Arcade Classics: Caged Bird
Thu, 01/08/2009 — Brooke
Caged Bird is an anomaly in Sega's library, but not as much of one as some might think. The early nineties were the heyday of the big literacy push in American schools. After the ridiculous success of Nintendo's Wally Bear and the NO! Gang, it was hoped that a similar approach might work in encouraging children to read, and a series of 'Arcade Classics' were planned. The first, 1992's Gr8 X-pectations, became a critical and commercial success in Japan, paving the way for future titles.
'Angelo', the game's protagonist, seems only loosely based on the book's autobiographical lead. Hulking and heavily muscled, she punches, spin-kicks, and bludgeons her way through 12 levels of enemies, obstacles, and power-ups. The 'Stamps' level features cartwheeling, scantily-clad femme fatales, evil hillbilly dentists, and a witch that throws exploding crockery. 'Mexico', suddenly and rather confusingly, culminates in a mountainside grudge race against the level's boss, especially bizarre considering the rest of the game is a side-scrolling beat-em-up. Power-ups come either in the form of 'Birdies' – usually freed from crates or barrels – or classical novels that grant temporary invincibility.
Caged Bird is considered an average arcade fighter, but is notable for its sensitive portrayal of Angelo's plight. In contrast, an RPG adaptation of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man released by Square around the same time never made it to the US, due to racially insensitive character designs and its inexplicable portrayal of Ras The Exhorter as a black-winged, spear-hurling angel. Today, the rare 'Buttered Yam' UFO catcher plush is a collector's item among Squaresoft fans, fetching ridiculous sums whenever one is listed on Ebay. The soundtrack is widely seen as Nobuo Uematsu's most unappreciated work, incorporating jazz, ragtime, and a theme song, “Golden Day”, performed by Malice Mizer and available only on the double-disc release of the OST.
ProTips for Caged Bird:
- During the bonus Streetcar levels in San Francisco, try to ram into the crates that occasionally fall on the tracks for a special surprise!
- The cabinet art – Maya Angelou bursting free from a gilded cage astride a Chinese dragon, fists buried in a ninja's face – is a reference to a level finished but not included in the final game. Type in DRGN at the High Score screen to see what you missed.
- Momma is strong but slow. Uncle Willie is fast but weak. Nobody picks Bailey.