Tag Archives: platformer

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

For shovelry!Just the other day, my father walked into my kitchen, and, because I had carelessly left a fresh delivery on my kitchen counter, my dad asked what exactly he was looking at.

“What’s Shovel Knight from?”
“He’s Shovel Knight. From… Shovel Knight.”
“Oh. So is that a movie? Comic book? Comic book movie?”
“Nope, it’s a videogame.”
“Oh. Does he… uh… dig?”

Yes dad, Shovel Knight does dig. And he bounces and battles dragons and saves the love of his life and brings hope to all the people of his homey little hamlet. And he’s been around for six years, and he’s rocketed from nonexistence to possibly the most adaptable character in the last few years of gaming. And, yes, he’s a little golden amiibo that is sitting on my kitchen counter.

And considering that all happened thanks to fan support, focused marketing, and damn good gameplay, it’s hard to believe Shovel Knight’s giant blue helmet isn’t the face of gaming of the last decade.

Now, it’s an easy thing to imagine Shovel Knight sprang into existence in the Spring of 2013 when the official Shovel Knight Kickstarter kicked into high gear. Or, perhaps, you would like to attribute his creation to when Nick Wozniak and his team first pioneered the concept over a lunch “that got too serious”. But to truly understand the origins of Shovel Knight, you have to go back to the late 90’s or so. Back at the turn of the 21st Century, 2-D platforming rapidly went from “is videogames” to “oh God everything that is 2-D is trash, strike it from thine sight”. For reasons that are still mysterious to even our most learned historians (though there is a hypothesis that Gamepro may have been involved), this kind of thinking persisted through many years, causing many a beloved franchise to embrace 3-D or die. Mario 64 was a revelation, Mega Man X7… less so. But the belief that a game could not be 2-D seemed to Shinyhold fast for a decade, and the only place you could find such an experience would be in the Gameboy ghetto of game development. It’s telling that one of the most popular games of 1997 had to retreat to the portable space, while its 3-D rival of the year managed to dominate the console industry for years to come. The message to game producers was clear: you weren’t going to get anywhere with 2-D. And doubly so if you were dropping cutting edge graphics for a “retro” experience. That kind of nonsense best be relegated to some manner of easter egg. No one would every buy a retro platformer.

So it makes perfect sense that Shovel Knight’s initial fundraising goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed, and Yacht Club collected over four times as much funding ($311,502) in less than a month’s time. Shovel Knight’s audience was starved for Shovel Knight-esque content, and, while the yolk of 3-D oppression had been shaken in the years leading to 2013, it was still a time when the prospect of something “like old Capcom games” was going to appeal to a very dedicated subset of nerds. This meant that the whole of Shovel Knight’s “bonus” content was funded before ol’ SK officially touched his first trowel, so a game crammed with amazing content was forthcoming. 14,749 people were ready for some amazing retro action that would be shared with WiiU, 3DS and PC players shortly.

And, from a gameplay perspective, Shovel Knight did not disappoint. Shovel Knight is an excellent platformer that borrows liberally from the entire NES library, but combines all those pieces to be its own exceptional Voltron. Shovel Knight’s downward stab was apparently inspired by Link, but his greatest hopping challenges seem to evoke Ducktales more than anything. And the “arc” of the quest is much more akin to Mega Man, what with clearly defined “gimmick” bosses (Propeller Knight and Gyro Man were separated at birth) and stages that rely wonderfully on their masters’ theming. And maybe that world map is supposed to suggest Super Mario Bros. 3. Or those upgrades are supposed to remind us of Samus Aran’s evolving arsenal. And there were a few items that inched closer to modern sensibilities, like the collectables that advanced replay value (often hidden in accompanying “challenge” areas), or the death system that was a lot closer to Dark Souls than Darkwing Duck. But wherever the inspirations originated, Shovel Knight combined all of its pieces to be an extraordinary experience. Join the clubAnd it didn’t hurt to see a cast of memorable characters fighting through an unforgettable tale of loss and tragedy (and eventual triumph). Wrap this all up with a host of modern “achievements”, and Shovel Knight was one of the finest games of 2014.

But it wasn’t anywhere near done.

Shovel Knight was everything anyone could want from a retro platformer, but it wasn’t the complete game that had been funded a year earlier. All of those bonus bells and whistles would gradually dribble out over the following months and years. Things like Gender/Body Swap mode was little more than a (staggering and inclusive) skin for our heroes and villains, but Plague of Shadows was practically an entirely different game labeled as merely an “expansion”. The adventure, now featuring the morally gray Plague Knight, was a whole new way to play through familiar levels, and featured an added “town area” and a few other extras (peculiarly powered by washing machines) to boot. This was released alongside a number of quick challenges for Shovel Knight, and, coupled with some new console exclusives (and, uh, additional console releases, too) like challenges from Kratos and The Battletoads, it was clear that Shovel Knight’s additional content wasn’t going to be some hastily manufactured DLC.

And let me tell you, about a year and a half later, just in time for the release of the Switch, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment proved Shovel Knight “DLC” was going to be a lot more than a meager expansion.

Spin it!Plague of Shadows was an all-new story with an all-new character (well, all-new for control purposes), but it still saw its hero (“hero”) venture through (most of) the same levels as Shovel Knight. The new play style radically altered your options for traversal, but it was still just a game starring Luigi instead of Mario (well, Super Mario Bros. 2 Luigi, at least). Specter of Torment reused those same levels, but modified them to the point they are barely recognizable. And that’s a good thing! Specter Knight possessed his own moveset, and, rather than mere rehashes, all of his stages were modified to be challenging for that specific moveset. This made Specter of Torment a complete sequel to Shovel Knight! Well… that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it’s more akin to a romhack? Or, like the NES games Shovel Knight so adores, it’s an “old school” sequel. Almost all the same assets, but rearranged so completely as to be practically unrecognizable. A shining example of the proper way to recycle pixels.

And, oh yeah, Specter Knight is a blast to play as. He’s the Zero to Shovel Knight’s Mega Man (or… uh… Scrooge McDuck?), and really feels like he belongs in an entirely different game. Which is appropriate, as his “entirely different game” seems to only reuse the general aesthetics of its prequel/sequel. The world of Specter Knight goes to some very unexpected places (like the origins of Shovel Knight’s best gal pal), and eschews some gameplay conventions (like the world map) while picking up all new challenges (like an endless tower of pain)(and grinding! Like Sonic!). It’s still unmistakably Shovel Knight, but it’s a whole new experience through and through.

SPIN FOR YOUR LIFEAnd then, in 2019, they did the same thing again with King Knight and Shovel Knight: King of Cards. Give or take one extremely subjective card game (I hate all card games [even that one], but my understanding is that some weirdos can enjoy such a thing), King Knight’s adventure is another slam dunk. The general tone (and lighting) seems closer to its OG Shovel Knight origins, but Kingy’s quest to be king of at least something features dramatically shorter levels and more bite-sized challenges than any of the other campaigns. And that’s a refreshing change of pace that additionally gives some of the gimmicks of the previous tetralogy some room to breathe. Green goo and a bouncy-butted beetle finally get a showcase in their own, complete level! Considering the number one complaint anyone ever leveled against Shovel Knight was that its stages were too long (which, seriously, you gonna complain about there being too much game to play? Philistines), King Knight’s King of Cards is a sequel to Shovel Knight that listened to its greatest detractors. Yacht Club learned something!

And then, to top it all off, Shovel Knight dropped its own version of Smash Bros. You can control every knight! And make ‘em fight! And most of the significant NPCs are PCs now, too. So, finally, you can see who would hold ultimate victory in a battle between Mona, Baz, Mole Knight, and those purple goo monsters from the final tower. And, for being an 8-bit redux inspired by a game that originally appeared on 64-bit hardware, it’s pretty damn impressive. It can get a little confusing when you’re trying to find your sprite against similar colored backgrounds (or against similar-colored enemies), but the designs of the Shovel Knight cast compensate for a lot, so you can usually tell the difference between a Shovel Knight and a Black Knight. And if you can’t? Well, just go ahead and have fun with it. This is an 8-bit platformer fighting game, after all. It’s supposed to be about as chaotic as a bucket full of enemy crabs.

Get up thereSo that’s 3.5 games, right? We’ve got Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows as two pretty similar experiences, but Specter of Torment, King of Cards, and Shovel Knight Showdown are all as different as Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Showdown is practically an entirely different genre. I’m going to call that a total of 3.5 games that all fall under the Shovel Knight umbrella.

And it all came from one Kickstarter.

And if you bought the initial Shovel Knight at launch, the whole package cost a measly twenty bucks. You’re actually rewarded for being an early adopter.

Shovel Knight is a game that seemed to last a decade with its various expansions, but, more than that, it is a shining example of what was possible for a few brief years in the 2010s. Kickstarter was an extremely popular platform earlier in the decade, and, while it produced many excellent games and projects, it is primarily recounted now by any number of fans who wound up burned by creators who had the collective managerial skills of a hamster (and not that hamster with the hardhat). Kickstarter and alike is now seen more as a generally reliable healthcare plan than a platform that might create the next game you’ll play for five years. But in the last decade, it was responsible for Shovel Knight. And the triumph of Shovel Knight paved the way for oodles of retro platformer titles. Was every retro game good? No, of course not. But they never would have seen the light of day without Shovel Knight blazing a trail. And, while this trend is likely coming to its close, the current digital marketplace does speak to Shovel Knight’s success.

And, as appropriate for a knight that came from the crowds, he has now returned to the crowds as the most cameoed newcomer of the decade:

Smash it Good!
Slash it Good!
Bonk it good

Not bad for a dude that didn’t exist when the decade started.

Shovel Knight is the 2010s distilled down to its purest, more hopeful form. It is an experience that could only come from one time in gaming’s history. And it’s a damn fine game to boot.

2010: The decade of Shovelry.

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

  • System: Whaddya got? Nintendo 3DS, WiiU, and PC to start, but eventually shovelry spread to the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and the Amazon Fire TV (for some reason).
  • Look away!Number of Players: 2-Players was eventually patched in (with or without amiibo), and Shovel Knight Showdown is 4 players simultaneous. But most people think about the single player campaign, because Shovel Knight appeals to lonely, insomniac nerds.
  • Just play the gig, man: Did I mention the music was amazing? Because it is. Jake Kaufman seems to be responsible for the majority of amazing American soundtracks for the decade, and the addition of one of Mega Man’s composers is just the perfect addition. The fact that every song gets a little in-game director’s commentary is pretty boss, too.
  • Favorite System: Shovel Knight appeared across multiple platforms, but the 3DS version still might be the best. It has 3-D and the ability to quickly switch between items (or whatever they’re called in the version du jour). Battletoads are no substitute for being able to avoid a pause menu.
  • Lucasian Problems: Kudos to Shovel Knight’s team for not returning to Shovel of Hope with every update to “backdate” changes from later expansions. It would be the easiest thing in the world to sneak in “remake” NPCs that allude to what happens in other knights’ adventures (or, hell, advertise those experiences), but Shovel of Hope remains unmolested and devoid of unnecessary changes. Thank you for the restraint.
  • Favorite Character: Percy the Horse Scholar. I will not be accepting questions at this time.
  • Go Toads!Amiibo Corner: Naturally, I preordered the Order of No Quarter amiibos when they were first announced. That was in the fall of 2017. They were released in December of 2019. That might be the longest preorder for a videogame-related item I’ve ever maintained. Good thing I still care about collecting every damn amiibo in existence!
  • Say something mean: Propeller Knight’s stage is the worst in every version/adventure. This isn’t because of the frequent bottomless pits (though, admittedly, that do not help); it’s the auto scrolling areas, and spots that may as well be auto scrolling because you need to wait for a cannonball or wind gust. I hate waiting! I want to run! Don’t hold me down, Propeller Knight!
  • Did you know? Shovel Knight is almost a NES game… though it does include three additional audio channels and four extra colors not available to original Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. There are some other “tweaks” here and there, too, but what’s important is that the screen shakes during explosions unmistakably like in an old school game.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. This is the cream of the crop for 2-D platformers, and I love me some 2-D platformers. Long may his shovel reign!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Sword for the Nintendo Switch! … Yeah… that was a totally random choice, and not the result of me putting a hundred hours into the thing over the last few months… Yeeeep! Gonna be a totally randomly chosen modern game next week! Please look forward to it!

Shake it

FGC #437 Super Princess Peach

Here comes a princess!Wrong time, wrong place, and now, apparently, never again.

It is almost insane to explain the bygone age of 2005/2006, but it seems a history lesson is in order. There was once Super Mario Bros. And then there was Super Mario Bros. 2 (available in two unique flavors). We then saw 3 and World, two surprisingly different and phenomenal games that both shared the same Super Mario base. Yoshi’s Island changed the formula dramatically, but it was also a great experience that clearly drew from previous Mario titles. And then there was… nothing. Oh, there were Mario games, but Mario branched out into kart racing and tennis playing and the occasional Olympic decathlon. Mario also decided to explore the third dimension, so, while “Super Mario games” were certainly still a (welcome) thing, the old days of 2-D Mario platforming were apparently gone forever. Mario has other things to do now, he doesn’t have time for screen-filling Bullet Bills.

But maybe Princess Peach has some room in her schedule.

For being known as the damsel in distress of the Mario franchise, Princess Peach has seen a lot more play than many of her contemporaries. She was an active, platforming character in Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA). She tossed a frying pan around with the best of ‘em in Super Mario RPG. Thereafter, she primarily returned to her “let’s get kidnapped” role for future action Mario titles, but could also always be counted on to make a showing in any given sports or “just for fun” title. If Bowser was distracted with a go-kart, Peach could participate to her heart’s content. It’s easy to say she only “matters” in titles that don’t matter (and we all just assume that the Mushroom Kingdom’s government isn’t entirely based on kart racing), but having a selectable Princess on the roster is great for anyone that is tired of the usual plumber and his mainly-male supporting cast. Princess Peach fills a niche, and it’s not just as “the girl”; she’s her own character, and, without having very much dialogue over the years, she’s been established as an exceptional, occasionally humorous, ruler for a kingdom of fungi. She’s her own woman, and she’s proven herself one tennis match at a time.

Don't be sadSo it did make a certain amount of sense that Princess Peach would receive her own adventure. It would be fun to make Mario the “damsel” for once, and Peach already has a quasi-moveset and some support abilities from previous adventures. Add some floaty jumps, maybe include some central gimmick, and… hey! Mario isn’t using 2-D platforming right now. Let’s throw that genre over to Princess Peach, and see what she does with it. It’s a perfect fit for an experimental DS game!

Super Princess Peach was born! And, honestly, the game itself worked out pretty well.

Super Princess Peach is largely a 2-D Mario title with two different kinds of movesets. On one hand, you have Peach’s innate (and sometimes umbrella-based) abilities that are available at all times. Of course Peach can perform her seemingly natural floating jump, attack with her parasol, and even perform a cool little slide that will certainly earn her a “safe!” at home plate. Then you have the “vibe” abilities, which seem to be what everyone remembers about this title. Princess Peach apparently has drastically different moods that can be controlled with the tap of a stylus, and her various outbursts come in handy for the more “puzzle” based portions of levels. A Sad Peach rains tears on the area like a cursed sprinkler, so plants grow happy, and cold floors turn to ice. Calm Peach sees her health restore automatically, while Delusional/Happy Peach can literally fly through the skies on her own private wind currents. And Angry Peach burns with the fury of a thousand raging suns, a walking, all-consuming blaze of disaster that shall envelop us all and leave this planet a charred husk (and maybe knock-out a few goombas). Give or take a final ability that allows for unlimited spending, Peach is limited by a rapidly depleting gauge for all of her emotional abilities (so you can’t just fly through every level like a So sadjerk, P-Wing Mario), so Fiery Inferno Peach is not available at all times. Ultimately, this means Peach’s emotions are only truly useful in specific, find-some-secrets situations, but you can always use your umbrella to eat people (!) to score some spare emotional power. Regardless of location, though, Super Princess Peach actually winds up with a pretty super host of abilities.

But that is all inconsequential to what’s important about Super Princess Peach. It’s a Mario game! Who cares about anything else?!

Look, there were still 2-D platforming titles in 2005. The Castlevania series was still living off the success of Symphony of the Night, so running and jumping and stabbing was something you could find on those GBA/DS titles. Speaking of stabbing, Mega Man Zero was just about to mutate into Mega Man ZX, and both of those franchises were a fun time on a 2-D plane. But those titles seemed to be the last vestiges of the big boys of the genre. We were still a long way from the indie 2-D resurgence, and the even the likes of Wario had started to drift from his 2-D roots to other, greener micro-pastures. There are a lot of reasons people played Super Smash Bros. Melee well past its initial release, but did anyone ever consider that gamers just craved a Mario that ran and jumped in a 2-D world?

YUMMYBut Super Princess Peach scratched that itch in more ways than one. Yes, the title was arguably on the “easy” side of platformers (pits did not spell instant death, and one of the moods rewards standing around and watching health refill), and Peach never did seem quite as nimble as a full-tilt Mario, but, damn, that princess could book it when she needed to. And this was unmistakably a Mario platformer in the vein of the previous Super Mario World titles. There were dinosaurs and flying hammer bros. and Spike and all manner of piranha plants. In fact, there were also “recursive” appearances, like Super Mario Sunshine bosses Petey Piranha and Gooper Blooper appearing in 2-D for the first time. Yes, Peach was on the cover and saving the day, but everything about Super Princess Peach screamed “Mario!” like a Luigi echoing through a haunted mansion.

And then New Super Mario Bros. was released shortly thereafter. And that was, without question or concession, a new 2-D Mario title. The first in over a decade. And it was good. It was amazing. And the “only” good Super Princess Peach was completely forgotten.

And it’s a shame, too. Super Princess Peach had its own ideas and a greater emphasis on exploration and situational abilities than the more straightforward New Super Mario Bros. It is a “2-D Mario Game”, but it is also its own thing, starring its own heroine. The emotion-based skill system might have been a little misguided, but a slightly less misogynistic gimmick could have worked in a second adventure (why won’t Nintendo just let Princess Peach catch fire for no reason!?). But did we see a second Super Princess Peach?glub glub No. Have we even seen references back to Peach’s only true solo outing? ‘Fraid not. And, even when DS titles were being re-released on the WiiU for some strange reason, we never saw the return of Super Princess Peach. Super Princess Peach has been dropped, seemingly forever, by Nintendo, and we are all worse for it.

Sorry, Princess Peach. We’ll just have to quietly wait for your return to the limelight. Maybe we’ll see Super Princess Peach Country one of these days…

FGC #437 Super Princess Peach

  • System: Nintendo DS. Only Nintendo DS.
  • Number of players: Was this one of those Nintendo DS games with inexplicable 2-player minigames? Probably not. Let’s just say one player.
  • Come to think of it: Super Princess Peach Meets Super Princess Daisy would be all I want from life.
  • Story Time: The sentient parasol apparently gets a backstory of being a real boy that was transformed into an umbrella. However, the bloody rise to power that would eventually define the Toadstool legacy is not explored, and we’re left with Princess Peach being a blank cypher as usual.
  • Touchy Feely: This is another one of those “early” DS games that found a way to incorporate the stylus/tap gameplay into a level or eight. It may have seemed innovative at some point in the history of gaming, but now it just feels like you’ve accidentally slid into a $5 app in the middle of a perfectly good Mario game.
  • Lucky!Credit where Credit is Due: This title doesn’t get enough props for taking the traditional Mario bestiary and adding something as simple as “emotions” to make seemingly entirely new opponents. A happy piranha plant apparently is very fire-based, and an angry boo is a shameless, unstoppable force. And everyone enjoy the company of a glad bob-omb.
  • Favorite Enemy: Sad Dry Bones. You really have to wonder why more undead koopa troopas aren’t sad. Or maybe their immortal existence cheers them up…
  • Is this a secret Kirby game? 2-D platforming, enemy devouring, and an emphasis on umbrellas. Maybe?
  • Did you know? The Koopalings were apparently intended for this title, and their sprite data is still hiding in the game. Why they were cut is anyone’s guess, but my money is on dark forces that stand against the very concept of fun.
  • Would I play again: I would very much like to play this title again on a system that is slightly more modern, like some manner of console/portable hybrid. However, I might give it a spin on the ol’ DS/3DS sometime. It’s fun to be a princess!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fire Emblem: Awakening! Wow! A TRPG! Those are always fun. Please look forward to that!

It's a-me
“Sorry, our Mario is in another castle. Ha ha ha just kidding.”

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

Here comes a chicken!Let’s talk about Alfred Chicken, and what he means to the current state of our democracy.

The Alfred Chicken franchise, on its own, is not much to write home about. It’s one of those “weird European platformers” that seemed to pop up since the creation of DOS and carried on into the 32-bit days. Alfred Chicken (damn, I’m going to have to pick up some chicken alfredo before this article is over) runs and jumps around a number of levels that were maybe assembled in seventeen seconds through randomly smoothing graphical assets together until, I don’t know, I guess this collection of alphabet blocks looks like something passable. Alfred’s moveset includes both jumping and pecking, as he must to retain his chicken status. Eventually, the game ends, or maybe it doesn’t, and, look, I bounce off European platformers like a quick boomerang off a leaf shield, okay? I’m too used to my Marios and Castlevanias to waste too much time on some damn game where poultry has to peck at balloons.

And, really, that’s just fine in this case, because America, land of the free (chicken nugget deal), only ever saw one Alfred Chicken title. On my corner of the Atlantic, Super Alfred Chicken was only ever available for the Super Nintendo. But in the fabulous land of lifts and roundabouts, Alfred Chicken dominated (loosely) the NES, Gameboy, Playstation, and whatever the hell an Amiga happens to be. Some platforms had different versions, some featured 3-D, but they all had Alfred Chicken to spare. Oh, and speaking of platforms, there was that whole Alfred Chicken political party, too.

Yes, if you lived in the Christchurch, Dorset constituency in 1993, you could have voted for Karl Fitzhugh of the Alfred Chicken Party.

Blah blah blahNow, before you go thinking that the Alfred Chicken Party had anything useful to contribute to political discourse at the time, consider that Karl Fitzhugh was absolutely just the marketing arm for Alfred Chicken’s Amiga (amigo? Were you trying to say amigo? How about amiibo?) debut. The Alfred Chicken Party was rightly pegged as a publicity stunt, and wound up placing second from last in the election (and, to be clear for my American readers, this is not a situation where “placed last” also means “won the popular vote”). In fact, the Alfred Chicken Party was such a flagrant and obvious publicity stunt, it rapidly inspired new legislation that would require a candidate to acquire many more signatures to actually appear on a ballot. Democracy works! Through Alfred Chicken!

And, 25 years later, it would be nice to believe we had learned a single blessed thing.

Alfred Chicken, in his time, was immediately identified as a spurious, frivolous candidate. This was just a random animal mascot character (arguably before they were cool) attempting to use general politics as a springboard to some free(ish) advertising. No one would legitimately elect a member of the Alfred Chicken Party, because you’d have to be some kind of moron to actually think there is anything more to that “political party” than a naked cash-grab.

But how many people reading this article would vote for a candidate from the Nintendo Party? Hell, how many people writing this article would vote for the party of Mario, Link, and Pikachu? The answer to that question is a firm “all of them”.

UglyIt has come up again and again in recent months, but people show a surprising amount of loyalty to faceless corporations that don’t care if the average consumer lives or dies. Toys Я Us recently went out of business, firing every last employee while its board of directors skipped town with giant bags adorned with dollar signs. But it’s been determined that “the brand” is still viable, so Geoffrey the Giraffe will be back in our faces soon enough. And a huge portion of the population is going to eat it up with a multicolored spoon! Toys Я Us? I love that place! That’s where toys come from! And videogames! Just like Gamestop! And who cares if one single company has been selling me $60 games for years, and then buying them back at 60¢, I’ve got brand loyalty! I’m a Powerup Rewards Member! Sometimes I earn a free pen! I will follow these companies straight into Hell, so please show me your viable political candidates! Who is the leader of the Think Geek Party? Does he need a donation!?

And, at first blush, this all sounds insane. After all, there is no Wal-Mart party, and, while we vote with our wallets every day, no company is brazen enough to actively run a candidate. Except… that’s completely wrong.

Okay, already uttered their name, let’s take Wal-Mart as an example. Right off the bat, apparently Wal-Mart has made $2,192,327 in political contributions in 2018. And, if you’re curious, about half of that money went to candidates, and the majority of the rest of that went to PACs or political parties. In addition to all of that, fifteen senators own Wal-Mart stock, so there might be a bit of an interest in our government keeping that poor company afloat. And if that wasn’t enough, in 2017, Wal-Mart spent $6,880,000 lobbying for various causes. And the kicker? Wal-Mart isn’t even in the top 50 for purchasing government support.

In 1998, $1.45 billion was being spent on lobbying. In 2018, that has become $2.59 billion. And how much is that? Well, to revisit Wal-Mart, that’s a company that makes $14.7 billion in profit a year.

So, to be clear, the US government can be purchased for a little under a fifth of one company’s total profits.

SliceyAnd the most unfortunate thing about all of this is that there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can vote for your favorite party, you can vote for the candidate that is going to save the world, and you can canvas your neighborhood and drum up support in every way you know how. But, end of the day, Wal-Mart is still going to make literally billions of dollars, and whoever is in charge of those billions of dollars is going to make just a smidge more of an impact on the political landscape than anything you could hope to achieve with a “grassroots” campaign. And do you think you’re ever going to compete with Wal-Mart? Fat chance, little voter.

Except…

I always look to Blockbuster Video in times of hardship.

When “video rental stores” (ask your parents) first became popular, there was one in every shopping center (ask your parents, again), and they were all local mom & pop shops with names like “Microplay” or “No Name Video”. Then Blockbuster Video hit the scene with inventories that would be completely impossible for any given neighborhood shop to ever procure, and, almost overnight, Blockbuster Video was literally the only game in town. And, by about the late 90’s/early 00’s, Blockbuster Video was the only way to rent anything. The chain had eliminated all competition, and there was no way to borrow a copy of Leprechaun 3 (that’s the one in Vegas) without your trusty Blockbuster membership card. Had overdue fees on your account? Sorry, you’re stuck in DVD-less purgatory for the rest of your days.

No, it is notBut a funny thing happened. Netflix came along, and, in a few short years, Blockbuster was dead in the ground. Netflix was cheaper, more convenient, and less overtly evil than Blockbuster, so people took their business elsewhere in droves. And it didn’t matter that many areas still have terrible internet connections. It didn’t matter that Netflix and its ilk could never support the historical selection of a well-stocked Blockbuster. It didn’t matter that streaming services would doom us forever to a fragmented system wherein you just kind of hoped your favorite new release would drop on a subscription you already own. No, none of that mattered, because Blockbuster simply could not compete with the new monolith that was streaming, and, in practically no time at all, Blockbuster was resigned to the same fate as the dinosaurs (mostly frozen in remote regions of Oregon). Blockbuster was once king of the hill, and now it is barely a footnote in history.

And if there’s any hope for the future, we could learn a thing or two about Blockbuster’s failure.

No company is too big to fall. Just within the last few decades, we’ve seen hundreds of once enormous companies fall to the inevitable march of the internet. Technology moves forward, and with it, new opportunities arise for those that will take risks (and get lucky). Fossil fuels are killing our planet as we speak, but they could become a thing of the past with cheap, effective alternatives. It sounds impossible, but if every new car with a new fuel system cost just a couple hundred less than the gas-guzzlers currently on the market, we’d have a healthier planet in no time. We just have to find the people willing to support these companies, and not those that foster the industries that should have died decades ago because God forbid Mickey Mouse fall into the public domain. We have to vote for people that are going to support forward progress. And not just in the voting booth! We need to be conscientious consumers, and support companies that in turn support good candidates and business practices. VroooomNo company is ever going to be perfect (they are, almost literally, money making machines. That has a tendency to step on a few ethical toes), but maybe you don’t need the latest make believe horsey game if it is also apparently responsible for 80% of all crunch misery in North America. Or maybe that company could just produce one god damn game with a female protagonist. That would be a step in the right direction…

My final thoughts on this subject are simple: absolutely vote on Election Day, but remember to vote every other day of the year, too. Support candidates that encourage progress, and support companies that do the same. It won’t happen all at once, and it might not even seem like it’s happening at all, but change is possible, and you can help it, every step of the way, every day.

And don’t vote for the Alfred Chicken Party.

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

  • System: Super Nintendo. I understand the other versions/ports of Alfred Chicken are pretty similar to this version, but there is no way I am going to confirm this in any way.
  • Number of players: Start and options? Yep, looks like this is one of those single player platformers.
  • Chicken or the Egg: So the plot of this title is that eggs are being kidnapped, and Alfred Chicken has to venture forth to save the widdle eggies. Except… Alfred Chicken appears to hatch from an egg at the start of every stage… so why are eggs seen driving cars and being their own, autonomous creatures? Are eggs just, like, the unevolved forms of chickens in this universe? Is this U.S. Acres fanfic?
  • What is even happening?Other Questions: And Alfred collects eggs as one-ups, and hatches from a new egg after every death. Is there more than one Alfred Chicken? Does each collected egg start the cycle of life anew for our hero? The theological implications of this game alone…
  • So, did you beat it? No. Come on, this game gets repetitive by approximately the third level. And there are at least fifteen? No thank you.
  • Favorite… uh… Stuff: This is a very generic platformer. Alfred… barely does anything. He jumps! He pecks! He has some sort of weird power-up ball thing that doesn’t work quite right! There is barely anything that distinguishes this game from any other… so… uh… The colors are nice?
  • Did you know? The Alfred Chicken Party came in second-to-last in its election. The biggest loser was, apparently, the Rainbow Party. There is no force on Earth that would allow me to effectively google “The Rainbow Party” in 2018.
  • Would I play again: Nope! This chicken doesn’t have any meat on it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy for the Nintendo Switch! The prophecy has come to pass! Please look forward to it!

Happy Flower

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

Wah WahIf you want to understand East vs. West gaming philosophies, look no further than Disney’s Aladdin for SNES and Genesis.

Disney’s Aladdin should require no introduction. At the time, it was “yet another” brilliant Disney animated musical, and came hot on the heels of other perennial favorites like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But Aladdin offered a rare opportunity: the story of Aladdin is one of swordplay and derring-do! It’s a boy’s story! And boys play videogames! Sure, Ariel made due with shoving seashells by the seashore, and Belle & Beast got their own boy and girl versions (it was a weird time), but Aladdin is an adventure story from start to finish. There’s an evil wizard, ancient sealed magical force, helpful monkey, and at least two dungeons. This is practically a JRPG before you introduce the princess with a pet tiger! Couple the dominance of Disney with a story that couldn’t be more suited to a 16-bit game if it had a mine cart, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a generation-defining videogame.

And then we got two interpretations of that blockbuster.

On one side, we have (give me a second to flip a coin here) Aladdin for the SNES. This was a Capcom release, and it shows in every way. Cross Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse with Ninja Gaiden for cinematics, drop any and all transformations, and add a Genie-based roulette wheel to bonus stages, and we’re good to go. There’s a rudimentary collectathon Weeeeelement for completionists, but otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward platforming experience. Aladdin jumps, swings, and bops over enemies, and the most common monster appears to be a blind bird in a pot (really quite threatening, obviously). There are a pair of magic carpet rides for some dangerous/bonus variety, and, in the end, Jafar must be defeated by head-vaulting. Roll credits, move on to the next Capcom blockbuster.

On the other side, we’ve got Aladdin for Genesis. This is another platformer, but Aladdin has become blood-thirsty, and he’s gained a sick scimitar. Additionally, while Aladdin had apples for stunning on the SNES, now hurling fruit will damage opponents completely, effectively granting Al a gun. The animation is gorgeous, the levels are lush and creative, and there are even a few full-fledged bosses (whereas the SNES only had Jafar and one pissed off merchant). Even the bonus stages are fairly innovative, offering a fine excuse to control a monkey in a fez as he gathers treasure. Basically, the Genesis title has the same bones as its SNES cousin, but it seems to do so much more.

It’s also tremendously less fun to play.

WhammoOkay, sure, fun is subjective. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that value the Gen Aladdin experience over SNES Aladdin’s more muted adventure. But there are quite a few items that make the Genesis title objectively worse. For one thing, many of the more labyrinthine stages feature “European” layouts, i.e. stages that zig and zag all over limited screen space, and it quickly becomes difficult to know if you’re actually making forward progress. Another obvious flaw is an overabundance of bottomless pits and other instant death traps that seem to litter every stage after Aladdin escapes the streets of Agrabah. Oh, and those bosses? They seem to exist exclusively to drain you of your apples, and, like bosses in a certain other franchise, it’s often difficult to know if you’re dealing damage at all. Basically, the minute you start really looking at the nuts and bolts of Genesis Aladdin, you’ll quickly notice every place where it falls apart.

But is it the poorer title? Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion.

Genesis Aladdin is known for having some of the smoothest, most amazing animation of the 16-bit generation, but focusing on that is unfairly ignoring its true greatest strength. Genesis Aladdin is creative to a fault. Aladdin the Movie might contain a story tailor-made for videogames, but it could still use a little expansion to round out the levels. Genesis Aladdin drops in an extra trip to the desert to claim beetle fragments, and a street-rat trip around the palace to eventually defeat Iago. In both cases, what could be trite, typical videogame levels pop with beauty and imagination, all while things like the pink flamingos in the Sultan’s massive pool style firmly tie the style to the source material. The animation is what catches everyone’s eye, but the little things, like a Sega Genesis hiding in the background of Genie’s lair, are what really make the game.

WeeeeMeanwhile, SNES Aladdin is an enormously competent platformer, but fails to add anything to Disney’s Aladdin. Your extra stage in SNES Aladdin is a pyramid, which kinda fits the story (supposedly Abu falls off the carpet on the way back from the Cave of Wonders… so did they take a detour to Egypt on their way? Not all deserts are the same!), but it’s about as generic as a videogame stage can get. Falling sands waterfalls (sanderfalls?),lit torches, and the general threat of the undead? It’s a pyramid, and this could be part of Aladdin, or any other videogame ever made. But what is there to complain about? Sure, squint and you could mistake Aladdin for Mega Man 4, but this is a damn fine platformer, and hopping and bopping around the pyramid feels as good as any given Mega Man title. And that is no small feat.

And, playing both of these games side by side in the far flung future of 2018, it seems these differences echo the state of gaming today.

I’m inevitably going to oversimplify, but it seems like when you compare Western “game of the year” titles to their Eastern counterparts, a few patterns emerge. Fallout and Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) titles are always amazing, right? They’re huge. They’re creative. They’re also buggy as hell, and, let’s be honest here, generally have improbably convoluted controls. Maybe I’m weird, but I feel like picking up a cheese wheel should be an easier experience than piloting a plane. Conversely, you have titles like Persona 5 or NieR: Automata that are amazing games… but their gameplay is often indistinguishable from their forebears. Bite!NieR: Automata is astounding! But its basic combat is Bayonetta-light (dodge! dodge! dodge!) with a dash of shoot ‘em up spliced in for good measure. And Persona 5 is stylish and rad… and could probably be effortlessly modded to be Persona 3. In other words, while we’re still seeing amazing advances in story-telling and what a videogame could even be, we’re still looking at a pretty overt split: Western titles are huge, imaginative, and often objectively worse to actually play, while Japanese titles are excellent, reliable games that rarely take obvious risks. Again, I’m well aware that I’m generalizing, and I’m not saying one technique is somehow better than the other, but it seems to be a trend that has been recurring since the 20th Century.

And it’s not a bad thing.

There is room enough in this world for two different interpretations of Aladdin. There is room on your shelf for Persona and Skyrim. And, if you’re lucky, you’ve got enough space in your heart for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Different strokes for different folks, and, if you can open yourself up to both experiences, more power to you. Some people like pet monkeys, some people go for tigers. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, and what’s important is that you enjoy what you have.

So the final winner in the Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo debates? Well, if you can accept the differences in both platforms, then, in the end, a winner is you.

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

  • System: You already know the obvious ones, but there was also a Gameboy, Nintendo, and DOS version, if you were in the mood. The Game Boy Advance version was a port of the SNES version, too, if memory serves.
  • Number of players: Never had a friend to play with. One.
  • Realistic Graphics: Hey, who do I speak to about making Sega Genesis Annoyed Jasmine a meme?

    Really think this one has legs.
  • Other differences: The interior of the Genie’s Lamp level appears in both versions, and that seems like another fine way to compare systems. The SNES Lamp is bright and pastel and… fluffy. The Genesis Lamp is dark and muted, but still just as magical with neon signs and flying pillows. Given how a number of other games turned out on both systems, the whole level seems indicative of the generation.
  • And they’re the same: Genesis is more like Battletoads, and SNES is more like a shoot ‘em up (just without the shooting), but both games interpret the escape from the Cave of Wonders as a one-hit kill, flying carpet-based race against lava. Some things are just inevitable, I suppose.
  • So cuteGoggle Bob fact: So the Sega Genesis version of this game was given to me by an ex. She was my girlfriend at the time, and, when I expressed an interest in replaying the title, she gave me the game without a second thought, likely happy to be rid of another piece of trash that was destined for Goodwill when she finally completely emptied out her childhood room. I, as someone who even then could only view my life through the lens of videogames, thought that giving up a beloved childhood game was the greatest sacrifice a human being could make for another. … I don’t really wonder why we’re no longer together.
  • Did you know? Aladdin was the highest selling game for the Sega Genesis not featuring a hedgehog. This likely had nothing to do with the advertising campaign that was running on all channels, all the time.
  • Would I play again: Either one might get a replay at random times. I have fond memories of both titles, and nostalgia will probably get the better of me one of these days. Then it’s back to hopping on snakes to save princesses.

What’s next? Random ROB is back, and he’s chosen… Destroy All Humans! for the PS2! Well, guess we have to do what the game says. Time for an extinction level event, I guess. Please look forward to it!

What?
Exploding skeletons?