Tag Archives: shoot ’em up

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

PENGUIN!In a world where Spider-Man isn’t popular enough to merit game preservation, what hope does an overweight penguin have?

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a supremely unusual game. Hailing from a time well before videogamin’ had codified itself into anything that made sense (you know, back when your next mascot creature could be an electric rat that hides in the forest), Yume Penguin Monogatari is the story of… a penguin. And that penguin has a girlfriend. But! Our hero penguin, Penta, has gotten fat. And previously mentioned penguin girlfriend, Penko, is not having it. So Penko dumps tubby Penta, and leaves him for Ginji, a nefarious penguin in a top hat and shades. Now Penta is setting out on a quest to lose some weight and reclaim the heart of Penko, but Ginji is on to Penta’s plans, and schemes to recruit an army of ridiculous creatures that all aim to fatten Penta back into obesity. So Penta has to find his way through six or so levels, and hopefully maintain a slim figure while battling monsters like a sentient/delicious birthday cake. It’s a hard life for an overweight penguin!

But, depending on how badly you want to see Penta achieve his chubby penguin dreams, it might not be a hard life for the player. Yume Penguin Monogatari features fairly unique gameplay for a NES (well, technically, Famicom) title: Penta cannot die. Get hit by every enemy across any given stage, and Penta will still survive. In a time when a mere life bar was a godsend, Penta is practically invincible compared to his dramatically more fragile 8-bit brethren. But, make no mistake, Penta is not going to experience a cakewalk (wait… dietwalk?) on his quest to cut out calories. Every stage features a generally unforgiving Here we go!timer, and, should the hourglass run out for Penta, it’s time to repeat the stage from the start. Additionally, every stage has a “diet goal”, and if Penta manages to beat the boss, but still looks terrible in a speedo, it’s back to the beginning. Considering every boss tosses out copious amounts of edibles, and Penta is an accomplished glutton, there is a very real possibility Penta will be forced to restart a stage due to excess flab. Said it before, say it again: it’s a hard life for an overweight penguin.

But, hard life or no, you’ll probably see the whole stage. Which is more than I can say for so many NES games…

Yume Penguin Monogatari is a Konami title. For Konami, much of the NES/SNES era was the epoch of the shoot ‘em up. Whether it was lil’ ships battling big cores, or lil’ dudes gunning down gigantic hearts, Konami had a number of titles available for satisfying your inalienable right to run around and shoot aliens. But the downside of nearly all of those titles? One hit kills. Assuming you don’t forsake your missiles and laserbeams for a shield immediately, the Vic Viper is going to fall to the forces of Bacterion after the slightest tap from a… one of those roundy things at the start of a stage. They probably have a name. Or Contra! The greatest game of all time that absolutely required a cheat code or you were never going to make it to the third level! Bill and Lance might be heroes of an alien invasion, but they’re just as vulnerable to bullets as weird dudes with backpacks. Basically, back in the day of 8-bit heroes, if you saw the final stage of a game (or even the boss of approximately the fourth level), it meant that you had a nigh-superhuman level of reflexes, or the ability to memorize a level like nobody’s business. I don’t care if Nintendo Power was helping you out with maps, you still had to have some major skills to make it to the end without that precious Konami Code.

CAKE BOSSAnd Yume Penguin Monogatari feels like it may be an answer to all those crying Nintendo kids. Yes, thanks to the timer and weight requirements, it may be impossible for some people to beat even the first level, left alone finish the entire game; but will everyone be able to see the majority of level 1? It’s pretty likely! Penta merely “trips” or inflates to bulbous size when attacked by an enemy, and is not immediately obliterated like so many Gradius defenders. And that’s great! The worst part of any of those one-hit kill games (or games that require a continue after rapidly vanishing “lives”) is that it was nearly impossible to be prepared for the end of a level. People expect increasing difficulty, so it’s only natural that the end of the stage would be the most challenging section. But if you spent all your lives on the initial, “easy” bits (because you’re, ya know, an eight year old just trying to have fun), then the finale is simply going to be a swift kick in the teeth before getting booted back to the beginning. In Yume Penguin Monogatari, however, you actually have a chance. Yes, Penta might be waddling along at maximum fat levels, and it might be abundantly clear that he’s going to get his tubby tail feathers dumped at the end of the stage, but at least you get to see what’s at the end of the stage. At least you get to play the actual game, as opposed to simply being annihilated at the starting gate. At least you can learn from your mistakes, and not be completely blindsided/destroyed by some manner of pig-zeppelin at the end of the level.

FLAP FLAPAnd, thankfully, this helps the player learn how to play the game. There may be traps and pitfalls all over the level, but with the ability to play the whole level, a player is going to get better and better with every run. All effort won’t be expended immediately just in an effort to conquer the start, and practice can make perfect across the entire breadth of a stage. In short, in one silly “fat penguin” game, Konami cracked the “difficulty appropriate for everyone” nut in 1991.

And then no one in America ever got to play the game, because it was never localized.

And, likely because it had the global appeal of… well… an overweight penguin, Yume Penguin Monogatari only ever saw rerelease in 2006, on the i-Revo… and I have no idea what that is. Some kind of smart phone? Smart TV? Smart penguin? No matter. Point is that this penguin adventure isn’t something that can legally be played in any country where there is currently an ongoing debate on the nature of videogame difficulty.

Yume Penguin Monogatari is an excellent, fun, weird game with some interesting twists on videogame difficulty…

And it’s lost forever.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

  • System: NES… or Nintendo Famicom. And, as previously mentioned, whatever the hell an “i-Revo” is.
  • Number of players: Oh lawd, one penguin comin’.
  • Everything you know is wrong: Considering the goal of many videogames (and nearly all NES games) is to consume as many food items as possible, it is really weird playing any game where you must avoid, say, succulent apples and enchanting rice cakes. The fact that apples are anything but a diet item pretty much goes against everything I have ever learned.
  • WeeeeeeLet’s talk about fat, baby: One could make the argument that this game is anti-fat, and ultimately body-shaming. And it is! On the other hand, being fat doesn’t kill Penta, it simply is the reason his girlfriend is going to leave him for another, slimmer penguin. So think of the moral less that “fat is bad” and more “some penguins are superficial, and will make you pilot magical planes to satisfy their own twisted desires”.
  • An end: Oh, and after defeating the final boss (it’s the bad alterna-boyfriend, natch), the ending is a now slim Penta hanging with the pleased Penko. But now Penko has developed an eating disorder, and she bulks up to gargantuan size. Ha ha! You two silly penguins are bad for each other!
  • Did you know? Pentarou, the penguin of Parodius titles, is supposedly Penta’s son. So I guess it is canon that Penta and Penko shake their collective penguin booty after the finale.
  • Would I play again: This is a great game! It would probably be right up there with Kirby’s Adventure and other late, great NES titles if, ya know, there was a legit way to play it.

What’s next? In the name of the moon, I will write about another forgotten videogame. Please look forward to it!

GET IT!?

FGC #396 Centipede: Infestation

GrossCentipede: Infestation is a 2011 Wayforward/Atari jaunt that sees heroic Max attempting to destroy legions of giant, irradiated bugs. It is, basically, a twin stick shooter on two different systems that don’t really have twin sticks. The 3DS version utilizes the crosspad and the traditional ABXY buttons, while the Wii employs some manner of sorcery and requires the player to point the wiimote in their desired aiming direction. And that’s lame, so just use the classic controller. Beyond the control scheme, Centipede: Infestation is basically just a shoot ‘em up with a familiar, ancient license attached. Thanks for playing, please look forward to Dig Dug: Earthquake.

But Centipede: Infestation does have the faintest glimmer of a plot, and it goes something like “sure, bugs are gigantic, deadly nuisances, but are they really the enemy?” We should love nature! And are insects the enemy for the minor crime of creeping across the kitchen counter? That doesn’t seem right! So let’s look at a few of the little buggers.

We’re going to look at real live bugs now, so you’ve been warned…

FGC #391 Star Fox 64 3D

Let us review how it only took one greedy pig to ruin the universe.

Here is Pigma Dengar.

Oink

First, we shall consider Pigma’s past. Pigma was a member of the original Star Fox team. This gang included not only Pigma, but also Peppy Hare and its leader, James McCloud. And, if you examine the infrastructure of the original Star Fox, you’ll find that being a mercenary space pilot was a pretty cushy gig. Sure, you were flying across the universe straight into danger on all fronts… but it certainly paid well. The Star Fox custom ships were all the latest in technological advancement, and, let’s be real here, that costs a pretty penny. And then there’s the Great Fox, a gigantic, airborne aircraft carrier that could quickly hop around the galaxy. James needed a 70 year loan to purchase that incredible ship… and I don’t care what planet you’re on, a bank isn’t going to hand out that kind of scratch without a flawless credit rating. Essentially, history shows that, prior to the Lylat Wars, Star Fox was making bank.

But Pigma wanted more.

WeeeeeeIt might be speciest, but Pigma was a pig through and through. Pigma was perfectly willing to sell out his companions and entire operation for, what, a few pieces of silver? The whole Star Fox operation was squashed in one day thanks entirely to Pigma’s greed. The cunning pig led James McCloud and Peppy Hare into a lethal trap, and only Peppy was able to escape with his life. James was gone, Peppy was wounded, and Pigma had indisputably switched sides. It was this event that would then inevitably lead to rise of Andross, and the Lylat Wars would occur shortly thereafter.

And consider Andross: he may have once been the most hated ape in the galaxy, but, one way or another, Andross’s tale is one of an underdog. Andross was singularly brilliant even as a child, and was focused on protecting his home planet of Corneria. However, his ambitions outstripped his abilities, and, in a fateful accident, a chunk of the capital was outright obliterated. General Pepper, seeing no other recourse, exiled Andross to Venom, a planet so inhospitable, it was literally named for poison. But Andross thrived in this environment, and, from the nothing that was a demon class planet, Andross had amassed an army. It was then that he was able to tempt Pigma to his side, and put an end to the original Star Fox team. Andross came from nothing, had all of his resources stripped away, and was still able to successfully launch a rebellion with the help of one greedy pig that already had more than his fair share of wealth. Andross was hated and reviled, but no one can say he merely inherited that title.

I hate everything!And, while we are speaking of privilege, we must consider Pigma’s lost quarry: Peppy Hare. Peppy escaped that fateful trap that finished James McCloud, and hopped on home to relay the news to Fox McCloud, son of James. Fox was an excellent pilot in his own right, but was he prepared to take up the Star Fox mantle? Was he at all qualified to lead a team of mercenaries on a blood quest to avenge his father? Or was Fox less fox, and more a lamb to the slaughter? Peppy never seemed like a vengeful hare, but he did immediately conscript his inexperienced “nephew” in a bloody war without a second thought. And, advanced or not, did anyone truly believe that four ships would succeed in stopping Andross where an entire army had failed? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to make the amphibious mechanic a pilot? Was this “team” thrown together with the same care as a middling salad? We now see Star Fox as a group of heroes that have saved the universe on multiple occasions, but, at the time, it was just a bloodthirsty rabbit and a kid that inherited his father’s empire. One might suppose we should be thankful was Fox McCloud was firmly on the side of the angels.

But Pigma certainly was not. Star Fox was assembled to destroy Andross, and Star Wolf was assembled to counter that vanguard. Or was it? Data on the Star Wolf team prior to the Lylat Wars is sketchy at best. What we do know is that Andross was responsible for the Wolfen craft that the team employs, and we’re all well aware that Andrew earned his seat at the table through being Andross’s nephew. But Pigma? It’s unclear how Pigma joined the gang. Was he with Star Wolf from the beginning, or did he join only when Andross offered a bounty? Are the rumors true, and Pigma is also the reason Fox and Wolf have an eternal rivalry? Whatever his origin, Pigma was certainly a member of Star Wolf exclusively for the paycheck, and, ace piloting skills or not, he was only interested in “finishing the job” for the money.

Which he didn’t. Star Wolf failed, Andross failed, and Star Fox brought peace to the galaxy. Pigma was out of a job.

SpicyBut greed doesn’t evaporate after a single setback. Pigma may have been financially and morally bankrupt, but it was still a big galaxy, and not being accepted by polite society never stopped this pig. Despite being targeted by the Cornerian Army, Star Fox, and Star Wolf (his former companions), Pigma was able to make a living as a pirate.

And then his greed nearly destroyed the universe. Again.

Aparoids, mechanical monsters from the furthest reaches of the galaxy, invaded the Lylat System. These insect-like creatures may have been merely a galactic annoyance, but Pigma thought he could make a quick buck by getting his hoggish hands on a Core Memory, and selling it to the highest bidder. His plan may have worked… except the core assimilated Pigma, and transformed him into a galactic engine of destruction. Mecha Pigma then severely damaged the climate control center of Fichina, and effectively killed an entire planet. Before he was finally destroyed by Star Fox, Pigma had left an indelible scar on the face of the galaxy, and all in the name of buying a bigger pig pen.

So is there a moral to Pigma’s story? He had it all, gave it away for more, but, in the end, died a penniless captive of his own avarice. “Don’t be greedy” seems like a pretty obvious lesson here, but maybe there’s something more. Maybe we’re supposed to realize what greed does: that, given the option, there are some people that would absolutely choose to endanger everyone and everything in the name of profit. Maybe the moral is not to avoid being this type of person, but to never enable someone that would even think of doing such a thing. Greed is bad, we know that, but perhaps it is more important to guard against the greedy than worry about the dominion of our own hearts.

Though, one would suppose, a coda is important here.

Right?There are some that say Pigma survived. Despite the destruction of the Aparoid hive, Pigma lived on, now fused with the core he stole long ago, and became some manner of… space box. This new creature is neither living nor dead, though seemingly possessed of Pigma’s repellant personality. Perhaps this is the ultimate fate for one so fueled by greed. Perhaps, trapped in a prison of his own making, screaming at the void and attempting to distract heroes from their real goals, perhaps that is where greed leads in the end.

But that kind of appropriate punishment will not bring back the lives lost.

Beware the pigs of this galaxy, citizens. Beware the pigs.

FGC #391 Star Fox 64 3D

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. If we’re talking about the original, which we’re not, then you’d have to hit the N64.
  • Number of players: Multiplayer is still possible, right? Let’s say four. Wait, they dropped the on-foot mode? Lame.
  • Hey, genius, none of this is canon anymore: Yes, Star Fox Zero apparently has rewritten the Star Fox timeline once again. And maybe Star Fox 2 is now partially canon, too, thanks to the SNES Mini? I don’t care. Star Fox 64 got the coolest strategy guide, so it’s the most canon.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I’m not generally a fan of the Star Fox series, as I prefer my shoot ‘em ups to be 2-D, and the 3-D perspective somehow doesn’t work with my brain (I have a tendency to gauge distances wrong… and smash right into things. Sorry, Fox), but Star Fox 64 is my favorite of the franchise. Maybe I just like charging lasers? Or maybe it came out at just the right time to be the only game available on my only current system for a few months (thanks, N64!). Whatever the reason, this is the only Star Fox title that ever really clicked with me, and the 3DS version only makes it better. So time to pay, Andross!
  • Tanks a lot!Other Vehicles: This is also the first Star Fox game to get bored with Arwings, and introduce the tank and submarine. They’re both awful, and I hate them. I don’t understand how some videogames keep making tanks awful, but here we are.
  • For the ladies: Katt Monroe appears to be the only woman in this entire war. This would bother me more if I wasn’t dreadfully aware of what happens to women in the Star Fox fandom.
  • Did you know? If you battle Star Wolf more than once during an adventure, they will return with “battle damage” and cybernetic enhancements that presumably cover their many scars. And Wolf himself gets a pile of band-aids. Considering how furry that dude is, that has got to be painful.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. Out of many Star Fox games, this one seems to be my one return engagement, and sticking it on a portable system doesn’t hurt. And I can punish a pig, which is always good.

What’s next? Random ROB… can be kind of funny sometimes. As you may be aware, I “roll” Random ROB pretty far in advance, and, by complete coincidence, it created its own theme week thanks to three sequential games that actually all work together well. So, next week we’ll start with Rocko’s Modern Life: Spunky’s Dangerous Day, and kick off TV Week, a week featuring games based on TV shows. Please look forward to it!

Off to the next adventure

FGC #364 The Adventures of Bayou Billy

Billy!There have been a lot of reasons thrown around for why localized NES games were so unerringly difficult compared to their Japanese, easier cousins. Was it the fear of the American rental market gutting the profits of Japanese developers? Was it an effort to “improve” the game through greater difficulty? Was it a general disdain for Grant Danasty? In many cases, it is nearly impossible to ascertain the thinking involved, as many Japanese developers were just too exhausted from blowing into cartridges to remember what they did ten seconds back, left alone two decades ago. However, in one case, we know exactly why Konami made a host of changes between the Japanese Mad City and the American The Adventures of Bayou Billy.

It’s because 1989 Konami was a company filled with hate.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the differences between The Adventures of Bayou Billy and Mad City.

Beat ‘em Up: Faster, Stronger, Harder

What is even happening?First and most unforgivable sin: everything is so much more difficult in the beat ‘em up portions of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Konami didn’t just choose to strengthen the enemies through increased HP, double damage dealing blows, or increasing their average speed; no, Konami decided to enhance everything. How is Billy supposed to survive such a thing!? All of his opponents have become super monsters, and the only advantage the player has gained is… sometimes the bad guys now drop knives. That’s it! Billy was granted no additional strength, and everyone else in the bayou is sucking down triple powered steroids!

And the unfortunate corollary to this change is that it makes the game so much worse. A beat ‘em up is, at its core, a careful balance between general fun and nonstop tedium. There’s a reason even the best of the best of beat ‘em ups often have minigames splattered about the experience, and that’s because old school beat ‘em ups are boring as heck. It’s the same doof getting punched over and over, and even the most dedicated player is going to notice nothing new has happened for the last half hour. Double the HP of your average enemy (or every enemy), and it’s not only a challenge to keep Billy alive, but it’s a challenge to stay awake. Nobody needs to wade around in a bog for ten minutes punching an alligator, and we really don’t need another boss that takes so many hits that it doubles the length of the level.

Yes, more powerful enemies make the game “harder”, but, more importantly, they make the game unnecessarily longer.

Shoot ‘em Up: Better be a Crack Shot

Pew PewThe first stage (that you will never beat) is a beat ‘em up, but shortly thereafter is a shoot ‘em up stage. And it’s kind of neat! You have the option of using your controller as a mouse-like reticle, or you can actually use the classic NES Zapper to blast Bayou Billy’s bullies to bits. Yes, this game was produced in that crazy ten minute period when developers remembered that the NES had other control options, and we’ll all accept any excuse to whip out the ol’ Zapper again.

Unfortunately, the American version of the game found a way to make the entire experience 50% less fun. You have a limited number of bullets in both Mad City and TAoBB, but in TAoBB, you have half the bullets as Mad City. This means you have half the means of defending yourself (in typical shooting gallery style, you must repel attackers and objects with your amazing aim), and half the chances to survive. Naturally, you instantly lose if you run out of bullets, so for anyone that isn’t already very good at aiming (like the guy writing this article), the zapper goes from a fun novelty to a virtual impossibility. Or maybe you could just sit really close to the screen. Whatever the solution, the severely limited firepower transforms what could be a very fun minigame into an extremely stressful shoot out.

Okay, I suppose shoot outs should be stressful… but still!

Quiz Mode: Gone Forever

Mad City contained “quiz mode”, a short, multi-question, multiple choice quiz that tested your knowledge of Mad City. Bayou Billy dropped the quiz entirely. One could claim the test was eliminated because it had no impact on anything and was barely more fun than a math final… but at least it was there! And it was one of the few things you could “beat” without having to master proper gator-wrastlin’! Come on, Konami, let us Americans have some goofy fun!

Drive Mode: You will not survive

WeeeeeAnd now we get to raw, seething loathing. Bayou Billy starts in the Louisiana Bayou, but, at about the halfway point, Billy hops in a jeep and hightails it over to the big city/easy. This simple act translates into an Out Run-esque “racing” segment. Billy has to catch up with Godfather Gordon, and avoid a few planes, trees, and automobiles along the way. It’s a pretty straightforward race to the finish/avoid every obstacle car challenge.

However, things are just a smidgen more difficult for the American audience. Right off the bat, Mad City’s car health bar has been dropped, so, bad news, every last collision is an instant death. Sorry! Making matters worse, Billy is driving a big, fat American car for his the Western release, so the slightly wider bumper is a lot more likely to nudge into a fatal crash. And, because we’re never going green, Billy has less fuel, so if you were considering taking it slow to avoid all those gratuitous deaths, I’ve got some bad news for you.

In short, if you claim you were able to conquer the Bayou Billy driving stages on the original hardware, I am calling you a liar.

Annabelle Gets a Makeover

In Mad City, Annabelle, Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend, wears a long dress with no shoes. In TAoBB, she is sporting daisy dukes, a tank top, and heels. This… doesn’t impact anything, but it’s weird, right? The only woman in this entire franchise gets a different outfit, and every other character gets slight palette swaps, if that. Okay, it’s the least of the localization sins, but it’s still peculiar.

More Work, Less Reward

LoserAfter all that, assuming you can beat Godfather Gordon and his inexplicably buff twin nephews (or something) you will be treated to the ending of The Adventures of Bayou Billy. Admittedly, this ending is actually pretty great (by NES standards) as it includes not only the resolution of the plot (Billy gets the girl!) but also a set of whacky credits that credit every random thug in the adventure like they’re actors playing a role (and that role is making your life miserable). Nobody is going to mistake this little interlude for the best ending on the NES (which is, obviously, the finale of Super Mario Bros. 2), but it at least acknowledges something happened.

But over in Japan, Billy can earn one of three different endings. Three! There’s the obvious “reunion” scene that appears in the American version, but there are also two joke endings: one that includes Billy being a jackass and refusing to touch Annabelle (because the player didn’t deign to shuffle Billy over to his “prize”), and one that is a fourth-wall breaking “comedy routine” that parodies the very concept of a happy ending. Neither ending is that exciting (and one is weirdly rapey), but, come on guys, at least give the greater prizes to the more difficult game!

More effort, less to show for it, and a game that goes from “innocuous” to “one of the most difficult games on the system”. Could there even be an explanation other than sheer hatred for Western gamers?

Here’s a game set in America, kids, now choke on it.

FGC #364 The Adventures of Bayou Billy

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and that’s that. No rerelease for the lucrative Bayou Billy license.
  • Number of players: It’s mostly a beat ‘em up without a second player, and that’s never good.
  • BelmondoFavorite Weapon: At least one thing Bayou Billy has going for it is that Billy can acquire a few different weapons from his opponents, like a rock or a gun. I think one is more effective than the other. Regardless, the whip is the best of the bunch, because it’s strong, has range, and doesn’t run out of bullets in six seconds. Bless you, 8-bit whips.
  • How hard is it? In the official Captain N canon, Bayou Billy is the only game that Kevin Keene has never beaten. He’s Captain N! He can beat all the games! What is going on!?!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I assumed “Bayou Billy” was some popular 80’s property (likely a movie) until… about a week ago. Crocodile Dundee was a real thing, right?
  • Did you know? There was a tie-in Bayou Billy comic book series, and, while it only ran for five issues, it did feature art by a young Amanda Conner, who would go on to be the best freaking combination artist/writer in the comics industry. Have you read her Power Girl series? Go do that now. It has a gorilla in it, you’ll like it.
  • Would I play again: I just described the game as pure hatred, do you think I’m going to jump back into that swamp again?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bravely Second: End Layer! Let’s team up with a woman from the moon to fight for our beloved dimension! Please look forward to it!

Hugs!
HUGS!