Tag Archives: gotta go fast

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Monkey NoisesVideogames can do a few things better than any other medium, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze does one of those things perfectly.

DKC:TF is a pretty straightforward platforming adventure. Donkey Kong was just donkeying around, enjoying his birthday with the members of his family that he remembered exist this week (sorry, Lanky Kong), when a group of malevolent penguins invaded his home. With the helpful flippers of some Viking walruses, Donkey and pals were escorted far from Donkey Kong Country, and banished to an even five islands away from home base. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie, and even Cranky now must fight their way back to their tropical island, and there’s only an army of owls, deadly pits, and other assorted nonsense to repel the apes. At least there are a few frozen bananas to nab along the way.

And, so I can pretend I maintain a proper gaming review blog, I’ll note the experience does play like a dream. The DKC series may handle like Super Mario Bros. on a fundamental level, but the big guy always feels completely different than his plumbing rival. Recent Donkey Kong Country games dial that “heavy inertia” feeling from the original Rare games up to eleven, and, If you’re doing your best hedgehog impression and always moving as fast as possible, it’s very easy to experience a “rollercoaster” feeling. Yes, you have full control of everyone’s favorite gorilla, but there’s that unmistakable feeling that you can’t slow down, that you’ve gotta go fast, and you’re just doing your best to steer this barreling freight train as best you can. Mind you, that metaphor becomes a bit more superliminal on the actually-a-rollercoaster minecart levels, but that feeling persists through the rest of the game. And, if you don’t like it, don’t worry, you can still take it slow, too. Well, on most stages. I wouldn’t slow down when you’re attempting to outrun a lava flow.

But that’s all auxiliary to the best event in the game (and possibly the franchise). After five “worlds” of random island hijinks, the final (well, final-not-secret) world is… Donkey Kong Country.

THIS IS EVERYTHING

You’re finally home! Hooray! … Except, yes, the Snowmads have conquered the tropical paradise, and turned it into a frozen stronghold. So DK and pals must fight from DK home up to the tippy top of Big Crazy Volcano… which is the premise of the previous game, Donkey Kong Country Returns. The final world of Donkey Kong Country Tropical freeze is Donkey Kong Country Returns.

And I love seeing this kind of thing in a videogame.

Other noisesEven if nobody noticed, this got its start back in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. If you hang out on the south-western “Death Mountain” region of the map, you’ll note the bottom section of the peninsula is actually the entirety of the overworld from The Legend of Zelda (1). In one instant, that simple plot of 8-bit pixels completely recontextualizes Link’s entire adventure, and, wow, did you see that? This new game is, like, 800 times larger than the old one! Oh man, how is Link going to survive his biggest adventure ever!?

(And, for the record, I feel like every Zelda after Ocarina of Time has failed for using the same basic layout as OoT [and arguably A Link to the Past]. It’s not exciting to find Death Mountain in the North or Gerudo Desert in the West, I want to see what’s past those landmarks. C’est la vie.)

But this same trick has been used in a variety of games for a variety of reasons. In Metroid Prime, a frigate is explored early in the adventure, and then, after it crashes to the planet below, it becomes a sunken “ghost ship” that is an entirely new “level”, but is still recognizable from its earlier appearance. Speaking of Metroid, you see this often in “prequel” games, where an important location from the “next” game is revisited by a different group that has no idea about the significance of the latest locale. See Lufia and Lufia 2 for a fun, fatal example of this concept. And while we’re on the subject of 16-bit JRPGs, time travel is great for video games for this exact reason. The Black Omen might be unchanging, but it’s fun to see how the simple villages and dungeons of 600 AD evolve in 400 years.

Hot stuffAnd why does this work? Why is this fun? It’s all because videogames have to be very mindful of “space”. While your average modern action movie doesn’t have to worry about the surrounding area for its epic battles at all (pop quiz: how many countries have been destroyed by random Transformer fights?), videogames are all about space, because the player must inhabit those locations for proper exploration and storytelling experiences. It doesn’t matter in every game (I admit, I might not be able to draw a map of Metro City), but so many games must keep an eye on distance and location, else, well, nobody likes to get lost forever. And, if everyone is doing their job right, the player learns the ins and outs of any given area almost subconsciously, and, before you know it, you’re able to recall the layout of Midgar a lot more easily than your home town. If you’re going to swing by my place, just take the third left after Wall Market.

I’ll save any further gushing about this concept for when ROB inevitably chooses Bioshock, but the flipside to memorizing a map or area is that, when that area is changed, your brain immediately notices. Even if it’s been fifteen years since you played the previous game, since you spotted the new, “different” area, some part of your head recognizes that something is wrong, and why is this wrong, and let’s explore a little further, and find out what happened here. And, on top of that, when something that was previously “the size of an entire game” is reduced to “now it’s smaller”, you I can't see what's happening!subconsciously feel awesome, because, wow, look at how much more I’ve accomplished than last time! Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is six times larger than Donkey Kong Country Returns! DK is huuuuuuge!

Oh, and it is pretty fun to replay through reimaginings of all the Donkey Kong Country Returns levels in a frozen wasteland, too.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an entertaining game all on its own, but the way it recontextualizes Donkey Kong Country Returns is amazing.

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. A months ago, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a 3DS port, but now I’m kind of expecting a Switch port. We’ll see if that pans out.
  • Number of players: Two! And I really want to try that sometime! Diddy and the other helpers apparently can assist with a second controller, but I’ve never thought to actually try that with any of my real-life buddies. There are so many other games we can play where we can have apes fight, ya know?
  • Favorite buddy: Cranky Kong has Scrooge’s pogo stick! That makes him tougher than the toughies. On the other hand, the pogo ability is just as finicky as it was back in the NES days, so I’d rather have Diddy in my corner. Can’t tell you how many times that jetpack saved my bacon.
  • Jerks!Favorite Boss: One baboon laughing at Kongs is bad enough, but a baboon that splits into three just to mock a monkey even more? That’s cruel.
  • Did you know? There’s a patch/update for this game, and it seems to exist entirely to fix a glitch in the third world that would prevent the next level from unlocking. “Beat stage, go to next stage” is pretty much videogame 101, so you have to wonder how that glitch got out into the wild.
  • Would I play again: If there is somehow never another Donkey Kong Country game “like this” again (you never know with Nintendo), then I’ll play this again in due time. If there is a DKCR3, then I’m all about leaving the past behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Streets of Rage 2! Good! I was getting tired of using the “Nintendo” tag continuously. It’s time to see some streets raging! Or maybe people raging at streets. I don’t know! Please look forward to it!

Huge hooters

FGC #189 Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles

October is a crowded month. Most significantly, it is LGBT History Month, which, seriously, get on that, people, it’s not like we have any LGBT commemorative holidays (is Lincoln’s Birthday still a thing?). October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Bullying Prevention Month, Cyber Security Awareness Month, and Disability Employment Awareness Month. I’m not going to get into it, but all four of those things I am very aware of. It’s also Polish American Heritage Month, and, ugh, I guess this means it would be in poor taste to make a Polak joke. October is also the general home of pumpkin spice and the great holiday of Halloween. And I guess Columbus gets a holiday somewhere in there, too? Was he gay? I feel like we’d know if he was.

Incidentally, August isn’t bloody anything.

But, thanks to the capricious choosing of a random robot, I’ve got one more for October. I propose that October be Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Month. I have prepared a FAQ for your inevitable questions.

Why Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Month?

Because StH3&K is a game that should be celebrated. It is the finale of the Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis glory days, and, in my humble opinion, it’s one of the best Sonic games in existence. Sonic the Hedgehog has its share of problems, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is great, but it contains those hateful half pipe bonus stages that preclude Super Sonic’s involvement for all but the most dedicated players. It also lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that only a belligerent It's... kind of fun?echidna can bring to the table. StH3&K is one of the few Sonic the Hedgehog games throughout history to feature a final boss that is anything but a grueling slog of memorization or tedium, too. And I’m pretty sure there are like four final bosses in this game, so that’s kind of an accomplishment.

How are there four final bosses?

Well, there’s the final boss of the Sonic 3 portion, the final boss of the & Knuckles portion, the “secret” final boss that can only be fought by Hyper Sonic, and the final boss of the Knuckles portion, Super Metal Sonic. I realize this may be confusing, but we have an entire month to work out the details.

What’s this about portions?

StH3&K is a hybrid game. In the beginning, there was simply Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and it was good. Then Sega begat Sonic and Knuckles, a game with hitherto unforeseen lock-on technology, which allowed the two games to combine into one shining gestalt of a gigantic adventure. Once combined, the two games allowed the player to play through every level in both games, collect double the chaos emeralds (well, technically the same number of emeralds, the emeralds just got bigger), and play the stages as Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles, all with slightly different gameplay styles. This effectively made Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (the completely combined form) its own game separate from both Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles.

ARGHDoes this make StH3&K some kind of perfect, super game?

Not quite. There can be issues with combining two comprehensive games. Related to the multiple final boss “problem”, there is a definite climb in difficulty to reach the final stage of Sonic the Hedgehog 3… and then you’re right back at the relatively easy difficulty of the start of Sonic & Knuckles. And, while S&K may be a shorter, faster game than StH3, it still feels rather limiting to conquer the Death Egg and Heavy Arm, only to float down to a stage that is roughly as difficult as cooking ramen. And I don’t care what anyone says, it sucks to arbitrarily lose Super Sonic/Knuckles between games because you’re trying to earn Hyper Sonic. I want to run around at the speed of sound right now! Oh, and somehow the two games contain two zones that are mostly ice stages, and that’s one ice stage too many.

So we should be aware of StH3&K just because it’s a mostly good game?

A chief reason the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Campaign exists is that it seems like Sega itself randomly forgets about StH3&K. Sega has a tendency to rerelease Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles separately, but offer no way to combine the two games. This is preposterous! Yes, there are versions (on Wii and Steam, if memory serves) that allow for that all important lock-on, but there are many compilations and downloadable releases that forsake the game’s greatest contribution. We must be aware of StH3&K because, unless we are ever vigilant, Sega will again forget to release the greatest entry in the Sonic canon. As it currently stands, it would be akin to Nintendo repeatedly releasing Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and World, but never 3. Do you want to live in a world like that? No! What’s the point in breathing if you can’t steer Knuckles through Marble Garden Zone? And the idea that you wouldn’t be able to revisit Mushroom Hill Zone as Hyper Sonic? Preposterous.

So it’s all about bullying Sega into releasing the game you want?

Well… Yes. But there’s more to it than that. It’s because we must never forget.

Have you gone insane?

YAYI’m not talking about that. I’m talking about properly remembering the past, and not just conveniently forgetting the ugly parts.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is a famously incomplete game. It was originally intended to be the whole of StH3&K from the get-go, but a Christmas season and Sonic’s unbridled popularity pushed the game out the door before it was truly “done”. Sega made lemonade out of these lemons, though, and released Sonic & Knuckles and its lock-on technology shortly thereafter, thus making the game complete with the kludgiest of kludges.

And we, the good little Sega brats of the day, had to buy an entirely new game to get one complete game.

If this kind of thinking sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to how DLC works nowadays. Released an incomplete game? No problem! We’ll patch in the whole version later, and you can download ten gigs of updates to make the fractured whole. Maybe extra levels cost some extra dough, maybe you’re getting a new story mode for free because the original game is so lacking, but, one way or another, developers know they can release “partial” games, and make it up to the player later. Hell, it might even help with that damn used game market. Hang on to that copy of Street Fighter 5 until it’s actually a viable game, kiddies!

But, as much as anyone ever complains about DLC or developers releasing incomplete games, it used to be so much worse. If your copy of Pokémon Red kept deleting your save file because you surfed into a Missingno, bad news, that’s not getting better. Boobeam Trap is the worst part of Mega Man 2? Well, there’s no patch coming that makes that better, it’s a scar forever. And you say you’d step over your own mother just to get Like Saturnmore Super Mario Bros. 3 levels? Well good luck there, the next Mario is going to have completely different gameplay, though you might get some new challenges through playing cards in about a decade.

There are more levels available for Sonic the Hedgehog 3? And a new playable character? That’s great! You only have to buy an entirely new game. Hope it’s in your budget to buy the same game twice!

So the next time some new game promises the full experience with additional DLC, or an Assassin’s Creed is released without faces, remember that that used to be it. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles is proof that, even going back to the ol’ 16-bit days, sometimes a game needs a little more time in the oven to be perfect, but how that “update” gets to the player (and its cost) can change drastically. Which is worse: “Game of the Year Edition” or “Buy an Entirely New Game”?

I think that’s something worth remembering.

So why not Old DLC Methods Awareness Month?

That doesn’t include Knuckles the Echidna, now does it?

FGC #189 Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles

  • System: In honor of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles Awareness Month, the only systems that support the full game are: … Okay, there’s too many to list. Sega Genesis, Wii, and Steam are relevant to this article, but I’m also going to include the Sonic & Garfield Pack for PC.
  • Number of Players: One real player, and a second Tails that can do whatever he wants. That should be in more games
  • Favorite Character: Knuckles gets the respect knux.
  • Sonic 2 & Knuckles: You may also combine Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic & Knuckles to get Knuckles to play through Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It’s not that exciting, but it makes that one bit in Chemical Plant Zone a lot more tolerable. … Has this “version” ever appeared on rereleases?
  • It gets in everythingFavorite Zone: I realize that this is most people’s most hated zone, but Sandopolis Zone is my favorite. I love how the pyramid puts an emphasis on “gotta go fast” without some lame timer or generic flooding segment. Sand flooding is a totally different thing.
  • Just play the gig, man: Famously, Michael Jackson did or did not contribute music to Sonic the Hedgehog 3. It apparently got downplayed thanks to… personal matters… in Mr. Jackson’s life, but he did at least contribute background tunes for… Carnival Night Zone?! That’s that worst one!
  • Did you know? You may access the “locked to a character” stages through the debug cheat code. This means that Sonic can fight Super Metal Sonic, and Knuckles can explore the Death Egg. Wouldn’t recommend taking Tails to the Doomsday Zone, though.
  • Would I play again: Well, now I have to every October, right? I can live with that.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Street Fighter EX 3 for the Playstation 2! That’s… not Street Fighter 3, is it? Why is everybody so blocky? Oh well, guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!




That’s better.

FGC #133 Ultimate Nintendo Remix

WOO NINTENDOUltimate Nintendo Remix might be the most important video game of the century.

On a surface level, that seems like a given anyway. This game contains arguably all the best Nintendo produced games from the Nintendo Entertainment System. While Pac-Man may have pioneered mascots 2-D running or Adventure started slaying duckagons for keys, it was Mario and Link that popularized genres that are still healthy thirty years later. And even Nintendo’s misses, like Ice Climber or Clu Clu Land, contain lessons on what not to do in a video game, like anything involving imprecise jumping, or whatever the hell Clu Clu Land was about (hey, I don’t see anyone clamoring for DK King of Swing 2). In short, Nintendo’s 80’s reign over the gaming market set the stage for decades to come, so inevitably a collection featuring all of those games was going to make an impact.

But Ultimate Nintendo Remix is not some mere compilation of games you’ve already played (alright, “mere” compilations are some of my favorite games); no, Ultimate Nintendo Remix is the Nintendo’s greatest hits run through the WarioWare wringer and condensed into teeny ten second challenges. You can’t play “all” of Super Mario Bros, but you can play its first level after “learning” all the component pieces (like jumping, running, or mushroom acquisition) in concise, seconds-long “mini” stages. Each featured game, from Mario Bros. (the turtle based one [… and crabs]) to Wario’s Woods (ah, the days when Nintendo had no idea what to do with Wario), is sliced and diced into bits and pieces, and, if you can master those pieces, you can master the entire game.

Thus, Ultimate Nintendo Remix reveals more about game design than any course or manual ever could.

To return to Super Mario Bros. as the example du jour: SMB features Mario, a man that can walk, run, and jump. Mushrooms make Mario bigger, and fire flowers allow Mario to throw fireballs. There are a variety of enemies and obstacles in the world of SMB, and they must be avoided or Run along nowdefeated to progress. That’s… about it. On paper, that’s the entire game. In practice, though, there are hours of eclectic gameplay across eight different worlds all because those component pieces are properly rearranged and remixed to lead to all new challenges. Here’s a goomba. Here are two goombas together. Here are some pipes to leap around. Now we’ve got pipes with a hole between, and you’ll be dead if you miss your target. And just when you think you’ve got all this down, here are the Hammer Bros. to ruin your day. Everything splendidly assembles into a complete game, but all you’re really dealing with is a collection of toys spilling out of one basic toy box.

And that’s all a video game ever is. It’s a collection of skills that you learn in the early stages (whether they be literal tutorials or gradual difficulty ramps) applied to challenges that increase in both complexity and difficulty. Whether you’re playing Donkey Kong or Skyrim, it’s all the same: short challenges seamlessly pooled into one complex whole.

Video games are gestalts.

This is something that we’ve been subconsciously reinforcing in the gaming world for years. Even within UNR, the Kirby’s Adventure challenges are the most complex challenges on the collection, and it’s no coincidence that that game was also the final Nintendo 2-D action platformer on the NES. There’s a big difference between fighting Fry Guy in SMB2 (lift blocks, throw blocks) and Sun ‘n Moon in Kirby’s Adventure (inhale objects… now shoot ‘em back… or swallow to gain a new power? How do you effectively use that power? Eat 'em upCan you inhale two stars at once for extra firepower?), and that’s a big factor in why we still see very similar Kirby games today, while Mario has evolved well past the “proto” age of his pre-tanuki days. This complexity evolution continued into other games and genres, and each new “gaming trend” was merely a title finding a new way to solder on a new piece. Final Fantasy 7 added beautiful (for the time) cinematics and a complex story (as far as we could tell) to the typical JRPG template, and it lead to a generation of imitators. Grand Theft Auto 3 added a fully functioning (mostly) world between general level-to-level gameplay and forever changed the definition of “sandbox”. And the kicker is that all of these innovations were considered ground breaking and revolutionary at their release… and all they’ve ever been were slight upgrades over what had came before. All we’ve ever wanted from the future is the same basic movements applied to ever more intricate scenarios , and we’ve lauded every game that ever delivered the goods.

Ultimate Nintendo Remix makes this subliminal truth of gaming superliminal, and, more importantly, it makes the experience fun. Yes, you could easily claim that UNR is just there to train a whole new crop of gamers on the joys of Moblin slaying and Metroid hunting, and, yes, it’s no surprise that every game in Nobody ever saw thisthis collection may also be purchased in its entirety on the Virtual Console[citation needed], but what’s really important is what Nintendo is teaching “the next generation”. Considering many of these games were… what’s the proper term here? I want to say “gated”? Like, remember World 7 in Mario Bros.? No, of course you don’t, because it took forever to get there (even with warps), and there was no reason to ever bother. And if you lost your measly three lives on 7-2, the odds of ever seeing 7-3 were pretty slim, what with an annoying continue system and, again, why would you even care about 7-3? But with Ultimate Nintendo Remix, every important part of Super Mario Bros is diced up and, more importantly, easily available through a simple vertical menu. Continues? What are those? When every challenge is ten seconds, you can’t lose much progress. UNR breaks down the barriers of old. It’s all killer, no filler.

Ultimately (heh), that’s why Ultimate Nintendo Remix is so important. Without even trying, it imparts an important lesson about how video games work, and it makes it fun every step of the way. Even with games like Balloon Fight (everything but endless is boring) and Golf (always boring) there are fun experiences to be had, and this trojan horse of a lesson plan sneaks into another brain.

Ultimate Nintendo Remix is the games of yesterday played on the consoles of today for the people that will make our games tomorrow.

And I think that’s pretty important.

FGC #133 Ultimate Nintendo Remix

  • Who?System: NES Remix 1 & 2 are for the WiiU, while Ultimate Nintendo Remix is for the 3DS. For the purpose of this article, I’m rolling all the games into one big clump, because I can’t be arsed to remember which compilation contains which games.
  • Number of players: Two? That sound right? I’ve never actually played these games with someone else. There has to be some part of this thing that is 2P…
  • Port o’ Call: As mentioned, the various versions feature different games. NES Remix 1 & 2 combine to contain every game ever “remixed”, but Ultimate for the 3DS does the kindness of sticking all the best into one cart. I suppose NES Remix 2 and Ultimate NES Remix are the best versions, because neither of those games feature Urban Champion at all.
  • Remix: Like a lot of people, I admit that I was drawn into this franchise by the promise of “remixed” games, like the infamous trailer showing Link in the world of Donkey Kong. Even just the concept of Nintendo characters playing game-swap for a night makes me excited. That said, it seems like all the remixes in this game are fairly tame (the aforementioned Link in DK is just “Mario can’t jump”) or something that popped up in a later game anyway (oh boy, head to head Dr. Mario).
  • Favorite Remix: That said, I can’t describe the joy of Samus Aran rolling around the Mushroom Kingdom Subterranea collecting coins. Something about reforming SMB bricks feels so… right.
  • “Leave ‘em Wanting More” Featured Game: Why doesn’t Punch-Out!! have more challenges? I would buy an entire game that is just “Punch-Out Trainer”. Hell, I would pay double for something that taught me how to play Super Punch-Out!!…
  • Did you know? The remix that makes Kid Icarus (NES) operate like Kid Icarus of Myths and Monsters (Gameboy) with its weird sideways scrolling… literally makes me ill. I can’t tell you why, but it makes me queasy every time. Just thinking about it… ugh…
  • Would I play again? I’m kind of disappointed with myself for owning the physical version of the Ultimate NES Remix So wrongfor 3DS, because it would be a lot more ideal as something I could fire up any time (as opposed to only when I’ve slotted it in). That said, the WiiU versions get a lot of play for their “just there” factor. Come to think of it, if Nintendo ever gets into cell phone gaming in earnest, this should be their first release.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The Video Game. Get your cape on, old chum, it’s time to punch a gorilla! Please look forward to it!