Chelnov: Atomic Runner
The game: Controversially inspired by the Chernobyl Incident (the game's title in Japan is “Cherunoboru”), Chelnov one-ups the comic-book trope of “Exposure to a radioactive X gives you the power of X:” surviving a meltdown grants a lucky Russian the power to run, shoot lasers, run, and run.
The lesson: One thing comics never addressed was the deleterious effect of radioactive enhancement: Chelnov has the power to run as far and fast as he pleases, but his nuked brain never thinks to use this power for evasion. Learn from Chelnov's mistake: run away from certain death occasionally.
Super Mario Bros
The game: Having tried his hand at real estate, carpentry and plumbing, a plucky blue-collar everyman decides that running sideways and jumping on things may be his true calling. This becomes the formula for every game for the next 8 years, until John Romero invents space marines.
Above: 1985 presents “how to put a plot twist in your videogame”
The lesson: Don't get Super Mario Bros wrong, it appreciates your effort – but the Princess is almost always in another castle. The lesson here is either “focus on the journey, not the destination,” or the less poetic but more sensible “ask for directions before leaving the house in the morning.”
Asterix/Sonic the Hedgehog/Shinobi III
Above: The plucky Gaul defeated by his nemesis: the direction Left
The games: Popular among bastard game designers throughout the ages, the fixed-scrolling level was a particular favorite among the bastards at Sega: the screen is going to keep moving, no matter what, and if you get squashed between a wall and the edge of the screen, you'll die without so much as an explanation as to how that's meant to work.
Above: See that platform at the bottom of the screen? No, and that means it doesn't exist anymore
The lesson: The worst part of fixed-scrolling levels is when they introduce elements that punish you harshly for rushing ahead or falling behind. There's ostensibly some sort of lesson there about how “life is a fixed-scrolling level,” or “don’t dwell on the past or you could miss the future,” but the more prosaic truth is this: Bastard game designers are bastards.
Above: “Story” mode, also known as “Nobody Ever Plays This Mode” mode
The game: A pint-sized cutie-pie plants enough explosives to make Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski and Mossad look like a pack of lightweights. There's the option to do this as part of a good-versus-evil story, but the only reason anyone ever plays Bomberman is for Versus Mode.
The lesson: Whereas competition in Street Fighter 2 or Doom involved tactical play, and respect was due for a good takedown, the best Bomberman player is always the most sociopathic asshole in the room. What can we take from this? Only that we are all alone in this world, sucking fleeting breaths on a forsaken rock drifting aimlessly through oblivion; but those who are good at Bomberman, doubly so.
The games: It was inevitable that game designers would take the “assume omniscient viewpoint and dispassionately direct human affairs for shits and giggles” formula to its logical endpoint: Casting the player as God. But being all-powerful means never having any challenge, so then they scaled it back by adding enemies and casting the player as a passive-aggressive dick.
The lesson: Play Actraiser for a few hours and watch your feelings toward your subjects go from “protective and loving” to “frustrated and abusive.” It's no wonder the sequel ditched the “God mode” bits in favor of extra smashing-things sequences. As Snoop Dogg would later point out, being the boss means paying the cost. The cost of stultifying boredom.
Above: Our hero, in a far from rare occurrence, takes damage
The game: A mad professor unleashes a squadron of lethal, stupidly-themed robots on a defenseless world. The obvious answer: ask a slightly-less-mad professor to send a pug-faced, theme-bereft robot to take them all down, one by one, without a single annoying sidekick of any kind. We'll see how long that lasts.
The lesson: Work out an order in which to tackle your problems. Studious Mega Man players know that taking on the killer 'bots in the right sequence is far more sensible than just taking on the one with the weakest name first. Apply thought to the problem and see your task go from “insurmountable” to downright “marginally-surmountable!”
The Adventures of Bayou Billy
The game: His name's Billy, he lives in the Bayou, and he has adventures. That may seem vague, but bear in mind that Bayou Billy is one of the widest-reaching games of its time: Jumping! Driving! First-person shooting! It's basically a Wii game in an NES cartridge, but with a decent controller.
The lesson: Don't try to put a Wii game in an NES cartridge. While Billy himself had enough smarts not to don city-slicker trou and attend some fancy learnin' house, his game was notoriously overambitious. You can do one thing well, or you can do everything, really badly, in a stupid crocodile hat.