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FGC #264 Fighters Megamix

Let's fight!Fighters Megamix didn’t create the crossover fighting game genre. Fighters Megamix didn’t create the 3-D fighter. No, what Fighter’s Megamix did was create the first fighting game where you could fight as a car.

In my book, that counts for a lot.

Fighters Megamix is one of many fighting games to grace the Sega Saturn. The intention of the advertising campaign surrounding Fighters Megamix is right there on the box: “The ultimate team-up – Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2”… which, uh, is apparently a line from Game Informer. Wow, really low standard for pull quotes back then. Regardless, Fighters Megamix, despite the seemingly “unlimited” mega moniker, is, superficially, Virtua Fighter + Fighting Vipers. This, frankly, could have been enough to sell a game back in the day, because, hey, VF and FV are pretty fun games on their own. This isn’t even a Vs. game situation where the rosters are randomly trimmed in the name of balance and hitting release dates: this is straight up the complete cast of Virtua Fighter 2 battling every last fighter in Fighting Vipers 2. Fun times will be had by all!

The cast of Virtua Fighter 2 is not that exciting, though. Maybe Sega was trying to be more realistic, maybe the God of Fighting Games (Punchilicus) had a cold that day, but, somehow, in a post-Street Fighter 2 world, we got a cast of characters that are roughly as generic as America’s Best Cola Flavored Sugar Drink. Give or take a metal woman or two, we’ve got Karate Man, Chinese Lady, Gentle Wrestler, Woman, Ninja, Other Woman, and, my personal favorite, Kid in a Life Preserver. But, when those doofs are next to the cast of Fighting Vipers, their “seriousness” actually seems to work. Fighting Vipers has got a teenage girl in homemade, plastic armor, a radical glam rocker who attacks with his guitar, and not one, but two whole characters based on an executive asking, “well, aren’t rollerblades popular?”. This seems to make the Virtua Fighter cast appear as the valid, “mature” alternative to playing as a character dressed like Serpentor. Virtua Fighters are boring in their own games, but when a Megamix starts happening, they kind of work out.

And it appears someone noticed that, and decided to turn the contrasting weirdness up to eleven.

What just happened?Like many fighting games of the mid-to-late 90’s, there are a few unlockable characters to earn through repeated playthroughs. The first characters you’re likely to unlock are URA Bahn, a variant on Fighting Vipers’ Ryu, and Kids Akira, also a variant, but this time on Virtua Fighter’s main character. Except, while URA Bahn is just Bahn’s color (costume) swap, Kids Akira is Akira as a “chibi”, large-headed, and, frankly, adorable variation on Akira straight out of Virtua Fighter Kids. Right off the bat, we’ve got what seems to be a shot across the bow of Virtua Fighter’s steadfast seriousness. And then there’s Kumachan, a bear with zero points of articulation, so he basically “fights” like he’s being manipulated by an unseen toddler that is attempting to wring some fun out of an inanimate action figure. Oh, but Kumachan appears to be wearing armor, if you break his costume, then you will find that beneath the outer Kumachan shell of a bear, there’s… another bear. It’s bears all the way down!

And it’s weirdness all the way down, too. Siba seems like the most mundane hidden character, but his existence is owed to being deliberately cut content from the original Virtua Fighter, so he’s basically a playable piece of trivia. Then there’s Janet from Virtua Cop, and, even though she doesn’t get a “kick ‘em square in the bean machine” finisher from Dynamite Cop, she’s obviously a million times more interesting than the entire Virtua Fighter cast. That brings us to Rent-A-Hero, who hails from a franchise that has never made it out of Japan, mainly because it seems to be a humongous parody of sentai shows. So, basically, he’s a Power Ranger with the noticeable handicap of being battery-powered, so… uh… don’t take him into any matches that might take longer than a minute. And that luminary is our last human hidden character.

This is beary confusingBut don’t worry, we’ve still got Bean the Dynamite and Bark the Polar Bear. If those sound like lame Sonic the Hedgehogoriginal characters”, it’s because they are: Bean (who is apparently a duck?) and Bark both hail from Sonic The Fighters. Remember that Sonic the Hedgehog fighting game? No? Well, it was on one of the Sonic collections, and it was apparently from the same studio as Fighters Megamix, so here are a few refugees. Note that no one thought to go the obvious route and include, ya know, Sonic the friggen Hedgehog (on a Sega system lacking a definitive Sonic game to boot), but here’s Bark the Polar Bear, and he’s wearing a Santa costume! Oh boy!

And, finally, we have Deku, a green bean in a sombrero. Deku is not to be confused with Amingo, a cactus in a sombrero that would eventually appear in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. These are two totally separate characters, and “two fighting game crossovers featuring a bizarre Mexican stereotype” is just the kind of coincidence that happens when companies make fighting games for a decade or so. It was bound to happen.

Oh, wait, Deku isn’t our final hidden character after all. Technically, there’s also Mr. Meat (a piece of videogame meat with inexplicable [and unattached] hands and feet), Palm Tree (who is a palm tree), and, finally, Hornet. Hornet is a car that walks like a man. Hornet must suck the blood of the living, lest Hornet return to a lowly life as a race car. Also, Hornet is as tall as a human right now, for some reason. Hornet fights about as well as you’d expect a car with absolutely zero martial arts training to fight, but, hey, how many games can you fight as a car? (No, not fight as cars, that’s something else entirely.)

VROOM!

Let’s face facts: Fighting Vipers is long forgotten, and Virtua Fighter, try as it might, has never achieved the acclaim or fame of even lesser fighting games. But, for one shining moment, both franchises combined into the most memorable fighting game on the Sega Saturn. No, it didn’t change the face of the genre or invent a whole new playstyle like some of its contemporaries, but it was a fun time… mostly because most of its hidden cast is the result of a fever dream. Marvel vs. Capcom or King of the Fighters might be fun games, but they don’t allow the player to pit a car against a bean. That’s a matchup you’ll only find on the Saturn.

Head for Saturn, little polar bear. Head for Saturn.

FGC #264 Fighters Megamix

  • System: Sega Saturn. This is unlikely to see a rerelease, as it is impossible to sort out the rights to Deku,
  • Number of players: Two car-people enter, only one vrooms away.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: There’s a snake-themed character with brown coloring named B.M. … Someone had to know what was going on there. It’s not just me with my mind in the gutter… right?
  • What?Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Fighters Megamix creates an interesting twist on the typical arcade mode, and includes a number of “brackets” with distinct characters, like Muscle (for the “Zangief-esque” characters”) or Smart Guys (for the more tactical characters). There’s even a “Girls” tier exclusively for the female characters. That’s good! There are enough women in a fighting game that they can flesh out an entire tower of girl power, and that’s rare! What’s not so great is that your reward for battling through this mode is a credits sequence that contains more cheesecake than my dad’s birthday party. And, side note, that man really enjoys his cheesecake.
  • Also gross: Honey/Candy is sexualized to a fairly insane degree, and she’s supposed to be sixteen. Thanks, Sega!
  • Favorite Character: Gonna say it again, “Car that walks like a man.”
  • Did you know? The Dirty Fighters tournament involves a lot of characters that crouch and punch. I’m almost certain this means that the “dirty fighters” are all trying to punch my chosen hero where Virtua Fighter Kids come from. That’s dirty.
  • Would I play again: This is like the one Sega Saturn game I enjoy replaying. Good thing, too, considering I have to start a new save file every time I boot up the damn thing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Scribblenauts Unmasked for WiiU! Typing time with Batman! Please look forward to it!

BEAR OVER

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

Ready to fireFighting games are the closest experiences we have to “standard” cinematic experiences. Your average “action”-based affair features a hero, hero’s best friend, and hero’s inevitable love interest versus the forces of bad guy and bad guy’s second. Toss in a couple of comic relief characters (works for either side), an inescapably doomed mentor, and maybe the romantic lead’s chubby friend, and, basically, you’ve got the full cast of a movie, dramatic television show, or fighting game. Walter and Jessie versus Gus and Mike, or Ryu and Ken versus M Bison and Sagat? It doesn’t matter from a basic story structure perspective. What does matter is how many videogames necessitate… a slightly larger cast. The blockbuster, genre-defining Super Mario Bros. movie involved King Koopa and his army of two (2) goombas. Super Mario Bros. for the NES included more goombas in its first ten seconds, and never mind the sheer number of surprisingly lethal turtles wandering around. JRPGs are all about defeating Big Bad and his four malevolent lieutenants… and the 17,000 random monsters between here and the next town. Remember that beloved scene in Back to the Future when Marty is walking back and forth between Doc’s Mansion and Hill Valley, and he has to slaughter twenty random wolves and Big Boss Wolf? Yeah, me neither. In short, a number of videogame genres are forced into a sort of endless loop of adding more and more “nobodies” to the plot to validate gameplay conventions, while Fighting Games have to put in no such effort. Liu Kang hates Shao Kahn, and, after fighting six guys, they’re gonna settle this thing. Who would want to play a game that complicates that story?

So it’s always kind of surprised me that more games don’t borrow (re: steal) the basic layout of a fighting game. I’d argue that Smash Bros. does this with aplomb while still being more of a “platform/action” game without carrying all the baggage of a typical fighter (and I suppose that statement thus includes every game that ever copied Smash Bros). And, in a way, most sports games follow the same template, as you don’t have to battle, say, the Dallas Cowboys Color Guard before tackling the real Cowboy opponents in the latest Madden. But I guess that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? In film, a tight cast is a standard bit of storytelling, while, in a videogame, you’re only going to see such a thing in a sports/competitive environment. Otherwise, without a bunch of random nobodies to kill, what are you going to do? We all love that Street Fighter 2 bonus stage, but you can only beat up a car so many times before it gets old.

Or maybe cars can beat up… each other?

Look out!Today we’re looking at a game from the Playstation/N64 days. Most people remember the mid to late 90’s as the age of the JRPG boom brought on by Final Fantasy 7; however, this was also the epoch of the rise of “cool people games”. After a decade of videogames being synonymous with furry mascots and stabby elves, the big guys all seemed anxious to push a mandate of more “mature” gaming. And by “mature”, I mean “appeals to teenagers that so desperately want to drive a car and maybe touch a boob”. This led to the premiere of many “realistic” heroes, like Gordon Freeman and Lara Croft, who fought real-life problems, like aliens and t-rexes. Okay, the games might not have been any more realistic than what came before, but at least they were less cartoony, and that was good enough for a generation that was, finally, ready to play it loud.

This, coupled with the advances in graphics and scaling technology, led to a lot of racing games. A lot. Like, there was a time when you could walk into an Electronics Boutique, and there was just a wall of random cool looking cars staring back at you. “Realistic” racing games were meant to be system sellers, and, perhaps as some kind of residual aftereffect of Blast Processing, speed was king. One of these days I’m going to review that Playstation “future” racing game that involves the half-pipe and moving at super-speed… but I’m not going to name it right now, because I can’t remember if it’s that game I’m thinking of, or that other game with the exact same premise. Or maybe it was that other one? Meh, I’ll figure out later. Point is that there were a lot of racing games at the time.

Racing games naturally fall into that “competition” category like fighting and sports games. That means that your average “car game” could easily copy the fighting game template, and do the whole “unique character/unique story/unique ending” thing. That’s good! That creates memorable characters, that, in a sea of “red car vs. blue car” could make your new unique IP standout. People are always going to remember Scorpion, you could transform your racing competition game into something perennial with the right merchandising. Let’s make a car fighting game, and be legends forever!

And that car fighting game became… Twisted Metal. Who doesn’t love Sweet Tooth!? He was in Playstation All-Stars!

Fear of a yellow busThree years later, there was Vigilante 8. Vigilante 8 does not feature any characters that resurfaced for Playstation All-Stars… or… anything else, so I guess there’s something to be said for being first to the finish line. However, Vigilante 8 attempted to do something rather unique with its car combat simulator: it copied everything about fighting games. Not content to just copy the (good) basic plot structure of a fighting game, Vigilante 8 went the extra mile by copying the worst part of fighting games: the distinctive, often esoteric motions for special moves. And it married that concept to a “fight” where you basically only have one reliable offensive option (shoot), so a new player will have something of an distinct disadvantage when battling a veteran player (or, ya know, the entire single player campaign). There are even car “fatalities” available, and the game constantly prompts the player to “total” incapacitated enemies… but… how am I supposed to do that again? Come on, Activision, you always knew this game was a rental at best, why do you think anyone would read the instruction manual?

Vigilante 8 isn’t a terrible game; it can actually be quite fun if everyone involved knows what they’re doing (and you have a TV large enough to accommodate blurry 64-bit split screens), and you’re not just skidding around each other desperately trying to clip your opponent with a Stay on target, jerkdinky machine gun (only in Videogame Land may a machine gun be effectively useless). But what could easily have been a memorable game with interesting characters (interesting by late 90’s videogame standards, mind you) is severely marred by a bizarre insistence on copying everything about fighting games, good and bad. Mortal Kombat with cars could be a great game, but only if you leave the silly input motions on the cutting room floor.

Pull that off, and maybe then we’ll get some decent memories out of a bunch of fighting cars.

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

  • System: Playstation, N64, and… Gameboy Color. Suffice it to say, the GBC version is a tweeeeak different, and looks more like R.C. Pro-AM. There’s also a modern HD version that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone ever mention.
  • Number of players: I believe we’re limited to the standard two on Playstation, but the N64 version takes full advantage of those multiple controller ports, and allows for up to four. The Gameboy port has never been simultaneously played by two people on Earth, so who knows about that one.
  • Get 'em, paPort-o-Call: The N64 version was released a solid nine months after the Playstation release, and seemed to gain a few bells and whistles to overcompensate for the delay. The most important changes seem to be that the secret character (an Area 51 alien) gets his own story mode, and story mode itself can be played with 2 player co-op. More wannabe fighting games need co-op story modes.
  • Favorite character: Beezwax is a bee keeper with bee-based special moves and a battle-camper. I can’t say no to that kind of insanity.
  • Did you know? Molo’s “battle school bus” featured heavily in advertising and the game’s box art. Then Columbine happened. Then, for some reason, the advertising campaign for Vigilante 8 went the way of the dodo. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: For a kid that wanted to claim that the N64 was somehow better than Playstation and its Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 at least could start an argument. Now, however, it’s little more than a curiosity. I doubt I’ll ever revisit this title.

What’s next? Random ROB is back up and working again, and we’ve got… Strider 2 for the Playstation! Yay! Ninja times are here again! Please look forward to it!

FGC #247 Gravity Rush

WeeeeeGravity Rush is a game that is… a might confused about its intentions.

Gravity Rush is only available on Playstation Vita (currently owned by six people) and the Playstation 4 (currently only owned by jerks), so I’ll forgive you if you haven’t played it. In short, the gameplay of Gravity Rush is based on the magical skills of Kat and her cat (oh, I just got that), Dusty. Kat has the ability to twist the horizon to her will, so she can, at any given moment, “rotate” gravity so she can run up walls, across sewer ceilings, or just haplessly “fall up”. It’s a simple, easy to control mechanic, and it’s a testament to the designers that an entire city and all the “stages” contained therein work so well with Kat able to spider-crawl all over the city.

Oh, also, it’s fun as hell.

There has always been an unusual amount of debate over “sandbox games” (aka GTA clones) and whether or not it’s even possible to make a modern, city-based sandbox game and still be a good guy. Grand Theft Auto (3) set the standard with its rotating cast of psychopaths, and the likes of Saint’s Row refined the concept with superpowers and aliens (aliens make everything better), but even in games where you’re a “good guy”, you still kind of come off as less Robocop and more Judge Dredd (hi, Crackdown!). And, while it’s always fun to watch someone attempt to play GTA while obeying every traffic signal and only stealing cars when absolutely legally appropriate (huh?), nearly all of those games are based around “the fun is in the mayhem”. Heck, I’d argue that the absolute worst parts of any of those franchises are when you’re forced to follow the rules, and maybe not launch your date into the stratosphere just because she’s taking too damn long to get in the car.

WeeeeeGravity Rush has a very GTA-esque setup with its four main “districts” that comprise one giant city, but you’re a law abiding citizen. And, while you can damage property, kick pedestrians, or “accidentally” gravity-hurl soldiers into the next zip code, there are no rewards for doing so. There’s no penalty, either, so you’re not going to summon a tank because you’re causing too much mischief. It’s just you, Kat, and some gems to collect that are mysteriously hanging upside down off that Space Needle-wannabe. The only “things to do” around town are complete missions, collect gems from weird places, and maybe try to discover a secret or two hidden around the nooks and crannies of the city. That’s it. No stand-offs with the police. No vehicle theft. There isn’t even a single weapon available beyond Kat’s own limbs (and maybe tossing a trash can around). This should get old fast.

Yet, I could “gravity rush” over this city for days.

It’s difficult to even try to put into words, but there is a simple joy in running all over Hekseville. And I do mean “running all over”, as I’m pretty sure I left Kat’s footprints on every last surface in town. From way down in the depths to the tippy top of that clock tower, Kat gets around. And there’s no penalty for being… shall we say… careless. Kat does not experience fall damage, and, presumably because her spine is made of some manner of jelly substance, there’s never a single complaint even when the gravity gauge inopportunely runs out while our heroine is a mile up. You even are safely deposited back on terra firma if you manage to fall off the edge of the world. This is essential to the game, because, if there were a penalty for “improper” gravity rushing, then you might carefully conserve those gravity powers and not, ya know, have fun with it. With very few penalties for falling (okay, it might be a pain to get back to where you were if you plummet particularly badly), you’re always encouraged to gravity rush around, and, yes, it’s a rush.

It’s just a shame the rest of the game doesn’t quite understand that.

BoooThere are two sides to Gravity Rush: the exploration and the combat. This is pretty normal for a video game, because I could describe, say, Super Metroid in exactly the same manner. You’re using a different skill set when you’re getting to Ridley than when you’re fighting Ridley, and, while there is some overlap, they’re very different experiences. Gravity Rush is no different, and, while the exploration of Gravity Rush is new and exciting, the combat is rote and, frankly, archaic. You’ve got a basic melee attack, a dodge roll, a jump kick, and a dash attack. Hm, we’re barely a step above Final Fight here. But you have gravity powers! And you can use ‘em to hover high in the sky, and then deliver a devastating dive kick. And… that’s about it. You have a few other gravity powers, but they’re all extremely limited by a sort of “magic meter” that will refill just in time for the battle to be over. So you’re stuck dive-kicking over and over again, which is fun for like five seconds, but if I wanted to play a game that was dive kicking all the time, I’d just play some dive kick based game like, I don’t know, Street Fighter.

Oh, and did I mention that there are a number of flying and “tall” monsters that absolutely require all dive kick, all the time? Yeah, it gets old.

And, unfortunately, Gravity Rush’s combat leaves such a sour taste in my mouth that I made this chart describing my time playing the main campaign:

VISUAL AID

It wouldn’t even be so bad if there wasn’t so much of an emphasis on bosses and monster mobs. Or if the bosses/monsters worked as intended, like, at all! I can’t tell you how many times I attempted a dive kick on some random monster, and somehow rammed into their underside, or some random bump on their model, or something, and, whoops, no, Kat is just hovering there doing zero damage for no reason now. There’s even a special “drill kick” homing attack that is really powerful… but half the time I used it I got stuck on a tree or a wing or whatever, and the attack petered out to nothing. That’s always fun! Let’s make the worst parts of this game take even longer!

Tiamat?And it’s a damn shame, because replaying the city “free” bits for this article, I was reminded just how overwhelmingly fun this game can be. Like a good Metroid or Mario game, there’s joy just in playing around, not necessarily working toward the next goal, but shooting around this enormous playground and enjoying your time in this world. And then there are the missions that, overwhelmingly, suck. Or, even if they don’t completely suck, they at least drag down the fun to a monotonous level. And that’s no fun at all.

So, hey, people that made Gravity Rush? You made an amazing, innovative game here… How about you let me play that?

FGC #247 Gravity Rush

  • System: Playstation Vita and Playstation 4. The PS4 version contains all the additional Vita DLC, for the record.
  • Number of players: It’s Kat against the world. Or with the world. Depends on the day.
  • Port-o-Call: I own this game for both systems (yes, I’m a jerk), and, frankly, I don’t think I could go back to the Vita version. Everything feels so… cramped. This game kind of needs the widescreen, movie-theatre treatment, because, seriously, when you’re shifting the horizon, it should be life-sized.
  • Favorite city division: Who decided to put the red light district next to the largest school in the city? A genius, that’s who!
  • Like Mario?Aesthetics Corner: Is there an art book for this game? There should be, because, damn, I could look at Gravity Rush art for at least 200 pages or so. That said, whether it’s deliberate or not, I feel like the first area of this game is its ugliest, which provides a poor first impression. Or maybe I just don’t like yellows…
  • Cats always land on their feet: Oh. Just got that, too.
  • Did you know? This game was the brainchild of Keiichiro Toyama, previously best known for Silent Hill. However, according to interviews, he had the idea for Gravity Rush well before the creation of Silent Hill, and it was partially inspired by the comics of Moebius. If you’re unfamiliar with anything in this bullet point, please check out the output of both of these men immediately.
  • Would I play again: I would play the “completed save” again, but I’m not so sure about the actual game-game. I’m even looking sideways at those side missions…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cruis’n USA for the N64! Let’s see the sights at 90 MPH! Please look forward to it!


Weeeeeeeeeeee!