Category Archives: Fustian Gaming Challenge

FGC #483 Fantasia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or at least his uncle.

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

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

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

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

Kinect again!

Oh son of a bitch.

FGC #483 Fantasia

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

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

I'm finished!

FGC #482 Gradius V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #482 Gradius V

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

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

It's sticky
Beware the goo!

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pew pew

Looks a little familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #481 Mega Man ZX Advent

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

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

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

DWARVES!We judge videogames by many criteria. Graphics? Inevitably important. Sound & Music? That is a must. Story? That has become vital in much of today’s gaming scene (except when it’s a fighting game). Presentation? Sheer volume of glitches? And, of course, gameplay is the king, as, if you can’t enjoy playing the game, why is it even a game at all? Without even checking the latest Gamepro ranking scale (that’s still a thing, right?), you can easily envision a hundred criteria for “what makes a good game”.

So where does “personality” fit in there? How much should we weigh a game’s personality against its other flaws?

Today’s featured title is Three Dirty Dwarves for the Sega Saturn. Never heard of it? It was also ported to Windows PC and… nothing else. Does that help? No? Okay, we’re talking about a beat ‘em up that was released for the Sega Saturn the same year we saw the likes of Tomb Raider and Super Mario 64. Yes, it seems other games stole Three Dirty Dwarves’ spotlight, and, if we’re being honest, people probably only remember a maximum of four unique titles from the Sega Saturn on a good day. Three Dirty Dwarves was not an arcade port, it did not star Sonic the Hedgehog or Sarah Bryant, and it wasn’t a game that saw every other system of the era. This was a game that was (almost) exclusive to the Sega Saturn from the same company that gave us Ecco the Dolphin and Kolibri. Let’s face it: Three Dirty Dwarves was never going to be as remembered as Tiny Tank: Up Your Arsenal.

This sucksAnd the gameplay of Three Dirty Dwarves doesn’t do the title any favors, either. It’s a beat ‘em up, but with a very unusual health/failure system. Venturing through a mutated version of The Bronx, you control one of the titular Three Dirty Dwarves. And, while 3DD firmly belongs to a genre that traditionally requires things like health bars and variations on the concept of “chip damage”, these dwarves all “die” after one hit. It doesn’t matter if it was a bite from a rat, a punch from a random mook, or some manner of meteoric fireball: everything will knock out your dwarf du jour with a single tap. But there’s still hope! As long as one dwarf remains, he can hit an unconscious dwarf with his melee attack, and we’re back in business! This means you simultaneously are constantly vulnerable and have infinite lives (in all modes save hard mode, incidentally). When you’re halfway through a level and have two dwarves down, the raw panic and drive in attempting to save your fellow warriors leaves an impression, and is an interesting spin on typical beat ‘em up formulas (a distinctive health system similar to another Sega hero). Unfortunately, that revive panic is mostly caused because your dwarves fall way too quickly, and a new monster on the screen often has equal odds on being surmountable or instantly vaporizing your entire party with the cheapest deaths possible. Did I mention you barely have any invincibility frames after losing a dwarf? Because that can lead to more than a few game overs.

And the basic beat ‘em up gameplay isn’t all that amazing here, either. You’ve got your dwarves, and they all have a melee attack, or a long-range attack that (depending on the dwarf involved) either has a long windup or cool-down period. There are also screen-clearing attacks that… clear… the screen… yeah… but require found consumables to use. Ultimately, the gameplay winds up being pretty similar to what you’d find in another game featuring at least one dwarf, and, as far as the level-to-level of battling, there isn’t much of an improvement here over a game that was released at the tail end of the 80s.

The pit bossOn a basic, “is this game good” level, an initial review would be very negative. It’s a beat ‘em up with extremely fragile beat ‘em uppers, and the occasional platforming or puzzle-esque segment is rarely welcome. It’s not a very good game, even by the more lenient standards of the late 20th century. This is not a game that should have ever come before Mario Kart 64, Super Mario RPG, or some other 1996 videogame that probably includes Mario.

But, when you get past the gameplay having its share of issues, the sheer volume of personality exuding Three Dirty Dwarves is immeasurable.

First of all, for a beat ‘em up, there is a seriously bonkers story happening here. Long (very long!) story short: a quartet of kids were grown in a lab for the express purpose of becoming genius military weapons. Or creating military weapons with their genius? Small distinction there, I suppose. Regardless, the kids are not happy with their test tube origins and eternal imprisonment, so they decided to put their amazing brainpower toward escaping. Rather than create some manner of bad key machine, the children looked toward interdimensional/interfictional travel. See, the four children play a D&D-esque game, and the dungeon master (dungeon mistress, in this case) figures out a way to pull the three other children’s roleplay avatars into the real world. Now the three dirty dwarves that were previously imaginary are in the real world and ready to save the moppets that created them. But oh no! The process also sucked all the orcs and dragons that existed in the game to the real world, too, so it’s not like the dwarves are going to have an easy time making it to the evil military’s child prison. And, of course, the military has its own collection of other, generally malevolent science experiments. And this all happens in The Bronx for some reason, so maybe watch out for some of the more malicious New Yorkers of the late 90s. Rudy Giuliani was mayor. It wasn’t a great time.

Ninja!And, while we’re talking about the monsters the dwarves have to face, let’s note that the bestiary of Three Dirty Dwarves is large and in charge. Even the best beat ‘em ups seem to collect three or five archetype characters (fat guy, skinny guy, medium guy, robot), and then repaint them across seven levels. There is variety in how some opponents may block or gain new weapons, but you’re still obviously fighting the same Two P. sprites. Three Dirty Dwarves still has standard mooks, but it offers new and interesting monsters with practically every level. The junkyard stage includes gigantic scrap mechs, while the military industrial complex offers psychic babies. And the general streets of New York may include everything from unruly police officers to naked ninja. Come to think of it, the ninja may be cops, too, it’s just hard to tell without the uniforms…

And the whole thing, from the dwarfs to their opponents to animated cutscenes, is tied together with a very unique art style. It seems like the greatest influence here would have to be Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and his iconic Rat Fink, but the whole affair gives the vibe that tattoo artists decided to make their own videogame. Could you describe the graphics as “good” in the traditional sense? Probably not, as much of what’s on display looks like it originated MS Paint, and not the console that was meant to defeat the Playstation. But it oozes personality, and I can safely say it doesn’t look like a single other game on the Sega Saturn (and not just because there are like six other Saturn games). And while we’re being superficial, the music is also wholly unique. It might not sound like anything else from this era of gaming (it leans surprisingly heavily on hip hop beats), but it slaps. It slaps but good.

Oh, and there’s a level where you fight a dragon with a wrecking ball. That’s rarely seen elsewhere, too.

Let's go!But personality or no, Three Dirty Dwarves comes down to one basic truth: it’s not all that fun to play. You might relish seeing a lady wielding duct tape as a weapon, or an inexplicable minecart level that is equally inexplicably passable, but it all works out to a game that feels more like a chore than a fun time. You’re interested in seeing what crazy thing happens next, but actually getting through a level is a stressful task.

So how should we rank personality when grading a game? It’s hard to say, but it is easy to say that Three Dirty Dwarves needs a better gameplay score to balance its personality score.

And, hey, if it had as much fun gameplay as it did personality, it might actually have been more remembered than Mario.

… Or at least it would be remembered at all.

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

  • System: Sega Saturn and a Windows version that I’m sure exists somewhere, forgotten, in the back room of a former Electronics Boutique.
  • Number of players: Three! There was apparently a Sega Saturn multitap! It was probably intended for Bomberman!
  • Favorite Dwarf: Of Corthag, Taconic, and Greg, I choose Corthag, as he’s apparently the only dwarf that decided to pick up a firearm. Greg has baseballs! Baseballs! At least Taconic went with a bowling ball. That worked out for The Simpsons.
  • Favorite Boss: Man of a Thousand Swords was “once a mild-mannered salesman from Jersey City” who collected one sword too many. Considering I always feared that would be my fate if I got into weapon collecting, I’m going to sympathetically give him the nod.
  • Tank policeIt’s All a Game: The fact that the dwarves are just the RPG avatars of the kidnapped kids rarely comes up (you can collect dice, at least), save during the ending, when the children have to roll to “control” the dwarves’ inclination toward following the bad guy for wealth and power. Considering that tabletop gaming was still extremely niche back in the late 90’s, saving this bit of nerdity for the ending seems apropos.
  • Did you know? Corthag’s favorite movie is listed as Porky in Wackyland. That’s a seven minute short! That’s not a movie! You stupid dwarf!
  • Would I play again: Maybe if there were some revised version that made everything less… stressful. The way the dwarves die so quickly is terrible on some of the longer levels, and I have no time nowadays to deal with a game where I could lose valuable minutes of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t see a remake anytime soon…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man ZX Advent! It’s time for the reign of the Mega Men! Please look forward to it!

This looks familiar
This looks like a 70’s Garfield Special, and I am here for it.