Tag Archives: platformer

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!

Exploding skeletons?

FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

YummySkullmonkeys is notable for being a pretty fun videogame that, incidentally, hails form an alternate reality.

History is written by the winners, and, given enough time, even people who lived through that history tend to paper over the genuine details of reality. Case in point: the death of the 2-D platformer. To hear many of the old guard of videogames tell it, we spent the glorious 8 & 16-bit eras awash in an embarrassment of riches of 2-D platformers, and then, the moment the Playstation and N64 rolled into town, the era of 2-D was dead, presumably punched into an early grave by the sharp, polygonal fists of Battle Arena Toshinden. Sony had a legendary policy of rejecting all “childish” 2-D games, and the N64 couldn’t render a “retro” sprite to save its cursed life. 2-D died, and the Buster Sword was the murder weapon.

Except that’s complete bullshit, because there certainly were 2-D games on the Playstation. One of the most lauded games of all time was released on the Playstation, and it was 2-D. Mega Men of various origins had a number of 2-D adventures through the 32-bit era, and Playstation even paid host to many underdog 2-D adventures, like Silhouette Mirage and Norse by Norsewest. In short, while 3-D certainly dominated the epoch (for every Symphony of the Night there was a Castlevania 64… maybe even two) there were also 2-D action games available on CD and cartridge straight through to the death of the age of DVD. Yes, Mega Man 9 was a retro innovation, but it wasn’t that far removed from Mega Man X8.

So if 2-D games did exist, then where did they go? No, I don’t mean, “where did they end up?” We can see the answer to that every time we check the 3DS’s eshop and encounter a variety of platformers wallowing in the “Under $10!” ghetto. What I’m referring to is evolution. What I’m talking about is Mario, and the enormous gulf between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World. Heck, we consider Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World to be roughly contemporary, but Mario Maker reminded everyone that the difference between 8 and 16-bits is a lot more than eight digits. But that’s just how videogames worked practically since their inception: a new system with new possibilities means all the old games you remember with all-new graphical upgrades to get with the times. Super Contra, Super Castlevania, Super Adventure Island, Super Alfred Chicken. It’s a brand new day, and it’s time to see just how many pixels we can dedicate to Link’s eyebrows.

Look awayOf course, I suppose it’s Link and Mario that killed that trend. Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time destroyed the idea of the “evolving” sprites. Now Sonic would have to have an adventure, Mega Man would have to be a legend, and anybody that wanted to stick to the 2-D universe (hi, Wario!) would have to retreat to the lesser, portable systems. It would be years before we saw an updated Master Higgins or Monster World, because it was time to permanently migrate over to 3-D pastures.

But 3-D was not the welcoming land of milk and honey that many expected. The mascot platformer had ruled the 16-bit world, and, while many were happy to see that trend die kicking and screaming, it was clear that a universe of polygons was not going to do “cute characters” any favors. Many believe Sonic conquering the consoles fast is the only reason we saw the rise of the generic furry with attitude, but it’s a lot more likely that the horsepower of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis simply allowed for more expressive and “interesting” (I’m using quotes specifically for Aero the Acro-Bat there) mascots. And the Playstation could certainly create characters with a greater range of expressions than on the old systems… but nobody was going to mistake a model full of angles and sharp edges for cute. In fact, the death of Bubsy and his furry friends was probably just because no one could properly render fur. And without fur, all you’ve got is a ry.

ChillyBut there was one mascot from the 16-bit era that didn’t possess a single tuft of fur: Earthworm Jim. EWJ was the 16-bit mascot ideal: he was the cover-worm for every videogame magazine, he starred in his own animated series, and everyone fought over which version of which game was truly the best of the bunch. EWJ was a full-fledged phenomenon… for all of ten minutes. But, one-hit wonder or no, shouldn’t the ol’ powersuit have made the transition to 3-D? Where did our invertebrate hero go? Or, more particularly, where did the people who birthed Earthworm Jim go?

Well, they went to the Neverhood. Doug TenNapel created Earthworm Jim, and he left Shiny Entertainment (with a number of other employees) in 1995, likely because everyone seems to think Dave Perry invented the previously mentioned groovy guy. The Neverhood Inc (company) then partnered up with Dreamworks to create The Neverhood (game), an adventure game with a sincere/crazy sense of humor/whimsy. It was also a game where everything was made of clay, and there may or may not have been a hallway of scribbles that took about seventeen hours to read. It… was a weird game. But it was fun! And funny! And if PC gaming wasn’t a living hell at the time, The Neverhood likely would have become a game just as legendary as Earthworm Jim. Unfortunately, this was also a time when Electronics Boutique stopped selling PC games entirely because it was getting fed up with having to accept constant returns from screaming customers that never seemed to be able to purchase a game that would actually run on their own computers, so The Neverhood fell into that limbo of “great game, but only six people ever played it” like many 90’s computer games.

So, naturally, Neverhood Inc. tried to get a piece of the console pie. Wisely, Neverhood Inc. realized that the King’s Quest-esque adventure genre wouldn’t work on consoles for another decade or so, so the Neverhood world was repurposed as a more console friendly platforming game. Skullmonkeys was born.

WeeeeSkullmonkeys is a platforming game, plain and simple. You run, you jump, you jump on enemies, you spend a lot of time waiting for moving platforms, you’re dead in one hit unless you grab a powerup that allows for two hits, and there are a few “fireball” bits of ammo scattered around for when jumping just won’t do it. There’s a simple progression of difficulty and an increasing number of “traps” as Klaymen ventures through Idznak. There are bosses with simple, repeating patterns. There are bonus stages available only through finding various hidden knickknacks. It’s a platforming game, and if you switched in Bubsy or Awesome Possum for Klaymen, nobody would blink an eye. … Well, aside from the general confusion that would arise from playing a Bubsy game that was actually good.

Except… this was a game on the Playstation. There weren’t platforming games on the Playstation, and there certainly weren’t games that looked this gorgeous. Skullmonkeys was released the same year as Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid, 3-D games that are marvelous, wonderful experiences that are also, incidentally, terrible to look at. No, Skullmonkeys must be the last vestige of an alternate universe, another timeline where platforming games were allowed to evolve and grow into their “next gen” forms. This gorgeous, but limited, platforming game could not have seriously been released the same year as Spyro the Dragon. 1998 games are supposed to be polygons for days, with FMVs like you’d find in Ehrgeiz. There weren’t playforming games like this on the Playstation!

History tells us that platforming died with the last gasp of the Super Nintendo. Skullmonkeys, clearly, never happened.

More’s the pity.

FGC #294 Skullmonkeys

  • Platform: Playstation. I do not believe this has been ported anywhere else. This is what happens when a game is imaginary.
  • Number of players: Just Klaymen. I would not have said no to Willie becoming the Luigi.
  • Go joe!Favorite Boss: Joe Head Joe has Joe’s head for a body. At least, I would assume that is Joe. If not, he is pretty poorly named.
  • Pedantry Corner: Yes, I know there was a 3-D Earthworm Jim game. No, I am not ever going to acknowledge it.
  • Sequel Story: Skullmonkeys is a direct sequel to Neverhood, picking up exactly where the good ending of Neverhood left off, and including the planet Idznak, which was mentioned in that long-ass hallway. Fortunately, you don’t need to know a blessed thing from the Neverhood to enjoy this game, as “Klogg is evil” seems pretty apparent from the first moment he skins a monkey and wears his skull as a hat.
  • Just play the gig, man: The bonus stage music is delightful, and I certainly do not jump every time the singer claims there’s a monster right behind me.
  • Secret Shame: I have never seen the 1970’s bonus stage. Where are those damn things hiding!?
  • Goggle Bob Fact: There was enough advertising for Skullmonkeys that a Skullmonkeys sticker wound up stuck to my locker freshman year. For some reason, I found this act rebellious. I was a troubled youth.
  • Yummy!Did you know? There was apparently a Japan-only “sequel” to the Neverhood universe, a sports game called Klaymen Gun-Hockey. It was created by the company that had the Japanese rights to localize Neverhood games, and… was probably insane.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. This is a genuinely good platforming game, and I’d love to see it available on a portable (not phone, we need buttons here) system. Assuming we ever see that, couple it with save states, and we’re golden.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sunset Riders for the Super Nintendo! Get ready to bust some outlaws, pardner. Please look forward to it, ya’all!

FGC #191 New Super Mario Bros. Wii

There they goAnd now for a brief history of multiplayer in Mario games, and why that’s important.

Mario started with multiplayer. Donkey Kong, the premiere of Jump Man, was two player alternating, but when Mario gained his first headlining game, Mario Bros, is was with a two player simultaneous mode. And that really is the best way to play! Kicking over turtles and crabs is fun an’ all, but it’s much more enjoyable to do that while pushing a hapless Luigi into oncoming bees. Collect those coins before the green guy grabs ‘em! And, yes, if you’re in a particularly puckish mood, flip that turtle, piss him the heck off, and watch Luigi get bowled over by a rampaging tortoise. It’s right there in the title! This is Mario Bros, and the essence of family is sibling rivalry.

Unfortunately, Super Mario Bros, the iconic game that launched the Nintendo Entertainment System, returned to its alternating player roots. But two player is still two player! Even if you had to wait for your selfish friend to plow through every last goomba and buzzy beetle on the way to the princess (full disclosure: I was that selfish friend), eventually it would be your turn to play. Mario and Luigi both had the same quest, and it wasn’t up to some capricious console owner to finally pass the controller, the game did that for you. It might sound silly, but being seven and trusting someone else to eventually “give you a turn” is not how games get played. Look to Super Mario Bros 2 for proof of that. Was I the only kid that played “Okay, any time you pick Toad or Luigi, I get to play”? Fun fact: then nobody ever plays as Luigi or Toad. Funny how that works.

But Super Mario Bros. 3 brought back two player simultaneous play through a rehash of Mario Bros, and added a lot more strategy to the concept of two players in a Mario game. The “world map” of SMB3 might be seem quaint and unnecessary today, but “trapping” another player into a round of Mario Bros, or clearing stages in a WIGGLERSparticular order that guaranteed you’d be the one to claim that mushroom house was a game all its own. If you’re ever playing SMB3 alone, and wondering why it feels so different from when you were a kid, it’s because some part of your brain still remembers assaulting your best buddy for his star card so you could claim that precious 5-up. No, you didn’t need all those lives, but who could deny the joy of obtaining such a thing?

Super Mario World was the beginning of the end. SMW is a great game, but its entire 2-player mode seems like an afterthought. There’s the ability to transfer lives… and that’s it. If you beat the game as Luigi, the eternal player two, Mario is thanked for saving Princess Peach. The stupid dinosaur is praised, and Luigi is forgotten. He’s standing right there! Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island completely dropped its second player, which, on one hand, makes a certain kind of sense. On the other hand, well, there’s a reason I remember Kirby Super Star seeing my SNES a lot more often…

Then came Super Mario 64. You will note that it is not Super Mario Bros. 64. That is because Luigi is entirely missing from the experience, and any trace of a two-player mode with him. This was also the first Nintendo console to launch without a second controller… and there might be a connection there. The N64 was phenomenal for multiplayer experiences (Smash Bros, GoldenEye, Bomberman 64), but Mario was alone in his quest to get some cake and eat it too. This was eventually rectified in the DS remake (one way or another), but in 1996, the message was clear: two player Mario is over.

WeeeeWhen Mario decided to go on vacation, he went alone. When Luigi won a thoroughly haunted mansion, he explored it alone. When Mario charted the galaxy itself, he could have a little star buddy shooting star bits at aliens, but that was the tiniest of concessions to the idea of a two player experience. And any time Mario decided to play in the portable realm, well, maybe you have more friends than I do that buy the exact same games, but DS wireless play isn’t the easiest thing in the world, even if it is just for some minigames. Mario’s cast and extracurricular activities may have expanded over the years, but his own adventures had become depressingly solo.

Mario dropping his brother is significant. In a way, for many years, so went Mario, so went the world. He ushered in the concept of the “starring” mascot character (screw you, Pac-Man), the abstract world of gaming (jump on that turtle!), and, of course, the 2-D, scrolling platformer. When the N64 arrived, 3-D platforming arrived with it, and nobody remembers Jumping Flash, it’s Super Mario 64 all the way. And whether he’s promoting go-karting or smashing brothers, Mario has a tendency to get people’s attention.

But it’s not just about Mario being Mario, it’s about Mario always being in vicinity of the fun. And you know what isn’t fun? Sitting around and watching someone else play a videogame. Okay, maybe Let’s Plays have disproven that theory, so to take it a step further: nobody gets together on a Saturday night to watch LPs. You’ve got your friends over, you’ve had some juice and/or beer, and now it’s time to do something. What’s the better choice: everybody grab a controller for some Dammit, Toaddeath match fun times, or are we going to sit quietly and watch Goggle Bob collect another star from that giant dinosaur creature? Hey, who wants to watch me beat Super Mario Sunshine again? No you can’t have the controller, that’s mine.

And maybe I’m being hyperbolic, but I feel like the reason the platformer has fallen behind the likes of “open world adventure” or “FPS” is because a platformer is all about playing it, and watching it is only really exciting when someone is really good. Otherwise? Let’s grab something else we can all play. And thus does the next crop of games tout bullet points along the lines of “like Skyrim but” and “The Dark Souls of vegetable chopping”. I literally cannot remember the last time I saw a “Mario-like” that didn’t use the word “retro” a thousand times.

But there is hope for the future, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii started it. Nintendo realized that its target audience was a group of people gradually becoming disturbed loners, so NSMBW featured the ability to play through every last level with four players. Simultaneously! And dropping in and out of a game was as easy as pie, so if you wanted to beat World 3 while your friend was off honeymooning with his real life, you could! The platformer was for friends again, and the world breathed a sigh of relief.

And it’s only getting better! Super Mario Maker doesn’t have a “true” two player mode, but it offers the ability to create and share levels with friends across the globe. Weeee, againBetween the overt sharing, encouraging house guests to play created “worlds”, and watching LPs of the most difficult stages, Super Mario in his purest form is finally social again.

And that’s important.

For something to be popular, whether it’s a video game franchise, movie, or just a dirty limerick, it has to, by definition, be talked about. And the easiest way to get people talking about something is to share it. It’s cool that Band X released an album for ten million dollars that can only be purchased by one person, but if that one person doesn’t feel like sharing, it’s not going to make much of a cultural impact. Similarly, if Mario 64 is only played by one person per cartridge, that’s going to lead to an increasingly shrinking population of Mario players as further games are released. Nobody wants that, least of all Nintendo! Mario is to be shared, and someone finally realized that.

So good on you, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. You brought the brothers back to the brothers, and for that I’ll always be grateful.

… Mainly because I get to push Luigi into oncoming turtles again.

FGC #191 New Super Mario Bros. Wii

  • System: It’s a Wii, Wario. Wait, what?
  • Number of players: Four. Did you get that?
  • Dammit, guysHave some friends over: In the spirit of the game, I invited some buddies to play along on this entry. As you can see from some of the gifs, they’re terrible.
  • Favorite powerup: Penguin suit all day long. Screw the propeller hat, I wanna slide along on my tummy!
  • Koopa Kritters: This was the first “real” reappearance of the Koopalings since Super Mario World. I mean, they guested in a few Super Scope 6 and Mario & Luigi games, but those hardly count.
  • Did you know? This is the first game to feature the “super guide”, the little block that is supposed to make it so you are not ever permanently stuck on a particular level. Unfortunately, more often than not, it just serves to remind you that you suck, or died an unfathomably large number of times trying to get that one stupid bonus coin. Screw you, super guide!
  • Would I play again: Most certainly!… if there wasn’t a New Super Mario Bros. WiiU, at least. And its Luigi version. With an invincible Nabbit buddy. Seriously, it’s an improvement in every way.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Every Extend Extra for the PSP! Or is that Every Extra Extend? Bah, I can never remember correctly. Anyway, please look forward to it!

Hey, I’ve see this before

FGC #171 B.O.B.

BOB!During the 16-bit era, there seemed to be a lot of mascot 2-D platformers. Of the furry variety, we had the likes of Aero the Acro-Bat, Bubsy, and Frantic Flea. Animated shows/movies led to Aladdin, Family Dog, and Itchy and Scratchy. “Based on a real media property” gave us Home Improvement, Wayne’s World, and Dino City. And through it all, we had the “mainstays” like Mario, Arthur, and Sonic (arguably the rodent that started it all). In short, if there was a thing in the mid-90s that existed for longer than three seconds, it wound up with a 16-bit platformer. We nearly had a game starring the president’s cat!

But through it all, one has to ask the obvious question: Why?

The 90’s was an interesting time for gaming. The Atari crashed the entire industry in the early 80’s, but Nintendo brought it all back inside of a few years. Gaming had gone from dead to back in business in less time than a presidential term, and, what’s more, it really did rebuild itself with “mascots” as the cornerstone. Videogames are fun an’ all, but when you need sustenance, Mario and Zelda cereal is where it’s at. GI Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and even Transformers all had videogame tie-ins of varying quality, and, in time, that became absolutely standard for any “kiddy” franchise. Videogames had become another media pillar, so now any franchise worth its salt had to have a tie-in game. Otherwise, what’s the point? There’s money on the table!

So, somehow, 2-D platformer became the style of the time. It worked for some properties (Sega Genesis Jurassic Park immediately comes to mind), and not so much for others OUCH(Did I already mention Home Improvement? That happened). But whether the property could be adapted to the platformer formula was immaterial (you could always toss a dinosaur or giant insect boss in there and claim a mad scientist was involved), what was important was your star was out there, and the lucrative “videogame demographic” was eating up your media with a spoon. Bubsy in Close Encounters of the Furried Kind is just one stop in the Bubsy empire!

The obvious answer to the “why” here is the same reason we saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The Cereal. It’s all about the merchandising, and NBC, Disney, or whatever eldritch horror was responsible for Aero the Acro-Bat didn’t care about the game so much as the raw advertising potential. This inevitably led to a lot of terrible platformers, because if Activision could get away with selling a blank SNES cartridge labeled “Eat at Joe’s”, they’d do it. Actually, that may have been preferable to Arcade’s Revenge

But… why bother?

What was it about the platformer that was so enticing back in the 16-bit days? Why not just make a (sloppy) fighting game, or a (messy) RPG? Sure, these genres have a reputation for being more complex than “run, jump, boss”, but that’s only because everyone remembers those genres’ successes, and not the Fighter’s Histories or Beyond the Beyonds. Wouldn’t practically any style of game be better suited to character-driven narratives than the platformer? You don’t have to create an endless array of anonymous mooks for a fighting game (there aren’t really foot soldiers in The Jungle Book), and you could actually insert some witty dialogue in RPGs (ideal for those oddly pervasive sitcom-based games). But, no, let’s call it a virtual reality mishap or whatever and get Bart Simpson as a dinosaur. There’s an excuse to hop over an ice level!

OUCHSo here’s B.O.B. B.O.B. is an original creation of someone at Gray Matter Inc. or Foley Hi-Tech systems. B.O.B. is just a little yellow robot dude that is trying to meet his robo-girlfriend for a date. B.O.B. appears to be vaguely insectoid, and has a gun for a hand. B.O.B. has a tendency to make “amusing” quips at the start of each level, and end every stage with a “whacky” dance. B.O.B. is basically every mascot character in microcosm, albeit more metallic than furry.

The World of B.O.B. is… annoying. This game comes from the same studio that produced the previously mentioned Wayne’s World SNES game, and it shows. Basically, every stage is a different area that did its absolute best to cram as much of a maze into a roughly squareish collection of pixels as possible. Like Harley’s Humongous Adventure, expect aggravating stages that place the exit just beyond a wall that must be circumvented by traipsing all over the whole stage again just to find one stupid ladder. Some stages are more straightforward, “platform challenging” affairs, but even then, the nondescript hallways and shafts make it impossible to gauge your own progress. There’s a (strangely strict) timer for every stage, and when it ticks down to zero, good luck determining if you were inches from the goal or practically at the starting line. Oh, and there are “vehicle” segments, ostensibly designed to break up the monotony of every stage being samey to the point of parody, but they just seem to exist to encourage the player to memorize the poorly constructed maps/tracks, so, basically, they’re a poor man’s speeder bike.

Moving right alongIn short, one could conceivably have fun with B.O.B., but the odds are low. I guess some of the guns and gadgets are interesting, but even then, you’ve got limited ammo and no “safe” areas to test the more esoteric devices. You just acquired one (1) light bulb… that’s… probably useful? Want to waste it to find out? Or wait until you’re fighting a boss, and find out it does practically nothing? Your choice!

I’m sorry, that paragraph got off track. What I mean to say is that B.O.B. sucks. It is a bad game.

So… what was the point of this, yet another 16-bit platformer? Simple, if you look at the box, you’ll note the custom B.O.B. logo. Yep, this nothing of a platformer was intended to launch the entire B.O.B. product line, so you and your whole family could soon be wearing B.O.B. hats, shoes, and shirts. Look at that whacky robot go! B.O.B. has captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation of B.O.B.-heads. Keep making the world a better place, B.O.B.!

Except… none of that happened, because B.O.B. sucked.

Which circles back again to “why?” Why did anyone, least of all people who created and maybe actually played B.O.B., think B.O.B. was going to be a success? The actual “videogame” here isn’t any fun at all. It’s passable, but it’s certainly not something that could compete with Mario, Sonic, or Mega Man. The cartoony characters are mixed with vaguely Alien-esque graphics and environments, so this wasn’t exactly pre-packaged for Saturday Morning. About the only thing that really makes a positive impact in this game is the “attitude”. B.O.B. appears to be a teenager robot with a disciplinarian father and an overbearing girlfriend, and he’s unerringly sarcastic in response to everything in the galaxy. And his animations are kind of amusing. That’s all B.O.B.’s got.

YuckSo Electronic Arts thought they could build a Sonic-esque empire on… a sassy robot.

Bite my shiny metal ass, 16-bit platformers. Be glad that the worthless cash-in games of today have migrated to the domain of cell phones. At least CSI: Match Three never wasted a bi-weekly video rental.

FGC #171 B.O.B.

  • System: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and, oddly enough, it got a rerelease on the PSP. So very doomed.
  • Number of players: One player. Kind of surprised they didn’t give B.O.B. a goofy sidekick. Though I suppose they have to save something for the sequel.
  • Favorite Weapon: I’d like the flamethrower if it didn’t run out of ammo instantly. Oh, hey, this is yet another lousy game that forces you to use a weak melee attack when your guns run empty. That’s never fun, videogame designers!
  • PARTY OVER HERESo you’re not going to do anything special because you both have the same name? No. I am personally insulted that I’ve got B.O.B. and “the fat guy” from Tekken. There are better Bobs!
  • An end: So the finale of B.O.B. sees our titular hero finally meet his date… and she turns out to be a (literally) big mouthed shrew of a lady bot. So B.O.B. immediately ditches her for a quiet girl that appears to be a surfer girl (bot). Score another one for the patriarchy!
  • Did you know? Gray Matter was the name of a videogame company long before Breaking Bad. All the same, it still gives me a vibe that this game was maybe created thanks to meth money. At least you can’t say good chemistry was involved in this nonsense!
  • Would I play again: There is nothing here that encourages the player to replay (or even continue). I might hit some random website to view the level maps and see if there was some method to the madness, but it’s not happening anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pinball Quest for the NES! Never before has the phrase “Pinball Wizard” been so apt! Please look forward to it!