Tag Archives: that reminds me of a puzzle

FGC #465 Tetrisphere

Phear Time!No matter how hard you try, you can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice.

Depending on your rubric, the Nintendo Gameboy is the most successful portable system of all time. Sure, it might not be the highest grossing system ever (that would be the Nintendo DS, I believe), or the most graphically advanced experience (a single color would be nice), but it is the system that put portable gaming on the map. No more would we be stuck with Game & Watch or tiny Tigers; the Nintendo Gameboy was a real game system for real games with physics and powerups and everything. Super Mario Land may have been a whopping weirdo of a Mario game, but it was an experience that beat the pants off anything that claimed to be Mario’s so-called Cement Factory (look it up!). The Gameboy may be primitive by today’s standards (or the standards of anyone that is not enthralled by mushed peas), but its success was the first real example of a portable system being a viable system for the most dedicated (/easily bored) of gamers. Experiences that traced back to the arcade were finally available literally anywhere.

But nobody really cared about any of that, because, dammit, the Gameboy had Tetris.

Gameboy Tetris was ubiquitous. If there was one game that sold the Nintendo Gameboy, it was Gameboy Tetris. It was the only official way to fish out a 2-player mode on Nintendo hardware (and probably sold a few link cables as a result), but, more importantly, it was a puzzle game that could be played anywhere and everywhere. Sega may have eventually had Columns, but Nintendo was immediately associated with the one and only Tetris, and there wasn’t a man, woman, or child on God’s pea-green Earth that didn’t want a Gameboy with Tetris. Gameboy Tetris was pervasive long after other launch Gameboy titles were long forgotten (I’m sorry, who could forget Kwirk?), and it was all a testament to the unstoppable Russian juggernaut that was/is Tetris. After all, Gameboy Tetris is simply Tetris, 90% the same game that was created by some Alexey dude in Moscow a solid five years earlier. Yes, you can link the entire success of the Nintendo Gameboy to some random USSR denizen. How’s that for global relations?

So, when Nintendo needed to push the Nintendo 64, it seems only natural that they recruited some international Tetris-y dudes to sell their next system.

Noice!Tetrisphere began its life as “Phear”, a title created by H20 Entertainment, a Canadian game production company. Phear’s biggest difference between its original form and its eventual N64 version? It was intended to be an Atari Jaguar game, and was featured as such in the Winter of 1995. Now, everyone alive knows the sad tale of the Atari Jaguar, and how literally nothing could have ever saved that system (well, maybe an early, polished version of Typing of the Dead), so some would likely see it as a kindness that Nintendo rescued this poor, soon-to-be-forgotten software from the same fate as Bubsy. On the other hand, you can see Nintendo nakedly pulling the same stunt that catapulted the Gameboy into the stratosphere: here’s a cool puzzle game that could push our new videogame system. And, bonus, the advanced graphics of Phear/Tetrisphere could never be replicated on the meager Playstation hardware, so this is going to be the killer app of 1996! Look out, Mario 64, you’re going to have to take a backseat to the new Tetris, baby!

Unfortunately, it was not to be. 1996 came and went, and it was impossible to instantly port the partially completed Phear to the N64 to be the 100% completed Tetrisphere. Though all was not lost! This allowed H20 Entertainment to hit the next Christmas season goalpost, and Tetrisphere was uncut with all necessary bells and whistles by August of 1997. According to interviews, that extra time allowed for an additional second player mode (that was originally intended, but likely would have been dropped for an earlier release date), and, relatedly, the all-important frame-rate was improved so Tetrisphere could look that much more prettier. And I can’t help but notice that Tetrisphere is loaded with more modes and, frankly, character than the average puzzle game. There’s a lot to experience in Tetrisphere, and it’s likely a lot of that resulted from baking long enough in the oven.

But could Tetrisphere be the killer app of the Nintendo 64?

… Well, you can’t say it didn’t have a shot.

L for LoserTetrisphere is by no means Tetris. There are familiar “blocks”, but they’re not infinitely falling from some unseen heavens. In fact, you are responsible for dropping all blocks, and the challenge is figuring out exactly where on the sphere you’re supposed to drop said blocks. If you drop a shape exactly on a matching shape, and that shape is next to a shape of the exact same dimensions, then both blocks are going to disappear. Line up a few shapes of the same size, and you’ve got a lovely little chain reaction going that could spread across the surface of the entire sphere. Your goal is to peel layers off the sphere so the little robot dude trapped inside can be free to escape and do whatever robots do (conquer humanity?), so every block vanished is another step closer to your goal. Of course, if you drop a block on a non-matching square, you’re stuck with another cumbersome lump of useless obstructing your robot rescue. And just for an added bit of stress, if you make three mismatches, it’s game over. And it’s game over if you take too long, too. And it’s game over if you sneeze on the Pope, too, though that rarely comes up. Point is that there are a lot of ways to fail, and Tetrisphere seems like it wants to be challenging.

But the fun of Tetrisphere doesn’t come from the potential challenge, it comes from lining up all the blocks for thrilling chain reactions. There is nothing quite like cramming all the blocks into proper locations, guessing the shapes of the blocks on the lower levels, and watching as the whole sphere destructs after some carefully measured movements. It is very possible to clear entire layers in one wisely deduced drop. Heck, sometimes it even happens by accident! It’s equally electrifying when you drop a single piece, and, thanks to the natural geography of the sphere, layer after layer is obliterated, inevitably causing an instantaneous rush of dopamine. Look at all those blocks go boom! I did good!

And, after this happened a few times, it finally hit me: these poor saps invented Candy Crush a solid decade too early!

WeeeeeeTetrisphere works almost exactly like Candy Crush and its addictive ilk. You shift blocks/colors/candies from spot to spot, and, when they’re all properly aligned, you see a “connection” that eliminates a swath of shapes. Sometimes it’s just one or two blocks. Oftentimes, it’s a whole screen full of nonsense that seems to go on for minutes as blocks you couldn’t have even seen before all appear and instantaneously detonate into tiny pieces. You know you didn’t have anything to do with that enormous chain reaction, but you feel great anyway, because, dude, did you see how many points I just got? Friggin’ nailed it, man! And that’s how players instantly become addicted to these mobile match games: it feels amazing to be responsible for so much winning/destruction. I am become God, matcher of fruits.

And Tetrisphere nailed that feeling back in 1997. Nintendo identified that, and hoisted that feeling onto a system that could have won the hearts of an entire videogame generation. But, alas, the Nintendo 64 was not a portable system, and, given the choice between the sweet happy feelings of Tetrisphere and playing around with an amnesiac with an unusually large sword, audiences chose the blade. Sorry, Tetrisphere, no one can say you didn’t try.

In more ways than one, Tetrisphere could have been the next Tetris, but it was not meant to be. Too late for the Gameboy, and too early for the mobile market. Tetrisphere: the middle child of failure.

FGC #465 Tetrisphere

  • System: Nintendo 64. Could there be a remake in the future? No. No there can’t.
  • Number of players: Two player mode is viable in this game, unlike some versions of Tetris. Unfortunately, two Tetrispheres on screen at one time is kind of nauseating, so screw that noise.
  • These guysFavorite Bot: You’re supposed to take on the “control” of a handful of different robots, and each supposedly impacts a different stat like “speed” or “power”. But damned if I can tell much of a difference between the different automatons, so I’m just going to say… Rocket? He is first…
  • Opaque Fun: Hide & Seek mode is actually where the bulk of interesting modes are hiding, but you would never know it from such an innocuous title. It technically plays like normal “destroy the sphere” mode, but there are all sorts of fascinating additions, like “drill” (random extra “bombs” are around the sphere) or “tower” (an annoying tower has to be worked around at all times). This is where a lot of creativity shines through beyond the usual modes of your average puzzle game… and most people never even tried the mode in the first place. Who over the age of seven gets excited about hide & seek?
  • So, did you beat it: Who has the time? Wasn’t this on the same system as Ocarina of Time? I think that may have held my interest a little longer…
  • Did you know: I cannot emphasize enough how the Atari Jaguar controller would have completely destroyed any ability to properly control this game. That control stick was terrible, and its 27 buttons wouldn’t exactly help a game that requires a whole two different kinds of input. Phear really dodged a bullet there.
  • Would I play again: This is another one for the “super interesting anomaly… but I’m not playing it again” pile. I like what I see, and I could see how Tetrisphere could have been amazing on a more viable system… but it’s not like there aren’t better alternatives all over the place right now. Pass.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Our annual Christmas Special! I’m going to wax poetic about the best videogame Christmas gift I ever received. What is that game? You’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

Yay!

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

So strange“Why aren’t there any videogames for girls?”

… Is how a number of completely bullshit think pieces have started since the dawn of gaming. Which is odd, because gaming, there at the beginning, was fairly unisex. Aside from that one version of Pong that could only be controlled with a flaccid penis, the early days of gaming were practically genderless. It wasn’t Mr. Pac-Man, it was simply a yellow ball gobbling up dots. Space Invaders was maybe boyish because it involved shooting something or other, but it certainly wasn’t coded specifically to appeal to the dudes. Asteroids? Adventure? The absolute best of 80s gaming wasn’t squarely aimed at the boy demographic, and some titles (like Centipede) were even coded by women. Videogames weren’t male-based any more than books, television shows, or movies.

Or… maybe we should explore that for a moment.

I am writing this article having recently seen Ready Player One, a Spielberg filmed based on your childhood. And the great thing is that, thanks to some manner of cross (or crass) marketing, “your” childhood doesn’t just have to be the 80’s that were featured in the book, there are also Gundam (didn’t make it over here until the late 90’s), Iron Giant (’99), MMORPG (not really a thing until the mid aughts), and even Minecraft (right now) references. Heck, if you saw The Shining (1980) as a kid (because you have terrible parents), it’s appealing to 70’s kids! Yes, with its Battletoads, Mortal Kombatants, and Tracers, Ready Player One runs the full gamut of cultural references, so no matter how old you are, there’s something in there for you.

Except if you’re a woman looking to relive her childhood. There isn’t much in there, then. Uh… maybe some Hello Kitty characters… uh… somewhere?

At first, it’s easy to rationalize why this happened. I didn’t see any Transformers running around, so it appears Hasbro wasn’t onboard with that film. That precludes the big girl franchises like My Little Pony, Jem and the Holograms, and Pound Puppies. But there’s no Barbie? Come on, that doll is synonymous with childhood, and you can’t tell me the plastic ideal of womanhood wouldn’t inspire more than a few digital avatars. And when the “worlds” are shown at the start of Ready Player One, there’s a gambling planet and a combat planet, but you’re telling me there isn’t a single “women only” safe space area? Of course, there’s an easy answer to that question too: there is a planet of Barbies and Ponies palling around without any male-influences, but we’re not going to look at that planet, because it isn’t relevant to the movie. But doesn’t that raise its own unfortunate question? Why the heck don’t we care about what half the real world population is doing in this pretend world? And why the bloody hell is there only one piece of girl-aimed media mentioned in the movie (Nancy Drew), and it’s revealed to be a vice of the main villain?

MeowMeh, you know the answers: Ready Player One is squarely targeted at a male audience, and every second given over to exploring the extent of girly stuff in The World is a second that could otherwise go to Mecha Godzilla punching a DeLorean. “Girly media” is not celebrated in the same way as boy stuff… or at least, it isn’t monetized in the same way at all. Do we have Funko Pops of every Jem character yet? I know we do for every Power Ranger that has ever existed.

So merchandising is obviously key, and (finally) getting back to videogames, it seems like we might see less “girly” videogames as a direct result. Videogames may have started unisex, but, as the “mascot” character grew to prominence, more and more heroes were men, and more and more objects were women. Mario must rescue the princess. Link must rescue the princess. Sonic didn’t have a single woman anywhere in his first game. Mega Man has a sister that is unplayable and stays home to do laundry. Kirby is a freaking pink ball with legs that occasionally rides rainbows, but only has a female companion in one lousy N64 game. It’s easy to see how these games are aimed squarely at boys, with nary a thought given to that other gender that seems to be floating around. There are no videogames for girls!

But that’s still bullshit, because there are games for girls. They’re just games that are wholly ignored.

I hates mathsAnybody remember Kim Possible? It was a 2002-2007 Disney cartoon featuring the titular Kim Possible, a teenage girl that flew around the planet and saved the world through James Bond-esque spy maneuvers and the occasional bout of cheerleading-based gymnastics. She’d stop the nefarious Dr. Drakken, and then get home in time to crush on the star quarterback. This was a show that was obviously aimed at the “girl” demographic, but also had plenty of action (and an omnipresent pair of male sidekicks) for the boys. Kim Possible was a huge success, and won awards and an audience that was so dedicated, they successfully petitioned Disney to release a fourth “victory lap” season after its initial cancellation. Kim Possible even got two movies and an Epcot ride! The show was an unprecedented success.

Kim Possible also starred in seven distinct videogames across four different systems. Ever heard of any of them? Didn’t think so.

And don’t try to tell me you didn’t hear about these games because they weren’t any good. Who cares if they were good! You’ve heard of Shaq-Fu! You’ve heard of Aero the Acro-Bat! You damn well know we saw videogames for every show that was ever on Fox Kids or the matching WB programming block. There has been a new Spider-Man title every other year since the birth of time, and only about two of them have ever been any good. But you know they exist! You know you considered playing Rocko’s Modern Life at some point! But did you ever even notice Kim Possible and her multiple games? There were monkey ninja involved! You love that kind of absurdity, right? 2-D action platforming sound like fun? Or maybe puzzles are more your thing? If so, you still probably ignored today’s game, too.

I’ll stop ranting for five minutes so we can examine Emily the Strange: Strangerous.

Yay!Emily the Strange: Strangerous is a 2011 Nintendo DS game. It is, essentially, an old school adventure title. Emily’s cats have been kidnapped, and you must guide her around her world to rescue the felines and eventually… well, things get a little strange towards the end. Let’s just say this might not be the only game I’ve ever played that dabbles in multiple dimensions. Regardless, the basic gameplay is predominantly based on solving item-based puzzles to open new pathways (Sierra-esque “use slingshot on weather vane to change the direction of the wind” style thinking), and then solving actual logic puzzles to obtain the items you need. Every once in a while, there’s skateboarding or target practice, but, by and large, this is a game where trees inexplicably have three matchsticks, and you’re expected to do something with that information. And, to be clear, these puzzles may contain everything from visual puzzles that come off as advanced connect-the-dots to reason puzzles that involve the enemy of all mankind: basic math. Basically, on the system that made Professor Layton a household name, here’s another option for all your on-the-go puzzle needs.

But you’re not going to see Emily the Strange vs. Ace Attorney anytime soon.

For anyone that missed this bit of pop culture past, Emily the Strange started as nothing more than a sticker. She was a skateboard brand mascot. In time, she gained popularity, and became the star of a number of comics and books, eventually earning her this videogame. And it would be fair to say that this game is just a licensed cash-in on a mascot character that was popular at the time. Emily the Strange isn’t the next Mario, she’s the next Young Justice: Legacy. Her title shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Professor Layton, as, come on, Goggle Bob, why the hell are you letting this random chick property hang out with the clear successor to Sherlock Holmes. That’s high literature!

And it’s all bullshit, because it’s all… bullshit.

Wait, I can probably phrase that better…

It looks familiarSuper Mario defined gaming. He is the face of an amazing franchise that has arguably never produced a dud. Some of “his” games might be less enjoyable than others, but none sink below the level of “pretty good”. Well, except those learning games like Mario is Missing. Oh, and that CD-i title. But Mario is pretty great, aside from that! Well, save some surprisingly lame cartoons. And that one manga where he’s naked for some reason. And his breakfast cereal. No, not the one from the 80’s, I’m talking about the one with the amiibo functionality. And, speaking of which, why can I buy a plush goomba at the thrift store? That thing is the lowest quality I’ve ever seen, but it seems to have an official Nintendo Seal of Quality on there. Christ, they’ll slap the Mario brand on anything!

And how is that any different from a skateboarding mascot earning her own game?

Look, it’s pretty simple: girls need heroes. Girls need role models. And, more importantly, girls need role models that do all sorts of things. Emily the Strange is a teenager that enjoys skateboarding, gothic aesthetics, and cats. She’s smart. She’s capable, and when some jerkass kidnaps her cats, she’s self-sufficient enough to solve her own problems (though maybe with your help). Can you name one other female protagonist that fits all of that criteria? I know plenty of women that are goth skateboarders (or at least were before they had to be adults), but such a “unique” trait is largely missing from our national consciousness, because it’s never seen in our media. Girls are either only hot, smart/nerdy, perfect, or, on rare occasions, “the hippy” (and please watch Boy Meets World to watch one character go through each of those permutations). Goth is allowed, and “skater girl” is something you’ll see once in a while, but both at once? And throw in puzzle solving, so she’s smart, too? Are women even allowed to be more than one thing? Shouldn’t there be a law against that?

TUMBLING!So what does this all mean? Well, it means that we should stop asking where the games for girls have gone, and just start producing games with girls. And, more importantly than that, when a “game for girls” is released, we should give it the same fair shake that we grant Bubsy Bobcat’s latest revival. You or I might have a complete inability to produce the next great female protagonist, but we could at least acknowledge that Kim Possible, Emily the Strange, and their ilk, ya know, existed. Recognize that half the population has their own fandoms and interests, and join them. Let girls know that it’s okay to be anything, and not just a thin caricature of a male fetish. Let “girly media” be part of our national discourse, and stop acting like anything that might involve makeup is forbidden.

That doesn’t sound so strange, does it?

FGC #408 Emily the Strange: Strangerous

  • System: Nintendo DS. If this were a remotely more popular property, we’d see a PC port, as it’s practically made for such a thing.
  • Number of players: Only one girl can be this strange.
  • Defining Aesthetics: This entire game is monochrome with occasion flashes of red. This is always stylish, and it’s weird that the only other game I can think of that employs this style is primarily chainsaw-based.
  • Favorite Puzzle: Something about the lock picking puzzles just seem right. Maybe I missed my calling as a burglar? I should really look into committing more crimes.
  • So, did you beat it? I’m honestly not a big fan of puzzle games, so no. This is also why you’ll never see a Professor Layton review on the site. I have better things to do than measure hats!
  • Ulterior Motives: I just want us to acknowledge “girly” media so we can have a Sailor Moon fighting game as good as Dragon Ball FighterZ.
  • Actual Conversation That Happened When Researching this Article:

    Goggle Bob: Do you or did you ever skateboard?
    Queen Goth of Gothania: Yes, but not for 20 years.
    Goggle Bob: That’s okay! I just want to say with confidence that I know multiple women that are/were goth skateboarders. I did not have to ask you about the goth thing.
    Queen Goth of Gothania: Yup. That was me! Doc martens on my Chester Cheetah board.

  • PointyDid you know? There is a rich mythology surrounding Emily the Strange’s four cats. This is the kind of thing that happens when your main character is basically a crazy cat lady in training. Wait a tick… The very concept of a single woman living with beloved cats is misogynistic all on its own, isn’t it? Hmph.
  • Would I play again: Nope. Emily the Strange and her fellow female protagonists might need more exposure, but this simply isn’t my genre. The only puzzle I want to solve involves finding Wood Man’s weakness.

What’s next? Random ROB may as well take a day off, because I’ve talked about Kirby randomly during the last two articles. The only way I’m going to get this creampuff off my brain is to address Kirby Star Allies! Please look forward to it!