Tag Archives: Privilege

MKK: Nightwolf

Gather round, my amiibos, it’s time for a white guy to talk about race.

Assuming Wikipedia isn’t lying to me, Mortal Kombat (1) was released in 1992. That would be a year after Street Fighter 2, and well into the massive popularity of fighting games. It’s also about two years after the initial release of the animated series Captain Planet. Why mention such a fact? Well, because, for my money, the release of Captain Planet marks a certain point in human history: that time we (or at least Ted Turner) thought we could save the world by giving something a TV show. Representation matters, and getting ideas out there, through generally any means available, is important. However, the 90’s was a time when, fairly distinctly, people seemed to believe they could “cure” a problem by acknowledging it, and then proceeded to dispense many a back-pat in response to a job well done.

This guy

So, again, Mortal Kombat 1 was released right in the middle of this type of thinking. And I (to be clear: this is entirely the opinion of the white, male, mostly straight author of this piece) think initial Mortal Kombat actually did pretty well in some regards. There is one female fighter, and she’s practically a blonde supermodel. That’s not great. Beyond that, however, the rest of the roster includes seven humans (we’ll just go ahead and ignore the race of the Claymation monster man). Kano and Johnny Cage are, technically, the only kanon white guys. From there, you have a Japanese god of thunder, Scorpion, aka Hanzo Hasashi, of a Japanese Ninja Clan, and Sub-Zero of a Chinese assassin’s guild. In Mortal Kombat 1, the Chinese Liu Kang is clearly the hero of the piece (and, with his “shadowless” fatality, the only kharacter distinctly reinforced as “good” in the gameplay), and the descendant of the previous, Chinese victor of the tournament (that wasn’t a Goro). And Shang Tsung is the grandmaster of Mortal Kombat, at this point more “human Chinese man” than an Outworlder. This means that, in the original Mortal Kombat, “white” was technically the minority.

Of course, I say “technically” for a reason. Mortal Kombat 1 used real motion capture actors, and the ethnically distinct Sub-Zero and Scorpion were played by the same white guy playing Johnny Cage. Raiden was played by a gentleman by the name of Carlos Pesina (and I don’t think I need to remind anyone who played him at least once on the big screen). Liu Kang and Shang Tsung are actually played by Chinese actors… well… technically the same actor, Ho Sung Pak. And, if we’re not giving MK any latitude, we should probably acknowledge that pretty much everything from the original Mortal Kombat is just a Chinese/Japanese/”kung fu” pastiche, with a big emphasis on films like Big Trouble in Little China or Enter the Dragon. Mortal Kombat 1 has a cast that is not white-dominant, but it also is chiefly drawing from a white version of “Asian”.

Not Asian
Asian
(The same guy)

And, overall, Mortal Kombat has struggled with those same issues throughout its various plots. Raiden is a Japanese God wearing a Vietnamese/Chinese hat often portrayed to sound and look Caucasian. Liu Kang continued to be the hero of the piece, right up until he was killed and replaced by Chinese guy named for the Japanese word for “protagonist”. When Liu Kang was killed (again) in Mortal Kombat 9, the new timeline predominantly followed the adventures of the pretty, blonde (Cage) family until Liu Kang decided to be alive again. And Sub-Zero was confirmed Chinese when wearing a mask, but wound up white as a country club by his unmasking in Mortal Kombat 3. He seems to have regained some Asian features in time for Mortal Kombat 11, but it’s been a bumpy road getting there.

What’s my point in all this? Well, it seems like Mortal Kombat tries to be inclusive… but it’s still helmed by a bunch of dudes (inevitably dudes) that see Japan and China as generically “The Far East”. Korean, Filipino, or Indian people might as well not exist, we’re just looking at the “Asians” that can throw mean roundhouses. Basically, this might be a franchise that features a Chinese world savior more often than not, but he’s also palling around with a white god with a Japanese(ish) name.

I mean, at least he isn’t just Thor again…

Chop!

But that white god wasn’t available for Mortal Kombat 3. The invasion of Shao Kahn shut Raiden out of Earthrealm, so we needed a whole new lightning guy. And who should answer the call but our new Native American friend, Nightwolf.

Nightwolf is one of the many Native American fighters to pop up in fighting games. This general era also birthed Thunder Hawk of Super Street Fighter 2, Chief Thunder of Killer Instinct, Wolf Hawkfield of Virtua Fighter, and the extremely confusing and not thunder/wolf themed Michelle Chang of Tekken. Basically, if you had a popular fighting game franchise, you were going to wind up with at least one Native American character. And, to this trend’s credit, none of these fighters were overtly offensive nonsense like Chief Scalpem. On the other hand, the majority of them were fairly generic in their histories and motivations. Usually, someone has been kidnapped or turned into a robot or something, and it’s up to Chief Big Dude to roll in and represent his proud tribe in a fighting tournament. Thunder and mystical birds are generally somehow involved, and, in the end, the tribe/land/person is saved or avenged or whatever. Pretty pat story.

At the very least, Nightwolf is about a thousand times more competent than his contemporaries. Shao Kahn invades the planet, and Nightwolf uses his mystical powers to enshrine his tribe and his people. When literally the whole world is metaphorically/temporarily killed by Shao Kahn, Nightwolf winds up leading the only functioning society on the planet. That’s pretty great! And, in expanded versions of Mortal Kombat 3 (basically, versions of the kanon where the whole invasion didn’t take like a few hours), Nightwolf becomes a sort of leader for the warriors of Earth, too, as Raiden is unavailable, the rest of the fighters aren’t exactly strategists, and Nightwolf is one of the few people that has any idea what is going on. In short, rather than being some simple “I fight for my people” Native American archetype, Nightwolf becomes instantly integral in his debut appearance.

…. And then he doesn’t appear again for years.

Goth!

Okay, so here is where things get really culturally dicey. It’s pretty clear that, in the wake of the “woke 90’s”, a lot of companies seemed… I would say ashamed of their various token characters. The whole “Native American Warrior” seemed to die down as a general “thing” that was happening, and these characters were generally dropped from future titles (or, in Killer Instinct’s case, there were no future titles). In the event they survived to see other releases, they were not really integrated into the greater plots, and were simply there to be “the strong guy” or “the one with the really complicated inputs”. Basically, T. Hawk was never going to be the next Ryu. Or even the next Blanka…

When Nightwolf finally returned in Mortal Kombat: Deception, he actually had a germane place in the plot. Once again, Raiden was out of commission (having just exploded), and now Liu Kang was pushing up daisies by being a reanimated, murderous corpse that generally did not care for flowers. Thus, the forces of good were kind of down to the B-Team, and Nightwolf was one of the few kharacters to be consistently good in the first place. So they had to make him bad! Kinda! Nightwolf decided he would become a “sin eater”, devour the maliciousness of his tribe, become goth, and use that power to bind the nefarious (and otherwise infinitely revivable) Dragon King to Hell. This was successful, and, while Nightwolf expected to be trapped in the Netherrealm with Onaga, he was guided back to Earth/life by his spirit animal, a wolf. Then, since Nightwolf was doing pretty good with his magic powers, he spent MK: Armageddon sewing Liu Kang’s rotting body and blessed soul back together. Way to go, Nightwolf!

Chop!

Except… well, this is all very similar to the “Far East” nonsense we see with some of the other characters from other cultures. For one thing, while the concept appears in many myths dating back to the Aztecs, the “Sin-Eater” as is described in Nightwolf’s tale (and the fact that it is literally called a “Sin-Eater”) is a predominantly Western Civilization invention that generally circles around medieval Christian practices (you can see the connection between Jesus Christ [The Walking Dead, Xenosaga] and the concept). And then Nightwolf using generically magical powers to manipulate souls and follow “spirit animals”… it’s not really something that belongs to any particular culture, it’s just identifying that Native Americans can be spiritual, and transforming that into “they’re wizards”. In short: good try on making Nightwolf relevant, Mortal Kombat, but you just made the poor guy an incredibly specific stereotype. Again.

Nightwolf returns in Mortal Kombat 9, where it is revealed that he participated in the first Mortal Kombat tournament for unknown reasons (not that there’s a mystery, simply no one cares to explain), and gets knocked out by Scorpion almost immediately. He regains consciousness just in time for Mortal Kombat 3 redux, and seems to, again, work as the driving force behind marshaling the forces of good during Shao Kahn’s invasion. He defeats and kills Noob Saibot (as much as you can kill an undead wraith that is going to come back in two games anyway), but is then murdered with the rest of the good guys during Sindel’s assault. Unlike his buddies, Nightwolf goes out pulling off the ol’ Raiden kamikaze attack, and is arguably responsible for the defeat of Sindel. The end result was that both fighters became Quan Chi’s all-purpose zombies and Mortal Kombat 11 DLC, which is not the best of fates.

And that’s about that for Nightwolf. He’s the only Native American with a name in the Mortal Kombat universe (there are literally more “last of their kind” lizard people on the roster), and he’s a good wizard. Native Americans are magic. Got it.

Next time: I promise to make the robots funny.

FGC #097 Kid Chameleon

RadicalPrivilege is a funny thing.

The idea of privilege seems to have recently (ish) surfaced as a way to grasp a concept that has been around practically since the dawn of man: some people just have it better than others. Ultimately, privilege has always been and always will be an issue: right down to the genetic level, some people are simply better equipped for certain situations than others. Of course, it’s one thing to be born with biceps more capable of mastodon slaying, and quite another to be born simply “the right color” and have society treat you better as a result. One is a privilege of environment, the other is entirely societally made.

In my own life, my best friend, practically since high school, is a person who grew up, literally, five doors down from my home, went to all the same (pre-college) schools, eventually majored in the same field, played in the same woods, ate at the same restaurants, had at least one parent working in the educational system, and generally has always had a similar, innate inclination toward nerdish pursuits. He’s also a black male of West Indian heritage. I’m, as you may have guessed, white. In just our daily lives, I can see the complete opposite reactions people have to him (scary other) versus me (normal dude, kinda looks like Harry Potter). One particular event springs immediately to mind, and that was a recent incident when a parking lot attendant who hadn’t spoken to me for ten years finally decided to start being Mr. Question Man the minute my friend tried to pull his car (complete with wife and children) into the private lot. “We don’t get many of your kind here.” I never once considered that something I do on a daily basis could be such a hassle, but, here you go, can’t even park your car without being reminded you don’t look exactly like you’re “supposed to”.

But that’s the thing about privilege, practically from the moment you’re born, it becomes an inextricable part of “you”, and nigh-impossible to comprehend from the other side. This (aside from general dickery) is why people get so upset about being indicted with privilege: it is impossible to “accuse” someone of having privilege without, essentially, stating that there is something wrong with someone’s core self. This, taken rationally, is not true at all, but on an emotional level, a “check your privilege” translates to, basically, a Secret!“yo mama” joke (“Yo mama is so white she gets served right away at the dining establishment of her choice.”), it’s a disparaging remark at something you can’t change… kinda like racism. To be clear, I’m not saying condemning someone for having privilege is racist (“Isn’t that exactly what you just said?” “Shut-up.”), simply that even accusing someone of having privilege is a touchy subject, because it seems to insult not only the person, but all of that person’s accomplishments, which, theoretically, could have nothing to do with privilege at all. Or, that’s what the privileged like to believe, at least.

So, all that said, Nintendo is Nintendo because of the privilege of Nintendo Power.

Super Mario Bros. 3, no question, is an amazing game. It also contains, not including wandering Hammer Brothers, 90 levels. There is no save feature, and, from the information within the game itself, I would say that one out of the three “warp whistles” are easily acquired. For the record, I want to say that the warp whistle way the heck at the other end of World 2 is something that an inquisitive player might discover by identifying a weirdly placed rock, but the other two… I wouldn’t expect to find those by accident. Flying up over a ceiling in a fortress sounds easy, but is wildly unintuitive when you consider the layout (and powerups) of a rarely revisited area. And ducking on a white block for the proper number of seconds to hide behind the stage’s foreground? That has never made any sense. Don’t try to tell me Princess Peach’s letter explains everything, either, because that royal pain couldn’t even translate “goomba” properly.

And I don’t remember ever being young enough to believe a video game “move” I saw in a movie would actually work in reality. Screw you, Wizard.

But, despite all this, many of us finished Super Mario Bros. 3 with no problems, because, of course, Get ahead!we had Nintendo Power (or knew someone with Nintendo Power). I think I played Super Mario Bros. 3 “straight” for a whole two weeks before I received the news that I could skip straight ahead to World 9 from World 1. Hell, I still remember being at a friend’s birthday party (and said friend had everything, including that all-important NP subscription), and witnessing the magic of the warp whistles for the first time. Suddenly, a game that could take hours and hours to complete was nothing before an informed player, and Bowser’s defeat was at hand. Super Mario’s world was mine to control.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice I’m lauding SMB3 for the ability to skip great swaths of its content. But that’s the thing about video games of the era: due to creators with wildly different design philosophies (and seemingly random advancements in programming), the average player didn’t have a clue how long a game would (or even could) be. If the credits didn’t roll after an hour (or the game didn’t loop back to level one), you were left with an annoying choice: there were no saves (and passwords were not mandatory), so continue on and maybe reach the end, or stop now, and resume on another day when you’re more rested… but will have to complete that same hour of gameplay again. You think “Oh, I have OCD and have to complete the game 100%” is bad today, try the “good” old days of not having a clue what 100% could even be, five levels or ninety.

But Nintendo Power was here for all that. Even if there wasn’t a cheat code to grant invincibility, 30 lives, or level select, there was at least a guide (usually with maps!) that told you what you were in for. Remember that Donkey Kong and Final Fantasy both appeared on the same fledgling system, so a guide to “what the hell is happening” was almost mandatory. Today, we tout “hours and hours of gameplay” as some kind of golden bullet point, but back then, without information on what was coming, that was practically a threat.

And, really, I feel like Nintendo Power, with its Classified Information and maps galore, is a significant reason a number of games and franchises are considered “retro classics” today. No one would fondly remember Contra if they couldn’t pass the first level on a meager three lives. Cruisin'Castlevania II could have killed the franchise with its obscure graveyard ducks. And, sad confession, I never would have completed Super Metroid without the Nintendo Power Strategy Guide-provided information that a super bomb would detonate the Meridia glass passageway. I had my best fifth graders working on a solution to that Zebes maze, and we came up with nothing! And, let’s not kid ourselves, “beating a game” holds a significant bearing on your memories of the experience, while petering out because you can’t endure it any longer leaves a poor impression.

But what about on the other side of the aisle?

Kid Chameleon, surface level, is pretty much a Super Mario Bros. 3 clone. It’s a platformer, your main offensive maneuver is jumping on enemies, and your greatest threats are bottomless pits and moving platforms. Kid Chameleon’s main hook is taking the “suits” of SMB3 and turning them up to eleven. KC can transform into a variety of different forms, from the murderous Maniaxe to the agile Red Stealth, and use the different abilities of each suit… errr.. helmet to traverse the area. Each powerup helmet, of course, confers additional life, but, unlike SMB3, some helmets are mandatory, depending on the level. The Berzeker form is a charging rhino that can push blocks out of the way, and Micromax can fit into small passages; both skills are completely mandatory to finish certain levels. This is incorporated well, though, as, while I generally disparage required powerups, the levels and traps here are built to be challenges focusing on “can you survive this area and keep the required powerup?” There’s even a “give up” option (rarely seen in 8/16-bit games) so you can instantly restart a stage if you know you’ve gotten yourself into an unwinnable situation. This isn’t SMB3 (because what is?), but it is a very good, very thoughtfully designed platformer.

But there’s one thing everyone remembers about Kid Chameleon, and it’s not that the levels are carefully crafted, it’s that there’s so many of them. Kid Chameleon has no save points, no password system, and no immediately obvious “skip to the end” button, so every time you start Kid Chameleon, you’re starting it from scratch. This is daunting, as, like most platformers, the difficulty ramps up in the later stages, but you still must succeed in the earlier stages with all of your reserve lives intact, else it’s going to be a bumpy road ahead, and one that likely leads back to level one. I remember desperately hurling myself against the game as a kid, and, amusingly enough, even now, as an adult using save states to randomly pop in and out of the game, I still feel Storm's a-comin'physically tired as I get to later stages that, in my younger days, I would only ever reach roughly around bedtime. Kid Chameleon practically is exhaustion to me. It is the game that introduced me to entropy. I never beat Kid Chameleon as a child, despite trying time and time again. I thought such a task impossible.

But the sad thing about Kid Chameleon? I thought its challenges were insurmountable, and, now, in the age of wikis and faqs, I know that KC contains 103 levels, and that’s counting the “small” Elsewhere stages, because, without those, we’re down to 71 actually challenging stages. That’s less than Super Mario Bros. 3! That’s less than Super Mario World! I beat both of those games! I beat every last bit of both of those games! I can barely believe it, but Kid Chameleon was within my grasp, and the only thing holding me back was my own fear that the game was effectively endless. The end was within sight!

But, back in the early 90’s, I had no way of knowing that. I was a Nintendo kid with a Genesis, and maybe five games for the system, so I didn’t have a Sega Visions subscription, and, honestly, if you’ve ever read that magazine, it was exactly the propaganda rag that detractors always claimed NP was at the time. Nintendo Power wasn’t just a way to convince easily-led children to buy Abadox (though it certainly was that), it was a way of making a new generation an informed population, and granting a group of people that would one day identify themselves as “gamers” a chance to actually know their hobby. I love Contra. I love Castlevania. I love Super Mario Bros. 3. I love them all because I know them. They are not the maze of mystery that, even today, Kid Chameleon remains. I could tell you, from one blurry screenshot, Mario’s exact location in Super Mario Bros. 3, but I just played Kid Chameleon, and, seriously, I couldn’t tell you the name of the stage for most of the screenshots in this article that I just captured.

And, ultimately, that’s what privilege is. It’s looking at your past, looking at your accomplishments, looking at what you know to be true (Super Mario Bros. 3 Look out!is good stuff), and acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, there were some outside influences that formed those ideas. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a great game! That incidentally had its own movie. And cartoon. And strategy guide. And months of magazine coverage. Kid Chameleon barely had a six issue mini comic book. It’s also about as well remembered as Super Alfred Chicken. You mean there were other platformers for the Genesis besides Sonic the Hedgehog? You mean Sonic the Hedgehog 2?

Check your privilege, Nintendo. There’s a kid in a white t-shirt that could use a sequel, but he’s getting stopped by the doof that thinks he’s a security guard. Why not be a little more understanding of the ones that didn’t have everything?

FGC #97 Kid Chameleon

  • System: Sega Genesis, though it also appears on a number of Sega compilations throughout the systems. For this review, incidentally, I replayed it on the Xbox 360.
  • Number of Players: Two alternating, like, you know, Super Mario Bros.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes, but it wasn’t until I was in college, and had access to all the emulators ever. Do I still… yes, I still have a screencap of my accomplishment.

    A winner is me

    February 16, 2003, apparently. Oh man, almost posted this article on the anniversary.

  • “Thoughtful” Level Design? Okay, yes, the final world of Kid Chameleon has some downright hateful “looping” areas that make progress a slog unless you figure out the right route. But the same kind of nonsense was in Super Mario Bros., and reappeared with the ghost houses and Forest of Illusion with Super Mario World, but we look past those flaws.
  • Favorite Helmet: The Juggernaut is a tank that fires an unlimited number of skulls. This is rad. Granted, the Juggernaut is also the most limited helmet in the game, limited not only in quantity but also the number of places you can go with a tank as opposed to the more svelte any-other-helmet-ever. But it still makes for two completely unrelated FGC games in a row with a Juggernaut.
  • Die! Possibly the most iconic roadblock in Kid Chameleon is the Murder Wall, a mechanized horror that appears in auto-scrolling stages. The joke of it, though, is that the trademark Murder Wall only appears in a total of three stages. It’s the Kuribo’s Shoe of Kid Chameleon.
  • Fresh squeezed: Kid Chameleon, like his hedgehog brother and a friendly dolphin, has a major allergy to being squashed by moving blocks. Was this a Genesis thing? Jiggle physicsI seem to remember a number of NES games where the protagonist would just be squished and moved to some viable (or not viable, hi Samus) ground, but it seems like every Genesis hero is simply instantly killed.
  • What’s this about a hedgehog? Yes, people fondly remember Sonic the Hedgehog. His debut adventure also included the easiest level select code in the history of gaming. I don’t think these two items are unrelated.
  • Did you know? Yes, like Super Mario Bros., there are a series of warps in the game that will get you to the finale in pretty short order. You have to know exactly what you’re doing, though, so it would have been nice if there was a guide two decades ago. All the same, aside from the “skip to the final boss” warp in the second stage, most of the warps forward you to challenges that are completely insurmountable if you don’t have the skills necessary to get to said stages. SMB3 World 8 tanks are nothing in the face of Bloody Swamp.
  • Would I play again: Every once in a while I get it in my head that I’m going to sit down and defeat this game “for real” and, using only save states at the start of each level, beat the game straight through. I usually give up after an hour. But it will happen again, I know it. Maybe I’ll pick up an old save this time…

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Bleach: Soul Resurrección for the Playstation 3! We’ve got to save Heaven and Hell with Ichigo… but is he his own worst anime? Please look forward to it!

Get it?