Tag Archives: arcade

FGC #414 Joe & Mac

I don't even know...Let us discuss the curious case of the Super Nintendo port of Joe & Man: Caveman Ninja.

Like with many videogames of the early 90’s (1991! Did such a far off year ever really exist?), this story starts in the arcades. Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (alternately known as simply Caveman Ninja or Joe and Mac: Caveman Combat) was one of those vaguely beat ‘em up-esque 2-D action titles that you usually only saw out of Capcom (I still remember you, Magic Sword). Joe and Mac are caveman bros that must hold back an entire Neanderthal army and rescue a few “cave babes” from the likes of dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and at least one giant skeleton monster. The title is comical and cartoony, and seems to lean heavily into being a sort of “parody” title. Tyrannosauruses barf out cavemen, Little Shop of Horrors lends a certain giant plant to the proceedings, and we even get to “laugh” at the tired “overweight woman is boy crazy, boy is repulsed” trope. Real knee-slappers all around! Humor aside, though, Joe & Mac is an enjoyable arcade experience, and exactly the kind of game you’d expect to play in a pre-Street Fighter 2 arcade.

What set Joe & Mac apart from its arcade brethren? Well, once you cut out the comedy and expressive sprite-work, there’s pretty much nothing. But why would you ignore that!? Joe and Mac isn’t trying to be the Citizen Souls (Dark Kane?) of gaming, it’s a just a fun way to blow some quarters for the afternoon. There are improvements to be made across the board, but most of those advances would ignore the requirements of an arcade game. It’s a little too easy to lose health quickly and painfully… but considering loss of life necessitates another quarter, I don’t hear any change machines complaining. And the stage selections mean you will miss levels when choosing between Path A and Path B, but, that’s just an excuse to play the game all over again to see all the content.

Hm. If Joe and Mac wasn’t tethered to the arcade, it could be a better game, so the console ports must show stark improvement.

… Right?

ZAPLet’s review a few of the console ports. The MS-DOS port (what passed for “PC” back in the day) was basically the arcade version, so one would suppose that doesn’t count. Similarly, the Sega Genesis version tried to be the arcade version, and is pretty much the same thing, give or take a few graphical tweaks. As one might expect, the NES version is severely compromised, as the big, bad bosses of Joe & Mac don’t really translate to 8-bits very well. They had to make the generic baby dinosaur mook a mini-boss! And no one bothered to animate the cave babes actually kissing our heroes! Regardless, it’s compromised, but it’s clearly an attempt at directly porting Joe & Mac Arcade. And the Gameboy version might actually be better than the NES port… which isn’t terribly surprising, given it was released a year later. It’s still not great, but it’s passable for an early 90’s Gameboy title. Oh, and like its NES buddy, it follows the basic rules and flow of the arcade release. So that only leaves the Super Nintendo port, and… it’s a little different.

If you were to play Arcade Joe & Mac, play some other games at the arcade, and then scoot home to play SNES Joe & Mac, you might not notice much of a difference. These are both games that feature the titular Joe & Mac rescuing cave babes from the forces of evil. In both adventures, Joe & Mac fight (almost) the same bosses, which employ (mostly) the same patterns. There is jumping and weapon hurling and meat grabbing. And, while the SNES version has an overworld map, the basic flow of the game is almost exactly the same, give or take the ability to try those “forking” stages in one continuous playthrough.

But, if you play the two games in rapid succession (perhaps because you live in a glorious future where entire arcade cabinets may be digitized into tiny MAME roms), you will note that the arcade and SNES versions of Joe & Mac are as different as a caveman ninja and a Neanderthal.

Little bubFirst, and most noticeably, the SNES version completely drops the Master Higgins-esque health system of the arcade. There is a constant “health timer” in the arcade version, and, should Joe or Mac stop eating everything in sight for longer than six seconds, they will certainly expire from insatiable hunger. This eating disorder is absent from the SNES port, so Joe and Mac can explore their environment at a much more leisurely pace. And that’s great, because there are bonus rooms around, and they can only be accessed through vigilant determination. Oh, and you’re allowed to toggle obtained weapons with L&R, so you’re no longer stuck with whatever weapon you happened to bump into (anyone that played the earlier Konami titles is well aware of the “joys” of accidentally ditching your holy water for a stupid dagger). And these are all improvements! Joe and Mac for the Super Nintendo is the superior Joe and Mac version! Everything is good forever!

Except… SNES Joe and Mac left a surprising amount of content on the cutting room floor. For one thing, the weapons selection has been severely limited, which eliminates some of the most interesting attacks. Joe can no longer launch gigantic sparks at opponents, and Mac has completely lost the ability to summon a spiritual “other self” to menace an ankylosaurus. And speaking of offensive options, Joe & Mac can “charge” attacks for bigger bangs in other versions, while that option is sorely missing on the Super Nintendo. And, believe me, stronger attacks are dearly missed when bosses are massive HP sponges. Oh, and the stages that randomly transform the title into a dedicated shooting game are missing entirely, which is a major loss for anyone that ever wanted a caveman based shoot ‘em up (guess we have to go back to Bonk for that). Frankly, the Super Nintendo version is missing a number of features that made Arcade Joe & Mac great.

And then there are the weird changes. The final boss of nearly every version is some unholy amalgamation of a dinosaur and a Neanderthal. It is never explained where this creature originated, but it makes a kind of sense at the end of a game where you fight dinosaurs and Neanderthals (separately) every five seconds. The SNES version introduces… Satan. Or… some kind of devil, at least. And he’s living inside a T-Rex’s belly, and is kidnapping cave babes because… uh… He was bored? And the multiple endings of the arcade game were dropped… sorta. The “funny” ending where Joe & Mac are chased by a bevy of heavy ladies is gone. That is, unless you know a key sequence that reinstates this alternate/tired ending. Why bother with such a thing? I don’t think “slightly different ending with a secret code” was exactly a selling point back in 1991.

BEAT EM ALL

But this all brings us back to the original question: why?

Joe & Mac was published in the arcade and at home by Data East. The most accurate ports all originated with Data East. This was not a situation where Capcom made the arcade cabinet, and then LJN was somehow responsible for the port. This was all in-house, and any changes made to the formula must have been overseen by at least the same producer. And, by all accounts, none of these changes were the result of “memory issues” or similar excuses from the 8-bit days. If the Sega Genesis could handle that deleted tusk weapon, it certainly could have appeared on the Super Nintendo. AwogaBy all accounts, there’s no real reason for the changes made to the SNES port, and we’re unlikely to ever have a clue why these changes were made. Was this an attempt to segue into a more adventure-y sequel? Establish the Joe & Mac extended universe? Play around with the L&R buttons? The world may never know the answer.

Joe & Mac for the Super Nintendo is just different enough from its version brethren to raise a few eyebrows, but not different enough to feel like its own game. And the reasons for that are lost to prehistory…

FGC #414 Joe & Mac

  • System: Joe & Mac get around. Let’s say the arcade version is the start, and then we’ve got Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Nintendo Entertainment System, DOS, and the Amiga for some reason. All that, and I don’t think it has returned in modern times for any sort of Virtual Console.
  • Number of players: Joe and Mac. And, depending on the version and mode, you can clobber your buddy into submission while fighting your opponents.
  • Favorite Weapon: The wheel revolutionized human transportation, and it was a fine way to whack a pterodactyl.
  • Favorite Boss: There’s this gray, water based dinosaur that rules over the waterfall/river stage. It’s not that remarkable, but it’s doing that 16-bit thing where its neck is a series of disconnected circles. For some reason, I always find that endearing.
  • RollyDid you know? During two player games, a gauge will appear to track which character has clubbed the boss the most. The winner earns a kiss from a cave babe, and the loser has to sit back and watch his pal get the girl. This is sexist and stupid and the cause of way too many fights when I was playing this game with friends when I was ten.
  • Would I play again: Like any beat ‘em up-alike, Joe & Mac is pretty fun when you have a playmate in the area. And I inexplicably have fond memories of this title, so it’s probably going to get played again. Now, which version to play…

What’s next? We’re closing out 16-Bit Cavemen Week with the sequel to Joe & Mac! No, not Joe & Mac 2. That would be silly. I’m thinking something a little more… caper-y. Please look forward to it!

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

This is how reproduction worksIf you’re at all interested in videogames, you’ve probably heard of the horrors of game preservation. Videogames are, almost by design, ephemeral. They’re here on the current software, and, if a game is a hit, you can be sure you’ll see it return in the next generation (maybe with a HD remaster!). If a game is a “cult classic”, you might spy a few nerds getting really excited when it shows up on what passes for the next generation’s virtual console. But, if it fails to make an impact, and it fails to have a big name attached to it, then it is likely gone forever. There are literally thousands of games that have languished on their original hardware, never to be seen by an audience ever again.

And this is, without question, a bad thing. More than any other medium, videogames are iterative and absolutely rely on what has come before. Sure, we all like to look at “defining” games like Mario and Zelda to explain where gaming has originated (and where it’s going), but the failures are just as important as the successes. Krion Conquest shows us exactly how to make Mega Man wrong. Early Metroidvania titles (Goonies 2 comes to mind) exemplify what features should be left on the cutting room floor (like God damn birds that steal your items). And the early xeroxes of Doom and Final Fantasy 7 demonstrate exactly what can go wrong in a FPS or JRPG. A bad movie is generally just a bad movie, but there is so much involved in a bad videogame, that there is much to learn past “don’t do that”.

And then there are chunks of our history that are lost forever not because they were somehow unworthy, but because of the great equalizer of all mediums: the legal department.

Munching alongJr. Pac-Man is a Pac-Man arcade game from 1983. The title made it to the Atari 2600 in ’86 (four years after the initial, disastrous Atari Pac-Man), and DOS/Commodore 64 two years later. In other words, it made the rounds in its day. However, you won’t see Jr. Pac-Man past 1990. It did not appear on any of the “modern” consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was not an unlockable in the arcade of Pac-Man 2. And, even today, when you score a Pac-Man collection on your platform of choice, it does not contain Jr. Pac-Man. The character of “Pac-Man’s son” might pop up from time to time, but his titular videogame is nowhere to be found. What happened?

Well, the answer to that is simple: Jr. Pac-Man never should have been born. Namco is the creator of the once and future Pac-Man, and merely licensed the property to Bally-Midway for release in the states. Then Pac-Man fever infected the nation… and Midway needed to sell more arcade machines. Everybody already had Pac-Man, and, thus, only arcade owners were raking in the quarters, not the arcade cabinet manufacturers. So, in a desperate bid to revitalize the Pac-Market, Midway released a slew of new Pac-Content. Ms. Pac-Man is the most famous example, but we also saw Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and the abhorrent Pac-Man Plus, a game that I’m almost certain is naturally haunted (not talking about the ghosts, they’re normal). And, from this bumper crop of Pac-Merchandise, we also saw Jr. Pac-Man.

So flashyAnd Jr. Pac-Man might be one of the best of the Midway Alterna-Pacs. It’s never going to dethrone Ms. Pac-Man, but it has some pretty interesting mechanics. For one thing, for better or worse, it’s the first Pac-Man title designed with a scrolling maze. This means bigger stages, naturally, but also a little more tension with monsters that could be doing anything when they’re off screen. And the bonus items now have much more of an impact on gameplay: an item (no longer just fruit, now we’ve got bicycles, trains, and… a cat?) will move around the maze of its own volition, and “fatten” the traditional pellets. A fat pellet will grant Junior more points, but they also slow this Pac down the tiniest bit… which can make a significant impact when there’s a ghost on your tail. But that’s not all! In a move that can only be described as a betrayal of everything a bonus item stands for, if an item comes in contact with a Power Pellet, both the item and the pellet will explode! And you’re down a Power Pellet! Oh, the humanity!

And, most bizarrely of all, Jr. Pac-Man decides to add to the Pac-Mythos. The round clear cinema scenes of Ms. Pac-Man showcased the pairing of two Pacs, and the attract mode of Jr. Pac-Man features the stork dropping off the new Pac-Bundle. Jr. Pac-Man scenes show another love story, but one between Junior and… a ghost! Yum-Yum is Blinky’s daughter, and it’s clear that he does not approve of these star-crossed lovers. Will Pac-Man Jr. run off with a tiny ghost with a bow in her hair (“hair”)? Play the game to find out!

Or don’t, because you can’t play the thing anywhere.

So verticalFor the sin of creating a licensed-but-unapproved Pac-Man title, Bally-Midway will no longer see any profits from the adventures of the second-littlest Pac. As a result, Jr. Pac-Man is not allowed to appear in any Pac-Collections, and, should you mention Jr. Pac-Man in polite company, the duchess shall be offended, and you will be asked to leave the premises. Jr. Pac-Man may be an interesting twist on the Pac-Formula, but it is nothing more than a redheaded step child to Namco, so it must be thrust out into the cold, never to be seen again (except maybe at Thanksgiving).

And more’s the pity.

Jr. Pac-Man isn’t the best Pac-Man game out there. It might not even be in the top three. But is it better than Pac-Land? Is it more of a Pac-Man game than Pac-Man 2? Does it have more to say about Pac-Play than Pac-Mania? There’s a clear “yes” to each of those questions. Jr. Pac-Man might not be an instant classic, but it’s unavoidably part of the Pac-Pantheon, and should be regarded as such. Jr. Pac-Man deserves a seat at the table, and that means someone born after 1988 deserves a chance to play it.

But it’s never going to happen, because of a licensing dispute from thirty years ago.

Videogame preservation is important, but it seems like the legal department is more important.

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

  • System: Arcade, Atari 2600, DOS, and Commodore 64… and then never again. If you can’t tell, you’re seeing Arcade and Atari 2600 for this article.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Does this means the Pacs have two sons?
  • Attempted Preservation: In an effort to find some version of Jr. Pac-Man, I managed to turn up a random flash version online.

    Not wakka

    It is… not great.

  • Continuity Issue: Actually, Jr. Pac-Man first appears as part of Ms. Pac-Man (the game… man, the phrasing on that sentence is weird) being dropped off by the stork as part of a later cinema scene. But then he arrives at the start of Jr. Pac-Man, when the Pacs have a home? Which is it, Pac-Authors?
  • Favorite Item: The final released maze is the “beer maze”. Let’s just go ahead and assume that’s a root beer, and Jr. Pac-Man is not trying to get drunk with his bad-influence ghost girlfriend.
  • What’s in a name: The orange ghost of Jr. Pac-Man is known as… Tim. Maybe he’s a ghost wizard?
  • Did you know? Ms. Pac-Man was a Midway hack, too, but Namco liked it. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I would like to, but there’s no way I’m fighting the Atari into playing this cartridge anytime soon. I suppose I could always drop a quarter in this guy, though…

    WAKKA WAKKA

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocket Tennis Color for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! It’s going to be 399-Love here at the FGC. Please look forward to it!

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

FINAL FANTASYSo, chess, right? You know how to play chess? Let’s say you do. Do you remember when you learned how to play chess? Were you taught by a family member? A teacher? Some other kid? Some other adult? But here’s the thing: it is very unlikely you learned chess from a rulebook. Yes, you may have later read a great strategy guide to finally beat your grandpa at the game of kings (who don’t feel like standing up), but it’s downright unnatural to learn the rules of the game from a book or manual. And there’s a reason for that! Chess is a two player game, so it’s rather inevitable that player one is going to lecture player two. This is how games are learned! This is how games are passed from generation to generation. And, ultimately, this is what makes a game eternal: the drive for one generation to teach another. Because, after all, if you can’t find somebody to play with, what’s the point of playing a game at all?

Now, humble reader, I am well aware this is a videogame blog. I am blitheringly aware that “there must be a second player” is a stupid position for malcontents that haven’t picked up a controller in the last thirty years. This very blog will attest to the fact that my favorite games are predominantly single player. And, sad but true fact, I would estimate that a mere 10% of my gaming time is anything that could truly be considered “multiplayer”. But, gentle reader, you misunderstand my intentions. I’m not saying a game must include a two player option, I’m saying that videogames are your second player.

My father taught me how to play checkers. My mother taught me how to play Clue. My grandfather taught me how to play Chess. And Shigeru Miyamoto taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. Or did SMB itself teach me? The line is a little blurred there, but, if we consider videogames to be “thinking” objects (which we obviously do, because why else would we swear at them so regularly when they kill our dudes?), then a videogame’s own… videogameness is your eternal second player and teacher. After all, what fun is a game if you don’t understand the rules?

WeeeeeAnd, while we’re asking that rhetorical question: are bad games just games where “the game” misrepresents or otherwise sullies “the rules”? What is bad hit detection but a misperception of the boundaries of certain malicious pixels? When a JRPG requires excessive grinding, is it a feature, or a misunderstanding of what the player has to do between two objectives? And who likes it when the rules change right at the final moments? You’ve been playing an awesome action game, and then it turns into a shoot ‘em up? That’s a clear betrayal of the rules that Friend Videogame laid down from the start! That would be like requiring every game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to end with a test of strength! And that’s terrible! There’s no way I could overpower a kindergartener!

And then there are the games that don’t even bother with explaining the rules. They’re the worst of all.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is the long awaited sequel to Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim, a game that was released a whopping seven years ago. In videogame years, that is a period equal to approximately eighteen Assassin’s Creeds, or at least sixty Maddens. That is a lot of time for technology to improve, and, what’s more, the old Dissidia was a title for the PSP. Remember the PSP? Sony’s attempt to out-portable Nintendo right when mobile gaming was first making the scene? Yeah, it was an abject failure, but Square-Enix managed to release at least one good PSP game a year, so it wasn’t a total loss. And one of those excellent SE games was Dissidia, an unusual fighting game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy franchise all duking it out for… I don’t know… I think crystals were involved? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was fun, and it was one of the rare fighting games that was actually built for a portable system. Dissidia was part Street Fighter, but also part Pokémon, as you had to “train” your Tidus, and make sure the little dork always had the best equipment. WeeeeeExcuse me, it wasn’t about having the best equipment, it was about equipping the items that would fit your playstyle, so you might wind up with a different load out if you preferred to chase EX charges, or liked to just pummel your opponent into submission. You’ve got options!

But this is not to say Dissidia was a straightforward fighting game that just happened to have a little extra backend. Dissidia introduced the “Bravery System”, which, in short, means you’re supposed to hit your opponent until you have accrued enough hits to really hit your opponent. On one hand, it’s an overly complicated way to get to the “deplete HP” step that is essential to every fighting game ever, but, on the other hand, it does create a lot more drama, and a real see-saw mechanic that other fighting games have attempted to achieve for years. But, love it or hate it, you had to learn it before you could use it, so Dissidia certainly had a barrier of entry. But at least there was a tutorial right from the boot up of Dissidia, and, acknowledging that people might need such a thing, there were intensive lessons available through the game. And, what’s more, those lectures were written “by” Final Fantasy heroes from throughout the series, so if you ever thought Rydia would be an excellent summons teacher, congratulations, you’re right! Hey, if a game knows you’re going to need extra instructions, at least make those instructions interesting.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT, unfortunately, did not learn this lesson.

Learn to climb!FFDNT started as an arcade game. And that’s great! So did Street Fighter 2! And we all learned how to play that game just fine. Except… assuming you were playing a proper SF2 cabinet, all the fireball motions you could ever need were graphics on the cabinet, so learning the finer points of that experience was, amazingly, still teaching-based. Not so much with FFDNT. It is unlikely I’ll ever see a FFDNT cabinet, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it doesn’t have the gameplay basics written anywhere on there, as it would require a cabinet roughly the size of a convenience store. Want to know how Terra works? That’s in aisle six.

See, the problem with Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is not simply that it fails to convey meaningful lessons to the neophyte player, it’s that there is so much going on, it is impossible to accurately learn anything from the gameplay. There are two teams of three, but you only control one fighter on one team. That’s pretty normal… but what are the win conditions again? It seems like fighters revive pretty quickly after depleting their health… so is it a most kills in a minute kind of thing? No, wait, the match just ended… did someone die? Our team? Theirs? And now there are some rankings… looks like whoever exhausted the most HP gets the trophy… but aren’t there other goals during a match? Why am I supposed to attack the EX Core Crystals again? To summon? But I can summon even if I never bothered. And what does the summon do? Change the background, toss a few lasers around, and… wait, my attack stat goes up? How am I supposed to know that? And I should be using my EX skill more often? How does that become available? It poisons the opponent? But only if I choose that at the start of the match? Holy cow, how are there this many questions revolving around one three minute match!?

GO AWAYAnd Dissidia NT continues to pose questions when it should be providing answers. Why does story mode distinctly require exiting story mode to make progress? Why does this character completely change her playstyle with a button, while that character just kind of grunts? Why did I just earn a new special move if I can’t even use it? Why is changing equipment only cosmetic, but changing my EX ability dramatically impacts the battle? And, most of all, why are my party members always dying? Am I supposed to be doing something different? Should I be protecting them? Should I be more offensive? If this were a traditional Final Fantasy game (even one of the later, more AI controlled titles like FF15 or FF12), and 66% of my party was dying every other round, I’d be sure I was doing something wrong. Here? Not really. In fact, during boss matches, your allies appear to exist only to be mobile meat dummies, and their greatest contribution is distraction. But it’s not like the game effectively relays this information in any way, and you’re just left listening to Shantotto apologize for her tenth death in a row. I’m sorry, chipmunk girl, I’ll try to be better next time. I think?

And it’s not that Dissidia NT is a bad game, it’s simply that practically the entire thing… ummm… uh… Oh! A metaphor! Good games play with you like a good friend, but bad games are definitely that one smelly kid that told you exactly what you’re going to play now, and you’re going to listen to his rules, and what do you mean you don’t play it like this at your house, we’re playing it my way now, you better learn how that works, or you’re not going to have any fun. No, I’m not going to teach you, nerd, just start playing. No, not like that! Moooooom! Bobby isn’t playing the game right at all!

Okay, maybe Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is bad. Once you understand it, once you read the FAQs and strategy guides and message boards, once you get through all the auxiliary materials, FFDNT is actually pretty fun to play. But before that? Before that, it’s pure, confusing hell, and a hell that makes no effort to impart how you might find your way to its heaven. Final Fantasy Dissidia NT might have a delicious, chewy center, but it’s surrounded by rancid garbage.

And how much garbage are you willing to swallow?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

  • System: Playstation 4 and Arcade. The arcade version came out three years ago? Crazy.
  • Number of players: Online? Six. Locally? One. There should be a law against that.
  • Go get 'emOther Illegalities: There are also loot boxes. And “buy a season pass now, we’ll announce the DLC characters later” sales. Dissidia is actively trying to piss me off.
  • The sequel curse: So this is, ultimately, a mascot fighting game. And you know what a mascot fighting game should never do? Drop characters. I don’t care if you’re Ice Climbers or Gon, when you lose the weirdo auxiliary characters from game to game, you lose my heart. The lack of Gilgamesh, Laguna, Yuna, and Tifa in this title is keenly felt. And if even one of those dorks become extra purchases? I will burn this mother down.
  • Favorite Character: Bartz is pretty awesome. He was my favorite in OG Dissidia, and he’s completely different now, but he’s still a lot of fun. And fast! And fast is really important when you have to chase some angry tree all over the arena.
  • Other annoyances: You can’t just restart a battle in a single player match. This is particularly important in the boss battles, as, come on, you can permanently lose those fights in the first thirty seconds, but wait five minutes to actually die. And then you have to wait five minutes for loading screens…
  • The Final Fantasy: So, considering the sheer lunacy that was the first two Dissidia titles, the story of this one is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a world fueled by battles, everyone battles, everyone realizes there’s no real reason to battle, and then they fake battle until they battle a giant lizard so they can make clones that will fight battles forever. That’s pretty much the plot to Sense and Sensibility.
  • Say something nice: Terra is supposed to be “post Final Fantasy 6” Terra in this one (or something like that), and she’s actually kind of… good? Previous Dissdias made her a sort of damsel (“Oh, poor me, Kefka is always taking over my brain, what is it to be me?”), but here she’s confident, and winds up being the de facto leader of her little party. Way to get yourself together, Terra!
  • Work together!Did you know? That kid from Final Fantasy Tactics is in this one! No, not Thunder God Cid, the main character. You know! What’s his name? Delita? No, that doesn’t sound right…
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Probably not. Even if the upcoming DLC is amazing, there are too many good fighting games out there, and Dissidia seems to revel in wasting time. Just give me my instant gratification, Square!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Centipede: Infestation for the Nintendo 3DS! Centipedes? In my blog? It’s more common than you think. Please look forward to it!

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

Here they come!First, there was Street Fighter 2, and it was good. And then there were a bunch of imitators, and they were… middling. But, somewhere in there, while we were sorting through a solid fifty versions of Street Fighter 2 and trying to remember which fighting game had that weird dude with the clown mask (no, not that clown mask, the other one), there was Darkstalkers, the Capcom fighting game “alternative” to Street Fighter 2.

And why the heck wasn’t Darkstalkers accepted as the better game?

Right from the get go, Darkstalkers had every opportunity to be better. Street Fighter 2 was an amazing and revolutionary game that defined an entire genre… but the problem with starting a genre is that you’re still, ya know, figuring that genre out. Combos? A complete accident of programming. Balance? Important, but it’s pretty clear there’s a difference between Buzzcut, who can shut down everything, and the sumo dude that can’t waddle past a fireball. How about just plain design? You cannot tell me that OG Street Fighter 2 didn’t have a limited number of special moves for certain characters for any reason other than “this will actually let us say it’s done”. Sure, Blanka is complete with “that one move from E. Honda” and “is electric”, let’s move on to “guy that climbs background”. In short, Street Fighter 2 was amazing for its time, but it needed a pile of new versions to better refine the initial concept.

Cry about itAnd one thing that never changed about Street Fighter 2 was its boring characters. Don’t get me wrong, Street Fighter 2 has an amazing, eclectic troupe that has proven over the years to be possibly the most versatile cast of characters in gaming (hey, you think Zelda is going to entice Jean Claude?), but, back during their introductory years, they were a little less interesting. Blanka was one of a kind (assuming you never played Pro Wrestling on the NES), but the rest may as well have been Karate Guy, Soldier, Girl, and (my favorite) Red Karate Guy. They all had unique moves, motivations, and blood types, but, at a glance, they were nary more than international stereotypes. Dhalsim, with his necklace of skulls and curry-based fire breath, is a typical Indian, right? Seems legit.

So by the time we were first introduced to “the new challengers”, nobody was all that surprised when we got Bruce Lee Clone #3,271 and Dee Jay the D.J. But over on the other side of the arcade, we had Darkstalkers. Now there was a cast you could take home to mother (assuming mother is some manner of murderous slime monster).

Darkstalkers has got your Ken and Ryu… but they’re vampires. Or, okay, one is a vampire and one is a succubus, but let’s not split hairs, they’re both throwing bats back and forth. Then there’s the heavy metal zombie (who once accidentally summoned demons during a concert), the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein(‘s monster, nerds). And a yeti! Darkstalkers went the extra mile and actually found Big Foot! How can you not love such a game?

And while Darkstalkers 1 may have been little more than a reskinned Street Fighter 2, Darkstalkers 2 and Darkstalkers 3 really got their unique balls a-rollin’. When Street Fighter was still trying to work out the true meaning of the Super meter, Darkstalkers was tossing mega shadow moves all over the place. Like some fireball variety? Well, you’re not going to find beams over on those fighting streets. In fact, if you like the Versus series at all, give or take a game or two, you have Darkstalkers to thank much more than Street Fighter 2. Did you play Street Fighter 3? It introduced an electric Stretch Armstrong albino dude, and somehow still made the gameplay boring. That kind of thing is literally impossible when a murderous Red Riding Hood is spraying a giant bee with an uzi.

So this brings us back to the original question: If Darkstalkers was Street Fighter 2, but more refined and featuring more interesting characters, why has it always played second fiddle to its “ancestral” game? Everyone understood not seeing a new Darkstalkers during the dark ages when the best we could hope for was a fresh Guilty Gear, but we’re now living in a world with multiple Street Fighter 4s and 5s. And a couple of new Versus games. Get it together, Capcom!

In an attempt to find the answer, I played both Darkstalkers 3 and Street Fighter 2 (well, SSF2T Udon edition) back to back. And I think I found answer! It comes down to these dorks…

Get 'em

The cast of Street Fighter 2 is, compared to just one of the living sun monsters in Darkstalkers, boring. But take a look at 15 seconds of two fighters from that “boring” cast. Dhalsim versus Zangief may seem mundane to us nowadays, but try to imagine being a “newb”. Try to envision a world where you have never seen these two characters, and then try to imagine your impression after seeing that tiniest of clips. Taken on its own, you can immediately recognize the “styles” of both of these fighters. Dhalsim can launch fireballs and stretched fists… so he’s all about the range. Zangief, meanwhile, can barely reach Dhalsim before he’s dizzied, but his moves are powerful. Did you see how much health Dhalsim lost from one piledriver? That hairy guy is the real monster! Now imagine watching another match, maybe now with Ryu and Chun-Li. You can immediately see the difference in their styles. Same for Guile and E. Honda. By the time you get to Blanka, sure, you might be shocked by his high voltage prowess, but you’ve also got a full understanding of how his speed compares to that of the blonde in the red gi.

Street Fighter 2 might have a boring cast, but it’s a cast that immediately defines its own terms. It’s a cast that, in literally seconds, helps the player to understand the exact difference between fighters.

Darkstalkers? Not so much.

OwieSasquatch might be our prerequisite strongman, and I’m pretty sure Felicia slots into the “quick girl” trail that Chun-Li so effectively blazed, but, once you get to the rest of the cast, it gets tremendously more blurry. What’s the difference between Lord Raptor and Rikuo? Their moves look totally different, but what’s the practical application? Which is stronger? Faster? Bishamon looks like a slow and steady fighter, but so Anakaris. Are you supposed to be using that mummy floatiness? Or is that more the domain of one of the other flying fighters? And when you start adding the new fighters, it’s almost impossible to even discern their purposes. B.B. Hood is loaded with guns, but she isn’t really a ranged fighter? Are Jedah’s blood moves just for show? Is there even supposed to be a difference between Morrigan and Lilith?

Of course, if you’re a Darkstalkers fan, you know the answers to all of these questions. Or maybe you don’t! Maybe you just like using the funny werewolf man to hit people with nunchucks. That’s okay, too! But what’s important is that, fan or not, it’s not nearly as easy for someone to “pick up and understand” Darkstalkers like Street Fighter 2. Look out!Yes, Darkstalkers is more exhilarating and flashy, but that flashiness blurs the lines between the fighters, and, when everyone is exciting, no one is. Street Fighter looks like a fighting tournament, Darkstalkers looks like… crazy nonsense.

First impressions count. People like to know what’s happening, and, when they don’t, they get frustrated. Street Fighter has always worn its archetypes on its sleeve, while Darkstalkers kept things a little more complicated. And complicated doesn’t mean quarters.

I love you, Darkstalkers, but you’re too weird for your own good.

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

  • System: Arcade, Playstation, and Sega Saturn. I also played Darkstalkers Resurrection on the PS3 for part of this review, as it’s about as close to OG DS3 Arcade as is available on the same system I’m playing a PSX game anyway.
  • Number of players: Up to two vampires may battle at one time.
  • Other Problems: A lot of people claim that the “real” reason we haven’t seen a modern Darkstalkers is that the constant “morphing” and general craziness of the franchise can’t translate properly from sprites to modern, 3D modeling. But this is complete nonsense, as, come on, you’ve seen that gif of Gohan’s arm, right? We can do this thing!
  • Version Differences: The original arcade Darkstalkers 3 did not include the bosses of DS2, nor Donovan, the Night Warrior, for some reason. This effectively nuked every new character introduced in DS2, give or take a Chinese vampire lady. The home version, however, brought the whole gang back, and included an “edit colors” mode, making it the superior version. So of course future rereleases seem to be based on the arcade version…
  • Favorite Character: In a game full of cartoony, but creepy, characters, I prefer Marionette, because everything about her is goddamn unnerving.
  • Midnight Bliss: I am not going to talk about Dimitri’s Midnight Bliss again

    Get... her?

    So let’s talk about Viktor’s amazing booty instead.

    Get 'cha some

    I like that. And I cannot lie.

  • Did you know? Lilith was originally intended to be Morrigan’s angel half-sister. Somewhere along the line, however, she was demoted to merely being some errant chunk of Morrigan’s soul, and, thus, another succubus. The official word has always been that an angel wouldn’t “fit” in the Darkstalkers universe, but I’m pretty sure the real answer is that nobody wanted to animate a bunch of feathers all over the arena.
  • Would I play again: Oh my yes. This is one of the few fighting games that I routinely replay… Mainly because it hasn’t seen a modern update in any way, shape, or form. Come on, Capcom, poop out a decent sequel. You owe me!


What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… Star Fox 64 3D for the 3DS! Come in, Corneria! We’re actually finally going to play a Star Fox game! Please look forward to it!

Ugh
So unnerving