Monthly Archives: October 2018

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Blood!Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is the rare game that is so good, it makes old games better.

Full disclosure: I have a complicated relationship with the early Castlevania titles. To elaborate, I am referring specifically to any Castlevania game that was released prior to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which I now realize that, thanks to the unstoppable march of time, is approximately twelve billion years old). But back before Alucard ever earned his first crissaegrim, there was the Belmont clan, and its unyielding pursuit of the death of the undead. And… I kinda didn’t like those Castlevania games? Maybe?

It’s complicated. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was one of my first NES games (and, thus, one of my first videogames, period), and, as anyone that has ever banged their head against Deborah Cliff will tell you, it is a deeply confusing and difficult game. Luckily, I had an older neighbor (he was, like, twelve!) who shared tips and tricks on how to traverse the Wallachian countryside, and Castlevania 2 was less “impossible” and more “inordinately difficult”. I could send Dracula back to his grave! It… just took a password that unlocked all the items (and maybe I still died a thousand times). Oh, and I would totally glitch out that one jump in the graveyard area. What does it matter if Simon drowns? He’ll be better in no time.

Whip it good!But Castlevania 3? Now there was a game. It was another of my precious few “original” Nintendo games, and an air-mailed Christmas gift from my grandparents (who had fled to warmer climes for the holiday season). As a game I could immediately identify as both “advanced” (look at those amazing graphics!) and “clever” (four playable characters! That’s as many as a full gang of Ninja Turtles!), I was fairly convinced I enjoyed Castlevania 3. After all, I played Castlevania 3 so many times, I had all but mastered such advanced techniques as Grant’s wall hugging and Alucard’s surprisingly weak fireblasts. I was a Castlevania master!

And I think I only ever made it to level… four.

Yes, I could plug in “Help Me” and use that password everyone ripped out of Nintendo Power to skip straight to the good Count, but did I ever legitimately beat back Death with my NES Advantage? Never. Did I ever even approach the Doppelganger? Nope. And, as I can very vividly recall, that room with the falling blocks was the absolute end of many a playthrough. If Alucard ran out of hearts to bat his way up that chamber, I was just done. Don’t have time for this nonsense!

Which… was kind of the point. I continued to purchase and/or rent classic Castlevania titles (Bloodlines comes immediately to mind as my most rented Genesis title), and I unequivocally enjoyed that franchise… but it wasn’t Mega Man. It wasn’t Mario. In fact, Mario might have been the biggest reason I could never truly enjoy a Castlevania game. Even if I couldn’t put it into words at the time, I still had some thought in my head regarding that whole “joy of movement” theory. Mario was unmistakably fun to control. Simon Belmont? Not so much. His movements were restricted. He had a terrible jump, limited offensive options, and didn’t gain magical invincibility that killed every zombie in his path even once. And the average lifespan of a Belmont? Not very long when you consider how easily a single decapitated medusa could shove that entire clan into one of a thousand bottomless pits.

In short? It sucked to be a Belmont. And who wants to play a game where you have to suck?

Magic!Unfortunately, in the time since the Castlevania “classic” series reigned supreme, I have become a cranky old man. As such, I rarely have time nowadays for games that I do not immediately enjoy. Many JRPGs have fallen by the wayside simply because I cannot deal with another tutorial dungeon explaining how fire beats ice. Perfectly competent platformers have gone ignored because I bounced off the main character’s art style. And I’m not afraid to admit that I dropped at least one “game of the year” just because the hero’s initial movement speed was “too exhausting”. Suffice to say, I was not exactly expecting to dive into an “old school” Castlevania with the same gusto that a more grilled cheese-based Wee Goggle Bob was once capable of mustering.

But Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was more than a little surprising.

First of all (he said, 700 or so words in), Bloodstained: CotM is just plain fun. It is aping Castlevania 3 like a monkey mimicking an orangutan, and it hews so closely to the “original”, it’s almost a surprise that Miriam can’t stick to walls. You start with the base, limited protagonist with slow, but functional, movements, move on to someone a little weaker, but with greater agility and range, pick up a squishy wizard with extremely convenient spells, and finally gain some brooding dork that craps fireballs and occasionally morphs into a bat. Unlike Castlevania 3, though, you do have the option of switching between all four combatants at once, which wildly increases the odds you’ll ever bother with that weakling mage. And that also means stages are designed around every possible party combination, and… that’s where things get complicated.

Stairs!It is very likely that, upon playing B:CoTM for the first time, the player will choose to recruit every last ally, and utilize their skills in every possible combination across all levels. Once that task is completed, a new mode will unlock wherein all the extra allies are available from the start, but Zangetsu (the ersatz Belmont and initial playable character) is missing in action. And he’s not missed! It’s pretty clear that Zangetsu is the Zeppo of these Marx brothers, and you’re much better off using literally anyone else. Miriam has mad ups, Alfred can blast any boss, and Gebel can scratch those hard to reach places. Who even invited that Zangetsu nerd in the first place?

This, naturally, will lead a curious player toward trying that initial mode again, but this time, using only Zangetsu. He’s the worst, but that just makes him a “secret” kind of hard mode, right? Not quite…

Zangetsu has two options for a solo outing. On one route, he may choose the bloody path of literally murdering each of his potential allies. And the prize for his sins will be access to new offensive and gymnastic skills. A homicidal Zangetsu can acquire a sweeping slash, high-speed dash, double jump, and a “charge attack” that would put a certain Mega Buster to shame. And then he’s the best character in the game! Without a question! Who even needs friends when you can slash an enormous turtle monster in half! I am become Death!

But then there’s “true” solo mode. Friendly Zangetsu acknowledges that all these wizards crawling around are creeping him out, but doesn’t kill a single one of them. Zangetsu must soldier on with his meager skills, and thus the player must learn to deal with a lame jump and Link’s Adventure-level weapon range. Zangetsu is pathetic, and every challenge becomes actually challenging, even for someone that has already saved this world three times or so.

But you know what? It’s doable.

Not a vampire!Bloodstained: CoTM is built for a full party of moon murderers (I miss just saying “vampire slayers”), including at least one dude that can magically become invincible, and another than can fly literally anywhere. Its stages are also designed for just the guy who can barely jump. In fact, the game is designed equally for both eventualities, and offers a wildly different experience for either choice. And, crucially, this means that the choices the player makes over the course of the adventure are significant. You don’t need a “Miriam will remember that” prompt to tell you something significant has happened when you’re too busy fighting your way over a bottomless pit to notice, and the “penalty” for literally killing a possible helper is immediately revealed in a sudden change of moveset. But, by the same token, these important choices may create a game that is more or less difficult, but never a game that becomes a complete cakewalk or impossibility. Everything here was carefully designed around players playing the game their way, and that allows for an inordinate amount of fun.

And, yeah, that’s something Bloodstained: CoTM learned from Castlevania 3, too. Heck, you could even claim it learned it from the original Castlevania. After all, tell me you’re not playing two different games depending on whether you decide to bring a bottle of holy water to a Frankenstein fight. The “old school” Castlevania titles might not have been as much fun to play as Mega Man, but in their limitations, they created an environment where the player had more choices than any title that involved a tanooki leaf.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon taught me that the original Castlevania titles were always more than they seemed, and didn’t need to pull in a single vampire to do it. Mimic a franchise, and somehow make the base franchise better? Pretty good trick, Bloodstained.

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

  • System: PC, Nintendo Switch, 3DS, Sony Playstation 4, and Vita. Sorry, this will be the only Bloodstained merchandise appearing on the Vita.
  • Number of players: One is good enough.
  • Pimpin!Favorite Boss: Hey, it turns out all these jerks have names on the official website! Valefor, the giant monster wearing a pimp hat, is my clear winner. He’s made of gold! And tries to kill you with gold! And can occasionally summon monsters made of gold! That’s solid gold, baby!
  • Out of Order: Did anyone else find Bathin, the light speed lizard that haunts the mechanical library, to be easier than literally every previous boss in the game? Its super fast attacks would be impossible without those target reticules, but with giant flashing “don’t stand here” signs all over the place? Not so much.
  • Favorite Character: Good call on making Miriam, the star of the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, arguably the most useful character. Sure, she is lacking in health or very strong attacks, but agility goes a long way in the 2-D world.
  • Favorite Reason 16-Bit Graphics were invented: Nothing interesting about the main characters really comes across with these faux 8-bit sprites, but Gebel really loses something when lo-fi. He’s supposed to be adorned with blood-purple stained glass across his flesh, but here? Here he’s just Alucard.
  • Would I play again? Odds are really good! Maybe I’ll even give that boss-rush a chance! Or maybe I’ll actually keep playing the parts of the game I enjoy! Who knows what the future holds?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Alfred Chicken for the Super Nintendo! There we go! There’s that randomness we all love and crave! Please look forward to it!

Choo Choo!

FGC #417 Mega Man 11

Here comes a Mega Man!So here’s why Mega Man 11 is an excellent videogame, but an awful Mega Man game.

Good videogames are good teachers. Whether you’re a veteran of gaming culture or a random scrub that was just handed a controller, if you’ve ever played a videogame, you first had to learn that game. And while there’s always going to be some overlap between disparate games (Super Mario Bros. and Bioshock both, technically, have jump buttons), every game has its own rules and tricks that must be memorized. Heck, right from the get-go, most videogames ask you to do something you’ve been doing for years, like walking forward, but all sorts of buttons and levers must be employed to do this simplest of tasks (or, well, at least one button). As such, any game worth its salt takes the time to teach the player “the basics”, and then gradually ramps up the difficulty as the adventure progresses.

Yes, this is all a basic way of saying “Level 1-1 is easier than 8-1”, but I like hitting a word count sometimes, okay?

Mega Man games are their own little universe, however. Somewhere out there (or right here), there’s a poor child (who is now an adult, and me) that fired up Mega Man 2 for the first time (because Captain N was a cool television show), was greeted with the ability to choose his first level (unlike every non-Duck Tales NES game ever), and immediately chose Quick Man (because head-boomerangs are awesome). This ended incredibly poorly, as this poor boy (who is literally writing this article) was forever scarred (not really) by immediately and unmercifully dying repeatedly to the instant death lasers of Quick Man’s stage. And an attempt at the deadly platforming of Air Man’s stage didn’t go much better! It wasn’t until Flash Man’s stage that the poor boy discovered that one of these stages could end. Mega Man 2 Crispypossesses no tutorial or opening stage, so, without trial and error, the instant death of spikes is initially equally as threatening as a common mettaur. It is only through trial and error that these lessons are learned, and if you chose the hardest stage to start, well, hope you have the patience to discover the rest of the game isn’t nearly that punishing.

Mega Man 11 tries something a little different.

Mega Man 11 does not include an introductory stage, so, once again, you are given the choice of where exactly you would like to begin your Robot Master rampage. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to showcase Acid Man’s stage. Why? Because it’s color-coded.

The theme of Acid Man’s stage is “chemistry”. Or… maybe something to do with how liquid changes colors? Ugh, you know what? It’s a water level. It’s the water level of the game. The end. Water levels in Mega Man games are always interesting (if not fun), as water makes Mega Man move slightly slower, but with an incredibly high jump. And you can get your sealegs pretty easily in the opening, blue areas of Acid Man’s stage.

Acid!

Look at that! There might be a few hazards around, but life is better down where it’s wetter in the opening bits of Acid Man’s lab.

Acid!

Things escalate by the middle area, though. It’s still pretty easy, but instant-kill traps are more prevalent. Yes, they’re effortlessly avoided, but the very fact that your adventure could be over in a hit is now going to be the new normal. Will things escalate for the Blue Bomber? We’ll find out, right after this break!

Acid!

Yay! Mini-boss! These things are apparently required by law now, and we’re lucky that this beast only pops up once in this stage (other stages seem to feature “a big guy” twice, once ala carte, and once with some extra stage hazard added). Unfortunately, since this device only has one chance to shine, it’s kind of a bullet sponge, and feels like it overstays its welcome by about half. Does this mean we should use the new Power Gear? Probably! But good luck timing/aiming that sucker properly.

Acid!

Now we get a checkpoint, and Mega Man 11 really kicks into gear. We’re still in the yellow area, but either thanks to the close proximity of the respawn point or the fact that we’ve now entered flavor country, there are a lot of spikes around. You must either know the exact arc of Mega’s signature water jump, cheese your way through with some invincibility-through-damage, or die. Yes, Mega Man will be teleported back to life nearby, so it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s clear at this point that the kid gloves have come off the robot kid. And should you survive…

Acid!

Now we’re in the thick of the “old school” “you gonna die” “exploding robots forever” challenge of Mega Man games of yore. There are spikes everywhere. Entire rooms are just instant death traps, and, even with that brand new Speed Gear, you damn well better know exactly how Mega Man controls, or you’re dead. It’s not the end of the world, these are challenges you can complete, but…

Acid!

Never mind. This is bullshit. Don’t make me do this! Don’t make me perfectly navigate some wall of spikes, or jump up through a vertically scrolling area that may or may not have a ceiling full of instant death (okay, the ceiling is, obviously, completely fatal, but the question is how close is that ceiling). This is the closing rush before the finale, but it doesn’t have to be this bad. I would kind of like to see that Robot Master I selected.

Acid!

Oh, there he is. Time to beat down Acid Man and call it a stage clear. Wow, nothing about this fight could be as difficult as the challenges that preceded it. Is that a problem? Maybe. But it’s not the problem.

The problem is that this level design is incompatible with the lives system of classic Mega Man titles.

Mega Man 11 emulates the traditional Mega Man style of defaulting to three lives to complete a stage, and, should you lose those lives, it’s back to the very beginning. This setup carried us blissfully through all of the NES titles (and a few X jaunts), and, while there may have been a problem with the system here or there (hello, damn Boo Beam Trap), it worked out well enough that Mega Man became a cherished franchise complete with this “handicap”. Even though Mega Man 11 showcases some new advances (like being able to replay Wily stages, or really excellent weapon switching), the “lives factor” wasn’t the worst part of the classic series (that would be the Boo Beam Trap, again), so that tradition should have worked out just fine.

It didn’t. It didn’t work out at all.

Lose all your lives, and it’s back to start. It is tradition, but it completely fails in a game that so rigidly adheres to the “graduating lesson” structure of every Mega Man 11 stage. Fail at the opening? No big deal, you start back right at the start. But fail in the middle, and you have to repeat the basics of the beginning all over again. Got past the miniboss? Well, that’s super, but you’re going to have to waste time on that bullet sponge again if you only got that far with zero lives remaining. And the final gauntlet areas? Awful, because these areas are literally designed to kill you quickly and often, and you’re going to boomerang back to the easy opening all over again if you lose your precious 1-up stock. And that makes it nearly impossible to clear the most dangerous areas, because, in order to practice the difficult parts, you have to waste time on the tranquil bits over and over and over again. By the time you return to your robotic remains, can you even remember what killed you the last time? Oh, right, it was those spikes. Back to the top.

And let’s not pretend this was always a problem with the Mega Man series. Yes, the lives/continue system was always there, but what happens on literally the second screen with buoyant water in the franchise ever?

Bubbles!

Sink or swim, Mega Man. Classic Mega Man stages are less about teaching the player new tricks, and more about tossing ‘em in the deep end right from the start.

Bubbles!

Or at least like ten seconds later. And, don’t worry, this kind of thinking did continue when classic became slightly less classic, as, lest we forget, the most unforgiving jump ever in the franchise is before its stage’s midway point.

Run the Jewels!

And, while my ruler might not be close enough at hand to give it a check, it seems Mega Man 11’s levels are longer than most of the classic stages. Which makes sense! When you’re ruled by the concept of gradually increasing difficulty through three-part stages that include a generous sprinkling of mini bosses, you’re going to wind up with a lot o’ level. And it means you’re going to repeat a lot of those levels.

And the saddest part of all of this? There was a modest solution to avoiding this mess built right into the Mega Man formula: Dr. Wily Stages. Take all those “final”, super difficult areas, and weld them together for the actual final areas. Make four Wily stages by combining the hardest bits of eight Robot Master stages. Simple! It’s happened before! It’s worked really well before!

So, in the end, Mega Man 11 winds up being a game that uses traditional videogame structure in a traditional franchise that does not work well with traditional structure at all. Mega Man 11 is a great game, it’s just not a great Mega Man game.

FGC #417 Mega Man 11

  • Look out!System: Available now for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. And PC! The only system actually seen during the game…
  • Number of players: Capcom refuses to acknowledge my requests for a Secret of Mana-esque Mega Man adventure featuring Bass and Proto Man, so just one.
  • Hey, why don’t you just crank down the difficulty, smart guy? If Capcom wants to claim one difficulty is “Normal”, then I’m going to assume that is the way the game is meant to be played until further notice.
  • Special Ed: Yes, I did have to pay a premium to buy the version with an amiibo, stickers, and a microfiber cloth (which I think is a kind of Final Fantasy equipment). If you thought you lived in a universe where I would not buy such a thing, then hi, welcome to GoggleBob.com for the first time!
  • Classic Rumblings: Electric beats ice, ice beats fire, fire beats… bomb? Bomb beats the dude with the blocks. This is the foundation of our universe.
  • Favorite Robot Master: I still think Bomb Man has the dumbest design. And, appropriately enough, Blast Man seems to have a similarly lazy visual design. But there is more to Blast Man than his dumb haircut, and this explosion loving pyrotechnic and his dedication to theme parks has won me over in a big way. You’re a blast, Blast Man.
  • Did you know? This is the first time a new “classic” Mega Man game has had a physical release on a Nintendo console since Mega Man & Bass. Am I talking about the original Super Famicom release or the aggravating Gameboy Advance rerelease? Yes!
  • Would I play again: I really like this game! It makes “lives” the worst thing ever, but the rest of the game is tops. I’m a lot more likely to play this again than Mighty No. 9, and, frankly, I think that says it all.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen to take Halloween off, so we’re going for spooky times with… Castlevania Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon! Yes, two modern-retro style games in a row! It happens! And maybe there will be skeletons! Please look forward to it!

Little Devils

FGC #416 Bioshock Infinite

Note: This article does contain spoilers for Bioshock Infinite. You have been warned!

BIOSHOCKIN'Bioshock Infinite is god damn terrifying videogame. And it’s even more terrifying that no one identifies it as such.

Let’s hit the basics before we get into the abject horror. Bioshock Infinite is a story-based first person shooter from the creators of Bio/System Shock. As such, it is a ludicrously complicated videogame from multiple perspectives. Combat is conceptually simple (shoot man in head, move on, shoot other man in head) but multiple weapons of a mundane (all of the guns, forever) and magical (“Look, pa, I can shoot lightning”) nature allow for an amazing number of options. Is there water on the ground for conducting electricity? How about some nice, flammable oil? And is this a situation that would better warrant a sniper scope, or a shotgun? Or screw all those options to the sticking place, and ride some sky rails to channel death-from-above action. In a genre that often panders to the lowest common denominator with boring hallways and tedious, linearly graduating weaponry, Bioshock Infinite’s wide open Columbia and all the options it affords are a godsend.

But, as great as the gameplay is in Bioshock Infinite, memories of BI are not of battling crow cultists or the occasional ghost mom; no, Bioshock Infinite, like its Bioshock brothers before it, is all about the story. In this case, we have the tale of Booker DeWitt…