Author Archives: gogglebob

FGC #469 Pokémon Sword & Shield

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Pokémon Sword & Shield and Pokémon Sun & Moon. If you care about being spoiled on Pokémon stories, like some kind of nerd, this warning is for you. Thank you.

Gonna be a Pokemon tonightI’m worried about the Pokémon Uncanny Valley.

As of writing this article, Pokémon Sword/Shield has been on the shelves for a couple months. In that time, there have been many different opinions tossed around regarding the game(s). Chief among them is that, after the tour de force that was Pokémon Sun/Moon, Pokémon Sword/Shield has the “worst” story in the franchise. And it’s hard not to agree with that assessment! Pokémon SS (that’s some unfortunate abbreviating) has a story that is barely there, and plays as little more than a sports documentary until the absolute finale. Here’s the challenger, here is their rival, and watch as they climb the ranks and triumph over some 50 year old dude that somehow only has acollection of four level 20 fire type pokémon. It’s pretty tiresome, and your only supporting cast is a collection of other challengers with paper-thin personalities. Yes, we all love Marnie, but that’s mostly because she was perfectly calibrated to appeal to Pokémon fans (her signature ‘mon is a goth pikachu, for Arceus’ sake!). Other than that, it’s a sports story, and, for people that play videogames, that’s about as forgettable as Pokémon #775 (it’s the sleepy koala).

But when Pokémon SS decides to care about its story, it does so very well. … Wait, actually, that’s completely wrong. Pokémon SS’s story rears its ugly head during its climax, and, well, it ain’t great. It’s… confusing? There’s a Pokémon that was apparently powering the area, and it’s going to fail in a century, so there’s this dude that wants to do something about that right now, but it’s opposite the Super Bowl, so one thing leads to another, and apparently the world is in mortal danger because some unspeakable Pokémon has escaped confinement. And, frankly, that’s the end of nearly every Pokémon game, right? It might be a little muddled, but there seems to be a constant theme of trying to chain “nature” running back to the experimentation on Mewtwo, and all it ever takes for Groudon or whatever to be settled is a well-meaning preteen that happens to own a Master Ball. These things happen all the time in the Pokémon universe.

Aw nawBut it isn’t what happens at the end of Pokémon Sun/Moon. Yes, let’s take a step back one generation and look at the finale of the first game featuring the madness of Lusamine. Lusamine is, long story short, one of those scientist/billionaire crazy people that has a propensity toward designing self-driving cars and seeking immortality. To this end, she researches “Ultra Beasts”, Pokémon that exist in another dimension. In the process, she terrorizes her children, the protagonist, and nearly the entire world when she tears a whole in time and space to hang out with a beast Pokémon. This plan ultimately climaxes with Lusamine merging with a Nihilego, a poisonous beast Pokémon. Lusamine thus becomes a creature unknown to man and science. She is part woman, part interdimensional Pokémon. This is not Mewtwo. This is not even a mythical Pokémon. This is a whole new monster never before seen in the franchise (give or take a teleporter accident). This is not a problem that is going to be solved with a pokéball, and it is the first encounter with such a creature within the franchise. How will your humble trainer triumph over this abomination of hubris and science?

And then Monster Lusamine just tosses out her usual collection of six Pokémon in a typical trainer battle. Each of the Pokémon have boosted stats… but that’s about the only difference between this “final battle against an unknown enemy” and a skirmish with a kid that really likes shorts. The big bad pinnacle for the entire story is a tussle with a friggen’ Clefable.

It's nice hereAnd while Pokémon Moon/Sun 2 (Ultra!) replaced this fight with a battle against an alien ‘mon in another dimension, it wound up being even more lackluster (this is a very specific pun no one will acknowledge, and I am noting it for posterity), as said alien had very little relation to the overall plot and characters (or, put another way, it might be menacing Nebby, but Necrozma ain’t your best friend’s abusive mom), and it wound up as just another Mewtwo battle. All versions of Pokémon Sun/Moon were (unusually) amazing in the storytelling department, but it seemed there was no way to make the gameplay match the drama inherent in climatic battles.

The producers of Pokémon Sword/Shield took that as a challenge. The finale of Pokémon SS is very confusing (again, I have no idea what the [human] villain was actually trying to do, and this is me talking), but its initial setup is thrilling. The undefeated Champion of the Pokémon League, a standup dude that always wears a cape and has been supporting you from the beginning (yes, he’s Lando), attempts to soothe the savage beast with a pokéball. But it doesn’t work! The literal monster breaks free from the ball, and slices the device in twain. As it is evident a battle is coming, your friend/rival/hanger-on Hop makes it clear he is going to join you in subduing this creature. Hop has helped before (well, “helped”), and his assistance in fighting chubby guys in ill-fitting t-shirts was always… adequate. But wait! Here comes a new challenger! You and Hop are joined by not one, but two legendary Pokémon! They’re fighting as free agents, and, all together, you have four ally Pokémon in play. Your opponent is growing in size and strength (and its HP bar is growing to match), but you’re going to fell this Godzilla with the four-mon army you’ve assembled. It’s a final battle to end all final battles, and, since the basic gameplay is based on the raids you can experience throughout the game, it’s a transition that is as smooth as a jigglypuff. Pokémon gameplay finally matches the weight of its story!

Which is why trying to approach the rest of Pokémon Sword/Shield as a “real” story seems completely insane.

TastyPokémon Sword/Shield introduces the Wild Area. It is the best thing to happen to the franchise since the invention of the Hypno (he’s such a great lil’ guy). Before you win your first gym battle (hell, before you even see a gym), the Wild Area is available, and it essentially simulates the typical Pokémon post-game hours before becoming a champion. It is a wide-open area with Pokémon there for the catching, and there is no cap or gate that requires you to leave to “progress the story” at any point. You can spend literally days in the Wild Area, and the only downside would be having too many Pokémon. And that’s a pretty good problem! The Wild Area Pokémon level up, too, after all, and, should you actually continue the game, you’ll have 90% of the area unlocked at about the halfway point. After that, you just need an aquatic bike (available at about the 70% completion mark), and the Wild Area is your complete playground. The Wild Area is bigger than anything ever before seen in a Pokémon game, and, more importantly, it offers more freedom than ever before. It’s no wonder the story is generally ignored when something with the scope of an old school MMORPG is readily available.

But the Wild Area has a bit of a problem: there’s different weather every thirty feet. You can bicycle across the whole of the Wild Area and encounter snow, harsh sunlight, sandstorms, and then hit a nip of rain before sailing through clear skies. This, of course, all exists for the benefit of Pokémon hunters, as different creatures come out to play in different weather. It is also an excellent way to cram thirty different critters into the same general space, but still keep things interesting and “random” for those dedicated stalkers (“Sure, you can claim you caught all the Pokémon here, but what happens if you come back to this desert in the rain?”). On the other hand, it means the Galar region is facing an unprecedented climate crisis, and blizzards butting against lightning storms down the street from sunny beaches is… concerning.

So safe hereOh, and there are Pokémon as large as skyscrapers randomly popping out of holes in the ground. While the impact this has on the weather is unknown, I can certainly state that it is abundantly obvious why all the towns bordering on the Wild Area appear to possess mile-high walls.

So, at the exact same time the producers of Pokémon discovered exactly how to draw their audience into perfect climatic immersion, they also reminded us all that this is a fantasy world where recurring Mothras flap up localized blizzards. It’s uncertain where the franchise will go from here, whether it will pursue the focused story of Sun/Moon, or more prominently feature the freedom and looseness of Sword/Shield, but one thing is certain: Pokémon will always be a game about a world where electric dinosaurs battle poisonous frogs the size of cars in a world where human beings can apparently survive and maintain a society.

I’ll… just try not to think about it too hard.

FGC #469 Pokémon Sword & Shield

  • System: Nintendo Switch! The first “real” Pokémon game on a console! This is a milestone for people that care about the difference between consoles and portables! All six of us are very excited about the implications!
  • Oh!Number of players: One solo championship career, two players for battling and trading, and up to four friends for raids (or just include that one dick with the solrock if you don’t have enough buddies). Pokémon is a land of players.
  • Where’s Every Pokémon: It appears the big controversy over this game is that it does not include every single Pokémon, or the ability to import every single Pokémon. I couldn’t care less. Frankly, I welcome a day when I don’t have to gather 7,000 otherwise useless items to be sure some obscure ghost type evolves. And the way it impacts the battles! Pokémon Go is currently trying to balance the fact that the same fighting type Pokémon have been #1 since the game’s release, and their only hope is futzing around with new moves and other nonsense. And they’re barely up to Generation 5. Try balancing almost 900 Pokémon! This is for your own good, guys!
  • This hole was made for me: There is an entire mini-game and “dex” based around making new curry recipes. This means that, finally, someone at GameFreak has been getting my letters. I’m disappointed they didn’t include my recipe, but it was still a noble effort.
  • Did you catch ‘em all? You know I did.
    WORSHIP ME

    If there are Pokémon, I catch ‘em.
  • Favorite Galar Pokémon: The Impidimp line is everything I want from a Pokémon. It starts out small and cute… but still vaguely unsettling. Then it becomes emo and nebulously pointy looking. And then it becomes Grimmsnarl, a muscular ball of hair that looks equally built for hugs and bench-presses. And it has a gigantamax form! It’s mostly hair! Leg hair, specifically! I can get behind that! Also, its signature move is some kind of hair fake out. I am all about this Fairy/Dark type.
  • He's a good boyFavorite Trainer: Oleana the Battle Secretary has an entire party of “pretty” female Pokémon (like Milotic and Tsareena), but her final (and strongest) Pokémon is Garbodor. Because she’s secretly a garbage person with a garbage-based specialty. That’s some emergent storytelling!
  • Did you know: Depending on if you count the fossilized abominations of Arctovish and Dracovish, there is only one new watery “fish” type Pokémon in Pokémon Sword/Shield: Arrokuda/Barraskewda. There are usually a lot more water-dwellers introduced each generation, but I guess this is what happens when you nix surf. I’m totally okay with this outcome.
  • Would I play again: Short answer is yes. Long answer is oh God why can’t I stop playing Pokémon games please Lord I have other things to do okay fine back to raising this Flapple. … I think I have a condition.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong! The original! Wow! We’re going to get it on like some manner of overly large simian! Please look forward to it!

There they go

MKK: Bo’ Rai Cho & Li Mei

People have a tendency to underestimate how important “special moves” are to fighting game characters. The original Mortal Kombat only had five actors to go around, but they managed to squeeze another two characters onto the roster by dressing Johnny Cage up like a ninja and painting him various colors. And “Blue Ninja” and “Yellow Ninja” could have been forgettable roster-filler, but they wound up as arguably the most recognizable dudes in the franchise. Why? Well, who doesn’t like ice magic? And Scorpion’s distinctive “Get over here!” and fiery skull head leave an impression. Two quickie photocopy characters became the faces of the franchise almost entirely because of their iconic special moves.

BARF

Bo’ Rai Cho has a number of iconic special moves. They mostly involve puking and farting. And he’s the last kharacter from the MK5/6/7 trilogy to see a revival past Mortal Kombat 9.

According to interviews, Ed Boon wanted to see some new body types in MK: DA, and demanded a “slobby” fighter to contrast with the rest of the MK kast (which, yes, all appear to be rejects from the popular film Invasion of the Ab-ulons from the Planet Swole). This makes a certain amount of sense, as Mortal Kombat literally had more reptile fighters than tubby guys. And, while we’re still working on the technology to render anything but a slim, buxom woman on modern consoles, Bo’ Rai Cho’s meaty frame premiered back on the PS2.

And if you’re going to make a character a “slob”, you can’t just let the dude be “thick”, you have to go full hog.

“Borracho” is Spanish for “drunk”. Bo’ Rai Cho predominantly practices drunken fist style martial arts. His most distinctive special move involves vomiting on the floor and causing his opponent to slip. Another of his special moves is the “bump ‘n dump”, and it’s exactly what you think it is. He has a fatality that involves a combustible fart, and it is finished with an exclamation of “That was a wet one.”

Are you not entertained?

But he’s not just one stereotype! Bo’ Rai Cho is not a drunk, but a drunken master. BRC fills the previously unoccupied position as mentor to a number of different fighters (well, at least three), and basically hangs out with Raiden on the “Dad Tier” of Mortal Kombat kharacters. That’s… something?

BARF

To get into the details of Bo’s general existence, we’re looking at an Outworlder that is (for once) not an angry mutant. Like many quasi-humans in the franchise, he’s hundreds of years old, and has been training warriors for centuries. However, he does not train fighters for Outworld, but realms that oppose his home dimension. Why? Well, Bo’ Rai Cho opposes Shao Kahn’s rule, but, were he to compete in an MK tournament himself, he would technically be winning for Shao Kahn. This is because, a while back, his buddy was running for city council, so he registered to vote in his local Outworld municipality, but now he can’t figure out how to change his residential status. It’s a pain in the ass.

But Bo’ Rai Cho did train Liu Kang. It was Bo’ that taught the hero of Mortal Kombat his iconic bicycle kick, and it was that very bicycle kick that saved the Earth on four separate occasions. However, a bicycle kick can’t solve all your problems, and Shang Tsung murdered Liu Kang at the start of Deadly Alliance. Because the events of Deadly Alliance weren’t technically a sanctioned (by the Elder Gods) Mortal Kombat tournament, Bo’ Rai Cho decided to get off his butt and do a little fighting/vomiting of his own to avenge his fallen student. He also trained Kung Lao to defeat Shang Tsung during this time. That worked out really well, because Kung Lao went on to fight Shang Tsung, and only died once. That’s pretty good for Kung Lao!

Bo’ Rai Cho did rescue Li Mei during Deadly Alliance, though, and we’ll cover that little bit of failure during her section. After earning another loser student, Bo’ Rai Cho worked to amass the good (relatively speaking) forces of Outworld against The Dragon King and Baraka’s knife-boy hordes. He was successful in stopping the Tarkatans, at least, but mostly thanks to the reappearance of Liu Kang’s ghost. So, once again, Bo’ Rai Cho’s greatest victory was hanging out with Liu Kang. It apparently doesn’t matter if he was alive or not.

Bo’ Rai Cho… uh.. participated in MK: Armageddon. He helped out the good guys. He died. Then the universe died. I’m probably going to type that a lot in the coming biographies.

BARF

But Bo’ Rai Cho did make a return in the rebooted universe!

Bo’ Rai Cho wound up as playable DLC in Mortal Kombat X. Technically, his “arcade mode” story/bio takes place before the events of the MKX’s story proper. Bo’ is concerned that Shinnok might revive, and is looking for Raiden. That’s a good plan! Unfortunately for Bo’, though, his presence in story mode picks up after he has found Raiden, helps for like ten seconds, and is then mortally wounded by Shinnok. Bo’s current status is unknown, but it’s generally assumed he’s death-farting on the pile of corpses that is labeled “Raiden’s allies”.

And, yes, of all the fighters introduced in Mortal Kombat 5,6, and 7, only Kenshi, Frost, and Bo’ Rai Cho ever make another playable appearance. Though we do get one extra Deadly Alliance story cameo in Mortal Kombat X. Let’s look at Li Mei.

Look away!
(Face modeling was not easy on the PS2)

As far as conception goes, Li Mei is Bo’ Rai Cho’s polar opposite. It seems she was designed to present well (a conventionally attractive woman that looks fit and prepared to fight), but her story positions her as a novice in the world of martial arts (which is the only thing that matters in the Mortal Kombat universe). Unfortunately, unlike Bo’ Rai Cho, her designers forgot to hang any sort of hook on that setup, and Li Mei’s special moves (and general moves, for that matter) are wholly forgettable. She comes from the hazy “fireball and a jump kick” school that saw so much success for Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, but, as a random “support” kharacter (and not one of the towering heroes of the piece), that just isn’t going to cut it. Without a flaming skull or the ability to puke on command, Li Mei almost instantly fades into the halls of forgotten Mortal Kombat fighters.

Li Mei at least has a moderately interesting origin concept: she’s supposed to be your average Outworlder. After a series of games where it seemed like the only residents of Outworld were sword-mutants, lizards, and filthy wizards, Li Mei was introduced as simply your average Outworld villager. And, as you might expect, that’s a pretty crappy situation to be in. Li Mei and her entire village was enslaved at the start of Deadly Alliance, but, knowing exactly how prisons work, Li Mei knocked the tar out of Kano on her first day. This drew the attention of Quan Chi, who decided that Li Mei would gain her freedom if she won the loose tournament that was the Deadly Alliance epoch. She got a little training from Shujinko (we’ll get into that goober next game), and went on to do pretty well! She did so well, in fact, that Quan Chi and Shang Tsung decided to transfer her soul into a random immortal corpse for use in the Dragon King’s army. She was not happy with that outcome. And that, in the business world, is known as the Peter Principle.

Going down?

But Li Mei was rescued from her lethal promotion by Bo’ Rai Cho, because MK is not going to let a sexy lady model go to waste in a corpse Bo’ Rai Cho is a good guy. Li Mei’s soul is returned to her body, but it seems some of the dragon soldier taint came along with the transfer, so now Li Mei is less “naïve neophyte” and more “bloodthirsty revenge monster”. This didn’t change a thing about her boring special moves, but it did mean she traded in her old duds for some (sexy lady shaped) armor. And she got a sword! And her MK: Deception ending revealed that, had this version of Li Mei been allowed to flourish, she likely would have gone all-in on the whole “evil and serving the Dragon King” thing. That never happened, though, as Li Mei earned the dubious honor of being kanonically the first fighter to die at the start of MK: Armageddon. This was the event where literally everyone died, but, hey, good to have someone designated as first in line.

Li Mei does pop up in Mortal Kombat X, though. She’s not a fighter, but she does lead her village from Outworld to Earthrealm when a magically empowered Mileena threatens her people. Cool! And, in a weird dimensional echo, she once again jobs Kano, this time by ratting him out for being a weird, shifty dude with a robotic eye. This leads to the Special Forces capturing the fugitive Kano, so thanks, Li Mei, you didn’t even need a battle bikini to be useful in this rebooted universe. Cheers all around!

Still not great with faces

Of course, most people probably didn’t even recognize that Li Mei was supposed to be anybody when she made her little cameo, so she really only gets partial credit. Maybe if she had some more special moves that involved farts she’d have made the DLC cut.

Next time: Dragons of a different color.

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

For shovelry!Just the other day, my father walked into my kitchen, and, because I had carelessly left a fresh delivery on my kitchen counter, my dad asked what exactly he was looking at.

“What’s Shovel Knight from?”
“He’s Shovel Knight. From… Shovel Knight.”
“Oh. So is that a movie? Comic book? Comic book movie?”
“Nope, it’s a videogame.”
“Oh. Does he… uh… dig?”

Yes dad, Shovel Knight does dig. And he bounces and battles dragons and saves the love of his life and brings hope to all the people of his homey little hamlet. And he’s been around for six years, and he’s rocketed from nonexistence to possibly the most adaptable character in the last few years of gaming. And, yes, he’s a little golden amiibo that is sitting on my kitchen counter.

And considering that all happened thanks to fan support, focused marketing, and damn good gameplay, it’s hard to believe Shovel Knight’s giant blue helmet isn’t the face of gaming of the last decade.

Now, it’s an easy thing to imagine Shovel Knight sprang into existence in the Spring of 2013 when the official Shovel Knight Kickstarter kicked into high gear. Or, perhaps, you would like to attribute his creation to when Nick Wozniak and his team first pioneered the concept over a lunch “that got too serious”. But to truly understand the origins of Shovel Knight, you have to go back to the late 90’s or so. Back at the turn of the 21st Century, 2-D platforming rapidly went from “is videogames” to “oh God everything that is 2-D is trash, strike it from thine sight”. For reasons that are still mysterious to even our most learned historians (though there is a hypothesis that Gamepro may have been involved), this kind of thinking persisted through many years, causing many a beloved franchise to embrace 3-D or die. Mario 64 was a revelation, Mega Man X7… less so. But the belief that a game could not be 2-D seemed to Shinyhold fast for a decade, and the only place you could find such an experience would be in the Gameboy ghetto of game development. It’s telling that one of the most popular games of 1997 had to retreat to the portable space, while its 3-D rival of the year managed to dominate the console industry for years to come. The message to game producers was clear: you weren’t going to get anywhere with 2-D. And doubly so if you were dropping cutting edge graphics for a “retro” experience. That kind of nonsense best be relegated to some manner of easter egg. No one would every buy a retro platformer.

So it makes perfect sense that Shovel Knight’s initial fundraising goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed, and Yacht Club collected over four times as much funding ($311,502) in less than a month’s time. Shovel Knight’s audience was starved for Shovel Knight-esque content, and, while the yolk of 3-D oppression had been shaken in the years leading to 2013, it was still a time when the prospect of something “like old Capcom games” was going to appeal to a very dedicated subset of nerds. This meant that the whole of Shovel Knight’s “bonus” content was funded before ol’ SK officially touched his first trowel, so a game crammed with amazing content was forthcoming. 14,749 people were ready for some amazing retro action that would be shared with WiiU, 3DS and PC players shortly.

And, from a gameplay perspective, Shovel Knight did not disappoint. Shovel Knight is an excellent platformer that borrows liberally from the entire NES library, but combines all those pieces to be its own exceptional Voltron. Shovel Knight’s downward stab was apparently inspired by Link, but his greatest hopping challenges seem to evoke Ducktales more than anything. And the “arc” of the quest is much more akin to Mega Man, what with clearly defined “gimmick” bosses (Propeller Knight and Gyro Man were separated at birth) and stages that rely wonderfully on their masters’ theming. And maybe that world map is supposed to suggest Super Mario Bros. 3. Or those upgrades are supposed to remind us of Samus Aran’s evolving arsenal. And there were a few items that inched closer to modern sensibilities, like the collectables that advanced replay value (often hidden in accompanying “challenge” areas), or the death system that was a lot closer to Dark Souls than Darkwing Duck. But wherever the inspirations originated, Shovel Knight combined all of its pieces to be an extraordinary experience. Join the clubAnd it didn’t hurt to see a cast of memorable characters fighting through an unforgettable tale of loss and tragedy (and eventual triumph). Wrap this all up with a host of modern “achievements”, and Shovel Knight was one of the finest games of 2014.

But it wasn’t anywhere near done.

Shovel Knight was everything anyone could want from a retro platformer, but it wasn’t the complete game that had been funded a year earlier. All of those bonus bells and whistles would gradually dribble out over the following months and years. Things like Gender/Body Swap mode was little more than a (staggering and inclusive) skin for our heroes and villains, but Plague of Shadows was practically an entirely different game labeled as merely an “expansion”. The adventure, now featuring the morally gray Plague Knight, was a whole new way to play through familiar levels, and featured an added “town area” and a few other extras (peculiarly powered by washing machines) to boot. This was released alongside a number of quick challenges for Shovel Knight, and, coupled with some new console exclusives (and, uh, additional console releases, too) like challenges from Kratos and The Battletoads, it was clear that Shovel Knight’s additional content wasn’t going to be some hastily manufactured DLC.

And let me tell you, about a year and a half later, just in time for the release of the Switch, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment proved Shovel Knight “DLC” was going to be a lot more than a meager expansion.

Spin it!Plague of Shadows was an all-new story with an all-new character (well, all-new for control purposes), but it still saw its hero (“hero”) venture through (most of) the same levels as Shovel Knight. The new play style radically altered your options for traversal, but it was still just a game starring Luigi instead of Mario (well, Super Mario Bros. 2 Luigi, at least). Specter of Torment reused those same levels, but modified them to the point they are barely recognizable. And that’s a good thing! Specter Knight possessed his own moveset, and, rather than mere rehashes, all of his stages were modified to be challenging for that specific moveset. This made Specter of Torment a complete sequel to Shovel Knight! Well… that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it’s more akin to a romhack? Or, like the NES games Shovel Knight so adores, it’s an “old school” sequel. Almost all the same assets, but rearranged so completely as to be practically unrecognizable. A shining example of the proper way to recycle pixels.

And, oh yeah, Specter Knight is a blast to play as. He’s the Zero to Shovel Knight’s Mega Man (or… uh… Scrooge McDuck?), and really feels like he belongs in an entirely different game. Which is appropriate, as his “entirely different game” seems to only reuse the general aesthetics of its prequel/sequel. The world of Specter Knight goes to some very unexpected places (like the origins of Shovel Knight’s best gal pal), and eschews some gameplay conventions (like the world map) while picking up all new challenges (like an endless tower of pain)(and grinding! Like Sonic!). It’s still unmistakably Shovel Knight, but it’s a whole new experience through and through.

SPIN FOR YOUR LIFEAnd then, in 2019, they did the same thing again with King Knight and Shovel Knight: King of Cards. Give or take one extremely subjective card game (I hate all card games [even that one], but my understanding is that some weirdos can enjoy such a thing), King Knight’s adventure is another slam dunk. The general tone (and lighting) seems closer to its OG Shovel Knight origins, but Kingy’s quest to be king of at least something features dramatically shorter levels and more bite-sized challenges than any of the other campaigns. And that’s a refreshing change of pace that additionally gives some of the gimmicks of the previous tetralogy some room to breathe. Green goo and a bouncy-butted beetle finally get a showcase in their own, complete level! Considering the number one complaint anyone ever leveled against Shovel Knight was that its stages were too long (which, seriously, you gonna complain about there being too much game to play? Philistines), King Knight’s King of Cards is a sequel to Shovel Knight that listened to its greatest detractors. Yacht Club learned something!

And then, to top it all off, Shovel Knight dropped its own version of Smash Bros. You can control every knight! And make ‘em fight! And most of the significant NPCs are PCs now, too. So, finally, you can see who would hold ultimate victory in a battle between Mona, Baz, Mole Knight, and those purple goo monsters from the final tower. And, for being an 8-bit redux inspired by a game that originally appeared on 64-bit hardware, it’s pretty damn impressive. It can get a little confusing when you’re trying to find your sprite against similar colored backgrounds (or against similar-colored enemies), but the designs of the Shovel Knight cast compensate for a lot, so you can usually tell the difference between a Shovel Knight and a Black Knight. And if you can’t? Well, just go ahead and have fun with it. This is an 8-bit platformer fighting game, after all. It’s supposed to be about as chaotic as a bucket full of enemy crabs.

Get up thereSo that’s 3.5 games, right? We’ve got Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows as two pretty similar experiences, but Specter of Torment, King of Cards, and Shovel Knight Showdown are all as different as Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Showdown is practically an entirely different genre. I’m going to call that a total of 3.5 games that all fall under the Shovel Knight umbrella.

And it all came from one Kickstarter.

And if you bought the initial Shovel Knight at launch, the whole package cost a measly twenty bucks. You’re actually rewarded for being an early adopter.

Shovel Knight is a game that seemed to last a decade with its various expansions, but, more than that, it is a shining example of what was possible for a few brief years in the 2010s. Kickstarter was an extremely popular platform earlier in the decade, and, while it produced many excellent games and projects, it is primarily recounted now by any number of fans who wound up burned by creators who had the collective managerial skills of a hamster (and not that hamster with the hardhat). Kickstarter and alike is now seen more as a generally reliable healthcare plan than a platform that might create the next game you’ll play for five years. But in the last decade, it was responsible for Shovel Knight. And the triumph of Shovel Knight paved the way for oodles of retro platformer titles. Was every retro game good? No, of course not. But they never would have seen the light of day without Shovel Knight blazing a trail. And, while this trend is likely coming to its close, the current digital marketplace does speak to Shovel Knight’s success.

And, as appropriate for a knight that came from the crowds, he has now returned to the crowds as the most cameoed newcomer of the decade:

Smash it Good!
Slash it Good!
Bonk it good

Not bad for a dude that didn’t exist when the decade started.

Shovel Knight is the 2010s distilled down to its purest, more hopeful form. It is an experience that could only come from one time in gaming’s history. And it’s a damn fine game to boot.

2010: The decade of Shovelry.

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

  • System: Whaddya got? Nintendo 3DS, WiiU, and PC to start, but eventually shovelry spread to the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and the Amazon Fire TV (for some reason).
  • Look away!Number of Players: 2-Players was eventually patched in (with or without amiibo), and Shovel Knight Showdown is 4 players simultaneous. But most people think about the single player campaign, because Shovel Knight appeals to lonely, insomniac nerds.
  • Just play the gig, man: Did I mention the music was amazing? Because it is. Jake Kaufman seems to be responsible for the majority of amazing American soundtracks for the decade, and the addition of one of Mega Man’s composers is just the perfect addition. The fact that every song gets a little in-game director’s commentary is pretty boss, too.
  • Favorite System: Shovel Knight appeared across multiple platforms, but the 3DS version still might be the best. It has 3-D and the ability to quickly switch between items (or whatever they’re called in the version du jour). Battletoads are no substitute for being able to avoid a pause menu.
  • Lucasian Problems: Kudos to Shovel Knight’s team for not returning to Shovel of Hope with every update to “backdate” changes from later expansions. It would be the easiest thing in the world to sneak in “remake” NPCs that allude to what happens in other knights’ adventures (or, hell, advertise those experiences), but Shovel of Hope remains unmolested and devoid of unnecessary changes. Thank you for the restraint.
  • Favorite Character: Percy the Horse Scholar. I will not be accepting questions at this time.
  • Go Toads!Amiibo Corner: Naturally, I preordered the Order of No Quarter amiibos when they were first announced. That was in the fall of 2017. They were released in December of 2019. That might be the longest preorder for a videogame-related item I’ve ever maintained. Good thing I still care about collecting every damn amiibo in existence!
  • Say something mean: Propeller Knight’s stage is the worst in every version/adventure. This isn’t because of the frequent bottomless pits (though, admittedly, that do not help); it’s the auto scrolling areas, and spots that may as well be auto scrolling because you need to wait for a cannonball or wind gust. I hate waiting! I want to run! Don’t hold me down, Propeller Knight!
  • Did you know? Shovel Knight is almost a NES game… though it does include three additional audio channels and four extra colors not available to original Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. There are some other “tweaks” here and there, too, but what’s important is that the screen shakes during explosions unmistakably like in an old school game.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. This is the cream of the crop for 2-D platformers, and I love me some 2-D platformers. Long may his shovel reign!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Sword for the Nintendo Switch! … Yeah… that was a totally random choice, and not the result of me putting a hundred hours into the thing over the last few months… Yeeeep! Gonna be a totally randomly chosen modern game next week! Please look forward to it!

Shake it

MKK: Frost

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance introduced all new, all unique fighting styles to its kast of kharacters. However, something was lost along the way. Familiar fighters like Johnny Cage and Liu Kang had acquired long lists of special moves over their tenures in the MK franchise. And that makes perfect sense! The only way to truly distinguish a kombatant in MK previously was special moves, and the more special moves, the better. Unfortunately, the new system put a premium on distinctive fighting styles, and was absolutely not built for designing new kharacters with two unique fighting styles, one unique weapon style, and seven or so unique special moves. So the newbies only got a special move or two, and the old guard got their signature specials moves gutted down to nothing.

Chilly today

This had an interesting impact on some of the fighters’ longevity. Sonya Blade or Johnny Cage, for instance, were never really defined by their special moves, so it wasn’t really a big loss that Sonya wasn’t tossing around pink energy rings anymore. Some, like Scorpion, gained a move that seemed like it should have always been there (the ability to summon hell fire), but retained the signature move (throwing spear) that everyone expected, and no one really noticed a missing teleport. However, unfortunately, some were defined by their special moves more than anything else. Sub-Zero gained Shotokan and Dragon fighting styles, and a sword entirely made of ice, but nothing there really screamed “this is how you would fight if you had access to ice magic” (can’t he just keep his enormous sword in his pants like everybody else?). His special moves were reduced from his ice blast, ice avalance, ice slick, ice clone, and sliding kick of Mortal Kombat Trilogy to simply an ice blast, a “cold shoulder” substitute for the slide, and the “Ice shaker”, which was like his ice clone, but less adaptive. And that’s it! We’ve got an ice wizard, but he’s just going to toss around mundane punches like everybody else. Can’t we do better? If everyone has to cut down on special moves, can’t we have, like, another ice wizard?

Here’s Ice Wizard #2 (or at least “#2 with a different name”). Meet Frost, the Deadly Alliance proprietor of Sub-Zero’s ice slick and sliding kick.

Hot tamale

As you may recall, Sub-Zero was promoted to leader of the Lin Kuei assassin’s guild after the Grand Master was killed by his robot son. Sub-Zero gained a magical medallion, augmented ice powers, and a club full of murderers that should more or less follow his orders. Sub-Zero decided that his promotion was an excellent time for performance reviews, so he sponsored a wee fighting tournament to gauge everyone’s skills (fighting tournaments are all Sub-Zero knows). Frost emerged victorious, and won the coveted position as Sub-Zero’s direct disciple. Of course, there was a lot of concerned muttering among the Lin Kuei rabble, because, come on, there are like two ice wizards in this clan, and now they’re both hanging out together? Nepotism much?

So Frost became the first “generations” kharacter in the Mortal Kombat mythos: the direct underling and obvious “child” of a more famous MK fighter. This would become practically the entire basis for Mortal Kombat X, but a solid five games earlier, here’s Frost, all hoping senpai notices her. Actually, strike that, Frost distinctly doesn’t want Sub-Zero to notice her, as it turned out her grand plan for Deadly Alliance was to pal around with Sub-Zero, be a general cuss to everyone, and then find the exact right moment to betray Subs and steal his shiny new medallion. And she actually succeeds in her heist! Frost deceives Sub-Zero and steals his jewelry, but it doesn’t work out quite how she expected. The Dragon Medallion imparts too much ice power to Frost, and she’s trapped in an ice cocoon summoned by her own overflowing power. So Frost is a popsicle by the end of her debut game.

Hot tamale

Now, in the real world, freezing to death is a legitimate way to die. Sub-Zero, despite all evidence to the contrary, believed he lived in the real world, and stuck the frozen Frost in an Outworld freezer/crypt, and nabbed some chill armor before hitting the ol’ dusty road. Unfortunately for Sub-Zero’s clan, Frost was merely temporarily frozen, and she thawed out in time for the PSP port of Mortal Kombat Deception (MK: Unchained). She took being buried alive poorly, and decided she was going to kill the heck out of Sub-Zero. She returned home, found she had beaten her former boss back to the business, and switched to just wholesale murdering everyone in the clan. Or she was insane, and only saw everyone as Sub-Zero. Given literally everything this woman does post-Deadly Alliance is wholly homicidal, it’s possible she was just murdering everyone, but didn’t feel like learning anyone’s name. Or maybe the Lin Kuei really need to get more distinctive uniforms. Whatever the case, Frost went on a rampage, and when daddy finally did get home, she was re-frozen in her own little time out chamber. Taven, the extremely confused protagonist of MK: Armageddon, reawaked Frost when he was just swinging by Lin Kuei HQ for some party supplies (they always seem to have an excess of ice cubes), and Frost once again went on a murder spree that probably ended right about when she and her entire universe was obliterated. She went out doing what she loved.

As the unofficial daughter of Sub-Zero (and official third cousin once removed), you may have expected Frost to pop up again in the new timeline of Mortal Kombat X. After all, random washouts like Kenshi and Kung Lao got to have “second generation” kharacters taking up their respective torches, and reboot Sub-Zero once again became the leader of the Lin Kuei, so this would be a fine time for Frost to return to service. And she did appear in Mortal Kombat X! As a ten second cameo that confirmed that, yes, Frost is still around, and she’s still crazier than a partially frozen rat. Frost pops in for five seconds to declare that she is not happy with Sub-Zero’s decision to become super best friends with Scorpion (which, considering the whole “keeps trying to murder you” thing, seems like a valid concern, even if it is coming from someone actively trying to murder you), but is swatted aside by the combined might of Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Sub-Zero just goes ahead and leaves Frost a frozen statue thawing out on the balcony while the adults continue their conversation uninterrupted. The general feeling there is that Sub-Zero is trying with Frost, but, dude, ice magic doesn’t make you a decent dad.

Hot tamale

But Frost gets to return as a real kharacter and (marginal) threat in Mortal Kombat 11. Long story short (we’ll get there), Kronika, Elder God of (All) Time, is recruiting a collection of psychopaths (and Jax) to beat up the good guys (or what passes for such in MK) while she busies herself with resetting the whole of the universe. One of her earliest recruits is Frost, as Kronika only seems capable of recruiting people overwhelmingly known for their treachery (and Jax). However, the timeline on “this” Frost is a little murky. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Frost is now a robot. Or, more specifically, a cyborg. She seems to have more fleshy bits than the usual MK cyborgs (and I’m sure that has nothing to do with a female cyborg cutting a more feminine silhouette than her male contemporaries), but she also can and will routinely launch her severed head at opponents. It’s pretty clear the mechanical side of her biology is doing the heavy lifting. Regardless, we don’t know the specifics of when she became a robot. It is entirely possible that she was “cyberized” thanks to (time-displaced) Sektor. It is also possible Kronika personally gave her some manner of upgrade, as she was able to produce new super arms for Jax at a moment’s notice (or, again, Sektor was responsible for those). And, of course, there’s the more interesting explanation that this Frost is from some manner of nebulous “future”, and is technically the Terminator of the franchise (ya know, before the actual Terminator showed up) called back in time to wreck the measly humans of the present. Whatever the reason, Frost is now an entirely unique fighter with her crazy ice-robot moves… or at least she’s totally different from that time Sub-Zero became a robot. She’s not a copy, dammit! She’s her own person! Who accomplishes nothing!

Anywho, aside from killing Fujin (off-screen), Robo Frost doesn’t exactly have an illustrious career before that iteration of the universe implodes, so she’s pretty consistently “just kinda there” throughout the series. Photocopied origins, fascinating direction for a protégé archetype, but, in the end, there isn’t much to Sub-Zero’s tsundere pupil. At least Sub-Zero’s slide found a passable home.

Don't lose your head

Next time: Try not to puke.