show based, it's on par with other similar titles on the SNES as far as graphics, play, and sound. Just a little let down about getting the magnetic rope to work. 

Jungle Strike (SNES) - I couldn't tell or remember if this one was NIB, or just sealed by the seller but I debated whether to open it or not. I always feel bad opening sealed NIB games, part of the reason many of my 7800 games have gone unplayed. I realized that I didn't pay much for it even being NIB, and opened the virgin game anyhow. I decided to give my 13 year old the privilege of playing it since he had been eyeing up Desert Strike well I was playing that. Again it's a fun game, and sticks to the formula of the other “Strike” games. Plus flying an attack copter through Washington D.C. is always fun. 

Note About the “Strike” Series - The SNES is just one place the series appeared, and it went on to live and thrive on the PS1 later. My only complaint about these games on the SNES is that control wise they are a little overly sensitive, and at points it can be highly frustrating. If I had gotten any of these games new as a kid though, I probably would have loved them and played them till I got the controls down. 

Ok, per last week's entry I thought had 4 SNES games but it turns out I only had three, the fourth being Super Pinball: Behind the Mask  which I actually covered a few weeks back. So now on to my SMS titles. 

Black Belt (SMS) - Its like Karateka meet Double Dragon kind of. Basically you walk forward get attacked by hordes of enemies, face a boss, then move on. Perhaps Kung Fu on NES would be a better comparison. It's not a bad game, but it seems like enemies sap health from you even if they don't touch you. Other than that it's plenty of fun, and a pretty good looking game. 

R-Type (SMS) - Ok, you knew this was coming! Which means you also know I’m going to tell you it's awesome. It's a really great port, and fun as hell to play, and probably my favorite SMS games thus far. My only complaint is that it comes up a bit dark, and requires some brightening of the TV screen. Other than that it's a classic SHMUP on a classic system. 

Miracle Warriors (SMS) - This is another Midwest Gaming Classics buy I'm just now getting to. I’m actually proud of myself on this buy since I haggled with the vendor to get him down to $10 on it, and I  reminded myself of my father at train shows when I was a kid. So Miracle Warriors, I have to say I really like this one. It's an RPG, with some Zelda elements thrown in to it giving it a D&D feel, although I don't believe its part of the D&D franchise, but you never know.  Overall, its a pretty good game.  

Time Soldiers (SMS) - This is another really unique and cool one. It will remind you of Commando but the whole time travel element is really cool, and genuinely unique. It's also a great looking game too, everything is clear to see and pretty detailed. It's fairly easy to play too. 

Vigilante (SMS) - This is basically a harder to play Double Dragon clone, minus the “Double” but still with the kidnapped girlfriend angle. Yes, Maria who gets more of her clothes torn off as the game goes on. It's an OK game, great graphics, but the whole element of enemies holding on to you drives me nuts. I understand this game is on the TG-16 too, and actually a little better on that probably thanks to the little extra processing power.  

Thanks to the bonus time on Friday afternoon I actually finished my originally planned plays for this weekend. This has given me some additional time for a few other things one of which is looking at installing Windows 98 on a virtual system like DosBox or Virtualbox, of course doing both has been challenging since both have presented me with minor issues. One of the other things I have had the chance to sit down and do is work on a little collection management as well, and figuring out just what systems I'm backlogged, on with some shocking results. Last but not least I've had the chance to sneak one more backlogged system in with plays, that being the XBox 360.

Keep in mind most 360 games are plot driven games, so I more or less did hit and runs to make sure they work.

Fallout: New Vegas (XBox 360)- Between Steam, the 360 and the One, I have most of the Fallout games sans Fallout 2 and the little known Tactics. New Vegas goes in a slightly different direction plot wise than the other games, in that you don't start out as a vault dweller unaware of the outside world, but rather as a courier nearly killed in the process of delivering something mysterious. Play and concept are roughly the same though. As usual playing any Fallout game is a journey with hours needed to play, but at least this one is tested out and my character made for my return. And yes I did buy it for $3 at a garage sale, well actually $2.50 since I bought this and Fallout 3 together for $5. 

The Orange Box (XBox 360) - Portal, Team Fortress, Halflife 2, and Halflife 2 Episodes 1 & 2 comprise this single disk game collection ported from PC. Basically this is a pre-Steam, Valve collection of games. 

Red Dead Redemption (XBox 360) - This is from Rockstar who had given us the GTA franchise as well as one of my favorite games L.A. Noire. Of course rather than roaming around in 80's Miami or late 40's L.A., we are roaming around the west in 1911. It's a gritty game and pretty much needs its "M" rating, but from what I did play it was fun. Also no, I didn't pay $39.99 for it, considerably less about $6 I believe. 

So I started off to get to nine games got eight instead, but got a bonus three making it up to eleven by the end of the weekend, plus I got some additional work done on this too. So looking deeper into my backlog, I have a number of systems with unplayed games on them so perhaps next week will be a Playstation week since in have five PS1 titles (including these weekend Raiden Project buy), and seven PS2 titles. Perhaps being a holiday weekend I can fit these and a few others in. We'll have to see. Until then have a great week, and a fast one too. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The SNES at 25

The date was August 23, 1991, and that year the 23rd fell on a Friday. Don't ask me to remember the day, or if I remember it having any significance because I can't. To many gamers though it was a huge day, it was after all the release date of the SNES in North America. For Nintendo fan boys everywhere it would finally be Nintendo's response to the Sega's Genesis (Mega Drive) and its hold over 16-bit games.

In a pre-Internet world though Sega and Nintendo's 16-bit fight would be somewhat lost on me, as would the SNES's launch. To me on August 23rd, 1991 I was probably in or dreading going back to my 8th grade year of school. As far as gaming I was content with my NES, and even happier with my Gameboy. My first experience with the SNES would be in the summer of 1992 when I would play my brother-in-laws system, and games like F-Zero, Super Mario World, and Super Play Action Football. Later I would rent Pilot Wings when staying over the New Years Eve of 1992, and I fell in love with that game and the SNES. Of course the true selling point of the SNES would come in early 1993 when I first played Star Fox on a demo system at a Wal-Mart. But, getting an SNES wasn't meant to be and by Christmas of 1993, I wanted a PC more than anything since that's where the real flight sims of the time were. 

Picture I took of my Star Trek SNES games taken with a T-shirt from my friends at the Retro Rewind Podcast

Flash forward to December of 2013, and I finally got an SNES. Of course it cost me a fraction of the original price and I had to buy controllers separately, but I had a working unit, after a previously bad transaction on eBay. I quickly bought Pilot Wings, Star Fox, Super Mario World, Super Play Action Football, F-Zero, and last but not least a Super Gameboy for it. But I quickly realized that all those games where the extent of what I knew about the SNES. 

Over the next few years I would pick  games up slowly, but for the most part it was a neglected system. That is until January of 2016, when I made it a New Years resolution to try to get up to 100 games for my SNES collection. Of course at this point my count is only about 44 games total, which is twice as many as I started the year with but I doubt 100 is plausible unless I pad my collection with cheap and easy to find sports games. 

Of course in the process of collecting I have had a lot of fun with my SNES, and gained a new appreciation for it. I have been lead to some really phenomenal SHMUPS, gotten a nice collection of Star Trek games, and of course I have gotten all three of the Star Wars games and felt the pain of those games that other gamers often share. 

To say the least my history with the SNES is both nostalgic, as well as recent, which may or may not make my opinion valid. What I can say though is that it's been a pleasure to have this system in my collection, as well as to experience both new games as well as the old ones I remember. My memories of playing the SNES at my sisters house years ago often rise to the surface when I smell a charcoal grill, or burning leaves as the scent of such things would after waft into her old house when the windows were open and I was playing that SNES. As for Star Fox, even the more recent Star Fox Zero on Wii U, it always reminds me of that Friday on Spring Break of 1993 and playing the original game in that Wal-Mart. The memories are there even if I never owned the system back then. 

With that said here's to 25 years of the SNES🎉

My SNES lives in semi-retirement with my NES in a cabinet directly below my Retron 5. On occasion I have had to use the SNES to play a game the Retro 5 couldn't, like Mechwarrior 3050. I own all the original systems the Retron 5 plays except the Famicom and Super Famicom. 

Trekking Through Games: Celebrating Treks 50th in Two Games

About a year ago my wife came to me in a frantic state, she had a client meeting on a Saturday morning and the dress she wanted to wear was dirty, and on top of that she needed to get to bed to be up on time. So looking to spare her of some stress I agreed to stay up late and make sure the dress made it through the wash and dry process, and ended up in our room.

So with a quiet house, a TV to myself, and a bedtime to be dictated by a washer and dryer I set out to find something new to watch on Netflix. I figured it was finally time to break away from my wife's picks of lighthearted British dramas and return to my own sci-fi roots, but the question was what to watch. It was at that point I ran past Star Trek: Enterprise and my question was quickly answered. I had been eyeing up Enterprise since I had first spotted it up on Netflix a few months before that, but I never really found the time to put the series on. The concept of Enterprise had always interested me, but I never gave the show enough time to grow on me when it was still on the air years before. After all when Enterprise came out we had seen nearly 14 years of non-stop Star Trek shows beginning with The Next Generation in 1987, so the show at that point seemed to be white noise. Of course I will have to say that I was wrong, and Enterprise really surprised me that evening nearly getting me to bed as the sun just about came up. From that point on I was hooked and watched all the Star Trek shows in reverse airing order moving from Enterprise, to Voyager, to DS9, to TNG, to TAS, and finally to TOS. I took pride and nostalgia in the episodes of each I remembered, and sat riveted by the episodes and seasons I hadn't seen especially during my college years. But in watching those shows I moved from mid-Summer of 2015 to late Spring of 2016 and right into the 50th year of Star Trek being the cultural phenomenon, and bedrock it is.

Running a video game blog I decided to due my part and pay homage to Star Trek via my existing large collection of Star Trek games I've had since I was a kid, as well as finding out what other titles are out there that I may have missed or been unaware of over the years and adding them to my collection. To say the least Star Trek has been extremely prolific in the world of video gaming, and despite what you may have heard there are actually many excellent titles out there on a lot of different systems.

As the title to the post might suggest though I am here to talk about Star Trek's 50th anniversary, and with that said I have two games that can help you celebrate the 50th in game form without looking very far.

I present to you Star Trek: Legacy, and Star Trek.

Star Trek: Legacy (Xbox 360, PC)- Legacy is a phenomenal game that takes you from Enterprise all the way to a period of time slightly after Nemesis in which we have Admiral Janeway and Captian Picard working together in culminating battle. 

The best part of the games is:

Yes, the voice talent of the actual captains!! And story by Dorothy "D.C." Fontana!!

The main story mode of this game is actually pretty intriguing and works well carrying you from one generation to the next over the 221 year period the game takes place in. The central plot follows the five captains and their dealings with a mysterious time traveling Romulan named T'Uerell who has Borg ties, and is constantly trying to build weapons of mass destruction. In true Star Trek fashion the fortitude of each captain and their crews thwart T'Uerell in her goals, ending in a final battle involving both Voyager and the Enterprise-E as well as a allied fleet of other vessels. Along the way you are given the opportunity to visit and control NX-01 Enterprise, the Enterprise, the Enterprise-A, the Stargazer, the Defiant, the Enterprise-D, Voyager, and the Enterprise-E, plus you get to spend a little time at DS9

The game itself has some characteristics of Starfleet Command, but to me mostly resembles Star Trek: Deep Space 9: Dominion Wars, arguably you can say that these games did evolve from Starfleet Command's design though. As far as control I was playing the Xbox 360 version, which as is the case with most PC to console ports, has a learning curve as buttons formally associated with keys are now narrowed down to a controllers limitations. Overall though once you get past that, and you will find yourself forced to get past that to succeed in the first mission, the game is pretty fun to play as you will see in the "Lets Play" below


So why is this game a 50th Anniversary must? 

Considering this game covers TOS (and assumably TAS), TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise plus delves into both the TOS and TNG films, all while voiced by the actual captains,  giving you a shot at controlling the ships that have defined the franchise, and a story line written by one of Star Treks best writers,  I don't think there is any better way to celebrate Star Treks 50th Anniversary in the form of a game. Kind of an everything in one spot. 

Star Trek (PS3, Xbox 360)
I guess I should call this either Star Trek (09') or Star Trek: Kalvin Timeline, but its just known as Star Trek and I don't think there has been a video game simply called Star Trek since the 70's. 

Anyway, despite what you might think this game is actually an adventure of its own, and isn't directly based on any of movies in the Kalvin Timeline. In this particular game we join the Enterprise and the Kalvin Timeline crew, yes all voiced by the actual actors from the films, for an encounter with our favorite marvelous reptile enemy the Gorn, who no doubt you remember from that classic TOS episode Arena. The game itself is a third person shooter, meaning your always behind whatever character your playing as, which can be Spock or Kirk. I personally think that its not all that bad of a game, although it is relatively obscure thanks to not getting a lot of love from critics when it came out. With that said its also easy to come by with the PS3 version being cheaper to get than the Xbox 360 version, and going for less than $10 with shipping on eBay. 

So why is this game a 50th Anniversary must?

I as a Star Trek fan I know the Kalvin Timeline movies don't get as much love as they should. I will agree that J.J. Abrams decision to create an alternate timeline is somewhat questionable, but as far as the films go their not all that bad. Star Trek: Beyond most recently seemed to gain a lot of "street cred" with long time fans, thanks to its numerous Easter Eggs tying it into the various series, as well as it's overall plot which had very true Star Trek feel. But, with that said and as a Star Trek fan I don't think 09' or Into Darkness aren't without their merits as well, as controversial as that may be to say. This game so far is the only one I am aware of that takes place in the Kalvin Timeline, and being that the game doesn't mimic a film but rather takes us on a different journey I think its a great way to connect with the Kalvin Timeline and even celebrate the three movies taking place in it. Essentially this game, Star Trek, as far as games goes brings the Kalvin Timeline into the fold. 

Together Star Trek (XBox 360, PS3) and Star Trek: Legacy (XBox 360, PC) run the full gambit of Star Trek's 50 years, within game form. Both games shoot for a connection to the series and/or movies that have made up the past 50 years by giving us the actual captains, and not just voice actors. On top of that the ships themselves, characters, and alien races are also carefully detailed so that fans can connect with the games a little more, without having to deal with the generics we sometimes see in games, and have seen from time to time in Star Trek games. Of course playing these two games may not be on par with sitting down and binge watching all 6 series, and 13 movies, but as a fan and gamer you may appreciate being part of the action.

I would like to give a special thanks to YouTuber CatsRock2100 for his video of Star Trek:Legacy mission one gameplay I have attached above, please feel free to visit his channel and other "lets play" videos many Star Trek game based.   


Monday, August 22, 2016

8-bit Fridays: The Backlogs - August 19, 2016

In my 8-Bit Friday Diary entries,  I often talk about my Friday purchases. Of course I don't only buy on Friday's especially if I run across a great deal, or if it's an auction closing during the week. I've also previously mentioned getting a backlog of games, and starting my 8-bit Friday ritual as a way of processing those games into my collection well playing through them and finding favorites to revisit. Of course over the past few months time to play hasn't exactly been as abundant as it is in winter and the backlog has started all over again. NES, SNES, SMS, PS1, PS2, Dreamcast, Saturn, XBox 360, and Atari 7800 are just a few of the systems the backlog exists on right now. Luckily, this weekend has allowed me to steal some time to get through some of these games.

But first... 

This Fridays Buy's

Star Trek: Generations (PC) - Well looking for a game of the same exact title for the Gameboy, I ran across this PC title. In all honestly it's a fairly obscure title just like the Gameboy title. I'm not sure what to expect but it is an adventure game, and looks pretty good.

Star Trek: Armada (PC) - The Armada titles I & II where games that managed to get under my radar years ago. Back then I had assumed Armada was and add on pack for Starfleet Command II, little did I know it was a free standing space based RTS. After watching "Lets Plays" I think I want to give it a shot. 

This Weekend Play's

Gyruss (NES) - I had a lot of fun playing this one. I could see how this would have been better with the paddle controller in the arcade, but it's still a lot of fun anyway. It kind of reminds me of a cross between Galaga and Tempest, the circular maneuvering with waves of enemies that pass near you then come back to dive at you. That and they whole concept of each level bringing you closer to a planet is pretty cool too. I guess I will need to dig out my Atari 5200 version again and give it a try too.

Guardian Legend (NES) - This is an interesting one in that it changes speeds, but I felt slightly disoriented after the rush of a beginning.(Note to Self: Don't play Guardian Legend when you have a headache.) But, I will admit for an NES SHMUP it's pretty intense and fast paced. Aces in my book, I just have to make it past the first level. Of course there is a password system, hmm!

Galaga: Demons of Death (NES) - Who doesn't love Galaga? Ok, this isn't my only version of this game, I have it on Wii U Virtual Console as well as Atari 7800, and perhaps elsewhere. Personally, I would like to have this on an arcade machine as well but probably as a multi-system rather than a stand alone. As long as I'm mentioning Galaga I will also mention…

Galaxian (Atari 5200)- Did you like that segway? Galaxian is actual Galaga’s predecessor or should I say that Galaga is a sequel to Galaxian. Playing both you can see some similarities such as the general design of the ship, even though in Galaxian it's not as clear, and the whole black space backdrop with no bunkers thing. Galaxian does look a little more like Space Invaders though, in respects to the fact that you start the game with a pre-established phalanx of enemy’s, as to where with Galaga they fly past you from the bottom and into formation giving you the chance to pick them off before they do. Both games are great examples of early SHMUPS, but Galaga is just unique enough to make it a classic and shining example of the genre.

Alpha Mission (NES) - Supposedly Alpha Mission is and SNK classic, and received a visually stunning sequel on the NeoGeo AES and MVS. I can't say much about that, since I've never run across it. Alpha Mission on the NES on the other hand, is good as far as a SHMUP goes, but also somewhat generic both visually and in gameplay and reminds me of a lot of other titles on the NES like Star Force. Overall it's not too hard to play, just shooting and dropping bombs on ground targets for power ups, its entertaining enough.

Xenophobe (NES) - My first non-SHMUP of this session and it's an odd cartooney version of Alien. It's fun and true 8-bit looking, but man it controls strangely. Too many hit points on the enemy's, no way to shot over head without jumping, getting knocked on your butt (literally in this game), and the jumping is weird if useless. That and I guess it's best if played in two player.

Image Fight (NES) - Yes, I know most of my plays this weekend have been SHMUPS. If you ask me though Image Fight is a pretty strange name for a SHMUP, but it's a pretty good, and tough game. On list of top SHMUPS on the NES Image Fight is usually on the top 10 list, usually among the top 3 often only preceded by the hyper paced bullet hell Recca. Image Fight deserves it's spot with the NES’s top SHMUPS, as it starts out slow but places pressure on the player immediately, and with smart enemies from the get go. Graphically the game doesn't look to bad either for the NES, which is probably thanks to the game being made by irem, the makers of R-Type and Raiden. Overall, the game is a must own for SHMUP lovers, and the NES collector.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity (NES) - I mentioned this one long ago in an 8-bit Friday entry as a buy of the week, and as one of those missed deals at Midwest Gaming Classics. Sadly, it's taken me this long to play it though. This is actually a really entertaining little gem, and precisely the kind of obscure NES title I have taken great enjoyment in seeking out over the last year. Basically the game is a platformer with a cartoon look, set in sci-fi environment. It's fun to look at as well as play.

Star War (NES) - Ok is there anything better than seeing and hearing Star Wars in 8-bit? As with most Star Wars games based on the movie there is a lot of non-canonical license taken but at least the cut scenes are pretty awesome. Like the SNES’s Super Star Wars, it can be pretty tough, but I think this version can be gotten through. It also reminds me a bit of the a fore mentioned Rad Gravity. I have to say the Star Wars Theme, and the Cantana music in 8-bit sound really make it worth it.

Star Soldier (NES) - Star Soldier is another game that seems to grace the list of top ten NES SHMUPS fairly often, and much like the earlier mentioned Image Fight with good reason. It's both challenging and unique, and often takes advantage of your own perception. Definitely not another generic SHMUP on the NES. This one actually earned a squeal on the N64 named Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth, and was one of the first NES Virtual Console titles to appear on the Wii U.

Abadox (NES) - Kind of a play on R-Type’s "gross out SHMUP" uniqueness. What can I say it's a side scrolling SHMUP with a guy on a space suit battling his way through blood and guts, flying eyeballs, and all that gross stuff. It's a challenging game none the less, and no one can deny that it's different.

Pin Bot (NES) - I mentioned this one as a Friday night buy some weeks ago as well, of course this is the first play through of it. It's actually really good, and not a bad pinball emulation for the NES, even if the pink and blue are a little too dominate. The music is great, as is the actual Pin Bot voice that chimes in from time to time. Another good suggestion inspired by Classic Game Room.

Pinball Quest (NES) - Last but not least for my NES backlog. The skull on the front of the box has been looking at me rather sadly for making this game last. It's like I can hear him saying “Here I've been at the top of the boxed game pile reminding you to play us NES games and you make me last, and not in the same session as all the other games? Isn't it bad enough I’m going to be a skull in a pinball for all eternity, but you have to make me last?”. What too much? Well look at that skull guy doesn't he look sad and forlorn? Anyway, Pinball Quest is a rather unique game that separates itself from many of the other pinball games available at the time. Of course it's also a Jeleco game, which says a lot too since Jeleco tended to publish games that were a little different and more imaginative. Pinball Quest can actually be played a few different ways, one as just a simple pinball game with three different tables to choose from, or in “RPG” mode. Each of the three tables is pretty entertaining on its own and it was unique for an NES pinball game to even feature more than one table, but the RPG mode is what really sells it and makes it totally different this is after all the “Pinball Quest” the game is named after. Basically the RPG game has you set out to “rescue the princess” by playing a pinball play field in which you break through barriers, kill enemies, and receive your sub-quests all with your ball which obviously you have to get to its destination with your paddles. It's actually tougher than it sounds and you'd be surprised how easily that ball finds its way between your paddles. My chief complaint about this game is that the paddles are too small, and my second complaint is that if you push up on the d-pad your paddles float away. It's a good and cool concept for a game otherwise, and worth having if you enjoy the pinball emulators on consoles, or just want to play a whole different type of pinball all together.

I'm actually pretty shocked I had enough time to get through all these games, considering I've still been pretty closely following the Olympics this weekend. Of course the last weekend of the Olympics can be a bit slow, so I guess that explains it. The big question for next weekend is can I get through my backlog of SNES, and SMS games? With 4 of one, and 5 of the other respectively I hope I can considering I was able to push through 13 this weekend on the NES.

If you have any questions or comments or think I should give a particular game a longer and better shot please let me know. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

8-bit Fridays: Out Into the Late Night Rift - Part 5: A View From the Couch

A View from the Couch

It’s Friday night, the TV’s on and the lights are off. Its after 10:30 PM so there’s no guilt about being a couch potato, and also being Friday there is no guilt about having to get up early for work or school the next morning. Then you hear it, “Hey, hey, hey, hey….” as The Roots sing Fallon’s intro song for The Tonight Show, and Steve Higgins voice comes on to announce the evening guests. It’s the start of a 2 ½ hour journey that you may or may not make it through, and the worst case scenario for not making it through is that you fall asleep or go to bed in order to take advantage of the little extra sleep Saturday morning may get you. Ultimately though you relax, you realize you’ve made it through another week, and now it’s late and the week can’t hassle you anymore. Sound familiar?

For me late night TV on a Friday night is somewhat of a ritual and as you might be able to tell by reading this, it has been since I was a teenager. Back then it was about proving something to myself by staying up late, now it’s about relaxing and closing the mental file drawer of stress called “Monday through Friday” with some good laughs and entertainment.

In writing all this I also came to realize one more thing, and that is that this 2 ½ hour period is in itself a time machine, museum, and battleground. My choice to watch NBC for 2 ½ hours on a Friday night has been decided by a lot of network give and take, clashes of ego’s, and the changing tastes and demographics of audiences. I can compare late night TV to video game consoles, whereby its something you really don’t need, but it’s something that's fun to partake in. We as viewers especially those of us of that prime demographic CBS pushed Letterman out over, can easily choose to watch Netflix, a DVD, or some other form of on demand entertainment yet we are willing to watch our beloved choice of host even if we have to deal with commercials in between. As I said above it’s not uncommon for me to turn Seth Meyers off after his monologue, and watch netflix, or play video games, but I do at times leave his show on and go beyond. There are also times I ask myself if I should go check out what James Corden is doing, or catch the last half hour of Kimmel since these options are all there too. My ultimate choice to stick with Meyer’s though is based on my comfort with his hosting and his brand of humor, all of which I grew to know and love from watching him host Weekend Update on SNL. When summed up this goes on to spell out the careful tweaking and re-tweaking the networks have gone through over the years to grab and hang on to late night viewers, especially to get to a spot where a viewer like me in my demographic is willing to set the remote aside at 10:35 PM (CT) and not touch it again till 1:05 AM.

I will be the first to admit my return to late night TV has been slow, and that I avoided late night TV all together for many years, or chose only to watch certain shows. There was a point about 10 years ago when I wouldn’t watch either Letterman or Leno but skip on to Craig Ferguson, and a few years after that I would occasionally check out Jimmy Fallon’s show when he hosted Late Night. Besides that though I can only recall watching O’Brien in his last week of hosting Late Night up to his last show. My return to late night TV, at least on Fridays, has been due to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, this is also thanks to my wife and eldest son becoming big fans of his work on Late Night. Under Fallon The Tonight Show has prospered and has connected with viewers like me who prefer the shows new energy, and SNL type comedy, well maintaining the same level of sophistication the show has had since its first incarnation with Steve Allen in 1954. In a way it's as if Fallon has revamped the show enough to make it feel different than it did under Carson, and Leno. I wholeheartedly believe this has something to do with moving the show back to New York, where it’s closer to its own roots, as well as receiving some SNL vibes, allowing the show to really focus on a different type of comedy than we have seen out of the show in years.  For me it's a formula that works, and has kept me on board as a viewer, as well as bought me back to late night and willing to give Seth Meyer (who I just mentioned), and Carson Daly a chance afterwards.

As I said though this 2 ½ hours is a time machine, museum, and battlefield and perhaps I’ve covered elements of all three here and above. The battlefield was and is obvious is the networks battle for the best position. As for the museum each show is in a way is a museum, having gotten to where it is due to the constant changes that have placed the show where it is. Even Jimmy Kimmel despite having an entirely new show, has a lineage of ABC late night shows that make his show what it is now. There are successes and failures, and unlikely interims that make each show what it is.

As for the time machine element perhaps that is not as obvious, or perhaps it seems as if I’m alluding to the museum element again, but when I look at The Tonight Show or Late Night, or even the Late Late Show the past creeps up on me a bit. You begin to remember things like Johnny Carson hosting, with his Carnac bit and Ed McMahon,  and you remember Arsenio Hall’s brief challenge to Carson. I remember Crispin Glover on Late Night nearly kicking Letterman in the head, and as kid just how incredibly late it use to seem like his show came on. I remember Leno introducing his Headlines bit, and Jaywalking after that. I also think of Conan O’Brien with all the funny bits he had on, and how unusual and zany his show was for that late hour, and for kicking off many a weekend in high school watching his show and talking with friends about it come Monday morning. Than after him came Fallon, who had some pretty original stuff going on his show, like his audience involved gameshow bits obviously something he couldn’t bring with him to The Tonight Show but very memorable. Than there is also the Late Late Show with memories of quickly turning off Craig Kilborn, and then after him all the hours spent watching Craig Ferguson and trying to guess what he’s do next.  Even Jimmy Kimmel Live! makes you think of some of the unforgettable guests and Hollywood legends his predecessor by nearly 30 years Dick Cavett had on his show, thanks to TCM re-airing some of those a few years back coincidentally hosted by Conan O’Brien.

That's the other element to these shows, the guests. I think of the legends who have since passed, the nobodies who are now superstars, the little known politicians who have gone on to become presidents or major power players in Washington, and of course the celebrities who have changed themselves entirely over the years. There are also the hard to remember ones that watching these shows reminds you of, like the ones who disappeared into disgrace for one reason or another, and the one hit wonders, the 15 minutes of fame people, and the folks that time forgot as trends moved on and they didn’t. As I said these shows have an element of time machine to them that can make you recall their past even if you are firmly invested in their present and future.  

My view from the couch on Friday nights may focus on the evenings entertainment, and the wide open feeling of freedom that moment of the weekend may have. At the same time though my past always seems to remind me of how things once were. The realm of late night is as always has been a changing landscape, but for now I will enjoy it how it is especially as I make new memories of late night TV with my own family.