Tag Archives: skateboards

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

Yay islands!Adventure Island 3 is a metaphor for the human condition.

The story of Adventure Island 3 is no epic tale. Master Higgins, a dude in a baseball cap and grass skirt, is chilling on a deserted island the size of a Dixie cup with his beloved Tina when a nefarious alien abducts the hapless maiden. Higgins boards the nearest plesiosaur, and paddles off to save the day. There is no trick or plot twist in this saga, all Higgins has to do to rescue Tina is venture across eight (adventure) islands, battle the occasional Mothra, and then conquer the aliens in an epic battle that involves fireballs and stone hammers. The aliens are not Dr. Wily in disguise, and no explanation is given for their preoccupation with poor Tina; they’re just monsters to be chased, and an excuse for Higgins to ride a dinosaur or six. Oh, and the adventure wraps up with Higgins and Tina back on their original weensy island (compliments of a pterodactyl), so it’s a zero-sum story from top to bottom.

But this is an ‘intenda game, so the story is perfunctory from the very start. What’s important is that good ol’ gameplay, and… Well, there’s not much to see here, either. This is a “NES platformer” at its most basic. Well, no, that would Adventure Island 1, wherein Master Higgins runs left to right and must at all time satiate his crippling fruit addiction. We’ve come a long way from those bygone days: now Master Higgins does the exact same thing, but sometimes he’s on a surfboard! Or a dinosaur! And, despite the fact that almost all stages only advance right and strictly forbid any backtracking, there are rare vertical levels that prove that Hudson does understand scrolling (and they don’t even involve Kid Icarus-esque scroll deaths). And the bosses are pretty neat, even if they’re about as fair as a thumb wrestling match against Eternia’s Fisto. Master Higgins can, at absolute best, suffer three hits (a bonus “heart” powerup plus a dinosaur buddy), and it’s very likely those damn boss monsters are going to barbecue the poor islander before he tosses the proper number of boomerangs. Boss patterns should not change mid-fight with a hero that has approximately zero HP!

This sucks!But all that cruft is neither here nor there. No, what’s important is what Adventure Island 3 represents. What’s important is that Adventure Island 3 is a failure.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a damsel is distressed when she is kidnapped by a giant, ambiguously evil monster. Her man springs into action to rescue her, and must battle across eight distinct lands to save the day. Along the way, he runs, jumps, and even recruits a dinosaur to beat back the nefarious forces of angry clouds and a strangely high number of murderous reptiles. After losing a bunch of lives due to the tiniest contact with random monsters (and the occasional bottomless pit), the brave knight saves his princess. And maybe there was a bonus stage or warpzone somewhere along the way, too.

Yes, obviously, Adventure Island 3 follows the exact same plot and general gameplay as Super Mario Bros. In fact, Adventure Island 2, the first game to feature Master Higgins riding a dinosaur, was released a few months after Super Mario World, the first game to feature Mario riding a Yoshi (and Adventure Island 3 improved on AI2 by… adding one more dinosaur). On a purely superficial level, Massy Hig’s Adventure Islands are incredibly similar to Mario’s treks across the Mushroom Kingdom and Dinosaur Land. Give or take the ability to actually dismount your incredible thunder lizard, you could probably provide the exact same instruction manual for both games. Master Higgins is a cape feather away from being an accomplished plumber.

Spooky!But that’s where the tragedy occurs. On a shallow level, Master and Mario are the same. They run, they jump, and they collect one hundred doodads to earn an extra life. But actually play the games, and the differences become apparent. Mario has a precise kind of momentum, while Master Higgins has a tendency to slip around like a greased up potato man. It’s telling that Master Higgins has to be wary of inanimate rocks, while Mario at least has the decency to vault moving rocks. And that slipperiness pairs poorly with a number of “platforming challenges”. Want to leap across a series of mobile clouds? That’s kind of fun in the Mushroom Kingdom, but over in the Adventure Islands, Master Higgins is pretty likely to fall to his doom after about the second jump. Once you hit an ice stage, things are more slippery, but, honestly? It’s not the same kind of dramatic shift you’d see in Super Mario. Bros 3. Oh, there is supposed to be a dinosaur that cuts down on Slippin’ Higgy? Yeah, that dinosaur is a lie. In fact, all of the dinomounts are lies, as they amount to little more than the difference between Mario and Super Mario. The only dinosaur that isn’t a “fireball” or “slight movement” powerup is the new, green triceratops, and that’s because he offers the ability to roll into a spiky ball for exactly a second before immediately losing that powerup to terrible hit detection. Beyond that, I’m not even certain what the plesiosaur is supposed to do, as he’s just as useless as the frog suit on land, but only marginally better than regular swimming Higgins on the high seas. He doesn’t even get a lightning tail or something! You have to bring your own hammer!

And, when you get right down to it, describing this game, describing Adventure Island 3, is recounting exactly what being a human is. All the proper components are there! You’ve got running! You’ve got jumping! You’ve got a princess and a monster and eight worlds! This is exactly what Mario’s got! This is exactly what that successful guy has got… so why isn’t it working here? I can see Mario’s Facebook, I know we’re on the same level, so why is he so much better than me!? I could be happy! I should be happy! Why can’t Master Higgins be half as successful as a damned plumber!?

Dammit!That’s Adventure Island 3. All the pieces are there, everything that should work is there, but… it doesn’t. Master Higgins is doomed to wallow on his teeny tiny island, while Mario just found out his ex built an entire city for his benefit. Adventure Island 3 is every one of us looking at that green grass on the next lawn over, and wondering what went wrong. And is this where I’m supposed to say something optimistic? Well, I’d love to say it gets better, but have you seen Adventure Island: The Beginning? Yeesh.

I just played Adventure Island 3… don’t expect any hopefulness out of this human for a week.

FGC #301 Adventure Island 3

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There’s also a Gameboy port that is surprisingly faithful.
  • Number of players: One Master Higgins. Maybe the secret to success is having a Luigi?
  • Port-o-Call: The Gameboy version actually allows you to replay completed stages. I have no earthly idea why anyone would want to do such a thing, but at least it’s an option.
  • Favorite Dinosaur: I guess the blue dinosaur with the powered tail. He’s pretty much exactly the same as the red dinosaur with the fireball that is completely resistant to lava, but… he’s blue? He’s the underdog in a game starring an underdog.
  • Favorite Boss: Despite the inexplicable presence of Mothra, I’m going to pick the Salamander. He’s just like every other boss in this game (float and/or teleport around and lob fireballs), but he is at least on fire. And when he goes blue-flames, it at least looks cool.
  • Blind SallyIncidentally: This was supposed to be FGC #300, but I couldn’t find the rom while on the stream. Turns out it was there in the list, just under “Hudson’s Adventure Island 3” as opposed to in the I section where I expected to find such a thing. Oh well.
  • Did you know? If you see a flower, then that means a wolf is going to attack Master Higgins from behind. I still remember this tip from Nintendo Power.
  • Would I play again: Adventure Island 3 has struck me with an ennui that I can barely describe. So, uh, no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Robocop vs. Terminator for the SNES! Now that’s what I’m talking about! Some good ol’ fashioned cyborg on android violence. Please look forward to it!

FGC #227 Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage

Let's go surfin' nowHere’s your game development tip from someone that has never developed a game, but at least knows how to surf.

Today’s game is Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage. If you’re of a certain age, you likely played this game on the NES, because, as we’ve determined, skateboards are cool. And this game is doubly cool! You can skateboard (shred?) and surf! By God, if you were to include bungee jumping, then this would be the coolest game ever created! Is there a gorilla that is edgy, in-your-face, and likes to get bi-zay? Consistently and thoroughly! Yes, this was a game scientifically calibrated to appeal to the late 80’s kids that lived in fear of having their shorts devoured.

But once you actually got the game home, T&C Surf Designs was kind of… limited. First, there’s the skateboarding section (wood rage?). You’ve got your choice of Tiki Guy or Elvis, and then it’s your job to navigate either of those rad dudes through a skateboarding obstacle course. It’s… not that exciting. It’s basically what would evolve into the “endless runner” genre, and, what’s worse, the controls are fairly terrible. There’s a difference between “jump” and “jump with skateboard”, and, while there is barely ever a reason to “just” jump, jump with skateboard requires some extra controller input, and the NES has about a 50% accuracy rate on actually identifying your feedback. Long story short, Tiki Guy is going to fall in the inexplicable gigantic gap in the sidewalk a lot.

WoooooHowever, it is possible to “git gud” at T&C skateboarding. Assuming your d-pad is being responsive today, it’s not that difficult to rack up a continuous “combo”, and, when you’ve avoided obstacles for a set amount of time, the timer stops, and basically everything you do rewards thousands of points. It takes some practice (and a little luck), but considering the tracks are (mostly) preset, you can beat that intimidating high score pretty swiftly with your badical skateboarding moves. It’s not like this is Skate or Die, where there are more events and playstyles to test your skateboard mastery, but it’s a fun little distraction, and could maybe qualify as a full videogame experience back in the day. This was on the same system as MagMax, after all.

And then there’s Town & Country Water Rage, the surfing section. Here is where things get… choppy.

I mentioned before that surfing is inherently cool, but that always took on an extra level for my childhood friends and I. I have (almost) always lived in a shore community, which means two things: tourists and the beach. As a result of that combo, the average shore kid feels a gigantic level of propriety over the local beach that is empty eight months out of the year, and then choked with tourists (we call ‘em “shoobies”) when you actually want to go out and take a dip. This creates a weird, deep-seated hatred of the throngs of people that are just trying to enjoy their vacation, and also, ya know, bolstering the local economy to ludicrous levels. Regardless, nobody that’s local wants to be accidentally identified as a vacationer. That would be like asking a Vietnam Veteran if he lost his legs in a bouncy house.

WooooSo one surefire way to prove yourself as a local was to be good at ocean sports. Oh, dude, I’m a lifeguard at my summer job. Local! I’m captain of the swim team. Local! I can build a sandcastle at a twelfth grade level. Local! And, of course, I surf on the weekends means, yes, you’re a local. Bonus points if you’ve got a wetsuit and catch those swells opposite hurricane season. Sure, it might be deadly, but you’ll be buried in a local cemetery. Assuming they ever find your body…

But for your average young shoreian, none of those options are available. Nobody is going to let a seven year old become a lifeguard, and even sandcastle construction is moot when your neighbor’s older brother has started a booming demolition business. And have you ever actually seen a surfboard in reality? My first board, purchased when I was a teenager, was a 9 ½ Rusty. That “9 ½” stands for 9 ½ feet of surfboard. Can you picture a child towing one of those around? And, more importantly, can you picture a youngster that is tied to that board being dragged (hopefully) to the shore the minute the slightest wave appears? Don’t go chasing surfboards, kids! Stick to the wakeboards and the boogieboards that you’re used to.

So, for a young Goggle Bob, T&C Surfing was the only surfing available. Surely being good at this game would make me cooler than the cool kids.

And then I found out that’s impossible.

OuchThe surfing section of T&C is inscrutable. There is nothing “surfing” about this. The crest of the wave is apparently static, and you’re supposed to, what, do random tricks in this weird ocean simulation? You have to avoid seagulls and tubers, that’s pretty “videogame”, but aside from those obvious obstacles, your goal here is… confusing. You accrue points for every second you’re still on the board, and… how do you do that? You seem to be constantly descending, and you can try to avoid the “fall”, but then you wind up dying in the crest. And, eventually, seemingly completely arbitrarily, you reach the beach, and you get some bonus points before starting it all over again. Thanks for playing?

For the record, the original version of this article was probably going to be some ranting nonsense about how T&C Surf Designs is completely impossible, and no one has ever figured out this sphinxlike boloney, and damn you, LJN for once again producing a game that ruined my childhood.

Then I decided to check Gamefaqs And it turns out there’s a real way to play T&C Water Rage!

Here’s the deal: You’re supposed to use A & B on the control pad to “steady” your surfer. And… that’s it! It’s supposed to simulate the (very real, very difficult) act of properly balancing on a surfboard, and that’s the trick to completing this half of the game. If you’re going too far right, tap B, and if you’re sliding back into the crest, tap A. That’s all! You’ll be a surfing pro in no time.

Somehow I played this game for nearly thirty years without this knowledge, and I’m going to blame the designers for that.

WooooooYou could liken this to learning that there’s a jump button in Super Mario Bros. It’s a game changer! It’s the only way to truly win the game! But, in Super Mario Bros, if you ignore that jump button, you’re never, ever going to make it past the first goomba. It’s literally impossible without jumping. In T&C Surf Designs, it is actually possible to finish a surfing stage without having any idea how to play the game. It’s terrible and frustrating, but there’s no clear indicator that something is off, and you can “keep going” without ever having a damn clue that anything is wrong. And, to be clear, even once you know to properly balance, you may be wrecked by the same “goombas” that would ruin a veteran player. So even if you happen on the right way to play by frantically hitting buttons, you might not even notice your success.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes for a bad game. If there’s no feedback on whether you’re doing something wrong or right, you’re playing a bad game. End of story.

Trust me, I’m a local. I know how to surf.

FGC #227 Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, the coolest system for eight year olds ever.
  • Number of players: Two players, alternating. Your friends will get mad if you never die and they can’t play.
  • Save your brain!All Together Now: There’s also a mode that combines the Wood & Water Rage sections into one complete play experience. Unfortunately, it’s just alternating wood and water stages, so there isn’t some amazing cohesion going on here. I always thought it would be cool if, when you fell into a hole in the skateboarding section, your skateboard would morph into a surfboard, and then you’d start that watery section. Also, there should be more robots. With lasers.
  • Itinerant Liar: My buddy Sean claims to have seen the kill screen for the surfing section of the game. Sean is clearly not one to be trusted, one way or another.
  • Favorite Character: There is a surfing cat in a tuxedo. I would very much like to be a surfing cat in a tuxedo. Think about it: cats hate water! And he surfs! In a tuxedo! It’s amazing!
  • What’s in a name: Okay, the actual names of the characters in this game are Tiki Man, Joe Cool, Kool Kat, and Thrilla Gorilla. None of those names required any creativity. There, I said it. Thrilla Gorilla is probably best known for headlining the T&C sequel, Thrilla’s Surfari (sic), which is a completely different, though no less awful, game.
  • Did you know? There are turtles on the skateboarding track (they do not bite). Because of the limited NES palette, the turtles change color according to the selected player. Tiki Man, the Luigi of the adventure, gets green turtles, but Joe Cool, the supposed headliner, gets abnormal, red turtles. I think we all know who should be the real main character.
  • Would I play again: I might just to show my friends that there is an actual way to play this game “right”. Otherwise, no. Tubularly no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64! Aw… ROB? ROB, I thought we were friends. Why you gots to hurt me? Now I’m going to have to hurt some dinosaurs. Please look forward to it!

Go Go Gorilla

FGC #218 Skate or Die!

RadicalWhy is skateboarding cool?

Or, to be more specific, why did I spend a healthy chunk of my life thinking skateboarding was the coolest thing ever?

Looking back as an adult, I understand why I liked a number of my childhood obsessions. Dinosaurs are unruly behemoths the likes of which a five year old can only imagine, so of course they’re cool (and, while no longer technically a thing, the pterodactyl was always my favorite for that whole “avian threat” thing). Transformers are robots that shoot lasers and transform into cars and jets, so they get a pass. Voltron features a giant fighting robot made of brightly colored mechanical lions, and I don’t have to explain why that’s cool. I was starting to age out of the demographic by the time they became popular, but I can understand the appeal of the “teenagers with attitude” of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were rude, crude, badical dudes that kicked Foot.

But I recently revisited the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series (I was not nearly cool enough to read the Eastman Laird comics as a kid), and I realized something: these turtles are dumb. They’re barely a step up from clowns! Raph, the turtle known for his ‘tude, is, at absolute best, prone to occasionally mocking the childish antics of his brothers. These aren’t radical teens! These turtles are barely even mature enough for a trip to the roller skating rink. I demand to speak to a manager! Where are my “cool” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!?

NOOOOOOUnfortunately, it seems the Turtles that I remember from my youth are not quite as badical as I had remembered. Okay, that’s fine, my dad has also somehow gotten shorter since I was five, I suppose a change in perspective is only natural as one ages. I can acknowledge that something I once thought was cool is cool no longer… but why did I think these mutants were cool in the first place? Ninja are always cool, so that has to be a factor. And… eating pizza? Is that cool? Was it something to do with the toppings? No, I think what really made these reptiles cool was skateboards.

Skateboards are cool! Bart Simpson has a skateboard, and he’s all attitude! Doug was kind of boring, but his radical dog Porkchop could totally shred. And, oh! Max from Goof Troop! His dad was a goofy loser, but, man, Max was tearing up the pavement. In short, if you wanted to know whether or not a fictional character was cool, you looked for the skateboard. Does he (inevitably he) thrash down the sidewalk, and grind those sick rails? We’ve got a cool kid on our hands! Bonus points if he doesn’t wear a helmet.

But that takes me back to… why? I don’t think I ever knew a kid with an actual skateboard. Wait, no, that’s not true. I wasn’t allowed a skateboard (my parents wisely ascertained that my general dexterity was somewhere below that of a flipped turtle, so I can probably thank them for having a few less broken bones than my contemporaries), but most of my friends had one… for all of five minutes. No, nobody else had parents that routinely limited outside activities thanks to falling out of a tree house one time, Mom; no, everyone that I knew with a skateboard eventually gave it up because it was boring. It’s like riding a bicycle! Except kinda slower! And with more effort! Maybe my neighborhood didn’t have enough hills? I know we didn’t have a skate park…

Radical?Maybe that was the problem? In my hometown (well, technically, the more affluent next town over… my hometown only has one golf course!), there is and continues to be a contingent of the population that wants to build a recreational skate park, but countering them is an even larger group of people that vote that skate park down every other year because it’ll draw out the hoods and the rascals and all the other undesirables that naturally skulk around skate parks. They might start dealing marijuana cigarettes! And, incidentally, I’ll note that this same stupid debate has been occurring in the same stupid town since the stupid 80’s. The generation that thought skateboarding was cool is just about in charge now, and now they’re the ones shrieking about thinking of the children. Skateboards: threat or menace!?

And I keep coming back to a simple truth: there are exactly zero skateboarders worthy of praise or derision in this area. The proposed skate park? It would be no different than the football field or baseball field that no one ever had a problem with. There would be kids playing there, and they’d all be dreaming of becoming Tony Hawk like the children on the football field aspire to be Paul Turner. Skateboarding is just another sport, and it’s not even a sport that encourages running into each other at top speed. And, in the meanwhile, most skateboarders are barely ranking above Donatello for coolness points. They’re not cool enough to know the kids that actually have drugs!

Ouch, againOf course, as I’ve already tangentially mentioned, there are skateboard stars. There’s Tony Hawk, and… uh… uhh… Look, I only know that name from videogames. I’m assuming there are other skateboard stars, but Google is all the way over there, and I was planning on looking at some centaur porn later, so I’m not switching out of incognito mode to wiki up some thrashers. And, yes, these stars of the sport seem to be cool, but, not, like 90’s Bart Simpson cool. They’ve probably never told their dad to not have a cow, man. And, what’s more, I can’t think of any prominent skateboarders before Tony Hawk. I’m forced to go back to my original source of cool: Saturday Morning Cartoons. Did Big Skateboard make sure every last animated cool kid had a board? Was this all reckless indoctrination to force an entire generation into loving the smell of pavement in the morning? Did Street Sharks cause the inevitable collapse of the coolness industry?

Ugh, now I’m even more confused than when I started.

Oh, one question more: Why did anyone ever think skateboarding in a videogame would be fun?

FGC #218 Skate or Die!

  • System: NES is the real version. But the other kids with Commodore 64s, Ataris, or Macs may have claimed to have played such a game.
  • Number of players: Technically eight, but I think two is a lot more likely.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Okay, Skate or Die isn’t the worst thing in the world. As skateboarding sims for early systems go, it’s pretty good, and isn’t a complete waste of a day like a certain game featuring an idiot in a tiki mask. That said, the whole thing is an extremely limited experience, and I have no idea how the neighborhood kids and myself got approximately twelve billion hours of playtime out of this thing.
  • Hi, NateFavorite Event: Race is the one where you can whale on Lester, right? Joust feels too random, but Race allows you to straight-up punch your opponent in the face. That really spices up your average competition.
  • Shopaholic: What was the point of the “Skate Shop” where the game begins? Could you buy better boards or equipment in the computer versions? As it is, it’s just a dude with a Mohawk reminding you why venturing into a Skate Shop in the 80’s could be a distasteful experience.
  • Did you know? A modern take on Skate or Die was in the works around 2002, and its producers spent about a year on… a game that was never released. We got Burnout 3 instead, though, so… I guess that’s okay?
  • Would I play again: I don’t think I’m radical enough.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse! Couldn’t have picked that back when the movie was relevant, ROB? No? Fine, whatever, I’m always down to teleport around as my favorite X-Men. Please look forward to it!

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