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FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

This is the current roster in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate:

Smash it!

Of the fighters featured, I have played games featuring all characters highlighted in black:

I see a pattern

Who did I miss? Well, it looks like the entire Fire Emblem cast. Whoops! Guess I’ll just have to go on not giving a damn about all those stupid sword animes running around.

It's the shieldBut when ROB recently chose Fire Emblem Awakening (reminder: I follow the rule of ROB, but not necessarily in order picked. It takes slightly longer to play Final Fantasy Mystic Quest than Super Contra), I decided it might be time. After all, I have declared repeatedly on this blog that I would follow Nintendo straight into the depths of Hell almost entirely because they have continually created games that are always amazing to play (even if they’re not always the absolute best in the universe). This is the company that is responsible for hidden, super insane Mario stages and the super guide block. Surely I can trust Nintendo to make an enjoyable experience out of a genre I traditionally despise.

And, besides, my Twitter feed at any given moment is about 80% Lucina fanart, so I was kind of curious about her deal.

So, how did baby’s first Fire Emblem experience go? Well…

Casual Mode is my new God

Going into Fire Emblem, I knew exactly three things:

  1. It’s a tactical RPG, meaning it’s mostly about moving your little dudes around a map
  2. “It’s like chess, but sometimes you make the pieces kiss”
  3. Perma-Death

Here comes some plotAnd, above anything else, that perma-death factor scared me the hell away from the franchise. I can deal with a TRPG, I can deal with anime sword people kissing, but I absolutely cannot deal with perma-death in a videogame. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: above all else, I play videogames to relax. I play videogames to fool around in a consequence-free digital playground. I do not want to play a videogame where I can kill people. … Okay, I play videogames where I kill people all the time. I don’t want to play a videogame where I get people killed. I can deal with fainting. I am okay with “Chrom will remember this” in a pre-written, novel-esque setting. But I do not want to relax by watching a daring and debonair archer fall in battle to some stupid zombie with an axe. And then playing the rest of the game without that character? Knowing there is always a… a hole in my party? And what if that warrior was married? Or had kids? Oh God! My only options would be savescumming or never playing the game ever again.

But Fire Emblem Awakening includes a casual mode where not only is perma-death completely ignored, but saving in the middle of a battle is completely allowed. Hooray! I can actually play the game, and screw up by sending my Valkyrie into enemy territory as recklessly as I want!

Looking into this detail after completing the game, I discovered that there was some controversy over the inclusion of this (filthy) casual mode. And my response to that? Hey, nerds, this is my first Fire Emblem game. Let me learn the ropes and still make progress with my training wheels on. I don’t want to feel bad for the rest of the day just because I forgot axe beats lance. Casual mode is unequivocally a good thing for starting players and people who want to play videogames to unwind while waiting in an immobile airplane due to “engine troubles”. I know it’s more complicated than that, Judy, we’ve been sitting on the tarmac for two and a half hours, I’m not buying this “we’re just waiting for the paperwork” excuse! … Where was I? Oh yeah, you eliminate perma-death, and Fire Emblem is suddenly about a million times less stressful.

And, yes, I can confirm that I probably didn’t get through a single battle without at least one unit “fainting” due to a lucky critical or a mistaken bit of movement. If every “retreat” was a permanent death, my final army would have contained about four characters and absolutely zero flying ponies.

But even without the punishment factor, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a TRPG, my most hated genre. How did that work out?

Fire Emblem Awakening is Surprisingly Zippy

Our hero!I have literally never played another Fire Emblem title (give or take attempting OG Famicom Fire Emblem for about thirty seconds around the time of Super Smash Bros Brawl’s release), so I have no idea how the actual gameplay of Awakening compares to other titles in the franchise. However, I can tell you one thing for certain: Fire Emblem Awakening is unexpectedly fast. I’ve long said that I dislike TRPGs because it takes for freakin’ ever to do the simplest thing (like, ya know, kill an entire army full of people), and comparing a TRPG to other genres is always going to make a TRPG look like a literal waste of time. If this were Fire Emblem Warriors (which, wow, I guess is a thing now), I’d have about 600 enemy units dead before I finished my first turn in Fire Emblem 4 Realsies. And who has time for that? I have a bunch of really fast, really fun videogames right here. They’re all around me! They will likely one day consume me! I’m gonna go play Mega Man, let me know when this eternal combat turn ends.

But Fire Emblem Awakening moves astoundingly quickly. Combat animations are actually interesting and dynamic, movement placement is as easy as dragging a mouse around the screen, and, if all else fails, you can rely on the AI to round out a turn (and hopefully not get everyone killed). Enemy turns move at an excellent pace, and, even when some random dude has four attacks versus two counters, a turn is over in less time than it takes to grab a shower burrito. Despite my own general prejudice toward TRPG slowness, Fire Emblem Awakening doesn’t feel like a waste of my precious time (that could be spent playing Mario Bros.).

roar!And, interestingly enough, this extends to time spent outside of the battle, too. “Equipment” as it is traditionally defined in a JRPG is limited to simply weapons, and most characters (save our tactician player avatar) are limited to one or two weapon types, max. So you grab your best sword, give it to your best gal, and call it a day. The end. Other stats, like defense, are controlled by consumable “powerup” items that either last for one battle or are permanent. So determine who is the most useful, feed ‘em a few extra magic shields, and we’re good to go. There is no juggling equipment to make sure everyone has ice armor for the fire cave, or investigating every single shop to determine if every female character has their proper Minerva dress. It’s just grab some gear and go. And going is good!

And that lack of extra equipment makes managing item bags a breeze. Everybody got their emergency elixir and a weapon or two? Fast gals got their keys in case of treasure emergencies? Great! Let’s mosey!

And speaking of moseying…

The Grid Ain’t so Bad

I have said before that I hate grids. But I can live with Fire Emblem Awakening’s general movement grid. Why?

I have no idea. Huh.

So many squaresI generally dislike grid movement because it feels completely limiting compared to “real” movement. People do not move in grids. People are loosey-goosey! We left behind the crosspad before we even got out of the 20th Century, so who wants to deal with an entire army that can’t even move diagonally? But, somehow, Fire Emblem Awakening just feels like… it works? It’s probably a side effect of the whole speed thing, but “playing chess” with these characters feels oddly natural. I’m going to chalk this one up to one of those “Nintendo Magic” experiences. Somebody knows how to make a land-bound elf and a tubby, surprisingly acrobatic plumber’s movement feel equally valid, so it makes sense that sword dudes would somehow feel natural being tied to invisible squares. Or maybe I just didn’t notice the grids because I was actually enjoying myself. Hm.

And speaking of enjoying myself…

The Plot is Actually Enjoyable (And Anime)

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for time travel. Lucina is Chrom’s child from an alternate future where a dragon decided to munch on all of humanity? And that dragon is the evil twin of one of your own party members, so there’s a future child and a future alternate bad guy? And there could be an entire literal army of other future children? Hook that to my veins! This hole was made for me! Something about time travel being my waifu!… Actually, yeah, “waifus” are kind of an issue here…

It's sad, reallyFire Emblem Awakening is a TRPG, but you’re also encouraged to… uh… breed your warriors. Practically your entire army can have relationships, and these relationships have a basis in dialogue (general between battle hangout sessions) and actually war gameplay (units teaming up and defending/assisting each other). In a way, this is a transparent attempt to further elaborate on characters that are inevitably not going to be involved in the legitimate plot (since standard mode allows for perma-death, technically every character except the leads could be dead within their introductory battle, so we can’t very well hang plot twists on their potentially limited existences), but it also offers a better way to “get to know” warriors that might be interesting in battle (that one turns into a giant ferret! What’s up with that!?), but are otherwise superfluous to the greater narrative. And it also scratches that visual novel itch that seems to have wormed its way into a number of titles (presumably thanks to one biggie). But one significant side effect of these interactions is that certain soldiers can fall for certain other (heteronormative) soldiers. And then they get married. And have babies. And babies inherit skills, return from the future, and become soldiers. And, oh man, Chrom started a forever war without even trying!

And, yes, I had heard of this aspect of FEA before playing the title. And, frankly, I was downright terrified of having to properly manage my relationships and “breeding” for perfectly tweaked future children that have all the best skills and advantages and hair colors. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to micromanage the relationships of these characters, and, give or take a bad ending for one of my luminaries that apparently became a sad drunk without a woman to keep him in line, there were no real consequences to this anti-waifu decision. Like “real”, non-casual mode, there was this entire facet of Fire Emblem Awakening that I could focus on if I wanted to, and it would always be there, but I could ignore it and still have a fun time. A few of my chess pieces hooked up, most of them didn’t, and that was just fine by me.

And you know what else is fine?

Class Changes are Always Cool

Look at this:

POWER UP

Damn, that’s cool.

Okay, I like this franchise now. I can finally say that I officially, uncompromisingly like a TRPG. Way to go, Fire Emblem Awakening.

FGC #438 Fire Emblem Awakening

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, though, given this was apparently the Fire Emblem that revitalized and popularized the entire franchise, I’d expect a rerelease of some kind in the future.
  • Number of players: Can we please, please get a 2 player TRPG battling game? Has this happened in other Fire Emblem titles? Were they any good? I want to know!
  • Yay!  Marth!Anime gonna anime: Of course there is a character that looks like a 12-year old girl but is actually a millennia old dragon person. Other than that, the “anime” of Fire Emblem Awakening isn’t really all that bad, and, with a more Western paintjob, the majority of this title could actually be closer to Tolstoy than Sword Art Online. Okay, that might be pushing it a bit, but this is a surprisingly brutal (re: high body count) story for what I was expecting to be a lot more bubblegum.
  • Mistakes were made: Apparently I wholesale murdered that one dark magician girl everybody is always talking about. I regret nothing.
  • Favorite Soldier: It’s weird, but I wound up gravitating to Lissa. She’s just involved enough in the plot to be present for notable events, and her general personality is an excellent counter to many of the more dour or incidentally blood-thirsty characters. And she can become a pretty competent red mage sage, which is always helpful. Oh, and she has an inferiority complex thanks to a magical tattoo, so that’s also fun.
  • Favorite Future Child: Chrom wound up with Sumia in my playthrough (remember: I do not care), so we wound up with Cynthia, Lucia’s little sister that apparently wants to become a hero… without any real idea of how to do that. And that works surprisingly well! Lucina is all doing the mysterious knight routine and cutting a swath across her own past… and Cynthia can barely figure out how to properly wear pants. They seem like siblings to me.
  • So now do you better understand why these characters are in Smash Bros? Not really. Okay, Robin is pretty damn cool, and surprisingly friendly for her “cool tactician” role… but she’s otherwise fairly unremarkable. Chrom is a generic hero that fights for his friends, so there’s not much there. And I'm so tiredLucina is a goddamn bad ass that bends the laws of time and space to get exactly what she wants and incidentally save the world… but she winds up being the lamest clone character in Smash? Dammit! The coolest one got the worst treatment! I suppose the camaraderie between Robin and Chrom is commendable/memorable, but, having just finished Awakening, I’d rather just see Lucina kicking ass and taking names in a role wholly her own.
  • Did you know? There are a lot of DLC and Spotpass scenarios available, and that appears to be what is intended as the “post-game” of Awakening. But did you know this was the first Nintendo title to feature DLC in any significant form? And the first Nintendo game to feature a DLC swimsuit scenario, because J/TRPG fans are horny as hell? The more you know!
  • Would I play again: I would be curious to see how a more “informed” playthrough of Fire Emblem Awakening would shake out, as I now know many things I did not know before (like who to avoid murdering). But I don’t think I will be doing that for a while, as, now that I have a Fire Emblem “base”, I can try a few other titles that have been recommended over the years. Awakening appears to be a great jumping-on point for the series, and I’m curious to see if this cast/gameplay holds up elsewhere…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Trials of Mana! Yeah! I’m sure that was a random choice! Time for the grand trial of the Goddess of Mana! Please look forward to it!

I admit it

FGC #423 Super Smash Bros.

Please join special guest artist Pooch and myself in examining the deadly sins of the Smash Bros.

Lust, Sin of Donkey Kong

This is where it all started for the Nintendo empire: an ape that really, really wants to sling a random woman over his shoulder and carry her Arceus-knows-where. But there is little question what Donkey Kong is going to do when he gets there! He’s a big, naked ape, and she’s a beauty worthy of a Jump Man’s gaze… we already know what happens if you fail to climb that construction site. Donkey Kong Juniors don’t just pop out of eggs! Sure, one could claim this is all borrowed imagery from King Kong, but King Kong didn’t just stand next to Fay Wray beating his chest and smiling all day.

Of course, this interpretation is primarily based on DK’s maiden voyage, and not his later games. You know, the titles where he tries to save his bananas from being devoured by toothy crocodiles. Come to think of it, Freud might have a thing or two to say about that. And that’s even before you get to the part about him banging his bongos

Gluttony, Sin of Yoshi

Yoshi must consume.

He? She? It. It is an eating machine from the absolute moment it is hatched. Give or take a flutter jump, it seems the only way a Yoshi burns excess calories is by producing hollow, projectile eggs. Everything else is ingested, and the difference between delicious fruit and a screaming koopa troopa means nothing to this unrelenting lizard. All is sustenance to Yoshi, all must be consumed, and that never stops from cradle to an inevitably oversized grave. There’s a reason a certain plumber recently seems to leave his “noble” steed at a stage’s goal post; if a Yoshi were to traverse the entire Mushroom Kingdom, the nation would become nothing more than a reptile’s pizza topping.

Envy, Sin of Kirby

Yoshi is an animal. Kirby is unappeasable desire.

Kirby started as yet another 2-D platforming hero at a time when such a mascot character was produced roughly every seventeen seconds. However, Kirby was very different from his brethren, as he had amazing skills right from the moment he awakened. Projectiles? Just a matter of sucking in literally anything that is readily available, including plain air. Extra health? Pep bottles and Maxim Tomatoes grow on trees. Even flight, the most coveted of all platformer powerups? Well, ya don’t need any raccoon tails for this cream puff.

But it wasn’t enough for Kirby. Kirby needed more.

As of Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby gained the ability to copy the skills and powers of his opponents. Later adventures granted Kirby the talent to use multiple skills at once, combine them, or even convert his stolen skills into living assistants. Whom… he could devour again later. Why would he do that? Because Kirby can only have so many abilities at one time, and what is this ability compared to that ability right over there. Who cares if that power is attached to an ally?

And “must have it all” is such an integral part of Kirby that it followed him to Smash Bros. It has shadowed him straight through the series, and, as of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Kirby is capable of gaining nearly 75 different abilities from every last fighter.

But, of all those abilities, Kirby can only use one at a time…

And Luigi is standing right over there…

Is he even using that fireball? I bet Kirby could use it better…

Greed, Sin of Link

Link is often portrayed as a simple boy who claims the sword of a hero, heroically challenges a malevolent despot, and eventually saves an entire kingdom from an awful, certainly pork-scented fate. Link has gone by many names, but often earns a title such as “Hero of Time” or “Hero of the Wilds”.

He also earns literally more rupees than he can carry.

And enough food to feed the kingdom.

And treasure from literally every tomb, crypt, well, dungeon, and castle for miles.

And, in the end, the entire royal family owes him a debt.

And then he reclaims a magical wishing triangle that will gratefully grant him anything he wants.

And to think, he was already looking greedy when he decided he needed two hookshots

Sloth, Sin of Pikachu

Now we shall consult the Pokedex, Book of Oak, Chapter 25:

25:1 When several of these Pokémon gather, their electricity could build and cause lightning storms. … 25:8 This intelligent Pokémon roasts hard Berries with electricity to make them tender enough to eat. .. 25:11 It stores electricity in the electric sacs on its cheeks. When it releases pent-up energy in a burst, the electric power is equal to a lightning bolt.

So, to summarize, Pikachu is smart, generates electricity, can summon lightning storms, and can readily expel the power of a lightning bolt. Assuming a lightning bolt’s one billion joules of energy can be properly converted and utilized, that’s enough juice to power a lightbulb for six months. Assuming Pikachu only has a charge that powerful once day (and can’t be infinitely restored in seconds at a local Pokémon Center), a single one of those shock rats could power a city with approximately one minute’s worth of effort a day.

But what does Pikachu do?

Well, let’s just say that the coming energy shortage and associated apocalypse isn’t bothering the yellow mouse one iota. Pikachu has a party hat, and he’s going to use it, dammit.

Pride, Sin of Fox McCloud

James McCloud lost his life to the betrayal of Pigma Dengar, and failed to stop Andross, a mad scientist that sought to conquer the entire Lylat System. Fox McCloud thus inherited a gigantic starship, and the massive debt incurred by the production of such a craft. Fox, strapped for cash and perhaps anxious for a little vengeance, decided to fight back against Andross’s forces, and gathered the Star Fox team to save the galaxy.

And he did!

By himself!

Yes, Fox McCloud may have flown with Peppy, Falco, and Slippy, but who was the one that saved their Arwing’s asses every time they got into a scrape? Fox even piloted an experimental submarine just to show some random marine biology who’s boss. And did the whole team battle the giant floating brain of Andross? Nope. Just Fox. So is it any wonder that when Dinosaur Planet was threatened eight years later, Fox was alone in a rotting ship with a rusted out robot? Of course not. Why would Fox ever ask for help? He saved the damn universe! All by himself!

Team Star Fox has reassembled on occasion, but history has proven it will always be undone by the pride of Fox McCloud. Yes, he’s an ace pilot, but what is the cost of being “the best”? Fox could never maintain a permanent relationship with his closest friends. Fox could never maintain a real relationship with the princess that once left her planet for him. If ROB wasn’t bolted to the Great Fox, Fox would be completely alone in the very universe he saved.

No friends, no items, just Fox, alone, at his final destination.

Wrath, Sin of Samus Aran

Samus Aran is murder incarnate. She has committed genocide at least once, and, in the event said genocide doesn’t take, she gets the call to commit some good ol’ fashioned clone genocide. She has also eliminated fellow bounty hunters that were infected by phazon, and took no time waiting to see if a vaccine for such a condition was even possible. Oh, and there’s the little matter of how she was duplicated by her prey twice, and both times the “evil twin” was exactly as destructive as OG Samus. The “Dark” Samuses were just pointed in an inconvenient direction…

And then there’s the matter of Ridley. Ridley is a space pirate that has committed his share of sins, up to and including killing (and maybe devouring) Samus’s parents. Obviously, he should be punished for such an act. In retribution, should he be killed? That’s a question for the philosophers. But should he be killed over and over, at least four times, by the same person? That seems a bit excessive. And then cloned, reborn as an infant, and forced to desperately survive on the same space station as the hunter that killed him in the first place? That’s not a punishment, that’s a horror movie. And Samus is the pure, unstoppable vision of wrath they put on the poster.

Mario… who… uh…

Um… Mario is pretty alright. Hrm. Guess not everybody is a bad smash brother…

FGC #423 Super Smash Bros.

  • Here come the brosSystem: We’re technically just profiling the original N64 release here… so that one. It was the N64! This might be the most important Nintendo franchise to come out of that system. Or the only franchise to start on that system…
  • Number of players: Super Smash Bros. completely justifies all four N64 controller ports. Mario Kart and Goldeneye are pretenders to the throne.
  • Special Thanks/Credit: Once again, the venerable Pooch is responsible for the art of this article. All of it! Except the screenshots! Duh! Hit Pooch up for some commissioned art when you have a chance. Mention this article and get a resounding, “What? Really?”
  • Speaking of Art: Check out that box art.

    Poor lighting

    Link looks so confused!

  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It is rather amazing how much of “Smash Bros.” was right here at the beginning. They might not be distinct modes, but the start of things like Smash Run or Endless Smash is obvious in the single player campaign, and every bit of the presentation seems like a prototype for the eventual celebration of gaming that Smash Bros. would become. Even the intro seems overtly cinematic… for an N64 game, at least.
  • Favorite Character: It’s Samus Aran. It’s always Samus Aran.
  • Follow your Dreams: According to an interview from 2008 (Brawl time) Sakurai initially just wanted to make a new, four-player fighting game with original characters (apparently it would be called… Dragon King? Isn’t that already a JRPG?). Unfortunately, he knew that new fighting games had a rough time attracting an audience, so he “borrowed” a few Nintendo heavies to put together a demo. Nintendo didn’t approve the project (or the characters being tossed into smash world) until a demo featuring Mario, Samus, Donkey Kong, and Star Fox was presented. And the rest is videogame history.
  • FINISHCome to think of it…: That means “out of his Arwing Star Fox” was created for the demo, and Sakurai didn’t go for an already more established 2-D character (like Yoshi). Of course, it’s not like he was going to throw Ness in there, and Kirby wasn’t exactly meant for polygons…
  • Ridley is too big: Ridley appears in the background of the Zebes stage. With his appearance in the opening of Melee, and his status as a boss in Brawl and 4, it’s pretty clear that his turn as a starring character in Ultimate was an inevitability.
  • Did you know? According to the credits and my ears, the Pokémon of this title all use the original 4Kids English voices. That is why Jigglypuff sounds so… right.
  • Would I play again: That’s a good question! It’s weird how Super Smash Bros. feels simultaneously like every other Smash title, and also its own thing. Each character seems to have at least one overpowered move (thank you, Pikachu lightning), and the balance is completely insane as a result. Why play with this old, broken man when there’s a better boy right there on the Switch? On the other hand, the nostalgia here is strong, and it’s always fun to PK Lightning smash a piranha plant. So hard to decide!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Brain Dead 13 for the Playstation! From famous franchises to… not so much. Please look forward to it!

Poor petey

FGC #412 Metroid: Other M

Let this be Goggle Bob canon: I refuse to believe Metroid: Other M exists.

Some franchises dance all over the place. Before we even hit Nintendo’s third console, Link had already explored Hyrule through overhead exploration and 2-D jumping. Kirby saved Dreamland, and then had time to play mini golf before becoming a pinball wizard. On other systems, Sonic the Hedgehog explored a Game Gear labyrinth as easily as jetting across Mobius. And Mario? Mario had wildly different gameplay just between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2, left alone later games featuring age regression. In short, if Nintendo had announced that Super Mario 64 was going to feature Mario riding a giant bunny as he hopped across the universe, we all just would have understood that that would be Mario now, and it’s no use lamenting the inevitable absence of our beloved fire flowers.

But Samus Aran and the Metroid series? For a long time, that was ol’ reliable. Metroid, Metroid II, and Super Metroid were all very Metroid. Even Kid Icarus couldn’t make that claim! In a time when most games were still discovering what would eventually be their defining traits (Star Fox is still working on that), Samus Aran had it all figured out. Run around an abandoned planet, collect powerups, fight a dragon man, and call it a day around the time that the last metroid is in captivity (or completely obliterated). This was tried and true gameplay, and Super Metroid was such an amazing title, we didn’t need a new one for nearly a decade.

WeeeeeBut when Samus finally returned (again), we were greeted with two new branches on the Metroid family tree. On one side, we had what was essentially Super Metroid gameplay, but now married to a more robust (and chatty) hint system. Metroid Fusion was superficially very much like Super Metroid, but it forsook the deep well of loneliness of the earlier titles for a more story-based adventure. But on the Gamecube, we saw Metroid Prime, a game that, by all rights, should have been absolutely terrible. It’s a FPS! Of a Nintendo property! Samus is all about finesse and exploration, not tanking around boring hallways! We were all convinced Metroid Prime would be awful, but it was quite the opposite. Through some dreaded alchemy, Retro Studios managed to transmute the gameplay and feeling of Metroid into a FPS format with nary a zoomer left on the cutting room floor. The game may not have been perfect, but it was certainly impressive, and it corralled the interest of an avowed FPS-hater like myself as well as those that actually enjoyed the genre. Metroid Prime brought Samus Aran into the 21st Century, and, more importantly, was a hit in every conceivable way.

And the trajectory of the Metroid series seemed to support Prime over any alternatives. Metroid Fusion saw one direct sequel/prequel, and then not another peep out of 2-D Metroid for years. Metroid Prime, meanwhile, saw two sequels across two platforms. And its DS spin-off title was the pack-in demo for the Nintendo DS (just incidentally one of Nintendo’s most successful portable systems). And there was a pinball game for some reason. Straight through to the Metroid Prime Trilogy for Nintendo Wii, it was clear that Metroid Prime was Metroid, and other interpretations of Samus Aran were destined for whatever solar system used to host Zebes.

And then there was Metroid: Other M. Metroid: Other M is not a Metroid Prime game. Metroid: Other M is something… other.

SCREETo be clear, despite the fact that I have implied otherwise on the site, I do not think Metroid: Other M is a terrible game. M:OM has a terrible plot, and arguably everything about its characterization of Samus Aran does little more than subtract from her story/character/any concept of fun (seriously, Nintendo, literally all of your iconic women are diminutive blondes, let Samus be an inexplicably purple-haired seven foot body builder). It’s noble to feature a heroine suffering from PTSD (reminder, this game takes place shortly after Samus took two hours to blow up her home planet), but there’s a difference between “this is clearly weighing on her” and “Ridley turns her into a blubbering child”. And, heck, some of this would probably even work if Samus wasn’t a woman, as then her submission in the face of a father figure or need to be literally rescued from her most consistent and present enemy would maybe be the slightest bit less sexist. And, heck, I’m not even complaining from a “feminism is good” perspective, I just want to see the same kickass warrior woman that learned how to scale walls from little green men that could sing her theme song. That Samus Aran is gone! I want her back!

Crap, that paragraph was supposed to espouse the good in M:OM. Take two…

Metroid: Other M is an interesting experiment in moving Metroid’s normal 2-D action into a 3-D world. Against all accepted standards for such a thing, it completely ignores the analogue stick, and employs the cross-pad exclusively. This should work as poorly as any other 3-D game running on a “lesser” controller (see Head, Metal), but the Bottle Ship is deliberately made with this sort of 2.5-D gameplay in mind. And it works! Samus can certainly run in a circle, but a number of corridors generally bump into the 2nd Dimension anyway, so it feels completely natural to launch into a space jump like in the Metroid adventures of yore. Aiming is fairly automatic, so that clears that spatial hurdle, and, give or take a few spots, the bosses are pretty fun from an action perspective for possibly the first time in the franchise (sorry, Kraid). And the Bottle Ship is just plain entertaining to explore to boot. It’s not too big, not too small, and, while it’s no Zebes, it’s certainly a fun spot to spend a few hours hunting down missiles.

Ultimately, if you can ignore the plot, Metroid: Other M is a fun game.

For the N64.

ChillyWe might be living in a world where Metroid Prime 4 is on the way, but back in August of 2010, it seemed like Nintendo wanted to put the genie back in the bottle. Metroid: Other M notably seems to ignore the more significant character beats of the Prime series (this Samus Aran is not The Hunter that petrified an entire space crustacean race) but also ignores a host of innovations from the series. Metroid Prime proved that Samus could work in a fully 3-D world, but Other M walks that back to a pseudo 3-D. Prime 3 made Wii aiming the most fun it has ever been in a FPS (disagree? Fight me), while M:OM’s missile aiming is inconvenient and cumbersome. Even Samus’s model, thin and lithe like a mecha ballerina, can’t hold a candle to the mobile tank seen in the Prime series. Yes, it might make a little more sense that this Samus can roll into a perfect sphere, but, bad news, that has always been completely bonkers. In short, despite Metroid Prime nailing the Metroid aesthetic and gameplay right out of the gate, Metroid: Other M feels like a stumbling attempt at bringing Metroid into the next generation.

In other words, it feels like a Mario 64 to Super Metroid’s Super Mario World. It’s the Ocarina of Time to A Link to the Past. And none of those games were ever bad… they just might not have been as innovative after a solid decade of advances. Mario Galaxy built off the base of Mario 64. Metroid: Other M built its house on the sand.

Metroid: Other M is not a terrible game. But it is a game that deliberately ignored its own past, and suffered for it. And, through that suffering, it seems it is doomed to be forgotten.

… At least on this site. Let us never speak of it again.

FGC #412 Metroid: Other M

  • System: Nintendo Wii. Despite being released for the most popular Nintendo system in the history of money, this title dropped to bargain basement prices almost immediately. I guess it may have resurfaced on the WiiU, too.
  • Number of players: One day we’ll see a multiplayer Metroid title… That plays like Knuckles Chaotix.
  • Just primeGod Damn this Plot is Terrible: Okay, look, this could have worked. Samus has obvious parental issues (what with her biological parents becoming Ridley chow), and I could totally believe a game where Samus is deliberately limiting herself to impress her father (figure). That could actually be an amazing idea for a Metroidvania style game: you have access to everything immediately, but using the wrong items too early earns you a bad grade and a stern talking to. That could be fun! But that’s not what’s happening here. What is happening in this game is that Samus is being completely subservient to some random dude that just popped up, and, considering he has her walk through an active volcano without protection, it’s hard to imagine this jackass has our heroine’s wellbeing in mind. It is… very hard to justify.
  • Ridley is too Big: Oh, and then we get the nonsense with noted space dragon Ridley scaring Samus until her clothes fall off. How the hell does that make any sense? Why would you design a “power suit” that can teleport into nothingness the moment the exact person that requires protection is frightened? And why is Samus afraid at all, considering she has personally killed Ridley 6,416 times? Is it because she found out he was a Pokémon? That was rather unexpected.
  • And what about those parts of the game where you have to stand perfectly still, and look at some random thing, and make sure the game knows you’re looking at that random thing, or else you can’t advance or do anything? Screw those.
  • Favorite Powerup: The screw attack is more fun here than in the Prime franchise. M:OM gets some things right.
  • Did you know? There is a bug in Metroid: Other M that will permanently lock a door in Sector 3, and thus forever prevent the player from completing the game. This isn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen.
  • Would I play again: Play what? What game were we talking about?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bonk’s Revenge! And that’s kicking off a special theme week! What’s the theme week? Guess you’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

ROAR

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

CONTRA!Why are so many phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo?

If you’ve spent longer than five minutes on any gaming forum/group/site/underground fight club, you’ve probably heard the age old gaming question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, but somehow had a television and electricity and maybe access to Amazon.com, which gaming console would you want to have with you?” And, if you’re anything like the pedantic nerds that generally ask such a question, your response is only more questions. Does this “one system” allow for all games ever on the system? Are we talking about a fully backwards compatible Playstation 3? Are we including DLC titles that appeared on older systems? Is there online functionality? Is sand going to get in that cartridge slot, instantly ruining any hope of having fun at all? It sounds completely insane, but if we’re allowed one system equipped with every available game for that system, I might actually choose the Vita. That sucker technically has so many great games… even if its system exclusives are sorely lacking.

But, if you’re talking about exclusives (and not modern systems that are clearly cheating by absorbing entire classic libraries), it seems like the “best” systems are the second ones. Playstation 1 was fun, but Playstation 2 had an amazing library that practically defined modern game storytelling. Xbox was a drop in the online bucket, but Xbox 360 created the console online community of today. And the WiiU was a fine prototype for the concept of a “portable console”, but nothing beats the amazing portability and ergonomics of the Switch. And, when you get right down to it, this all makes sense. Videogames are, at their core, pieces of technology, and it’s rare that any technology gets it right the first time. Nobody is still driving a Model T, and the Wright Flyer isn’t our standard for aviation. To be clear, this isn’t to say that any “early technology” is inherently bad, simply that we usually first get a passable proof of concept, and then, a generation later, we’ve got the good stuff. It’s the way of the world.

WeeeeeBut the Super Nintendo was something special. Back before voice acting and online play and the very concept that you could have color on your portable system (or at least pull that off without 3,616 AA batteries), there was the Super Nintendo. And it’s easy to discount that previous sentence as an old man griping while he waits for the latest Kirby game to download 3 gigs of updates, but it’s worth noting that there was a time when all a videogame console was expected to do was play videogames. No DVDs, no Netflix app, not even the possibility of “updating the firmware”. If you wanted to do something unique and interesting with a later game, you needed to design a special chip, and plump that cartridge cost up to unreasonable levels (hi, Mega Man X3). You want to save? Go hit the battery store! And God help you if you want to require a damned contemptible misguided peripheral. But, through it all, it meant that, by and large, games were games, and all you kids better not be enjoying your walking simulators on my lawn.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break to go yell at a cloud. Where were we? Oh, right, Super Nintendo.

So the Super Nintendo didn’t have any gimmicks. This… might be the only time that ever happened with a Nintendo console. The original Nintendo Entertainment System shipped with its own robot, and a gun with which to shoot said robot (in case it ever demanded you play Beyond the Beyond). The N64 touted its lack of load times, four controller ports, and analog sticks in direct response to Sony’s betrayal. The Wii, WiiU, and Switch were all completely defined by their stunts. And the Gamecube? Its biggest failing was that it had a pile of gimmicks (weird controller layout, GBA compatibility, the fact that it is clearly a near-sentient lunchbox), and none of them ever stuck, because all anyone wanted to do was play Smash Bros. But the Super Nintendo only ever wanted to play videogames. Here’s a controller with some more buttons. Here are a few chips that allow for more colors, graphics, and sounds. Now go nuts! We’ll check back in in five years or so.

BOOMAnd it certainly seems like a lot of developers did go nuts. Nintendo itself (well, let’s include some “second parties” that were synonymous with Nintendo) was responsible for Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. There was also Super Metroid, which some claim has not been surpassed within its genre even to this day. Square gave us Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, and Chrono Trigger, another luminary that is still unrivaled. Capcom presented Mega Man X and the last of the great Disney licensed platformers. And Konami was no slouch, either, as we saw the future of Castlevania and Contra, which neatly brings us to today’s featured title.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of the few run ‘n gun games that presents a different playstyle every stage, but still manages to be absolutely perfect. Everything starts in a “basic” Contra stage, with invading aliens, marching soldiers, and the occasional giant turtle monster. Then it’s time for an overhead stage that is less wanton destruction and more hide ‘n seek. The third stage is predominantly climbing based, and the fifth level is a hunt ‘n kill in the desert. It’s only in the sixth and final stage that we return to the “original” gameplay of the first level, and then it’s time for a boss gauntlet that includes destroying a strangely high number of colossal organs. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is the unbelievable Level 4, wherein Jimbo and Sully (real names withheld to protect the innocent) first ride hovercycles across a deserted highway (though it gets more crowded pretty quickly), proceed to fight a robo ninja beneath a helicopter, and then ride a series of missiles straight into an offending flying fortress. It is the most spectacular thing to ever happen in a Contra game!

GACKAnd that’s the thing: Contra 3 might be the best game in the franchise… And it was released on the Super Nintendo over 25 years ago. There have been other Contra experiences since, but so many of them have been… lacking. And even the best of these new Contra titles (Contra 4 comes to mind) revisit earlier titles rather liberally, up to and including whole bosses or set pieces from Contra 3, yet adding very little to the nostalgia. Then again, Contra 3 did repeat some of the greatest hits of Contra and Super Contra, so… has that always been happening? Is Contra just as iterative as Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition?

Wait a tick… maybe the Super Nintendo is home to so many great games because it was a system exclusively built for iterative games.

The Super Nintendo was a “Nintendo, but super”. The system allowed games to be “the same thing as last time, but super”. Castlevania 4 was, ultimately, a reskin of Castlevania 1. Super Metroid was Samus repeating her zero mission all over again, but now she gets faster boots. Link vs. Ganon. Little Mac vs. Some Tall Guy. There was no need to make Mario a JRPG or fighting game (yet), and the public (or the market) was perfectly content to see the early “arcade” style games evolve into their more console-based final forms. Basically, all the games that defined gaming in the first place on the NES all went Super Saiyan at once, and the nefarious Frieza of Boredom was left floating in space.

BOOMSo why is the Super Nintendo so well regarded? Because it was a videogame system that had the technology and luck to allow itself to “only” be a place for properly evolved videogames. As we grew up, so too did our games, and the Super Nintendo was the host for many of them.

And then we got to murder a buttload of aliens, so that wasn’t bad, either.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

  • System: Super Nintendo/SNES Classic, and then there was a remake of sorts on the Gameboy Advance. It included a few stages from Contra: Hard Corps in an effort to ditch the overhead stages, which makes for a very different experience. There was also an OG Gameboy port of Contra 3, too, and it was phenomenally awful.
  • Number of players: And the Super Nintendo was a great time for two players (and exclusively two players)!
  • Port-o-Call: Gameboy Contra 3 was terrible, but it had Super Gameboy enhanced features. Which… is vaguely confusing, because if you’ve got a Super Nintendo, and want to play Contra 3 on the television, I want to say there are other options…
  • Favorite Weapon: Flamethrower 4 life. There is no problem that cannot be solved by an unending stream of hot death.
  • I'm not the only one that sees it, right?Favorite… Uh… Thing: A swarm of alien bugs attempt to carry off your hero toward the start of Level 3, and I’ve always appreciated how they’re the approximately one monster in the game that can be touched without incurring instant death. It doesn’t make that section any less hectic (as they will drag you to an immediate death if you let them), but it’s nice to be slightly less destructible for all of thirty seconds.
  • Did you know? In Europe, our Contra heroes are (not) secretly androids fighting an army of alien robots. It’s basically the prequel to Nier Automata.
  • Would I play again: Contra 3 just reminded me that the Super Nintendo was a system of wonders. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask! I guess you’ll see that update in… three days. Please look forward to it!