Sunday, July 24, 2011

Three Dirty Dwarves

Three Dirty Dwarves is quintessential Sega.  It's clever, inventive, funny, visually dazzling.  It aggressively pushes the envelope for 2D video games, with graphics that would melt down a Sega Genesis.  Nobody else could create renegade gems like this; not Microsoft, not Sony, and sure as hell not Nintendo.

Ah, but times change, and in the 32-bit era, the video game public was becoming increasingly tired on all things Sega, and dashing to their new infatuation, the Playstation.  And they had no patience for 2D video games.  If it were released in 1991, Three Dirty Dwarves would be hailed as a masterpiece, right up there with Sonic and Toejam and Streets of Rage.  In 1996, it was all but ignored.  No polygons, no mas.

Today, 15 years later, it's the 3D polygons that look horribly out of place, roughshod, slapdash, and the 2D sprites shine gloriously.  Perhaps this is because Saturn was the last true 2D games console, where the art form was pushed to its absolute limit.  Notice the fluid animation, the quirky humor, the dazzling 3D effects.  How surreal that three dimensions appear more inspired, more dazzling, when they are tricked by 2D sprites?  I'm certainly not suggesting that we throw away modern graphics completely (although bringing color back would be nice).  Perhaps I'm jaded about 3D the way I once felt jaded about 2D.

Another thing that greatly impresses me today is how original this game is.  Sega was struggling badly against Playstation in 1996; if they had any chance of holding their ground in the US, that was the year.  And they did not rely on sequels and franchises and Genesis nostalgia.  There was no Streets of Rage, no Revenge of Shinobi, no Toejam and Earl, no Comix Zone, no Vectorman.  Instead, quirky and original games like: Three Dirty Dwarves, Mr. Bones, Virtual On, Bug Too!, Baku Baku Animal, Dark Savior, Worldwide Soccer '97.  That is a stellar lineup, my friends.

Anyway, this is not to slight the Playstation (which deserved its success), or to exonerate Sega (which deserved its meltdown).  The die for the 32-bit generation was already cast.  Fortunately, we now have the luxury of enjoying all of these old video games without dealing with the horse race politics.  Saturn and PSX are now in a nursing home and they're the best of friends.

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