Tag Archives: thar be dragons

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

DWARVES!We judge videogames by many criteria. Graphics? Inevitably important. Sound & Music? That is a must. Story? That has become vital in much of today’s gaming scene (except when it’s a fighting game). Presentation? Sheer volume of glitches? And, of course, gameplay is the king, as, if you can’t enjoy playing the game, why is it even a game at all? Without even checking the latest Gamepro ranking scale (that’s still a thing, right?), you can easily envision a hundred criteria for “what makes a good game”.

So where does “personality” fit in there? How much should we weigh a game’s personality against its other flaws?

Today’s featured title is Three Dirty Dwarves for the Sega Saturn. Never heard of it? It was also ported to Windows PC and… nothing else. Does that help? No? Okay, we’re talking about a beat ‘em up that was released for the Sega Saturn the same year we saw the likes of Tomb Raider and Super Mario 64. Yes, it seems other games stole Three Dirty Dwarves’ spotlight, and, if we’re being honest, people probably only remember a maximum of four unique titles from the Sega Saturn on a good day. Three Dirty Dwarves was not an arcade port, it did not star Sonic the Hedgehog or Sarah Bryant, and it wasn’t a game that saw every other system of the era. This was a game that was (almost) exclusive to the Sega Saturn from the same company that gave us Ecco the Dolphin and Kolibri. Let’s face it: Three Dirty Dwarves was never going to be as remembered as Tiny Tank: Up Your Arsenal.

This sucksAnd the gameplay of Three Dirty Dwarves doesn’t do the title any favors, either. It’s a beat ‘em up, but with a very unusual health/failure system. Venturing through a mutated version of The Bronx, you control one of the titular Three Dirty Dwarves. And, while 3DD firmly belongs to a genre that traditionally requires things like health bars and variations on the concept of “chip damage”, these dwarves all “die” after one hit. It doesn’t matter if it was a bite from a rat, a punch from a random mook, or some manner of meteoric fireball: everything will knock out your dwarf du jour with a single tap. But there’s still hope! As long as one dwarf remains, he can hit an unconscious dwarf with his melee attack, and we’re back in business! This means you simultaneously are constantly vulnerable and have infinite lives (in all modes save hard mode, incidentally). When you’re halfway through a level and have two dwarves down, the raw panic and drive in attempting to save your fellow warriors leaves an impression, and is an interesting spin on typical beat ‘em up formulas (a distinctive health system similar to another Sega hero). Unfortunately, that revive panic is mostly caused because your dwarves fall way too quickly, and a new monster on the screen often has equal odds on being surmountable or instantly vaporizing your entire party with the cheapest deaths possible. Did I mention you barely have any invincibility frames after losing a dwarf? Because that can lead to more than a few game overs.

And the basic beat ‘em up gameplay isn’t all that amazing here, either. You’ve got your dwarves, and they all have a melee attack, or a long-range attack that (depending on the dwarf involved) either has a long windup or cool-down period. There are also screen-clearing attacks that… clear… the screen… yeah… but require found consumables to use. Ultimately, the gameplay winds up being pretty similar to what you’d find in another game featuring at least one dwarf, and, as far as the level-to-level of battling, there isn’t much of an improvement here over a game that was released at the tail end of the 80s.

The pit bossOn a basic, “is this game good” level, an initial review would be very negative. It’s a beat ‘em up with extremely fragile beat ‘em uppers, and the occasional platforming or puzzle-esque segment is rarely welcome. It’s not a very good game, even by the more lenient standards of the late 20th century. This is not a game that should have ever come before Mario Kart 64, Super Mario RPG, or some other 1996 videogame that probably includes Mario.

But, when you get past the gameplay having its share of issues, the sheer volume of personality exuding Three Dirty Dwarves is immeasurable.

First of all, for a beat ‘em up, there is a seriously bonkers story happening here. Long (very long!) story short: a quartet of kids were grown in a lab for the express purpose of becoming genius military weapons. Or creating military weapons with their genius? Small distinction there, I suppose. Regardless, the kids are not happy with their test tube origins and eternal imprisonment, so they decided to put their amazing brainpower toward escaping. Rather than create some manner of bad key machine, the children looked toward interdimensional/interfictional travel. See, the four children play a D&D-esque game, and the dungeon master (dungeon mistress, in this case) figures out a way to pull the three other children’s roleplay avatars into the real world. Now the three dirty dwarves that were previously imaginary are in the real world and ready to save the moppets that created them. But oh no! The process also sucked all the orcs and dragons that existed in the game to the real world, too, so it’s not like the dwarves are going to have an easy time making it to the evil military’s child prison. And, of course, the military has its own collection of other, generally malevolent science experiments. And this all happens in The Bronx for some reason, so maybe watch out for some of the more malicious New Yorkers of the late 90s. Rudy Giuliani was mayor. It wasn’t a great time.

Ninja!And, while we’re talking about the monsters the dwarves have to face, let’s note that the bestiary of Three Dirty Dwarves is large and in charge. Even the best beat ‘em ups seem to collect three or five archetype characters (fat guy, skinny guy, medium guy, robot), and then repaint them across seven levels. There is variety in how some opponents may block or gain new weapons, but you’re still obviously fighting the same Two P. sprites. Three Dirty Dwarves still has standard mooks, but it offers new and interesting monsters with practically every level. The junkyard stage includes gigantic scrap mechs, while the military industrial complex offers psychic babies. And the general streets of New York may include everything from unruly police officers to naked ninja. Come to think of it, the ninja may be cops, too, it’s just hard to tell without the uniforms…

And the whole thing, from the dwarfs to their opponents to animated cutscenes, is tied together with a very unique art style. It seems like the greatest influence here would have to be Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and his iconic Rat Fink, but the whole affair gives the vibe that tattoo artists decided to make their own videogame. Could you describe the graphics as “good” in the traditional sense? Probably not, as much of what’s on display looks like it originated MS Paint, and not the console that was meant to defeat the Playstation. But it oozes personality, and I can safely say it doesn’t look like a single other game on the Sega Saturn (and not just because there are like six other Saturn games). And while we’re being superficial, the music is also wholly unique. It might not sound like anything else from this era of gaming (it leans surprisingly heavily on hip hop beats), but it slaps. It slaps but good.

Oh, and there’s a level where you fight a dragon with a wrecking ball. That’s rarely seen elsewhere, too.

Let's go!But personality or no, Three Dirty Dwarves comes down to one basic truth: it’s not all that fun to play. You might relish seeing a lady wielding duct tape as a weapon, or an inexplicable minecart level that is equally inexplicably passable, but it all works out to a game that feels more like a chore than a fun time. You’re interested in seeing what crazy thing happens next, but actually getting through a level is a stressful task.

So how should we rank personality when grading a game? It’s hard to say, but it is easy to say that Three Dirty Dwarves needs a better gameplay score to balance its personality score.

And, hey, if it had as much fun gameplay as it did personality, it might actually have been more remembered than Mario.

… Or at least it would be remembered at all.

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

  • System: Sega Saturn and a Windows version that I’m sure exists somewhere, forgotten, in the back room of a former Electronics Boutique.
  • Number of players: Three! There was apparently a Sega Saturn multitap! It was probably intended for Bomberman!
  • Favorite Dwarf: Of Corthag, Taconic, and Greg, I choose Corthag, as he’s apparently the only dwarf that decided to pick up a firearm. Greg has baseballs! Baseballs! At least Taconic went with a bowling ball. That worked out for The Simpsons.
  • Favorite Boss: Man of a Thousand Swords was “once a mild-mannered salesman from Jersey City” who collected one sword too many. Considering I always feared that would be my fate if I got into weapon collecting, I’m going to sympathetically give him the nod.
  • Tank policeIt’s All a Game: The fact that the dwarves are just the RPG avatars of the kidnapped kids rarely comes up (you can collect dice, at least), save during the ending, when the children have to roll to “control” the dwarves’ inclination toward following the bad guy for wealth and power. Considering that tabletop gaming was still extremely niche back in the late 90’s, saving this bit of nerdity for the ending seems apropos.
  • Did you know? Corthag’s favorite movie is listed as Porky in Wackyland. That’s a seven minute short! That’s not a movie! You stupid dwarf!
  • Would I play again: Maybe if there were some revised version that made everything less… stressful. The way the dwarves die so quickly is terrible on some of the longer levels, and I have no time nowadays to deal with a game where I could lose valuable minutes of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t see a remake anytime soon…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man ZX Advent! It’s time for the reign of the Mega Men! Please look forward to it!

This looks familiar
This looks like a 70’s Garfield Special, and I am here for it.

FGC #473 Dragon Warrior 4

Here come some dragonsDragon Warrior 4 has always secretly been Dragon Quest 4: The Chapters of the Chosen. And how many chapters are there? Five? No, that’s not enough chosen. There are probably at least fifty here, right? Yes, let’s count down the top fifty “chosen” in Dragon Warrior 4.

A Definitive Ranking of the Top Five Fifty Dragon Warrior 4 Characters

#1 Alena

To be absolutely clear, we are only considering “real” DW4 for these rankings. This means that items, conversations, or super moves that appear in other games or versions of DW4/DQ4 do not count. And even with that caveat out of the way, Alena wins. She’s a princess. She successfully, wordlessly jump kicks her way out of her room. She endangers/saves her entire kingdom. She tolerates her own lame sidekicks on a daily basis. The only knock against her is that time she joined another, rival gang of adventurers, but that was only in pursuit of medicine for one of her own hangers-on, so that may be forgiven. And she does this all without so much as a spell list, so it’s clear why Alena is the absolute most chosen of the chosen.

#2 Taloon

And there’s really no way that second place can’t be Taloon. Taloon is so high on this list for the exact opposite reason as Princess #1: he’s a terrible JRPG protagonist. He might gain levels well, but, aside from his plentiful HP pool, he has practically nothing going for him. Forget magical armor boosting his stats, Taloon can barely handle an apron. But, while he might not be the most amazing protagonist, he is the most unexpected, as he starts out as little more than a graduated NPC. Taloon teaches the player of 1990 (or 1992) exactly how monotonous it would be to work in a weapon shop, and then goes on to educate us all on the perils of dungeon storming for your average JRPG resident. And he somehow succeeds! And commissions at least one (1) tunnel. Not bad, Taloon! Not bad at all.

#3 This Sentient Boulder

This boulder is capable of following Taloon and making 90° turns. These are pretty significant accomplishments for a mineral to achieve, and all while overcoming the obvious handicap of being an uneducated slab of rock. Literally no other character lower on this list accomplished such a magnificent feat.

#4 Neta (aka Tessie Taloon, Nina Taloon, Nene Taloon)

Taloon’s wife gets bonus points for being one of the few NPCs capable of changing her mind. She’s a dedicated wife, and, in this world of 8-bits, she would be forgiven for standing around and dispensing lunches from now until the end of time. But, when her hubby gets that adventuring itch, thus leaving the family cut off from its usual supply deliveries, she decides to take up the cause, and starts her own banking business. And, while it is unclear how this bank makes any significant money (do legendary swords naturally accrue interest? Do they… breed?) at least she’s doing something. I’m pretty sure most of the rest of the NPC army can barely get out of their chairs.

#5 Healie the Heal Slime

Okay, he might not be as accomplished as the boulder, but Healie still leads a pretty marvelous life across DW4. He starts as a humble, peculiarly friendly heal slime. He aids Ragnar on a quest to save some local village children, and is 100% successful in rescuing the kids. Healie then ventures forth with Ragnar, believing that committing good deeds will transform this monster into a human. And, years later when you encounter Healie again, he has become a human! And a bard, for some reason! So it all worked out! Good job, Healie! You successfully transitioned across species! Have fun wearing clothes!

We’ve got 45 more to goo… I mean go…

MKK: Shujinko & Onaga

Transition!

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance revived the Mortal Kombat franchise, but it was still a game lost in time. Fighting games never truly went away (Tekken bore the burden of an entire genre longer than anyone would have ever expected from a game featuring a panda), but there’s a reason the Playstation 2 era of gaming is known for so many one-player experiences. You couldn’t heart a kingdom or cry up a devil with a buddy, and that was just fine by the public at large. The very concept of an arcade had withered and died, and online play was still a generation away from being stable on consoles (and never mind the internet connections available to most players). In short, multiplayer experiences in MK: DA’s generation were few and far between, and, while there were a few obvious outliers (come and join the Melee!), you couldn’t expect a 2-player fighting game to survive on the meager premise of humans competing.

Make no mistake, the following MK title, Mortal Kombat: Deception is a fighting game through and through. The producers looked at Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, kept what worked (fighting styles, general gameplay, Kenshi), made some tweaks to the formula (added uppercuts across the board, dropped boring arena barriers for death traps, gave Raiden a new hat), and added a few fresh features to keep things interesting (combo breakers and the sensational kharacter find of 2004, Havik). MK: Deception is, of course, a new Mortal Kombat fighting game.

It’s also the game that includes Puzzle Kombat and Chess Kombat.

Look out!

I’m not going to pretend to know what Mortal Kombat’s curators were thinking during the creation of Mortal Kombat: Deception, but it sure seems like the plan was “We’ve got one of the most popular IPs of the last decade, but it’s tied to a genre that is currently dead. Can we try… everything?” Thus, Mortal Kombat incidentally included a puzzle game. Thus, Mortal Kombat incidentally included a strategy game. And, thus, Mortal Kombat included an entire “adventure mode” that could have been a whole game onto itself.

“Konquest Mode” seems like a loose combination of two of the most popular genres of the PS2 era. On one hand, it’s basically a JRPG, seeing the player steer a chosen one through multiple towns and realms, on an epic quest where “random battles” are swapped for the occasional fighting match. On the other hand, it’s a Grand Theft Auto 3-style clone, with a huge, open world begging to be explored and maybe you can punch a random townsperson in the face for no reason. And, in PS2-era Mortal Kombat fashion, it’s in this mode that you unlock half of the roster and many of the alternate costumes (and other goodies), because you can’t spell “Mortal Kombat” without “You’re going to need a FAQ for these unlockables”.

But if you’re going to have an epic Konquest Mode, you’re going to need an epic story to go along with it. You’re going to need a battle between good and evil the likes of which the Mortal Kombat universe has never seen. You don’t need just a hero, you need the hero. And to match said hero, you’re going to need a villain so incredible, so immense, he’s apparently been hiding in the logo since the first Mortal Kombat tournament.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Onaga, the Dragon King.

Roar

Now, to be clear, all of this kanon was retconned just in time for Mortal Kombat: Deception, but these changes have become “permanent” in the (mostly rebooted) Mortal Kombat universe, so let’s all just accept this story like it’s been there since Mortal Kombat 1. Remember Shao Kahn? The biggest bad of Mortal Kombat that has been a threat to Earthrealm again and again? Well, turns out Shao Kahn is clownshoes. In a time long forgotten, Shao Kahn was merely a minor deity of Outworld, and Onaga ruled the realm. We know it was eventually Shao Kahn that conquered Kitana/Sindel’s home realm of Edenia, but it turns out Onaga was the biggest bruiser in the realms, and many of the universes that were conquered and folded into Outworld were Onaga’s conquests. What’s more, Onaga is a literal dragon, and dragons in the MK universe are literally magic incarnate. As a result, Onaga could regenerate any damaged body parts, and, more importantly, he had the innate ability to revive literally anyone from death. So, Onaga had an army, and that army was literally immortal, because he could just CTRL+Z a bloody battlefield, and all his mans would be alive again. Onaga was an invincible warlord that played on Casual Mode and thus could not be stopped.

Well, until Shao Kahn poisoned him and stole all his stuff.

But Onaga had foreseen that being the most hated person in the universe might lead to an untimely end. As such, he set up something of a contingency plan: the last dragon egg in existence could potentially revive a dead dragon man, so Onaga got a cult together to protect said egg in a lava cave (Shao Kahn famously hates diving in lava [it’s bad for his skin]). Additionally, said cult mummified the Dragon King’s entire army, freeze-dried ‘em in a hidden temple, and basically kept the Dragon King’s seat warm for a few centuries. Onaga was coming back to menace the realms once more, it was just a matter of when…

Toasty!

And when Onaga did return, he would be more powerful than ever (yes, even more powerful than an already unstoppable reptile that can revive the dead). Onaga had learned of the Kamidogu, six (or seven) mystical trinkets that existed in the six main (i.e. plot relevant) realms of the MK universe. If one were to collect all of the Kamidogu, they would be able to go Super Sonic summon Shenron go to the moon finally release Mega Man Legends 3 conquer the whole of the universe and become a god among gods. And, since death is more or less a general inconvenience in the Mortal Kombat universe, Dead-Onaga was now free to flutter about the realms and locate the Kamidogus. Spirit Onaga couldn’t physically do anything, but that could be easily rectified by finding the right kind of idiot to do his dirty work.

And that idiot is the protagonist of Mortal Kombat Deception and its Konquest Mode, Shujinko.

protag!

Wait, crap, I shouldn’t say “protagonist”, because Shujinko literally translates to “protagonist”. I should have saved that trivia/wordplay for later! Dammit!

Okay, as you can likely tell by the name, Shujinko was intended to be the “new” lead of the Mortal Kombat franchise. Liu Kang died last game, Kung Lao, Kitana, and Raiden bit it during the finale of Deadly Alliance, and MK was left without a hero. Shujinko was created to fill that spot, and be a true Mortal Kombat protagonist (dammit): the entire point of the story of Deception was that we would see how Shujinko was not the pure and unerringly good Liu Kang, he was a man that trained all his life to be a martial artist, and he meant to do good, but he was also tainted by a literal lifetime of making hard, “evil” choices in the name of what he believed to be a greater good. By the finale of Deception, Shujinko would be a champion appropriate for the dark Mortal Kombat universe: a man that has nearly brought the world to destruction thanks to his own pride, but one now trying to atone (with uppercuts).

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite that way, because the whole of Mortal Kombat: Deception makes Shujinko look like an idiot.

Which is fine! Shujinko is an idiot! Konquest Mode is a broad, sweeping story of the Mortal Kombat universe that starts when Shujinko is just an overeager boy anxious to be the next MK Champion, and it ends when Shujinko is old and gray (or white). In that time, Shujinko ventures across the realms, battles untold horrors, and learns the fighting styles of many different heroes and villains. But you know what he doesn’t do? Go to goddamn school. Shujinko has, at best, like a third grade education, and then he spends the rest of his life learning how to effectively punch skeletons. And, don’t get me wrong, it is great to know how to properly palm a skull after tearing out an opponent’s spine, but it’s not something that is going to impress college admissions (at most schools). And, of course, it’s not something that is going to teach you that you’ve spent literally your entire lifetime being deceived by a disembodied lizard king.

The protagonist!

So here’s the soup to nuts story of Mortal Kombat: Deception: Konquest Mode. Shujinko was a young monk with big dreams and no other defining features. He lived in a small, pastoral village of other aspiring MK NPCs. One day, a spirit calling itself Damashi visited Shujinko, and claimed that Shujinko was now tasked by the very gods themselves to collect the Kamidogu of the six realms. To aid him in his quest, Shujinko was granted the magical ability to be able to instantly copy any special move that the programmers decided to grant him. Score. This also meant that Shujinko never really had to train or put any effort into anything. Double score!

Shujinko has a generally bad time on his quest. The whole thing kicks off with him being expelled from his idyllic community when he uses a mystical sword to battle a gigantic mantis. Or something. Then he winds up joining a group of assassins just so he can steal the kamiwhatsit of Earthrealm. Then he ventures through Chaos Realm and winds up stuck in some stupid hedge maze for like a decade. Then he literally goes to Hell, and you would think that would require years of therapy, but it just means he has to visit a friendly magical Native American to get his taint removed. And then there was some nonsense where he kinda started a war between Outworld, Edenia, and Order Realm, but it all worked out well (aside from the part where Shujinko spent many of his autumn years in jail). In the end, it wound up being a big, stupid quest that took nearly a century, about twenty game hours, and somehow involved literally every fighter that had ever appeared in Mortal Kombat up to that point (except the Chameleon/Khamelon twins, because we have enough lizards in this plot, thank you). Fun times for everybody! And Shujinko did wind up collecting the kamidoggies, so the Elder Gods are going to be so pleased when he shows up with…

Oh no! This whole quest where Shujinko repeatedly chose the darkest path available on a mission from “god” turns out to have been a ruse all along. Undeterred by the sheer number of orphanages that had to be burned down on his way to collecting magical objects of abject power, Shujinko never suspected that this whole adventure was a sham. A deception! There never was a “Damashi” at all, it was the Dragon King all along! And Dr. Robotnik is really trying to steal the Chaos Emeralds for himself! Who could have foreseen this eventuality!?

The protagonist!

Shujinko hands the sacred items over to “Damashi”, who reveals himself as Onaga, and is all of five seconds away from turning Shujinko into Shujerky when -simultaneous action- Nitara revives the physical Dragon King by accidentally hatching the baby dragon egg and transferring Onaga’s spirit into Reptile’s body. Yes, I know that sounds kind of confusing, but that’s what happens when you weld the ending from one game onto the “new” story of the next game. So now Onaga is physically alive again (thanks to Nitara, not Shujinko), and he (I guess) walks over to where Shujinko stowed all the Kamidogus, grabs ‘em, and then decides to steal the secret seventh Kamidogu, which turns out to be Quan Chi/Shinnok’s amulet. Onaga stomps over to the Deadly Alliance, kills ‘em all (more or less), and kicks off Mortal Kombat Deception: Proper Arcade Mode wielding all seven god gems.

(And, just for funsies, he revives the good guys that were killed by the Deadly Alliance, and reboots his undead army with a few extra warriors. Quan Chi thought this was a great idea.)

So, with the Story Mode of MK: D done, the “real” story of MK: D is that Shujinko gathered all the dorks that he ran into during Konquest Mode, got them all in one loosely defined tournament, and then pulled off one actually smart move: Shujinko has the ability to absorb the powers (and soundbites) of fighters. If you got, like, every fighter all in one room, he could absorb the power of every fighter. So, basically, the tournament that is Mortal Kombat: Deception was all an excuse to power up Shujinko to the point that he could manifest some kind of glowy, rainbow fist, shatter the Kamidogu that were empowering Onaga (you can just… break divine objects?), and then literally punch the soul right out of Onaga’s body. This frees Reptile to just be Reptile again, and Shujinko is now the once and future protagonist of Mortal Kombat. He might have endangered the whole of existence, but at least he fixed it (eventually).

Look out!

And what did our proud protagonist go on to do after his victory over his former patron? Well, Shujinko was still an idiot, so he got tossed in a dungeon by Mileena posing as Princess Kitana. Shujinko claimed that he was doing this to spy on Mileena and the revived Shao Kahn, but all evidence points to Shujinko absolutely not pulling off such a ruse. Shujinko was released in time for the final battle of MK: Armageddon, but, despite every warrior in history being there for the absorbin’, Shujinko still managed to bite it with everybody else. Shujinko was not to be revived for the rebooted universe (give or take a very out-of-character comic appearance), but he was killed in one ending from Mortal Kombat X, and was then again claimed to be killed by an entirely separate kharacter in Mortal Kombat 11. The message is clear: Shujinko is not the protagonist you are looking for.

And what of Onaga? Well, after his defeat, he was revived almost immediately by Shinnok. The “new” Onaga was now inhabiting his revived, “old” body, which was simultaneously a wonderful way to free up Reptile and explain why Onaga was now only super powerful, as opposed to godly powerful. Onaga fought with the official Forces of Evil at the battle of Armageddon… and died with everybody else. You’d think his magical reviving powers would have come in handy there, but, hey, guess his old body just wasn’t quite up to reviving shape. That’s one less cold-blooded emperor Edelgard has to worry about.

Ouch
Double Ouch
Nobody survives the reboot universe

Onaga is referenced repeatedly in the rebooted universe, but doesn’t actually make an appearance. The writers seem to be sowing some interesting plot beats with implications that Shao Kahn and Liu Kang are both using portions of Onaga’s legendary power (whether they know it or not), but the big guy hasn’t popped up yet. This makes sense, as Onaga’s revival was only thanks to basically the accidents of Shujinko and Nitara doing exactly what they were supposed to do exactly when they were supposed to do it, and asking for Shujinko to be successful in two different universes stretches credibility a bit much. Presumably, Onaga is still sleeping under the hill, waiting for the time of Mortal Kombat’s greatest need.

And if anyone else from Mortal Kombat: Deception shows up in future MK games, you know the franchise is in desperate need…

Next time: I will give you $20 if you can tell me who Dairou and Darrius are right now. (offer void in Earthrealm)

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

Blaze itWhat constitutes a videogame “star”?

Today’s game is Blazing Dragons, a Playstation (1)/Sega Saturn adventure game from nearly 25 years ago. I am also a thing from over 25 years ago, and I purchased this game back when it was new. Well… fairly new. I was a young buck on vacation, and I want to say this Playstation jewel case was glimmering back at me from a discount bin somewhere around Delaware. Under normal circumstances, I likely would have paid Blazing Dragons the same heed I’d grant Bubsy or Gex, but this game featured one important phrase on its cover:

STARRING!
“Starring the voices of Terry Jones & Cheech Marin”

Now, even though I was technically officially a teenager at this point, I could not give less of a damn about Cheech Marin. I was a nerd, and was not nearly cool enough to know anyone that could ever acquire a drug. But, thanks to that previously mentioned nerdity, I could probably quote every third thing Terry Jones had ever said. Yes, I’m sure my audience will be shocked to learn that I was a Monty Python fan, and, just about when Blazing Dragons was new(ish), I was old enough to finally get all those sex jokes that flew completely over my head in my younger years. The Meaning of Life finally made sense! And included tits! Double bonus! Thus, seeing a videogame (my favorite medium!) featuring one of my favorite writers/directors/actors was practically a no-brainer for wee(ish) Goggle Bob. And it was on sale! Score!

HA HA HABut, even as a dedicated Monty Python fan, I could understand why Blazing Dragons was wallowing in the discount bin. It’s a Sierra-esque adventure game with no death conditions (that I could find…) and about three minigames that actually require a controller. So, to begin with, it’s a game practically made for the mouse on a pair of systems that didn’t have (easy) access to that peripheral. Beyond the controls, this is typical adventure game fare, and you must collect every random object lying around the kingdom, and then use it on every other object in a desperate attempt to find the proper solution to puzzles like “where is my corn” (you have to use a sheet) and “save the princess” (you have to use a mirror to hypnotize the court jester and then use a suitcase to dress him up like a lady). It’s clear that the “humor” of this universe applies to the puzzles, so solutions are often deliberately obtuse (sneak into the castle by wrapping prunes in newspaper and then tying it up with ribbon), but at least the lack of failure states means you only have to spend the afternoon clicking (not clicking) one thing against the other until something finally works. And, hey, you’ll probably remember to grab the hair tonic to menace Rapunzel the next time you play, so replays are usually pretty breezy. A speedrun of this game would probably take less time than listening to some nerd act out the whole Knights Who Say Ni bit.

But does the game adequately capture the spirit of Monty Python? Is Terry Jones permeating this little black disc? Heck no. Blazing Dragons does its best to follow the general humor of Monty Python and similar comedies of the 70s/80s. There’s an emphasis on parody here (see, it’s the dragons that are the good guys, and the expy for King Arthur and Merlin are the bad guys), a few fairytales are ribbed beyond the obvious Arthurian parallels, and, of course, there’s the old trope of men imitating women because Michael Bell throwing his voice is always assumed to be funny. And, uh, everyone has outrageous accents, so that helps. Blazing Dragons isn’t exactly a disappointment on the humor front (it is still generally funny, like watching a wannabe billionaire’s toupee flap around in the wind), but it’s certainly no Flying Circus. If you’re attracted to Terry Jones (not like that) (… though maybe like that), you’ll be generally entertained by the maybe 15 minutes of dialogue he recorded for this adventure, but sidesplitting isn’t on the menu.

ALL NIGHT LONGBut Terry Jones is the reason this game is in my collection. I wouldn’t have given it the time of day, but Terry Jones, man. Terry Jones! Life of Brian! Blazing Dragons might have been a dud, but would I buy another product featuring Terry Jones? Spoilers: of course I would (and did)! But another videogame? Well, maybe not. Writing an amazing movie or book doesn’t mean you can make a fun videogame. It might seem obvious, but that was news to me twenty years ago.

But that got me thinking: what star’s name would actually get me to buy a videogame today?

First of all, to get the obvious out the way, a specific actor/comedian/performer isn’t going to cut it. We live in a world where Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas got all of the talent in Hollywood (and James Woods) to show up in 2004, and all anyone remembers from that game is fun times with rocket launchers. Nowadays, we’ve got full motion capture and graphics capable of rendering an actor’s real life eye boogers, and it’s equally useless for creating truly good videogames. Nobody cares if the next Katamari Damacy title (may there be one) features the prince or an undead mocap of Prince: it’s all about rolling those sweet, sweet balls. And even more acting-based games like Telltale’s output may be enhanced by a decent performer in a role, but Tom Cruise isn’t going to make me care about clicking on random objects. Sorry, Maverick, but I’d prefer a maverick hunter.

Burn, babyBut what about the orators of the videogame world? I keep noting actors and writers that were successful in other fields, but not necessarily videogames. Christopher Lambert might play a mean Raiden in a movie, but that doesn’t mean he can deliver the uppercuts required to be a successful thunder god in the digital space. Where are the Spielbergs or Tarantinos of the gaming world? The men and… crap, it’s inevitably going to just be men… the people that can just stick a “presents” on anything in their medium and score a hit, from Ready Player One to Tiny Toons? Where are the videogame rockstars?!

Oh, right, I’m posting this on the eve of the release of Death Stranding, a Hideo Kojima Presents joint. As Kojima has noted on his own Twitter, Kojima Productions started when he had to leave his home at Konami, and was left with only his wit, ingenuity, a dedicated team of professionals, the massive success of every game he ever slapped his name on (except Boktai), and Norman Reedus’s personal cell number. Hideo Kojima managed to transform that grab-bag of practically nothing into a very successful videogame… or at least what is probably going to be a very successful videogame, because, again, as of this writing, the game isn’t even released yet. But! The internet seems to report on everything Kojima says (or when he farts in the general direction of a cosplayer), so Death Stranding is likely going to be an unprecedented (completely precedented) hit. It combines everything you loved about his old games, plus that guy from The Walking Dead peeing! Who could ask for anything more?!

But… this seems familiar to me. I remember the last time an amazing videogame director was ousted from his parent company, and was forced to strike out on his own to create an all-new, maybe slightly familiar franchise. I’m wracking my brain, I just can’t quite remember…

DAMMIT!

Oh. Right.

There are no videogame stars. And never judge a game by its credits. “Stars” are monsters.

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

  • System: Playstation 1 and Sega Saturn. You’d think there would be a PC version, but I can’t seem to find any evidence of one.
  • Number of players: Solitary dragon quest.
  • Favorite Puzzle: In order to properly impersonate the villain of the piece, you have to grab a mask of his face, and then dunk said mask in a pile of manure. This is possibly the least subtle joke in history, but it does give you a firm grasp of the various odors of this universe.
  • Winner!Other Stars: Cheech ‘n Terry got the cover blurb, but Harry Shearer, Jim Cummings, and Charlie Adler all hit the recording booth for this adventure. The rest of the cast is a murderer’s row of 90’s VA talent, too, even including seemingly the entire cast of Rugrats. How many games can say that? Well, aside from Rugrats: Search for Reptar.
  • Waiting: The load times on this sucker are atrocious, and they occur every ten seconds or so. I’m pretty sure Blazing Dragons is optimized for some system that never hosted the poor thing.
  • Personal Vengeance: This game wiped out my original PSX memory card. I didn’t quite understand what “formatting” meant back in the day, and the instruction manual claims that the “format memory card” option is necessary to save your game. And that’s the story of how I lost my first Wild Arms save.
  • Secret Shame: In my younger days, I had a crush on Princess Flame. Yes, she’s a four-legged, hairless dragon, but I do have a thing for exotic accents, and the heart wants what the heart wants.
  • An end: The finale is basically an extended bit with Terry Jones complaining about adventure game tropes while marginally in character. So put Blazing Dragons in the pile with the other games that aren’t comfortable in their own skin.
  • Did you know? This game was delayed seemingly so it could be released at the same time as an accompanying animated series… that only seemed to air in Canada. And it was completely off-model and vaguely unrecognizable compared to its source game (Princess Flame, what have they done to you?). But Terry Jones got a created by credit, so at least it’s similar enough for the lawyers.
  • Would I play again: How about I just read a FAQ and nebulously recall what happens when you use the pipe cleaner on the termite mound? Sounds about equally enjoyable…

What’s next? There’s a certain holiday coming up, so we’re going to look at a game that is slightly scary. … Or at least it was when I was young enough to dress up every year. What could it be? It’s a trick! Or a treat! Please look forward to it!

Hair today, gone tomorrow