Tag Archives: shooter

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 #475 Contra 4

Get 'emSometimes a game isn’t the “best” in the franchise. Sometimes a game goes well beyond such an accolade. Sometimes a game is the “most” in the franchise. And, for the Contra franchise, Contra 4 is the most Contra that has ever existed.

When considering the most a franchise has ever been, you immediately realize that some franchises will literally never have a “most” entry. Final Fantasy, for instance, wildly bounces around different narratives and gameplay styles within its own releases. By the time we hit Final Fantasy 7, for instance, you could say its techno-magic world was already trite within the franchise (see FF6) or a crazy deviation from the franchise’s origins (see FF1). That gulf has only widened with time, so your “best” Final Fantasy has equal odds on containing a Ramuh that is a wizened old lightning wizard or some manner of buff centaur. They’re both valid, but also equally impossible to quantify as the definition of a feature within a franchise. Mario games are similar, as it’s very difficult to see Donkey Kong existing in even the same universe as Super Mario Odyssey (and not just because Bowser got bored and literally rebooted the universe). You’ve always got your goombas and your princesses and whatnot, but the simple act of jumping varies incredibly whether or not there are four players or black holes about. How can you say what is the most Mario when the only connecting tissue in his universe is a pair of blue overalls?

But sometimes the more iterative games are even worse. Mega Man had a very straight line through the NES era, and, even when a Mega Man title is released today, it is still very much like its forbearers. However, it seems every Mega Man title adds some new wrinkle to the formula, whether that be something like slides or armor made from dogs (well, one dog). And, while you can still subjectively choose a “best” Mega Man, the entire franchise doesn’t seem to include one title that is simply the finest of literally everything that has come before it. You won’t earn that accolade by adding gears or a dash to the preexisting gameplay. And, ultimately, that is how we define what a “most” game must be: a game that takes everything from the previous entries, cuts off the crusts, and forms an enchanting sandwich filled with only the absolute best parts.

And Contra 4 is that sandwich. And it is delicious.

… Even if it is stuffed with an overabundance of alien larvae.

Creepy CrawlyIf you hadn’t played Contra (1) in a while (which, considering Contra 4 was released in celebration of Contra’s 20th anniversary, was very likely for many people), you might be forgiven for assuming Contra 4 was some kind of remake or reimagining. Many of the familiar trappings of Contra are right there from the beginning (like a certain laser core wall or a dragon gate at the top of a waterfall [its name is Gromaides, you buffoon]), and levels do have a tendency to switch from radical 2-D to tolerable 3-D hallway-based fortresses. And there’s a giant, pulsating heart at the (an) end, too! But then you might notice there are a few items from Super Contra (3) in there, too, like a ruined cityscape ruled by an enormous alien, or a final alien monster that needs to be brain-blasted. And isn’t that giant robot straight out of Contra: Hard Corps? Black Viper from Operation C? A mountain of corpses from Shattered Soldier? Is that whole ruined city the one from Contra Force, a game absolutely no one has ever played? Holy cow, this isn’t a remake! This is everything that has ever appeared in a 2-D Contra! It’s maximum Contra!

And it’s not just about the setting, bosses, and strangely high number of gross bugs scuttling about: Contra 4 is also about condensing the Contra gameplay to its most recognizable form. The grappling hook feels like the only thing we haven’t seen before in 2-D Contra, and it vaguely feels like something that was added more for managing the dual screens of the DS. But aside from that addition? There is literally nothing here that hasn’t been seen before. Two weapons for runnin’ n’ gunnin’, a jump for alien vaulting, and your always trusty ability to duck (eat it, Mega Man) is all you need to complete this adventure. And the weapons are all basic Contra mainstays, like the laser, machine gun, or that whaddyacallit thingy that blows up real good. Grenade launcher? Crusher? Something like that. But even though everything here is familiar, it’s also its best possible self. You will not be straddled with the crappy laser of the NES version, this laser gun is the best it has ever been (and we will hear nothing of classic versions). And Spread? Your opponents have seemingly been arranged in ideal spread formations, so Spread has never felt so… right. ZAPAnd that’s how Contra 4 feels in a nutshell: there are so many situations and abilities involved that, while it’s all been done before, it is done so perfectly here that, when you hit your stride, it feels amazing. The fact that later levels are gated behind limited lives and continues is not an accident: it is a way of telling the player that the ideal way to play Contra 4 is to play it while coasting on the high of a death-defying run.

This article could just be a list of the ways Contra 4 references other Contra games. This could be a list of the ways Contra 4 refines the Contra experience that has come before. I could even do my best to note how upgrading weapons starts out impossible, and quickly becomes second nature. But, when you get right down to it, everything about that would be entirely perfunctory. In much the same way Contra 4 is the most Contra, there is no real way to explain how Contra 4 works beyond just saying “go play Contra 4”. It is Contra. It is every Contra. It’s all the good of the franchise wrapped up in one perfect little cartridge.

Contra 4 may subjectively be the best Contra game, but it is certainly objectively the most Contra game that has ever existed.

FGC #475 Contra 4

  • System: Nintendo DS. This is the only issue, as not only is the game tied to an extinct system, it is also made flawlessly for said extinct system. There was no way the dual screen-based stages were ever going to work in a WiiU tablet/television situation, and it barely works (thanks to screen dimensions) on the 3DS. And now either option barely exists anyway! Sorry, everyone I just told to play Contra 4!
  • Number of players: I’m going to assume that it’s two, but I’ve never played this game with a buddy. Maybe the two player mode isn’t great? Maybe it’s wholly perfect, too? Don’t know. Don’t care.
  • Damn bugsFavorite Character: I know it’s Wayforward being Wayforward with its female characters, but I appreciate Sheena Etranzi, the heroine of Hard Corps, appearing in Contra 4. She’s, what, the only female character in the franchise that isn’t at least partially a robot/bionoid? Is that right? Even if she winds up being “the hot blonde” on the roster, she’s still representing 51% of humanity like a champ.
  • Super Code: You can enter the Konami code to obtain some extra lives (which are rather essential when you’re starting out in this death-coaster), but code entry requires screen tapping in that familiar pattern to earn your cheat. This is simultaneously very cute and very annoying.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I would like to stretch this article to insane lengths so I have more room for screenshots, but… that apparently isn’t happening. Damn!
  • Did you know? The boss of the city zone, Crustacean Cruiser, is eerily reminiscent of a similar giant bug boss in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Ohme. Given that giant slug is one of my favorite fights in both franchises, I’m going to allow this random, universe-shattering homage.
  • Would I play again: This is the best Contra and one of the best Nintendo DS games available. It’s just a damned shame that the Nintendo DS isn’t so viable anymore… But I will find a way to play it all again! I swear!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 9! Speaking of games that try to encompass everything that has come before, here’s the adventure of our second-favorite Saiyan in fantasy land! Please look forward to it!

The eyes have it

FGC #461 Space Harrier

GET READYLet’s give credit where credit is due: credits suck.

Space Harrier is a fun game. At its absolute most “please define this game”, it is a shoot ‘em up of the general fantasy/space variety. However, when you actually grip that special flight stick and start jetpacking around and obliterating dragons, you realize this is something unlike anything else in the arcade. The perspective is “3-D”, a stark change from the other shooters of 1985 and beyond, and there’s just some indescribable something about the sheer rush of adrenaline one experiences when whistling through rapidly scaling rocks and mammoths. Maybe it’s the unusual choice of nixing the typical spaceship or jet and featuring a flying beach bum. Maybe it’s battling absurd and alien monsters that are vaguely enigmatic but wholly murderous. Or maybe, as ever, it’s the moai heads. Whatever the reason, Space Harrier is an incredible experience, even now, as the game approaches its 35th anniversary.

And speaking of things in their thirties, I had the pleasure of playing Space Harrier in my local arcade a number of times as a child. It wasn’t my favorite game (by the time I had a disposable income [my grandfather’s wallet], some certain turtles had already drawn my attention), but Space Harrier held my interest for a number of play sessions. I wasn’t actually any good at Space Harrier, but something told me I should return to that cabinet every once in a while when Magneto or Shredder was defeated. I never saw the final level (let’s be honest, despite the unwavering belief of the adults in my life, I was not actually all that good at videogames as a child), but I did find my way to at least one bonus stage that seemed to reprise the best parts of The Never Ending Story. That was enough for me! Time to go play some Pac-Man before I retire for my afternoon nap.

WeeeeeeBut just because I didn’t beat it didn’t mean I didn’t want to beat it. My grandfather’s quarters may have seemed unlimited, but hours at the arcade were at a premium. I only had time for the best of the best, and, let’s face it, how was a game that was already nearly a decade old going to compete with Konami’s The Simpsons? What would have been ideal for a Wee Goggle Bob was a perfect port of that sweet, Space Harrier goodness. Okay, maybe “perfect” was asking for a bit too much. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game was pretty great! It may have had compromised graphics, but it was still something I could play at home with Jimmy on a Saturday afternoon. And it had two extra levels! Yes! A port of Space Harrier might have had to ditch the delightful graphics and controller of the arcade release, but it would be worth it to finally see the Fantasy Zone conquered if a home port could bring home the action.

Actually, strike that. There was a Master System port of Space Harrier, and it was barely recognizable. It tried to hoist a plot onto this nonsense! You can’t do that, Sega! I want to obliterate skeletal dragons divorced from any sort of stakes! … Oh, also the graphics were terrible.

And, like Nintendo of America, we’re not even going to acknowledge the NES version.

But! Space Harrier did get a “real” port in 1994. By that time, Sega home hardware had progressed to the incredible graphics of the 32X, and we were granted the most accurate port of Space Harrier yet available. And there was much rejoicing! This was distinctly Space Harrier, complete with huge sprites, detailed backgrounds, and that unmistakable feeling of adrenaline as your lil’ dude zooms over the horizon. Maybe dig out an appropriate controller, and this is truly an arcade experience that, after nearly a decade, finally makes it way home.

Except you won’t see anything past the third stage.

Rock 'n RollThere are eighteen levels in Space Harrier. There are a couple of bonus stages in there, but, aside from that occasional Flammy ride, every thing in every stage is trying to kill you every second. Bosses are bullet sponges, mundane mooks are menacing many minutes, and even inanimate objects are instantaneously fatal at the slimmest contact (though, granted, ol’ Spacey is moving pretty fast). There are no distinct power ups in Space Harrier, so the best you can hope for is temporary invincibility after a lethal collision. A new life grants you a few seconds of sanctuary, but after that grace period is terminated, you could die in every Space Harrier stage literally every five seconds. And suffice to say, if that’s your playstyle, you’re going to need a lot of quarters to see the boss parade finale.

The 32X “arcade perfect” version of Space Harrier offers… five. Five credits. Max.

Not to be constrained by the limits imposed by Sega executives of 1994, your humble author decided to try the real arcade version with unlimited quarters. The results? Even as a seasoned future gamer from the far-flung future of 2019, even as someone who has been playing shoot ‘em ups from birth, even as someone that is a registered cyborg (okay, maybe not really, but I strongly believe that the number of hours I’ve spent with a controller welded to my hands should count for at least partial credit) I still averaged about one or two deaths per level. To be clear, I very much mean “averaged” here, as some of the earlier stages saw me zooming unmolested through the skies as Koschei the Deathless, and other fantasy zones ended with a cavalcade of credit-based corpses scattered across the land. The final stage, a grueling boss gauntlet, was obviously a quarter killer, but, aside from that bit of digital malice, Space Harrier seems like a very doable game with approximately 35 credits. That would be nearly ten bucks worth of quarters in 1985 credits. That, arguably, seems fair.

TOO FASTSpace Harrier 32X allows for five credits. That is about thirty less than I would need. If my mother were playing this wonderful game, that would be about three hundred less than she would need. And that’s ignoring the final boss gauntlet, which, even for a seasoned veteran, would likely require a fiver all on its own. In short: your average player isn’t seeing the end of Space Harrier on five credits. Your average player might not even see the second level.

And that’s terrible! Because Space Harrier is good! And, while it is a bit repetitive in general gameplay, it’s still a game that literally never stops throwing new challenges and monsters at the player until the finale. Up to that point, every stage is different from the last, and the difficulty progressively ramps up to compensate for a more confident player. It’s not like Space Harrier ever turns into Battletoads, but greater challenges do wait on later levels.

But the average player would never see those levels. Limited credits meant that a game had to be grinded into a fine paste until a player had the skill to perfectly fly across level after level. And, even if that were achieved, you still only had a handful of lives to conquer the final challenges. That bone-dragon come out of nowhere and wreck your perfect playthrough? Well, welcome back to level one, loser, get ready. You’re doing great (wasting your life)!

AH!Credits, luckily, have gone the way of the dodo in recent decades. As arcade games (and arcades!) fell out of favor, less and less games seemed to exist to gobble up quarters. Credits were forgotten for loot boxes, DLC, and loot box DLC. Companies found new and exciting ways to fleece customers, usually with items that contain the adjective “rare” (“legendary” is also acceptable). And, ultimately, we’re better for it. A Space Harrier released today might include suspend state saves or infinite credits detracting from the inherent challenge or tension of the experience, but it would allow your ailing granny to actually see Planet Nark and Wi Wi Jumbo. And that’s a privilege everyone should have, regardless of skill, reflexes, or whether or not you own an entire camel full of quarters. Credits are a scourge on allowing someone to enjoy an entire game.

And before anyone wants to tell me that I’m wasting my time, and I may as well be railing against polio or wooly mammoths, let me remind you that Neo Geo emulation with credits is still a thing. A horrible, horrible thing.

Limited credits need to stay firmly in the dustbin of history.

FGC #461 Space Harrier

  • System: Arcade and 32X for this review, but it has also appeared on… Didn’t I cover this as part of the article? I am not going to repeat myself! But do pick up the 3DS version! Switch also available!
  • Number of players: Space is a great big place that can only fit one Harrier at a time.
  • Ready? Many more battle scenes will soon be available !
  • Stop Complaining: Yes, the 32X version does have an “arcade mode” code that offers infinite credits. But it requires a second player controller and an immediate stop over at Gamefaqs (or Sega Visions). I’m going to claim that doesn’t count, because I couldn’t be bothered to check for cheats online before playing (now or in the 90’s).
  • This guyWhat’s in a name: Uriah is the fuzzy, white dragon that helps during bonus stages. That is a weirdly biblical name for a magical reptile (or mammal?). David married your wife, dragon!
  • We’re all friends: The title screen seems to imply that, like Altered Beast, all the characters are friends when the game isn’t in session. All the game’s a stage, and the players merely… players.
  • Favorite Boss: For inexplicable reasons, the double skeleton dragon (Salpedon) appears before the single-skulled skeleton dragon (Valda). I don’t know what makes Valda so special, thinking he can show up with a mere one head when his better has already appeared in an earlier level, but that takes guts, and I respect that.
  • Did you know? Considering Space Harrier was one of the first 16-bit titles in the arcade, and it used a vaguely analogue-esque “stick” for controls, it would be very appropriate to say Space Harrier was ahead of its time. Considering Space Harrier was released the same year as Commando (not Bionic) and Gauntlet, you can see why Space Harrier’s gorgeous purple skies caught players’ eyes.
  • Would I play again: On the 32X? Never. The arcade version (with infinite credits)? That sounds about right.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SoulCalibur 6! And the soul appears to still be burning. Maybe someone should put that out? Please look forward to it!

I hate these bugs

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s lost forever.

FGC #427 Yume Penguin Monogatari

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

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

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