Author Archives: gogglebob

FGC #483 Fantasia

Wake up!How bad does a game have to be for Disney to wipe it from existence?

Fantasia is an action platformer game for Sega Genesis that was released in 1991, roughly fifty years after the release of the original Fantasia film. Presumably commissioned thanks to the success of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Mickey is the star of the show, as the “sorcerer’s apprentice” has to travel through four levels to collect some music notes that were lost thanks to a malevolent force that no one decided to actually program into the game. Blame invisible music thieves. Mickey predominantly is stuck tackling enemies with a jump attack, but he also has strong and weak magical spells that are about as plentiful as Mario’s P-Wings. Most of the stages are horizontally scrolling affairs (one is vertical), and the general challenge of the game comes from avoiding enemies with largely predictable patterns. Aside from a few moving platforms and attendant “trap” floors, that’s all there really is to Fantasia. It’s a pre-Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis platforming game. Nobody was expecting The Epic of Mickey here.

But how did this wind up being a game that Disney demanded be destroyed?

Well, if you sit down and play Fantasia, you’re immediately faced with the simple fact that this game is a bear to actually play. Right from the start, the screen is obscured for arbitrary reasons, and that transforms even the most basic platforming from “fun” to “mouseicide”. There’s also a pretty dreadful knock-back/invincibility window going on here, so making it past the first screen requires a little practice, left alone surviving the later levels that actively take place in Hell (excuse me, “Bald Mountain”). Magic is in short supply (not a metaphor), and Mickey always feels underequipped to deal with the monsters du jour. And speaking of monsters, practically everything takes up way too much screen real estate, so even a successful dodge or two usually ends with a third, initially unseen monster taking the sorcerer’s apprentice down a peg.

This is boringAnd the worst part? Some levels are going to have to be repeated forever. The goal of this game is to collect a number of missing musical notes that have been scattered across four elemental-themed levels. And, unfortunately, this is not the kind of platformer where every lost note is simply waiting at the end of a stage like a Toad waiting to inform Mario he got some bad princess intel. No, this is a game where you have to actively search for and collect every last (or at least the majority of) doodad. It’s a collectathon before collectathons ever came into style! And, while that might be an interesting bit of “prehistory” in any other game, in Fantasia, the concept of a “collectathon” isn’t ironed out well enough to be actually playable. The issue? If you don’t collect enough of the hidden musical notes in an area, you have to repeat the whole of the level. It’s essentially the same failure state you’d see after having to choose “continue” in Mega Man or alike, and, given this was back in the old days of vaguely non-verbal titles, there is very little indication as to why you have to repeat a level. And, for that matter, no additional “clues” or hints are given to aid you in finding those missing notes, so it’s very likely you could be stuck repeating a level over and over again with no real idea why. And, while it may seem silly to think that you could unknowingly be stuck in an infinite loop in the year of our virus 2020, consider that this was a game intended for Disney-loving children in 1991, a year with titles like Captain Commando, where your only goal is “go right and hit things”. Why would Mickey Mouse have goals more lofty than a future cyborg and his mech-riding baby pal?

But if you think that is reason enough for Disney to permanently cancel a videogame, think again. Disney already had its fair share of stinkers across gaming by 1991 (we do not discuss Mickey Mousecapade and a weeping Wee Goggle Bob on this blog), and it’s not like Disney would stop its lousy videogame output and prevent the eventual borderline sex-crime that was Disney’s Tarzan Untamed. Glub glubFor every Ducktales or Aladdin in Disney’s oeuvre, there’s a Timon & Pumbaa’s Jungle Games or Toy Story Racer. There are some abhorrent Disney titles out there, so why was Fantasia singled out as a game Disney decided could no longer be produced, and must be recalled. What made the badness of Fantasia so damn bad?

And, as ever, it comes down to nepotism. Disney’s Fantasia was not recalled because it was a terrible game, it was recalled because someone was afraid they had pissed off daddy.

Or at least his uncle.

In 1991, Roy Edward Disney was an executive at Disney. This was because, as of his birth, Roy was the nephew of Walt Disney (and the son of Roy Oliver Disney, who was probably also related to somebody). Roy’s history with the Disney corporation is long and complicated. He was the obvious successor to good ol’ Walt, but Disney also had a series of… let’s call them “issues” after Walt’s retirement/cryogenic freezing. Roy practically resigned in ‘84 due to Disney selling out to The Man, but when investors attempted a hostile takeover of what was left shortly thereafter, he organized a “Save Disney” campaign that involved a number of “good” investors rescuing the animated heart of Disney. And aren’t we all glad Roy saved Disney from becoming some soulless, massive corporation beholden only to stockholders? From there, many look to Roy E. Disney as the man responsible for Disney’s 80s/90s renaissance period… Assuming they’re not crediting Jeffrey Katzenberg, which wound up being a whole “thing” for Roy, and eventually was theoretically a significant reason for Katzenberg resigning. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows in Disney town! But Roy did theoretically go out on a high note, as his final project saw release and general acclaim: Fantasia 2000.

This is frighteningApparently Roy was a big fan of the original film Fantasia, and believed it to be a huge part of his uncle’s legacy. This made a certain amount of sense, as Walt Disney himself considered Fantasia to be one of his greatest masterpieces. And, by all accounts, it was! Fantasia is unlike anything that has ever appeared in animated features before or since, and the level of craft and detail on display is plain to see to even the most jaded audience that may or may not appreciate dancing hippos. And, while the movie as a whole doesn’t naturally lend itself to platforming hijinks, it is the kind of film that could equally be enjoyed by a toddler as an octogenarian. You still have to be in the mood to survive a visit from Chernabog, but otherwise, it is pretty close to being a perfect movie. It’s the Citizen Kane of movies featuring racist centaurs!

So you can understand how a situation wherein Walt Disney told his nephew, “Please never make crappy licensed merchandise based on Fantasia,” would have happened. And you could see how, when Roy Disney was faced with how absolutely atrocious Fantasia for the Sega Genesis turned out to be, he immediately recollected this statement, and threw the game under the bus with the explanation that there had been a “misunderstanding” regarding what properties were allowed to have games. And that’s why, despite the fact that Fantasia appears to be in literally everyone’s Sega Genesis lot on Ebay, Fantasia is historically one of the few Sega Genesis titles to be outright recalled. Roy didn’t want to offend Walt’s frosty ghost, and Fantasia was destroyed for the good of the Disney brand.

And that’s why, thanks to Walt’s dire warnings about never licensing Fantasia for any reason, there was never again a lousy videogame bearing the name Fantasia.

Kinect again!

Oh son of a bitch.

FGC #483 Fantasia

  • System: Sega Genesis alone for this one. There are some other good Mickey games on Genesis, and a trio of excellent ones on the Super Nintendo, but Fantasia doesn’t come anywhere close to good, and is sequestered to the Genesis.
  • Number of players: One Mickey, and he isn’t particularly hidden.
  • Great Injustice: Bald Mountain is the final area, but the one and only Chernobog is nowhere to be found. Maybe this is why Nomura eventually had to wedge that fight into a couple of better-known videogames.
  • Jurassic BeatFavorite Level: There are only four, and I have a hard time picking a favorite. Not because they’re all that great, but simply because they’re all on varying levels of horrible. Level one has way too many (required) concealed areas hiding in esoteric spots. Level three’s vertical scrolling is awful paired with Mickey’s limited life bar. Level Four is just a grueling gauntlet of way too many monsters at once. I suppose Level Two, the “earth” stage, is the winner for simply being the most… forgettable.
  • Did you know? This game uses music from Fantasia, which is predominantly from classic musicians. And the instruction manual lists the composers for all those classic songs. And that’s pretty great for a time period that barely acknowledged videogames even had music composers.
  • Would I play again: Not for all the films locked in the Disney Vault. There are so many better, less outlawed games to play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mr. Do! Arcade Classic for the Super Nintendo. I bet he’s going to do… uh… something? Please look forward to it!

I'm finished!

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

It's sticky
Beware the goo!

MKK: The New MK Universe & Skarlet

In the beginning there was Midway, and it was good. In seven days and seven nights (or maybe, like, thirty years), Midway produced some of the most amazing arcade titles on the planet. Midway distributed Space Invaders. Midway distributed Pac-Man. I’m moderately certain Spy Hunter was somewhere in there. Tapper. Gorf. Smash TV. Journey: Not the Journey You’re Thinking Of. Let’s skip ahead to NBA Jam. NFL Blitz. Revolution X: Music is the Weapon. War Gods. Happy Feet for Nintendo DS. Ozzy & Drix for the Gameboy Advance. And, of course, through it all, Midway was responsible for Mortal Kombat and its many, many sequels.

Get 'em George
Happier Times

Unfortunately, Midway blew all its development money on Ozzy & Drix, and they went bankrupt in 2009. This, as you may expect, impacted the Mortal Kombat series. Specifically, this whole “goin’ bankrupt” thing started back around when Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was happening, so planned DLC for the game, Harley Quinn and Quan Chi, got cancelled due to a complete lack of interest in Quan Chi (and the bankruptcy thing, too, I guess). But! Possibly because Midway Chicago was already working with Warner Bros. Interactive, the WB purchased the remains of Midway Chicago and its IPs. This meant that, finally, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot could cross over with the lucrative The Suffering franchise. It also meant that Mortal Kombat and its kast of kharacters that once uppercutted Superman are now the property of the same dudes that owned Superman, so… hooray? Go ahead and add Sub-Zero to the Arrowverse Multiverse map, nerds.

Watch your nethers

But, crossover opportunities aside, the important result of the end of Midway was NetherRealm Studios. NetherRealm Studios technically started its WB time as WB Games Chicago, but, before that, this team was basically Midway Games Chicago. And who has been the consistent lead of this team? Ed Boon, one of the original four men that created Mortal Kombat. And why is it “NetherRealm Studios”? Well, because NRS predominantly only makes Mortal Kombat games (featuring Scorpion, popular denizen of the NetherRealm). They’ve also got the Injustice franchise, but that is, at its core, MK with a Batman skin. Beyond that, NetherRealm Studios has only ever produced one mobile WWE game and a mobile Batman Arkham City spin-off. The point here? We now have an entire videogame developer devoted to Mortal Kombat, and it doesn’t have to waste resources on maintaining the CarnEvil extended universe.

This is a great situation for Mortal Kombat! Finally, its team can take some time, breathe, and get back to designing the new legends of the Mortal Kombat franchise. We went through some lean, Hotaru-based years back there, and now we’re ready for the titans of a whole new generation. Show us this year’s Sub-Zero, NetherRealm Studios!

DESTROY

Oh, snap, he’s a robot? …. Didn’t you already do that? No? But, didn’t you already do all of this?

Mortal Kombat 9 (officially titled simply “Mortal Kombat”) was the first game produced by NetherRealm Studios (then officially titled WB Games Chicago). At its core, it is little more than a Star Trek 2009-esque reboot of the franchise. As a result, it introduced exactly zero new kharacters (until DLC, where we got one), and the best anyone could hope for was seeing some cyborgs take off their robot suits. From the perspective of someone expecting to make some new friends (and then roundhouse them), Mortal Kombat 9 was a complete disappointment.

On the other hand, Mortal Kombat 9, appropriately enough, was a return to form for the Mortal Kombat franchise. Did you enjoy all of the fighting styles of the previous three (non crossover) Mortal Kombat titles? They’re gone now! Back to four-button face-punching (or kicking). 3-D? Not in this timeline! Back to two dimensions! And do you like fatalities? Because the design team apparently put a premium on its finishers for the first time in the franchise’s history. After two games of “Heroic Brutalities” and supremely generic finishers, we’ve got some really specific buckets of blood being tossed around. There’s also a stage that contains a literal blood fountain! And it has nothing to do with Johnny Cage slashing an artery!

And, while the cast is wholly familiar, the story is appropriately Mortal Kombat bonkers, so we scored another goal there.

Mortal Kombat 9 has been tangentially referenced in the other recaps, but, because your stupid ape brain can only quantify events in a linear fashion, and all future kharacter spotlights will be firmly in this new timeline, let’s review how Mortal Kombat 9 went down.

So, to be clear, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (MK7) happened. And the end result was that literally everyone died except Raiden and Shao Kahn. And, frankly, Raiden wasn’t doing so great against a now mystically-empowered Kahn. So Raiden came up with the bright idea to send a magical text message back to his past self, and the general assumption was that Past-Raiden would be able to instantly understand Future-Raiden because, hey, they’re the same guy, right? And he’s got god-level knowledge, too! Raiden is the guardian of the entire realm of Earth, of course he’s going to be smart enough to figure out a message from his future self.

Unfortunately, Raiden is a blithering idiot. Both of ‘em.

Look out!
Granted, most MK kharacters have had brain injuries at this point

Raiden told Raiden that “He must win.” Raiden assumed that a pronoun would work, but, other than completely disqualifying Sonya Blade, it didn’t exactly help the situation. In fact, Past Raiden following the “He must win” mantra nearly got everybody killed (including a good number of “he”’s). And it all turned out to be some stupid riddle to begin with, and the only explanation for that is that apparently at least one Raiden involved here is suicidal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what you need to know about the brand new Mortal Kombat universe:

• “Past Raiden” starts at the top of Mortal Kombat 1. Given he is involved in a fighting tournament featuring almost exclusively men, “He must win” isn’t exactly helpful. And, since Raiden doesn’t have any further future information, he assumes that Liu Kang must win Mortal Kombat. Given that is how MK happened the first time, very little changes at this point in the timeline.

• However, there are a few inconsequential retcons. For instance, Baraka, Nightwolf, and (the human versions of) Cyrax & Sektor participate. Also, Quan Chi, who previously did not appear until MK4, is part of Shao Kahn’s general entourage. He’s currently acting like Scorpion’s manager, and it’s never not weird that mundane karate man Liu Kang has to deal with King Goth of Gothania pirouetting around.

• Also, Raiden tries to bribe Scorpion into not killing Sub-Zero I. But, Raiden? My man? Scorpion is an unstoppable vengeance demon fueled only by his desire to avenge himself upon nebulously blue, ninja-shaped life forms. You would have had an easier time bribing the Kool-Aid man into dodging brick walls.

• Liu Kang wins MK1 like normal, but things start going south during the second Mortal Kombat tournament. For one thing, Jax is slightly more gung-ho about rescuing Sonya in this timeline, so Ermac meets Jax’s enthusiasm by tearing the guy’s arms off.

• Also, Raiden sees a vision of Smoke being captured and transformed into a robot, and rescues Smoke from his cybernetic fate. However, this leaves Sub-Zero II vulnerable, and he’s captured by Lin Kuei forces. So now we have a whole new robot to deal with!

Kitana discovers the dark secret of Mileena (she never got braces), but Kitana does not kill Mileena. In the original timeline, Mileena had to be magically revived to participate in every title past MK2, and Kitana was being pursued by Shao Kahn for her murder. Kitana’s hands are clean in this timeline, but she still winds up on Shao Kahn’s shitlist for being a general nuisance.

Mime!
Obviously, Johnny Cage’s seminal Ninja Mime still happened.

• Oh, and quite crucially, Raiden interprets “he must win” as a call for the brash Kung Lao, not Liu Kang, to win Mortal Kombat 2. Kung Lao does pretty well until Shao Kahn realizes he’s wholly in charge of the tournament, and, when you make the rules, you can break the rules. So Shao Kahn breaks Kung Lao’s neck. Kung Lao becomes the first “real” casualty of the rebooted universe.

• Liu Kang kills Shao Kahn in retribution, and, like before, wins Mortal Kombat 2. However, Shao Kahn is revived about seven seconds later thanks to the ever-pesky Quan Chi. Quan Chi also kicks off MK3 by reviving Sindel. In the original timeline, there was never an exact explanation for how Shao Kahn survived MK2 and revived Sindel for MK3 (a wizard did it… seriously!), so Quan Chi’s presence here is only marginally a retcon.

• MK3 is fast and furious with the retcons and timeline changes. Kabal is now a cop (!) and Stryker’s partner (!). Like before, Kabal is BBQed in the early days of the Outworld invasion, but now it is confirmed that his cybernetics and magical speed powers are the results of Kano and Shang Tsung.

• Raiden screws the pooch by killing the horse. Motaro was Shao Kahn’s dragon du jour for MK3, but Raiden receives a vision of Motaro killing Johnny Cage, so Raiden kills Motaro first. Johnny is saved, but in the absence of his beloved centaur, Shao Kahn decides to kill Shang Tsung, drain his soul bowl, and transform Queen Sindel into her super saiyan form. Queen Sindel is now a boss-class monster (for story purposes, she’s still pretty lousy in actual gameplay).

• Sub-Zero, now a robot, seemingly kills Noob Saibot, who was already dead. It was confusing. But what’s important is that now Noob Saibot is going to have to take a game off to recover. Robot Sub-Zero never gets around to “freeing” his robot brethren like in the original timeline.

• And, since it looks like the good guys are actually winning this war against Shao Kahn, Queen Sindel gets sent to take out Team Good. And she does! Sindel leads an assault on Earthrealm that leaves… let’s see here… Nightwolf, Sub-Zero, Jax, Stryker, Smoke, Kabal, and… probably some other guys… all dead. Oh! Kitana! She’s dead. So is Sindel, in the end. This leaves us with only Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, and Sonya surviving into the fourth quarter.

• This all made Raiden really frustrated with the situation, one thing led to another, and, blah blah blah, Raiden may have killed Liu Kang and left him a particularly well done corpse.

Sorry!
“Sorry about that.”

• But that gives Raiden an idea: why not just give up? “He must win” is revealed to mean that Shao Kahn must win specifically Mortal Kombat 3, because the fights of Mortal Kombat 3 are not an officially sanctioned tournament presented by Mortal Kombat Korp., and, when Shao Kahn “wins”, the Elder Gods call foul, and Shao Kahn is obliterated on a technicality. Shao Kahn is gone forever (thus he can never go on to win Mortal Kombat 7), and Raiden has won Mortal Kombat 3 by the two sweetest words in the English language: default.

• But everybody is still dead, and, thanks to Netherrealm (the realm, not the company) contract negotiations, enslaved by Quan Chi. Only Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage are left standing to represent Team Good.

• And that’s why Mortal Kombat 4 starts with a full-blown Netherrealm invasion featuring Shinnok, Quan Chi, and an army of undead fighters. But that’s a story for next time.

Anywho, what does it all mean? Well, to use up my last few bullet points (I got them on sale at Target, and I want to use them all before they expire):

• Most of the Mortal Kombat old guard is dead. This does not stop them from participating in future titles, but they’re going to be angrier when they do.

• To be completely clear, Shao Kahn, is totally dead. So is Shang Tsung. So they’re not coming back for future titles like in the good ol’ days (or at least not for a whole one game).

• This means that Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, featuring Shang Tsung killing Liu Kang, will never happen in this timeline. And given those events immediately led to MK: Deception and MK: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat 5-7 will not “reboot”, and are not remembered by anyone.

• However, Mortal Kombat 9-11 have confirmed that events from the “old games” could happen again under different circumstances, and any kharacters introduced in those titles are still legitimate… they’re just not participating right now. Hotaru is still out there living his best life.

• And, of course, the timeline veering off into this new direction means there will be all new kharacters introduced in these (mostly) all new storylines.

So get ready for new, never before seen kharacters! … You just have to wait a game for ‘em, because there was nobody new in Mortal Kombat 9.

Blood!

… Well, except Skarlet. She was DLC, and didn’t actually impact the storyline proper, but Mortal Kombat 9 did technically have one original kharacter.

Skarlet is the “red female ninja” to match Ermac (the red boy ninja). Like Ermac, she originally existed as the rumored “fourth female ninja” in Mortal Kombat 2 that could only be accessed by glitching out the Sega Genesis version while licking a dog’s nose and chanting the entirety of Yellow Submarine backwards. Unfortunately, this was only a rumor, and, if a certain dog still looks at me funny when I pick up a Genesis controller, that’s a coincidence. Given (real) Skarlet was introduced well past the point that color-swaps were all the rage in MK, she was designed from the start to merely “evoke” the concept of being another ninja twin, and is not intended to actually be another literal sister to Kitana and Mileena. She’s still one of Shao Kahn’s assassin women, though, so she at least has the same job as the other ladies.

As far as her history, Skarlet was a starving street urchin that was “rescued” by Shao Kahn, and transformed into a blood-mage assassin. Yes, “blood” is a magical element in the Mortal Kombat universe, and, frankly, that makes a whole lotta sense (in the MK universe, people are 80% blood by volume). Skarlet is not a vampire (that would be Nitara), but she does gain unsubstantiated power through drinking blood. But, again, not a vampire, so she presumably eats a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables when she’s not empowering herself with the blood of her enemies. She can also telekinetically manipulate blood, and transform it into projectiles, swords, and balloon doggies (though that last one rarely comes up).

Skarlet also has “bloodhound”-like tracking abilities, and, while you may think this trait would grant her some manner of bounty-hunting-based task for her premiere in Mortal Kombat 9, her official job was keeping track of Quan Chi and determining whether or not he was up to anything untoward. Fun fact: she failed. But her boss was dead by the time MK9 concluded, so she didn’t have to worry about a poor performance review. Skarlet does not appear in Mortal Kombat 10, but she teams up with Reiko in service of Havik for the MKX comics, and her ultimate reward is Milenna chopping off her legs (!) and leaving her for dead. And then she died.

Like most dead people, Skarlet returns as a playable fighter in Mortal Kombat 11. In this case, “future” Skarlet appears to still be dead, but a Skarlet from roughly Mortal Kombat 2 (MK9) steps through a time portal to serve Shao Kahn in her usual bloody manner. But, in a more Avengers manner, she just winds up being “the henchwoman”, and is forced to fight (good, time-displaced) Kitana and Jade a couple of times. She loses every time, and winds up impacting the plot at large slightly less than Baraka. Hell, if she didn’t show up for MK11, she could have been replaced by Reptile, and literally nothing would change.

But at least she came back for one game, thus legitimizing the one original fighter from Mortal Kombat 9. This makes a certain amount of sense though, as it appears the MK franchise had been stockpiling all of its kreative juices for Mortal Kombat 10…

Tasty!
Speaking of creative juices…

Next time: Kill the franchise before it breeds!

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

Have a mega timeI’m working on a theory here, and it’s that, despite the fact that Mega Man 9 is one of my favorite games and possibly one of the best Mega Man games ever, it also completely destroyed the Mega Man franchise.

And it all roots back to the history and evolution of Mega Man.

In 1987, there was Mega Man. The premiere of the Blue Bomber saw a robot that walks, jumps, and shoots. When he defeats a Robot Master, he gains that robot’s weapon, and can use it a limited number of times as an offensive option. This playstyle continued through the “Nintendo Years”, and saw six NES games and five Gameboy games. There were many pretenders to the Mega throne, but, by and large, Mega Man changed very little on the NES. A slide here, a mega buster there, but it all still went back to the same gameplay that was established in ’87.

In 1993, we were introduced to Mega Man X. X was, figuratively and literally, the newest model of Mega Man, and came with more than a few upgrades. He could dash. He could cling to walls. He felt more mobile than his stiff ancestor. And, on a very important but oft-ignored note, X could charge his robot master (now “Maverick”) weapons, and possessed an even greater ability mimic his opponents. Simple Mega Man would have never gained the invisibility of Sting Chameleon (Invisible Man?) from a fight, but X had the option to go incognito and fire off triple shots. Finally, “Mega Man” had an avenue to enjoy the more complicated Robot Masters that had been appearing since Wood Man first rained wicked leaves down on the battlefield.

Generations!1997’s Mega Man Legends was, unfortunately, an evolutionary dead-end for the franchise, but Mega Man X4 (released the same year) allowed a complete Zero to costar with X (he was technically playable in X3, but he was more prototype than man). The Mega Man franchise always put a particular emphasis on distance and how easily ol’ Mega could be defeated by simply bumping into an enemy, so it seemed only natural when the franchise went all in on a character that had more of an emphasis on close-range combat. And it was a change for Zero as much as anyone else! Zero used to be able to slash opponents from a distance with an armbuster and flying cut, but now he was limited to a sword’s length for combat. And it worked! Many preferred playing as the up close and personal Zero in X4 and future X titles, so it was little surprise when it was time for…

Mega Man Zero hit the scene in 2002. Once again, we had two evolutionary paths, with Mega Man Battle Network’s action/JRPG hybrid gameplay first emerging to great acclaim in 2001, and then Mega Man Zero curating the 2-D action a year later. MMZ could potentially be seen as a step back for the franchise, as singular Zero was technically more limited than X in his modular attacks, but, as the MMZ franchise evolved, Zero gained an arsenal that would put any other Mega Man to shame. And right from the beginning, it was clear that the point was never to give Zero another seventeen variations on Metal Blades, but create a smaller, tighter gameplay environment for an audience that had literally learned to walk alongside the little metal boy. Mega Man Zero’s Zero did not feel like the same upgrade we saw between Mega Man and Mega Man X, but it did offer a new, more intricate experience for the veteran Mega fan.

Seems familiar2006, four years (and ten games!) later, we received another two “sequel” franchises. Mega Man Star Force was our upgrade for Mega Man Battle Network, refining the basic gameplay and adding very important plot points about dinosaurs being killed by a lack of friendship. And, on the other side of the aisle, we got Mega Man ZX, the continuation of the Mega Man Zero franchise. In this world, the wars of Mega Man Zero eventually ended, and the heroes of that time were skinned alive and could now be worn like suits. Don’t worry! They’re still sentient “biometals”, so at least X, Zero, and all their frenemies can experience the joy/horror of being a fashion accessory for centuries! And the protagonist of Mega Man ZX watches their own personal Obi Wan die, which unlocks the ability to mega-merge the biometals of X of Z(ero). Thus, the titular Mega Man ZX is born, and they’ve got all the powers of Mega Man X and Zero. Finally! The lovers are united!

And, while the whole conceit of Mega Man ZX could have just been an excuse to give Zero a decent buster, the game really does feel like the conclusion of years of Mega Man and Zero games. Zero’s greatest strength was always its focused gameplay… but this left the hero feeling rather limited compared to his ancestors. Meanwhile, Mega Man had a thousand options for combat (or at least nine), but many of his adventures seemed overstuffed and… Sorry, the English language doesn’t yet have a phrase that translates to “too top spin-y”. But Mega Man ZX struck an excellent balance: the dedicated gameplay of the Zero franchise was here, but the options available to X were also fully integrated into every level. Mega Man ZX could “be”, essentially, Zero, or transform into a more mobile air-dasher. Or a water witch. Fireball bro. Cyber ninja. The hero’s got options! And each different form wasn’t just a matter of a slightly modified buster, they all offered unique mobility options, too. In a way, this is what was promised back in the ancient days of Rockman and his ability to mimic his opponents after a battle. Or maybe that’s just what was promised by Ruby Spears Mega Man…. Still! Whatever works!

And it must have worked well for somebody, because Mega Man ZX gained a sequel, Mega Man ZX Advent, the following year. And it advanced the Mega Man formula by being completely bonkers.

Kiss from a roseMega Man ZX Advent eschews the typical mega-sequel plan by ejecting its previous protagonist right out of the gate. What’s more, this isn’t even a situation wherein the “ZX biometal” is immediately passed to the next generation or some other similar narrative trick to explain sprite reuse. No, the hero/heroine of Mega Man ZX Advent initially acquires the A Biometal, granting them the ability to wholly copy any given biometal or pseudoroid. What does this mean? It means you can play as the bosses! No more “got a weapon” or “can play as ZX-H” or whatever, you can just straight up emulate any given boss in the game! And it doesn’t matter if the boss “is too big for most areas” or “doesn’t have legs”, you can just turn into that fish monster on land if you really want to! Worst comes to worst, you just lose a life, so don’t worry about it. You’ll figure out that being a gigantic alligator monster all the time isn’t the best choice eventually.

And, while it demolishes the tightness of Zero to make some sections of ZX Advent unerringly silly (“Quick! Turn into the twin cat-bears!”), what’s truly remarkable here is how much the player is trusted with these unwieldy toys. Mega Man Powered Up had been released the previous year, and it did its level best to make sure all of the playable Robot Masters were balanced and similar so Guts Man could (technically) conquer any challenge originally designed for Mega Man. There is no such equilibrium here: it’s a known fact that half the playable “party” cannot complete the game from beginning to end. Hell, a fraction of that group can barely even jump! But that doesn’t matter, because you can switch between forms at any time, and who needs to worry about whether Queenbee the Hymenopteroid can fit through a particular hallway? Just switch! The X button is right there! The ring menu means pausing the action isn’t too big of a deal, and you’ll be switching over to the appropriate pseudoroid with a few button presses.

And being able to cycle through a complete set of “Robot Masters” really felt like what Mega Man was always meant to be. Mega Man ZX Advent was the culmination of a full twenty years of Mega Man games.

And it turns out it really was the zenith of the franchise. There was nowhere to go but back.

The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX was the ability to play as Omega, the super-powered version of Zero that was supposed to be his original, unstoppable body (long story). The secret bonus of Mega Man ZX Advent was the ability to control Modal a (case sensitive), which…

Pew pew

Looks a little familiar.

Model a was clearly a deliberate move, as the next Mega Man title to come down the pike was Mega Man 9, a retro title released in 2008. After years of Mega Man upgrading to match the graphics of the day, this was the first Mega Man title to fully embrace the NES aesthetic, and return to (faux) 8-bits. This was the first Mega Man to not try to upgrade old titles to modern sensibilities (like Mega Man X Maverick Hunter or Mega Man Powered Up) but take gameplay back to older standards while offering new and interesting experiences. But, retro or not, Mega Man 9 was an excellent game, and, while it may not have featured a “modern” Mega Man, it was the type of experience that could only be produced by people with decades of experience in the genre.

Which is great, because Mega Man 9 was apparently the end of any experimentation in the franchise.

CHOMPSince the release of Mega Man 9, we’ve seen Mega Man 10 (another retro title) and Mega Man 11 (something a little more modern). Aside from that? Nothing. No Mega Man X, Mega Man ZX, or Mega Man Battle Network. No Mega Man: Ultra Plus or whatever could have been next for the franchise. Mega Man 9’s success seemed to cement the concept that gamers just want classic, unchanged Mega Man, and that’s what Capcom is going to keep cranking out. We’ve seen about seventeen different rereleases of Mega Man 3, but nary a peep about Mega Man Legends 3.

(And, yes, we could blame this all on Keiji Inafune, the godfather of Mega Man, leaving Capcom, but that ignores the fact that we have Mega Man 11, and it’s probable there is a reason Inafuking isn’t at Capcom anymore…)

Was Mega Man 9 a good game? Yes. Hell, it was amazing. By comparison, is Mega Man ZX Advent a bad game? Well, it’s not bad, but it is very sloppy compared to Mega Man 9 (or even Mega Man Zero 4). But it’s a lot of fun, and its experimental side is arguably what Mega Man fans have wanted all along. But since even more fans simply wanted good ol’ Mega Man, Mega Man 9 was the end of the franchise’s 20 years of experimentation. Mega Man 12 may be allowed to have a gimmick or two, but it better be the OG Mega Man, or it ain’t getting greenlit.

Mega Man 9 is my favorite game that murdered its own franchise’s creativity.

And Mega Man ZX Advent is my favorite game where you can play as Bifrost the Crocoroid.

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

  • System: Nintendo DS initially, and now available for PS4/Switch via the Mega Man Zero/ZX Collection. This game was actually chosen by Random ROB a while ago, but I decided to hold off for the modern collection. And it’s good!
  • Rock out!So you spent an entire article bitching how Capcom ignores the experimental Mega Man titles, and they just released one of the experimental Mega Man titles? Yes. Shut-up.
  • Number of players: Grey or Ashe, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Pseudoroid: Vulturon the Condoroid is a heavy metal vulture that summons robot zombies and flies through the air strumming his murderous electric guitar. Just… just how are you supposed to compete with that? Block Man can’t touch that with a ten foot block.
  • Second Runner-Up: But all of the pseudoroids are amazing in this game. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to just phone in a number of Robot Masters that are all basic variations on a theme (like the Guardian Quartet), but we’ve got giant bees dragging around enormous hives and twin dog monsters and Metal Sonic and… Well, the list goes on for a while.
  • Say something mean: The empty rooms that can be uncovered but won’t activate until you speak to the right random Ranger to initiate a sidequest are the absolute worst. The fact that there are like 50 “golden skulltula”-style monsters to hunt down, and the quest giver is tucked away in one of the final levels is somehow even beyond the absolute worst. Some kind of… Mega Worst.
  • An end: Complete with the secret ending, the finale of Mega Man ZX Advent sets up a sequel featuring evil biometals, a turncoat leader, and an uncertain future that we know will culminate with Tron Bonne running around a sunken world. But what happens next? Who knows! Like Mega Man Legends, this branch of the Mega Man franchise never made it to a full trilogy, so here we sit waiting for more.
  • BUZZ!Did you know? Chronoforce the Xiphosuroid, the horseshoe crab-looking pseudoroid that can control time, is named for the Xiphosura order, which includes the Tachypleus tridentatus aka kabutogani. And that’s where we get the name for the Pokémon, kabuto.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention I like playing as the giant crocodile monster? Because I very much enjoy playing as the giant crocodile monster.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gradius V for the Playstation 2! Keep your options open, Vic! Please look forward to it!