FGC #171 B.O.B.

BOB!During the 16-bit era, there seemed to be a lot of mascot 2-D platformers. Of the furry variety, we had the likes of Aero the Acro-Bat, Bubsy, and Frantic Flea. Animated shows/movies led to Aladdin, Family Dog, and Itchy and Scratchy. “Based on a real media property” gave us Home Improvement, Wayne’s World, and Dino City. And through it all, we had the “mainstays” like Mario, Arthur, and Sonic (arguably the rodent that started it all). In short, if there was a thing in the mid-90s that existed for longer than three seconds, it wound up with a 16-bit platformer. We nearly had a game starring the president’s cat!

But through it all, one has to ask the obvious question: Why?

The 90’s was an interesting time for gaming. The Atari crashed the entire industry in the early 80’s, but Nintendo brought it all back inside of a few years. Gaming had gone from dead to back in business in less time than a presidential term, and, what’s more, it really did rebuild itself with “mascots” as the cornerstone. Videogames are fun an’ all, but when you need sustenance, Mario and Zelda cereal is where it’s at. GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and even Transformers all had videogame tie-ins of varying quality, and, in time, that became absolutely standard for any “kiddy” franchise. Videogames had become another media pillar, so now any franchise worth its salt had to have a tie-in game. Otherwise, what’s the point? There’s money on the table!

So, somehow, 2-D platformer became the style of the time. It worked for some properties (Sega Genesis Jurassic Park immediately comes to mind), and not so much for others OUCH(Did I already mention Home Improvement? That happened). But whether the property could be adapted to the platformer formula was immaterial (you could always toss a dinosaur or giant insect boss in there and claim a mad scientist was involved), what was important was your star was out there, and the lucrative “videogame demographic” was eating up your media with a spoon. Bubsy in Close Encounters of the Furried Kind is just one stop in the Bubsy empire!

The obvious answer to the “why” here is the same reason we saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The Cereal. It’s all about the merchandising, and NBC, Disney, or whatever eldritch horror was responsible for Aero the Acro-Bat didn’t care about the game so much as the raw advertising potential. This inevitably led to a lot of terrible platformers, because if Activision could get away with selling a blank SNES cartridge labeled “Eat at Joe’s”, they’d do it. Actually, that may have been preferable to Arcade’s Revenge

But… why bother?

What was it about the platformer that was so enticing back in the 16-bit days? Why not just make a (sloppy) fighting game, or a (messy) RPG? Sure, these genres have a reputation for being more complex than “run, jump, boss”, but that’s only because everyone remembers those genres’ successes, and not the Fighter’s Histories or Beyond the Beyonds. Wouldn’t practically any style of game be better suited to character-driven narratives than the platformer? You don’t have to create an endless array of anonymous mooks for a fighting game (there aren’t really foot soldiers in The Jungle Book), and you could actually insert some witty dialogue in RPGs (ideal for those oddly pervasive sitcom-based games). But, no, let’s call it a virtual reality mishap or whatever and get Bart Simpson as a dinosaur. There’s an excuse to hop over an ice level!

OUCHSo here’s B.O.B. B.O.B. is an original creation of someone at Gray Matter Inc. or Foley Hi-Tech systems. B.O.B. is just a little yellow robot dude that is trying to meet his robo-girlfriend for a date. B.O.B. appears to be vaguely insectoid, and has a gun for a hand. B.O.B. has a tendency to make “amusing” quips at the start of each level, and end every stage with a “whacky” dance. B.O.B. is basically every mascot character in microcosm, albeit more metallic than furry.

The World of B.O.B. is… annoying. This game comes from the same studio that produced the previously mentioned Wayne’s World SNES game, and it shows. Basically, every stage is a different area that did its absolute best to cram as much of a maze into a roughly squareish collection of pixels as possible. Like Harley’s Humongous Adventure, expect aggravating stages that place the exit just beyond a wall that must be circumvented by traipsing all over the whole stage again just to find one stupid ladder. Some stages are more straightforward, “platform challenging” affairs, but even then, the nondescript hallways and shafts make it impossible to gauge your own progress. There’s a (strangely strict) timer for every stage, and when it ticks down to zero, good luck determining if you were inches from the goal or practically at the starting line. Oh, and there are “vehicle” segments, ostensibly designed to break up the monotony of every stage being samey to the point of parody, but they just seem to exist to encourage the player to memorize the poorly constructed maps/tracks, so, basically, they’re a poor man’s speeder bike.

Moving right alongIn short, one could conceivably have fun with B.O.B., but the odds are low. I guess some of the guns and gadgets are interesting, but even then, you’ve got limited ammo and no “safe” areas to test the more esoteric devices. You just acquired one (1) light bulb… that’s… probably useful? Want to waste it to find out? Or wait until you’re fighting a boss, and find out it does practically nothing? Your choice!

I’m sorry, that paragraph got off track. What I mean to say is that B.O.B. sucks. It is a bad game.

So… what was the point of this, yet another 16-bit platformer? Simple, if you look at the box, you’ll note the custom B.O.B. logo. Yep, this nothing of a platformer was intended to launch the entire B.O.B. product line, so you and your whole family could soon be wearing B.O.B. hats, shoes, and shirts. Look at that whacky robot go! B.O.B. has captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation of B.O.B.-heads. Keep making the world a better place, B.O.B.!

Except… none of that happened, because B.O.B. sucked.

Which circles back again to “why?” Why did anyone, least of all people who created and maybe actually played B.O.B., think B.O.B. was going to be a success? The actual “videogame” here isn’t any fun at all. It’s passable, but it’s certainly not something that could compete with Mario, Sonic, or Mega Man. The cartoony characters are mixed with vaguely Alien-esque graphics and environments, so this wasn’t exactly pre-packaged for Saturday Morning. About the only thing that really makes a positive impact in this game is the “attitude”. B.O.B. appears to be a teenager robot with a disciplinarian father and an overbearing girlfriend, and he’s unerringly sarcastic in response to everything in the galaxy. And his animations are kind of amusing. That’s all B.O.B.’s got.

YuckSo Electronic Arts thought they could build a Sonic-esque empire on… a sassy robot.

Bite my shiny metal ass, 16-bit platformers. Be glad that the worthless cash-in games of today have migrated to the domain of cell phones. At least CSI: Match Three never wasted a bi-weekly video rental.

FGC #171 B.O.B.

  • System: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and, oddly enough, it got a rerelease on the PSP. So very doomed.
  • Number of players: One player. Kind of surprised they didn’t give B.O.B. a goofy sidekick. Though I suppose they have to save something for the sequel.
  • Favorite Weapon: I’d like the flamethrower if it didn’t run out of ammo instantly. Oh, hey, this is yet another lousy game that forces you to use a weak melee attack when your guns run empty. That’s never fun, videogame designers!
  • PARTY OVER HERESo you’re not going to do anything special because you both have the same name? No. I am personally insulted that I’ve got B.O.B. and “the fat guy” from Tekken. There are better Bobs!
  • An end: So the finale of B.O.B. sees our titular hero finally meet his date… and she turns out to be a (literally) big mouthed shrew of a lady bot. So B.O.B. immediately ditches her for a quiet girl that appears to be a surfer girl (bot). Score another one for the patriarchy!
  • Did you know? Gray Matter was the name of a videogame company long before Breaking Bad. All the same, it still gives me a vibe that this game was maybe created thanks to meth money. At least you can’t say good chemistry was involved in this nonsense!
  • Would I play again: There is nothing here that encourages the player to replay (or even continue). I might hit some random website to view the level maps and see if there was some method to the madness, but it’s not happening anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pinball Quest for the NES! Never before has the phrase “Pinball Wizard” been so apt! Please look forward to it!

FGC #170 Castlevania: The Adventure (ReBirth)

WeeeeI often claim that I enjoy innovative failures more than trite successes. I choose to believe that I am the kind of person that sees past a product’s flaws, and finds “what they were trying to do” beneath the muck, and, hey, there’s a gem of a great game here, it just needs a little polishing. I really like to think that about myself.

I also know that I’m a pathological liar.

I know what I want. I would forsake steak once a week if it meant I’d get a hot pocket every day. I’ll watch 40 hours of some insipid sitcom because I know “prestige dramas” only produce ten episodes every six years. And, yes, I’d burn the entire videogame industry down if it meant I’d get a mostly new Mega Man title every six months or so. I know that I might regret my decision sometime in 2024 when I’m busting Man Man for the fortieth time, but, yeah, I know I’ll take “the same old with slight changes” over and over again without complaint.

Castlevania: The Adventure for the Gameboy is a Castlevania game that seems like it tried to be original. It is also completely terrible.

C:TA is the third Castlevania game ever released. Well, I guess that gets a little murky when you include arcade titles and whatnot, but the point is that C:TA was released before Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. That’s important! This means that the game occupies that same unusual space as Super Mario Land. SML and C:TA were both released at times in their franchises’ histories when what would become “standard” hadn’t yet been completely codified. Yes, we had Castlevania (1) and Super Mario Bros. (1), but both games also had sequels that featured vegetable flinging and ferryman bribing. Where do you go from there with a portable sequel? Do you look to the first game for inspiration, bang your head on Deborah Cliff, or create something wholly original?

Die, Belmont!Castlevania: The Adventure went with the final choice. Okay, yes, C:TA is not completely unique. We’ve got a Belmont (this time Simon’s ancestor, Chris), and the poor guy has the trademark Belmont osteoporosis, so he moves about as nimbly as some redwoods. He’s also got a whip, and he’s hunting down Dracula, and there are some generally “horror-ish” things going on. But… that’s about it. Medusa Heads are missing. Eagles are more numerous than bats. Death has taken a holiday. Even Dracula’s “normal” teleportation pattern is forsaken for something that allows you to… whip his body and not head? Oh, why I never!

What’s been used to fill in the gaps of the Castlevania formula is… interesting. There are no staircases, just climbable ropes that are much more akin to the ladders of other platformers. It’s strange how this gives the game an entirely different feel, as it’s easy to discount how much Castlevania’s “obliquing” movement for vertical areas impacts its (normal) gameplay. Now we’ve just got a series of flat hallways connected by “ladders”, which is much more like a Mega Man game… albeit a fairly boring one.

You look like a jerkThen there’s the powerup system. Your typical dagger, axe, and holy water are all missing, and now Christopher has the ability to shoot fireballs from his Vampire Killer. That’s good! But you lose that essential powerup after a single hit. That’s bad! And, after another hit, your whip will decrease further into “absolutely useless mode”. Good luck finding another whip powerup before the next far-too-mobile minion. Basically, this adds “The Gradius Problem” to Castlevania: All is well as long as you can avoid getting hit, but the minute that happens, you’re pretty much doomed. Here’s a fun fact: we never needed another reason to be doomed in a Castlevania game. Can we get just one Konami game that you’re not completely screwed after one mistake? Gradius, Contra, Legend of the Mystical Ninja…

But it’s all new and interesting, right? This isn’t some Castlevania 1 portable remake, it’s a whole new animal. It has some problems… but there’s a good hunk of game here, right? A few touchups and…

No. This game is crap. It was passable as a portable Castlevania in 1989, but it’s practically unplayable today. The second level boss is a group of moles. That’s unforgivable.

OwieThen we have Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. C:TAR was the final “ReBirth” game designed by M2 after Gradius ReBirth and Contra ReBirth. While it is technically a “remake” of Castlevania: The Adventure, it’s almost entirely its own game. And by “own game”, I mean “it’s an old school Castlevania game”. You’ve got bats, mermen, and giant skulls haunting an enormous castle and trolling for Belmonts to ruin. You’ve got daggers, axes, crosses, and holy water to lob at legions of skeletons. Death even decided to come back and toss that scythe around. It’s a Castlevania game! And, what’s more, this was the first “classic” Castlevania game in years, after untold ages of metroidvanias and the occasional bit of 3-D nonsense. I think the record will show that I’ll take a metroidvania over “traditional” any day, but it’s nice to visit with an old friend on occasion.

And C:TAR even seemed to maintain the more interesting aspects of its Gameboy ancestor. You can power your whip to flame-throwing levels, but now it’s limited by a timer, and not the gentle tap of a zombie. Rolling eyeballs are all over the place, and they’re slightly less deadly when you have jumping prowess beyond that of a slug (also an enemy). And the areas you explore are… kinda the same? I mean, how many different ways can you make a dungeon, m’I right, ladies?

PointyBut for all the changes and interesting concepts in C:TAR (did I mention the jumping across extending spike traps? That was neat), it’s still just a Castlevania game. It’s a good Castlevania game, likely better than Dracula X or Castlevania (1), and it’s a fun experience, but it’s still something we’ve seen before a number of times. The stage design reclaims the obliques of “regular” Castlevania, and there’s tremendously less tension when you know that one hit isn’t that big of a deal. Everything that was truly original about Castlevania: The Adventure is gone, and Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth may as well be Castlevania: Rebirth and have no ties to its portable ancestor.

But…

I like Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth sooooo much more than the “Gameboy version”. It’s night and day, and Castlevania: The Adventure is the horrible night to have a curse. That thing is more original, but it’s also more painful. C:TAR is unmistakably the better game, and I’d find it impossible for anyone to see it differently.

So, yeah, when push comes to shove, I’ll take good ‘n predictable over innovative and crappy any day. I want to support inventiveness, but… man, there are only so many hours in the day. Slaying vampires doesn’t need originality.

FGC #170 Castlevania: The Adventure (+/- ReBirth)

  • System: Gameboy for the original, WiiWare for the wiibirth. Sure would be nice if someone ported that to a portable…
  • Number of players: One Belmont against the forces of the undead.
  • Favorite Boss (Adventure): They make you fight a series of moles! Moles! There is nothing scary about moles until you’re over forty!
  • GoopyFavorite Boss (Adventure Rebirth): Meanwhile, the boss of this Stage 2 is an ersatz Incredible Hulk, and no one can tell me otherwise. He gets my vote.
  • What’s in a name? The original American release of Castlevania Adventure misidentified Christopher Belmont as Simon Belmont. It doesn’t impact a single thing (as the game has no plot beyond “kill vampire now”), but it was officially retconned by Castlevania Adventure 2, when Chris had some family issues that never impacted single Simon.
  • Family Matters: Also, Christopher was mentioned as one of Simon’s ancestors in the Japanese instruction manual for Castlevania (1). Castlevania had a surprisingly complex mythology starting back from the NES days, which is a far cry from games like Zelda (he’s… I don’t know… some kid with a sword? Wait… she?).
  • Did you know: There was also a comic book series based on Christopher Belmont’s exploits. It was released in 2005 by IDW, and it made no impact on anyone whatsoever. Why didn’t it feature Simon, Trevor, or even Alucard? Meh, probably just too many vampire books at that company for anyone to really notice.
  • Would I play again? Castlevania: The Adventure is a definite no. Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth would be a maybe… if it wasn’t available on the same system as Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. Guess which one I’m more likely to play?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… B.O.B. for the Super Nintendo! Aw, ROB, I didn’t know you cared… oh… wait… it’s just the name of a game? Lame. But there is a robot involved, I suppose. Please look forward to it!

Right on up

Xenosaga Episode III Part 03: Like a Romantic Comedy, but with Robots

Previously on Xenosaga: The Elsa got flushed down a space hole, and Shion rode on an elevator all by herself! What an eventful day!

Here we are at the base of the Space Elevator. Apparently, this elevator to out of the atmosphere exists only for Shion, and she can take the (four hour) trip anytime she desires.

This little area is very similar to the Kukai Foundation landing dock of the previous two games. There are a few NPCs milling about, and if you’re in a “talk to everyone” mood, feel free to find out about things that will eventually become plot points.

HaKox? I bet that’s not a complete waste of time!

And here’s one of two “world maps” for the game. To XS3’s credit, this map does make Fifth Jerusalem look like a huge city (check out how far the buildings extend into the horizon), while the Kukai Foundation was just a pile of puke. Second Miltia even looks kind of lacking by comparison.

That red dot up top is where we were in the previous screenshot, and now we’re down south in the hotel area. See? Big city. So let’s explore more!

FGC #169 Venetica

hardcoreIt seems like Dungeons and Dragons is making a comeback of sorts in modern pop culture. Maybe my outlook is just skewed because of my recent viewing habits, but both Stranger Things (with a group of kids playing D&D as the story’s quasi-framing device) and Harmon Quest (featuring Dan Harmon and friends live playing a game of legally not-D&D) made the table-top RPG an indispensible part of their narratives. Combine this with many different shows (not only ones helmed by Harmon) making chance references to Gygax’s brainchild as casually as one might mention a football game, and I want to say that D&D has finally begun to occupy the same cultural subconscious space as the Olympics or… I’m sorry, I’ve run out of sports-I-know. Soccer? Isn’t that just football again?

But while D&D might be reclaiming its space in the national consciousness, it has always been a part of videogame DNA. Final Fantasy 1 clearly owes a lot to the TRPG, up to and including at least one copyright blurring Beholder. I don’t need to remind everyone that Final Fantasy somehow became one of the most resilient pillars of the videogame coliseum, and that all started when a rote D&D campaign comingled with some Miyazaki imagery. And maybe some time travel? That franchise has always disguised plagiarism with convolution. Given games like Final Fantasy and Ultima inspired their own generation(s) of imitators, it’s not hard to draw a line from Wild Arms, Lunar, or even Mass Effect straight back to the days of dual-wielding elf wizards rolling for initiative.

Screw Tolkien, Gygax is the true father of Fantasy Europe.

But this isn’t a blog extolling the virtues of tabletop gaming, it’s a videogaming blog (and, besides, if I wanted to talk about good TRPGs, I’d hit Shadowrun or Paranoia, because I like to watch insanity happen). As such, I’m a lot more likely to elucidate how gaming has greatly diverged from its table top origins, and calling something like Fable a “digital D&D campaign” is reductive at best and outright wrong at worst. In any given videogame there are so many moving parts, so many options for interesting storytelling, and a million flags/tricks that no dungeon master could ever hope to so masterfully control. Even going back to Final Fantasy 1, YOU R DEADthe sheer volume of random encounters (which many consider to be the true meat of a JRPG) in that game could never be possible outside of a twenty year D&D campaign. So go ahead and toss that whole job system if you think Final Fantasy 5 could be done justice with pencil and paper. In short, D&D and its ilk likes to imagine itself as some be-all, end-all originator of the JRPG and WRPG market, but, in truth, it’s just a springboard, the Neanderthal to (video)gaming’s Modern Man.

Well, except Venetica. Venetica is a D&D campaign. And not a very good one.

Like a lot of lame D&D campaigns, Venetica has a deceptively interesting hook. You play the part of Scarlett, a typical medieval villager who experiences one bad night when raiders burn her hometown to the ground, murder her fiancée, and slightly tear her nightdress. The next morning, she grabs an S&M outfit from the local blacksmith, and sets off to avenge or maybe revive her lost love. Along the way, she finds out she’s the daughter of Death, which is apparently an inherited position, and it’s her job to wield the Venetica blade of doom and save the world from a necromancer that is up to no good. Oh! And she can enter the Realm of the Dead, which… is just an easy way to pass through walls. I mean, it looks kinda cool…

Unfortunately, the cool ends right about there. I purchased Venetica for a whole five bucks at a close-out sale, and I’m pretty sure that price was more than double the budget for this game. Alright, look, I try to be fair with any given videogame that came out past about 1996, because I know nothing happens by accident in the videogame world, and it takes gaggles of people just to get three human models out the door… but… geez this game is bad. Like, the opening cinematic, the first thing you see, involves voice acting and animation that wouldn’t score a passing grade in an Introduction to Game Design course. I mean, a crazy cult leader or whatever shouts, “Silence!” and the previous speaker just goes on gabbing before haphazardly cutting off. YuckIt’s… sad. This continues right through the introduction of the game, which involves some of the stiffest animation this side of a retirement home, and sieging soldiers that seem to be only capable of light shuffling. Our heroine can perform limited swordplay and dodge-rolling, but, other than that, she’s stuck in this same brittle-boned world as everyone else, so don’t expect any amazing cartwheels or (God forbid) jumping.

But it’s the clumsy plotting and dialogue that really gets my attention. It’s a game like Venetica that really shows how much effort goes into a Final Fantasy or Fable. Like in those (good) games, there are a number of townspeople milling about, and they’ve got problems and sidequests galore. That’s typical, but what’s atypical is how every sidequest person is… obvious. Even going back to earlier days of JRPGs, you might encounter some fellow who is walking around complaining about a dragon eating his pants or some such thing, and, lo and behold, he’ll give you his last angora sweater if you go and slay that flying lizard. In Venetica land, however, we’ve got that same guy milling about, and he’s just like, “Yo, girl or whatever, you wanna slay a dragon?” like some kind of medieval themed drug dealer. Multiply that by entire towns of the same thing, and, well, I have a hard time saying Venetica is immersive.

And what’s more, there’s a morality system. Now, we’ve all joked about “save the baby or eat the baby” choices in games like Bioshock, but, like the sidequest mechanisms, it’s about as subtle as a 2×4 to the brainpan here. The literal first choice you’re given in this game is “I want to revive my boyfriend” or “I want vengeance.” This continues almost to the point of parody, complete with a choice between giving a house to a man who wants to turn the place into an orphanage, and another man who is going to sell the house for liquor ‘n whores (incidentally, I chose the liquor/whores guy, he had better hair). With nonsense like that, I’d think this game was a farce from moment one (or maybe a deliberate videogame equivalent of a poorly acted/funded school play), but Venetica seems to take its absolute absurdity completely seriously, despite the fact that (presumably) actual human beings made this game. Was this game made on a dare? Was it coded single handedly by some Make a Wish kid? I’m going to feel really bad if that’s the answer!

DIE IN A FIRE

But, in my head, it all comes back to D&D. I’ve seen this before. I’ve actively participated in this before. Ever play D&D? Okay, ever play D&D with that one friend, and he’s the dungeon master, and he doesn’t care about people having fun in his basement (inevitably his basement), all he cares about are the stats, and the rolls, and making sure the party stays “on point” and doesn’t wander off from this important quest that he put together? And anyone that tries to “distract” from the plan, like, say, by playing an ever-singing bard dwarf who can’t swing his mighty axe (mjwang) without tossing off a little ditty first, is immediately chastised for trying to disturb this grand event? We are fighting for to restore the glory of Death here, people, there’s no time to have stupid little conversations with people that don’t exist! Fight those bugbears, if you want to actually try this “role playing” thing, go play a game with less D20s!

Venetica is the videogame version of that lousy dungeon master. All that matters is that “main quest”, and everything else is just there because it’s gotta be. Gotta have villagers. Gotta have boar monsters. Oh boy, mushroomsGotta have random treasure. None of it appears to have been thought out beyond “gotta have it”, and, thus, the seams of the adventure show almost immediately. Venetica is a lousy game because it completely ignores the R & P. It’s just G.

D&D may have influenced a lot of games, but some game designers didn’t learn what’s actually fun about raiding dungeons and slaying dragons. I’d explain this more, but I have to get back to being a transsexual albino elf now, because these orcs aren’t going to slay themselves.

FGC #169 Venetica

  • System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC. I want to say I’ve only ever seen the Xbox 360 box…
  • Number of players: Solitary RP’ing with one player.
  • Lonely at the bottom: This is one of the few games I’ve ever reviewed that has absolutely nothing on Gamefaqs. No FAQs, no cheats, nothing. Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall had a damn FAQ!
  • So, did you beat it? No. I apologize if this game “gets good” toward the end, but I am not holding my breath.
  • Did you know? Venetica was released in America over a full year after its European release. Wait… this is European? Is this, like, the “modern” version of the weird European platformers of the 16-bit days? Hm…
  • Would I play again: Not ever.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania! Yay!… Wait… No… Castlevania Adventure. Dammit. Please look forward to it, so one of us will be!

It's uncanny