Tag Archives: gameboy advance

FGC #506 Gunstar Super Heroes

Nobody gives the Gameboy Advance library enough credit for being flipping amazing.

Okay, yes, there may be a number of Gameboy Advance acolytes out there. The GBA was a viable system for a number of years, and, while it may not have had the longevity enjoyed by its ancestor (the Nintendo Gameboy started out porting NES titles, and reached its finish line interfacing with N64 games) or its obvious descendant (The Nintendo DS: the last bastion of portable gaming before the rise of the cell phone), it was still a system that that defined gaming for a time. It had no real Game Gear or PSP to make a play at its throne, and, while some rumors of a supposed Neo Geo Pocket may have persisted, the GBA was the undisputed king of the portable heap in its day. Inevitably, this did lead to a number of gamers young and old extolling the virtues of the Gameboy Advance, and its library of thousands of amazing games. In truth, it is an outright lie to claim the Gameboy Advance was not lauded in the past straight through to the present.

But when you ask GBA fans about the games they played the most on that lovely little system, their responses often contain games that are better known for their appearances on other platforms. The SNES seemingly provided much of the best of the Gameboy Advance library, with series like Final Fantasy Advance, Super Mario Advance, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past & Four Swords (Advance). And when a game appeared on the Gameboy Advance, but was not an outright port, it was often seen as a portable compromise. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance revisited the Final Fantasy Tactics gameplay not seen since the Playstation 1, but there was no way this game featuring snowball fights was as mature as a game that blamed an uncaring God for misfortunes in its opening dialogue. Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission both did their best, but they could never combine to match the timelessness of Super Metroid. And the other half of the metroidvania equation seemed to find its home on the GBA, but the likes of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance or Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow were never considered as intricate as their symphonic ancestor. WeeeeeIn fact, the Castlevania series on GBA seemed to summarize to state of these franchises: these “types” of games would never work on the real consoles, so here they are in portable form. Here is a discount version of your actual favorite games, and if it winds up being your favorite, lucky you. Glad you can see the good in these “bargains”.

And, while that may have been a prevailing philosophy of the time, it is important to note that that was complete bullshit.

Let’s take Super Mario Advance as an example. On the surface, it is a remake of Super Mario Bros. 2, the end. It has the same gameplay and same basic graphics as the Super Mario All-Stars Release. Whoo boy. It is a good game, save the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 was thirteen years old when it hit this portable scene. But claiming Super Mario Advance is merely a SMB2 remake is doing the whole of the game a disservice. There are new bosses, animations, and, for some reason, a robotic transsexual dinosaur. There are new mushrooms and coins to find. There are points for some insane reason. As our own commenter extraordinaire, Metal Man Master noted, it changes the Super Mario Bros. 2 experience to a startling degree. It was touted as a simple remake or “portable conversion”, but Super Mario Advance started the long history of “ports” on Gameboy Advance that were anything but. Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 has the most confusing title on Earth for a reason!

Which brings us to today’s game, Gunstar Super Heroes. Gunstar Super Heroes is remembered by many as little more than a GBA port of the beloved Genesis title. The basic plot of GSH makes it clear this is a sequel set years after the original adventure, but all of the heroes and villains coincidentally have the exact same roles and names. The level structure is the same (give or take a Mega Man X-esque introductory stage), and, in the end, you’re still going to wind up fighting the same final boss/god-robot of destruction. You run. You gun. It’s Gunstar Heroes for a new generation, but with the same old gameplay from 1993. Maybe we’ll see Beyond Oasis Advance next week.

Oh, I get itBut actually play Gunstar Heroes and Gunstar Super Heroes back to back, and you’ll find that Gunstar Super Heroes is not only a very original sequel, but also one of the most astounding games of 2005.

Gunstar Super Heroes does echo its ancestor, but it uses the structure of GH less as a dedicated guide, and more as a skeleton on which to add meat. And, fun fact, if we’re going to go with that metaphor, then GSH has piled on enough flesh to make GH morbidly obese. Nearly every level in GSH features at least one area that could have been an entire game’s concept all by itself. Guiding chicks back to an exit in a rotating labyrinth? Battling a boss while leaping between a friendly ship and a teetering helicopter? An entire shoot ‘em up stage with a wholly rotating playfield? There are so many new ideas in any one level of GSH, claiming GS is little more than a portable remake of the original is akin to claiming the latest Star Wars Trilogy is little more than the OG Star Wars Trilogy with a different skin. Episode 9 had a grandpa that gets his freak on! Return of the Jedi barely had grandpas at all!

And when you look at Gunstar Super Heroes compared to its contemporaries, you realize the incredible level of originality on display. Gunstar Super Heroes was released the same year as Devil May Cry 3, Psychonauts, and God of War. It was the year Guitar Hero made its debut. If you’re looking for something more singular in gaming, it was the year we were first allowed to climb up on a big boy in Shadow of the Colossus. These were all colossal (ha!) games, but not a single one was 2-D run ‘n gun action title. WeeeeeeNot a single one took what once would have been described as “mode 7 rotation” to its logical extreme. 2005 was a high water mark for gaming in general (Resident Evil 4 taught us all to love zombies all over again), but only one game from that year took all the best traits found on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, shook ‘em together, and produced a wholly unique and unforgettable experience.

Well… perhaps unforgettable is the wrong word. Gunstar Heroes has been reintroduced to a generation thanks to the Sega Genesis Mini, and has also been available on countless Sega Genesis compilations and retro download services. Gunstar Super Heroes? Forgotten. Despite being a game that reviewed well constantly in its time (Gamespot gave it an 8.9/10, which is the gentleman’s 139/150!), it sold very poorly, and was seemingly immediately forgotten by gaming history. As a result, GSH has not reappeared on any later consoles, portable or otherwise, and is currently only available as a *RARE AUTHENTIC* eBay purchase. Gunstar Super Heroes may have been a marvelous game, but now, whether through cultural osmosis or only six people playing it in the first place, it is only remembered as little more than a Genesis remake when it is remembered at all.

Gunstar Super Heroes deserved better. The Gameboy Advance deserved better. The GBA was more than a portable system built for ports, it was an astounding platform for titles that wouldn’t be showcased anywhere else. But, because many of those games are remembered as little more than handy timewasters, the GBA’s finest are generally forgotten. This was the system that did its best to improve Yoshi’s Island, it should be remembered for more than Pokémon Leaf Green.

Give the Gameboy Advance, and Gunstar Super Heroes, some credit.

FGC #506 Gunstar Super Heroes

  • System: Gee, I dunno, maybe the Gameboy Advance?
  • WeeeeNumber of players: Is the secret to having a successful run ‘n gun two players? This one is only one.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Gunstar Red is a woman! And it barely ever comes up! This makes Gunstar Super Heroes one of the few games I can name with a female lead that is neither a boobs-delivery service nor a frequently cited upstanding example of a modest girl in gaming. Or maybe this is just another example of how Gunstar Super Heroes is all but forgotten…
  • Favorite Stage: In the interest of sequel separation, I will note that the Gunstar Heroes franchise is the only one where I enjoy boardgame-esque levels. Black’s gambling fortress is again one of the best stages in the game, and I don’t even mind that it’s basically just an excuse for a boss rush. They’re neat bosses!
  • Favorite Boss: Pink gets the biggest glow-up between generations. What was once a battle with a heavy lobster is now one against a battle angel spewing laser beams. There’s probably some kind of deliberate anime reference going on here, but I’m just happy to fight a robotic celestial monster.
  • Say something mean: Okay, I admit the Gunstars do deserve a higher resolution. Everything feels a little cramped, and I would love to see Gunstar Super Heroes remastered for a screen slightly larger than a postal stamp.
  • SquwakAn end: You get a pretty traditional Gunstar ending if you clear the game on normal, but if you make your way through hard mode, you’ll find that Yellow has a secret desire to become a dictator, and there are multiple Gunstar universes, and… Well, it’s kind of sad, as it was all likely setting up a sequel that would never be. Hard mode is making moving on even harder.
  • Did you know? You have a lot of melee options in this game… but why would you ever use a single one? Seriously, you have a gun that shoots fire bolts. I can’t imagine using anything else.
  • Would I play again: This is the reason the Gameboy Advance Player exists. Some people may be saving their Gamecube controllers for Super Smash Bros Melee, but I’ll just be over here running around with Red ‘n Blue.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kill la Kill -IF! If you’re looking for some… interesting school uniforms, look no further! Please look forward to it!

THE BLOB

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

Not very finalLet’s talk about why you think the end of the world is a good idea.

Final Fantasy 5 has become one of the most enduring Final Fantasy titles. No, it has not yet warranted a direct sequel, nor is it receiving a high-definition remake featuring ring wraiths that really should have better things to do with their un-lives. Unfortunately, from a Square-Enix perspective, Final Fantasy 5 has been little more than a piddly JRPG that occasionally gets rereleased on cell phones. But the Final Fantasy fan community has been milking Final Fantasy 5 in new and interesting ways practically since its inception. Back in the day, thanks to FF5 never reaching Western shores, it was one of the first games that encouraged a generation to learn how to patch a rom to experience Final Fantasy Extreme. From there, fans continued to support this 1992 release well into the future with online competitions to see who could hate their life the most thanks to a twitter-based robot prescribing the use of berserker after berserker. Recently (well, relatively recently in the lifespan of FF5, as we’re talking about a game that is old enough to realize it has done nothing with its life, oh God, it can’t even think about having kids right now) fans seem to have come full circle, as there was the “Ancient Cave” mod for FF5, which itself needed a new English translation patch. This “whole new way to play” essentially turns Final Fantasy 5 into a rogue-like, using the already amazing backbone of FF5 gameplay and transcending genres. Not bad for a game that was released the same year as Night Trap!

Let's kick itBut if you’ve never played Final Fantasy 5, you may be asking why exactly this title is so enduring even among its luminous peers. Final Fantasy 6 or Final Fantasy 12 may be widely regarded as amazing, but you don’t see anyone saddling up with Ultrosbot for an annual online competition. Final Fantasy 11 or Final Fantasy 14 may have servers that will keep going until a meteor strikes the planet, but neither title has had the kind of fan support that has endured from day one to day 10,000. There’s a Final Fantasy 7 Remake, not a Final Fantasy 7 Ancient Cave. And why is that? Because Final Fantasy 5 is the perfect intersection of simple and complex. Final Fantasy 5 can be completed in a scant few hours (well, by JRPG standards), but there are 500 different ways to complete the game. And why? It’s the fabulous job system of Final Fantasy 5. This system has been seen before in the franchise, and would certainly be seen again, but here in FF5 it is somehow at its most pure. It is to the point that you could legitimately complete all of Final Fantasy 5’s challenges as your favorite combo of fighters, or with an entire party of Geomancers (which, to be clear, is no one’s favorite). Under the hood, FF5 is an incredibly well-balanced experience, and it is all thanks to a gameplay system that is immediately understandable and unerringly complex. You can be a Knight that just smacks things with swords, or memorize the Periodic Table of Elements to master the powers of the Chemist class. Both are worthy options! This is no mere advertising bullet point: you really can play Final Fantasy 5 a different way every time.

The enduring love of this Final Fantasy Fandom is all because of this amazing job system. And how do you get a job in Final Fantasy 5? Why, you simply watch the world fall to pieces.

And, don’t worry, it’s exactly as bad as that sounds.

I know that guyFinal Fantasy 5 is generally regarded as one of the more cheery Final Fantasy adventures. There aren’t any child suicides, the main protagonist is unerringly optimistic and not a sullen dork, and your prerequisite dead party member is an old man that already had his time to shine, not a 20-something young lady who still had so many folding chairs to master. However, over the course of your adventure, the winds cease and stagnate, fire loses its warmth, and the very Earth begins to lose its life. An ancient forest is burned to the ground (with some medium-well fire), kingdoms fall to monsters, and cartographers hurl themselves off towers thanks to unprecedented, instantaneous continental drift. The sun might still be shining, and everyone might be smiling, but, right up until the world is ultimately saved, roughly a third of the world’s population has been sucked into a black hole. By pretty much any rubric, that’s a bad time for everybody. And what is the cause of all of this devastation? The life-sustaining crystals representing the four primal elements are gradually shattered over the course of our heroes’ adventure, and the world is increasingly worse for it. Every time a crystal breaks to pieces, everyone suffers more and more.

Well, except the Light Warriors. They’re only getting more and more power from each broken crystal.

The job system that so perfectly defines Final Fantasy 5 is only expanded thanks to the power of the crystals. Each new crystal shattering is a disaster for the world, but it is also the only time your heroes receive new jobs. And, since you, the player, wants to have as many jobs (and possibilities!) as possible, you’ll be happy every time a crystal explodes. An entire kingdom has gone up in flames? That’s rough, but you just gained the ability to become a ninja! Score! Cheer up, peasant, Bartz is gonna dual-wield over the ashy remnants of your former life!

This is great!And, for the player, advancement through misery isn’t limited to just the jobs system. “Cool stuff” in Final Fantasy 5 is continually gated behind outright tragedy. The ancient, ultimate weapons are under glass until the big villain can get through about 80% of his apocalyptic plan. Two high level summons are only possible after killing beloved pets and companions. Stella. STEEEEEEELLA! (“Cool trauma, bro, you get a new song.”) Final Fantasy 5’s plot leans heavily on the concept that much of the misery across its world is thanks to the sins of the previous generation, regardless of whether they were well meaning heroes or older societies attempting to drain extra power from the crystals; but did they all have to pay for their sins with death? And did that death have to refill your HP for the final battle? Can there be a single catastrophe in this universe that doesn’t directly benefit the player?

And, while this may be a particularly egregious example of this trope, it is by no means the only videogame where this is the norm. Mega Man X hates killing his fellow reploids, but boy do you sure love getting shiny new weapons. Sad dads are continually sad about being sad dads that are forced to make sad choices, but you better believe you enjoy soaking in the tangible trophies of their sad carnage. And some games can’t even get going until an apocalypse has already happened! It would be downright psychotic to shoot congregating shoppers at the mall, but if they’re an army of infected zombies, you don’t even stop to reload. The message to your average videogame player is clear: once things go to absolute $^#%, that’s when you’re really going to shine. After the end of the world, that’s when you are rewarded.

And it’s important to note that that is some very dangerous thinking.

I know those guysFor future generations that may be reading this blog entry in the east wing of the Goggle Bob Museum of Stuff Goggle Bob Liked So He Got a Museum Museum, this entry is being written in the middle of a global pandemic. It has changed practically everything about our daily lives, and has killed literally thousands and thousands of people. It would not be a stretch to call this a sort of apocalypse, and it would be very much correct to designate this entire situation as a disaster. One way or another, it is a time when, for one reason or another, absolutely everyone needs all the help they can get. And what help would that be? Well, some people need readily accessible food, some people need other people to stay home so they can do their life-saving jobs, and some people just need the kind of emotional support that becomes necessary when you spend days and months isolated from human contact. And do you know what is zero help at all? People that know Rapid Fire, how to summon meteors, or anyone whose job could be listed as “Samurai”. Despite the terms “hero”, “war”, and “invisible enemy” being tossed around, the last thing this situation needs is people who think they can solve a problem by hitting it. The heroes of Final Fantasy 5? And the heroes of every videogame? They’d all be completely useless in this situation (save maybe Dr. Mario). We’re dealing with a global catastrophe on a scale worthy of Exdeath, but the idea that some Light Warriors could come and save everyone is ludicrous.

And it sounds obvious to say such a thing out loud, but it’s important to remember this information for… lesser disasters. Not everything is a global calamity. Sometimes bad things happen, and you don’t so much as get a crystal shard for your troubles. Videogames (and so much of fiction in general) runs on the concept that every cloud has a silver lining, and a tragic death in act two just means that a friendly ghost is going to help everyone in act three. That is not reality. He bitesSometimes you just lose. Sometimes you have to live with pain and suffering, and the best you can hope for is the mental fortitude to not dwell on it for the next twenty years. PTSD does not grant a level up bonus. Yes, it’s easy to nod and agree with this notion when reading it from the relative comfort of the internet, but your subconscious has been soaking up the hidden morals of Final Fantasy 5 and its ilk for decades. The world is falling apart! I hope I get a legendary sword out of the deal!

So what’s today’s moral? Final Fantasy 5 is an amazing game, but remember it’s only a game. Even after you strip out the talking turtles and magic trees, it’s still not even approaching reality. Keep that in mind as you make decisions in our all-too-real world. There aren’t any Warriors of the Crystals running around, and you’re not going to be granted a new job just because society is falling apart. Be the kind of hero this world really needs, not one that thinks they can solve problems with a “fight” command.

The end of the world isn’t good for anybody.

FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5

  • System: In Japan, originally on the Super Nintendo. In America, we had to wait for the Playstation. Eventually, everybody got it on the Gameboy Advance. And now it’s on a bunch of Playstations and cell phones.
  • Number of players: Final Fantasy 6 was the one with the 2-player, 2-controllers option, right? I think it’s just one this time.
  • BLAMPort-o-Call: Give me the Gameboy Advance version any day of the week, as it seems to have the best translation. And by “best” I mean “the one that contains nonsensical references to early 21st Century internet culture”. That’s all I want from a game! And there’s a bonus dungeon with bonus bosses and bonus jobs, too, I guess.
  • Favorite Monster: The Unknown creatures in the undersea rift are unpleasant to look at, just like a good monster should be. Second runner up is the tonberry, which makes its first appearance here in Final Fantasy 5, but didn’t really come into its own until the great doinkening of Final Fantasy 8.
  • So, what were your jobs: I played fast and loose, game genied my way to every job at the start, and just had some fun seeing if Necromancer is a remotely viable job in the first dungeon. Spoilers: it’s not great. Final Fantasy 5 is a game with such a glut of options, it practically encourages cheating your way into ridiculous, possibly Chemist-based situations. Just have fun with it, and, just in case you slot in a berserker before a sand worm fight, remember to save often.
  • Favorite Job: Blue Magic also appeared for the first time in Final Fantasy 5, and, considering it grants its user a spiffy blue mask, Blue Mage is my favorite job. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of the abilities are overwhelmingly overpowered… but the same can be said for about a quarter of the jobs in Final Fantasy 5, so we’re just going to stick to what is commonly referred to as “the cape factor”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I first played this game emulated on a PC that didn’t even have a sound card. Battle on the Big Bridge? More like skirmish on the extremely quiet overpass. But at least I had the good sense to play the game after some nerd fixed all the transparency issues.
  • Axe you a questionDid you know? Each of the characters has default stats that make some slightly better suited for different jobs. Krile, for instance, has the greatest agility, so she’s better suited for… Bah! Who cares!? All that matters is they can all be Dancers, so just let ‘em dance.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Final Fantasy 5: excellent game, bad moral. Don’t go chasing apocalypses, kiddies!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Nintendo Wii. Oh good! I’m going to watch more planets explode. Please look forward to it!

FGC #498 DK: King of Swing

MOAR APESLet’s hear it for Donkey Kong, the incredible ape that only has a few actions, but can do ‘em a million different ways.

… Or at least three.

To start, we have to address DK’s most hated rival: Mario. Or… well… they seem to be getting along pretty well at this moment, but they do have the occasional issue over copyright disputes. Regardless, as you may be aware, Mario has starred in a number of games. And it’s not just his popular adventures jumping across the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario has been everything from a tennis ace to a kart racer to a medical doctor. Mario had more spin-off titles before the end of the NES than many gaming heroes had individual “main franchise” games. Mario, designed to be like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Tom Hanks, could fill many roles and serve many masters. Mario has to headline a golf game now? Sure! Princess Peach can be caddy for some reason.

But there’s a problem with Mario appearing in so many roles: he has lost sight of his original moveset. Mario runs and jumps. It has been there from the beginning, and his greatest hits have ultimately boiled down to those simple motions. Mario jumps. It’s his thing. And even when Mario leaps from system to system, you have a basic idea of how his physics are going to fare in the new dimensions. … Except, when, ya know, there is no jumping. There is, at best, a tiny hop in Mario Kart. Mario nary jumps an inch in Dr. Mario. Picross is right out. And even titles that are not action games, but do pay homage to Mario’s ups, feature a Mario that is, at best, hobbled. Mario & Luigi or Super Mario RPG literally talk about the great jumping Mario, but it’s still not the primary way Mario interacts with his world. It’s telling how quickly Mario discovers a fire flower or hammer (or both!) in those titles…

The new canonAnd, in a way, that’s absolutely fine! You don’t need running and jumping to toss pills of dubious scientific origins at viruses, and RPGs shouldn’t have puzzles where the solution is “run better”. Mario has existed across genres and playstyles, and the fact that he adapts to each new challenge like he always belonged there is a feature, not a bug. Mario can compete in the Olympics, and his caretakers don’t have to find a way to squeeze a mystical mushroom into the already complex, shot put-based gameplay.

But that does mean Mario loses something along the way. If you pick up Mario Kart expecting typical Mario gameplay, you’re going to have a bad time. If you only want a traditional Mario game, but with a whole lot more dialogue, then the latest Mario RPG is going to leave you wanting. Mario might be right there in the title, and he might be the focus of the core concept, but that’s no guarantee that Mario will be the Mario that you remember. Mario is always going to be Mario, yes, but there’s no promise his latest outing is going to feature a Mario that simply runs, jumps, and occasionally menaces turtles.

Donkey Kong, though, now there’s a reliable ape.

The Donkey Kong official timeline is a little blurry, but the first playable “Donkey Kong” was definitely Donkey Kong Junior. DK Jr. controlled much like Mario, though with the moveset addition of “can climb”. This was required across all levels, and, in some stages, was little more than an evolution of Mario’s ability to “press up”. However, some levels (including the finale!) were almost entirely climbing based, so, while a horizontally traveling DK Jr. was very similar to his father’s captor, an ape on a vine was a different animal from a plumber on a ladder. As such, we learned the one thing that DK has over Mario: he’s an experienced climber. DK Tarzan, Mario plain.

Spikey!Then Donkey Kong took some time off to discover himself, learn math, figure out how ties work, and eventually returned a decade or so later. The “new” Donkey Kong of Donkey Kong Country was not confined to a scant few stages, but had an entire, enormous island to explore. He had his own reptilian villain, a fresh addiction to yellow fruit, and a little buddy that was so happy, he’s doing cartwheels. But Donkey Kong? Donkey Kong, at his core, was still doing the exact same things. He ran. He jumped. He swung on vines. The only new addition for the player was DK having some offensive options, like tossing barrels, but that was something the big guy did right from his first appearance (even if the player didn’t have any input on when he did it). Donkey Kong felt different from his DK Jr. days, but the same basic moves were all there. To some, this might seem like the old monkey couldn’t learn new tricks, but to others, this was glorious familiarity. And that’s very important when a videogame character resurfaces on an entirely new system with unfamiliar graphics.

This iteration of Donkey Kong stuck around for a generation or so, and stayed consistent (give or take a coconut gun that can fire in spurts). And then, once Donkey Kong (and Nintendo) separated from Rare, things got interesting.

Four years after Donkey Kong 64, Donkey got his own official Nintendo Peripheral. The DK Bongos were a pair of bongos (of course!) poorly posing as a controller. They were Nintendo’s answer to the Taiko Drums or Guitar Heroes of other systems, but they were used for more than mere rhythm games. The DK Barrels led to not only the prerequisite Donkey Konga, but also Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. DKJB was controlled entirely via bongos, and felt very different from every action platformer that had ever come before. But you know how DK navigated this brave new world? He ran, jumped, and swung on vines. DK: Jungle Beat felt wholly new and different from literally any game that had come before, but Donkey Kong was still very much Donkey Kong. And that familiarity is a godsend when you’re trying to grapple with a controller that somehow involves clapping.

He can breathe anywhereAnd then DK’s experimental phase continued with DK: King of Swing. In this adventure, our dear Donkey Kong can run and jump, but he isn’t so much into those ground-based activities anymore. Donkey Kong has taken to the skies, and is going down swinging. Or up? He’s still going in whatever direction you want. In fact, he’s going in every direction, as the gameplay of DK: King of Swing is literally going in circles. The primary challenge involved is stopping the big guerilla’s rotation at exactly the right time. In this manner, DK is able to do all his usual moves, as “jumping” or “throwing” are now simply lesser facets of “twirling”. It’s an entirely different way to control Donkey Kong, but his moves are still familiar.

And that’s important when adapting your protagonist to different gameplay. Let’s face it, DK: KoS is the sequel to Nintendo’s long forgotten Clu Clu Land. This is the evolution, the “super” version of a game that was released in 1984. But it is not “a Clu Clu Land” game. This is unmistakably a Donkey Kong game. DK has a certain heft to his movements that is completely absent from other platformers. It’s the same weight that allowed him to roll off a cliff to grab a K emblem in the Donkey Kong Country titles. It’s the same weight that allowed DK to be controlled by frantic bongo drumming. It’s even right there at the beginning when DK Jr. cut across a stage with a well-placed jump on a spring. That same monkey momentum was taken to Clu Clu Land’s basic setup, and allowed for a hero that could propel himself through the air with a spin and a flourish. This is Donkey Kong moving like he has never moved before, but he feels right while performing those familiar physical feats.

Ouch!And that’s why Donkey Kong works. That’s why DK: King of Swing, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, and his later return to Donkey Kong Country all work. Donkey Kong has been consistent in his appearances for decades, and that allows for some superficially inconsistent gameplay. Even though everything seems different, it simmers down to something that is very much the same, and thus immediately understandable. DK: King of Swing is a very different kind of Donkey Kong game, but it works because Donkey Kong continues to be Donkey Kong.

So, congratulations Donkey Kong, you’re more consistent than Mario, and that allows you to feature in more experimental games while still maintaining your identity. You finally beat that plumber at something.

And I bet Pauline isn’t even going to notice…

FGC #498 DK: King of Swing

  • System: Gameboy Advance, and then nothing ever again. The game was well-received in its time! I think!
  • Number of players: There’s an entire competitive multiplayer mode that is separate from the main, one-player campaign. It’s a four player game as a result, and at least one player can be Wrinkly Kong’s Ghost. It is exactly as macabre as it sounds.
  • What about single player? For some reason, only Diddy Kong mode is unlockable as an alternative to Donkey Kong. I’m not certain why the likes of Dixie or Funky are not allowed to also fight the lizard king, but Diddy can play hero all he wants. Maybe it’s because he has so much experience with kart racing heroics.
  • Here we goHey, isn’t Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast relevant to this whole discussion on DK appearances? Gogglebob.com does not formally recognize any titles involving sexy lady kremlings and Lanky Kong.
  • Story Time: DK King of Swing’s official plot is that the Kongs were going to have some manner of Monkey Olympics, but King K. Rool stole all the medals, and now DK has to venture through five or so worlds to reclaim all the gold before the games. What happened to simply having sports for the spirit of competition, Kongs? Do you really have to rely on these meaningless baubles? Do you actually need your patriarch to fight a gigantic, flaming bird so you can have a medal at the end of the day? You apes are too materialistic.
  • Favorite Character: Less you missed the obvious parallels, the star of Clu-Clu Land is the final unlockable character. Clu-Clu is a beast… and incidentally a silly little circle. I like simple designs.
  • For the Sequel: DK: King of Swing did receive a DS sequel titled DK: Jungle Climber. Its selling point is dropping the “cartoony” graphics of King of Swing for the more familiar “rendered” graphics of the 16-bit era. It’s otherwise a pretty pat sequel in gameplay and plot, and an inglorious end for this branch of the DK family tree.
  • Did you know? Given he hasn’t yet returned for Donkey Kong Country Returns titles, DK: King of Swing and DK: Jungle Climber were the last titles where King K. Rool appeared as an antagonist. He’s performed a few times since then as a generic “player” in baseball games and alike, though, so it’s not like Smash Bros. was his only spotlight in the last decade. Maybe we’ll see more of the big lug in the future thanks to Smash. It certainly worked for Fire Emblem
  • Would I play again: I’m always reminded how much I like this game every time I play it. It certainly has its share of weird bits (what’s this about eating my banana stock for health?), but it feels very right, so I might chase that feeling again. And I have to defend my King of Swing medals…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ballz. Oh man, that game is balls. Please look forward to it, that, which is Ballz!

Weeeeee

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

BREATH OF DEMONS!Breath of Fire 2 is the story of Ryu, an orphan adventurer who starts out by rescuing a pig from a hungry old man, but eventually graduates to killing god. Pretty typical JRPG stuff. Though there is a bit of a twist on the JRPG formula here: god is bad. Yes, god is usually bad when he’s the final boss worthy of an assault of chainsaws, but, in this case, there is no question as to Deathevan’s intentions. His name is Deathevan, for crying out loud! And his “secret origin” is that he is a deliberate “scar” left by the final boss of Breath of Fire (1), and has no other purpose other than to fester, grow, and eventually wipe out humanity. The whole “god” angle? He’s no more a god than any other JRPG opponent, he simply set himself up as the head of a religion in order to suck up sacrifices. Though perhaps the same could be said of all religions.

So, yes, in the end, Ryu and the gang are putting down a boss monster. The end. They’re not killing god anymore than Cloud, Ashley, or even Mario (give or take Culex). They save the world from a creature lurking in the depths of the underworld, and return to the light of day to find a beautiful, appreciative world waiting for them.

Or… nobody notices they did anything.

They saved the world, but did anyone even notice? Let’s take a look at the world of Breath of Fire 2, and see if there’s a single person on that planet that would have noticed the death of an evil, wannabe god.

The not-so-good churchWe’ll start with the obvious source of all this trouble: Evrai, the holy city of the Church of St. Eva. Evrai is a small town attached to a gigantic, magic-powered church/fortress. It is the base of operations for the whole of the St. Eva religion, and, likely because they’re responsible for recruiting people to worship an evil god, the place is just crawling with monsters. And church services are led by Habaruku, a Lovecraftian squid dude that apparently kills enough people during services that his congregation doesn’t even bat an eye when a tiger person is struck down by unholy lightning. The whole premise of BoF2 is that the St. Eva church has been masquerading as a benevolent organization this whole time… but there sure is a lot of blood splattered around their base.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter anyway, because the party needs a friggen’ magical bird to scale the sheer cliffs that surround Evrai. If nobody is making it back to the home office, it doesn’t matter if the religion is obviously a death cult. That’s been working out for the Republican Party for years, so it would undoubtedly work in a world without videoconferencing.

Oh, and also related: Ryu blew the whole church, city, and presumably every follower in it straight to Infinity when he rescued his dad from a magical eyeball machine, so it’s kind of a moot point. The explosive end of Evrai probably made more of an obvious impact on the world than defeating Deathevan, but it’s not like anyone was going to visit that freshly smoking crater anyway. Package delivery was probably screwed up for a week, but then all of Habaruku’s mail started forwarding to Gate, and business returned to normal.

This guy might be evilAnd if you’re curious how anyone ever even gets to Evrai, there’s Bando Church, which supposedly takes the most dedicated believers to their grand home. The only issue? Bando Church is actually led by a skeleton demon that zombifies his followers, and then sends them out into the wild to be slain by adventurers hoping to gain a few zenny for herbs. Naturally, Ryu takes care of this issue through unrelenting dragon blizzards, and the one place on the planet that was offering direct flights to Evrai is also left abandoned. So, just to be clear, long before he discovered the secret truth of Deathevan, Ryu really did a number on church infrastructure.

But let’s stop focusing on the malevolent Church of St. Evan. The whole point is that they A. are evil as hell, and B. they’re infiltrating otherwise “good” towns and growing their followers. Ryu was inevitably going to wipe their bases off the face of the Earth (or… uh… “Earth”), so let’s look at some population centers Ryu didn’t completely obliterate.

I don't buy itWe may as well start at the beginning, so HomeTown is first up. This is the adopted hometown of Ryu and Bow (oh, I just got that), and it’s a surprisingly affluent area for a pair of street urchins. The only two rich guys on the planet live here, and HomeTown is also home to the only school, magic or otherwise, anyone will ever see in Breath of Fire 2. There’s a church, too, but it is by no means the center of the city. It’s slightly left of the center. But HomeTown’s biggest problem is the same as Gotham’s: the local Joker Gang is menacing random townsfolk, and it winds up being Ryu’s responsibility to stop their attempted kidnapping. He does so through some light genocide, and HomeTown returns to a peaceful life, give or take one of the two rich dudes turning out to be a greed demon. But it’s not like the townsfolk care about such a thing. The wealthy always have strange hobbies.

The director of HRThough if we’re talking about strange hobbies, we may as well hit Coursair. Coursair is home to a coliseum (and, depending on your transliteration, the whole place is just plain called “Coliseum”), and it’s a town that lives for bloodshed. Violent battles are held here as often as the plot demands, and gigantic lumberjacks can roughhouse with catgirls to their heart’s content. And it’s all a secret front for that evil church to get people to pray. Or… something? Look, there isn’t a clear connection between “church that publicly is all about peace and love” and “thunderdome”, but somehow it all works out for Deathevan and Augus, the local two-headed wolf monster. Ryu defeats Augus, but it’s not like anyone knew there was deception afoot. The coliseum isn’t even closed for renovations after Augus’ defeat, so Coursair is going to be business as usual before and after Ryu’s adventure. At least Katt has a job to fall back on.

Dammit, momBut Coursair is where Ryu finds his horse-friend, Rand. And Rand’s hometown is FarmTown. FarmTown is interesting, as it is one of the few places that does not worship the Dragon God (good!) or St. Eva (bad!), but St. Namanda, an earth god. Daisy, Rand’s mother, appears to be the mayor (or… something?) of this town of horse folk (not centaurs. Never centaurs), and there is much concern about messengers from St. Eva attempting to get a foothold in FarmTown. Do they succeed? Well, they successfully forge Daisy’s signature (and kidnap the poor woman just for funsies), but that winds up being the inciting incident for Rand and Ryu invading Evrai and blowing the whole organization sky high. Dangerous blunder! In the end, Daisy winds up dead anyway, and it’s unclear why that wasn’t just everybody’s first move. I’m not saying murder is always the answer in real estate dealings, but when you’re running a death cult, it sure does seem like a viable option. Regardless, thanks to a shakeup-by-swordpoint in St. Eva management, FarmTown’s church never gets built, and the residents probably just went ahead and anointed Rand as Daisy’s successor, anyway. Back to plowing the fields, Shell Clan, the rest of the world needs you to drop turnip prices.

Thanks, RayAnd speaking of places where the church has meddled (and everyone got over it), Capitan seems to be home to one of the few actually successful St. Eva operations. This tiny village has a well full of monsters (mostly of the face-hugging variety, which never ends well), and Ryu assists Ray Bradoc, a priest of St. Eva, in saving the town. And that’s pretty great! Ray has magical powers that are generally divine in nature (even if they originate from a slightly different god), and his helpfulness and heroism is clear for all the townsfolk to see. He’s a good guy! St. Eva must be full of good guys! And if he wasn’t literally the only good guy to ever be associated with St. Eva, he might trick our good guys, too. Unfortunately, Capitan doesn’t seem to have any particularly exciting plans for Capitan: they’ve already got a church, and there are, like, nine people living in town, so building another church just seems gauche. Maybe there was some blank that was to be filled in later on this plan before the “profit” step, but it sure seems like all we’ve got here is a well full of dead monsters. One way or another, that’s not going to put a crimp in the average villager’s day. Well… until they die of the magical equivalent of lead poisoning, at least.

Nothing going on hereAnd speaking of terrible plans, it seems like the bad church has a number of bizarre irons in the fire. Is the traveling circus sowing discord by showing children turtles? Is Whale Cape’s titular whale frozen in rock so the local children can keep selling disgusting cakes? Does Guntz, home to the Iron Ogre Clan, not have anything to do with anything, so why even bother? St. Eva has one clear goal: gain more followers. How is trapping a grass man in a cage or threatening some dolphins going to help achieve that? Who knows, but it does mean there are a number of places on the planet that don’t even know they were ever being menaced, left alone that Ryu saved them from an evil god.

CroakBut maybe we’re not thinking big enough! We need to look at the real players in this world! We need to look at the kingdoms! Like SimaFort, a castle full of frog people living in the middle of a moat. What resources do they have? They’ve got a lot of cockroaches, worms, and flies! Is their national army powerful? No, they’re mostly just fun-loving, artistically oriented amphibians who would rather host a cooking contest. Is there absolutely anything of value in SimaFort? Well, there’s supposed to be a magically powerful sword in the basement, but, like SimaFort’s own Prince Jean, it’s very likely to make you croak. Regardless of having absolutely no strategic merit, Kuwadora attempts to infiltrate and conquer SimaFort through guile and trickery on behalf of St. Eva. Ryu defeats the fake prince via swords/vomit, and life in SimaFort continues on as normal, complete with Prince Jean wandering off again. At least the local battle princess feels better about the situation.

MONKEY FIGHT!And speaking of princesses, distant Highfort is being menaced by another usurper, Shupkay. This demon is taking a much more direct route, and has earned her position of leadership through leading the Highlander Tribe (monkeys, not immortals) as a general in many wars that you think you would see some evidence of somewhere else in the world. Maybe this is why the whole continent is a wasteland? Regardless, Shupkay threatens to take over Highfort through word and deed, and attempts to gain control of Highfort’s lost technology (I’m sensing a pattern here). This time, Shupkay is thwarted by party member Sten, who fakes his own death along the way because he missed two mortgage payments while he was out adventuring. It was the only way. Oh, and there isn’t a church or clergy to be found within Highfort, so no monkey is going to miss that meddling god.

Toot tootYou know what? Screw these Johnny come lately kingdoms, let’s look at the big boys that have been around since Breath of Fire 1. Now here are some locations where a Ryu made a difference! Like Tunlan! Back in Breath of Fire 1, Tunlan’s matriarch fell in love with the evil emperor, and the party had to commit a daring robbery to save a kingdom from the poor decisions of its own ruler. Surely, BoF2 offers a scenario that is just as thrilling and… Oh. Uh… apparently Deathevan made the queen fat. And I guess there’s a multipart quest that involves finding a weird old man, mushroom medicine, and eventually shrinking down and fighting Fatties hiding within the queen’s bloodstream. Huh. Apparently cellulite is the proper punishment for not giving the evil church enough advertising in your kingdom. “Cursed to be fat” sure is a moral everyone loves to see…

Fly awayBut Windia! There’s an old standby! And the Princess of Windia isn’t weighing down your sidequests, she’s an active member of the party! And there’s this whole, ancient prophecy about a princess being born with black wings, and how that will destroy the kingdom! And the king has been poisoned by the church, and he only gets better during the finale, after sealing Deathevan! So chalk this one up to a win for the party! Everyone in Windia is going to notice that the king is better!

Except… the party kind of turned the other princess of Windia into an unintelligent, giant bird in the quest to stop Deathevan. And, thanks to that prophecy, Nina was hidden from the public from a young age. So all the population knows is that their former future ruler is mysteriously missing and presumed bird-brained. And it’s not like anything was done to avert or satisfy that prophecy about Nina destroying the kingdom, so she can’t very well pop up in the public eye now. “I’m your princess! Don’t mind the death wings!” It’s not gonna fly. So, the king might be feeling better, but Windia has got bigger fish to fry when Nina flies home on her massive, avian sister.

And… that’s everybody, right? The whole of the world, and, at best, some towns maybe notice that the local church isn’t getting as much mail as it used to. God is dead, Ryu killed him, and life goes on. Maybe that’s the real moral of Breath of Fire 2: your chosen deity might be good or evil, but what really matters is what people do in their lives. Ryu changes the world not through slaying a mysterious spirit hiding at the center of the planet, but by changing the lives of people globally for the better. God can live or die, but as long as people keep making the world better, there will be good in the world. We don’t need change any more dramatic than that.

Oh, except in Gate, where Ryu smashed an entire flying town into another town in an effort to seal Deathevan forever. Those people probably noticed something had changed.

FGC #489 Breath of Fire 2

  • Tony the tiger!System: Super Nintendo, then Gameboy Advance, and now available on the Nintendo Switch. There was probably a Wii version somewhere in there, too.
  • Number of players: Ryu and his six or seven companions can only be controlled by one player.
  • Favorite Character: When I was first playing this game on the cusp of adolescence, I preferred Katt, as she was a woman that notably did not ever wear pants. However, as an adult, I prefer Rand, the big, reliable horse-man who can roll around the world map without random encounters. Any person or thing that can stop random encounters in this game is a godsend.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This was one of my absolute favorite JRPGs as a kid, but it is rough to play as an adult. The encounters happen roughly every three seconds, and it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of “place” in some of the larger dungeons as a result. The final dungeon is a nightmare, and I’m not certain I’ve ever determined the exact dimensions of the closing area as a result. That said, BoF2 oozes personality, and, somehow, you know everything you ever need to know about characters like Bow or Spar from like three dialogue boxes. In an alternate universe where BoF2 was a runaway success, people are still taking online quizzes telling them “which BoF2 character are you”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I want to say I got this game for Christmas at the same time my dad received the Queen’s Greatest Hits 2-CD set. As a result, while I can dimly recall any BoF2 musical track, what really plays in my head when seeing any screen from this game is likely Bohemian Rhapsody or Fat Bottomed Girls. I have no complaints about this issue.
  • Flowers for this jerkFeeling Bleu: Bleu/Deis, an immortal sorceress that recurs over the Breath of Fire franchise, is a hidden character available for your party. This is the only BoF where she appears but can be completely missed, and I’m still considering how I feel about that. On one hand, it is really easy to miss her “secret town” and then the additional unlock condition of scooting over to an area you’re unlikely to revisit again. On the other hand, it’s the kind of “secret” that, once you know the trick, you will literally never forget what to do (which is something that cannot, for instance, be said of the “true ending” conditions for Persona 4). So… I guess it works? Still, I would like to see more active Bleuing in any given Breath of Fire.
  • Favorite Shaman Combination: Jean the frog can upgrade from slimy little loser to handsome frog prince of destruction thanks to the combination of the Holy and Water shamans. He’s… still not all that useful, but he can randomly kill literally everybody in a strike if he feels like it. Not bad, toady, not bad.
  • The Sad Tale of Patty: Ryu’s sister is lost at the top of the game, and apparently grows into the “bat-winged” thief that the party spends like half the game tracking. There’s a really interesting parallel story there… and BoF2 never follows up on any of it in any way. This is the biggest reason I’d like to see a “Breath of Fire 2 Remake”, because, dammit, I want to know more about what happened to Yui. She could have been the destined child, too, guys!
  • I know him!Further Sad Tales: This is the only videogame I’m aware of where you can unknowingly, accidentally kill your own father. That’s usually slightly more telegraphed.
  • Did you know? Eichichi is the technologically savvy ogre woman that is essential to getting your flying town off the ground. Unfortunately, like another Capcom heroine, her whole name is a breasts-pun, and her original dialogue involves questioning her about her “dimensions”. And her full name (available during the credits) is “A Titi Efcup”. Capcom horny, Michael.
  • Would I play again: Definitely, but with cheats. Game Genie has a “turn off random encounters” code, and I want to say that would make the game about 90% more enjoyable. And I still have to try that “real” translation patch…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dig Dug for the Atari 2600! I was just saying I wanted to try Dig Dug again, and here we are. Thanks, ROB! Please look forward to it!

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