I was born in 1985, which means by the time I was ten, Duran Duran had been beaten by The Prodigy and The Cure had been beaten by... life.
It was a heady age. Nobody knew whether it was Prince or Michael Jackson who’d had a lower rib removed as an oral cure for loneliness - a fine solution, even if they probably had to buy a lot more mouthwash...
… and everything good was made in Japan.
The Transformers! Power Rangers! Monkey Magic! Dragonball Z! Astro Boy! The “Ninja” part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! If it was on Australian TV and involved someone thumping someone else over an ideological difference, chances are it was from Japan. (Unless it was the news, where beatings were usually handled by the Bosnian military, who weren’t turtles or ninjas, even if they were sometimes mutants... or teenagers. Depressing.)
And plugged into our fat 90s TV sets were the consoles that brought us straightforward, mainstream Japanese videogames. Super Mario was a mushroom-loving plumber who sat on turtles, Sonic the Hedgehog was a blue, nudist ADHD spokesman and Street Fighter II got that name after it was changed from the original title, Racial Stereotype Apocalypse II: No, Seriously, The Manual Says The Indian Guy Breathes Fire Because of Curry.
Back then, Aussie gamers mostly got the easiest-to-market, easiest-to-play titles (the first sequel to Super Mario was rejected for Western release for being “too hard”, so was replaced by a simpler game where the beloved Italian plumber threw eggs and radishes at transgender dragons.)
Why was it easy to sell? Did mainstream Australia have a problem with gender and sexual identity in mythical reptiles? Nope - Molly Meldrum was very well treated – it’s just Mario was so incredibly popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s that Hollywood could slap a moustache on a 110-minute bowel movement and call it “Super Mario Bros: The Movie".
Now, since we’ve met Australia’s first love affair with easy, marketable Japanese videogames, here’s a list of harder, obscurer titles we never got to touch for reasons of our backwardness, their niche appeal or, in one case, AUSTRALIA’S TOTAL DOMINANCE IN THE FIELD.
NOTE: some of these are great to play – and some are great in the same way that Australia exports the dregs (Fosters, Tim Minchin, Hugh Jackman) and keeps only the very best (XXXX, Rodney Rude and Harold from Neighbours).
Released in 2001, Rez is a stream-of-consciousness tripfest about a slowly evolving avatar who must shoot shapes in time to music or face the prospect of not being a slowly evolving avatar shooting shapes in time to music. You play along to a trance playlist; making this the laziest rave you’ll ever attend – unless you buy the Japan-only Trance Vibrator.
An add-on that buzzes in time to the music, it’s officially meant to be held in your hand to “produce a feeling of synesthesia”, but there doesn’t seem to be a single adult who didn’t buy it and then immediately shove it in their pants, producing a much stronger feeling of synesthesia – and the desire to smoke a cigarette after around level 2.
Takeshi Kitano was, at one point, pretty much Andrew O’Keefe, being a former comedian who hosted a gameshow. The difference is that Kitano:
1. Said “whore” a lot
3. He went on to direct a lot of movies about people standing very still while shooting each other, which O’Keefe will only ever be able to do if he finds the script in the correct briefcase.
Asked to make a videogame, Kitano deliberately crafted the most miserable experience possible. The goal is to get a divorce, quit your job, sing for an hour in a karaoke bar (the player must sing into a microphone in their controller for the whole hour, or the game will make them start again.) Then you’ll travel to a faraway island where you must punch Takeshi Kitano in the face 100 times. The game ends with the message, “Why would you take something like this so seriously?”
80,000 copies were sold to 80,000 very, very angry people.
Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special
Part of the most copyright-infringing professional wrestling series ever made, Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special is the only sports game where right at the end, your character shoots himself for wasting his life, because videogames are fun, aren’t they?
The Cho Aniki Series
There’s an intergalactic bodybuilder trying to eat all of the galaxy’s protein – and you’re the flying, shiny-chested grappler who’ll stop him. A side-scrolling shooter, you fly through surreal environments murdering creatures from your deepest nighmares by firing silver gonads into their strange faces. It’s great – and it’s had seven sequels.
There’s a children’s prank that’s popular in Japan and South Korea. You hold both hands like a gun (two fingers for the barrel – don’t be lazy), sneak up behind someone and then poke them in the arse, shouting “Kancho!” (Japan) or “Ddong chim!” (Korea)
It’s jolly and mystifying and I’d judge it if my school hadn’t had a similar game called, “You’ve Aroused The Elephant.” (It’s the same thing, but you say, “You’ve aroused the elephant” and then knee your pal in the butt.)
Sadly, with adulthood comes things like “harassment charges” and “sensitivity training”, so in order to preserve the experience for the frustrated grown-up, Taff System developed “Boong-Ga, Boong-Ga”, an arcade game with a nozzle like the end of a petrol pump – and a special place to put that nozzle.
Enemies include, “Mother-In-Law” and “Ex-Boyfriend” – and players who do exceptionally well win a small trophy shaped like poop.
It’s gross, it’s upsetting and I’d still take it over the pokies.
Honourable Mention The Sega Toylet
A charming urinal device that encourages men to target their stream at the bowl with a series of minigames. This was obviously never released in Australia, once they realised the market was dominated by athletes who could just catch it in their mouths.
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