Tag Archives: shoot ’em up

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!

FGC #346 Taito Legends

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

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

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

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

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

Jungle Hunt

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

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

Zoo Keeper

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

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

Elevator Action

Nothing is more exciting than elevators!

Bubble Bobble

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

Rainbow Islands

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

Rastan

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

Battle Shark

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

New Zealand Story

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

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

Ninja Kids

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

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

And your main characters are puppets.

And every attack slices your opponents in half.

And it’s the source of this image

Every Sprite Comic Ever

And it’s kind of racist.

And… man, it’s just weird.

Games used to be really weird, guys!

FGC #346 Taito Legends

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

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

Oh, the devil

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

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

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

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

So… uh… I may as well just say that.

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

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