FGC #484 Mr. Do! Arcade Classic

In this era of international uncertainty, it is time to establish the Official Clown Threat Level Meter. Please refer to the following guide before asking any questions.

Threat Level 0: Mr. Do

A simpler doerMr. Do is not a threat to anyone. He’s a clown, yes, but all he ever does is dig around in the ground looking for cherries. And he can’t even do that well! Mr. Do is menaced by creeps, monsters that are all mouth and anxious to devour poor, ineffective Mr. Do. And what piddling abilities does Mr. Do have to fend off the infinite forces of the creeps? He’s got a ball. One. Just one. And if it bounces away without hitting a single creep, it will just sit there until it’s reclaimed, leaving the generally only mostly defenseless Mr. Do wholly defenseless. But wait! Mr. Do can drop apples on his opponents by carefully digging holes and… Wait, wasn’t that Dig Dug’s move? And Dig Dug had the wholly more effective pump weapon? Yeah, it’s confirmed, when you’re less effective than Dig Dug, you’re not a threat to anybody.

Threat Level 1: Fyer and Falbi

I do not care for these clownsFyer and Falbi are not physical threats, they are simply two clowns that run a business around Lake Hylia. One is a master of cannons in the grand tradition of Groose, and the other is a master of cuccoos in the grand tradition of… that one guy that died in the woods and became a skeleton? He probably had a name. So you would be forgiven for assuming these clowns are helpful. Dangerous mistake! Like many clowns, they are simply lulling you into a false sense of security. These clowns may not steal your heart(s), but they do want your rupees. And they’ll take every last one for their own clownish needs. Watch these “friendly” clowns, they’re anxious to caper off with your wallet.

Threat Level 2: Mad Clown

Watch outThere was a joke once: Man goes to a doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.” So then the doctor says, “Well, have you tried punching people for money?” And that’s how Pagliacci became Mad Clown the Boxing Clown. He’s visiting violence upon others to feel better about himself, and that’s concerning.

Threat Level 3: Lola Pop

Slam dunk!Lola Pop is still theoretically not a threat to the average person. Like Mad Clown, she is a fighter, but is only a fighter for the purpose of winning some nebulous prize. However, the escalation of danger here is plain for all to see. First of all, this is an artificially augmented clown, and anything that makes a clown more dangerous than a baseline human is cartwheeling down a slippery slope. And the other major concern? Lola Pop wants to open her own circus. That means more clowns. Nobody wants that! So Lola Pop may technically not be a direct threat to your average citizen, but she is a gateway to more super-powered clowns, and thus should be considered a danger to society.

Threat Level 4: Clown Man

See you in my dreamsWhat is with clowns and long, stretchy arms? Now we have a robot that is designed not unlike Lola Pop, but with one important difference: this is the first wholly homicidal clown on this threat meter. Yes! It’s true! There are clowns that are not trying to kill you! But there are many, many more clowns that want you dead. But all is not lost! While Clown Man can only be defeated by a super fighting robot, he takes more pride in entertaining his master and doing tricks deep in his own private robot park. So Clown Man is a lethal threat, but it is very unlikely that you would encounter a Robot Master in your normal, day-to-day activities. Approach abandoned amusement parks with extreme caution.

Threat Level 5: Bonker

Bonkers is a different characterBonker was once a good clown. Well, actually, it’s hard to label any clown as “good”, particularly thanks to Bonker, who went from homeless-clown to clay-clown to full-on evil-clown over the course of a few Clayfighters. By Clayfighter 63⅓, Bonker was performing messy claytalities on all of his opponents, and chopping through the competition on his way to twist a sentient piece of taffy into smithereens. And was he successful? Nope! Bonker is a murderous clown, but the finale of Clayfighter 63⅓ sees Bonker returning to a tropical vacation. So, basically, don’t interrupt his vacation, and nobody gets hurt. And don’t mess with his balloon doggie, Fifi, either.

Threat Level 6: Beppi the Clown

Don't deal with the clownWhen Cuphead is tricked into collecting the debts of the Devil, he is forced to collect the soul of Beppi the Clown. Obviously, this is a situation wherein Beppi felt threatened, so, under normal, non-clown-based circumstances, Beppi would be forgiven for defending his own life. However, Beppi is no mere victim, and immediately unleashes an entire carnival full of death. He’s got a murder-car, murder-horse, murder-balloons, murder-merry-go-round, and generally surly penguins. This is another situation wherein the clown in question would not be a threat unless prompted, but Beppi gets a special promotion for having more armaments than a small country (assuming said country does not contain clowns). Beppi proves that every clown can have a cache of carnage just beneath the surface, waiting for just the right (or wrong!) moment.

Threat Level 7: Kinky Pinky

The 80s were like thisKinky Pinky is an active threat. Not content to simply sit and wait for an opponent to appear, Kinky Pinky is a clown that works for the notable criminal organization, K.R.A.K, with other malcontents such as Mr. Big, Joe Rockhead, and Sergeant Skyhigh. And, while other members of K.R.A.K primarily focus on drug production and distribution, Kinky Pinky is purely a murder clown. He kidnaps women in broad daylight, and then produces literal murder porn to distribute to other murder clowns. And he’s only threat level seven! The forces of NARC gunned down anyone matching Kinky Pinky’s description on sight, so it’s unlikely this joker survived the Eighties, but it’s possible he’s still out there, lurking about on some street corner. Beware any and all urbanites wearing white makeup! It’s for your own good!

Threat Level 8: Needles Kane

Car ClownNeedles Kane, the star of the Twisted Metal franchise, is one clown you do not want to encounter for any reason. Clowns are generally to be feared for their innate murderous tendencies, but they are also loners. Give or take a circus or two, most clowns work alone, ultimately because they don’t like to be crammed into little cars. And while Kinky Pinky may have been a member of a criminal organization, at least he was nowhere near a leadership role. Needles Kane, meanwhile, is a murder clown with an army. Not content to simply destroy everyone and everything from Sweet Tooth, his fully-equipped ice cream truck, Needles also leads The Clowns, a cult that worships him as a king. And, to prove their devotion, The Clowns have constructed Sweet Tooth’s Carnival of Carnage, a humongous, metal circus tent on wheels. This is maximum silly slaughter here, as not only can the clown murder whole cities worth of people, but he’s also infecting others with the need for some laughs. And they built that tank thing, which is probably not going to do anything good for local real estate values, either.

Threat Level 9: Kefka Palazzo

What a poserNeedles may be worshipped like a god by his unholy legions, but Kefka actually becomes a god. Absorbing the power of the sacred trilogy of Final Fantasy 6’s world, Kefka is a clown that conquers the world and twists and contorts the whole of the planet into his own twisted image. Does he have followers? Of course. Does he have an army before he even gets started? Yep, they’re there and literally licking his boots. And is he responsible for death? You know it! He’s murderous on a nearly cosmic level, and is responsible for genociding complete towns. And he does it all with a smile on his face and a laugh in his heart. This is it, folks, the ultimate clown threat level, there’s no topping… Wait? There’s a Level 10?

Threat Level 10: Clown Car of Anonymous Murder Clowns


Oh snap. We don’t know anything about them, but they’re here for the exclusive purpose of murder, and they’re just going to laugh about it. There. That’s the top. Please avoid these murder clowns at all costs. In fact, don’t ever go outside again. We don’t know where they came from, or when they might appear, and… Yes, best not to risk it. We’re at Clown Threat Level Ten, it’s time to stay inside and weather the storm.

Beware the clowns.

FGC #484 Mr. Do! Arcade Classic

  • Mr Do!System: Super Nintendo for this particular version, but Mr. Do! has appeared on various systems going back to the arcade in 1982. If you’re hankering for some Do action, you can hit the Gameboy Color, Gameboy, Commodore 64, ColecoVision, or even Atari 2600. It’s one of those ubiquitous old games.
  • Number of players: Two! And this version even has a two player simultaneous mode where you can get into full-blown clown-on-clown violence!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There really isn’t much to Mr. Do! It was released the same year as Dig Dug, and it’s barely different from that title, yet somehow worse. I suppose Mr. Do! places less of an emphasis on violence as ol’ Taizo Hori, but that just makes the game come off more as a clone of Pac-Man when it comes to consumption-based goals. Basically, there’s a reason Mr. Do! barely escaped the 90s, left alone the decade of his birth.
  • Were there other murder clowns you could have featured in this article? Oh, so many. Like, you wouldn’t believe how many threatening clowns there are across the breadth of gaming. I only featured one from an arcade-style fighting game! Those creatures were all over the arcades back in the day.
  • Did you know? Mr. Do! appears as a snowman, not a clown, in his initial Japanese release. That would have really messed up this article!
  • Would I play again: No thank you. Can I just play Dig Dug instead? I think I’m gonna play Dig Dug.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World for NES! Don’t have a cow, Bart, it’s only the world you have to fight. Please look forward to it!

SCARY CLOWN
Trigger Warning: Horror

MKK: Cassie Cage

In retrospect, it is very important that “Mortal Kombat 9” was officially titled simply “Mortal Kombat”. MK9 was a return to form for the franchise in one particular department: it was just Mortal Kombat. MK9 contained no kart racing, puzzle kombat, chess kombat, questionable JRPG/beat ‘em up hybrids, Hotaru: nothing. Mortal Kombat 9 was simply dudes punching dudes, a story mode featuring dudes punching dudes, and various “missions” that included slight (but interesting) variations on dudes punching dudes. The only mini games available where the “test your might”-style challenges found in the original Mortal Kombat, and… that was it. Some believed that this was all Mortal Kombat ever needed, and that hypothesis did seem to bear fruit when Mortal Kombat 9 wound up being possibly the most popular MK title since… ever. It didn’t introduce anything particularly new to the franchise, but it was capital M Mortal Kombat. And that’s how the franchise once again claimed a flawless victory, earning the swagger that had been missing since Mortal Kombat 4.

So somebody had the bright idea to do Mortal Kombat 4 all over again.

Dammit!

Cassie!

But wait! We are adding new things this time! For one thing, Liu Kang, the original victor of Mortal Kombat 4, is dead. In fact, he’s so dead, he’s fighting on the other team. This means that Shinnok, Lord of the Netherrealm and commander of demon hordes, decides to drop the subterfuge angle he employed in the original MK4 timeline, and just wholesale invades the realms with an army of monsters and zombies. So that leads to a lot of punching, right? Wrathful wraiths Sub-Zero and Scorpion can battle good guys like Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and… Oops, all the rest of the heroes are dead. So when the final battle finally happens, it’s Cage vs. Shinnok. Sonya would love to help, but she winds up damseled pretty early in the battle, and Johnny is forced to summon up all his green glowy power to beat Shinnok back into his own magical amulet. The world is saved by Hollywood star power, but, more importantly, Sonya gets all hot and bothered for Mr. Cage. And you know what that means?

Offspring! Meet Cassie Cage!

Cassie (and her whole “kiddy” entourage) is something of a first for the Mortal Kombat series. Likely due to the superviolence on display, the MK franchise never really focused on a neophyte or “child” style character. While kanon ages vary across the board, the general “feeling” of most fighters in MK is that we’re dealing with adults with jobs, families, and health insurance. Jax doesn’t leave his gig at McDonald’s to raid his mini fridge for the last pizza bite; he’s a goddamn major in the United States military. Johnny Cage is an established movie star. Scorpion had a wife and child before he became a vengeance skeleton. Even the outworlders feel “adult”: Baraka is a soldier, Kitana is an established assassin, and Goro has been at the top of his field for literally centuries. The second Sub-Zero is about as close as the original crop gets to being inexperienced, but even he immediately displays his vast knowledge of ninja powers and robot programming (so he’s clearly already completed a double major). Once we include the later MK games, we can see a few attempts at a “new to this whole thing” kharacter, like Frost or Li Mei, but both of those ladies became cutthroat and murderous almost instantly. In short, Mortal Kombat resisted the existence of a Sakura or Noel Vermillion in its universe for a very long time, and Cassie seems like an abnormality as a result.

Rude much?

But, to be clear, Cassie is not some fighting preteen or something similar. Mortal Kombat X officially starts about 25 years after the events of its prologue, Reboot Mortal Kombat 4, so she’s in her 20’s by the time the story begins in earnest. Compared to other franchises, she’s practically an old lady for admitting she’s past her teens. But Cassie’s story is continually one of a neophyte and child: she’s good, she knows she’s good, but her parents literally repeatedly saved the world, so is she that good? Can she save the world, too? Where does she fit in in this crazy, uppercut-based universe? Give or take some specific parental issues, it’s the dilemma of a number of young adult-aimed protagonists across fiction across centuries, and it is, incidentally, the only plot available to roughly 95% of anime produced since Neon Genesis Evangelion. So, again, it’s a little bit strange that Mortal Kombat decided to introduce the story of Katniss Evercage now, nearly 25 years after launching the series. It would be like if Street Fighter 6 focused on E. Honda hosting a hot dog eating competition featuring Sakura and Karin. Who would ever claim that could be the best thing to come out of the franchise in years?

Anywho, if it sounds like I’m saying Cassie is somehow a poor fit for Mortal Kombat, that is not my intention. Cassie’s whole deal is by no means bad, it’s simply weird that this type of character/story is being introduced to the franchise this late in the game. The adults were talking this whole time, and now lil’ Cassie wants to sing a song she learned from the Teddy Bear Brigade. It… presents a slightly different tone than the usual.

… Which is probably why Mortal Kombat X has a background plot of Outworld-based political intrigue… but I guess we have to wait for Kotal’s bio to cover that one.

Regardless, Cassie’s story is basically the story of Mortal Kombat X, so let’s see what we have here. Mortal Kombat X takes place a solid two decades (and change) after the finale of Reboot Mortal Kombat 4, which happened about two years after Reboot Mortal Kombat 1-3. This leads to a neat trick where Mortal Kombat 1 (and MK9) took place the same year MK1 was released, and MKX takes place roughly the same year as its release, too. Cassie is just about as old as Mortal Kombat! So Cassie has decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and join the Special Forces, a big ol’ American armed forces joint that sees our brave men and women fighting against the demon hordes (or whatever happens to step through a big, swirly portal). The Special Forces have been instrumental in the years following MK9 as, in Shao Kahn’s death/absence, there’s been a bit of a power vacuum in Outworld, and everyone from Mileena to a particularly irate three-headed turtle has ruled that realm at one time or another in the preceding decades. Cassie is assigned to some kind of general reconnaissance team with the rest of the new class: Jacqui Briggs (daughter of Jax), Takeda Takahashi (son of Kenshi & Scorpion [you heard me]), and Kung Jin (third cousin twice removed of Kung Lao). Together, they are Mortal Kombat: The Next Generation, and their first mission is investigating Sub-Zero (now alive again) and the Lin Kuei (not robots this week). They get their collective asses kicked, and learn a valuable lesson about teamwork and how they will never succeed if they don’t work together. Thus, it should be absolutely no surprise that the finale of this story is Cassie saving the entire universe by fighting completely alone. And that’s why Sub-Zero is a terrible dad.

Rude much?

Anywho, Cassie and her team then proceed to act out the general plot of about 9/10s of JRPGs, as there’s this magical medallion out there that sealed Shinnok away, and they have to reclaim it, or at least make sure the bad guys don’t get it, or at the absolute very least make sure the bad guys don’t get it and run it into the malevolent endzone of a magical temple and summon a Shinnok that is a million times more powerful than they could ever imagine, bwa ha ha and whatnot. As you might expect, the whole team puts in their best effort, but, what, did you expect the final boss to be Cassie’s crippling self doubt? Of course not. It’s revived Dracula from the prologue, and now Cassie must behold his true form and despair. But Cassie eventually succeeds because, in a lovely parallel to the prologue battle, Cassie taps into the glowing green power of her father, and defeats Shinnok in order to rescue a damseled Johnny. Does this mean Johnny is now going to fall in love with his daughter? Ha ha! That would be ridiculous! Johnny Cage isn’t president!

Anywho, the moral of Mortal Kombat X wound up being “don’t worry about measuring up to your parents, because you are your parents.” And that isn’t a horrifying parable at all!

For Mortal Kombat 11, Cassie seemed poised to be queen protagonist again. The top of MK11 sees Cassie and Sonya raiding the stronghold of the forces of the Netherrealm, but Sonya is left behind, and, on Sonya’s own orders, Cassie must detonate some explosives that leave Sonya slain (and if you die in the Netherrealm… uh… um… I really have no idea how the MK afterlife works… it’s probably not great). But Cassie barely has time to mourn her lost mother when a time-displaced version of Sonya walks straight out of a time hole. And she’s a Sonya from roughly when she was the same age as Cassie! Gasp! And now they have to compete in a mother/daughter cook-off for the mortgage to the orphanage! How are they ever going to get out of this one!? Unfortunately for Cassie’s reputation, MK11 winds up having bigger fish to fry, and the whole Cassie/Sonya/Other Sonya relationship is sidelined almost immediately by warring gods and zombie kings. I guess they both learn something new about each other? Before they’re wiped from existence? Something like that.

Rude much?

But that’s basically how Cassie’s life goes down: she’s a “child” character in a story full of adults, and it feels like her starring roles are constantly usurped by more interesting, adult stories. I’m not saying “the Aztec god wants to beat up that ninja lady from the Playboy” is Melville here, but I’m moderately certain people don’t play Mortal Kombat games to further explore their daddy issues. You want a dedicated story about a chosen one blonde with a ponytail that has to save the world on a routine basis while dealing poorly with authority figures, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is right there.

…. Now I’m imagining a Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossover fighting game.

… And it’s pretty great.

Bah, I’ll get to the rest of the new kids next week. I need to work out all of Willow’s special moves right now.

Next time: “So… is your dad a zombie?” “No, he’s just depressed.”

FGC #483 Fantasia

Wake up!How bad does a game have to be for Disney to wipe it from existence?

Fantasia is an action platformer game for Sega Genesis that was released in 1991, roughly fifty years after the release of the original Fantasia film. Presumably commissioned thanks to the success of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Mickey is the star of the show, as the “sorcerer’s apprentice” has to travel through four levels to collect some music notes that were lost thanks to a malevolent force that no one decided to actually program into the game. Blame invisible music thieves. Mickey predominantly is stuck tackling enemies with a jump attack, but he also has strong and weak magical spells that are about as plentiful as Mario’s P-Wings. Most of the stages are horizontally scrolling affairs (one is vertical), and the general challenge of the game comes from avoiding enemies with largely predictable patterns. Aside from a few moving platforms and attendant “trap” floors, that’s all there really is to Fantasia. It’s a pre-Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis platforming game. Nobody was expecting The Epic of Mickey here.

But how did this wind up being a game that Disney demanded be destroyed?

Well, if you sit down and play Fantasia, you’re immediately faced with the simple fact that this game is a bear to actually play. Right from the start, the screen is obscured for arbitrary reasons, and that transforms even the most basic platforming from “fun” to “mouseicide”. There’s also a pretty dreadful knock-back/invincibility window going on here, so making it past the first screen requires a little practice, left alone surviving the later levels that actively take place in Hell (excuse me, “Bald Mountain”). Magic is in short supply (not a metaphor), and Mickey always feels underequipped to deal with the monsters du jour. And speaking of monsters, practically everything takes up way too much screen real estate, so even a successful dodge or two usually ends with a third, initially unseen monster taking the sorcerer’s apprentice down a peg.

This is boringAnd the worst part? Some levels are going to have to be repeated forever. The goal of this game is to collect a number of missing musical notes that have been scattered across four elemental-themed levels. And, unfortunately, this is not the kind of platformer where every lost note is simply waiting at the end of a stage like a Toad waiting to inform Mario he got some bad princess intel. No, this is a game where you have to actively search for and collect every last (or at least the majority of) doodad. It’s a collectathon before collectathons ever came into style! And, while that might be an interesting bit of “prehistory” in any other game, in Fantasia, the concept of a “collectathon” isn’t ironed out well enough to be actually playable. The issue? If you don’t collect enough of the hidden musical notes in an area, you have to repeat the whole of the level. It’s essentially the same failure state you’d see after having to choose “continue” in Mega Man or alike, and, given this was back in the old days of vaguely non-verbal titles, there is very little indication as to why you have to repeat a level. And, for that matter, no additional “clues” or hints are given to aid you in finding those missing notes, so it’s very likely you could be stuck repeating a level over and over again with no real idea why. And, while it may seem silly to think that you could unknowingly be stuck in an infinite loop in the year of our virus 2020, consider that this was a game intended for Disney-loving children in 1991, a year with titles like Captain Commando, where your only goal is “go right and hit things”. Why would Mickey Mouse have goals more lofty than a future cyborg and his mech-riding baby pal?

But if you think that is reason enough for Disney to permanently cancel a videogame, think again. Disney already had its fair share of stinkers across gaming by 1991 (we do not discuss Mickey Mousecapade and a weeping Wee Goggle Bob on this blog), and it’s not like Disney would stop its lousy videogame output and prevent the eventual borderline sex-crime that was Disney’s Tarzan Untamed. Glub glubFor every Ducktales or Aladdin in Disney’s oeuvre, there’s a Timon & Pumbaa’s Jungle Games or Toy Story Racer. There are some abhorrent Disney titles out there, so why was Fantasia singled out as a game Disney decided could no longer be produced, and must be recalled. What made the badness of Fantasia so damn bad?

And, as ever, it comes down to nepotism. Disney’s Fantasia was not recalled because it was a terrible game, it was recalled because someone was afraid they had pissed off daddy.

Or at least his uncle.

In 1991, Roy Edward Disney was an executive at Disney. This was because, as of his birth, Roy was the nephew of Walt Disney (and the son of Roy Oliver Disney, who was probably also related to somebody). Roy’s history with the Disney corporation is long and complicated. He was the obvious successor to good ol’ Walt, but Disney also had a series of… let’s call them “issues” after Walt’s retirement/cryogenic freezing. Roy practically resigned in ‘84 due to Disney selling out to The Man, but when investors attempted a hostile takeover of what was left shortly thereafter, he organized a “Save Disney” campaign that involved a number of “good” investors rescuing the animated heart of Disney. And aren’t we all glad Roy saved Disney from becoming some soulless, massive corporation beholden only to stockholders? From there, many look to Roy E. Disney as the man responsible for Disney’s 80s/90s renaissance period… Assuming they’re not crediting Jeffrey Katzenberg, which wound up being a whole “thing” for Roy, and eventually was theoretically a significant reason for Katzenberg resigning. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in Disney town! But Roy did theoretically go out on a high note, as his final project saw release and general acclaim: Fantasia 2000.

This is frighteningApparently Roy was a big fan of the original film Fantasia, and believed it to be a huge part of his uncle’s legacy. This made a certain amount of sense, as Walt Disney himself considered Fantasia to be one of his greatest masterpieces. And, by all accounts, it was! Fantasia is unlike anything that has ever appeared in animated features before or since, and the level of craft and detail on display is plain to see to even the most jaded audience that may or may not appreciate dancing hippos. And, while the movie as a whole doesn’t naturally lend itself to platforming hijinks, it is the kind of film that could equally be enjoyed by a toddler as an octogenarian. You still have to be in the mood to survive a visit from Chernabog, but otherwise, it is pretty close to being a perfect movie. It’s the Citizen Kane of movies featuring racist centaurs!

So you can understand how a situation wherein Walt Disney told his nephew, “Please never make crappy licensed merchandise based on Fantasia,” would have happened. And you could see how, when Roy Disney was faced with how absolutely atrocious Fantasia for the Sega Genesis turned out to be, he immediately recollected this statement, and threw the game under the bus with the explanation that there had been a “misunderstanding” regarding what properties were allowed to have games. And that’s why, despite the fact that Fantasia appears to be in literally everyone’s Sega Genesis lot on Ebay, Fantasia is historically one of the few Sega Genesis titles to be outright recalled. Roy didn’t want to offend Walt’s frosty ghost, and Fantasia was destroyed for the good of the Disney brand.

And that’s why, thanks to Walt’s dire warnings about never licensing Fantasia for any reason, there was never again a lousy videogame bearing the name Fantasia.

Kinect again!

Oh son of a bitch.

FGC #483 Fantasia

  • System: Sega Genesis alone for this one. There are some other good Mickey games on Genesis, and a trio of excellent ones on the Super Nintendo, but Fantasia doesn’t come anywhere close to good, and is sequestered to the Genesis.
  • Number of players: One Mickey, and he isn’t particularly hidden.
  • Great Injustice: Bald Mountain is the final area, but the one and only Chernobog is nowhere to be found. Maybe this is why Nomura eventually had to wedge that fight into a couple of better-known videogames.
  • Jurassic BeatFavorite Level: There are only four, and I have a hard time picking a favorite. Not because they’re all that great, but simply because they’re all on varying levels of horrible. Level one has way too many (required) concealed areas hiding in esoteric spots. Level three’s vertical scrolling is awful paired with Mickey’s limited life bar. Level Four is just a grueling gauntlet of way too many monsters at once. I suppose Level Two, the “earth” stage, is the winner for simply being the most… forgettable.
  • Did you know? This game uses music from Fantasia, which is predominantly from classic musicians. And the instruction manual lists the composers for all those classic songs. And that’s pretty great for a time period that barely acknowledged videogames even had music composers.
  • Would I play again: Not for all the films locked in the Disney Vault. There are so many better, less outlawed games to play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mr. Do! Arcade Classic for the Super Nintendo. I bet he’s going to do… uh… something? Please look forward to it!

I'm finished!

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

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