Friday, March 6, 2020

Game 157: Westward Ho (aka Custer's Revenge)

I’ve decided not to play the notorious Custer’s Revenge in its original form. I have private reasons, but those aside, I’m not comfortable playing out a rape fantasy, made all the worse by victimizing a historically oppressed minority. I’m sure many would see this as crude but harmless entertainment – nobody actually gets raped, it’s only pixels, etc., but I have to ask, who exactly is supposed to be entertained by this? I wouldn’t, nor can I really see any sort of potential cultural value or artistic merit that this game might have to offer. I’ve played Mystique’s other two pornographic VCS titles launched alongside it – the stupid but inoffensive Bachelor Party, and the unsavory Beat ‘em and Eat ‘em, and they certainly didn’t.

I’m no stranger to acts of cruelty and depraved violence in video games. I’ve led bands of pirates to sack and loot coastal villages for their gold, condemning hundreds to starvation, and likely turned a blind eye to whatever acts of savagery my men committed in their frenzy. I’ve committed genocide in roguelikes and 4x games alike. I’ve “farmed” gold and experience points by slaughtering countless sentient beasts in their own habitats. I’ve become a Sith Lord, and done everything expected of one. I’ve even driven recklessly in traffic.

I don’t have a clear answer for myself as to why I play these games without issue but draw the line at Custer’s Revenge, but I think what separates it from most of these counter-examples is the pointlessness of the cruelty. Last month I played and wrote about Ultima II, where it is necessary to murder guards just to have their keys, but I did it because I needed keys, and not because I wanted to murder guards. The fact that the guards are all static and identical sprites, and that they instantly repopulate when you leave and return, makes it easy to view this necessary murder as a gameplay contrivance. Of course, there are plenty of games all about violent power fantasy, but typically your victims are justifiably “bad,” or at least not defenseless.

Then again, I’ve also gleefully massacred entire colonies of lemmings. So again, I don’t have a clear answer to myself about where I draw the line. The distinction seems obvious, but I can’t put it into words that can be applied with absolute consistency, and without seeming like ad-hoc reasoning. For what it’s worth, there are other games I won’t play in certain ways, such as taking Undertale’s genocidal route.

This post was going to be nothing but a moralizing introspective on video game violence, but thanks to a circumstance that I only learned of recently, there’s video game critique too.

Details on this company called “PlayAround” are scant, but Mystique crashed and burned, leaving the rights to their catalog of VCS porn cartridges to said upstart, which re-released them as symmetrical “double ender” cartridges featuring two games. One of them, released only in PAL regions, featured General Retreat and Westward Ho, both variations on Custer’s Revenge. The former is a role reversal of the original premise, which isn’t really an improvement. But the latter makes it clear the Indian woman is willing and eager, and invalidates my objection to playing.

We’ll just pretend the protagonist is an everyday naked cowboy.

Unsurprisingly, this game is really, really bad. You move the cowboy across the screen from left to right, dodging hails of arrows falling from above, and then have clumsy upright sex by tapping the joystick button as quickly as you can, scoring 1 point for every successful thrust. After 50 points, you restart back on the left side of the screen and play speed increases.

Theme aside it’s basically a poor, horizontal version of Space Race. The falling arrows, for whatever reason, don’t fall all the way to the ground, but just sort of disappear right above the cowboy’s head. I assume this has to something to do with the Atari’s limit of two sprites per scanline, but this sort of situation is what missile graphics were meant for. In any event, this limitation, along with the arrows’ falling arc, makes predicting where you can safely stand kind of difficult.

There are four gameplay modes. Mode 2 adds pointless alternating two-player play. Mode 3 throws a cactus right into the middle of your path at random intervals, and there’s not much you can do if it happens to appear right where you’re standing, but I did chuckle a bit when one time it instantly sprouted up the cowboy’s saddle-sore perineum.

Mode 4 is, of course, just mode 3 with two players.

Difficulty switches control the starting speed – unlike most VCS games, position A actually makes things easier by starting at a slower speed, reaching the fastest at 100 points, while position B reaches the fastest speed at 50 points. Either way, the game becomes basically unplayable at that point.

GAB rating: Bad. Surely you didn’t expect anything else?

Next week I promise we’ll get right back to discussing wholesome, family-friendly entertainment, starting with a storybook-like fantasy about pigs who murder wolves with medieval weaponry.


  1. Custer's Revenge. Ick. More than happy with skipping it.

  2. Custer's Revenge is a very fascinating game. Not so much for the content or gameplay, but that people were expected to *pay* for this pile of crap. And it wasn't a cheap game! $49.95 on release in 1982.

    Of course the sales were pretty much solely driven by the controversy and I can't imagine anyone who bought this game would have been satisfied in any way whatsoever. Even by 2600 standards it sucks as a game, and I can't imagine anyone would be titillated by those crude graphics. It's a bad one joke game that you just spent inflation adjusted $130 today's dollars to buy.

    It just boggles the mind that it exists. Somebody made it, thought it was good enough to release, and people bought it.


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