FGC #458 Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Spooky!My parents were good, decent people that tried their best to raise a superior Goggle Bob. In some cases, I can say they failed, as it is clear my unchecked narcissism will one day destroy the world. Because I’m perfect, I must blame my parents for that inevitability. However, in many cases, they were successful. For instance, my parents were deathly afraid of me watching any kind of super violent or super sexual material, so they steered me towards books. This meant that I was not allowed to watch the R-rated movie Stephen King’s Thinner, but I was allowed to read the source novel. This led to a lovely situation wherein, a few years later, I was a goddamned wizard at typing out vivid descriptions of oral sex, which was a boon when you’re a teenager in the early days of cybering. Unfortunately, this policy also had some drawbacks, as I was not allowed to see a number of potentially frightening movies from the time I was a young’un. As a result, I never saw Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and was forced to content myself with the NES adaption as a consolation prize.

And, in retrospect, Gremlins 2: The New Batch for the NES is clearly the most frightening form of Gremlins media, so go ahead and chalk up another loss for my parents. They tried.

Gremlins 2 starts pretty much like every other NES game. Gizmo is an adorable little fuzzball, and it’s his job to… walk around? The opening cinema reveals that Gizmo was released from a cage, and… I guess he’s just gotta walk over there or somethin’? Look, the first level is simply Gizmo tossing (genetically modified) tomatoes at rats and spiders in a Zelda-esque isometric perspective. Gizmo is pretty well equipped for this leg of the journey, and there isn’t even a boss to clear before moving on to level 2.

And that’s when things get weird…

Drip Drop

First of all, go ahead and try to explain what the hell is happening there to someone who has never seen Gremlins. Bonus points if you can somehow elucidate it all to a child that is a little more used to magic mushrooms and frowning robot masters and not a wee fluff ball painfully launching ping pong balls out of his back.

Secondly, this is when the titular gremlins show up. To be clear, they’re not simply going to appear in cutscenes from this point on, they’re also replacing the rats and spiders as the number one opponent in every level. And they come in different forms! There’s a jumping gremlin, a skateboarding gremlin, a flying gremlin, a bat gremlin, a filthy wizard gremlin, and even a smoking gremlin that effectively breathes fire. These “individual” gremlins appear in great numbers, and every level is overcrowded with the monsters.

SPOOKYAnd, on their own, these gremlins might not be scary. The graphics are particularly nice for a NES game, so the gremlins are rendered well… but still matching their generally goofy big screen versions. Aside from the big, bad, boss gremlins, the average gremlin looks like it would be right at home in the Mushroom Kingdom. And Gizmo earns progressively better weapons, so, while he doesn’t exactly have a spread beam in his inventory, he’s also not the least equipped hero on the NES (that would be a certain elf boy). All in all, these gremlins should just be another batch of NES mooks destined for destruction, and not something that should still haunt this dear author.

No, what’s scary about the gremlins is that they hate you.

It may be hard to remember now, but most NES monsters… didn’t care. The goomba, the most iconic creature in Mario’s bestiary and the creature most seen on the NES, arguably doesn’t even know Mario is there. Dude is just walking along, minding his own business, and maybe if some plumber decides to stomp him into oblivion, well, that’s on that mustache man’s conscience. Similarly, even big bads like Bowser or the Hammer Bros. will continue facing forward well after Mario runs right past them. So it’s pretty clear that they may be malevolent, but they’re not trying too hard. An overwhelming number of “enemies” on the NES react the same way. Mets just sit there and wait, zombies and bats move forward with all the menace of a caterpillar, and even the most deadly monsters in Battletoads just kind of saunter over to the titular toads. And the general format of that day mitigates any overt hostilities. Everything is trying to kill you in a shoot ‘em up like Gradius, but the tiny sprites and excess screen real estate gives the impression that you’ve got time to deal with these threats. Hot stuffAnd, speaking of which, those Big Cores are big threats, but their mammoth size makes then lumbering giants compared to your lithe Vic Viper. Everything is slow and nonthreatening on the NES, because almost all NES games put their focus on other areas. You can either have a gigantic, expressive mechanical dragon, or a teeny tiny dragon that takes forever to clear the screen. Neither is going to scare anyone.

Gremlins 2 does not have that issue. Gremlins 2 decided to fill up its screen with large, expressive sprites for heroes and villains, and that drastically cut down on the amount of space Gizmo has to maneuver. The programmers also decided that nearly every monster would home in on Gizmo, so fire-breathers blow flames straight into his path, and leaping gremlins inexorably vault onto our tiny hero. And combine this with an office building that apparently includes live wires, spike pits, and a surprising amount of lava, and you can only come to one conclusion: everything is trying to kill Gizmo! And Gizmo is adorable! How could we live in such a cruel world!?

And that’s why Gremlins 2: The New Batch scares me to this day. It’s not an exemplary or even particularly memorable NES title, it is simply a game that taught a Wee Goggle Bob that even if you’re cute, even if you’re tenacious, even if you’re the best little fuzzball in the world and decked out with the same weaponry as Rambo, you still live in an uncaring, unforgiving world that wants to tear you to shreds. The training wheels of the rats and spiders are going to be coming off quickly, and you’ll be facing electric monster ghosts for the rest of your short, brutish life.

And your parents are going to just let it happen.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

FGC #458 Gremlins 2: The New Batch

  • Sparky!System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There were also versions for Gameboy, DOS, Commodore 64, and some manner of Atari… but they’re not nearly as traumatic.
  • Number of players: Gizmo is alone in the world.
  • Further indignities: You start with zero lives. You have to purchase even a single 1-up if you want to continue past your initial three hearts. You will not survive.
  • Ahead of its time: I want to say this is the first game I ever played that contained bottomless pits, but simply dropped a little health before respawning the hero before an ill-fated jump. It took most franchises until the N64 to pick up on that QOL improvement.
  • Favorite Boss: The finale features the gigantic spider gremlin (Mohawk?). It is a terrible boss, as you can basically just stand there and shoot and eventually it will catch fire. But, on the other hand, it’s a giant spider monster, and that counts for something in my book.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes, though with liberal save states. I think I even made it to the end when I was a kid… though that may have been because Nintendo Power provided many a password. I definitely still have nightmares about the ending with all the Gremlins melting…
  • Did you know? Sadly, Hulk Hogan does not appear in this game.
  • Would I play again: I am terrified into not even bothering.

What’s next? Random ROB is taking the week off, because I just had an amazing dream. There were moblins! And chain chomps! And some manner of seagull girl? Whatever. I’m going to tell you all about it. Please look forward to it!

Stay cool, bro

MKK: Stryker & Kabal

What better way to introduce Mortal Kombat 3 than with Kurtis “The Strike Man” Stryker, the most hated of all Mortal Kombat kharacters?

He's got a gun!

Mortal Kombat 1 was a fighting tournament on a private magical island. Mortal Kombat 2 was a fighting tournament in a private magical dimension. Clearly, it was time for Mortal Kombat 3 to enter the “real world”. The excuse for Shao Kahn’s invasion of Earth was confusing (he lost MK2, but he decided to invade anyway thanks to a marital reconciliation), but the end result was obvious: Mortal Kombat was now taking place in the real world. Shang Tsung’s machinations were no longer confined to a secret fantasy location, now kombatants could duke it out on city streets and subway cars. And don’t worry about crowds! Shao Kahn sucked the souls out of nearly every living thing on Earth, so real estate prices have never been lower! And if you’re concerned about a few stragglers, don’t worry, Shao Kahn has a plan for that, too! He’s dispatched an army of malevolent centaurs to eliminate any remaining souls, and, let me tell you, the average human is not equipped to deal with a centaur. In so many ways!

And Stryker? Stryker is not equipped to deal with anything.

Stryker was based on a pretty basic character concept: what if normal guy? It’s a common trope (particularly in sequels): you’ve got a bunch of crazy martial artists and lizard people and robot people running around, why not introduce someone that is supposed to be the everyman? Stryker cannot hurl fireballs, he just has a gun and some grenades. Stryker doesn’t understand bicycle kicks, but he can propel himself with his baton. And he might not be able to tear his flesh mask off to reveal a flaming skull, but he does have a load of TNT, and that counts for something! On paper, Stryker seems like a pretty great idea, particularly for a game that is trying to make a splash by entering “the real world”.

He's got a gun!

Unfortunately, in practice, Stryker sucks. First of all, we already tried two “normal” people, and they were pretty grenade-adjacent to begin with. Sonya and Jax may have gained some mystical and metal powers along the way, but they were (right from the beginning!) fine examples of “average” people thrown into unusual, kung-fu-based circumstances. Second, we were just coming off Mortal Kombat 2, which featured new kharacters that were about 80% murder mutant by volume. We lost the guy with swords for arms for a fighter that could best be described as “kinda paunchy”? Really? And, let’s be real here, Kurtis Stryker is a cop, straight-up a NYPD officer, and it’s pretty safe to say that we had all been listening to NWO for a solid seven years at that point. I’m not saying everybody hates cops, but let’s just note that that’s one real-world profession that can be… divisive.

And Stryker’s actual story during Mortal Kombat 3 wasn’t exactly winning anyone over, either. Stryker was the leader of the “Riot Control Brigade” when Shao Kahn invaded, and then, once everyone rode the Soul Train straight into captivity, Stryker was left alone in a depopulated NYC. And what did he do? Well, if you win the tournament with Stryker, it reveals that Raiden told him what was up, he attacked Shao Kahn, and because Shao Kahn was not expecting some loser in a baseball cap, Stryker saves the world with a nightstick. But, spoilers, it’s kanon that Liu Kang saved the day, and Stryker did absolutely nothing. And how much nothing did he do? Well, it is revealed through Stryker’s MK: Armageddon biography that ol’ Kurtis spent the entirety of MK3 confused and wandering around (empty) New York. Did he fight anybody? Maybe! But it is 100% kanon that Stryker had absolutely no idea what was going on during the entirety of Mortal Kombat 3. And, oh yeah, Stryker did not appear for every game between MK3 and MK:A (effectively MK7). What was he doing during the interim? Who the heck knows!

He's got a gun!

Actually, Stryker’s absence is something worth noting. If you look at the playable kast of previous Mortal Kombat games (or just these longwinded biographies), you will note that every playable kharacter from Mortal Kombat 1 & 2 routinely gets a “check-in”. As an example, Baraka might not be in every Mortal Kombat game, but when he is absent, there is an explanation for his nonappearance. Baraka wasn’t in Deadly Alliance because he was learning to knit, and then the titular Deadly Alliance was not able to pay him for 50,000 new sweaters upon their death, so Baraka is now back with a vengeance. Scorpion is always going to show up, but even when Kitana takes a game off, you learn why she is missing (she’s usually dead), or what she was doing (being dead, getting better).

Stryker gets no such courtesy. Why was Stryker missing from Deadly Alliance? Nobody cares. Why did he decide to rejoin everyone for Armageddon? Not a single soul cares. Stryker has no complicated web of kharacter relationships with the rest of the fighters; he’s just kind of there. And that’s that! Moving on to the next, hopefully more interesting kharacter!

And, unfortunately, starting here in Mortal Kombat 3, Stryker winds up becoming the norm. Give or take an albino wizard or blind swordsman, most of the new kharacters from this point on are ignored by the grander kanon at large. Arguably, it’s a chicken and an egg situation: are they not referenced much because they didn’t become popular, or are they not popular because they were never very important to begin with? Who knows! Stryker sure doesn’t, as not knowing a damn thing is pretty much his thing.

He's got a zombie!

Anywho, the Stryker of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon was supposed to be a super “tech” cop, essentially building on the idea that he was a representative not necessarily of the common man, but of the sheer force of “mundane” equipment from Earthrealm (or just the one guy who decided to bring a gun to a fist fight). Mortal Kombat 9 retold/revised the story of Mortal Kombat 3, so that Stryker returned with an emphasis on being a “normal” cop again, though this time with the caveat of Stryker being promoted to “action movie cop”. He’s ordinary, but he’s the kind of ordinary that is the hero of Die Hard or Speed (which his in-game biography distinctly notes as “previous cases”). Yes, the implication is that Stryker is somehow Bruce Willis and Keanu Reeves rolled into one. However, that wasn’t enough to make Stryker interesting and/or alive, so, when this Stryker is actually informed of what the hell is happening, he joins the good guys, and is then immediately killed. Stryker, like his friends, joins the undead army of Quan Chi, and becomes one of those zombies that is always there, but isn’t popular enough to get a spot on any future rosters. Stryker was last seen “laying down cover fire” for other Quan Chi minions, so his power, even in death, is still just “has a gun”.

Oh, and Stryker was voiced by Ron Perlman in the animated series, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. It somehow still wasn’t enough to bolster his popularity, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for any MK11 Stryker DLC.

Scary!

And here’s the other thing that started happening in Mortal Kombat 3: kharacters that were never meant to be kharacters.

Kabal was initially conceived of as a Star Wars rip-off mixed with another, slightly different Star Wars rip-off mixed with a droid. Initially, Kabal was named Sandman, was a “desert nomad”, and was vaguely cyborgian with a mechanical breathing device and wrist-mounted buzzsaws. Unfortunately, “Sandman” lost the buzzsaws for all but a weird special move, gained hookswords (which apparently had been part of an early Baraka concept), and held on to his vaguely Tusken Raider-esque aesthetics compliments of some generic metal parts. Kabal was born as a mysterious warrior that had barely survived Shao Kahn’s extermination squads, and, like Scorpion’s original Mortal Kombat 1 origins, was an enigmatic fighter hiding beneath a mask that hid his true intentions (yes, there was a time when Scorpion’s whole “he’s an angry skeleton” thing was a surprise). In fact, complete with Scorpion being absent from initial Mortal Kombat 3 versions, there’s a lot of evidence that Kabal was intended to be the “next” Scorpion in the franchise (the other evidence being that OG Kabal was overpowered as hell).

Unfortunately, while Kabal had a really unique design and interesting abilities (he can run really fast and generate static electricity), his biography was sorely lacking. “Mysterious warrior” is pretty great for an arcade attract screen or strategy guide bio, but it doesn’t exactly have (super-powered) legs going forward. His ending filled in a few blanks, though, and revealed that he, like Kano, was a Black Dragon thief. But! Having been changed by nearly being killed by a mythological creature, he decided to turn his life around, and would become a champion of good, putting his hookswords into the faces of criminals across the globe. Yes, coming so close to death truly changed Kabal, and now, with his new lease on…

He's got a great hook

Oh, wait. That would be right about when he died.

Kabal was a cool kharacter to look at… but it seems like the MK designers wanted a do-over by the time of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. Kabal was always supposed to have a cape, and his hookswords were pretty cool, so those items went to an all-new kharacter: Mavado. Mavado was our introduction to the Red Dragons, the high class alternative to Kano’s Black Dragons (who, it should be noted, are rather notorious for peeing on furniture). Mavado’s introductory biography mentioned that he murdered Kabal for his weapons (hookswords don’t just come with any old action figure), so the message was clear: the Black Dragons are dead, and Mavado is here for a brand new day.

And then Kabal killed Mavado right back. I guess Mavado wasn’t all that popular!

Kabal returned from the dead for Mortal Kombat: Deception. Literally! Havik, who holds the official Splatfest rank of “Cleric of Chaos”, resuscitated Kabal. Havik presented a mission to Kabal: go forth, and revive the Black Dragons, because… uh… Kano doesn’t have enough friends? Whatever. Kabal, despite admitting that he hadn’t even checked the Black Dragon livejournal page since Mortal Kombat 3, agrees to revive the Black Dragons with a gusto usually reserved for free buffalo wings. At Havik’s behest, he ventures forth to create an all-new Black Dragon organization, but this time, with blackjack! And hookswords!

Kabal recruits two new members over the course of Deception: our first actual Black Dragon woman and that guy from Karate Kid (the one with a youtube series). This was a pretty… uh… passable reboot of the Black Dragons, and Kabal’s gang probably would have blossomed and flourished… had the universe not rebooted immediately thereafter in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Start again!

He's got a great hook

Now, the reboot of Mortal Kombat 1-3 in Mortal Kombat 9 offered an interesting opportunity: we might actually get to see Kabal before he became a cybernetic weirdo! And we do! At the start of the Mortal Kombat 3 portion of Mortal Kombat 9, we meet the latest version of Kabal. And he’s a cop! And a good one, apparently! He’s Stryker’s partner! And this is confusing for anyone that was expecting a Black Dragon thief in Kano’s employ. Whatever! Super Cop Kabal doesn’t last long, though, as Kintaro burns his face off (literally) during the Outworld invasion of Earth. And then we get the origin we all expected: a combination of Kano’s technology and Shang Tsung’s magic revives Kabal to be the sandman we all know and love. How was Kabal revived in the original timeline? Who knows! But what’s important is we’ve got Kabal back, and he’s going to be a good guy right from the beginning! He rejects his revivers, and… dies immediately afterwards. … I wonder if he’s used to that by now.

So, (and I’m almost done with kharacters to whom this applies) Kabal becomes a zombie in Quan Chi’s army, and spends Mortal Kombat X as an annoying (NPC) revenant. Kabal is still an aimless undead with a respirator in Mortal Kombat 11, but he’s also his younger self, who has earned another retcon. Now, yes, Young Kabal is a cop without a first name, but he’s also always been a cop on the take from Kano. So, see? He was always a Black Dragon! Again! Young Kabal earns the honor of being Kano’s #1 Not-Kano henchman, and his only contribution to the plot is fighting Young Sonya once. He loses. Thanks for coming by, Kabal.

He's got a great hook

So, long story short: young artists, if you come up with an interesting physical design for a character, maybe nail down that backstory at the same time. It will make you a lot happier in 20 years. Trust me.

Next time: The culture wars

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

Blaze itWhat constitutes a videogame “star”?

Today’s game is Blazing Dragons, a Playstation (1)/Sega Saturn adventure game from nearly 25 years ago. I am also a thing from over 25 years ago, and I purchased this game back when it was new. Well… fairly new. I was a young buck on vacation, and I want to say this Playstation jewel case was glimmering back at me from a discount bin somewhere around Delaware. Under normal circumstances, I likely would have paid Blazing Dragons the same heed I’d grant Bubsy or Gex, but this game featured one important phrase on its cover:

STARRING!
“Starring the voices of Terry Jones & Cheech Marin”

Now, even though I was technically officially a teenager at this point, I could not give less of a damn about Cheech Marin. I was a nerd, and was not nearly cool enough to know anyone that could ever acquire a drug. But, thanks to that previously mentioned nerdity, I could probably quote every third thing Terry Jones had ever said. Yes, I’m sure my audience will be shocked to learn that I was a Monty Python fan, and, just about when Blazing Dragons was new(ish), I was old enough to finally get all those sex jokes that flew completely over my head in my younger years. The Meaning of Life finally made sense! And included tits! Double bonus! Thus, seeing a videogame (my favorite medium!) featuring one of my favorite writers/directors/actors was practically a no-brainer for wee(ish) Goggle Bob. And it was on sale! Score!

HA HA HABut, even as a dedicated Monty Python fan, I could understand why Blazing Dragons was wallowing in the discount bin. It’s a Sierra-esque adventure game with no death conditions (that I could find…) and about three minigames that actually require a controller. So, to begin with, it’s a game practically made for the mouse on a pair of systems that didn’t have (easy) access to that peripheral. Beyond the controls, this is typical adventure game fare, and you must collect every random object lying around the kingdom, and then use it on every other object in a desperate attempt to find the proper solution to puzzles like “where is my corn” (you have to use a sheet) and “save the princess” (you have to use a mirror to hypnotize the court jester and then use a suitcase to dress him up like a lady). It’s clear that the “humor” of this universe applies to the puzzles, so solutions are often deliberately obtuse (sneak into the castle by wrapping prunes in newspaper and then tying it up with ribbon), but at least the lack of failure states means you only have to spend the afternoon clicking (not clicking) one thing against the other until something finally works. And, hey, you’ll probably remember to grab the hair tonic to menace Rapunzel the next time you play, so replays are usually pretty breezy. A speedrun of this game would probably take less time than listening to some nerd act out the whole Knights Who Say Ni bit.

But does the game adequately capture the spirit of Monty Python? Is Terry Jones permeating this little black disc? Heck no. Blazing Dragons does its best to follow the general humor of Monty Python and similar comedies of the 70s/80s. There’s an emphasis on parody here (see, it’s the dragons that are the good guys, and the expy for King Arthur and Merlin are the bad guys), a few fairytales are ribbed beyond the obvious Arthurian parallels, and, of course, there’s the old trope of men imitating women because Michael Bell throwing his voice is always assumed to be funny. And, uh, everyone has outrageous accents, so that helps. Blazing Dragons isn’t exactly a disappointment on the humor front (it is still generally funny, like watching a wannabe billionaire’s toupee flap around in the wind), but it’s certainly no Flying Circus. If you’re attracted to Terry Jones (not like that) (… though maybe like that), you’ll be generally entertained by the maybe 15 minutes of dialogue he recorded for this adventure, but sidesplitting isn’t on the menu.

ALL NIGHT LONGBut Terry Jones is the reason this game is in my collection. I wouldn’t have given it the time of day, but Terry Jones, man. Terry Jones! Life of Brian! Blazing Dragons might have been a dud, but would I buy another product featuring Terry Jones? Spoilers: of course I would (and did)! But another videogame? Well, maybe not. Writing an amazing movie or book doesn’t mean you can make a fun videogame. It might seem obvious, but that was news to me twenty years ago.

But that got me thinking: what star’s name would actually get me to buy a videogame today?

First of all, to get the obvious out the way, a specific actor/comedian/performer isn’t going to cut it. We live in a world where Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas got all of the talent in Hollywood (and James Woods) to show up in 2004, and all anyone remembers from that game is fun times with rocket launchers. Nowadays, we’ve got full motion capture and graphics capable of rendering an actor’s real life eye boogers, and it’s equally useless for creating truly good videogames. Nobody cares if the next Katamari Damacy title (may there be one) features the prince or an undead mocap of Prince: it’s all about rolling those sweet, sweet balls. And even more acting-based games like Telltale’s output may be enhanced by a decent performer in a role, but Tom Cruise isn’t going to make me care about clicking on random objects. Sorry, Maverick, but I’d prefer a maverick hunter.

Burn, babyBut what about the orators of the videogame world? I keep noting actors and writers that were successful in other fields, but not necessarily videogames. Christopher Lambert might play a mean Raiden in a movie, but that doesn’t mean he can deliver the uppercuts required to be a successful thunder god in the digital space. Where are the Spielbergs or Tarantinos of the gaming world? The men and… crap, it’s inevitably going to just be men… the people that can just stick a “presents” on anything in their medium and score a hit, from Ready Player One to Tiny Toons? Where are the videogame rockstars?!

Oh, right, I’m posting this on the eve of the release of Death Stranding, a Hideo Kojima Presents joint. As Kojima has noted on his own Twitter, Kojima Productions started when he had to leave his home at Konami, and was left with only his wit, ingenuity, a dedicated team of professionals, the massive success of every game he ever slapped his name on (except Boktai), and Norman Reedus’s personal cell number. Hideo Kojima managed to transform that grab-bag of practically nothing into a very successful videogame… or at least what is probably going to be a very successful videogame, because, again, as of this writing, the game isn’t even released yet. But! The internet seems to report on everything Kojima says (or when he farts in the general direction of a cosplayer), so Death Stranding is likely going to be an unprecedented (completely precedented) hit. It combines everything you loved about his old games, plus that guy from The Walking Dead peeing! Who could ask for anything more?!

But… this seems familiar to me. I remember the last time an amazing videogame director was ousted from his parent company, and was forced to strike out on his own to create an all-new, maybe slightly familiar franchise. I’m wracking my brain, I just can’t quite remember…

DAMMIT!

Oh. Right.

There are no videogame stars. And never judge a game by its credits. “Stars” are monsters.

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

  • System: Playstation 1 and Sega Saturn. You’d think there would be a PC version, but I can’t seem to find any evidence of one.
  • Number of players: Solitary dragon quest.
  • Favorite Puzzle: In order to properly impersonate the villain of the piece, you have to grab a mask of his face, and then dunk said mask in a pile of manure. This is possibly the least subtle joke in history, but it does give you a firm grasp of the various odors of this universe.
  • Winner!Other Stars: Cheech ‘n Terry got the cover blurb, but Harry Shearer, Jim Cummings, and Charlie Adler all hit the recording booth for this adventure. The rest of the cast is a murderer’s row of 90’s VA talent, too, even including seemingly the entire cast of Rugrats. How many games can say that? Well, aside from Rugrats: Search for Reptar.
  • Waiting: The load times on this sucker are atrocious, and they occur every ten seconds or so. I’m pretty sure Blazing Dragons is optimized for some system that never hosted the poor thing.
  • Personal Vengeance: This game wiped out my original PSX memory card. I didn’t quite understand what “formatting” meant back in the day, and the instruction manual claims that the “format memory card” option is necessary to save your game. And that’s the story of how I lost my first Wild Arms save.
  • Secret Shame: In my younger days, I had a crush on Princess Flame. Yes, she’s a four-legged, hairless dragon, but I do have a thing for exotic accents, and the heart wants what the heart wants.
  • An end: The finale is basically an extended bit with Terry Jones complaining about adventure game tropes while marginally in character. So put Blazing Dragons in the pile with the other games that aren’t comfortable in their own skin.
  • Did you know? This game was delayed seemingly so it could be released at the same time as an accompanying animated series… that only seemed to air in Canada. And it was completely off-model and vaguely unrecognizable compared to its source game (Princess Flame, what have they done to you?). But Terry Jones got a created by credit, so at least it’s similar enough for the lawyers.
  • Would I play again: How about I just read a FAQ and nebulously recall what happens when you use the pipe cleaner on the termite mound? Sounds about equally enjoyable…

What’s next? There’s a certain holiday coming up, so we’re going to look at a game that is slightly scary. … Or at least it was when I was young enough to dress up every year. What could it be? It’s a trick! Or a treat! Please look forward to it!

Hair today, gone tomorrow

MKK: Kintaro & Shao Kahn

Never follow a dog act with a cat.

Feisty cat

Kintaro was intended to be Goro #2, and it seems literally everyone involved regretted this choice immediately. Kintaro was initially intended to be some manner of saber-tooth tiger creature-man, but this proved to be too difficult, so that “version” of Kintaro was tossed over to Primal Rage 2 (“There was a Primal Rage 2?” “Exactly”), and we basically got “Goro, but kind of like a cat?”. Tiger Goro wound up an incredibly cheap boss in Mortal Kombat 2, which, yeah, that’s par for the course with Mortal Kombat bosses. Basically, aside from being Goro’s fursona, Kintaro has no real defining features.

And then everyone forgot he existed for years.

Kintaro appeared in the Playstation version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but that was more of a dream match (for Kintaro) than anything. His next kanon appearance was in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, a game that featured (nearly) every MK fighter. Kintaro’s story in Annihilation… doesn’t exist. He’s just kind of there. Like in Mortal Kombat 2! He’s consistent! But at least… uh… his ending sees him earning magical swords. That’s… kind of something?

Ouch!

Kintaro returns for the reboot of Mortal Kombat 9, and he is defeated by Kung Lao moments after his introduction. This would be akin to being nominated for an Emmy, but then losing the prize to a kid in Mrs. Eckerson’s drama club. Kintaro did get to return for a rad endurance match with Goro against Sub-Zero, though, so his appearance wasn’t a complete waste.

And that’s about it for Kintaro. For a final denouement, he appeared in the kanonically dubious Mortal Kombat X komics, and had his head torn off by a magically-possessed Sonya Blade. It was meant to be a noble death for the Shokan warrior, but, like everything else in his cursed life, it didn’t quite land.
Kintaro, congratulations on being the first of many “forgotten” kombatants.

KAAAAAAAAHN!

But here’s a guy that no one is ever going to forget.

Not unlike over in the Street Fighter universe, the boss of the second title appears to be the one that stuck around the most. Shao Kahn isn’t always the final boss of the franchise, but he holds that honor most often. And he’s got a cool hat, too. That probably helps.

Despite being such a popular character, Shao Kahn’s origins are kind of murky. Apparently, he was originally a lesser deity of Outworld (like how Raiden is described before he ascended over the course of the series) back in the day when Onaga, the Dragon King, ruled Outworld. Shao Kahn grew jealous of the simplicity of being an interdimensional despot, though, and decided to take out Onaga with a healthy dosage of poison. Shao Kahn thus became the god-emperor of Outworld, and went on to conquer other realms. Edenia , the home universe of Kitana, was one of the earliest to fall, and Shao Kahn murdered Edenia’s king before taking the queen as his own. Queen Sindel didn’t last very long, however, as she offed herself after seeing her own prenup. This led to a germ of a plan that would eventually come to fruition a few centuries later, but, in the meanwhile, Shao Kahn primarily set his sights on Earth. Shang Tsung and Goro were dispatched to win ten generations of Mortal Kombat, and they came thiiiiiis close before Liu Kang cocked up the whole enterprise. This left Shao Kahn feeling rather lonely (he was really looking forward to marrying The Queen of Earth), so he invited the kombatants and all his closest friends to Outworld for a big party. It went… poorly.

The Mortal Kombat 2 tournament may have ended badly for Shao Kahn, but it did wonders for his reputation. Shang Tsung was a fun end boss for MK1, but he is most remembered for being a whole cast in one fight, and little more than a fireball-slinger otherwise. Shao Kahn, meanwhile, was much more in the vein of Goro: a huge, imposing monster man that was going to keep you floored. And he was an even bigger jerk than Goro, too. Shao Kahn would repeatedly taunt his prey, and hurl any number of insults that were significantly bolstered by Kahn revealing he had been the omnipresent announcer all along. Beating the hidden kharacters of MK2 offered very few pride points, but eventually triumphing and beating down the final boss and literal voice of Mortal Kombat 2 was thrilling.

He has green power, too!

And I guess defeating Shao Kahn means you saved two different dimensions? That’s pretty okay, too.

But! Defeating Shao Kahn did not save any universes at all. Shao Kahn was immediately revived after his MK2 defeat (MK9 seemed to imply that Quan Chi was involved), and he decided to cheat the universe at large by reviving his Queen Sindel on Earth. This apparently granted Shao Kahn carte blanche to set foot on Earth and reclaim his bride. And since Shao was on Earth anyway, he may as well use dark magic to merge the realms, suck up the soul of literally everyone on the planet, and dispatch centaur death squads to round up any survivors. This was perhaps not in the spirit of the original “just swing by and pick up your zombie wife” plan, but it wound up working out for Earth, as Liu Kang again challenged and defeated Shao Kahn. This pulled a big ol’ CTRL+Z on Shao Kahn’s invasion, and everything went back to normal for a solid couple of minutes. Shao Kahn also managed to survive his encounter with Liu Kang, and skulked back to Outworld to chill for the entirety of Mortal Kombat 4.

Shao Kahn was on something of a losing streak, what with personally losing two MK tournaments and Sindel/Kitana liberating Edenia and turning the Shokan and other Outworld tribes against him, so it kind of made sense when Shang Tsung and Quan Chi killed Shao Kahn to kick off their Deadly Alliance. But it was all a trick! Shao Kahn was never dumb enough to just hang out and get murdered on his own throne, and it was just an after-image, ha ha, you fools, Shao Kahn lives. Thus, Shao Kahn and the similarly presumed dead Goro teamed up for the Gamecube version of Mortal Kombat: Deception. They marched on the Dragon King… but didn’t make it in time to re-kill Shao Kahn’s revived predecessor. As a consolation prize, Shao Kahn decided to take back his old castle, so Shao ‘n Goro reconquered Outworld, and started Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in the literal seat of power.

STILL KAAAAAAAHN

And then, in a surprise turnaround for the series, Shao Kahn won MK:A. He defeated everybody! He beat Blaze, earned nigh-omnipotent power, and the only other warrior left standing was the divine (and also recently resurrected) Raiden. Shao Kahn was on the cusp of conquering the whole of the universe (which, according to his MK:A ending, would eventually bore him to literal insanity), but that wily Raiden sent a message back in time, and Shao Kahn was forced to forget his greatest triumph in a rebooted universe. Boo.

The rebooted Mortal Kombat 1-3 of Mortal Kombat 9 is basically all the same for Shao Kahn. He gets a clean kill on Kung Lao and a powered-up demon wife, but, other than that, it’s pretty much more of the same for ol’ Shao. Damn that Liu Kang! Well, until Liu Kang is literally damned by Raiden accidentally barbecuing the would-be hero. This leaves Raiden to battle Shao Kahn alone, but (future) Raiden actually comes up with a pretty great idea. Remember how that whole “Shao Kahn conquers Earth while picking up his wife” plan sounded like a major slight against the rules of Mortal Kombat? Well it was! And all it took for the Elder Gods to notice was Raiden getting the thunder kicked out of him. Thus, for transgressions against the spirit of Mortal Kombat (or something), Shao Kahn was instantly dragged to Hell by the all-powerful gods of the universe. So Shao Kahn does not survive past Mortal Kombat 3 (redux), and can never go on to achieve his supreme victory during Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Of course, a redux of Armageddon would likely go differently anyway, as Shao Kahn killed pretty much everybody over the course of MK9. C’est la vie.

Green is awesome

Being obliterated by divinity kept Shao Kahn down for Mortal Kombat X, but he returned for Mortal Kombat 11. In this tale, the Shao Kahn of MK2’s finale is sucked through a time portal to the present (incidentally thanks to one of those gods that eradicated him a few decades earlier), when Kotal Kahn has ascended to the throne. Shao Kahn is having none of that, so he decides, once again, to conquer Outworld all over again. He recruits some time-displaced Tarkatans (Barakas), and starts tearing up the place in a manner appropriate to a kahn. Unfortunately, this Shao Kahn kind of comes off as a stooge, as he’s distinctly working for a nigh-omnipotent time goddess, and he is eventually defeated by Kitana, who is one of those “assassins” that is only ever capable of killing like one person (and it was her own clone, so that was arguably more suicide than assassination). By the finale of MK11, Shao Kahn is left alive and still out-of-time, but blinded by Kitana’s vengeful fan swiping. A crippled, convalescing Shao Kahn might be an interesting next step for the tyrant, but the universe ends with MK11, so we’re unlikely to see the next phase in Shao’s life. But whatever happens next in the Mortal Kombat universe, you can bet this dork with a hammer will be there!

Love the hammer

Next time: Mortal Kombat 3! Let’s start the parade of forgettable kharacters!