Tag Archives: comics

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

Spidey!Spider-Man: The Video Game is important precisely because it is forgettable.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is an arcade title that never made its way to consoles. It’s part beat ‘em up, part 2-D platformer, and all general Sega lunacy. Released a year after Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, this title sees Spider-Man gain a few amazing friends, fight almost the exact same roster of villains, and eventually save the day/planet through the very Spider-Man solution of “punch everything ever”. Webs are used exclusively as concussive projectiles, a swinging kick is the most Spidey-esque move available, and I’m pretty sure ol’ Webhead kills Dr. Curt Connors. Twice. It’s a Spider-Man game, but it’s so loosely a Spider-Man product, it may as well be a malfunctioning Malibu Stacy doll.

But, hey, it was a fun time for 1992.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is not Final Fight. In fact, SM:TVG was released a solid three years after Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the arcade game). We had also seen Streets of Rage a year prior. The Simpsons (the arcade game) was released a year earlier, too. X-Men (the arcade game) was released the same year. In short, SM:TVG was not only already one of many Spider-Man videogames, but it was also yet another beat ‘em up in an already crowded beat ‘em up market. What did it do to set itself apart from the pack? Well, unfortunately, not much: Once a level, the perspective changes to a 2-D plane, and features almost Contra-esque run ‘n shoot action. Unfortunately, this was at a time when 2-D was starting to become passé, so lil’ dorky dudes shooting grappling hooks at a ridiculously scaled Venom sprite wasn’t going to impress anyone when Blanka’s screams were already beckoning from elsewhere in the arcade. So, yes, when a beat ‘em up needed every advantage it could find to be the next Double Dragon and not a Double Dragon 3, SM:TVG decided to go in possibly the worst direction. At least it didn’t include a boss on the second level that is virtually impossible due to a severe lack of available aerial attacks…

GOBLIN!

Oh. Oh dang.

But wait! Spider-Man: The Video Game is still fun! It’s a lot of fun! Or… at least I remember it being a fun. Maybe I just need to play it again? Sure! That sounds like a great idea! I’ll just pop it right in my…

Oh, right. SM:TVG was only available in arcades, and it sure as heck isn’t in any arcades anymore… Assuming you can find an arcade at all… This is going to get difficult.

But it does bring us to a prime reason videogame preservation is important: Videogame popularity is wildly capricious and ephemeral.

Get 'emThe beat ‘em up genre featured some of the biggest names of the time. Many people were first exposed to The X-Men not through a comic book, but through an arcade game (and we’re still trying to figure out why Dazzler isn’t more popular…). Mike Haggar was just a mayor who rarely wore a shirt, but the humble beat ‘em up made him a mainstay of gaming for generations. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The Simpsons? They were already everywhere, so it made sense they’d be gobbling up your quarters, too. When the beat ‘em up genre ruled the arcade, it well and truly owned gaming itself, and the consoles of the time were desperate to catch up to their coin-op brethren. It was cool to be a beat ‘em up, and everything that was cool wound up walking left-to-right and pummeling every random punk in their path.

But popularity ebbs and flows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons are still a “thing” (The Simpsons is currently entering its ∞th season), but they’re nowhere near the popularity they experienced in the late 80’s/early 90’s. In the meanwhile, The X-Men became the hottest super-hero franchise on the silver screen… and then fell to the wayside the minute that Spider-Man conquered the multiplex. And now Spider-Man is riding high again, but is nowhere near the popularity of some of his contemporaries in The Avengers. Oh Lord! Hawk Guy might be the most popular character in Spider-Man: The Video Game! What horrible future has our misdeeds wrought!?

THWANGAnd if you’re saying that Spider-Man: The Video Game (featuring Clint Barton) would do well today because of the popularity of its attached property: congratulations! You’re right! And if we had The Avengers palling around on the big screen back in 1992, then this mediocre beat ‘em up would likely be just as popular as the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons. And that would carry it forward to the future: some company (I guess Disney Interactive? Or… Capcom? Nintendo is publishing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? Maybe them?) would find it profitable enough to hit Sega up for its old code, and we’d see this arcade title ported to a virtual console or two. Or maybe it would have already happened, and we’d be able to buy it on Xbox Live because it was a promotion for Spider-Man: That One Where The Lizard Looks Like a Ninja Turtle. Or maybe it would have been enough of an arcade hit that it got ported to the Sega Genesis. Or Sega Saturn. Or Sega Dreamcast. Or Game Gear? I’m really not picky.

But, in its moment, Spider-Man wasn’t all that popular. We were still two years away from the massive popularity of the Spider-Man animated series, and the Spidey fans of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends were a decade past caring about videogames. Tobey Maguire may as well have been an eternity from popularizing battling a Green Goblin or two. While it seems hard to believe in the age of Avengers Endgame, there was a time when Spider-Man was just some random comic book character, and his masked mug was never going to grab more quarters than Michelangelo traveling through time.

And so history forgot Spider-Man: The Video Game. It is now impossible to play a videogame featuring Spider-Man and Hawkeye battling The Kingpin and Doctor Doom. There may be other similar experiences out there, but this one is lost forever. And all because Spider-Man wasn’t the hottest property available that month, but still a popular enough franchise to require licensing. It’s gone forever simply because of a quirk of timing.

This seems dangerousSpider-Man: The Video Game isn’t the best Spider-Man game out there. It didn’t define the genre, it didn’t show us all what it meant to be Spider-Man, and it suffered from the unfortunate handicap of including Namor. But it was a fun game, and future generations deserve an opportunity to play it.

Videogame preservation is important not only for the best and most unique games, but also the unexceptional titles. It might not be the most exciting game in the world, but what kid doesn’t want to play a Spider-Man game?

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

  • System: Arcade exclusively. That’s the problem!
  • Number of players: Four! And it was one of those arcade cabinets where you’re not tied to a character according to which joystick you grab, so us lefties aren’t stuck with Leonardo just because we wanted some elbow room.
  • Favorite Character: I very much want to say that Black Cat is my favorite character, as she is one of my favorite, overlooked Marvel heroines… but she kind of sucks in this game. A grappling hook swing special attack? Lame. But Namor, who can shoot friggen lightning bolts from his hands and toss random baddies far into the air? That’s the stuff. Imperious Rex, baby!
  • Other Influences: Namor walking around nearly naked with the abs of Hercules? His sprite reminds me of another Sega title.
  • Battle!The Spider that Walks like a Man: Spider-Man is an interesting character to animate, because his comic origins don’t really grant him an animated “walk”, but given his speed and super-powers, you could go in a lot of different directions with how a man blessed by a radioactive Spider God might wander around the place. Somehow, this led to Spider-Man of this title possessing a walking animation that makes Peter Parker appear to be… bored. And kind of slouchy? Look, what’s important is that Spider-Man really needs to visit a chiropractor.
  • So Close: Black Cat’s catchphrase for the game seems to be, “Jackpot!” You might have been thinking of a different lady in Spider-Man’s life, Sega…
  • Last known photo: I last saw this arcade cabinet at a festival in 2012. That is a lot more recent than I would expect, but I assume it was just a matter of some random carnival barker getting a deal on a game with a recognizable name. And one of the joysticks didn’t work. Lame.
  • Did you know? Scorpion and Venom appear as a sort of tandem boss in the first level. In the comics, years later, Mac Gargan (aka Scorpion) would eventually obtain the Venom symbiote as part of the Dark Reign event. Also: I am a gigantic nerd.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun beat ‘em up, and the 2-D sections are an excellent change of pace from the usual beat ‘em up “same three guys” gameplay. It’s just a shame I technically can’t play the game anymore…

What’s next? Spider-Man is always popular, but what happens when a game is released in one region, and then never leaves because its hero is… a penguin? With a weight problem? Our next lost forever title is Yume Penguin Monogatari. Please look forward to it!

So iconic

FGC #394 Young Justice: Legacy

JUSTICE!Corporations do not understand universes.

What separates us from the animals? Intelligence? Morality? The ability to claim horseradish and “creamy” horseradish are the same edible substance? No, on a basic level, what makes us the top of the food chain is our pattern recognition. You see a little bit of the stuff in some animals (“sit!” = put butt on floor for treat), but even the smartest animal doesn’t seem to have the object permanence to so much as code a simple C++ “hello world” script. Meanwhile, over on the human side of the Animal Kingdom, toddlers are barely verbal before they start asking the why of everything. If there is a reason that things fall down, there must also be a reason for the color of the walls, or why Daddy is always crank calling the neighbors after he drinks his special juice. What we consider thinking is merely a long chain of if-then statements going back to the first time you realized there was a reason grandma always screamed when you attempted to climb the stove.

So it’s only natural that we approach our media with the same basic thinking. We certainly could enjoy Merrie Melodies, newspaper comic strips, and other chunks of media that contain and require exactly zero continuity… but did you notice how the greatest examples of that phenomenon are almost entirely as outdated as a protractor? Continuity is king nowadays, and everything from Superman to the latest Kanye West album must contain no less than a decade’s worth of references and in-jokes. And, if you ever wondered why such a thing was now considered standard, it’s because the marketing department figured out a long time ago that your eyeballs were going to stay glued to the boob tube through that commercial break if you were promised just the tiniest glimmer of what happens next. Those last ten minutes were setting up the “if”, and, if you can hold out a little longer, you’ll be granted the all-important “then”. All of your dreams will come true! Or maybe you’ll at least find out who shot J.R.

But the thing about continuity is that, should it go on long enough, it gets a little complicated. And that previously mentioned marketing department? They do not like complicated.

Get 'emIt’s basic math, really. If you’re in the business of selling your product (and if you’re producing a product for literally any other reason, my God man, what are you even doing?), you need to do two things: maintain your audience, and grow your audience. So once you’ve got your initial viewers good and entrenched, then it’s time to start expanding and finding new ways to hook new people. And, hey, you’ve got some fans that will stick with you through anything, so why not toss out the baby and its stupid bath water, start fresh, and tell all those newbies that we’ve got a perfect “jumping on point”? What could possibly go wrong? You think the established fans will leave? They might! But who needs those nerds? They just spent the last six months complaining on their stupid forums because you had the audacity to name the latest love interest after your dog. It was a coincidence, you damn fanatics! It wasn’t supposed to mean anything! Reboot this thing, and maybe we’ll get a new, better audience that will finally buy that warehouse full of F-tier Pops.

And, while the reboot is practically synonymous with the comic book industry, it is certainly the standard in practically every medium you can name. Was A Link to the Past 100% beholden to the original Legend of Zelda? Does the latest Mario release take a time out to explain the lack of Bowser Jr? Is there a single Transformers movie that clarifies the current whereabouts of Orson Welles? Can anyone even remember how many 007s we’ve gone through? Not every story has to have a giant “reboot” brand on its cover, but “that old story didn’t matter” is assumed to be the norm any time there isn’t a number in the title. After all, you’re not going to score any new fans by requiring homework.

But those old fans? They have long memories. And, what’s more, they have desires.

BZZZZTLet’s take Star Trek as an example. I have no doubt that, whether you’re reading this article in 2018 or 2098, there is some manner of Star Trek-related media available. It’s inevitable! It’s a franchise that is based on a simple concept (“Space: The Final Frontier”), and can be adapted into anything from a retro futuristic romp to a Seth Macfarlane vanity project. However, in the next century, I would be very surprised if my Star Trek ever resurfaces in any given form ever again. What’s my Star Trek, you obviously don’t want to ask? Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the story of a single dad in a frontier space station attempting to balance science and religion while a shape shifting sheriff gets in a fight with gluttonous bartender. I would give my left pinky toe (it’s really important for balance!) to see the further adventures of Ben Sisko, Miles O’Brien, and Elim Garak (master tailor), but I know that’s never going to happen again. Books are available, and maybe we’ll see some manner of comic book if IDW is feeling saucy, but to just sit down at 5 in the evening and visit Deep Space Nine from the comfort of my couch? That will never happen again. The franchise lives on, but the joy of that particular mini universe is lost forever.

And companies don’t realize how desperate fans can be for those forgotten universes.

Today’s game is Young Justice: Legacy. At the time of Young Justice: Legacy’s announcement, Young Justice: The Animated Series was on a season break. The plan was that you’d have Young Justice in reruns, and then there would be Young Justice: Season 2, which would take place after a significant (and cast rearranging) time jump. Young Justice: Legacy would fill in the blanks on that time skip, so if you were wondering why Aqua Lad was off crying in the corner and screaming “you’re not my real dad!” Young Justice: Legacy was here to explain every little detail. And that’s a great idea! That has the potential to not only fuel an interesting tie-in product, but also goose the sales a bit with all those nerds that want to bathe themselves in the poisonous spring that is continuity. Everybody wins!

CLOWN MUSICUnfortunately, Young Justice: Legacy is not very good (hey, that’s the other theme of this week). And, somewhere along production, it seems that someone noticed that it wasn’t very good. Young Justice: Legacy was not released during the gap between seasons of Young Justice, because it suffered from numerous setbacks and delays. Not only was YJ:L postponed, it was outright cancelled for the Wii/WiiU. And then, when it was finally released on PS3/X360/3DS (somebody liked systems with a “3” in the title), Young Justice: The Series… was cancelled. Sorry! Just a little late!

And that’s why people bought Young Justice: Legacy.

Young Justice: Legacy is a lousy clone of the much more successful/fun X-Men/Marvel Gauntlet-alikes of a few years prior. Walk, fight random mooks, walk some more, maybe use a super power every once in a while. Bosses are simultaneously more interesting (here’s Killer Frost! And she’s riding ice pillars!) and more stupid (why the hell can’t Superboy just fly to match her altitude!?) than the rest of the game. And, if you’re good, the finale is a battle against a magical dragon that has no business being the final boss of a DC Superhero title (basically, imagine if the final boss of Injustice was a Pokémon… assuming it wasn’t DLC). Even with a multiplayer mode that is exactly as tepid as the main campaign, there is practically no reason to play this game, save being really dedicated to playing as Miss Martian.

And that’s all this stupid game needs.

Shiny!Young Justice the series is technically based on a comic originally kickstarted by Peter David in 1998. But that is fairly misleading, as the only reason “Young Justice” wasn’t “Teen Titans” was because the “Titans” had all grown up and taken their group name to college in an effort to impress other freshmen. Considering the two properties to be thematically identical, we’re then looking back to Teen Titan’s premiere back in 1964. For the record, that was an epoch before the last time we had to impeach a president. And, in the same way we’ve had a number of administrations since the 60’s, there have been an innumerable number of Teen Titans in that time. In short, if you say, “I like teenage superheroes in the DC Universe”, you could be talking about any number of groups over the last fifty years. And that’s even before you get into spin-offs, elseworlds, and, of course, television shows. Young Justice, the 2010-2013 Cartoon Network program, was just a drop in the ocean of Teen Titan media. And, unfortunately, it was always destined to be forgotten.

And that sucks for anyone that wanted to see this version of Robin ride again.

So Young Justice: Legacy might not be any good, but it does star all those heroes from that nearly forgotten sub-franchise. It’s a complete story with twists, turns, and villains that are all (almost all) recognizable from the original series. M’gann M’orzz is the Young Justice iteration, not the “lesser” versions you’d find in the comic books or random Supergirl episodes. All your old friends are here, and you get to join them in a fight! Sure, the game is no great shakes, but it shakes the part of your brain that contains great memories of a Red Arrow that isn’t addicted to parkour. Young Justice: Legacy thrives, because, until the inevitable revival, it’s the last lifeboat containing all your pals. And even if it’s going to be a pain, aren’t you going to toss them a life preserver?

So forget the reboots, Big Media, and revel in the continuity. It’s pretty clear that anyone…

Wait…

What am I saying? I don’t want to be a sucker and blow my hard earned dough on nostalgia. No! I have to stop this article before it’s too late! Hollywood! Toy companies! Forget I said anything! You don’t need to…

DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE

Oh noooooo!

FGC #394 Young Justice: Legacy

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. I would assume the Nintendo 3DS version is slightly different from its console brothers… but, meh, Google Image Search is all the way over there.
  • Number of players: It has to be at least two. But you can control three characters per stage. Was it three players? Maybe? There was an online mode, so I’m going to upgrade that to “probably”.
  • Favorite Playable Character: If I say Miss Martian, everyone is just going to yell at me for actually liking catch phrases. Oh, wait, Zatanna is considered young enough to qualify for the roster, so that’s my pick. Unparalleled magical powers should always be available during beat ‘em ups.
  • BUM BUM BUMFavorite Non-Playable Character: Klarion bum bum bum The Witch Boy! For no reason, I just happened to remember that I have a Young Justice script signed by Peter David. Go fig.
  • Favorite Character That is Surprisingly Not Playable: We’ve got Nightwing, we’ve got Robin, and we’ve even got Batgirl, but Batman himself is not playable. He’s lurking around, but I am downright impressed the producers had the restraint to not make him a playable character. Good job, guys!
  • Did you know? The final unlocked Titan (uh… Young Justicer?) is Rocket, the sidekick of Icon, star of Milestone Comics. Milestone Comics was an interesting and diverse little universe hiding on the fringes of DC Comics, and, like most attempts at diversity in comic books, every character involved has been almost completely forgotten. But at least Rocket is well worth unlocking, as her moves are some of the best available. And it’s not like there’s some other teenage Milestone Comics hero that people have been begging for for years or anything. Note: Because no one remembers Milestone Comics and would understand that wry reference, I’m talking about Static Shock. There. Happy?
  • Would I play again: Nah. There are some people that obsess over Young Justice, but I’m not one of ‘em. More of a Gargoyles fan, myself.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy Dissidia NT! Oddly enough, this is a recent release, but ROB picked from the deep end of the pool for once, so it’s an actually randomly picked recent release. Go fig. Anyway, please look forward to it!

USE THE FORCE
How do forcefields even work?

FGC #387 The Death and Return of Superman

SUPERMAN!The Death and Return of Superman is a singular event in comics and videogames.

But not for the reasons you think…

First of all, let’s address the inevitable vocal nerd in the room. You might not comment, you might not say it out loud to anyone in particular, but I see you, comics nerd, because I am right there with you and your inevitably contrary opinions. In this case, my imagined strawman is spouting off the modern response to The Death and Return of Superman: “it doesn’t matter anymore, every comic book character dies”. And that’s true! In the current, modern age of comics (so defined as “any comic that came out after Iron Man: The Movie made Marvel a mint”) pretty much everyone has died and been revived in one manner or another. Spider-Man was mind-killed (but got better), every Green Lantern was killed and/or banished at one time or another (they’re all cool now), and even the Human Torch died and was revived in an event absolutely no one cared about. Death means nothing in modern comics, and even some of the “perennial” deaths have been overturned. Jean Grey is back as a teenager and a head-sock wearing adult, Bucky Barnes is an (apparently) immortal cyborg, and, despite the presence of like sixteen Wolverines across the X-franchise, it appears “regular” Wolverine is going to be back in action shortly. Death holds no sway over the comics page, and it’s a shock when Professor X actually stays dead for longer than ten minutes. Remember that time he got shot in the head, and it cured his paralysis? Good times.

So The Death and Return of Superman should have lost some of its luster after a thousand imitators. Heck, it wasn’t original in the first place, as it wasn’t even the first time Superman died. He used to die every other week back in the Silver Age of Comics! I know that sounds ridiculous, but, come on, if you found out your marriage to a gorilla (which only happened because you were cursed with a lion head) was legally binding, wouldn’t you rather conquer death before having to familiarize yourself with gorilla divorce law? Just leave your will etched into the moon, and you’re good to go hang out with mermaids again. WeeeeePoint is that Superman was never going to stay in the grave, and, while there was a bit of buzz over “how does he die?” and “how does he come back?”, The Death and Return of Superman was never going to be all that original an idea right from its inception. It started as a writer’s room joke! The entire thing happened so they could sync a comics wedding with a television wedding! This whole event should have been more doomed than Superman!

But… it wasn’t. Whether it was because of a surprisingly focused media campaign or just a bunch of nerds really interested in watching Superman bite the big one, The Death of and Return of Superman was a cultural event. Actually, it was probably that “Death” that was more read than the inevitable “Return”, but it’s likely at least 12% of that audience stuck around to figure out exactly why Clark Kent suddenly had a mullet. And, by comic book numbers, that’s an unprecedented success! Superman dying reinvigorated the whole of DC Comics, and paved the way for all sorts of amazing new story ideas and characters. Remember Kyle Rayner? Please say you do!

And, as an inevitable side-effect of being popular in the mid 90’s, The Death and Return of Superman got its own Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis game. This, taken on its own in 1994, should not have been a surprise. What is a surprise is that, in the intervening (nearly) 25 years, we haven’t seen a single other videogame based on one single comics arc.

That… is a bit absurd.

OuchFor those of you that don’t follow comic books, comic “arcs” are frequent, numerous, and often define a solid six months or so at a time. Because it’s difficult to write new and interesting plots every month, comic books often pursue arcs that are generally based on one hero battling one villain… but a lot of little problems get in the way for issue after issue. Often times, these arcs are transformed into “events”, and an event comic sucks every other comic it can find into its orbit. It’s not just about Batman fighting Joker, it’s about Joker infecting every other villain he can find, and, this month, The Flash has to battle Captain Cold, but he’s wearing clown makeup, so that’s new and interesting… right? These events are frequently just an excuse to goose the sales on good but publicly ignored titles (“This week, Yellow Lanterns fight The Blue Beetle! Next week: The New Gods!”), and, while we’re at it, maybe get some buzz from the fans thanks to some killer pull quotes like “things will never be the same again” or “Radioactive Man dies on every page”. Again, it’s all been watered down after years (decades) of repetition and hyperbole, but it appears to be the lifeblood of the superhero comics industry. Marvel Comics without sporadic events where everyone turns out to be a Nazi would hardly be Marvel Comics at all.

What happened here?But, for every giant arc and epic event that has gone through DC and Marvel comics, barely any have made the leap to videogame land. What’s more, of the few arcs that made the transition to pixels (and weren’t just based on movies that came out a month prior), all of those stories were rewritten and repackaged as more generic adventures. It’s not “The Fantastic Four battle Galactus”, it’s “Marvel Superheroes”. It’s not “Spider-Man vs. The Green Goblin”, it’s just “Spider-Man”. And when he teams up with the X-Men… it’s not exactly because someone loved that time Arcade built his latest Murder World, it’s entirely because some company wanted to smoosh two super popular franchises together. There is a huge market for people that would absolutely kill for a Blackest Night or Sinestro Wars videogame… but the best we’re ever going to see is a generic Green Lantern game starring only Hal Jordan. And even that is probably only going to happen if there’s a new movie to promote.

So what was different about The Death and Return of Superman? Why, of all the many, many comic book “epic stories” to come out over the last few decades, was this story of man vs. rock monster chosen to be exalted into beat ‘em up Valhalla with Mike Haggar and Michelangelo? Why is The Death and Return of Superman in my Super Nintendo, and not Generic Superman Adventure #327?

And, in playing The Death and Return of Superman, I think I have an answer: This is all about Superman, and that’s it.

The Death and Return of Superman technically features five playable characters: Steel, Cyborg Superman, The Eradicator, Superboy, and Superman: Original Flavor. Officially, that is five different people (mostly people), but, for the purpose of this beat ‘em up, they all play exactly the same. They all have a projectile, they all have a screen-clearing “super move”, and they all have a flurry of generic combos and attacks. And, in a way, that is fairly on-point gameplay, as there is supposed to be confusion as to who is the real Superman. Superboy is a clone, The Eradicator has the power, Cyborg Superman could have the body, and Steel has the heart and drive of the Man of Steel. They’re all supposed to be worthwhile Superman replacements, and, since they all play the same, they could all qualify. So machoIt’s not lazy coding, it’s a feature! And speaking of potential laziness, every boss (aside from Doomsday) is either an anonymous “trap” (like an angry robot), or another one of the Supermans. Cyborg Superman vs. Superboy. Eradicator vs. Steel. Superman vs. Cyborg Superman. This could practically be a fighting game for much of the plot, and it would be one featuring only variations on one character.

And that is the genius of it.

Remember those gigantic, epic “event” comics I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s not an exaggeration to claim that those stories often feature a cast of hundreds. And it’s easy to see how that happens, because when the average super team has an average of ten members, and everyone has to show up all at once, suddenly you’ve got a convention crowd battling the latest invader du jour. And that’s difficult to follow! Sure, you understand Superman or Batman’s deal, but what’s up with Elongated Man this week? Wasn’t he dead? Why does he look like a 20’s gangster? And is that supposed to be Martian Manhunter over there? Why the heck is he cosplaying as Blade? And this is all assuming this event isn’t occurring at some random point in another comic’s current “event”, so Wonder Woman isn’t inexplicably being played by her mom, or Batman isn’t a crazed Frenchman. In short, most comic book events require a primer just to know who’s who, and the industry has solved this problem by… releasing “the road to” comic events that explain the premise for the next event. Also, sometimes there is a denouement “aftermath” series that explains how everyone is reacting to the events of the last event. It generally previews the next event, too. What I’m trying to say is that reading comics requires a healthy amount of dedication, possibly bordering on constructing a bulletin board with a number of multicolored push pins.

WeeeeBut The Death and Return of Superman doesn’t need any of that. Yes, the original series was grand and sweeping, and we certainly had at least one tie-in where we learned exactly how Aquaman felt about losing his land pal, but the core of the story, that which could be converted into a 16-bit title, is just a Superman story. It’s Evil Superman fighting Sidekick Supermans until Real Superman decides to make the scene. You don’t need Lois Lane. You don’t need Lex Luthor. And you certainly don’t need a guest appearance from Robin #4,187. No, all you need is a bunch of Supermans punching each other, and we’re good to go. The Death and Return of Superman is the ideal comic book event, because it can be converted into any format, and the audience doesn’t need to know anything more than the title. What is the Eradicator’s deal? Who cares! It’s time for super punches now!

And that’s why The Death and Return of Superman is the only videogame distinctly based on one comic book event.

Well, except Maximum Carnage. But that one sucked.

FGC #387 The Death and Return of Superman

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The SNES version came out first, so I’m assuming the Genesis version is more of a port.
  • Number of players: Despite the host of extra Supermans laying around, it’s only one player. A real shame there isn’t a playable Jimmy Olsen available.
  • Friendly Fire: One interesting shift in the beat ‘em up standard here is that the random mooks can accidently fire missiles and punches at each other. Some really deft and careful dodging could probably lead to a successful “pacifist run” of everything but the bosses.
  • Super Destructive: On the other hand, there’s something just plain satisfying about tossing a mutant into a background window, and earning a powerup for your troubles.
  • Get 'em!The Superman Problem: This is a beat ‘em up starring Superman, so, naturally, we have to deal with the whole “he’s not that super” problem. Doomsday is one thing, but OG Supes can lose health and lives to random punks with chainsaws! And so many random robots! Bah! Repeat to yourself it’s just a game, and you should really just relax.
  • Favorite Superman: I’m going to say Steel for this game, as he’s the only Superman smart enough to show up with a weapon (a rad hammer, at that). Look, I know Superman has twelve billion powers, but kryptonite surfaces every other day, so maybe it would be a good idea to have a backup plan, Clark.
  • Did you know? This game was developed by an early Blizzard Entertainment. Yes, that Blizzard. If you ignore Blackthorne (which almost everyone did anyway), this might be the first chronologically developed Blizzard game as Blizzard (as they were previously Silicon & Synapse). That’s just super.
  • Would I play again: This is a beat ‘em up, and, while it’s interesting as a cultural artifact, it’s neither two players nor interesting enough to play again. Pass.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Secret of Mana 2018! Or I just spent all weekend playing that game, and I really want to talk about it! Which I’m going to do! Please look forward to it!

I hate your little jacket

FGC #364 The Adventures of Bayou Billy

Billy!There have been a lot of reasons thrown around for why localized NES games were so unerringly difficult compared to their Japanese, easier cousins. Was it the fear of the American rental market gutting the profits of Japanese developers? Was it an effort to “improve” the game through greater difficulty? Was it a general disdain for Grant Danasty? In many cases, it is nearly impossible to ascertain the thinking involved, as many Japanese developers were just too exhausted from blowing into cartridges to remember what they did ten seconds back, left alone two decades ago. However, in one case, we know exactly why Konami made a host of changes between the Japanese Mad City and the American The Adventures of Bayou Billy.

It’s because 1989 Konami was a company filled with hate.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the differences between The Adventures of Bayou Billy and Mad City.

Beat ‘em Up: Faster, Stronger, Harder

What is even happening?First and most unforgivable sin: everything is so much more difficult in the beat ‘em up portions of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Konami didn’t just choose to strengthen the enemies through increased HP, double damage dealing blows, or increasing their average speed; no, Konami decided to enhance everything. How is Billy supposed to survive such a thing!? All of his opponents have become super monsters, and the only advantage the player has gained is… sometimes the bad guys now drop knives. That’s it! Billy was granted no additional strength, and everyone else in the bayou is sucking down triple powered steroids!

And the unfortunate corollary to this change is that it makes the game so much worse. A beat ‘em up is, at its core, a careful balance between general fun and nonstop tedium. There’s a reason even the best of the best of beat ‘em ups often have minigames splattered about the experience, and that’s because old school beat ‘em ups are boring as heck. It’s the same doof getting punched over and over, and even the most dedicated player is going to notice nothing new has happened for the last half hour. Double the HP of your average enemy (or every enemy), and it’s not only a challenge to keep Billy alive, but it’s a challenge to stay awake. Nobody needs to wade around in a bog for ten minutes punching an alligator, and we really don’t need another boss that takes so many hits that it doubles the length of the level.

Yes, more powerful enemies make the game “harder”, but, more importantly, they make the game unnecessarily longer.

Shoot ‘em Up: Better be a Crack Shot

Pew PewThe first stage (that you will never beat) is a beat ‘em up, but shortly thereafter is a shoot ‘em up stage. And it’s kind of neat! You have the option of using your controller as a mouse-like reticle, or you can actually use the classic NES Zapper to blast Bayou Billy’s bullies to bits. Yes, this game was produced in that crazy ten minute period when developers remembered that the NES had other control options, and we’ll all accept any excuse to whip out the ol’ Zapper again.

Unfortunately, the American version of the game found a way to make the entire experience 50% less fun. You have a limited number of bullets in both Mad City and TAoBB, but in TAoBB, you have half the bullets as Mad City. This means you have half the means of defending yourself (in typical shooting gallery style, you must repel attackers and objects with your amazing aim), and half the chances to survive. Naturally, you instantly lose if you run out of bullets, so for anyone that isn’t already very good at aiming (like the guy writing this article), the zapper goes from a fun novelty to a virtual impossibility. Or maybe you could just sit really close to the screen. Whatever the solution, the severely limited firepower transforms what could be a very fun minigame into an extremely stressful shoot out.

Okay, I suppose shoot outs should be stressful… but still!

Quiz Mode: Gone Forever

Mad City contained “quiz mode”, a short, multi-question, multiple choice quiz that tested your knowledge of Mad City. Bayou Billy dropped the quiz entirely. One could claim the test was eliminated because it had no impact on anything and was barely more fun than a math final… but at least it was there! And it was one of the few things you could “beat” without having to master proper gator-wrastlin’! Come on, Konami, let us Americans have some goofy fun!

Drive Mode: You will not survive

WeeeeeAnd now we get to raw, seething loathing. Bayou Billy starts in the Louisiana Bayou, but, at about the halfway point, Billy hops in a jeep and hightails it over to the big city/easy. This simple act translates into an Out Run-esque “racing” segment. Billy has to catch up with Godfather Gordon, and avoid a few planes, trees, and automobiles along the way. It’s a pretty straightforward race to the finish/avoid every obstacle car challenge.

However, things are just a smidgen more difficult for the American audience. Right off the bat, Mad City’s car health bar has been dropped, so, bad news, every last collision is an instant death. Sorry! Making matters worse, Billy is driving a big, fat American car for his the Western release, so the slightly wider bumper is a lot more likely to nudge into a fatal crash. And, because we’re never going green, Billy has less fuel, so if you were considering taking it slow to avoid all those gratuitous deaths, I’ve got some bad news for you.

In short, if you claim you were able to conquer the Bayou Billy driving stages on the original hardware, I am calling you a liar.

Annabelle Gets a Makeover

In Mad City, Annabelle, Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend, wears a long dress with no shoes. In TAoBB, she is sporting daisy dukes, a tank top, and heels. This… doesn’t impact anything, but it’s weird, right? The only woman in this entire franchise gets a different outfit, and every other character gets slight palette swaps, if that. Okay, it’s the least of the localization sins, but it’s still peculiar.

More Work, Less Reward

LoserAfter all that, assuming you can beat Godfather Gordon and his inexplicably buff twin nephews (or something) you will be treated to the ending of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Admittedly, this ending is actually pretty great (by NES standards) as it includes not only the resolution of the plot (Billy gets the girl!) but also a set of whacky credits that credit every random thug in the adventure like they’re actors playing a role (and that role is making your life miserable). Nobody is going to mistake this little interlude for the best ending on the NES (which is, obviously, the finale of Super Mario Bros. 2), but it at least acknowledges something happened.

But over in Japan, Billy can earn one of three different endings. Three! There’s the obvious “reunion” scene that appears in the American version, but there are also two joke endings: one that includes Billy being a jackass and refusing to touch Annabelle (because the player didn’t deign to shuffle Billy over to his “prize”), and one that is a fourth-wall breaking “comedy routine” that parodies the very concept of a happy ending. Neither ending is that exciting (and one is weirdly rapey), but, come on guys, at least give the greater prizes to the more difficult game!

More effort, less to show for it, and a game that goes from “innocuous” to “one of the most difficult games on the system”. Could there even be an explanation other than sheer hatred for Western gamers?

Here’s a game set in America, kids, now choke on it.

FGC #364 The Adventures of Bayou Billy

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and that’s that. No rerelease for the lucrative Bayou Billy license.
  • Number of players: It’s mostly a beat ‘em up without a second player, and that’s never good.
  • BelmondoFavorite Weapon: At least one thing Bayou Billy has going for it is that Billy can acquire a few different weapons from his opponents, like a rock or a gun. I think one is more effective than the other. Regardless, the whip is the best of the bunch, because it’s strong, has range, and doesn’t run out of bullets in six seconds. Bless you, 8-bit whips.
  • How hard is it? In the official Captain N canon, Bayou Billy is the only game that Kevin Keene has never beaten. He’s Captain N! He can beat all the games! What is going on!?!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I assumed “Bayou Billy” was some popular 80’s property (likely a movie) until… about a week ago. Crocodile Dundee was a real thing, right?
  • Did you know? There was a tie-in Bayou Billy comic book series, and, while it only ran for five issues, it did feature art by a young Amanda Conner, who would go on to be the best freaking combination artist/writer in the comics industry. Have you read her Power Girl series? Go do that now. It has a gorilla in it, you’ll like it.
  • Would I play again: I just described the game as pure hatred, do you think I’m going to jump back into that swamp again?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bravely Second: End Layer! Let’s team up with a woman from the moon to fight for our beloved dimension! Please look forward to it!

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