Tag Archives: sexual dimorphism

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

I'm walking on airKid Icarus was a formative NES action game. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the portable sequel that continued with similar, improved mechanics. Twenty years later, Kid Icarus: Uprising was released.

And Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers.

Say what you will about things getting stale, but with Nintendo franchises, you generally know what you’re going to get. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros, two Mario releases separated by decades, might not seem terribly similar to some magical human being that has never seen a videogame before, but, once you start steering Mario around the Mushroom Kingdom/Universe, it’s clear that both games come from the same base run/jump/stomp concepts. This continues through basically the whole Smash Bros cast: The Legend of Zelda is for exploring/swordplay, Donkey Kong is for simple jumping and running, Captain Falcon and F-Zero are for racing, and Metroid is for metroiding. Yes, there are spin-offs and outliers, but Star Fox is always for shootin’, even when your arwing can fold up like origami.

So you’d be forgiven if you were expecting the first Kid Icarus game in ages to be at all similar to the prior two experiences. But it turns out this Pit doesn’t need a jump button. And speaking of which, the control scheme is optimized for this guy…

Gimme some sugar

If you have less than four hands, bad news, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising, considers his creation to be a shooting game. That is… generally accurate? Half of every level takes place in the sky (or an approximation thereof), with heroic Pit blessed with flight by Goddess Palutena. During these sections, conceptually, you are basically playing Star Fox, and the 3DS adapts well to fight and flight mechanics. Heck, there’s a reason Star Fox 64 3D was one of the first 3DS games: the 3DS seems practically made for 3-D shooting galleries. Pit, with his wings and arrows, adapts well to the role, and you could easily make the argument that this is a “modern” version of Kid Icarus’s iconic final stage. And, let’s be real here, that section probably was the best part of Kid Icarus (or the only part where any kid ever accomplished anything…) . So, yes, okay, let’s make a Kid Icarus shooting game.

Except… eventually Pit lands. Palutena’s blessing can’t last forever, and Pit must explore the second half of most levels planted firmly on the ground. Maybe there’s a tower to scale, maybe there’s a dungeon to explore, but it must be done on foot, and jumping and flying is right out. It’s here that KI:U’s control scheme gets crazy, and… why can’t he just control like a normal Nintendo hero, again?

TANK!The on foot sections of KI:U are probably best described as “experimental”. If you’re breaking this down to its core components, you’re pretty much looking at an innovative way to control a FPS hero… but in a 3rd person perspective. It’s… cumbersome. And it takes a little getting used to. Actually, it takes a lot of getting used to, and I swear the level designers know it. Some of the more demanding sections include honest-to-God walking puzzles. For those that missed the fun, that’s a challenge, usually involving narrow ledges, where you can “fail” because you did not walk correctly. That’s not something that should ever be in a videogame, because walking should be as easy as… walking. If a toddler can master something (if Dirk the Daring can master something) it should not be a remote challenge in any kind of videogame. But it seems like Angel Land has a hero or two with some manner of vertigo, so constricted walkways might be a problem. Maybe Pit had eggplants for brains a few too many times.

And it’s not just the controls that might repel a new player. There is a weapon upgrade system that is… opaque seems a little too gentle. Completely insane? You can buy new weapons by offering hearts (currency) as tribute, but all the good weapons are available via a weapon combining system that… I have no idea what is going on. There are star ratings for various weapons, but there are different types of weapons, and Pit’s shooting style changes dramatically from one weapon to another. Yes, this sword is powerful, but it would mean giving up a pair of orbs that shoot homing missiles. And the sword doesn’t “shoot” at all? But it reflects shots? Well, is that going to be at all useful in the next level that I know nothing about? Can I try before I buy? No? Hey, it’s not like the average level lasts fifteen minutes or so…

WeeeeOh, and determining the “difficulty” for a level before you play it? And it’s a one to ten incremental system? I’m sorry, what’s the difference between this stage being level 4.5 difficult versus 4.7 difficult? I can understand the difference between “Normal” and “Hard”. I’ll even tolerate a “Very Hard” or “Professional” mode. But decimals? Just show me exactly where the bar is for “world is filled with invincible skull heads”, and I’ll choose the next level lower than that. ‘Kay? Thanks.

But all of this insanity is not why Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers. What’s bonkers is how much, despite everything in this game, you will want to play more.

Kid Icarus, more than any other Nintendo game, is a playable cartoon. And that’s not because of dialogue boxes or “the plot”; it’s about the simple, instant rapport between Pit and Goddess Palutena. From the first moment, they’re chatting over the action while “you” are playing the game. Occasionally, a villain breaks into the narrative to hurl insults. As episodes progress, various other characters join the fray, and, while you’re busy with a grim reaper or two, Pit ‘n Pally are going through their comedy routine. And then, as it inevitably must, Pit gets real in later stages, Palutena is absent, and “lesser” goddesses have to pick up the slack. It’s not the same, and that’s not a bug, but a feature. When, after fifteen stages of having Palutena in your corner, she’s suddenly missing, you notice. You notice, and you notice it sucks. Where’d my goddess go!?

VroomAnd it’s in this manner that Kid Icarus: Uprising worms its way into your heart. Its systems may be dense, its controls may be some manner of hand-torture, but it contains some of the most instantly approachable and sympathetic characters in gaming. Considering Pit didn’t have very much to say in his initial adventures past, “I’m finished!” it’s a rather significant accomplishment that KI:U makes a better case for Kid Icarus: The Animated Series than every other Nintendo mascot. And these are the best mascots gaming has to offer! Pit is standing in the heavens of the gaming hall of fame, and it’s all thanks to one game.

One game that is nothing like its forbearers and is attached to impossibly janky controls. It’s… kind of bonkers.

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Given the direction of Nintendo’s “handheld market”, this game might never see another release again. It really is 100% geared toward the 3DS, which is kind of an accomplishment in itself.
  • Number of players: There’s a multiplayer “fight” mode here (as is proper to Sakurai games), and some sort of co-op thing, but I’ve never met anyone else with a copy of KI:U handy, so I can’t really speak to how it all plays. All I know is that it was mysteriously implicated in a number of cases of boneitis back in 2012.
  • Think of the Centurions: Palutena’s army, the noble centurions, are just as fragile as ever. And Palutena notes that they are disposable… but you’ll feel bad if they die. And, dammit, she’s right. Poor lil winged dudes…
  • Metroidian: Despite the presence of space pirates and “metroids”, there is no relation between Kid Icarus and Metroid.
    NONE

    None.
  • Just play the gig man: It’s a good thing Super Smash Bros. 4 got to reuse a lot of this music, as it is phenomenal. Sakurai doesn’t seem to direct games with half-assed soundtracks.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Male deities seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ve noticed a peculiar trend with the goddesses of KI:U.

    Wankery Week never ends

    With the exception of Medusa, it seems like every heavenly being of the female variety could double as Pit’s “playful” older sister. Actually, to put a point on it, Palutena is the older sister, and the rest of the women are her cool friends that jokingly flirt and tease the dweeby Pit. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of fanfic coming upon me again. Could go either way.

  • Did you know? Viridi is the one recurring character that appears in “chat scenes” but is never directly fought. Dark Pit, Hades, Medusa, and even your own allies appear on the opposite side of Pit’s sword-bow at one time or another, but Viridi is always on the sidelines. Guess it helps to have your own army.

  • Would I play again: My hand is a little knotted right now… Maybe after a little healing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze! Guess we’re on a Nintendo kick again, ROB? Or maybe you’re just looking for a banana smoothie? Whatever the case, it’s time to roll around with some Kongs. Please look forward to it!

DO IT!

FGC #182 Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier

Due to the subject matter, this article may be slightly NSFW. Nothing too dirty, but you might get some raised eyebrows. Just so you know.

ROBOTS!There have been three ages for the JRPG.

The first epoch for the JRPG was the light, breezy era of Dragon Quest (Warrior). This, arguably the prehistoric era of the JRPG, was a time when grand stories were condensed into a series of vignettes across a fantasy world. This town has a kidnapped princess. This town is besieged by zombies. This town used to be mermaids or some such thing. Whatever. In a way, this was a natural progression of the D&D roots of JRPGs, as the whole “king has a quest (and rewards) for you” pattern certainly has its roots in venturing into an inn to meet other adventurers.

Easy examples of this style include practically every JRPG on the NES, SNES, and Genesis. While I maintain that Chrono Trigger is the undisputed pinnacle of this category (and is such because it integrates the vignettes perfectly with its time travel mechanics), you still see similar games today with the continuing Dragon Quest series and other “throwback” JRPGs.

The second epoch started…

FGC #122 Bravely Default

Note: This article contains spoilers for the whole of Bravely Default. Not that the sequel doesn’t spoil the same plot twists within its first five minutes, but, ya know, just so you’re aware.

Something about a FairyAlright, remember Final Fantasy 6? Remember all the groundbreaking, amazing compositions by Nobuo Uematsu? Songs that were not only musically wonderful but also never failed to properly set the mood for a location or scene? Yeah… I pretty much played Final Fantasy 6 (Final Fantasy 3 then) on mute. Same for Breath of Fire 2. Same for The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Same for a lot of games.

You may be asking why I would do such a thing. Do I hate music? Can’t stand chiptunes? Maybe some sort of ear issue involving an infection from Bizarro World? No, no, and no. For Final Fantasy 6 in particular, I love the music, and even, when forced to go on a camping trip the year after FF6’s release, I recorded half the songs right off the TV via an ancient tape recorder. So why do I remember playing that game the most on mute? Simple: I was doing something else.

This will likely come as a shock to no one, but my original “gaming room” was the basement of my parents’ home. I wasn’t allowed to have a TV in my bedroom (for much the same reason I wasn’t allowed to have a Gameboy), but my parents didn’t want to have to watch Super Mario Bros. all day, either, so my hobby was segregated to the basement. “My basement” was also likely exactly what you’re picturing: old, beat furniture (but kept because you never know when we might need a spare couch [?]), a closet filled with old clothing that would be released to Goodwill thirty years later, and, most importantly, a pair of ancient televisions. Both TVs were castoffs, chunks of electronics that were initially kept incase these newfangled sets failed in their first month, and, in time, they Just like homewere pretty much forgotten in the bowels of the house. They weren’t the best televisions, neither large nor possessing a fidelity that could confirm if Mega Man was supposed to be blue (green is fine). People talk about playing retro games with modern high-definition, but if I play Wizards and Warriors on a television that allows me to actually see what’s going on, I don’t feel like I’m actually playing Wizards and Warriors.

Regardless, two televisions made me soon realize that I could be using both televisions at the same time. So, one TV was set up at one end of the room with a complete cable hookup, and the other managed the gaming systems (A SNES and NES [and later, N64 and Playstation] all running through one ganged RF switch chain). The basement was big (technically a room plus what was once a garage), so it wasn’t like both televisions were on top of each other, so I happily played a number of video games while some random sitcom was airing at my back. If I really liked the show, I’d mute the game, but crank up the program. If nothing was on, it was fine background noise.

JRPGs were ideal for this setup, because, while their stories were exciting and astounding to a young Goggle Bob, what would eventually become “cutscenes” were short and generally separated by hours of traipsing through monster-packed dungeons. I want to say the sheer spectacle of Final Fantasy 7 broke me of my ADD habits, but grinding my way to better materia (mostly through bird breeding) set me right back to “what else is on?” And, yes, my first playthrough of Ocarina of Time was set to my discovery of Ben Folds (give or take Five) primarily because I couldn’t be more bored schlepping across that overworld trying to find skulltulas.

Slash!Some of my greatest memories of gaming are of me barely paying attention to gaming.

This ADD habit has continued into adulthood, but in some unusual ways. There is no doubt video games have become more immersive over the years, and, while I may once have been able to enjoy Prince of Persia on a dingy screen while watching something else, modern editions beg to be blown up to six foot displays and marveled at at all times. But then you have something like, say, Hyrule Warriors, a game that puts the grind in grinding, and contains more content than anyone could ever reasonably complete. You want me to beat this area with Princess Ruto? She’s level 8, and the recommended level is 80. Well, I think that means I’m going to play this game while binge watching Jessica Jones. Then I’m accomplishing two things! I’m an adult!

Now, obviously, this is a huge reason I enjoy the WiiU. Being able to get that “widescreen experience” for the lavish visuals is great, but then when I want to reexplore old areas for red coins or whatever, I can shrink it down to the gamepad and play while watching what I will. And while the WiiU’s “tablet” is a new innovation, portable systems have offered this luxury for years. Heck, if you consider cell phones to be “portable gaming systems”, then my ADD doesn’t sound all that bad. Unless you want to tell me people are sitting down to exclusively play Candy Crush…

ANGRYBut there is a conflict with this system. I want games to have stories. I want games to be interesting. If I’m playing a game for forty hours, I want there to have been a point, a reason I was fighting against the bad guy. It doesn’t have to be that way for every game, but anything with vaguely RPG trappings practically requires a plot that matters. It doesn’t have to be War and Peace, but I’d like something a little more complicated than Mario and Peach.

When a story dominates the plot, I have to pay attention to it. I can’t watch Orange is the New Black and work through Saint’s Row at the same time, because then I might confuse one Piper for a Rowdy Roddy one. Their plotlines are very different!

So, what I want is a portable game that has a plot, but has enjoyable mechanics, and, after the plot is well and established, backs the hell off so I can enjoy those mechanics while doing something else.

I am, of course, talking about Pokémon.

Pokémon has its own plot and story, and it’s worth paying it some attention, but after its completion, it gets out of dodge, and that’s that. Now all you have is a world you understand, villains that are on the run, and 720 pokémon to play with. I think that’s a good recipe to have some fun while maybe watching some trashy anime.

He's like a pocket monsterBut that does occasionally feel… empty. I’m building up the best pokémon team, like no one ever has, but what am I doing it for? I’ll have these Level 100 Gardevoirs to… what… beat up children online? Like, it’s cool to beat other players, but there’s no real goal to work toward, no future for my poor Pokémon. I’m already the champion of the league, at what point do I just become a bully?

Bravely Default tried to allay my fears of “not making a difference”… and created its own problems.

FGC #062 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Get there!As an adult, when I look back on my own childhood and teenage years, I wonder what essential truth I would, if possible, impart on my younger self. Through it all, I come to one conclusion: I would tell a little Goggle Bob to, “always be yourself, and don’t spend your life worrying about what anybody else thinks.”

Except… that’s kind of bullshit.

No one is “themselves”. Yes, I completely believe people should be themselves, and no one else’s idiotic beliefs should define someone’s sexuality, gender, or breakfast options. But when you look past the “always be yourself” idiom, you encounter every other expression that tells you to work against your own nature. “The early bird catches the worm”? Screw you, I’m hitting the snooze button again. “A penny saved is a penny earned”? But I want a churro now! “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? What if I want a whole bushful of birds!? Take a look at famous Ben Franklin sayings sometime, and you’ll note that about half of what he said was just an effort to get the fledgling country to come to the dinner table wearing a damn shirt every once in a while. “Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others.” Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.

When you examine children’s television programming (the number one way any American learns anything), you’ll notice that “be yourself” is the most common moral, even though “being yourself” is something that can only come from privilege. Being yourself is only possible when you have the power to bend the rest of the world to your will, with a completely yielding public that will tolerate whatever it is that is pure you. Want to be successful? Wealthy? Start a family? Great! Here is your recommended hair color, skin color, sexuality, weight, gender, age, ocular impediments, clothing, accessories, and publicly allowable tattoos. Have a video game hobby? Electronics RepairThat’s cool, I mean, if you’re in the tech field. I wouldn’t bring it up at City Hall, though, or else you’ll be that weird kid in the mailroom that plays Doom (“Do people still play Doom?” “Doesn’t matter.”) until you’re sixty.

And don’t even get me started on how many dates have ended for me with, “But I meant that as a compliment!”

You can be yourself, but only if whatever yourself happens to be is something the rest of the world wants. Mario can be himself. Mega Man has mutated seven or eight times to try to be exactly what everyone wants (You guys want a portable action RPG this week? MegaMan.exe it is!). Sonic has gone from mute and pudgy to a lean quipper because Sega imagined that is what people want. Kojima had a vision for Metal Gear Solid, and he was exiled on a life raft the very moment that vision didn’t coincide with Konami’s pachinko plans.

Be yourself, just so long as it’s profitable.

But forget profitable, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is a game that doesn’t even remember how to be itself.

I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on Banjo-Kazooie: Origins, the duology that, along with ZOOOMDonkey Kong 64, defined the collectathon at the genre’s apogee. Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie both required the poor honey bear and bird to find and collect roughly twelve billion little trinkets across its many levels, and God help you if your OCD wasn’t raging at all times, because you need every last bauble to progress. It’s the point of the game in a much greater sense than the “score” of games gone by ever mattered to anything. Sure, you get 10,000 points for defeating Dr. Wily, but who cares, the important thing is you saved the world. Not so in the collectathon, where the game practically begs you to find everything, lest you leave the pitiable game to rot, unloved and uncompleted. Yes, there are people that can go through Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts once and be content like they completed the game, but those people never found every last jinjo and jiggy, the monsters.

So, nearly a decade after the final Banjo-Kazooie N64 adventure, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts makes the scene. BKN&B is a game that absolutely goes out of its own way to mock the Banjo-Kazooie games of the past. The hero has become dull and fat, the villain is an ineffectual disembodied head, and a new character, L.O.G., appears to openly mock everyone involved, from a personal (“Very well then, failures, listen carefully.”) and meta perspective (“Failures? We’ve been in several games already!” “But nowhere near as many as that Italian gentleman, correct?”). In an effort to make Banjo and Kazooie more palatable for modern audiences, L.O.G. transfers our heroes to a new world and genre that is completely unique and modern.

And, incidentally, a collectathon.

NOPE

Before we go any further, I do want to note that I like this game. It is fun to play, it is fun to create new and interesting vehicles, and the challenges are, by and large, fun. It’s not my favorite “genre”, but racing, vehicle combat, and the occasional excuse for flight is a delightful way to spend the afternoon. The challenges are challenging, but not too difficult, so it usually only takes one or two tries to get the gold. And there’s one of my favorite features that should be mandatory for all games: instant, no penalty “reset challenge” options for when you know you’ve doomed yourself inside the first five seconds. Why fight an entire challenge uphill because of the handicap of your own sweaty thumbs?

But you know what I just described? A game where, through various challenges, you collect things. Literally moments after L.O.G. disparages the collectathon genre (and you earn an achievement named “Pointless Collector”) you’re told to collect musical notes that work as bank notes. Fun fact: notes do not in any way respawn, so you have to collect every last note if you want to buy everything (and even then, don’t blow it all on bribes). Notes can be exchanged for the ability to collect additional parts and blueprints. And then you’re instructed to collect jiggys to unlock new worlds.

NERDS!Rare, you just finished insulting the entire genre, claiming that “no one wants a collectathon” is the reason Banjo didn’t come out of retirement sooner, and now the rest of the game is a collectathon.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts has more identity problems than it does jiggys. It’s a collectathon that claims collectathons are stupid. It’s a video game, featuring a character that declares himself to be the Lord of Games who is creating video game worlds exclusively for Banjo… and each world is introduced with a faux-80’s sitcom television opening. Most of all, this is a game that, right from the start, expects you to be familiar with and even fond of the source material (aside from the millions of references that would just be confusing to someone coming into the franchise for the first time, there’s even a very tangible benefit to knowing the previous games with a franchise-wide trivia quiz in the last area), but implies that Banjo and Kazooie have become fat, ineffectual lumps in the intervening years because all they did was play video games. We love our dedicated fans; we just think they’re tubby, hopeless blob creatures!

Coincidentally enough, yesterday was the seven year anniversary of Nuts & Bolts’ 2008 release, meaning that, as I write this, we only have a year to go before we hit the same time span that separated Banjo-Tooie and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. I’m not one for sales research, as, depending on the publisher, a million copies sold may either be the greatest thing that ever happened or an abysmal failure, but I’m going to guess that BKN&B did not perform as well as its handlers expected, since, ya know, where’s that sequel, Grunty?

Record timeSo what did we learn? Don’t be yourself, because unless you’re a success right from the start, you’re not going to get anywhere. But don’t change, call your old self stupid, and then try to do the exact same thing again, because that’s not going to fly, and it’s not just because your bird got fat.

FGC #62 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

  • System: Xbox 360, but also (technically) on the Rare Replay collection for Xbox One, which is what you’re seeing here in the article. Are the graphics improved on the nextest gen system? Who the blazes knows.
  • Number of Players: 2… Oh! I never got to try what I presume to be a head-to-head mode in this game. Do you get to race your custom carts against each other? That sounds like it might be neat.
  • Another kind of Nostalgia: Transforming a collectathon 3-D platformer into a game with a harder edge and an emphasis on vehicles sounds an awful lot like the exact trajectory the Jak and Daxter series took a generation earlier. Guys, if you’re going to emulate failed franchise platformers anyway, Chameleon Twist is right there.
  • Number of Grabbed by Ghoulies laments: Far too many.
  • Favorite World: The worlds are gorgeous and generally delightful, but they’re also fairly well-trodden tropes. The significant exception is the Logbox 720, an entire world meant to emulate the innards of a video game system (or computer [redundant]). This isn’t some Tron abstract nonsense, either, UGH!it all appears like the actual, physical insides of modern electronics, just molded into a video game level. If anyone is going to heist anything from this game, let it be that concept.
  • Did you know? Tooty, Banjo’s little sister whose rescue was the whole point of the original Banjo-Kazooie, has not been seen since the debut game. There’s a pair of easter eggs referencing the damsel in Banjo-Tooie, and in Nuts & Bolts, she’s merely referenced by name, with nary an image of her produced. Humba Wumba makes her return in BKN&B, though. Ugh.
  • Would I play again: Yes. No. Maybe? Like, I always intend to go back to the game and whip up the most insane cart ever seen, complete all the challenges, and blah blah blah, but, really, despite being generally fun, I don’t find anything particularly compelling about the game, and why make Banjo carts when you can make Mario worlds?

What’s Next? ChristopherDeMichiei has chosen… Hybrid Heaven for the N64! Fight, Magic, Item, SUPLEX! Please look forward to it!