Monthly Archives: January 2018

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

Let's race!Diddy Kong Racing had a fairly interesting and ridiculous development process. Almost immediately after the launch of the N64 (and the release of Killer Instinct Gold), Rare started in on their next game and first “original” N64 title (as KI Gold was basically an arcade port). This process started with “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”, which was basically a real-time strategy game (!) based on an executive’s trip to Disney World. Then, for reasons that are no doubt lost to time/whiskey, the RTS became a racing game, and mutated into Pro-Am 64, an RC-car based title. Then, a certain bear and bird got their big debut game delayed, so Rare/Nintendo needed a big mascot title to fill its upcoming holiday season. Pro-Am 64 was modified again, and, this time, “Cartoon Kingdom” returned with a number of furry animal pals in cars, planes, and hovercrafts. After a long and confusing road to creation, a certain monkey got slammed on the marquee, and Diddy Kong Racing was born.

But was it any good?

Wait, belay that question. I don’t mean “was the game any good?” Diddy Kong Racing was an interesting take on racing games (which, thanks to the technology of the late 90’s, was a genre that had seen about 7,000 titles in two years), as it combined the exploratory nature of action games like Mario 64 and the tight racing experience of Mario Kart. It wasn’t a very complicated or nuanced take on either of its two contributing gameplay styles, but it was certainly fun. While Mario Kart 64 might be the most fondly remembered racing title of the generation, there’s nothing wrong with being in second place in that race. Diddy Kong 64 was weird and experimental, but it was certainly good at being an amusing racing game with its own identity.

But it’s that identity that we’re here to investigate. DKR took a long road to production, but, somewhere in there, it was nearly a bunch of anonymous windup cars. Then, in an effort to be a “big name” title, it grabbed a kong, and turned all of its unknowns into what would hopefully be the next Mario Kart. Or do you want to tell me you ever considered the intelligence of your average koopa troopa before he started pelting you with red shells? Diddy Kong Racing was clearly intended as a way for Rare and Nintendo to promote a new stable of remarkable characters, but how did they do? We’ve got a couple of decades of hindsight here, so let’s answer this question once and for all: Are the stars of Diddy Kong racing any good?

Diddy Kong

Diddy!Diddy is the one known quantity for Diddy Kong Racing, which is probably why it’s, ya know, Diddy Kong Racing. After appearing in Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and every Donkey Kong title that doesn’t involve tinker toys, it’s hard to believe, but Diddy Kong was still a pretty new quantity back in 1997. Donkey Kong Country was only three years old, and it wasn’t like Diddy ever gained the same kind of traction as the upcoming Pikachu. He wasn’t even playable in Donkey Kong Country 3! However, as legend tells it, Donkey Kong was originally slated for this spot, but Rare suggested Diddy star for a little variety. Donkey already gets to hang out with Mario, why not promote the lil’ chimp with his own franchise? And, hey, DK could still swing by next time, anyway. What have you got to lose?

Well, seems that Rare and Nintendo made the right choice in this one, as Diddy really does fit his eponymous game pretty well. Donkey would have a tendency to overshadow the rest of this cast not only figuratively, but literally as well. DK is a big guy (ape)! Diddy’s presence allows for more “childlike” mascots, like… almost the entire cast, and that gives Diddy Kong Racing a different identity from its Mario-based cousin. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t have to be for kids, but the “kiddy” characters and visuals give it a more whimsical feeling, and that’s important when you’ve got magical vehicles that change shape at the behest of a genie.

Verdict: Diddy Kong has been an excellent mascot for Nintendo for years, and he fits the game perfectly. Good job, Diddy!

Krunch

Get emAnd here’s our first dud.

Mario Kart has always been a pretty interesting title without its cast, but nobody would have ever played the thing if it featured a bunch of anonymous randos. See also: Smash Bros and the confusingly high number of Melee/Brawl clone games that are dropping within the year. Sure, the gameplay is great and fun and whatever, but, dude, I signed up to play as Samus Aran, not generic lady with a gun. But we take for granted that these games have these all-star casts. It’s likely impossible to figure out the chicken and egg of those franchises, but, at some point, somebody in Nintendo had to say, “Hey, let’s actually include all of our best characters. And Captain Falcon! That should get people’s attention!” Mario Kart could easily be Mario racing against seven goombas, but it is so much sweeter when Yoshi is in the mix.

Krunch Kremling is a Kremling, and the sad thing is that he could have been any Kremling. At this point, we’d already seen three Donkey Kong Country titles, and, in all of those games, Kremlings were the main antagonists. This means that there was already an entire army of kritters to choose from, yet Rare decided to go with a generic representation of the species. Sure, he’s got a cool motorcycle jacket, and I guess he gets bonus points for being a Kremling with the wherewithal to follow Diddy to a magical island, but he’s no Kaptain K. Rool. Don’t want your Bowser eclipsing the cast? Klubba would be a fine choice. Or Klobber! Or any Kremling that is at least recognizable, and not “just a crocodile”. Come on, Rare, you’re trying to build a brand here. Use the tools you have.

Verdict: It’s nice to see an established “race” represented in the game, and it’s always good to have an enemy-turned-ally, but Krunch is a disappointment in every other way.

Banjo

BANJO!Banjo is a star in waiting. If you’re curious about the timeline here, the entire reason Diddy Kong Racing is Diddy Kong Racing is because Nintendo/Rare needed a mascot game for Christmas, and the original intended title created to fill that slot was Banjo-Kazooie. So, effectively, if it weren’t for Banjo Bear being slow to the starting line, we wouldn’t be looking at Diddy Kong Racing at all, and I might be posting about Uniracers 2 or something. For this reason alone, Banjo should be celebrated as the savior of DKR Island.

And, even if it was Banjo’s lack of haste to be blamed for DKR, it was still a great idea to include Banjo on the roster. This is the proverbial “passing of the torch” from one mascot to another. Donkey begat Diddy, and now Diddy shall beget Banjo. And it worked! Banjo was a success, and, even with a measly three games under his belt, Banjo still holds enough cultural clout to warrant his own Mighty Number 9. And the games weren’t bad, either! Everybody wins! Let’s hear it for Banjo!

Verdict: Way to go, bear! You may have yet to discover your companion bird, but you’re going places.

Tiptup

TipsyNow here’s a guy who is such a loser, nobody can even remember his origins.

Tiptup did technically premier in Diddy Kong Racing. And, let’s face it, he’s basically a joke. He’s a turtle in a race. There are entire fables about why that is a terrible idea! But Tiptup didn’t stop at Diddy Kong Racing, he waddled on to appear in Banjo-Kazooie as a support character with his own choir. And then he became (or already was) a dad in Banjo-Tooie. And I’m pretty sure he at least made a cameo in that other Banjo game. And he was originally intended to be a friend of Banjo in the scrapped Project Dream game that would eventually morph into the “real” Banjo franchise. In short, Tiptup is indisputably a part of the Banjo universe.

But, when Diddy Kong Racing was eventually rereleased for the Nintendo DS, Tiptup was still there on the roster. This might seem natural, but Banjo and Conker were both dropped from that title, because Rare had long since abandoned Nintendo for softer pastures, and “their” property wasn’t going to see any extra eyeballs.

But Tiptup was still there, abandoned by his friends.

And considering “The Tiptup Case” isn’t a part of Nintendo legislative history, it doesn’t look like his owners thought he was anyone important either.

Sorry, Tiptup, you’re so forgettable, your own creators don’t give a damn about you.

Verdict: Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you… uh… turtle… guy?

Timber

Is he supposed to be a lumberjack?Diddy is the visiting celebrity, Banjo is the next generation in waiting, and poor Timber the Tiger is the intended protagonist of the piece. Diddy Kong Racing does have a plot, and it’s that the nefarious Wizpig swooped in and cursed the inhabitants of this happy little island while Timber’s parents were off, I don’t know, getting high in a van by the river or something. Timber is still home alone, and it’s up to him to de-curse the island with the help of his whacky friends. … No wonder he requested a chimp for assistance. This kid is doomed.

Unfortunately, DKR was built for players that could choose any character for any level at any time. And that’s great! A large adventure like DKR would be terrible if it locked you into one racer for every last challenge. Unfortunately, that means that any focus on Timber is completely lost, and most people only know Timber is the intended protagonist from the instruction manual (and even that was likely forsaken for that piece of cardboard that explains the controls). Combine this with the fact that Timber didn’t even make it to the cover of his own game on the DS rerelease (but there’s Tiptup!), and Timber pretty much fails in his protagonist role. Sorry, Timber, you’re another forgotten casualty of the franchise.

Verdict: Timber didn’t even have the star power to sneak back into a Banjo title. Guess his parents aren’t letting him out of their sight for a good long while.

Drumstick

BAGAWNow here’s a plot hero! Drumstick is supposedly the Obi Wan Chicken of DKR, and he’s the first to challenge Wizpig to a race for the island. He loses immediately, and is transformed into a frog for his troubles. Whoops. Drumstick spends the majority of the story as a frog with a rooster comb, but, should you rescue the majority of the island anyway, you’ll be able to release the curse on Drumstick, and thus the chicken man will be yours.

And that’s awesome! Unlocking characters started to become a means unto itself at the start of the millennium, but there was still a little mystique to earning a rooster dude through sheer effort back in 1997. And, what’s more, with the “legend” of Drumstick being the greatest racer on the island, you, the player, felt like the greatest racer around when you finally de-frogged the guy. And heroes transforming into frogs was all the rage back in the 90s! Just ask that marshmallow kid!

Verdict: Drumstick winds up being the one racer that actually seems related to the plot, so he’s a bit more memorable than the rest of these nerds. Too bad someone decided his ideal design would be “rejected KFC mascot”, though.

Pipsy

SqueakyYou know it’s a 90’s game when there’s “that one girl”. The lone female of the DKR species is Pipsy the Mouse, and, to her credit, she’s one of the best racers in the game. Sure, that might be a subjective statement in most any kart racing game, but Pipsy is a damn beast, and her handling is second to none. But, other than that, Pipsy has absolutely no defining features beyond her gender. There’s a reason we never saw Pipsy’s Big Adventure.

Verdict: If you’re going to have a cartoon mouse mascot, you have to go big. Pipsy did not.

Bumper

The goggles!And here’s Bumper the Badger. As far as anyone can tell, he was intended as the “big and friendly” archetype in this lineup. He’s… big… and… uh… friendly. That’s all we got here. Nothing much to… Wait a minute. Is he wearing goggles? He is! Bumper the Badger is wearing goggles! That should be praised! Bumper knows what’s up! He has his furry paw on the pulse of fashion! Way to go, Bumper! We need more rockin’ Badgers!

Verdict: I assume the great, unwashed masses could not see the inherent value of the goggles, so Bumper wound up another critter in the loser column.

Conker

Conks!Conker is a squirrel in a t-shirt. Nobody is ever going to toss a game to this nobody.

Verdict: Welp, that’s everybody. We’ve got more losers than anything, so it certainly seems that Diddy Kong Racing irresponsibly squandered its mascot powers, and never went anywhere with these also-rans. Hey, you can’t always win the gold.

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

  • System: Nintendo 64 initially, and then a rerelease on Nintendo DS, the system where N64 games went to retire.
  • Number of players: It’s four players, right? It’s a N64 game, so that’s my best guess.
  • Hey, what about T.T. the Clock? That is an imaginary character, and you clearly just made him up.
  • Dirty Cheater: Not unlike Goldeneye, there are a number of cheats “built in” to the game. Some of the cheats impact the random battle items that are earned during races, which is a feature Mario Kart players have been begging for forever. There’s also a cheat that is titled “TOXICOFFENDER”, which turns all balloons green. That is delightful.
  • Raj!Favorite Boss: Wizpig is the Wizard Pig should win on sheer chutzpah alone (when life gives you pork, become a wizard!), but I’m going to choose Bubble the Octopus as my favorite semi-malevolent opponent. He was an angry octopus boss before Mario and squid kids made it mandatory.
  • Did you know? Pipsy is supposedly based on a character from a canceled project named Astro Mouse. The titular Astro Mouse is male, has a space helmet, and seems to have a healthy amount of 90’s ‘tude. He could be the origin of Pipsy, but, seriously, how many different ways can you render a mouse?
  • Would I play again: Maybe, once, for the nostalgia. I’m not playing the game “for real” ever again, but trying out a track or two every once in a while wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Ball FighterZ! Or maybe I just want to play another DBZ game. DBS game? Whatever! What’s important is that Goku is coming to town. Please look forward to it!

FGC #380 Pokémon (Ultra) Moon / Sun

DawwPokémon Sun & Moon is the first Pokémon game to feature a memorable story and characters.

It’s also the first Pokémon game to feature dynamic camera angles, dedicated cutscenes, and full animations for as many of its humans as its pokémon.

Gee, what could be the connection?

For many people, the plot of any given Pokémon game is about as essential as a story in a fighting game. In fact, you could easily make the argument that the Pokémon titles are fighting games. Sure, there’s a complete JRPG GUI, and you talk, level up, and manage your ‘mons as if they were straight out of Final Fantasy Legend, but the battles are the main draw. And, while that’s true of many JRPGs, most JRPGS are not two player, and even less are head-to-head two player. For a countless number of Pokémon fans, the “main campaign” is a way to tinker with random party configurations at best, and a complete waste of time at worst. The real appeal is producing the best team ever, marching into your local poké-tournament, and cleaning house with your Level 100 Medicham. Or, like fighting games, popping online to play with the “meta game”, and feel really great when you wipe out a Mewtwo… that was trained by an eight year old. You monster.

And, for about the last every Pokémon game ever, it seemed like Game Freak agreed with the audience that didn’t give a damn about plot. Yes, every Pokémon game even going back to Pokémon Green had a whole plot with unique characters and trials/villains to overcome, but the plot was always completely secondary to the sheer weight of one day becoming the Pokémon champion and scooting into the postgame. Slow?Hell, in one of the later Pokémon titles, a cyclopic, light-haired bad guy raised an entire evil castle from the Earth while summoning some manner of god- mon… and I can’t even remember which game contained that event. I want to say Black/White? Maybe? Look, I’m still anime racist, and I can’t tell these silly magic emperors apart.

But Pokémon Sun/Moon changed all that. It introduced Lillie and Nebby, and, in one fell swoop, flooded Deviantart with more Pokémon fanart not featuring a naked lady version of Pikachu than anyone ever thought possible. Lillie not your thing? Don’t worry, we’ve got rude boy Gladion and his beloved Type:Null to keep you company. Hau ain’t bad, either, Team Skull is unforgettable, and Lusamine is a great villain because she’s such a threat to not only “you”, but the people you inexorably care about as well. Sure, every Pokémon villain has threatened the world with flooding or ghost dinosaurs or whatever, but how many of those rogues had the sheer malevolence to torture a lil’ dude that has been living in a gym bag? For the first time in Pokémon history, the people of Pokemon Sun/Moon are more memorable than the ‘mons, and, considering they’re competing with Rowlett, that’s no small accomplishment.

But, sad to say, you don’t care about Lillie, Gladion, or even Professor Kukai because of their personalities and design (though, admittedly, you might like the Prof for his topless lab coat fashion combo), no, you the stars of Pokémon Sun/Moon shine because of scene direction.

Yay!Other Pokémon games had heroes, friends, and villains, but they all lived in a decidedly primitive JRPG world. Pokémon X/Y , Sun/Moon’s direct ancestor, had excellent graphics (and outfits!) available, but every story beat played out with protagonists that may as well have been Dragon Warrior sprites. Lord Whatshisname is threatening the planet with his pokémon-based death ray, but I can’t remember his damn name because he just stood there like a doof and generated text box after text box of “dialogue”. Yes, you’re a generic bad guy, I get it, can my gyrados eat you yet? The average Pokemon villain is no more threatening than the bug catching kid on Route 1, and it’s all because they’re presented in exactly the same way. In fact, that kid in the shorts might be more threatening, because he’s there when you just started, and your most effective offensive measure is to friggen growl at your opponent. By the time you’re stomping down Team Rocket, your favorite pokémon has evolved into a rhobeast, and the average battle takes just long enough for you to open a menu. Looks like you’re blasting off again, Giovanni, compliments of six different hyper beams.

But Pokémon Moon/Sun does something completely different. PSM actually treats the camera like a tool, and not a necessary evil. There are close ups of character’s expressions. There are mad scientists that giggle when they think no one is looking. There are villains framed against their helpless captives, and screens that convulse and shake as cherished Nebbys are beaten and hurt. When you first meet Hau, it’s a happy occasion, and everything about the direction, from the angles employed to the joyful music playing, tells you that. When you first meet Lusamine, you know something is up, because the direction reminds you that something isn’t quite right here. And when you find yourself trapped in another world with a raging, monstrous Pokémon, you don’t have any questions about the stakes of your next battle. Pokémon Sun/Moon goes the extra mile to tell its story, and everything about the “ignorable plot” of the title sparkles as a result.

And it’s a damn shame more games can’t take a page from this new Pokémon book.

Yay!Somewhere in the history of gaming, we started to think that “plot” simply meant “more words”. You could blame it on the possibility of more words (Newer words! Bigger words!) with the expansion of game storage space, or you could just point to the success of Final Fantasy 7 and call it a day. Super Mario 64 was only kind of a hit, and it had like a paragraph of words; Final Fantasy 7 was practically a novel… so clearly what the public wants is more words! And it doesn’t matter that Final Fantasy 7 had amazing visuals, set pieces, and “sprites” that may have looked like Popeye’s spikey haired cousins, but never stopped emoting; no, what’s important is the big, long plot and all those precious words. It doesn’t matter if we pump out a JRPG where heads just talk to each other for hours at a time, and the average infodump is accompanied by maybe one still image, what we need is as many words as our typing monkeys can spit out! Throw in the word “evil” over and over again! That has to be interesting, right? A couple of dudes sitting in a non-descript room talking about what is inevitably going to be the final boss and how it fought some brave hero twelve billion years ago? More! “Press X to advance text” is the most exciting thing a person could do with a controller!

So congratulations to Pokémon Moon/Sun for advancing the storytelling capabilities of not only the franchise, but the entire medium. Nobody had to do such a thing, and we would have been perfectly okay with another preteen saving the world from old men and their rattatas, but you went the extra mile, and created an unforgettable experience. Congratulations, development team, you are Pokémon Masters.

FGC #380 Pokémon (Ultra) Sun / Moon

  • System: Nintendo 3DS for all time.
  • Winner!Number of players: As many players as there are on the Global Trade System, so probably something approaching the total population of Europe.
  • Ultra Moves: I’m going to consider this “review” as something that applies to the Ultra versions as well. Give or take a lame sidequest with Looker, the Ultra versions are better in every way than their less interesting ancestors, and there’s pretty much no reason to ever go back now. They even included a surfing minigame that makes absolutely no sense! That’s always good!
  • Favorite Pokémon (this generation): Okay, yes, I know Rowlet is the breakout star of this generation. But did you know that one of the other starters turns into a freaking angry wrestling black cat? How could I ever say no to that!? Its signature attack is a spinning lariat of doom! Dooooom! Keep your round boy, I’ll go for the lucky cat any day of the week.
  • Think of the children: Look, I get that we all like big, showy Z-Moves. But it’s one thing for a torchic to use scratch on a psyduck, and it’s quite another thing for a Lunala to suck an opponent into another dimension, focus a multi-beam laser on its target, and then spit the poor sucker back out on the ground. That’s just bad sportsmanship.
  • Other cruelty: Immediately having the choice of adding a poke to your party or sending them back to the PC is great! I just feel like there could have been a better way to phrase it all…

    LOSER!

    YOU GET SENT TO THE BOX!

  • So, did you beat it? I am the very best.

    Winner!

    Like no one ever was.

  • Did you know? There are only two new dark type pokémon in this generation: the previously mentioned Incineroar, and Guzzlord, Snorlax’s evil cousin. Given dark type is my favorite type (because it’s the only type that contains a Godzilla), I take personal offense at this choice.
  • Would I play again: This is the most recent Pokémon generation as of this writing, so, yes, I’ll play it right up to the very moment a new Pokémon generation hits the streets. I’m very predictable that way.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Diddy Kong Racing for the N64! Time to race a wizard pig for dominance of a genie elephant. Or something! Please look forward to it!

Winner!
Bahamut got nothing on this

Wild Arms 2 Part 19: Just Some Passing Brad

Previously on Wild Arms: Kanon tricked us into lurking around an old castle, and we got to learn more about Brad’s past. You ever notice how a “mysterious character” on a television show always gets a flashback to their torrid history before they randomly kick the bucket? Don’t know why, I just happened to think about that.

Anyway, on to Odessa’s “secret” Alchemic Plant.

And, apparently, we’ve been discovered seven seconds after entering the front door. Note for next time: don’t use the friggen front door.

The Alchemic Plant is another dungeon that has a variety of a whole two “random” monsters. We either get robot samurai white, or robot samurai black. They’re not very exciting.

Oh yeah, so Ashley thinks Odessa has been tipped off about their invasion, and it could potentially be Brad feeding Odessa information. It couldn’t be that Odessa has an entire security system set up for this entire eventuality.

Like Liz & Ard’s bridge, this area doesn’t have “real” random encounters, it just has a series of floating orbs that instigate battles on contact. The walkways in this area are a lot narrower than the bridge, so encounters are slightly more difficult to avoid… but they’re still not much of a threat. I guess fight for the EXP if you feel like it.

Try not to fall into any giant, open pits, though…

FGC #379 Fable 2

FABLE!Let’s hear it for the glowing “follow me” path!

Let me tell you something about myself: I play a lot of videogames. It’s true! And you know what is an integral part of any given videogame? Level design. World design. From Mario to Zelda to Doom, it doesn’t matter if your hero has the best ups or bazookas around, it’s all going to come crashing down if you can’t design a world for squat. And I have played through the best worlds! Super Metroid is an amazing bit of planetary architecture, and Super Mario Bros consistently features some of the finest individual stage design in the business. Final Fantasy worlds are deliberate, thoughtful affairs, and have been since the 8-bit era. While I’ve certainly trudged through some stinkers, it would likely not be an exaggeration to claim that I have spent over 20,000 hours exploring complicated, deliberately created fantasy worlds.

So, after all that, you’d think I’d have even the most rudimentary sense of direction. And you’d be wrong.

I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten lost on my way to the refrigerator. I’ve certainly gotten lost following basic MapQuest directions. And, while my friends and I have vowed to never speak of it again, I may or may not have been responsible for being lost for approximately six hours on the labyrinthine highways of Pennsylvania trying to arrive at a location a whole hour from home. I’m not a complete lost cause! I do have a surprisingly good sense of actual direction, like I could easily tell you which way is East right now (it’s that-a-way), but actually navigating a manmade road in a direction that facilitates “going east” is likely impossible. I need careful, slow GPS directions to find my way to any site I haven’t already visited 500 times, and, if my phone didn’t have an onboard directions app, I’d probably be posting this article from a remote cave in Nebraska. Life would be so much easier if I could just live in any found cave…

Get 'emThis, unfortunately, has translated into decimating my videogame map memory. Yes, I’ve memorized some games like one might never forget the contours of a lover (“You’re comparing Super Metroid to some manner of paramour again, aren’t you?” “You never forget your first.”), but my recent replay of Yoshi’s Island reminded me that I have the map sense of a naked mole rat (I am assuming creatures that are effectively blind are bad at maps, but please correct me if I’m wrong). I 100%’ed Yoshi’s Island back in the day, and, when I was done doing that, I did it all over again for at least three save files. Considering all the hidden secrets and damned contemptible red coins in that title, that would mean, just to accomplish such a task once, I would have, at one time in my life, have had to explore every last inch of Yoshi’s entire island. And I did it repeatedly! And, just a few (more than a few) years later, I can barely recognize the second world. Touch Fuzzy, Get Biz-ay is permanently seared into my noggin, but most any other stage is a mystery. And it’s not that my thumbs don’t know how to make Yoshi pull off acrobatic feats the likes of which shyguys have never seen; no, it’s entirely my own ailing memory for locations that hampers Baby Mario’s progress.

Reality or digital, I would have a hard time backtracking my way through a paper bag.

Fortunately, this works just fine for today’s game, Fable 2. For many people, the big draw of Fable 2 was its morality system and “interlocking world” or whatever Peter Molyneux claimed was the alchemical secret to the franchise that week. Basically, the Fable 2 world places a very significant emphasis on consequences for actions, so if you spit on a street urchin during the intro, suddenly your entire hometown is a crap sack for the rest of history. Alternatively, you could buy some bread with your last shiny penny, and suddenly the future is all rainbows and pony rides. As a bullet point on a game case, this is pretty interesting, however, in actual practice, it seems alternately goofy and disturbing. Look, I ate an adorable chick alive once, and now the entire world has been plunged into darkness under the heel of a malevolent cult? Dude, I’m sorry, I just wanted to see if it was animated (it’s not, but there is an interesting crunching noise). And don’t get me started on the problems with the Fable diet choices

ShinyBut for all the goofiness of the Fable 2 universe, I can’t fault the game at all, as it grants us the blessed golden trail. Set any quest as your goal in Fable 2, and a delightful little glowing path will materialize in front of your avatar. Follow this rainbow to a pot of gold! Or wander away, get completely lost in the middle of some godforsaken forest, and look down to find that trail is still there and ready to lead you home. The golden path makes it impossible to get lost, and, even better, always points you towards your objective. You can save, stop playing because you have a goddamned life, come back a month later after you’ve successfully rehabilitated your cat after he got into a dynamite fight with that one brown mouse, and there’s the path all over again. You can play half the game, quit for a decade, and restart with absolutely no need to remember what you were doing at all. Just follow the path, and you’ll be back on track in no time.

It’s a glorious thing.

Sure, there have been naysayers over the years. Yes, the path absolutely discourages straying from the trail and exploring, and, should an area not contain a quest, it’s likely you’ll never encounter the location at all. Sure, the very concept of a “go here now” guide seems antithetical to a game that touts the importance of choice. And, the path absolutely drops the onus on the level (world?) designers that previously had to carefully design an environment that subtlety pushed the player forward toward new goals. In fact, this seems to be the number one problem with the path, as you can see its impact almost immediately. No more do there have to be trees that point forward or trodden paths that indicate your future goals; no, now it’s all a glowing path through a generic forest, and, turn off the path, and what hope do you have of finding your goal? Fable 2 was designed with the glowing path in mind, so it seems very little effort was put into making an actually “thoughtful”, forward progress-based map experience.

And all I can say is: welcome to my world.

WeeeeEarth, our dearly beloved planet, is not designed well. There are oceans right next to big piles of sand, and Mother Nature didn’t even think to stick a guardrail or two on her most dangling precipices. Humanity tried to tame this crazy wilderness, but as anyone that has ever driven a car in New York City will tell you, failed utterly and completely. In my own hometown, a place that doesn’t have to account for that many people or unusual geography, we have at least two streets that somehow loop in on themselves, and have thus trapped confused visiting relatives for decades. I don’t know if I’ll ever see my uncle again! And, sure, this is me, someone who once wound up in international waters in an attempt to walk to the local post office, saying this, but you have to admit that the average aerial city map looks less like the careful design of Miyamoto and more like someone haphazardly threw up a set of tinker toys (you never forget your junior prom).

So you know what? I can handle a game or two with crappy level design. The world has crappy level design, and I’m tired of pretending that Dr. Wily could build a fortress better than most urban planners. Give me my poorly designed Fable universe, and give me a glowing trail to follow through it.

And if you still think my glowy path is a bad thing? Then get lost.

FGC #379 Fable 2

  • System: Xbox 360 exclusive. It’s weird how rarely that happens.
  • Number of players: Two! You can have a friend pop into your world for extra mayhem. Have fun, lil’ buddy!
  • They’re all good boys: The other big selling point for Fable 2 was… a dog. Look, it was 2008, and a little furry AI buddy was the pinnacle of technology. And we were young and stupid. It was at least two of those things. Regardless, the dog was good fun and predictable in its plot function, but maaaaaybe a little useless in every other conceivable way. I’m pretty sure Sonic 2 Tails would have been a more welcome addition.
  • Branching Paths: And speaking of plot, this is a great example of a story with a resolution like I was trying to describe during the FF12 article: you can be good or bad, but, one way or another, you wind up saving the world all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for altruism or revenge, the ending is still the same. Granted, other companies would eventually refine and master this kind of storytelling, but it’s always clever when a choose-your-own-adventure ends on the same page.
  • GlowyFavorite Combat: It was here that I learned to stop worrying and just love shooting things with gigantic magical guns. I rather expected I’d be more of a magic user, but when I leveled everything up, I found that I had transformed my avatar into some manner of na’vi. That is incredibly lame, so, for all future playthroughs, I just focused on the gun stuff, as “tall” was all I could tolerate. Yes, I choose my killing methods based on how they impact my appearance. How do you do it?
  • Did you know? There were some production problems with the Fable 2 Limited Edition. It was initially supposed to include a figurine and some trading cards… but they never materialized. As an apology, Fable 2 LEs were shipped with a voucher to download some Fable OST MP3s. That’s nice… except a number of LEs were accidentally shipped without the vouchers, too. Oops.
  • Would I play again: Path or no path, I really did enjoy Fable 2. It’s not my “game of the year” for 2008 or something, but it was certainly a lot more fun than… huh… literally every other Xbox 360 exclusive I can think of. Assuming we ever see a Fable 2 HD, maybe as part of some ridiculous collection, I’ll likely jump on it immediately.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Moon for the Nintendo 3DS! We shall catch pokémon from here to the stars and back! Please look forward to it!

Move on