Tag Archives: skeletons

FGC #277 New Super Mario Bros. 2

There's my high scoreThe greatest trick the hedgehog ever pulled was convincing the world Mario was slow.

People naturally think in dualities. For every light, there is darkness. For every day, there is night. For every god, there is a devil. It happens over and over again throughout history, and, frankly, it kind of makes sense. We, as human flesh bags, pretty much only experience life in binary extremes. Everything is perfect and shiny and happy until the very minute allergy season hits and oh my God this is the worst I have ever felt. Or there’s the ever popular climate control thing: consider all the different temperature variances on Earth, and then consider that human beings are only comfortable in a range of, what, about five (Fahrenheit) degrees? Everything else is either scorching hot or freezing cold. The middle is an illusion… or at least our silly ape brains believe that.

So when Sonic the Hedgehog debuted in 1991 under the advertising campaign of “blast processing” and “gotta go fast”, it was naturally assumed that the other end of the aisle was slow. And, if you were reading Nintendo Power at the time… it was kind of hilarious. Much like during a recent election that seems to stick in my memory for some reason, Nintendo unnecessarily devoted a lot of time to defending the speed of its system and mascots. Did you know that there’s no such thing as blast processing? Did you know that there’s a game for SNES featuring Road Runner, and another starring Speedy Gonzales? They’re the fastest creatures on Earth, and they’re on the Super Nintendo! Come back, lucrative and finicky soon-to-be-labeled tween demographic! We’re Nintendo! We’re still hip!

THIS IS SLOWBut the future refused to change. Even after Mario buried the Hedgehog deep under the planet Saturn, the idea that Mario equals slow persisted. To this day, the average person sees Mario as something of a slow, roly poly mascot, and not the amazingly athletic plumber that actually appears in any given Mario game. Good job, Sega, you permanently marred a gaming icon.

Which is a shame, as Mario has always been about speed. Okay, maybe that isn’t quite accurate, Donkey Kong doesn’t include so much as a run option, and Mario Bros. has something of a “speed kills” moral, but Super Mario Bros, the game that practically invented a genre, is all about that B button. Yes, you don’t have to run during any of SMB’s stages, but once you start learning the game and where you can run, well, there’s a reason the princess can be rescued in twelve minutes. And SMB begat SMB2, a game where Toad can take off at Mach 2, thus making him the fastest fungus in gaming. And then Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World? These are games where Mario can move so quickly, he literally flies. Usain Bolt can’t brag about pulling that one off, and neither can a certain hedgehog.

But, as time went by, Nintendo didn’t exactly emphasize Mario’s speed. Super Mario 64 is an amazing game, but nobody is impressed when our hero outraces a turtle for a star or two. And this would be about the era when Mario RPGs started making their way into the release schedule, and, as much as those games might be fun, they do nothing for Mario’s speed records. By about the time that Mario was shooting around the galaxy, it seemed like the world at large might never even remember that Mario could once soar with only the power of his own two legs (and maybe a magical leaf).

And then we received New Super Mario Bros. 2, and Mario was back in the fast lane.

ROY!Granted, some credit should go to New Super Mario Bros. (1). The first complete 2-D Mario game in what seemed like forever introduced the turtle shell power up. This quickly forgotten item allowed Mario to “become” a koopa troopa shell once he hit top speed, and, with this marvelous invention, the player could see exactly how long they could keep Mario spinning before inevitably dropping into some nearby lava. It was a noble effort of a “new” ability for a new Mario in New Super Mario Bros, but it did pale in comparison to the raw destructive power of the mega mushroom. Probably thanks to its mammoth fun guy brother, the turtle shell never saw a Mario game again… but it seems like its legacy lives on in Mario’s (kinda) next “new” adventure.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 is supposedly about coin collecting. Well, technically it’s about princess rescuing and turtle smashing, but the gimmick du jour is established pretty early as “Mario wants to buy a boat”. And, frankly, with all these gold coins lying around, I’m pretty sure Mario is going to be able to put a down payment on a planet by the time he finishes Special World. But the actual act of collecting free floating coins is secondary to NSMB2’s greatest innovation: the coin block hat (there’s… probably a better name for that). Once Mario is wearing that coin block… things change.

It’s a simple concept: when Mario is a blockhead, he earns coins for every second he is moving at top-Mario speed. While this may seem like something that wouldn’t make much of an impact (oh boy, a whole fifty coins, wow), something changes in a Mario player’s brain when that “coin get” sound activates. Good things are happening! Good things need to keep happening! I need to gather more coins! I need to move as fast as possible! I need to hear that precious 1-up sound right now or I am going to die! And so, from the first moment that block appears, Mario suddenly has a constant, driving reason to move as quickly as possible. And, luckily, somebody at Nintendo knew damn well that would be the first thing that would happen, so many (sorry ghost houses and underwater stages) NSMB2 levels are designed around speed. And, thus, Mario has imperceptibly regained his overlooked speed.

WeeeeeeUnfortunately, it probably won’t stick. New Super Mario Bros. 2 was well received by the general gaming public (fifth bestselling 3DS game!), but it was released around when we received an embarrassment of riches of Mario games, and NSMB2 was considered the least essential of the bunch. Couple this with handheld releases being continually (and unjustly) forsaken for their console counterparts, and we’re probably looking at a generation of gamers mistakenly remembering this title as something from the Wario franchise in a few years. Mario running around with a coin block on his head? Did that really happen?

So, sorry Mario, the hedgehog wins this one. It was a noble effort, but, even though Sonic’s next game will probably contain 80% standing around talking furries by volume, you’re the slow one. White is white, black is black, Sonic is fast, and Mario is slow.

FGC #277 New Super Mario Bros. 2

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Luckily, this game doesn’t use the dual screen or 3-D too much, so we might see some kind of adapted port on future systems.
  • Number of players: There is technically two player co-op in this title! Unfortunately, I say “technically” because your buddy needs to have a 3DS and a copy of the game, too. That rarely happens randomly.
  • Favorite Koopa Kid Boss Battle: The answer is always Roy. Roy, as they say, is our boy.
  • ToastyFavorite Stage: I would play an entire game that is just Mario shooting coin fireballs at blocks like Special World-1. Even more than “Mario likes to run”, I think I want to play a game that is “Mario wants to destroy entire levels”. See also: Mega Mushroom.
  • Did you know? Apparently the Koopa Kids, who premiered in Super Mario Bros. 3, did not have names when they were first introduced, and Nintendo of America was responsible for their monikers. That kind of explains Wendy O…
  • Would I play again: I actually wound up with a physical copy of this game and a digital version thanks to Club Nintendo. Since that translates to this game technically always being available on my 3DS, that leads to a lot of extra Mario time. This also means yes, yes I will play it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus for the SNES! Oh man, that game is so amazing, I can’t even breathe. Please look forward to it!

DIE!
And that’s how the dinosaurs went extinct

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

SKULLS?Gaming has grown up over the years, and the generational shift seems… oddly precise.

First we have the Atari (and whatever qualified as a videogame before that), which is the vaguely remembered toddler years. You’ve got a bunch of games that are kind of feeling out what can be done, and a lot more games that just have no idea what to do. For every Mario Bros. you’ve got about a dozen more like M*A*S*H . And, even more than that, you’ve got a million games that are “just exactly the same as that other game, but with a new set six pixels”. There are one or two luminaries in the Atari library, but, by and large, they’re all interchangeable, and only revered for being there right from the beginning.

Now the Nintendo is where we get into gaming’s real “childhood”. There is exploration here, but, by and large, this is where gaming learned to walk, and then ran with it. Super Mario Bros. led to a million imitators, but, looking at the game coupled with thirty years of gaming experience, you can see how even something today like Breath of the Wild or Overwatch can partially trace back to the adorable plumber. Much of what we consider “gaming” truly began here, and it’s as much about the gameplay as it is the franchises. However, speaking of those franchises, practically everything from this era is fairly… kiddy. Thanks to Nintendo’s iron grip and general fear of jocks, all of those classic games are cartoony, and contain about as much adult content (whether that be violence, sex, or even religion) as your average episode of Dora the Explorer. But that’s fine! This is gaming’s childhood, and it was meant for children, so it all worked out. Bubble Bobble Madcap Violence Edition would just have to wait for a few years.

Dang skullsThe 16-bit years are so tween they practically hurt to look at. Mega Man has gone from chubby blue bot to hardcore, shiny “Reploid” (“It’s like a regular robot but… you wouldn’t understand, mom.”) who worries about death and war and stuff. Link watches his uncle die (he got better), and Castlevania eventually released a game that featured blood dripping from every available hole. Mortal Kombat and Sonic the Hedgehog defined this era of gaming, as it was all about attitude and violence and…. not much else. The 16-bit era was an attempt at gaming being more “its own thing” and “edgy”, but almost all of it amounted to exactly nothing. Mortal Kombat was violent for the sake of being violent, it didn’t have anything relevant to say on the subject of ghost skeletons being decapitated by ice ninja. It was just like a tween adopting their older sibling’s clothing and claiming to be “with it”. … Do kids still say “with it”? Uh, did they ever?

The Playstation One era is clearly gaming puberty. And, let’s be clear here, it’s not the fun kind of puberty that appears in 80’s movies wherein some hapless nerd trips into the girls’ locker room and participates in his first sexual harassment; no, I’m talking about the real kind of puberty, where suddenly you’re interested in the opposite (or same, it’s tough all around) sex, and last week you were totally okay with playing with Transformers, and now the most important thing in your life is that there is a pool party at the end of the week, and OH GOD IT’S GOING TO BE HORRIBLE. This would be about when gaming as a whole decided that everything that came before was crap (and far too 2-D), and everything had to be reinvented for a new, much more mature audience that is totally into skateboards. Like the 16-bit era, this was yet another example of “maturity = Lara Croft has boobies”, but it was still a gigantic change in the gaming landscape. Contra couldn’t just be a fun game about aliens anymore, now there had to be hardcore plots and 3-D glasses and… ugh. At the time, it seemed like the be all, end all of everything, but, in retrospect, it was just more gaming growing pains. Sorry, Adventure Island you’re too immature for us now.

They're so fun!Following this line of thinking, you might surmise that I would identify the Playstation 2 era as the next logical step, the “adult phase” of gaming. And that’s… kind of true. But I wouldn’t say gaming matured until basically the Playstation 3 era, when we got two important things. One, gaming got comfortable again with revisiting “childish” franchises, likely thanks to the joy of downloadable titles, so we could benefit from “arcade experiences” and other games that only last an afternoon (as opposed to a 40 hour “experience”). And, two, we got the Vita, which is all panties, all the time. And, now that the Vita is dying, it looks like we’ll be getting that same (fan) service on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. So, hooray, horny games for everybody!

Now, to be clear, I don’t think underage anime tiddy games are adult. Far from it, in fact, and I’ve got a Wankery Week to prove it. However, I am downright proud of the fact that, after decades of acting like “sexy” is an accident that dribbles into otherwise wholesome games, the gaming industry is finally acknowledging that, for whatever reason, there are people that want to play videogames that are vaguely pornographic. We’re still not completely “there” (I could write an entire article about the sexual politics of Persona 5), but, in the same way that the XXX section of your local video store (no longer actually a thing) is separate from the “real” movies, we’ve got some actual XXX (more like XX) videogames, and no one is confusing them for E3’s game of the year.

It… wasn’t always that way.

FIGHT!Today’s game is Arcana Heart, a 2-D fighting game for the Playstation 2. Arcana Heart is a… passable fighting game. There isn’t anything too exciting going on here, just about what you’d expect from a 2-D fighter. The most interesting trait of this series is, basically, swappable special moves (which is unusual in a sprite-based fighter lacking any and all Mokujins), but it’s otherwise pretty forgettable. It’s not a bad game, mind you, simply one that doesn’t warrant much of a reason to exist. What separates this fighting game from every other Street Fighter 2 wannabe that came down the pike? Well, simple answer, it’s the women. Or “girls” might be more appropriate noun here.

Much like a certain other franchise, each of the characters in Arcana Heart seems to be tailor made to suit some manner of fetish. There’s the peppy school girl, the sad school girl, the “younger” character that is always in a child’s swimsuit (but is mentally mature, so it’s okay), the robot maid, shrine priestess, Rei Ayanami, furry, the “American” vampire, and, my personal (least) favorite, the unwilling participant that is dragged along by a decidedly male-identifying (and phallic) object. It’s a rape analogy! Hooray! Also, puke! In short, the “all female cast” of this game isn’t there to pass the Bechdel test, it’s there to titillate a male audience that is going to buy this game hoping to see some upskirt shots. Unfortunately for them, it’s going to be a long wait.

Arcana Heart is rated T for Teen, and even though the writing of its story mode relies heavily on all the tropes you’d expect to see in your average harem anime, there is no actual visual titillation to be found here. Now, I’m not the type to ask that every game out there include the exact right number of exposed panties, but, fun fact, in a game that seems built to deliver the fan service, a complete lack of it seems almost… insulting? This isn’t even “softcore”, the visuals for this game are completely chaste. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more erotic imagery in Wii Sports (my Mii has some amazing legs).

Really bitesBut this is basically where we were in the Playstation 2 era. We could have something like God of War that just incidentally included an off-screen sex scene, or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which dummied out a sex minigame at the last moment, but if a game was about sex/fanservice/a thirsty audience trying to get off, then it had to be cleaned up to the point of irrelevance. It was if you had to clear some kind of artificial “maturity bar” to include anything sexual in your game. Soulcalibur has tear-away clothing and a create-a-character mode that allows for all underwear fighters, all the time? Well, that’s just for the sake of the in-depth story of swords and souls, and I guess the tiniest bit of T&A snuck in as an afterthought. There can’t be games for perverts! That would mean gaming is for perverts!

I’m glad we got over it.

But, in retrospect, I suppose this does paint the Playstation 2 and its Arcana Heart-alike releases as the… awkward young adult phase. Yes, sex is okay, everybody does it, blah blah blah, but… can we not ever address it? I… don’t really want to make eye contact with the idea that people do want to see half-naked people… even though we’ve got half-naked people running around everywhere. Look, uh… yeah, I look at a Playboy once in a while, but I only read it for the articles. I’m not really… doing… that thing… Hey, lay off, man.

Arcana Heart is a time capsule of gaming’s awkward early adulthood generation.

FGC #274 Arcana Heart

  • System: Playstation 2 and arcade. Though not any arcades in family-friendly communities (like, ya know, America).
  • Number of players: Two anime girls enter, only one leaves. Until the next round.
  • OuchFavorite Character: Kira Daidohji, the previously mentioned “mature but obviously still like twelve” character wins almost in spite of herself. Her whole deal is that she controls this sentient blob of water, so naturally that means she has to be wearing a swimsuit at all times, which… really, guys? But! This means she fights with that previously mentioned blob morphing into all kinds of giant limbs and shapes, and she basically becomes MvC’s Juggernaut. And I’m always down for that.
  • Did you know? This game comes compliments of Arc System Works, the folks behind the likes of Guilty Gear and Blazblue. That usually means you’ll get an interesting fighting game… but this time… not so much.
  • Would I play again: Even if I wanted to play this wannabe anime tiddy game again, there’s now a sequel available, and we all know that fighting games only get better with improvements. Might have to see if that game upgraded the… graphics… with the console generation…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man X3 for the Super Nintendo! Alright! Let’s forget about random anime girls and move on to random robot targets! Please look forward to it!

Boo!
Are puppets a fetish?

FGC #273 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

ThwipRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a NES movie tie-in game. We just covered Home Alone, released the same year, and that was a game that contained one stupid concept that was supposed to stretch over twenty minutes. RH:PoT is Home Alone’s bizarro evil twin (is that redundant?) , while HA did one thing poorly, Robin Hood attempts to do everything possible on the NES. And, head’s up, it still does it all poorly.

It’s a movie game!

First and foremost, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a licensed NES version of Kevin Costner’s film of the same name. Does… does anyone remember Costner’s Robin Hood? I saw it in theatres when I was a wee Goggle Bob, and I remember exactly two things about the movie: it was boring, and my dear mother had a minor freakout over an incredibly chaste sex scene that I can only vaguely recall. That’s… about it. However, I would have more fond memories of the movie if, like in the videogame, there was…

Dem Bones
A GIANT FUGGIN’ SKELETON MONSTER.

RH:PoT does its best to follow the will of Costner, but I apparently wasn’t the only one who was generally bored by the film. In addition to the basic stuff like Robin must befriend Little John and defeat the Sherriff of Nottingham, there are quite a few (mandatory) “side missions” on Robin’s to-do list. I guess there’s a rampaging boar attacking the countryside? Well, slaying that is a good way to earn the people’s trust. Then it’s time to take Robin’s Merry Men on a quest to get some actual weapons training. That’s probably a good idea, too. And, for some reason, everybody gets a bad case of the runs (maybe after eating that boar?), so Robin has to find a magical healing spring. Nothing like mystical bodies of water to keep the gang going.

Okay, let’s face it, with the exception of the boar, everything above sounds like a bore. But it does pad out the run time of the game… which is kind of weird for a NES game. This was well before the “80 hours of gameplay” bullet point, and, again, contemporary release Home Alone could only provide 20 minutes of gameplay. It’ll take you that long to get out of the first dungeon (literally a dungeon, for a change) of Robin Hood. That could have been the whole game! Nobody would have been upset! But no, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has so much more to offer, likely to justify…

It’s got the inventory from hell!

I don't know what to do hereWith the exception of a few random bits we’ll be discussing shortly, you exclusively control Robin of Loxley for the majority of this game. Yet you pick up two new party members within the first screen, and gradually accrue more and more buddies from there. What’s the point when you’re only ever Robin? Simple: Robin can only carry six items at a time, and you’re going to need much, much more inventory space to conquer England. Robin needs to recover health, and Duncan has got some meat, so pass that ham over here, blindy, it’s time to top off the ol’ HP. I knew there was a reason we were keeping you around!

Unfortunately, this whole system goes downhill really quickly. To say it’s overcomplicated is kind of an understatement: Robin has multiple “body” slots, and an item like an amulet that proves your lineage can be “equipped” on any given body part (Hand? Chest? … Do amulets go in your pants?), or “used”, or even “eaten” if you want Robin to have to make a quick run to the healing spring. But first you have to remember which one of the knuckleheads in your party has the jewelry in the first place. Morgan Freeman, you got it? No? Little John? Nope? Dammit, did one of you dorks pawn that priceless family heirloom for beer money? I need that thing for a fetch quest, dammit!

And a quick side note, absolutely nothing about this inventory system is at all “necessary”. Final Fantasy (1) of 1987 solved the whole “try every inventory item everywhere” conundrum with its separate item, equipment, and key items slots… but Robin Hood didn’t get the memo, I suppose. Hey, Virgin Games? The NES controller only has four buttons. Maybe we could cut down a little on the bloat? Then again, bloat seems to be the name of the game, as…

It’s got four different gameplay modes!

They're made of dynamiteYou are Robin Hood. You are in a top-down, Zelda-esque environment. This seems to make sense, as you’re using keys and finding secret passages and battling guards in various Zelda-esque ways. You’re not going to be lucky enough to find any heart containers, but, aside from the thick layer of brown that’s been smeared all over this game, a lot of Robin’s adventure seems almost like a lost prototype for The Legend of Zelda 2. Okay… maybe Willow 2. Still! Not bad!

But then, after stabbing a guard down in top-down perspective, the second guard in the first area of Robin Hood suddenly initiates a “duel” system, and now you’re in a 2-D perspective that seems like some kind of weapons-based Street Fighter analogue. It’s time to d-d-d-d-d-duel, and it’s exactly as fun as repeatedly poking an opponent with an ineffectual stick can be. On the plus side, though, Robin suddenly has amazing ninja jumping skills, so he can leap eight feet in the air and somersault across the screen. Or roll around the ground like the sprightliest of hedgehogs. And I’m sure this isn’t all just to save on the animation budget. No, there was a lot of somersaulting in the movie, right?

And then, of course, post duel everything is back to top-down, because I guess that one guy was worthy of a duel, but every one of his identical buddies is just going to get stabbed in typical Zelda-style. It’s the NES-era, there doesn’t have to be a reason for anything.

Speaking of top-down, every once in a while you will be informed that “many” soldiers/enemies/skeletons are coming, so it’s time to zoom the camera way the hell out, convert all the sprites to something that would be comfortable on the Atari, and become Gauntlet: No Fun Edition. These “army fights” are the only spots where Robin’s Merry Men get to shine… and by “shine” I mean they all die instantly because they stand in front of the one dude shooting arrows like he’s on a CW drama. You-as-Robin must inevitably kill every last army opponent, because you can’t count on NES AI to do anything, and I suppose you’re expected to heal your now mortally wounded teammates after every skirmish. But what’s the point? They’re just going to die instantly again, one way or another. Nihilism, thy name is Robin Hood.

And then there’s an entire other mode for when you’re riding horseback. And it’s a lame knock-off of the Turbo Tunnel! Nobody wanted anything like that!

It’s a terrible NES game!

I say thee neighOn one hand, I want to laud Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for trying so much when then average NES game offered so little. On the other hand, I feel like half the problems in this game are a result of design excess continually leading to further excess. You’ve got extra characters, so there has to be a battle mode to justify them, even if it isn’t any fun. There’s an inventory system that involves disproportionately intricate management, so let’s have 900 useless items. There are “significant” battles, so let’s make a half-baked entirely new mode for each “boss”… or any creature that remotely looks like a boss. And horses! We need to have a whole new world for horses! Horses are cool!

Unfortunately, and fairly obviously, none of these systems mesh together into anything approaching a fun experience. Robin Hood: Princes of Thieves might be the most robust licensed game on the NES… but it’s just about as fun as Home Alone.

Sorry, Virgin Games, no points for trying.

FGC #273 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. … Wait, there’s a Gameboy version, too?
  • Number of players: The stupid army segments might almost be passable if they allowed a second player to help out, but nope. Or, oh! A two-player duel mode! Could base an entire franchise on that.
  • You have failed this quiver: Robin Hood does get a bow pretty early, and it is nice to have a long-range weapon handy. Unfortunately, this Robin isn’t very dexterous, and “strafing” is pretty much beyond him. As a result, while the bow is useful for sniping melee opponents, Robin will always lose against some other dink with a bow. And then it’s back to that super fun inventory system to juggle over a more apt weapon…
  • Devil’s in the Details: Each character has a “look” command, and it’s your typical “describe the item” narration to help you distinguish a blob of pixels that maybe looks like a potion from a blob of pixels that maybe looks like bread. However, if you try to use Duncan’s “look” command…

    Poor guy

    … Poor Duncan.

  • Favorite Merry Man: Azeem is found just chilling in his cell, but he tells Robin he dug a secret passage out of the prison like five feet over. Was… was Azeem just waiting for some white dude to come along so he could help his escape? Huh. Little John’s “has a stick” kind of pales in comparison.
  • Filthy Cheater: There’s a complete “start on any chapter” password system that is accessible with a secret code. Unfortunately, the passwords will often start you off in levels where you need some particular item, and, nope, it’s completely inaccessible now. Karnov asks: why bother?
  • Did you know? They accidentally switched the character portraits for Guy of Gisbourne and The Sherriff of Nottingham. This is yet another slight that Alan Rickman was forced to endure.
  • Would I play again: Not for all the gold in Sherwood.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Arcana Heart for the Playstation 2! Wow, we went a while without a fighting game. Almost hard to believe. Now it’s time for teenage girls to fight for the amusement of perverts! Please look forward to it!

Ugh
Just roll with it