Christmas, 1987. Everyone chipped in to buy my father a Sega Master System.
Or maybe it was 1988, I dunno. It happened over two decades ago, and it still freaks me out.
My dad was no gamer. Even using the words “dad” and “gamer” in the same sentence makes me feel like an asshole.
See, to occupy his time during our summer vacations to Jersey shore boardwalks, my father grew weirdly passionate about Out Run — an arcade racing game. The image of this hard man (a guy who once offered to buy our neighbor’s dog just so he could kill it) in Out Run’s sit-down cabinet — built to look like a super deformed Ferrari — still cracks me up.
The Sega Master System was one of the only ways to play Out Run at home. Hence the Christmas present. Nevertheless, this odd pairing of “Dad” and “video games” did not last long. Within a few months, that baby was all mine.
The Sega Master System was never a big thing around here. None of the other kids (let alone their fathers) had one. Nobody seemed to want one. This was during the Nintendo golden era, and it wouldn’t be until the Sega Genesis that my buddies paid attention to any other system.
But me? I loved it. I’m sure it had something to do with being the only kid in the whole universe with a Sega Master System, but its look, feel and gimmicks were just so much different from what Nintendo was putting out there. Even if my library of SMS games never reached far past five titles, I played ’em just as often as Super Mario and Zelda.
The one I got the most mileage from was Casino Games – originally given to my father because he was such an Atlantic City junkie. (It did not manage to reinvigorate his interest in video games.) You can totally see Sega’s attempt to appeal to older demos, here. There’s nothing actively “mature” about it, but this was a far cry from the sorts of titles that had twelve-year-olds developing fan clubs in their treehouses.
I normally steer clear of game reviews, but my hunch is that Casino Games isn’t often written about online.
Somebody should pay tribute to this glorious thing.
Once we get past the usual suspects, you might be surprised to find out what this virtual Vegas had to offer.
To start, you’re given 500 bucks. If you keep your bets low, you can play forever on those funds. Of course, you didn’t, because even if there wasn’t anything to be gained from a bigger bankroll, who could stop themselves from going all-in on every slot pull?
To this day, I have no idea if Casino Games had any proper ending, or if there were any rewards for amassing a million dollars. Didn’t stop me from trying.
There were three cards games to choose from. Based on my experiences, blackjack brings the biggest profits. Sometimes, you’ll get on a crazy hot streak and keeping nailing 21’s even when you’re actively trying not to.
And check out that dealer. Completely emotionless. She doesn’t care who wins. Or maybe it’s just hard to convey mental ups and downs with a nearly nonexistent mouth.
When blackjack gets boring, switch to baccarat. I didn’t know how to play it then, and I’m no wiser now. Fortunately, I never needed to know. I just clicked, and the game told me if I won or lost.
My infrequent visits to this table were only to reaffirm the theory that the dealers in Casino Games were secret android assassins.
Look at her. The same tiny-mouthed bitch from blackjack. Things just aren’t adding up, here. I feel like Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder. Are these card shark demons really angels, paving way for a tearful post-death reunion with Kevin McCallister?
I feel safe making vague references in t00-long reviews of old video games nobody cares about. Who’s going to read this? I mean, really read this? You’re just going to skip ahead to the dancing alligator, and we both know it. I should just type adakdlkakdkl into the loose shapes of paragraphs until we get there.
Things pick up once you move onto poker. It’s the true meat of Casino Games. I sacrificed countless hours of my life to this.
It’s standard five card stud, or at least, I’m pretty sure that this is five card stud. Never really been clear on what qualifies certain poker games as “stud.” It’s five card poker, I’ll tell you that.
There were four opponents, each with their own style and quirks. I’m sad to admit that I used to spend more time with these pixel poker players than actual people. They were my buddies, even if I hated their guts.
Poker roll call!
Nancy is the easiest challenge. The players’ difficulties are mostly established through their use of poker faces. Charley, the best player, is so good at poker-facing that his little icon will flash a confident smile even when he has nothing better than a 10-high. But Nancy’s face always betrayed her. When she has a bad hand, her face looks like someone on an all-veal diet trying to take a shit.
Next was Janet, a sporty number who claims that she never loses. Actually, she loses a lot. Sexist Sega. The girl players were so much worse than the boys. Janet’s way better than Nancy (Nancy could only be worse if she folded on straight flushes), but she’s still easy enough to get a handle on.
Third, meet Dick. “Hi, let’s have some fun.” I never knew if Dick was being facetious. He dresses like someone who’d be a real jerk in a casino. On the other hand, if I judge by words and never by actions, Dick wants this to stay on the friend level. I guess it’s hard for someone with cupcake frosting for hair to be overly concerned with poker stuff.
Finally, there’s Charley. Fucking Charley! My hatred for Charley is so immense that it deserves its own section:
There are countless “top video game villain” lists online, but they’re never accurate. Charley was way worse than Bowser or Ganon. Worse than Mr. X, worse than Mother Brain, worse than a reference that isn’t from 1987. There has never been a bigger video game bastid than Charley the Poker Player.
“Come on, boy!”
Right from the start, the smug prick goads you. Blows smoke in your face. Blinds you with his shiny head. Charley is impossible to read, and the Gods of Cards always seem to favor him.
There’s no way to stop Charley. You may get lucky once in a while, but more often than not, you’ll be folding on three-of-a-kinds, because the dude is raising too often to have anything but a royal flush.
It wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t such an ASS about everything. Every time Charley wins, he chomps that cigar and allows a sinister smirk. Charley doesn’t play poker to make money. He’s in it to hurt you.
But I always go back to the stupid idiot. Always. Sure, I could pick Nancy and beat her endlessly, but it’s a hollow victory when Baldy Cuntnose is three tables down, still counting the chips he stole from me two weeks ago.
There’s a silver lining to this, though.
A BIG one.
Whenever you play against Charley, you’re going to fold often. You don’t have a choice, because the guy will raise thirty times in the first minute.
…and when you do fold a bunch of times, something magical happens. A strange, wonderful thing. I guess you’d call it a video game “Easter egg,” but this is way cooler than spotting a designer’s initials on a brick wall. In my eyes, it’s the ultimate video game secret. The ultimate anything.
Dino Gator Guy.
When you’re on a big losing streak, the game will randomly cut to a shot of Dino Gator Guy, running through a grass field.
The best way to conjure Dino Gator Guy is to fold like ten times in a row. The scene is silent and only lasts a few seconds, but good Christ, if anything can take the sting out of Charley’s assault, it’s a dinosaur/alligator hybrid sprinting across grass.
It’s one of my all-time favorite video game moments. I don’t know how people rate the Sega Master System today, but things like this make me a loyalist. Many of the system’s games had odd secrets, and actually, I seem to recall a hidden “maze game” that one could only access if they turned the SMS on without a cartridge slugged in.
Dino Gator Guy the real reason I’m giving you these hundreds of words. I should’ve skipped everything else and just focused on him. I still have a few bullet points left about Casino Games, but I’m totally unable to move on. I never want to stop writing about Dino Gator Guy.
Guess I have to keep going. So yeah, pinball. Blah, blah, blah. When the chips are down, you can also play this. It costs nothing and you win nothing. Dino Gator Guy.
Lastly, try the slots. They don’t look like much, but I have to tell you – the music is killer. Catchy as hell. Actually, every music track in Casino Games is great. Outside of Dino Gator Guy, it’s the best part of the game. I still hum the sneaky poker music whenever I’m up to no good.
As you’ll notice if you look close at the image above, I’m out of money. That $500 goes so much quicker when you’re trying to summon Dino Gator Guy all the time.
But there’s a bright side to going broke: The ending.
Upon joining the ranks of the bankrupt, your character grabs his head and turns purple. This alone makes losing worth it, but there’s much more melancholy awesomeness in store.
As a final reminder that you suck, your character slowly creeps through a dark alley, stopping only to kick what I’m pretty sure is a can of New Coke.
It looks like the most dangerous alley ever, too. Since you have no money left, those inevitable encounters with dark alley hooligans could only end in things too horrible to describe.
I had to truncate the GIF, but this is the full onscreen message:
“Don’t be downhearted! There’s still tomorrow. Next time, give it everything you’ve got.”
That’s such a thing a casino would say, too. Hey, idiots, I already gave you everything. YOU HAVE IT. What am I supposed to give you tomorrow? The empty Coke can?
I love Casino Games, and yet, it’s hard to recommend. It’s been outshone by a thousand other games that do everything this one did, but better, and with a zillion extra features to boot.
Still, in its place and time, the game rocked. Oh, those wars with Charley. The quick runs to the 3rd floor to play Wacky Pinball. An ending that made me temporarily purple.
And of course…Dino Gator Guy.
If I could bear to rewrite it, this entire review would be about him.