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Wreck-It Ralph

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How did you spend your Valentine’s evening? Roses? Chocolates? Candle lit dinners? Well I pity you all as I was treated by my lovely wife to an evening out to see Wreck-It Ralph, the new gaming-centric film from Disney.

Set in an arcade it follows the adventure of Ralph, a lummox who plays a role very similar to that of Donkey Kong in the great ape’s debut. Each time a quarter goes in the machine, Ralph scales a building, smashing it up on the way, and then hurls odds and sods down at the hero of the game, Fix-It Felix. After 30 years of doing this however the “bad guy” label is souring Ralph and he looks instead to become a hero. Hijinks ensue as Ralph then heads off around the arcade in search of recognition, glory, and something shiny.

Though Ralph, Felix and the rest of their game is complete fiction, a huge part of the draw to see Wreck-It Ralph was the lengths Disney had gone to make them feel part of real video gaming history. The well-publicised early trailer shows Ralph mixing with other “bad guys” Zangief from Street Fighter, Bowser from Super Mario, and Doctor Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog. Furthermore, the scenes set in Game Central Station drop countless nods and winks to many arcade games past and present. This is the Who Framed Roger Rabbit of gaming and with each cameo or hidden Easter Egg to our hobby it not only cements Ralph in the world but makes the uber-nerd in me squeal with excitement. At one point even Ali leaned over to me – breaking the code of conduct – and whispered “Is that ‘Leroy Jenkins’ graffiti on the wall behind Felix?“

With such great fan service there was a large part of me that worried whether the film would only hold its own because of these references. Thankfully, that’s not the case and I came out afterwards pleasantly entertained. After the early scene setting, Ralph and the cast break out into the handful of fictional arcade games that the plot revolves around and settles into traditional animated fare. There’s the humour, the side kick, the misunderstanding and then the triumphant return from the misunderstanding: a tale as old as Disney itself. Whilst not up to the lofty level set by Pixar, Disney hold their own and tread a good line between sentimentality, action and humour.

In the latter case there’s a good kid’s level of jokes that centres around silly insults and the mistaking of the world “duty” for something more faecal. For the adults, there aren’t too many sniggering at things kids wouldn’t understand; instead we get away with appreciating all the gaming references from our youth. It may be a different way to bring in both audiences when compared to the makers of Toy Story but it’s a solid tactic all the same as nostalgia is a very powerful thing.

It won’t stay with you as long as other animated classics, but for anyone looking for some extremely accomplished mainstream love for our pastime you can’t go far wrong.

Getting rid of the dead wood

When the takeover of Gamestation by Game was inked, there were assurances that the two brands would be kept separate in order to preserve the differences that made each of the two successful in their own way. One of these differences was Gamestation’s stock of retro games, stocking most platforms back to the mid-eighties and the NES.

For a few weeks now the internet has been making noises about how Gamestation are destroying their stock of all but the rarest retro games. Slightly concerned about where my impulse N64 buys would come from if this were true, I headed into their flagship store in Birmingham to take a look for myself and maybe stock up one last time.

I was too late, however. The only pre-PS2 games to be found were a hat-trick of the Megadrive’s Phantasy Star and five copies of Link’s Adventure for the NES. Even the Gamecube had been reduced to a mere handful of titles, whilst the Dreamcast was conspicuous by its absence. After having a word with the assistant behind the desk he confirmed that everything had been moved on and there had been indeed been a clearout. He also hinted heavily at the timing of this and Game’s acquisition.

The amount of money I may have sunk into Gamestation’s retro corner may not have been vast but they have always received a trickle of my income as my strategy has always been to trade in games once I’m done and buy them back once their cheap. Cheeky, I know, but I like to spin it as I get more money for my next first-hand purchase and someone else can try the game I’ve just discarded at second-hand prices.

Whatever you may think of my “tactic”, hopefully most you will agree that the possible destruction of hundreds if not thousands of old games cannot be a good thing. I’m sure if Gamestation had announced this was the last chance before they got the gaming equivalent of pulped many would have given a last concerted effort to save an orphaned copy of Sonic the Hedgehog from its fate, but now it appears that it is too late. Their online store is equally thinly stocked as everything on it seems to be “out of stock.”

And so to eBay we must turn. I am truly disappointed about this development because to wipe out such a large part of what made the Gamestation Gamestation, and one of the reasons I kept returning, is a drastic step indeed.