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FGC #080 Zool 2

NINJA!On a nigh daily basis, I drive into Atlantic City (no longer the highest unemployment rate in the country: those people died of starvation!) via the fabulous Atlantic City Expressway, a strip of roadway paved with the tears of broken dreams. Atlantic City, for those of you that are blissfully unaware, is basically the East Coast’s Las Vegas. I draw the comparison not only because of a heavy emphasis on gambling, stripping, and general debauchery, but also because much of the history of the town is centered on various criminals, to the point that there are random statues around town memorializing so-and-so who founded what-and-what but spent the last years of his life in jail for such-and-such. Combine this with the fact that it’s difficult to cruise so much as a block in this city without passing a pawn shop or porno palace (or both, Dave’s Dildos for Dollars is pretty popular), and you might start to get the impression that Atlantic City is a den of depravity.

But everyone, from the humble smut peddler to whoever is running Trump-not-Trump Taj Mahal, has to make bank, and advertising is the way to do it. Radio, TV, Internet, that’s all fine, but my main exposure to local businesses is through the parade of billboards that I zoom past on the Atlantic City Expressway. I prefaced this article with that little screed on the lack of morals of Atlantic City because if you think you’re driving into a Mormon retreat, you will be divorced of that notion shortly after your third billboard with a “tastefully” nude woman advertising a burlesque show (and, to be clear, that isn’t a turn of phrase, we’ve got actual, honest-to-God “burlesque shows”. It’s like a damn Clint Eastwood flick). I would estimate that, whether they’re advertising sex directly or not, about half the billboards are based almost exclusively on the premise that your wang (don’t have a wang? Meh) will be pleased with Atlantic City (“Come to Generic Beach Bar, our lady customers are sluts!”), and the other half are based on appealing to man’s other baser desires: money and steak. It’s… an oddly specific roadway of ads, particularly when you consider a healthy portion of people keeping Atlantic City financially solvent (or close) are (and this isn’t a stereotype, it’s the actual demographics) elderly Asian women. But, sure Atlantic City, keep hammering that tasteless horny white male demographic. That really seems to be working out for you.

Amongst these billboards for the best ways to satisfy your (assuming you’re a white male, age 25-40 or so) creepiest desires is one, and only one, billboard that “advertises” public serviceGotta go fast messages. It’s an electronic billboard, so it can advertise anything in rapid succession, and it flips between ads for sports events or television shows, but it also displays important messages about stopping child trafficking, prostitution, and underage drinking.

And, in a weird way, it might be worst billboard on the expressway.

Advertising is something of the great equalizer of modern society. Even if you’ve “cut the cord” on cable or adblock every site you find, you’re still constantly bombarded by advertising if you choose to leave your home for greater than five minutes. There mere act of buying groceries, even if you ignore the weekly circular, is now a cold, calculated attempt to get you to buy everything in the store, complete with fresh, green items enticing you at the entrance, and bread and dairy way the hell at the other end of the store so you may be tempted by delicious Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows ™ in the intervening aisles; and you’ll experience this all with a piped in intercom system either playing the greatest hits of yesterday and today (available on iTunes) or a friendly salesvoice just telling you what to buy. That’s a mere, what, hour of your week? Advertising is gonna getcha, whether you know it or not.

This is a problem, because, let’s face it, it’s bad for humanity. No, I’m not one to claim advertising will turn us into mindless pod people that are simply awaiting our next instruction to consume Butterfingers™ now; no, what I’m talking about is the thick layer of cynicism and distrust that is inadvertently created by a world of advertising. How many people do you know that claim advertising “doesn’t work on me,” yet wear any number of branded items? Oh, that doesn’t count, I just bought these randomly… at a humongous retail store or online retailer. But that’s just a side effect of the disease, the most overt symptoms are people that see any kind of advertising, whether it be on television, internet, or olde tyme radio, and naturally assume they’re being tricked into buying something they don’t want. Okay, yes, that’s all advertising is, when you get down to it, but it creates an innate feeling of “everybody is out to get me,” I just don't knowwhich is simply not a good thing when people that need people are the most productive members of society (like, we’re talking almost literal definition of society).

So let’s revisit that billboard. Amongst a string of (occasionally literally) naked attempts to appeal to primal desires is a billboard that is plainly asking you to be a good person. Report child abuse. Stop teenagers from underage drinking. Stop drunk driving. These are all worthwhile, noble pursuits… heck, they’re barely even that “noble”, they’re just how you be a good human being. We need more good humans! They’re in short supply around here! But there’s a problem when the “be a good person” billboard is stuck between every other appeal to a lizard brain that desires only sex and chocolate (that’s what lizards eat, right?). I don’t want to generalize (this is a lie), but the person that starkly tracks the naked breasts billboard is not someone that was worried about drunk driving to begin with, and the person that thinks everything is a scam is going to lump the good message in with all the bad, and assume it’s some kind of trick just the same as the lottery billboards. Give your dreams a chance? Bah! Save a child’s life? Double bah!

I’ve always considered it a point in video gaming’s favor that it is a medium primarily not dominated by advertising. Yes, before you flood the comments with examples of Mutant Turtles shilling for Pizza Hut or how Smash Bros reminds you to buy buy buy every time a new costume is coded, I am aware that advertising and video games are already well and truly connected; but what I’m lauding the medium for is the fact that it is not so entrenched in the advertising world as its other entertainment brothers. Television was brought to you by cool, smooth Death Stick Cigarettes ™ since its birth, and movie theatres make more money hawking products at the preview crowds than actually selling tickets. Comparatively, video games are downright quaint when they’re only shilling a season pass that works with the game that already holds your interest.

Which makes it all the more obvious when a game is so totally soaked in corporate sponsorship.

Zool 2 is a not completely terrible Sonic the Hedgehog clone. Specifically, it’s very reminiscent of Sonic & Knuckles, as you have Sing it with me now!two different heroes (Zool and Zooz) who each have different techniques for overcoming the same obstacles. Actually, that’s kind of inaccurate, the two control very similarly, but their weapons affect different distinct blocks throughout the stages, so it’s possible to take different paths. It’s less the difference between Sonic and Knuckles, and more the difference between Sonic and, I don’t know, some lazy, darker color swap of Sonic. Regardless, this is yet another video game that learned the wrong lessons from Sonic, and while it’s always fun to dash around at top speed, it loses something when you have a very limited life bar, and enemies don’t spawn quickly/obviously enough to be avoided. So creep along like an old lady, because you’ll be in the grave if you’ve actually gotta go fast.

But, as you can likely guess this far into the article, that unpleasantness isn’t what caught my eye. What’s more interesting to me is that Zool 2 is covered from head to toe with ads for Chupa Chups lollipops.

Chupa Chups (is that… plural? Should I be… oh, nevermind) is a company that is no stranger to interesting advertising avenues. Supposedly, it was CC’s founder that first recommended that its candies be placed near the cash register, so “little hands” could grab for the treats and badger their parents well into the 21st century. The Chupa Chups logo was designed by Salvador Dalí, and Madonna was a spokeswoman at one time. Chupa Chups!The current advertising for Chupa Chups lollipops is a play on anti-smoking campaigns with the phrase, “Stop smoking, start sucking”. I… want to say that there had to be a better way to phrase that, but it certainly gets your attention.

So it likely seemed like a good idea to sponsor an “up and coming” video game character like Zool. History has forgotten Zool, but at the time, he had not only video games across every platform, but also a pair of YA novels. Zool was poised to be the next great video game mascot, and we’d all be begging for Zool to join Smash Bros in a few years (“What’s Smash Bros?” “A N64 game.” “What’s a N64?”). Chupa Chups hitched its wagon to the franchise, presumably to get in on the ground floor of this star’s ascent, and must have provided a lot of cheddar for Zool 2.

I presume this because the Chupa Chups logo is everywhere in this game. It’s right there as the game first boots, it’s a scrolling background behind all the text, and it’s a large pickup item that should be discovered and claimed in every level. I assume some of the smaller collectibles are Chupa Chup lollipops, but they’re not nearly as prominent as the logo that is freaking everywhere. You will never forget the company that ponied up for this game.

Which is why it’s kind of funny when advertising mixes with video games. I mean, really, any executive can sit down and watch a movie or read a book and confirm that, yes, their sponsorship has gone to something good, and their product is well represented. Video games, however, are wildly subjective because they have to be “played”, and, Go get it!depending on your experience, you, the player, can get a very different impression than what the designers intended. I literally have no idea what the creators were thinking, in, say, Mega Man X7, but I can safely say that just typing the words “Flame Hyenard” causes a PTSD, reflexive twitch in myself that is unlikely to ever go away. Similarly, if I see the “Now Loading” screen from Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 ever again, it will be far, far too soon.

Zool 2 is a forgettable and not wholly enjoyable video game. It’s probably somewhere around Bubsy in the pantheon of “generally regrettable mascot games” of the era. But good job, Chupa Chups, now every time I see one of your lollipops, I’m going to think of this not at all fun experience. Zool 2 left a bad taste in my mouth, and I rather hope your product doesn’t similarly cause the bile to flow.

So, like the one good billboard on the Atlantic City Expressway, keep advertising out of video games. Yes, it might work, and your product might wind up wrapped into a good experience, but it’s a lot more likely that your pride and joy will get sucked into a void of crass commercialism and anti-fun, and it’ll come off as yet another awkward con in a world filled with them.

Because that’s how they get you.

FGC #80 Zool 2

  • System: Atari Jaguar for the review, but also available on the Amiga and DOS. That’s a murderer’s row of forgotten platforms.
  • Number of Players: 2 player alternating. No, you can’t have two ninja save the world at the same time. They don’t play well together.
  • Animals didn't teach me thisGo Ninja Go: Zool (and Zooz) has one acrobatic ability over his platforming brethren: he can perform triangle jumps off flat walls. Couple this with Ryu of Ninja Gaiden, and I’m forced to conclude that Space Bounty Hunter Samus Aran is also a ninja. And Mario, depending on the game.
  • Just play the gig, man: Also forgot to mention: the soundtrack is primarily composed of fart noises, as if everything was slapped together by a sixth grader with a Casio keyboard.
  • Favorite Chupa Chups Lollipop flavor: Cherry. Wait… where are these questions coming from?
  • Did you know? Zool’s female counterpart is named Zooz. Replace the Z’s in that name with B’s. Classy.
  • Would I play again: Even if I was hungering for some white, hot Atari Jaguar action, this wouldn’t be the game I’d play. Hell, if I really wanted to satisfy the Zool 2 itch, I’d hit Bubsy, and you know that’s a bad sign.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Toki: Going Ape Spit for the Sega Genesis. Oh, what lovely punnery. Come on, do the monkey with me! Please look forward to it!

FGC #008 WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

$$$$It’s interesting to see how a mythological pantheon evolves in modern times. First we have Mario, the All-Father, the head-honcho and lord of his kingdom. He may be just a plumber, but his affinity for fire and position over all others likens the jump master to Egypt’s Ra. Next, there’s the perennial “wife goddess” Princess Peach, who embodies the very concept of femininity. Luigi is an eternal “lesser brother” god, who, like Poseidon, is his own kind of king, but eternally in the shadow of one that rules the heavens. Bowser is the adversary, through and through, always battling against the forces of good and coveting and stealing any light he can find. Donkey Kong is the archetypical “bestial” aspect of man, not unlike the concept of the werewolf, as he makes a fine cart racer or banana rescuer, but God help you when the full moon comes out, and he comes to steal your women to construction sites. Even noble Yoshi draws many comparisons to the noble steeds of legendary tales, like Pegasus or Sleipnir.

Nintendo has created a much fuller pantheon with its other franchises. Link is the hero, the mortal who ascends to legendary status through good deeds. Zelda is Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom (and war) who can always be relied upon to be the smartest deity on the battlefield. It would be easy to paint Ganondorf as another demon/adversary, but his actions are more akin to that of a god of war, an ongoing source of upheaval and death, but without which there would be no need for heroes. Samus Aran has suffered an identity crisis of late, because, in her most iconic appearances, she is little more than a death goddess. Point Samus at a problem, give it two hours, and wait for the sounds of an exploding planet. A single pikachu may be nothing more than a shockrat, but Pikachu as a Nintendo/Pokémon mascot has been portrayed as a mischievous but giving friend to children, not unlike the modern interpretation of Santa Claus. And Kirby sleeps soundly in his dreamland, growing ever closer to the time when he will awake, and devour iat aftft un a hauft ur lunk. Ha ghuftft ga’uia’ uia’ ghaalunt, ang ha ghuftft fta iantsullaftfta.

But every good pantheon needs a trickster. Africa’s Anansi, the Pacific Northwest’s Raven, Navajo’s Coyote, and all sorts of gods that didn’t even appear in Disney’s Gargoyles have haunted mythologists for years with tales of deceit and guile. The most famous trickster god is likely Loki of Norse/Marvel/Disney mythology, a continual thorn in the side of Odin and Thor, generally making both of their lives miserable, but not intolerable.

It's alright, I understand the desire for fameAnd that’s the trick with a good trickster god. Bowser the Adversary, as a good example, has become dramatically less threatening since his debut three decades ago, chiefly because his every last plan has failed spectacularly. He almost triumphed one time, and the entire universe reset just to spite him. Bowser is the bad guy, and he’s the bad guy in a medium meant to empower “the player”, so he is just never going to get anywhere. A trickster, though? A trickster can be a good trickster for centuries, as all he has to do is dupe the good guy, and, yes, the trickster will eventually be hammer-thubbed for his treachery, but he succeeded in his purpose, his trick, all the same. The good guy wins, the trickster wins, and the story is entertaining, so everybody wins.

Given you can read the title of this article, you can probably guess that I’m building to the reveal that Wario as the trickster god of the Nintendo pantheon. And you’re right! Gold star! Though, bad news, Wario will likely steal that gold star, and now you have nothing. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Wario started as a simple rival for Mario. In his debut, Super Mario Land 2, Wario heists Mario’s entire kingdom (newsflash: Mario has a kingdom?), and Mario has to reconquer his own land. Ho-hum. Wario could have easily been the next Tatanga or Wart, but, no, he returned for a few random sports games, and then got his own series starting with Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land. The Wario Land games cemented Wario’s “greed is good” credo, but played much like any other Mario video game. After all, isn’t the auxiliary goal of any Mario game to collect as many coins and treasures and doodads as possible on your way to the goal? Is shining champion Mario that different from gluttonous anti-hero Wario? In gameplay, not at all.

How is this so popular?But it’s WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! and its descendants that cements Wario as Nintendo’s trickster. The plot of WarioWare is simple: Wario wants all of the money forever, so he’s going to publish a videogame. Hey, worked for Nolan Bushnell, right? Only problem is that Wario has the video game crafting skills of Destructive Creations, so he has to round up his friends to craft his new masterpiece. Scratch that, that sounds too much like a teen movie or other such feel good story; no, Wario tricks all of his friends into creating video games for him. And that’s where the magic happens. Wario tricks you into playtesting.

Make no mistake, the entirety of WarioWare is a trick. WW was released in 2003, a full five years before the launch of the Apple App Store. Relevance? Much of WarioWare is based on bite sized games that last ten seconds, max. These short, “burst” games are all the rage now, in the age of cellphones and ipads and other devices those damn kids keep playing on my lawn. 2003 was still the age of “game lasts 800 hours and is considered college credit in six states”, when the idea of games that lasted three minutes because that’s how long you’ll be in the supermarket checkout line was a long way away. And the controls of WarioWare? One button, four directions, done. Want me to name another device with one button? It’s small and rectangular and rhymes with iTyrone. Nintendo… I mean Wario… invented a genre at least half a decade before its official debut. And how does one sell such a series of games before the advent of effortless downloads and teeny pricetags? Blend them all together, call it a combined “challenge”, and slap your most devious mascot on the cover. After all, we know we have a brand new, completely unproven (but fun!) game here, if it fails, we can just laugh it off as another Wario blunder. Oh, that wacky, smelly guy.

Mona... sounds like moneyWarioWare has served much the same purpose since its inception: a Trojan horse to get new ideas into your head. It’s no surprise that a WarioWare game has been released with nearly every new iteration of Nintendo hardware: WW Touched introduced touch gaming and the DS microphone to anyone with the new handheld, WW Smooth Moves showed off all the weird ways you can swing your wiimote, and Game & Wario was there to showcase the myriad of new tricks available to the WiiU’s tablet. WW Snapped was even there to promote the very idea of digital download games on a portable Nintendo System, and WW D.I.Y. stands as an early attempt by Nintendo to get a “community” going, an effort that would eventually bear fruit on the WiiU and its MiiVerse. WW Twisted is a clear forerunner to Nintendo’s own decade long love affair with gyroscopic, “move sensitive” gaming.

There’s a reason the Wario of WarioWare has superseded the Wario of the Wario Land franchise (and the Wario of Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman!, which was just an early trick to get you to buy a portable Bomberman title, which you already should have been buying) in everything, from sequels to the Smash Bros. series, and that’s the simple truth that Nintendo no longer sees Wario as a platforming Mario knock-off, no, Wario is the trickster that uses his craftiness to hoodwink friends and consumers alike into testing his, and Nintendo’s, latest obsession. Smash Bros and other “party” Nintendo franchises portray Wario as a fat, weird, smelly, “off” buffoon, because who ever suspects the lout is the one swindling the masses?

Mario? Link? Pikachu? If they’re telling you there’s a new game with their face on it, what you see is what you get. They’re transparent, they’re comfortable, they are there to be trusted and worshipped, and they’ll summon you every Christmas season, and you’ll give your offering and take their blessing. Wario? Wario is the stuff stories are made of. You don’t worship Wario, but you’ll hear his tales all the same, because, when all is said and done, the good gods battling the bad gods is boring, and sometimes you just want to play with a rascal. You know the trick is coming. You know you’re being duped. But you’re going to enjoy it.

PEPPER!FGC # 8 WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

  • System: Gameboy Advance
  • Number of Players: 1, though there’s a few 2 Player challenges
  • Highest Score: Got 74 on Dribble and Spitz’s challenges. I don’t even remember liking those games…
  • What’s with Nintendo associating “gross” with “experimental”? I don’t know, but it sure worked great for Earthbound!
  • Did You Know? Waluigi has never appeared in a WarioWare game, though he is considered by Smash Bros to be part of the Wario Universe. This is likely an indicator that the Mushroom Kingdom wants nothing to do with Waluigi, a sentiment shared by most anyone that has ever encountered that freak. Waluigi: a man without a country.
  • Would I Play Again? I’m lucky (gullible) enough to be a member of the 3DS Ambassador Program, so I have WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! permanently loaded onto my most portable gaming system. This likely makes this the first FGC game that I play frequently, albeit randomly. It’s not so much a matter of playing again, as I’ve never stopped.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country. Huh, guess ROB is on a kick thinking about his parent company. Bananas abound, everyone, please look forward to it!