FGC #305 Bubble Bobble

Let's get bubblingI realize I’m just the latest blogger to throw my hat into the ring on this one, but here’s my theory on the Bubble Bobble timeline.

I think we can all agree it starts with Bubble Bobble, and everyone knows the familiar tale of that game. Brothers Bub and Bob encounter the nefarious Baron Von Blubba, an albino ghost creature that kidnaps Bub and Bob’s betties. Bub and Bob are then transformed into bubble blowing dinosaurs, and a magical journey through the Cave of Monsters is the only road to rescue/restored humanity.

And, for the record, the Cave of Monsters is a pretty fun place to hunt monsters with bubbles. Bubble Bobble is one of those rare games that falls into the arcade vs. console gulf, but is actually entertaining to play. What could be very simple gameplay quickly becomes much more complicated with things like elemental bubbles, and some of the unique “maze” levels make navigation interesting (the enjoyable kind of interesting, to be clear). And I want to say that this is the first NES game I ever played where your hero can suffer a “stun” hit (mostly from lightning bubbles), as opposed to every moving thing on the screen instantly killing poor Bub. Even Mario wasn’t afforded that luxury!

But the real kicker for Bubble Bobble is the two player mode. 2-Player Simultaneous play on the NES was a beautiful unicorn that frolicked through the meadows far too fast for many games to catch it and braid its beautiful mane… Wait, this metaphor kind of got away from me… Point is that the ability to “play two player” actually at the same time, and not as some lame alternating mode where you’re forced to cheer for the immediate death of your best friend was a rarity at the time reserved for the likes of Double Dragon 2 (but not Double Dragon 1). 2-Player Bubble Bobble, with its Mega Man-like jumping, shooting, and Bubble Lead, was a marvelous innovation on the home consoles. If Bubble Bobble is remembered for one reason, it’s for cooperative Bub and Bob monster bubbling.

Down, dinoThough, according to all data, it’s that delightful two player mode that has caused the fractured timeline of the Bubble Bobble universe. Bubble Bobble was ahead of its time in more ways than just multiplayer: it actually contained multiple endings. And these endings weren’t based on whether or not you told Glenn he’s dumb or slayed Grumple Gromit early, no these endings were based on if you were cool enough to even have a friend. If you complete Bubble Bobble as a solitary loser, than you’re told that you’ve reached the “bad end”, and come back with a friend, you lonely, detached hermit. But if you find a buddy, then and only then do you receive the good ending, with Bub and Bob regaining their brides and becoming human once again. This creates a clear dichotomy: Bub and Bob have no control over their dinosaur forms, and they are either human or dinosaur.

Bub and Bob are evidently human in Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2. Bub and Bob have forsaken their dinosaur forms and bubbles altogether to rescue the Rainbow Islands from The Boss of Shadow, who is/was apparently Baron Von Blubba’s boss. Or is Baron Von Blubba? It’s confusing. Regardless, during this adventure, the beoveralled brothers can produce rainbows and use said meteorological phenomenon to both attack monsters and create useful platforms. Assuming the bros. can defeat Dark Shadow (apparently also known as Super Skull Monsta… don’t ask), a large group of dino-people are rescued and transformed back into humans. Again, the message is obvious: being a dinosaur person is a punishment, not a reward, and Bub, Bob, and all their friends should be human.

Can I get some room?But what about Puzzle Bobble aka Bust-A-Move? In this famous puzzle game, Bub and Bob are again dinosaurs. What’s more, they’re using bubble powers to pop bubbles filled with monsters from Bubble Bobble. What’s going on? Have Bub and Bob been re-cursed? Was a life of humanity, living in boring seclusion with their nameless girlfriends, too much for the poor former-lizards? Once you become a magical dinosaur, you can never go home again? What’s the deal, Puzzle Bobble? Why did you undo the good deeds of these adorable dinos?

And this is where the multiple timelines theory comes into play. Bub and Bob did not regress to their dinosaur forms, they simply never transformed back! It’s very simple if you consider the two endings of OG Bubble Bobble: in one path, Bub and Bob were restored, and went on to save Rainbow Islands, and in the other, Bub and Bob could not work together, and eventually defeated Baron Von Blubba without being properly transformed back into humans. In that world, the Bub Bros. were forced to constantly relive their failure in a puzzle-based purgatory, and forever be dinosaurs performing for browser-based games until the end of time. Or until they learn to work together again… which may take a while, considering dinosaurs have brains slightly larger than Nerf darts. It might take a few millennia for such a creature to learn a lesson…

And that’s the simple explanation for the Bubble Bobble expanded universe. I could share the 2,783 slide PowerPoint presentation I made on the topic, but this article is already getting a little long, and I’d prefer to get back to popping bubbles now. Just remember: Bub and Bob were doomed to an unending torment because Jimmy couldn’t come over to help you beat the game that one time. Have a fantastic day!

FGC #305 Bubble Bobble

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for this review, but the arcade port was available for a myriad of other systems, including the Gameboy, Master System, and Game Gear. It was the Bust-a-Move of its time.
  • Number of players: Always be two people!
  • Favorite Enemy: You never forget your first monster, and the Zen-Chan aka Bubble Buster, the little wind up man, is my favorite creature in the Cave of Monsters. I adore his little angry eyes when you’re running low on time/monsters.
  • Proper Genus: I suppose Bub and Bob are supposed to be dragons, not dinosaurs? Bah, I care not for your creature canon.
  • WUV?Goggle Bob Fact: So I have extended family in Florida, and, when I was a kid, this was used as a fine excuse to say over and visit Disney World for a week on an annual basis. As everyone knows, there are roughly 12,000 things to do in Orlando… but I generally most remember playing Bubble Bobble with my younger cousin, because it was like the only two player game he owned. In later years, Universal Studios Orlando became available, but my cousin also obtained Rocket Knight Adventures, and… Wow, I really have measured my life in tiny plastic cartridges.
  • Did you know? The Invader/Super Socket monster moves and looks exactly like a Space Invader. Taito was mining that nostalgia fount before there even was videogame nostalgia.
  • Would I play again: Be glad this article isn’t just me lamenting my inability to score a second player for a thousand words or so. I really enjoy Bubble Bobble, but it doesn’t see much play these days, because, ya know, everyone has lives. Was BB on the NES Mini? It was? Dammit, another reason I should have grabbed one of those.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… King of Fighters 2006! 2006? That was only eleven years ago. Which one was that, again? Bah, guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!

That and Mario Paint

FGC #304 Pokémon X/Y

I am a heterosexual male, and, for this, I consider myself lucky. To be clear, in this case I’m not talking about being lucky because being a (white) heterosexual male is practically easy mode on a social and biological level; no, I consider myself lucky because I like being a heterosexual male. I’m about 90% straight (10% of me gazes wistfully at pictures of Cillian Murphy), so I’ve never doubted my sexuality, and I’m a man’s man, so I’m totally okay with my boy parts. Mind you, I suppose I have always been terrible at sports (both playing and watching), and my body isn’t so much built for lumberjacking as it seems to be more designed for comfortably filling office chairs, but, regardless, I’ve never thought I wanted to be another gender. I am comfortable in my own skin, and, barring scientific advances that would allow me to graft a tail to my spine, I have no grand desire to change any part of me. I am just as genetics made me, and I’m okay with that.

However, if you were to boot up any save file of mine from a game that allows you to choose your protagonist’s gender… Well… It might appear that I want to be a pretty, pretty princess.

Today’s game is Pokémon X/Y. Starting with Pokémon Crystal (effectively Pokémon 2.5, for anyone not familiar with the odd naming conventions of the franchise), it became possible to choose “the girl” as your digital avatar. Likely because of Crystal being something of a revision/”incremental version” game, this started a simple pattern in my playing habits. When I played the first Pokémon game of a generation (like, say, Pokémon Ruby), I would choose the boy character, and name him Bob. Then, when the inevitable sequel popped up (like Pokémon Emerald), I would choose the girl character, and name her Robin (Bob – Rob – Robin). If any prequel remakes popped up in that time, I’d go with the “kiddy” version of the names in the same pattern, usually something like Bobby followed by Robyn. All o' 'emGenerally, I considered this a simple way to trade with myself across multiple Gameboys, as the naming convention would make it easy to see where Pokémon originated. I know that Mewtwo was originally caught by Bobby in Pokémon Fire Red, for instance. Not being certain of such a thing would be intolerable.

But that all changed with Pokémon X (forget Y, X has the better Mega Charizard). At first, I was going to follow my usual pattern, and just wait for the inevitable Pokémon Z (ha!) to break Robin back out of the mothballs. After all, Pokémon X/Y had dramatically expanded online features, and it feels… I don’t know… dishonest to misrepresent your gender online. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying that I’ve always been uncomfortable presenting myself as something I’m not while online. I guess I’ve always had this thought in my head that men posing as women online were doing it for the attention, and I’m not nothing if not an attention whore (VISIT GOGGLEBOB.COM FOR MORE INFORMATION). So, as a good child of previews and going into every Pokémon game knowing as much as possible, I decided I was going to stick to my usual “Bob” persona, and play Pokémon as a man, the way God intended.

Except…. Well…



I wouldn’t want to ruin such delightful photo opportunities with crummy male fashion sense, now would I?

I am a man. I have been one all of my life. Yet, likely thanks to a combination of general isolation and too many of my childhood heroes wearing exclusively armor, I have no concept of male fashion. My closet consists of approximately two pairs of jeans, two pairs of pants, a suit, and twelve thousand “witty” t-shirts. Oh, and I own one “presentable” pair of sneakers, and like twenty different kinds of flip flops. I live by the beach! This is allowed! … Though I suppose that kind of rational isn’t going to get me on the cover of any fashion magazines in the near future.

And I’m pretty sure I know the real source of this problem: I’m straight. I’m not claiming there’s some magical queer eye thing going on that my sex has completely missed. I’m just saying that, ultimately, I don’t pay attention to what works for men. As far as my brain (and maybe other parts of my anatomy) cares, other men may as well be featureless blobs, and I literally cannot remember what another male is wearing about ten seconds after I stop looking at the dude. That bubbles over into my own ensembles, and as a direct result of having no “fashion role models”, I dress like… a featureless blob.

WIZARD!But the other side of that coin is that there is an entire wing of my brain dedicated to “checking out chicks”, and that department has been storing information (coincidentally) since I hit puberty. Trust me, I would much rather be able to immediately recall my grandmother’s birthday at any given moment, but, no, my brain would prefer to regurgitate the exact jean style worn by my first crush six billion years back. I don’t want to be casually storing all this information, but I’m pretty sure I understand “what works” on a woman because I’ve been subconsciously studying it much longer than I’ve been worried about what I’m wearing.

Yes, I am absolutely just saying I understand “women’s fashion” because I find women wearing particular things to be more attractive. I’m not claiming to be some kind of women’s fashion guru, I just know what I, and only I, like to see. I’m an egocentric jackass, but I know what I like.

But getting back to our game du jour, I knew about the “fashion factor” of Pokémon X going into the adventure, and I thus decided to go with “Robin” and never look back. And I don’t regret my choice for a moment: the male outfits in this game are pretty lame, but everything on the female side of the changing room is pretty great. And I’m a giant fan of purple, which really doesn’t work for any man save Prince, but works phenomenally on any given pale brunette that winds up being my digital avatar. See also Saint’s Row. See also Splatoon. See also Create-A-Soul in Soulcalibur. See also Dragon Quest 9. See also every game where I can customize a character even the tiniest bit, because I know what I like to see.

Hi, I’m Goggle Bob, I’m a straight male that enjoys looking at pretty women, even if those women are supposed to be “me”. Look, if I’m going to spend 200 hours with a game, I may as well like what I’m looking at.

And at least someone appreciates my choices. Thanks, Pokémon XX.

FGC #304 Pokémon X/Y

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. The bottom screen used for Wi-Fi features is pretty marvelous in this game, and should emulated by every WiiU… oh, that system is already dead.
  • Number of players: One endless single player experience, but also two player for competitions/trades. Also, technically infinity players for some of the online stuff. More games should be infinity players.
  • Isn’t this the generation that introduced Mega Evolutions? Yes, but no one cares about that when there are fashion choices afoot.
  • Favorite Pokémon (this generation): Aegislash is a living sword ghost that can control minds and slash smaller Pokémon in half. Living sword monsters hiding in tall grass is clearly further evidence of my Pokémon theory.
  • Did you catch ‘em all? Damn straight.
    I win

    Even had to go to McDonald’s for some damn magic rock creature.
  • Did you know? Pokémon X/Y was the first Pokémon game to be released simultaneously worldwide. This is helpful for global training, but also had the fun side effect of the entire Pokédex being hidden until the game was actually released. Oh, and six months of terrible fanart suppositions of evolved forms of Pokémon. Hm, maybe Gamefreak should just release all Pokédata immediately to save us from those horrors.
  • Would I play again: Pokémon X is finally the generation where everything seems to “work” 100%, and revisiting the game isn’t a gigantic chore. Unfortunately, it’s also not the most recent Pokémon game, so it’s unlikely to get played again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bubble Bobble for the NES! Something something fantastic story. Let us look forward to it!

Such hair
Even my Megas are gorgeous.

FGC #303 NieR: Automata

Note: This review will involve a lot of spoilers for any game with “NieR” in the title. It’s unfortunately inevitable, and if you’d like to go into the franchise “clean”, I would recommend avoiding this article until you’ve completed both games. Or don’t, and realize why you should finish both games. Regardless, you’ve been warned.

Today’s game is NieR: Automata, the sequel to NieR: Gestalt. Both of these games are emblazoned with this lovely little logo:

Mature!

This is appropriate, as Yoko Taro has somehow been responsible for the most emotionally mature videogames in the medium.

Kinda glitchyMind you, that is a pretty low bar to clear. As an obvious example, every Grand Theft Auto game has been rated as “Mature”, so Rockstar has taken the “only adults are supposed to play this” mandate to heart and written grandiose, developed stories meant to appeal to an exclusively aged demographic. Ha ha ha, just kidding, Grand Theft Auto games are more about seeing how many times the number 69 can be inserted into random conversations than it is ever about telling a “real” story about violence in America… or whatever they’re shoveling into their press releases this week. And even if you take the GTA series completely seriously, you have to acknowledge that the franchise is fairly limited in perspectives. Would you like to play as the angry white guy, the angry black guy, or the angry and balding white guy? Yes, you could argue this thin characterization is the result of having to present a protagonist that might surf cars and play with a rocket launcher in his (inevitably “his”) spare time, but I know plenty of psychopaths, and they do have a slightly broader emotional range than “always irritated all the time.” People are people, Rockstar, not robot animals.

NieR: Gestalt (note: that will be the last time I type “Nier” with correct capitalization) is what could easily be the story of one angry white dude. And we’re going to spoil that game first…

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

According to James Cameron, the original Terminator film came from a literal fever dream. While being laid up with a particularly bad flu, Cameron experienced a vivid vision featuring a metallic torso of a man lurching forward with some very pointy weaponry, and that image eventually gave birth to Arnold Schwarzenegger the terminator. It’s not difficult to understand why: the picture of an “undying” and relentless pursuer is one that seems to be lodged pretty firmly in our collective unconscious and, metal monster or not, I think a lot of us have had “that dream” involving an unyielding, inescapable monster. This is a primal fear (probably courtesy of one or two saber tooth tigers that were real dicks), so giving such a thing robo-flesh was inevitably going to tap into an endless market of people that want more homicidal android action.

Just kind of a shame someone forgot about that invincible torso somewhere along the way.

The Terminator franchise has been complicated from the very beginning. Right from the get-go, we’ve got a time travel story that is doing its best to simultaneously create a “new future” and a stable time loop. John Connor sends his best bud back in time to become his dad (thus creating a future where there is a John Connor) and prevent the Skynet robopocolypse from ever existing (thus creating a future where there is no reason for a John Connor). That’s a surprisingly convoluted plot to get to “there’s an unstoppable robot on the loose”, but I suppose credit should be given to Cameron for not just tossing out a “btw there’s a killer robot now” story and putting some thought into the whys of an unstoppable metal torso. Of course, this begat Terminator 2, which brought the concept to its logical conclusion: Stay still!what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? What happens when two relentless robots collide? And maybe there’s an annoying kid involved, too, because we have like another hour to fill? Yes, Sarah Connor is a great role model, and her PTSD from a future that might never be is pretty neat an’ all, but the focus of T2 is the Judgment Day when two invincible bots clash. And, once again, audiences seemed to react well to that kind of thing.

Then it all went to hell.

The image of an army of terminators, whether they have flesh or not, is a chilling one. These are unstoppable androids, and even one seems to be completely invincible. What hope does humanity have against an entire planet of the buggers? No wonder time travel seemed to be the only option: once Skynet has built an impassable wall, there’s nothing that’s going to bring it down short of rewriting history. But there’s a problem with terminators, and it’s basically the same as the inverse ninja law. Duel one threat, and you can have an exciting, one-on-one battle that is all about tactics and psychology and the very real threat of one combatant exploiting the tiniest advantage and pulling a victory out of seemingly thin air. But pit one hero against a group of greater than, say, four, and suddenly everything is tilted in the favor of the lone protagonist. Storm Troopers can’t shoot straight, ninja get kicked in the face, and terminators are suddenly about as threatening as a Roomba. Yes, maybe you can’t “beat” an army of terminators, but they’ve rapidly lost that ability to actually hit a target, mow down humankind, and, ya know, terminate. The more terminators, the better for humanity.

I am the law?And this is where we join RoboCop Versus The Terminator for the Super Nintendo. Robocop is a fairly unstoppable cyborg himself, and he’s also had a number of videogames to his name. That’s no mistake, as he was practically built for 16-bit battles. He’s powerful, but he’s not invincible, so he’s one of the few protagonists that possess a life bar and an excuse for said life bar. Heck, you could even make such a thing some part of Officer Murphy’s in-visor HUD. And then you’ve got the whole “future Detroit that is moderately more deadly than OG Detroit” thing to provide an army of criminals, mutants, and criminal mutants to indiscriminately gun down. Toss it all together, and you’ve got a complete videogame. Throwing in a terminator is just sprinkles on the hyper violent sundae that is Robocop.

But the problem isn’t that Virgin Games involved a terminator, it’s that they went for terminators. Terminators leave their lovely dystopia to visit Detroit’s slightly less futuristic dystopia, and the mechanical malcontents descend upon Robocop. One Terminator is encountered at a construction site, and, with the right positioning, it can be defeated without Robocop even having to move. But the next terminator is slightly more invincible! He can’t be defeated with simple armaments… but there is a pretty conspicuous pit nearby, and you know what you have to do. The next terminator is similarly doomed, but his death is slightly further away. And then Robocop takes the long way to a future full of terminators.

And then it gets really silly. Robocop is stuck in a future filled to the brim with terminators, so, naturally, he has gained the ability to mow the mechs down like they’re less killing machines and more farm equipment. Yes, the story does offer the tiniest concession in Robocop grabbing a futuristic pistol and other advanced weaponry to gain the tiniest edge, but previous levels granted ol’ Robo a rocket launcher. This isn't funIs it even possible to improve on the destructive power of that old standby? (Please don’t tell me the answer to that, I’d prefer to sleep at night.) This all comes to a natural conclusion in “the vehicle stage”, wherein Robocop is piloting a futuristic (maybe) flying thing, and the goal of the level is to destroy twenty terminators before moving on. Can they really be called terminators anymore at that point, though? Aren’t they more… target practice?

And, unfortunately, it seems the Terminator franchise has followed the lead of this misbegotten Super Nintendo game. Terminators are no longer terminators, they are simply fodder for our rebellious humans to trick and humiliate. The days of invincible torsos are behind us, and a dramatically less invincible robot army explodes in its wake.

The dream is dead. The future has failed us.

(But that is pretty good news for Robocop.)

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

  • System: Super Nintendo for this review. There are also Gameboy, Game Gear, and Genesis versions available, too.
  • Number of players: Robocop is a singular hero. … I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t ever a Lady Robocop with an obtrusive ponytail. Meh, maybe in the animated series.
  • BoooPort-O-Call: Apparently the Genesis version takes the smarter route of focusing primarily on the present (not too distant future?) and a baddie or two from Robocop 2. Meanwhile the SNES version is pretty evenly split between past and future. The Gameboy version is all bad future… That is to say it is the worst possible future, one wherein videogames are absolutely abhorrent.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Robocop is simultaneously built for videogames and… absolutely not. His jump is more of a hop (maybe even a skip), and he controls about as precisely as a walking corpse. That said, there’s the potential for a good game here… if it wasn’t wall to wall stupid mazes and lame traps. See also: B.O.B., Harley’s Humongous Adventure.
  • Favorite Boss: The first boss of the future area is a tank… that doesn’t move. It just sits there, and you shoot pieces off of it. The NES Technodrome was a more mobile threat!
  • Did you know? Meanwhile, the inspiration for Robocop’s prime directive of “serve the public trust” was inspired by… a fortune cookie. Robocop and Terminator come from very different places.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Another lame SNES platforming/action game that involves too many easily defeated robots. I’ll just play Mega Man X, thank you.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nier Automata! Wow, now there’s a game about robot on robot violence. Please look forward to it!

Owie