Tag Archives: story

FGC #305 Bubble Bobble

Let's get bubblingI realize I’m just the latest blogger to throw my hat into the ring on this one, but here’s my theory on the Bubble Bobble timeline.

I think we can all agree it starts with Bubble Bobble, and everyone knows the familiar tale of that game. Brothers Bub and Bob encounter the nefarious Baron Von Blubba, an albino ghost creature that kidnaps Bub and Bob’s betties. Bub and Bob are then transformed into bubble blowing dinosaurs, and a magical journey through the Cave of Monsters is the only road to rescue/restored humanity.

And, for the record, the Cave of Monsters is a pretty fun place to hunt monsters with bubbles. Bubble Bobble is one of those rare games that falls into the arcade vs. console gulf, but is actually entertaining to play. What could be very simple gameplay quickly becomes much more complicated with things like elemental bubbles, and some of the unique “maze” levels make navigation interesting (the enjoyable kind of interesting, to be clear). And I want to say that this is the first NES game I ever played where your hero can suffer a “stun” hit (mostly from lightning bubbles), as opposed to every moving thing on the screen instantly killing poor Bub. Even Mario wasn’t afforded that luxury!

But the real kicker for Bubble Bobble is the two player mode. 2-Player Simultaneous play on the NES was a beautiful unicorn that frolicked through the meadows far too fast for many games to catch it and braid its beautiful mane… Wait, this metaphor kind of got away from me… Point is that the ability to “play two player” actually at the same time, and not as some lame alternating mode where you’re forced to cheer for the immediate death of your best friend was a rarity at the time reserved for the likes of Double Dragon 2 (but not Double Dragon 1). 2-Player Bubble Bobble, with its Mega Man-like jumping, shooting, and Bubble Lead, was a marvelous innovation on the home consoles. If Bubble Bobble is remembered for one reason, it’s for cooperative Bub and Bob monster bubbling.

Down, dinoThough, according to all data, it’s that delightful two player mode that has caused the fractured timeline of the Bubble Bobble universe. Bubble Bobble was ahead of its time in more ways than just multiplayer: it actually contained multiple endings. And these endings weren’t based on whether or not you told Glenn he’s dumb or slayed Grumple Gromit early, no these endings were based on if you were cool enough to even have a friend. If you complete Bubble Bobble as a solitary loser, than you’re told that you’ve reached the “bad end”, and come back with a friend, you lonely, detached hermit. But if you find a buddy, then and only then do you receive the good ending, with Bub and Bob regaining their brides and becoming human once again. This creates a clear dichotomy: Bub and Bob have no control over their dinosaur forms, and they are either human or dinosaur.

Bub and Bob are evidently human in Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2. Bub and Bob have forsaken their dinosaur forms and bubbles altogether to rescue the Rainbow Islands from The Boss of Shadow, who is/was apparently Baron Von Blubba’s boss. Or is Baron Von Blubba? It’s confusing. Regardless, during this adventure, the beoveralled brothers can produce rainbows and use said meteorological phenomenon to both attack monsters and create useful platforms. Assuming the bros. can defeat Dark Shadow (apparently also known as Super Skull Monsta… don’t ask), a large group of dino-people are rescued and transformed back into humans. Again, the message is obvious: being a dinosaur person is a punishment, not a reward, and Bub, Bob, and all their friends should be human.

Can I get some room?But what about Puzzle Bobble aka Bust-A-Move? In this famous puzzle game, Bub and Bob are again dinosaurs. What’s more, they’re using bubble powers to pop bubbles filled with monsters from Bubble Bobble. What’s going on? Have Bub and Bob been re-cursed? Was a life of humanity, living in boring seclusion with their nameless girlfriends, too much for the poor former-lizards? Once you become a magical dinosaur, you can never go home again? What’s the deal, Puzzle Bobble? Why did you undo the good deeds of these adorable dinos?

And this is where the multiple timelines theory comes into play. Bub and Bob did not regress to their dinosaur forms, they simply never transformed back! It’s very simple if you consider the two endings of OG Bubble Bobble: in one path, Bub and Bob were restored, and went on to save Rainbow Islands, and in the other, Bub and Bob could not work together, and eventually defeated Baron Von Blubba without being properly transformed back into humans. In that world, the Bub Bros. were forced to constantly relive their failure in a puzzle-based purgatory, and forever be dinosaurs performing for browser-based games until the end of time. Or until they learn to work together again… which may take a while, considering dinosaurs have brains slightly larger than Nerf darts. It might take a few millennia for such a creature to learn a lesson…

And that’s the simple explanation for the Bubble Bobble expanded universe. I could share the 2,783 slide PowerPoint presentation I made on the topic, but this article is already getting a little long, and I’d prefer to get back to popping bubbles now. Just remember: Bub and Bob were doomed to an unending torment because Jimmy couldn’t come over to help you beat the game that one time. Have a fantastic day!

FGC #305 Bubble Bobble

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for this review, but the arcade port was available for a myriad of other systems, including the Gameboy, Master System, and Game Gear. It was the Bust-a-Move of its time.
  • Number of players: Always be two people!
  • Favorite Enemy: You never forget your first monster, and the Zen-Chan aka Bubble Buster, the little wind up man, is my favorite creature in the Cave of Monsters. I adore his little angry eyes when you’re running low on time/monsters.
  • Proper Genus: I suppose Bub and Bob are supposed to be dragons, not dinosaurs? Bah, I care not for your creature canon.
  • WUV?Goggle Bob Fact: So I have extended family in Florida, and, when I was a kid, this was used as a fine excuse to say over and visit Disney World for a week on an annual basis. As everyone knows, there are roughly 12,000 things to do in Orlando… but I generally most remember playing Bubble Bobble with my younger cousin, because it was like the only two player game he owned. In later years, Universal Studios Orlando became available, but my cousin also obtained Rocket Knight Adventures, and… Wow, I really have measured my life in tiny plastic cartridges.
  • Did you know? The Invader/Super Socket monster moves and looks exactly like a Space Invader. Taito was mining that nostalgia fount before there even was videogame nostalgia.
  • Would I play again: Be glad this article isn’t just me lamenting my inability to score a second player for a thousand words or so. I really enjoy Bubble Bobble, but it doesn’t see much play these days, because, ya know, everyone has lives. Was BB on the NES Mini? It was? Dammit, another reason I should have grabbed one of those.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… King of Fighters 2006! 2006? That was only eleven years ago. Which one was that, again? Bah, guess we’ll find out. Please look forward to it!

That and Mario Paint

FGC #303 NieR: Automata

Note: This review will involve a lot of spoilers for any game with “NieR” in the title. It’s unfortunately inevitable, and if you’d like to go into the franchise “clean”, I would recommend avoiding this article until you’ve completed both games. Or don’t, and realize why you should finish both games. Regardless, you’ve been warned.

Today’s game is NieR: Automata, the sequel to NieR: Gestalt. Both of these games are emblazoned with this lovely little logo:

Mature!

This is appropriate, as Yoko Taro has somehow been responsible for the most emotionally mature videogames in the medium.

Kinda glitchyMind you, that is a pretty low bar to clear. As an obvious example, every Grand Theft Auto game has been rated as “Mature”, so Rockstar has taken the “only adults are supposed to play this” mandate to heart and written grandiose, developed stories meant to appeal to an exclusively aged demographic. Ha ha ha, just kidding, Grand Theft Auto games are more about seeing how many times the number 69 can be inserted into random conversations than it is ever about telling a “real” story about violence in America… or whatever they’re shoveling into their press releases this week. And even if you take the GTA series completely seriously, you have to acknowledge that the franchise is fairly limited in perspectives. Would you like to play as the angry white guy, the angry black guy, or the angry and balding white guy? Yes, you could argue this thin characterization is the result of having to present a protagonist that might surf cars and play with a rocket launcher in his (inevitably “his”) spare time, but I know plenty of psychopaths, and they do have a slightly broader emotional range than “always irritated all the time.” People are people, Rockstar, not robot animals.

NieR: Gestalt (note: that will be the last time I type “Nier” with correct capitalization) is what could easily be the story of one angry white dude. And we’re going to spoil that game first…

FGC #296 Driver: You Are the Wheelman

DRIVE!And now for the other side of those awkward Playstation years: that time when no one knew what a videogame was supposed to be.

In the beginning, there was Pong, and it was good. And Pong begat a number of arcade experiences, like Asteroids, Space Invaders, and everyone’s beloved Pac-Man. And, while we were all happy with one screen of action, action, action, eventually gaming’s collective attention span required more. Mario became super the very moment his stages became long, horizontal affairs that could take whole minutes to complete. Sometimes there was a dinosaur at the end of the world! And a princess! And, while it was the teeniest of plots, there technically was a plot, and no more were we forced to use our imaginations to envisage why this puck-shaped fellow was being chased by four monsters.

But, for better or worse, there was always a divide. There were games where brave heroes ventured forth to conquer bad guys and maybe get a new weapon along the way to stab and/or shoot said bad guys, and there were also games that provided those classical “arcade experiences”. Pong was basically tennis, which I’m told is one of those sports things, and, in a way, many sports games were narratively no more complicated than Pong. Play game, win game. It’s the same in football as it is in Donkey Kong. Maybe there’s a story attached, but the only story that matters is that you “beat the game”. This is, at its core, the essence of the arcade experience, as if you’re not fighting toward an achievable goal, then why the hell are you wasting all those quarters? If I leave this arcade without ASS being at the top of the score table, then what am I fighting for?(!?!?!!)

SWERVE!But sometime around the Playstation era, that kind of thinking fell by the wayside. Maybe it was because the arcades started to follow the path of the dodo, or maybe everybody just desperately wanted to be Final Fantasy 7, but, whatever the reason, by the time we made it to the Playstation 2, every game had to have a complete story and incremental goals and a “40 hour, RPG-like experience”. Maybe it was a ploy to sell memory cards? All I know is that a “quick” experience like Mischief Makers, a game that would have been perfectly content to be an enjoyable 16-bit rental, was now derided for not stretching its content to fit some arbitrary length restriction. And Mischief Makers wasn’t alone: if a game was released, and it could be completed in an afternoon, it was panned from here to the hallowed halls of EGM.

And this led to some… awkward moments.

Driver: You Are the Wheelman won the 1999 E3 award for “best racing game”. Racing games have always been firmly planted in the “arcade experience” section, as, come on, is there anything more pure than “gotta go fast(er than everybody else)”? However, Driver is much more than a racing game: Driver is basically a proto-Grand Theft Auto (3). We’ve got some big (for Playstation 1) cities, cops to outrun at all times, and an emphasis on a bunch of random “challenges” you can perform with a car. Drive to hit checkpoints, drive to ram designated cars, drive to be a courier… I’m pretty sure I have a good idea where the title “Driver” title came from. When you get right down to it, “racing” seems like a poor description of this experience, as I don’t recall any time the stars of Crusin’ USA or Mario Kart had to worry about an arrest warrant. Well, maybe Bowser has a few priors, but the Mushroom Kingdom justice system is naively lax.

But anyone returning to Driver from the sandbox-dominated future of right now is in for a rude awakening. Yes, there are all the GTA-esque activities available to you in Driver, but they’re all selectable from the title screen, not unlike choosing cups in a racing game. And, with the exception of a few unlockable cities, they’re all available from the first moment you start up the game. Think of it! A world where you can just replay your favorite missions at your leisure, and you don’t have to randomly drive all over the city looking for some capricious marker (and then never playing the mission again after it’s completed once). And what happens to those big, wide open cities if they’re not attached to mission markers? Well you can just choose “free mode”, and putter around town without a care in the world. Well… assuming you don’t piss off the local constabulary by merely existing.

VroomSpeaking of the po-po, there is a plot here. There’s a “story mode”, and it similarly showcases the times. Rather than going full criminal like every GTA descendant, you’re a police officer that just happens to be undercover as a nefarious wheelman. Eventually the FBI or CIA or FDA or somebody screws up, and you’re stuck on the wrong side of the law, and…. You know what? It doesn’t matter. No one is going to play through the story mode, because it’s attached to an opening “qualifying” stage that is completely impossible. But there is a trick to it! You have to exit the game, completely lose your progress (which, admittedly, was just watching one cinema scene… but still!), hop over to the “Training” menu, then learn all the super cool moves (like, uh, holding down the gas pedal really long), remember all the super cool moves, and then completely restart your game. It’s that easy!

And, for the record, if you’re playing this in 2017, you will curse every messageboard post about the scourge of “on screen tutorials” for the rest of your days.

But that’s Driver: You Are the Wheelman in a nutshell: it’s a videogame that has no idea how to be a videogame. It wants to straddle the line between arcade experience and story-based adventure, but it has no clue how to marry the two experiences, and we’re left with something very… confused. Driver isn’t a bad game, but it’s one of many Playstation games that simultaneously embraced the long-form narrative and overtly shied away from offending anyone that might not want to play for longer than five minutes.

So every time you complain about another Skyrim-alike or GTA-alike or even your bog standard generic platformer, be glad you live in a world where most videogames know how to be videogames and not… whatever happened here.

FGC #296 Driver: You Are the Wheelman

  • I'm a poor night driverSystem: Playstation 1, but then it eventually pulled into the Windows and Mac parking lots. It also had a Gameboy Color and iphone port, and those must be peachy.
  • Number of players: And it’s also a single player game. Another sign of the inevitable story mode domination.
  • Favorite City: New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town… that I don’t really like in reality, but it makes for a good series of levels.
  • Did you really not make it past the tutorial? Not for a good long while. I mean, it’s not like you can’t play most of the rest of the game without beating that damn stage. Also, there’s the matter of…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I got this game for free. For some bizarre reason, I found this game (complete with case and manual) in the back of the ol’ band storage area in high school. I asked around, put it in the lost and found, and no one claimed the game, so, after a month, I took home my prize. I have always pathologically over-valued videogames, so I literally could not understand someone “losing” an entire Playstation game. … Then again, now that I’ve played Driver, I can maybe understand that impulse a little better.
  • Did you know? The final unlockable city is Newcastle upon Tyne, the hometown of Reflections Interactive. On one hand, that’s kind of neat, on the other hand, it’s vaguely masturbatory. Do you know what’s special about Newcastle upon Tyne? Yeah, me neither.
  • Would I play again: Grand Theft Auto 3 is, like, right there.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Uniracers! See, now there’s a game that knows its genre! Please look forward to it!

Ugh

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