Tag Archives: captain planet

MKK: Nightwolf

Gather round, my amiibos, it’s time for a white guy to talk about race.

Assuming Wikipedia isn’t lying to me, Mortal Kombat (1) was released in 1992. That would be a year after Street Fighter 2, and well into the massive popularity of fighting games. It’s also about two years after the initial release of the animated series Captain Planet. Why mention such a fact? Well, because, for my money, the release of Captain Planet marks a certain point in human history: that time we (or at least Ted Turner) thought we could save the world by giving something a TV show. Representation matters, and getting ideas out there, through generally any means available, is important. However, the 90’s was a time when, fairly distinctly, people seemed to believe they could “cure” a problem by acknowledging it, and then proceeded to dispense many a back-pat in response to a job well done.

This guy

So, again, Mortal Kombat 1 was released right in the middle of this type of thinking. And I (to be clear: this is entirely the opinion of the white, male, mostly straight author of this piece) think initial Mortal Kombat actually did pretty well in some regards. There is one female fighter, and she’s practically a blonde supermodel. That’s not great. Beyond that, however, the rest of the roster includes seven humans (we’ll just go ahead and ignore the race of the Claymation monster man). Kano and Johnny Cage are, technically, the only kanon white guys. From there, you have a Japanese god of thunder, Scorpion, aka Hanzo Hasashi, of a Japanese Ninja Clan, and Sub-Zero of a Chinese assassin’s guild. In Mortal Kombat 1, the Chinese Liu Kang is clearly the hero of the piece (and, with his “shadowless” fatality, the only kharacter distinctly reinforced as “good” in the gameplay), and the descendant of the previous, Chinese victor of the tournament (that wasn’t a Goro). And Shang Tsung is the grandmaster of Mortal Kombat, at this point more “human Chinese man” than an Outworlder. This means that, in the original Mortal Kombat, “white” was technically the minority.

Of course, I say “technically” for a reason. Mortal Kombat 1 used real motion capture actors, and the ethnically distinct Sub-Zero and Scorpion were played by the same white guy playing Johnny Cage. Raiden was played by a gentleman by the name of Carlos Pesina (and I don’t think I need to remind anyone who played him at least once on the big screen). Liu Kang and Shang Tsung are actually played by Chinese actors… well… technically the same actor, Ho Sung Pak. And, if we’re not giving MK any latitude, we should probably acknowledge that pretty much everything from the original Mortal Kombat is just a Chinese/Japanese/”kung fu” pastiche, with a big emphasis on films like Big Trouble in Little China or Enter the Dragon. Mortal Kombat 1 has a cast that is not white-dominant, but it also is chiefly drawing from a white version of “Asian”.

Not Asian
Asian
(The same guy)

And, overall, Mortal Kombat has struggled with those same issues throughout its various plots. Raiden is a Japanese God wearing a Vietnamese/Chinese hat often portrayed to sound and look Caucasian. Liu Kang continued to be the hero of the piece, right up until he was killed and replaced by Chinese guy named for the Japanese word for “protagonist”. When Liu Kang was killed (again) in Mortal Kombat 9, the new timeline predominantly followed the adventures of the pretty, blonde (Cage) family until Liu Kang decided to be alive again. And Sub-Zero was confirmed Chinese when wearing a mask, but wound up white as a country club by his unmasking in Mortal Kombat 3. He seems to have regained some Asian features in time for Mortal Kombat 11, but it’s been a bumpy road getting there.

What’s my point in all this? Well, it seems like Mortal Kombat tries to be inclusive… but it’s still helmed by a bunch of dudes (inevitably dudes) that see Japan and China as generically “The Far East”. Korean, Filipino, or Indian people might as well not exist, we’re just looking at the “Asians” that can throw mean roundhouses. Basically, this might be a franchise that features a Chinese world savior more often than not, but he’s also palling around with a white god with a Japanese(ish) name.

I mean, at least he isn’t just Thor again…

Chop!

But that white god wasn’t available for Mortal Kombat 3. The invasion of Shao Kahn shut Raiden out of Earthrealm, so we needed a whole new lightning guy. And who should answer the call but our new Native American friend, Nightwolf.

Nightwolf is one of the many Native American fighters to pop up in fighting games. This general era also birthed Thunder Hawk of Super Street Fighter 2, Chief Thunder of Killer Instinct, Wolf Hawkfield of Virtua Fighter, and the extremely confusing and not thunder/wolf themed Michelle Chang of Tekken. Basically, if you had a popular fighting game franchise, you were going to wind up with at least one Native American character. And, to this trend’s credit, none of these fighters were overtly offensive nonsense like Chief Scalpem. On the other hand, the majority of them were fairly generic in their histories and motivations. Usually, someone has been kidnapped or turned into a robot or something, and it’s up to Chief Big Dude to roll in and represent his proud tribe in a fighting tournament. Thunder and mystical birds are generally somehow involved, and, in the end, the tribe/land/person is saved or avenged or whatever. Pretty pat story.

At the very least, Nightwolf is about a thousand times more competent than his contemporaries. Shao Kahn invades the planet, and Nightwolf uses his mystical powers to enshrine his tribe and his people. When literally the whole world is metaphorically/temporarily killed by Shao Kahn, Nightwolf winds up leading the only functioning society on the planet. That’s pretty great! And, in expanded versions of Mortal Kombat 3 (basically, versions of the kanon where the whole invasion didn’t take like a few hours), Nightwolf becomes a sort of leader for the warriors of Earth, too, as Raiden is unavailable, the rest of the fighters aren’t exactly strategists, and Nightwolf is one of the few people that has any idea what is going on. In short, rather than being some simple “I fight for my people” Native American archetype, Nightwolf becomes instantly integral in his debut appearance.

…. And then he doesn’t appear again for years.

Goth!

Okay, so here is where things get really culturally dicey. It’s pretty clear that, in the wake of the “woke 90’s”, a lot of companies seemed… I would say ashamed of their various token characters. The whole “Native American Warrior” seemed to die down as a general “thing” that was happening, and these characters were generally dropped from future titles (or, in Killer Instinct’s case, there were no future titles). In the event they survived to see other releases, they were not really integrated into the greater plots, and were simply there to be “the strong guy” or “the one with the really complicated inputs”. Basically, T. Hawk was never going to be the next Ryu. Or even the next Blanka…

When Nightwolf finally returned in Mortal Kombat: Deception, he actually had a germane place in the plot. Once again, Raiden was out of commission (having just exploded), and now Liu Kang was pushing up daisies by being a reanimated, murderous corpse that generally did not care for flowers. Thus, the forces of good were kind of down to the B-Team, and Nightwolf was one of the few kharacters to be consistently good in the first place. So they had to make him bad! Kinda! Nightwolf decided he would become a “sin eater”, devour the maliciousness of his tribe, become goth, and use that power to bind the nefarious (and otherwise infinitely revivable) Dragon King to Hell. This was successful, and, while Nightwolf expected to be trapped in the Netherrealm with Onaga, he was guided back to Earth/life by his spirit animal, a wolf. Then, since Nightwolf was doing pretty good with his magic powers, he spent MK: Armageddon sewing Liu Kang’s rotting body and blessed soul back together. Way to go, Nightwolf!

Chop!

Except… well, this is all very similar to the “Far East” nonsense we see with some of the other characters from other cultures. For one thing, while the concept appears in many myths dating back to the Aztecs, the “Sin-Eater” as is described in Nightwolf’s tale (and the fact that it is literally called a “Sin-Eater”) is a predominantly Western Civilization invention that generally circles around medieval Christian practices (you can see the connection between Jesus Christ [The Walking Dead, Xenosaga] and the concept). And then Nightwolf using generically magical powers to manipulate souls and follow “spirit animals”… it’s not really something that belongs to any particular culture, it’s just identifying that Native Americans can be spiritual, and transforming that into “they’re wizards”. In short: good try on making Nightwolf relevant, Mortal Kombat, but you just made the poor guy an incredibly specific stereotype. Again.

Nightwolf returns in Mortal Kombat 9, where it is revealed that he participated in the first Mortal Kombat tournament for unknown reasons (not that there’s a mystery, simply no one cares to explain), and gets knocked out by Scorpion almost immediately. He regains consciousness just in time for Mortal Kombat 3 redux, and seems to, again, work as the driving force behind marshaling the forces of good during Shao Kahn’s invasion. He defeats and kills Noob Saibot (as much as you can kill an undead wraith that is going to come back in two games anyway), but is then murdered with the rest of the good guys during Sindel’s assault. Unlike his buddies, Nightwolf goes out pulling off the ol’ Raiden kamikaze attack, and is arguably responsible for the defeat of Sindel. The end result was that both fighters became Quan Chi’s all-purpose zombies and Mortal Kombat 11 DLC, which is not the best of fates.

And that’s about that for Nightwolf. He’s the only Native American with a name in the Mortal Kombat universe (there are literally more “last of their kind” lizard people on the roster), and he’s a good wizard. Native Americans are magic. Got it.

Next time: I promise to make the robots funny.

FGC #099 Captain Planet and the Planeteers

The power is mine?Captain Planet and the Planeteers: the Animated Series is a television show that taught a generation about the importance of conservation.

Captain Planet and the Planeteers: the NES Game is a video game that taught a generation that conservation is impossible in the face of practicality.

While this may be a personal failing, I do believe that most video games turn their players into ludicrous conservationists as a matter of course. I’d claim it all started with Pac-Man, when carefully limiting your power pellet consumption was the difference between eat or be eaten, but it’s been an integral part of action games from Space Invaders (those poor barriers!) to Halo (I might need this ammo later!). JRPGs are even worse. Consider Final Fantasy 4: a third of your early game party is a seven year old child who just lost her parents. Were this reality, I’d have Tellah tossing every barrier spell in the universe on the poor kid, force the Dark Knight to dash ahead of every hit, and, on the rare occasion I let an attack sneak through and injure the fragile girl, she’d be guzzling (applying?) potions en masse until the boo-boo was all better. In actual gameplay, though? Suck it up, ya baby, I’ll heal you when you’re good and critical, we’ve gotta save our MP for that octopus. Don’t you dare drink that ether, missy. Ethers are for the final dungeon only. One of these days, Rydia, bang, zoom, to the moon!

If you’re anything like me, you’re saving the megalixers and dark matters straight through the final boss (“There aren’t any more monsters left, it’ll be fine!” “No! Precious!”), and consider it a personal failing to ever see an elixir, ether, or other consumable item count reach zero. Sure, I haven’t used a basic potion in battle past the first hour of this game, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have 99 of ‘em at all times. Just in case! My greatest failing is in the midst of my greatest triumph, though. I have practically memorized the NES Mega Man games, but it requires almost superhuman will on my part to so much as open the Mega Menu and pull out a robot master weapon and its “limited” ammo. Granted, like a lot of things, I blame my problem here on the Boobeam Trap, that nefarious Wily boss that requires a full stock of Crash Bombs, and taught me forever to be Zoom?leery of wasting dear energy, lest I be forced to grind Joe Mechs for ages. Whatever the reason, much as I love the Magnet Missile, It’s rotting away for any occasion that isn’t Hard Man, because what will the neighbors think if I (gasp) run out of energy? The horror.

Considering video games seem to teach conservation to the point it encourages hording, you’d think Captain Planet and the Planeteers would be a natural fit for the medium, even back in the day when we were only accumulating mushrooms. For those of you who missed out on the best children’s programming not involving radical cats Ted Turner had to offer, Captain Planet and the Planeteers featured five teenagers without attitude from all over the globe that each received magical rings from the spirit of the Earth, Whoopi Goldberg. The Planeteers fight a variety of Eco-Terrorists that are blitheringly insane, like Hoggish Greedly, The Rat King, and Tim Curry, who all have plans that go something like “dump oil in the oceans, piss off some polar bears, and then I guess I’ll conquer the world with greased up penguins.” The Planeteers are a bunch of failures, though, so summoning the blatant Superman analogue Captain Planet is an inevitability, and, after Cap predictability has a moment of crisis when he whiffs aerosol or something, he rallies and saves the day by turning into a hurricane, rock monster, or beaver. Whichever is most destructive.

While, yes, the show sounds practically indistinguishable from the likes of Power Rangers (complete with an advisor character that should, by all rights, be effectively omnipotent… but never seems to leave the house), the constant ecological message of Captain Planet set it apart from its contemporaries (and got real annoying, real fast). No, viewer, The Gun Showyou can’t summon a superhero to battle your villains, but you can use slightly fewer paper towels every day, so that way Dr. Blight won’t have any reason to mow down a rainforest. And while you might not be able to control o-zone holes, maybe try to turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Could you at least turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth? All this and more was drilled into the audience harder than Looten Plunder drilling for oil, so by the time a kid had watched a week’s worth of Captain Planet, you better believe reduce, reuse, recycle was happening.

For all its messages, Captain Planet was a pretty good show for superhero hijinks with or without the Captain. While being a soaring, cyan superhero would be pretty nice, most of us would still settle for being able to control Wheeler and the flamethrower that was attached to his index finger. By all accounts, it would be pretty hard to make a Captain Planet and the Planeteers video game “wrong”. I mean, the whole five (let’s say “heart” is “holy”) elements thing was already an established trope in gaming, throw in some run and ring-sling action, and maybe a dash of Superman gameplay for bosses, and you’re all set. Game practically makes itself!

Alas, it was not to be. The basics are there, I suppose. There are five levels, and each is split into two sections. The first is always a vehicle of some kind, which plays, more or less, like a Gradius-style shoot ‘em up, complete with one-hit kills and endless waves of opponents. Sometimes there’s a distinct Zoomgoal, like chasing down a truck that’s attempting to poison our bears (or something), but generally it’s pretty straight, fly-left-to-right gameplay. The second half of every level involves summoning, and then playing as, Captain Planet, who, thankfully, seems to retain all of his superpowers from the show, including the ability to fly, punch, and transform into a fireball. Cap, mercifully, has a lifebar, and the general challenge of these areas is flying around NES-style confusing mazes to find (and punch) the villain du jour. The whole setup might not be my first choice for a Captain Planet video game, but it’s not as ridiculously off the mark as Fester’s Quest.

But there is one place where the game falls ludicrously short. See, practically every action in Captain Planet requires “ammo”. While you’re in the Geo-Cruiser (or whatever vehicle the games tosses in there) you’ve got full mastery of the five elements… but any of the practical elements are severely limited. Wind, for instance, grants you a pretty damn useful shield, but it runs out of steam in about the same time it takes you to exhale. Heart, meanwhile, barely uses up any energy, and it allows you to… occasionally inconvenience penguins. Oh…kay? Fire is practically unlimited, though, which is good, because it’s your primary attack… except in that underwater stage, where, for some strange reason, it’s completely ineffective. Hope you enjoy hurling rocks with all the effectiveness you’d expect from Geordi La Forge!

The worst, though, are the Captain Planet stages. Captain Planet has a lifebar, but that same lifebar is what fuels his powers, so good luck surviving when your every action saps your strength. I’ll admit, given how fragile Captain Planet appears to be during the television series, this whole setup is pretty canon, but it’s still an absolute bear to actually manage. It wouldn’t even be all that bad if Cap’s powers weren’t 100% required in many, many areas. While Fire and Earth elements are pretty much just offensive, Water element shines through these areas, as there are many obstacles, like generic sludge and radioactive orbs, that require Water form to Squishypass. Don’t have enough energy to transform because you’re down to 1 HP, though? Well, too bad, best just to kill yourself or pray that an energy powerup is somewhere within flying distance. Sorry, Planeteer, you didn’t conserve your resources properly, and now Captain Planet has to die.

That, unfortunately, is the moral to the children playing Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It’s not that conservation is important; it’s that conservation is impossible. I’ve never met anyone that completed Captain Planet for the NES… or at least completed the game without abusing a Game Genie for infinite energy or infinite lives. Conservation goes out the window when you’re cheating, and taking that lesson forward to adulthood is approximately the complete opposite of Captain Planet’s goal. Being good to the planet is hard, kids, so why not say screw it, cheat, and live a life that’s a lot more comfortable. It’s the only way you’ll achieve that all important ending, so do what you have to do.

This is Goggle Bob reminding you to save the world. Unless it’s difficult/inconvenient, in which case, you should either quit or cheat until it’s easier. The power is yours!

FGC #99 Captain Planet and the Planeteers

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There are other versions, but I’m pretty sure they’re completely different games, so they’re not getting counted.
  • Number of Players: One. Sorry, five player, all Planeteer action is just a pipedream.
  • Favorite Planeteer: If you’re roughly my age, male, heterosexual, and didn’t have a crush on Linka, Mistress of Wind, I don’t want to talk to you. She was such a jerk to Wheeler! And that accent! What more could you want from a woman?
  • Do you still sing the Captain Planet theme song apropos of absolutely nothing? Yes, but only the part sung by the Planeteers. Good news: you can be one, too.
  • Have a Heart: Alright, I know everybody mocks the Heart power, but Level 4 sees the Planeteers using Heart to deliver elephants to stomp missile platforms into oblivion. Which would be more useful in a Final Fantasy game: Firaga or Summon Elephant? That’s what I thought.
  • Did you know? Speaking of Heart, Ma-Ti, the young, Brazilliant orphan with a monkey, was voiced by Scott Menville, who went on to be Robin, leader of the animated Teen Titans… and then Robin, buttmonkey of Teen Titans Go. Some guys just can’t catch a break.
  • Would I play again: Never. It’s a cute curiosity, but the game really dislikes the player, so I’m not touching this one again for a good, long time.

What’s Next? Well, according to the records here… yes… it appears the next FGC entry will be #100. With that in mind, I’m lifting all restrictions on ROB. Yes, Random ROB isn’t truly random, as, like I mentioned during the Reader’s Choice Challenge, there are some games that I consider off-limits for one reason or another. But, as it’s the occasion of the hundredth entry, ROB can pick any damn game he wants. What will it be? Well, come back for our next entry, and I’ll show you. Please look forward to it!

Poor Planet