Tag Archives: childhood

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

CONTRA!Why are so many phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo?

If you’ve spent longer than five minutes on any gaming forum/group/site/underground fight club, you’ve probably heard the age old gaming question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, but somehow had a television and electricity and maybe access to Amazon.com, which gaming console would you want to have with you?” And, if you’re anything like the pedantic nerds that generally ask such a question, your response is only more questions. Does this “one system” allow for all games ever on the system? Are we talking about a fully backwards compatible Playstation 3? Are we including DLC titles that appeared on older systems? Is there online functionality? Is sand going to get in that cartridge slot, instantly ruining any hope of having fun at all? It sounds completely insane, but if we’re allowed one system equipped with every available game for that system, I might actually choose the Vita. That sucker technically has so many great games… even if its system exclusives are sorely lacking.

But, if you’re talking about exclusives (and not modern systems that are clearly cheating by absorbing entire classic libraries), it seems like the “best” systems are the second ones. Playstation 1 was fun, but Playstation 2 had an amazing library that practically defined modern game storytelling. Xbox was a drop in the online bucket, but Xbox 360 created the console online community of today. And the WiiU was a fine prototype for the concept of a “portable console”, but nothing beats the amazing portability and ergonomics of the Switch. And, when you get right down to it, this all makes sense. Videogames are, at their core, pieces of technology, and it’s rare that any technology gets it right the first time. Nobody is still driving a Model T, and the Wright Flyer isn’t our standard for aviation. To be clear, this isn’t to say that any “early technology” is inherently bad, simply that we usually first get a passable proof of concept, and then, a generation later, we’ve got the good stuff. It’s the way of the world.

WeeeeeBut the Super Nintendo was something special. Back before voice acting and online play and the very concept that you could have color on your portable system (or at least pull that off without 3,616 AA batteries), there was the Super Nintendo. And it’s easy to discount that previous sentence as an old man griping while he waits for the latest Kirby game to download 3 gigs of updates, but it’s worth noting that there was a time when all a videogame console was expected to do was play videogames. No DVDs, no Netflix app, not even the possibility of “updating the firmware”. If you wanted to do something unique and interesting with a later game, you needed to design a special chip, and plump that cartridge cost up to unreasonable levels (hi, Mega Man X3). You want to save? Go hit the battery store! And God help you if you want to require a damned contemptible misguided peripheral. But, through it all, it meant that, by and large, games were games, and all you kids better not be enjoying your walking simulators on my lawn.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break to go yell at a cloud. Where were we? Oh, right, Super Nintendo.

So the Super Nintendo didn’t have any gimmicks. This… might be the only time that ever happened with a Nintendo console. The original Nintendo Entertainment System shipped with its own robot, and a gun with which to shoot said robot (in case it ever demanded you play Beyond the Beyond). The N64 touted its lack of load times, four controller ports, and analog sticks in direct response to Sony’s betrayal. The Wii, WiiU, and Switch were all completely defined by their stunts. And the Gamecube? Its biggest failing was that it had a pile of gimmicks (weird controller layout, GBA compatibility, the fact that it is clearly a near-sentient lunchbox), and none of them ever stuck, because all anyone wanted to do was play Smash Bros. But the Super Nintendo only ever wanted to play videogames. Here’s a controller with some more buttons. Here are a few chips that allow for more colors, graphics, and sounds. Now go nuts! We’ll check back in in five years or so.

BOOMAnd it certainly seems like a lot of developers did go nuts. Nintendo itself (well, let’s include some “second parties” that were synonymous with Nintendo) was responsible for Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. There was also Super Metroid, which some claim has not been surpassed within its genre even to this day. Square gave us Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, and Chrono Trigger, another luminary that is still unrivaled. Capcom presented Mega Man X and the last of the great Disney licensed platformers. And Konami was no slouch, either, as we saw the future of Castlevania and Contra, which neatly brings us to today’s featured title.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of the few run ‘n gun games that presents a different playstyle every stage, but still manages to be absolutely perfect. Everything starts in a “basic” Contra stage, with invading aliens, marching soldiers, and the occasional giant turtle monster. Then it’s time for an overhead stage that is less wanton destruction and more hide ‘n seek. The third stage is predominantly climbing based, and the fifth level is a hunt ‘n kill in the desert. It’s only in the sixth and final stage that we return to the “original” gameplay of the first level, and then it’s time for a boss gauntlet that includes destroying a strangely high number of colossal organs. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is the unbelievable Level 4, wherein Jimbo and Sully (real names withheld to protect the innocent) first ride hovercycles across a deserted highway (though it gets more crowded pretty quickly), proceed to fight a robo ninja beneath a helicopter, and then ride a series of missiles straight into an offending flying fortress. It is the most spectacular thing to ever happen in a Contra game!

GACKAnd that’s the thing: Contra 3 might be the best game in the franchise… And it was released on the Super Nintendo over 25 years ago. There have been other Contra experiences since, but so many of them have been… lacking. And even the best of these new Contra titles (Contra 4 comes to mind) revisit earlier titles rather liberally, up to and including whole bosses or set pieces from Contra 3, yet adding very little to the nostalgia. Then again, Contra 3 did repeat some of the greatest hits of Contra and Super Contra, so… has that always been happening? Is Contra just as iterative as Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition?

Wait a tick… maybe the Super Nintendo is home to so many great games because it was a system exclusively built for iterative games.

The Super Nintendo was a “Nintendo, but super”. The system allowed games to be “the same thing as last time, but super”. Castlevania 4 was, ultimately, a reskin of Castlevania 1. Super Metroid was Samus repeating her zero mission all over again, but now she gets faster boots. Link vs. Ganon. Little Mac vs. Some Tall Guy. There was no need to make Mario a JRPG or fighting game (yet), and the public (or the market) was perfectly content to see the early “arcade” style games evolve into their more console-based final forms. Basically, all the games that defined gaming in the first place on the NES all went Super Saiyan at once, and the nefarious Frieza of Boredom was left floating in space.

BOOMSo why is the Super Nintendo so well regarded? Because it was a videogame system that had the technology and luck to allow itself to “only” be a place for properly evolved videogames. As we grew up, so too did our games, and the Super Nintendo was the host for many of them.

And then we got to murder a buttload of aliens, so that wasn’t bad, either.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

  • System: Super Nintendo/SNES Classic, and then there was a remake of sorts on the Gameboy Advance. It included a few stages from Contra: Hard Corps in an effort to ditch the overhead stages, which makes for a very different experience. There was also an OG Gameboy port of Contra 3, too, and it was phenomenally awful.
  • Number of players: And the Super Nintendo was a great time for two players (and exclusively two players)!
  • Port-o-Call: Gameboy Contra 3 was terrible, but it had Super Gameboy enhanced features. Which… is vaguely confusing, because if you’ve got a Super Nintendo, and want to play Contra 3 on the television, I want to say there are other options…
  • Favorite Weapon: Flamethrower 4 life. There is no problem that cannot be solved by an unending stream of hot death.
  • I'm not the only one that sees it, right?Favorite… Uh… Thing: A swarm of alien bugs attempt to carry off your hero toward the start of Level 3, and I’ve always appreciated how they’re the approximately one monster in the game that can be touched without incurring instant death. It doesn’t make that section any less hectic (as they will drag you to an immediate death if you let them), but it’s nice to be slightly less destructible for all of thirty seconds.
  • Did you know? In Europe, our Contra heroes are (not) secretly androids fighting an army of alien robots. It’s basically the prequel to Nier Automata.
  • Would I play again: Contra 3 just reminded me that the Super Nintendo was a system of wonders. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask! I guess you’ll see that update in… three days. Please look forward to it!

FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

TENNIS!It’s kind of amazing when a videogame helps you to learn something about yourself.

I am not a sports guy. I am not one to stand around and tell people playing sports that they’re stupid for doing so (this is a lie), nor am I the type of person to judge someone for spending their Sunday afternoon watching spandex clad beef monsters smash into each other (this is a more obvious lie). For years, I was just under the impression that I never really gained the “sports gene”, and things like ball-watching would never appeal to me. After all, I fit the profile, right? I’ve been playing videogames practically as long as I’ve had thumbs, I’m clearly on the more “intellectual/please don’t take my glasses” end of the spectrum, and, obviously, I have roughly the same muscle mass as a newborn. I’m a nerd, okay? I know it, you know it, Tansit know it, and I’m pretty sure my fashion sense lets everybody else know it. Sports are not my bag, and that’s the way it was always meant to be.

And it’s here that I’ll note that my father has always been disappointed in that fact.

To be absolutely clear, I have a wonderful relationship with my father. Particularly now that we’re both adults, we can sit down, talk, and, if either of us would actually drink, we would be like two friends having a beer. And, honestly, it feels like bragging to say such a thing, but I feel like my dad “gets me”. We have generally similar personality types, we have compatible interests in a lot of media, and we are very analogous when you compare our average sense of humor. Actually, that last bit probably isn’t an accident (or genetic), as my father exposed me to a lot of his own favorite movies when I was a kid. When you spend a decade laughing at the same things, you’re probably going to reserve those chuckles for the same situations.

SPIKE ITSo, not unlike my exposure to “his” favorite movies, my father tried to expose me to his favorite sports. I’m almost certain my dad was never a football or baseball “star”, but he certainly played those sports as a kid/teenager, and one would suppose he thought I would have a fun time experiencing these same childhood joys. I did not. And, to my father’s credit, he never “made me” join the local sports team or whatever, as, I’m pretty sure by the time I had dropped out of soccer at the age of seven, my dad knew Sports Son was dead and buried. But this isn’t to say my dear ol’ dad never again tried to get me off the couch. Oh no, I certainly wound up with him in the backyard playing any number of “one on one” type sports.

My father, analytical man that he is, was able to identify my “problems” from a young age. First of all, I seem to be naturally ambidextrous. Or that’s just a lie to make me feel better. It would likely be accurate to say that I have zero arm coordination, and thus flail around like a quaking pot of spaghetti whenever a ball or similar object ventures into my periphery. This, obviously, made simple games like Catch exhausting trials for both of us. And, because I could never settle on a side, golf (or at least mini golf) was difficult to practice (which was a real shame, as I seem to live in the mini golf capital of the East Coast). And, beyond that, I have terrible depth perception. This has been a problem identified by my optometrist since I was roughly five, and, yes, it may have meant I took a few footballs to the face for no good reason. They looked further away! Combine these two inexorable parts of my own physical prowess, and you can maybe understand why, despite trying at least once weekly, my father quickly became frustrated with my sports aptitude. Or maybe he was just frustrated because, after far too many basketballs to the face, my nose really wasn’t supposed to bend that way…

OOG LIKE TENNISBut there was one game where I excelled: bad mitten. Wait… it’s called badminton? Weird. Anyway, my father picked up a pair of badminton rackets and a tube of birdies one day, we gave it a shot, and surprisingly, I was good at it! Okay, “good” might be a bit of an overstatement, but I didn’t suffer any grievous injuries during our first game, and that was an excellent start. As time went by, our Sunday afternoon badminton games became something I actually looked forward to. We didn’t have a net, and neither of us were ever going to be anywhere near pro level, but we had fun, and it was… easy. A badminton birdie (does that have some kind of real sports name?) isn’t going to take out my cheekbones, so I didn’t have to tense up every time the “ball” got close, and the racket sort of forced me to use one hand with some kind of consistency. Somehow, it all came together, and we were able to enjoy our weekly badminton volleys.

Pocket Tennis Color reminds me of those times.

Pocket Tennis Color is a Neo Geo Pocket title from 1999. It seems to follow the SNK pocket format of a fighting game, as it has an eclectic cast of kooky characters (There’s a maid! With a frying pan instead of a racket!), interesting if entirely cosmetic backgrounds, and easy, simple gameplay that is ideal for a portable system with two buttons. In this case, the match is tennis… and it’s just tennis. There are no super moves or hyper gauges or last-minute transformations, it’s just tennis. Hit the ball, wait for your opponent to hit it back, and then repeat until you realize why Pong hasn’t hit the next gen consoles. It’s extremely simple, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s Tennis, in color, that you can play in your Neo Geo Pocket (Color). Thank you for your time.

GO FOR ITBut, in my time playing Pocket Tennis Color, I certainly had fun. In fact, I had a lot of fun just batting the ball back and forth. I wasn’t trying to win, I didn’t need to conquer a tournament or unlock the secret characters; I was just having fun playing tennis. Back and forth, back and forth, eventually someone scores, but keeping the volley going was a lot more interesting than the winner’s screen. This is by no means a high-stress, you-must-win-or-the-Earth-explodes style tennis game. This whole experience is just an amusing game between friends, and it is fun for that exact reason.

And that’s about when I realized that that’s all I want from sports.

As a masculine, ripped, and perfectly mannish man, I have a hard time admitting to such a thing without fearing some kind of reddit-based reprisal, but I’m not a very competitive guy. In fact, I’d argue that the main reason I like videogames is that they’re games, but not a competition. Bowser and I are just having fun! I don’t need that platinum trophy. And even when we get into fighting games, ostensibly “competitive” titles, I drift toward the games that are more interesting from a design/character perspective, and probably use random select a lot more than anyone would expect. No, I don’t have a “main” so I can “git gud” and “actually beat my opponents”, I just kinda like tossing gigantic fireballs all over the arena. It’s fun! Videogames are fun!

GET IT!?And that’s probably a big factor in why I like badminton and tennis (and tennis pocket games). You don’t break every five seconds to huddle up and discuss your next strategy, you don’t spend all day switching between offense and defense every other inning, and you don’t tear off your gloves and have a fist fight every time the other team calls you a hoosier; it’s just… playing. Sure, it would be nice if you win, but it is fun to bat the ball/birdie back and forth for as long as possible.

So, thank you, Pocket Tennis Color, for reminding me where I can find fun in sports. I’ll be sure to remember that for when I finish this 16-hour Netflix binge.

FGC #399 Pocket Tennis Color

  • System: Neo Geo Pocket Color. SNK is really missing a chance to put all the Neo Geo Pocket Color games on the Switch. Come on! SNK Gal Fighters is at an all-time popularity high!
  • Number of players: Two! Technically! I’ve never seen such a thing, but I’m sure it’s possible.
  • Favorite Character: It’s not unusual for an “anime character” to have bright pink hair. However, it is a little different on the NGP, where a character basically is their palette color. Thus, Lucy is the living personification of the color pink, and my favorite player.
  • Favorite Court: The desert canyon stage is pretty interesting, because the tight walls make the ball bounce everywhere. Except… that doesn’t really impact the game at all, because tennis really only cares about the first bounce… so it’s just fun to watch. See! This game is just silly.
  • GET READYDid you know? There are two unlockable characters, and one is Amiba the Amoeba. She’s a giant amoeba. That’s it! You cannot tell me she wasn’t a dummy character during production that got “promoted” because someone was bored. You can’t even see her racket!
  • Would I play again: I might play tennis again, but Pocket Tennis Color isn’t going to see much play. It’s a very limited game on a very limited system.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NieR: Gestalt! And we’re NieR a milestone, so it’s probably going to be a little different than the usual FGC fare. Please look forward to it!

FGC #397 Friday the 13th (NES)

STABWe all live under petty delusions. How many people could you take in a fight? Your answer is a lie, and you know it. Are you a good driver? Ha ha, of course you aren’t, and everyone knows it. And I don’t care if you’re an accountant, I’ve seen your home, you are terrible with managing money. How else could you explain that Smash Mouth Discography Box Set? Of course it was on sale! No one on Earth would actually buy such a thing otherwise!

But one delusion we all seem to share is the fantasy “if I had it to do it all over again”. And I’m not just talking about past loves or lost jobs or whatnot in this situation; no, I know one misbelief we all share: “If I went back to high school with what I know now, I would totally rule.” Look, I’m not saying that some manner of time travel hijinks wouldn’t guarantee a re-teenaged you becoming the ruler of Stupid Regional High School, but there is a bit of a caveat to that thinking. It might be easy to use future knowledge to inform the star quarterback that he’s going to work in a convenience store for the rest of his life before he finally gets fired for stealing gum, or reveal to that cheerleader that she is actually going to marry the smelly kid, but, even beyond that, we all think we’ve gotten cool in our old age, right? We now know that members of our desired sex are just as confused and stupid as we ever were, so it would take zero effort to be a “stud”. We know that getting in trouble is a fake idea, so maybe missing one homework assignment wouldn’t sink the “your whole future is ahead of you” ship. And, possibly the most important truth of all, we all know that high school isn’t the beginning and end of the world, so maybe it’s okay that Suzie Steinberger doesn’t hang out with you anymore. In short, we all believe we could be the sovereign, but only with the power of wisdom that has come with age.

Find your way!And it’s all bullshit, because of course “do-over you” would just find new and exciting ways to screw up in ways you could never imagine. High school sucks, man, and I don’t care if you’re 15 or 50, you’re going to get sucked into the suck-o-sphere.

Today’s game is Friday the 13th for the NES. This game was an inextricable part of my childhood, as it was one of the few NES games I owned back in the day. I also distinctly remember hating the game. I never beat Friday the 13th. I never got past the first “level”. I played with my neighbor/best friend, and we, combined, never got anywhere. I played with my neighbor’s older brother (who was really good at videogames! He beat Simon’s Quest without codes!), and he was able to score a machete, one time, and we couldn’t figure out how he did it. And he couldn’t figure it out, either. So he never got anywhere. And, all the while, we were playing a game that constantly punished us for even trying. Grand Theft Auto might be afraid to have kids in its murder-based universe, but there are children all over Friday the 13th, and Jason is murdering them constantly. I was barely out of primary school, and I was watching my peers die! And I couldn’t do a thing to save them! God, I hate this game!

I suppose I should describe this adventure for anyone that hasn’t had the pleasure. What we have here is a fairly basic action/platforming game twisted into a proto-survival experience. You may choose to play as one of six camp counselors, and it’s your job to venture around Camp Crystal Lake and stop Jason, the unstoppable (hey!) axe-wielding maniac in a hockey mask. While you’re exploring the campgrounds, Jason may attack any of the five defenseless counselors you’re not currently controlling, or a cabin full of a limited number of children. Jason is a literal murder machine when you’re not keeping an eye on him, so this isn’t a “losing health” situation, it’s a “get there right now, and save the children, or they’re all going to die” dilemma. When the HUD starts teasing that Jason is after someone, you better book it over to their location, or you’re going to have a body on your hands in about a minute.

Too wetNow, the trick here is that, while you’re supposed to permanently stop Jason, there’s no clear indicator on how to do that. You’re welcome to explore the campgrounds to your heart’s content, and you’re going to find some useless tips, medicine, and maybe a dagger, but there’s no obvious sign of “this is going to work”. When you encounter Jason, he will lose health if you fight back, but, at a certain point, that just stops. Then what are you supposed to do? Search the area? Defeat the random zombies that are wandering around? Maybe sneak past a wolf and explore one of those cabins in the woods? It’s not crystal clear at Crystal Lake, and, while you’re trying to figure everything out, Jason is slaughtering your comrades. That is not a situation that is very conducive to deductive thinking.

But it turns out there’s an answer. In fact, the game outright tells you what to do right from the start: go to each of the large cabins, and light the fireplaces. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be given a flashlight. Use that flashlight in the cave (basically the only “dark” area in Camp Crystal Lake), notice that there are now secret passages all over the place, and use ‘em to almost immediately find Jason’s Mom(‘s head). Murder the flying head (because how else are you supposed to interact with a giant, floating cranium), be rewarded with a machete, and then machete kill Jason until he don’t move no more. Repeat as necessary, and the kids are going to be all right.

And it’s just that easy! Looking back on the game now, and realizing that, if you know what to do, you can beat the game in under an hour, it seems almost absurd that Wee Goggle Bob couldn’t defeat the undead menace. After all, I was able to beat Contra (with 30 lives), every stage in Super Mario Bros 3 (except that one in Ice World), and end the Chaos menace (with a strategy guide) all before I hit puberty, so what was the big deal with this game? You can describe everything you need to do in a paragraph. I could have totally done that!

And that’s when you realize applying modern reasoning to your own past is not reasonable at all.

AH!Let’s revisit those “simple steps” with the technology (and actual game) of 1989. You’re supposed to light those fireplaces? Well, that’s great, but there is absolutely nothing that logs your lit fireplaces, so if you miss one cabin, you’re going to be searching the entire world over and over again. And not all of the cabins “count”, either, as there are hidden cabins in the woods that don’t impact anything. Want to waste all your time wandering the forest for no reason? That’s always fun! And the cave? Sure, Jason’s Mom is easy to find if you know where to look, but that’s another maze that could potentially be explored for hours without finding the exactly one room that actually provides a reason to be there. And Jason! Sure, the machete (and the later pitchfork) will actually eat chunks of Jason’s health, but it’s kind of hard to focus on that bar when a knife wielding maniac is hurling hot death directly at your face. And all the while, a constant stream of zombies are popping up everywhere, so you’re very likely to lose your councilor’s life not to the imminent threat of a mobile hockey mask, but just the mundane attrition of zombie bites. In other words, this entire game actively wants you to fail, and does absolutely nothing to guide the player.

STABBYSo let’s be honest with ourselves. High school? Childhood? It was always going to be rough. Sure, we’ve got a manual in our heads now, but no such thing existed when it would have actually helped (“What about all that advice you got from your parents?” “Ha ha, who would listen to them?”). In the same way that the campers of Crystal Lake were always going to be doomed, you were always fated to screw up, date crazy, and maybe drive your car through your geometry teacher’s living room. It was inevitable! Some things may look easier in hindsight, but there, in that moment, there was never anything you could do. Imagining playing the game as an adult is a different experience from actually being there.

And, while we’re at it, stop thinking a machete is going to solve everything .

FGC #397 Friday the 13th (NES)

  • System: Just for its reputation as one of the worst games of all time, it’s kind of amazing that Friday the 13th for the NES hasn’t seen any systems other than the NES. Maybe the curse demands it has to be properly contained?
  • Number of players: Just one. Back in the day, when practically everything was 2-player, whether it made sense or not, this was another major check in the minus column.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: I have no idea where this game came from. I mean, in my own collection, not its existence at all. It was a game I’ve owned (and hated) since childhood… but who bought it? My parents were savvy enough to not ever risk a horror movie based game, and my grandparents usually only took recommendations from those previously mentioned parents. I don’t have any weird uncles… Huh… Maybe it just… appeared one day…
  • Say something nice: This might be the first game I ever played that involved choices for characters of varying gender, skin color, and body shape. It only really meant that my friends and I got to continue being childish assholes (“You play as the fat kid, because you’re fat, fatty!”), but, looking back on it now, it might be one of the few NES games where you could actually choose to be a woman or a person of color over “generic white guy”.
  • Other Good Things: None.
  • GROAKFavorite Weapon: I remember there being a fire weapon somewhere in the game… but damned if I can find it now. There are hints scattered around the campground alluding to such a thing, too, but… Dammit, I am not looking at a FAQ for this stupid game again.
  • An end: This game is artificially inflated by requiring three separate Jason kills. This is fairly appropriate, given the source material, but it’s also inordinately anticlimactic when you finally beat Jason, and the narration just says, “Yeah, he’s dead this time.” At least you win! (?)
  • Did you know? This title is considered a canon “sidequel” to Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood. I never really enjoyed the Friday the 13th films (that weren’t based in space), so I have no way of verifying this bit of trivia. I was always more into the television series that no one ever remembers.
  • Would I play again: Never! I might know what to do, but I don’t want to do it ever again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Jr. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600! Running from Ghosts: The Next Generation. Please look forward to it!

Daw

FGC #388 Secret of Mana (2018)

Mana comin'When I was a wee Goggle Bob, I had a very limited number of NES games. This paired very poorly with being a child, and having approximately 32,000 hours a day to burn up before hitting the sack. Thus, I played my limited collection of games nigh constantly, and practically memorized the ins and outs of such luminaries as Back to the Future. There was also Super Mario Bros, which meant that, by the early 90’s, the Mushroom Kingdom had soaked into my DNA. So I played World 3 once or twice.

It's a-me!

World 3, as you can see, is Mario’s first “dark world”. After World 1’s sunny skies and World 2’s moist oceans, World 3 is a stage set against a dark, foreboding backdrop. As a child, my friends and I discussed this ominous level, and determined that this was an area of the Mushroom Kingdom already ruled by Bowser. It was dark and frightening because evil had already subjugated part of the land, and a resistance against this encroaching blackness was exactly why Mario had to fight. Battle through the night of World 3 to the shining future of World 4!

And then Super Mario All-Stars was released. This increase in Mario fidelity lead to…

Mario!

Oh. It’s just a snowy night. Huh. It wasn’t a dark and scary place at all. It’s… kinda nice. A lovely oasis of tranquility for our dedicated plumber. Maybe he could start up some Winter Games while he’s here…

And this blew my young mind.

Super Mario All-Stars is likely as “pure” of a videogame remake as we are ever going to get. The original staff was directly involved in the remake, and there wasn’t a dramatic shift in “what players want” in the years between OG Mario and his All Star incarnation. There wasn’t a need to change Mario’s controls or iconic look, it was just an opportunity to use new hardware to make right what once went wrong. Old, compromised graphics could now be replaced with what was always intended.

Which, apparently, included snow. I guess.

IS SNEKThis is a longwinded way of saying that I’ve been considering “directorial intent” versus “what is actually possible” since roughly 1993. Super Mario Bros. was practically my Bible when I was seven, and, straight from God Miyamoto himself, here was the latest testament, and it didn’t match my outmoded beliefs. What did this mean? Were other games similarly compromised? Was every black background just an excuse for a snow level? Were modern (1993 modern) games similarly compromised? In some glorious, far-flung future, would we find that Celes Chere was supposed to wear pants?

Well, the future is now, and here’s Randi with a grim visage of how we don’t understand anything.

Secret of Mana was always a hard game to tonally parse. On one hand, we have the iconic title screen with its gorgeous watercolor visual and deeply emotive opening theme. On the other hand, it’s hard to take a game seriously when you’re summoning a magical mermaid to cure your woodland sprite of the “moogle” affliction. But, when you take the plot of Secret of Mana as a whole, it is downright tragic. Boy is an orphan who finds his mother just in time to watch her get chopped down. Girl is trying to save her kidnapped lover… and it ends poorly for everybody. And Sprite loses memories, an entire village of family members, and, eventually, existence itself. And I’m pretty sure you have to murder your own airship somewhere in there. It’s for the good of the planet!

Sticky!Combine that heartbreaking plot with music that would be right at home with classical requiems, and you might get the impression that Secret of Mana is serious business. Or, at least, that was always my impression of the game. When I was playing SoM back in the early 90’s, my imagination went wild with thoughts on the “real” Secret of Mana, a game that could nary be contained by a simple 16-bit cartridge. The sunken Mana Palace? That was supposed to be a window into a destroyed city from “our” modern times, right? The faux subway car fall of zombies could have been indistinguishable from Resident Evil if the SNES had a little more horsepower. The gorgeous forests would still have been a tour de seasons, but it was only a lack of bits that held us back from witnessing Flammie’s mother’s ultimate fate in the jaws of a giant serpent. I was a pre-teen that played violent videogames, of course I imagined Secret of Mana as a gore fest. And, while my desire to see a submerged city full of corpses has lessened over the years, I still have always seen Secret of Mana as a serious game for serious people. I might have scored a midge mallet from a dwarf after fighting a whacky robot, but the somber opening and ending of Secret of Mana leaves an indelible impression that this was a story slightly deeper than your average plumber v. turtle morality play.

And now we have Secret of Mana 2018, and… not exactly what ’93 Goggle Bob expected.

First of all, if history has taught us anything, it’s that I absolutely don’t want to see a Secret of Mana “complete remake”. Yes, SoM is right up there with Xenogears for a legendary production cycle that eventually led to much of the game being cut. Secret of Mana was originally intended for the Nintendo Playstation, but, when that system wandered off to greener pastures, it was scaled back to its current incarnation. And, incidentally, the game was only ever held together with duct tape and good intentions to begin with, so things like “fighting”, “using magic”, or “walking” don’t work in the most pleasing manner. And maybe a version of SoM that gave a purpose to the lighthouse or bothered to code an actual Moon Palace would be interesting, ZOMBIES!but I don’t want to risk playing through another Mana remake that is objectively worse than its source material. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. And I’m not sure I could take another vastly reimagined remake this year. I’m not saying Secret of Mana Remixed couldn’t be a good game, simply that the odds of it being what I consider “Secret of Mana” are low.

So SoM 2018 is “just” a Secret of Mana upgrade. And that’s fine! It’s not like a wildly popular videogame system was just shipped bundled with Secret of Mana, so having a way for a new generation to experience the glories of Thanatos-slaying with a few modern upgrades sounds like a great idea! The whole experience controls slightly better (less like steering a train, now more like steering a minecart), voice acting eliminates the need for all that pesky reading, and the translation has been punched up with at least one Who Wants to be a Millionaire reference. The kids like Regis Philbin, right? And the most obvious change of all: the graphics and music have been not just “upscaled”, but completely replaced with new tunes and models.

And If I had to use one word to describe the 2018 SoM design choices, it would be… “pastel”.

The one sad partThe new, randier cast of 2018 SoM is theoretically exactly the same. But, take a moment to participate in any inn-based party chat event, and you’ll find they’re a tweak sillier. Popoi the sprite has an ongoing fascination with licking mana seeds. Primm is still in love with Dyluck, and that’s still going to end poorly, but now she gushes about him like a teenage girl (which is appropriate, as she is a teenage girl). And our brave hero of Mana has gone from nearly mute swordsman to your typical shonen hero that has doubts about his own ability to save the world ten seconds after receiving his first sword. And these “changes” absolutely work, as the character work was already there. Sprite was always kind of goofy, Girl was always rather single-minded, but now their only defining personality traits are their only personalities. The world was expanded just to show how tiny it really was. The potential opera has become a Saturday morning cartoon.

The darkness is still there, technically, but it is, now and forever, a gorgeous snow scape.

And, in the end, I can’t even be mad. I’m not sure why I would be! When I played this game as a ten year old, I thought it was the most “adult” story in the world, something right up there with Final Fantasy 3 (6) and maybe at least one Stephen King novel. Now it’s all… kiddy. Now it’s deliberately presented like something for, ugh, ten year olds, and the deep, somber Secret of Mana of my younger years is all but gone. This game adds nothing to Secret of Mana but a fresh coat of paint, and it’s a shade I can barely stomach.

Secret of Mana 2018, you have destroyed my memories, and dumbed down one of my favorite experiences. This shall not be forgiven.

Well, maybe I’ll forgive you… After I earn this platinum trophy…

FGC #388 Secret of Mana (2018)

  • System: Playstation 4 and… There was a Vita version, wasn’t there? Anybody want to fire up the ol’ girl and check the Vita store? No? Fine.
  • Number of players: Three, and that’s always awesome. Yes, couch co-op makes a return.
  • Get 'emI Run So Far Away: So the “run” button depletes your 100% Weapon gauge one percent at a time. Was it always supposed to work like that?
  • Just play the gig man: The new soundtrack puts its worst foot forward, and leads with the absolute foulest remixes it can muster. However, by the time the party is blasting off to ice countries and desert lands, it’s clear the composers know what they’re doing. Yes, it would be nice to have another orchestral remix for every last area, but, more than being “epic”, it seems like the music tries to be tonally appropriate. And I guess early areas deserved an accordion.
  • Regarding Voice Acting: I did not expect every last NPC to be voiced. I also did not expect “The power of Undine” to sound so much like Primm shouting “The power of undies!”
  • Favorite Weapon: Was the whip always this good? Or the spear? For a series named for its signature weapon, the sword kind of sucks by comparison.
  • Did you know? Kettle Kin, the second robot unleashed by the Scorpion Army, was inexplicably “censored” into being an exact copy of Kilroy in the original Secret of Mana USA version. However, Kettle Kin is back to normal for the remake, and sports his unique chainsaw and drill bottom. Welcome back, robo guy, please use your chainsaw responsibly.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. I honestly prefer this version to the original, as the combat seems a lot more manageable (and some kitty-based bosses no longer strike fear into my heart). I’ll probably revisit this Mana World again in no time at all.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario 3D World! It’s Mario! And kitties! Please look forward to it!

HAIL