By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
Blasto, Flash Gordon and the darkly wonderful 1930's
very Saturday evening around eleven o'clock on the New Jersey PBS station, just after Doctor Who had come to a close, I waited for the next installment of the theatre of magical shadows to begin. Dreams of the future in the form of a 1930's Flash Gordon serial took control of the television for a fragile twenty minutes. Flash, played by the superstar of serialized tales Larry "Buster" Crabbe, battled his way across the distant planet Mongo braving jungles and ice fields, aerial duels and robotic harbingers of doom. Presiding over the forces of evil, Ming the Merciless ruled Mongo with all the powers of despotic darkness, ever determined to destroy Flash.
The Flash Gordon serials were hailed as triumphs of the genre when they came out in the Thirties. Even now, looking back over sixty years later, they manage to still play out like dashing fantasy: Winsor McCay moving at light speed, painted by the darkly futuristic brushes of Aldous Huxley. Perhaps it is the serials' earnestly which helps them transcend any financial limitations. When the ships pop and fizzle in the air, swaying to and fro by the lines used to hold them in flight, or when the monstrous threats wobble and shake, charmingly close to collapse, it doesn't damage the wonder. The serials provided the ultimate escape; they were presented as serious tales of adventure and never pandered in a tongue-in-cheek way to their young audience. There is something timeless and very touching about this loyalty between dreamer and dream.
Flash Gordon exists in a world which is only impressed with black and whites because the true colors are beyond imagining, as dynamic as the novas of energy unleashed as our hero battles five men at once or seems to fall headfirst into a flaming pit of despair. The smiles which often accompany the modern viewer's watching of these comic book trials is usually the child of loving laughter, a deep fondness for a lost cinematic wonderland. A new videogame recalls that faded period with humorous precision.
Blasto, developed and released by Sony in 1998, touches on the spirit of the Thirties future hero while merging it with the Technicolor madness of Looney Tunes. Blasto sports a blonde hairdo, reminiscent of Buster Crabbe's famous locks, which defies the natural order by waving in the air like a cobra being charmed. His upper body balloons out over his lower extremities in a comic parody of the heroic figure. Blasto's character is one of supreme confidence and swaggering skill, a masked Captain Kirk. This is perfectly conveyed by the talents of the late Phil Hartman whose booming, ever so smarmy "hero" voice matches Blasto's physique to a tee. The opening piece works wonderfully: the viewer watches the "camera" weave through a metal construct, which reveals itself to be a massive, encircled B, while listening to a driving musical build up transform into a heroic theme.
The scene shifts to the capitol of the evil aliens. The viewer is taken through the gates of a towering city, down a long corridor as various mechanisms pass by, and finally into the main citadel in which thousands of little green fanatics explode with cheers. The leader address his minions, screaming at them to shut up as he plots his fiendish revenge against earth. The scene recalls the rallies in Citizen Kane as imagined by Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. The alien leader grimaces and shakes his fists like a miniature Ming the Merciless. The scene shifts to our hero Blasto sitting in his jumbo econo-sized ship reminiscent of the Duck Dodgers cartoon, which, along with Flash Gordon, the creators have sited as an aesthetic influence. Blasto accepts the challenge of battling the dastardly alien menace and the game begins.
The game itself is set in a free roving 3D world; one can move Blasto anywhere within the pixel universe. Besides being a very nice idea for a videogame in general this playing aspect gives Blasto the feel of a controllable cartoon. Both the music and the sound effects are just right, the former recalling Danny Elfman's warbling score for Mars Attacks and Ed Wood while the latter captures details down to the finest nuance of the laser zap. One can only look forward to the further adventures of Blasto.
The most enchanting thing about Sony's Blasto is that it commandeers a decades old flame with style, the blacks and whites bleeding to color and the dream fondly remembered. It is as if a little piece of the Flash Gordon serials broke off, fell through a "cartoonageddon" and landed in a new wonderland of further adventures.
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1998 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.