Category Archives: Fustian Gaming Challenge

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

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

FGC #467 Street Fighter 5

Gonna be a fight tonightThe 80’s were defined by plastic cartridges that required a good blowing. Despite the fact that it is a complete lie, Super Mario Bros. 3 may be the definitive game of that bygone decade of wizardry. The 90’s saw cartridges give way to discs, and Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 7 both defined the new gaming experience in their own ways. The start of the 21st Century saw us go from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 to Demon’s Souls in the span of ten years, but it was a decade generally defined by solitary console experiences mixed with the occasional smattering of of online interactions. The Wii’s couch-based waggle or Rock Band’s fantastic plastic seemed to capture the public’s attention a lot more easily than Xbox Live.

And the defining experience of the teens of the 2000s? That’s the four-year boondoggle that has been Street Fighter 5.

Full disclosure: Street Fighter 4 is and was one of my favorite games. It is the game that, in 2008, revived the “official” Street Fighter series for the first time since Street Fighter 3, initially released over a decade earlier. Now, that’s always been kind of a misnomer of a factoid, as the Street Fighter series never completely went away, what with Street Fighter battling SNK or the X-Men or whatever Ryu decided to stick his fist in this week, but Street Fighter 4 was technically the first real Street Fighter in what seemed like centuries, and it was received warmly merely for its existence. And then it turned out to be a great game, too! Hooray!

Street Fighter 4 captured the fun of the original Street Fighter 2 through easy-to-learn special motions and combos that seemed to crop up naturally when jump kicking with Ken over and over again. The story aped Street Fighter Alpha with small, basic pre-battle “taunts” between fighters, and everybody got a cool anime opening and ending to further cement the fun of the traditional arcade mode. And, as an added bonus, you could whale on a second player until the cows came home online or locally (depending on the version, sorry 3DS). It was everything you could ever want a Street Fighter title to be.

But nobody cares about that. What we care about is the roster. Street Fighter 4 launched in arcades with a total of 17 playable fighters (the original twelve of Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition, Akuma, and four totally new contenders). That number grows to 19 if you include the two non-playable boss and secret boss characters. From there, the home version (released a few months later), added six new fighters from Alpha and Super. So, right off the bat, you had a roster of 25 on your home system. Three or four updates later, and “Ultra” Street Fighter 4 hit its endpoint with a grand total of 44 characters. That’s pretty amazing for the traditionally restrained Street Fighter franchise (SF3 barely got past 20), and, in a way, absolutely everything a Street Fighter fan could ever want. Look at this sweet roster:

Look at all dem street fighters

So, yes, Street Fighter 5 already had a strike against it when it launched on the same system that could play Ultra Street Fighter 4, but had a roster that looked like this:

That’s 16 world warriors as an initial offering. Coincidentally, that’s exactly one less than Street Fighter 4 offered at launch. Still four new characters, but less OG fighters, and no unique bosses or hidden martial artists. None of the new class from Street Fighter 4, either. This was not a great first impression.

At its launch, many people claimed Street Fighter 5 was a “paid beta”. This seemed apt, as the traditional trappings of Street Fighter were all but missing. There was a story mode for each fighter, but it was two or three fights with little more than a biography screen. There was a survival mode, but it was the same predictable lineup every time. And, most disparaging of all, there was no “arcade mode” at all. And you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone! The lack of an arcade mode or unifying, overarching story was concerning, but, don’t worry, guys, DLC is coming! Street Fighter 5 will be whole soon! Don’t yell at us! It will get better!

Sonic Boom (but different)And this was made all the more disappointing by the potential seen in the base of Street Fighter 5. Many old fighters returned for SF5, but they were starkly different from their older versions. Ken now felt like an entirely separate entity from Ryu. Chun-Li didn’t have to rely on hammering the kick button. Dhalsim had projectiles that matched his slow and stretchy punches. Birdie got fat. And Charlie Nash, our Guile-expy, was some kind of revived zombie back from the dead, but, more importantly, he didn’t have a charge projectile. Dude was sitting and blocking in the hyper-active Vs. series, but here he is with a quarter circle motion. The implication seemed clear: there would inevitably be DLC for the “old” characters, but they would be as new and different as F.A.N.G. and Necalli.

And Street Fighter 5 did attempt to crawl out of the grave it had dug for itself. A complete (and, frankly, surprisingly quite fun) story mode was released a few months after release. Around that same time, many new fighters were introduced. The likes of Guile, Balrog, and Ibuki did give the impression that initially planned and established fighters were showing up late to the party, but, hey, it costs a lot to make a fighting game nowadays. If Capcom has gotta charge a little more than $60 to make Street Fighter profitable, and people are willing to pay those fees, that’s just the state of the industry. Not like Capcom hasn’t proven its ability to make fun games in the past.

Except… purchasing characters in Street Fighter 5 was… a little more interesting than usual. You had options: you could just outright purchase a Season Pass (or individual character) with real-world dollars and cents, or you could save your hard-earned cash by spending “fight money”, the funbucks you can win through playing Street Fighter 5 online and off. At first blush, this seems like a pretty good deal: if you play the game a lot, you are rewarded with in-game currency that can buy you more game to play. Unfortunately, in practice, anyone that has ever played any title with earnable gold/experience/mini medals knows what happened next. Exploits for the system were discovered, millions in fight money could be earned in an evening, and why would anyone ever spend their real money when fake money was so readily available? Free money is better than… uh… not-free money!

Get 'em!Thus did we see Street Fighter 5’s first arms race. For some, Street Fighter 5 was a simple fighting game. For others, the real fight was between players who wanted as much game for as little money as possible, and Capcom, who wanted its most dedicated players to pay for their dedicated improvements, dammit. Exploits were found and quashed and found and quashed again. New costumes were released that dropped the concept of “fight money”, and absolutely required a credit card. And through it all, somebody, somewhere, against all odds, must have been spending something on new backgrounds.

And then the season passes started accumulating. The first “season” of fighters all appeared in the story mode, and it was hard to shake the impression that they were originally intended for the initial release, and their presence here was just an unfortunate side effect of that “beta” release window. And, while half of these characters were interesting in their second appearance in the franchise (Urien, Juri, Alex), the other returning favorites seemed much less remarkable than their redesigned contemporaries. The “new” Nash was an entirely different animal, but “premium” Guile? Not so much. This would prove to be the norm for new-old characters that we’d see in Season 3 & 4, but Season 2 promised entirely new characters (almost, damn you, Akuma), so at least we’d see some good ol’ fashioned Street Fighter innovation with those dorks. Granted, we’d have to pay for it, but that was getting to be par for the course with fighting games anyway, right? And who could resist the allure of Zeku, the very confusing ninja? Nobody! That’s who!

And then we got Season 3. Season 3 made us all feel like assholes.

Get 'em, Roll!Street Fighter 5: Season 3 was officially dubbed Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition. It was released nearly two years after the launch of Street Fighter 5. In addition to four returning friendlies, it would also include two new characters (or one new character, and one maybe kinda sorta Street Fighter 3 returning face/mask). But, more importantly, it would include the long awaited return of Arcade mode! And it was an Arcade Mode that itself contained a multitude of modes, with rosters and styles meant to evoke the good vibes of previous Street Fighter titles. Battle through the original Street Fighter ladder, or relive the halcyon days of Street Fighter 2 with world warriors flying across the globe. You’ve got options! And best of all, this whole package was now available as a complete and easy starting point, so you could nab the entire released roster for a song!

Street Fighter 5 was finally a complete package! It was out of beta! And if you had paid $150 for multiple season passes and the base “beta” game already, ha ha, screw you! That’s just the price you pay for early access to Ed!

But don’t worry! Arcade Edition offered all new ways to fleece customers old and new. Fight money seemed to stabilize at this point as something that is generally not exploitable, and now it was time for Capcom to introduce new and exciting reasons to horde your cash. Loot boxes! Yes, you could get that cool Air Man skin for Rashid, but you’d need to visit Menat’s fortune telling booth to blow your hard-earned cash on a deck of tarot cards that will maybe unlock the outfit you want. FancyOr you’ll just earn another color for Vega. Whatever! It’s all just a side attraction, so don’t worry, feeding some poor sap’s gambling addiction doesn’t really impact your game. You just have to sit there and be jealous that Sakura is out there repping Mega Man Legends and you can’t do a thing about it.

But loot boxes were not enough for Capcom. In order to further promote insane decisions, Street Fighter management decided to go full hog and cram as much advertising as possible into Street Fighter 5. You could earn extra fight money (for those delightful loot boxes!) if you chose to wear a costume for your fighter that is plastered in advertising. Considering some fighters’ outfits are “a thong” or “a slightly larger thong”, this led to a few combatants earning delightful sponsor belts. Dhalsim is really into the Capcom Pro Tour. Seemingly embarrassed by the whole situation wherein an immortal, soul-devouring godling has a significant soft spot for sponsorships, Capcom quickly dropped ad support for Street Fighter 5. But “ad style” is forever there, an indelible scar on the face of costume selection. And Capcom has not shied away from including ads you absolutely cannot ignore on any and all loading screens. And there are a lot of loading screens! That’s another problem I keep forgetting to mention!

It's a shell gameAnd then, after literally hundreds of dollars’ worth of DLC, after loot boxes designed to drain your reserves for the merest chance of a reward, after introducing “Season 4” fighters by eschewing “cheap” passes and making each ala carte, after introducing advertising because Street Fighter 5 has got to make some coin somehow; after all that, Capcom has announced that 2020 will see Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition. It will include every fighter, two new ones, every (previously loot box-based) costume, and whole new moves/triggers for the existing roster of 38. The game will be $30. If you already own Street Fighter 5, it will cost $25 for the upgrade. If you already spent a couple hundred dollars in a vain attempt to earn a sweet reference to Cannon Spike for Cammy, or if you bought all those costume packs individually on the sale that coincidentally happened before the very weekend that Champion Edition was announced, well, once again, and we cannot stress this enough, screw you. There should be some new loot boxes available shortly for all your gambling needs.

And, yes, all of this nonsense absolutely makes Street Fighter 5 the game of the decade. The moral: even profitable franchises have absolutely no idea how to be profitable.

Look at Street Fighter 5’s arc. They tried everything! They’ve got paid DLC! They’ve got mobile-esque “fun bucks” for purchasing content! They’ve got lootboxes! They’ve got season passes! They’ve got advertising! Capcom stopped just short of making Street Fighter 5 a literal MMORPG (and, let’s not kid ourselves, the online rankings are meant to foster that kind of community). But did any of it add up to… anything? No! In the end, just like Street Fighter 4, we wound up with a final roster around 40 fighters, an arcade mode, and an interesting story mode.

I think I missed two

In the end, if you look at Street Fighter 5 as a whole, you still wind up with three distinct “versions”, just like Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, and Street Fighter 4. For the end user who purchased Street Fighter 5 at each of its three stages, Street Fighter 5 seems to be exactly like every other Street Fighter and its predictably iterative ways. However, from a management perspective, and from the nitty-gritty of owning the game and upgrading it at every available juncture since the game was released four years ago, you see a very different story. You see a game that tried everything it could to squeeze every last cent out of one of the most popular videogame franchises in history. Arguably, none of it worked. Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition is just the same basic “final” version of a SF game as Ultra Street Fighter 4 (complete with Rainbow-esque “let’s just have fun with it” additions). On the other hand, you could claim all of this was an amazing success, because there are people out there that spent $20 on Game of the Year, all DLC Spider-Man the Game in 2019, but spent $250 on Street Fighter 5 over the course of nearly half a decade. Street Fighter 5 wasn’t just a game, it was an experience, and it had to be profitable. There were so many suckers that signed up for everything from launch, every Zangief retro costume, every extra fighter, every beach beauty background, that Street Fighter 5 had to be a huge success. … Right?

Nothing but respect for my presidentBecause if Street Fighter 5, the latest in possibly the most popular fighting game franchise on the planet, if after four years of trying everything, if that Street Fighter 5 can’t be considered a triumph, then what hope does any other game have? What is the current state of gaming if an established company with an established IP can’t figure out how to make it all worthwhile after literally years of trying? What does that mean for the very concept of gaming as we know it?

Street Fighter 5 is the face of a decade of gaming. And that is terrifying.

FGC #467 Street Fighter 5

  • System: Playstation 4 exclusive! … Or it’s also on PC. And arcade, I guess?
  • Number of players: Okay! This one is easy! It’s every human being on Earth! All fighting! Always fighting! But maybe just two at a time.
  • Go ninjaCharacter Creation: Look, I spent the whole article talking about the nitty gritty of how Street Fighter 5 came to be its current form, let me talk about the world warriors for a second. I’m generally saddened by Street Fighter 5’s new trend of introducing dudes for filling in character relationships and not just “a random bloke from Turkey” like in the olden days. There are somehow three (or maybe even four) characters that are all Balrog’s ersatz family, and I could not imagine a more boring concept for fighter creation if I tried. Rose’s student. Guy’s master. Gill’s secretary. I appreciate that they’re trying to expand the lore and relationships of established characters, but maybe they should stick to what’s important: introducing a dirt wizard that is also the president of the world and maybe a robot.
  • Favorite New Fighter: He’s not entirely new, but Abigail being a (literally) gigantic gearhead that incidentally joined a gang called “The Mad Gears” is some inspired/half-assed characterization. But what’s important is I can finally play as that gargantuan dork that ruined my SNES Final Fight runs back in the day, so I’m happy.
  • Favorite Returning Fighter: Can I just complain for a moment about how Sakura’s story mode saddles her with “maybe I should just retire and have babies”? There is no universe where Ryu would ever wind up settling down to become a family man, and it sucks on every level that the “future” for Sakura is supposed to be some life of domestic bliss while her senpai runs off to other universes to punch werewolves. It’s a little depressing that the best Capcom can come up with for one of its iconic heroines is following the ol’ biological clock.
  • Favorite Costume: Katt the cat lady is a skin. Breath of Fire does exist!
  • Meow!They got robbed: One side effect of DLC is that new characters from the original crop seem to be almost completely forgotten. Rashid and Nicalli got to be significant players in the overall story, but F.A.N.G. and Laura are almost completely forgotten by the universe at large. Which is a shame! I would really like to know how many Brazilians have electrical powers, and possibly why!
  • Did you know? My arcade scores reset every time I boot up the game. Is that information only saved for the week or something? Or are there so many updates, my old score is void thanks to being earned under old rules? Do you know?
  • Would I play again: I am a sucker for Street Fighter. Why is Seth a lady now? I will know, and I will get her arcade ending. It’s inevitable.

What’s next? And, on a much more cheery note, we’ll dig into the other game that encapsulates the 2010s. Please look forward to it!

This dork

FGC #466 Mario Paint

Wobbles!There will never be another game in my life like Mario Paint.

First of all, in the only instance of this ever happening, I can’t decide whether I should blame myself or Nintendo Power for my initial predicament in 1992. On one hand, there was the propaganda department of the almighty Nintendo correctly identifying that a gussied up Microsoft Paint with a random doodad controller accessory might not be the billion seller that is the usual anything with “Mario” in the title, and their decision to hype Mario Paint from here to the moon was, in retrospect, pretty inevitable. And, yes, as a young lad who was not even old enough to earn a paltry fee for lawn mowing, I eagerly devoured that marketing and demanded my parents purchase Mario Paint right now, I don’t care if it’s August, Dad, I need Mario Paint like the deserts of World 2 need the rain (or at least a less angry sun). Nintendo Power had worked its usual magic on Wee Goggle Bob, and it was kind of inevitable that I’d beg my parents for some sweet Mario Painting from Summer to Winter.

But why did I give a damn? Sure, Nintendo Power is great at riling up preteens on the promise of new Ninja Turtles, but it’s not like I fell for every campaign that showed up in my mailbox. I couldn’t give less of a crap about Ken Griffey Jr., and Nintendo Power claimed he was the second coming of Bo Derek (which, I am to understand, is a good thing?). And, as exciting as a new, two-button controller ever sounded, it wasn’t like I needed that mouse for Gradius or other games like how the Game Genie instantly became my most preferred peripheral. And the general concept of Mario Paint? It wasn’t like I was dumb enough to believe Mario’s presence was suddenly going to make me a better artist.

Oh, wait. Never mind. That’s exactly what I believed

MAAAARIO PAINT HOORAHI’m an engineer from birth. My grandfather built cars back when that meant something. My other grandfather literally invented food additives we use today (editor’s note: I feel I should note that this is not actually a lucrative field, and I am not the heir to the immense fennel fortune), and later became a science teacher. Both of my grandmothers ran entire businesses despite receiving what appears to have been the worst education available. And my parents… well… I guess my mother is pretty good at charades. Point being that my heritage seems to be that I come from a long line of people that “figure things out”. And I used this skill from a young age to be a born and bred computer geek. If it had some “computer-y” component, I was good at it, despite the obvious handicap of being a child (and, reminder, all children are dumb as rocks). So, while I was terrible at drawing (a skill I had always hoped to possess innately, as practice is for nerds), clearly Mario would catapult me to artistic stardom. And there’s an animation feature! I always wanted to make my own cartoons, so not only would my new artistic skills generate the next Mona Lisa, I could also create the next Bugs Bunny while I was at it. Mario Paint wasn’t just a videogame (Dad!), it was a ladder to the lofty heights of unbridled artistic expression.

And I can assure you that I reminded my parents of this certainty at every available moment. I’m not convinced there ever was or ever could be a gift that I bugged my parents about more. I remember going to Sears for a live demo of Mario Paint, receiving a free hat, and wearing said hat constantly while begging like a hungry dog. I remember August, and a vacation that consisted primarily of stating how this Disney World is pretty okay, but have you heard of this new Mario Paint? I remember dragging my Mom to garage sales in the Fall, and hoping against all odds and reason that a pre-owned copy of Mario Paint would have found its way into the neighborhood wares. The concept of a videogame-based Halloween “treat” was introduced to my parents. A similar plan may have been hatched for Thanksgiving. Through it all, I was unable to obtain a Mario Paint, so it was all up to Christmas. Surely, by the jolliest of holidays, I would finally have the game that had led to an excruciating, ostensibly infinite four month wait.

And then I got Mario Paint for Christmas. Hooray! Happy ending!

… What? You expected some sort of horrible twist? Come on, this is the official Goggle Bob Christmas Special for the year. You want bad vibes, wait until Wankery Week.

And here’s some further good vibes: Mario Paint might be the most important videogame I ever owned.

Play it again, MarioLet’s get this out of the way right now: Mario Paint did not make me an amazing artist. Despite the fact that I can find all the secret exits in Super Mario World, somehow welding Mario to the experience did not instantly make me an expert in the rewarding field of properly utilizing the spraypaint tool. Nor did it allow me to create the astounding and inevitable Goggle Bob: The Animated Series, as the animation feature in Mario Paint is comically limited (nine frames of animation can barely animate Mickey Mouse’s tiny shorts). And, frankly, while the music composer section of Mario Paint has always been some kind of low-key remarkable, the fact that it didn’t use proper musical notation always bothered my “concert band”-based brain. My oft-stated reason for needing Mario Paint -that it would improve my own artistic prospects beyond anything a mundane set of markers could ever achieve- was clearly an unmitigated catastrophe. Hell, I would have been better off with those (lame) colored pencils and (boring) paper, as at least you can keep paper. Mario Paint only had one dedicated save slot! Any given masterpiece must be erased if you came up with something new.

Except… that wasn’t completely true. Yes, Mario Paint had a paltry save battery for preserving Mario Paint projects, but it was outputting to a television. And, thanks to Nintendo Power and its Mario Paint strategy guide (how could I resist such a periodical?), I was informed that there was a way to configure your Super Nintendo so it output through a VCR. Thus, with the marvelous power of a VHS tape, I was able to record all of my creations! Hooray! Naturally, my dad and I had to learn how to actually configure this sort of cable setup in our actual home (and still leave everything working so we could tape Quantum Leap), so I picked up a crash course in how cabling works thanks to a desperate desire to record the movements of my modified mushroom sprites (and if you’re thinking “so you learned how to hook up a TV, big deal”, then I will remind you how many people in this country still can’t figure out how to make an HDMI cable produce Law & Order on a proper input channel). Screw itAnd, while Mario Paint never left my console for long, this new configuration allowed me to record other games, too. I was able to record the entirety of Final Fantasy 3! Chrono Trigger! I could review these amazing stories and experiences in a manner that didn’t involve having to deal with a monster encounter every seven steps! I could finally absorb my favorite scenes and moments at my own carefully controlled (with a rewind button) pace.

Yes, I’m saying that without Mario Paint, I never would have gained a greater appreciation for the minutia of particular videogames. Without Mario Paint in 1992, there would be no Gogglebob.com in 2019.

(And I’m also going to claim I invented the concept of a video Let’s Play when I discovered I could hook a microphone into the whole arrangement. But that’s neither here nor there.)

And I suppose Mario Paint helped this author through a few more post-1992 projects. Mario Paint may have been limited, but it was still centuries ahead of any animation or “digital” tools that were available through my public education. I wowed many a junior high teacher with “real” animations on VHS tapes for projects where the best rival students could offer was a dinky poster. Some other kid turned in a clay model of a hedgehog? Bitch, please, I got Sonic on my side, and I can marry Genesis gameplay to Super Nintendo-based fun facts. In retrospect, the lettering tools of Mario Paint allowed me to have Powerpoint presentations a solid decade before that program became the bane of every “working lunch” (It’s just a stupid meeting where we get pizza, Debra). And while we’re talking about future innovations, I never did gain that dexterity to actually freely “draw” something that isn’t just an indescribable blob of pixels, but the general skills of Mario Paint eventually did transfer to skills in Adobe Photoshop. Waluigi?There is a direct correlation between the little paint-fill man in Mario Paint, and the ability to properly magic select shapes in Photoshop, and I will hear no debate on this self-evident fact. And, even as a computer engineer, you would not believe how often I wind up having to use Photoshop (computers is websites, right?). So, yes, Mario Paint, a Christmas gift I received when I was barely even ten, is a straight line to how I earn my living a solid 25 years later.

It may not have resulted in exactly what I wanted, but, against all odds, Mario Paint is the most important Christmas gift I ever received.

So thanks for putting up with my nonsense, Mom and Dad.

And Merry Christmas, everybody. I hope all your gifts are Mario Paints.

FGC #466 Mario Paint

  • System: Super Nintendo Entertainment System. There was actually a later version for the 64DD, but, unfortunately, that system is just an urban myth that originated in odd issues of Nintendo Power.
  • Number of players: Technically one, but you can fill an entire movie theatre with people that will watch your recorded Mario Paint masterpieces.
  • I hate this thingIsn’t there a game in here somewhere? Oh yeah, there’s Gnat Attack, a game supposedly meant to increase your mouse dexterity. However, all I learned from Gnat Attack is that sentient, disembodied hands scream in a singularly horrifying manner when stung by bees. The more you know!
  • Just play the gig, man: The music of Mario Paint is permanently glued to my very soul. I hum the “loading” theme when I’m trying to remember something. And, sometimes, all I’m trying to remember is the sound a piggy makes.
  • Favorite Tool: I am terrible at free-hand expression, but the teeny tiny pixels of the stamp creation area are exactly my speed. And I can add a set of sunglasses to a Super Mushroom really easily! I am killing it at this creativity thing.
  • Tell us about the Mario Paint Nintendo Power strategy guide: Okay, yes, it does sound like the stupidest thing in the world. But! Back in the pre-internet days (or at least pre-56K modem days), this was about the only way to get Mario Paint… templates? Ideas? This was a big book of fun starting points for using easy-to-follow stamps to create your own Marginally Original Character Samus or Marginally Original Character Link. What I’m saying here is that the Mario Paint strategy guide was the secret genesis of every sprite comic, and, for that reason, we should burn every last copy.
  • Hey, didn’t Homestar Runner get his start from his creators using Mario Paint? Shouldn’t you have been able to produce something equally timeless? No. Shut-up.
  • NOW LOADINGDid you know? Using the “Load” command when first booting up a new, physical copy of Mario Paint will load a piece of art that actually appears on the back of the Mario Paint box. I’m not certain why anyone would ever think to do that, but, hey, it’s good to see that lil’ car.
  • Would I play again: In a way, I never stopped playing Mario Paint. However, in a more accurate way… No. I love this game, and it made more of an impact on my life than I care to admit, but it’s not exactly accessible. I’ll just have to be happy with Undo Dog finally earning a supporting role in Mario Maker.

What’s next? It’s the end of the year, so it’s time for our annual retrospective. Who will win the coveted Goggle Bob Game of the Year award? It’s Kingdom Hearts. Wait, ^&%#, I just gave it away! Dammit! But, uh… there will be other awards? I guess? Uh, please look forward to it.

Seriously!