Tag Archives: PC

FGC #354 Sonic Mania & Sonic Forces

SONIC!In the year of our Lord 2017, two Sonic the Hedgehog games were released within months of each other. And both of those games were really good.

That has never happened before.

This is an unprecedented event. This is the kind of thing that shakes your belief system. This is akin to discovering that your soul mate is and has always been a 90 year old retired construction worker named Danielle. How does something like this happen? What does it say about you? Does this mean that other “impossible” goals in this reality were actually achievable? Was there some secret way to breed ponies and kittens together to create the mythical/adorable pitten? All things are possible in this post-Sonic the Hedgehog Can Be Good Twice world, and we should all live in constant fear of the next shock to our collective system. Next, Aero the Acro-Bat is going to come soaring in to rave reviews, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it!

But before that happens, we are going to look at the differences between Sonic Mania, an amazing 2-D Sonic title, and Sonic Forces, an amazing 3-D/2-D Sonic title. Maybe we’ll discover the secret to Sonic success? Or does only madness await us? Let’s find out!

Stage Length is Important (or not)

Weeeee!Sonic Mania is, for all intents and purposes, Sonic 4 & Knuckles. Or Sonic & Knuckles 2? Look, what’s important is that it is very much a sequel to the Sega Genesis titles, and it employs a number of tricks and tips from that era. Included in that bag of tricks is the ol’ “giant stages full of secrets” standard that became popular with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and its many hidden giant rings. Sonic has never been about exploring, but Sonic 3 did add the joy of pushing on all “solid” walls at all times. Could there be a secret in this direction? Or maybe over here? Let’s explore every nook and cranny until time runs out. Or… wait… that’s terrible! We don’t want to run out of time! These stages should be smaller! … But we don’t want to lose any content! This is confusing!

Meanwhile, Sonic Forces is all about shorter stages. The average Sonic Forces stage can be completed within all of two minutes. This is something of an accomplishment, as 3-D platforming games have a tendency to take hours just to burn through the “introduction” portion of a level. Traversing 3-D space takes a long time! But, despite the existence of these short stages, there are a myriad of routes available, so, like in Sonic Mania, there are secrets to discover up and down Sonic’s world. You’re unlikely to ever see ten minutes on Sonic Force’s timer, but levels can still be played for hours in an attempt to find new and fascinating routes.

Basically, we’re looking at two completely different approaches to level design and how to discover secrets. One takes the “old school” concepts of 2-D design, but expands them to possibly unwieldy levels, while the other shrinks 3-D sensibilities to bite-sized nuggets that are over before they begin. And they’re both great! Bah! That doesn’t make a lick of sense!

Bosses should be one thing (or the other)

He has somewhere to beYou finished a stage, and now it’s time for a boss. Sonic Mania throws everything at poor Sonic, up to and including a kitchen sink that will eventually be transformed back into a penguin. Some stages end with a simple “jump here” boss. Some levels lead to a high-speed chase. Sometimes the boss is a puzzle that requires careful observation, timing, and bouncing. Sometimes you have to fight Shinobi. And, if you’re particularly unlucky, you might be faced with that one damn boss from Hydrocity wasn’t any fun the first time, so why the hell did some nitwit decide it was time for that jerkass to return!? Er-hem. The bosses of Sonic Mania are an eclectic bunch, and a lot of stress is derived from whether or not you’re going to face Heavy Rider & Jimmy or goddamn Metal Sonic. But, stupid Metal Sonic aside, nearly all of these boss battles can be completed inside of thirty seconds, so there’s not much to complain about.

Sonic Forces, naturally, features bosses that take much longer. By and large, the bosses of Sonic Forces are generally more cinematic affairs, and do their best to utilize the story telling potential of 3-D adventures with epic clashes between Sonic (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and his most dangerous foes (and that one dork from Lost World). Thus, these battles generally contain multiple phases, wildly changing patterns, and the occasional finale that features any number of hedgehogs powering up to supersonic speeds. In general, this leads to more interesting battles, though at the cost of having to hear about Sonic believing in you over and over again should you hit a particularly rough spot. Sonic, dude, I know we can beat this boss, just shut up about it and get your damn homing attack working properly. I’m just as tired of this Virtual Boy dimension as you are.

So, once again, both games take completely separate paths to reach the same generally enjoyable but somehow flawed destination. Huh.

Show Don’t Tell (or Shout Everything)

I like the look of these guysSonic Mania contains the typical Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis plot: Dr. Eggman is up to no good, and it’s time to stop him. Not a single bit of dialogue is spoken, and the new antagonists, The Hard Boiled Heavies, are not given names during actual gameplay. But, in the same way you learned everything you ever needed to know about Knuckles from his ability to jump on switches (he’s kind of a dick), the Heavies are clearly defined by their actions. In the end, Sonic saves the day (of course) and puts down a minor robot uprising while sending Robotnik packing. Oh, and there might have been time travel involved, too? Doesn’t matter, a rollercoaster doesn’t need a story to be fun.

Sonic Forces has the most bonkers plot to ever grace Sonic’s elongated snout. Sonic the Hedgehog is dead! Forever! And Eggman has conquered the entire planet inside of a couple of months! Our last hope is Original the Character and a resistance of whacky animal pals! And Tails had such a sadgasm over his dead buddy that he summoned another Sonic the Hedgehog from another dimension! And it turns out (regular) Sonic is alive again! And all of this happens before the fourth stage (of thirty)! I’m not even going to get into how Eggman gave a magical rock that controls reality to an anonymous moron that is cataclysmically annoyed by Shadow the Hedgehog. And then somebody summons the freaking sun like gravity ain’t no thang!

Sonic Forces’ plot never shuts up, and that makes it glorious. There is not a single sane person on this planet that ever needed to see Knuckles the Echidna and Vector the Crocodile discus the horrors of war, but here it is. Sonic instantly makes best friends with the player’s haphazardly created deviantart avatar while Tails wanders around with his mentor’s inter-dimensional ghost from another timeline. I’m pretty sure Amy Rose makes a joke about having an all Sonic threeway somewhere in there. The story moves at breakneck speed, it’s completely demented, and it’s magnificent. If you’re going to have a plot where a group of rebel furries un-conquer a planet inside of four days, this is the way to do it.

So completely silent, gameplay-based storytelling versus senseless talky talk that spirals around exclusively for lunatics. Either one works

Knuckles Is

In one adventure, Knuckles is the noble leader of a resistance movement that is humanity’s last hope. … Or what passes for “humanity” in this world.

Who are those guys in the back?

In another world, Knuckles maybe has the pattern recognition of a goldfish.

He's knuckles!

…. Echidnas can be anything?

Tight Controls are Essential/Unnecessary

Weeee?Sonic Mania controls like a dream. It feels like the Sega Genesis titles never ended, and, after years of terrible approximations, “real” Sonic has returned. Sonic’s momentum is untouchable, and, whether you’re navigating between moving platforms or over an ocean of flaming oil, you’re completely in control. Sonic can spin dash up to mach speed at a moment’s notice, but he can also handle shifting blocks like a pro. Give or take a few accidentally deadly “squishing” spots, Sonic Mania provides perfect Sonic movement.

Sonic Forces, unfortunately, carries forward many of 3-D Sonic’s movement problems. During the 2-D areas in particular, it is nearly impossible to get Sonic to 100% follow your inputs, and not instantly break into some uncontrollable, inevitably deadly forward momentum. This Sonic is designed backwards from his constant need to barrel forward, and that leads to a number of terrible, unwanted deaths at the hands of bottomless pits or stationary spikes. Sonic the Hedgehog should never be defeated by an inanimate object!

But, then again, it doesn’t matter.

3-D Sonic is also built for his homing dash, and Orginal the Character has an inexplicable grappling hook. Both abilities allow Sonic/Original to instantly dash forward and onto a specific point, and the stage design is generally built for that essential ability. And, more often than not, it works wonderfully. Sure, you can steer a freight train into a parking space a lot easier than this Hedgehog, but why bother? Sonic is the King of Speed, so keeping your goin’ fast. There might be an accidental death or two, but you don’t have any lives to lose, so don’t worry about it. You want to put brakes on your bumper cars? Don’t be silly.

Just because you’ve got the same hedgehog in two different games doesn’t mean he has to control exactly the same.

Fanservice Can Go Both Ways

Sonic Mania is a love letter to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Not only are stages remastered and remixed, but there are an amazing number of “little touches” that recall Sonic’s decades-long history. There are traps originating from Game Gear titles. There are bosses that crept out of ill-advised arcade fighting games. There are loving homages to the Sonic fan community and its myriad of modders. You could spend a day reading the Wikipedia pages dedicated to each individual zone. Did you know that Sonic’s shake at the start of Chemical Plant Zone was a reference to Sonic Spinball? Of course you didn’t know that! Nobody played Sonic Spinball!

Sonic Forces primarily speeds off in the other direction. Rather than dwell on Sonic’s past, Sonic has made a brand new friend: you! You are Original the Character, an anthropomorphic animal of your own creation, and Sonic totally wants to be your best friend! But don’t worry, it’s not just because he loves your sparkling (and completely silent) personality, it’s also because you’ve got the skillz. In an effort to create the most beloved original character in history, the kindly creators of Sonic Forces combined your chance notebook sketches with the one and only Spider-Man! Grapple around the city like an avenging arachnid! Get ready to employ all sorts of amazing acrobatic techniques to save and stand by your favorite hedgehog. You love Sonic, and now Sonic loves you! You’re the best Sonic Fan ever!

Chemical Plant Zone is a Scourge

I HATE THIS LEVELBoth Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces contain remixed versions of Chemical Plant Zone. Sonic Mania adds bouncy chemicals, while Sonic Forces adds the occasional sprinkling of lasers. This proves that, even with a basic theme, you can have riotously different interpretations of the same level. Unfortunately, as good as these zones may be, they still come from the same base of the cruddy Chemical Plant Zone.

So, there, that’s it. All good Sonic games contain a Chemical Plant Zone.

Ugh. This universe is the worst.

FGC #354 Sonic Mania

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: There’s Sonic & Tails mode for multiple players, and some manner of race mode that I am never touching.
  • Favorite Zone: Oil Ocean becoming combustible thanks to the fire shield is the exact kind of “remix” the world needed.
  • Something special: The special stages are very reminiscent of Sonic & Knuckles as well, as they seem difficult initially, but are second nature in no time at all. This is a tremendous step up from the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 special stages, which are impossible.
  • Thanks, JimmyJust play the gig, man: Everything about this soundtrack is amazing, but the way each stage is remixed for various areas and events is amazing. Flying Battery might not be my favorite zone, but its second act gets the best tunes.
  • Did you know? Sonic Mania was one of the top selling Switch titles, outselling even Minecraft. Like, it didn’t outsell Minecraft on every system, but go ahead and tell your know-it-all nephew that Sonic is more popular than Minecraft.
  • Would I play again: In a heartbeat. Sonic Mania 2 is all I want from this sick and twisted world.

FGC #354 Sonic Forces

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: You can be all sorts of crazy characters, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Zone: Null Space is a stage that takes place in “null space” for all of ten seconds before becoming another random city level. You would think this would bother me, but, come on, takes a special kind of game to trump up some alternate dimension and then utilize it for less time than it takes to blow a fart.
  • Head Canon Corner: In Sonic Generations, “old” Sonic is stated to be Sonic’s younger self. In Sonic Forces, “old” Sonic is recognized, but Tails claims he is from another dimension, not the past. My theory? This is not a retcon, and when Old Sonic the Hedgehog saw his 3-D future during Generations, he decided he wanted nothing of it, and caused a split timeline/dimension when he decided to never leave the joys of 2-D exclusives. And that’s where Sonic Mania originates.
  • EggyThe disease is inside me: Okay, full disclosure? I may have been mentally working out my Original the Character’s backstory while I was bored during zones. She’s purple, so I figure she’s the adopted sister of Fang the Sniper, and one day she decided…
  • Did you know? It sounds crazy, but the last time Shadow the Hedgehog was a playable character in a “main” Sonic game, it was 2006. Yes, that 2006. That game really killed the poor hedgehog’s street cred.
  • Would I play again: Not as quickly as Sonic Mania, but I am going to return to 100% this title at one point. It’s just too fun! And how often does that happen?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, and we’re going to pair it with Pocket Fighter aka Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix! It’s time for a whole pile of chibi street fighters! Please look forward to it!

THIS IS NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE

FGC #307 Disney Infinity 3.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play it again, Megatron

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

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

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

With Princess Leia!

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

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

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

Well, except Funko Pops. Those things are ghastly.

FGC #307 Disney Infinity 3.0

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

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

Hover on

FGC #279 The Walking Dead

It will get worseToday we’re going to talk about why zombies suck.

I don’t know about you, possibly-swole reader, but I’m kind of a weakling. I’m not completely helpless (I can help move a buddy’s couch like a champ), but I don’t have much in the upper-body strength department, and, when you get right down to it, I’m pretty sure a group of particularly rowdy preschoolers could take me out. In other words, I’m less Zangief, a lot more Dan. Possibly as a result of this, I do live in a vague kind of fear of other humans. I’m not an agoraphobic, and I don’t walk the streets cowering in my coat, but I know that if some random dude decided to pressure me for my precious wallet, I wouldn’t have much in the way of recourse. I’m not going to bust out my amazing kung-fu, I’m not going to start swinging a secret sword around like a mad man; I’m… probably just going to get beat up. I’m done, the end. I fear the walking living.

But I’m not afraid of zombies. Okay, a prime reason to not fear zombies is that, ya know, they’re fictional. But other than that, zombies are… dumb. Yes, if there were some zombie outbreak, I’d be a little concerned about the dead walking and maybe the moon crying blood or something, but after getting over the initial shock, even the magical “running zombie” isn’t much of a big deal. Humans are threatening because they have intelligence, remove that essential trait, and you’ve basically got a big, lumbering Chihuahua. Look out for the teeth! He’s gonna bite! And… get past that, and we’re in the clear. I’m afraid of a human with a club or gun, I’m not afraid of being scratched to death by some shambling dork. Various bits of zombie media have already included the “neutered zombie”: cut off the jaw, and what have you got? … Wait, has anyone ever addressed zombie versions of people with dentures? Is there truly nothing to fear from Zombie Washington?

Keep on shamblingThough I suppose I’m missing the forest for the trees here, as the real threat of zombies is supposed to be numbers. Zombies have a tendency to herd together, and, while one individual zombie isn’t a big deal, when there’s a whole gang literally knocking down your door, that’s when it’s time to go for the safe room. This is the premise of a healthy amount of zombie media, and allows for fun situations where “there’s nowhere to run”. And, yes, zombie hordes are generally scary… but they’re still basically a problem of poor planning. As I am continually reminded, I am basically a handsomer Batman, and, given enough preparation, I could overcome any problem. Whether it be rampaging throngs of zombies or republicans, I’m still not afraid of crowds, because I am an excellent hider. Give me a general space of about twenty square feet, and I guarantee I could find an area to “hold up” until this whole mob danger has passed. Zombies, even in great numbers, don’t scare me.

And this all might trace itself back to videogames. In a way, every videogame enemy/monster/met is a zombie. They’ve got limited intelligence (AI), can only perform the most basic of functions, and their only goal is your (protagonist’s) death. The end. There is no secret desire of slimes (assuming said slimes are not Rocket), and, like zombies, programmed “intelligence” may be easily tricked by tossing out some bait that would be blatantly obvious to any really thinking individual. Koopa troopas spawn way to close to fire flowers, and zombies have a tendency to follow their noses straight into the threshing machine. Nothing scary about a threat that will walk right into a bullet.

So it’s a minor miracle that The Walking Dead actually makes zombies threatening again.

Am I having a stroke?Come to think of it, there’s a lot that is miraculous about Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. For one thing, it’s either an “old school” adventure game or a slightly graduated visual novel, and both of those genres have absolutely no business being interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved King’s Quest V as much as the next guy, but the whole “adventure game” mold is basically based on making interesting stories with unique ways to interact with the environment before videogames really had the power to do it “right”. And take a look at the number of transitory, wannabe adventure games for examples on the real reason that genre never went anywhere. Oh, and visual novels? Not even going to address why those are terrible. Basically, it’s amazing that The Walking Dead was able to properly synthesize an excellent game out of these basic pieces, left alone the whole zombie problem.

Somehow, I guess two or three wrongs make a right, because, technically, The Walking Dead relies on a phrase that strikes fear into my heart: The Walking Dead is a game-long escort mission. TWD is, at its core, a “dad game”, you’re Lee, who, shortly after the game begins, finds the orphaned Clementine, a little girl that, left to her own devices, will certainly be devoured by the undead inside of five minutes. Actually, that’s probably not accurate, as Clementine generally seems to have her head on straight, but the game certainly treats you, the player, as Clementine’s only hope for salvation. So, dad, it’s time to take care of your daughter for five episodes or so. You’re constantly in danger, Clementine is constantly in danger, and you’re often asked to compromise your own safety for hers. I don’t think I’m even spoiling the ending to note that, yes, at one point you will have to let Clementine “grow up” because maybe Booker Lee started taking this “dad” thing a little too literally to be healthy.

Move alongBut the adventure game motif comingling with the escort mission works brilliantly for the undead hordes. Lee is, at best, equipped with a cumbersome axe, and he is never going to be granted a rocket launcher. It’s clear from the first episode that the most “physical” Lee is ever going to get is reeeeeeally reaching for a key, so don’t expect any crazy zombie jump kicks during this adventure. Ultimately, this all adds up to maintaining the zombies as a constant threat, and then ups the ante by giving the player someone to protect. I’m not worried about Lee dying, after all, he’s a videogame protagonist, any of his deaths will be undone by a quick “Press X the restart”; but Clementine? If something happens to her… well… that would be horrible. I’d give my left arm to guarantee Clementine’s safety!

So congratulations to Telltale Games’ Walking Dead for making zombies scary again. In AMC’s The Walking Dead, the eponymous Dead have become little more than shaved (but plentiful) bears, and every other videogame has made zombies useless fodder. But zombies had a brief time to shine in this Walking Dead. The combination of a bunch of gaming tropes that don’t usually work actually coalesced into something fun… and something to fear.

Good job, zombies, you don’t completely suck. Maybe you just bite.

FGC #279 The Walking Dead

  • System: This might be faster if I just list which systems don’t host this game. It ain’t on any Nintendo systems. Other than that, it’s all over the place. There’s even a Vita version? Weird.
  • Number of players: One player controls Lee, and then a small audience gathers around that player.
  • Race Relations: Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a black protagonist that was smart and level-headed, but didn’t have a background of being a violent criminal? I realize Lee’s whole deal allows for some drama with the cast in the early episodes, but, come on, Telltale, did we need further reinforcement of that unfortunate stereotype?
  • It's GlennFavorite Character: She’s completely insane, but I like Lilly. On one hand, she’s absolutely a pain in the butt in many situations (some of them involving exploding heads), but, really, for all my bluster about not being afraid of no zombie, she’s probably an example of how I would actually operate in a zombie apocalypse. Protect your family, assume everyone else is against you, and maybe go steal a vehicle because you’re secretly kind of a jerk. … Hm, I wonder what this says about me.
  • Did you know? There is a lot of unused dialogue in this game that seems to indicate that there were different plans for various characters and their backstories. It’s kind of amusing that this is the game that really kicked off Telltale’s “adventure game” renaissance (or at least totally funded it), and it’s clear the writers had no idea what they were doing in the early episodes. Okay, they undoubtedly knew what they were doing, they just didn’t have a firm grasp on the characters and future plot from the start of the first episode. It’s understandable, but I’m the kind of guy that meticulously plans out everything I write and… Great, now I forgot how I was going to end this sentence.
  • Would I play again? You know, I enjoyed this game… but I still haven’t played the sequel. The whole franchise seems to dominate this weird no man’s land where it’s not really a videogame (like I wouldn’t sit down to play it like I would a Mega Man title), but it’s certainly more intense than watching a random TV show. I liked my experience playing this game, but I might never do it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Troll Islands for the SNES! Are… are you trolling me, robot? Is this even a real game? Guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!

It will get worse

FGC #265 Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure

MajesticWithout whipping out the chart, there’s a clear geek hierarchy out there. Sure, I play a lot of videogames, but at least I’m not one of those nerds playing MMORPGs and letting their lives be dictated by party raids and random character nerfs. Ha ha! Those nerds! They’d never have time to write about three separate videogames a week and then do a yearlong Let’s Play of a decade old videogame franchise nobody likes! Losers! Everybody hold up, I have to go put the finishing touches on my Allen Ridgley cosplay.

Things get even weirder when you examine the nerd hierarchy in the comic book world, though (or, maybe, as a videogame nerd, I just think it’s weirder because it’s not my specific fandom). Batman, for instance, is always going to be popular. Superman, too, for that matter. Then you get into some of the lesser heroes, but, good news, many of them have movies coming up. Get ready for Aquaman aquaing around Aqua Town! … But real nerds don’t like those movies, because they’re too serious, or not serious enough, or Oedipal complexes are too complex, or whatever. No, the real place you want to see your heroes is… on the CW? No, that can’t be right… though I did once encounter a perfectly normal woman at the DMV excitedly telling her friend, “Oh my gosh, Flash is a new episode tonight! That’s awesome!” Yes, I suppose there are literally thousands more (popular) people that could identify Felicity Smoak than Oracle. But then you get into the animated nerds, that learned everything they need to know about Batman from Batman The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, or maybe Teen Titans Go. Hey, Dr. Light appeared in 66% of those productions, so they’re all valid ways to learn about superheroes and superteens randomly yelling. But then, there at the bottom, the nerdiest of the nerdy, are the geeks that actually, ya know, read comic books. Can you imagine? You have to use your hands! Like a baby!

Also… obviously… I’m one of those nerds.

WhoopsBut I know it’s crazy! I’ve discussed it before, but following “comics continuity” is basically a never ending trap. Here’s how it goes down: You’ve got A-Man, champion of the letter A. A decent writer and artist combine in some mystical fashion, and write one good comic series for A-Man. Everyone, yourself included, is talking about A-Man, and check out this great run, and A-Man is doing what A-Man has never done before; and it all gets bolstered by the fact that A-Man comics drop once a month, so this “one story” gets magnified by half a year of speculation and discussion. By the time the inevitably disappointing A-Man #6 hits the stands and finally ends the arc, everyone is disappointed, but that anticipation of “what’s gonna happen next” lingers, so, naturally, you pick up A-Man #7 with a brand new creative team. Here’s your Goggle Bob sports metaphor for the year: If a soccer team wins the World Series, and then everyone involved quits or gets reassigned to other teams, do you expect the “new creative team” to score enough touchdowns to win that Stanley Cup again? No, that would be silly, but comic book fans follow that “same” A-Man over and over again, until, finally, A-Man’s reputation is so terrible, “he” is selling about two issues a year. So then it’s time for a reboot! Toss out everything that doesn’t work (which is usually something like a decade’s worth of stories), start all over again, and maybe get someone half decent on the writing staff. Hire Alex Ross for a cover, and we’re back in business. A-Man is reborn (in an issue likely literally called “A-Man Reborn”), and we’re right back at the start of the cycle.

This is fun and all, but it can create some… hiccups. For instance, with the exception of the titans of the industry (not the Teen Titans, to be clear), it’s very difficult for a superhero to hold on to a supporting cast. Let’s use CW’s comics shows as an example here: can you imagine The Flash without Cisco? How about Legends of Tomorrow without Gideon? That disembodied voice is an integral part of the cast! Meanwhile, most comic books identify this “we need a supporting cast” problem, fill the hole, make some of the supporting characters I am the nightmore interesting than the boring hero who has to save the day every week, and then… well, sorry, there was a reboot, so that character doesn’t exist anymore. Oh, she was your favorite? Sorry, time to move on. Heck, Powergirl can barely hold on to her cat (and people love cats!), so I wouldn’t get too attached to her superhero understudy with the rock powers that gal palled around with her for like ten issues.

And this kind of “hiccup” can really annoy fans. And, to be clear (and I hate that I have to be clear about this), I’m not talking about “fans doxxing every women in the tri-state area”, I’m leaning more toward “unlikely to ever read a new issue pertaining to a previously beloved character ever again”. If you’re reading Blue Beetle because you really like his close family ties and friends that remind you of real friends you have in your life, and then, next month, those friends don’t exist anymore… that gets kind of annoying. And, again, it’s not like a fan is putting their foot down and demanding a boycott (which, of course, does happen), simply that when you enjoy something for a particular trait or cast member, and then that thing you loved is completely dropped, then why read it anymore at all? Reboots are feared by comic nerds because they have taken so much from us!

WetThis winds up being an exclusively comics problem, too, because, unlike other entertainment mediums, comics aren’t allowed to end. Somehow, some way, there must always be the Batman. He’s the hero we deserve. And there’s going to be a Joker, a Robin, and maybe purple gloves somewhere in there. Batman is always going to be “Batman” in the comic book universe. There is no “NuBatman” or “80sBatman” to differentiate, no, Batman is just Batman, because if he’s being identified as a “Batman variant” then that means this story isn’t important, and if the story isn’t important, then why the hell are you reading it? To enjoy it? Bah!

And then something like Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure comes along, and it’s salt in the wound.

Scribblenauts Unmasked contains an incredible DC Comics glossary. You want John Constantine to fight Swamp Thing? Cool, we got that. You want the NU52 Agents of S.H.A.D.E. (featuring Frankenstein and an immortal Asian schoolgirl)? We’ve got that, too. Want every damn Green Lantern concept that Alan Moore sneezed into existence? There’s Green Lantern Groot right there. All of your old friends are here: Wonder Woman (with or without pants), Batman, Superman, and Doctor Midnight. If you can name a DC comics character, they’re likely in here, and possibly with variants.

And it’s a damn shame, because it reminds the player of all the toys available to DC Comics that just aren’t being used. Depending on the week, the entire Justice Society, the heroes that fought in World War 2 and are the “grandpas” to the heroes of today, may or may not exist. And the Justice Society is a great concept! And they’ve got kids! And I like those kids! Mostly just Jade! But, nope, those toys are stuck in the closet, because DC determined it would be more interesting this week if Superman was the first superhero ever, and he’s macking on Wonder Woman for some reason. Oh, wait, no, he’s dead, now there’s the old Superman who loves Lois, and he’s got a kid of his own. Wait… does he remember the Justice Society? Can he bring them back? Please? Oh well, at least I can still pit Alan Scott against Larfleeze in Scribblenauts, a game that has no impact on anything.

ORANGEAnd that’s what really gets my goat about Scribblenauts Unmasked: I want to see these toys be free. Maybe I’m at the bottom of the nerd ladder for this, but I believe that, when you’ve got the potential for unlimited interesting stories, you take that potential and grab it. Don’t limit yourself to one universe, don’t limit yourself to one fandom, and be more like Scribblenauts, and include everything available. You’ve got nearly a century worth of interesting toys to play with, so play with ‘em all.

FGC #265 Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure

  • System: WiiU, 3DS, and Steam. Really? That’s it? I’d expect a greater range here, but I guess the stylus/keyboard part is kind of necessary.
  • Number of players: Just the one. Which is also surprising, as the whole “plot” is basically about dueling scribblenauts, so you’d think they’d find a way to make that more playable.
  • Favorite Adjective: Moist. Moist for days. Mooooooist.
  • Favorite DC Hero: Matter Eater Lad popped out without so much as a suggestion. I mean, ya know, Mon-El had a problem, so I had to summon the luminaries of the Legion of Superheroes, right? Bouncing Boy was my second choice.
  • Con man... get it?Did you know? John Constantine once got a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend hooked on hallucinogenic magical sand that nearly destroyed the entire universe. And here he is in a Nintendo WiiU game about randomly summoning Tomorrow Gal. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I prefer the less story-driven Scribblenauts games. As much as I love a toy chest containing the entire DC universe, I still like solving problems exclusively through T-Rexes more.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy for the Atari Jaguar! That… can’t be good. Please… look forward to it.