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Vol. 2, Issue 6
December 14, 1999

Pixel Obscura:

Tales of the Grotesque

by Josh Vasquez



s if painfully aware of just how far from the physical world they are, video game cinematics are always striving to be a fleshier part of our privileged third dimensional perspective. A major goal of most games is to wow the audience with its ability to mimic the everyday, a desire complicated, ironically, by the added want of creating an arena for fantasy play. I suppose that a triumphant game design is one that brings to life the unreal at the heart of the real: the world made wonderfully strange.

Modern sports games, however, are the big exception; there the drive for realism is not linked to a further desire to shadow that reality with the impossible. Altering this formula casts the game into a kind of genre limbo. Is it competitive or comic? Realistic or fantastic?

Ready 2 Rumble, a new sports game for the Sega Dreamcast, is centered around a boxing match, one made to look both familiar and oddly alien. The designers seem to be taking a cue from a real-life cartoon, professional wrestling. Pro wrestling is a programmed distortion of reality, a soap opera in the coliseum emblazoned with explosions, theme songs and rivalries. The human body is portrayed as able to sustain violence on an apocalyptic scale, battered and bloodied by punches that never connect. Wrestlers are themselves walking distortions, sweating animations sculpted by meat hooks.

Rumble is boxing seen through the color encrusted eye holes of a Mexican wrestler’s mask. By manipulating proportion, the creators subvert an otherwise life like atmosphere...at least in the opening.

The piece is a salad of cuts put to music, nothing more and nothing less but still interesting. The poor jerk whose career now consists of those endlessly repeated five words “llllllllet’s get ready to rumbbbblllleee” gets us started, arm spread wide in an indicting gesture as his smile cracks across his face with that same kind of glee that a corpse might show if you ran electric current through it. Throughout the stadium the fighters prepare: in the dark of the locker room, in the circling walkways, in the spotlight of the ring. There are four men: a Mike Tyson-esque no neck type, a blond Doc Savage wannabe, a drippingly oversized behemoth and a grooving slickster with a mighty afro. Each is cast in the light of the Dreamcast design, a creepy realistic definition that makes them all look carved out of butter and beef. Each preens as a chorus of women in bathing suits chants the ready to rumble theme, a faux club track with the standard rap mantra cum claxon alarm cry “hoo, hoo” thrown in for good measure. The fighters dance around, nodding to the crowd and sparring with invisible enemies before finally coming face to face in a rapid fire series of rocketing blows.

Again, I do not want to oversell this bit. There is nothing of substance here, only a clever use of montage...but clever it is and therefore deserving of praise. The editing is quite good, something rare in even the narratively simplest of game openings. The cuts synch well with the pop and slide rhythm of the music, limbs and hunched shoulders inter cut with banner waving girls, a spectacle by way of a laughing Francis Bacon. Rumble’s figures are both animated and real, the announcer and the girls mapped onto the game from the physical world of image, looking like bleached holograms.

The animated fighters are interestingly imagined, something about them both blocky and graceful. They are cartoons who have skinned humans and donned that fleshy costume, stretching it to fit their “unreality.” Their movement is smooth yet not inhuman, almost lethargic like a profound gravity sinking the fantasy to earth.

Ready 2 Rumble’s cinematics are not the product of any deep consideration, but are a clever play on the grotesque. The creators place distortion in the service of reality and send the whole thing off on a popish spin. Like a kaleidoscope pattern, it’s simply enjoyable to watch.

- Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames. He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee Magazine.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1999 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.