[Why am I playing a level of Donkey Kong (Game Boy, 1994) each day for 101 days? Find out by starting back at the beginning.]
Setting up the Xbox–inputting the time and date, monkeying with the dashboard settings, etc.–reminded me just how much I enjoy setting up game consoles. I get a real kick out of it. As I searched through my saved games, I was also sort of shocked that the Xbox, which I hadn’t touched in five, six years at least, still worked at all. There’s something pleasantly dramatic about getting an old machine like this to work that for reminds me of those moments in Indiana Jones movies when he enters a Mayan tomb and winds up setting a mechanism in motion that hasn’t been set in motion for thousands of years. As soon as the dull green glow of the Xbox logo appeared on my television, I’m certain that my eyes widened in wonderment and my jaw hung open a little.
After being tucked away and forgotten at the bottom of a closet in my New York place for years, the Xbox would have been well within its rights to not work at all at this juncture. The Xbox always felt like a half cooked, overly delicate bit of machinery to me anyway. It was, as the gaming press put it at the time, little more than “a PC in console form.” It was Microsoft’s first kick at the can in the videogame market. They made plenty of rookie mistakes, the most infamous of which was the original launch-day controller, referred to as the “fat tire.”
The fat tire was what I decided to game with that night. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I remembered it being. Far worse than the bloated size of the fat tire, in my opinion, was the decal with the Xbox logo on it that was pinned to the controller’s center. It looked like a one of those cheap stickers you might find at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks.
I played Darkwatch for a couple of hours. Man, have first-person shooters come a long way since Darkwatch. Then I switched to Urban Chaos: Riot Response, the game that developer Rocksteady made before they became famous with Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. You play the game as corny good guy Nick Mason, who is a dropped into the middle of a city infested with rioting gang members known as the Burners. I love the game’s ridiculous amounts of violence and cursing. More than that, I love how the game really makes me feel like a good guy. Whether I’m protecting a fire fighter as he kicks in the doors of a burning building, or using a bullet-time effect to take out a bad guy who is using a civilian as a shield (aim for the head), gameplay is always changing and evolving in new and interesting ways that make me feel terrific, plain and simple. I also love the game’s satirical take on America (check out those waving flags, the ridiculous newscasters, etc.). Urban Chaos: Riot Response somehow manages to be wholesome and cynical at once. Which, if you think about it, is also true of Arkham City.
By now the clock was pushing midnight, but my appetite for gaming was still growing. Crazy as it sounds, I suddenly felt determined to own and re-play every Xbox ever made. Sometimes these moments–when I wish I could clone myself and play every videogame in the world simultaneously–come over me. It’s ridiculous, I know. I can’t explain it. I experience such an intense love for games and the machines that play them that it sometimes feels almost like a physical ache. I wanted to apologize to these old Xbox games, almost as if they were old friends of mine who I’d fallen out of touch with. I wanted to say, “I’m sorry for abandoning you, for leaving you behind here in New York. I’m sorry for ever thinking, for one second, that Jetpack Joyride was better than you. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. Please forgive me.”
I began combing through my stack of Xbox games and felt a gravitational pull towards Burnout Revenge that I couldn’t deny. I loaded it up and discovered–or rather re-discovered–one of the most underrated games in the Burnout franchise. (This was the Burnout that encouraged you to actually crash into cars–not avoid them–as you sped down the highway.) I also learned, thanks to my saved game which was still written on the Xbox’s hard drive, that I invested more than 17 hours into this game back in 2005, a fact which made me wince. Seventeen hours is a pretty substantial chunk of time.
Around two in the morning, unable to keep my eyes open for a second longer, I wrapped things up for the night. Like a king at a banquet gorging on turkey legs and bunches of grapes, I had had my fill of gaming. The radiators in the living room were cold. There was a chill in the air. But the Xbox was giving off a fair amount of warmth. I tapped the glowing green ring on the front of the machine. As the light blinked off, I stood alone in the living room on my final night in New York, listening to the inner workings of the machine slowly whir to a halt. That’ll do, pig, I thought to myself, then turned out the lights and went to bed.
Stage 6-4. Today’s stage is a one-screen gauntlet of death that requires a little skill, but mostly luck. There are many things that are simply out of your hands here. My advice: be tenacious, keep at it, and on one of your runs, the Donkey Kong gods will smile down upon you.
The single screen of gameplay is divided up into two sections. Let’s call them “top” and “bottom.” Top is where D.K. and Pauline are holed up. If you can, try to keep an eye on D.K. during this stage. His animations are entertaining. Me, I’m partial to the grin where he shows off all the X’s in his mouth. I need to have some X’s installed in my teeth like that.
“Bottom,” on the other hand, features a large, heart-shaped loop. Coincidence that the loop is in a heart shape in a game about Mario’s love being lost? I think not. A pair of extremely short platforms automatically hustle along this loop. Bisecting the loop is a second pathway that does not form a loop. It’s shaped like an inverted “S.” A single platform will eventually travel along this section of track, but only once you hit a certain switch (more on this shortly).
There are four distinct dangers here: the bed of sharpangles at the bottom of the screen; the block in the center of the screen with the electric charge that constantly moves around it; the invisible wind which is constantly pushing Mario to the right (keep tapping left on the D-pad, even when you’re on the tiniest of platforms, or the wind will blow you away, literally); and the cannon, which is installed just below D.K.’s post, and which routinely launches Mario-killing projectiles. It’s uncanny–and annoying–how this cannon without fail fires at the exact moment that Mario is riding around the heart. Pro Tip: the only way to survive the cannon fodder is to duck at the very last second, letting it sail clear of your head. However, if you remain in the ducked position for too long, the wind will carry you off the platform to your death. So, you know, duck with caution.
Next to D.K. is a switch which he pulls whenever the mood strikes him. This switch changes the direction–clockwise, counterclockwise, and so on–that the heart platforms travel in. It doesn’t alter the stage in any sort of drastic way, but it’s something you need to keep any eye on.
Mario has his own switch. It’s on the bottom lefthand corner of the screen. Unfortunately, the level opens with Mario on the lower righthand side of the screen. In order to reach the switch, you must ride around the heart shape one time–clockwise, counterclockwise, doesn’t matter. Yes, you will die here. Yes, frustration will set in. Stay calm, breathe, and eventually you’ll reach the goddamn switch. Once you do, pull it (B button). This sets the platform on the inverted “S” moving in the proper direction.
One end of the “S” is next to the switch; the other is at the very top of the screen, where D.K. and Pauline are standing. Once the platform that travels along it is within range of the switch area you are standing in, carefully board the “S” and ride it to the top. Pro Tip: On two, maybe three occasions, I inadvertently performed a super jump when trying to leap onto the “S” platform. Maybe the virtual wind caught Mario or something. Anyway, each time this happened, I was launched into the sharpangle bed and killed instantly. Be extremely cautious when boarding the inverted “S.”
After you’ve reached the upper tier of the level, jump off the “S” train and confront Pauline and D.K. As usual, he grabs her and takes off. Shake your fist in his general direction. Totals for this particular stretch of AIRPLANE:
6-1: 119 seconds
6-2: 95 seconds
6-3: 162 seconds
6-4: 227 seconds
Grand total: 603 seconds. Marios in the tank: 36. According to the map, this is the halfway mark for AIRPLANE. Next stop on our itinerary: stage 6-5.