Can you spot all the video game references in "Wreck-it Ralph"?
Disney’s animated film Wreck-It Ralph is an unabashed love letter to classic video games.
A handful of your faithful TechHive editors enjoyed an advanced screening of the film’s theatrical debut, and after comparing notes we agreed that the best way to watch Wreck-It Ralph once it arrives in theaters on Friday is to know nothing about the plot and everything about all the games and tech that influenced the movie, so that you don’t miss out on any of the callbacks.
To that end, we scrambled to jot down every game character cameo and retro reference we could spot, and then sat through a Q&A session with the folks who made Wreck-It Ralph a reality, to learn how a movie that wallows so deeply in geek culture gets made.
Know the history
Turns out making the movie was harder than it looks: The idea for Wreck-It Ralph had been kicking around Disney for almost a decade under various names (Joe Jump, Reboot Ralph), while other studios struggled to adapt video games for the silver screen. Box-office bombs like Doom, Hitman, and Max Payne attempted to convey what makes games so compelling, something Disney seems to have actually achieved here by creating original characters that viewers don’t recognize or have preconceived ideas about and then sending them on a boilerplate hero’s journey through a classic arcade filled with references to real-world popular games.
In fact, the arcade in the film is a composite of childhood memories of actual arcades in California, including Golf N’ Stuff in Ventura and Castle Park in Sherman Oaks. The decision to set the film in an arcade was controversial, since so many of us play games on a PC or home console these days, but director Rich Moore settled on the classic coin-op for his backdrop after discovering that even his teenage son understood what an arcade was and why it was such an alluring geek refuge.
“I never saw a Charlie Chaplin film or a Laurel and Hardy film in a theater, but I knew what those were as a kid,” said Moore. “They were part of the fabric of popular culture.”
To that end, the range of games referenced in Wreck-It Ralph spans 30 years of tech, from 8-bit arcade machines straight out of the 1980s to the light-guns and racing wheels commonly found on contemporary game cabinets. Even if you haven’t played or even heard of most of the games referenced in the film, you can still enjoy the actual story, which revolves around four original characters and their somewhat predictable (but still enjoyable) quest to save the arcade from imminent disaster.
Spot the cameos
You’ll enjoy Wreck-It Ralph a lot more if you have an idea of what to look for going in. There are so many direct and indirect references to the characters, locations, and culture of gaming that it’s nearly impossible to catalogue every easter egg, but we did our best to scour the Internet and our brains to pull together a list of the highlights.
That said, this list is far from complete. Between clear cameos, original characters with obvious inspirations, and cultural homages, it's possible that nobody could catch every reference—maybe not even Disney.
“We worked with 400 to 500 people on a film like this, and each of them has a different game or a different thing about video games that they love,” said producer Clark Spencer when we asked him whether there was an official tally sheet somewhere in the bowels of Disney with a list of all the Wreck-It Ralph references. “All of them would come up with ideas and say ‘Hey, what if we put this over in the corner, what if we put this up here somewhere?’ So really, I don’t think anyone has a complete list.”
Keep an eye peeled for references to these games while you're watching Wreck-It Ralph, and, in the comments below, add any we missed, so other readers will know what to watch for.
- Street Fighter
- Super Mario Bros.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Dig Dug
- Space Invaders
- Sonic the Hedgehog
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Altered Beast
- Metal Gear Solid
- House of the Dead
- Mega Man
- Mortal Kombat
- Gears of War
- Mario Kart
- World of Warcraft
Play the games
The best way to prepare for Wreck-It Ralph is to play some games and appreciate the culture that inspired and shaped the film. You can pop over to the promotional website right now and play through Flash versions of the fake games featured in the film. Disney also released an iOS version of the Fix-It Felix Jr. game featured in the film—it's an entertaining way to kill a few minutes if you have some downtime. The on-screen directional pad and Fix-It button are much more comfortable to play with on an iPad than an iPhone or iPod touch, especially if you manage to get it working with an iCade cabinet.
If you feel like playing some real games you can also point your browser to the Atari Arcade to play classic Atari arcade games like Centipede, Pong, and Asteroids in your browser via HTML5. If you ever owned one of the classic games referenced in the movie, you might consider dipping a toe into game emulation, using MAME or another popular emulator to emulate the games you purchased on your PC. This is a smart idea if you don't want to risk damaging old game cartridges or hardware, but it's also something worth hacking together if you just want to play the games on your awesome new HDTV.
If you're uncomfortable with the idea of downloading emulators or you just want to expand your game collection, consider tracking down some vintage video games. I can't recommend this last tip enough; the first thing I wanted to do after watching Wreck-It Ralph was revisit the arcade I grew up in as a kid, but since it's roughly 400 miles away (Camelot Golfland in Anaheim), the next best thing was to dust off my old Sega Genesis and pop in Sonic the Hedgehog. If you're passionate enough about games to have your own trove of treasured memories and tech, you'll appreciate Wreck-It Ralph as more than just another animated family-friendly feature.