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FGC #311 Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari

GrrrrrOn the surface, Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari is an unremarkable NES game. It’s another cash-in release from the popular (at the time) Town & Country Surf Designs company, and another opportunity to ream the last few dollars out of that bizarre surf ‘n skate rage of the late 80’s. While the previous game could charitably be described as a sports title, this is an actual platformer seeing Thrilla Gorilla, the hip-hop surfing gorilla, venturing through deepest Africa to rescue his girlfriend, Barbie Bikini.

… Okay, yeah, there’s nothing unremarkable about that.

But everything else about the game is remarkable and absolutely horrible.

This game is one big Turbo Tunnel

KapowLet’s start with the gameplay. There are seven “worlds” in Thrilla’s Surfari, and each world contains four stages and a boss. Pretty straightforward NES thinking there, but it all goes downhill the minute Thrilla starts to… go downhill. There are five different kinds of stages available, and three of those are almost completely impossible right off the bat. Desert and jungle stages see Thrilla skateboarding across the dirt and sand, while surfing stages get some mild paddling in across randomly occurring rivers. Skateboarding-a-stage has occurred in other games before (the Ninja Turtles were all about it for a level or two), but most of the time, that’s a way to make “normal” gameplay seem exciting by adding a scrolling background. Here, it’s an excuse for Thrilla to die horribly and often.

Technically (and only technically) Thrilla has a lifebar. However, those extra hits are not going to do the guerilla any good, as the most common obstacles are instant-death logs, rocks, and bottomless pits. And every death guarantees a one-way trip back to the start of the stage, progress be damned. While you can slow down to avoid many traps, Thrilla has a need for speed, and that “need” is a necessity because those bottomless pits are long and numerous. In short, this makes nearly every a stage a memorization challenge on par with Battletoad’s Turbo Tunnel. And at least the Turbo Tunnel had checkpoints! Every mistake here is an excuse to start the stage over again, and, should you miss a single jump, you know what you have to do all over again.

I’m assuming most people who dared play this game never got past the first stage, which is a shame, because it’s not even the most terrible experience available on this cartridge…

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

WeeeeeeDo you remember Mega Man 2’s spikey wall pit of doom leading to the Guts Tank? Or when it appeared again in Mega Man 3’s Spark Man Doc Robot stage? Was that your favorite part of the game? Or was that a terrifying drop into the unknown where you knew that gently nudging the crosspad in the wrong direction would spell instant death and a complete loss of progress? Do you still have nightmares about those death canyons? I do. I lose sleep over all the little metal boys I’ve killed in those drops.

And the waterfall stages of Thrilla’s Surfari are just that, forever, without the “warning” screen scroll. They are free falls where your action buttons do nothing (no swimming up the current for you), and your only hope is to steer Thrilla away from rapidly encroaching rocks. On the plus side, these stages are short, but on the minus side, they will eat up all your lives before you make it past the first strata.

Memorize, use “slow motion”/save states, or die. These are your only options in waterfall stages. Which is kind of a shame, because the waterfalls usually precede…

I’m on a shark!

I'm not the only one that sees that, right?Against all odds, the water stages of Thrilla’s Surfari are the best. Thrilla forsakes his beloved board for a shark, and suddenly the game becomes an underwater shooter. And, what’s more, it’s a really forgiving shooter.

I’m pretty sure this whole section of the game is programmed wrong. Every time Thrilla steers his shark up to a pocket of air, his health replenishes to something like 8 HP, which is considerable compared to his normal 2 HP (health may be expanded by collecting bananas in normal stages. Note: we have no bananas). With air restoring health to previously unseen levels, it would be natural to assume that the shark stages use a Super Mario 64-esque “health as air” system, but… nope. Your health descends only thanks to random jellyfish attacks, and that’s about it. So, for shark stages, you’ve got an enormous amount of health, and an easy way to replenish it all at the tap of a button. It’s… basically the opposite of the rest of the game. And that’s a welcome change.

The bosses are MS Paint fever dreams

Seven worlds, so seven bosses. The big final boss is unique (and like a lava slug monster), but his underlings are all recycled at least once, so we wind up with three bosses, and each has their own recolor. Pretty simple so far, let’s take a look at our first boss…

Charge!

Oh Jesus Christ what am I looking at here? That’s… a double rhino? With wings? And of course it shoots its horns at you, because what else would it do? Thrilla lobs back exploding coconuts in turn, but is that really going to do any good? Does this… creature have thick rhino skin? Or feathers? How does it fly? How does it… poop? Is that the purpose of the projectiles? This monster should not be!

There’s also a giant scorpion that is comparatively very tame, but before you fight that, there’s this fellow…

Sharky!

This is some “intern’s first day” pixel work going on here, and I’m pretty sure someone noticed, as this shark shoots toilets at its enemies. That can’t be a coincidence, right? That it is trash shooting literal garbage and bathroom equipment? Someone on the staff knew they were looking at crap, and planned accordingly.

Oh, and all of these bosses are, naturally, completely impossible, and Thrilla lacks any invincibility frames to even grant the player a moment’s respite amidst the projectile deluges. But I figure I don’t even have to note how wildly unfair this game is at this point.

The plot isn’t better than the gameplay

And when I say “isn’t better” I mean “is racist as hell”.

Thrilla’s girlfriend is Barbie Bikini, and she’s kidnapped by an evil god (or something) that wants to toss her into a volcano, because, I don’t know, I guess it’s going to keep the Double Rhino happy. And, in its own primitive, NES way, that’s fine. The whole kidnapped princess thing worked for Mario, it can work for Donkey Kong’s little brother just as well. Unfortunately, Barbie was kidnapped by a literal Witch Doctor, and that means a trip to Africa. And who is hanging around Africa? Spear-chucking natives of course! And there are no signs of civilization in darkest Africa, but there are stages named for native cannibals! Not okay, guys!

Luckily, all of Thrilla’s friends moved to Africa, too, so we’ve got the assistance of…

Tiki room

Tiki Man…

So cool

Joe Cool. And, of course, our favorite surfer-cat…

AHHHHH

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

The game delights in trolling the player

So the third world is entirely desert based. The first two stages are pretty straightforward, but then the third is “the blue desert”. And it’s littered with coconuts, the items that allow you to play a completely annoying bonus game at the end of the stage. To be perfectly clear, every stage contains maybe a total of five coconuts, while this area has upwards of forty. The first thought of any given player is likely that this is some manner of bonus stage, a level made just to make you feel good, and, at the end, you’ll be able to earn a number of extra lives. It was very common in the NES days, and even Battletoads had the occasional stage that was just a pleasant breather.

But, nope…

WHAT?!

Ha ha. It was all a mirage. You stupid monkey.

So way to go, Thrilla’s Surfari, you’re memorable for all the wrong reasons.

FGC #311 Town & Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. Like our other Town & Country release, I really doubt we’ll see this one revived for any reason.
  • Number of players: You can’t even die repeatedly with a buddy. One player only, suckers.
  • Say something nice: The game has a stupid difficulty curve, with the first level easily being the absolute worst (save waterfall stages). While it would have made an equally lousy impression for aesthetics, the game should start with the vastly easier desert environs. That would almost make the game…. At least playable.
  • An end: Despite the proliferation of cinema scenes throughout the game, the ending is short and to the point. It’s… fanservice.

    Teehee

    There. That’s the thirstiest image ever displayed on the NES.

  • Sidenote: Barbie Bikini appears to be the only woman in this entire game. Well, unless the double rhino is a lady double rhino.
  • Did you know? Town & Country Surf Designs is still a major manufacturer of surfboards, and they relaunched Thrilla and the Thrilla Krew branded merchandise last year. You too can finally own a Thrilla Gorilla t-shirt! Please note that Tiki Man has been rebranded as Wave Warrior, and Kool Kat is nowhere to be found.
  • Would I play again: Not for all the coconuts in Africa.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tomba for the Playstation! Do I smell bacon? Please look forward to it!

Cowabunga
At least there’s lava surfing

FGC #305 Bubble Bobble

Let's get bubblingI realize I’m just the latest blogger to throw my hat into the ring on this one, but here’s my theory on the Bubble Bobble timeline.

I think we can all agree it starts with Bubble Bobble, and everyone knows the familiar tale of that game. Brothers Bub and Bob encounter the nefarious Baron Von Blubba, an albino ghost creature that kidnaps Bub and Bob’s betties. Bub and Bob are then transformed into bubble blowing dinosaurs, and a magical journey through the Cave of Monsters is the only road to rescue/restored humanity.

And, for the record, the Cave of Monsters is a pretty fun place to hunt monsters with bubbles. Bubble Bobble is one of those rare games that falls into the arcade vs. console gulf, but is actually entertaining to play. What could be very simple gameplay quickly becomes much more complicated with things like elemental bubbles, and some of the unique “maze” levels make navigation interesting (the enjoyable kind of interesting, to be clear). And I want to say that this is the first NES game I ever played where your hero can suffer a “stun” hit (mostly from lightning bubbles), as opposed to every moving thing on the screen instantly killing poor Bub. Even Mario wasn’t afforded that luxury!

But the real kicker for Bubble Bobble is the two player mode. 2-Player Simultaneous play on the NES was a beautiful unicorn that frolicked through the meadows far too fast for many games to catch it and braid its beautiful mane… Wait, this metaphor kind of got away from me… Point is that the ability to “play two player” actually at the same time, and not as some lame alternating mode where you’re forced to cheer for the immediate death of your best friend was a rarity at the time reserved for the likes of Double Dragon 2 (but not Double Dragon 1). 2-Player Bubble Bobble, with its Mega Man-like jumping, shooting, and Bubble Lead, was a marvelous innovation on the home consoles. If Bubble Bobble is remembered for one reason, it’s for cooperative Bub and Bob monster bubbling.

Down, dinoThough, according to all data, it’s that delightful two player mode that has caused the fractured timeline of the Bubble Bobble universe. Bubble Bobble was ahead of its time in more ways than just multiplayer: it actually contained multiple endings. And these endings weren’t based on whether or not you told Glenn he’s dumb or slayed Grumple Gromit early, no these endings were based on if you were cool enough to even have a friend. If you complete Bubble Bobble as a solitary loser, than you’re told that you’ve reached the “bad end”, and come back with a friend, you lonely, detached hermit. But if you find a buddy, then and only then do you receive the good ending, with Bub and Bob regaining their brides and becoming human once again. This creates a clear dichotomy: Bub and Bob have no control over their dinosaur forms, and they are either human or dinosaur.

Bub and Bob are evidently human in Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2. Bub and Bob have forsaken their dinosaur forms and bubbles altogether to rescue the Rainbow Islands from The Boss of Shadow, who is/was apparently Baron Von Blubba’s boss. Or is Baron Von Blubba? It’s confusing. Regardless, during this adventure, the beoveralled brothers can produce rainbows and use said meteorological phenomenon to both attack monsters and create useful platforms. Assuming the bros. can defeat Dark Shadow (apparently also known as Super Skull Monsta… don’t ask), a large group of dino-people are rescued and transformed back into humans. Again, the message is obvious: being a dinosaur person is a punishment, not a reward, and Bub, Bob, and all their friends should be human.

Can I get some room?But what about Puzzle Bobble aka Bust-A-Move? In this famous puzzle game, Bub and Bob are again dinosaurs. What’s more, they’re using bubble powers to pop bubbles filled with monsters from Bubble Bobble. What’s going on? Have Bub and Bob been re-cursed? Was a life of humanity, living in boring seclusion with their nameless girlfriends, too much for the poor former-lizards? Once you become a magical dinosaur, you can never go home again? What’s the deal, Puzzle Bobble? Why did you undo the good deeds of these adorable dinos?

And this is where the multiple timelines theory comes into play. Bub and Bob did not regress to their dinosaur forms, they simply never transformed back! It’s very simple if you consider the two endings of OG Bubble Bobble: in one path, Bub and Bob were restored, and went on to save Rainbow Islands, and in the other, Bub and Bob could not work together, and eventually defeated Baron Von Blubba without being properly transformed back into humans. In that world, the Bub Bros. were forced to constantly relive their failure in a puzzle-based purgatory, and forever be dinosaurs performing for browser-based games until the end of time. Or until they learn to work together again… which may take a while, considering dinosaurs have brains slightly larger than Nerf darts. It might take a few millennia for such a creature to learn a lesson…

And that’s the simple explanation for the Bubble Bobble expanded universe. I could share the 2,783 slide PowerPoint presentation I made on the topic, but this article is already getting a little long, and I’d prefer to get back to popping bubbles now. Just remember: Bub and Bob were doomed to an unending torment because Jimmy couldn’t come over to help you beat the game that one time. Have a fantastic day!

FGC #305 Bubble Bobble

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for this review, but the arcade port was available for a myriad of other systems, including the Gameboy, Master System, and Game Gear. It was the Bust-a-Move of its time.
  • Number of players: Always be two people!
  • Favorite Enemy: You never forget your first monster, and the Zen-Chan aka Bubble Buster, the little wind up man, is my favorite creature in the Cave of Monsters. I adore his little angry eyes when you’re running low on time/monsters.
  • Proper Genus: I suppose Bub and Bob are supposed to be dragons, not dinosaurs? Bah, I care not for your creature canon.
  • WUV?Goggle Bob Fact: So I have extended family in Florida, and, when I was a kid, this was used as a fine excuse to say over and visit Disney World for a week on an annual basis. As everyone knows, there are roughly 12,000 things to do in Orlando… but I generally most remember playing Bubble Bobble with my younger cousin, because it was like the only two player game he owned. In later years, Universal Studios Orlando became available, but my cousin also obtained Rocket Knight Adventures, and… Wow, I really have measured my life in tiny plastic cartridges.
  • Did you know? The Invader/Super Socket monster moves and looks exactly like a Space Invader. Taito was mining that nostalgia fount before there even was videogame nostalgia.
  • Would I play again: Be glad this article isn’t just me lamenting my inability to score a second player for a thousand words or so. I really enjoy Bubble Bobble, but it doesn’t see much play these days, because, ya know, everyone has lives. Was BB on the NES Mini? It was? Dammit, another reason I should have grabbed one of those.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… King of Fighters 2006! 2006? That was only eleven years ago. Which one was that, again? Bah, guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!

That and Mario Paint

FGC #284 Drakengard 3

Today’s article contains game-long spoilers for Drakengard 3. Nothing too specific, but it does kind of spoil the ultimate finale of the game, so, ya know, you’ve been warned.

Here comes a special boyA long time ago in a Snick long forgotten, my mother watched an episode of Ren & Stimpy with a wee Goggle Bob. This was unusual, as, while my mother usually did her best to watch what I was watching (we both enjoyed Clarissa Explains it All quite a bit), she didn’t (and still doesn’t) really like “cartoons” at all. So, one way or another, this was likely the first my mother sat and down and actually watched a complete Ren & Stimpy episode. The episode (The Big Baby Scam… I can remember almost all early Nicktoon episodes because they were rerun constantly) was a typical Ren & Stimpy jaunt, and ended with a pair of menacing babies punching the daylights out of Ren Höek. I was laughing uproariously, and my mother… was not impressed. I asked her why, and her response still sticks in my mind.

“I just don’t think violence is funny.”

This rocked my young mind. I am not, nor was I, a psychopath, so, of course, I shared the same belief. Violence is violence, it is bad. But, as far as I reasoned, this was not “violence”, it was Ren & Stimpy. It was a silly cartoon about a dog and a cat and their harebrained schemes to, what was it again? Oh yes, to live. Okay, yeah, if you think about Ren & Stimpy for a moment, it is kind of horrifying, because many episodes are just about two stray animals desperately trying to find a place to live and belong. But then, the next episode, they’re space cadets out in the universe, and isn’t Stimpy a silly kitty? Never mind that practically every episode ends with either Ren slapping Stimpy or Ren being punished by the universe for being Ren, they’re just a couple of inane cartoon animals, no “violence” here.

And, obviously, that’s bullshit.

This has long been the rallying cry of pearl-clutchers everywhere, but cartoons do normalize violence. There’s hitting, there’s falling down, and there are any number of “whacky” firearms being blasted all over the place. I’m pretty sure the average American can simply close their eyes and relive the “Daffy has his beak blown around” image from Looney Tunes. And, on one hand, who cares, it’s funny. On the other hand, it’s a sentient creature being shot in the face. That is not normal. That is upsetting. But it’s a cartoon, so it practically becomes a part of our cultural identity. And, as someone who watches a lot of cartoons, I want to say there’s nothing wrong with that. Kids are smarter than they’re often given credit for, and it’s not hard to discern the difference between Elmer Fudd and an actual threat with a gun. I haven’t ever seen a real life anvil dropped on a random person, so I’m pretty sure our society has survived the last few decades of “animated violence”. The kids are alright.

And then we get into videogames.

And gore!I don’t need to rehash the whole “violent videogames” angle, do I? We’ve all heard the debates, and we’ve all dealt with at least one family member or friend that thinks you’re going to “go Columbine” because you play murder simulators. It’s crazy, right? We all agree there? We don’t play violent videogames because they’re violent, or to learn violence; we play violent videogames because that’s how videogames interpret the world. Call of Duty or Splatoon, who cares? What’s the difference between a virtual gun and a virtual water gun? They’re both just as ineffective on that damn cat with the flags, so let’s get over this whole “videogame violence” thing. Videogames are good for you! Now sit down and finish your Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall!

But do you ever really sit down and think about what you’re doing in a videogame? Let’s look at Final Fantasy 1, a game I want to say no parents’ organization has ever challenged (though I’d be amused to hear otherwise). On the surface you’ve got four kinda goofy looking dudes with swords and nunchucks traipsing across a medieval countryside occasionally making imps fall down. No big deal there. But then consider what actually happens in that game. The Light Warriors venture from Corneria to the next town over… an event that involves random encounters every seven steps, and each battle including one to nine different beasts. Our protagonists kill these creatures as easily as breathing, and chug magic drugs whenever they need to feel a little better. Along the way, they meet a blind old woman that lives alone in a cave… and then the heroes keep walking. Shortly thereafter, the gang arrives in Pravoka, determines they need a boat, and kill nine guys until the survivors give them a boat. Then they set sail for another land, and, aside from maybe returning to loot the place, the good people of Pravoka never see the Light Warriors ever again. They don’t even come back to patronize what I’m sure is a fine inn and ocean-side tourist stops.

Slay 'emWhat I’m saying is that the Light Warriors are the real monsters.

But this kind of inhumanity is the standard for most videogames. Children are suffering? Well, I’ll help them if they offer me a cool reward for their stupid little quest. Local economies live or die according to my weapon purchases? Well, I bought everything in this stupid little town, there’s no reason to come here ever again. And the monster thing? Have you ever considered how many species have been driven to extinction thanks to well-meaning heroes? Even a “kiddy” game like Pokémon involves walking through any given forest and knocking every last critter in your path into unconsciousness. That is not the sign of a well mind; that is an early warning sign for a serial killer.

Yoko Taro, a videogame director and writer, seemed to notice this. This thesis permeated his first big game, Drakengard. Unfortunately, Drakengard had a few problems, chief among them that it is about as fun to play as boiling your own eyelids. But then we got Taro’s Nier, a game that is totally bonkers, but actually fun to play. Unfortunately, the moral of Nier ultimately boiled down to “even the most virtuous hero is someone else’s villain”, which is an excellent lesson, but one that requires an actually chivalrous protagonist. The titular Nier is a dedicated father (or brother) who is unerringly kind to the various freaks that seem to populate his world. Assuming you’re not a damnable shadow creature, Nier is good to you, and, while this makes much of his life that much more of a tragedy, it also makes him (possibly over) sympathetic. Nier does what may be judged as bad things, but he does them for reasons that make sense to the player.

This cannot stand.

Zero is the heroine of Drakengard 3. Zero is also an asshole.

flitter flitterDrakengard 3 is the story of six sisters. All six sisters have overwhelming magical powers, and five of them decided to share these powers with everyone and rule justly and fairly in an effort to promote the betterment of mankind. And the sixth sister? Well, that’s Zero, and she decided to use her powers to kill her five sisters and every single man, woman, and centaur in between. She technically has a good reason for doing this, but she’s not big into sharing, so there isn’t much hope for a peaceful resolution. And, spoilers, like most videogame protagonists, she has little trouble achieving her goals. Basically, the simple act of popping the Drakengard 3 disc into your PS3 sets off a chain reaction that leads to the death of thousands across multiple universes. Though I guess Zero does manage to accomplish her murderous goals, so, uh, thanks for playing?

Taken on its own, Zero is not doing anything different from any other videogame, particularly those in the Dynasty Warriors vein. Zero enters the battlefield, cuts down a number of anonymous soldiers, maybe beats a mythological creature or two (minotaur, cerberus, whatever), and moves on to a boss that likely has a “human form” and then a colossal “monster form”, though feel free to reverse that order here and there. When it’s all over and everybody (and I mean everybody) is dead, then we discover that this whole “evil Zero” thing was some kind of smear campaign gone wrong, and Zero actually saved the world. Hooray for our side, trophies for everybody!

ClassyBut the devil is in the details here, and Zero is not afraid to reinforce her own negative self-image. Hell, there’s a reason she named herself “nothing”. This is a woman that kills, enjoys it, and then kills some more. At one point, she relays her whole sad backstory, but her narration is over a flashback of her slaughtering a small town’s worth of soldiers. The massacre has nothing to do with her tale, it’s just, ya know, how that woman thinks. She’s got a mind for murder, and murder on her mind.

And then there are her companions. Not unlike a JRPG, Zero has a party of acolytes that join her quest as the game progresses. Team Zero thus ultimately consists of:

  • A sadist that believes all ugly things must be killed. Side note: he believes everything is ugly.
  • A masochist that derives sexual pleasure from the tiniest implications of abuse. He was previously in a relationship with a very vocal virgin, so, to say the least, he’s a little repressed.
  • A perverted old man that, should he think and talk about sex any more than he already does, will accidentally invent Star Trek.
  • A pretty boy that is all beauty and no brains. Presumably because people have a tendency to always listen to the most attractive person in the room, he is constantly inventing “fun facts” that are, in fact, not all that factual.

Do any of these fellows sound like role models? Hell, do any of these guys sound like someone you’d like to share a continent with? I’ve got nothing against sadists, masochists, satyriasists, and dumbasses, but there’s a difference between extracting pleasure from pain and that being your only personality trait. But, here we are, four dudes that are almost entirely defined by their base desires, and they’re “your” party. Choose your favorite two for the battlefield. You’ll be relying on them for your life!

Directed by Yoko TaroAnd it’s in this manner that Taro accomplishes his goal. Zero and her amazing friends are all joined by one basic, mutual hypothesis: they all like killing. They all like it a lot. And you like it, too, don’t you? What’s that, you don’t like violence? No, that can’t be right, you just murdered about three hundred people in ten minutes, and this is the eighth time you’ve done it. You claim you won’t kill again? Bullshit, you’ll start the next mission and kill the next boatload of people, because you want to see how the story ends, don’t you? You want the achievements? You want the upgraded weapons? Ha, you’re just like this dork over here that’s masturbating over a corpse. Who cares if you’re doing it for EXP or to ride the baloney pony, you’re still killing like a psychopath, and you’re going to keep doing it because you enjoy it. You enjoy violence.

And maybe that’s not a good thing.

Of course, I’ve neglected to mention the first and youngest member of Zero’s posse. Mikhail is a dragon, and, because his previous form, Michael, was recently killed, he’s technically little more than an infant. As a wee (giant) dragon baby, Mikhail has the mind of a child, and a… less than complete understanding of his mistress. Mikhail believes that Zero should try to solve this problem by peacefully reconciling with her sisters, and she absolutely should not kill every person she encounters. Zero doesn’t listen, but, even though he aids Zero time and time again, Mikhail persists with his cries for pacifism. Yes, he does fight, but it’s defensively, and he actively notes that he’s not enjoying it, and he would rather not be doing this if there were any other way.

And he’s the only character that survives Drakengard 3. He’s the only character that survives after participating in the biggest, most annoying challenge on the PS3 that is, incidentally, entirely based on being defensive. All the violence up to this point has been easy, not solving your problems with swords and fire breath is hard.

That makes a bit of an impact.

UGHSo maybe Mom and Yoko Taro are right. Maybe there is something to this whole violence in media thing. Maybe it doesn’t make an impact on our minds, maybe it does. Who knows? All I do know is that most media is content to be “don’t worry about it, it’s just a fantasy”, while Drakengard 3 proudly states, “you like violence? Then there might be something wrong with you.” It’s not the worst judgment, after all, this band of freaks did save their world (after a fashion), but it is something to consider.

Anyway, next week is going to be… Mortal Kombat (9ish) for the PS3? Seriously, ROB? Okay, now you’re just screwing with me.

FGC #284 Drakengard 3

  • System: Playstation 3. Exclusive? Yeah, that’s gonna move a lot of systems.
  • Number of players: It might be neat to get some two player disciple action, but, nope, Zero one player.
  • What’s in a name: The Drakengard franchise is known as “Drag-on Dragoon” in Japan. I cannot tell you how much I prefer that title (it’s a lot).
  • Favorite Disciple: This isn’t usually my preference, but I’m going to go with pretty boy Cent as my favorite. He seems to be the most active of the disciples before his official turn to Zero’s side, and he might be the… least crazy member of the party. Then again, he also summons a magical spider creature almost by accident, and that can’t be completely sane.
  • Backstory: Oh yeah, never read the backstory for Zero. I cannot stress this enough. It’s basically written by Frank Miller. Modern Frank Miller. Avoid at all costs.
  • So much loveLadies’ Night: I could probably write an entire other article on the sexual politics of this game… but I’m not sure if I’d ever reach a conclusion. On one hand, the women rule this world, and there is not a single male that isn’t, in some way, a servant to a woman. That’s cool and oddly feminist for a Japanese game. On the other hand, those powerful women seem to be designed exclusively to check off boxes for various fetishes (like a certain other franchise), so only Zero and One (binary!) come off as “real” characters. Otherwise, you’ve just got nymphy, virgin, lolita, and crazy. Mind you, I haven’t played the DLC, so I don’t know if there is more “shading” there, but, as is, it’s a disappointing turn.
  • Did you know? Oh, and speaking of which, Taro apparently told the character designers to look to Puella Magi Madoka Magica for tips on character design. Now I can’t unsee half the sisters being obvious MM “homages”. Though I suppose a MM/D3 crossover is more likely now…
  • Would I play again? Maybe… I guess. This is a lot more fun than Drakengard 1, but, on the other hand, it’s not as fun as Nier, so….

What’s next? Random ROB already chose Mortal Kombat for some reason, presumably because he’s an evil robot and is not to be trusted. So, anyway, violence for violence’s sake. Please look forward to it!

THE END

FGC #280 Super Troll Islands

Huh?The eyes always have it.

It’s fascinating how much humanity is obsessed with eyes. When you get right down to it, eyeballs are just another in a long series of random bits of anatomy, but it’s not like any gems are named “cat’s elbows”. Eyes are said to be a window to the soul, while absolutely nobody is looking up your nostrils to determine the contents of your heart. Maybe the gateways through which we see the world were always destined to be a focal point of our collective attention, or maybe a beautiful set of baby blues just are that gorgeous. One way or another, eyes have been the subjects of more sonnets and songs than fingernails could ever hope to imagine, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Eyes are here to stay (in our collective unconscious/skulls).

Symbol or no, though, there is power in the humble eyeball. Obviously, people behave differently when they’re being watched. Do you read this site at work? Look out! Your boss is right behind you, and the jerk knows you’re reading a site with a series of articles titled “Wankery Week”. You’re fired, you damn pervert. … Or no one is watching you right now, so you can do whatever you damn well please. Want to open up a bag of doritos at your desk and dip ‘em in hot fudge? Go for it! Don’t get any fudge on the keyboard, and you’ll be fine. But what does that really mean? Essentially, there are two different realities, one where you are being supervised and restrained, and one where you can do anything in the world. And if this sounds bonkers, consider that the basis of some entire religions is simply “capital-G God is always watching you”. God has got his eyes on you, and he knows what you’re doing with those doritos.

But here’s a fun fact: people react to simple representations of eyeballs, and not just actual, living eyeballs. Studies have proven (google it!) that when an eye is in the area, like a simple poster with eyeballs staring straight at ya, people perform… better. People litter less when they get even the impression they’re being watched, and face punching incidents drop by almost 85% [citation needed]. Basically, humans are social creatures, but we’re also stupid creatures, so if we’re in the presence of even a fake audience, we behave more responsibly. This is why I’ve painted pseudo-eyes on the side of my house, and now those neighborhood kids have stopped peeing on my lawn. Life is good with eyes!

Just chillSo it’s interesting to look at how eyes evolved in videogames. Nowadays, even Link is looking fairly realistic, but back in the early times of 8-bit adventures, eyes were a luxury some heroes couldn’t afford. Simon Belmont? No eyes. Bill & Lance? No eyes. Orin the Falconer of 8 Eyes? Barely got eyes. OG Pac-Man is eyeless (his opponents are sometimes only eyes), and Samus Aran can only win eyes through defeating Mother Brain. In fact, you could probably point to some of the most known mascots of the NES/Gameboy era for their eyes. Mega Man and his signature blinks come to mind, and Kirby is all about the eyes, angry or not. And then we’ve got Mario and his world that is filled with eyes. Turtles, chestnuts, mushrooms, bushes, clouds, and I’m pretty sure I saw a few eyeballs on flaming plants somewhere in there. And guess which franchise captured children’s hearts for a generation or so? Yep, it’s the one with the googly eyes all over the place.

But by the age of the Super Nintendo, sprites were getting a bit more spacious. Now we had room for big, cartoony creatures with appropriately scaled eyes. Now we could actually get some of those Mickey Mouse/anime eyeballs in there, and…. Sometimes it went terribly wrong…

Super Troll Islands is a very limited game. You control one of four trolls, and an evil fog has made the whole of the world (Troll Islands?) monochrome for some bizarre reason. But I guess trolls leak color wherever they go, so you’ve got to guide your troll to, basically, just walk all over the place, and thus this fog thing will just work itself out. Your troll doesn’t even have to walk everywhere, you just have to aim for places where, thanks to a number of ladders, you can navigate in a general square/rectangle around an area. Repeat forever, throw in a few bonus stages, and call it a day. Actually, to be honest, I have no idea how many levels are in this game, as I got bored about seven levels in, but there are definitely those seven levels. Are there bosses, too? Who the hell knows.

But that’s not what’s important about Super Troll Islands. What’s important is that, for reasons that can only be imagined by mortal man, at no point in this adventure do these damn trolls stop looking at you.

WHAT IN GOD'S NAME!?

They’ve got cold, dead, black eyeballs, and they’re always staring right at you, player. Running left? Running right? Climbing a ladder? Swimming? There is nothing you can do to get these damn trolls to look in any other direction. Actually, forgive me, there is one thing: the tornado “super move” will temporarily transform your chosen troll into a whirlwind of deadly hair (?), and, for one brief respite, you are free of the troll menace. Then, after the powerup wears off, it’s right back to staring history’s lamest fad right in the face. Trolls are watching you. Trolls will always be watching you.

ArghAnd you really have to wonder what the designers were thinking. This troll staring thing is immediately and obviously… disturbing. Some people might like troll dolls, but nobody wants to have a staring contest with the little buggers. This isn’t “that should be fun for kids”, this is the game you see in the opening to a particularly poorly planned horror movie from the 90’s starring Macaulay Culkin as the unfortunate child that thought he was just purchasing a simple Super Nintendo game, but wound up taking home… a monster! Super Troll Islands isn’t fun, it’s horrifying, and that’s not exactly a good match for a game where you collect ice cream after spreading rainbows. There’s… a bit of a disconnect there.

So remember the lesson of Super Troll Islands: eyes are important, but do not use eyes for evil. Just don’t do it. You are being watched.

FGC #280 Super Troll Islands

  • System: Super Nintendo exclusive! Obviously, it was too much for the meager Sega Genesis.
  • Only Troll Game on the SNES? Nope!
  • Number of players: There isn’t even a perfunctory two player alternating mode here. One troll at a time, losers!
  • Optional: The options menu allows you to adjust the control scheme, or…. Change the direction of your troll’s hair. That’s… important?
  • BONUSFavorite Troll: I don’t know, the green one, I guess. I’ll also note here that I enjoy fluorescent colors… though you probably already guessed that from the site design. Hm. I should switch things up again at some point.
  • Did you know? Troll Dolls have been around since 1959, but they really did the whole fad thing sometime around the early 90’s. This would be right around when the trolls released singles covering Beach Boy songs. It was a weird time to be alive.
  • Would I play again: The eyes… they… they haunt me.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Doom! DOOM! DOOOOOOOOOOOM! For the 32X. Please look forward to it!