Tag Archives: history

MKK: Quan Chi

This is going to be difficult to explain to people in the year of our Raiden 2019, but Mortal Kombat went through the strangest metamorphosis between its initial release and the finale of Mortal Kombat 3 four years later. At launch, Mortal Kombat (1) was a revelation that not only lit the arcades ablaze like a thousand flaming skulls, but also was featured nigh-nightly on the evening news during segments that warned us all of “mature content” and the vicious seduction of our innocent children. Mortal Kombat was an arcade smash and the scariest goddamned thing in the world. Contrast this with 1996, when Mortal Kombat Trilogy was hitting home consoles. At this point, we had…

He's on fire!

• Mortal Kombat cameos across the board
• The wildly successful Mortal Kombat movie
• Various Mortal Kombat comics, some directly from the franchise creators
• Mortal Kombat being the featured game on roughly every game/cheat magazine every other month
• The Mortal Kombat animated series, Defenders of the Realm
• Mortal Kombat action figure lines, including one set that was meant to scale with contemporary GI Joes
• And, of course, freaking events that accompanied every Mortal Kombat console release. It’s arguable that the release of the original Mortal Kombat on consoles, “Mortal Monday”, introduced a generation to the very concept of videogames having release dates (as opposed to weird hunks of plastic that were clearly just teleported into stores randomly from the future)

In short, Mortal Kombat went from being some dingy tech demo fighting game to the root of all evil to, eventually, a mainstay at toy stores across the country. Mortal Kombat had become arguably the face of gaming by 1996.

So you’ll forgive the curators of Mortal Kombat for believing they could do no wrong. You’ll have to forgive them for Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero.

On paper, this could have been a thing of beauty. The concept was simple: Mortal Kombat has a robust kast with interesting and complex “mythologies”, so why not produce some games that focus on non-fighting tournament based events? Not every problem can be solved by a round robin round of roundhouses, after all. And while we’re at it, let’s see if this “mythology” can tie into the inevitably convoluted backstory for the next “real” Mortal Kombat title. How much better would Shao Kahn be if you knew his whole deal before he popped out of nowhere in Mortal Kombat 2? So much better! One would assume! (Incorrectly!)

Unfortunately, MKM:S was not to be a beautiful unicorn, but more of a three-legged donkey that has been rolling in shit all day while another, fatter donkey stood there shouting MAGA slogans and various homophobic slurs. The gameplay of MKM:S was predominantly based on “what if exactly the same controls as a fighting game”, which could have worked for more of a beat ‘em up, but was absolutely abhorrent in what is essentially a 2-D platformer. Frankly, any game where you need to press a button to turn around should be fired directly into the sun (looking at you, Guilty Gear: Isuka). And couple the general stiffness that already exists in Mortal Kombat with a nigh-infinite gauntlet of instant kill traps, and the whole experience just…

That sucked

Falls flat.

And in further ill-advised developments, the good folks behind Mortal Kombat decided to go a step further past digitized human actor sprites, and hire for-real human actors to act out the important plot beats of Mythology. Regrettably, this created a sort of reverse uncanny valley effect. When you see Sub-Zero as a little digitized fighter, that’s cool, there’s Sub-Zero, he’s going to take someone’s head off, and it’s going to work out. When you see that “same” Sub-Zero as a real-life FMV person in a cutscene… uh… what am I looking at here? That’s not Sub-Zero! That’s just some dumpy dude wearing a Sub-Zero costume! And I don’t think I need to tell anyone that Playstation 1-era videogame actors were maybe not the best at selling a story. In short, in a time when “immersion” was starting to become gaming’s latest buzzword, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero did its level best to practically insult the player for investing in Mortal Kombat (mythologies).

And amid all this, this is how we were introduced to Quan Chi.

This jerk

First of all, of all the kharacters introduced after Mortal Kombat 3, Quan Chi looks to be the most relevant and reoccurring. This seems to indicate that someone in the Mortal Kombatorium (where all Mortal Kombat games are made) really likes the guy. Maybe a member of the KISS Army saved Ed Boon’s life? I don’t know. Whatever the case, Quan Chi was the marquee fighter for Mortal Kombat 4, the star of MK:MS, and a frequently recurring antagonist in nearly every following Mortal Kombat title. He was slated to be DLC (with Harley Quinn!) in MK vs. DC, and he even technically premiered not in Mythologies, but as a guest villain on the animated series. He was a little off model (albeit like every MK: Defenders of Realm character), and he had a Megatronian plan to infect all the heroes with a rage virus or something to make them all fight for no reason (like… every Mortal Kombat… huh), but he was still essentially the “evil wizard” Quan Chi right from the get-go. Quan Chi is somebody’s favorite fighter in the franchise.

But you wouldn’t know that from watching MK:MS. Again, on paper, we’ve got a pretty cool customer. Quan Chi was a wizard, and, like most wizards, he needed some magical doodads for, I dunno, turning someone into a toad or whatever. Wizards are a naturally lazy bunch (you ever seen a wizard mowing the lawn?), so he hired a pair of rival ninja(esque) guilds to go and find his trinkets. Sub-Zero of the Lin Kuei not only completed the assigned task, but also murdered his rival along the way. As an extra special thank you for a job well done, Quan Chi completely obliterated the rival ninja clan, and maybe picked up a spare vengeance skeleton along the way. So, to be clear for future retkons: the final answer here is that Quan Chi murdered Scorpion’s family, and Sub-Zero only kinda inspired it. Please get your retribution right, Scorpion.

Anywho, Sub-Zero wound up with Quan Chi’s ultimate goal, a magical amulet, and dutifully handed it over to the wizard. At this point, the chalk-white wizard with freaking spikes growing out of his shoulders revealed that, gasp, he’s totally an evil wizard, and Sub-Zero was tricked into helping Quan Chi revive an ancient evil god known as Shinnok. Quan Chi escaped to Hell, and Sub-Zero followed after Raiden explained that an ancient evil god running around would be a terrible thing for the assassination business. People would be getting murdered for nothing!

So, naturally, Sub-Zero ventured down to the Netherrealm, eventually defeated Quan Chi and the divine Shinnok, and saved the day. How could an evil god empowered by his extra-special magical amulet be defeated by a mere ice ninja? Simple! Quan Chi kept the real magical amulet for himself! Oh, that rascally Quan Chi! He’ll be the death of us all!

Anywho, this cool and calculating wizard was played by the same dude as Kano, so maybe his real cunning didn’t exactly come across in his initial premiere…

This jerk

And then that brought us up to Mortal Kombat 4. Nobody liked Mortal Kombat 4.

Again, Mortal Kombat as a brand was riding high after the release of Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Unfortunately, this was also the era when games “had to” upgrade to 3-D. The old days of 2-D were dead and gone, and the mere concept that 2-D games could exist alongside their pointy colleagues was insane. Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Battle Arena Toshinden (of all things!) were defining what fighting games could be, and Mortal Kombat wanted a piece of that sweet, polygonal pie. Thus, Mortal Kombat 4 forsook the realistic 2-D models of the olden days, and elevated the whole kast to the third dimension.

Unfortunately, nobody had a damn clue how to translate the actual Mortal Kombat gameplay to 3-D, so… woof, man. Just woof.

As previously noted, Quan Chi was the marquee kharacter of Mortal Kombat 4, as he was featured in all advertising and was plastered over the side of every Mortal Kombat 4 arcade machine. Oddly, though, he didn’t have much to actually do in Mortal Kombat 4. Shinnok was the final boss, and Goro popped up again as the sub-boss. Quan Chi was just kind of… there. He did feature prominently in a few endings, though, like when Scorpion discovered ol’ Quan was responsible for killing his family, or when Quan Chi stood over a defeated Shinnok and finally revealed that he had been holding on to the real, actually useful magical amulet this whole time. You’d think that last reveal would just be an excuse to explain why the toady defeated the master in a completely fantastical ending, but, nope, that winds up being kanon for the rest of the franchise. The finale of MK4 sees Shinnok and Quan Chi failing, but Quan Chi does manage to hold onto an amulet of unimaginable/ill-defined power. Score!

Unfortunately, unlike Quan Chi, Mortal Kombat as a cultural juggernaut could not survive its failures. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero killed some good will. Mortal Kombat 4 killed even more. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was a movie made specifically for fans of the convoluted Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but, give or take some horse punching, it was an abject failure for all but the most dedicated of ninja enthusiasts. The next attempted “Mythologies” title, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces: Starring Jax and Only Jax, was the final nail in the Mortal Kombat coffin (koffin). The Mortal Kombat franchise not only never saw a release on the Playstation/N64 console generation again, it also saw John Tobias, co-creator of MK and godfather to Noob Saibot, leave the franchise. Mortal Kombat as we knew it was gone. Mortal Kombat could return, but it would be a different animal. It would have to be.

And then Mortal Kombat returned in a totally new form on the Playstation 2 as Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. And, as if to tell us that nothing had ever been learned, there was Quan Chi with his bone-licking grin, smiling back at us as the final boss. You crash the entire franchise (twice!), and you get promoted! Clearly, Quan Chi is the whitest of the MK fighters.

This jerk

At least Quan Chi suffered a little for participating in some horrible titles. Scorpion’s MK4 ending turned out to be kanon, and he dragged Quan Chi to Hell for a substantial torture session. Given Scorpion isn’t all that great at psychological torment (he’s more of a zoning guy), you kind of have to assume this punishment involved a lot of uppercuts. A lot. Eventually, Quan Chi remembered, duh, he’s got an amulet of unspeakable power, and, with the aid of a pair of oni, he escaped the Netherrealm to discover the Tomb of the Dragon King. Thus, Quan Chi recruited Shang Tsung, formed the Deadly Alliance, and successfully killed Liu Kang, Shao Kahn (sorta), Kung Lao, Kitana, Sonya Blade, Jax, and probably severely wounded Stryker with an errant flaming skull. Having won literally everything, the Deadly Alliance inevitably fell apart when Shang Tsung gave Quan Chi the side-eye for like a second, and thus a big ol’ wizard fight broke out. Quan Chi emerged victorious, and likely would have ruled the realms had the Dragon King not shown up and wiped the floor with the survivors (who were not survivors for very much longer). Quan Chi himself saw Raiden powering up for an apocalyptic suicide blast, and decided to hightail it out of there to realms unknown. As a result, Quan Chi did not participate in Mortal Kombat: Deception, though in-game data shows that he was intended for the title, but must have been cut at the last moment. Someone finally acknowledged that we all needed a break from Quan Chi.

Quan Chi makes a comeback in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, though, and is responsible for the networking mixer that eventually pulls all the final bosses across MK onto the same side (though everyone was disappointed that Goro only brought a cheese plate). This, of course, leads to every villain betraying every other villain simultaneously, and Shao Kahn is the ultimate victor of that “alliance”. And, as we all know, this leads to everyone being dead, and the universe being rebooted again. (Though with a brief sojourn in the DC Universe, where, despite not being a playable kharacter, Quan Chi still manages to have a significant impact on the plot.)

This jerk

Mortal Kombat 9 was a reboot of the original Mortal Kombat Trilogy, so you might think we’d be free of Quan Chi, who did not appear during that time. And you’d be wrong! Quan Chi is the only (non DLC) fighter to appear in MK9 that was not in the original trilogy. Despite there being no explanation for such a shift in the timeline, Quan Chi has now been retkonned into being right there from the start, appearing as undead Scorpion’s manager in the original tournament. Yes, Quan Chi was apparently the Don King to Scorpion’s Mike Tyson. And when Scorpion has second thoughts about biting off Sub-Zero’s ear, Quan Chi is there to show Scorpion a PowerPoint presentation about how Subs called Scorpion’s mama fat. Thus, Quan Chi gains an undead Sub-Zero as his newest Noob, and everything is going according to plan, bwa ha ha and whatnot.

Quan Chi generally hangs around Shao Kahn’s posse, and is even responsible for reviving Shao Kahn and Sindel at the finale of nu-MK2. And then, during MK3, his big plan is finally revealed: he just wants to see the world burn. Or die. Apparently if you die in Mortal Kombat, you become a member of Quan Chi’s undead army, because QC set up a net on life’s drain or something. Quan Chi is thus now the leader of an army that includes practically everyone that died in the three Mortal Kombat tournaments… which, in this timeline, is practically everyone. Except Motaro. Motaro is dead, and he is going to stay dead. Forever.

At the point that he has literally won everything he ever wanted, Quan Chi bows out of Mortal Kombat 9, and a very lonely Raiden is left to deal with Shao Kahn. So Quan Chi returns in Mortal Kombat 10 for a redux of Mortal Kombat 4: Shinnok and Quan Chi are invading the realms, and the only hero left to oppose their tyranny is… Johnny Cage. Huh. But he (inexplicably) wins! Shinnok is beaten back into his own magical amulet during the opening of MK10, and Quan Chi is stuck (once again) trying to find a way to revive his master. At least he still has like 60% of his undead army to keep him company.

This jerk

Unfortunately for Quan Chi (I love typing that), it’s not easy being a masterless evil wizard. Quan Chi is soundly beaten by Sonya in a random raid, and loses control of (undead) Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Jax. Then, he has to recruit a gross bug lady to sneak around Outworld and steal back his (kinda his) super amulet. Then he’s captured by the Special Forces, and it’s revealed that Quan Chi is now less “evil wizard” and is closer to “marginally magical hobo”. And then it’s all over when (currently alive) Scorpion gets wind of the fact that the dude that killed his family is locked up in a cell, and decapitates the sorcerer on sight. But! Gross Bug Lady did manage to get the amulet to Quan Chi just in the nick of time, and Shinnok is revived before QC completely loses his head. Quan Chi dies as he lived, wholly and unwaveringly dedicated to Shinnok. Which is only, ya know, the complete opposite of his personality in the other timeline. Maybe he read a particularly engrossing Shinnok Tract in this timeline?

Regardless, Quan Chi is dead and buried for Mortal Kombat 11, so he’s apparently not coming back. Good riddance to bad rubbish, you franchise-killing monster. Inevitably see you next game!

This jerk


Next time: Netherrealm politics

FGC #462 Soulcalibur 6

The soul is up to somethingWho is Soulcalibur 6 for?

Okay, it’s for fighting game players. It’s a great fighting game! But let’s ask the important question: who is Soulcalibur 6’s story for?

Soul Edge/Blade started with a remarkably simple plot: there’s a super powerful sword, it’s super evil, and a ghost pirate done got his hands on it. Everybody fight! Maybe your character wants the sword for their own evil desires, maybe they want to destroy the sword, or maybe they’re just an S&M daddy that wants a new toy. Whatever the case, Soul Edge had a straightforward story with clear, understandable motivations for the fighters. Soulcalibur, Soul Edge’s sequel and the first official Soulcalibur game, picked up the story from Soul Edge’s logical endpoint: one hero succeeded in shattering the evil blade, but one villain grabbed the other half. Now there’s a demon knight running around with a damaged super weapon, and some rejects from Journey to the West are doing their best to deliver the secret good version of Soul Edge (the titular Soul Calibur) straight into that Nightmare’s heart. And they succeeded! And that’s the very moment things got stagnant.

The Soulcalibur franchise fell into the same trap as many of its fighting game contemporaries. Apparently, once you hit the sequel, you firm up your final boss, and you constantly warp the plot around that character whether it makes the tiniest bit of sense or not. Street Fighter 2 gave us M. Bison, the dictator that revives for the finale of every other Street Fighter adventure. Shao Kahn surfaced with Mortal Kombat 2, and his abs won the award for most present final boss in the franchise. Even Soulcalibur’s sister series, Tekken, introduced Devil Kazuya with its second installment, and that damn “devil gene” has been driving the plot (nowhere) ever since. It’s a weird coincidence, but it seems that the second installment in many fighting game franchises focuses on a villain that must A. be killed and B. return endlessly. And any X-Men fan can tell you that you can only come back from the dead so many times before the plot starts to get a little stale.

This gonna be goodBut come back from the dead is exactly what Nightmare did in Soulcalibur 2. Nightmare was vanquished during the finale of SC, but, four years later, he got better, and Siggy was forced to once again rampage across the countryside while the usual suspects stabbed him a whole bunch. Soulcalibur 3 saw Nightmare return again, but this time there was an immortal older dude who knew more about the history of Soul Edge than any of the usual players, so his “possessed form” was promoted to final boss. Soulcalibur 4 saw Nightmare return again, but this time there was an even older immortal older dude who knew more about the history of Soul Edge than any of the usual players, so he was promoted to final boss. Hrm, seem to be in a bit of a rut here, so let’s see if Soulcalibur 5 can squeeze in some new material.

Soulcalibur 5 turned the entire paradigm on its head. Yes, Nightmare/Soul Edge was still ultimately the source of everyone’s woes, but the storyline generally focused on the war between the children of Sophitia, a heroine that had been around since the first adventure. It seems one of her kids was a little bit possessed by evil, and her other child was a little possessed by being a prat. And, unfortunately, the fate of the world rests on whether or not these two goobers can reconcile their differences and battle a malevolent ghost version of their mom. That’s new! And different! And all it took to get there was scrapping the majority of the beloved roster, replacing them with “legacy” characters that are increasingly ridiculous (the cool and calculating ninja was swapped for Hannah Montana), and maybe introducing a werewolf or two. And it was all a resounding success! … Wait, no, sorry, I’m receiving word that… Yes, it appears Soulcalibur 5 took the greatest risks ever seen in the franchise, and thus did it kill the franchise. Whoopsidoodle.

Yes, I know it's a mirrorSo Soulcalibur 6 was in a bit of a pickle at its planning stages. Soulcalibur needed to bring back the fans that Soulcalibur 5 had so carelessly lost with its fortunetellers and Gokus, but it also needed to do something new. This was an all-new, all different generation of gaming hardware, and the world had changed since the release of Soulcalibur 5. Six years! Do you know how many Assassin’s Creeds came out in that time? And fighting games were actually relevant again! There is so much potential in a Soulcalibur 6 that pushes the envelope even further than Soulcalibur 5. An all new roster! An all new epoch! Tell the whole story of the first wielder of Soul Edge! Tell us what happens generations after the fighters we know! The only plot constraint is wedging a magical sword in there, and, let’s face it, magical swords are already part of every plot! I’m pretty sure Romeo & Juliet were talking about Excalibur somewhere in that play…

Unfortunately, Soulcalibur 6 decided it wasn’t going to try something new. Here’s a roster of extremely familiar faces, two new fighters for the sake of saying there’s something new at all, and the exact same plot as Soulcalibur (1). Everyone liked Soulcalibur, right? It was the best one? Yes, of course. And, ultimately, what’s the problem with rehashing an old plot? “New” Super Mario is always just saving the princess, why can’t we just have a Soulcalibur where everyone is fighting Nightmare like the first time? It’s not like a fighting game even really needs a plot!

And that stands to reason, but here’s Soulcalibur 6’s Soul Chronicle mode. Its inclusion is… confusing.

Soul Chronicle mode is, ultimately, the game’s typical “story mode”. This is where you choose your fighter, and see exactly what they were up to during this game’s general eon. There is a base story that tells the tale of the main protagonists of the piece (staff boy, nunchuck dandy, and the cheerleader) and how they eventually defeated Nightmare and his vaguely threatening army of lizards, golems, and fetishists. And, yes, there are accounts for each individual fighter, which is a boon for anyone that needs to know exactly what a wandering swordsman was up to during the feudal era (fun fact: he was wandering around having swordfights). Even if it’s a story that we’ve heard before, this all has the potential to be very interesting for a Soulcalibur aficionado.

Or at least it would be interesting if it wasn’t 90% this…

Let's chat

For those of you that don’t feel like squinting at that parade of modern, tiny fonts, that’s a scene where a beloved (technically) ally is sneak-stabbed by the villain of the story. That’s a pretty dramatic moment! And it’s entirely conveyed through text boxes, characters portraits, and the screen flashing a different color (red is bad). This is visual storytelling that could have been rendered for Ninja Gaiden, and seems just a tweak phoned-in a solid thirty years later. And it’s all the more distressing when you consider that Soulcalibur 6 is capable of some really great storytelling in special moves that last ten seconds

Let's fight!

There! Even without sound, there’s absolutely everything you need to know about this version of Xianghua. She’s got a cool sword, she’s elegant and skilled with said cool sword, and she’s a bit of a goofball. Her entire storymode adds up to the same result, but why waste a half hour with talking heads spewing tortuous dialogue when you can get the same result in less time than it takes to read one of my meandering articles? And it’s not like Soul Chronicle is enhanced by the gameplay of occasionally throwing in a battle here and there: Zasalamel’s story mode is just him reading Soul Edge’s Wikipedia entries in his palatial library, and he seriously never leaves his chair. Dude wields a scythe the size of a small farm animal, and he doesn’t even touch the thing, because, oh man, did you click on this hyperlink about King Algol? Totally interesting stuff!

So if Soulcalibur 6 has the exact same plot as Soulcalibur 1, and it didn’t improve the presentation of that story beyond something that could have been seen on the Dreamcast (or possibly an NES), then why did they even bother? Even if much of the presentation is lackluster, why go to all the trouble of hiring actors to read these lines? Why write this dialogue, or make these character portraits? Why bother telling the exact same story in an inferior way when you can just pull a Zasalamel and spend a solid hour reading the Soulcalibur Wiki? Who needs a rehash of Soulcalibur when Soulcalibur is right there!?

And then it occurred to me: I’m an idiot.

…Wait, let me try that again…

And then it occurred to me: Soulcalibur isn’t right there. Soulcalibur is nowhere. Soulcalibur 6 is the perfect entry point for new fans. And that’s exactly what Soulcalibur needs.

Here we goThe original Soulcalibur was released in the arcade in 1998, and hit the poor, doomed Dreamcast in 1999. It saw a rerelease on Xbox 360 in 2008, and apparently most recently appeared on Android devices in 2013 (with a controller-screen overlay that my brain refuses to understand). Even claiming that a cell phone version of Soulcalibur is a viable solution for anyone, the most recent release of Soulcalibur occurred five years before the release of Soulcalibur 6. And the version of Soulcalibur that gets the veteran players (including myself) all hot and bothered? That’s twenty years old. Soulcalibur is nearly old enough to drink. And it probably should drink, because, as you’ve already read, its plot from that point on somehow became equal parts convoluted and trite. So, rather than play two decades worth of outdated games, why not let the new fans catch up through their own all-new story mode. Why not give the fresh fans something to enjoy?

Soulcalibur 6 didn’t repeat Soulcalibur to give its practiced fans the warm fuzzies. Soulcalibur 6 was made to invite new fans to the table. Soulcalibur 6 is the ever-dreaded reboot, but it is a reboot in pursuit of strengthening a failing fanbase. And, considering that (as of this writing) we are entering an unforeseen Season 2 of DLC, it seems to have done the trick. Soulcalibur 6 isn’t the most revolutionary Soulcalibur title, but it has succeeded where others have failed.

Who is Soulcalibur 6 for? Fans old and new.

… Just don’t let the olds get too mad at the story mode being familiar.

FGC #462 Soulcalibur 6

  • System: Playstation 4 and Xbox One. A Switch version is just too much to ask for, I suppose.
  • Number of players: Rhymes with “Lou Sayers”.
  • READ A BOOKNot Just a Reboot: Okay, technically the story of Soulcalibur 6 isn’t just Soulcalibur 1 all over again, it is actually the story of a Star Trek 2009 situation wherein a future character (or two) is muddying the timeline to prevent the narrative dead-end of Soulcalibur 5 from ever happening. However, unlike in Star Trek or Mortal Kombat 9, this opportunity for a whole new story is principally wasted, and the “real” plot plays out exactly the same (give or take Kilik going super saiyan). About the only changes here are that Zasamel is now not going to become a complete screw up (though that wouldn’t have happened until a later game anyway), and Cassandra got started on her quest a little early. Actually, there are a few other fighters that “show up early” in this version of Soulcalibur, but, complete with age discrepancies, those seem more like retcons than actual timeline changes. Time travel or no, the plot synopsis for Soulcalibur 6 is just a copy and paste from Soulcalibur 1.
  • But there is an original story, too: Libra of the Soul features your own Create-a-Character (though not your Create-a-Character from any other mode, for some reason) fighting in an epic war between the two new characters, Another Sword Guy and Fabulous Rasputin. It’s also presented in a manner that is boring as hell. And it seems to have a healthy amount of tutorials, too. That would be great if your first thought on booting a new game is to get right into playing as Original Character, and not, ya know, going to town in the ol’ arcade mode with familiar faces. Still, good try? Maybe?
  • It's a comics thingBut what about Create-a-Character: Oh, that is aces. Nothing beats the Soulcalibur customization options… anywhere? In fact, it’s kind of weird that other games haven’t adapted what Soulcalibur did perfectly for like three games running. No matter, my only concern right now is whether I should name my long-haired, super bulky YoRaHa android “Chub-B” or “2-XL”.
  • Favorite Fighter: Seung-Mina conceptually, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with the final DLC character of Season 1, Cassandra. She’s like if Sophitia wasn’t inexplicably sad all the time.
  • Did you know: The internal project title for Soulcalibur 6 was “Luxor”, because the staff had the plan to make the game “brighter” like the original Soulcalibur. You know, the game where a man who murdered his father gains the ultimate murder sword and then murders half of Europe with a literally unquenchable bloodlust (for murder). Freaking sunshine and lollipops in this franchise from day one.
  • Would I play again: I’m playing it right now! Stop interrupting!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby’s Dreamland 3 for the Super Nintendo! Does… does this count as Thanksgiving content? Maybe? Or maybe I’m just hungry. Well, I know Kirby is hungry, so please look forward to it!

I like purple
I’m leaning toward Chub-B.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

CONTRA!Why are so many phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo?

If you’ve spent longer than five minutes on any gaming forum/group/site/underground fight club, you’ve probably heard the age old gaming question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, but somehow had a television and electricity and maybe access to Amazon.com, which gaming console would you want to have with you?” And, if you’re anything like the pedantic nerds that generally ask such a question, your response is only more questions. Does this “one system” allow for all games ever on the system? Are we talking about a fully backwards compatible Playstation 3? Are we including DLC titles that appeared on older systems? Is there online functionality? Is sand going to get in that cartridge slot, instantly ruining any hope of having fun at all? It sounds completely insane, but if we’re allowed one system equipped with every available game for that system, I might actually choose the Vita. That sucker technically has so many great games… even if its system exclusives are sorely lacking.

But, if you’re talking about exclusives (and not modern systems that are clearly cheating by absorbing entire classic libraries), it seems like the “best” systems are the second ones. Playstation 1 was fun, but Playstation 2 had an amazing library that practically defined modern game storytelling. Xbox was a drop in the online bucket, but Xbox 360 created the console online community of today. And the WiiU was a fine prototype for the concept of a “portable console”, but nothing beats the amazing portability and ergonomics of the Switch. And, when you get right down to it, this all makes sense. Videogames are, at their core, pieces of technology, and it’s rare that any technology gets it right the first time. Nobody is still driving a Model T, and the Wright Flyer isn’t our standard for aviation. To be clear, this isn’t to say that any “early technology” is inherently bad, simply that we usually first get a passable proof of concept, and then, a generation later, we’ve got the good stuff. It’s the way of the world.

WeeeeeBut the Super Nintendo was something special. Back before voice acting and online play and the very concept that you could have color on your portable system (or at least pull that off without 3,616 AA batteries), there was the Super Nintendo. And it’s easy to discount that previous sentence as an old man griping while he waits for the latest Kirby game to download 3 gigs of updates, but it’s worth noting that there was a time when all a videogame console was expected to do was play videogames. No DVDs, no Netflix app, not even the possibility of “updating the firmware”. If you wanted to do something unique and interesting with a later game, you needed to design a special chip, and plump that cartridge cost up to unreasonable levels (hi, Mega Man X3). You want to save? Go hit the battery store! And God help you if you want to require a damned contemptible misguided peripheral. But, through it all, it meant that, by and large, games were games, and all you kids better not be enjoying your walking simulators on my lawn.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break to go yell at a cloud. Where were we? Oh, right, Super Nintendo.

So the Super Nintendo didn’t have any gimmicks. This… might be the only time that ever happened with a Nintendo console. The original Nintendo Entertainment System shipped with its own robot, and a gun with which to shoot said robot (in case it ever demanded you play Beyond the Beyond). The N64 touted its lack of load times, four controller ports, and analog sticks in direct response to Sony’s betrayal. The Wii, WiiU, and Switch were all completely defined by their stunts. And the Gamecube? Its biggest failing was that it had a pile of gimmicks (weird controller layout, GBA compatibility, the fact that it is clearly a near-sentient lunchbox), and none of them ever stuck, because all anyone wanted to do was play Smash Bros. But the Super Nintendo only ever wanted to play videogames. Here’s a controller with some more buttons. Here are a few chips that allow for more colors, graphics, and sounds. Now go nuts! We’ll check back in in five years or so.

BOOMAnd it certainly seems like a lot of developers did go nuts. Nintendo itself (well, let’s include some “second parties” that were synonymous with Nintendo) was responsible for Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. There was also Super Metroid, which some claim has not been surpassed within its genre even to this day. Square gave us Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, and Chrono Trigger, another luminary that is still unrivaled. Capcom presented Mega Man X and the last of the great Disney licensed platformers. And Konami was no slouch, either, as we saw the future of Castlevania and Contra, which neatly brings us to today’s featured title.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of the few run ‘n gun games that presents a different playstyle every stage, but still manages to be absolutely perfect. Everything starts in a “basic” Contra stage, with invading aliens, marching soldiers, and the occasional giant turtle monster. Then it’s time for an overhead stage that is less wanton destruction and more hide ‘n seek. The third stage is predominantly climbing based, and the fifth level is a hunt ‘n kill in the desert. It’s only in the sixth and final stage that we return to the “original” gameplay of the first level, and then it’s time for a boss gauntlet that includes destroying a strangely high number of colossal organs. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is the unbelievable Level 4, wherein Jimbo and Sully (real names withheld to protect the innocent) first ride hovercycles across a deserted highway (though it gets more crowded pretty quickly), proceed to fight a robo ninja beneath a helicopter, and then ride a series of missiles straight into an offending flying fortress. It is the most spectacular thing to ever happen in a Contra game!

GACKAnd that’s the thing: Contra 3 might be the best game in the franchise… And it was released on the Super Nintendo over 25 years ago. There have been other Contra experiences since, but so many of them have been… lacking. And even the best of these new Contra titles (Contra 4 comes to mind) revisit earlier titles rather liberally, up to and including whole bosses or set pieces from Contra 3, yet adding very little to the nostalgia. Then again, Contra 3 did repeat some of the greatest hits of Contra and Super Contra, so… has that always been happening? Is Contra just as iterative as Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition?

Wait a tick… maybe the Super Nintendo is home to so many great games because it was a system exclusively built for iterative games.

The Super Nintendo was a “Nintendo, but super”. The system allowed games to be “the same thing as last time, but super”. Castlevania 4 was, ultimately, a reskin of Castlevania 1. Super Metroid was Samus repeating her zero mission all over again, but now she gets faster boots. Link vs. Ganon. Little Mac vs. Some Tall Guy. There was no need to make Mario a JRPG or fighting game (yet), and the public (or the market) was perfectly content to see the early “arcade” style games evolve into their more console-based final forms. Basically, all the games that defined gaming in the first place on the NES all went Super Saiyan at once, and the nefarious Frieza of Boredom was left floating in space.

BOOMSo why is the Super Nintendo so well regarded? Because it was a videogame system that had the technology and luck to allow itself to “only” be a place for properly evolved videogames. As we grew up, so too did our games, and the Super Nintendo was the host for many of them.

And then we got to murder a buttload of aliens, so that wasn’t bad, either.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

  • System: Super Nintendo/SNES Classic, and then there was a remake of sorts on the Gameboy Advance. It included a few stages from Contra: Hard Corps in an effort to ditch the overhead stages, which makes for a very different experience. There was also an OG Gameboy port of Contra 3, too, and it was phenomenally awful.
  • Number of players: And the Super Nintendo was a great time for two players (and exclusively two players)!
  • Port-o-Call: Gameboy Contra 3 was terrible, but it had Super Gameboy enhanced features. Which… is vaguely confusing, because if you’ve got a Super Nintendo, and want to play Contra 3 on the television, I want to say there are other options…
  • Favorite Weapon: Flamethrower 4 life. There is no problem that cannot be solved by an unending stream of hot death.
  • I'm not the only one that sees it, right?Favorite… Uh… Thing: A swarm of alien bugs attempt to carry off your hero toward the start of Level 3, and I’ve always appreciated how they’re the approximately one monster in the game that can be touched without incurring instant death. It doesn’t make that section any less hectic (as they will drag you to an immediate death if you let them), but it’s nice to be slightly less destructible for all of thirty seconds.
  • Did you know? In Europe, our Contra heroes are (not) secretly androids fighting an army of alien robots. It’s basically the prequel to Nier Automata.
  • Would I play again: Contra 3 just reminded me that the Super Nintendo was a system of wonders. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask! I guess you’ll see that update in… three days. Please look forward to it!

FGC #336 World Heroes Anthology

I love you, Willow ValleyHere’s another reason we’re stupid.

So there’s this anime I’m about to spoil, and it’s called Fate/Stay Night. I’m not going to be bothered to figure out the exact origins of this franchise, but I’m moderately certain it’s some kind of Japanese light porno that digivolved into a version of Pokémon. The “original” plot is that there is The Holy Grail War, and in order to reduce the body count of another Crusade, seven Pokémon Trainers each get one main warrior, and said warriors fight it out. In the anime (one of them, but I think I’m talking about the first one) this means a well-meaning, nondescript boy winds up with a female warrior at his beck and call, inadvertently gains a tsundere rival/ally in the war itself, and somehow eventually accumulates a few other walking fetishes for his harem. Did you guess one of his opponents-turned-allies would be a “younger sister” archetype? Good job, you’ve watched an anime before!

Fate/Stay Night’s obvious thighs fetish aside, it seems the most lasting item to come out of that series is its appropriation of historical and mythical characters. The concept for this Holy Grail War is that the warriors are drawn from across antiquity and fiction, and you can wind up with an epic battle where Hercules has to fight Ozymandias while Cu Chulainn eats a hotdog. And, of course, the big “mystery” of the initial Fate/Stay Night story is the identity of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman that is aiding our protagonist. Eventually, it is discovered that she is the one and only King Arthur (star of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and all the myths got it wrong, “he” was a “she” all along, and just taped down her prodigious chest because medieval peasants weren’t so great about listening to ladies who studied the blade. This is meant to be a revelation, because it recontextualizes history (“history”), and adds a certain gravitas to this story about occasionally peeping on Queen Arthur bathing. Also, it allows the Once and Future Queen to have massive depression over the current state of Camelot (which I believe has become some manner of theme park), and a sad protagonist is always a sign of a for-real serious story for adults.

Is this Fate?For reasons that I can’t completely understand (are there a lot of people out there that just really want to boink King Arthur?) Fate/Stay Night has been a very successful series. It has amassed a huge number of spin-offs and auxiliary material, and I somehow bought two of the artbooks because it’s not yet illegal to be drunk and access Amazon.com. And, through all of the Fate/Stay material, there continues to be this delightful inclination toward harvesting history for a cheap bit of seriousness. That’s not just any dark knight, that’s Lancelot! Who’s that lion-headed muscle man? It’s Thomas Edison! And when we need a whole new version of our most popular heroine, we’ll say she’s Nero this time. We can always find another male leader to be reimagined as a busty blonde. We can keep this series going forever!

And it works every. Single. Time.

Now, I’m not saying that the Fate/Stay Night franchise is some kind of unrelenting cultural juggernaut the likes of Young Sheldon and its associated ancillary material; no, what I’m saying is that, if you pay the tiniest bit of attention to the Fate/Stay Night franchise (and maybe properly call it the “Type Moon Universe” or something), you will be tricked every single time they release a “new” character. It’s really simple: they marry a random anime trope (let’s say J-Pop idol) to a random mythical/historical character (gonna go with… Elizabeth Bathory) and then marvel as the audience says, “Hey! I know that name! Neat!” It’s not like it pushes systems, but every time it happens, there’s that twinge of recognition, that indescribable feeling of knowing what you’re looking at, and, inevitably, it somehow enhances the experience. This isn’t Original Character #4,371, this is freakin’ Marilith! I saw her in Final Fantasy! Kinda!

And, while I may be fairly immune to the charms of Fate/Stay Night, I was young once. And, for that reason, I can never find fault in World Heroes.

Axe me no questions, I'll cut you no liesActually, let me amend that statement: I can absolutely see how World Heroes was not a very good Street Fighter 2 clone. The inadequate attack options lead to very limited fights, the final boss is Shang Tsung without a Goro, and the “danger” levels are a gimmick for gimmick’s sake. World Heroes 2 added more characters to the roster, but was otherwise more of the same (give or take the “seesaw” battles that take absolutely forever). World Heroes 2 Jet was just the Turbo edition, and World Heroes Perfect was finally a rival for Street Fighter 2 when we had already moved on to Street Fighter Alpha. World Heroes was always a step behind, and never any better than the myriad of other wannabe fighters available at the time.

And I don’t think I’ve ever loved a fighting game franchise more.

I’ve always said that a fighting game lives or dies by its roster. Street Fighter knows the score on this one, and it’s also the flawless reason that Tekken keeps adding magical idols and hulking robots to its cast. On the other side of the coin you have the likes of Virtua Fighter, which is an excellent game fundamentally, but contains a roster so boring I’m struggling to stay awake to finish this sentence. World Heroes is firmly in the Street Fighter camp (up to and including Ken and Ryu “but ninjas!” as the main characters), and, while there are a few duds (hello, Bruce Lee Clone #261), this is a game that absolutely plumbs the depths of history to produce an interesting roster. Rasputin the mad (and loving) monk! Ganghis Kahn! And, yes, even a precursor to Fate/Stay Night’s blonde swordswoman, an expy of Joan of Arc named Jane. All the numbers have been filed off these “famous” fighters (which explains how Hulk Hogan snuck into the ring), but it’s pretty clear that the “C” in “C. Kidd” doesn’t stand for “Carl”.

NEO DIO!And damned if this “historical” roster didn’t work on me. Look! It’s Jack the Ripper! I know who that is! I saw that guy on Babylon 5! Let’s pump a few quarters into this one! And I couldn’t have been the only one, as the “weak” World Heroes gameplay did wind up producing a pile of sequels (and I swear I saw World Heroes on more Neo Geos than I ever saw Metal Slug). World Heroes might not have survived past the fighting game fad of the late 90’s, but it fared a lot better than Primal Rage. Eat it, Saturday Night Slam Masters!

But, like it or not, the fleeting success of World Heroes is another sign that we’re dumb. We’re suckers for recognition, and whether it’s a reality TV show host running for president or a medieval woman with a sword, we seem to gravitate toward the familiar. A significant variation on King Arthur or a slight variation on Joan of Arc, it doesn’t matter, just so long as that proverbial part of our monkey brain lights up in acknowledgment. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be familiar.

Though I suppose familiar can be good, too. You know, when it involves a dude in a tiki mask demolishing a Viking. That’s always going to be a fun time.

FGC #336 World Heroes Anthology

  • System: Playstation 2 for the anthology, but the original World Heroes games appeared on the Neo Geo. And it hopped over to Super Nintendo, like, once. Maybe there was a brief stop on Saturn, too.
  • Number of players: Two is the number of fighters, and the number of fighters shall be two.
  • Localization Fun: It’s SNK, so it’s time for your daily recommended engrish.

    PUNCH!

    So close!

  • Problematic Like: Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room: this game features a robotic Nazi. They don’t try to hide it! His bio says that he was built for World War 2, he’s wearing basically a Nazi uniform, and he’s from Germany, with a profession listed as “soldier”. However, despite there being a Nazi in the roster, there’s no reason you have to be the Nazi, and you’re welcome to punch the Nazi all you want. So, you know, that’s an option.
  • What’s in a name: The man who creates the time machine that fuels this tournament is… Doctor Brown. Doc Brown. Who built a time machine. Huh. Later games did revise his name to be the slightly less conspicuous Dr. Brown Sugar.
  • Other Plagiarism: Along with the mecha Nazi, we’ve got some holdovers from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure here, complete with a final boss named Dio (who is, incidentally, basically a stand). If this bullet point doesn’t makes sense to you, please see your nearest anime nerd.
  • Why can’t we be friends: Now we take a moment to acknowledge the rad dancing happening in the background of the World Heroes 2 America stage.

    Rock it!

    Keep on rockin’, guys!

  • Did you know? A World Heroes release was planned for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but that system flopped so badly, it brought down every franchise with it. Oops!
  • Would I play again: I have incredible nostalgia for this title, so almost certainly. Can’t say no to some of my addictions.

What’s next? Random ROB is letting me play another recent game… Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil! Let’s get ready to smash some Made in America china! Please look forward to it!

DBZ fighter?