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FGC #424 Brain Dead 13

This game are sickFunny thing about the Playstation and its era of videogames: it proved that no one had a damn idea what they wanted from a videogame.

Today’s game is Brain Dead 13. It is another title that, like Dragon’s Lair or Time Gal before it, is barely more than a playable cartoon. The player controls Lance, a typical computer geek, who, during an average tech support house call, winds up in the clutches of a mad scientist (and, as someone in the tech field, I can safely say we’ve all been there). It’s your job to guide Lance back to safety, and escape Fritz, an imp with an impressive mastery of chainsaws for a creature with hooks for hands. Of course “controlling” Lance is a bit of a misnomer, as this entire game is prerecorded, and it’s less Mario, and more “press left now or die”. It’s something you’ve seen before if you were a child of the 80’s, and it’s something we saw an awful lot in the early CD era of gaming. Is it a “game” or is it an “interactive movie”? Gamepro tried to answer that question a couple of times, but I’m pretty sure Scary Larry never gave us a response. C’est la vie.

Of course, whenever a game like this comes up, it is compared to Dragon’s Lair (I’ve already done it once!), the title that pioneered and defined this kind of gaming experience. The corollary to that that is rarely mentioned? Dragon’s Lair hit the arcades in 1983. For a bit of comparison, Super Mario Bros. (1) hit the Famicom in 1985. The laserdisc/CD-based “playable cartoon” is older than Bowser.

Prepare to die... a lotAnd it’s easy to see why Dragon’s Lair was successful. It’s pretty! It probably made about fourteen billion dollars in quarters, as, come on, who can resist those Don Bluth graphics when it’s playing an attract mode next to friggin’ Joust? Who doesn’t want to be Dirk the Daring when the alternative is… Ice Climbers? I don’t even want to consider the universe where someone would choose those parka wearing nincompoops over a fully realized cartoon dude fighting for his Marilyn Monroe-inspired love. Yes, we’ve all been claiming for years that graphics don’t matter, but even one with such a refined palate as myself may or may not have once bought a game entirely because of its fine graphics, and completely ignored a better game that unfortunately looked like the ass end of an ass (or even just looked different from what was supposed to be advanced). A lot of people decided to swim to the Dragon’s Lair shore from the deep, barren gulf between “animated feature” and “pixels that kinda maybe look like a ghost, but we’re calling it a monster”.

So it makes a certain amount of sense that when the CD-based consoles started to become available, there was a push to produce more FMV/”cartoon” titles. It took all of seven seconds to recognize the difference between a Shinobi and the high resolution (for the 90’s) art of any given prerecorded CD title. The thinking must have been amazingly simple: pump out some videogames that look astonishing, and people will line up to buy the newest systems with their advanced graphics. We could have all been happy with games produced under that premise.

Unfortunately, what we got was Sewer Shark. Nobody was happy with Sewer Shark.

The Sega CD, by and large, was a failure. Give or take a Myst, PC gaming would take years to reach the same echelon of fame as its console brethren. And the Playstation… well that revolutionized gaming in a way that is still relevant today. Why? Because it might be the first videogame system that was successful because someone made a conscious decision to make videogames.

Brain Dead 13 is a Playstation title. What’s more, it’s a Playstation title that came at the start of the system’s lifespan, and, thus, was inadvertently influential on a certain demographic of nerds. It would not be surprising to find that not a single person reading this article ever played Brain Dead 13. However, it would be astounding if no one ever saw this gremlin in this exact pose…

Fritz!

Brain Dead 13 wasn’t exactly getting airtime during Seinfield, but it was introduced via a disproportionate number of GamePro pages. It was featured in Electronic Gaming Monthly. And I’m going to go ahead and guess that it probably was on AOL’s frontpage for its videogames community at least once. Like Battle Arena Toshinden, Brain Dead 13 is one of those titles that, should the history of the world be abolished and replaced exclusively with late 90’s videogame magazines, might finally be recognized as one of the biggest games of 1996 (or so).

But you’re not going to find Brain Dead 13 on the Playstation Classic. In fact, you’re not going to find it anywhere. Why? Because the early days of CD gaming taught us a valuable lesson about videogames: we like to actually play videogames.

Sports!Brain Dead 13 is gorgeous, particularly when compared to the polygons that could poke an eye out from the early PSX days. Unfortunately, beyond being pretty, there isn’t much “there” there. This title, designed for home consoles (and computers), and not to be a quarter-munching arcade machine, has all the replayability of a VHS cassette. In fact, Dragon’s Lair and similar titles from this specific genre have been released in recent years with a “just let me press play and watch what happens” feature. Brain Dead 13 has not been lucky enough to receive such a rerelease, but the first Youtube result for BD13 is a 47 minute “longplay” of the entire title (which includes an approximately 15 minute death compilation). And if you watch that 47 minute video? Congratulations, you have seen literally everything Brain Dead 13 has to offer! And, technically, you suffered through the same exact experience you would have if you actually played the game, just give or take actually pressing the buttons and dying a whole heck of a lot.

And, as the past decade of let’s play debates have proven, there are a number of people that seem to believe the preceding statement could be true of all videogames. You watch a longplay of some random game, see the player 100% every last challenge the dev can throw into the title, and then why would you ever need to “play” the game at all? You’ve seen everything there could be! Videogames are videogames, man, and there’s no difference between pressing down to make Lance duck under Fritz’s blades than making Super Mario crouch below Bowser’s fireballs. A videogame is a videogame, so let’s all buy some videogames! Sewer Shark ahoy!

Yeah, it’s all bullshit. (You hear me, Atlus!?)

Netflix might try to redefine gaming with some manner of Bandersnatch Box. Google might try to define gaming by marrying Youtube to a streaming console. Microsoft might try to define gaming with whoever has the most trophies wins. But you want to know who I think got it right? Nintendo. And you know why? Because we both believe videogames come from the same place. We believe videogames should be able to be played anytime, anywhere, with any internet connection. In short, we believe videogames are…

Freedom!

… No, that isn’t right. Not that kind of freedom.

Brain Dead 13 is, by a technical definition, a videogame. However, it offers exactly zero freedom. There is simply a win or loss state in response to every input, and there is nothing in-between. Brain Dead 13’s contemporaries, though? They offered freedom. Mega Man may have been about defeating renegade robots, but it was also about jumping and shooting around vast stages filled with traps and hidden powerups. Contra was about runnin’ n’ gunnin’, but there was always time to kill your little brother on a trip up a cliffside. Zelda offered a world of exploration (and oftentimes, two worlds), and Right in the eyeFinal Fantasy gave us scores of characters to tromp around exotic lands. So which wound up defining the hardware generation: Brain Dead 13 or Final Fantasy 7? Yes, the way Final Fantasy 7 seemed to toe the line between “freedom” and “enjoy watching this movie” (and its many, many imitators that veered over to the wrong side of that divide) may have confirmed that the developers of the Playstation era were still confused about what a videogame truly was; but by the biggest hit of the Playstation 2 era, we truly had our freedom. Grand Theft Auto 3 solidified the freedom that was inherent in videogames, and titles like Brain Dead 13 were forever relegated to the likes of novelty compilations.

Brain Dead 13, you were a relic of a time before gaming had matured enough to know what it was. Forever wield you chainsaw, confident in the knowledge that you are the awkward high school yearbook photo of gaming’s history.

FGC #424 Brain Dead 13

  • System: Playstation 1 for the purpose of this review, but we’ve also got a murderers’ row of CD-based systems, like the 3DO, CD-I, Saturn, and the goddamned Jaguar CD. Also, apparently this was released for iOS in 2010… but that’s probably not available anywhere anymore.
  • Number of players: You are alone in a haunted house.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Everyone in this title is a cartoonish caricature of various horror tropes, like the nefarious brain in the jar, or at least two characters that seem to originate from Frankenstein. However Vivi is… a little less Roger Rabbit, a little more Jessica Rabbit than the rest of the cast. Though I suppose Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a horror trope onto herself…
  • NSFW?What’s in the box: This is one of those rare, early Playstation titles that was released in the giant, entirely-too-vertical OG Playstation box. And those things are royal hell on trying to organize a game collection. Tekken 1, you may never be filed next to your latter brethren.
  • Favorite… uh… Room: There is an early one with a puppet that is supposed to be a famous composer or something. Mozart? I don’t know. It seems like the least derivative location in the game. Would you rather I choose the one-eyed witch? Or the other one-eyed witch?
  • So, did you beat it: Nope. I always play this game for about a half hour, die a billion times, and then decide there are better uses for my time. I could be mowing the lawn! Or scraping nails along a chalkboard!
  • Did you know? The absolute first release of Brain Dead 13 for Playstation contained a bug that prevented the game from starting up. At all. Like, that was it. The end. No Brain Dead 13 for you. I realize this may have been a small blessing for some people that had the misfortune of purchasing the title, but, come on guys, I’m pretty sure someone should have caught the bug that refuses to let the game even start.
  • Would I play again: Whoops! Did I already compare this game to nails on a chalkboard? Spoilers: that was the answer.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to just let me talk about Kingdom Hearts 3! Good plan, ROB! So we’re going to get another Kingdom Hearts FAQ entry, and FGC “coverage” of Kingdom Hearts 3. Wow! So much Kingdom Hearts! Two whole articles! Please look forward to it!

Better castle, though

FGC #423 Super Smash Bros.

Please join special guest artist Pooch and myself in examining the deadly sins of the Smash Bros.

Lust, Sin of Donkey Kong

This is where it all started for the Nintendo empire: an ape that really, really wants to sling a random woman over his shoulder and carry her Arceus-knows-where. But there is little question what Donkey Kong is going to do when he gets there! He’s a big, naked ape, and she’s a beauty worthy of a Jump Man’s gaze… we already know what happens if you fail to climb that construction site. Donkey Kong Juniors don’t just pop out of eggs! Sure, one could claim this is all borrowed imagery from King Kong, but King Kong didn’t just stand next to Fay Wray beating his chest and smiling all day.

Of course, this interpretation is primarily based on DK’s maiden voyage, and not his later games. You know, the titles where he tries to save his bananas from being devoured by toothy crocodiles. Come to think of it, Freud might have a thing or two to say about that. And that’s even before you get to the part about him banging his bongos

Gluttony, Sin of Yoshi

Yoshi must consume.

He? She? It. It is an eating machine from the absolute moment it is hatched. Give or take a flutter jump, it seems the only way a Yoshi burns excess calories is by producing hollow, projectile eggs. Everything else is ingested, and the difference between delicious fruit and a screaming koopa troopa means nothing to this unrelenting lizard. All is sustenance to Yoshi, all must be consumed, and that never stops from cradle to an inevitably oversized grave. There’s a reason a certain plumber recently seems to leave his “noble” steed at a stage’s goal post; if a Yoshi were to traverse the entire Mushroom Kingdom, the nation would become nothing more than a reptile’s pizza topping.

Envy, Sin of Kirby

Yoshi is an animal. Kirby is unappeasable desire.

Kirby started as yet another 2-D platforming hero at a time when such a mascot character was produced roughly every seventeen seconds. However, Kirby was very different from his brethren, as he had amazing skills right from the moment he awakened. Projectiles? Just a matter of sucking in literally anything that is readily available, including plain air. Extra health? Pep bottles and Maxim Tomatoes grow on trees. Even flight, the most coveted of all platformer powerups? Well, ya don’t need any raccoon tails for this cream puff.

But it wasn’t enough for Kirby. Kirby needed more.

As of Kirby’s Adventure, Kirby gained the ability to copy the skills and powers of his opponents. Later adventures granted Kirby the talent to use multiple skills at once, combine them, or even convert his stolen skills into living assistants. Whom… he could devour again later. Why would he do that? Because Kirby can only have so many abilities at one time, and what is this ability compared to that ability right over there. Who cares if that power is attached to an ally?

And “must have it all” is such an integral part of Kirby that it followed him to Smash Bros. It has shadowed him straight through the series, and, as of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Kirby is capable of gaining nearly 75 different abilities from every last fighter.

But, of all those abilities, Kirby can only use one at a time…

And Luigi is standing right over there…

Is he even using that fireball? I bet Kirby could use it better…

Greed, Sin of Link

Link is often portrayed as a simple boy who claims the sword of a hero, heroically challenges a malevolent despot, and eventually saves an entire kingdom from an awful, certainly pork-scented fate. Link has gone by many names, but often earns a title such as “Hero of Time” or “Hero of the Wilds”.

He also earns literally more rupees than he can carry.

And enough food to feed the kingdom.

And treasure from literally every tomb, crypt, well, dungeon, and castle for miles.

And, in the end, the entire royal family owes him a debt.

And then he reclaims a magical wishing triangle that will gratefully grant him anything he wants.

And to think, he was already looking greedy when he decided he needed two hookshots

Sloth, Sin of Pikachu

Now we shall consult the Pokedex, Book of Oak, Chapter 25:

25:1 When several of these Pokémon gather, their electricity could build and cause lightning storms. … 25:8 This intelligent Pokémon roasts hard Berries with electricity to make them tender enough to eat. .. 25:11 It stores electricity in the electric sacs on its cheeks. When it releases pent-up energy in a burst, the electric power is equal to a lightning bolt.

So, to summarize, Pikachu is smart, generates electricity, can summon lightning storms, and can readily expel the power of a lightning bolt. Assuming a lightning bolt’s one billion joules of energy can be properly converted and utilized, that’s enough juice to power a lightbulb for six months. Assuming Pikachu only has a charge that powerful once day (and can’t be infinitely restored in seconds at a local Pokémon Center), a single one of those shock rats could power a city with approximately one minute’s worth of effort a day.

But what does Pikachu do?

Well, let’s just say that the coming energy shortage and associated apocalypse isn’t bothering the yellow mouse one iota. Pikachu has a party hat, and he’s going to use it, dammit.

Pride, Sin of Fox McCloud

James McCloud lost his life to the betrayal of Pigma Dengar, and failed to stop Andross, a mad scientist that sought to conquer the entire Lylat System. Fox McCloud thus inherited a gigantic starship, and the massive debt incurred by the production of such a craft. Fox, strapped for cash and perhaps anxious for a little vengeance, decided to fight back against Andross’s forces, and gathered the Star Fox team to save the galaxy.

And he did!

By himself!

Yes, Fox McCloud may have flown with Peppy, Falco, and Slippy, but who was the one that saved their Arwing’s asses every time they got into a scrape? Fox even piloted an experimental submarine just to show some random marine biology who’s boss. And did the whole team battle the giant floating brain of Andross? Nope. Just Fox. So is it any wonder that when Dinosaur Planet was threatened eight years later, Fox was alone in a rotting ship with a rusted out robot? Of course not. Why would Fox ever ask for help? He saved the damn universe! All by himself!

Team Star Fox has reassembled on occasion, but history has proven it will always be undone by the pride of Fox McCloud. Yes, he’s an ace pilot, but what is the cost of being “the best”? Fox could never maintain a permanent relationship with his closest friends. Fox could never maintain a real relationship with the princess that once left her planet for him. If ROB wasn’t bolted to the Great Fox, Fox would be completely alone in the very universe he saved.

No friends, no items, just Fox, alone, at his final destination.

Wrath, Sin of Samus Aran

Samus Aran is murder incarnate. She has committed genocide at least once, and, in the event said genocide doesn’t take, she gets the call to commit some good ol’ fashioned clone genocide. She has also eliminated fellow bounty hunters that were infected by phazon, and took no time waiting to see if a vaccine for such a condition was even possible. Oh, and there’s the little matter of how she was duplicated by her prey twice, and both times the “evil twin” was exactly as destructive as OG Samus. The “Dark” Samuses were just pointed in an inconvenient direction…

And then there’s the matter of Ridley. Ridley is a space pirate that has committed his share of sins, up to and including killing (and maybe devouring) Samus’s parents. Obviously, he should be punished for such an act. In retribution, should he be killed? That’s a question for the philosophers. But should he be killed over and over, at least four times, by the same person? That seems a bit excessive. And then cloned, reborn as an infant, and forced to desperately survive on the same space station as the hunter that killed him in the first place? That’s not a punishment, that’s a horror movie. And Samus is the pure, unstoppable vision of wrath they put on the poster.

Mario… who… uh…

Um… Mario is pretty alright. Hrm. Guess not everybody is a bad smash brother…

FGC #423 Super Smash Bros.

  • Here come the brosSystem: We’re technically just profiling the original N64 release here… so that one. It was the N64! This might be the most important Nintendo franchise to come out of that system. Or the only franchise to start on that system…
  • Number of players: Super Smash Bros. completely justifies all four N64 controller ports. Mario Kart and Goldeneye are pretenders to the throne.
  • Special Thanks/Credit: Once again, the venerable Pooch is responsible for the art of this article. All of it! Except the screenshots! Duh! Hit Pooch up for some commissioned art when you have a chance. Mention this article and get a resounding, “What? Really?”
  • Speaking of Art: Check out that box art.

    Poor lighting

    Link looks so confused!

  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It is rather amazing how much of “Smash Bros.” was right here at the beginning. They might not be distinct modes, but the start of things like Smash Run or Endless Smash is obvious in the single player campaign, and every bit of the presentation seems like a prototype for the eventual celebration of gaming that Smash Bros. would become. Even the intro seems overtly cinematic… for an N64 game, at least.
  • Favorite Character: It’s Samus Aran. It’s always Samus Aran.
  • Follow your Dreams: According to an interview from 2008 (Brawl time) Sakurai initially just wanted to make a new, four-player fighting game with original characters (apparently it would be called… Dragon King? Isn’t that already a JRPG?). Unfortunately, he knew that new fighting games had a rough time attracting an audience, so he “borrowed” a few Nintendo heavies to put together a demo. Nintendo didn’t approve the project (or the characters being tossed into smash world) until a demo featuring Mario, Samus, Donkey Kong, and Star Fox was presented. And the rest is videogame history.
  • FINISHCome to think of it…: That means “out of his Arwing Star Fox” was created for the demo, and Sakurai didn’t go for an already more established 2-D character (like Yoshi). Of course, it’s not like he was going to throw Ness in there, and Kirby wasn’t exactly meant for polygons…
  • Ridley is too big: Ridley appears in the background of the Zebes stage. With his appearance in the opening of Melee, and his status as a boss in Brawl and 4, it’s pretty clear that his turn as a starring character in Ultimate was an inevitability.
  • Did you know? According to the credits and my ears, the Pokémon of this title all use the original 4Kids English voices. That is why Jigglypuff sounds so… right.
  • Would I play again: That’s a good question! It’s weird how Super Smash Bros. feels simultaneously like every other Smash title, and also its own thing. Each character seems to have at least one overpowered move (thank you, Pikachu lightning), and the balance is completely insane as a result. Why play with this old, broken man when there’s a better boy right there on the Switch? On the other hand, the nostalgia here is strong, and it’s always fun to PK Lightning smash a piranha plant. So hard to decide!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Brain Dead 13 for the Playstation! From famous franchises to… not so much. Please look forward to it!

Poor petey

FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

Yay Gals!I’m not upset. I’m just disappointed.

Previously in what passes for reality: SNK once supported the Neo Geo Pocket Color, and it featured an adorable game titled SNK Gals’ Fighters. It was a fun, though shallow, fighting game made for a system that could only sustain vaguely Gameboy-esque graphics and a whole two action buttons. Despite the obvious handicaps, SNK Gals’ Fighters was an enjoyable, portable title that was downright ideal for short trips or sudden spurts of gaming while watching Xena: Warrior Princess.

SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy cannot make the same claim.

There were issues right from the start. Right at the initial announcement, we had Mai dressed in a combination bikini/cow costume. This was an ominous portent! Mai has been compared to a cow on many occasions before, because (get ready for a real knee slapper here) cows are known for their utters, and Mai is known for her boobs. Ha! Funny joke! Everybody laughs (at women with large breasts). And, let’s face it, aside from fetishist satisfiers or extremely self-confident cosplay fans, no woman on Earth is ever going to voluntarily wear a “cow bikini”. Why invite the comparison? It’s like wearing a Sonic the Hedgehog shirt to a sane people convention (NormalCon ’19 still has tickets available). But don’t worry! The early trailers quickly established that these women were kidnapped (!) and forced to fight in ridiculous outfits (!) for the benefit of an unseen, male kidnapper (!). Rape dungeon! The entire plot of this game was immediately established as “takes place in a rape dungeon”. Holy cow bikini, SNK, that is not a good look.

FIGHT!And, unfortunately, this title is all about good looks. The plot did not improve after the initial trailers: Kukri (aka “The Sand Guy” introduced in King of Fighters 14) created a pocket dimension (as one does) where he is nigh omnipotent. Then he kidnapped a handful of women fighters, and dressed them in various fetish outfits, because… he’s a fetish freak. He… literally says that out loud. He doesn’t seem to have one particular fetish (this ain’t King of Catgirls), but the general theme for the outfits appears to be some level of embarrassment/shame. “Pure and good” Nakoruru is dressed as some manner of anime vampiress, and space pirate Love Heart is stuck in a (sexy) police uniform. And, yes, half the fun with most of these costumes is “wow, conservative girl is now dressed as a total slut! Whatta twist!” … Except, guys? This is already a fighting game franchise. We’ve already got a freaking samba dancing kick boxer that has never worn a shirt. Sticking these characters that are already just one degree away from being walking fetishes in fetish gear isn’t exactly the furthest bridge to cross. But, hey, now the women are wearing these costumes distinctly because they don’t want to! And that’s a selling point, apparently! Please enjoy the femme fatale dressed as a school girl. She’s two fetishes, now! Maybe three!

Oh, and every character has three different costumes (available for purchase with [thankfully in-game] credits), and various accessories available in “let’s play dress-up mode”. So you can metaphorically assume the role of the kidnapping misogynist at the core of this tale! Yay!

But it doesn’t matter if the gameplay is fun, right? Surely the company that has been producing fighting games since before Street Fighter 2 knows a thing or two about making a decent fighter, unfortunate implications of presentation aside. Heck, King of Fighters 14 was a distinct step-up for that franchise, so of course its faux-sequel is going to kick some butt (that is probably wearing bloomers to satisfy some other fetish). That’s just basic math!

Unfortunately, King of Fighters 14 might be the biggest problem.

Say cheese!Of the default roster of characters in SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy (aka not including the DLC), only one fighter did not appear in King of Fighters 14. In fact, a healthy number of fighters in this title premiered in King of Fighters 14. So, of the many, many women in the SNK universe, 92% of the cast could be found in the previous fighting game. And that would be fine… if everything about this title didn’t feel like a downgrade from its predecessor. King of Fighters 14 was a traditional 2-D fighting game with old-fashioned button motions and general playstyles. SNK Heroines attempts to go the Smash Bros. route, and simplifies everything to two attack buttons, a throw button, and a “special” button that offers different special movies depending on simple directional inputs. A neutral special might be a fireball, while forward plus special is a rushing kick. That could work! But… with the limited controls, nearly every character feels severely limited compared to their KoF14 versions. How limited? Well, you can’t even duck. You can crouch in King of Fighters, but I guess bendable knees weren’t in the budget for these queens.

If, at this point, you are suspecting that this whole game might be a callous cash-grab and an excuse to reuse character models from another, more fully-realized game, then congratulations, and welcome to the SNK Board of Dudes that Produce Shitty Fighting Games. Please pick up your complimentary Lady Terry Bogard hat at your earliest convenience.

Get 'erBut the absolute worst thing about this whole experience? SNK got it so right over a decade ago, and now, right on schedule, it seems everything great about SNK Gals’ Fighters got flipped on its head (which probably now has to wear cat ears). The interesting “dream crushing” finishers of SNKGF were transformed into required “finishing moves” that are boring as hell. The simplified controls of the NGP feel incredibly lacking on a modern controller. All “cute” super-deformed spritework has been replaced with glamorous models that have inescapably been designed to focus on a few key parts of a woman’s anatomy. And the delightful “everyone is fighting to earn a magical wish” plot has been replaced with “battle to escape a man’s private rape dimension”. That… puts a bit of a damper on things.

But… I knew to expect all of this. So why should I be mad?

From the moment this game was conceived, SNK had a choice: create a fighting game with cheesecake, or create a fighting game around cheesecake. Let’s not kid ourselves: there was never, ever going to be an SNK all-women fighting game that wasn’t lousy with fanservice and opportunities to ogle the cast. That’s inevitable! But rather than make a decent game that incidentally included new and interesting jiggle physics, SNK went for a lazy title that was literally all about fetishizing its female fighters. There could have been some genuine creativity on display here, but all resources were diverted toward creating new and exciting reasons for a pachislot heroine to dress as Little Bo Peep.

Do better, SNK. I’m only frustrated because I know you can.

FGC #420 SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy

  • System: I somehow had it in my head that this was a Switch exclusive, but it’s also apparently available for the Playstation 4. Which is a system that also hosts King of Fighters 14. Hm.
  • Number of players: You will never ever play this game with another human being. But, conceptually, two players makes sense.
  • What is even happening?Say Something Nice: The story mode adapting to your chosen duo is always nice. And, when you consider how awful this story happens to be, I think that’s the nicest thing I can say about the plot.
  • Fashion Faux pas: Shermie is the only character with a default costume that is not an overt fetish. She’s also the only “newcomer” that did not appear in King of Fighters 14. While you might be able to claim all Shermie resources went to just getting the poor, dead gal on the roster, I’m going to point out that King of Fighter’s canonically bustiest character probably didn’t need another fetish heaped upon her.
  • Too Old for this @$^&: I would like to see King on the roster, but… she does not deserve this kind of abuse. She’s too classy for this nonsense.
  • Let’s talk about Terry: So Terry is magically a woman now. This is an amusing way to fit a series mainstay into this all women fighter, but they should have chosen literally any other character for this role (Kyo?) as King of Fighters 14’s Alice is already “Terry, but a woman” in all but actual genetics. Besides, what we really need is a gender-swapped Chang Koehan.
  • Favorite Character: Sylvie Paula Paula might have been initially designed for King of Fighters 14 as some kind of lame idol parody, but she gets my vote here because she immediately identifies the “secret” villain of the story, and announces that she is already tired of this garbage before even her first match. You and me both, sister.
  • Did you know? Blue Mary isn’t in this game. Nor is noted pirate Bonne Jenet. This is a travesty.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for thirty seconds as a novelty, but there are so many other, better fighting games out there. Let’s leave this rape dungeon behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Saints Row 4! Dammit, ROB! You could have chosen that title for #420, and it would have made perfect sense! Now it’s all wrong! Stupid robot! Whatever. Time to be president of the universe. Please look forward to it!

... What?

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Blood!Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is the rare game that is so good, it makes old games better.

Full disclosure: I have a complicated relationship with the early Castlevania titles. To elaborate, I am referring specifically to any Castlevania game that was released prior to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which I now realize that, thanks to the unstoppable march of time, is approximately twelve billion years old). But back before Alucard ever earned his first crissaegrim, there was the Belmont clan, and its unyielding pursuit of the death of the undead. And… I kinda didn’t like those Castlevania games? Maybe?

It’s complicated. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was one of my first NES games (and, thus, one of my first videogames, period), and, as anyone that has ever banged their head against Deborah Cliff will tell you, it is a deeply confusing and difficult game. Luckily, I had an older neighbor (he was, like, twelve!) who shared tips and tricks on how to traverse the Wallachian countryside, and Castlevania 2 was less “impossible” and more “inordinately difficult”. I could send Dracula back to his grave! It… just took a password that unlocked all the items (and maybe I still died a thousand times). Oh, and I would totally glitch out that one jump in the graveyard area. What does it matter if Simon drowns? He’ll be better in no time.

Whip it good!But Castlevania 3? Now there was a game. It was another of my precious few “original” Nintendo games, and an air-mailed Christmas gift from my grandparents (who had fled to warmer climes for the holiday season). As a game I could immediately identify as both “advanced” (look at those amazing graphics!) and “clever” (four playable characters! That’s as many as a full gang of Ninja Turtles!), I was fairly convinced I enjoyed Castlevania 3. After all, I played Castlevania 3 so many times, I had all but mastered such advanced techniques as Grant’s wall hugging and Alucard’s surprisingly weak fireblasts. I was a Castlevania master!

And I think I only ever made it to level… four.

Yes, I could plug in “Help Me” and use that password everyone ripped out of Nintendo Power to skip straight to the good Count, but did I ever legitimately beat back Death with my NES Advantage? Never. Did I ever even approach the Doppelganger? Nope. And, as I can very vividly recall, that room with the falling blocks was the absolute end of many a playthrough. If Alucard ran out of hearts to bat his way up that chamber, I was just done. Don’t have time for this nonsense!

Which… was kind of the point. I continued to purchase and/or rent classic Castlevania titles (Bloodlines comes immediately to mind as my most rented Genesis title), and I unequivocally enjoyed that franchise… but it wasn’t Mega Man. It wasn’t Mario. In fact, Mario might have been the biggest reason I could never truly enjoy a Castlevania game. Even if I couldn’t put it into words at the time, I still had some thought in my head regarding that whole “joy of movement” theory. Mario was unmistakably fun to control. Simon Belmont? Not so much. His movements were restricted. He had a terrible jump, limited offensive options, and didn’t gain magical invincibility that killed every zombie in his path even once. And the average lifespan of a Belmont? Not very long when you consider how easily a single decapitated medusa could shove that entire clan into one of a thousand bottomless pits.

In short? It sucked to be a Belmont. And who wants to play a game where you have to suck?

Magic!Unfortunately, in the time since the Castlevania “classic” series reigned supreme, I have become a cranky old man. As such, I rarely have time nowadays for games that I do not immediately enjoy. Many JRPGs have fallen by the wayside simply because I cannot deal with another tutorial dungeon explaining how fire beats ice. Perfectly competent platformers have gone ignored because I bounced off the main character’s art style. And I’m not afraid to admit that I dropped at least one “game of the year” just because the hero’s initial movement speed was “too exhausting”. Suffice to say, I was not exactly expecting to dive into an “old school” Castlevania with the same gusto that a more grilled cheese-based Wee Goggle Bob was once capable of mustering.

But Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was more than a little surprising.

First of all (he said, 700 or so words in), Bloodstained: CotM is just plain fun. It is aping Castlevania 3 like a monkey mimicking an orangutan, and it hews so closely to the “original”, it’s almost a surprise that Miriam can’t stick to walls. You start with the base, limited protagonist with slow, but functional, movements, move on to someone a little weaker, but with greater agility and range, pick up a squishy wizard with extremely convenient spells, and finally gain some brooding dork that craps fireballs and occasionally morphs into a bat. Unlike Castlevania 3, though, you do have the option of switching between all four combatants at once, which wildly increases the odds you’ll ever bother with that weakling mage. And that also means stages are designed around every possible party combination, and… that’s where things get complicated.

Stairs!It is very likely that, upon playing B:CoTM for the first time, the player will choose to recruit every last ally, and utilize their skills in every possible combination across all levels. Once that task is completed, a new mode will unlock wherein all the extra allies are available from the start, but Zangetsu (the ersatz Belmont and initial playable character) is missing in action. And he’s not missed! It’s pretty clear that Zangetsu is the Zeppo of these Marx brothers, and you’re much better off using literally anyone else. Miriam has mad ups, Alfred can blast any boss, and Gebel can scratch those hard to reach places. Who even invited that Zangetsu nerd in the first place?

This, naturally, will lead a curious player toward trying that initial mode again, but this time, using only Zangetsu. He’s the worst, but that just makes him a “secret” kind of hard mode, right? Not quite…

Zangetsu has two options for a solo outing. On one route, he may choose the bloody path of literally murdering each of his potential allies. And the prize for his sins will be access to new offensive and gymnastic skills. A homicidal Zangetsu can acquire a sweeping slash, high-speed dash, double jump, and a “charge attack” that would put a certain Mega Buster to shame. And then he’s the best character in the game! Without a question! Who even needs friends when you can slash an enormous turtle monster in half! I am become Death!

But then there’s “true” solo mode. Friendly Zangetsu acknowledges that all these wizards crawling around are creeping him out, but doesn’t kill a single one of them. Zangetsu must soldier on with his meager skills, and thus the player must learn to deal with a lame jump and Link’s Adventure-level weapon range. Zangetsu is pathetic, and every challenge becomes actually challenging, even for someone that has already saved this world three times or so.

But you know what? It’s doable.

Not a vampire!Bloodstained: CoTM is built for a full party of moon murderers (I miss just saying “vampire slayers”), including at least one dude that can magically become invincible, and another than can fly literally anywhere. Its stages are also designed for just the guy who can barely jump. In fact, the game is designed equally for both eventualities, and offers a wildly different experience for either choice. And, crucially, this means that the choices the player makes over the course of the adventure are significant. You don’t need a “Miriam will remember that” prompt to tell you something significant has happened when you’re too busy fighting your way over a bottomless pit to notice, and the “penalty” for literally killing a possible helper is immediately revealed in a sudden change of moveset. But, by the same token, these important choices may create a game that is more or less difficult, but never a game that becomes a complete cakewalk or impossibility. Everything here was carefully designed around players playing the game their way, and that allows for an inordinate amount of fun.

And, yeah, that’s something Bloodstained: CoTM learned from Castlevania 3, too. Heck, you could even claim it learned it from the original Castlevania. After all, tell me you’re not playing two different games depending on whether you decide to bring a bottle of holy water to a Frankenstein fight. The “old school” Castlevania titles might not have been as much fun to play as Mega Man, but in their limitations, they created an environment where the player had more choices than any title that involved a tanooki leaf.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon taught me that the original Castlevania titles were always more than they seemed, and didn’t need to pull in a single vampire to do it. Mimic a franchise, and somehow make the base franchise better? Pretty good trick, Bloodstained.

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

  • System: PC, Nintendo Switch, 3DS, Sony Playstation 4, and Vita. Sorry, this will be the only Bloodstained merchandise appearing on the Vita.
  • Number of players: One is good enough.
  • Pimpin!Favorite Boss: Hey, it turns out all these jerks have names on the official website! Valefor, the giant monster wearing a pimp hat, is my clear winner. He’s made of gold! And tries to kill you with gold! And can occasionally summon monsters made of gold! That’s solid gold, baby!
  • Out of Order: Did anyone else find Bathin, the light speed lizard that haunts the mechanical library, to be easier than literally every previous boss in the game? Its super fast attacks would be impossible without those target reticules, but with giant flashing “don’t stand here” signs all over the place? Not so much.
  • Favorite Character: Good call on making Miriam, the star of the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, arguably the most useful character. Sure, she is lacking in health or very strong attacks, but agility goes a long way in the 2-D world.
  • Favorite Reason 16-Bit Graphics were invented: Nothing interesting about the main characters really comes across with these faux 8-bit sprites, but Gebel really loses something when lo-fi. He’s supposed to be adorned with blood-purple stained glass across his flesh, but here? Here he’s just Alucard.
  • Would I play again? Odds are really good! Maybe I’ll even give that boss-rush a chance! Or maybe I’ll actually keep playing the parts of the game I enjoy! Who knows what the future holds?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Alfred Chicken for the Super Nintendo! There we go! There’s that randomness we all love and crave! Please look forward to it!

Choo Choo!