Monthly Archives: November 2015

FGC #069 Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

I'm hearing the theme song in my headStumbling around the forgotten past of gaming can be surprising sometimes.

Today, by Random ROB decree, I played Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for the Sega Genesis. I’ve had an… odd relationship with the Power Rangers since I was a young buck, as the show premiered at just the right time for me to be too old for “baby stuff” like spandex clad dino warriors. While I wasn’t yet old enough to get over my own viewing insecurities, I was old enough to declare that “the kids today” were being suckered by an inferior product, and this new Power Rangers thing was nothing like my beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What’s more, clearly this whole show was a rip-off of Voltron, another darling show from when I was approximately a toddler. Screw these stupid Zords, I want my technodromes and robeasts back! Note that I was approximately ten.

But I was, as much as I loathed admitting it, a slave to brightly colored robots. I deliberately didn’t own the action figures or morphin’ bots, but I did watch the show with some dedication, despite the fact that I’d deny it if asked. Even if I wasn’t sharing my fandom, my mind was constantly racing with the possibilities of plots like the green and white ranger sagas, and that terrible time when Tommy lost his powers and Jason ran around with that silly little chest shield. My favorite color has always been green, so I was doomed to always be a fan of that sixth ranger, but I also enjoyed the remainder of the cast, whether it be cool Zack, cute Kimberly, or Billy, who, let’s face it, was probably the character closest to my own sensibilities. He used big words!

I distinctly recall visiting a theme park in my childhood, and spending all of my spare time in line lamenting the death of the old zords, and pondering the promise of the new “mythical” mechas appearing to combat Triumphant FlutingZedd. But… ya know… that show was baby stuff… I just happened to catch that new episode the night before. Yeah…

So, successfully shunning all the merchandise, I avoided Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for the Sega Genesis when it was new. I did play the SNES MMPR game as a rental, though, and that was a mediocre beat ‘em up that didn’t require anything more than an afternoon. I was able to finish it before anyone saw me playing it, which was all I could ask for.

Eventually, I purchased both the SNES and Genesis MMPR games (and the Sega CD version, apparently? ROB, please stay away from that one) probably a decade later, when SNES and Genesis games were still floating around and freely available down the street from the super market for five bucks. At that point, as these things inevitably go, I had a certain level of nostalgic fondness for the franchise, and, hey, why not pick up a piece of childhood, albeit one my previous self would find entirely shameful.

I’m going to assume that I played the Genesis game for a whole five minutes to test and make sure it worked, and then tucked it away until today, when ROB Law demanded I pull it off the shelf.

And you know what? It’s a pretty good game.

HIYA!First of all, in contrast to its SNES sibling, this is a straight-up fighting game. As I discussed in a previous post, it is my belief that fighting games are as close to movies and TV shows as video games are ever going to get. Person A has a conflict with Person B, fight, let’s see who wins. All killer, no filler. This works wonderfully for the Power Rangers, as, while I love pounding on Putty Patrollers as much as the next guy, it gets a bit old after about seven seconds, and then I’m just wondering when we’re finally going to whip out the Zords. Making this game a fighting game brilliantly subverts that issue by fast tracking along to the main event right from the start: here’s your minotaur, grab your t-rex bot, and let’s fight!

The one-player, story mode of this game drops everything lame about MMPR (learning lessons, fighting putties, karate rapping) and skips right to those all-important final five minutes where it’s just monster mashing, followed by gigantic monster mashing. Choose from any of the original five rangers, fight on foot (on the same stupid bridge background every time, I guess), win, and then everybody grows up to skyscraper size so there’s an excuse to form the Megazord. The second level condenses the entire five chapter Green Ranger Saga into two fights, and they’re the only two fights that matter (vs. Green Ranger, vs. Green Ranger in Giant Robot). Afterwards, Tommy is added to your roster, and you can even command the Dragonzord when fighting on the moon. Yes, there’s giant robot fighting in space, and that’s not something a lot of franchises seem to be able to pull off.

And, really, this isn’t a bad fighting game just for the sake of fighting. Yeah, the draw here is that you’ve got six Power Rangers, Goldar, a couple monsters, the zords, and the one-eyed robot that Go GoGoldar piloted during that one season season finale, but there is a difference between the (mostly color swapped) rangers, and everyone has a useful collection of anti-air and projectile moves. It’s no Street Fighter 2, and “combos” were still in their infancy in the genre, but I’d rather play this over Fighter’s History, or Hybrid Heaven’s Versus Mode. Or maybe I’m just impressed that they made Billy a charge character, because that makes way too much sense.

So, yes, I was surprised by this game, and in a good way. I was expecting another Izzy, or Arcade’s Revenge, but this is just a fun game. Sure, it only lasts twenty minutes, but they were an enjoyable twenty minutes, and I got to poke Goldar with those weird trident-sai-fork things, so I’ve got no complaints.

Good job, Banpresto, who apparently put this game together. Guess you guys understand the appeal of giant fighting robots. See if you can do something with that.

FGC #69 Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

  • System: Sega Genesis. There are, of course, other MMPR games for other systems, but this one is unique. Actually the Game Gear version follows the same basic gameplay, but has a different roster… with Shellshock, that ninja turtle clone with a traffic light implanted in its back. I miss that guy. Oh man, that terrible little system got the Polluticorn, too?
  • Number of Players: Two, as must be the case in a fighting game. I called Green Ranger!
  • Bulk and Skull? Sadly, no.
  • ZAPFeminism Now: With Kimberly, Trini, and the monstrous Madame Woe available, this might be the greatest number of playable women in a Genesis game. Rita is, of course, the main antagonist, and while she isn’t playable, she does get the bulk of the dialogue. And Scorpina hangs out in the background for some reason. I’m sure it’s completely by accident, but that’s a lot more women than you’ll find in the first three Sonic games (0).
  • Canon? Oddly, the two “generic” monsters that appear in this game, Mighty Minotaur and Madame Woe, were two out of a total of five monsters that weren’t defeated while giant size in the original show. It’s not like anyone ever cared about the validity of the Power Rangers universe, but it’s funny how that worked out.
  • Trident-Sai-Fork Thing? Apparently it was called the… Power Lance? Oh, it was supposed to be combined into more of a staff? Huh. Why does the smart guy always get a staff?
  • Did you know? Most people know that in the original Japanese version of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, the Yellow Ranger is actually a man, so whenever you see the costumed Yellow Ranger in Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, you’re actually looking at a dude. But a lot of people don’t remember the obscure USA original sitcom Weird Science, where, in one episode, main character Gary Wallace claims to be play the Yellow Ranger to impress some women. His lie is met with a disinterested, “Isn’t the Yellow Ranger a girl?” I have always wondered if the writers of that show knew of the international gender disparity, or if it was just an appropriate coincidence. The world may never know.
  • Would I play again: Well, the game does only take twenty minutes.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ninja Gaiden 3 for the NES! Into every ninja’s life, a giant floating fortress of death must fall. Please look forward to it!

I can't even

FGC #068 Spider-Man and X-Men Arcade’s Revenge

Here comes a special boyCrossovers are a gigantic part of modern comics. From Superman teaming up with Batman to Howard the Duck pissing off Swamp Thing, if there’s a possibility two super heroes or super hero groups exist in the same omniverse, it’s exploited. This has, overtime, bled into the world of video games, giving us such amazing modern examples of gaming like Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds Transformers, and Namco X Angry Birds. It is truly a wondrous time to be alive.

But this was not always the case. Back in the late twentieth century, crossovers were few and far between, and we’d rarely see something like a game featuring Marvel’s greatest heroes fighting for their lives against insurmountable odds using their amazing super powers. The game I speak of, featuring Marvelous exploits and every bad guy under the sun was inevitably a gigantic hit, with amazing gameplay to boot.

That was Marvel vs. Capcom.

This is Spider-Man and the X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge, for the SNES.

And it blows web fluid.

The theory behind this game is sound. Arcade is a super crazy mad genius in the Marvel Universe who designs “murderworlds”, areas not unlike theme parks; but unlike theme parks, clowns aren’t the only things trying to stab you. Murderworlds are supposed to be custom built (by, one would assume, Arcade’s non-union construction workers of doom, though they do still get 15 minute destruction breaks) to their captive’s anti-specifications. If Arcade was trapping DC’s Superman, he’d build the whole place out of kryptonite, Flash would face a world of molasses, and Aquaman… well… anything at all. Maybe fluffy pillows. At any rate, Arcade has, as of the game’s start, constructed five Murderworlds for four x-men and one Spider-Man, and gives said heroes the sporting chance of attempting to escape their worst nightmares. Spider-Man’s worst nightmare, for instance, involves battling hordes of very similar robots. Conversely, Cyclops’ worst nightmare involves battling hordes of very similar robots.

Before we go any further, I feel I should point out this game was made by Acclaim, a company known for claiming to be “Masters of the Game” while producing such quality titles as Turok: Rage Wars, Swing is the thingBMX XXX, and the complete Simpsons line of Nintendo and Gameboy games, including The Simpsons: Bart and the Beanstalk. Basically, Acclaim had the amazing ability to take a concept that, by all rights, should be completely mind-blowingly awesome (dinosaur hunting, naked bicycle riding, buying a cow), and turn it into a gigantic turd-storm. Never played an Acclaim game? Then you’ve probably had a better life than mine. I’ve beaten Playstation’s Fantastic Four.

Back in the game, the X-Men and Spider-Man are trapped, in more ways than one, in Arcade’s revenge. Though it’s never stated what Arcade is taking revenge for, given he’s a hit man, I really doubt he’s got a grudge against these dorks. I think Acclaim just made the whole thing up when they realized Arcade was actually another Marvel character and not an excuse to make a game where Wolverine blows all his quarters attempting to get the high score on Space Invaders. Oh man, you ever try to grab a joystick with gigantic claws sticking out of your wrists? The fun is over before it begins. It’s actually how Wolverine got that hairstyle, it was in his Origins book, I swear. What was I talking about again?
Oh, right, crappy game. It’s a lousy, hop-around-like-an-idiot platforming action game with a few mutants and their super powers. The only reason anyone would even touch this game is for its all-star cast, so I suppose you would like to hear about the amazing traps and devious creations Arcade has unleashed upon our favorite Marvelites.

Spider-Man is stuck in a half constructed cityscape. Basically there’s a lot of asbestos and girders kind of haphazardly slapped together. I think Arcade didn’t so much create a maze here as get drunk and flail around a map editor. Actually, according to the (sparse) storyline, Spider-Man was the last of the gang to stop by Arcade’s place, and was only captured at the last second while attempting to rescue Gambit of all people. I suppose his precognitive spider sense, his singular trademark mentioned in nearly every pop culture reference, was on the fritz. So Spidey must make amends for his capture by battling random robots and, finally, the Shocker and Rhino, two Marvel villains so low on the totem pole that they didn’t see the big screen until Spider-Man 5: Spider Five. Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, Lizard, Venom, no, they all had better agents, Spider-Man gets to take out the F-string for his climatic battles. Boo. Carnage also kind of shows up, but he’s portrayed as a weird leaping red thing, so there are about equal odds that “Carnage” is actually a red yoshi.

Enjoy yourself, bubWolverine must face circus midgets. He’s the best at what he does, and what he does is very colorful! He just runs around and tears clowns and toy soldiers to pieces. It’s probably not so much his worst nightmare as a cathartic little attack on Toys R Us. When Wolverine gets to take a break from the killer clowns, he takes out two big Marvel baddies, Apocalypse and Juggernaut. Apocalypse is a rather pathetic little boss battle where the ultimate mutant trades his demigod status for a Dhalsim impression, and Juggernaut is best defeated by dropping inappropriately placed anvils on the big lug’s head. I’m still trying to figure out how Acclaim turned a battle between two of the most serious, gritty mutants in all of X-Men into a Looney Tunes episode.

Scott “Cyclops” Summers actually does meet his worst nightmare in the form of a mine that is not only filled with gems that reflect his optic blasts, but also grime. Yes, that’s right, Scotty boy, you have to actually get dirty on this mission. Oh no! Filth on your shiny X-Men leader’s uniform! Jean will never love you now! Er, anyway, Cyclops also fulfills the 16-bit era’s requirement of “one mine cart level per game”, with some CYCLOPS KICKof the absolute worst mine carting seen in a… anything. Cyc does get to stare down a few sentinels, and then their big daddy, Master Mold, but this version of Master Mold doesn’t appear to have any weapons, except for missiles that shoot from its nipples and flame blasts from its crotch. Master Mold is a crazy party animal, and is currently scouring the internet for KOS-MOS’s number.

Storm, almighty weather witch of the X-Men, is stuck in a dunk tank. Storm, being a woman in a video game, has no offensive capabilities past her mutant powers, so she uses her abilities to shoot lightning bolts at her enemies. While completely submerged in water. The X-Men are mutants, not science teachers. At least Storm is the one character who gets a little (physics defying) variety, in that she’s not just stuck in a lousy platformer, she’s stuck in a lousy platformer’s underwater level. And, instead of a life bar, she’s got an “air bar” that depletes when she’s attacked or stays underwater for longer than a millisecond. And Storm, who is still burdened with a vagina and is thus far too weak to battle a real Marvel villain, gets to clash with a series of BOLTslightly different robot/trap things for her freedom. I can’t tell if it’s Arcade or Acclaim that has something against the poor girl.

Gambit, the hard-drinking, hard-gambling, hard-rocking Cajun with a hard-on for Rogue, is separated from the object of his lust and thrown into an auto-scrolling hell. Being a master of kendo-style martial arts and various forms of unarmed combat, Gambit is naturally limited to finite ammunition in the form of a deck of cards, and, upon using up his deck, is left completely defenseless. Gambit, in the comics, once turned a wad of chewing gum into a lethal weapon, but now Acclaim says he’s as useful in a pinch as Dolphigan (the X-Men with the mutant power to arouse dolphins). The wildly defenseless scumbag is stuck outrunning either an auto-scrolling spiked ball or an auto-scrolling collapsing tower (I’m assuming that’s the premise of his second level, the danger is off-screen, as is the deal with most auto-scrolling levels, so it could be a giant mutant brine shrimp for all I know), and, in either situation, must avoid or attack various deadly chess pieces. It’s a well known piece of logic that dictates that someone who enjoys playing cards is afraid of chess. It makes perfect sense! It all makes perfect sense! And Gambit’s bosses are all playing card manifestations. PERFECT SENSE!

Upon completion of each of the hero’s individual levels, the party teams up to separate again in five mini levels. While four of the mutants pretty much get rehashes of their previous fun-lands, Storm does at least get to ''Something Cajun sounding''hop out of the water, and manifests her flying abilities in a really floaty jump. Of course, she’s still prone to falling in bottomless pits, so maybe her flying powers need a little more work. Maybe her costume is too wet? Maybe chere is thinking of Gambit, n’est pas? And at the end of each of these individual levels, each X-Man gets captured, again, while Spider-Man finally uses that super power of his I keep hearing about and saves his own hide for the final boss battle. Guess that’s why he got top billing.

The final boss is a big robo clown that goes through a few different forms in a manner not unlike the final robo Burns fight of The Simpsons Arcade Game. Funny, that. Oddly, this boss battle is actually a lot easier than a lot of boss battles from earlier in the game (Juggernaut can cause a few headaches), and the X-Men imprisoned around the room actually aide Spider-Man in his otherwise solitary battle. Note to super villains, when you tie up the guy with eye lasers, who is named for the fact that he has eye lasers, maybe, just maybe, try to do something about hampering those eye lasers. Or not, it’s your choice. And after robo clown goes down, guess what’s next? That’s right! More robots! And they’re ridiculously easy and have no reason for existing because none of the robots turn out to be the real Ginger jerkbad guy anyway. And, yes, you beat all the damn robots, escape, and find the big bad Arcade has already escaped and the super heroes don’t even get remote revenge on their captor. Yay job satisfaction!

Acclaim managed to take a very, very cool concept (Super powered heroes vs. their own custom built worst nightmares) and turn it into a game somehow even less interesting than a Pitfall revival. However, it could be argued that Arcade is the greatest winner of all. By game’s end (which, for the record, doesn’t include a credit sequence, which speaks for itself), Arcade has escaped unscathed, and claims to have tortured everyone involved. I don’t know about our mighty mutants, but I know that by the end of this particular Murderland, I was feeling very tortured. Think Acclaim may have been run by a malevolent red head?

FGC #68 Spider-Man and X-Men Arcade’s Revenge

  • System: Super Nintendo was the version featured here, but there’s also a Sega Genesis version, and, phew, also Gameboy and Game Gear? Wow, those have to be horrible.
  • Number of Players: Five heroes, one player. I suppose it would go against the theme of the game to allow simultaneous play, but, oh, maybe Spider-Man could swing into each X-Men stage and help out? That’d be cool.
  • Favorite Stage: Wolverine versus clowns. Wolverine versus clowns times infinity forever.
  • Development Guessing: I refuse to believe this game happened by anything other than accident. Aside from the obvious lack of credits, the way the game can’t even retain a consistent life meter between stages seems to indicate that this thing was pulled together from disparate pieces and slapped into a final product. Storm and Gambit are basically trapped in entirely different genres.
  • Canon? Technically, the game is based on a run of X-Men comics (specifically starting at #123… easy to remember), but the original story included Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Banshee, but no Gambit. That said, there’s really no reason this game couldn’t be canon, as all the “villains” fought, including Arcade, are just Weird jump timesrobot doubles, and nothing plot-y happens to set this group of captured X-Men anywhere in the timeline. So remember kids, all those cool, fun franchise video games are just imaginary stories, but this butt side of an ass is the real deal.
  • Did you know? Oh… an opportunity to show off some ridiculous X-Men trivia. Let’s see here… Ah, here’s a fun one. Scott Summers is often considered the everyman of the X-Men, as he’s the most “normal” of the original lineup, and has a power that is the typical Marvel “curse and blessing”. Cyclops also has a dad who is a space pirate, a half brother who was a literal king of space, a son from the future who is older than him, a clone of the previously mentioned son, a daughter from the future who runs around in her mom’s old clothes, a dead wife who obliterated a star system and can come back from the dead, a current wife who can turn to diamond, and a younger version of himself from the past who is here exclusively to remind him how much he’s screwed up. Cyclops is highly relatable.
  • Would I play again: The first level is repellant. The most interesting level (Wolverine vs. Juggernaut) is bafflingly difficult. Spider-Man’s web swing controls like a ton of bricks. Most stages are difficult beyond reason. At what point should I just stop and say, “No?”

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for the Sega Genesis. ROB, you on a 90’s Fox Kids kick all of a sudden? I knew I shouldn’t have gotten you that Netflix subscription. Oh well, guess it’s morphin’ time. Please look forward to it!

FGC #067 Xenoblade Chronicles

LOOK AT MY EYES, HU MONI have a blanket “spoilers everywhere” policy for the site (it’s in the FAQ!), but I want to be absolutely clear what’s going to happen in this article: I am going to spoil the finale of Xenoblade Chronicles. There’s no getting around it, it’s what I want to discuss, and it’s going to happen, but you have the choice of reading it or not. You don’t have to have played Xenoblade to enjoy this article (if I’m doing my job right), but if you do want to experience the game clean, I completely understand, and feel free to come back Friday. Spider-Man will be here, it’ll be nice.

So, again, to be perfectly clear, this article will spoil the finale of Xenoblade Chronicles. Additionally, I’ll be swinging through the Final Fantasy franchise, Breath of Fire, and Xenoblade’s ancestor, Xenogears. When I spoil, I spoil rotten.

Advance at your own risk.

FGC #066 Gradius III

LET'S GO!It’s hard to believe now, when a new system is just a $600 barrier to prevent playing Final Fantasy: The Next Generation, but back in 1991, the launch of the Super Nintendo was practically a religious experience. The Nintendo Entertainment System had redefined gaming, and, while there had been about 7,000 different Atari iterations, the NES, to my childish mind, was a system that would be the same forever. Little gray cartridges, gently blown, would be slotted into that equally gray box until the end of time, and Mega Man 34 (featuring Sad Man) should be coming out this Christmas. You have to remember, the NES went from barely being able to support an arcade port of 75% of Donkey Kong to pumping out the gothic masterpiece that was Castlevania 3, so there was no reason to believe there could even be a ceiling to the little system that could: we’d just play NES games forever.

But, no, for the betterment of all mankind, Nintendo (Power) announced the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a video game console with an unfathomable 16-bits of processing power (whatever that means), a new controller with double the buttons (L & R? What the hell?), and a cartridge slot that didn’t make that unfortunate creaking noise (not widely advertised). As one may expect, I begged my parents for the latest in entertainment, because, surely, this must be the apex of gaming, nay, civilization, and I would never need anything new ever again… aside from the myriad of new SNES games, of course. But still! Little facesI mean, how could I live without the SNES? It had a new Mario Bros. game, for crying out loud!

So, Christmas, 1991, I received a new Super Nintendo and three new SNES games, because I was spoiled like last month’s milk. Super Mario World was a given, as this was the golden era when video game systems actually came with games, as opposed to demos (later), download codes (much later), or absolutely nothing (I hate you, N64). The other fruits of my bounty were Final Fight (the only single player game that I received/a sin against God) and Gradius III. I had actually used Final Fight as an example of the kind of amazing games that would now be available at home (I spent a lot of time at the arcade, so I did my best to convince my parents that this system/game would be an investment that would save them money/gas), so it was no great surprise when that arrived under the Christmas tree. Gradius III, however, was a complete mystery to me, and, to this day, I’m not certain as to why it was chosen for that precious third slot (which, as my birthday is in late April, would be the last I’d see a new game until Spring). Aside from a clerk just recommending whatever stock he wanted to deplete, the best I can figure is that I already had Gradius for NES, and my parents had seen me playing the game, so they decided to pick up the sequel.

Only problem? I hated Gradius.

Gradius belongs to the space shmup genre, and the record will show that I enjoy that genre very much. Now. Back then, however, Gradius was practically my kryptonite. A to jump, B to run? I could finish that game in an hour. A to jump, B to shoot? Nothing to it, I’ll see an enemy base exploding by nightfall. Even something weird like that top-down elf simulator with the MOVE MOVE MOVEold man handing out swords was doable after a few a stops and starts. But Gradius? And similar games, like Abadox or Life Force? Forget it. I distinctly remember renting Abadox as a child, and never making it past the second level even after playing it continuously for three days. I, just now, pulled up a video of Gradius and… let’s see here… yes, I don’t think I ever consistently made it past the third, Moai based level. And I know I never beat that game, as I never forget a giant brain. I owned Gradius as a child, which makes it one of those rarified NES games I played constantly (because I’m pretty sure there were something like 68 hours in a day when I was a child), but I barely ever made it past level three.

I was good at other video games. I could beat other video games. Clearly, the problem was with the game.

So, let us return to that fateful Christmas. I distinctly recall that, by Christmas Dinner (about 5 PM, my holidays were always carefully regimented as a child), I had to be torn away from Super Mario’s World, where I had already reached Star Road 5. After the meal, I would see Special World conquered before Boxing Day. Final Fight was a game I was “saving” for my best friend and neighbor with whom I had trounced Double Dragon II, and, two player or not, Metro City had been saved before the new year. But Gradius III? I’m completely certain my SNES never saw that game’s ending, but saw its Level 1 more times than I ever booted the Virtual Boy.

Burn, baby, burnAnd it’s a shame, too, because Gradius III has some really interesting levels. Yes, they’re all just auto-scrolling shoot ‘em up bullet gauntlets, but they’re not just grass world, ice world, desert world, techno world like so many lesser games would have puked out. Some of the stages include some really interesting vistas that even use those old tropes to great effect, like the flaming world that births some particularly nasty dragons. I’d make the assertion that every single one of Gradius III’s stages are memorable, possibly with the exception of Level 3, though that world seems like a loving homage to the original Gradius more than anything else, and includes an underground area, so, really, what is there to complain about?

But, despite my (literally) best efforts, I could barely pilot the Vic Viper out of Moai World’s gravity. I can actually tell you the exact spot that ended my quests so many times, and that’s the plantasaurus rex creature at the end of the vegetation planet, Level 6. Two of my favorite levels follow that boss, and I can’t tell if I genuinely enjoyed those stages as a kid, or if I was just so elated to ever see those worlds after so many wasted deaths. I would have been happy to beat Gradius III, but even more than that, I just wanted to see what the rest of the game had to offer.

I have no idea when I actually finally “got good” at shmups. I want to say it was sometime around when I started playing Death Smiles, a game I purchased because the “special edition” had dropped in value to somewhere around the cost of a NEVER FORGETgumball. Somehow, I found I was really quite good at the game, and, sometime shortly thereafter, I returned to the shmups that had tormented me in my youth, and blasted all the cores I could find. Maybe I had gotten better at pattern recognition, or my TV had gotten large enough to actually see what was happening, or maybe Bangai-O rewired my DNA. I don’t know, but, coupled with their delightfully limited length, the shmup went from something I feared like the plague to one of my most preferred genres, second only to games that can be described as “Like Mega Man, but”.

Gradius III and I may have reconciled, but I’ll never forget that utter feeling of helplessness when faced with a completely insurmountable challenge. So, the next time you hear someone railing against Nintendo’s love of “super guides”, or tutorials and modern innovations making franchises that used to be difficult “too easy’, remember that there’s a kid out there just trying to enjoy his Christmas present, and hoping that this time, maybe, he’ll finally see Level 7. There’s a great big galaxy out there, why not open it up for everybody?

FGC #66 Gradius III

  • System: Super Nintendo, and available on the Wii Virtual Console.
  • Number of Players: 2, alternating. Lord British flies again!
  • Port-o-Call: There’s also the original Arcade version, which I believe saw release on the Playstation 2 as part of a compilation. It is, basically, an entirely different game, and completely impossible.
  • Impossible? If you thought the SNES version was difficult, the arcade version barely makes it to the Level 2 Bubble Boss before it turns into an absolute bullet hell, and then never lets up. And there’s no continues. And option stealers steal all of your options. And every once in a while, a little man exits the arcade cabinet and kicks you right in the balls. If you don’t have balls, he just stares at you in an unsettling manner.
  • Favorite Stage: World 8, “Mayors on Parade” aka the Boss Rush. I could play level after level of just nothing but Gradius bosses. Somebody at Treasure, evidently, agrees.
  • Favorite Weapon Setup: Here it is.
    I am a creature of habit

    Is it the reason I couldn’t get anywhere for years? I don’t know, but I do know that I enjoy charging lasers. It’s like Mega Man, but in space.
  • Konami Code: I want to say this is the only video game, ever, where the precious Konami Code outright kills you. If you want all your powerups at once, you’re going to have to use those new fangled L & R buttons. I don’t think that permutation of the code ever returned, either. You’re weird, Gradius III.
  • Did you know? I want to say the arcade version of Gradius III is the worst cabinet to ever hit the arcade. As mentioned, there’s no continues, but it’s longer than the home version. The end result? 25¢ for a game that is over an hour long. That’s just bad math! Well, okay, it would likely take a million quarters to actually get good enough to do that, but it still seems like poor design. Maybe next time just make the whole thing a pachinko machine.
  • Would I play again: Yeah, probably. The nostalgia is strong with this one, and, for all my deaths as a child, it feels oddly empowering to revisit the game and blow all those planets to smithereens. Not like we’re getting any new Gradius games, anyway…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Xenoblade Chronicles! ROB, you rascally child of mechonis, have you been getting jealous of my side projects? Oh well, seems like a good time to hit this one anyway, so it’s Shulk time! Come on, you bunch of jokers, look forward to it!

Retro stage, maybe