Tag Archives: saturn

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

DWARVES!We judge videogames by many criteria. Graphics? Inevitably important. Sound & Music? That is a must. Story? That has become vital in much of today’s gaming scene (except when it’s a fighting game). Presentation? Sheer volume of glitches? And, of course, gameplay is the king, as, if you can’t enjoy playing the game, why is it even a game at all? Without even checking the latest Gamepro ranking scale (that’s still a thing, right?), you can easily envision a hundred criteria for “what makes a good game”.

So where does “personality” fit in there? How much should we weigh a game’s personality against its other flaws?

Today’s featured title is Three Dirty Dwarves for the Sega Saturn. Never heard of it? It was also ported to Windows PC and… nothing else. Does that help? No? Okay, we’re talking about a beat ‘em up that was released for the Sega Saturn the same year we saw the likes of Tomb Raider and Super Mario 64. Yes, it seems other games stole Three Dirty Dwarves’ spotlight, and, if we’re being honest, people probably only remember a maximum of four unique titles from the Sega Saturn on a good day. Three Dirty Dwarves was not an arcade port, it did not star Sonic the Hedgehog or Sarah Bryant, and it wasn’t a game that saw every other system of the era. This was a game that was (almost) exclusive to the Sega Saturn from the same company that gave us Ecco the Dolphin and Kolibri. Let’s face it: Three Dirty Dwarves was never going to be as remembered as Tiny Tank: Up Your Arsenal.

This sucksAnd the gameplay of Three Dirty Dwarves doesn’t do the title any favors, either. It’s a beat ‘em up, but with a very unusual health/failure system. Venturing through a mutated version of The Bronx, you control one of the titular Three Dirty Dwarves. And, while 3DD firmly belongs to a genre that traditionally requires things like health bars and variations on the concept of “chip damage”, these dwarves all “die” after one hit. It doesn’t matter if it was a bite from a rat, a punch from a random mook, or some manner of meteoric fireball: everything will knock out your dwarf du jour with a single tap. But there’s still hope! As long as one dwarf remains, he can hit an unconscious dwarf with his melee attack, and we’re back in business! This means you simultaneously are constantly vulnerable and have infinite lives (in all modes save hard mode, incidentally). When you’re halfway through a level and have two dwarves down, the raw panic and drive in attempting to save your fellow warriors leaves an impression, and is an interesting spin on typical beat ‘em up formulas (a distinctive health system similar to another Sega hero). Unfortunately, that revive panic is mostly caused because your dwarves fall way too quickly, and a new monster on the screen often has equal odds on being surmountable or instantly vaporizing your entire party with the cheapest deaths possible. Did I mention you barely have any invincibility frames after losing a dwarf? Because that can lead to more than a few game overs.

And the basic beat ‘em up gameplay isn’t all that amazing here, either. You’ve got your dwarves, and they all have a melee attack, or a long-range attack that (depending on the dwarf involved) either has a long windup or cool-down period. There are also screen-clearing attacks that… clear… the screen… yeah… but require found consumables to use. Ultimately, the gameplay winds up being pretty similar to what you’d find in another game featuring at least one dwarf, and, as far as the level-to-level of battling, there isn’t much of an improvement here over a game that was released at the tail end of the 80s.

The pit bossOn a basic, “is this game good” level, an initial review would be very negative. It’s a beat ‘em up with extremely fragile beat ‘em uppers, and the occasional platforming or puzzle-esque segment is rarely welcome. It’s not a very good game, even by the more lenient standards of the late 20th century. This is not a game that should have ever come before Mario Kart 64, Super Mario RPG, or some other 1996 videogame that probably includes Mario.

But, when you get past the gameplay having its share of issues, the sheer volume of personality exuding Three Dirty Dwarves is immeasurable.

First of all, for a beat ‘em up, there is a seriously bonkers story happening here. Long (very long!) story short: a quartet of kids were grown in a lab for the express purpose of becoming genius military weapons. Or creating military weapons with their genius? Small distinction there, I suppose. Regardless, the kids are not happy with their test tube origins and eternal imprisonment, so they decided to put their amazing brainpower toward escaping. Rather than create some manner of bad key machine, the children looked toward interdimensional/interfictional travel. See, the four children play a D&D-esque game, and the dungeon master (dungeon mistress, in this case) figures out a way to pull the three other children’s roleplay avatars into the real world. Now the three dirty dwarves that were previously imaginary are in the real world and ready to save the moppets that created them. But oh no! The process also sucked all the orcs and dragons that existed in the game to the real world, too, so it’s not like the dwarves are going to have an easy time making it to the evil military’s child prison. And, of course, the military has its own collection of other, generally malevolent science experiments. And this all happens in The Bronx for some reason, so maybe watch out for some of the more malicious New Yorkers of the late 90s. Rudy Giuliani was mayor. It wasn’t a great time.

Ninja!And, while we’re talking about the monsters the dwarves have to face, let’s note that the bestiary of Three Dirty Dwarves is large and in charge. Even the best beat ‘em ups seem to collect three or five archetype characters (fat guy, skinny guy, medium guy, robot), and then repaint them across seven levels. There is variety in how some opponents may block or gain new weapons, but you’re still obviously fighting the same Two P. sprites. Three Dirty Dwarves still has standard mooks, but it offers new and interesting monsters with practically every level. The junkyard stage includes gigantic scrap mechs, while the military industrial complex offers psychic babies. And the general streets of New York may include everything from unruly police officers to naked ninja. Come to think of it, the ninja may be cops, too, it’s just hard to tell without the uniforms…

And the whole thing, from the dwarfs to their opponents to animated cutscenes, is tied together with a very unique art style. It seems like the greatest influence here would have to be Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and his iconic Rat Fink, but the whole affair gives the vibe that tattoo artists decided to make their own videogame. Could you describe the graphics as “good” in the traditional sense? Probably not, as much of what’s on display looks like it originated MS Paint, and not the console that was meant to defeat the Playstation. But it oozes personality, and I can safely say it doesn’t look like a single other game on the Sega Saturn (and not just because there are like six other Saturn games). And while we’re being superficial, the music is also wholly unique. It might not sound like anything else from this era of gaming (it leans surprisingly heavily on hip hop beats), but it slaps. It slaps but good.

Oh, and there’s a level where you fight a dragon with a wrecking ball. That’s rarely seen elsewhere, too.

Let's go!But personality or no, Three Dirty Dwarves comes down to one basic truth: it’s not all that fun to play. You might relish seeing a lady wielding duct tape as a weapon, or an inexplicable minecart level that is equally inexplicably passable, but it all works out to a game that feels more like a chore than a fun time. You’re interested in seeing what crazy thing happens next, but actually getting through a level is a stressful task.

So how should we rank personality when grading a game? It’s hard to say, but it is easy to say that Three Dirty Dwarves needs a better gameplay score to balance its personality score.

And, hey, if it had as much fun gameplay as it did personality, it might actually have been more remembered than Mario.

… Or at least it would be remembered at all.

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

  • System: Sega Saturn and a Windows version that I’m sure exists somewhere, forgotten, in the back room of a former Electronics Boutique.
  • Number of players: Three! There was apparently a Sega Saturn multitap! It was probably intended for Bomberman!
  • Favorite Dwarf: Of Corthag, Taconic, and Greg, I choose Corthag, as he’s apparently the only dwarf that decided to pick up a firearm. Greg has baseballs! Baseballs! At least Taconic went with a bowling ball. That worked out for The Simpsons.
  • Favorite Boss: Man of a Thousand Swords was “once a mild-mannered salesman from Jersey City” who collected one sword too many. Considering I always feared that would be my fate if I got into weapon collecting, I’m going to sympathetically give him the nod.
  • Tank policeIt’s All a Game: The fact that the dwarves are just the RPG avatars of the kidnapped kids rarely comes up (you can collect dice, at least), save during the ending, when the children have to roll to “control” the dwarves’ inclination toward following the bad guy for wealth and power. Considering that tabletop gaming was still extremely niche back in the late 90’s, saving this bit of nerdity for the ending seems apropos.
  • Did you know? Corthag’s favorite movie is listed as Porky in Wackyland. That’s a seven minute short! That’s not a movie! You stupid dwarf!
  • Would I play again: Maybe if there were some revised version that made everything less… stressful. The way the dwarves die so quickly is terrible on some of the longer levels, and I have no time nowadays to deal with a game where I could lose valuable minutes of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t see a remake anytime soon…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man ZX Advent! It’s time for the reign of the Mega Men! Please look forward to it!

This looks familiar
This looks like a 70’s Garfield Special, and I am here for it.

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

Blaze itWhat constitutes a videogame “star”?

Today’s game is Blazing Dragons, a Playstation (1)/Sega Saturn adventure game from nearly 25 years ago. I am also a thing from over 25 years ago, and I purchased this game back when it was new. Well… fairly new. I was a young buck on vacation, and I want to say this Playstation jewel case was glimmering back at me from a discount bin somewhere around Delaware. Under normal circumstances, I likely would have paid Blazing Dragons the same heed I’d grant Bubsy or Gex, but this game featured one important phrase on its cover:

STARRING!
“Starring the voices of Terry Jones & Cheech Marin”

Now, even though I was technically officially a teenager at this point, I could not give less of a damn about Cheech Marin. I was a nerd, and was not nearly cool enough to know anyone that could ever acquire a drug. But, thanks to that previously mentioned nerdity, I could probably quote every third thing Terry Jones had ever said. Yes, I’m sure my audience will be shocked to learn that I was a Monty Python fan, and, just about when Blazing Dragons was new(ish), I was old enough to finally get all those sex jokes that flew completely over my head in my younger years. The Meaning of Life finally made sense! And included tits! Double bonus! Thus, seeing a videogame (my favorite medium!) featuring one of my favorite writers/directors/actors was practically a no-brainer for wee(ish) Goggle Bob. And it was on sale! Score!

HA HA HABut, even as a dedicated Monty Python fan, I could understand why Blazing Dragons was wallowing in the discount bin. It’s a Sierra-esque adventure game with no death conditions (that I could find…) and about three minigames that actually require a controller. So, to begin with, it’s a game practically made for the mouse on a pair of systems that didn’t have (easy) access to that peripheral. Beyond the controls, this is typical adventure game fare, and you must collect every random object lying around the kingdom, and then use it on every other object in a desperate attempt to find the proper solution to puzzles like “where is my corn” (you have to use a sheet) and “save the princess” (you have to use a mirror to hypnotize the court jester and then use a suitcase to dress him up like a lady). It’s clear that the “humor” of this universe applies to the puzzles, so solutions are often deliberately obtuse (sneak into the castle by wrapping prunes in newspaper and then tying it up with ribbon), but at least the lack of failure states means you only have to spend the afternoon clicking (not clicking) one thing against the other until something finally works. And, hey, you’ll probably remember to grab the hair tonic to menace Rapunzel the next time you play, so replays are usually pretty breezy. A speedrun of this game would probably take less time than listening to some nerd act out the whole Knights Who Say Ni bit.

But does the game adequately capture the spirit of Monty Python? Is Terry Jones permeating this little black disc? Heck no. Blazing Dragons does its best to follow the general humor of Monty Python and similar comedies of the 70s/80s. There’s an emphasis on parody here (see, it’s the dragons that are the good guys, and the expy for King Arthur and Merlin are the bad guys), a few fairytales are ribbed beyond the obvious Arthurian parallels, and, of course, there’s the old trope of men imitating women because Michael Bell throwing his voice is always assumed to be funny. And, uh, everyone has outrageous accents, so that helps. Blazing Dragons isn’t exactly a disappointment on the humor front (it is still generally funny, like watching a wannabe billionaire’s toupee flap around in the wind), but it’s certainly no Flying Circus. If you’re attracted to Terry Jones (not like that) (… though maybe like that), you’ll be generally entertained by the maybe 15 minutes of dialogue he recorded for this adventure, but sidesplitting isn’t on the menu.

ALL NIGHT LONGBut Terry Jones is the reason this game is in my collection. I wouldn’t have given it the time of day, but Terry Jones, man. Terry Jones! Life of Brian! Blazing Dragons might have been a dud, but would I buy another product featuring Terry Jones? Spoilers: of course I would (and did)! But another videogame? Well, maybe not. Writing an amazing movie or book doesn’t mean you can make a fun videogame. It might seem obvious, but that was news to me twenty years ago.

But that got me thinking: what star’s name would actually get me to buy a videogame today?

First of all, to get the obvious out the way, a specific actor/comedian/performer isn’t going to cut it. We live in a world where Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas got all of the talent in Hollywood (and James Woods) to show up in 2004, and all anyone remembers from that game is fun times with rocket launchers. Nowadays, we’ve got full motion capture and graphics capable of rendering an actor’s real life eye boogers, and it’s equally useless for creating truly good videogames. Nobody cares if the next Katamari Damacy title (may there be one) features the prince or an undead mocap of Prince: it’s all about rolling those sweet, sweet balls. And even more acting-based games like Telltale’s output may be enhanced by a decent performer in a role, but Tom Cruise isn’t going to make me care about clicking on random objects. Sorry, Maverick, but I’d prefer a maverick hunter.

Burn, babyBut what about the orators of the videogame world? I keep noting actors and writers that were successful in other fields, but not necessarily videogames. Christopher Lambert might play a mean Raiden in a movie, but that doesn’t mean he can deliver the uppercuts required to be a successful thunder god in the digital space. Where are the Spielbergs or Tarantinos of the gaming world? The men and… crap, it’s inevitably going to just be men… the people that can just stick a “presents” on anything in their medium and score a hit, from Ready Player One to Tiny Toons? Where are the videogame rockstars?!

Oh, right, I’m posting this on the eve of the release of Death Stranding, a Hideo Kojima Presents joint. As Kojima has noted on his own Twitter, Kojima Productions started when he had to leave his home at Konami, and was left with only his wit, ingenuity, a dedicated team of professionals, the massive success of every game he ever slapped his name on (except Boktai), and Norman Reedus’s personal cell number. Hideo Kojima managed to transform that grab-bag of practically nothing into a very successful videogame… or at least what is probably going to be a very successful videogame, because, again, as of this writing, the game isn’t even released yet. But! The internet seems to report on everything Kojima says (or when he farts in the general direction of a cosplayer), so Death Stranding is likely going to be an unprecedented (completely precedented) hit. It combines everything you loved about his old games, plus that guy from The Walking Dead peeing! Who could ask for anything more?!

But… this seems familiar to me. I remember the last time an amazing videogame director was ousted from his parent company, and was forced to strike out on his own to create an all-new, maybe slightly familiar franchise. I’m wracking my brain, I just can’t quite remember…

DAMMIT!

Oh. Right.

There are no videogame stars. And never judge a game by its credits. “Stars” are monsters.

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

  • System: Playstation 1 and Sega Saturn. You’d think there would be a PC version, but I can’t seem to find any evidence of one.
  • Number of players: Solitary dragon quest.
  • Favorite Puzzle: In order to properly impersonate the villain of the piece, you have to grab a mask of his face, and then dunk said mask in a pile of manure. This is possibly the least subtle joke in history, but it does give you a firm grasp of the various odors of this universe.
  • Winner!Other Stars: Cheech ‘n Terry got the cover blurb, but Harry Shearer, Jim Cummings, and Charlie Adler all hit the recording booth for this adventure. The rest of the cast is a murderer’s row of 90’s VA talent, too, even including seemingly the entire cast of Rugrats. How many games can say that? Well, aside from Rugrats: Search for Reptar.
  • Waiting: The load times on this sucker are atrocious, and they occur every ten seconds or so. I’m pretty sure Blazing Dragons is optimized for some system that never hosted the poor thing.
  • Personal Vengeance: This game wiped out my original PSX memory card. I didn’t quite understand what “formatting” meant back in the day, and the instruction manual claims that the “format memory card” option is necessary to save your game. And that’s the story of how I lost my first Wild Arms save.
  • Secret Shame: In my younger days, I had a crush on Princess Flame. Yes, she’s a four-legged, hairless dragon, but I do have a thing for exotic accents, and the heart wants what the heart wants.
  • An end: The finale is basically an extended bit with Terry Jones complaining about adventure game tropes while marginally in character. So put Blazing Dragons in the pile with the other games that aren’t comfortable in their own skin.
  • Did you know? This game was delayed seemingly so it could be released at the same time as an accompanying animated series… that only seemed to air in Canada. And it was completely off-model and vaguely unrecognizable compared to its source game (Princess Flame, what have they done to you?). But Terry Jones got a created by credit, so at least it’s similar enough for the lawyers.
  • Would I play again: How about I just read a FAQ and nebulously recall what happens when you use the pipe cleaner on the termite mound? Sounds about equally enjoyable…

What’s next? There’s a certain holiday coming up, so we’re going to look at a game that is slightly scary. … Or at least it was when I was young enough to dress up every year. What could it be? It’s a trick! Or a treat! Please look forward to it!

Hair today, gone tomorrow

FGC #424 Brain Dead 13

This game are sickFunny thing about the Playstation and its era of videogames: it proved that no one had a damn idea what they wanted from a videogame.

Today’s game is Brain Dead 13. It is another title that, like Dragon’s Lair or Time Gal before it, is barely more than a playable cartoon. The player controls Lance, a typical computer geek, who, during an average tech support house call, winds up in the clutches of a mad scientist (and, as someone in the tech field, I can safely say we’ve all been there). It’s your job to guide Lance back to safety, and escape Fritz, an imp with an impressive mastery of chainsaws for a creature with hooks for hands. Of course “controlling” Lance is a bit of a misnomer, as this entire game is prerecorded, and it’s less Mario, and more “press left now or die”. It’s something you’ve seen before if you were a child of the 80’s, and it’s something we saw an awful lot in the early CD era of gaming. Is it a “game” or is it an “interactive movie”? Gamepro tried to answer that question a couple of times, but I’m pretty sure Scary Larry never gave us a response. C’est la vie.

Of course, whenever a game like this comes up, it is compared to Dragon’s Lair (I’ve already done it once!), the title that pioneered and defined this kind of gaming experience. The corollary to that that is rarely mentioned? Dragon’s Lair hit the arcades in 1983. For a bit of comparison, Super Mario Bros. (1) hit the Famicom in 1985. The laserdisc/CD-based “playable cartoon” is older than Bowser.

Prepare to die... a lotAnd it’s easy to see why Dragon’s Lair was successful. It’s pretty! It probably made about fourteen billion dollars in quarters, as, come on, who can resist those Don Bluth graphics when it’s playing an attract mode next to friggin’ Joust? Who doesn’t want to be Dirk the Daring when the alternative is… Ice Climbers? I don’t even want to consider the universe where someone would choose those parka wearing nincompoops over a fully realized cartoon dude fighting for his Marilyn Monroe-inspired love. Yes, we’ve all been claiming for years that graphics don’t matter, but even one with such a refined palate as myself may or may not have once bought a game entirely because of its fine graphics, and completely ignored a better game that unfortunately looked like the ass end of an ass (or even just looked different from what was supposed to be advanced). A lot of people decided to swim to the Dragon’s Lair shore from the deep, barren gulf between “animated feature” and “pixels that kinda maybe look like a ghost, but we’re calling it a monster”.

So it makes a certain amount of sense that when the CD-based consoles started to become available, there was a push to produce more FMV/”cartoon” titles. It took all of seven seconds to recognize the difference between a Shinobi and the high resolution (for the 90’s) art of any given prerecorded CD title. The thinking must have been amazingly simple: pump out some videogames that look astonishing, and people will line up to buy the newest systems with their advanced graphics. We could have all been happy with games produced under that premise.

Unfortunately, what we got was Sewer Shark. Nobody was happy with Sewer Shark.

The Sega CD, by and large, was a failure. Give or take a Myst, PC gaming would take years to reach the same echelon of fame as its console brethren. And the Playstation… well that revolutionized gaming in a way that is still relevant today. Why? Because it might be the first videogame system that was successful because someone made a conscious decision to make videogames.

Brain Dead 13 is a Playstation title. What’s more, it’s a Playstation title that came at the start of the system’s lifespan, and, thus, was inadvertently influential on a certain demographic of nerds. It would not be surprising to find that not a single person reading this article ever played Brain Dead 13. However, it would be astounding if no one ever saw this gremlin in this exact pose…

Fritz!

Brain Dead 13 wasn’t exactly getting airtime during Seinfield, but it was introduced via a disproportionate number of GamePro pages. It was featured in Electronic Gaming Monthly. And I’m going to go ahead and guess that it probably was on AOL’s frontpage for its videogames community at least once. Like Battle Arena Toshinden, Brain Dead 13 is one of those titles that, should the history of the world be abolished and replaced exclusively with late 90’s videogame magazines, might finally be recognized as one of the biggest games of 1996 (or so).

But you’re not going to find Brain Dead 13 on the Playstation Classic. In fact, you’re not going to find it anywhere. Why? Because the early days of CD gaming taught us a valuable lesson about videogames: we like to actually play videogames.

Sports!Brain Dead 13 is gorgeous, particularly when compared to the polygons that could poke an eye out from the early PSX days. Unfortunately, beyond being pretty, there isn’t much “there” there. This title, designed for home consoles (and computers), and not to be a quarter-munching arcade machine, has all the replayability of a VHS cassette. In fact, Dragon’s Lair and similar titles from this specific genre have been released in recent years with a “just let me press play and watch what happens” feature. Brain Dead 13 has not been lucky enough to receive such a rerelease, but the first Youtube result for BD13 is a 47 minute “longplay” of the entire title (which includes an approximately 15 minute death compilation). And if you watch that 47 minute video? Congratulations, you have seen literally everything Brain Dead 13 has to offer! And, technically, you suffered through the same exact experience you would have if you actually played the game, just give or take actually pressing the buttons and dying a whole heck of a lot.

And, as the past decade of let’s play debates have proven, there are a number of people that seem to believe the preceding statement could be true of all videogames. You watch a longplay of some random game, see the player 100% every last challenge the dev can throw into the title, and then why would you ever need to “play” the game at all? You’ve seen everything there could be! Videogames are videogames, man, and there’s no difference between pressing down to make Lance duck under Fritz’s blades than making Super Mario crouch below Bowser’s fireballs. A videogame is a videogame, so let’s all buy some videogames! Sewer Shark ahoy!

Yeah, it’s all bullshit. (You hear me, Atlus!?)

Netflix might try to redefine gaming with some manner of Bandersnatch Box. Google might try to define gaming by marrying Youtube to a streaming console. Microsoft might try to define gaming with whoever has the most trophies wins. But you want to know who I think got it right? Nintendo. And you know why? Because we both believe videogames come from the same place. We believe videogames should be able to be played anytime, anywhere, with any internet connection. In short, we believe videogames are…

Freedom!

… No, that isn’t right. Not that kind of freedom.

Brain Dead 13 is, by a technical definition, a videogame. However, it offers exactly zero freedom. There is simply a win or loss state in response to every input, and there is nothing in-between. Brain Dead 13’s contemporaries, though? They offered freedom. Mega Man may have been about defeating renegade robots, but it was also about jumping and shooting around vast stages filled with traps and hidden powerups. Contra was about runnin’ n’ gunnin’, but there was always time to kill your little brother on a trip up a cliffside. Zelda offered a world of exploration (and oftentimes, two worlds), and Right in the eyeFinal Fantasy gave us scores of characters to tromp around exotic lands. So which wound up defining the hardware generation: Brain Dead 13 or Final Fantasy 7? Yes, the way Final Fantasy 7 seemed to toe the line between “freedom” and “enjoy watching this movie” (and its many, many imitators that veered over to the wrong side of that divide) may have confirmed that the developers of the Playstation era were still confused about what a videogame truly was; but by the biggest hit of the Playstation 2 era, we truly had our freedom. Grand Theft Auto 3 solidified the freedom that was inherent in videogames, and titles like Brain Dead 13 were forever relegated to the likes of novelty compilations.

Brain Dead 13, you were a relic of a time before gaming had matured enough to know what it was. Forever wield you chainsaw, confident in the knowledge that you are the awkward high school yearbook photo of gaming’s history.

FGC #424 Brain Dead 13

  • System: Playstation 1 for the purpose of this review, but we’ve also got a murderers’ row of CD-based systems, like the 3DO, CD-I, Saturn, and the goddamned Jaguar CD. Also, apparently this was released for iOS in 2010… but that’s probably not available anywhere anymore.
  • Number of players: You are alone in a haunted house.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Everyone in this title is a cartoonish caricature of various horror tropes, like the nefarious brain in the jar, or at least two characters that seem to originate from Frankenstein. However Vivi is… a little less Roger Rabbit, a little more Jessica Rabbit than the rest of the cast. Though I suppose Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a horror trope onto herself…
  • NSFW?What’s in the box: This is one of those rare, early Playstation titles that was released in the giant, entirely-too-vertical OG Playstation box. And those things are royal hell on trying to organize a game collection. Tekken 1, you may never be filed next to your latter brethren.
  • Favorite… uh… Room: There is an early one with a puppet that is supposed to be a famous composer or something. Mozart? I don’t know. It seems like the least derivative location in the game. Would you rather I choose the one-eyed witch? Or the other one-eyed witch?
  • So, did you beat it: Nope. I always play this game for about a half hour, die a billion times, and then decide there are better uses for my time. I could be mowing the lawn! Or scraping nails along a chalkboard!
  • Did you know? The absolute first release of Brain Dead 13 for Playstation contained a bug that prevented the game from starting up. At all. Like, that was it. The end. No Brain Dead 13 for you. I realize this may have been a small blessing for some people that had the misfortune of purchasing the title, but, come on guys, I’m pretty sure someone should have caught the bug that refuses to let the game even start.
  • Would I play again: Whoops! Did I already compare this game to nails on a chalkboard? Spoilers: that was the answer.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to just let me talk about Kingdom Hearts 3! Good plan, ROB! So we’re going to get another Kingdom Hearts FAQ entry, and FGC “coverage” of Kingdom Hearts 3. Wow! So much Kingdom Hearts! Two whole articles! Please look forward to it!

Better castle, though

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

Here they come!First, there was Street Fighter 2, and it was good. And then there were a bunch of imitators, and they were… middling. But, somewhere in there, while we were sorting through a solid fifty versions of Street Fighter 2 and trying to remember which fighting game had that weird dude with the clown mask (no, not that clown mask, the other one), there was Darkstalkers, the Capcom fighting game “alternative” to Street Fighter 2.

And why the heck wasn’t Darkstalkers accepted as the better game?

Right from the get go, Darkstalkers had every opportunity to be better. Street Fighter 2 was an amazing and revolutionary game that defined an entire genre… but the problem with starting a genre is that you’re still, ya know, figuring that genre out. Combos? A complete accident of programming. Balance? Important, but it’s pretty clear there’s a difference between Buzzcut, who can shut down everything, and the sumo dude that can’t waddle past a fireball. How about just plain design? You cannot tell me that OG Street Fighter 2 didn’t have a limited number of special moves for certain characters for any reason other than “this will actually let us say it’s done”. Sure, Blanka is complete with “that one move from E. Honda” and “is electric”, let’s move on to “guy that climbs background”. In short, Street Fighter 2 was amazing for its time, but it needed a pile of new versions to better refine the initial concept.

Cry about itAnd one thing that never changed about Street Fighter 2 was its boring characters. Don’t get me wrong, Street Fighter 2 has an amazing, eclectic troupe that has proven over the years to be possibly the most versatile cast of characters in gaming (hey, you think Zelda is going to entice Jean Claude?), but, back during their introductory years, they were a little less interesting. Blanka was one of a kind (assuming you never played Pro Wrestling on the NES), but the rest may as well have been Karate Guy, Soldier, Girl, and (my favorite) Red Karate Guy. They all had unique moves, motivations, and blood types, but, at a glance, they were nary more than international stereotypes. Dhalsim, with his necklace of skulls and curry-based fire breath, is a typical Indian, right? Seems legit.

So by the time we were first introduced to “the new challengers”, nobody was all that surprised when we got Bruce Lee Clone #3,271 and Dee Jay the D.J. But over on the other side of the arcade, we had Darkstalkers. Now there was a cast you could take home to mother (assuming mother is some manner of murderous slime monster).

Darkstalkers has got your Ken and Ryu… but they’re vampires. Or, okay, one is a vampire and one is a succubus, but let’s not split hairs, they’re both throwing bats back and forth. Then there’s the heavy metal zombie (who once accidentally summoned demons during a concert), the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein(‘s monster, nerds). And a yeti! Darkstalkers went the extra mile and actually found Big Foot! How can you not love such a game?

And while Darkstalkers 1 may have been little more than a reskinned Street Fighter 2, Darkstalkers 2 and Darkstalkers 3 really got their unique balls a-rollin’. When Street Fighter was still trying to work out the true meaning of the Super meter, Darkstalkers was tossing mega shadow moves all over the place. Like some fireball variety? Well, you’re not going to find beams over on those fighting streets. In fact, if you like the Versus series at all, give or take a game or two, you have Darkstalkers to thank much more than Street Fighter 2. Did you play Street Fighter 3? It introduced an electric Stretch Armstrong albino dude, and somehow still made the gameplay boring. That kind of thing is literally impossible when a murderous Red Riding Hood is spraying a giant bee with an uzi.

So this brings us back to the original question: If Darkstalkers was Street Fighter 2, but more refined and featuring more interesting characters, why has it always played second fiddle to its “ancestral” game? Everyone understood not seeing a new Darkstalkers during the dark ages when the best we could hope for was a fresh Guilty Gear, but we’re now living in a world with multiple Street Fighter 4s and 5s. And a couple of new Versus games. Get it together, Capcom!

In an attempt to find the answer, I played both Darkstalkers 3 and Street Fighter 2 (well, SSF2T Udon edition) back to back. And I think I found answer! It comes down to these dorks…

Get 'em

The cast of Street Fighter 2 is, compared to just one of the living sun monsters in Darkstalkers, boring. But take a look at 15 seconds of two fighters from that “boring” cast. Dhalsim versus Zangief may seem mundane to us nowadays, but try to imagine being a “newb”. Try to envision a world where you have never seen these two characters, and then try to imagine your impression after seeing that tiniest of clips. Taken on its own, you can immediately recognize the “styles” of both of these fighters. Dhalsim can launch fireballs and stretched fists… so he’s all about the range. Zangief, meanwhile, can barely reach Dhalsim before he’s dizzied, but his moves are powerful. Did you see how much health Dhalsim lost from one piledriver? That hairy guy is the real monster! Now imagine watching another match, maybe now with Ryu and Chun-Li. You can immediately see the difference in their styles. Same for Guile and E. Honda. By the time you get to Blanka, sure, you might be shocked by his high voltage prowess, but you’ve also got a full understanding of how his speed compares to that of the blonde in the red gi.

Street Fighter 2 might have a boring cast, but it’s a cast that immediately defines its own terms. It’s a cast that, in literally seconds, helps the player to understand the exact difference between fighters.

Darkstalkers? Not so much.

OwieSasquatch might be our prerequisite strongman, and I’m pretty sure Felicia slots into the “quick girl” trail that Chun-Li so effectively blazed, but, once you get to the rest of the cast, it gets tremendously more blurry. What’s the difference between Lord Raptor and Rikuo? Their moves look totally different, but what’s the practical application? Which is stronger? Faster? Bishamon looks like a slow and steady fighter, but so Anakaris. Are you supposed to be using that mummy floatiness? Or is that more the domain of one of the other flying fighters? And when you start adding the new fighters, it’s almost impossible to even discern their purposes. B.B. Hood is loaded with guns, but she isn’t really a ranged fighter? Are Jedah’s blood moves just for show? Is there even supposed to be a difference between Morrigan and Lilith?

Of course, if you’re a Darkstalkers fan, you know the answers to all of these questions. Or maybe you don’t! Maybe you just like using the funny werewolf man to hit people with nunchucks. That’s okay, too! But what’s important is that, fan or not, it’s not nearly as easy for someone to “pick up and understand” Darkstalkers like Street Fighter 2. Look out!Yes, Darkstalkers is more exhilarating and flashy, but that flashiness blurs the lines between the fighters, and, when everyone is exciting, no one is. Street Fighter looks like a fighting tournament, Darkstalkers looks like… crazy nonsense.

First impressions count. People like to know what’s happening, and, when they don’t, they get frustrated. Street Fighter has always worn its archetypes on its sleeve, while Darkstalkers kept things a little more complicated. And complicated doesn’t mean quarters.

I love you, Darkstalkers, but you’re too weird for your own good.

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

  • System: Arcade, Playstation, and Sega Saturn. I also played Darkstalkers Resurrection on the PS3 for part of this review, as it’s about as close to OG DS3 Arcade as is available on the same system I’m playing a PSX game anyway.
  • Number of players: Up to two vampires may battle at one time.
  • Other Problems: A lot of people claim that the “real” reason we haven’t seen a modern Darkstalkers is that the constant “morphing” and general craziness of the franchise can’t translate properly from sprites to modern, 3D modeling. But this is complete nonsense, as, come on, you’ve seen that gif of Gohan’s arm, right? We can do this thing!
  • Version Differences: The original arcade Darkstalkers 3 did not include the bosses of DS2, nor Donovan, the Night Warrior, for some reason. This effectively nuked every new character introduced in DS2, give or take a Chinese vampire lady. The home version, however, brought the whole gang back, and included an “edit colors” mode, making it the superior version. So of course future rereleases seem to be based on the arcade version…
  • Favorite Character: In a game full of cartoony, but creepy, characters, I prefer Marionette, because everything about her is goddamn unnerving.
  • Midnight Bliss: I am not going to talk about Dimitri’s Midnight Bliss again

    Get... her?

    So let’s talk about Viktor’s amazing booty instead.

    Get 'cha some

    I like that. And I cannot lie.

  • Did you know? Lilith was originally intended to be Morrigan’s angel half-sister. Somewhere along the line, however, she was demoted to merely being some errant chunk of Morrigan’s soul, and, thus, another succubus. The official word has always been that an angel wouldn’t “fit” in the Darkstalkers universe, but I’m pretty sure the real answer is that nobody wanted to animate a bunch of feathers all over the arena.
  • Would I play again: Oh my yes. This is one of the few fighting games that I routinely replay… Mainly because it hasn’t seen a modern update in any way, shape, or form. Come on, Capcom, poop out a decent sequel. You owe me!


What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… Star Fox 64 3D for the 3DS! Come in, Corneria! We’re actually finally going to play a Star Fox game! Please look forward to it!

Ugh
So unnerving