Sunday, January 20, 2008

TEAL: Propeller Arena - Prologue

Butt rock.

Back in the beginning of the Sixth Generation, back when we still compared consoles by the "bitpower" of their processors, back when journalist integrity wasn't the concern of the many internet-faring gamers, I was less discriminating of where I got my industry news from. All I needed were the previews; tidbits of information on the exciting features of imminent releases and the screenshots to corroborate them. In those days, I trekked no further than IGN.

At the time, Sony and Sega were the only factions to show up to this season of the console wars, and I had sided squarely with the Dreamcast. Two years had passed since Sonic Adventure won me over, and I was eagerly awaiting all the news I could get on every new release. Of course, there were the obvious blockbusters, but one of the things that I appreciate now in the Dreamcast is the number of unconventional games to be found on it, the same unconventionality Propeller Arena could be accused of.

Propeller Arena is an action-oriented, flight game, focusing on dogfighting and aerial tricks played out by the usual cast of diverse, over-the-top characters. I'd like to think that the reason Propeller Arena sticks in my mind was more, logically. Perhaps the prospect of online dogfighting seemed fun. Or maybe it was the amusing cast of characters and wide array of environments. Then again, I am an arcade fan. The chance at some old-fashioned arcade action could have been enough to pique my interest. Strangely, though, that's not what pops to the forefront when I recall my early excitement for the game.

The first few previews I read classified the soundtrack as belonging to a genre I hadn't come across before. 80s-esque power chords, cheese-filled lyrics, and generic riffs. The name of the game was butt rock. I don't know why the term seems to hold such fascination for me. Well, that's not true. Where others might see "butt rock" as a derogatory term, I find myself thinking, hey, I could kind of get into that. As such, the chance to partake in this game, a vessel for an unseen frontier in music, seemed to be what placed it on my wishlist. What makes it so hard to wrap my head around now is that, in reality, "butt rock" has the least to do with Propeller Arena as it presently exists. The "final" US version features more of a punk vibe than anything, licensing bands from Fat Wreck Chords. Even the AM2-produced music doesn't spring to mind visions of spandex and big hair.

I say "final" because, though Propeller Arena was pretty much gold-master, it never saw an official release. September 11 put it on the shelf for sensitivity concerns, and the death of the Dreamcast saw the game buried alongside Sega's last console. Of course, that's not gonna stop me from playing it. Like many of the other nearly-released versions of forgotten games, Propeller Arena has found a venue on the internet. It's a trivial matter to find a torrent of the US version, and the resulting disk image can be burned and played in the Dreamcast without hassle.

It might never see the limelight, but the least I can do is give it a thorough play-through. I've dabbled in the game before, usually quick bouts or training missions mostly, but I've never given it the attention this gaming anomaly deserves. I intend to rectify that, and intend for you to follow me.

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