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FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Here comes a special boyCastlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is likely the most ill-advised videogame in gaming.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was not made for sequels

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (no additional verbage) was a Playstation 3/Xbox 360 game meant to revitalize the Castlevania franchise. Koji Igarashi held the reins of the Castlevania universe for years, and, in that time, he produced exactly one (1) decent console Castlevania. Granted, it was one of the best games of all time, but every time Iga hit the consoles again, we wound up with something… less than stellar. The PS2 outings were rote and boring, and the Wii saw a Castlevania fighting game that was maybe the most bonkers bit of plotting in an already supremely bonkers franchise (Super Mega Death traveled through time so Maria could be jealous of Sypha’s rack). None of these games presented any sort of justification for Castlevania to exist on the “next gen” consoles, and, since portables have long been considered the ghetto of gaming, Konami was understandably concerned about its Castlevania franchise. If one of your top franchises was simply languishing in the portable market, how could you ever marry said franchise to successful slot machines?

Lords of Shadow was basically a gritty reboot for an almost accidentally gritty series. You’ve got a Belmont hero, but now he’s working for a very real and very present Christian church. You’ve got your old standbys like the werewolf, succubus, and Grim Reaper, but now they all have tragic backstories with (fantasy) logical origins (if you ascend to Heaven as an immaculate being, obviously your body stays behind and becomes a vampire slut). The environs are more Lord of the Rings (popular at the time), combat is more God of War (also popular at the time), and everything is a lot more bloody (always popular). Lords of Shadow does a lot to simultaneously distinguish itself as a fresh, new look at Castlevania and be, incidentally, an experience that is fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the HD action game flock (of 2010 or so).

ScaryBut LoS did one remarkable thing: spoilers, but you were Dracula the whole time! Gasp! You were playing through the secret origins of this brand new Dracula, and now you’re the Lord of Darkness himself! And the final boss is Satan. Yes, that Satan! Dracula is kind of a good guy! Or something!

And the only problem is that that’s a neat trick, but you can only do it once.

The whole “you were the bad guy all along” thing is a great twist, but it doesn’t really lend itself to a franchise. It can work in many pieces of media, but for a videogame, you inhabit the protagonist, so the fresh new nasty boy either has to be the final boss of the next adventure (because killing off the previous protagonist in any lesser manner would be an insult to the first game), or said “villain” has to be supremely misunderstood. In fact, it seems like the Lords of Shadow staff realized this immediately, and tacked on a postlude that featured New Dracula awakening in modern times. Cool! He’ll be “misunderstood”, but Dracula in modern times is a fresh new direction for the Castlevania franchise! Maybe a sequel could work!

The sequel absolutely doesn’t work

Let's reflect on thisOkay, maybe the real sequel does actually work, but Castlevania: Chain of Memories absolutely does not.

So, first, in order for this whole game to work, we have to retcon in Gabrielle Belmont, star of Lords of Shadow, and his brand spanking new son who never got mentioned before this very moment. Okay, Gabrielle was a prophesized warrior that was incidentally being controlled by Patrick Stewart, so, sure, maybe the family bought into not telling Gabrielle “for his own good”, and, since the player exists behind Gabe’s eyes, we just weren’t privy to that information. Fine. But this also means the story has to start a maximum of twenty years (good hero’ing age) after Gabrielle became Dracula, and… is that going to work? Gabby kind of accidentally became Dracula, so is he going to settle into the whole “malevolent dictator” thing that quickly? And Lords of Shadow started in 1000 AD or so, so how does humanity even get to the modern era teased during the LoS finale if Dracula has been awake and active for the last millennium? So many questions!

But, okay, let’s move past that. Let’s just say that Dracula is simultaneously very quick to come into his powers, but very slow to actually do anything with his powers. And, hey, that’s basically the original canon, right? Oh, wait, no, there’s always a Belmont slapping down that Dracula before he can do anything. But we’ve got Belmonts here, though, right? Like, that’s the whole point of the “Gabrielle’s son” conceit, right? Sure, we’ve got (new, LoS) Trevor Belmont here, husband of Sypha, and he’s going to… Wait. Wasn’t the whole point of LoS that a Belmont became corrupted to become Dracula, so we’re not so different, you and I, and all that riot? So if we now have a whole crop of Belmonts… what was the point of this new franchise again? Castlevania, but with slightly larger trolls? I thought this was supposed to be new? This franchise really isn’t built for soldering on pieces of an already convoluted franchise. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a real live person wearing a cartoon princess dress, and that’s not a good look.

Same Trick, Two Games

ALUCARDIn Lords of Shadow, Gabrielle Belmont is eventually revealed to be Dracula.

In Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, Trevor Belmont is eventually revealed to be Alucard.

There. Just saved you all twenty hours of “mystery”.

“Linear” is not a dirty word

Presumably in order to build tension for that all-important Alucard reveal, Mirror of Fate is played in a sort of reverse chronology. First you play as Simon Belmont, who is being helped by a mysterious white-haired ally. Then you play as said ally, Alucard, who is fighting Dracula, but he doesn’t quite remember why. And then, finally, you play as Trevor from twenty years earlier, who is eventually defeated by Dracula in order to be revived as Alucard. It’s all very clever and cute and mysterious assuming you didn’t guess that exact twist from the first trailer. And even if you managed to go into the game fresh, you’d have to have the intelligence of a fleaman to miss all the anvilicious clues being dropped every ten seconds. And, oh yeah, if you played the first game, you’d be expecting that exact twist, and why the hell would you be interested in such a tiresome sequel if you didn’t play the first game?

It's not really a spriteAnd, frankly, it is heartbreaking that the plot seems to be stuck with this en media res nonsense, as there are a good number of characters and events along the way that really benefit from linear understanding. There is very little benefit to a new player being confused by Simon’s “mysterious ally”, but there is emotional heft to be gleamed from Simon being assisted by his cursed ancestor. The Daemon (ugh) Lord was mutilated by Trevor, and then revived by arcane science to return and menace Alucard… but when you first encounter the mechanized monster during Alucard’s story, he’s just another unrecognizable, barely threatening boss. And it sure would be nice if we weren’t saddled with yet another immortal protagonist that is suffering from amnesia just as long as the plot demands!

A linear Mirror of Fate wouldn’t have solved all of the story’s problems, but it would have made a number of the generational plot beats wildly more effective. But, no, I guess it wouldn’t be a Lords of Shadow game if the gameplay didn’t end in a shocking (not shocking) revelation.

It’s a metroidvania without the exploration

Enough about this silly plot! How’s the gameplay?

Not great, Goggle Bob.

ZZZZAAAPLords of Shadow was an attempt to turn Castlevania into a new God of War-like franchise. And it was mostly successful! But for the portable version, the decision was made to return to the metroidvania-like format of the last decade’s worth of portable Castlevania titles. This was a clever move, and an obvious way to bring lapsed Castlevania fans back into the fold. Don’t worry, old fans, this franchise is still for you! Look, here’s a platinum-haired dhampir exploring a big ol’ castle just for you.

Except… everyone involved kind of forgot how a metroidvania game works.

First of all, this adventure was doomed from the start, as the three different characters in three different stories (and 2.5 different time periods) kind of preclude the traditional “one big castle/planet” of most metroidvanias. But it could still work! Order of Ecclesia and Portrait of Ruin both had “level” like areas, so it’s not completely alien to the genre. Oh! And the “generations” thing could lead to a lot of different, fun puzzles! Break a gateway in the past to allow for entry in the future! Drain the moat as Trevor so Simon doesn’t have to take a dip! It could be a thing of beauty!

But, no, it was not to be. Mirror of Fate put an emphasis on two things: plot and battles. We’ve already covered the plot ad nauseam, but be aware that no “time travel” shenanigans are allowed when we’re telling a very serious story about seriously inept Belmonts (you just have to kill one vampire! One!). And that leaves us with the combat, which is…. kind of sad.

Moving right alongThere’s a reason that the greatest heroes of 2-D just jump. There’s a reason previous Belmonts were limited to a whip and a few subweapons. There’s a reason that even the mightiest of blue bombers are limited to a life of pew pewing. 2-D combat can only be so interesting. When you have a limited field of movement, you have a limited set of abilities, and whip/dodge/jump only gets you so far. In many Castlevania games, this is masked by a great wealth of monsters from across time and space. In this Castlevania game… not so much. Lords of Shadow seems to put a premium on combat with recurring enemies in tight corridors, but, give or take a few interesting boss battles, it feels fairly flat. And when you hang a game on something that feels perfunctory, the entire game feels kind of boring.

And, when you get down to it, that’s the problem with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Everything about it winds up being tedious and predictable. And hanging a flagship franchise on a game that is that boring is… ill-advised.

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

  • System: Nintendo 3DS initially, and then an HD version was released to follow Lords of Shadow 2. This is basically the same trajectory as a certain Kingdom Hearts game, which is never a good sign.
  • Number of Players: Technically four playable characters if you include the opening tutorial, but only one player at a time.
  • Favorite Monster: The Executioner is a wonderful bit of Mirror of Fate storytelling.

    Grrrr

    He’s not just a scary giant, he’s a scary giant with brain problems. Be sad for the hulking creature chopping your protagonist in twain.

  • Absolutely Favorite Part: So this game has fall damage. That’s terrible for a metroidvania. But! The fall damage scales to the height you’ve fallen, so a falling just a little over a body’s height will cause little tiny damage. This pairs wonderfully with any given character’s blood-curdling scream o’ death, which triggers no matter how the protagonist dies. This all adds up to an unstoppable shriek of agony every time your health is low and you miss the last step on a staircase… and I can get behind that.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Trevor is now the first son of Dracula and the new Alucard. Simon is a deadly barbarian that is the first Belmont to defeat Dracula (with a little help). Sypha… is an obedient and immediately dead housewife. Woo.
  • Did you know? It seriously bothers me that Trevor starts with a double jump, but Alucard, who is Trevor, has to earn the skill. It kinda bothers me how much this simple bit of gameplay bothers me.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Not ever. Bah! You make-a me so mad!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken 3 for the Playstation! Let’s see who can become the King of the Iron Fist after most of the cast retires! Please look forward to it!

Youch

FGC #335 Rayman 2: The Great Escape

And now a comprehensive list of videogame consoles that support Rayman 2, and whether or not they ever needed Rayman 2.

Nintendo 64 (11/6/99)

DONT DO ITIt all started here… Rayman 2: The Great Escape is a 3-D platforming collectathon that premiered on the N64. This is appropriate, as the N64 was home to some of the most collecty collectathons that ever collected. Remember Donkey Kong 64? Jet Force Gemini? … Probably other Rare games? The N64 was made for either 3-D collectathons or racing games (and Diddy Kong Racing, the first racing collectathon), so one might assume this would be a good place for Rayman’s collectathon. Rayman was basically a 16-bit platforming mascot on the previous system, so aping Mario 64 on the next gen seemed only natural.

Of course, the downside to this is that Rayman 2 had to compete with the previously mentioned Mario 64. Good luck with that! Don’t worry, Rayman, it’s not your fault. Pretty much no one could compete with the raw joy of Mario skipping and hopping around a perfect wonderland built perfectly for his stubby little plumber legs, and no amount of quirky British humor was going to change that. And it probably doesn’t help that Mario’s robust moveset is right there from the moment Lakitu clicks on his camera, while Rayman feels sluggish and woefully underequipped for most of his journey. It’s a poor first impression, and that’s not so great when Mario 64 is inevitably right there. Never compete with the launch title, kiddies!

Did the N64 need Rayman 2? This is a firm “maybe”. On one hand, the N64 needed more games, as it was Nintendo’s first foray into the fun and frightening world of supporting a console almost exclusively with first and second party releases. On the other hand, Mario 64 is arguably the greatest 3-D platforming game of the generation, and no gang of mechanical pirates is ever going to change that. So I guess Rayman 2 is good for the N64 if you want a decent platforming game, but don’t want to make eye contact with Jolly Roger Bay.

Dreamcast (3/21/00)

Here we go!Okay, now we’re talking. The N64’s release list was anemic, but it looked like a bloodbath next to Dreamcast’s “twelve fighting games, and, I don’t know, that one game with the mice” output. And the Dreamcast controller! Do you see that analogue stick there? You know that is meant to assist with rad analogue movement, right? Did that come in handy in Street Fighter 3? SoulCalibur? A third Dreamcast game I haven’t already mentioned? No, it was there for Sonic Adventure, and then ignored for the rest of forever. The Dreamcast was practically made for at least one sweet 3-D platformer! And here’s one sweet 3-D platformer! Yay!

Did the Dreamcast need Rayman 2? Absolutely. The Dreamcast version of Rayman 2 is improved in every way (particular in the camera way), and it’s a great match for the system. With no Mario to compete with, Rayman shines (but does not collect Shines), and the emphasis on strafing/shooting is a lot more tolerable when you can see what you’re doing. The visuals are much improved, too. Rayman N64 is a clunky mishmash of 2-D and 3-D, but Rayman 2 DC feels 100% 3-D all the way. Couple this with a dearth of options on the Dreamcast, and it seems like these two failures were made for each other.

Playstation (8/31/00)

SPEAK!You gotta recoup your losses somehow. Rayman 2 was never meant for the tiny discs of the Playstation, and it shows. The graphics took a hit falling from the grace of the Dreamcast, 200 collectible whatsits are entirely missing, and a handful of levels are just gone. But on the plus side, there’s voice acting! So now you can sit around and wait for the damn tutorial… thing to finish its speech about properly pressing the R1 button. Progress! Has any game ever been enhanced by characters suddenly gaining the ability to talk? I love you all, Sonic, Samus, and Rayman, but I’m pretty sure you’d all be better off in the silent protagonist camp. Or at least just speaking Sims.

Did the Playstation need Rayman 2? I guess that if this was your only console, this would have been your only route to Rayman. I suppose there’s something noble about that. However, it seems that this is more a case of Ubisoft needing the Playstation, as both the N64 and Dreamcast were not well received consoles, while the Playstation had an install base of every cool kid on Earth. This is a severely compromised port, but it was likely more than worth it to get a few bucks off the Tony Hawk crowd (I assume that if you love being radical, you love Rayman). Of course, it would have probably all made a lot more sense if Ubisoft just waited for…

Playstation 2 (1/30/01)

Move alongOh, I get it. They had to get a Rayman out in the US before Christmas. Five months after the Playstation release, the Playstation 2 got Rayman 2. Wait, no, not Rayman 2, now it’s Rayman: Revolution, so as to properly trip up anyone with the kind of brain disease that encourages buying every last Rayman title. At least this seems to be the apex of Rayman 2 upgrades, as now we have voice acting, all the levels, all new levels, one extra Lum, and a hub world to replace the “world map” of previous versions. Your mileage may vary on whether or not any of these upgrades actually improve the game, but more is always better… right?

Did the Playstation 2 need Rayman 2? This is a better fit than the Playstation 1 version, and all of the new bells and whistles are certainly nice. On the other disembodied hand, though, this game was released almost a full year after the launch of the PS2, and that’s about a full year past when a system should be supporting ports from the previous generation. This is still a game that isn’t quite at Banjo Kazooie levels of playability, and it should be completely ignored in favor of other big Playstation 2 releases, like The Bouncer.

Gameboy Color (1/1/02)

This one barely counts, but I suppose it should be noted for posterity. This is a 2-D platforming game, and is an entirely new experience. An entirely new experience that has the exact same plot, but gameplay is king here on Gogglebob.com, so we’re sticking to our assessment. What’s important is that this is not a Gameboy Advance title, but a Gameboy Color release. Remember the Gameboy Color? It could barely support Super Mario Bros. I wouldn’t hold out much hope for… Oh my God, this thing looks like it was made in MS Paint.

NO!

Did the Gameboy Color need Rayman 2? I don’t even understand why this game is Rayman 2. Couldn’t they have just made this its own thing? Rayman and The Pirate’s Curse? I don’t know, something like that. Was it really worth preserving (and sullying) the Rayman 2 extended universe? And does this game do absolutely anything for the Gameboy Color? Not on your life. Let those Lums die.

Nintendo DS (3/25/05)

Up we goWe thought we were safe, but three years later, Rayman 2 returned. After somehow skipping the Gameboy Advance, Rayman followed Mario 64 back down to the DS. This is a port of the N64 game, so can anyone confirm if the DS was somehow running on N64 parts? Seems like we got a lot of N64 ports on that little system, and it can’t just be because the world wanted to see a version of Star Fox 64 that wasn’t slathered in the N64 fog. Regardless, this is N64 Rayman 2 all over again, so most of the improvements seen on the intervening systems are nowhere to be found. Like Mario 64 DS, touch controls where implemented to compensate for the lack of an analogue nub. … Which was just another way to copy Mario…

Did the Nintendo DS need Rayman 2? Same N64 game, same N64 problem. Just play Mario 64! It’s right there! Available right from the launch! Or play that damn Yoshi game! Don’t play Rayman 2! You’re encouraging the wrong kind of behavior!

iOS (3/1/10)

It’s the Dreamcast game! But with touch controls! UGGGGGGGGGH.

Did iOS need Rayman 2? UGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGH.

Nintendo 3DS (3/22/11)

So hot!How does this keep happening!? It’s been twelve years! You already had a Nintendo portable system, Rayman 2, you didn’t need another one! Couldn’t Ubisoft have pinched out a Rabbids title? Maybe upscale the GBC release for a little variety? No, this is the Dreamcast release, again, but now with minor 3-D features. Is Rayman 2 somehow this beloved? It has to launch with another damn system? Another damn system that already plays better games? Why does Rayman 2 keep coming back? Are robot pirates eating things they should not eat that perennial? WHY?!

Did the 3DS need need Rayman 2? Are people still buying Firefly Blu-Rays? Like, they were already discounted down to $10 two decades ago, and the show got cancelled after a season, and, like, it’s cool that you still support the series, but… we’ve moved on. The franchise has moved on. Everyone has moved on. It’s over. Let it go. Let it rest. Some things are best just… done. Go collect 999 Lums somewhere else.

FGC #335 Rayman 2: The Great Escape

  • System: Did you read the article? Note that all images are from either the N64 or PS2 version (and one GBC shot). I ain’t playin’ anymore Rayman 2 than that.
  • Did I miss anybody? I guess the PS2 version is available on PS3. Also, the PSX version is available on PS3. Huh. I wonder if that’s just for Rayman purists.
  • Number of players: Just one Rayman.
  • Yay!Say something nice: No matter the version, I do enjoy Rayman interacting with the weird little denizens of his world. This is clearly the company that would eventually give us a gaggle of Rabbids.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: I’m not even going to touch the difference between the traditional (male) Rayman, Globox, or Pirate vs. your average fairy. Actually, is there a female Rayman-looking creature anywhere in the series? Nothing immediately comes to mind.
  • Did you know? Apparently the 3DS (and hopefully final) version of Rayman 2 includes at least one glitch that makes collecting all of the Lums completely impossible. This is important, because it indicates that not even the producers of Rayman 2 are playing through these ports anymore.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention that this game was outclassed when it was first released two decades ago? Rayman 2’s time was over before it began, and I’m not going to waste any more of my time on it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… World Heroes Anthology! Let’s gather up all the heroes of time… and make ‘em fight! Please look forward to it!

FGC #317 Press Your Luck 2010 Edition

Should I be shouting this?You ever try to trace down the exact origins of your own quirks?

I’m a big videogame nerd (thanks for reading entry #317 in a series about videogames I done played), but I’m also into other nerdy pursuits. Comic books? All over that. Anime? That’s a big duh. And that somehow translates into an unending love for animation in all its forms, too. “Anime” is its own genre with its own set of tropes, but I will gladly watch most anything that is even the slightest bit animated. Do we consider this “Western Animation”? Or just call it Looney Tunes? Doesn’t matter, as I’ll watch everything from God, the Devil and Bob to Son of Zorn before I watch a single episode of The Big Bang Theory. I’ve been watching The Simpsons for three decades, but I drop SNL the minute TV Funhouse doesn’t show up. I like cartoons.

And, since about five years ago, I’ve been trying to figure out why I like cartoons. Why did this quest start five years ago? Well, because there was a hurricane of some repute, and my mother decided to hole up at my place to weather the incoming storm. I don’t have cable, so when I asked my dear mother what she wanted to watch (as the likes of Netflix requires premeditated viewing habits), her response was a curt, “Just as long as it isn’t a cartoon.” Needless to say, I was offended. This woman comes into my house to watch my television, and she has the audacity to claim that I watch… what is the implication here?… that animation is somehow low brow? Not as good as “real” TV? Look, my-so-called-mother, I realize watching that marathon of Digimon Frontier may not have been your cup of tea, but no need to denigrate an entire medium because you were not entertained by Ranamon’s antics. I watched Bob’s Burgers, too! That’s for adults! I think!

LOSERBut, yes, after I managed to calm down and narrowly resist kicking my mother out of my house and into a deadly hurricane, I began to assess my media consumption. And it appears that mother is always right; I do watch a lot of cartoons! And, while we’re at it, let’s admit that the live action shows I do watch are pretty close to cartoons, too. Is there really that much separating CW’s The Flash from Cartoon Network’s Justice League? Is Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s description as “a live action cartoon” that far off base? I’ll even admit that Riverdale is pretty much an anime, complete with a bland male protagonist that seems to have a harem of attractive and varied ladies (and they even found an excuse to get those ladies into swimsuits by the third episode!). Even when I’m not watching cartoons, I’m still watching cartoons, and I’d like a decent explanation for why.

And, sorry readers, I got nothing. Maybe it was an overexposure to Voltron, maybe I just really liked Ghostbusters as a kid, but I can’t tell you where this all started. I just… like cartoons. That’s it.

But, when I think about it, I can tell you my earliest “maybe I have a problem” memory.

My grandparents owned a guest house in a shore community, all of a block from the beach. I always lived one town over from said grandparents, and my parents, like many parents before them, often needed a break, so I wound up at the grandparents for the afternoon. This worked out well for all parties, as my parents could go do adult stuff (side note: I’m an only child, so they clearly never did anything interesting), I could maybe convince my grandfather to take me to a boardwalk arcade, and my grandmother had a fierce maternal instinct, so, for some reason, she liked babysitting. My mother was an only child, but she is still quick to recall tales from her childhood of my grandmother effectively adopting other young family members for months at a time while their parents “relaxed”. I guess my grandmother just had the “grandma gene” activated at a young age. Whatever the case, everyone seemed happy with the arrangement, and I wound up staying with my grandparents at least once a week (assuming it wasn’t winter, when they had a tendency to flee to Florida. Hey, everybody needs a break).

Excellent...But while this arrangement worked out rather well when I was all of three, things started to get more dicey when I hit the later years (like when I was old and mature enough to enter kindergarten). At a certain point in your life, you realize that you must be entertained at all times, and just sitting on the floor staring out the window is no longer going to cut it. And, when your current caretaker is also running an entire guest house business and attempting to keep you diverted… well, it’s time to turn on the TV. Which could have worked… if it wasn’t the mid-to-late 80’s, when the average person had all of twelve channels, and all of them were running reruns of Mr. Ed. Sweet, beautiful cartoons might be on in the morning, but this was a time before even The Disney Afternoon, so, unless Grandpa got the VCR working again, I was stuck with stupid, lame adult programming.

But there was one show my grandmother and I could watch together with no objections from either side: Press Your Luck.

Press Your Luck is basically a game show for stupid people. Uh, to be clear, I’m saying the contestants are dumb, not the people watching it. Those contestants, though? What a bunch of morons. Basically, whereas any other game show at the time (the 80’s) was generally skill based (even if that skill was just “know the price of beans”), the hook of Press Your Luck was that all your correctly answered questions earned you “spins” on the “board”… so basically you got another shiny quarter for the slot machine. About 10% of the game was proving your worth with ridiculous questions, and the other 90% was praying to CBS that you didn’t land on the square that would bankrupt you instantly, the Whammy.

But, oh man, that Whammy. That was why I watched.

WHAMMYI suppose in an effort to differentiate Press Your Luck from Wheel of Fortune, the Whammy was an animated, red “gremlin” that would appear and “destroy” the player’s earnings. And no two Whammies were alike! Okay, that’s a complete lie, but there were something like 50 different Whammies, and it was unlikely you’d see too many repeats in a week’s time. Some Whammies used giant cartoon bombs, some Whammies acted out little skits, and some Whammies imitated The Beatles for reasons that were never clear. They were basically five second Chuck Jones skits, and they were glorious. Well, to a five year old at least.

But that’s all it took to bridge the generational gap between my grandmother and I. On one side of the aisle, you’ve got a woman that literally grew up on a farm, a devoted Christian woman of many decades watching a show that is half trivia and half live gambling. On the other side, you’ve got a tiny child that just lives for every time that silly little red guy pops up on the screen. And, for a half hour, everyone is happy.

So maybe I have no idea where my love of cartoons originates. And maybe I’ll never know. But I do know that sometimes that love of cartoons allows for generations to be crossed, fun to be had, and for hearts to be as one… while watching Press Your Luck.

Look, this is my blog, not a Hallmark card. Screw it, I’m gonna go watch some more Adventure Time.

FGC #317 Press Your Luck 2010 Edition

  • System: Nintendo Wii for this review that has absolutely nothing to do with the game. Also available for the DS, PS3, and various idevices.
  • Number of Players: Three. Not coincidentally like Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Look, it’s Press Your Luck. It’s 10% trivia and 90%… pressing your luck. Huh. Just got that. What’s important here is that some of the questions are written for the legally brain dead…

    THIS AM HARD

    And I’m not even sure this next one is accurate!

    MANTIS IS DEER!

    But I don’t know enough about moose to say for certain.

  • Climb the ladder: While the game seems to be built for multiplayer, there are apparently twenty different “levels” to this adventure. Each “game” takes way too long as is, though, so be glad I ever got up to Level 3.
  • Press Your Facts: In researching this article, I was shocked to find that Press Your Luck only filmed episodes from 1983-1986. That can’t be right! But, then again, they apparently recorded 758 episodes during those three seasons…. And that’s probably accurate.
  • Did you know? Savage Steve Holland and Bill Kopp animated the Whammies. Those two knuckleheads would go on to be responsible for a lot of animated nonsense in the 80s and 90s, and were the creators behind Eek! the Cat. And, additional fun fact, if you think Eek! The Cat is bad, I will fight you.
  • Would I play again: In memory of my dear, departed grandmother…. No. This is not a fun game. There are better experiences available on… every other system. Ever.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bubsy Fractured Furry Tales for the Atari Jaguar! Seriously!? I have six Jaguar games, and four Bubsy games, and somehow ROB managed to choose three of each? I don’t like those odds. Oh well, what could go wrong? Please look forward to it!

Clap along
Yes, all according to plan…

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

SANIC!The Sonic the Hedgehog games should get more praise, because they’re everything you ever wanted.

(Though, to be clear, I’m not saying Sonic the Hedgehog games are good.)

I’m an old school gamer. I’ve been playing videogames literally longer than I can remember, but I do remember the first time I played Super Mario Bros. in the same way most people remember receiving a beloved pet. Sitting in my neighbor’s basement, SMB was a revelation the likes of which would take decades to truly understand. And in the intervening years, I have yet to see a “bad” Mario game (note: I do not own a CD-i). Nintendo has carefully curated the franchise for ages, and we, the unwashed public, are only entitled to a new Mario game when Miyamoto sees fit to release one. And, what’s more, there is usually a reason for a new Mario release. Super Mario World was released to commemorate Mario finally getting a dinosaur mount, and Super Mario Sunshine would be a very different animal without the Gamecube’s analog shoulder buttons. Other franchises are similar, from Zelda to Final Fantasy, and, while they all obviously exist to fill their producers’ coffers, one does get the distinct impression that each of these releases is carefully crafted and calculated to be as much a “designer’s vision” as possible. Breath of the Wild or Final Fantasy 15 were obviously built by a small army of programmers, designers, and composers, but the direction of these games seem singular and focused. In the same way that one could point to a Spielberg or Cameron film, one can recognize a Nintendo or Square-Enix AAA title.

WeeeeeBut there is a flipside to these carefully crafted games. When a game is one director’s vision, there isn’t much room for anything else. And, what’s more, there isn’t room for anything else that the audience might enjoy. To be more precise, was I the only ten year-old that was disappointed that Super Mario Bros. 3 didn’t ever reference The Super Mario Super Show or The Wizard? Would it have been too much for The Adventure of Link to give us a passing reference to Captain N: The Game Master? Or, speaking of which, could we get another Kid Icarus game? I know it doesn’t fit your image of the franchise, Nintendo, but could you throw a bone over to the kids who have been devouring your Nintendo Cereal System like candy? Also, Nintendo candy? The fans demand it!

But the future refused to change. These “franchise caretakers” have gotten better in recent years, but when even your Disney crossover games have become as serious as a Russian history lecture, you know that maybe these singular visions have gotten in the way of your toys. Remember when rom hacking first became a thing? And everybody and their mother replaced the Mario sprite with everything from “Wheelchair Mario” to Kenny McCormick? That’s what the fans want to see! It obviously wouldn’t be “right”, but sometimes you just want to see Cloud Strife fight Mario while Bayonetta poses in the background. And only one game in history has ever done that! There should be at least five of those by now!

And then there’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic… he gets it. Sonic has been trying to please his fans for years.

The fans demand it!It started with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Sonic the Hedgehog (the game) does not naturally lend itself to two players, as the whole speed factor means someone has to slow down to stay on the screen, and “two player alternating” is going to be boring as playing Phantasy Star as you wait for your turn. Tails was introduced as a stopgap 2-player mode. Sure, he can’t really “do” anything, but you can now play through Sonic’s zones with an active buddy participating in the fun, and maybe the wee fox can take a few hits on his bro’s behalf. And if that’s not your thing, here’s a 2-player competitive race mode. It’s not “the whole game”, but it’s more entertaining than Excitebike. See, fans, we listened, and even though that two-player suggestion doesn’t really work for the format, here’s a way to make it work! Yay!

And that kind of thinking continued in even subtler ways. Want your next videogame to start the minute the last one ended? Sonic & Knuckles 3 is here. Want to see Sonic’s answer to Mario 64? Sonic Adventure time, baby! Sonic getting too kiddy, and needs to be more “modern” and “edgy”? We’ve got just the Shadow! And he comes with a sexy bat, because we know what you want, wink wink, nudge nudge. Not digging the 3-D? Check out our Gameboy advance releases! Or that PSP thing! In the meanwhile, we’ve got a Sonic game where you can play as all of Sonic’s supporting cast and Sonic at the same time! Next gen Sonic with a serious plot for a serious fandom? Watch your favorite hedgehog die metaphorically and physically! Oh, and if anybody wanted a Ristar revival, we’ve got something for that, too. Long live Sanic!

Now, you may have noticed a few contradictions in the previous paragraph. Most obviously, it’s impossible to have a sexy bat and tell a serious story. That’s just science. And, let’s be real here, a lot of these concepts might work on paper (Sonic, Tails, and Nipples work together to fight Metal Sonic!), but fail horribly in the execution (Sonic Heroes destroyed all fun within a twenty yard radius). But the thing of it is that Sonic, and his handlers, tried. They listened to fans, heard that someone actually wanted to see the Chaotix Crew again, and did their best to make that happen. It didn’t always work (and you could argue that the franchise languished because it never worked), but it was clear someone was trying.

I hate you, 2006Sonic Generations seems to be the apex of this thinking. At this point in the franchise’s history, there were an equal number of people that wanted Sonic to “just go back to basics” as there were people that would sing along to the Sonic Adventure theme and demand that Sonic never revert to his “basic” origins. So let’s just make a game that is, uh, both games. Here’s classic Sonic over in this corner, and we’ve got modern Sonic ready and raring to go, too. And they can play through adaptations of each other’s levels, so you can finally live in a world wherein OG Sonic can experience the joys of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. What’s not to like!?

Against all reason, Sonic Generations, the game that did its best to placate both sides by essentially welding two games together, became one of the most beloved in the franchise. Yes, the bosses sucked, and some of the minigames overstayed their welcome after about three seconds, but you could largely ignore those flaws (just youtube the ending if you didn’t feel like dealing with that rancid final boss), and play some damn fine Sonic the Hedgehog level design. And the chaos emeralds are back and able to activate Super Sonic during regular levels, too! They got my letters!

And, ultimately, Sonic Generations is a great game not only because it’s fun to play, it’s a great game because it perfectly encapsulates the design philosophy of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s not about making the perfect game or using current technology to get the hedgehog to commit to some new gimmick; it’s about making a game that the fans want. It’s about looking back at decades of Sonic history, and getting hyper with all the avenues available. Sonic is about experimentation, taking risks, and knowing that, even if the latest ideas fail, there’ll be another Sonic game next year, and maybe this time we’ll forgo the scarf. This kind of “willing to fail” experimentation is something Sega does that Nintendon’t.

Sonic might be shamed. Sonic may have made mistakes. But Sonic gets over those failures fast. He’s gotta.

FGC #315 Sonic Generations

  • System: Playstation 3 for my collection, but also available for Xbox 360 and PC. There’s also a 3DS version, but it’s different enough to be considered an entirely separate game.
  • Number of players: There’s some sort of multiplayer mode in here, I believe. Never tried it myself, though.
  • GrrrrrFavorite Boss: There’s something satisfying about beating Perfect Chaos as “regular” Sonic. You’ve come a long way, hedgehog.
  • Favorite Level: Maybe it’s because of the prevalence of skateboards, but the classic version of City Escape seems to be my favorite here. The GUN truck is used to great effect, and the remix of a certain theme song is pretty great, too.
  • I have to ask: Okay, which one of you actually likes Sonic 2’s Chemical Plant Zone? I’ve always hated that level, as it combines the twin joys of drowning and moving platforms. But, somehow, it keeps popping up again in later games. Why? Why must I deal with this creepy purple liquid again? Why hast thou forsaken me!?
  • Also: Speed Highway being the rep for Sonic Adventure is… weird. And they chose the one non-theme park level from Sonic Colors, the game that was all theme park.
  • Speaking of Sonic and Fans: As BEAT mentioned on the stream, Sega really seems to tolerate Sonic fan projects, which leads further credence to the idea that the inmates are running the asylum in the house of hedgehog. This seems to have culminated with Sonic Mania, basically a game created by graduated fans that is, incidentally, the best Sonic game I have ever played. But, then again, it’s basically just Sonic & Knuckles 4, which does seem like cheating…
  • Did you know? Sonic Generations was built from the remains of Sonic Unleashed, so there are a lot of Unleashed assets lying around the backend of the game. This just makes me think that I could have tolerated one (1) werehog stage. I mean, if they dropped the quicktime event nonsense, of course.
  • Would I play again: I doubt I’ll ever “play through” the game again, but I’m certainly going to test drive a few of my favorite stages again. There’s some part of my brain that is just never going to get tired of Green Hill Zone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Injustice 2! Time for Superman to punch everybody! Please look forward to it!

Vroom?