Tag Archives: shoot ’em up

FGC #506 Gunstar Super Heroes

Nobody gives the Gameboy Advance library enough credit for being flipping amazing.

Okay, yes, there may be a number of Gameboy Advance acolytes out there. The GBA was a viable system for a number of years, and, while it may not have had the longevity enjoyed by its ancestor (the Nintendo Gameboy started out porting NES titles, and reached its finish line interfacing with N64 games) or its obvious descendant (The Nintendo DS: the last bastion of portable gaming before the rise of the cell phone), it was still a system that that defined gaming for a time. It had no real Game Gear or PSP to make a play at its throne, and, while some rumors of a supposed Neo Geo Pocket may have persisted, the GBA was the undisputed king of the portable heap in its day. Inevitably, this did lead to a number of gamers young and old extolling the virtues of the Gameboy Advance, and its library of thousands of amazing games. In truth, it is an outright lie to claim the Gameboy Advance was not lauded in the past straight through to the present.

But when you ask GBA fans about the games they played the most on that lovely little system, their responses often contain games that are better known for their appearances on other platforms. The SNES seemingly provided much of the best of the Gameboy Advance library, with series like Final Fantasy Advance, Super Mario Advance, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past & Four Swords (Advance). And when a game appeared on the Gameboy Advance, but was not an outright port, it was often seen as a portable compromise. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance revisited the Final Fantasy Tactics gameplay not seen since the Playstation 1, but there was no way this game featuring snowball fights was as mature as a game that blamed an uncaring God for misfortunes in its opening dialogue. Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission both did their best, but they could never combine to match the timelessness of Super Metroid. And the other half of the metroidvania equation seemed to find its home on the GBA, but the likes of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance or Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow were never considered as intricate as their symphonic ancestor. WeeeeeIn fact, the Castlevania series on GBA seemed to summarize to state of these franchises: these “types” of games would never work on the real consoles, so here they are in portable form. Here is a discount version of your actual favorite games, and if it winds up being your favorite, lucky you. Glad you can see the good in these “bargains”.

And, while that may have been a prevailing philosophy of the time, it is important to note that that was complete bullshit.

Let’s take Super Mario Advance as an example. On the surface, it is a remake of Super Mario Bros. 2, the end. It has the same gameplay and same basic graphics as the Super Mario All-Stars Release. Whoo boy. It is a good game, save the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 was thirteen years old when it hit this portable scene. But claiming Super Mario Advance is merely a SMB2 remake is doing the whole of the game a disservice. There are new bosses, animations, and, for some reason, a robotic transsexual dinosaur. There are new mushrooms and coins to find. There are points for some insane reason. As our own commenter extraordinaire, Metal Man Master noted, it changes the Super Mario Bros. 2 experience to a startling degree. It was touted as a simple remake or “portable conversion”, but Super Mario Advance started the long history of “ports” on Gameboy Advance that were anything but. Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 has the most confusing title on Earth for a reason!

Which brings us to today’s game, Gunstar Super Heroes. Gunstar Super Heroes is remembered by many as little more than a GBA port of the beloved Genesis title. The basic plot of GSH makes it clear this is a sequel set years after the original adventure, but all of the heroes and villains coincidentally have the exact same roles and names. The level structure is the same (give or take a Mega Man X-esque introductory stage), and, in the end, you’re still going to wind up fighting the same final boss/god-robot of destruction. You run. You gun. It’s Gunstar Heroes for a new generation, but with the same old gameplay from 1993. Maybe we’ll see Beyond Oasis Advance next week.

Oh, I get itBut actually play Gunstar Heroes and Gunstar Super Heroes back to back, and you’ll find that Gunstar Super Heroes is not only a very original sequel, but also one of the most astounding games of 2005.

Gunstar Super Heroes does echo its ancestor, but it uses the structure of GH less as a dedicated guide, and more as a skeleton on which to add meat. And, fun fact, if we’re going to go with that metaphor, then GSH has piled on enough flesh to make GH morbidly obese. Nearly every level in GSH features at least one area that could have been an entire game’s concept all by itself. Guiding chicks back to an exit in a rotating labyrinth? Battling a boss while leaping between a friendly ship and a teetering helicopter? An entire shoot ‘em up stage with a wholly rotating playfield? There are so many new ideas in any one level of GSH, claiming GS is little more than a portable remake of the original is akin to claiming the latest Star Wars Trilogy is little more than the OG Star Wars Trilogy with a different skin. Episode 9 had a grandpa that gets his freak on! Return of the Jedi barely had grandpas at all!

And when you look at Gunstar Super Heroes compared to its contemporaries, you realize the incredible level of originality on display. Gunstar Super Heroes was released the same year as Devil May Cry 3, Psychonauts, and God of War. It was the year Guitar Hero made its debut. If you’re looking for something more singular in gaming, it was the year we were first allowed to climb up on a big boy in Shadow of the Colossus. These were all colossal (ha!) games, but not a single one was 2-D run ‘n gun action title. WeeeeeeNot a single one took what once would have been described as “mode 7 rotation” to its logical extreme. 2005 was a high water mark for gaming in general (Resident Evil 4 taught us all to love zombies all over again), but only one game from that year took all the best traits found on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, shook ‘em together, and produced a wholly unique and unforgettable experience.

Well… perhaps unforgettable is the wrong word. Gunstar Heroes has been reintroduced to a generation thanks to the Sega Genesis Mini, and has also been available on countless Sega Genesis compilations and retro download services. Gunstar Super Heroes? Forgotten. Despite being a game that reviewed well constantly in its time (Gamespot gave it an 8.9/10, which is the gentleman’s 139/150!), it sold very poorly, and was seemingly immediately forgotten by gaming history. As a result, GSH has not reappeared on any later consoles, portable or otherwise, and is currently only available as a *RARE AUTHENTIC* eBay purchase. Gunstar Super Heroes may have been a marvelous game, but now, whether through cultural osmosis or only six people playing it in the first place, it is only remembered as little more than a Genesis remake when it is remembered at all.

Gunstar Super Heroes deserved better. The Gameboy Advance deserved better. The GBA was more than a portable system built for ports, it was an astounding platform for titles that wouldn’t be showcased anywhere else. But, because many of those games are remembered as little more than handy timewasters, the GBA’s finest are generally forgotten. This was the system that did its best to improve Yoshi’s Island, it should be remembered for more than Pokémon Leaf Green.

Give the Gameboy Advance, and Gunstar Super Heroes, some credit.

FGC #506 Gunstar Super Heroes

  • System: Gee, I dunno, maybe the Gameboy Advance?
  • WeeeeNumber of players: Is the secret to having a successful run ‘n gun two players? This one is only one.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Gunstar Red is a woman! And it barely ever comes up! This makes Gunstar Super Heroes one of the few games I can name with a female lead that is neither a boobs-delivery service nor a frequently cited upstanding example of a modest girl in gaming. Or maybe this is just another example of how Gunstar Super Heroes is all but forgotten…
  • Favorite Stage: In the interest of sequel separation, I will note that the Gunstar Heroes franchise is the only one where I enjoy boardgame-esque levels. Black’s gambling fortress is again one of the best stages in the game, and I don’t even mind that it’s basically just an excuse for a boss rush. They’re neat bosses!
  • Favorite Boss: Pink gets the biggest glow-up between generations. What was once a battle with a heavy lobster is now one against a battle angel spewing laser beams. There’s probably some kind of deliberate anime reference going on here, but I’m just happy to fight a robotic celestial monster.
  • Say something mean: Okay, I admit the Gunstars do deserve a higher resolution. Everything feels a little cramped, and I would love to see Gunstar Super Heroes remastered for a screen slightly larger than a postal stamp.
  • SquwakAn end: You get a pretty traditional Gunstar ending if you clear the game on normal, but if you make your way through hard mode, you’ll find that Yellow has a secret desire to become a dictator, and there are multiple Gunstar universes, and… Well, it’s kind of sad, as it was all likely setting up a sequel that would never be. Hard mode is making moving on even harder.
  • Did you know? You have a lot of melee options in this game… but why would you ever use a single one? Seriously, you have a gun that shoots fire bolts. I can’t imagine using anything else.
  • Would I play again: This is the reason the Gameboy Advance Player exists. Some people may be saving their Gamecube controllers for Super Smash Bros Melee, but I’ll just be over here running around with Red ‘n Blue.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kill la Kill -IF! If you’re looking for some… interesting school uniforms, look no further! Please look forward to it!

THE BLOB

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

The moon does appearConsider this a trigger warning: this is going to be a fairly heady article. It’s going to get personal, too. We’re talking about Michael Jackson, and… yeah, I don’t think I need to further explain what difficult topics will be explored. This is your warning… or something approaching that.

And, to be clear, this is a goddamn shame. We’re covering a game (or two) featuring Michael Jackson today, and, ladies and gentlemen, the jokes write themselves. There is a part of me that really wants to travel the low road on this one, and point out how something like 90% of the content here has aged monumentally poorly. You want some humorous content? Here’s MJ getting railed by some manner of dick-robot.

Right in the beans

Haha! He’s gonna be singing soprano after that!

But, if I’m being honest (and that’s the point of this essay), that’s exactly why I feel I need to be serious here. Yes, a videogame starring Michael Jackson has aged poorly. Yes, that is fairly inevitable with any product starring someone that was a cultural icon (see also some mall adventures). And, yes, due to the details of Jackson’s fall from grace, even a common trope like “save the kidnapped children” is going to be seen in a different light. This is all true. But the important part? The thing that would not stop running through my mind while playing this random Sega Genesis cartridge from 1990 is just how overwhelmingly sad the whole thing made me feel.

When I was a kid, Michael Jackson was my goddamned hero.

Save her!I’ve claimed in the past that my musical tastes as a child were entirely and wholly provided by my parents, who, as children of the 50’s, had more of an inclination to listen to The Big Bopper and The Beatles than Aerosmith. By the time I was a teenager, I learned both of my parents had been actively shielding me from “the hard stuff”, but even the forbidden list was predominantly songs that were golden oldies. My mother didn’t like the idea of me listening to Bohemian Rhapsody even by my teenage years, as it was “a suicide song”, but that was still a song released almost a decade before I was even born. Point is that, for all “the hits of the 80’s” that my local FM station assures me are real, I listened to maybe 1% of what was actually popular when it was prevalent. I think only Don’t Worry, Be Happy was on the approved list…

But, somehow, Michael Jackson was the exception. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly why MJ was an exception: “Weird” Al Yankovic. My parents knew their beloved, gigantically nerdy son, and figured I would enjoy the likes of “Fat” or “Eat it”. Weird Al’s oeuvre was obviously kid friendly, and (not going to lie) it was probably a great choice, as I’m pretty sure absorbing Weird Al’s recurring clever wordplay when I was a child is why I make word choice good now. But listening to a series of parody songs inevitably invites a need to hear those source songs, and, since WAY seemed to have a thing for MJ songs, you can guess what was high on the listening list. It wasn’t very long before I graduated from Weird Al’s Even Worse to Michael Jackson’s Bad (wait… isn’t that backwards?).

And I was in love.

ZOMBIES!I’m not even going to try to define why Michael Jackson was popular with the public at large. However, I can safely point to a handful of reasons why I, personally, liked Michael Jackson. In no particular order:

1. His music slapped
2. Actual moonwalking was fun and easy
3. Music videos that could and would include claymation

However that list does ignore the prime reason I adored Michael Jackson: he was a big damn weirdo.

Look, this is a blog where I occasionally compare relationships old and new to videogames. I have written obscure NES hero fanfic. I don’t think my dear audience believes there was a switch in my head that flipped to “big ol’ weirdo” when I became an adult. I was a weird kid. I had friends, I participated in activities, and I had extremely loving and protective parents; but there’s no debate as to who was “the weird kid” in any given classroom. And being the weird kid? There’s no helping being the weird kid. The dumb kid can get some special educational help, the smelly kid can get a shower, and the kid who pissed himself in first grade can just learn to beat up every other kid by second grade. But the weird kid? You don’t really ever stop being the weird kid. You’re always going to get distracted by Weeeeunusual bird feathers on the ground, or spend gym class planning out your victory dance rather than actually playing the assigned sport. You try not to be weird by carefully noting the last grade you’re ever allowed to talk about cartoons (it was third), but that all falls apart the moment you obviously get excited about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. And then it’s noogie time, and you’re reminded that, one way or another, you’re not like everybody else.

Michael Jackson was a universally beloved musical icon. And Michael Jackson wasn’t like anybody else.

Michael Jackson was a star, and he lived his life exactly how he wanted to live it. And this isn’t about residing on a ranch literally named for never outgrowing childhood, this is about his actual performances. He sang the lyrics he wanted to sing. He danced the way he wanted to dance. And he took his performances and personas to some extremely unusual places. He wasn’t content to simply have a “scary song”, he had to produce an entire music video featuring zombies as an homage to old horror movies. He appeared in cartoons when the medium was considered about as culturally relevant as cereal commercials. And if he wanted his own videogame, he got his own damn videogame.

Get in there!Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker appeared in many guises on many systems, but the two main versions were the arcade game and its Sega Genesis counterpart. To be honest, neither game is particularly that good. The arcade version is something of a rote beat ‘em up with its only defining characteristic being a monkey-based powerup that transforms your chosen Michael into a laser-blasting robot. The Genesis version isn’t much better, but is marginally more unique. This is more of a Rolling Thunder/Elevator Action-esque affair, and the caveat is that you have to open like every goddamn window, trunk, and door between Michael and the enemy’s secret base to find the lost children required to finish a stage. There’s a nugget of a good game idea in there, but it winds up becoming little more than Michael Jackson’s hide ‘n seek as he checks every closet in the house for more and more children (… dammit, I said I would avoid the low hanging fruit…).

And, despite the fact that both of these games aren’t particularly good, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was one of the two reasons this Nintendo kid wanted a Sega Genesis. There was Sonic the Hedgehog and Michael Jackson, and all a Wee Goggle Bob wanted in this world was a system where they were both combined (and maybe a game, too). Michael Jackson, the King of Pop that was also a giant weirdo, was waiting for me there. He liked videogames, too!

And then everything happened.

To be clear for anyone that didn’t live through it, it wasn’t like society declared him cancelled, and then Michael Jackson was forever banished from the public eye. Michael Jackson had always been weird, but now there were allegations. Now there was a reason to chastise the man for doing things that were not simply unusual, but wrong. And not everyone believed it! It was a slow drip of accusations, lawsuits, and the occasional televised “deeper look”. Regardless, Michael Jackson retreated more and more from the public eye, and, by the time he passed in 2009, he was remembered as practically a different person from his 1990 incarnation. Hell, the change happened so gradually, it allowed The Simpsons to go from idolizing Michael Jackson as the most important person to ever visit Springfield…

Michael Jackson!?

To, four years later, claiming Michael Jackson was little more than a mythical, malevolent phantom…

Who!?

A hero had become a villain, and now we’re at a point where MJ has been wiped from the show’s history.

And eleven years after Michael’s death, I’m still not sure what the hell I’m supposed to learn from such an event.

Do I believe the allegations at this point? Yes. Duh. Though, if I’m being completely honest, it took me a long time to get there. Michael Jackson is weird! I believed that people were just taking his obvious weakness for children and childish pursuits and turning it into some kind of pedophilia. In retrospect, that seems almost dangerously optimistic, but, at the time, it was just how I defended my hero. And that was the problem. Whether it be because of my impressionable age, the indoctrination of videogames and media where he was a literal hero, or simply because I wanted to listen to good music without thinking too hard about bad things, I followed Michael Jackson a lot longer than I should have. In retrospect, I regret ever giving the man so much I AM ROBOTas a dime, left alone allowing him to dominate that precious tape collection I always lugged to the nearest boombox. Michael Jackson was my hero, a hero that stood for everything I cared about when I was a certain age, and then it turned out that he was scarring children for life literally while I was supporting him. I was a fan of a “hero” that has victims.

Has this influenced my own life? Probably. I’m not going to point the finger squarely at one Bad individual, but I feel like this is part of the reason I gravitate toward fictional heroes like Optimus Prime or Voltron while leaving the real world behind. Barack Obama is a president and a man I felt I could stand behind, but I could never support the man with the kind of all-consuming dedication I have seen from other fans, because he was and still is, ultimately, a man. And a man has flaws. Sometimes those flaws are making decisions you don’t agree with, sometimes those flaws are literally criminal, but they are still reasons not to venerate any given man or woman. We’re all people, and we should treat every person with an even dosage of doubt.

This is where we are: I play a videogame about a pop star rescuing children from zombies with the help of a monkey, and the only thing I can think of is how we should be skeptical of literally every human on Earth. Michael Jackson ruined the lives of many children. He was not a hero. He didn’t “rescue kids” anymore than he could turn into a robot. But it’s not all bad! There are good people! There are people worthy of praise! They might not be perfect, but there are people that actually save children. You don’t have to worship them, but there are people that balance the cosmic scales, even if not a single one is the King of Pop. We can move on from Michael Jackson.

Right in the beans

And MJ can just eat a piledriver.

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

  • System: Sega Genesis is technically the version ROB chose, but the Arcade version is also a valid choice that follows roughly the same plot and concept. That concept is that Michael Jackson can turn into a space ship or a car anytime he wants, but chooses not to.
  • Number of players: One on the Genesis, the unusual three in the arcade. You would think Jackson would account for five.
  • THE CHANGEAdaptation: Yes, this is videogame tie-in game for Michael Jackson’s movie of the same name. If you missed out on his cinematic masterpiece, it’s basically a loosely connected collection of music videos and concert footage that includes a miniscule feature about Michael Jackson rescuing children from his former manager/mob boss. It’s worth a look if you’re ever on Youtube and feel like watching something that will make you hate yourself for a solid hour or so.
  • Favorite Level: Like The Simpsons Arcade Game, the third stage inexplicably turns into a graveyard featuring innumerable zombies. Their continual leaps recall Chinese hopping vampires, though, and there are at least two zombies that split in half to rain knives from the sky. What I’m saying is that my favorite level is the absolute weirdest.
  • So, does Thriller play over the zombie level? Nope! Apparently there was a licensing issue, as MJ didn’t write the entirety of Thriller. However, there are some prototype versions of the game floating around that retain the song. Vincent Price doesn’t appear in any version, though, unfortunately.
  • An End: The arcade version sticks to one genre, but the finale of the Genesis game gets a light shoot ‘em up in there for the final confrontation. It is the exact opposite of fun, but it is vaguely reminiscent of that Star Wars game. Oh, and the actual ending of the game is just Michael dancing with a monkey.
  • Did you know? The basic premise of this article is also why I will not be covering Space Channel 5 or Space Channel 5: Part 2. I can only deal with so many Michaels in power.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention that this game is not particularly good? It wasn’t terrible for the early 90s, but it has not aged well in more ways than one. There are a lot of other games I can play that are about 120% less problematic.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gunstar Super Heroes for the Gameboy Advance! Now there are some heroes we can get behind! Please look forward to it!

FGC #494 Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

It's time for teams!Now let’s talk about the infamous “Wolverine” style crossover.

You may be aware, but Wolverine is a particularly popular character from Marvel Comics’ X-Men. He was originally introduced as yet another thing/Canadian/person The Incredible Hulk could punch, but he joined the X-Men roster shortly thereafter, and his reputation rapidly escalated from there. People have been trying to nail down the source of Wolverine’s overabundant attractiveness practically since his debut in 1974, but no one (least of all Marvel) seems to have a clue as to what has made Wolverine one of the most essential comic book characters of the 20th century. Is it the readily accessible weapons? His tendency to not follow orders? The fact that he’s a grizzled old man palling around (and occasionally flirting) with teenagers? That mentor thing he had going with Jubilee and Kitty Pride? The cigars? Whatever the cause, Wolverine is popular. What’s more, it is known that Wolverine is popular. This ain’t no underground “you heard that Squirrel Girl is good?” situation, this is phoenix-fudging Wolverine, and he’s the king of the world. He had a movie. Or seventeen. Wolverine sells! And Wolverine can sell anything!

So it’s only natural that “Wolverine stops by” has become a comic book genre onto itself. If you’ve got a new Marvel comic book that needs a few more sales, summon Wolverine. He doesn’t need to actually do anything, and he doesn’t need to be on any more than one page, but as long as he can be part of the cover, you’re all set! Maybe you’ll get lucky! Maybe Wolverine will actually offer your hero/heroine advice and a few zingers before he wanders off to wherever Wolverines go when they’re not on camera (I’ve always assumed Wolverine used that infinite healing factor to successfully weather course after course at the Golden Corral), but don’t count on Wolverine lingering around for too long, because he’s a very busy mutant, bub. And this trait has now transcended genres, as Wolverine appears in other movies when the X-Men need their special guy to push a few more tickets. Stan Lee may have invented the cameo trick, and now Wolverine is Stan Lee. We’ve come full circle! So, don’t worry, if you need your character or franchise to be more popular, all you need is Wolverine. Put no more thought into the process than that. Just get Wolverine on the line!

But Wolverine apparently wasn’t available for a certain collection of battlin’ toads, so Billy and Jimmy Lee are going to have to put in an hour.

BLARG!Now, it is hard to believe in this our year of perfect vision, but back in 1993, Double Dragon was a hot franchise. There were three “main” Double Dragon titles on the NES, an arcade presence, a number of spin-offs available on things like handhelds, an animated series, and a movie on the way. You know who else could be described in that exact manner? Super Mario. Double Dragon was, in the videogame realm, on the exact same tier as Mario (give or take Captain Lou Albano). Nowadays, people barely can remember Bimmy and Jimmy exist, but back when the Battletoads were trying to make a splash, they were a hot commodity.

And make no mistake, Battletoads really wanted to be on that same popularity echelon. Battletoads had an unmistakable connection to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from their initial appearance, and many people took their general “irreverent” tone as a clear parody of the other fighting amphibians. But if you were to explore the Battletoads’ initial comic debut in Nintendo Power, you’d find that these heroes were 100% serious about being the next big thing with a very serious backstory for very serious fans. Zitz is really some nerd named Morgan that got stuck in a virtual reality machine that links to an actual reality! And then that premise was dropped (or at least ignored) for an animated series where the ‘toads are plucked out of another dimension to pal around our Oxnard, California and defend us from the Dark Queen with Looney Tunes-esque attacks. Pew pewDiC produced this animated Battletoads pilot, and then went no further. DiC also ran Street Sharks to a full series. That had to sting. The Battletoads needed something to put the franchise on the map, and Double Dragon seemed to fit the bill.

So this led to Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team… which is a particularly misleading title. Yes, the Battletoads and The Lee Brothers unite to fight a collection of allied opponents, but there’s no actual “team” involved behind the scenes. This is clearly a Rare joint, and a Battletoads game through and through. In fact, give or take the graphics involved, this title is little more than the original Battletoads game with seemingly random Double Dragon guest stars. There’s a speeder bike. There’s a vertical ropes course. There’s an inexplicable gameplay shift where you wind up playing Asteroids for some reason. The heavies of the Battletoads brand all return for boss battles, and the Double Dragon opponents… Well… That’s where it’s most obvious that this is a Battletoads game with special guest star Wolverine Double Dragon. What’s the tell?

Roper!
Willy – Double Dragon (Arcade) 1987
Roper!
Willy – Double Dragon 2 (Arcade) 1988
Roper!
Roper – Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team (NES) 1993

They couldn’t even get the Double Dragon’s main antagonist right. Okay… yes, the people behind Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team did correctly stick Abobo right there in the first level, and he has his proper ‘stache (depending on the port). But the boss of the third stage is “Roper”. Roper is the name of a generic mook in the Double Dragon franchise, and that ain’t him. This character, complete with his signature weapon, is most commonly referred to as “Machine Gun Willy” by the fans. According to the lore, his full name is Willy Mackey, and he’s the main antagonist of Double Dragon and Double Dragon 2 (give or take the wonky “interpretation” of the NES versions). He is the leader of the Black Warriors. He is the one that orders the kidnapping of Marian. He is the final boss of one Double Dragon arcade cabinet, and penultimate boss of another one.

And here he’s got the wrong name, and he’s the boss of the third level. Robo-Manus, the robot that is barely animated, earns a higher standing than Billy and Jimmy Lee’s greatest foe. And who is the “new” main antagonist that is capping off the Double Dragon side of this crossover? It’s “Shadow Boss”, a character that technically appears in no other Double Dragon game, but vaguely recalls the antagonist from the animated series. He also resembles a ripped version of Burnov, that one tubby guy with ill-fitting pants from the first level of Double Dragon 2.

Shadows!!
Burnov – Double Dragon 2 (Arcade) 1988
Shadows!!
Shadow Master – Double Dragon Animated Series / Double Dragon V 1993
Shadows!!
Shadow Boss – Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team (SNES) 1993

Dudes at Rare apparently didn’t feel like getting past the first, Abobo-based level of Double Dragon, and decided to wing it from there. Who’s this guy from the arcade intro with a gun? That’s probably Roper. Let’s go with that, and see if we can devote more pixels to rendering Dark Queen’s ass.

So, yes, it’s pretty clear this is a Battletoads game that suckered Double Dragon into shedding a few more popularity points. Did it work? Of course not. The Double Dragon movie bombed, the franchise floundered from there, and the Battletoads had already hitched their dingy to a sinking ship. One last Battletoads arcade game was released shortly thereafter, and then too did the Battletoads retire from gaming for decades. Double Dragon never brought Battletoads the fanbase they so desperately craved, and only the innovation of internet memes would ever get the ‘toads any attention.

This seems wrongsBut this humble crossover did at least try. It succeeded as a shining example of a Wolverine crossover. Double Dragon stopped by a Battletoads game, and that’s all the effort anyone wanted to put into this project. Excellent stealth Battletoads 2, Rare, and good try on attempting to boost your visibility with a more prominent franchise.

Just… maybe next time you should figure out who Wolverine actually is before you have him drop by…

FGC #494 Battletoads and Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

  • System: This one got around. The NES and Gameboy versions are fairly impressive for their tiny bits, but the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions are where you see some pretty graphics. The Battletoads did know how to feature a little spectacle.
  • Number of players: Two. And you have your choice of all three Battletoads. This is the first game where that actually happened! But I suppose you should choose at least one Lee Brother…
  • Port-o-Call: Which version should you get? Well, the gameplay is miraculously pretty much exactly the same across all versions, so if that is your concern, don’t worry about it. From there, if you’ve got the option, you probably want the Super Nintendo version, as choosing the other 16-bit version will brand you a Sega Kid, and who has the fortitude to deal with such a moniker? Though, like Mortal Kombat, the Genesis version actually includes blood on defeated opponents’ portraits, so if you’re all about the violence, head over there.
  • Art Style: It’s important to note that the NES version of this title paints the Lee Brothers as a pair of really buff 80 year olds.
    They're twins!

    They’re coming to help just as soon as their grandson gets the wireless working!
  • Secret Truth: Willy probably got renamed to Roper thanks to his level including Battletoads repelling hijinks, thus earning the stage the title “Ropes and Roper”. Always go for the easy pun!
  • Did you know? The Nintendo Power comic that gave us the origin story of The Battletoads was written by a Rare employee, Guy Millar. The cartoon adaption was written by David Wise, someone who did not have any involvement in the production of the games, but did have the exact same name as the David Wise that composed the Battletoads videogame soundtrack. Weird.
  • Would I play again: This is an easier experience than Battletoads (1), but it also feels like the game runs out of steam somewhere around the fourth level. From about Level 5 on, it feels less like the eclectic action game of earlier levels, and it becomes little more than a rote beat ‘em up. So I’ll probably just play the original or the arcade game if I want a Battletoads experience. And it doesn’t even rank as a Double Dragon experience…

What’s next? What happens when a franchise crosses over with itself? Twice? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Bad Queen

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

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