Tag Archives: capcom

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

Wah WahIf you want to understand East vs. West gaming philosophies, look no further than Disney’s Aladdin for SNES and Genesis.

Disney’s Aladdin should require no introduction. At the time, it was “yet another” brilliant Disney animated musical, and came hot on the heels of other perennial favorites like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But Aladdin offered a rare opportunity: the story of Aladdin is one of swordplay and derring-do! It’s a boy’s story! And boys play videogames! Sure, Ariel made due with shoving seashells by the seashore, and Belle & Beast got their own boy and girl versions (it was a weird time), but Aladdin is an adventure story from start to finish. There’s an evil wizard, ancient sealed magical force, helpful monkey, and at least two dungeons. This is practically a JRPG before you introduce the princess with a pet tiger! Couple the dominance of Disney with a story that couldn’t be more suited to a 16-bit game if it had a mine cart, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a generation-defining videogame.

And then we got two interpretations of that blockbuster.

On one side, we have (give me a second to flip a coin here) Aladdin for the SNES. This was a Capcom release, and it shows in every way. Cross Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse with Ninja Gaiden for cinematics, drop any and all transformations, and add a Genie-based roulette wheel to bonus stages, and we’re good to go. There’s a rudimentary collectathon Weeeeelement for completionists, but otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward platforming experience. Aladdin jumps, swings, and bops over enemies, and the most common monster appears to be a blind bird in a pot (really quite threatening, obviously). There are a pair of magic carpet rides for some dangerous/bonus variety, and, in the end, Jafar must be defeated by head-vaulting. Roll credits, move on to the next Capcom blockbuster.

On the other side, we’ve got Aladdin for Genesis. This is another platformer, but Aladdin has become blood-thirsty, and he’s gained a sick scimitar. Additionally, while Aladdin had apples for stunning on the SNES, now hurling fruit will damage opponents completely, effectively granting Al a gun. The animation is gorgeous, the levels are lush and creative, and there are even a few full-fledged bosses (whereas the SNES only had Jafar and one pissed off merchant). Even the bonus stages are fairly innovative, offering a fine excuse to control a monkey in a fez as he gathers treasure. Basically, the Genesis title has the same bones as its SNES cousin, but it seems to do so much more.

It’s also tremendously less fun to play.

WhammoOkay, sure, fun is subjective. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that value the Gen Aladdin experience over SNES Aladdin’s more muted adventure. But there are quite a few items that make the Genesis title objectively worse. For one thing, many of the more labyrinthine stages feature “European” layouts, i.e. stages that zig and zag all over limited screen space, and it quickly becomes difficult to know if you’re actually making forward progress. Another obvious flaw is an overabundance of bottomless pits and other instant death traps that seem to litter every stage after Aladdin escapes the streets of Agrabah. Oh, and those bosses? They seem to exist exclusively to drain you of your apples, and, like bosses in a certain other franchise, it’s often difficult to know if you’re dealing damage at all. Basically, the minute you start really looking at the nuts and bolts of Genesis Aladdin, you’ll quickly notice every place where it falls apart.

But is it the poorer title? Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion.

Genesis Aladdin is known for having some of the smoothest, most amazing animation of the 16-bit generation, but focusing on that is unfairly ignoring its true greatest strength. Genesis Aladdin is creative to a fault. Aladdin the Movie might contain a story tailor-made for videogames, but it could still use a little expansion to round out the levels. Genesis Aladdin drops in an extra trip to the desert to claim beetle fragments, and a street-rat trip around the palace to eventually defeat Iago. In both cases, what could be trite, typical videogame levels pop with beauty and imagination, all while things like the pink flamingos in the Sultan’s massive pool style firmly tie the style to the source material. The animation is what catches everyone’s eye, but the little things, like a Sega Genesis hiding in the background of Genie’s lair, are what really make the game.

WeeeeMeanwhile, SNES Aladdin is an enormously competent platformer, but fails to add anything to Disney’s Aladdin. Your extra stage in SNES Aladdin is a pyramid, which kinda fits the story (supposedly Abu falls off the carpet on the way back from the Cave of Wonders… so did they take a detour to Egypt on their way? Not all deserts are the same!), but it’s about as generic as a videogame stage can get. Falling sands waterfalls (sanderfalls?),lit torches, and the general threat of the undead? It’s a pyramid, and this could be part of Aladdin, or any other videogame ever made. But what is there to complain about? Sure, squint and you could mistake Aladdin for Mega Man 4, but this is a damn fine platformer, and hopping and bopping around the pyramid feels as good as any given Mega Man title. And that is no small feat.

And, playing both of these games side by side in the far flung future of 2018, it seems these differences echo the state of gaming today.

I’m inevitably going to oversimplify, but it seems like when you compare Western “game of the year” titles to their Eastern counterparts, a few patterns emerge. Fallout and Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) titles are always amazing, right? They’re huge. They’re creative. They’re also buggy as hell, and, let’s be honest here, generally have improbably convoluted controls. Maybe I’m weird, but I feel like picking up a cheese wheel should be an easier experience than piloting a plane. Conversely, you have titles like Persona 5 or NieR: Automata that are amazing games… but their gameplay is often indistinguishable from their forebears. Bite!NieR: Automata is astounding! But its basic combat is Bayonetta-light (dodge! dodge! dodge!) with a dash of shoot ‘em up spliced in for good measure. And Persona 5 is stylish and rad… and could probably be effortlessly modded to be Persona 3. In other words, while we’re still seeing amazing advances in story-telling and what a videogame could even be, we’re still looking at a pretty overt split: Western titles are huge, imaginative, and often objectively worse to actually play, while Japanese titles are excellent, reliable games that rarely take obvious risks. Again, I’m well aware that I’m generalizing, and I’m not saying one technique is somehow better than the other, but it seems to be a trend that has been recurring since the 20th Century.

And it’s not a bad thing.

There is room enough in this world for two different interpretations of Aladdin. There is room on your shelf for Persona and Skyrim. And, if you’re lucky, you’ve got enough space in your heart for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Different strokes for different folks, and, if you can open yourself up to both experiences, more power to you. Some people like pet monkeys, some people go for tigers. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, and what’s important is that you enjoy what you have.

So the final winner in the Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo debates? Well, if you can accept the differences in both platforms, then, in the end, a winner is you.

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

  • System: You already know the obvious ones, but there was also a Gameboy, Nintendo, and DOS version, if you were in the mood. The Game Boy Advance version was a port of the SNES version, too, if memory serves.
  • Number of players: Never had a friend to play with. One.
  • Realistic Graphics: Hey, who do I speak to about making Sega Genesis Annoyed Jasmine a meme?

    Really think this one has legs.
  • Other differences: The interior of the Genie’s Lamp level appears in both versions, and that seems like another fine way to compare systems. The SNES Lamp is bright and pastel and… fluffy. The Genesis Lamp is dark and muted, but still just as magical with neon signs and flying pillows. Given how a number of other games turned out on both systems, the whole level seems indicative of the generation.
  • And they’re the same: Genesis is more like Battletoads, and SNES is more like a shoot ‘em up (just without the shooting), but both games interpret the escape from the Cave of Wonders as a one-hit kill, flying carpet-based race against lava. Some things are just inevitable, I suppose.
  • So cuteGoggle Bob fact: So the Sega Genesis version of this game was given to me by an ex. She was my girlfriend at the time, and, when I expressed an interest in replaying the title, she gave me the game without a second thought, likely happy to be rid of another piece of trash that was destined for Goodwill when she finally completely emptied out her childhood room. I, as someone who even then could only view my life through the lens of videogames, thought that giving up a beloved childhood game was the greatest sacrifice a human being could make for another. … I don’t really wonder why we’re no longer together.
  • Did you know? Aladdin was the highest selling game for the Sega Genesis not featuring a hedgehog. This likely had nothing to do with the advertising campaign that was running on all channels, all the time.
  • Would I play again: Either one might get a replay at random times. I have fond memories of both titles, and nostalgia will probably get the better of me one of these days. Then it’s back to hopping on snakes to save princesses.

What’s next? Random ROB is back, and he’s chosen… Destroy All Humans! for the PS2! Well, guess we have to do what the game says. Time for an extinction level event, I guess. Please look forward to it!

What?
Exploding skeletons?

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

New age of heroes?It seems gauche to hold the father accountable for the sins of the son, but sometimes it must be done. Today’s article is about Street Fighter 4, and exactly why its arcade mode is better than anything in Street Fighter 5. I’d love to talk about the other merits of SF4, but, alas, sacrifices must be made so the new generation can learn a lesson.

An Arcade Mode Must Have a Good Roster

We’ll start simple: you’ve got to have a lot of fighters in your fighting game. How many is a requirement? Well, technically, you could get away with as few as… Vanilla Skullgirls, come over here, I need to count your characters… eight fighters. Technically. Unfortunately, for any sort of good arcade mode, you’re probably going to need a solid twelve. Why? Simple: you don’t want the battle to be over before it begins.

This brings us to our first major point: an arcade mode is not just a fighting game. A fighting game can be many things. For many people, the entire concept of a one-player mode in a fighting game is perfunctory. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For a certain subset of fans, there may as well only be eight characters, because that’s all the dudes that can fit into the “top tier”, and the presence of Dan is nothing more than cruft. And, if you play Street Fighter like that, if you’re ignoring the very existence of Vega for five games running now, that’s fine. There’s an entire community that is carefully maintaining those tier lists, and why would you ever side with the scrubbiest of scrubs?

Look at 'em allBut an arcade mode is different. An arcade mode requires variety, and fighting the same three fighters for eight rounds is going to get old fast. It doesn’t matter if there are different “teams”, or a Zangief wearing a different hat, what’s important is that you’re not going to see the same handful of fighters every time, and you might even be surprised by the AI’s next pick. You’ve played through arcade mode with five different fighters, but you somehow never fought Dhalsim until now? That’s cool! What isn’t cool is battling the same dumb Ryu & Ken teamup for the 7,000th time. By about the time you’ve memorized the repeated thoughtless intro lines, you’ll know that an arcade mode needs a grand roster to sustain itself.

And speaking of variety…

An Arcade Mode Should be Random as Heck

Character variety is one thing, but it’s another thing if every one player experience is the same exact battles every single time. It’s a simple, stupid request, but is it too much to ask for your battles to be randomized? Bosses can go ahead and dominate the end game, as I don’t mind seeing Seth/Bison/That Guy in the Thong every time, but how about adding a little spice to the lead up? In fact, it appears that Ultra Street Fighter 4 has sixteen different costumes for Sakura alone, so maybe I don’t have to see her default fuku every time she pops into the ring.

WeeeeeThis may all seem cosmetic (if you’re going to fight Ken every time, what does it matter if Ken is first every time?), but it does a lot for our stupid monkey brains. When you’re fighting random fighters in random outfits, even if it’s the twelve billionth time you’ve trounced Juri, it still feels new and exciting when she randomly pops up after Balrog dressed like a cat. Meanwhile, when you always know that Character X is going to be in X position, the single player mode quickly becomes a chore, and you’re simply pummeling Sagat because you know you’re ‘supposed ta. An arcade mode should be fun, and part of that fun is including some variability.

And speaking of being tricked into having fun…

An Arcade Mode Needs Forward Momentum

Next time you’re watching a random procedural on television, take note of how often the characters simply sit down to talk, or have conversations over the phone while sitting around like normal people. Take that number, and compare it to how often protagonists walk and talk, or discuss a case while gliding down a hallway, or even while in a car, dashing to the newest crime scene. You will quickly notice that, while the characters might just be lamely recounting the plot or inching toward a conclusion the audience already discovered three commercial breaks back, there is a lot of movement involved, because that creates the illusion of forward momentum. And we need forward momentum! If two detectives are just chilling at a diner talking about murders over a side of gravy fries, it tells the audience that the heroes are in no rush, there are no stakes, and if they don’t care, why should you?

OwieAn arcade mode must serve that same master. During a tournament, it’s perfectly fine to watch every fight take place in front of that stupid practice background, but that isn’t going to cut it in arcade mode. You need to believe that Ibuki, a penniless teenager from a secret village of likely destitute ninja (there just isn’t a lot of call for ninja in today’s job market), is bounding from Africa to America to Asia exclusively so she can mix it up with Chun-Li for a minute and a half. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and yes, it certainly adds to the load times, but it provides that special feeling that progress is being made, and that a journey is taking place. The simple fact that Zangief got out of his own bear-wrestling comfort zone is a story all its own, and it’s one worth telling.

And speaking of stories…

An Arcade Mode Needs a Story like a Bunny Needs a Car

Bunnies do not need cars. Bunnies do not know how to drive cars.

Dem buns

But it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is adorable when a bunny drives a little bunny-sized car.

In much the same way, a “story mode” is no more an “arcade mode” than a driving bunny is somehow your new chauffeur. Do not conflate “story” with “arcade”. An arcade mode can absolutely be about discovering the final fate of Balrog, but it’s also a fun way to demo a new fighter. A story mode might provide all the story content you could ever desire, but, practically by definition, it’s going to require playing as some characters that aren’t Ken. And that’s rough! If you’re trying to get a real feel for Guile, and Guile isn’t featured in story mode even once, then what the heck was the point?

Once again, an arcade mode can have a story, and it can have rivals, and it certainly should have some kind of ending (see the previous bullet point), but it doesn’t require any of that. Those who need a story should look elsewhere, possibly somewhere someone cares about friggen’ Urien.

But speaking of caring about half-naked, super powered monsters…

An Arcade Mode Needs Difficulty Escalation

Sticks and stonesIn the old days, we had bosses, who were not balanced in the player’s favor at all, and could occasionally climb the background itself to gain another unfair advantage. Nowadays, we have escalating AI, so your first bout might be a perfect, but the fourth is going to be a nail biter. And, through it all, we’ve had difficulty sliders, so you could choose your own adventure and climb the ranks with the help of a star or two. What’s important through it all is that you could watch your own skills escalate, and confront challenges as they appeared. A “hard” version of story mode won’t help in that department, and any sort of intensification in survival mode is certainly not going to scratch that itch. Why? Because the continue button is essential to climbing difficulty.

Look, we all get knocked down. We all lose matches. Even the greatest fighter in the world loses a match every once in a while, even if it’s just because he was distracted and worried about his carrier pigeons back home. And a difficulty escalation is only going to exacerbate that eventuality. Sagat is more difficult than Blanka, and you’re a lot more likely to lose to the cyclops than the beast man. That’s basic math. But an arcade mode allows you to continue, allows you to try again, and doesn’t irrevocably punish you for trying to box outside your weight class. You can get back up, find a path to victory, and, most importantly, actually achieve something in an arcade mode. Victory is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly more likely when a difficulty increase is a speed bump and not a road block.

And when you can actually succeed, you have fun.

And that’s what an arcade mode needs most of all.

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

  • System: We’re looking at all Street Fighter 4s here, so arcade, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 for the initial release, but PC, mobile devices, Playstation 4, and Xbox One by the end of its tenure. And I think the 3DS version counts, too.
  • Number of players: Streets are fought in pairs.
  • Eat itVersion Differences: Vanilla Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 2-2. Super Street Fighter 4 includes a few alpha and 3 buddies, and introduces the oily guy and the spider lady. Arcade Edition includes four new Ryus, and Ultra Street Fighter 4 borrowed the extra fighters from Street Fighter X Tekken. Ultra was used for this review, because I prefer to pick my Poison.
  • Favorite Character: Sakura is always there for me, but in the interest of choosing someone interesting, I’ll say Gouken. He’s… like… “broken Ryu”, and I’ll never forget the first time I activated his hurricane kick and flew into the sky. Such a majestic flying old man.
  • Favorite Featured New Character: Gouken doesn’t count? Of the new fighters, I’ll take Juri, as her kicking style is pretty interesting. Rufus is second runner up there, as he’s entirely the right kind of goofy, but I’ve never quite mastered his moves. And El Fuerte…. sucks.
  • Favorite Arcade Mode Ending: Poison starts a KISS-esque rock band of Metro City alums and Ryu/Ken. What fever dream produced that insanity?
  • Did you know? Akuma is the worst assassin ever. As of Street Fighter 3 (which was released before 4, but takes place later in the timeline), Akuma had supposedly killed his brother and Ryu’s master, Gouken (making him the Uncle Ben of the series), M. Bison (at the end of SF2), and Gen (an old man looking for a noble death in Alpha). When Street Fighter 4 kicked off, all three “kills” were back and ready to brawl. That is simply insulting! As of Street Fighter 5, it’s implied Akuma has killed Gen again… but we’ll see if that sticks.
  • Would I play again: Oh, I spent so much time talking about arcade modes that I forgot to really talk about the game. I like it! I like it a lot! Street Fighter 4 is pretty fun, ya’all.

What’s next? Our first post of 2018 is going to review 2017! Let us look to the past as we move forward to the future! Or something! Please look forward to looking back!

OH MY CAR

FGC #367 Mega Man X8

Mega Man!Here lies the Mega Man X series. Forever may it rest.

Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Mega Man X is one of my favorite games. Mega Man X2 and X3 are both great experiences, too, as, while they’re not as great as OG X, they both contain that same (exactly the same) enjoyable X gameplay. Then we get into X4 and X5, which introduced Zero as a (permanently) playable character. The jury is still out on whether or not this improved the series, but, for my money, there is nothing more joyous than double jumping around with a lightsaber and dicing mavericks to maver-bits. Then, starting with X6, the series tried to be experimental. And by “experimental” I mean “completely horrible”. If the stories are true, Inafune stopped formally directing the X series with X5 (so he could move on to the Zero series), and X6 was left in hands that were… slightly less capable. X6 may not have been the disaster some have claimed (it is an extremely unpolished mess, but it is still “X gameplay” at the end of the day), but then we got X7.

I’m probably never going to forgive Mega Man X7.

I’ll save the majority of this rant for when ROB inevitably pegs that Playstation 2 title, but, long story short, Mega Man X7 tried to do the “bring old franchise to the modern era” trick… but failed miserably. 3-D action areas were broken and slow, and the beloved gameplay of the SNES/PSX titles was forsaken for Flame Hyenard announcing his intention to “burn”. It was a rotten experience all around, and, while the drive to innovate is always appreciated, it certainly did not work out in this situation.

But, aside from the crummy gameplay, Mega Man X7 introduced another fine addition to the X canon: it firmly planted X’s head so far up his own ass, he could lick the inside of his own reploid ribcage. Only the buster on his arm knows for sure why, but the Mega Man X series always had a sort of maudlin sentimentality to the storytelling. It was mostly confined to the endings during the first three titles, but X4-X6 managed to wedge in conversations with Mavericks that often involved robots lamenting their sorry lots in life shortly before shooting homing fish at each other. Pew PewX7 ratcheted that up a notch or two with a tale of betrayal, refugees, and Sigma that was, fun fact, the exact same plot as Mega Man X4. X7 managed to expand the talky talk of the X series, but still told the exact same story as ever.

The next logical step was clear: an endlessly philosophizing JRPG called Mega Man X: Command Mission. Wait! No! That’s a terrible idea! Please keep the franchise going! We like action games! Please give us a new Mega Man X game, and please let it be an actual goddamn Mega Man game! Please?

Well, we mostly got our wish.

Mega Man X8 should be lauded for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a return to (almost entirely) 2-D gameplay, so 90% of X7’s inane bullshit went right out the window. Additionally, X8 did its best to add an interesting facet to the series, so it allowed for character switching “in battle”, and based a number of scenarios, like escaping a grasping opponent or teaming up for a double attack, on the convention of having two combatants available. X got some curious armor, Zero scored a menagerie of weapons, and Axl’s “morph into a mook” ability got expanded to something actually viable. Couple this with some stimulating secrets, one of the better uses of “money” in the franchise, and your typical eight mavericks ready for a beat down, and Mega Man X8 is a pretty good game to actually play. Assuming you can forgive the vehicle sections and a few areas that are entirely instant death traps, X8 is an enjoyable experience.

But then there’s the story. It’s not that the story is bad (which it certainly is), it’s not that the story is somehow at war with its own continuity (thanks, Zero series!), and it’s not even that the story pukes all over the very concept of even basic science (Earth does not need a space elevator!); no, the greatest sin of the plot of Mega Man X8 is that is tries to be Mega Man Genesis Evangelion without the tiniest hint of irony or self-awareness. The subtitle is “Paradise Lost”. The first stage is Noah’s Park. The final battles are against Sigma as a fiery devil, followed by a fallen angel with beautiful wings. X whines about having to murder his fellow robots while battling the thinnest allegory for the Light Bringer in the history of gaming. Someone thought it was a good idea for Mega Man X, the robot built by Santa Claus to bring about world peace with his flamethrower arm, to play out some Bible fanfic while incidentally battling Isn't that a song?Bamboo Pandamonium, the nihilistic panda robot with swords for fingers. This is a thing that happened, and it absolutely could not have happened by accident. Someone… probably multiple people… thought this was the proper direction for a series featuring a robot that is occasionally named after granite.

And… it killed the X series.

There are likely a number of reasons Mega Man X8 was the final chapter. At this point, it was becoming more and more complicated to create realistic and cartoony graphics, and the general population wasn’t a fan of the latter appearing in practically anything. The man behind the Mega had already moved on to a new series, and the new home of 2-D gaming, the booming portable market, would wind up hosting a number of different Mega experiments (see ZX, Powered Up, and the X-based Maverick Hunter releases). And, hey, the original Mega Man series had stopped at 8 at this point, too, so maybe that’s just the cutoff for Capcom properties (sorry to be the one to tell you this, Resident Evil). The fact that Mega Man X8 had sagging sales compared to other Capcom properties may have been a factor. But, all told, it’s terribly unlikely that anyone looked at the plot of this bonkers adventure, acknowledge said bonkinality, and decided it was time for a break. But should we have received a Mega Man X9 on PS2, I have no doubt it would have continued the story of Axl, the lamest Maverick Hunter in the world, and maybe involved a parable about the sacrifice of Christ or something.

So I have to say this right now: Capcom, if you considering rebooting or reigniting the Mega Man X franchise, please, please ignore every X game since… let’s say… Mega Man X.

Please.

All together nowLook, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Zero is a lock for inclusion, and even Axl could be pretty interesting with his Bass-esque abilities. Include armor parts, weapon upgrades, and maybe even a chip system. That could all be pretty great. But please ignore the entirety of Mega Man X continuity. Please let X just be moderately conflicted, and don’t make him fight gods. Let him run, jump, and explore, but don’t let him in the same room as anything called “The Jakob Project”. X, Zero, Dr. Wily, Sigma: that is all okay. Fighting angels is not.

Mega Man X8 is where the X series died. Let it be dead, and pray that its next resurrection is decidedly less holy.

FGC #367 Mega Man X8

  • System: Playstation 2, and PC a year or so later. Let’s hope the PC version fixed that glitch where the robot ant becomes accidentally trapped in his own box.
  • Number of players: Two hunters at a time, but only one player.
  • She's my buddyBest Reward for OCD: I normally disparage collectathon elements, but the reward for playing this game an unnecessarily long time is unlocking the three navigator lady reploids as playable characters. They’re just reskins of the main cast that are randomly weaker… which is not sending the best message… but they’re also the first you’ve been able to play as anyone with a rep-gina in the X series (give or take the JRPG). And Layer with Sigma’s humongous sword is a beast, so I will hear no detractors.
  • Favorite Maverick: Gravity Antonion is an excuse for flipping stage orientation in a 2-D game, so he gets my vote. He’s also one of the few insect-based mavericks that is any fun at parties. Uh… don’t ask.
  • Did you know? Dark Mantis‘ Pitch Black stage is located in Africa. Darkest Africa. Are you getting Capcom’s clever/racist joke!?
  • Would I play again: I guess there’s an X collection on the horizon, so it’s kind of inevitable. Not looking forward to reclaiming all my hard-earned powerups from scratch again, nor do I want to hear X shout “Lumine” ever again, but, hey, sacrifices must be made.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Street Fighter 4 for whatever system I can find! Hooray! Street Fighting times for the last article of the year! Please look forward to it!

So much purple

FGC #345 Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

SLASHAs the proprietor of GoggleBob.com, I feel that, on occasion, I must take a break from talking about mutant ninjas, fighting games, and whether or not Sonic is good, and talk about the real issues of the day. I have an obligation, nay, a responsibility to tackle the tough stuff, and get some real answers for my loyal followers.

Today, we shall answer one simple question: is gross scary?

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the pick of the day, so let’s start our research with that apparently forgotten franchise (“Didn’t you just play a game featuring Arthur, like, yesterday?” “Yes. Shut-up.”). Ghosts ‘n Goblins was technically an arcade cabinet that started the franchise, but most people remember that title from its NES port (and also the Commodore 64, assuming you spent a lot of time in your school library, nerd). Despite the fact that no one made it past the second level, most people remember GnG fondly. And it was spooky! There were ghosts and goblins! So the franchise flourished, and we eventually had Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and its follow-up, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Lot of little n’s, and a lot of ghouls later, we never saw the franchise again, and it was probably for the best. For the best.

But for only containing three entries, GnG had a surprising amount of variety. No… wait, that’s wrong. GnG had almost zero variety between entries, and that’s what makes it all so very confusing. All of the GnG titles start in a graveyard with infinitely respawning undead creatures. Every GnG game must be completed twice, and you have to find some lousy weapon to access the final boss. The final boss is always a huge pile of suck. Possibly every boss is a huge pile of suck. Oh, and, give or take the fidelity of your chosen system, you might be fighting the same monsters as last time, but… uh… are they supposed to be the same? That’s Firebrand again, right? Was he always supposed to be wearing armor? Why is he naked again in the next one? Wait… is this supposed to be a prequel or sequel?

Going up?And it’s that all important bestiary that can confuse the layman. Look, let’s face it, while you or I know that there is some nuance there, is there really that much of a difference between a large monster man with a head in his chest and a large monster man in armor with a head on his arm? We’re still dealing with the same basic concept (head in unusual place) and the same basic boss pattern (head in unusual place can shoot fireballs). Infinite zombies may as well be infinite grim reapers, and an annoying bird is always an annoying bird regardless of genus. Firebrand is the marquee monster of GnG, and he does set the scene for a number of generic monsters across the series. This isn’t Castlevania, you’re not going to encounter Frankenstein(‘s monster) or a werewolf: GnG is all about the demons of the Demon Realm, so we’re basically looking at an army of wings and teeth and maybe a monster plant. Obviously, Capcom created monsters that are better than the modern 3-D standards of “some wolves” and “some wolves, but a different color”, but even the most ardent GnG fan has to admit that it’s difficult to recall which title had the blue guy with an axe (not to be confused with the blue guy with a scythe).

But Ghouls ‘n Ghosts does have something that separates it from its peers: it’s gross.

The original Ghosts ‘n Goblins had endless hordes of Hell, but they were polite hordes of Hell. When Arthur encountered a tattooed ogre, that monster would purely punch a ball (or something?) at his rival. Zombies merely meandered, and multi-headed creatures had the good sense to spit fire, not icky spit. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts took it all a step further. Now there are pig-demon orcs, and their main method of attack is… barfing. And, no, there is no question here. This isn’t lava or… pig juices? Is that a thing? No, this is definitely brown/green puke, and it’s delivered in a disgusting, nonstop stream. And it doesn’t break with the pigs! There are wriggly demon tongue platforms, realistic bugs bigger than buildings, and the infamous Boss of Level 4. Its name is Ohme, and it is an immobile slug with five beating, exposed hearts and a plethora of parasites of multiple shapes and sizes. It’s disgusting, and the way its flesh (scales?) opens to release more and more… bugs is like something out of Dante’s Inferno.

BLECHActually, let’s talk about Le Inferno for a moment. Aside from being Facebook for an era that barely had moveable type (Pope Boniface VIII doesn’t like this post) it also had its share of… fart jokes. Or… something like that. Yes, we’ve all heard of Satan eternally devouring the betrayers while stuck in the coldest of ice blocks, but your English teacher may have skipped over the part where flatterers are cursed to endlessly muck about in a pile of crap. That’s it! Eternity wading through poop. It’s not Shakespeare (note: also full of shit), but it doesn’t exactly sound like a fun time. And Dante knew that! Dante knew that something we’re intimately familiar with on a daily basis (again, to be clear, I am talking about pooping. Everybody got that? Poop) is still considered inordinately gross. It’s a perfectly natural thing! That has created entire industries! Look, there is no other reason in the universe that air freshener exists other than for yo’ stinky ass (and, yes, I am just talking about you. Eat more fiber).

And it is simultaneously ridiculous and completely justified. Poop is gross. Pee is gross. I want to have a man (or pig man) puke on me about as much as I want to jab out my own eyeballs with a rusty pipe. I’m sorry, did that simile disturb you? Yes, blood and guts are gross too, even though many of us eat fresh animal flesh on a daily basis. All of these “natural” secretions are sickening because they’re familiar. Everyone reading this article knows the appearance, texture, and odor of crap, so the idea of splashing through it is wildly unpleasant. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a lot more relatable than the average afterlife punishment of eternal fire. You’d get used to the heat after a while, right? But poop? Not so much.

DIEAnd maybe that’s why gross is scary. A demon is abstract, worms slinking over your flesh are not. Try as I might, I do not believe there is any circumstance in my life that could ever lead to me facing a fire breathing monster. But having someone puke on me? That could happen. It’s a lot less likely past my college days, but the very thought of such a thing, to feel the chunky, sticky slop of someone’s digestive track on my own skin? I might have to shower for a solid week at just the thought of such an encounter. And, while it’s a little unusual that such puke would melt Sir Arthur’s flesh to the bone, I’m not quite sure it’s a fun experience for Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ protagonist, either. Can you imagine picking pig vomit out of your beard? Ugh.

So I suppose Ghouls ‘n Ghosts did separate itself from its GnG brethren. Low-fi ghosts and goblins haunted the first adventure, and, while Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts seems like the better game, it did return to the sterility of the first adventure. Give or take a bloody conveyer belt and monster belly in SGnG, the series forsook gross for the multi-headed dragons and fire breathing wolf-bears of traditional fantasy. And, while we don’t exactly need Firebrand literally pissing all over Arthur (we have Deviantart for that), it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the franchise to return to its “gross” experimental phase. We’ve got the mature rating for a reason, after all, and maybe we can have it applied to a game for something other than blood and tits. Gross is scary. Now maybe we can see some frights beyond jump scares.

Poop scares.

FGC #345 Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

  • System: Sega Genesis for the review, but also available in arcade cabinets and Amiga… did that thing have discs? Cartridges? I have no idea. And before you say it, let’s suppose that “gross” had nothing to do with not appearing on a Nintendo console…
  • Number of players: Two player alternating, which is basically one player for people that can’t share.
  • Favorite Weapon: I love the sword. I love the idea of having a powerful, short range weapon in a game that is meant for projectile weapons. I love Zero. Though I don’t love that the sword makes one of the bosses literally impossible. That’s not so great.
  • So, did you beat it: Yes! And, because this game seems more manageable than the other GnG games, it might have been the first I actually “for real” beat (as in, didn’t use a stage select code). Oh, also, the ending is completely incomprehensible.
    ... What?

    I’m pretty sure the actual writers never beat the game. Or at least the proofers.
  • The Devil Made Me Do It: Firebrand first appears in this title above a pile of skulls. Like, a giant pile of skulls. A pyramid of skulls. I assume this is meant to represent every death-by-Firebrand that happened in the previous title.
  • Did you know? Color palettes for monsters are determined by area. Watch the reaper.
    ... What?

    Adorable.
  • Would I play again: Maybe, when the moon is full and the witching hour is upon us, I might give it another go. I prefer Super (mainly for laser daggers), but this ain’t bad. And it’s a bit more manageable than its less gross predecessor, so that’s a point in its favor.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Taito Legends for the Playstation 2! Hey, remember when you used to be able to buy like sixty “retro games” for twenty bucks? Taito does! Please look forward to it!

QUACK!