Xenosaga Episode III Part 12: Another Stupid War

Previously on Xenosaga: Everything went really well with The Brews stealing back their Anima Relics and powering up the ol’ giant robots… but then Shion blew it when she tried to save her ailing mother. And then she freaked out over her dead fiancée returning from the grave! Come on, girl, stop caring about people!

So now she’s stuck in the official U-TIC time-out chamber.

Shion recalls that Virgil made a comeback in cloaked form, so… uh… Testaments are the afterlife?


This was two hours ago.

So Shion has officially been captured by U-TIC, and she’s drawn the attention of (younger) Pellegri and Margulis. There’s only an entire war brewing, so interrogating some random weirdo should take precedence for the commander of the troops.

Of course, Margulis is interested because she reminds him of his super best friend 4-ever, Jin.

Pellegri has written erotic friend fiction about Jin and Margulis.

And Suou and Kevin are going to be involved in this bad guy party, too…

FGC #197 Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

What a titleDr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a Puyo Pop clone with a Sonic skin. Dr. Robotnik is mechanizing the peaceful people of Beanville, and it’s up to you, player, to defeat the bad doctor and his robotic minions in a series of head-to-head puzzle challenges. Triumph, and the beans will be free to roam around and be joyful little loco roco rejects; fail, and Dr. Robotnik will utilize his new robo beans to conquer Mobius.

Feel like something is missing? That’s right, Sonic the Hedgehog is nowhere to be seen. Sonic, Tails, and Charmy Bee are all completely absent from this adventure. Dr. Robotnik gets the title, and Sonic doesn’t get so much as a chili dog.

And I think that’s a good thing.

Villains have a tendency to be more interesting than their heroic rivals. Dr. Robotnik is a mad scientist with an IQ of 300, a grandfather that tried to blow up the moon, and a revolutionary method of converting useless bunnies into robotic abominations. He’s dedicated to his twin goals of conquering the world and maybe building a shway theme park. Despite failing over and over again, Robotnik soldiers on, and doesn’t let a little thing like having his Egg Fortress obliterated get him down. Sonic the Hedgehog… likes to run fast.

And this happens in a lot of videogames, to the point that I’m now going to pit classic videogame heroes and villains against each other in a battle for supremacy (or at least top billing).

Mario and Bowser would be the obvious starting point… but that already seems kind of unfair. Mario is, essentially, a charismatic, well-liked soldier. Bowser is menacing toads again! Somebody call the one and only guy that ever seems to curb that dreadful dinosaur. PHOTO OF BOWSER UNAVAILABLEOn the other side of the aisle, though, you have Bowser, who is the king of a very eclectic kingdom. Peach rules a kingdom of funguys that are virtually indistinguishable from each other, while Bowsie corrals a mix of chestnuts, beetles, cacti, turtles (both bipedal and quadrupedal), and the occasional homicidal sun. And he somehow commands all those creatures to literally die for his cause. Peach can barely get her toads to venture outside the castle walls, and even her second best soldier is more likely to cower than conquer. Mario jumps, Bowser rules.

To be clear, I’m not saying Bowser is a good guy. He’s a very violent fire-breathing turtle monster, and his “grab ‘em by the Peach” policy should only be derided. But when you consider what goes into the average Bowser plan versus a Mario plan (run, jump, repeat), Bowser undoubtedly leads the more interesting life. But does Bowser get anything other than the occasional tennis match or RPG cameo? No! Meanwhile, Mario is munching on mushrooms on his 12,000th adventure. That mustache has to rescue… I don’t know… have we saved Candy Land, yet?

WIN!And this reminds me of another grand conqueror, Ganon, and I guess that damn Link kid, too. Ganon (give or take a dorf) must have the absolute worst luck. At this point in Zelda mythology, we know that Ganon is the reincarnation of a gigantic, malevolent demon that once threatened the very gods of Hyrule. It’s kind of a shame, then, that he’s routinely routed by a kid that herds cows. Ganon comes from an oppressed people, wants nothing but, ya know, water and other basic resources for his thirsty family, but is still turned away at the gate because a precocious preteen princess decided to tell everybody about some bad dream. He tries to make alliances with a shady sister kingdom, and his calls just keep going to voicemail until some damn jester picks up. Poor ginger tries to revive an entire mystical kingdom, and he gets a divinely-mandated sword in his forehead for his troubles. Link, meanwhile, seems to continually luck into the most powerful relics on the face of the Earth (“Gee, nice flute you got there, you say it controls all of time and space?”), and lays claim to these holy relics because… he’s courageous? Ya know, I’m pretty sure I could successfully poke some giant worm in the butt with a sword if the alternative meant death or falling off a tower. That should only merit The Triforce of Basic Survival, not Courage. Ganon fights for the good of suppressed others everywhere; Link usually only has one brunette in mind.

Speaking of generational heroes battling an immortal dictator, Dracula already has the title in Japan’s version of “Castlevania”, so I think he’s getting his due.

CRYDr. Wily, now there’s a guy who should get top billing. Screw “Mega Man” “Rock Man” or “Rainbow Man”, the true title of that franchise should be something along the lines of “Dr. Wily’s Funhouse (featuring some robot boy)”. Raise your hands if you wanted to be Dr. Wily as a kid. Thought never crossed your mind? Okay, but did you ever create your own robot masters? Design your own levels or weapons for Mega Man? Guess what! That’s Dr. Wily’s job! Dr. Light built one adaptable fighting robot, and then Dr. Wily built six death mazes and an entire castle to fight back. And then another eight levels, robot masters, and a castle. And then again! And again! Sometimes he built entire “dummy” castles just to screw with Rock-for-Brains! And when he ran out of ideas, he kidnapped another scientist so Mega Man could have even more robots to fight. And there was a soccer tournament somewhere in there! That is some insane dedication to his craft. Maybe mad. Obviously they can’t all be winners (Stone Man? Really?), but every once in a while you get a robot master choo choo or snake, and it all works out. Mega Man knows one big thing, but Dr. Wily knows many things, including how to build a fortress in the shape of a giant skull.

SO ANGRYBut I guess now we’re talking about Hedgehogs again. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine might not be the “The Adventures of Eggman”, but it is at least a chance for the mad scientist to shine outside of that rodent eulipotyphla’s limelight. Maybe we’ll see more Eggman times in the future, but for now, we must be content with one measly villain owning a puzzle game. We’ll get that hedgehog next time.

FGC #197 Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

  • System: Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and a menagerie of rereleases on later systems. Despite the assumed licensing issues, this game has no problem resurfacing every generation.
  • Number of players: Two player head-to-head puzzle action. Eat your heart out, Nintendo Tetris.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s Puyo Pop. It’s a match-color game. It’s practically Dr. Mario. It’s also really difficult for some reason. Like, the second stage is already pretty rough with piling the garbage blocks on the player.
  • So, did you beat it: Once, on one of the Sega/Sonic Mega Collections. I want to say Playstation 2 era? The final boss is Dr. Robotnik himself.
  • Hey, speaking of villains headlining games, what about Shadow the Hedgehog: This blog does not recognize color swaps as real characters. You heard me, Reptile!
  • Did you know? The aesthetics of this game are predominantly based on the Sonic the Hedgehog animated series. The, uh, daily one, not the one that only aired on Saturdays and was super rad because Sonic the Hedgehog was some kind of freedom fighter and there was a rabbit that was also a cyborg and I think Sonic had his own Uncle Ben. … The 90’s were a weird time to be alive.
  • Would I play again: No. I’m proud of Robotnik being immortalized in the title of this Puyo Pop clone… but it’s still just Puyo Pop. So why don’t I just play that?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ducktales, the Wayforward version! Get ready for life to be like a hurricane! Please look forward to it!


FGC #196 Back to the Future

Shouldn't the school and the dance be the same place?Back to the Future, the movie, has surprising origins. For the start of a timeless franchise, BTTF began as simply an idle thought inspired by an old yearbook: “If I knew my parents in high school, what would I think of them? Would I think them nerds? Bullies? … Sluts?” From that simple premise, an ageless trilogy was born, and everything involved (the time travel, the DeLorean, even Doc) was invented to serve a plot that got a teenage boy back to a place where his mom had a different kind of love for her son. It’s easy to forget after trips to the future and the Old West, but the only reason Marty McFly had an adventure at all was to serve a fairly mundane premise (“I bet dad was a nerd!”).

Videogames are forged in much the same fires. I’ve mentioned it before, but some of the greatest games and franchises came from simple concepts like “how about two guys fight” or “here’s an animal that runs fast”. The canon story of the Mega Man franchise involves thousands of years and having to learn the plural of “apocalypse”, and it’s all in the service of explaining why you have to talk to a monkey every time you want to save. The best videogames perfectly integrate their gimmicks with their gameplay and stories, and, sometimes, you get a portal gun out of the deal.

Unfortunately, there are also licensed games. Licensed games, by definition, must properly serve their corporate masters, so, more often than not, you get a big pile of crappy gameplay recklessly duct taped to a movie or book’s original plot. It’s just as rare to see a movie translate well to a videogame as it is to see a videogame transition properly to the big screen. It’s not impossible, but it’s often pretty damn difficult to translate the pacing of a movie to a game where there must be constant “somethings” happening. It can kind of work for an action movie (assuming the action movie features approximately 12,000,000,000 random mooks), but apply that same kind of a thinking to a sci-fi action comedy, and, well, good luck.

NOT FUNSo I don’t envy LJN for having to make a Back to the Future videogame. You could potentially make individual games out of parts of the Back to the Future story, but attempting to tie it all together? Recall that Marty spent an entire day locked in a garage. That is not a good premise for a level! So, while there are a lot of great moments in BTTF, bringing all those moments together in a manner that would be coherent wouldn’t really work for a videogame.

So LJN said, “Hey, screw it, let’s try to cram everything in here anyway.”

It didn’t work out well.

The biggest problem here is that LJN chose to base most of the game on Marty walks around aimlessly. It’s true that, if you really pay attention to BTTF, Marty spends a lot of time just walking between Doc’s place, the high school, and certain modest billboards. Fortunately, not much of the cinematic run time is given over to actually watching Marty walk down suburban 50’s streets while he avoids bees, hula hoops, and conspicuous bowling pins. However, LJN must have loved the idea of Marty on the tough streets of idyllic Hill Valley, because every “world” features at least three stupid segments of, basically, BTTF: The Endless Runner. I’ll give LJN credit for being ahead of its time on this one, but, in a universe that could involve driving a DeLorean, we’re stuck spending 80% of the game hoofing it. Sometimes there’s a skateboard, but the only way that enhances gameplay is by making the stupid game end faster.

NOT FUNLuckily, someone noticed this “gameplay” was about as fun as sitting in a deep fryer, so every few stages are punctuated with another iconic scene from the movie.

And LJN continued to get it wrong.

The first minigame is BTTF Tapper. Marty is at Lou’s Café, and he must repel a fundamental army of bullies with… root beer? As you can probably guess from my glib titling of the area, this bit plays a lot like Midway’s old Tapper game, and the gameplay is simply sliding Marty up and down to properly lob projectiles at approaching malcontents. This is about where every single childhood playthrough ended for Wee Goggle Bob, because you must eliminate, I believe, 20,000 bullies before you’re allowed to proceed. If you fail, you’re forced back to the start of the most recent walking stage, and then, hopefully, you’ll have better luck next time.

This is a weird way to memorialize Lou’s Café in videogame form. You may recall that there is a bully confrontation at Lou’s Café, but the real joy of that scene occurs right outside, when Marty creates a makeshift skateboard, and leaves Biff… in a crappy situation. This thrilling action sequence is ignored so Marty can serve drinks. Huh.

NOT FUNThe next minigame makes a little more sense, but only marginally. I suppose the game had to acknowledge time traveling oedipal complexes eventually, so at “The School”, Marty must attempt to repel the romantic advances of his mother through heart catching. While this could have translated to an X-rated game of Janken, what we wind up with is basically the previous Tapper challenge in reverse. Lorraine Baines produces a series of hearts, and Marty must “block” those hearts by… running straight into them. It is completely unintuitive, and you’re likely to lose a life immediately thanks to the total lack of an explanation beforehand (pop quiz: do you dodge or catch projectiles in every videogame ever made?). However, this challenge is about a million times easier to complete than the Tapper segment, particularly after having completed that gauntlet. Tapper is the Turbo Tunnel of BTTF, Heart Catcher is practically a Kirby game.

But no time for love, Dr. Jones, it’s time for the Under the Sea Dance. Lorraine is finally willing to settle for George, and Marty has to get those cute kids back together through Guitar Hero. I have to give LJN credit here, this primitive rhythm game is pretty alright for its era. You must “catch” music notes to keep the song going and your parents’ libido throbbing, and, if you ROCK OUTunderstand music at all, it’s remarkably easy. Regular notes are always “middle”, flats are always low, and sharps are always high. I can’t speak to how closely the arrangement actually resembles Johnny B Goode, but there are rhythm games even today that have worse interfaces than this ’89 NES game. Good job, LJN, you got one thing right.

Then again, this interpretation of the dance ignores all the other fun stuff that Marty could be doing during this scene, like ducking thugs or helping in a game of Punch-Out with Biff. Still! Good effort! Maybe we can revisit this scene in the sequel (whoops, nope).

And then, finally, we have Marty trying to make his way back to the future. It’s the night of the big thunderstorm, and (finally!) we’re behind the wheel of the DeLorean. It’s time to drive home! And… it sucks.

WINNERThe gameplay here is theoretically sound. You’ve got to hit that iconic 88 MPH, but you have to avoid lesser lightning bolts along the way. Luckily, you don’t have to assist Doc Brown in inventing the zip line, but every little bolt drastically hampers your speed. And it doesn’t matter if you maintain 88 MPH for the entire level, if you whiff at the finish line, guess what happens? That’s right, it’s an instant Game Over, and you’re right back to the beginning of the game. Not the previous level, you have to complete everything all over again. Considering this is the first time you ever see DeLorean gameplay, making the event pass/fail is downright punishing. But don’t worry! You’ll get another chance if you play the entire game again!

I.. don’t think many people spring for that option.

Back to the Future: The Movie is an amazing movie based on a simple idea. Back to the Future: The NES game is dreadful, and based only on pointless greed. Guess which one founded an empire.

FGC #196 Back to the Future

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and don’t expect to see it anywhere else.
  • Number of players: For such a great cast of memorable characters, we’ve only got Marty. Doc is presumably narrating to the player, but he isn’t even seen, left alone an available second player.
  • Just play the gig man: Most of the game has one background track, which is actually a sped up version of The Power of Love. It’s practically unrecognizable, though, so screw that noise.
  • UghSo, did you beat it: This was one of my precious few NES games as a child, and, yes, I actually beat it on the original hardware. And it was on my first go of the DeLorean stage to boot. And then… I never beat it again. I tried to showcase my mad skillz for my friends, but I was never able to complete that stage without save states again. Now I’m old and bitter.
  • An end: Oh, and your reward for completing this game is a single written paragraph about Marty successfully returning to his own time. You don’t even get a cathartic image of Marty living his new, high-rolling 80’s lifestyle.
  • Did you know? Bob Gale, one of the writers of Back to the Future, called this abomination the worst videogame ever, and recommended people not buy it. Another fine Bob from history, folks.
  • Would I play again: No. Never. And that stupid song is going to be stuck in my head forever, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine! I’ve never been able to determine if that is the best title ever, or the worst. Maybe we’ll figure it out. Please look forward to it!

FGC #195 Drill Dozer

Kinda phallicIt has got to be weird to be Game Freak.

Game Freak is a company that started as a “fan zine” (like a primitive Geocities) back in the early days of gaming. That is adorable. Also adorable: Game Freak progressed from super fans to the big leagues in 1989 with the release of a NES game, Mendel Palace (aka Qunity). If you don’t remember Mendel Palace, that’s okay, but know that it’s an action puzzle-ish game that possessed some of the most deceptive North American box art on the NES. After releasing Smart Ball (aka Jelly Boy) for the SNES, Game Freak started to get cozy with Nintendo, and was granted the keys to Nintendo’s newest mascot, Yoshi. Yoshi (the game) was a Dr. Mario-esque puzzle game that pretty much only used the titular dinosaur as an excuse for egg stacking/hatching. However, this wouldn’t be the last time Game Freak worked with a strange, sexless creature that was only capable of saying its name…

After a few other games (including one starring Mario… that never saw American shores), Game Freak finally hit pay dirt: The Gameboy Camera. Wait, no, not that. Pocket Monsters: Red & Green were released in Japan in 1996, and then its international cousins, Pokémon Red & Blue were released in North America shortly thereafter. From that point on, Game Freak released very few games outside the Pokémon umbrella. No, they’re not responsible for every Pokémon game (the trading card games were put together by the remains of the people behind Earthbound, and Pokémon Snap was produced by pure, bottled joy), but every “real” Pokémon game, like Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Garnet, or Pokémon X/Y, all came from the graduated fans at Game Freak. And, frankly, it makes sense: in a way, the Pokémon games are an advanced/evolved form of Dragon Quest, so it only makes sense that the kind of game that so heavily relies on minutia and balancing some 700 critters would come from minds that have been dedicated to gaming since the days of Erdrick. Ignore all the hype, ignore 900 episodes of a TV show, ignore the fact that there are children born knowing the word “Pikachu”, and you still have a JRPG that is just plain good, and somehow a rolling katamari of monsters and move lists that have persisted for twenty years. That almost seems impossible!

And then there are Game Freak’s other games.

MAD WITH POWERSince 1996, there have not been many outside the Pokémon umbrella. There’s Click Medic, a (Japan only) RPG set in the far flung future of 2016, a time when diseases have to be found and catalogued in a manner not entirely unlike capturing pocket monsters. There’s 2012’s Harmoknight, an interesting rhythm/action game that has the misfortune of being on the same system as Final Fantasy Theatrhythm. And, more recently, there’s Tembo the Badass Elephant, a platforming/action game that is pretty similar to today’s game: the 2005 Gameboy Advance release, Drill Dozer.

Drill Dozer is a quirky, completely adorable game. You play the part of Jill Dozer, daughter of Doug Dozer, and inheritor of the Drill Dozer. But don’t worry! Doug isn’t dead, he’s just been injured by the nefarious Skullker gang, and, since those blasted Skullkers also stole the valuable Pink Red Diamond that belonged to Jill’s mother, it’s up to Jill and the Red Dozers to beat those Skullkers down. Along the way, you’re likely to obtain a few other gigantic, mystical diamonds of varying powers (Green Diamond can control fish? Uh, sure), and eventually destroy the Dark Diamond to totally defeat Croog, leader of the Skulkers. And did I mention the benevolent Red Dozers are bandits, too? It’s a good excuse to rob a museum.

Move alongAnd the gameplay does some interesting things with the action platformer genre. First, and most obviously, this is a Gameboy Advance game with built in rumble effects, and, like Wario Ware Twisted, it completely justifies the gimmick by viscerally enhancing any drill jobs. It just plain feels good to drill down some wall with the GBA shaking like a jackhammer in your hands. Beyond that, every stage of Drill Dozer follows a familiar rhythm: your drill mech starts out with a mere single gear, but find two new gears in the level du jour, and suddenly you’ll be a lean, mean, drilling machine (moreso). Previously insurmountable obstacles crumble like tissue paper, and whatever gimmick lurks around the stage is usually enhanced by Jill’s new gears. Combine all this with some Treasure-esque giant bosses, and you’ve got the recipe for a great game, left alone a great game for the GBA.


Let’s talk about Pokémon again. I’ve got to fire up Pokémon X again to claim that Volcanion, so… let’s see here… I’ve apparently played Pokémon X for 290 hours. Technically over twelve days. That’s just one Pokémon game, and I’m almost certain I put a similar number of hours into Pokémon Black. Total up all the Game Freak produced Pokémon games, and it’s entirely possible I’ve devoted a cumulative month of my life to playing with Pikachu. Mind you, in many cases I was also doing something else while fiddling with the pocket monsters, but, still, a lot of time fake bike riding.

Drill Dozer, meanwhile, was one and done, and I barely felt any need to finish it when I was playing it the first time. The game isn’t bad! It’s just, somehow, not very compelling. Even though the game is completely designed around the mechanic, maybe the way you have to constantly reacquire your “best” powerups is tiring. Maybe the GUI constantly displaying the “gear up” gauge detracts from the amusing visuals. Maybe it’s simply that the story feels too light and breezy to have any real ramifications or pressure toward “what happens next”. Maybe the levelsThey're good people, right? are too long. Whatever the reason, I enjoy playing Drill Dozer, but I in no way feel compelled to replay the thing or collect all the hidden treasures.

And Drill Dozer is not the only Game Freak game that gave me that feeling. I played Mario & Wario (somehow) for a few stages to see what I was missing, and then quit, feeling quite content to never play it again. HarmoKnight is cool, but I could be playing a rhythm game with music I already like. And Tembo the Badass Elephant I have sitting on my Playstation 4 with two or three levels played, and the rest? Well, I’ll get back to that someday, right?

But Pokémon is amazing, so Game Freak must know how to make an enthralling game. It’s not a mile a minute thrill fest, but it holds my attention for hours, so it must be doing something that the other Game Freak releases are not. I mean, my most played game since Summer has been Pokémon Go, and that even got me to get up and walk around the big scary outside. Game Freak must…


Pokémon Go is a joint Pokémon Company / Niantic release, and only could possibly be related to Game Freak via Pokémon Company employee overlap? So, the gameplay of Pokémon Go, such as it is, is predominantly the domain of Niantic? I’m… I’m just playing the number one app of the year because I like the idea of a Lickitung hanging outside my house?

Geez… uh… Must be weird to be Game Freak right now.

FGC #195 Drill Dozer

  • System: Gameboy Advance. This one is just begging for a virtual console re-release on the WiiU, assuming they can get the rumble right.
  • Number of players: Jill Dozer is one of a kind.
  • What about Dig Dug? Shut-up.
  • WINNERWhat’s in a name: Drill Dozer’s original, Japanese title is Screw Breaker Gōshin Drillero. That… that is what I want to name my children. It’s unisex.
  • Crossover Appeal: The fact that Tron Bonne and Jill Dozer, both bandits that pilot bipedal mechs that occasionally have drill arms, have never met is criminal. These two need a team-up, like, yesterday.
  • Favorite Boss: Sometimes giant scorpion mechs with drill tails are best.
  • Did you know? Jill Dozer appears as an assist trophy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl… but not in Super Smash Bros 4. This is disappointing, but likely has something to do with her Game Freak origins. There is a drill item in Smash 4, but it seems to be more based on a Kid Icarus item than a pink mech.
  • Would I play again: I did enjoy this game when it came out… just I never thought about it again until ROB chose it. I want to say I’ll play it some more… but I have to get back to that elephant game first, right?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Back to the Future for the NES! Did… did you get the date right, ROB? No. Didn’t think so. Anyway, please look forward to it!