Tag Archives: gameboy

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

According to James Cameron, the original Terminator film came from a literal fever dream. While being laid up with a particularly bad flu, Cameron experienced a vivid vision featuring a metallic torso of a man lurching forward with some very pointy weaponry, and that image eventually gave birth to Arnold Schwarzenegger the terminator. It’s not difficult to understand why: the picture of an “undying” and relentless pursuer is one that seems to be lodged pretty firmly in our collective unconscious and, metal monster or not, I think a lot of us have had “that dream” involving an unyielding, inescapable monster. This is a primal fear (probably courtesy of one or two saber tooth tigers that were real dicks), so giving such a thing robo-flesh was inevitably going to tap into an endless market of people that want more homicidal android action.

Just kind of a shame someone forgot about that invincible torso somewhere along the way.

The Terminator franchise has been complicated from the very beginning. Right from the get-go, we’ve got a time travel story that is doing its best to simultaneously create a “new future” and a stable time loop. John Connor sends his best bud back in time to become his dad (thus creating a future where there is a John Connor) and prevent the Skynet robopocolypse from ever existing (thus creating a future where there is no reason for a John Connor). That’s a surprisingly convoluted plot to get to “there’s an unstoppable robot on the loose”, but I suppose credit should be given to Cameron for not just tossing out a “btw there’s a killer robot now” story and putting some thought into the whys of an unstoppable metal torso. Of course, this begat Terminator 2, which brought the concept to its logical conclusion: Stay still!what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? What happens when two relentless robots collide? And maybe there’s an annoying kid involved, too, because we have like another hour to fill? Yes, Sarah Connor is a great role model, and her PTSD from a future that might never be is pretty neat an’ all, but the focus of T2 is the Judgment Day when two invincible bots clash. And, once again, audiences seemed to react well to that kind of thing.

Then it all went to hell.

The image of an army of terminators, whether they have flesh or not, is a chilling one. These are unstoppable androids, and even one seems to be completely invincible. What hope does humanity have against an entire planet of the buggers? No wonder time travel seemed to be the only option: once Skynet has built an impassable wall, there’s nothing that’s going to bring it down short of rewriting history. But there’s a problem with terminators, and it’s basically the same as the inverse ninja law. Duel one threat, and you can have an exciting, one-on-one battle that is all about tactics and psychology and the very real threat of one combatant exploiting the tiniest advantage and pulling a victory out of seemingly thin air. But pit one hero against a group of greater than, say, four, and suddenly everything is tilted in the favor of the lone protagonist. Storm Troopers can’t shoot straight, ninja get kicked in the face, and terminators are suddenly about as threatening as a Roomba. Yes, maybe you can’t “beat” an army of terminators, but they’ve rapidly lost that ability to actually hit a target, mow down humankind, and, ya know, terminate. The more terminators, the better for humanity.

I am the law?And this is where we join RoboCop Versus The Terminator for the Super Nintendo. Robocop is a fairly unstoppable cyborg himself, and he’s also had a number of videogames to his name. That’s no mistake, as he was practically built for 16-bit battles. He’s powerful, but he’s not invincible, so he’s one of the few protagonists that possess a life bar and an excuse for said life bar. Heck, you could even make such a thing some part of Officer Murphy’s in-visor HUD. And then you’ve got the whole “future Detroit that is moderately more deadly than OG Detroit” thing to provide an army of criminals, mutants, and criminal mutants to indiscriminately gun down. Toss it all together, and you’ve got a complete videogame. Throwing in a terminator is just sprinkles on the hyper violent sundae that is Robocop.

But the problem isn’t that Virgin Games involved a terminator, it’s that they went for terminators. Terminators leave their lovely dystopia to visit Detroit’s slightly less futuristic dystopia, and the mechanical malcontents descend upon Robocop. One Terminator is encountered at a construction site, and, with the right positioning, it can be defeated without Robocop even having to move. But the next terminator is slightly more invincible! He can’t be defeated with simple armaments… but there is a pretty conspicuous pit nearby, and you know what you have to do. The next terminator is similarly doomed, but his death is slightly further away. And then Robocop takes the long way to a future full of terminators.

And then it gets really silly. Robocop is stuck in a future filled to the brim with terminators, so, naturally, he has gained the ability to mow the mechs down like they’re less killing machines and more farm equipment. Yes, the story does offer the tiniest concession in Robocop grabbing a futuristic pistol and other advanced weaponry to gain the tiniest edge, but previous levels granted ol’ Robo a rocket launcher. This isn't funIs it even possible to improve on the destructive power of that old standby? (Please don’t tell me the answer to that, I’d prefer to sleep at night.) This all comes to a natural conclusion in “the vehicle stage”, wherein Robocop is piloting a futuristic (maybe) flying thing, and the goal of the level is to destroy twenty terminators before moving on. Can they really be called terminators anymore at that point, though? Aren’t they more… target practice?

And, unfortunately, it seems the Terminator franchise has followed the lead of this misbegotten Super Nintendo game. Terminators are no longer terminators, they are simply fodder for our rebellious humans to trick and humiliate. The days of invincible torsos are behind us, and a dramatically less invincible robot army explodes in its wake.

The dream is dead. The future has failed us.

(But that is pretty good news for Robocop.)

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

  • System: Super Nintendo for this review. There are also Gameboy, Game Gear, and Genesis versions available, too.
  • Number of players: Robocop is a singular hero. … I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t ever a Lady Robocop with an obtrusive ponytail. Meh, maybe in the animated series.
  • BoooPort-O-Call: Apparently the Genesis version takes the smarter route of focusing primarily on the present (not too distant future?) and a baddie or two from Robocop 2. Meanwhile the SNES version is pretty evenly split between past and future. The Gameboy version is all bad future… That is to say it is the worst possible future, one wherein videogames are absolutely abhorrent.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Robocop is simultaneously built for videogames and… absolutely not. His jump is more of a hop (maybe even a skip), and he controls about as precisely as a walking corpse. That said, there’s the potential for a good game here… if it wasn’t wall to wall stupid mazes and lame traps. See also: B.O.B., Harley’s Humongous Adventure.
  • Favorite Boss: The first boss of the future area is a tank… that doesn’t move. It just sits there, and you shoot pieces off of it. The NES Technodrome was a more mobile threat!
  • Did you know? Meanwhile, the inspiration for Robocop’s prime directive of “serve the public trust” was inspired by… a fortune cookie. Robocop and Terminator come from very different places.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Another lame SNES platforming/action game that involves too many easily defeated robots. I’ll just play Mega Man X, thank you.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nier Automata! Wow, now there’s a game about robot on robot violence. Please look forward to it!

Owie

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

So I figure there are two ways we can go with this article. One, we could take a look at this:

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And laugh uproariously at this primitive attempt at a portable Pac-Man. It’s super tiny! They couldn’t fit the entire maze on the screen! There isn’t an attempt at “new” mazes, despite the fact that Ms. Pac-Man was released years before. There’s no color!

Or, second choice, we could address Pac-Man for Gameboy as the most important game that was ever released.

Let’s go with that second choice.

I did not purchase, new or used, Pac-Man for Gameboy. I did not have a legit Gameboy as a child, and the few games I purchased for my Super Gameboy were significant and precious. Pac-Man was never even in the running. Pac-Man, even by the release of the Super Gameboy, was fairly played out, and, if we’re being honest, primitive. OG Pac-Man had like one maze and four directions. There wasn’t even a jump button! I want to say that I didn’t consider purchasing a Pac-Man game until The Age of the Download, because, seriously why bother? Besides, ol’ Paccy seemed to pop up often enough in other, more complex games. So, ya know, screw it. If I want to get lost in a maze, I’ll just play god-damned Fester’s Quest again.

No, I did not ever think to purchase Pac-Man for Gameboy. This game was inherited. This game once belonged to my grandfather. And that’s kind of important.

According to Pokémon Go (this is how I do research), the local arcade was founded in 1976. Pac-Man, according to Wikipedia, was released in the spring of 1980. Given my grandfather notoriously enjoyed Space Invaders since its initial release two years earlier, I’m guessing the man first played Pac-Man in that arcade. Here, for reference, are the two “original” Pac machines still floating around that arcade, nearly forty years later:

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You’ll notice that OG Pac-Man is not pictured. That’s because the old man got tossed sometime around when The World’s Largest Pac-Man Cabinet showed up. Then again, it may have gone to the dumpster well before that, as Ms. Pac-Man has always, no questions, been better than her hubby. It’s a Pac eat Pac world, and even Junior can conquer the old man. Regardless, I’m going to ahead and assume Pac-Man was first played by my ancestor somewhere around that general area pictured above.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. Pac-Man, despite being a boring old man compared to the rest of his family, was ubiquitous for nearly a decade. In my youth, I saw Pac-Man cabinets in every restaurant lobby, hotel, motel, and Holiday Inn in the country. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few of the sit-down Pac-cabinets in doctor’s offices. Pac-Man was everywhere for a while, and I could see my grandfather first playing the game at any of those locations. He was a dedicated husband and father, but my mother has always eaten about as slow as a particularly anemic snail, so I could easily imagine my grandfather sneaking off to a diner Pac-Man cabinet to munch pellets faster than his daughter could devour potatoes. … Or maybe I’m just confusing my own childhood with his adulthood…

Regardless, I can tell you one place my grandfather did not play Pac-Man for the first time: his living room. It’s hard to even imagine now, but gaming used to be exclusively an outside activity… or at least outside the home. You could not play videogames in your living room, you were stuck going to any of those (many) locations listed to get your gaming fix, because the technology just wasn’t there. Did you see those arcade cabinets? No way anything like that would fit in your bedroom.

But when you did get something home…

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It might not have been so hot. That’s Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. I know for a fact that my grandfather owned that game, because I played “his” Atari roughly 28,000,000,000 times as a kid. But I didn’t play Pac-Man that much (Combat, man, Combat), because, even as a toddler, I knew a compromised port when I saw it. And my grandfather agreed. In the same way one might have a cherished memory of an elder telling a tale of a bygone age/lemon tree, I can distinctly recall my grandfather sitting me on his lap, and saying, “Bobby, let’s save this game for the arcade.” And we did. And it was good.

Looking back, it’s obvious why Atari Pac-Man was so terrible. We didn’t know the numbers at the time, but the Atari literally had 32 times less memory than the Pac-Man arcade board, so trying to get ol’ Pac going “perfectly” on an Atari was about as likely as running Windows on the Sesame Street Cookie Counter. But back in the earliest of 80’s, the message seemed to be that, no matter what, we were never going to get “arcade realism” on the humble home console. I’ve spoken of this phenomenon before, and, yes, it even applied to games where the hero is a yellow circle and no participants even have recognizable appendages. Regardless, it seemed like that would be the status quo forever, and “home computers” would never be advanced enough for something so complex as a yellow pizza man.

The originalAnd then… they were. Whether you want to point to the Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, or even the later Atari 5200, we did eventually get an “arcade perfect” port of Pac-Man (or close enough to forget that that earlier Pepto-Man ever existed), and Pac-Man actually could be enjoyed at home. We made it! What could be better?

Well, Pac-Man anywhere you want, of course.

Pac-Man had a few portable iterations in his heyday. I’ve never seen one in person, but google the Tomy Tronic Pac-Man if you ever want to see the glorious old days of pac-portability. And the Coleco portable Pac-Man “cabinet” had a similar, early portable styling in that whole “light up blocks” a number of people remember from the Tiger Electronic portables. Oh! And those Pac-Man electronic watches! I hear people have died over those things. All of those whacky devices technically provided a portable pac-perience, but if Atari Pac-Man was a compromised port, this was an excuse that was somehow even less. I’m pretty sure you could get a more robust experience out of a damn wall mural than those stupid watches.

But then the Gameboy came, and Pac-Man was good.

And, sure, there wasn’t any color, and sure, you had a choice between teeny tiny graphics or actually, ya know, seeing the whole screen, but it was pretty damn Pac-Man. All the cinema scenes are here, and I’m pretty sure the ghost/power pellet times are arcade accurate. All the little intricacies of Pac-Man are available on the go, even if it’s kind of difficult to tell Blinky from Inky. And, while it seems obvious to say that people notice details, it’s those little things that separate atrocious Atari ports from the kind of games that can pry Tetris from that lone, precious Gameboy slot.

So, yes, today, Pac-Man for Gameboy seems primitive and, frankly, kind of sad. This is a version of Pac-Man that is meant to be played on a screen barely larger than an Amiibo base. But then again, that’s kind of the point: when Pac-Man was released, it could only be contained in an arcade cabinet that weighed hundreds of pounds and cost hundreds of dollars. But, in just a decade, Pac-Man could gobble down ghosts while being powered by a mere four batteries.

Yeah!And my grandfather always had those four batteries available. Essentially. He suffered from a stroke around 1999, so, being partially paralyzed, he didn’t really keep up with videogame advances. But one image I’ll never forget would be from about two years before he died (incidentally, roughly ten years after the stroke). He was sitting at his computer in his wildly disorganized “office” (a place my grandmother never visited), and he was chatting with his brother. My grandfather lived in New Jersey, and his brother of some eighty years lived in Florida. They were chatting via a messenger service (probably AOL), and my grandfather had somehow jury-rigged a modern webcam to a tripod from roughly 1956, and there was his brother on the screen, chatting away, and likely with some similar piece of makeshift webcammery on his side. They were talking, or, to be more particular, my grand uncle was talking, and my grandfather was listening. And, while my grandfather was listening, he was playing a game of Pac-Man in the other window. It’s not hard to play a videogame with four buttons with one hand. But I’ll always remember that scene: two men from the early 20th Century, talking across miles and miles as if they were in the same room, and one is still nursing a case of Pac-Fever.

Pac-Man came a long way, and technology came with him.

And that’s always going to be important.

FGC #287 Pac-Man (Gameboy)

  • System: I have got to find a better system than making the system part of the title and then denoting the system directly below the title. Also, I should say “system” less.
  • Number of players: Two! Via link cable! I have no idea how that works, because I never saw a second Gameboy with Pac-Man in my youth… but it’s probably lame. I mean, this ain’t Pac-Men.
  • Further Photographic Evidence: I wasn’t kidding about the Gameboy screen being the size of an Amiibo Base.

    Wakka wakka

    Also, for the record, that Gameboy is playing my copy of Pac-Man, you just absolutely cannot see it. Oh well.

  • Two in one stroke: I’m also going to claim that this article covers Atari Pac-Man, so that way I never have to touch that one again. Yes, I did also inherit that “beloved” childhood memory, too, because of course I did.
  • Did you know? Yes, I live in a town where I can still walk to an arcade. Multiples, depending on the season.
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    And, yes, at least one arcade has OG Pac-Man.
  • Would I play again: Pac-Man, yes, Gameboy, no. I have respect for the first decent portable system in history, but respect doesn’t do anything for eyestrain.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 5! Or maybe he didn’t choose it at all, and I just feel like writing about a game I played for a hundred hours. Who could say? You get Persona 5 either way. Please look forward to it!

Wakka wakka

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!