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FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

UPPER!Streets of Rage 2 might be the best beat ‘em up of all time. It’s certainly the best BEU on the 16-bit consoles, and, considering that was the heyday of the genre, it’s hard to believe it could be topped elsewhere. But why is it the best? The BEU genre is pretty straightforward, so how is this game any better than Final Fight or Double Dragon?

The answer is simple: Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t suck.

… Hm, I should probably elaborate on that.

The beat ‘em up genre, one way or another, started in the arcades. If you want to cite Kung-Fu Master or Double Dragon, either way, they both premiered in arcade cabinets well before they hit the home consoles. From there, it was a only a matter of time before we got Final Fight, and then, inevitably, the parade of licensed beat ‘em ups that offered no real innovations to the genre, but God in Heaven is it fun to hit random dudes with Bart Simpson’s skateboard. The beat ‘em up completely conquered the arcade scene roughly until Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat decided it was fighting games’ turn, but even today, you’re likely to see Turtles in Time or X-Men at a roller rink (assuming roller rinks are still a thing at all… sorry I’m not a twelve year old girl).

HIYA!So, for the beat ‘em up to maintain arcade dominance for so long, the genre must have been doing something right. But what was it? The licensed beat ‘em ups have an easy answer: do you need to hear anything more than the title “Alien vs. Predator” to waste a quarter or two on finding out what that’s all about? “Be The Punisher”? Yeah, I’ll take a chance on that. But even the less “established” beat ‘em ups offered some level of “role play” that you couldn’t really experience at home. When Mario still looked like a random collection of brown pixels, here were King Arthur and his two or three knights, traipsing across the countryside, occasionally riding amazingly obedient horses. Here are all your favorite Saturday morning and mythological heroes, all at the arcade, and all ready to be controlled for the low, low cost of a single Washington (and the silver kind to boot).

That’s enough to get 25¢ out of practically anybody that can grip a joystick, but why was the beat ‘em up so successful? Simple: OCD. Or maybe just sunk cost fallacy. In general, unless it’s your absolute first time and some damn foot soldier keeps you in an arm lock for too damn long, you can make it up to the first boss on any given beat ‘em up on one credit. And then that boss is going to trounce you. And, depending on the game, that boss is going to laugh at you while the timer ticks down. Want to add another quarter? You know you will. You’re not going to let Abobo get away with that, are you? Come on, you got through the whole stage on one quarter, you can spare another to make this doof go down.

And so begins the worst problem in beat ‘em ups: quarter-killer, damage-sponge bosses. Rocksteady of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, possibly one of the most fought level one bosses in any videogame, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. He has, what, three moves? A kick, a charge, and a gun for jump kickers. That’s it. He should last for maybe eight hits, because, come on, a mouser is more complicated than this guy. But, no, he lasts forever, because if he can’t take the punishment, he’s not going to require more quarters to defeat, and if he doesn’t fleece your poor pockets, then what’s the point in being an arcade game?

YummyIn other words, beat ‘em ups were kings of the arcade because they were fun… and they made their owners a lot of dough. I don’t think those fat cat arcade barons are moving to Maui, but Final Fight probably did pay for at least a few trips to Disney World.

Streets of Rage apparently started in the arcades, but, fun fact, I have never seen a SoR cabinet in my life (I’m pretty sure this is another case of Wikipedia lying to me). Regardless, SoR started off a little… janky, and, in my humble opinion, wasn’t very good. It’s one of those Metroid 1 situations: you know there’s something cool here, but there is a lot of cruft involved, and, by the time you’re finally used to everything, it’s over. Though I suppose I’ll preserve that kind of whining for when ROB chooses that particular game…

What we’re here for today is Streets of Rage 2, and it does one thing absolutely marvelously: it actually scales boss health to something reasonable. It even scales all enemy health to a practical level.

It’s the subtlest little change, but it means so much to the game. The first boss in Streets of Rage 2 does not, at any point, retreat and force you to fight some random thugs while he eats a hamburger. The fourth boss does not have seventeen lifebars. Heck, the second boss brought a damn jetpack to the fight, but his HP is scaled to account for the fact that he can’t be hit all the time. He barely has more life than Symbol Y! It’s like Streets of Rage 2 actually respects the player’s time, and accounts for “this boss has three main patterns, he doesn’t have to be fought for the next ten minutes”. The average Streets of Rage 2 boss goes down in about as much time as a Robot Master, and that’s phenomenal! I might finish this game before I run out of imaginary, arbitrarily assigned credits because this is a console game, dammit! Somebody finally acknowledged that simple fact!

THE ENDishAnd there are a lot of little things in Streets of Rage 2 that make it appear as if the designers actually wanted to see the player succeed, and not just empty their coin purses into an imaginary arcade console. Food distribution is less random and closer to the power-up distribution of Super Mario Bros. games, for instance. Yes, there’s still a big fill up of meat before every boss, but you’re a lot more likely to see a life granting apple at more conscientious points than in any other beat ‘em up. And the average mooks, like their big boss brothers, aren’t massive damage sponges, so you’re not stuck in the same six square feet of a random city until the timer runs out. And even some of the less fair baddies, like those Road Warrior rejects or that one dude with a knife knifing around, can be defeating easily by acknowledging that jump kicks exist. There is not a single situation where there’s an infinity trap on the screen, and you’re going to die a thousand deaths to some random laser while you’re trying to position your character around that damn blast radius. Oh, and the special moves are pretty rad, too.

So, yes, you put it all together, and Streets of Rage 2 is the best beat ‘em up out there. It’s a lot of little things and one big thing working in concert, but, when it all combines, it forms a Voltron that blazing swords the competition.

Other beat ‘em ups are quick to rely on their arcade roots and suck for it. Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t (suck).

FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

  • System: Sega Genesis and arcade, though it has also seen rerelease on more systems than I’m going to list. The 3DS version is, as always, pretty damn rad.
  • Number of players: Oh, yeah, another reason people play beat ‘em ups is for the “easy” two player factor. Practically anyone can join in and be “helpful”, so whether it’s your videogame adverse mate or little brother, you can get a few extra punches in with a buddy.
  • WeeeeWhat’s in a name: The arcade machines glimpsed in Level 3 are for a game called “Bare Knuckle”. Ha! What nitwit would play a game called Bare Knuckle?
  • Favorite character: Normally Blaze would be my go-to, as I (almost) always favor the “faster” character in beat ‘em ups. But, in this case, I’m going to go with Skate. He’s faster than Blaze and he’s the only character with a proper dash attack. Considering the dash is my preferred attack in any BEU, that’s kind of deal sealer. Guess I do always go with the quickest choice.
  • Did you know? Let’s not talk about Blaze’s underwear. Let’s… just not.
  • Would I play again: Yes, which is always surprising for an “ancient” Genesis game. I just have to convince my friends that this is the beat ‘em up to play, and not The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, X-Men, Battletoads, Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fight, Knights of the Round…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS! Get your leaves ready, it’s time to go fluttering with Mario! Please look forward to it!

DO NOT CLICK

FGC #241 Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Here comes a ninja!Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is a 1990 Sega Genesis game primarily based on Shadow Dancer, a 1989 arcade game. Given the era, SD:TSoS is very light on dialogue and text, and the most info we get on the plot is during the opening crawl: in the far-flung future of 1997, Union Lizard has conquered New York City, and only one ninja is capable of saving the, like, twenty survivors and vanquishing this apparently reptilian menace. Spoilers, eventually Shinobi wins, and it turns out Union Lizard was a giant robot shogun or something. That’s not what’s important here, though. What’s important is one simple question…

What the hell was “The Secret of Shinobi”?!

It’s not the dog

Shinobi’s dog contains secrets. This fluffy, white monster animal is capable of subduing fully grown men and ninja alike (ninja are their own genus), and follows Shinobi through everything. This is relevant, as the first area is literally on fire, and dogs generally aren’t into that. And the third level includes an open-air elevator. Have you ever accompanied a dog on an open-air elevator? If you haven’t, I just want to state that there’s submissively urinating, and then there’s submissively urinating. It is not a pleasant situation for anyone, but Shinobi Dog (real name: Joe Jr.) eats terrifying situations for kibble. Good dog.

WoofHowever, the most fascinating thing about Shinobi Dog is that, if he accidently attacks a guarding enemy, he will shrink down to puppy size. This is simultaneously frightening (Does this dog contain the secret to eternal youth?) and adorable (Aw! Puppy!), but Shinobi Dog takes it in stride. He just sticks closely to his master, and, about ten seconds later, he’s fully grown and ready to maul once again. Look, I realize this is a medium where plumbers routinely change size thanks to brick-based mushrooms, but the threat of Union Lizard is very real, so why is Shinobi Dog randomly bopping around different ages? And why doesn’t Shinobi himself shrink down to child-size when hit? Because a kid ninja and his delightful puppy dog fighting lizards? I’d be all about that.

However, despite all of these mysteries, I’m forced to conclude that Shinobi Dog is not The Secret of Shinobi. Dogs do not contain secrets, only belly rubs. They are simple creatures.

It’s not the magic

Shinobi has very few offensive options. He’s got a sword, shurikens, the previously mentioned dog, and… that’s about it. Ninja stars may be some of the most potent weapons of the 8/16-bit era, but when you’re going up against an entire maybe-lizard army, it’s a good idea to pack at least a few blue lasers. I mean, the first enemy in this game has a gun. Do ninja have issues with firearms? Because, if not, head’s up, Shinobi, you are severely underequipped for taking down a crime syndicate that already conquered a population that subsists on street (hot) dogs.

HAWTBut Shinobi does have one extra weapon: ninja magic. Once per stage (or life, if you’re into credits/reincarnation), Shinobi can use ninja magic to wreck up the place. Too many ninja got you down? Summon a big, honkin’ tornado to clear the area. Sentient wall attempting to crush your life force? Rain meteors down upon your hapless foes! And if you’re fighting through the crumbling, flaming ruins of New York anyway, why not summon your own firestorm to suppress the malcontents. It’s not like you’re doing any more damage to the place.

So is The Mystery of Shinobi why the hell didn’t Shinobi stop these lizards before they even got out of their hideout?! Dude can summon meteors! Conquering New York is tough, but dodging a tornado is harder. Does ninja magic have a limited pixel radius? Because if it doesn’t, Shinobi, man, how did you let things get this out of hand?

Unless Shinobi is the reason NYC is ablaze in the first place. Hm. Maybe we’re not supposed to ask this question.

It’s not the bosses

Aside from some sickly green morlocks, it seems that the general Union Lizard army is staffed with your typical mercenaries. You’ve got “random guys with guns”, some sort of boomerang blade man, and, of course, ninja. No obvious lizard men, which, considering the name, is a little weird, but, hey, not like Hydra is stocked exclusively with octopus people. They appear to at least be a union, so that should count for something.

Brings a tear to my eyeBut the “bosses” of this organization… are a little special. There’s one warrior woman that hangs out on top of the Statue of Liberty, and she’s about the only remotely human one in the lot. The first boss is a demon samurai-beetle monster, and he is not voiced by George Clooney, so he’s probably not going to turn out to be anyone’s kindly relative. Next up is a golem that appears to have control over an entire side of a New York building, which could mean an awful lot of bricks to the face. And there’s a demon wheel of fire headlining the cave stage. Who hires a wheel of fire as a boss? How did he even roll through the door?! Though this… character does seem to be the definitive answer to that “why is New York on fire” question…

And the head honcho of the whole organization, Union Lizard…. Never gets out of his chair. He rains fire on his opponents (sensing a theme here), and he transforms two ninja statues into many ninja minions, but he never, ya know, stands up. That’s… a choice. I realize that he’s practically invincible, and his only vulnerable point is hidden by his helmet, but why so lazy? Did you conquer New York because you were really offended by the myriad of walking tours? Is your armor too heavy? Aw, that’s it, isn’t it? You got super invincible armor, and it turns you into a colossal, vaguely-imposing paper weight. Well no wonder your plans failed, you can’t rely on minions for everything. That’s one mystery solved.

But The Secret of Shinobi appears to be one secret we’ll never solve. Shinobi is taking that secret to his grave. You’re welcome to ask him, but I’ll remind you he possess a shape-shifting dog and weaponized tornadoes… so approach at your own risk.

FGC #241 Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

  • System: Sega Genesis. Also available on practically every modern system through Virtual Consoles or Sega Genesis Collections. It’s pretty much a port of the arcade game, so you could almost count the arcade version as well. This ninja has pretty far reach.
  • Get 'emNumber of players: Wouldn’t it be cool if a second player could control Joe Jr. ala Tails from Sonic 2? Maybe next time. One player.
  • Further mysteries: Apparently the American version of this game identifies “Shinobi” as Joe Higashi, while the Japanese version claims he is Joe’s son (Also Joe). For anyone concerned about the rich mythology of the Shinobi franchise, there’s something to argue about.
  • Redundant: The bonus stage opens with the phrase “Kill All Ninjas”. I was already doing that!
  • Favorite Ninja Power: I’m kind of disappointed that there seems to be a different ninja power every stage (or at least a rotation of three), but they all do the exact same thing (clear the screen of all enemies). You’d think a tornado would do a different kind of damage than a firestorm. That said, for killing dinosaurs or ninja, you can’t beat meteors.
  • Did you know? There’s a “hard mode” that limits Shinobi to only his sword, and no shurikens. However, the game isn’t balanced for that at all, so ninja stars are returned to Shinobi for all boss battles. Thus, I want to say it’s impossible to do a “real” only-sword run, but I’m sure some random Youtuber has pulled it off…
  • Would I play again: I’ve never been a big fan of the Shinobi series, mainly because I like to die in two, maybe three hits. Not one. As such, it’s unlikely I’ll join this ninja on his surprisingly fiery quest again anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… DJ Hero! Wanna be a DJ Hero? If so, please look forward to it.

Because of the fire

FGC #231 Scooby-Doo Mystery

Now you're hearing that stupid musicI have never met a human being that actually liked Scooby-Doo.

I find this… odd.

I’ve privately referred to this phenomenon as the “Wendy’s Effect”. I’ve never met anyone that really loved Wendy’s. Yes, I’ve known people that eat there, and even possibly people that eat there quite often. But, aside from “it’s 2 am, what’s open?” I’ve never met anyone that genuinely stated, “Oh man, I’m hungry, let’s go get some Wendy’s!” I’ve seen endless debates about McDonalds vs. Burger King, and I’ve seen, firsthand, the casualties of the Taco Bell vs. KFC wars, but Wendy’s? It’s dog food for people. You open up a can of that stuff, slurp it down, and move on to licking your own genitals. I’ve seen people go crazy for White Castle sliders. I’ve seen people brag excitedly about how many Taco Bell newspaper-based tacos they can consume. I’ve seen people that openly believe Big Macs are made from edible materials. I’ve never seen a human being sincerely excited about Wendy’s.

Yet Wendy’s is everywhere.

Scooby-Doo seems to occupy that exact same space, as, despite the fact that I’ve never heard a human being say “let’s sit down and watch Scooby-Doo”, it’s been on the air in various forms since before I was born, and I’m convinced they’ll employ cyborg technology just to guarantee Frank Welker will be voicing Fred until the end of time. Is it because it’s cheap? I remember when Scooby-Doo headlined the USA Cartoon Express. I remember when A Pup Named Scooby-Doo kicked off Saturday morning cartoons. I remember when Scooby-Doo practically defined Cartoon Network, and, later, Boomerang. Scooby-Doo is big business! And the show has always been awful!

WeeeeAnd, before anyone says it, dude, I know it’s for kids. Think you I would forget such a thing? The only time I could even tolerate Scooby-Doo was when I was a kid, and even then I was desperately fumbling to find something else on the boob tube. Never mind the fact that there might be mutant reptiles or space lions on other channels, I’d be content with some alternative Hannah Barbara offering, like Flintstones or Jonny Quest. Josie and the Pussycats (IN SPACE!) or Dynomutt shouldn’t be too much to ask for, but I’ll even settle for Shirt Tales over yet another “let’s split up, gang.” Go ahead and drive yourself nuts and look up how many episodes of Scooby-Doo are out there. There are 26 episodes of The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show alone! That’s thirteen hours of pure animated crap beamed directly into children’s eyeballs. The Geneva Conventions do nothing to protect us from this!

It’s also not hard to analyze Scooby-Doo. Here’s a fun fact: every damn episode is the same. It doesn’t matter if the Globetrotters or Batman show up, it’s always the same plot with the same running animations in slightly different locales. In a weird way, I can’t even rely on my memory to recall exactly whether there were an overabundance of haunted theme parks in the general Mystery Machine area, or if that was simply the same episode over and over again. How often did Shaggy ‘n Scoob wind up on a rollercoaster? Was that part of (one of) the opening credits, or was that just an easy bit of animation to reuse? Who cares? I’m not watching an episode of Scooby-Doo to make sure. That nonsense is boring.

So, in a way, Scooby-Doo Mystery for your favorite 16-bit platforms is completely true to its source material.

Really?SDM is, basically, an adventure game. To be clear, this isn’t an adventure game like Zelda, this is much more in the King’s Quest vein. Here’s another fun fact: want to know why the adventure game genre languished in failure for so long? It’s not because developers became convinced no one wanted to play adventure games or whatever Double Fine is claiming this week, it’s because it’s really hard to wholesale steal a good adventure game. You can make Mario-alikes, GTA-alikes, or Final Fantasy-alikes until the cows come home, and people are likely going to identify those clones as, if not good games, at least passable experiences. There are men out there that will die on the “Aero the Acro-Bat is good” hill, and it’s because it barely takes two thumbs to make a remotely enjoyable game where “jump” and “attack or something” are the only ways to interact with the world. On the other hand, adventure games are naturally boring, and live or die on their writing. The writing doesn’t have to be funny (though that really helps), but it absolutely has to be compelling enough to trick the player into searching a beach for a damn feather or whatever stupid doodad is going to advance the plot. As such, an adventure game absolutely needs good writing, which is difficult! Writing good is harder than… something… that is… particularly hard. Uh… a rock?

Though I suppose it is possible that a rock wrote Scooby-Doo Mystery. I call this an adventure game because you have to explore a (mostly) nonthreatening (though spooooooky) environment to find the right items to pass the right obstacles, but a number of the objects are just “clues” that are to be delivered to Velma, and… that’s it. Velma comments, “Oh, this clue is really going to help the case,” but the majority of this game is laid out in a manner no more mysterious than your typical Mega Man stage, and, here’s a tip, I think Magnet Man is going to be responsible for the caper that takes place in Magnet Man’s stage. So, without clever writing or even the remotest reason to explore beyond “gotta find stuff”, the only challenge in this game lies on the shoulders of random traps and animals that BANG“scare” Shaggy and Scooby. But, assuming you can master Shaggy’s anemic jump, there isn’t even a challenge there, and the player is just left with… boredom.

So, congratulations Scooby-Doo Mystery, you captured the very essence of Scooby-Doo. This game is boring, rote, and repetitive to the point of parody. The only saving grace of this adventure is that, thanks to the fact that nobody really likes Scooby-Doo, it probably sold all of six copies before haunting EB used bins for the next decade.

Scooby doobie do, where are you? Hopefully nowhere near a controller.

FGC #231 Scooby-Doo Mystery

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The Super Nintendo version has the occasional platforming area, while the Sega Genesis version is just the adventure game elements. Pick your poison.
  • Number of players: Even though “control both Shaggy and Scooby” would have been a no-brainer for two controllers, it’s one player.
  • Just play the gig, man: Oh, and the music is that one stupid Scooby-Doo song that was probably composed in all of seven seconds by farting in the general direction of an oboe with the slightest amount of rhythm. That’s pretty much the entire soundtrack. Come to think of it, if this article comes off as mean-spirited, it’s likely because of that damn song.
  • And such small portions: The Genesis version is two stages, and the SNES boasts a total of four. That’s it. Even for a licensed cash grab, that seems particularly short.
  • SPOOKY!For the record: I am aware there are likely people that distinctly like Wendy’s and Scooby-Doo. I’m just assuming they are such a small subset of the population so as to be statistically insignificant.
  • Minigame Mania: There are two (seemingly random) minigames that involve Scooby gathering sandwich materials and Shaggy playing whack-a-mole with rubber-mask monsters. Both games have the possibility of awarding extra lives… and probably the only reason this game has “lives” at all is to justify the minigames. It’s an endless cycle of terrible.
  • Say something nice: Okay, Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc. is actually a worthwhile Scooby-Doo experience. It doesn’t justify decades of absolute crap, but it at least makes an unlikely heroine out of a woman named “Hot Dog Water”. I can get behind that.
  • Did you know? Shaggy is just a nickname. His real name is Norville Rogers.
  • Would I play again: You know what? I did not care for this game.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… War Gods for the N64! ROB, you’re on a real roll with “fun” games here. Is a “3-D” fighting game featuring magical neon gods any better than finding clues with a cowardly dog? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

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