Tag Archives: shoot ’em up

FGC #349 Tetris Axis

TETRIS!What if someone made a Tetris game for people that hate Tetris?

Many “basic” games have the same problem: you only need one. Too often the gaming community focuses on every little thing about videogames and forgets that, before we had the technology of today (or the 80s), “games” had to be simple things to be at all practical. Poker might have nuances and strategies, but a second grader can learn every rule available inside of five minutes. Nobody ever has to explain checkers, and chess is just a matter of knowing that your horsey is clearly drunk. This is why these games have persisted for either hundreds of years or maybe seven weeks, depending on which Snopes article you’re reading. And the side effect of that is that your average person can literally inherit such a “game” from an ancestor, and never need a replacement. Granted, you don’t usually see a deck of cards passed from father to son (assuming your father isn’t Gambit, of course), but a family chess set isn’t all that uncommon (for nerds). Why reinvent the wheel when your current hooptie gets you everywhere you need to go?

Tetris is much in the same boat. While you could make new stages for Mario or design new Hyrules for Link, the simple tetromino needs only one home, and it’s a narrow playfield where the vertical line is king. Like Solitaire or Minesweeper, when the average person discusses “Tetris”, they might be picturing a black and white screen or a PS4-based colorplosion, but, one way or another, it’s the same game they have in mind. Tetris is Tetris. You could make a million different NBA Jams or NBA 2KXXs, but they’re all still based on basketball, and basketball is basketball. Tetris may have started as a videogame just the same as Mega Man, but we have never needed a Tetris 2 featuring Quick Man. Alexey Pajitnov got it in one, and, give or take a feature or two, Tetris need not ever change.

Which is not to say that producers haven’t tried.

My old friend is back!Let’s see here… before we even got past the age of the Gameboy, we had Tetris, Tetris 2, Tetris Blast, Super Tetris 3, and Tetris Attack. But that was the heyday of Tetris, right? The inevitable age of imitators that happens to every franchise from Mario to GTA? Well, yes, and some of those games had about as much to do with Tetris as Dr. Mario had to do with Yoshi’s Island, but the exploitation of the brand certainly didn’t end there. You want Tetris with Mickey Mouse? Tetris with online features? Goddamn Hatris? We’ve seen Tetris in every possible way with every possible system. There was a Tetris designed exclusively for the Virtual Boy! That system lasted twelve minutes and had six games! Tetris isn’t just ubiquitous, it’s also been adapted more times than Romeo & Juliet.

So, by the time we got to Tetris Axis for 3DS (released in the fall of 2011, the 3DS’s launch year) we were already looking back at over twenty years of Tetris remixes. In fact, we had just seen the preeminent Tetris remix a few years earlier with “what if Tetris, but sometimes Mario shows up”. That was the best! Now… what? 3-D graphics? Half-assed augmented reality modes? The 3DS shop wasn’t even quite live by the time this hit the streets, so we couldn’t even claim that a version of Tetris constantly loaded onto the system was the latest innovation worthy of our attention. Tetris Axis seemed doomed from the get-go to be yet another forgettable Tetris port, and it would soon collect dust next to The New Tetris.

And, at first blush, Tetris Axis seems to have plenty of reasons to be forgotten. It’s got your basic endless Tetris mode, and… we don’t really need much more than that, right? Well, we’ve also got survival mode, which limits the play area, and fever, which is all the Tetris you can play in one minute. That’s a pretty neat idea, particularly for a portable version of Tetris on a system with a handy sleep mode. Play Tetris at a stop light (note: never do this)! And there’s a two player mode that is ready for some 3DS communication or tetrising against the computer, so that’s handy. None of this is completely original, one way or another, but it’s not bad for a game from the Tetris franchise. Good, but forgettable.

But then there’s “party mode”. Despite the name, these modes seem to be dedicated to a one player, no parties experience. Or maybe I’m just some kind of weirdo that doesn’t find jigsaw puzzles to be party material. Yes, “jigsaw puzzles” is basically the theme of two party games, Shadow Mode (not that Shadow) and (appropriately named) Jigsaw. What do jigsaw puzzles have to do with Tetris? I guess they both involve blocks? Kinda? Then we’ve got Climber, which involves stacking your blocks so they don’t disappear, and an anonymous little stick figure can climb said blocks to the heavens. That’s the complete opposite of Tetris! And speaking of which, we have Stage Racer. Guide a tetromino through a maze like so…

Weeeee

And tell me that isn’t Life Force, Abadox, or any other damn shooter in the world. Except, ya know, minus the shooting. Guiding a tetromino? Does that sound exciting to anybody? This would be akin to someone looking at a Mario game, and commenting that it would be a lot more fun if the guy in the hat didn’t jump as much.

Such lightingAnd, ultimately, that’s how Tetris Axis feels. It’s a Tetris game that incidentally involves a number of modes that are barely Tetris. It’s a poker game where the main goal is learning to shuffle. It’s a football game where you see who can eat the ball fastest. It’s a chess game where you see if you can make the pieces kiss. It’s Tetris, but as an added bonus, here are a bunch of games that have nothing to do with Tetris. Did you want more Tetris in your Tetris, dawg? Too bad!

Tetris Axis is a Tetris game that, incidentally, wants nothing to do with Tetris.

FGC #349 Tetris Axis

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. And it’s got the lame 3-D mode to prove it!
  • Number of players: Two seems to be the right number here. There might be some additional, even more players modes, but they’re not readily apparent.
  • Favorite Mode: I can’t complain too much, because Tetris Blast does return in Bombliss Plus. It’s not as robust as the game that came out twenty years ago, but it’s always a fun time to play Tetris and make things explode.
  • Most Confusing Mode: Capture Mode is available, and it’s Tetris, but with some light color matching. It’s not terrible, but it indicates what you’re supposed to do so poorly that it really stands out as a dud. Or I’m just bitter because it took me forever to figure out and I lost a bunch of times. It’s one of those.
  • Did you know? There are AR modes in here, and they involve the question mark trading cards that came with your 3DS. Am… am I the only one that keeps those things handy for just such an occasion? I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to play a crappy Tetris mode on my real live floor.
  • WeeeeWould I play again: Tetris? Yes. Tetris Axis? Not so much. Maybe if it were to become a free downloadable title, I’d go for it, but I’d rather play Gameboy Tetris any day of the week. And, conveniently, guess what is already on my 3DS?

What’s next? Random ROB… is wearing an unusual red cap with eyes. What the heck does that mean? Guess we’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

FGC #346 Taito Legends

GrrrThere are plenty of reasons to deride the current “AAA gaming” philosophy. Micro transactions, incomplete games requiring patches, incomplete games requiring DLC, face melting, too many games where you can play with random puppers… it all gets a bit overwhelming after a while. And gone are the days when you could just “buy a videogame”, as this AAA environment has created a scary world wherein a “launch copy” might not even work without downloading a 40 GB patch, or the latest version of a beloved franchise now includes enough clothes ripping to legally consider it a porno. In short, the AAA environment has created a whole host of new and exciting problems.

But my main problem with the domination of AAA game development? It’s weeded out the weird!

Videogames used to be weird! They used to be weird as hell! Nowadays, even once you make it past the brown shooters, you’ve only ever got market tested, board of directors approved nonsense. I don’t blame companies for wanting to make money, but, come on, this is an industry founded on a chubby dude eating enough mushrooms to beat a lava turtle! Nowadays, the best we can hope for is a Yoko Taro release, and, even then, it’s pretty clear the marketing department got initial approval. I mean, come on, it must not have been that hard to sell Square-Enix on “sexy lady commits wanton violence” and “sexy lady commits wanton violence, but now with a cuter butt”. “Weird” is relegated to sidequests, and, even when you’ve got a talking cat, you still spend more time planning your daily schedule than fighting freaky monsters from the depths of the human soul.

But, according to Taito Legends, there was once a time not so long ago when weird ruled the roost.

Let’s take a look at the arcades according to Taito. Want to do this in chronologically released order? We can do that.

Jungle Hunt

Pitfall?On its own, Jungle Hunt isn’t all that weird. It’s the story of some random explorer dude saving his woman (Wife? Girlfriend? …. Mom?) from cannibals, as one does. However, what’s worth noting here is that Jungle Hunt itself was originally intended to be a Tarzan game, but someone noticed that that dude in a loincloth swinging along vines miiiiiiight just infringe on a couple of copyrights. So the noble Tarzan became Sir Dudley, and maybe a vine was transformed into a rope. And that’s it! Tooootally different, tooootally lawful.

But it didn’t end there! Because it was assumed that the children of 1982 were complete morons, Jungle Hunt became Pirate Pete in short order. It was the exact same game, just now with a pirate theme. Swinging from rope to rope became…. Swinging from rope to rope. Huh. Basically, with as little effort as possible, this title somehow became three “different” games. It’s an auspicious start.

Zoo Keeper

Bah?Again, we start with a pretty basic premise: Zeke is a zookeeper, and it’s your job to help Zeke keep all the animals penned up. However, someone decided to get some proto-Super Mario Galaxy action going, and Zeke…. orbits his zoo. And, somehow, as long as Zeke has his feet planted on the ground, the mere act of running will generate bricks (fences?) to trap rampaging lions. One would suppose this is some manner of “compensation” for the good old days of 80’s graphics, and the whole thing would be in 3-D if it were released today, but… It’s peculiar. Zeke’s zookeeper gravity is just plain weird, and gives the impression that Zeke’s Zoo is the literal center of his world. I… kind of feel bad for the poor guy. He’s not very good at his job, and it’s all he has.

Oh, and his girlfriend gets kidnapped by a monkey every three levels. But, hey, that kind of thing happened back then.

Elevator Action

Nothing is more exciting than elevators!

Bubble Bobble

We’ve spoken of this title at length before, but, since bubble dinosaurs have become normalized in society, I just want to note that, again, we’re talking about a pair of boys that were cursed to become dinosaurs that blow bubbles and hunt monsters in a 100-floor dungeon. Also, their girlfriends have been kidnapped by a giant wizard monster, and he must be defeated with lightning bubbles. There is not a single bit of this plot that has ever appeared elsewhere in human fiction.

Rainbow Islands

It’s the sequel to Bubble Bobble, but this time, instead of a dinosaur that shoots bubbles, you’re a human that farts rainbows. And your ultimate opponent is Dinosaur Death, the death that comes for all dinosaurs. It’s disappointing that the third Bubble Bobble title did not feature mutant giraffes that belch tiny suns at cosmic horrors.

Rastan

GrrrYou would think that someone learned from the whole Jungle Hunt thing, but experience is for quitters. Here’s Conan the Barbarian except… nope. It’s just Conan the Barbarian. Did Conan ever fight endless hordes of lizard people? Well, Rastan totally does. Maybe that’s new? I don’t know. I’m not a barbarianologist because, apparently, that’s not a real thing. Thanks a lot, Obama.

Battle Shark

No game could ever live up to that title. I’m not even going to… aw… It’s a submarine shooter? That is totally lame.

New Zealand Story

SqueakAnother tale as old as time: Tiki and Phee Phee are young kiwis in love, but tragedy strikes when Phee Phee and her phriends are kidnapped by a blue leopard seal (which is totally not a walrus). And, rather than go ahead and eat said kiwis like some manner of toothy mammalian horror, Phee Phee and the gang are stuffed into cages across various mazes filled with an oddly high number of ballooning monsters (that is to say the monsters are using balloons to travel, I don’t mean to imply the monsters are getting fat). Tiki is ready for battle, though, as he’s equipped with deadly arrows, and has the ability to steal weapons from the corpses of his defeated foes. Oh, and he can steal a flying swan balloon, too. Because it’s adorable, that’s why.

While this might all sound like basement level insanity (this isn’t even the only old school game to be based entirely on the deliciousness of kiwi birds), what really pushes this one over the top is the “New Zealand Story” angle. Yes, kiwis are indigenous to New Zealand. And, yes, after every stage, you get a real life map of New Zealand. And, as you progress, you will learn the geography of New Zealand, and which areas potentially include enormous, kiwi-eating whale bosses. Was this title made with a grant by the New Zealand tourism board? Or, more likely, did some random dudes in Japan just spin a globe, point randomly at the Pacific Ocean, and base a game on the first country that happened to appear? Which option is more sane?

Ninja Kids

Totally swoleBy 1990, you couldn’t cut it with bubble-based dinosaurs anymore, so it was time to give in to the times and release a beat ‘em up. Except… nobody at Taito had any idea how to make a beat ‘em up, so they made something that’s a little more Mega Man than Streets of Rage. You take damage for simply touching an opponent, ranged attacks are king, and most enemies go down in one or two hits. Despite the fact that the beat ‘em up genre was well established at this point, it almost feels like the long lost missing link between 2-D action games and Mike Haggar’s Big Day. It’s an amusing proto-beat ‘em up from way back when! Nothing weird about that!

Oh, except the fact that you’re fighting against a literally satanic cult.

And your main characters are puppets.

And every attack slices your opponents in half.

And it’s the source of this image

Every Sprite Comic Ever

And it’s kind of racist.

And… man, it’s just weird.

Games used to be really weird, guys!

FGC #346 Taito Legends

  • System: Taito Legends was released for the Playstation 2 and Xbox, but most of the featured games here are primarily arcade releases. Except Bubble Bobble, of course, which only appeared on the NES Classic.
  • Number of players: Two players allow for better quarter consumption than one. Four is even better!
  • GrrrFavorite Game (Compilation): Okay, technically it’s Bubble Bobble, because Bubble Bobble is love. But New Zealand Story is a close second, and there’s a part of me that feels like it should have been another Contra or alike that holds the run ‘n gun mantle for the early days. Or I just like fighting not-walruses. Could be one of those.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: There are a number of light gun games on this compilation, too (including the sublime Operation Wolf), but there is zero light gun support. And did this thing ever appear on the Wii? Noooooo.
  • Did you know? No, really, The Ninja Kids is racist as hell. The most general “thugs” are big-lipped African Americans that are about as powerful as kittens and are recklessly bisected by your favorite ninja. It is disturbing. And this is a game that involves a satanic cult!
  • Would I play again: Well…

What’s next? We’re not quite done with Taito Legends yet, as there’s one game on this compilation I want to give a closer look. Which game am I talking about? Well, please look forward to finding out!

Oh, the devil

FGC #337 Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil

Sing along!Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil is a videogame that was released last week (or so). It is, basically, a Contra/Gradius game with an extremely unique “old cartoons” art style. That’s it. That’s the game. Nothing revolutionary, nothing we haven’t seen before, just an old school, hard as heck game about the dangers of dealing with the devil (don’t do it).

And, somehow, I can’t toss a teacup without hitting another article about “what Cuphead means” or its greater sociological ramifications, or how difficult games are the gatekeepers of the industry, or whatever.

I’m sick of it. I just want to talk about how Cuphead is one of the best games, graphically and gameplay-wise, of 2017 (a year already chock full of amazing games). I want to say, “Dammit, look at this gorgeous nonsense. This is next gen. This is what I’ve wanted since I was five. This is all I need.”

So… uh… I may as well just say that.

Screw words, we’re just looking at GIFs today, because I’m going to bop back to this “article” every time I want to experience pure joy. Here are some random GIFs from Cuphead, boys and girls. Every single one is a delight.

Click here to download a bunch of Cuphead art directly into your brain…

FGC #266 Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy

Trevor!The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an incredible game, and, should the Nintendo Switch crash and burn before we even get to see New Donk City, the Switch will be remembered fondly for its remarkable maiden voyage. Yes, there were other launch games, and, yes, Breath of the Wild is also available on the WiiU, but, for a healthy chunk of the gaming population, BoTW is always going to be the Switch, and you can’t buy that that kind of festering nostalgia. Like its ancestors, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, and Wii Sports, BoTW is a game that is going to define gaming for a console generation. BoTW makes one thing clear: We’re here, we’re top tier, and we wanna ride some bears. While there are many, many reasons this is the case, it all boils down to the fact that, from the first moment and until Ganon is in the grave, BoTW is just plain impressive. And, when you’re the ambassador for a whole new videogame system, “impressive” might be more important than anything.

Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy is the least impressive console launch game in history.

The Atari Jaguar might be the worst videogame system ever released (and, as the owner of a Virtual Boy, I don’t use that phrase lightly). For those of you that missed the heady age of the Sega vs. Nintendo days, back during the 16-bit era, Atari attempted to reassert its console dominance with the release of the Jaguar, the first 64-bit gaming system. Unfortunately, that “64-bit” headline legally required asterisk after asterisk, and, spoilers, the system was “64-bit” in the same way that a “Diet Slim Jim” is healthy eating. Aside from the fact that most of the Atari Jaguar library was simply a collection of (marginally) upscaled 16-bit ports, the Jaguar also possessed what may have been the worst controller in gaming history. Look at this abomination:

What?

We’ve got three “action” buttons, a start/select, and a damned contemptible phone pad. What was the reasoning there? No one has ever enjoyed gaming on a phone pad (just ask anybody that tried those 1-900 “phone videogames” back in the 80s… not that I know anyone silly enough to try those things… on their parent’s credit cards… cough…), and it’s just few enough buttons to not work as a keyboard. I guess it could come in handy for a calculator-based videogame, but there is absolutely no part of that phrase that sounds fun at all. And heads up, holding that block of plastic is about as comfortable as attempting to beat Super Metroid with a particularly spiky rock. That is also on fire. And that fire burned off all your flesh and nerve endings long ago, so all you can do is sit and watch in horror as it consumes the last vestiges of your soul. And then your dog tells you she’s leaving you because you smell so horrible. Look, what I’m saying is that playing the Atari Jaguar is not in any way an enjoyable experience.

PEW PEWBut there were people that bought the Atari Jaguar. Not many, mind you, as the system was a flop the likes of which the world hadn’t seen since the last time Atari tried to make videogame consoles, but there was definitely a user base (and, to be clear, I was not an Atari Jaguar early adopter, because Nintendo Power didn’t tell me to buy this system I have excellent taste). This means that, technically, there had to be people that purchased their brand new 64-bit videogame system, and, in a desperate need to see all this new system had to offer, purchased Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, the only non-pack-in game available at the launch of the Atari Jaguar. This isn’t the demo game! This is the real McFur! The first real game for the first 64-bit system in gaming history. This is going to be marvelous!

And… it’s a lame Gradius clone.

But a shoot ‘em up could have worked! If you look at the Dreamcast (from a far-flung future where Sega crashed and burned as badly as Atari), it seemed to do well with showing off “next gen” graphics on vertical and missile-based shoot ‘em ups. Sure, we’re still talking about “primitive graphics” compared to the likes of Soulcalibur and… Sonic Adventure? Huh. Yeah, maybe a shoot ‘em up is the best way to go. After all, it started the Super Nintendo off well with Gradius 3. Do you remember that stage that was totally on fire? That was rad.

But Trevor McFur doesn’t even muster the raw graphical impressiveness of its 16-bit brethren. What we have here is a “space shooter” with levels that appear to be endless slogs in front of the most generic backgrounds available. There’s something distinctly… No need to dodgelow rent going on here, as if someone made one passable tile, and then copy and pasted it ad nauseam. All of the worlds start in space, which is penny-saver black, and then you’ve got the planets themselves, which are “generic sci-fi fantasy”, save the one level that is inexplicably just a child’s drawings. I guess it’s supposed to be a virtual world or something? Don’t know, don’t care. What I do know is that these stages all feature approximately three different enemies, and they’re repeated about as generously as their tiresome backgrounds. All told, it makes every level seem about five times longer than it really is, because you’ve literally seen everything a stage has to offer within its first few seconds. Except the bosses, which, legitimately, appear to be where the “64-bit graphics” of Trevor McFur went… except they have way too much life and the dumbest patterns, so even those showcase pieces crumble too dust (albeit, not nearly fast enough).

In short, there is nothing about Trevor McFur that encourages you to play the game.

And it’s funny how that complete blunder can sour you on an entire system. The Atari Jaguar has an awful controller, and its smattering of software was terrible. Trevor McFur was just the leader of the first vanguard, it’s not like (the other launch game) Cybermorph, Kasumi Ninja, Zool 2, or (ugh) Atari Karts ever did anything to rectify the situation. There was never any fun to be had on the Atari Jaguar, so it’s no surprise it crashed into the annals of Horrible Videogame History. And, yes, it all started with Trevor McFur, the least impressive launch game ever.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Trevor McFur was never a videogame. Perhaps Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy was nothing more than a warning to others in cartridge form. I suppose it’s a warning a number of people heeded.

FGC #266 Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy

  • System: Atari Jaguar. Just the Atari Jaguar.
  • Number of players: This kind of suffering can only be experienced by one person at a time.
  • What is even happening here?Favorite Powerup: Oh yeah, unless I’m missing a button here, there are a myriad of powerups available, but you have no control over which powerup is used at any given time. Maybe I’m supposed to touch that damn keypad? I’m not doing that. Regardless, one of the powerups summons a little ship dude to help out, and that’s a damn bit more useful than the magnet attack that drags monsters right into Trevor’s windshield.
  • Say something nice: I do like that there’s a full paragraph of “lore” for every planet and monster. They’re not really well thought out (there seems to be no distinguishing between a “planet” and a “moon”), but at least somebody tried the tiniest bit.
  • I just got that: Trevor McFur is a jaguar. Right. Duh.
  • Did you know? Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy was released the last day of November, 1993. Star Fox, a furry-based shoot ‘em up designed to showcase new videogame hardware, was released in North America on March 26, 1993.
  • Would I play again: Does anybody want a used Atari Jaguar?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Home Alone for the NES! Wow, ROB, really great picks here, champ. What’s next? Spice World 2? Bah, please look forward to even more fun!

Rawr