Tag Archives: John & Ste Pickford

FGC #325 Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power

Everything is painThis game is cursed.

I’ve told this story elsewhere, but I own this game because I made a very poor decision as a child. I saved up my allowance for weeks, finally scraped together a little over ten bucks, and decided I would purchase a “used” videogame from the local rental hut. Mega Man 4 was available, but I decided that, since I had already played and beaten that game, I would pick up Wizards and Warriors 3, a game that promised three different “classes” for Kuros. Maybe, like my beloved Final Fantasy, I would have a fun time with these JRPG elements. I didn’t. I got the game home, played it for maybe a half hour, and returned to my mother sobbing, begging that we return the wretched game that literally made me cry. My mother did no such thing, and I learned a very valuable lesson about never trusting Rare Ltd. ever again.

Of course, since I had a whole twelve (or so) NES games when I was a kid, I played W&W3 continuously (bad blood is still allowed to be fresh blood), and did eventually beat the game. Now, some decades later, I decided I would share my W&W3 skills live on a stream, and showcase the misery for all to see (and to find out how much of a game I hadn’t played in years was still stuck in my head). And I did play through the game on a stream last Friday night with some very special guest stars (or the usual guest stars), and a good time was had by all.

But this game is still cursed, so, naturally, the audio got messed up, and the recording is pretty much just my microphone. It’s the whole of Wizards and Warriors 3, with me occasionally agreeing to comments that can no longer be heard. In one particularly surreal bit, I ask BEAT for a rundown on the indie rap scene, and then, a few moments of silence later, I agree that that sounds very interesting. It’s almost as terrible as Wizards and Warriors 3.

So, in lieu of having a video of my complete playthrough, we’re going to claim that that was a “live exclusive experience”, and here’s a consolation list of reasons Wizards and Warriors 3 is terrible.

This is a supremely glitchy and ugly game

That's not how you treat a ladyRight off the bat, practically everything is wrong with Wizards and Warriors 3. Animations for characters don’t seem to make any anatomical or kinetic sense. It’s impossible to visually distinguish between antagonistic and helpful NPCs (protip: they’re all appalling). Kuros (our hero) occasionally takes a moment to flash some leg at the audience. No part of this game is coherent, and it’s immediately apparent to even the most casual viewer.

What’s worse is that this game is swarming with glitches and things that may or may not be glitches. There are “gatekeeper” invincible monsters that can stretch the length of the screen, and… are they supposed to do that? It… doesn’t look like it. Similarly, it’s easy to push any NPC off the edge of the world, and giggle as they fall into oblivion. In fact, if you shove an opponent off any platform, and said foe isn’t already using their “jump” action, they will fall forever, presumably eventually perishing somewhere near the Earth’s mantle. I saw that happen on an episode of Batman once, and it looked… unpleasant.

Everything, practically from the moment you press Start, seems to be fragmentary, and the punch line is that, apparently, the game is unfinished. According to some sources, Zippo Games completely sold out to Rare Manchester during development, and most of the staff wound up quitting thanks to an overwhelming feeling of “you used to be cool, man.” Wizards and Warriors 3 was thus rushed out the door, and slowly made its way to the hands of poor, uninformed children. Thanks, Pickford Brothers (the original folks behind Wizards and Warriors), you’re on the list!

Your HP or your GP

We don't serve your kindWizards and Warriors 3 is a game not unlike Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest or The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. You have a large area to explore, and you can access newer, more interesting (lie) areas through acquiring intriguing (also a lie) upgraded abilities. It’s a Metroidvania! And an insult to that entire genre! But what really separates W&W3 from the Metroidvanias of today and yesterday is that there is no way to save. There are also no passwords. There’s no level select code. There’s nothing. You have three lives, you cannot acquire more lives, and there are no continues. Even if you Game Genie your way into additional lives, the game isn’t even programmed to display a life counter value greater than three. And once you’ve spent those three lives, you’re right back to the beginning, even if you spent the last four hours of your life attempting to make progress.

(Do you understand the tears now?)

Your only options are the limited meat items scattered across the map, or spending every last cent you find on food from various shops so you can keep Kuros’s health topped off. But you also need keys, because treasure chests and (mandatory) doors always seem to be locked. So you’re forced to either budget for an indefinite amount of damage that could leave you stuck back at the title screen, or blow your cash on those keys that you’re probably going to need to progress anywhere. How does a first time player make the decision between forward progress keys or saving progress with a pile of meat? I know what I did, which is demand that this game be traded for Mega Man 4 this instant. It didn’t work out.

Combat is optional and/or obligatory

DorkThere are three main areas to Wizards and Warriors 3 (huh, wonder if that was deliberate): the castle, the town, and the underground. Kuros also has three corresponding forms: knight, thief, and wizard. If you remember to always wear the appropriate disguise in the right area, you won’t have to fight a single random “monster”. Okay, that isn’t exactly true, as there are these floaty green dudes in the underground that will kill just about anybody, and there are a few birds that are absolute dicks, but other than that, the game pretty much plays by the rules. This means that, despite Knight Kuros’s kickass flying axe, you pretty much never need to use any combat skills in W&W3.

Except for the boss monsters.

The bosses are mandatory, and, aside from a really simple knight and worm, all of them follow the same pattern of “stand on top of Kuros at all times”. Assuming you’re not ready for these bosses (and why would you be? You literally don’t have to fight any other thing like these creatures in the entire game), you’re likely to lose some of those precious lives the very minute you open their boss doors. Oh, and never mind that you get stuck with the supremely underpowered thief class for a couple of those battles, because you apparently can’t change forms while inside a room. You’ve got limited resources, and very aggressive bosses. That is not a good combination for anyone that actually wants to enjoy this game.

Oh, and the “upgraded” form of the worm boss is… two worm bosses. That’s just lazy.

The best part of the game is also the worst

Comin' atcha!The very reason I bought this game at all is the advertised “guild” factor. Kuros can adopt different personas, and wield magic as a wizard, or swing around a giant key like a Sora thief. This is good and right, and adds some much needed diversity to the Wizards and Warriors formula (which previously only saw a hero that could jump, swing a sword poorly, and occasionally become invisible). And, since this game is a metroidvania, the acquisition of new “ranks” in these guilds/costumes means access to new areas. Also, acquiring a flight ability, no matter how dreadfully slow, is always a good time.

Unfortunately, to earn any of these skills, you have to complete guild challenges. This always involves fighting a random boss somewhere in the world, collecting a statue, returning to the guild with said statue, running through an obstacle course of dubious graphical fidelity, and then fighting another boss. Each of these challenges is exactly the same, though with increasing difficulty through the ranks. And when I say “difficulty”, I apparently mean “we just made the platforms smaller, and threw in a couple of practically unavoidable traps.” Since these obstacle courses reset from the start every time you fail, this means the average player will spend something like 70,000,000 hours attempting to jump between moving platforms over either poorly rendered spikes (thief challenge) or absolutely nothing (wizard challenge). After clearing all of these challenges, actually being impaled is more fun than dealing with the magical doors-directly-to-spikes again.

There’s a hateful inventory system, too

Way to go, prezThere are key items in Wizards and Warriors 3, and you may only carry four at a time. Under normal circumstances, this would just be annoying, but could actually lead to some decent gameplay moments. You must stay on target with one task or another, and attempting to collect everything on the map in one go is discouraged. That can be okay. Regrettably, in this case, the game is still a glitchy mess, so it’s entirely possible to get four random key items, and thus be unable to pick up a fifth item that you actually need to progress to unload said four random items. For an easy example, it’s very easy to get guild statues out of order, but it’s impossible to challenge the guilds with said statues out of sequence. Got the golden thief statue before silver, and need that (golden) key to get rid of the rest of your crap? Sorry, you’re screwed. May as well reset. Back to the beginning, again.

What’s more, a number of key items exist exclusively for the benefit of wise men that provide such useful information as “kill the dragon” or “you need to go in the giant, imposing door to reach the final boss”. Thanks, guy, I really didn’t need to run all over Piedup with this stupid rosary pendant to learn that valuable nugget of information.

This dragon is stupid

Look at this daffy thing.

Three heads are better than one?

The Bad Ending sucks

This ends poorlySo after earning all of the guild ranks, rescuing and lying to three princesses, conquering the dragon, and maybe bribing some old men into taking arbitrary trash off your hands, it’s time for the final boss. Malkil, Kuros’s eternal rival, has conquered the strangely vertical town of Piedup, and sits on the throne in disguise as the king. Before the final battle, Malkil offers Kuros a choice: fight to the death, or join together, and rule this hamlet in tandem. Should Kuros choose to join his antagonist… he is vaporized immediately. Game over.

In any other game (Dragon Quest comes to mind), this would simply be annoying. Oh well, that was the wrong choice, time to reload from the most recent save. However, W&W3 still only provides exactly zero continues and/or opportunities to save your progress. So it’s possible to battle through the whole game, reach the finale, and lose everything to one poor selection. This should be treated as a war crime, and, if more people had actually played W&W3, most of the Rare staff would be in jail by now.

The Good Ending sucks

Just bad all aroundAnd should you actually have enough health and lives to finish off Malkil the Happy Evil King, the ending isn’t exactly a reward. Kuros is sucked into a time warp (apparently a magical portal that Malkil can now summon at will?), and, while you’re assured that Piedup saw the return of its true and just King James, Kuros is never seen again. The obvious sequel hook is some manner of reverse Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and the concept of Knight Kuros becoming Laser Knight Kuros is a promising one. But we never saw another Wizards and Warriors, and the franchise seems to be all but forgotten.

Actually, wait. That is a happy ending. Rot in hell, Wizards and Warriors 3. You ruin everything.

FGC #325 Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was even ignored for the recent Rare Replay collection on Xbone. How bad do you have to be to be forgotten in favor of Digger T. Rock?
  • Number of players: I don’t even want to imagine a world where a two player experience was shoehorned into this nonsense.
  • Favorite Costume: Thief, with the crowbar, in the castle.
  • Regarding the stream: I am disappointed that the audio from that adventure is lost forever. I appreciate everyone that participated, and I had a really fun time recording it while playing one of the most loathsome games in my library. All that said, if you missed it, we spent most of the night recounting unrelated favorite tweets, so no big loss.
  • Say something nice: It is kind of fun to see how many NPCs you can “ride” and/or push off the world into oblivion.
  • smexyDid you know? Oh God, I just realized where I recognized the Pickford Brothers name from! These are the people responsible for Plok, too! And they worked on the worst Marvel/LJN games. It’s weird how these two are tangentially involved in a number of games that influenced my childhood… for better or worse (mostly worse).
  • Would I play again: I was amazed during my live playthrough at how much of this game is still second nature (I only really needed a FAQ to remind myself where that dragon was hiding). That said… God, I never want to see this thing again. The pain still feels fresh…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rolling Thunder 2 for the Sega Genesis. I believe that is some manner of weather pattern? Is this a Weather Channel simulator? That might be fun. Please look forward to it!

Ugh
I still have nightmares…

FGC #202 Plok

Sing it!Welcome to the very confused 202nd FGC article on Gogglebob.com.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I generally have an idea “going in” to an article before even playing the featured game. I own every one of these damn games, and, while I may not have played some in ten years, I often have lasting memories of everything in my collection. In much the same way I can look at that Donatello as a Gargoyle action figure and immediately recall my grandmother being forever insulted by a Wal Mart employee asking to see the receipt on the way out (seriously, she brought up “that awful store” at least once a week for a solid ten years there), I can recall when I first owned Plok as a kid. And they’re good memories!

Plok was a minor obsession of my friends and me for a period of about a month (which, in elementary school time, is roughly seventeen years). Plok was played an awful lot at my home (despite being a one player game, it was easy to alternate the controller between levels/lives), and, for some ridiculous reason, the instruction manual got dragged to school fairly often. I’m desperately trying to remember the exact “why” of that one, but I want to say it was simply because we were that obsessed with the game. Also, the art was cool, and there was a certain je ne sais quoi to the term “deeley-boppers”. But whatever the reason, we were momentarily infatuated with the yellow and red claymation creation and his detachable limbs.

And, honestly, looking over that cherished manual again now, I can kind of see the appeal. In a time when videogames were generally “press a to jump, press b to attack, save princess”, there is a lot of heart in this presentation. The jokes and asides land appropriately comically, and the illustrations spark a lot more wonder than even appears in the game proper. The unicycle (with water cannon!) looks like a lot of dynamic fun on the page, even if controlling the damn thing in the game is about as fun as attempting to redirect a train with your bare ass. But, at a time when my peer group was similarly obsessed with that newly Here we godiscovered (by us) Monty Python troupe, Plok struck our imaginations and funny bones just right. If nothing else, Plok would always hold a shining place in my black, black heart.

And then I actually played the game again for the first time in years.

While I want there to be some hideous twist here, Plok does seem to hold up. It has issues that are mainly indicative of the time (limited continues, no password/save feature) that make continuous progress kind of insane (if you can make it to the finale without warping and/or save states, congratulations, Batman, thanks for reading my blog), but the minute-to-minute of Plok is still pretty great. Plok’s limb tossing inevitably draws comparisons to the more successful Rayman, and the storybook imagery seems a lot like what would eventually become a staple of Nintendo’s own Yoshi’s Whatever series. Couple this all with good (not great, but a lot better than a lot on the SNES) level design, and I’d download a modern Plok HD in a heartbeat.

But it’s the little flourishes that get my attention as an adult. Plok is animated wonderfully, but little additional bits seem to portray a character seemingly rooted in “old fashioned” animation. Plok might seem cute and unassuming in his basic walk animation, but his reactions to various obstacles (and stolen flags) seem to paint Plok as… well… I think the best way to put it is that Plok acts like Popeye walks (or Firebrand). He’s all swagger and bluster, and if he were to enter a bar and knock out every ruffian in the place, I wouldn’t be surprised. Plok’s enemies are all big-eyed and bouncy, and wouldn’t look out of place menacing Betty Boop. And, for some ridiculous reason, many of Plok’s early boss monsters appear to be circus folk, a frequent target of old WB and Disney cartoons.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “Grandpappy Plok” section of the game, which features the Plok of a few generations back adventuring in sepia tones while listening to ragtime inspired background music. That whole area is a delightful diversion for anyone that has ever spent an afternoon watching old Disney short VHS tapes.

Classy

So I considered fashioning this article to focus on the animation allusions in the game, and maybe look up some info on the creators of Plok. Surely there’s a story here about some animation nerd not making it at Disney or Warner Bros. (or getting fired by Bluth) or something, and, because videogames were the thing of the 90’s, “Plok the Animated Series” became “Plok the Game”. Finding that kind of information would be a great capper to an article. Learning is always fun!

So, with ten seconds of Googling, I found Plok’s creators on their own website. Then things took a bit of a weird turn…

ZAPFirst of all, to dispel the previous paragraph, the Pickford Bros, creators of Plok, are videogame folks through and through. Their collective “softography” goes back to the NES days, and includes such games that made me super angry as Wizards and Warriors 3, Solar Jetman, Maximum Carnage, and Spider-Man & the X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge. At least two of those games could be considered a hate crime, so we’re not off to a good start here. But Plok is pretty rad, so it’s entirely possible that the worst parts of those other games had nothing to do with John and Ste Pickford. And it also turns out that Plok as we know it evolved from a former Rare arcade game by the name of “Fleapit”. Considering the Rare Replay Compilation contains an interview with a Rare employee bragging about how a certain well-known Rare arcade port was literally built to guzzle quarters, that’s not exactly a charm point, either. This is quickly becoming a situation where the more you know only makes things worse…

But it turns out Plok’s creators love Plok! Ste appears to have put together a Plok webcomic, and it’s up to five volumes since 2013! I love webcomics, and Plok, so this should be two great tastes that taste great together. I get my Plok fix, and, as someone that could get joy out of the friggen instruction manual back in the day, this ought to be amazing!

Also in the comicExcept… the opening pages read like a resume for the creators (“Anybody remember Wetrix?”), a screed against modern game design (“Xbone is stupid, cell phone games are stupid”), and a bitter look back at the 16-bit days (“Bubsy sucks!”… okay, maybe I can get behind that one). I completely understand being upset that a project that was apparently in development for years got stomped at the sales counter because a damn bobcat detonated the cartoony mascot playing field, but making modern Plok similarly acrimonious seems… miserable. Yes, Plok didn’t get so much as a Genesis port, but he’s fondly remembered by his fans (“There are dozens of us!”), don’t be upset for decades because you made the next Aero the Acro-Bat and not Sonic. You’ll get ‘em next time, champ.

So that’s the story of how I had no idea how to focus on one damn topic to crank out this Plok article. And, sorry, I clearly have no idea how to end such a thing.

FGC #202 Plok

  • System: Super Nintendo, and only Super Nintendo.
  • Number of players: One Plok, forever and ever.
  • Favorite Costume: The costume powerups seem to appear very rarely throughout this adventure, but there’s at least one Vigilante Costume that grants Plok a flamethrower, and that’s a hot commodity. I don’t even care that they reused the fire stream animation for the flying platform creature.
  • Favorite Vehicle: Like in Dreamland, the UFO is the king of them all. Who needs a motorcycle when you’ve got deeley-boppers?
  • An end: The final boss seems to be built to be impossible, as it forces the “Spring Plok” vehicle on the player, which is much like attempting to defeat Bowser while cursed with Spring Mario. I could probably confirm this with a Game Genie, but “regular” Plok would make short work of that otherwise impossible battle. Afterwards, you’re rewarded with an animation of Plok sleeping in a chair… which is exactly where his webcomic picked up years later.
  • Dangit!Just play the gig, man: Oh yeah, the music in this game is pretty boss. Again, I’m terrible at describing why, but it’s a collection of enjoyable SNES ditties.
  • Did you know? Apparently, the Plok Bros. shopped this game around to various studios, and even met with Nintendo. I’m currently imagining the alternate universe where Nintendo accepted the pitch, and Plok is now an assist trophy in Smash Bros. No, even in my fantasies I can’t see him as an actual playable character.
  • Would I play again: I have a lot of affection for Plok… but he’s no Mario. He’s not even Sonic. So it’s unlikely I’ll naturally gravitate back toward the land of Akrillic Polyester. That said, I’ll probably get bored enough to read the web comic in its entirety at some point. So minor win?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Paper Mario for the N64! It’ll be 11/11, so let’s hope the wishing stars are ready! Please look forward to it!

Nooooo