Tag Archives: shoot ’em up

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!

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!