Tag Archives: Nintendo Switch

FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Note: This article contains spoilers for a game that is either twenty years or one month old. To be clear, the spoilers are not for anything you wouldn’t find in the Gameboy version. You have been warned.

Adventure Time!Forever just isn’t as long as it used to be.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is an amazing game. Within the confines of the meager Gameboy, Link experienced one of his most enjoyable and surprisingly expressive adventures. Link saves the day by venturing through Koholint, a mysterious island home to friendly villagers, the occasional demon round boi, and no less than twelve billion moblins. Items of note include a giant catfish that hides an equally giant worm, a walrus that is always happy to hear a song, and a golden leaf (or maybe five). Oh, and there’s that gigantic egg at the top of Koholint’s highest peak. Assuming Link is capable of collecting all eight of the magical instruments (that’s seven more than usual!) strewn around the island, he’s told he will awaken the Wind Fish, and the dream that is Koholint Island will fade to nothingness. Every one and every thing Link encounters across his adventure is ephemeral, and will disappear should his quest succeed.

And that makes me sad!

Which, ultimately, is the point. LA’s Koholint Island is, when you stop to think about it, one of the absolute nicest places Link has ever visited. Yes, there are monsters, and, yes, the rules of life and death appear to be controlled by a lesser Mario villain’s song, but, aside from a few existential horrors, Koholint is a pretty nice place. You can hang out in a pastoral village, enjoy a walk on the beach, or even have a conversation with a welcoming (and surprisingly verbal) rabbit. SING ITAnd even if Link decides to just stay in the Dream Shrine for the rest of the day, there’s a very real feeling that life on Koholint can go on without him. Granny has her sweeping to do, an alligator is busy working on his art, and lovers are catfishing each other with snail mail. And then there’s Marin. Sweet, doomed Marin…

Marin is the first person Link meets on Koholint, and, incidentally, the first woman in the franchise to rescue Link for a change. It is Marin that drags the sea tossed Link back to her cottage, and nurses him back to health after his near-death experience. And when Link is up and adventuring, it is once again Marin that is not only the most useful villager across the quest (learning music is fun!), she’s also the woman that spends the most time with Link. They play crane games together. They smash pots together. They even bond over a shared love of fried chicken. Right down to Marin’s very vocal desire to be free and see the world, it’s clear that you, the player, are supposed to feel a bond with Marin, and maybe even the slightest bit of empathy for this monochrome NPC. Your quest will wipe her from existence, and, only if you’re really good will you be rewarded with the possibility that Marin escaped her fate by becoming the trashiest of trash birds.

But, whether you keep Link immaculate or not, the Marin you know is gone at the end of Link’s Awakening. And nothing is going to change that. Marin was never real in the first place, and you’ll never see her again.

HERE WE GOAnd the Zelda franchise/Nintendo held true to this rule for decades. Marin only reappeared as a trophy (literally, to be clear) in Super Smash Bros Melee, and did not return in any other form, playable, cameo, or otherwise. Marin clearly influenced Malon of Ocarina of Time, but the young lady obsessed with cows shared very little in common with the songstress of the seas. And, if you squint, you can see how Link’s sister Aryll (of Wind Waker) shares a few superficial similarities with the girl of Link’s dreams. But aside from those allusions, Marin, like all of the friendly faces around Koholint Island, was gone forever, another unfortunate casualty of having never existed at all. Papahl, Kidoh, Lattie, Mamasha, Madam MeowMeow, and even Old Man Ulrira are all gone from the franchise, too; but Marin’s absence is felt most keenly. She was more interesting than the titular Zelda, people! Bring her back!

And now Marin returns in the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. She’s back. She’s adorable. And she’s singing her lil’ heart out.

So why am I sad to see one of my favorite characters all over again?

CHOMPWhen you get right down to it, Link’s Awakening needed a remake. Yes, the obvious issue with LA was that it was initially designed for hardware that could barely support an entire Mario Land, but the controls of Link’s Awakening needed an upgrade much more than the graphics or sound. The A/B system of LA was a genius callback to the original adventure, but there’s a reason The Legend of Zelda never let you switch out your sword. Yes, the option of bomb arrows is always nice, but there are way too many places in OG LA where you have to switch out your feather for some boots and then over to a power bracelet and whoops there’s an enemy maybe you need a sword or some bombs. I hate pausing! A modern remake of LA would allow for mapping the constantly used items to constantly used buttons (what is even the point of giving Link a jump if it’s a pain in the ass to use?), and then maybe an island filled with pegasus blocks would be less than annoying. Link’s Awakening was always a shining rupee in the Zelda crown, but some QOL improvements could make it pretty amazing.

And they did! Link’s Awakening: Switch Because Apparently Subtitles for Subtitles Are For Nerds is a pretty amazing experience. The graphics are adorable and appropriately “just wrong enough” for a dream world, the music (mostly) captures the original haunting isolation of LA’s best tunes, and, yes Virginia, there is an excellent control redux. None of it is absolutely perfect (Roc’s Feather should simply be a permanent RT, and why I can’t use the damn cross-pad is some Phantom Hourglass-level nonsense), but this is indisputably the best version of one of the best Zeldas available. It’s a joy to play, and revisiting sunny Koholint is a welcome change of pace from Link’s usually dour dungeons (or that one Hyrule that is not doing great).

So what’s the problem? If I had to put a point on it, I’d say it’s the ending:

GOOD END

The finale of the original Link’s Awakening was something I saw a billion times. LA was one of my few Gameboy games, and I played the living hell out of it through a Super Gameboy. When I was finally allowed my first actual Gameboy, I reamed every last bit of gameplay out of that gray goober. I must have beaten that game literally hundreds of times, and I must have seen “Seagull Marin” about 80% of those times (hey, I didn’t know dying was a bad thing when I was a kid). And, no matter how many times I beat Link’s Awakening, it always made me sad. Marin was gone forever, and, as the years went on, I was only ever reminded that Marin would never return. She was dreamstuff in the first place, and to the shores of The Dreaming she would always return. Sorry, Bob, time to move on to other adventures.

But Link’s Awakening Switch stirs a different feeling in me. That feeling? “Oh, there she is again.”

For a solid two decades, Marin was nowhere to be found. Then, in 2015 (or so), she rolled on in…

BAD END

Yes, she appeared in Link’s sexual awakening, but she was back! There was much rejoicing!

Now, four years later, she’s back in the remake of Link’s Awakening. And now when I see her ending, I don’t feel the same melancholy as before. I experience the unmistakable sensation of “wonder what she’s going to do next for Nintendo?” We saw Hyrule Warriors DLC, so will she be in the inevitable sequel? How about an amiibo? Maybe Nintendo will take the Link Between Worlds route and make an outright Link’s Awakening 2: Koholint Boogaloo. Regardless of future plans, this is less a downhearted finale, and now more Marin isn’t going to be gone forever ever again, dear player, and here’s a little reminder.

FLAP FLAPAnd, yes, it is entirely possible I’m just being cynical about this whole situation. Link’s Awakening: Switches Get Stiches was an amazing game, and I really shouldn’t be complaining about it because Nintendo has an overzealous marketing department. But, on the other hand, I do have to turn the game off. And when I do, I see Cloud Strife advertising his latest adventure (which is the same adventure, but maybe different[?]), Disney advertising their latest live action remake of a beloved cartoon from my childhood (probably The Rescuers Down Under this week), and freaking Boo Berry returning to store shelves because nostalgia even sells breakfast-themed sugar snacks. It’s a little bit hard to believe that Nintendo is going to let any part of Link’s Awakening “rest” when I’ve got seventeen different Link amiibos staring back at me. Come to think of it, the LA Link on the official Nintendo Amiibo website is listed as part of the “Series: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening”. So I’ve got a general idea where that phrasing is going…

Yes, I’m actually complaining about more content being provided from a franchise/game that I deeply enjoy. Yes, this sounds like the most first of first world problems. But stories should be allowed to end. Endings should be allowed to be sad without tacking on an ellipse and a question mark. Or, at the very least, I should be allowed to enjoy a piece of media without being reminded it’s just one cog in an unstoppable machine meant to grind me down until I am simply blood and an open wallet. The nostalgia advertised for so many of these projects is less dopamine and more poison when the threat of further, costly adventures is on the horizon.

I’m just an old man complaining, but I’m old enough to remember when a Zelda game ended, it meant it ended. Forever.

FGC #459 The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

  • System: Nintendo Switch. I reserve the right to review the original at some point in the next 100 FGC articles.
  • Number of players: Does dungeon sharing count? Let’s just say one.
  • SpicyGravediggin’: Oh yeah, the big, new content for Link’s Awakening is Dampé providing a “build a dungeon” area. It’s… kind of weird to have a “real” Hyrule inhabitant on Koholint. Regarding the actual dungeon building, I want to say this might have been better received if it was touted as a “Link’s Awakening Randomizer”, and not a real unique dungeon creation system. The concept here is amazing… but in practice, it just winds up being random bits from LA dungeons sewn together. That can be its own kind of fun… but it ain’t no Zelda Maker.
  • Say Something Mean: Whoever is responsible for the load times involved when entering houses that are approximately six pixels wide should be forced to fight a flock of angry chickens.
  • Favorite Nightmare: Now I finally know that Hot Head, the boss of the final complete dungeon, is supposed to be a lava monster that is inexplicably only weak to the fire rod. There was a slight chance that high definition graphics would give some explanation as to why fire is vulnerable to fire, but, nope, he’s just a reject Fry Guy.
  • Favorite Mini Boss: Smasher demands that Link play dodge ball. He’s my kinda whale-fish-dude.
  • So, did you beat it? I certainly did, but I didn’t exactly get every heart piece and secret seashell. I might really enjoy this world, but I don’t feel like figuring out every damn fishing game that crosses my path.
  • Did you know? According to the official Legend of Zelda timeline, the same Link stars in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Ages, The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Seasons, and then The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. First of all, that Link has got to be exhausted by the end of his four separate journeys. But, more importantly, there isn’t an adventure for that particular Link after Link’s Awakening. This raises some… very solemn questions.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I might feel vaguely bad about it, but I’m not made of stone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy Legend 3 for the Gameboy! Now we’re hitting some monochrome adventuring! Please look forward to it!

I can hear this GIF
I can hear this GIF

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 #448 Mega Man X4 & Mega Man X5

MEGA!Let us consider a simple truth: Mega Man X4 was the culmination of three iterations on the Mega Man X formula. And Mega Man X itself was the culmination of the many adventures of baby, regular Mega Man. With this in mind, it is appropriate to recognize Mega Man X4 the pinnacle of the Mega Man X franchise, and, by association, an all-time high point for the thirty year old franchise as a whole. In short, Mega Man X4 is the peak of the Mega Man X formula.

And then there was Mega Man X5. Mega Man X5 was originally intended as the final Mega Man X chapter, so it would have been appropriate for that title to be the crowning achievement. It wasn’t. It had… issues. What were they? Well, they were all simple variations on the typical Mega Man formula, and every single one of them turned out for the worse. They may have seemed like good ideas at the time, but to get this pity party started, Mega Man never needed…

Ducking is boring

I'll be right hereFor years (decades!) people complained about dear Rock Man’s inability to duck. Every other platforming hero could do it! What’s wrong with the Blue Bomber!? No, that silly slide doesn’t count! Sure, that cuts a few inches off the vertical real estate, but it’s not a substitute for good ol’ ducking and sitting. We want to see those bullets sail right over Mega’s helmet, not ping right into the metal chump’s face!

And Mega Man X5 finally introduced ducking for our dear X (and any robotic heterosexual life mates that may be around, too). And, while a great many of us rejoiced at this news, it did not work as well in practice as we had expected. It turns out the gameplay that was never built for ducking just plain wasn’t built for ducking. Whether by a fault of the current designers, or as in an effort to maintain the action of the previously established titles, the Mavericks of Mega Man X5 did not find fun ways to accommodate ducking. By and large, the number one place you’d find ducking in Mega Man X5 is against bosses that require crouching to avoid a certain attack… and then all you’re doing is… ducking. Ducking is boring! It’s just sitting there! It’s much more dynamic when Mega has to dash or slide to avoid an oncoming barrage, and ducking simply encourages doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t have a place in giant robot fighting! We were wrong to ask for ducking!

And you know what else we were wrong for asking for?

Switching characters doesn’t work

Buds!Mega Man X4 was the first Mega Man X game to allow the player to choose Mega Man X or Zero for venturing through the entire adventure (X3 made Zero a playable character, but he was limited to about three total rooms before inevitably exploding). This was a godsend… but it came with the unfortunate caveat that you were tied to your chosen hero for the entire adventure. Within the opening seconds of Mega Man X4, you chose your fate, and if you made the “wrong” choice, you’d have to start everything over all over again. Granted, Mega Man X4 wasn’t the longest game in the world (even by Playstation 1 standards), but it was still rather annoying that wanting to use the X-Buster against Cyber Peacock would mean you’d never even see Zero.

Mega Man X5 rectified this mistake, and X and Zero were freely selectable at any time. You want to switch between the two super buds every other level? Feel free! …. Actually, maybe you should do exactly that, because if you don’t, you’re going to be screwed come the final areas…

Not all Replopids are created equal, and, unfortunately, X & Zero live in a meritocracy. As per Mega Man X tradition, permanent powerups can be collected across levels. Regrettably, the majority of these powerups do not apply to both Maverick Hunters. And, given a number of those powerups can only be accessed by individual heroes wearing specific armor or using specific abilities, it is very easy to “unbalance” the hunter duo. In the end, you might wind up with an X that possesses 7 health upgrades, and a Zero that can barely survive a stiff breeze. And, while this might be thematically relevant for the series, it is something else entirely for being able to “freely” switch between characters. If X is going to have five times the health of Zero, then why ever choose Zero? There’s no choice at all when one choice is a walk in the park, and the other is attempting to survive instant death.

And this pairs horribly with…

Bosses have levels (and that’s awful)

This is gonna be a whileIt seems there was an attempt to mitigate the “separate powerups” issue… but it went horribly wrong.

Each and every Maverick “boss” has the potential to impart additional items upon defeat. Depending on the level of the boss, you could receive absolutely nothing, or something amazing, like a weapon powerup coupled with a health increase. But how do boss levels work? Apparently they are tied to defeating other Mavericks and your own hunter’s rank, so the longer you take before tackling a stage, the stronger its boss will become. This all seems well and good until you get to the sad, sad way that levels are implemented with bosses: it only increases their health. It does not change their attack patterns, add extra attacks, nor increase the damage dealt. It simply turns average Mega Man bosses into damage sponges of Yiazmattian proportions.

And you better believe that makes the final boss rematch area an absolute waste of a Maverick Hunter’s time and energy.

This would be passable if the Mavericks gained new moves at different health levels, or switched “stances”, or… something! But, no, it’s just the same fight, but much longer. What’s more, we’re looking at a Mega Man 7/X situation where the best weapon for the job often activates some kind of special animation or reaction, so things take even longer. Nobody wants to stand around and wait for Dark Dizzy to get flying again! There’s a T-Rex I have to deal with in the next room!

Then again, there’s a strong chance I won’t get to the next room, because…

Modular Armor is unpleasant

It's a kind of armor...In Mega Man X4, you had the choice of obtaining one of two weapon powerups. Much like X3’s “choose your golden powerup” system, this gave the player a marginal choice in steering X’s development. It may have been a teeny tiny choice, but it was a choice all the same, and I’m sure there are some people that swear by one arm powerup over the other. After all, there are always going to be people that pick something other than plasma/are wrong.

X5 decided to run with that concept, and presented not one, not two, but three completely different armors for X. X could utilize the “fourth” armor from X4 (complete with plasma attack, natch), the highly mobile Falcon Armor, or the… well… whatever was happening with the Gaea Armor. The Gaea Armor seems like it was intended to be the “strong” armor to Falcon’s “fast” armor, but its abilities are all over the place. You can stick to the walls like Spider-Man! You can push blocks with a dash! You’re invulnerable to spikes!(!!!) The only drawback is that you can’t use special weapons, and you can’t air dash. That’s fine, right? No big deal! It’s not like entire levels are based around possessing either the air dash, double jump, or special weapons to make it through areas. It’s not like equipping the Gaea Armor will make certain areas almost completely unwinnable.

Oh? It does do that? And you can’t unequip an armor if it isn’t working out for a level? Oh. Well, that’s not very well-thought-out.

And that’s Mega Man X5 in a nutshell. Mega Man X4 was an excellent culmination of everything in the franchise, and Mega Man X5 decided to toss a lot of failed experiments into the mix. Later games would go on to perfect some of these decisions (Mega Man X8 is particularly good for character switching, and Mega Man Zero offered variety in boss fights), but, as a game that was intended as the finale of the X series, X5 falls far behind its predecessor.

Mega Man X4 might be the best in the franchise. Mega Man X5 veered too far off that path to be the best.

FGC #448 Mega Man X4 & Mega Man X5

  • GET IT!?System: Playstation initially, and then ported to everything that could support it through various compilations and digital releases. Including, but not limited to: every Sony platform, Gamecube, Xbox, Switch, and probably the N-Gage at some point.
  • Number of players: X and Zero may only be controlled by one player.
  • Other issues: Oh yeah, Mega Man X5 introduced Alia, who constantly interrupts the gameplay to provide important information like “shoot things” or “duck under boiling lava”. She’s largely a pest in this adventure, but I can’t fault the game too much for trying to be more inclusive for the kiddies that might need a little extra help. It was only the fifth game in the series, it’s not like there was any precedent for how to play the thing…
  • Further Issues: My bad, Mega Man X4 can’t be the best in the series, as it, like its descendants, has an annoying vehicle stage. But Mega Man X5 did introduce the concept of having to collect a bunch of stupid doodads on an instant death track, so it is still somehow worse.
  • Favorite Maverick (X4): Storm Owl. Say it with me now: Storm Owwwwwl.
  • Pew pewFavorite Maverick (X5): I appreciate that Mattrex is a weapons dealer before the virus drives him mad. When you’re an enormous, flaming dinosaur living in a volcano, there are only so many vocations open to you.
  • Did you know? I am required by law to note that the original names for the Mavericks of Mega Man X5 were all Guns ‘n Roses references, and they were suggested by the localizer’s wife. I should also note that all these names were dropped for the most recent X compilations, so Axel the Red is forever lost to time. More’s the pity.
  • Would I play again: Both of ‘em are a solid yes. Mega Man X5 may have made some poor choices, but it’s still a mega game. And X4 is exactly the kind of thing we’re all fighting for.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cave Story! Oh boy! Caves! Please look forward to it!

Stupid devil

FGC #442 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

BLOOD!Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night reminded me why I actually enjoy my favorite genre.

We live in confusing times. Just a few years back, it seemed like it was easy to define the direction of gaming. AAA was king, and, if anyone was “involved” in videogames, they knew that the next big thing was inevitably a franchise with intense graphics, open-world sandbox gameplay, and RPG-like elements. Or… something. Look, what’s important is that every gaming news site out there was telling us that the hottest titles available all cost the gross national product of South America, required twelve craptillion hours to produce, and were available now for your Playstation X or FourBox or whatever.

But things are different now. It may just be my old man imagination, but it seems like the videogame industry has finally adjusted to accommodate both AAA games and less intensive, but dramatically easier to produce, “indie” games. (In many cases, these “indie” games aren’t independently produced at all, but it seems like such an unintended slight to refer to them as “budget” or otherwise lesser titles. Though one could suppose that the “budget” thing really is the biggest factor here…) Back in the Playstation 2 days, it was newsworthy that Katamari Damacy was a “budget” title at its initial $20 MSRP. Now, presumably thanks to the advent of digital storefronts and more accessible development tools, games that could likely be best described as “light” are available at $20 just as often as the latest release drops on the same storefront at $60 (or $90 for that all-important day one edition). This has had the wonderful side effect of reviving certain genres and playstyles, so “the arcade experience” has finally resurfaced along with other categories that include “pretty much Zelda” and “shoot ‘em up (without exploitation)”. And, of course, the metroidvania has returned to us. In fact, the metroidvania has returned to us in spades.

MEOWIt seems like there is a new metroidvania released every month (every seven seconds come Fall). And, like a sucker, I have a tendency to throw myself into about every third one that comes down the pike. I like metroidvanias! I have liked them since Super Metroid (“What about the original Metroid?” “We don’t talk about that”). And I suppose that, like a plumber that is permanently thirsty after an unfortunate detour through Desert Land, I am always going to be starved for more metroidvania content. I can’t even say that I will wait to finish one metroidvania before I start the next one, as it appears I am playing another metroidvania while I am writing this very article. Load times are writing times, people! I’m a very busy man, and I have to see that sweet 100% map completion achievement somehow!

But that’s the exact problem I had that I hadn’t realized until playing Bloodstained: Not all metroidvanias are about completion.

I admit that I have played a number of metroidvanias in recent years, and now I’m pretty sure that I played them all wrong. For an easy example, I can look at Metroid 2, Metroid 2, and Metroid 2, all games that were reviewed recently (“recently”) for this site. And if you look at those articles, you will note that two out of three of those games were completed and reviewed (“reviewed”) within days of their release. How did I do that? Well, obviously, I completed the titles as quickly as possible. Why did I do that? Well, that’s simple: it’s a videogame, it’s a challenge, and you’re winning if you finish the challenge the fastest. Yes, I can and absolutely will go back to “100%” the title, but I’m going to do that as quickly as possible, too. I noticed that door I couldn’t open quite yet, you better believe I’m going to come back later and nab every last expansion pack and powerup bonus. After I’m all done with that, I’m going to check a FAQ and/or forums to learn what I missed, and maybe review a few speedrun strats. Then, after I’ve seen my own fastest run through the latest SR388, then, maybe, I’ll put it all down, call the game complete, and see you next mission. …Which might happen about seven seconds later with a certain robot named Fight…

And Bloodstained taught me that no, you’re wrong Goggle Bob. Stop and smell the roses (that may or may not be expies for medusa heads).

Too hot todayLet’s address one thing before we go any further: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is by no means a perfect game. For one thing, the bosses suck in all kinds of different ways. Practically every creature has way too much HP, you see the same stupid patterns over and over again, and there is just no universe where certain samurai bosses needed “reprise” fights (particularly in light of the Boss Rush mode). I’m pretty sure I distinctly enjoyed, like, one boss battle, and everything else was either way too stupid/easy or way too frustrating thanks to stupidity/endurance. And I’m playing on Switch, so let me tell you about how, every once in a while, I am reminded of Super Castlevania and the kind of slowdown that I thought was relegated to games from thirty freaking years ago. Oh, and speaking of thirty years ago game design: there is the occasional bit in Bloodstained that might have been more at home back in Simon’s Quest, the infamous Castlevania title that told players to literally bang their heads against the wall. At one point, I (a person who famously plays a lot of videogames) was completely stuck for finding a solution to my current predicament, and it turns out the resolution involved talking to a random NPC out in the castle boonies. Why would I ever do that? Who knows, but I couldn’t see a single clue to lead me in that direction, so I was stuck randomly wandering all over the map.

And… I enjoyed that.

I didn’t know what I was doing, and I enjoyed that.

It has been said a thousand times that the appeal of a number of videogames and their associated genres (that is to say, all the games that copied the original title until they were defined as belonging to a genre) was always their level of freedom. Grand Theft Auto 3 is a title that was probably completed by about 25% of its players, but was somehow still enjoyed for hours upon hours thanks to all the fun one could have with a cheat code and a rocket launcher. Skyrim probably has something to do with terrifying dragons, but it is also a cheese wheel discovery simulator. And The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows for a Link that can ignore the literal apocalypse and dick around discovering tree poop for entire months. Freedom is the name of the game!

Another terrible night for a commuteBut “freedom” is something that is generally lacking in 2-D adventures. Mario might have been able to find a key or two in his 2-D outings, but those levels were still “courses”, not “environments” (and you could likely claim the collectathons of the late SNES era were Mario and others growing against their 2-D confines). And while there were a few 2-D games based on exploring, that entire perspective has always been about finding the next checkpoint or powerup that helps you to find the next powerup. There’s a reason that Metroid rewards you with its heroine in her knickers for a speedy run through Zebes, and totally ignores how you used your grappling beam to teach the etecoons how to love. The point of a 2-D adventure is not to “have fun” in the environments, it is to find the optimal way to move forward, to gain more skills, and then see what’s around that next bend. The fun is in the discovery of new areas and powers, not in simply reveling in the areas you’ve already traversed.

But when I got stuck in Bloodstained, I discovered that I actually liked playing around in this haunted castle. I didn’t have any new abilities. I didn’t have some grinding goal. In fact, I didn’t have a damn clue where I was supposed to be heading, or what I was supposed to be doing. But I was at least at the point in the game where Miriam’s moveset is more robust than your typical Castlevania protagonist. It was fun to play as Miriam, and, as a result, it was fun to revisit older areas with Miriam. It was fun to see monsters that had previously been a detriment, and were now a possible source for new and exciting items. It was fun to see old areas, and enjoy the ambiance of any given room in a capacity beyond just randomly hitting walls and hoping for a meat drop. I want one, too!It was fun! It was fun exploring the world of Bloodstained not for some overarching goal, but just exploring for the sake of exploring! Like some kind of fancy-pants, city-slicker 3-D game. And even if I wasn’t making any “plot” progress, I was still collecting a host of materials, shards, and experience from my unplanned sojourn. Even when I’m not doing anything, I’m doing something! That’s the sign of a good videogame!

And, ultimately, I feel like that is the source of the good from the “vania” side of the metroidvania equation. My personal theory for years has been that Metroid games are better than Castlevania games. Why? Well, if you find a Super Missile container hiding behind a wall while exploring Zebes, you can enjoy that Super Missile upgrade whether you’re at the start of the adventure or heading toward the final confrontation. Meanwhile, while exploring Castlevania (or… Igavania? Huh?), you might find a +1 sword hidden in a concealed room. But you’ve already discovered a +4 sword. Why would you ever bother with such a piddling weapon? Congratulations, you found the secret, and it’s completely useless. Why did you even bother exploring?

But that’s only true in a bad Castlevania. In a game where your every undertaking is enjoyable, then finding even the crappiest of swords is enjoyable, because you enjoyed getting there. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is such a game. Bloodstained is fun to play, and, in that way, encourages the player to stop and take it all in. Every movement, every monster, every gigantic severed dog’s head (it’s a weird game) contributes to an overall feeling that is bizarrely welcoming. Yes, Bloodstained predominantly takes place in a deadly castle filled with murder-beasts, but it also feels like Iga is inviting you to his magical kingdom (that incidentally contains giant werewolves). It’s fun to play Bloodstained, and it’s fun to be in Bloodstained.

Ante Up!I feel like that is something I forgot along the way. Through the portable metroidvanias, through the reimaginings of other titles, and through the current bounty of excellent indie titles, I’ve been focusing on “beating” these ‘vanias. And, while that is a perfectly valid approach to any videogame, somewhere I lost the simple ability to enjoy the moment. Stop, smell the zombies. and encounter a castle on its own terms. With an interesting moveset and environments, Bloodstained encourages exploration as slow and meticulous as the effort it inevitably took to build this kingdom.

Bloodstained isn’t a perfect game. It might not even be a truly great game. But it is a game that encouraged me to look at games differently, and that’s always perfect.

FGC #442 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

  • System: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, and Switch if you’re nasty. Vita and WiiU are right out.
  • Number of players: There’s some manner of multiplayer somewhere in here, right? For all I care, it’s single player, but I’m pretty sure there was a stretch goal somewhere in there…
  • Kickstart This: Yes, I contributed money to see this game produced. Do I feel that influences my own opinion on the game? No. Considering I am really terrible about checking any developer update emails, I’m going to go ahead and say my “production credit” is just an eternal reminder that I reserved this game way early.
  • Favorite Shard: Being able to manually “aim” Miriam’s hand is the perfect middle ground between your average metroidvania and Samus Returns’ continual aiming. And the best use of aiming Miriam’s hand is to shoot a bevy of True Arrows right at your opponents. There’s nothing finer than seeing a goopy zombie puddling around with arrows in its knees.
  • Look out!Boss Battler: It seems like the bosses that were most difficult in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon have been converted to extremely easy encounters for this adventure. In particular, Andrealphus, the bird-armor thing, goes from the biggest bad to the smallest chump. Though I suppose a lack of pits really takes something away from the poor guy…
  • Say something mean: The entire first area is terrible. Bloodstained offers easily the worst opening I have seen in a videogame in years. Miriam starts off too limited, the areas are claustrophobic, and the boss of the area is just the worst. Did someone demand a really s*** prologue area? Because we got a really s*** prologue area.
  • Did you know? While Dracula technically doesn’t appear in this game, the ultimate impetus for the final villain of the game is very similar to the motivations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So even when the count doesn’t show up, it seems he has an influence on final bosses.
  • Would I play again: I feel like I got everything I wanted out of this castle, but I’m certainly going to dive in when further character DLC drops. I will be returning to this magical land once again. Actually, come to think of it…

What’s next? We’re going to continue our Bloodstained coverage. Kinda. Next up is Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, and we’re going to play a little game of compare and contrast between the seemingly very similar protagonists. Please look forward to it!

Robin!