Author Archives: gogglebob

FGC #303 NieR: Automata

Note: This review will involve a lot of spoilers for any game with “NieR” in the title. It’s unfortunately inevitable, and if you’d like to go into the franchise “clean”, I would recommend avoiding this article until you’ve completed both games. Or don’t, and realize why you should finish both games. Regardless, you’ve been warned.

Today’s game is NieR: Automata, the sequel to NieR: Gestalt. Both of these games are emblazoned with this lovely little logo:

Mature!

This is appropriate, as Yoko Taro has somehow been responsible for the most emotionally mature videogames in the medium.

Kinda glitchyMind you, that is a pretty low bar to clear. As an obvious example, every Grand Theft Auto game has been rated as “Mature”, so Rockstar has taken the “only adults are supposed to play this” mandate to heart and written grandiose, developed stories meant to appeal to an exclusively aged demographic. Ha ha ha, just kidding, Grand Theft Auto games are more about seeing how many times the number 69 can be inserted into random conversations than it is ever about telling a “real” story about violence in America… or whatever they’re shoveling into their press releases this week. And even if you take the GTA series completely seriously, you have to acknowledge that the franchise is fairly limited in perspectives. Would you like to play as the angry white guy, the angry black guy, or the angry and balding white guy? Yes, you could argue this thin characterization is the result of having to present a protagonist that might surf cars and play with a rocket launcher in his (inevitably “his”) spare time, but I know plenty of psychopaths, and they do have a slightly broader emotional range than “always irritated all the time.” People are people, Rockstar, not robot animals.

NieR: Gestalt (note: that will be the last time I type “Nier” with correct capitalization) is what could easily be the story of one angry white dude. And we’re going to spoil that game first…

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

According to James Cameron, the original Terminator film came from a literal fever dream. While being laid up with a particularly bad flu, Cameron experienced a vivid vision featuring a metallic torso of a man lurching forward with some very pointy weaponry, and that image eventually gave birth to Arnold Schwarzenegger the terminator. It’s not difficult to understand why: the picture of an “undying” and relentless pursuer is one that seems to be lodged pretty firmly in our collective unconscious and, metal monster or not, I think a lot of us have had “that dream” involving an unyielding, inescapable monster. This is a primal fear (probably courtesy of one or two saber tooth tigers that were real dicks), so giving such a thing robo-flesh was inevitably going to tap into an endless market of people that want more homicidal android action.

Just kind of a shame someone forgot about that invincible torso somewhere along the way.

The Terminator franchise has been complicated from the very beginning. Right from the get-go, we’ve got a time travel story that is doing its best to simultaneously create a “new future” and a stable time loop. John Connor sends his best bud back in time to become his dad (thus creating a future where there is a John Connor) and prevent the Skynet robopocolypse from ever existing (thus creating a future where there is no reason for a John Connor). That’s a surprisingly convoluted plot to get to “there’s an unstoppable robot on the loose”, but I suppose credit should be given to Cameron for not just tossing out a “btw there’s a killer robot now” story and putting some thought into the whys of an unstoppable metal torso. Of course, this begat Terminator 2, which brought the concept to its logical conclusion: Stay still!what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? What happens when two relentless robots collide? And maybe there’s an annoying kid involved, too, because we have like another hour to fill? Yes, Sarah Connor is a great role model, and her PTSD from a future that might never be is pretty neat an’ all, but the focus of T2 is the Judgment Day when two invincible bots clash. And, once again, audiences seemed to react well to that kind of thing.

Then it all went to hell.

The image of an army of terminators, whether they have flesh or not, is a chilling one. These are unstoppable androids, and even one seems to be completely invincible. What hope does humanity have against an entire planet of the buggers? No wonder time travel seemed to be the only option: once Skynet has built an impassable wall, there’s nothing that’s going to bring it down short of rewriting history. But there’s a problem with terminators, and it’s basically the same as the inverse ninja law. Duel one threat, and you can have an exciting, one-on-one battle that is all about tactics and psychology and the very real threat of one combatant exploiting the tiniest advantage and pulling a victory out of seemingly thin air. But pit one hero against a group of greater than, say, four, and suddenly everything is tilted in the favor of the lone protagonist. Storm Troopers can’t shoot straight, ninja get kicked in the face, and terminators are suddenly about as threatening as a Roomba. Yes, maybe you can’t “beat” an army of terminators, but they’ve rapidly lost that ability to actually hit a target, mow down humankind, and, ya know, terminate. The more terminators, the better for humanity.

I am the law?And this is where we join RoboCop Versus The Terminator for the Super Nintendo. Robocop is a fairly unstoppable cyborg himself, and he’s also had a number of videogames to his name. That’s no mistake, as he was practically built for 16-bit battles. He’s powerful, but he’s not invincible, so he’s one of the few protagonists that possess a life bar and an excuse for said life bar. Heck, you could even make such a thing some part of Officer Murphy’s in-visor HUD. And then you’ve got the whole “future Detroit that is moderately more deadly than OG Detroit” thing to provide an army of criminals, mutants, and criminal mutants to indiscriminately gun down. Toss it all together, and you’ve got a complete videogame. Throwing in a terminator is just sprinkles on the hyper violent sundae that is Robocop.

But the problem isn’t that Virgin Games involved a terminator, it’s that they went for terminators. Terminators leave their lovely dystopia to visit Detroit’s slightly less futuristic dystopia, and the mechanical malcontents descend upon Robocop. One Terminator is encountered at a construction site, and, with the right positioning, it can be defeated without Robocop even having to move. But the next terminator is slightly more invincible! He can’t be defeated with simple armaments… but there is a pretty conspicuous pit nearby, and you know what you have to do. The next terminator is similarly doomed, but his death is slightly further away. And then Robocop takes the long way to a future full of terminators.

And then it gets really silly. Robocop is stuck in a future filled to the brim with terminators, so, naturally, he has gained the ability to mow the mechs down like they’re less killing machines and more farm equipment. Yes, the story does offer the tiniest concession in Robocop grabbing a futuristic pistol and other advanced weaponry to gain the tiniest edge, but previous levels granted ol’ Robo a rocket launcher. This isn't funIs it even possible to improve on the destructive power of that old standby? (Please don’t tell me the answer to that, I’d prefer to sleep at night.) This all comes to a natural conclusion in “the vehicle stage”, wherein Robocop is piloting a futuristic (maybe) flying thing, and the goal of the level is to destroy twenty terminators before moving on. Can they really be called terminators anymore at that point, though? Aren’t they more… target practice?

And, unfortunately, it seems the Terminator franchise has followed the lead of this misbegotten Super Nintendo game. Terminators are no longer terminators, they are simply fodder for our rebellious humans to trick and humiliate. The days of invincible torsos are behind us, and a dramatically less invincible robot army explodes in its wake.

The dream is dead. The future has failed us.

(But that is pretty good news for Robocop.)

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

  • System: Super Nintendo for this review. There are also Gameboy, Game Gear, and Genesis versions available, too.
  • Number of players: Robocop is a singular hero. … I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t ever a Lady Robocop with an obtrusive ponytail. Meh, maybe in the animated series.
  • BoooPort-O-Call: Apparently the Genesis version takes the smarter route of focusing primarily on the present (not too distant future?) and a baddie or two from Robocop 2. Meanwhile the SNES version is pretty evenly split between past and future. The Gameboy version is all bad future… That is to say it is the worst possible future, one wherein videogames are absolutely abhorrent.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Robocop is simultaneously built for videogames and… absolutely not. His jump is more of a hop (maybe even a skip), and he controls about as precisely as a walking corpse. That said, there’s the potential for a good game here… if it wasn’t wall to wall stupid mazes and lame traps. See also: B.O.B., Harley’s Humongous Adventure.
  • Favorite Boss: The first boss of the future area is a tank… that doesn’t move. It just sits there, and you shoot pieces off of it. The NES Technodrome was a more mobile threat!
  • Did you know? Meanwhile, the inspiration for Robocop’s prime directive of “serve the public trust” was inspired by… a fortune cookie. Robocop and Terminator come from very different places.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Another lame SNES platforming/action game that involves too many easily defeated robots. I’ll just play Mega Man X, thank you.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nier Automata! Wow, now there’s a game about robot on robot violence. Please look forward to it!

Owie

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

Yay islands!Adventure Island 3 is a metaphor for the human condition.

The story of Adventure Island 3 is no epic tale. Master Higgins, a dude in a baseball cap and grass skirt, is chilling on a deserted island the size of a Dixie cup with his beloved Tina when a nefarious alien abducts the hapless maiden. Higgins boards the nearest plesiosaur, and paddles off to save the day. There is no trick or plot twist in this saga, all Higgins has to do to rescue Tina is venture across eight (adventure) islands, battle the occasional Mothra, and then conquer the aliens in an epic battle that involves fireballs and stone hammers. The aliens are not Dr. Wily in disguise, and no explanation is given for their preoccupation with poor Tina; they’re just monsters to be chased, and an excuse for Higgins to ride a dinosaur or six. Oh, and the adventure wraps up with Higgins and Tina back on their original weensy island (compliments of a pterodactyl), so it’s a zero-sum story from top to bottom.

But this is an ‘intenda game, so the story is perfunctory from the very start. What’s important is that good ol’ gameplay, and… Well, there’s not much to see here, either. This is a “NES platformer” at its most basic. Well, no, that would Adventure Island 1, wherein Master Higgins runs left to right and must at all time satiate his crippling fruit addiction. We’ve come a long way from those bygone days: now Master Higgins does the exact same thing, but sometimes he’s on a surfboard! Or a dinosaur! And, despite the fact that almost all stages only advance right and strictly forbid any backtracking, there are rare vertical levels that prove that Hudson does understand scrolling (and they don’t even involve Kid Icarus-esque scroll deaths). And the bosses are pretty neat, even if they’re about as fair as a thumb wrestling match against Eternia’s Fisto. Master Higgins can, at absolute best, suffer three hits (a bonus “heart” powerup plus a dinosaur buddy), and it’s very likely those damn boss monsters are going to barbecue the poor islander before he tosses the proper number of boomerangs. Boss patterns should not change mid-fight with a hero that has approximately zero HP!

This sucks!But all that cruft is neither here nor there. No, what’s important is what Adventure Island 3 represents. What’s important is that Adventure Island 3 is a failure.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a damsel is distressed when she is kidnapped by a giant, ambiguously evil monster. Her man springs into action to rescue her, and must battle across eight distinct lands to save the day. Along the way, he runs, jumps, and even recruits a dinosaur to beat back the nefarious forces of angry clouds and a strangely high number of murderous reptiles. After losing a bunch of lives due to the tiniest contact with random monsters (and the occasional bottomless pit), the brave knight saves his princess. And maybe there was a bonus stage or warpzone somewhere along the way, too.

Yes, obviously, Adventure Island 3 follows the exact same plot and general gameplay as Super Mario Bros. In fact, Adventure Island 2, the first game to feature Master Higgins riding a dinosaur, was released a few months after Super Mario World, the first game to feature Mario riding a Yoshi (and Adventure Island 3 improved on AI2 by… adding one more dinosaur). On a purely superficial level, Massy Hig’s Adventure Islands are incredibly similar to Mario’s treks across the Mushroom Kingdom and Dinosaur Land. Give or take the ability to actually dismount your incredible thunder lizard, you could probably provide the exact same instruction manual for both games. Master Higgins is a cape feather away from being an accomplished plumber.

Spooky!But that’s where the tragedy occurs. On a shallow level, Master and Mario are the same. They run, they jump, and they collect one hundred doodads to earn an extra life. But actually play the games, and the differences become apparent. Mario has a precise kind of momentum, while Master Higgins has a tendency to slip around like a greased up potato man. It’s telling that Master Higgins has to be wary of inanimate rocks, while Mario at least has the decency to vault moving rocks. And that slipperiness pairs poorly with a number of “platforming challenges”. Want to leap across a series of mobile clouds? That’s kind of fun in the Mushroom Kingdom, but over in the Adventure Islands, Master Higgins is pretty likely to fall to his doom after about the second jump. Once you hit an ice stage, things are more slippery, but, honestly? It’s not the same kind of dramatic shift you’d see in Super Mario. Bros 3. Oh, there is supposed to be a dinosaur that cuts down on Slippin’ Higgy? Yeah, that dinosaur is a lie. In fact, all of the dinomounts are lies, as they amount to little more than the difference between Mario and Super Mario. The only dinosaur that isn’t a “fireball” or “slight movement” powerup is the new, green triceratops, and that’s because he offers the ability to roll into a spiky ball for exactly a second before immediately losing that powerup to terrible hit detection. Beyond that, I’m not even certain what the plesiosaur is supposed to do, as he’s just as useless as the frog suit on land, but only marginally better than regular swimming Higgins on the high seas. He doesn’t even get a lightning tail or something! You have to bring your own hammer!

And, when you get right down to it, describing this game, describing Adventure Island 3, is recounting exactly what being a human is. All the proper components are there! You’ve got running! You’ve got jumping! You’ve got a princess and a monster and eight worlds! This is exactly what Mario’s got! This is exactly what that successful guy has got… so why isn’t it working here? I can see Mario’s Facebook, I know we’re on the same level, so why is he so much better than me!? I could be happy! I should be happy! Why can’t Master Higgins be half as successful as a damned plumber!?

Dammit!That’s Adventure Island 3. All the pieces are there, everything that should work is there, but… it doesn’t. Master Higgins is doomed to wallow on his teeny tiny island, while Mario just found out his ex built an entire city for his benefit. Adventure Island 3 is every one of us looking at that green grass on the next lawn over, and wondering what went wrong. And is this where I’m supposed to say something optimistic? Well, I’d love to say it gets better, but have you seen Adventure Island: The Beginning? Yeesh.

I just played Adventure Island 3… don’t expect any hopefulness out of this human for a week.

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There’s also a Gameboy port that is surprisingly faithful.
  • Number of players: One Master Higgins. Maybe the secret to success is having a Luigi?
  • Port-o-Call: The Gameboy version actually allows you to replay completed stages. I have no earthly idea why anyone would want to do such a thing, but at least it’s an option.
  • Favorite Dinosaur: I guess the blue dinosaur with the powered tail. He’s pretty much exactly the same as the red dinosaur with the fireball that is completely resistant to lava, but… he’s blue? He’s the underdog in a game starring an underdog.
  • Favorite Boss: Despite the inexplicable presence of Mothra, I’m going to pick the Salamander. He’s just like every other boss in this game (float and/or teleport around and lob fireballs), but he is at least on fire. And when he goes blue-flames, it at least looks cool.
  • Blind SallyIncidentally: This was supposed to be FGC #300, but I couldn’t find the rom while on the stream. Turns out it was there in the list, just under “Hudson’s Adventure Island 3” as opposed to in the I section where I expected to find such a thing. Oh well.
  • Did you know? If you see a flower, then that means a wolf is going to attack Master Higgins from behind. I still remember this tip from Nintendo Power.
  • Would I play again: Adventure Island 3 has struck me with an ennui that I can barely describe. So, uh, no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Robocop vs. Terminator for the SNES! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Some good ol’ fashioned cyborg on android violence. Please look forward to it!