Tag Archives: gameboy

FGC #494 Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

It's time for teams!Now let’s talk about the infamous “Wolverine” style crossover.

You may be aware, but Wolverine is a particularly popular character from Marvel Comics’ X-Men. He was originally introduced as yet another thing/Canadian/person The Incredible Hulk could punch, but he joined the X-Men roster shortly thereafter, and his reputation rapidly escalated from there. People have been trying to nail down the source of Wolverine’s overabundant attractiveness practically since his debut in 1974, but no one (least of all Marvel) seems to have a clue as to what has made Wolverine one of the most essential comic book characters of the 20th century. Is it the readily accessible weapons? His tendency to not follow orders? The fact that he’s a grizzled old man palling around (and occasionally flirting) with teenagers? That mentor thing he had going with Jubilee and Kitty Pride? The cigars? Whatever the cause, Wolverine is popular. What’s more, it is known that Wolverine is popular. This ain’t no underground “you heard that Squirrel Girl is good?” situation, this is phoenix-fudging Wolverine, and he’s the king of the world. He had a movie. Or seventeen. Wolverine sells! And Wolverine can sell anything!

So it’s only natural that “Wolverine stops by” has become a comic book genre onto itself. If you’ve got a new Marvel comic book that needs a few more sales, summon Wolverine. He doesn’t need to actually do anything, and he doesn’t need to be on any more than one page, but as long as he can be part of the cover, you’re all set! Maybe you’ll get lucky! Maybe Wolverine will actually offer your hero/heroine advice and a few zingers before he wanders off to wherever Wolverines go when they’re not on camera (I’ve always assumed Wolverine used that infinite healing factor to successfully weather course after course at the Golden Corral), but don’t count on Wolverine lingering around for too long, because he’s a very busy mutant, bub. And this trait has now transcended genres, as Wolverine appears in other movies when the X-Men need their special guy to push a few more tickets. Stan Lee may have invented the cameo trick, and now Wolverine is Stan Lee. We’ve come full circle! So, don’t worry, if you need your character or franchise to be more popular, all you need is Wolverine. Put no more thought into the process than that. Just get Wolverine on the line!

But Wolverine apparently wasn’t available for a certain collection of battlin’ toads, so Billy and Jimmy Lee are going to have to put in an hour.

BLARG!Now, it is hard to believe in this our year of perfect vision, but back in 1993, Double Dragon was a hot franchise. There were three “main” Double Dragon titles on the NES, an arcade presence, a number of spin-offs available on things like handhelds, an animated series, and a movie on the way. You know who else could be described in that exact manner? Super Mario. Double Dragon was, in the videogame realm, on the exact same tier as Mario (give or take Captain Lou Albano). Nowadays, people barely can remember Bimmy and Jimmy exist, but back when the Battletoads were trying to make a splash, they were a hot commodity.

And make no mistake, Battletoads really wanted to be on that same popularity echelon. Battletoads had an unmistakable connection to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from their initial appearance, and many people took their general “irreverent” tone as a clear parody of the other fighting amphibians. But if you were to explore the Battletoads’ initial comic debut in Nintendo Power, you’d find that these heroes were 100% serious about being the next big thing with a very serious backstory for very serious fans. Zitz is really some nerd named Morgan that got stuck in a virtual reality machine that links to an actual reality! And then that premise was dropped (or at least ignored) for an animated series where the ‘toads are plucked out of another dimension to pal around our Oxnard, California and defend us from the Dark Queen with Looney Tunes-esque attacks. Pew pewDiC produced this animated Battletoads pilot, and then went no further. DiC also ran Street Sharks to a full series. That had to sting. The Battletoads needed something to put the franchise on the map, and Double Dragon seemed to fit the bill.

So this led to Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team… which is a particularly misleading title. Yes, the Battletoads and The Lee Brothers unite to fight a collection of allied opponents, but there’s no actual “team” involved behind the scenes. This is clearly a Rare joint, and a Battletoads game through and through. In fact, give or take the graphics involved, this title is little more than the original Battletoads game with seemingly random Double Dragon guest stars. There’s a speeder bike. There’s a vertical ropes course. There’s an inexplicable gameplay shift where you wind up playing Asteroids for some reason. The heavies of the Battletoads brand all return for boss battles, and the Double Dragon opponents… Well… That’s where it’s most obvious that this is a Battletoads game with special guest star Wolverine Double Dragon. What’s the tell?

Roper!
Willy – Double Dragon (Arcade) 1987
Roper!
Willy – Double Dragon 2 (Arcade) 1988
Roper!
Roper – Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team (NES) 1993

They couldn’t even get the Double Dragon’s main antagonist right. Okay… yes, the people behind Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team did correctly stick Abobo right there in the first level, and he has his proper ‘stache (depending on the port). But the boss of the third stage is “Roper”. Roper is the name of a generic mook in the Double Dragon franchise, and that ain’t him. This character, complete with his signature weapon, is most commonly referred to as “Machine Gun Willy” by the fans. According to the lore, his full name is Willy Mackey, and he’s the main antagonist of Double Dragon and Double Dragon 2 (give or take the wonky “interpretation” of the NES versions). He is the leader of the Black Warriors. He is the one that orders the kidnapping of Marian. He is the final boss of one Double Dragon arcade cabinet, and penultimate boss of another one.

And here he’s got the wrong name, and he’s the boss of the third level. Robo-Manus, the robot that is barely animated, earns a higher standing than Billy and Jimmy Lee’s greatest foe. And who is the “new” main antagonist that is capping off the Double Dragon side of this crossover? It’s “Shadow Boss”, a character that technically appears in no other Double Dragon game, but vaguely recalls the antagonist from the animated series. He also resembles a ripped version of Burnov, that one tubby guy with ill-fitting pants from the first level of Double Dragon 2.

Shadows!!
Burnov – Double Dragon 2 (Arcade) 1988
Shadows!!
Shadow Master – Double Dragon Animated Series / Double Dragon V 1993
Shadows!!
Shadow Boss – Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team (SNES) 1993

Dudes at Rare apparently didn’t feel like getting past the first, Abobo-based level of Double Dragon, and decided to wing it from there. Who’s this guy from the arcade intro with a gun? That’s probably Roper. Let’s go with that, and see if we can devote more pixels to rendering Dark Queen’s ass.

So, yes, it’s pretty clear this is a Battletoads game that suckered Double Dragon into shedding a few more popularity points. Did it work? Of course not. The Double Dragon movie bombed, the franchise floundered from there, and the Battletoads had already hitched their dingy to a sinking ship. One last Battletoads arcade game was released shortly thereafter, and then too did the Battletoads retire from gaming for decades. Double Dragon never brought Battletoads the fanbase they so desperately craved, and only the innovation of internet memes would ever get the ‘toads any attention.

This seems wrongsBut this humble crossover did at least try. It succeeded as a shining example of a Wolverine crossover. Double Dragon stopped by a Battletoads game, and that’s all the effort anyone wanted to put into this project. Excellent stealth Battletoads 2, Rare, and good try on attempting to boost your visibility with a more prominent franchise.

Just… maybe next time you should figure out who Wolverine actually is before you have him drop by…

FGC #494 Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

  • System: This one got around. The NES and Gameboy versions are fairly impressive for their tiny bits, but the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions are where you see some pretty graphics. The Battletoads did know how to feature a little spectacle.
  • Number of players: Two. And you have your choice of all three Battletoads. This is the first game where that actually happened! But I suppose you should choose at least one Lee Brother…
  • Port-o-Call: Which version should you get? Well, the gameplay is miraculously pretty much exactly the same across all versions, so if that is your concern, don’t worry about it. From there, if you’ve got the option, you probably want the Super Nintendo version, as choosing the other 16-bit version will brand you a Sega Kid, and who has the fortitude to deal with such a moniker? Though, like Mortal Kombat, the Genesis version actually includes blood on defeated opponents’ portraits, so if you’re all about the violence, head over there.
  • Art Style: It’s important to note that the NES version of this title paints the Lee Brothers as a pair of really buff 80 year olds.
    They're twins!

    They’re coming to help just as soon as their grandson gets the wireless working!
  • Secret Truth: Willy probably got renamed to Roper thanks to his level including Battletoads repelling hijinks, thus earning the stage the title “Ropes and Roper”. Always go for the easy pun!
  • Did you know? The Nintendo Power comic that gave us the origin story of The Battletoads was written by a Rare employee, Guy Millar. The cartoon adaption was written by David Wise, someone who did not have any involvement in the production of the games, but did have the exact same name as the David Wise that composed the Battletoads videogame soundtrack. Weird.
  • Would I play again: This is an easier experience than Battletoads (1), but it also feels like the game runs out of steam somewhere around the fourth level. From about Level 5 on, it feels less like the eclectic action game of earlier levels, and it becomes little more than a rote beat ‘em up. So I’ll probably just play the original or the arcade game if I want a Battletoads experience. And it doesn’t even rank as a Double Dragon experience…

What’s next? What happens when a franchise crosses over with itself? Twice? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Bad Queen

FGC #486 Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

There’s something concerning about Super Mario Land 2. It’s clearly on display right here:

Spooky

Is it J-Son the Horror Goomba? No. Vertically moving mines? ‘Fraid not. Mario gradually turning into a bunny girl? Nah, that was always inevitable. What’s really concerning about Super Mario Land 2? It’s this right here:

Goombas gonna die

Mario has a kill count.

Mario is being incentivized to murder his opponents. That is vaguely concerning.

Granted, Mario has always been rewarded for his bloodlust. In Mario’s first appearance, leaping over a barrel would award 100 points, but smashing and bashing with a hammer granted triple the reward. Granted, the closest Mario ever got to a living thing in DK was a dubiously sentient bit of walking flame, and we can all agree that living fire is something that should stop living immediately. But Mario’s next adventure was all about extermination, as Mario was not allowed to progress until he had slain every last living thing on the screen. This wasn’t a situation where Mario was compensated for murder, murder was the entire point.

Sapping the fun out of the gameBut, depending on your perspective, things got better by the time Mario became super. Super Mario Bros. technically rewards Mario for leaping on the koopa troop and squishing goombas in new and innovative ways, but what Mario needs (precious, precious lives) are granted for feats of acrobatic prowess… that incidentally generally murder turtles. Bouncing off multiple monsters at once is what keeps Mario afloat, and if some of his enemies are shell-shocked along the way, so be it. And this seems to have been the standard for Mario going forward: Bowser’s henchmen are going to have to die, but as long as Mario looks like an Olympian during the bloodshed, he’ll receive a prize or two. That seems pretty fair for an athletic hero.

But things are a little different in Super Mario Land 2. Here, Mario’s hitherto unseen home kingdom has been invaded by the nefarious Wario. This is Wario’s first appearance, and, while he is clearly the antagonist, he is still very much Wario. Is he kidnapping princesses or threatening the state of the world? No, he’s just a homeless dude who saw an empty castle, decided to move in, and then changed the locks after a few too many keggers with Tatanga. He’s theoretically the ringleader of the other bosses in game, but, what, do you think he needed to command a gigantic creature named “Sewer Rat” to be a nuisance? Of course not. Every one of Wario’s flunkies is just futzing around Mario Land because it’s Tuesday, and what else do you have to do when you live in the eternal night of the Pumpkin Dome? Wario, at worst, just distributed Mario’s wealth to the commoners of the kingdom, and now Mario has to deal with the fallout of a peasant uprising. If things get too rowdy, they might damage his gargantuan statue of/to himself!

Goomba!But maybe that’s why Mario is getting bloodthirsty. Mario owns the castle, the place is called Mario Land, and there’s that Mario Monument over in the East. The implication here is clear: this is Mario’s kingdom, and the various enemies of the zones were previously Mario’s loyal subjects. Are they under a magic spell? Fighting against their leader under the orders of Wario? Or simply driven into a mad frenzy and attacking the first plumber they see? No, of course not: they’re rebelling. Mario ruled his land with an iron fist (that you can accidentally activate with a floor switch) for so long that the first moment his subjects had a taste of freedom, they mutinied against the very concept of ever dealing with the Mario Monarchy ever again. What does the Hero of the Mushroom Kingdom know about the plight of the common Goronto Ant? Nothing. These dudes are just trying to live their best lives, and here comes that jerk with the moustache to inform them it’s time to work on a brand new giant turtle statue with opposable neck. And all the taxes are going to building a new casino for toads? What is wrong with this land!?

Mario needs a kill count. Mario needs to know how many of these insurgents he’s stomped into the ground.

But whatever the cause of Mario’s new need for destruction, it doesn’t feel very… Mario. Yes, Mario has always had a vicious streak, but it was often tempered with a sort of… elegance. For an easy example, look no further than the persistent image of Mario sending a koopa troopa shell sailing through a row of his opponents. Yes, he is killing every last turtle in his path by using one of their own as an unstoppable, fatal bullet of green annihilation, but there’s a bit of cartoonish whimsy to such an action. And, what’s more, it’s not just about Mario’s murderous antics, but the inherent cleverness of lining his enemies up in the first place. They were an overwhelming force, greatly outnumbering their plumber prey, but Mario tricked them all and came out on top thanks to his own innate cleverness.

Piggy!But that cleverness is nowhere to be found in Super Mario Land 2’s kill count. Do you receive a point for tricking a monster into walking off a ledge and into an endless void? No. Any additional bonuses for ending a bullet bill with a touch of flare? Nope. Do you even see a smidgen of a benefit for bopping multiple victims simultaneously? Not a bit. The only way to make that number go up is kill through any means necessary. And your reward for depopulating Super Mario Land? A super star, so you can reach terminal velocity running through your casualties as quickly as possible. Destruction begets destruction, and Mario is the wrecking ball that is going to swing across his kingdom.

Luckily, Super Mario Land 2 did not set the standard for Nintendo’s legendary hero. Mario returned to being rewarded for his cleverness in later titles, whether that be through collecting peaceful flowers and coins, or discovering the secrets of another monarch’s castle. In fact, at least one later title saw Mario serving a sort of community service for the violent crimes committed in his own kingdom, and cleaning up beaches and volcanoes alike. Mario never entirely stopped being destructive, but he did at least make some grasps at making the galaxy a better place through non-violent means. And the kill count? That went to Wario and his various adventures.

And, hey, maybe that means this was Wario’s fault all along. Maybe the invasion of Wario didn’t cause the inhabitants of Mario Land to turn murderous, but Mario himself. Maybe that was Wario’s plan all along, to leave Mario alone in his castle, trapped in a kingdom that no longer respected their ruler. Maybe Wario really is the greatest, and most successful, opponent Mario ever faced.

Or maybe giving Mario a kill count was just a dumb idea.

Though this may explain why we’ve never visited Mario Land’s blood-soaked hills ever again…

FGC #486 Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

  • SPACE MONSTER!System: Nintendo Gameboy, and wherever else Gameboy games are currently available. Nintendo 3DS? That sounds right.
  • Number of players: Mario is going this rampage alone. I shudder to think what Luigi Land looks like at this point.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kill count aside, SML2 is a very good Mario game, and was one of my favorite Gameboy titles back in the day. Right up there with Mega Man V and Final Fantasy Adventure… which means I didn’t get to actually play these games very much until the Super Gameboy. But boy did I play it a lot then! More 2-D Mario content was like ambrosia back in the pre-Mario Maker days, and any game with this many secret exits and malevolent witches was bound to be fun for the whole family. And battling Wario for the first time was pretty great, too.
  • In Living Color: When ROB selected this title, I was moderately happy at the chance to try the new(ish) Super Mario Land 2 DX patch by Toruzz. And it’s cool! Mario Land 2 in color! And hearts are mushrooms now! And… uh… that’s it? Got some physics tweaks in there, and maybe a Luigi, but that’s about it. Look, this thing looks amazing, but it’s still just an improvement on an already great game, so it’s hard to really make an impact.
  • I know that guy!It’s the Little Things: I appreciate that piranha plants that don’t stick their teeth straight up are now spiky and wearing clear “do not touch” signs. This is coming from someone that may have tried to stomp a fire-breathing plant in Super Mario Bros. 3 and was immediately punished for my hubris.
  • Favorite Zone: Even if it is short, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Space Zone and its nonstandard jump gravity. I also love/hate the automatic scrolling stage, as infinite jumping is great, but automatic scrolling is the devil. A hippo that blows Mario-sized bubbles, though, is always great.
  • Would I play again: Probably! It might be a Gameboy game, but it’s still a lot of fun, so if I’m looking for bite-sized Mario, it’s one of my first choices.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… if you can believe it… Super Mario Bros. 2. Yes, in the year 2020, ROB has chosen two twos in a row. So now it’s time to trade Warios for Warts. Please look forward to it!

Buzz buzz

FGC #484 Mr. Do! Arcade Classic

In this era of international uncertainty, it is time to establish the Official Clown Threat Level Meter. Please refer to the following guide before asking any questions.

Threat Level 0: Mr. Do

A simpler doerMr. Do is not a threat to anyone. He’s a clown, yes, but all he ever does is dig around in the ground looking for cherries. And he can’t even do that well! Mr. Do is menaced by creeps, monsters that are all mouth and anxious to devour poor, ineffective Mr. Do. And what piddling abilities does Mr. Do have to fend off the infinite forces of the creeps? He’s got a ball. One. Just one. And if it bounces away without hitting a single creep, it will just sit there until it’s reclaimed, leaving the generally only mostly defenseless Mr. Do wholly defenseless. But wait! Mr. Do can drop apples on his opponents by carefully digging holes and… Wait, wasn’t that Dig Dug’s move? And Dig Dug had the wholly more effective pump weapon? Yeah, it’s confirmed, when you’re less effective than Dig Dug, you’re not a threat to anybody.

Threat Level 1: Fyer and Falbi

I do not care for these clownsFyer and Falbi are not physical threats, they are simply two clowns that run a business around Lake Hylia. One is a master of cannons in the grand tradition of Groose, and the other is a master of cuccoos in the grand tradition of… that one guy that died in the woods and became a skeleton? He probably had a name. So you would be forgiven for assuming these clowns are helpful. Dangerous mistake! Like many clowns, they are simply lulling you into a false sense of security. These clowns may not steal your heart(s), but they do want your rupees. And they’ll take every last one for their own clownish needs. Watch these “friendly” clowns, they’re anxious to caper off with your wallet.

Threat Level 2: Mad Clown

Watch outThere was a joke once: Man goes to a doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.” So then the doctor says, “Well, have you tried punching people for money?” And that’s how Pagliacci became Mad Clown the Boxing Clown. He’s visiting violence upon others to feel better about himself, and that’s concerning.

Threat Level 3: Lola Pop

Slam dunk!Lola Pop is still theoretically not a threat to the average person. Like Mad Clown, she is a fighter, but is only a fighter for the purpose of winning some nebulous prize. However, the escalation of danger here is plain for all to see. First of all, this is an artificially augmented clown, and anything that makes a clown more dangerous than a baseline human is cartwheeling down a slippery slope. And the other major concern? Lola Pop wants to open her own circus. That means more clowns. Nobody wants that! So Lola Pop may technically not be a direct threat to your average citizen, but she is a gateway to more super-powered clowns, and thus should be considered a danger to society.

Threat Level 4: Clown Man

See you in my dreamsWhat is with clowns and long, stretchy arms? Now we have a robot that is designed not unlike Lola Pop, but with one important difference: this is the first wholly homicidal clown on this threat meter. Yes! It’s true! There are clowns that are not trying to kill you! But there are many, many more clowns that want you dead. But all is not lost! While Clown Man can only be defeated by a super fighting robot, he takes more pride in entertaining his master and doing tricks deep in his own private robot park. So Clown Man is a lethal threat, but it is very unlikely that you would encounter a Robot Master in your normal, day-to-day activities. Approach abandoned amusement parks with extreme caution.

Threat Level 5: Bonker

Bonkers is a different characterBonker was once a good clown. Well, actually, it’s hard to label any clown as “good”, particularly thanks to Bonker, who went from homeless-clown to clay-clown to full-on evil-clown over the course of a few Clayfighters. By Clayfighter 63⅓, Bonker was performing messy claytalities on all of his opponents, and chopping through the competition on his way to twist a sentient piece of taffy into smithereens. And was he successful? Nope! Bonker is a murderous clown, but the finale of Clayfighter 63⅓ sees Bonker returning to a tropical vacation. So, basically, don’t interrupt his vacation, and nobody gets hurt. And don’t mess with his balloon doggie, Fifi, either.

Threat Level 6: Beppi the Clown

Don't deal with the clownWhen Cuphead is tricked into collecting the debts of the Devil, he is forced to collect the soul of Beppi the Clown. Obviously, this is a situation wherein Beppi felt threatened, so, under normal, non-clown-based circumstances, Beppi would be forgiven for defending his own life. However, Beppi is no mere victim, and immediately unleashes an entire carnival full of death. He’s got a murder-car, murder-horse, murder-balloons, murder-merry-go-round, and generally surly penguins. This is another situation wherein the clown in question would not be a threat unless prompted, but Beppi gets a special promotion for having more armaments than a small country (assuming said country does not contain clowns). Beppi proves that every clown can have a cache of carnage just beneath the surface, waiting for just the right (or wrong!) moment.

Threat Level 7: Kinky Pinky

The 80s were like thisKinky Pinky is an active threat. Not content to simply sit and wait for an opponent to appear, Kinky Pinky is a clown that works for the notable criminal organization, K.R.A.K, with other malcontents such as Mr. Big, Joe Rockhead, and Sergeant Skyhigh. And, while other members of K.R.A.K primarily focus on drug production and distribution, Kinky Pinky is purely a murder clown. He kidnaps women in broad daylight, and then produces literal murder porn to distribute to other murder clowns. And he’s only threat level seven! The forces of NARC gunned down anyone matching Kinky Pinky’s description on sight, so it’s unlikely this joker survived the Eighties, but it’s possible he’s still out there, lurking about on some street corner. Beware any and all urbanites wearing white makeup! It’s for your own good!

Threat Level 8: Needles Kane

Car ClownNeedles Kane, the star of the Twisted Metal franchise, is one clown you do not want to encounter for any reason. Clowns are generally to be feared for their innate murderous tendencies, but they are also loners. Give or take a circus or two, most clowns work alone, ultimately because they don’t like to be crammed into little cars. And while Kinky Pinky may have been a member of a criminal organization, at least he was nowhere near a leadership role. Needles Kane, meanwhile, is a murder clown with an army. Not content to simply destroy everyone and everything from Sweet Tooth, his fully-equipped ice cream truck, Needles also leads The Clowns, a cult that worships him as a king. And, to prove their devotion, The Clowns have constructed Sweet Tooth’s Carnival of Carnage, a humongous, metal circus tent on wheels. This is maximum silly slaughter here, as not only can the clown murder whole cities worth of people, but he’s also infecting others with the need for some laughs. And they built that tank thing, which is probably not going to do anything good for local real estate values, either.

Threat Level 9: Kefka Palazzo

What a poserNeedles may be worshipped like a god by his unholy legions, but Kefka actually becomes a god. Absorbing the power of the sacred trilogy of Final Fantasy 6’s world, Kefka is a clown that conquers the world and twists and contorts the whole of the planet into his own twisted image. Does he have followers? Of course. Does he have an army before he even gets started? Yep, they’re there and literally licking his boots. And is he responsible for death? You know it! He’s murderous on a nearly cosmic level, and is responsible for genociding complete towns. And he does it all with a smile on his face and a laugh in his heart. This is it, folks, the ultimate clown threat level, there’s no topping… Wait? There’s a Level 10?

Threat Level 10: Clown Car of Anonymous Murder Clowns


Oh snap. We don’t know anything about them, but they’re here for the exclusive purpose of murder, and they’re just going to laugh about it. There. That’s the top. Please avoid these murder clowns at all costs. In fact, don’t ever go outside again. We don’t know where they came from, or when they might appear, and… Yes, best not to risk it. We’re at Clown Threat Level Ten, it’s time to stay inside and weather the storm.

Beware the clowns.

FGC #484 Mr. Do! Arcade Classic

  • Mr Do!System: Super Nintendo for this particular version, but Mr. Do! has appeared on various systems going back to the arcade in 1982. If you’re hankering for some Do action, you can hit the Gameboy Color, Gameboy, Commodore 64, ColecoVision, or even Atari 2600. It’s one of those ubiquitous old games.
  • Number of players: Two! And this version even has a two player simultaneous mode where you can get into full-blown clown-on-clown violence!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There really isn’t much to Mr. Do! It was released the same year as Dig Dug, and it’s barely different from that title, yet somehow worse. I suppose Mr. Do! places less of an emphasis on violence as ol’ Taizo Hori, but that just makes the game come off more as a clone of Pac-Man when it comes to consumption-based goals. Basically, there’s a reason Mr. Do! barely escaped the 90s, left alone the decade of his birth.
  • Were there other murder clowns you could have featured in this article? Oh, so many. Like, you wouldn’t believe how many threatening clowns there are across the breadth of gaming. I only featured one from an arcade-style fighting game! Those creatures were all over the arcades back in the day.
  • Did you know? Mr. Do! appears as a snowman, not a clown, in his initial Japanese release. That would have really messed up this article!
  • Would I play again: No thank you. Can I just play Dig Dug instead? I think I’m gonna play Dig Dug.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World for NES! Don’t have a cow, Bart, it’s only the world you have to fight. Please look forward to it!

SCARY CLOWN
Trigger Warning: Horror

FGC #465 Tetrisphere

Phear Time!No matter how hard you try, you can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice.

Depending on your rubric, the Nintendo Gameboy is the most successful portable system of all time. Sure, it might not be the highest grossing system ever (that would be the Nintendo DS, I believe), or the most graphically advanced experience (a single color would be nice), but it is the system that put portable gaming on the map. No more would we be stuck with Game & Watch or tiny Tigers; the Nintendo Gameboy was a real game system for real games with physics and powerups and everything. Super Mario Land may have been a whopping weirdo of a Mario game, but it was an experience that beat the pants off anything that claimed to be Mario’s so-called Cement Factory (look it up!). The Gameboy may be primitive by today’s standards (or the standards of anyone that is not enthralled by mushed peas), but its success was the first real example of a portable system being a viable system for the most dedicated (/easily bored) of gamers. Experiences that traced back to the arcade were finally available literally anywhere.

But nobody really cared about any of that, because, dammit, the Gameboy had Tetris.

Gameboy Tetris was ubiquitous. If there was one game that sold the Nintendo Gameboy, it was Gameboy Tetris. It was the only official way to fish out a 2-player mode on Nintendo hardware (and probably sold a few link cables as a result), but, more importantly, it was a puzzle game that could be played anywhere and everywhere. Sega may have eventually had Columns, but Nintendo was immediately associated with the one and only Tetris, and there wasn’t a man, woman, or child on God’s pea-green Earth that didn’t want a Gameboy with Tetris. Gameboy Tetris was pervasive long after other launch Gameboy titles were long forgotten (I’m sorry, who could forget Kwirk?), and it was all a testament to the unstoppable Russian juggernaut that was/is Tetris. After all, Gameboy Tetris is simply Tetris, 90% the same game that was created by some Alexey dude in Moscow a solid five years earlier. Yes, you can link the entire success of the Nintendo Gameboy to some random USSR denizen. How’s that for global relations?

So, when Nintendo needed to push the Nintendo 64, it seems only natural that they recruited some international Tetris-y dudes to sell their next system.

Noice!Tetrisphere began its life as “Phear”, a title created by H20 Entertainment, a Canadian game production company. Phear’s biggest difference between its original form and its eventual N64 version? It was intended to be an Atari Jaguar game, and was featured as such in the Winter of 1995. Now, everyone alive knows the sad tale of the Atari Jaguar, and how literally nothing could have ever saved that system (well, maybe an early, polished version of Typing of the Dead), so some would likely see it as a kindness that Nintendo rescued this poor, soon-to-be-forgotten software from the same fate as Bubsy. On the other hand, you can see Nintendo nakedly pulling the same stunt that catapulted the Gameboy into the stratosphere: here’s a cool puzzle game that could push our new videogame system. And, bonus, the advanced graphics of Phear/Tetrisphere could never be replicated on the meager Playstation hardware, so this is going to be the killer app of 1996! Look out, Mario 64, you’re going to have to take a backseat to the new Tetris, baby!

Unfortunately, it was not to be. 1996 came and went, and it was impossible to instantly port the partially completed Phear to the N64 to be the 100% completed Tetrisphere. Though all was not lost! This allowed H20 Entertainment to hit the next Christmas season goalpost, and Tetrisphere was uncut with all necessary bells and whistles by August of 1997. According to interviews, that extra time allowed for an additional second player mode (that was originally intended, but likely would have been dropped for an earlier release date), and, relatedly, the all-important frame-rate was improved so Tetrisphere could look that much more prettier. And I can’t help but notice that Tetrisphere is loaded with more modes and, frankly, character than the average puzzle game. There’s a lot to experience in Tetrisphere, and it’s likely a lot of that resulted from baking long enough in the oven.

But could Tetrisphere be the killer app of the Nintendo 64?

… Well, you can’t say it didn’t have a shot.

L for LoserTetrisphere is by no means Tetris. There are familiar “blocks”, but they’re not infinitely falling from some unseen heavens. In fact, you are responsible for dropping all blocks, and the challenge is figuring out exactly where on the sphere you’re supposed to drop said blocks. If you drop a shape exactly on a matching shape, and that shape is next to a shape of the exact same dimensions, then both blocks are going to disappear. Line up a few shapes of the same size, and you’ve got a lovely little chain reaction going that could spread across the surface of the entire sphere. Your goal is to peel layers off the sphere so the little robot dude trapped inside can be free to escape and do whatever robots do (conquer humanity?), so every block vanished is another step closer to your goal. Of course, if you drop a block on a non-matching square, you’re stuck with another cumbersome lump of useless obstructing your robot rescue. And just for an added bit of stress, if you make three mismatches, it’s game over. And it’s game over if you take too long, too. And it’s game over if you sneeze on the Pope, too, though that rarely comes up. Point is that there are a lot of ways to fail, and Tetrisphere seems like it wants to be challenging.

But the fun of Tetrisphere doesn’t come from the potential challenge, it comes from lining up all the blocks for thrilling chain reactions. There is nothing quite like cramming all the blocks into proper locations, guessing the shapes of the blocks on the lower levels, and watching as the whole sphere destructs after some carefully measured movements. It is very possible to clear entire layers in one wisely deduced drop. Heck, sometimes it even happens by accident! It’s equally electrifying when you drop a single piece, and, thanks to the natural geography of the sphere, layer after layer is obliterated, inevitably causing an instantaneous rush of dopamine. Look at all those blocks go boom! I did good!

And, after this happened a few times, it finally hit me: these poor saps invented Candy Crush a solid decade too early!

WeeeeeeTetrisphere works almost exactly like Candy Crush and its addictive ilk. You shift blocks/colors/candies from spot to spot, and, when they’re all properly aligned, you see a “connection” that eliminates a swath of shapes. Sometimes it’s just one or two blocks. Oftentimes, it’s a whole screen full of nonsense that seems to go on for minutes as blocks you couldn’t have even seen before all appear and instantaneously detonate into tiny pieces. You know you didn’t have anything to do with that enormous chain reaction, but you feel great anyway, because, dude, did you see how many points I just got? Friggin’ nailed it, man! And that’s how players instantly become addicted to these mobile match games: it feels amazing to be responsible for so much winning/destruction. I am become God, matcher of fruits.

And Tetrisphere nailed that feeling back in 1997. Nintendo identified that, and hoisted that feeling onto a system that could have won the hearts of an entire videogame generation. But, alas, the Nintendo 64 was not a portable system, and, given the choice between the sweet happy feelings of Tetrisphere and playing around with an amnesiac with an unusually large sword, audiences chose the blade. Sorry, Tetrisphere, no one can say you didn’t try.

In more ways than one, Tetrisphere could have been the next Tetris, but it was not meant to be. Too late for the Gameboy, and too early for the mobile market. Tetrisphere: the middle child of failure.

FGC #465 Tetrisphere

  • System: Nintendo 64. Could there be a remake in the future? No. No there can’t.
  • Number of players: Two player mode is viable in this game, unlike some versions of Tetris. Unfortunately, two Tetrispheres on screen at one time is kind of nauseating, so screw that noise.
  • These guysFavorite Bot: You’re supposed to take on the “control” of a handful of different robots, and each supposedly impacts a different stat like “speed” or “power”. But damned if I can tell much of a difference between the different automatons, so I’m just going to say… Rocket? He is first…
  • Opaque Fun: Hide & Seek mode is actually where the bulk of interesting modes are hiding, but you would never know it from such an innocuous title. It technically plays like normal “destroy the sphere” mode, but there are all sorts of fascinating additions, like “drill” (random extra “bombs” are around the sphere) or “tower” (an annoying tower has to be worked around at all times). This is where a lot of creativity shines through beyond the usual modes of your average puzzle game… and most people never even tried the mode in the first place. Who over the age of seven gets excited about hide & seek?
  • So, did you beat it: Who has the time? Wasn’t this on the same system as Ocarina of Time? I think that may have held my interest a little longer…
  • Did you know: I cannot emphasize enough how the Atari Jaguar controller would have completely destroyed any ability to properly control this game. That control stick was terrible, and its 27 buttons wouldn’t exactly help a game that requires a whole two different kinds of input. Phear really dodged a bullet there.
  • Would I play again: This is another one for the “super interesting anomaly… but I’m not playing it again” pile. I like what I see, and I could see how Tetrisphere could have been amazing on a more viable system… but it’s not like there aren’t better alternatives all over the place right now. Pass.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Our annual Christmas Special! I’m going to wax poetic about the best videogame Christmas gift I ever received. What is that game? You’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

Yay!