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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!

Wild Arms 2 Part 08: Reach Out and Threaten Someone

Previously on Wild Arms 2: ARMS averted a cave-in! Or… they at least cleaned up after one. What’s important is that ARMS accomplished something. That might not happen again for a while.

Oh, we also got a hot tip about some mysterious gang approaching Telepath Tower, so let’s dive on in.

Well this is certainly odd: a trio of glowing cubes are hanging around the entrance.

And, not coincidentally, there are a few chuckable boxes lying around, too.

But all doors leading forward are locked. Can yoooou solve the mystery?

FGC #350 Super Mario Odyssey

It's a-me!  Cappy!The reason it’s so difficult to convince the general public that climate change is real is that weather is continually simultaneously reliable and anomalous. It is cold in the winter. It is warm in the summer. There is never a year where this is not the case. But, if you stand downwind of anyone that has been in the same area for longer than about five years, get ready to hear the stories about when it was scorching on Christmas, or that time it snowed in May. These stories aren’t lies, because, yes, sometimes you get an “Indian Summer” or a “Kinda Racist Winter”, and, inevitably, this just leads to the thinking that everything is absolutely fine. So you have to wear your shorts in November? Phhht. It’s happened before! The record set in 1999 is for 76°! This doesn’t mean anything!

Mario has the same problem.

Now, before we go any further, I want to plainly state that I love Mario games. I love this Mario game. It is amazing! There are dinosaurs and mariachi bands and Mario made frogs cool again for the second time in my lifetime. Not only is Mario Odyssey good, it’s damn near flawless. As of this writing, I have collected a good couple six hundred or so power moons, and I have rescued Princess Peach from nefarious nuptials, so I’m pretty confident that, while jumping rope might be a bear, the actual minute-to-minute of this Mario adventure is top notch. In a year packed with absolutely stellar titles, this little plumber is staring in one of the best.

So why is my general feeling something like…. Underwhelming? Yes, that’s it. I am underwhelmed by Mario Odyssey.

WeeeeLet’s look at those other “games of the year”. Persona 5 was probably the most traditional game on the list, but it was still the first time we saw the series on a modern console (or two), and you can’t say it wasn’t stylish as hell. Do you understand how much of the Persona 5 soundtrack has been playing in my head since April? NieR: Automata also wound up on that mental playlist, and those phat beats were somehow attached to a game that was not only fun to play, but also managed to question the very nature of humanity. Even “lesser” games, like Sonic Mania or Cuphead, managed to distill exactly what makes their respective genres excellent into a mouthwatering fruit, smoosh that conceptual fruit into a jam, and spread out those picture-perfect ideas into some of the best experiences available for modern consoles. And then there’s The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild.

It feels almost gauche to discuss this game again, but here we are. Some eight months ago, Nintendo released what might have been the most important game in a franchise that has been important for three decades. In short, in one sweeping motion, Nintendo threw out everything that made Zelda Zelda, yet, against all odds, created an experience that is Zelda in every conceivable way. I already put on my lab coat in an attempt to explain this phenomenon, but Breath of the Wild is unmistakably the end result of every Zelda that has ever been. It is also not Zelda at all, and a completely new experience from the absolute moment you realize Link has a dedicated and permanent jump button. Breath of the Wild doesn’t just stop at revolutionizing Zelda, though, as it rapidly becomes the best open world title this world has ever seen. See that hill over there? You can climb it. You can glide to it. You can buy a big fluffy sweater so you’re not cold when you get there. You can kill every errant fox between here and there with your enormous death horse (named Ganonhoof). Breath of the Wild is an amazing experience, and an experience that is completely unprecedented in all of gaming.

Mario Odyssey? Mario Odyssey is merely amazing.

ShiversAnd, let’s be clear, I’m not saying that carelessly. I started this article just after finishing the game, and, somehow, since then, I’ve collected about 400 more power moons, completed the darkest side of the moon, and happily followed a weird little skeleman in his taxi trips across the globe. I did this all with an enormous smile on my face, and never once complained about every time I had to possess a toad instead of a tyrannosaur. Mario Odyssey is fun from the depths of the ocean to all the way up to the top of the moon, and, give or take a few finicky flicking controls, it is an unequivocally perfect experience.

But, it’s a Mario game, so that’s expected.

This might be a controversial statement, but I’m willing to state that there has never been a bad Mario game. Ever. Mind you, that’s with the caveat that I’m exclusively talking about Mario-platformer games, as I’m pretty sure that one Mario baseball game was absolute garbage, and anything involving hotels is obviously not to be trusted. But when you look at the clear line from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Odyssey, you see a lot of phenomenal platformers along the way. And I know it’s dope and hip to claim that Mario Sunshine or Mario That One 3DS Game were not really good Mario games, but, come on. I’m not saying every Mario game has been perfect, but if you claim you could never have fun blasting a water gun around Delfino Plaza, well, congratulations on learning to read, you soulless demon from the depths of Hell. Has there ever been a flawed Mario game? Certainly. But have they all been fun, well-crafted adventures involving some of the most joyous movement options available? Double yes. When Mario is Mario, he is always good.

Right in the kisserAnd I literally can’t think of another franchise that has ever done that so well and for so long. Zelda? Phantom Hourglass had some neat ideas, but its centerpiece dungeon was hateful. Metroid? Let’s be real, there has been one really amazing game starring Samus, and everything else has just been… Echoes. Every fighting game ever has at least one entry that could be best described as disappointing, and every new entry in a modern JRPG or shoot ‘em up franchise runs the risk of being really interesting and immersive or a lolicon underwear simulator. And that’s really what it comes down to: with so many franchises, you have no idea what you’re going to get. Sonic the Hedgehog is somehow simultaneously responsible for one of the best games I’ve played all year, and a title where the only plus is presenting offline access to Deviantart. Mario doesn’t ever run that risk. A new Mario platformer is always good, whether it be our first Gameboy outing or something with a few more dimensions.

And all those amazing Mario games? They’re all here in Mario Odyssey. Would we have the frequent 2-D sections without Mario Maker? Probably not. Would we have the “themed world” and personable companion without Sunshine? Seems like the clear source there. Would we have a Mario in a sombrero without Qix? Well, maybe… but still! From Galaxy’s amazing controls to 3-D Land’s musical notes to even something as established as Yoshi’s Island’s butt stomp, all of Mario has been wrapped up and stuck beneath an adorable top hat.

And that’s the problem.

(No, not the top hat.)

Take a look at this challenge stage:

Weeeee

And tell me it couldn’t be any other Mario game released in the last fifteen years. It could be a “FLUDD-less” area from Mario Sunshine. It could be a random planet from Mario Galaxy. It could easily be any given stage from 3D Land or 3D World. It’s great! It’s fun! But it’s also very, very familiar. This is not a case of redefining the very landscape of gaming like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros 3, or Super Mario 64. Heck, even “lesser” entries did everything they could to explain why waggle could actually be fun (Galaxy) or 3-D is a perfectly good reason to make a new portable system (3D Land). Mario Odyssey is just kind of…. Really amazing.

And that’s why, while I absolutely adore this game, I still feel underwhelmed. This is Mario at its best… but the best is exactly what I expected. This is snow in the winter: it’s anticipated, and, what, you wanted a beach trip on Valentine’s Day? Those have happened before, right? I remember that one really warm February back in the Winter of ’17… Can’t we have that again? Can’t it not only be flawless, but also revolutionary? Is that asking too much?

Mario Odyssey: One of the best games I’ve played this year… but I expected more.

FGC #350 Super Mario Odyssey

  • System: Nintendo Switch. I believe this is the first game that I’ve reviewed for the site that is exclusively for the Switch. Yes, Breath of the Wild was for WiiU, too! Never forget!
  • Number of players: Technically two, but only because that’s the only way to beat volleyball.
  • Favorite Kingdom: Sand Kingdom, bar none. I’m not certain if it’s been mentioned before (I really need to reread some of these articles sometime), but I am a sucker for Dia de los Muertos aesthetics. While I generally hate deserts, I love mariachi skeletons. And when one skeleman decides to take a cab ride around the world? I think he’s my new hero.
  • AHHHHFavorite Capture: Actually, I think the capture mechanic summarizes this game perfectly: it’s always fun, but it’s exactly what you expect. T-Rex wrecks up the place, glider dino glides, and a piranha plant just hurls the contents of its non-existent stomach. That said, the humble goomba is my favorite capture, as it offers a clear powerup (better traction), but the additional fun of goomba stacking to satisfy a horny girl-goomba. I just want Mario to go that extra mile (to please goombas).
  • Switch it up: Okay, it’s subtle, but Mario Odyssey does its best to sell the features of the Switch… exclusively to me. I’ve spoken before about how my ideal game is one that is “widescreen” for the big dramatic moments, but then I can futz around in the postgame while watching TV or something. Mario Odyssey’s huge postgame is built for this, and, it seems like introductions to the kingdoms are meant to be docked, while postgame “100 random moons” are intended for less laborious portable play. The Switch was made for that kind of dichotomy! Just… doesn’t exactly come off as revolutionary.
  • Gooey: Oh, can we please get an option to disable the on-screen tutorial for every power and climbing pole? Look, I’ve been playing the absolute final level for the last hour, I don’t need a reminder to press B to jump every time I possess a lava ball and stand still for two seconds.
  • I’m just disappointed: The Rabbit Wedding Planners are a wonderful concept, but I’m dissatisfied with their work. I don’t mind that they stole every valuable item from every kingdom they could find, but they arranged for Bowser’s chapel to be like two blocks down from their home. For professionals, that’s just egotistical and lazy.
  • Just play the gig man: I do not understand why this game has ambient effects for some areas, and bombastic, amazing big band music for others. It makes perfect sense for some of the “set piece” areas (like New Donk City in the rain), but why the pastoral post-game kingdom is completely silent is anybody’s guess. Hey, at least you can cue up Jump Up Superstar at any time from the pause menu.
  • ClassicDid you know? Assuming you disregard the opening “prologue” kingdom, our first world is grass land, the second is desert, the potential third is under the sea, number five is a brief visit to the sky, and you’ve got the ice and lava stages shortly thereafter. Mario is a man of tradition.
  • Would I play again: I technically haven’t stopped playing this one yet. It might not be revolutionary, but it is a damn lot of fun, and it’s unlikely to leave my Switch for a good, long while.

What’s next? I’m taking a break. I’ve got a couple of random projects I’ve been ignoring because “oh I have to get the next FGC article done”, and I need a week to not have that excuse. Doesn’t mean there won’t be some content next week (there certainly will), but at least I don’t have to beat a Mario game to get it up. … Probably could have phrased that better. So FGC officially resumes on 11/20, and, in the meanwhile… well, I’ll try to find something to post during the week. Oh, and when we get back, we’ve got Kirby and the Crystal Shards on deck. Please look forward to it!

I like stickers

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Here comes a special boyCastlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is likely the most ill-advised videogame in gaming.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was not made for sequels

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (no additional verbage) was a Playstation 3/Xbox 360 game meant to revitalize the Castlevania franchise. Koji Igarashi held the reins of the Castlevania universe for years, and, in that time, he produced exactly one (1) decent console Castlevania. Granted, it was one of the best games of all time, but every time Iga hit the consoles again, we wound up with something… less than stellar. The PS2 outings were rote and boring, and the Wii saw a Castlevania fighting game that was maybe the most bonkers bit of plotting in an already supremely bonkers franchise (Super Mega Death traveled through time so Maria could be jealous of Sypha’s rack). None of these games presented any sort of justification for Castlevania to exist on the “next gen” consoles, and, since portables have long been considered the ghetto of gaming, Konami was understandably concerned about its Castlevania franchise. If one of your top franchises was simply languishing in the portable market, how could you ever marry said franchise to successful slot machines?

Lords of Shadow was basically a gritty reboot for an almost accidentally gritty series. You’ve got a Belmont hero, but now he’s working for a very real and very present Christian church. You’ve got your old standbys like the werewolf, succubus, and Grim Reaper, but now they all have tragic backstories with (fantasy) logical origins (if you ascend to Heaven as an immaculate being, obviously your body stays behind and becomes a vampire slut). The environs are more Lord of the Rings (popular at the time), combat is more God of War (also popular at the time), and everything is a lot more bloody (always popular). Lords of Shadow does a lot to simultaneously distinguish itself as a fresh, new look at Castlevania and be, incidentally, an experience that is fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the HD action game flock (of 2010 or so).

ScaryBut LoS did one remarkable thing: spoilers, but you were Dracula the whole time! Gasp! You were playing through the secret origins of this brand new Dracula, and now you’re the Lord of Darkness himself! And the final boss is Satan. Yes, that Satan! Dracula is kind of a good guy! Or something!

And the only problem is that that’s a neat trick, but you can only do it once.

The whole “you were the bad guy all along” thing is a great twist, but it doesn’t really lend itself to a franchise. It can work in many pieces of media, but for a videogame, you inhabit the protagonist, so the fresh new nasty boy either has to be the final boss of the next adventure (because killing off the previous protagonist in any lesser manner would be an insult to the first game), or said “villain” has to be supremely misunderstood. In fact, it seems like the Lords of Shadow staff realized this immediately, and tacked on a postlude that featured New Dracula awakening in modern times. Cool! He’ll be “misunderstood”, but Dracula in modern times is a fresh new direction for the Castlevania franchise! Maybe a sequel could work!

The sequel absolutely doesn’t work

Let's reflect on thisOkay, maybe the real sequel does actually work, but Castlevania: Chain of Memories absolutely does not.

So, first, in order for this whole game to work, we have to retcon in Gabrielle Belmont, star of Lords of Shadow, and his brand spanking new son who never got mentioned before this very moment. Okay, Gabrielle was a prophesized warrior that was incidentally being controlled by Patrick Stewart, so, sure, maybe the family bought into not telling Gabrielle “for his own good”, and, since the player exists behind Gabe’s eyes, we just weren’t privy to that information. Fine. But this also means the story has to start a maximum of twenty years (good hero’ing age) after Gabrielle became Dracula, and… is that going to work? Gabby kind of accidentally became Dracula, so is he going to settle into the whole “malevolent dictator” thing that quickly? And Lords of Shadow started in 1000 AD or so, so how does humanity even get to the modern era teased during the LoS finale if Dracula has been awake and active for the last millennium? So many questions!

But, okay, let’s move past that. Let’s just say that Dracula is simultaneously very quick to come into his powers, but very slow to actually do anything with his powers. And, hey, that’s basically the original canon, right? Oh, wait, no, there’s always a Belmont slapping down that Dracula before he can do anything. But we’ve got Belmonts here, though, right? Like, that’s the whole point of the “Gabrielle’s son” conceit, right? Sure, we’ve got (new, LoS) Trevor Belmont here, husband of Sypha, and he’s going to… Wait. Wasn’t the whole point of LoS that a Belmont became corrupted to become Dracula, so we’re not so different, you and I, and all that riot? So if we now have a whole crop of Belmonts… what was the point of this new franchise again? Castlevania, but with slightly larger trolls? I thought this was supposed to be new? This franchise really isn’t built for soldering on pieces of an already convoluted franchise. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a real live person wearing a cartoon princess dress, and that’s not a good look.

Same Trick, Two Games

ALUCARDIn Lords of Shadow, Gabrielle Belmont is eventually revealed to be Dracula.

In Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, Trevor Belmont is eventually revealed to be Alucard.

There. Just saved you all twenty hours of “mystery”.

“Linear” is not a dirty word

Presumably in order to build tension for that all-important Alucard reveal, Mirror of Fate is played in a sort of reverse chronology. First you play as Simon Belmont, who is being helped by a mysterious white-haired ally. Then you play as said ally, Alucard, who is fighting Dracula, but he doesn’t quite remember why. And then, finally, you play as Trevor from twenty years earlier, who is eventually defeated by Dracula in order to be revived as Alucard. It’s all very clever and cute and mysterious assuming you didn’t guess that exact twist from the first trailer. And even if you managed to go into the game fresh, you’d have to have the intelligence of a fleaman to miss all the anvilicious clues being dropped every ten seconds. And, oh yeah, if you played the first game, you’d be expecting that exact twist, and why the hell would you be interested in such a tiresome sequel if you didn’t play the first game?

It's not really a spriteAnd, frankly, it is heartbreaking that the plot seems to be stuck with this en media res nonsense, as there are a good number of characters and events along the way that really benefit from linear understanding. There is very little benefit to a new player being confused by Simon’s “mysterious ally”, but there is emotional heft to be gleamed from Simon being assisted by his cursed ancestor. The Daemon (ugh) Lord was mutilated by Trevor, and then revived by arcane science to return and menace Alucard… but when you first encounter the mechanized monster during Alucard’s story, he’s just another unrecognizable, barely threatening boss. And it sure would be nice if we weren’t saddled with yet another immortal protagonist that is suffering from amnesia just as long as the plot demands!

A linear Mirror of Fate wouldn’t have solved all of the story’s problems, but it would have made a number of the generational plot beats wildly more effective. But, no, I guess it wouldn’t be a Lords of Shadow game if the gameplay didn’t end in a shocking (not shocking) revelation.

It’s a metroidvania without the exploration

Enough about this silly plot! How’s the gameplay?

Not great, Goggle Bob.

ZZZZAAAPLords of Shadow was an attempt to turn Castlevania into a new God of War-like franchise. And it was mostly successful! But for the portable version, the decision was made to return to the metroidvania-like format of the last decade’s worth of portable Castlevania titles. This was a clever move, and an obvious way to bring lapsed Castlevania fans back into the fold. Don’t worry, old fans, this franchise is still for you! Look, here’s a platinum-haired dhampir exploring a big ol’ castle just for you.

Except… everyone involved kind of forgot how a metroidvania game works.

First of all, this adventure was doomed from the start, as the three different characters in three different stories (and 2.5 different time periods) kind of preclude the traditional “one big castle/planet” of most metroidvanias. But it could still work! Order of Ecclesia and Portrait of Ruin both had “level” like areas, so it’s not completely alien to the genre. Oh! And the “generations” thing could lead to a lot of different, fun puzzles! Break a gateway in the past to allow for entry in the future! Drain the moat as Trevor so Simon doesn’t have to take a dip! It could be a thing of beauty!

But, no, it was not to be. Mirror of Fate put an emphasis on two things: plot and battles. We’ve already covered the plot ad nauseam, but be aware that no “time travel” shenanigans are allowed when we’re telling a very serious story about seriously inept Belmonts (you just have to kill one vampire! One!). And that leaves us with the combat, which is…. kind of sad.

Moving right alongThere’s a reason that the greatest heroes of 2-D just jump. There’s a reason previous Belmonts were limited to a whip and a few subweapons. There’s a reason that even the mightiest of blue bombers are limited to a life of pew pewing. 2-D combat can only be so interesting. When you have a limited field of movement, you have a limited set of abilities, and whip/dodge/jump only gets you so far. In many Castlevania games, this is masked by a great wealth of monsters from across time and space. In this Castlevania game… not so much. Lords of Shadow seems to put a premium on combat with recurring enemies in tight corridors, but, give or take a few interesting boss battles, it feels fairly flat. And when you hang a game on something that feels perfunctory, the entire game feels kind of boring.

And, when you get down to it, that’s the problem with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Everything about it winds up being tedious and predictable. And hanging a flagship franchise on a game that is that boring is… ill-advised.

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

  • System: Nintendo 3DS initially, and then an HD version was released to follow Lords of Shadow 2. This is basically the same trajectory as a certain Kingdom Hearts game, which is never a good sign.
  • Number of Players: Technically four playable characters if you include the opening tutorial, but only one player at a time.
  • Favorite Monster: The Executioner is a wonderful bit of Mirror of Fate storytelling.

    Grrrr

    He’s not just a scary giant, he’s a scary giant with brain problems. Be sad for the hulking creature chopping your protagonist in twain.

  • Absolutely Favorite Part: So this game has fall damage. That’s terrible for a metroidvania. But! The fall damage scales to the height you’ve fallen, so a falling just a little over a body’s height will cause little tiny damage. This pairs wonderfully with any given character’s blood-curdling scream o’ death, which triggers no matter how the protagonist dies. This all adds up to an unstoppable shriek of agony every time your health is low and you miss the last step on a staircase… and I can get behind that.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Trevor is now the first son of Dracula and the new Alucard. Simon is a deadly barbarian that is the first Belmont to defeat Dracula (with a little help). Sypha… is an obedient and immediately dead housewife. Woo.
  • Did you know? It seriously bothers me that Trevor starts with a double jump, but Alucard, who is Trevor, has to earn the skill. It kinda bothers me how much this simple bit of gameplay bothers me.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Not ever. Bah! You make-a me so mad!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken 3 for the Playstation! Let’s see who can become the King of the Iron Fist after most of the cast retires! Please look forward to it!

Youch