Tag Archives: ghosts

FGC #416 Bioshock Infinite

Note: This article does contain spoilers for Bioshock Infinite. You have been warned!

BIOSHOCKIN'Bioshock Infinite is god damn terrifying videogame. And it’s even more terrifying that no one identifies it as such.

Let’s hit the basics before we get into the abject horror. Bioshock Infinite is a story-based first person shooter from the creators of Bio/System Shock. As such, it is a ludicrously complicated videogame from multiple perspectives. Combat is conceptually simple (shoot man in head, move on, shoot other man in head) but multiple weapons of a mundane (all of the guns, forever) and magical (“Look, pa, I can shoot lightning”) nature allow for an amazing number of options. Is there water on the ground for conducting electricity? How about some nice, flammable oil? And is this a situation that would better warrant a sniper scope, or a shotgun? Or screw all those options to the sticking place, and ride some sky rails to channel death-from-above action. In a genre that often panders to the lowest common denominator with boring hallways and tedious, linearly graduating weaponry, Bioshock Infinite’s wide open Columbia and all the options it affords are a godsend.

But, as great as the gameplay is in Bioshock Infinite, memories of BI are not of battling crow cultists or the occasional ghost mom; no, Bioshock Infinite, like its Bioshock brothers before it, is all about the story. In this case, we have the tale of Booker DeWitt…

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

This is how reproduction worksIf you’re at all interested in videogames, you’ve probably heard of the horrors of game preservation. Videogames are, almost by design, ephemeral. They’re here on the current software, and, if a game is a hit, you can be sure you’ll see it return in the next generation (maybe with a HD remaster!). If a game is a “cult classic”, you might spy a few nerds getting really excited when it shows up on what passes for the next generation’s virtual console. But, if it fails to make an impact, and it fails to have a big name attached to it, then it is likely gone forever. There are literally thousands of games that have languished on their original hardware, never to be seen by an audience ever again.

And this is, without question, a bad thing. More than any other medium, videogames are iterative and absolutely rely on what has come before. Sure, we all like to look at “defining” games like Mario and Zelda to explain where gaming has originated (and where it’s going), but the failures are just as important as the successes. Krion Conquest shows us exactly how to make Mega Man wrong. Early Metroidvania titles (Goonies 2 comes to mind) exemplify what features should be left on the cutting room floor (like God damn birds that steal your items). And the early xeroxes of Doom and Final Fantasy 7 demonstrate exactly what can go wrong in a FPS or JRPG. A bad movie is generally just a bad movie, but there is so much involved in a bad videogame, that there is much to learn past “don’t do that”.

And then there are chunks of our history that are lost forever not because they were somehow unworthy, but because of the great equalizer of all mediums: the legal department.

Munching alongJr. Pac-Man is a Pac-Man arcade game from 1983. The title made it to the Atari 2600 in ’86 (four years after the initial, disastrous Atari Pac-Man), and DOS/Commodore 64 two years later. In other words, it made the rounds in its day. However, you won’t see Jr. Pac-Man past 1990. It did not appear on any of the “modern” consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was not an unlockable in the arcade of Pac-Man 2. And, even today, when you score a Pac-Man collection on your platform of choice, it does not contain Jr. Pac-Man. The character of “Pac-Man’s son” might pop up from time to time, but his titular videogame is nowhere to be found. What happened?

Well, the answer to that is simple: Jr. Pac-Man never should have been born. Namco is the creator of the once and future Pac-Man, and merely licensed the property to Bally-Midway for release in the states. Then Pac-Man fever infected the nation… and Midway needed to sell more arcade machines. Everybody already had Pac-Man, and, thus, only arcade owners were raking in the quarters, not the arcade cabinet manufacturers. So, in a desperate bid to revitalize the Pac-Market, Midway released a slew of new Pac-Content. Ms. Pac-Man is the most famous example, but we also saw Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and the abhorrent Pac-Man Plus, a game that I’m almost certain is naturally haunted (not talking about the ghosts, they’re normal). And, from this bumper crop of Pac-Merchandise, we also saw Jr. Pac-Man.

So flashyAnd Jr. Pac-Man might be one of the best of the Midway Alterna-Pacs. It’s never going to dethrone Ms. Pac-Man, but it has some pretty interesting mechanics. For one thing, for better or worse, it’s the first Pac-Man title designed with a scrolling maze. This means bigger stages, naturally, but also a little more tension with monsters that could be doing anything when they’re off screen. And the bonus items now have much more of an impact on gameplay: an item (no longer just fruit, now we’ve got bicycles, trains, and… a cat?) will move around the maze of its own volition, and “fatten” the traditional pellets. A fat pellet will grant Junior more points, but they also slow this Pac down the tiniest bit… which can make a significant impact when there’s a ghost on your tail. But that’s not all! In a move that can only be described as a betrayal of everything a bonus item stands for, if an item comes in contact with a Power Pellet, both the item and the pellet will explode! And you’re down a Power Pellet! Oh, the humanity!

And, most bizarrely of all, Jr. Pac-Man decides to add to the Pac-Mythos. The round clear cinema scenes of Ms. Pac-Man showcased the pairing of two Pacs, and the attract mode of Jr. Pac-Man features the stork dropping off the new Pac-Bundle. Jr. Pac-Man scenes show another love story, but one between Junior and… a ghost! Yum-Yum is Blinky’s daughter, and it’s clear that he does not approve of these star-crossed lovers. Will Pac-Man Jr. run off with a tiny ghost with a bow in her hair (“hair”)? Play the game to find out!

Or don’t, because you can’t play the thing anywhere.

So verticalFor the sin of creating a licensed-but-unapproved Pac-Man title, Bally-Midway will no longer see any profits from the adventures of the second-littlest Pac. As a result, Jr. Pac-Man is not allowed to appear in any Pac-Collections, and, should you mention Jr. Pac-Man in polite company, the duchess shall be offended, and you will be asked to leave the premises. Jr. Pac-Man may be an interesting twist on the Pac-Formula, but it is nothing more than a redheaded step child to Namco, so it must be thrust out into the cold, never to be seen again (except maybe at Thanksgiving).

And more’s the pity.

Jr. Pac-Man isn’t the best Pac-Man game out there. It might not even be in the top three. But is it better than Pac-Land? Is it more of a Pac-Man game than Pac-Man 2? Does it have more to say about Pac-Play than Pac-Mania? There’s a clear “yes” to each of those questions. Jr. Pac-Man might not be an instant classic, but it’s unavoidably part of the Pac-Pantheon, and should be regarded as such. Jr. Pac-Man deserves a seat at the table, and that means someone born after 1988 deserves a chance to play it.

But it’s never going to happen, because of a licensing dispute from thirty years ago.

Videogame preservation is important, but it seems like the legal department is more important.

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

  • System: Arcade, Atari 2600, DOS, and Commodore 64… and then never again. If you can’t tell, you’re seeing Arcade and Atari 2600 for this article.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Does this means the Pacs have two sons?
  • Attempted Preservation: In an effort to find some version of Jr. Pac-Man, I managed to turn up a random flash version online.

    Not wakka

    It is… not great.

  • Continuity Issue: Actually, Jr. Pac-Man first appears as part of Ms. Pac-Man (the game… man, the phrasing on that sentence is weird) being dropped off by the stork as part of a later cinema scene. But then he arrives at the start of Jr. Pac-Man, when the Pacs have a home? Which is it, Pac-Authors?
  • Favorite Item: The final released maze is the “beer maze”. Let’s just go ahead and assume that’s a root beer, and Jr. Pac-Man is not trying to get drunk with his bad-influence ghost girlfriend.
  • What’s in a name: The orange ghost of Jr. Pac-Man is known as… Tim. Maybe he’s a ghost wizard?
  • Did you know? Ms. Pac-Man was a Midway hack, too, but Namco liked it. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I would like to, but there’s no way I’m fighting the Atari into playing this cartridge anytime soon. I suppose I could always drop a quarter in this guy, though…

    WAKKA WAKKA

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocket Tennis Color for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! It’s going to be 399-Love here at the FGC. Please look forward to it!

WW #08 School Girl/Zombie Hunter

Due to the subject matter of this entire week, some items may be NSFW. Barring some terrible graphics, we’re sorta aiming for PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware…

Wankery!Wankery Week is back! I always wanted to see an even ten WW entries, so we’re going to have our usual M-W-F updates this week, but instead of ROB choosing the games of the day, we’ll be deliberately looking at three “thirsty” games that were released in 2017. Just like last year, Wankery Week is an examination of sex in videogames… or what passes for sex in videogames. As a reminder of our “rules” from last year, we are not here to judge anyone that might have purchased a game entirely based on half naked cooking, we’re here to look at the finer points of games that are clearly marketed with an eye on fleecing horny boys (inevitably boys) of their hard earned videogame dollars. So without further ado, let’s start with our first topic of the week:

Underwear and you.

Underwear is a basic part of getting dressed, right? Most of you reading this are wearing underwear right now. And you’re not even thinking about it, are you? It’s just a thing, and you probably put more daily effort into your hair, teeth, and maybe armpit hair than you do your underwear choice. I see myself in my underwear every damn day, whether I want to see such a thing or not, and it’s no big deal. And, while I’m thinking about myself in my undies, I want to note that I have no idea what underwear I’m wearing right now. Boxers! I know that much, but color or design has completely escaped my memory, should I have ever noticed such a thing in the first place. Look, it’s not my fault if I get dressed in the dark. It’s early!

And Mario is in much the same boat. After years of playing Mario games, I still have no idea what our mustachioed hero has on under those overalls. It’s a recent revelation that we found Mario has nipples, so I’m guessing that boxers or briefs won’t be answered for a good long while. We just saw Link’s underwear, but that was just one Link, and he wasn’t even left-handed, so he clearly doesn’t speak for his entire line. Star Fox may have metal legs, but he certainly isn’t taking off his pants. Ness is glued to those shorts, and Captain Falcon would lose some acceleration if he lost his speed suit. Donkey Kong and Pikachu care not for such things. We haven’t seen the underwear of a single character from the original Smash Bros…

Oh, wait, forgot about Samus Aran. We’ve seen her practically naked.

What could be the connection?

Speaking of which, there is at least one male that has been leaving it all out there since his debut, and it’s this funny fellow:

Sir!

Look at Sir Arthur, running around in his boxers. Ha ha! And, for anyone curious, here’s how Arthur looks in his most recent appearance during Marvel vs. Capcom Infinity:

Sir!

Which makes sense! Only undies Arthur is of course referenced in a few intros and random special moves, but he’s not defined by it. He’s a knight! He wears heavy armor! Pretty obvious iconography all around.

And, similar to Arthur, we have an 8-bit heroine that is known for being a goddess of war, but also getting stripped to nothing when armor isn’t available. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s Athena on the NES:

Lady!

And here’s Athena in the recent trailer for SNK Heroines:

FGC #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

Who you gonna call?Ghostbusters NES is an eternal plastic monument to how Goggle Bob was a stupid, stupid child.

It all starts with the Commodore 64. For anyone that missed it (because you’re not old as dirt), the Commodore 64 was basically the home personal computer before anyone could afford personal computers. It accepted (inevitably multiple) giant floppy discs, the printer was dot matrix, and it had roughly the same processing power as a bag of doritos, but it could help with work and games! Imagine! A device that mom could use for word processing, and Little Bobby could use for playing exciting games where one block attacked another block! And there were rudimentary programming applications available! Never forget Logo Writer, the “game” where you programmed a turtle to do whatever you desired… assuming you could master Logo programming language, a programming language never to be seen again.

If you haven’t already guessed from that glowing paragraph, the Commodore 64 was my secret origin in more ways than one. Before there was even a NES in the house, the Commodore 64 could (with proper supervision) be utilized by Wee Goggle Bob. And, while I abused the word processing program before I even really knew how to write (I lurned at some point, right?), my favorites on the C64 were always the games. There were many available (I’m not going to accuse my sainted mother of software piracy, but it sure seemed like our C64 library expanded faster than other systems where you couldn’t copy that floppy), but my top choices were always two games: Rampage and Ghostbusters. Rampage was pure Id, and often the choice for two players, but Ghostbusters was much more cerebral.

ZAPGhostbusters might have been my first “comprehensive” videogame. Mario Bros and Mega Man are amazing titles, but they only require you to understand the alphabet up to its second letter (the letter that lets you shoot). Ghostbusters on the Commodore 64 tried to do something different and much more complex. The plot of Ghostbusters is not that you are Ray and Egon, no, you’re you, and you’re starting up a Ghostbusters franchise in New York City. You’re responsible for purchasing equipment, you’re responsible for maintaining your haunted bank account, and, if a Marshmallow Man stomps a building to bits, it’s your ass that is getting fined. While the game does feature a lot of repetitive nonsense (driving to locations is almost entirely pointless, and catching ghosts doesn’t really warrant a half hour of the same gameplay over and over again), there’s enough planning involved that the whole experience could truly challenge players of all ages. Wee Goggle Bob just enjoyed hearing the theme song and getting slimed, but C64 Ghostbusters was borderline WRPGian in its complexity. Screw Dragon Warrior, this is where you could really learn about inventory management while fighting monsters.

And then, four years later, we were burdened with Ghostbusters on the NES. Good news: the car segments are now more interesting, as you can dodge other vehicles and score gas cans as you drive over to your next haunted mansion. Bad news? If you run out of gas, it leads to a “pushing the car” scene so boring, the concept would not be revisited in gaming for at least twenty years. And if you so much as nudge another car, you lose $400 (in 80s dollars!). Once you arrive, capturing ghosts is mostly the same, but 90% of the interesting “Ghostbuster franchise” gameplay has been dropped. Randomly forming giant gelatinous gentlemen are a thing of the past, and any sort of indication as to what you’re supposed to be doing or working towards is gone forever. And, should you survive the experience for entirely too long, you’ll be granted access to fight the final battle.

And that’s when the fun really starts.

The final stage of Ghostbusters is a trek up 25 or so floors of nothing but stairs. And you can’t just “walk”, no, you have to hammer the A/B buttons to get your Ghostbusters to scuttle forward. If you don’t have a turbo controller, please give up immediately, it’s not worth the permanent damage to your thumbs. But even with that (NES) advantage, you have to dodge a set of four ghosts with random patterns the entire time, and, three hits later, it’s game over, man. And the game over screen is depressing!

Loser!

Your only options to survive are outright cheating (say hello, Game Genie), or purchase a pile of helpful items from the shop… which would only require about an hour of ghost grinding. It is nearly impossible to conceive of someone beating this area “the right way”, left alone being ready for more after such a feat.

But assuming you scale those stairs, you’re still not done! The peak of the building features Gozer the Gozerian flanked by Zuul and Vinz, and you’ve basically got a bullet hell final boss. But that’s not all! The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is scaling the building, so, every once in a while, you have to retreat, zap Stay Puft down to the ground floor, and then, finally, resume your assault on Gozer. Lose at any point, and its game over. Actually succeed (against all odds), and you’ll be rewarded with one of the lamest victory screens in all of gaming.

Winner!

Thanks for playing the worst port of a licensed game ever!

But, for me, the “conglaturation !!!” screen is not the end of the embarrassment. No, the worst part of NES Ghostbusters is how I would have done anything to see that stupid ending.

I didn’t own Ghostbusters NES as a child, but a friend, Kevin, did have a copy. By about this time, the Commodore 64 had either been mothballed (I still have it!) or was just occupying the space in my head that said “that’s mom’s computer”, and it didn’t see any additional Ghostbusters time from yours truly. As a result, I had a fuzzy memory of “old Ghostbusters” to compare to new NES Ghostbusters. I recognized that you couldn’t buy a new car like in C64 GB, but, other than that, I assumed it was mostly the same game. And then revisiting the game at a friend’s house years (and many other games) later, I was determined to team up with Kevin and beat Gozer once and for all. Our parents didn’t let us sticky, clumsy kids take games out of the house, so I was unable to connect my Game Genie to Kevin’s Ghostbusters cartridge. Thus, thanks to horrible/prescient parenting, we were unable to cheat. But Kevin and I were in this together, and we were going to beat Ghostbusters if it killed us.

Spoilers: we are now both dead. Big twist: this article is being written by a ghost.

SexyIn all honesty, I think the friendship between Kevin and I couldn’t survive the mental strain of trying to complete this horrid NES game. But try we did! We couldn’t stop ourselves, and we were convinced it was our fault we couldn’t scale those damn stairs. How could there be a bad thing based on the Ghostbusters franchise? We love those guys! They’d never steer us wrong! And the Commodore 64 version was pretty fun! This is the version on the same system as Castlevania 3! It has to be good! What are we doing wrong?!

And then, decades later, ROB chose this ghastly game. And then I played it side by side with its C64 brother. And then, finally, after years of experience, I learned that Ghostbusters for NES is just the worst. I’m okay, Kevin is probably okay (we lost touch sometime after Sega Genesis), and it was Ghostbusters that was wrong all along.

So I only spent 30 years wallowing in ignorance. Could be worse. Could be 71 years…

FGC #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

  • System: A version more or less similar to this Ghostbusters appeared on the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Atari 800 (don’t be confused by the lower number, it was the greater system), and Sega Master System. And, yes, NES, because there wasn’t enough pain in the world.
  • Number of players: Looks like we can get three Ghostbusters on the screen at a time, but only one player is allowed.
  • GrrrrJust play the gig, man: The Commodore 64 version starts with the Ghostbusters theme, and a “karaoke” style display of the lyrics so you can sing along to your favorite legally Huey Lewis song. This joy is mitigated somewhat by the digitized Ghostbusters theme being looped forever for the entire game.
  • Big Finale: There is no crazy staircase in the C64 version, but you do have to avoid a skipping Stay Puft Marshmallow Man before booking it upstairs to cross the streams and save the day. It is a tremendously more satisfying climax.
  • New Game Plus: And speaking of which, beating the C64 version will reward the player with a password that will allow the Ghostbusters to start with more money on the next playthrough. This might be the first “new game plus” feature in a videogame.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: All of these bullet points are about the C64 version because I never want to see the NES version ever again.
  • Did you know? The Commodore 64 version has four cars available for purchase, and one is a 1963 Hearse. This is the closest vehicle to the “real” Ecto-1 available, and may be purchased for $4,800. Strangely enough, the car’s model does not correspond with the movie’s Ecto-1, but the price is exactly what Ray pays for the vehicle. Take canon where you can find it.
  • Would I play again: Never. Never ever ever. There isn’t a ghost of a chance.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Warrior for the NES! Dammit! Is this because I insulted the title earlier in this article? I feel like I’m being punished with gaming history. Oh well. Please look forward to it.

This sucks