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Super Russian Roulette: It's all fun and games until you end up with a hole in your head

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Russian roulette is the ultimate game of chance where players load up a revolver with one bullet, point it at their own heads, and take turns pulling the trigger. It’s an insane way to pass the time that usually leaves everyone but the winner dead or seriously injured. However, what if there was a way to play it without running the risk of getting a pesky hole-in-the head? 

Prepare to have your mind blown, (pun intended) by an independent developer named Andrew Reitano, and his company, Batlab Electronics.  Super Russian Roulette is a new Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game that allows up to three players to partake in a game of chance without endangering anyone. Yes, this is an actual cartridge released in 2017 for a game console from the 1980’s.  It’s meant to be played with the Nintendo Zapper, a light gun which was normally used to shoot pixelated 8-bit ducks on an ancient CRT tube TV.  This game asks for gamers to aim it at their own heads which may invoke strange psychological feelings.

Are you going to shoot me now, or wait 'till you get home?

Up to three players can compete against an enigmatic, trash-talking cowboy in a game of chance, and unlike most games, the computer-controlled cowboy has the same odds of dying as any other player. After dying, he plops face down onto his table in an eerie silence of death, which leaves the party to trash talk and make noise on their own.

 He will randomly compliment or trash-talk an entire group and even nickname players things like “pumpkin butt” using actual speech. This was achieved by capturing “over 4 minutes of speech recorded by Rob Kurtz in glorious 8KHz Delta Pulse Code Modulation,” according to Reitano’s Kickstarter campaign page.  That may not sound like much, but with the creative mixing of the various words and phrases, there is far more speech than any other NES game.  Don’t expect CD quality sound from the voice samples, but they are clean enough to not detract from the game, and impressive for an 8-bit machine from the 80’s.  

In-game graphics are bright and colorful with the cowboy character encompassing most of the screen. His background is a plain green color for technical reasons, but this allows for him to have a variety of animations such as reading a magazine, mooning you, and even dancing on top of his table. The animations play randomly, and change just enough to feel fresh most of the time. Within the options screen, his clothing, skin tone, moustache style, facial hair, and eye color can be customized. Make him are scary, or as garish as you’d like.

The list of negatives is short.  Visual animations and sounds can be a bit choppy, but considering that the hardware the game was designed for is over 30 years old, it’s completely understandable. The gameplay isn’t particularly deep, but it’s not meant to be. This is purely a pick-up-and-play party game that’s designed for drunken social gatherings. 

Cost could dissuade some people with a barebones cartridge priced at $55, and a fully boxed game with manual at $70.  These may seem like exorbitant prices, but programming, hiring a voice actor, a sound person, a graphics artist, and then manufacturing all-new parts for a long-discontinued console aren’t cheap.  For such a graphic premise, there is also a surprising lack of blood and gore. The game opts for “cartoony” violence instead which may or may not upset some people.

Super Russian Roulette is a rare example of an independent “homebrew” game that meets and even exceeds the quality of many official releases.  Everything from the packaging, to the music and graphics, were lovingly crafted to make a game that surpasses its technical shortcomings with a charm that many indie games lack these days.  Even more impressive is that unlike many faux 8-bit and 16-bit style games, this was done within the limitations of real hardware. The cowboy is an endearing game character that quickly becomes a part of your group, and surpasses his technical limitations to truly suspend your disbelief.   In my opinion, the game is absolutely worth its price, and a worthy addition to any adult gamer’s collection.

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