Tag Archives: gradius

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

PENGUIN!In a world where Spider-Man isn’t popular enough to merit game preservation, what hope does an overweight penguin have?

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a supremely unusual game. Hailing from a time well before videogamin’ had codified itself into anything that made sense (you know, back when your next mascot creature could be an electric rat that hides in the forest), Yume Penguin Monogatari is the story of… a penguin. And that penguin has a girlfriend. But! Our hero penguin, Penta, has gotten fat. And previously mentioned penguin girlfriend, Penko, is not having it. So Penko dumps tubby Penta, and leaves him for Ginji, a nefarious penguin in a top hat and shades. Now Penta is setting out on a quest to lose some weight and reclaim the heart of Penko, but Ginji is on to Penta’s plans, and schemes to recruit an army of ridiculous creatures that all aim to fatten Penta back into obesity. So Penta has to find his way through six or so levels, and hopefully maintain a slim figure while battling monsters like a sentient/delicious birthday cake. It’s a hard life for an overweight penguin!

But, depending on how badly you want to see Penta achieve his chubby penguin dreams, it might not be a hard life for the player. Yume Penguin Monogatari features fairly unique gameplay for a NES (well, technically, Famicom) title: Penta cannot die. Get hit by every enemy across any given stage, and Penta will still survive. In a time when a mere life bar was a godsend, Penta is practically invincible compared to his dramatically more fragile 8-bit brethren. But, make no mistake, Penta is not going to experience a cakewalk (wait… dietwalk?) on his quest to cut out calories. Every stage features a generally unforgiving Here we go!timer, and, should the hourglass run out for Penta, it’s time to repeat the stage from the start. Additionally, every stage has a “diet goal”, and if Penta manages to beat the boss, but still looks terrible in a speedo, it’s back to the beginning. Considering every boss tosses out copious amounts of edibles, and Penta is an accomplished glutton, there is a very real possibility Penta will be forced to restart a stage due to excess flab. Said it before, say it again: it’s a hard life for an overweight penguin.

But, hard life or no, you’ll probably see the whole stage. Which is more than I can say for so many NES games…

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a Konami title. For Konami, much of the NES/SNES era was the epoch of the shoot ‘em up. Whether it was lil’ ships battling big cores, or lil’ dudes gunning down gigantic hearts, Konami had a number of titles available for satisfying your inalienable right to run around and shoot aliens. But the downside of nearly all of those titles? One hit kills. Assuming you don’t forsake your missiles and laserbeams for a shield immediately, the Vic Viper is going to fall to the forces of Bacterion after the slightest tap from a… one of those roundy things at the start of a stage. They probably have a name. Or Contra! The greatest game of all time that absolutely required a cheat code or you were never going to make it to the third level! Bill and Lance might be heroes of an alien invasion, but they’re just as vulnerable to bullets as weird dudes with backpacks. Basically, back in the day of 8-bit heroes, if you saw the final stage of a game (or even the boss of approximately the fourth level), it meant that you had a nigh-superhuman level of reflexes, or the ability to memorize a level like nobody’s business. I don’t care if Nintendo Power was helping you out with maps, you still had to have some major skills to make it to the end without that precious Konami Code.

CAKE BOSSAnd Yume Penguin Monogatari feels like it may be an answer to all those crying Nintendo kids. Yes, thanks to the timer and weight requirements, it may be impossible for some people to beat even the first level, left alone finish the entire game; but will everyone be able to see the majority of level 1? It’s pretty likely! Penta merely “trips” or inflates to bulbous size when attacked by an enemy, and is not immediately obliterated like so many Gradius defenders. And that’s great! The worst part of any of those one-hit kill games (or games that require a continue after rapidly vanishing “lives”) is that it was nearly impossible to be prepared for the end of a level. People expect increasing difficulty, so it’s only natural that the end of the stage would be the most challenging section. But if you spent all your lives on the initial, “easy” bits (because you’re, ya know, an eight year old just trying to have fun), then the finale is simply going to be a swift kick in the teeth before getting booted back to the beginning. In Yume Penguin Monogatari, however, you actually have a chance. Yes, Penta might be waddling along at maximum fat levels, and it might be abundantly clear that he’s going to get his tubby tail feathers dumped at the end of the stage, but at least you get to see what’s at the end of the stage. At least you get to play the actual game, as opposed to simply being annihilated at the starting gate. At least you can learn from your mistakes, and not be completely blindsided/destroyed by some manner of pig-zeppelin at the end of the level.

FLAP FLAPAnd, thankfully, this helps the player learn how to play the game. There may be traps and pitfalls all over the level, but with the ability to play the whole level, a player is going to get better and better with every run. All effort won’t be expended immediately just in an effort to conquer the start, and practice can make perfect across the entire breadth of a stage. In short, in one silly “fat penguin” game, Konami cracked the “difficulty appropriate for everyone” nut in 1991.

And then no one in America ever got to play the game, because it was never localized.

And, likely because it had the global appeal of… well… an overweight penguin, Yume Penguin Monogatari only ever saw rerelease in 2006, on the i-Revo… and I have no idea what that is. Some kind of smart phone? Smart TV? Smart penguin? No matter. Point is that this penguin adventure isn’t something that can legally be played in any country where there is currently an ongoing debate on the nature of videogame difficulty.

Yume Penguin Monogatari is an excellent, fun, weird game with some interesting twists on videogame difficulty…

And it’s lost forever.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

  • System: NES… or Nintendo Famicom. And, as previously mentioned, whatever the hell an “i-Revo” is.
  • Number of players: Oh lawd, one penguin comin’.
  • Everything you know is wrong: Considering the goal of many videogames (and nearly all NES games) is to consume as many food items as possible, it is really weird playing any game where you must avoid, say, succulent apples and enchanting rice cakes. The fact that apples are anything but a diet item pretty much goes against everything I have ever learned.
  • WeeeeeeLet’s talk about fat, baby: One could make the argument that this game is anti-fat, and ultimately body-shaming. And it is! On the other hand, being fat doesn’t kill Penta, it simply is the reason his girlfriend is going to leave him for another, slimmer penguin. So think of the moral less that “fat is bad” and more “some penguins are superficial, and will make you pilot magical planes to satisfy their own twisted desires”.
  • An end: Oh, and after defeating the final boss (it’s the bad alterna-boyfriend, natch), the ending is a now slim Penta hanging with the pleased Penko. But now Penko has developed an eating disorder, and she bulks up to gargantuan size. Ha ha! You two silly penguins are bad for each other!
  • Did you know? Pentarou, the penguin of Parodius titles, is supposedly Penta’s son. So I guess it is canon that Penta and Penko shake their collective penguin booty after the finale.
  • Would I play again: This is a great game! It would probably be right up there with Kirby’s Adventure and other late, great NES titles if, ya know, there was a legit way to play it.

What’s next? In the name of the moon, I will write about another forgotten videogame. Please look forward to it!

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FGC #111 Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits

As you may already be aware, every game featured in the FGC is a game I already own. With that fact in mind, it’s no surprise that, given I already purchased the featured game for some reason, I have an idea for most articles before I even pick up the controller (or DS, in this case). Heck, some of my favorite articles are based on ideas I’ve had kicking around my head for ten years (see Ocarina of Time), and the FGC is just an excuse to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?).

So when ROB rolled in Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits I already had a plan in mind. KCS:AH is a compilation of Konami arcade games from the 80’s, so I’d pick one obscure title out of the fifteen (Circus Charlie was looking pretty tempting), write up some silly “where are they now?” screed, and knock off early, maybe try to win that game of tug o’ war I’ve been playing with a tree. But then I played the game, cycled through hits like Contra and Gradius, descended into lesser known titles like Time Pilot and Horror Maze, and… well… I think I blame the presentation for my change of heart.

See, each title scrolls through this little wheely gear thing, and there’s the year each game was published right there on the side. Scramble, a spiritual if not literal ancestor of Gradius, is the oldest game in the compilation, and it was published in 1981. Contra is the youngest game, and it hit arcades in 1987. The compilation itself, the “game” I was playing, arrived on the DS twenty years later, in 2007. That means that, in a little over 25 years, technology improved juuuuuust a tweak.

This is something that many gamers, particularly “experienced” gamers, take for granted. I know I do. I’ve said it before, but I feel Still looks wronglucky to have grown up with gaming. The Atari, with its one big stick and one shiny button, was practically my pacifier (full disclosure: that may be literal, as I may have chewed on an Atari stick or two… I’m moderately certain I was a puppy during my early years). The Nintendo Entertainment System was the first console that was “mine” (the Atari was my grandfather’s), and that went from simple, one-screen affairs like Popeye and Duck Hunt to more robust gaming experiences like Castlevania 3 and Super Mario Bros. 3. I matured with the deeper plots of Final Fantasy 6 and Breath of Fire 2 on the SNES, and even played Xenogears just in time to be an angsty teenager about it. Nobody understands how important and meaningful this story about giant robots fighting a slug is, man. College brought a glut of systems with four controller ports, so getting drunk and Smash Bros’ing around was the norm. Hell, Sega’s loss was my gain with the Dreamcast offering a very affordable, very fun library to a broke college kid. And, as I’ve grown older and friends have much less time to stay up until 3 am playing Rock Band, online play has usurped the need to assemble everyone on the couch. Yeah, it’s cool that you have to look after your daughter, but we can get in a few rounds online when you’ve got some downtime. And never mind recent (“recent”) releases like Nier, which deconstruct the tropes of the medium and may as well ship with a box quote that reads, “Been playing video games for years? This one is for you!” It seems wildly narcissistic, but there are times I feel like video games have been catering exclusively to me since I was approximately five.

As absurd as that sounds, it’s not entirely wrong. “The industry” ain’t stupid, and the people in charge know there is an entire I'm almost certain...generation of people that grew up combing through Nintendo Power and watching The Wizard, so just like you can film two hours of explosions, slap an “official Transformers product” sticker on it, and make billions of dollars, you can announce a revival of… let’s say… Clayfighter, and there’s an entire baked-in audience doing your marketing for you. From a less exploitative perspective, though, knowledge of the “gamer generation” has to have influenced hardware and software manufacturers alike. I have no hard evidence that systems around the turn of the 21st Century were aimed at the college kids who grew up on the Nintendo, but it seems like more than a coincidence that the Dreamcast, Gamecube, and Xbox were all so dorm friendly and released within a few years of each other.

But it’s that subtle kind of narcissism that makes us miss how technology has actually changed over the years. With rumors of the current console generation starting to adopt Sega CD-esque half measures, technology is once again at a point that it’s moving too fast for the average consumer. Like around a decade ago, the old standard of “it’s obsolete before you get it out of the box” seems to be making a comeback, and buying the latest, greatest gaming PC (or, apparently, game console) is a fool’s errand. Not only is something better due to come out next week, it’ll be at half price within the month. For some, though, that thinking has never abated. It's relevantTechnology advances at the speed of thought, and it’s always been that way, and it’s always going to be that way. Water is wet, technology marches on.

Like the beach that has eroded so slowly that we can’t even remember how far it once extended, we don’t notice just how far we’ve come. Konami was cutting edge in the arcades of the 80s and 90s, because you couldn’t be anything else and survive. If your cabinet’s attract mode only included six colors and abstract shapes that were supposed to be dragons, you were going to be out of business ten seconds after the cabinet across the aisle boasted donkeys that may have been monkeys. This compilation features six years of Konami history, and it shows the evolution from games that could practically be carved out of stone (Pooyan) , to games that we would consider complete today (albeit graphically “retro”), like Contra. In six years, “gaming” as we know it went from “graduated pinball machines” to the medium we know and love today.

And then we have the jump to the DS compilation. Given the larger timeframe involved, this one doesn’t seem quite so dramatic, but that’s probably more a fault of interest than technology. What’s important here is that, after three presidents, what was the absolute pinnacle of technology has become something that is crammed in with fourteen similar titles, stuck on a portable device, and is now playable anywhere on Earth. What once was shackled to an arcade cabinet heavy enough to perform a crushing Mortal Kombat fatality now fits on a cart the size of your thumbnail.

And it all happened as a matter of course. Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits probably wasn’t even the only portable compilation of retro games released that month, left alone that year. Now, with download services on every gaming system, a “new” retro game drops for a couple of dollars every other week. It’s the way of things, it’s just companies trying to make a buck on their rotting IPs, and, while we might not see a new Gradius any time soon, there’s a whole flock of aging nerds that will buy up that retro release every time. They’re preying on our poor nostalgic wallets!

But maybe the next time Bill Rizor asks you for another three Washingtons, consider what it took for the world to get here. What was once a luxury item that could only be “owned” by Damn clownssomeone with a successful business (the rest of us had to rent, one quarter at a time) can now be played infinitely for less than the cost of the Sunday paper. It can be downloaded in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Yes, those are just the modern conveniences of a modern age, but thirty years ago, it would have been as inconceivable as invading aliens.

The world is only getting better, and it’s getting better one Circus Charlie at a time.

FGC #111 Konami Classics Series: Arcade Hits

  • System: Nintendo DS for the collection. Technically, all of these games are arcade games, so maybe that qualifies?
  • Number of players: 2, but only with local connections. Actually, any internet features would likely be defunct by now anyway, so I guess that one is a wash.
  • M2: Incidentally, this whole collection was developed by M2, absolute wizards of emulation that are also responsible for the current Sega 3-D Classics rereleases. Oh, also that Monster World collection. Them’s some good games right there, I tell you what.
  • Favorite Game (in the collection): Look, it’s Contra. It was always going to be Contra. It’s just different enough from NES Contra to be interesting, but it’s still Contra, so Contra Contra Contra.
  • “Arcade” Games: Come to think of it, the Contra Arcade Cabinet I saw most was at the local supermarket, just chilling by the exit for most of my childhood. PoohBecause she knew she’d never see me again, my mother only ever gave me a lifetime total of maybe a dollar to play that game. “You have that same game at home, you don’t need to play it here!”
  • Did you know? Tutankham and Super Basketball both had their names changed to Horror Maze and Basketball, respectively, for this release. I can see how Super Basketball probably interferes with some copyright for a random SNES game, but I have come up empty on Tutankham having a rival for the crown. Maybe they just didn’t want to piss off their mummy.
  • Would I play again: I would… but I can play what I want to play from this collection on other portable platforms now, mostly Vita. I’m all for high-fidelity ports, but I’m even more for not having to switch a cartridge out of my 3DS.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… oh ho ho. We’ve got a Mega Man game in the pipeline. I know better than to even mention which Mega Man game, because that kind of thing always leads to people making lists and debating noses and what have you, so you’ll have to come back Friday to see which Mega Man game ROB chose. Here’s a hint: it features the OG blue bomber, and there may be some blues, too. Please look forward to it!

FGC #012 Otomedius Excellent

To everything, turn turn turnOur culture has a problem with death. Obviously, it is a fundamental aspect of being alive to fear death. You may even say it is something of an evolutionary imperative, as every single one of your ancestors lived at least long enough to survive some aspect of puberty, which, if my experience is correct, can last as long as thirty years. Nothing would get done if everyone was dying all the time, which is also why no one ever visits the Fire Planes of Kratok, or the Dread Island of Dr. Lasereverything.

But beyond a personal fear of death, we, as a society, seem to fear the death of others equally. It’s only natural to mourn the passing of a beloved grandparent, or even weep at the thought of losing someone close, no matter what the circumstances. There’s a kind of hope in living, some irrationality that makes us believe that even though Missy the Cat is missing three limbs, 1.5 eyes, her tail, and is starting to smell a bit unusual, maybe she’s going to pull through, and we’ll have our adorable little fluff ball back. It’s absurd from a rational perspective, but dealing with death can almost never be coherent, and witness any “death with dignity” debate to see just how heated convictions can become on this topic. We see death as a threat, and rarely as a mercy.

So it’s only natural that we apply this same brand of thinking to imaginary entities. Done right, death in media can be poignant and lasting, even in a medium like movies where, technically, every single character is effectively erased from existence within an hour and a half, but who can forget the death of REDACTED in REDACTED? On the other side of the coin, there’s “comic book death”, wherein a character that has lasted for six decades is dead now, totally completely dead (otherwise the issue wouldn’t have an entirely black cover with just the logo [and price tag]), and, make no mistake, this character is gone forever, please care, and we totally swear he’s not going to be back in eight months in a thrilling, six part trade. It’s, again, irrational, but it seems to work, as comic book companies report major sales every time they kill Spider-Man or Batman or whoever is hopping into the threshing machine this week. It’s death, so it matters.

Pixels the size of golf ballsAnd then there’s the most slippery of all deaths: the death of an idea. It has been said time and time again, by revolutionaries and rulers, that you cannot kill an idea. No matter what, as long as someone thinks it, as long as some ancient grimoire survives, an idea will live on. But ideas in the modern era have become IPs, and people, particularly gamers, are attached to these “ideas”. Ask any Mega Man fan, and you will likely hear a lament regarding the death of the Blue Bomber. If this happens to you, literally slap them in the face, and remind them that in approximately a year’s time, we’ve seen Mega Man the character join one of the most popular franchises of all time, the game series itself wrapped into a brand new, affordable six game set for the newest generation of consoles, and games like Shovel Knight and Mighty No. 9 carrying on the spirit of the little metal boy’s gameplay. But, boo hoo, we haven’t seen Mega Man 11 or Mega Man X9 or Mega Man ZYX Battle Force 4: Purple Flaming Skull of Wily. Ideas, and even IPs, are undead, like Castlevania’s own Dracula, all just biding their time until it’s decided they’ll turn a profit again. Mark my words, if Little Mac can reenter the ring, then we’ll see Master Higgins waddling across the islands again.

But “death” is still scary for us, and if “the public” doesn’t deal well with death, then what of our corporate overlords? Surely they can’t just sit idly by and watch the likes of Gradius or Castlevania fade into memory, supporting only pachinko machines and waiting for some VP twenty years down the line asking “Oh, whatever happened to…” Even if franchises like Parodius don’t sell, there must be a way to transform those precious ideas into earnings, right?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Otomedius Excelllent, the greatest evidence for the concept of IP death with dignity I can find.

Right off the bat, the gameplay here is Gradius. Straight-up Gradius: collect powerups, grab your speed-up, missles, laser (screw you, double), options, and force field, battle in space against weird lines of balls and then on a “planet” of some kind, reach the boss, destroy the core, live, die, repeat. There is practically nothing, from a level to level perspective, that differentiates this game from Gradius. And, to be absolutely clear, this is not a franchise published by some newcomer lawyer dodger that is just aping the original: this is Konami, the originators of Gradius. Konami made a Gradius game, and didn’t call it Gradius. Why?

Look away!Because Vic Vipers don’t go to Heaven.

It’s a known fact that there’s a lucrative “pervert” market in Japan. I mean, let’s not mince words here, there’s a place for porn in every society, it’s not like there isn’t a dildo factory or two hanging around the USA, we just have different kinks. The Land of the Free will keep pumping out games with Greek Murder Gods going for hot coffee with random wenches, and Japan is going to keep producing games for the otaku that eat up underdressed school girls having whacky adventures and often finding themselves comparing bust sizes in hot springs. … Man, come to think of it, I thought my own kinks were oddly specific, but what got an entire subculture hung up on the same stupid beach episodes over and over again?

However it happened, it happened, and it doesn’t seem to be going away, as indicated by that copy of Omega Quintet I purchased last month while I was drunk, I swear, you can’t prove anything. Er-hem. So Konami had the bright idea to solder the teen girl squad dynamic onto Gradius, and, poof, here’s Otomedius Excelllent, it’s like that game you used to play, but bubblegum colored and every time you beat the game, you unlock more and more embarrassing photos of the pilots in various states of undress. It’s the best of no worlds!

Nothing about this is okayKonami couldn’t stop at Gradius, though, the rest of the cast and some locations feature significant references to Parodius, Castlevania, and even Ganbare Goemon (Mystical Ninja, for those of you… no, never mind, if you remember Mystical Ninja at all, you know its Japanese name. Why did I think otherwise?). That’s right, folks, the last anyone saw of a 2-D Belmont was in a magical girl Gradius game. Got your Battle of 1999 right here, guys!

It’s a strange thing, too, as one of my most cherished franchises is Super Smash Bros., which takes a similar “kitchen sink” approach to disparate franchises and characters, but creates an air of reverence and admiration for its cast, as opposed to what we see here, where the order of the day seems to be to transform icons into teenage girls and stick ‘em in bloomers. Make no mistake, no one is reviving Goemon here because there’s a genuine love for the parent franchise, it’s because, hey, you know what IP we have laying around? Goemon! Let’s design some DLC based on that! And Ebisumaru dies a little more inside. Or farts. He probably farts.

So why do I even own this game that clearly sickens me? Because it is Gradius. As I’ve mentioned, it plays like Gradius, I enjoy Gradius, so I’m going to keep playing it. Sad confession? This is probably one of my most played Xbox 360 games, and exclusively because (we’ve covered this) I like Gradius. It’s fun, it’s “pick up and play”, and I can complete an entire game session inside of an hour or so. When I just want to “play a video game” but still want to avoid getting involved in some forty hour plot or going online and getting my ass whopped by some frame-memorizing savant, I just fire up Gradius… I mean… Otomedius Excelllent, and bust up a few big cores.

Tanuki!According the Wikipedia, the most recent Gradius game released is a 2011 slot machine. Predominantly, the world of shooters now is the likes of Geometry Wars and twin stick shooters, which, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy, but they’re not Gradius. I could just go back to Gradius V, but Otomedius Excelllent does PLAY well, the only issue is it just embarrasses every fiber of my being. I don’t believe Gradius is dead, it’s just enjoying a respite beneath a hill in Avalon, waiting to awaken one day when we are most in need. But in the meanwhile, perhaps we can just let the king rest, build a few more empires in his absence, and let Vic Viper’s return be a celebrated event.

But can we avoid digging up a corpse and sticking a skirt on it. Please?

FGC #12 Otomedius Excelllent

  • System: Xbox 360, which seems wrong, but there it is.
  • Number of Players: 3, though I’ve never been able to admit to another living soul that I own this game. Incidentally, this blog will self destruct in three minutes.
  • Love ya, Konami LadyBest Pilot: Erul Tron, pilot of Lord British. Everytime I remind myself that I can recall this information at will, it feels like there are spiders crawling all over me.
  • But Tell Us How You Really Feel: Honestly, the idea of a “little” Gradius craft is kind of a fun concept. There’s a level that involves racing along a highway, and you’re no bigger than cars; later, there’s a boss that is an “original” Big Core Gradius boss that now completely dwarfs your avatar. It’s really clever for a game that couldn’t be more otaku bait if it included a Vocaloid.
  • Don’t You Own All the US released Vocaloid Games? I like rhythm games. Shut-up.
  • Did You Know? The “Special Edition” is, as of this writing, still available for less than a Jackson on Amazon.com. The Special Edition includes the game, a soundtrack, an art book, a two sided pillow case, and, for absolutely no additional charge, the sound of me silently judging you from afar. It resonates with disappointment.
  • Would I play again? Yeah… (Goggle Bob looks at the floor, forlorn) Yeah…

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the original, Genesis version, for the record. I don’t understand, though, why isn’t Big the Cat in this game? Oh well. Please look forward to it!