Tag Archives: spooky

FGC #286 Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

BROSIt’s a common practice among nerds to attempt to uncover the “jump the shark” moment in a particular piece of media. As the theory goes, when a franchise has gone downhill in quality over time, you should be able to look back at previous chapters/episodes/editions, and find the exact moment everything started to decline. This expression originates from the show Happy Days, wherein The Fonz jumped his motorcycle over progressively more frightening sea animals, until it all culminated with a shark. And I guess the shark sued the production company for mental duress, and then the writer’s budget ran out, and the show got worse… or… something like that. Personally, I’ve never cottoned to the idea that there even are “jump the shark” moments, as I have faith that everything is connected, and nothing occurs in a vacuum. For a current example, I completely believe that American Politics 2017 is the direct result not of “but her emails” or anything like that, but a healthy combination of fifty years of politics being treated like a football game and a young Donald Trump getting his head slammed into a locker far too many times in high school. Our world, and our entertainment that reflects our world, is just the latest stop on a never-ending highway, and every shark along the way is just as important as every… not-shark? What’s the opposite of a shark? Bees?

But, beliefs aside, there are occasions when I need to admit I’m wrong, and maybe there is an exact moment when everything goes to hell. For the Sonic Franchise, it’s right about here:

This guy

Now, I want to be clear about why Shadow the Hedgehog is terrible. First of all, it’s not because he’s a lazy color swap of Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s not a color swap! He clearly has different shoes and he’s got frosted (blazed?) tips on his hair spikes. That makes him a totally original character, so do not steal. And, secondly, I don’t hate Shadow because he theoretically gave rise to the Sonic fandom’s bizarre obsession with slightly recoloring Sonic, calling it something like “Twilight the Hedgehog”, and then filling an entire Deviantart with hastily sketched nonsense depicting Twilight saving Sonic and being the ultimate best hedgehog forever before appearing in some barefoot-based fetish porn. I can’t blame Shadow for all of that, because, let’s face it, that was always going to happen. There are an equal number of ersatz Princess Peaches out there doing… stuff… and you know it. Shadow might be the start of everything wrong with Hedgehog Fandom (what an odd thing to type), but that’s not why he’s the forbearer of bad Sonic times.

No, Shadow’s worst transgressions are the result of his debut game, Sonic Adventure 2.

Hit a homerSonic Adventure 2 has a loose theme about good and evil. This is appropriate, as SA2 is an unholy abomination created by soldering a good game and bad game together. On one hand, we’ve got probably the best Sonic the Hedgehog 3-D gameplay ever seen. It is not by any means perfect, but, once you master the intricacies of some horrible hitboxes, you really do feel like you’re rolling around at the speed of sound. Clearing a level without stopping and just creating a blue blur of spin dashing, homing dashing, and light speed ring collection feels amazing, and that general rollercoaster feeling hasn’t been matched by any later Sonic games. On the other hand, this is the game that introduced Sonic to rail-grinding, and that has never been fun. Those stupid rails effectively turn great swaths of levels (including the final, real Sonic stage) into minecart challenges, and… no, just no. Basically, every moment a hedgehog is on-screen, it’s guaranteed that you’re either really enjoying it or participating in some manner of hell.

Which brings us to the other fun bit: you’re not guaranteed any hedgehog time from level to level. Sometimes you’re Tails, who has eschewed his normal wannabe Sonic gameplay for something more like the shooting bits of Sonic Adventure. And that’s not bad! The “robo sections” of SA were exciting in their chaos, and nothing much has changed between games, save eliminating the time limits that could make those areas stressful. And Nibbles is back in his SA role of finding emerald shards for the flimsiest of reasons, but that’s just SA’s excuse for more exploratory, less dash-y gameplay. It’s not what one signs up for with a Sonic game, but, for its epoch, it was an entertaining distraction. Though, I suppose, that is the issue, as, in order to play the Sonic game you inexorably wanted (there were two hedgehogs on the cover of this game, it should have to go fast!), you have to clear all the Tails/Nurples nonsense, which means slowing down to their levels. Boo slowdown!

But we still have the bad guy side. Dr. Robotnik is clearly the big bad of the Sonic franchise, so he’s obviously the leader of Team Bad. And, yes, he plays exactly like robo-Tails, so that kind of makes sense. But… aside from an army of generic robots, now we’re out of antagonists for the franchise. Sonic doesn’t even have a Tatanga or Wart, so I guess we need to get a Wario and Waluigi in here. Rogue the Bat was introduced as one part Catwoman and one part… No, she’s pretty much just a furry Catwoman, complete with the shifting alliances and a weird inclination toward being attracted to her oblivious rival. And then we’ve got Shadow, the escaped science experiment and preposterous dark hedgehog.

NOBODY LIKES YOUAnd Shadow… kind of works.

So he’s a cryogenically frozen hedgehog from two generations back? Sure, okay. I mean, there were already two games’ worth of echidna murals depicting a hedgehog saving the world, so it’s only natural that Grandpappy Robotnik would make his “ultimate life form” a hedgehog. Grease the wheels of prophecy whenever you get a chance, ya know? And he can pull off some magical teleporting abilities with the aid of a Chaos Emerald. That makes sense, too. I mean, Sonic and Knux are confirmed idiots, and Tails is pretty laser focused on machines, so it stands to reason there was more to those silly gems than going super saiyan. And Shadow has a bad attitude? Is that a problem? I mean, Sonic is the original animal with attitude (as far as videogames go, at least), and he’s only lost his edge over the years thanks to a decade of being merchandized by Urkel. Shadow the Edgelord is just a return to established hedgehog roots.

But the reason Shadow really works on an intrinsic level is that he is the core of the game’s plot. He was built by Grandpa Gerald to be the ultimate life form powered by Chaos Emeralds, and, by the end of the game, we’ll find that Gerald built his own Death Star and mecha-dinosaur, and it was all an insidious plot to destroy the world, and who will save us now!? Don’t worry, citizens, Shadow is here, and he’s equipped with the knowledge of the past and the support of Sad Auntie Eggwoman, and everything is going to be okay! Shadow will, at the final hour, sacrifice himself for the good of humanity, and, see? Team Bad Guy was actually Team Pretty Okay Guy all along.

WeeeeeAnd everyone knew that plot would work, because it’s the exact same plot as the last Sonic Adventure game. Shadow is basically SA’s Tikal, the ancient model swap of Noodles the Echidna that wound up wrapped up in an ancient weapon that threatens to destroy humanity and only focused caring will save us all. Except Tikal was not a hedgehog, so she was a lot more mopey than radical, and she never made it past her debut game (save a cameo or two). Shadow, meanwhile… well… Are there any games post SA2 that haven’t involved Shadow? Was he in Sonic 4? I want to say he at least got a cameo…

And that’s Shadow’s biggest problem: he just won’t go away. Shadow had a perfect little plot in Sonic Adventure 2, and, by the finale, it’s time for him to heroically perish, the end, thanks for coming by, Shadow. But, no, Shadow came back in the very next Sonic game, and he kept coming back after that. He even got his own game! It was confusing! And why did this keep happening? Was it because he was just that popular? The fans demanded it? Is it because it’s so simple to implement the Luigi to Sonic’s Mario? Does Sonic Team just want more gosh darn cussin’? Who can really provide the actual answer? I sure don’t know, but it is clear that Shadow the Hedgehog is here to stay.

The best characterAnd it’s that damn hedgehog that flushed the series. It’s not about him having too much attitude or using a gun or whatever other sins Shadow has committed; it’s about the keepers of Sonic looking at this singular, silly, dead character, and deciding to revive him because he should somehow be essential to the Hedgehog Universe. That makes Shadow the representative of the exact moment this franchise stopped being about blast processing, and more about the greater Chaos Emerald Mythology…. And Sonic got left by the wayside. It took over a decade after Shadow’s debut for Sonic and Sonic Gameplay to take center stage again, but, by that time, the damage was already done. We were cursed to live in a world where the word “werehedgehog” exists, and it all started with Shadow.

Shadow the Hedgehog, you were born the exact moment your species jumped the shark.

FGC #286 Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

  • System: Well, “Battle” technically appeared on the Gamecube (and was the first time Sonic starred in a game on a Nintendo home console… I think), but the original Sonic Adventure 2 first appeared on the Dreamcast. It was also then rereleased on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Hedgehogs get around.
  • Number of players: There’s a two player “battle mode”, and it’s theoretically more robust on all post-Dreamcast releases. Except… there isn’t much of a difference. You can play as additional characters!… that were all in the original, but had to be unlocked first. And there are new costumes? Who cares.
  • PUMPKIN HILL, YOJust play the gig, man: This is the best music in the Sonic in the franchise. I’m not kidding. At all. The original games have fun music, but I find myself humming other Genesis tunes a lot more often. And the latter games have ridiculous lyric/guitar songs, but they’ve gotten progressively more… I think “trendy” is the right word. But for Sonic Adventure 2? Oh man, they totally got the sweet spot on something that will be in your head all day and is completely incomprehensible. That’s exactly what I look for in a Dreamcast soundtrack.
  • I am an addict: Let me tell you about how I was glued to a Dreamcast VMU for a solid two months thanks to the damn Chao Garden minigame. Actually, no, I’m not going to tell you about that, because I’m pretty sure it ends with my friends flattening that VMU for my own safety.
  • Favorite Character: I mentioned it briefly in the article proper, but I really do enjoy the Tails/Eggman sections of the game. And, of the two, I kind of enjoy playing as Eggman more. He’s just so happy about winning for once!
  • Did you know? There is also a lame racing game hiding in Sonic Adventure. It is… so terrible.
  • Would I play again: Every once in a while, I get a hankering to play City Escape or… whatever stage it is where Shadow is on the bridge. City… Hazard? Something like that. But other than that, I rarely revisit this game, as I generally prefer the good ol’ days of 2-D.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pac-Man for the Gameboy! Yellow Man becomes Gray Man! Please look forward to it!

Master Emerald?  Get it?
Should we be seeing this?

FGC #285 Mortal Kombat (2011)

FIGHTEverybody wants a do-over.

It’s a pretty standard part of the human experience to wind up with a crushing number of regrets by the age of… oh, let’s say… five? I’m pretty sure my life would be a lot better if my mother had never thrown out my old bunny doll. Yes… that would have made all the difference. Regardless of past traumas, regret is an integral part of being alive, so it’s no surprise that a lot of media has been dedicated to the concept of “What if you had a chance to do it all over again.” In some cases, this leads to a simple “imaginary story” where the hero finds that if the “mistake” they’ve been regretting for the last decade or so was actually avoided, then Galactus would have eaten the planet… or something. And we all learn a valuable lesson about being greater than the sum of our faults/being eaten by space giants. But the more common use of this trope (or at least the one that seems to get a larger audience) involves a despairing adult traveling back to a happier time, and, using knowledge from the future, finally realizing what’s really important, and I guess that’s falling in love with your high school sweetheart, and not taking that high-powered job you worked your entire life to achieve. Oh, and then Galactus devours the planet.

I’ve always been a fan of this kind of storytelling (no, I’m not going to go to TVTropes to find the actual name of this trope), because, like everybody else on Earth, I fantasize about going back and changing the past and righting what once went wrong. However, unlike everybody else, I’m also fascinated by this concept because it terrifies me.

And I’m glad to see Mortal Kombat 9 agrees with me.

FIGHT MOREMortal Kombat Armageddon was a fun game that was, conceptually, a sequel to Mortal Kombat Trilogy. After seven or so Mortal Kombat games, about 90 roster changes, and a million shattered pieces of Boon plot, MK had accumulated a memorable collection of characters (and Stryker). As a sort of love letter to the fans, MKA boasted a roster that contained every Mortal Kombat Kharacter that ever was, and let ‘em duke it out for supremacy. Didn’t matter if a fighter had been dead for years or had appeared in every game (or had been dead for years and appeared in every game, hi Scorps!), everyone got to participate, and, considering this franchise doesn’t feature Kuddles Kombat, there was a vampire’s buffet of blood spilled. Basically, even by the standards of a franchise where every other round ends with a triple decapitation, it was a bloodbath, and when the dust cleared, pretty much everybody was dead.

And they made that canon.

Err… kanon.

So, unless Mortal Kombat wanted to do something stupid like focus on the real heroes’ kids or a cast of dead guys (cough), it was time for a reboot. And, taking a page from Star Trek rather than beloved DC Comics, Mortal Kombat got rebooted with a sort of parallel, “do-over” reality. Raiden, lightning god of Earth Realm, sent some crazy psychic message back to his younger self of before the first (videogame) Mortal Kombat Tournament (or thereabouts). Now, gifted with vague future knowledge, Raiden can redo his life (or the last couple years of it, I mean, he has been around for a while) and avoid the tribulations of a timeline that saw Johnny Cage die like sixteen times. So, simple goal: Raiden knows Shao Kahn is a menace that is not to be trusted (didn’t he already know this?), so stop this nonsense before it begins. Easy-peasy.

GLOWY!Unfortunately, as ever, the issue appears to be that Raiden is an idiot. Despite being a god who has like one job (come to think of it, is some lesser god handling lightning duties during the franchise? Fujin?), Raiden messes up in new and exciting ways throughout the rebooted franchise. I can forgive him missing out on saving a certain frosty individual from a yellow wrath, as we all knew how that was gonna go, but when Raiden saves Smoke from cyberization only to give rise to Cryo-Freeze Sub-Zero… that one is on you, pal. Can you not keep track of two ninja? It’s not that hard! They’re wearing bright colors! And then Raiden trusts Kung Lao to step up to the plate… so naturally Kung Lao gets turned into a fine paste. But he’s not alone, as practically all the Earth heroes wind up dead halfway through Act 3. Whoops! And right around the time that Raiden turns Liu Kang, Hero of Mortal Kombat, into barbecued beef… well, I’m pretty sure someone got the message that Raiden is maybe not cut out for a leadership role. When your champion can best be described as “smoldering”, you’ve done something wrong.

But I can relate, because I’m pretty sure that if I got a do-over on my life, I’d do the exact same thing.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t sauté any beloved allies, but I’m pretty sure I’d ruin any chance of enjoying my re-life. Ultimately, I feel like it comes down to the simple fact that I appreciate my current existence. Yes, there are things about my past that I would absolutely change (about two years ago I started a website that is part catharsis and part addiction, I could definitely cut that out), but I also acknowledge that a lot of good in my life, whether it be regarding career or friendships, stems from happy accidents. And, granted, none of those accidents are the direct result of generational ninja wars (at least to my knowledge), but I feel like if I were to… re-accident some meetings, I would completely destroy the timeline as I know it. … Probably somewhere around when I’m arrested for madly screaming at a woman that we’re destined to be together, so can we get this over with, because I enjoyed dating your best friend a lot more. Look, I can be impatient sometimes.

RARGHAnd I guess that’s the crux of my belief on how life works. We’re the culmination not only of carefully laid plans, but also a big pile of coincidence and chance, some for good, some for ill. Maybe I’d be happier if I had stayed my college girlfriend, or if I hadn’t died fighting against my undead banshee of a mother, but if I changed those important/unhappy events in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And I like where I am now. So, thank you, Mortal Kombat 9, for understanding that a do-over isn’t the secret to happiness. Different choices lead to different mistakes, and not every imagined “what if” has a happy ending.

Oh, and then Galactus ate the Mortal Kombat universe.

FGC #285 Mortal Kombat (2011)

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Oh, also, there was a Vita version. For reasons that I have never really understood, I once bought a new copy of the Vita version at the local Gamestop for zero dollars. There was some kind of sale, or the universe had twisted in on itself, or something.
  • Number of players: Isn’t there a tag mode that can involve four players? Yeah, there totally is, it’s right there on the menu. I’m not sure I’ve ever had four people together in one place that all wanted to play Mortal Kombat.
  • OuchWhat’s in a name? Technically, as a reboot of the franchise both conceptually and gameplay-wise, this game is simply titled “Mortal Kombat”, and is not Mortal Kombat 9. However, its direct sequel is Mortal Kombat X, and Mortal Kombat (1) is a very important game in gaming, so let’s stick to the nine.
  • Favorite Character: This roster brings back all the old favorites (in fact, it’s practically the same collection as Mortal Kombat Trilogy) so I’m going to have to pick Kabal. He’s in full-on Flash mode here, which… I really have no objection to that. Maybe he can dash through time and make this story a little happier.
  • Favorite Fatality: It made it into that silly video I made apropos of nothing, so I’m pretty sure you can guess.
  • Regarding the gameplay: Call me crazy, but I’m one of the few people that actually liked the general feel of the Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance/Deception/Armageddon games. I find the new Netherrealm style kind of clunky by comparison… but it’s still pretty fun. I mean, in the fighting game genre, very few games feel like you’re actually in a fight, and these MK experiences do seem to nail that heavy-hitting feeling. So I guess it evens out?
  • Did you know? Skarlet, original character, do not steal DLC female ninja, has a fatality wherein she drenches herself in the blood of her opponent. Except… all the cyber-robot opponents have oil or coolant for “blood”, so… well… I don’t think this is going to be good for that quasi-vampire’s digestion.
  • Would I play again: I like this game! But it is, by and large, completely unseated by Mortal Kombat X, a game that lets you play as Goro. And that counts for a lot! Eh, maybe I’ll replay 9 again when the inevitable MKHD Kollection arrives.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic Adventure 2 Battle! Ah-ha! Speak of original characters, and he shall appear. Please look forward to it!

Nice sweater, nerd

FGC #283 Paperboy (N64)

Welcome to HellWhen I was a young boy, my father forced me to get a job. There weren’t many places that would hire a child, so I became a paperboy. Thus, for two years, I had to wake up at the crack of dawn, bike down to the newspaper office, pick up a stack of papers (that was easily heavier than I was), and deliver papers all through the neighborhood. There was no way to enjoy this. If I failed to deliver to the right house on time, I was punished. If I delivered to the wrong house, I was punished. And, of course, if I was late to school because of some stupid dog or a particularly chatty old lady, I was punished there, too. Every morning, in the scorching heat or the freezing cold, I was out there delivering papers, while my contemporaries slept, cozy and unemployed in their beds. “Surely,” I thought to myself for two endless years, “This job must be Hell.”

In time, I grew older, and finally graduated to a job that could at least be done inside and at a reasonable hour. And, while I may have cursed his name for a number of reasons over the years, I suppose my father’s lesson did pay off, as I learned I never, ever wanted to have another job outside performing manual labor ever again. I went to college. I got degrees. I became a white collar professional, and, while I may have had to step over a few broken bodies to attain excellence, I eventually found myself quite content with my station in life. And, if I may say so, watching print media slowly die did offer me some small amount of schadenfreude, even if it meant I couldn’t push my own children into the same “cycle” my father started. I suppose that may have been a good thing.

Though I guess I didn’t do enough good things, as, upon my death, I found myself in Hell.

And, with no explanation whatsoever, I found myself back on that same bicycle, back in that same neighborhood, back with those same papers. I was a boy on his paper route, again, and damned to be one for all of eternity.

WIN!At first, everything was pretty straightforward: I pedaled down familiar streets, delivered papers to expectant subscribers, and then, when I was done, I was forced back to the newspaper office to start the process all over again. Sometimes the weather would change, sometimes I would be told different homes were my targets, but, more or less, it was what I remembered. Then… things started to change. The first major switch-up was that the newspaper office outright disappeared. I suppose some infernal demon realized I could actually take a whole five minute break while I was picking up fresh papers, so, nope, I’m stuck pedaling forever, my calves growing more swollen by the day. Now I have to pick up new bundles of papers from the streets themselves, and, should I run out, I’m chastised just the same as when I miss a house (or damage a window or pedestrian… I admit I may have initially tried to… rattle the chains of my captors). What’s more, the “hazards” of my childhood have all come to revisit me continually, so I am faced with marauding dogs and vicious neighbors. I am nearly mowed down by an errant car every other minute. What’s more, I am beset by dangers I only imagined in my mundane childhood, like statues that spew flames, or the specter of Death himself. I know… in my rational mind… I know that I am already dead… but still… that pale, ghastly visage continues to haunt me.

But this… even this I could get used to. The punishments, the monsters… it did become what was simply my life (or my afterlife, as the case may be). I’d bike down the same streets, deliver the same papers, and that was it. It was Hell, but it was my Hell, and I expect that could be enough.

But this is Hell. They found a way to make it worse. After fifteen years, I was inflicted with the greatest punishment they could imagine: freedom.

OwieMy route had always been a straight line. I would pedal down endless streets and deliver endless papers. It was distressing, but, after a while, I learned that it required very little thinking. I’d keep my eye out for my targets, and if I missed, that was that. I did everything I could, after all.

But now… now they decided to grant me autonomy. Horrible, mind-destroying free-will.

I realized the change almost immediately: I could now pedal in any direction. I could turn around. I could visit the other side of the street. I could… jump. At first, I was elated. “Finally,” I thought, “Someone thinks I’ve paid my dues. I might still be stuck down here, but I’m not stuck in that awful, robotic rut. I can do whatever I want!” But, no, the reality of my unreality quickly caught up with me. I still had to deliver papers. I still had to dodge homicidal dogs. I still had to do everything I did before, but now I was granted the teeniest, tiniest taste of independence… only to be doomed to never enjoy it. I still had a strict, condemning time limit. I could leap my bike over ramps, feel the wind in my hair, and enjoy my existence for once… but if I did that… If I spent too long on pleasure… then the pain… the punishments would be even worse. And then I would have to start the whole route over again, knowing full well that the “fun stuff” was there and available, but experiencing it again would mean… I don’t want to think about it.

Hell… Hell had become more hellish.

Might as wellAnd they taunted me even more! Where once I was constrained to my old, familiar neighborhood, now I was forced to deliver papers in more exotic locales. A trailer park might not seem like anyone’s idea of a vacation, but the smell of barbecue and kids playing outside while you’re stuck pedaling and pedaling is… cruel. And then I was forced to deliver at a camp ground! And the beach! When I eventually found myself in a dark, monster-infested town, complete with Frankenstein’s Monster and a vampire or two, I thought someone was just plain running out of ideas. But I didn’t have time to think that for long, as now I was being chased by dogs with three heads. And then I was back to my old neighborhood again, forced to relive the loop of changing neighborhoods until I delivered enough papers.

But it’s never enough. I can never satisfy the quotas. I can never escape this Hell. I will be here… I will be here forever.

I am the paperboy now, and that’s all I will ever be.

FGC #283 Paperboy (N64)

  • System: Probably N64. Let me check here… Yep! N64.
  • Number of players: There can be only one paperboy.
  • Or Papergirl: Oh, yes, the game does offer you the option of being a papergirl. It’s kind of weird that most of the Papergirl’s canned voice clips compare herself to Paperboy, though. Eat your heart out, Paperboy, indeed.
  • LaboratoryMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s an attempt to make the original Paperboy more of a “modern” (circa 1999) game, but… it doesn’t really work so well. The original Paperboy is basically a shoot ‘em up with an unusual premise and perspective, and attempting to add collectibles and “free roaming” is about as effective as making a Gradius game that plays like Mario 64. This actually may have been an impressive concept back in the bygone past of the 20th Century; but nowadays, it’s right up there with Atari revivals like Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. Oh, also, it’s ugly as hell.
  • And there are bosses: Yes, there are bosses in a game about delivering papers. Yes, the bosses are simple “throw papers at the weak point” affairs. Yes, it is completely boring and flimsy.
  • Favorite Neighborhood: Pelican Beach has friendly dolphins! Or it should!
  • Did you know? Neither Paperboy nor Papergirl wear a helmet while delivering papers. This is dangerously unsafe.
  • Would I play again: I compared the game to an eternal hell. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Drakengard 3 for the Playstation 3! Let’s drag this dragoon into fun times! Please look forward to it!