Tag Archives: hudson

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

Yay islands!Adventure Island 3 is a metaphor for the human condition.

The story of Adventure Island 3 is no epic tale. Master Higgins, a dude in a baseball cap and grass skirt, is chilling on a deserted island the size of a Dixie cup with his beloved Tina when a nefarious alien abducts the hapless maiden. Higgins boards the nearest plesiosaur, and paddles off to save the day. There is no trick or plot twist in this saga, all Higgins has to do to rescue Tina is venture across eight (adventure) islands, battle the occasional Mothra, and then conquer the aliens in an epic battle that involves fireballs and stone hammers. The aliens are not Dr. Wily in disguise, and no explanation is given for their preoccupation with poor Tina; they’re just monsters to be chased, and an excuse for Higgins to ride a dinosaur or six. Oh, and the adventure wraps up with Higgins and Tina back on their original weensy island (compliments of a pterodactyl), so it’s a zero-sum story from top to bottom.

But this is an ‘intenda game, so the story is perfunctory from the very start. What’s important is that good ol’ gameplay, and… Well, there’s not much to see here, either. This is a “NES platformer” at its most basic. Well, no, that would Adventure Island 1, wherein Master Higgins runs left to right and must at all time satiate his crippling fruit addiction. We’ve come a long way from those bygone days: now Master Higgins does the exact same thing, but sometimes he’s on a surfboard! Or a dinosaur! And, despite the fact that almost all stages only advance right and strictly forbid any backtracking, there are rare vertical levels that prove that Hudson does understand scrolling (and they don’t even involve Kid Icarus-esque scroll deaths). And the bosses are pretty neat, even if they’re about as fair as a thumb wrestling match against Eternia’s Fisto. Master Higgins can, at absolute best, suffer three hits (a bonus “heart” powerup plus a dinosaur buddy), and it’s very likely those damn boss monsters are going to barbecue the poor islander before he tosses the proper number of boomerangs. Boss patterns should not change mid-fight with a hero that has approximately zero HP!

This sucks!But all that cruft is neither here nor there. No, what’s important is what Adventure Island 3 represents. What’s important is that Adventure Island 3 is a failure.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a damsel is distressed when she is kidnapped by a giant, ambiguously evil monster. Her man springs into action to rescue her, and must battle across eight distinct lands to save the day. Along the way, he runs, jumps, and even recruits a dinosaur to beat back the nefarious forces of angry clouds and a strangely high number of murderous reptiles. After losing a bunch of lives due to the tiniest contact with random monsters (and the occasional bottomless pit), the brave knight saves his princess. And maybe there was a bonus stage or warpzone somewhere along the way, too.

Yes, obviously, Adventure Island 3 follows the exact same plot and general gameplay as Super Mario Bros. In fact, Adventure Island 2, the first game to feature Master Higgins riding a dinosaur, was released a few months after Super Mario World, the first game to feature Mario riding a Yoshi (and Adventure Island 3 improved on AI2 by… adding one more dinosaur). On a purely superficial level, Massy Hig’s Adventure Islands are incredibly similar to Mario’s treks across the Mushroom Kingdom and Dinosaur Land. Give or take the ability to actually dismount your incredible thunder lizard, you could probably provide the exact same instruction manual for both games. Master Higgins is a cape feather away from being an accomplished plumber.

Spooky!But that’s where the tragedy occurs. On a shallow level, Master and Mario are the same. They run, they jump, and they collect one hundred doodads to earn an extra life. But actually play the games, and the differences become apparent. Mario has a precise kind of momentum, while Master Higgins has a tendency to slip around like a greased up potato man. It’s telling that Master Higgins has to be wary of inanimate rocks, while Mario at least has the decency to vault moving rocks. And that slipperiness pairs poorly with a number of “platforming challenges”. Want to leap across a series of mobile clouds? That’s kind of fun in the Mushroom Kingdom, but over in the Adventure Islands, Master Higgins is pretty likely to fall to his doom after about the second jump. Once you hit an ice stage, things are more slippery, but, honestly? It’s not the same kind of dramatic shift you’d see in Super Mario. Bros 3. Oh, there is supposed to be a dinosaur that cuts down on Slippin’ Higgy? Yeah, that dinosaur is a lie. In fact, all of the dinomounts are lies, as they amount to little more than the difference between Mario and Super Mario. The only dinosaur that isn’t a “fireball” or “slight movement” powerup is the new, green triceratops, and that’s because he offers the ability to roll into a spiky ball for exactly a second before immediately losing that powerup to terrible hit detection. Beyond that, I’m not even certain what the plesiosaur is supposed to do, as he’s just as useless as the frog suit on land, but only marginally better than regular swimming Higgins on the high seas. He doesn’t even get a lightning tail or something! You have to bring your own hammer!

And, when you get right down to it, describing this game, describing Adventure Island 3, is recounting exactly what being a human is. All the proper components are there! You’ve got running! You’ve got jumping! You’ve got a princess and a monster and eight worlds! This is exactly what Mario’s got! This is exactly what that successful guy has got… so why isn’t it working here? I can see Mario’s Facebook, I know we’re on the same level, so why is he so much better than me!? I could be happy! I should be happy! Why can’t Master Higgins be half as successful as a damned plumber!?

Dammit!That’s Adventure Island 3. All the pieces are there, everything that should work is there, but… it doesn’t. Master Higgins is doomed to wallow on his teeny tiny island, while Mario just found out his ex built an entire city for his benefit. Adventure Island 3 is every one of us looking at that green grass on the next lawn over, and wondering what went wrong. And is this where I’m supposed to say something optimistic? Well, I’d love to say it gets better, but have you seen Adventure Island: The Beginning? Yeesh.

I just played Adventure Island 3… don’t expect any hopefulness out of this human for a week.

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There’s also a Gameboy port that is surprisingly faithful.
  • Number of players: One Master Higgins. Maybe the secret to success is having a Luigi?
  • Port-o-Call: The Gameboy version actually allows you to replay completed stages. I have no earthly idea why anyone would want to do such a thing, but at least it’s an option.
  • Favorite Dinosaur: I guess the blue dinosaur with the powered tail. He’s pretty much exactly the same as the red dinosaur with the fireball that is completely resistant to lava, but… he’s blue? He’s the underdog in a game starring an underdog.
  • Favorite Boss: Despite the inexplicable presence of Mothra, I’m going to pick the Salamander. He’s just like every other boss in this game (float and/or teleport around and lob fireballs), but he is at least on fire. And when he goes blue-flames, it at least looks cool.
  • Blind SallyIncidentally: This was supposed to be FGC #300, but I couldn’t find the rom while on the stream. Turns out it was there in the list, just under “Hudson’s Adventure Island 3” as opposed to in the I section where I expected to find such a thing. Oh well.
  • Did you know? If you see a flower, then that means a wolf is going to attack Master Higgins from behind. I still remember this tip from Nintendo Power.
  • Would I play again: Adventure Island 3 has struck me with an ennui that I can barely describe. So, uh, no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Robocop vs. Terminator for the SNES! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Some good ol’ fashioned cyborg on android violence. Please look forward to it!

FGC #245 Super Bomberman 2

Plasma changed color?The last time we saw a console Bomberman experience was seven years ago, back in happier times when the president wasn’t orange/bonkers and Super Mario Galaxy 2 had just been released. The last time Bomberman seemed nationally relevant was four years earlier than that, when Bomberman: Act Zero made us all laugh ourselves stupid at a realistic re-envisioning of a character that is best recognized with a purple deeley-bopper. And even before all that, twenty whole years ago, Bomberman 64 was the last time Bomberman was spoken of in the same tones as Mario and Zelda. Or… well… at least he got mentioned in Nintendo Power. That’s kind of the same thing. And, if you go back even further than that, to the far off epoch of 1994, you’ll find Super Bomberman 2, a game starring the titular Bomberman opposite The Dastardly Bombers, a group of nogoodniks that only ever appeared in one North American console Bomberman game.

So imagine my surprise when they were announced as the headlining antagonists of Super Bomberman R, a 2017 Nintendo Switch launch release.

So, since it’s been 23 years since Super Bomberman 2, I broke out the ol’ Know Your Bombers trading cards to help everyone get caught up in time for Super Bomberman R.

COLLECT 'EM ALL

FGC #245 Super Bomberman 2

  • System: Super Nintendo. It’s super!
  • BLOPNumber of players: Four! The original Super Bomberman came with the super multitap, and I’m betting pretty much everyone that snagged Super Bomberman also went for Super Bomberman 2. Well, except the six guys that just wanted that multitap for Secret of Mana.
  • Favorite Bomber Color: This was the first Bomberman (that I played) where you could freely choose your bomber’s color (as opposed to being stuck with white/black/red/blue forever). Green is a fine choice, but I have a tendency to go for Purple Bomberman. He’s so… regal.
  • Poor decisions: There are two additional stages in battle mode that are hidden by a secret code. They’re… not that exciting? They’re fun, and they’re “classic” stages, but I can’t find any rhyme or reason for why they’re hidden. It isn’t even a “beat the game to unlock” situation, they’re just… secret stages for the sake of being secret. What’s your angle here, Bomberman?
  • Did you know? Legend tells of Milon skulking around the password screen. Actually, there are four Milons to be found. That’s four more Milons than should ever be allowed on the Super Nintendo.
  • Would I play again: Here’s hoping Super Bomberman R supplicates any and all desires to return to this classic. Then again, if jelly bombs aren’t included…

What’s next? We’re going to look at the launchiest launch game of all time. No, not Mario. Let’s try something with a few more sports. Please look forward to it!

PUNT

FGC #184 Milon’s Secret Castle

This won't be funI was raised by my parents and a McDonald’s VHS series copy of Wayne’s World. This means that, for better or worse, a significant number of Mike Myers quotes penetrated my brain for decades. I’ll… spare you the rehearsal. But one quote that always stuck in my mind wasn’t one of the oft-repeated catchphrases of the film, it was an exchange between Noah, the greedy arcade owner, and Rob Lowe, played by Rob Lowe. When asked about the biggest problem facing his arcade, Noah replies that he needs to advertise new games, like Zantar. Zantar is described like so:

“Zantar is a gelatinous cube that eats warriors in a medieval village. And every time it eats a chieftain, you ascend to a higher level. Beauty part is, you can’t get to the next level, so the kids keep coughing up quarters.”
“Gelatinous cube eats village. I think it’s terrific”

The reason I’ve always remembered that exchange is because… it’s wrong. It’s a line written by a Canadian man born in the early sixties about a medium that is assumed to be like every other “let’s exploit kids” toygetic industry. Actually, let’s be real here, there was no lack of fleecing at any given arcade in the 80’s and 90’s. I probably donated the current national net worth of Venezuela to any given Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up that happened to cross my path. And if you look at those games, you’ll see they are completely built around bosses and cronies that are either impossible to dodge or avoidable, but it would mean boring repetition for the next hour or so. I’m sure The Simpsons Arcade Game can be conquered on one credit, but, man, that’s not the game I want to play.

But, that said, you can win, and, if you put in the quarters and shove that joystick to the right, you will make progress. You wouldn’t play the game for any other reason, right? It’s not that hard to identify when you’re being swindled.

So (and I realize I’m preaching to the choir here), this Zantar game would never fly in a real arcade. Yes, it would be easy to create a videogame that masks your progress and constantly makes it seem like you’re so close to that next level /chieftain digestion, but even the worst of the worst “freemium” games of the modern era know that kids ain’t stupid, and, without at least the illusion of progression, those gelatinous cubes won’t fly. Or roll? I don’t know how gelatinous cubes get around.

SING ALONGEven as a child, I realized this was the case. Hell, given the glut of videogame auxiliary media at the time, I probably expected it. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show was a pair of doofs in costumes or an animated series that rehashed tired old folk tales with a pair of plumbers in the heroic roles. Captain N couldn’t color its protagonists properly. Even the eventual Mega Man animated series couldn’t seem to understand how key characters like Proto Man operated (though, granted, that was a series where robots could devolve into neander-bots…). In short, it seemed obvious that anyone writing about videogames (and not writing for videogames) was a clueless adult that had never felt the glory of flinging a metal blade at malevolent masonry (and I’d claim that this is what led to the inordinate popularity of Nintendo Power: it was the only piece of media in existence that seemed to actually know what it was talking about [give or take using crash bombs on Heat Man]). So Young Goggle Bob took this out-of-touch comment in stride, because, surely, this was just another dumb joke at the expense of a medium parents just don’t understand.

Except…

Milon’s Secret Castle might be the Zantar of the NES.

LOOK THAT WAYIt’s been discussed here and in the comments before, but there was a weird imperative on the NES to make videogames hard. This makes sense to a certain degree, as it was believed that if a gamer couldn’t reach the end point, they’d keep banging their head against the wall until those bricks came down (or a concussion was invoked). I… guess that was true for some people? Like, if you finished the game on a rental, then there was no reason to ever play the game again, right? Except… how many people played Battletoads? Was that rented/played over and over again, or did people just give the heck up and plug in Super Mario Bros. 3 again? Seems like the games that held the attention (and pint-sized wallets) of my peer group erred towards Ducktales and Zelda, games that weren’t exactly easy, but certainly conquerable. Deadly Towers got one rental, and I wasn’t demanding it for Christmas because I hadn’t seen the ending, I was demanding it be stricken from my memory. Some scars never heal…

Milon’s Secret Castle is such a scar. I rented this game (well, technically it was on my dad’s video rental membership), and I’m moderately sure I never got off the first floor. I think I got to the first boss, because that poop-colored creature seems familiar, but that was it. No continues, back to square one after one life lost, and I don’t think I even remembered how I activated that boss in the first place. Rental returned, and Milon’s castle remained a secret forever.

And it’s a shame, because there’s the nugget of a good metroidvania somewhere in here. The whole concept is that Milon is ascending some monster –infested castle, and the only way to make progress is through discovering hidden shops selling useful items. Granted, none of the items make a lick of sense (a magic potion allows you to shrink after being hit by a boxing glove… okay?) but this was a time of size-changing mushroom and Bibles that made magical rods shoot fire, so that kind of thing is to be expected. You’re not really encouraged to revisit old rooms like in a proper metroidvania, but the whole permanent powerup acquisition and using new skills to defeat enemies and overcome environmental challenges was a new and novel innovation at the time. And it’s all wrapped up in a fairly cute package. Adventuring in your pajamas should be a thing of beauty!

WhoopBut there’s no beauty to be found here. Milon’s Secret Castle is a dumpster fire of terrible design decisions, first and foremost the fact that you must test every stupid block in the entire game three different ways. It’s not enough to shoot a block to see if it is arbitrarily destructible, no, you must also jump against blocks like Mario to see if there are any secrets contained therein. Oh, and even after you’ve done that, some blocks appear to be pushable, so squish Milon up against every wall you can find. Then, maybe, you’ll find the way to the next shop or level. Then again, that’s assuming you’re not immediately destroyed by every damn monster floating about. These creatures respawn practically instantly (and not even in proper NES fashion, they’ll come back without the aid of a scrolling screen), and Milon gets zero mercy invincibility. Some haphazardly lousy positioning can lead from perfect health to instant death. One life, and there’s a secret code to continue only after you’ve ascended to the second floor. And speaking of a lack of transparency, it’s thirty years later, and I still don’t know exactly what activates the first boss. I know it’s not collecting the first two keys, but it might be buying the spring shoes? Or is it finding that secret music room? Or using the boxing glove? I have no idea. I’m not sure I want to know.

As an adult, I am struck by the “why” of this game. Why is it so difficult? Was it poor design that overly relied on instruction manuals or other sources? Was it the old days of gaming, where the idea of getting out the graph paper and “figuring it all out” was considered the fun part of the challenge? Was it just a slapdash attempt at something new that came out of the oven a little too early? Frankly, any of these answers could be all or part of the truth, but I keep coming back to Zantar…

Flip flopWas Milon’s Secret Castle just a naked Skinner Box of impossibility? Yes, the game is winnable, but not without a lot of effort. No 1-ups, no mini map, no hints (that are at all useful), just the player and a clear goal to ascend an impossible castle. It can take hours of practice to beat that first level, and then there are four more to go, with no (obvious) continues. If you’re only playing games to beat ‘em, congratulations, you found a game that might last the rest of your life. Way to go, Hudson, you’ve created the perfect game for Noah’s Arcade.

So maybe I owe Mike Myers an apology. Sure, the comments by Noah in Wayne’s World sound like some out-of-touch “last generation” old man ranting against a medium he doesn’t care to understand, but there may be a few Zantars out there. They might not all contain gelatinous cubes, but I can think of at least one with a secret castle.

FGC #184 Milon’s Secret Castle

  • System: NES, and also available on the Wii Virtual Console. Don’t buy it, you’re only encouraging the wrong kind of behavior. There’s also kind of a Gameboy version, but there are enough changes that I’m going to claim it’s its own game.
  • Number of players: One Milon. No, I didn’t spell that wrong.
  • What’s in a plot? Apparently the story of this game involves Milon, the only Hudsonite that can’t communicate through song, being the savior of his queen and people when an evil whateverthehell attacks. Does this mean Milon is deaf? Is his whole deal that he’s the hero that transforms his disability into a super power? Is… Milon Daredevil? Or at least Echo?
  • So, did you beat it? Nope! I only have so much patience, and it ran out right about the time that boy fell down a well.
  • RARGHFavorite Powerup: I like watching Milon get squished by a boxing glove to become Tiny Milon. It reminds me vaguely of later Wario platformers, and that’s always a good thing.
  • Did you know? Milon had a guest spot on Saturn Bomberman. Now that Hudson is effectively no more, we shouldn’t see the squirt and that silly bee ever again.
  • Would I play again: No. And you can’t make me.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F for the Playstation 3. I guess we’re going to have an anime sing-along? Please look forward to it!