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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!?

FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

CARTOONS!To every game, turn turn turn, there is a season, turn turn turn…

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion was originally a 2011 release for the Nintendo 3DS, and then resurfaced six months later as Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL, a slightly expanded version intended for consoles. At its core, CN:PTE is a Smash Bros clone starring the heroes and heroines of various Cartoon Network shows.

And that was everyone’s initial problem: CN:PTE is a lousy copy of Smash Bros.

First of all, “copy of Smash Bros” does not just mean this is a generic four person mascot fight ‘em up with some weird new feature wedged in there; no, this is just straight up Smash Bros. More specifically, it’s Smash Bros. Brawl, as the trophy assists of that title have been adapted to include random Cartoon Network stars like Numbah 362 and Cheese, the most annoying imaginary friend ever. Other than that “change”, this is just Smash Bros, with death being based on falling off the screen, and damage being accumulated through an increasing percentage meter. And, let’s face it, this is a brazen and fairly insane route to take for a game that was clearly intended for systems with better options. We were still three years away from Super Smash Bros. 4 3DS, but the Wii had hosted Brawl for years, and who didn’t own a Wii? My mother owns a Wii! There are better options for Smash times, because, without a doubt, this is a dreadful smash clone. All of the characters control in a very “floaty” manner, a number of the special moves seem like excuses for suicide (forward + special is yet another dash move that will toss you off a cliff, yay!), and, while we’re examining every little flaw, most of these characters do not naturally lend themselves to a moveset. Get emIf a videogame neophyte chooses Charizard, the humongous, flaming dragon, our featured noob can still make a pretty good guess at what the special button is going to do (fire-breath seems like a lock). You might get a similar reaction out of CN’s scythe-wielding Grim Reaper, but Billy and Mandy? Or Dexter? Or Flapjack? Did that kid ever actually fight anything in his franchise?

Which brings us to the next big issue: the roster is unerringly confusing. You’ve got representatives from Johnny Bravo, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls, and even Chowder. Want to know what all those shows have in common? They were all cancelled before the release of this game! And it’s not just a matter of “maybe the game was delayed a month or two”, no, the last PPG episode was in 2005, so we’re looking at a title that was released two years after the 10th Anniversary Special. And just go ahead and rub the salt in the Samurai Jack and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack wounds. I don’t care if Jack eventually came back! That cancellation is still raw! It’s understandable to toss in a few “old” characters for posterity’s sake (Johnny Bravo should always be remembered), but this is less “Ice Climbers are here” and more “The latest Smash Bros will exclusively star Urban Champion and Excite Biker”. In fact, if you really comb the roster, you’ll find that the only franchise that was still in production during 2011 was Ben 10… Which is likely why they made him the star of story mode.

BARFSo maybe the story mode is worthwhile? Nope! It’s got the same dreadful physics as the rest of the game, and, give or take a side adventure or two involving lasers, it’s just a mediocre beat ‘em up where you don’t even have to beat ‘em up half the time. And there’s a minecart section! And, God, it somehow has an even worse physics engine than every other part of the game. It’s like the design team wanted to see just how repellant one over-merchandized bit of merchandise could be. Maybe the game tastes bad, too? I didn’t test that, but I haven’t licked any of my discs in a while, might be worth a check.

But one thing about story mode does stand out. Even if the gameplay is atrocious, even if the levels are more tedious than shouting about clowns coming to destroy us all, and even if you’re forced into playing as Ben 10 far too often; even with all that, there is something magical happening. The plot of PTE is simple: a dude has decided he’s going to watch some Cartoon Network, but his remote control has gone maliciously haywire, and is attempting to corrupt and otherwise damage the fine programs you’d find on the best cartoon channel around. Nothing too complicated there… Except the “narrator” watching TV is George Lowe. George Lowe, best known as the voice of Tad Ghostal aka Space Ghost, host of Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Cartoon Planet. And, well, that’s enough to get my attention.

WeeeeeeCartoon Network’s programs, and the cartoon characters featured in this game, are not my childhood. My local cable package didn’t even receive Cartoon Network until I was old enough to be embarrassed by watching such a thing. And, even before that, it wasn’t like CN had that much original programming. Ultimately, I had already ruined a good two proms before I ever caught sight of Courage the Cowardly Dog. But, despite my advanced age (almost ready for college!), I did watch Cartoon Network. I watched “Adult Swim” before it was Adult Swim. I watched a pile of Cartoon Network shows, old and new, basically because, well, what else was on? Some people watch The Real World or game shows, I watched Criss Cross Crisis reruns until my eyes bled. It wasn’t like I was a dedicated fan or something, it was simply what I flipped to when I had nothing better to do. And, particularly during my college years, it seemed like I had a lot of time for such vegetative watching. Doing some horrible calculus homework? May as well watch Johnny Bravo while I’m at it.

And I’m well aware that I fetishize my own childhood, but it came as something of a surprise to me that I’m also a sucker for nostalgia that originated a mere decade (and change) ago. Who knew that Space Ghost would immediately up my engagement levels by about 1000%? And the rest of the cast! They may have been “retired” by the time the game premiered, but now, years later, it’s like revisiting old friends. I never really cared for Kids Next Door or Chowder, but seeing them again, after all this time, it’s… refreshing. It does my heart good. These characters and shows may be off the air now, and their home network may be a completely different animal, but this disc-based time capsule of a long forgotten epoch has healed this old man’s broken heart.

GET IT!?In any objective way, Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion is not a good game. In 2011, it was a disappointment (you’ve had Finn the Human on the air for nearly two years, guys! And could you put more than ten minutes into filing the numbers off Smash Bros?), and in 2018, it should be a disappointment again. But, somehow, divorced from its original eon and system (I am technically playing this on the WiiU), it’s engaging. And, even more than that, it’s fun. It might just be nostalgia for a bygone era, but, dammit, it works.

Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion, your time has finally come.

FGC #393 Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion XL

  • System: Nintendo 3DS for the original version, and then XL hit on Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Sorry, the Vita wasn’t quite available yet.
  • Number of players: As a Smash clone, the answer must be four.
  • Missed Opportunities: Some complained that, while “old” Cartoon Network shows were being featured anyway, there should have been Courage the Cowardly Dog and Ed, Edd, and Eddy on the roster. However, while Courage had a great show, he is maybe not the most suited to a fighting environment. And, as for Ed, Edd, and Eddy? Nobody ever liked that show, so I can understand why it wasn’t included.
  • Hey, I liked Ed, Edd, and Eddy! No. No I assure you, you did not.
  • Other Complaints: It appears all of the items exist exclusively to be picked up and thrown. There isn’t a super mushroom or Franklin Badge or any other doodads that do anything more interesting than “is a projectile”. Considering the wealth of “items” available in various CN shows, that is a major disappointment.
  • Favorite Featured Cartoon Network Show: I still have a hard time believing there was ever a cartoon that featured a Caribbean Grim Reaper palling around with a megalomaniacal girl and her marginally brain dead sidekick. And sometimes they went to Hogwarts! But it had Weird Al! As a squid! Just do yourself a favor and watch The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
  • Favorite Assist Toon: For reasons that were never succinctly explained, Dracula in the Billy and Mandy Universe is a 70’s Disco Fiend…
    Get down!

    And that’s the best thing that ever happened.
  • Samurai Back: One of the stages is Samurai Jack’s home kingdom prior to Aku’s attack. Man, it really has to sting to finally make it home only for it to be a two minute fight against Captain Planet.
  • An End: The narrator is never seen, but, in response to losing his (evil) remote control, “Narrator” comments that he should find a lava monster to pull one lever to change channels. So, yes, this entire game is Space Ghost: Coast to Coast: Origins. Go get yourself a Moltar, Thad!
  • Did you know? Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo were the first two Cartoon Cartoons back in 1996 and 1997, respectively. This was followed by Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel. If you’re curious about why you’ve never heard of those latter two shows, there’s a reason.
  • Would I play again: Honestly? Exclusively for the nostalgia, I just might. I know I’m not the only nerd around here with his head stuck in the past, and I do have four controllers…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Young Justice Legacy for the Playstation 3! Time for some… justice? Of the… young kind? I guess! Please look forward to it!

YAY
The power of ponytails

FGC #350 Super Mario Odyssey

It's a-me!  Cappy!The reason it’s so difficult to convince the general public that climate change is real is that weather is continually simultaneously reliable and anomalous. It is cold in the winter. It is warm in the summer. There is never a year where this is not the case. But, if you stand downwind of anyone that has been in the same area for longer than about five years, get ready to hear the stories about when it was scorching on Christmas, or that time it snowed in May. These stories aren’t lies, because, yes, sometimes you get an “Indian Summer” or a “Kinda Racist Winter”, and, inevitably, this just leads to the thinking that everything is absolutely fine. So you have to wear your shorts in November? Phhht. It’s happened before! The record set in 1999 is for 76°! This doesn’t mean anything!

Mario has the same problem.

Now, before we go any further, I want to plainly state that I love Mario games. I love this Mario game. It is amazing! There are dinosaurs and mariachi bands and Mario made frogs cool again for the second time in my lifetime. Not only is Mario Odyssey good, it’s damn near flawless. As of this writing, I have collected a good couple six hundred or so power moons, and I have rescued Princess Peach from nefarious nuptials, so I’m pretty confident that, while jumping rope might be a bear, the actual minute-to-minute of this Mario adventure is top notch. In a year packed with absolutely stellar titles, this little plumber is staring in one of the best.

So why is my general feeling something like…. Underwhelming? Yes, that’s it. I am underwhelmed by Mario Odyssey.

WeeeeLet’s look at those other “games of the year”. Persona 5 was probably the most traditional game on the list, but it was still the first time we saw the series on a modern console (or two), and you can’t say it wasn’t stylish as hell. Do you understand how much of the Persona 5 soundtrack has been playing in my head since April? NieR: Automata also wound up on that mental playlist, and those phat beats were somehow attached to a game that was not only fun to play, but also managed to question the very nature of humanity. Even “lesser” games, like Sonic Mania or Cuphead, managed to distill exactly what makes their respective genres excellent into a mouthwatering fruit, smoosh that conceptual fruit into a jam, and spread out those picture-perfect ideas into some of the best experiences available for modern consoles. And then there’s The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild.

It feels almost gauche to discuss this game again, but here we are. Some eight months ago, Nintendo released what might have been the most important game in a franchise that has been important for three decades. In short, in one sweeping motion, Nintendo threw out everything that made Zelda Zelda, yet, against all odds, created an experience that is Zelda in every conceivable way. I already put on my lab coat in an attempt to explain this phenomenon, but Breath of the Wild is unmistakably the end result of every Zelda that has ever been. It is also not Zelda at all, and a completely new experience from the absolute moment you realize Link has a dedicated and permanent jump button. Breath of the Wild doesn’t just stop at revolutionizing Zelda, though, as it rapidly becomes the best open world title this world has ever seen. See that hill over there? You can climb it. You can glide to it. You can buy a big fluffy sweater so you’re not cold when you get there. You can kill every errant fox between here and there with your enormous death horse (named Ganonhoof). Breath of the Wild is an amazing experience, and an experience that is completely unprecedented in all of gaming.

Mario Odyssey? Mario Odyssey is merely amazing.

ShiversAnd, let’s be clear, I’m not saying that carelessly. I started this article just after finishing the game, and, somehow, since then, I’ve collected about 400 more power moons, completed the darkest side of the moon, and happily followed a weird little skeleman in his taxi trips across the globe. I did this all with an enormous smile on my face, and never once complained about every time I had to possess a toad instead of a tyrannosaur. Mario Odyssey is fun from the depths of the ocean to all the way up to the top of the moon, and, give or take a few finicky flicking controls, it is an unequivocally perfect experience.

But, it’s a Mario game, so that’s expected.

This might be a controversial statement, but I’m willing to state that there has never been a bad Mario game. Ever. Mind you, that’s with the caveat that I’m exclusively talking about Mario-platformer games, as I’m pretty sure that one Mario baseball game was absolute garbage, and anything involving hotels is obviously not to be trusted. But when you look at the clear line from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Odyssey, you see a lot of phenomenal platformers along the way. And I know it’s dope and hip to claim that Mario Sunshine or Mario That One 3DS Game were not really good Mario games, but, come on. I’m not saying every Mario game has been perfect, but if you claim you could never have fun blasting a water gun around Delfino Plaza, well, congratulations on learning to read, you soulless demon from the depths of Hell. Has there ever been a flawed Mario game? Certainly. But have they all been fun, well-crafted adventures involving some of the most joyous movement options available? Double yes. When Mario is Mario, he is always good.

Right in the kisserAnd I literally can’t think of another franchise that has ever done that so well and for so long. Zelda? Phantom Hourglass had some neat ideas, but its centerpiece dungeon was hateful. Metroid? Let’s be real, there has been one really amazing game starring Samus, and everything else has just been… Echoes. Every fighting game ever has at least one entry that could be best described as disappointing, and every new entry in a modern JRPG or shoot ‘em up franchise runs the risk of being really interesting and immersive or a lolicon underwear simulator. And that’s really what it comes down to: with so many franchises, you have no idea what you’re going to get. Sonic the Hedgehog is somehow simultaneously responsible for one of the best games I’ve played all year, and a title where the only plus is presenting offline access to Deviantart. Mario doesn’t ever run that risk. A new Mario platformer is always good, whether it be our first Gameboy outing or something with a few more dimensions.

And all those amazing Mario games? They’re all here in Mario Odyssey. Would we have the frequent 2-D sections without Mario Maker? Probably not. Would we have the “themed world” and personable companion without Sunshine? Seems like the clear source there. Would we have a Mario in a sombrero without Qix? Well, maybe… but still! From Galaxy’s amazing controls to 3-D Land’s musical notes to even something as established as Yoshi’s Island’s butt stomp, all of Mario has been wrapped up and stuck beneath an adorable top hat.

And that’s the problem.

(No, not the top hat.)

Take a look at this challenge stage:

Weeeee

And tell me it couldn’t be any other Mario game released in the last fifteen years. It could be a “FLUDD-less” area from Mario Sunshine. It could be a random planet from Mario Galaxy. It could easily be any given stage from 3D Land or 3D World. It’s great! It’s fun! But it’s also very, very familiar. This is not a case of redefining the very landscape of gaming like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros 3, or Super Mario 64. Heck, even “lesser” entries did everything they could to explain why waggle could actually be fun (Galaxy) or 3-D is a perfectly good reason to make a new portable system (3D Land). Mario Odyssey is just kind of…. Really amazing.

And that’s why, while I absolutely adore this game, I still feel underwhelmed. This is Mario at its best… but the best is exactly what I expected. This is snow in the winter: it’s anticipated, and, what, you wanted a beach trip on Valentine’s Day? Those have happened before, right? I remember that one really warm February back in the Winter of ’17… Can’t we have that again? Can’t it not only be flawless, but also revolutionary? Is that asking too much?

Mario Odyssey: One of the best games I’ve played this year… but I expected more.

FGC #350 Super Mario Odyssey

  • System: Nintendo Switch. I believe this is the first game that I’ve reviewed for the site that is exclusively for the Switch. Yes, Breath of the Wild was for WiiU, too! Never forget!
  • Number of players: Technically two, but only because that’s the only way to beat volleyball.
  • Favorite Kingdom: Sand Kingdom, bar none. I’m not certain if it’s been mentioned before (I really need to reread some of these articles sometime), but I am a sucker for Dia de los Muertos aesthetics. While I generally hate deserts, I love mariachi skeletons. And when one skeleman decides to take a cab ride around the world? I think he’s my new hero.
  • AHHHHFavorite Capture: Actually, I think the capture mechanic summarizes this game perfectly: it’s always fun, but it’s exactly what you expect. T-Rex wrecks up the place, glider dino glides, and a piranha plant just hurls the contents of its non-existent stomach. That said, the humble goomba is my favorite capture, as it offers a clear powerup (better traction), but the additional fun of goomba stacking to satisfy a horny girl-goomba. I just want Mario to go that extra mile (to please goombas).
  • Switch it up: Okay, it’s subtle, but Mario Odyssey does its best to sell the features of the Switch… exclusively to me. I’ve spoken before about how my ideal game is one that is “widescreen” for the big dramatic moments, but then I can futz around in the postgame while watching TV or something. Mario Odyssey’s huge postgame is built for this, and, it seems like introductions to the kingdoms are meant to be docked, while postgame “100 random moons” are intended for less laborious portable play. The Switch was made for that kind of dichotomy! Just… doesn’t exactly come off as revolutionary.
  • Gooey: Oh, can we please get an option to disable the on-screen tutorial for every power and climbing pole? Look, I’ve been playing the absolute final level for the last hour, I don’t need a reminder to press B to jump every time I possess a lava ball and stand still for two seconds.
  • I’m just disappointed: The Rabbit Wedding Planners are a wonderful concept, but I’m dissatisfied with their work. I don’t mind that they stole every valuable item from every kingdom they could find, but they arranged for Bowser’s chapel to be like two blocks down from their home. For professionals, that’s just egotistical and lazy.
  • Just play the gig man: I do not understand why this game has ambient effects for some areas, and bombastic, amazing big band music for others. It makes perfect sense for some of the “set piece” areas (like New Donk City in the rain), but why the pastoral post-game kingdom is completely silent is anybody’s guess. Hey, at least you can cue up Jump Up Superstar at any time from the pause menu.
  • ClassicDid you know? Assuming you disregard the opening “prologue” kingdom, our first world is grass land, the second is desert, the potential third is under the sea, number five is a brief visit to the sky, and you’ve got the ice and lava stages shortly thereafter. Mario is a man of tradition.
  • Would I play again: I technically haven’t stopped playing this one yet. It might not be revolutionary, but it is a damn lot of fun, and it’s unlikely to leave my Switch for a good, long while.

What’s next? I’m taking a break. I’ve got a couple of random projects I’ve been ignoring because “oh I have to get the next FGC article done”, and I need a week to not have that excuse. Doesn’t mean there won’t be some content next week (there certainly will), but at least I don’t have to beat a Mario game to get it up. … Probably could have phrased that better. So FGC officially resumes on 11/20, and, in the meanwhile… well, I’ll try to find something to post during the week. Oh, and when we get back, we’ve got Kirby and the Crystal Shards on deck. Please look forward to it!

I like stickers