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FGC #463 Kirby’s Dream Land 3

KIRBY!Kirby’s Dream Land 3 asks the unthinkable: What if Kirby wasn’t a complete monster?

In the early days of Kirby, there were tales of two distinct Kirby directors. Most people (nerds) are familiar with Masahiro Sakurai, who directed a number of Kirby games. While all of his Kirby titles have been distinctly Kirby-based, it is clear to see how this “version” of Kirby directly influenced the eventual creation of Super Smash Bros. (particularly if you look at Kirby Super Star and that dang shield). However, a trio of early Kirby titles (Kirby’s Dream Land 2, Kirby 64, and today’s Kirby’s Dream Land 3) was directed by noted cryptid and likely real person Shinichi Shimomura. Many gamers have noted that Shimomura’s Kirby titles were slower and more exploration-based than the Sakurai Kirby titles that came to define the franchise. Arguably, it is the Shimomura joints that follow the “original” intent of Kirby’s Dream Land, while Sakurai went off in search of crazy Kirby powers and maybe a giant robot or two.

But all their games feature Kirby, and Kirby is a force of destruction.

It’s pretty clear that, even divorced from his greatest and most destructive powers, Kirby is still a pink ball of unrelenting fury. At the base level, Kirby’s greatest strength is unfettered consumption, and his goal in nearly every adventure is either food or sleep. Maybe include some bathing, and Kirby is little more than a bottomless, never satisfied cat… and I can think of no creature more horrifying. And, while Kirby is generally on the side of the angels in rescuing food reserves from penguins or granting his Popstar buddies a good night’s sleep, he is still wrecking up the place with practically every step across Dream Land. Have you seen him turn into a wheel? Wheels are not supposed to be that vicious, but Waddle Dee is still lying unconscious at the side of the road.

But, from the very first level of Kirby’s Dream Land 3, something special happens…

Here we go!

You are allowed to play 95% of Kirby’s Dream Land 3 as typical, destructive Kirby. However, the first level offers an alternative: why not stop and smell the flowers? Or, more accurately, why don’t you stop and not completely obliterate the flowers? The flowers of 1-1 are very delicate, and they will be stomped into nothingness by the entirety of Kirby’s moveset. And once you destroy a single flower, sorry, that’s it, it’s not coming back without exiting and resetting the level. But if you do carefully maneuver Kirby around the flowers (which requires little more than steering our hero with a tiny bit care, this isn’t some “don’t touch the walls” carnival attraction), at the end of the level, Kirby will make friends with a very happy flower. This grants a recognizable “completion” token, and teaches the player an obvious lesson: be careful in the future, and you might get more sparkly doodads. And who doesn’t want more doodads?

I recognize this dudeAnd, while not every action Kirby takes to earn these friendship points is as gentle as during the first mission, many take a very “slow down, Kirb” approach to proceedings. Sometimes you have to collect puzzle (or random robot) pieces, occasionally it’s a lost child that must be found in an alternate route, and, in rare cases, you have to carefully study alien biology in an effort to bring peace to the galaxy. Every level offers a different challenge for our pink puff ball, and many of those challenges are far outside of Kirby’s traditional modus operandi.

And that’s pretty damn impressive for a platforming character best known for being a walking black hole.

It’s often noted that videogames are violent (and, make no mistake, I firmly believe that stomping a chestnut creature into a fine jelly is violent) because videogame characters only have so many ways to interact with their worlds. As such, it makes perfect sense that “secrets” or “alternatives” in platform/action games are often simply “look slightly off the beaten path”. Mega Man was entirely straightforward until Mega Man X introduced searching for armor and powerups in hidden areas. Mario was linear (give or take a warp pipe) until World added alternative exits, and then Yoshi added additional findable rarities. Basically, your only choices in many old school franchises for “scoring” beyond “Bowser is 10,000 points” are added alternative paths/secrets, or some manner of accuracy percentage (see: Contra). In both cases, the hero of the piece is not asked to do anything different beyond more effective murdering or maybe murdering in a slightly different location.

None of those heroes ever stop to smell and/or save the flowers.

Beautiful dayKirby has a more varied moveset than most videogame protagonists, but he still didn’t need a single new power to preserve nature. Later levels reward Kirby for bringing a certain skill or animal to the table, but, by and large, many of these events are of the nonviolent nature. You might need the cutter to earn the secret in one level, but it’s simply so you can pop a balloon that frees a chick to waddle back to its mother. What’s more wholesome than that? And speaking of which, one stage per level may feature a reunion between animal pals if you play your cards right. Girl cat and boy cat getting together means adorable kittens. More adorableness! And, added bonus, that darn cat actually looks happy for once. Hugs all around!

So congratulations to Kirby’s Dream Land 3 for allowing Kirby to solve a problem or two without overt violence. Kirby might be one of the most destructive heroes in all of gaming, but, for one title, he was allowed to help without the hurting. Thank you for giving us a kinder, gentler Kirby.

… Well, until it’s time to knock the evil right out of King Dedede. There are some times you just have to go nuts.

FGC #463 Kirby’s Dream Land 3

  • Can't get enough of those guysSystem: Super Nintendo initially, but also available on that Kirby compilation for the Wii, and more recently as part of the SNES series on the Nintendo Switch.
  • Number of Players: Two! That’s right, this was the first game to introduce Gooey, the nondescript blob of a Kirby partner that is mostly tongue. Please do not touch Gooey for any reason.
  • Rare Find: Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was released at the absolute tail end of the SNES’s lifespan, a full year after the release of the N64. As a result, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was hard to find on shelves already cleared for Playstation titles of the day. In fact, when I found a copy of KDL3 at a Funco Land in early 2000, I was still under the impression the game had never been released in America, and this was somehow an errant Japanese copy. I thought it could only ever exist as a ROM!
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Nago the Calico Cat always seems less like he wants to actually help, and more like he wants to play with the ball-like Kirby. I already preferred cats over hamsters to begin with, but Nago winds up earning my attention simply for how little he cares for our lil’ dude. Very cat behavior.
  • Sad Secret Truth: So much of this game is easier with Kirby’s inhale ability and no animal friends. Kirby is too powerful to be restrained!
  • So cuteFavorite Boss: Pon & Con seem to wholly replace Lolo’s place in the world of Popstar for “bosses that push blocks around”. Considering how little I like Lolo, I am practically elated at this development.
  • Did you know? Okay, maybe this isn’t the first appearance of Gooey. Gooey may surface in “kidnapped” bags if Kirby defeats a miniboss while already riding an animal buddy in Kirby’s Dream Land 2. However, it was only ever confirmed in Smash Bros. that this blob-creature was actually Gooey, so let’s go ahead and just say that Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was the first playable appearance of Gooey.
  • Would I play again: I prefer Kirby Super Star, but this is still an excellent Super Nintendo title. I would certainly guide Kirby through his kindest adventure all over again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokemon Snap for the Nintendo 64! Get your cameras ready! And Pikachus! Please look forward to it!

WHISP!

FGC #454 C2: Judgment Clay

JUDGMENTSometimes we underestimate just how much Mortal Kombat changed the landscape of gaming. And sometimes we deliberately forget how Mortal Kombat changed that landscape in the dumbest ways.

Clayfighter (1) was a pretty straightforward Street Fighter 2 clone. Actually, that may be a bit reductive. Clayfighter was, in many ways, its own thing, but also definitively a double of Street Fighter 2’s core gameplay. You’ve got a cast of colorful fighters using six buttons to clobber each other into submission. Special moves are predominantly only quarter circle motions or “charge” attacks, and the majority of special attacks are either fireballs, rising attacks, or something that shoots your character across the screen at top speed. Fights are on a 2-D plane, and a jump kick is always going to work out pretty well. And, at the end of the whole tournament of whacky weirdoes, there’s the final champion, N. Boss. That… is a pretty obvious parody right there.

But Clayfighter isn’t entirely a parody. It would have been really easy to create a pastiche of the main Street Fighter cast, or even simply stick ersatz clay Ryu or Chun-Li among the fighters. However, give or take Tiny’s “strongman” similarity to Zangief, the cast of Clayfighter was completely independent of fighting game tropes of the time. “A ghost” isn’t that original, but a super snowman battling sentient taffy or operatic “fat lady” is something to see. And they all possessed appropriate special moves, so, even if projectiles and uppercuts aren’t all that exciting, at least the murder clown is tossing cream pies. Clayfighter may have been a parody, but it was a lot more Airplane! than Scary Movie 4.

And Clayfighter 2 seems like it was poised to be more of the same. Apparently, the curators of Clayfighter decided to use all new models and all new digitizing for the sequel, so it was a fine excuse to roll out a cast of new fighters mixed with a collection of revamped originals. Bad Mr. Frosty got a new hat, Blob looked slightly different (only so much you can do with a literal blob of goo), and they were joined by newcomers like a laidback banana man, somersaulting octopus, and Kangoo the Kangaroo (possibly the only fighting clay animal in gaming that was invented thanks to a spelling error). And then there was Hoppy the Battle Bunny.

Everyone remembers Hoppy the Battle Bunny.

Get that wabbitIt seems that Hoppy was created as another funny parody character. In much the same way that Clayfighter 1 featured Blue Suede Goo, an obvious imitation of Elvis, Clayfighter introduced a character that was less likely to be immediately identified as a caricature of a real person, but still was a pretty clear mockery. Hoppy was modeled off a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. He rode a motorcycle, rocked a sweet bandana, and flexed his muscles while speaking in an Austrian accent. Almost by default, he was the most “hardcore” of the Clayfighters. Granted, that isn’t hard when your opponents are a pacifist kangaroo and a literal big baby, but if you needed to see the “jagged” side of this silly game where a bunny battles a banana, then you need look no further than Hoppy.

And that’s exactly what the marketing department did.

Clayfighter 2 was clearly designed to be a typical “Street Fighter”-style fighting game. It was as violent as you would expect a cartoon fight to be, but it did not feature any sort of “fatalities” or other bits of over-the-top violence. This was a silly game for silly fighters, and, playing just the game today, you’d note that this title is about as tame as its predecessor. However, if you were exposed to any advertising for Clayfighter 2… excuse me… C2: Judgment Clay, you might be expecting a different game. C2’s cover and advertising features Hoppy heavily, and he is equipped with an enormous gun in front of the flaming wreckage of some wasteland of a world. He’s joined by Bad Mr. Frosty, replete with his backwards baseball cap, pulling on a metal chain. Chains are scary! I think! Though I do know for certain that no industrial chains appear in the actual game, nor does the bunny ever earn such a deadly weapon. A similar picture appears on boot of the title… but it seems a lot more likely that that was a static image added at the last minute. Does this murder-based bunny appear anywhere in the game proper? No, but that didn’t stop anyone from advertising C2 as the violent successor to that puerile original Clayfighter.

Buzz!And, if you look at the era, Clayfighter was not alone. If you go back and play Nintendo games from the 16-bit era here in the year 2019, the most “subversive” item you’re likely to encounter would be Donkey Kong bopping old man Cranky Kong off a branch. Other than that, this was the era that saw Mario as a wee baby, Link as a kid with a thumping hammer, and Kirby as… Kirby. However, on the advertising front, this was the era of “Play it Loud” and Nintendo literally shouting about how they were better than Sega, who was also literally crying their name at anyone that would listen. It was the age of attitude, and it’s hard to ignore how Mortal Kombat may have influenced that thinking. After all, the number one way anyone was hearing about videogames in the mid-90’s was through the mainstream reporting on congressional hearings. Pac-Man created a fever, but Mortal Kombat was the potential cause of an epidemic. Won’t someone think of the children? And won’t someone please find a way to profit off wealthy old white men complaining about those vidja games? PERFECTAny advertising is still advertising, and, if you can hitch your horse to that controversy cart, you’re going to get to market all the faster.

C2: Judgment Clay may not have been another blatant Mortal Kombat rip-off, but it certainly borrowed a few notes from its playbook. There was more than one fighting game back in the early 90’s, but, to the general public, there was only one worth imitating. Even if it was only in advertising, Clayfighter learned a thing or two from a yellow ninja…

But, hey, at least we got a heavily-armed rabbit out of the deal.

FGC #454 C2: Judgment Clay

  • System: Super Nintendo exclusive. There were plans to bring this over to… I want to say the 32X? One of those Genesis systems of the era, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Two is the fightiest number that you’ll ever see.
  • Favorite Character: It’s still Blob. He’s got a great name, and he can transform into a buzzsaw. I also enjoy his evil twin. Oh, that reminds me…
  • A shape of things to come: C2 committed to a concept that would eventually become a staple in other fighting games. Each fighter has a “rival” boss character, and, upon completing the game, you can unlock the rival for actual gameplay. Unfortunately, the rivals are merely color swaps of their base fighters, and there’s a meager mix of special moves between all of them. Hey! Rival color swaps! Maybe that came from Mortal Kombat, too!
  • It's hard to say...Other things to come: Now Clayfighter 63⅓, there was a game that mimicked Mortal Kombat. But it also seemed to place enough of an emphasis on combos to make it a Killer Instinct parody. So I guess it was kind of a copy of a copy. And that always works well.
  • Cutting Room Floor: Lucy the Gorilla was supposed to be another fighter, but she was dropped for unknown reasons. Given the few images of her that exist, she seemed to be some kind of Pepé Le Pew-esque lover-not-a-fighter, and maybe she was dumped simply because “ugly ‘woman’ is too amorous” was a gag that had already been drained of all comedy before we even hit 1980. No, that can’t be it…
  • Did you know? Apparently a different… uh… clay house (?) did the modeling for Clayfighter 2, but the designers didn’t like the final digitized versions. And the programmers had put together a great way to string together the animations over the course of production, so, as a proof of concept, the original scans of Tiny of Clayfighter 1 were reused for C2. And Tiny looks pretty good! So hooray for our side… or something.
  • Would I play again: This is a moderately amusing Street Fighter-esque experience… So I’ll probably just play Street Fighter.

What’s next? Have we done any games with weapons this week? Or lords? No? Okay, let’s close out our Mortal Kombat koverage with that. Please look forward to it!

FLEX!
Stupid sexy Butch.

FGC #441 Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II

Here comes some starsThe original StarTropics game was an action/RPG hybrid that saw young Mike Jones venture through some ill-defined “South Seas” Caribbean-esque tropical venues. Mike traversed caves, spoke to parrots, and eventually discovered the source of all of his woes were mysterious aliens. The aliens are well established as antagonists from early on, though (StarTropics), so they’re not completely out of left field in this otherwise mundane adventure about Mike exploring some deadly vacation destinations. In a time when NES titles were often incredibly bonkers, Mike’s quest was arguably simply a much more ordinary Legend of Zelda.

And then we got StarTropics 2. And it was insane-o cuckoo banana pants crazy.

So, in the interest of properly conveying the plot and further adventures of Mike Jones, please enjoy these 30 unmodified images from my playthrough of StarTropics 2. It’s pretty straightforward!







Let’s see what else happens to Mike…

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWLet’s talk about stones, and how much blood you can get out of them.

It all started back on the Super Famicom with Shin Megami Tensei. The SMT series was, at its core, a JRPG about playing Pokémon while the forces of Order and Chaos battled for the very soul of humanity. It was philosophical. It was deep. It was banned in the West, because Satan may or may not have made an appearance. And it kicked off an entire franchise of titles based on the simple dichotomy of order and chaos and a general need for humanity to steer penis monsters riding chariots. SMT wound up a success for Atlus, which spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, the most popular (eventually) being Jack Bros. Persona.

The Persona series started as, essentially, a slightly less apocalyptic version of SMT. Yes, there are demons, angels, and the occasional Hitler running around, but they’re all operating on the fringes of society, and not outwardly participating in the end of the world. It was basically the Harry Potter to Shin Megami Tensei’s Lord of the Rings. Many of the SMT trappings were still all over the titles, though, and no one was going to mistake Persona for an entirely independent franchise. Then we hit Persona 3, and things started to… mutate.

Persona 3 features demons, monsters, and a particularly homicidal version of Jungian psychology. It is also Day Planner: The Game. Persona 3 has frequently been referred to as “Japanese high school simulator”, but, even more than that, it is a game about balancing your (avatar’s) life. Do you go out tonight (and fight monsters), or do you stay home and study for that test tomorrow? Are you going to spend the afternoon hanging out with your girlfriend, or your best friend? The nerds dance, tooAnd would you like to spend time with the kindly old couple that is obsessed with a tree (?), or is it time to while away the afternoon playing a MMORPG where your homeroom teacher is inexplicably hitting on you? Decisions, decisions! Persona 3 isn’t only about choosing your battle tactics, it’s also about choosing your friends, afternoon plans, and how you combine trading cards into demons that may or may not summon the apocalypse.

Persona 3 wound up becoming a pretty noteworthy hit. While there are a number of potential reasons for the success of the title, one significant factor is likely that you, the all-important player, so fully inhabit the life of this protagonist. In making practically every decision for this “hero” for one year of game life and about seventy hours of real life, it is rather inevitable that an audience would grow overly attached to their individually curated protagonist. And what happens the moment the main character is separated from the player? (Spoilers for a thirteen year old game incoming!) He dies! The protag literally cannot live without you!

The death of Persona 3’s hero is substantial for a number of reasons. The most obvious, of course, is how Persona 3 is all about death. Death, dealing with death, and the broad knowledge that one day you too will die are all general themes that pop up again and again in this title where you can also summon Thor to cast a lightning spell. But beyond that, there is the simple explanation that this is a focused, self-contained story that starts when a strange boy enters a strange city, and ends after that man has made meaningful relationships with people that will live on after his adventure and life have concluded. Persona 3, whether by thematic or simple writing convenience, is meant to be a wholly contained, limited story about the significant, last year of a teenager’s life. Persona 3 is not a story that is meant to go beyond its own borders. Persona 3 is a deliberately claustrophobic tale that is enhanced by its own limits.

And then, naturally, we had Persona 4. And it was a success. So we saw Persona 4 Super. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game Turbo. And Persona 4: The Animation. And Persona 4: The Rhythm Game. By about the time we got to Persona 4: The Rogue-Like, a certain pattern had emerged: the enormously successful Persona 4 was, perhaps from its inception, built to be less a self-contained story, and more a franchise unto itself.

And then Persona 5 finally emerged. Persona 5’s fame may have peaked with this…

It's a whole new game

But we are also talking about a protagonist that practically launched alongside his own canon fursona…

Sonic Heeeeeroes

So it is pretty safe to say that Persona 5 was designed with a slightly different goal than the title that “started” the (most profitable version of the) franchise. Shin Megami Tensei gave way to SMT: Persona that gave way to a series that was simply known as Persona, and now it appears that individual Persona titles are attempting to be franchises unto themselves. Please look forward to Persona 5: The Shoot ‘Em Up.

And here’s Persona 5: The Rhythm Game right next to its simultaneous release of Persona 3: The Rhythm Game.

And, honestly? These twins seem to prove that both titles are equally lacking in meat on their respective bones.

SO BLUELet’s cover the good first: the soundtracks of both Persona 3 and Persona 5 are amazing, and an entire game based on their respective OSTs is incontrovertibly a good thing. Any excuse to listen to some of the iconic tracks from either series is a welcome pretext to press buttons along to the beat, and we’ve got an excellent GUI on our hands here, too. Some rhythm games can get a little confusing with their various “press this now” prompts, but there is no such screen muddling here. And you’re not expected to free-style for extra points, either. The game portion of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is excellent, and a fine way to re-experience one of the best parts of both “origin” titles.

But it couldn’t just be a simple rhythm game. No, the Persona series seems to demand that every spin-off be somehow “canon”, so there is a full introductory scene that explains exactly why the casts of both games now must dance. It’s all a dream! Orchestrated by dueling sisters! There are no consequences for losing! There are no consequences for anything! But we’ll be damned if we let one Persona title pass without a novel’s worth of words that amount to absolutely nothing. It’s not nearly as egregious as Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story mode (which, reminder, was an entire visual novel’s worth of dialogue and twists and turns that only amounted to “believe in yourself”), but, if you want to play the full game (and why wouldn’t you want the full experience available to you?), you must participate in “social link”-esque dialogues with various party members. Ever wanted to learn exactly what Mitsuru thinks about dancing? No? Well, too bad! It’s the only way to complete this escapade!

But the twin release of dance parties for Persona 3 and Persona 5 conveys a very telling tale: both supporting casts are boring as hell.

VIDEO TIMEOkay, that might be a bit harsh. And, frankly, it even feels wrong. In the case of Persona 3, I finished the title, and immediately wanted to dive back into a New Game+ just to revisit all my old friends at Magical Dungeon High School. Similarly, Persona 5 had an unforgettable cast to the point that its fans could talk for hours about how some characters are violently underserved by their forced interactions with other (likely misogynistic) characters. In both cases, it seems like there’s a reason people would want to see the entire cast pop up again in new spin-off titles… or at least hang around in the background of a Smash stage. I liked Futaba! I could deal with more of her!

But the writing for this rhythm game (that may or may not simply be a way to further capitalize on an unforgettable soundtrack) truly underserves these casts. They are left as simple caricatures of themselves, and certain characters blend together across titles into one indistinguishable blob of archetypes (Ryuji and Junpei are the same guy, apparently). What’s the difference between the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 3’s team and the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 5’s team? Ostensibly, not much!

The worst teamAnd this seems significant, as the cast of Persona 3 was only really meant for one (albeit long) adventure, while it is obvious that Persona 5 meant for its Phantom Thieves to go on and steal the show in other franchises and Persona byproducts. Joker is going to stop by Sonic World and the Mushroom Kingdom, but is he any more developed than Jack Frost? Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight seems to indicate that he’s not. He’s just as remarkable as the other cypher that didn’t even survive his maiden adventure.

In the end, the support conversations of P5: Dancing with the Stars and P3: Dancing with the Doomed -the entire plot of both “adventures”- prove one thing: there isn’t much difference between Persona casts. And, considering one gang was meant for bigger and better things, that is rather demoralizing. Persona 5 was built to be the Big Mac to Persona 3’s Dollar Menu cheeseburger, but, once you’ve got your order, it turns out they’re both little more than a chicken nugget.

Just remember this moral when we hit Persona 5: Shin Arena Diving Space Tractor 2 Turbo. The Persona 5 well is already feeling a might dry…

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

  • System: Playstation 4 and… Playstation Vita? Really? Are you… sure?
  • Number of players: I’ll be dancing with myself.
  • Two Games? Let’s face it: the separation of these games into two different versions is a pretty obvious cash-grab. Persona fans are suckers, and pretty much every brand manager involved is well aware that those losers were always going to buy Persona: Dancing Red and Persona: Dancing Blue. And they’ll buy the special edition, too, because it comes with a plushie or something. And that plushie is still sitting on my desk as I type this. Damn fans.
  • The best teamYou’re complaining about the plot of a rhythm game? It’s not about the plot per se, it’s about that someone had the idea to make this a cool “hang out” game featuring both casts… and the “hanging out” seems less fun and more like a job required to earn a new hat. If I’m interpreting having a conversation with Ann as a boring slog now, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen in another seven spin-offs.
  • Favorite Track: Rivers in the Desert is severely underappreciated. Then again, Persona 5 has an amazing soundtrack all on its own, so there is some steep competition.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Most of the songs are accompanied by random characters bopping around to the rhythm, but two tracks per cast are dedicated music videos featuring either the boys or the girls. In general, one is kind of goofy and silly, and the other is sexy and sultry, complete with costumes and swimsuits. Want to guess which gender gets assigned to sexy times?
  • Did you know? There’s probably a universe where someone decided to model all the social links for dancing, but Dr. Tae Takemi still refuses to get out of her chair.
  • Would I play again: This (these?) title holds up as a great rhythm game, so I’m probably going to revisit some tracks in the near future. Unfortunately, I’m never going to touch the “plot” ever again. I have better things to do. And these Phantom Thieves should, too…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Startropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge! Oh no! Zoda is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Yuck
This is just… awkward.