Tag Archives: minecart

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

Gaming has changed a lot over the years. Nowadays, if a game is released for multiple systems, it is almost always the exact same game across different platforms, give or take a random feature or frame rate. Skyrim has been released for… let me do the math here… 70,000 videogame systems, and, by and large, every version has been, ya know, Skyrim. If there were some variation in there, you better believe you’d see promotion for the brand new Skyrim Jr., Skyrim Babies, or Skyrim: Centaurs Among Us editions. You buy Skyrim, you get Skyrim, and whether your buddy has an Xbox or Playstation, you’re both talking about the same dragonborn at the end of the day.

Back in the 90’s, things were not so simple.

We consider them members of the same console generation, but the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo videogame consoles were wildly different systems. For one thing, Super Nintendo had Chrono Trigger and Super Metroid, while Sega Genesis had Ecco the Dolphin. Ha ha! I’m joking, because I was primarily a Nintendo kid, and I absolutely will never get over those console wars. I lost good friends to that battle, and I’m not going to let young Jason’s sacrifices (he had a subscription to Sega Visions) be in vain. And why were there such console wars? Well, mostly because of advertising. But! Another significant factor was that a number of games for both systems were as different as their base consoles, so you could experience entirely different playstyles if you decided to pick up a title for Sega or Nintendo. Back then, even a humble Looney Tunes spin-off could be the spark that reignites the blaze of war.

He's the dad in Taz-ManiaTaz-Mania was always an odd duck. For reasons that I’m sure annoy tattoo artists to this very day, Taz the Tazmanian Devil became extremely popular in the early 90’s. This also roughly coincided with the rise of WB/Fox Kids animation domination, so, hot on the heels of Tiny Toons and just before the rise of Animaniacs, Taz got his own animated variety sitcom. This was… an odd choice. Taz was always popular for his general unleashed, unhinged, and non-verbal personality… so naturally they gave him a loving, perfectly normal nuclear family. Jean Tazmanian Devil is a dedicated housewife, and Hugh Tazmanian Devil is a Bing Crosby wannabe perfect father. Molly and Jake are archetypal siblings, and Dog the Turtle is a typical dog (who is a turtle). Basically, Warner Bros. Animation crafted an amusing farce where a feral beast is forced to live with a modern family that inexplicably and unconditionally loves the destructive eating machine. … And it suddenly becomes clear where my generation earned its absurdist sense of humor. Regardless, Taz was joined by a few other characters/shorts (because WB Animation seemed to assume that kids have the collective attention span of a particularly excited chihuahua), so even the main appeal of its chief character was lost for entire segments at a time. For a series that was ostensibly created to capitalize on Taz-mania (oh, I just got that), it sure took a weird route to get there.

But, like the Addams Family before it, it was considered a popular enough show to earn a videogame or two. The first release was Taz-Mania for the Sega Genesis. And, lo, it was good! As one might expect from the era, Taz-Mania was a 2-D platforming adventure featuring Taz questing after a giant egg, because eating things is funny. And Taz-Mania properly featured Taz’s excessive gluttony in other ways, too! Taz would devour anything he could fit in his giant maw, which included food, 1-ups, monsters, and even entire water bottles (he drank the water first, naturally). This even became an interesting gameplay wrinkle, as there were items like bombs and weed killer strewn about, and they could be used as items, but only if you made Taz resist devouring them outright. FrostyFun fact: weed killer is not a balanced part of a tazmanian devil’s diet. Beyond that, this was a gorgeous, fairly basic 2-D platformer, and the goal was to jump on everything from here to the end of the stage. You could even use Taz’s whirly attack every once in a while… but it’s generally not recommended, as it will absolutely get you killed.

Which was kind of the problem: Taz-Mania was super hard.

With save states and other modern innovations, the scope of Taz-Mania is easy to see. However, back in the day, this was a pretty basic platformer for a few levels, and then a series of instant death traps that would banish the player back to Level 1 pretty quickly. In fact, you could easily point toward one single mid-level stage, a freaking a mine cart level, that is a wall-to-wall Taz slaughter. No devils have any hope to survive, and the mere concept of reaching later stages is nothing more than a pipedream. There are a few other sticking points (floating logs introducing perspective to a 2-D game is particularly cruel), but, short of rote memorization, there was no way Taz was going to make it past some terrible mines. Not that the end game is that exciting! But not knowing how Taz’s adventure ends (it’s a fight against a giant seagull, ‘natch) might convince a poor Genesis kid that a purchase is better than a rental. Well played, Sega, well played.

And then, a scant few months later, Sunsoft released its version of Taz-Mania on the Super Nintendo. It was dramatically easier, and, incidentally, boring as hell.

WeeeeYou will never be able to convince me that Taz-Mania (SNES) did not start as a Wily E. Coyote game that was randomly modified to be a Taz-Mania tie-in. This title plays vaguely like SNES Mario Kart, and takes full advantage of Mode 7 capabilities to place Taz on an endless stretch of highway where he must catch kiwis (the highly mobile birds, not the much easier to catch fruit). Every level contains an escalating number of kiwis, and there are few hazards (like buses and… mostly just buses) to keep Taz down. After catching the requisite kiwis, Taz falls asleep, the kiwis escape his gaping maw (that’s how digestion works, right?), and the whole thing starts again. Repeat for five acts (worlds) with three stages each. Throw in a few bonus stages where you can catch infinity kiwis for a score that impacts nothing, and you’re got the entire game.

And, in this case, that’s the clear problem: after playing a whole one stage, you’ve seen everything this title has to offer. Later stages seem to climb in difficulty only by adding incredibly unfair traps (arrows will spawn practically on top of Taz, and presumably you’re supposed to dodge them by using psychic powers), but it’s mostly moot anyway, as devouring practically anything (including your kiwi goals) refills your health. Like the endless stretch of highway to which Taz has been sentenced, the game is just an interminable slog of the initial stage repeated a solid fifteen times. Backgrounds change, sometimes you see the Road Runner, and occasionally you’ll earn a powerup that makes Taz move slightly faster, but other than that, it is tedium. It’s tremendously more beatable than its Genesis cousin, but even the first act makes it clear that there’s no future for this Taz. It’s the exact same plot across both games (Taz hungry), but there is exactly zero reason to progress through the SNES version.

GULPSo who wins? Guess it depends on your mood. SNES-Mania is basically an endless runner (almost literally), and is good, repetitive fun if you’re in the mood for such a thing (the sales on mobile games seem to indicate this is true of at least some people). On the other (brown, furry) hand, you’ve got Genesis-Mania, which is a creative, intricate platformer that requires endless memorization or a healthy glut of cheating. It’s (God help me) the Dark Souls of 90’s WB Animation Game Tie-ins. So, in this situation, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, and one could no more declare a winner than objectively determine that ducks are more suited for space travel than vegemite. In this situation, both systems have their own, personal Tazs, and that’s just fine.

Which is nice for Sega, because the SNES wins at everything else.

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

  • System: Sega Genesis for the platformer, SNES for the runnin’ of the Taz. The Genesis game was compromised and ported to Master System and Game Gear, too. Also, there was a Gameboy version that had nothing to do with anything.
  • Number of players: Single player across the board. The SNES version could easily have had a head-to-head kiwi catching contest, but noooooo.
  • Favorite Level (SG): It’s a shame that the final area of Genesis-Mania is so difficult to reach, as its “ancient ruins” aesthetic is great for the level design, and contains a number of gags that indicate Taz’s ancient ancestors were just… Taz. He’s perennial!
  • Favorite Level (SNES): There is no way to tell these stages apart, and I will not entertain notions of trying.
  • OUCHLet’s Talk Cartoons: Given the choice, I’d take Taz-Mania the Series over a number of its descendants, like Histeria!, Animaniacs, and a third one that I know I’m forgetting. Freakazoid is the best, but Taz’s general… Tazness fit the variety show format well. Also, I really enjoy orange juice, and no one understands when I make that Hugh reference anymore.
  • Did you know? Genesis-Mania contains a complete debug cheat, which allows for level skipping, invincibility, and instant health restoration. SNES-Mania simply contains a level select code. Welp, I know one place where the Genesis version excels.
  • Would I play again: SNES version isn’t happening again, as I’m not one for score-based games. Genesis version is a maybe, but only with the assistance of save states and such. Or… probably not ever, because there are better games available in both genres. Sorry, guess the Taz stays in Taz-Mania.

What’s next? Our next SNES/Genesis matchup is… Billy and the Clone-Osaurus! There’s a park full of dinosaurs, and I guess we’re trying to escape it for some reason! Please look forward to it!

The kid

Wild Arms 2 Part 08: Reach Out and Threaten Someone

Previously on Wild Arms 2: ARMS averted a cave-in! Or… they at least cleaned up after one. What’s important is that ARMS accomplished something. That might not happen again for a while.

Oh, we also got a hot tip about some mysterious gang approaching Telepath Tower, so let’s dive on in.

Well this is certainly odd: a trio of glowing cubes are hanging around the entrance.

And, not coincidentally, there are a few chuckable boxes lying around, too.

But all doors leading forward are locked. Can yoooou solve the mystery?

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Monkey NoisesVideogames can do a few things better than any other medium, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze does one of those things perfectly.

DKC:TF is a pretty straightforward platforming adventure. Donkey Kong was just donkeying around, enjoying his birthday with the members of his family that he remembered exist this week (sorry, Lanky Kong), when a group of malevolent penguins invaded his home. With the helpful flippers of some Viking walruses, Donkey and pals were escorted far from Donkey Kong Country, and banished to an even five islands away from home base. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie, and even Cranky now must fight their way back to their tropical island, and there’s only an army of owls, deadly pits, and other assorted nonsense to repel the apes. At least there are a few frozen bananas to nab along the way.

And, so I can pretend I maintain a proper gaming review blog, I’ll note the experience does play like a dream. The DKC series may handle like Super Mario Bros. on a fundamental level, but the big guy always feels completely different than his plumbing rival. Recent Donkey Kong Country games dial that “heavy inertia” feeling from the original Rare games up to eleven, and, If you’re doing your best hedgehog impression and always moving as fast as possible, it’s very easy to experience a “rollercoaster” feeling. Yes, you have full control of everyone’s favorite gorilla, but there’s that unmistakable feeling that you can’t slow down, that you’ve gotta go fast, and you’re just doing your best to steer this barreling freight train as best you can. Mind you, that metaphor becomes a bit more superliminal on the actually-a-rollercoaster minecart levels, but that feeling persists through the rest of the game. And, if you don’t like it, don’t worry, you can still take it slow, too. Well, on most stages. I wouldn’t slow down when you’re attempting to outrun a lava flow.

But that’s all auxiliary to the best event in the game (and possibly the franchise). After five “worlds” of random island hijinks, the final (well, final-not-secret) world is… Donkey Kong Country.

THIS IS EVERYTHING

You’re finally home! Hooray! … Except, yes, the Snowmads have conquered the tropical paradise, and turned it into a frozen stronghold. So DK and pals must fight from DK home up to the tippy top of Big Crazy Volcano… which is the premise of the previous game, Donkey Kong Country Returns. The final world of Donkey Kong Country Tropical freeze is Donkey Kong Country Returns.

And I love seeing this kind of thing in a videogame.

Other noisesEven if nobody noticed, this got its start back in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. If you hang out on the south-western “Death Mountain” region of the map, you’ll note the bottom section of the peninsula is actually the entirety of the overworld from The Legend of Zelda (1). In one instant, that simple plot of 8-bit pixels completely recontextualizes Link’s entire adventure, and, wow, did you see that? This new game is, like, 800 times larger than the old one! Oh man, how is Link going to survive his biggest adventure ever!?

(And, for the record, I feel like every Zelda after Ocarina of Time has failed for using the same basic layout as OoT [and arguably A Link to the Past]. It’s not exciting to find Death Mountain in the North or Gerudo Desert in the West, I want to see what’s past those landmarks. C’est la vie.)

But this same trick has been used in a variety of games for a variety of reasons. In Metroid Prime, a frigate is explored early in the adventure, and then, after it crashes to the planet below, it becomes a sunken “ghost ship” that is an entirely new “level”, but is still recognizable from its earlier appearance. Speaking of Metroid, you see this often in “prequel” games, where an important location from the “next” game is revisited by a different group that has no idea about the significance of the latest locale. See Lufia and Lufia 2 for a fun, fatal example of this concept. And while we’re on the subject of 16-bit JRPGs, time travel is great for video games for this exact reason. The Black Omen might be unchanging, but it’s fun to see how the simple villages and dungeons of 600 AD evolve in 400 years.

Hot stuffAnd why does this work? Why is this fun? It’s all because videogames have to be very mindful of “space”. While your average modern action movie doesn’t have to worry about the surrounding area for its epic battles at all (pop quiz: how many countries have been destroyed by random Transformer fights?), videogames are all about space, because the player must inhabit those locations for proper exploration and storytelling experiences. It doesn’t matter in every game (I admit, I might not be able to draw a map of Metro City), but so many games must keep an eye on distance and location, else, well, nobody likes to get lost forever. And, if everyone is doing their job right, the player learns the ins and outs of any given area almost subconsciously, and, before you know it, you’re able to recall the layout of Midgar a lot more easily than your home town. If you’re going to swing by my place, just take the third left after Wall Market.

I’ll save any further gushing about this concept for when ROB inevitably chooses Bioshock, but the flipside to memorizing a map or area is that, when that area is changed, your brain immediately notices. Even if it’s been fifteen years since you played the previous game, since you spotted the new, “different” area, some part of your head recognizes that something is wrong, and why is this wrong, and let’s explore a little further, and find out what happened here. And, on top of that, when something that was previously “the size of an entire game” is reduced to “now it’s smaller”, you I can't see what's happening!subconsciously feel awesome, because, wow, look at how much more I’ve accomplished than last time! Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is six times larger than Donkey Kong Country Returns! DK is huuuuuuge!

Oh, and it is pretty fun to replay through reimaginings of all the Donkey Kong Country Returns levels in a frozen wasteland, too.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an entertaining game all on its own, but the way it recontextualizes Donkey Kong Country Returns is amazing.

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. A months ago, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a 3DS port, but now I’m kind of expecting a Switch port. We’ll see if that pans out.
  • Number of players: Two! And I really want to try that sometime! Diddy and the other helpers apparently can assist with a second controller, but I’ve never thought to actually try that with any of my real-life buddies. There are so many other games we can play where we can have apes fight, ya know?
  • Favorite buddy: Cranky Kong has Scrooge’s pogo stick! That makes him tougher than the toughies. On the other hand, the pogo ability is just as finicky as it was back in the NES days, so I’d rather have Diddy in my corner. Can’t tell you how many times that jetpack saved my bacon.
  • Jerks!Favorite Boss: One baboon laughing at Kongs is bad enough, but a baboon that splits into three just to mock a monkey even more? That’s cruel.
  • Did you know? There’s a patch/update for this game, and it seems to exist entirely to fix a glitch in the third world that would prevent the next level from unlocking. “Beat stage, go to next stage” is pretty much videogame 101, so you have to wonder how that glitch got out into the wild.
  • Would I play again: If there is somehow never another Donkey Kong Country game “like this” again (you never know with Nintendo), then I’ll play this again in due time. If there is a DKCR3, then I’m all about leaving the past behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Streets of Rage 2! Good! I was getting tired of using the “Nintendo” tag continuously. It’s time to see some streets raging! Or maybe people raging at streets. I don’t know! Please look forward to it!

Huge hooters

FGC #191 New Super Mario Bros. Wii

There they goAnd now for a brief history of multiplayer in Mario games, and why that’s important.

Mario started with multiplayer. Donkey Kong, the premiere of Jump Man, was two player alternating, but when Mario gained his first headlining game, Mario Bros, is was with a two player simultaneous mode. And that really is the best way to play! Kicking over turtles and crabs is fun an’ all, but it’s much more enjoyable to do that while pushing a hapless Luigi into oncoming bees. Collect those coins before the green guy grabs ‘em! And, yes, if you’re in a particularly puckish mood, flip that turtle, piss him the heck off, and watch Luigi get bowled over by a rampaging tortoise. It’s right there in the title! This is Mario Bros, and the essence of family is sibling rivalry.

Unfortunately, Super Mario Bros, the iconic game that launched the Nintendo Entertainment System, returned to its alternating player roots. But two player is still two player! Even if you had to wait for your selfish friend to plow through every last goomba and buzzy beetle on the way to the princess (full disclosure: I was that selfish friend), eventually it would be your turn to play. Mario and Luigi both had the same quest, and it wasn’t up to some capricious console owner to finally pass the controller, the game did that for you. It might sound silly, but being seven and trusting someone else to eventually “give you a turn” is not how games get played. Look to Super Mario Bros 2 for proof of that. Was I the only kid that played “Okay, any time you pick Toad or Luigi, I get to play”? Fun fact: then nobody ever plays as Luigi or Toad. Funny how that works.

But Super Mario Bros. 3 brought back two player simultaneous play through a rehash of Mario Bros, and added a lot more strategy to the concept of two players in a Mario game. The “world map” of SMB3 might be seem quaint and unnecessary today, but “trapping” another player into a round of Mario Bros, or clearing stages in a WIGGLERSparticular order that guaranteed you’d be the one to claim that mushroom house was a game all its own. If you’re ever playing SMB3 alone, and wondering why it feels so different from when you were a kid, it’s because some part of your brain still remembers assaulting your best buddy for his star card so you could claim that precious 5-up. No, you didn’t need all those lives, but who could deny the joy of obtaining such a thing?

Super Mario World was the beginning of the end. SMW is a great game, but its entire 2-player mode seems like an afterthought. There’s the ability to transfer lives… and that’s it. If you beat the game as Luigi, the eternal player two, Mario is thanked for saving Princess Peach. The stupid dinosaur is praised, and Luigi is forgotten. He’s standing right there! Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island completely dropped its second player, which, on one hand, makes a certain kind of sense. On the other hand, well, there’s a reason I remember Kirby Super Star seeing my SNES a lot more often…

Then came Super Mario 64. You will note that it is not Super Mario Bros. 64. That is because Luigi is entirely missing from the experience, and any trace of a two-player mode with him. This was also the first Nintendo console to launch without a second controller… and there might be a connection there. The N64 was phenomenal for multiplayer experiences (Smash Bros, GoldenEye, Bomberman 64), but Mario was alone in his quest to get some cake and eat it too. This was eventually rectified in the DS remake (one way or another), but in 1996, the message was clear: two player Mario is over.

WeeeeWhen Mario decided to go on vacation, he went alone. When Luigi won a thoroughly haunted mansion, he explored it alone. When Mario charted the galaxy itself, he could have a little star buddy shooting star bits at aliens, but that was the tiniest of concessions to the idea of a two player experience. And any time Mario decided to play in the portable realm, well, maybe you have more friends than I do that buy the exact same games, but DS wireless play isn’t the easiest thing in the world, even if it is just for some minigames. Mario’s cast and extracurricular activities may have expanded over the years, but his own adventures had become depressingly solo.

Mario dropping his brother is significant. In a way, for many years, so went Mario, so went the world. He ushered in the concept of the “starring” mascot character (screw you, Pac-Man), the abstract world of gaming (jump on that turtle!), and, of course, the 2-D, scrolling platformer. When the N64 arrived, 3-D platforming arrived with it, and nobody remembers Jumping Flash, it’s Super Mario 64 all the way. And whether he’s promoting go-karting or smashing brothers, Mario has a tendency to get people’s attention.

But it’s not just about Mario being Mario, it’s about Mario always being in vicinity of the fun. And you know what isn’t fun? Sitting around and watching someone else play a videogame. Okay, maybe Let’s Plays have disproven that theory, so to take it a step further: nobody gets together on a Saturday night to watch LPs. You’ve got your friends over, you’ve had some juice and/or beer, and now it’s time to do something. What’s the better choice: everybody grab a controller for some Dammit, Toaddeath match fun times, or are we going to sit quietly and watch Goggle Bob collect another star from that giant dinosaur creature? Hey, who wants to watch me beat Super Mario Sunshine again? No you can’t have the controller, that’s mine.

And maybe I’m being hyperbolic, but I feel like the reason the platformer has fallen behind the likes of “open world adventure” or “FPS” is because a platformer is all about playing it, and watching it is only really exciting when someone is really good. Otherwise? Let’s grab something else we can all play. And thus does the next crop of games tout bullet points along the lines of “like Skyrim but” and “The Dark Souls of vegetable chopping”. I literally cannot remember the last time I saw a “Mario-like” that didn’t use the word “retro” a thousand times.

But there is hope for the future, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii started it. Nintendo realized that its target audience was a group of people gradually becoming disturbed loners, so NSMBW featured the ability to play through every last level with four players. Simultaneously! And dropping in and out of a game was as easy as pie, so if you wanted to beat World 3 while your friend was off honeymooning with his real life, you could! The platformer was for friends again, and the world breathed a sigh of relief.

And it’s only getting better! Super Mario Maker doesn’t have a “true” two player mode, but it offers the ability to create and share levels with friends across the globe. Weeee, againBetween the overt sharing, encouraging house guests to play created “worlds”, and watching LPs of the most difficult stages, Super Mario in his purest form is finally social again.

And that’s important.

For something to be popular, whether it’s a video game franchise, movie, or just a dirty limerick, it has to, by definition, be talked about. And the easiest way to get people talking about something is to share it. It’s cool that Band X released an album for ten million dollars that can only be purchased by one person, but if that one person doesn’t feel like sharing, it’s not going to make much of a cultural impact. Similarly, if Mario 64 is only played by one person per cartridge, that’s going to lead to an increasingly shrinking population of Mario players as further games are released. Nobody wants that, least of all Nintendo! Mario is to be shared, and someone finally realized that.

So good on you, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. You brought the brothers back to the brothers, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

… Mainly because I get to push Luigi into oncoming turtles again.

FGC #191 New Super Mario Bros. Wii

  • System: It’s a Wii, Wario. Wait, what?
  • Number of players: Four. Did you get that?
  • Dammit, guysHave some friends over: In the spirit of the game, I invited some buddies to play along on this entry. As you can see from some of the gifs, they’re terrible.
  • Favorite powerup: Penguin suit all day long. Screw the propeller hat, I wanna slide along on my tummy!
  • Koopa Kritters: This was the first “real” reappearance of the Koopalings since Super Mario World. I mean, they guested in a few Super Scope 6 and Mario & Luigi games, but those hardly count.
  • Did you know? This is the first game to feature the “super guide”, the little block that is supposed to make it so you are not ever permanently stuck on a particular level. Unfortunately, more often than not, it just serves to remind you that you suck, or died an unfathomably large number of times trying to get that one stupid bonus coin. Screw you, super guide!
  • Would I play again: Most certainly!… if there wasn’t a New Super Mario Bros. WiiU, at least. And its Luigi version. With an invincible Nabbit buddy. Seriously, it’s an improvement in every way.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Every Extend Extra for the PSP! Or is that Every Extra Extend? Bah, I can never remember correctly. Anyway, please look forward to it!

Weee
Hey, I’ve see this before