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FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

AND YOU HAVE MY AXEAnd now we’re going to talk about the slimy underbelly of the concept of games preservation: The Legends.

…. And why they suck.

Golden Axe is an interesting series. It started in 1989 as a medieval arcade beat ‘em up. Golden Axe was a pretty fun experience, but it also had the misfortune of being released the same year as the vastly more popular Final Fight. Golden Axe wasn’t exactly a bad game by comparison, but chicken riding and the occasional magic spell somehow didn’t catch the public’s interest in the face of a malevolent version of Animal from The Muppets. When Golden Axe hit the Genesis, it was just a year until we saw Streets of Rage, a vastly and obviously more popular title of the same genre. And then its sequel, Golden Axe 2, had the significant handicap of being released on the same system during the same year as Streets of Rage 2. Decades later, people are still talking about the tight design of Streets of Rage 2. No one is talking about Golden Axe 2.

But Golden Axe 2 wasn’t terrible. In fact, Golden Axe 2 holds a special place in my heart, as, back in the day, my beat ‘em up-addicted neighbor and myself (am I trying to imply that I don’t have a beat ‘em up addiction after writing about four of ‘em over the course of the last month or so?) played Golden Axe 2 solid for nearly an entire year (which is like twelve billion centuries in kid time). GA2 was a two player beat ‘em up that featured a dwarf and murder skeletons, so it obviously had something going on. And, while we barely ever made it to the finale (damn limited credits), we played that title over and over again, because it was just the right kind of mindless fun that is perfect when you’re a kid. You can ride a beast! You can run really fast and headbutt a soldier with a pointy hat! Murder skeletons! That’s some good stuff!

But my holy grail? That was a creature I only ever saw once, hiding in some smoky arcade while crossing the country on vacation. Once, lurking there in the darkness, I saw Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder.

SKELETONS!Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released right around the same time as Golden Axe 2. Presumably, it was a divergent title that utilized the full capability of an arcade machine while leaving Golden Axe 2 to wallow in the muck of the Sega Genesis. GA:TRoDA featured branching paths for levels, vertically scrolling areas, and big, impressive sprites. It was a game that had infinitely branching possibilities, and four distinct playable characters that could halt the revenge of Death Adder simultaneously. It was the platonic ideal of Golden Axe. I might have only gotten to play the game for a credit before being pulled back to I-95, but I knew that Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was the future of the amazing Golden Axe franchise.

But GA:TRoDA never made its way to home consoles. It was never released for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, or even the Dreamcast. It was not emulated to any Sega collections. It was not released on any Virtual Consoles. It was simply lost to history, a shining relic of the Golden Axe franchise that would one day ask us all to become beast riders. GA:TRoDA fell between the cracks of time, and, in my mind, became a legend of a game that we would always pine for with an unrequited longing.

So I decided to give Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder a spin for this theme week of forgotten games. And you know what? It kind of sucks!

ROCK OUTThere was exactly one thing I remembered perfectly about Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder: there’s a centaur. She’s a horse-lady, she’s got an American Gladiator bopper, and she can switch to regular human legs when she needs to ride a fire-breathing mantis (… what?). However, my memory failed to remember that Dora the Centaur is also joined by Stern the Barbarian (who apparently did not star in any other Golden Axe games despite looking exactly like the other barbarians), Trix the Elf (who is clearly some weird amalgamation of breakfast cereal mascots), and Goah the Giant, who is at best Goah the Maybe Would be Good at Basketball, but is rode around by Gilius Thunderhead, dwarven hero of the previous Golden Axe titles. And that’s a pretty eclectic group! Too bad they all… just play like Golden Axe characters. There are apparently some two-player shenanigans that are available with pairing up, but that’s not going to do any good in single player or in an arcade where it is impossible to shout over the rolling noise of much more popular machines. And, whether your fighters have any interesting moves or not is rather secondary to the glut of absolutely boring opponents that are available. I played this game a whole hour before writing this article, and… I’m having trouble remember exactly what I fought. There were some malevolent trees, and an army of the mask guy from World Heroes… and… uh… I think there was an ogre or two in there? Certainly a number of useless soldiers, but they are available in practically any medieval brawler. Murder skeletons are a given, but they’re on the home consoles, too. And the final boss, the titular Death Adder wielding the Golden Axe atop a castle that appears to be a giant statue of himself, is pretty memorable. Everything else? Not so much.

You'll never get me lucky charmsYet, I spent decades thinking this title, never released on home consoles, was some kind of solid gold Golden Axe gold standard (of gold). It was the beat ‘em up to end all beat ‘em ups, and we were cruelly denied such a glittering jewel, forever stuck with the likes of Golden Axe III (originally only released in the West on the Sega Channel because it sucked so bad) or The Last Action Hero. These were games that were sorely lacking in centaurs! And, while I wondered about the joys an arcade cabinet of The Revenge of Death Adder could bring me, the beat ‘em up genre withered and died on the vine. I would never see such delight ever again.

And then, years later I played the damn game, and it was boring and rote.

And then I played Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara, and, apparently, that was the game I was thinking of all along.

I thought there were shops in Golden Axe! Sorry!

Anyway, someone please make every videogame ever readily accessible, or this is going to keep happening. Please and thank you.

I really don’t want to take a chance on playing arcade Willow now…

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

  • System: Arcade only, dammit.
  • Number of players: Four! I want to say that other Golden Axes had a maximum of three… but probably just two. Four is important! That’s how many turtles there are!
  • Get 'em!It’s a kind of magic: This is the only Golden Axe title where a magic spell can summon a helpful item, and not just universally attack the screen. Trix the Elf can summon a tree that grants life giving, magically delicious fruit for the party. This adds an interesting “magic equals life” wrinkle to the gameplay… but most of the time you just reflexively hit the magic button when you’re surrounded, and wind up with a lousy bush instead of a mighty dragon. Good effort, Trix.
  • Favorite Character: Did I mention there was a centaur? Dora has all the power of a woman and a horse. And she seems to have really useful magic, too. There is literally no competition among the men here.
  • An End: Gilius Thunderhead leaps from his giant mount and dies delivering the final blow to Death Adder. This is apparently canon for future sequels, and the fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel, makes reference to this fact. So, see, all those Saturn owners needed a home port to understand the complicated plot of Golden Axe!
  • Did you know? The hero of Golden Axe: Beast Rider is Tyris Flare, the same Valkyrie that appeared in Golden Axe I and Golden Axe II. Even though she doesn’t appear in this game, I’m noting this now because I am absolutely never reviewing Golden Axe: Beast Riders.
  • Would I play again: There are different routes and characters, so every playthrough is different. But not different enough! I can only fight so many murder skeletons, so I’ll pass on another play of this forgotten title.

What’s next? One last non-random choice: Let’s talk about a “forgotten” game that recently came back to us in a marvelous little collection. Please look forward to it!

BANG

FGC #430 Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

GRAPHICS!When I am a wistful old man (estimated arrival date: twelve minutes from now) I will tell my children and grandchildren and whatever poor ragamuffin is forced to mow my lawn about my younger days. I will speak of the birth of the internet as we know it (or knew it). I will speak of LiveJournal. I will speak of Mario and Link and Sonic and Bubsy. I will speak of all things that remind me of my youth, my better days, the days when I thought anything was possible. The days when I was not hardened to this uncaring world, and I believed, yes, truly believed that we were heading toward a future that accommodated my generation and me, and that, finally, people who grew up saving princesses and reassembling triforces were coming into the sort of power I had only seen possessed by my parents and their parents before them. I was young, young man, and I believed the world would soon be my oyster.

And what fueled that misguided belief? Scott Pilgrim, and the world of merchandise that accompanied its brief stay at the top.

This paragraph is really going to make me wish I learned how to properly distinguish a character and a title… Okay, for anybody here that is just hearing about Scott Pilgrim for the first time (hi, lawn ragamuffin), Scott Pilgrim was a series of six graphic novels drawn and written by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It chronicled the story of the titular Scott Pilgrim, a dude who is aimlessly frittering away his 20s, but meets the literal woman of his dreams at a party. Said woman, Ramona, unfortunately has a history containing seven evil exes, and now Scott Pilgrim must win his lady love’s heart by defeating her entire dating history. In the end, the story becomes one about growing up and learning that maybe you’re kind of a dingus, and the journey of defeating seven evil exes was really the friends we made along the way.

Vs the ZombiesAnd that is super important to the following statement: I love Scott Pilgrim. I love the books, I love the concept, I even love the amiable loser himself, Scott Pilgrim. At the time the story was being released, I completely identified with Scott Pilgrim. And that’s kind of horrifying! Scott Pilgrim is an affable young lad, but, as the story all but outright states on a number of occasions, he’s also a self-centered dick. He enjoys videogames, he reads comics, he plays in a rock band: just like me! He also has predatory, selfish dating habits, and thinks nothing of ditching literally everyone he knows if he thinks it serves some greater purpose of advancing one of his own relationships. Just like me! Shit. That can’t be good. But since one moral of the story is that Scott Pilgrim can learn to grow out of being Scott Pilgrim, it is likely safe to even compare yourself to Scott. Sure, I’m a straight, white male that is kind of a mess, but eventually I’m going to have my hero moment, and mature out of it. Sure! That makes sense. The alternative is, what, to be a juvenile, self-serving nitwit until you eventually become a 70 year old man that is incidentally President of the United States. That’s crazy! Scott is Canadian!

Okay, so maybe the Scott Pilgrim series is, pretty much by design, selfish. In creating a character that is the perfect encapsulation of a 20-something from my generation, BAM created a monster attached to a moral that only exists at the end of six books that took six years to be released. It is very easy in such a situation to never see that all-important character denouement, and simply focus on how Scott is cool and plays videogames and apparently hot women with fantastical weapons literally throw themselves at the guy. It is very easy to be white, male, and straight (editor’s note: that should be the entire sentence) and see Scott as less a directionless gremlin that unintentionally hurts everyone in his immediate vicinity, and much more of a champion that is involved in a simple hero’s journey that involves seven obvious evil bosses. And, yes, even if you acknowledge Scott Pilgrim to be selfish, it is rather dangerous to hang your ego on the Scott Pilgrim media empire.

But, for the summer of 2010, I did just that.

Roar!Make no mistake; I never wanted to be Scott Pilgrim. However, I already loved the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, and the news that Scott Pilgrim would be receiving its final volume, a movie directed by Edgar Wright, and a videogame all in the same year left me fairly elated. Everything was coming up Bob!

And it’s worth noting just how amazing the film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was to anyone that happened to be exactly me. To quote the IMDB trivia page for the movie:

“Edgar Wright obtained permission to use the famous theme song from the SNES game, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991), by writing a letter to Nintendo, saying that it is considered to be ‘the nursery rhyme of this generation’.”

And that about sums it up. Scott Pilgrim is a movie based on a graphic novel about a guy that plays videogames, and the film itself soaks in videogame references. And, while such a thing could be incredibly shallow in the hands of another director, Edgar Wright knew that videogames weren’t just a “thing” for a certain group of people, it was a language. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was more fluent in that language than any other cunning linguist could ever hope to be. In fact, it is nearly impossible to properly convey the level of focus involved in SPvTW. The film may have starred a crappy protagonist propelled by the most self-serving of white male fantasy plots (fight boys to win the girl!), but it may as well have been designed in a universe where only I exist.

It was stimulating, to say the least.

BAAAAAASS BAAAATTLEAnd, of course, there was the tie-in game (which, if I remember correctly, is actually what this article is about). Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a beat ‘em up in the style of River City Ransom. And that makes perfect sense! The graphic novel distinctly references River City Ransom on numerous occasions, and, at the time, there wasn’t a River City Ransom spin-off title released every other week (anyone play that medieval themed one? No, not Dragon’s Crown). And it’s a beat ‘em up! Those are easy! Sailor Moon could do that! Couple that with gorgeous pixel art by Paul Robertson, and a criminally underrated soundtrack, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was certainly a worthy tie-in title for a movie/graphic novel. It was by no means a perfect game (SPvTW seemed to be the modern start of the “home beat ‘em up” trend… and didn’t quite know what to do with leveling and such), but, in a world where at least one movie tie-in videogame once doomed the entire genre for a generation (Atari 2600 phone home), it was an amazingly fun way to enjoy the wave of Scott Pilgrim merchandise flowing from the all-encompassing media ocean.

But now, like the ebb and flow of that media sea, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 has gone out with the tide, never to be seen again.

Scoot over to Amazon right now, and you can search for Scott Pilgrim merchandise. You may download Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Movie, and watch it immediately. You may also order it with two-day shipping. Of course, you can also order the books in black and white and color formats, either as a set, or as individual graphic novels. The original movie soundtrack is available on vinyl. That same soundtrack is available as a CD, or a collection of MP3 downloads. Additionally, there is another soundtrack available for just the “score” of the film. On top of that, and most painfully, the soundtrack for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is available as a series of MP3 downloads. Then there are the usual assortments of random clothing options, and, finally, a number of Funko Pops. Available for a little over $25 is the Funko Pop! SDCC 2017 Summer Convention Exclusive Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Nega Scott Vinyl Figure. It is a Funko Pop based on a character that appears for approximately two minutes of screen time in the film. It is available for purchase. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is not.

ORBSSPvTW was delisted from Xbox and Playstation storefronts as of January 1, 2015. The game was available for about four years, and, when Ubisoft’s license expired, it was determined it was not profitable for anyone to continue to support even the sale of the title. The game was tied to a movie that was no substantial hit, so it was simply dropped. As the game had received no physical release prior to its delisting, it then ceased to exist. The only way to play the game was to have purchased and downloaded the game sometime around 2010-2014, and then prayed for the rest of days that that hard drive never failed. For anyone else that doesn’t want to lurk around the seedier corners of the net, it’s simply gone forever, unlikely to ever return.

And, maybe, that’s about what we should expect. The summer of 2010, complete with its deluge of Scott Pilgrim merchandise, is nearly a decade gone now. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World may have been a movie specifically made only for me… but that didn’t exactly translate to substantial ticket sales (I only went twice, and I’m sorry). SPvTW may have been speaking my language… but it was an evolutionary dead-end in 2010. Avengers, Star Wars, and other “nerd” properties might be at the top of the heap right now, but their general detachment from sincerity gives this audience of one an entirely different feeling. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was an entirely singular experience. It seems only right that its accompanying game is now lost forever.

But this old man doesn’t think that’s right at all. Now get off my lawn.

FGC #430 Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

  • System: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Well… Once upon a time…
  • Number of players: Four! That’s the best number of players!
  • ERRORA Videogame’s Videogame: SPvTW integrates a number of references to other famous games, both great and small. Everyone likely recognizes the red dripping of Mega Man 2 in the final stage, but did you notice the wolverine beasts use Wolverine’s berserker barrage from Marvel vs. Capcom? And that dude from Clash at Demonhead is hanging out in the background. Neat!
  • A Legend with Problems: Okay, my own nostalgia for this game may have created some hyperbole that ignores a few of the issues with the title. Whoever thought that throwing items should involve the risk of being knocked down by a rebound should be ejected directly into the sun. Come to think of it, there is far too much falling down in this game. Waiting for your character to get back up is not interesting! Particularly when you’re being stun locked by the final boss! This game has some deep-rooted issues… Hey! Kind of like Scott!
  • Secret Truth of all Scott Pilgrim adaptations: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness is the peak of literally every version of the story. I cannot understand disagreeing with this statement.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: It is appreciated that the graphic novels, the movie, and the videogame more or less have different endings that are appropriate to their mediums. The graphic novel has much more room to breathe, so its more meditative conclusion is proper. The movie is much more manic (and takes place over a much shorter amount of time), so something more traditional is suitable. And the videogame… that’s just a videogame. Nobody wants a long ending in a videogame!
  • Speaking of the Movie: Did IMDB watch the same movie I did?
    ...panties?

    Because those plot keywords might be describing the porn parody, Scott Pildick vs. The Oral.
  • Did you know? The first Scott Pilgrim vs. The World movie script was drafted before the third graphic novel was even released. That’s planning ahead!
  • Would I play again: This is the kind of game that is great to play through for an hour or two every other year… and that’s it. I can’t bring myself to play it as often as a Mega Man title, but it is fun while doing my laundry every once in a while. Glowing laundry endorsement right there.

What’s next? Our final “forgotten” title is one that isn’t forgotten at all, but should be gutted and useless inside of a couple months. Please look forward to it! … The article! Not the gutting!

Dawwww

FGC #413 Bonk’s Revenge

It's Bonk timeI don’t understand Bonk.

Like many issues in our modern world, this appears to be a problem of education. I was a Nintendo kid that eventually picked up a few Sega games (who could say no to that hedgehog?). I consumed Nintendo Power like it was (the secret of) manna from Heaven, and knew nearly everything about every release for a Nintendo console straight through to the 21st Century. Sega was not going to take that kind of thing lying down, though, so the minute there was a hot new Sega Genesis title on the horizon, the advertising machines clicked into high gear, and everyone was inflicted with a deluge of information on blast processing or lock-on technology. And nobody cared! Sure, it was practically mind control aimed squarely at children who could scream at their parents until “Santa” decided to deliver a bevy of plastic cartridges, but it wasn’t all bad. After all, even if you couldn’t afford an $80 copy of the latest Street Fighter, at least you could read all those character profiles, and imagine the nefarious origins of that dude in the purple robes.

And then there was the TurboGrafx-16. I’ve got one of those puppies sitting right here in my gaming room, and I’m still not completely sure it was a real thing.

Going up?Let’s see here… Wikipedia claims that the TurboGrafx-16 was first unleashed upon the West in August of 1989, and was a living, breathing videogame console through 1994. I played videogames during that time! I played some of my most favorite videogames during that epoch! Yet, I can barely recall the TG16 being even the remotest of factors in the “console wars” of the early 90’s. Did the TG16… uh… do anything? Oh, it was the first console to have a CD-reading add-on? Well that seems pretty important. It was produced by Hudson, which is certainly a videogame company I’m familiar with. And its games look… uh… kind of pretty. Like, maybe early Sega Genesis, and a lot better than what was available on the NES. Yes, it appears that the TurboGrafx-16 should have been an integral part of early 90’s gaming, but… seems like a certain system managed to miss the boat.

Which means I missed the Bonk Boat.

Bonk was, for a time, the mascot for the TurboGrafx-16. There was Mario on the Nintendo, Sonic on the Sega, and that doofy caveman with the giant head over in TG16 land. So I was at least aware of Bonk. And, given the caveman aesthetic, I was pretty sure I knew everything I ever needed to know about the lil’ dude. He’s got a big head. He fights dinosaurs. He “bonks” dinosaurs with his big head. Occasionally he eats meat, and he goes from happy to angry to atomic. Sometimes he turns into a crab.

… Wait. What was that last part?

To briefly revisit something that has been established on this very site many times before, videogames are weird, y’all. Sonic is a blue hedgehog, and it’s completely normal that he collects rings for power while fighting an egg-shaped mad scientist. Elsewhere, the real hero’s little brother uses a vacuum to exterminate the undead from his recently inherited mansion. A vampire with a gun employs a magical rock to summon a dragon to shoot lasers at angry, sentient houses. Even our modern, “mature” videogames are full of ridiculous, reality-defying nonsense, like a man who can soak extra bullets because he’s more muscular than the other dudes, or dining room chairs that inexplicably provide more potent cover than lead shields.Chilly out there One way or another, we just accept videogame weirdness for what it is, and move on. The Prince of Persia can run up and down vertical walls with ease, and an armor clad space bounty hunter can scale walls through dutiful triangle jumping. Makes perfect sense!

But Bonk is different. Or… it could be? This game is Bonk’s Revenge, which, according to upwards of 28 seconds of research (I’ve been busy lately, okay!?) is one of (in not the) best Bonk titles. It’s also a sequel, which means we are continuing the canon that was dutifully laid forth in the original Bonk’s Adventure. So there’s probably a basis for all of this. I came in late, no need to complain about not knowing who this Captain America guy is; this was probably all explained sometime in the past. There is doubtless a logical explanation for… I’m sorry, this whole crab thing is still getting to me.

According to only what happens in this game (and not any auxiliary materials, like an instruction manual or the inevitable Bonk Wiki), the story of Bonk’s Revenge features an evil T-Rex king splitting the moon (or just “a moon”?) in half, and apparently using that half of the moon to build some manner of dinosaur Death Star (in typing that, I just realized how badly I want Star Wars to be remade with dinosaur space wizards). Bonk ventures forth to reclaim that chunk of the moon, and, should he succeed, he is kissed by a grateful, apparently benevolent dinosaur that lives on the moon (?). As previously noted, Bonk can obtain meat to powerup to more deadly forms, and he can collect happy faces that will unlock train rides at the end of stages that can provide further bonuses. And, when he finally enters the Dino Star at the end of his adventure, unmarked underwater blocks may squish Bonk into a crab form. He becomes Crab Bonk, which is advantageous for… some reason?

And… I just can’t deal with Crab Bonk.

WeeeeeBonk would eventually show up on the Super Nintendo, presumably because Johnny Turbo stole his gig advertising the TG16. In that title, Super Bonk, Bonk would be able to eat meat to transform into a giant chicken or Godzilla. Strangely enough, science eventually taught us that this is exactly how evolution works, so that powerup transition makes perfect sense. But Crab Bonk? I have no idea what is happening with Crab Bonk, and it bothers me to no end. Is this a frog suit-like water-based powerup? A Wario Land-esque punishment? Some kind of Japanese running gag about dinosaurs turning cavemen into crustaceans? What is even happening in this game!? I could understand the brontosaurus ballerina that finished out the third stage, but Crab Bonk is blowing my mind! Please, TurboGrafx-16 Power, tell me what the hell is happening here!

But I missed the TG16, so I will never understand poor, forgotten Bonk.

Trying to understand Bonk after the fact is like banging your head against a wall.

FGC #413 Bonk’s Revenge

  • System: This is one of my few TurboGrafx-16 games, so it certainly gets a check in that column. It was also released on the Wii Virtual Console, and the Sony and Microsoft download services in Japan. There was also a Gameboy version, but that was a severely compromised port.
  • Number of players: The TG16 only had one controller port. That seems really shortsighted!
  • The Benefits of Bonk: If Bonk has one defining characteristic, it’s that, in a time well before “visual storytelling” was a thing in videogames, Bonk admirably tells his story with a sort of Looney Tunes-esque flare. Dude is a cartoon character in every conceivable way, and, right about the time he chomps onto a fishing line held by an enemy, you know something special is happening.
  • That Looks Like it Hurts: Bonk’s other big ability is climbing walls… through biting his way up vertical shafts. Gogglebob.com would like to note that this is a terrible idea, and, if you are worried about tooth decay, please do not try that at home.
  • Favorite Boss: There’s a dinosaur pirate riding a flying ship that launches torpedoes through the sky. That’s pretty hard to beat. I mean… he is the coolest boss, but, yes, he is also literally kind of hard to beat.
  • Did you know? Bonk’s Revenge for the Gameboy was a Super Gameboy title, and its unique Super Gameboy frame featured the generic mooks of the title sitting and watching the game as if watching a play. I’m going to go ahead and claim that Paper Mario totally stole this gimmick.
  • Would I play again: This is definitely the game I’m playing if I fire up the TurboGrafx-16 again. Then again, I only own four TG16 games, so that’s not saying much…

What’s next? Oh yeah, I promised a theme week, didn’t I? Well, how about we call this… um… Inexplicable 16-Bit Cavemen Week! Yes! That’s right! No Caveman Games! No Far Cry Primal! Just cavemen, and just cavemen from the 16-bit era! That makes perfect sense! So next we’ll be hitting Joe & Mac! They’re cavemen ninja! Please look forward to it!

Gulp

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Let’s talk about limits, phobias, and easy mode.

Limits are important. The old yarn about videogames is that, thanks to the virtual unreality of the digital world, you can do anything in a videogame. And anyone that has actually played a videogame knows that that is bull hockey. Super Mario Bros. is an amazing game, but can you do anything in the Mushroom Kingdom? Heck no. Mario might be able to jump higher than any basketball star, but he still has a limit, and cannot, say, jump straight to the goal flag right from his first bound. Mario is very limited in his movements, but, if you notice the world around him, you will see that his entire universe was designed exclusively for these limits. There is no jump that Mario needs to make that he cannot clear. There is no villain that he must destroy that does not have a weakness. And, since Mario is limited to only running and jumping (and not, say, negotiating with wandering turtle hordes), there is no problem that cannot be solved with that moveset. Mario is limited. Videogames are limited; but that is why they are “games”. A game with no limits and no rules is just a playset, and, given the dismal sales of Endless Ocean, games are exactly what gamers want.

But the best videogame limits are the ones that are completely invisible. Mario isn’t limited by his jumps, he’s super! You can do anything in Grand Theft Auto… except maybe go inside a building. The latest WRPG has incredible freedom and insane realism, though maybe your hero can’t hop over a waist-high fence. But all of these limits are there for a reason, because without them, there would be no game at all (or, in some of the “open world” cases, because otherwise the title require three decades to actually be released). Limits are what make videogames fun, and if they weren’t there, it would be bedlam every time C.J. jumped all the way to a moon nobody ever got around to modeling.

Unfortunately, not all limits can be invisible.

CreepyLink is one of your more limited heroes in your typical Legend of Zelda title (though maybe not in at least one recent entry). He can’t jump (except when absolutely necessary). His traditional offensive options are generally sparse (the sword is a mainstay, but have you ever really tried to take out a Helmasaur with bombs or hammers? They both suck). And, even when Hyrule has been expanded to Switchian levels of size, it’s still a fairly narrow chunk of geography. Mario often vacations in the far off corners of the galaxy, but the best Link can hope for is a quick jaunt to a flying whale’s dreamscape. Or, like in this entry, a visit to Hyrule’s next kingdom over, Termina, where a crash landing moon is going to abolish all life in the immediate area. And all Link can do, as ever, is run around like a cucco and hope that talking to everybody saves the day. Oh, and there’s a time limit now, too. It’s there, and you’re reminded of it every few moments. Actually, that time limit is integral to the entire experience, so you’re more likely to be reminded of it every second.

And, like so many limits in videogames, this is technically a good thing. For possibly the first time in a Zelda title, there is some genuine suspense. The end of the world is coming, and if you don’t do anything, you’re going to be toast in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1. That moon is always there, looming, stalking your every move. You have to complete this dungeon in a timely manner, or everyone is going to die. If you don’t rescue that monkey, if you don’t find the right route through the canyon, if you don’t listen to goddamn Tingle, that moon is going to come crashing down, and it’s over, “Hero of Time”. Or maybe you choose to believe that there is no danger. Maybe you aren’t saving the world from a horror-moon, and you’re working hard because you want to see how much you can complete in a “cycle”. After all, the real world isn’t in jeopardy, and a dead Link doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all about getting what you can get done in your time limit, and, if you have to reset the three day cycle all over again, that’s just the price of “wasting” time. You lose some progress, and that sucks, but it happens.

And that’s the scariest idea of all.

Going for a dipI genuinely believe videogames are art. I also genuinely believe videogames are wastes of time. But in the most literal sense! Videogames are amazing and fun, but the chief way a videogame will punish a player is through wasting time. What is the number one result of “losing a life” in practically any game? It’s a loss of time through having to repeat a section. In other cases, you may instantly respawn, but you also work up to a “continue”, and the threat is that you are one step closer to losing progress. Dying, but with extra steps. Some RPGs have adopted the method of letting you keep your story progress, but you lose gold, equipment, or experience… so you’ve just lost a different kind of progress. And what’s worse? Losing a life and having to respawn somewhere “further back”, or a game where your “life” is captured, and you have to search all over the place to rediscover your lost comrade? That might be up to personal preference, as the end result is the same in both cases: lost time. You could have beaten the final boss by now if you didn’t waste so much time on all those deaths, right? Heard it all before…

So, suffice it to say, by Majora’s Mask’s release in 2000, after a solid decade of gaming like a maniac, the idea of “death = lost time” was already drilled straight into my noggin. Losing time was the enemy, and a game where the hook was that time was constantly against you, and not knowing what you were doing at all times could lead to more lost time… The concept scared me. Hell, I was downright frightened by the idea that I could fill my wallet with rupees, gain every last magical item, and then lose it all because I dawdled too long in a swamp shooting gallery. It didn’t help that this was also the second 3-D Zelda, and the concept of proper camera control was still in its infancy. I’m supposed to find five random kids around town? In only three days? How am I supposed to pull that off when I can barely see around corners? I was never good at finding random skulltulas, so I was already pretty screwed if this game expected me to find hidden children and masks within a time limit. I knew my skills, I knew my limits, and I knew that there was no way I could have ever saved Termina back in 2000. I had so little time as it was, I wasn’t going to waste it on a game that was built around wasting even more time.

So thank Miyamoto for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D.

Poor LinkIn a lot of ways, Majora’s Mask 3D is an entirely different game. The all-important bosses have been dramatically altered, swimming is an entirely different ball of beavers, and, most importantly, a “save anywhere” feature has been added. This is a game changer, literally, as it means that the game’s saves are no longer tied to losing all progress within a cycle. One of those “frightening” features from the original release has just flown straight out the window. Even better, the presence of constant saving means that some of the more… fiendish minigames can now be savescummed. Not saying I’m a cheater (okay, I absolutely am), but knowing that I won’t lose all my progress to a damn deku scrub minigame goes a long way to putting my mind at ease. And those dungeons lose their bite when a puzzle can be solved over the course of a half hour, and then “reset” so the game only thinks Link only spent thirty seconds on that block pushing. Avoiding lost progress is easy!

And that’s just it: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is Majora’s Mask Easy Mode.

And… I think that’s the only way I want to play the game.

Beat itI never completed Majora’s Mask on the N64. In fact, I only really got into playing it at all on the Gamecube Zelda compilation, and, even then, I barely cleared the first palace. It was just too stressful, and that looming threat of losing progress, that unflinching limit, scared me off. I could contentedly sail the seas with Pirate Link, or I could suffer under the gaze of an ever-judging moon. That was no choice at all! But the 3DS version was different, because I could go at my own pace, and I didn’t have to live in fear of an oppressive limit on my play time. I suppose the limit was always there, as that moon certainly hadn’t gone away, but it was so much less oppressive. And “less oppressive” always translates to “more fun”. It may have been easy mode, but without that easy mode, I never would have experienced this entertaining, quirky Zelda title.

So what’s the moral of this experience? It’s not that limits are inherently bad, and it’s certainly not that you should live in fear of arbitrary challenges. No, I suppose our moral today is that sometimes the best way to enjoy a game is suck it up, admit you’re a weenie, and go ahead and play it on easy mode. Don’t limit your experiences by arbitrary skill echelons, and just have fun the way you want to have fun.

You’re allowed to be afraid, but don’t be afraid of easy mode.

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

  • System: N64 (but only with an expansion pack), and then again on every Nintendo console since. Well, not Switch, but give it a hot minute, I’m sure it will get there. The latest version (with vast improvements) is available on the 3DS.
  • Number of players: This ain’t Mask of Four Swords, buddy.
  • Other Majora Issues: I also may have avoided playing Majora’s Mask initially because it is creepy as all get out. It’s not even that Resident Evil kind of deliberate creepy. It’s more like everything is just… wrong, and Link is trying to save a world that shouldn’t even be in the first place. And I’m still fairly convinced that this all happened because that’s a natural reaction to looking at Ocarina of Time character models.
  • These guysFavorite Character: Everybody wants to talk about Anju and That Kid, but the greatest, saddest love story in Majora’s Mask is the tale of Mikau and Lulu, the Zora lovers. No matter how much Link can control time, Mikau is always going to wind up seagull bait, and Lulu is always going to be stuck talking to a young boy that is wearing her lover’s death mask as a magical prop. Man, this is a weird game.
  • Favorite Mask: There are so many options! Fierce Deity and Lovers are great choices because they’re so insanely difficult to obtain, but that would ignore all the great dumb ones, like blow-yourself-up-all-the-time mask. And the bunny hood was so good, it infiltrated other games! But my pick goes to the Stone Mask, because the idea that it makes Link so plain, he is virtually invisible is fun and biting social satire. It’s perfect!
  • Did you know? This was the first place we had a Tingle breakout. It was mostly contained to balloons and map making, and the little bastard wasn’t too much of a drain on resources, but it seems the infection was destined to grow in later years. As of this writing, he has been mostly relegated to spin-offs, but vigilance is always necessary.
  • Would I play again: The 3DS version? Yes, absolutely. The original N64 title? No, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to air the Duck Dynasty for Xbox 360 stream from last Friday night! If you missed it live, it’s new to you! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening!?