Tag Archives: arcade

FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

UPPER!Streets of Rage 2 might be the best beat ‘em up of all time. It’s certainly the best BEU on the 16-bit consoles, and, considering that was the heyday of the genre, it’s hard to believe it could be topped elsewhere. But why is it the best? The BEU genre is pretty straightforward, so how is this game any better than Final Fight or Double Dragon?

The answer is simple: Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t suck.

… Hm, I should probably elaborate on that.

The beat ‘em up genre, one way or another, started in the arcades. If you want to cite Kung-Fu Master or Double Dragon, either way, they both premiered in arcade cabinets well before they hit the home consoles. From there, it was a only a matter of time before we got Final Fight, and then, inevitably, the parade of licensed beat ‘em ups that offered no real innovations to the genre, but God in Heaven is it fun to hit random dudes with Bart Simpson’s skateboard. The beat ‘em up completely conquered the arcade scene roughly until Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat decided it was fighting games’ turn, but even today, you’re likely to see Turtles in Time or X-Men at a roller rink (assuming roller rinks are still a thing at all… sorry I’m not a twelve year old girl).

HIYA!So, for the beat ‘em up to maintain arcade dominance for so long, the genre must have been doing something right. But what was it? The licensed beat ‘em ups have an easy answer: do you need to hear anything more than the title “Alien vs. Predator” to waste a quarter or two on finding out what that’s all about? “Be The Punisher”? Yeah, I’ll take a chance on that. But even the less “established” beat ‘em ups offered some level of “role play” that you couldn’t really experience at home. When Mario still looked like a random collection of brown pixels, here were King Arthur and his two or three knights, traipsing across the countryside, occasionally riding amazingly obedient horses. Here are all your favorite Saturday morning and mythological heroes, all at the arcade, and all ready to be controlled for the low, low cost of a single Washington (and the silver kind to boot).

That’s enough to get 25¢ out of practically anybody that can grip a joystick, but why was the beat ‘em up so successful? Simple: OCD. Or maybe just sunk cost fallacy. In general, unless it’s your absolute first time and some damn foot soldier keeps you in an arm lock for too damn long, you can make it up to the first boss on any given beat ‘em up on one credit. And then that boss is going to trounce you. And, depending on the game, that boss is going to laugh at you while the timer ticks down. Want to add another quarter? You know you will. You’re not going to let Abobo get away with that, are you? Come on, you got through the whole stage on one quarter, you can spare another to make this doof go down.

And so begins the worst problem in beat ‘em ups: quarter-killer, damage-sponge bosses. Rocksteady of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, possibly one of the most fought level one bosses in any videogame, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. He has, what, three moves? A kick, a charge, and a gun for jump kickers. That’s it. He should last for maybe eight hits, because, come on, a mouser is more complicated than this guy. But, no, he lasts forever, because if he can’t take the punishment, he’s not going to require more quarters to defeat, and if he doesn’t fleece your poor pockets, then what’s the point in being an arcade game?

YummyIn other words, beat ‘em ups were kings of the arcade because they were fun… and they made their owners a lot of dough. I don’t think those fat cat arcade barons are moving to Maui, but Final Fight probably did pay for at least a few trips to Disney World.

Streets of Rage apparently started in the arcades, but, fun fact, I have never seen a SoR cabinet in my life (I’m pretty sure this is another case of Wikipedia lying to me). Regardless, SoR started off a little… janky, and, in my humble opinion, wasn’t very good. It’s one of those Metroid 1 situations: you know there’s something cool here, but there is a lot of cruft involved, and, by the time you’re finally used to everything, it’s over. Though I suppose I’ll preserve that kind of whining for when ROB chooses that particular game…

What we’re here for today is Streets of Rage 2, and it does one thing absolutely marvelously: it actually scales boss health to something reasonable. It even scales all enemy health to a practical level.

It’s the subtlest little change, but it means so much to the game. The first boss in Streets of Rage 2 does not, at any point, retreat and force you to fight some random thugs while he eats a hamburger. The fourth boss does not have seventeen lifebars. Heck, the second boss brought a damn jetpack to the fight, but his HP is scaled to account for the fact that he can’t be hit all the time. He barely has more life than Symbol Y! It’s like Streets of Rage 2 actually respects the player’s time, and accounts for “this boss has three main patterns, he doesn’t have to be fought for the next ten minutes”. The average Streets of Rage 2 boss goes down in about as much time as a Robot Master, and that’s phenomenal! I might finish this game before I run out of imaginary, arbitrarily assigned credits because this is a console game, dammit! Somebody finally acknowledged that simple fact!

THE ENDishAnd there are a lot of little things in Streets of Rage 2 that make it appear as if the designers actually wanted to see the player succeed, and not just empty their coin purses into an imaginary arcade console. Food distribution is less random and closer to the power-up distribution of Super Mario Bros. games, for instance. Yes, there’s still a big fill up of meat before every boss, but you’re a lot more likely to see a life granting apple at more conscientious points than in any other beat ‘em up. And the average mooks, like their big boss brothers, aren’t massive damage sponges, so you’re not stuck in the same six square feet of a random city until the timer runs out. And even some of the less fair baddies, like those Road Warrior rejects or that one dude with a knife knifing around, can be defeating easily by acknowledging that jump kicks exist. There is not a single situation where there’s an infinity trap on the screen, and you’re going to die a thousand deaths to some random laser while you’re trying to position your character around that damn blast radius. Oh, and the special moves are pretty rad, too.

So, yes, you put it all together, and Streets of Rage 2 is the best beat ‘em up out there. It’s a lot of little things and one big thing working in concert, but, when it all combines, it forms a Voltron that blazing swords the competition.

Other beat ‘em ups are quick to rely on their arcade roots and suck for it. Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t (suck).

FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

  • System: Sega Genesis and arcade, though it has also seen rerelease on more systems than I’m going to list. The 3DS version is, as always, pretty damn rad.
  • Number of players: Oh, yeah, another reason people play beat ‘em ups is for the “easy” two player factor. Practically anyone can join in and be “helpful”, so whether it’s your videogame adverse mate or little brother, you can get a few extra punches in with a buddy.
  • WeeeeWhat’s in a name: The arcade machines glimpsed in Level 3 are for a game called “Bare Knuckle”. Ha! What nitwit would play a game called Bare Knuckle?
  • Favorite character: Normally Blaze would be my go-to, as I (almost) always favor the “faster” character in beat ‘em ups. But, in this case, I’m going to go with Skate. He’s faster than Blaze and he’s the only character with a proper dash attack. Considering the dash is my preferred attack in any BEU, that’s kind of deal sealer. Guess I do always go with the quickest choice.
  • Did you know? Let’s not talk about Blaze’s underwear. Let’s… just not.
  • Would I play again: Yes, which is always surprising for an “ancient” Genesis game. I just have to convince my friends that this is the beat ‘em up to play, and not The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, X-Men, Battletoads, Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fight, Knights of the Round…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS! Get your leaves ready, it’s time to go fluttering with Mario! Please look forward to it!

DO NOT CLICK

FGC #241 Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Here comes a ninja!Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is a 1990 Sega Genesis game primarily based on Shadow Dancer, a 1989 arcade game. Given the era, SD:TSoS is very light on dialogue and text, and the most info we get on the plot is during the opening crawl: in the far-flung future of 1997, Union Lizard has conquered New York City, and only one ninja is capable of saving the, like, twenty survivors and vanquishing this apparently reptilian menace. Spoilers, eventually Shinobi wins, and it turns out Union Lizard was a giant robot shogun or something. That’s not what’s important here, though. What’s important is one simple question…

What the hell was “The Secret of Shinobi”?!

It’s not the dog

Shinobi’s dog contains secrets. This fluffy, white monster animal is capable of subduing fully grown men and ninja alike (ninja are their own genus), and follows Shinobi through everything. This is relevant, as the first area is literally on fire, and dogs generally aren’t into that. And the third level includes an open-air elevator. Have you ever accompanied a dog on an open-air elevator? If you haven’t, I just want to state that there’s submissively urinating, and then there’s submissively urinating. It is not a pleasant situation for anyone, but Shinobi Dog (real name: Joe Jr.) eats terrifying situations for kibble. Good dog.

WoofHowever, the most fascinating thing about Shinobi Dog is that, if he accidently attacks a guarding enemy, he will shrink down to puppy size. This is simultaneously frightening (Does this dog contain the secret to eternal youth?) and adorable (Aw! Puppy!), but Shinobi Dog takes it in stride. He just sticks closely to his master, and, about ten seconds later, he’s fully grown and ready to maul once again. Look, I realize this is a medium where plumbers routinely change size thanks to brick-based mushrooms, but the threat of Union Lizard is very real, so why is Shinobi Dog randomly bopping around different ages? And why doesn’t Shinobi himself shrink down to child-size when hit? Because a kid ninja and his delightful puppy dog fighting lizards? I’d be all about that.

However, despite all of these mysteries, I’m forced to conclude that Shinobi Dog is not The Secret of Shinobi. Dogs do not contain secrets, only belly rubs. They are simple creatures.

It’s not the magic

Shinobi has very few offensive options. He’s got a sword, shurikens, the previously mentioned dog, and… that’s about it. Ninja stars may be some of the most potent weapons of the 8/16-bit era, but when you’re going up against an entire maybe-lizard army, it’s a good idea to pack at least a few blue lasers. I mean, the first enemy in this game has a gun. Do ninja have issues with firearms? Because, if not, head’s up, Shinobi, you are severely underequipped for taking down a crime syndicate that already conquered a population that subsists on street (hot) dogs.

HAWTBut Shinobi does have one extra weapon: ninja magic. Once per stage (or life, if you’re into credits/reincarnation), Shinobi can use ninja magic to wreck up the place. Too many ninja got you down? Summon a big, honkin’ tornado to clear the area. Sentient wall attempting to crush your life force? Rain meteors down upon your hapless foes! And if you’re fighting through the crumbling, flaming ruins of New York anyway, why not summon your own firestorm to suppress the malcontents. It’s not like you’re doing any more damage to the place.

So is The Mystery of Shinobi why the hell didn’t Shinobi stop these lizards before they even got out of their hideout?! Dude can summon meteors! Conquering New York is tough, but dodging a tornado is harder. Does ninja magic have a limited pixel radius? Because if it doesn’t, Shinobi, man, how did you let things get this out of hand?

Unless Shinobi is the reason NYC is ablaze in the first place. Hm. Maybe we’re not supposed to ask this question.

It’s not the bosses

Aside from some sickly green morlocks, it seems that the general Union Lizard army is staffed with your typical mercenaries. You’ve got “random guys with guns”, some sort of boomerang blade man, and, of course, ninja. No obvious lizard men, which, considering the name, is a little weird, but, hey, not like Hydra is stocked exclusively with octopus people. They appear to at least be a union, so that should count for something.

Brings a tear to my eyeBut the “bosses” of this organization… are a little special. There’s one warrior woman that hangs out on top of the Statue of Liberty, and she’s about the only remotely human one in the lot. The first boss is a demon samurai-beetle monster, and he is not voiced by George Clooney, so he’s probably not going to turn out to be anyone’s kindly relative. Next up is a golem that appears to have control over an entire side of a New York building, which could mean an awful lot of bricks to the face. And there’s a demon wheel of fire headlining the cave stage. Who hires a wheel of fire as a boss? How did he even roll through the door?! Though this… character does seem to be the definitive answer to that “why is New York on fire” question…

And the head honcho of the whole organization, Union Lizard…. Never gets out of his chair. He rains fire on his opponents (sensing a theme here), and he transforms two ninja statues into many ninja minions, but he never, ya know, stands up. That’s… a choice. I realize that he’s practically invincible, and his only vulnerable point is hidden by his helmet, but why so lazy? Did you conquer New York because you were really offended by the myriad of walking tours? Is your armor too heavy? Aw, that’s it, isn’t it? You got super invincible armor, and it turns you into a colossal, vaguely-imposing paper weight. Well no wonder your plans failed, you can’t rely on minions for everything. That’s one mystery solved.

But The Secret of Shinobi appears to be one secret we’ll never solve. Shinobi is taking that secret to his grave. You’re welcome to ask him, but I’ll remind you he possess a shape-shifting dog and weaponized tornadoes… so approach at your own risk.

FGC #241 Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

  • System: Sega Genesis. Also available on practically every modern system through Virtual Consoles or Sega Genesis Collections. It’s pretty much a port of the arcade game, so you could almost count the arcade version as well. This ninja has pretty far reach.
  • Get 'emNumber of players: Wouldn’t it be cool if a second player could control Joe Jr. ala Tails from Sonic 2? Maybe next time. One player.
  • Further mysteries: Apparently the American version of this game identifies “Shinobi” as Joe Higashi, while the Japanese version claims he is Joe’s son (Also Joe). For anyone concerned about the rich mythology of the Shinobi franchise, there’s something to argue about.
  • Redundant: The bonus stage opens with the phrase “Kill All Ninjas”. I was already doing that!
  • Favorite Ninja Power: I’m kind of disappointed that there seems to be a different ninja power every stage (or at least a rotation of three), but they all do the exact same thing (clear the screen of all enemies). You’d think a tornado would do a different kind of damage than a firestorm. That said, for killing dinosaurs or ninja, you can’t beat meteors.
  • Did you know? There’s a “hard mode” that limits Shinobi to only his sword, and no shurikens. However, the game isn’t balanced for that at all, so ninja stars are returned to Shinobi for all boss battles. Thus, I want to say it’s impossible to do a “real” only-sword run, but I’m sure some random Youtuber has pulled it off…
  • Would I play again: I’ve never been a big fan of the Shinobi series, mainly because I like to die in two, maybe three hits. Not one. As such, it’s unlikely I’ll join this ninja on his surprisingly fiery quest again anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… DJ Hero! Wanna be a DJ Hero? If so, please look forward to it.

Because of the fire

FGC #236 Guilty Gear Isuka

It’s the things that you don’t even notice that make a genre.

Let’s look at Street Fighter. And, yes, in this case I am talking about Street Fighter 1, arguably the granddaddy of the fighting genre. Look at this hard-hitting arcade action.

FIGHT!

Did you see what happened there? Did you see what Ryu and Retsu did? No, I’m not talking about their janky movements or their complete lack of hyper moves, I’m talking about turning around. It’s a simple, automatic pivot to guarantee combatants are always facing each other, and it’s the most important innovation in the fighting game genre.

FIGHT?!Think about, well, just about every videogame ever. “Where are you facing” is important in any experience where you have to aim. Mario? I suppose it doesn’t matter if he’s facing the wrong direction while he dashes through the Mushroom Kingdom, but he better aim straight and true when it’s time to start chucking fireballs at Bowser. Contra? Sure would be nice to be able to back up and shoot forward when facing down some of those bosses. And Mega Man, from the company that would bring you Street Fighter, ends every stage with a 1-on-1 Robot Master battle for supremacy… but the Blue Bomber could technically spend the whole match firing in the wrong direction. It’s up to you, player, to make sure your lil’ dude or dudette is pointing forward, otherwise Samus might keep launching not-so-magic missiles into the darkness, and not a pulsating brain.

But it is key that the protagonist be able to aim in any direction, or at least left and right. While it might be interesting if Mega Man boss battles functioned differently than the typical stage gameplay, in order for it to be consistent, Mega must be able to turn around at will, because you never know when a telly might be sneaking up from behind. Mario doesn’t even have the ability to scroll the screen left in his first adventure, but he can still turn around, because goombas are a wily and mischievous kind of chestnut. Bowser is always going to be on the right side of the screen, but that doesn’t hold true for his damn Hammer Bros. emissary. While your main opponent is bolted to the right, even Contra features a final boss that requires shooting up, down, and back to survive a friggen inanimate organ. Manual turning is important in a lot of genres.

But not in fighting games. In fighting games, turning is always a liability.

FIGHT!Guilty Gear Isuka should have been a thing of beauty. The previous Guilty Gears were great, enjoyable 2-D fighting games in an era when the 2-D fighter seemed to be all but dead. Capcom was resting, Mortal Kombat was dead or totally 3-D (or both), and, sadly, no one took up the torch of Eternal Champions. But Sammy did their best to keep the fires of 2-D combat going, and, over approximately 60 incremental releases, Guilty Gear had become an excellent source of 2-D fighting fun. And there was a pretty large roster of 20 or so playable characters, so let’s do something new and innovative with the 2-D genre. People like Smash Bros. and Marvel vs. Capcom’s four player mode, right? Let’s take the preexisting Guilty Gear architecture, and make a 1-v-1 into a four player free-for-all! All the characters and moves you love, but now featured in a brand new, completely hectic battle royale. Chaos is the new normal!

And, seriously, I want to say this was an excellent idea. On a personal note, I have a hard time getting my less fighting game inclined friends to play any true fighting games other than Street Fighter. The 1-v-1 format naturally seems to lead to more “focused” matches, and, if you don’t already have a good base of fighting game knowledge, of course you’re going to lose to the guy that already started playing the game last week. Meanwhile, in Smash, or Wii Sports, or even a “board game” like situation, the social aspect of four or more players leads to a lot less pressure to perform, so even those filthy casuals can have fun. In that way, a four player “evolved” 2-D fighting game should lead to more enjoyment with friends, and people won’t immediately notice how brutally I’m kicking all of their asses. I mean, uh, fun for the whole family?

STAY AWAY!Unfortunately, concessions had to be made to account for four simultaneous fighters. For the first time in Guilty Gear history, the game would like to know which direction you want to face. You’re between two different opponents: do you face right or left? You’ve got a choice, and it’s as simple as pressing a button.

And it’s absolutely horrible.

Manual turning in a 2-D fighting game is… abhorrent. Considering that mix-ups, jump attacks, and footsies are all random phrases I just googled and hope actually have something to do with what I’m saying, there are a lot of ways to “confuse” your opponent about where you’re going to be next. Then there are special moves that carry your fighter (or opponent) clear across the screen at the press of a button. And, finally, you’ve got teleporting moves, the yoga-derived bane of everyone’s existence. In short, there is a pile of ways to switch sides in a fighting game at any given second in a match, and when your character doesn’t immediately and automatically pivot, get ready to start chucking fireballs into an empty void. Oh, and never mind the fact that the damn computer has no problem turning on a dime and kicking your ass accordingly.

WeeeeeBut it’s that coveted “casual market” where Isuka really flounders. Want to try to get that four player action going? Well, good luck, because “move left” is not the same input as “turn left”, so expect some really frustrated newbies standing right next to an opponent, but slashing air on the other side. What? There’s a turn button? Which one is that? Oh… okay… wait… Now I’m facing the other way again… which… that one? Uh… can we play something else now?

It’s not that it’s completely impossible to understand, it’s just that it’s transparently unintuitive, and there are no shortage of party games out there that don’t share the same handicap.

And that’s what it all comes down to: pivoting, simple turning around, should be 100% intuitive. In a platformer, it’s a matter of flicking the right direction. In a fighting game, it’s an automatic turn. Nobody thinks about it, it’s just that simple, and you can get back to attempting to master a dragon punch motion.

The automatic turn is the most important thing to ever happen to fighting games, and when it’s missing, it is sorely missed.

FGC #236 Guilty Gear Isuka

  • System: Playstation 2 and (OG) Xbox. There’s supposed to be an arcade version out there with fewer characters, but I have never seen a Guilty Gear arcade cabinet, left alone a four-player Isuka monstrosity.
  • Number of players: Four! I just said that!
  • Say something nice: This game is actually enjoyable once you “master” turning. As I mentioned, this game was released during the PS2-era’s 2-D fighter shortage, and I did play ol’ Isuka quite a bit as a result. Completely impossible to get anyone else to play it for more than a few rounds, though…
  • Favorite Character: Zappa is possessed by evil spirits. In any other franchise, this might lead to a character that has generic, etheric magic attacks. Here, Zappa is practically broken in half by angry ghosts, and occasionally seems to summon horror monsters (and terrifying insects). I want to say Zappa was basically the inspiration for BlazBlue’s Arakune (the character that is a big ol’ bag o’ bugs), but whatever inadvertent origins abound, he’s fun here.
  • Hey you said there’d be a puppy: Oh, fine. Here’s your puppy. He’s riding a whale or something.

    D'aww
  • Did you know? There’s also a beat ‘em up in there. Oddly, it seems to use completely different “turning” controls. Was GGI designed under the influence of powerful chemicals? It seems like a simple explanation.
  • Would I play again: No thanks. I’ll just be here quietly waiting for the next Guilty Gear Xrd update. Maybe they’ll finally include a character I already like!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Elite Beat Agents for the Nintendo DS! Agents are (gonna) go! Please look forward to it!