Tag Archives: super nintendo entertainment system

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

Get on the mana train!Once again, this old man is wondering about the world that may have been.

Today’s game is Trials of Mana, the sequel to the venerable Secret of Mana (and descendant of Final Fantasy Adventure). Unlike practically every other title in the Mana franchise (did you know there was a TRPG? Oh, and that weird “action” one for the PS2?), Trials of Mana follows Secret of Mana in an iterative manner. Secret of Mana was a gigantic mess of ideas slapped together for a hypothetical/doomed system that was never meant to materialize, and, yeah, it kind of played like something that was never really prepared for the light of day. Don’t get me wrong, I will defend the fun of Secret of Mana until my dying day (I’m considering an epitaph that reads “Here rests Goggle Bob, and Secret of Mana was good, actually”. It’s the only way future generations will know!), but even I know in my heart of hearts that the game is a hot mess. The battle system is half-baked, the world itself has a number of “cutting room floor”-based dead ends, and the plot is a hodgepodge of different concepts that eventually culminates with a skeleton wizard out of nowhere. Trials of Mana seems like an honest attempt to take the best ideas from Secret of Mana, improve on them, and produce a game that could be its “intended form” from the start of its production. Does it work? Well… mostly.

LOOK OUTFirst of all, let’s address the biggest issue with Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana: magic sucks. There is no “quick casting” in either title, and, whether you want to cast a simple healing spell or summon a meteor from hell to rain unholy destruction upon the battlefield, you’re stuck cycling through random menus, waiting for casting, and then pausing any and all action while the spell animation completes. Trials of Mana works slightly differently from Secret; Secret would freeze only the target of most spells, while Trials freezes all of the action on the screen for every single casting. And, against all odds, somehow both systems are the absolute worst. When your opponent is frozen in Secret, you can just pile on the commands (and faerie walnuts) to stunlock your opponent into oblivion. It’s not very… strategic. This is avoided in Trials of Mana, but the constant, never-ending pauses thanks to friends and foes casting spells completely obliterates any sort of combat flow. And Trials somehow makes the worst even worse, as many bosses are programmed to counter magic spells, but, thanks to the inherent lag in the magic-freezing, it’s very difficult to perceive the if/then of countering that is inevitably going to get your party killed. So, if you somehow wound up with a mage on your team, maybe it’s best to let them sit there and do nothing, because it’s always fun to have a character on the roster that is (going to make you) dead weight.

Though maybe it would be a good idea to take a look at the whys of whether or not a mage is currently weighing down your team. Not unlike many games of yesterday and today, Trials of Mana starts with a clutch of unfamiliar characters, and you are asked to choose half of them to be your traveling party. The first character you select becomes the focal protagonist of the adventure, and the second two both play out their signature stories in brief, “aside” arcs. To be clear, this does not employ the modern/Dragon Quest method of having a main character that is 100% meant to be a player avatar that eventually earns some narratively well-defined, though multi-choice, companions; no, in this case, six different playthroughs of Trials of Mana could potentially feature six wildly dissimilar protagonists. And the difference isn’t merely cosmetic: each of the heroes has their own hopes and dreams, but more importantly, they have their own final dungeons and final bosses. CENSOR THISThere are three “pairs” of overlapping finales within the full cast of six, so it would technically require three different complete cycles through Trials of Mana to see every last dungeon and enemy the title has to offer. And, yes, if you’re curious about every story in the Trials of Mana universe, you’re going to need six different runs of a 15-20 hour game (good news: you’ll probably cut that down to ten hours by your fourth quest).

This, naturally, brings us to the topic of alternate realities.

There are six protagonists in Trials of Mana, but only one hero can ever wield the singular, titular (in Japan) Mana Sword. And, as mentioned, each pair of heroes has a unique antagonist. Riesz and Hawkeye, for instance, battle a vampire, a cat lady, and some manner of plant prince; meanwhile, Kevin and Charlotte are pitted against a murder clown and another damn skeleton wizard. Naturally, it is the choice of protagonist that determines the final boss, and the other antagonists are forced to screw off and die at the midpoint of the adventure to make room for the real big bad should they not be the focus of the story. It just wouldn’t do for Riesz to not battle the woman that murdered her parents, so, sorry Gourmand, you’re going to have to leave now. Where do murder clowns go where they die? Batman should look into it.

However, this creates some interesting plot gulfs for our potential heroes. Take Duran, the stalwart knight of Trials of Mana. If Duran is the hero of the piece, he fights against the nefarious Dragon Lord and his disciple, the Darkshine Knight. Eventually, Duran learns that the mysterious Darkshine Knight is in fact his father, a knight named Loki who once fought against the Dragon Lord, and was presumed dead by his best friend, the good King Richard. To say the least, the relationship between the orphaned Duran and his now malevolent father is a bit strained, but it all works out for the best when Duran and Darkshine Loki reconcile and the Dragon Lord is tossed down a conveniently located open shaft to nowhere. Or something. Look, what’s important is that Duran gets an amazing amount of closure on the whole psychologically traumatized orphan thing, and Darkshine Knight gets to die knowing that his son has grown into a noble, strong, Level 40 young man. … Or he doesn’t, because Duran wasn’t the main character, and all he does is stand motionless in the throne room as a completely forgettable NPC. Getting better!In this situation, the Dragon Lord is slain by whoever winds up being the real big bad, and Darkshine sticks around long enough to deliver a dragon obituary before peacing out to nonexistence. Duran never learns of his lineage, and Loki never sees his son again. Oh well! He’s not the main character! Don’t worry about it, audience! Somebody else got a happy ending! Just be happy with that!

But that’s the kind of thing that inevitably bothers me. Sure, it’s only one iteration of the story, but, in one universe, Duran is left not knowing for the rest of his life. He could have been a hero with a healthy memory of his undead father, but, no, now he’s likely going to be in therapy for the rest of his days. Poor dude didn’t get a faery companion, a father, or magical friends that may or may not be able to transform into werewolves. In one universe Duran is the Hero of Mana, in another, he can barely leave a room.

And in one universe, a young Goggle Bob played Trials of Mana. In another, he didn’t get to play the game “for real” until he was in his 30s.

Trials of Mana was never released in America (in this timeline). It did eventually receive a fan translation, though. I played that game on a creaky old laptop without a properly working soundcard (ah, college life), and, while I certainly enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t exactly all that notable. It was a Super Nintendo game being played concurrently with the heyday of the Playstation 2, and Trials of Mana didn’t come off as revolutionary when Grand Theft Auto 3 was also on the menu. And, yes, the format didn’t exactly help, as my beloved laptop (so beloved because it actually allowed me to not be glued to the computer lab at 3 am) was barely capable of supporting the full Mana experience. I played Trials of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3) because I felt like I had to complete such an important part of Squaresoft history, not because I was anxiously looking forward to the next level.

And then, sometime in my 20’s, I managed to score a repro SNES cartridge of Secret of Mana 2 in English. I played it for about five minutes before growing weary of holding a SNES controller again.

They're asleep!Finally, a few weeks ago, Square-Enix deigned to release Trials of Mana for the Nintendo Switch in glorious American-o-vision. And, for the first time since I ice skated uphill against my old laptop over a decade prior, I played through the entirety of Trials of Mana. And it was rough. The music and graphics are still gorgeous, but all the quality of life improvements that modern JRPG/action titles have presented since the turn of the millennium are sorely missed. The class system is opaque, equipment juggling is unpleasant, and, let’s be honest, who has the time nowadays to complete an entire game three different ways for miniscule plot changes? There are two whole dungeons I missed on my playthrough? Who cares! I would have to complete 80% of the game again just to see a new variation on a cave? I’ll youtube that different final boss, thank you. I am a very important man with very important places to be. That fro-go place can barely open without me visiting!

But in 1995? Back then, this all could have worked. The era of the SNES saw a Goggle Bob with a significantly greater tolerance for bullshit. Back then, a new game only came down the pike (of my parents’ wallets) every six months or so, so a title with three different completely separate paths would have been more than welcome. Spell animations wouldn’t have bothered my young mind, because, I like the turtledamn, did you see those graphics? And the class system that practically requires a FAQ to enhance your party? You better believe I wouldn’t give a damn about proper character optimization. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word “optimization”! Probably literally!

In short: if Trials of Mana had been released in its proper epoch, it might have been one of my most beloved games. It might have been another Final Fantasy 6, Secret of Mana, or even Chrono Trigger.

There’s an entire other timeline out there where Trials of Mana is important to me. Here, in this reality, it is a random novelty that happened to show up on Nintendo Switch.

Trials of Mana, I’ll always wonder if you were meant for better things…

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

  • System: Nintendo Switch. It originally appeared on the Super Famicom in some lucky regions, though.
  • Number of players: Is there really multiplayer available for this game? I know there are reports that the remake won’t have multiplayer “like the original”, but I thought this was another Secret of Evermore situation where the original only had multiplayer thanks to enterprising modders. I’m going to tentatively call this one single player. Maybe it’s just two, but not three? Dammit.
  • What’s in a name: “Trials of Mana” may as well be nails on a chalkboard to my ears. It’s Seiken Densetsu 3, you jerks! Or Secret of Mana 2! Trials of Mana? Really? Because “Trials” starts with “Tri” and that’s marginally related to the number 3? Is that the best you could do? Obviously, the title should be Secret of Ma3a. I mean, duh. Come on, Square Enix, get on the Mana Beast.
  • Speaking of names: Don’t tell anyone, but I can’t even get my own naming conventions together:
    ERROR TYPE MISMATCH

    It’s a secret to everybody.
  • Favorite Hero: Kevin is a bruiser that can transform into a werewolf to cause even more bruises. And he can learn healing magic, so when he’s not bruising, he’s keeping the party alive. And he can learn a spell that transforms physical damage into MP refills, so his bruising can become an unlimited healing battery. Kevin is my hero.
  • An End: During the finale, the previously mentioned Super Werewolf Kevin learns that his best friend is still alive (because Kevin is really bad at identifying a heartbeat) and was accidentally buried alive (by Kevin), his mother is dead, and his father is a complete dick. Couple this with previously transforming his rival into a baby that wanders off into the woods, Kevin has a really weird life.
  • TOTES MCGOATSFavorite Benevodon: We’re really calling them that? Okay, fine. My vote goes to Dolan, the gigantic goat monster that scales an enormous tower just to reach out and touch some Mana Heroes. Also: you can’t tell me that Dolan wasn’t originally intended to be the God Beast (there!) of Darkness, as how could a gigantic goat not fit the ol’ dark arts?
  • Did you know? Heroes of Mana, a strategy RPG for Nintendo DS released in 2007, is a direct prequel to Trials of Mana. It features most of the parents of characters from Trials of Mana, and includes a number of locations and antagonists (a few of them in surprisingly heroic roles) as well. It’s kind of a shame that no one cared about the Mana franchise in 2007, so this title is almost entirely forgotten.
  • Would I play again: Probably! Never mind the upcoming remake, I will probably give another Trials story route a shot at some point. It might be a while, but the gameplay of Trials of Mana works well on the portable Switch, so I’ll probably play it again as one of those “I can play and watch TV” situations. I’ll save state the story scenes for when I have a spare moment to pay attention…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight! Let’s boogie! And put the gun down! Absolutely boogie without firearms! Please look forward to it!

RUN AWAY

FGC #436 The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

SIMPSONS DID ITWhy do I keep this website going? Why write about videogames? Because even the most innocuous of videogames contain magnitudes.

Today’s title is The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare, a game I rented and played more times than Ralph Wiggum could ever hope to count. I didn’t actually own the cartridge until very late in the SNES’s lifespan (a glorious time of liquidations and sales), but I rented it repeatedly because A. I loved The Simpsons, and B. I couldn’t hope to beat it. The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare is a surprisingly difficult game, and, given my childhood OCD habits, I couldn’t exist as a human being knowing I had not completed such a challenge. If I could conquer Bart vs. The Space Mutants, I could certainly handle Indiana Bart.

And, while I did eventually win the day (very eventually), it took a wee Goggle Bob many a rental to finally see Bart earn an A+. Why? Well, mostly because The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare is kind of a mess of seven different games sewn together. We’ve got Bart tomb raiding, and it’s primarily a puzzle situation with some very unusual offensive controls. We’ve got Bart vs. Itchy and Scratchy, an action game with extremely deadly traps and tricks. Bart-Man flying through the skies is, conversely, a very forgiving shoot ‘em up. Bart in his own bloodstream playing Dig-Dug with viruses and collecting nuclear cowboys defies any basic kind of genre or logic. And Big Bartzilla plays pretty close to a rhythm-challenged portion of Rhythm Heaven, while Lil’ Bartzilla is a… climbing simulator? Regardless, neither version of Bartzilla is just straight up Rampage, and that’s a shame. All of this is tied together by a “hub world” that is about CRUSH!80% action, 20% adventure. You have to think the tiniest bit! As you can see, that’s a lot of different games all rolled into one, and, while mastering one or two might be doable, it takes a lot of practice (and heartbreak) to overcome the entirety of Bart’s Nightmare. I did it when I was a kid. I was proud of it when I was a kid.

Playing Bart’s Nightmare as an adult, though? Now I can safely say that Bart’s Nightmare sucks.

Look, there’s a lot of game here. There are a lot of interesting ideas. But practically every one of these ideas is 100% half-baked. Bart dodging grenades in his own bloodstream sounds like a fever dream to begin with, but the actual mechanics of that level are never satisfying. There are two enemies: one can only ever bother you, while the other employs a persistent instant death attack. And the only way to immediately tell the difference is to check out their hats. And that gets a little… insane when they start swarming the screen. And the objective of that level is to grab a randomly spawning mascot (that had appeared in a whole four episodes at this point… he’s at six now), and your success is usually determined by whether or not he/it happened to appear anywhere near your poor, difficult to control Bart. And that’s just one of the games! I could spend literally the entire rest of this article recounting the Weeeeemany, many issues in practically every segment of this title. Do you want to hear about how difficult it is to master the timing for defeating Homer Kong/King Homer? Because I could tell you stories…

And, looking at Bart’s Nightmare as an enlightened, completely objective adult (that is also handsome and super smrt), I can see exactly what went wrong: it’s not good enough. Like… uh… objectively! Bart’s Nightmare has a lot of interesting ideas, but no single portion of the game is fully-realized. It’s a collection of mini-games that do not add up to one single good game because each individual piece needs a few more hours (days… months?) of playtesting and tweaking. There’s a skeleton of an excellent game here, but the flesh is weak and pasty. A little more time, and Bart’s Nightmare could have been one of the greats of the 16-bit era.

And it also would have been nice if Bart’s Nightmare didn’t force someone to retire from making videogames entirely.

Let’s talk about Bill Williams. Bill Williams was born in 1960, and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis early in life. He learned at the age of 12 that he was unlikely to live past 13. He died at 38 (okay, technically 37, but it was a day before his birthday, so we’re going to call that close enough). Bill Williams was one of the earliest videogame designers, apparently getting into the field in the early 80’s because he saw the Atari and Amiga as the future (back when systems were simply “the future” and not just “the future of gaming”). And Williams wound up responsible for some seriously weird titles of the time. Salmon Run, his first title, was basically Frogger but with some manner of fish (probably a trout?). Necromancer was the story of a Geomancer growing an army of trees to battle the titular Necromancer and his undead army (and, yes, this remains one of the few games to even reference the historical rivalry between sentient forests and ogres). Mind Walker, one of the first Amiga 1000 titles, defies description in every possible way. It’s… uh… it’s kind of like Lawnmower Man? And the selectable characters are a body builder, nymph, wizard, or alien. And you can play with Sigmund Freud’s pipe. Move alongIt’s… uh… something. Regardless, Williams was responsible for many different games, and many of his games were solely his creation: he was responsible for graphics, sound, concept, and programming these titles. Yes, that was a lot easier back in the day of “green dot is actually a dragon”, but take a look at some of his creations, and you’ll realize this guy really knew how to push those pixels to the limit.

As the world moved on to bigger and more Mega Man-based systems, Bill Williams stuck around to work on some more licensed titles. Monopoly for the NES was a Bill Williams joint. And so was The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare. And, incidentally, The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare made Bill Williams quit the entire industry.

If there is more information on exactly what happened during Bart’s Nightmare’s development, I haven’t found it. However, it isn’t too hard to see what happened here. Bart’s Nightmare is a game teeming with interesting ideas. Take the hub world: there are a variety of different enemies, from Lisa the Fairy to Principal Skinner to Jimbo and the Bullies to “Grandma”. However, they all work in a sort of ecosystem where one “threat” is actually helpful when Bart is beset by another monster. Grandma’s kiss causes Bart to stop and lose points, but when Lisa turns Bart into a helpless frog, Granny’s kiss will restore his human form. And being a frog sucks, but if Bart is captured by the bullies, it is Lisa that will transform them into harmless rats. Principal Skinner’s suit will disable Bart’s offensive capabilities (though kind of make him invincible), but jumping into the normally aggravating puddle of mud will retire the suit. There’s even a unique take on the “lifebar” and how performing different feats, like controlling bubblegum bubbles or skateboarding, will extend Bart’s dream existence in curious ways. In short, there are a hundred fascinating ideas in just one area of Bart’s Nightmare, and an entire game with this much creativity on display could have revolutionized gaming for 1992.

What is evening happening?But Bart’s Nightmare did not wind up a revolutionary game. Bart’s Nightmare, in its final incarnation, is not particularly fun. There are a lot of exciting ideas on display, but they are not implemented well or completely. It is very easy to see how an additional few months could have refined Bart’s Nightmare to be something that is truly classic, but this was another random bit of Simpsons merchandise. Reading between the lines… and a few interviews with Bill Williams… and you can easily see how Bart’s Nightmare was rushed out the door the minute it was passable. The age of the videogame orator was over, and Williams was forced to release an unfinished product for the exclusive purpose of sopping up some Simpsons cash. Thus did Bill Williams retire from gaming, and began writing a series of meditations on being a Christian living with an incurable disease, ultimately a return to a field where he could again be a sole author of his work. He passed away six years after Bart’s Nightmare, living just long enough to see the rise of the JRPG and titles that were a little more narratively interesting than “Bart has a dream”. However, whether he was even still looking at the industry he once loved so much is unknown. Considering what he did with the meager Amiga, we can only imagine what could have been possible if he got his hands on a Playstation dev kit.

But it’s for people like Bill Williams that I keep the FGC going. The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare is not a good game, but it is inexorably linked to a much greater story. Videogames are art, and every piece tells a story, regardless of whether or not “Bart as Indiana Jones” is the least fun experience anyone could ever imagine. Every plastic cartridge, every disc contains volumes that extend far beyond their credits roll. Whether it be a game that is eternally tied to childhood memories or the actions of a man that was remarkable for his place in the industry, every game has the potential to be important to the great tapestry of human achievement. Every videogame can have a lesson.

And let Bart’s Nightmare be a lesson to you, sweeties. Never love anything.

FGC #436 The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

  • DespicableSystem: Super Nintendo Chalmers, but also ported to Lisa Genesis.
  • Number of players: Don’t have a two player mode, man.
  • Casual Racism: Apu’s only appearance is zooming by on a flying carpet to dispense squishies. Get it!? He’s Indian! Everybody laugh at that silly foreigner!
  • Is Bart, at any point during his sleep, a Viking? Sadly, no.
  • Favorite Dream: I think I will always have a soft spot for the Bartman segment, as it was the first stage/level/dream/whatever that I was actually good at. I really want to like the Bartzilla segments… but they kinda suck. Can you just let me stomp around as a kaiju in peace!?
  • So, did you beat it: I did! Once (without savestates)! And it took so many in-game tries, I think I maxed out the score counter. I probably played that game continuously for so many uninterrupted hours, it’s a wonder my SNES didn’t explode.
  • I did the Iggy: The final boss of the Itchy & Scratchy segment is… a furnace. That’s it. Just a furnace. And this was before that one Treehouse of Horror where a furnace was relevant for like thirty seconds. To say the least, this was an odd choice.
  • Did you know? There’s a Simpsons short from the Tracey Ullman days titled “Bart’s Nightmare”. It’s mainly about Bart stealing cookies (what a bad boy), and the only whimsy involved is a brief bit where Bart is shrunk down to tiny size. As “tiny” isn’t the premise of a single level in the game, I’m going to go ahead and say the existence of the short is merely a coincidence.
  • Would I play again: Bart’s Nightmare has a weird and interesting place in gaming history. And that’s cool! Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the title any more fun to play. I’ll pass on a replay until I get extremely nostalgic.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Princess Peach for the Nintendo DS. Peachy! Please look forward to it!

Good Job!
Like Bart cares about getting an A.

FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

CAAAAAPTAIN COOOOOOOMANDO!Captain Commando is a Capcom beat ‘em up title unleashed upon the arcades in 1991 (two years after Final Fight, the same year as Streets of Rage). It was one of Capcom’s earliest beat ‘em up titles, and one of the most creative, non-licensed punch mans games you could find at the arcade.

Battle Circuit is another original, future-based beat ‘em up from Capcom. It was released for arcades in 1997, and was the last Capcom beat ‘em up to receive that honor. In a way, through no fault of its own, it is a title that signifies the end of an era.

But who needs to read another epitaph? Let’s find out what Capcom actually learned over six years!

Characters are Key

Okay, let’s start with the basics: a beat ‘em up lives or dies by its characters. This is why Konami made an estimated seventeen hundred trillion infinity dollars (adjusted for inflation) by slapping the Ninja Turtles and Simpsons into beat ‘em ups. Lisa Simpson battling kabuki warriors with a jump rope? That shouldn’t be a phrase that recalls one of the most played arcade machines of the 90’s, but here we are. And, what’s more, the minute you marry good gameplay to memorable characters, you have a game that is never going away. There are still Turtles in Time arcade cabinets out there! I saw one at the non-Wii based bowling alley! Which is apparently still a thing, too!

Captain Commando really shot for the moon right out of the gate (those metaphors work well together, right?). The titular Captain Commando was the (quickly abandoned) mascot of Capcom in the 80’s, and, incidentally, a cyborg thunder-tossing cop from the future. That makes him, like, a double Thor. Then we’ve got “a ninja”, which, okay, it was the 90’s, that had to happen. But! Our other choices are a mummy alien knife master and a genius baby that rides his own private robot. Score! If you can’t find a favorite character from that group, you are reading the wrong blog. Go see what is happening on some recipe site, you squares!

High number of cyclopsesNow, it would be understandable to expect that Battle Circuit could not top the concept of “genius baby” or “alien mummy”, but could I offer you a cup of carnivorous plant monster from space? How about a yellow catwoman flamenco dancer (she probably hates Mondays)? Plastic Man with ice powers? The cyborg hero that is clearly a descendant of Captain Commando is nice and all, but wouldn’t you rather play as a little girl and her pet pink ostrich that may or may not be a pirate (I cannot think of any other reason for an ostrich to have an eye patch, okay?)? Oh, and the little girl is, naturally, named Pola (sic) Abdul. She uses a flaming bow and arrow. She will deliver us all from evil.

Bad Guys are Key (too!)

Captain Commando came hot on the heels of Final Fight, so it seems only natural that its Metro City streets (yes, it is canon that Captain Commando takes place in the far future of Haggar’s fair city) are descendants of the same three or four guys that menaced Cody and Guy. In a way, it’s kind of cute that some families clearly never got over the ideals of the Mad Gear Gang, and passed on fond genetic memories of suffering mayorally mandated piledrivers. Unfortunately, give or take the occasional boss that is inexplicably equipped with a harpoon gun, Captain Commando is generic dudes for days. That’s a pretty boring future! Like the actual future! Heck, Scumocide’s second in command, (First) Blood, is just Rambo in cargo pants. That’s not 20XX! That’s not even the 90’s!

Battle Circuit at least makes “the same three guys” a little more interesting. Bosses are amazing, and the various robotic creations of a certain recurring mad scientist reminds one a little bit of the venerable Dr. Wily. Wait, I’m sorry, is that a giant skull I see on the floor of Dr. Saturn’s lair? Yeah, these guys went to the same robotics academy. And a mad scientist naturally means the mooks of the world are going to be fun, like floppy lizards and… Wait a minute. Is that…

NO!  ROB!

I’m beating up R.O.B.? Wow, okay, Battle Circuit just shot to the top of the charts.

Show me your Moves!

Captain Commando is a traditional beat ‘em up, and, despite their natural variety (a baby is not a mummy), each of the characters is interchangeable from a moveset perspective. Okay, technically their special moves show a touch of diversity, but, give or take a baby missile, all the usual bases are covered here. Jump kick, dashing punch, grab n’ smack: all the old standbys are represented. Why mess with the classics?

Well, maybe because you could be shooting freaking lasers out of your chest.

This is just plain funWithout resorting to fighting game-esque unreasonable controller motions, Battle Circuit grants each of its bounty hunters fun and exciting moves that add quite a bit to the gameplay. Want to shoot a magic missile all over the place? Just charge up with the attack button, and release your mega buster. Or maybe you’d like to be Yellow the Cat Lady, and perform an amazing dive kick. Or how about you fish out Ice Man rock blasts with Captain Silver? And if you’re not whipping enemies around with Unknown Green’s plant arms, then why are you even alive? A piledriver is nice, but it’s nothing compared to the repertoire on display with this fighting force.

Oh, and if you’re confused about any of the inputs for these moves, they’re all clearly on display during the “upgrade your moves” screen at the end of each level.

And, uh, you can upgrade your moves. That’s pretty important. Probably deserves its own section…

Upgrade your Moves!

BABY!Captain Commando might have one leg up over its descendant: you can ride a robot. You can also score a missile launcher. Captain Commando is basically Golden Axe in a few weird respects, as riding creatures and nabbing interesting (and temporary) weapons is the name of the game (wait, did variable weapons happen in Golden Axe? Meh, I need to be awake to write this article, so I’ll skip replaying that one). Beat ‘em ups do get pretty monotonous pretty quick, so making a dash for that heavy artillery is a great way to spice things up (and send a few Scumocide henchmen to the great, flashing beyond).

The weapons and ridealongs are missing from Battle Circuit, but there are more than a few powerups scattered about. A special “battle download” capsule will temporarily boost your hunter’s stats, and, continuing the pattern of these distinct characters actually being distinct, each battle download works differently for each fighter. And, if we’re being honest, it probably is a lot more fun to suddenly leap around at double speed, or soak hits like it’s nothing, than ride a mech for a whole fifteen seconds.

And, for a little more longevity, any money or “points” found around the area can be exchanged for permanent powerups that enhance things like your beam weapons or special moves. Or you can expand your health! That can be a bit of a wallet-saver in a quarter killer, so maybe make a beeline for that upgrade. Regardless of how you’d like to cash-in, this simple upgrade system makes literally every object on the screen important, regardless of whether or not said object is currently punching you in the face. That’s no small feat for a genre that litters nondescript boxes and barrels all over the place like Jimmy’s Shipping and Crab Shack ™ was going out of business. And speaking of pickups…

Soup’s on!

SMACK 'EM GOODIn Captain Commando, when you find random food on the ground, it restores your health, and that’s that.

In Battle Circuit, when someone collects a meal, it restores health, and it makes an incredibly satisfying crunching/eating noise.

Battle Circuit is truly the culmination of all beat ‘em ups.

FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

  • System: Captain Commando was an arcade title first, and then a Super Nintendo title second. Very second. They dropped the mechs! That was the best part! No matter, even if ROB technically chose the Super Nintendo version for this article, the recently released Capcom Beat ‘em Up Bundle for Switch and PS4 contains both Captain Commando and Battle Circuit (in America for the first time!). Also, there was a Playstation (1) version of Captain Commando. I wonder how that turned out.
  • Number of players: Four? Let’s count all of the commandos, and a solid 80% of Team Battle Circuit. There are certainly enough “insert coin” messages flashing on the screen…
  • Captain Commando Memories: Somehow, I never saw the Captain Commando cabinet in an actual arcade. However, it did appear in a number of random hotel lobbies across I-95, so I did play the game for whole minutes at a time during family vacations. This is likely why I was excited about the Super Nintendo release, a feeling that was… misplaced.
  • Favorite Character: Baby Commando and Unknown the Hideous Plant Monster from Space should team up and, I don’t know, probably beat some dudes up.
  • Dance through the danger: Okay!
    Dance for me!

    Don’t mind if I do!
  • An End: Battle Circuit also has multiple endings! If you choose to fight the Master Control Program Shiva, you will face an incredibly brutal boss that is probably responsible for more deaths than the entire rest of the game combined. Meanwhile, if you choose to simply shatter the disc that contains Shiva… the game just ends. No bad ending, no “you did something wrong”, just a cute little ending that doesn’t require five bucks to access. That… is an odd choice.
  • Did you know? Yellow Iris/Beast inspired an alternate costume for Felicia in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This is an incredibly odd choice, as the fighting game that would probably most appeal to Americans (“There’s that Iron Man guy! From the movies!”) included paid DLC that honored a beat ‘em up that was never released in America in any capacity. Still, it’s nice to see someone remembers Battle Circuit other than Namco X Capcom.
  • Would I play again: Heck, why not? Either game is pretty alright, though Battle Circuit certainly has more replayability. Unfortunately, Captain Commando also tugs at my heartstrings, so it’s likely to see play again, too. Don’t make me choose between the past and the even-more-past!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Smash Bros! For no particular reason! Yep! Total coincidence! And there won’t be an extra-special guest artist for the article or anything! Nuh-uh! And this is almost entirely a lie! Which part isn’t? Well, guess you can find out next week. Please look forward to it!

What is even happening?

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

Here comes a chicken!Let’s talk about Alfred Chicken, and what he means to the current state of our democracy.

The Alfred Chicken franchise, on its own, is not much to write home about. It’s one of those “weird European platformers” that seemed to pop up since the creation of DOS and carried on into the 32-bit days. Alfred Chicken (damn, I’m going to have to pick up some chicken alfredo before this article is over) runs and jumps around a number of levels that were maybe assembled in seventeen seconds through randomly smoothing graphical assets together until, I don’t know, I guess this collection of alphabet blocks looks like something passable. Alfred’s moveset includes both jumping and pecking, as he must to retain his chicken status. Eventually, the game ends, or maybe it doesn’t, and, look, I bounce off European platformers like a quick boomerang off a leaf shield, okay? I’m too used to my Marios and Castlevanias to waste too much time on some damn game where poultry has to peck at balloons.

And, really, that’s just fine in this case, because America, land of the free (chicken nugget deal), only ever saw one Alfred Chicken title. On my corner of the Atlantic, Super Alfred Chicken was only ever available for the Super Nintendo. But in the fabulous land of lifts and roundabouts, Alfred Chicken dominated (loosely) the NES, Gameboy, Playstation, and whatever the hell an Amiga happens to be. Some platforms had different versions, some featured 3-D, but they all had Alfred Chicken to spare. Oh, and speaking of platforms, there was that whole Alfred Chicken political party, too.

Yes, if you lived in the Christchurch, Dorset constituency in 1993, you could have voted for Karl Fitzhugh of the Alfred Chicken Party.

Blah blah blahNow, before you go thinking that the Alfred Chicken Party had anything useful to contribute to political discourse at the time, consider that Karl Fitzhugh was absolutely just the marketing arm for Alfred Chicken’s Amiga (amigo? Were you trying to say amigo? How about amiibo?) debut. The Alfred Chicken Party was rightly pegged as a publicity stunt, and wound up placing second from last in the election (and, to be clear for my American readers, this is not a situation where “placed last” also means “won the popular vote”). In fact, the Alfred Chicken Party was such a flagrant and obvious publicity stunt, it rapidly inspired new legislation that would require a candidate to acquire many more signatures to actually appear on a ballot. Democracy works! Through Alfred Chicken!

And, 25 years later, it would be nice to believe we had learned a single blessed thing.

Alfred Chicken, in his time, was immediately identified as a spurious, frivolous candidate. This was just a random animal mascot character (arguably before they were cool) attempting to use general politics as a springboard to some free(ish) advertising. No one would legitimately elect a member of the Alfred Chicken Party, because you’d have to be some kind of moron to actually think there is anything more to that “political party” than a naked cash-grab.

But how many people reading this article would vote for a candidate from the Nintendo Party? Hell, how many people writing this article would vote for the party of Mario, Link, and Pikachu? The answer to that question is a firm “all of them”.

UglyIt has come up again and again in recent months, but people show a surprising amount of loyalty to faceless corporations that don’t care if the average consumer lives or dies. Toys Я Us recently went out of business, firing every last employee while its board of directors skipped town with giant bags adorned with dollar signs. But it’s been determined that “the brand” is still viable, so Geoffrey the Giraffe will be back in our faces soon enough. And a huge portion of the population is going to eat it up with a multicolored spoon! Toys Я Us? I love that place! That’s where toys come from! And videogames! Just like Gamestop! And who cares if one single company has been selling me $60 games for years, and then buying them back at 60¢, I’ve got brand loyalty! I’m a Powerup Rewards Member! Sometimes I earn a free pen! I will follow these companies straight into Hell, so please show me your viable political candidates! Who is the leader of the Think Geek Party? Does he need a donation!?

And, at first blush, this all sounds insane. After all, there is no Wal-Mart party, and, while we vote with our wallets every day, no company is brazen enough to actively run a candidate. Except… that’s completely wrong.

Okay, already uttered their name, let’s take Wal-Mart as an example. Right off the bat, apparently Wal-Mart has made $2,192,327 in political contributions in 2018. And, if you’re curious, about half of that money went to candidates, and the majority of the rest of that went to PACs or political parties. In addition to all of that, fifteen senators own Wal-Mart stock, so there might be a bit of an interest in our government keeping that poor company afloat. And if that wasn’t enough, in 2017, Wal-Mart spent $6,880,000 lobbying for various causes. And the kicker? Wal-Mart isn’t even in the top 50 for purchasing government support.

In 1998, $1.45 billion was being spent on lobbying. In 2018, that has become $2.59 billion. And how much is that? Well, to revisit Wal-Mart, that’s a company that makes $14.7 billion in profit a year.

So, to be clear, the US government can be purchased for a little under a fifth of one company’s total profits.

SliceyAnd the most unfortunate thing about all of this is that there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can vote for your favorite party, you can vote for the candidate that is going to save the world, and you can canvas your neighborhood and drum up support in every way you know how. But, end of the day, Wal-Mart is still going to make literally billions of dollars, and whoever is in charge of those billions of dollars is going to make just a smidge more of an impact on the political landscape than anything you could hope to achieve with a “grassroots” campaign. And do you think you’re ever going to compete with Wal-Mart? Fat chance, little voter.

Except…

I always look to Blockbuster Video in times of hardship.

When “video rental stores” (ask your parents) first became popular, there was one in every shopping center (ask your parents, again), and they were all local mom & pop shops with names like “Microplay” or “No Name Video”. Then Blockbuster Video hit the scene with inventories that would be completely impossible for any given neighborhood shop to ever procure, and, almost overnight, Blockbuster Video was literally the only game in town. And, by about the late 90’s/early 00’s, Blockbuster Video was the only way to rent anything. The chain had eliminated all competition, and there was no way to borrow a copy of Leprechaun 3 (that’s the one in Vegas) without your trusty Blockbuster membership card. Had overdue fees on your account? Sorry, you’re stuck in DVD-less purgatory for the rest of your days.

No, it is notBut a funny thing happened. Netflix came along, and, in a few short years, Blockbuster was dead in the ground. Netflix was cheaper, more convenient, and less overtly evil than Blockbuster, so people took their business elsewhere in droves. And it didn’t matter that many areas still have terrible internet connections. It didn’t matter that Netflix and its ilk could never support the historical selection of a well-stocked Blockbuster. It didn’t matter that streaming services would doom us forever to a fragmented system wherein you just kind of hoped your favorite new release would drop on a subscription you already own. No, none of that mattered, because Blockbuster simply could not compete with the new monolith that was streaming, and, in practically no time at all, Blockbuster was resigned to the same fate as the dinosaurs (mostly frozen in remote regions of Oregon). Blockbuster was once king of the hill, and now it is barely a footnote in history.

And if there’s any hope for the future, we could learn a thing or two about Blockbuster’s failure.

No company is too big to fall. Just within the last few decades, we’ve seen hundreds of once enormous companies fall to the inevitable march of the internet. Technology moves forward, and with it, new opportunities arise for those that will take risks (and get lucky). Fossil fuels are killing our planet as we speak, but they could become a thing of the past with cheap, effective alternatives. It sounds impossible, but if every new car with a new fuel system cost just a couple hundred less than the gas-guzzlers currently on the market, we’d have a healthier planet in no time. We just have to find the people willing to support these companies, and not those that foster the industries that should have died decades ago because God forbid Mickey Mouse fall into the public domain. We have to vote for people that are going to support forward progress. And not just in the voting booth! We need to be conscientious consumers, and support companies that in turn support good candidates and business practices. VroooomNo company is ever going to be perfect (they are, almost literally, money making machines. That has a tendency to step on a few ethical toes), but maybe you don’t need the latest make believe horsey game if it is also apparently responsible for 80% of all crunch misery in North America. Or maybe that company could just produce one god damn game with a female protagonist. That would be a step in the right direction…

My final thoughts on this subject are simple: absolutely vote on Election Day, but remember to vote every other day of the year, too. Support candidates that encourage progress, and support companies that do the same. It won’t happen all at once, and it might not even seem like it’s happening at all, but change is possible, and you can help it, every step of the way, every day.

And don’t vote for the Alfred Chicken Party.

FGC #419 Super Alfred Chicken

  • System: Super Nintendo. I understand the other versions/ports of Alfred Chicken are pretty similar to this version, but there is no way I am going to confirm this in any way.
  • Number of players: Start and options? Yep, looks like this is one of those single player platformers.
  • Chicken or the Egg: So the plot of this title is that eggs are being kidnapped, and Alfred Chicken has to venture forth to save the widdle eggies. Except… Alfred Chicken appears to hatch from an egg at the start of every stage… so why are eggs seen driving cars and being their own, autonomous creatures? Are eggs just, like, the unevolved forms of chickens in this universe? Is this U.S. Acres fanfic?
  • What is even happening?Other Questions: And Alfred collects eggs as one-ups, and hatches from a new egg after every death. Is there more than one Alfred Chicken? Does each collected egg start the cycle of life anew for our hero? The theological implications of this game alone…
  • So, did you beat it? No. Come on, this game gets repetitive by approximately the third level. And there are at least fifteen? No thank you.
  • Favorite… uh… Stuff: This is a very generic platformer. Alfred… barely does anything. He jumps! He pecks! He has some sort of weird power-up ball thing that doesn’t work quite right! There is barely anything that distinguishes this game from any other… so… uh… The colors are nice?
  • Did you know? The Alfred Chicken Party came in second-to-last in its election. The biggest loser was, apparently, the Rainbow Party. There is no force on Earth that would allow me to effectively google “The Rainbow Party” in 2018.
  • Would I play again: Nope! This chicken doesn’t have any meat on it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy for the Nintendo Switch! The prophecy has come to pass! Please look forward to it!

Happy Flower