Tag Archives: 3ds

FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

This is the current roster in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate:

Smash it!

Of the fighters featured, I have played games featuring all characters highlighted in black:

I see a pattern

Who did I miss? Well, it looks like the entire Fire Emblem cast. Whoops! Guess I’ll just have to go on not giving a damn about all those stupid sword animes running around.

It's the shieldBut when ROB recently chose Fire Emblem Awakening (reminder: I follow the rule of ROB, but not necessarily in order picked. It takes slightly longer to play Final Fantasy Mystic Quest than Super Contra), I decided it might be time. After all, I have declared repeatedly on this blog that I would follow Nintendo straight into the depths of Hell almost entirely because they have continually created games that are always amazing to play (even if they’re not always the absolute best in the universe). This is the company that is responsible for hidden, super insane Mario stages and the super guide block. Surely I can trust Nintendo to make an enjoyable experience out of a genre I traditionally despise.

And, besides, my Twitter feed at any given moment is about 80% Lucina fanart, so I was kind of curious about her deal.

So, how did baby’s first Fire Emblem experience go? Well…

Casual Mode is my new God

Going into Fire Emblem, I knew exactly three things:

  1. It’s a tactical RPG, meaning it’s mostly about moving your little dudes around a map
  2. “It’s like chess, but sometimes you make the pieces kiss”
  3. Perma-Death

Here comes some plotAnd, above anything else, that perma-death factor scared me the hell away from the franchise. I can deal with a TRPG, I can deal with anime sword people kissing, but I absolutely cannot deal with perma-death in a videogame. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: above all else, I play videogames to relax. I play videogames to fool around in a consequence-free digital playground. I do not want to play a videogame where I can kill people. … Okay, I play videogames where I kill people all the time. I don’t want to play a videogame where I get people killed. I can deal with fainting. I am okay with “Chrom will remember this” in a pre-written, novel-esque setting. But I do not want to relax by watching a daring and debonair archer fall in battle to some stupid zombie with an axe. And then playing the rest of the game without that character? Knowing there is always a… a hole in my party? And what if that warrior was married? Or had kids? Oh God! My only options would be savescumming or never playing the game ever again.

But Fire Emblem Awakening includes a casual mode where not only is perma-death completely ignored, but saving in the middle of a battle is completely allowed. Hooray! I can actually play the game, and screw up by sending my Valkyrie into enemy territory as recklessly as I want!

Looking into this detail after completing the game, I discovered that there was some controversy over the inclusion of this (filthy) casual mode. And my response to that? Hey, nerds, this is my first Fire Emblem game. Let me learn the ropes and still make progress with my training wheels on. I don’t want to feel bad for the rest of the day just because I forgot axe beats lance. Casual mode is unequivocally a good thing for starting players and people who want to play videogames to unwind while waiting in an immobile airplane due to “engine troubles”. I know it’s more complicated than that, Judy, we’ve been sitting on the tarmac for two and a half hours, I’m not buying this “we’re just waiting for the paperwork” excuse! … Where was I? Oh yeah, you eliminate perma-death, and Fire Emblem is suddenly about a million times less stressful.

And, yes, I can confirm that I probably didn’t get through a single battle without at least one unit “fainting” due to a lucky critical or a mistaken bit of movement. If every “retreat” was a permanent death, my final army would have contained about four characters and absolutely zero flying ponies.

But even without the punishment factor, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a TRPG, my most hated genre. How did that work out?

Fire Emblem Awakening is Surprisingly Zippy

Our hero!I have literally never played another Fire Emblem title (give or take attempting OG Famicom Fire Emblem for about thirty seconds around the time of Super Smash Bros Brawl’s release), so I have no idea how the actual gameplay of Awakening compares to other titles in the franchise. However, I can tell you one thing for certain: Fire Emblem Awakening is unexpectedly fast. I’ve long said that I dislike TRPGs because it takes for freakin’ ever to do the simplest thing (like, ya know, kill an entire army full of people), and comparing a TRPG to other genres is always going to make a TRPG look like a literal waste of time. If this were Fire Emblem Warriors (which, wow, I guess is a thing now), I’d have about 600 enemy units dead before I finished my first turn in Fire Emblem 4 Realsies. And who has time for that? I have a bunch of really fast, really fun videogames right here. They’re all around me! They will likely one day consume me! I’m gonna go play Mega Man, let me know when this eternal combat turn ends.

But Fire Emblem Awakening moves astoundingly quickly. Combat animations are actually interesting and dynamic, movement placement is as easy as dragging a mouse around the screen, and, if all else fails, you can rely on the AI to round out a turn (and hopefully not get everyone killed). Enemy turns move at an excellent pace, and, even when some random dude has four attacks versus two counters, a turn is over in less time than it takes to grab a shower burrito. Despite my own general prejudice toward TRPG slowness, Fire Emblem Awakening doesn’t feel like a waste of my precious time (that could be spent playing Mario Bros.).

roar!And, interestingly enough, this extends to time spent outside of the battle, too. “Equipment” as it is traditionally defined in a JRPG is limited to simply weapons, and most characters (save our tactician player avatar) are limited to one or two weapon types, max. So you grab your best sword, give it to your best gal, and call it a day. The end. Other stats, like defense, are controlled by consumable “powerup” items that either last for one battle or are permanent. So determine who is the most useful, feed ‘em a few extra magic shields, and we’re good to go. There is no juggling equipment to make sure everyone has ice armor for the fire cave, or investigating every single shop to determine if every female character has their proper Minerva dress. It’s just grab some gear and go. And going is good!

And that lack of extra equipment makes managing item bags a breeze. Everybody got their emergency elixir and a weapon or two? Fast gals got their keys in case of treasure emergencies? Great! Let’s mosey!

And speaking of moseying…

The Grid Ain’t so Bad

I have said before that I hate grids. But I can live with Fire Emblem Awakening’s general movement grid. Why?

I have no idea. Huh.

So many squaresI generally dislike grid movement because it feels completely limiting compared to “real” movement. People do not move in grids. People are loosey-goosey! We left behind the crosspad before we even got out of the 20th Century, so who wants to deal with an entire army that can’t even move diagonally? But, somehow, Fire Emblem Awakening just feels like… it works? It’s probably a side effect of the whole speed thing, but “playing chess” with these characters feels oddly natural. I’m going to chalk this one up to one of those “Nintendo Magic” experiences. Somebody knows how to make a land-bound elf and a tubby, surprisingly acrobatic plumber’s movement feel equally valid, so it makes sense that sword dudes would somehow feel natural being tied to invisible squares. Or maybe I just didn’t notice the grids because I was actually enjoying myself. Hm.

And speaking of enjoying myself…

The Plot is Actually Enjoyable (And Anime)

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for time travel. Lucina is Chrom’s child from an alternate future where a dragon decided to munch on all of humanity? And that dragon is the evil twin of one of your own party members, so there’s a future child and a future alternate bad guy? And there could be an entire literal army of other future children? Hook that to my veins! This hole was made for me! Something about time travel being my waifu!… Actually, yeah, “waifus” are kind of an issue here…

It's sad, reallyFire Emblem Awakening is a TRPG, but you’re also encouraged to… uh… breed your warriors. Practically your entire army can have relationships, and these relationships have a basis in dialogue (general between battle hangout sessions) and actually war gameplay (units teaming up and defending/assisting each other). In a way, this is a transparent attempt to further elaborate on characters that are inevitably not going to be involved in the legitimate plot (since standard mode allows for perma-death, technically every character except the leads could be dead within their introductory battle, so we can’t very well hang plot twists on their potentially limited existences), but it also offers a better way to “get to know” warriors that might be interesting in battle (that one turns into a giant ferret! What’s up with that!?), but are otherwise superfluous to the greater narrative. And it also scratches that visual novel itch that seems to have wormed its way into a number of titles (presumably thanks to one biggie). But one significant side effect of these interactions is that certain soldiers can fall for certain other (heteronormative) soldiers. And then they get married. And have babies. And babies inherit skills, return from the future, and become soldiers. And, oh man, Chrom started a forever war without even trying!

And, yes, I had heard of this aspect of FEA before playing the title. And, frankly, I was downright terrified of having to properly manage my relationships and “breeding” for perfectly tweaked future children that have all the best skills and advantages and hair colors. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to micromanage the relationships of these characters, and, give or take a bad ending for one of my luminaries that apparently became a sad drunk without a woman to keep him in line, there were no real consequences to this anti-waifu decision. Like “real”, non-casual mode, there was this entire facet of Fire Emblem Awakening that I could focus on if I wanted to, and it would always be there, but I could ignore it and still have a fun time. A few of my chess pieces hooked up, most of them didn’t, and that was just fine by me.

And you know what else is fine?

Class Changes are Always Cool

Look at this:

POWER UP

Damn, that’s cool.

Okay, I like this franchise now. I can finally say that I officially, uncompromisingly like a TRPG. Way to go, Fire Emblem Awakening.

FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, though, given this was apparently the Fire Emblem that revitalized and popularized the entire franchise, I’d expect a rerelease of some kind in the future.
  • Number of players: Can we please, please get a 2 player TRPG battling game? Has this happened in other Fire Emblem titles? Were they any good? I want to know!
  • Yay!  Marth!Anime gonna anime: Of course there is a character that looks like a 12-year old girl but is actually a millennia old dragon person. Other than that, the “anime” of Fire Emblem Awakening isn’t really all that bad, and, with a more Western paintjob, the majority of this title could actually be closer to Tolstoy than Sword Art Online. Okay, that might be pushing it a bit, but this is a surprisingly brutal (re: high body count) story for what I was expecting to be a lot more bubblegum.
  • Mistakes were made: Apparently I wholesale murdered that one dark magician girl everybody is always talking about. I regret nothing.
  • Favorite Soldier: It’s weird, but I wound up gravitating to Lissa. She’s just involved enough in the plot to be present for notable events, and her general personality is an excellent counter to many of the more dour or incidentally blood-thirsty characters. And she can become a pretty competent red mage sage, which is always helpful. Oh, and she has an inferiority complex thanks to a magical tattoo, so that’s also fun.
  • Favorite Future Child: Chrom wound up with Sumia in my playthrough (remember: I do not care), so we wound up with Cynthia, Lucia’s little sister that apparently wants to become a hero… without any real idea of how to do that. And that works surprisingly well! Lucina is all doing the mysterious knight routine and cutting a swath across her own past… and Cynthia can barely figure out how to properly wear pants. They seem like siblings to me.
  • So now do you better understand why these characters are in Smash Bros? Not really. Okay, Robin is pretty damn cool, and surprisingly friendly for her “cool tactician” role… but she’s otherwise fairly unremarkable. Chrom is a generic hero that fights for his friends, so there’s not much there. And I'm so tiredLucina is a goddamn bad ass that bends the laws of time and space to get exactly what she wants and incidentally save the world… but she winds up being the lamest clone character in Smash? Dammit! The coolest one got the worst treatment! I suppose the camaraderie between Robin and Chrom is commendable/memorable, but, having just finished Awakening, I’d rather just see Lucina kicking ass and taking names in a role wholly her own.
  • Did you know? There are a lot of DLC and Spotpass scenarios available, and that appears to be what is intended as the “post-game” of Awakening. But did you know this was the first Nintendo title to feature DLC in any significant form? And the first Nintendo game to feature a DLC swimsuit scenario, because J/TRPG fans are horny as hell? The more you know!
  • Would I play again: I would be curious to see how a more “informed” playthrough of Fire Emblem Awakening would shake out, as I now know many things I did not know before (like who to avoid murdering). But I don’t think I will be doing that for a while, as, now that I have a Fire Emblem “base”, I can try a few other titles that have been recommended over the years. Awakening appears to be a great jumping-on point for the series, and I’m curious to see if this cast/gameplay holds up elsewhere…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Trials of Mana! Yeah! I’m sure that was a random choice! Time for the grand trial of the Goddess of Mana! Please look forward to it!

I admit it

FGC #434 The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link

This is still the coolest part of the gameI have uncovered a startling discovery: all of Link’s problems are not created by Ganon, but the Hyrule monarchy!

Now, let’s be clear here: Ganon is not blameless in his actions. Whether you’re looking at Demise, Ganondorf, or just a bloated pig monster with an over-sized fork, Ganon is irrefutably not a good guy. Yes, he’s a thief from a downtrodden tribe that comes from circumstances, but Ganon is not the root of all evil in Hyrule. That dubious honor belongs to the royal family.

In some titles, this is abundantly obvious. We’ve already discussed Breath of the Wild, and how, had Zelda had just the tiniest bit of foresight, her kingdom would not have fallen to the horrors of technology run amok (though it is nice to see that happen to a nation where Facebook is not involved for once). Similarly, the world of Wind Waker is significantly wetter because the only solution the King of Hyrule had to the Ganon problem was to drown it and literally everything else. Ocarina of Time? More Zelda futzing with prophecies and timelines splitting off because of it. A Link to the Past? Never trust the advisor with blue, clawed hands, kingy. And Twilight Princess? That was a gigantic mess that was caused by not one, but two royal families. And then Zelda made it worse! Basically, we’re looking at the royalty being the number one reason Link can’t just sit around raising cuccos all day long, and has to actually nab a sword from some old man cave.

And while we’re discussing elderly hermits distributing weaponry, yes, this is exactly how The Legend of Zelda started.

A wizard did itEveryone knows the basic plot of the original Legend of Zelda: Ganon kidnaps Zelda, the Triforce of Wisdom is shattered into multiple pieces, and Link is the only one brave enough to save the kingdom. Or he just happened to be around. Actually, it’s probably that latter one, as it is distinctly noted that Zelda sent Impa out to find a hero, and Impa was old and wounded, and… what? Did she literally just go with the first elf she found? Dude didn’t even have a sword yet! Okay, it’s not like Impa imparted any valuable information anyway (“The Triforce pieces are out there! Somewhere! Buy a candle at Famous Cave’s!”), but this was a slapdash effort from the get-go. And why were the Triforce pieces scattered to begin with? Because Zelda had a vision of the coming calamity of Ganon, and her only solution was to “safeguard” the Triforce pieces in a series of marginally hidden dungeons. Did that make a lick of sense? No! You just give the Triforce to someone that can get the hell out of town (I hear there’s a lovely clock city just outside of the kingdom limits), and call it a bloody day. I’ve got news for you Zelda: Link was able to retrieve the Triforce of Wisdom because you hid those pieces poorly. Link was just a dude with a pointy stick, and he still managed to conquer every last dungeon and wind up with more equipment as a result of other dungeon-based goodies. Zelda, do you want Ganon to possess two Triforces and have a raft? Because that’s the end result of your stupid plan if Link had showed up in Hyrule like an hour later. And don’t even get me started on what would happen if multiple people found separate Triforce pieces. Face it, Zelda, you got lucky.

GrrrrBut there was one Princess Zelda that did not get lucky. It is canon that Link had a magical adventure where he teamed up with two different versions of himself and wore a suit made entirely out of bombs, and, sometime thereafter, the royal family of Hyrule required a bit of family counseling. The good King of Hyrule had two children, a boy and a girl. The princess was, obviously, another Zelda, and she was granted knowledge of the Triforce. The boy, whom we’re going to name Prince Don, coveted this shiny, golden treasure, and demanded the Triforce. Zelda would not acquiesce to her greedy, probably orange brother, and Prince Don was forced to take drastic action. He hired a wizard that put Zelda under a sleeping spell for generations. This, obviously, solved exactly zero problems, and Prince Don… uh… does the story elaborate on this at all? I mean… uh… he probably died angry, but he was the only heir, right? He just became king anyway, didn’t he? Totally poisoned a woman in a desperate grab for more power, and he’s rewarded with being the most powerful person in the kingdom anyway. Way to go, prince-y. Good job.

So where was the last piece of the full Triforce, the Triforce of Courage? You know, the secret that Zelda was Sleeping Beauty’ed for? Well, turns out that Prince Don’s dad realized his son was a real crumb-bum, and decided to split the complete Triforce, and hide a solid third of it in a dungeon. Sound familiar? However, this Hyrulian monarch knew exactly what he was doing. Somehow “in secret”, the King of Hyrule…

  1. Hid the Triforce of Courage in The Great Palace of the Valley of Death
  2. Populated the Great Palace with a variety of traps and monsters
  3. Placed an impenetrable barrier around the Valley of Death
  4. Scattered the source of the barrier spell into six crystals
  5. Built six temples to house alters that would activate those six crystals
  6. Populated those temples with six unique boss monsters, and a host of lesser, more annoying regular monsters
  7. And then, just for good measure, cast some weird-ass incantation that would make a hand-tattoo appear on whoever was worthy of finally traipsing through those palaces

Hey, Prince? Bad news: even if you knew where to look, there was no way you were going to make it past Horsehead and the Valley of Death or even your first Iron Knuckle. Your dad screwed you but good, princey.

And, bad news, he screwed Link, too.

GrossThe Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link is widely considered to be one of the most difficult The Legend of Zelda adventures. Some attribute this to the 2-D perspective being fairly half-baked, and not at all designed around Link’s butter-knife based offensive abilities. Some blame the magic system, which is inventive, but too many monsters and areas require specific spells, so you’re always running at a magical deficit. And there is certainly some merit to the claim that the experience system is opaque at best, and downright punishing at worst. How are you supposed to get anywhere when some damn flying eyeball is leeching your EXP every five seconds!?

But, no, that all pales before the real reason The Adventure of Link is so difficult: The King of Hyrule hated his son. Dude did not just hide the Triforce, he created a treasure hunt that spread across two continents. He devoted great swaths of Hyrulian resources toward building temples containing boiling lava and holographic walls. And, lest that King think his son had the slimmest chance of throwing those unlocking jewels around, for some damn reason, the King of Hyrule summoned a freakin’ fire breathing dragon just to protect one palace. And that cyclops! Where does one even find food for a cyclops, left alone satisfying other cyclopean biological needs!? The King of Hyrule went to a lot of trouble to arrange this massive undertaking for the exclusive purpose of waylaying his own son. Couldn’t he have just taken the kid to soccer practice? Shown up for a few more school plays? You have the Triforce, King! You could have just wished for your son to be a little less of an asshole! You didn’t have to construct a hover-horse!

I hate youAnd then Link got stuck dealing with the fallout of that failed royal relationship. Lucky guy, that Link. An army of monsters are trying to drain his blood to revive their piggy master, and he’s got to deal with generational family therapy for some royals he’ll never know.

It’s called The Legend of Zelda for a reason. It’s The Legend of Zelda Really Messing Up Some Poor Elf’s Day.

FGC #434 The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System initially, and then the Gamecube collection, and then I’m pretty sure every Nintendo system since. Currently available on Switch!
  • Number of players: Link is going to have to deal with this mess alone.
  • Favorite Spell: It might just be a way to conserve assets, but granting Link a spell where he transforms into a fairy was certainly a bold choice. And it’s a useful spell, too! Who needs all this jumping when you can just fly?
  • No. 3 Tryforce: I like how the first Zelda sequel introduced a new Triforce. I feel like this tradition should have continued, and, by the time of Breath of the Wild, Link has to collect 25 different Triforces, finally culminating with the Triforce of Muted Apathy.
  • I WINAn End: (Almost) Always restarting in Zelda’s sleep chamber has the excellent side effect of making the ending and final scene of the game in Zelda’s temple rather thrilling. Way to work the emotions with limited bits, Nintendo.
  • What’s in a Name: This was the first Zelda game to stick Link’s name in the title. So much for being an unnamed adventurer/player avatar, Nintendo! He’ll never be the most popular protagonist in all of videogames now, guys!
  • Land of the Rising Fun: There are a number of differences between the Japanese and International versions. Seemingly the biggest change in Japan is that Gooma, the cyclops with a morning star boss of the Palace on the Sea, does not appear at all, and is replaced with a second encounter with Jermafenser, the dude with too many heads. America: land of the myopic.
  • Did you know? Ganon’s laugh is the same sound sample used for Soda Popinski in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. This raises all sorts of timeline issues…
  • Would I play again: Anyone that says they enjoy this game is a liar. Or they haven’t played it recently. Or I’m being hyperbolic, and I’m just angry at anyone that can get through Death Valley without abusing save states. So many eyeball ghosts! So much lava! I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee for the Nintendo Switch! Oh boy! We’re going to go somewhere or another, eevee! Please look forward to it!

Get 'em
That is how you do it. You’re welcome.

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

THWOMPEvery title that has been profiled thus far for Games Preservation “Week” is currently very difficult to obtain, should it even be possible at all. Ignoring the fact that one game is now apparently getting a stateside release because I willed it into being, other games this week include two arcade games that never saw home releases, one delisted online offering, and a 20 year old game starring a fat penguin being the only one that exists in anything resembling a physical form (albeit only in Japan). Today’s game survives in digital and physical form across all regions. Despite being a title for a “retired” system, it is likely still easily available at your local used games shop. It is available on Amazon. It is available for two different systems on Amazon, and you don’t even have to settle for a used copy. And, considering “Mario” is right there in the title, it is likely to always be available in one form or another, whether you have to go trawling through eBay or dusty discount bins to find it. Today, we are talking about Super Mario Maker, and such a title is never not going to be available.

And, likely sometime in the near future, it’s simultaneously going to be one of the best games ever made, and one that is completely, utterly worthless.

Super Mario Maker was my Game of the Year at its release in 2015. Why? Mario Maker is a fun, Mario Paint-esque way to create Super Mario levels. But who cares about that? Creation is secondary to the reason I played the title for hours: Infinite Mario. As someone who could literally play Super Mario Bros. stages all day (and absolutely has), the idea of a game featuring literally thousands of Super Mario Bros. stages is something of a dream come true. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if Super Mario Bros. 3 had DLC as we know it back when I was seven, and I had access to a parent’s credit card, my family would be destitute before I even turned ten. I would spend every last real world dime on a new opportunity to use Kuribo’s Shoe, and I’d gladly watch my family move into a comfy cardboard box if it meant I could play through an all-new World 11. There isn’t even a question in my mind: Super Mario Maker is everything I’ve wanted from a Super Mario game since before the Super Nintendo was even a Here we gotwinkle in Miyamoto’s eye, and, even if the stages of Super Mario Maker weren’t all designed by the geniuses at Nintendo, at least I could get some sweet, sweet Mario “joy of movement” going on in every stage. It didn’t matter if I was destined to lose one Mario or a million, it’s just fun to be Mario, and these “infinite” stages would quench that thirst with a veritable waterfall.

And a funny thing happened when Super Mario Maker started to gain popularity (roughly seventeen seconds after release). In a way that no one ever expected, new, fan-made Mario stages started to coalesce into a few distinct categories. There were the “obvious” stages; the levels that could, with a little polish, exist in regular Super Mario stage rotations. These were easy to navigate stages with plenty of powerups and a familiar tone for anyone that had ever played through a Super Mario World or two. Then there were the inevitable “hard as Steelix” stages that required an impossible amount of memorization and a general hatred for invisible blocks that may pop up at any moment. Then we’ve got some puzzle stages that may or may not be one screen wide and require three minutes of maze navigation or turtle shell manipulation. And, finally, we have the automatic stages.

The automatic stages leave me… conflicted.

On one hand, the last thing anyone wants to do when they pick up a controller is sit and do not a damn thing with it. Controllers are meant to control! They are not meant to idle and be unused while Mario is conveyed around a cinema scene of a level. Automatic stages suck! And, on a personal level, I really feel like I’m in a groove when I’m dashing around and saving princess after princess. When I hit a stage where the “answer” is “don’t move for a minute”, well, there’s nothing that kills momentum faster than outright stopping. Automatic Mario levels are a scourge, and their continued existence within the world of Super Mario Maker is a detriment to us all!

This is boringOn the other hand, the automatic levels of Super Mario Maker are testaments to creativity and an almost super-human understanding of how Mario “works”. These stages require hours of trial and error to create, and, while they might be over inside of a minute or two, the time their creators have invested is staggering. And that’s time involved that doesn’t even consider the number of days it takes to be enough of a Mario expert to absorb the timing and physics of every last spring, trap, and creature in Mario’s world. And, taking it a step further are the automatic stages that play some kind of musical tune. This requires not only perfect timing and understanding, but a musical aptitude generally not possessed outside of your finest virtuosos, like Beethoven or John Cougar Mellencamp. And never mind that sheet music for transposing Final Fantasy 6 themes into Mario blocks isn’t exactly readily available. In short, while these automatic stages might not be the most exciting levels when playing through a proper game of Hundred Mario Shuffle, they are shining examples of the creativity and care that can be involved when using the limited tools of Super Mario Maker.

And, soon enough, all of those stages will be gone, lost to the digital ether like Scott Pilgrim before them.

This is an inevitable problem with literally every videogame that involves an online component. MMORPGs have risen and fallen (I see you, City of Heroes, and I would totally write an article about you if I could play your damn game), and scores of original characters whom must not be stolen have died on the battlefields of the server wars. Online friends lists tied to particular games have been dropped forever when a later version was released, and thus were untold OWIEfriendships lost. And, while we’re all sad to see online matchmaking go the way of the dodo in any given fighting game, it’s always the creative titles that are hit the hardest. Yes, that Super Mario Maker stage you had hiding on your local hard drive is unlikely to go anywhere, but the online data associated with it, and the ability for anyone to play that level outside of your living room, is going to be gone forever very shortly. The “MiiVerse” comments are already gone, and, given enough time, data on who died where, or how many stars numerated the many people that enjoyed that stage will be gone. Everything that made Super Mario Maker a community project for thousands of people will be gone. It’s supposed to be Bowser that is flushed into the unforgiving oblivion of lava, not his meticulously-designed castle.

And what can be done about this? Absolutely nothing. Even if Nintendo were to carry Super Mario Maker stages forward from generation to generation, eventually that data would be dropped for literally anything else (new stages in… Animal Crossing?). In 2016, Nintendo announced that there were over 7,200,000 stages created in Super Mario Maker. In 2020, it is likely there will be 0.

This “week” (month?) has been about videogame preservation. Videogames have only been “videogames” as we know them for the previous three decades or so. In that time, we have already seen games that will be gone from future generations forever (give or take a rom or two). As time passes, as CDs degrade, as base consoles crumble, and, yes, as hard drives inevitably self-destruct, more and more of the past of videogames will be lost to the ages. But at least these items were built to last in the first place. A Playstation 1 CD might be failing now, literally decades after its first printing, but that CD likely survived about seven resales at Electronics Boutique just to get to this moment. And while your Legend of Zelda save battery might be long gone, the cartridge still functions as it should, even if you may have used that chunk of gold plastic as a Frisbee in your younger years. All videogames may eventually degrade, but the amazing content of Super Mario Maker was born with a comparatively Chestnuts stackingtiny shelf life. One way or another, the levels of Super Mario Bros. are going to be around until mankind is usurped by the inevitable rise of super-smart dolphins (they loathe any medium that requires thumbs), while the unique, remarkable, and millions of levels of Super Mario Maker are unlikely to see a full decade.

Videogame preservation is important. Preservation of what’s in those videogames is important, too, whether it be professional, or created by fans. We have an entirely new generation of poets that use springs and hammer bros. for their rhymes, but they are creating poetry that will be forgotten as quickly as Edith Södergran.

Super Mario Maker, you are the best game I have ever played that has so totally broken my heart.

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. Given how that system seems to be all but disowned by Nintendo now, I assume that’s another strike against the title’s preservation. Also, there’s the 3DS version that I am barely counting.
  • Number of players: This ain’t no cat-costume, four-player Mario title. One of a hundred Marios at a time, please.
  • Great Moments in Interfaces: Whoever came up with the concept of “shaking” an item during level creation, and getting a similar, but different item is a goddamn genius. Give that person a raise! And maybe a puppy!
  • Make any good levels you would like to share? Nope. Next question.
  • Not a single one? I’m a writer, dammit. I am so much better at making punny names than actually worthwhile levels. I have a level just lousy with Lakitu called “Cloud Strife”. That’s exactly what I’m looking for in level-name synergy.
  • Toasty!Favorite Mario Maker Addition: The Flying Bowser Clown Car has gained a surprising amount of traction in the last few years, but transmuting it into a fire-breathing mount capable of transforming traditional Mario action into a shoot ‘em up is rather inspired.
  • Amiibo Corner: You could have sold me on this title with the fact that every Smash Bros. amiibo works for unlocking cute lil’ 8-bit version of your favorite smasher. Nintendo, feel free to reward my unquenchable OCD any time you’d like.
  • Did you know? Takashi Tezuka, co-creator of the Mario series, has expressed that he is nearly jealous of all of the Mario Makers that create difficult levels. When you’re not constrained by creating a Mario game that is actually, ya know, fun, then you can just go nuts with an army of spinies and thwomps.
  • Would I play again: I still keep my WiiU gamepad charged exclusively to try the 100 Mario Challenge every once in a while. And I’ll keep doing that until the lights go out in this particular arcade.

What’s next? Oh, what the hell. Let’s try one more lost arcade beat ‘em up. One more for the road, ladies and gentlemen. Please look forward to it!

Gotta recognize
Special thanks to everyone that made this article possible

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!