Tag Archives: four players

FGC #472 Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee

GODZILLA!In 2002, Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee was released. In 2020, Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee has given me an incredibly dumb idea for a new videogame, and I would like it very much if one of my readers could get around to creating such a game.

Allow me to explain.

Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee is a Nintendo Gamecube title that was released a solid eighteen years ago. At the time, it was very well received, as it allowed four players to sit down on a couch, grab a controller, and then destroy the entire city of London with atomic fire breath and the occasional assistance of Mothra. This was a game that was never going to be the next Super Smash Bros. Melee, but it was still a damn good party game. Hell, it was basically the bastard monster child of Rampage and any given Wrestling title, and how could that possibly go wrong? There’s even immediate accessibility, because, unlike most fighting games, you don’t need to “know” the fighters beyond “this one has drill arms” and “that dude has wings”. Ultimately, it’s not like this was ever going to be a game we were talking about twenty years later (wait a minute…), but it was certainly a fun way for a quartet of bored college students to whittle away the wee hours of the morning before finals (not that I have any extremely specific memories of this game or anything).

But, like so many games of the era, there was an immediate problem with Godzilla: DAMM: it required an unholy amount of unlocking. There are a total of three monsters initially selectable, and (if my math is right) that’s one shy of the total number of players. We need two Godzillas! … Which there actually are on this roster, but that’s not what I’m talking about! That second Godzilla requires playing through the entire game once, just like the other six unlockable fighters (“fighters”). And, yes, that only adds up to a roster of ten total monsters for meleein’, which feels very lacking when you’ve got four players palling around. DRILL!You can “see” the entire roster inside of three matches… but only if you’ve actually unlocked that monster roll call. And who wants to play through a game ten times (Mecha Godzilla requires three separate adventure mode clears) just to prepare for a Melee party? Yes, Super Smash Bros. Melee had similarly byzantine unlocking methods available, but that game was incredibly fun to play, and featured a whole host of interesting modes. God:DAMM was limited to one cruddy arcade mode.

… Which is probably why we just used cheat codes to unlock everybody every time we played. Man, we gotta go buy seventeen gallons of vodka, we don’t have time to unlock Ghidrah.

But if we had to manually unlock everyone in Godzilla: Destroy AMM, well, then there probably wouldn’t be any pleasant memories of this otherwise forgotten game. This is an amazing game when playing with three other humans that are all pretending to be monsters and occasionally attempting to simulate bad engrish dubbing across the couch. However, when it’s just you against the adventure mode, it’s an entirely different experience. The computer cheats! Or, more accurately, the AI seems to have complete awareness of the battleground beyond the view of the traditional monster cam, so they will often break off from the fight to pursue some previously unseen powerup. And let me tell you, an AI monster can book it when it wants to! Meanwhile, your own Godzilla (why would anyone play as Aguirus? Godzilla is right there!) moves like a slow, lumbering beast. This is right and proper for a King of the Monsters, but it does feel a bit like you’re being taken advantage of when a rival is pelting you with fireballs from across the screen. FLY!This is never an issue when you’re playing with friends, as you’re all equally slow and terrible thunder lizards, but when you have limited continues and an opponent that seems to have extrasensory awareness? It gets old fast. A fighter controlling like a mack truck isn’t great under normal circumstance, but it’s somehow even worse when the same rules don’t seem to apply to your opponent.

And that’s when I had my grand idea: why not make a videogame where everybody sucks?

Wait, no, let me try that again.

My thinking here is that G:DAMM is a game where you’re controlling classic movie monsters. And, let’s be real here, absolutely every movie monster from earlier than about 1990 was a dude in a dreadful rubber suit. If a head was allowed to peak out, there could also be a dreadful mask or dreadful prosthetics involved, but, by and large, we’re only talking about big, puffy, and inevitably sweaty rubber suits. And, while this certainly also applies to Western monsters (Abbott and Costello simply could not afford a CGI Frankenstein), we all know that Godzilla and his many opponents were all dudes (and ladies, presumably) in rubber suits. So, while this game sees your monsters maneuver about as well as a freight train being steered by FRA-licensed cow, that feels almost appropriate, as how well do you think you would be able to maneuver while being trapped in a miniature, mobile sauna? Godzilla controls terribly, but it always looked like “real” Godzilla would have the same kind of problems. Oh, a powerup appeared outside of your line of vision? Well, do you think it would be easy to see in that suit? Of course not! This is immersive gameplay!

Which is where my game idea originated: why not create a fighting game where all the fighters are stuck in big, cumbersome monster costumes?

POWER!Haruo Nakajima is the man behind the monster that played Godzilla in twelve separate films from 1954 to 1972. When you close your eyes and picture Godzilla destroying Tokyo (aka every time you close your eyes, obviously), you’re picturing Haruo Nakajima inside a Godzilla costume. And you know something else about Haruo Nakajima? He had a black belt in judo. This means one thing: Haruo Nakajima could kick your ass. And, considering he did his job masterfully for nearly twenty years, there are pretty good odds he could kick your ass while wearing a Godzilla costume. And wouldn’t that be kind of neat? – Well, to watch, not to get your ass kicked by Godzilla… or… Or would that be even more interesting… Wait, never mind, back to the original topic – Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see how a martial artist adapts to fighting within a giant rubber suit? How moves are changed and adapted to accommodate for added bulk, extra exertion, and, inevitably, a little foam tail? And wouldn’t it be fun to control a fighter of black belt caliber trapped in such a suit?

Yes, I am suggesting someone create Rubber Movie Monster Fighter (Melee).

Look, I know we have the technology. And it doesn’t have to go full QWOP (though that would be kind of amazing), I’m just suggesting a fighting game where it feels “right” that your fighter is struggling to survive while locked inside a mascot costume. And, to be clear, we don’t need a Godzilla license. The Power Rangers franchise alone has to be responsible for a collection of rubber “movie” monsters greater than the actual population of Iowa. It’s wouldn’t be that difficult to work out some original monsters that may or may not be Tyrannosaurs-adjacent. ZAP!And nobody gets “fireballs” or “dragon punches” or alike, it’s just all mascot monsters throwing fists and stubby little kicks. Bonus points for posing after your opponent has been knocked over, and maybe a mini-game involved on just finding the effort to stand up again if you’re the one that toppled over in an enormous turtle costume. It would still be, at its core, a fighting game, but it would be a very different fighting game.

And if Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee proves anything, it’s that people will put up with cumbersome controls if it means enjoying a “different” fighting game. So, if you’ve got some coding experience and a graphics department laying around, have your people call my people, I’ve been anxious to add a “concept by” credit to my résumé. I mean… it could be a really fun game!

FGC #472 Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube initially, and then ported to the Xbox (one… but not that One). There was also a Gameboy Advance title that Wikipedia thinks is the same game (Godzilla: Domination), but that was a Wayforward joint that was completely different by virtue of containing an enormous Mecha Ghidrah.
  • Number of players: Four, as is appropriate to a melee.
  • Blazing!Further Issues: Maybe the reason the controls for this seem so wrong so often is that many of the monsters have non-standard body types. No, I’m not saying some of the monsters are shaped unusually, I’m saying many of the fighters don’t even have arms. That impacts the “one size fits all” controls pretty significantly. And don’t get me started on all the monsters that just happen to have the power of flight…
  • Favorite Kaiju: Technically it is hard to choose anyone but Godzilla. But Megalon does have drill arms and the ability to dig through the Earth for some rad flip attacks, so he’s certainly right up there.
  • Missed Opportunity: Jet Jaguar basically looks like a budget Ultra Man, and he’s completely missing from this adventure. Granted, he’s not technically a monster, but I wouldn’t mind having at least one vaguely menacing humanoid robot running around.
  • Did you know? Haruo Nakajima had an asteroid named in his memory in 2018. I really hope that asteroid stays the hell away from Earth, because, if we somehow survive such an apocalyptic impact, we’re going to spend the next century talking about the grand irony of Asteroid 110408 Nakajima destroying Tokyo.
  • Would I play again: Nope. I might have an idea for a game where characters control like bulky monsters, but it’s not all that fun on the Gamecube. I enjoyed this title in its time, but its time has passed.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Warrior 4! It’s time for Alena and a bunch of losers to save the world. Please look forward to it!

FGC #471 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4: Turtles in Time

Cowabunga!Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time was the sequel to the enormously popular Konami arcade title, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While they were only released two years apart (1989 vs. 1991), home videogame technology had progressed dramatically in the intervening years, and Turtles in Time could be ported to the “revolutionary” Super Nintendo, and not the severely compromised Nintendo Entertainment System. As a result, many claimed the SNES Turtles in Time cartridge was the first perfect port of one of Konami’s amazing licensed beat ‘em ups. This became very important in the years to come, as other popular beat ‘em ups from the era, like The Simpsons or X-Men, would not see a faithful port until approximately three console generations later.

Unfortunately, Turtles in Time for the SNES is by no means an exact port. It is a fun, interesting game, but it is also a failure for arcade purity. So what are the differences between the arcade and SNES versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time? Well…

Less Animated

ZAPThis is probably the greatest problem for TMNT:TiT:SNES, and the item most likely to be missed by its young audience. Back in ’92, if you were capable of playing your SNES next to an arcade cabinet, you’d immediately see how so many animations were dropped during the conversion. The turtles themselves lost emotive movements across the board. Each and every boss loses taunting gestures and unique death animations. Foot Soldiers slide from a gang of bullies to identical robots. Even your enemies’ death animations are transformed from teleportation effects to simple, mundane explosions.

And isn’t that always the way? You’re sold on a “perfect” arcade port, but what do you get? A product that is now only south of being perfect, but unmistakably wrong when held up to its remarkable origin. You’re expected to just ignore it. To love it anyway. But you can’t, can you? Now that you know it’s compromised, you’re always going to see the issues, and no amount of extra cannon balls or bonus stages is ever going to change that. Oh, you get Mode 7 on the home port? Bah! Nobody has ever cared about Mode 7, you cop.

Four Players vs. Two Players

Yummy!Four players is the ideal number of players for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat ‘em up. Why? There are four turtles! This is abundantly obvious, but guess how many turtles can be simultaneously playable in the SNES version? Two. Just two. So, like some kind of wretched Battletoad, the turtles are limited to pairs while recovering the Statue of Liberty from the Foot Clan. Where are the other two turtles while a duo saves the day? Who knows! But they could be right there, just like in the arcade version.

Of course, maybe the lack of four players was a boon for the console version. When was the last time you had four people crowded around your Super Nintendo? Hell, when was the last time you got even two people together to play the same game? And, no, Smash Bros. doesn’t count. I’m talking about a cooperative, multiplayer title that was meant to hold everyone’s interest past the first level. Tell the truth: Portal 2’s coop levels are still sitting there unplayed, aren’t they? Ever actually play with a buddy in those New Super Mario Bros. games? Have you ever seen Luigi? Even once? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Sit down, buddy, TMNT:TiT:SNES just saved you having to affirm how you only have, like, two friends, and they both live in Idaho for some reason. They left you. You are alone. At least one SNES game doesn’t rub it in.

A Whole New Stage!

Also a great action figureYeah, that’s right… The Super Nintendo version isn’t a failure. It’s actually better than the arcade original! What further proof do you need than the Technodrome stage, a completely new level that does not appear in the arcade. It’s got two or three bosses, loads of interesting traps and tricks, and what is a TMNT game without the Technodrome? It was an oversight that such an important locale did not appear at your local arcade.

Except… we did already have the Technodrome at the arcade. It was in the previous game. And, unlike the city street from the second level, there really isn’t that much variety available to the Technodrome. There are a lot of streets and sewers in NYC, but only one Technodrome. And did Turtles in Time ever actually need a Technodrome? We already have the space base of 2100, which, complete with a Krang fight, is clearly the Technodrome expy for this adventure. What does that make the SNES Technodrome level? Nothing. It’s bloat in a game that is already limiting your credits to increase replay/rental value. So, sorry Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, just some Konami director that decided they could bleed a few more minutes out of your life with another superfluous challenge. Do you feel good about finishing that elevator level that took seven seconds to render? Hold on to that feeling, you simpleton.

Bonus Stages!

GET THAT PIZZAJust to break up the monotony of your typical beat ‘em up, the SNES version scattered a few bonus levels across the game. In both cases, they are levels that already appeared in the arcade version, but were repurposed for collecting pizza boxes and occasionally dodging enormous pepperoni xenomorphs. Both stages also feature the turtles zooming around on surf/hover boards, so there’s a lovely feeling of speed and urgency, even if you’re stuck in a sewer.

Though these stages aren’t really a bonus, are they? They’re there to break up the “monotony” of a beat ‘em up? What if you actually like playing beat ‘em ups? What if the game you purchased and already played in the arcade was already the game you actually wanted to play? Why would you need some pizza-nabbing mission in the middle of a game about slashing robots to bits? It’s just more busy-work, brought down to the masses so maybe, for one level, you can have a friendly competition with that second (but not third or fourth) player. I’m not even entertaining the possibility that your buddy survived to the second bonus level, 2020 AD. That’s entirely improbable. You’ll be alone again by 2020, just like in real life.

New Bosses!

Watch the hornsTokka and Rahzar originally appeared in the arcade pirates-based stage, but they were transported to an earlier (yet somehow, chronologically, later) level when the Technodrome needed a spare boss or two. And who replaced them on the gangplank galleon? Bebop and Rocksteady! And they’re dressed like pirates! They have unique, epoch-appropriate weapons and everything! Leatherhead doesn’t fit his archaic surroundings, but Bebop and Rocksteady (of all people!) know how to cosplay with the best of ‘em.

Of course, some of the other new bosses found on the home console aren’t as creative. The Rat King now leads in the third stage, and he’s riding the Footski, a sort of jet ski-tank. And where did such a thing originate? Well, this vehicle barely appeared in the animated series (and was pretty far off-model when it was showcased in all of one episode), but it was a pretty popular toy at the time. In fact, the version the Rat King rides here is likely wholly inspired by the toy. And why would the generally independent Rat King be riding a Foot Soldier vehicle? Why, it couldn’t be to sell more toys, could it? It couldn’t be because your entire childhood was a lie, and everything you ever loved and adored was a trick to make your parents spend more money on cheap doodads that would inevitably be destroyed when the next piece of plastic crap came along. And that certainly isn’t the same reason Cement Man, an arcade boss that was miraculously never featured as an action figure, was replaced by Slash, one of the most plentiful TMNT figures out there. Why, it almost seems like these new bosses weren’t added to the game to add variety or challenge, but just as more reasons for you to scream at your parents that you need, “More!” right now. Consume, children, consume.

Super Shredder!

SHRED HEADSpeaking of popular toys, the finale of the original TMNT: TiT is simply Shredder in the Technodrome (hey, you do get there) menacing our hero turtles with ninja magic or some such nonsense. Back on the home console, the fight is exactly the same, but Super Shredder is your opponent. He powered up to super levels, and now you have to defeat the unstoppable beast that appeared at the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

The Super Shredder toy was my holy grail when I was about eight years old. I wasn’t a giant Shredder fan, but, for some reason, Super Shredder was never available in my area, so my doting grandparents could never buy me that one toy I wanted. I would have done anything for a Super Shredder! And I had one chance: my dad worked with a guy that had a part time job at the local toy store. Hooray! Surely he would be able to figure out where magical, nearly non-existent toys come from! And one day he called my dad, because two Super Shredders had finally arrived. I was ecstatic, and my father and I rushed to the toy store. And we got it! Happy ending!

… Almost.

I got my toy, but a time later, there was some other toy I wanted, and I asked if my dad’s friend could help with that acquisition, too. My father sat me down and explained he didn’t talk to this former friend anymore. Why? Well, turns out the guy had been arrested. I pressed my dad repeatedly for more information, and he eventually relented. Turns out this malcontent had been caught exposing himself to customers at his toy store job. I was told exactly why that was a crime, and, if I ever saw the scoundrel ever again, I was to get another adult immediately. I left thinking this guy was just some common weirdo, and it wasn’t until years later that I worked out the exact connection between “exposing himself” and “works at a toy store”.

And now Super Shredder always makes me think of that.

So thanks a lot, Super Nintendo version of Turtles in Time.

Thanks.

All the Bosses Have Life Bars!

Snapping TurtleArgh… I’m… can… can we just take a break? It’s been a while since I really thought about that, and… I… I just don’t feel like talking about… life bars? I’m supposed to be upset about little red squares right now? Don’t they make the game easier? Or at least more transparent? Is comparing the differences between two really similar games all that important at all?

Look, you’re going to finish this article, or next you’re going to review Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, and you’re going to have to talk about how your parents’ divorce meant that you wound up with a Sega Genesis at your father’s house, and you were expected to act like one whole, separate videogame console at each house was some kind of net-good result of your parents loudly and publicly fighting for a decade. Buck up, and brag to all the kids how your life is so great because you can play Mario and Sonic games. You want to acknowledge that this is a direct line to how you still, twenty goddamned years later, hang your own self-worth on how many videogames you own? You want that? You want to go down that manhole?

Like Jesus!Can’t I just focus on something fun from that game? Like how everybody inexplicably walks on water?

No. No, you will talk about childhood trauma, and you will revel in it.

Okay, fine. I’ll finish the damn comparison. What’s next?

The unique Boxing Bots are replaced by Roadkill Rodneys

Um. That’s pretty much the extent of that. Like, one useless robot got swapped for another. Does… anyone care about that? Did anyone actually notice? There are some other Foot Soldiers that only appear on the console, too. Are we going to cover those? No? Okay. Can we move on to the next item and get this list over and done with?

There’s a Throw Move! And You Need it to Beat Shredder!

Toss 'emUgh, Shredder again. I thought we were done with that guy. But I guess it makes sense that you have to fight the Turtles’ ultimate rival twice in the same game. And it makes a certain amount of sense that, rather than figure out a new boss pattern, Shredder would appear as the game’s one and only puzzle boss. Not that a puzzle boss makes any damn sense in a beat ‘em up, anyway. Just one more stupid speedbump on your way to an ending that is equal parts unnecessary and unimaginative. Wow. You won. Here are the turtles on a blimp. Whoopee. We done here?

Time Trials! Versus Mode!

Nope. We’re done. Game over, turtles.

FGC #471 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

  • System: Arcade and Super Nintendo. Duh.
  • Number of Players: This has been covered.
  • The obvious reason for this articleThat went to some dark places: Okay, full disclosure, I worked out the skeleton of this article while flying economy over the Atlantic Ocean. If you’ve never had the pleasure, it’s about nine hours of inhumane discomfort, and the only reprieve from the overwhelming torture is the occasional lukewarm hot pocket. Playing a once beloved game while crammed into one of those unfortunate little chairs is… a singular experience. It put me in a bit of a mood.
  • But you still like the game, right? Oh yes. Playing the arcade version and SNES version back to back really drives home how the SNES version is objectively better. There’s more content, it has more opportunities for pizza, and it’s pretty clear the “difficulty” was adjusted to be something that wasn’t merely a quarter killer. There’s a real rhythm to the home version that isn’t there in the more chaotic arcade title. And the arcade version at least looks pretty.
  • How About that Versus Mode: Just play Tournament Fighters. This engine was never meant for direct competition. Or, heck, play that Time Trial mode. You can get the highest score! I know you can!
  • Favorite Turtle: If you can’t tell from the screenshots, it’s Donny. That bo staff is the bee’s knees.
  • Did you know? I occasionally vacillate on the plural of “ninja”…

    Go ninja go

    But I know that ain’t right.

  • Would I play again: Certainly. I would like to get some friends over for it, but I could deal with a solo outing every once in a while. I’m quite happy playing by myself, thank you.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen to sit it out while Wankery Week returns for the annual Valentine’s Day (Week) special! We’re only covering one wankery game this year, but it… Well, I can’t say it’s really any good. But it exists! So please look forward to it!

Gross!

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

For shovelry!Just the other day, my father walked into my kitchen, and, because I had carelessly left a fresh delivery on my kitchen counter, my dad asked what exactly he was looking at.

“What’s Shovel Knight from?”
“He’s Shovel Knight. From… Shovel Knight.”
“Oh. So is that a movie? Comic book? Comic book movie?”
“Nope, it’s a videogame.”
“Oh. Does he… uh… dig?”

Yes dad, Shovel Knight does dig. And he bounces and battles dragons and saves the love of his life and brings hope to all the people of his homey little hamlet. And he’s been around for six years, and he’s rocketed from nonexistence to possibly the most adaptable character in the last few years of gaming. And, yes, he’s a little golden amiibo that is sitting on my kitchen counter.

And considering that all happened thanks to fan support, focused marketing, and damn good gameplay, it’s hard to believe Shovel Knight’s giant blue helmet isn’t the face of gaming of the last decade.

Now, it’s an easy thing to imagine Shovel Knight sprang into existence in the Spring of 2013 when the official Shovel Knight Kickstarter kicked into high gear. Or, perhaps, you would like to attribute his creation to when Nick Wozniak and his team first pioneered the concept over a lunch “that got too serious”. But to truly understand the origins of Shovel Knight, you have to go back to the late 90’s or so. Back at the turn of the 21st Century, 2-D platforming rapidly went from “is videogames” to “oh God everything that is 2-D is trash, strike it from thine sight”. For reasons that are still mysterious to even our most learned historians (though there is a hypothesis that Gamepro may have been involved), this kind of thinking persisted through many years, causing many a beloved franchise to embrace 3-D or die. Mario 64 was a revelation, Mega Man X7… less so. But the belief that a game could not be 2-D seemed to Shinyhold fast for a decade, and the only place you could find such an experience would be in the Gameboy ghetto of game development. It’s telling that one of the most popular games of 1997 had to retreat to the portable space, while its 3-D rival of the year managed to dominate the console industry for years to come. The message to game producers was clear: you weren’t going to get anywhere with 2-D. And doubly so if you were dropping cutting edge graphics for a “retro” experience. That kind of nonsense best be relegated to some manner of easter egg. No one would every buy a retro platformer.

So it makes perfect sense that Shovel Knight’s initial fundraising goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed, and Yacht Club collected over four times as much funding ($311,502) in less than a month’s time. Shovel Knight’s audience was starved for Shovel Knight-esque content, and, while the yolk of 3-D oppression had been shaken in the years leading to 2013, it was still a time when the prospect of something “like old Capcom games” was going to appeal to a very dedicated subset of nerds. This meant that the whole of Shovel Knight’s “bonus” content was funded before ol’ SK officially touched his first trowel, so a game crammed with amazing content was forthcoming. 14,749 people were ready for some amazing retro action that would be shared with WiiU, 3DS and PC players shortly.

And, from a gameplay perspective, Shovel Knight did not disappoint. Shovel Knight is an excellent platformer that borrows liberally from the entire NES library, but combines all those pieces to be its own exceptional Voltron. Shovel Knight’s downward stab was apparently inspired by Link, but his greatest hopping challenges seem to evoke Ducktales more than anything. And the “arc” of the quest is much more akin to Mega Man, what with clearly defined “gimmick” bosses (Propeller Knight and Gyro Man were separated at birth) and stages that rely wonderfully on their masters’ theming. And maybe that world map is supposed to suggest Super Mario Bros. 3. Or those upgrades are supposed to remind us of Samus Aran’s evolving arsenal. And there were a few items that inched closer to modern sensibilities, like the collectables that advanced replay value (often hidden in accompanying “challenge” areas), or the death system that was a lot closer to Dark Souls than Darkwing Duck. But wherever the inspirations originated, Shovel Knight combined all of its pieces to be an extraordinary experience. Join the clubAnd it didn’t hurt to see a cast of memorable characters fighting through an unforgettable tale of loss and tragedy (and eventual triumph). Wrap this all up with a host of modern “achievements”, and Shovel Knight was one of the finest games of 2014.

But it wasn’t anywhere near done.

Shovel Knight was everything anyone could want from a retro platformer, but it wasn’t the complete game that had been funded a year earlier. All of those bonus bells and whistles would gradually dribble out over the following months and years. Things like Gender/Body Swap mode was little more than a (staggering and inclusive) skin for our heroes and villains, but Plague of Shadows was practically an entirely different game labeled as merely an “expansion”. The adventure, now featuring the morally gray Plague Knight, was a whole new way to play through familiar levels, and featured an added “town area” and a few other extras (peculiarly powered by washing machines) to boot. This was released alongside a number of quick challenges for Shovel Knight, and, coupled with some new console exclusives (and, uh, additional console releases, too) like challenges from Kratos and The Battletoads, it was clear that Shovel Knight’s additional content wasn’t going to be some hastily manufactured DLC.

And let me tell you, about a year and a half later, just in time for the release of the Switch, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment proved Shovel Knight “DLC” was going to be a lot more than a meager expansion.

Spin it!Plague of Shadows was an all-new story with an all-new character (well, all-new for control purposes), but it still saw its hero (“hero”) venture through (most of) the same levels as Shovel Knight. The new play style radically altered your options for traversal, but it was still just a game starring Luigi instead of Mario (well, Super Mario Bros. 2 Luigi, at least). Specter of Torment reused those same levels, but modified them to the point they are barely recognizable. And that’s a good thing! Specter Knight possessed his own moveset, and, rather than mere rehashes, all of his stages were modified to be challenging for that specific moveset. This made Specter of Torment a complete sequel to Shovel Knight! Well… that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it’s more akin to a romhack? Or, like the NES games Shovel Knight so adores, it’s an “old school” sequel. Almost all the same assets, but rearranged so completely as to be practically unrecognizable. A shining example of the proper way to recycle pixels.

And, oh yeah, Specter Knight is a blast to play as. He’s the Zero to Shovel Knight’s Mega Man (or… uh… Scrooge McDuck?), and really feels like he belongs in an entirely different game. Which is appropriate, as his “entirely different game” seems to only reuse the general aesthetics of its prequel/sequel. The world of Specter Knight goes to some very unexpected places (like the origins of Shovel Knight’s best gal pal), and eschews some gameplay conventions (like the world map) while picking up all new challenges (like an endless tower of pain)(and grinding! Like Sonic!). It’s still unmistakably Shovel Knight, but it’s a whole new experience through and through.

SPIN FOR YOUR LIFEAnd then, in 2019, they did the same thing again with King Knight and Shovel Knight: King of Cards. Give or take one extremely subjective card game (I hate all card games [even that one], but my understanding is that some weirdos can enjoy such a thing), King Knight’s adventure is another slam dunk. The general tone (and lighting) seems closer to its OG Shovel Knight origins, but Kingy’s quest to be king of at least something features dramatically shorter levels and more bite-sized challenges than any of the other campaigns. And that’s a refreshing change of pace that additionally gives some of the gimmicks of the previous tetralogy some room to breathe. Green goo and a bouncy-butted beetle finally get a showcase in their own, complete level! Considering the number one complaint anyone ever leveled against Shovel Knight was that its stages were too long (which, seriously, you gonna complain about there being too much game to play? Philistines), King Knight’s King of Cards is a sequel to Shovel Knight that listened to its greatest detractors. Yacht Club learned something!

And then, to top it all off, Shovel Knight dropped its own version of Smash Bros. You can control every knight! And make ‘em fight! And most of the significant NPCs are PCs now, too. So, finally, you can see who would hold ultimate victory in a battle between Mona, Baz, Mole Knight, and those purple goo monsters from the final tower. And, for being an 8-bit redux inspired by a game that originally appeared on 64-bit hardware, it’s pretty damn impressive. It can get a little confusing when you’re trying to find your sprite against similar colored backgrounds (or against similar-colored enemies), but the designs of the Shovel Knight cast compensate for a lot, so you can usually tell the difference between a Shovel Knight and a Black Knight. And if you can’t? Well, just go ahead and have fun with it. This is an 8-bit platformer fighting game, after all. It’s supposed to be about as chaotic as a bucket full of enemy crabs.

Get up thereSo that’s 3.5 games, right? We’ve got Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows as two pretty similar experiences, but Specter of Torment, King of Cards, and Shovel Knight Showdown are all as different as Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Showdown is practically an entirely different genre. I’m going to call that a total of 3.5 games that all fall under the Shovel Knight umbrella.

And it all came from one Kickstarter.

And if you bought the initial Shovel Knight at launch, the whole package cost a measly twenty bucks. You’re actually rewarded for being an early adopter.

Shovel Knight is a game that seemed to last a decade with its various expansions, but, more than that, it is a shining example of what was possible for a few brief years in the 2010s. Kickstarter was an extremely popular platform earlier in the decade, and, while it produced many excellent games and projects, it is primarily recounted now by any number of fans who wound up burned by creators who had the collective managerial skills of a hamster (and not that hamster with the hardhat). Kickstarter and alike is now seen more as a generally reliable healthcare plan than a platform that might create the next game you’ll play for five years. But in the last decade, it was responsible for Shovel Knight. And the triumph of Shovel Knight paved the way for oodles of retro platformer titles. Was every retro game good? No, of course not. But they never would have seen the light of day without Shovel Knight blazing a trail. And, while this trend is likely coming to its close, the current digital marketplace does speak to Shovel Knight’s success.

And, as appropriate for a knight that came from the crowds, he has now returned to the crowds as the most cameoed newcomer of the decade:

Smash it Good!
Slash it Good!
Bonk it good

Not bad for a dude that didn’t exist when the decade started.

Shovel Knight is the 2010s distilled down to its purest, more hopeful form. It is an experience that could only come from one time in gaming’s history. And it’s a damn fine game to boot.

2010: The decade of Shovelry.

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

  • System: Whaddya got? Nintendo 3DS, WiiU, and PC to start, but eventually shovelry spread to the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and the Amazon Fire TV (for some reason).
  • Look away!Number of Players: 2-Players was eventually patched in (with or without amiibo), and Shovel Knight Showdown is 4 players simultaneous. But most people think about the single player campaign, because Shovel Knight appeals to lonely, insomniac nerds.
  • Just play the gig, man: Did I mention the music was amazing? Because it is. Jake Kaufman seems to be responsible for the majority of amazing American soundtracks for the decade, and the addition of one of Mega Man’s composers is just the perfect addition. The fact that every song gets a little in-game director’s commentary is pretty boss, too.
  • Favorite System: Shovel Knight appeared across multiple platforms, but the 3DS version still might be the best. It has 3-D and the ability to quickly switch between items (or whatever they’re called in the version du jour). Battletoads are no substitute for being able to avoid a pause menu.
  • Lucasian Problems: Kudos to Shovel Knight’s team for not returning to Shovel of Hope with every update to “backdate” changes from later expansions. It would be the easiest thing in the world to sneak in “remake” NPCs that allude to what happens in other knights’ adventures (or, hell, advertise those experiences), but Shovel of Hope remains unmolested and devoid of unnecessary changes. Thank you for the restraint.
  • Favorite Character: Percy the Horse Scholar. I will not be accepting questions at this time.
  • Go Toads!Amiibo Corner: Naturally, I preordered the Order of No Quarter amiibos when they were first announced. That was in the fall of 2017. They were released in December of 2019. That might be the longest preorder for a videogame-related item I’ve ever maintained. Good thing I still care about collecting every damn amiibo in existence!
  • Say something mean: Propeller Knight’s stage is the worst in every version/adventure. This isn’t because of the frequent bottomless pits (though, admittedly, that do not help); it’s the auto scrolling areas, and spots that may as well be auto scrolling because you need to wait for a cannonball or wind gust. I hate waiting! I want to run! Don’t hold me down, Propeller Knight!
  • Did you know? Shovel Knight is almost a NES game… though it does include three additional audio channels and four extra colors not available to original Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. There are some other “tweaks” here and there, too, but what’s important is that the screen shakes during explosions unmistakably like in an old school game.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. This is the cream of the crop for 2-D platformers, and I love me some 2-D platformers. Long may his shovel reign!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Sword for the Nintendo Switch! … Yeah… that was a totally random choice, and not the result of me putting a hundred hours into the thing over the last few months… Yeeeep! Gonna be a totally randomly chosen modern game next week! Please look forward to it!

Shake it

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

AND YOU HAVE MY AXEAnd now we’re going to talk about the slimy underbelly of the concept of games preservation: The Legends.

…. And why they suck.

Golden Axe is an interesting series. It started in 1989 as a medieval arcade beat ‘em up. Golden Axe was a pretty fun experience, but it also had the misfortune of being released the same year as the vastly more popular Final Fight. Golden Axe wasn’t exactly a bad game by comparison, but chicken riding and the occasional magic spell somehow didn’t catch the public’s interest in the face of a malevolent version of Animal from The Muppets. When Golden Axe hit the Genesis, it was just a year until we saw Streets of Rage, a vastly and obviously more popular title of the same genre. And then its sequel, Golden Axe 2, had the significant handicap of being released on the same system during the same year as Streets of Rage 2. Decades later, people are still talking about the tight design of Streets of Rage 2. No one is talking about Golden Axe 2.

But Golden Axe 2 wasn’t terrible. In fact, Golden Axe 2 holds a special place in my heart, as, back in the day, my beat ‘em up-addicted neighbor and myself (am I trying to imply that I don’t have a beat ‘em up addiction after writing about four of ‘em over the course of the last month or so?) played Golden Axe 2 solid for nearly an entire year (which is like twelve billion centuries in kid time). GA2 was a two player beat ‘em up that featured a dwarf and murder skeletons, so it obviously had something going on. And, while we barely ever made it to the finale (damn limited credits), we played that title over and over again, because it was just the right kind of mindless fun that is perfect when you’re a kid. You can ride a beast! You can run really fast and headbutt a soldier with a pointy hat! Murder skeletons! That’s some good stuff!

But my holy grail? That was a creature I only ever saw once, hiding in some smoky arcade while crossing the country on vacation. Once, lurking there in the darkness, I saw Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder.

SKELETONS!Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released right around the same time as Golden Axe 2. Presumably, it was a divergent title that utilized the full capability of an arcade machine while leaving Golden Axe 2 to wallow in the muck of the Sega Genesis. GA:TRoDA featured branching paths for levels, vertically scrolling areas, and big, impressive sprites. It was a game that had infinitely branching possibilities, and four distinct playable characters that could halt the revenge of Death Adder simultaneously. It was the platonic ideal of Golden Axe. I might have only gotten to play the game for a credit before being pulled back to I-95, but I knew that Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was the future of the amazing Golden Axe franchise.

But GA:TRoDA never made its way to home consoles. It was never released for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, or even the Dreamcast. It was not emulated to any Sega collections. It was not released on any Virtual Consoles. It was simply lost to history, a shining relic of the Golden Axe franchise that would one day ask us all to become beast riders. GA:TRoDA fell between the cracks of time, and, in my mind, became a legend of a game that we would always pine for with an unrequited longing.

So I decided to give Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder a spin for this theme week of forgotten games. And you know what? It kind of sucks!

ROCK OUTThere was exactly one thing I remembered perfectly about Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder: there’s a centaur. She’s a horse-lady, she’s got an American Gladiator bopper, and she can switch to regular human legs when she needs to ride a fire-breathing mantis (… what?). However, my memory failed to remember that Dora the Centaur is also joined by Stern the Barbarian (who apparently did not star in any other Golden Axe games despite looking exactly like the other barbarians), Trix the Elf (who is clearly some weird amalgamation of breakfast cereal mascots), and Goah the Giant, who is at best Goah the Maybe Would be Good at Basket