Tag Archives: adventure time

FGC #513 Willow

WILLOW IS HAPPENINGWillow is a 1988 film from George Lucas and Ron Howard that aimed to do for the fantasy genre what Star Wars did for sci-fi. It is a tale that is, at its core, Lord of the Rings all over again, with the eponymous ring switched out for an adorable baby. Other than that, it’s a truncated LotR with the numbers filed off, as a hobbit (“Nelwyn”) sets off on a journey that will marshal the many human-esque races of the land, form a mighty army, and eventually depose a violent tyrant that winds up falling to the smallest of her potential opponents (okay, technically there are the Brownies, but Willow is pretty tiny). You can call it “hero’s journey”, “blatant plagiarism”, or whatever you’d like, but it still boils down to a well-made film with fun and fantasy involved in equal measure.

But if you were Capcom in 1988, and had to make a videogame based on the film, what would you do? There are a couple options available, so maybe you would…

Focus on the adventure! Make it a rollicking action game!

It's the chaseBefore we even hit the 90’s, Capcom knew how to make an action game. There was Mega Man. There was Ducktales. There was even Final Fight. But perhaps the greatest influence on what would become Willow: The Arcade Game was Ghosts ‘n Gobilins. We have a similar plot here, right? A hero that is dramatically out of his depth battles a horde of monsters and magical creatures, and the player enjoys running, jumping, and shooting various weapons. You’ve got a perfect template for medieval machinations right there, so why mess with a good thing? Whether you’re slicing up dog-boar monsters or skeletons, jump ‘n shoot is an entertaining time for anyone with a quarter or two.

And, as was seen in other Ghosts ‘n Goblins games, that kind of gameplay allows for some pretty interesting set pieces. Willow riding a raft down a turbulent river while assaulted by magical fish seems fairly familiar, but you’ve also got a thrilling chariot escape from a drunken brawl, and a sled ride that was not at all eventually stolen by a certain hedgehog. Willow was an action-packed movie, dammit, so you’ve got some amazing action in store for the arcade experience. There are even epic bosses that recall memorable scenes from the film, like a battle against the twin-headed troll-hydra, or that one ersatz Darth Vader with the skull helmet. And the final battle may involve a magically enchanted urn, but it’s also a pure wizard duel between an evil queen and Willow. Nobody is relying on a former ferret to save the day here!

And that’s a bit of a problem.

Off with his head!One could argue the whole point of Willow (film) is that Willow (character) kind of… sucks. He’s a little dude, and not built for combatting a world filled with great big dudes. He’s not even physically menacing among his own people, as the opening of the film sees him setting out on his adventure with a cadre of companions that are more likely to effectively swing a sword. But he’s got magic, right? He’s not a knight, he’s a mage? Yeah, well, the whole point of that little hero’s journey is not that he’s an adept magician in the whole “transform a goat into an ostrich” realm of magic, he’s much more proficient at sleight of hand and general trickery. He’s a thief trying to use his MP pool! And, if this sounds crazy, look at how Willow wins the day in the film: the final victory is achieved not through the wizarding world, but by Willow using his “hide the pig” trick. Willow saves everyone through guile and bluff, not whipping his wand around.

So it’s a departure for the character to see super-powered Arcade Willow. Sure, A.W. starts with a piddling little magic shot that would make a Crystal Lake counselor sneer in derision, but purchase a few upgrades with nearby treasure, and Arcade Willow becomes an elemental monster. He can summon tornados, explosions, and a crystal shield that blocks practically an entire screen’s worth of projectiles. He can also transform opponents into gold, or just plain freeze time if he feels like bending the laws of physics. Arcade Willow has no problem with magic. Arcade Willow has no problem with taking out an entire army. Arcade Willow is become Death, and you damn well better get out of his way.

It is empowering to control Arcade Willow, as he is going to save this world through magic the likes of which this world has never seen. Bavmorda can turn dissenters into pigs? Well Arcade Willow is going to turn her entire country into bacon.

But if we’re going to complain about Arcade Willow being too powerful, maybe we should look at the alternative…

Focus on the quest! Make it a RPG-Adventure hybrid!

WILLOW!Willow for the Nintendo Entertainment System is a very different animal from its arcade counterpart. First and foremost, it is an adventure game in the vein of The Legend of Zelda. How legend of Zelda is it? Well, you’ve got a sword, shield, and a magical ocarina that summons a flying creature that will take you to one of a few different preset locations. It is very Zelda. In a way, Willow almost feels like a missing link between the two NES Zelda titles. Your general controls, perspective, and inventory options are reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, but the frequent towns and an emphasis on talking to villagers and completing “fetch quests” to proceed to more complicated dungeons is very The Adventure of Link. And there’s magic! Willow gets a variety of magical options, from summoning thunder to actually offensively utilizing that magical cane. This is a Willow that is kitted out for a globe-trotting adventure!

Too bad NES Willow can’t actually use anything in his inventory.

Okay, technically any videogame character can become a god with the right player. There are likely tool-assisted speedruns of Willow wherein the player masterfully utilizes every skill in Willow’s prodigious bag of tricks. But speaking as someone who has played Willow as a child and an adult? NES Willow sucks. His sword range is abysmal. His magic points are never plentiful enough to tackle the myriad of monsters that are immune to weapons. There’s exactly one sword that will damage “magic”, and it’s about as offensively effective as a gentle breeze. And, speaking of which, practically every enemy that isn’t a slime has more HP than Willow can comfortably manage, Stabby stabbyso running from battles is often the correct answer. Oh, wait, that can’t be right, because the final area has a distinct experience threshold, so if you don’t take the time to murder everything from Nelwyn Town to Nockmaar Castle, you’ll be stuck grinding for those final, essential levels. And, if you’re curious, that level threshold is 13. It will take you an entire game’s worth of experience points to reach level 13. I’m pretty sure the Light Warriors reached level 13 before they got out of bed …

And it’s hard to ignore how that might be the point.

NES Willow sucks. He’s a poor swordsman, a middling magician, and literally every monster, from shielded skeletons to dual-headed ogres, can (and likely will) kill Willow without much of a thought. It requires a lot of practice and expertise to steer Willow through his world without dying to every other gigantic snake creature that blocks his path. Give him every spell, item, and sword in the world, and NES Willow is still likely to lie bleeding on the path outside his hometown because some manner of giant bug got the drop on him. NES Willow is not prepared for this journey that has been thrust upon him. He should be farming turnips, not Nockmarr hounds!

And, in a way, this terribly troublesome NES game captures the spirit of being Willow much more than its arcade counterpart. Willow is out of his depth! He has to learn to believe in himself, but it’s going to be a long road down a very dangerous path to get there. He technically has all the tools he’ll ever need, but it’s going to take ingenuity and gumption to conquer all the challenges that lie before him. It’s not raw strength that’s going to win this battle, but carefully managing not only your own resources, but also enlisting the help of others. NES Willow isn’t going to save the world alone, but he might be able to pull it off with a small army of eclectic assistants.

And that’s exactly how Willow saves the world in his titular film. The Willow NES game perfectly captures the feeling of a hero out of his depth and attempting to do the right thing against a mountain of nigh-insurmountable obstacles.

It’s just a lot more fun to play as demi-god Arcade Willow.

What would be the best way to make a videogame based on Willow? Hell if I know, but at least we got two desperate attempts that are both admirable in their own ways.

FGC #513 Willow

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for the version you could (legally) play at home, and an arcade version for those of you that could ever find such a thing.
  • Number of players: Willow is on a solitary quest.
  • How did Madmartigan make out? In the arcade version, ol’ Mads is a selectable character, and his sword powers have shorter range than Willow, but they will chop down enemy projectiles. So he’s basically Zero. In the NES version, he never appears without being tied up. This is a very nice development for S&M Val Kilmer enthusiasts, but it means that Madmartigan is literally never useful in the console version. Hell, if you hadn’t seen the movie, you might assume Madmartigan was some manner of perversion of the usual “captured princess” trope. He does wind up exiting the game madly in love…
  • WeeeeeeStory Time: In both cases, the overall story of Willow is changed for the game adaption. This is presumably because you can’t have a decent videogame with the main protagonist strapped to a baby at all times. In fact, while Elora Danan does cameo, her macguffin role is replaced by a couple of elemental crests in the NES version. So if you’re looking for a situation where a female character is replaced by literally a rock in a videogame, here’s your easy example.
  • Vaguely Unsettling: In the NES version, there’s an old woman alone in a house that asks that you rescue her talking bird creature, Po. She provides healing herbs, and, after you find Po, those herbs heal him to the point that he becomes a valuable ally/warp zone. And then the old lady that set you to finding Po… just sits there silently for the rest of the game. She only says “…”, heals Willow, and then continues to never utter a peep. What happened there? I have no idea, but thinking about the ramifications is scarier than anything I’ve ever seen in Resident Evil.
  • Also Unsettling: Some gray wizard thingy can transform Willow into a pig, recalling the infamous scene in the film when Madmartigan and pals are transformed into swine via the most traumatizing G-rated body horror this side of Steven Universe. Glad to see that little bit made an impact on the staff at Capcom, too.
  • Squeal!Time Sink: For the record, Willow Arcade seems to last about as long as the average arcade game from the era, clocking in around 40 minutes to an hour. Willow NES is something of a proper adventure game, and took me around 5 hours from start to finish. And, to be clear, that is without cheating my way into infinite exp or consulting online maps every three seconds. Given Willow NES forsook a save battery for complicated passwords, I’m faultlessly willing to call this a sin against humanity.
  • An end: Willow wins, saves the world, let’s all have a party. Whatever. The real meat of the Willow NES ending is the credits that make absolutely no sense. Program by DAVID BO0WY and MOE? Monster design by Tom-Pon, Fish Man, and Tall Nob? Special thanks to Hearty.J? Supervision by Lucas Film? That sounds fake.
  • Did you know: Both IGN and Nintendo Power ultimately named the NES version as one of the best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. You can do nothing to dissuade me from the belief that these writers played the game with save states, and from a modern perspective of playing the game with a FAQ (and hindsight). Anyone that ever had to grind castle guards for hours so they wouldn’t bungle into a literally unwinnable boss fight would not declare Willow to be the best anything.
  • Would I play again: No thank you. I told myself I would complete Willow from start to finish (and no password cheating) for this blog, and I have completed that task. I have saved the world as a hobbit with a pig sticker, and now I’m done with that. Willow for NES is interesting, but it isn’t the most fun experience.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS! Now we’re talking swords and sorcery! Please look forward to it!

This is a sad dragon

FGC #501 Alundra

Dream about a better lifeLet’s take a look at Alundra, the most compellingly anarchist game on the Playstation

Alundra is a 1997/98 adventure jaunt originally released on the Playstation (1). It is a generally fondly remembered title, as it’s basically the 32-bit sequel to A Link to the Past that many fans wanted, but were so cruelly denied by a certain 3-D boy with a woodwind. This is a game featuring enigmatic dungeons and dangerous foes, but it also not so subtly evokes some fairly iconic moments and items from a game released years earlier. The line between “familiar”, “homage”, and “outright plagiarism” has never been as thin as when you grab an ice wand from a mini, hidden dungeon to storm a northern volcano to take down a gigantic dragon boss. But that’s not a bad thing! Whether you’re calling it the spiritual sequel to Zelda or Landstalker (reminder: 50% of Zelda games released before ’97 involved significant amounts of jumping), Alundra is still an excellent game in its own right. These dungeons really are innovative, and Alundra deliberately sticks to its guns without delving into half-baked minigames like a lot of other games from the era. This is pure adventure gameplay from start to finish, and, considering this is a robust Playstation title, this really could be the “traditional Zelda game” that could satisfy fans for a console generation.

But that’s only half of why Alundra is so fondly remembered. Alundra is a title with a unique twist: Alundra can enter people’s dreams, and apparently everyone is dreaming about complicated dungeons filled with monsters. Thus, Alundra’s mystical hook allows for a number of exceptional areas that wouldn’t otherwise appear in this world’s vaguely tropical setting. Yes, of course we’re dealing with a videogame where an ice dungeon can be next to a fire dungeon with little to no explanation, but it’s fun when the prerequisite “four elementals” dungeon is the result of a nightmare attempting to accommodate a victim with multiple personality disorder. We’re still a few years away from full-blown Psychonauts territory, but Alundra does know how to separate its set pieces from the established obstacles of the era.

And, while innovative excuses for excellent gameplay are what established Alundra as one of the best games for the Playstation, there’s one important part of Alundra that seems to be all but forgotten: Alundra is emotionally brutal.

Yay jumpingNo one is claiming Alundra is the first videogame to include death. Alundra came hot on the heels of the likes of Final Fantasy 4, one of many games where half the playable cast is heroically killed across the adventure (they get better). And Alundra technically competed on its own system against a title featuring one of the most well-known deaths in all of gaming (I am, of course, referring to the death of the Lost Vikings franchise). Alundra was released when gaming (or its audience) was starting to find its way to some kind of emotional maturity, and that inevitably meant that fewer heroes were being “sent to another dimension” and were actually starting to feel the cold embrace of death. Alundra sees his hometown (well, “hometown”) burn. Supporting, helpful townsfolk die. Alundra’s beloved old man mentor is killed. People die, you have to deal with it, and that’s all pretty par for the course. People die, but you’ll save the world in the end. Same as it ever was.

But Alundra finds new ways to pervert traditional expectations so these deaths have an impact. Early in the adventure, Alundra is tasked with entering the dream of one critically injured miner so he can then save another trio of miners trapped in a monkey-based avalanche. Of course the critically injured miner dies, but he died imparting important information to dear Alunda. He’s going to venture right into that mine, and find… oh, one of the miners died. Another one, too? And when you find the final miner, it turns out he’s likely been dead since before this adventure started. His corpse is bloated and waterlogged. It… ain’t pretty. So congratulations, Alundra, you ventured into the mines and saved exactly no one. Death and despair are your only reward. And it won’t be the last time that happens! Alundra will venture through two entire dungeons searching for the mystical macguffins of his chosen quest, and on two separate occasions he’ll be informed that the villains beat him to the punch, and, geez, why did you even try, dude?

It is, to say the least, a little demoralizing.

DIEAnd that’s great! Well, it’s not great for Alundra or the player, but it is wonderful for setting the basic mood of desperation and sadness that permeates the events of Alundra. Alundra first encounters this dismal little hamlet when its citizenry is simply experiencing rotten dreams, but those issues seem to escalate rapidly to “deadly nightmares” and eventual “wholesale destruction”. Things are bad, and the player’s own inability to effectively curtail the horror reinforces the hopelessness of Alundra’s lot in life. By the end of the game, literally everyone you have ever saved from a bad dream is dead, save a pair of twin children who were used as a magical monkey massacre gate. And did we talk about those dreams? It’s not just a gameplay conceit: nearly everyone seems to be dreaming of “dungeons”, and when was the last time you encountered a pleasant dungeon? Want to know what I dreamed about last night? We were at my mother’s house, and for some reason one of her cats was able to talk, and the cat was really weirdly racist. It kept saying that Koreans could always be distracted by a game of chess. It was disconcerting, and I woke up troubled by whatever my subconscious is doing. But I didn’t dream about a gigantic eyeball monster surrounded by spikes and lava. That’s what everyone in Alundra is stuck with, and that is going to lead to a lot of restless nights.

MONKEY!But this all pales to the general perversion of prophecy in Alundra. Sybill is a character that imparts her visionary dreams to Alundra and the player. And we all know how this one goes, right? She predicts something is going to happen, and, because this is a videogame, that thing eventually happens, despite everything you do to prevent it. It is how videogame prophecies work. It is how prophecies work in all of fiction. So you’re shown a vision of a man sacrificing himself so your buddy will then create a powerful magical sword. It’s sad, someone is going to die, but at least you’ll get the Master Sword that can defeat Ganon. Guys, act surprised when it happens, that way we won’t have to scream “spoilers” at a little prophetess.

And then someone kills the prophetess, because of course that happens.

And then someone saves the guy that is supposed to die. Okay, that was unexpected, but…

Oh, and then someone kills the dude that was supposed to forge the evil-busting sword. And the pattern of him making useful items for you after every villager’s death is broken because he’s super dead. His funeral was really long, and he isn’t coming back.

Sorry, player, no awesome new sword for you, because everybody is dead. Nothing you could do. Nothing you can ever do. Loser.

So what do you do? As is often the answer, you beat the shit out of god.

Except, if you follow the details of this story, you realize god isn’t so much god in this story. He’s the ruling class.

It's a pipeAlundra has a fairly robust mythological backstory for a game featuring a gigantic gorilla that can only travel by twirling its fists. In short, Alundra’s world used to have a collection of colossi as its gods, but they wound up fighting over the honor of being the one god among gods, and, yada yada yada, they’re all dead. And, what’s more, by the time they had finished fighting, all of humanity had forgotten they were useful gods anyway, so their whole conflict was kind of a wash. Enter Melzas, the antagonist of this tale, a creature that came from beyond the stars and thought he could give this whole “become as gods” thing a shot. He granted wonderful dreams to the local royalty, and managed to get the population on board with building shrines and statues in his honor. This worked out really well until about five years ago, when Melzas slipped up and the king somehow found out he was worshipping a malevolent alien. All of the churches and alters dedicated to Melzas were smashed, and poor ol’ Melly had to manipulate his remaining followers from the shadows. He didn’t want to wind up like those poor giants that came before, so he hatched a plan to scare the locals into praying to him. This worked for a time, but then Alundra, a dude that could stomp out these scary dreams, showed up. This meant Melzas had to upgrade the horrors being visited upon the townsfolk, and that eventually led to a pretty healthy body count. By the time Alundra has to storm Melzas’s sunken castle, the whole of the world as Alundra knows it has turned against their god, and they have chosen Alundra as their new protector and “hero”.

Wet DreamAnd, while that seems to be a pretty typical JRPG finale (time to fight god again), something very important happens here: it’s not just the hero fighting, it’s the people rebelling. When this story begins, everyone is worshipping Melzas as a god, because that is what they have always done, and they believe Melzas has their best interest at heart. Over the course of the adventure, the people find that Melzas would gladly sacrifice as many people as it takes to maintain his power. Sorry, children, grandma has to die, because Melzas thinks it is in Melzas’s best interest. This happens over and over again: death and destruction, and their god does nothing. When it’s revealed that this “god” is responsible, it’s almost a relief for his pitiable “followers”. He wasn’t helping them because he was the cause of their woes. All the misery visited upon everyone (Alundra and the player included!) was thanks to one despot that keeps claiming he’s going to make Inoa great again, but never does. The only one that was actually helping was Alundra! Let’s help Alundra! Let’s give him all of our prayers! Because the guy we were following sucks.

And then Alundra wins! Good times forever! And maybe… anarchy?

The ending seems to imply that Alundra defeated Melzas, returned to the village for a little wine, women, and song, and then headed out to do the typical hero adventurer thing. Other dungeons to conquer, other villages to save, talk to you guys later. Is there a replacement god for Melzas? Nope. Every remotely divine being in the area has already been slain. The demons are dead, but the gods are, too. And good riddance! Melzas and every other wannabe god in this story caused nothing but unhappiness or relied entirely on Alundra. God is dead, Alundra killed him, and we’re all going to be better off without him.

Big dudeWhat did this ruler ever do for his people? Nothing. And no one is anxious to hire another god to see the same thing happen again. Alundra is the last man standing that received any prayers, and he’s blown this popsicle stand. What does this village have left? Who is in control of their lives now?

No gods, no masters, only Alundra.

FGC #501 Alundra

  • System: Playstation and Playstation 3 (through PSN). I’m not sure what it would require, but somebody please go ahead and get this on the Switch.
  • Number of players: Alundra is number one!
  • Say something mean: Alundra’s overworld is expansive and just plain fun to explore, but it reminds me a bit too much of Link’s Awakening… and not in a good way. It is a royal pain to have to switch your weapons and items every three seconds because you encounter four different, continually respawning obstacles on your way to the west, and I would be much happier with something approaching a “ring menu” or L/R weapon switching or… something. Exploring the world is fun! But could we maybe not have to juggle between fire rod and mace every seven seconds?
  • You don't know how hard it was to pull this offMagic Hour: Alunda can use magic! … But you only ever attain a maximum of four charges, so it’s kind of useless. And your magic points are displayed as a collection of miniature, rotating crystals, which I can assure you distract my wandering eyes at all times. I keep expecting a quartet of tiny Light Warriors to invade my HUD!
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: First of all, you can’t tell me Meia, the only other dreamwalker in this world, wasn’t designed as Alundra’s player two. Those two have sprites that are way too similar for a pair of wannabe lovers. Beyond that, Meia is done dirty by the plot, as exactly when you discover that she has a tragic backstory involving religious persecution and more than a little stake-burning, she becomes super-duper useless, and never does anything ever again save offer advice like “fight bad dreams” or whatever. She was just getting interesting! And now she’s forced to stand around in town with all the other doomed villagers and pray to Alundra? Lame! Give her the leading role in Alundra 2! She’s so much more interesting than the main elf.
  • For the sequel: Which reminds me, there is no Alundra 2. Never been such an animal on this earth. More of a cryptid, really.
  • Back to Work: This is another Working Designs localization, so expect enemies to take way too much damage, and more than a few “translations” that maybe weren’t there in the original text. A few highlights include…

    Hey stupid

    The occasional hurtful insult…

    He's dead now

    Hurtful insults toward extremely specific individuals…

    Blaze it

    And opinions on whether or not Alundra should, as the kids say, blaze it. Thanks, Vic!

  • Goggle Bob Fact: My raw, unbridled hatred for ice-block pushing in puzzle-esque games stems from this very title. I want to say the Ice Manor is the first area that all but required a teenage Goggle Bob to hang out on Gamefaqs begging for tips straight from the non-pros. The age of strategy guides was over… Or at least online resources were a lot cheaper.
  • Did you know? The best weapon in Alundra is the Legend Sword, which technically has a little over triple the attack power of the next best weapon. The catch? You can only obtain it through dying and “quick restarting” sixteen times. It’s the “you suck, here’s the assist block” of 1997. But when you consider how much HP some of these bosses have, well…
  • Would I play again: This is a great game that is long and strong and down to get the gameplay on. I will play it again within my lifetime… it just might not be immediately. The last dungeon is a bit too time consuming for me to jump right back in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Day Dreamin’ Davey for the NES! Wow, ROB, that’s some surprisingly effective dream synergy between titles. You get an extra pork roll as a treat, and we get a NES game that has been all but forgotten. Please look forward to it!

Toasty

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

FGC #342 Taiko: Drum Master

Beat it!Going to say this upfront: I am barely going to be talking about videogames today. Random stuff is going on in Real Goggle Bob land, and I feel like using a little writing therapy to mentally work through it. So, advance warning, this one is going to be autobiographical to the max. Hell, I might delete this post out of sheer embarrassment within 24 hours. I don’t know. I just have to get these (ugh) feelings out of my head, so… I guess stick around if you feel like it.

So I’m 34 years old. I’m also a single heterosexual (mostly, I mean, I’m a little bit bi if we include Cillian Murphy and the entire cast of The Good Place [and that might just be because Kristen Bell and Ted Danson create a sort of “sex singularity” that throws off all my readings]) male. I understand people get more and more okay with such a thing every year, but there is a not insignificant portion of the population that believes being single and 34 is some sign of being a giant weirdo. And I am a giant weirdo! I once compared Sonic the Hedgehog to my first love! I have Vocaloid and Bioshock posters in my office! I’m moderately certain I once screamed out, “Play it loud!” during sex! I am not a normal guy, but that’s not why I’m single. I’m single because my parents are divorced.

Okay, I’m gonna let me finish, but I have to make a brief aside about that statement. My parents are divorced, but this isn’t some Uncle Ben-esque secret origin that explains all of my myriad quirks. No, the reason my parents’ divorce had such an impact on my psyche is that my parents got divorced for seven years. Never one to tear an adhesive strip off quickly (side note: I also spent most of my childhood wrapped up like a mummy), my parents had a “will they/won’t they” thing going on for most of my youth. On one hand, this kind of worked out for me from a parental-attendance perspective, as a combination of love and rivalry caused my parents to be separate, but practically omnipresent in my life. Unfortunately, the flipside of that equation was that every time things inevitably blew up, I got to hear both parents privately complain about the other parent ad nauseam. I’m pretty sure neither of my parents were/are good at having friends (my mother makes friends with everybody, but they seem to be shallow friendships; my father has one friend, and he sees him once a decade whether he needs to or not), so complaining to the local ten year old that just wants to go downstairs and play videogames must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh, and fun fact, both of my parents have told me that they “made every effort” to not insult the other parent while I was growing up, which proves they have the self-awareness of your average 45th President.

This is to distract you from realityAnd, while it’s not like I blame my parents for all my problems (lie), I do blame them for my singlehood. I grew up seeing the absolute worst of love. While others were listening to love songs and watching The Princess Bride, I was watching a pair of people that had loved each other for a solid couple of decades falling apart and tearing into each other like rabid wolverines at a dhampir bar mitzvah. My two best childhood friends had parents that were divorced or lived in a continual state of mutual self-loathing, so no role models there. Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t until my teenage years that I even met someone that I respected and was also in a long, loving relationship. To be concise, I basically learned from a young age that love didn’t lead to bliss, it led to calling a lawyer every other day so you could properly establish custody of a coatrack (this actually happened).

But, by the time I was in college, I kind of learned to live with my own biases. While I spent most of my teenage years claiming “love is stupid” like some manner of world-weary, wizened sage (that happened to shop at Hot Topic), I did eventually come to the conclusion that love, long-term commitment, and marriage were all possible. While I personally ended a few of my own relationships because of (if I’m being honest) that previously mentioned disdain for commitment, a number of my friends have been getting married since roughly our collective twenties, and I’ve been genuinely happy for them. I realize I would sound like a monster to say otherwise, but, come on, in many cases, I was around to see these people meet, see them happy together, and, ultimately, see a future where they could be together forever. Again, can’t stress this enough: not for me. I’m broken. I piss all over the seat, like, every time. But these people, these people have a future as one happy unit.

So, suffice it to say, I kind of took it personally when two of these “ideal” couples, two distinct sets of friends, announced things were headed toward divorce. And, since I was notified of these developments involving two different couples within two days of each other, I took it all… poorly.

(Because this is all about me, and, technically, you, gentle reader, only actually “know” and care about me, I want to be clear that “taking it poorly” did not involve any Hangover-esque shenanigans, photocopying my butt for Debra in accounting, or willingly eating Hot Pocket Bites or something. I’m not cool enough to have a nervous breakdown in any interesting ways, so I mostly just had a headache for a couple of days. Oh, and then I wrote a blog post about it.)

EVERYBODY DANCENow, to be clear, I’m not some gentle flower that has never known a friend to get divorced before. Actually, I’m pretty sure I know a couple of people that wound up divorced before senior prom, but all of those situations were… is “obvious failures” too precise a term? When D’avos the Molten Man of The Fire Pits of Crytuk married Cindi the Ice Elemental, we all had a pretty good idea of where that one was gonna go (to be clear: D’avos had a drinking problem). But the relationships that are currently causing me so much mental anguish are all couples that seemed content and joyful and I didn’t buy their wedding gift thinking “Wow, I better save the receipt on this one.” I know divorce is a modern day cliché, and I know I don’t believe in marriage as an institution (People change as they grow, to expect two people to change together in a complimentary manner is… Oh crap, I’m doing it again), but… I feel like I actually had some optimism in these relationships. Christ, I really thought these kids were going to be alright. I don’t believe in marriage, I’m not certain I could ever seriously consider marriage, but these are the people that gave me hope such a thing was possible. Now that hope is dashed against the rocks. The dream is dead.

And then there’s the Chumbawamba thing.

Another personal failing: I’m immune to nostalgia. I am a data hoarder. I am a hardcore data hoarder, and I have a fleet of USB hard drives to prove it. I have a hard drive backup buried in my backyard “just in case”. I recently saw Blade Runner 2049, and the scariest thing in this very human story about robots having sex with appliances was the suggestion that there was a universal EMP a few years back that wiped out all digital data. Such a thing would kill me. I have my entire life saved in JPGs, MP3s, and ROMs. I cherish terrible cell phone videos I took of my grandparents “just in case” (“just in case” they didn’t turn out to be immortals. Spoilers: good planning). Having my entire past just a double click away is always comforting, but it does reduce the odds of me ever feeling nostalgia. Earlier this year, I was excited to hear about the release of the SNES Classic. WeeeeeeAfter all, I thought, I haven’t played Super Metroid since… how long has it been… oh yes… I haven’t played that game since lunch.

This goes double for music. I’ve been listening to the same music since high school. Literally. The rise of the MP3 occurred concurrently with my high school years, so I have been listening to the same copy of a copy of a copy of Barenaked Ladies’ One Week since the advent of Napster. Since then, the delivery method may have gotten slightly more legal, but, if I liked an album, I ripped, itunes’ed, or just plain downloaded (thanks, Bandcamp!) the tracks immediately, and wedged it into my ever growing wad o’ music (evidently around 30 GB at the moment). My most recent acquisition was the Cuphead OST, and I know that, assuming current trends continue and we dodge nuclear war, I’ll likely be listening to Die House in a nursing home. So, one way or another, that means I don’t get a sudden rush of nostalgia when I hear Foo Fighters’ Monkey Wrench, it just means that my music player hit #2,146 on my playlist for the 2,146th time. And, since my playlist is so unwieldy immense, it’s a rarity that I listen to anything else for my musical pleasure. I have all my favorite songs right here, why should I downgrade to a radio that wants to sell me on the latest from Taylor Swift? Ain’t no commercials on this station!

And then I sat down to play Taiko Drum Master (oh snap, it’s the featured game!). Taiko Drum Master was a longshot of a title released by Namco back in 2004. It came with a drum and sticks… Uh… ROB… can we get that up on the site?

Beat along!

There we go. It was this big, silly drum peripheral that was meant to simulate the taiko (wadaiko?), a drum that is traditionally used in Japanese festivals. You know what you don’t see much in the United States, though? Japanese festivals. While playing Taiko Drum Master is fun in only the way that banging along on drums can ever be, it was a hard sell here in the states, as you’re just not going to get the same support for a plastic Japanese drum set as you are for a plastic guitar (or turntable?). Taiko Drum Master was always going to be a fun game, it’s just a fun game that had about as much Western appeal as Gundam vs. Sumo: Sports Festival in Osaka Rumble.

But there was a concession made to us filthy Americans and our gaijin drums. The track list for Taiko Drum Master is very Western. We’ve got the Jackson Five learning their ABCs. We’ve got Queen crooning about the imperceptible Killer Queen (got bad agility? What the hell?). The B-52s are taking a visit to the Love Shack. And we’ve got modern hits, too! Well, “modern” for 2004… and on a budget. Who could Namco afford? Well, my beloved, ska-era Mighty Mighty Bosstones are on there. Good Charlotte’s Girls and Boys made the cut. And here’s that one Counting Crows song that wound up in a Coke commercial. And let’s follow that all up with the smash hit of 1997, Tubthumping by Chumbawamba.

Tubthumping hit me like a ton of bricks.

Dance along!Tubthumping is difficult to explain to anyone that wasn’t around for 1997-1998. It was technically a UK-original protest song, but it quickly mutated into a sort of divisive party song. There’s a boy singing! And a girl! Something about Danny Boy? And a really sweet trumpet! And it played on the radio roughly continuously for a period of maybe ten million years. I loved that song, grew to hate it, and then, in due course, forgot all about it. When I first got into MP3 downloading roughly a year prior to Y2K, I had already forgotten about Chumbawamba. Give or take a Namco release or two, I’m pretty sure the rest of the world forgot about that band, too.

But, today (or last week), when I was in the middle of a seemingly interminable funk thanks to the collapse of the very institution of love, Tubthumping was there for me. To me, Tubthumping isn’t about love, or joy, or UK union rights, it’s about 1997. It’s about my early teen years, when everything seemed new and exciting and I hadn’t already had my heart broken repeatedly by the boneheaded decisions of myself and others. It was a simpler time, a time when, yes, I knew my parents were gradually poisoning me on the notion of a happy marriage, but also a time when I could still convince myself that love was not only possible, but probable. Even as a child of divorce, I did see myself at thirty (you have no idea how old that seemed at the time) with 2.5 children, a pair of cats, and maybe a white picket fence on where I might hang the corpses of my enemies (what? I always envied my Uncle Vlad and his exterior decorating skills). Tubthumping came from a simpler time for me, and, for the glorious couple of minutes I spent drumming along to whatever the hell is happening in that song, I didn’t have a care in the world.

And then we hit the original, American Shuki Levy version of the Dragon Ball Z theme, and I could barely stand up. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.

DANCE!Look, I know I’m a jackass. I’m pretty sure I spent a solid three paragraphs up there claiming that my parents are the reason I’m not married, when, in fact, it might have more to do with how I have a tendency to give my lovers psychological disorders (“Baby, you know I love you, and I want to be with you, but I have to defeat seven more tonberries before I unlock this Guardian Force. You understand, right? We’ll get to your grandfather’s funeral, like, soon.”). And I know I’m making the divorce(s) of my friends all about me by claiming they were some ultimate expression of love that is all but impossible in this dying world of grime, suck, and republicans. Putting that kind of burden on people I consider friends is dreadful, and being less supportive by making it all about my own issues is an issue onto itself. I know that.

Actually, I only know that now, because sometimes it takes a piece of your past to remind you that it isn’t all bad, and maybe you should step out of your own head once in a while. Remember that things weren’t always bad. Remember that, despite how you’ve framed your past, one way or another, you weren’t always as jaded as you are now, and your current situation was never some “inevitability”. Remember that your friends aren’t concepts, but people, and they’re people that might need your love and support.

Basically, what I’m saying that Taiko Drum Master reminded me of one very important thing: I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never going to keep me down.

FGC #342 Taiko: Drum Master

  • System: Playstation 2. Did this peripheral ever resurface for any other games? No? Well, I guess that seems obvious in retrospect.
  • Number of players: Two! … Did… did anyone ever purchase two Taiko drum peripherals? I envy your resolve.
  • Favorite Song: You mean one not already mentioned in the article? Oh! Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls! My first live concert was Goo Goo Dolls, so there’s some more nostalgia there. Actually, my first concert was Weird Al, but he doesn’t count. GGD was my first live concert of an artist that I wouldn’t love for the rest of my life.
  • Also a choice: Anything from Katamari Damacy. Damn, I love that soundtrack.
  • WooooA weird thing happened: So Taiko March unlocked as I was playing (decided to forgo fishing out a memory card for this one, so no previously saved data). I’m pretty sure Taiko March reappeared in Smash Bros, because I somehow knew this song in my bones, and scored a nearly impossible 98% on a song I wouldn’t be able name without its title flashing on the screen. It was weirdly exhilarating, and I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I’ve ever been to being possessed by an angry ghost (that knows songs that are unfamiliar to me).
  • Did you know? The Japanese version includes We Will Rock You. We got robbed!
  • Would I play again: No. Taiko Drum Master helped me at a time when I needed it (just now), but that damn Taiko peripheral got nothing on my bongos.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates for NES! I swear I’ll just talk about videogames next time! Probably! Please look forward to it!

What is happening here?