When I was a little kid, I was a very good baseball player, but I actually preferred to go over to the park across from our house, sit atop the hill, and watch Little Leaguers, kids my age or younger, play for hours. “What’s the matter with you?” my father would ask me. “You should be out there playing. You shouldn’t be watching.” I don’t know what’s the matter with me—why I’m so adept at distance, why I feel so remote from things, why life feels like a rumor—but playing has somehow always struck me as a fantastically unfulfilling activity.
I don’t think it’s entirely a matter of temperament (I distrust absolutes anyway—”always,” “never”—I’m a contrarian, and those words invite my most annoying tendencies). Sometimes watching is more fulfilling. Sometimes playing is a great deal less gratifying. Don’t believe me? This looks like a job for Superman!
For the past three years, YouTuber and Let’s Play-er ProtonJon has been slowly making his way through what many consider one of the worst video games ever released, Titus Interactive’s Superman, more commonly known as Superman 64, also sometimes called Superman: The New Adventures. He’s still got a ways to go, but what’s already up on YouTube is well worth your time.
“But Gabe,” you may be wondering, “what’s a Let’s Play-er?” Dear reader, it’ll be as plain as the nose on your face as soon as you hit play on any of these videos, but I’ll give you the capsule version anyway.
A Let’s Play (LP) is a video (or, more commonly—because of YouTube’s upload limits and the length of most games—series of videos) that a gamer has captured (recorded) of him- or herself playing a video game from start to finish (well, ideally anyway). This footage is often accompanied by commentary from the gamer, and that commentary is often recorded live, while the playing is going on, and it is typically no more enlightening or entertaining than that sounds (expletives and commonplaces abound). Sometimes these LPs are conducted “blind” (meaning that the gamer has never played the game/level/section before), but not always. LPs are distinguished from video walkthroughs by their lack of cuts—you see it when the LPer fails; in fact, you see everything the LPer does (again, ideally)—and by their intent: they’re playing the game to record themselves play the game. If that helps you when you play the game, great, but the LPer doesn’t always set out to explain how to play the game, and may or may not use optimal strategies, may or may not collect every collectable, etc. They play, you watch.
[These Let’s Plays have been around almost since the start of video-gaming, by the way, it’s just that—in recorded form—they used to be the province of record-keeping organizations like Twin Galaxies and professional monitors. But I can remember being part of many crowds at the arcade or in the movie theater lobby, watching some kid destroy some machine. (I wouldn’t have known there was anything more to Dragon’s Lair than the first screen if not for others’ expertise.) YouTube certainly didn’t invent the Let’s Play, but it has definitely helped them reach a much wider audience; as a result, some LPs (like ProtonJon’s) are taking a (most welcome) different approach to the form.]
What makes Protonjon’s Superman LP notable, then, is that he’s clearly done a great deal of research on the game. He not only plays through each level, but he also includes many of the many glitches in the game, discusses Superman‘s development (and accusations of its subsequent neutering by DC), shows footage of other unreleased versions of the game’s stages, and even interviews the developers. He even does an LP-within-the-LP, of another Titus Interactive Superman, this one for the Game Boy (see Stage 5, below). His commentary is informative and often much more interesting than the game would seem to warrant. It’s kind of like the video game’s commentary track, like Superman‘s box set Blu-Ray release. Maybe that doesn’t sound interesting to you (it bears repeating: this is commonly considered one of the worst video games ever released), but even if it doesn’t, I can still pretty much (again, that distrust of absolutes) guarantee you’ll enjoy watching it much more than you would playing Superman.
As Superman would apparently say, “There’s no time to waste.” Get caught up!
[Sadly, folks, Stage 7 is the last stage ProtonJon posted (in January of this year), as of today, June 3, 2013. Maybe if we all wish real hard, he’ll post another soon. If you like these videos, YouTube gives you the option to “Like” these videos; let’s all do so—it couldn’t hurt.]
RIYL: Failures, MST3K, LaserDisc/DVD/Blu-Ray commentary tracks, rubbernecking.