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FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

The moon does appearConsider this a trigger warning: this is going to be a fairly heady article. It’s going to get personal, too. We’re talking about Michael Jackson, and… yeah, I don’t think I need to further explain what difficult topics will be explored. This is your warning… or something approaching that.

And, to be clear, this is a goddamn shame. We’re covering a game (or two) featuring Michael Jackson today, and, ladies and gentlemen, the jokes write themselves. There is a part of me that really wants to travel the low road on this one, and point out how something like 90% of the content here has aged monumentally poorly. You want some humorous content? Here’s MJ getting railed by some manner of dick-robot.

Right in the beans

Haha! He’s gonna be singing soprano after that!

But, if I’m being honest (and that’s the point of this essay), that’s exactly why I feel I need to be serious here. Yes, a videogame starring Michael Jackson has aged poorly. Yes, that is fairly inevitable with any product starring someone that was a cultural icon (see also some mall adventures). And, yes, due to the details of Jackson’s fall from grace, even a common trope like “save the kidnapped children” is going to be seen in a different light. This is all true. But the important part? The thing that would not stop running through my mind while playing this random Sega Genesis cartridge from 1990 is just how overwhelmingly sad the whole thing made me feel.

When I was a kid, Michael Jackson was my goddamned hero.

Save her!I’ve claimed in the past that my musical tastes as a child were entirely and wholly provided by my parents, who, as children of the 50’s, had more of an inclination to listen to The Big Bopper and The Beatles than Aerosmith. By the time I was a teenager, I learned both of my parents had been actively shielding me from “the hard stuff”, but even the forbidden list was predominantly songs that were golden oldies. My mother didn’t like the idea of me listening to Bohemian Rhapsody even by my teenage years, as it was “a suicide song”, but that was still a song released almost a decade before I was even born. Point is that, for all “the hits of the 80’s” that my local FM station assures me are real, I listened to maybe 1% of what was actually popular when it was prevalent. I think only Don’t Worry, Be Happy was on the approved list…

But, somehow, Michael Jackson was the exception. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly why MJ was an exception: “Weird” Al Yankovic. My parents knew their beloved, gigantically nerdy son, and figured I would enjoy the likes of “Fat” or “Eat it”. Weird Al’s oeuvre was obviously kid friendly, and (not going to lie) it was probably a great choice, as I’m pretty sure absorbing Weird Al’s recurring clever wordplay when I was a child is why I make word choice good now. But listening to a series of parody songs inevitably invites a need to hear those source songs, and, since WAY seemed to have a thing for MJ songs, you can guess what was high on the listening list. It wasn’t very long before I graduated from Weird Al’s Even Worse to Michael Jackson’s Bad (wait… isn’t that backwards?).

And I was in love.

ZOMBIES!I’m not even going to try to define why Michael Jackson was popular with the public at large. However, I can safely point to a handful of reasons why I, personally, liked Michael Jackson. In no particular order:

1. His music slapped
2. Actual moonwalking was fun and easy
3. Music videos that could and would include claymation

However that list does ignore the prime reason I adored Michael Jackson: he was a big damn weirdo.

Look, this is a blog where I occasionally compare relationships old and new to videogames. I have written obscure NES hero fanfic. I don’t think my dear audience believes there was a switch in my head that flipped to “big ol’ weirdo” when I became an adult. I was a weird kid. I had friends, I participated in activities, and I had extremely loving and protective parents; but there’s no debate as to who was “the weird kid” in any given classroom. And being the weird kid? There’s no helping being the weird kid. The dumb kid can get some special educational help, the smelly kid can get a shower, and the kid who pissed himself in first grade can just learn to beat up every other kid by second grade. But the weird kid? You don’t really ever stop being the weird kid. You’re always going to get distracted by Weeeeunusual bird feathers on the ground, or spend gym class planning out your victory dance rather than actually playing the assigned sport. You try not to be weird by carefully noting the last grade you’re ever allowed to talk about cartoons (it was third), but that all falls apart the moment you obviously get excited about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. And then it’s noogie time, and you’re reminded that, one way or another, you’re not like everybody else.

Michael Jackson was a universally beloved musical icon. And Michael Jackson wasn’t like anybody else.

Michael Jackson was a star, and he lived his life exactly how he wanted to live it. And this isn’t about residing on a ranch literally named for never outgrowing childhood, this is about his actual performances. He sang the lyrics he wanted to sing. He danced the way he wanted to dance. And he took his performances and personas to some extremely unusual places. He wasn’t content to simply have a “scary song”, he had to produce an entire music video featuring zombies as an homage to old horror movies. He appeared in cartoons when the medium was considered about as culturally relevant as cereal commercials. And if he wanted his own videogame, he got his own damn videogame.

Get in there!Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker appeared in many guises on many systems, but the two main versions were the arcade game and its Sega Genesis counterpart. To be honest, neither game is particularly that good. The arcade version is something of a rote beat ‘em up with its only defining characteristic being a monkey-based powerup that transforms your chosen Michael into a laser-blasting robot. The Genesis version isn’t much better, but is marginally more unique. This is more of a Rolling Thunder/Elevator Action-esque affair, and the caveat is that you have to open like every goddamn window, trunk, and door between Michael and the enemy’s secret base to find the lost children required to finish a stage. There’s a nugget of a good game idea in there, but it winds up becoming little more than Michael Jackson’s hide ‘n seek as he checks every closet in the house for more and more children (… dammit, I said I would avoid the low hanging fruit…).

And, despite the fact that both of these games aren’t particularly good, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was one of the two reasons this Nintendo kid wanted a Sega Genesis. There was Sonic the Hedgehog and Michael Jackson, and all a Wee Goggle Bob wanted in this world was a system where they were both combined (and maybe a game, too). Michael Jackson, the King of Pop that was also a giant weirdo, was waiting for me there. He liked videogames, too!

And then everything happened.

To be clear for anyone that didn’t live through it, it wasn’t like society declared him cancelled, and then Michael Jackson was forever banished from the public eye. Michael Jackson had always been weird, but now there were allegations. Now there was a reason to chastise the man for doing things that were not simply unusual, but wrong. And not everyone believed it! It was a slow drip of accusations, lawsuits, and the occasional televised “deeper look”. Regardless, Michael Jackson retreated more and more from the public eye, and, by the time he passed in 2009, he was remembered as practically a different person from his 1990 incarnation. Hell, the change happened so gradually, it allowed The Simpsons to go from idolizing Michael Jackson as the most important person to ever visit Springfield…

Michael Jackson!?

To, four years later, claiming Michael Jackson was little more than a mythical, malevolent phantom…

Who!?

A hero had become a villain, and now we’re at a point where MJ has been wiped from the show’s history.

And eleven years after Michael’s death, I’m still not sure what the hell I’m supposed to learn from such an event.

Do I believe the allegations at this point? Yes. Duh. Though, if I’m being completely honest, it took me a long time to get there. Michael Jackson is weird! I believed that people were just taking his obvious weakness for children and childish pursuits and turning it into some kind of pedophilia. In retrospect, that seems almost dangerously optimistic, but, at the time, it was just how I defended my hero. And that was the problem. Whether it be because of my impressionable age, the indoctrination of videogames and media where he was a literal hero, or simply because I wanted to listen to good music without thinking too hard about bad things, I followed Michael Jackson a lot longer than I should have. In retrospect, I regret ever giving the man so much I AM ROBOTas a dime, left alone allowing him to dominate that precious tape collection I always lugged to the nearest boombox. Michael Jackson was my hero, a hero that stood for everything I cared about when I was a certain age, and then it turned out that he was scarring children for life literally while I was supporting him. I was a fan of a “hero” that has victims.

Has this influenced my own life? Probably. I’m not going to point the finger squarely at one Bad individual, but I feel like this is part of the reason I gravitate toward fictional heroes like Optimus Prime or Voltron while leaving the real world behind. Barack Obama is a president and a man I felt I could stand behind, but I could never support the man with the kind of all-consuming dedication I have seen from other fans, because he was and still is, ultimately, a man. And a man has flaws. Sometimes those flaws are making decisions you don’t agree with, sometimes those flaws are literally criminal, but they are still reasons not to venerate any given man or woman. We’re all people, and we should treat every person with an even dosage of doubt.

This is where we are: I play a videogame about a pop star rescuing children from zombies with the help of a monkey, and the only thing I can think of is how we should be skeptical of literally every human on Earth. Michael Jackson ruined the lives of many children. He was not a hero. He didn’t “rescue kids” anymore than he could turn into a robot. But it’s not all bad! There are good people! There are people worthy of praise! They might not be perfect, but there are people that actually save children. You don’t have to worship them, but there are people that balance the cosmic scales, even if not a single one is the King of Pop. We can move on from Michael Jackson.

Right in the beans

And MJ can just eat a piledriver.

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

  • System: Sega Genesis is technically the version ROB chose, but the Arcade version is also a valid choice that follows roughly the same plot and concept. That concept is that Michael Jackson can turn into a space ship or a car anytime he wants, but chooses not to.
  • Number of players: One on the Genesis, the unusual three in the arcade. You would think Jackson would account for five.
  • THE CHANGEAdaptation: Yes, this is videogame tie-in game for Michael Jackson’s movie of the same name. If you missed out on his cinematic masterpiece, it’s basically a loosely connected collection of music videos and concert footage that includes a miniscule feature about Michael Jackson rescuing children from his former manager/mob boss. It’s worth a look if you’re ever on Youtube and feel like watching something that will make you hate yourself for a solid hour or so.
  • Favorite Level: Like The Simpsons Arcade Game, the third stage inexplicably turns into a graveyard featuring innumerable zombies. Their continual leaps recall Chinese hopping vampires, though, and there are at least two zombies that split in half to rain knives from the sky. What I’m saying is that my favorite level is the absolute weirdest.
  • So, does Thriller play over the zombie level? Nope! Apparently there was a licensing issue, as MJ didn’t write the entirety of Thriller. However, there are some prototype versions of the game floating around that retain the song. Vincent Price doesn’t appear in any version, though, unfortunately.
  • An End: The arcade version sticks to one genre, but the finale of the Genesis game gets a light shoot ‘em up in there for the final confrontation. It is the exact opposite of fun, but it is vaguely reminiscent of that Star Wars game. Oh, and the actual ending of the game is just Michael dancing with a monkey.
  • Did you know? The basic premise of this article is also why I will not be covering Space Channel 5 or Space Channel 5: Part 2. I can only deal with so many Michaels in power.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention that this game is not particularly good? It wasn’t terrible for the early 90s, but it has not aged well in more ways than one. There are a lot of other games I can play that are about 120% less problematic.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gunstar Super Heroes for the Gameboy Advance! Now there are some heroes we can get behind! Please look forward to it!

FGC #493 Alien vs. Predator

Predator is gonna winNow let’s talk about the other kind of crossover.

Back in 1994, the concept of Ridley Scott’s xenomorph Alien fighting the Predator that menaced Arnold Schwarzenegger was a pretty hot commodity. We were still a decade away from the first Alien vs. Predator film, and… That’s what everybody wanted, right? Alien was a popular trilogy (I’m not being glib! It was only a trilogy in ’94!), and everyone fondly remembered Predator’s time in the jungle. These were movies that defined sci-fi features for a decade, so it would make sense that only a movie could contain the sheer enormity of their first encounter. Unfortunately, that showdown was going to have to wait, and, in the meantime, we had to content ourselves with comic books inspired by easily missable cameos in Danny Glover vehicles. But the early to mid 90’s is when things started to kick into high gear, as there was supposed to be a movie that never wound up materializing, so we at least got a novelization and videogame or two. And, hey, videogames are always great!

… Except when they’re on the Atari Jaguar. So we’re going to go ahead and ignore that game.

But Alien vs. Predator the arcade cabinet by Capcom was pretty boss, so we’re going to look at that one.

Little hot in hereAlien vs. Predator is superficially exactly what you would expect of any given franchise adapted into a quarter muncher for ’94. We’ve got seven levels filled with monsters and mooks that all have to be punched until they flicker off the screen. There are crates and barrels that must be pummeled until pizza comes out, and a powerup or two along the way that enhances your ability to punish pursuers. Every level ends with a boss, and, by the end, of course those “bosses” have become common enemies with unreasonable health bars. And, like some of the latter beat ‘em ups of the era, there’s a complete story, with text that changes according to your chosen hero, so there’s a tiny bit of replay value beyond seeing how differently everyone performs their jumpkick. It’s a beat ‘em up. It could be The Simpsons or The X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’s Alien vs. Predator, so here are a few aliens instead of foot soldiers. They explode less. Have a fun time.

And, no matter the era, this is the crux of the problem with many crossover games: they’re only popular characters soldered onto whatever genre is available.

Back in the 90’s, it was the beat ‘em up. Shortly thereafter, it was kart-based racing. Nowadays, it seems every franchise gets a tactics game. It’s not Alien versus Predator, it’s Tekken vs. Mega Man. It’s Pokémon vs. Nobunaga. Even titles like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games take their all-star, unmistakably varied casts and boil them down to “this one is slightly faster than that other one”. Waluigi can outrun Sonic the Hedgehog! This is the greatest injustice in the history of videogame canon! What is unique about the individual characters involved must be boiled down to little more than a collection of relevant stats. Why? Because it would take far too long to flesh out complete “moves” for every participant, and then balance those skills against every other character in this crossover. So when huge, bulky Bowser and small, nimble Diddy Kong settle their differences with kart-racing, their differences barely register.

WeeeeAnd, unfortunately, this seems to be the standard for many crossover games. Fantastic characters from multiple franchises might be interacting for the first time, but they all “play” exactly the same. And that, objectively, sucks! Videogames are unique in that they can define characters through not only motivations or physical design, but also through movements and “skills”. Mario jumps. Mega Man shoots. Sonic runs. If you smoosh all these characters together, you can either find a way that jumping is effective against shooting and jumping, or you can simply give them all jetpacks and claim it’s a jetpacking contest of champions and call it a day (obviously, I believe the next big gaming trend to be jetpack racing). It flattens all the exceptional protagonists involved into an identical, unremarkable blob. Basically, many crossover games take a wonderful dinner of roast turkey, curried chicken, and garlic shrimp, slap all the dishes into a blender, and serve up a humdrum banquet of hotdog milkshakes. Even with perfect ingredients, a hotdog is still a basic meat tube!

So here’s Alien versus Predator, one of the earliest crossover titles in gaming. It may not be a crossover title between strictly videogame-based characters, but it is a crossover between two huge franchises. And, even if we want to ignore how badly everyone wanted to see aliens and predators fight back in the 90’s, you could even consider Alien versus Predator a crossover between three franchises: Alien, Predator, and the surprisingly well-defined “90’s Capcom Aesthetic”. The two humans starring in Alien versus Predator could have been Final Fight characters (and one arguably swiftly inspired both Resident Evil and Street Fighter characters), and, give or take a gun-for-an-arm, they’d be comfortable in any other beat ‘em up in the Capcom stable. So how do these “three” franchises interact? Well, the aliens are the persistent enemies of the game… but they’re indistinguishable from typical beat ‘em up opponents in all ways save their iconic visual design. The “facehugger” alien babies even operate exactly like TMNT’s mousers! And the differences between the “unevolved” Capcom humans and their advanced Predator compatriots? Barely worth mentioning. Yes, there are variances in speed or skill between the four playable characters, and every fighter gets a unique weapon, and there are a handful of “subtle” differences amongst the cast in things like firearm-usage… but they’re essentially interchangeable. The entire point of the original Predator film was that humans are at a slight disadvantage when combating an alien threat that happens to have advanced weaponry and the ability to Unpleasantbecome completely invisible, but you’d never know there was such a gulf in capability from playing Alien versus Predator. Apparently Lt. Linn Kurosawa has a greater “skill” stat than either playable predator. Does that mean she’s a thousand times more skilled than ol’ Dutch? And why couldn’t Ripley punch her way across a xenomorph invasion? Was it just because her stats were too low for anyone to hear her scream?

Is Aliens versus Predator a fun arcade game? Of course it is. It’s one of the best beat ‘em ups out there, and it’s a genuine shame that it was not available for home play for decades (well, legally, at least). But is it a good crossover game? No. It irons out everything unique about the franchises involved, and offers a smooth, indistinct product that is indistinguishable from any other beat ‘em up of the day. The gameplay of AvP is great, but it is gameplay that could be featuring Captain Commando as easily as Predator Hunter. In the end, the very diverse stars of these very diverse franchises only add up to “look at that thar alien”.

And an entire generation of gaming crossovers followed suit.

And when that happens, whoever wins, we lose.

FGC #493 Alien vs. Predator

  • System: Initially only arcade, but now available for the Capcom Home Arcade. You know that one, right? It’s that “mini console” that looks like a giant Capcom logo/arcade stick? I’m sure it actually exists. I think I saw it in England one time.
  • Number of players: Three simultaneous players. Why they didn’t just allow for free reign with a full set of the four selectable characters is beyond me.
  • BraaaaainsFavorite Character: Predator Warrior is the obvious best, despite the clear disadvantage of deciding to bring a pointy stick to an alien fight. Linn Kurosawa gets second place for being nimble as hell. Predator Hunter and Major Dutch don’t even rank.
  • But Dutch is supposed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger with a gun arm, right? Oh yes. Certainly. That is the eventual governor of California running around and pounding aliens. I wonder if Arnold ever gets residuals for all the videogame characters that aped him for a solid two decades…
  • The beauty of Aliens: Thanks to the attendant franchise, this is one of those rare beat ‘em ups where you don’t fight a single “generic guy” until around the fourth level. It’s all aliens until you kill the queen, and they return again later when it’s revealed that the big secret of the story is that humans are breeding their own aliens. Who would have suspected that humans were the real aliens all along? Or… something.
  • The ugly of Aliens: Unfortunately, the flip side of the alien army is that the majority of the bosses are just “alien with a new skill”. Spitting alien. Hard-shelled alien. Make space great again alien. When the inevitable boss rush occurs during the final level, you can barely tell the big boys from the lil’ dudes.
  • Bonus Time: There is exactly one stage where you’re granted unlimited ammo, and are asked to gun down every last alien from the back of a moving truck. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. And now I want an AvP shootin’ game (not on the Jaguar).
  • Conventions of the genre: A predator eating hot pizza off the floor never gets old.
  • Bonus!Did you know? Lt. Linn Kurosawa likely inspired Ibuki from Street Fighter 3, who debuted three years later. There’s a distinct similarity in hairstyling there, and there’s also the minor fact that Ibuki has a classmate named Sarai Kurosawa. There might be a connection!
  • Would I play again: Hopefully this arcade game makes its way to modern consoles, as it would be an ideal budget beat ‘em up for the Switch or PS4. I would spend five dollars to play through this again with friends. Maybe even ten!

What’s next? Crossovers continue with another game featuring humans and aliens playing well together. Please look forward to it!

WRONG FRANCHISE

FGC #492 King of Fighters (Franchise)

Sports!If you want to understand the essence of a videogame crossover, you need look no further than King of Fighters ’94.

King of Fighters was initially imagined as a beat ‘em up titled Survivor. The prototype featured characters from The Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury (two established SNK fighting games) battling in teams of three against waves of vaguely anonymous mooks. Given both of the parent games were about burly dudes fighting against criminal gangs, this seemed like a natural progression in both storylines and gameplay. But, presumably because fighting games were really hitting their stride around the early 90s, Survivor the beat ‘em up mutated into King of Fighters the fighting game. The concept of three-man teams survived the transition, and, more importantly, King of Fighters maintained its status as a crossover title involving two popular SNK franchises.

And then things got weird. Two more games were included in the crossover hijinks: Psycho Soldier Starring Athena and Ikari Warriors. And if you’re curious what those games look like…

She's psycho

Pew pew

So what happens when you try to marry that to something like this?

Let's fight

Well, in the end, you wind up with this:

Now we're fightin'

But it might take a moment to get there.

To understand what happened, you have to understand the insane leaps and bounds that happened in gaming in the 80s and 90s. Remember Pac-Man? His debut was released in 1980. Pac-Man could be controlled with zero buttons, one four-way paddle, and a human being that didn’t need to understand anything more than “Pac-Man go wakka wakka”. Pac-Man had no “moves” other than simply moving, and his opponents were four of the same guy in different colored coats. Pac-Man did not jump, duck, dash, or even attack in any way that didn’t just involve steering around a maze. And even when Ms. Pac-Man or Super Pac-Man made the scene, it was still the same basic gameplay that was little more than tracing your finger around a children’s menu placemat. But, from there, we graduated to games where there was shooting, jumping, and the occasional bit of shooting and jumping. Games that started with “Mario go hop” evolved into finding ways that one could attack or otherwise interact with the world through that jumping, and, by as early as the late-80’s, we already needed tutorials and alike to explain exactly what happens when you use a grenade over your basic rifle.

Go idol!So Ikari Warriors, essentially a top-down copy of Contra (… which gets no credit from this blog for being released a year before Contra), was released in the early days of games becoming “complicated”. There were two buttons! You could control a man and a tank! Two players could simultaneously coordinate their attacks and work together! Or compete for powerups! Ikari Warriors was much more complicated than Pac-Man or Space Invaders, but it still wasn’t that complicated. Run ‘n gun is the basic gist of it, and you really don’t need an intricate control scheme to dodge bullets. And, while the setting is very different, Psycho Soldier, released the same year, is a very similar situation. This game is 2-D, and it features school children with psychic powers, but it still boils down to “dodge attacks, shoot bad guys”. In this case, the “complicated bits” involve debating on whether or not to conduct some light demolition when the auto-scroll is bearing down on your idol, and considering the merits of grabbing a powerup that may or may not be erased about seven seconds later by an errant giant beetle. It’s… a weird game. Regardless, in both Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, we’ve got gameplay significantly more complicated than “pizza man stuck in a maze”.

But it ain’t no fighting game.

It is the belief of Gogglebob.com and its subsidiaries that fighting games require the most complicated “controls” of any genre. There are games that, on a whole, are more complicated (looking straight at you, TRPGs), but usually those “complicated” games require a meager “point and click” or “press A on the right menu” interface. Meanwhile, fighting games often have more required action buttons than your average console controller, intricate motions for “specials”, and even more elaborate patterns for those all-important super/hyper/tension moves. This isn’t to say that there aren’t fighting games that eschew those convoluted controls, but most fighting games still trace back to a certain title that included six different fighting buttons that may or may not have produced different results if you were standing or moving.

Stabby stabbyOr, put another way, in 1991, there was a new videogame where a hedgehog could run, jump, crouch, and roll. Also in 1991, there was a new game where a karate champion could walk, block, crouch, defensive crouch, back flip, forward flip, jump, jab, strong punch, fierce punch, short kick, forward kick, roundhouse, jump jab, jump strong punch, jump fierce punch, jump short kick, jump forward kick, jump roundhouse, crouch jab, crouch strong punch, crouch fierce punch, crouch short kick, crouch forward kick, crouch roundhouse, throw a fireball, hurricane kick, and dragon punch. Same year, two very fondly remembered games, but just a smidge of difference between what their two protagonists can do.

So, yes, there’s a little bit of a difference between Psycho Soldier Athena and King of Fighters ’94 Athena.

Athena and Sie Kensou both originated from a side-scrolling action game. Ralf Jones and Clark Still (names changed in America to protect the innocent) originated in a top-down action game (and Heidern, their third teammate, too, but he was mostly just a talking head). The ’94 American Sports Team of Lucky Glauber the basketball player, Brian Battler the football player, and Heavy-D! the boxer were meant to be evocative of their respective sports videogames of the era. How does Madden NFL ’94 gameplay translate to King of Fighters ’94? That’s Brian Battler’s beat! All of these characters from wildly disparate backgrounds and games were smooshed together, granted multiple attacks, special moves, and the occasional power move, and were able to fight on an even keel. King of Fighters ’94 found a way for Psycho Soldier Athena to stand shoulder to shoulder and fist to fist with Terry Bogard.

Lil' dudesAnd what’s important here is that what made these “transplant” characters themselves in the first place is still there. Athena has the ability to toss off magical, psycho power moves. Ralf is towing heavy artillery and fighting in front of his crashed transport. Lucky Glauber can dunk on his opponents in more ways than one. They all have their punches, kicks, and uppercuts like Joe Higashi or Ryo Sakazaki, but they also retain moves and abilities that distinctly evoke their initial appearances. The arena is different, but these fighters with incongruent pasts are still recognizable as evolutions of their original forms. Clark is still Clark.

And, while later King of Fighters titles would not revisit the idea of pulling characters from other genres for some time (the first it returned was in ’99 with Metal Slug’s Fio as a mere striker [assist] character, and then we barely saw it in any other way save for spin-offs or the absolute most recent edition), it set the standard for what videogame crossovers would have to be. A crossover in a movie, novel, or television program doesn’t require completely redesigning the guest star du jour. The Golden Girls can guest star on Teen Titans Go and it doesn’t mean Darkseid can’t appear in the same episode (it happened! Look it up!), but if the cast of Empty Nest (more things to look up!) wants to appear in Super Mario Bros, they better learn to jump over turtles. The Avengers can be the most robust crossover film in history, but that’s because it’s only a movie drawing from other movies. They didn’t have to adapt a single action hero to a fighting game at all, and that makes the whole experience so much easier. Can you imagine trying to figure out a moveset for Wong? And then balancing that against a Wakandian warrior? The mind boggles!

So thank you, King of Fighters, for showing us all what a videogame crossover must be. It’s not about dropping as many ingredients as possible into the broth like in any other medium, it’s about adapting every participant from their contrasting origins to the featured genre. It’s about making a balanced, enjoyable experience that incidentally includes stars from times in gaming that have long been forgotten. It’s about going from this…

I miss that guy

To this…

Let's smash!

So thank you, King of Fighters, for defining the videogame crossover for generations.

FGC #492 King of Fighters (Franchise)

  • System: Started out on the Neo Geo, but eventually migrated to various Playstation models. I’m sure the older versions are available on the Switch, too. So let’s just generically say it’s available wherever videogames are sold.
  • Number of players: Two. It’s a fighting game. It’s two.
  • Wait, wasn’t this article mostly about King of Fighters ’94, and not the whole franchise: Look, I’m not going to review each individual KoF game at this point, and ’95 is mostly the same as ’94 but with some much preferred upgrades, and some of the intervening games… Ugh, it’s already getting complicated. This article is my dedication to the franchise. I don’t want to get into explaining NESTS or why there’s now a idol sporting electric, fake eyeballs, and…. Stop it! This is just about King of Fighters and its impact on gaming at large. The end!
  • Get 'emYou really want to talk about the plot, don’t you? My main problem with the King of Fighters franchise is that, like some other games, what started as a simple crossover story rapidly added a host of original characters with singular motivations that made the entire experience completely impregnable to a player that just happened to be wandering through with a spare quarter or two. Kyo was an interesting addition to the cast that was deliberately built to appeal to the “new generation” (as Terry and Ryo were old men in their 20s by the time of KoF), but there was no way that entire plots needed to hang on his magical blood, fire-boy rivalry, or that time he got cloned for no apparent reason. Even when Kyo isn’t the literal center of the universe, you know you’re just five seconds away from his second cousin’s roommate appearing and declaring the start of “The Iron Blood Saga” or some such thing, and… can we just get a game where Samurai Shodown protagonists fight pachinko heroines?
  • So do you have an explanation for this timeline where characters established as being from the 70s battle the large, adult sons of other combatants? Nope! Moving on.
  • Favorite Character(s): Chang Koehan the giant and Choi Bounge the wee gremlin sporting a spiky hand are my favorite picks across the franchise. They’ve had a few other teammates over the years, so I can’t just say “Korean Team” or “Villains Team”. It’s those two. They’re awesome. They brought a wrecking ball to a fighting game. And apparently they were both originally conceived to add some levity to the initially dour cast of King of Fighters, so, ya know, mission accomplished.
  • Favorite King of Fighters game: In this case, the most recent one is the best one, and that appears to be King of Fighters 14. After 13 was an unimpressive dud, 14 came roaring back with amazing graphics, an excellent “feel”, and more fanservice than I could shake a buster wolf at. My understanding is that this KoF is the start of a new storyline for the franchise, and I eagerly await whatever may be next.
  • You got 'emGoggle Bob Fact: I generally avoided this franchise in my childhood thanks to a Fighting Game Player’s Guide I picked up for Mortal Kombat information that incidentally covered the most recent King of Fighters game, too. The inputs for the KoF fighters looked so insane I didn’t even try the franchise for years for fear of having to properly activate Terry’s overly complicated burning knuckle or whatever. Fatal Fury 3, unfortunately, fell into the same boat. However, I eventually found King of Fighters ’95 on the Playstation (1) for a steal, and then I fell in love with a purple ninja and a boy with a stick. … Not literally. Mostly.
  • Did you know? The only team that did not return between King of Fighters ’94 and ’95 is the American Sports Team. Likely as a reference to this, multiple later games feature members of the team receiving invitations, but then being beaten and losing said invitations to other, newer (and usually more interesting) teams. But they seem to keep reappearing for cameos in other King of Fighter games (and even their spinoffs), so at least they’re still getting work.
  • Would I play again: King of Fighters isn’t my favorite fighting game franchise (or even my favorite crossover fighting game franchise), but it’s still a fun time, so I’ll give some of these titles another go in the near future. Who doesn’t like psycho soldiers fighting regular soldiers?

What’s next? Crossover “Week” (I have really got to figure out a good title for “six articles with one basic premise” situations) continues with a look at a different kind of crossover to hit the arcades. It might not be a Vs. game, but it’s certainly got “Vs” in the title. Please look forward to it!

FGC #490 Dig Dug

DIG! DUG!What is the soul of a videogame?

Today’s game is Dig Dug. What’s more, ROB has chosen the Atari 2600 version of Dig Dug. This makes a certain amount of sense, as this is the only “pure” version of Dig Dug in my collection. Why? Well, Dig Dug is probably a game that takes up a whole six bits of space, so practically every version of Dig Dug since 1985 has not been available as a “single” game, but part of some larger collection. And more’s the pity! Living compilation to compilation might be good for some of the most established games, like Pac-Man or Galaga, but it doesn’t do ol’ Dig Dug any favors. You’re going to play Dig Dug for five minutes, say “oh, this is where all those inflation fetishists got their start,” and then move on to the next game. When you’re playing Dig Dug on a compilation where you can finally find an answer to what the hell Pac & Pal is about, you’re going to skip right past the fygars.

Which is, unfortunately, a loss for anyone that enjoys the more complicated games of the “simple” arcade era. Dig Dug has a lot going on! Everyone is familiar with how you can pump up your opponents to popping proportions, but you’re also allowed the strategic kills through falling rocks. The OG Mr. Driller is drilling his way through the dirt, so he may as well use some dirt to his advantage! And, as demonstrated for anyone that ever stuck around to watch Dig Dug’s attract mode, there is more to pumping your opponents than meets the eye. Most consider the multiple action-button presses of sending a pooka to hell to be some manner of “number of hits” issue, but there’s strategy in blowing up these underground monsters. Any partially inflated adversary is immobile, and, more importantly, not a threat to Taizo Hori, so you’re welcome to walk (well, dig) right through ‘em. What does this mean? Well, you can partially inflate your prey, and then sneak along the edges to avoid the attacks of other rivals. Or fill up a few baddies, make sure they’re all deflating in a vertical line, and call down a rock to Burger Time them all into something resembling a pancake. Dig Dug has more options than you’d think, particularly for a game that features a scant four directions and one whole button.

He definitely puts some silly clown to shame.

Get 'emBut we’re not just talking about Dig Dug today, we’re talking about Dig Dug for the Atari 2600. This is not the first Atari port that has been covered on Gogglebob.com. We’ve seen the Kangaroo go from the arcade to your living room, but that was a situation where no one remembered the arcade version anyway, so who cares? We’ve seen Pac-Man make his way to the Atari, too, and that was an unmitigated disaster. And there was Mario Bros, which was probably the best anyone could ever expect of a Nintendo arcade game adapted to the 2600. But was it perfect? Absolutely not. The physics were just wrong (Mario doesn’t have any of his signature momentum in his movements), and the fireballs went from an occasional nuisance to an omnipresent threat. If you wanted a “kinda” Mario Bros experience, the Atari version was a fun time, but it was still a far cry from the subtle joys of the arcade original.

But Dig Dug for Atari 2600? Miraculously, in every way, this feels like Dig Dug.

And it’s easy to see why: everything is here. There may be only two monsters in Dig Dug, but they both showed up. They both function in the exact same way, and they both pop in the same satisfying manner. Rocks are there. The tunnels are familiar. And all the secrets of Hanzo’s favorite offense are preserved. This is Dig Dug. It might not have the finer graphics of the arcade edition, but, for a game that had to survive on the Atari, it is very much Dig Dug. Even a primitive attempt at the dirt gradient is here, complete with the different colors that appear on later levels. That means they actually expected someone to get past the third stage! That’s dedication and optimism!

Damn dragonsBut why does it work? Is it just because it’s a simple copy of the original? Because it looks close enough to the arcade style to be legitimate? Or is it something less tangible? Is it simply because this version of Dig Dug has the right “feel”?

And, to answer that question, we should look at two of Dig Dug’s sequels: Dig Dug 2, and Dig Dug Arrangement. Dig Dug 2 was released three years after the original Dig Dug, and attempted to build on Dig Dug’s initial gameplay by introducing wholesale island demolition to Dig Dug’s repertoire. Rather than puttering around underground, Taizo Hori is sticking to the sunlight this time, but still moving in the same general 4-directional manner. And rather than wholly relying on his trusty pump, he can now detonate parts of the playfield to sink multiple monsters in one destructive go. Does it wind up being a fun game? Yep! Destroying everything in an effort to quash a villain invasion is always a good time. But does it feel like the successor to Dig Dug? Not particularly. It’s certainly a sequel to Dig Dug, but it doesn’t quite feel like Dig Dug.

Arrange thisDig Dug Arrangement was released in 1996 as part of Namco Classics Collection Volume 2, a multi-game arcade cabinet. Competing for quarters against the OG and arranged versions of Pac-Man and Rally-X, this title saw Taizo return to underground pumping, but with a bevy of new monsters, levels, and even bosses. There are three whole islands, and they involve environments stretching from mundane cities to the moon. And the collection of new opponents is vulnerable to the same old actions, but there are a variety of new tricks and traps that can be employed against this parade of pests. And is it fun? Still, again, it is. But is it Dig Dug? Yes! Everything that is included isn’t some oblique slide to mine-laying or whatever was happening in Dig Dug 2, but Dig Dug taken to a more interesting dimension. It’s still four directions and one action button, but it’s also a game where detonating a robot will demolish the rest of your opponents, and discovering interesting ways to use that new technique is practically a game unto itself. A more appropriate title for the game might be Dig Dug Plus, as it feels like Dig Dug plus a whole lot of fun.

And that’s the best way to describe what makes a good Dig Dug: how it “feels”. It’s incredibly subjective, it’s nearly impossible to define, It's dark outbut how a game “feels” is as close as we can get to knowing the soul of a videogame experience. It’s not about the graphics or the frame rate or whether or not a character has enough cleavage (let’s face facts: Taizo is not showing enough skin in Arrangement), it’s about whether the game feels right. That’s the essence of a good game and a good port. It’s why Pac-Man Atari fails, and why Dig Dug Atari succeeds.

If it feels right, it touches the soul of the game, and that’s what makes for a happy player.

FGC #490 Dig Dug

  • System: We’re looking at the Atari version, but Dig Dug has been on practically every system ever made thanks to various compilations. It somehow missed the SNES, though.
  • Number of players: Probably one of those two player alternating Atari games, but one player is probably the right way to look at it.
  • Pooka or Fygar: Fygar scared me as a child, as you just never knew when those jerks were gonna toss off some atomic firebreath. Pookas, meanwhile, wear goggles. So you should know which is my favorite monster.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Dig Dug was one of the earliest games I ever played with “offensive options”, so I want to say Pooka was one of the first creatures, videogame or otherwise, that I ever instinctively murdered. The spree starts here!
  • OopsDid you know? Dig Dug Arranged has a two-player co-op mode, and both players share a score. That’s neat! It’s not competitive in any way! Everybody work together now.
  • Would I play again: Dig Dug is great arcade action. I might never try the Atari version again, but I’m sure I’ll hit the arcade version again on one of another six compilations.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Devil May Cry 3! That game is featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series! Please look forward to it!