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FGC #414 Joe & Mac

I don't even know...Let us discuss the curious case of the Super Nintendo port of Joe & Man: Caveman Ninja.

Like with many videogames of the early 90’s (1991! Did such a far off year ever really exist?), this story starts in the arcades. Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (alternately known as simply Caveman Ninja or Joe and Mac: Caveman Combat) was one of those vaguely beat ‘em up-esque 2-D action titles that you usually only saw out of Capcom (I still remember you, Magic Sword). Joe and Mac are caveman bros that must hold back an entire Neanderthal army and rescue a few “cave babes” from the likes of dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and at least one giant skeleton monster. The title is comical and cartoony, and seems to lean heavily into being a sort of “parody” title. Tyrannosauruses barf out cavemen, Little Shop of Horrors lends a certain giant plant to the proceedings, and we even get to “laugh” at the tired “overweight woman is boy crazy, boy is repulsed” trope. Real knee-slappers all around! Humor aside, though, Joe & Mac is an enjoyable arcade experience, and exactly the kind of game you’d expect to play in a pre-Street Fighter 2 arcade.

What set Joe & Mac apart from its arcade brethren? Well, once you cut out the comedy and expressive sprite-work, there’s pretty much nothing. But why would you ignore that!? Joe and Mac isn’t trying to be the Citizen Souls (Dark Kane?) of gaming, it’s a just a fun way to blow some quarters for the afternoon. There are improvements to be made across the board, but most of those advances would ignore the requirements of an arcade game. It’s a little too easy to lose health quickly and painfully… but considering loss of life necessitates another quarter, I don’t hear any change machines complaining. And the stage selections mean you will miss levels when choosing between Path A and Path B, but, that’s just an excuse to play the game all over again to see all the content.

Hm. If Joe and Mac wasn’t tethered to the arcade, it could be a better game, so the console ports must show stark improvement.

… Right?

ZAPLet’s review a few of the console ports. The MS-DOS port (what passed for “PC” back in the day) was basically the arcade version, so one would suppose that doesn’t count. Similarly, the Sega Genesis version tried to be the arcade version, and is pretty much the same thing, give or take a few graphical tweaks. As one might expect, the NES version is severely compromised, as the big, bad bosses of Joe & Mac don’t really translate to 8-bits very well. They had to make the generic baby dinosaur mook a mini-boss! And no one bothered to animate the cave babes actually kissing our heroes! Regardless, it’s compromised, but it’s clearly an attempt at directly porting Joe & Mac Arcade. And the Gameboy version might actually be better than the NES port… which isn’t terribly surprising, given it was released a year later. It’s still not great, but it’s passable for an early 90’s Gameboy title. Oh, and like its NES buddy, it follows the basic rules and flow of the arcade release. So that only leaves the Super Nintendo port, and… it’s a little different.

If you were to play Arcade Joe & Mac, play some other games at the arcade, and then scoot home to play SNES Joe & Mac, you might not notice much of a difference. These are both games that feature the titular Joe & Mac rescuing cave babes from the forces of evil. In both adventures, Joe & Mac fight (almost) the same bosses, which employ (mostly) the same patterns. There is jumping and weapon hurling and meat grabbing. And, while the SNES version has an overworld map, the basic flow of the game is almost exactly the same, give or take the ability to try those “forking” stages in one continuous playthrough.

But, if you play the two games in rapid succession (perhaps because you live in a glorious future where entire arcade cabinets may be digitized into tiny MAME roms), you will note that the arcade and SNES versions of Joe & Mac are as different as a caveman ninja and a Neanderthal.

Little bubFirst, and most noticeably, the SNES version completely drops the Master Higgins-esque health system of the arcade. There is a constant “health timer” in the arcade version, and, should Joe or Mac stop eating everything in sight for longer than six seconds, they will certainly expire from insatiable hunger. This eating disorder is absent from the SNES port, so Joe and Mac can explore their environment at a much more leisurely pace. And that’s great, because there are bonus rooms around, and they can only be accessed through vigilant determination. Oh, and you’re allowed to toggle obtained weapons with L&R, so you’re no longer stuck with whatever weapon you happened to bump into (anyone that played the earlier Konami titles is well aware of the “joys” of accidentally ditching your holy water for a stupid dagger). And these are all improvements! Joe and Mac for the Super Nintendo is the superior Joe and Mac version! Everything is good forever!

Except… SNES Joe and Mac left a surprising amount of content on the cutting room floor. For one thing, the weapons selection has been severely limited, which eliminates some of the most interesting attacks. Joe can no longer launch gigantic sparks at opponents, and Mac has completely lost the ability to summon a spiritual “other self” to menace an ankylosaurus. And speaking of offensive options, Joe & Mac can “charge” attacks for bigger bangs in other versions, while that option is sorely missing on the Super Nintendo. And, believe me, stronger attacks are dearly missed when bosses are massive HP sponges. Oh, and the stages that randomly transform the title into a dedicated shooting game are missing entirely, which is a major loss for anyone that ever wanted a caveman based shoot ‘em up (guess we have to go back to Bonk for that). Frankly, the Super Nintendo version is missing a number of features that made Arcade Joe & Mac great.

And then there are the weird changes. The final boss of nearly every version is some unholy amalgamation of a dinosaur and a Neanderthal. It is never explained where this creature originated, but it makes a kind of sense at the end of a game where you fight dinosaurs and Neanderthals (separately) every five seconds. The SNES version introduces… Satan. Or… some kind of devil, at least. And he’s living inside a T-Rex’s belly, and is kidnapping cave babes because… uh… He was bored? And the multiple endings of the arcade game were dropped… sorta. The “funny” ending where Joe & Mac are chased by a bevy of heavy ladies is gone. That is, unless you know a key sequence that reinstates this alternate/tired ending. Why bother with such a thing? I don’t think “slightly different ending with a secret code” was exactly a selling point back in 1991.

BEAT EM ALL

But this all brings us back to the original question: why?

Joe & Mac was published in the arcade and at home by Data East. The most accurate ports all originated with Data East. This was not a situation where Capcom made the arcade cabinet, and then LJN was somehow responsible for the port. This was all in-house, and any changes made to the formula must have been overseen by at least the same producer. And, by all accounts, none of these changes were the result of “memory issues” or similar excuses from the 8-bit days. If the Sega Genesis could handle that deleted tusk weapon, it certainly could have appeared on the Super Nintendo. AwogaBy all accounts, there’s no real reason for the changes made to the SNES port, and we’re unlikely to ever have a clue why these changes were made. Was this an attempt to segue into a more adventure-y sequel? Establish the Joe & Mac extended universe? Play around with the L&R buttons? The world may never know the answer.

Joe & Mac for the Super Nintendo is just different enough from its version brethren to raise a few eyebrows, but not different enough to feel like its own game. And the reasons for that are lost to prehistory…

FGC #414 Joe & Mac

  • System: Joe & Mac get around. Let’s say the arcade version is the start, and then we’ve got Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Nintendo Entertainment System, DOS, and the Amiga for some reason. All that, and I don’t think it has returned in modern times for any sort of Virtual Console.
  • Number of players: Joe and Mac. And, depending on the version and mode, you can clobber your buddy into submission while fighting your opponents.
  • Favorite Weapon: The wheel revolutionized human transportation, and it was a fine way to whack a pterodactyl.
  • Favorite Boss: There’s this gray, water based dinosaur that rules over the waterfall/river stage. It’s not that remarkable, but it’s doing that 16-bit thing where its neck is a series of disconnected circles. For some reason, I always find that endearing.
  • RollyDid you know? During two player games, a gauge will appear to track which character has clubbed the boss the most. The winner earns a kiss from a cave babe, and the loser has to sit back and watch his pal get the girl. This is sexist and stupid and the cause of way too many fights when I was playing this game with friends when I was ten.
  • Would I play again: Like any beat ‘em up-alike, Joe & Mac is pretty fun when you have a playmate in the area. And I inexplicably have fond memories of this title, so it’s probably going to get played again. Now, which version to play…

What’s next? We’re closing out 16-Bit Cavemen Week with the sequel to Joe & Mac! No, not Joe & Mac 2. That would be silly. I’m thinking something a little more… caper-y. Please look forward to it!

FGC #387 The Death and Return of Superman

SUPERMAN!The Death and Return of Superman is a singular event in comics and videogames.

But not for the reasons you think…

First of all, let’s address the inevitable vocal nerd in the room. You might not comment, you might not say it out loud to anyone in particular, but I see you, comics nerd, because I am right there with you and your inevitably contrary opinions. In this case, my imagined strawman is spouting off the modern response to The Death and Return of Superman: “it doesn’t matter anymore, every comic book character dies”. And that’s true! In the current, modern age of comics (so defined as “any comic that came out after Iron Man: The Movie made Marvel a mint”) pretty much everyone has died and been revived in one manner or another. Spider-Man was mind-killed (but got better), every Green Lantern was killed and/or banished at one time or another (they’re all cool now), and even the Human Torch died and was revived in an event absolutely no one cared about. Death means nothing in modern comics, and even some of the “perennial” deaths have been overturned. Jean Grey is back as a teenager and a head-sock wearing adult, Bucky Barnes is an (apparently) immortal cyborg, and, despite the presence of like sixteen Wolverines across the X-franchise, it appears “regular” Wolverine is going to be back in action shortly. Death holds no sway over the comics page, and it’s a shock when Professor X actually stays dead for longer than ten minutes. Remember that time he got shot in the head, and it cured his paralysis? Good times.

So The Death and Return of Superman should have lost some of its luster after a thousand imitators. Heck, it wasn’t original in the first place, as it wasn’t even the first time Superman died. He used to die every other week back in the Silver Age of Comics! I know that sounds ridiculous, but, come on, if you found out your marriage to a gorilla (which only happened because you were cursed with a lion head) was legally binding, wouldn’t you rather conquer death before having to familiarize yourself with gorilla divorce law? Just leave your will etched into the moon, and you’re good to go hang out with mermaids again. WeeeeePoint is that Superman was never going to stay in the grave, and, while there was a bit of buzz over “how does he die?” and “how does he come back?”, The Death and Return of Superman was never going to be all that original an idea right from its inception. It started as a writer’s room joke! The entire thing happened so they could sync a comics wedding with a television wedding! This whole event should have been more doomed than Superman!

But… it wasn’t. Whether it was because of a surprisingly focused media campaign or just a bunch of nerds really interested in watching Superman bite the big one, The Death of and Return of Superman was a cultural event. Actually, it was probably that “Death” that was more read than the inevitable “Return”, but it’s likely at least 12% of that audience stuck around to figure out exactly why Clark Kent suddenly had a mullet. And, by comic book numbers, that’s an unprecedented success! Superman dying reinvigorated the whole of DC Comics, and paved the way for all sorts of amazing new story ideas and characters. Remember Kyle Rayner? Please say you do!

And, as an inevitable side-effect of being popular in the mid 90’s, The Death and Return of Superman got its own Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis game. This, taken on its own in 1994, should not have been a surprise. What is a surprise is that, in the intervening (nearly) 25 years, we haven’t seen a single other videogame based on one single comics arc.

That… is a bit absurd.

OuchFor those of you that don’t follow comic books, comic “arcs” are frequent, numerous, and often define a solid six months or so at a time. Because it’s difficult to write new and interesting plots every month, comic books often pursue arcs that are generally based on one hero battling one villain… but a lot of little problems get in the way for issue after issue. Often times, these arcs are transformed into “events”, and an event comic sucks every other comic it can find into its orbit. It’s not just about Batman fighting Joker, it’s about Joker infecting every other villain he can find, and, this month, The Flash has to battle Captain Cold, but he’s wearing clown makeup, so that’s new and interesting… right? These events are frequently just an excuse to goose the sales on good but publicly ignored titles (“This week, Yellow Lanterns fight The Blue Beetle! Next week: The New Gods!”), and, while we’re at it, maybe get some buzz from the fans thanks to some killer pull quotes like “things will never be the same again” or “Radioactive Man dies on every page”. Again, it’s all been watered down after years (decades) of repetition and hyperbole, but it appears to be the lifeblood of the superhero comics industry. Marvel Comics without sporadic events where everyone turns out to be a Nazi would hardly be Marvel Comics at all.

What happened here?But, for every giant arc and epic event that has gone through DC and Marvel comics, barely any have made the leap to videogame land. What’s more, of the few arcs that made the transition to pixels (and weren’t just based on movies that came out a month prior), all of those stories were rewritten and repackaged as more generic adventures. It’s not “The Fantastic Four battle Galactus”, it’s “Marvel Superheroes”. It’s not “Spider-Man vs. The Green Goblin”, it’s just “Spider-Man”. And when he teams up with the X-Men… it’s not exactly because someone loved that time Arcade built his latest Murder World, it’s entirely because some company wanted to smoosh two super popular franchises together. There is a huge market for people that would absolutely kill for a Blackest Night or Sinestro Wars videogame… but the best we’re ever going to see is a generic Green Lantern game starring only Hal Jordan. And even that is probably only going to happen if there’s a new movie to promote.

So what was different about The Death and Return of Superman? Why, of all the many, many comic book “epic stories” to come out over the last few decades, was this story of man vs. rock monster chosen to be exalted into beat ‘em up Valhalla with Mike Haggar and Michelangelo? Why is The Death and Return of Superman in my Super Nintendo, and not Generic Superman Adventure #327?

And, in playing The Death and Return of Superman, I think I have an answer: This is all about Superman, and that’s it.

The Death and Return of Superman technically features five playable characters: Steel, Cyborg Superman, The Eradicator, Superboy, and Superman: Original Flavor. Officially, that is five different people (mostly people), but, for the purpose of this beat ‘em up, they all play exactly the same. They all have a projectile, they all have a screen-clearing “super move”, and they all have a flurry of generic combos and attacks. And, in a way, that is fairly on-point gameplay, as there is supposed to be confusion as to who is the real Superman. Superboy is a clone, The Eradicator has the power, Cyborg Superman could have the body, and Steel has the heart and drive of the Man of Steel. They’re all supposed to be worthwhile Superman replacements, and, since they all play the same, they could all qualify. So machoIt’s not lazy coding, it’s a feature! And speaking of potential laziness, every boss (aside from Doomsday) is either an anonymous “trap” (like an angry robot), or another one of the Supermans. Cyborg Superman vs. Superboy. Eradicator vs. Steel. Superman vs. Cyborg Superman. This could practically be a fighting game for much of the plot, and it would be one featuring only variations on one character.

And that is the genius of it.

Remember those gigantic, epic “event” comics I mentioned earlier? Well, it’s not an exaggeration to claim that those stories often feature a cast of hundreds. And it’s easy to see how that happens, because when the average super team has an average of ten members, and everyone has to show up all at once, suddenly you’ve got a convention crowd battling the latest invader du jour. And that’s difficult to follow! Sure, you understand Superman or Batman’s deal, but what’s up with Elongated Man this week? Wasn’t he dead? Why does he look like a 20’s gangster? And is that supposed to be Martian Manhunter over there? Why the heck is he cosplaying as Blade? And this is all assuming this event isn’t occurring at some random point in another comic’s current “event”, so Wonder Woman isn’t inexplicably being played by her mom, or Batman isn’t a crazed Frenchman. In short, most comic book events require a primer just to know who’s who, and the industry has solved this problem by… releasing “the road to” comic events that explain the premise for the next event. Also, sometimes there is a denouement “aftermath” series that explains how everyone is reacting to the events of the last event. It generally previews the next event, too. What I’m trying to say is that reading comics requires a healthy amount of dedication, possibly bordering on constructing a bulletin board with a number of multicolored push pins.

WeeeeBut The Death and Return of Superman doesn’t need any of that. Yes, the original series was grand and sweeping, and we certainly had at least one tie-in where we learned exactly how Aquaman felt about losing his land pal, but the core of the story, that which could be converted into a 16-bit title, is just a Superman story. It’s Evil Superman fighting Sidekick Supermans until Real Superman decides to make the scene. You don’t need Lois Lane. You don’t need Lex Luthor. And you certainly don’t need a guest appearance from Robin #4,187. No, all you need is a bunch of Supermans punching each other, and we’re good to go. The Death and Return of Superman is the ideal comic book event, because it can be converted into any format, and the audience doesn’t need to know anything more than the title. What is the Eradicator’s deal? Who cares! It’s time for super punches now!

And that’s why The Death and Return of Superman is the only videogame distinctly based on one comic book event.

Well, except Maximum Carnage. But that one sucked.

FGC #387 The Death and Return of Superman

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The SNES version came out first, so I’m assuming the Genesis version is more of a port.
  • Number of players: Despite the host of extra Supermans laying around, it’s only one player. A real shame there isn’t a playable Jimmy Olsen available.
  • Friendly Fire: One interesting shift in the beat ‘em up standard here is that the random mooks can accidently fire missiles and punches at each other. Some really deft and careful dodging could probably lead to a successful “pacifist run” of everything but the bosses.
  • Super Destructive: On the other hand, there’s something just plain satisfying about tossing a mutant into a background window, and earning a powerup for your troubles.
  • Get 'em!The Superman Problem: This is a beat ‘em up starring Superman, so, naturally, we have to deal with the whole “he’s not that super” problem. Doomsday is one thing, but OG Supes can lose health and lives to random punks with chainsaws! And so many random robots! Bah! Repeat to yourself it’s just a game, and you should really just relax.
  • Favorite Superman: I’m going to say Steel for this game, as he’s the only Superman smart enough to show up with a weapon (a rad hammer, at that). Look, I know Superman has twelve billion powers, but kryptonite surfaces every other day, so maybe it would be a good idea to have a backup plan, Clark.
  • Did you know? This game was developed by an early Blizzard Entertainment. Yes, that Blizzard. If you ignore Blackthorne (which almost everyone did anyway), this might be the first chronologically developed Blizzard game as Blizzard (as they were previously Silicon & Synapse). That’s just super.
  • Would I play again: This is a beat ‘em up, and, while it’s interesting as a cultural artifact, it’s neither two players nor interesting enough to play again. Pass.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Secret of Mana 2018! Or I just spent all weekend playing that game, and I really want to talk about it! Which I’m going to do! Please look forward to it!

I hate your little jacket

FGC #384 Sega 3D Classics Collection

SEGA!Home videogame consoles have been around since 1972. That means we have had nearly fifty years of videogames being sold to consumers. And in those decades, we somehow still have not figured out what people want from videogames.

Almost by accident, we pretty much had it right for a console generation or two. Back when all we had to work with were limited cartridges, you had a videogame, and it was simply that videogame. Super Mario Bros. was Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda was The Legend of Zelda. There was not some random point in Mega Man when the whole thing turned into Gradius, nor did Final Fantasy ever dip into suddenly becoming Contra for a dungeon or two. Men were men, women were women, and the good old days were always good for a round of Ice Climbers. You picked up a chunk of plastic, you played a game, and that was that.

And today’s Sega 3D Classics Collection harkens back to those halcyon days. It’s got the original Sonic the Hedgehog! There’s Altered Beast! Puyo Pop 2 for those of you that enjoy mean beans! Some Fantasy Zones! I’m sure somebody, somewhere appreciates Thunder Blade! And Power Drift is at least pretty! This collection represents what is unmistakably the good old days of Sega arcade/Master System/Genesis games, and, by and large, you really can’t lose with any title in this group. Heck, I could play Sonic the Hedgehog alone for hours on end.

And that’s the problem. I have.

VroomLet’s take a step back to talk about music. The concept of the album has lost some luster in the recent age of MP3s, but, prior to about the last decade or so, musicians were expected to support their number one hits with an entire disc’s worth of alternate songs. You might have been all about Will Smith gettin’ jiggy with it, but in order to properly jiggify yourself, you had to buy a CD that contained a few other tracks, like that one about Miami, or that other one about the lil’ dude from Austin Powers. Sometimes this was a good thing, like when you discovered an artist with a style wholly different from the hit single, and became a Ben Folds Five fan for life. Other times… well, they say that if you are quiet, and listen very closely late at night, you might still hear my father complaining about purchasing “that one Smash Mouth album” where “all they do is suck”. But that’s true of any music fan (older than about 20), you buy enough records, tapes, or CDs, and, eventually, you’ve got a list floating around your head until the end of time regarding whether or not you should have blown fifteen bucks on that one Jethro Tull album. And, yes, you should have waited for the greatest hits release.

But that’s the thing about almost all albums: they’re specifically by one artist. Love or hate Meghan Trainor’s unethical praising of the booty, you pretty much know what you’re going to get if you sign up for a solid twelve Trainor tracks. And, while we may have no idea what Chumbawamba was up to during the final days of the twentieth century, you could go ahead and pick up Tubthumper and find out. There are certainly Now That’s What I Call Some Arbitrary Ditties albums out there, but, by and large, you can count on an album to have a general flow from start to finish that is… familiar. Blink 182 isn’t going to suddenly dip into European Death Metal on its third track, and P. Diddy Kong is never going to take a quick break from his phat rhymes to introduce his barbershop quartet. In other words, when you listen to a musical album, you can count on about forty minutes of a familiar experience. It might be a new familiar experience, but you’ll find that it’s generally consistent within the confines of its own disc. And a five disc “best of” special compilation? That’s going to keep you in a familiar holding position all afternoon.

STAR WARS!Now back to videogames: despite being on the same system and being from the same general era, would you consider Sonic the Hedgehog and Altered Beast to be similar experiences? Okay, similar might work, as they are both 2-D, and… involve jumping? Bah! They’re barely similar at all! One is a sort of proto-beat ‘em up with a really fun gimmick, and the other is a supersonic hedgehog simulator. Mad speed vs. mad dragons. If they were songs, Altered Beast would be some kind of “angry” heavy metal, and Sonic would have places to go, because he’s gotta follow his rainbow. And those are the two most similar games on the collection! Opa-Opa’s adventure is a shoot ‘em up, while Maze Hunter 3-D may as well exist on another planet. And, including that one boss in Sonic Mania, nobody wants to play a puzzle game five seconds after zooming around at the speed of sound. Variety is fun an’ all, but, short attention spans aside, when you sit down to play a game, you have a certain kind of gameplay in mind, and rapidly switching between different options is unusual and unsettling.

Get 'emBut videogames make it customary! Starting as early as the 16-bit days, videogames had a tendency to randomly veer off into unknown lands with alarming frequency. “Minigames” went from something generally innocuous like a slot machine or shell game, and rapidly transformed into entire games onto themselves. Chrono Trigger is the best JRPG of a generation that incidentally includes the worst racing game ever. Final Fantasy 7 pulled a similar stunt with Cloud Strife 1080° Snowboarding. Even the Sonic the Hedgehog series decided to lean heavily into being a number of different games soldered together. In some cases, these gameplay changes were welcome, in others, it would be nice to not have to participate in a fishing simulator to make progress; but in every example, it meant you were playing something you absolutely did not sign up for. Or maybe I’m the crazy one? Maybe I missed all the times Final Fantasy X made a sale in the name of “incredible water soccer action”.

Now, look, I remember being ten. I remember only having one game a year, and if that game had a mini game that was anything but mini, it meant, oh boy, I got two games. I still remember that feeling. But I also remember the end of Solar Jetman turning into the worst approximation of a shoot ‘em up ever. I remember Devil May Cry pulling the same stunt. And Kirby! A whole bunch of times! Why can’t games just stay their courses! Why do they try to jump the tracks mid train ride like some kind of mixed and poorly worded metaphor? Let the whole album play out! Leave your experimental tracks for the B-sides!

Pew PewSega 3-D Classics Compilation is not one single game, and it seems silly to fault it for being a tremendous collection of superb games. But every time I boot up S3DCC, it’s to play Sonic the Hedgehog. I never play anything else, save the rare occasion I feel like shooting fireballs at chicken legs. There is nothing like Sonic the Hedgehog on this collection, so I only play Sonic the Hedgehog. Full compilation of wonderful games, but the rest never get played, because they’re nothing like the hit single that got me to buy this album. I would have been better off with just the lone MP3.

So learn something, videogame industry. In the age of “binge watching”, people do not want random pauses from Breaking Bad to watch Star vs. The Forces of Evil. People do not want a ska album to break into rap (we still want ska, though). People do not want lame action game wannabe minigames during their JRPGs. People do not want compilations of games that vary so wildly, they may as well exist in different dimensions.

There are enough choices out there. Grant individual genres and games the flow they deserve.

And people wonder why Mega Man Legacy Collection was a tremendous hit…

FGC #384 Sega 3D Classics Collection

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, thus the whole 3D thing. Most of these games can be found on the Sega Genesis or Sega Master System, too, but in a format that will cause me to complain less.
  • Number of players: Altered Beast has two muscle dudes, so it’s gotta be two.
  • WeeeeeHey, smart guy, this is just a collection of games that were (re)released individually, and only packaged into a compilation to get the attention of nerds like you that fetishize physical media: Well, yes, but my point still stands. If they had packaged together games that were a skosh more similar, this whole game would actually get played, as opposed to just 16% of it. Man, if I only played 16% of Persona 4, I’d declare it a complete failure…
  • Favorite Game (this compilation): Err, gee, you think that might be Sonic the Hedgehog? Second place is Altered Beast, and third is Puyo Pop 2. Everything else is just gravy, albeit the kind of gravy that sits in a can in your pantry until the end of all time.
  • Favorite Improvement: Naturally, it’s in Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s the presence of the spin dash in a game not at all designed for such a thing. It is glorious, and now I want a spin dash in Altered Beast.
  • A word from the Professor: I think this rabbit wants to see the end of mankind.
    Go Bunny

    Don’t listen to him, Trump!
  • Favorite Thing that Makes me Sad: Randomizing the beast transformations in Altered Beast does practically nothing. Considering this is something I begged for when I was a kid abusing the AB cabinet at the local Pizza Hut, I now know that my entire life is a lie.
  • Did you know? There were two other 3D Classic Collections in Japan. The first included Ecco, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage, and Space Harrier… which probably tracks as the most focused compilation. The third and final collection is all over the place, but it includes Gunstar Heroes and Sonic 2, so its absence is keenly felt.
  • Would I play again: I really like Sonic the Hedgehog.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… God of War 2! Rawr! Let’s murder all of Ancient Greece! Please look forward to it! (NOTE: Goggle Bob and the Goggle Bob Blog do not condone the murdering of all of Ancient Greece for entertainment purposes.)

Spoooooky

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

Wah WahIf you want to understand East vs. West gaming philosophies, look no further than Disney’s Aladdin for SNES and Genesis.

Disney’s Aladdin should require no introduction. At the time, it was “yet another” brilliant Disney animated musical, and came hot on the heels of other perennial favorites like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But Aladdin offered a rare opportunity: the story of Aladdin is one of swordplay and derring-do! It’s a boy’s story! And boys play videogames! Sure, Ariel made due with shoving seashells by the seashore, and Belle & Beast got their own boy and girl versions (it was a weird time), but Aladdin is an adventure story from start to finish. There’s an evil wizard, ancient sealed magical force, helpful monkey, and at least two dungeons. This is practically a JRPG before you introduce the princess with a pet tiger! Couple the dominance of Disney with a story that couldn’t be more suited to a 16-bit game if it had a mine cart, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a generation-defining videogame.

And then we got two interpretations of that blockbuster.

On one side, we have (give me a second to flip a coin here) Aladdin for the SNES. This was a Capcom release, and it shows in every way. Cross Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse with Ninja Gaiden for cinematics, drop any and all transformations, and add a Genie-based roulette wheel to bonus stages, and we’re good to go. There’s a rudimentary collectathon Weeeeelement for completionists, but otherwise, it’s a pretty straightforward platforming experience. Aladdin jumps, swings, and bops over enemies, and the most common monster appears to be a blind bird in a pot (really quite threatening, obviously). There are a pair of magic carpet rides for some dangerous/bonus variety, and, in the end, Jafar must be defeated by head-vaulting. Roll credits, move on to the next Capcom blockbuster.

On the other side, we’ve got Aladdin for Genesis. This is another platformer, but Aladdin has become blood-thirsty, and he’s gained a sick scimitar. Additionally, while Aladdin had apples for stunning on the SNES, now hurling fruit will damage opponents completely, effectively granting Al a gun. The animation is gorgeous, the levels are lush and creative, and there are even a few full-fledged bosses (whereas the SNES only had Jafar and one pissed off merchant). Even the bonus stages are fairly innovative, offering a fine excuse to control a monkey in a fez as he gathers treasure. Basically, the Genesis title has the same bones as its SNES cousin, but it seems to do so much more.

It’s also tremendously less fun to play.

WhammoOkay, sure, fun is subjective. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that value the Gen Aladdin experience over SNES Aladdin’s more muted adventure. But there are quite a few items that make the Genesis title objectively worse. For one thing, many of the more labyrinthine stages feature “European” layouts, i.e. stages that zig and zag all over limited screen space, and it quickly becomes difficult to know if you’re actually making forward progress. Another obvious flaw is an overabundance of bottomless pits and other instant death traps that seem to litter every stage after Aladdin escapes the streets of Agrabah. Oh, and those bosses? They seem to exist exclusively to drain you of your apples, and, like bosses in a certain other franchise, it’s often difficult to know if you’re dealing damage at all. Basically, the minute you start really looking at the nuts and bolts of Genesis Aladdin, you’ll quickly notice every place where it falls apart.

But is it the poorer title? Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that conclusion.

Genesis Aladdin is known for having some of the smoothest, most amazing animation of the 16-bit generation, but focusing on that is unfairly ignoring its true greatest strength. Genesis Aladdin is creative to a fault. Aladdin the Movie might contain a story tailor-made for videogames, but it could still use a little expansion to round out the levels. Genesis Aladdin drops in an extra trip to the desert to claim beetle fragments, and a street-rat trip around the palace to eventually defeat Iago. In both cases, what could be trite, typical videogame levels pop with beauty and imagination, all while things like the pink flamingos in the Sultan’s massive pool style firmly tie the style to the source material. The animation is what catches everyone’s eye, but the little things, like a Sega Genesis hiding in the background of Genie’s lair, are what really make the game.

WeeeeMeanwhile, SNES Aladdin is an enormously competent platformer, but fails to add anything to Disney’s Aladdin. Your extra stage in SNES Aladdin is a pyramid, which kinda fits the story (supposedly Abu falls off the carpet on the way back from the Cave of Wonders… so did they take a detour to Egypt on their way? Not all deserts are the same!), but it’s about as generic as a videogame stage can get. Falling sands waterfalls (sanderfalls?),lit torches, and the general threat of the undead? It’s a pyramid, and this could be part of Aladdin, or any other videogame ever made. But what is there to complain about? Sure, squint and you could mistake Aladdin for Mega Man 4, but this is a damn fine platformer, and hopping and bopping around the pyramid feels as good as any given Mega Man title. And that is no small feat.

And, playing both of these games side by side in the far flung future of 2018, it seems these differences echo the state of gaming today.

I’m inevitably going to oversimplify, but it seems like when you compare Western “game of the year” titles to their Eastern counterparts, a few patterns emerge. Fallout and Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) titles are always amazing, right? They’re huge. They’re creative. They’re also buggy as hell, and, let’s be honest here, generally have improbably convoluted controls. Maybe I’m weird, but I feel like picking up a cheese wheel should be an easier experience than piloting a plane. Conversely, you have titles like Persona 5 or NieR: Automata that are amazing games… but their gameplay is often indistinguishable from their forebears. Bite!NieR: Automata is astounding! But its basic combat is Bayonetta-light (dodge! dodge! dodge!) with a dash of shoot ‘em up spliced in for good measure. And Persona 5 is stylish and rad… and could probably be effortlessly modded to be Persona 3. In other words, while we’re still seeing amazing advances in story-telling and what a videogame could even be, we’re still looking at a pretty overt split: Western titles are huge, imaginative, and often objectively worse to actually play, while Japanese titles are excellent, reliable games that rarely take obvious risks. Again, I’m well aware that I’m generalizing, and I’m not saying one technique is somehow better than the other, but it seems to be a trend that has been recurring since the 20th Century.

And it’s not a bad thing.

There is room enough in this world for two different interpretations of Aladdin. There is room on your shelf for Persona and Skyrim. And, if you’re lucky, you’ve got enough space in your heart for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Different strokes for different folks, and, if you can open yourself up to both experiences, more power to you. Some people like pet monkeys, some people go for tigers. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, and what’s important is that you enjoy what you have.

So the final winner in the Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo debates? Well, if you can accept the differences in both platforms, then, in the end, a winner is you.

FGC #373 Aladdin (SNES) & Aladdin (Sega Genesis)

  • System: You already know the obvious ones, but there was also a Gameboy, Nintendo, and DOS version, if you were in the mood. The Game Boy Advance version was a port of the SNES version, too, if memory serves.
  • Number of players: Never had a friend to play with. One.
  • Realistic Graphics: Hey, who do I speak to about making Sega Genesis Annoyed Jasmine a meme?

    Really think this one has legs.
  • Other differences: The interior of the Genie’s Lamp level appears in both versions, and that seems like another fine way to compare systems. The SNES Lamp is bright and pastel and… fluffy. The Genesis Lamp is dark and muted, but still just as magical with neon signs and flying pillows. Given how a number of other games turned out on both systems, the whole level seems indicative of the generation.
  • And they’re the same: Genesis is more like Battletoads, and SNES is more like a shoot ‘em up (just without the shooting), but both games interpret the escape from the Cave of Wonders as a one-hit kill, flying carpet-based race against lava. Some things are just inevitable, I suppose.
  • So cuteGoggle Bob fact: So the Sega Genesis version of this game was given to me by an ex. She was my girlfriend at the time, and, when I expressed an interest in replaying the title, she gave me the game without a second thought, likely happy to be rid of another piece of trash that was destined for Goodwill when she finally completely emptied out her childhood room. I, as someone who even then could only view my life through the lens of videogames, thought that giving up a beloved childhood game was the greatest sacrifice a human being could make for another. … I don’t really wonder why we’re no longer together.
  • Did you know? Aladdin was the highest selling game for the Sega Genesis not featuring a hedgehog. This likely had nothing to do with the advertising campaign that was running on all channels, all the time.
  • Would I play again: Either one might get a replay at random times. I have fond memories of both titles, and nostalgia will probably get the better of me one of these days. Then it’s back to hopping on snakes to save princesses.

What’s next? Random ROB is back, and he’s chosen… Destroy All Humans! for the PS2! Well, guess we have to do what the game says. Time for an extinction level event, I guess. Please look forward to it!

What?
Exploding skeletons?