Tag Archives: aliens

FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

CAAAAAPTAIN COOOOOOOMANDO!Captain Commando is a Capcom beat ‘em up title unleashed upon the arcades in 1991 (two years after Final Fight, the same year as Streets of Rage). It was one of Capcom’s earliest beat ‘em up titles, and one of the most creative, non-licensed punch mans games you could find at the arcade.

Battle Circuit is another original, future-based beat ‘em up from Capcom. It was released for arcades in 1997, and was the last Capcom beat ‘em up to receive that honor. In a way, through no fault of its own, it is a title that signifies the end of an era.

But who needs to read another epitaph? Let’s find out what Capcom actually learned over six years!

Characters are Key

Okay, let’s start with the basics: a beat ‘em up lives or dies by its characters. This is why Konami made an estimated seventeen hundred trillion infinity dollars (adjusted for inflation) by slapping the Ninja Turtles and Simpsons into beat ‘em ups. Lisa Simpson battling kabuki warriors with a jump rope? That shouldn’t be a phrase that recalls one of the most played arcade machines of the 90’s, but here we are. And, what’s more, the minute you marry good gameplay to memorable characters, you have a game that is never going away. There are still Turtles in Time arcade cabinets out there! I saw one at the non-Wii based bowling alley! Which is apparently still a thing, too!

Captain Commando really shot for the moon right out of the gate (those metaphors work well together, right?). The titular Captain Commando was the (quickly abandoned) mascot of Capcom in the 80’s, and, incidentally, a cyborg thunder-tossing cop from the future. That makes him, like, a double Thor. Then we’ve got “a ninja”, which, okay, it was the 90’s, that had to happen. But! Our other choices are a mummy alien knife master and a genius baby that rides his own private robot. Score! If you can’t find a favorite character from that group, you are reading the wrong blog. Go see what is happening on some recipe site, you squares!

High number of cyclopsesNow, it would be understandable to expect that Battle Circuit could not top the concept of “genius baby” or “alien mummy”, but could I offer you a cup of carnivorous plant monster from space? How about a yellow catwoman flamenco dancer (she probably hates Mondays)? Plastic Man with ice powers? The cyborg hero that is clearly a descendant of Captain Commando is nice and all, but wouldn’t you rather play as a little girl and her pet pink ostrich that may or may not be a pirate (I cannot think of any other reason for an ostrich to have an eye patch, okay?)? Oh, and the little girl is, naturally, named Pola (sic) Abdul. She uses a flaming bow and arrow. She will deliver us all from evil.

Bad Guys are Key (too!)

Captain Commando came hot on the heels of Final Fight, so it seems only natural that its Metro City streets (yes, it is canon that Captain Commando takes place in the far future of Haggar’s fair city) are descendants of the same three or four guys that menaced Cody and Guy. In a way, it’s kind of cute that some families clearly never got over the ideals of the Mad Gear Gang, and passed on fond genetic memories of suffering mayorally mandated piledrivers. Unfortunately, give or take the occasional boss that is inexplicably equipped with a harpoon gun, Captain Commando is generic dudes for days. That’s a pretty boring future! Like the actual future! Heck, Scumocide’s second in command, (First) Blood, is just Rambo in cargo pants. That’s not 20XX! That’s not even the 90’s!

Battle Circuit at least makes “the same three guys” a little more interesting. Bosses are amazing, and the various robotic creations of a certain recurring mad scientist reminds one a little bit of the venerable Dr. Wily. Wait, I’m sorry, is that a giant skull I see on the floor of Dr. Saturn’s lair? Yeah, these guys went to the same robotics academy. And a mad scientist naturally means the mooks of the world are going to be fun, like floppy lizards and… Wait a minute. Is that…

NO!  ROB!

I’m beating up R.O.B.? Wow, okay, Battle Circuit just shot to the top of the charts.

Show me your Moves!

Captain Commando is a traditional beat ‘em up, and, despite their natural variety (a baby is not a mummy), each of the characters is interchangeable from a moveset perspective. Okay, technically their special moves show a touch of diversity, but, give or take a baby missile, all the usual bases are covered here. Jump kick, dashing punch, grab n’ smack: all the old standbys are represented. Why mess with the classics?

Well, maybe because you could be shooting freaking lasers out of your chest.

This is just plain funWithout resorting to fighting game-esque unreasonable controller motions, Battle Circuit grants each of its bounty hunters fun and exciting moves that add quite a bit to the gameplay. Want to shoot a magic missile all over the place? Just charge up with the attack button, and release your mega buster. Or maybe you’d like to be Yellow the Cat Lady, and perform an amazing dive kick. Or how about you fish out Ice Man rock blasts with Captain Silver? And if you’re not whipping enemies around with Unknown Green’s plant arms, then why are you even alive? A piledriver is nice, but it’s nothing compared to the repertoire on display with this fighting force.

Oh, and if you’re confused about any of the inputs for these moves, they’re all clearly on display during the “upgrade your moves” screen at the end of each level.

And, uh, you can upgrade your moves. That’s pretty important. Probably deserves its own section…

Upgrade your Moves!

BABY!Captain Commando might have one leg up over its descendant: you can ride a robot. You can also score a missile launcher. Captain Commando is basically Golden Axe in a few weird respects, as riding creatures and nabbing interesting (and temporary) weapons is the name of the game (wait, did variable weapons happen in Golden Axe? Meh, I need to be awake to write this article, so I’ll skip replaying that one). Beat ‘em ups do get pretty monotonous pretty quick, so making a dash for that heavy artillery is a great way to spice things up (and send a few Scumocide henchmen to the great, flashing beyond).

The weapons and ridealongs are missing from Battle Circuit, but there are more than a few powerups scattered about. A special “battle download” capsule will temporarily boost your hunter’s stats, and, continuing the pattern of these distinct characters actually being distinct, each battle download works differently for each fighter. And, if we’re being honest, it probably is a lot more fun to suddenly leap around at double speed, or soak hits like it’s nothing, than ride a mech for a whole fifteen seconds.

And, for a little more longevity, any money or “points” found around the area can be exchanged for permanent powerups that enhance things like your beam weapons or special moves. Or you can expand your health! That can be a bit of a wallet-saver in a quarter killer, so maybe make a beeline for that upgrade. Regardless of how you’d like to cash-in, this simple upgrade system makes literally every object on the screen important, regardless of whether or not said object is currently punching you in the face. That’s no small feat for a genre that litters nondescript boxes and barrels all over the place like Jimmy’s Shipping and Crab Shack ™ was going out of business. And speaking of pickups…

Soup’s on!

SMACK 'EM GOODIn Captain Commando, when you find random food on the ground, it restores your health, and that’s that.

In Battle Circuit, when someone collects a meal, it restores health, and it makes an incredibly satisfying crunching/eating noise.

Battle Circuit is truly the culmination of all beat ‘em ups.

FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

  • System: Captain Commando was an arcade title first, and then a Super Nintendo title second. Very second. They dropped the mechs! That was the best part! No matter, even if ROB technically chose the Super Nintendo version for this article, the recently released Capcom Beat ‘em Up Bundle for Switch and PS4 contains both Captain Commando and Battle Circuit (in America for the first time!). Also, there was a Playstation (1) version of Captain Commando. I wonder how that turned out.
  • Number of players: Four? Let’s count all of the commandos, and a solid 80% of Team Battle Circuit. There are certainly enough “insert coin” messages flashing on the screen…
  • Captain Commando Memories: Somehow, I never saw the Captain Commando cabinet in an actual arcade. However, it did appear in a number of random hotel lobbies across I-95, so I did play the game for whole minutes at a time during family vacations. This is likely why I was excited about the Super Nintendo release, a feeling that was… misplaced.
  • Favorite Character: Baby Commando and Unknown the Hideous Plant Monster from Space should team up and, I don’t know, probably beat some dudes up.
  • Dance through the danger: Okay!
    Dance for me!

    Don’t mind if I do!
  • An End: Battle Circuit also has multiple endings! If you choose to fight the Master Control Program Shiva, you will face an incredibly brutal boss that is probably responsible for more deaths than the entire rest of the game combined. Meanwhile, if you choose to simply shatter the disc that contains Shiva… the game just ends. No bad ending, no “you did something wrong”, just a cute little ending that doesn’t require five bucks to access. That… is an odd choice.
  • Did you know? Yellow Iris/Beast inspired an alternate costume for Felicia in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This is an incredibly odd choice, as the fighting game that would probably most appeal to Americans (“There’s that Iron Man guy! From the movies!”) included paid DLC that honored a beat ‘em up that was never released in America in any capacity. Still, it’s nice to see someone remembers Battle Circuit other than Namco X Capcom.
  • Would I play again: Heck, why not? Either game is pretty alright, though Battle Circuit certainly has more replayability. Unfortunately, Captain Commando also tugs at my heartstrings, so it’s likely to see play again, too. Don’t make me choose between the past and the even-more-past!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Smash Bros! For no particular reason! Yep! Total coincidence! And there won’t be an extra-special guest artist for the article or anything! Nuh-uh! And this is almost entirely a lie! Which part isn’t? Well, guess you can find out next week. Please look forward to it!

What is even happening?

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

CONTRA!Why are so many phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo?

If you’ve spent longer than five minutes on any gaming forum/group/site/underground fight club, you’ve probably heard the age old gaming question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, but somehow had a television and electricity and maybe access to Amazon.com, which gaming console would you want to have with you?” And, if you’re anything like the pedantic nerds that generally ask such a question, your response is only more questions. Does this “one system” allow for all games ever on the system? Are we talking about a fully backwards compatible Playstation 3? Are we including DLC titles that appeared on older systems? Is there online functionality? Is sand going to get in that cartridge slot, instantly ruining any hope of having fun at all? It sounds completely insane, but if we’re allowed one system equipped with every available game for that system, I might actually choose the Vita. That sucker technically has so many great games… even if its system exclusives are sorely lacking.

But, if you’re talking about exclusives (and not modern systems that are clearly cheating by absorbing entire classic libraries), it seems like the “best” systems are the second ones. Playstation 1 was fun, but Playstation 2 had an amazing library that practically defined modern game storytelling. Xbox was a drop in the online bucket, but Xbox 360 created the console online community of today. And the WiiU was a fine prototype for the concept of a “portable console”, but nothing beats the amazing portability and ergonomics of the Switch. And, when you get right down to it, this all makes sense. Videogames are, at their core, pieces of technology, and it’s rare that any technology gets it right the first time. Nobody is still driving a Model T, and the Wright Flyer isn’t our standard for aviation. To be clear, this isn’t to say that any “early technology” is inherently bad, simply that we usually first get a passable proof of concept, and then, a generation later, we’ve got the good stuff. It’s the way of the world.

WeeeeeBut the Super Nintendo was something special. Back before voice acting and online play and the very concept that you could have color on your portable system (or at least pull that off without 3,616 AA batteries), there was the Super Nintendo. And it’s easy to discount that previous sentence as an old man griping while he waits for the latest Kirby game to download 3 gigs of updates, but it’s worth noting that there was a time when all a videogame console was expected to do was play videogames. No DVDs, no Netflix app, not even the possibility of “updating the firmware”. If you wanted to do something unique and interesting with a later game, you needed to design a special chip, and plump that cartridge cost up to unreasonable levels (hi, Mega Man X3). You want to save? Go hit the battery store! And God help you if you want to require a damned contemptible misguided peripheral. But, through it all, it meant that, by and large, games were games, and all you kids better not be enjoying your walking simulators on my lawn.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break to go yell at a cloud. Where were we? Oh, right, Super Nintendo.

So the Super Nintendo didn’t have any gimmicks. This… might be the only time that ever happened with a Nintendo console. The original Nintendo Entertainment System shipped with its own robot, and a gun with which to shoot said robot (in case it ever demanded you play Beyond the Beyond). The N64 touted its lack of load times, four controller ports, and analog sticks in direct response to Sony’s betrayal. The Wii, WiiU, and Switch were all completely defined by their stunts. And the Gamecube? Its biggest failing was that it had a pile of gimmicks (weird controller layout, GBA compatibility, the fact that it is clearly a near-sentient lunchbox), and none of them ever stuck, because all anyone wanted to do was play Smash Bros. But the Super Nintendo only ever wanted to play videogames. Here’s a controller with some more buttons. Here are a few chips that allow for more colors, graphics, and sounds. Now go nuts! We’ll check back in in five years or so.

BOOMAnd it certainly seems like a lot of developers did go nuts. Nintendo itself (well, let’s include some “second parties” that were synonymous with Nintendo) was responsible for Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. There was also Super Metroid, which some claim has not been surpassed within its genre even to this day. Square gave us Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, and Chrono Trigger, another luminary that is still unrivaled. Capcom presented Mega Man X and the last of the great Disney licensed platformers. And Konami was no slouch, either, as we saw the future of Castlevania and Contra, which neatly brings us to today’s featured title.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of the few run ‘n gun games that presents a different playstyle every stage, but still manages to be absolutely perfect. Everything starts in a “basic” Contra stage, with invading aliens, marching soldiers, and the occasional giant turtle monster. Then it’s time for an overhead stage that is less wanton destruction and more hide ‘n seek. The third stage is predominantly climbing based, and the fifth level is a hunt ‘n kill in the desert. It’s only in the sixth and final stage that we return to the “original” gameplay of the first level, and then it’s time for a boss gauntlet that includes destroying a strangely high number of colossal organs. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is the unbelievable Level 4, wherein Jimbo and Sully (real names withheld to protect the innocent) first ride hovercycles across a deserted highway (though it gets more crowded pretty quickly), proceed to fight a robo ninja beneath a helicopter, and then ride a series of missiles straight into an offending flying fortress. It is the most spectacular thing to ever happen in a Contra game!

GACKAnd that’s the thing: Contra 3 might be the best game in the franchise… And it was released on the Super Nintendo over 25 years ago. There have been other Contra experiences since, but so many of them have been… lacking. And even the best of these new Contra titles (Contra 4 comes to mind) revisit earlier titles rather liberally, up to and including whole bosses or set pieces from Contra 3, yet adding very little to the nostalgia. Then again, Contra 3 did repeat some of the greatest hits of Contra and Super Contra, so… has that always been happening? Is Contra just as iterative as Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition?

Wait a tick… maybe the Super Nintendo is home to so many great games because it was a system exclusively built for iterative games.

The Super Nintendo was a “Nintendo, but super”. The system allowed games to be “the same thing as last time, but super”. Castlevania 4 was, ultimately, a reskin of Castlevania 1. Super Metroid was Samus repeating her zero mission all over again, but now she gets faster boots. Link vs. Ganon. Little Mac vs. Some Tall Guy. There was no need to make Mario a JRPG or fighting game (yet), and the public (or the market) was perfectly content to see the early “arcade” style games evolve into their more console-based final forms. Basically, all the games that defined gaming in the first place on the NES all went Super Saiyan at once, and the nefarious Frieza of Boredom was left floating in space.

BOOMSo why is the Super Nintendo so well regarded? Because it was a videogame system that had the technology and luck to allow itself to “only” be a place for properly evolved videogames. As we grew up, so too did our games, and the Super Nintendo was the host for many of them.

And then we got to murder a buttload of aliens, so that wasn’t bad, either.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

  • System: Super Nintendo/SNES Classic, and then there was a remake of sorts on the Gameboy Advance. It included a few stages from Contra: Hard Corps in an effort to ditch the overhead stages, which makes for a very different experience. There was also an OG Gameboy port of Contra 3, too, and it was phenomenally awful.
  • Number of players: And the Super Nintendo was a great time for two players (and exclusively two players)!
  • Port-o-Call: Gameboy Contra 3 was terrible, but it had Super Gameboy enhanced features. Which… is vaguely confusing, because if you’ve got a Super Nintendo, and want to play Contra 3 on the television, I want to say there are other options…
  • Favorite Weapon: Flamethrower 4 life. There is no problem that cannot be solved by an unending stream of hot death.
  • I'm not the only one that sees it, right?Favorite… Uh… Thing: A swarm of alien bugs attempt to carry off your hero toward the start of Level 3, and I’ve always appreciated how they’re the approximately one monster in the game that can be touched without incurring instant death. It doesn’t make that section any less hectic (as they will drag you to an immediate death if you let them), but it’s nice to be slightly less destructible for all of thirty seconds.
  • Did you know? In Europe, our Contra heroes are (not) secretly androids fighting an army of alien robots. It’s basically the prequel to Nier Automata.
  • Would I play again: Contra 3 just reminded me that the Super Nintendo was a system of wonders. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask! I guess you’ll see that update in… three days. Please look forward to it!

FGC #378 MorphX

You have never heard of this gameMorphX is an existential nightmare.

MorphX is also a 2010 release for the Xbox 360. Wait, let me amend that, MorphX was technically released in 2008, but only in its native land of Russia. That’s right! According to a staff roll that includes a number of Ivans, Olgas, and Igors, MorphX was created and designed in Russia. And it shows! Superficially! MorphX is the story of an alien invasion of Moscow, and… I guess there’s Russian graffiti in some of the tunnels? Wow! What an amazingly different and unique culture! I bet their sewer levels smell totally different from our NYC-based sewer levels.

Aside from the obvious cultural divide (though they did find the time to dub in American voice actors), MorphX is a pretty standard lil’ Xbox 360 action game with a few interesting flourishes. You’re a human that had an alien ram its ovipositor down your throat and lay eggs in your chest, so before even the tutorial starts up, you’re a half human, half alien monster hybrid. And that’s a good thing! You can soak bullets, regenerate health, and kick normal humans halfway across the sewers with your mighty hybrid calves. It’s good to be a freak! And your current status as a monster man also grants other interesting gameplay quirks, like a level up system that is primarily based on light puzzle solving (it’s one of those “pipes”-esque deals, not unlike hacking in Bioshock), generally fun ability upgrades (like night vision and berserker mode), and a fine excuse for restoring health through “eating” deceased aliens. Overall, MorphX is a pretty rote action title of the era, but it does have a fair share of thoughtful ideas and concepts. You can tell that this was more than a random “crapped out” cash-in title, and, while it would never be game of the year, it might not be a bad way to kill an afternoon.

But I got all that information from playing the game. Why not anywhere else? Well, because this is the extent of the Wikipedia page for MorphX:

WIKI!

And did I mention I picked up this disc at the five dollar store? Yes, MorphX was released in 2010, and, in seven short years, it appears to have been completely forgotten.

And that is terrifying to me.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, no videogame is created today by “accident”. We have long passed the days of one, singular architect of any given game (or at least any game that isn’t Axiom Verge), and, no matter the system or quality of the final product, you will inevitably see a host of hands in the stew. MorphX is no different, and it’s clear that the minigames that comprise the leveling system are entirely different from the main monster-mashing game, so even if the credits were just six people (which they’re not), it would be elementary to assume MorphX was the product of several people working together. And that means something! That means there were discussions! That means there were different viewpoints! That means there were “working lunches”! While corners may have been cut, and maybe not everything worked out exactly as planned, MorphX, like any piece of media that could even remotely be called art, was a labor of love… but with a Wooooheavy emphasis on the “labor” part. Hell, it’s entirely possible everyone involved with MorphX hated the damn thing, but that doesn’t mean any part of its creation was easy. MorphX was not an accident, it was the end result of hundreds of hours of work by many, many different people.

And, in the end, it wound up in the five dollar store. It wound up at the five dollar store in vast quantities.

There’s a common misconception that has been floating around for a while: the worst thing you can do is make something that is bad. Technically, a part of this is true, as making something “bad” is, by definition, a bad thing. However, it is not the greatest failure one can achieve. Manos: The Hands of Fate is a terrible, terrible movie that killed nearly everyone involved, but, somehow, you recognize that title because a bunch of robots mocked it relentlessly. Reefer Madness is dreadful, but it’s kitsch, right? It’s all in good fun. And The Room? That’s a movie so bad, they made a movie about its sheer badness, and then gave a dude an award for portraying the chief reason it’s so bad. And, come to think of it, did you see Tommy Wiseau hopping up on stage with Franco? Why was Tommy there at the Hollywood elite’s biggest party? Because he made an abysmal movie. He made something that, according to every rule of filmmaking, was completely terrible, but he is celebrated in the same room as Spielberg. Tommy Wiseau is a joke, but he is a joke that will be told for a generation. In a hundred years, Tim Burton III will make a holo-vid about his life and times.

So, no, the worst thing you can do is not make something that is bad. The worst thing you can do is make something that is forgotten.

NyetObjectively, this sounds absurd. It is “better to rule in Hell” thinking that inevitably gets godwinned out of existence the minute you note that Mein Kampf is a more popular work that Generic Fantasy Novel #4,1645. Sure, you can be famous for being infamous, but that’s no sign that you’ve done something right. And that’s absolutely true for people. There is no nobility in being known for being a bad person. However, art is something very different. Art is, for all intents and purposes, the “belief gods” you see in Neil Gaiman novels and old Star Trek episodes. Art lives or dies by its audience, and, good or bad, if an audience isn’t there, it is dead. Sure, we like to keep ourselves warm at night with stories of how one fan learned a valuable life lesson from one book, and that made all the difference in the world… but seriously? There have been a million books written just in the time you’ve been alive, yet you will note that your local bookstore (should such a thing even exist) is not a stadium holding the wealth of knowledge and imagination it could potentially contain. There have been thousands upon thousands of works of art lost to time because generations didn’t discover that “forgotten gem” fast enough for it not to be completely forgotten. A forgotten gem that is never remembered is just a useless rock.

And to anyone that creates anything, that concept is terrifying.

All art takes time. Every creation takes effort. Whether it’s good, bad, or something decidedly in between, every thing that has ever been fashioned by mortal hands has demanded blood, sweat, and tears from its creators. To imagine such a work amounting to being judged poorly is unfortunate, but for such a thing to be completely ignored? That is so much worse. That is petrifying, and is likely the number one reason poems don’t get written, songs don’t get sung, and movies don’t get made. Why bother? Why even try when you’re going to wind up in the five dollar store down the aisle from the last of the Street Sharks merchandise? Why bother?

Well, maybe you could do it because somehow, someway, your art, being sold at a discount at some random store halfway across the world, could inspire some nerd to write about the horrors of creating anything. And that article could inspire other people to overcome their own fears, and create their own works of art. And one crappy little videogame could change the world in its own little way.

… But seriously, what are the odds of that happening?

FGC #378 MorphX

  • System: Xbox 360. And one would suppose also Windows/PC, because every Xbox 360 game is on there.
  • Number of players: Just one lil’ angry dude.
  • Favorite Weapon: The shotgun isn’t any great shakes, because it seems you absolutely need weapon range to succeed in this game, but it does have a tendency to shoot out some kind of buckshot thing, and being able to see “the spread” on screen is a novel approach to the usual “just a flashing gun” weapon animation.
  • Bloody linksBlood Sport: One other noticeable thing about MorphX is that your average dead soldier just plain explodes into a pile of blood and body parts. It’s a little upsetting, but it’s slightly more interesting than modern “rag doll” deaths.
  • So, did you beat it? Nah. If this was the only game available to me for a month, I might bother, but I’m pretty sure I got a good grasp of everything this title had to offer from a couple of hours.
  • Did you know? It is impossible to find trivia about a game that doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
  • Would I play again: MorphX makes me think about the concept of creation, videogames, and art. It’s also not a very interesting game, in a genre I don’t particularly care for, so you know the drill.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fable 2! We go from a completely unknown Xbox 360 game to one of the most infamous! Neat! Please look forward to it!

FGC #374 Destroy All Humans!

Bwa ha ha haSo, why the 50s?

Today’s game is Destroy All Humans!, a PS2-era release featuring a wayward alien that decides to visit the United States and maybe steal a few humans’ brain stems while he’s in the area. The basic concept of the title is “Grand Theft Alien”, and it plays almost exactly like the other GTA-alikes of the era. Run around, cause some mischief, watch your wanted meter go up, and maybe hop in a flying saucer to wreck up the place from a high altitude. The cities are separated into distinct stages, but mission markers are still all over the place, and you’ve certainly got fifty or so collectibles to dig up in every area for additional brain goo points. It’s an entertaining package from start to finish, and, of the many GTA clones of the age, DAH! is one of the few that stands on its own two stubby, alien feet.

And, despite the fact that all of this could take place at practically any point in history (that had rocket launchers), Destroy All Humans! is set in 1959, with a heavy emphasis on the 50’s aesthetic. So… why?

The best and first answer is obvious: Destroy All Humans! is lampooning the “alien invasion” films that were so prevalent during the late 50’s and early 60’s. The rise of cinema and technology led naturally to giant radioactive ants and horrors from beyond the stars. Sure, the “special effects” were achieved by imposing zoomed-in stock footage of insects over stock footage of panicking teenagers, and, yes, your average flying saucer was literally a saucer on a string, but, hey, everybody had a good time. Or maybe it was just Ed Wood. Regardless, it is no accident that Plan 9 From Outer Space was released the same year as Destroy All Humans!’s setting.

SpooookyBut that raises the next apparent question: Why were alien movies popular during the 50s? And that earns another simple answer: nuclear annihilation. We have a rather idyllic view of 1950s America, but it was maybe not the best time to have high blood pressure. The period immediately following World War 2 was peaceful and happy and incidentally home to The Cold War. Need a quick history lesson? USA and USSR (Russia) relations were at an all-time low, and there was a general fear that our neighbors across the ocean were going to blow our country to kingdom come any ol’ day. So, yes, there were demure housewives and men with ridiculous hats smoking pipes, but there were also air raid sirens, and children learning to hide under desks in the event of a bomb that could level an entire city (.… desks were more resilient then). It was in this air of general pleasantness/paranoia that an alien invasion seemed likely and/or entertaining. After all, did it matter if “death from above” was scary Ruskies or scary aliens? Same vaporization, so same difference.

So all of that makes sense. A country’s monsters reflect its fears, and, like how orange clowns are currently our number one dread, aliens from beyond the stars menaced the good people of the 50s. That all makes sense specifically for Destroy All Humans!, but what about other 50s based games? What about 50s games that didn’t feature aliens, like Mafia 2, Harvester, or the perennial Violence Fight? None of these games are exactly Mario Bros, but there seem to be more 50s-based titles than any other decade that happened to sneak into a digital title. And, no, “World War 2” is not a decade. We’re talking about conflicts on the home soil!

And then it occurred to me: the 50s is our horror story.

Pew PewThe 50s were frightening thanks to the ever looming threat of total destruction, but, aside from that, it was a pretty good time for everybody. A chicken in every pot, a pipe in every mouth, and little Billy was outside playing cowboys and Indians while Howdy Doody kept the airwaves safe. Men were working toward a better future in our steel mills, coal mines, and hat factories, and women were home making a butter-based casserole that would instantly kill the cardiovascular system of a modern human. Nobody locked their doors, the police officers were friendly, and criminals were all sentenced to goofy striped shirts. Everything was perfect for everybody!

… Except if your skin was anything but a lovely shade of pale white. Anybody else? There are going to be problems. Remember chain gangs? Yeah, you’re probably going to wind up there. Say hi to the warden for me!

In all seriousness, at this point, I want to believe that we are all well aware that “the good old days” were racist as hell. But the 50s didn’t have the messy social upheaval of the late 60s or 70s, and it didn’t have the dream denied sadgasms of the 80s and 90s, so it is still looked to as a time in our not too distant past when we had television, TV dinners, and happy times for everybody. We want to believe in that pleasant past, but we’re also vaguely aware of the problems. We all know that the image of the happy little nuclear family is just as imaginary as Camelot, and, when you get right down to it, we know that the 50s were great for one specific group of people, and an absolute horror show for everybody else.

And we’re afraid that nothing has changed.

BoooooUnlike during the 50s, it is not impossible for a person of color to hold a position of power nowadays. If we really try, we can still remember President Obama, and, while she might not be the best choice in the world, the fact that President Oprah is even being considered is a fine sign of how far we’ve come. The idea of a black woman president was once the exclusive domain of sci-fi, and now it’s something that can be freely discussed on the evening news. And that’s great! But what isn’t great is that we are all painfully aware that we live in a world where racism is out and proud. And it’s not just morons burning crosses on lawns, its freaking 66% of white voters in Alabama voting for Roy “Accused Pedophile, Avowed Racist” Moore. The fact that he got a voting block larger than zero is absurd, but, nope, he can count on 66% of whites in his state to say, “Nah, that’s okay with me.” Every day, it becomes more and more obvious that President Trump is less an elected official, and more a living testament to just how pissed off a significant chunk of our nation was at the mere thought of another “minority” president.

And you think about any of that for longer than five seconds, and it’s hard not to imagine that the “greatest” of our society only exist thanks to the horribleness right below the surface. Old money earned on the backs of slaves propels the current generation to richer and wealthier pastures. Technology is cheap and affordable and only got that way thanks to foreign markets with atrocious labor laws. Even our beloved videogames are designed and created by teams of educated, intelligent people that are often forced to work inhumane hours just so we can play the silly game with the alien man without delays. It is impossible to not know how much suffering keeps our western society running (and anyone lacking that basic empathy has no excuse. They are monsters), and we all know that, deep down, we’re no more evolved than the silly housewives and salarymen of the 50s. Our fashion might be better, and we might have slightly superior taste in music, but we’re still humans, and we’re still perfectly willing to overlook suffering if it means we’re the tiniest bit more comfortable.

Not appropriateAnd that’s what’s scary about the 50s. That’s why we keep looking back to that bygone era not with pride, but with an uneasy fear. We like to imagine we’ve changed, we like to imagine that 70 years ago was “way back when”, but, when we acknowledge the ugly reality of the situation, we know that we haven’t come far enough. We’ve gotten better, but we’re still not great, and reminding us of a time when racism was rampart and nuclear war was always an option, we know we’re looking at an epoch not too far removed from our own.

The 1950s? They aren’t all that alien after all.

FGC #374 Destroy All Humans!

  • System: Playstation 2, and now available on the Playstation 4. I look forward to the Playstation 6 rerelease.
  • Number of players: Only one Furon clone at a time for this adventure.
  • Incidentally: The fact that this post went up on Martin Luther King Day is a complete coincidence. The fact that this post went up shortly after Trump once again revealed himself as a racist is inevitable.
  • Everybody Panic: Sometimes the NPC reactions to aliens are…
    Weeee

    Pretty great.
  • Favorite Weapon: At least one advantage DAH! has over its GTA brethren is a glut of combat options. In addition to your usual assortment of guns, you’ve got telepathy and mind control, which allows for a more interesting “last stand” when your wanted meter is maxed out. Regardless, I’ll take the charge-based anal probe any day, as it apparently causes people to literally crap out their brainstems. I can’t say no to that.
  • Voice Actor Corner: Richard Steven Horvitz voices Pox, the brainy alien that aids Crypto on his quest. Appropriately enough, Horvitz is using his Invader Zim voice, and, even just a few years after that series was cancelled, it was wonderful to hear everyone’s favorite alien again. Now it’s downright nostalgic.
  • Did you know? Tucked into some archival DAH! menus, Plan 9 From Outer Space is available for your viewing pleasure. It’s entirely possible the whole movie is on the disc, but man can only watch Plan 9 for about three minutes before going insane, so I’m unable to verify its presence.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. GTA-Alien times are fun, but if I want completely madcap GTA action, I just nab Saints Row. Unfortunately, most GTA-esque games are too long for their own good, and that’s another notch in the strike column, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age! That’s right! We’re reviewing Final Fantasy 12 again, and this time, we might talk about the actual game! Please look forward to it!

Very annoyed!
I am taking this personally.