Tag Archives: gameboy

FGC #262 Final Fantasy Adventure / Adventures of Mana

Poor ol' manLet us take a moment to talk about pausing.

First, to be clear, I am an unashamed pause promoter. I believe all videogames should have a pause function. I believe most of reality should have a pause function. You never know when you might need a time out, and if that contractor that I’ve been trying to get to finish my damn deck rings the doorbell, you better believe making sure that silly carpenter doesn’t sheepishly shuffle away takes priority over Liu Kang’s safety. Oh, Earth Realm is now doomed to forever be a subsidiary of Outhouse World? Well, we could have avoided this fate if someone included a pause button. And don’t give me that garbage about tension, Dark Souls, because authorial intent doesn’t make a damn lick of difference when a piece of entertainment is attempting to interfere with my life. Joss Whedon didn’t produce Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a fan to watch all seven seasons within the span of three days, and HBO doesn’t produce Game of Thrones with the intention of me inserting a “break” every fifteen minutes because of the soul-crushing boredom of every plot that doesn’t involve Tyrion or Arya. Bloodborne, I will tackle these nameless abominations after I’ve finished this aggravating call from my mother, and not a moment before.

But, while pausing empowers the player to control the videogame universe like some kind of Nintendo Captain, there is also the dark side of pausing: pausing makes you stop.

Surprising, right? Who would have expected that?

MY MIND!Today’s game is Final Fantasy Adventure, a game that I tangentially discussed before. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: Final Fantasy Adventure is my favorite Gameboy game. I spent countless hours directing Big, the Hero of Mana, through a surprisingly diverse world, and, together, we saved the good people of wherever this place is supposed to be. And I think Big’s girlfriend turned into a tree? It was a weird day. Anyway, even if the story turned out to be a thinly veiled retelling of a Miyazaki flick or two, Final Fantasy Adventure engaged young Goggle Bob’s imagination and thumbs, and led to a lot of Super Gameboy abuse. Had I actually owned a Gameboy at the time, I might have just bolted the beeping thing to my face. It’s the only way that nefarious Julius will learn!

But, despite playing Final Fantasy Adventure for roughly the entire Clinton administration, there were still things I apparently did not know about the game. For instance, there are a number of monsters that are immune to traditional weapon attacks. Yes, you can generally utilize magic, but that uses up valuable charges for your Cure spell, and, man, don’t want to risk those when there are shadow creatures afoot. So, on my repeated playthroughs of FFA, I simply gazed at these invulnerable monsters, said, “Nope,” and moved on with the dungeon du jour. That turtle thing is invincible, nothing for it, let’s move right along. I’ll earn my EXP through dicing up skeletons, thank you.

Here's some pointed commentaryAnd I wallowed in the ignorance of “invincible monsters” for years. Sword of Mana was a remake, but it was a completely different remake, so, when I replayed Final Fantasy Adventure afterwards, now as an “informed” adult, I played it the same as ever. If I decided to fire up the ol’ Gameboy, it was to play Final Fantasy Adventure, and, right through to the age of the 3DS, I’d avoid those unbeatable enemies like the plague. “They’re dangerous!” a tiny voice in my head continued to shout. And I listened every single time. Why risk Big’s life on something that probably/hopefully won’t be in the next room? There are so many people counting on his holy sword!

And then, just last year, I played Adventures of Mana. Adventures of Mana is a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure that was initially designed for cell phones/mobile devices, and, thus, has a touch interface. While I did not play Adventures of Mana until it hit the Vita, the “upgrade” from mobile to a system with actual buttons did not drop any of the touch features. So, for the first time in Final Fantasy Adventure history, I was able to play through FFA’s dungeons with many of my items just a tap away. No longer did I have to access the pause menu, stop the game, and pull out a healing piece of candy or an essential mattock; no, now I had full, tappable control of my inventory, and, more importantly, my weapons stash. While “pause” was still there as an option, I no longer had to pause every time I wanted to switch from sword to spear to flail. For the first time ever, changing weapons according to rooms was not only viable, but fun.

And that’s when I learned that there are no “invincible” monsters in Final Fantasy Adventure, some beasts just require different weapons. That’s so obvious! So videogame! Why hadn’t I tried that before!?

Well, because pausing is a pain in the ass, duh.

MY MIND!  AGAIN!It’s no secret that I love Mega Man games, but, despite adoring MM2 and MM3, I usually replay the X series more (even the… less pleasant entries), because, quite simply, I hate having to pause and access the typical Mega Man weapon select menu. There are two different pages of weapons to leaf (shield) through? Lame! I’d rather just hit L & R to cycle over to my precious flamethrower. And, yes, while some Mega Man collections have dropped in a L/R cycle so you don’t have to bop over to a menu every ten seconds, it’s clear these games were never designed with this functionality in mind (like the X series), and, should you accidently cycle over to Time Stopper and slip on the B button… you’re gonna have a bad time. This kind of “pause every few minutes” game design has marred a number of excellent games, from Demon’s Crest to Castlevania (“Jonathan! Give me a second! I’m fishing out my owl spell!”). I have absolutely no evidence to support such a claim, but I feel like half the reason there are so many offensive options in Symphony of the Night is that someone noticed that pausing every other room is pain in the butt, so here’s a sword that will work for everybody. Missed that sword? Here are some cool knuckles. No, don’t worry about pausing, this should work for most of the castle. And, while this was generally a bigger problem back in the ol’ days, let’s be real here: does anyone enjoy pausing in the middle of a pitched battle to restore hearts in Breath of the Wild? And how many times has the climbing gear sat in Link’s backpack (actually… where is he keeping all this stuff? I’ve seen him [mostly] naked…), unused, while a cliff side has been scaled? Could have yanked out the right tool for the job, but I just don’t feel like finding it in my bag o’ moblin parts right now. … Or maybe I’d just be happier if there was a “quick menu” for Link’s fine cuisine and duds as opposed to just his weapons.

YAYBut I suppose that’s the crux of it all: pause menu menus are a pain in the ass that hamper gameplay. Pausing is great, but when you have to pause it’s inevitably going to detract from any game that features even a trifling amount of action. I missed, basically, an entire gameplay facet of Final Fantasy Adventure, a game I dearly enjoy, for years because of an aversion to forced pausing, and I can’t be the only one. Even the most limited peripherals and consoles have more buttons now than we’ll ever need, let’s find a way to never have to pause an action game again.

Don’t do it for me, game designers. Do it for Wee Goggle Bob who spent his childhood living in fear of turtles that are apparently weak to axes. Who would allow such a thing to happen to another juvenile?

FGC #262 Final Fantasy Adventure / Adventures of Mana

  • System: Gameboy for the OG FFA, and Vita for Adventures of Mana. I suppose I’ll count the mobile ports here, too.
  • Number of players: This is a Mana Adventure, not a Mana Secret, so only one player for you.
  • Favorite Weapon: The Morningstar is slow, powerful, and the only weapon I use for basically every cave. Stupid mattocks, you’re nothing compared to a pointy ball on a chain.
  • Favorite Ally: Watts the Blacksmith comes equipped with his own shop. Even though you’re desperately trying to survive together in a mine filled with monsters, he doesn’t offer any discounts. That’s some hardcore dwarfing.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: The translation team for Adventures of Mana got a little cheeky.
    Grrrr
  • Origins: Despite the claims by some that the Mana series was always intended as its own franchise, this adventure is Final Fantasy as hell. We’ve got random Final Fantasy Red Mage sprites running around, a chocobo that is your best buddy, and you don’t see moogles in Breath of Fire. This isn’t some Final Fantasy legend, it’s a straight up Final Fantasy adventure. … Gaiden?
  • Did you know? Big the Hero might accidentally get transformed into a moogle, but, don’t worry, there’s an item you can use to instantly return to normal status. Except… you can’t use items while you’re a moogle, so there is literally never an opportunity to use the Moogle Cure. So what snake oil salesman is pawning off these potions, kupo?
  • Would I play again: Favorite Gameboy game, period. Though I think I’ll be playing another, different Gameboy adventure in the near future…

What’s next? Random ROB is chilling while I explore The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the rest of the week. We’ll tackle the story on Wednesday, and then on Friday, we’ll look at the gameplay. … I should probably figure out a way to make a Zelda game a “sacred three” articles… but I’m capricious like that. Regardless, it’s Breath of the Wild time! Please look forward to it!

Because... oh never mind

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 #251 Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

Here comes the heroSuper Kid Icarus would have been amazing.

I feel like Super Mario Bros. 2 defined how Nintendo makes sequels. Which Super Mario Bros. 2 am I talking about? Both! Super Mario Bros. (1) was an unprecedented success that led not only to Nintendo’s dominance of the videogame market, but also roughly ten billion imitators. Run, jump… who cares if we get the physics right, it’s all the same, let’s snipe some of that sweet Mario money (coins?). Thus, Nintendo had to create its own Super Mario Bros. sequel to maintain its grip on “this is how it’s done”. And Super Mario Bros 2: The Lost Levels (let’s just use that title so I don’t have to awkwardly type “J” repeatedly) was born. The Lost Levels was, in essence, a continuation of Super Mario Bros, with (pretty much) the same sprites and physics, just greater and deeper challenges for a population that had already mastered Mario’s first adventure. And… Miyamoto didn’t like it. So when Super Mario Bros. 2 came stateside, it was a totally different game, with a full cast of unique characters, magical dream worlds, and a giant frog instead of a giant turtle. Yes, it was, basically, an “official” rom hack of another game, but this is what America saw as “the second Mario game”. And, of course, it was successful.

And it seems like that trip to Sub-Con set the tone for future Nintendo franchise sequels. Super Mario Bros. 3 returned to “old” Super Mario Bros. gameplay… but with the notable addition of flight and frogs. And completely new sprites. And practically every opponent using new patterns or skills. Super Mario World again changed the game in every conceivable way, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island changed so much that it’s barely even considered a proper sequel. Meanwhile, Link went through three very different iterations between The Legend of Zelda, Link’s Adventure, and A Link to the Past. Even “lesser” franchises and characters follow a similar arc, whether it’s Donkey Kong (1) vs. Donkey Kong (’94), or Kirby’s Dreamland (a suck and spit adventure) vs. Kirby’s Adventure (meet the copy ability). While Nintendo is consistent with its franchises offering the same general gameplay across sequels (almost consistent, look forward to the next entry…), there’s often more innovation than iteration than seen in other companies’ franchise sequels. Or, put another way, it’s difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish the difference between a Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 stage, while no one is going to mistake a SMB3 world for a SMB1 world. Heck, I think there’s so much nostalgia for Super Mario Bros. 1-1 in later Mario games because we didn’t revisit that same basic layout for, what, twenty years? Where have you been, old friend?

DIE!Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters seems to follow this template. KI:OMAM could easily have been a straight NES-to-Gameboy port (not like the NES original was all that complicated from a graphical or bytes perspective), but, no, like a tiny, gray version of Super Mario Bros. 3, we’ve got a game with all new sprites, all new enemies, and all kinds of interesting gameplay improvements. Remember how every last item is completely unexplained in Kid Icarus? KI:OMAM actually involves NPCs that explain how extra weapons work, where secrets may be hiding, and whether or not that off-color water is lava or a healing spring. As someone that has never seen a Kid Icarus instruction manual, this is a Palutena-send. And, despite the cramped Gameboy screen, it seems like fewer monsters spawn directly atop poor Pit. Hooray! And, even better, you can actually duck without instantly dying, as most platforms are now completely solid, and you can scroll the screen down without repercussions. Everything wrong is right again!

And, while the bosses of the original Kid Icarus seemed like mythological (and generally misspelled) names randomly applied to blobs of pixels (how is this smoke monster supposed to be Pandora again?), there is much more of a myths and monsters bend to the creatures of KI:OMAM. “Kid Icarus” absolutely should fight a minotaur, and, look, here’s one at the end of the first stage. And a flying skull with wings might not be the most Grecian thing in the world, but, hey, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s more of a “monster” than that attempt at a dog sprite from the first dungeon of Kid Icarus. And the final boss might not be Medusa, but it is basically the Roman version of Satan. This makes him a tweeeak more threatening than a giant eyeball and its accompanying lazy snake. Dude has horns for days!

WeeeeWhen you put it all together, you get an experience very much like Metroid II: The Return of Samus. Metroid 1 was good, but flawed, with far too many opaque systems and items and Jesus Christ what do I have to do to get an auto-map?! Kid Icarus was very similar in his maiden voyage, and, while his adventure was filled with buttheads, there was a glimmer of a more refined experience in there. Kid Icarus: OMAM is that refined experience. And, more than anything, it’s a fun, “new” sequel that borrows from the old but winds up being a distinctive, excellent experience.

But, for confusing reasons, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was never released in Japan. It’s a first party Nintendo game, but it never saw its native shores, only America and Europe. Likely for this reason alone, when Mario, Link, and even Little Mac were all getting their 16-bit makeovers, Pit was left out in the cold. The Hero of Angel Land never saw a Super Kid Icarus, and we’re poorer for it.

If Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the template for the future of the Kid Icarus franchise, we lost something special when Pit never ascended with his Nintendo brethren. Super Kid Icarus could have been another Super Metroid, and, heck, if it hit that echelon, it could have chiseled out its own genre. But, no, we are forever denied that beautiful, fictional version of 1994.

But at least we got a pretty good Gameboy game out of it.

FGC #251 Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

  • System: Gameboy. It also saw some Virtual Console love, mostly as a canny way to promote our next FGC entry.
  • Number of players: Pit is a solitary hero.
  • He's hairy, tooFavorite Boss: The final battle with Orcos is pretty dang epic, and almost reminds me of Super Kraid. This is something of a major achievement on the Gameboy, even if it’s abundantly obvious that no more than one “part” of Orcos can appear on the screen at one time. Hey, it’s rough being a colossal boss on a system that can barely generate four shades of gray.
  • Other Improvements: The three treasures of Angel Land now enhance Pit’s natural abilities, and don’t transform the final stage into a completely other genre. This feels a lot more appropriate than Kid Icarus’s finale.
  • Makeover, Makeover: Palutena’s hair is canon gray for this adventure. Yes, it’s a Gameboy game, but she’s rocking the gray locks in instruction manual illustrations, too. This is probably because no one working on the manual finished Kid Icarus, either.
  • Did you know? When Orcos appears, he turns Palutena to stone. And all the centurions have been similarly transformed into a more statuesque form. That move made a lot more sense with Medusa…
  • Would I play again: The mystique of this game is all wrapped up in what could have been next. The actual game is a step in the right direction, but, like Metroid 2, kind of difficult to revisit after decades of innovations (mostly innovations in screen size). So, while this game is good, no, I don’t think I’ll be playing it again.

What’s next? You know the answer to that one.

Away!