Tag Archives: super nintendo entertainment system

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

According to James Cameron, the original Terminator film came from a literal fever dream. While being laid up with a particularly bad flu, Cameron experienced a vivid vision featuring a metallic torso of a man lurching forward with some very pointy weaponry, and that image eventually gave birth to Arnold Schwarzenegger the terminator. It’s not difficult to understand why: the picture of an “undying” and relentless pursuer is one that seems to be lodged pretty firmly in our collective unconscious and, metal monster or not, I think a lot of us have had “that dream” involving an unyielding, inescapable monster. This is a primal fear (probably courtesy of one or two saber tooth tigers that were real dicks), so giving such a thing robo-flesh was inevitably going to tap into an endless market of people that want more homicidal android action.

Just kind of a shame someone forgot about that invincible torso somewhere along the way.

The Terminator franchise has been complicated from the very beginning. Right from the get-go, we’ve got a time travel story that is doing its best to simultaneously create a “new future” and a stable time loop. John Connor sends his best bud back in time to become his dad (thus creating a future where there is a John Connor) and prevent the Skynet robopocolypse from ever existing (thus creating a future where there is no reason for a John Connor). That’s a surprisingly convoluted plot to get to “there’s an unstoppable robot on the loose”, but I suppose credit should be given to Cameron for not just tossing out a “btw there’s a killer robot now” story and putting some thought into the whys of an unstoppable metal torso. Of course, this begat Terminator 2, which brought the concept to its logical conclusion: Stay still!what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? What happens when two relentless robots collide? And maybe there’s an annoying kid involved, too, because we have like another hour to fill? Yes, Sarah Connor is a great role model, and her PTSD from a future that might never be is pretty neat an’ all, but the focus of T2 is the Judgment Day when two invincible bots clash. And, once again, audiences seemed to react well to that kind of thing.

Then it all went to hell.

The image of an army of terminators, whether they have flesh or not, is a chilling one. These are unstoppable androids, and even one seems to be completely invincible. What hope does humanity have against an entire planet of the buggers? No wonder time travel seemed to be the only option: once Skynet has built an impassable wall, there’s nothing that’s going to bring it down short of rewriting history. But there’s a problem with terminators, and it’s basically the same as the inverse ninja law. Duel one threat, and you can have an exciting, one-on-one battle that is all about tactics and psychology and the very real threat of one combatant exploiting the tiniest advantage and pulling a victory out of seemingly thin air. But pit one hero against a group of greater than, say, four, and suddenly everything is tilted in the favor of the lone protagonist. Storm Troopers can’t shoot straight, ninja get kicked in the face, and terminators are suddenly about as threatening as a Roomba. Yes, maybe you can’t “beat” an army of terminators, but they’ve rapidly lost that ability to actually hit a target, mow down humankind, and, ya know, terminate. The more terminators, the better for humanity.

I am the law?And this is where we join RoboCop Versus The Terminator for the Super Nintendo. Robocop is a fairly unstoppable cyborg himself, and he’s also had a number of videogames to his name. That’s no mistake, as he was practically built for 16-bit battles. He’s powerful, but he’s not invincible, so he’s one of the few protagonists that possess a life bar and an excuse for said life bar. Heck, you could even make such a thing some part of Officer Murphy’s in-visor HUD. And then you’ve got the whole “future Detroit that is moderately more deadly than OG Detroit” thing to provide an army of criminals, mutants, and criminal mutants to indiscriminately gun down. Toss it all together, and you’ve got a complete videogame. Throwing in a terminator is just sprinkles on the hyper violent sundae that is Robocop.

But the problem isn’t that Virgin Games involved a terminator, it’s that they went for terminators. Terminators leave their lovely dystopia to visit Detroit’s slightly less futuristic dystopia, and the mechanical malcontents descend upon Robocop. One Terminator is encountered at a construction site, and, with the right positioning, it can be defeated without Robocop even having to move. But the next terminator is slightly more invincible! He can’t be defeated with simple armaments… but there is a pretty conspicuous pit nearby, and you know what you have to do. The next terminator is similarly doomed, but his death is slightly further away. And then Robocop takes the long way to a future full of terminators.

And then it gets really silly. Robocop is stuck in a future filled to the brim with terminators, so, naturally, he has gained the ability to mow the mechs down like they’re less killing machines and more farm equipment. Yes, the story does offer the tiniest concession in Robocop grabbing a futuristic pistol and other advanced weaponry to gain the tiniest edge, but previous levels granted ol’ Robo a rocket launcher. This isn't funIs it even possible to improve on the destructive power of that old standby? (Please don’t tell me the answer to that, I’d prefer to sleep at night.) This all comes to a natural conclusion in “the vehicle stage”, wherein Robocop is piloting a futuristic (maybe) flying thing, and the goal of the level is to destroy twenty terminators before moving on. Can they really be called terminators anymore at that point, though? Aren’t they more… target practice?

And, unfortunately, it seems the Terminator franchise has followed the lead of this misbegotten Super Nintendo game. Terminators are no longer terminators, they are simply fodder for our rebellious humans to trick and humiliate. The days of invincible torsos are behind us, and a dramatically less invincible robot army explodes in its wake.

The dream is dead. The future has failed us.

(But that is pretty good news for Robocop.)

FGC #302 RoboCop Versus The Terminator

  • System: Super Nintendo for this review. There are also Gameboy, Game Gear, and Genesis versions available, too.
  • Number of players: Robocop is a singular hero. … I’m kind of surprised there wasn’t ever a Lady Robocop with an obtrusive ponytail. Meh, maybe in the animated series.
  • BoooPort-O-Call: Apparently the Genesis version takes the smarter route of focusing primarily on the present (not too distant future?) and a baddie or two from Robocop 2. Meanwhile the SNES version is pretty evenly split between past and future. The Gameboy version is all bad future… That is to say it is the worst possible future, one wherein videogames are absolutely abhorrent.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Robocop is simultaneously built for videogames and… absolutely not. His jump is more of a hop (maybe even a skip), and he controls about as precisely as a walking corpse. That said, there’s the potential for a good game here… if it wasn’t wall to wall stupid mazes and lame traps. See also: B.O.B., Harley’s Humongous Adventure.
  • Favorite Boss: The first boss of the future area is a tank… that doesn’t move. It just sits there, and you shoot pieces off of it. The NES Technodrome was a more mobile threat!
  • Did you know? Meanwhile, the inspiration for Robocop’s prime directive of “serve the public trust” was inspired by… a fortune cookie. Robocop and Terminator come from very different places.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Another lame SNES platforming/action game that involves too many easily defeated robots. I’ll just play Mega Man X, thank you.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nier Automata! Wow, now there’s a game about robot on robot violence. Please look forward to it!

Owie

FGC #299 Kendo Rage

Has this ever happened to you? You buy a videogame that has a radical, totally Western box like so…

But then get it home, pop it in your home videogame entertainment system, and are shocked to discover something that looks like this…

Yes, it happens to the best of us. Sudden Anime Disorder can come from any piece of media, and should you not know the symptoms of SAD, before long you’ll be running to school with a piece of toast in your mouth. And you graduated two decades ago! Such is the overwhelming impact of SAD.

Now I know you’re already as concerned as can possibly be, and are likely asking “how can I identify when a videogame might afflict me with SAD?” Well, Goggle Bob says read on, and I’ll show you!

FGC #297 Uniracers

Gotta race fastLet’s have a big hand for Uniracers, one of the stupidest, smartest games for the Super Nintendo.

Racing games have always been fairly intriguing from a gameplay perspective. Racing, in a weird way, is maybe the purest, easiest to understand form of gaming. If you were to take a random bumpkin off the street and show him someone playing Super Mario Bros. stage 5-1, there is no immediate indicator that this player is over halfway to saving a princess from dinoturtle clutches. Meanwhile, take that same unobservant fellow, show him a race with four cars, and one car is right there in the front, well, he’s easily going to spot the winner. And what’s more, depending on the perspective, it’s really easy to tell just how much that winner is winning. “A big lead” could be understood by Einstein or a toddler, and that instant recognition is essential for a fun gaming experience. Taking ten minutes to clear Quick Man’s stage isn’t a clear measurement that you’re doing something wrong, but being fourth place out of four cars certainly means it’s time to git gud.

Of course, while identifying the winner in a race is easy, recognizing how to get better at racing is a little bit more tricky. “Go faster” is the obvious answer here, but, by their very nature, videogames can’t be well balanced if one car/racer is naturally faster than another. There are games where the “challenge” is creating the perfect load-out before a race, but that creates more of a RRPG (Racing Role Playing Game) than a pure racing experience. And in games where there are projectiles (whether they be missiles or turtle shells), the answer usually involves dodging or properly rationing your own weapons supply, and acknowledging that ramming into seven banana peels in a row might slow your roll. But once you iron out all the fluff, once it’s just you and a couple of other cars (or maybe a time trial), then the careful dynamics of racing come to the forefront. How do you corner? Do you ever use your breaks? Better memorize that track, learn every last bend and nook and cranny, and then, and only then, will you be able to obtain the checkered flag.

WeeeeBut, uh, important side note? Pretty much none of that could work in a 2-D world.

Racing games need 3-D, or at least some stab at a 3-D world. Mario Kart might be a Mode 7 trick, but you’ll note Mario’s racing adventures are not nearly as 2-D as his turtle stomping times (or the delightful, pretend 2-D characters on the Mario Kart title screen). Super Off-Road and racing games of its time offered big, overhead maps that were closer to Zelda than Mega Man or Castlevania. And once gaming systems were able to support “real” 3-D, we never looked back, and haven’t so much as attempted a 2-D racing game since. And who would even want to try such a thing? A 2-D racing game would just be nothing more than “hold right to win”. Maybe the tracks could have some obstacles or other such nonsense, but it would still be an amazingly hobbled experience compared to proper racing.

But there was a 2-D racing game back in the 90’s, and it was one that everyone played…

Gotta go fast

Okay, yes, that was technically an action platformer hop ‘n bop (or whatever), but there was a 2-player “race mode” in every Sonic the Hedgehog since Sonic 2 (“So also Sonic 3?” “Yes.”). It wasn’t much of anything, but this was a game released within a decade of Ice Climber, so the stupid kids of the time (this stupid kid included) went gaga for (super) Sonic racing. And why wouldn’t we? This was Blast Processing! This was as fast as a 16-bit game could go! Feel the need for sonic speed!

So Nintendo, never one to be outdone by an erinaceinae, decided they were going to showcase the native speed of the Super Nintendo. With the help of DMA Design, Uniracers was born. And, naturally, it was a 2-D racing game… so hold right to win, article over. Have a nice day!

YuckBut wait, there’s more! Uniracers is not as simple as Sonic the Hedgehog 2P Mode, and it doesn’t rely on silly powerups or spiny distractions. Uniracers has one simple trick up its sleeve: do tricks. While racing forward (or backward, let’s not assume all tracks have to go right), if there’s a spare length of track, go ahead and jump, and attempt to flip your unicycle. Perform even the fastest flip, and you’ll gain a speed boost. Wipeout and you lose some speed. That’s it. Figure out the ins and outs of the tracks, determine exactly when you can get flipping and when you should hold off, and you’ll win every race. Quick, simple, and easy to understand. Always be tricky.

And that is brilliant in its simplicity. I… don’t think I’ve ever met an actual unicyclist, but I remember being seven and having a bike (but not a skateboard), and all anybody ever wanted to do was show off rad tricks. It’s natural to want to do “cool stuff” with your toys, and it follows directly into videogames. What is a speed run but a “tricky”, stylish way to play a videogame? So of course the first thing a player is going to do with a uniracer is attempt random tricks. And then that unicycle goes faster! Awesome! This is the path to victory! No tutorial necessary, you know everything you would ever need within the first ten seconds. And that’s the essence of a good racing game.

And that’s why Uniracers is simultaneously dazzling and thoughtless. It’s a 2-D racing game, which means extremely limited gameplay, but it also teaches the player that “simple” gameplay almost instantly, and exemplifies the “easy to learn, hard to master” maxim used to advertise many lesser games. Uniracers is a stupid concept with the smartest design, and thus becomes one of the best, wildest games on the Super Nintendo.

FGC #297 Uniracers

  • System: Super Nintendo. Gee, wonder why this franchise never saw another system.
  • RadicalNumber of players: I think you can have a league with, like, infinity players. Or maybe just eight. But there are only two simultaneous players, so we’ll say two.
  • Favorite Uniracer: Why would I enter my own name when there’s a red Robbie right there? Works for me, dude.
  • Pixar Problems: Pixar, foreshadowing its eventual absorption into the Disney machine, claims to hold the copyright on moderately sentient unicycles. Apparently that held up in court, and Uniracers was sued into oblivion, causing production of the game to stop prematurely. This is likely why the franchise has never been revisited. Oh, that, and unicycles are boring.
  • Brain Problems: I always think Uniracers and Stunt Race FX are N64 games for some reason. Conceptually, I know they’re not, but they’re lodged in that part of my brain. Probably has something to do with the box art…
  • Did you know? If you attempt to enter “Sonic” as a player name, the game will chastise you for being “Not cool enough”. Ice burn, Uniracers.
  • Would I play again: It sure would be nice to see Uniracers on, I don’t know, a tiny Super Nintendo or something, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. That said, I’d like to take Uniracers for a spin more often, but I’m a lot more likely to play something a tweak more complicated (like Mario Kart 64), so the odds are low on this one getting popped in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rumble Roses for the Playstation 2! I think I let ROB watch too much Netflix recently. Get ready for some foxy… wrestling. Please look forward to it!

Seriously

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

BAM POWI’m not going to claim that the fall of the Western genre has led to the degradation of society, but… Okay, that’s exactly what I’m going to claim. Westerns are no longer popular, and that may destroy us all.

Everyone can identify a Western. There’s a dusty, one horse town, and a sheriff that just does his best to keep the peace. A posse of black hats roll in, scare the local populace, and only one man can stand against the encroaching lawlessness. Granted, sometimes it’s the reverse (town ruled by bad guys, and one man of honor appears with the sunrise), but, one way or another, the same basic beats are followed with the precision of a Texas BBQ. Hero does his best, maybe loses a dear friend, defeats all the henchmen, and then has one final showdown with the baddest hombre around. Everything wraps up around high noon, and the protagonist rides off into the sunset with the apparently only single woman in town. Maybe she has a heart of gold.

Given that plot synopsis, you would think there would be more Western videogames. I mean, what about that description isn’t a video game? One solitary hero against a world of “monsters”? Check. Whole world full of people that are there to offer advice but are otherwise completely useless? Check. Town in the middle of nowhere so the rest of the planet may as well not exist? Check. Final battle with the big boss that is just as allergic to lead poisoning as everybody else, but somehow is the only one that survives until the final moments? Check. Almost entirely male cast? Double check. Yet, it seems like the Western genre has been largely ignored by videogame producers. Yes, we’ve got our Red Deads and Call of Juarezes, but aside from the arcade style shooting games that are more about reliving specific dueling battles and a handful of games based on properties already firmly entrenched in olden days (does Back to the Future 3 count?), the Old West is snubbed by digital storytelling. Even games like Wild Arms and Gunman Clive seem to be living in the land of the cattle rustler, but before the credits roll, you know a space ship or anthropomorphic lizard aliens are going to make the scene. Despite efforts by highfalutin Hollywood bigshots, cowboys and aliens do not go well together.

Here we goSunset Riders is a pretty standard Western videogame. Actually, that’s a little bit wrong, as I’m pretty sure the average Western doesn’t contain this much neon. Also, Native Americans in this Konami action game are Native Ninja. But conceptually this is a standard Western: three (nearly identical) bounty hunters and their Mexican stereotype sidekick are looking to make a few bucks, and, on the way to bigger and bigger bounties, wind up saving fair maidens and one-horse towns. There’s some cattle rustling, horseback riding, and saloons out the wazoo, so there’s no question about the Western-authenticity of Sunset Riders. Yes, the game leans on goofy whenever possible (I’m pretty sure running atop a stampede is something out of a Charlie Chaplin routine), but, glowing bullets or no, this is still a bloody Western. I’m not one for counting, but I’m pretty sure Sunset Rider Bob (clearly the best named hero of the bunch) mowed down about 12,000 gunslingers between here and the Rio Grande. They… uh… let’s assume they all shot first.

But that’s the appeal of the Western.

There are a lot of important aspects to any given Western, but the body count is always there. Why? Because when you’ve got a problem that can be solved with a sixgun, and bygum, you’ve got a sixgun, then, well, I reckon guns aren’t exactly known for the most peaceful of solutions. I don’t care if you’ve got a slab of defensive metal under your poncho, if you’ve got a Western without bloodshed, you’ve got a pretty darn boring Western. Bad guys getting their just desserts (a big ol’ helping of death pie) is endemic to the genre, and the same grandmas that would later complain about the violence of videogames seemed perfectly okay with the Baby Boomers watching a lot of rifle booming.

Yee haBut that’s the thing about the Wild Wild West: it was fiction, and everyone knew it was fiction. Yes, there are stories about “the bad old days” of the West, when frontier towns were lawless and desperados roamed the prairie, but, by and large, those stories were just… stories. The Old West did not operate in any conceivable way like a John Wayne picture. If you think otherwise, at least acknowledge that your average “small town” could not have ever survived with a mortality rate of 80% and an economy based entirely on booze and whores. The truth is that a town in Utah is exactly as boring today as it was a few centuries ago, just today it might have a slightly better internet connection. The Old West has never been a place for legitimate historical dramas any more than Camelot and its band of chivalrous knights was a proper representation of the Dark Ages.

But, over time, the Western has fallen out of favor. Maybe it’s because people got tired of the formula, or because Clint Eastwood is three years shy of 90, or maybe it’s just that Hollywood finally called in an exterminator to take care of that tumbleweed problem, but, one way or another, the Western is by and large dead. It’s an anachronism, and the best the genre can hope for is a Wolverine movie or two. The Western is in a pine box, and, in its place we have… the exact same stories. One hero against a gang of bad guys, and all of the guns is the only solution to every conceivable problem. The only difference is that now it’s set in the now, and the bad dudes aren’t just black hats, they’re all manner of scary terrorists and smart white guys and maybe even a foreigner or two. Modern movies feature modern threats in modern settings.

And that’s the problem: modern media blurs the lines between fantasy and reality to a significant degree. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a videogame that could potentially be taking place down the street, but it’s a little disconcerting when that game encourages you to steal everything that isn’t nailed down and murder anybody that gets in your way. No, I’m not going to claim Grand Theft Auto has magically transformed the videogame playing masses into murderbots with a taste for trashcan medkits; Lotta deathbut, in a time when we need empathy more than ever, it’s very easy to lose yourself in a world where nothing matters but you, player, and everybody else is a brainless NPC that just happens to look like the average person you’d see on the street. No, I’ve never encountered anyone wearing a ten-gallon hat and two straps of chest ammo, but I have encountered the average “business guy” or “dude in a bandana” that I’ve plowed over in Saint’s Row before. We’ve still got all the violence of the imaginary Old West, but now it’s right here in our backyard.

Assuming those neon bullets are as lethal as their Contra brethren, Sunset Riders has an incredible body count. But it also takes place in a magical Old West that no one is going to mistake for something with historical accuracy. But Sunset Riders is also an anachronism onto itself; the Western is dead, and no we’re stuck with a simulacrum of reality for all of our murder simulators. So maybe we need our Westerns back, if only to give our children something new to shoot. Or… uh… old, I suppose.

Where have all the cowboys gone? And could they remember to bring the neon? Makes ‘em a better target.

FGC #295 Sunset Riders

  • System: Super Nintendo for the review, though there is a very compromised Genesis version out there, too. And, of course, find an arcade cabinet wherever available.
  • Number of players: Two for the SNES, but a whole four if you’ve got an arcade handy. Simultaneous play is always the best.
  • Favorite Character: I had to choose Bob for obvious reasons, but Cormano secretly holds the key to my heart. An all pink/purple poncho and sombrero? You’re the hero we all need, Cormano.
  • Ninja!Favorite Boss: Chief Scalpem/Wigwam is the weirdest kind of racist. He’s a Native American “savage” like you’d cringingly expect to see in your average Western, but in this case, “savage” equals “ninja”, so he flies around like Rolento tossing knives all over the place. I am not familiar with that particular stereotype.
  • Speaking of Racism: Okay, I might miss the Western, but I do not miss the inherent racism in the genre. I have no idea why the playable characters for this game are three identical white dudes and then one random Mexican fellow. I have no idea why Dark Horse appears to be some manner of stripper riding an armored horse. I don’t even want to know the deal with Paco Loco. It’s all very confusing.
  • Did you know? Also speaking of racism, a number of subtle changes were made to the SNES version. Instead of murdering an entire stage of Native Americans, now there’s just the one at the end of the level. All the women have slightly more modest outfits, and, to prove that Final Fight isn’t the only franchise with this problem, all female enemies were modified to be male. But everything else is the same! Except the dogs!
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game that is ideal for multiple players. It’s basically a beat ‘em up meets Contra. And that’s fun! But I’ll probably never play it again, because, ya know, Westerns are dead.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Driver for the Playstation 1! Who wants to go driving… I guess? Please look forward to it!

Stab!