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FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

ETERNAL!They tried. They damn well tried.

Mortal Kombat (1) was released for the Sega Genesis on Mortal Monday, September 13, 1993. It was, by all accounts, a wildly successful launch for a game that had been haunting arcades for nearly an entire year. What’s more, thanks to the likes of the “blood code” and the lack of censorship on the console, the Sega Genesis version was considered by many to be the “real” way to play Mortal Kombat at home. This was in stark contrast to the release of Street Fighter 2, which had seen amazing success on the SNES a year earlier, but hit the Sega Genesis like a flopping pile of assorted expired organs. And, two months later, we saw Eternal Champions, the unusual offspring of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Now, we would hate to disparage Mortal Kombat during Mortal Kombat Week (“week”), but let’s be real here: Mortal Kombat’s initial character variety sucks. By Mortal Kombat 2, we were fighting knife mutants and Oddjobs, but our virgin foray into the world of Elder Gods and dragon men pretty much included one interesting four-armed monster fighting a bunch of dudes in marginally themed gym clothes. The motion capture graphics were revolutionary at the time, but “a pair of sunglasses” does not interesting character design make. On the other hand, you have Street Fighter, which had bright, colorful goblin people fighting stretchy yogis, sumo wrestlers, and at least one Spaniard Ninja. Even when similar fighters are involved, no one is going to mistake Ryu for Sagat. Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, meanwhile, might seem a tad similar. Sub-Zero and Scorpion being clones are a bit of an extreme case, but they also comprise 28% of the playable roster.

Let's fight!Eternal Champions seemed to take a page from Street Fighter’s book rather than Mortal Kombat. Eternal Champions employed Ernie Chan, a Filipino-American comics artist, who worked with the Buscema brothers back in the ‘70’s. Before working with Sega, Chan was known for being an artist at DC Comics (Ghosts, House of Mystery, Detective Comics) and Marvel (Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange). Considering Chan was responsible for a healthy number of comic book covers for a full two years at DC Comics, he knew a thing or two about dynamic characters punching each other as hard as possible (the 1970s was before comic book characters decided to just stand around and philosophize at each other for six consecutive trades). It seems only natural that he would be responsible for designing some interesting punch mans, and, let me tell you, we got some remarkable fighters here.

The base concept of Eternal Champions is that the titular (kinda) Eternal Champion has plucked a series of heroes from their respective timelines, and granted them the potential prize of avoiding their otherwise inevitable deaths. Arguably, this could lead to a number of “stock” characters, as different timelines lead naturally to different archetypes, and we can certainly forgive a knight from ancient times or a “future man” from 21XX. But, against all odds, we have a pretty diverse cast in Eternal Champions. We do have a stock caveman, and Xavier Pendragon seems like a typical wizard hailing from Salem, but we also have Shadow Yamato (hm?), a modern corporate assassin that wouldn’t be out of place in Shadowrun. Trident is Atlantean, but basically a merman. RAX is a cyborg built for Teleroboxer, and Midknight is a bio engineer who kinda sorta turned himself into a vampire. And Jetta Maxx is a 19th century circus performer that attacks with all the agility you would expect from an acrobat. Why aren’t there more tumblers in fighting games? That seems like a natural fit!

HUG!None of the fighters in Eternal Champions are exactly setting the world on fire, but there is no way you’d mistake Larcen the 1920’s PI/cat burgler for Blade, the futuristic bounty hunter. And, whether it’s an accident of the “complicated” concept of time travel being involved, or because someone genuinely wanted to create a new Eternal Champions universe, but these fighters all have in-depth, fascinating backstories to accompany their stimulating visual designs. As a prerequisite for the plot, we immediately must learn how each fighter died (which allows for some always fun dramatic irony), why they were targeted for death (the premise of entire half hours of Law & Order), and why, had they lived, they would have made the world a better place. Additionally, this setup encourages the creation of cultures old and new (of course someone has to explain how the “future” works, but even Ancient Atlantis has some ‘splainin’ to do about its fish people), and, since this is a fighting game, it’s important to explain the whys of some of these special moves. Yes, ninja use ninja stars, but why exactly does Larcen have a grappling hook? There’s a reason for that!

Which reminds me: these exciting, distinct fighters work well for not only for biography screen attract modes, but also for actually being fighters. This is another situation where, unlike Mortal Kombat, if a character has a trident for a hand, they’re not going to throw the exact same punch as the robot dude. In fact, every fighter has a defined fighting style, and, while it does seem a little odd that the vampire scientist is trained in Jeet Kune Do, it does mean that every character feels distinct in more ways than simply a special move. And, of course, the special moves are their own kind of distinct, and not just a fireball and a jumping uppercut spread out among the cast. In short, the eternal champions collectively offer a unique experience for a time when the fighting genre was flooded with monotonous knock-offs.

TIME KILL(ERS)But there is one place where Eternal Champions differed from Street Fighter: it had fatalities. Or, to be more precise, the game had “stage fatalities” in the form of “Overkills”: make sure your opponent lands on a particular spot when their health is low, and the background will do your work for you. If you’re in prehistoric times, you’re about to see someone devoured by a dinosaur. Meanwhile, if you’re hanging in the early 20th Century, get ready for a drive-by. The 60’s naturally contain napalm, and the far-flung future of 2345 AD is wall-to-wall robots. It’s entirely possible you could complete Eternal Champions without once seeing an Overkill, though, so it seems like the whole feature was an afterthought. Mortal Kombat was likely an influence, but a fighter being zapped into oblivion by a neon sign (can that actually happen?) wasn’t exactly the point of Eternal Champions. It’s all about the character variety, we don’t need gorefests to sell our Sega cartridges.

Or maybe we do, because the Sega CD exclusive sequel/upgrade, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side dialed the gore up to eleven.

To be clear, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not the kind of fighting game sequel that completely eschewed former graphics and gameplay for something completely different (Battle Arena Toshinden was fond of that move). This is much more the Super Turbo to Eternal Champions’ Champion Edition. More characters were added to the cast (and a great many of them were “joke characters”, like Hooter, a mundane owl with a taste for rats and vengeance), the special move system was rejiggered, and the same overarching plot returned with a marginal twist. The Eternal Champion has gathered his warriors once again to fight for a chance to live (and I guess nobody won the last one), but now there are a few new entrants, and the nefarious Dark Champion is hatching an evil plan to be the hardest-to-unlock character in the history of fighting games (just use the cheat code). Superficially, this Eternal Champions is just the obvious and expected fighting game upgrade that would barely necessitate a season pass in today’s market.

Not fair... for DeathBut that Dark Champion does make an impact on the fatalities of EC:CotD. The Dark Champion can be summoned for a match ending “cinekill”, which will banish your opponent to a pre-recorded FMV hell where they will endure a death based on their greatest fear. Some of these videos are goofy (at least one character is crushed with a “I’m not touching you” finger motion), but the majority are either significantly gory (the cyborg has his limbs torn off in a rather unpleasant fashion) or pure nightmare fuel (I’m not the only one that has a fear of melting into some manner of fleshy liquid, am I?). And if you think the increased gore is relegated to cutscenes, don’t worry, there are also now “Vendettas” that allow you to use a special move toward the end of the match that will be a little more special than usual. They, again, run a realism gamut (which is more likely to make an impact: a character turning into a giant bug or one just whipping out a shotgun for a headshot?), but the end result of most Vendettas is a literal bloody pulp tossed around the arena. And the stage fatalities really earned their “Overkill” moniker, as some are excessive to the point of parody. “The Pit” of EC:CotD is not one, not two, but three pits in one! And, don’t worry, you get to watch as a 16-bit human body churns through three different buzzsaws. Street Fighter has different models for every character’s skeleton thanks to Blanka’s shocking attacks, but EC:CotD goes the extra mile by modeling individual organs that are primed to leak out of those skeletons. Yummy!

And why all the gore? Well, obviously because someone wanted Eternal Champions to be popular.

That's why he's the champMortal Kombat hit the Genesis in 1993, Eternal Champions saw its sequel released in 1995. In those intervening years, Mortal Kombat continued to be a juggernaut, particularly on the Sega Genesis. Street Fighter may have proven to be a lasting victor, but the sales numbers all touted Mortal Kombat as the champion of the system. Eternal Champions wanted a piece of that pie so badly. Sega did everything it could to promote EC, from country-wide, EGM-sponsored tournaments to a 7-11 slurpee promotion, but it couldn’t touch the genuine appeal of the game with the angry skeleton and the kung-fu dude. Eternal Champions never had a hold of the arcade appeal, tried to pump up the blood to compensate, and still got nowhere. An excellently crafted fighting game, and it’s still relegated to the discount bin of history.

Oh, and what finally killed Eternal Champions? Why was there never a third title? Well, there was supposed to be a Saturn version to wrap everything up, but Sega of Japan decided that Sega had too many fighting games (two), Eternal Champions was stealing too much attention from Virtua Fighter, and the eternal champions had to be retired. Sorry, guys, but there’s only room for one fighting game in this company.

Sorry, Eternal Champions. We know you tried everything, but it just wasn’t enough.

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

  • System: Sega CD for Challenge, but just regular Sega Genesis for just regular Eternal Champions. The new Sega Genesis Mini Classic Console is also available, but go ahead and grab the 6-button controller for that one.
  • Number of players: Up to and including two.
  • Favorite Character: Dr. Mitchell Midleton Knight has become the bio-engineered vampire monster Midknight! … Okay, he’s just Spider-Man’s Morbius, but… wait a tick. RAX is Cyborg, Shadow is Elektra, Trident is Aquaman, Blade is named friggen’ Blade… maybe these characters aren’t all that original…
  • Send in the Clowns: This happened.
    AHHHHHHH

    I’m never playing this again.
  • So 90’s it’s Grody: Want to know how to determine this game came out in 1995? Well, there’s a hidden fighter simply known as “The Senator” who exists as a parody of the controversy surrounding violent videogames. And he fights in front of an ersatz McDonalds surrounded by security, an obvious sendup of Bill Clinton’s love of jogging to burger joints. And Senator’s fatality is transforming into an uzi-wielding berserk postal clerk. And they claim memes were invented by the internet!
  • Failure State: Okay, maybe the reason Eternal Champions never became popular was because it was impossible to beat. The final boss is the Eternal Champion, and he’s got eight different “forms”, and they all have to be fought and defeated over the course of two rounds. And if you lose two rounds, there are no continues, you’re just booted back to your original timeline as a Bad End. So win eight continuous fights, or die. And Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side introduced another, meaner Eternal Champion after the first one, so good luck winning sixteen continuous fights.
  • Favorite Ending: Shadow Yamoto is a corporate ninja saboteur… and her ending sees her entering witness protection and making the world a better place by testifying against her former employer. It’s not exactly the most action packed finale for a ninja, but it does feel pretty right.
  • An End: Also, Crispy the Chicken’s ending involves losing his fortune in the 90’s financial crisis and then selling his eggs for booz money. This is a very dark game.
  • VIDEOGAME VIOLENCEDid you know? In further support of the Eternal Champions Expanded Universe, there were two spin-off titles released. Chicago Syndicate was a Game Gear title that was fairly Shinobi-esque and featured Larcen cleaning up Chicago in a bright green trench coat (the ‘20’s were a different time). And then there was X-Perts for the Sega Genesis, a light beat ‘em up presenting Shadow and her previously unseen team of X-Men wannabes. Both games are… not worth exploring.
  • Would I play again: If I’m in the mood for a distinctly 16-bit fighting game, I’ll choose Eternal Champions. Of course, that mood rarely happens…

What’s next? We’re going to kill some time with a game with the exact same plot all over again. Please look forward to it!

MKK: Mileena & Jade

Saiya

What we’ve got here is a clear “evil twin” situation. Mileena is a genetic abomination resulting from Shang Tsung mixing Kitana’s DNA with presumably some random Tarkatan (Baraka’s race) DNA. As a result, she is a perfect clone, save the eensy weensy caveat that her face is about 90% teeth. Interestingly, this is the only aspect of her Tarkatan DNA taking hold (perhaps save Mileena’s bloodlust… though in this universe, that’s extremely relative), and extremely convenient arm-blades were left in some DNA that fell to the bleeding room floor. But Millena picked up a pair of sai to compensate because someone read Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Kitana and Mileena are just Elektra with the serial numbers filed off, and, at her introduction, she’s ready to be Shao Kahn’s #2 assassin.

And then Kitana killed her, because who hasn’t killed their evil twin at one time or another?

In the new timeline, Shinnok and Quan Chi were able to conscript nearly the entire kast as killer zombies, as pretty much every fighter was dead by the end of Mortal Kombat 3 (redux). In the original timeline, though, the kharacters were a lot more indestructible, so they were left with the dregs of Sub-Zero I and Mileena. Sub-Zero was transformed into shadow wraith Noob Saibot, and Mileena… well, nobody felt like modifying Kitana’s sprite past changing her swimsuit’s color, so Mileena stayed Milenna. She participated in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as a hidden character (not coincidentally returning with the same update that included her sister), and was officially an undead ghoul that looked/operated exactly like her original, slightly more alive initial appearance. It was also revealed during this time that she had a one-way telepathic door into her sister’s thoughts… and then that was never mentioned again.

Saiya

Since Shinnok decided to invade Earth during Mortal Kombat 4, Mileena was allowed to participate when Kitana showed up for Mortal Kombat (4) Gold (seeing a pattern here?). Again, Mileena spent most of her time trying (unsuccessfully) to kill Kitana, and then Kitana managed to Bugs Bunny her sister down a trap floor. Mileena thus retained her “mostly alive” status (Noob Saibot continued to be a shadow monster, while Mileena stayed just a regular monster), but was locked away for quite a while in a dungeon that smelled way too much like Kano.

Milenna had to sit out Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance while Mario was busy rescuing toads in other castles, but she returned with a vengeance (as always, literally) during Mortal Kombat: Deception. Kitana had amassed quite the amazing army during her time as a princess, but, unfortunately, she was knocked off by Quan Chi during the finale of DA. Unfortunately for her forces, though, none of the good guys at the scene survived long enough to email a proper obituary to the Outworld Times (“All the News That’s Fit to Print in Blood”), so no one was particularly aware of Kitana’s untimely death. Baraka, obviously bored and horny, broke Mileena out of jail at this time, and Mileena instantly hatched a fool-proof plan to impersonate her sister and effectively rule Edenia and Outworld’s “rebellion” armies. All she had to do was wear a veil literally all the time, and if anyone called her on this unusual fashion choice, she’d just explain that… I don’t know… she had a really embarrassing goiter? And then she’d have Baraka kill the curious cat. And if anyone questioned why she suddenly had Baraka hanging around all the time, well, you better believe that’s gonna deserve another visit from Baraka. There probably wouldn’t be any questions after that.

Beyond the veil

And you know what? Mileena was a pretty good Kitana. That makes sense, though, right? Kitana was great at her job, and Mileena is her exact duplicate, but also an undead creature with a heaping helping of monster warrior DNA. She managed to take back Shao Kahn’s fortress, and effectively conquered the whole of Outworld… about seven seconds before Shao Kahn made his triumphant return. Mileena immediately capitulated to Shao Kahn the instant he returned to “her” throne room, and Mileena dropped the Kitana act to become Shao Kahn’s henchman again for the first time since Mortal Kombat 2. Thus, Mileena was firmly on Shao Kahn’s side for MK: Armageddon, which turned out to be a great choice, as Shao Kahn actually won that tournament. Yes, Mileena died again, and, of course, the universe got rebooted, but sometimes it is nice to be on the winning side.

Oh, incidentally, Mileena’s (non-kanon) ending for MK:A features Mileena gaining Kitana’s normal human shape, and Kitana being “cursed” with Mileena’s signature choppers. This leads to Mileena becoming a content ruler of Edenia/Outworld, and Kitana going crazy in a dungeon. Is Mileena only a monster because she looks like a monster? Or, in a game where most other kharacters get endings involving gaining god-like abilities (and/or f^%&ing centaurs), are the writers of Mortal Kombat leaning a bit heavily on the whole “all women just want to be pretty, and are homicidally jealous if they aren’t” trope? Something to think about until the end of this paragraph!

Bloody

Okay, stop thinking about Mileena and her place in feminism, it’s time to think about Mileena and her place on the sexometer. Mortal Kombat 9 was a dedicated reboot for the franchise, and an opportunity for some hardcore advertising campaigns to the degree of “Mortal Kombat’s back, baby!” In addition to touting itself as the most Mortal Kombat-est Mortal Kombat in Mortal Kombat history, the deranged minds behind Mortal Kombat (‘s advertising campaigns) decided to play up the sexiness of Mortal Kombat through an extremely muddled, sex-based campaign featuring Mileena. On one hand, you had renders of Mileena straight up appearing in Playboy. She was mostly naked, save her veil and a pair of sai covering her naughtiest bits. Then, the game itself made a point of retkonning Mileena’s “birth” to take place during Mortal Kombat 2 (redux), when her original backstory put her at a few centuries old (like her sister). This, of course, meant that “just born” Mileena could appear in a “costume” that was basically a few strips of cloth tied around some key places. This alternate costume was available to the player through some fairly intense earning-requirements, and, when unlocked, awarded the trophy titled “Best…Alternate…EVER!" Basically, Mortal Kombat 9 was full-on horny for Mileena, which coupled in an extremely uncomfortable manner with her in-game biography:

“Shang Tsung has created many abominable creatures in his Flesh Pits, but none so twisted as Mileena. A fusion of Edenian flesh and Tarkatan blood, Mileena is both beauty and beast. This dichotomy has made her mind unstable; she is prone to fits of madness and savagery. Though she has the appearance of a mature woman, she is more child than adult–a blank slate conformed to Shao Kahn’s will. Devoid of conscience or remorse, Mileena will butcher anyone to appease her beloved father.”

Oh, the game’s prime sex object has the mind of a child and excessively loves her abusive daddy. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go take an angry nap.

Mileena Kahn

Anywho, aside from generally menacing Kitana (as usual), Mileena didn’t really accomplish much besides inspiring some confusing boners during Mortal Kombat 9. As what seemed to be a karmatic apology from the universe (of MK writers), Mileena became the official ruler of Outworld after Shao Kahn was vaporized by the Elder Gods during MK9’s finale. Mileena was technically created to be Shao Kahn’s heir, after all, so it does make a certain amount of sense that she’d be next in line for the throne. And apparently she got over that whole “mind of a child” thing just in time to be a fairly ruthless dictator with a posse of Shao Kahn’s various goons. Unfortunately, her good luck runs out right about when Mortal Kombat X gets going, as she is quickly betrayed by Reptile (who witnessed her “birth” in the flesh pits and likely only stuck around so long out of respect for her mouth’s similarity to a t-rex ) and then Ermac (who continually proves to be kind of a jerk). Kotal Kahn then seizes control of Outworld, and Mileena is left with Team Scrappy Rebellion That Will Eventually Betray Her, which includes noted traitors Tanya, Rain, and Kano. In a shocking turn of events, Mileena is betrayed by, like, everybody, and is eventually killed via a Kotal Kahn-ordered, bug-based death kiss. Mileena was so happy she finally managed to use Outworld sorcery to grow some lips, too!

Aside from a Mortal Kombat X (presumably non-kanon) ending that states Mileena’s soul could migrate to a spare Mileena body, Mileena seems to spend the rest of the “new” Mortal Kombat Universe’s existence as a non-participating corpse. Oh well. At least she outlived Kitana this time!

She has a ninja turtle weapon, too

The final “sister”, Jade is one of three hidden kharacters featured in Mortal Kombat 2. She was (theoretically) the easiest to battle, as she simply required winning a lone round using only low kicks during a specific match. After that, a green version of Kitana/Mileena would appear, and, if you managed to beat her… uh… congratulations? Yay, you fought and beat a hidden fighter, time to move on to Kintaro. Compared to the hype surrounding a certain other green ninja, Jade seemed rather perfunctory, and the “least” of the newly introduced crop of color-swapped weirdos lurking in the shadows.

And, frankly, Mortal Kombat 3 did little to rectify this situation. Jade did not reappear until MK3’s first revision, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and was reintroduced as Kitana’s personal bodyguard turned body hunter. Jade was tasked with bringing in Kitana (for the murder of Mileena, natch), but decided to squelch out on the deal with Shao Kahn to team up with Kitana against her other pursuer, More Popular Green Ninja. Thus, Jade was defined for all future appearances as Kitana’s best friend, and, were the Mortal Kombat universe a sitcom, Jade would be overweight (or at least “Hollywood overweight”) and would continually make racey comments about Liu Kang (“I don’t know about you, girlfriend, but I’d sure like to see his animality!”). That is her entire role in the kanon: Jade does not return until Mortal Kombat: Deception, and she’s only there to avenge the death/zombification of Kitana. And then, with Kitana revived for MK: Armageddon, Jade… just kinda helped. That’s it. Even her ending is just like “uh… she saved the world… and everyone loved her. The end.”

Super best friends

Mortal Kombat 9 saw Jade go through the same MK1-3 BS again (work for Shao Kahn, “watch” Kitana, quit job because girl power), with the significant change that Queen Sindel managed to rip Jade’s heart out before the end of Mortal Kombat 3 (redux). To be clear, that was not metaphorical, and an undead Jade joined Kitana and the rest of her buddies as the undead hordes of Hell.

Jade finally got her own personality in Mortal Kombat 11, when a time-displaced Jade drops into the present and reveals that she used to have a thing with the current ruler of Outworld, Kotal Kahn. Jade was introduced in 1993, and, finally, 26 years later, earns another personality trait beyond “is friends with Kitana”. Mind you, all this really does is establish that Jade likes boys (who are routinely mistaken for literal gods), but that’s more than we had before! She gets her own featured chapter out of this development, but it’s predominantly just about how “young/naive” Jade is a lot less bloodthirsty than “old/grizzled” Kotal Kahn, a guy who literally drinks blood. Jade seems to soften Kotal Kahn a tweak, but it is once again Kitana who steals the limelight and ties off all the Kotal Kahn business.

Sorry, Jade, we can’t all be as successful as a cold-blooded reptile man.

Jade!

Next time: There’s fire.

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

Spidey!Spider-Man: The Video Game is important precisely because it is forgettable.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is an arcade title that never made its way to consoles. It’s part beat ‘em up, part 2-D platformer, and all general Sega lunacy. Released a year after Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, this title sees Spider-Man gain a few amazing friends, fight almost the exact same roster of villains, and eventually save the day/planet through the very Spider-Man solution of “punch everything ever”. Webs are used exclusively as concussive projectiles, a swinging kick is the most Spidey-esque move available, and I’m pretty sure ol’ Webhead kills Dr. Curt Connors. Twice. It’s a Spider-Man game, but it’s so loosely a Spider-Man product, it may as well be a malfunctioning Malibu Stacy doll.

But, hey, it was a fun time for 1992.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is not Final Fight. In fact, SM:TVG was released a solid three years after Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the arcade game). We had also seen Streets of Rage a year prior. The Simpsons (the arcade game) was released a year earlier, too. X-Men (the arcade game) was released the same year. In short, SM:TVG was not only already one of many Spider-Man videogames, but it was also yet another beat ‘em up in an already crowded beat ‘em up market. What did it do to set itself apart from the pack? Well, unfortunately, not much: Once a level, the perspective changes to a 2-D plane, and features almost Contra-esque run ‘n shoot action. Unfortunately, this was at a time when 2-D was starting to become passé, so lil’ dorky dudes shooting grappling hooks at a ridiculously scaled Venom sprite wasn’t going to impress anyone when Blanka’s screams were already beckoning from elsewhere in the arcade. So, yes, when a beat ‘em up needed every advantage it could find to be the next Double Dragon and not a Double Dragon 3, SM:TVG decided to go in possibly the worst direction. At least it didn’t include a boss on the second level that is virtually impossible due to a severe lack of available aerial attacks…

GOBLIN!

Oh. Oh dang.

But wait! Spider-Man: The Video Game is still fun! It’s a lot of fun! Or… at least I remember it being a fun. Maybe I just need to play it again? Sure! That sounds like a great idea! I’ll just pop it right in my…

Oh, right. SM:TVG was only available in arcades, and it sure as heck isn’t in any arcades anymore… Assuming you can find an arcade at all… This is going to get difficult.

But it does bring us to a prime reason videogame preservation is important: Videogame popularity is wildly capricious and ephemeral.

Get 'emThe beat ‘em up genre featured some of the biggest names of the time. Many people were first exposed to The X-Men not through a comic book, but through an arcade game (and we’re still trying to figure out why Dazzler isn’t more popular…). Mike Haggar was just a mayor who rarely wore a shirt, but the humble beat ‘em up made him a mainstay of gaming for generations. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The Simpsons? They were already everywhere, so it made sense they’d be gobbling up your quarters, too. When the beat ‘em up genre ruled the arcade, it well and truly owned gaming itself, and the consoles of the time were desperate to catch up to their coin-op brethren. It was cool to be a beat ‘em up, and everything that was cool wound up walking left-to-right and pummeling every random punk in their path.

But popularity ebbs and flows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons are still a “thing” (The Simpsons is currently entering its ∞th season), but they’re nowhere near the popularity they experienced in the late 80’s/early 90’s. In the meanwhile, The X-Men became the hottest super-hero franchise on the silver screen… and then fell to the wayside the minute that Spider-Man conquered the multiplex. And now Spider-Man is riding high again, but is nowhere near the popularity of some of his contemporaries in The Avengers. Oh Lord! Hawk Guy might be the most popular character in Spider-Man: The Video Game! What horrible future has our misdeeds wrought!?

THWANGAnd if you’re saying that Spider-Man: The Video Game (featuring Clint Barton) would do well today because of the popularity of its attached property: congratulations! You’re right! And if we had The Avengers palling around on the big screen back in 1992, then this mediocre beat ‘em up would likely be just as popular as the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons. And that would carry it forward to the future: some company (I guess Disney Interactive? Or… Capcom? Nintendo is publishing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? Maybe them?) would find it profitable enough to hit Sega up for its old code, and we’d see this arcade title ported to a virtual console or two. Or maybe it would have already happened, and we’d be able to buy it on Xbox Live because it was a promotion for Spider-Man: That One Where The Lizard Looks Like a Ninja Turtle. Or maybe it would have been enough of an arcade hit that it got ported to the Sega Genesis. Or Sega Saturn. Or Sega Dreamcast. Or Game Gear? I’m really not picky.

But, in its moment, Spider-Man wasn’t all that popular. We were still two years away from the massive popularity of the Spider-Man animated series, and the Spidey fans of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends were a decade past caring about videogames. Tobey Maguire may as well have been an eternity from popularizing battling a Green Goblin or two. While it seems hard to believe in the age of Avengers Endgame, there was a time when Spider-Man was just some random comic book character, and his masked mug was never going to grab more quarters than Michelangelo traveling through time.

And so history forgot Spider-Man: The Video Game. It is now impossible to play a videogame featuring Spider-Man and Hawkeye battling The Kingpin and Doctor Doom. There may be other similar experiences out there, but this one is lost forever. And all because Spider-Man wasn’t the hottest property available that month, but still a popular enough franchise to require licensing. It’s gone forever simply because of a quirk of timing.

This seems dangerousSpider-Man: The Video Game isn’t the best Spider-Man game out there. It didn’t define the genre, it didn’t show us all what it meant to be Spider-Man, and it suffered from the unfortunate handicap of including Namor. But it was a fun game, and future generations deserve an opportunity to play it.

Videogame preservation is important not only for the best and most unique games, but also the unexceptional titles. It might not be the most exciting game in the world, but what kid doesn’t want to play a Spider-Man game?

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

  • System: Arcade exclusively. That’s the problem!
  • Number of players: Four! And it was one of those arcade cabinets where you’re not tied to a character according to which joystick you grab, so us lefties aren’t stuck with Leonardo just because we wanted some elbow room.
  • Favorite Character: I very much want to say that Black Cat is my favorite character, as she is one of my favorite, overlooked Marvel heroines… but she kind of sucks in this game. A grappling hook swing special attack? Lame. But Namor, who can shoot friggen lightning bolts from his hands and toss random baddies far into the air? That’s the stuff. Imperious Rex, baby!
  • Other Influences: Namor walking around nearly naked with the abs of Hercules? His sprite reminds me of another Sega title.
  • Battle!The Spider that Walks like a Man: Spider-Man is an interesting character to animate, because his comic origins don’t really grant him an animated “walk”, but given his speed and super-powers, you could go in a lot of different directions with how a man blessed by a radioactive Spider God might wander around the place. Somehow, this led to Spider-Man of this title possessing a walking animation that makes Peter Parker appear to be… bored. And kind of slouchy? Look, what’s important is that Spider-Man really needs to visit a chiropractor.
  • So Close: Black Cat’s catchphrase for the game seems to be, “Jackpot!” You might have been thinking of a different lady in Spider-Man’s life, Sega…
  • Last known photo: I last saw this arcade cabinet at a festival in 2012. That is a lot more recent than I would expect, but I assume it was just a matter of some random carnival barker getting a deal on a game with a recognizable name. And one of the joysticks didn’t work. Lame.
  • Did you know? Scorpion and Venom appear as a sort of tandem boss in the first level. In the comics, years later, Mac Gargan (aka Scorpion) would eventually obtain the Venom symbiote as part of the Dark Reign event. Also: I am a gigantic nerd.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun beat ‘em up, and the 2-D sections are an excellent change of pace from the usual beat ‘em up “same three guys” gameplay. It’s just a shame I technically can’t play the game anymore…

What’s next? Spider-Man is always popular, but what happens when a game is released in one region, and then never leaves because its hero is… a penguin? With a weight problem? Our next lost forever title is Yume Penguin Monogatari. Please look forward to it!

So iconic

FGC #409 Kirby Star Allies

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWKirby is a hero because he never forgets his friends.

Kirby is a force of pure id. The diminutive pink ball (seriously, it’s canon that he’s less than a foot high) is an endless source of destruction for Dream Land. Assuming some malcontent were to lay a paw on even one slice of Kirby’s cake, our “hero” would descend upon the land in a flurry of annihilation, and consume every man, woman, and block from here to his goal. If an evil clown is riding a tomato, Kirby will consume fiend and fruit alike, and then move on to swallow one of those giant bear things. And let’s not even consider the property damage incurred by a reckless warrior wearing a bandana and wielding a hammer! Kirby should be hero and villain to the generally drowsy denizens of Popstar.

But Kirby is only considered a hero by all but the most stubborn of penguin monarchy. And why? Because Kirby is so damn inclusive.

Let’s back up a moment, and consider the concept of a supporting cast. In fact, since I’m psyched about some upcoming Avengers times, let’s talk about superhero supporting casts. Iron Man kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe, and he’s always had his Pepper Potts on standby. There’s also War Machine, who has appeared in every IM movie, and a surprisingly high number of Avengers/Captain America films. But then we have the supporting cast from every other Marvel film, and do the auxiliary characters ever escape the gravity of their private little universes? I’d love to see Thor’s Science Squad discuss matters with Spider-Man’s STEM kids, or even see some Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comingle with a Strange fellow or two, but I’m pretty sure the best we’re going to get is Wong comparing hair care tips with Okoye. And, in a way, that’s fine, because Avengers: Infinity War already looks overstuffed with every hero under Ego the Living Planet, but it also sucks for every incidental character that has ever outshone their main star. I’m not going to start shouting, “Bring back Peggy Carter!” but… well, okay, I might start doing that. Bring back Peggy Carter! And Iron Man’s dad! They were the best ones!

WeeeeBut the fact that the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has been so long lasting (do we have a single movie universe/franchise with one solid continuity that has ever lasted this long?) has erased our memories of what normally happens in superhero movies. Let’s look across the aisle at Batman. If you’ve got a Batman movie, you have to have the old standbys: Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, and Martha Wayne’s necklace. But past that? Well, if you liked a particular character from one Batman movie, there is absolutely no guarantee that character will ever be seen again. Lucius Fox? He’s a strong maybe. Robin? Depends on the decade. Batgirl? Geez, I know I’m one of six people that enjoyed Alicia Silverstone’s performance, but we’re somehow never seeing that character again. And even if a character returns, it doesn’t mean they’ll be remotely similar to their previous incarnation. Batman is always Batman, but Catwoman might be a Tim Burton fantasy, or a Bond Girl that incidentally owns a motorcycle. And the Al Ghul family can’t even stick to one nationality!

The unfortunate point of all this superhero talk is that it’s rough being a tertiary character when your best friend has their name in the title. Superman might always have his Jimmy Olsen, but not even the biggest blockbuster of 2017 is going to stick Etta Candy in anyone’s vocabulary. And that sucks for any audience member that actually prefers these “sidekick” heroes (or, as might be the case in that ridiculously male dominated field, heroine). If you’re looking for the benevolent Leslie Thompkins of the Batman mythos, please never watch Gotham, as she’s… a wee bit on the crazy side. But maybe she’ll be better in Batman’s next adaptation!

But Kirby doesn’t have that problem. Kirby has friends forever.

NINJA!We’re going on 26 years of Kirby, and Kirby’s main cast has absolutely not changed with the times. Kirby is the same hungry ‘n heroic puff he has been since day one. King Dedede is a greedy hammerhead of a flightless (kinda) bird (also kinda). Even the freaking tree with a face has been serving the exact same purpose since his introduction as Kirby’s first ever boss. Waddle Dee is Dedede’s minion whether he’s got a bandana or not, and Scarfy is still just as angry about Kirby’s inhalations now decades after that stopped being Kirby’s main offensive maneuver. Link, Samus, and Sonic might explore entirely new universes with every installment, but Kirby’s world has been rigidly defined from his inception.

But Kirby isn’t just about repetition, Kirby is all about the little guy (again, not even a foot tall, but I’m not talking about him this time).

As a member of not only the Metroid Preservation Society, but also someone who has been tirelessly stumping for the Equal Rights for Goombas campaign, I like incidental bad guys in videogames. I could care less about King K. Rool, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Kudgel again. Starman might have dominated the Earthbound box, but I’d rather see the Wild Wooly Shambler make a comeback. And, unlike shield-bearing heroes, I like like-likes. And it looks like Kirby is right there with me! Waddle Dees and Waddle Doos are locks, but we’ve also got Birdon and his fabulous headdress. Bio Spark the ninja, too! Chef Kawasaki! Bugzzy returns! And they’re all playable!

And then you get some DLC, and you’ve got a hamster on the roster, too! What more could you ask for!?

WeeeeeeSo, in a way, Kirby Star Allies is the ultimate form of the Kirby experience. Kirby never forgets his friends, so it’s only natural that he would wander around the universe and make brand new friends everywhere he goes. Yesterday’s villain is today’s best friend, and Kirby’s team of Dedede, Metaknight, and Marx is proof of that. And, even though it’s certain we’ll see another Kirby title after this series highpoint, you don’t have to worry never seeing Kirby’s “Batgirl” ever again. Kirby never forgets his friends, and that’s a fine explanation for why they keep that maniac around.

Kirby’s one tough creampuff, but he’s never going to forget even one of his friends.

… Except Lololo. Screw that guy.

FGC #409 Kirby Star Allies

  • System: Nintendo Switch, the best damn system ever named after a piece of routing equipment.
  • Number of players: Bring all your friends! Four!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kirby rules! All Kirby games are good, and Star Allies is fun for the whole family (of mutant, one-eyed waddlers). My only complaint stems from the game relying on the same bosses and minibosses a little too often, and not in stimulating ways. Fighting Whispy Woods more than once in a playthrough, particularly when you know there’s going to be an arena mode anyway, is pushing it. And miniboss twins are okay, but where’s the full 4 v 4 brawl? Keep making me fight Mr. Frosty, fine, but at least make it interesting!
  • CreepyFavorite Copy Ability: How did it take this long for Kirby to become Spider-Kirby? Trapping opponents is fun, hi-jump makes a return as a friend ability, and Kirby gains the coolest hat in the world. Kirby does well doing everything a spider can.
  • Favorite Ally: Bonkers the Gorilla has a hammer and my heart.
  • Sad but true: That minigame where Kirby bats an incoming meteor into the stratosphere is the closest we’re ever going to get to a decent FLCL game.
  • Did you know? In all Kirby 25th Anniversary orchestra artwork, Bonkers plays the timpani. Don’t date drummers.
  • Would I play again: Yes, and please release more and more DLC so I can play Kirby again every month. Bring back that painter kid, Nintendo!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar for the Gameboy Advance! Oh boy! It’s time to give my spell checker an absolute conniption! Please look forward to it!

KIRBY!