Tag Archives: sunsoft

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

Gaming has changed a lot over the years. Nowadays, if a game is released for multiple systems, it is almost always the exact same game across different platforms, give or take a random feature or frame rate. Skyrim has been released for… let me do the math here… 70,000 videogame systems, and, by and large, every version has been, ya know, Skyrim. If there were some variation in there, you better believe you’d see promotion for the brand new Skyrim Jr., Skyrim Babies, or Skyrim: Centaurs Among Us editions. You buy Skyrim, you get Skyrim, and whether your buddy has an Xbox or Playstation, you’re both talking about the same dragonborn at the end of the day.

Back in the 90’s, things were not so simple.

We consider them members of the same console generation, but the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo videogame consoles were wildly different systems. For one thing, Super Nintendo had Chrono Trigger and Super Metroid, while Sega Genesis had Ecco the Dolphin. Ha ha! I’m joking, because I was primarily a Nintendo kid, and I absolutely will never get over those console wars. I lost good friends to that battle, and I’m not going to let young Jason’s sacrifices (he had a subscription to Sega Visions) be in vain. And why were there such console wars? Well, mostly because of advertising. But! Another significant factor was that a number of games for both systems were as different as their base consoles, so you could experience entirely different playstyles if you decided to pick up a title for Sega or Nintendo. Back then, even a humble Looney Tunes spin-off could be the spark that reignites the blaze of war.

He's the dad in Taz-ManiaTaz-Mania was always an odd duck. For reasons that I’m sure annoy tattoo artists to this very day, Taz the Tazmanian Devil became extremely popular in the early 90’s. This also roughly coincided with the rise of WB/Fox Kids animation domination, so, hot on the heels of Tiny Toons and just before the rise of Animaniacs, Taz got his own animated variety sitcom. This was… an odd choice. Taz was always popular for his general unleashed, unhinged, and non-verbal personality… so naturally they gave him a loving, perfectly normal nuclear family. Jean Tazmanian Devil is a dedicated housewife, and Hugh Tazmanian Devil is a Bing Crosby wannabe perfect father. Molly and Jake are archetypal siblings, and Dog the Turtle is a typical dog (who is a turtle). Basically, Warner Bros. Animation crafted an amusing farce where a feral beast is forced to live with a modern family that inexplicably and unconditionally loves the destructive eating machine. … And it suddenly becomes clear where my generation earned its absurdist sense of humor. Regardless, Taz was joined by a few other characters/shorts (because WB Animation seemed to assume that kids have the collective attention span of a particularly excited chihuahua), so even the main appeal of its chief character was lost for entire segments at a time. For a series that was ostensibly created to capitalize on Taz-mania (oh, I just got that), it sure took a weird route to get there.

But, like the Addams Family before it, it was considered a popular enough show to earn a videogame or two. The first release was Taz-Mania for the Sega Genesis. And, lo, it was good! As one might expect from the era, Taz-Mania was a 2-D platforming adventure featuring Taz questing after a giant egg, because eating things is funny. And Taz-Mania properly featured Taz’s excessive gluttony in other ways, too! Taz would devour anything he could fit in his giant maw, which included food, 1-ups, monsters, and even entire water bottles (he drank the water first, naturally). This even became an interesting gameplay wrinkle, as there were items like bombs and weed killer strewn about, and they could be used as items, but only if you made Taz resist devouring them outright. FrostyFun fact: weed killer is not a balanced part of a tazmanian devil’s diet. Beyond that, this was a gorgeous, fairly basic 2-D platformer, and the goal was to jump on everything from here to the end of the stage. You could even use Taz’s whirly attack every once in a while… but it’s generally not recommended, as it will absolutely get you killed.

Which was kind of the problem: Taz-Mania was super hard.

With save states and other modern innovations, the scope of Taz-Mania is easy to see. However, back in the day, this was a pretty basic platformer for a few levels, and then a series of instant death traps that would banish the player back to Level 1 pretty quickly. In fact, you could easily point toward one single mid-level stage, a freaking a mine cart level, that is a wall-to-wall Taz slaughter. No devils have any hope to survive, and the mere concept of reaching later stages is nothing more than a pipedream. There are a few other sticking points (floating logs introducing perspective to a 2-D game is particularly cruel), but, short of rote memorization, there was no way Taz was going to make it past some terrible mines. Not that the end game is that exciting! But not knowing how Taz’s adventure ends (it’s a fight against a giant seagull, ‘natch) might convince a poor Genesis kid that a purchase is better than a rental. Well played, Sega, well played.

And then, a scant few months later, Sunsoft released its version of Taz-Mania on the Super Nintendo. It was dramatically easier, and, incidentally, boring as hell.

WeeeeYou will never be able to convince me that Taz-Mania (SNES) did not start as a Wily E. Coyote game that was randomly modified to be a Taz-Mania tie-in. This title plays vaguely like SNES Mario Kart, and takes full advantage of Mode 7 capabilities to place Taz on an endless stretch of highway where he must catch kiwis (the highly mobile birds, not the much easier to catch fruit). Every level contains an escalating number of kiwis, and there are few hazards (like buses and… mostly just buses) to keep Taz down. After catching the requisite kiwis, Taz falls asleep, the kiwis escape his gaping maw (that’s how digestion works, right?), and the whole thing starts again. Repeat for five acts (worlds) with three stages each. Throw in a few bonus stages where you can catch infinity kiwis for a score that impacts nothing, and you’re got the entire game.

And, in this case, that’s the clear problem: after playing a whole one stage, you’ve seen everything this title has to offer. Later stages seem to climb in difficulty only by adding incredibly unfair traps (arrows will spawn practically on top of Taz, and presumably you’re supposed to dodge them by using psychic powers), but it’s mostly moot anyway, as devouring practically anything (including your kiwi goals) refills your health. Like the endless stretch of highway to which Taz has been sentenced, the game is just an interminable slog of the initial stage repeated a solid fifteen times. Backgrounds change, sometimes you see the Road Runner, and occasionally you’ll earn a powerup that makes Taz move slightly faster, but other than that, it is tedium. It’s tremendously more beatable than its Genesis cousin, but even the first act makes it clear that there’s no future for this Taz. It’s the exact same plot across both games (Taz hungry), but there is exactly zero reason to progress through the SNES version.

GULPSo who wins? Guess it depends on your mood. SNES-Mania is basically an endless runner (almost literally), and is good, repetitive fun if you’re in the mood for such a thing (the sales on mobile games seem to indicate this is true of at least some people). On the other (brown, furry) hand, you’ve got Genesis-Mania, which is a creative, intricate platformer that requires endless memorization or a healthy glut of cheating. It’s (God help me) the Dark Souls of 90’s WB Animation Game Tie-ins. So, in this situation, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, and one could no more declare a winner than objectively determine that ducks are more suited for space travel than vegemite. In this situation, both systems have their own, personal Tazs, and that’s just fine.

Which is nice for Sega, because the SNES wins at everything else.

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

  • System: Sega Genesis for the platformer, SNES for the runnin’ of the Taz. The Genesis game was compromised and ported to Master System and Game Gear, too. Also, there was a Gameboy version that had nothing to do with anything.
  • Number of players: Single player across the board. The SNES version could easily have had a head-to-head kiwi catching contest, but noooooo.
  • Favorite Level (SG): It’s a shame that the final area of Genesis-Mania is so difficult to reach, as its “ancient ruins” aesthetic is great for the level design, and contains a number of gags that indicate Taz’s ancient ancestors were just… Taz. He’s perennial!
  • Favorite Level (SNES): There is no way to tell these stages apart, and I will not entertain notions of trying.
  • OUCHLet’s Talk Cartoons: Given the choice, I’d take Taz-Mania the Series over a number of its descendants, like Histeria!, Animaniacs, and a third one that I know I’m forgetting. Freakazoid is the best, but Taz’s general… Tazness fit the variety show format well. Also, I really enjoy orange juice, and no one understands when I make that Hugh reference anymore.
  • Did you know? Genesis-Mania contains a complete debug cheat, which allows for level skipping, invincibility, and instant health restoration. SNES-Mania simply contains a level select code. Welp, I know one place where the Genesis version excels.
  • Would I play again: SNES version isn’t happening again, as I’m not one for score-based games. Genesis version is a maybe, but only with the assistance of save states and such. Or… probably not ever, because there are better games available in both genres. Sorry, guess the Taz stays in Taz-Mania.

What’s next? Our next SNES/Genesis matchup is… Billy and the Clone-Osaurus! There’s a park full of dinosaurs, and I guess we’re trying to escape it for some reason! Please look forward to it!

The kid

FGC #257 Waku Waku 7

SUPER WAKU FIGHTING TIMEI love a good knock-off.

There is a fine line in any medium between original and IP theft. What’s the difference between Superman and Captain Marvel/Shazam? Well, one is an alien from another planet with strengths granted by his alien biology, and the other is a little kid with magical powers that allow him to instantly transform into an adult with super speed and muscles. But both Superman and Captain Marvel can fly, fight, and wear a cape, so, uh, guess they’re legally the same dude. Meanwhile, King Kong and Donkey Kong, both giant guerillas that climbed towers after kidnapping blonde damsels, are totally different ape creatures, so don’t even try to claim they’re remotely the same. When you look at history, you see the only difference between an “original character” becoming successful or being devoured by a rival corporate entity is a good lawyer or two, so let’s stop pretending there is some gigantic gulf between Midnighter, Batman, and your Sonic the Hedgehog fan character (do not steal) Bruce the Bathog.

And knock-offs are important in videogames, too. Got a great idea for a magical girl game, but don’t feel like roughing out your own ideas on gameplay? Well, how about you just copy Mega Man wholesale, and call it a day. But don’t tell Astro Boy, he’s still trying to get a hold of that thieving Dr. Light. Got a brave new mascot that happens to be a bobcat that runs fast? I’ve got an idea! This all traces back to the Atari, too, the system that hosted a number of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong clones. And, again, Donkey Kong “himself” was accused of being nothing more than IP-theft at his inception. Videogames are bootlegging all the way down!

OuchBut, as ever, there are degrees of plagiarism in videogames. SoulCalibur may have imported Harley Quinn into medieval times, but… there are enough of the edges filed off, right? It’s still an almost wholly unique fighting game with weapons. On the other side of the coin, you have something like Fighter’s History, which (kinda) has unique characters, but their movements and play styles are almost exactly copied from Street Fighter 2. So, which is worse? Copying gameplay or copying characters? Is SoulCalibur “better” because its IP theft isn’t as blatant? Or should we be nicer to Fighter’s History, a game that at least had the good sense to include Karnov, who hails from a surprisingly original action game?

But when you consider which franchise is a franchise, and which is forgotten by all but the most esoteric blogs, well, maybe that means the only question should be, “but is it fun?”

Waku Waku 7 is a fun fighting game. I first discovered the game through filthy emulation back at the turn of the 21st Century, but Waku Waku 7 was formally released for the Neo Geo in ’96 or so. It was also released for the Sega Saturn… but only in Japan. Boo. Regardless, my buddy Matt and I played this game roughly 7,000 times, because it was one of the best fighting games available at the time. Okay, it was no Marvel vs. Capcom, but it could also be played on a crappy little laptop, so it was the closest we were going to get to a decent portable fighter. And by “portable”, I mean, “we’re stuck at your mom’s house for the next hour, what do you want to do?” It’s amazing how much being a poor college student is like being six…

Here they areWhere was I? Oh yeah, Waku Waku 7. It’s a 2-D fighting game, and it’s pretty much like Street Fighter 2 or King of Fighters or generally any of those games. In fact, given the Neo Geo hardware, it’s a lot like King of Fighters or Fatal Fury, and that fact might be influenced a little by how Rai Bakuoh, the “genki” teenage hero of Waku Waku 7, is a living parody of a character from Psycho Soldier/KoF and has all the same special moves as FF’s Terry Bogard. Then again, maybe Waku Waku 7 is more like Darkstalkers, as Mauru plays a lot like Sasquatch, and just happens to look a lot like (My Neighbor) Totoro. Or should I have just stuck with Street Fighter 2? Bonus-Kun is a deliberate parody of Ryu, right down to his red bandana and spinning hurricane kick. He just happens to be, ya know, a literal punching bag.

Maybe we should investigate that “parody” thing a little further. The full cast of Waku Waku 7 features seven distinct characters (oh, I just got that), but glancing at the character select screen, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is some manner of 90’s (pre-Neon Genesis Evangelion) anime reunion. Tesse is a mechanical battle maid that directly recalls Mahoromatic/Mahoro. Slash is a sword-wielding elf straight out of Record of Lodoss War, or maybe just Magic Emperor Ghaleon in glasses. Politank-Z is some bizarre mix of “chibi manga” like Dr. Slump and Dominion Tank Police… and he can’t get enough of that Cookie Crisp. Dandy-J is the most “Western” character, because his origins apparently involve Indiana Jones and JoJo(‘s Bizarre Adventure) conceiving a love child. Arina, the begoggled bunny girl, seems like the most original character, but that’s only because “a bunny girl wearing goggles” is an oddly established anime trope. It’s like saying there’s an elf in a Tolkien fantasy, or a tech-savvy support character in a Berlanti show.

OwieSo all the characters are varying degrees of outright IP theft (there has never been a person that didn’t start this game by asking, “What’s Totoro doing here?”), but what about the game plot itself? Well, there are seven magical orbs, and, if you catch ‘em all, a magical being will be summoned to grant a wish. I want to say I’ve heard that one before. Most of the characters are fireball motions and dragon punches, so the gameplay is “borrowed” as well. And it’s not even like there’s a difference in the bells and whistles between this and every 90’s fighting game ever. Profile screen during the attract mode? Check. Win/lose quotes after every match? Check. And the ol’ ending “cinema” of two or three screens with some goofy dialogue? You better believe that’s a check. Seen it all before, Waku Waku 7!

But it’s still fun, and that’s because it’s a rip-off.

King of Fighters is fun, but to the inexperienced, neophyte fighting fan, well, who are these guys? Dude with the weird pants hates the guy with the fire fist? Okay? That’s neat, but why is there a dwarf version of Freddy Kruger bouncing around? Street Fighter 2 is supposedly as iconic as it gets, but good luck getting someone new excited about Street Fighter 3 (“Why is that guy in the speedo two different colors?”) Tekken is full of bland shirtless dudes, and SoulCalibur is all about its heroines’…. assets. And we’re even ignoring the host of over 90’s fighting games that barely got past one version. Remember Weaponlord? It was like if Todd McFarlane made… never mind, it doesn’t matter. It never mattered. Point is that, whether it’s acknowledged by “the scene” or not, there is a barrier of entry to most fighting games, and, suffice it to say, it’s one that Marvel vs. Capcom doesn’t have to deal with. Everybody recognizes Spider-Man.

So proudAnd everybody recognizes Totoro, too… even if it’s not Totoro. Waku Waku 7 is guileless. Its characters are obvious archetypes (if not outright plagiarism), the gameplay is four buttons and simple special motions. The plot is funny, though it doesn’t fall all over itself to be another Clayfighter. It’s a fraud, but that deception makes it accessible. Like a pair of faux-Oakleys you can pick up for ten bucks to impress your crush so she’ll maybe say yes to prom (it works! I swear!), Waku Waku 7 is a fine knock-off.

Waku Waku 7 is not original in any way, and, sometimes, that’s just fine.

FGC #257 Waku Waku 7

  • System: Neo-Geo in likely impossible to find quantities, and a Saturn version that only appears in Japan. But now it’s available for Switch! Hooray! This is the first Switch game reviewed on this site! Technically!
  • Number of players: Two anime fighters.
  • Favorite Character: I’m going to go with Arina, the bunny girl. She’s basically the game’s Ryu in special moves and general narrative, but what’s important is that she’s rocking the goggles. Actually, there are two different characters with goggles on the roster… so maybe that’s the entire reason I like the game? Hm.
  • Don't look him in the eyeAn ending: The final boss is an unspeakable black void of horror named… Fernandez. In Japan, he is known as Fernandeath. That sounds slightly more threatening.
  • Land of the rising fun: The Switch version allows the player to choose between Japanese and American versions of the game. Having played through both, aside from a few names, I think the only difference is that the Japanese version gets character profiles that nobody felt like translating. Boo, cheap localization.
  • Did you know? Bonus-Kun, the Ryu-wannabe, premiered in Sunsoft’s earlier fighting game, Galaxy Fight: Universal Warriors. I want to say that game is even more obscure than Waku Waku 7… so it should probably have a Switch release next week.
  • Would I play again: Most certainly. Having it as a downloaded title on a portable system does a lot for replayability, particularly at the start of a system’s lifespan. Politank Z will ride again!

What’s next? I kind of like that there has been a number theme matching the FGC entries all this week. Pac-Man 256 for 256, Waku Waku 7 for 257… I mean, it was an accident… but still! Let me see if I can dig up a game involving an eight, and then we’ll get back to true randomness next week. Please look forward to it!

So wrong

FGC #121 Chameleon Twist

Lick it goodThe Nintendo NX is on the horizon, and it seems like every gamer in existence is scrambling to explain exactly why the WiiU failed. First of all, the WiiU did not fail, because it can play both Super Metroid and Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU, and that’s just super. But if you want to subscribe to the “WiiU failed” philosophy, a popular theory states that the WiiU never went anywhere because third parties refused to support the WiiU gamepad with any sort of consistency. Or, if there was support, it was half assed and did not enhance the play experience at all. The WiiU is a failure because no one ever figured out how to use its central gimmick, and, naturally, the public followed suit and didn’t buy the device, metaphorically and literally.

First of all, bull$!&#, because a good game no more needs a system’s gimmick than Super Mario Galaxy needed Fluzzard. If the games are good and plentiful, people buy the system, same as it’s ever been.

But more importantly, here’s a fun fact, no game developer has ever understood Nintendo innovations.

Look at the Wii. How many third party games effectively used the WiiMote? And how many third party games just implemented some useless “waggle” function? Do you think Castlevania Judgment was released on the Wii because that was the only system that could support the raw masculinity of Grant Danasty? Or was it because the Wii was the bestselling system of the generation, so, ya know, install base? I’ve said it before, but even Nintendo was incapable of surpassing the promise of its flagship system’s launch game, so what hope did everyone else have? You can only masturbate Travis Touchdown so many times before you realize that something has gone terribly wrong.

But the Wii still sold like solid gold cocaine at a Billionaires Anonymous meeting, so nobody had to sit in their thinking chair and figure out how to make this gimmick “work”.

Similarly, there’s the N64. I can hear some of you young’uns now, throwing up your newfangled cellular telephones in anguish and asking, “What gimmick? The N64 had no gimmick!” And to that I Lickaphobiaanswer with the age old adage, “Yesterday’s innovation is today’s standard, and get off my lawn.” The analog stick was once all new and all different. The N64’s analog stick was an invention that had previously only been seen in novelties that were as limited as light guns and dance pads. Yes, the Atari had its big ol’ control stick, but it had been a decade since anyone saw that as standard. The Sega Saturn would try its hand at the analog game shortly after the N64, but even there, it was only intended for one (albeit very good) game. The analog stick would eventually become as standard for every system as the cross pad before it, but, when it was released, the N64’s controller was a new paradigm.

And developers… don’t tend to deal well with “different”. A number of N64 games ignored the control stick’s advantages (Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero and Mischief Makers spring immediately to mind), or simply used it as if it were last generation’s crosspad. Yes, games that were biting on Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time used the analog stick to the fullest… but is it that hard to figure out how to use a “gimmick” when you’re stealing from the best?

One could probably claim that Chameleon Twist is yet another third party N64 game aping Mario 64. You’ve got your choice of four differently colored (but exactly the same) cartoon mascot creatures (Davy, Jack, Fred, and Linda… Linda is the girl!) exploring a fantastical polygonal 3-D world that also seems to be home to a number of deadly whatsits, like porcupines, spiders, and man eating chipwiches. Run, jump, and use your chameleon’s natural acrobatic prowess to conquer the worlds and escape this fairytale universe.

But Chameleon Twist has one gimmick all its own, and it’s right there in the title. Your chameleon of choice has a long, sticky tongue that has completely absurd reach and strength. Open that lizard maw, and out extends an organ that, depending on the size of the level, can reach from one end of the screen to the other. But this tongue isn’t just there to depress the KISS ArmyPainful, no, your chameleon can use that tongue for the most obvious reason (in a video game, anyway): to gobble up items and enemies. Or use it for more amazing feats, like dragging Davy and his friends across wide gaps and into conveniently placed wooden stakes. But wait, there’s more! You can even swing around these poles by your tongue, like some kind of licking-based Matterhorn. And, if all else fails, there’s always the option to shoot that tongue straight down, and taste the ground as a pole-vaulter. Who knew so much was possible when you have a tongue that’s ten times the length of your body?

Of course, all of these moves are nowhere near unique. Yoshi, for instance, has been licking up enemies since the 16-bit days, and, while the use of a tongue might be a little distinctive, all the lassoing style abilities have been performed with a length of rope by other video game protagonists, generally stiff Belmonts included. But what’s different here is how the tongue “controls”. From the moment you hit the… tongue button, you have 100% control over the direction and extension of that chameleon tongue. What’s more, thanks to the N64 analog stick, that tongue controls smooth as silk, so, if you can master walking, you can perform complicated tongue maneuvers (lickneuvers?). Sure, you could probably try to make a similar game on a system with a crosspad, but it just wouldn’t feel right. Tongues aren’t meant for sharp angles; they are meant to twist.

So what can we learn from Chameleon Twist? Well, I suppose the most obvious answer is that it doesn’t take Nintendo or an AAA studio to produce a game that So latecan properly utilize Nintendo’s latest gimmick hardware. Chameleon Twist isn’t an amazing game by any means, but it feels right, and I can’t imagine it on any other system from its parent era. In time, the analog stick would become standard across all systems, but Chameleon Twist was bold enough to find a use for it well before it was a part of every wireless controller. In its epoch, CT was a rare spin on a gimmick, and it licked the competition.

So when the Nintendo NX hits, I guess we should call Sunsoft. Maybe they’ll come up with a game that will give the new hardware an interesting… twist.

FGC #121 Chameleon Twist

  • System: N64. It seems like every time I type that, it’s after an article that mostly talks about the N64 hardware. I guess it was a pretty distinctive system.
  • Number of players: Four, actually, because there’s a Versus Mode that allows everyone to play, basically, king of the hill. It’s… weird, but not completely unwelcome. Between the multiplayer mode, polygonal graphics, and analog control, Sunsoft was really playing to the N64’s strengths.
  • Liking Sunsoft now? Well, they were responsible for Blaster Master and Waku Waku 7, two of my favorite games at random points in my existence. They were also responsible for Fester’s Quest and Aero the Acro-Bat, though. At least their games were generally… eclectic.
  • I will call you ChipFor the sequel: Chameleon Twist was continued in Chameleon Twist 2, which featured practically the same plot, but slightly modified chameleons. I find it odd that this game was enough of a hit to warrant a sequel, but it’s not like the N64 had a wealth of options…
  • An End: The Western release of Chameleon Twist doesn’t really have an ending, aside from the fact that your chameleon is just trying to get home, and I guess the credits are supposed to imply that happened. The Japanese release, though, involves an “epic” exploding final boss, and a triumphant escape sequence. Good thing Youtube came along a decade later to fill us in on that amazing revelation.
  • Did you know? It sounds like some playground rumor, but if you beat the game once, there will be a star on your title screen. That star goes away if you play the game again and get hit by anything. However, if you beat the game again without ever taking damage, a secret code will be displayed on the title screen. This code… does nothing. Seriously. People are still trying to figure it out.
  • Would I play again: It’s a neat N64 game… but it’s still an N64 game. Man, that system has some ugly graphics. Pass.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bravely Default for the 3DS! It might have a stupid name, but it’s not a stupid game. Please look forward to it!