Tag Archives: clay

MKK: Goro & Shang Tsung

Look out!

Back in the day, Mortal Kombat stirred up a lot of controversy. We were told the “fatalities” were beamed directly to Earth by space aliens in an effort to desensitize our youth, and, just when we had finally gotten over that “controversy”, there was the whole deal with Nintendo and Sega choosing different routes for censoring the home versions. While it seems almost insane to ponder now, ask any “90’s kid” what was the big deal about Mortal Kombat, and they’ll give you one response: the blood.

And somewhere in all of that controversy, people forgot one other important thing about Mortal Kombat 1: it was damn hard. Mortal Kombat 1 is the Dark Souls of fighting games from 1992.

As a quick reminder, beating Mortal Kombat meant you first had to beat the entire roster of fighters, including the iconic Mirror Match. That was followed by three Endurance Matches, which were a completely unfair set of 1 v 2 battles. Assuming you could beat opponents with technically twice as much health as your chosen fighter, the following match would be even more insane. Ladies and gentlemen, Goro lives!

Goro was pretty impressive for the time. In a game featuring motion-captured actors, he was a Claymation powerhouse meant to evoke monsters from the early days of cinema. Four arms, twelve fingers, a confusing number of pectoral muscles, an innate dislike for pants: he was basically The Incredible Hulk crossed with another Incredible Hulk (that had a lower set of arms). And he felt like an impassable brick wall, too. He was stunned very rarely, projectiles bounced right off those amazing abs, and when you got hit by Goro, you got hit by Goro. On paper, his moves were nothing special (a fireball and a jump stomp? Lame), but anyone that ever had a few quarters riding on defeating the half-man, half-dragon Champion of Mortal Kombat knew that all Goro needed was one good punch. Defeating Goro took skill, patience, and maybe a little luck. Goro is the Dark Souls of fighting game sub-bosses.

Unfortunately, Goro went downhill from there almost immediately.

Now he sucks!

Mortal Kombat 1 Goro was mute (save a roar or two), and his biography basically consisted of the fact that he was two millennia old (!) and had been the uncontested champion of Mortal Kombat for 500 years and nine generations (however that works out). He killed Kung Lao back in the day… and that was it. He was nigh immortal, he was going to kick your ass, and there are decent odds he beat your grandpappy’s ass, too. That is all Goro needed! But, when he surfaced for Mortal Kombat 4, he was literally back with a vengeance (for Liu Kang), and wound up being so lame, he lost to (this generation’s) Kung Lao (spiritually Liu Kang’s annoying little brother). Then he returned for Mortal Kombat Deception (or at least the Gamecube version), and there was this whole complicated story about becoming a general in Kitana’s armies, but he was back-attacked by Noob Saibot, and he was left for dead, and he was found by an injured Shao Kahn, and Shao Kahn shared his life force so Goro would live, so Goro decided to rejoin Shao Kahn, but first he had to fake his own death by putting his royal seal on a slain Shokan warrior, and now Goro lives, but in an effort to return Shao Kahn to his throne because he owes him a life debt. Got all that? I don’t mean to insult any wookies that might be floating around the forum, but, seriously, dudes? You made Goro the Unstoppable into friggen Chewbacca. Chewbacca is strong, yes, but he’s a giant teddy bear! Kinda literally! And, surprise, Goro’s return appearances after Mortal Kombat 1 were just about as threatening as fighting a teddy bear. By the time Armageddon rolled around, Goro was officially palling around with Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung again, and his former might was all but a memory…

Look out!  He's got a skull!

But in Mortal Kombat 9, Goro returned as Champion of Mortal Kombat, and he was a generally mute threat again. Hooray! And then he came back in a non-kanon DLC role for Mortal Kombat 10, and he’s just kind of an almost-mute threat, too! And in the Mortal Kombat X tie-in comic, he has some weird redemption arc that goes absolutely nowhere! And in Mortal Kombat 11, he’s dead for some reason! Okay! Whatever! Truly, balancing Goro’s character arc versus his status as a threatening foe is the Dark Souls of plotting.

Meanwhile, Shang Tsung has a pretty significant backstory that goes back before Mortal Kombat even got going. First of all, he started out as a human of Earth, and fought in at least one Mortal Kombat tournament some 500 years back, but cheated through some unknown means. Considering this is a fighting tournament that routinely involves magical skeletons from Hell fighting dudes with four arms wielding four spiked knuckles, I would really like to know what could be considered cheating. Regardless, Shang Tsung was disqualified for being a jerk, but Shao Kahn, Emporer of Outworld, decided to adopt Shangy, because I guess every organization needs a guy who cheats ineffectively. Shao Kahn taught Shang Tsung how to become a sorcerer, and then, in a marginally unrelated incident, Shang Tsung was cursed by the Elder Gods to devour souls whenever he committed homicide. Given how the MK Universe works, this would be akin to being cursed to eat a delicious chocolate cake every time you got a coffee. I guess the Elder Gods were trying to curse Shang Tsung to be fat? Soul fat? It’s a confusing universe.

More skulls!

Anyway, this whole “soul curse” thing spectacularly backfired, as Shang Tsung grew strong by feeding on the souls of his enemies and inheriting their skills and memories. When Shang Tsung showed up for his next Mortal Kombat (possibly under a soul-stolen new shape/identity), he won the whole thing, and Shang Tsung was set to be new Champion of Mortal Kombat on behalf of Shao Kahn and Outworld. But Shang Tsung was defeated by Kung Lao, an ancient warrior and ancestor of Liu Kang. Kung Lao reigned as champion for at least a generation (fun fact: Mortal Kombat Champions do not age, which is a pretty sweet prize for punching people to death), but then Shang Tsung returned with a four-armed monster man. Goro became the official Mortal Kombat Champion for the following 500 years, and, somewhere in there, Shang Tsung, ever the Don King to Goro’s Tyson, built his own magical island for future Mortal Kombat tournaments. In earlier games, this was just a random island where Shang stowed his gold and various monks, but later titles have made the island a magical place with forcefields, zombies, and Shang’s own private Soulnado. It’s a pretty impressive island fortress, and the only drawback is that, thanks to yet another curse by the Elder Gods, Shang Tsung has to do all the landscaping himself.

So, by Mortal Kombat I, Shang Tsung was snug as a bug in an evil island powered by the souls of the dead rug. Liu Kang defeated Goro, though, and Shang Tsung was a last-minute addition to the tournament in an effort to trounce the forces of Earth. Unfortunately, the dude that can transform into any fighter isn’t really much of a threat for the guy that has already defeated every fighter, and Shang Tsung’s reign was ended with a swift kick to the face.

Look out!  The most skulls!

Shang Tsung then becomes the toady-based through line for the next two Mortal Kombat tournaments. First, in a desperate attempt to not be homicidally punished by his boss Shao Kahn for fumbling a five century-long play at the goalpost, Shang Tsung suggested having a better, slightly more purple tournament in Outworld for Mortal Kombat 2. Shao Kahn really liked this idea, so he restored Shang Tsung’s youth. Or he just didn’t want to smell old man Shang Tsung anymore. Whatever the reason, a vibrant Shang Tsung fought as a “normal” participant in Mortal Kombat 2, though he did retain his shape-shifting abilities from Big Boss College (he got a BS in weak point reduction). When that plan inevitably failed, he was instrumental in the revival of Shao Kahn’s undead queen on Earth, so Shang Tsung once again earned a tournament invite for the forces of evil. Unfortunately, he lost, repeatedly, and, by about the time the forces of Outworld were being beat back to their outhouse dimension, Shao Kahn had had enough of the sorcerer’s sass mouth, and Shang Tsung wound up in a dungeon (probably in Kano’s used shackles).

Shang Tsung spent all of Mortal Kombat 4 on the bench, but he returned in Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance to form the… Deadly Alliance. Neat! Quan Chi (the MK2/3 Shang Tsung of Mortal Kombat 4) had a plan to pilfer his boss’s magical amulet, revive the Dragon King’s Army, and conquer all of existence. Unfortunately, in order to reanimate an army of the dead, he needed a decent soulmancer on the payroll. Shang Tsung fit the bill, and, while Shang had had a rough year or so, he had been the king of Mortal Kombat for a solid few centuries. Shang Tsung and Quan Chi thus teamed up, and, first order of business: (kinda) kill Shao Kahn. Then it was off to (really) kill Liu Kang. After that, the duo set up shop at an all-new Soulnado, acquired some local real estate, fought the forces of good, and, in a surprise upset, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi actually won. With Liu Kang dead, the dastardly duo defeated all of Earth’s forces, and actually fulfilled their quest to revive the Dragon King’s Army. Sweet! Unfortunately, they also kinda sorta revived the Dragon King, too, who promptly killed everybody in attendance. So close!

No skulls...

Thus, Shang Tsung didn’t show up for Deception, but he did return for Armageddon, as, apparently, he had pledged his soul to Shao Kahn a few centuries back, and, so long as Shao Kahn lived, he could summon Shang Tsung back to life, too. Good thing Shang Tsung was so bad at killing Shao Kahn two games back! Shang Tsung wound up helping Shao Kahn regain the throne of Outworld, and, since Shao Kahn then went on to win Mortal Kombat Armageddon and thus prompt Raiden to reboot all of reality, Shang Tsung could totally note on his resume that he was partially responsible for the destruction of a universe. You know, if anyone could remember that universe…

Oddly enough, Rebooted Mortal Kombat 9 Shang Tsung had nearly the same Mortal Kombat 1-3 arc, though with one vital difference. When Shao Kahn revived his queen, he sucked all the souls out of Shang Tsung, and gifted them to his lady love. This had the side effect of making Sindel into an unstoppable monster, and making Shang Tsung super-duper dead. And he stayed dead! Mostly! Shang Tsung is Mortal Kombat 11’s first DLC character, and he’s a time-displaced version of his older/younger self. Apparently, it is kanon that the Goddess of Time identified Shang as too damn treacherous for her generally malicious schemes, so he had to be hidden in the DLC department until which time he was willing to play nice. But other than that, Shang Tsung Prime died a good two decades before the end of this universe.

Morphin' Time

WEIRD FACT: Shang Tsung’s ending for Mortal Kombat Armageddon sees Shang gain god-like power, and, when Shao Kahn objects, Shang Tsung transforms his old boss… “into a centaur slave”. Now I’m not going to jump to any conclusions here, but it seems very likely that Shang Tsung belongs to the loyal order of centaurphiliacs, and the writers have just not yet found a way to sneak that information back into the main kanon. Keep an eye out, true believers!

Next time: Cold-blooded ninja.

FGC #411 Clayfighter 63⅓ & Clayfighter Sculptor’s Cut

Whack 'em Smack 'emRacism works best when it’s not identified as racism.

On random occasions, I get the impulse to watch some television show that I remember liking, but haven’t seen in years. First of all: please never do this. Learn from my mistakes! On nearly every occasion, revisiting some old piece of television media is a terrible idea, particularly if we’re dealing with a comedy. Unfortunately for sitcoms (but fortunately for society), the overall “sense of humor” of the nation evolves with time, and, well, I’m not certain how much homophobia we can still tolerate from an episode of The Chevy Chase Show. And, while that relegates a surprisingly high number of 80s movies to the trash, it’s for the best, as there’s always going to be a new, modern Revenge of the Nerds anyway. So please look forward to Ready Player One: Part 2: The Legend of Wade’s Gold, coming spring of 2021!

But, despite the fact that I know this always ends in tears, I recently decided to rewatch the 2004-2007 Comedy Central animated series Drawn Together. For anyone that has never had the pleasure, Drawn Together was a parody of reality shows of the era (then dominating the airwaves… or at least had dominated the airwaves at some point), but with the twist that it was entirely animated, and populated with parodies of “real” cartoon characters. For example, Captain Hero was a Superman analogue, and Princess Clara could have been any Disney princess. And the “reality” twist is that all of these whacky cartoons are very “out of character” when they’re off the clock, so that previously mentioned princess is actually bigoted as hell. Or maybe that’s completely natural? I don’t really know any royalty that can speak to birds, so I’m not certain if that is a common trait. Regardless, I liked the show when it was airing after South Park during my college years, as I was a dedicated intellectual who incidentally liked watching cartoons fart. And there’s a pig named Spanky! That’s gonna lead to so many farts!

What is even happening here?But, as you’ve no doubt guessed from the tone of this article, my rewatch of Drawn Together was infested with an uneasy feeling of… there’s probably a German word for this… the inescapable realization that a piece of media was intended for one tiny subset of the population, and you only ever enjoyed it because you were that exact target audience. In this case, Drawn Together was aimed squarely at white, heterosexual, Christian-but-not-preachy-Christian, average-build men. Everybody else? Good news! You’re the butt of every other joke. And, past about the third episode, you’re literally the only “plot” the show has left. Sure, Drawn Together does the South Park thing of claiming they support both sides, but, even after an episode where Xander (Legend of Zelda’s Link analogue) finally comes out as gay, and is celebrated for it, the next half hour is still going to make a running gag out of the pig “accidentally” making out with the yellow thing. And then that joke will be repeated for the rest of the series. Forever.

But it all comes to a head around midway through the second season, when Drawn Together, in an overly labored-meta gag, gets an F-rated review from Entertainment Weekly. So, in an act of defiance, the Drawn Together cast storms the offices of Entertainment Weekly, incidentally kills most of the staff, and then discovers that the reviewer is a “Jewish Conservative Pro Life Born Again Overweight Asian Indian Homophobic Lesbian Broad Who Cuts Herself”. She is told she’s “not the target audience”, and Spanky Ham makes an impassioned speech about how she has no right to review the show, as it’s “not for her”.

That’s about when I threw up in my mouth.

Flick it goodToday’s game is another beloved title from my younger years, Clayfighter 63⅓. I was enamored of Clayfighter 63⅓ back in the day, because it was one of approximately five “funny” videogames that had been released in the span of about twenty years. Excuse me, I should be more precise about that fact: it was one of the few humorous games that had been released on a console since the dawn of the NES. I was never a PC gamer, but, with the wisdom of the future (and DOS emulation), I am now aware that all the videogame humor in the universe had huddled together for warmth on the personal computer. Regardless, as a young nerd that had already dedicated myself to memorizing Monty Python routines, the idea of a parody fighting game was right up my alley, and it didn’t hurt that this was a unique bit of software for the content-hungry N64. Nintendo Power told me this would be cool! And, honestly, advertising and expectations aside, I did enjoy Clayfighter 63⅓. It was a decent (if generally shallow) fighting game, and it was certainly funny. There’s Santa Claus! But he’s fat! And Boogerman! And Earthworm Jim! And a rabbit that talks like Arnold Schwarzenegger! And fighters were constantly quipping! And the announcer was continually mocking your combo chains (“Little girly combo”)! As a fan of fighting games and humor, this hole was made for me.

Or at least the “me” I once was.

So racistIt’s easy for a white guy to be a bigot. Once, I looked at the roster of Clayfighter 63⅓, and saw a whacky cast of characters. Now I see that there is one brown skinned character, and he just happens to be a voodoo priest with a terrible dental plan. There is one Asian character, and he’s got buckteeth and a propensity for confusing Chinese takeout for kung fu. And you’d have to wait for Sculptor’s Cut, the title’s second (and final) edition, to get a single woman in the cast. But that version also wound up including a trio of “native” cannibal children, so… uh… probably not a net gain there. And Sculptor’s Cut also granted everyone win quotes, so, if you weren’t already getting the point here, Kung Pow can ask you “Would you rike soy sauce with that?”

And it bothers me that this didn’t always bother me.

But I keep coming back to that “you’re not the target audience” crack from Drawn Together. When I was a teenager playing Clayfighter 63⅓, I didn’t think of myself as some “target audience”. I was playing a videogame that, like every other game I ever played, was nothing more than a videogame. I could play Clayfighter as easily as Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time, and I never considered that certain videogames might not be intended for certain people. I didn’t consider that the majority of my digital heroes were white males (even when they were robots), I just thought that was “normal”. If you’re going to save the (white) princess, you’re going to be a white guy, right? Nothing about that seemed wrong or even unusual, so the corollaries seemed perfectly natural, too. Asian characters were sumo wrestlers or kung fu masters, because that’s the way it should be. If you’re African, you’re a sidekick or the second player (or both), not a hero. If you’re a woman, you’re certainly a minority in the cast, because it’s not normal for women to fight or save the world. Hell, in most versions of Street Fighter 2, there are exactly as many women in the cast as there are electric, green-skinned monsters. But I’m moderately certain Brazilian beasts don’t comprise over half the population in actual reality!

And when racism is normal, then it doesn’t even look like racism. It looks like… Clayfighter 63⅓.

GrossClayfighter 63⅓ isn’t a klan meeting. It isn’t constantly hurling racial slurs like your average youtube personality. Clayfighter 63⅓ does not overtly support Donald Trump. But what Clayfighter 63⅓ does is normalize its not-at-all unique brand of racism. It feeds on the subtle prejudice of an entire “target audience”, and promotes the myth that every “other” out there is some kind of homogenous mass of defects. Oh, what’s that, Asian Dude? You’re upset that you’ve been characterized as a bad driver for having squinty eyes? Ha ha, sorry, it was just a goof, don’t worry about it, you’re not the target audience. It’s cool, you’re still good at using a wok, right? Ha ha, everybody laugh… well, except you. You wouldn’t get it, an overwhelming segment of the global population.

It wouldn’t be racist if those pesky other races didn’t want to be included in the first place, right?

Oh, wait, that’s exactly what racism is.

And we should never forget that.

FGC #411 Clayfighter 63⅓ & Clayfighter Sculptor’s Cut

  • System: N64. This title was originally planned for the Playstation (1), too, but one would assume Nintendo tossed some cash at Interplay for the highly sought after clayophiliac demographic.
  • Number of players: Laugh along with exactly one (1) other friend. Make sure he’s white.
  • Slap 'emVersion-o-Call: Clayfighter 63⅓ is clearly a rushed product, and doesn’t include a healthy number of characters that were originally advertised to appear in the title. Heck, the in-game story distinctly mentions Dr. Kiln losing a hand that grows and becomes sentient, and that severed appendage is nowhere to be found. Sculptor’s Cut filled in the blanks on the majority of those forgotten fighters… but was only released as a Blockbuster Video exclusive. This made the title insanely hard to find, and is currently one of the most valuable N64 games in existence. However, this does not make either version particularly good.
  • Just say the gig, man: For a forgotten N64 game, this title features an all-star cast. Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) voices Earthworm Jim and Boogerman, Frank Welker (every cartoon ever) is Ickybod Clay and Blob, and Jim Cummings (Taz, Tigger, and Robotnik) is Mr. Frosty and Houngan. Yakko, Wacko, and Dot are all in the cast, too, which includes Taffy played by Tress MacNeille, who was also once the voice of Gadget Hackwrench. This would be goddamn amazing if anyone other than me gave a damn about voice acting as an art form.
  • Favorite Character: Across all Clayfighter titles, I’m fond of Blob, the green pile of clay that can morph into pretty much any form. He really displays how a “morphing” based fighting game can go wild with the creativity without relying on tired stereotypes about snowmen.
  • End an Argument: The next time the creator of Earthworm Jim decides to spout some nonsense opinions…

    SANTA NO!

    … Remind him that EWJ once appeared in a game where he could be butt-swallowed and crapped out by an overweight holiday icon.

  • Did you know? The box for Sculptor’s Cut touts “Make it a Blockbuster fight!” This was a parody of Blockbuster Video’s slogan “Make it a Blockbuster night.” Also, Blockbuster Video was a primitive, building-based business that allowed a person to rent videos for a limited period of time. Also, videos were disc or cassette-based objects on which…
  • Would I play again: I am fond of the Clayfighter series, and would like to see the franchise return. That said, I can barely play five minutes of this title without cringing, so that’s probably not going to happen again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Other M for the Nintendo Wii! Oh boy, that’s like the best Metroid title ever! Right? … Right? Please look forward to it!

FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

YummySkullmonkeys is notable for being a pretty fun videogame that, incidentally, hails form an alternate reality.

History is written by the winners, and, given enough time, even people who lived through that history tend to paper over the genuine details of reality. Case in point: the death of the 2-D platformer. To hear many of the old guard of videogames tell it, we spent the glorious 8 & 16-bit eras awash in an embarrassment of riches of 2-D platformers, and then, the moment the Playstation and N64 rolled into town, the era of 2-D was dead, presumably punched into an early grave by the sharp, polygonal fists of Battle Arena Toshinden. Sony had a legendary policy of rejecting all “childish” 2-D games, and the N64 couldn’t render a “retro” sprite to save its cursed life. 2-D died, and the Buster Sword was the murder weapon.

Except that’s complete bullshit, because there certainly were 2-D games on the Playstation. One of the most lauded games of all time was released on the Playstation, and it was 2-D. Mega Men of various origins had a number of 2-D adventures through the 32-bit era, and Playstation even paid host to many underdog 2-D adventures, like Silhouette Mirage and Norse by Norsewest. In short, while 3-D certainly dominated the epoch (for every Symphony of the Night there was a Castlevania 64… maybe even two) there were also 2-D action games available on CD and cartridge straight through to the death of the age of DVD. Yes, Mega Man 9 was a retro innovation, but it wasn’t that far removed from Mega Man X8.

So if 2-D games did exist, then where did they go? No, I don’t mean, “where did they end up?” We can see the answer to that every time we check the 3DS’s eshop and encounter a variety of platformers wallowing in the “Under $10!” ghetto. What I’m referring to is evolution. What I’m talking about is Mario, and the enormous gulf between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World. Heck, we consider Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World to be roughly contemporary, but Mario Maker reminded everyone that the difference between 8 and 16-bits is a lot more than eight digits. But that’s just how videogames worked practically since their inception: a new system with new possibilities means all the old games you remember with all-new graphical upgrades to get with the times. Super Contra, Super Castlevania, Super Adventure Island, Super Alfred Chicken. It’s a brand new day, and it’s time to see just how many pixels we can dedicate to Link’s eyebrows.

Look awayOf course, I suppose it’s Link and Mario that killed that trend. Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time destroyed the idea of the “evolving” sprites. Now Sonic would have to have an adventure, Mega Man would have to be a legend, and anybody that wanted to stick to the 2-D universe (hi, Wario!) would have to retreat to the lesser, portable systems. It would be years before we saw an updated Master Higgins or Monster World, because it was time to permanently migrate over to 3-D pastures.

But 3-D was not the welcoming land of milk and honey that many expected. The mascot platformer had ruled the 16-bit world, and, while many were happy to see that trend die kicking and screaming, it was clear that a universe of polygons was not going to do “cute characters” any favors. Many believe Sonic conquering the consoles fast is the only reason we saw the rise of the generic furry with attitude, but it’s a lot more likely that the horsepower of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis simply allowed for more expressive and “interesting” (I’m using quotes specifically for Aero the Acro-Bat there) mascots. And the Playstation could certainly create characters with a greater range of expressions than on the old systems… but nobody was going to mistake a model full of angles and sharp edges for cute. In fact, the death of Bubsy and his furry friends was probably just because no one could properly render fur. And without fur, all you’ve got is a ry.

ChillyBut there was one mascot from the 16-bit era that didn’t possess a single tuft of fur: Earthworm Jim. EWJ was the 16-bit mascot ideal: he was the cover-worm for every videogame magazine, he starred in his own animated series, and everyone fought over which version of which game was truly the best of the bunch. EWJ was a full-fledged phenomenon… for all of ten minutes. But, one-hit wonder or no, shouldn’t the ol’ powersuit have made the transition to 3-D? Where did our invertebrate hero go? Or, more particularly, where did the people who birthed Earthworm Jim go?

Well, they went to the Neverhood. Doug TenNapel created Earthworm Jim, and he left Shiny Entertainment (with a number of other employees) in 1995, likely because everyone seems to think Dave Perry invented the previously mentioned groovy guy. The Neverhood Inc (company) then partnered up with Dreamworks to create The Neverhood (game), an adventure game with a sincere/crazy sense of humor/whimsy. It was also a game where everything was made of clay, and there may or may not have been a hallway of scribbles that took about seventeen hours to read. It… was a weird game. But it was fun! And funny! And if PC gaming wasn’t a living hell at the time, The Neverhood likely would have become a game just as legendary as Earthworm Jim. Unfortunately, this was also a time when Electronics Boutique stopped selling PC games entirely because it was getting fed up with having to accept constant returns from screaming customers that never seemed to be able to purchase a game that would actually run on their own computers, so The Neverhood fell into that limbo of “great game, but only six people ever played it” like many 90’s computer games.

So, naturally, Neverhood Inc. tried to get a piece of the console pie. Wisely, Neverhood Inc. realized that the King’s Quest-esque adventure genre wouldn’t work on consoles for another decade or so, so the Neverhood world was repurposed as a more console friendly platforming game. Skullmonkeys was born.

WeeeeSkullmonkeys is a platforming game, plain and simple. You run, you jump, you jump on enemies, you spend a lot of time waiting for moving platforms, you’re dead in one hit unless you grab a powerup that allows for two hits, and there are a few “fireball” bits of ammo scattered around for when jumping just won’t do it. There’s a simple progression of difficulty and an increasing number of “traps” as Klaymen ventures through Idznak. There are bosses with simple, repeating patterns. There are bonus stages available only through finding various hidden knickknacks. It’s a platforming game, and if you switched in Bubsy or Awesome Possum for Klaymen, nobody would blink an eye. … Well, aside from the general confusion that would arise from playing a Bubsy game that was actually good.

Except… this was a game on the Playstation. There weren’t platforming games on the Playstation, and there certainly weren’t games that looked this gorgeous. Skullmonkeys was released the same year as Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid, 3-D games that are marvelous, wonderful experiences that are also, incidentally, terrible to look at. No, Skullmonkeys must be the last vestige of an alternate universe, another timeline where platforming games were allowed to evolve and grow into their “next gen” forms. This gorgeous, but limited, platforming game could not have seriously been released the same year as Spyro the Dragon. 1998 games are supposed to be polygons for days, with FMVs like you’d find in Ehrgeiz. There weren’t playforming games like this on the Playstation!

History tells us that platforming died with the last gasp of the Super Nintendo. Skullmonkeys, clearly, never happened.

More’s the pity.

FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

  • Platform: Playstation. I do not believe this has been ported anywhere else. This is what happens when a game is imaginary.
  • Number of players: Just Klaymen. I would not have said no to Willie becoming the Luigi.
  • Go joe!Favorite Boss: Joe Head Joe has Joe’s head for a body. At least, I would assume that is Joe. If not, he is pretty poorly named.
  • Pedantry Corner: Yes, I know there was a 3-D Earthworm Jim game. No, I am not ever going to acknowledge it.
  • Sequel Story: Skullmonkeys is a direct sequel to Neverhood, picking up exactly where the good ending of Neverhood left off, and including the planet Idznak, which was mentioned in that long-ass hallway. Fortunately, you don’t need to know a blessed thing from the Neverhood to enjoy this game, as “Klogg is evil” seems pretty apparent from the first moment he skins a monkey and wears his skull as a hat.
  • Just play the gig, man: The bonus stage music is delightful, and I certainly do not jump every time the singer claims there’s a monster right behind me.
  • Secret Shame: I have never seen the 1970’s bonus stage. Where are those damn things hiding!?
  • Goggle Bob Fact: There was enough advertising for Skullmonkeys that a Skullmonkeys sticker wound up stuck to my locker freshman year. For some reason, I found this act rebellious. I was a troubled youth.
  • Yummy!Did you know? There was apparently a Japan-only “sequel” to the Neverhood universe, a sports game called Klaymen Gun-Hockey. It was created by the company that had the Japanese rights to localize Neverhood games, and… was probably insane.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. This is a genuinely good platforming game, and I’d love to see it available on a portable (not phone, we need buttons here) system. Assuming we ever see that, couple it with save states, and we’re golden.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sunset Riders for the Super Nintendo! Get ready to bust some outlaws, pardner. Please look forward to it, ya’all!

FGC #123 Harley’s Humongous Adventure

FLY AWAYHarley’s Humongous Adventure is an incredibly forgettable 2-D platformer for the Super Nintendo. It’s not the worst game on the SNES, and it’s nowhere near the best, it’s just kind of… there. I’m sure I’ve just forgotten any references to it in the meanwhile, but, to my memory, I don’t even recall HHA appearing on any of the myriad of “Super Nintendo Lists” over the last two decades. You know, all those “Top Thirty Most Boring SNES Games” or “The Worst of the Worst: The Worstest Worsting Worsts of Worstever”? I don’t think Harley gets mentioned even once. Harley’s Humongous Adventure seems to only be “that game I rented that one time and never thought about again” to most people.

Which is a shame, because Harley’s Humongous Adventure has one decent idea that seems made for video games… but we barely ever see it.

Harley’s Humongous Adventure is a groan worthy pun thanks to the central plot of HHA: Harley, boy scientist, has been shrunk down to the size of a thumb, and now must navigate his home and surrounding area to assemble an antidote (or de-shrinking device? Something?) to reembiggen himself to his normal size. Harley has one shrunken tool available, a personal jetpack (that, incidentally never has fuel when you need it), but the rest of Harley’s arsenal is comprised of mundane (now “huge”) objects, like nails, thumbtacks, and sticks of dynamite (I think that one’s useful regardless of size). The monsters are predominantly stylized insects (the fire ants are literally on fire), and the environments are commonplace locations that have now become stadiums. You can drown in the bathroom sink, or get lost amongst the colossal boxes of the attic. Harley is small, the world is large, and dust mites are now a threat.

And you’d think this would happen in video games more often.

Of course, it’s not like this never happens. Breath of Fire 1 & 2 both feature an unusual amount of shrinking, whether you’re climbing into a mouse hole or exploring the bloodstream of a fat princess (don’t ask). Snowboard Kids and ChompyMario Kart both used the concept for a couple of interesting tracks. Okami became flea-sized, and Final Fantasy 3 used mini to the max. Probably the best example in gaming is The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, where Link constantly switches between normal and “Minish” size, where dew drops might dwarf evil wizards. It’s a rarity, but teeny tiny gameplay does randomly show up in video games.

But think about all the franchises that could be enhanced with a mini segment (or entire installment). My first impulse would be to consider God of War. Kratos, rage monster and slayer of an entire pantheon, must now battle his way from one end of the living room to the other. Scale the entertainment center! Burn the carpet! Battle the great and terrible Mr. Mittens for supremacy! Don’t forget to score a 100-hit combo on that group of ants. They have ferocious mandibles! Maybe they killed your tiny family!

Actually, thinking about it further, it seems like 90% of video games is blowing micro monsters up to macro size. You play video games? How many giant spiders have you slain? You watch out for snakes, or is it fearsome hydra that haunt your nightmares? The great and mighty Cerberus is just a puppy that grew to a significantly larger weight class (and maybe got a few heads in the process). In a way, we’re already making our heroes as miniscule as shrunken Harley, it’s just through making every other creature grow up.

But then you lose the fun environments that are only possible with shrinkage. Harley’s Humongous Adventure, unfortunately, is one of those 16-bit platformers that took all its cues from ToastySonic the Hedgehog, and the general level layout of any given stage is pretty haphazard. Actually, I want to say that this isn’t even at Sonic 1/Sonic CD level, this is much more in the vein of my old friend Bubsy. Levels that aren’t straightforward (like vehicle stages) loop around and spiral in ridiculous directions, causing lame level design like the ever-popular “the goal is on the opposite side of this wall, and you can see it, but it’s time to circle around the whole stupid area and hope you eventually hit your objective.” It’s a waste of a great concept, because the typical “shrunken hero” can explore a very different environment from what is available to the common protagonist.

Really, there’s the possibility here for one of my favorite video game “tricks”. No, I have no great interest in being shrunk down and exploring my own couch from a fly’s perspective, but I love the video game model of exploring a “familiar” area in a new and exciting way. It’s why time travel in a video game is almost always a good time (oh, look, this dungeon degraded over 400 years). It’s why a crashed space ship/satellite is always a great place for bounty hunters (aw, I remember when this place was right-side up). And, ultimately, it’s why shrinking should occur in more games. I’ve got a general mental image of how my sink and plumbing are shaped, so a level based on “that area” could be very interesting, Tanks as alwaysassuming the hero was the size of a fingernail. Trekking across the game room could be fun if there was the possibility of being crushed by a SNES cartridge, and seeing the mighty couch in the distance would provide all the level scale necessary. There are a million options available, and, like how video games use other techniques to modify the perspective of a player, shrinking could be a worthwhile one in a worthwhile game.

So, Harley’s Humongous Adventure, you might be forgettable, but thanks for reminding us all that there are different ways to see the world. You might have made a small impact in the gaming world, but sometimes smaller is better.

FGC #123 Harley’s Humongous Adventure

  • System: Super Nintendo, exclusively. Didn’t even get a Genesis port.
  • Number of players: Two, alternating. Because God forbid you don’t get to share Harley’s Humongous Adventure with others.
  • Rats off to ya: The main antagonist for Harley is a mutated pet rat that… ugh… unpleasant to look at, so he must die. Also, you gradually tear off the rat’s limbs through every boss fight, so maybe not the most animal friendly game in the universe.
  • Ugly SuckerClay Fighting: Like Claymates, this was another of the clay-based games released during the 16-bit era. As a result, the graphics are at least fairly unique, with monsters that truly appear to be monstrous. Also, congratulations to the producers for not shoehorning a clay pun into the title. That would be puttiful.
  • Ever hear of Chibi Robo? Oh yeah…
  • Did you know? The Japanese title for this game is “Chemist Harley’s Stormy Life”. Are scientists more popular over there than here? I want to say our only “hero” chemist didn’t appear until Breaking Bad…
  • Would I play again: Nope. When you get compared to Bubsy, you don’t get a second play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Intellivision Lives! … I wasn’t responsible for that exclamation mark, it’s part of the title of the game. The game that is horrible. Ugh. Please look forward to it.

DEATH