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FGC #336 World Heroes Anthology

I love you, Willow ValleyHere’s another reason we’re stupid.

So there’s this anime I’m about to spoil, and it’s called Fate/Stay Night. I’m not going to be bothered to figure out the exact origins of this franchise, but I’m moderately certain it’s some kind of Japanese light porno that digivolved into a version of Pokémon. The “original” plot is that there is The Holy Grail War, and in order to reduce the body count of another Crusade, seven Pokémon Trainers each get one main warrior, and said warriors fight it out. In the anime (one of them, but I think I’m talking about the first one) this means a well-meaning, nondescript boy winds up with a female warrior at his beck and call, inadvertently gains a tsundere rival/ally in the war itself, and somehow eventually accumulates a few other walking fetishes for his harem. Did you guess one of his opponents-turned-allies would be a “younger sister” archetype? Good job, you’ve watched an anime before!

Fate/Stay Night’s obvious thighs fetish aside, it seems the most lasting item to come out of that series is its appropriation of historical and mythical characters. The concept for this Holy Grail War is that the warriors are drawn from across antiquity and fiction, and you can wind up with an epic battle where Hercules has to fight Ozymandias while Cu Chulainn eats a hotdog. And, of course, the big “mystery” of the initial Fate/Stay Night story is the identity of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman that is aiding our protagonist. Eventually, it is discovered that she is the one and only King Arthur (star of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and all the myths got it wrong, “he” was a “she” all along, and just taped down her prodigious chest because medieval peasants weren’t so great about listening to ladies who studied the blade. This is meant to be a revelation, because it recontextualizes history (“history”), and adds a certain gravitas to this story about occasionally peeping on Queen Arthur bathing. Also, it allows the Once and Future Queen to have massive depression over the current state of Camelot (which I believe has become some manner of theme park), and a sad protagonist is always a sign of a for-real serious story for adults.

Is this Fate?For reasons that I can’t completely understand (are there a lot of people out there that just really want to boink King Arthur?) Fate/Stay Night has been a very successful series. It has amassed a huge number of spin-offs and auxiliary material, and I somehow bought two of the artbooks because it’s not yet illegal to be drunk and access Amazon.com. And, through all of the Fate/Stay material, there continues to be this delightful inclination toward harvesting history for a cheap bit of seriousness. That’s not just any dark knight, that’s Lancelot! Who’s that lion-headed muscle man? It’s Thomas Edison! And when we need a whole new version of our most popular heroine, we’ll say she’s Nero this time. We can always find another male leader to be reimagined as a busty blonde. We can keep this series going forever!

And it works every. Single. Time.

Now, I’m not saying that the Fate/Stay Night franchise is some kind of unrelenting cultural juggernaut the likes of Young Sheldon and its associated ancillary material; no, what I’m saying is that, if you pay the tiniest bit of attention to the Fate/Stay Night franchise (and maybe properly call it the “Type Moon Universe” or something), you will be tricked every single time they release a “new” character. It’s really simple: they marry a random anime trope (let’s say J-Pop idol) to a random mythical/historical character (gonna go with… Elizabeth Bathory) and then marvel as the audience says, “Hey! I know that name! Neat!” It’s not like it pushes systems, but every time it happens, there’s that twinge of recognition, that indescribable feeling of knowing what you’re looking at, and, inevitably, it somehow enhances the experience. This isn’t Original Character #4,371, this is freakin’ Marilith! I saw her in Final Fantasy! Kinda!

And, while I may be fairly immune to the charms of Fate/Stay Night, I was young once. And, for that reason, I can never find fault in World Heroes.

Axe me no questions, I'll cut you no liesActually, let me amend that statement: I can absolutely see how World Heroes was not a very good Street Fighter 2 clone. The inadequate attack options lead to very limited fights, the final boss is Shang Tsung without a Goro, and the “danger” levels are a gimmick for gimmick’s sake. World Heroes 2 added more characters to the roster, but was otherwise more of the same (give or take the “seesaw” battles that take absolutely forever). World Heroes 2 Jet was just the Turbo edition, and World Heroes Perfect was finally a rival for Street Fighter 2 when we had already moved on to Street Fighter Alpha. World Heroes was always a step behind, and never any better than the myriad of other wannabe fighters available at the time.

And I don’t think I’ve ever loved a fighting game franchise more.

I’ve always said that a fighting game lives or dies by its roster. Street Fighter knows the score on this one, and it’s also the flawless reason that Tekken keeps adding magical idols and hulking robots to its cast. On the other side of the coin you have the likes of Virtua Fighter, which is an excellent game fundamentally, but contains a roster so boring I’m struggling to stay awake to finish this sentence. World Heroes is firmly in the Street Fighter camp (up to and including Ken and Ryu “but ninjas!” as the main characters), and, while there are a few duds (hello, Bruce Lee Clone #261), this is a game that absolutely plumbs the depths of history to produce an interesting roster. Rasputin the mad (and loving) monk! Ganghis Kahn! And, yes, even a precursor to Fate/Stay Night’s blonde swordswoman, an expy of Joan of Arc named Jane. All the numbers have been filed off these “famous” fighters (which explains how Hulk Hogan snuck into the ring), but it’s pretty clear that the “C” in “C. Kidd” doesn’t stand for “Carl”.

NEO DIO!And damned if this “historical” roster didn’t work on me. Look! It’s Jack the Ripper! I know who that is! I saw that guy on Babylon 5! Let’s pump a few quarters into this one! And I couldn’t have been the only one, as the “weak” World Heroes gameplay did wind up producing a pile of sequels (and I swear I saw World Heroes on more Neo Geos than I ever saw Metal Slug). World Heroes might not have survived past the fighting game fad of the late 90’s, but it fared a lot better than Primal Rage. Eat it, Saturday Night Slam Masters!

But, like it or not, the fleeting success of World Heroes is another sign that we’re dumb. We’re suckers for recognition, and whether it’s a reality TV show host running for president or a medieval woman with a sword, we seem to gravitate toward the familiar. A significant variation on King Arthur or a slight variation on Joan of Arc, it doesn’t matter, just so long as that proverbial part of our monkey brain lights up in acknowledgment. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be familiar.

Though I suppose familiar can be good, too. You know, when it involves a dude in a tiki mask demolishing a Viking. That’s always going to be a fun time.

FGC #336 World Heroes Anthology

  • System: Playstation 2 for the anthology, but the original World Heroes games appeared on the Neo Geo. And it hopped over to Super Nintendo, like, once. Maybe there was a brief stop on Saturn, too.
  • Number of players: Two is the number of fighters, and the number of fighters shall be two.
  • Localization Fun: It’s SNK, so it’s time for your daily recommended engrish.

    PUNCH!

    So close!

  • Problematic Like: Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room: this game features a robotic Nazi. They don’t try to hide it! His bio says that he was built for World War 2, he’s wearing basically a Nazi uniform, and he’s from Germany, with a profession listed as “soldier”. However, despite there being a Nazi in the roster, there’s no reason you have to be the Nazi, and you’re welcome to punch the Nazi all you want. So, you know, that’s an option.
  • What’s in a name: The man who creates the time machine that fuels this tournament is… Doctor Brown. Doc Brown. Who built a time machine. Huh. Later games did revise his name to be the slightly less conspicuous Dr. Brown Sugar.
  • Other Plagiarism: Along with the mecha Nazi, we’ve got some holdovers from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure here, complete with a final boss named Dio (who is, incidentally, basically a stand). If this bullet point doesn’t makes sense to you, please see your nearest anime nerd.
  • Why can’t we be friends: Now we take a moment to acknowledge the rad dancing happening in the background of the World Heroes 2 America stage.

    Rock it!

    Keep on rockin’, guys!

  • Did you know? A World Heroes release was planned for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but that system flopped so badly, it brought down every franchise with it. Oops!
  • Would I play again: I have incredible nostalgia for this title, so almost certainly. Can’t say no to some of my addictions.

What’s next? Random ROB is letting me play another recent game… Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil! Let’s get ready to smash some Made in America china! Please look forward to it!

DBZ fighter?

FGC #137 Bionic Commando

Something a little different for this one…

Click right about here to see into the mind of one of the NES’s greatest heroes.

FGC #137 Bionic Commando

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and kinda sorta Gameboy, depending on how much you consider that version to be its own, independent thing.
  • Number of players: There can be only one Bionic Commando.
  • Favorite Weapon: There is the bazooka, and there is everything else. Three-Way Blaster doesn’t even rank.
  • Swing is the thingChildhood Memories: I hated this game as a kid. I’ve come to appreciate it as an adult, but the complete lack of a jump button made a young Goggle Bob so upset I can’t even describe it. Like, Rad, can’t you just step over that barrel? It’s not that hard!
  • Though I still hate…: Having to juggle the proper radio devices lest you be locked out of a boss room is kind of terrible. How am I supposed to remember which otherwise useless item works in which particular area? And what maniac numbered these levels, anyway?
  • Did you know? I feel like a lot of people already know this, but the original “Top Secret” Japanese version of Bionic Commando was just loaded with swastikas. They were all over the place! I’ve always found it funny how other mediums have no problem with Nazi bad guys, but video games, oh no, now we’ve gotta throw random eagles into the mix.
  • Would I play again: Hell yeah.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Capcom vs. SNK for the Sega Dreamcast! Didn’t we already review that game?… Oh? This is the other side of that? So it’s a good game? Awesome. Please look forward to it!

FGC #131 Gunstar Heroes

These losersIf Random ROB was at all predictable, I could have made the previous few entries into some sort of “theme week”. Starting with entry #125, we’ve had, in order…

  • Sonic Rivals, a 2-D platforming game with an emphasis on speed/racing.
  • Super Adventure Island 2, a 2-D “adventure” game with an emphasis on learning new skills and finding treasure.
  • The Itchy & Scratchy Game, a 2-D action/fighting game that could be interpreted as a primitive ancestor to Smash Bros (or at least its basic gameplay).
  • Metroid Fusion, a 2-D metroidvania with an emphasis on exploration and crazy bosses.
  • Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, a 2-D animation simulator with unusual controls and even stranger set pieces.
  • Mario vs. Donkey Kong, a 2-D “puzzle platformer” with measured Mario movements.

While many (entire companies) seem to have it in their minds that 2-D gaming is exclusively the domain of 90’s animals with attitude running and jumping, it’s pretty clear that that is not the case. Heck, a number of the games listed above are from that ancient, homogenized 16-bit era, and, guess what? Something like Pac-Man 2 couldn’t be more different from The Itchy & Scratchy Game if it tried, and they’re both primarily based on the concept of “playable cartoons”. And, as has been discussed on this very site, Metroid and the likes of Super Adventure Island 2 are very different gaming experiences despite having many surface level similarities. Point is, you get right down to it, even if you’ve only got two dimensions, you’ve got infinite possibilities.

And we haven’t even hit my favorite 2-D sub-genre yet.

Actually, even saying that makes me wince a little, as, deep in my heart, I know I’m a sucker for metroidvania games. Super Metroid is OWIEindisputably one of my favorite games of all time, and I’ll gladly play through practically any game in that series at the slightest provocation. And, honestly, I am completely incapable of interpreting any of the “IGAvania” Castlevania games as bad in any plausible way. However, the recent glut of “indie” metroidvania games has proven that when a metroidvania game is bad, it can be dire. Backtracking is an integral part of the metroidvania genre, and when that is applied to a game that doesn’t really know what it’s doing? Suddenly the template for the best game in the world becomes one of the worst. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the worst thing a video game can do is be boring, and a bad metroidvania is pretty much guaranteed to be boring.

But you know what isn’t boring? Running around and shooting the hell out of everything.

If my video game judging rubric is that “boring = bad”, and the opposite is true? Well then, Gunstar Heroes is the best game ever made. There is nary a second in Gunstar Heroes that is given over to “waiting for something to happen”. From the first moment you start your first level in this game, you’re assaulted on all sides by murderous enemy soldiers. Or you’re trying to catch a rapidly ascending airship. Or you’re catapulting through a mineshaft. From there, you’re battling a minimum of three boss monsters per level, often culminating in a beast that is many times your hero’s size. And then there’s a sprinkling of boss rushes here and there, like the clash(s) against Seven Force, a gigantic mech that is basically an excuse for you to battle Treasure’s digital Lego creations. Top it all off with a trip to space to battle Super God Frankenstein, and you’re lucky if you have five seconds to breathe while counting your score.

Best Minecart stageGunstar Heroes is an action game that practically defines the word “action”. It’s fundamentally the same gameplay as Mega Man (jump, jump, slide), but it lives much more on the Contra side of the things. If you’re not firing your gun at all times, you’re doing something wrong, and you’ll probably be looking at a Game Over screen pretty soon. In fact, that’s about the only way the action stops (give or take a level select screen), and you’ll probably see it a bunch if it’s your first time, because Gunstar Heroes expects you to know what’s coming, and instantly be able to identify boss patterns and incoming bullet hells. If you want to use some infinite vitality code and rob yourself of the experience of memorizing exactly how mechanical lobsters work, that’s your business, but I do have to say that this is one of the few video games out there where unbridled invincibility won’t detract from the experience one iota. Alright, it might be a little less fun if you just camp out and unload a flamethrower up Core Runner’s core nethers, but I don’t fault anyone for wanting to keep the party going for as long as possible, regardless of skill.

I can’t say enough good things about Gunstar Heroes, and my only regret about the game is that, as a Nintendo kid, I didn’t know it existed until around the Playstation 2 era. So many years wasted…

But why do I think this game is so great? I mean, yeah, the “nonstop action” and “crazy bosses” are pretty amazing, but any given Dance Dance Revolution game offers plenty of reasons to need a breather, and even Krion Conquest had its share of interesting level cappers. And if I’m going on so much about how I love run ‘n gun gameplay, why don’t you see me expounding on the joys of Halo or Doom? Fight the enemy soldiers, kill the boss, what’s the big difference?

And I want to say it’s the limited two dimensions that make all the difference.

Gunstar Heroes was once disparaged for its small characters, but it has “tiny” sprites for a reason, and that reason is to cram as much action onto the screen as possible. In a time when there was already a push for graphics over gameplay (“graphics” in this case Vrrooooombeing gigantic, detailed sprites like you’d find in Street Fighter 2), Gunstar Heroes eschewed the norms and made teeny dudes that could be smushed into the limited view of a 2-D stage. And it was magnificent, because it created a world where Gunstar Red and Blue are constantly assaulted from all sides. There’s no question about where the bullet that got you originated, because you can see it coming no matter what. You’re surrounded. Outnumbered. This is not fair to your little 16-bit hero, but it’s fair to you, the player, because you can see it all. You can survive, you can win, and it’s all thanks to the 2-D layout.

This is something that has been lost in the FPS genre. As immersive as a first person shooter can be, it’s not going to be perfect until we can simulate real peripheral vision and “knowing” someone is sneaking up on “you”. A quick look over your shoulder is impossible (or at least disorienting) in a modern FPS, and when your health starts rapidly dropping, you might not even know that it’s because you back has suddenly become holier than a cheese grater. To be clear, I’m not saying this is a reason FPS games are “bad”, simply that it’s a disadvantage of the genre, and something that can quickly cause frustration and a disassembled controller. And if the action stops… that’s not so great for an action game.

So that’s why I love 2-D action “run ‘n gun” games. Like many video games, it’s an approximation of reality, and, while it’s “unrealistic” that you can see those creatures sneaking up behind you, it creates a much more fair environment for the player, which dramatically increases the odds of the game getting, you know, played. Gunstar Heroes is arguably the pinnacle of this thinking, with a “tough but fair” design structure that, when you’re on, you’re really fuggin’ on. It’s a great game with amazing Genesis technical feats and fun characters, but what’s most important about Gunstar Heroes is that it’s an action game that does everything to maximize the action.

Put 'er thereIt’s clear that, despite what the early 21st century may have tried to hoist on us, 2-D has its advantages. Even after thirty years of gaming, there’s still a lot of treasure buried in those hills, and Gunstar Heroes is a perfect example of everything right about 2-D gaming.

FGC #131 Gunstar Heroes

  • System: Sega Genesis, though also available on a number of random Genesis collections throughout the Ages, and most recently available on Nintendo 3DS as part of the excellent 3D Classics Series. You have no excuse.
  • Number of players: Secret shame? I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a two-player simultaneous game of Gunstar Heroes going. Why’s everybody always gotta play Smash Bros?
  • Port o’ Call: Gunstar Super Heroes is a totally separate game and will be treated as such. It’s a sequel, dammit. Totally different characters.
  • Mecha Hitler: How many wannabe Hitlers with mechanical limbs are going to show up in video games?

    World/Gunstar Heroes

    I want to say at least two.

  • Favorite Boss: G.I. Orange basically throws a helicopter at the player. And he spends most of the game standing around flexing. Can’t really stay mad at that guy.
  • Bet on Black: I want to say this is the only game in the history of gaming that has ever presented me with a board game “board” and not made me groan immediately. Animal Crossing, Mario Party, and Pictionary could learn something…
  • Did you know? The 2009 edition of Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition named Gunstar Heroes the 33rd best game of all time. Chrono Trigger was 32. Considering Super Mario Kart (the game, not the franchise) was number one, I want to say the list was merely designed to enflame.
  • Would I play again: DOES ANYONE WANT TO PLAY TWO PLAYER RIGHT NOW!? I’M FREE!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall! …. What? Huh. Alright, I want to say this game isn’t on any “best of” lists. Maybe best games that involve the mall? Maybe? Uh, please look forward to it.

So squishy