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FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

CAAAAAPTAIN COOOOOOOMANDO!Captain Commando is a Capcom beat ‘em up title unleashed upon the arcades in 1991 (two years after Final Fight, the same year as Streets of Rage). It was one of Capcom’s earliest beat ‘em up titles, and one of the most creative, non-licensed punch mans games you could find at the arcade.

Battle Circuit is another original, future-based beat ‘em up from Capcom. It was released for arcades in 1997, and was the last Capcom beat ‘em up to receive that honor. In a way, through no fault of its own, it is a title that signifies the end of an era.

But who needs to read another epitaph? Let’s find out what Capcom actually learned over six years!

Characters are Key

Okay, let’s start with the basics: a beat ‘em up lives or dies by its characters. This is why Konami made an estimated seventeen hundred trillion infinity dollars (adjusted for inflation) by slapping the Ninja Turtles and Simpsons into beat ‘em ups. Lisa Simpson battling kabuki warriors with a jump rope? That shouldn’t be a phrase that recalls one of the most played arcade machines of the 90’s, but here we are. And, what’s more, the minute you marry good gameplay to memorable characters, you have a game that is never going away. There are still Turtles in Time arcade cabinets out there! I saw one at the non-Wii based bowling alley! Which is apparently still a thing, too!

Captain Commando really shot for the moon right out of the gate (those metaphors work well together, right?). The titular Captain Commando was the (quickly abandoned) mascot of Capcom in the 80’s, and, incidentally, a cyborg thunder-tossing cop from the future. That makes him, like, a double Thor. Then we’ve got “a ninja”, which, okay, it was the 90’s, that had to happen. But! Our other choices are a mummy alien knife master and a genius baby that rides his own private robot. Score! If you can’t find a favorite character from that group, you are reading the wrong blog. Go see what is happening on some recipe site, you squares!

High number of cyclopsesNow, it would be understandable to expect that Battle Circuit could not top the concept of “genius baby” or “alien mummy”, but could I offer you a cup of carnivorous plant monster from space? How about a yellow catwoman flamenco dancer (she probably hates Mondays)? Plastic Man with ice powers? The cyborg hero that is clearly a descendant of Captain Commando is nice and all, but wouldn’t you rather play as a little girl and her pet pink ostrich that may or may not be a pirate (I cannot think of any other reason for an ostrich to have an eye patch, okay?)? Oh, and the little girl is, naturally, named Pola (sic) Abdul. She uses a flaming bow and arrow. She will deliver us all from evil.

Bad Guys are Key (too!)

Captain Commando came hot on the heels of Final Fight, so it seems only natural that its Metro City streets (yes, it is canon that Captain Commando takes place in the far future of Haggar’s fair city) are descendants of the same three or four guys that menaced Cody and Guy. In a way, it’s kind of cute that some families clearly never got over the ideals of the Mad Gear Gang, and passed on fond genetic memories of suffering mayorally mandated piledrivers. Unfortunately, give or take the occasional boss that is inexplicably equipped with a harpoon gun, Captain Commando is generic dudes for days. That’s a pretty boring future! Like the actual future! Heck, Scumocide’s second in command, (First) Blood, is just Rambo in cargo pants. That’s not 20XX! That’s not even the 90’s!

Battle Circuit at least makes “the same three guys” a little more interesting. Bosses are amazing, and the various robotic creations of a certain recurring mad scientist reminds one a little bit of the venerable Dr. Wily. Wait, I’m sorry, is that a giant skull I see on the floor of Dr. Saturn’s lair? Yeah, these guys went to the same robotics academy. And a mad scientist naturally means the mooks of the world are going to be fun, like floppy lizards and… Wait a minute. Is that…

NO!  ROB!

I’m beating up R.O.B.? Wow, okay, Battle Circuit just shot to the top of the charts.

Show me your Moves!

Captain Commando is a traditional beat ‘em up, and, despite their natural variety (a baby is not a mummy), each of the characters is interchangeable from a moveset perspective. Okay, technically their special moves show a touch of diversity, but, give or take a baby missile, all the usual bases are covered here. Jump kick, dashing punch, grab n’ smack: all the old standbys are represented. Why mess with the classics?

Well, maybe because you could be shooting freaking lasers out of your chest.

This is just plain funWithout resorting to fighting game-esque unreasonable controller motions, Battle Circuit grants each of its bounty hunters fun and exciting moves that add quite a bit to the gameplay. Want to shoot a magic missile all over the place? Just charge up with the attack button, and release your mega buster. Or maybe you’d like to be Yellow the Cat Lady, and perform an amazing dive kick. Or how about you fish out Ice Man rock blasts with Captain Silver? And if you’re not whipping enemies around with Unknown Green’s plant arms, then why are you even alive? A piledriver is nice, but it’s nothing compared to the repertoire on display with this fighting force.

Oh, and if you’re confused about any of the inputs for these moves, they’re all clearly on display during the “upgrade your moves” screen at the end of each level.

And, uh, you can upgrade your moves. That’s pretty important. Probably deserves its own section…

Upgrade your Moves!

BABY!Captain Commando might have one leg up over its descendant: you can ride a robot. You can also score a missile launcher. Captain Commando is basically Golden Axe in a few weird respects, as riding creatures and nabbing interesting (and temporary) weapons is the name of the game (wait, did variable weapons happen in Golden Axe? Meh, I need to be awake to write this article, so I’ll skip replaying that one). Beat ‘em ups do get pretty monotonous pretty quick, so making a dash for that heavy artillery is a great way to spice things up (and send a few Scumocide henchmen to the great, flashing beyond).

The weapons and ridealongs are missing from Battle Circuit, but there are more than a few powerups scattered about. A special “battle download” capsule will temporarily boost your hunter’s stats, and, continuing the pattern of these distinct characters actually being distinct, each battle download works differently for each fighter. And, if we’re being honest, it probably is a lot more fun to suddenly leap around at double speed, or soak hits like it’s nothing, than ride a mech for a whole fifteen seconds.

And, for a little more longevity, any money or “points” found around the area can be exchanged for permanent powerups that enhance things like your beam weapons or special moves. Or you can expand your health! That can be a bit of a wallet-saver in a quarter killer, so maybe make a beeline for that upgrade. Regardless of how you’d like to cash-in, this simple upgrade system makes literally every object on the screen important, regardless of whether or not said object is currently punching you in the face. That’s no small feat for a genre that litters nondescript boxes and barrels all over the place like Jimmy’s Shipping and Crab Shack ™ was going out of business. And speaking of pickups…

Soup’s on!

SMACK 'EM GOODIn Captain Commando, when you find random food on the ground, it restores your health, and that’s that.

In Battle Circuit, when someone collects a meal, it restores health, and it makes an incredibly satisfying crunching/eating noise.

Battle Circuit is truly the culmination of all beat ‘em ups.

FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

  • System: Captain Commando was an arcade title first, and then a Super Nintendo title second. Very second. They dropped the mechs! That was the best part! No matter, even if ROB technically chose the Super Nintendo version for this article, the recently released Capcom Beat ‘em Up Bundle for Switch and PS4 contains both Captain Commando and Battle Circuit (in America for the first time!). Also, there was a Playstation (1) version of Captain Commando. I wonder how that turned out.
  • Number of players: Four? Let’s count all of the commandos, and a solid 80% of Team Battle Circuit. There are certainly enough “insert coin” messages flashing on the screen…
  • Captain Commando Memories: Somehow, I never saw the Captain Commando cabinet in an actual arcade. However, it did appear in a number of random hotel lobbies across I-95, so I did play the game for whole minutes at a time during family vacations. This is likely why I was excited about the Super Nintendo release, a feeling that was… misplaced.
  • Favorite Character: Baby Commando and Unknown the Hideous Plant Monster from Space should team up and, I don’t know, probably beat some dudes up.
  • Dance through the danger: Okay!
    Dance for me!

    Don’t mind if I do!
  • An End: Battle Circuit also has multiple endings! If you choose to fight the Master Control Program Shiva, you will face an incredibly brutal boss that is probably responsible for more deaths than the entire rest of the game combined. Meanwhile, if you choose to simply shatter the disc that contains Shiva… the game just ends. No bad ending, no “you did something wrong”, just a cute little ending that doesn’t require five bucks to access. That… is an odd choice.
  • Did you know? Yellow Iris/Beast inspired an alternate costume for Felicia in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This is an incredibly odd choice, as the fighting game that would probably most appeal to Americans (“There’s that Iron Man guy! From the movies!”) included paid DLC that honored a beat ‘em up that was never released in America in any capacity. Still, it’s nice to see someone remembers Battle Circuit other than Namco X Capcom.
  • Would I play again: Heck, why not? Either game is pretty alright, though Battle Circuit certainly has more replayability. Unfortunately, Captain Commando also tugs at my heartstrings, so it’s likely to see play again, too. Don’t make me choose between the past and the even-more-past!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Smash Bros! For no particular reason! Yep! Total coincidence! And there won’t be an extra-special guest artist for the article or anything! Nuh-uh! And this is almost entirely a lie! Which part isn’t? Well, guess you can find out next week. Please look forward to it!

What is even happening?

FGC #413 Bonk’s Revenge

It's Bonk timeI don’t understand Bonk.

Like many issues in our modern world, this appears to be a problem of education. I was a Nintendo kid that eventually picked up a few Sega games (who could say no to that hedgehog?). I consumed Nintendo Power like it was (the secret of) manna from Heaven, and knew nearly everything about every release for a Nintendo console straight through to the 21st Century. Sega was not going to take that kind of thing lying down, though, so the minute there was a hot new Sega Genesis title on the horizon, the advertising machines clicked into high gear, and everyone was inflicted with a deluge of information on blast processing or lock-on technology. And nobody cared! Sure, it was practically mind control aimed squarely at children who could scream at their parents until “Santa” decided to deliver a bevy of plastic cartridges, but it wasn’t all bad. After all, even if you couldn’t afford an $80 copy of the latest Street Fighter, at least you could read all those character profiles, and imagine the nefarious origins of that dude in the purple robes.

And then there was the TurboGrafx-16. I’ve got one of those puppies sitting right here in my gaming room, and I’m still not completely sure it was a real thing.

Going up?Let’s see here… Wikipedia claims that the TurboGrafx-16 was first unleashed upon the West in August of 1989, and was a living, breathing videogame console through 1994. I played videogames during that time! I played some of my most favorite videogames during that epoch! Yet, I can barely recall the TG16 being even the remotest of factors in the “console wars” of the early 90’s. Did the TG16… uh… do anything? Oh, it was the first console to have a CD-reading add-on? Well that seems pretty important. It was produced by Hudson, which is certainly a videogame company I’m familiar with. And its games look… uh… kind of pretty. Like, maybe early Sega Genesis, and a lot better than what was available on the NES. Yes, it appears that the TurboGrafx-16 should have been an integral part of early 90’s gaming, but… seems like a certain system managed to miss the boat.

Which means I missed the Bonk Boat.

Bonk was, for a time, the mascot for the TurboGrafx-16. There was Mario on the Nintendo, Sonic on the Sega, and that doofy caveman with the giant head over in TG16 land. So I was at least aware of Bonk. And, given the caveman aesthetic, I was pretty sure I knew everything I ever needed to know about the lil’ dude. He’s got a big head. He fights dinosaurs. He “bonks” dinosaurs with his big head. Occasionally he eats meat, and he goes from happy to angry to atomic. Sometimes he turns into a crab.

… Wait. What was that last part?

To briefly revisit something that has been established on this very site many times before, videogames are weird, y’all. Sonic is a blue hedgehog, and it’s completely normal that he collects rings for power while fighting an egg-shaped mad scientist. Elsewhere, the real hero’s little brother uses a vacuum to exterminate the undead from his recently inherited mansion. A vampire with a gun employs a magical rock to summon a dragon to shoot lasers at angry, sentient houses. Even our modern, “mature” videogames are full of ridiculous, reality-defying nonsense, like a man who can soak extra bullets because he’s more muscular than the other dudes, or dining room chairs that inexplicably provide more potent cover than lead shields.Chilly out there One way or another, we just accept videogame weirdness for what it is, and move on. The Prince of Persia can run up and down vertical walls with ease, and an armor clad space bounty hunter can scale walls through dutiful triangle jumping. Makes perfect sense!

But Bonk is different. Or… it could be? This game is Bonk’s Revenge, which, according to upwards of 28 seconds of research (I’ve been busy lately, okay!?) is one of (in not the) best Bonk titles. It’s also a sequel, which means we are continuing the canon that was dutifully laid forth in the original Bonk’s Adventure. So there’s probably a basis for all of this. I came in late, no need to complain about not knowing who this Captain America guy is; this was probably all explained sometime in the past. There is doubtless a logical explanation for… I’m sorry, this whole crab thing is still getting to me.

According to only what happens in this game (and not any auxiliary materials, like an instruction manual or the inevitable Bonk Wiki), the story of Bonk’s Revenge features an evil T-Rex king splitting the moon (or just “a moon”?) in half, and apparently using that half of the moon to build some manner of dinosaur Death Star (in typing that, I just realized how badly I want Star Wars to be remade with dinosaur space wizards). Bonk ventures forth to reclaim that chunk of the moon, and, should he succeed, he is kissed by a grateful, apparently benevolent dinosaur that lives on the moon (?). As previously noted, Bonk can obtain meat to powerup to more deadly forms, and he can collect happy faces that will unlock train rides at the end of stages that can provide further bonuses. And, when he finally enters the Dino Star at the end of his adventure, unmarked underwater blocks may squish Bonk into a crab form. He becomes Crab Bonk, which is advantageous for… some reason?

And… I just can’t deal with Crab Bonk.

WeeeeeBonk would eventually show up on the Super Nintendo, presumably because Johnny Turbo stole his gig advertising the TG16. In that title, Super Bonk, Bonk would be able to eat meat to transform into a giant chicken or Godzilla. Strangely enough, science eventually taught us that this is exactly how evolution works, so that powerup transition makes perfect sense. But Crab Bonk? I have no idea what is happening with Crab Bonk, and it bothers me to no end. Is this a frog suit-like water-based powerup? A Wario Land-esque punishment? Some kind of Japanese running gag about dinosaurs turning cavemen into crustaceans? What is even happening in this game!? I could understand the brontosaurus ballerina that finished out the third stage, but Crab Bonk is blowing my mind! Please, TurboGrafx-16 Power, tell me what the hell is happening here!

But I missed the TG16, so I will never understand poor, forgotten Bonk.

Trying to understand Bonk after the fact is like banging your head against a wall.

FGC #413 Bonk’s Revenge

  • System: This is one of my few TurboGrafx-16 games, so it certainly gets a check in that column. It was also released on the Wii Virtual Console, and the Sony and Microsoft download services in Japan. There was also a Gameboy version, but that was a severely compromised port.
  • Number of players: The TG16 only had one controller port. That seems really shortsighted!
  • The Benefits of Bonk: If Bonk has one defining characteristic, it’s that, in a time well before “visual storytelling” was a thing in videogames, Bonk admirably tells his story with a sort of Looney Tunes-esque flare. Dude is a cartoon character in every conceivable way, and, right about the time he chomps onto a fishing line held by an enemy, you know something special is happening.
  • That Looks Like it Hurts: Bonk’s other big ability is climbing walls… through biting his way up vertical shafts. Gogglebob.com would like to note that this is a terrible idea, and, if you are worried about tooth decay, please do not try that at home.
  • Favorite Boss: There’s a dinosaur pirate riding a flying ship that launches torpedoes through the sky. That’s pretty hard to beat. I mean… he is the coolest boss, but, yes, he is also literally kind of hard to beat.
  • Did you know? Bonk’s Revenge for the Gameboy was a Super Gameboy title, and its unique Super Gameboy frame featured the generic mooks of the title sitting and watching the game as if watching a play. I’m going to go ahead and claim that Paper Mario totally stole this gimmick.
  • Would I play again: This is definitely the game I’m playing if I fire up the TurboGrafx-16 again. Then again, I only own four TG16 games, so that’s not saying much…

What’s next? Oh yeah, I promised a theme week, didn’t I? Well, how about we call this… um… Inexplicable 16-Bit Cavemen Week! Yes! That’s right! No Caveman Games! No Far Cry Primal! Just cavemen, and just cavemen from the 16-bit era! That makes perfect sense! So next we’ll be hitting Joe & Mac! They’re cavemen ninja! Please look forward to it!

Gulp

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

So strange“Why aren’t there any videogames for girls?”

… Is how a number of completely bullshit think pieces have started since the dawn of gaming. Which is odd, because gaming, there at the beginning, was fairly unisex. Aside from that one version of Pong that could only be controlled with a flaccid penis, the early days of gaming were practically genderless. It wasn’t Mr. Pac-Man, it was simply a yellow ball gobbling up dots. Space Invaders was maybe boyish because it involved shooting something or other, but it certainly wasn’t coded specifically to appeal to the dudes. Asteroids? Adventure? The absolute best of 80s gaming wasn’t squarely aimed at the boy demographic, and some titles (like Centipede) were even coded by women. Videogames weren’t male-based any more than books, television shows, or movies.

Or… maybe we should explore that for a moment.

I am writing this article having recently seen Ready Player One, a Spielberg filmed based on your childhood. And the great thing is that, thanks to some manner of cross (or crass) marketing, “your” childhood doesn’t just have to be the 80’s that were featured in the book, there are also Gundam (didn’t make it over here until the late 90’s), Iron Giant (’99), MMORPG (not really a thing until the mid aughts), and even Minecraft (right now) references. Heck, if you saw The Shining (1980) as a kid (because you have terrible parents), it’s appealing to 70’s kids! Yes, with its Battletoads, Mortal Kombatants, and Tracers, Ready Player One runs the full gamut of cultural references, so no matter how old you are, there’s something in there for you.

Except if you’re a woman looking to relive her childhood. There isn’t much in there, then. Uh… maybe some Hello Kitty characters… uh… somewhere?

At first, it’s easy to rationalize why this happened. I didn’t see any Transformers running around, so it appears Hasbro wasn’t onboard with that film. That precludes the big girl franchises like My Little Pony, Jem and the Holograms, and Pound Puppies. But there’s no Barbie? Come on, that doll is synonymous with childhood, and you can’t tell me the plastic ideal of womanhood wouldn’t inspire more than a few digital avatars. And when the “worlds” are shown at the start of Ready Player One, there’s a gambling planet and a combat planet, but you’re telling me there isn’t a single “women only” safe space area? Of course, there’s an easy answer to that question too: there is a planet of Barbies and Ponies palling around without any male-influences, but we’re not going to look at that planet, because it isn’t relevant to the movie. But doesn’t that raise its own unfortunate question? Why the heck don’t we care about what half the real world population is doing in this pretend world? And why the bloody hell is there only one piece of girl-aimed media mentioned in the movie (Nancy Drew), and it’s revealed to be a vice of the main villain?

MeowMeh, you know the answers: Ready Player One is squarely targeted at a male audience, and every second given over to exploring the extent of girly stuff in The World is a second that could otherwise go to Mecha Godzilla punching a DeLorean. “Girly media” is not celebrated in the same way as boy stuff… or at least, it isn’t monetized in the same way at all. Do we have Funko Pops of every Jem character yet? I know we do for every Power Ranger that has ever existed.

So merchandising is obviously key, and (finally) getting back to videogames, it seems like we might see less “girly” videogames as a direct result. Videogames may have started unisex, but, as the “mascot” character grew to prominence, more and more heroes were men, and more and more objects were women. Mario must rescue the princess. Link must rescue the princess. Sonic didn’t have a single woman anywhere in his first game. Mega Man has a sister that is unplayable and stays home to do laundry. Kirby is a freaking pink ball with legs that occasionally rides rainbows, but only has a female companion in one lousy N64 game. It’s easy to see how these games are aimed squarely at boys, with nary a thought given to that other gender that seems to be floating around. There are no videogames for girls!

But that’s still bullshit, because there are games for girls. They’re just games that are wholly ignored.

I hates mathsAnybody remember Kim Possible? It was a 2002-2007 Disney cartoon featuring the titular Kim Possible, a teenage girl that flew around the planet and saved the world through James Bond-esque spy maneuvers and the occasional bout of cheerleading-based gymnastics. She’d stop the nefarious Dr. Drakken, and then get home in time to crush on the star quarterback. This was a show that was obviously aimed at the “girl” demographic, but also had plenty of action (and an omnipresent pair of male sidekicks) for the boys. Kim Possible was a huge success, and won awards and an audience that was so dedicated, they successfully petitioned Disney to release a fourth “victory lap” season after its initial cancellation. Kim Possible even got two movies and an Epcot ride! The show was an unprecedented success.

Kim Possible also starred in seven distinct videogames across four different systems. Ever heard of any of them? Didn’t think so.

And don’t try to tell me you didn’t hear about these games because they weren’t any good. Who cares if they were good! You’ve heard of Shaq-Fu! You’ve heard of Aero the Acro-Bat! You damn well know we saw videogames for every show that was ever on Fox Kids or the matching WB programming block. There has been a new Spider-Man title every other year since the birth of time, and only about two of them have ever been any good. But you know they exist! You know you considered playing Rocko’s Modern Life at some point! But did you ever even notice Kim Possible and her multiple games? There were monkey ninja involved! You love that kind of absurdity, right? 2-D action platforming sound like fun? Or maybe puzzles are more your thing? If so, you still probably ignored today’s game, too.

I’ll stop ranting for five minutes so we can examine Emily the Strange: Strangerous.

Yay!Emily the Strange: Strangerous is a 2011 Nintendo DS game. It is, essentially, an old school adventure title. Emily’s cats have been kidnapped, and you must guide her around her world to rescue the felines and eventually… well, things get a little strange towards the end. Let’s just say this might not be the only game I’ve ever played that dabbles in multiple dimensions. Regardless, the basic gameplay is predominantly based on solving item-based puzzles to open new pathways (Sierra-esque “use slingshot on weather vane to change the direction of the wind” style thinking), and then solving actual logic puzzles to obtain the items you need. Every once in a while, there’s skateboarding or target practice, but, by and large, this is a game where trees inexplicably have three matchsticks, and you’re expected to do something with that information. And, to be clear, these puzzles may contain everything from visual puzzles that come off as advanced connect-the-dots to reason puzzles that involve the enemy of all mankind: basic math. Basically, on the system that made Professor Layton a household name, here’s another option for all your on-the-go puzzle needs.

But you’re not going to see Emily the Strange vs. Ace Attorney anytime soon.

For anyone that missed this bit of pop culture past, Emily the Strange started as nothing more than a sticker. She was a skateboard brand mascot. In time, she gained popularity, and became the star of a number of comics and books, eventually earning her this videogame. And it would be fair to say that this game is just a licensed cash-in on a mascot character that was popular at the time. Emily the Strange isn’t the next Mario, she’s the next Young Justice: Legacy. Her title shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Professor Layton, as, come on, Goggle Bob, why the hell are you letting this random chick property hang out with the clear successor to Sherlock Holmes. That’s high literature!

And it’s all bullshit, because it’s all… bullshit.

Wait, I can probably phrase that better…

It looks familiarSuper Mario defined gaming. He is the face of an amazing franchise that has arguably never produced a dud. Some of “his” games might be less enjoyable than others, but none sink below the level of “pretty good”. Well, except those learning games like Mario is Missing. Oh, and that CD-i title. But Mario is pretty great, aside from that! Well, save some surprisingly lame cartoons. And that one manga where he’s naked for some reason. And his breakfast cereal. No, not the one from the 80’s, I’m talking about the one with the amiibo functionality. And, speaking of which, why can I buy a plush goomba at the thrift store? That thing is the lowest quality I’ve ever seen, but it seems to have an official Nintendo Seal of Quality on there. Christ, they’ll slap the Mario brand on anything!

And how is that any different from a skateboarding mascot earning her own game?

Look, it’s pretty simple: girls need heroes. Girls need role models. And, more importantly, girls need role models that do all sorts of things. Emily the Strange is a teenager that enjoys skateboarding, gothic aesthetics, and cats. She’s smart. She’s capable, and when some jerkass kidnaps her cats, she’s self-sufficient enough to solve her own problems (though maybe with your help). Can you name one other female protagonist that fits all of that criteria? I know plenty of women that are goth skateboarders (or at least were before they had to be adults), but such a “unique” trait is largely missing from our national consciousness, because it’s never seen in our media. Girls are either only hot, smart/nerdy, perfect, or, on rare occasions, “the hippy” (and please watch Boy Meets World to watch one character go through each of those permutations). Goth is allowed, and “skater girl” is something you’ll see once in a while, but both at once? And throw in puzzle solving, so she’s smart, too? Are women even allowed to be more than one thing? Shouldn’t there be a law against that?

TUMBLING!So what does this all mean? Well, it means that we should stop asking where the games for girls have gone, and just start producing games with girls. And, more importantly than that, when a “game for girls” is released, we should give it the same fair shake that we grant Bubsy Bobcat’s latest revival. You or I might have a complete inability to produce the next great female protagonist, but we could at least acknowledge that Kim Possible, Emily the Strange, and their ilk, ya know, existed. Recognize that half the population has their own fandoms and interests, and join them. Let girls know that it’s okay to be anything, and not just a thin caricature of a male fetish. Let “girly media” be part of our national discourse, and stop acting like anything that might involve makeup is forbidden.

That doesn’t sound so strange, does it?

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

  • System: Nintendo DS. If this were a remotely more popular property, we’d see a PC port, as it’s practically made for such a thing.
  • Number of players: Only one girl can be this strange.
  • Defining Aesthetics: This entire game is monochrome with occasion flashes of red. This is always stylish, and it’s weird that the only other game I can think of that employs this style is primarily chainsaw-based.
  • Favorite Puzzle: Something about the lock picking puzzles just seem right. Maybe I missed my calling as a burglar? I should really look into committing more crimes.
  • So, did you beat it? I’m honestly not a big fan of puzzle games, so no. This is also why you’ll never see a Professor Layton review on the site. I have better things to do than measure hats!
  • Ulterior Motives: I just want us to acknowledge “girly” media so we can have a Sailor Moon fighting game as good as Dragon Ball FighterZ.
  • Actual Conversation That Happened When Researching this Article:

    Goggle Bob: Do you or did you ever skateboard?
    Queen Goth of Gothania: Yes, but not for 20 years.
    Goggle Bob: That’s okay! I just want to say with confidence that I know multiple women that are/were goth skateboarders. I did not have to ask you about the goth thing.
    Queen Goth of Gothania: Yup. That was me! Doc martens on my Chester Cheetah board.

  • PointyDid you know? There is a rich mythology surrounding Emily the Strange’s four cats. This is the kind of thing that happens when your main character is basically a crazy cat lady in training. Wait a tick… The very concept of a single woman living with beloved cats is misogynistic all on its own, isn’t it? Hmph.
  • Would I play again: Nope. Emily the Strange and her fellow female protagonists might need more exposure, but this simply isn’t my genre. The only puzzle I want to solve involves finding Wood Man’s weakness.

What’s next? Random ROB may as well take a day off, because I’ve talked about Kirby randomly during the last two articles. The only way I’m going to get this creampuff off my brain is to address Kirby Star Allies! Please look forward to it!

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Let’s talk about limits, phobias, and easy mode.

Limits are important. The old yarn about videogames is that, thanks to the virtual unreality of the digital world, you can do anything in a videogame. And anyone that has actually played a videogame knows that that is bull hockey. Super Mario Bros. is an amazing game, but can you do anything in the Mushroom Kingdom? Heck no. Mario might be able to jump higher than any basketball star, but he still has a limit, and cannot, say, jump straight to the goal flag right from his first bound. Mario is very limited in his movements, but, if you notice the world around him, you will see that his entire universe was designed exclusively for these limits. There is no jump that Mario needs to make that he cannot clear. There is no villain that he must destroy that does not have a weakness. And, since Mario is limited to only running and jumping (and not, say, negotiating with wandering turtle hordes), there is no problem that cannot be solved with that moveset. Mario is limited. Videogames are limited; but that is why they are “games”. A game with no limits and no rules is just a playset, and, given the dismal sales of Endless Ocean, games are exactly what gamers want.

But the best videogame limits are the ones that are completely invisible. Mario isn’t limited by his jumps, he’s super! You can do anything in Grand Theft Auto… except maybe go inside a building. The latest WRPG has incredible freedom and insane realism, though maybe your hero can’t hop over a waist-high fence. But all of these limits are there for a reason, because without them, there would be no game at all (or, in some of the “open world” cases, because otherwise the title require three decades to actually be released). Limits are what make videogames fun, and if they weren’t there, it would be bedlam every time C.J. jumped all the way to a moon nobody ever got around to modeling.

Unfortunately, not all limits can be invisible.

CreepyLink is one of your more limited heroes in your typical Legend of Zelda title (though maybe not in at least one recent entry). He can’t jump (except when absolutely necessary). His traditional offensive options are generally sparse (the sword is a mainstay, but have you ever really tried to take out a Helmasaur with bombs or hammers? They both suck). And, even when Hyrule has been expanded to Switchian levels of size, it’s still a fairly narrow chunk of geography. Mario often vacations in the far off corners of the galaxy, but the best Link can hope for is a quick jaunt to a flying whale’s dreamscape. Or, like in this entry, a visit to Hyrule’s next kingdom over, Termina, where a crash landing moon is going to abolish all life in the immediate area. And all Link can do, as ever, is run around like a cucco and hope that talking to everybody saves the day. Oh, and there’s a time limit now, too. It’s there, and you’re reminded of it every few moments. Actually, that time limit is integral to the entire experience, so you’re more likely to be reminded of it every second.

And, like so many limits in videogames, this is technically a good thing. For possibly the first time in a Zelda title, there is some genuine suspense. The end of the world is coming, and if you don’t do anything, you’re going to be toast in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1. That moon is always there, looming, stalking your every move. You have to complete this dungeon in a timely manner, or everyone is going to die. If you don’t rescue that monkey, if you don’t find the right route through the canyon, if you don’t listen to goddamn Tingle, that moon is going to come crashing down, and it’s over, “Hero of Time”. Or maybe you choose to believe that there is no danger. Maybe you aren’t saving the world from a horror-moon, and you’re working hard because you want to see how much you can complete in a “cycle”. After all, the real world isn’t in jeopardy, and a dead Link doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all about getting what you can get done in your time limit, and, if you have to reset the three day cycle all over again, that’s just the price of “wasting” time. You lose some progress, and that sucks, but it happens.

And that’s the scariest idea of all.

Going for a dipI genuinely believe videogames are art. I also genuinely believe videogames are wastes of time. But in the most literal sense! Videogames are amazing and fun, but the chief way a videogame will punish a player is through wasting time. What is the number one result of “losing a life” in practically any game? It’s a loss of time through having to repeat a section. In other cases, you may instantly respawn, but you also work up to a “continue”, and the threat is that you are one step closer to losing progress. Dying, but with extra steps. Some RPGs have adopted the method of letting you keep your story progress, but you lose gold, equipment, or experience… so you’ve just lost a different kind of progress. And what’s worse? Losing a life and having to respawn somewhere “further back”, or a game where your “life” is captured, and you have to search all over the place to rediscover your lost comrade? That might be up to personal preference, as the end result is the same in both cases: lost time. You could have beaten the final boss by now if you didn’t waste so much time on all those deaths, right? Heard it all before…

So, suffice it to say, by Majora’s Mask’s release in 2000, after a solid decade of gaming like a maniac, the idea of “death = lost time” was already drilled straight into my noggin. Losing time was the enemy, and a game where the hook was that time was constantly against you, and not knowing what you were doing at all times could lead to more lost time… The concept scared me. Hell, I was downright frightened by the idea that I could fill my wallet with rupees, gain every last magical item, and then lose it all because I dawdled too long in a swamp shooting gallery. It didn’t help that this was also the second 3-D Zelda, and the concept of proper camera control was still in its infancy. I’m supposed to find five random kids around town? In only three days? How am I supposed to pull that off when I can barely see around corners? I was never good at finding random skulltulas, so I was already pretty screwed if this game expected me to find hidden children and masks within a time limit. I knew my skills, I knew my limits, and I knew that there was no way I could have ever saved Termina back in 2000. I had so little time as it was, I wasn’t going to waste it on a game that was built around wasting even more time.

So thank Miyamoto for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D.

Poor LinkIn a lot of ways, Majora’s Mask 3D is an entirely different game. The all-important bosses have been dramatically altered, swimming is an entirely different ball of beavers, and, most importantly, a “save anywhere” feature has been added. This is a game changer, literally, as it means that the game’s saves are no longer tied to losing all progress within a cycle. One of those “frightening” features from the original release has just flown straight out the window. Even better, the presence of constant saving means that some of the more… fiendish minigames can now be savescummed. Not saying I’m a cheater (okay, I absolutely am), but knowing that I won’t lose all my progress to a damn deku scrub minigame goes a long way to putting my mind at ease. And those dungeons lose their bite when a puzzle can be solved over the course of a half hour, and then “reset” so the game only thinks Link only spent thirty seconds on that block pushing. Avoiding lost progress is easy!

And that’s just it: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is Majora’s Mask Easy Mode.

And… I think that’s the only way I want to play the game.

Beat itI never completed Majora’s Mask on the N64. In fact, I only really got into playing it at all on the Gamecube Zelda compilation, and, even then, I barely cleared the first palace. It was just too stressful, and that looming threat of losing progress, that unflinching limit, scared me off. I could contentedly sail the seas with Pirate Link, or I could suffer under the gaze of an ever-judging moon. That was no choice at all! But the 3DS version was different, because I could go at my own pace, and I didn’t have to live in fear of an oppressive limit on my play time. I suppose the limit was always there, as that moon certainly hadn’t gone away, but it was so much less oppressive. And “less oppressive” always translates to “more fun”. It may have been easy mode, but without that easy mode, I never would have experienced this entertaining, quirky Zelda title.

So what’s the moral of this experience? It’s not that limits are inherently bad, and it’s certainly not that you should live in fear of arbitrary challenges. No, I suppose our moral today is that sometimes the best way to enjoy a game is suck it up, admit you’re a weenie, and go ahead and play it on easy mode. Don’t limit your experiences by arbitrary skill echelons, and just have fun the way you want to have fun.

You’re allowed to be afraid, but don’t be afraid of easy mode.

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

  • System: N64 (but only with an expansion pack), and then again on every Nintendo console since. Well, not Switch, but give it a hot minute, I’m sure it will get there. The latest version (with vast improvements) is available on the 3DS.
  • Number of players: This ain’t Mask of Four Swords, buddy.
  • Other Majora Issues: I also may have avoided playing Majora’s Mask initially because it is creepy as all get out. It’s not even that Resident Evil kind of deliberate creepy. It’s more like everything is just… wrong, and Link is trying to save a world that shouldn’t even be in the first place. And I’m still fairly convinced that this all happened because that’s a natural reaction to looking at Ocarina of Time character models.
  • These guysFavorite Character: Everybody wants to talk about Anju and That Kid, but the greatest, saddest love story in Majora’s Mask is the tale of Mikau and Lulu, the Zora lovers. No matter how much Link can control time, Mikau is always going to wind up seagull bait, and Lulu is always going to be stuck talking to a young boy that is wearing her lover’s death mask as a magical prop. Man, this is a weird game.
  • Favorite Mask: There are so many options! Fierce Deity and Lovers are great choices because they’re so insanely difficult to obtain, but that would ignore all the great dumb ones, like blow-yourself-up-all-the-time mask. And the bunny hood was so good, it infiltrated other games! But my pick goes to the Stone Mask, because the idea that it makes Link so plain, he is virtually invisible is fun and biting social satire. It’s perfect!
  • Did you know? This was the first place we had a Tingle breakout. It was mostly contained to balloons and map making, and the little bastard wasn’t too much of a drain on resources, but it seems the infection was destined to grow in later years. As of this writing, he has been mostly relegated to spin-offs, but vigilance is always necessary.
  • Would I play again: The 3DS version? Yes, absolutely. The original N64 title? No, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to air the Duck Dynasty for Xbox 360 stream from last Friday night! If you missed it live, it’s new to you! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening!?