Saturday, September 13, 2014

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #12


There were some genres I spurned for years before wholly embracing them and others I regrettably had to abandon due to their subscribing to misguided or destructive trends, but one facet of my disposition never changed: I never liked space shooters or shooting-based games in general. It's always been difficult for me to put into words why that is, and the best I can do is to list the symptoms that appear whenever I'm faced with the prospect of playing one: Immediate disinterest, incoming boredom, mental fatigue, and lack of motivation. I mean, I regard Space Invaders as an all-time classic, and I played the hell out of overhead shooters like Commando and Rambo (Commodore 64 version), but there's just something about the idea of shooting games that I find deflating.

Fortunately, I've always held to the personally conceived credo that the truly best games transcend their genre, and my contradictory affinity for Megamania is one of the main drivers of that belief. Really, I can't get enough of it.

Superficially, Megamania looks a lot like your average Space Invaders clone--a static vertical shooter in which a space-defense force attempts to fend off a hostile army of neatly arranged alien invaders. If the charge is "intent to imitate," then Megamania is certainly guilty, but it rises above the classification of "ripoff" simply by virtue of being one the genre's best. It doesn't do anything special in regard to challenging old conventions (as per the norm, you're tasked with enduring increasingly frantic action as long as possible and earning a high score), but it absolutely trumps its contemporaries in all of the important categories; it features smooth controls (you can easily guide your shots and rapidly fire them by holding down the button), an imagination-stoking "cast" of invaders, sound effects that are both visceral and satisfyingly punctuating, and a certain rhythm that works to create a high level of intensity--a uneasy flow to the action that keeps you engaged and alert.

We didn't have a manual for Megamania, because my brother threw it away (no surprise), so we didn't know what the hell these aliens were supposed to be. All we could do was apply our imagination and create our own descriptors by likening the aliens to commonly known products: We identified them, in order of appearance, as hamburgers, wafers, buggies, treadmills (as seen from top-down), onion rings, telephones, bow ties, and your average meteors. The coolest part was that Megamania didn't adhere to the notion that its enemies had to merely settle for speeding up in subsequent rounds; rather, Megamania's inexplicably sentient "aliens" changed color and adopted new assault-patterns, their horizontal formations often halting their movement before suddenly darting forward and those vertical altering the flow and angle of their descent. These few simple changes provided both strategically divergent challenges and welcome aesthetic differentiation, which was more than the common shooter could boast.

I played Megamania occasionally when I was a toddler, but I really got into it in the mid-80s when I found renewed interest in 2600 games thanks to the backward compatibility of the Atari 5200, which my aunt bought for me spontaneously when I was following her around an appliance store one day. My goal was to become a Megamania master--an arbitrary title that I deemed could only be earned by surviving ten rounds and reaching the 500,000-point mark--but I could never make it far into the fourth round due to my stock being crippled by the previous round's frustratingly evasive treadmills and berserk meteor storm. The latter would begin falling so fast, in fact, that where was barely any time for me to get a read on the action and react accordingly, which was similar to how I fared anytime I'd try my hand at the code-enabled Level 90 in Tetris.

There was a "difficult" mode in which the rapid-fire ability was removed and the trajectory of the shots could no longer be manipulated, but I didn't find any appeal in it; it essentially turned Megamania into straight Space Invaders when its greatness was otherwise achieved by Activision's ambition to instead be the sole occupant in a higher-tier of clone. Megamania didn't possess Space Invader's depth of options in terms of modes and variations (just two, both with alternating two-player modes), but its default content was so satisfying on its own that I had no need for any superfluous extras. It was an early lesson that quality was sometimes more important than quantity, and the notion wasn't lost on me.

I'll probably never return to Megamania as zealously as I once did, though my declaration of such shouldn't be interpreted as a fizzling of my passion for it. No--Megamania is solidly cemented in my mind as a top-class shooter, and I'll always be down to play through a few rounds whenever time allows for it.

Who knows--one day I might even become a master.


  1. Funnily enough, when we played Megamania on our 2600 back in the day, my younger brother and I also named all the alien waves after food products, except for the bow ties. I believe we called the asteroids cheese curds.

    1. I was disappointed when I saw the manual scans and learned that the enemies had actual labels. I assumed they were meant to be UFOs and typical space invaders, and our interpretations were somehow divergently creative.

      But they actually are "Hamburgers" and such! It's quite heartbreaking, really.

    2. Huh, I never even thought to look up the manual online until reading your reply, but I just did. Only two of them are named after food: hamburgers and cookies. My "cheese curds" are actually "space dice". I agree that it's disappointing that they actually ARE such mundane objects. Some things are just better left unknown.

      You know what? I don't care. I'm still going to pretend that my ship is the U.S.S. Enterprise and it's really Captain Kirk shooting down wave after wave of malicious fast food . . . Spock's "those are illogical interpretations of alien lifeforms " comments be damned!