FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

YummySkullmonkeys is notable for being a pretty fun videogame that, incidentally, hails form an alternate reality.

History is written by the winners, and, given enough time, even people who lived through that history tend to paper over the genuine details of reality. Case in point: the death of the 2-D platformer. To hear many of the old guard of videogames tell it, we spent the glorious 8 & 16-bit eras awash in an embarrassment of riches of 2-D platformers, and then, the moment the Playstation and N64 rolled into town, the era of 2-D was dead, presumably punched into an early grave by the sharp, polygonal fists of Battle Arena Toshinden. Sony had a legendary policy of rejecting all “childish” 2-D games, and the N64 couldn’t render a “retro” sprite to save its cursed life. 2-D died, and the Buster Sword was the murder weapon.

Except that’s complete bullshit, because there certainly were 2-D games on the Playstation. One of the most lauded games of all time was released on the Playstation, and it was 2-D. Mega Men of various origins had a number of 2-D adventures through the 32-bit era, and Playstation even paid host to many underdog 2-D adventures, like Silhouette Mirage and Norse by Norsewest. In short, while 3-D certainly dominated the epoch (for every Symphony of the Night there was a Castlevania 64… maybe even two) there were also 2-D action games available on CD and cartridge straight through to the death of the age of DVD. Yes, Mega Man 9 was a retro innovation, but it wasn’t that far removed from Mega Man X8.

So if 2-D games did exist, then where did they go? No, I don’t mean, “where did they end up?” We can see the answer to that every time we check the 3DS’s eshop and encounter a variety of platformers wallowing in the “Under $10!” ghetto. What I’m referring to is evolution. What I’m talking about is Mario, and the enormous gulf between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World. Heck, we consider Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World to be roughly contemporary, but Mario Maker reminded everyone that the difference between 8 and 16-bits is a lot more than eight digits. But that’s just how videogames worked practically since their inception: a new system with new possibilities means all the old games you remember with all-new graphical upgrades to get with the times. Super Contra, Super Castlevania, Super Adventure Island, Super Alfred Chicken. It’s a brand new day, and it’s time to see just how many pixels we can dedicate to Link’s eyebrows.

Look awayOf course, I suppose it’s Link and Mario that killed that trend. Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time destroyed the idea of the “evolving” sprites. Now Sonic would have to have an adventure, Mega Man would have to be a legend, and anybody that wanted to stick to the 2-D universe (hi, Wario!) would have to retreat to the lesser, portable systems. It would be years before we saw an updated Master Higgins or Monster World, because it was time to permanently migrate over to 3-D pastures.

But 3-D was not the welcoming land of milk and honey that many expected. The mascot platformer had ruled the 16-bit world, and, while many were happy to see that trend die kicking and screaming, it was clear that a universe of polygons was not going to do “cute characters” any favors. Many believe Sonic conquering the consoles fast is the only reason we saw the rise of the generic furry with attitude, but it’s a lot more likely that the horsepower of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis simply allowed for more expressive and “interesting” (I’m using quotes specifically for Aero the Acro-Bat there) mascots. And the Playstation could certainly create characters with a greater range of expressions than on the old systems… but nobody was going to mistake a model full of angles and sharp edges for cute. In fact, the death of Bubsy and his furry friends was probably just because no one could properly render fur. And without fur, all you’ve got is a ry.

ChillyBut there was one mascot from the 16-bit era that didn’t possess a single tuft of fur: Earthworm Jim. EWJ was the 16-bit mascot ideal: he was the cover-worm for every videogame magazine, he starred in his own animated series, and everyone fought over which version of which game was truly the best of the bunch. EWJ was a full-fledged phenomenon… for all of ten minutes. But, one-hit wonder or no, shouldn’t the ol’ powersuit have made the transition to 3-D? Where did our invertebrate hero go? Or, more particularly, where did the people who birthed Earthworm Jim go?

Well, they went to the Neverhood. Doug TenNapel created Earthworm Jim, and he left Shiny Entertainment (with a number of other employees) in 1995, likely because everyone seems to think Dave Perry invented the previously mentioned groovy guy. The Neverhood Inc (company) then partnered up with Dreamworks to create The Neverhood (game), an adventure game with a sincere/crazy sense of humor/whimsy. It was also a game where everything was made of clay, and there may or may not have been a hallway of scribbles that took about seventeen hours to read. It… was a weird game. But it was fun! And funny! And if PC gaming wasn’t a living hell at the time, The Neverhood likely would have become a game just as legendary as Earthworm Jim. Unfortunately, this was also a time when Electronics Boutique stopped selling PC games entirely because it was getting fed up with having to accept constant returns from screaming customers that never seemed to be able to purchase a game that would actually run on their own computers, so The Neverhood fell into that limbo of “great game, but only six people ever played it” like many 90’s computer games.

So, naturally, Neverhood Inc. tried to get a piece of the console pie. Wisely, Neverhood Inc. realized that the King’s Quest-esque adventure genre wouldn’t work on consoles for another decade or so, so the Neverhood world was repurposed as a more console friendly platforming game. Skullmonkeys was born.

WeeeeSkullmonkeys is a platforming game, plain and simple. You run, you jump, you jump on enemies, you spend a lot of time waiting for moving platforms, you’re dead in one hit unless you grab a powerup that allows for two hits, and there are a few “fireball” bits of ammo scattered around for when jumping just won’t do it. There’s a simple progression of difficulty and an increasing number of “traps” as Klaymen ventures through Idznak. There are bosses with simple, repeating patterns. There are bonus stages available only through finding various hidden knickknacks. It’s a platforming game, and if you switched in Bubsy or Awesome Possum for Klaymen, nobody would blink an eye. … Well, aside from the general confusion that would arise from playing a Bubsy game that was actually good.

Except… this was a game on the Playstation. There weren’t platforming games on the Playstation, and there certainly weren’t games that looked this gorgeous. Skullmonkeys was released the same year as Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid, 3-D games that are marvelous, wonderful experiences that are also, incidentally, terrible to look at. No, Skullmonkeys must be the last vestige of an alternate universe, another timeline where platforming games were allowed to evolve and grow into their “next gen” forms. This gorgeous, but limited, platforming game could not have seriously been released the same year as Spyro the Dragon. 1998 games are supposed to be polygons for days, with FMVs like you’d find in Ehrgeiz. There weren’t playforming games like this on the Playstation!

History tells us that platforming died with the last gasp of the Super Nintendo. Skullmonkeys, clearly, never happened.

More’s the pity.

FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

  • Platform: Playstation. I do not believe this has been ported anywhere else. This is what happens when a game is imaginary.
  • Number of players: Just Klaymen. I would not have said no to Willie becoming the Luigi.
  • Go joe!Favorite Boss: Joe Head Joe has Joe’s head for a body. At least, I would assume that is Joe. If not, he is pretty poorly named.
  • Pedantry Corner: Yes, I know there was a 3-D Earthworm Jim game. No, I am not ever going to acknowledge it.
  • Sequel Story: Skullmonkeys is a direct sequel to Neverhood, picking up exactly where the good ending of Neverhood left off, and including the planet Idznak, which was mentioned in that long-ass hallway. Fortunately, you don’t need to know a blessed thing from the Neverhood to enjoy this game, as “Klogg is evil” seems pretty apparent from the first moment he skins a monkey and wears his skull as a hat.
  • Just play the gig, man: The bonus stage music is delightful, and I certainly do not jump every time the singer claims there’s a monster right behind me.
  • Secret Shame: I have never seen the 1970’s bonus stage. Where are those damn things hiding!?
  • Goggle Bob Fact: There was enough advertising for Skullmonkeys that a Skullmonkeys sticker wound up stuck to my locker freshman year. For some reason, I found this act rebellious. I was a troubled youth.
  • Yummy!Did you know? There was apparently a Japan-only “sequel” to the Neverhood universe, a sports game called Klaymen Gun-Hockey. It was created by the company that had the Japanese rights to localize Neverhood games, and… was probably insane.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. This is a genuinely good platforming game, and I’d love to see it available on a portable (not phone, we need buttons here) system. Assuming we ever see that, couple it with save states, and we’re golden.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sunset Riders for the Super Nintendo! Get ready to bust some outlaws, pardner. Please look forward to it, ya’all!

FGC #293 WTF: Work Time Fun

Work Time Fun!Hyperbole has been the domain of videogame opinions practically since the invention of the medium (“Pong is the best thing ever!”), so it’s only natural that, somewhere along the line, a number of people started comparing videogames to work. It’s fun to play Super Mario Bros, but beating every single stage without warp zones? That’s work. Learning the exact death wall sequence in the Turbo Tunnel? That’s work. Wasting ten hours on putting Yiazmat in the grave? Totally work. Couple this with the innovation of trophies and achievements, and you could forgive someone for seeing that all-important “100% completion” achievement as work. And I can’t blame ‘em! 100% Completion in Final Fantasy 13 requires acquiring every item and forging every weapon, which I think can only be accomplished with an Excel spreadsheet and hours of battling trash mobs. Could that be described as anything but work?

But let’s revisit that Final Fantasy 13 example. In order to accomplish that 100% completion, you, player, are commanding a trio of magical warriors to fight voracious coyote monsters in life or death battles. At the end of each battle, you are rewarded with mystical crystal points and piles of crazy crap that may or may not aid you in your goal of collecting every damn thing on one of two unreal planets. Does that sound like work? In a way, maybe, but everything sounds a little more… fantasy than the usual drudgery of the office. And that’s what videogames are: they’re escapes, they’re fun, and those trophies aren’t there to turn a magical land into a dreary workplace; no, trophies are there to give you one more reason to return, one more excuse to hang out with Lightning and Hope and all your friends from this game world. They didn’t make sixty Mega Man games to keep you mindlessly glued to the couch, they made ‘em because they knew you wanted to spend more time with the Blue Bomber and all his big-eyed buddies. Videogames aren’t work! Videogames are fun!

And I know this because I have played WTF: Work Place Fun. This game is fuggin’ work.

You're outVideogames are fun, and that’s because they’re designed to be fun. Something like Venetica might be a useless slog of a game, but somewhere, somehow, someone thought there was a way that was going to be entertaining. Let’s face it: videogames exist to make their makers some fat stacks of videogame cash, and the best way to get a piece of that pie is to get people talking about your game for some reason other than mocking it on Youtube. Castlevania is so fun! Let’s go play it together! … Or something like that. Thus, despite a number of games that people claim are simply there for “trolling the player”, all videogames are meant to be fun, even if the fun may come from some unexpected sources. Mario’s fun is obvious, and Freddy Fazbear presents fun in a very different, very bloodcurdling way. Videogames are like a theme park: whether you’re on the merry go round or the rollercoaster, one way or another, you’re finding a way to enjoy yourself.

But WTF isn’t the merry go round or the rollercoaster. WTF is… waiting in line. WTF might actually be getting puked on by the kid getting off the rollercoaster. And that kid’s name is Randy, and he had so many skittles today, you wouldn’t believe it.

Conceptually, WTF is basically like Warioware: you are presented with a series of minigames, and part of the challenge is not only the obvious “complete this minigame” but also figuring out exactly how to master this game in the most efficient way possible. Yes, you can just hammer the X button, but is that really the way you want to go? Oh, wait, sorry, it’s time for another minigame now, forget everything you just learned and try this new game. And, yes, without question, that kind of gaming can be fun. Ultimate Nintendo Remix might be my favorite game of the last generation for exactly that reason, and, inclusion of Little Mac or not, WTF has every opportunity to be just as fun.

Count for me!But, despite the title, WTF is not fun. WTF takes its minigames to absurd extremes, and challenges the player not to survive or get the high score, but to obtain an insane score in the face of overwhelming boredom. The best example of this design theory is Pendemonium, a game wherein you are tasked with putting caps on pens. That’s it! Sometimes the pens are upside-down, and you have to press a button to flip said pen. That is the one and only challenge of Pendemonium. With a good rhythm, you can probably efficiently cap 1,000 pens in about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes. Just pen capping. And if you want to go for the high score, good luck, because the counter appears to enter into the billions. Assuming I’m doing my math right here, that means you could 100% complete this game sometime around the end of the Trump administration. Oh, and I’m talking about Ivanka. She’s due to be elected in 2032.

And Pendemonium is not an outlier. There’s a baseball minigame that involves catching fly balls… but there will be a number of pop flies that don’t remotely require movement. There’s a game that is based on sorting an endless, monotonous supply of chicks (to be clear, that would the small, chirpy kind of chicks). And, yes, there is certainly a game that includes all the fun of watching clay harden in a kiln. And the more active games aren’t much better, as they’re mostly do-or-die affairs where you’ll fail within the opening moments. Or maybe you would enjoy playing Simon Says with a group of burping muppets, or counting random people on a street crowded with anthropomorphic ducks and aliens. It’s pretty bad when the most fun you can have in this game is with a vague recreation of Frogger.

But, then again, that’s the point.

THIS IS BORINGWTF is a sin eater for its videogame brethren. WTF is not meant to be fun, it is meant to illuminate exactly what can go wrong in other videogames. Impossible goals and boring gameplay are the antithesis of what any videogame should feature, and WTF revels in that depravity. Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall is not trolling the player, that was somehow meant to be fun. WTF is a videogame that is trolling the player. WTF is work, and it celebrates the pain of putting too much effort into a teeny, tiny paycheck.

Work Time Fun is a deliberately bad game so that we know that other games are fun.

FGC #293 WTF: Work Time Fun

  • System: PSP. I assume this is also available for the Vita in some way or another.
  • Number of players: Like so many forgotten PSP games, WTF has online and local multiplayer options for trading items and competing against each other. Also, like so many PSP games, no one has ever found another person with a PSP to actually try these features.
  • Favorite Minigame: Mushroom Crossing is pretty much just Frogger, and, thus, pretty much okay. Look, in a game that is actively trying to kill you at all times, you take what you can get.
  • What’s in a name? In Japan, WTF is known as Beit Hell 2000, or, basically, Part Time Job Hell 2000. I want to additionally note that this game was released in 2005.
  • Hot chicksDid you know? I don’t think anyone would play the Persona series if Protag’s after-school jobs were anywhere near this annoying.
  • Would I play again: I actually might if this winds up as a downloadable title on a system I actually use portably (so that rules out the Vita). Though I really doubt we’ll be seeing WTF3D, so probably not.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Skullmonkeys for the Playstation! Monkeys, clay, and monkeys made of clay for days! Please look forward to it!

FGC #292 Brutal Paws of Fury

Here come some bunnies!I misread the title, and now we’re going to talk about furries. This is how the world works, get used to it.

First of all, to be absolutely clear, I am not a furry. I have some friends that seem to be into the scene, and I know a few more people online, and that’s about it. I’m not a furry, and, more importantly to this article, I am not a furry expert by any means. I am sympathetic to the furry community to the extent that I have a peculiar inclination to defend any group of nerds that are generally derided in polite society (but while still calling them a group of nerds), but aside from going to one furry convention with a friend pretty much entirely because I had nothing better to do, I do not have any ties to the furry community. Oh, my step brother used to date a girl that drew cartoon lizards in sexual situations for money. Does that count? It sure made Thanksgiving conversation interesting.

To also be clear, my strongest feeling towards furries is, basically, ambivalence. You like to wear a fursuit or can only get turned on while Gadget is watching? That’s fine! I also don’t particularly care. Like one of our greatest heroes, I have a thing for redheads, but I naturally assume that nobody gives a damn, so I don’t exactly advertise. I feel much the same way about practically all sexual preferences and fetishes: what you do in your bedroom is your business, and, unless I’m involved, I couldn’t care less. Everybody is consenting? Then Goggle Bob doesn’t much care.

But I know “who cares” is not the worst graffiti written on the walls of furry message boards. There is a vocal contingent of people that seem downright militantly against furries. On one hand, this seems like kind of an inevitability, because, if history has taught us anything, it’s that human beings love to find a new minority to discriminate against at the slightest provocation, and “dresses like some creepy other” was always going to be on the hit list. On the other hand, people who completely misunderstand everything about furries think they have a valid point: “cartoon animals” are the domain of children, so, clearly, some level of pedophilia must be happening within each and every furry. This is completely insane, but I can at least see how our stupid lizard brains might leap to that conclusion. It’s a weird situation where someone is wrong, but I can at least tangentially see how they got to that wrong in the first place. This still barely makes more sense than “Asians can’t drive” or “African Americans love watermelon”, but, still, at least I can parse the source of the prejudice in this case. That counts for something (no it doesn’t).

And then there are the anti-furries that… well, they might have a point.

There's always a fox girlOkay, full disclosure, I do have a problem with the furry community. But not the whole furry community! It’s a minority of a minority here that bothers me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that there have been occasional moments when I said, “damn furries.” I try to be nice! I try to be open to every one and every thing! But… I have limits. I also have a deviantart account. This is where I reach a sticking point. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but I’m…. I’m just going to say it…

I don’t care about your original character. I don’t care about your original character at all.

I’m a complete fiction nerd. It’s probably a side effect of not sleeping nearly enough, but I am a voracious reader, and that has always applied across the board. I used to read Nintendo Power and instruction manuals like some people currently binge Netflix, and, I would spend ages pouring over a one-paragraph character profile for a dude that most people just thought was named “Player One”. I like fighting games and their ridiculous stories. I like that Ryu of Street Fighter has had decades of story material written all about him, and he could still be easily described as “just a dude that likes to fight”. I understand Kingdom Hearts. I spent most of last night reading through the Tekken wiki. I am a God damn sucker for practically anything with a story, and I have read the absolute trashiest books (some in comic form!) to prove it. Under normal circumstances, yes, absolutely, please tell me about your anthropomorphic aardvark that has a secret destiny to save the world.

But, despite absolutely adoring literal literary garbage (I dumpster dive libraries), I can’t stand the average furry “original character”. Why? Well, it’s a simple matter of dream interpretation. And, yes, I am talking about literal dreams, and not those wild and magical aspirations for a better life. Basically, the rule of thumb goes that nobody cares about your dreams, because dreams are basically about as personal as something can be (after all, you are the only one that is ever going to see your dreams, ever), and imparting dream logic to another individual is traditionally inadvisable. It’s like attempting to relay that one feeling you get in your thumb every time you do that one thing… you know? That thing? It feels like… I don’t know… stuff? You know? To me, nearly every furry “original character” is exactly that situation: a long, meandering rant that might provide some insight into another person’s psyche, but is at lot more likely to be a giant waste of time that is actually about as “original” as a dream about falling. It happens to everybody, Liz! It doesn’t mean you’re special!

And, while you see this kind of thing in all sorts of communities (let me tell you about my original Zelda characters), it seems to be the most prominent in furry circles. Look, you’re dressed as a blue, bipedal wolf. That’s cool! That’s how you see yourself, or that’s how you’d like to see yourself, and that’s just super! That’s A-Okay with me! But please don’t tell me your origin story… No… no, please stop… I was proud of you a moment ago for making this intricate suit… please don’t tell me you’re the chosen one… No… you’re my sixteenth chosen one today.

And, bad news for anyone that is hoping to get a nice, light fighting game out of Brutal: Paws of Fury, what we have here is a damn furry fic fighting game. Go ahead, choose a character.

Hoppity
We’re gonna be here for a while!

I’m not certain who is responsible for this, but the credits list a whole fourteen people, so it has to be one of those dudes. Dave Exile, listed as programmer, seems to have stuck his name into every fight, so this might be his handy work. On the other hand, Rod V Humble is credited for design, so he might be the guy that decided Prince Leon the Lion needed a complicated backstory and a fortune cookie-esque explanation of who exactly would most enjoy Prince Leon. Whatever the source, somehow Brutal: Paws of Fury relies on its excess of words, because it clearly didn’t put effort into any other part of this game.

B:PoF has fluid animation, but its hit detection is wonky, and every movement feels about 200% more floaty than it should be. There’s an interesting system wherein your character “levels up” and learns new special moves as the game progresses, but that same system just creates a barrier for head-to-head play, and, honestly, no one wants to have to “learn” a move that is merely a taunt. And, while this is technically a passable fighting game, the damage ratios are all over the place, so expect a battle to end after a whole three heavy kicks, or twelve billion consecutive jabs. In short, B:PoF needed a solid month or two of actual play testing before it could even stand in remote vicinity of Street Fighter 2, and that clearly didn’t happen.

Winner?But there are words where gameplay might be. Every character has a complicated biography (well, “complete” compared to the 16-bit days of simply knowing Dhalsim’s blood type), and every battle ends with a comprehensive recap of the preceding fight. And, sorry, Brutal, but you absolutely do not need an oral history of a fight you just participated in thirty seconds ago. Look, I’m a damn verbose kind of guy that has difficulty getting through one sentence without hitting some ridiculously high word count for stating the simplest of brief concepts, and I think this is excessive! Brutal is a fighting game! Feelings are supposed to be expressed with fists! Ryu told me so!

And, in that way, Brutal: Paws of Fury is the ultimate furry game. The game needs a gameplay upgrade, but there’s a good foundation here. Unfortunately, it is also married to an unending stream of words and characters and.. ugh… Shut-up. Just… shut-up. Look, you had me at kung-fu fighting bunnies, why did you have to ruin it?

Don’t tell, show me why your original character is cool. And then get that original character to beat up a coyote swordsman. Then we’ll be on the same page.

FGC #292 Brutal Paws of Fury

  • System: This particular version hit the Genesis, Sega CD, and Super Nintendo, but there was a “Champion Edition” for 32X. I understand it did not help any problems I have now spent an entire article complaining about.
  • Number of players: Two furry lil’ dudes, duking it out.
  • To be perfectly clear: Furry culture is good and cool. People waxing poetic about their original character need to stop. Please, please stop.
  • Best bearFavorite Character: Ivar the Bear is basically Zangief in furry form. Actually, Zangief is already pretty furry to begin with, isn’t he? Maybe someone should check to see if he’s a regulation human.
  • An end: The final boss is Dali Llama. Look, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about Eastern Culture, but I’m pretty sure the “real” Dalai Lama didn’t attain his position through a fighting tournament. Or maybe I’m wrong? He just doesn’t look like a really tough dude to me.
  • Did you know? Brutal Unleashed: Above the Claw included a new character named Psycho Kitty that is a cat with hyperactivity disorder. So, ya know, a cat.
  • Would I play again: So many 16-bit fighting games, so little time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… WTF? Wait, no, that’s the name of the game. WTF: Work Time Fun for the PSP. Well that sounds like fun, now doesn’t it? Please look forward to it!