Tag Archives: arcade

FGC #260 Giga Wing

So many wingsI remember the old days of entertainment. Back in that bygone age, the internet as we now know it didn’t exist, and “streaming” was a marvelous fantasy imagined only by those that had modems capable of downloading more than six JPEGs per day. While many of you younger readers are likely desperately attempting to imagine the full ramifications of that past (“where did centaur porn come from?”), consider that the older members of the audience know exactly the trials of those troubling times. And, should you speak to one of those elders, you might hear tales of days when the entire viewing guide for Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t available at all times on a device you keep in your coat pocket. This made television watching very hard! If you missed an episode, you just had to hope you caught it again in the ol’ rerun cycle (maybe TNT picked up the show for 24 hour syndication), or you were out of luck. Do you know how difficult it was to watch The X-Files? Every time you’d tune in, you’d hope to get some new information on that smoking dude, but, no, it was that damn episode about the guy with the tail. X-Files was never good! Everyone tuned in every week hoping against hope that this was a new episode, and by the time you realized it was a repeat, well, it was Friday night, not much else to do, anyway, may as well stick around. Ratings blockbuster!

Though I suppose one advantage of living through that unenlightened time is that it instilled in my generation an inescapable feeling of… hm, there’s probably a German word for this… solace in not knowing everything. For an easy, nerdy example, look no further than Sailor Moon. Here’s a series that premiered daily every morning before school. Unlike, say, Sonic the Hedgehog the Cartoon, Sailor Moon was a (mostly) serial story, with new characters appearing, old villains being defeated, and the occasional “arc” that would end and lead to some kids playing a flute for some reason. In modern “binge” thinking, it seems like skipping even one episode of a serial story is tantamount to forgetting your mother’s birthday, yet, back then, if it was revealed that Tuxedo Mask was actually that dude that occasionally dresses like Dracula and now he’s evil for some reason, and you missed it, meh, you got on with your life and watched the next episode. This dude that is named after a rock is actually a dudette in the Japanese version? Neat. Doesn’t matter, though, this episode is about a blue version of Garfield. To be clear, it’s not that we reveled in our ignorance (that is a luxury that can only be afforded to modern man), simply that we acknowledged there were things we’d never know, and we moved on. It could be confusing, but it worked.

pew pewGiga Wing is a colorful Capcom shooter for the Sega Dreamcast. It vaguely resembles another beloved Capcomian shoot ‘em up, 1942, and, considering the Dreamcast didn’t have that many games (ever), it was likely to sneak into your average DC owner’s collection. Giga Wing, technically, had no barrier to entry: it was not “the latest in the franchise”, it did not feature some abstruse control scheme or 3-D “upgrade” of old play styles. It was, simply, a new shoot ‘em up, which puts it in a genre that barely needs more than one button. Bundle in two player, simultaneous co-op mode, and this seems like a game that could be the easiest “pick up and play” game on the system since SoulCalibur.

Unfortunately, while America wasn’t looking, the shoot ‘em up genre changed a little bit.

You’re likely familiar with the phrase “bullet hell shooter”. For those of you that have avoided the genre, it basically describes any game where there are approximately infinity “bullets” on the screen at any given moment, and you must steer your lil’ space ship deftly through the hail of death to avoid a practically inevitable crash landing into flaming wreckage. In a way, this is the logical endpoint of the “dodge everything” areas of Gradius and alike, but, on the other hand, it’s nigh a genre onto itself. While shoot ‘em up skills are valuable in a bullet hell game, a true bullet hell experience effectively begs for its own very specific skill set. And really good eyes, too. Dem bullets are tiny.

Pewin'But it’s not difficult to spot the evolution of the bullet hell. Obviously, you needed to wait until systems could process 7,00,00,000 little glowing balls of death on the screen at a time, so the genre didn’t really get going until the 90s. Many point toward Batsugun as the start of the fire, but DonPachi is practically the Super Mario Bros. of the field. And then there’s Radiant Silvergun, probably best known as the predecessor to Ikaruga, one of the best bullet hells in all the cosmos. There are plenty of famous/infamous bullet hell games that preceded Giga Wing.

… Only problem is that they were all released exclusively in Japan. Whoops.

So, for anyone that scored a copy of Giga Wing back in the Summer of 2000, the experience was… kind of confusing. Giga Wing offers infinite and instant continues, which is ideal, but if you’re someone that doesn’t enjoy their own death, it can get pretty frustrating, pretty fast. The opening stages are manageable, but, for anyone expecting “1942: The Next Generation”, well, bad news, but I don’t think the Allies are winning this war. This is a bullet hell game through and through, and that means that it requires more practice than it takes to get to Carnegie Hall. And, for whatever reason, we’re following Metal Slug rules here, so every continue means a reset to your high score, and good bloody luck surviving long enough to climb to that top of that score table. Entering into a bullet hell without any advance warning is just as welcoming as walking into actual hell. Abandon all hope ye who load this disc.

Luckily, that didn’t matter.

BAMWhen you come from a background of… solace in obliviousness, it’s a lot easier to deal with the unexpected. This is what shoot ‘em ups look like now? Okay, cool, yeah, I guess that makes sense. Let’s see what this game is about. There’s barely any internet, so I can’t check online reviews or message boards to see what people are talking about, and I’m the only person in this town with a damn Dreamcast, so I can’t ask my friends. I guess I’ll just play it? Sure I’ve died a lot, but I also beat the game with that one character, so let’s see if it’s any easier with this one over here. Hey, maybe I’ll call Vinnie and we’ll try out the two player mode. Hey, this is pretty fun when you get used to it…

And so it goes. The ignorance of not having other’s opinions or any context for what the hell is actually going on here pushes you to move forward, and, the game’s already here on my system, may as well try it. Sure you missed a couple of episodes, and, yes, you might enjoy it more with more information, but you can muddle through all the same. And, in the end, you might find something you enjoy, even if you’ll never know anything more about it.

Buuuut you’ve got the internet now, so just go ahead and sit back and let me tell you about every game ever. What’s next, ROB?

FGC #260 Giga Wing

  • System: Sega Dreamcast. There’s also apparently an arcade version in some magical fairy land on the other side of the rainbow.
  • Number of players: Two! With infinite credits! Fun times are here again!
  • Odd problem I apparently have: I keep typing Wiga Ging. When did that start happening?
  • Favorite Flyer: I like the redhead. What’s her name? She’s a sky pirate? Ruby? No, that sounds too generic. Probably thinking of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Oh well, no matter. What matters is that she shoots straight and lights the entire screen ablaze. Now that’s a bullet inferno!
  • Engrish time: What in blazes is this supposed to mean?

    So true

    Is “the true meaning of ruins” going to be the subject of an afterschool special?

  • Did you know? There’s a Giga Wing 2 that was also released here, and a Giga Wing Generations that is effectively Giga Wing 3. It was only released in Japan and Europe, though. Does Europe have a larger fanbase for shooting games? That seems like a weird cultural divide.
  • Would I play again: I think I need to get a wife or roommate or something, because this is another game I want to couch co-op with somebody, but it’s not like I’m inviting anyone over to do that. Other than that, I probably won’t play this again, as there are modern, possibly fairy-based bullet hells available.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Spice World for the Sony Playstation! Ah ha ha… What!? I have got to stop hoarding videogames while drunk. That’s what I want. What I really, really want. Please look forward to it?

So true
I pretty much just like games where stuff explodes.

FGC #259 Strider 2

Time flows like a river, and history repeats. And, in a lot of videogame sequels, it gets kind of ridiculous.

Today’s game is Strider 2, the 1999 sequel to Strider that absolutely should not be confused with the 1990 NES sequel, 2014 latest sequel, or Tiger Handheld game I still have for some reason. Strider 2 is the direct sequel to the original arcade hit that sees Strider Hiryu once again fighting against the nefarious forces of the Grandmaster, an evil dude in a cloak with the magical ability to summon dinosaurs out of nothing. Fun fact: I don’t know why this guy has to “conquer” the world with a malicious army and enormous, flying battleship; I’d vote for anybody that ran on an all dinosaur-reviving platform (I’m a single-issue voter). Regardless, Strider fights through five stages in an adventure that seems like a “PSX remix” version of his previous arcade game. There are new challenges, new areas, and at least one headless horseman (sans horse), but there’s also the gravity lab, the Balrog, and other familiar spots from Strider 1. Like a lot of good videogames, Strider 2 deftly walks the line between nostalgia and innovation, and it winds up being a fine way to spend an afternoon.

But when you beat Strider 2, you’ll find this little gem of dialogue.

... What?

And, if you check the auxiliary materials for further information, you’ll find that the overarching plot of Strider 2 isn’t just “Grandmaster’s revenge”, it’s “Grandmaster’s revenge… 2,119 years later”. But don’t worry, Strider has been resurrected, reincarnated, or… something… so it’s all going to work out. And, conveniently, the exact same characters and venues have been revived along with Grandmaster, so you can fight the Tong Pooh triplets or Solo all over again. Just… try not to think about the fact that these characters are literally two millennia old, and all they want to do with their apparent immortality is fight some dork with a sword. I mean, I guess you have to do something to keep busy.

And it’s all happened before.

Like most of the nation, I’ve been playing a lot of Zelda: Breath of the Wild recently. Light spoilers and whatnot, but the main plot of that game concerns a Link and Zelda that were supposed to be the heroes that defeat Ganon like every Link and Zelda before them, but, ya know, mistakes were made, and now the kingdom is in more distress than usual. Now, anyone that has seen a preview image knows the exact reason Link failed to stop Ganon the first time, and that’s that he forsook his green tunic for some blue getup. Saving Hyrule is a very precarious balancing act, Link, you change one little detail, and the whole thing collapses! Or maybe it was just that this Zelda wasn’t that into it?

Just walkin' aroundIn a way, Breath of the Wild simultaneously resists the cyclonic nature of the “prophecy” and “reincarnating hero” myths with a Link that kinda fails, but also more deeply outlines exactly why this kind of trope is, frankly, ridiculous. There’s a giant pig monster menacing the castle? Well, who is the princess? Does she like dressing up like a magical ninja? Do we have some teenager hanging around in a doofy hat? The royal family of Breath of the Wild realized there was a singular answer to the Ganon problem throughout history (kid with sword), and failed because they tried to add a few bells and whistles (robots never go bad!) to “guarantee” a victory. And guess what finally winds up winning the day? Spoilers, it’s a kid with a sword!

So you’re damned if you try to game the reincarnation cycle, but, don’t worry, the reincarnation cycle will win the day in the end.

… Huh?

Castlevania follows a similar Grandmaster/Ganon revives, hero shows up to trash the place cycle, but at least Dracula gets genre savvy pretty early in that environment. If we look at one of the earliest Castlevania games, Castlevania Adventure 2, we’ll find a Dracula that has already identified “the Belmont problem”, and started kidnapping wee Belmont tots to further his own agenda. And then we’ve got Shaft controlling Richtor, who explained something about creating an endless cycle of vampire hunter death or whatever before some dhampir dork smacked a sword into his face a couple hundred times. And by the time Julius Belmont is ready to seal Dracula in an eclipse, the Belmont name has been hidden from the public for ages, because Drac figured out this whole “phone book” technology thing, and “Morris” is totally not in the B section.

Because... oh nevermindSo why does this keep happening across videogames? On one hand, it’s an easy story convention that clearly predates videogames. I’m pretty sure Hercules had only existed for two weeks before some random dude decided to make a “Hercules reborn in modern times” story… even if “modern times” was “The Roman Empire”. And it’s the easiest thing in the world to co-opt some ancient bad guy and reincarnate/revive the dude for instant gravitas. Hero barely beat Villain the first time! Now he’s back from the dead, and he’s got…. let’s see here, what would be threatening… a laser rifle! How ever will ancient hero with his ancient ways win this one!? Heck, you don’t even have to get heroic to pull off this trope, just look at how many “modern reincarnations” of Romeo and Juliet or Beauty and the Beast have made it into the theatres. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Tingle and the Link.

But there is something different about videogames. Videogames are about recurring stories, yes, but there is always more to a videogame than just the story. The gameplay has to be familiar, too, and to reuse Zelda again in an article ostensibly about Strider (I have been playing a lot of Breath of the Wild, dammit!), it’s one thing to have a Zelda game that doesn’t feature Zelda, but God help you if you want to make a Zelda game without a boomerang of some kind. Link will fight Ganon, and he’ll do it with arrows, the Master Sword, and a blue shield with a triangle on it. Remember how Symphony of the Night was the greatest thing to happen to Castlevania in a decade? Remember how people at the time spent hours of their lives whining about the “unforgivable blunder” that Alucard couldn’t use a whip? I remember. Oh, God, I remember.

But it’s that strict adherence to familiar gameplay moments that make these games so seemingly impossible. It is one thing to have a dude rescue a princess from a pig man every century or so, but it’s another that there just happens to be an Impa, hookshot, and Beedle available from the beginning of time until the end. But the fans would be upset if those beats weren’t recycled, so here’s your Temple of Time all over again, even though it seriously calls into question the capricious work habits of the masons of Hyrule.

WeeeeeWhich brings us to the most insane abuse of this trope: Gunstar Super Heroes, which, save a few minor changes, features the exact same plot as Gunstar Heroes, complete with characters with the same names and roles. Green betrays the team, Orange is muscle man, and Black has built another damn board game castle. It all happens exactly as it did in the previous game, which supposedly takes place centuries before. Did… nobody write anything down? Bah, it doesn’t matter, what’s important is that you’ve got a minecart battle with Green in a shape-shifting mech, because, if that somehow didn’t happen, then what’s even in the point in making a Gunstar game?

And maybe that’s what we need to learn from Strider 2. If we want to have a game that reuses beats from the previous, beloved game, then maybe it’s okay that the plot is exactly the same. We’ve gotta have that gravity room, we’ve gotta have that fight on the back of a dragon-Russian parliament thingy, and we’ve gotta fight the Grandmaster again. It wouldn’t be Strider without it! So the people of the Strider Universe have to be stuck in an endless time loop to get there? Well, more’s the pity, but we have to squeeze the Balrog in there somewhere. Plot is secondary to gameplay in any given videogame, right? You’re not supposed to be thinking about how Strider Land “works”, silly player.

But time flows like a river, and, inevitably, a little voice in my head is going to repeat, “Yeah, but why is this whole thing happening again?” And you can’t just slaughter another grandmaster to get the answer to that one.

FGC #259 Strider 2

  • System: Playstation, Arcade, and wherever it pops up as a downloadable title. Playstation 3? That sounds right.
  • Number of players: There is only one Strider Hiryu. Though I guess you can play as the other ninja after you beat the game once.
  • Favorite level: The third stage features a cybernetic wooly mammoth flanked by malevolent hockey players. Then there’s a scientist that drinks a werewolf potion. I want to ground up that level and snort it.
  • Thar be Dragons: Hiryu is Japanese for dragon. Ryu, either the star of Street Fighter or Breath of Fire, is also named for dragons. So, how many dragon heroes are in the Capcom pantheon? And do they all get together and hang out on occasion? BoF Ryu is unimpressed by SF Ryu’s so-called “dragon punch”, and Strider just hangs out in the corner, drinking punch? Is this what Capcom Fighting All-Stars was going to be about?
  • Don’t judge a book: Just so we’re all clear…

    Get it right

    The disc on the left that is labeled “Strider” is the disc for Strider 2, and the disc on the right that says “Strider 2” contains the original Strider arcade game. This is not confusing at all.

  • Credit where credit is due: I will admit that this article partially found its origin in a comment by one Metal Man Master on a previous (already linked) FGC entry. Thank you, MMM. Playing Strider 2 after Breath of the Wild may have made a teeny impact, too.
  • Did you know? The illustrations for this game come compliments of Tatsuya Yoshikawa, right? The same guy behind the art of the PSX Breath of Fire games? It really looks that way, but, one way or another, art good, ya’all.
  • Would I play again: This whole game feels like it takes about ten minutes to complete. That’s a good thing for the last of the “arcade” style action games. So, yeah, I’ll probably make another high score run again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Giga Wing for the Sega Dreamcast! This is not to be confused with the lesser Mega Wing or Kilo Wing games. This is Giga Wing, all the way. Please look forward to it!

Brrr

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

Wakka wakkaPac-Man 256 is great because it’s the first videogame in the Pac-Man franchise.

Pac-Man is unbelievably iconic. In some ways, it was probably a happy mascot “mistake”; many early videogames didn’t really feature a hero (we love you so much, Pong Paddle!), but Pac-Man was, ya know, Pac-Man. Yes, he’s a yellow circle with a mouth, but, in a time when your protagonist can either be Nondescript Blob or Triangle Dude, Pac-Man stood out. And everything combined perfectly (if again, maybe accidentally). The dot munching created that lovely “wakka wakka” noise that could be interpreted as Pac-Man’s “voice” (that must be the explanation, nobody likes the sound of a glutton eating), and the monsters’ expressive eyes were simply meant to indicate their directional intentions, but it inadvertently gave the impression that those ghosts are a little more personable than the cold, unfeeling antagonists of Asteroids. By the time we found out that Pac-Man was married with a Jr. on the way, it was pretty much a given that this “Puck Man” had gobbled his way into our hearts.

Oh, and I guess his starring vehicle was pretty fun to play, too.

I don’t need to explain Pac-Man, do I? My father is no fan of videogames (too many bad memories of goombas), yet he enjoys the occasional game of Pac-Man. My mother played it quite a bit. I’m pretty sure my grandfather (the first person in my ancestry to ever own a videogame console) got my grandmother to try it once. It’s just so simple! Guide this little pizza-man around the maze, avoid the monsters, and maybe turn the tables on your adversaries with a power pellet. Or try Ms. Pac-Man, the same game, but with new mazes! Or Pac-Man Jr., which involves scrolling for some God-awful reason! Or the one and only Super Pac-Man, where Pac-Man can use keys to unlock doors, and large power pellets to become swole. Think of all the different ways you can play Pac-Man with all those wonderful sequels!

YUMMYExcept, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: were Pac-Man released today, the many, many “sequels” to Pac-Man would be considered nothing more than DLC expansions. You can’t just add one new power-up, or two new mazes, and call it an all-new game! You have to create… let’s see here… a full new eight power-ups and accompanying Robot Masters to make a sequel! And maybe add a dog, too! No, Pac & Pal doesn’t count! And when you separate out all the random gimmicks and subtitles, all you’ve got is… Pac-Man. One man, four monsters, a bunch of dots, and four surprisingly powerful dots. That’s it. Forever.

Pac-Man is a videogame, yes, but it’s from the Dork Ages of the medium. When games were limited to a number of bytes roughly on par with the amount of memory my modern computer uses to sneeze (most computers have terrible allergies), games had to be all of one “screens”, and the only way to gauge progress was the humble score counter. There was no final boss. There was no log of all the collectibles you’ve found. If there was a second player option, it was the same character as the first player, just maybe (maybe!) with a fresh coat of paint. Your only goal was to see your name at the top of the high score table. There was no ending. There was no final stage.

Except… Pac-Man did have a final stage: Level 255. Thanks to those previously mentioned limited bytes, the original Pac-Man arcade game couldn’t “draw” a new stage after reaching Level 255, so Level 256 was a glitched, imperceptible mess of pixels. One way or another, 255 was the end of the road for Pac-Man.

So it seems appropriate that Pac-Man 256 finally brings Pac-Man into the 21st Century.

Never look downBefore we go any further, I want to note that I’m well aware that Pac-Man doesn’t need to “get with the times”. I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man CE in my adulthood, and, yes, I will still occasionally hit the ol’ Pac cabinet at a local arcade (I have local arcades!) or diner lobby. Pac-Man may be primitive, but it is a perennial favorite. Nobody needs to update football, tennis, or chess for modern audiences, and Pac-Man could easily keep on pac-ing in the free world.

But sometimes it’s nice to see what Pac-Man would look like if it were designed today.

Pac-Man 256 started as a cell phone game, which, let’s face it, is the first sign of its modernity. The next sign? Pac-Man 256 is never ending like its forefather, but there is a very distinct “goal” here. The glitched nonsense from the original Pac-Man Level 256 is eating the bottom of the screen, so Pac-Man must escape “up” in an endless maze of dots and monsters. Progress is logged in every conceivable way: high scores, maximum combo of dots eaten, maximum number of ghosts defeated, and even total number of raw dots consumed. And all those dots pay off: in one version of Pac-Man 256, Pac-Man can trade dots for new powerups… which kind of raises questions about Pac’s dot feeding. I have… concerns about his digestive system. Oh, and in some versions of PM256, it’s “freemium”, and actual cash money can be traded for powerups. Hey, it’s probably still cheaper than 3 lives for a quarter…

But those powerups are the real showstopper here. Pac-Man may still consume a power pellet so as to necessitate monster consumption, but now that ability is joined by fire trails, ninja stealth, tornados, ice magic, and, my personal favorite, LASER MOUTH. Freeze fire?And those are only the powerups I feel like naming at the immediate moment, don’t even get me started on crazy Bomber-Pac-Man. And powerups are all earned through playing the game (unlocked, if you will), and earning better and better scores and combos. Get better at the game, get more stuff. Easy peasy Blinky squeezy.

And it’s amazing how much of all of this comes from modern innovations in videogames that are standard now, but weren’t even considered back in the days Pac-Man ruled the arcade.

Multiple, “whacky” kinds of powerups? Check. Monsters follow very deliberate patterns? Check. Combo meter? Check. Play more to unlock more? Check. Multiple “skins” so you can customize your Pac? Check. Online leaderboards? Double check. Multiplayer? Yep. Random reference to Super Pac-Man for nostalgia’s sake? Oh yeah.

But the important thing isn’t the innovation on display, it’s that it all blends together perfectly. Basic Pac-Man gameplay married to modern novelty and game design thinking doesn’t create some horrible lumbering Pac-Monstrosity; no, what we have here is a effortlessly fun Pac-Experience. Pac-Man 256 brings Pac-Man into the contemporary era, and, for the first time in gaming history, creates a true Pac-Man sequel.

Pac-Man 256 is the videogame that we always knew Pac-Man could be.

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

  • System: Mobile devices, and then modern consoles, like Playstation 4 or Xbone. I would be very happy if a Switch version were to appear.
  • Wakka wakkaNumber of players: Four, and I’d like to try that out sometime. Only issue appears to be that I don’t think I’ve… ever used my PS4 for couch multiplayer.
  • Favorite Powerup: I’m sorry, did I not already mention LASER MOUTH?!
  • Favorite Monster-Ghost: Everybody seems to have very “set” patterns in this game, save the always industrious Blinky. Though I’m going to say Funky, the green ghost, is my favorite, as he seems prone to traveling in packs. That’s the way to do it, Funky!
  • Did you know? The “chicken” skin of Pac-Man 256 is actually based on Crossy Road, a sort of “Endless Frogger” that was designed by PM256’s creators. Considering the pattern here, it looks like an “Endless Space Invaders” is right around the corner. Wait… is that just Gradius?
  • Would I play again: Yes! Though, I want it on a system that is portable and has a proper joystick. I realize that’s kind of ironic considering the mobile origins of the game, but the hearts wants what the heart wants.

What’s next? Random ROB is still rebooting, so we’re going to go with a game I never thought would legitimately see American consoles… Waku Waku 7! It’s super dynamic anime fighting time! Please look forward to it!