Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week... do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men? It is the music of a people who have... learned the Hadouken?
Les Misérables is one of the most beloved musicals of all time; a tragic, beautiful piece of work that fills your veins with fire and soaks your cheeks with the softest of tears. From Broadway to London, it's touched the hearts of millions with its humanity, passion, and unforgettable musical numbers.
So obviously, someone in Japan turned it into a beat-em-up.
And so it came to pass that a beat-em-up based on Les Misérables, against all sanity and reason, came to exist. Gamers who found it gleefully passed it onto their friends, not for the sake of sharing its greatness, but because a claim like this could only be proven with physical evidence. And as the world fractured under its existence, for some reason, familiar music began to play. Well. As long as there was local access to Spotify, where such things would be okay to link to, or some other legal copy...
Music: Prisoner Work Song - Listen to it on Spotify
Download this game
Officially "Arm Joe"
It's a hundred megs or so.
These controls suck
Is there balance? Oh, hell no.
It's worth it even so
It doesn't run!
My tech's too up to date!
Try Windows 98
I can't play this!
It's all in Japanese!
You'll soon work out the keys
I want to play! But I must say! It looks shit!
Can't say that isn't true
All right! Shut up!
Just show me what to do...
You'll regret it if you don't
Or possibly you won't...
Those who downloaded it were not disappointed. It was every bit as dreadful as it sounded - a cheap beat-em-up where everyone from hero Jean Valjean to his adopted daughter Cosette, to the spirit of Judgement itself took turns fighting. Judgement, incidentally, looked like Akuma after a crash diet.
To call their moves hilariously stupid barely did them justice. Enjolras' special move for instance involved dropping a barricade on his enemy. An entire barricade. As for Cosette? Well, she was never a fighter. When she attacked, Valjean himself would usually swoop in to deliver the blow instead. As in every time she punched or kicked. Of course, she wasn't completely defenseless. She had the special move of being able to summon her father, pick him up, and throw him at her opponent for mad damage in every conceivable sense of the word 'mad'. And then it kept getting stranger.
The action soon proved so goofy, so improbable, that the characters within it began to become self-aware. Truly, it had transcended mere inanity and discovered a whole new dimension of pure, unbridled what-the-**** previously thought impossible by science. This didn't mean that its new residents had to like their new lifestyles...or even understand them any better than their players.
Music: What Have I Done? - Listen to it on Spotify
What have I become?
Ye gods, what have I become?
Am I a shotoclone ninja?
Are my moves really dumb?
Can fire shoot from my hands?
And do I charge my attacks?
Are there super bars that I should fill to the max?
Got nothing to work with except for my name
Wish I knew more at the starting of this game
If there's a GameFAQ on the net
I for one sadly haven't found it yet
My life was a book that could barely be read
Then they made an adventure , a genre that's dead
Thought there was nothing worse that they could do
Then they went and cloned Street Fighter 2...
What the hell is wrong with Japan
To think this was a good idea?
Did they just take me for another?
I'm hardly Liu Kang
Ryu's not my brother
Hugo's work they claim for this nonsense
How can this stand?
Maybe a sequel could be planned...
Kick some guy up the arse!
Punch him hard in the stones!
This is not what I exist for!
Is it for what I'll be known?
But maybe it won't be so bad...
Besides the pain, behind the fear
This game may offer me some freedom...
I feel much shame, but maybe that's just life.
They told me I have special moves
But do they know?
What commands I use to trigger them
And why this game is called "Arm Joe"?
I am retching, but I nod
And my fight is starting soon
And I stare at my first foe
On a computer in some room
I'll escape now from this world
From the world of Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo is nothing now!
A dumb brawler must begin!
As the mere concept of Les Misérables crumbled under the continued assault of pure, calcified stupidity, reality itself began to crack. It wasn't enough that hardened enemies like Jean Valjean and Javert might end up facing off on a 2D plane - everyone had to take their turn. Marius took some time out from lusting after Cosette to beat the living shit out his best friend and the leader of his student revolution, Enjolras. Across town, poor formerly pampered innkeeper's daughter Eponine, found herself on the wrong end of the spirit of Judgement's fists - possibly for having been a bully to her adopted sister Cosette when they were both kids, but more likely because the random dice roll said 'whatever'.
Eventually though, the sisters were bound to face each other. On the left, Cosette stood - demure, pretty and innocent. On the right, Eponine stared, clutching her far more awesome looking trenchcoat tight. Who would win? Hint for people who've never seen the musical: Eponine's life completely and utterly sucks. How much? In earlier versions of the musical, her dying moment is with a kiss on the forehead from the man she loves and ultimately gives up so that he can be happy with Cosette. In at least one later version, it was switched so that she dies mid-way through stretching out for what passes for her one pleasant moment in later life. Also, Fantine is Cosette's mother. That may help in a few lines time.
Music: Lovely Ladies - Listen to it on Spotify
I sense fighting
Blood is in the air
Think I'll take a gander
At that cat-fight over there
Fighting ladies! Give your mates a call
Eponine and Cosette are about to have a brawl
GUY AT BACK
Although that makes no bloody sense at all...
Fighting ladies, neither full of spite
In fact one helped the other 'cause she knew that it was right
Fighting ladies, a winner one will be
Just not for a while 'cause this one's a best-of-three
Quite exciting though, we all agree!
Come here my dear
What's going on over there?
Madame, I'll explain it to you.
No, you're okay.
But you'll be thrilled and amazed!
Ah, keep it down, you're far too eager to tell. What's up with that?
It's really good!
LA LA LA LA.
Five minutes? Ten?
No more than five, now hurry, while we both remain alive...
Fighting ladies, fighting for no cause
Except for maybe honour and a quick round of applause
Fighting ladies, ingenue Chun Lis
Except that both would blow away in even a slight breeze
Without clothing damage, it doesn't count as sleaze!
What clever answers
You explained everything there
Oh, by the way, I'd like to buy all your hair
Not weird at all.
No, I'm pretty sure that it is.
Don't be like that. I'll give you all of ten francs.
Don't think too hard.
Why cut you in?
DON'T NOTICE THAT!
What can I do? Shouldn't have bet
So much against my poor Cosette...
Fighting ladies, that was pretty brief
The swanky mademoiselle just beat up the gutter thief
Fighting ladies, whatcha waiting for?
That was only your first fight, you've still got plenty more...
Can someone pick that tramp up off the floor?
Defeated, Eponine slunk away. Even in a crazy, mixed up universe where nothing made sense, it seemed her life was destined to be one of misery, starvation and disappointment. She resolved to begin Arm Joe training so that next time she would not be so easily defeated. Six months and one carefully stolen PC later... it was going about as well as anything else she'd put her mind to recently...
Music: On My Own - Listen to it on Spotify
And now I'm all alone again, my net is down, my Steam won't load up...
Without Bejewelled, without a smile, without a single friend to call up...
But maybe I'll feel less shame
If I can learn to play this game...
Sometimes I play with no AI
Which I know is kind of cheating
But when I win I feel so happy
Even if it's only fleeting...
I have my little spree
And it's not quite so bad being me.
On my own, no Player 2 beside me
All alone, my life bar almost empty
Without this, I'd never taste sweet victory
'Coz when I play with others I try so hard
But they still beat me...
In the game, there's moments that I feel okay
I can dream of landing flawless victories
In my screen glow, sometimes things even feel right
And all I see is my high score a-climbing higher and higher...
And I know, it's only 'cause I cheat
That I mash my buttons hard, but I can't play
But although I know that that I'm not elite
Still I say, I'll be The Guy someday...
I love games
But when the game is over
All hope's gone
My score is just a number
Without them, the world I know is lonely
My diary's bare and everywhere
I go I'm told I'm homely.
I love games
But every day I'm playing
All my life
Will only be decaying
Without games, the world would be much colder
A world that's full of many things
That I will never know...
I love games
I love games
I love games.
But only on my own...
Unbeknownst to anyone though, the horrors of Arm Joe had only just begun. It had one more secret waiting - one more character to join the fight, whose mere existence was so stupid... so insane... the entire loose-fitting fabric of reality was about to collapse in front of their very eyes. For all the fighting, for all the silliness, for all it had wrought, nothing compared to the revelation of...
Who could possibly stand against this unstoppable force of vocal performance - a beast with all of the real Valjean's abilities, but none of his weaknesses? (Especially the one about not being a robot...) Clearly, only the original could win the day, triumphing through sheer force of heart, of will, of-
Well, anyhoo. Still a better ending than Love Never Dies
Want to experience the insanity of Arm Joe for yourself? Download it here. The default controls are horrible, but can be reconfigured - and while almost all the in-game text is in Japanese, it's obvious from the key editor what they do. You're on your own as far as most of the moves and combos go, but for the most part just hitting random keys will make the screen explode in eye-popping ways anyway. It's very stupid, completely broken, and a dreadful, dreadful fighting game... but if you're a fan of the musical, you're going to find it hilarious. If you're not, don't worry. Everyone else is just as confused.