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FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

ETERNAL!They tried. They damn well tried.

Mortal Kombat (1) was released for the Sega Genesis on Mortal Monday, September 13, 1993. It was, by all accounts, a wildly successful launch for a game that had been haunting arcades for nearly an entire year. What’s more, thanks to the likes of the “blood code” and the lack of censorship on the console, the Sega Genesis version was considered by many to be the “real” way to play Mortal Kombat at home. This was in stark contrast to the release of Street Fighter 2, which had seen amazing success on the SNES a year earlier, but hit the Sega Genesis like a flopping pile of assorted expired organs. And, two months later, we saw Eternal Champions, the unusual offspring of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Now, we would hate to disparage Mortal Kombat during Mortal Kombat Week (“week”), but let’s be real here: Mortal Kombat’s initial character variety sucks. By Mortal Kombat 2, we were fighting knife mutants and Oddjobs, but our virgin foray into the world of Elder Gods and dragon men pretty much included one interesting four-armed monster fighting a bunch of dudes in marginally themed gym clothes. The motion capture graphics were revolutionary at the time, but “a pair of sunglasses” does not interesting character design make. On the other hand, you have Street Fighter, which had bright, colorful goblin people fighting stretchy yogis, sumo wrestlers, and at least one Spaniard Ninja. Even when similar fighters are involved, no one is going to mistake Ryu for Sagat. Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, meanwhile, might seem a tad similar. Sub-Zero and Scorpion being clones are a bit of an extreme case, but they also comprise 28% of the playable roster.

Let's fight!Eternal Champions seemed to take a page from Street Fighter’s book rather than Mortal Kombat. Eternal Champions employed Ernie Chan, a Filipino-American comics artist, who worked with the Buscema brothers back in the ‘70’s. Before working with Sega, Chan was known for being an artist at DC Comics (Ghosts, House of Mystery, Detective Comics) and Marvel (Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange). Considering Chan was responsible for a healthy number of comic book covers for a full two years at DC Comics, he knew a thing or two about dynamic characters punching each other as hard as possible (the 1970s was before comic book characters decided to just stand around and philosophize at each other for six consecutive trades). It seems only natural that he would be responsible for designing some interesting punch mans, and, let me tell you, we got some remarkable fighters here.

The base concept of Eternal Champions is that the titular (kinda) Eternal Champion has plucked a series of heroes from their respective timelines, and granted them the potential prize of avoiding their otherwise inevitable deaths. Arguably, this could lead to a number of “stock” characters, as different timelines lead naturally to different archetypes, and we can certainly forgive a knight from ancient times or a “future man” from 21XX. But, against all odds, we have a pretty diverse cast in Eternal Champions. We do have a stock caveman, and Xavier Pendragon seems like a typical wizard hailing from Salem, but we also have Shadow Yamato (hm?), a modern corporate assassin that wouldn’t be out of place in Shadowrun. Trident is Atlantean, but basically a merman. RAX is a cyborg built for Teleroboxer, and Midknight is a bio engineer who kinda sorta turned himself into a vampire. And Jetta Maxx is a 19th century circus performer that attacks with all the agility you would expect from an acrobat. Why aren’t there more tumblers in fighting games? That seems like a natural fit!

HUG!None of the fighters in Eternal Champions are exactly setting the world on fire, but there is no way you’d mistake Larcen the 1920’s PI/cat burgler for Blade, the futuristic bounty hunter. And, whether it’s an accident of the “complicated” concept of time travel being involved, or because someone genuinely wanted to create a new Eternal Champions universe, but these fighters all have in-depth, fascinating backstories to accompany their stimulating visual designs. As a prerequisite for the plot, we immediately must learn how each fighter died (which allows for some always fun dramatic irony), why they were targeted for death (the premise of entire half hours of Law & Order), and why, had they lived, they would have made the world a better place. Additionally, this setup encourages the creation of cultures old and new (of course someone has to explain how the “future” works, but even Ancient Atlantis has some ‘splainin’ to do about its fish people), and, since this is a fighting game, it’s important to explain the whys of some of these special moves. Yes, ninja use ninja stars, but why exactly does Larcen have a grappling hook? There’s a reason for that!

Which reminds me: these exciting, distinct fighters work well for not only for biography screen attract modes, but also for actually being fighters. This is another situation where, unlike Mortal Kombat, if a character has a trident for a hand, they’re not going to throw the exact same punch as the robot dude. In fact, every fighter has a defined fighting style, and, while it does seem a little odd that the vampire scientist is trained in Jeet Kune Do, it does mean that every character feels distinct in more ways than simply a special move. And, of course, the special moves are their own kind of distinct, and not just a fireball and a jumping uppercut spread out among the cast. In short, the eternal champions collectively offer a unique experience for a time when the fighting genre was flooded with monotonous knock-offs.

TIME KILL(ERS)But there is one place where Eternal Champions differed from Street Fighter: it had fatalities. Or, to be more precise, the game had “stage fatalities” in the form of “Overkills”: make sure your opponent lands on a particular spot when their health is low, and the background will do your work for you. If you’re in prehistoric times, you’re about to see someone devoured by a dinosaur. Meanwhile, if you’re hanging in the early 20th Century, get ready for a drive-by. The 60’s naturally contain napalm, and the far-flung future of 2345 AD is wall-to-wall robots. It’s entirely possible you could complete Eternal Champions without once seeing an Overkill, though, so it seems like the whole feature was an afterthought. Mortal Kombat was likely an influence, but a fighter being zapped into oblivion by a neon sign (can that actually happen?) wasn’t exactly the point of Eternal Champions. It’s all about the character variety, we don’t need gorefests to sell our Sega cartridges.

Or maybe we do, because the Sega CD exclusive sequel/upgrade, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side dialed the gore up to eleven.

To be clear, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not the kind of fighting game sequel that completely eschewed former graphics and gameplay for something completely different (Battle Arena Toshinden was fond of that move). This is much more the Super Turbo to Eternal Champions’ Champion Edition. More characters were added to the cast (and a great many of them were “joke characters”, like Hooter, a mundane owl with a taste for rats and vengeance), the special move system was rejiggered, and the same overarching plot returned with a marginal twist. The Eternal Champion has gathered his warriors once again to fight for a chance to live (and I guess nobody won the last one), but now there are a few new entrants, and the nefarious Dark Champion is hatching an evil plan to be the hardest-to-unlock character in the history of fighting games (just use the cheat code). Superficially, this Eternal Champions is just the obvious and expected fighting game upgrade that would barely necessitate a season pass in today’s market.

Not fair... for DeathBut that Dark Champion does make an impact on the fatalities of EC:CotD. The Dark Champion can be summoned for a match ending “cinekill”, which will banish your opponent to a pre-recorded FMV hell where they will endure a death based on their greatest fear. Some of these videos are goofy (at least one character is crushed with a “I’m not touching you” finger motion), but the majority are either significantly gory (the cyborg has his limbs torn off in a rather unpleasant fashion) or pure nightmare fuel (I’m not the only one that has a fear of melting into some manner of fleshy liquid, am I?). And if you think the increased gore is relegated to cutscenes, don’t worry, there are also now “Vendettas” that allow you to use a special move toward the end of the match that will be a little more special than usual. They, again, run a realism gamut (which is more likely to make an impact: a character turning into a giant bug or one just whipping out a shotgun for a headshot?), but the end result of most Vendettas is a literal bloody pulp tossed around the arena. And the stage fatalities really earned their “Overkill” moniker, as some are excessive to the point of parody. “The Pit” of EC:CotD is not one, not two, but three pits in one! And, don’t worry, you get to watch as a 16-bit human body churns through three different buzzsaws. Street Fighter has different models for every character’s skeleton thanks to Blanka’s shocking attacks, but EC:CotD goes the extra mile by modeling individual organs that are primed to leak out of those skeletons. Yummy!

And why all the gore? Well, obviously because someone wanted Eternal Champions to be popular.

That's why he's the champMortal Kombat hit the Genesis in 1993, Eternal Champions saw its sequel released in 1995. In those intervening years, Mortal Kombat continued to be a juggernaut, particularly on the Sega Genesis. Street Fighter may have proven to be a lasting victor, but the sales numbers all touted Mortal Kombat as the champion of the system. Eternal Champions wanted a piece of that pie so badly. Sega did everything it could to promote EC, from country-wide, EGM-sponsored tournaments to a 7-11 slurpee promotion, but it couldn’t touch the genuine appeal of the game with the angry skeleton and the kung-fu dude. Eternal Champions never had a hold of the arcade appeal, tried to pump up the blood to compensate, and still got nowhere. An excellently crafted fighting game, and it’s still relegated to the discount bin of history.

Oh, and what finally killed Eternal Champions? Why was there never a third title? Well, there was supposed to be a Saturn version to wrap everything up, but Sega of Japan decided that Sega had too many fighting games (two), Eternal Champions was stealing too much attention from Virtua Fighter, and the eternal champions had to be retired. Sorry, guys, but there’s only room for one fighting game in this company.

Sorry, Eternal Champions. We know you tried everything, but it just wasn’t enough.

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

  • System: Sega CD for Challenge, but just regular Sega Genesis for just regular Eternal Champions. The new Sega Genesis Mini Classic Console is also available, but go ahead and grab the 6-button controller for that one.
  • Number of players: Up to and including two.
  • Favorite Character: Dr. Mitchell Midleton Knight has become the bio-engineered vampire monster Midknight! … Okay, he’s just Spider-Man’s Morbius, but… wait a tick. RAX is Cyborg, Shadow is Elektra, Trident is Aquaman, Blade is named friggen’ Blade… maybe these characters aren’t all that original…
  • Send in the Clowns: This happened.
    AHHHHHHH

    I’m never playing this again.
  • So 90’s it’s Grody: Want to know how to determine this game came out in 1995? Well, there’s a hidden fighter simply known as “The Senator” who exists as a parody of the controversy surrounding violent videogames. And he fights in front of an ersatz McDonalds surrounded by security, an obvious sendup of Bill Clinton’s love of jogging to burger joints. And Senator’s fatality is transforming into an uzi-wielding berserk postal clerk. And they claim memes were invented by the internet!
  • Failure State: Okay, maybe the reason Eternal Champions never became popular was because it was impossible to beat. The final boss is the Eternal Champion, and he’s got eight different “forms”, and they all have to be fought and defeated over the course of two rounds. And if you lose two rounds, there are no continues, you’re just booted back to your original timeline as a Bad End. So win eight continuous fights, or die. And Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side introduced another, meaner Eternal Champion after the first one, so good luck winning sixteen continuous fights.
  • Favorite Ending: Shadow Yamoto is a corporate ninja saboteur… and her ending sees her entering witness protection and making the world a better place by testifying against her former employer. It’s not exactly the most action packed finale for a ninja, but it does feel pretty right.
  • An End: Also, Crispy the Chicken’s ending involves losing his fortune in the 90’s financial crisis and then selling his eggs for booz money. This is a very dark game.
  • VIDEOGAME VIOLENCEDid you know? In further support of the Eternal Champions Expanded Universe, there were two spin-off titles released. Chicago Syndicate was a Game Gear title that was fairly Shinobi-esque and featured Larcen cleaning up Chicago in a bright green trench coat (the ‘20’s were a different time). And then there was X-Perts for the Sega Genesis, a light beat ‘em up presenting Shadow and her previously unseen team of X-Men wannabes. Both games are… not worth exploring.
  • Would I play again: If I’m in the mood for a distinctly 16-bit fighting game, I’ll choose Eternal Champions. Of course, that mood rarely happens…

What’s next? We’re going to kill some time with a game with the exact same plot all over again. Please look forward to it!

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 #316 Injustice 2

This is a bit of a mismatchInjustice: Gods Among Us was a pretty rad fighting game for a couple of reasons. First, obviously, it was a fun game that allowed the player to live out the ultimate DC Comics dream matches, and finally answer the question of who would win a fight: Lobo or Killer Frost? But that’s to be expected of a fighting game. What was completely unprecedented was that Injustice included a story mode that was both fighting game good and comic book good. Using common tropes from both genres, Injustice wove a story that was not only interesting (what happens when Superman stops being polite and starts getting real) but also very appropriate for the medium. Mirror matches have been a staple of fighting games since the early days of Mortal Kombat, and most fighting games go in some very bizarre directions to justify “oh, Ryu has to fight Ryu now because… uh… raisins”. So why not just have a bad guy universe and a good guy universe? Green Lantern can fight himself all he wants, and it makes perfect sense! Want to make the final boss Superman versus Superman? Sure! It works really well here!

So it’s kind of a shame Injustice 2 forsook all of that for a generic alien invasion plot. We’ve still got a good game here, and the roster/gameplay satisfies, but the plot and story mode are… fairly boring. It’s the next day (or whatever), alien(s) invasion, and former rivals have to work together to stop a threat bigger than both of ‘em. That… has been done. Granted, “alternate universe doppelgangers” has been done, too, but that plot fit the format, whereas this is indistinguishable from a CW crossover of the same year. This is the biggest “sequel where uneasy superheroes fight a super smart robot dude” disappointment since Avengers 2.

But I suppose it’s to be expected, because “let’s punch Brainiac” stories are always boring. He’s super smart! He’s got a robot army! He’s built a body that is just stronger than everybody, oh my gosh, how are we ever going to punch him harder than ever before? And then somebody, I don’t know, does that, and we move on to the next threat. Maybe Superman’s dad dies? It’s been done, who cares?

Let’s move on. Let’s look to the future, and in the interest of Injustice 3 being actually fun, here are a few suggestions for the next adventure:

Injustice 3: Blackest Night

Orange you glad I didn't say green?This one has the greatest odds of actually happening, so may as well tackle this first. For those that haven’t been reading comics for the last decade, the Blackest Night event was a time in the DC Universe when basically every dead hero and villain came back as a murderous zombie powered by a black ring provided by Necron, a death god. So right off the bat, you’ve got an opportunity for dead characters to return (Lex Luthor, Joker) and even some superpowered “normals” (Black Ring Powered Lois Lane, please) to join the cast. Then there’s the other side of Blackest Night: everybody gets a power ring for no reason. Big Angry Dictator Superman powered by a red ring of rage? Go for it. Scarecrow manipulating the fear spectrum? Slam dunk. And we have to throw one random dude in there… Roy G Bivolo aka The Rainbow Rider? I’d buy that DLC. Heck, you could get an entire subsystem going on all the characters using different special moves to “fuel” their magical wishing rings. In brightest day, in blackest night, let’s all get ready for a fight!

The Good: Ring Zombies allow for basically any character, living or dead. Evil Zombie Lincoln wouldn’t be out of place. Also, the promise of power rings for every character spices up the move sets of everyone from Flash to Harley Quinn. And we might even see the sensational character find of 2008, Larfleeze!

The Bad: The Blackest Night plot is pretty boring once you get past the cameos. Hey, here are a bunch of zombies and their zombie boss, how are we ever going to work together to defeat this threat? I know it’s the plot of most comic books anyway, but this one relies almost exclusively on characters reacting poorly to revived loved ones, and that won’t translate well to a fighting game.

And The Batman: Batman is the DC headliner, so he has to be featured in every possible Injustice story. While Batman was dead for the comics Blackest Night event (yet somehow still became a focal point), he could certainly be alive here, and equipped with any number of Lantern rings. Batman loves justice so much, he’s a Star Stapphire? I’d be down with that.

Injustice 3: Clash of the Titans: The Sidekick Showdown

Boo-ya!DC Comics has never held the same grip on the teen market/characters as Marvel and its X-Men, but there has always been a proud group of sidekicks in the DC Universe. And, for whatever reason, the animated divisions have been trying to exploit this superhero subset for decades, so we’ve seen everything from Teen Titans to Young Justice to Teen Titans Go. We’ve got a pretty healthy stable of super powered teens as a result, so why not let them all fight for superiority? Claim there’s an opening in the Justice League or something, and there’s a fighting tournament to determine the latest member. Inevitably, it turns out one of the entrants is a spy or replicant or whatever, and the final boss is somebody completely outside of the teen weight class. Let’s say Darkseid? It’s always Darkseid.

The Good: Who doesn’t want to see every single Robin fight? And the whole “good teens” thing would allow for a story where best friends are fighting thanks to a friendly rivalry and not mind control or whatever excuse pops up every time Black Canary and Aquaman have to fight. And the Teen Titans Go models could be unlockable joke characters! There’s room for humor in the DC Universe, I swear!

The Bad: I suppose it is kind of hard to go back to the sidekicks when you’ve already played with the main events. Supergirl is only more interesting than Superman on the CW, and there’s no way anyone would pick Speedy over Green Arrow. Though I do think Static beats Black Lightning. Also, while I may get excited at such a prospect, no one is going to wig out at a trailer for Greta “Secret” Hayes.

And The Batman: Time travel is always an option, and a “mysterious newcomer” who turns out to be a young Bruce Wayne would be an interesting twist. Oh! He could be disguised as a Robin, and there is some sort of Sins of Youth age swap, and…. Oh nevermind. It’s never going to happen.

Injustice 3: Legion of Superheroes

All together nowSpeaking of teenagers and time traveling, where is the Legion of Superheroes fighting game? The Legion of Superheroes have two rules: you must be a teenager, and you must have at least one superpower. That’s basically the entry rules for every anime fighter ever! You’re guaranteed an interesting moveset when you’ve got a girl that can manipulate gravity, or a boy that can bounce better than a tigger. And don’t worry about dropping the entire Injustice roster: there are enough overlapping superpowers that Polar Boy can adopt Captain Cold moves while Lightning Lass pulls a Black Adam. And, if you’re worried about the Legion being too nice for the Injustice universe, that means you just have to call Geoff Johns. His ideas for the Legion are… disarming.

The Good: Matter-Eater Lad.

The Bad: Matter-Eater Lad.

And The Batman: Hey, if Superman can travel to the future to hang out with his old buds, Batman can follow along, too. Actually, that can be the hook: Bad Superman flees to the future for reinforcements, and Batman trails him through time. Cue Batman having to fight everybody.

Injustice 3: World War 3

I bet they're saying something coolIn this case, we’re not going to focus on the multiple World War 3s of the DC Universe, but instead toward the opposite end of the sidekick spectrum: the old men. DC Comics has a number of characters that fought in World War 2, and, depending on the continuity du jour, sometimes those heroes got caught in a never ending Ragnarök version of World War 2. So, why not let the Injustice cast dip their feet in those waters and fight alongside the old guard against a never-ending siege of Nazis? Throw in a few Nazi supermen, and you’ve got excuses for Star Man, Doc Midnight, and Jay Garrick to punch Nazis all day long. There is nothing videogames should endorse more than punching Nazis.

The Good: An interesting excuse to have “shiny happy” 1940’s DC heroes be a little annoyed and Injustice-y. And a fine excuse for Sgt. Rock to yell at Superman for being a whiny, namby pamby dictator while we’re at it. Also, another game where the finale can be exploding Hitler’s head.

The Bad: If a fighting game includes Nazis, there are good odds you can play as Nazis… and I can’t see that ending well. There are enough Hitler420LOL Miis in the universe to have another online platform where even subtle Nazi overtones can sneak into posts. Then again, if we could all focus on how Nazis are completely terrible, it might all work out.

And The Batman: Batman fucking hates Nazis.

Damn Nazis

Injustice 3: Multiversity

NerdGo nuts, Injustice! Two parallel worlds are fine, but how about every damn parallel world ever. Superman vs. Captain Carrot. Joker vs. The Jokester. Zatanna vs. That One Version of Fate That Just Kicks People in the Balls (Hey, Presto!). Squeeze Pharmaduke in there! And don’t just give me an endless selection of lame variants, make some actually varied movesets for the inevitable Batman vs. Vampire Batman vs. Dark Knight Batman. This would also be a fine excuse to get some people of color in the cast, as we need that one version of Superman that was based on Obama yesterday. And, in this case, the plot really doesn’t matter. The universe is crumbling, everyone has to fight and then work together, and the final boss is Darkseid The Gentry. That sounds scary, right? Bah, it’ll just be the Anti-Monitor anyway.

The Good: An unlimited variety of fighters available from the near-century’s worth of DC characters. Even the most hokiest of characters would work with a serious character’s disgruntled reaction (“I’ve gotta stop drinking before fights”). And there’s even the opportunity for trite characters like Catwoman to use new and fun abilities thanks to multiversal variants.

The Bad: With an unlimited roster, everyone is inevitably going to be disappointed. Sure, this includes every variant of Superman ever committed to paper, but why can’t I fight as a Jimmy Olsen as The Giant Turtle Man? The message board debates would rage for years.

And The Batman: Considering how many times he’s starred in Elseworld tales, Batman could fill up an entire roster just by his lonesome. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a storyline that’s happening at DC comics as I write this. And that gives me an idea…

Injustice 3: The Brave and the Bold

He is the nightScrew it. Batman is the headliner, right? He’s the focus of every story, and the reason DC Comics still has a few dimes to rub together, correct? Let’s just make a 2v2 fighting game ala Marvel vs. Capcom, but the partner character is always Batman. Think of the possibilities! Batman & Superman vs. Batman & Green Lantern. Batman & Robin vs. Batman & Joker. Batman & Gorilla Grodd vs. Batman & General Zod. And you’ve got to have Batman & Batman vs. Batman & Knuckles. This is the fighting game we’ve all been waiting for!

The Good: The most batmaningest game to ever batman would batman over to your batman, with even batmanner graphics than you ever thought batman. Oh, and it would be a fine excuse to revive the Batusi.

The Bad: I suppose it would be disappointing to see Batman team up with villains and then fight just as hard. Maybe that’s an alternate universe Batman? Yeah, that’s the ticket.

And The Batman: There is no way fighting Batman over and over again is any less boring than fighting Brainiac.

FGC #316 Injustice 2

  • System: Playstation 4 and Xbone. … There isn’t a PC version? Huh.
  • Number of players: However many people it takes to fight. Two? That sounds right.
  • Favorite Character: Conceptually, I love that Swamp Thing made the cut at all… but I kind of hate playing as the guy. Same for orange-variant Green Lantern. But I actually enjoy playing as Blue Beetle, so that’s another time Jaime Reyes made a videogame great. It probably helps that he’s basically Mega Man, though.
  • That's gotta hurtRandom Select: The big new “feature” of Injustice 2 is the acquisition of equipment that will allow you to “kit out” your preferred hero or villain. Unfortunately, in practice, this system is basically a slot machine, and, while all you want is that staff that lets Robin play as Nightwing, no, you’re going to get a thousand new masks for Bane instead. This is the opposite of fun.
  • Future Proof: ROB chose this game before all the DLC was released, so if you’re reading this in the future, and we already got Captain Carrot as DLC, please use the nearest available time machine to send an email back to August 2017 Goggle Bob and blow his mind.
  • New Law: Jeffrey Combs should be responsible for voicing all super-smart villains from this point on. Thank you.
  • It’s the little things: Sub-Zero is now in a superhero universe, so naturally he’s acquired a cape. It was meant to be.
  • Did you know? There’s a tie-in comic for the Injustice universe, and its continuity is… dubious. For instance, during various character intros in Injustice 2, characters make distinct references to events from the comics (like the last time a character got stomped into paste). However, the comics have also noticeably killed characters that reappeared in Injustice 2, so… your multiverse may vary?
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game! I have to ignore the fact that it has a built-in casino, but just fighting around with DC characters is always going to be fun (unless it’s that one Genesis game). So, yes, I might get Batman to fight Batman again sometime in the near future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Press Your Luck 2010 Edition for the Nintendo Wii! That’s a game I certainly own, apparently! Please look forward to it!

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