"WTF is Palamedes?" I said as I pulled the turquoise/teal or whatever Pinterest wet-dream color of cartridge that is from the shelf. I don't even remember picking up the game and I hardly know what it could possibly entail from the name alone. Let's Google.
Google says it's a name from Greek mythology. Palamedes was the son of Naupilus and Clymene and no one cares. So I typed "Palamedes NES" and got more interesting results. Turns out it's a puzzle game with dice. Okay, so not much more interesting but still.
"[new wife], would you like to try this out?" I'm always looking for ways to include her in the retro games so that maybe she won't have such contempt for the thousands of video games I have packed into the house.
"Sure" she says.
So we go downstairs and fire up this thing and start playing two player. All of the ways to score in the game are actually printed on the game . Right there on the stupid label. So I write them all down on a separate piece of paper so we can see them while we play and we both watch a quick YouTube video of how the game works. You can get straights, doubles, triples, and straight flushes. This isn't so important to the story I'm telling but if you're mildly interested in how the game works, check out the italics. If not, skip.
For example pieces come onto the screen and you have to cycle through the pieces you have and shoot matching ones at them. Each one you shoot goes away and comes down to the bottom of your screen. If you string together some straights, or three sets of doubles, etc. you take away lines from your box and send those lines to your opponent. The goal is to give your opponent so many lines that they lose. Like upside down Tetris.
It's even hard for me to explain here so imagine the two of us, as adults with post-graduate degrees, watching this YouTube video and wondering if this thing is even worth our time.
We start playing and I quickly get the hang of it. I'm no God-send of a gamer but I'm a little quicker on the buttons than she is and I beat her every time. She stops having fun and quits, we decide to play something else. But I like the game, I'll be coming back to it when she's in bed.
Okay, she's in bed.
I fire up Palamedes and immediately go into Tournament mode as this is the only way to achieve credits in the game. Win the tournament, get the credits. You end up playing four matches with increasing difficulty. The first bout is not bad - I usually take it 2-0 in a best of three, no problem.
The second game is either against a dog or a wizard, depending on who wins the randomly simulated match between them when you play. Starting out I was about 30% on this but eventually could beat either of them every time. And yes, they ran out of people sprites and switched to pets at some point.
The third match is against one of two ladies clad in pink. They are assholes and win a lot. Speed is key and just taking as many lines as possible without really thinking too hard is necessary. You can survive a few mistakes but you want to maximize those straight flushes (getting an order of 1 through 6). I started out only winning about 20% of the time but eventually got up to around 60%.
I actually didn't reach the finals until the next day after many tries. Tens of tries. But I couldn't put the game down. Every time I would say "Okay, just one more", that would turn into five more because I could sense I was making progress in the semi finals against either of the two pink chicks that routinely whipped me.
Once I finally made it to the finals, I was on the edge of my seat. I imagined being on stage in front of a modest group of people cheering me on like I was Thor Aackurland about to play some Tetris. I realized how sad that thought was and immediately tried to refocus on the game. It was intense, the AI of the game is difficult but rewardingly so. It's beatable but it's not all that predictable or forgiving. I lost, and lost, and lost on this round. In between trying I would occasionally lose in one of the easier rounds and could see I was losing focus. I leave and decide to come back some time later to try it.
Eventually my wife says she needs to run to the store, do I need anything? Nah, I say. She leaves, I go play some Palamedes. She's gone for maybe 45 minutes. Meanwhile, I'm downstairs losing repeatedly in the finals but I'm getting there almost every time. Always best of 3's, always getting beaten two-nil.
Finally she gets back and comes downstairs to show me some picture frames she got for a good deal. "Oh, that's great babe!" never looking away from the television. Finally she submits and sits down next to me to watch as I enter the finals for the up-teenth time that morning.
"Still playing this, huh? You must like it."
"It's aight" I murmur, not looking away. Now I DO have an audience. The woman I've tried my entire life to impress by getting a good job, shaving my genitals on occasion, hiding my receding hairline, joining a gym, and now playing in the Palamedes finals. She probably feels pretty lucky about now.
The match starts, I get behind quickly but bail myself out. I eventually win the first match but it felt like pure luck. I don't feel great about it but I did finally get a win in the finals which was energizing. I just need to win one more match to finally win the tournament. One. More. Match.
"Good job babe!" she says, sort of pedantically but it was with love, I could tell.
"Thanks" I say flatly, preparing for round 2. I'm in no mood for being sweet - I'm a man on a mission. The crowd I made up in my head is cheering me on.
Round 2 commences and I get swiftly murdered. The match takes like maybe 30 seconds. I just could not line up the numbers I needed. I think it was a mix of bad luck with the pieces and me thinking about how awesome it was to have just won a match. Need to dial it in. This is make or break time.
The match starts, I imagine being on stage in front of my wife and like maybe ten other fans who are super into the World Palamedes Finals that don't exist but are held every year in an exotic location that I can afford to fly to. I realize I'm still wearing my boxers and this takes me out of the moment. But maybe that's how World Palamedes Finals are played - in the buff.
I'm doing well. I fill the opponent's side about halfway with pieces and work myself back up to the top, almost cleaning my board. I get a straight flush and send it and think I've won! I let a "Woo baby!" out but realize we're still playing, the computer must have hit one at the same time and they cancelled out. Now I have to rebuild and cannot afford to make a mistake.
And I don't. I come back with two consecutive straight flushes to drown them in pieces and get the credits. I stand up and let out the most masculine Palamedes victory dance and yeehaw my scoliosis and beer gut would allow me to conjure.
I look over at her with an air about me like I just killed T1000 by flexing too close to him. She cracked a smile and said, "Good job." It wasn't as excited as I would have liked but I think she meant it. "Wanna see those frames?"