Category Archives: Fustian Gaming Challenge

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

Saints!Saints Row 4 is an over-the-top videogame about a world beset by aliens, destroyed, and then rebuilt in a Matrix-esque virtual reality wherein your player avatar, The President of the United States, is granted amazing super powers in an effort to eventually conquer the alien threat and conquer all of time so as to save the human race.

So let’s spend this article talking about urban planning.

Wait, sorry, I have been informed that it is moderately possible to stay on topic while addressing this blatantly boring matter, so we may as well give that a try. Take two…

Saints Row 2 was an amazing little chunk of a game. After Saints Row was reviewed as “like Grand Theft Auto, but we forgot to figure out the ‘but’”, Saints Row 2 shook the gaming world by being the most Grand Theft Auto-est Grand Theft Auto to ever Grand Theft Auto. That is to say, the Grand Theft Auto from before Rockstar decided to smother any fun in the franchise by sticking its head so far up its own butt that no excitement could ever escape this airtight asszone. And it wasn’t just about a completely bonkers plot that may or may not have contained covering sections of the city in raw sewage! No, Saints Row 2 took the customization features of San Andreas and dialed them up to eleven. So many options! So much clothing! Hell, they had to build an entire mall to house all those shopping choices!

And, in my humble opinion, that mall might be the best part of Saints Row 2.

WeeeeeYes, it’s just one silly area. Yes, it’s an area that probably ultimately only exists for one set piece mission that involves a shootout in a mall (that seems less funny in 2018). And, yes, I might just like it because I have a weird inclination toward hanging out at any mall, virtual ones included. But whatever the original reason for that lil’ shopping center, it is one of my favorite spots, and a significant reason for this is simple: it’s a place. It is somewhere in the Saints Row 2 city that you can actually go. It’s not just another empty, set-dressing building. It’s a real location, and, even if there is an obvious “now loading” parking garage or elevator, it still feels like an organic piece of the city. It’s not just a place to customize your trench coat, it’s a place, and it makes the world of Saints Row 2 feel that much more real.

And, like in our blighted present, you can never go to the mall again. Saints Row 3 dropped not only the mall, but seemingly the entire concept of going inside a big, open building.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, people noticed. I noticed. Saints Row 3 was an amazing game, but almost everyone seemed to recognize that its base city was somehow… less. There were more exciting cutscenes, set pieces, and the occasional reason to deploy a parachute after leaping from your hover-bike, but there weren’t any malls. There weren’t any places that made the SR3 city feel like a real place; simply stores that were singular rooms, and the occasional “level area” that felt very much like a Hyrulian dungeon. The Saints Row 3 city was a shell of the former glory of the series, particularly at a time when other franchises seemed to be moving forward with more immersive worlds.

And then Saints Row 4 effectively told the world that that was good enough, and outright reused the “old” city of Saints Row 3. New game, old city. Party foul, Volition, directors of Saints Row 4. You destroyed half the fun of an open world game before I even opened the box.

Tanks for the memoriesOf course, anyone familiar with the franchise or its producers knows the truth of the matter. In short, without reusing assets to an absurd degree, there literally would be no Saints Row 4. And that would be a major loss for the universe! Saints Row 4 is an irrational amount of fun, predominantly because it takes the typical, mundane world of Saints Row 3 (well, as mundane as any world with Mayor Burt Reynolds could be) and adds super powers. Run like The Flash, fly like Superman, and telekinetically whip some cars around like Matthew Malloy (like you can’t use Wikipedia). When you were previously tethered to finding a conveniently unlocked car every seventeen seconds, being able to Hulk jump straight out of a lake and onto a building is a bit of a game changer, and truly makes Saints Row 4 its own experience. The wisdom of Solomon is telling me you don’t need a new city when you’ve got the speed of Mercury.

But you know what? Let’s stop trying to justify the loss of a new city, and acknowledge that Steelport, the official city of Saints Row 3 & 4, is actually pretty great.

Consider the number one complaint about modern open world games: there’s nothing to do. From Breath of the Wild to Skyrim to Dragon’s… Dogma? Age? Something like that… For all of those worlds, it seems the number one complaint is that there’s a crazy, humungous world to explore, but nothing to do. And that makes perfect sense, as any neighborhood where every dungeon and dragon is squished together is going to feel a bit claustrophobic. If your horse doesn’t have anywhere to run around, everywhere is going to feel like Hyrule Field, and then you may as well just be playing an N64 game. A big world needs the option to feel boring, because wide open spaces are practically a requirement.

WeeeeeeeBut all of the open world games named a moment ago are fantasy-based worlds. An empty field feels natural in Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls because “the wilds of the frontier” are practically built into the genre. That’s not going to fly in an urban environment, because, come on, when was the last time you saw seven inches of a city uninhabited by anything. In New York City, I saw a landlord-tenant dispute over a sleeping bag. This means that, assuming you want your sandbox city to be remotely realistic, it’s time to populate every millimeter of the place with something. There are no nice rocks or fields of tumbleweed in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; no, every bit of the city has to have a building or fountain or maybe just a spot where some dude carrying a dildo spawns. You need something, otherwise the world is going to look unfinished.

And then there’s the form and function factor. This is a proper videogame, not some manner of Endless Ocean nonsense, so there are missions. Missions require venues, so of course robbing the bank or destroying the alien antennae needs a spot to be marked on the map. So that means you have to build a bank or an antennae. And they can’t be next to each other! No! There must be some space between them. And there’s a car chase at the tail end of the mission? Wow, better design the streets around that for some interesting twists and turns. Don’t forget to add a fruit cart! Now multiply that kind of thinking by about, what, twenty? To account for all the story missions? And how many optional missions are there? How many street races, ragdoll showcases, and gang fights have to be included? And what do you do when missions start running into missions? It’s not like every section of the city is walled off entirely; you need to account for jobs that will use the same highways and byways. Everything has to fit together, and I don’t have to remind any artists out there how difficult it can be when you have to change just one thing, and are then forced to change every damn thing around it. Smoothing out one road might change the entire shape of the city!

Just thinking about it gets me exhausted.

Take a lookBut this is the strength of Steelport. With a limited number of changes, the same city was used for two different games brimming with content. And that’s amazing! Considering that Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4 have dramatically different movement options available (a tank is not the same as Supergirl speed), the fact that the same city can be used at all is a minor miracle. And once you factor in all the missions across both games, well, it seems a little silly to be worried about the loss of a few open buildings. Yes, you might not have the same “lived-in” feeling of Saints Row 2, but SR3 and SR4 both use their shared city to do their jobs incredibly well. If you can use the same city to stage a noir-ish gang war story of betrayal and luchadores in the same place as a sci-fi epic featuring aliens and Agent Smith, then you’re clearly doing something right.

There’s nothing lazy about building something to last, and there’s nothing indolent about Steelport. This is how you reuse assets: by building something amazing and adaptable right from the beginning, and showcasing that remarkable flexibility. Here’s to the city planners of Steelport, because they know how to shape a city for the ages.

Though I do still miss the mall…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

  • System: Available on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The Gat Out of Hell expansion (/entirely new game) came out at just the right time to boot this one up to the current gen consoles.
  • Number of players: Like SR3, this one has multiplayer that I have literally never tried. Let’s assume it’s good!
  • Favorite Weapon: There is a gun that inflates people’s heads. While I would like the ability to randomly inflate other body parts (I would very much like someone to explode thanks to unreasonably swollen calves), I can’t say no to N64-style body morphing.
  • OuchiePresident for a Day: It impacts practically nothing, but this title begins with your protagonist as President of the United States. I would personally like to play more adventures where you’re a Super Hero President… but then I start thinking about how my ideal game is Dynasty Warriors: Oops All Presidents, and how much it would kick ass to take out hordes of enemies with an extremely over-leveled William Howard Taft.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes. This is one of the few titles I actually completely Platinum’ed. I would be more proud of that if it didn’t involve rubberbanding a controller so I could fly around on a hover bike for an hour…
  • Did you know? This game canonizes the “Saints Row 1 model” character as a virtual reality created “boss” during one mission. This means that, without a doubt, if your protagonist is female in Saints Row 4, she’s trans, and not just implied to “look different” like in Saints Row 2. I think this means we have exactly one videogame franchise with a potentially trans hero. Progress!
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. I intended to play through Saints Row 4 on PS4 for this review, even… but it’s a long game! And I have a 100% save file right there on PS3! And I like running around like an invincible idiot! It happens!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain Commando! Caaaaaaptain Commaaaaaando! Or… maybe I’m thinking of something else…. No matter! Please look forward to it!

Where did it all go?

FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

Yay Gals!I’m not upset. I’m just disappointed.

Previously in what passes for reality: SNK once supported the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and it featured an adorable game titled SNK Gals’ Fighters. It was a fun, though shallow, fighting game made for a system that could only sustain vaguely Gameboy-esque graphics and a whole two action buttons. Despite the obvious handicaps, SNK Gals’ Fighters was an enjoyable, portable title that was downright ideal for short trips or sudden spurts of gaming while watching Xena: Warrior Princess.

SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy cannot make the same claim.

There were issues right from the start. Right at the initial announcement, we had Mai dressed in a combination bikini/cow costume. This was an ominous portent! Mai has been compared to a cow on many occasions before, because (get ready for a real knee slapper here) cows are known for their utters, and Mai is known for her boobs. Ha! Funny joke! Everybody laughs (at women with large breasts). And, let’s face it, aside from fetishist satisfiers or extremely self-confident cosplay fans, no woman on Earth is ever going to voluntarily wear a “cow bikini”. Why invite the comparison? It’s like wearing a Sonic the Hedgehog shirt to a sane people convention (NormalCon ’19 still has tickets available). But don’t worry! The early trailers quickly established that these women were kidnapped (!) and forced to fight in ridiculous outfits (!) for the benefit of an unseen, male kidnapper (!). Rape dungeon! The entire plot of this game was immediately established as “takes place in a rape dungeon”. Holy cow bikini, SNK, that is not a good look.

FIGHT!And, unfortunately, this title is all about good looks. The plot did not improve after the initial trailers: Kukri (aka “The Sand Guy” introduced in King of Fighters 14) created a pocket dimension (as one does) where he is nigh omnipotent. Then he kidnapped a handful of women fighters, and dressed them in various fetish outfits, because… he’s a fetish freak. He… literally says that out loud. He doesn’t seem to have one particular fetish (this ain’t King of Catgirls), but the general theme for the outfits appears to be some level of embarrassment/shame. “Pure and good” Nakoruru is dressed as some manner of anime vampiress, and space pirate Love Heart is stuck in a (sexy) police uniform. And, yes, half the fun with most of these costumes is “wow, conservative girl is now dressed as a total slut! Whatta twist!” … Except, guys? This is already a fighting game franchise. We’ve already got a freaking samba dancing kick boxer that has never worn a shirt. Sticking these characters that are already just one degree away from being walking fetishes in fetish gear isn’t exactly the furthest bridge to cross. But, hey, now the women are wearing these costumes distinctly because they don’t want to! And that’s a selling point, apparently! Please enjoy the femme fatale dressed as a school girl. She’s two fetishes, now! Maybe three!

Oh, and every character has three different costumes (available for purchase with [thankfully in-game] credits), and various accessories available in “let’s play dress-up mode”. So you can metaphorically assume the role of the kidnapping misogynist at the core of this tale! Yay!

But it doesn’t matter if the gameplay is fun, right? Surely the company that has been producing fighting games since before Street Fighter 2 knows a thing or two about making a decent fighter, unfortunate implications of presentation aside. Heck, King of Fighters 14 was a distinct step-up for that franchise, so of course its faux-sequel is going to kick some butt (that is probably wearing bloomers to satisfy some other fetish). That’s just basic math!

Unfortunately, King of Fighters 14 might be the biggest problem.

Say cheese!Of the default roster of characters in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy (aka not including the DLC), only one fighter did not appear in King of Fighters 14. In fact, a healthy number of fighters in this title premiered in King of Fighters 14. So, of the many, many women in the SNK universe, 92% of the cast could be found in the previous fighting game. And that would be fine… if everything about this title didn’t feel like a downgrade from its predecessor. King of Fighters 14 was a traditional 2-D fighting game with old-fashioned button motions and general playstyles. SNK Heroines attempts to go the Smash Bros. route, and simplifies everything to two attack buttons, a throw button, and a “special” button that offers different special movies depending on simple directional inputs. A neutral special might be a fireball, while forward plus special is a rushing kick. That could work! But… with the limited controls, nearly every character feels severely limited compared to their KoF14 versions. How limited? Well, you can’t even duck. You can crouch in King of Fighters, but I guess bendable knees weren’t in the budget for these queens.

If, at this point, you are suspecting that this whole game might be a callous cash-grab and an excuse to reuse character models from another, more fully-realized game, then congratulations, and welcome to the SNK Board of Dudes that Produce Shitty Fighting Games. Please pick up your complimentary Lady Terry Bogard hat at your earliest convenience.

Get 'erBut the absolute worst thing about this whole experience? SNK got it so right over a decade ago, and now, right on schedule, it seems everything great about SNK Gals’ Fighters got flipped on its head (which probably now has to wear cat ears). The interesting “dream crushing” finishers of SNKGF were transformed into required “finishing moves” that are boring as hell. The simplified controls of the NGP feel incredibly lacking on a modern controller. All “cute” super-deformed spritework has been replaced with glamorous models that have inescapably been designed to focus on a few key parts of a woman’s anatomy. And the delightful “everyone is fighting to earn a magical wish” plot has been replaced with “battle to escape a man’s private rape dimension”. That… puts a bit of a damper on things.

But… I knew to expect all of this. So why should I be mad?

From the moment this game was conceived, SNK had a choice: create a fighting game with cheesecake, or create a fighting game around cheesecake. Let’s not kid ourselves: there was never, ever going to be an SNK all-women fighting game that wasn’t lousy with fanservice and opportunities to ogle the cast. That’s inevitable! But rather than make a decent game that incidentally included new and interesting jiggle physics, SNK went for a lazy title that was literally all about fetishizing its female fighters. There could have been some genuine creativity on display here, but all resources were diverted toward creating new and exciting reasons for a pachislot heroine to dress as Little Bo Peep.

Do better, SNK. I’m only frustrated because I know you can.

FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

  • System: I somehow had it in my head that this was a Switch exclusive, but it’s also apparently available for the Playstation 4. Which is a system that also hosts King of Fighters 14. Hm.
  • Number of players: You will never ever play this game with another human being. But, conceptually, two players makes sense.
  • What is even happening?Say Something Nice: The story mode adapting to your chosen duo is always nice. And, when you consider how awful this story happens to be, I think that’s the nicest thing I can say about the plot.
  • Fashion Faux pas: Shermie is the only character with a default costume that is not an overt fetish. She’s also the only “newcomer” that did not appear in King of Fighters 14. While you might be able to claim all Shermie resources went to just getting the poor, dead gal on the roster, I’m going to point out that King of Fighter’s canonically bustiest character probably didn’t need another fetish heaped upon her.
  • Too Old for this @$^&: I would like to see King on the roster, but… she does not deserve this kind of abuse. She’s too classy for this nonsense.
  • Let’s talk about Terry: So Terry is magically a woman now. This is an amusing way to fit a series mainstay into this all women fighter, but they should have chosen literally any other character for this role (Kyo?) as King of Fighters 14’s Alice is already “Terry, but a woman” in all but actual genetics. Besides, what we really need is a gender-swapped Chang Koehan.
  • Favorite Character: Sylvie Paula Paula might have been initially designed for King of Fighters 14 as some kind of lame idol parody, but she gets my vote here because she immediately identifies the “secret” villain of the story, and announces that she is already tired of this garbage before even her first match. You and me both, sister.
  • Did you know? Blue Mary isn’t in this game. Nor is noted pirate Bonne Jenet. This is a travesty.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for thirty seconds as a novelty, but there are so many other, better fighting games out there. Let’s leave this rape dungeon behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Saints Row 4! Dammit, ROB! You could have chosen that title for #420, and it would have made perfect sense! Now it’s all wrong! Stupid robot! Whatever. Time to be president of the universe. Please look forward to it!

... What?

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

Here comes a chicken!Let’s talk about Alfred Chicken, and what he means to the current state of our democracy.

The Alfred Chicken franchise, on its own, is not much to write home about. It’s one of those “weird European platformers” that seemed to pop up since the creation of DOS and carried on into the 32-bit days. Alfred Chicken (damn, I’m going to have to pick up some chicken alfredo before this article is over) runs and jumps around a number of levels that were maybe assembled in seventeen seconds through randomly smoothing graphical assets together until, I don’t know, I guess this collection of alphabet blocks looks like something passable. Alfred’s moveset includes both jumping and pecking, as he must to retain his chicken status. Eventually, the game ends, or maybe it doesn’t, and, look, I bounce off European platformers like a quick boomerang off a leaf shield, okay? I’m too used to my Marios and Castlevanias to waste too much time on some damn game where poultry has to peck at balloons.

And, really, that’s just fine in this case, because America, land of the free (chicken nugget deal), only ever saw one Alfred Chicken title. On my corner of the Atlantic, Super Alfred Chicken was only ever available for the Super Nintendo. But in the fabulous land of lifts and roundabouts, Alfred Chicken dominated (loosely) the NES, Gameboy, Playstation, and whatever the hell an Amiga happens to be. Some platforms had different versions, some featured 3-D, but they all had Alfred Chicken to spare. Oh, and speaking of platforms, there was that whole Alfred Chicken political party, too.

Yes, if you lived in the Christchurch, Dorset constituency in 1993, you could have voted for Karl Fitzhugh of the Alfred Chicken Party.

Blah blah blahNow, before you go thinking that the Alfred Chicken Party had anything useful to contribute to political discourse at the time, consider that Karl Fitzhugh was absolutely just the marketing arm for Alfred Chicken’s Amiga (amigo? Were you trying to say amigo? How about amiibo?) debut. The Alfred Chicken Party was rightly pegged as a publicity stunt, and wound up placing second from last in the election (and, to be clear for my American readers, this is not a situation where “placed last” also means “won the popular vote”). In fact, the Alfred Chicken Party was such a flagrant and obvious publicity stunt, it rapidly inspired new legislation that would require a candidate to acquire many more signatures to actually appear on a ballot. Democracy works! Through Alfred Chicken!

And, 25 years later, it would be nice to believe we had learned a single blessed thing.

Alfred Chicken, in his time, was immediately identified as a spurious, frivolous candidate. This was just a random animal mascot character (arguably before they were cool) attempting to use general politics as a springboard to some free(ish) advertising. No one would legitimately elect a member of the Alfred Chicken Party, because you’d have to be some kind of moron to actually think there is anything more to that “political party” than a naked cash-grab.

But how many people reading this article would vote for a candidate from the Nintendo Party? Hell, how many people writing this article would vote for the party of Mario, Link, and Pikachu? The answer to that question is a firm “all of them”.

UglyIt has come up again and again in recent months, but people show a surprising amount of loyalty to faceless corporations that don’t care if the average consumer lives or dies. Toys Я Us recently went out of business, firing every last employee while its board of directors skipped town with giant bags adorned with dollar signs. But it’s been determined that “the brand” is still viable, so Geoffrey the Giraffe will be back in our faces soon enough. And a huge portion of the population is going to eat it up with a multicolored spoon! Toys Я Us? I love that place! That’s where toys come from! And videogames! Just like Gamestop! And who cares if one single company has been selling me $60 games for years, and then buying them back at 60¢, I’ve got brand loyalty! I’m a Powerup Rewards Member! Sometimes I earn a free pen! I will follow these companies straight into Hell, so please show me your viable political candidates! Who is the leader of the Think Geek Party? Does he need a donation!?

And, at first blush, this all sounds insane. After all, there is no Wal-Mart party, and, while we vote with our wallets every day, no company is brazen enough to actively run a candidate. Except… that’s completely wrong.

Okay, already uttered their name, let’s take Wal-Mart as an example. Right off the bat, apparently Wal-Mart has made $2,192,327 in political contributions in 2018. And, if you’re curious, about half of that money went to candidates, and the majority of the rest of that went to PACs or political parties. In addition to all of that, fifteen senators own Wal-Mart stock, so there might be a bit of an interest in our government keeping that poor company afloat. And if that wasn’t enough, in 2017, Wal-Mart spent $6,880,000 lobbying for various causes. And the kicker? Wal-Mart isn’t even in the top 50 for purchasing government support.

In 1998, $1.45 billion was being spent on lobbying. In 2018, that has become $2.59 billion. And how much is that? Well, to revisit Wal-Mart, that’s a company that makes $14.7 billion in profit a year.

So, to be clear, the US government can be purchased for a little under a fifth of one company’s total profits.

SliceyAnd the most unfortunate thing about all of this is that there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can vote for your favorite party, you can vote for the candidate that is going to save the world, and you can canvas your neighborhood and drum up support in every way you know how. But, end of the day, Wal-Mart is still going to make literally billions of dollars, and whoever is in charge of those billions of dollars is going to make just a smidge more of an impact on the political landscape than anything you could hope to achieve with a “grassroots” campaign. And do you think you’re ever going to compete with Wal-Mart? Fat chance, little voter.

Except…

I always look to Blockbuster Video in times of hardship.

When “video rental stores” (ask your parents) first became popular, there was one in every shopping center (ask your parents, again), and they were all local mom & pop shops with names like “Microplay” or “No Name Video”. Then Blockbuster Video hit the scene with inventories that would be completely impossible for any given neighborhood shop to ever procure, and, almost overnight, Blockbuster Video was literally the only game in town. And, by about the late 90’s/early 00’s, Blockbuster Video was the only way to rent anything. The chain had eliminated all competition, and there was no way to borrow a copy of Leprechaun 3 (that’s the one in Vegas) without your trusty Blockbuster membership card. Had overdue fees on your account? Sorry, you’re stuck in DVD-less purgatory for the rest of your days.

No, it is notBut a funny thing happened. Netflix came along, and, in a few short years, Blockbuster was dead in the ground. Netflix was cheaper, more convenient, and less overtly evil than Blockbuster, so people took their business elsewhere in droves. And it didn’t matter that many areas still have terrible internet connections. It didn’t matter that Netflix and its ilk could never support the historical selection of a well-stocked Blockbuster. It didn’t matter that streaming services would doom us forever to a fragmented system wherein you just kind of hoped your favorite new release would drop on a subscription you already own. No, none of that mattered, because Blockbuster simply could not compete with the new monolith that was streaming, and, in practically no time at all, Blockbuster was resigned to the same fate as the dinosaurs (mostly frozen in remote regions of Oregon). Blockbuster was once king of the hill, and now it is barely a footnote in history.

And if there’s any hope for the future, we could learn a thing or two about Blockbuster’s failure.

No company is too big to fall. Just within the last few decades, we’ve seen hundreds of once enormous companies fall to the inevitable march of the internet. Technology moves forward, and with it, new opportunities arise for those that will take risks (and get lucky). Fossil fuels are killing our planet as we speak, but they could become a thing of the past with cheap, effective alternatives. It sounds impossible, but if every new car with a new fuel system cost just a couple hundred less than the gas-guzzlers currently on the market, we’d have a healthier planet in no time. We just have to find the people willing to support these companies, and not those that foster the industries that should have died decades ago because God forbid Mickey Mouse fall into the public domain. We have to vote for people that are going to support forward progress. And not just in the voting booth! We need to be conscientious consumers, and support companies that in turn support good candidates and business practices. VroooomNo company is ever going to be perfect (they are, almost literally, money making machines. That has a tendency to step on a few ethical toes), but maybe you don’t need the latest make believe horsey game if it is also apparently responsible for 80% of all crunch misery in North America. Or maybe that company could just produce one god damn game with a female protagonist. That would be a step in the right direction…

My final thoughts on this subject are simple: absolutely vote on Election Day, but remember to vote every other day of the year, too. Support candidates that encourage progress, and support companies that do the same. It won’t happen all at once, and it might not even seem like it’s happening at all, but change is possible, and you can help it, every step of the way, every day.

And don’t vote for the Alfred Chicken Party.

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

  • System: Super Nintendo. I understand the other versions/ports of Alfred Chicken are pretty similar to this version, but there is no way I am going to confirm this in any way.
  • Number of players: Start and options? Yep, looks like this is one of those single player platformers.
  • Chicken or the Egg: So the plot of this title is that eggs are being kidnapped, and Alfred Chicken has to venture forth to save the widdle eggies. Except… Alfred Chicken appears to hatch from an egg at the start of every stage… so why are eggs seen driving cars and being their own, autonomous creatures? Are eggs just, like, the unevolved forms of chickens in this universe? Is this U.S. Acres fanfic?
  • What is even happening?Other Questions: And Alfred collects eggs as one-ups, and hatches from a new egg after every death. Is there more than one Alfred Chicken? Does each collected egg start the cycle of life anew for our hero? The theological implications of this game alone…
  • So, did you beat it? No. Come on, this game gets repetitive by approximately the third level. And there are at least fifteen? No thank you.
  • Favorite… uh… Stuff: This is a very generic platformer. Alfred… barely does anything. He jumps! He pecks! He has some sort of weird power-up ball thing that doesn’t work quite right! There is barely anything that distinguishes this game from any other… so… uh… The colors are nice?
  • Did you know? The Alfred Chicken Party came in second-to-last in its election. The biggest loser was, apparently, the Rainbow Party. There is no force on Earth that would allow me to effectively google “The Rainbow Party” in 2018.
  • Would I play again: Nope! This chicken doesn’t have any meat on it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy for the Nintendo Switch! The prophecy has come to pass! Please look forward to it!

Happy Flower

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Blood!Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is the rare game that is so good, it makes old games better.

Full disclosure: I have a complicated relationship with the early Castlevania titles. To elaborate, I am referring specifically to any Castlevania game that was released prior to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which I now realize that, thanks to the unstoppable march of time, is approximately twelve billion years old). But back before Alucard ever earned his first crissaegrim, there was the Belmont clan, and its unyielding pursuit of the death of the undead. And… I kinda didn’t like those Castlevania games? Maybe?

It’s complicated. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was one of my first NES games (and, thus, one of my first videogames, period), and, as anyone that has ever banged their head against Deborah Cliff will tell you, it is a deeply confusing and difficult game. Luckily, I had an older neighbor (he was, like, twelve!) who shared tips and tricks on how to traverse the Wallachian countryside, and Castlevania 2 was less “impossible” and more “inordinately difficult”. I could send Dracula back to his grave! It… just took a password that unlocked all the items (and maybe I still died a thousand times). Oh, and I would totally glitch out that one jump in the graveyard area. What does it matter if Simon drowns? He’ll be better in no time.

Whip it good!But Castlevania 3? Now there was a game. It was another of my precious few “original” Nintendo games, and an air-mailed Christmas gift from my grandparents (who had fled to warmer climes for the holiday season). As a game I could immediately identify as both “advanced” (look at those amazing graphics!) and “clever” (four playable characters! That’s as many as a full gang of Ninja Turtles!), I was fairly convinced I enjoyed Castlevania 3. After all, I played Castlevania 3 so many times, I had all but mastered such advanced techniques as Grant’s wall hugging and Alucard’s surprisingly weak fireblasts. I was a Castlevania master!

And I think I only ever made it to level… four.

Yes, I could plug in “Help Me” and use that password everyone ripped out of Nintendo Power to skip straight to the good Count, but did I ever legitimately beat back Death with my NES Advantage? Never. Did I ever even approach the Doppelganger? Nope. And, as I can very vividly recall, that room with the falling blocks was the absolute end of many a playthrough. If Alucard ran out of hearts to bat his way up that chamber, I was just done. Don’t have time for this nonsense!

Which… was kind of the point. I continued to purchase and/or rent classic Castlevania titles (Bloodlines comes immediately to mind as my most rented Genesis title), and I unequivocally enjoyed that franchise… but it wasn’t Mega Man. It wasn’t Mario. In fact, Mario might have been the biggest reason I could never truly enjoy a Castlevania game. Even if I couldn’t put it into words at the time, I still had some thought in my head regarding that whole “joy of movement” theory. Mario was unmistakably fun to control. Simon Belmont? Not so much. His movements were restricted. He had a terrible jump, limited offensive options, and didn’t gain magical invincibility that killed every zombie in his path even once. And the average lifespan of a Belmont? Not very long when you consider how easily a single decapitated medusa could shove that entire clan into one of a thousand bottomless pits.

In short? It sucked to be a Belmont. And who wants to play a game where you have to suck?

Magic!Unfortunately, in the time since the Castlevania “classic” series reigned supreme, I have become a cranky old man. As such, I rarely have time nowadays for games that I do not immediately enjoy. Many JRPGs have fallen by the wayside simply because I cannot deal with another tutorial dungeon explaining how fire beats ice. Perfectly competent platformers have gone ignored because I bounced off the main character’s art style. And I’m not afraid to admit that I dropped at least one “game of the year” just because the hero’s initial movement speed was “too exhausting”. Suffice to say, I was not exactly expecting to dive into an “old school” Castlevania with the same gusto that a more grilled cheese-based Wee Goggle Bob was once capable of mustering.

But Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was more than a little surprising.

First of all (he said, 700 or so words in), Bloodstained: CotM is just plain fun. It is aping Castlevania 3 like a monkey mimicking an orangutan, and it hews so closely to the “original”, it’s almost a surprise that Miriam can’t stick to walls. You start with the base, limited protagonist with slow, but functional, movements, move on to someone a little weaker, but with greater agility and range, pick up a squishy wizard with extremely convenient spells, and finally gain some brooding dork that craps fireballs and occasionally morphs into a bat. Unlike Castlevania 3, though, you do have the option of switching between all four combatants at once, which wildly increases the odds you’ll ever bother with that weakling mage. And that also means stages are designed around every possible party combination, and… that’s where things get complicated.

Stairs!It is very likely that, upon playing B:CoTM for the first time, the player will choose to recruit every last ally, and utilize their skills in every possible combination across all levels. Once that task is completed, a new mode will unlock wherein all the extra allies are available from the start, but Zangetsu (the ersatz Belmont and initial playable character) is missing in action. And he’s not missed! It’s pretty clear that Zangetsu is the Zeppo of these Marx brothers, and you’re much better off using literally anyone else. Miriam has mad ups, Alfred can blast any boss, and Gebel can scratch those hard to reach places. Who even invited that Zangetsu nerd in the first place?

This, naturally, will lead a curious player toward trying that initial mode again, but this time, using only Zangetsu. He’s the worst, but that just makes him a “secret” kind of hard mode, right? Not quite…

Zangetsu has two options for a solo outing. On one route, he may choose the bloody path of literally murdering each of his potential allies. And the prize for his sins will be access to new offensive and gymnastic skills. A homicidal Zangetsu can acquire a sweeping slash, high-speed dash, double jump, and a “charge attack” that would put a certain Mega Buster to shame. And then he’s the best character in the game! Without a question! Who even needs friends when you can slash an enormous turtle monster in half! I am become Death!

But then there’s “true” solo mode. Friendly Zangetsu acknowledges that all these wizards crawling around are creeping him out, but doesn’t kill a single one of them. Zangetsu must soldier on with his meager skills, and thus the player must learn to deal with a lame jump and Link’s Adventure-level weapon range. Zangetsu is pathetic, and every challenge becomes actually challenging, even for someone that has already saved this world three times or so.

But you know what? It’s doable.

Not a vampire!Bloodstained: CoTM is built for a full party of moon murderers (I miss just saying “vampire slayers”), including at least one dude that can magically become invincible, and another than can fly literally anywhere. Its stages are also designed for just the guy who can barely jump. In fact, the game is designed equally for both eventualities, and offers a wildly different experience for either choice. And, crucially, this means that the choices the player makes over the course of the adventure are significant. You don’t need a “Miriam will remember that” prompt to tell you something significant has happened when you’re too busy fighting your way over a bottomless pit to notice, and the “penalty” for literally killing a possible helper is immediately revealed in a sudden change of moveset. But, by the same token, these important choices may create a game that is more or less difficult, but never a game that becomes a complete cakewalk or impossibility. Everything here was carefully designed around players playing the game their way, and that allows for an inordinate amount of fun.

And, yeah, that’s something Bloodstained: CoTM learned from Castlevania 3, too. Heck, you could even claim it learned it from the original Castlevania. After all, tell me you’re not playing two different games depending on whether you decide to bring a bottle of holy water to a Frankenstein fight. The “old school” Castlevania titles might not have been as much fun to play as Mega Man, but in their limitations, they created an environment where the player had more choices than any title that involved a tanooki leaf.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon taught me that the original Castlevania titles were always more than they seemed, and didn’t need to pull in a single vampire to do it. Mimic a franchise, and somehow make the base franchise better? Pretty good trick, Bloodstained.

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

  • System: PC, Nintendo Switch, 3DS, Sony Playstation 4, and Vita. Sorry, this will be the only Bloodstained merchandise appearing on the Vita.
  • Number of players: One is good enough.
  • Pimpin!Favorite Boss: Hey, it turns out all these jerks have names on the official website! Valefor, the giant monster wearing a pimp hat, is my clear winner. He’s made of gold! And tries to kill you with gold! And can occasionally summon monsters made of gold! That’s solid gold, baby!
  • Out of Order: Did anyone else find Bathin, the light speed lizard that haunts the mechanical library, to be easier than literally every previous boss in the game? Its super fast attacks would be impossible without those target reticules, but with giant flashing “don’t stand here” signs all over the place? Not so much.
  • Favorite Character: Good call on making Miriam, the star of the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, arguably the most useful character. Sure, she is lacking in health or very strong attacks, but agility goes a long way in the 2-D world.
  • Favorite Reason 16-Bit Graphics were invented: Nothing interesting about the main characters really comes across with these faux 8-bit sprites, but Gebel really loses something when lo-fi. He’s supposed to be adorned with blood-purple stained glass across his flesh, but here? Here he’s just Alucard.
  • Would I play again? Odds are really good! Maybe I’ll even give that boss-rush a chance! Or maybe I’ll actually keep playing the parts of the game I enjoy! Who knows what the future holds?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Alfred Chicken for the Super Nintendo! There we go! There’s that randomness we all love and crave! Please look forward to it!

Choo Choo!