Monthly Archives: April 2016

Xenosaga Episode II Part 03: Family Matters

Previously on Xenosaga: Junior and his party heroically escaped a barrage of U-TIC soldiers. Wait, didn’t this series used to focus on some other protagonist?

Right, she used to work for Vector R&D!

There she is! What’s this about the Zohar?

Here’s this guy. Is he supposed to be the same “boss” Shion spoke to during Episode 1? Who knows? Not like either of these guys ever gets a name. “Shion’s Boss #2 (maybe #1)”.

WHAT THE SHIT!?! Okay, the gnosis were really annoying in Xenosaga Episode 1, but the worst they ever accomplished was destroying the Woglinde. When they attacked the Elsa or the Kukai Foundation, they just kinda wrecked up the place and called it a day. Now it turns out the gnosis have destroyed 120 star systems!? … Does that unlock Yoshi? Eh, for reference, in reality, humans currently exist in one (1) star system.

Holy cats, we have to get to solving this gnosis problem!

FGC #124 Intellivision Lives!

I don't want my IntellivisionI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I consider my videogame library to be a history of video gaming. Now, this may just be a justification dribbled out of my game-addled brain so I can feel good about owning so many little plastic doodads, but I truly believe videogames are art, and as such, should be preserved. I don’t have a Velvet Elvis hanging in my dining room, and I don’t have Deadly Towers featured prominently on the Nintendo shelf, but it’s there, hiding right by Mega Man and friends, because even the worst of the worst have a place in history. It also helps that you can usually buy the worst of the worst for a whole buck. Just hold off on the supersizing and you too can afford gaming history.

The Intellivision, obviously, is a part of Videogame History. In a way, it was the Sega Genesis to Atari’s SNES: it’s widely considered to be the loser of its console generation, but it still offered a complete library of games that are fondly remembered. It also performed a few tricks well before its descendants, like utilizing voice clips or its 16-direction control pad. And it had that number pad, which allowed for a lot more interesting gameplay than just move and shoot. Why, with numbers you could… choose your number of players? Maybe play a video game based on Math? Yeah, that sounds like a hoot.

Like the Atari, the Intellivision didn’t make it out of the video game crash alive. As a result, the majority of the “Nintendo Generation” doesn’t have much of a memory of the Intellivision. In time, that hazy memory has degraded into an almost mythical recall, forcing it into the same “did this really happen?” space as the CD-i, 3DO, or Atari Jaguar CD. The Intellivision likely deserves better (this is the gaming system that didn’t harbor Custer’s Revenge), but no man can control history, and Intellivision has been banished to the recesses of the gamer consciousness.

Or at least that’s the case for most people. Some of us poor, This is dumbunfortunate souls picked up Intellivision Lives!, and have been left with a disdain for the system ever since.

I want to be clear about something right off the bat: no, I was not expecting anything better than Atari nonsense from an Intellivision compilation. I know full well that the Intellivision/Atari era was the Wild West of Gaming History, well before practically every trope and standard we take for granted was established. Gamers agree that Super Mario Bros. practically invented video games as we know them, and everything before that was… eclectic. You could rely on a computer game of chess to pretty much follow the rules that you’d expect, but a game based on M*A*S*H? That really could be anything in the universe. This is, ultimately, why the video game industry crashed: E.T. (and every game like it) wasn’t just a gamble on whether or not you’d get a game that utilized the license; it was a gamble on whether or not you’d get a game that was playable. The Nintendo Seal of Quality meant something, and that was that you’d be getting a game that, even if it was horrible, at least worked.

And, yes, a lot of Intellivision Lives! doesn’t work.

The first and most obvious problem here is that whoever was responsible for the porting/emulation here… didn’t bother. As mentioned earlier, the Intellivision had a number pad, so that was mapped to… an analog stick. How does that work? It doesn’t. It’s cumbersome beyond reason, and suddenly just entering a “one” becomes a (terrible) game onto itself. Next, there are a number of games in this compilation that absolutely, no exceptions, require a second controller… even if the game itself is one player. Really, why bother modifying billion year old code to account for modern conventions when you can just demand the player plug in a second controller? I always spell 'frog' wrongAnd, as just a lovely “screw you” to the user, some games feature challenges that require far too much effort for the tiniest payoff. Get that high score in Frog Bog (a game that features the use of one button… not one button and a crosspad, no, one button) and you can unlock a commercial! Oh boy! It’s not like Youtube exists!

But what about the games that actually are playable? Well, I went in with lowered expectations, and I don’t even think this trash cleared that stumpy stratum. It’s kind of dreadful when your “best” games are the two that are aping Space Invaders to the point of plagiarism (Astrosmash and Buzz Bombers, incidentally). There’s Night Stalker, which asks the question, “What if Pac-Man was made by escaped lunatics?” Another major hit is Vectron, a game that is completely inscrutable. I literally have no idea what is happening in that game. It looks like it wants to be Tempest by way of Rampart, but… maybe I was wrong to mention this game in the “playable” paragraph.

Feel the magicBut wait, there’s more! You’ve been playing the nonsense that people actually paid for back in the day, and then there’s an entire category of “unreleased” Intellivision games. Demo Cartridge and Hypnotic Lights tell you absolutely everything you need to know about why maybe Intellivision was just as complicit as Atari in this whole “End of Gaming” thing. But don’t miss out on Magic Carousel, which combines all the fun of a Speak & Spell with waiting in line. Good gameplay does not involve waiting for a giraffe!

There’s a checkers game in there. Checkers is pretty alright.

So should Intellivision Lives! be a part of a video game library? The typical answer to this should go something like “it’s a time capsule of Gaming History, warts and all”, but I feel that that does a disservice to the Intellivision. Yes, there are warts on this collection, but somehow the emulation produced even more warts (and it has nothing to do with Frog Bog [mostly]). This is, technically, a collection of a system’s greatest hits, but it’s more like… hm… anybody remember Herman’s Hermits? They weren’t the best band to come out of the UK in the 1960’s, but they were pretty alright, and are indisputably part of Pop Music History. This game is a collection of Herman’s Hermits’ hits… but sung by a random dude in the shower. Is it the same as the original? Hell no. Does it make everything seem much worse? Oh my yes.

That is Intellivision Lives! It makes everything worse.

FGC #124 Intellivision Lives!

  • WoooSystem: Gamecube for the review, but also Nintendo DS, PS2, and Xbox. Technically, this is also available on Xbox 360 in various ways.
  • Number of players: Two… sometimes absolutely required.
  • Port o’ Call: I feel like I should go find the Nintendo DS version, as that was released later, included a few more games, and, I’m hoping, had a better overall presentation. Like, it couldn’t tolerate the “needs two controllers” hijinks… right?
  • Favorite Intellivision Game: I guess it’s Astrosmash, which is basically a combination of Space Invaders and Asteroids. It seems like something that would be kinda fun on a cell phone or similar “play for five seconds” type of game. Of course, Intellivision Lives! ruins it by asking the player to achieve a score that would require at least ten minutes of pure monotony.
  • Library Alternative: There’s an Intellivision Flashback Classic Console, which is a tiny console with two real-sized, “original” Intellivision controllers. Since a number of issues with this collection arise from porting Intellivision’s numberpad to modern controllers, I want to guess that the Flashback would be a much better way to experience the library. I’ve had too much Intellivision in my life to try, though.
  • Speaking of…: I actually own an Intellivision, but I’ve never actually tested it to see if it functions. I found it in a “hidden compartment” of a bookcase I fished out of a neighbor’s trash. I’m not proud.
  • Did you know? The Intellivision was the first gaming system to have its own, built-in font. Interestingly, a number of developers kind of hated it, and did their best to work around it. Some people are never happy.
  • I only know this show because of my dadWould I play again: No. I want to say that, technically, this is my least favorite Gamecube game by a large margin. I’ve regretted owning this game practically from the first time I popped it in. If I were capable of getting rid of anything, this is where I’d start.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic Rivals for the PSP! Oh boy! Blue Hedgehog is going to fight Black Hedgehog and White Hedgehog! Please look forward to it!

FGC #123 Harley’s Humongous Adventure

FLY AWAYHarley’s Humongous Adventure is an incredibly forgettable 2-D platformer for the Super Nintendo. It’s not the worst game on the SNES, and it’s nowhere near the best, it’s just kind of… there. I’m sure I’ve just forgotten any references to it in the meanwhile, but, to my memory, I don’t even recall HHA appearing on any of the myriad of “Super Nintendo Lists” over the last two decades. You know, all those “Top Thirty Most Boring SNES Games” or “The Worst of the Worst: The Worstest Worsting Worsts of Worstever”? I don’t think Harley gets mentioned even once. Harley’s Humongous Adventure seems to only be “that game I rented that one time and never thought about again” to most people.

Which is a shame, because Harley’s Humongous Adventure has one decent idea that seems made for video games… but we barely ever see it.

Harley’s Humongous Adventure is a groan worthy pun thanks to the central plot of HHA: Harley, boy scientist, has been shrunk down to the size of a thumb, and now must navigate his home and surrounding area to assemble an antidote (or de-shrinking device? Something?) to reembiggen himself to his normal size. Harley has one shrunken tool available, a personal jetpack (that, incidentally never has fuel when you need it), but the rest of Harley’s arsenal is comprised of mundane (now “huge”) objects, like nails, thumbtacks, and sticks of dynamite (I think that one’s useful regardless of size). The monsters are predominantly stylized insects (the fire ants are literally on fire), and the environments are commonplace locations that have now become stadiums. You can drown in the bathroom sink, or get lost amongst the colossal boxes of the attic. Harley is small, the world is large, and dust mites are now a threat.

And you’d think this would happen in video games more often.

Of course, it’s not like this never happens. Breath of Fire 1 & 2 both feature an unusual amount of shrinking, whether you’re climbing into a mouse hole or exploring the bloodstream of a fat princess (don’t ask). Snowboard Kids and ChompyMario Kart both used the concept for a couple of interesting tracks. Okami became flea-sized, and Final Fantasy 3 used mini to the max. Probably the best example in gaming is The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, where Link constantly switches between normal and “Minish” size, where dew drops might dwarf evil wizards. It’s a rarity, but teeny tiny gameplay does randomly show up in video games.

But think about all the franchises that could be enhanced with a mini segment (or entire installment). My first impulse would be to consider God of War. Kratos, rage monster and slayer of an entire pantheon, must now battle his way from one end of the living room to the other. Scale the entertainment center! Burn the carpet! Battle the great and terrible Mr. Mittens for supremacy! Don’t forget to score a 100-hit combo on that group of ants. They have ferocious mandibles! Maybe they killed your tiny family!

Actually, thinking about it further, it seems like 90% of video games is blowing micro monsters up to macro size. You play video games? How many giant spiders have you slain? You watch out for snakes, or is it fearsome hydra that haunt your nightmares? The great and mighty Cerberus is just a puppy that grew to a significantly larger weight class (and maybe got a few heads in the process). In a way, we’re already making our heroes as miniscule as shrunken Harley, it’s just through making every other creature grow up.

But then you lose the fun environments that are only possible with shrinkage. Harley’s Humongous Adventure, unfortunately, is one of those 16-bit platformers that took all its cues from ToastySonic the Hedgehog, and the general level layout of any given stage is pretty haphazard. Actually, I want to say that this isn’t even at Sonic 1/Sonic CD level, this is much more in the vein of my old friend Bubsy. Levels that aren’t straightforward (like vehicle stages) loop around and spiral in ridiculous directions, causing lame level design like the ever-popular “the goal is on the opposite side of this wall, and you can see it, but it’s time to circle around the whole stupid area and hope you eventually hit your objective.” It’s a waste of a great concept, because the typical “shrunken hero” can explore a very different environment from what is available to the common protagonist.

Really, there’s the possibility here for one of my favorite video game “tricks”. No, I have no great interest in being shrunk down and exploring my own couch from a fly’s perspective, but I love the video game model of exploring a “familiar” area in a new and exciting way. It’s why time travel in a video game is almost always a good time (oh, look, this dungeon degraded over 400 years). It’s why a crashed space ship/satellite is always a great place for bounty hunters (aw, I remember when this place was right-side up). And, ultimately, it’s why shrinking should occur in more games. I’ve got a general mental image of how my sink and plumbing are shaped, so a level based on “that area” could be very interesting, Tanks as alwaysassuming the hero was the size of a fingernail. Trekking across the game room could be fun if there was the possibility of being crushed by a SNES cartridge, and seeing the mighty couch in the distance would provide all the level scale necessary. There are a million options available, and, like how video games use other techniques to modify the perspective of a player, shrinking could be a worthwhile one in a worthwhile game.

So, Harley’s Humongous Adventure, you might be forgettable, but thanks for reminding us all that there are different ways to see the world. You might have made a small impact in the gaming world, but sometimes smaller is better.

FGC #123 Harley’s Humongous Adventure

  • System: Super Nintendo, exclusively. Didn’t even get a Genesis port.
  • Number of players: Two, alternating. Because God forbid you don’t get to share Harley’s Humongous Adventure with others.
  • Rats off to ya: The main antagonist for Harley is a mutated pet rat that… ugh… unpleasant to look at, so he must die. Also, you gradually tear off the rat’s limbs through every boss fight, so maybe not the most animal friendly game in the universe.
  • Ugly SuckerClay Fighting: Like Claymates, this was another of the clay-based games released during the 16-bit era. As a result, the graphics are at least fairly unique, with monsters that truly appear to be monstrous. Also, congratulations to the producers for not shoehorning a clay pun into the title. That would be puttiful.
  • Ever hear of Chibi Robo? Oh yeah…
  • Did you know? The Japanese title for this game is “Chemist Harley’s Stormy Life”. Are scientists more popular over there than here? I want to say our only “hero” chemist didn’t appear until Breaking Bad…
  • Would I play again: Nope. When you get compared to Bubsy, you don’t get a second play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Intellivision Lives! … I wasn’t responsible for that exclamation mark, it’s part of the title of the game. The game that is horrible. Ugh. Please look forward to it.

DEATH

FGC #122 Bravely Default

Note: This article contains spoilers for the whole of Bravely Default. Not that the sequel doesn’t spoil the same plot twists within its first five minutes, but, ya know, just so you’re aware.

Something about a FairyAlright, remember Final Fantasy 6? Remember all the groundbreaking, amazing compositions by Nobuo Uematsu? Songs that were not only musically wonderful but also never failed to properly set the mood for a location or scene? Yeah… I pretty much played Final Fantasy 6 (Final Fantasy 3 then) on mute. Same for Breath of Fire 2. Same for The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Same for a lot of games.

You may be asking why I would do such a thing. Do I hate music? Can’t stand chiptunes? Maybe some sort of ear issue involving an infection from Bizarro World? No, no, and no. For Final Fantasy 6 in particular, I love the music, and even, when forced to go on a camping trip the year after FF6’s release, I recorded half the songs right off the TV via an ancient tape recorder. So why do I remember playing that game the most on mute? Simple: I was doing something else.

This will likely come as a shock to no one, but my original “gaming room” was the basement of my parents’ home. I wasn’t allowed to have a TV in my bedroom (for much the same reason I wasn’t allowed to have a Gameboy), but my parents didn’t want to have to watch Super Mario Bros. all day, either, so my hobby was segregated to the basement. “My basement” was also likely exactly what you’re picturing: old, beat furniture (but kept because you never know when we might need a spare couch [?]), a closet filled with old clothing that would be released to Goodwill thirty years later, and, most importantly, a pair of ancient televisions. Both TVs were castoffs, chunks of electronics that were initially kept incase these newfangled sets failed in their first month, and, in time, they Just like homewere pretty much forgotten in the bowels of the house. They weren’t the best televisions, neither large nor possessing a fidelity that could confirm if Mega Man was supposed to be blue (green is fine). People talk about playing retro games with modern high-definition, but if I play Wizards and Warriors on a television that allows me to actually see what’s going on, I don’t feel like I’m actually playing Wizards and Warriors.

Regardless, two televisions made me soon realize that I could be using both televisions at the same time. So, one TV was set up at one end of the room with a complete cable hookup, and the other managed the gaming systems (A SNES and NES [and later, N64 and Playstation] all running through one ganged RF switch chain). The basement was big (technically a room plus what was once a garage), so it wasn’t like both televisions were on top of each other, so I happily played a number of video games while some random sitcom was airing at my back. If I really liked the show, I’d mute the game, but crank up the program. If nothing was on, it was fine background noise.

JRPGs were ideal for this setup, because, while their stories were exciting and astounding to a young Goggle Bob, what would eventually become “cutscenes” were short and generally separated by hours of traipsing through monster-packed dungeons. I want to say the sheer spectacle of Final Fantasy 7 broke me of my ADD habits, but grinding my way to better materia (mostly through bird breeding) set me right back to “what else is on?” And, yes, my first playthrough of Ocarina of Time was set to my discovery of Ben Folds (give or take Five) primarily because I couldn’t be more bored schlepping across that overworld trying to find skulltulas.

Slash!Some of my greatest memories of gaming are of me barely paying attention to gaming.

This ADD habit has continued into adulthood, but in some unusual ways. There is no doubt video games have become more immersive over the years, and, while I may once have been able to enjoy Prince of Persia on a dingy screen while watching something else, modern editions beg to be blown up to six foot displays and marveled at at all times. But then you have something like, say, Hyrule Warriors, a game that puts the grind in grinding, and contains more content than anyone could ever reasonably complete. You want me to beat this area with Princess Ruto? She’s level 8, and the recommended level is 80. Well, I think that means I’m going to play this game while binge watching Jessica Jones. Then I’m accomplishing two things! I’m an adult!

Now, obviously, this is a huge reason I enjoy the WiiU. Being able to get that “widescreen experience” for the lavish visuals is great, but then when I want to reexplore old areas for red coins or whatever, I can shrink it down to the gamepad and play while watching what I will. And while the WiiU’s “tablet” is a new innovation, portable systems have offered this luxury for years. Heck, if you consider cell phones to be “portable gaming systems”, then my ADD doesn’t sound all that bad. Unless you want to tell me people are sitting down to exclusively play Candy Crush…

ANGRYBut there is a conflict with this system. I want games to have stories. I want games to be interesting. If I’m playing a game for forty hours, I want there to have been a point, a reason I was fighting against the bad guy. It doesn’t have to be that way for every game, but anything with vaguely RPG trappings practically requires a plot that matters. It doesn’t have to be War and Peace, but I’d like something a little more complicated than Mario and Peach.

When a story dominates the plot, I have to pay attention to it. I can’t watch Orange is the New Black and work through Saint’s Row at the same time, because then I might confuse one Piper for a Rowdy Roddy one. Their plotlines are very different!

So, what I want is a portable game that has a plot, but has enjoyable mechanics, and, after the plot is well and established, backs the hell off so I can enjoy those mechanics while doing something else.

I am, of course, talking about Pokémon.

Pokémon has its own plot and story, and it’s worth paying it some attention, but after its completion, it gets out of dodge, and that’s that. Now all you have is a world you understand, villains that are on the run, and 720 pokémon to play with. I think that’s a good recipe to have some fun while maybe watching some trashy anime.

He's like a pocket monsterBut that does occasionally feel… empty. I’m building up the best pokémon team, like no one ever has, but what am I doing it for? I’ll have these Level 100 Gardevoirs to… what… beat up children online? Like, it’s cool to beat other players, but there’s no real goal to work toward, no future for my poor Pokémon. I’m already the champion of the league, at what point do I just become a bully?

Bravely Default tried to allay my fears of “not making a difference”… and created its own problems.