When Naked City's self-titled LP debuted in February of 1989, it brought with it a whole new way of looking at music. Inspired by everything from Napalm Death to John Coltrane with cartoon composer Carl Stalling as the great unifier, what John Zorn and crew brought to the musical table was genre hopping; often, within the same song. Naked City was one minute Ornette Coleman, the next Brutal Truth, and then whatever the hell they felt like. The sound has aptly been compared to a radio on seek; that is, if each station you came upon featured the same band playing something different. It went on to inspire avant rock for years to come; indeed, where would Mike Patton and his associates be without Naked City?
Refrencing Naked City seems like the best way to lead in to ROM CHECK FAIL, a quirky freeware game born out of Tigsource's Video Game Name Generator competition. RCF is almost the literal video game equivalent to Naked City; imagine if someone wrote a program for the Wii that randomly and dynamically switched virtual console games on the fly. One minute you're Link facing off against a horde of Ghombas; the next, you're the ship from Defender versus the Space Invaders in a Pac-Manified version of the first stage from Donkey Kong to the tune of Stage 1 Double Dragon.
Despite the absurd mess that the above makes ROM CHECK FAIL sound like- and in some ways it is- it is a real game with a set, achievable goal. A few things stay the same despite the random changes: each stage has a set geometry that doesn't really change (though its textures do); your goal, whatever you are at any given point, is to destroy all enemies onscreen, whatever they are at any given point. Kill them all, you move on to the next stage (twenty stages in all).
In reality, the game itself is about as simplistic as most of the games that its emulating. The real fun comes from the absurd clash of game mechanics that come from the switches. It's not just sprite changes; both you and the enemies play like they would in their respective games, and that means everything. It adds a whole new layer as far as attention goes: since each "phase" of the game lasts for something like ten seconds, your position becomes a thing to look after. For example, if you have a line of floating asteroids right above you that suddenly become solid, gravity bound Ghombas and drop, you're screwed. And then you have Pac-Man, a character that starts running in whatever direction you were previously pointed towards as soon as the switch occurs, which gave me more than a few instant deaths. Luckily, that's not impossible to master. As you play, you pretty quickly get a feel for how long each segment lasts, and the game does give you fair warning in that the screen and sound glitch a few seconds before.
And then there's the game's replay factor. I'm honestly hyper-skeptical of most claims that "no two play-throughs in X game (*COUGHLEFT4DEADCOUGH*) are the same!", but this game is the most literal interpretation of that idea that I have ever seen. When I say that no two games are the same, I mean the appearance of the stages, the music, the enemies, and hell, even the character you control. ROM CHECK FAIL embraces randomness in almost every aspect of the game, and it's kept me playing through multiple times. Luck plays an important part, too. A stage that might take me several minutes could also be completed in less than a few seconds; it's all based on the luck of the player character/enemy combo draw. Of course, therein lies the games biggest flaw (if you want to call it that): it doesn't even pretend to be a balanced game. Several of the player characters, such as the Spy Hunter car and the Defender ship have ranges limited to 1-2 directions. In the case of the near-useless Space Invaders tank, not only do you get one firing direction, you lose y-axis movement. When your enemies are bubbles or ghosts, you're pretty much finished. It's frustrating, sure. But the game, in general, is definitely on the easy side. You gain extra lives at the drop of a hat, and it's pretty well guaranteed that you'll at least make it to the last few stages on your first try.
With ROM CHECK FAIL, developer Farbs has created a rapid fire nostalgia-fest viewed through the lense of a trigger-happy radio selector. It's equal parts classic arcade, WarioWare, and Naked City. RCF is a game that does John Zorn and Yamatsuka Eye damn proud.
Free download from the offical website
Some Naked City for your listening pleasure:
Jazz-Snob, Eat Shit!