Tag Archives: one player

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

THWOMPEvery title that has been profiled thus far for Games Preservation “Week” is currently very difficult to obtain, should it even be possible at all. Ignoring the fact that one game is now apparently getting a stateside release because I willed it into being, other games this week include two arcade games that never saw home releases, one delisted online offering, and a 20 year old game starring a fat penguin being the only one that exists in anything resembling a physical form (albeit only in Japan). Today’s game survives in digital and physical form across all regions. Despite being a title for a “retired” system, it is likely still easily available at your local used games shop. It is available on Amazon. It is available for two different systems on Amazon, and you don’t even have to settle for a used copy. And, considering “Mario” is right there in the title, it is likely to always be available in one form or another, whether you have to go trawling through eBay or dusty discount bins to find it. Today, we are talking about Super Mario Maker, and such a title is never not going to be available.

And, likely sometime in the near future, it’s simultaneously going to be one of the best games ever made, and one that is completely, utterly worthless.

Super Mario Maker was my Game of the Year at its release in 2015. Why? Mario Maker is a fun, Mario Paint-esque way to create Super Mario levels. But who cares about that? Creation is secondary to the reason I played the title for hours: Infinite Mario. As someone who could literally play Super Mario Bros. stages all day (and absolutely has), the idea of a game featuring literally thousands of Super Mario Bros. stages is something of a dream come true. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if Super Mario Bros. 3 had DLC as we know it back when I was seven, and I had access to a parent’s credit card, my family would be destitute before I even turned ten. I would spend every last real world dime on a new opportunity to use Kuribo’s Shoe, and I’d gladly watch my family move into a comfy cardboard box if it meant I could play through an all-new World 11. There isn’t even a question in my mind: Super Mario Maker is everything I’ve wanted from a Super Mario game since before the Super Nintendo was even a Here we gotwinkle in Miyamoto’s eye, and, even if the stages of Super Mario Maker weren’t all designed by the geniuses at Nintendo, at least I could get some sweet, sweet Mario “joy of movement” going on in every stage. It didn’t matter if I was destined to lose one Mario or a million, it’s just fun to be Mario, and these “infinite” stages would quench that thirst with a veritable waterfall.

And a funny thing happened when Super Mario Maker started to gain popularity (roughly seventeen seconds after release). In a way that no one ever expected, new, fan-made Mario stages started to coalesce into a few distinct categories. There were the “obvious” stages; the levels that could, with a little polish, exist in regular Super Mario stage rotations. These were easy to navigate stages with plenty of powerups and a familiar tone for anyone that had ever played through a Super Mario World or two. Then there were the inevitable “hard as Steelix” stages that required an impossible amount of memorization and a general hatred for invisible blocks that may pop up at any moment. Then we’ve got some puzzle stages that may or may not be one screen wide and require three minutes of maze navigation or turtle shell manipulation. And, finally, we have the automatic stages.

The automatic stages leave me… conflicted.

On one hand, the last thing anyone wants to do when they pick up a controller is sit and do not a damn thing with it. Controllers are meant to control! They are not meant to idle and be unused while Mario is conveyed around a cinema scene of a level. Automatic stages suck! And, on a personal level, I really feel like I’m in a groove when I’m dashing around and saving princess after princess. When I hit a stage where the “answer” is “don’t move for a minute”, well, there’s nothing that kills momentum faster than outright stopping. Automatic Mario levels are a scourge, and their continued existence within the world of Super Mario Maker is a detriment to us all!

This is boringOn the other hand, the automatic levels of Super Mario Maker are testaments to creativity and an almost super-human understanding of how Mario “works”. These stages require hours of trial and error to create, and, while they might be over inside of a minute or two, the time their creators have invested is staggering. And that’s time involved that doesn’t even consider the number of days it takes to be enough of a Mario expert to absorb the timing and physics of every last spring, trap, and creature in Mario’s world. And, taking it a step further are the automatic stages that play some kind of musical tune. This requires not only perfect timing and understanding, but a musical aptitude generally not possessed outside of your finest virtuosos, like Beethoven or John Cougar Mellencamp. And never mind that sheet music for transposing Final Fantasy 6 themes into Mario blocks isn’t exactly readily available. In short, while these automatic stages might not be the most exciting levels when playing through a proper game of Hundred Mario Shuffle, they are shining examples of the creativity and care that can be involved when using the limited tools of Super Mario Maker.

And, soon enough, all of those stages will be gone, lost to the digital ether like Scott Pilgrim before them.

This is an inevitable problem with literally every videogame that involves an online component. MMORPGs have risen and fallen (I see you, City of Heroes, and I would totally write an article about you if I could play your damn game), and scores of original characters whom must not be stolen have died on the battlefields of the server wars. Online friends lists tied to particular games have been dropped forever when a later version was released, and thus were untold OWIEfriendships lost. And, while we’re all sad to see online matchmaking go the way of the dodo in any given fighting game, it’s always the creative titles that are hit the hardest. Yes, that Super Mario Maker stage you had hiding on your local hard drive is unlikely to go anywhere, but the online data associated with it, and the ability for anyone to play that level outside of your living room, is going to be gone forever very shortly. The “MiiVerse” comments are already gone, and, given enough time, data on who died where, or how many stars numerated the many people that enjoyed that stage will be gone. Everything that made Super Mario Maker a community project for thousands of people will be gone. It’s supposed to be Bowser that is flushed into the unforgiving oblivion of lava, not his meticulously-designed castle.

And what can be done about this? Absolutely nothing. Even if Nintendo were to carry Super Mario Maker stages forward from generation to generation, eventually that data would be dropped for literally anything else (new stages in… Animal Crossing?). In 2016, Nintendo announced that there were over 7,200,000 stages created in Super Mario Maker. In 2020, it is likely there will be 0.

This “week” (month?) has been about videogame preservation. Videogames have only been “videogames” as we know them for the previous three decades or so. In that time, we have already seen games that will be gone from future generations forever (give or take a rom or two). As time passes, as CDs degrade, as base consoles crumble, and, yes, as hard drives inevitably self-destruct, more and more of the past of videogames will be lost to the ages. But at least these items were built to last in the first place. A Playstation 1 CD might be failing now, literally decades after its first printing, but that CD likely survived about seven resales at Electronics Boutique just to get to this moment. And while your Legend of Zelda save battery might be long gone, the cartridge still functions as it should, even if you may have used that chunk of gold plastic as a Frisbee in your younger years. All videogames may eventually degrade, but the amazing content of Super Mario Maker was born with a comparatively Chestnuts stackingtiny shelf life. One way or another, the levels of Super Mario Bros. are going to be around until mankind is usurped by the inevitable rise of super-smart dolphins (they loathe any medium that requires thumbs), while the unique, remarkable, and millions of levels of Super Mario Maker are unlikely to see a full decade.

Videogame preservation is important. Preservation of what’s in those videogames is important, too, whether it be professional, or created by fans. We have an entirely new generation of poets that use springs and hammer bros. for their rhymes, but they are creating poetry that will be forgotten as quickly as Edith Södergran.

Super Mario Maker, you are the best game I have ever played that has so totally broken my heart.

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. Given how that system seems to be all but disowned by Nintendo now, I assume that’s another strike against the title’s preservation. Also, there’s the 3DS version that I am barely counting.
  • Number of players: This ain’t no cat-costume, four-player Mario title. One of a hundred Marios at a time, please.
  • Great Moments in Interfaces: Whoever came up with the concept of “shaking” an item during level creation, and getting a similar, but different item is a goddamn genius. Give that person a raise! And maybe a puppy!
  • Make any good levels you would like to share? Nope. Next question.
  • Not a single one? I’m a writer, dammit. I am so much better at making punny names than actually worthwhile levels. I have a level just lousy with Lakitu called “Cloud Strife”. That’s exactly what I’m looking for in level-name synergy.
  • Toasty!Favorite Mario Maker Addition: The Flying Bowser Clown Car has gained a surprising amount of traction in the last few years, but transmuting it into a fire-breathing mount capable of transforming traditional Mario action into a shoot ‘em up is rather inspired.
  • Amiibo Corner: You could have sold me on this title with the fact that every Smash Bros. amiibo works for unlocking cute lil’ 8-bit version of your favorite smasher. Nintendo, feel free to reward my unquenchable OCD any time you’d like.
  • Did you know? Takashi Tezuka, co-creator of the Mario series, has expressed that he is nearly jealous of all of the Mario Makers that create difficult levels. When you’re not constrained by creating a Mario game that is actually, ya know, fun, then you can just go nuts with an army of spinies and thwomps.
  • Would I play again: I still keep my WiiU gamepad charged exclusively to try the 100 Mario Challenge every once in a while. And I’ll keep doing that until the lights go out in this particular arcade.

What’s next? Oh, what the hell. Let’s try one more lost arcade beat ‘em up. One more for the road, ladies and gentlemen. Please look forward to it!

Gotta recognize
Special thanks to everyone that made this article possible

FGC #429 Mega Man: The Wily Wars

There's a man...Today we are going to talk about version erasure.

In a way, today’s game is simply Mega Man 1-3. If you’ve been paying attention to Mega Man releases, you may be aware that Mega Man 1 is available on the following systems: Nintendo Entertainment System, Playstation, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Vita, Nintendo Gamecube, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo WiiU, Nintendo Switch, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iPhone, Windows, and, depending on the software installed, some thermostats. Suffice to say, Mega Man has made his way around the gaming world, and, unlike the other games of this theme “week”, you should have absolutely no trouble playing Mega Man 1-3 in any way, shape, or form.

Except… Well, the devil is in those details.

Yes, you can play Mega Man on many systems and platforms. But the problem lies in the fact that you can only play Mega Man. Did you know that there was an entire version of Mega Man created entirely to accommodate a different screen size/resolution? It’s true! It was Mega Man Powered Up, and it was a reimagining of Mega Man 1, but with new cartoon-y characters and stage layouts designed to properly fit the widescreen future of gaming (that was, apparently, the PSP? No, that doesn’t check out…). It was fun and different and a whole new look at a game that, let’s face it, maybe hasn’t aged all that well. And, while the directors may have made some ill-advised choices (no one wants to hear Fire Man talk. Ever.), the whole experience (complete with Mega Man stage builder) still wound up becoming one of the best titles for the PSP.

But Mega Man Powered Up never made the jump to the Vita, or any other later system. It’s not completely lost, though, you can still dig out a PSP Universal Media Disc and play the title in America. Today’s game, Mega Man: The Wily Wars, didn’t receive the same courtesy.

chugga chuggaLong before the Switch, Vita, PSP, or even the Playstation 1 rerelease of Mega Man 1, Mega Man: The Wily Wars was released for the Sega Genesis in Japan as Rockman World. Much like Powered Up, the goal of Mega Man: The Wily Wars was to release Mega Man, Mega Man 2, and Mega Man 3 with a more modern update. Mind you, “update” for the time was simply revolutionizing the franchise to fit in 16-bits and maybe include an extra background layer or two… but it was still an upgrade to contemporary sensibilities. Nobody was going to sit down with their swank, fresh 4-button Sega Genesis controller and play something that looked like it belonged on the Nintendon’t. The very thought of such a thing! Mega Man: The Wily Wars is a Mega Man for the new, “Sega!” shouting generation of gamers that are not content with the 8-bits of pure garbage that is OG Quick Man.

And Mega Man: The Wily Wars is… pretty okay. On one hand, you’ve got a 16-bit reimagining of Mega Man 1-3, and that is indisputably great. I love me some classic pixels, but it feels like a lot of the original graphics miss the mark when compared to the raw expressiveness of the hand-drawn art of the series. On the Sega Genesis, Robot Masters like Hard Man actually look large and imposing, and the stages actually look like places, and not just random themed-levels. And Top Man’s domain has some tops in the background! That level is starting to make sense!

Getting a little airOn the other hand, from the all-important gameplay perspective, Mega Man: The Wily Wars feels like a photocopy of the original. In fact, it feels like a true “fan game”: a situation where the creators did not have access to the original code, and had to wing it according to fuzzy memories of the original. On a surface level, this is Mega Man 1-3, the end. But for someone that has played through those three titles approximately three billion times (for various reasons), the seams show almost immediately. Some Robot Master Weapons do not work like their previous incarnations (you will whiff on throwing a Guts Block at Cut Man), and some are completely useless (Magnet Missile now clumsily chases enemy bullets). And some of the more cunning platforming sections are significantly less refined: the moving platforms of both Guts Man and Top Man stages are timed just wrong enough to cause a lot of unnecessary death (or sitting around waiting for platform timing spawning to be actually surmountable). Overall, despite the advanced graphics, there is enough perceptible “looseness” to this collection that it feels downright inferior to its 8-bit origins.

Except… someone added a few more levels to this collection. And that change managed to accidentally innovate on the Mega Man formula.

The new stages in Mega Man: The Wily Wars are not that exciting. They are pretty much exactly what you would expect in a game that already features Mega Man 1-3: a collection of stages that seem to randomly join bots, traps, and gizmos from the original trilogy. Needle Man’s needle pointers appear under Bubble Man-esque seas. Snake Man’s cloud platforms appear along Bomb Man’s arcing bullet monsters. Air Man’s cloud riders appear indoors for some reason. It’s all very predictable, and the level design doesn’t offer a single stage that seems to justify the endeavor, either from an “innovative” or “difficulty” perspective. Additionally, the bosses are visually interesting, but… kind of terrible. There’s a bit of the Mega Man spark in there, but you’re a lot more likely to see a Ninja Gaiden-esque situation where the boss gets stuck in some easily avoided pattern while you lay on the mega buster. These additional stages and bosses aren’t terrible, they’re just a stark contrast against the platforming excellence you must complete just to see these stages.

But the unique Wily Wars stages of the title offer one major innovation: Mega Man gets straight up inventory management.

Look at all dem weapons

Mega Man has completed Mega Man 1-3, so the Blue Bomber has every early Robot Master weapon from Guts Arm to Gemini Laser. But ol’ Rocky can only equip eight weapons and three support items at a time! So you, player, have to choose Mega Man’s loadout. Do you take the Ice Slasher to freeze enemies, or the Air Shooter to damage enemies with an aerial advantage? Are you going to stick with the rapid fire abilities of Metal Blade, Quick Boomerang, and Shadow Blade, and figure that having all three is ideal for energy consumption? And what of the utility items? Crash Bomb isn’t very useful, but it will demolish certain walls, so does that earn a slot for helpfulness alone? Want to stop time with a flash, or block some bullets with a leaf? With 22 different weapons available, that apparently allows for *DO MATH LATER, PUT NUMBER HERE* different combinations! That’s more than *PREVIOUS NUMBER ROUNDED DOWN*, and certainly enough to allow for multiple, interesting playthroughs. Mega Man is actually an adaptable robot! Fight for everlasting peace, Mega Man, and find new and fascinating combinations of doing it, too!

This was kind of cool, tooBut, likely because of its lackluster “emulation” of the original titles, Mega Man: The Wily Wars has been lost to history. It’s not even available in the United States in any physical form! MM:TWW only appeared on The Sega Channel on this side of the pond, and when Sega turned off the lights on that early attempt at a gaming streaming service, it took Mega Man with it. So this title only saw a physical release in Japan and PAL regions, and then… never again. Mega Man 1-3 has been rereleased on practically every system since its conception, but only the NES versions. The Sega Genesis version, complete with its revamped graphics and new stages, hasn’t been seen in any way, shape, or form since 1995. It’s just… gone. Potential innovation in a franchise practically as old as gaming itself, and it doesn’t even warrant so much as an easter egg appearance in a single Capcom collection.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars is a fun reimagining of a trilogy of games that have seen rerelease after rerelease. So could we please see this rerelease one more time? Please?

FGC #429 Mega Man: The Wily Wars

  • System: Sega Genesis… kinda. Mega Drive? Did it have a special name in Japan? I should really try researching these things before I start typing…
  • Number of players: Never going to see that 4-Player Mega Man platformer. Just one.
  • Just play the gig, man: Oh yeah! The music sucks! It’s not just Mega Man songs being run through the Genesis sound chip ringer, it’s also the fact that some of the songs are just… wrong? It’s as if the whole thing was composed by someone trying to remember the “lyrics”, but they might repeat a chorus too many times. It’s Mega Man Karaoke. …. Actually, that sounds pretty cool.
  • OinkFavorite (New) Robot Master: Hyper Storm H is a giant blue monster that feels like a refugee from the Mega Man X series. I like him. And he’s technically based on that big pig from Journey to the West, which tangentially means he’s related to Oolong from Dragon Ball Z. That’s another point in his favor.
  • Version Differences: The Japanese version seems to run much smoother (and faster!) than the PAL/English version. Is this an emulation issue? Some part of the core game? Who knows! Sure would be nice to have a definitive version, though!
  • Doing what Nintendon’t: The Sega Channel was an online service that was essentially gaming Netflix. Or it would have been, if it wasn’t usually just really short demos and some kind of variation on Nintendo Power’s Classified Information section (but for Sega games, naturally). Okay, maybe I’m being a Nintendo Kid again; yes, there were apparently as many as 70 playable games on the service at a time… but all anyone ever played was Sonic 3, right? Maybe some Eternal Champions? What’s important is that the service lasted for four years, which is about four years longer than the Dreamcast ever had.
  • Other Forgotten Versions: While we’re at it, how about we see the Saturn version of Mega Man 8 resurface. That version has two extra bosses over the Playstation 1 version, but guess which edition winds up in every collection? We have the technology to bring Wood Man back again!
  • Did you know? Keiji Inafune apparently claims that this was the most difficult game to debug in his career. Maybe it was because he came in late? Maybe it was because the production team had no idea what they were doing? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because Guts Tank still haunts Inafuking’s dreams, and its reappearance is always a reason to fret.
  • Would I play again: If it were easier to play, I’d likely give it another go. It’s a nice change from the usual, 100% memorized Mega Man experience. It’s not the best version, but it’s certainly a version that deserves to still exist.

What’s next? Hey, at least Mega Man: The Wily Wars got a physical release in some regions before its online service was shut down. How about we take a look at when a game exists only on an online service, and then winds fighting the world of “delisted”? Please look forward to it!

Boo
That’s just mean

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

PENGUIN!In a world where Spider-Man isn’t popular enough to merit game preservation, what hope does an overweight penguin have?

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a supremely unusual game. Hailing from a time well before videogamin’ had codified itself into anything that made sense (you know, back when your next mascot creature could be an electric rat that hides in the forest), Yume Penguin Monogatari is the story of… a penguin. And that penguin has a girlfriend. But! Our hero penguin, Penta, has gotten fat. And previously mentioned penguin girlfriend, Penko, is not having it. So Penko dumps tubby Penta, and leaves him for Ginji, a nefarious penguin in a top hat and shades. Now Penta is setting out on a quest to lose some weight and reclaim the heart of Penko, but Ginji is on to Penta’s plans, and schemes to recruit an army of ridiculous creatures that all aim to fatten Penta back into obesity. So Penta has to find his way through six or so levels, and hopefully maintain a slim figure while battling monsters like a sentient/delicious birthday cake. It’s a hard life for an overweight penguin!

But, depending on how badly you want to see Penta achieve his chubby penguin dreams, it might not be a hard life for the player. Yume Penguin Monogatari features fairly unique gameplay for a NES (well, technically, Famicom) title: Penta cannot die. Get hit by every enemy across any given stage, and Penta will still survive. In a time when a mere life bar was a godsend, Penta is practically invincible compared to his dramatically more fragile 8-bit brethren. But, make no mistake, Penta is not going to experience a cakewalk (wait… dietwalk?) on his quest to cut out calories. Every stage features a generally unforgiving Here we go!timer, and, should the hourglass run out for Penta, it’s time to repeat the stage from the start. Additionally, every stage has a “diet goal”, and if Penta manages to beat the boss, but still looks terrible in a speedo, it’s back to the beginning. Considering every boss tosses out copious amounts of edibles, and Penta is an accomplished glutton, there is a very real possibility Penta will be forced to restart a stage due to excess flab. Said it before, say it again: it’s a hard life for an overweight penguin.

But, hard life or no, you’ll probably see the whole stage. Which is more than I can say for so many NES games…

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a Konami title. For Konami, much of the NES/SNES era was the epoch of the shoot ‘em up. Whether it was lil’ ships battling big cores, or lil’ dudes gunning down gigantic hearts, Konami had a number of titles available for satisfying your inalienable right to run around and shoot aliens. But the downside of nearly all of those titles? One hit kills. Assuming you don’t forsake your missiles and laserbeams for a shield immediately, the Vic Viper is going to fall to the forces of Bacterion after the slightest tap from a… one of those roundy things at the start of a stage. They probably have a name. Or Contra! The greatest game of all time that absolutely required a cheat code or you were never going to make it to the third level! Bill and Lance might be heroes of an alien invasion, but they’re just as vulnerable to bullets as weird dudes with backpacks. Basically, back in the day of 8-bit heroes, if you saw the final stage of a game (or even the boss of approximately the fourth level), it meant that you had a nigh-superhuman level of reflexes, or the ability to memorize a level like nobody’s business. I don’t care if Nintendo Power was helping you out with maps, you still had to have some major skills to make it to the end without that precious Konami Code.

CAKE BOSSAnd Yume Penguin Monogatari feels like it may be an answer to all those crying Nintendo kids. Yes, thanks to the timer and weight requirements, it may be impossible for some people to beat even the first level, left alone finish the entire game; but will everyone be able to see the majority of level 1? It’s pretty likely! Penta merely “trips” or inflates to bulbous size when attacked by an enemy, and is not immediately obliterated like so many Gradius defenders. And that’s great! The worst part of any of those one-hit kill games (or games that require a continue after rapidly vanishing “lives”) is that it was nearly impossible to be prepared for the end of a level. People expect increasing difficulty, so it’s only natural that the end of the stage would be the most challenging section. But if you spent all your lives on the initial, “easy” bits (because you’re, ya know, an eight year old just trying to have fun), then the finale is simply going to be a swift kick in the teeth before getting booted back to the beginning. In Yume Penguin Monogatari, however, you actually have a chance. Yes, Penta might be waddling along at maximum fat levels, and it might be abundantly clear that he’s going to get his tubby tail feathers dumped at the end of the stage, but at least you get to see what’s at the end of the stage. At least you get to play the actual game, as opposed to simply being annihilated at the starting gate. At least you can learn from your mistakes, and not be completely blindsided/destroyed by some manner of pig-zeppelin at the end of the level.

FLAP FLAPAnd, thankfully, this helps the player learn how to play the game. There may be traps and pitfalls all over the level, but with the ability to play the whole level, a player is going to get better and better with every run. All effort won’t be expended immediately just in an effort to conquer the start, and practice can make perfect across the entire breadth of a stage. In short, in one silly “fat penguin” game, Konami cracked the “difficulty appropriate for everyone” nut in 1991.

And then no one in America ever got to play the game, because it was never localized.

And, likely because it had the global appeal of… well… an overweight penguin, Yume Penguin Monogatari only ever saw rerelease in 2006, on the i-Revo… and I have no idea what that is. Some kind of smart phone? Smart TV? Smart penguin? No matter. Point is that this penguin adventure isn’t something that can legally be played in any country where there is currently an ongoing debate on the nature of videogame difficulty.

Yume Penguin Monogatari is an excellent, fun, weird game with some interesting twists on videogame difficulty…

And it’s lost forever.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

  • System: NES… or Nintendo Famicom. And, as previously mentioned, whatever the hell an “i-Revo” is.
  • Number of players: Oh lawd, one penguin comin’.
  • Everything you know is wrong: Considering the goal of many videogames (and nearly all NES games) is to consume as many food items as possible, it is really weird playing any game where you must avoid, say, succulent apples and enchanting rice cakes. The fact that apples are anything but a diet item pretty much goes against everything I have ever learned.
  • WeeeeeeLet’s talk about fat, baby: One could make the argument that this game is anti-fat, and ultimately body-shaming. And it is! On the other hand, being fat doesn’t kill Penta, it simply is the reason his girlfriend is going to leave him for another, slimmer penguin. So think of the moral less that “fat is bad” and more “some penguins are superficial, and will make you pilot magical planes to satisfy their own twisted desires”.
  • An end: Oh, and after defeating the final boss (it’s the bad alterna-boyfriend, natch), the ending is a now slim Penta hanging with the pleased Penko. But now Penko has developed an eating disorder, and she bulks up to gargantuan size. Ha ha! You two silly penguins are bad for each other!
  • Did you know? Pentarou, the penguin of Parodius titles, is supposedly Penta’s son. So I guess it is canon that Penta and Penko shake their collective penguin booty after the finale.
  • Would I play again: This is a great game! It would probably be right up there with Kirby’s Adventure and other late, great NES titles if, ya know, there was a legit way to play it.

What’s next? In the name of the moon, I will write about another forgotten videogame. Please look forward to it!

GET IT!?

FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

KingDUMB FARTS IIISo it’s time to talk about Disney, Kingdom Hearts 3, Google, and whether or not I am afraid for my very existence.

By my reckoning, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first “pure” Kingdom Hearts title since Kingdom Hearts 1. No, I’m not talking about how the cast of Kingdom Hearts 3 is as white as freshly Frozen snow; what I am referring to is that the “worlds” of Kingdom Hearts 3 are, for the first time since the original Kingdom Hearts, entirely dictated by the directors of the title. Okay, yes, that was technically always true, but there were mitigating factors in other titles. Kingdom Hearts 2 clearly reused a number of Kingdom Hearts 1 worlds/models/actors to save on production time. Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, and (Re)Coded all remixed worlds from 1 and 2 for plot purposes. Birth by Sleep featured Disney worlds that were either really old classic films (like Cinderella), or “prequel” situations (like a Lilo & Stitch world before Stitch finds Lilo). And Dream Drop Distance may have once had a chance, but its world choices (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron, Fantasia, Three Mouseketeers, Pinocchio) felt like a series of vignettes someone (likely Nomura) just wanted to see “done” before the franchise wrapped up in “real” Kingdom Hearts 3 (dude has been trying to get Chernabog to fit in somewhere for decades). So, with literally every other title out of the running, it is pretty safe to say Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts title in quite a few years that wasn’t dictated by an overwhelming need for everyone to pal around with Aladdin for the fortieth time.

This creates an interesting math opportunity (a nerd’s favorite opportunity!): what is the median age of our featured Disney franchises?

HERCULES!For Kingdom Hearts 1, we have…

Pinocchio (1940)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Peter Pan (1953)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Aladdin (1992)
The Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Disney’s Tarzan (1999)

And, for the sake of completion, let’s note that Kingdom Hearts 1’s earliest release was March of 2002 (America saw it by September).

Look around!Kingdom Hearts 3 is a little different…

Toy Story (1995)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Monsters Inc. (2001)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Tangled (2010)
Frozen (2013)
Big Hero Six (2014)

And Kingdom Hearts 3 itself was released in January of 2019.

Now let’s crunch some sweet, sweet numbers! Kingdom Hearts 1 seems to contain three worlds based on “classic” properties, and the rest are for 90’s kids. If we include all of the worlds, the average world/franchise was 25 years old as of the release of its featured game. If we eliminate the “classic” titles, though, the average world is 8 years old as of Kingdom Hearts’ release. The reason I note this is that we have stupid monkey brains, and, for most people reading this article, The Little Mermaid feels like it was released a hundred billion years ago, and maybe being reminded it was slightly more current when we first saw Kingdom Hearts (1) is important. Also worth noting, the absolute oldest franchise involved is 62 years back, but of the “current” crop, it’s only 13 years. The newest title involved is only 3 years old.

Pirates!Applying the same calculations to Kingdom Hearts 3, we see an average age of 14 years for every franchise involved. Dropping the classic worlds (anything over fifteen years old… and man, it hurts me to refer to Disney’s Hercules as “classic”), we see an average age of (rounding up from 6.66) 7 years. That is very close to Kingdom Hearts 1’s average of 8. And the preceding average makes more sense with its oldest game being only 24 years old (Toy Story a bit more contemporary than Pinocchio), and our most recent movie is 5 years old.

What does it all mean? Well, allowing for outliers, on average, the worlds of Kingdom Hearts 1 and Kingdom Hearts 3 cover roughly the same time frame of movies relative to their release. Or, put in SAT form, The Nightmare Before Christmas : Kingdom Hearts 1 :: Tangled : Kingdom Hearts 3. On average, both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 3 feature roughly the same range of refugees from the Disney Vault.

And what does that mean? It means Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t for me.

FLARE!Kingdom Hearts 1 spoke to my childhood. Kingdom Hearts hit a college-age Goggle Bob, and said, “Hey, remember when you were six and had a crush on Ariel? Remember when you wanted to be Aladdin? Remember when Tim Burton inspired your decade long mall-goth phase? Remember going on one of your first dates to Tarzan? And how you probably would have gone on more dates at that point in your life, but you still were stuck in that mall-goth phase? ‘Member?” Kingdom Hearts was an amazing game on its own, but its Disney Cast was summoned almost precisely to satisfy my own childhood nostalgia. And, given I was just the right age where I would start fondly remembering childish things (as opposed to being the cranky teen that totally wasn’t into that cartoon crap, mom), Kingdom Hearts hit the serotonin sectors of my brain faster and harder than any kid with a keyblade and a turbo x-button ever could.

Kingdom Hearts 3? Not so much. I did not gape in amazement when Elsa bust into Let it Go. I did not feel any excitement when Baymax flew onto the scene. And I certainly didn’t give a damn when Rapunzel tromped around the forest carrying an impossible amount of hair. I saw all of these movies. I liked all of these movies. But did I feel anywhere near the same level of joy at seeing these characters now realized in current-gen Playstation graphics and palling around with me, the smart and handsome player? No. It was another level. I may have been interested in what was going to happen next, but it was less “Oh boy! It’s Oogie Boogie!” and more “Oh, I bet we’re not going to get the tavern song, because, while that was enjoyable, it is not essential to the overall plot or the broader themes of Kingdom Hearts 3.” The featured movies of Kingdom Hearts 3 are merely pleasant, they are not my singular, can-never-be-replaced childhood.

And that’s fine! Not everything in the world needs to appeal to me or my generation! It’s good that Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is moving forward, and we don’t have to rehash why Jafar is back for the third time. It’s good that a whole new generation gets to see their heroes and villains up on the Square-Enix stage. This is, ultimately, a good thing.

But it’s not a good thing that the other half of the Kingdom Hearts equation got kicked to the curb.

Yes, I’m talking about this dork.

Leon!

Kingdom Hearts hit all the right beats to make me revel in the joys of my childhood. While I would have never admitted it at the time, it also hit the “childhood nostalgia” I had for a mere handful of years prior: the golden age of the Playstation JRPG. Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8 were as much my teenage years as The Little Mermaid or Aladdin defined the years prior. So when Squall, Cloud, and even wee Tidus popped out of the post-ending void of their respective titles and back into even a cameo-based role, I was elated. All my old friends were back! Bring it in, guys! I’d even put up with a horribly-mangled reinterpretation of Setzer Gabbiani if it meant I got to see any luminaries from my beloved Final Fantasy 6 cast again. And this carried through to the interesting bits of The World Ends with You in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, too. It was always fun to see some Square nostalgia, even if it didn’t add up to much. It was textbook fanservice, but it wasn’t like anyone was playing Kingdom Hearts for the plot (cough).

Disney the Poof!And now it’s gone. Kingdom Hearts 3 only features characters that were either created by Disney, or were created within the confines of the Kingdom Hearts universe, so they’re just legally created by Disney. Mind you, that’s a whole separate thing from how Disney never “created” Pinocchio or Aladdin or Rapunzel; it just created a version of that timeless character, copyrighted it, and decided to sue anyone that tried to use that character ever again. I’m sorry, what is the hair color of your chosen mermaid? Red? Yes, we’re going to have to issue a cease and desist.

Wait a tick. Maybe this isn’t a whole separate thing. Maybe it’s the only thing.

And it’s the only thing because now Disney is the only thing.

I am writing this puke o’ words essay shortly after Disney’s nigh-complete acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Disney now owns the film rights to The X-Men. Disney already owned the print rights to The X-Men, as they acquired Marvel Comics ten years ago. And do you remember a time that “the latest Marvel movie” wasn’t just the latest Disney release? Iron Man (the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would eventually earn all of the money with The Avengers) was not a Disney release. That history is gone, though, now, and, soon enough, people will imagine Logan or Deadpool started as Disney properties. You’ll certainly be able to buy Deadpool plushies at Disney World. And the same will be thought of Star Wars. The Simpsons. The entire city of Atlanta, for some reason. Definitely the entire state of Florida. Disney lashes its tentacles wide, and writes contract after contract until it owns the very seas. Also, please look forward to The Little Mermaid 4: Ursula Wasn’t So Bad, coming Winter 2022.

Yummy!And Kingdom Hearts 3 reminds us all why this is a bad thing. If Disney doesn’t want something, then damn tradition, the audience, or even the creators having a say in the matter. Do you think anyone at Square-Enix wanted to drop its de facto mascots Cloud or Sephiroth from the proceedings? Do you think they didn’t want to promote the star of their latest Final Fantasy title? Could we live in a world where even the slightest hint of NieR: Automata, one of many of Square-Enix’s top selling games from the last five years, exists in the Kingdom Hearts universe? Could we please include Emil, the good boy? We could, but Square-Enix was not going to disagree with Disney for even a second. Sure, there may be DLC or remixes or whatever in the future, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fine example of how it is going to be now: Disney is in charge, Disney would like to see its needs met, and no one cares about literally anything but Disney. Cloud has to tie-off a plot decades in the making? No he doesn’t. We want that one Disney rat to have a cooking game, and that’s where resources are going to go.

And that’s why Google Strata scares me.

Wait, crap, sorry, got ahead of myself on that point.

The other thing that happened just recently is the announcement of Google’s new gaming console, the Strata. Or maybe just Strata? Have I become my grandmother, and I can only say “The ‘Intendo” from now on? Regardless! The Strata is Google’s latest attempt at conquering a brand new market, and, by all accounts, it is going to be a streaming-based experience. Like the abandoned original plans for the Xbox One, it will have absolutely zero physical media. And, like Netflix, you will simply use the service to stream a digital library, and will never “own” a distinct game on the platform. Essentially, the Google Strata will be a super-amazing gaming console perfect for the radical gamers of the 21st century… and the minute Google stops supporting it (or your internet connection drops out), it will be about as useful as a toaster. Oh, wait, my bad. It will be less useful than a toaster, as a toaster can at least warm up my mittens on a cold morning (Editor’s note: Goggle Bob does not understand toast).

He made that!And, while I am certainly upset that Strata will do nothing for my videogame hording habits, my biggest issue with the service (that only exists in a theoretical state as of this moment) is that it will be completely beholden to the whims of Google. Like the Apple app store before them, Google will inevitably have complete control over who is able to publish games to its storefront. Google will also have absolute control over when those games may be removed. And if this sounds like some kind of Big Brother-based paranoia, and you would like to imagine a world where Google “does no evil” and is completely hands-off in its monopoly of its own service: consider that Google will have technical control over what games can stream, but, more importantly, it would have complete control over how this content is monetized and advertised (at least within the service). And, let’s not kid ourselves, no one is going to keep a game up on a streaming service if the service has literally made it impossible for said game to make money.

And once a game built for a streaming service is gone from said streaming service? Well that’s gone forever.

Just like Squall and Cloud and all of Sora’s Square brethren.

Look, I know I’m being overly apocalyptic here. Even using Kingdom Hearts 3 as my example seems disingenuous on some level, because there are pretty good odds literally anything missing from Kingdom Hearts 3 could be added as DLC (that, incidentally, I will pay cash money for, because I want my nostalgia back at any cost). And it’s not the end of the world that a game or two gets lost from a streaming service, because there’s always another game to play, and Kingdom Hearts 4 Princes for 258 Brides is just around the corner to keep me occupied. But… well… I care about videogames. I care about the forgotten. Looks like funGod help me, I care about Squall “Leon” Leonhart, and I care about that all those arcade games we’re never going to see again because their technology is too annoying to emulate. And, yes, I preemptively care about all the Google Strata games that are going to be exclusive to the system, and then lost to time because Google will eventually decide Gmail ads would be more profitable. It may sound crazy, but, yeah, I care about crazy things. I care about the plot of Kingdom Hearts.

So… uh… what was this article about? Oh yeah! Kingdom Hearts 3! Yeah, I liked the game. It might not be made for my age group, but it was a fun experience. And, incidentally, the mere fact that Sephiroth wound up on the cutting room floor apparently made me doubt my beliefs and very place in the world. Cloud skips one game, and my brain feels like some manner of burned bread.

Gee, it’s almost like videogames are important.

FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

  • System: Playstation 4. And I guess some arcane magics summoned it to the Xbox One, too.
  • Number of players: I still say that Kingdom Hearts could be the next Secret of Mana, and its “childish” appeal would be ideal for siblings or friends playing the title together. But, nope, just one player.
  • So it has come to this, a Kingdom Hearts FGC entry? Hey, after 400 or so, I can bend the rules a bit. This started out as a sort of Kingdom Hearts FAQ addendum from the question (that I only asked myself): “Why does Big Hero 6 make me feel like an old man? Is Kingdom Hearts 3 for babies?” From there, I decided to address the lack of Square-Enix characters, and… things kind of snowballed. I feel like this essay is a little too heady for the light and plot-based tone of the Kingdom Hearts FAQ entries, so here we are. Categorizing things is hard!
  • These dorksFavorite World: Big Hero 6 felt like it received the most fully-realized world. It felt like an appropriate “sequel” to the movie, all the memorable characters were included (really did not think Honey Lemon or Wasabi would make the cut), and its general geography allowed for a Crackdown-esque level of gameplay not seen elsewhere in the title. And, if Big Hero 6 is visited as the last world, it actually makes thematic sense that Sora is now experienced and training other heroes like Hercules did with Sora on his first world. Symmetry!
  • Completionist: I enjoy playing Kingdom Hearts games, but it is going to be a while before I revisit every damn world looking for hidden mickeys or ingredients. This game really needs an Arkham-esque informant system that is going to at least point me in the right direction to find where some teeny blood oranges wound up amongst multiple planets.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: The new Gummi Ship levels are cool! And micromanaging my ship to make sure it is always the proper level to actually survive some of the random encounters is not! Zero-sum Gummi Ship!
  • Over thereDid you know? I did not note Winnie the Pooh’s appearance in the timeline of Kingdom Hearts worlds because Winnie the Pooh is omnipresent, and all bask in his ever-burning glow. His desire for honey will outlive us all.
  • Would I play again: You know what I really want to do? Replay every Kingdom Hearts title in in-game chronological order. I would also like infinity time to do such a thing. It’s… not gonna happen. But I might replay Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point. It’s mostly fun!

What’s next? I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. The next few titles covered on the FGC will be games I don’t technically own, because they are impossible to own. We’re going to spend some time looking at games that are generally unattainable due to various copyright, distribution, and emulation issues. First up, Spider-Man: The Video Game. Please look forward to it!