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LaserRot #1: Badlands


Welcome brothers and sisters. I had originally planned to write a series based on my time living in a turn of the century French bordello, but my memories of it are shady at best. So I have decided to make a slight detour into a similar topic.
LaserRot is a series looking at a line of arcades that were ahead of their time and raked in an absolute fortune in quarters, right up to the point that they all broke down and then the industry crashed the fuck out.

Yes, you've guessed it...
Oh wait, maybe you haven't.. well, it's Laserdisc Games.

I'm going to be looking at some of the titles that fell between the cracks. It's one thing to be aware of Don Bluth's Dragon's Lair trilogy, but it's another to hear about Freedom Fighter or Bega's Battle.
This is information and history that every single gamer should know about.
What's that?.. Shuttup, yes it is.
*locks exit*

I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I already regret starting this series.

(Konami/Centauri - 1984)

Fresh off the incredible success of Dragon's Lair, Konami decided to try their hand at the all new Laserdisc game market. This was 80's Konami, who were known more for space schmups and less for cancelling projects that people want.

Although a slew of LD games hit in a short space of time, none of them had a Cowboys 'n' Injuns theme. So Konami developed Badlands, a wicky-wicky-wild wild west adventure designed to break big in the USA and rake in some of that hot animated arcade action.

Badlands puts the player in the role of Buck, a young cowboy who is living the quiet life with his family when one day "..for no reason" they are attacked on their ranch by a gang of roaming bandits. Very progressive bandits at that, who run quite the gamut of cultural diversity, as nothing was more respected in the old West than women's rights and racial equality #Banditgate
This particular Wild Bunch murder Buck's family, torch his house, and leave him for dead, before having a good old laugh about it, like all 80's animated villains should.

"..for no reason" Hmm... sure, Buck.

Buck, after recovering from his wounds, rides into town with plans to rain hot lead in harm's way. Finding a convenient notice board plastered with the faces of all his wife's killers, Buck prepares to unleash his Peckinpah-inspired bloodbath on the men and women who ruined his happy life.

Grab your lightgun kid, it's payback time...
Y'know? your lightgun...


Badlands doesn't have a lightgun. It has a button. One button.
Gameplay involves the player watching the randomly sequenced action unfold, and pressing a big red button when they think something needs to die. No muss, no fuss, no violence (except for the violence)
You literally just press the button when something threatening appears on screen, and the video then cuts to the target brutally shuffling off this mortal coil. Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, it would be, so Konami came up with a great idea to make things a bit more challenging/massively unfair.

The pressing of the button must coincide with particular frames of animation.
For example, if you shoot this skeleton on this frame of animation:

You will defeat him and move on, but if you shoot him on this frame of animation:

He'll ignore it and give Buck a nice hug, which turns him into a skeleton too.
(Hey, I didn't fucking write this.)

You may also be wondering why one of the undead has shown up in this Wild West town. The gang of bandits that casually killed Buck's family ("for no reason", mind) amount to ten scenes in all. That would be a fairly short adventure, so Konami threw in a whole host of other typically "old west" dangers in order to test your finely honed skill of "Pushing-a-red-button"
These threats are the kind that you would naturally associate with the pioneering days of America, such as:




Cycloptic golems:

Tricloptic sea monsters:

and pretty flower girls..

who transmorph into giant, mullet-sporting, hellspawn:

Yes, at some point, without explanation, Badlands casually returns to its native Japanese roots, and fills its world with anime monsters. It's a really jarring transition and no narrative reason is ever given for this.
Buck himself doesn't seem to give two shits about this trans-dimensional anomaly, vengeance is blind motherfucker, and he casually takes it in his stride as he murders his way toward the climax, a stormy showdown with gang leader Landolf (separated at birth with our own PhilKenSebben.)

Whilst all LD games are infamously well known for being pretty unfair, Badlands may be the worst of them all. There are no on-screen cues telling you when to time your shot, it was just expected that you'd learn the correct timing, hopefully through repeated death and the expenditure of much coin. It's a vicious style of one-frame muscle memory that would make even the most ardent SFIV player soil themselves.

This method of trial-and-error gameplay is obviously an expensive process, a common tactic of most LD games, and one that ensured Badlands was mostly forgotten during its short arcade run. The scenes themselves contain little to no continuity, dropping our hero all over the map, and randomly deciding whether to shorten or lengthen the action with jarring blackouts.

On the positive side, the video of the game is entertaining to watch, if only for the batshit progression of villains and the various "player death" scenes, which are all hilarious and creepy in equal measure. Fans of old-school anime and Saturday morning cartoons will also appreciate the recognisable animation style, though it pales alongside the luscious work done with several other Laserdisc games.
Badlands is one of the rarer LD cabinets, ranking a mere 6 on the KLOV scale (1 = rarest, 100 = most common) and the game only received a single home port to the MSX home computer.

Badlands would be Konami's only foray into the world of laserdisc. Within the following 12 months they would go on to knock it out of the park with arcades such as Hyper Sports, Rush n' Attack, Yie Ar Kung Fu and the legendary Gradius, leaving our man Buck to git outta Dodge for good.

They didn't even call him back for Sunset Riders.
Clearly, once you leave Konami, it's as if you never existed.

Thanks kindly for reading, much appreciated. I hope you enjoyed a look back at this forgotten gem game. I'm always interested in your stories, memories, feedback and darling conversation. Hope to see you here next time, when the pictures will be smaller.
Until then, the floor is open, so grab the mic, friends.

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About Chris Moyseone of us since 4:22 AM on 06.18.2010

Chris has been playing video games since video games began... still terrible at them. Former Saturday Night Slam Master, rambles nostalgically like Abe Simpson. I ain't here to fight, so let's not waste our time.

Mind like an encyclopedia.
Face like a phonebook.

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"My pen shall heal, not hurt.”
L.M. Montgomery