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FGC #385 God of War 2

Oh godsSo God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 are basically the same game.

Venture with me now back to the early days of the Playstation 2. Many forget such an important fact, but the PS2 (and the consoles of its era, but PS2 was first) was the first system that could really “do everything”. And, no, I’m not talking about being a DVD player while hopping online and eventually supporting a hard drive for one game; no, I’m talking about actually displaying “reality” and “cartoons” as easily as network television. The Atari was squares fighting other squares. The NES was a little better, but still relied heavily on a healthy imagination to call that pile of rectangles an elfish warrior. And the Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 both generally created characters that were more block than man. The 16-bit generation came the closest to making “cartoon graphics” that actually looked like a controllable Disney movie, but it couldn’t render a “real” looking human for all the coins in the Mushroom Kingdom. The Playstation 2 was the first system that could really pull off that kind of rendering, and, if you look at the PS2 launch lineup, it’s obvious that the creators of the era knew that well. Unless you want to claim there’s some other excuse for The Bouncer…

ZapAnd it was in this “anything is possible” era that both God of War and Kingdom Hearts were born. To the credit of everyone involved, you do have to acknowledge that either franchise would have made much less of an impact on earlier systems. In the case of Kingdom Hearts, you absolutely need the voice acting and deliberate mishmash of “animation styles” to really sell the idea of a universe made of random Disney feature films. And over in the God of War corner, Kratos could easily have been another generic videogame action hero, but the raw, visceral rage that permeates his every movement and action could only make its premiere on the Playstation 2. And it was the advantage of the Playstation 2 that no one would confuse these two games for each other. Happy lil’ boy with a keyblade that palled around with Aeris was never going to be mistaken for the Ghost of Sparta that successfully beat Ares to death with some manner of chain blades.

But there is one place where both Kingdom Hearts and God of War were very similar: they were both games with stories that were clearly intended to be finite. Sora saves the universe, Kratos becomes the God of War, let’s all hit the pub.

Now, to be clear, this is not to imply that both games were never intended to start franchises. Quite the contrary, as both titles end with trailers for multiple potential sequels. Kingdom Hearts has not only its dangling thread of Sora and Kairi being separated, but also a teaser that included the coolest keyblade fight in the franchise’s history. And God of War managed to squeeze three separate teasers into its bonus features, with a glimpse of not only Kratos’s future, but also a potential adventure wherein modern archeologists come upon an ancient dungeon on the back of a humongous skeleton. Pretty much any videogame made… ever has expected a cavalcade of sequels, and it’s kind of naïve that two titles that helped start the AAA trend would ever ignore such an obvious payday.

URGHBut don’t tell that to the writers of both of those original hits. In both cases, our protagonists are dealing with antagonists with clear goals and origins. Ansem is a mad scientist/king that went a little too mad, and wound up becoming more Kefka than Galuf. Ares is the God of War that has been using Kratos as a pawn for decades, and he’s bound to get what’s coming to him. In both cases, the big bad gets too full of himself, and winds up vaporized by his opponent. But don’t forget about the journey! Both Kratos and Sora go from nobody to somebody, and learn a thing or two about not plunging into sorrow along the way. Sora saves the universe and gains his own private Excalibur, and Kratos becomes a literal god. Nowhere to go but up from there, folks.

And then we got the inevitable sequels. And… they maybe didn’t come together all that great.

From a story perspective, Kratos gets to make a little more sense, but just barely. Now, instead of being spurned by one dick god (er, to be clear, that’s a god that is a dick, not Penilicus, God of Dicks), he must defend himself against… one dick god. But he happens to be his dad! Oh, wait, sorry, was that a twist? Did I just ruin the complex mythology of every Greek tragedy ever? So Kratos winds up battling against Zeus through the exact same arc as the first title, just in a slightly different order: stripped of powers, killed by god, go to Hell, go to a magical dungeon land, murder a few mythological figures, and then fight Zeus in a final battle that… can’t go anywhere. Sorry! Turns out that this story is now firmly entrenched in trilogy land, so you’ll have to wait for God of War 3 to see the thrilling end of Zeus and his brand new band of surly gods. At least Kratos made a new friend along the way!

Keep your eye on the prizeKingdom Hearts 2 meanwhile… does the exact same thing. The title retreads much of the adventure of the first quest, introduces a villain that is somehow bigger and badder, but still exactly the same, and, in the finale, ends with Sora scoring some new allies, but failing to banish the big bad from the universe. In Kingdom Hearts 2’s case, it seems a little more definitive than Kratos’s lack of a victory, but, come on, half the game was laying the very bread crumbs that would lead to a certain someone’s complete resurrection. And it’s not like that franchise could ever suffer a different villain anyway.

But it’s not just about the plot! Both games started with slightly upgraded beat ‘em up gameplay, and gussied up “press attack a lot and dodge roll all the time” with a leveling system that superficially added JRPG elements to very basic gameplay. But both Kingdom Hearts 1 and God of War 1 built levels around their dopey (but fun!) combat. In some cases (like GoW’s Hell or KH’s Oogie Tower) these levels didn’t work, but they were certainly a break from the monotony, and Kratos or Sora coud showcase their acrobatic prowess to maybe find some treasures. Well, the world(s) got a lot flatter in an effort to please the fans, as God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 both vastly cut down on exploration potential in favor of hammering that attack button over and over again. Hey, sometimes there’s a block to push, or a switch to pull. That’s kind of like variety, right?

And don’t get me started on how both franchises decided to treat quick time events and canned dialogue like they were the best thing since sliced Spartans.

Doomed!God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 are different games. One has a dude beating up random monsters from the myths of Greece, and the other already burned through its hydra in the first game. But, once you get into the details, it’s easy to see how both titles come from much the same place, and amount to a pair of parallel products.

GOW2 and KH2 are two games cut from the same cloth.

… And then Kratos killed Clotho. Dude does not take criticism well.

FGC #385 God of War 2

  • System: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and Vita, though the PS2 version is obviously the source of all this mess.
  • Number of players: This former god of war works alone.
  • Other similarities: Oh yeah, then both franchises went on to crank out a prequel on the PSP, and follow that up with a third “concluding chapter” on a totally different system. Well, I have to assume the latter on the part of Kingdom Hearts, as I’m pretty sure Kingdom Hearts 3 won’t be a PS2 release.
  • Favorite Relic: Remember when time manipulation was all the rage during that console generation? Prince of Persia and… uh… Blinx? Well, it happened again here, and Kratos can slow time with the Amulet of the Fates, because… why not? I mean, if you’ve got dominion over time, may as well use it to beat some random undead soldiers to death.
  • Whip it goodFavorite Game Moment: This is the God of War title wherein the entirety of the Spartan army is wiped out by Zeus (because, again, giant dick), but one lone Spartan warrior survives! Then Kratos kills him. By accident. Because the sun was in his eyes. Look, I’m no stranger to accidental murder, but I feel like Kratos should maybe look where he’s swinging those blades.
  • Did you know? Like God of War (1), there was a novel released based on God of War 2. It was written by Robert E. Vardeman, who was also responsible for a number of Star Trek and Magic: The Gathering tie-in novels I have never read this God of War 2 work, however, because I have to assume half the text is just some variation on the phrase “angry growling”.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 2, I have a hard time with Kratos’s whole… thing. He’s so irritated all the time! And murderous! I find it off putting. I want my murderous heroes to at least make a quip every once in a while. Is that too much to ask?

What’s next? Looks like it’s Valentine’s Day next week, and you know what that means! Love and harmony Wankery Week! Come back on Monday for a look at one of the best most passable examples of sheer wankery of 2017.

This doesn't make any sense

FGC #384 Sega 3D Classics Collection

SEGA!Home videogame consoles have been around since 1972. That means we have had nearly fifty years of videogames being sold to consumers. And in those decades, we somehow still have not figured out what people want from videogames.

Almost by accident, we pretty much had it right for a console generation or two. Back when all we had to work with were limited cartridges, you had a videogame, and it was simply that videogame. Super Mario Bros. was Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda was The Legend of Zelda. There was not some random point in Mega Man when the whole thing turned into Gradius, nor did Final Fantasy ever dip into suddenly becoming Contra for a dungeon or two. Men were men, women were women, and the good old days were always good for a round of Ice Climbers. You picked up a chunk of plastic, you played a game, and that was that.

And today’s Sega 3D Classics Collection harkens back to those halcyon days. It’s got the original Sonic the Hedgehog! There’s Altered Beast! Puyo Pop 2 for those of you that enjoy mean beans! Some Fantasy Zones! I’m sure somebody, somewhere appreciates Thunder Blade! And Power Drift is at least pretty! This collection represents what is unmistakably the good old days of Sega arcade/Master System/Genesis games, and, by and large, you really can’t lose with any title in this group. Heck, I could play Sonic the Hedgehog alone for hours on end.

And that’s the problem. I have.

VroomLet’s take a step back to talk about music. The concept of the album has lost some luster in the recent age of MP3s, but, prior to about the last decade or so, musicians were expected to support their number one hits with an entire disc’s worth of alternate songs. You might have been all about Will Smith gettin’ jiggy with it, but in order to properly jiggify yourself, you had to buy a CD that contained a few other tracks, like that one about Miami, or that other one about the lil’ dude from Austin Powers. Sometimes this was a good thing, like when you discovered an artist with a style wholly different from the hit single, and became a Ben Folds Five fan for life. Other times… well, they say that if you are quiet, and listen very closely late at night, you might still hear my father complaining about purchasing “that one Smash Mouth album” where “all they do is suck”. But that’s true of any music fan (older than about 20), you buy enough records, tapes, or CDs, and, eventually, you’ve got a list floating around your head until the end of time regarding whether or not you should have blown fifteen bucks on that one Jethro Tull album. And, yes, you should have waited for the greatest hits release.

But that’s the thing about almost all albums: they’re specifically by one artist. Love or hate Meghan Trainor’s unethical praising of the booty, you pretty much know what you’re going to get if you sign up for a solid twelve Trainor tracks. And, while we may have no idea what Chumbawamba was up to during the final days of the twentieth century, you could go ahead and pick up Tubthumper and find out. There are certainly Now That’s What I Call Some Arbitrary Ditties albums out there, but, by and large, you can count on an album to have a general flow from start to finish that is… familiar. Blink 182 isn’t going to suddenly dip into European Death Metal on its third track, and P. Diddy Kong is never going to take a quick break from his phat rhymes to introduce his barbershop quartet. In other words, when you listen to a musical album, you can count on about forty minutes of a familiar experience. It might be a new familiar experience, but you’ll find that it’s generally consistent within the confines of its own disc. And a five disc “best of” special compilation? That’s going to keep you in a familiar holding position all afternoon.

STAR WARS!Now back to videogames: despite being on the same system and being from the same general era, would you consider Sonic the Hedgehog and Altered Beast to be similar experiences? Okay, similar might work, as they are both 2-D, and… involve jumping? Bah! They’re barely similar at all! One is a sort of proto-beat ‘em up with a really fun gimmick, and the other is a supersonic hedgehog simulator. Mad speed vs. mad dragons. If they were songs, Altered Beast would be some kind of “angry” heavy metal, and Sonic would have places to go, because he’s gotta follow his rainbow. And those are the two most similar games on the collection! Opa-Opa’s adventure is a shoot ‘em up, while Maze Hunter 3-D may as well exist on another planet. And, including that one boss in Sonic Mania, nobody wants to play a puzzle game five seconds after zooming around at the speed of sound. Variety is fun an’ all, but, short attention spans aside, when you sit down to play a game, you have a certain kind of gameplay in mind, and rapidly switching between different options is unusual and unsettling.

Get 'emBut videogames make it customary! Starting as early as the 16-bit days, videogames had a tendency to randomly veer off into unknown lands with alarming frequency. “Minigames” went from something generally innocuous like a slot machine or shell game, and rapidly transformed into entire games onto themselves. Chrono Trigger is the best JRPG of a generation that incidentally includes the worst racing game ever. Final Fantasy 7 pulled a similar stunt with Cloud Strife 1080° Snowboarding. Even the Sonic the Hedgehog series decided to lean heavily into being a number of different games soldered together. In some cases, these gameplay changes were welcome, in others, it would be nice to not have to participate in a fishing simulator to make progress; but in every example, it meant you were playing something you absolutely did not sign up for. Or maybe I’m the crazy one? Maybe I missed all the times Final Fantasy X made a sale in the name of “incredible water soccer action”.

Now, look, I remember being ten. I remember only having one game a year, and if that game had a mini game that was anything but mini, it meant, oh boy, I got two games. I still remember that feeling. But I also remember the end of Solar Jetman turning into the worst approximation of a shoot ‘em up ever. I remember Devil May Cry pulling the same stunt. And Kirby! A whole bunch of times! Why can’t games just stay their courses! Why do they try to jump the tracks mid train ride like some kind of mixed and poorly worded metaphor? Let the whole album play out! Leave your experimental tracks for the B-sides!

Pew PewSega 3-D Classics Compilation is not one single game, and it seems silly to fault it for being a tremendous collection of superb games. But every time I boot up S3DCC, it’s to play Sonic the Hedgehog. I never play anything else, save the rare occasion I feel like shooting fireballs at chicken legs. There is nothing like Sonic the Hedgehog on this collection, so I only play Sonic the Hedgehog. Full compilation of wonderful games, but the rest never get played, because they’re nothing like the hit single that got me to buy this album. I would have been better off with just the lone MP3.

So learn something, videogame industry. In the age of “binge watching”, people do not want random pauses from Breaking Bad to watch Star vs. The Forces of Evil. People do not want a ska album to break into rap (we still want ska, though). People do not want lame action game wannabe minigames during their JRPGs. People do not want compilations of games that vary so wildly, they may as well exist in different dimensions.

There are enough choices out there. Grant individual genres and games the flow they deserve.

And people wonder why Mega Man Legacy Collection was a tremendous hit…

FGC #384 Sega 3D Classics Collection

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, thus the whole 3D thing. Most of these games can be found on the Sega Genesis or Sega Master System, too, but in a format that will cause me to complain less.
  • Number of players: Altered Beast has two muscle dudes, so it’s gotta be two.
  • WeeeeeHey, smart guy, this is just a collection of games that were (re)released individually, and only packaged into a compilation to get the attention of nerds like you that fetishize physical media: Well, yes, but my point still stands. If they had packaged together games that were a skosh more similar, this whole game would actually get played, as opposed to just 16% of it. Man, if I only played 16% of Persona 4, I’d declare it a complete failure…
  • Favorite Game (this compilation): Err, gee, you think that might be Sonic the Hedgehog? Second place is Altered Beast, and third is Puyo Pop 2. Everything else is just gravy, albeit the kind of gravy that sits in a can in your pantry until the end of all time.
  • Favorite Improvement: Naturally, it’s in Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s the presence of the spin dash in a game not at all designed for such a thing. It is glorious, and now I want a spin dash in Altered Beast.
  • A word from the Professor: I think this rabbit wants to see the end of mankind.
    Go Bunny

    Don’t listen to him, Trump!
  • Favorite Thing that Makes me Sad: Randomizing the beast transformations in Altered Beast does practically nothing. Considering this is something I begged for when I was a kid abusing the AB cabinet at the local Pizza Hut, I now know that my entire life is a lie.
  • Did you know? There were two other 3D Classic Collections in Japan. The first included Ecco, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage, and Space Harrier… which probably tracks as the most focused compilation. The third and final collection is all over the place, but it includes Gunstar Heroes and Sonic 2, so its absence is keenly felt.
  • Would I play again: I really like Sonic the Hedgehog.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… God of War 2! Rawr! Let’s murder all of Ancient Greece! Please look forward to it! (NOTE: Goggle Bob and the Goggle Bob Blog do not condone the murdering of all of Ancient Greece for entertainment purposes.)

Spoooooky

FGC #383 Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg

Here is the case for Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg:

Billy!

And here is the main reason anyone ever bought Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg:

Sonic!

And that starburst is no lie. Billy Hatcher is the creation of Sonic Team and its (then) head, Yuji Naka, the man widely credited with the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog.

But does that mean anything?

Sonic!Let’s start with Yuji Naka. To start, Yuji Naka is a programmer, not an artist or character designer, but it is that programming that is absolutely the reason we have Sonic the Hedgehog. Naka created one simple trick for animating hedgehogs: he developed an algorithm for rendering sprites on curves. And that’s huge! We absolutely take it for granted now, but the very concept of Sonic on a loop would be impossible without such coding. So, sure, Naka didn’t draw the first Sonic, nor did he design the hedgehog’s levels, but he was responsible for a part of Sonic that is so iconic, it is still a huge part of the blue blur today. You don’t see Mario doing loops, but it is practically synonymous with Sonic the Hedgehog.

And the rest of Yuji Naka and Sonic Team’s history seems to be based around similar breakthroughs.

I don’t need to write a history of Sonic the Hedgehog, as such a thing has been covered by minds much greater than mine. However, there is a dearth of information on the trajectory of Sonic Team. We all know about Sonic, CDs, and Knuckles, but let’s talk about the heroes that never met Eggman. Let’s revisit Ristar.

GRAB!Naka didn’t seem to have much to do with Ristar, but the basic concept for the adventure came from his pre-rolling ideas for Sonic the Hedgehog. The “original” Sonic (or at least one of them) was a bunny that would grab enemies with his extendable ears. This concept fell by the wayside when Sonic earned his speed and rolling (rabbits don’t roll, do they?), but was eventually revived for Ristar. And it was good! In a time of innumerable “mascots with attitude” (which only existed because of Sonic anyway), Ristar stood out not only for his memorable design, but also his fun “grab and fling” gameplay. Sure, we’d see something similar again with Mischief Makers, but it was almost wholly unique for the time (and still is). Ristar, like Sonic, rode a wave of a new and interesting gameplay mechanic, and could easily have been the hedgehog’s successor.

But Ristar premiered all of a few months before the release of the Sega Saturn, so that rising star got eclipsed by a planet, and was never seen again.

But Sonic Team still had Sonic, so they still had the ear of their parent company. That Saturn release brought new opportunities, and, with the innovation of an analogue controller, Nights Into Dreams made the scene.

And, boy, did that game ever suck.

FLY!Okay, I’m just salty because Nights is a terrible, terrible game, but many people saw the appeal of the action floating title. Once again, Sega took a new technology (the aforementioned analogue controller), and married it to some gameplay that had never been seen before. Naka (he’s back!) endeavored to make a game that was based on flight, but a more gentle flight, as opposed to the cape or raccoon-based actions of some other heroes. And, to Nights’ credit, that feeling absolutely comes through during the gameplay. Nights may have been phenomenally boring for anyone that was expecting another Mario 64, but, taken on its own terms, it’s a pleasant experience. Once again, Sonic Team used unique physics and development to create a singular game, this time complete with the rare human character that has the same kind of universal appeal as your more memorable mascots.

But the Saturn crashed and burned, so there was no new Sonic to be found there.

But speaking of burning, Sonic Team’s next big release was Burning Rangers, a sort of action/FPS-ish mash-up that focused on futuristic firefighters… uh… fighting fires. It’s what they do. At a time when Doom and Final Fantasy 7 alike were setting the world ablaze with complicated heroes and murder rates that put Robocop’s Detroit to shame, Burning Rangers was a semi-serious “anime game” that focused not on combating people or demons, but fires. And the future setting allowed for some interesting gameplay maneuvers, like jet boots (always appreciated) and a host of fire-retardant “weapons”. And the fires looked pretty cool, too! It’s still the Sega Saturn, but fire was a lot more believable here than on a number of contemporary systems. Go Burning Rangers, go! For inflammable justice!

Unfortunately, Burning Rangers had the dual problems of “not good enough (hit detection)” and “such small portions (of four levels)”, so it got flushed down the same toilet as the Saturn. Oh, and there wasn’t a memorable enough character in the whole ranger squad.

MICE!But the Dreamcast brought new opportunities, and a metric mickey-load of mice. ChuChu Rocket! was described as an action puzzle game, but that is completely wrong. ChuChu Rocket! is frenetic joy in mini, mousey form. Once again, Yuji Naka used the latest technology to create something that appeared to be graphically simple, but had a lot going on under the hood. At any given ChuChu moment, there may be hundreds (or at least a hundred) lil’ mice on the screen at a time. While we take such a thing for granted nowadays, that was an exciting new frontier in 1999. And the Dreamcast was capable of supporting this nonsense not only on the couch, but online as well. No small feat in the age of AOL. Or, actually, it meant a lot of small feet puttering around and attempting to avoid KapuKapus. And, can’t stress this enough, ChuChu Rocket! was one of the best multiplayer games of the era, and certainly the most unique.

But it all paled in comparison to Sonic Team’s Phantasy Star Online. Naka simply produced this title, but it was another example of Sonic Team pushing technology to the limits. In this case, the online capabilities of the Dreamcast were extended to create arguably the first MMORPG on a console. And it was good! And fun! And full of hungry mags! And if it were released on a system that was actually popular, and during an era when high speed internet was standard (and not the exclusive domain of college students) it might have been one of the defining works of the genre. But, unfortunately, PSO seems to be remembered and recounted in the same breaths as Atari’s Adventure: it basically started a genre, and did it well, but by the time that genre was actually mainstream, the ancestor was all but forgotten. Sorry, PSO, at least we’ll always have old Penny Arcade strips to remind us of the good old days.

Samba de Amigo was also a Dreamcast title that utilized a brand new piece of technology. And that tech was… plastic maracas. Uh, for some reason, that failed to capture the zeitgeist of the nation.

EGG!And then, finally, we arrive at our “from the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog” title of the day, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. BHatGE was the first new Sonic Team IP to ever appear on a non-Sega system. Sonic Team had already gained some Gamecube experience with rereleases of the Sonic Adventure titles, and Billy Hatcher does feel like a natural evolution of the SA engine. But this is no mere Sonic clone! Even with a “spin dash” like egg rolling skill, nearly all of Billy’s moveset is all new… or at least all different. Rolling an egg and “using” the egg for acrobatic maneuvers sounds pretty straightforward (see any game where you push boulders or blocks), but it’s obvious that a lot of care and effort went into… egg physics? Is that a thing? What’s important is that “Billy” and “Billy with an egg” are arguably two totally different characters, and the utilization of both movesets (and protecting your egg whenever possible) is important to making progress.

So if you’re expecting Sonic out of Billy Hatcher, or any other non-Sonic Sonic Team game, you’re out of luck. Billy Hatcher is no more Sonic the Hedgehog than Ristar or Burning Rangers. But if you look at the history of Sonic Team’s other adventures, that’s exactly what should be expected. Sure, Sonic Team is known for their eponymous mascot, but they have an established history of using new technology and techniques to create new IPs and experiences. Granted, not a single one of them has moved on to anything but random crossover games, but it’s the thought that counts. After all, the world would be a lesser place without Nights or PSO, so keep on innovating, Sonic Team! And keep on rolling, Billy Hatcher!

FGC #383 Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube. There was also a PC port in Europe, because… I have no idea.
  • Number of players: Multiplayer egg races are available, so four. Did you know that Billy has all sorts of friends that I absolutely cannot name right now? Maybe his girlfriend is named Roll? I might be thinking of some other hero, though.
  • GET OUTSonic Team Coda: Aside from Feel the Magic, it seems post-Billy Sonic Team has been exclusively sticking to established IPs, like Phantasy Star and Puyo Pop. However, the spirit of innovation seems to live on in the Sonic series, as it’s pretty obvious how Sonic Unleashed was an attempt at 3-D Ristar. Of course, most of this experimentation has not been remotely well received by the fanbase, so is it any wonder that Naka is moving on to squarer pastures?
  • So, did you beat it? Back in the day, I got really into Billy Hatcher, and unlocked/beat about 95% of the game. I exploded so many ravens, it was ridiculous. This was back when Mario 64-esque action games were completely my jam. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I no longer have the attention span to 100% most any game that includes physical challenges (JRPGs are easy, and can be 100%’ed while watching The Good Place), so I kind of miss my old standards for dedication when I see a completed (or thereabouts) Gamecube-era save.
  • Favorite Hatchling: You can gain the cooperation of a KapuKapu, and that is marvelous.
  • Connectivity: Oh, and this is one of those old Gamecube games that utilized the ability to send games to your Gameboy Advance through a link cable (and, in this title, hatching the proper egg). I never got to test out such features (as it would have interrupted my Pokémon Ruby/Metroid Fusion time), but it’s always nice to have portable options. And to be reminded the VMU ever existed…
  • Aborted History: This was released during the epoch when Nintendo seemed kind of skittish about referencing other systems when a Nintendo alternative was available.

    Sonic!

    Look, it’s Sonic the Hedgehog! From that one Gamecube game!

  • Did you know? There is a real life Billy Hatcher! He played major league baseball for a number of teams back in the 80’s/90’s. William Augustus Hatcher’s batting average was 264, had 54 home runs, and he even played for the Philadelphia Phillies at a time when I remotely paid attention to such a thing. I am absolutely sure he doesn’t see a dime of royalties, either.
  • Would I play again: Billy Hatcher is an interesting, enjoyable game. I’d be all about a Billy Hatcher 2, but I doubt I’ll ever play the original again. This is another Sonic Team forgotten gem (emerald?), but I think I like Sonic Team’s more memorable gems better.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sega 3D Classics Collection for the 3DS! Guess we’re going to see Sonic again, but with a little more depth this time. Please look forward to it!

Get 'em

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

Let's race!Diddy Kong Racing had a fairly interesting and ridiculous development process. Almost immediately after the launch of the N64 (and the release of Killer Instinct Gold), Rare started in on their next game and first “original” N64 title (as KI Gold was basically an arcade port). This process started with “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”, which was basically a real-time strategy game (!) based on an executive’s trip to Disney World. Then, for reasons that are no doubt lost to time/whiskey, the RTS became a racing game, and mutated into Pro-Am 64, an RC-car based title. Then, a certain bear and bird got their big debut game delayed, so Rare/Nintendo needed a big mascot title to fill its upcoming holiday season. Pro-Am 64 was modified again, and, this time, “Cartoon Kingdom” returned with a number of furry animal pals in cars, planes, and hovercrafts. After a long and confusing road to creation, a certain monkey got slammed on the marquee, and Diddy Kong Racing was born.

But was it any good?

Wait, belay that question. I don’t mean “was the game any good?” Diddy Kong Racing was an interesting take on racing games (which, thanks to the technology of the late 90’s, was a genre that had seen about 7,000 titles in two years), as it combined the exploratory nature of action games like Mario 64 and the tight racing experience of Mario Kart. It wasn’t a very complicated or nuanced take on either of its two contributing gameplay styles, but it was certainly fun. While Mario Kart 64 might be the most fondly remembered racing title of the generation, there’s nothing wrong with being in second place in that race. Diddy Kong 64 was weird and experimental, but it was certainly good at being an amusing racing game with its own identity.

But it’s that identity that we’re here to investigate. DKR took a long road to production, but, somewhere in there, it was nearly a bunch of anonymous windup cars. Then, in an effort to be a “big name” title, it grabbed a kong, and turned all of its unknowns into what would hopefully be the next Mario Kart. Or do you want to tell me you ever considered the intelligence of your average koopa troopa before he started pelting you with red shells? Diddy Kong Racing was clearly intended as a way for Rare and Nintendo to promote a new stable of remarkable characters, but how did they do? We’ve got a couple of decades of hindsight here, so let’s answer this question once and for all: Are the stars of Diddy Kong racing any good?

Diddy Kong

Diddy!Diddy is the one known quantity for Diddy Kong Racing, which is probably why it’s, ya know, Diddy Kong Racing. After appearing in Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and every Donkey Kong title that doesn’t involve tinker toys, it’s hard to believe, but Diddy Kong was still a pretty new quantity back in 1997. Donkey Kong Country was only three years old, and it wasn’t like Diddy ever gained the same kind of traction as the upcoming Pikachu. He wasn’t even playable in Donkey Kong Country 3! However, as legend tells it, Donkey Kong was originally slated for this spot, but Rare suggested Diddy star for a little variety. Donkey already gets to hang out with Mario, why not promote the lil’ chimp with his own franchise? And, hey, DK could still swing by next time, anyway. What have you got to lose?

Well, seems that Rare and Nintendo made the right choice in this one, as Diddy really does fit his eponymous game pretty well. Donkey would have a tendency to overshadow the rest of this cast not only figuratively, but literally as well. DK is a big guy (ape)! Diddy’s presence allows for more “childlike” mascots, like… almost the entire cast, and that gives Diddy Kong Racing a different identity from its Mario-based cousin. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t have to be for kids, but the “kiddy” characters and visuals give it a more whimsical feeling, and that’s important when you’ve got magical vehicles that change shape at the behest of a genie.

Verdict: Diddy Kong has been an excellent mascot for Nintendo for years, and he fits the game perfectly. Good job, Diddy!

Krunch

Get emAnd here’s our first dud.

Mario Kart has always been a pretty interesting title without its cast, but nobody would have ever played the thing if it featured a bunch of anonymous randos. See also: Smash Bros and the confusingly high number of Melee/Brawl clone games that are dropping within the year. Sure, the gameplay is great and fun and whatever, but, dude, I signed up to play as Samus Aran, not generic lady with a gun. But we take for granted that these games have these all-star casts. It’s likely impossible to figure out the chicken and egg of those franchises, but, at some point, somebody in Nintendo had to say, “Hey, let’s actually include all of our best characters. And Captain Falcon! That should get people’s attention!” Mario Kart could easily be Mario racing against seven goombas, but it is so much sweeter when Yoshi is in the mix.

Krunch Kremling is a Kremling, and the sad thing is that he could have been any Kremling. At this point, we’d already seen three Donkey Kong Country titles, and, in all of those games, Kremlings were the main antagonists. This means that there was already an entire army of kritters to choose from, yet Rare decided to go with a generic representation of the species. Sure, he’s got a cool motorcycle jacket, and I guess he gets bonus points for being a Kremling with the wherewithal to follow Diddy to a magical island, but he’s no Kaptain K. Rool. Don’t want your Bowser eclipsing the cast? Klubba would be a fine choice. Or Klobber! Or any Kremling that is at least recognizable, and not “just a crocodile”. Come on, Rare, you’re trying to build a brand here. Use the tools you have.

Verdict: It’s nice to see an established “race” represented in the game, and it’s always good to have an enemy-turned-ally, but Krunch is a disappointment in every other way.

Banjo

BANJO!Banjo is a star in waiting. If you’re curious about the timeline here, the entire reason Diddy Kong Racing is Diddy Kong Racing is because Nintendo/Rare needed a mascot game for Christmas, and the original intended title created to fill that slot was Banjo-Kazooie. So, effectively, if it weren’t for Banjo Bear being slow to the starting line, we wouldn’t be looking at Diddy Kong Racing at all, and I might be posting about Uniracers 2 or something. For this reason alone, Banjo should be celebrated as the savior of DKR Island.

And, even if it was Banjo’s lack of haste to be blamed for DKR, it was still a great idea to include Banjo on the roster. This is the proverbial “passing of the torch” from one mascot to another. Donkey begat Diddy, and now Diddy shall beget Banjo. And it worked! Banjo was a success, and, even with a measly three games under his belt, Banjo still holds enough cultural clout to warrant his own Mighty Number 9. And the games weren’t bad, either! Everybody wins! Let’s hear it for Banjo!

Verdict: Way to go, bear! You may have yet to discover your companion bird, but you’re going places.

Tiptup

TipsyNow here’s a guy who is such a loser, nobody can even remember his origins.

Tiptup did technically premier in Diddy Kong Racing. And, let’s face it, he’s basically a joke. He’s a turtle in a race. There are entire fables about why that is a terrible idea! But Tiptup didn’t stop at Diddy Kong Racing, he waddled on to appear in Banjo-Kazooie as a support character with his own choir. And then he became (or already was) a dad in Banjo-Tooie. And I’m pretty sure he at least made a cameo in that other Banjo game. And he was originally intended to be a friend of Banjo in the scrapped Project Dream game that would eventually morph into the “real” Banjo franchise. In short, Tiptup is indisputably a part of the Banjo universe.

But, when Diddy Kong Racing was eventually rereleased for the Nintendo DS, Tiptup was still there on the roster. This might seem natural, but Banjo and Conker were both dropped from that title, because Rare had long since abandoned Nintendo for softer pastures, and “their” property wasn’t going to see any extra eyeballs.

But Tiptup was still there, abandoned by his friends.

And considering “The Tiptup Case” isn’t a part of Nintendo legislative history, it doesn’t look like his owners thought he was anyone important either.

Sorry, Tiptup, you’re so forgettable, your own creators don’t give a damn about you.

Verdict: Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you… uh… turtle… guy?

Timber

Is he supposed to be a lumberjack?Diddy is the visiting celebrity, Banjo is the next generation in waiting, and poor Timber the Tiger is the intended protagonist of the piece. Diddy Kong Racing does have a plot, and it’s that the nefarious Wizpig swooped in and cursed the inhabitants of this happy little island while Timber’s parents were off, I don’t know, getting high in a van by the river or something. Timber is still home alone, and it’s up to him to de-curse the island with the help of his whacky friends. … No wonder he requested a chimp for assistance. This kid is doomed.

Unfortunately, DKR was built for players that could choose any character for any level at any time. And that’s great! A large adventure like DKR would be terrible if it locked you into one racer for every last challenge. Unfortunately, that means that any focus on Timber is completely lost, and most people only know Timber is the intended protagonist from the instruction manual (and even that was likely forsaken for that piece of cardboard that explains the controls). Combine this with the fact that Timber didn’t even make it to the cover of his own game on the DS rerelease (but there’s Tiptup!), and Timber pretty much fails in his protagonist role. Sorry, Timber, you’re another forgotten casualty of the franchise.

Verdict: Timber didn’t even have the star power to sneak back into a Banjo title. Guess his parents aren’t letting him out of their sight for a good long while.

Drumstick

BAGAWNow here’s a plot hero! Drumstick is supposedly the Obi Wan Chicken of DKR, and he’s the first to challenge Wizpig to a race for the island. He loses immediately, and is transformed into a frog for his troubles. Whoops. Drumstick spends the majority of the story as a frog with a rooster comb, but, should you rescue the majority of the island anyway, you’ll be able to release the curse on Drumstick, and thus the chicken man will be yours.

And that’s awesome! Unlocking characters started to become a means unto itself at the start of the millennium, but there was still a little mystique to earning a rooster dude through sheer effort back in 1997. And, what’s more, with the “legend” of Drumstick being the greatest racer on the island, you, the player, felt like the greatest racer around when you finally de-frogged the guy. And heroes transforming into frogs was all the rage back in the 90s! Just ask that marshmallow kid!

Verdict: Drumstick winds up being the one racer that actually seems related to the plot, so he’s a bit more memorable than the rest of these nerds. Too bad someone decided his ideal design would be “rejected KFC mascot”, though.

Pipsy

SqueakyYou know it’s a 90’s game when there’s “that one girl”. The lone female of the DKR species is Pipsy the Mouse, and, to her credit, she’s one of the best racers in the game. Sure, that might be a subjective statement in most any kart racing game, but Pipsy is a damn beast, and her handling is second to none. But, other than that, Pipsy has absolutely no defining features beyond her gender. There’s a reason we never saw Pipsy’s Big Adventure.

Verdict: If you’re going to have a cartoon mouse mascot, you have to go big. Pipsy did not.

Bumper

The goggles!And here’s Bumper the Badger. As far as anyone can tell, he was intended as the “big and friendly” archetype in this lineup. He’s… big… and… uh… friendly. That’s all we got here. Nothing much to… Wait a minute. Is he wearing goggles? He is! Bumper the Badger is wearing goggles! That should be praised! Bumper knows what’s up! He has his furry paw on the pulse of fashion! Way to go, Bumper! We need more rockin’ Badgers!

Verdict: I assume the great, unwashed masses could not see the inherent value of the goggles, so Bumper wound up another critter in the loser column.

Conker

Conks!Conker is a squirrel in a t-shirt. Nobody is ever going to toss a game to this nobody.

Verdict: Welp, that’s everybody. We’ve got more losers than anything, so it certainly seems that Diddy Kong Racing irresponsibly squandered its mascot powers, and never went anywhere with these also-rans. Hey, you can’t always win the gold.

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

  • System: Nintendo 64 initially, and then a rerelease on Nintendo DS, the system where N64 games went to retire.
  • Number of players: It’s four players, right? It’s a N64 game, so that’s my best guess.
  • Hey, what about T.T. the Clock? That is an imaginary character, and you clearly just made him up.
  • Dirty Cheater: Not unlike Goldeneye, there are a number of cheats “built in” to the game. Some of the cheats impact the random battle items that are earned during races, which is a feature Mario Kart players have been begging for forever. There’s also a cheat that is titled “TOXICOFFENDER”, which turns all balloons green. That is delightful.
  • Raj!Favorite Boss: Wizpig is the Wizard Pig should win on sheer chutzpah alone (when life gives you pork, become a wizard!), but I’m going to choose Bubble the Octopus as my favorite semi-malevolent opponent. He was an angry octopus boss before Mario and squid kids made it mandatory.
  • Did you know? Pipsy is supposedly based on a character from a canceled project named Astro Mouse. The titular Astro Mouse is male, has a space helmet, and seems to have a healthy amount of 90’s ‘tude. He could be the origin of Pipsy, but, seriously, how many different ways can you render a mouse?
  • Would I play again: Maybe, once, for the nostalgia. I’m not playing the game “for real” ever again, but trying out a track or two every once in a while wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Ball FighterZ! Or maybe I just want to play another DBZ game. DBS game? Whatever! What’s important is that Goku is coming to town. Please look forward to it!