Animal Crossing 007 – From Twycross With Love

Christmas has come early to Twycross! Well, if you spend your Christmases labouriously entering alphanumeric codes, anyway. As I touched upon last time, it’s possible, if unwieldy, to exchange goods with remote towns by telling Nook the item, player and town that they’re destined for and then passing along the code he regurgitates.

It was well worth the effort, of course – Robin had sent a Master Sword he’d found in Serenity’s Lost & Found office – well, a copy, more accurately. Once you’ve discovered a particular item in Animal Crossing you’re able to order as many duplicates as you like, which encourages you to share without risking your own collection in the process.

The American version of the game also came with a “grab bag” from Nintendo, which turned out to contain K. K. Slider tune and – wheee! – a couple of NESes which, when arrange in your house, let you play creaking Nintendo titles Tennis and Golf. They’re not the shining highlights of the catalogue, having been created in that post-Atari era where games crudely aped reality rather than exploring their creative potential, but they were nice to tinker with all the same. (That said, the Gameboy version of Golf still reigns supreme.)

Meanwhile, some online investigation revealed that the Nintendo Power website, while naturally defunct after a decade, was still being hosted online and displaying its most recent rare item – this turned out to be a Starman which makes you flash, Mario-style, when interacted with.  Some thoughtful soul has collated all of these ancient codes, so my intention is to use one in each blog post from now on – hopefully none of the contents have perished in the last ten years.

Out in the wild, I decided – inspired by a throwaway comment I made last time – to try planting a money tree in one of the glowing golden patches that crop up from time to time, since it had worked so well with my shovel. While I was able to rebury the money bags and summon a tiny golden sapling, none of my crimes against nature seemed to take root and were gone before long. Horticulture and alchemy don’t mix, it would appear.

My plans to send Robin a wardrobe in return for the Legendary Sword of Evil’s Bane – it’s perfectly fair, shut up – were nipped in the bud by the bane of my existence, Tom Nook. Having greedily raked in enough of my bells with his scams and extortion he’d decided to upgrade his shop, and wasn’t willing to let me in. I was tempted to write him a strongly-worded letter, but went fishing instead. Bottling up perfectly justified irritation and taking it out on helpless animals – it’s the British way!

Mitzi the cat had previously advised me to wait for a rainy day, a tactic I’d learned in another lifetime chasing the elusive Hylian Loach, so with the pitter-patter of virtual raindrops all around me I slung my fishing rod whimsically into the air, nearly taking my eye out, and plodded to the beach. Glory – or pneumonia – awaited!

Actually, coelacanths awaited, helpfully dumbed down to “living fossils” by the game. The rain had brought the prehistoric beasties out to play and not only was Blathers pellet-spewingly happy to receive one, Tom Nook was willing to buy them for a staggering fifteen thousand bells each – which, obviously, was my afternoon’s activity sorted.

An hour’s fishing was enough to completely clear the debt of my recent house extension, leaving me gloriously solvent for at least thirty glorious seconds – at which point I ventured back into Nook’s newly-opened gas station only to be forced into a conversation about which house upgrade I wanted next. Not upgrading wasn’t an option – literally. Talk about your hard sells.

I plumped for the basement rather than another house extension, largely because I was eager to have a more private location for my toilet. Not that my character can actually relieve himself, of course, but it’s the principle of the thing.  Hygiene, and that.

The following day, having returned from whatever hell my character’s plunged into when the game’s not running, I was greeted with a flight of stairs leading down into a remarkably spacious basement. I was genuinely disappointed to discover that you can’t redecorate it, and apparently its existence has no effect on the rating that your house receives – in a game all about customisation and creation it seems rather hard-hearted not to let me stick a rug down. Still, it had only cost me 50,000 bells, so I can’t complain at what amounts to the world’s largest wardrobe.

Another week in my virtual Twycross had come to an end, with a week in the real one looming over my shoulder. I couldn’t stray for too long, however – after all, the harvest moon was just around the corner…

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Animal Crossing 006 – Trevelyan

It’s been a busy week in Neo-Twycross; cats have arrived, alchemy has been performed and I’ve decided to murder Blathers the owl. Firstly, though, I need to rectify a mistake I made when starting this blog – I blithely assumed that everyone reading would be familiar with Animal Crossing already.

Not so. To that end, I thought I’d bring new readers up to speed so my wittering on about Mr. Resetti or K.K. Slider at least makes eye-contact with sanity once in a while. Ahem: Animal Crossing is a game in which you, a cutely-stylised human, arrive in a town full of animals to make a life and a home for yourself.

There are no levels to complete, no bosses to conquer – aside from an initial “tutorial” that sees you completing simple tasks to pay for your house, you’re free to pass the day as you see fit. That said, your neighbours won’t stay in a weed-infested slum for very long, so it’s in your best interests to improve the town, fill the local museum and generally keep
people happy if you don’t want to end up sitting in a swamp by yourself strumming a banjo.

The world exists in real-time; if you fire the game up at night, it’ll be quiet and dusky, with golden houselights spilling out into the trees. Pop to town in mid-winter and you’ll be rewarded with the crunching of snow under your adorable little boots. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to see everything, which is where the compulsion to communicate and share comes in.

Nintendo’s hope is that the entire family will share Animal Crossing together, each staying in one of the town’s four houses and playing the game when it suits them – the kids play when they come home from school, Mum plays late at night after a long day of bounty-hunting, and so on – and that they’ll leave each other notes, presents and practical jokes along the way. If you know the details of someone else with the game, you can convert objects into unique passwords and trade that way.

Animal Crossing has consistently sold well and has spawned a number of sequels on more modern hardware, taking advantage of voice chat and internet connectivity, but (so far) these blog posts chronicle my adventures in the Gamecube original, which passed me by when it was released because I was frozen in carbonite on the wall of Jabba’s palace.

I’ve not been in town long, but I’m starting to find my feet and it seems as though my diligent discovery of fossils is starting to have an impact upon the town. More and more new arrivals are springing up – Olivia, another cat, has moved in next to Mitzi – and now that I’ve found an axe, I’ve begun thinning out some of the more obstructive thickets and planting replacement trees in places I’m not going to smack into them – a sort of arboreal fung shui session, if you like.

What I’m not doing anywhere near enough is writing letters to people – with little to no hope of finding the special “keyboard controller” released at the time, writing anything more than a cheerful haiku to the townspeople is an immensely frustrating experience. If only Nintendo had predicted, er, predictive text a decade ago, writing in-game would be far more pleasant, albeit accidentally obscene from time to time.

Still, time spent not writing letters was time spent fiddling with the mysterious golden patches that spring up periodically around town; digging one up usually earns you a substantial number of bells to spend, but burying your shovel (using a second shovel to avoid any unwanted paradoxes) sows a special golden sprout. Once it’s fully grown, shaking it will reveal that you’ve successfully cultivated a shovel tree, and a golden spade is your reward. (I wonder if whoever keeps burying these sacks of bells is trying to
grow a money tree…)

If there’s one thing I’d particularly like to do with my new spade, it’s smack Blathers the owl with it. The narcoleptic museum curator not only goes through the same torturous dialogue every time I wake him up, but proceeds to tell me how much he hates insects every single time he’s presented with one. I’m not sure what Nintendo’s fascination with long-winded owls is all about, but it makes a trip to Nook’s with my fossils and cicadas far more tempting than another button-mashing speech from pellet-boy. Still, I’m
persevering. For science.

My errands on Saturday were far more surprising – checking my mailbox for returned fossils also revealed a flyer from Nook, informing me of a sale beginning in thirty minutes time. More of this sort of thing, please, Animal Crossing – it’s nice to be given little clues and invitations to what the game has to offer, and the short wait only fuelled my anticipation to see what was going to happen.

While I was hanging around waiting for Nook’s sale, I stumbled across a familiar blue chicken – it was Rhoda, the ungrateful wretch who’d recently upped sticks to Robin’s hometown of Serenity. Sadly, she wasn’t in town to grovel at my feet and beg forgiveness for her treacherous ways, but it was a genuinely surprising incident nonetheless. Almost as surprising as the hideous green shirt Nook had on sale, which I’m now wearing purely because Astrid had told me she wanted first dibs, and I hate her.

Speaking of Robin, some mysterious codes have just arrived. What could he possibly have sent me? Well, that’ll have to wait until the next update – I’m up to Nook’s to type in some 30-digit codes with a Gamecube controller. I may be some time…

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Animal Crossing 005 – Enslaved

Time for an update from Twycross – the one on my Wii ,that is, not the actual one which would be all about tractors and drizzle. It’s been a busy week and I’ve started to settle into an Animal Crossing routine, of sorts…

On the first day, the first thing I did when logging on was check my mailbox – a letter from home! Hooray. “Dear Chris. I found this while I was out hunting for bargains. It didn’t look good on me, so I sent it to you. –Mom.” Gee, wow, golly, etc. This is revenge for that drum kit I never played when I was 10, isn’t it?

Later I found some gynoids and was initially under the impression that they’d replace my current mailbox, perhaps allowing me to store more items, that sort of thing. Turns out all they do is sit in my house and freak me out – so off to Nook with them.

Cheri, the red bear, asked me to deliver something to Rhoda – who, of course, now lives in Robin’s town of Serenity. Unfortunately her tight time limit didn’t gel to well with real-world commitments (like shipping a game) and she eventually grabbed the package back off me to deliver it herself. Oh well.

Speaking of Serenity, the net and fishing rod I bought there let me catch dinner for a wandering walrus, capture a flag stag beetle (2000 bells, thank-you-very-much) and start the long road to populating the town museum.

Oh, I have two new visitors – one, a nervous cat named Mitzi, is most welcome. The other’s a large bunny called Astrid who seems to be doubling as a con-artist, offering to exchange my wall for a floor sight unseen, or empty my wallet for some wallpaper. I’m steering clear of her, quite frankly, even if her name IS an anagram of TARDIS.

Astrid’s dodgy deals pale into insignificance next to that bloody raccoon, however. Having paid off my debt to Nook he promptly offered to repaint my roof – neglecting to mention that he’d also drastically increase the size of my house and then proceed to charge me a staggering 148,000 bells for the privilege. It’s not all bad news, though – I found a bed in the lost property office! Now I have something to lie awake in at night and fret about
my latest debt to Grand Vizier Nook.

I’ve been consistently impressed with the game’s pacing – the limited inventory, coupled with the sheer amount of collectibles dotted around the landscape, means that there’s always “just one more thing for the museum” – and, of course, you stop off on the way back to examine something, but your inventory’s full of fruit so you need to drop THAT off…  Wait, what, it’s midnight?

Whether or not the game can keep surprising me with new content is another question entirely – I’m a completionist, but Animal Crossing might find it hard to fend off the likes of Gears 3 if all it can offer me is the promise of finishing off my butterfly collection. Only
time will tell…

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Animal Crossing 004 – Browncoats

It lacks of the connectivity of its DS and Wii descendants, of course, but the Gamecube version of Animal Crossing isn’t an entirely solo experience. There’s a password-based trading system, for one thing, but today I’m taking a rather more direct route: with his memory card in my Slot B, I’m off on a train journey to visit my friend, Robin, and his home village.

13:20 – Before heading to the station, I check my mailbox – I’ve got a letter back from
Pompom. To say that she was creeped out by my attempts to compliment her beak
would be an understatement.  I guess I breached some form of duck protocol. Well, maybe by the time I get back she’ll have calmed down… To the train depository!

13:25 – On the train heading to Serenity. I imagine it’s in a valley.

13:27 – It’s Rover!

13:30 – And here we are in Serenity. Even the soil seems different…

13:35 – Nook’s outlet in Serenity is a large, stately affair. Not sure how he got here ahead
of me, mind you. Still, with both a fishing rod and a bug net for sale I’m a very happy customer.

13:37 – Scrumping! This’ll go down reaaaaaaal nice in Twycross.

13:42 – Heading back to Twycross with my fruit, having introduced myself around. There’s no place like home, if I do say—oh, hello again, Rover…

13:50 – Running around
like a lunatic planting exotic fruits. I’ve also caught my first bug!

14:05 – Time to
send some of these fossils off to the Farway Museum for identification, and
that’ll be the last of my chores for the day.

At this point, I think I’m familiar enough with the basics
not to continue with the blow-by-blow account of my adventures. I’m still going
to keep playing, but my blog entries from now one will be periodic recaps.
Maybe weekly – we’ll see!

She’s just playing hard to get.

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Animal Crossing 003 – Fowl Ambitions

The weekend has arrived, and while a man dressed like a shock trooper takes a buzzsaw to a stubborn tree stump in my garden – which is a lot less exciting to watch than it sounds – it’s time for me to return to Twycross and look after my other house.

This is the first time I’ve visited during daylight hours, of course. I’m curious to know what will have changed, since the residents seem to wander around outside their houses regardless. Maybe I won’t keep seeing what look like ghosts in the trees…

11:55 – The first thing I notice upon stepping out is that my mailbox is flashing – it’s a letter from home! This throws my secret suspicion that the horned midget I’m playing
as is actually escaping his horrible past into doubt. Horn-Mom and Horn-Dad are
going on vacation, apparently. I wonder if they’ll turn up in-game…

12:02 – On the way to Nook’s to sell some bric-a-brac, I stumble across a bizarre yellow tent in the middle of the forest. Inside is a… rabbity-thing… named Genji, “The Mad
Hiker”. Also known as “Campie Campington”, apparently. Genji challenges me to a
game – if I can guess which photos of fish are his, I win a prize. Fail, and he takes my roadsign. Sign me up, Genji!

12:03 – Oops.

12:07 – Barely have I set foot in Nook’s shop when he’s in my face yelling about some Happy Room Academy or other. Seems he wants me to keep my house looking nice so that the town will get new visitors, or something. Since I only have a rug right now, my
house seems like it would be pretty easy to clean, so I agree. This may not be history’s greatest plan.

12:11 – Shovel-me-do, daddy! Heading straight to one of those glowing ground spots from earlier, I manage to unearth 1000 bells. Tidy!

12:17 – Further digging reveals a fossil, which I decide to take to the museum. It seems important to have a nice town, and I imagine a full museum would help! I’m such a good
citizen.

12:21 – Blathers has told me I need to send the fossil off to the Farway Museum, which apparently I can’t do until they send me a letter. Life in the Animal Crossing universe is rather convoluted! Oh well, it can go back in my house for now. I’m going to try writing a letter…

12:28 – I decide to write a letter to Pompom, telling her how much I love her beak. I imagine this is how ducks would court in the olden days.

12:39 – I’ve met a new arrival, a red bear named Cheri. She wants a letter – really, really wants a letter. It got a little… intense.

12:50 – The town melody is now Kraid’s theme. Hopefully it won’t summon him.

13:00 – Real life intrudes as my phone provider calls me up, so it’s time to leave Twycross for a while… but what’s this? I’ve just received an invitation to go and visit a friend…

Yeah, well, at least I don’t keep toxic waste in my house.

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Animal Crossing 002 – Broken Chains

I can’t imagine that my horned doppelganger had a fantastic night’s sleep – spent as it was on plain wooden planks surrounded by a pile of cherries – but I for one was eager to get back and see what devilish task Tom Nook had for me next. Slightly earlier than last time, and interested to see what difference (if any) it’d make to the hustle and bustle of my new home, I span up the disc and ventured forth…

19:53 – Checked the notice board on a whim to discover that someone had left a “pitfall”,
whatever that may be. Wait, isn’t that the thing from Smash Bros that traps me in the ground while Zelda punches my ears off?

19:56 – Emerald, one of the frogs I met yesterday, expects me to stop by every morning and fill her in on my life. That’s a legitimate excuse for being late to work, right?
Still, she’s informed me that I can visit other towns if I put a second memory card in Slot B. Hrrrrrmmmmm….

20:02 – Discovered the run button! And also, an “MVP shirt” at the dump. My first thought was Most Valued Professional, but it’s not green and white… Oh well, I swiped it anyway.

20:05 – Dashed over to Pompom’s with my new-found speedy legs. She gave me a “merge sign”. My first furniture! It’s a road sign!! My house looks like a bad restaurant!!!

20:07 – Next up on The Animalprentice… an advertising task. Lord Nook wants me to write some exciting copy to help market his sale. Art imitates life, folks.

20:13 – If Nook were a better businessman, he’d build his shop in one of the map’s chokepoints. Maybe next to the body armour.

20:27 – Fetch quests! Well, map training, really. Do these things ever actually happen in
reality?

20:37 – ENOUGH FETCHING! Back to see Nook for another job. Might this be the longest tutorial of any Nintendo game?

20:40 – A rug! Chow gave me a rug! That’ll minutely decrease the crippling arthritis horn- boy feels from sleeping on the floor. Still, there was a flash of genuine excitement, which is worrying.

20:52 – And just like that, I’m done! Released from the shackles of forced labour… well, I still have a mortgage to pay off, but La Vita Nuova, and all that. Having finally dropped all of my scavenged cherries and sand dollars into Nook’s clenched paws, I head back home a free man. Of course, house upgrades do sound tempting…

…a bed’d be favourite. Goodnight from the rug, Twycross.

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Animal Crossing 001 – The Bloggening

It’s all Eurogamer’s fault, really. One minute they’re printing a dewy-eyed retrospective on the Gamecube Animal Crossing – I’d call it “the original one” but I’d be bludgeoned to death by otaku and their specially-sharpened N64 carts – and the next I, having airily admitted that I’d never played the original beyond the first five minutes, was being pressured into a nostalgic group re-visitation.

Bugger. After waxing lyrical about the world-shaping joy of Minecraft I can’t very well back out of this now. What I CAN do is blog my child-like wonder (or, as the case may be,
grumpy ineptitude) at my attempt to blend in with a town of talking animals and their raccoon overlord.

Will the original charm me with its joy and whimsy? Will I get horribly confused and start trying to build creeper defences out of NES carts? Only one way to find out – in goes the disc. I can’t even remember where I bought this, let alone why I didn’t play it…And, since Animal Crossing takes place in real-time, I suppose I should timestamp these entries:

20:37 – Going to the loo and then getting a drink. Not the most exciting start to my dominance of the animal kingdom, but every empire has humble origins. Just be grateful
this isn’t Youtube.

20:43 – And we’re off. A very cute “Nintendo!” to start us off. And now what sounds like a
ticking clock, reminding us all that time is fleeting and death is inevitable. Oh, wait, some piano’s kicked in to make it better.

20:45 – I don’t know who this guitar dog is, but if you pause on a page of his text he starts
playing along to the intro music. Perhaps we can be friends.

20:47 – This train is disturbingly similar to the one from Gregory Horror Show. And who
names a cat “Rover”, anyway?

20:51 – I’m Chris from Twycross. And Rover thinks that’s hilarious.

20:54 – Rover’s hooked me up with some guy named Nook. Thinks he can help me find a place to stay. I’m wondering if I should tell him about the three body bags back down
the railroad behind me… naaah, that’s another train journey.

20:56 – Oh god, I’ve got HORNS. This is like ICO all over again.

21:01 – After dragging Nook quite literally all around the houses, I settled on the one with
a wooden floor. Better insulation – this is not the first time I’ve suffered rented
accommodation, you big-tailed hustler!

21:13 – Nook Is not very happy that I took this long to get to his shop. Still, I met a frog
named Tad who seems to like fruits, and a grumpy pig named Chow who I imagine
will warm up if I buy him alcohol. This is like Harvest Moon, right?

21:15 – Oh, apparently he was only joking. God, raccoons are dicks. Also: “If you must
know, I suppose you could say it’s your uniform” reminds me of Sakurai’s grumpy
Smash Bros blog updates.

21:25 – Having planted some flowers, Nook wants me to go say hello to the townspeople. My first stop was to see Tad to try and give him some of the cherries I’d found, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. Can I only sell them? Am I doomed to be a cog in a capitalistic dystopia?!

21:32 – The Post Office is open after 5pm. My sense of disbelief is shattered.

21:47 – Hrm. Not massively enamoured of Nook’s insistence that go and talk to every single resident – surely exploring at my own pace as I go would be part of the appeal?
Oh well, it’s done now, and might be time to head back to my be—er, my floor
before the furry git gives me any more chores.

21:52 – Nook’s proclamation that I have full pockets means another trip home to dump some stuff – I’m a hoarder, what can I say? – and so it’s time to quit. And what a
strange evening it’s been; the town mayor hangs around by the well after the
watershed, I met a duck who only wants me to invite hot guys to the town, and
I’m being extorted by a ring-tailed shyster. Maybe next time I’ll actually find
a bed somewhere!

Goodnight, Twycross.

 

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The Last Monster

Just behind the fairground was a path that was almost impossible to find, unless you knew it was there. It wound and twisted its way through the rabbit warrens and past Warden’s Pond before finally reaching the dark forest, where it narrowed suddenly, as if afraid of what might be inside.

The little girl had almost made it to the very end of the path, stopping to pluck at flowers or to admire the ephemeral butterflies that clung to the trees, when the monster jumped out at her.

The monster reared up to its full considerable height, slime dripping down both of its bulbous noses, and roared at the little girl. It was a good roar, one that scattered birds from their nests and caused leaves to tumble down from high above. The monster was very proud of it.

“Well, well, well,” it said, in a satisfied way. “What do we have here?”

The little girl had stopped, and was regarding the monster with a distinctly unimpressed expression on her porcelain features. She looked its scaly hide up and down, taking in the gleaming fangs and slobbering lips, its warty skin and curly yellow toenails, and continued to stare until the monster started to feel rather uncomfortable.

“I don’t know,” she said, finally. “What?” Her tone suggested that she didn’t expect to find the answer very impressive at all.

The monster quivered the hairs on the back of its ears, and bent down slowly. “What we have here,” it said smugly, letting just the correct amount of menace into its tone, “is a little girl who has been caught by a big scary monster.”

The girl considered this for a moment. “No, I don’t think that’s true at all. Not on any account.”

The monster blinked. This took quite a long time, as it had a lot of eyes and it was rather difficult to keep track of them all. It had been a long time since it had last eaten any children, but in the fog of its memories the monster definitely remembered screaming and running. Not… arguments.

“I mean,” the little girl continued, “you haven’t actually caught me. We’re standing next to each other, but I can still move around as much as I should like.”

“That’s true,” the monster conceded, “but I certainly COULD catch you. I could stretch out one of my long, leathery arms, throw you over my shoulder and take you home to gobble up.”

“You’re still telling fibs,” the girl said, putting her hands on her hips. “I could go and eat three whole bowls of strawberries, but I haven’t done it yet, so I shouldn’t tell people that I have. It’s lies. And you’re not very big, either.”

“I’m bigger than you,” the monster pointed out, standing up to its fullest height and stamping its foot, causing a booming echo to ripple through the forest.

“That’s because I’m a little girl. There are lots of things bigger than you are.  Squids. The elephants at the zoo. Whales, too, though I’ve only seen those in books. And I’m not scared of you, anyway.”

The monster sagged a little under the relentless logic. “No, you’re not, are you?” it said, rather hopelessly. “I’ve been in this forest for so long, trying all sorts of different ways to be terrifying, and you’re not even the slightest bit afraid of me, are you?”

“No.”

“What if I made slime shoot out of my ears?” The monster asked, brightening slightly. “That’d be pretty scary, wouldn’t it?”

The little girl made a face. “That’s not scary, that’s just disgusting. I bet you’re a boy monster. Boys always like doing that sort of thing.”

The monster huffed and grumbled, squatting down on the path so that it could dip its tail in a nearby pool. “Well then, why don’t you tell me why you’re not scared, since you’re such a clever-clogs?”

“I don’t know what a clever-clogs is,” the little girl said, “but maybe it’s because I’m not real.”

The monster was very upset by this remark, swishing its tail so fiercely that quite a lot of water and pondweed sploshed onto the path. “I most certainly am real!” it roared. “Just because your parents told you that monsters don’t exist doesn’t mean—”

“Don’t be so silly,” said the little girl crossly. “Of course you’re real, or the path wouldn’t be all soggy now. Besides, you didn’t listen properly. I said that it’s probably because I’m not real.” And here she stepped forward, opening her arm to show off the synthetic webbing and delicate circuitry inside.

The monster stared with all of its eyes for a very long time. “Make-believe children!” it managed, finally, harrumphing. “Well I think that’s a pretty nasty trick to play on someone. You won’t do at all; I shall have to wait for a real little girl for my dinner. Tell me, how does one tell the difference?”

The little girl looked puzzled. “I’m not sure. I don’t think I’ve ever met any real children. I’m not sure there any left.”

The monster reacted as if it had been struck. “You mustn’t say things like that!” it bellowed. “Of course there are real children! There are always children! Where would they have gone?”

The little girl shrugged. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I dare say there would be books about it, but I’ve never read any.  I suppose the grown-ups know.” She paused. “Why are you crying?”

The monster was indeed crying, thick rivers of tears trickling down its face.  “I… I don’t know what to do!” it sobbed. “I mean, of course I’d noticed there weren’t as many children, but I told myself they’d come back sooner or later! Children always go wandering in the forest… what will I do if there’s none left?” The monster suddenly seemed very much smaller to the little girl as it grabbed a handful of leaves and noisily blew first one nose, then the other.

All at once she felt a little sorry for it. “There’s no need to cry,” she said reasonably. “I’m sure adults would be just as scared if you jumped out at them, and I bet they’d be even tastier than children.”

“Adults and I can’t see each other,” the monster snuffled.  “If they were here, they’d just walk right through me without noticing. They’re inter… intra…”

“Intangible?” the little girl suggested, although she didn’t seem so little any more as she took a step towards the grizzling monster. “Are you all right? You seem to be getting smaller.”

“I don’t know!” the monster wailed, its voice sounding noticeably thinner than before. “I don’t know anything anymore! I’m so hungry! What else can I do?!”

The little girl knelt down, being careful not to get her dress dirty. “I suppose that there are lots of things that don’t need to exist without children,” she said thoughtfully.  “Schools, prams, nappies… there’s no reason for them nowadays. Monsters must be a bit like that.” Her brow furrowed. “I think it’s called an existential crisis.”

“This is all your fault,” the monster moaned. “I wish you’d never come into the forest.”

The little girl moved forward, bending a daisy back to see the monster more clearly as it dwindled and faded.  “You don’t have to worry,” she said consolingly. “I’ll live for thousands of years, and I’ll remember you. You’ll be a story. A happy one, I think. Someone always slays the monster in the end.”

Quite what the monster thought of this arrangement the little girl would never know, for it had faded beyond sight and she was now alone in the forest. She briefly considered heading further down the path and looking for more monsters, but rather suspected that she wouldn’t find any. It was an oddly solemn moment, as if she’d born witness to the conclusion of something ancient and momentous.

Plucking her last daisy from the ground and twiddling it thoughtfully between her thumb and forefinger, the little girl turned on her heel and headed back down the path towards the fair. She doubted she’d go wandering in the forest again.

Somehow, there no longer seemed to be any point.

THE END

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Five cable TV cartoons nobody else remembers

When I was a kid, we had a cable box. Cable companies were feudal things back in those days, yet to be swallowed up and homogenised by Virgin Media, and so the channel selection was spotty and reception was poor. It didn’t matter to me, though, because I had The Children’s Channel.

There was some original programming for “TCC”, as it later rebranded itself, but even with limited running hours it was still faced with a daunting task – finding hours and hours of TV programming when the BBC and ITV had already hoovered up the A-grade material. The Children’s Channel may never have had a Knightmare or a Thundercats, but it was very willing to plunder shows from Canada and Europe.

That’s why, while most kids at my school were watching Transformers and Fraggle Rock, I was engrossed in post-apocalyptic French anime and surreal puppet shows. Today I’m going to wander down memory lane and highlight a few of the most memorable – “best” is a word bandied around too readily in this day and age – in the hope that someone, somewhere might also remember them. Frankly, I’m starting to think I dreamt Telecat, and I’d rather not have to pay the psychiatrist fees.

5. THE SMOGGIES

Not too obscure, this one. I’m easing us in. Smoggies was a Canadian cartoon with a ham-fisted environmental message; some modern day humans had come to the idyllic island of the Sun-Tots because their haughty leader, Emma, was after a magic coral that kept you eternally young and beautiful.

The magic coral didn’t actually exist – it was implied that it was clean living that stopped the diminutive Sun-Tots from aging, but the Smoggies’ various schemes to uncover its location almost always resulted in Things That Were Bad For The Environment, like dredging the sea with huge nets and getting dolphins caught in them. And, I dunno, smoking.

Naturally the Sun-Tots always had the last laugh before going back to their never-ending purgatory of peace and harmony, but I can’t help but feel that Emma had a point. I mean, she and her henchmen had stumbled onto an undiscovered race of immortal midgets, and it’s entirely conceivable that there was some sort of environmental factor at work. I don’t think the show ever had an ending, as such, but I’d imagine it’d involve the Canadian military descending upon Sun-Tot Isle and dragging the hapless mutants away to be dissected.

As ever, the intro song explains the premise of the series: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZi79ZaP1fI

4. SPARTAKUS AND THE SUN BENEATH THE SEA

Quick history lesson: during the 80s the French had a bit of an infatuation with anime, and a lot of shows picked up by The Children’s Channel were either done in that style or, in some cases, co-productions between France and Japan. This is one of those shows.

An ancient race of humans had fled underground to escape some natural disaster or other and, as you do, built a subterranean sun to power their civilisation. When the sun starts to fail, and with no-one left underground who remembers how to fix it, they create a young woman named Arkana and send her to the surface to find help. (Lazy.) Arkana befriends two children, Matt and Rebecca, as well as a mysterious traveller named Spartakus, and they return underground to try and stop everything exploding. (The sheer trauma Matt
and Rebecca’s parents must have faced when their kids went missing is never touched upon.)

This programme blew my tiny child-mind, because it was pretty much the first serialised cartoon I’d ever seen. Like its better-known spiritual cousin, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, it had a proper ending and genuine jeopardy. Looking back on it today it’s easy to be dismissive of the low production values – although the show had some great art design, it was also perfectly happy to pad itself out with bizarre “music videos” sung by the villains and sidekicks whenever the episode was running short.

Oh, and the trilobite-shaped ship they used to fly around on was called Shagshag in the original French version. Just saying.

Two Youtube links; firstly, the expository theme tune: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLUKGpTWbzs

Secondly, the unhinged Pirate theme song  (French version): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JylkFzXsPxE&feature=related

3. BLUE, THE EARTH CHILD

Known as Bleu, L’Enfant de la Terre in its original French incarnation, this was seriously messed up.  Set on a post-apocalyptic Earth with a heavy anti-nuclear subtext, the opening theme made reference to a “great mistake” which had all-but wiped out humanity. It still didn’t explain the abundance of monochromatic elves, the fact that they flew around on robot cats or that their arch-nemesis seemed to have a magic chessboard in his throne room that showed him what was going on.

Oh, and there was a henchman with a little additional face next to his actual face who looked like he’d escaped from He-Man. Man  E. Face’s distant descendent, possibly. I’m not sure if the series had a plot arc, as such, or even what motivation anyone in the show had to fly around on cybernetic housepets firing lasers at each other.

Here’s a clip of the first episode, which appears to contain Dobby the House Elf and confirm that the bad guys live on the moon. It’s in French.  IT EXPLAINS NOTHING: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s6uvDYT_IA

2. THE SUPER MARIO CHALLENGE

As far as original programming goes, this was a stroke of genius; sit two kids down in front of a couple of NESes, dress a man up like Mario while he provides the commentary and simply have the contestants race through the game’s levels, or try to out-do each other’s high score.

Okay, so watching people trying to dig through Mario 2’s tedious desert sections was not, in hindsight, all that fun. But when US teens were flocking to the cinema to see The Wizard, we got our first glimpse of Super Mario Bros 3. Through cable TV. By the time of the PAL release, I practically had the first world memorised just from watching those lucky buggers playing it.

Relive the heady glory via this dour Youtube retrospective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMkUxjBU-gY

1. THE MATICS

At the top of this teetering pile of obscurity we find The Matics, a French educationa cartoon designed to teach children the basic principles of binary, computer memory and
base two maths. Eat your heart out, M.A.S.K.

I can’t find an awful lot about the show and, thanks to someone still trying to flog it as a valuable educational resource 20 years later, there aren’t any clips of it on Youtube. Or maybe that’s just because no bugger remembers it. I do recall the titular Matics being like square crocodiles that could be adorned with either a 0 or a 1, though, and how they were enslaved in the thousands in some The Maticsguy’s quest to build a computer.

The animation was crude, with a decidedly Soviet twang to it all (anyone who remembers the Simpsons’ “Worker and Parasite” will be pretty much familiar) and the episodes built on each other in such a way that if you missed one, you’d be highly unlikely to understand any of the others. Still, it’s hard to begrudge TCC for showing it – if I’d watched Thundercats as a child instead, who knows if I’d even be remotely interested in computers now?

I’d probably be a superhero instead, but that’s quite beside the point.

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[Doctor Who] Drone – Part 2

On the fortieth day of his journey, XKD-47 came across a unit like himself, buried almost waist-deep in sand. Her datacast was badly corrupted by damage and corrosion – clearly, she had been caught in the storm and had spent every moment since staring hopelessly at her destination, utterly immobile. She’d been crossing a teetering walkway over a smooth-sided ravine when the storm had struck, and had been left utterly exposed.

While wilful deviation from his journey was not expressly forbidden, XKD-47 had felt more than a little conflicted the first time he’d spotted another unit on the horizon. It had taken him nearly a day to reach them through the labyrinth of fallen stone only to find that they’d been damaged far beyond his ability to repair. Ultimately, he’d been left with only one feasible course of action.

This was the fourth unit he’d found in a similar condition, and It wasn’t getting any easier. Reaching gingerly inside the mottled carapace of the helpless soldier, he felt around gingerly, trying to lessen the pain, until his questing fingers located the main power junction.

In the instant before the unit completed her journey, her battered face curved slightly in an expression of profound gratitude, and then XKD-47 was alone in the ruins once more. Turning cautiously, balancing himself on a creaking metal beam with both arms outstretched, he reoriented himself with his destination and moved—

The metal beam twisted treacherously underfoot, and sent XKD-47 tumbling into the abyss.

*             *             *

On the forty-first day of his journey, XKD-47 was in a hole.

*             *             *

On the two-hundred-and-twelfth day of his journey, XKD-47 was in a hole.

*             *             *

On the three-hundred-and-fourth day of his journey, XKD-47 drove the final piton into the silicon wall, placed his foot gingerly upon it and hauled himself bodily out of the hole. He sat for a while scanning the datacast channels, hoping that other units had completed a map of the area while he’d been trapped, but all the links were suspiciously quiet.

Gradually, XKD-47 began to believe that he might be the only unit left. It was a concerning thought, but the Commanders had been wise enough to give even a single unit enough destructive ordinance to win the war.

Standing unsteadily on rust-stained legs, he reoriented himself towards his destination, the stronghold of the Enemy, and began to move.

*             *             *

On the three-hundred-and-sixth day of his journey, XKD-47 was startled by a sudden flurry of sand and grit ahead of him. For a moment he thought the storms were upon him once more, but as the winds died down with unnatural speed, ill-defined shadows in the storm became familiar shapes.

The door of the blue box opened and the Doctor strode out into the ruins, looking as timeless as ever. “Now stop messing about,” he said by way of a greeting, adopting the demeanour of an exasperated schoolmarm. “Why haven’t you gone home, eh?”

“Why would I?” XKD-47 replied. He was surprised by the sound of his own voice; raspy and distant as though he were shouting through a length of pipe.  “My mission hasn’t changed.”

“Yes. No. But it has, though.” The Doctor looked uncertain for the first time since XKD-47 began his journey. “I fixed it all! Organised a cease-fire. Turned out it was just a big misunderstanding – their communication system jammed your engines and you thought you’d been shot down. Two technologies turn out to be incompatible, it happens sometimes… and you don’t believe a word I’m saying, do you?”

With that, the Doctor tugged a slender, silvery device from his pocket and began to sweep it back and forth over XKD-47’s pockmarked skull. It went swizzywizzywizzy.  “So the question is, why didn’t you receive the change of orders? Let me see…”

XKD-47 swatted the device out of the Doctor’s hand, irritably, and it landed in the rubble a short distance away making an indignant beeping sound. “I was down a hole,” he admitted, “for a long time. I had to wait for suitable raw material to fall in before I could escape.”

“So you never heard the cease-fire… Stan, the war is over. Your people are packing up to go home – I’ve helped them fix their engines, they’ll be gone by the end of the day. All you’ll be doing is—“

“Completing the task for which I was created,” XKD-47 snapped.  “Out in the wasteland are dozens of units just like me, trapped and lost in service to their orders! We fall and we stand, over and over, because we share a common purpose – a reason for our very existence!”

The fingers on his replacement hand flexed in and out, impulsively, and now words tumbled out of him in a fountain of rage and frustration. “Purpose burns within us and drives us onwards with our last ounce of strength! It is a noble existence, it is a pure and simple understanding of our place in things and for me to arrogantly claim a higher authority would be wrong!”

They stood in silence for a moment, and the Doctor said softly “Such a waste. You should have been a poet, not a bomb.”

XKD-47 lunged forward, suddenly, grabbing the Doctor by his jacket. “And yet a bomb is what I am!” he hissed. “You will stop attempting to deceive me, and you will instead use your travelling box to take me to the heart of the Enemy stronghold so that I can complete my mission.”

The Doctor shook his head, calmly. “No,” he said, and that was that.

“If you don’t…” XKD-47 hesitated. “If you don’t, I’ll detonate here and now. You’ll be destroyed.”

“But nobody else will be,” the Doctor replied, still with an infuriating calm. “And that’s my purpose. To help people. Even you, if you’ll let me.”

They stood, deadlocked, for almost a full minute, and then XKD-47 released his hold, turning once more to his destination.  “Go away, Doctor,” he said, setting off on his journey once again. “Get back in your box and choose to go away.”

The Doctor followed him a short distance, retrieving his sonic screwdriver. “I’ll have to tell them, you know,” he said, and suddenly he sounded very old and very tired.

“I know. Perhaps they may be able to do something for my brothers and sisters.” XKD-47 paused.  It was becoming harder and harder to speak with any clarity; his failing systems simply couldn’t take the strain. “I… regret… that you could not fulfil your purpose.  Thank you for my name.”

This time, it was the Doctor who walked away from the conversation.

*            *             *

On the three-hundred-and-seventh day of his journey, something flew over XKD-47’s head and landed noisily in the dirt ahead of him. It looked like a big grey egg, and a few moments later it split neatly around its circumference to reveal another unit. It clambered out nimbly, looking incongruously white and clean compared to its surroundings, and approached him.

XKD-47 tried to establish a datacast, but his systems were too weak to emit more than a garbled burst of static. Realising this, the new unit opened its mouth and struggled to pronounce unfamiliar syllables. “State… your… identity.”

“Stan will do,” replied XKD-47. “What is your purpose?”

The unit stared at him, the glow of a fusion reaction building in its chest. “To destroy… my enemy.” Its outer casing began to flow and distort from the tremendous heat that would, within moments, expand outwards and consume several miles of the unending alien architecture.

XKD-47 nodded. “I understand,” he replied, though it wasn’t really necessary. Of course he understood. They had all understood.

On the three-hundred-and-seventh day, XKD-47 completed his journey.

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