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FGC #492 King of Fighters (Franchise)

Sports!If you want to understand the essence of a videogame crossover, you need look no further than King of Fighters ’94.

King of Fighters was initially imagined as a beat ‘em up titled Survivor. The prototype featured characters from The Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury (two established SNK fighting games) battling in teams of three against waves of vaguely anonymous mooks. Given both of the parent games were about burly dudes fighting against criminal gangs, this seemed like a natural progression in both storylines and gameplay. But, presumably because fighting games were really hitting their stride around the early 90s, Survivor the beat ‘em up mutated into King of Fighters the fighting game. The concept of three-man teams survived the transition, and, more importantly, King of Fighters maintained its status as a crossover title involving two popular SNK franchises.

And then things got weird. Two more games were included in the crossover hijinks: Psycho Soldier Starring Athena and Ikari Warriors. And if you’re curious what those games look like…

She's psycho

Pew pew

So what happens when you try to marry that to something like this?

Let's fight

Well, in the end, you wind up with this:

Now we're fightin'

But it might take a moment to get there.

To understand what happened, you have to understand the insane leaps and bounds that happened in gaming in the 80s and 90s. Remember Pac-Man? His debut was released in 1980. Pac-Man could be controlled with zero buttons, one four-way paddle, and a human being that didn’t need to understand anything more than “Pac-Man go wakka wakka”. Pac-Man had no “moves” other than simply moving, and his opponents were four of the same guy in different colored coats. Pac-Man did not jump, duck, dash, or even attack in any way that didn’t just involve steering around a maze. And even when Ms. Pac-Man or Super Pac-Man made the scene, it was still the same basic gameplay that was little more than tracing your finger around a children’s menu placemat. But, from there, we graduated to games where there was shooting, jumping, and the occasional bit of shooting and jumping. Games that started with “Mario go hop” evolved into finding ways that one could attack or otherwise interact with the world through that jumping, and, by as early as the late-80’s, we already needed tutorials and alike to explain exactly what happens when you use a grenade over your basic rifle.

Go idol!So Ikari Warriors, essentially a top-down copy of Contra (… which gets no credit from this blog for being released a year before Contra), was released in the early days of games becoming “complicated”. There were two buttons! You could control a man and a tank! Two players could simultaneously coordinate their attacks and work together! Or compete for powerups! Ikari Warriors was much more complicated than Pac-Man or Space Invaders, but it still wasn’t that complicated. Run ‘n gun is the basic gist of it, and you really don’t need an intricate control scheme to dodge bullets. And, while the setting is very different, Psycho Soldier, released the same year, is a very similar situation. This game is 2-D, and it features school children with psychic powers, but it still boils down to “dodge attacks, shoot bad guys”. In this case, the “complicated bits” involve debating on whether or not to conduct some light demolition when the auto-scroll is bearing down on your idol, and considering the merits of grabbing a powerup that may or may not be erased about seven seconds later by an errant giant beetle. It’s… a weird game. Regardless, in both Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, we’ve got gameplay significantly more complicated than “pizza man stuck in a maze”.

But it ain’t no fighting game.

It is the belief of Gogglebob.com and its subsidiaries that fighting games require the most complicated “controls” of any genre. There are games that, on a whole, are more complicated (looking straight at you, TRPGs), but usually those “complicated” games require a meager “point and click” or “press A on the right menu” interface. Meanwhile, fighting games often have more required action buttons than your average console controller, intricate motions for “specials”, and even more elaborate patterns for those all-important super/hyper/tension moves. This isn’t to say that there aren’t fighting games that eschew those convoluted controls, but most fighting games still trace back to a certain title that included six different fighting buttons that may or may not have produced different results if you were standing or moving.

Stabby stabbyOr, put another way, in 1991, there was a new videogame where a hedgehog could run, jump, crouch, and roll. Also in 1991, there was a new game where a karate champion could walk, block, crouch, defensive crouch, back flip, forward flip, jump, jab, strong punch, fierce punch, short kick, forward kick, roundhouse, jump jab, jump strong punch, jump fierce punch, jump short kick, jump forward kick, jump roundhouse, crouch jab, crouch strong punch, crouch fierce punch, crouch short kick, crouch forward kick, crouch roundhouse, throw a fireball, hurricane kick, and dragon punch. Same year, two very fondly remembered games, but just a smidge of difference between what their two protagonists can do.

So, yes, there’s a little bit of a difference between Psycho Soldier Athena and King of Fighters ’94 Athena.

Athena and Sie Kensou both originated from a side-scrolling action game. Ralf Jones and Clark Still (names changed in America to protect the innocent) originated in a top-down action game (and Heidern, their third teammate, too, but he was mostly just a talking head). The ’94 American Sports Team of Lucky Glauber the basketball player, Brian Battler the football player, and Heavy-D! the boxer were meant to be evocative of their respective sports videogames of the era. How does Madden NFL ’94 gameplay translate to King of Fighters ’94? That’s Brian Battler’s beat! All of these characters from wildly disparate backgrounds and games were smooshed together, granted multiple attacks, special moves, and the occasional power move, and were able to fight on an even keel. King of Fighters ’94 found a way for Psycho Soldier Athena to stand shoulder to shoulder and fist to fist with Terry Bogard.

Lil' dudesAnd what’s important here is that what made these “transplant” characters themselves in the first place is still there. Athena has the ability to toss off magical, psycho power moves. Ralf is towing heavy artillery and fighting in front of his crashed transport. Lucky Glauber can dunk on his opponents in more ways than one. They all have their punches, kicks, and uppercuts like Joe Higashi or Ryo Sakazaki, but they also retain moves and abilities that distinctly evoke their initial appearances. The arena is different, but these fighters with incongruent pasts are still recognizable as evolutions of their original forms. Clark is still Clark.

And, while later King of Fighters titles would not revisit the idea of pulling characters from other genres for some time (the first it returned was in ’99 with Metal Slug’s Fio as a mere striker [assist] character, and then we barely saw it in any other way save for spin-offs or the absolute most recent edition), it set the standard for what videogame crossovers would have to be. A crossover in a movie, novel, or television program doesn’t require completely redesigning the guest star du jour. The Golden Girls can guest star on Teen Titans Go and it doesn’t mean Darkseid can’t appear in the same episode (it happened! Look it up!), but if the cast of Empty Nest (more things to look up!) wants to appear in Super Mario Bros, they better learn to jump over turtles. The Avengers can be the most robust crossover film in history, but that’s because it’s only a movie drawing from other movies. They didn’t have to adapt a single action hero to a fighting game at all, and that makes the whole experience so much easier. Can you imagine trying to figure out a moveset for Wong? And then balancing that against a Wakandian warrior? The mind boggles!

So thank you, King of Fighters, for showing us all what a videogame crossover must be. It’s not about dropping as many ingredients as possible into the broth like in any other medium, it’s about adapting every participant from their contrasting origins to the featured genre. It’s about making a balanced, enjoyable experience that incidentally includes stars from times in gaming that have long been forgotten. It’s about going from this…

I miss that guy

To this…

Let's smash!

So thank you, King of Fighters, for defining the videogame crossover for generations.

FGC #492 King of Fighters (Franchise)

  • System: Started out on the Neo Geo, but eventually migrated to various Playstation models. I’m sure the older versions are available on the Switch, too. So let’s just generically say it’s available wherever videogames are sold.
  • Number of players: Two. It’s a fighting game. It’s two.
  • Wait, wasn’t this article mostly about King of Fighters ’94, and not the whole franchise: Look, I’m not going to review each individual KoF game at this point, and ’95 is mostly the same as ’94 but with some much preferred upgrades, and some of the intervening games… Ugh, it’s already getting complicated. This article is my dedication to the franchise. I don’t want to get into explaining NESTS or why there’s now a idol sporting electric, fake eyeballs, and…. Stop it! This is just about King of Fighters and its impact on gaming at large. The end!
  • Get 'emYou really want to talk about the plot, don’t you? My main problem with the King of Fighters franchise is that, like some other games, what started as a simple crossover story rapidly added a host of original characters with singular motivations that made the entire experience completely impregnable to a player that just happened to be wandering through with a spare quarter or two. Kyo was an interesting addition to the cast that was deliberately built to appeal to the “new generation” (as Terry and Ryo were old men in their 20s by the time of KoF), but there was no way that entire plots needed to hang on his magical blood, fire-boy rivalry, or that time he got cloned for no apparent reason. Even when Kyo isn’t the literal center of the universe, you know you’re just five seconds away from his second cousin’s roommate appearing and declaring the start of “The Iron Blood Saga” or some such thing, and… can we just get a game where Samurai Shodown protagonists fight pachinko heroines?
  • So do you have an explanation for this timeline where characters established as being from the 70s battle the large, adult sons of other combatants? Nope! Moving on.
  • Favorite Character(s): Chang Koehan the giant and Choi Bounge the wee gremlin sporting a spiky hand are my favorite picks across the franchise. They’ve had a few other teammates over the years, so I can’t just say “Korean Team” or “Villains Team”. It’s those two. They’re awesome. They brought a wrecking ball to a fighting game. And apparently they were both originally conceived to add some levity to the initially dour cast of King of Fighters, so, ya know, mission accomplished.
  • Favorite King of Fighters game: In this case, the most recent one is the best one, and that appears to be King of Fighters 14. After 13 was an unimpressive dud, 14 came roaring back with amazing graphics, an excellent “feel”, and more fanservice than I could shake a buster wolf at. My understanding is that this KoF is the start of a new storyline for the franchise, and I eagerly await whatever may be next.
  • You got 'emGoggle Bob Fact: I generally avoided this franchise in my childhood thanks to a Fighting Game Player’s Guide I picked up for Mortal Kombat information that incidentally covered the most recent King of Fighters game, too. The inputs for the KoF fighters looked so insane I didn’t even try the franchise for years for fear of having to properly activate Terry’s overly complicated burning knuckle or whatever. Fatal Fury 3, unfortunately, fell into the same boat. However, I eventually found King of Fighters ’95 on the Playstation (1) for a steal, and then I fell in love with a purple ninja and a boy with a stick. … Not literally. Mostly.
  • Did you know? The only team that did not return between King of Fighters ’94 and ’95 is the American Sports Team. Likely as a reference to this, multiple later games feature members of the team receiving invitations, but then being beaten and losing said invitations to other, newer (and usually more interesting) teams. But they seem to keep reappearing for cameos in other King of Fighter games (and even their spinoffs), so at least they’re still getting work.
  • Would I play again: King of Fighters isn’t my favorite fighting game franchise (or even my favorite crossover fighting game franchise), but it’s still a fun time, so I’ll give some of these titles another go in the near future. Who doesn’t like psycho soldiers fighting regular soldiers?

What’s next? Crossover “Week” (I have really got to figure out a good title for “six articles with one basic premise” situations) continues with a look at a different kind of crossover to hit the arcades. It might not be a Vs. game, but it’s certainly got “Vs” in the title. Please look forward to it!

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

For shovelry!Just the other day, my father walked into my kitchen, and, because I had carelessly left a fresh delivery on my kitchen counter, my dad asked what exactly he was looking at.

“What’s Shovel Knight from?”
“He’s Shovel Knight. From… Shovel Knight.”
“Oh. So is that a movie? Comic book? Comic book movie?”
“Nope, it’s a videogame.”
“Oh. Does he… uh… dig?”

Yes dad, Shovel Knight does dig. And he bounces and battles dragons and saves the love of his life and brings hope to all the people of his homey little hamlet. And he’s been around for six years, and he’s rocketed from nonexistence to possibly the most adaptable character in the last few years of gaming. And, yes, he’s a little golden amiibo that is sitting on my kitchen counter.

And considering that all happened thanks to fan support, focused marketing, and damn good gameplay, it’s hard to believe Shovel Knight’s giant blue helmet isn’t the face of gaming of the last decade.

Now, it’s an easy thing to imagine Shovel Knight sprang into existence in the Spring of 2013 when the official Shovel Knight Kickstarter kicked into high gear. Or, perhaps, you would like to attribute his creation to when Nick Wozniak and his team first pioneered the concept over a lunch “that got too serious”. But to truly understand the origins of Shovel Knight, you have to go back to the late 90’s or so. Back at the turn of the 21st Century, 2-D platforming rapidly went from “is videogames” to “oh God everything that is 2-D is trash, strike it from thine sight”. For reasons that are still mysterious to even our most learned historians (though there is a hypothesis that Gamepro may have been involved), this kind of thinking persisted through many years, causing many a beloved franchise to embrace 3-D or die. Mario 64 was a revelation, Mega Man X7… less so. But the belief that a game could not be 2-D seemed to Shinyhold fast for a decade, and the only place you could find such an experience would be in the Gameboy ghetto of game development. It’s telling that one of the most popular games of 1997 had to retreat to the portable space, while its 3-D rival of the year managed to dominate the console industry for years to come. The message to game producers was clear: you weren’t going to get anywhere with 2-D. And doubly so if you were dropping cutting edge graphics for a “retro” experience. That kind of nonsense best be relegated to some manner of easter egg. No one would every buy a retro platformer.

So it makes perfect sense that Shovel Knight’s initial fundraising goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed, and Yacht Club collected over four times as much funding ($311,502) in less than a month’s time. Shovel Knight’s audience was starved for Shovel Knight-esque content, and, while the yolk of 3-D oppression had been shaken in the years leading to 2013, it was still a time when the prospect of something “like old Capcom games” was going to appeal to a very dedicated subset of nerds. This meant that the whole of Shovel Knight’s “bonus” content was funded before ol’ SK officially touched his first trowel, so a game crammed with amazing content was forthcoming. 14,749 people were ready for some amazing retro action that would be shared with WiiU, 3DS and PC players shortly.

And, from a gameplay perspective, Shovel Knight did not disappoint. Shovel Knight is an excellent platformer that borrows liberally from the entire NES library, but combines all those pieces to be its own exceptional Voltron. Shovel Knight’s downward stab was apparently inspired by Link, but his greatest hopping challenges seem to evoke Ducktales more than anything. And the “arc” of the quest is much more akin to Mega Man, what with clearly defined “gimmick” bosses (Propeller Knight and Gyro Man were separated at birth) and stages that rely wonderfully on their masters’ theming. And maybe that world map is supposed to suggest Super Mario Bros. 3. Or those upgrades are supposed to remind us of Samus Aran’s evolving arsenal. And there were a few items that inched closer to modern sensibilities, like the collectables that advanced replay value (often hidden in accompanying “challenge” areas), or the death system that was a lot closer to Dark Souls than Darkwing Duck. But wherever the inspirations originated, Shovel Knight combined all of its pieces to be an extraordinary experience. Join the clubAnd it didn’t hurt to see a cast of memorable characters fighting through an unforgettable tale of loss and tragedy (and eventual triumph). Wrap this all up with a host of modern “achievements”, and Shovel Knight was one of the finest games of 2014.

But it wasn’t anywhere near done.

Shovel Knight was everything anyone could want from a retro platformer, but it wasn’t the complete game that had been funded a year earlier. All of those bonus bells and whistles would gradually dribble out over the following months and years. Things like Gender/Body Swap mode was little more than a (staggering and inclusive) skin for our heroes and villains, but Plague of Shadows was practically an entirely different game labeled as merely an “expansion”. The adventure, now featuring the morally gray Plague Knight, was a whole new way to play through familiar levels, and featured an added “town area” and a few other extras (peculiarly powered by washing machines) to boot. This was released alongside a number of quick challenges for Shovel Knight, and, coupled with some new console exclusives (and, uh, additional console releases, too) like challenges from Kratos and The Battletoads, it was clear that Shovel Knight’s additional content wasn’t going to be some hastily manufactured DLC.

And let me tell you, about a year and a half later, just in time for the release of the Switch, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment proved Shovel Knight “DLC” was going to be a lot more than a meager expansion.

Spin it!Plague of Shadows was an all-new story with an all-new character (well, all-new for control purposes), but it still saw its hero (“hero”) venture through (most of) the same levels as Shovel Knight. The new play style radically altered your options for traversal, but it was still just a game starring Luigi instead of Mario (well, Super Mario Bros. 2 Luigi, at least). Specter of Torment reused those same levels, but modified them to the point they are barely recognizable. And that’s a good thing! Specter Knight possessed his own moveset, and, rather than mere rehashes, all of his stages were modified to be challenging for that specific moveset. This made Specter of Torment a complete sequel to Shovel Knight! Well… that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it’s more akin to a romhack? Or, like the NES games Shovel Knight so adores, it’s an “old school” sequel. Almost all the same assets, but rearranged so completely as to be practically unrecognizable. A shining example of the proper way to recycle pixels.

And, oh yeah, Specter Knight is a blast to play as. He’s the Zero to Shovel Knight’s Mega Man (or… uh… Scrooge McDuck?), and really feels like he belongs in an entirely different game. Which is appropriate, as his “entirely different game” seems to only reuse the general aesthetics of its prequel/sequel. The world of Specter Knight goes to some very unexpected places (like the origins of Shovel Knight’s best gal pal), and eschews some gameplay conventions (like the world map) while picking up all new challenges (like an endless tower of pain)(and grinding! Like Sonic!). It’s still unmistakably Shovel Knight, but it’s a whole new experience through and through.

SPIN FOR YOUR LIFEAnd then, in 2019, they did the same thing again with King Knight and Shovel Knight: King of Cards. Give or take one extremely subjective card game (I hate all card games [even that one], but my understanding is that some weirdos can enjoy such a thing), King Knight’s adventure is another slam dunk. The general tone (and lighting) seems closer to its OG Shovel Knight origins, but Kingy’s quest to be king of at least something features dramatically shorter levels and more bite-sized challenges than any of the other campaigns. And that’s a refreshing change of pace that additionally gives some of the gimmicks of the previous tetralogy some room to breathe. Green goo and a bouncy-butted beetle finally get a showcase in their own, complete level! Considering the number one complaint anyone ever leveled against Shovel Knight was that its stages were too long (which, seriously, you gonna complain about there being too much game to play? Philistines), King Knight’s King of Cards is a sequel to Shovel Knight that listened to its greatest detractors. Yacht Club learned something!

And then, to top it all off, Shovel Knight dropped its own version of Smash Bros. You can control every knight! And make ‘em fight! And most of the significant NPCs are PCs now, too. So, finally, you can see who would hold ultimate victory in a battle between Mona, Baz, Mole Knight, and those purple goo monsters from the final tower. And, for being an 8-bit redux inspired by a game that originally appeared on 64-bit hardware, it’s pretty damn impressive. It can get a little confusing when you’re trying to find your sprite against similar colored backgrounds (or against similar-colored enemies), but the designs of the Shovel Knight cast compensate for a lot, so you can usually tell the difference between a Shovel Knight and a Black Knight. And if you can’t? Well, just go ahead and have fun with it. This is an 8-bit platformer fighting game, after all. It’s supposed to be about as chaotic as a bucket full of enemy crabs.

Get up thereSo that’s 3.5 games, right? We’ve got Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows as two pretty similar experiences, but Specter of Torment, King of Cards, and Shovel Knight Showdown are all as different as Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Showdown is practically an entirely different genre. I’m going to call that a total of 3.5 games that all fall under the Shovel Knight umbrella.

And it all came from one Kickstarter.

And if you bought the initial Shovel Knight at launch, the whole package cost a measly twenty bucks. You’re actually rewarded for being an early adopter.

Shovel Knight is a game that seemed to last a decade with its various expansions, but, more than that, it is a shining example of what was possible for a few brief years in the 2010s. Kickstarter was an extremely popular platform earlier in the decade, and, while it produced many excellent games and projects, it is primarily recounted now by any number of fans who wound up burned by creators who had the collective managerial skills of a hamster (and not that hamster with the hardhat). Kickstarter and alike is now seen more as a generally reliable healthcare plan than a platform that might create the next game you’ll play for five years. But in the last decade, it was responsible for Shovel Knight. And the triumph of Shovel Knight paved the way for oodles of retro platformer titles. Was every retro game good? No, of course not. But they never would have seen the light of day without Shovel Knight blazing a trail. And, while this trend is likely coming to its close, the current digital marketplace does speak to Shovel Knight’s success.

And, as appropriate for a knight that came from the crowds, he has now returned to the crowds as the most cameoed newcomer of the decade:

Smash it Good!
Slash it Good!
Bonk it good

Not bad for a dude that didn’t exist when the decade started.

Shovel Knight is the 2010s distilled down to its purest, more hopeful form. It is an experience that could only come from one time in gaming’s history. And it’s a damn fine game to boot.

2010: The decade of Shovelry.

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

  • System: Whaddya got? Nintendo 3DS, WiiU, and PC to start, but eventually shovelry spread to the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and the Amazon Fire TV (for some reason).
  • Look away!Number of Players: 2-Players was eventually patched in (with or without amiibo), and Shovel Knight Showdown is 4 players simultaneous. But most people think about the single player campaign, because Shovel Knight appeals to lonely, insomniac nerds.
  • Just play the gig, man: Did I mention the music was amazing? Because it is. Jake Kaufman seems to be responsible for the majority of amazing American soundtracks for the decade, and the addition of one of Mega Man’s composers is just the perfect addition. The fact that every song gets a little in-game director’s commentary is pretty boss, too.
  • Favorite System: Shovel Knight appeared across multiple platforms, but the 3DS version still might be the best. It has 3-D and the ability to quickly switch between items (or whatever they’re called in the version du jour). Battletoads are no substitute for being able to avoid a pause menu.
  • Lucasian Problems: Kudos to Shovel Knight’s team for not returning to Shovel of Hope with every update to “backdate” changes from later expansions. It would be the easiest thing in the world to sneak in “remake” NPCs that allude to what happens in other knights’ adventures (or, hell, advertise those experiences), but Shovel of Hope remains unmolested and devoid of unnecessary changes. Thank you for the restraint.
  • Favorite Character: Percy the Horse Scholar. I will not be accepting questions at this time.
  • Go Toads!Amiibo Corner: Naturally, I preordered the Order of No Quarter amiibos when they were first announced. That was in the fall of 2017. They were released in December of 2019. That might be the longest preorder for a videogame-related item I’ve ever maintained. Good thing I still care about collecting every damn amiibo in existence!
  • Say something mean: Propeller Knight’s stage is the worst in every version/adventure. This isn’t because of the frequent bottomless pits (though, admittedly, that do not help); it’s the auto scrolling areas, and spots that may as well be auto scrolling because you need to wait for a cannonball or wind gust. I hate waiting! I want to run! Don’t hold me down, Propeller Knight!
  • Did you know? Shovel Knight is almost a NES game… though it does include three additional audio channels and four extra colors not available to original Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. There are some other “tweaks” here and there, too, but what’s important is that the screen shakes during explosions unmistakably like in an old school game.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. This is the cream of the crop for 2-D platformers, and I love me some 2-D platformers. Long may his shovel reign!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Sword for the Nintendo Switch! … Yeah… that was a totally random choice, and not the result of me putting a hundred hours into the thing over the last few months… Yeeeep! Gonna be a totally randomly chosen modern game next week! Please look forward to it!

Shake it

Year in Review: 2019

Disappointment of the Year: Super Mario Maker 2

It's a-me!Said it before, and I’ll say it again: disappointment of the year does not under any circumstances mean that a game is bad. In fact, in this situation, I am talking about a game that is extremely good. I played a lot of Super Mario Maker 2 when it was initially released, as its new “story mode” and Nintendo officially created nonsense was like sweet honey to the bee that is me. However, after earning all the new doodads and slopes and blocks I could ever ask for, I fell off Super Mario Maker 2 hard. Maybe the “amateur” Mario Maker stages designed by others didn’t compare to the official challenges. Maybe all the Super Hard Mode level creators had already cut their teeth on the previous Mario Maker, and the toughest of the toughies were just too tough from literally day one. Or maybe it was a simple matter of I had already created all the Mario stages I ever wanted to create with the previous Mario Maker, and adding an angry sun or floating goomba wasn’t going to make enough of a difference in my design philosophies. Whatever the case, I lost interest in Mario Maker 2 within about a month of its release, and never really got on that horse again. And that sucks! I played the original Mario Maker for literally years! … And maybe that’s all the problem there needs to be. I was already burned out on Mario Maker 2 thanks to its obvious similarities to its forbearer, and, here I sit, mad at a videogame that dared to be exactly what I wanted. Actually, I’m not mad, just… disappointed.

Reason to not let me out of the house for the Year: Pokémon Go Trips

Let's a-go art!This will surprise absolutely no one, but I’m still playing Pokémon Go. There’s no sin in playing a fun little videogame that requires very little effort and can be fired up while walking around the neighborhood or standing in line at the theatre (that is, incidentally, a pokémon gym). However, I’m starting to think there might be an issue when you travel hundreds of miles to catch unique Pokémon in officially Niantic-sponsored events. 2019 was the year I drove to Canada and Washington DC to pick up a Tropius and Relincanth (respectively), and flew to Chicago (all things go, all things go) to earn a Pachirisu. I do not regret these trips, as it was a fine excuse to see new and exciting locales (and catch Pokémon), but I’m somehow officially at the point in my life where I’m planning vacations around a videogame. And there’s likely going to be a trip to Germany in 2020, so it’s clear I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house or anywhere near a plane.

Compilation of the Year: Castlevania Anniversary Collection

Castle!There’s usually a rerelease of Mega Man in this slot, but I can’t say no to Simon Belmont once in a while (and maybe, one year, there will be a Kid Icarus collection to laud, Captain N). This compilation couldn’t go too wrong, as it already includes at least three of my favorite games (Castlevania 2, Super Castlevania IV, and the venerable Castlevania 3), but it goes the extra mile by preserving Castlevania: Bloodlines for generations that maybe don’t have a Sega Genesis hiding in the crevasses of their entertainment center. And there’s Kid Dracula, a game never released in the states (mostly, as the Gameboy port is pretty damn similar). Couple this all with the Japanese version of Castlevania 3 (and the other games, I guess), and we’ve got an amazing collection of remarkable games with enough bells and whistles to make it interesting for the people that have already memorized Death’s every pattern. And I, let me assure you, am a man familiar with Death.

Remake of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Froggy!I feel like I already spoke of this game in great detail a few weeks back, but just to reiterate: if ever a game needed a remake, it was Link’s Awakening. The original LA is amazing, but its cramped and humble origins are simultaneously its greatest strength and most glaring weakness. The small, tight dungeons of LA are astounding… but it sure would be nice if you could dash, jump, and slash all without having to open a pause menu. The LA remake went ahead and saved the precise dimensions of the original world, but granted it a refreshing coat of paint and a control scheme that can finally control all of Link’s abilities. And the addition of a weird dungeon/puzzle mode that is safely segregated off in the optional section is welcome, too. Marin’s return may be bittersweet, but everything else about Link’s Awakening for the Switch is right on target.

Title of the Year: SaGa: Scarlet Grace

25 years of waiting, and they still can’t come up with a title that makes a damn lick of sense. Oh well, not like anyone would have been enticed by a more accurately localized title like Impregnable JRPG: Anniversary Edition.

DLC of the Year: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Smash it!First of all, fun fact, if I had gotten off my duff and written this “year in a review” for 2018, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate would have won game of the year. It may have only been released in December, but, man, what a December of only playing one game over and over again because, dang, here’s everything I ever wanted from a videogame. But it’s not 2018 anymore! Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is old news, and now we’re all expected to move on with our Bloodstaineds and Pokémon Shields and whatever. But, luckily, every one of the four DLC packs that have been released for Smash Bros. has been an event unto itself, and I anxiously await future Nintendo Directs informing me of new spirit challenges, stages, and fighters. Sure, Anime High School BoyWW #10 Persona 5 or That Hat Dude might not be my first choice, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer level of excitement that accompanies each new release. Literally every other fighting game (or “fighting game”) could learn a thing or two from this hype train.

System of the Year: Nintendo Switch

Switch it upCan I just link to my reasoning for this from 2017? The Nintendo Switch feels like a big-boy system like its console brethren, but it is also portable as hell. How portable? I can play the latest Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Pokémon, and Super Mario titles all on one system without switching a game disc (cartridge, whatever). I can play entire retro compilations of Mega Man, Mega Man X, Castlevania, Contra, and, now for some reason, Breath of Fire. And, on top of it all, now we’ve got Super Metroid. It literally has it all! Except Chrono Trigger! Somebody work on that!

Game of the Year: Kingdom Hearts 3

Okay, I haven’t really talked about this much at all, but here’s the history of the last two years or so of the site.

Have a heartSince the site’s inception, I was very consistently updating the FGC three times a week. This was doable because, as of about two months in, I would write one or two articles a week, but then I would throw in the occasionally “easy” article (like something that was mainly picture based or involved a videogame I could blather on about for literally years), and, Bob’s your uncle, I had a significant backlog and “collection” of articles ready to go. This came to a close around March/April of 2018, when some professional and social opportunities started popping up at the same time, and I simply didn’t have a second to, on top of everything else, slice up screenshots and write about three videogames a week. My backlog of available articles diminished, and, eventually, I just plain had to take a break to figure out my new normal. I returned to one article a week in October… but I fell off that trolley again in December when the previously mentioned Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was released. I literally did not want to play or think about any other videogames, thank you. Please have a nice day.

But the site has returned to one article a week stability since April. Why? Well, it’s mostly thanks to Kingdom Hearts 3.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is, as the franchise has always been, bonkers. It is balls to the wall crazy. It is a story that hangs its “to be continued” on a random dude from the mobile game that is, incidentally, wearing a unicorn mask. A jerk that has died three times over the course of the franchise is somehow revealed to be another, different immortal than the cyclopean immortal that has been skulking around for the last six games. There’s a kid that wields a key like an axe even though that iconography has been moot since the first adventure. It is crazy.

And it’s my kind of crazy.

Double tech!And even more than that, it’s messy. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate might be a perfect game, but I can’t shake the feeling that that is entirely by some kind of insidious design. SSBU operates almost exactly like a free-to-play mobile game: there is a steady drip of content and rewards that keeps you playing just when you think it’s time to put down the controller. And, while SSBU isn’t selling you anything in particular (other than a season pass), it’s very easy to believe that this was meticulously designed to keep the player playing through every spirit and challenge block. Kingdom Hearts 3? There’s a game where, for reasons that will forever elude me, your hero stands around and watches the most famous three minutes from Disney’s most famous recent release, and literally nothing of any consequence happens. Did you want to watch your hero react to a Frozen music video? Of course you didn’t. No one did. But here it is, it’s happening, so sit back and watch, because it’s not like you can quit in the middle of a cutscene.

And that kind of nonsense? That’s something I can work with.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is a glorious mess, and that’s something I enjoy writing about. That’s something that gets me thinking about other unreasonable messes, like the current state of copyright law. That’s the kind of thing that inspires a series of articles about forgotten games. To put it simply, that’s the kind of thing that inspires me.

Raiden is pissedAnd then Mortal Kombat 11 was released, and, man, now I’m spoiled for splendid jumbles.

So it very much was not the “best” game of the year, but Kingdom Hearts 3 basically inspired me… nay… required me to write about videogames again. Beat that, Sekiro.

Games I’m sure are great, but I haven’t played: Too many to count

I just want to use this space to note that the odds of me ever playing Death Stranding are very, very low. Every review I’ve read seems to shout “you will not enjoy this”, and I’m just going to go with my gut on this one. I have a hard enough time carrying my groceries in real life!

Gogglebob.com Introspection 2019

I’m pretty sure I covered that in the previous paragraph. What’s important is that I still plan on doing 550 or so FGC entries, and we’re currently about a hundred shy of that goal. At one a week, we should be wrapping this all up in two years. That sounds pretty alright to me. Let’s see what 2020 will bring!

Oh, and here are some favorite articles from the year:

And that’s just a random smattering of what I enjoyed writing (and reading). What are your favorites? Gimme an answer (MMM, I am speaking directly to my only commentator).

What’s next? Just in time for 2020, the next two games are going to be my games for the decade. They’ve earned this station for two totally different reasons, but, for me, they encapsulate the last ten years of gaming. What are they? Well, guess you’ll find out. As ever, please look forward it!

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWLet’s talk about stones, and how much blood you can get out of them.

It all started back on the Super Famicom with Shin Megami Tensei. The SMT series was, at its core, a JRPG about playing Pokémon while the forces of Order and Chaos battled for the very soul of humanity. It was philosophical. It was deep. It was banned in the West, because Satan may or may not have made an appearance. And it kicked off an entire franchise of titles based on the simple dichotomy of order and chaos and a general need for humanity to steer penis monsters riding chariots. SMT wound up a success for Atlus, which spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, the most popular (eventually) being Jack Bros. Persona.

The Persona series started as, essentially, a slightly less apocalyptic version of SMT. Yes, there are demons, angels, and the occasional Hitler running around, but they’re all operating on the fringes of society, and not outwardly participating in the end of the world. It was basically the Harry Potter to Shin Megami Tensei’s Lord of the Rings. Many of the SMT trappings were still all over the titles, though, and no one was going to mistake Persona for an entirely independent franchise. Then we hit Persona 3, and things started to… mutate.

Persona 3 features demons, monsters, and a particularly homicidal version of Jungian psychology. It is also Day Planner: The Game. Persona 3 has frequently been referred to as “Japanese high school simulator”, but, even more than that, it is a game about balancing your (avatar’s) life. Do you go out tonight (and fight monsters), or do you stay home and study for that test tomorrow? Are you going to spend the afternoon hanging out with your girlfriend, or your best friend? The nerds dance, tooAnd would you like to spend time with the kindly old couple that is obsessed with a tree (?), or is it time to while away the afternoon playing a MMORPG where your homeroom teacher is inexplicably hitting on you? Decisions, decisions! Persona 3 isn’t only about choosing your battle tactics, it’s also about choosing your friends, afternoon plans, and how you combine trading cards into demons that may or may not summon the apocalypse.

Persona 3 wound up becoming a pretty noteworthy hit. While there are a number of potential reasons for the success of the title, one significant factor is likely that you, the all-important player, so fully inhabit the life of this protagonist. In making practically every decision for this “hero” for one year of game life and about seventy hours of real life, it is rather inevitable that an audience would grow overly attached to their individually curated protagonist. And what happens the moment the main character is separated from the player? (Spoilers for a thirteen year old game incoming!) He dies! The protag literally cannot live without you!

The death of Persona 3’s hero is substantial for a number of reasons. The most obvious, of course, is how Persona 3 is all about death. Death, dealing with death, and the broad knowledge that one day you too will die are all general themes that pop up again and again in this title where you can also summon Thor to cast a lightning spell. But beyond that, there is the simple explanation that this is a focused, self-contained story that starts when a strange boy enters a strange city, and ends after that man has made meaningful relationships with people that will live on after his adventure and life have concluded. Persona 3, whether by thematic or simple writing convenience, is meant to be a wholly contained, limited story about the significant, last year of a teenager’s life. Persona 3 is not a story that is meant to go beyond its own borders. Persona 3 is a deliberately claustrophobic tale that is enhanced by its own limits.

And then, naturally, we had Persona 4. And it was a success. So we saw Persona 4 Super. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game. And Persona 4: The Fighting Game Turbo. And Persona 4: The Animation. And Persona 4: The Rhythm Game. By about the time we got to Persona 4: The Rogue-Like, a certain pattern had emerged: the enormously successful Persona 4 was, perhaps from its inception, built to be less a self-contained story, and more a franchise unto itself.

And then Persona 5 finally emerged. Persona 5’s fame may have peaked with this…

It's a whole new game

But we are also talking about a protagonist that practically launched alongside his own canon fursona…

Sonic Heeeeeroes

So it is pretty safe to say that Persona 5 was designed with a slightly different goal than the title that “started” the (most profitable version of the) franchise. Shin Megami Tensei gave way to SMT: Persona that gave way to a series that was simply known as Persona, and now it appears that individual Persona titles are attempting to be franchises unto themselves. Please look forward to Persona 5: The Shoot ‘Em Up.

And here’s Persona 5: The Rhythm Game right next to its simultaneous release of Persona 3: The Rhythm Game.

And, honestly? These twins seem to prove that both titles are equally lacking in meat on their respective bones.

SO BLUELet’s cover the good first: the soundtracks of both Persona 3 and Persona 5 are amazing, and an entire game based on their respective OSTs is incontrovertibly a good thing. Any excuse to listen to some of the iconic tracks from either series is a welcome pretext to press buttons along to the beat, and we’ve got an excellent GUI on our hands here, too. Some rhythm games can get a little confusing with their various “press this now” prompts, but there is no such screen muddling here. And you’re not expected to free-style for extra points, either. The game portion of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is excellent, and a fine way to re-experience one of the best parts of both “origin” titles.

But it couldn’t just be a simple rhythm game. No, the Persona series seems to demand that every spin-off be somehow “canon”, so there is a full introductory scene that explains exactly why the casts of both games now must dance. It’s all a dream! Orchestrated by dueling sisters! There are no consequences for losing! There are no consequences for anything! But we’ll be damned if we let one Persona title pass without a novel’s worth of words that amount to absolutely nothing. It’s not nearly as egregious as Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story mode (which, reminder, was an entire visual novel’s worth of dialogue and twists and turns that only amounted to “believe in yourself”), but, if you want to play the full game (and why wouldn’t you want the full experience available to you?), you must participate in “social link”-esque dialogues with various party members. Ever wanted to learn exactly what Mitsuru thinks about dancing? No? Well, too bad! It’s the only way to complete this escapade!

But the twin release of dance parties for Persona 3 and Persona 5 conveys a very telling tale: both supporting casts are boring as hell.

VIDEO TIMEOkay, that might be a bit harsh. And, frankly, it even feels wrong. In the case of Persona 3, I finished the title, and immediately wanted to dive back into a New Game+ just to revisit all my old friends at Magical Dungeon High School. Similarly, Persona 5 had an unforgettable cast to the point that its fans could talk for hours about how some characters are violently underserved by their forced interactions with other (likely misogynistic) characters. In both cases, it seems like there’s a reason people would want to see the entire cast pop up again in new spin-off titles… or at least hang around in the background of a Smash stage. I liked Futaba! I could deal with more of her!

But the writing for this rhythm game (that may or may not simply be a way to further capitalize on an unforgettable soundtrack) truly underserves these casts. They are left as simple caricatures of themselves, and certain characters blend together across titles into one indistinguishable blob of archetypes (Ryuji and Junpei are the same guy, apparently). What’s the difference between the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 3’s team and the cold, calculating, but ultimately caring woman on Persona 5’s team? Ostensibly, not much!

The worst teamAnd this seems significant, as the cast of Persona 3 was only really meant for one (albeit long) adventure, while it is obvious that Persona 5 meant for its Phantom Thieves to go on and steal the show in other franchises and Persona byproducts. Joker is going to stop by Sonic World and the Mushroom Kingdom, but is he any more developed than Jack Frost? Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight seems to indicate that he’s not. He’s just as remarkable as the other cypher that didn’t even survive his maiden adventure.

In the end, the support conversations of P5: Dancing with the Stars and P3: Dancing with the Doomed -the entire plot of both “adventures”- prove one thing: there isn’t much difference between Persona casts. And, considering one gang was meant for bigger and better things, that is rather demoralizing. Persona 5 was built to be the Big Mac to Persona 3’s Dollar Menu cheeseburger, but, once you’ve got your order, it turns out they’re both little more than a chicken nugget.

Just remember this moral when we hit Persona 5: Shin Arena Diving Space Tractor 2 Turbo. The Persona 5 well is already feeling a might dry…

FGC #440 Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight & Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

  • System: Playstation 4 and… Playstation Vita? Really? Are you… sure?
  • Number of players: I’ll be dancing with myself.
  • Two Games? Let’s face it: the separation of these games into two different versions is a pretty obvious cash-grab. Persona fans are suckers, and pretty much every brand manager involved is well aware that those losers were always going to buy Persona: Dancing Red and Persona: Dancing Blue. And they’ll buy the special edition, too, because it comes with a plushie or something. And that plushie is still sitting on my desk as I type this. Damn fans.
  • The best teamYou’re complaining about the plot of a rhythm game? It’s not about the plot per se, it’s about that someone had the idea to make this a cool “hang out” game featuring both casts… and the “hanging out” seems less fun and more like a job required to earn a new hat. If I’m interpreting having a conversation with Ann as a boring slog now, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen in another seven spin-offs.
  • Favorite Track: Rivers in the Desert is severely underappreciated. Then again, Persona 5 has an amazing soundtrack all on its own, so there is some steep competition.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Most of the songs are accompanied by random characters bopping around to the rhythm, but two tracks per cast are dedicated music videos featuring either the boys or the girls. In general, one is kind of goofy and silly, and the other is sexy and sultry, complete with costumes and swimsuits. Want to guess which gender gets assigned to sexy times?
  • Did you know? There’s probably a universe where someone decided to model all the social links for dancing, but Dr. Tae Takemi still refuses to get out of her chair.
  • Would I play again: This (these?) title holds up as a great rhythm game, so I’m probably going to revisit some tracks in the near future. Unfortunately, I’m never going to touch the “plot” ever again. I have better things to do. And these Phantom Thieves should, too…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Startropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge! Oh no! Zoda is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Yuck
This is just… awkward.