Author Archives: gogglebob

FGC #456 Asura’s Wrath

WRATH!Today’s game is Asura’s Wrath. “Asura” is, in this adventure, not a collection of demigods (though demigods are certainly involved), but one individual dude. Fair enough. Capcom is allowed to do whatever they want with religious beliefs, because being responsible for Street Fighter offers you a certain level of latitude. And there are enough guys named “Angel” in fiction anyway, right? I can name like three vampires off the top of my head. But I can only name one other Asura, and it’s this queen:

I know this deity

The last time I saw an “Asura”, she was a lady. And that got me thinking: why the hell aren’t women allowed to go crazy?

Asura’s Wrath is, for all the mythical trappings and anime-tastic explosions, little more than a “dad game”. Asura is a (super powered, maybe a robot?) general, but after a long day of battling creepy shadow monsters, he always comes home to his wife and daughter. They bring him joy, though Asura has concerns about his daughter’s divine power and eventual future as a high priestess. These concerns turn out to be well-founded when Asura’s fellow generals revolt, frame Asura for murder, kill his wife (in another, separate homicide), and kidnap his daughter. This pisses Asura right off, and leads to a quest that lasts 12,500 years (or roughly eight active hours), and sees Asura destroying entire armies and endangering the world to sate his rage. But don’t worry! It’s all justified, because Asura is a man, and his precious daughter has been kidnapped, so any damage he does to himself and others is wholly warranted. He’s a father, people! You get it!

And, frankly, we see this kind of thing all the time. It was taken to puppy-dad extremes in John Wick, but the videogame universe features a number of angry dads. From Kratos (reminder: he was a dad before the first game even started) to Mayor Mike Haggar, there are many fathers in gaming that absolutely flip the table over with righteous fury the moment their child is endangered and/or murdered. And, as ever, that’s allowed, right? Even if we’re not all parents, we all understand losing someone or something you care about. That’s universal! And, since we’ve decided to make videogame graphics startlingly realistic, it only makes sense that more and more games would find “legitimate” reasons to justify visiting violence S-WORDS!upon worlds worth of people. They can’t all be zombie games. Every once in a while, you have to honorably put down an entire city’s population for a level, and what better reason than “they took my precious daughter”. I’m pretty sure Booker threatened entire realities with that excuse.

But if this trope is so justified by parenthood, why is it always dads? Why can’t moms flip their shit, too?

Obviously (and sadly), the first explanation is that videogames are assumed to be for almost exclusively men, and thus fathers are more featured than mothers. Even when rampages don’t happen, there are any number of dad games out there where daddy dearest must protect dear daughter from dangers. And, if we’re already assuming boys play videogames more than girls, then we’re also including the added benefit of your daughter character could be a sex object to your heteronormative younger set of gamers. Teenagers are certainly okay with having sex with sexy teenagers, but, flip the genders, and the boys are left to have sex with… their mom? No! Nobody wants that! (Sit down, Freud.) Sex sells, appealing to straight men sells, and appealing to even an imaginary paternal instinct sells. Think about how many reviews will identify your dad game as mature if you’re rescuing a daughter instead of a princess! This is a real world problem!

WRATH!But, if we’re just pandering to clichés, why can’t we indulge in other clichés? For better or worse (almost entirely worse), there are any number of cants regarding “crazy” women. The “crazy ex-girlfriend” or “crazy bitch” tropes are so pervasive they’ve inspired entire songs and television series (that include songs); but consider the trope of the “unstoppable” mother. “My baby is in danger, and I will do anything to protect them!” is the rallying cry of many stories about mothers lifting cars or pushing buses out of the way. And you know who else does that? The Incredible Hulk. But even when you look to the comics, you’ll find that The Hulk is The Friggen’ Hulk, while his female counterpart, She-Hulk, is a character defined by the fact that she doesn’t experience Hulk’s heightened emotions every time she steps on a Lego. We have multiple insulting clichés regarding women going crazy, but only a handful of stories where “crazy women” use that power to do something heroic. We can hear about Karen wrecking a Starbucks over a mislabeled latte, but we can’t find a videogame where that same rage is focused on non-barista based monsters?

But we all know where we do see women in videogames. Asura’s Wrath, could you show us your woman?

This broad

Olga is the only woman in Asura’s Wrath. Excuse me, that’s a bit of an error. There are other women in Asura’s Wrath. There’s Asura’s wife, who is killed so Asura (and his brother-in-law) can experience man pain. There’s Asura’s daughter, who we’re told is super-powerful, but is only ever an object that Asura must rescue. And there’s Unnamed Villager Girl (who marginally has a name if you pay attention to developer interviews and gibberish cutscenes), who exists to remind Asura of his daughter, and then die, thus causing further man pain. Which neatly brings us back to Olga, what with Olga killing Unnamed Villager Girl an’ all…

So Olga is the only woman in the cast that is not simply there to make Asura feel bad. She is also the only lady on team bad guy. Not coincidentally, she is also supposed to embody the deadly sin of lust. Does she effectively display this during the story? No. At best, she is shown to be wholly dedicated to the (male) leader of the baddies, so maybe she’s at least sleeping with him between scenes? Obviously, “lust” is the kind of thing that is hard to work into a story. It’s not like you could just have some character hanging out in a hot spring with concubines while talking about his sexual conquests…

Seriously, guy?

Or maybe you can do exactly that.

So Olga is the supposed personification of lust, but she’s shown up by a dirty old man that embodies greed. Whatever. She can at least prove herself in combat, though, right? No, that isn’t right, as she’s apparently the one “boss” that Asura never fights. In fact, if she didn’t appear in the “secret ending” coda, you’d be forgiven for assuming the writers literally forgot she existed about 80% through the game. And her final fate after that cameo of a reappearance? She’s the only one of the Seven Deities to not be killed by Asura. She’s there to be a sacrifice on the altar of “boy, this final boss is gonna be really tough”.

But don’t worry! She is eventually reincarnated… as a secretary. One of the other generals is reincarnated as a movie star. I wonder if he ever has to make someone coffee…

WRATH!A number of videogames have problems with women. A number of videogames feature berserker male characters. Asura’s Wrath is both. Can these problems be fixed? Of course. Was there ever even an attempt to sponge some of the testosterone off Asura’s Wrath? Of course not. The women of the title are forgettable (and Asura’s own daughter could be replaced with a particularly sympathetic set of AA batteries), and not a single one gets to join in the fun. Asura shares the spotlight with another hero for a few chapters, but, guess what? He’s a dude, too. The message of Asura’s Wrath (and many other games) is clear: women aren’t allowed to be raging warriors. They can be moms. They can be daughters. They can be administrative assistants. But they can’t be The Hulk. That isn’t allowed.

That should make a lot of women mad as hell.

And I’d like to play their videogames.

FGC #456 Asura’s Wrath

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The general sentiment surrounding Asura’s Wrath was that it was kind of a sales bomb, so I wouldn’t expect a remaster anytime soon.
  • Number of players: Two heroes eventually pop out of this story, but only one player at a time.
  • STUFF GONNA EXPLODE100% Completion: For the sake of pedantry, I want to note that there are plenty of great action women in videogames. Heroines like Bayonetta, Samus Aran, and even Juliet of Lollipop Chainsaw are all great, murderous female protagonists… just they’re not really all that mad. They’re more cool or professional (or occasionally bubbly) than anything. The only berserker lady that immediately seems to fit Asura’s mold is Zero of Drakengard 3, and even that is tempered by Yoko Tarro’s traditional commentary on violence and loss. But thank you to everyone on Twitter who offered suggestions! I’ll get to Darksiders 3 and Ronin soon enough!
  • How badly does this game want to be an anime? Very. Very badly. Practically everything in Asura’s Wrath is organized like a 22 minute anime episode, complete with middle of the episode “bumpers” and a cryptic “episode preview” between chapters. It also commits the sin of repeating exactly what happened before and after the commercial break, even though there are no real commercials breaks. That’s just wasting my time, guys!
  • Favorite Eight Guardian Generals general: I don’t really like, like, any of the characters in this game… though that may be the point. I’ll take Wyzen, though, as he’s the great big guy that is destined to die/fail early in the story, but at least he has the good sense to turn into a planet-sized deity and attempt to crush the hero with a meteoric finger. He still bombs, but it seemed like a plan that could have come together nicely.
  • Favorite incidental weapon: Nunchuks connected together by lightning seems like the kind of thing that should be included in more games. Has that ever been seen in Soulcalibur? Or with the Ninja Turtles? Slam dunk, right there for the taking.
  • ANIME!Horse Armor: Technically, you could claim the “true ending” of Asura’s Wrath is only available through paid-DLC. However, the reality of it is that the DLC is much more akin to a (much smaller) sequel than a “pay-to-play” ending for the real game. Also, given the nature of the game, Youtube is right over there, so there’s really no reason to be upset about Capcom being a bunch of money-grubbing hogs (this time).
  • Mind Blowing: Oh, there’s a spider motif recurring through this game because Asura often has six arms, thus giving him an arachnid-esque 8 limbs. Just got that.
  • Did you know? You can’t actually pause the game during those fake commercial break moments. Now I’m going to rampage!
  • Would I play again: Oh yeah, I barely talked about the gameplay itself. It’s basically paced like a playable movie, with very little “filler”, and absolutely no exploration. Which basically means that, after the visceral feeling of playing the game once “for real”, it’s time to move on. Maybe I’ll rewatch it in the gallery player while I’m playing another, more active game.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Blazing Dragons starring Cheech Marin! Hey, it’s entry #420 somewhere (no it’s not). Please look forward to it!

DEM GODS

FGC #455 Weaponlord

Here come some weapons!This FGC series has been all about games that aped Mortal Kombat in an effort to reclaim the hearts and wallets of the youth of America. Some games copied the superficial, some copied the attitude, and some did their best to emulate the gameplay involved. All took different routes, but all managed to copy something about the original Mortal Kombat formula. These are all games that, if not for Mortal Kombat, would be very different animals.

And that isn’t always a bad thing.

Weaponlord is, indisputably, a game influenced by Mortal Kombat. Right from the start, we’ve got an edgy font describing a tournament led by a hulking barbarian warrior that is out for blood and/or conquering the known world. Press start, and you’ll be treated to a bloody battle between warriors that may end in a fatality. Do you enjoy tearing body parts off people? This is better than Time Killers (though, granted, the same can be said of poking yourself with a sharp stick). And, complete with a hasty Genesis port, it seems like Weaponlord exists solely to ride Mortal Kombat’s coattails straight to the Successful Fighting Games’ Ball (monocles are mandatory).

But Weaponlord did not start with Mortal Kombat. Weaponlord started with Street Fighter 2.

Weaponlord’s lead designers, James Goddard and Dave Winstead, were originally from Capcom. Remember Dee Jay? The Jamaican street fighter that was the only Made in America character on the roster? Well, you can attribute that Maximum dancer to Goddard. And given this was the start of the fighting game scene, Goddard and Winstead knew a thing or two about fighting games, and wanted to bring the genre into the next century. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, their goal was to leave the arcade behind, and bring the competitive scene into everyone’s living room. These pioneers wanted to see battles online.

Too bad they were about a decade too early.

Korr Blimey!Goddard and Winstead did not have enough support at Capcom to realize their vision, but Namco was ready to fund such an endeavor. Unfortunately, the only reliable online console play infrastructure at the time was XBAND, which was, naturally, based on dial-up technology. This offered a challenge to the creators of Weaponlord: how could you design a high-octane fighting game that relied on the same connection that could barely download a JPG? (I experience a certain level of pride when I consider how I am now responsible for a website where just one GIF would likely crash my original AOL-based computer.) Goddard and Winstead had to do their best to create a game optimized for 24K (seriously, not even 56K). How did they manage to pull that off? Simple! They added weapons (hey, that’s in the title!).

A number of fighting games treat weapons like bonus limbs. Even in worthwhile, non-Time Killers based games, items like metal claws or someone’s stimulating new bat are still treated exactly like another fist. And, in a way, this makes perfect sense. Street fighters routinely hold an elbow up to defend against literal great balls of fire, a thrown knife or katana is clownshoes by comparison. But, in anything resembling reality, punch properties are very different from sword stuffs. Some games revel in this difference, but the typical crouch and block was still standard for weapon-y fighting games of the 90’s. But Weaponlord decided to do something a little different. A parry system was created, so fighters were encouraged to cross swords and defend offensively (kind of like in the later Street Fighter 3). This not only created a system wherein swords actually seemed to do sword things (like in the movies!), but also allowed for some micro breaks in the action where a lagging modem could catch up. The player watches radical sparks fly over clashing warriors, and the RAM just has to produce a simple parry, not an ineffective seventeen hit string on a dude sitting there blocking. Everybody wins!

Belly buttonThat takes care of one memory issue, but if you wanted a videogame in 1995 to look good, you had to limit the number of characters, too. Weaponlord features big, chunky heroes and villains, and the graphics are pretty dang swanky for the same system that could barely render a raft without slowdown back in the day. Unfortunately, that meant a roster of merely seven fighters. And this isn’t even a Mortal Kombat situation, wherein there are seven fighters, but two or three more additional, unplayable bosses. Seven is all you get! But, as a compromise, Weaponlord’s fighters all have at least nine (or so) special moves, a number practically unheard of even today. And that’s special! There is a lot to learn about each individual fighter, and, if you’re the type that really likes to specialize in a “main”, then have at it. It will take you forever to master just one lord o’ weapons.

So, while Weaponlord may initially appear to be simply another Mortal Kombat clone (and one that, given the artistic style, was also trying to ape Todd McFarlane so bad), it was very much its own beast, practically from the ground up. It was created by people who knew what they were doing, knew exactly the market they were aiming for, and knew precisely how to adapt to the environment they desired. A weapons-based fighting game with online functionality was going to be the future of gaming, and Weaponlord was poised to not simply be a Mortal Kombat clone, but the next, real Mortal Kombat that changes the face of fighting games.

And then it crashed and burned, because who the hell had an XBAND!? What the $^*% is Catapult Entertainment?

Weaponlord seemed to do everything right for specifically what it wanted to do, but where it wanted to be simply didn’t exist yet. The arcade scene would still be healthy for another few years, and online play wasn’t established enough to push Weaponlord past the glut of unremarkable fighting games of the era. It may have earned the cover for Gamepro one month, but Weaponlord was not on the top of everyone’s Christmas list. Without an arcade presence, Weaponlord languished as yet another console fighter practically indistinguishable from Fighter’s History. The seemingly inevitable sequel teased in a number of Weaponlord’s endings was never to be…

Except…

Namco, publisher of Weaponlord, did happen to release a weapons-based fighter again shortly thereafter…

THE SOUL STILL BURNS

And Soulcalibur is a franchise that isn’t shy about acknowledging its origins…

This specific soul still burns
Mostly burning

But what of the creators of Weaponlord? Well, James Goddard stuck around the industry, and he wound up working on another game that many called a Mortal Kombat wannabe…

This has nothing to do with souls

And considering Killer Instinct is easily the game on Xbox One I have played the most, I’m going to say that title worked out.

What does this all mean? Well, basically, without this back in the 90’s…

WHAMMO

We wouldn’t have this…

Now we're back to burning

Today and on my Playstation 4.

Not all “copies” are bad. Sometimes the popularity of another game is what allows a new game to exist in the first place. And sometimes the innovations of that game lead to all new experiences that endure for years to come (and then let us fight a robot lady). Mortal Kombat may have konquered the world with its innovation, gameplay, cast, blood, and humor; but it birthed a lineage that went to some exciting places. Some of its progeny may have been forgotten to the ages, but they all fit in the rich tapestry that is…

Oh screw it, I’m done with this MK retrospective series now. Need to grab a controller and get back to delivering some sweet uppercuts.

FGC #455 Weaponlord

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The Genesis version is apparently a port of the originally intended Super Nintendo version, so your best bet is likely the ‘intenda.
  • Number of players: May our next game be a single player title.
  • OuchFavorite Fighter: Remind me to make a game starring warring barbarians, as the outfits required seem to all be variations on “throw some fur over those naughty bits”. That said, Jen-Tai is basically Red Sonja, and her default standing stance shouts, “You hit me with your sword, and then I break your face.” That is exactly what I want from a game titled Weaponlord.
  • Story Time: I want to say this is one of the earliest fighting games to have a dedicated “story mode”, and not simply “be happy your character has a unique ending”. It’s not that different from your typical (and offered) arcade mode, but it does change slightly depending on who you choose to kill along the way. Killer Instinct 2 arcade would ape this kind of storytelling in its arcade version a year later, so that’s another point for Weaponlord being ahead of its time.
  • What’s the Password? This is also the rare fighting game that saves your progress in story mode with passwords. That… feature didn’t catch on.
  • Did you know? I joke, but the XBAND was fairly successful for its time. The company also hosted a promotional tournament featuring various games on its service, which led to Peter Kappes of Orlando winning a grand prize of $200, a custom player icon, and the honor of being the first person in history to win a national tournament over a videogame console.
  • Would I play again: I would be very happy with a Weaponlord 2, but this Weaponlord is a little too roster limited for my tastes. I’m a random select kind of guy! And speaking of random…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to randomness, and has selected… Asura’s Wrath for the Playstation 3! Asura is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

We're done

FGC #454 C2: Judgment Clay

JUDGMENTSometimes we underestimate just how much Mortal Kombat changed the landscape of gaming. And sometimes we deliberately forget how Mortal Kombat changed that landscape in the dumbest ways.

Clayfighter (1) was a pretty straightforward Street Fighter 2 clone. Actually, that may be a bit reductive. Clayfighter was, in many ways, its own thing, but also definitively a double of Street Fighter 2’s core gameplay. You’ve got a cast of colorful fighters using six buttons to clobber each other into submission. Special moves are predominantly only quarter circle motions or “charge” attacks, and the majority of special attacks are either fireballs, rising attacks, or something that shoots your character across the screen at top speed. Fights are on a 2-D plane, and a jump kick is always going to work out pretty well. And, at the end of the whole tournament of whacky weirdoes, there’s the final champion, N. Boss. That… is a pretty obvious parody right there.

But Clayfighter isn’t entirely a parody. It would have been really easy to create a pastiche of the main Street Fighter cast, or even simply stick ersatz clay Ryu or Chun-Li among the fighters. However, give or take Tiny’s “strongman” similarity to Zangief, the cast of Clayfighter was completely independent of fighting game tropes of the time. “A ghost” isn’t that original, but a super snowman battling sentient taffy or operatic “fat lady” is something to see. And they all possessed appropriate special moves, so, even if projectiles and uppercuts aren’t all that exciting, at least the murder clown is tossing cream pies. Clayfighter may have been a parody, but it was a lot more Airplane! than Scary Movie 4.

And Clayfighter 2 seems like it was poised to be more of the same. Apparently, the curators of Clayfighter decided to use all new models and all new digitizing for the sequel, so it was a fine excuse to roll out a cast of new fighters mixed with a collection of revamped originals. Bad Mr. Frosty got a new hat, Blob looked slightly different (only so much you can do with a literal blob of goo), and they were joined by newcomers like a laidback banana man, somersaulting octopus, and Kangoo the Kangaroo (possibly the only fighting clay animal in gaming that was invented thanks to a spelling error). And then there was Hoppy the Battle Bunny.

Everyone remembers Hoppy the Battle Bunny.

Get that wabbitIt seems that Hoppy was created as another funny parody character. In much the same way that Clayfighter 1 featured Blue Suede Goo, an obvious imitation of Elvis, Clayfighter introduced a character that was less likely to be immediately identified as a caricature of a real person, but still was a pretty clear mockery. Hoppy was modeled off a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. He rode a motorcycle, rocked a sweet bandana, and flexed his muscles while speaking in an Austrian accent. Almost by default, he was the most “hardcore” of the Clayfighters. Granted, that isn’t hard when your opponents are a pacifist kangaroo and a literal big baby, but if you needed to see the “jagged” side of this silly game where a bunny battles a banana, then you need look no further than Hoppy.

And that’s exactly what the marketing department did.

Clayfighter 2 was clearly designed to be a typical “Street Fighter”-style fighting game. It was as violent as you would expect a cartoon fight to be, but it did not feature any sort of “fatalities” or other bits of over-the-top violence. This was a silly game for silly fighters, and, playing just the game today, you’d note that this title is about as tame as its predecessor. However, if you were exposed to any advertising for Clayfighter 2… excuse me… C2: Judgment Clay, you might be expecting a different game. C2’s cover and advertising features Hoppy heavily, and he is equipped with an enormous gun in front of the flaming wreckage of some wasteland of a world. He’s joined by Bad Mr. Frosty, replete with his backwards baseball cap, pulling on a metal chain. Chains are scary! I think! Though I do know for certain that no industrial chains appear in the actual game, nor does the bunny ever earn such a deadly weapon. A similar picture appears on boot of the title… but it seems a lot more likely that that was a static image added at the last minute. Does this murder-based bunny appear anywhere in the game proper? No, but that didn’t stop anyone from advertising C2 as the violent successor to that puerile original Clayfighter.

Buzz!And, if you look at the era, Clayfighter was not alone. If you go back and play Nintendo games from the 16-bit era here in the year 2019, the most “subversive” item you’re likely to encounter would be Donkey Kong bopping old man Cranky Kong off a branch. Other than that, this was the era that saw Mario as a wee baby, Link as a kid with a thumping hammer, and Kirby as… Kirby. However, on the advertising front, this was the era of “Play it Loud” and Nintendo literally shouting about how they were better than Sega, who was also literally crying their name at anyone that would listen. It was the age of attitude, and it’s hard to ignore how Mortal Kombat may have influenced that thinking. After all, the number one way anyone was hearing about videogames in the mid-90’s was through the mainstream reporting on congressional hearings. Pac-Man created a fever, but Mortal Kombat was the potential cause of an epidemic. Won’t someone think of the children? And won’t someone please find a way to profit off wealthy old white men complaining about those vidja games? PERFECTAny advertising is still advertising, and, if you can hitch your horse to that controversy cart, you’re going to get to market all the faster.

C2: Judgment Clay may not have been another blatant Mortal Kombat rip-off, but it certainly borrowed a few notes from its playbook. There was more than one fighting game back in the early 90’s, but, to the general public, there was only one worth imitating. Even if it was only in advertising, Clayfighter learned a thing or two from a yellow ninja…

But, hey, at least we got a heavily-armed rabbit out of the deal.

FGC #454 C2: Judgment Clay

  • System: Super Nintendo exclusive. There were plans to bring this over to… I want to say the 32X? One of those Genesis systems of the era, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Two is the fightiest number that you’ll ever see.
  • Favorite Character: It’s still Blob. He’s got a great name, and he can transform into a buzzsaw. I also enjoy his evil twin. Oh, that reminds me…
  • A shape of things to come: C2 committed to a concept that would eventually become a staple in other fighting games. Each fighter has a “rival” boss character, and, upon completing the game, you can unlock the rival for actual gameplay. Unfortunately, the rivals are merely color swaps of their base fighters, and there’s a meager mix of special moves between all of them. Hey! Rival color swaps! Maybe that came from Mortal Kombat, too!
  • It's hard to say...Other things to come: Now Clayfighter 63⅓, there was a game that mimicked Mortal Kombat. But it also seemed to place enough of an emphasis on combos to make it a Killer Instinct parody. So I guess it was kind of a copy of a copy. And that always works well.
  • Cutting Room Floor: Lucy the Gorilla was supposed to be another fighter, but she was dropped for unknown reasons. Given the few images of her that exist, she seemed to be some kind of Pepé Le Pew-esque lover-not-a-fighter, and maybe she was dumped simply because “ugly ‘woman’ is too amorous” was a gag that had already been drained of all comedy before we even hit 1980. No, that can’t be it…
  • Did you know? Apparently a different… uh… clay house (?) did the modeling for Clayfighter 2, but the designers didn’t like the final digitized versions. And the programmers had put together a great way to string together the animations over the course of production, so, as a proof of concept, the original scans of Tiny of Clayfighter 1 were reused for C2. And Tiny looks pretty good! So hooray for our side… or something.
  • Would I play again: This is a moderately amusing Street Fighter-esque experience… So I’ll probably just play Street Fighter.

What’s next? Have we done any games with weapons this week? Or lords? No? Okay, let’s close out our Mortal Kombat koverage with that. Please look forward to it!

FLEX!
Stupid sexy Butch.

FGC #453 Killer Instinct

KILLER INSTINCTMaybe Mortal Kombat was successful simply because it had a little support…

Nintendo has a weird history with the arcades. Donkey Kong is amazing. Donkey Kong is a game that is still, to this day, played in arcade cabinets across our nation’s seven remaining arcades. But past Donkey Kong? The likes of Clu Clu Land, Balloon Fight, or friggen Ice Climber never made a remotely similar smash. Even Donkey Kong’s sequels, DK Jr. and Stanley’s Big Adventure, received lukewarm receptions compared to many of their contemporaries. Pac-Man wound up with some warmly received sequels, but there was never a Ms. Donkey Kong to put Nintendo at the top of the arcade again.

But it could easily be argued that Nintendo didn’t ever need to rule the arcade. Sure, it would be nice to have more money and a market 100% held in Mario’s fireball-tossing hands, but Nintendo so totally dominated the console market that it seemed almost quaint that companies bothered with that other hardware. And when your Street Fighters or Mortal Kombats finally had to make their way to people’s basements and bedrooms, it was Nintendo holding the keys to the door. Nintendo would get a piece of that arcade dough one way or another, it just might need to send out an issue of Nintendo Power to remind its loyal base it was time to get hyped about that game they played at the mall a year ago. And don’t forget to promote Mario Paint if there are a few pages left!

COMBO REGULAR!But it seems like the cradle of the baby N64 Empire decided to include an arcade pacifier. Back in 1994, Nintendo struck up a deal with WMS Industries, the parent company of Midway, and started development of arcade cabinets based on Nintendo 64 architecture. Excuse me, at the time, it was known as ULTRA 64. Cruis’n USA was born of this union, and, just to prove that Nintendo was a “mature” and “serious” company, we also saw Rare create Killer Instinct, a fighting game more than a little inspired by Mortal Kombat.

Killer Instinct had it all. You want stylish fights that employ the cerebral combo system of Street Fighter? We got that! And you can even dial-a-combo if linking a special move to a sweep kick is a little too complicated. Oh! And great special moves! Totally unique for every character! Unique punches, kicks, and even combo breakers, too! But there’s blood! So much blood! These fighters are blood balloons, just like in Mortal Kombat, and you can even do fatalities. They’re called “No Mercies”, but every character has two, and a cool CGI movie plays afterwards. It’s rad! We’ve got stylish finishers with Ultimate and Ultra Combos! And funny finishers with our Humiliations! And the final boss? If you thought Goro was a menace, you’re going to love Eyedol! And you can even play as him if you know the code! Killer Instinct is jam-packed with every fighting game convention you could ever want.

In fact, it almost seems like Killer Instinct was designed by committee to be the “ultimate” fighting game. Not only did it adopt practically every beloved trope from the genre at the time, but it also seemed to lean heavily into disguising its own flaws. The sleek, “metallic” graphics of the Ultra 64 might look futuristic… but they can’t render a human being that looks human. But does that matter when you only have four humans on the roster? Do you want to play as “the ninja” or “the girl”, or do you want to try out the dinosaur, skeleton, werewolf, fire elemental, ice alien, or robot? B. Orchid looks vaguely monstrous, Hot stuffwhich is probably why you’re more likely to pick one of the roster’s literal monsters. Nobody wanted to see this engine’s M. Bison, they went straight for a hulking ogre with a club. In a way, it seems obvious how Killer Instinct was calculated to be the king of the arcade.

And, honestly, that was a break from about 90% of fighting games released in the 90’s. So many games were chasing the tails of Street Fighter and then Mortal Kombat that it seemed like a great many shot out of development studios before even the tiniest bit of polish. In fact, that was likely seen as a feature, not a bug, as if Fighter’s Generic Championship actually wound up being a hit, then they’d make it an actually good game for the Super Fighter’s Generic Championship Turbo upgrade. Much like many gaming fads, a number of games superficially copied what was popular in the genre, but did very little to capture what truly made those games great in the first place (see also later fad examples: GTA, Skyrim). Killer Instinct had all the refinement of a real fighting game release, and the arcade rats of the time responded in kind. To this day, there are those that claim Killer Instinct is one of the best fighting games ever made.

Unfortunately, the Ultra 64 was not one of the greatest systems ever made.

Killer Instinct featured an attract mode that advertised it would soon be coming to your living room through the new, amazing Ultra 64 home console, available shortly. It… was not to be. The Ultra 64 was delayed at least a year past its original mark, and Killer Instinct gradually became old news (oh, hello Mortal Kombat 3). In an effort to not lose on this investment, Nintendo decided to port Killer Instinct to the Super Nintendo for the 1995 Christmas season. It was a blisteringly compromised port, and, give or take a rad black cartridge, it was arguably a complete waste. This isn't the SNES versionOkay, maybe it wasn’t utterly terrible, but a healthy chunk of what made Killer Instinct into an arcade juggernaut was left on the cutting room floor. Maybe it was yet another secret advertisement for the Ultra 64, though, as apparently the SNES wasn’t going to be able to capture the “arcade experience” for much longer…

But if Killer Instinct was ported to the SNES, what would the Ultra 64 have to offer? Killer Instinct 2 was rushed into arcades the following year, and three new human characters were added to the roster, because someone finally figured out how to render a face that didn’t look like it had recently encountered a shovel. And it was a success! It was not nearly as revolutionary as its predecessor (and, in a world where Nintendo didn’t need to promote its latest system, it likely would have “only” been a “super turbo edition”), but it did offer new and interesting twists on the genre, like an insane combo system and branching endings. Thus, there was a new Killer Instinct all ready for the release of the newly-dubbed N64.

And then we got Killer Instinct Gold with (roughly) the launch of the N64.

And then the N64 was a distant second behind the success of the Playstation. And the Playstation’s FMV magic made JRPGs the hottest new genre. And the fighting game fad faded into nothing. And Killer Instinct was never seen again.

It’s pretty obvious what happened: Killer Instinct was supposed to prove the worth of the N64 and Nintendo’s own dominance in the fighting genre… but, despite Killer Instinct doing everything right, the winds of popularity changed directions, and KI was left out in the cold. While KI’s contemporaries went on to see sequels even during the fighting game-lean Playstation 2 years, Killer Instinct sat inert for decades, only returning in 2013 when Microsoft needed a new way to showcase dinosaurs fighting skeletons on its latest gaming hardware. This version of Killer Instinct saw support for a solid five years, and given the overall success of the project, a Killer Instinct “4” would not be the most unusual announcement.

And it just goes to show that all Killer Instinct needed was a little support from its corporate masters, whether they be Nintendo or Microsoft or whoever is next (maybe… Google?). People like Killer Instinct. It is a good franchise. And, in another world, it received the same consistent support as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. In that world, Killer Instinct 9 is just gearing up for another reboot, and we’re all anxiously anticipating what crazy bionic implant Sabrewulf is going to get next.

But, in this world, Killer Instinct was doomed by its rulers. In this world, we’re just left to wonder what other games suffered the same fate…

FGC #453 Killer Instinct

  • NO MERCYSystem: Arcade for the big boy version, and then Super Nintendo for the itty bitty version. There was also an even more widdle itty bitty version on the Gameboy, too. Oh, and I suppose we should count the Xbone promotional port of the arcade version. That’s probably your best bet.
  • Number of players: One plus punch equals two.
  • Favorite Fighter: This is a tough one! Glacius is my boy, as a teleporting uppercut is satisfying and useful. But I also might side with Riptor, the first lady of fighting dinosaurs. It’s Dinosaurs vs. Aliens here at Killer Instinct.
  • Imitation is Flattery? Cinder the fire dude is very similar to the eventual Mortal Kombat boss/hidden kharacter Blaze. Spinal the super battling skeleton may as well be Meat of Mortal Kombat 4. And don’t get me started on the similarity between later versions of Reptile and Riptor. Good thing MK never had a werewolf!
  • What’s in a name? The big, scary company that is responsible for the Killer Instinct tournament is known as Ultra Tech. While they are responsible for amazing innovations like reanimating the dead and firing up killer robots, they do seem to be unequivocally evil in the overall plot. This is kind of odd given the whole thing was supposed to promote the Ultra 64.
  • Race Relations: T.J. Combo is very subtly treated extremely terribly by the Killer Instinct narrative. He was a successful boxer, but became disgraced, and was forced to “return to the ghetto” (per in-game bio) for Killer Instinct 1. Then, he was injured during KI, but was caught in the time travel shenanigans of Killer Instinct 2 because he was at the Ultra Tech building “looting”. BOXING!The reboot makes T.J. Combo more “good” and less “greedy”, but still predominantly maintains the same “disgraced boxer” status. This is in sharp contrast to characters like Cinder, who got upgraded from “criminal” to “decorated special forces operative”. I wonder what is different about T.J. Combo from the other fighters that seems to keep him narratively down?
  • Did you know? Eyedol’s ending is a parody of Blanka’s Street Fighter 2 ending, wherein a mother discovers her long lost son has become a fighting monster. Blanka’s real name is revealed to be Jimmy, but Eyedol winds up with “Billy”. Why? Well, say “Billy Eyedol” out loud.
  • Would I play again: I should think so. As a novelty, yes, but the game is pretty good for a 90’s fighter. Now I just need to get that Eyedol code working again…

What’s next? Humiliations are funny and all, but have you ever seen someone fighting with clay? Please look forward to it!

SKELETON!