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FGC #449 Cave Story

LETS EXPLORE SOME CAVESCave Story is an excellent combination of one of my favorite games ever, and my absolute worst fears.

Before I start waxing poetic by using phrases like “waxing poetic,” let’s look at the game itself. Cave Story is a metroidvania in the most classic of molds, harkening back to the original Metroid with its cave exploration and general graphical fidelity. You’re a protagonist alone in an unfamiliar place, and it’s your job to find the right combination of weapons and items to find your way out and maybe exterminate an ancient evil along the way. However, unlike Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night where you rarely encounter a single helpful soul (Maria barely counts as a human, left alone a helpful human), Cave Story has a deep and rich plot that is bolstered by interesting and relatable characters that may or may not have been transformed into rabbits. Hey, it happens. In short, Cave Story deftly combines the old school gameplay of Metroid with the more modern storytelling that advanced technology (and text limits) have afforded us. It’s the best of two epochs!

And, frankly, I love this game because it speaks directly to me. Things like hidden health upgrades, bonus missile stocks, and weapons that can only be obtained through careful planning (and never taking the first trade offered) are like catnip to my brain. Add in some fairly unique movement options like the machine gun and booster V2.0, and, in a way, there was never any way I wouldn’t absolutely love Cave Story. And, again, let’s not discount the plot and characters involved. Cave Story is actually about three or four totally different plots (the story of the science expedition, the story of the androids, the story of the original wizard bad boy, and the story of wabbit season) that coalesce in delightful and subtle ways. Quote learns a valuable lesson about, I don’t know, eating unusual flowers or something, and the world is saved once again thanks to teamwork and properly salvaging tow ropes. I approve of this game in every conceivable way. On some days, I’m convinced the game was made for me.

RawrAnd, in a way, it was. Cave Story was created by the one man team of Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya. He created the game over the course of five years, pulling together everything from the banging soundtrack to the individual pixel work on each sprite. He modeled the game after the beloved titles of his youth, so, yes, that Metroid link is as deliberate as it feels. This was a labor of love by someone who adores the genre, and, yes, someone else that has those same feelings is going to feel that love. As a result, I may have never been anywhere near Pixel in my life, but it feels like he has known what I have wanted all my life (I have very simple, Metroid-based dreams).

And, while Pixel may have touched my very heart, it’s unfortunate for him that my wallet has not touched him in kind.

Cave Story was initially released as a free download. Pixel had created his magnum opus as a labor of love, and, ultimately, a hobby. So it made a certain amount of sense that he freely shared the game with anyone that would be interested. He’s got a day job, dude, don’t worry about it. In time, Cave Story grew in popularity. Somewhere around there, American game publishing company Nicalis came calling, and worked with Pixel to bring the title to Steam, Wii, and Nintendo DS. From there, Nicalis ran with the title to release it on every videogame system under the sun. Give or take a rather unique 3DS version, it is exclusively Nicalis, front and center, releasing these versions of Cave Story that are all just the same Cave Story all over again. Yes, there may be new features or quality of life improvements, but the average player likely wouldn’t notice the difference between the OG PC version and latest Switch version. And it seems rather significant that only one of those versions is completely free…

And it also seems significant that Pixel’s next game was about a poor lil’ dude that is nearly killed by an uncaring “boss” that speaks some kind of incomprehensible, foreign language…

Where it all startsIn case you’re missing the official Goggle Bob brand complete-lack-of-subtlety subtlety here, I’m saying that Pixel created an amazing game from practically nothing, and Nicalis has been running with it for years and making a mint. And, however that arrangement works, I can safely say that I personally have not given Pixel a cent for Cave Story that didn’t also go through Nicalis.

And, as a creator myself, that scares the bejebus out of me.

Okay, look, if you’re this far into this article, I can technically say you’ve read this website in at least the most perfunctory ways. Some of you have been around from the beginning, and some of you likely just stumbled onto this article thanks to one of my more popular twitter friends. That’s okay! I’ve somehow written nearly 450 articles about individual videogames, two extensive Let’s Plays about four different games, and now two amusing (hopefully?) histories of two other videogame franchises. Taking just the FGC articles as an example here, my average essay runs about a thousand words before the lil’ “extras” section there at the bottom. That means that, assuming my math is remotely accurate, I’ve written 450,000 words about random videogames. Google claims adult books (sounds sexy) average around 90,000-100,000 words. This means, technically, if I wanted to publish my FGC articles as some manner of book, I could easily squeeze five volumes out of the project. And that’s just one section of this website! Don’t get me started on Goggle Bob’s Unauthorized Guide to Kingdom Hearts!

Pretty bubblesUnfortunately, not unlike an amazing and original videogame that unfortunately reuses copyrighted sprites, I’m sure such a project would have to be severely compromised for public publication. And GIFs! I love my GIFs! I can’t imagine some of these articles without angry hyper-realistic cats or Pac-Man waddling along. And Lord knows Disney (forever may The Mouse reign) might have an issue or two with me calling an officially licensed character an “unrepentant turd that should be boiled alive in his own festering juices” (also, to stay legally inculpable, I’m not going to name that turd as Axel). This whole website is a fan project, basically an excuse for me to justify three decades of being glued to a controller, and not something I ever thought I would monetize through something like a book.

The actual book I wrote, on the other hand, that’s a little different.

Everybody has a novel inside themselves, right? Well, mine is a ridiculous little story that has been kicking around my head roughly since I was a teenager. It sounds vaguely insane, but it’s a tale I’ve told myself while attempting to fall asleep on many a restless night. Over time, the repetition caused some mental editing and reformatting for something that might entertain another living human being, and, sometime around a few years ago, I decided to put pen to paper on the first volume. I want to say I could ream seven or so full books out of these little adventures, but I’ve got one completely written and edited by a surprisingly excitable editrix.

And she’s about the only other person that has ever read the dang thing.

Some kind of dog?I am a writer. I like writing. You know what I don’t like? Advertising myself. Selling myself. Aside from being a writer, I’m also a computer geek. Thanks to a lovely fluke of the universe, my skills are in demand, and people seem to tolerate paying me money for my services. As a weird result, (and I know some people are going to hate me for saying this) I’ve never had a legit “bring your résumé” job interview. In the most basic sense, every interview I’ve ever had was “make this doohickey work again”, and then I did, the end. While (as another weird twist in my career) I work “with” advertising, I am absolutely terrible at promoting myself. And I’m not trying to claim I’m humble or some such thing (I am absolutely the first person to ever tell someone that I’m awesome), it’s simply that I am absolute crap at conveying to someone else why they should care about something I care about (namely, again, me). I consider myself extraordinarily lucky that I’ve been able to participate in a field where my skills seem to speak for me, else I would have starved to death a long time ago (or at least be subsisting entirely on only the cheapest of discount ramen).

But I have no idea where to start with publishing a successful book. And emphasis on “successful”, there! I know I could self-publish. I know I could pay Amazon to put my words out there. Hell, I’ve got a website right here, and I could put up a chapter a week for the next year. I could do that with very little editing (though it would be weird to put posts on this site without any random GIFs…). On the other hand, I could pursue a legitimate publisher or, at the very least, a literary agent. But I have no idea how to do that! Or I have no idea how to produce a submission that is at all going to separate my story from the 10,000 other submissions they no doubt receive on a daily basis. I don’t have any idea how to sell my idea, whether that be to an audience that pays directly, or a company that sells novels to keep the lights on. How am I supposed to compete when my life’s work could never get as many hits as (what are the kids into these days?) a video of myself on Thicc Tok of my ass cheeks rhythmically clapping together to Mr. Sandman (nailed it)?

But why not just give it away? I mean, let’s be real here: I don’t expect my dinky little story to become the next Harry Potter. I don’t foresee a movie franchise or television series or even a commemorative holiday in my hometown. This is a book that, in my wildest fantasies, would probably only earn me a car payment or two. I know the state of the union of the written word, after all, because I can’t remember the last time I bought a fiction novel that wasn’t based on at least one of the Home Alone films. I could easily take the Pixel route, and simply release my fandom-influenced, labor of love work for free, and see if it picks up some steam from there. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, the last game I played by Pixel was a heartfelt shooter that certainly looks like something by the guy that brought us Cave Story…

GO FROG GO

While the last game I played featuring the protagonists of Cave Story was a slapdash fighting game that seems to exist only to bolster Nicalis characters…

What is even happening

And… that concerns me.

I’ve had this story in my head for decades. More importantly, I’ve had these characters bumping around my noggin for years. I’m not going to say anything so hyperbolic as “these are my children”… but… uh… Well, they’re fictional, exist almost entirely in my imagination, and they’re at least more important to me than my amiibos. And, end of the day? That’s all I have! If these bad boys and girls aren’t going to earn me a mint, then at least I still have these toys securely in my mental toy chest. And you know what they’re not doing up there? Fighting each other in a crossover title that somehow also includes Shovel Knight! That would be a little weird!

But that’s the order of the day for Quote and Curly Brace. They’ll dance to whatever beat Nicalis plays. Forever.

They're fighting againYes, more than anything, this is a side effect of final boss stage capitalism. I put an extreme amount of effort into something that is unique and solely mine, and I’m not going to let it go until it can do something significant for me. Maybe I’ll make it into a webcomic (if I could only draw…)! Maybe I’ll eventually get off my butt and find a reputable publisher! Maybe I’ll actually profit off my ideas! But, in the meanwhile, I have no aptitude for finding a way to benefit from my own sweat and toil, and I’m not going to sign some devil’s bargain just to get it out there. I’ll lament that, unlike Cave Story, this work isn’t freely available to people that would enjoy it; but, by the same token, at least I don’t have to worry about my original character winding up in a Super Puzzle Fighter knock-off. C’est la vie.

It might be hypocritical, but it’s my choice.

I am jealous of the craft involved in Cave Story, but I am frightened that its ultimate fate could happen to my own creation. Cave Story is a potential dream and a nightmare all rolled into one videogame.

But, hey, at least it’s a damn fine videogame.

FGC #449 Cave Story

  • System: Initially just PC, but then it got around. Options include every Nintendo console and portable going back to the Wii, Linux, and, I don’t know, probably the PSP.
  • Number of players: It was initially a solitary quest, but more recent versions include two player co-op. Curly is always so helpful!
  • This sucks!Port-o-Call: Most versions of Cave Story are pretty much the same thing with a slightly variable translation or set of extra options. But there was also the 3DS version that reformatted the entire game into a psedo-3D environment optimized for the lil’ portable. And NIS’s Prinnies guest starred in a number of areas. It was weird! And kind of hard to judge jumps! But at least it was a slightly new adventure. And Quote gets a new hat!
  • So you’re the tired cliche of being highly successful in a very objective industry, but secretly want to break into a much more creative field? Hey, I never said I was highly successful.
  • Secret Confession: I think I have the route memorized at this point, but everything about saving Curly still makes me apprehensive. Every. Single. Time.
  • Favorite Weapon: God help me, I love the machine gun. But then I can’t get the amazing wannabe charge beam. I kind of hate that there isn’t an absolutely best weapon for every situation, and you must make a choice somewhere. If this game wasn’t so damn good, I’d be really annoyed!
  • Sanctuary: Oh, and hiding the most difficult challenges in your game behind a hidden and optional area available as part of the finale is some kind of brilliant. It completely recontextualizes the adventure, but it’s also wholly unnecessary if you don’t feel like mastering the ol’ Booster V.2. Pixel really knew what he was doing with this game, and it shows.
  • What the hell is Balrog? He’s a toaster. A sentient toaster. Or a frog. But only sometimes.
  • Did you know? Ballos, the absolute final boss of the game and the originator of so much misery (but not Misery), is a playable character in Nicalis’ Crystal Crisis. This seems wrong on so many levels that it may have inspired this entire article.
  • Would I play again: Release it on my damn toaster, and I’ll buy it for my damn toaster. Nicalis, you know the drill.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… MOOOOOORTAL KOOOOOOMBAT! I’m guessing my robot learned about my other recent endeavors, and wants to help, too. And you know what? We’re turning it into a theme week (or two). Show up next week for an article on Mortal Kombat, and then some vaguely related articles for the next two weeks on M-W-F. Extra content! Woo! Please look forward to it!

Super Happy!

FGC #443 Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

NOTE: This article contains spoilers for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. I’ll be light on the spoilers for Bloodstained… but I will have to reveal the identity of the final boss/finale. You’ve been warned!

Here she comes!Now let us compare the feminist themes of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.

In so much as a videogame can have a central “visionary”, we’re going to blame Koji Igarashi for a number of games for which he was writer, director, producer, or all of the above. So let’s produce a list of games credited to IGA…

  • Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
  • Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
  • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
  • Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
  • Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
  • Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth
  • Otomedius Excellent: For Some Reason
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

That’s a lot of Castlevania! And, of all those Castlevania games, exactly one game had a solo playable female character. Other than that? Yoko got to stretch her legs in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, but she was permanently tied to an amnesiac and a dhampir. Charlotte was half of the duo of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, but there was still no Charlotte (“Charlotte!”) without Jonathan (“Jonathan!”). And what of every other woman in IGA’s Castlevania universe? Well, they’re all either shopkeeps, damsels to be distressed, or literal monsters. The final boss is never a woman (okay, it’s always Dracula, but it’s always a man summoning Dracula), the rival character is never a woman, and a lot of Wallachian women don’t even have walking animations. And that’s pretty depressing, particularly given we were coming off Rondo of Blood, where Maria kicked unholy amounts of ass before being relegated to crushing on Alucard in its (IGA-penned) sequel.

So, suffice to say, one might be forgiven for not having much hope for Shanoa, star of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia or Miriam, lead of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. In fact, it’s entirely possible both of those games are rather disgusting from a feminist (or even just human) perspective, as… Can we take a minute to review how these characters gain new abilities? The stars of many Igavanias simply collected equipment (incidentally, all of these stars were male). Soma of the Sorrow duology gathered souls from defeated monsters, but these souls were happy little wisps that Soma “devoured” while light-headedly puttering around. And the anti-hero of Curse of Darkness forged his own monsters in a proactive manner. Meanwhile, our female leads have to stand around and absorb magical glyphs into their exposed backs (and there’s an odd emphasis in the dialogue on the word “flesh”), or, we’ve got Bloodstained’s…

That stings

And, just in case you though that little flourish was there for some “horror” graphical curlicue, Miriam elaborates on the feeling of absorbing a shard:

Owie

So, congratulations, player! Every time you gain a new skill to advance Miriam on her quest, you are literally torturing her.

That’s… not a great thing to see happen to your female protagonist. It’s an even worse thing when not a single male in the “horror” series suffered violent repercussions for, ya know, amassing powerups.

And, yes, we’re also dealing with worlds where literally every other woman involved in the plot is either a monster or… nonexistent. Shanoa has three other important people in her life: the guy fighting Dracula, the guy reviving Dracula, and Dracula. Miriam at least has one other (adult) woman in the plot, but the finale reveals that she was Dracula (at least She-Dracula) all along. In both cases, there are random female NPCs standing around and dispensing sidequests (so we’re at least on better footing than the first six Star Wars films), but it’s still pretty noticeable that there’s an unmistakable testosterone cloud floating around every character that is actually relevant.

But at least there are catgirl monsters skulking about! There are always catgirl monsters for some reason!

Add it all up, and you would likely expect Order of Ecclesia and Ritual of the Night to be equally abhorrent when it comes to portraying a healthy 51% of the population. But what if I told you that Ritual of the Night is a significant improvement over Order of Ecclesia? Koji Igarashi actually learned something in ten years!

This is offensiveOn the surface level, Shanoa of OoE and Miriam of RotN are remarkably similar…

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

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

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

Or… maybe we should explore that for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, I can probably phrase that better…

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

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

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

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

That doesn’t sound so strange, does it?

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

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

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

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

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

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

Let's race!Diddy Kong Racing had a fairly interesting and ridiculous development process. Almost immediately after the launch of the N64 (and the release of Killer Instinct Gold), Rare started in on their next game and first “original” N64 title (as KI Gold was basically an arcade port). This process started with “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”, which was basically a real-time strategy game (!) based on an executive’s trip to Disney World. Then, for reasons that are no doubt lost to time/whiskey, the RTS became a racing game, and mutated into Pro-Am 64, an RC-car based title. Then, a certain bear and bird got their big debut game delayed, so Rare/Nintendo needed a big mascot title to fill its upcoming holiday season. Pro-Am 64 was modified again, and, this time, “Cartoon Kingdom” returned with a number of furry animal pals in cars, planes, and hovercrafts. After a long and confusing road to creation, a certain monkey got slammed on the marquee, and Diddy Kong Racing was born.

But was it any good?

Wait, belay that question. I don’t mean “was the game any good?” Diddy Kong Racing was an interesting take on racing games (which, thanks to the technology of the late 90’s, was a genre that had seen about 7,000 titles in two years), as it combined the exploratory nature of action games like Mario 64 and the tight racing experience of Mario Kart. It wasn’t a very complicated or nuanced take on either of its two contributing gameplay styles, but it was certainly fun. While Mario Kart 64 might be the most fondly remembered racing title of the generation, there’s nothing wrong with being in second place in that race. Diddy Kong 64 was weird and experimental, but it was certainly good at being an amusing racing game with its own identity.

But it’s that identity that we’re here to investigate. DKR took a long road to production, but, somewhere in there, it was nearly a bunch of anonymous windup cars. Then, in an effort to be a “big name” title, it grabbed a kong, and turned all of its unknowns into what would hopefully be the next Mario Kart. Or do you want to tell me you ever considered the intelligence of your average koopa troopa before he started pelting you with red shells? Diddy Kong Racing was clearly intended as a way for Rare and Nintendo to promote a new stable of remarkable characters, but how did they do? We’ve got a couple of decades of hindsight here, so let’s answer this question once and for all: Are the stars of Diddy Kong racing any good?

Diddy Kong

Diddy!Diddy is the one known quantity for Diddy Kong Racing, which is probably why it’s, ya know, Diddy Kong Racing. After appearing in Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and every Donkey Kong title that doesn’t involve tinker toys, it’s hard to believe, but Diddy Kong was still a pretty new quantity back in 1997. Donkey Kong Country was only three years old, and it wasn’t like Diddy ever gained the same kind of traction as the upcoming Pikachu. He wasn’t even playable in Donkey Kong Country 3! However, as legend tells it, Donkey Kong was originally slated for this spot, but Rare suggested Diddy star for a little variety. Donkey already gets to hang out with Mario, why not promote the lil’ chimp with his own franchise? And, hey, DK could still swing by next time, anyway. What have you got to lose?

Well, seems that Rare and Nintendo made the right choice in this one, as Diddy really does fit his eponymous game pretty well. Donkey would have a tendency to overshadow the rest of this cast not only figuratively, but literally as well. DK is a big guy (ape)! Diddy’s presence allows for more “childlike” mascots, like… almost the entire cast, and that gives Diddy Kong Racing a different identity from its Mario-based cousin. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t have to be for kids, but the “kiddy” characters and visuals give it a more whimsical feeling, and that’s important when you’ve got magical vehicles that change shape at the behest of a genie.

Verdict: Diddy Kong has been an excellent mascot for Nintendo for years, and he fits the game perfectly. Good job, Diddy!

Krunch

Get emAnd here’s our first dud.

Mario Kart has always been a pretty interesting title without its cast, but nobody would have ever played the thing if it featured a bunch of anonymous randos. See also: Smash Bros and the confusingly high number of Melee/Brawl clone games that are dropping within the year. Sure, the gameplay is great and fun and whatever, but, dude, I signed up to play as Samus Aran, not generic lady with a gun. But we take for granted that these games have these all-star casts. It’s likely impossible to figure out the chicken and egg of those franchises, but, at some point, somebody in Nintendo had to say, “Hey, let’s actually include all of our best characters. And Captain Falcon! That should get people’s attention!” Mario Kart could easily be Mario racing against seven goombas, but it is so much sweeter when Yoshi is in the mix.

Krunch Kremling is a Kremling, and the sad thing is that he could have been any Kremling. At this point, we’d already seen three Donkey Kong Country titles, and, in all of those games, Kremlings were the main antagonists. This means that there was already an entire army of kritters to choose from, yet Rare decided to go with a generic representation of the species. Sure, he’s got a cool motorcycle jacket, and I guess he gets bonus points for being a Kremling with the wherewithal to follow Diddy to a magical island, but he’s no Kaptain K. Rool. Don’t want your Bowser eclipsing the cast? Klubba would be a fine choice. Or Klobber! Or any Kremling that is at least recognizable, and not “just a crocodile”. Come on, Rare, you’re trying to build a brand here. Use the tools you have.

Verdict: It’s nice to see an established “race” represented in the game, and it’s always good to have an enemy-turned-ally, but Krunch is a disappointment in every other way.

Banjo

BANJO!Banjo is a star in waiting. If you’re curious about the timeline here, the entire reason Diddy Kong Racing is Diddy Kong Racing is because Nintendo/Rare needed a mascot game for Christmas, and the original intended title created to fill that slot was Banjo-Kazooie. So, effectively, if it weren’t for Banjo Bear being slow to the starting line, we wouldn’t be looking at Diddy Kong Racing at all, and I might be posting about Uniracers 2 or something. For this reason alone, Banjo should be celebrated as the savior of DKR Island.

And, even if it was Banjo’s lack of haste to be blamed for DKR, it was still a great idea to include Banjo on the roster. This is the proverbial “passing of the torch” from one mascot to another. Donkey begat Diddy, and now Diddy shall beget Banjo. And it worked! Banjo was a success, and, even with a measly three games under his belt, Banjo still holds enough cultural clout to warrant his own Mighty Number 9. And the games weren’t bad, either! Everybody wins! Let’s hear it for Banjo!

Verdict: Way to go, bear! You may have yet to discover your companion bird, but you’re going places.

Tiptup

TipsyNow here’s a guy who is such a loser, nobody can even remember his origins.

Tiptup did technically premier in Diddy Kong Racing. And, let’s face it, he’s basically a joke. He’s a turtle in a race. There are entire fables about why that is a terrible idea! But Tiptup didn’t stop at Diddy Kong Racing, he waddled on to appear in Banjo-Kazooie as a support character with his own choir. And then he became (or already was) a dad in Banjo-Tooie. And I’m pretty sure he at least made a cameo in that other Banjo game. And he was originally intended to be a friend of Banjo in the scrapped Project Dream game that would eventually morph into the “real” Banjo franchise. In short, Tiptup is indisputably a part of the Banjo universe.

But, when Diddy Kong Racing was eventually rereleased for the Nintendo DS, Tiptup was still there on the roster. This might seem natural, but Banjo and Conker were both dropped from that title, because Rare had long since abandoned Nintendo for softer pastures, and “their” property wasn’t going to see any extra eyeballs.

But Tiptup was still there, abandoned by his friends.

And considering “The Tiptup Case” isn’t a part of Nintendo legislative history, it doesn’t look like his owners thought he was anyone important either.

Sorry, Tiptup, you’re so forgettable, your own creators don’t give a damn about you.

Verdict: Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you… uh… turtle… guy?

Timber

Is he supposed to be a lumberjack?Diddy is the visiting celebrity, Banjo is the next generation in waiting, and poor Timber the Tiger is the intended protagonist of the piece. Diddy Kong Racing does have a plot, and it’s that the nefarious Wizpig swooped in and cursed the inhabitants of this happy little island while Timber’s parents were off, I don’t know, getting high in a van by the river or something. Timber is still home alone, and it’s up to him to de-curse the island with the help of his whacky friends. … No wonder he requested a chimp for assistance. This kid is doomed.

Unfortunately, DKR was built for players that could choose any character for any level at any time. And that’s great! A large adventure like DKR would be terrible if it locked you into one racer for every last challenge. Unfortunately, that means that any focus on Timber is completely lost, and most people only know Timber is the intended protagonist from the instruction manual (and even that was likely forsaken for that piece of cardboard that explains the controls). Combine this with the fact that Timber didn’t even make it to the cover of his own game on the DS rerelease (but there’s Tiptup!), and Timber pretty much fails in his protagonist role. Sorry, Timber, you’re another forgotten casualty of the franchise.

Verdict: Timber didn’t even have the star power to sneak back into a Banjo title. Guess his parents aren’t letting him out of their sight for a good long while.

Drumstick

BAGAWNow here’s a plot hero! Drumstick is supposedly the Obi Wan Chicken of DKR, and he’s the first to challenge Wizpig to a race for the island. He loses immediately, and is transformed into a frog for his troubles. Whoops. Drumstick spends the majority of the story as a frog with a rooster comb, but, should you rescue the majority of the island anyway, you’ll be able to release the curse on Drumstick, and thus the chicken man will be yours.

And that’s awesome! Unlocking characters started to become a means unto itself at the start of the millennium, but there was still a little mystique to earning a rooster dude through sheer effort back in 1997. And, what’s more, with the “legend” of Drumstick being the greatest racer on the island, you, the player, felt like the greatest racer around when you finally de-frogged the guy. And heroes transforming into frogs was all the rage back in the 90s! Just ask that marshmallow kid!

Verdict: Drumstick winds up being the one racer that actually seems related to the plot, so he’s a bit more memorable than the rest of these nerds. Too bad someone decided his ideal design would be “rejected KFC mascot”, though.

Pipsy

SqueakyYou know it’s a 90’s game when there’s “that one girl”. The lone female of the DKR species is Pipsy the Mouse, and, to her credit, she’s one of the best racers in the game. Sure, that might be a subjective statement in most any kart racing game, but Pipsy is a damn beast, and her handling is second to none. But, other than that, Pipsy has absolutely no defining features beyond her gender. There’s a reason we never saw Pipsy’s Big Adventure.

Verdict: If you’re going to have a cartoon mouse mascot, you have to go big. Pipsy did not.

Bumper

The goggles!And here’s Bumper the Badger. As far as anyone can tell, he was intended as the “big and friendly” archetype in this lineup. He’s… big… and… uh… friendly. That’s all we got here. Nothing much to… Wait a minute. Is he wearing goggles? He is! Bumper the Badger is wearing goggles! That should be praised! Bumper knows what’s up! He has his furry paw on the pulse of fashion! Way to go, Bumper! We need more rockin’ Badgers!

Verdict: I assume the great, unwashed masses could not see the inherent value of the goggles, so Bumper wound up another critter in the loser column.

Conker

Conks!Conker is a squirrel in a t-shirt. Nobody is ever going to toss a game to this nobody.

Verdict: Welp, that’s everybody. We’ve got more losers than anything, so it certainly seems that Diddy Kong Racing irresponsibly squandered its mascot powers, and never went anywhere with these also-rans. Hey, you can’t always win the gold.

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

  • System: Nintendo 64 initially, and then a rerelease on Nintendo DS, the system where N64 games went to retire.
  • Number of players: It’s four players, right? It’s a N64 game, so that’s my best guess.
  • Hey, what about T.T. the Clock? That is an imaginary character, and you clearly just made him up.
  • Dirty Cheater: Not unlike Goldeneye, there are a number of cheats “built in” to the game. Some of the cheats impact the random battle items that are earned during races, which is a feature Mario Kart players have been begging for forever. There’s also a cheat that is titled “TOXICOFFENDER”, which turns all balloons green. That is delightful.
  • Raj!Favorite Boss: Wizpig is the Wizard Pig should win on sheer chutzpah alone (when life gives you pork, become a wizard!), but I’m going to choose Bubble the Octopus as my favorite semi-malevolent opponent. He was an angry octopus boss before Mario and squid kids made it mandatory.
  • Did you know? Pipsy is supposedly based on a character from a canceled project named Astro Mouse. The titular Astro Mouse is male, has a space helmet, and seems to have a healthy amount of 90’s ‘tude. He could be the origin of Pipsy, but, seriously, how many different ways can you render a mouse?
  • Would I play again: Maybe, once, for the nostalgia. I’m not playing the game “for real” ever again, but trying out a track or two every once in a while wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Ball FighterZ! Or maybe I just want to play another DBZ game. DBS game? Whatever! What’s important is that Goku is coming to town. Please look forward to it!