FGC #316 Injustice 2

This is a bit of a mismatchInjustice: Gods Among Us was a pretty rad fighting game for a couple of reasons. First, obviously, it was a fun game that allowed the player to live out the ultimate DC Comics dream matches, and finally answer the question of who would win a fight: Lobo or Killer Frost? But that’s to be expected of a fighting game. What was completely unprecedented was that Injustice included a story mode that was both fighting game good and comic book good. Using common tropes from both genres, Injustice wove a story that was not only interesting (what happens when Superman stops being polite and starts getting real) but also very appropriate for the medium. Mirror matches have been a staple of fighting games since the early days of Mortal Kombat, and most fighting games go in some very bizarre directions to justify “oh, Ryu has to fight Ryu now because… uh… raisins”. So why not just have a bad guy universe and a good guy universe? Green Lantern can fight himself all he wants, and it makes perfect sense! Want to make the final boss Superman versus Superman? Sure! It works really well here!

So it’s kind of a shame Injustice 2 forsook all of that for a generic alien invasion plot. We’ve still got a good game here, and the roster/gameplay satisfies, but the plot and story mode are… fairly boring. It’s the next day (or whatever), alien(s) invasion, and former rivals have to work together to stop a threat bigger than both of ‘em. That… has been done. Granted, “alternate universe doppelgangers” has been done, too, but that plot fit the format, whereas this is indistinguishable from a CW crossover of the same year. This is the biggest “sequel where uneasy superheroes fight a super smart robot dude” disappointment since Avengers 2.

But I suppose it’s to be expected, because “let’s punch Brainiac” stories are always boring. He’s super smart! He’s got a robot army! He’s built a body that is just stronger than everybody, oh my gosh, how are we ever going to punch him harder than ever before? And then somebody, I don’t know, does that, and we move on to the next threat. Maybe Superman’s dad dies? It’s been done, who cares?

Let’s move on. Let’s look to the future, and in the interest of Injustice 3 being actually fun, here are a few suggestions for the next adventure:

Injustice 3: Blackest Night

Orange you glad I didn't say green?This one has the greatest odds of actually happening, so may as well tackle this first. For those that haven’t been reading comics for the last decade, the Blackest Night event was a time in the DC Universe when basically every dead hero and villain came back as a murderous zombie powered by a black ring provided by Necron, a death god. So right off the bat, you’ve got an opportunity for dead characters to return (Lex Luthor, Joker) and even some superpowered “normals” (Black Ring Powered Lois Lane, please) to join the cast. Then there’s the other side of Blackest Night: everybody gets a power ring for no reason. Big Angry Dictator Superman powered by a red ring of rage? Go for it. Scarecrow manipulating the fear spectrum? Slam dunk. And we have to throw one random dude in there… Roy G Bivolo aka The Rainbow Rider? I’d buy that DLC. Heck, you could get an entire subsystem going on all the characters using different special moves to “fuel” their magical wishing rings. In brightest day, in blackest night, let’s all get ready for a fight!

The Good: Ring Zombies allow for basically any character, living or dead. Evil Zombie Lincoln wouldn’t be out of place. Also, the promise of power rings for every character spices up the move sets of everyone from Flash to Harley Quinn. And we might even see the sensational character find of 2008, Larfleeze!

The Bad: The Blackest Night plot is pretty boring once you get past the cameos. Hey, here are a bunch of zombies and their zombie boss, how are we ever going to work together to defeat this threat? I know it’s the plot of most comic books anyway, but this one relies almost exclusively on characters reacting poorly to revived loved ones, and that won’t translate well to a fighting game.

And The Batman: Batman is the DC headliner, so he has to be featured in every possible Injustice story. While Batman was dead for the comics Blackest Night event (yet somehow still became a focal point), he could certainly be alive here, and equipped with any number of Lantern rings. Batman loves justice so much, he’s a Star Stapphire? I’d be down with that.

Injustice 3: Clash of the Titans: The Sidekick Showdown

Boo-ya!DC Comics has never held the same grip on the teen market/characters as Marvel and its X-Men, but there has always been a proud group of sidekicks in the DC Universe. And, for whatever reason, the animated divisions have been trying to exploit this superhero subset for decades, so we’ve seen everything from Teen Titans to Young Justice to Teen Titans Go. We’ve got a pretty healthy stable of super powered teens as a result, so why not let them all fight for superiority? Claim there’s an opening in the Justice League or something, and there’s a fighting tournament to determine the latest member. Inevitably, it turns out one of the entrants is a spy or replicant or whatever, and the final boss is somebody completely outside of the teen weight class. Let’s say Darkseid? It’s always Darkseid.

The Good: Who doesn’t want to see every single Robin fight? And the whole “good teens” thing would allow for a story where best friends are fighting thanks to a friendly rivalry and not mind control or whatever excuse pops up every time Black Canary and Aquaman have to fight. And the Teen Titans Go models could be unlockable joke characters! There’s room for humor in the DC Universe, I swear!

The Bad: I suppose it is kind of hard to go back to the sidekicks when you’ve already played with the main events. Supergirl is only more interesting than Superman on the CW, and there’s no way anyone would pick Speedy over Green Arrow. Though I do think Static beats Black Lightning. Also, while I may get excited at such a prospect, no one is going to wig out at a trailer for Greta “Secret” Hayes.

And The Batman: Time travel is always an option, and a “mysterious newcomer” who turns out to be a young Bruce Wayne would be an interesting twist. Oh! He could be disguised as a Robin, and there is some sort of Sins of Youth age swap, and…. Oh nevermind. It’s never going to happen.

Injustice 3: Legion of Superheroes

All together nowSpeaking of teenagers and time traveling, where is the Legion of Superheroes fighting game? The Legion of Superheroes have two rules: you must be a teenager, and you must have at least one superpower. That’s basically the entry rules for every anime fighter ever! You’re guaranteed an interesting moveset when you’ve got a girl that can manipulate gravity, or a boy that can bounce better than a tigger. And don’t worry about dropping the entire Injustice roster: there are enough overlapping superpowers that Polar Boy can adopt Captain Cold moves while Lightning Lass pulls a Black Adam. And, if you’re worried about the Legion being too nice for the Injustice universe, that means you just have to call Geoff Johns. His ideas for the Legion are… disarming.

The Good: Matter-Eater Lad.

The Bad: Matter-Eater Lad.

And The Batman: Hey, if Superman can travel to the future to hang out with his old buds, Batman can follow along, too. Actually, that can be the hook: Bad Superman flees to the future for reinforcements, and Batman trails him through time. Cue Batman having to fight everybody.

Injustice 3: World War 3

I bet they're saying something coolIn this case, we’re not going to focus on the multiple World War 3s of the DC Universe, but instead toward the opposite end of the sidekick spectrum: the old men. DC Comics has a number of characters that fought in World War 2, and, depending on the continuity du jour, sometimes those heroes got caught in a never ending Ragnarök version of World War 2. So, why not let the Injustice cast dip their feet in those waters and fight alongside the old guard against a never-ending siege of Nazis? Throw in a few Nazi supermen, and you’ve got excuses for Star Man, Doc Midnight, and Jay Garrick to punch Nazis all day long. There is nothing videogames should endorse more than punching Nazis.

The Good: An interesting excuse to have “shiny happy” 1940’s DC heroes be a little annoyed and Injustice-y. And a fine excuse for Sgt. Rock to yell at Superman for being a whiny, namby pamby dictator while we’re at it. Also, another game where the finale can be exploding Hitler’s head.

The Bad: If a fighting game includes Nazis, there are good odds you can play as Nazis… and I can’t see that ending well. There are enough Hitler420LOL Miis in the universe to have another online platform where even subtle Nazi overtones can sneak into posts. Then again, if we could all focus on how Nazis are completely terrible, it might all work out.

And The Batman: Batman fucking hates Nazis.

Damn Nazis

Injustice 3: Multiversity

NerdGo nuts, Injustice! Two parallel worlds are fine, but how about every damn parallel world ever. Superman vs. Captain Carrot. Joker vs. The Jokester. Zatanna vs. That One Version of Fate That Just Kicks People in the Balls (Hey, Presto!). Squeeze Pharmaduke in there! And don’t just give me an endless selection of lame variants, make some actually varied movesets for the inevitable Batman vs. Vampire Batman vs. Dark Knight Batman. This would also be a fine excuse to get some people of color in the cast, as we need that one version of Superman that was based on Obama yesterday. And, in this case, the plot really doesn’t matter. The universe is crumbling, everyone has to fight and then work together, and the final boss is Darkseid The Gentry. That sounds scary, right? Bah, it’ll just be the Anti-Monitor anyway.

The Good: An unlimited variety of fighters available from the near-century’s worth of DC characters. Even the most hokiest of characters would work with a serious character’s disgruntled reaction (“I’ve gotta stop drinking before fights”). And there’s even the opportunity for trite characters like Catwoman to use new and fun abilities thanks to multiversal variants.

The Bad: With an unlimited roster, everyone is inevitably going to be disappointed. Sure, this includes every variant of Superman ever committed to paper, but why can’t I fight as a Jimmy Olsen as The Giant Turtle Man? The message board debates would rage for years.

And The Batman: Considering how many times he’s starred in Elseworld tales, Batman could fill up an entire roster just by his lonesome. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a storyline that’s happening at DC comics as I write this. And that gives me an idea…

Injustice 3: The Brave and the Bold

He is the nightScrew it. Batman is the headliner, right? He’s the focus of every story, and the reason DC Comics still has a few dimes to rub together, correct? Let’s just make a 2v2 fighting game ala Marvel vs. Capcom, but the partner character is always Batman. Think of the possibilities! Batman & Superman vs. Batman & Green Lantern. Batman & Robin vs. Batman & Joker. Batman & Gorilla Grodd vs. Batman & General Zod. And you’ve got to have Batman & Batman vs. Batman & Knuckles. This is the fighting game we’ve all been waiting for!

The Good: The most batmaningest game to ever batman would batman over to your batman, with even batmanner graphics than you ever thought batman. Oh, and it would be a fine excuse to revive the Batusi.

The Bad: I suppose it would be disappointing to see Batman team up with villains and then fight just as hard. Maybe that’s an alternate universe Batman? Yeah, that’s the ticket.

And The Batman: There is no way fighting Batman over and over again is any less boring than fighting Brainiac.

FGC #316 Injustice 2

  • System: Playstation 4 and Xbone. … There isn’t a PC version? Huh.
  • Number of players: However many people it takes to fight. Two? That sounds right.
  • Favorite Character: Conceptually, I love that Swamp Thing made the cut at all… but I kind of hate playing as the guy. Same for orange-variant Green Lantern. But I actually enjoy playing as Blue Beetle, so that’s another time Jaime Reyes made a videogame great. It probably helps that he’s basically Mega Man, though.
  • That's gotta hurtRandom Select: The big new “feature” of Injustice 2 is the acquisition of equipment that will allow you to “kit out” your preferred hero or villain. Unfortunately, in practice, this system is basically a slot machine, and, while all you want is that staff that lets Robin play as Nightwing, no, you’re going to get a thousand new masks for Bane instead. This is the opposite of fun.
  • Future Proof: ROB chose this game before all the DLC was released, so if you’re reading this in the future, and we already got Captain Carrot as DLC, please use the nearest available time machine to send an email back to August 2017 Goggle Bob and blow his mind.
  • New Law: Jeffrey Combs should be responsible for voicing all super-smart villains from this point on. Thank you.
  • It’s the little things: Sub-Zero is now in a superhero universe, so naturally he’s acquired a cape. It was meant to be.
  • Did you know? There’s a tie-in comic for the Injustice universe, and its continuity is… dubious. For instance, during various character intros in Injustice 2, characters make distinct references to events from the comics (like the last time a character got stomped into paste). However, the comics have also noticeably killed characters that reappeared in Injustice 2, so… your multiverse may vary?
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game! I have to ignore the fact that it has a built-in casino, but just fighting around with DC characters is always going to be fun (unless it’s that one Genesis game). So, yes, I might get Batman to fight Batman again sometime in the near future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Press Your Luck 2010 Edition for the Nintendo Wii! That’s a game I certainly own, apparently! Please look forward to it!

Hot stuff

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

SANIC!The Sonic the Hedgehog games should get more praise, because they’re everything you ever wanted.

(Though, to be clear, I’m not saying Sonic the Hedgehog games are good.)

I’m an old school gamer. I’ve been playing videogames literally longer than I can remember, but I do remember the first time I played Super Mario Bros. in the same way most people remember receiving a beloved pet. Sitting in my neighbor’s basement, SMB was a revelation the likes of which would take decades to truly understand. And in the intervening years, I have yet to see a “bad” Mario game (note: I do not own a CD-i). Nintendo has carefully curated the franchise for ages, and we, the unwashed public, are only entitled to a new Mario game when Miyamoto sees fit to release one. And, what’s more, there is usually a reason for a new Mario release. Super Mario World was released to commemorate Mario finally getting a dinosaur mount, and Super Mario Sunshine would be a very different animal without the Gamecube’s analog shoulder buttons. Other franchises are similar, from Zelda to Final Fantasy, and, while they all obviously exist to fill their producers’ coffers, one does get the distinct impression that each of these releases is carefully crafted and calculated to be as much a “designer’s vision” as possible. Breath of the Wild or Final Fantasy 15 were obviously built by a small army of programmers, designers, and composers, but the direction of these games seem singular and focused. In the same way that one could point to a Spielberg or Cameron film, one can recognize a Nintendo or Square-Enix AAA title.

WeeeeeBut there is a flipside to these carefully crafted games. When a game is one director’s vision, there isn’t much room for anything else. And, what’s more, there isn’t room for anything else that the audience might enjoy. To be more precise, was I the only ten year-old that was disappointed that Super Mario Bros. 3 didn’t ever reference The Super Mario Super Show or The Wizard? Would it have been too much for The Adventure of Link to give us a passing reference to Captain N: The Game Master? Or, speaking of which, could we get another Kid Icarus game? I know it doesn’t fit your image of the franchise, Nintendo, but could you throw a bone over to the kids who have been devouring your Nintendo Cereal System like candy? Also, Nintendo candy? The fans demand it!

But the future refused to change. These “franchise caretakers” have gotten better in recent years, but when even your Disney crossover games have become as serious as a Russian history lecture, you know that maybe these singular visions have gotten in the way of your toys. Remember when rom hacking first became a thing? And everybody and their mother replaced the Mario sprite with everything from “Wheelchair Mario” to Kenny McCormick? That’s what the fans want to see! It obviously wouldn’t be “right”, but sometimes you just want to see Cloud Strife fight Mario while Bayonetta poses in the background. And only one game in history has ever done that! There should be at least five of those by now!

And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic… he gets it. Sonic has been trying to please his fans for years.

The fans demand it!It started with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Sonic the Hedgehog (the game) does not naturally lend itself to two players, as the whole speed factor means someone has to slow down to stay on the screen, and “two player alternating” is going to be boring as playing Phantasy Star as you wait for your turn. Tails was introduced as a stopgap 2-player mode. Sure, he can’t really “do” anything, but you can now play through Sonic’s zones with an active buddy participating in the fun, and maybe the wee fox can take a few hits on his bro’s behalf. And if that’s not your thing, here’s a 2-player competitive race mode. It’s not “the whole game”, but it’s more entertaining than Excitebike. See, fans, we listened, and even though that two-player suggestion doesn’t really work for the format, here’s a way to make it work! Yay!

And that kind of thinking continued in even subtler ways. Want your next videogame to start the minute the last one ended? Sonic & Knuckles 3 is here. Want to see Sonic’s answer to Mario 64? Sonic Adventure time, baby! Sonic getting too kiddy, and needs to be more “modern” and “edgy”? We’ve got just the Shadow! And he comes with a sexy bat, because we know what you want, wink wink, nudge nudge. Not digging the 3-D? Check out our Gameboy advance releases! Or that PSP thing! In the meanwhile, we’ve got a Sonic game where you can play as all of Sonic’s supporting cast and Sonic at the same time! Next gen Sonic with a serious plot for a serious fandom? Watch your favorite hedgehog die metaphorically and physically! Oh, and if anybody wanted a Ristar revival, we’ve got something for that, too. Long live Sanic!

Now, you may have noticed a few contradictions in the previous paragraph. Most obviously, it’s impossible to have a sexy bat and tell a serious story. That’s just science. And, let’s be real here, a lot of these concepts might work on paper (Sonic, Tails, and Nipples work together to fight Metal Sonic!), but fail horribly in the execution (Sonic Heroes destroyed all fun within a twenty yard radius). But the thing of it is that Sonic, and his handlers, tried. They listened to fans, heard that someone actually wanted to see the Chaotix Crew again, and did their best to make that happen. It didn’t always work (and you could argue that the franchise languished because it never worked), but it was clear someone was trying.

I hate you, 2006Sonic Generations seems to be the apex of this thinking. At this point in the franchise’s history, there were an equal number of people that wanted Sonic to “just go back to basics” as there were people that would sing along to the Sonic Adventure theme and demand that Sonic never revert to his “basic” origins. So let’s just make a game that is, uh, both games. Here’s classic Sonic over in this corner, and we’ve got modern Sonic ready and raring to go, too. And they can play through adaptations of each other’s levels, so you can finally live in a world wherein OG Sonic can experience the joys of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. What’s not to like!?

Against all reason, Sonic Generations, the game that did its best to placate both sides by essentially welding two games together, became one of the most beloved in the franchise. Yes, the bosses sucked, and some of the minigames overstayed their welcome after about three seconds, but you could largely ignore those flaws (just youtube the ending if you didn’t feel like dealing with that rancid final boss), and play some damn fine Sonic the Hedgehog level design. And the chaos emeralds are back and able to activate Super Sonic during regular levels, too! They got my letters!

And, ultimately, Sonic Generations is a great game not only because it’s fun to play, it’s a great game because it perfectly encapsulates the design philosophy of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s not about making the perfect game or using current technology to get the hedgehog to commit to some new gimmick; it’s about making a game that the fans want. It’s about looking back at decades of Sonic history, and getting hyper with all the avenues available. Sonic is about experimentation, taking risks, and knowing that, even if the latest ideas fail, there’ll be another Sonic game next year, and maybe this time we’ll forgo the scarf. This kind of “willing to fail” experimentation is something Sega does that Nintendon’t.

Sonic might be shamed. Sonic may have made mistakes. But Sonic gets over those failures fast. He’s gotta.

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

  • System: Playstation 3 for my collection, but also available for Xbox 360 and PC. There’s also a 3DS version, but it’s different enough to be considered an entirely separate game.
  • Number of players: There’s some sort of multiplayer mode in here, I believe. Never tried it myself, though.
  • GrrrrrFavorite Boss: There’s something satisfying about beating Perfect Chaos as “regular” Sonic. You’ve come a long way, hedgehog.
  • Favorite Level: Maybe it’s because of the prevalence of skateboards, but the classic version of City Escape seems to be my favorite here. The GUN truck is used to great effect, and the remix of a certain theme song is pretty great, too.
  • I have to ask: Okay, which one of you actually likes Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone? I’ve always hated that level, as it combines the twin joys of drowning and moving platforms. But, somehow, it keeps popping up again in later games. Why? Why must I deal with this creepy purple liquid again? Why hast thou forsaken me!?
  • Also: Speed Highway being the rep for Sonic Adventure is… weird. And they chose the one non-theme park level from Sonic Colors, the game that was all theme park.
  • Speaking of Sonic and Fans: As BEAT mentioned on the stream, Sega really seems to tolerate Sonic fan projects, which leads further credence to the idea that the inmates are running the asylum in the house of hedgehog. This seems to have culminated with Sonic Mania, basically a game created by graduated fans that is, incidentally, the best Sonic game I have ever played. But, then again, it’s basically just Sonic & Knuckles 4, which does seem like cheating…
  • Did you know? Sonic Generations was built from the remains of Sonic Unleashed, so there are a lot of Unleashed assets lying around the backend of the game. This just makes me think that I could have tolerated one (1) werehog stage. I mean, if they dropped the quicktime event nonsense, of course.
  • Would I play again: I doubt I’ll ever “play through” the game again, but I’m certainly going to test drive a few of my favorite stages again. There’s some part of my brain that is just never going to get tired of Green Hill Zone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Injustice 2! Time for Superman to punch everybody! Please look forward to it!

Vroom?

FGC #314 Kung Fu

HIYAHKung-Fu is the NES port of Kung-Fu Master, an arcade game originally intended to be based on Jackie Chan’s 1984 film, Wheels on Meals. By all accounts, such a dubious origin should not be the foundation for every fighting game that has ever been produced, but, hey, here we are.

Kung-Fu originates from the early “arcade” era of videogames, a time when “fun” had to be carefully balanced with “player will never ever succeed”. Kung-Fu appeased these twin masters with a fun, interesting gauntlet of unlimited, faceless mooks that want nothing more than to see your immediate death. Everyone remembers the bizarre “man train” of random dudes, but those that actually had the quarters to finish Kung-Fu also encountered dragons, moths, and a unusually high number of acrobatic dwarves. Each stage finished with a unique boss, and the final level of the pagoda hosted none other than Chuck Norris. Or maybe that guy from Karate Kid? Look, it doesn’t matter, the point is that that guy is capable of some punishing kicks, so trouncing him and reclaiming the captured Sylvia felt like a real accomplishment. And then the whole thing looped back to the beginning (complete with a bit of text that seems to imply that Sylvia is a professional kidnapping victim), because an arcade is not happy until you leave the place a penniless (quarterless) hobo.

Now, to be honest, that account could describe a number of games. Who is Mario but an average dude that deals with generic/murderous monsters on his way through a castle to rescue a princess from a big boss? And this game is based on a movie… a movie that didn’t have that much of an original plot to begin with. Come on, if battling up a pagoda was at all original, it wouldn’t be a lame sidequest in Final Fantasy 7. No, there isn’t much of a plot and story for Kung-Fu to latch onto. And if we’re going to claim this is the origin of fighting games, welp, it ain’t because this was the secret origin of Ryu.

Growl!But in the same way that Space Invaders tells you everything you need to know within its title, and Pac-Man never need be anything more than a puck-shaped man, Kung-Fu’s fighting origins come from the simplest of sources: the joypad. Ever seen a Kung-Fu Master arcade cabinet? There is a completely centered joystick, punch and kick buttons on either side (seemingly to, for once, placate our left handed community), and a complete lack of a jump button. Where did jump go? It’s the up key, and that’s all it ever needed to be.

And that changes everything.

Remember Donkey Kong? Why did Mario need separate “up” and “jump” buttons? Because ladders, that’s why. Mario had to distinctly climb his way to rescuing Pauline, and, while Jump Man may have been on a 2-D plane, he needed the faux 3-D motion of “going up” to properly ascend. In some stages there were elevators or moving platforms, but “up” was a necessary way of scaling the heights. “Jump” was there not to soar, but to avoid obstacles in Mario’s path. And when Mario became Super (after the release of Kung-Fu Master, incidentally), “jump” became Mario’s offense, defense, and a way to properly climb over blocks and up towards clouds. Mario’s jump was versatile to a ridiculous degree, and time has shown the many, many ways a jump can be applied to both terrible platformers and more interesting jump-a-thons.

But the jump of Kung-Fu is a very different animal. When you jump in Kung-Fu, you are doing one of two things:

  1. Avoiding a low attack
  2. Delivering a hella rad jump kick

HIYAHThat’s it! That’s all a Kung-Fu jump does. There are no ladders to climb. There are no doors to enter. Even vaulting over an enemy is less satisfying than simply kicking that creeping snake right in the asp. The jump of Kung-Fu is there for one reason and one reason only: it is another avenue of attack. The best defense is a good offense, so the best way to avoid a million encroaching dudes is to distribute a million deadly punches. If that doesn’t work, leap over the incoming attack, and, hi-yah, jump kick to the face. Who needs “environmental hazards” when you’ve got dudes tossing friggin’ knives!?

And that right there is the origin of the fighting game. I’ve said it before, but fighting games are pure expressions of basic concepts. Man vs. Man. Man vs. Self (mirror match). Man vs. Metal Slug. When Chun-Li experiences a particularly bad Tuesday and needs to avenge her father, she doesn’t need to jump over seventeen barrels and then successfully bop sixty turtles before finally moving onto the main boss; no, all she need do is beat ten dudes to a pulp, prove her worth in a simple 2-D plane, and advance to the tournament organizer/Magic Hitler. And, yes, Chun-Li jumps by simply tapping up, because her jump exists exclusively to necessitate various kinds of sweet kicks. In fact, upgrade for better graphics, buttons, and the occasional fireball, and Chun-Li controls exactly like Thomas the Kung-Fu Dude. And the boss of the third stage of Kung-Fu? You can’t tell me that ain’t Mike Bison Balrog.

So many little peopleKung-Fu might not be a true fighting game, but all the elements are starting to coalesce here in this 1984 game. Play Street Fighter, Blazblue, or even Tekken, then return to Kung-Fu, and things will seem… very familiar. It all starts with a simple jump interface, and it ends with Ryu tossing dragon punches.

And the poor folks behind Kung Fu Master never get any credit…

Oh, wait, apparently Kung-Fu Master was created by Takashi Nishiyama, the man responsible for Street Fighter who then went on to SNK to start Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, and Samurai Shodown. Huh. I guess that guy knew what he was doing.

Well, nobody ever claims Moon Patrol was the start of all fighting games…

FGC #314 Kung Fu

  • System: NES for the review (and certainly the version I played the most), but Kung-Fu also appeared in the arcades (duh), Apple devices, a couple of Ataris, and the Commodore 64.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. This is not the game where two guys fight in front of a judge with weird hair. That’s Karate Champ.
  • HIYAHFavorite Boss: The magician at the end of the fourth stage will literally lose his head if you knock it off with a kick. He… gets better.
  • Did you know? Koji Kondo, the composer for Street Fighter 2 (and thus, Guile’s theme) composed the soundtrack for the NES version. Another fighting game connection!
  • Would I play again: This is an important piece of history that is hard as steel. I might play it again for thirty seconds, but I’m totally quitting after my first death.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic Generations! Dammit, ROB! Sonic Mania just came out! Can’t I write about that game? Or could you have picked Sonic Generations last week, and we could have made a theme out of it? No? Damn you, robot. Fine, Sonic Generations it is. Please look forward to it!

HIYAH

FGC #313 C: The Contra Adventure

Aliens!We use the phrase “bait and switch” a lot, but its original meaning seems to predominantly stem from fishing retail. The modern standard for the bait and switch is basically what you see every Black Friday: tremendous deals are advertised (bait), but when the customer arrives, all that is actually available are the same two Luigi amiibos you bought last year (switch). Unfortunately, this is basically how modern advertising works on a nearly global level, and it winds up applying to not only retail, but also politics (see the entirety of the Republican Party), employment (“This job will be fulfilling in a spiritual way”), and live theatre (“Sorry, Idina Menzel isn’t available tonight, but here’s Tammi, her understudy”). In fact, it’s hard to think of a facet of modern life that doesn’t frequently involve a bait and switch, as fleecing the customer is pretty much expected by anyone over the age of twelve. Nobody ever got rich actually giving the public what it wants, now go out and buy your new iphone 7 8.

Like everything else, the videogame market has a tendency to use bait & switch marketing. Gamers repeat stories about “fake” demos going back to the 90’s, and “real time graphics” wound up being a watch phrase for a solid couple of decades. Cloud looks amazing on that motorcycle, but you know he’s going to be strangely Popeyeish when the player actually has control. And even older than the demos of doom, we have the ever popular cover lie-a-thon. Pick a decade, and I’ll tell you what’s on the back of the box. 3-D rendered graphics? RPG-like elements? A huge, open world? How about the old chestnut of 80 hours of gameplay (for a game that can be finished within an hour)? Gamers are used to being lied to, and about the only thing you can count on to actually be correct on that back o’ the box is the number of players (and, come to think of it, that’s usually on the front).

But once you get past being tricked into actually getting that new game into your old game system, you should be in the clear. Give or take a strange tendency for games to turn into shoot ‘em ups in the final ten minutes (or whatever the hell happened in Solar Jetman), what you see on the first level of any given game is usually about what you’d see on the final level. The bosses may have gotten more apocalyptic, or your hero might have gotten a little more loaded for bear (or maybe your main character became a bear? It happens), LASER!but, one way or another, the game is usually recognizable between first world and last. Whether your new purchase is the best thing ever or sucks beyond the pale, nine times out of ten, it’s a similar experience from start to finish. Once you’ve hit the cash register, there’s no more need for bait.

Well… most of the time. Let’s take a look at C: The Contra Adventure.

As one might expect, C:TCA is a Contra game. That’s good! We all love Contra, right? Run, gun, turn some off-colored falcons to paste. This was also a release from a post Contra 3/Contra Hard Corps epoch, so there were decent odds on gigantic bosses and crazy, completely ridiculous shopping cart robots. Okay, not every game can be as delightfully insane as Hard Corps, but you might get some missile riding or something similar in there. And, hey, this is from Appaloosa, the weirdoes behind Kolibri, so there’s a good chance this will be some good stuff.

C:TCA starts out a lot like a combination of Contra 3 and Super Contra, and that’s certainly a good thing. We’ve got 2-D run ‘n gun gameplay. We’ve got climbing hand over hand above flaming debris. We’ve got infinitely respawning backpack soldiers. We’ve even got a choo choo ride at the end of the stage, and a multi-part, gigantic boss. Wow! It is like someone actually played Hard Corps! Contra is the Contra we all love! And, yes, it’s a little difficult, but that’s Contra, too! Going to take some time to finish that first level with three lives, but you can do it, soldier!

But that’s just the bait.

Past the first level, C:TCA is nothing more than yet another lame, vaguely Doom-esque 3-D action game. Run around 3-D mazes that are the tiniest bit reminiscent of Contra’s original “base” stages while deftly dodging bullets and aliens. And guess what? It’s super easy to survive Contra gameplay when you have 3-D movement and bullets are moving about as fast as a disabled penguin (on land, to be perfectly clear). Aside from some familiar weapons (flamethrower, spread, grenade launcher), this could be any other early 3-D action game starring a grizzled marine-ish dude battling space aliens. In fact, the aliens of this Contra adventure are less Red Falcon and a lot more H. R. Giger. Yes, there’s always been some overlap there, but it’s so flagrant here that no one would bat an eye at this being a reskinned Alien title. What?Plagiarism aside, play through C:TCA, and you’ll find that only the first and final levels are actually “classic” Contra levels, everything else is a switch over to the world of generic (and tepid) late 90’s 3-D nonsense. You have to play through this weak wannabe Contra game to find a real Contra experience!

What was even the point of such a thing? Appaloosa went to all the trouble of creating 2-D physics, monsters, and bosses for… a whole two stages. Was it so they could release screenshots and gameplay videos of “classic” Contra action? Was it because Blockbuster was still a thing, and they figured no one would finish the first (and seemingly most difficult) stage and find out the rest of the game was a sham during a rental? Was it to placate fans that despised the previous Contra: Legacy of War and wanted some classic gameplay? … For… two levels? Whatever the reason, C: The Contra Adventure was bait and switch from case to CD, and the advertised “Contra” here was practically nowhere to be found.

Pew PewLuckily, it looks like the bait didn’t attract that many fish. This contra adventure was apparently an abject failure, and nobody even bothered to localize it anywhere but the States. It would be another four years before we saw a new Contra game of any kind (and this was after seeing a new one every two years like clockwork). C: The Contra Adventure’s switch failed completely, and, to add salt to the wound, the franchise was left floundering ever since.

But one thing is obvious. Buyer beware: Contra adventures are not to be trusted.

FGC #313 C: The Contra Adventure

  • System: Playstation 1. I guess this means the game may be technically played on Playstation 2 and Playstation 3 as well, but don’t go expecting any digital releases.
  • Number of players: The general lack of 2-D also means a complete lack of 2 players. What were they going to do? Implement a split screen? Ha!
  • Say something nice: There is one stage that features Ray, our Contra hero, trapped in a rapidly descending elevator, so gravity is right out. This allows for some neat, floaty gameplay that is pretty much what I always expected a Contra “underwater level” to look like. Of course, the whole thing is only one screen with randomly arriving monsters, so it still feels kind of cheap… but it’s the thought that counts.
  • Grabity!Favorite Weapon: The flamethrower is a fine example of the difference between 3-D and 2-D gameplay. In 2-D mode, the flamethrower practically encompasses the horizontal length of the screen, and can vaporize most any creature in its vicinity. In 3-D mode, it barely seems to stretch inches ahead of Ray, and is really only effective against generally immobile sub bosses. So, to answer the question, my favorite weapon is laser.
  • Retro Roll Call: The final area (when it returns to 2-D) features a boss fight against the Terminator Twins and their colossal cousin from Contra 3. I have no idea why this boss fight was chosen as the reprise du jour in the middle of the alien base (where, I don’t know, maybe a more alien boss would make slightly more sense), but at least they got to rip off Cameron instead of Giger for a few minutes.
  • Did you know? Recent releases in the Contra franchise include Contra 3D, a pashislot game, and Neo Contra, a slot machine. Long live Contra!
  • Would I play again: Nope. Never. Man, this game is bad. There are so many actually good Contra games out there! Play those!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kung-Fu for the NES! Punch, kick, it’s all in the pagoda! Please look forward to it!

What?