Tag Archives: clay

FGC #454 C2: Judgment Clay

JUDGMENTSometimes we underestimate just how much Mortal Kombat changed the landscape of gaming. And sometimes we deliberately forget how Mortal Kombat changed that landscape in the dumbest ways.

Clayfighter (1) was a pretty straightforward Street Fighter 2 clone. Actually, that may be a bit reductive. Clayfighter was, in many ways, its own thing, but also definitively a double of Street Fighter 2’s core gameplay. You’ve got a cast of colorful fighters using six buttons to clobber each other into submission. Special moves are predominantly only quarter circle motions or “charge” attacks, and the majority of special attacks are either fireballs, rising attacks, or something that shoots your character across the screen at top speed. Fights are on a 2-D plane, and a jump kick is always going to work out pretty well. And, at the end of the whole tournament of whacky weirdoes, there’s the final champion, N. Boss. That… is a pretty obvious parody right there.

But Clayfighter isn’t entirely a parody. It would have been really easy to create a pastiche of the main Street Fighter cast, or even simply stick ersatz clay Ryu or Chun-Li among the fighters. However, give or take Tiny’s “strongman” similarity to Zangief, the cast of Clayfighter was completely independent of fighting game tropes of the time. “A ghost” isn’t that original, but a super snowman battling sentient taffy or operatic “fat lady” is something to see. And they all possessed appropriate special moves, so, even if projectiles and uppercuts aren’t all that exciting, at least the murder clown is tossing cream pies. Clayfighter may have been a parody, but it was a lot more Airplane! than Scary Movie 4.

And Clayfighter 2 seems like it was poised to be more of the same. Apparently, the curators of Clayfighter decided to use all new models and all new digitizing for the sequel, so it was a fine excuse to roll out a cast of new fighters mixed with a collection of revamped originals. Bad Mr. Frosty got a new hat, Blob looked slightly different (only so much you can do with a literal blob of goo), and they were joined by newcomers like a laidback banana man, somersaulting octopus, and Kangoo the Kangaroo (possibly the only fighting clay animal in gaming that was invented thanks to a spelling error). And then there was Hoppy the Battle Bunny.

Everyone remembers Hoppy the Battle Bunny.

Get that wabbitIt seems that Hoppy was created as another funny parody character. In much the same way that Clayfighter 1 featured Blue Suede Goo, an obvious imitation of Elvis, Clayfighter introduced a character that was less likely to be immediately identified as a caricature of a real person, but still was a pretty clear mockery. Hoppy was modeled off a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. He rode a motorcycle, rocked a sweet bandana, and flexed his muscles while speaking in an Austrian accent. Almost by default, he was the most “hardcore” of the Clayfighters. Granted, that isn’t hard when your opponents are a pacifist kangaroo and a literal big baby, but if you needed to see the “jagged” side of this silly game where a bunny battles a banana, then you need look no further than Hoppy.

And that’s exactly what the marketing department did.

Clayfighter 2 was clearly designed to be a typical “Street Fighter”-style fighting game. It was as violent as you would expect a cartoon fight to be, but it did not feature any sort of “fatalities” or other bits of over-the-top violence. This was a silly game for silly fighters, and, playing just the game today, you’d note that this title is about as tame as its predecessor. However, if you were exposed to any advertising for Clayfighter 2… excuse me… C2: Judgment Clay, you might be expecting a different game. C2’s cover and advertising features Hoppy heavily, and he is equipped with an enormous gun in front of the flaming wreckage of some wasteland of a world. He’s joined by Bad Mr. Frosty, replete with his backwards baseball cap, pulling on a metal chain. Chains are scary! I think! Though I do know for certain that no industrial chains appear in the actual game, nor does the bunny ever earn such a deadly weapon. A similar picture appears on boot of the title… but it seems a lot more likely that that was a static image added at the last minute. Does this murder-based bunny appear anywhere in the game proper? No, but that didn’t stop anyone from advertising C2 as the violent successor to that puerile original Clayfighter.

Buzz!And, if you look at the era, Clayfighter was not alone. If you go back and play Nintendo games from the 16-bit era here in the year 2019, the most “subversive” item you’re likely to encounter would be Donkey Kong bopping old man Cranky Kong off a branch. Other than that, this was the era that saw Mario as a wee baby, Link as a kid with a thumping hammer, and Kirby as… Kirby. However, on the advertising front, this was the era of “Play it Loud” and Nintendo literally shouting about how they were better than Sega, who was also literally crying their name at anyone that would listen. It was the age of attitude, and it’s hard to ignore how Mortal Kombat may have influenced that thinking. After all, the number one way anyone was hearing about videogames in the mid-90’s was through the mainstream reporting on congressional hearings. Pac-Man created a fever, but Mortal Kombat was the potential cause of an epidemic. Won’t someone think of the children? And won’t someone please find a way to profit off wealthy old white men complaining about those vidja games? PERFECTAny advertising is still advertising, and, if you can hitch your horse to that controversy cart, you’re going to get to market all the faster.

C2: Judgment Clay may not have been another blatant Mortal Kombat rip-off, but it certainly borrowed a few notes from its playbook. There was more than one fighting game back in the early 90’s, but, to the general public, there was only one worth imitating. Even if it was only in advertising, Clayfighter learned a thing or two from a yellow ninja…

But, hey, at least we got a heavily-armed rabbit out of the deal.

FGC #454 C2: Judgment Clay

  • System: Super Nintendo exclusive. There were plans to bring this over to… I want to say the 32X? One of those Genesis systems of the era, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Two is the fightiest number that you’ll ever see.
  • Favorite Character: It’s still Blob. He’s got a great name, and he can transform into a buzzsaw. I also enjoy his evil twin. Oh, that reminds me…
  • A shape of things to come: C2 committed to a concept that would eventually become a staple in other fighting games. Each fighter has a “rival” boss character, and, upon completing the game, you can unlock the rival for actual gameplay. Unfortunately, the rivals are merely color swaps of their base fighters, and there’s a meager mix of special moves between all of them. Hey! Rival color swaps! Maybe that came from Mortal Kombat, too!
  • It's hard to say...Other things to come: Now Clayfighter 63⅓, there was a game that mimicked Mortal Kombat. But it also seemed to place enough of an emphasis on combos to make it a Killer Instinct parody. So I guess it was kind of a copy of a copy. And that always works well.
  • Cutting Room Floor: Lucy the Gorilla was supposed to be another fighter, but she was dropped for unknown reasons. Given the few images of her that exist, she seemed to be some kind of Pepé Le Pew-esque lover-not-a-fighter, and maybe she was dumped simply because “ugly ‘woman’ is too amorous” was a gag that had already been drained of all comedy before we even hit 1980. No, that can’t be it…
  • Did you know? Apparently a different… uh… clay house (?) did the modeling for Clayfighter 2, but the designers didn’t like the final digitized versions. And the programmers had put together a great way to string together the animations over the course of production, so, as a proof of concept, the original scans of Tiny of Clayfighter 1 were reused for C2. And Tiny looks pretty good! So hooray for our side… or something.
  • Would I play again: This is a moderately amusing Street Fighter-esque experience… So I’ll probably just play Street Fighter.

What’s next? Have we done any games with weapons this week? Or lords? No? Okay, let’s close out our Mortal Kombat koverage with that. Please look forward to it!

FLEX!
Stupid sexy Butch.

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!