Tag Archives: Nintendo Power

FGC #351 Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Hashi no kahbi!Nintendo’s worst videogame system proves one simple truth: you can be yourself, or you can be something else, but you can’t be both.

The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s third console system. The Nintendo Entertainment System was synonymous with videogames, brought the entire industry back from the brink, and managed to turn Nintendo into an uncontested juggernaut of the industry. The Super Nintendo had to deal with the upstart Sega Genesis, but it was still home to some of the best games of the era, and a number of releases that, even to this day, unequivocally are the greatest hits of the medium. The Nintendo 64, though… the N64 got problems. It started with a rocky, anemic launch. It bled third-party support almost instantly. It never hosted a worthwhile JRPG when that genre defined the epoch. Its final first-party game was a scaled-up Gameboy title (I’ll save you some googling, it was Dr. Mario). There were some great games for the N64, but Ocarina of Time had to share shelf space with Turok: Rage Wars. The N64 made it hard to be a Nintendo fan.

But let’s take a step back and consider what being a “Nintendo fan” really meant at the time. We take it for granted nowadays, but the very concept of a “console war” didn’t seem to exist before the 16-bit era. The Atari didn’t seem to have any significant competitors, and the NES was videogames for the 80s. It wasn’t until the Sega Genesis decided it needed a chunk of that market share that the flames of “us vs. them” had to be fanned. Did you ever read Nintendo Power from that time? Or Sega Visions? What were already basically propaganda magazines decided to go all in on the most important battle of our time (hedgehogs vs. plumbers), and every other month you’d get new information on how blast processing isn’t even a real thing, riding a dinosaur is for babies, or the essential truth that so much as demoing a second videogame console is infidelity of the highest order. You cannot serve two masters, little gamer, and you should inflict this vital fact upon everyone on the playground.

ROCKYSo, by the time we hit the Playstation vs. N64 years, don’t worry, Nintendo Power, we got this. We know those vipers at Sony are trying to eat our lunch again with their Final Fantasies and Mega Mans and other franchises we used to enjoy on Nintendo systems, and we’ll defend you! We’re forever in debt to the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule, and Castlevania. Wait… they got a new Castlevania? And the N64 just has some dork with a chainsaw? Dude. Dude. Look, guys, I’ll keep playing Pokémon, but, uh, I gotta get going. Tekken is waiting, and it’s got a panda fighting a dinosaur.

And Nintendo noticed. Before the N64 was even released, it became clear that CD based systems were finally going to be the wave of the future (after a rocky bump in the road compliments of INXS), and the cartridge was to quickly go the way of Caveman Games. But Nintendo didn’t like the looks of load times, so we were forced to read the phrase “expensive cartridges” for the next five years. And then the Nintendo 64 launched with dopey Mario and frivolous Pilotwings. Wrong! We needed more big boy games for big boys, so we quickly received Cruisin’ USA, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and Killer Instinct. Ah, yes, that’s the stuff. Mature games for a mature gaming community. And 2-D games are out of style, so we need all 3-D, all the time. It worked for Mario, so how about we get Donkey Kong into the 3rd dimension. And keep churning out those violent fighting games and grown-up shooters. It’s what the people want!

RAINBOW RIDEIt’s clear what happened here: Nintendo had a solid vision for the future of their console… and then “course corrected” to please the masses ten minutes before the system even launched. The controller with camera buttons and an analog stick wound up chasing the system that could be operated with one hand (say what you will about JRPGs, but they only require all of two buttons), and all those polygons decided to stumble over full motion video instead. What developers remained on the N64 were scrambling to match the cinematic experiences available on the Playstation, and the whole library became a mess of neither fish nor fowl nonsense. Look, I love Jet Force Gemini as much as the next guy, but you have to admit that, even that late in the N64’s lifespan, it comes off as pretty patchwork.

Which is a shame, because first party Nintendo games that followed the “Nintendo way” from the start are pretty amazing. Mario 64 feels like a natural progression of the franchise, and Ocarina of Time is right there with it. Mario Kart 64 refined (SNES) Mario Kart into solid gold, and Star Fox 64 truly used the new technology to turn a bunch of random shapes into a thrilling story of fox versus wolf. And Donkey Kong 64 isn’t responsible for any homicides (as far as we know)! And then we’ve got Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Kirby 64 is a 2-D platforming game not unlike many other Kirby adventures. It’s (incredibly disappointingly) much slower and less frantic than Kirby Super Star, but it is right about at normal Dreamland speed. Basically, if you liked any Kirby game featuring helpful hamsters, this adventure is about what you’d expect. There are doodads to acquire (a staple of both the N64 and slower Kirby titles), but, by and large, this is a very straightforward platformer. Move from left to right, occasionally climb a ladder, and have a ball utilizing Kirby’s eclectic moveset. Maybe you’ll eat a hedgehog? That’ll show those Sega dorks.

And, side note? This game is beautiful.

WeeeeeOkay, granted, it’s Playstation/N64 style beautiful, but it is still beautiful nonetheless. The pastels of Pop Star really pop, and everything moves just right. In spite of Kirby’s N64 Smash model, Kirby is actually spherical, and not a pile of edged polygons. Special effects from special powers may seem basic, but in the same manner that a Kirby Krackle can sell a comic book (uhhh… different Kirby), Kirby makes self-immolation look perfect across every system. Everything combines wonderfully, and, without a doubt, this is a game that is undeniably a gorgeous experience.

And this stands in stark contrast to every other N64 game.

N64 games are terrible looking. They contain some of the worst draw distances and fog warnings outside of H.P. Lovecraft. Their protagonists almost always look like they were carved out of some particularly unpleasant rocks by a partially blind sculptor (who maybe is missing a few fingers). Nobody ever moves right. Let’s face it, Majora’s Mask was a success because it identified that every last character populating N64 Hyrule was horrifying. And this happened to third and first party games alike: in an effort to ape the most popular games of the day, polygons and Vaseline were smeared everywhere, and suddenly our greatest heroes started resembling Tobor: The Refrigerator That Walks Like a Man.

Let's chillBut here’s Kirby, just doing the thing he’s always done. There is no attempt to force 3-D gameplay. There is no byzantine story mode. There is no desire to go full angry eyes. It’s just Kirby, a character that premiered on a system without so much as the possibility of color, scaled up to modern technology. It’s fun. It’s pretty. And it’s one of the best games on the N64.

And game reviewers of the time derided the game for being “too kiddy” and “a throwback”. One of the best games on the system, but “too easy”. It generally got great scores, but the expression “no Goldeneye” was thrown around a bit.

So… uh… I guess maybe don’t be yourself? Let’s stick to the blocky bitmaps. Gotta be popular.

FGC #351 Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

  • System: N64. It also resurfaced on the Wii and WiiU, but I want to say it wasn’t on the super awesome Kirby collection released at the end of the Wii’s lifespan. … It was? Dammit! I turned on my N64 for nothing!
  • Number of players: One for the main gameplay, four for the inevitable minigame sections. Which reminds me…
  • What may have been: Early screenshots of this title seemed to indicate that it would have been four players, with Dedede, Waddle Dee, and Adeleine (the painter dude) filling the other playable slots. This would have been very consistent with N64’s emphasis on four player titles, and an excellent “upgrade” from the two player modes of Kirby Super Star. Alas, it was not to be, and was likely lost with the 64DD. And then we wouldn’t see a similar four player Kirby experience for eleven years.
  • Away we goFavorite Power: All this talk of Pretty Soldier Kirby and I didn’t even mention the main hook for the title: combining powers. Mix cutter and fire to build a flaming sword! Ice and needle to make a deadly snowflake! And rock and spark to make a… lightbulb? Whatever. What’s important is that bomb plus needle will transform Kirby into an invincible Gordo monster, and that’s been a dream since Kirby’s first adventure. Show those jerks who’s the spikiest, Kirby!
  • So, did you beat it? This is one of the rare N64 games that I didn’t finish while the system was fresh (because, admittedly, I was playing those more “mature” JRPGs at the time), but 100%’ed well past its initial release. It’s that good! Or Kirby is that good! Or I have OCD! It’s one of those!
  • Turn the lights off: You ever notice that Kirby seems to see a release toward the end of the system’s lifespan? Kirby 3, Kirby 64, and even Kirby’s Dream Collection were all practically the last boats out of their respective systems. Weird. Anyway, look forward to Kirby Battle Royale for the 3DS!
  • Did you know? The familiar “Kirby dance” does not appear at any point in this game, as worlds end with Kirby waving to the screen instead of dancing. Maybe he just noticed the player, and got self conscious?
  • Would I play again: It’s on the short list of N64 games I enjoy playing, so that’s a yes. I… I think all the rest are all Nintendo games, too. What a weird little system.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bloody Roar 3 for the Playstation 2! Roar! And… Blood! Please look forward to it!

We've got a runner

FGC #322 Final Fantasy

Rank up?I sometimes wonder if my neighbors think I’m a wizard.

As with all wizardry, it’s the little things that will give you away. I live in a happy little town, and, like many communities, we have a consistent garbage pickup day. Every Wednesday morning, some men that must have to buy new clothes weekly show up on the back of a large truck, and take all my trash away to parts unknown (I used to know the location of our local dump, but it was converted into an expensive golf course a couple years back…. Seriously). These pickups occur like clockwork, except when there’s a holiday. And it doesn’t even have to be a real holiday! Whether it’s Christmas or National Pug Day, if there’s a holiday at the start of the week, trash pickup is delayed a day. Trash then leaves on Thursday morning, not Wednesday. But what do my neighbors do? They put out their trash for Wednesday, same as ever, and I presume they are confused the entire day by that unusual reeking smell on their sidewalk. Why hast thou trash guy forsaken me!?

But I don’t do that. I never do that. I always know when to put out my trash, absurd holidays or no. I know the secrets of this schedule, even if my neighbors have no idea how what magics I employ to properly track the pickups. But, I am no sorcerer, dear neighbor, I am a mere mortal. How do I always know what to do? Simple, I have a written schedule, printed from the internet, and thus I know, with 100% accuracy, when my trash will be removed. It’s that simple, neighborhood!

But still, it feels good to get the day right. It feels right to gaze upon my downtrodden neighbors, hold my head high, and say, “No, foolish citizen, today is not the day your trash leaves. It is tomorrow, and I know this, for I am one who knows.” It’s a stupid, misplaced kind of pride, WINNER!because I know that I only “know” because of some random slip of paper I printed out around the new year, but… it still feels good. It feels good to look at this random world, and feel like you know.

And that’s how I play Final Fantasy games. That’s how I’ve always played Final Fantasy games.

I was an easily bored child. I suppose that is to say, I was a child. This Child Goggle Bob had to be entertained at all times, and my parents were fans of edumacasion, so, before I even realized what was happening, I had become a voracious reader. My parents were perfectly willing to purchase reading material or swing by the library often, so I read a lot of children’s fiction, a few graphic novels, Dave Barry, and, of course, any speck of the written word regarding my favorite medium, videogames. By third grade, I had a Nintendo Power subscription that would be renewed through high school, but even before that, I wound up with a number of “random” issues from convenience stores here and there. And one of those random issues happened to be this…

Straight from the Pros!

I have no idea where this (and, yes, “this” is this case is that exact Final Fantasy guide you see pictured there) came from. It was before I had a Nintendo Power subscription (let’s see here… the internet tells me this was Volume 17 in 1990, and I didn’t have a subscription until about Volume 24, 1991), and I had no particular love for Final Fantasy before reading the guide… Come to think of it, it’s entirely possible that issue was simply left at my grandparent’s guest house by a careless tourist. But whatever the source, I loved that lil’ strategy guide. I read it, cover to cover, roughly twelve billion times. It was my security blanket. I could immediately recount to any interested adult (none) how Kraken is weak to lightning, Black Belt becomes Master, and Astos is the secret Dark Elf that knows RUB. I knew that the most powerful magic spells were hidden off to the side of the final town, and I cowered in fear at the fact that revisited Lich knew one of those ultra-powerful spells. How could anyone ever defeat such a force?

Oh, which I suppose brings me to the other point of mentioning that beloved strategy guide: I had never played Final Fantasy. I did not own Final Fantasy when I first started reading that vaunted magazine, and, by some cosmic accident, none of the local video rental dens had a copy for renting. With the exception of a few whited-out rooms in the Temple of Fiends, I had memorized the entirety of the game before ever playing it. In fact, without a rental, I’m not certain I had ever even seen the game in motion. Most of my friends were playing Chip ‘n Dale at the time, obviously an “RPG” was off the table. So while I had to sit around and wait for the nearest Christmas, I planned my path of attack, all the while knowing that, when it was time to face Chaos, I would know what to do.

And the joke of it? I didn’t.

Lousy witchI don’t think I really understood Final Fantasy games (and JRPGS in general) until Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. I was apparently a natural speed runner, and anything that made me finish the game faster meant I was playing the game “right”. I ran from a number of monsters. I’m pretty sure I only actually fought two battles in the Marsh Cave. I grinded the (mythical) Hall of Giants when I absolutely needed money for that exit spell. I didn’t notice I was severely underleveled. I didn’t notice that my party was… less than optimized. I just knew that I was getting to that rad airship faster, and then it was off to a class change with Bahamut. I was playing the game completely wrong, but I felt good, I felt right entirely because I read up on exactly what to do in Final Fantasy, and no multi-armed snake lady was gonna scare me!

And… that’s how I like to play Final Fantasy games. Heck, that’s how I like to live my life.

Presumably thanks to our crippling national addiction to social media (what’s next, electing a president based on twitter followers?) we currently live in an environment where spoilers are treated with the same severity as biological weapons. Everyone wants to point to Game of Thrones for making this some kind of national crisis, but going back a scant few years, you can trace that insanity back to Harry Potter, The Sixth Sense, or even any given Hitchcock film. Spoilers are something most people care about to an absurd degree, and being “spoiled” is something some people avoid through seemingly extravagant means. Don’t talk to me right now, I’m on a plane over the alps with my phone off because I don’t want to know what happened with that one zombie dragon.

That is about the opposite of how I feel. Personally? I like learning things on my own time. I understand the appeal of being surprised by the latest zig or zag, but, more often than not, I like to learn new things and digest when I choose. A shared cultural event is nice and all, but I’d much rather learn how Special Hero dies and inevitably returns when I’m reading a wiki at 3 AM and more in the mood for learning about that particular universe. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see the show or read the book or whatever, too, DIE!but I’ve read far too many episode guides beforehand to really claim that the only way to enjoy a piece of media is through being immune to spoilers. Sure, I might know that Anti-Hero Protagonist dies ahead of time, but that can impact the viewing in its own way. I know how World War 2 ends, too, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a decent war movie.

And this is how I play Final Fantasy games. I understand that half the appeal of any given Final Fantasy release is “discovering” how the latest leveling system works, but… who has the time? Heck, who can play a Final Fantasy game, some of which involve literally 100 hours of commitment, and be okay with “maybe I’m missing something”? Not this neurotic nerd, I’ll tell you what. I had Nintendo Power for Final Fantasy “2” and “3”, purchased a strategy guide with all of the Playstation Final Fantasy games, and I kept it all going with Gamefaqs during the more lean financial years. Heck, I’d have probably bought a strategy guide for every Final Fantasy at release if it wasn’t for the Final Fantasy 9 guide being so abhorrently terrible. And I’ve never regretted it. Did I find out about Aeris’s death while reading through a strategy guide in a random restaurant? Yes. Did I discover the final boss of Final Fantasy 10 thanks to a FAQ? Of course. And did I know Kefka’s every move before I even booted up that precious little SNES cartridge? Certainly. But did it ever impact my love of these games? Did it make it so I can no longer stomach the mere thought of knowing Lightning’s final fate? Of course not. Chrono Trigger (a Final Fantasy in spirit) is one of my favorite games of all time, and I always knew how that one would end.

ToastyAnd I feel like I got more enjoyment out of the mere act of knowing than could ever be counterbalanced by a spoiler or two. I played Final Fantasy 5 with full knowledge of which jobs I wanted, and, rather than bumbling around as if trying to compose a meal while at the supermarket, I had a list, and I knew where I was going to get X-Fight. I never missed a summon materia in Final Fantasy 7, and I never missed a guardian force in Final Fantasy 8. I look back on my playthrough of Lightning Returns, and I’m content, because I know I unlocked every sidequest and accumulated every outfit. I know these things, and that makes me happy. I am happier knowing.

And it all started with the first Final Fantasy. I might not have been playing the game correctly, but it felt like I was doing something right, and that’s what’s important. I had 99 problems, but Lich ain’t one. I absorbed that Final Fantasy guide from cover to cover (complete with the random fanfic chapter introductions!), and it made the game better. I spoiled myself, and I’d do it again, because I’ve been doing it for years.

You might not have to be a wizard to hold arcane knowledge, but it sure does feel good.

FGC #322 Final Fantasy

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. I reserve the right to “review” any other releases, such as the Playstation Origins, the GBA Advanced, or the PSP whatever the hell was happening there. That was the worst “bonus” dungeon I have ever seen.
  • Number of players: One. Oh, which reminds me…
  • ELVES!What’s in a name: Since I knew all the stats and whatnot going in, I was careful to name my Final Fantasy characters according to their specialties. Fighter was Bob, because I’m the leader, duh. Black Belt was Jon, for one of my friends that was a fan of karate, and White Mage was Mike, one of my more helpful friends. My best friend, Jim, was granted Black Mage, because I knew he would learn the most powerful offensive spell in the game. However, the real life Jimmy was upset, because he wanted to be the “cool” Black Belt. I… I didn’t have the heart to tell him that a ninja was available. Anyway, I did correct those problems for this playthrough.
  • Favorite Party: Oh, and I’m also incapable of choosing any party other than Fighter/Black Belt/White Mage/Black Mage. I mean, I know there are other options available, but that would be like forsaking a family member.
  • Favorite Monster: The Minotaur Zombie aka ZOMBULL aka Necrotaur is my favorite creature, because it scares the hell out of me. Imagine slaying a minotaur, and then, what, it just gets up again? It’s an undead minotaur? What do you do then? You run, dammit. You fun fast.
  • Credit where credit is due: Nasir Gebelli programmed the original Final Fantasy. Yes, the game barely works, but no one noticed that thirty years ago, and this is a shining example of how code doesn’t have to be elegant, it just has to (mostly) work. Nasir is my hero. He also programmed Secret of Mana, so, ya know, double hero.
  • Did you know? NES Final Fantasy doesn’t have a proper title screen. On boot, you’ve got the legend of the crystals, and then a load/new game screen that doesn’t even mention any “Final Fantasy”. Gotta wait ‘till the bridge to see that.
  • Would I play again: This is one of the most important games in my existence, and has defined how I approach not only videogames, but also life itself. And I’m not playing it ever again. Do you know how long it takes to make it through the Marsh Cave? Those stun locking packs of ghosts? Jesus.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sneak King for the Xbox 360. Our next post is (not) sponsored by Burger King! Please look forward to it!

SPOILERS!

FGC #309 Excitebike

You are now hearing this song in your headLet us consider the life lessons of Excitebike.

Excitebike is a racing game featuring the player scooting along on his little (excite) motorcycle. Like any racing game, the goal is to get to the finish line in the shortest time possible. Like its spiritual descendant, Uniracers, Excitebike is stuck in a 2-D plane, so “racing” is nothing like modern 3-D affairs. Basically, your job is to steer your racer around and over obstacles, and carefully gauge your engine’s temperature. Keep cool metaphorically and literally, and you’ll come out on top. Fail to properly right your cycle or overheat your engine, and, well, kiss the checkered flag good-bye. It’s one of those “basic” early Nintendo games that is pretty straightforward in a one paragraph description, but can be difficult to get right every time during the heat of the race. Or you can just watch Excitebiker roll around like a tumbleweed, and get your jollies from the suffering of pixel people.

Obvious perversions aside, though, there are a few things that separate Excitebike from the typical “racing genre” fair. For one thing, there isn’t really a “grand prix” as we know it, and, aside from saved (temporarily) “best times”, there isn’t any real progression in the game (or, to be more precise, you don’t lose any progression after placing 30th). And the other big, confusing change for anyone used to typical racing games: there is no such thing as a “place”. Whether there are other racers on the track or you’re just by your lonesome, all that matters is your final time, and you may place “first” even if you saw a bunch of other losers cross the finish line ahead of you. Speed is king, the end.

And that is important.

Roll on!There are two modes in Excitebike: Selection A and Selection B. This was pretty common back in the old days of NES games, but, while I’m still trying to determine the distinction between Mode A and Mode B of Donkey Kong (is Mario wearing a different hat? No, that looks the same), SA and SB of Excitebike are very distinctive. Selection A is what might be today considered the Time Trial Mode. It’s just you and the (not so open) road, and your job is to get the best time available. All the same obstacles and pitfalls are here in SA, there are simply no other racers around to interrupt your perfect jumping. SB, as one might expect, winds up being more difficult, as it is very likely another racer is going to knock your biker down a few pegs. Perfect jump, perfect landing… and you’re still rolling around in the dirt because another racer happened to get in your way. Hell is other excitebikers.

But therein lies the lesson. One way to interpret the other racers is as mobile, marginally invincible impediments (you technically can trip another biker by hitting their rear tire… but your only reward for such an action is the smug feeling of causing another biker pain). On the other hand, you can watch your opponents, and actually learn.

Excitebike originated on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1984. Nintendo Power officially launched four years later, though the Nintendo Fun Club (which you should join, Mac) Newsletter was available a year earlier. This was also a time when “‘intenda games” were new and novel, and most adults did not expect a videogame to feature gameplay more complex than Pac-Man. FAQs? Tips and tricks? Classified information? Tips straight from the pros? There was none of that available to a player, and the best any school kid could hope for was some legit advice from a fellow gamer who miraculously wasn’t blathering about some nonsense HAMMER THAT A BUTTONcheat code to get Princess Toadstool naked. It was also a lot more likely that your source for videogame news was your best friend’s older brother, a scary individual that once sent you home in a garbage can when you claimed you could win at Duck Hunt. He wasn’t going to give you any tips, or he was, but you wouldn’t be able to hear them above the sound of endless noogies.

But Excitebike Selection B, that was something special. Mario got the tiniest of “attract” demos, Zelda got an intro enumerating all those magical items you’d never find, but Excitebike had a demonstration baked directly into the game. Don’t know how to properly balance your cycle after a jump? Watch. Afraid you’re going to hit that ramp the wrong way? Watch. How do you hurdle those… hurdles? Pop your bike back into the upright position, and watch. The computer plays fair, and you may watch that AI do everything right, and thus you can do everything right. No more do you have to rely on playground gossip to be the best excitebiker out there; just watch, and learn from the pros.

Look at 'emAnd that’s the true lesson of Excitebike. You can stick to Selection A, play by yourself, and have a fun time. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, how about taking a lesson from your betters? How about hitting that Selection B, and seeing what all the real bikers are up to? Sure, it might be difficult getting stomped by the veterans zooming around the track, but every scrape and tumble is making you a better biker. Learn from your mistakes, learn from their mistakes, swirl all that information around in the blender that is Excitebike, and drink a delicious slurry of experience.

You’re allowed to see other people as moving obstacles. Or you can view them as a way to improve, and ultimately make your own life better for it. The selection is up to you.

FGC #309 Excitebike

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and… uh… a surprisingly high number of other systems. Arcade and 3DS come to mind, but I want to say there was a Gameboy Advance release in there, too. Oh, and that blasted NES Mini while we’re at it.
  • Number of players: Let’s include Vs. version, and say two. One way or another, this was a great game for competing with one controller to see who got the best times.
  • So how does Design fit into this life philosophy? Uh… some people like to blaze their own trails, I suppose. There, that sounds right. Make your own excitetrack, like the Buddha.
  • Did you know? Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium was a Japan-only Satellaview remake of Excitebike that featured the Super Mario Bros. ensemble. The gameplay was largely unchanged, and the graphics were very reminiscent of Mario Kart, but it’s fairly notable for being the first game with a “friendly” competitive Wario. In case you’re curious, yes, he was still completely obsessed with coins.
  • Would I play again: Probably. Excitebike is a fun little game to play for five minutes, and it seems to pop up here and there on random retro releases. So I’ll probably play it again, but mostly by accident.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below! How many slimes can we kill in five minutes? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Winner!

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

Yay islands!Adventure Island 3 is a metaphor for the human condition.

The story of Adventure Island 3 is no epic tale. Master Higgins, a dude in a baseball cap and grass skirt, is chilling on a deserted island the size of a Dixie cup with his beloved Tina when a nefarious alien abducts the hapless maiden. Higgins boards the nearest plesiosaur, and paddles off to save the day. There is no trick or plot twist in this saga, all Higgins has to do to rescue Tina is venture across eight (adventure) islands, battle the occasional Mothra, and then conquer the aliens in an epic battle that involves fireballs and stone hammers. The aliens are not Dr. Wily in disguise, and no explanation is given for their preoccupation with poor Tina; they’re just monsters to be chased, and an excuse for Higgins to ride a dinosaur or six. Oh, and the adventure wraps up with Higgins and Tina back on their original weensy island (compliments of a pterodactyl), so it’s a zero-sum story from top to bottom.

But this is an ‘intenda game, so the story is perfunctory from the very start. What’s important is that good ol’ gameplay, and… Well, there’s not much to see here, either. This is a “NES platformer” at its most basic. Well, no, that would Adventure Island 1, wherein Master Higgins runs left to right and must at all time satiate his crippling fruit addiction. We’ve come a long way from those bygone days: now Master Higgins does the exact same thing, but sometimes he’s on a surfboard! Or a dinosaur! And, despite the fact that almost all stages only advance right and strictly forbid any backtracking, there are rare vertical levels that prove that Hudson does understand scrolling (and they don’t even involve Kid Icarus-esque scroll deaths). And the bosses are pretty neat, even if they’re about as fair as a thumb wrestling match against Eternia’s Fisto. Master Higgins can, at absolute best, suffer three hits (a bonus “heart” powerup plus a dinosaur buddy), and it’s very likely those damn boss monsters are going to barbecue the poor islander before he tosses the proper number of boomerangs. Boss patterns should not change mid-fight with a hero that has approximately zero HP!

This sucks!But all that cruft is neither here nor there. No, what’s important is what Adventure Island 3 represents. What’s important is that Adventure Island 3 is a failure.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a damsel is distressed when she is kidnapped by a giant, ambiguously evil monster. Her man springs into action to rescue her, and must battle across eight distinct lands to save the day. Along the way, he runs, jumps, and even recruits a dinosaur to beat back the nefarious forces of angry clouds and a strangely high number of murderous reptiles. After losing a bunch of lives due to the tiniest contact with random monsters (and the occasional bottomless pit), the brave knight saves his princess. And maybe there was a bonus stage or warpzone somewhere along the way, too.

Yes, obviously, Adventure Island 3 follows the exact same plot and general gameplay as Super Mario Bros. In fact, Adventure Island 2, the first game to feature Master Higgins riding a dinosaur, was released a few months after Super Mario World, the first game to feature Mario riding a Yoshi (and Adventure Island 3 improved on AI2 by… adding one more dinosaur). On a purely superficial level, Massy Hig’s Adventure Islands are incredibly similar to Mario’s treks across the Mushroom Kingdom and Dinosaur Land. Give or take the ability to actually dismount your incredible thunder lizard, you could probably provide the exact same instruction manual for both games. Master Higgins is a cape feather away from being an accomplished plumber.

Spooky!But that’s where the tragedy occurs. On a shallow level, Master and Mario are the same. They run, they jump, and they collect one hundred doodads to earn an extra life. But actually play the games, and the differences become apparent. Mario has a precise kind of momentum, while Master Higgins has a tendency to slip around like a greased up potato man. It’s telling that Master Higgins has to be wary of inanimate rocks, while Mario at least has the decency to vault moving rocks. And that slipperiness pairs poorly with a number of “platforming challenges”. Want to leap across a series of mobile clouds? That’s kind of fun in the Mushroom Kingdom, but over in the Adventure Islands, Master Higgins is pretty likely to fall to his doom after about the second jump. Once you hit an ice stage, things are more slippery, but, honestly? It’s not the same kind of dramatic shift you’d see in Super Mario. Bros 3. Oh, there is supposed to be a dinosaur that cuts down on Slippin’ Higgy? Yeah, that dinosaur is a lie. In fact, all of the dinomounts are lies, as they amount to little more than the difference between Mario and Super Mario. The only dinosaur that isn’t a “fireball” or “slight movement” powerup is the new, green triceratops, and that’s because he offers the ability to roll into a spiky ball for exactly a second before immediately losing that powerup to terrible hit detection. Beyond that, I’m not even certain what the plesiosaur is supposed to do, as he’s just as useless as the frog suit on land, but only marginally better than regular swimming Higgins on the high seas. He doesn’t even get a lightning tail or something! You have to bring your own hammer!

And, when you get right down to it, describing this game, describing Adventure Island 3, is recounting exactly what being a human is. All the proper components are there! You’ve got running! You’ve got jumping! You’ve got a princess and a monster and eight worlds! This is exactly what Mario’s got! This is exactly what that successful guy has got… so why isn’t it working here? I can see Mario’s Facebook, I know we’re on the same level, so why is he so much better than me!? I could be happy! I should be happy! Why can’t Master Higgins be half as successful as a damned plumber!?

Dammit!That’s Adventure Island 3. All the pieces are there, everything that should work is there, but… it doesn’t. Master Higgins is doomed to wallow on his teeny tiny island, while Mario just found out his ex built an entire city for his benefit. Adventure Island 3 is every one of us looking at that green grass on the next lawn over, and wondering what went wrong. And is this where I’m supposed to say something optimistic? Well, I’d love to say it gets better, but have you seen Adventure Island: The Beginning? Yeesh.

I just played Adventure Island 3… don’t expect any hopefulness out of this human for a week.

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There’s also a Gameboy port that is surprisingly faithful.
  • Number of players: One Master Higgins. Maybe the secret to success is having a Luigi?
  • Port-o-Call: The Gameboy version actually allows you to replay completed stages. I have no earthly idea why anyone would want to do such a thing, but at least it’s an option.
  • Favorite Dinosaur: I guess the blue dinosaur with the powered tail. He’s pretty much exactly the same as the red dinosaur with the fireball that is completely resistant to lava, but… he’s blue? He’s the underdog in a game starring an underdog.
  • Favorite Boss: Despite the inexplicable presence of Mothra, I’m going to pick the Salamander. He’s just like every other boss in this game (float and/or teleport around and lob fireballs), but he is at least on fire. And when he goes blue-flames, it at least looks cool.
  • Blind SallyIncidentally: This was supposed to be FGC #300, but I couldn’t find the rom while on the stream. Turns out it was there in the list, just under “Hudson’s Adventure Island 3” as opposed to in the I section where I expected to find such a thing. Oh well.
  • Did you know? If you see a flower, then that means a wolf is going to attack Master Higgins from behind. I still remember this tip from Nintendo Power.
  • Would I play again: Adventure Island 3 has struck me with an ennui that I can barely describe. So, uh, no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Robocop vs. Terminator for the SNES! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Some good ol’ fashioned cyborg on android violence. Please look forward to it!