Tag Archives: Reader’s Choice

FGC #065 Any Clock Tower

Top of the TowerYesa Aravena requests “Clock Tower; any one in the series.”

Any clock tower in the series, eh?

Alright, I choose the clock tower from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

C:SotN was a landmark Castlevania game in a lot of ways, and its clock tower magnifies this fact. In nearly all previous Castlevania games, the clock tower was a grueling platforming challenge, with grinding gears and swooping medusa heads constantly encouraging the Belmont du jour to reach terminal velocity on his way to some uncomfortably placed spikes. In the SotN clock tower, all of those elements are present, but they have been defanged by the new “explore ‘em up” nature of the game. No longer do you have to fear an unforgiving death plummet into the unknown, no, now you have the full height of the screen to explore, and Alucard doesn’t dread a fall from a tower any more than diving off a waterfall or jump-kicking out of his dad’s throne room. In making Symphony of the Night a more interesting game, a less challenging, but more fun, clock tower was created.

The charm point of this area is the four gears scattered about the vertical areas. I realize I just finished talking about how this game made the clock tower calmer, but these gears can be a major pain in the butt for the intrepid explorer. Each of these gears must be hit by Alucard a distinct number of times in order to access a worthwhile hidden area, so, assuming the player doesn’t just want to jump around like an idiot, Alucard temporary enters something like a tower defense situation to properly grind those gears. An infinite number of medusa heads are incoming, and a harpy or two is likely to interfere, but persevere, young dhampir, and you’ll have your treasure soon. Oh, and be sure to pump up the volume, you do not want miss that satisfying victory click.

For eagle-eyed, nostalgic players, you may notice that the “end” area of the clock tower leading directly to Dracula’s loft is very Grindin' alongsimilar to the final area of Castlevania III, not at all coincidentally the first game where Alucard appeared. This is yet another Castlevania franchise reference in a game packed with them, but it’s welcome, assuming you’re going through the clock tower in the intended direction. Assuming you’re not, however, you’ll be greeted with the lackluster boss of the area first thing. Malphas, a crow demon, is the greatest misstep in this area, as I have literally never encountered this boss at a time in my Castlevania journeying that he hasn’t been a complete push over. Would it have been so bad to have the first form of Death hiding in the first castle? No, we get stuck with this lame feather demon that can barely get an attack off. Absolutely no one is surprised when he pops up in equally ineffectual numbers in the reverse castle.

And that’s about it for my chosen Clock Tower!

Wait…

Why did I capitalize that?

Huh… it was capitalized in the original request, too. Could it be…

Oh, bugger, there’s an entire Clock Tower franchise? It’s its own game!?

Rargh, okay okay, don’t panic. Don’t panic. You can do this… you’ve… you’ve still got time to turn this one around… yeah… don’t let that stupid robot think you can’t survive without him… her?… whatever… you can handle this… yeah… there’s gotta be… yes, okay, good, you’ve got one of the Clock Tower games, Clock Tower 2: The Struggle Within… oh, bless my tendency to buy games exclusively based on their titles… alright, now just have to pull an article together… bang out a couple hundred words, shouldn’t be an issue… you once wrote a ten page book report on A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, a book for which you, technically, only read the back cover… you can do this… let’s start with that back cover… that’s always good…

Look at that... stuffEr-hem.

Clock Tower 2: The Struggle Within is the sequel to Clock Tower, another clock tower-based video game. Like the previous entry in the series, Clock Tower 2 is a survival horror game, with an emphasis on the whole “survival” thing. The heroine, Alyssa Hale, must survive a world of horrors beyond imagination, with terrifying creatures like zombies, a knife-wielding child, and the nefarious Ghosthead (note to self: please look up whatever that is. It sounds stupid, but could probably fill a paragraph.) But sometimes, the danger comes from within, as Alyssa has a split personality. Possibly as a result of being buried alive, Alyssa will occasionally transform into her alter-ego, a darker, more violent Alyssa that might be more likely to survive, but is Alyssa ready to survive as such a creature (Yeah, that’s usually how these things go). Alyssa is thirsty for revenge, but what part of her will do the drinking? (Deep, awesome)

The graphics here are pretty normal for the Playstation, though maybe a little better than some of the early stuff, as the game was released in (CHECK WIKIPEDIA FOR YEAR). It’s more Final Fantasy 8 than Final Fantasy 7, basically. The control innovations of the time arrive in full force here: you can use the dinky ol’ PS1 controller, the GET IT!?“new” analogue stick, or even the Playstation Mouse, because, like MTV Music Generator, I guess that peripheral works with this game. The rumble feature even works with Clock Tower 2, which is great, because Playstation games always used rumble effectively to build tension, and not just to remind the player they had just fallen down. (Snark portrays confidence!)

Like Chrono Trigger before it, Clock Tower 2 boasts thirteen different endings, which, at the time of release, generally implied a wealth of gameplay options. You have to understand that, back in the day, when most video game choices boiled down to “continue?”, all we had were games with multiple endings to cover the advanced storytelling options offered by the digital medium. “Multiple Endings” was not just a bullet point; it was an unspoken promise that guaranteed this was a game with real choices, and thus a much more mature narrative for the discerning player. Yes, many of the thirteen endings of Clock Tower 2 are disappointing (a given… oh, the cleverness of me), but the fact that the game doesn’t just end with “You are a super player” blazed the trail for the more modern morality dilemmas and branching stories of today. (Yeah, video game history for the win)

Obviously, there are problems with Clock Tower 2. It’s a Playstation 1 game, so using the digital PSX pad as opposed to the analogue control feels a bit cumbersome. I can see why the mouse might come in handy as an alternative (why not?). Additionally, when the game asks you to do anything with an eye on action, like when Ghosthead is barreling down upon you, it doesn’t feel quite as GET OUT!precise as when you’re just walking around. Yes, this probably helps to build the suspense and horror of the game, but it doesn’t make things any more fun to play. And, of course, despite all the cinema being tossed around, it’s still PSX era graphics, so humans come off as creepy creatures more than some of the actual monsters. I’m sure it was a fine game for its time, but it was never meant to be on a screen the size of a truck begging for a resolution somewhere in the thousands. And the voice acting? Ugh. (This really can’t be wrong)

In conclusion, Clock Tower 2 is a game of contrasts. (Nailed it)

FGC #65 Clock Tower 2: The Struggle Within

  • System: Playstation 1, though it’s not like it couldn’t be on INSERT MODERN DOWNLOAD SERVICE, eh?
  • Number of Players: 1. Horror games should always be one player, because if you’ve got someone covering your back, the horror is reduced by at least 125%. This is how you can tell the more recent Resident Evil games are “merely” action games. However, all that said, a game like this can be enhanced with additional audience members, assuming you remember to turn off the lights.
  • Horror Times: I actually generally don’t enjoy “horror” games, whether it be action survival or just point and click. Horror games are really only doing their job if you feel generally uneasy while playing the game, and, honestly, that is the complete opposite of the reason I play video games. I like to relax when I’m holding a controller, and not ice skate uphill. And, having said all that, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is one of my favorite games. Goggle Bob is a man of contrasts.
  • HERE HE COMESFavorite Monster: Well, obviously it’s Ghosthead. You know that Ghosthead, always ghostheading around like he ghostheads the place. I hear Ghosthead was so popular in Japan, they named the entire game after him. Ghosthead is like a Japanese Jason Voorhees!
  • Japanese? This game takes place in “San Francisco”, but it’s an alternate dimension where there’s a significant Japanese population on the West Coast, so all signs in public places like the hospital or Shinto Shrine are in Japanese. It’s like a sunnier Canada!
  • Did you know? Alyssa’s alter-ego is known as “Bates”. There has never been another character in horror fiction that possessed a split personality and that last name. Mother told me so.
  • Would I play again? Wait… Again? Erm, I mean, yes. Afterall, I didn’t find all those endings, and nothing is more exciting to me than replaying Playstation horror games! Woo and whatnot.

What’s Next? Random ROB is back!

See, I set up one of those security cams on the happy family…

See?

Zoom in! Enhance!

See!?

And everything I know about biology makes sense again! See, there was no robot love, just a capricious ditto, and that makes perfect sense.

Perfect.

Sense.

Anyway, Random ROB has chosen… Gradius 3 for the SNES! Get your options ready, the Vic Viper flies again! Please look forward to it!

(And a special thanks to everyone that participated in the Reader’s Choice Challenge. I’ve had a blast playing all these games, one way or another. You guys rock.)

FGC #064 Elevator Action 2

Feel the excitement“Elevator Action” has always been an oxymoron. Elevators are not for action, elevators are for waiting, for loading screens, or, in an easy way to identify a beat ‘em up, for beating a swarm of enemies while making vertical progress. Elevators are great for sitcoms and dramas, because you can “trap” two (or more) characters and force them to bounce off each other and/or resolve issues, but in reality, even the reality of a video game, elevators are always going to be boring. “Elevator Action” may as well be “Doorway Panic” or “Paint Dries Z” as far as exciting titles go.

Honestly, the original Elevator Action did nothing to dissuade the idea that elevators could be filled with action. It’s not a bad game, and I should probably give more credit to any game that is literally as old as I am, but it’s not exactly action packed, either. One screen, vertically scrolling along, and the best you can hope for is to open a door at precisely the right moment, assuming you can successfully enter a door at all. In a weird way, this may have been the first game to utilize “stealth” as part of the gameplay, so maybe we can trace Elevator Action to Metal Gear Solid and its many imitators.

Most recently, there was Elevator Action Deluxe, which I picked up during some PSN flash sale. It’s one of those “the same game, but with modern conveniences” quasi-remakes that you often see pop up with old coin-op titles. It’s basically the thirty year old game, but now there are different layouts and a few random switch-ups, like a high score and This is no fun“challenges” for each stage. Or maybe I’m wrong, I played it for like ten minutes, and then woke up the following morning disoriented and playing Bubsy for some reason.

So, when I received the request for Elevator Action Returns, I actually confused the requested game with Elevator Action Deluxe, and audibly sighed at having to wring something interesting out of that snoozefest. But a quick trip to Wikipedia saved me the bother of playing that digital NyQuil, and I found that Elevator Action Returns, aka Elevator Action 2, was an arcade game that was released in 1994.

Which… disqualifies it under the “no games I don’t own” clause. Lame.

Oh, wait! There was a Saturn version… but not in America. Never been a big fan of importing, as my belief is that, in the wholeness of time, every game ever made will be rereleased with an English translation, one way or another, Amen. So, back to square one.

But! Elevator Action 2 was included on the Playstation 2 Taito Legends 2 collection, and I own that! Yay! I can’t even remember why I own that game, though. Was it just for another copy of Puzzle Bobble? Qix? Or could I just not ignore the incredible draw of Violence Fight? No matter, I’ve got a copy of Elevator Action 2 to play, technically, so, for the first time in the FGC, let’s play a game I know absolutely nothing about.

Oh.WELCOME TO ACTION COUNTRY

Oh. This is good.

Is this… is this what joy feels like?

Alright, time to spread the gospel.

Ladies and gentlemen, Elevator Action 2 is a really, really great game.

First of all, there’s the overall aesthetic. For reasons that I can only begin to speculate, everything here hews pretty close to 80’s GI Joe, with a dash of Die Hard-esque action movie spice. The main characters are Edie (short for Edbecca) Burret, the action girl in camo pants with the fastest draw and some pyro tendencies; Kart Bradfield, a dandy, blonde-haired gentleman who has the best running speed and hair; and Rambo, back in action under the alias Jad the Taff. All three are loaded to the bear with not only their requisite weapons, but all manner of GI Joe flourishes, like those single-lens headset communicator things and three total kneepads spread amongst three people. And, of course, there’s nothing uniform about this elite squad: Rambo looks like he just stepped out of Smash TV, while Kart is wearing a kicky leather vest that is sure to make all the other commandos totally jelly.

GET IT!?Then we’ve got the stages, which start out Elevator Action shaped and then just go ahead and do whatever the hell they want. The first level, yes, is pretty much what you’d expect from the title, but level two brings the gang to a generally explosive airport that is predominantly horizontal, with only a few stories to explore all that elevator action. Stages continue like this, with a scant handful of areas where it really feels like there’s an emphasis on the titular elevators. What was focused on, however, is all the little things that I can’t imagine being even noticed in the noisy 90’s arcades. There’s graffiti everywhere, further adding to the “decaying urban” retro-futuristic 80’s aesthetic, and crumbling ceilings and dingy subways that really drive home the fact that Kart is going to hop right in the tub the minute he gets home. Even beyond the world-building, there are a number of little easter eggs hidden about, like elevatoring straight through an in-use bathroom amid one of the more hectic moments. Elevator Action 2 contains more detail than should be allowed in a game sharing floor space with Primal Rage.

But it doesn’t matter if it looks pretty, how does it play? Great news on that front, as this may be the most unbridled fun I’ve had with a FGC game yet. First, and most importantly, you’ve got a life bar, so no more instant deaths… though you will die instantly if you leap down an elevator shaft or stand beneath a descending elevator, but, seriously, do that, and you deserve to lose your credit. And don’t worry, while you’ve got some body armor, the majority of your enemies are going down in a hit or two, so it’s time to get all First Blood on the legion of bad guys. In fact, and this may be the greatest compliment I can give an action game, the whole experience feels vaguely like a deliberate, measured, and more forgiving Contra. Burn, baby, burnEven better than Contra (what an odd phrase), there’s even a number of different options in your toy chest, so if you’re not so much into riddling your opponents with bullets, you can stomp them with elevators, lure them into mines, or kick over those Michael Bay barrels for explosive results. And why not put away your pistol, and whip out a grenade or rocket launcher? The sky is the limit, which is convenient when you’re dodging mooks with jetpacks.

If I had to complain about anything about this game, it’s length. The game is a mere six levels long, which is ideal for arcades or someone who plays at least four video games a week, but I could see being a might disappointed if you shelled out for this game back in the Saturn days. I completed this game in about a half hour, and with, I believe, eight credits. Even using expensive tokens, that’s like a whole four bucks, so I would likely be a bit miffed if I paid ten times that in 90’s dollars for the home experience. Of course, I do own the game as part of a compilation of 38 other games, and I think I got it for a Jackson, so I technically paid… 51¢ for Elevator Action 2. I’d pay that for Jad the Taff alone!

Minor gripe aside, I have nothing to complain about. Elevator Action 2 puts the action back in elevators, and that’s something the world sorely needed.

FGC #64 Elevator Action 2

  • Radical!System: Sega Saturn for the real console port, Playstation 2 or Xbox for the compilation with the arcade version. Pick your poison.
  • Number of Players: And it’s two player! I know I’ve said this before, but I would really like to get some two player elevator action going to complete the experience, and see if it’s double the fun with a buddy. I’m guessing it’s at least 75% more fun.
  • Favorite Character: I wound up using Edbecca the most, as her ability to shoot the fastest is ideal in a game where you fire off about 10,000 rounds in response to a door opening. Conversely, Rambo is on notice, because he moves about as fast as a real life elevator. Going down?
  • 64th FGC Entry: And, for the first time in a while, the article has absolutely nothing to do with a N64 game. Poor planning!
  • Elevator Action Bloodlines: I want to say the final boss and head terrorist of Elevator Action 2 is supposed to be the disgraced “hero” of Elevator Action 1. Or, maybe not, and they just shop at the same tailor. Whatever the case, I simply cannot disparage a man in a red suit.
  • Missed opportunity: It’s a shame there’s no 90’s style commercial for this game. It would really complete the trifecta.
  • Violence Fight? It’s a real thing, and it’s as bad as you imagine.
    VIOLENCE!  FIGHT!
  • Did you know? Jad the Taff isn’t just some made up Engrish, it’s denoting that Rambo is currently disguising himself as a Welshman. There’s no such excuse for Edie Burret, which, presumably, has a pronunciation that sounds vaguely like “any bullet”. And the other guy, obviously, is named after Super Mario Kart, released just two years prior.
  • Would I play again? Hell yes. Want some elaboration? Please reread the article. I’ll wait.

What’s Next? M Yesa Aravena has chosen… “Clock Tower; any one in the series”. Huh. That’s not very specific… but I’ll see what I can do. Please look forward to it!

See you next mission

FGC #063 Hybrid Heaven

Just turn it off when you see thisIf I had god-like powers and could view the whole of the past, find everyone involved, see all of their thoughts, and know all of their motivations, I would steer my omnipotence right in the direction of the people making N64 games back in the late 90’s, because, seriously, what the hell was going on there?

Final Fantasy 7 was a revelation for the entire console generation, for good or ill. Its repercussions are still being felt today (Cloud 4 Smash 4 Real!), but back in 1997, it shifted the entire paradigm of gaming. Yes, there had been six or so Final Fantasy games prior to Barret’s Big Adventure, but Final Fantasy 7 was the one that lit the gaming world ablaze, guaranteeing the fledgling Sony Playstation’s dominance not only for the remainder of the generation, but decades to come. JRPGs, with their wealth of FMVs and “mature” storytelling, became the dominant genre, and everything from platformers to board games started touting “RPG elements” and “eighty hours of gameplay”. The Playstation was flooded with every RPG you could imagine: the inevitable Final Fantasy sequels, the Western-themed Wild Arms franchise, the perpetual second banana Breath of Fire continuation, anime moon simulator Lunar, 108 Suikoden games, and even some more experimental nonsense, like the criminally underrated Legend of Legaia, or the “getting there” Koudelka. There was a half-finished JRPG with giant robots and a stuffed animal battling a cannibalistic god for the sake of a world where everyone was already dead, and it somehow sold like gangbusters. The JRPG was the defining genre for the generation.

Which begs the question: why didn’t anyone give that a shot on the N64?

Yes, there were technical limitations. For everyone that played JRPGs for their story and mechanics, there were probably a greater number of people that only showed up for the FMVs and voice acting, which wasn’t going to happen back in the House of Mario 64. And the N64 kind of demanded polygons, so kiss any idea of “cute” JRPG sprites good-bye, it’s all Nothing's onblocky square dudes, all the time. But beyond that, there’s no good reason a game copying the good ol’ Fight / Magic / Item / Run of classic JRPGs couldn’t pass on the N64. There’s nothing saying polygons can’t tell a good story, and that silly controller could certainly allow for quick menu navigation.

But, no, Nintendo’s home consoles went from blockbuster JRPGs like Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger to the likes of Quest 64, a game that sucked the magic out of the very concept of magic. Ogre Battle 64 might have been the “mature” TRPG title that N64 owners were clamoring for, but when it was pitted against Final Fantasy 8, well, the battle was ogre before it began. I’d claim that the only good RPG on the whole of the system was Nintendo’s own Paper Mario, but that was a title that came far too late, and, for the predominantly “edgy teenage” JRPG fan club, too cutesy. And this was all amid the time period that Pokémon ruled the portable realm, so it’s not like Nintendo didn’t understand the appeal of a good, mechanics based JRPG.

So, while Square had wandered off to greener, disc-based pastures, you’d expect some company would decide to step in and fill the niche that so desperately wanted to be filled. Good ol’ Konami decided to give it a go in ’99, and created a confusing mutant of a game.

Hybrid Heaven has a lot of features that were associated with Playstation JRPGS. It’s got voice acting and cinema scenes, it’s got oddly shaped polygon people, and it’s even got a plot that is completely bonkers. I can’t help but feel a bit of nationalistic pride at the fact that the crazy plot is very America based, complete with a plot on the life of the (fictional) President, and a very important meeting on the White House Lawn for Big Fat American Christmas (and not Crazy Valentine’s Day Japanese Christmas). But back to its Japanese forbearers, this is a game featuring a super SOLDIER… err… soldier who suffers from random plot-based amnesia thanks to cloning another dude, and does its best to not clue the player in to anything that is happening until the Dude.villain decides to stop by and monologue about how everything is going according to plan and thanks for doing his job for him by helping a mysterious alien consciousness along in its machinations. It’s a pretty stock plot (in America!), but the public was eating that kind of thing up with a spoon at the time, so I can’t really disparage it for that.

But I can disparage Hybrid Heaven for its gameplay, because, holy cow, I can’t remember the last time I saw a game this… confused. I don’t know how much of it is an exaggeration, but I’ve heard many tales of Final Fantasy 13’s production, and how different areas were designed by different teams, and, when it was time to release the game, everything was just stitched together, so pretty crystal area was connected to dirty industrial area and then theme park world to haphazardly create a faux-cohesive planet (or two). I definitely played through the entirety of Final Fantasy 13, and I can say that, unlike every Final Fantasy before it, I could not ever get a feel for Planet Cocoon and its unusual geography, so the game did suffer for its seemingly random layout. Hybrid Heaven seems to suffer from the same issue, but this time it’s a constantly shifting gameplay that refuses to allow the player to “learn” the game.

To take the first area as an example, after falling off an elevator, Slater (in disguise as Mr. Diaz) falls into an installation that initially appears vaguely town-like. There’s a dude talking about keycards and changing codes and it’s all very relaxed and “opening town”. Then there’s these little security bot things, and they’re attacking you, and it’s pretty much like an action game: you can jump, crawl, sneak, and, most importantly, aim your “disrupter” (gun) at the little buggers, and blow them straight to robot hell. Complete with the little HP ring up in the top corner, by all accounts, this game looks like a 3-D action game, and the next area reinforces that by forcing Slater to literally jump up some steps and shoot some crates and panels. What!?Then, after some cryptic nonsense, a hybrid is released, and, yeah, it’s cool, I’ve got this, I’ll just jump over him and shoot my gun and… what? It’s a RPG battle system now?

The meat of the combat in Hybrid Heaven occurs in JRPG-like battle menus meant to simulate the same ol’ fight/magic/item of JRPGs. However, the significant difference here is that it is much more “action” based, which sounded good in Nintendo Power, but in practice, it means that while your ATB-wannabe gauge is filling up, you’re scampering around the arena trying not to get slapped around. Assuming you are tagged, you’re basically stuck playing rock/paper/scissors and guessing which direction that wily monster is going to attack. Once your gauge is full (or thereabouts) you can unleash your own attack (including a variety of fun wrestling moves, because I guess grappling with aliens seems like a good idea), and hope the AI isn’t reading your inputs and dodging appropriately.

In theory, this entire battle system could be something new and interesting. In practice, it’s Tekken, but with extra pauses. A lot of extra pauses. And if you think that comparison occurred in a vacuum, go ahead and look up Hybrid Heaven’s two player mode. Or don’t, and live in a better world.

Round and round...And the game continues in this way, neither fish nor fowl. The odd thing is that it never seems to take any one system too seriously: you can be horrible at dodging “action” robots or “RPG” aliens alike, and still survive on the bevy of healing items that are provided along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this game to be Resident Evil, I like having healing ready at a moment’s notice, but it seems to put the nuance of the rest of the game out to pasture the minute you realize you can likely just “tank” through a number of challenges. And you know what happens when that becomes a significant factor in the game? It makes a healthy chunk of the gameplay just seem like a waste of time between cutscenes. Good job, Konami, you just emulated the worst part of JRPGs.

There’s a trace of a good, interesting game here, but Hybrid Heaven is nowhere near the experience the N64 kids were clamoring for. The system that desperately thirsted for a Final Fantasy 7 “killer” was left with a wild action/JRPG hybrid (ha!) that tried and failed to please disparate masters. It’s a poor action game, it’s a poor RPG, and, really, this was never going to beat Final Fantasy 7 in any conceivable way.

Well, unless Final Fantasy 7 HD finally allows Cloud to piledrive Jenova…

FGC #63 Hybrid Heaven

  • System: N64, and I wouldn’t hold my breath for that Virtual Console release.
  • Number of Players: Two, thanks to a very odd Versus Mode. Just go ahead and fire that one up with a friend blind sometime. Don’t explain anything, and see what happens. Spoilers: you lose a friend.
  • A little bitter, aren’t we? I swear this is the last N64 game I complain about. I just… it was supposed to be yet another game that put those Playstation fanboys in their place, and this game is forever lodged in my memory as one of the first games I ever received (Christmas gift, incidentally), played, and then nearly never played again. I finally beat it years later when I had far too much time on my hands, but I want to say this was the first game that I “bought” based on hype and then barely touched. Wouldn’t be the last…
  • Whatever floats your boatN64 Woes: You can only save to a Controller Pak, and then you are prompted to switch out the Pak for a Rumble Pak at every single save point. It’s just as cumbersome and stupid as it sounds. Here’s a fun activity: write an essay persuasively arguing the case for the Controller Pak being at all a good idea for gamers. Submit your essay, and if I find it at all worthy of merit, I shall grant thee a boon of thine choosing.
  • Did you notice? All the captures are from the first half hour of the game, because I don’t have any idea where my save file for this game has gotten to (ever try searching through N64 Controller Paks?), and I wasn’t going to waste anymore of my life trying to find the proper keycards to progress or whatever. Those long, boring JRPG battles respawn when you leave a room, and, man, there are other games I could be playing.
  • Did you know? According to various preview sources, this game was originally intended for the 64DD, the doomed disc-drive expansion for the N64. Oh, I wonder if the lack of JRPGs on the N64 was because Nintendo was putting all its eggs in the eventually-migrated Mother 3 basket. Hm. I want to say a successful Mother 3 launch could have tipped the JRPG scales back into Nintendo’s favor, but, then again, Nintendo of America has never known how to market a Mother game, so it probably would have been another Mega Buster shot bouncing off the Met that was the Playstation. Probably worked out for the best in the end… assuming Mother 3 ever gets an official translation…
  • Would I play again? No.

What’s Next? Wildcat JF has chosen… Elevator Action Returns aka Elevator Action 2! Do I… Did this game even come out in America? Guess we’ll find out as we meet gaming legend Jad the Taff. Please look forward to it!

FGC #062 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Get there!As an adult, when I look back on my own childhood and teenage years, I wonder what essential truth I would, if possible, impart on my younger self. Through it all, I come to one conclusion: I would tell a little Goggle Bob to, “always be yourself, and don’t spend your life worrying about what anybody else thinks.”

Except… that’s kind of bullshit.

No one is “themselves”. Yes, I completely believe people should be themselves, and no one else’s idiotic beliefs should define someone’s sexuality, gender, or breakfast options. But when you look past the “always be yourself” idiom, you encounter every other expression that tells you to work against your own nature. “The early bird catches the worm”? Screw you, I’m hitting the snooze button again. “A penny saved is a penny earned”? But I want a churro now! “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? What if I want a whole bushful of birds!? Take a look at famous Ben Franklin sayings sometime, and you’ll note that about half of what he said was just an effort to get the fledgling country to come to the dinner table wearing a damn shirt every once in a while. “Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.” Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.

When you examine children’s television programming (the number one way any American learns anything), you’ll notice that “be yourself” is the most common moral, even though “being yourself” is something that can only come from privilege. Being yourself is only possible when you have the power to bend the rest of the world to your will, with a completely yielding public that will tolerate whatever it is that is pure you. Want to be successful? Wealthy? Start a family? Great! Here is your recommended hair color, skin color, sexuality, weight, gender, age, ocular impediments, clothing, accessories, and publicly allowable tattoos. Have a video game hobby? Electronics RepairThat’s cool, I mean, if you’re in the tech field. I wouldn’t bring it up at City Hall, though, or else you’ll be that weird kid in the mailroom that plays Doom (“Do people still play Doom?” “Doesn’t matter.”) until you’re sixty.

And don’t even get me started on how many dates have ended for me with, “But I meant that as a compliment!”

You can be yourself, but only if whatever yourself happens to be is something the rest of the world wants. Mario can be himself. Mega Man has mutated seven or eight times to try to be exactly what everyone wants (You guys want a portable action RPG this week? MegaMan.exe it is!). Sonic has gone from mute and pudgy to a lean quipper because Sega imagined that is what people want. Kojima had a vision for Metal Gear Solid, and he was exiled on a life raft the very moment that vision didn’t coincide with Konami’s pachinko plans.

Be yourself, just so long as it’s profitable.

But forget profitable, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a game that doesn’t even remember how to be itself.

I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on Banjo-Kazooie: Origins, the duology that, along with ZOOOMDonkey Kong 64, defined the collectathon at the genre’s apogee. Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie both required the poor honey bear and bird to find and collect roughly twelve billion little trinkets across its many levels, and God help you if your OCD wasn’t raging at all times, because you need every last bauble to progress. It’s the point of the game in a much greater sense than the “score” of games gone by ever mattered to anything. Sure, you get 10,000 points for defeating Dr. Wily, but who cares, the important thing is you saved the world. Not so in the collectathon, where the game practically begs you to find everything, lest you leave the pitiable game to rot, unloved and uncompleted. Yes, there are people that can go through Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts once and be content like they completed the game, but those people never found every last jinjo and jiggy, the monsters.

So, nearly a decade after the final Banjo-Kazooie N64 adventure, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts makes the scene. BKN&B is a game that absolutely goes out of its own way to mock the Banjo-Kazooie games of the past. The hero has become dull and fat, the villain is an ineffectual disembodied head, and a new character, L.O.G., appears to openly mock everyone involved, from a personal (“Very well then, failures, listen carefully.”) and meta perspective (“Failures? We’ve been in several games already!” “But nowhere near as many as that Italian gentleman, correct?”). In an effort to make Banjo and Kazooie more palatable for modern audiences, L.O.G. transfers our heroes to a new world and genre that is completely unique and modern.

And, incidentally, a collectathon.

NOPE

Before we go any further, I do want to note that I like this game. It is fun to play, it is fun to create new and interesting vehicles, and the challenges are, by and large, fun. It’s not my favorite “genre”, but racing, vehicle combat, and the occasional excuse for flight is a delightful way to spend the afternoon. The challenges are challenging, but not too difficult, so it usually only takes one or two tries to get the gold. And there’s one of my favorite features that should be mandatory for all games: instant, no penalty “reset challenge” options for when you know you’ve doomed yourself inside the first five seconds. Why fight an entire challenge uphill because of the handicap of your own sweaty thumbs?

But you know what I just described? A game where, through various challenges, you collect things. Literally moments after L.O.G. disparages the collectathon genre (and you earn an achievement named “Pointless Collector”) you’re told to collect musical notes that work as bank notes. Fun fact: notes do not in any way respawn, so you have to collect every last note if you want to buy everything (and even then, don’t blow it all on bribes). Notes can be exchanged for the ability to collect additional parts and blueprints. And then you’re instructed to collect jiggys to unlock new worlds.

NERDS!Rare, you just finished insulting the entire genre, claiming that “no one wants a collectathon” is the reason Banjo didn’t come out of retirement sooner, and now the rest of the game is a collectathon.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts has more identity problems than it does jiggys. It’s a collectathon that claims collectathons are stupid. It’s a video game, featuring a character that declares himself to be the Lord of Games who is creating video game worlds exclusively for Banjo… and each world is introduced with a faux-80’s sitcom television opening. Most of all, this is a game that, right from the start, expects you to be familiar with and even fond of the source material (aside from the millions of references that would just be confusing to someone coming into the franchise for the first time, there’s even a very tangible benefit to knowing the previous games with a franchise-wide trivia quiz in the last area), but implies that Banjo and Kazooie have become fat, ineffectual lumps in the intervening years because all they did was play video games. We love our dedicated fans; we just think they’re tubby, hopeless blob creatures!

Coincidentally enough, yesterday was the seven year anniversary of Nuts & Bolts’ 2008 release, meaning that, as I write this, we only have a year to go before we hit the same time span that separated Banjo-Tooie and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. I’m not one for sales research, as, depending on the publisher, a million copies sold may either be the greatest thing that ever happened or an abysmal failure, but I’m going to guess that BKN&B did not perform as well as its handlers expected, since, ya know, where’s that sequel, Grunty?

Record timeSo what did we learn? Don’t be yourself, because unless you’re a success right from the start, you’re not going to get anywhere. But don’t change, call your old self stupid, and then try to do the exact same thing again, because that’s not going to fly, and it’s not just because your bird got fat.

FGC #62 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

  • System: Xbox 360, but also (technically) on the Rare Replay collection for Xbox One, which is what you’re seeing here in the article. Are the graphics improved on the nextest gen system? Who the blazes knows.
  • Number of Players: 2… Oh! I never got to try what I presume to be a head-to-head mode in this game. Do you get to race your custom carts against each other? That sounds like it might be neat.
  • Another kind of Nostalgia: Transforming a collectathon 3-D platformer into a game with a harder edge and an emphasis on vehicles sounds an awful lot like the exact trajectory the Jak and Daxter series took a generation earlier. Guys, if you’re going to emulate failed franchise platformers anyway, Chameleon Twist is right there.
  • Number of Grabbed by Ghoulies laments: Far too many.
  • Favorite World: The worlds are gorgeous and generally delightful, but they’re also fairly well-trodden tropes. The significant exception is the Logbox 720, an entire world meant to emulate the innards of a video game system (or computer [redundant]). This isn’t some Tron abstract nonsense, either, UGH!it all appears like the actual, physical insides of modern electronics, just molded into a video game level. If anyone is going to heist anything from this game, let it be that concept.
  • Did you know? Tooty, Banjo’s little sister whose rescue was the whole point of the original Banjo-Kazooie, has not been seen since the debut game. There’s a pair of easter eggs referencing the damsel in Banjo-Tooie, and in Nuts & Bolts, she’s merely referenced by name, with nary an image of her produced. Humba Wumba makes her return in BKN&B, though. Ugh.
  • Would I play again: Yes. No. Maybe? Like, I always intend to go back to the game and whip up the most insane cart ever seen, complete all the challenges, and blah blah blah, but, really, despite being generally fun, I don’t find anything particularly compelling about the game, and why make Banjo carts when you can make Mario worlds?

What’s Next? ChristopherDeMichiei has chosen… Hybrid Heaven for the N64! Fight, Magic, Item, SUPLEX! Please look forward to it!