Tag Archives: ninja

FGC #369 Ninja Master’s

NINJA!This is my greatest gaming regret.

As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, I own a lot of videogames. Every single entry in the FGC is related to a game I actually own (physically, if at all possible), and I’m not afraid to say that… maybe I have a problem. My “gaming room” is wall-to-wall plastic knickknacks, and, assuming the amiibo army doesn’t expand beyond its nation’s borders, that is unlikely to change. I am physically incapable of “trading in” an old, no-longer-played videogame, and if that means that one day they shall find me buried beneath a stack of lousy Simpsons merchandise, so be it. I chose the game life, and I know how it ends.

But, looming death aside, I regret very few purchases. The (not) secret mission statement of this blog is that every game, good or bad, has a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s Super Mario or Lollipop Chainsaw, every videogame has some kind of message at its core… even if that message is simply “please go to the mall”. It’s very rare that I buy a terrible game for a significant amount of dough (one way or another, the “Make my Videos” of my collection were generally purchased for less than the price of a gallon of bleach), and, even when that does inevitably happen, at least I get a cool story out of the deal. I have measured my life in plastic cartridges, and my library being my library is worth more than any copy of Little Samson (according to current ebay values).

And all that said? The Neo Geo X sucks, and I want it out of my life.

The Neo Geo X should have been a thing of beauty. It was the Switch before we had the Switch! Take a look…

Look at that sucker

The Neo Geo X was basically a portable system that played Neo Geo games, but it also could dock, and then output HDMI straight into your increasingly intimidating gigantic television. And it was released with a colossal arcade stick! And 20 preloaded games! You didn’t have to switch cartridges to get your Geo on! It could be the ideal portable system with an excellent mini library, and then plug into your television for two player fun times! And the preloaded library was pretty robust, too, with King of Fighters ’95, King of the Monsters, Metal Slug, and World Heroes Perfect! Add in a few random forgotten gems (or “forgotten gems”), and the Neo Geo X looked like a pretty good get for $200 (which, reminder, would be less than the cost of a whole four contemporary games in 2012).

And, from a personal perspective, I was excited about the Neo Geo X. I never owned a Neo Geo, and, by the time I had enough scratch to afford such an expense, nearly every worthwhile Neo Geo title had already been released on more accessible consoles. In fact, when you look at the Fatal Fury Archives, Metal Slug Anthologies, and even some of the random games popping up on assorted collections, it seemed like the waiting game was the right way to do it. Why waste time switching expensive cartridges when every last game is on one disc on a system you were going to play anyway? The Neo Geo X seemed like a godsend for this kind of thinking, because I still have to own a Neo Geo, right? It should be represented somewhere in my Hall of Gaming, and the NGX would scratch that itch and be a pretty great system besides. Portable World Hero times! Metal Slug anywhere I want! And big, chunky arcade sticks for couch multiplayer! Bring the arcade experience home!

So I brought the Neo Geo X home, and… it sucked. It sucked a lot.

Look at these nerdsI’m not sure what I expected (yes I am, see the previous paragraph), but the Neo Geo X landed with a wet thud on my gaming carpet (this isn’t a metaphor). I guess I somehow thought this emulated Neo Geo experience would be… improved (? Somehow?) over my previous Neo Geo encounters, but, nope, that’s plain ol’ Metal Slug on my TV again, same as last time. And portable World Heroes is fun an’ all, but it’s just as limited as any fighting game from 1995 (yeesh) is going to be in 2012.

And, come to think of it, that’s exactly why the Neo Geo X was terrible: it was a 2012 system limited to 90’s tech.

To be clear, this isn’t about a retro system hosting retro games. I love retro games (source: this entire blog). No, the problem here was Ninja Master’s, the bonus game that was released with the Neo Geo X at launch. The Neo Geo X came preloaded with its own assortment of games, and Ninja Master’s was additionally included on a SD card “cartridge”. Slide in the card, and you’ve got 21 games! Woo! Presumably, future Neo Geo Xs would not have this extra game included, and let us all revel in our early adopter bounty. Nothing like an extra fighting game for fightin’!

Except… Ninja Master’s really was just an SD card with a game on there. The Neo Geo X could not accept old Neo Geo Cartridges or CDs, and expansions were limited to a chunk of physical media that was probably best known for living in your digital camera. The Neo Geo X did not have a network jack or a wireless receiver. Online play was out of the question, but, more importantly, you were never going to download new (old) games to the system. Any expansions for the system were going to be tied to SD cards for the rest of forever, and, thus, juggling “cartridges” would be the norm. To state a now obvious flaw, because the system launched with only Metal Slug (1), you were never going to have a portable Neo Geo that allowed for rapidly flipping through all the Metal Slug adventures. It was impossible. The system couldn’t handle something so basic, it had appeared on the PSP three years prior.

Get 'emThe Neo Geo X seemed like a great idea at its conception, but it was outdated before it got out of the box. We take it for granted, but the face of gaming, and the scope of what is possible, has changed dramatically over the last few years. A system that never updates? It sounds nice from a “I just want to play my games right now” perspective, but it also means what you bought is what you’ve got, forever, and that the average Neo Geo X is no better than one of those portable Sega emulators you’d find at the supermarket. The Neo Geo X was priced like a big boy system, but it had all the support of an Atari 60-in-one controller. And those NGX arcade controllers were cool, but they were wired, and wired controllers are sooo Playstation 1, not Playstation Fun. Yes, this was a retro system from top to bottom, but it was retro in the worst way.

So, with no future (and Mark of the Wolves being the only must-have game that was eventually released on cartridge), the Neo Geo X was plunked into a drawer the absolute first moment I needed more shelf space. It was conceivable that I’d want to play it again, but literally every game I wanted to play on that system was available faster and easier on other platforms. And on systems with wireless controllers! And save states! And other quality of life improvements that are so ingrained in modern gaming, I can’t even name them all. All those contemporary features are completely natural now, while the Neo Geo X is archaic. And the problem was not that the Neo Geo X was outdated, it’s that it was outdated from the moment it was released.

In time, Nintendo would prove “how you do it” with the NES and SNES Classics. They might not be portable, but their crisp emulation and amazing libraries proved that you could release a retro system that people would want (nay, demand), and you could do it at a price point that doesn’t attempt to compete with the “real” systems. And while my SNES Classic is never going to see as much play as my original SNES, it’s certainly going to see more use than the Neo Geo X, because it at least tried to understand the gamers of the age. The Neo Geo X? It didn’t even try, and I’ll always feel like a sucker for ever being excited about that useless lump of plastic.

The Neo Geo X is my biggest gaming regret.

FGC #369 Ninja Master’s

  • System: Neo Geo and Neo Geo X. It also appeared on the Playstation 2 and Playstation 4 as part of collections. But you ever hear about the Neo Geo X? It’s this system that…
  • Number of Players: Two simultaneous Ninja Masters in Ninja Master’s.
  • Kid Yin?Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Ninja Master’s is a pretty basic SNK fighting game. Its themes and general style are reminiscent of Samurai Shodown, but it allows the player to choose whether to wield a weapon or not. Oh, and you can lose your weapon, too. Come to think of it, it’s kind of like an early, 2-D Soul Edge. Other than that, it’s almost entirely forgettable, and the fact that it was used as a “bonus” to promote a new (old) system is a little peculiar.
  • What’s in a name: The technical, full title is Ninja Master’s: Haō Ninpō Chō, which roughly translates to something about a ninja master having the sacred Jedi texts or whatever. What’s important is that the American version very deliberately cuts it to simply Ninja Master’s, which gives the impression that no one at SNK understands how apostrophes work.
  • Favorite Character: Unzen is a hulking (seriously, he looks like The Hulk) Buddhist monk with no pupils and a giant hammer. He will crush you, and then shout random kōans at your corpse. He is everything I ever want to be.
  • Did you know? This is yet another videogame where you can fight (or fight as) Nobunaga, the Julius Caesar of 16th Century Japan. In this case, the grand unifier of Japan is possessed by a demon, so there’s an excuse for him to be the final boss beyond being the most famous dude in the roster. Well, next to Goemon, at least.
  • Would I play again: Ninja Master’s and the Neo Geo X are going back in the closet of shame with my Atari games and that keyboard for the Dreamcast. See you never, Ninja Master’s!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mighty Bomb Jack for the NES! I’m sure that’s going to be a blast! Please look forward to it!

Ouch

FGC #307 Disney Infinity 3.0

Here comes some merchandisingYour love isn’t real unless it’s physical.

Look at most media… Hell… Look at practically the entire breadth of human creative output throughout history. Look at it, and consider how much of our entertainment is based on the simple notion of concretely defining fundamental concepts. “Family” isn’t the people you’re related to, it’s the friends you made along the way. “Hate”, “vengeance”, and “spite” will always rot you from the inside. Even the concept of a “soul” is obviously, in its own way, completely fictional. To be precise, I believe in “souls”, but I also know there’s absolutely no way to measure or quantify such a thing. Ultimately, we, as human beings, are continuously attempting to bottle and compute abstract concepts, and, somewhat ironically, we’ve managed to create more fiction about these imaginary concepts than should have ever been possible. Or maybe I should just write a story with the theme of futility to further innumerate this point.

But more than any other concept, the simple emotion of “love” has inspired more creative work than anything else in the feelings pantheon. Love can move mountains. Love can save the world. Love can change a person. Love is the strongest force in the universe. Assuming you were raised on a steady diet of cartoons, Disney, and Disney cartoons as a child, before you were even old enough to acknowledge what’s between your legs, you knew that love was the most important thing on the planet, and love is the answer to all problems. Even if you somehow missed that traditional modern fiction upbringing, this concept is the base of most religions, too. Love each other, love thy neighbor, and love your mother and father as The Father loves you. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Jesus, Buddha, or chaos, even when you’ve got a God that has a tendency to turn people into pillars of salt, He is still doing it because He loves you. Without love, there is nothing. Everyone understands that, from toddlers to your bald-headed granny.

Poor Nick FuryExcept… we’re idiots. We are human beings, and, even after thousands of years of proper society, we are still meat machines piloted by ignorant monkeys. We talk endlessly about how we believe in the fantastic (whether that be supernatural forces or unquantifiable abstracts) but, end of the day, we’re morons that can’t get through the day without forgetting something important. Ever study advertising? People will “lose their faith” in any given product or service if it isn’t drilled into their collective brains on practically an hourly basis. Pepsi is ubiquitous, but history has proven that if it stops spending billions of dollars on reminding people that Pepsi exists, its sales plummet. Small businesses constantly hit an echelon of profit that they think will be maintained forever, cut back the advertising budget, and then shriek as sales shrivel. And, let’s be real here, name any forgotten religion, and I’ll show you a people that didn’t lose their faith, but maybe did forget how to appeal to the youth market.

In fact, let’s look at religion a little closer. Christianity is omnipresent in the Western world, but do you ever wonder how it got to that point? Was it because 100% of US presidents have claimed to be Christian (Oh, I’m sorry, are we claiming Jefferson was an atheist this week? You do know he wrote his own Bible fanfic, right?)? Was it because many towns in America built a local church before they ever built a place to buy actual food? Or was it because there was never a time in American history when you couldn’t buy a happy little cross to hang around your neck? In short, Christianity is Christianity in America not because the country is filled with believers that are just that dedicated to the faith, but because you can’t go two square miles from Atlantic to Pacific without running into a random Christian totem. “Christian Love” is abstract, the church’s real estate records are not.

I am a Christian (we’ve covered this). I believe in things I can’t see, like Jesus, miracles, and an afterlife that will hopefully involve more communing with God than damnation. I also have one (1) cross on display in my home, distinctly placed on my inherited piano (a former possession of my very religious grandmother). I consider it a sort of communion with my faith, and my faithful ancestors. I consider it a sweet, sacred sentiment… that is slightly counterbalanced by the presence of Optimus Primal, Megatron, and a Pokémon.

Play it again, Megatron

I am a nerd, and, when you get right down to it, nerdity is a modern religion. I believe in the strength of Voltron, the compassion of Optimus Prime, and the insatiable desire of Galactus. I have experienced stories that took hours and hours to absorb, and then spent the rest of my life contemplating the greater ramifications of Unnamed Main Character’s decisions. I will one day forget my grandchild’s birthday, but I will always remember where I was when I first beat Kid Chameleon. These are the abstract memories that, when I think about what and who I am, define my life. I’m not only defined by my raw geekery, but it is certainly one of a few lenses I use to see the world and my place in it.

But those lenses, those memories are imaginary. They are intangible, and, as save batteries are notoriously fragile, one day there will be no real proof that I played Super Metroid until my thumbs fell off (well, I guess my bionic thumbs could be used as proof, but, for all anyone knows, I could have just lost the old ones in the revolving door). I may love videogames, but how do I prove I love videogames?

Well, I guess filling an entire room of my house with cartridges and discs dating back thirty years, and then haphazardly tossing amiibos all over the place, is a start. Oh, and then I bought some shelves for these dorks:

With Princess Leia!

As I mentioned last year, I bought all these damn figures when the line was being discontinued, and you could buy one and get four free. I still claim it all started with the Inside Out cast, but… why did it start there? Oh yeah, because I liked that movie an awful lot, and I wanted to support it in some way. And I feel about the same way about Brave and Frozen, so grab a few of a those. Oh! Wreck-It Ralph! That makes perfect sense in a videogame room. Tinker Bell is adorable, so is Stitch, and Aladdin has always reminded me of my childhood. The Avengers? Guardians of the Galaxy? Oh yeah, it would be cool to have a Gamora toy. And I guess I may as well pick up the Star Wars characters while we’re at it, as, come on, I have a nerd rep to maintain here. How could I pass up a wookie? … By about the time we get to some members of the Cars cast, frankly, I don’t even remember what I was thinking. Something about completion? Maybe it was just to round out a “get four free” tally.

Just alongBut those are all excuses. The reason I bought these damn things is simple: it’s a covenant. I love my silly, hollow, nerdy interests, and I, even if only subconsciously, feel a need to prove that love. I enjoyed and continue to enjoy these properties, but a DVD on a shelf doesn’t cut it. I want a proper little totem, a tiny representation of my love, to always remind me of the good times. I want a framed portrait of my beloved family, and I want a Donald Duck statue right next to it.

We all have our fetishes. We all have pictures, crosses, and/or amiibos. We all have physical representations of our loves, because that makes the imaginary real, and we, as humans, need that. We all have our own Tangled statuettes, and that comes from a desire for the physical that dates back to the dawn of man. Our make-believe feelings become real because we make them such, and any ornament that does the job is a good one.

Well, except Funko Pops. Those things are ghastly.

FGC #307 Disney Infinity 3.0

  • System: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, PC, Apple, aaaand Android. That everybody? I wound up with the WiiU version, incidentally, because the vaguely portable capability of the WiiU always seemed like fun.
  • Number of players: Two, I think? You can only fit two little dudes on the scanning platform.
  • Rad!Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This game feels like playing with toys. And that’s not a good thing. Everything feels very light and… inconsequential? Maybe it’s just a testament to how far games have come in recent decades, but the music and level design seem phoned-in, thus creating a weird disconnect between the fun of the gameplay (Nick Fury is fighting Captain Barbossa on the moon!) and the apathy the game direction seems to show for everything that is happening. In a weird way, this makes Disney Infinity the antithesis of Super Smash Bros, a game wherein everything feeds into hype. See also Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for something involving Marvel characters.
  • Why did this ever stop? Seriously, this whole thing seems like a slam dunk. Disney nerds by the figures even if they’re not going to play the game. Disney has an outlet to release “the official [insert movie title] game” within Infinity, and may then sell five random figures instead of just one game disc. Fresh franchises can be supported by setting up New Rando Character right next to beloved characters like Jasmine and Spider-Man. And there’s an excuse to release a “new” version every year or so that uses all the same assets. I’m really kind of amazed Disney got off this money train.
  • Favorite Disney Infinity Figure: As a surprise to even myself, I’m going to go with Princess Elsa of Frozen. She just looks so… dynamic. And her “character” is pretty useful, too!
  • Did you know? Apparently unrealized Disney Infinity figures include Moana, Spider-Gwen, the Rocketeer, Neytiri, and a figure that was described only as “all the hopes and dreams you ever had as a child.”
  • Would I play again: I’m going to be looking at these figures for the rest of my life… and I might play the game again, like, once. It does seem like the kind of game that might be fun to play with like a seven year old, though, so maybe I’ll break it out if I ever have a kid (and the squirt hasn’t destroyed my entire collection before being old enough).

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… well, technically BEAT chose it on the stream… Etrian Mystery Dungeon! Time to go dungeon diving with giant-eyed anime children! Please look forward to it!

Hover on

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

BAM POWI’m not going to claim that the fall of the Western genre has led to the degradation of society, but… Okay, that’s exactly what I’m going to claim. Westerns are no longer popular, and that may destroy us all.

Everyone can identify a Western. There’s a dusty, one horse town, and a sheriff that just does his best to keep the peace. A posse of black hats roll in, scare the local populace, and only one man can stand against the encroaching lawlessness. Granted, sometimes it’s the reverse (town ruled by bad guys, and one man of honor appears with the sunrise), but, one way or another, the same basic beats are followed with the precision of a Texas BBQ. Hero does his best, maybe loses a dear friend, defeats all the henchmen, and then has one final showdown with the baddest hombre around. Everything wraps up around high noon, and the protagonist rides off into the sunset with the apparently only single woman in town. Maybe she has a heart of gold.

Given that plot synopsis, you would think there would be more Western videogames. I mean, what about that description isn’t a video game? One solitary hero against a world of “monsters”? Check. Whole world full of people that are there to offer advice but are otherwise completely useless? Check. Town in the middle of nowhere so the rest of the planet may as well not exist? Check. Final battle with the big boss that is just as allergic to lead poisoning as everybody else, but somehow is the only one that survives until the final moments? Check. Almost entirely male cast? Double check. Yet, it seems like the Western genre has been largely ignored by videogame producers. Yes, we’ve got our Red Deads and Call of Juarezes, but aside from the arcade style shooting games that are more about reliving specific dueling battles and a handful of games based on properties already firmly entrenched in olden days (does Back to the Future 3 count?), the Old West is snubbed by digital storytelling. Even games like Wild Arms and Gunman Clive seem to be living in the land of the cattle rustler, but before the credits roll, you know a space ship or anthropomorphic lizard aliens are going to make the scene. Despite efforts by highfalutin Hollywood bigshots, cowboys and aliens do not go well together.

Here we goSunset Riders is a pretty standard Western videogame. Actually, that’s a little bit wrong, as I’m pretty sure the average Western doesn’t contain this much neon. Also, Native Americans in this Konami action game are Native Ninja. But conceptually this is a standard Western: three (nearly identical) bounty hunters and their Mexican stereotype sidekick are looking to make a few bucks, and, on the way to bigger and bigger bounties, wind up saving fair maidens and one-horse towns. There’s some cattle rustling, horseback riding, and saloons out the wazoo, so there’s no question about the Western-authenticity of Sunset Riders. Yes, the game leans on goofy whenever possible (I’m pretty sure running atop a stampede is something out of a Charlie Chaplin routine), but, glowing bullets or no, this is still a bloody Western. I’m not one for counting, but I’m pretty sure Sunset Rider Bob (clearly the best named hero of the bunch) mowed down about 12,000 gunslingers between here and the Rio Grande. They… uh… let’s assume they all shot first.

But that’s the appeal of the Western.

There are a lot of important aspects to any given Western, but the body count is always there. Why? Because when you’ve got a problem that can be solved with a sixgun, and bygum, you’ve got a sixgun, then, well, I reckon guns aren’t exactly known for the most peaceful of solutions. I don’t care if you’ve got a slab of defensive metal under your poncho, if you’ve got a Western without bloodshed, you’ve got a pretty darn boring Western. Bad guys getting their just desserts (a big ol’ helping of death pie) is endemic to the genre, and the same grandmas that would later complain about the violence of videogames seemed perfectly okay with the Baby Boomers watching a lot of rifle booming.

Yee haBut that’s the thing about the Wild Wild West: it was fiction, and everyone knew it was fiction. Yes, there are stories about “the bad old days” of the West, when frontier towns were lawless and desperados roamed the prairie, but, by and large, those stories were just… stories. The Old West did not operate in any conceivable way like a John Wayne picture. If you think otherwise, at least acknowledge that your average “small town” could not have ever survived with a mortality rate of 80% and an economy based entirely on booze and whores. The truth is that a town in Utah is exactly as boring today as it was a few centuries ago, just today it might have a slightly better internet connection. The Old West has never been a place for legitimate historical dramas any more than Camelot and its band of chivalrous knights was a proper representation of the Dark Ages.

But, over time, the Western has fallen out of favor. Maybe it’s because people got tired of the formula, or because Clint Eastwood is three years shy of 90, or maybe it’s just that Hollywood finally called in an exterminator to take care of that tumbleweed problem, but, one way or another, the Western is by and large dead. It’s an anachronism, and the best the genre can hope for is a Wolverine movie or two. The Western is in a pine box, and, in its place we have… the exact same stories. One hero against a gang of bad guys, and all of the guns is the only solution to every conceivable problem. The only difference is that now it’s set in the now, and the bad dudes aren’t just black hats, they’re all manner of scary terrorists and smart white guys and maybe even a foreigner or two. Modern movies feature modern threats in modern settings.

And that’s the problem: modern media blurs the lines between fantasy and reality to a significant degree. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a videogame that could potentially be taking place down the street, but it’s a little disconcerting when that game encourages you to steal everything that isn’t nailed down and murder anybody that gets in your way. No, I’m not going to claim Grand Theft Auto has magically transformed the videogame playing masses into murderbots with a taste for trashcan medkits; Lotta deathbut, in a time when we need empathy more than ever, it’s very easy to lose yourself in a world where nothing matters but you, player, and everybody else is a brainless NPC that just happens to look like the average person you’d see on the street. No, I’ve never encountered anyone wearing a ten-gallon hat and two straps of chest ammo, but I have encountered the average “business guy” or “dude in a bandana” that I’ve plowed over in Saint’s Row before. We’ve still got all the violence of the imaginary Old West, but now it’s right here in our backyard.

Assuming those neon bullets are as lethal as their Contra brethren, Sunset Riders has an incredible body count. But it also takes place in a magical Old West that no one is going to mistake for something with historical accuracy. But Sunset Riders is also an anachronism onto itself; the Western is dead, and no we’re stuck with a simulacrum of reality for all of our murder simulators. So maybe we need our Westerns back, if only to give our children something new to shoot. Or… uh… old, I suppose.

Where have all the cowboys gone? And could they remember to bring the neon? Makes ‘em a better target.

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

  • System: Super Nintendo for the review, though there is a very compromised Genesis version out there, too. And, of course, find an arcade cabinet wherever available.
  • Number of players: Two for the SNES, but a whole four if you’ve got an arcade handy. Simultaneous play is always the best.
  • Favorite Character: I had to choose Bob for obvious reasons, but Cormano secretly holds the key to my heart. An all pink/purple poncho and sombrero? You’re the hero we all need, Cormano.
  • Ninja!Favorite Boss: Chief Scalpem/Wigwam is the weirdest kind of racist. He’s a Native American “savage” like you’d cringingly expect to see in your average Western, but in this case, “savage” equals “ninja”, so he flies around like Rolento tossing knives all over the place. I am not familiar with that particular stereotype.
  • Speaking of Racism: Okay, I might miss the Western, but I do not miss the inherent racism in the genre. I have no idea why the playable characters for this game are three identical white dudes and then one random Mexican fellow. I have no idea why Dark Horse appears to be some manner of stripper riding an armored horse. I don’t even want to know the deal with Paco Loco. It’s all very confusing.
  • Did you know? Also speaking of racism, a number of subtle changes were made to the SNES version. Instead of murdering an entire stage of Native Americans, now there’s just the one at the end of the level. All the women have slightly more modest outfits, and, to prove that Final Fight isn’t the only franchise with this problem, all female enemies were modified to be male. But everything else is the same! Except the dogs!
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game that is ideal for multiple players. It’s basically a beat ‘em up meets Contra. And that’s fun! But I’ll probably never play it again, because, ya know, Westerns are dead.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Driver for the Playstation 1! Who wants to go driving… I guess? Please look forward to it!

Stab!

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

SKULLS?Gaming has grown up over the years, and the generational shift seems… oddly precise.

First we have the Atari (and whatever qualified as a videogame before that), which is the vaguely remembered toddler years. You’ve got a bunch of games that are kind of feeling out what can be done, and a lot more games that just have no idea what to do. For every Mario Bros. you’ve got about a dozen more like M*A*S*H . And, even more than that, you’ve got a million games that are “just exactly the same as that other game, but with a new set six pixels”. There are one or two luminaries in the Atari library, but, by and large, they’re all interchangeable, and only revered for being there right from the beginning.

Now the Nintendo is where we get into gaming’s real “childhood”. There is exploration here, but, by and large, this is where gaming learned to walk, and then ran with it. Super Mario Bros. led to a million imitators, but, looking at the game coupled with thirty years of gaming experience, you can see how even something today like Breath of the Wild or Overwatch can partially trace back to the adorable plumber. Much of what we consider “gaming” truly began here, and it’s as much about the gameplay as it is the franchises. However, speaking of those franchises, practically everything from this era is fairly… kiddy. Thanks to Nintendo’s iron grip and general fear of jocks, all of those classic games are cartoony, and contain about as much adult content (whether that be violence, sex, or even religion) as your average episode of Dora the Explorer. But that’s fine! This is gaming’s childhood, and it was meant for children, so it all worked out. Bubble Bobble Madcap Violence Edition would just have to wait for a few years.

Dang skullsThe 16-bit years are so tween they practically hurt to look at. Mega Man has gone from chubby blue bot to hardcore, shiny “Reploid” (“It’s like a regular robot but… you wouldn’t understand, mom.”) who worries about death and war and stuff. Link watches his uncle die (he got better), and Castlevania eventually released a game that featured blood dripping from every available hole. Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog defined this era of gaming, as it was all about attitude and violence and…. not much else. The 16-bit era was an attempt at gaming being more “its own thing” and “edgy”, but almost all of it amounted to exactly nothing. Mortal Kombat was violent for the sake of being violent, it didn’t have anything relevant to say on the subject of ghost skeletons being decapitated by ice ninja. It was just like a tween adopting their older sibling’s clothing and claiming to be “with it”. … Do kids still say “with it”? Uh, did they ever?

The Playstation One era is clearly gaming puberty. And, let’s be clear here, it’s not the fun kind of puberty that appears in 80’s movies wherein some hapless nerd trips into the girls’ locker room and participates in his first sexual harassment; no, I’m talking about the real kind of puberty, where suddenly you’re interested in the opposite (or same, it’s tough all around) sex, and last week you were totally okay with playing with Transformers, and now the most important thing in your life is that there is a pool party at the end of the week, and OH GOD IT’S GOING TO BE HORRIBLE. This would be about when gaming as a whole decided that everything that came before was crap (and far too 2-D), and everything had to be reinvented for a new, much more mature audience that is totally into skateboards. Like the 16-bit era, this was yet another example of “maturity = Lara Croft has boobies”, but it was still a gigantic change in the gaming landscape. Contra couldn’t just be a fun game about aliens anymore, now there had to be hardcore plots and 3-D glasses and… ugh. At the time, it seemed like the be all, end all of everything, but, in retrospect, it was just more gaming growing pains. Sorry, Adventure Island you’re too immature for us now.

They're so fun!Following this line of thinking, you might surmise that I would identify the Playstation 2 era as the next logical step, the “adult phase” of gaming. And that’s… kind of true. But I wouldn’t say gaming matured until basically the Playstation 3 era, when we got two important things. One, gaming got comfortable again with revisiting “childish” franchises, likely thanks to the joy of downloadable titles, so we could benefit from “arcade experiences” and other games that only last an afternoon (as opposed to a 40 hour “experience”). And, two, we got the Vita, which is all panties, all the time. And, now that the Vita is dying, it looks like we’ll be getting that same (fan) service on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. So, hooray, horny games for everybody!

Now, to be clear, I don’t think underage anime tiddy games are adult. Far from it, in fact, and I’ve got a Wankery Week to prove it. However, I am downright proud of the fact that, after decades of acting like “sexy” is an accident that dribbles into otherwise wholesome games, the gaming industry is finally acknowledging that, for whatever reason, there are people that want to play videogames that are vaguely pornographic. We’re still not completely “there” (I could write an entire article about the sexual politics of Persona 5), but, in the same way that the XXX section of your local video store (no longer actually a thing) is separate from the “real” movies, we’ve got some actual XXX (more like XX) videogames, and no one is confusing them for E3’s game of the year.

It… wasn’t always that way.

FIGHT!Today’s game is Arcana Heart, a 2-D fighting game for the Playstation 2. Arcana Heart is a… passable fighting game. There isn’t anything too exciting going on here, just about what you’d expect from a 2-D fighter. The most interesting trait of this series is, basically, swappable special moves (which is unusual in a sprite-based fighter lacking any and all Mokujins), but it’s otherwise pretty forgettable. It’s not a bad game, mind you, simply one that doesn’t warrant much of a reason to exist. What separates this fighting game from every other Street Fighter 2 wannabe that came down the pike? Well, simple answer, it’s the women. Or “girls” might be more appropriate noun here.

Much like a certain other franchise, each of the characters in Arcana Heart seems to be tailor made to suit some manner of fetish. There’s the peppy school girl, the sad school girl, the “younger” character that is always in a child’s swimsuit (but is mentally mature, so it’s okay), the robot maid, shrine priestess, Rei Ayanami, furry, the “American” vampire, and, my personal (least) favorite, the unwilling participant that is dragged along by a decidedly male-identifying (and phallic) object. It’s a rape analogy! Hooray! Also, puke! In short, the “all female cast” of this game isn’t there to pass the Bechdel test, it’s there to titillate a male audience that is going to buy this game hoping to see some upskirt shots. Unfortunately for them, it’s going to be a long wait.

Arcana Heart is rated T for Teen, and even though the writing of its story mode relies heavily on all the tropes you’d expect to see in your average harem anime, there is no actual visual titillation to be found here. Now, I’m not the type to ask that every game out there include the exact right number of exposed panties, but, fun fact, in a game that seems built to deliver the fan service, a complete lack of it seems almost… insulting? This isn’t even “softcore”, the visuals for this game are completely chaste. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more erotic imagery in Wii Sports (my Mii has some amazing legs).

Really bitesBut this is basically where we were in the Playstation 2 era. We could have something like God of War that just incidentally included an off-screen sex scene, or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which dummied out a sex minigame at the last moment, but if a game was about sex/fanservice/a thirsty audience trying to get off, then it had to be cleaned up to the point of irrelevance. It was if you had to clear some kind of artificial “maturity bar” to include anything sexual in your game. Soulcalibur has tear-away clothing and a create-a-character mode that allows for all underwear fighters, all the time? Well, that’s just for the sake of the in-depth story of swords and souls, and I guess the tiniest bit of T&A snuck in as an afterthought. There can’t be games for perverts! That would mean gaming is for perverts!

I’m glad we got over it.

But, in retrospect, I suppose this does paint the Playstation 2 and its Arcana Heart-alike releases as the… awkward young adult phase. Yes, sex is okay, everybody does it, blah blah blah, but… can we not ever address it? I… don’t really want to make eye contact with the idea that people do want to see half-naked people… even though we’ve got half-naked people running around everywhere. Look, uh… yeah, I look at a Playboy once in a while, but I only read it for the articles. I’m not really… doing… that thing… Hey, lay off, man.

Arcana Heart is a time capsule of gaming’s awkward early adulthood generation.

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

  • System: Playstation 2 and arcade. Though not any arcades in family-friendly communities (like, ya know, America).
  • Number of players: Two anime girls enter, only one leaves. Until the next round.
  • OuchFavorite Character: Kira Daidohji, the previously mentioned “mature but obviously still like twelve” character wins almost in spite of herself. Her whole deal is that she controls this sentient blob of water, so naturally that means she has to be wearing a swimsuit at all times, which… really, guys? But! This means she fights with that previously mentioned blob morphing into all kinds of giant limbs and shapes, and she basically becomes MvC’s Juggernaut. And I’m always down for that.
  • Did you know? This game comes compliments of Arc System Works, the folks behind the likes of Guilty Gear and Blazblue. That usually means you’ll get an interesting fighting game… but this time… not so much.
  • Would I play again: Even if I wanted to play this wannabe anime tiddy game again, there’s now a sequel available, and we all know that fighting games only get better with improvements. Might have to see if that game upgraded the… graphics… with the console generation…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man X3 for the Super Nintendo! Alright! Let’s forget about random anime girls and move on to random robot targets! Please look forward to it!

Boo!
Are puppets a fetish?