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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 #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

Who you gonna call?Ghostbusters NES is an eternal plastic monument to how Goggle Bob was a stupid, stupid child.

It all starts with the Commodore 64. For anyone that missed it (because you’re not old as dirt), the Commodore 64 was basically the home personal computer before anyone could afford personal computers. It accepted (inevitably multiple) giant floppy discs, the printer was dot matrix, and it had roughly the same processing power as a bag of doritos, but it could help with work and games! Imagine! A device that mom could use for word processing, and Little Bobby could use for playing exciting games where one block attacked another block! And there were rudimentary programming applications available! Never forget Logo Writer, the “game” where you programmed a turtle to do whatever you desired… assuming you could master Logo programming language, a programming language never to be seen again.

If you haven’t already guessed from that glowing paragraph, the Commodore 64 was my secret origin in more ways than one. Before there was even a NES in the house, the Commodore 64 could (with proper supervision) be utilized by Wee Goggle Bob. And, while I abused the word processing program before I even really knew how to write (I lurned at some point, right?), my favorites on the C64 were always the games. There were many available (I’m not going to accuse my sainted mother of software piracy, but it sure seemed like our C64 library expanded faster than other systems where you couldn’t copy that floppy), but my top choices were always two games: Rampage and Ghostbusters. Rampage was pure Id, and often the choice for two players, but Ghostbusters was much more cerebral.

ZAPGhostbusters might have been my first “comprehensive” videogame. Mario Bros and Mega Man are amazing titles, but they only require you to understand the alphabet up to its second letter (the letter that lets you shoot). Ghostbusters on the Commodore 64 tried to do something different and much more complex. The plot of Ghostbusters is not that you are Ray and Egon, no, you’re you, and you’re starting up a Ghostbusters franchise in New York City. You’re responsible for purchasing equipment, you’re responsible for maintaining your haunted bank account, and, if a Marshmallow Man stomps a building to bits, it’s your ass that is getting fined. While the game does feature a lot of repetitive nonsense (driving to locations is almost entirely pointless, and catching ghosts doesn’t really warrant a half hour of the same gameplay over and over again), there’s enough planning involved that the whole experience could truly challenge players of all ages. Wee Goggle Bob just enjoyed hearing the theme song and getting slimed, but C64 Ghostbusters was borderline WRPGian in its complexity. Screw Dragon Warrior, this is where you could really learn about inventory management while fighting monsters.

And then, four years later, we were burdened with Ghostbusters on the NES. Good news: the car segments are now more interesting, as you can dodge other vehicles and score gas cans as you drive over to your next haunted mansion. Bad news? If you run out of gas, it leads to a “pushing the car” scene so boring, the concept would not be revisited in gaming for at least twenty years. And if you so much as nudge another car, you lose $400 (in 80s dollars!). Once you arrive, capturing ghosts is mostly the same, but 90% of the interesting “Ghostbuster franchise” gameplay has been dropped. Randomly forming giant gelatinous gentlemen are a thing of the past, and any sort of indication as to what you’re supposed to be doing or working towards is gone forever. And, should you survive the experience for entirely too long, you’ll be granted access to fight the final battle.

And that’s when the fun really starts.

The final stage of Ghostbusters is a trek up 25 or so floors of nothing but stairs. And you can’t just “walk”, no, you have to hammer the A/B buttons to get your Ghostbusters to scuttle forward. If you don’t have a turbo controller, please give up immediately, it’s not worth the permanent damage to your thumbs. But even with that (NES) advantage, you have to dodge a set of four ghosts with random patterns the entire time, and, three hits later, it’s game over, man. And the game over screen is depressing!

Loser!

Your only options to survive are outright cheating (say hello, Game Genie), or purchase a pile of helpful items from the shop… which would only require about an hour of ghost grinding. It is nearly impossible to conceive of someone beating this area “the right way”, left alone being ready for more after such a feat.

But assuming you scale those stairs, you’re still not done! The peak of the building features Gozer the Gozerian flanked by Zuul and Vinz, and you’ve basically got a bullet hell final boss. But that’s not all! The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is scaling the building, so, every once in a while, you have to retreat, zap Stay Puft down to the ground floor, and then, finally, resume your assault on Gozer. Lose at any point, and its game over. Actually succeed (against all odds), and you’ll be rewarded with one of the lamest victory screens in all of gaming.

Winner!

Thanks for playing the worst port of a licensed game ever!

But, for me, the “conglaturation !!!” screen is not the end of the embarrassment. No, the worst part of NES Ghostbusters is how I would have done anything to see that stupid ending.

I didn’t own Ghostbusters NES as a child, but a friend, Kevin, did have a copy. By about this time, the Commodore 64 had either been mothballed (I still have it!) or was just occupying the space in my head that said “that’s mom’s computer”, and it didn’t see any additional Ghostbusters time from yours truly. As a result, I had a fuzzy memory of “old Ghostbusters” to compare to new NES Ghostbusters. I recognized that you couldn’t buy a new car like in C64 GB, but, other than that, I assumed it was mostly the same game. And then revisiting the game at a friend’s house years (and many other games) later, I was determined to team up with Kevin and beat Gozer once and for all. Our parents didn’t let us sticky, clumsy kids take games out of the house, so I was unable to connect my Game Genie to Kevin’s Ghostbusters cartridge. Thus, thanks to horrible/prescient parenting, we were unable to cheat. But Kevin and I were in this together, and we were going to beat Ghostbusters if it killed us.

Spoilers: we are now both dead. Big twist: this article is being written by a ghost.

SexyIn all honesty, I think the friendship between Kevin and I couldn’t survive the mental strain of trying to complete this horrid NES game. But try we did! We couldn’t stop ourselves, and we were convinced it was our fault we couldn’t scale those damn stairs. How could there be a bad thing based on the Ghostbusters franchise? We love those guys! They’d never steer us wrong! And the Commodore 64 version was pretty fun! This is the version on the same system as Castlevania 3! It has to be good! What are we doing wrong?!

And then, decades later, ROB chose this ghastly game. And then I played it side by side with its C64 brother. And then, finally, after years of experience, I learned that Ghostbusters for NES is just the worst. I’m okay, Kevin is probably okay (we lost touch sometime after Sega Genesis), and it was Ghostbusters that was wrong all along.

So I only spent 30 years wallowing in ignorance. Could be worse. Could be 71 years…

FGC #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

  • System: A version more or less similar to this Ghostbusters appeared on the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Atari 800 (don’t be confused by the lower number, it was the greater system), and Sega Master System. And, yes, NES, because there wasn’t enough pain in the world.
  • Number of players: Looks like we can get three Ghostbusters on the screen at a time, but only one player is allowed.
  • GrrrrJust play the gig, man: The Commodore 64 version starts with the Ghostbusters theme, and a “karaoke” style display of the lyrics so you can sing along to your favorite legally Huey Lewis song. This joy is mitigated somewhat by the digitized Ghostbusters theme being looped forever for the entire game.
  • Big Finale: There is no crazy staircase in the C64 version, but you do have to avoid a skipping Stay Puft Marshmallow Man before booking it upstairs to cross the streams and save the day. It is a tremendously more satisfying climax.
  • New Game Plus: And speaking of which, beating the C64 version will reward the player with a password that will allow the Ghostbusters to start with more money on the next playthrough. This might be the first “new game plus” feature in a videogame.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: All of these bullet points are about the C64 version because I never want to see the NES version ever again.
  • Did you know? The Commodore 64 version has four cars available for purchase, and one is a 1963 Hearse. This is the closest vehicle to the “real” Ecto-1 available, and may be purchased for $4,800. Strangely enough, the car’s model does not correspond with the movie’s Ecto-1, but the price is exactly what Ray pays for the vehicle. Take canon where you can find it.
  • Would I play again: Never. Never ever ever. There isn’t a ghost of a chance.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Warrior for the NES! Dammit! Is this because I insulted the title earlier in this article? I feel like I’m being punished with gaming history. Oh well. Please look forward to it.

This sucks

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

Gaming has changed a lot over the years. Nowadays, if a game is released for multiple systems, it is almost always the exact same game across different platforms, give or take a random feature or frame rate. Skyrim has been released for… let me do the math here… 70,000 videogame systems, and, by and large, every version has been, ya know, Skyrim. If there were some variation in there, you better believe you’d see promotion for the brand new Skyrim Jr., Skyrim Babies, or Skyrim: Centaurs Among Us editions. You buy Skyrim, you get Skyrim, and whether your buddy has an Xbox or Playstation, you’re both talking about the same dragonborn at the end of the day.

Back in the 90’s, things were not so simple.

We consider them members of the same console generation, but the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo videogame consoles were wildly different systems. For one thing, Super Nintendo had Chrono Trigger and Super Metroid, while Sega Genesis had Ecco the Dolphin. Ha ha! I’m joking, because I was primarily a Nintendo kid, and I absolutely will never get over those console wars. I lost good friends to that battle, and I’m not going to let young Jason’s sacrifices (he had a subscription to Sega Visions) be in vain. And why were there such console wars? Well, mostly because of advertising. But! Another significant factor was that a number of games for both systems were as different as their base consoles, so you could experience entirely different playstyles if you decided to pick up a title for Sega or Nintendo. Back then, even a humble Looney Tunes spin-off could be the spark that reignites the blaze of war.

He's the dad in Taz-ManiaTaz-Mania was always an odd duck. For reasons that I’m sure annoy tattoo artists to this very day, Taz the Tazmanian Devil became extremely popular in the early 90’s. This also roughly coincided with the rise of WB/Fox Kids animation domination, so, hot on the heels of Tiny Toons and just before the rise of Animaniacs, Taz got his own animated variety sitcom. This was… an odd choice. Taz was always popular for his general unleashed, unhinged, and non-verbal personality… so naturally they gave him a loving, perfectly normal nuclear family. Jean Tazmanian Devil is a dedicated housewife, and Hugh Tazmanian Devil is a Bing Crosby wannabe perfect father. Molly and Jake are archetypal siblings, and Dog the Turtle is a typical dog (who is a turtle). Basically, Warner Bros. Animation crafted an amusing farce where a feral beast is forced to live with a modern family that inexplicably and unconditionally loves the destructive eating machine. … And it suddenly becomes clear where my generation earned its absurdist sense of humor. Regardless, Taz was joined by a few other characters/shorts (because WB Animation seemed to assume that kids have the collective attention span of a particularly excited chihuahua), so even the main appeal of its chief character was lost for entire segments at a time. For a series that was ostensibly created to capitalize on Taz-mania (oh, I just got that), it sure took a weird route to get there.

But, like the Addams Family before it, it was considered a popular enough show to earn a videogame or two. The first release was Taz-Mania for the Sega Genesis. And, lo, it was good! As one might expect from the era, Taz-Mania was a 2-D platforming adventure featuring Taz questing after a giant egg, because eating things is funny. And Taz-Mania properly featured Taz’s excessive gluttony in other ways, too! Taz would devour anything he could fit in his giant maw, which included food, 1-ups, monsters, and even entire water bottles (he drank the water first, naturally). This even became an interesting gameplay wrinkle, as there were items like bombs and weed killer strewn about, and they could be used as items, but only if you made Taz resist devouring them outright. FrostyFun fact: weed killer is not a balanced part of a tazmanian devil’s diet. Beyond that, this was a gorgeous, fairly basic 2-D platformer, and the goal was to jump on everything from here to the end of the stage. You could even use Taz’s whirly attack every once in a while… but it’s generally not recommended, as it will absolutely get you killed.

Which was kind of the problem: Taz-Mania was super hard.

With save states and other modern innovations, the scope of Taz-Mania is easy to see. However, back in the day, this was a pretty basic platformer for a few levels, and then a series of instant death traps that would banish the player back to Level 1 pretty quickly. In fact, you could easily point toward one single mid-level stage, a freaking a mine cart level, that is a wall-to-wall Taz slaughter. No devils have any hope to survive, and the mere concept of reaching later stages is nothing more than a pipedream. There are a few other sticking points (floating logs introducing perspective to a 2-D game is particularly cruel), but, short of rote memorization, there was no way Taz was going to make it past some terrible mines. Not that the end game is that exciting! But not knowing how Taz’s adventure ends (it’s a fight against a giant seagull, ‘natch) might convince a poor Genesis kid that a purchase is better than a rental. Well played, Sega, well played.

And then, a scant few months later, Sunsoft released its version of Taz-Mania on the Super Nintendo. It was dramatically easier, and, incidentally, boring as hell.

WeeeeYou will never be able to convince me that Taz-Mania (SNES) did not start as a Wily E. Coyote game that was randomly modified to be a Taz-Mania tie-in. This title plays vaguely like SNES Mario Kart, and takes full advantage of Mode 7 capabilities to place Taz on an endless stretch of highway where he must catch kiwis (the highly mobile birds, not the much easier to catch fruit). Every level contains an escalating number of kiwis, and there are few hazards (like buses and… mostly just buses) to keep Taz down. After catching the requisite kiwis, Taz falls asleep, the kiwis escape his gaping maw (that’s how digestion works, right?), and the whole thing starts again. Repeat for five acts (worlds) with three stages each. Throw in a few bonus stages where you can catch infinity kiwis for a score that impacts nothing, and you’re got the entire game.

And, in this case, that’s the clear problem: after playing a whole one stage, you’ve seen everything this title has to offer. Later stages seem to climb in difficulty only by adding incredibly unfair traps (arrows will spawn practically on top of Taz, and presumably you’re supposed to dodge them by using psychic powers), but it’s mostly moot anyway, as devouring practically anything (including your kiwi goals) refills your health. Like the endless stretch of highway to which Taz has been sentenced, the game is just an interminable slog of the initial stage repeated a solid fifteen times. Backgrounds change, sometimes you see the Road Runner, and occasionally you’ll earn a powerup that makes Taz move slightly faster, but other than that, it is tedium. It’s tremendously more beatable than its Genesis cousin, but even the first act makes it clear that there’s no future for this Taz. It’s the exact same plot across both games (Taz hungry), but there is exactly zero reason to progress through the SNES version.

GULPSo who wins? Guess it depends on your mood. SNES-Mania is basically an endless runner (almost literally), and is good, repetitive fun if you’re in the mood for such a thing (the sales on mobile games seem to indicate this is true of at least some people). On the other (brown, furry) hand, you’ve got Genesis-Mania, which is a creative, intricate platformer that requires endless memorization or a healthy glut of cheating. It’s (God help me) the Dark Souls of 90’s WB Animation Game Tie-ins. So, in this situation, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, and one could no more declare a winner than objectively determine that ducks are more suited for space travel than vegemite. In this situation, both systems have their own, personal Tazs, and that’s just fine.

Which is nice for Sega, because the SNES wins at everything else.

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

  • System: Sega Genesis for the platformer, SNES for the runnin’ of the Taz. The Genesis game was compromised and ported to Master System and Game Gear, too. Also, there was a Gameboy version that had nothing to do with anything.
  • Number of players: Single player across the board. The SNES version could easily have had a head-to-head kiwi catching contest, but noooooo.
  • Favorite Level (SG): It’s a shame that the final area of Genesis-Mania is so difficult to reach, as its “ancient ruins” aesthetic is great for the level design, and contains a number of gags that indicate Taz’s ancient ancestors were just… Taz. He’s perennial!
  • Favorite Level (SNES): There is no way to tell these stages apart, and I will not entertain notions of trying.
  • OUCHLet’s Talk Cartoons: Given the choice, I’d take Taz-Mania the Series over a number of its descendants, like Histeria!, Animaniacs, and a third one that I know I’m forgetting. Freakazoid is the best, but Taz’s general… Tazness fit the variety show format well. Also, I really enjoy orange juice, and no one understands when I make that Hugh reference anymore.
  • Did you know? Genesis-Mania contains a complete debug cheat, which allows for level skipping, invincibility, and instant health restoration. SNES-Mania simply contains a level select code. Welp, I know one place where the Genesis version excels.
  • Would I play again: SNES version isn’t happening again, as I’m not one for score-based games. Genesis version is a maybe, but only with the assistance of save states and such. Or… probably not ever, because there are better games available in both genres. Sorry, guess the Taz stays in Taz-Mania.

What’s next? Our next SNES/Genesis matchup is… Billy and the Clone-Osaurus! There’s a park full of dinosaurs, and I guess we’re trying to escape it for some reason! Please look forward to it!

The kid

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!