Monthly Archives: January 2018

FGC #374 Destroy All Humans!

Bwa ha ha haSo, why the 50s?

Today’s game is Destroy All Humans!, a PS2-era release featuring a wayward alien that decides to visit the United States and maybe steal a few humans’ brain stems while he’s in the area. The basic concept of the title is “Grand Theft Alien”, and it plays almost exactly like the other GTA-alikes of the era. Run around, cause some mischief, watch your wanted meter go up, and maybe hop in a flying saucer to wreck up the place from a high altitude. The cities are separated into distinct stages, but mission markers are still all over the place, and you’ve certainly got fifty or so collectibles to dig up in every area for additional brain goo points. It’s an entertaining package from start to finish, and, of the many GTA clones of the age, DAH! is one of the few that stands on its own two stubby, alien feet.

And, despite the fact that all of this could take place at practically any point in history (that had rocket launchers), Destroy All Humans! is set in 1959, with a heavy emphasis on the 50’s aesthetic. So… why?

The best and first answer is obvious: Destroy All Humans! is lampooning the “alien invasion” films that were so prevalent during the late 50’s and early 60’s. The rise of cinema and technology led naturally to giant radioactive ants and horrors from beyond the stars. Sure, the “special effects” were achieved by imposing zoomed-in stock footage of insects over stock footage of panicking teenagers, and, yes, your average flying saucer was literally a saucer on a string, but, hey, everybody had a good time. Or maybe it was just Ed Wood. Regardless, it is no accident that Plan 9 From Outer Space was released the same year as Destroy All Humans!’s setting.

SpooookyBut that raises the next apparent question: Why were alien movies popular during the 50s? And that earns another simple answer: nuclear annihilation. We have a rather idyllic view of 1950s America, but it was maybe not the best time to have high blood pressure. The period immediately following World War 2 was peaceful and happy and incidentally home to The Cold War. Need a quick history lesson? USA and USSR (Russia) relations were at an all-time low, and there was a general fear that our neighbors across the ocean were going to blow our country to kingdom come any ol’ day. So, yes, there were demure housewives and men with ridiculous hats smoking pipes, but there were also air raid sirens, and children learning to hide under desks in the event of a bomb that could level an entire city (.… desks were more resilient then). It was in this air of general pleasantness/paranoia that an alien invasion seemed likely and/or entertaining. After all, did it matter if “death from above” was scary Ruskies or scary aliens? Same vaporization, so same difference.

So all of that makes sense. A country’s monsters reflect its fears, and, like how orange clowns are currently our number one dread, aliens from beyond the stars menaced the good people of the 50s. That all makes sense specifically for Destroy All Humans!, but what about other 50s based games? What about 50s games that didn’t feature aliens, like Mafia 2, Harvester, or the perennial Violence Fight? None of these games are exactly Mario Bros, but there seem to be more 50s-based titles than any other decade that happened to sneak into a digital title. And, no, “World War 2” is not a decade. We’re talking about conflicts on the home soil!

And then it occurred to me: the 50s is our horror story.

Pew PewThe 50s were frightening thanks to the ever looming threat of total destruction, but, aside from that, it was a pretty good time for everybody. A chicken in every pot, a pipe in every mouth, and little Billy was outside playing cowboys and Indians while Howdy Doody kept the airwaves safe. Men were working toward a better future in our steel mills, coal mines, and hat factories, and women were home making a butter-based casserole that would instantly kill the cardiovascular system of a modern human. Nobody locked their doors, the police officers were friendly, and criminals were all sentenced to goofy striped shirts. Everything was perfect for everybody!

… Except if your skin was anything but a lovely shade of pale white. Anybody else? There are going to be problems. Remember chain gangs? Yeah, you’re probably going to wind up there. Say hi to the warden for me!

In all seriousness, at this point, I want to believe that we are all well aware that “the good old days” were racist as hell. But the 50s didn’t have the messy social upheaval of the late 60s or 70s, and it didn’t have the dream denied sadgasms of the 80s and 90s, so it is still looked to as a time in our not too distant past when we had television, TV dinners, and happy times for everybody. We want to believe in that pleasant past, but we’re also vaguely aware of the problems. We all know that the image of the happy little nuclear family is just as imaginary as Camelot, and, when you get right down to it, we know that the 50s were great for one specific group of people, and an absolute horror show for everybody else.

And we’re afraid that nothing has changed.

BoooooUnlike during the 50s, it is not impossible for a person of color to hold a position of power nowadays. If we really try, we can still remember President Obama, and, while she might not be the best choice in the world, the fact that President Oprah is even being considered is a fine sign of how far we’ve come. The idea of a black woman president was once the exclusive domain of sci-fi, and now it’s something that can be freely discussed on the evening news. And that’s great! But what isn’t great is that we are all painfully aware that we live in a world where racism is out and proud. And it’s not just morons burning crosses on lawns, its freaking 66% of white voters in Alabama voting for Roy “Accused Pedophile, Avowed Racist” Moore. The fact that he got a voting block larger than zero is absurd, but, nope, he can count on 66% of whites in his state to say, “Nah, that’s okay with me.” Every day, it becomes more and more obvious that President Trump is less an elected official, and more a living testament to just how pissed off a significant chunk of our nation was at the mere thought of another “minority” president.

And you think about any of that for longer than five seconds, and it’s hard not to imagine that the “greatest” of our society only exist thanks to the horribleness right below the surface. Old money earned on the backs of slaves propels the current generation to richer and wealthier pastures. Technology is cheap and affordable and only got that way thanks to foreign markets with atrocious labor laws. Even our beloved videogames are designed and created by teams of educated, intelligent people that are often forced to work inhumane hours just so we can play the silly game with the alien man without delays. It is impossible to not know how much suffering keeps our western society running (and anyone lacking that basic empathy has no excuse. They are monsters), and we all know that, deep down, we’re no more evolved than the silly housewives and salarymen of the 50s. Our fashion might be better, and we might have slightly superior taste in music, but we’re still humans, and we’re still perfectly willing to overlook suffering if it means we’re the tiniest bit more comfortable.

Not appropriateAnd that’s what’s scary about the 50s. That’s why we keep looking back to that bygone era not with pride, but with an uneasy fear. We like to imagine we’ve changed, we like to imagine that 70 years ago was “way back when”, but, when we acknowledge the ugly reality of the situation, we know that we haven’t come far enough. We’ve gotten better, but we’re still not great, and reminding us of a time when racism was rampart and nuclear war was always an option, we know we’re looking at an epoch not too far removed from our own.

The 1950s? They aren’t all that alien after all.

FGC #374 Destroy All Humans!

  • System: Playstation 2, and now available on the Playstation 4. I look forward to the Playstation 6 rerelease.
  • Number of players: Only one Furon clone at a time for this adventure.
  • Incidentally: The fact that this post went up on Martin Luther King Day is a complete coincidence. The fact that this post went up shortly after Trump once again revealed himself as a racist is inevitable.
  • Everybody Panic: Sometimes the NPC reactions to aliens are…
    Weeee

    Pretty great.
  • Favorite Weapon: At least one advantage DAH! has over its GTA brethren is a glut of combat options. In addition to your usual assortment of guns, you’ve got telepathy and mind control, which allows for a more interesting “last stand” when your wanted meter is maxed out. Regardless, I’ll take the charge-based anal probe any day, as it apparently causes people to literally crap out their brainstems. I can’t say no to that.
  • Voice Actor Corner: Richard Steven Horvitz voices Pox, the brainy alien that aids Crypto on his quest. Appropriately enough, Horvitz is using his Invader Zim voice, and, even just a few years after that series was cancelled, it was wonderful to hear everyone’s favorite alien again. Now it’s downright nostalgic.
  • Did you know? Tucked into some archival DAH! menus, Plan 9 From Outer Space is available for your viewing pleasure. It’s entirely possible the whole movie is on the disc, but man can only watch Plan 9 for about three minutes before going insane, so I’m unable to verify its presence.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. GTA-Alien times are fun, but if I want completely madcap GTA action, I just nab Saints Row. Unfortunately, most GTA-esque games are too long for their own good, and that’s another notch in the strike column, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age! That’s right! We’re reviewing Final Fantasy 12 again, and this time, we might talk about the actual game! Please look forward to it!

Very annoyed!
I am taking this personally.

Wild Arms 2 Part 17: Past, Present, and Lizards

Previously on Wild Arms 2: ARMS was bogged down by their colossal inventory, got lost in the snow, and was never seen again. But in another, more narratively tight dimension, ARMS made it to Sielje, and got to embarrass Lilka for a solid day or so. Now we’re off to chase Odessa and the stolen (reclaimed?) data tablets.

Our first stop today is the Gate Bridge. It’s a bridge. Pretty exciting stuff. Should be a quick walk over to where we’re going, nothing to…

Oh, screen is shaking for the ten billionth time.

That’s a really weird way to phrase… anything. That reminds me of…

Our old friends Liz and Ard! They’re back! And exploding stuff!

And whatever Ard said!

Teen Lizard Squad is go!

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

Wah WahIf you want to understand East vs. West gaming philosophies, look no further than Disney’s Aladdin for SNES and Genesis.

Disney’s Aladdin should require no introduction. At the time, it was “yet another” brilliant Disney animated musical, and came hot on the heels of other perennial favorites like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But Aladdin offered a rare opportunity: the story of Aladdin is one of swordplay and derring-do! It’s a boy’s story! And boys play videogames! Sure, Ariel made due with shoving seashells by the seashore, and Belle & Beast got their own boy and girl versions (it was a weird time), but Aladdin is an adventure story from start to finish. There’s an evil wizard, ancient sealed magical force, helpful monkey, and at least two dungeons. This is practically a JRPG before you introduce the princess with a pet tiger! Couple the dominance of Disney with a story that couldn’t be more suited to a 16-bit game if it had a mine cart, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a generation-defining videogame.

And then we got two interpretations of that blockbuster.

On one side, we have (give me a second to flip a coin here) Aladdin for the SNES. This was a Capcom release, and it shows in every way. Cross Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse with Ninja Gaiden for cinematics, drop any and all transformations, and add a Genie-based roulette wheel to bonus stages, and we’re good to go. There’s a rudimentary collectathon Weeeeelement for completionists, but otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward platforming experience. Aladdin jumps, swings, and bops over enemies, and the most common monster appears to be a blind bird in a pot (really quite threatening, obviously). There are a pair of magic carpet rides for some dangerous/bonus variety, and, in the end, Jafar must be defeated by head-vaulting. Roll credits, move on to the next Capcom blockbuster.

On the other side, we’ve got Aladdin for Genesis. This is another platformer, but Aladdin has become blood-thirsty, and he’s gained a sick scimitar. Additionally, while Aladdin had apples for stunning on the SNES, now hurling fruit will damage opponents completely, effectively granting Al a gun. The animation is gorgeous, the levels are lush and creative, and there are even a few full-fledged bosses (whereas the SNES only had Jafar and one pissed off merchant). Even the bonus stages are fairly innovative, offering a fine excuse to control a monkey in a fez as he gathers treasure. Basically, the Genesis title has the same bones as its SNES cousin, but it seems to do so much more.

It’s also tremendously less fun to play.

WhammoOkay, sure, fun is subjective. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that value the Gen Aladdin experience over SNES Aladdin’s more muted adventure. But there are quite a few items that make the Genesis title objectively worse. For one thing, many of the more labyrinthine stages feature “European” layouts, i.e. stages that zig and zag all over limited screen space, and it quickly becomes difficult to know if you’re actually making forward progress. Another obvious flaw is an overabundance of bottomless pits and other instant death traps that seem to litter every stage after Aladdin escapes the streets of Agrabah. Oh, and those bosses? They seem to exist exclusively to drain you of your apples, and, like bosses in a certain other franchise, it’s often difficult to know if you’re dealing damage at all. Basically, the minute you start really looking at the nuts and bolts of Genesis Aladdin, you’ll quickly notice every place where it falls apart.

But is it the poorer title? Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion.

Genesis Aladdin is known for having some of the smoothest, most amazing animation of the 16-bit generation, but focusing on that is unfairly ignoring its true greatest strength. Genesis Aladdin is creative to a fault. Aladdin the Movie might contain a story tailor-made for videogames, but it could still use a little expansion to round out the levels. Genesis Aladdin drops in an extra trip to the desert to claim beetle fragments, and a street-rat trip around the palace to eventually defeat Iago. In both cases, what could be trite, typical videogame levels pop with beauty and imagination, all while things like the pink flamingos in the Sultan’s massive pool style firmly tie the style to the source material. The animation is what catches everyone’s eye, but the little things, like a Sega Genesis hiding in the background of Genie’s lair, are what really make the game.

WeeeeMeanwhile, SNES Aladdin is an enormously competent platformer, but fails to add anything to Disney’s Aladdin. Your extra stage in SNES Aladdin is a pyramid, which kinda fits the story (supposedly Abu falls off the carpet on the way back from the Cave of Wonders… so did they take a detour to Egypt on their way? Not all deserts are the same!), but it’s about as generic as a videogame stage can get. Falling sands waterfalls (sanderfalls?),lit torches, and the general threat of the undead? It’s a pyramid, and this could be part of Aladdin, or any other videogame ever made. But what is there to complain about? Sure, squint and you could mistake Aladdin for Mega Man 4, but this is a damn fine platformer, and hopping and bopping around the pyramid feels as good as any given Mega Man title. And that is no small feat.

And, playing both of these games side by side in the far flung future of 2018, it seems these differences echo the state of gaming today.

I’m inevitably going to oversimplify, but it seems like when you compare Western “game of the year” titles to their Eastern counterparts, a few patterns emerge. Fallout and Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) titles are always amazing, right? They’re huge. They’re creative. They’re also buggy as hell, and, let’s be honest here, generally have improbably convoluted controls. Maybe I’m weird, but I feel like picking up a cheese wheel should be an easier experience than piloting a plane. Conversely, you have titles like Persona 5 or NieR: Automata that are amazing games… but their gameplay is often indistinguishable from their forebears. Bite!NieR: Automata is astounding! But its basic combat is Bayonetta-light (dodge! dodge! dodge!) with a dash of shoot ‘em up spliced in for good measure. And Persona 5 is stylish and rad… and could probably be effortlessly modded to be Persona 3. In other words, while we’re still seeing amazing advances in story-telling and what a videogame could even be, we’re still looking at a pretty overt split: Western titles are huge, imaginative, and often objectively worse to actually play, while Japanese titles are excellent, reliable games that rarely take obvious risks. Again, I’m well aware that I’m generalizing, and I’m not saying one technique is somehow better than the other, but it seems to be a trend that has been recurring since the 20th Century.

And it’s not a bad thing.

There is room enough in this world for two different interpretations of Aladdin. There is room on your shelf for Persona and Skyrim. And, if you’re lucky, you’ve got enough space in your heart for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Different strokes for different folks, and, if you can open yourself up to both experiences, more power to you. Some people like pet monkeys, some people go for tigers. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, and what’s important is that you enjoy what you have.

So the final winner in the Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo debates? Well, if you can accept the differences in both platforms, then, in the end, a winner is you.

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

  • System: You already know the obvious ones, but there was also a Gameboy, Nintendo, and DOS version, if you were in the mood. The Game Boy Advance version was a port of the SNES version, too, if memory serves.
  • Number of players: Never had a friend to play with. One.
  • Realistic Graphics: Hey, who do I speak to about making Sega Genesis Annoyed Jasmine a meme?

    Really think this one has legs.
  • Other differences: The interior of the Genie’s Lamp level appears in both versions, and that seems like another fine way to compare systems. The SNES Lamp is bright and pastel and… fluffy. The Genesis Lamp is dark and muted, but still just as magical with neon signs and flying pillows. Given how a number of other games turned out on both systems, the whole level seems indicative of the generation.
  • And they’re the same: Genesis is more like Battletoads, and SNES is more like a shoot ‘em up (just without the shooting), but both games interpret the escape from the Cave of Wonders as a one-hit kill, flying carpet-based race against lava. Some things are just inevitable, I suppose.
  • So cuteGoggle Bob fact: So the Sega Genesis version of this game was given to me by an ex. She was my girlfriend at the time, and, when I expressed an interest in replaying the title, she gave me the game without a second thought, likely happy to be rid of another piece of trash that was destined for Goodwill when she finally completely emptied out her childhood room. I, as someone who even then could only view my life through the lens of videogames, thought that giving up a beloved childhood game was the greatest sacrifice a human being could make for another. … I don’t really wonder why we’re no longer together.
  • Did you know? Aladdin was the highest selling game for the Sega Genesis not featuring a hedgehog. This likely had nothing to do with the advertising campaign that was running on all channels, all the time.
  • Would I play again: Either one might get a replay at random times. I have fond memories of both titles, and nostalgia will probably get the better of me one of these days. Then it’s back to hopping on snakes to save princesses.

What’s next? Random ROB is back, and he’s chosen… Destroy All Humans! for the PS2! Well, guess we have to do what the game says. Time for an extinction level event, I guess. Please look forward to it!

What?
Exploding skeletons?

FGC #372 Jurassic Park (SNES) & Jurassic Park (Sega Genesis)

Jurassic!Jurassic Park was a cultural phenomenon because it combined the two things that people love most:

  1. Dinosaurs
  2. Looking at Dinosaurs

Once it hit those two essential beats, Jurassic Park could have been the sad tale of two kids that go to the worst summer camp ever, it was going to be a success. Luckily, Steven Spielberg didn’t just rest on his dino-laurels, and decided to include a plot that at least moderately utilized science/Jeff Goldblum/Jeff Goldblum doing science. There are dinosaurs, there are hackers, and, somewhere along the line, Santa Claus learns that nature finds a way (to eat your lawyer).

When you sit down and look at the basic plot of Jurassic Park, however, you see that it was already a videogame all along. Theme parks are ideal for videogames, as they naturally produce interesting and eclectic levels without having to generate an excuse for why the volcano is six feet from the sewer. Random dinosaurs create an army of easy mooks (that one spitting dork), mid-bosses (raptors), and final bosses (terrible thunder lizards). The kids can either serve for an escort mission or some kind of assistive advice dispenser, and maybe we can toss in a hacking minigame or something. Oh! And Grant is a paleontologist! That’s a fine excuse for a fetch quest for dinosaur eggs or triceratops dung or whatever we can find. Jurassic Park the Motion Picture may as well have come with a controller, because it’s halfway to your preferred console already.

NoooooAnd, though I loathe to admit it, given the choice, Jurassic Park for the Super Nintendo would likely be exactly the game I’d create with the Jurassic Park license. Well, not exactly, but the fundamentals are there. It’s a top-down adventure-esque game in the Zelda vein. And that’s a great start! It would be easy to make Grant an action hero, but he is more of a science nerd, so it makes more sense to see him inhabiting an elf’s Pegasus boots. And the general plot and mood of the game is not one of oppressive dino-danger, it’s much more akin to a stroll through a (Jurassic) park. Granted, it’s a park where you could be devoured at any time, but the “have fun and explore” sunny blue skies and lush, green grass is a lot more inviting than a thunderstorm. And that’s what Jurassic Park is about! Sure, it’s a big, scary trek through a naturalistic horror of man’s creation, but a solid half of the movie is given over to the wonder anyone would experience when confronted with Barney’s more savage cousins. A Jurassic Park that doesn’t pause to let the player enjoy Jurassic Park seems contrary to the spirit of the movie itself, and it would be far too easy to turn JP into Grant’s murderathon.

But other than that? Jurassic Park for the SNES kind of sucks.

Jurassic Park is very Zelda-like. In fact, it’s very much like the original Legend of Zelda, a game that tells you it’s dangerous to go alone, hands you a sword, and then provides no more information. Sure, we’ve all taken it for granted with decades of Nintendo Power and speed running and maybe a cartoon or two, but The Legend of Zelda is a very confusing experience for someone with absolutely no context. What are you supposed to be doing? Why are you collecting triangles? Are these rupees for something? And why did that orange mush eat my shield? There is no Zelda tutorial, and, if you hit start on that title screen as quickly as possible, it’s entirely possible a new player would have absolutely zero information on so much as Link’s basest objective (kill pig wizard). In a similar manner, Jurassic Park welcomes you to Jurassic Park, and… that’s it. You’re on your own, Grant, and your objectives are about as clear as molasses. Kill dinosaurs? Collect eggs? Earn a high score? Nedry didn’t leave you a manual, and the occasional tip to “avoid t-rexes” isn’t exactly the most useful thing to learn after becoming tyrannosaurus poop for the third time.

Take a stepBut even assuming you’re not the most goal oriented player in the world (the goal of any theme park is to have fun!), you’re still stuck with a pretty lousy experience. Grant moves at a snail’s pace, and velociraptors… don’t. Ammo is limited, and your default, rechargeable weapon is a stun gun (lightning blaster?) that actually stuns. Knock out a dinosaur, waste too much time investigating the area, and then discover that that toothy grin is back up and barreling down on our poor hero. Dinosaurs and traps come out of nowhere, health is difficult to recover, and saves or passwords are out of the question. It’s a game where you have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re inevitably doing it poorly.

And we haven’t even gotten to the best part! The “dungeons” of Jurassic Park were 3-D, FPS-esque affairs. This could be interesting on a system that wasn’t the SNES, at a time that wasn’t the dawn of the FPS. But on this system, in this epoch? It’s terrible. The SNES controller is not equipped in any way for a FPS, and a thousand Grant corpses being devoured by a million raptors is a testament to this fact. And never mind that the graphics for these areas are just a step above something a dilophosaurus might spit out. And the back of the box has the audacity to claim “no polygons or two-dimensional sprites here! Ocean’s exclusive REAL 3-D graphics will have you screaming… for more.” I take personal offense at every word in that sentence.

Bah! This game sucks! What’s happening in the Sega Genesis version?

Awesomeness

Oh, I get a choice of characters? And the other choice is… a raptor?

Awesomeness

A jump kicking gangsta raptor!?

Awesomeness

And I can screw with Grant? For points?

Awesomeness

Yes! Raptor! Save the world!

Okay, yeah, Sega wins this round.

Being a dinosaur is the best.

FGC #372 Jurassic Park (SNES) & Jurassic Park (Sega Genesis)

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis for this review, but also available on every other system that was available in the early 90’s. Did you know there was a NES version? It was the Gameboy version, but with color!
  • Number of players: This is going to be a good week for single player experiences.
  • Hate himFurther complaints: SNES Park has a number of dinosaur enemies… and giant dragonflies. In the one game that is all about dinosaurs, they somehow ran out of dinosaurs. I hate everything.
  • Favorite Weapon (both versions): Is this where my love of rocket launchers originates? Grant can find a few in either game, and exploding dinosaurs into meaty chunks is always a good time.
  • Other Genesis Options: You can play as Grant in Genesis Park. It is not worth it. Oh, someone incorporated the river level? Well la di da. Grant can’t eat lil’ dinos for health, and I don’t want to deal with that.
  • Did you know? The animators for Genesis Park (including Doug TenNapel) studied real, live lizards to properly animate the dinosaurs that would inevitably devour poor Grant. The creators of SNES Park, meanwhile, stuck sharp sticks in their eyes so they could properly convey human pain to the audience.
  • Would I play again: SNES Park is never happening ever. Genesis Park is a solid maybe, but only because of one thing, and that rhymes with “Slayable Maptor”.

What’s next? We’re closing out our SNES vs. Genesis duel with one wish: world peace. Just kidding. We wished for Aladdin, and it’s coming up next. Please look forward to it!

Who?