Tag Archives: four players

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

BAM POWI’m not going to claim that the fall of the Western genre has led to the degradation of society, but… Okay, that’s exactly what I’m going to claim. Westerns are no longer popular, and that may destroy us all.

Everyone can identify a Western. There’s a dusty, one horse town, and a sheriff that just does his best to keep the peace. A posse of black hats roll in, scare the local populace, and only one man can stand against the encroaching lawlessness. Granted, sometimes it’s the reverse (town ruled by bad guys, and one man of honor appears with the sunrise), but, one way or another, the same basic beats are followed with the precision of a Texas BBQ. Hero does his best, maybe loses a dear friend, defeats all the henchmen, and then has one final showdown with the baddest hombre around. Everything wraps up around high noon, and the protagonist rides off into the sunset with the apparently only single woman in town. Maybe she has a heart of gold.

Given that plot synopsis, you would think there would be more Western videogames. I mean, what about that description isn’t a video game? One solitary hero against a world of “monsters”? Check. Whole world full of people that are there to offer advice but are otherwise completely useless? Check. Town in the middle of nowhere so the rest of the planet may as well not exist? Check. Final battle with the big boss that is just as allergic to lead poisoning as everybody else, but somehow is the only one that survives until the final moments? Check. Almost entirely male cast? Double check. Yet, it seems like the Western genre has been largely ignored by videogame producers. Yes, we’ve got our Red Deads and Call of Juarezes, but aside from the arcade style shooting games that are more about reliving specific dueling battles and a handful of games based on properties already firmly entrenched in olden days (does Back to the Future 3 count?), the Old West is snubbed by digital storytelling. Even games like Wild Arms and Gunman Clive seem to be living in the land of the cattle rustler, but before the credits roll, you know a space ship or anthropomorphic lizard aliens are going to make the scene. Despite efforts by highfalutin Hollywood bigshots, cowboys and aliens do not go well together.

Here we goSunset Riders is a pretty standard Western videogame. Actually, that’s a little bit wrong, as I’m pretty sure the average Western doesn’t contain this much neon. Also, Native Americans in this Konami action game are Native Ninja. But conceptually this is a standard Western: three (nearly identical) bounty hunters and their Mexican stereotype sidekick are looking to make a few bucks, and, on the way to bigger and bigger bounties, wind up saving fair maidens and one-horse towns. There’s some cattle rustling, horseback riding, and saloons out the wazoo, so there’s no question about the Western-authenticity of Sunset Riders. Yes, the game leans on goofy whenever possible (I’m pretty sure running atop a stampede is something out of a Charlie Chaplin routine), but, glowing bullets or no, this is still a bloody Western. I’m not one for counting, but I’m pretty sure Sunset Rider Bob (clearly the best named hero of the bunch) mowed down about 12,000 gunslingers between here and the Rio Grande. They… uh… let’s assume they all shot first.

But that’s the appeal of the Western.

There are a lot of important aspects to any given Western, but the body count is always there. Why? Because when you’ve got a problem that can be solved with a sixgun, and bygum, you’ve got a sixgun, then, well, I reckon guns aren’t exactly known for the most peaceful of solutions. I don’t care if you’ve got a slab of defensive metal under your poncho, if you’ve got a Western without bloodshed, you’ve got a pretty darn boring Western. Bad guys getting their just desserts (a big ol’ helping of death pie) is endemic to the genre, and the same grandmas that would later complain about the violence of videogames seemed perfectly okay with the Baby Boomers watching a lot of rifle booming.

Yee haBut that’s the thing about the Wild Wild West: it was fiction, and everyone knew it was fiction. Yes, there are stories about “the bad old days” of the West, when frontier towns were lawless and desperados roamed the prairie, but, by and large, those stories were just… stories. The Old West did not operate in any conceivable way like a John Wayne picture. If you think otherwise, at least acknowledge that your average “small town” could not have ever survived with a mortality rate of 80% and an economy based entirely on booze and whores. The truth is that a town in Utah is exactly as boring today as it was a few centuries ago, just today it might have a slightly better internet connection. The Old West has never been a place for legitimate historical dramas any more than Camelot and its band of chivalrous knights was a proper representation of the Dark Ages.

But, over time, the Western has fallen out of favor. Maybe it’s because people got tired of the formula, or because Clint Eastwood is three years shy of 90, or maybe it’s just that Hollywood finally called in an exterminator to take care of that tumbleweed problem, but, one way or another, the Western is by and large dead. It’s an anachronism, and the best the genre can hope for is a Wolverine movie or two. The Western is in a pine box, and, in its place we have… the exact same stories. One hero against a gang of bad guys, and all of the guns is the only solution to every conceivable problem. The only difference is that now it’s set in the now, and the bad dudes aren’t just black hats, they’re all manner of scary terrorists and smart white guys and maybe even a foreigner or two. Modern movies feature modern threats in modern settings.

And that’s the problem: modern media blurs the lines between fantasy and reality to a significant degree. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a videogame that could potentially be taking place down the street, but it’s a little disconcerting when that game encourages you to steal everything that isn’t nailed down and murder anybody that gets in your way. No, I’m not going to claim Grand Theft Auto has magically transformed the videogame playing masses into murderbots with a taste for trashcan medkits; Lotta deathbut, in a time when we need empathy more than ever, it’s very easy to lose yourself in a world where nothing matters but you, player, and everybody else is a brainless NPC that just happens to look like the average person you’d see on the street. No, I’ve never encountered anyone wearing a ten-gallon hat and two straps of chest ammo, but I have encountered the average “business guy” or “dude in a bandana” that I’ve plowed over in Saint’s Row before. We’ve still got all the violence of the imaginary Old West, but now it’s right here in our backyard.

Assuming those neon bullets are as lethal as their Contra brethren, Sunset Riders has an incredible body count. But it also takes place in a magical Old West that no one is going to mistake for something with historical accuracy. But Sunset Riders is also an anachronism onto itself; the Western is dead, and no we’re stuck with a simulacrum of reality for all of our murder simulators. So maybe we need our Westerns back, if only to give our children something new to shoot. Or… uh… old, I suppose.

Where have all the cowboys gone? And could they remember to bring the neon? Makes ‘em a better target.

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

  • System: Super Nintendo for the review, though there is a very compromised Genesis version out there, too. And, of course, find an arcade cabinet wherever available.
  • Number of players: Two for the SNES, but a whole four if you’ve got an arcade handy. Simultaneous play is always the best.
  • Favorite Character: I had to choose Bob for obvious reasons, but Cormano secretly holds the key to my heart. An all pink/purple poncho and sombrero? You’re the hero we all need, Cormano.
  • Ninja!Favorite Boss: Chief Scalpem/Wigwam is the weirdest kind of racist. He’s a Native American “savage” like you’d cringingly expect to see in your average Western, but in this case, “savage” equals “ninja”, so he flies around like Rolento tossing knives all over the place. I am not familiar with that particular stereotype.
  • Speaking of Racism: Okay, I might miss the Western, but I do not miss the inherent racism in the genre. I have no idea why the playable characters for this game are three identical white dudes and then one random Mexican fellow. I have no idea why Dark Horse appears to be some manner of stripper riding an armored horse. I don’t even want to know the deal with Paco Loco. It’s all very confusing.
  • Did you know? Also speaking of racism, a number of subtle changes were made to the SNES version. Instead of murdering an entire stage of Native Americans, now there’s just the one at the end of the level. All the women have slightly more modest outfits, and, to prove that Final Fight isn’t the only franchise with this problem, all female enemies were modified to be male. But everything else is the same! Except the dogs!
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game that is ideal for multiple players. It’s basically a beat ‘em up meets Contra. And that’s fun! But I’ll probably never play it again, because, ya know, Westerns are dead.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Driver for the Playstation 1! Who wants to go driving… I guess? Please look forward to it!

Stab!

FGC #285 Mortal Kombat (2011)

FIGHTEverybody wants a do-over.

It’s a pretty standard part of the human experience to wind up with a crushing number of regrets by the age of… oh, let’s say… five? I’m pretty sure my life would be a lot better if my mother had never thrown out my old bunny doll. Yes… that would have made all the difference. Regardless of past traumas, regret is an integral part of being alive, so it’s no surprise that a lot of media has been dedicated to the concept of “What if you had a chance to do it all over again.” In some cases, this leads to a simple “imaginary story” where the hero finds that if the “mistake” they’ve been regretting for the last decade or so was actually avoided, then Galactus would have eaten the planet… or something. And we all learn a valuable lesson about being greater than the sum of our faults/being eaten by space giants. But the more common use of this trope (or at least the one that seems to get a larger audience) involves a despairing adult traveling back to a happier time, and, using knowledge from the future, finally realizing what’s really important, and I guess that’s falling in love with your high school sweetheart, and not taking that high-powered job you worked your entire life to achieve. Oh, and then Galactus devours the planet.

I’ve always been a fan of this kind of storytelling (no, I’m not going to go to TVTropes to find the actual name of this trope), because, like everybody else on Earth, I fantasize about going back and changing the past and righting what once went wrong. However, unlike everybody else, I’m also fascinated by this concept because it terrifies me.

And I’m glad to see Mortal Kombat 9 agrees with me.

FIGHT MOREMortal Kombat Armageddon was a fun game that was, conceptually, a sequel to Mortal Kombat Trilogy. After seven or so Mortal Kombat games, about 90 roster changes, and a million shattered pieces of Boon plot, MK had accumulated a memorable collection of characters (and Stryker). As a sort of love letter to the fans, MKA boasted a roster that contained every Mortal Kombat Kharacter that ever was, and let ‘em duke it out for supremacy. Didn’t matter if a fighter had been dead for years or had appeared in every game (or had been dead for years and appeared in every game, hi Scorps!), everyone got to participate, and, considering this franchise doesn’t feature Kuddles Kombat, there was a vampire’s buffet of blood spilled. Basically, even by the standards of a franchise where every other round ends with a triple decapitation, it was a bloodbath, and when the dust cleared, pretty much everybody was dead.

And they made that canon.

Err… kanon.

So, unless Mortal Kombat wanted to do something stupid like focus on the real heroes’ kids or a cast of dead guys (cough), it was time for a reboot. And, taking a page from Star Trek rather than beloved DC Comics, Mortal Kombat got rebooted with a sort of parallel, “do-over” reality. Raiden, lightning god of Earth Realm, sent some crazy psychic message back to his younger self of before the first (videogame) Mortal Kombat Tournament (or thereabouts). Now, gifted with vague future knowledge, Raiden can redo his life (or the last couple years of it, I mean, he has been around for a while) and avoid the tribulations of a timeline that saw Johnny Cage die like sixteen times. So, simple goal: Raiden knows Shao Kahn is a menace that is not to be trusted (didn’t he already know this?), so stop this nonsense before it begins. Easy-peasy.

GLOWY!Unfortunately, as ever, the issue appears to be that Raiden is an idiot. Despite being a god who has like one job (come to think of it, is some lesser god handling lightning duties during the franchise? Fujin?), Raiden messes up in new and exciting ways throughout the rebooted franchise. I can forgive him missing out on saving a certain frosty individual from a yellow wrath, as we all knew how that was gonna go, but when Raiden saves Smoke from cyberization only to give rise to Cryo-Freeze Sub-Zero… that one is on you, pal. Can you not keep track of two ninja? It’s not that hard! They’re wearing bright colors! And then Raiden trusts Kung Lao to step up to the plate… so naturally Kung Lao gets turned into a fine paste. But he’s not alone, as practically all the Earth heroes wind up dead halfway through Act 3. Whoops! And right around the time that Raiden turns Liu Kang, Hero of Mortal Kombat, into barbecued beef… well, I’m pretty sure someone got the message that Raiden is maybe not cut out for a leadership role. When your champion can best be described as “smoldering”, you’ve done something wrong.

But I can relate, because I’m pretty sure that if I got a do-over on my life, I’d do the exact same thing.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t sauté any beloved allies, but I’m pretty sure I’d ruin any chance of enjoying my re-life. Ultimately, I feel like it comes down to the simple fact that I appreciate my current existence. Yes, there are things about my past that I would absolutely change (about two years ago I started a website that is part catharsis and part addiction, I could definitely cut that out), but I also acknowledge that a lot of good in my life, whether it be regarding career or friendships, stems from happy accidents. And, granted, none of those accidents are the direct result of generational ninja wars (at least to my knowledge), but I feel like if I were to… re-accident some meetings, I would completely destroy the timeline as I know it. … Probably somewhere around when I’m arrested for madly screaming at a woman that we’re destined to be together, so can we get this over with, because I enjoyed dating your best friend a lot more. Look, I can be impatient sometimes.

RARGHAnd I guess that’s the crux of my belief on how life works. We’re the culmination not only of carefully laid plans, but also a big pile of coincidence and chance, some for good, some for ill. Maybe I’d be happier if I had stayed my college girlfriend, or if I hadn’t died fighting against my undead banshee of a mother, but if I changed those important/unhappy events in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And I like where I am now. So, thank you, Mortal Kombat 9, for understanding that a do-over isn’t the secret to happiness. Different choices lead to different mistakes, and not every imagined “what if” has a happy ending.

Oh, and then Galactus ate the Mortal Kombat universe.

FGC #285 Mortal Kombat (2011)

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Oh, also, there was a Vita version. For reasons that I have never really understood, I once bought a new copy of the Vita version at the local Gamestop for zero dollars. There was some kind of sale, or the universe had twisted in on itself, or something.
  • Number of players: Isn’t there a tag mode that can involve four players? Yeah, there totally is, it’s right there on the menu. I’m not sure I’ve ever had four people together in one place that all wanted to play Mortal Kombat.
  • OuchWhat’s in a name? Technically, as a reboot of the franchise both conceptually and gameplay-wise, this game is simply titled “Mortal Kombat”, and is not Mortal Kombat 9. However, its direct sequel is Mortal Kombat X, and Mortal Kombat (1) is a very important game in gaming, so let’s stick to the nine.
  • Favorite Character: This roster brings back all the old favorites (in fact, it’s practically the same collection as Mortal Kombat Trilogy) so I’m going to have to pick Kabal. He’s in full-on Flash mode here, which… I really have no objection to that. Maybe he can dash through time and make this story a little happier.
  • Favorite Fatality: It made it into that silly video I made apropos of nothing, so I’m pretty sure you can guess.
  • Regarding the gameplay: Call me crazy, but I’m one of the few people that actually liked the general feel of the Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance/Deception/Armageddon games. I find the new Netherrealm style kind of clunky by comparison… but it’s still pretty fun. I mean, in the fighting game genre, very few games feel like you’re actually in a fight, and these MK experiences do seem to nail that heavy-hitting feeling. So I guess it evens out?
  • Did you know? Skarlet, original character, do not steal DLC female ninja, has a fatality wherein she drenches herself in the blood of her opponent. Except… all the cyber-robot opponents have oil or coolant for “blood”, so… well… I don’t think this is going to be good for that quasi-vampire’s digestion.
  • Would I play again: I like this game! But it is, by and large, completely unseated by Mortal Kombat X, a game that lets you play as Goro. And that counts for a lot! Eh, maybe I’ll replay 9 again when the inevitable MKHD Kollection arrives.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic Adventure 2 Battle! Ah-ha! Speak of original characters, and he shall appear. Please look forward to it!

Nice sweater, nerd

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

Ready to fireFighting games are the closest experiences we have to “standard” cinematic experiences. Your average “action”-based affair features a hero, hero’s best friend, and hero’s inevitable love interest versus the forces of bad guy and bad guy’s second. Toss in a couple of comic relief characters (works for either side), an inescapably doomed mentor, and maybe the romantic lead’s chubby friend, and, basically, you’ve got the full cast of a movie, dramatic television show, or fighting game. Walter and Jessie versus Gus and Mike, or Ryu and Ken versus M Bison and Sagat? It doesn’t matter from a basic story structure perspective. What does matter is how many videogames necessitate… a slightly larger cast. The blockbuster, genre-defining Super Mario Bros. movie involved King Koopa and his army of two (2) goombas. Super Mario Bros. for the NES included more goombas in its first ten seconds, and never mind the sheer number of surprisingly lethal turtles wandering around. JRPGs are all about defeating Big Bad and his four malevolent lieutenants… and the 17,000 random monsters between here and the next town. Remember that beloved scene in Back to the Future when Marty is walking back and forth between Doc’s Mansion and Hill Valley, and he has to slaughter twenty random wolves and Big Boss Wolf? Yeah, me neither. In short, a number of videogame genres are forced into a sort of endless loop of adding more and more “nobodies” to the plot to validate gameplay conventions, while Fighting Games have to put in no such effort. Liu Kang hates Shao Kahn, and, after fighting six guys, they’re gonna settle this thing. Who would want to play a game that complicates that story?

So it’s always kind of surprised me that more games don’t borrow (re: steal) the basic layout of a fighting game. I’d argue that Smash Bros. does this with aplomb while still being more of a “platform/action” game without carrying all the baggage of a typical fighter (and I suppose that statement thus includes every game that ever copied Smash Bros). And, in a way, most sports games follow the same template, as you don’t have to battle, say, the Dallas Cowboys Color Guard before tackling the real Cowboy opponents in the latest Madden. But I guess that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? In film, a tight cast is a standard bit of storytelling, while, in a videogame, you’re only going to see such a thing in a sports/competitive environment. Otherwise, without a bunch of random nobodies to kill, what are you going to do? We all love that Street Fighter 2 bonus stage, but you can only beat up a car so many times before it gets old.

Or maybe cars can beat up… each other?

Look out!Today we’re looking at a game from the Playstation/N64 days. Most people remember the mid to late 90’s as the age of the JRPG boom brought on by Final Fantasy 7; however, this was also the epoch of the rise of “cool people games”. After a decade of videogames being synonymous with furry mascots and stabby elves, the big guys all seemed anxious to push a mandate of more “mature” gaming. And by “mature”, I mean “appeals to teenagers that so desperately want to drive a car and maybe touch a boob”. This led to the premiere of many “realistic” heroes, like Gordon Freeman and Lara Croft, who fought real-life problems, like aliens and t-rexes. Okay, the games might not have been any more realistic than what came before, but at least they were less cartoony, and that was good enough for a generation that was, finally, ready to play it loud.

This, coupled with the advances in graphics and scaling technology, led to a lot of racing games. A lot. Like, there was a time when you could walk into an Electronics Boutique, and there was just a wall of random cool looking cars staring back at you. “Realistic” racing games were meant to be system sellers, and, perhaps as some kind of residual aftereffect of Blast Processing, speed was king. One of these days I’m going to review that Playstation “future” racing game that involves the half-pipe and moving at super-speed… but I’m not going to name it right now, because I can’t remember if it’s that game I’m thinking of, or that other game with the exact same premise. Or maybe it was that other one? Meh, I’ll figure out later. Point is that there were a lot of racing games at the time.

Racing games naturally fall into that “competition” category like fighting and sports games. That means that your average “car game” could easily copy the fighting game template, and do the whole “unique character/unique story/unique ending” thing. That’s good! That creates memorable characters, that, in a sea of “red car vs. blue car” could make your new unique IP standout. People are always going to remember Scorpion, you could transform your racing competition game into something perennial with the right merchandising. Let’s make a car fighting game, and be legends forever!

And that car fighting game became… Twisted Metal. Who doesn’t love Sweet Tooth!? He was in Playstation All-Stars!

Fear of a yellow busThree years later, there was Vigilante 8. Vigilante 8 does not feature any characters that resurfaced for Playstation All-Stars… or… anything else, so I guess there’s something to be said for being first to the finish line. However, Vigilante 8 attempted to do something rather unique with its car combat simulator: it copied everything about fighting games. Not content to just copy the (good) basic plot structure of a fighting game, Vigilante 8 went the extra mile by copying the worst part of fighting games: the distinctive, often esoteric motions for special moves. And it married that concept to a “fight” where you basically only have one reliable offensive option (shoot), so a new player will have something of an distinct disadvantage when battling a veteran player (or, ya know, the entire single player campaign). There are even car “fatalities” available, and the game constantly prompts the player to “total” incapacitated enemies… but… how am I supposed to do that again? Come on, Activision, you always knew this game was a rental at best, why do you think anyone would read the instruction manual?

Vigilante 8 isn’t a terrible game; it can actually be quite fun if everyone involved knows what they’re doing (and you have a TV large enough to accommodate blurry 64-bit split screens), and you’re not just skidding around each other desperately trying to clip your opponent with a Stay on target, jerkdinky machine gun (only in Videogame Land may a machine gun be effectively useless). But what could easily have been a memorable game with interesting characters (interesting by late 90’s videogame standards, mind you) is severely marred by a bizarre insistence on copying everything about fighting games, good and bad. Mortal Kombat with cars could be a great game, but only if you leave the silly input motions on the cutting room floor.

Pull that off, and maybe then we’ll get some decent memories out of a bunch of fighting cars.

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

  • System: Playstation, N64, and… Gameboy Color. Suffice it to say, the GBC version is a tweeeeak different, and looks more like R.C. Pro-AM. There’s also a modern HD version that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone ever mention.
  • Number of players: I believe we’re limited to the standard two on Playstation, but the N64 version takes full advantage of those multiple controller ports, and allows for up to four. The Gameboy port has never been simultaneously played by two people on Earth, so who knows about that one.
  • Get 'em, paPort-o-Call: The N64 version was released a solid nine months after the Playstation release, and seemed to gain a few bells and whistles to overcompensate for the delay. The most important changes seem to be that the secret character (an Area 51 alien) gets his own story mode, and story mode itself can be played with 2 player co-op. More wannabe fighting games need co-op story modes.
  • Favorite character: Beezwax is a bee keeper with bee-based special moves and a battle-camper. I can’t say no to that kind of insanity.
  • Did you know? Molo’s “battle school bus” featured heavily in advertising and the game’s box art. Then Columbine happened. Then, for some reason, the advertising campaign for Vigilante 8 went the way of the dodo. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: For a kid that wanted to claim that the N64 was somehow better than Playstation and its Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 at least could start an argument. Now, however, it’s little more than a curiosity. I doubt I’ll ever revisit this title.

What’s next? Random ROB is back up and working again, and we’ve got… Strider 2 for the Playstation! Yay! Ninja times are here again! Please look forward to it!

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

Wakka wakkaPac-Man 256 is great because it’s the first videogame in the Pac-Man franchise.

Pac-Man is unbelievably iconic. In some ways, it was probably a happy mascot “mistake”; many early videogames didn’t really feature a hero (we love you so much, Pong Paddle!), but Pac-Man was, ya know, Pac-Man. Yes, he’s a yellow circle with a mouth, but, in a time when your protagonist can either be Nondescript Blob or Triangle Dude, Pac-Man stood out. And everything combined perfectly (if again, maybe accidentally). The dot munching created that lovely “wakka wakka” noise that could be interpreted as Pac-Man’s “voice” (that must be the explanation, nobody likes the sound of a glutton eating), and the monsters’ expressive eyes were simply meant to indicate their directional intentions, but it inadvertently gave the impression that those ghosts are a little more personable than the cold, unfeeling antagonists of Asteroids. By the time we found out that Pac-Man was married with a Jr. on the way, it was pretty much a given that this “Puck Man” had gobbled his way into our hearts.

Oh, and I guess his starring vehicle was pretty fun to play, too.

I don’t need to explain Pac-Man, do I? My father is no fan of videogames (too many bad memories of goombas), yet he enjoys the occasional game of Pac-Man. My mother played it quite a bit. I’m pretty sure my grandfather (the first person in my ancestry to ever own a videogame console) got my grandmother to try it once. It’s just so simple! Guide this little pizza-man around the maze, avoid the monsters, and maybe turn the tables on your adversaries with a power pellet. Or try Ms. Pac-Man, the same game, but with new mazes! Or Pac-Man Jr., which involves scrolling for some God-awful reason! Or the one and only Super Pac-Man, where Pac-Man can use keys to unlock doors, and large power pellets to become swole. Think of all the different ways you can play Pac-Man with all those wonderful sequels!

YUMMYExcept, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: were Pac-Man released today, the many, many “sequels” to Pac-Man would be considered nothing more than DLC expansions. You can’t just add one new power-up, or two new mazes, and call it an all-new game! You have to create… let’s see here… a full new eight power-ups and accompanying Robot Masters to make a sequel! And maybe add a dog, too! No, Pac & Pal doesn’t count! And when you separate out all the random gimmicks and subtitles, all you’ve got is… Pac-Man. One man, four monsters, a bunch of dots, and four surprisingly powerful dots. That’s it. Forever.

Pac-Man is a videogame, yes, but it’s from the Dork Ages of the medium. When games were limited to a number of bytes roughly on par with the amount of memory my modern computer uses to sneeze (most computers have terrible allergies), games had to be all of one “screens”, and the only way to gauge progress was the humble score counter. There was no final boss. There was no log of all the collectibles you’ve found. If there was a second player option, it was the same character as the first player, just maybe (maybe!) with a fresh coat of paint. Your only goal was to see your name at the top of the high score table. There was no ending. There was no final stage.

Except… Pac-Man did have a final stage: Level 255. Thanks to those previously mentioned limited bytes, the original Pac-Man arcade game couldn’t “draw” a new stage after reaching Level 255, so Level 256 was a glitched, imperceptible mess of pixels. One way or another, 255 was the end of the road for Pac-Man.

So it seems appropriate that Pac-Man 256 finally brings Pac-Man into the 21st Century.

Never look downBefore we go any further, I want to note that I’m well aware that Pac-Man doesn’t need to “get with the times”. I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man CE in my adulthood, and, yes, I will still occasionally hit the ol’ Pac cabinet at a local arcade (I have local arcades!) or diner lobby. Pac-Man may be primitive, but it is a perennial favorite. Nobody needs to update football, tennis, or chess for modern audiences, and Pac-Man could easily keep on pac-ing in the free world.

But sometimes it’s nice to see what Pac-Man would look like if it were designed today.

Pac-Man 256 started as a cell phone game, which, let’s face it, is the first sign of its modernity. The next sign? Pac-Man 256 is never ending like its forefather, but there is a very distinct “goal” here. The glitched nonsense from the original Pac-Man Level 256 is eating the bottom of the screen, so Pac-Man must escape “up” in an endless maze of dots and monsters. Progress is logged in every conceivable way: high scores, maximum combo of dots eaten, maximum number of ghosts defeated, and even total number of raw dots consumed. And all those dots pay off: in one version of Pac-Man 256, Pac-Man can trade dots for new powerups… which kind of raises questions about Pac’s dot feeding. I have… concerns about his digestive system. Oh, and in some versions of PM256, it’s “freemium”, and actual cash money can be traded for powerups. Hey, it’s probably still cheaper than 3 lives for a quarter…

But those powerups are the real showstopper here. Pac-Man may still consume a power pellet so as to necessitate monster consumption, but now that ability is joined by fire trails, ninja stealth, tornados, ice magic, and, my personal favorite, LASER MOUTH. Freeze fire?And those are only the powerups I feel like naming at the immediate moment, don’t even get me started on crazy Bomber-Pac-Man. And powerups are all earned through playing the game (unlocked, if you will), and earning better and better scores and combos. Get better at the game, get more stuff. Easy peasy Blinky squeezy.

And it’s amazing how much of all of this comes from modern innovations in videogames that are standard now, but weren’t even considered back in the days Pac-Man ruled the arcade.

Multiple, “whacky” kinds of powerups? Check. Monsters follow very deliberate patterns? Check. Combo meter? Check. Play more to unlock more? Check. Multiple “skins” so you can customize your Pac? Check. Online leaderboards? Double check. Multiplayer? Yep. Random reference to Super Pac-Man for nostalgia’s sake? Oh yeah.

But the important thing isn’t the innovation on display, it’s that it all blends together perfectly. Basic Pac-Man gameplay married to modern novelty and game design thinking doesn’t create some horrible lumbering Pac-Monstrosity; no, what we have here is a effortlessly fun Pac-Experience. Pac-Man 256 brings Pac-Man into the contemporary era, and, for the first time in gaming history, creates a true Pac-Man sequel.

Pac-Man 256 is the videogame that we always knew Pac-Man could be.

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

  • System: Mobile devices, and then modern consoles, like Playstation 4 or Xbone. I would be very happy if a Switch version were to appear.
  • Wakka wakkaNumber of players: Four, and I’d like to try that out sometime. Only issue appears to be that I don’t think I’ve… ever used my PS4 for couch multiplayer.
  • Favorite Powerup: I’m sorry, did I not already mention LASER MOUTH?!
  • Favorite Monster-Ghost: Everybody seems to have very “set” patterns in this game, save the always industrious Blinky. Though I’m going to say Funky, the green ghost, is my favorite, as he seems prone to traveling in packs. That’s the way to do it, Funky!
  • Did you know? The “chicken” skin of Pac-Man 256 is actually based on Crossy Road, a sort of “Endless Frogger” that was designed by PM256’s creators. Considering the pattern here, it looks like an “Endless Space Invaders” is right around the corner. Wait… is that just Gradius?
  • Would I play again: Yes! Though, I want it on a system that is portable and has a proper joystick. I realize that’s kind of ironic considering the mobile origins of the game, but the hearts wants what the heart wants.

What’s next? Random ROB is still rebooting, so we’re going to go with a game I never thought would legitimately see American consoles… Waku Waku 7! It’s super dynamic anime fighting time! Please look forward to it!