FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

TENNIS!It’s kind of amazing when a videogame helps you to learn something about yourself.

I am not a sports guy. I am not one to stand around and tell people playing sports that they’re stupid for doing so (this is a lie), nor am I the type of person to judge someone for spending their Sunday afternoon watching spandex clad beef monsters smash into each other (this is a more obvious lie). For years, I was just under the impression that I never really gained the “sports gene”, and things like ball-watching would never appeal to me. After all, I fit the profile, right? I’ve been playing videogames practically as long as I’ve had thumbs, I’m clearly on the more “intellectual/please don’t take my glasses” end of the spectrum, and, obviously, I have roughly the same muscle mass as a newborn. I’m a nerd, okay? I know it, you know it, Tansit know it, and I’m pretty sure my fashion sense lets everybody else know it. Sports are not my bag, and that’s the way it was always meant to be.

And it’s here that I’ll note that my father has always been disappointed in that fact.

To be absolutely clear, I have a wonderful relationship with my father. Particularly now that we’re both adults, we can sit down, talk, and, if either of us would actually drink, we would be like two friends having a beer. And, honestly, it feels like bragging to say such a thing, but I feel like my dad “gets me”. We have generally similar personality types, we have compatible interests in a lot of media, and we are very analogous when you compare our average sense of humor. Actually, that last bit probably isn’t an accident (or genetic), as my father exposed me to a lot of his own favorite movies when I was a kid. When you spend a decade laughing at the same things, you’re probably going to reserve those chuckles for the same situations.

SPIKE ITSo, not unlike my exposure to “his” favorite movies, my father tried to expose me to his favorite sports. I’m almost certain my dad was never a football or baseball “star”, but he certainly played those sports as a kid/teenager, and one would suppose he thought I would have a fun time experiencing these same childhood joys. I did not. And, to my father’s credit, he never “made me” join the local sports team or whatever, as, I’m pretty sure by the time I had dropped out of soccer at the age of seven, my dad knew Sports Son was dead and buried. But this isn’t to say my dear ol’ dad never again tried to get me off the couch. Oh no, I certainly wound up with him in the backyard playing any number of “one on one” type sports.

My father, analytical man that he is, was able to identify my “problems” from a young age. First of all, I seem to be naturally ambidextrous. Or that’s just a lie to make me feel better. It would likely be accurate to say that I have zero arm coordination, and thus flail around like a quaking pot of spaghetti whenever a ball or similar object ventures into my periphery. This, obviously, made simple games like Catch exhausting trials for both of us. And, because I could never settle on a side, golf (or at least mini golf) was difficult to practice (which was a real shame, as I seem to live in the mini golf capital of the East Coast). And, beyond that, I have terrible depth perception. This has been a problem identified by my optometrist since I was roughly five, and, yes, it may have meant I took a few footballs to the face for no good reason. They looked further away! Combine these two inexorable parts of my own physical prowess, and you can maybe understand why, despite trying at least once weekly, my father quickly became frustrated with my sports aptitude. Or maybe he was just frustrated because, after far too many basketballs to the face, my nose really wasn’t supposed to bend that way…

OOG LIKE TENNISBut there was one game where I excelled: bad mitten. Wait… it’s called badminton? Weird. Anyway, my father picked up a pair of badminton rackets and a tube of birdies one day, we gave it a shot, and surprisingly, I was good at it! Okay, “good” might be a bit of an overstatement, but I didn’t suffer any grievous injuries during our first game, and that was an excellent start. As time went by, our Sunday afternoon badminton games became something I actually looked forward to. We didn’t have a net, and neither of us were ever going to be anywhere near pro level, but we had fun, and it was… easy. A badminton birdie (does that have some kind of real sports name?) isn’t going to take out my cheekbones, so I didn’t have to tense up every time the “ball” got close, and the racket sort of forced me to use one hand with some kind of consistency. Somehow, it all came together, and we were able to enjoy our weekly badminton volleys.

Pocket Tennis Color reminds me of those times.

Pocket Tennis Color is a Neo Geo Pocket title from 1999. It seems to follow the SNK pocket format of a fighting game, as it has an eclectic cast of kooky characters (There’s a maid! With a frying pan instead of a racket!), interesting if entirely cosmetic backgrounds, and easy, simple gameplay that is ideal for a portable system with two buttons. In this case, the match is tennis… and it’s just tennis. There are no super moves or hyper gauges or last-minute transformations, it’s just tennis. Hit the ball, wait for your opponent to hit it back, and then repeat until you realize why Pong hasn’t hit the next gen consoles. It’s extremely simple, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s Tennis, in color, that you can play in your Neo Geo Pocket (Color). Thank you for your time.

GO FOR ITBut, in my time playing Pocket Tennis Color, I certainly had fun. In fact, I had a lot of fun just batting the ball back and forth. I wasn’t trying to win, I didn’t need to conquer a tournament or unlock the secret characters; I was just having fun playing tennis. Back and forth, back and forth, eventually someone scores, but keeping the volley going was a lot more interesting than the winner’s screen. This is by no means a high-stress, you-must-win-or-the-Earth-explodes style tennis game. This whole experience is just an amusing game between friends, and it is fun for that exact reason.

And that’s about when I realized that that’s all I want from sports.

As a masculine, ripped, and perfectly mannish man, I have a hard time admitting to such a thing without fearing some kind of reddit-based reprisal, but I’m not a very competitive guy. In fact, I’d argue that the main reason I like videogames is that they’re games, but not a competition. Bowser and I are just having fun! I don’t need that platinum trophy. And even when we get into fighting games, ostensibly “competitive” titles, I drift toward the games that are more interesting from a design/character perspective, and probably use random select a lot more than anyone would expect. No, I don’t have a “main” so I can “git gud” and “actually beat my opponents”, I just kinda like tossing gigantic fireballs all over the arena. It’s fun! Videogames are fun!

GET IT!?And that’s probably a big factor in why I like badminton and tennis (and tennis pocket games). You don’t break every five seconds to huddle up and discuss your next strategy, you don’t spend all day switching between offense and defense every other inning, and you don’t tear off your gloves and have a fist fight every time the other team calls you a hoosier; it’s just… playing. Sure, it would be nice if you win, but it is fun to bat the ball/birdie back and forth for as long as possible.

So, thank you, Pocket Tennis Color, for reminding me where I can find fun in sports. I’ll be sure to remember that for when I finish this 16-hour Netflix binge.

FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

  • System: Neo Geo Pocket Color. SNK is really missing a chance to put all the Neo Geo Pocket Color games on the Switch. Come on! SNK Gal Fighters is at an all-time popularity high!
  • Number of players: Two! Technically! I’ve never seen such a thing, but I’m sure it’s possible.
  • Favorite Character: It’s not unusual for an “anime character” to have bright pink hair. However, it is a little different on the NGP, where a character basically is their palette color. Thus, Lucy is the living personification of the color pink, and my favorite player.
  • Favorite Court: The desert canyon stage is pretty interesting, because the tight walls make the ball bounce everywhere. Except… that doesn’t really impact the game at all, because tennis really only cares about the first bounce… so it’s just fun to watch. See! This game is just silly.
  • GET READYDid you know? There are two unlockable characters, and one is Amiba the Amoeba. She’s a giant amoeba. That’s it! You cannot tell me she wasn’t a dummy character during production that got “promoted” because someone was bored. You can’t even see her racket!
  • Would I play again: I might play tennis again, but Pocket Tennis Color isn’t going to see much play. It’s a very limited game on a very limited system.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NieR: Gestalt! And we’re NieR a milestone, so it’s probably going to be a little different than the usual FGC fare. Please look forward to it!

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

This is how reproduction worksIf you’re at all interested in videogames, you’ve probably heard of the horrors of game preservation. Videogames are, almost by design, ephemeral. They’re here on the current software, and, if a game is a hit, you can be sure you’ll see it return in the next generation (maybe with a HD remaster!). If a game is a “cult classic”, you might spy a few nerds getting really excited when it shows up on what passes for the next generation’s virtual console. But, if it fails to make an impact, and it fails to have a big name attached to it, then it is likely gone forever. There are literally thousands of games that have languished on their original hardware, never to be seen by an audience ever again.

And this is, without question, a bad thing. More than any other medium, videogames are iterative and absolutely rely on what has come before. Sure, we all like to look at “defining” games like Mario and Zelda to explain where gaming has originated (and where it’s going), but the failures are just as important as the successes. Krion Conquest shows us exactly how to make Mega Man wrong. Early Metroidvania titles (Goonies 2 comes to mind) exemplify what features should be left on the cutting room floor (like God damn birds that steal your items). And the early xeroxes of Doom and Final Fantasy 7 demonstrate exactly what can go wrong in a FPS or JRPG. A bad movie is generally just a bad movie, but there is so much involved in a bad videogame, that there is much to learn past “don’t do that”.

And then there are chunks of our history that are lost forever not because they were somehow unworthy, but because of the great equalizer of all mediums: the legal department.

Munching alongJr. Pac-Man is a Pac-Man arcade game from 1983. The title made it to the Atari 2600 in ’86 (four years after the initial, disastrous Atari Pac-Man), and DOS/Commodore 64 two years later. In other words, it made the rounds in its day. However, you won’t see Jr. Pac-Man past 1990. It did not appear on any of the “modern” consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was not an unlockable in the arcade of Pac-Man 2. And, even today, when you score a Pac-Man collection on your platform of choice, it does not contain Jr. Pac-Man. The character of “Pac-Man’s son” might pop up from time to time, but his titular videogame is nowhere to be found. What happened?

Well, the answer to that is simple: Jr. Pac-Man never should have been born. Namco is the creator of the once and future Pac-Man, and merely licensed the property to Bally-Midway for release in the states. Then Pac-Man fever infected the nation… and Midway needed to sell more arcade machines. Everybody already had Pac-Man, and, thus, only arcade owners were raking in the quarters, not the arcade cabinet manufacturers. So, in a desperate bid to revitalize the Pac-Market, Midway released a slew of new Pac-Content. Ms. Pac-Man is the most famous example, but we also saw Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and the abhorrent Pac-Man Plus, a game that I’m almost certain is naturally haunted (not talking about the ghosts, they’re normal). And, from this bumper crop of Pac-Merchandise, we also saw Jr. Pac-Man.

So flashyAnd Jr. Pac-Man might be one of the best of the Midway Alterna-Pacs. It’s never going to dethrone Ms. Pac-Man, but it has some pretty interesting mechanics. For one thing, for better or worse, it’s the first Pac-Man title designed with a scrolling maze. This means bigger stages, naturally, but also a little more tension with monsters that could be doing anything when they’re off screen. And the bonus items now have much more of an impact on gameplay: an item (no longer just fruit, now we’ve got bicycles, trains, and… a cat?) will move around the maze of its own volition, and “fatten” the traditional pellets. A fat pellet will grant Junior more points, but they also slow this Pac down the tiniest bit… which can make a significant impact when there’s a ghost on your tail. But that’s not all! In a move that can only be described as a betrayal of everything a bonus item stands for, if an item comes in contact with a Power Pellet, both the item and the pellet will explode! And you’re down a Power Pellet! Oh, the humanity!

And, most bizarrely of all, Jr. Pac-Man decides to add to the Pac-Mythos. The round clear cinema scenes of Ms. Pac-Man showcased the pairing of two Pacs, and the attract mode of Jr. Pac-Man features the stork dropping off the new Pac-Bundle. Jr. Pac-Man scenes show another love story, but one between Junior and… a ghost! Yum-Yum is Blinky’s daughter, and it’s clear that he does not approve of these star-crossed lovers. Will Pac-Man Jr. run off with a tiny ghost with a bow in her hair (“hair”)? Play the game to find out!

Or don’t, because you can’t play the thing anywhere.

So verticalFor the sin of creating a licensed-but-unapproved Pac-Man title, Bally-Midway will no longer see any profits from the adventures of the second-littlest Pac. As a result, Jr. Pac-Man is not allowed to appear in any Pac-Collections, and, should you mention Jr. Pac-Man in polite company, the duchess shall be offended, and you will be asked to leave the premises. Jr. Pac-Man may be an interesting twist on the Pac-Formula, but it is nothing more than a redheaded step child to Namco, so it must be thrust out into the cold, never to be seen again (except maybe at Thanksgiving).

And more’s the pity.

Jr. Pac-Man isn’t the best Pac-Man game out there. It might not even be in the top three. But is it better than Pac-Land? Is it more of a Pac-Man game than Pac-Man 2? Does it have more to say about Pac-Play than Pac-Mania? There’s a clear “yes” to each of those questions. Jr. Pac-Man might not be an instant classic, but it’s unavoidably part of the Pac-Pantheon, and should be regarded as such. Jr. Pac-Man deserves a seat at the table, and that means someone born after 1988 deserves a chance to play it.

But it’s never going to happen, because of a licensing dispute from thirty years ago.

Videogame preservation is important, but it seems like the legal department is more important.

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

  • System: Arcade, Atari 2600, DOS, and Commodore 64… and then never again. If you can’t tell, you’re seeing Arcade and Atari 2600 for this article.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Does this means the Pacs have two sons?
  • Attempted Preservation: In an effort to find some version of Jr. Pac-Man, I managed to turn up a random flash version online.

    Not wakka

    It is… not great.

  • Continuity Issue: Actually, Jr. Pac-Man first appears as part of Ms. Pac-Man (the game… man, the phrasing on that sentence is weird) being dropped off by the stork as part of a later cinema scene. But then he arrives at the start of Jr. Pac-Man, when the Pacs have a home? Which is it, Pac-Authors?
  • Favorite Item: The final released maze is the “beer maze”. Let’s just go ahead and assume that’s a root beer, and Jr. Pac-Man is not trying to get drunk with his bad-influence ghost girlfriend.
  • What’s in a name: The orange ghost of Jr. Pac-Man is known as… Tim. Maybe he’s a ghost wizard?
  • Did you know? Ms. Pac-Man was a Midway hack, too, but Namco liked it. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I would like to, but there’s no way I’m fighting the Atari into playing this cartridge anytime soon. I suppose I could always drop a quarter in this guy, though…


What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocket Tennis Color for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! It’s going to be 399-Love here at the FGC. Please look forward to it!

Wild Arms 2 Part 26: A Girl and Her Friends

Previously on Wild Arms 2: Odessa is defeated! But Ashley got launched into space! And nobody knows what happened to Liz and Ard! Are they okay?!

But we know where Marina is! She’s standing out in the wind by Valeria Chateau.

And here’s Altaecia, Irving’s sister. I’ll forgive you for not remembering she existed at all, as the last time we saw her was for twelve seconds before even Brad joined ARMS.

“Maybe with a step ladder? No, tried that yesterday…”

I want to say that that isn’t even figuratively accurate. Just buy a cell phone!

Hey, Altaecia, we literally know nothing about you, care to elaborate on… something?

Aw, is someone special living in the chateau? Does your brother know about this mystery man? Kinda? What does that mean?

So Marina continues to hope that thinking really hard is going to save the day.


FGC #397 Friday the 13th (NES)

STABWe all live under petty delusions. How many people could you take in a fight? Your answer is a lie, and you know it. Are you a good driver? Ha ha, of course you aren’t, and everyone knows it. And I don’t care if you’re an accountant, I’ve seen your home, you are terrible with managing money. How else could you explain that Smash Mouth Discography Box Set? Of course it was on sale! No one on Earth would actually buy such a thing otherwise!

But one delusion we all seem to share is the fantasy “if I had it to do it all over again”. And I’m not just talking about past loves or lost jobs or whatnot in this situation; no, I know one misbelief we all share: “If I went back to high school with what I know now, I would totally rule.” Look, I’m not saying that some manner of time travel hijinks wouldn’t guarantee a re-teenaged you becoming the ruler of Stupid Regional High School, but there is a bit of a caveat to that thinking. It might be easy to use future knowledge to inform the star quarterback that he’s going to work in a convenience store for the rest of his life before he finally gets fired for stealing gum, or reveal to that cheerleader that she is actually going to marry the smelly kid, but, even beyond that, we all think we’ve gotten cool in our old age, right? We now know that members of our desired sex are just as confused and stupid as we ever were, so it would take zero effort to be a “stud”. We know that getting in trouble is a fake idea, so maybe missing one homework assignment wouldn’t sink the “your whole future is ahead of you” ship. And, possibly the most important truth of all, we all know that high school isn’t the beginning and end of the world, so maybe it’s okay that Suzie Steinberger doesn’t hang out with you anymore. In short, we all believe we could be the sovereign, but only with the power of wisdom that has come with age.

Find your way!And it’s all bullshit, because of course “do-over you” would just find new and exciting ways to screw up in ways you could never imagine. High school sucks, man, and I don’t care if you’re 15 or 50, you’re going to get sucked into the suck-o-sphere.

Today’s game is Friday the 13th for the NES. This game was an inextricable part of my childhood, as it was one of the few NES games I owned back in the day. I also distinctly remember hating the game. I never beat Friday the 13th. I never got past the first “level”. I played with my neighbor/best friend, and we, combined, never got anywhere. I played with my neighbor’s older brother (who was really good at videogames! He beat Simon’s Quest without codes!), and he was able to score a machete, one time, and we couldn’t figure out how he did it. And he couldn’t figure it out, either. So he never got anywhere. And, all the while, we were playing a game that constantly punished us for even trying. Grand Theft Auto might be afraid to have kids in its murder-based universe, but there are children all over Friday the 13th, and Jason is murdering them constantly. I was barely out of primary school, and I was watching my peers die! And I couldn’t do a thing to save them! God, I hate this game!

I suppose I should describe this adventure for anyone that hasn’t had the pleasure. What we have here is a fairly basic action/platforming game twisted into a proto-survival experience. You may choose to play as one of six camp counselors, and it’s your job to venture around Camp Crystal Lake and stop Jason, the unstoppable (hey!) axe-wielding maniac in a hockey mask. While you’re exploring the campgrounds, Jason may attack any of the five defenseless counselors you’re not currently controlling, or a cabin full of a limited number of children. Jason is a literal murder machine when you’re not keeping an eye on him, so this isn’t a “losing health” situation, it’s a “get there right now, and save the children, or they’re all going to die” dilemma. When the HUD starts teasing that Jason is after someone, you better book it over to their location, or you’re going to have a body on your hands in about a minute.

Too wetNow, the trick here is that, while you’re supposed to permanently stop Jason, there’s no clear indicator on how to do that. You’re welcome to explore the campgrounds to your heart’s content, and you’re going to find some useless tips, medicine, and maybe a dagger, but there’s no obvious sign of “this is going to work”. When you encounter Jason, he will lose health if you fight back, but, at a certain point, that just stops. Then what are you supposed to do? Search the area? Defeat the random zombies that are wandering around? Maybe sneak past a wolf and explore one of those cabins in the woods? It’s not crystal clear at Crystal Lake, and, while you’re trying to figure everything out, Jason is slaughtering your comrades. That is not a situation that is very conducive to deductive thinking.

But it turns out there’s an answer. In fact, the game outright tells you what to do right from the start: go to each of the large cabins, and light the fireplaces. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be given a flashlight. Use that flashlight in the cave (basically the only “dark” area in Camp Crystal Lake), notice that there are now secret passages all over the place, and use ‘em to almost immediately find Jason’s Mom(‘s head). Murder the flying head (because how else are you supposed to interact with a giant, floating cranium), be rewarded with a machete, and then machete kill Jason until he don’t move no more. Repeat as necessary, and the kids are going to be all right.

And it’s just that easy! Looking back on the game now, and realizing that, if you know what to do, you can beat the game in under an hour, it seems almost absurd that Wee Goggle Bob couldn’t defeat the undead menace. After all, I was able to beat Contra (with 30 lives), every stage in Super Mario Bros 3 (except that one in Ice World), and end the Chaos menace (with a strategy guide) all before I hit puberty, so what was the big deal with this game? You can describe everything you need to do in a paragraph. I could have totally done that!

And that’s when you realize applying modern reasoning to your own past is not reasonable at all.

AH!Let’s revisit those “simple steps” with the technology (and actual game) of 1989. You’re supposed to light those fireplaces? Well, that’s great, but there is absolutely nothing that logs your lit fireplaces, so if you miss one cabin, you’re going to be searching the entire world over and over again. And not all of the cabins “count”, either, as there are hidden cabins in the woods that don’t impact anything. Want to waste all your time wandering the forest for no reason? That’s always fun! And the cave? Sure, Jason’s Mom is easy to find if you know where to look, but that’s another maze that could potentially be explored for hours without finding the exactly one room that actually provides a reason to be there. And Jason! Sure, the machete (and the later pitchfork) will actually eat chunks of Jason’s health, but it’s kind of hard to focus on that bar when a knife wielding maniac is hurling hot death directly at your face. And all the while, a constant stream of zombies are popping up everywhere, so you’re very likely to lose your councilor’s life not to the imminent threat of a mobile hockey mask, but just the mundane attrition of zombie bites. In other words, this entire game actively wants you to fail, and does absolutely nothing to guide the player.

STABBYSo let’s be honest with ourselves. High school? Childhood? It was always going to be rough. Sure, we’ve got a manual in our heads now, but no such thing existed when it would have actually helped (“What about all that advice you got from your parents?” “Ha ha, who would listen to them?”). In the same way that the campers of Crystal Lake were always going to be doomed, you were always fated to screw up, date crazy, and maybe drive your car through your geometry teacher’s living room. It was inevitable! Some things may look easier in hindsight, but there, in that moment, there was never anything you could do. Imagining playing the game as an adult is a different experience from actually being there.

And, while we’re at it, stop thinking a machete is going to solve everything .

FGC #397 Friday the 13th (NES)

  • System: Just for its reputation as one of the worst games of all time, it’s kind of amazing that Friday the 13th for the NES hasn’t seen any systems other than the NES. Maybe the curse demands it has to be properly contained?
  • Number of players: Just one. Back in the day, when practically everything was 2-player, whether it made sense or not, this was another major check in the minus column.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: I have no idea where this game came from. I mean, in my own collection, not its existence at all. It was a game I’ve owned (and hated) since childhood… but who bought it? My parents were savvy enough to not ever risk a horror movie based game, and my grandparents usually only took recommendations from those previously mentioned parents. I don’t have any weird uncles… Huh… Maybe it just… appeared one day…
  • Say something nice: This might be the first game I ever played that involved choices for characters of varying gender, skin color, and body shape. It only really meant that my friends and I got to continue being childish assholes (“You play as the fat kid, because you’re fat, fatty!”), but, looking back on it now, it might be one of the few NES games where you could actually choose to be a woman or a person of color over “generic white guy”.
  • Other Good Things: None.
  • GROAKFavorite Weapon: I remember there being a fire weapon somewhere in the game… but damned if I can find it now. There are hints scattered around the campground alluding to such a thing, too, but… Dammit, I am not looking at a FAQ for this stupid game again.
  • An end: This game is artificially inflated by requiring three separate Jason kills. This is fairly appropriate, given the source material, but it’s also inordinately anticlimactic when you finally beat Jason, and the narration just says, “Yeah, he’s dead this time.” At least you win! (?)
  • Did you know? This title is considered a canon “sidequel” to Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood. I never really enjoyed the Friday the 13th films (that weren’t based in space), so I have no way of verifying this bit of trivia. I was always more into the television series that no one ever remembers.
  • Would I play again: Never! I might know what to do, but I don’t want to do it ever again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Jr. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600! Running from Ghosts: The Next Generation. Please look forward to it!