I've Never Seen Such - Such Beautiful Pixels Before

I’ve talked a bit about retro games here, and, looking back, I think my tone on the subject of new games designed with 8-bit graphics and gameplay skews towards ambivalence. I predicted that the fad would die out quickly and was wrong. My antipathy for F. Scott Fitzgerald has not made an appearance on my blog, for the sole reason that it doesn’t fit. I’m as vociferous a detractor of Fitzgerald’s as anyone else, I assure. My reaction to reading The Great Gatsby in high school ran towards something along the lines of “no shit,” and I winced at Pilgrim’s then girlfriend comparing me with Gatsby, which was probably more true at the time than I’d like to admit even now. And “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a horrific, awful story that I hate, hate, hate.
A teacher whose acquaintance I recently made introduced me to this little game, the project of a couple of amateur developers who happen to adore Fitzgerald. She plans to use the game when teaching Gatsby to her students, and, to my surprise, I think it a brilliant instructional tool. No other game captures so well the key scenes of a novel, or so humorously. The 8-bit, Ninja Gaiden-esque cinema sequences of Nick watching Gatsby gazing at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock or Daisy wondering at the magnificence of Gatsby’s “beautiful shirts” are funny as hell and come more or less verbatim from the text.

The game itself resembles a later era, post-Mario 3 NES platformer. The player scrolls from left to right as Nick Carraway, throwing his hat at drunken party guests, snooty butlers, and dancing flappers at Gatsby’s party, and even meets Owl Eyes in an pixilated rendering of Gatsby’s library. The mechanics are all fairly tight. The jumping physics are easy to handle and Nick’s hat travels like a boomerang when thrown. It’s very well put together as a game, albeit a bit short. There are only four levels, but the player will encounter, among others, the eyes of T. J. Eckleburg in the Valley of Ashes (they shoot lasers at Nick) and Meyer Wofesheim with the New York Yankees as end-level bosses.

The game can be played for free on its website, itself a thing of nerdy beauty. The developers have gone full out with the presentation, claiming that they found their product as an unreleased cart sold at a yard sale, the localized version of a Japanese game called "Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari,” which means something along the lines of “Thump-thump Townhouse: The story of Gatsby.” They even include a magazine ad and a mocked up manual with an enemy list, all of which resemble actual NES era documents. The attention to detail permeates the game, as the color palette resembles that of the actual Nintendo hardware, and the credits include special thanks to H. Sakaguchi, N. Uematsu, and Y. Amano, Final Fantasy fans will be pleased to know.

What a fun little time-waster, and clever to boot. It’s been tweeted about 11,000 times as of this writing, and shared on facebook by over 60,000. Other games have taken classic literature as their inspiration, most recently the awfully stupid Dante’s Inferno, but it was not wholly unheard of even in the 8-bit era. Bandit Kings of Ancient China is a strategy title based on The Water Margin, and I cannot even begin to list all of the games based on Journey to the West, or the number of RPGs and action titles that take characters and events from Greek mythology. If it means anything to programmer Charlie Hoy, his Great Gatsby Game would have been the best adaptation of classic literature on the system had it only been made twenty years ago, and the most unexpectedly good. He should expand it and get it released on Nintendo’s Wii/Dsi Ware, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace, and Sony’s Playstation Network.

Or the reader can just play the four existing levels for free, on their site. Really, play this game. This is what an intentionally retro-game ought to be like.

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