So a couple weeks back, the delightful Stuart Ashens managed to get his hands on a game some of us had been dying to see for a while: the one, the only, Chanticleer Hegemony.

For those not familiar with the backstory, Chanticleer Hegemony was a game oft promised yet ne’er revealed, at least until this moment. And no, it wasn’t vaporware. The reason it was so elusive was that it was one of a rotating, and frequently randomised, selection of games included with the handheld abominations collectively known as “POP Stations”: pound- or dollar-store LCD games, like Game & Watch but crappier, in housing that ripped off Sony’s PSP (hence the “POP”) as well as every other handheld console known to man, and a few that as yet are only known to the Big Man Downstairs.

Burning in hell, where it belongs.

Sporting a wide array of titles including Street Overlord (no relation to any other, more popular game whose name begins with “Street” and ends with a descriptor of a warlike individual), Nonsuch Racing (yachts are not involved) and Super Mary (I’ll let that speak for itself, while casually dropping the fact that “Mari” is how Mario is typically pronounced in Chinese), as well as many other versions of these same three games with slightly different LCD graphics, the POP Station is mostly notable for being amusing in its terribleness. But perhaps more amusing than any of the titles actually on offer was one that was listed on a small number of POP Station boxes but repeatedly failed to turn up inside. That game, of course, was Chanticleer Hegemony: a game whose title, in less archaic English, roughly translates to “Chicken Dominion”.

So, long story short, “Chanticleer Hegemony” was one of those things you whispered at friends in the know to make them bust out laughing. The game itself, now that it’s been found, turns out to be a clone of the Street Overlord game with chickeny graphics, at which no one is surprised. (Though it does have great chicken sound effects!) Ultimately, as we all knew it would be, the game was funnier (and more intriguing) when we didn’t know what it was; with a name like that and a platform like the POP Station, it could never live up to its memetic status. And yet, when I saw on Ashens’ channel that it had finally been discovered, I admit… my heart skipped a beat. The Bio Force Ape of shanzhai, here at last!

Not to wax too lyrical about a horrible reskin of a horrible LCD knockoff of Street Fighter – oh, who am I kidding, this blog is entirely for waxing lyrical about things like this – but I think the whole thing put me in mind of a lot of similar, more legitimate experiences I’ve had with video games.

As I alluded to in my post on Gals Panic, a lot of early games had titles that were just word-salady enough to haunt the brain, while half-convincing you that you’d fever-dreamed them up. Actually, this is still true today – think Bravely Default – but these days developers generally know what they doing when they render the title overly literally, or as is, from the Japanese. It’s a form of kitsch that’s intentionally capitalised on because it’s cool, these days, to signal that your game has a Japanese lineage. Less so in the past, when publishers feared that if their games looked too “Oriental” nobody would buy them, and weird, clunky titles marked the more obscure games, the ones that slipped through the net because their publishing houses didn’t know any better.

Iunno, this always struck me as kinda culturally insensitive…

To a kid who’d never heard of any of those games before, seeing these strange titles listed in some back-of-the-mag small-print ad or glimpsing them in an arcade lit a fire under the imagination. What could we expect from a game called Nuts & Milk? Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together? Even Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy, though we’re used to them nowadays, are unusual-sounding when you think about it. I remember my mother worrying about my keen desire to buy the newest “Final Fantasy” game for PC because, to her, it sounded pornographic; I had to patiently explain that, no, it was “fantasy” as in Tolkien, not “fantasy” as in sexual. (Thankfully she never saw Wall Market.)

It’s easy to laugh at this as a gamer, but think back to when times were simpler for you, when the titles of these now-familiar franchises were an enticing mystery. Behind each of these titles, we knew, was a portal that could catapult us into wondrous worlds; figuring out which ones were worth the trip, and the price tag, was a challenge to which we devoted our minds. One of the things we learnt early on was that the stranger the title sounded, the more likely it was, if not to be good necessarily, then at least to be a departure from the norm: something to tickle our fancy for the barely-comprehensible, to give us, here in the West, a taste of a culture and a way of seeing things that at the time was utterly alien to us.

I never expected Chanticleer Hegemony to be anything like good, or even intriguingly strange. But for a while, the little saga of its elusiveness took me back to those days when, with only a flimsy paper guidebook in our hands in the form of a magazine, we wandered mostly uncharted territory, searching for treasures unknown.

Besides, the sound effects really are great.

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2 thoughts on “Chanticleer Hegemony, and Other Stories

  1. I want a version of Super Mary with caped nuns and 8-bit Christian iconography.

    Oddly, it’s never occurred to me before that companies are actually capitalizing on the word-salad-ness of Japanese titles to show their games’ prestigious Japanese lineage. I thought it was just that they’d wised up to the fact that fans would complain if they changed it, and that we generally prefer things to be brought over with as few changes as possible. Bravely Default has a game mechanic called “default”, so that would have spawned in-game text changes as well, were they to remove every utterly nonsensical instance of it (as far as I’ve played, that’s all of them).

    Come to think of it, titles made of generic phrases scream “Japanese game” as much as word salad does: would an English-speaking marketer with any sense think “Paladin’s Quest” or “The Last Story” were memorable names? (Even if we were the only person on the planet who wouldn’t be accused of making something sound like an off-brand “Final Fantasy” for the latter.)

    To sum up this directionless reply: I think a chanticleer is specifically a rooster (I’ve always vaguely wondered whether it was related to the word “canticle”, being the kind of farmbird known for singing).

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    1. Hm! I never thought of it your way, either; maybe that’s the correct explanation. Either seems feasible.

      I would so play that version of Super Mary. Back when I was in that stage of my kidhood/early teenhood where I would constantly invent new video games in my head (and, more often than not, on paper on my mother’s old typewriter), I was really into the idea of a nun game.

      Of course, as a kid I just wanted the nuns to blow things up, because omgz CONTRAVERSEYal!!11. As an adult, I have some rather more nuanced ideas of what a game involving nuns could be like… but I’m keeping those under my hat (or wimple), in case I actually decide to do something with them someday.

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