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FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

FINAL FANTASYSo, chess, right? You know how to play chess? Let’s say you do. Do you remember when you learned how to play chess? Were you taught by a family member? A teacher? Some other kid? Some other adult? But here’s the thing: it is very unlikely you learned chess from a rulebook. Yes, you may have later read a great strategy guide to finally beat your grandpa at the game of kings (who don’t feel like standing up), but it’s downright unnatural to learn the rules of the game from a book or manual. And there’s a reason for that! Chess is a two player game, so it’s rather inevitable that player one is going to lecture player two. This is how games are learned! This is how games are passed from generation to generation. And, ultimately, this is what makes a game eternal: the drive for one generation to teach another. Because, after all, if you can’t find somebody to play with, what’s the point of playing a game at all?

Now, humble reader, I am well aware this is a videogame blog. I am blitheringly aware that “there must be a second player” is a stupid position for malcontents that haven’t picked up a controller in the last thirty years. This very blog will attest to the fact that my favorite games are predominantly single player. And, sad but true fact, I would estimate that a mere 10% of my gaming time is anything that could truly be considered “multiplayer”. But, gentle reader, you misunderstand my intentions. I’m not saying a game must include a two player option, I’m saying that videogames are your second player.

My father taught me how to play checkers. My mother taught me how to play Clue. My grandfather taught me how to play Chess. And Shigeru Miyamoto taught me how to play Super Mario Bros. Or did SMB itself teach me? The line is a little blurred there, but, if we consider videogames to be “thinking” objects (which we obviously do, because why else would we swear at them so regularly when they kill our dudes?), then a videogame’s own… videogameness is your eternal second player and teacher. After all, what fun is a game if you don’t understand the rules?

WeeeeeAnd, while we’re asking that rhetorical question: are bad games just games where “the game” misrepresents or otherwise sullies “the rules”? What is bad hit detection but a misperception of the boundaries of certain malicious pixels? When a JRPG requires excessive grinding, is it a feature, or a misunderstanding of what the player has to do between two objectives? And who likes it when the rules change right at the final moments? You’ve been playing an awesome action game, and then it turns into a shoot ‘em up? That’s a clear betrayal of the rules that Friend Videogame laid down from the start! That would be like requiring every game of Hungry Hungry Hippos to end with a test of strength! And that’s terrible! There’s no way I could overpower a kindergartener!

And then there are the games that don’t even bother with explaining the rules. They’re the worst of all.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is the long awaited sequel to Final Fantasy Dissidia Duodecim, a game that was released a whopping seven years ago. In videogame years, that is a period equal to approximately eighteen Assassin’s Creeds, or at least sixty Maddens. That is a lot of time for technology to improve, and, what’s more, the old Dissidia was a title for the PSP. Remember the PSP? Sony’s attempt to out-portable Nintendo right when mobile gaming was first making the scene? Yeah, it was an abject failure, but Square-Enix managed to release at least one good PSP game a year, so it wasn’t a total loss. And one of those excellent SE games was Dissidia, an unusual fighting game featuring the heroes and villains of the Final Fantasy franchise all duking it out for… I don’t know… I think crystals were involved? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it was fun, and it was one of the rare fighting games that was actually built for a portable system. Dissidia was part Street Fighter, but also part Pokémon, as you had to “train” your Tidus, and make sure the little dork always had the best equipment. WeeeeeExcuse me, it wasn’t about having the best equipment, it was about equipping the items that would fit your playstyle, so you might wind up with a different load out if you preferred to chase EX charges, or liked to just pummel your opponent into submission. You’ve got options!

But this is not to say Dissidia was a straightforward fighting game that just happened to have a little extra backend. Dissidia introduced the “Bravery System”, which, in short, means you’re supposed to hit your opponent until you have accrued enough hits to really hit your opponent. On one hand, it’s an overly complicated way to get to the “deplete HP” step that is essential to every fighting game ever, but, on the other hand, it does create a lot more drama, and a real see-saw mechanic that other fighting games have attempted to achieve for years. But, love it or hate it, you had to learn it before you could use it, so Dissidia certainly had a barrier of entry. But at least there was a tutorial right from the boot up of Dissidia, and, acknowledging that people might need such a thing, there were intensive lessons available through the game. And, what’s more, those lectures were written “by” Final Fantasy heroes from throughout the series, so if you ever thought Rydia would be an excellent summons teacher, congratulations, you’re right! Hey, if a game knows you’re going to need extra instructions, at least make those instructions interesting.

Final Fantasy Dissidia NT, unfortunately, did not learn this lesson.

Learn to climb!FFDNT started as an arcade game. And that’s great! So did Street Fighter 2! And we all learned how to play that game just fine. Except… assuming you were playing a proper SF2 cabinet, all the fireball motions you could ever need were graphics on the cabinet, so learning the finer points of that experience was, amazingly, still teaching-based. Not so much with FFDNT. It is unlikely I’ll ever see a FFDNT cabinet, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it doesn’t have the gameplay basics written anywhere on there, as it would require a cabinet roughly the size of a convenience store. Want to know how Terra works? That’s in aisle six.

See, the problem with Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is not simply that it fails to convey meaningful lessons to the neophyte player, it’s that there is so much going on, it is impossible to accurately learn anything from the gameplay. There are two teams of three, but you only control one fighter on one team. That’s pretty normal… but what are the win conditions again? It seems like fighters revive pretty quickly after depleting their health… so is it a most kills in a minute kind of thing? No, wait, the match just ended… did someone die? Our team? Theirs? And now there are some rankings… looks like whoever exhausted the most HP gets the trophy… but aren’t there other goals during a match? Why am I supposed to attack the EX Core Crystals again? To summon? But I can summon even if I never bothered. And what does the summon do? Change the background, toss a few lasers around, and… wait, my attack stat goes up? How am I supposed to know that? And I should be using my EX skill more often? How does that become available? It poisons the opponent? But only if I choose that at the start of the match? Holy cow, how are there this many questions revolving around one three minute match!?

GO AWAYAnd Dissidia NT continues to pose questions when it should be providing answers. Why does story mode distinctly require exiting story mode to make progress? Why does this character completely change her playstyle with a button, while that character just kind of grunts? Why did I just earn a new special move if I can’t even use it? Why is changing equipment only cosmetic, but changing my EX ability dramatically impacts the battle? And, most of all, why are my party members always dying? Am I supposed to be doing something different? Should I be protecting them? Should I be more offensive? If this were a traditional Final Fantasy game (even one of the later, more AI controlled titles like FF15 or FF12), and 66% of my party was dying every other round, I’d be sure I was doing something wrong. Here? Not really. In fact, during boss matches, your allies appear to exist only to be mobile meat dummies, and their greatest contribution is distraction. But it’s not like the game effectively relays this information in any way, and you’re just left listening to Shantotto apologize for her tenth death in a row. I’m sorry, chipmunk girl, I’ll try to be better next time. I think?

And it’s not that Dissidia NT is a bad game, it’s simply that practically the entire thing… ummm… uh… Oh! A metaphor! Good games play with you like a good friend, but bad games are definitely that one smelly kid that told you exactly what you’re going to play now, and you’re going to listen to his rules, and what do you mean you don’t play it like this at your house, we’re playing it my way now, you better learn how that works, or you’re not going to have any fun. No, I’m not going to teach you, nerd, just start playing. No, not like that! Moooooom! Bobby isn’t playing the game right at all!

Okay, maybe Final Fantasy Dissidia NT is bad. Once you understand it, once you read the FAQs and strategy guides and message boards, once you get through all the auxiliary materials, FFDNT is actually pretty fun to play. But before that? Before that, it’s pure, confusing hell, and a hell that makes no effort to impart how you might find your way to its heaven. Final Fantasy Dissidia NT might have a delicious, chewy center, but it’s surrounded by rancid garbage.

And how much garbage are you willing to swallow?

FGC #395 Final Fantasy Dissidia NT

  • System: Playstation 4 and Arcade. The arcade version came out three years ago? Crazy.
  • Number of players: Online? Six. Locally? One. There should be a law against that.
  • Go get 'emOther Illegalities: There are also loot boxes. And “buy a season pass now, we’ll announce the DLC characters later” sales. Dissidia is actively trying to piss me off.
  • The sequel curse: So this is, ultimately, a mascot fighting game. And you know what a mascot fighting game should never do? Drop characters. I don’t care if you’re Ice Climbers or Gon, when you lose the weirdo auxiliary characters from game to game, you lose my heart. The lack of Gilgamesh, Laguna, Yuna, and Tifa in this title is keenly felt. And if even one of those dorks become extra purchases? I will burn this mother down.
  • Favorite Character: Bartz is pretty awesome. He was my favorite in OG Dissidia, and he’s completely different now, but he’s still a lot of fun. And fast! And fast is really important when you have to chase some angry tree all over the arena.
  • Other annoyances: You can’t just restart a battle in a single player match. This is particularly important in the boss battles, as, come on, you can permanently lose those fights in the first thirty seconds, but wait five minutes to actually die. And then you have to wait five minutes for loading screens…
  • The Final Fantasy: So, considering the sheer lunacy that was the first two Dissidia titles, the story of this one is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a world fueled by battles, everyone battles, everyone realizes there’s no real reason to battle, and then they fake battle until they battle a giant lizard so they can make clones that will fight battles forever. That’s pretty much the plot to Sense and Sensibility.
  • Say something nice: Terra is supposed to be “post Final Fantasy 6” Terra in this one (or something like that), and she’s actually kind of… good? Previous Dissdias made her a sort of damsel (“Oh, poor me, Kefka is always taking over my brain, what is it to be me?”), but here she’s confident, and winds up being the de facto leader of her little party. Way to get yourself together, Terra!
  • Work together!Did you know? That kid from Final Fantasy Tactics is in this one! No, not Thunder God Cid, the main character. You know! What’s his name? Delita? No, that doesn’t sound right…
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Probably not. Even if the upcoming DLC is amazing, there are too many good fighting games out there, and Dissidia seems to revel in wasting time. Just give me my instant gratification, Square!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Centipede: Infestation for the Nintendo 3DS! Centipedes? In my blog? It’s more common than you think. Please look forward to it!

FGC #394 Young Justice: Legacy

JUSTICE!Corporations do not understand universes.

What separates us from the animals? Intelligence? Morality? The ability to claim horseradish and “creamy” horseradish are the same edible substance? No, on a basic level, what makes us the top of the food chain is our pattern recognition. You see a little bit of the stuff in some animals (“sit!” = put butt on floor for treat), but even the smartest animal doesn’t seem to have the object permanence to so much as code a simple C++ “hello world” script. Meanwhile, over on the human side of the Animal Kingdom, toddlers are barely verbal before they start asking the why of everything. If there is a reason that things fall down, there must also be a reason for the color of the walls, or why Daddy is always crank calling the neighbors after he drinks his special juice. What we consider thinking is merely a long chain of if-then statements going back to the first time you realized there was a reason grandma always screamed when you attempted to climb the stove.

So it’s only natural that we approach our media with the same basic thinking. We certainly could enjoy Merrie Melodies, newspaper comic strips, and other chunks of media that contain and require exactly zero continuity… but did you notice how the greatest examples of that phenomenon are almost entirely as outdated as a protractor? Continuity is king nowadays, and everything from Superman to the latest Kanye West album must contain no less than a decade’s worth of references and in-jokes. And, if you ever wondered why such a thing was now considered standard, it’s because the marketing department figured out a long time ago that your eyeballs were going to stay glued to the boob tube through that commercial break if you were promised just the tiniest glimmer of what happens next. Those last ten minutes were setting up the “if”, and, if you can hold out a little longer, you’ll be granted the all-important “then”. All of your dreams will come true! Or maybe you’ll at least find out who shot J.R.

But the thing about continuity is that, should it go on long enough, it gets a little complicated. And that previously mentioned marketing department? They do not like complicated.

Get 'emIt’s basic math, really. If you’re in the business of selling your product (and if you’re producing a product for literally any other reason, my God man, what are you even doing?), you need to do two things: maintain your audience, and grow your audience. So once you’ve got your initial viewers good and entrenched, then it’s time to start expanding and finding new ways to hook new people. And, hey, you’ve got some fans that will stick with you through anything, so why not toss out the baby and its stupid bath water, start fresh, and tell all those newbies that we’ve got a perfect “jumping on point”? What could possibly go wrong? You think the established fans will leave? They might! But who needs those nerds? They just spent the last six months complaining on their stupid forums because you had the audacity to name the latest love interest after your dog. It was a coincidence, you damn fanatics! It wasn’t supposed to mean anything! Reboot this thing, and maybe we’ll get a new, better audience that will finally buy that warehouse full of F-tier Pops.

And, while the reboot is practically synonymous with the comic book industry, it is certainly the standard in practically every medium you can name. Was A Link to the Past 100% beholden to the original Legend of Zelda? Does the latest Mario release take a time out to explain the lack of Bowser Jr? Is there a single Transformers movie that clarifies the current whereabouts of Orson Welles? Can anyone even remember how many 007s we’ve gone through? Not every story has to have a giant “reboot” brand on its cover, but “that old story didn’t matter” is assumed to be the norm any time there isn’t a number in the title. After all, you’re not going to score any new fans by requiring homework.

But those old fans? They have long memories. And, what’s more, they have desires.

BZZZZTLet’s take Star Trek as an example. I have no doubt that, whether you’re reading this article in 2018 or 2098, there is some manner of Star Trek-related media available. It’s inevitable! It’s a franchise that is based on a simple concept (“Space: The Final Frontier”), and can be adapted into anything from a retro futuristic romp to a Seth Macfarlane vanity project. However, in the next century, I would be very surprised if my Star Trek ever resurfaces in any given form ever again. What’s my Star Trek, you obviously don’t want to ask? Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the story of a single dad in a frontier space station attempting to balance science and religion while a shape shifting sheriff gets in a fight with gluttonous bartender. I would give my left pinky toe (it’s really important for balance!) to see the further adventures of Ben Sisko, Miles O’Brien, and Elim Garak (master tailor), but I know that’s never going to happen again. Books are available, and maybe we’ll see some manner of comic book if IDW is feeling saucy, but to just sit down at 5 in the evening and visit Deep Space Nine from the comfort of my couch? That will never happen again. The franchise lives on, but the joy of that particular mini universe is lost forever.

And companies don’t realize how desperate fans can be for those forgotten universes.

Today’s game is Young Justice: Legacy. At the time of Young Justice: Legacy’s announcement, Young Justice: The Animated Series was on a season break. The plan was that you’d have Young Justice in reruns, and then there would be Young Justice: Season 2, which would take place after a significant (and cast rearranging) time jump. Young Justice: Legacy would fill in the blanks on that time skip, so if you were wondering why Aqua Lad was off crying in the corner and screaming “you’re not my real dad!” Young Justice: Legacy was here to explain every little detail. And that’s a great idea! That has the potential to not only fuel an interesting tie-in product, but also goose the sales a bit with all those nerds that want to bathe themselves in the poisonous spring that is continuity. Everybody wins!

CLOWN MUSICUnfortunately, Young Justice: Legacy is not very good (hey, that’s the other theme of this week). And, somewhere along production, it seems that someone noticed that it wasn’t very good. Young Justice: Legacy was not released during the gap between seasons of Young Justice, because it suffered from numerous setbacks and delays. Not only was YJ:L postponed, it was outright cancelled for the Wii/WiiU. And then, when it was finally released on PS3/X360/3DS (somebody liked systems with a “3” in the title), Young Justice: The Series… was cancelled. Sorry! Just a little late!

And that’s why people bought Young Justice: Legacy.

Young Justice: Legacy is a lousy clone of the much more successful/fun X-Men/Marvel Gauntlet-alikes of a few years prior. Walk, fight random mooks, walk some more, maybe use a super power every once in a while. Bosses are simultaneously more interesting (here’s Killer Frost! And she’s riding ice pillars!) and more stupid (why the hell can’t Superboy just fly to match her altitude!?) than the rest of the game. And, if you’re good, the finale is a battle against a magical dragon that has no business being the final boss of a DC Superhero title (basically, imagine if the final boss of Injustice was a Pokémon… assuming it wasn’t DLC). Even with a multiplayer mode that is exactly as tepid as the main campaign, there is practically no reason to play this game, save being really dedicated to playing as Miss Martian.

And that’s all this stupid game needs.

Shiny!Young Justice the series is technically based on a comic originally kickstarted by Peter David in 1998. But that is fairly misleading, as the only reason “Young Justice” wasn’t “Teen Titans” was because the “Titans” had all grown up and taken their group name to college in an effort to impress other freshmen. Considering the two properties to be thematically identical, we’re then looking back to Teen Titan’s premiere back in 1964. For the record, that was an epoch before the last time we had to impeach a president. And, in the same way we’ve had a number of administrations since the 60’s, there have been an innumerable number of Teen Titans in that time. In short, if you say, “I like teenage superheroes in the DC Universe”, you could be talking about any number of groups over the last fifty years. And that’s even before you get into spin-offs, elseworlds, and, of course, television shows. Young Justice, the 2010-2013 Cartoon Network program, was just a drop in the ocean of Teen Titan media. And, unfortunately, it was always destined to be forgotten.

And that sucks for anyone that wanted to see this version of Robin ride again.

So Young Justice: Legacy might not be any good, but it does star all those heroes from that nearly forgotten sub-franchise. It’s a complete story with twists, turns, and villains that are all (almost all) recognizable from the original series. M’gann M’orzz is the Young Justice iteration, not the “lesser” versions you’d find in the comic books or random Supergirl episodes. All your old friends are here, and you get to join them in a fight! Sure, the game is no great shakes, but it shakes the part of your brain that contains great memories of a Red Arrow that isn’t addicted to parkour. Young Justice: Legacy thrives, because, until the inevitable revival, it’s the last lifeboat containing all your pals. And even if it’s going to be a pain, aren’t you going to toss them a life preserver?

So forget the reboots, Big Media, and revel in the continuity. It’s pretty clear that anyone…


What am I saying? I don’t want to be a sucker and blow my hard earned dough on nostalgia. No! I have to stop this article before it’s too late! Hollywood! Toy companies! Forget I said anything! You don’t need to…


Oh noooooo!

FGC #394 Young Justice: Legacy

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. I would assume the Nintendo 3DS version is slightly different from its console brothers… but, meh, Google Image Search is all the way over there.
  • Number of players: It has to be at least two. But you can control three characters per stage. Was it three players? Maybe? There was an online mode, so I’m going to upgrade that to “probably”.
  • Favorite Playable Character: If I say Miss Martian, everyone is just going to yell at me for actually liking catch phrases. Oh, wait, Zatanna is considered young enough to qualify for the roster, so that’s my pick. Unparalleled magical powers should always be available during beat ‘em ups.
  • BUM BUM BUMFavorite Non-Playable Character: Klarion bum bum bum The Witch Boy! For no reason, I just happened to remember that I have a Young Justice script signed by Peter David. Go fig.
  • Favorite Character That is Surprisingly Not Playable: We’ve got Nightwing, we’ve got Robin, and we’ve even got Batgirl, but Batman himself is not playable. He’s lurking around, but I am downright impressed the producers had the restraint to not make him a playable character. Good job, guys!
  • Did you know? The final unlocked Titan (uh… Young Justicer?) is Rocket, the sidekick of Icon, star of Milestone Comics. Milestone Comics was an interesting and diverse little universe hiding on the fringes of DC Comics, and, like most attempts at diversity in comic books, every character involved has been almost completely forgotten. But at least Rocket is well worth unlocking, as her moves are some of the best available. And it’s not like there’s some other teenage Milestone Comics hero that people have been begging for for years or anything. Note: Because no one remembers Milestone Comics and would understand that wry reference, I’m talking about Static Shock. There. Happy?
  • Would I play again: Nah. There are some people that obsess over Young Justice, but I’m not one of ‘em. More of a Gargoyles fan, myself.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy Dissidia NT! Oddly enough, this is a recent release, but ROB picked from the deep end of the pool for once, so it’s an actually randomly picked recent release. Go fig. Anyway, please look forward to it!

How do forcefields even work?

FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

CARTOONS!To every game, turn turn turn, there is a season, turn turn turn…

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion was originally a 2011 release for the Nintendo 3DS, and then resurfaced six months later as Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL, a slightly expanded version intended for consoles. At its core, CN:PTE is a Smash Bros clone starring the heroes and heroines of various Cartoon Network shows.

And that was everyone’s initial problem: CN:PTE is a lousy copy of Smash Bros.

First of all, “copy of Smash Bros” does not just mean this is a generic four person mascot fight ‘em up with some weird new feature wedged in there; no, this is just straight up Smash Bros. More specifically, it’s Smash Bros. Brawl, as the trophy assists of that title have been adapted to include random Cartoon Network stars like Numbah 362 and Cheese, the most annoying imaginary friend ever. Other than that “change”, this is just Smash Bros, with death being based on falling off the screen, and damage being accumulated through an increasing percentage meter. And, let’s face it, this is a brazen and fairly insane route to take for a game that was clearly intended for systems with better options. We were still three years away from Super Smash Bros. 4 3DS, but the Wii had hosted Brawl for years, and who didn’t own a Wii? My mother owns a Wii! There are better options for Smash times, because, without a doubt, this is a dreadful smash clone. All of the characters control in a very “floaty” manner, a number of the special moves seem like excuses for suicide (forward + special is yet another dash move that will toss you off a cliff, yay!), and, while we’re examining every little flaw, most of these characters do not naturally lend themselves to a moveset. Get emIf a videogame neophyte chooses Charizard, the humongous, flaming dragon, our featured noob can still make a pretty good guess at what the special button is going to do (fire-breath seems like a lock). You might get a similar reaction out of CN’s scythe-wielding Grim Reaper, but Billy and Mandy? Or Dexter? Or Flapjack? Did that kid ever actually fight anything in his franchise?

Which brings us to the next big issue: the roster is unerringly confusing. You’ve got representatives from Johnny Bravo, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls, and even Chowder. Want to know what all those shows have in common? They were all cancelled before the release of this game! And it’s not just a matter of “maybe the game was delayed a month or two”, no, the last PPG episode was in 2005, so we’re looking at a title that was released two years after the 10th Anniversary Special. And just go ahead and rub the salt in the Samurai Jack and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack wounds. I don’t care if Jack eventually came back! That cancellation is still raw! It’s understandable to toss in a few “old” characters for posterity’s sake (Johnny Bravo should always be remembered), but this is less “Ice Climbers are here” and more “The latest Smash Bros will exclusively star Urban Champion and Excite Biker”. In fact, if you really comb the roster, you’ll find that the only franchise that was still in production during 2011 was Ben 10… Which is likely why they made him the star of story mode.

BARFSo maybe the story mode is worthwhile? Nope! It’s got the same dreadful physics as the rest of the game, and, give or take a side adventure or two involving lasers, it’s just a mediocre beat ‘em up where you don’t even have to beat ‘em up half the time. And there’s a minecart section! And, God, it somehow has an even worse physics engine than every other part of the game. It’s like the design team wanted to see just how repellant one over-merchandized bit of merchandise could be. Maybe the game tastes bad, too? I didn’t test that, but I haven’t licked any of my discs in a while, might be worth a check.

But one thing about story mode does stand out. Even if the gameplay is atrocious, even if the levels are more tedious than shouting about clowns coming to destroy us all, and even if you’re forced into playing as Ben 10 far too often; even with all that, there is something magical happening. The plot of PTE is simple: a dude has decided he’s going to watch some Cartoon Network, but his remote control has gone maliciously haywire, and is attempting to corrupt and otherwise damage the fine programs you’d find on the best cartoon channel around. Nothing too complicated there… Except the “narrator” watching TV is George Lowe. George Lowe, best known as the voice of Tad Ghostal aka Space Ghost, host of Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Cartoon Planet. And, well, that’s enough to get my attention.

WeeeeeeCartoon Network’s programs, and the cartoon characters featured in this game, are not my childhood. My local cable package didn’t even receive Cartoon Network until I was old enough to be embarrassed by watching such a thing. And, even before that, it wasn’t like CN had that much original programming. Ultimately, I had already ruined a good two proms before I ever caught sight of Courage the Cowardly Dog. But, despite my advanced age (almost ready for college!), I did watch Cartoon Network. I watched “Adult Swim” before it was Adult Swim. I watched a pile of Cartoon Network shows, old and new, basically because, well, what else was on? Some people watch The Real World or game shows, I watched Criss Cross Crisis reruns until my eyes bled. It wasn’t like I was a dedicated fan or something, it was simply what I flipped to when I had nothing better to do. And, particularly during my college years, it seemed like I had a lot of time for such vegetative watching. Doing some horrible calculus homework? May as well watch Johnny Bravo while I’m at it.

And I’m well aware that I fetishize my own childhood, but it came as something of a surprise to me that I’m also a sucker for nostalgia that originated a mere decade (and change) ago. Who knew that Space Ghost would immediately up my engagement levels by about 1000%? And the rest of the cast! They may have been “retired” by the time the game premiered, but now, years later, it’s like revisiting old friends. I never really cared for Kids Next Door or Chowder, but seeing them again, after all this time, it’s… refreshing. It does my heart good. These characters and shows may be off the air now, and their home network may be a completely different animal, but this disc-based time capsule of a long forgotten epoch has healed this old man’s broken heart.

GET IT!?In any objective way, Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion is not a good game. In 2011, it was a disappointment (you’ve had Finn the Human on the air for nearly two years, guys! And could you put more than ten minutes into filing the numbers off Smash Bros?), and in 2018, it should be a disappointment again. But, somehow, divorced from its original eon and system (I am technically playing this on the WiiU), it’s engaging. And, even more than that, it’s fun. It might just be nostalgia for a bygone era, but, dammit, it works.

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion, your time has finally come.

FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

  • System: Nintendo 3DS for the original version, and then XL hit on Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Sorry, the Vita wasn’t quite available yet.
  • Number of players: As a Smash clone, the answer must be four.
  • Missed Opportunities: Some complained that, while “old” Cartoon Network shows were being featured anyway, there should have been Courage the Cowardly Dog and Ed, Edd, and Eddy on the roster. However, while Courage had a great show, he is maybe not the most suited to a fighting environment. And, as for Ed, Edd, and Eddy? Nobody ever liked that show, so I can understand why it wasn’t included.
  • Hey, I liked Ed, Edd, and Eddy! No. No I assure you, you did not.
  • Other Complaints: It appears all of the items exist exclusively to be picked up and thrown. There isn’t a super mushroom or Franklin Badge or any other doodads that do anything more interesting than “is a projectile”. Considering the wealth of “items” available in various CN shows, that is a major disappointment.
  • Favorite Featured Cartoon Network Show: I still have a hard time believing there was ever a cartoon that featured a Caribbean Grim Reaper palling around with a megalomaniacal girl and her marginally brain dead sidekick. And sometimes they went to Hogwarts! But it had Weird Al! As a squid! Just do yourself a favor and watch The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
  • Favorite Assist Toon: For reasons that were never succinctly explained, Dracula in the Billy and Mandy Universe is a 70’s Disco Fiend…
    Get down!

    And that’s the best thing that ever happened.
  • Samurai Back: One of the stages is Samurai Jack’s home kingdom prior to Aku’s attack. Man, it really has to sting to finally make it home only for it to be a two minute fight against Captain Planet.
  • An End: The narrator is never seen, but, in response to losing his (evil) remote control, “Narrator” comments that he should find a lava monster to pull one lever to change channels. So, yes, this entire game is Space Ghost: Coast to Coast: Origins. Go get yourself a Moltar, Thad!
  • Did you know? Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo were the first two Cartoon Cartoons back in 1996 and 1997, respectively. This was followed by Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel. If you’re curious about why you’ve never heard of those latter two shows, there’s a reason.
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Exclusively for the nostalgia, I just might. I know I’m not the only nerd around here with his head stuck in the past, and I do have four controllers…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Young Justice Legacy for the Playstation 3! Time for some… justice? Of the… young kind? I guess! Please look forward to it!

The power of ponytails

FGC #363 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

Here come those SimpsonsThe Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants is either one of the most clever, innovative licensed games of the early 90’s, or it’s a steaming pile of garbage.

It’s The Simpsons!

TS:BvtSM was the first Simpsons videogame. At the time, The Simpsons was a bonafide cultural phenomenon, having premiered (basically) a year earlier (technically The Simpsons started [as an independent series] in 1989, but it was December 17, so that barely counts… there, satisfied, nerds?), and setting the world ablaze with that whacky Bart Simpson and his lovable catchphrase… uhh… it was something about eating cow, I think. It was a long time ago! Regardless, at the time, there was more Simpsons merchandise than you could shake an officially licensed Groundskeeper Willie protractor at, so a videogame was just a matter of time. This title scooted out the door before… let’s see here… the game was initially released the same week as the premiere of Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment, Season 2, Episode 13, Production Code #7F13. This means the game was likely planned and produced before the second season even aired. Imagine! A time when there were only thirteen episodes of The Simpsons! John Swartzwelder had only written four scripts!

This, naturally, led to the game being written while Springfield still had a pretty shallow pool of characters and quirks. Lisa Simpson, for instance, had barely been established as the smartest little girl in town, and was hardly more than Bart’s sister. Maggie did not possess her love of firearms, and Homer still only sounded brain-damaged, as opposed to actually being brain-damaged. Realize that Bart Simpson (who the hell are you?) was the most developed Simpson, and this game starts to take shape.

On the other hand

Did any of these versions even get the colors for our favorite family right?

It's Bart!

Don’t tell me the NES couldn’t support Marge’s usual green! Maggie got it for some reason! And the Genesis has absolutely no excuse! 16-Bits of raw power! And nobody look at Homer’s shoes! They’re weird! Basically, pick your version, but everyone is just off model enough to be recognizable, but completely wrong.

And that’s before you get into the actual usage of The Simpsons characters. Homer is known for dropping black sludge and hanging out at the museum, right? And who could tear Marge Simpson away from the mall? It’s nice that someone tried to wedge the whole family in there before their personalities were completely solidified (and then fossilized), but Maggie randomly shoving bowling balls at Nelson Muntz… doesn’t make the most sense.

The Plot ain’t Bad!

Here he comes!Bart was the pint-sized star of the show back in the 90’s, so naturally he was featured in an adventure where he… fought aliens?

That sounds a little crazy for a typical cartoon sitcom family, but it’s not that absurd. The whole point of a “side story” like this is that it is something you wouldn’t normally see on a “mundane” series until about the 562nd episode, so fighting aliens seems like fair game. After all, it’s an excuse for Bart to get out there and do something good. In fact, it plays into the whole “Bart the scamp” narrative, as it gives our lovable hero an excuse to commit mischief, but, ha ha, he’s doing it for the good of the human race, and no one must ever know. He’s not spray painting trash cans because he’s a lil’ bastard, he’s doing it for the world. Hey, look, this whole thing is a lot more believable than the entire family beating up Homer’s boss in a giant mecha suit.

On the other hand

This is the exact same plot as Fester’s Quest.

Sitcom protagonist learns there’s an alien invasion, gets some help from his family, and ventures forth to save the day.

It's Bart! It's Fester!

They’ve probably even got the same stupid glasses!

And, yes, for anyone wondering, Fester’s Quest was released two years prior. Is this some popular trope I’m missing? Am I out of touch? No, it’s the producers who are wrong.

The Gameplay ain’t Bad!

So the aliens are going to take over the world, and they need particular objects to achieve their global dominance. In each level, Bart is tasked with stealing and/or destroying every one of these objects he can find. For instance, in the first level, the aliens are using objects that are purple, so Bart must do everything in his power to mask or destroy all purple objects in Springfield. And you, Bart-troller, have got options!

There is a lot of purple in Springfield, and this leads to a number of different techniques and tricks for repelling the purple menace. Spray paint is the first and most obvious option, but outright destruction through cherry bombs and firecrackers is allowed. And sometimes you can even find ways to make the purple come to you, like by crank calling Moe’s Tavern and spray painting his signature purple apron (?) when he comes out to murder the ten year old. Honestly, the whole situation, complete with a talking statue imparting sage advice, becomes almost indistinguishable from King’s Quest and other adventure games. And we needed more creativity like that in gaming at the time! We still do! And Mario should have access to firecrackers!

On the other hand

UGHEvery other level sucks.

The first stage presents this huge, expansive Springfield where you have to solve riddles and interact with the denizens of our favorite stink town. And, from that point on… it’s just a lousy platformer. The second level is all floating platforms (over “wet cement”, the lamest of all bottomless pit substitutes) and mini bosses. The third level seems like it might be returning to the “town” atmosphere of the first stage, but then it turns out it was just a few mini games that quickly devolve into more lousy platforming hijinks. The museum of the next stage is an excuse for rejected levels from other videogames (which would later become the theme of 16-bit Simpsons titles), and the final stage is a maze. This is not to imply that the last level is a fun maze; no, this is more akin to “find the right path” castles from the original Super Mario Bros. They were not fun there, and they are certainly not fun in a labyrinth featuring space aliens.

And this all wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Bart didn’t control so absolutely terribly. For reasons that can only be described as a hate crime, Bart’s “run” button is the same as his jump button, so you must hold jump to build momentum, and then… press jump to jump. It’s a little unintuitive. And it also makes some of the smaller platforms nearly impossible. This wouldn’t be noticeable if more of the game was like the introductory level, but instead we’re dealing with nearly impossible gaps seven seconds into the second stage. Oh, and if you want a little more momentum while jumping, then you press the action button, because that makes perfect sense and wastes whatever limited ammo item you might have for the stage. Everything is coming up Milhouse!

The Bosses ain’t Bad

It's Moe!Okay, the levels might suck, but the bosses are cool. The first level sees Bart battling Nelson, just like in Bart the General. The second stage is versus the Babysitter Bandit, who nearly stared in the first Simpsons episode! Krusty Land is dominated by Sideshow Bob, and Dr. Marvin Monroe is employing shock therapy at the head of the museum. There’s no boss for the final level at the Nuclear Power Plant, but one would assume that’s only because C. Montgomery Burns was getting ready for his big beat ‘em up premiere in the arcades.

On the other hand

None of these boss fights make any sense. Okay, maybe Nelson gets a pass, but hopping on a psychiatrist’s head is just confusing. And Bart and Lisa may have discovered the nefarious Ms. Botz thanks to her suitcase, but reversing gravity on bags while Marge chucks bowling balls is a little unusual. Sideshow Bob almost makes sense with the foot stomping thing, but if you somehow missed that episode, it’s nearly impossible to realize what you’re supposed to do during that battle. Is there a single other spot in the gaming universe where foot stomping is the right answer?

And that’s basically The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants in a nutshell. It’s unique among its videogame peers… but it’s also kind of terrible. No fun, and no satisfaction. And no fun and no satisfaction make Goggle Bob something something.

FGC #363 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

  • Thanks, GrandpaSystem: I always think of this as a NES game, but it’s also available for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Game Gear, Master System, and Sega Genesis. The screenshots for most of this article are from the Sega Genesis version.
  • Number of Players: It’s Bart! He’s alone.
  • Port-O-Call: I’m not going to try every version, but I can safely say that the Genesis port has more faithful graphics (though not completely faithful graphics), but less official Simpsons music than the NES version. This is probably for the best, as you can only listen to the Simpsons Main Theme so many times before mailing dead lemmings to Danny Elfman.
  • An End: The finale features Bart Simpson defeating the Space Mutants, and then, in an act of contrition, they paste Bart’s head on Mount Rushmore. Depending on the version, Bart’s head is either erected on the far left or far right side of the monument. Does… that mean something?
  • Favorite Simpsons character (this game): Krusty the Clown is the icon for 1-Ups, and he’s got his own carnival, and you explore a giant version of his head, but I don’t think he actually appears anywhere in the game as a proper human being. So I think he wins by default for just providing a pile of off-brand merch in his absence.
  • HAW HAWDid you know? Bart fights aliens in this title, but they are notably not Kang and Kodos. And, for that matter, the space mutants don’t look consistent between their bipedal and tiny-tentacled forms. And they look totally different between different versions of the title, too. Weird aliens.
  • Would I play again: Nope. Don’t have a cow, man, but this game kinda sucks to play. It’s an interesting curiosity, but I’m not touching it again.

What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… The Adventures of Bayou Billy for the NES! I guess it’s suddenly very hard NES games week! Or something! Please look forward to it!