Rated PG-18 - Karnov
Requested by: everybody with taste
On the night before Christmas, not a creature was stirring in Soviet Russia because commies don't have the right to move, except for gypsies, who didn't move because THEY WERE AFRAID OF HAVING THEIR BABIES EATEN ALIVE BY KARNOV. Think I could just make that shit up? Well, I could, but I didn't. That shit's Scottish legend. I like to think of it as Russian Christmas, and the original story of Santa Claus (Karnov) before we bastardized it for soccer-mom approval. Kind of like how Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday (created by Dr. Wily) made up of 8 nights (evil robots), but that's a whole other story to be told another time. The symbolism just gets more frightening the more you think about it. Eventually, the Christmas stories would evolve into the family-friendly stuff we recognize today, like a black man dressed like Santa breaking into your house and stealing your VCR or, on an even more modern level, several black men not even bothering to dress like Santa but stealing your DVD player and flat-screen TV anyway.
And we have one man to thank for all of it.
Karnov is not only a game based on a character, but is in many ways a religion. Some have even considered His cult following a circus of sorts. Thanks in large part to the internet, Karnov is getting a tiny fraction of the credit He deserves. In fact, it's difficult to narrow down Karnov's popularity to one single moment. Data East has featured Him in many games in one way or another, whether as a worshipped idol with shooting toes inTrio the Punch: Never Forget Me or as a boss character in Bad Dudes and Fighter's History Dynamite. But the main thing to acknowledge is His god(Karnov)like stranglehold on your brain once you've accepted Him as supreme, and to carry this knowledge with you during a holiday like Christmas or, as it's known by true believers, Karnovmas. Blasphemers will have their televisions stolen and their children eaten alive Mike Tyson-style. Don't test Him. He's the Old Testament sort of badass that follows up on threats.
That rock guy knows to throw the boulder AWAY from Karnov, lest he feel His wrath.
The Karnov craze is a fascinating thing even by today's standards, but before the popularity, before the cameos, and before Karnov became the sole pathway to salvation, there was the game. In 1987, Data East introduced Him to us in the arcades, in one of several "put your quarter in and get fucked up lots and lots of times" sidescrolling action games of the time. As such, it did what it did about as well as any of the very best (and toughest) sidescrollers. But there was one key difference with Karnov: you got to play as quite possibly the most badass character ever conceived, so badass that the old legends almost have to have been true because it's difficult to imagine that the human mind could comprehend, let alone create, a level of such insane greatness. Think about the beginnings of popular game characters like Mario or Sonic. If a game designer is blanking in inspiration, a fast black guy stealing equipment from a science lab and breaking shit here, a fat plumber beating his wife with a mushroom and referring to her as "princess" there, an acid trip or twenty, sure, Mario and Sonic were born. But can the image of Karnov be conjured without divine intervention?
DEVELOPER: "Okay boss, I know we have deadlines to consider, so what I thought up was a gigantic, manly, bald, mustached Russian who breathes fireballs, pulls bombs, ladders, throwing stars and boomerangs out of his ass, and fights dinosaurs. Oh, and he can fly. Boss? Are you-- OH!"
Data East CEO: "Mmmmmm, your dick tastes so good! Maybe it will give me magic thought powers that will save the company like you just did! Thank you thank you thank you mrrrffffphwcc"
Obviously, it's best to pretend, for the sake of decency, that the Data East CEO is a hot blonde lifeguard rather than a sickly-looking Japanese man with bulging bug eyes. That would just be sickening.
So about a year later, with a few adjustments here and there, Karnov hit the NES. The premise is similar to the arcade: a gigantic, manly, bald, mustached Russian breathes fireballs, pulls bombs, ladders, throwing stars and boomerangs out of His ass, and fights dinosaurs. Oh, and he can fly. There are several takes on the storyline, since the NES version is entirely devoid of any plot unless you bother to read the manual, but if you wanted to read, you would be stealing from the library instead of playing the NES, wouldn't you? Some who have played the Famicom version say Karnov was sent on a divine mission. Others think He's on a treasure hunt and must kill demons to get to it, kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, only with fewer jaded visions of guys who look like Louis Skolnick dressed up in tin foil and talking in faggy British accents. But we're not given any bullshit leads in the NES game. We don't even know if the "demons" are really bad guys. I just like to think Karnov goes out looking for trouble, and fucks every motherfucker up who looks at him wrong or even thinks of looking at him at all. The most metaphorical as I bother to even think with this game is that if this is indeed Soviet Russia, then the "demons" could possibly be American capitalist swine, gypsies, or Jews, or some combination of the three. And Karnov kills them all with his fire breath. For nine stages. Sometimes while flying.
RIGHT: The sign of impending apocalypse.
LEFT: Jews, gypsies, American capitalist swine.
The NES version of Karnov is mostly identical to the arcade in terms of gameplay. One key difference is that Karnov takes two hits to kill* instead of the standard "one hit and you're history" format so prevalent in sidescrollers at the time. The NES is a little more lenient, making Karnov turn blue when hit, meaning He will die* if hit again unless He reaches a power-up. Throughout each of the nine stages, you will encounter these little circular power-ups that either increase your firepower (collecting two with allow Karnov to shoot three fireballs at once, which fucks up everything and everyone in His way) or restore you back to normal if you've been hit once. But the overall feel of the arcade remains the same: go from left to right, fuck everybody's shit up, and conquer. Karnov can run at a leisurely pace, jump with some of the most awe-inspiring mechanics ever seen in a sidescroller (some believe His pants act as a sort of parachute and that this design was later stolen by MC Hammer), and pull a vast array of interesting power-ups and items out of His ass, including x-ray goggles, scuba gear, shoes that grant Him Duke Togo-like vertical leap ability** and the aforementioned boomerangs, throwing stars, bombs and ladders. There are some hidden areas where Karnov can fly if He collected wings earlier, as well as throughout all of stage 8. In short, Karnov could match any of Mario's abilities by Super Mario Bros. 3 and then some, well before Mario ever thought such things were possible, not to mention His more mature, care-free attitude about going shirtless through enemy fire.
* Indicates that "kill" and "die" are abstract terms in this case, as nothing can truly kill Karnov. He's simply giving you the finger for being a lousy player by taking a nap and going back to the beginning to make you do it again the right way.
** Indicates that Karnov can really jump as high as He wants, no matter His shoes, but doesn't want to make Duke look bad in front of his ladies.
And fire they will; from the very beginning, most enemies will bombard you with projectile attacks, flying kamikaze charges, and sheer intimidation tactics. In fact, by the end of stage 3, the bulk of their most fearsome moves will have already been seen, the most impressive being a fire-breathing T-Rex only vulnerable in his head. Everything after that is pretty much a pussy by default. Luckily, you are given plenty of room for error, since you can continue as much as you want from the beginning of the stages, and there's even a stage select code in case you're really lazy. Just know that skipping to the end means not getting to fly. And you know you've always fantasized about being a huge fire-breathing Russian with wings. We all do.
The music throughout Karnov consists primarily of just one track. However, this one track is some of the best music in the history of the concept of sound, and should never leave your mind at any time in your life. The NES converts the arcade graphics about as well as has ever been done for 8-bit, and some stages were completely revamped. Controls are responsive, but the timing of some jumps will take some getting used to, since the "parachute pants" effect will often leave you vulnerable to enemies below, meaning you'll have to plan out some of your air attacks by wiping them out beforehand if at all possible, or consider using the throwing star power-up to take out any enemy on-screen. The NES version's seemingly total lack of storyline and ending has been the subject of many a negative reviewer, but if you play NES games for the gameplay itself, it's almost a breath of fresh air from a purist stance. Besides, I think I gave you plenty of story to tie the whole thing up nicely.
Karnov is truly the embodiment of the Holy Spirit and deserves to be part of your Christ(Karnov)mas tradition. He manages to take what was becoming a relatively run-of-the-mill, mediocre format by 1987 and turn it into something Italian plumbers only wish they had deep down: balls. Of fire. Karnov is the game it is because of its purity, character and unique format. So, this Karnov's Eve, leave out some vodka (you can get the cheap Kamchatka stuff, He doesn't care), butter and donuts, and lock all the womenfolk and Jew/gypsy babies away safely and far from the donuts. Otherwise, HE'LL EAT YOUR CHILDREN ALIVE. Now go find and play the hell out of the game right now.
Out of sheer fear (and not being a fire-breathing T-Rex), the final boss fellates a blue Karnov.