Tag Archives: preservation

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

Get on the mana train!Once again, this old man is wondering about the world that may have been.

Today’s game is Trials of Mana, the sequel to the venerable Secret of Mana (and descendant of Final Fantasy Adventure). Unlike practically every other title in the Mana franchise (did you know there was a TRPG? Oh, and that weird “action” one for the PS2?), Trials of Mana follows Secret of Mana in an iterative manner. Secret of Mana was a gigantic mess of ideas slapped together for a hypothetical/doomed system that was never meant to materialize, and, yeah, it kind of played like something that was never really prepared for the light of day. Don’t get me wrong, I will defend the fun of Secret of Mana until my dying day (I’m considering an epitaph that reads “Here rests Goggle Bob, and Secret of Mana was good, actually”. It’s the only way future generations will know!), but even I know in my heart of hearts that the game is a hot mess. The battle system is half-baked, the world itself has a number of “cutting room floor”-based dead ends, and the plot is a hodgepodge of different concepts that eventually culminates with a skeleton wizard out of nowhere. Trials of Mana seems like an honest attempt to take the best ideas from Secret of Mana, improve on them, and produce a game that could be its “intended form” from the start of its production. Does it work? Well… mostly.

LOOK OUTFirst of all, let’s address the biggest issue with Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana: magic sucks. There is no “quick casting” in either title, and, whether you want to cast a simple healing spell or summon a meteor from hell to rain unholy destruction upon the battlefield, you’re stuck cycling through random menus, waiting for casting, and then pausing any and all action while the spell animation completes. Trials of Mana works slightly differently from Secret; Secret would freeze only the target of most spells, while Trials freezes all of the action on the screen for every single casting. And, against all odds, somehow both systems are the absolute worst. When your opponent is frozen in Secret, you can just pile on the commands (and faerie walnuts) to stunlock your opponent into oblivion. It’s not very… strategic. This is avoided in Trials of Mana, but the constant, never-ending pauses thanks to friends and foes casting spells completely obliterates any sort of combat flow. And Trials somehow makes the worst even worse, as many bosses are programmed to counter magic spells, but, thanks to the inherent lag in the magic-freezing, it’s very difficult to perceive the if/then of countering that is inevitably going to get your party killed. So, if you somehow wound up with a mage on your team, maybe it’s best to let them sit there and do nothing, because it’s always fun to have a character on the roster that is (going to make you) dead weight.

Though maybe it would be a good idea to take a look at the whys of whether or not a mage is currently weighing down your team. Not unlike many games of yesterday and today, Trials of Mana starts with a clutch of unfamiliar characters, and you are asked to choose half of them to be your traveling party. The first character you select becomes the focal protagonist of the adventure, and the second two both play out their signature stories in brief, “aside” arcs. To be clear, this does not employ the modern/Dragon Quest method of having a main character that is 100% meant to be a player avatar that eventually earns some narratively well-defined, though multi-choice, companions; no, in this case, six different playthroughs of Trials of Mana could potentially feature six wildly dissimilar protagonists. And the difference isn’t merely cosmetic: each of the heroes has their own hopes and dreams, but more importantly, they have their own final dungeons and final bosses. CENSOR THISThere are three “pairs” of overlapping finales within the full cast of six, so it would technically require three different complete cycles through Trials of Mana to see every last dungeon and enemy the title has to offer. And, yes, if you’re curious about every story in the Trials of Mana universe, you’re going to need six different runs of a 15-20 hour game (good news: you’ll probably cut that down to ten hours by your fourth quest).

This, naturally, brings us to the topic of alternate realities.

There are six protagonists in Trials of Mana, but only one hero can ever wield the singular, titular (in Japan) Mana Sword. And, as mentioned, each pair of heroes has a unique antagonist. Riesz and Hawkeye, for instance, battle a vampire, a cat lady, and some manner of plant prince; meanwhile, Kevin and Charlotte are pitted against a murder clown and another damn skeleton wizard. Naturally, it is the choice of protagonist that determines the final boss, and the other antagonists are forced to screw off and die at the midpoint of the adventure to make room for the real big bad should they not be the focus of the story. It just wouldn’t do for Riesz to not battle the woman that murdered her parents, so, sorry Gourmand, you’re going to have to leave now. Where do murder clowns go where they die? Batman should look into it.

However, this creates some interesting plot gulfs for our potential heroes. Take Duran, the stalwart knight of Trials of Mana. If Duran is the hero of the piece, he fights against the nefarious Dragon Lord and his disciple, the Darkshine Knight. Eventually, Duran learns that the mysterious Darkshine Knight is in fact his father, a knight named Loki who once fought against the Dragon Lord, and was presumed dead by his best friend, the good King Richard. To say the least, the relationship between the orphaned Duran and his now malevolent father is a bit strained, but it all works out for the best when Duran and Darkshine Loki reconcile and the Dragon Lord is tossed down a conveniently located open shaft to nowhere. Or something. Look, what’s important is that Duran gets an amazing amount of closure on the whole psychologically traumatized orphan thing, and Darkshine Knight gets to die knowing that his son has grown into a noble, strong, Level 40 young man. … Or he doesn’t, because Duran wasn’t the main character, and all he does is stand motionless in the throne room as a completely forgettable NPC. Getting better!In this situation, the Dragon Lord is slain by whoever winds up being the real big bad, and Darkshine sticks around long enough to deliver a dragon obituary before peacing out to nonexistence. Duran never learns of his lineage, and Loki never sees his son again. Oh well! He’s not the main character! Don’t worry about it, audience! Somebody else got a happy ending! Just be happy with that!

But that’s the kind of thing that inevitably bothers me. Sure, it’s only one iteration of the story, but, in one universe, Duran is left not knowing for the rest of his life. He could have been a hero with a healthy memory of his undead father, but, no, now he’s likely going to be in therapy for the rest of his days. Poor dude didn’t get a faery companion, a father, or magical friends that may or may not be able to transform into werewolves. In one universe Duran is the Hero of Mana, in another, he can barely leave a room.

And in one universe, a young Goggle Bob played Trials of Mana. In another, he didn’t get to play the game “for real” until he was in his 30s.

Trials of Mana was never released in America (in this timeline). It did eventually receive a fan translation, though. I played that game on a creaky old laptop without a properly working soundcard (ah, college life), and, while I certainly enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t exactly all that notable. It was a Super Nintendo game being played concurrently with the heyday of the Playstation 2, and Trials of Mana didn’t come off as revolutionary when Grand Theft Auto 3 was also on the menu. And, yes, the format didn’t exactly help, as my beloved laptop (so beloved because it actually allowed me to not be glued to the computer lab at 3 am) was barely capable of supporting the full Mana experience. I played Trials of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3) because I felt like I had to complete such an important part of Squaresoft history, not because I was anxiously looking forward to the next level.

And then, sometime in my 20’s, I managed to score a repro SNES cartridge of Secret of Mana 2 in English. I played it for about five minutes before growing weary of holding a SNES controller again.

They're asleep!Finally, a few weeks ago, Square-Enix deigned to release Trials of Mana for the Nintendo Switch in glorious American-o-vision. And, for the first time since I ice skated uphill against my old laptop over a decade prior, I played through the entirety of Trials of Mana. And it was rough. The music and graphics are still gorgeous, but all the quality of life improvements that modern JRPG/action titles have presented since the turn of the millennium are sorely missed. The class system is opaque, equipment juggling is unpleasant, and, let’s be honest, who has the time nowadays to complete an entire game three different ways for miniscule plot changes? There are two whole dungeons I missed on my playthrough? Who cares! I would have to complete 80% of the game again just to see a new variation on a cave? I’ll youtube that different final boss, thank you. I am a very important man with very important places to be. That fro-go place can barely open without me visiting!

But in 1995? Back then, this all could have worked. The era of the SNES saw a Goggle Bob with a significantly greater tolerance for bullshit. Back then, a new game only came down the pike (of my parents’ wallets) every six months or so, so a title with three different completely separate paths would have been more than welcome. Spell animations wouldn’t have bothered my young mind, because, I like the turtledamn, did you see those graphics? And the class system that practically requires a FAQ to enhance your party? You better believe I wouldn’t give a damn about proper character optimization. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word “optimization”! Probably literally!

In short: if Trials of Mana had been released in its proper epoch, it might have been one of my most beloved games. It might have been another Final Fantasy 6, Secret of Mana, or even Chrono Trigger.

There’s an entire other timeline out there where Trials of Mana is important to me. Here, in this reality, it is a random novelty that happened to show up on Nintendo Switch.

Trials of Mana, I’ll always wonder if you were meant for better things…

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

  • System: Nintendo Switch. It originally appeared on the Super Famicom in some lucky regions, though.
  • Number of players: Is there really multiplayer available for this game? I know there are reports that the remake won’t have multiplayer “like the original”, but I thought this was another Secret of Evermore situation where the original only had multiplayer thanks to enterprising modders. I’m going to tentatively call this one single player. Maybe it’s just two, but not three? Dammit.
  • What’s in a name: “Trials of Mana” may as well be nails on a chalkboard to my ears. It’s Seiken Densetsu 3, you jerks! Or Secret of Mana 2! Trials of Mana? Really? Because “Trials” starts with “Tri” and that’s marginally related to the number 3? Is that the best you could do? Obviously, the title should be Secret of Ma3a. I mean, duh. Come on, Square Enix, get on the Mana Beast.
  • Speaking of names: Don’t tell anyone, but I can’t even get my own naming conventions together:
    ERROR TYPE MISMATCH

    It’s a secret to everybody.
  • Favorite Hero: Kevin is a bruiser that can transform into a werewolf to cause even more bruises. And he can learn healing magic, so when he’s not bruising, he’s keeping the party alive. And he can learn a spell that transforms physical damage into MP refills, so his bruising can become an unlimited healing battery. Kevin is my hero.
  • An End: During the finale, the previously mentioned Super Werewolf Kevin learns that his best friend is still alive (because Kevin is really bad at identifying a heartbeat) and was accidentally buried alive (by Kevin), his mother is dead, and his father is a complete dick. Couple this with previously transforming his rival into a baby that wanders off into the woods, Kevin has a really weird life.
  • TOTES MCGOATSFavorite Benevodon: We’re really calling them that? Okay, fine. My vote goes to Dolan, the gigantic goat monster that scales an enormous tower just to reach out and touch some Mana Heroes. Also: you can’t tell me that Dolan wasn’t originally intended to be the God Beast (there!) of Darkness, as how could a gigantic goat not fit the ol’ dark arts?
  • Did you know? Heroes of Mana, a strategy RPG for Nintendo DS released in 2007, is a direct prequel to Trials of Mana. It features most of the parents of characters from Trials of Mana, and includes a number of locations and antagonists (a few of them in surprisingly heroic roles) as well. It’s kind of a shame that no one cared about the Mana franchise in 2007, so this title is almost entirely forgotten.
  • Would I play again: Probably! Never mind the upcoming remake, I will probably give another Trials story route a shot at some point. It might be a while, but the gameplay of Trials of Mana works well on the portable Switch, so I’ll probably play it again as one of those “I can play and watch TV” situations. I’ll save state the story scenes for when I have a spare moment to pay attention…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight! Let’s boogie! And put the gun down! Absolutely boogie without firearms! Please look forward to it!

RUN AWAY

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

BLOOD!If gaming is a language, then franchises must be dialects. And among dialects, of course there must be regional variances. And Castlevania: Bloodlines is, unfortunately, the regional dialect of Atlantis.

Gogglebob.com: come for the videogames, stay for the extremely strained metaphors.

Castlevania: Bloodlines is a game very near and dear to my heart. Back in my younger days, I was very much a Nintendo kid, but a Sega Genesis was available to me by about the midpoint of the 16-bit console wars. And, while I owned a mere three Genesis games, my dad granted me one Sega Genesis rental every two weeks. So, about twice a month, my ADD-addled brain got to experience a brand new videogame for a few days, and that whole new experience that was sure to make me scream, “Sega!”

…. Or I just rented Castlevania: Bloodlines again.

I’ve always been a Castlevania fan, and, frankly, I’ve always been a sucker for a game that I have to “defeat”. It took me a long time to come to grips with the idea that I don’t have to “beat” or “100%” a videogame, and showing my love for a piece of art doesn’t mean I have to experience every last secret room or collectible. But back in my younger years? If there was a game that I thought was even marginally fun, and I didn’t beat it? Then what the hell was I even playing the game for!? Fish gotta swim, dogs gotta bark, Pokémon gotta track my sleep for some reason, and videogames gotta get beat, ya know? And, since Castlevania: Bloodlines was an enjoyable Castlevania game that I absolutely could not beat (on Normal difficulty), it meant that I had to retry that title over and over again until I finally conquered death itself (and Death). My young thumbs were still not developed enough to suffer through its insane final boss gauntlet, but I was going to try, dammit!

Swing is the thingAnd, if I’m looking at this title with some kind of wizened hindsight, I can probably admit that the other reason I kept coming back to Castlevania: Bloodlines was that it was simply a damn good game. It features the signature measured level design of previous Castlevania titles, and, while your protagonist often feels like he is being propelled by the same force that could eventually push a snail to cross a parkway, the majority of the title feels fair and appropriately scaled to Belmont (Morris) speeds. The dual heroes of the tale are different enough to feature their own unique (and fun) moves (spear vaulting is great for vertical areas, and whip swinging is… amusing to look at), but also similar enough that we don’t wind up with an X/Zero situation where one character is that much more of an advantage. And, as always in the Castlevania series (give or take a Gameboy adventure), the music is top notch, and the creepy crawlies that haunt the European countryside are numerous and inventive. And murderous. They’re always murderous.

So it’s kind of a shame that the majority of the Castlevania loving public forgot Castlevania: Bloodlines ever existed.

Possibly more than any other franchise, Castlevania has always been a very… what’s the complete opposite of progressive?… nostalgic franchise. When Bowser got seven Koopa Kids and a brand new butt stomp for Super Mario Bros. 3, Dracula was still using his same ol’ teleport/fireball pattern for Castlevania 3. When Mega Man X completely redefined everything that Mega Man ever was, Super Castlevania IV still had Simon trudging through Drac’s dilapidated hallway o’ zombies. This isn’t to say that Castlevania has never had an original bone in its obviously an angry skeleton-based body, but Castlevania has always reveled in its past since before it escaped the gravity of the NES.

DEATH!And (I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear me say this) there is nothing wrong with a little videogame nostalgia. Particularly in the 16 and 32-bit days, it seemed like games were rapidly attempting to burn their pasts on the altar of “cool” and “new”. But it was still cool to see old mainstays like Frankenstein(‘s Monster) or Medusa show up when many contemporary titles were trying to reinvent the wheel by detonating every nearby car (literally, in the case of Grand Theft Auto III).

And, while Castlevania: Bloodlines certainly pays tribute to the Castlevanias we all loved before (“Hi, Frankenstein! Hi, Medusa!”), for a long time, it seemed like appropriate acknowledgment was not paid to Bloodlines in kind. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is the uncontested turning point of the franchise, and, as a direct sequel, it owed much of its plot and iconography to Rondo of Blood and its PC Engine/SNES origins. It also was clearly influenced by much of the imagery of Super Castlevania (that’s where Death met his buddies!), and the Reverse Castle featured the pieces of Dracula of Castlevania 2 mixed with the iconic bosses of Castlevania 1. And, while it almost seems like a footnote at this point, let’s not forget that Alucard premiered in Castlevania 3, and wound up fighting his zombified allies. Truly, Castlevania Symphony of the Night was the culmination of all console Castlevanias that came before, and paid homage to all of those titles in fun and inventive ways.

Except Bloodlines. Nobody cared about Castlevania: Bloodlines.

This is not a glitchAnd, unfortunately, this created a sort of ripple effect in the fandom. While Symphony of the Night encouraged visiting old titles to see first appearances of Slogra & Gaibon, Phantom Bat, or Grant DangheNasty, there was no such drive for Bloodlines. And when future titles decided to bring back more past friends and foes, we saw Skull Knight of Castlevania 3, not Mecha Knight of Bloodlines. And when we finally saw some significant references to Bloodlines in Portrait of Ruin, it was to let us know that both of Bloodlines’ protagonists died inglorious deaths, and Eric’s lance would only return as an accessory for a ghost. A whole Castlevania game was lost, and when the entire experience was lost and forgotten from the virtual consoles and collections that accompanied the new digital era, nobody batted an eye. You could download Super Castlevania, Castlevania: Dracula X, and even Castlevania Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines was wholly absent. And there were no conversations about the title, because, frankly, who cared? We got all the good Castlevanias, right? If Bloodlines was any good, it would be referenced heavily like those other titles. Symphony of the Night was the pinnacle. IGA wouldn’t steer us wrong.

But a miracle happened just recently. Castlevania: Bloodlines was released as part of the excellent Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Now, Bloodlines is able to stand tall next to its early Castlevania console brethren. Now, people are talking about Bloodlines, and many of them are talking about it for the first time. And they like it! They really, really like it! Because it’s a good game, and always has been! After a 25 year banishment from the gaming consciousness, Bloodlines has returned, and people are again speaking the language of magical lances and Gear Steamers. Bloodlines can once again take its proper place in the Castlevania pantheon, and rest easy knowing that now more people have seen its horrible Dracula and his disturbing crotch face.

DONT LOOK AT MEUltimately, I find this success story to be the best way to conclude this Game Preservation Week (“Week”). None of these games that have been discussed have to be gone forever. Like Castlevania: Bloodlines, we’re always just one collection or digital release (or mini console, apparently) from a title returning to the gaming consciousness. And let’s see some solid videogame archiving in the future, so another game isn’t lost to decades again. The future of gaming may be streaming, but let’s remember our past, our dead languages, and see how they can make our future better.

And then let’s whip some skeletons but good.

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

  • System: Sega Genesis. And now available for Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Sweet!
  • Number of Players: Two choices, but only one player. We’d have to wait for another forgotten Castlevania title to see some multiplayer Castlevania.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I rented Bloodlines from the local rental place so much, I eventually bought the cartridge when they were liquidating some of their “old” stock. That makes Bloodlines my fourth or fifth owned Sega Genesis game (the real money went to my beloved SNES).
  • Out of the Castle: Bloodlines follows John ‘n Eric as they battle around some of the more interesting mystical spots in Europe, like Atlantis or Pisa (?). This leads to some more interesting venues for our hunters to traverse, and maybe an excuse to battle a minotaur or two. And you get to fight World War I German war skeletons. That is so close to whipping undead Nazis!
  • RatzisFavorite Character: I lied earlier. Eric LeCarde makes this trip through Europe so much more manageable. His additional reach is a godsend, and the ability to vault straight into the skies… isn’t all the useful, actually, but it’s fun in exactly one room at Varsailles. Oh! And he has beautiful girl hair! I don’t see how that helps vampire slaying, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
  • A Little History: The big deal of Bloodlines is that it tries to tie the Castlevania mythos to Bram Stoker’s Dracula by claiming the vampire slayer Qunicey Morris (and thus his son and grandson) was actually a Belmont descendant. Who cares? What’s important is that Bloodlines seems to imply that Elizabeth Bartley started World War I as a cover for resurrecting Dracula. Now that’s something they don’t cover in history books!
  • Did you know? The Princess of Moss, the boss of The Versailles Palace stage, is a monster moth initially disguised as a woman. And that woman is apparently supposed to be Marie Antoinette, famous queen and cake-eater. Now, this is not to say that it is official Castlevania canon that Marie Antoinette was some manner of undead, immortal insect creature… but the opportunity is open for future Castlevania titles.
  • Would I play again: Now that I have it permanently loaded onto my portable Nintendo Switch? You’re damn skippy I’m going to play it again!

What’s next? Random ROB is back in action and has chosen… The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link! Are you sure that isn’t an Error, ROB? Oh well. Please look forward to it!

I hate this jerk.  He just... rains.

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

AND YOU HAVE MY AXEAnd now we’re going to talk about the slimy underbelly of the concept of games preservation: The Legends.

…. And why they suck.

Golden Axe is an interesting series. It started in 1989 as a medieval arcade beat ‘em up. Golden Axe was a pretty fun experience, but it also had the misfortune of being released the same year as the vastly more popular Final Fight. Golden Axe wasn’t exactly a bad game by comparison, but chicken riding and the occasional magic spell somehow didn’t catch the public’s interest in the face of a malevolent version of Animal from The Muppets. When Golden Axe hit the Genesis, it was just a year until we saw Streets of Rage, a vastly and obviously more popular title of the same genre. And then its sequel, Golden Axe 2, had the significant handicap of being released on the same system during the same year as Streets of Rage 2. Decades later, people are still talking about the tight design of Streets of Rage 2. No one is talking about Golden Axe 2.

But Golden Axe 2 wasn’t terrible. In fact, Golden Axe 2 holds a special place in my heart, as, back in the day, my beat ‘em up-addicted neighbor and myself (am I trying to imply that I don’t have a beat ‘em up addiction after writing about four of ‘em over the course of the last month or so?) played Golden Axe 2 solid for nearly an entire year (which is like twelve billion centuries in kid time). GA2 was a two player beat ‘em up that featured a dwarf and murder skeletons, so it obviously had something going on. And, while we barely ever made it to the finale (damn limited credits), we played that title over and over again, because it was just the right kind of mindless fun that is perfect when you’re a kid. You can ride a beast! You can run really fast and headbutt a soldier with a pointy hat! Murder skeletons! That’s some good stuff!

But my holy grail? That was a creature I only ever saw once, hiding in some smoky arcade while crossing the country on vacation. Once, lurking there in the darkness, I saw Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder.

SKELETONS!Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released right around the same time as Golden Axe 2. Presumably, it was a divergent title that utilized the full capability of an arcade machine while leaving Golden Axe 2 to wallow in the muck of the Sega Genesis. GA:TRoDA featured branching paths for levels, vertically scrolling areas, and big, impressive sprites. It was a game that had infinitely branching possibilities, and four distinct playable characters that could halt the revenge of Death Adder simultaneously. It was the platonic ideal of Golden Axe. I might have only gotten to play the game for a credit before being pulled back to I-95, but I knew that Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was the future of the amazing Golden Axe franchise.

But GA:TRoDA never made its way to home consoles. It was never released for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, or even the Dreamcast. It was not emulated to any Sega collections. It was not released on any Virtual Consoles. It was simply lost to history, a shining relic of the Golden Axe franchise that would one day ask us all to become beast riders. GA:TRoDA fell between the cracks of time, and, in my mind, became a legend of a game that we would always pine for with an unrequited longing.

So I decided to give Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder a spin for this theme week of forgotten games. And you know what? It kind of sucks!

ROCK OUTThere was exactly one thing I remembered perfectly about Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder: there’s a centaur. She’s a horse-lady, she’s got an American Gladiator bopper, and she can switch to regular human legs when she needs to ride a fire-breathing mantis (… what?). However, my memory failed to remember that Dora the Centaur is also joined by Stern the Barbarian (who apparently did not star in any other Golden Axe games despite looking exactly like the other barbarians), Trix the Elf (who is clearly some weird amalgamation of breakfast cereal mascots), and Goah the Giant, who is at best Goah the Maybe Would be Good at Basketball, but is rode around by Gilius Thunderhead, dwarven hero of the previous Golden Axe titles. And that’s a pretty eclectic group! Too bad they all… just play like Golden Axe characters. There are apparently some two-player shenanigans that are available with pairing up, but that’s not going to do any good in single player or in an arcade where it is impossible to shout over the rolling noise of much more popular machines. And, whether your fighters have any interesting moves or not is rather secondary to the glut of absolutely boring opponents that are available. I played this game a whole hour before writing this article, and… I’m having trouble remember exactly what I fought. There were some malevolent trees, and an army of the mask guy from World Heroes… and… uh… I think there was an ogre or two in there? Certainly a number of useless soldiers, but they are available in practically any medieval brawler. Murder skeletons are a given, but they’re on the home consoles, too. And the final boss, the titular Death Adder wielding the Golden Axe atop a castle that appears to be a giant statue of himself, is pretty memorable. Everything else? Not so much.

You'll never get me lucky charmsYet, I spent decades thinking this title, never released on home consoles, was some kind of solid gold Golden Axe gold standard (of gold). It was the beat ‘em up to end all beat ‘em ups, and we were cruelly denied such a glittering jewel, forever stuck with the likes of Golden Axe III (originally only released in the West on the Sega Channel because it sucked so bad) or The Last Action Hero. These were games that were sorely lacking in centaurs! And, while I wondered about the joys an arcade cabinet of The Revenge of Death Adder could bring me, the beat ‘em up genre withered and died on the vine. I would never see such delight ever again.

And then, years later I played the damn game, and it was boring and rote.

And then I played Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara, and, apparently, that was the game I was thinking of all along.

I thought there were shops in Golden Axe! Sorry!

Anyway, someone please make every videogame ever readily accessible, or this is going to keep happening. Please and thank you.

I really don’t want to take a chance on playing arcade Willow now…

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

  • System: Arcade only, dammit.
  • Number of players: Four! I want to say that other Golden Axes had a maximum of three… but probably just two. Four is important! That’s how many turtles there are!
  • Get 'em!It’s a kind of magic: This is the only Golden Axe title where a magic spell can summon a helpful item, and not just universally attack the screen. Trix the Elf can summon a tree that grants life giving, magically delicious fruit for the party. This adds an interesting “magic equals life” wrinkle to the gameplay… but most of the time you just reflexively hit the magic button when you’re surrounded, and wind up with a lousy bush instead of a mighty dragon. Good effort, Trix.
  • Favorite Character: Did I mention there was a centaur? Dora has all the power of a woman and a horse. And she seems to have really useful magic, too. There is literally no competition among the men here.
  • An End: Gilius Thunderhead leaps from his giant mount and dies delivering the final blow to Death Adder. This is apparently canon for future sequels, and the fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel, makes reference to this fact. So, see, all those Saturn owners needed a home port to understand the complicated plot of Golden Axe!
  • Did you know? The hero of Golden Axe: Beast Rider is Tyris Flare, the same Valkyrie that appeared in Golden Axe I and Golden Axe II. Even though she doesn’t appear in this game, I’m noting this now because I am absolutely never reviewing Golden Axe: Beast Riders.
  • Would I play again: There are different routes and characters, so every playthrough is different. But not different enough! I can only fight so many murder skeletons, so I’ll pass on another play of this forgotten title.

What’s next? One last non-random choice: Let’s talk about a “forgotten” game that recently came back to us in a marvelous little collection. Please look forward to it!

BANG

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

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

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

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

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

The automatic stages leave me… conflicted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

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

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

Gotta recognize
Special thanks to everyone that made this article possible