Monthly Archives: August 2016

FGC #174 Wolverine

Look at these nutsI don’t need to explain Wolverine. I don’t think I even need to explain Wolverine to my mom (the woman that looks at my Hellboy library editions and worries I may have joined a cult). Wolverine is, without question, the most popular X-Men character (non-Marrow bracket), and has not only appeared in every X-Men movie, he’s also had a fair few spin-offs. I’m pretty sure he had his own animated series in there, too. The odds of you reading this article (or even just being able to read) and not knowing of everyone’s favorite Canadian are so infinitesimally low, I’m disappointed in myself for even entertaining the notion of having a paragraph explaining the little mongrel.

Wolverine is friggen’ Wolverine. The end.

This was, to a point, even true in 1991. At that time, Wolverine hadn’t yet made his bub-laden splash on the X-Men animated series (to be released a year later), but Wolverine was still the most popular X-Men by a pretty significant margin. Like Mickey Mouse or Superman, I literally can’t remember when I first heard of Wolverine, but, somehow I already knew “that guy” by the time he had this solo adventure on the NES. Heck, he’d even already appeared two years earlier in (the abysmal) Uncanny X-Men for the NES. But, obviously, Wolverine’s original home was comic books, where he starred in an estimated twelve billion issues going all the way back to The Incredible Hulk #180. I still don’t completely understand the appeal (maybe it’s the hair?), but, somehow, Wolverine has become Canada’s most popular export over the last (nearly) half a century.

Now, you have any character running around for decades, and they’re going to pick up a few idiosyncrasies, particularly if they’re written NINJA!by Chris Claremont. Wolverine is, for instance, Canada’s first samurai. He’s also fought in every war that has ever been, somehow. He hung out with Captain America, Nick Fury, and Black Widow all before they were famous. He has hunted and eaten dinosaurs. I think at one point he wore a nightdress. It’s been a good (“good”) couple of years for Logan, and his claws have diced up everything from robots to aliens to Nazis.

So there’s a pile of material to draw from for X-Men’s most violent mutant. Videogames, particularly of the NES era, were all about running around and wrecking stuff, so Wolverine would be a perfect fit with his menagerie of monsters. Grab a few issues, slap something together, and Sabretooth’s your uncle, we’ve got a game on our hands. Easy peasy.

Wolverine for NES… I guess it tries.

The first level of Wolverine is straightforward, and pretty much what you might expect for “Wolverine 8-bit Adventure”. We’ve got a bunch of platforms to hop around, some random soldiers with guns, and Silver Surfer-looking dudes that disappear, reappear, and shoot energy blasts. Allowing for the silver creatures to be mini-sentinels (or at least generic robots), this is pretty much Wolverine’s world, albeit one with more of an Arcade bend. Wolverine is trapped in some kind of deadly, tailor-made environment, but that seemed to happen to every other hero of the NES era, so par for the course.

Then Level 2, Trial by Air, is straight up a Mega Man stage. I guess the implication is that you’re on the underside of an airship (which did happen in Wolverine & Canuckles 3… wait, that might not exist), but between the disappearing robots, tiny platforms, harsh winds, and friggen magnets pulling Wolverine in random directions, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if some platforms Blowin' me away!were to cause mouth vs. nose debates a few years later. Why not stick Wolverine on a SHIELD helicarrier, guys? He’s good at those!

Level 3 is Trial by Traps, and it’s a ninja castle. Awesome! Wolverine loves fighting ninja. The game itself doesn’t explain if this is The Hand, Silver Samurai’s hired swords, or just a house full o’ ninja that Wolverine decided had to go, but what’s important are the series of spike traps, guillotines, and dudes in all black tossing around shuriken. This is some amazing Wolverine: Wandering Ronin nonsense, and, honestly, why isn’t this the entire game? We had some good times with ninja in the 80’s, let’s keep that party rolling!

Level 4: Trial by Water kills the momentum and may as well simply be named “The Water Level”. Honestly, as these things go, it’s not absolutely terrible, and I suppose it kind of fits in with the Wolverine motif and themes. He can heal from anything, right? So drowning is a threat, right? I seem to recall Daken having issues with puddles. Only issue is that, for once in all of gaming, Sonic the Hedgehog’s underwater style would make a lot more sense than the typical paddle along, swimming stage. Wolverine has a skeleton made of super dense metal: shouldn’t the backstroke do exactly nothing? The lil’ hairy dude should be sinking faster than Titanic 2: Electric Boogaloo. Bah! Physics aside, though, this is basically a less deadly version of that one Battletoads stage, which, alright, it does make sense for Wolverine to face the same challenges as Battletoads. They’re practically the same characters.

Level 5 is where it goes straight off the rails. Trial by Terror… I don’t know where they got this stage, but it sure wasn’t out of a Wolverine comic. I’ll happily be proven wrong on this, but everything about this stage screams, “transplanted from generic NES game”. There are skull piles, WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING!?skeletons, slime creatures, and what appears to be some unholy mixture of Frankenstein’s Monster and something out of Plan 9 From Outer Space. There is nothing “Wolverine” about this, and… was there a Halloween issue somewhere? Something with Kitty Pride telling a story or something? I’m thinking not, and this was just an excuse to use a whole lot of skull assets.

Unfortunately, Level 5 also drained all the original ideas out of the game, so Level 6 is just “a cave, but on fire”. It’s hot, hot, hot!… and that’s about it. Try not to melt.

And then we’ve got Level 7 and 8, which are both basically remixes of the first level. “Into the Fortress” and “Defeat Magneto” both pick up the narrative that Magneto is out for blood (or metal?) and Wolverine has to infiltrate the malevolent (this week) mutant’s citadel. This means a lot of bottomless pits, spikes, and generic robots. Maybe the robots are being controlled by the Master of Magnetism? I don’t know. But at least we’re back on track for something that seems like a Wolverine game, albeit a fairly generic one. There aren’t any more slime monsters running around, at least.

Oh, and when you defeat Magneto, he just runs away like he forgot to turn the stove off.

Coward!

But that’s okay, because the villain behind everything is Sabretooth, Wolverine’s rival that, depending on the issue, is either marginally brain dead or a Machiavellian schemer that never fails to make Logan’s birthday memorable. I suppose the plot here is that he was responsible for all the tricks and traps (and skeletons?) throughout the game, and now it comes down to Wolverine to end the Sabretooth menace once and for all.

You’re… not going to do that.

The idea here is to push Sabretooth off the nearby cliff (because Sabretooth is invincible, natch. Did you think you’d kill him with some magical sword?), but the NES is really not capable of controlling the AI for such a feat. As a result, please enjoy punching Sabretooth forever, and then having the jerk jump back to square one the minute you accidentally whiff a single punch. If you somehow complete this mission without first running out of lives and continues, you’re rewarded with Sabretooth taking a header off a cliff (which has never killed a villain outside of a Disney movie), and Wolverine taking off his own mask. Thanks for playing!

Die monster!So that’s the entirety of Wolverine for the NES. Is it a Wolverine game? Well, the first and last levels seem to hit that bar, and Level 3’s Ninja Land couldn’t be more Wolverine if it stuck a redhead in there, but aside from that? We’ve got at least half the game that could be any game on the NES (particularly if that game was made by Capcom), and just happens to feature Marvel’s favorite son.

Is that a bad thing? I don’t have any answers on this one. Wolverine has gone through a few mutations of his own over the years, and if Wolverine NES was the next big thing, you better believe those adamantium claws would be slashing up generic gray robots for the next decade of comics. There’d be a crossover with Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and you’d like it, because, hey, Wolverine is in this one.

Wolverine is immortal (except when he’s dead), and, whether he’s fighting Lady Deathstrike or “I don’t know, a fire stage?” he’s always going to be Wolverine. He’s the best at what he does, and what he does ain’t consistent.

FGC #174 Wolverine (NES)

  • System: This may surprise you, but Wolverine (NES) is a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Now you can both be Wolverine! A shame this game predates X-23, because a purple palette swap with no other explanation would be boss.
  • Spooky Details: The haunted graveyard (or whatever) stage features coffins that read “Logan”. Has that ever been scary? Seeing “your” name on a gravestone? I feel like there have been a number of times this has appeared in various media, but it only ever really seems scary when Scrooge McDuck is involved.
  • Thirsty?Past the Censors: Wolverine recovers health by consuming hamburgers and… bottles? What’s in those bottles, Logan? Anything we impressionable children show know about?
  • Support Group: Jubilee and Psylocke appear in this game to offer advice and react to things. We’ve also got Havok, Scott’s brother, who can be summoned if you find like one hidden door in one stage early in the game. I missed him, and I’m going to assume he’s completely useless, just like all Summers brothers.
  • Did you know? Wolverine’s healing factor doesn’t seem to overtly help much throughout the game, as you’ve got limited lives, continues, and drawing the claws drains your health with every swing for some reason. But! Unusually for a NES game, you respawn almost exactly where you died after every defeat, so it’s kiiinda like immediately healing and coming back after every “death”. Kinda.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. It’s not a bad experience, but Wolverine offers nothing new, one way or another. It’s not like I don’t have other X-Men options.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Herc’s Adventures for the Playstation! Let us venture back to an Ancient Greece that featured a number of surprisingly present/pudgy gods. Please look forward to it!

FGC #173 Super Scope 6

It's just superThe Super Scope is indisputably my absolutely most hated peripheral.

Nintendo, when you get right down to it, has released a lot of random crap over the years. We’ve already discussed the bongos and the Wii Zapper, but that’s just the tip of an iceberg made of pure, frozen piss. Anybody remember the e-reader? It was “we’re gonna sell you DLC before it’s cool” in trading card form. It probably would have been a good idea… if it didn’t need an entire extra Gameboy Advance to function in some games. And, speaking of which, there was the GBA/Gamecube link cable that led to some interesting proto-WiiU experiences… but was also another excuse to buy a big pile of GBAs in tribute to the latest Zelda. I’m pretty sure there was also that DDR/Mario crossover that used a dance pad for exactly one game. You better believe I’m blaming Nintendo for that one!

There are even the devices that everyone considers failures that I actually like. I admit that some of my affection for the system may come from not purchasing it until (well) after a price drop, but I always enjoyed the Virtual Boy and its neither-fish-nor-fowl portable wannabe console-esque experiences. Granted, this may have permanently damaged my retinas, but ya gotta break a few eggs for a good Wario game. I’ll always defend the potential of the WiiU and being able to play random grindy games while watching Netflix, and the ol’ Gameboy link cable was cumbersome but the only way to play the essential Pokémon. And ROB? ROB has his purposes.

The arguably most successful Nintendo whatsit of them all was the NES Zapper, a light gun so brilliant in its simplicity that it tricked the entire world into thinking light gun games would be fun over and over again. Oh, to be so young and naïve again…

While arcades are a different matter, I want to say the Playstation’s Guncon with Time Crisis and Point Blank was the only other time in history a home console got a decent shooting peripheral. Does The Typing of the Dead count? No, probably not. The Wii did a good job with its shooting games, but that was all based on its preexisting wiimote functionality, and not the zapper hunk of useless plastic. Other than those few standouts, all we ever seem to get are items like the Sega Genesis Menacer (what am I even looking at?) or generically produced third-party peripherals that look to be about the same quality as a quarter squirt gun.

And then there’s the damn Super Scope.

I HATE YOU

I hate everything about the Super Scope.

First of all, it’s a damn bazooka. While that kind of looks cool in the toy aisle (remember, this was the age of the Super Soaker Wars), to actually heap a Super Scope up onto your shoulder is no small task for a kid. A Zapper is a microphone, the Super Scope is a trombone, and the trombone has never been cool. But the gigantic form factor also leads to one other big problem: it makes the peripheral too personal. I don’t know about you, but my NES Zapper thrived on being “two player”. You just got a decent score on Duck Hunt, but come on, pass that back and I’ll show you what I can do. The Super Scope, complete with its titular scope that could be loaded for left or right handed use, seemed built to only be used by one person forever, and the idea of passing that enormous plastic tube back and forth seemed ridiculous. So, great, now I can either play with this thing alone, or have someone watch me play bazooka whack-a-mole while I get pestered about when we’re going back to Bomberman.

Then we’ve got the battery issue. The Super Scope requires six AA batteries. That’s two more batteries than the Gameboy’s required four. Fun fact: I’m pretty sure the Gameboy will last for about twelve billion hours with four AAs, but the Super Scope will survive a measly half hour. Alright, I’m sure it’s If only this worked for the batteriesnot that bad, but when you’re a kid and have to beg your parents for each new battery, it kinda seems like the Super Scope is draining power a lot faster than it should. It was like a gaming subscription service for a 1992 brat! You know what didn’t require any batteries? Every other SNES experience there ever was!

And, finally, there’s the required sensor bar/block. Dad won’t let me leave it up in front of the TV, so I have to fish it out of whatever drawer it migrated to every time I want to play with the stupid thing. That’s grody.

But what about the games? I mean, I can complain about the Super Scope all I want (and I will!), but who cares about the “controller” if the games are good? Well, bad news there, buddy, there are… let’s see here… a whole dozen games that support the Super Scope. That’s… not too bad? But the list seems to trim down when you really look at it: Battle Clash is unnecessary in light of Metal Combat, and Yoshi’s Safari barely qualifies as a Yoshi/Mario title. The Hunt for Red October, Lamborghini American Challenge, and Lemmings 2 (seriously?) all use it as a random, optional gimmick. Bazooka Blitzkrieg and X-Zone look kind of terrible, though I’ll admit I haven’t played either. And Operation Thunderbolt and T2: The Arcade Game are just hobbled together arcade ports. And one of those twelve is the glorified tech demo that came with the Super Scope, Super Scope 6.

So let’s talk about that nonsense.

Super Scope 6 claimed to be “six games in one!” back when that meant something. Well before the age of collections and compilations, the idea of six games for the price of one was always enticing. Unfortunately, during this era that always, always meant that you were going to get six games that all I hate thislasted maybe ten minutes. Super Scope 6 was no exception, and its meager offerings were about as limited as something you’d see on a Gameboy release. Heck, it was barely more gameplay than a Game & Watch title.

First we have Blastris, which was an attempt to marry Tetris and/or Dr. Mario to a shooting game. It doesn’t work. Type A is based on trying to line up blocks exactly like in Tetris, and Type B involves matching colors like in Dr. Mario or Columns. Unfortunately, with no “real” controller support, everything moves entirely too slowly, and the randomness of “what kind of block” and “where does block spawn” combines into something that is wildly frustrating. But that’s two “games” down! Mole Patrol is also part of the Blastris package for whatever reason, and it’s whack-a-mole with a gun. Man, even that description is more exciting than the tepid “can you look at the screen” adventure that is Mole Patrol. Blastris is a bust.

The other three games are part of the LazerBlazer package. Type A is basically a 2-D shooting affair, Type B is 3-D, and Type C is the boss fight. Whoops, I mean… no, that’s exactly what I mean. LazerBlazer was likely originally intended as a “real” game with different segments and perspectives, but it was diced up into three to satisfy the “6” gimmick. In fact, Ughsomeone could likely cobble together a complete game with the LazerBlazer levels (and stick Mole Patrol in as a “fun” bonus stage between battles) but, no, had to get this pile of dreck that never felt like anything but a tech demo. Seriously, I was a pretty easily duped kid, and even I recognized this was haphazardly slapped together.

But that’s the Super Scope for you. When even a dedicated “Nintendo Kid” recognizes something as a piece of crap, you know you’ve got a turd on your hands. The Super Scope is terrible, Super Scope 6 is terrible, and damn anyone that thought this wannabe bazooka was a good idea.

I hate the Super Scope.

FGC #173 Super Scope 6

  • System: Super Nintendo, and I doubt it’s going to spring up on the Virtual Console.
  • Number of players: One lonely child with a bazooka on his shoulder. Occasionally, one must wipe the tears from the plastic. … Okay, technically it’s 2-P, but good luck with that.
  • UghFavorite game: If I had to choose, it’d be Mole Patrol, as at least it features cute, sub-Pokémon alien moles. Come to think of it, remaking this title as a cell phone game with Digletts might be a best seller.
  • This guy are sic: I maintain that it is thanks to LazerBlazer that I misspelled the word “laser” for the following decade. I remembered there being a Z from somewhere!
  • Hey, you didn’t mention Tin Star: Eh, I kinda like Tin Star. I would rather see it with a better attached peripheral, but it’s passable. That’s better than most of the Super Scope library.
  • Did you know? Mario and/or Iggy Koopa occasionally cameo in the missile segments of LazerBlazer. I would have grabbed a capture of that, but that would require playing this game for longer than thirty seconds.
  • Would I play again: Not even if it was the only way to use the last AA batteries on Earth. I’d sooner chuck ‘em into a chasm, and doom the human race. This… is a very complicated way of saying, “No.”

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wolverine for the NES! Bah, I guess it’s been long enough since our last X-Men game, right? And Wolverine is his own dude, right? Eh, please look forward to it, bub.

MOLES!

Xenosaga Episode III Part 04: True Rumors

Previously on Xenosaga: KOS-MOS met Omega. Specifically, she met Omega’s death laser. It didn’t go well.

Though if you want the official word, there it is.

We’re picking up exactly where we left off, lingering around Juli Mizrahi’s room. We have to walk our asses over to the Vector wing of the weapons testing facility, and it wouldn’t hurt to get used to the layout of this area now. And acquire a few treasures while we’re at it.

Shion has to walk through the official government viewing area to get anywhere. This seems like a poor design for the building, but it is a fine excuse to overhear random government officials milling about. Or ignore them. Whatever.

Monorail #4 will get us… like 60% of the way there. Who designed this place?

On the way over, Shion is distracted…

FGC #172 Pinball Quest

Questin' Time!It takes a lot to get my attention. I’ve slain dragons. I’ve cast magical spells that would cross a wizard’s eyes. I’ve helped lesbians turn into a crystal pillar that holds up an entire world. There is very little in the world of gaming that gets my attention anymore. I have flown through the skies as the majestic hummingbird, danced with the deities, and one time I got a kangaroo to punch a monkey. And, through it all, it’s all been pretty much the same genres and “game styles” over and over again. Sure, I might be slaying the entire Greek Pantheon this week, but it’s still pretty much “just a beat ‘em up”. Is there nothing new under the sun?

And then there’s Pinball Quest. Pinball Quest is one of the most oddly original games I’ve ever played, and, what’s more, it was released over a quarter of a century ago.

Pinball Quest, as you might be able to guess, involves some pinball. If you’re just interested in pinball, here you go, three pinball boards of varying skill and complexity. Nothing that hasn’t been seen before or since, and, yeah, the boards are pretty alright. Nothing special, nothing El Dorado, but it’s a fun pinball time from the era that still held some affection for “pinball… on your TV!” That part is pretty basic.

Then there’s RPG mode. RPG mode is exactly what it says on the tin: pinball in a RPG setting. It’s bonkers.

In a way, RPGs and Pinball games should work well together. RPGs are all about how you suck. Wait, no, that came out wrong. What I mean to say is that the combat in RPGs, the basic meat and potatoes of the genre, is entirely based on the fact that you will take damage. Pew Pew?This isn’t a Mario or Mega Man game where you could conceivably never take a hit; no, you’re getting smacked around by the first slime you see, and it’s your responsibility to make sure the party stays healed and healthy. In a way, this is an expression of the basic chaos of battle. You’re going to get a few scrapes and bruises, Gilbard is going to faint, but, in the end, (hopefully) you win. Pinball is very similar, in that you have the randomness of “where’s the ball going to go?” Sure, you try your best to hit those bumpers or whatever silly gimmick exists on the board, but, inevitably, that ball isn’t going to go exactly where you want it, and, sometimes, it’s going straight down the middle. Flick the flippers all you want, there’s nothing you can do, Gilball’s gotta die. Do your damndest, hope for the best, and plan for the worst. The pinball and RPG motto.

Pinball Quest’s RPG mode, meanwhile… well… in some ways, it’s much more an Adventure-style game, like Zelda. Each level is a different board arranged something like your typical double-decker pinball machine. Usually there’s some obstacle or gimmick on the lower portion that will grant access to the upper portion (like breaking the right gravestone [bumper] in the graveyard area, or pestering an ogre that will usher your ball into a minecart in the mine area), and then the second portion features a boss and flunkies of some kind. Ram the boss with the ball enough times, and you’ll be granted access to the next level. Repeat six times or so, and you will have defeated the evil king and rescued the princess. Actually, yeah, this is a lot like the original Legend of Zelda. There are even angry skeletons!

Get 'em!And, really, this would be a “Zelda type” if you had absolutely perfect pinball skills (or save states). After all, the gameplay isn’t Fight/Magic/Flipper, it’s much more of an overhead “dodge and stab” affair, with bosses that attack your flippers and a constant need to pelt the monster du jour with your weapon (which just happens to be “you”). This is much more “includes RPG-like elements” than “RPG”.

Except…

You’re gonna lose.

Actually, technically, you kind of can’t lose this game. It’s only possible to get a “game over” on the first (and, technically, “lowest” board), and, even then, you’re given an immediate chance to continue with very few repercussions. You lost, you suck, but the save point is right here, get back in there, soldier! On every other board, you’ll simply be returned to the next previous board, and, if you can nail the “exit” location on your first flip, you’ll be right back in the battle again. Even if your skills aren’t that great, though, you can re-defeat the boss du jour, and move on in that style. Sure, it’ll waste some time, but you’ll make it back… eventually.

But let’s say you’re a human being that actually doesn’t like having his or her time wasted. Well then, we’ve got some items for you! DON'T STEALBetween each stage is a shop, and, since you (naturally) accrue gold from every defeated monster, you can spend that cash on one of two types of items. You may purchase more powerful flippers, which will kill bosses faster, or you may purchase extra balls, which will cause you to immediately “return” to your highest level when you’d otherwise tumble down the gutter. Pick your poison! Are you the confident type that blows it all on a stronger sword, or do you stock up on phoenix downs in anticipation of a costly blood bath? Play the role of the ball, and plan for your game.

And, after a fashion, Pinball Quest proves to be a “real” RPG. The gameplay might be bopping around the adventure board all afternoon, and fighting wizards, demons, and succubae might show up in a few other genres; but what’s important here is that you, player, are planning ahead and determining how resources are spent… in a pinball environment. You’re going to need that potion, and it doesn’t matter if you’re using the fight command or flicking a ball at a perfect angle, it all winds up being an RPG in the end.

And we haven’t seen anything like it in 25 years. More’s the pity.

FGC #172 Pinball Quest

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, though, admittedly, kind of late in its lifespan (that would be defined as “anything after Castlevania 3”).
  • VIVA!Number of players: Thanks to controller passing, the “standard” pinball boards all allow for up to four players. RPG mode is, as ever, a solitary affair.
  • Favorite Standard Board: Viva Golf is pretty fun, as it includes more moles than Caddyshack, and the anime figures seem to fit into the course rather well. What? I have a peculiar fondness for the late 80’s Japanese aesthetic.
  • Favorite RPG Mode Boss: The boss of the fifth stage initially appears to be your kidnapped princess, but transforms into a deadly succubus after a few (maybe accidental) hits. I realize that this has become something of a standard trope in recent years (decades), but it seemed fairly original in 1990.
  • Speaking of Princesses: Ya know, there’s nothing that codifies the heroic Ball as male or female. Feel free to claim this is one of the few gender progressive NES games… even if you are rescuing a princess (yet again).
  • An End: Oh, and the finale sees the hero and princess trounce a gigantic (compared to a pinball), apparently sentient magnet.
    What?

    And here I thought gravity was the ultimate enemy.
  • Did you know? The box art for Pinball Quest shows a reflected skeleton warrior. Given the skeletons only exist for the first level, I’m going to assume the box artist did not get very far in this game.
  • Would I play again? Hey, sure. If I’m in the mood for pinball, I may as well knock over some turtles while doing it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Scope 6 for the Super Nintendo! Oh boy! Bazooka action? Wow! Please look forward to it! Not at all sarcastically!