Monthly Archives: June 2015

FGC #007 Rygar

You're no FirebrandI never studied Child Psychology, so I don’t know if there is a term for this, but there’s a peculiar period of time that I recall vividly from my own childhood when, having gotten past the whole “the universe started with my birth” fallacy, I moved on to acknowledging that everything I know and have experienced has come before, and, like I am seven years old now, my father was once seven years old himself, and his father before him. There must be a name for this period of development, where the world grows just a little bit smaller, and you know, deep down, that your love of grilled cheese may be, without even knowing the word for it, hereditary. A genetic memory, aided by your environment, to guarantee your life the strophic form of your forefathers.

Then again, I played Nintendo as a kid.

I will defend Nintendo (the company, not the system I referred to in the previous paragraph) until my dying breath, because they keep beach city weird. As I write this, Nintendo’s latest release is taking the world by storm, and it’s all about cute squid girls painting structures with Alec Templeton precision while defending the values of either cats (yay!) or dogs (cretins!). And that’s one of the more straightforward plots from Nintendo, lest we forget the next big Nintendo release features anthropomorphic animals piloting starships that turn into robot chickens to combat a giant brain. Nintendo’s own iconic mascot has a mushroom-dependency problem, but, don’t worry, he’s a doctor.

Hate to see the Dark World versionAnd if you’re reading this, I bet that last paragraph actually made sense to you. In fact, I bet it made sense to you without even having to think about it. Okay, maybe not the Templeton reference. Regardless, thanks to an overexposure since childhood, so much “Nintendo logic” makes perfect sense to our metroid-shaped brains, so imagining a flesh colored creature capable of devouring the stars themselves is not so much scary as it is a gentle reminder that emperor penguins are not to be trusted with food supplies.

The greatest and worst thing about childhood is not having anywhere near the experience points necessary to level up to being a useful member of society. Being a child sucks for being taken seriously, but it does leave a lot of space for magic and wonder and imagining that big, amazing world that’s out there and waiting for you the absolute minute you clean your room and are allowed back outside again. And that kind of thinking, combined with the previously mentioned knowledge that “everything has come before” leads to some weird conclusions.

Koopa Troopas?I’m talking about jumping on turtles.

Playing Rygar as an adult, I have to fall back on that hoary old chestnut of “what were they smoking?” Frankly, I’ve always hated that expression, as it reduces imagination to a substance, as if someone needs external stimulus to produce something as “whacky” as a talking cat (!?!), but in this case, it’s a little unusual that the first thing a Roman warrior encounters on his journey to save his land is… a giant shuffling turtle. But don’t worry, I got this, I know what to do.

Rygar, jump on that turtle.

Here’s where Nintendo (generally talking about the system again) gets dangerous. Rygar is a great wealth of repeats from other video games and sources, and, as a kid, if I saw the same thing twice, I figured it must be some archetypical facet of the universe that I am just now discovering. Much like the Castlevania trilogy taught me that whips are the deadliest weapons ever devised, Rygar confirmed a few sneaking suspicions…

1. Turtles (non-mutant) are nature’s mobile trampolines (see also: Super Mario Bros)
2. Yo-Yos are capable weapons (see also: Star Tropics, Goonies II)
3. Greco-Roman warriors being revived for battle is a normal thing (see also: Altered Beast)
4. Grappling hooks are basically elevators in rope form (see also: Batman, Legend of Zelda)
5. Floating Islands? Completely normal. (see also: All of Japan’s output for a solid decade)

I am eternally grateful that I live in an area that is devoid of turtles or yo-yo stores, as either would have likely lead to my incarceration at a young age.

Okay, that joke was a little woodenWhile I eventually acknowledged that maybe Nintendo games are not a valid way of discovering the world, I did internalize many video game lessons from Rygar and its ilk. I didn’t play Rygar until I was a little older than when I played some other beloved NES franchises, so it may have been my first metroidvania where progression seemed “gated” and deliberate. Remember that childhood naiveté I mentioned earlier? That led to a number of games, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest comes immediately to mind, working on magic and fuzziness more than actual programming (“That ferryman finally took me where I needed to go! I guess he just does that sometimes. Now, time to randomly jump in every lake!”). Rygar is the first game I can remember ever having a nonlinear structure, but enough hints (in the form of scary bald men) to make everything gel into a much more cohesive whole (and it probably helps that there weren’t villages full of dicks lying to me). You’re literally telling me I need the crossbow to proceed? Oh, good, that means I can stop jumping into this pit over and over again expecting to finally bridge the gap. Many people fault modern gaming’s “tools as keys” and “explain away” design philosophies, but we should all remember that every video game has the potential to be someone’s first game, and an informed gamer is a worthy gamer.

Just watch those gamers around the turtles.

So very uglyFGC #7 Rygar

  • System: NES
  • Number of Players: 1
  • Number of Identical Old Men in Ancient Argool: Innumerable
  • Shield as an offensive weapon: Ill-advised
  • Gonna talk about the sequel? No.
  • Is there a robot involved? You better believe it
  • Did You Know? In the American version, Crash Man is the hero, while Clash Man is the villain. In Japan, Crash Man is the villain, and the hero is unnamed. Air Man works best across all versions. Wait… I might be thinking of another game.
  • Would I Play Again? It was kind of neat playing this again for the first time in ages, but I like to accomplish something in a game sitting. Rygar is impossibly long and completely devoid of a password or save feature, and it’s not really a “pick up” game. I will probably play Rygar again if it becomes the last video game on Earth… and most books have been destroyed. And it’s raining.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Wario Ware Inc.: Mega Micro Game$. Great. A blog about video games about a video game about creating video games via playing video games. We’re going through the looking glass, people, so please look forward to it!

FGC #006 Batman: Arkham City

Shway viewThere are many things that I want to do, but know will never happen, and one of those things is be cryogenically frozen.

Hey, you’re gonna dream, dream big.

I am, and have always been, someone who believes the future is only getting better. I don’t believe the apocalypse is just around the corner, and I don’t believe we are experiencing some low point in human history due to the propagation of violence, low morals, and Taco Bell. I am about thirty years old, and I look at what the world was at my childhood, and where we are now, and I am blown away by the simple fact that myself, my children, and my children’s children will never have to waste their entire lives trying to remember who played the wife in Beetlejuice (Geena Davis). I would love nothing more than a guaranteed, one way ticket to the future, if only to see where this whole humanity thing is going, and experience the inevitable leaps in technology and information and maybe jetpacks.

And while the “technology” of the future (would someone from the early 1900’s even identify social media as “technology”?) would be more than worth the price of admission, I would be genuinely fascinated by what culture from today has survived or even thrived in the hearts and minds of future generations. I just recently discovered that the novel The Giver was published in 1993. I read The Giver in, I believe, 1995 or 1996 or thereabouts, as part of the grade school curriculum, and assumed, at the time, that it was an ancient tome on par with most of our reading assignments, some of which were written well before this century. Well, that century, at least. It is intriguing as an adult to learn that something you assumed to be classical literature as a child was, in fact, contemporary, but has now become classical literature. I would love to see what comes in the future, whether Harry Potter or (God help us all) Twilight grows to be promoted to the same “whaddya mean we have to read this now” echelon as Shakespeare and Mark Twain.

I got people to saveThen we have the sick, sad world of pop culture, and what will survive for generations, seemingly in spite of itself. Detective Comics #27, featuring the Batman, was published in May of 1939. At the time, no one, not even creators Bill Finger and Roger Meyers, could have predicted Batman would still be a cultural juggernaut seventy-six or so years later. Despite my letter writing campaign, Batman is not taught at schools or universities, he is not the popular mascot for a local sports team, nor is he ever in a tv show that lasts for more than four seasons. Batman perseveres, for some peculiar reason, despite being just a dude in a Halloween costume in the funny papers.

Everything about Batman is depressing. From the macro, like the fact that kid Batman can’t even go to the movies without acquiring a lifetime bout of PTSD, to the micro, like how even just a year into his one man battle against crime, Bruce Wayne is just riddled with scars and injuries that will guarantee a very cranky retirement (sorry Terry!). Even peripheral Batman characters are left without a bottle of bat-prozak: Batman has a virtual army of fellow orphans at his disposal, and Barbara Gordon, either as Batgirl, Oracle, or Battumblr, lives in an eternal state of lying to her doting father.

And Sad Man lives in Sad Town. Clowns are supposed to make people happy, not make people fleshless. Penguins are adorable flightless birds, not notorious gangsters. And crocodiles… okay, I guess crocodiles in the sewers are always bad for property values. Depending on what continuity we’re subscribing to this week, the entire city of Gotham was founded around the prison of an evil warlock that radiated bad vibes, and that barely even cracks the top 20 of horrible crap to befall Gotham City before it was even founded.

Don’t even get me started on The Clench.

All this adds up to a hero that is the darkest pile of dark in the darkest pit of darkness that, somehow, perseveres to the modern day.

Remember when he used to hench for Pharoah Man?Batman: Arkham City is the apex of that darkness. This is the story of Batman, Dark Knight, venturing into Arkham City. What’s Arkham City, you ask? Well, Gotham City had such a criminal problem, that it decided to wall off an entire section of the city, a section including homes, highrises, a historical district, and an entire museum, and just give it over to the criminal element, and call it a jail. This idea was contributed by little Sally Stemberger, age 6, who invented the idea while playing with one of her father’s snowglobes. She was asked for further details about how this would work, but, unfortunately, she had already moved on to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic by that point, so her contributions to the project were minimal.

We’ve got Batman in Criminal Freak City trying to save the world in the middle of a snow storm during an eternal night. Folks, this is using your onyx crayon on a piece of taupe construction paper.

But it’s here, smack dab in the heart of darkness, that you realize exactly why Batman has persisted all these years. Despite theoretically being the most depressing concept for a depressing ongoing story in the most depressing setting against horridly depressing villains, the reason Batman has captured the hearts and minds of generations shines through.

The strange secret of Bruce Wayne?

About ten minutes into Batman: Arkham City, you’re going to shout, and that shout will sound like this: “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

It’s fun to be Batman. No one wants to be an orphan. No one wants to fight an unending war against a concept that has existed, according to nearly every major religion, since the dawn of humanity. No one wants to actually wade through a sewer to fight a murder clown. But I can tell you what everyone does want, and that’s a grappling hook that denies any and all laws of physics and launches you into the air whereupon you release your crazy batcape and gently glide to another rooftop, or, if you spy criminals, slam down to the ground like an avenging, one-man earthquake.
Batman Arkham City is wall-to-wall violence, misogyny, and depression (There’s a point in the game where it’s strongly implied that Batman beats a pregnant woman into submission where it’s all three at once!), but that’s not what we (want to) remember about the experience. Ask your average gamer about Batman: AC, and they’ll describe gliding over the city, sliding down from gargoyles to surprise brutes, or just playing with all of Batman’s magnificent toys in crazy combinations until Thug #4,621 explodes just from Batcontact.

And you better believe that’s what keeps Batman eternal. In the end, it’s never about the rogues gallery, or the pathos, or whatever the hell Gotham starring Ben McKenzie is about, it’s about that simple joy of freedom, that while Batman is a man that is trapped by his compulsions, he lives his life as a man who isn’t even bound by gravity. Batman’s villains have a body count approaching the population of French Guiana, but Bats is never going to be among that number, because, despite chasing a completely deadly hobby every night, he just dances through bullets like you or I survive a light rain. Batman is freedom incarnate, and that’s going to appeal to anyone who happens to be a human being, no matter the epoch.

This makes zero senseSo if I ever get that voucher to the future, when I wake up in another five hundred years, I have no doubt there’ll be an officially licensed ComDisney-Mart Batman comic waiting for me in Dr. Belthasar’s waiting room. And, as the children of the future hook their holovids into my datastream, I’ll tell them all of the time I was The Batman, and flew through Arkham City on wings I controlled with the press of a button.

I won’t mention the bits about Hugo Strange, though. That never went anywhere.

FGC #6 Batman Arkham City

  • System: PS3 for me, Xbox 360 for you? Maybe PC if you’re some kind of weirdo
  • Number of Players: 1. 2+ if you count the inevitable audience this game accrues.
  • Longest Combo Chain: Does the game log this anywhere? I can see I got that 50+ combo trophy, and I remember being pretty proud of that.
  • Get all those Riddler Trophies? I didn’t get all of them, but I got enough to punch that dork straight in his dorky face. Punchin’ knowitalls: another Batman staple.
  • Did You Know? This should be the last time we ever hear Batman The Animated Series’ Mark Hamill’s The Joker. Mr. Hamill has claimed this is was his last stint as the character, and that should remain accurate until a mob of nerds take over the Hamill Compound and force the poor guy to record audio for appalling fanfic scripts. If you would like to participate in this event, please contact Debbie at her usual email address.
  • Would I Play Again? This is one of those weird “being an adult sucks” things. I absolutely would love to play this game again, but I would feel like I’m re-wasting the hours I poured into the game in the first place, just to experience a plot that I know is only going to drive me further insane, and rediscover/solve riddles that I know I already solved once. If only there were a way to experience the same joy of playing the game, but with a new plot and environment to explore. And maybe I can drive the Batmobile, too? Well, a man can dream.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Rygar for the NES. Set shields to deadly! Please look forward to it!

FGC #005 Yoshi Touch & Go

Good catchThe cycle of video game releases is… unnatural.

As anyone that “stays current” with video games knows, there is a tremendous push in the industry for the latest and, presumably, greatest. As I type this, Batman: The Latest Battening has just been released, and social media is alight with discussions regarding The Bat’s firepower and framerate. In approximately two weeks, no one will be talking about poor ol’ Bruce Wayne, and we will have moved on to… let’s just check the release schedule here… ah, yes, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos Banana Split Edition. That one sounds like a winner.

In contrast, while video game hardware is pushed just as hard as its software, anyone who buys a video game system within its first six months to a year is considered an “early adopter”, or, as the French put it, “un idiot”. In my memory, there have been exactly two systems with software released in their first year that would last the entirety of the system’s existence: Nintendo Gamecube, exclusively due to Smash Bros Melee, and the Sega Dreamcast, which wins pretty much by a sad kind of default. No matter how box-y future and past systems have been, there has always, always been a dramatic draught of worthwhile games for anyone who buys a system at launch. Best case scenario? Maybe you can hope for five decent games within a system’s first year, and in some N64ish cases, that’s the best you can hope for forever. Buying a system at launch is costly from a monetary and sanity perspective.

So, it’s really no surprise that I do that all the time. It’s the most specific case of senility doctors have ever seen.

The Nintendo DS was the first portable system I was ever able to purchase at launch (and the second portable system I was allowed to own, ever)(If you don’t count the Virtual Boy as portable [because why would you?]}. Suffice it to say, I was excited to play a simultaneously gimped and improved version of Mario 64, and then… well… nothing.

Grapes equal eggs, duhI survey my Nintendo DS collection, and see games that I would never have purchased if not for this seemingly endless drought. Feel the Magic XY/XX? Wow, no. Zookeeper? You may have been at the forefront of a genre, but you’re about as fun as actually cleaning up monkey poop. Mr. Driller Drill Spirits? Actually my first Mr. Driller game, but another one that is somehow gimped on the “new” system. And then we come to today’s choice: Yoshi Touch & Go.

Yoshi Touch & Go had so much potential. This may sound like heresy to some, but Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is decidedly not my favorite Mario Bros game. In fact, it’s pretty low on the list. This is not to say I don’t enjoy Yoshi’s Island, quite the opposite, it is a very fun game; however, it introduced those “collectathon” elements to 2-D Mario platformers that drive me completely insane. I have that peculiar kind of OCD that compels me to follow the rulings of ludicrous plastic robots, and causes me to collect every last red coin and smiling flower that I can find. And they very concept of stages locked behind 100% completion? Forget about it. My favorite thing to do in Mario games is hold down the B Button and run like hell to the goal post, and Yoshi’s Island stops that impulse cold. Finding secret exits was one thing, but since Yoshi’s Island, I’ve had to scavenge around for red coins, golden coins, and yoshi coins, and something important has been lost in the midst of finding every damn bauble and bead. I can’t help but blame Yoshi’s Island on this development.

But Yoshi Touch & Go had the potential to be the all killer, no filler Yoshi’s Island. After all, it’s the same adorable Yoshi and friends in the same gorgeous coloring book atmosphere, but now there’s no great treasure hunt afoot, just time to just hoof it to the goal and enjoy the simple running, jumping, and egg tossing.

Adoption is weirdIt was supposed to be a thing of beauty.

Instead, here we are, with a game that also started its own kind of horrible genre. Yoshi is running alright, he is, shall we say, endlessly running through nondescript “levels” that feature the same stupid obstacles over and over again in slightly modified configurations. Oh, and levels start with an odd vertical section featuring a falling Baby Mario and even less control available to the player. The pendulum has swung in the other direction, where once there was a game that I lamented because it gave me too much to do, here is a game that contains about five minutes worth of “gameplay”.

I’m not one to assign dollar values to games. To some, a single video game is a tremendous financial burden, to others, its equivalent to a vending machine super ball. Nevertheless, Yoshi Touch & Go is the epitome of the modern “dollar game”. This is a game meant to be played on a phone while waiting in line to get into the local discothèque. This is a game that is meant to be downloaded, not played on a cartridge, and retrieved when you’re waiting for your Xbone to perform its nineteenth system update this week. Yoshi Touch & Go isn’t a bad game, it was just released about a decade before its proper format, for both pricing and play, was invented. Also, it’s a bad game.

Good catch, KamekThere’s a term I love in gaming, and that’s “late to the party”. For those of you that have just beamed here from Alpha Centauri 6, the term refers to playing a video game well after the hype has died down and anyone who cared about the game in the first place has moved on to greener, more bananaful pastures. I propose the term “early to the party” for any of the early adopters out there, as I can think of no finer metaphor. Ever get to the party too early? There’s you. The party host is still getting ready. The temporary host is someone you’d never want to speak to, perhaps the host’s spouse (whom you barely know) or parents (oh God no). The only other guests? The smelly kid, because that kid is always where suck can be found, and the well meaning guest with food, who came early because there was food to bring, but that’s where this particular guest’s social skills end. Who would you like to hang out with? Which will leave the greatest funk upon your soul? And what does it mean that you’re here with them?

Next time a new system gets released, just wait. Stay home, wait until a good amount of time has passed, and then go ahead and join the party. Maybe while you’re waiting, play some Yoshi Touch & Go. Replay the horror.

FGC # 5 Yoshi Touch & Go

  • System: Nintendo DS
  • Number of Players: 1. Okay, technically its 2P, but good luck finding another sucker to play this with.
  • Why Was This Post Delayed: Mainly because it is way too easy to slide into becoming one of those blogs that is always angry at games and ranting against how could some video game designer do this to me and blah blah blah. That’s not for me, there’s too much negativity in this world as is. So, took the time to find an angle to this game that wasn’t just “Wow, this game sucks”.
  • But this game sucks, right? Oh my, yes.
  • What’s Your Highest Score? I am not going to admit how much I actually played this game.
  • Did You Know? IGN said this game, “is one of the most original and unique games created for the system so far…” I want to remind everyone this game was released four months after the release of the DS. There were maybe fifteen other DS games in existence.
  • Would I Play Again? Decidedly no. It’s currently available for the WiiU, where I can play Bit Trip Runner 2 if I really need to. And you better believe my 3DS cartridge slot has better things to do.

And we're done

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Batman Arkham City. Hey, ROB, when did you get randomly relevant? Please look forward to it!