Tag Archives: history

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?

FGC #297 Uniracers

Gotta race fastLet’s have a big hand for Uniracers, one of the stupidest, smartest games for the Super Nintendo.

Racing games have always been fairly intriguing from a gameplay perspective. Racing, in a weird way, is maybe the purest, easiest to understand form of gaming. If you were to take a random bumpkin off the street and show him someone playing Super Mario Bros. stage 5-1, there is no immediate indicator that this player is over halfway to saving a princess from dinoturtle clutches. Meanwhile, take that same unobservant fellow, show him a race with four cars, and one car is right there in the front, well, he’s easily going to spot the winner. And what’s more, depending on the perspective, it’s really easy to tell just how much that winner is winning. “A big lead” could be understood by Einstein or a toddler, and that instant recognition is essential for a fun gaming experience. Taking ten minutes to clear Quick Man’s stage isn’t a clear measurement that you’re doing something wrong, but being fourth place out of four cars certainly means it’s time to git gud.

Of course, while identifying the winner in a race is easy, recognizing how to get better at racing is a little bit more tricky. “Go faster” is the obvious answer here, but, by their very nature, videogames can’t be well balanced if one car/racer is naturally faster than another. There are games where the “challenge” is creating the perfect load-out before a race, but that creates more of a RRPG (Racing Role Playing Game) than a pure racing experience. And in games where there are projectiles (whether they be missiles or turtle shells), the answer usually involves dodging or properly rationing your own weapons supply, and acknowledging that ramming into seven banana peels in a row might slow your roll. But once you iron out all the fluff, once it’s just you and a couple of other cars (or maybe a time trial), then the careful dynamics of racing come to the forefront. How do you corner? Do you ever use your breaks? Better memorize that track, learn every last bend and nook and cranny, and then, and only then, will you be able to obtain the checkered flag.

WeeeeBut, uh, important side note? Pretty much none of that could work in a 2-D world.

Racing games need 3-D, or at least some stab at a 3-D world. Mario Kart might be a Mode 7 trick, but you’ll note Mario’s racing adventures are not nearly as 2-D as his turtle stomping times (or the delightful, pretend 2-D characters on the Mario Kart title screen). Super Off-Road and racing games of its time offered big, overhead maps that were closer to Zelda than Mega Man or Castlevania. And once gaming systems were able to support “real” 3-D, we never looked back, and haven’t so much as attempted a 2-D racing game since. And who would even want to try such a thing? A 2-D racing game would just be nothing more than “hold right to win”. Maybe the tracks could have some obstacles or other such nonsense, but it would still be an amazingly hobbled experience compared to proper racing.

But there was a 2-D racing game back in the 90’s, and it was one that everyone played…

Gotta go fast

Okay, yes, that was technically an action platformer hop ‘n bop (or whatever), but there was a 2-player “race mode” in every Sonic the Hedgehog since Sonic 2 (“So also Sonic 3?” “Yes.”). It wasn’t much of anything, but this was a game released within a decade of Ice Climber, so the stupid kids of the time (this stupid kid included) went gaga for (super) Sonic racing. And why wouldn’t we? This was Blast Processing! This was as fast as a 16-bit game could go! Feel the need for sonic speed!

So Nintendo, never one to be outdone by an erinaceinae, decided they were going to showcase the native speed of the Super Nintendo. With the help of DMA Design, Uniracers was born. And, naturally, it was a 2-D racing game… so hold right to win, article over. Have a nice day!

YuckBut wait, there’s more! Uniracers is not as simple as Sonic the Hedgehog 2P Mode, and it doesn’t rely on silly powerups or spiny distractions. Uniracers has one simple trick up its sleeve: do tricks. While racing forward (or backward, let’s not assume all tracks have to go right), if there’s a spare length of track, go ahead and jump, and attempt to flip your unicycle. Perform even the fastest flip, and you’ll gain a speed boost. Wipeout and you lose some speed. That’s it. Figure out the ins and outs of the tracks, determine exactly when you can get flipping and when you should hold off, and you’ll win every race. Quick, simple, and easy to understand. Always be tricky.

And that is brilliant in its simplicity. I… don’t think I’ve ever met an actual unicyclist, but I remember being seven and having a bike (but not a skateboard), and all anybody ever wanted to do was show off rad tricks. It’s natural to want to do “cool stuff” with your toys, and it follows directly into videogames. What is a speed run but a “tricky”, stylish way to play a videogame? So of course the first thing a player is going to do with a uniracer is attempt random tricks. And then that unicycle goes faster! Awesome! This is the path to victory! No tutorial necessary, you know everything you would ever need within the first ten seconds. And that’s the essence of a good racing game.

And that’s why Uniracers is simultaneously dazzling and thoughtless. It’s a 2-D racing game, which means extremely limited gameplay, but it also teaches the player that “simple” gameplay almost instantly, and exemplifies the “easy to learn, hard to master” maxim used to advertise many lesser games. Uniracers is a stupid concept with the smartest design, and thus becomes one of the best, wildest games on the Super Nintendo.

FGC #297 Uniracers

  • System: Super Nintendo. Gee, wonder why this franchise never saw another system.
  • RadicalNumber of players: I think you can have a league with, like, infinity players. Or maybe just eight. But there are only two simultaneous players, so we’ll say two.
  • Favorite Uniracer: Why would I enter my own name when there’s a red Robbie right there? Works for me, dude.
  • Pixar Problems: Pixar, foreshadowing its eventual absorption into the Disney machine, claims to hold the copyright on moderately sentient unicycles. Apparently that held up in court, and Uniracers was sued into oblivion, causing production of the game to stop prematurely. This is likely why the franchise has never been revisited. Oh, that, and unicycles are boring.
  • Brain Problems: I always think Uniracers and Stunt Race FX are N64 games for some reason. Conceptually, I know they’re not, but they’re lodged in that part of my brain. Probably has something to do with the box art…
  • Did you know? If you attempt to enter “Sonic” as a player name, the game will chastise you for being “Not cool enough”. Ice burn, Uniracers.
  • Would I play again: It sure would be nice to see Uniracers on, I don’t know, a tiny Super Nintendo or something, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. That said, I’d like to take Uniracers for a spin more often, but I’m a lot more likely to play something a tweak more complicated (like Mario Kart 64), so the odds are low on this one getting popped in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rumble Roses for the Playstation 2! I think I let ROB watch too much Netflix recently. Get ready for some foxy… wrestling. Please look forward to it!

Seriously

FGC #296 Driver: You Are the Wheelman

DRIVE!And now for the other side of those awkward Playstation years: that time when no one knew what a videogame was supposed to be.

In the beginning, there was Pong, and it was good. And Pong begat a number of arcade experiences, like Asteroids, Space Invaders, and everyone’s beloved Pac-Man. And, while we were all happy with one screen of action, action, action, eventually gaming’s collective attention span required more. Mario became super the very moment his stages became long, horizontal affairs that could take whole minutes to complete. Sometimes there was a dinosaur at the end of the world! And a princess! And, while it was the teeniest of plots, there technically was a plot, and no more were we forced to use our imaginations to envisage why this puck-shaped fellow was being chased by four monsters.

But, for better or worse, there was always a divide. There were games where brave heroes ventured forth to conquer bad guys and maybe get a new weapon along the way to stab and/or shoot said bad guys, and there were also games that provided those classical “arcade experiences”. Pong was basically tennis, which I’m told is one of those sports things, and, in a way, many sports games were narratively no more complicated than Pong. Play game, win game. It’s the same in football as it is in Donkey Kong. Maybe there’s a story attached, but the only story that matters is that you “beat the game”. This is, at its core, the essence of the arcade experience, as if you’re not fighting toward an achievable goal, then why the hell are you wasting all those quarters? If I leave this arcade without ASS being at the top of the score table, then what am I fighting for?(!?!?!!)

SWERVE!But sometime around the Playstation era, that kind of thinking fell by the wayside. Maybe it was because the arcades started to follow the path of the dodo, or maybe everybody just desperately wanted to be Final Fantasy 7, but, whatever the reason, by the time we made it to the Playstation 2, every game had to have a complete story and incremental goals and a “40 hour, RPG-like experience”. Maybe it was a ploy to sell memory cards? All I know is that a “quick” experience like Mischief Makers, a game that would have been perfectly content to be an enjoyable 16-bit rental, was now derided for not stretching its content to fit some arbitrary length restriction. And Mischief Makers wasn’t alone: if a game was released, and it could be completed in an afternoon, it was panned from here to the hallowed halls of EGM.

And this led to some… awkward moments.

Driver: You Are the Wheelman won the 1999 E3 award for “best racing game”. Racing games have always been firmly planted in the “arcade experience” section, as, come on, is there anything more pure than “gotta go fast(er than everybody else)”? However, Driver is much more than a racing game: Driver is basically a proto-Grand Theft Auto (3). We’ve got some big (for Playstation 1) cities, cops to outrun at all times, and an emphasis on a bunch of random “challenges” you can perform with a car. Drive to hit checkpoints, drive to ram designated cars, drive to be a courier… I’m pretty sure I have a good idea where the title “Driver” title came from. When you get right down to it, “racing” seems like a poor description of this experience, as I don’t recall any time the stars of Crusin’ USA or Mario Kart had to worry about an arrest warrant. Well, maybe Bowser has a few priors, but the Mushroom Kingdom justice system is naively lax.

But anyone returning to Driver from the sandbox-dominated future of right now is in for a rude awakening. Yes, there are all the GTA-esque activities available to you in Driver, but they’re all selectable from the title screen, not unlike choosing cups in a racing game. And, with the exception of a few unlockable cities, they’re all available from the first moment you start up the game. Think of it! A world where you can just replay your favorite missions at your leisure, and you don’t have to randomly drive all over the city looking for some capricious marker (and then never playing the mission again after it’s completed once). And what happens to those big, wide open cities if they’re not attached to mission markers? Well you can just choose “free mode”, and putter around town without a care in the world. Well… assuming you don’t piss off the local constabulary by merely existing.

VroomSpeaking of the po-po, there is a plot here. There’s a “story mode”, and it similarly showcases the times. Rather than going full criminal like every GTA descendant, you’re a police officer that just happens to be undercover as a nefarious wheelman. Eventually the FBI or CIA or FDA or somebody screws up, and you’re stuck on the wrong side of the law, and…. You know what? It doesn’t matter. No one is going to play through the story mode, because it’s attached to an opening “qualifying” stage that is completely impossible. But there is a trick to it! You have to exit the game, completely lose your progress (which, admittedly, was just watching one cinema scene… but still!), hop over to the “Training” menu, then learn all the super cool moves (like, uh, holding down the gas pedal really long), remember all the super cool moves, and then completely restart your game. It’s that easy!

And, for the record, if you’re playing this in 2017, you will curse every messageboard post about the scourge of “on screen tutorials” for the rest of your days.

But that’s Driver: You Are the Wheelman in a nutshell: it’s a videogame that has no idea how to be a videogame. It wants to straddle the line between arcade experience and story-based adventure, but it has no clue how to marry the two experiences, and we’re left with something very… confused. Driver isn’t a bad game, but it’s one of many Playstation games that simultaneously embraced the long-form narrative and overtly shied away from offending anyone that might not want to play for longer than five minutes.

So every time you complain about another Skyrim-alike or GTA-alike or even your bog standard generic platformer, be glad you live in a world where most videogames know how to be videogames and not… whatever happened here.

FGC #296 Driver: You Are the Wheelman

  • I'm a poor night driverSystem: Playstation 1, but then it eventually pulled into the Windows and Mac parking lots. It also had a Gameboy Color and iphone port, and those must be peachy.
  • Number of players: And it’s also a single player game. Another sign of the inevitable story mode domination.
  • Favorite City: New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town… that I don’t really like in reality, but it makes for a good series of levels.
  • Did you really not make it past the tutorial? Not for a good long while. I mean, it’s not like you can’t play most of the rest of the game without beating that damn stage. Also, there’s the matter of…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I got this game for free. For some bizarre reason, I found this game (complete with case and manual) in the back of the ol’ band storage area in high school. I asked around, put it in the lost and found, and no one claimed the game, so, after a month, I took home my prize. I have always pathologically over-valued videogames, so I literally could not understand someone “losing” an entire Playstation game. … Then again, now that I’ve played Driver, I can maybe understand that impulse a little better.
  • Did you know? The final unlockable city is Newcastle upon Tyne, the hometown of Reflections Interactive. On one hand, that’s kind of neat, on the other hand, it’s vaguely masturbatory. Do you know what’s special about Newcastle upon Tyne? Yeah, me neither.
  • Would I play again: Grand Theft Auto 3 is, like, right there.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Uniracers! See, now there’s a game that knows its genre! Please look forward to it!

Ugh