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FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

The moon does appearConsider this a trigger warning: this is going to be a fairly heady article. It’s going to get personal, too. We’re talking about Michael Jackson, and… yeah, I don’t think I need to further explain what difficult topics will be explored. This is your warning… or something approaching that.

And, to be clear, this is a goddamn shame. We’re covering a game (or two) featuring Michael Jackson today, and, ladies and gentlemen, the jokes write themselves. There is a part of me that really wants to travel the low road on this one, and point out how something like 90% of the content here has aged monumentally poorly. You want some humorous content? Here’s MJ getting railed by some manner of dick-robot.

Right in the beans

Haha! He’s gonna be singing soprano after that!

But, if I’m being honest (and that’s the point of this essay), that’s exactly why I feel I need to be serious here. Yes, a videogame starring Michael Jackson has aged poorly. Yes, that is fairly inevitable with any product starring someone that was a cultural icon (see also some mall adventures). And, yes, due to the details of Jackson’s fall from grace, even a common trope like “save the kidnapped children” is going to be seen in a different light. This is all true. But the important part? The thing that would not stop running through my mind while playing this random Sega Genesis cartridge from 1990 is just how overwhelmingly sad the whole thing made me feel.

When I was a kid, Michael Jackson was my goddamned hero.

Save her!I’ve claimed in the past that my musical tastes as a child were entirely and wholly provided by my parents, who, as children of the 50’s, had more of an inclination to listen to The Big Bopper and The Beatles than Aerosmith. By the time I was a teenager, I learned both of my parents had been actively shielding me from “the hard stuff”, but even the forbidden list was predominantly songs that were golden oldies. My mother didn’t like the idea of me listening to Bohemian Rhapsody even by my teenage years, as it was “a suicide song”, but that was still a song released almost a decade before I was even born. Point is that, for all “the hits of the 80’s” that my local FM station assures me are real, I listened to maybe 1% of what was actually popular when it was prevalent. I think only Don’t Worry, Be Happy was on the approved list…

But, somehow, Michael Jackson was the exception. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly why MJ was an exception: “Weird” Al Yankovic. My parents knew their beloved, gigantically nerdy son, and figured I would enjoy the likes of “Fat” or “Eat it”. Weird Al’s oeuvre was obviously kid friendly, and (not going to lie) it was probably a great choice, as I’m pretty sure absorbing Weird Al’s recurring clever wordplay when I was a child is why I make word choice good now. But listening to a series of parody songs inevitably invites a need to hear those source songs, and, since WAY seemed to have a thing for MJ songs, you can guess what was high on the listening list. It wasn’t very long before I graduated from Weird Al’s Even Worse to Michael Jackson’s Bad (wait… isn’t that backwards?).

And I was in love.

ZOMBIES!I’m not even going to try to define why Michael Jackson was popular with the public at large. However, I can safely point to a handful of reasons why I, personally, liked Michael Jackson. In no particular order:

1. His music slapped
2. Actual moonwalking was fun and easy
3. Music videos that could and would include claymation

However that list does ignore the prime reason I adored Michael Jackson: he was a big damn weirdo.

Look, this is a blog where I occasionally compare relationships old and new to videogames. I have written obscure NES hero fanfic. I don’t think my dear audience believes there was a switch in my head that flipped to “big ol’ weirdo” when I became an adult. I was a weird kid. I had friends, I participated in activities, and I had extremely loving and protective parents; but there’s no debate as to who was “the weird kid” in any given classroom. And being the weird kid? There’s no helping being the weird kid. The dumb kid can get some special educational help, the smelly kid can get a shower, and the kid who pissed himself in first grade can just learn to beat up every other kid by second grade. But the weird kid? You don’t really ever stop being the weird kid. You’re always going to get distracted by Weeeeunusual bird feathers on the ground, or spend gym class planning out your victory dance rather than actually playing the assigned sport. You try not to be weird by carefully noting the last grade you’re ever allowed to talk about cartoons (it was third), but that all falls apart the moment you obviously get excited about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. And then it’s noogie time, and you’re reminded that, one way or another, you’re not like everybody else.

Michael Jackson was a universally beloved musical icon. And Michael Jackson wasn’t like anybody else.

Michael Jackson was a star, and he lived his life exactly how he wanted to live it. And this isn’t about residing on a ranch literally named for never outgrowing childhood, this is about his actual performances. He sang the lyrics he wanted to sing. He danced the way he wanted to dance. And he took his performances and personas to some extremely unusual places. He wasn’t content to simply have a “scary song”, he had to produce an entire music video featuring zombies as an homage to old horror movies. He appeared in cartoons when the medium was considered about as culturally relevant as cereal commercials. And if he wanted his own videogame, he got his own damn videogame.

Get in there!Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker appeared in many guises on many systems, but the two main versions were the arcade game and its Sega Genesis counterpart. To be honest, neither game is particularly that good. The arcade version is something of a rote beat ‘em up with its only defining characteristic being a monkey-based powerup that transforms your chosen Michael into a laser-blasting robot. The Genesis version isn’t much better, but is marginally more unique. This is more of a Rolling Thunder/Elevator Action-esque affair, and the caveat is that you have to open like every goddamn window, trunk, and door between Michael and the enemy’s secret base to find the lost children required to finish a stage. There’s a nugget of a good game idea in there, but it winds up becoming little more than Michael Jackson’s hide ‘n seek as he checks every closet in the house for more and more children (… dammit, I said I would avoid the low hanging fruit…).

And, despite the fact that both of these games aren’t particularly good, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was one of the two reasons this Nintendo kid wanted a Sega Genesis. There was Sonic the Hedgehog and Michael Jackson, and all a Wee Goggle Bob wanted in this world was a system where they were both combined (and maybe a game, too). Michael Jackson, the King of Pop that was also a giant weirdo, was waiting for me there. He liked videogames, too!

And then everything happened.

To be clear for anyone that didn’t live through it, it wasn’t like society declared him cancelled, and then Michael Jackson was forever banished from the public eye. Michael Jackson had always been weird, but now there were allegations. Now there was a reason to chastise the man for doing things that were not simply unusual, but wrong. And not everyone believed it! It was a slow drip of accusations, lawsuits, and the occasional televised “deeper look”. Regardless, Michael Jackson retreated more and more from the public eye, and, by the time he passed in 2009, he was remembered as practically a different person from his 1990 incarnation. Hell, the change happened so gradually, it allowed The Simpsons to go from idolizing Michael Jackson as the most important person to ever visit Springfield…

Michael Jackson!?

To, four years later, claiming Michael Jackson was little more than a mythical, malevolent phantom…

Who!?

A hero had become a villain, and now we’re at a point where MJ has been wiped from the show’s history.

And eleven years after Michael’s death, I’m still not sure what the hell I’m supposed to learn from such an event.

Do I believe the allegations at this point? Yes. Duh. Though, if I’m being completely honest, it took me a long time to get there. Michael Jackson is weird! I believed that people were just taking his obvious weakness for children and childish pursuits and turning it into some kind of pedophilia. In retrospect, that seems almost dangerously optimistic, but, at the time, it was just how I defended my hero. And that was the problem. Whether it be because of my impressionable age, the indoctrination of videogames and media where he was a literal hero, or simply because I wanted to listen to good music without thinking too hard about bad things, I followed Michael Jackson a lot longer than I should have. In retrospect, I regret ever giving the man so much I AM ROBOTas a dime, left alone allowing him to dominate that precious tape collection I always lugged to the nearest boombox. Michael Jackson was my hero, a hero that stood for everything I cared about when I was a certain age, and then it turned out that he was scarring children for life literally while I was supporting him. I was a fan of a “hero” that has victims.

Has this influenced my own life? Probably. I’m not going to point the finger squarely at one Bad individual, but I feel like this is part of the reason I gravitate toward fictional heroes like Optimus Prime or Voltron while leaving the real world behind. Barack Obama is a president and a man I felt I could stand behind, but I could never support the man with the kind of all-consuming dedication I have seen from other fans, because he was and still is, ultimately, a man. And a man has flaws. Sometimes those flaws are making decisions you don’t agree with, sometimes those flaws are literally criminal, but they are still reasons not to venerate any given man or woman. We’re all people, and we should treat every person with an even dosage of doubt.

This is where we are: I play a videogame about a pop star rescuing children from zombies with the help of a monkey, and the only thing I can think of is how we should be skeptical of literally every human on Earth. Michael Jackson ruined the lives of many children. He was not a hero. He didn’t “rescue kids” anymore than he could turn into a robot. But it’s not all bad! There are good people! There are people worthy of praise! They might not be perfect, but there are people that actually save children. You don’t have to worship them, but there are people that balance the cosmic scales, even if not a single one is the King of Pop. We can move on from Michael Jackson.

Right in the beans

And MJ can just eat a piledriver.

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

  • System: Sega Genesis is technically the version ROB chose, but the Arcade version is also a valid choice that follows roughly the same plot and concept. That concept is that Michael Jackson can turn into a space ship or a car anytime he wants, but chooses not to.
  • Number of players: One on the Genesis, the unusual three in the arcade. You would think Jackson would account for five.
  • THE CHANGEAdaptation: Yes, this is videogame tie-in game for Michael Jackson’s movie of the same name. If you missed out on his cinematic masterpiece, it’s basically a loosely connected collection of music videos and concert footage that includes a miniscule feature about Michael Jackson rescuing children from his former manager/mob boss. It’s worth a look if you’re ever on Youtube and feel like watching something that will make you hate yourself for a solid hour or so.
  • Favorite Level: Like The Simpsons Arcade Game, the third stage inexplicably turns into a graveyard featuring innumerable zombies. Their continual leaps recall Chinese hopping vampires, though, and there are at least two zombies that split in half to rain knives from the sky. What I’m saying is that my favorite level is the absolute weirdest.
  • So, does Thriller play over the zombie level? Nope! Apparently there was a licensing issue, as MJ didn’t write the entirety of Thriller. However, there are some prototype versions of the game floating around that retain the song. Vincent Price doesn’t appear in any version, though, unfortunately.
  • An End: The arcade version sticks to one genre, but the finale of the Genesis game gets a light shoot ‘em up in there for the final confrontation. It is the exact opposite of fun, but it is vaguely reminiscent of that Star Wars game. Oh, and the actual ending of the game is just Michael dancing with a monkey.
  • Did you know? The basic premise of this article is also why I will not be covering Space Channel 5 or Space Channel 5: Part 2. I can only deal with so many Michaels in power.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention that this game is not particularly good? It wasn’t terrible for the early 90s, but it has not aged well in more ways than one. There are a lot of other games I can play that are about 120% less problematic.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gunstar Super Heroes for the Gameboy Advance! Now there are some heroes we can get behind! Please look forward to it!

FGC #493 Alien vs. Predator

Predator is gonna winNow let’s talk about the other kind of crossover.

Back in 1994, the concept of Ridley Scott’s xenomorph Alien fighting the Predator that menaced Arnold Schwarzenegger was a pretty hot commodity. We were still a decade away from the first Alien vs. Predator film, and… That’s what everybody wanted, right? Alien was a popular trilogy (I’m not being glib! It was only a trilogy in ’94!), and everyone fondly remembered Predator’s time in the jungle. These were movies that defined sci-fi features for a decade, so it would make sense that only a movie could contain the sheer enormity of their first encounter. Unfortunately, that showdown was going to have to wait, and, in the meantime, we had to content ourselves with comic books inspired by easily missable cameos in Danny Glover vehicles. But the early to mid 90’s is when things started to kick into high gear, as there was supposed to be a movie that never wound up materializing, so we at least got a novelization and videogame or two. And, hey, videogames are always great!

… Except when they’re on the Atari Jaguar. So we’re going to go ahead and ignore that game.

But Alien vs. Predator the arcade cabinet by Capcom was pretty boss, so we’re going to look at that one.

Little hot in hereAlien vs. Predator is superficially exactly what you would expect of any given franchise adapted into a quarter muncher for ’94. We’ve got seven levels filled with monsters and mooks that all have to be punched until they flicker off the screen. There are crates and barrels that must be pummeled until pizza comes out, and a powerup or two along the way that enhances your ability to punish pursuers. Every level ends with a boss, and, by the end, of course those “bosses” have become common enemies with unreasonable health bars. And, like some of the latter beat ‘em ups of the era, there’s a complete story, with text that changes according to your chosen hero, so there’s a tiny bit of replay value beyond seeing how differently everyone performs their jumpkick. It’s a beat ‘em up. It could be The Simpsons or The X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’s Alien vs. Predator, so here are a few aliens instead of foot soldiers. They explode less. Have a fun time.

And, no matter the era, this is the crux of the problem with many crossover games: they’re only popular characters soldered onto whatever genre is available.

Back in the 90’s, it was the beat ‘em up. Shortly thereafter, it was kart-based racing. Nowadays, it seems every franchise gets a tactics game. It’s not Alien versus Predator, it’s Tekken vs. Mega Man. It’s Pokémon vs. Nobunaga. Even titles like Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games take their all-star, unmistakably varied casts and boil them down to “this one is slightly faster than that other one”. Waluigi can outrun Sonic the Hedgehog! This is the greatest injustice in the history of videogame canon! What is unique about the individual characters involved must be boiled down to little more than a collection of relevant stats. Why? Because it would take far too long to flesh out complete “moves” for every participant, and then balance those skills against every other character in this crossover. So when huge, bulky Bowser and small, nimble Diddy Kong settle their differences with kart-racing, their differences barely register.

WeeeeAnd, unfortunately, this seems to be the standard for many crossover games. Fantastic characters from multiple franchises might be interacting for the first time, but they all “play” exactly the same. And that, objectively, sucks! Videogames are unique in that they can define characters through not only motivations or physical design, but also through movements and “skills”. Mario jumps. Mega Man shoots. Sonic runs. If you smoosh all these characters together, you can either find a way that jumping is effective against shooting and jumping, or you can simply give them all jetpacks and claim it’s a jetpacking contest of champions and call it a day (obviously, I believe the next big gaming trend to be jetpack racing). It flattens all the exceptional protagonists involved into an identical, unremarkable blob. Basically, many crossover games take a wonderful dinner of roast turkey, curried chicken, and garlic shrimp, slap all the dishes into a blender, and serve up a humdrum banquet of hotdog milkshakes. Even with perfect ingredients, a hotdog is still a basic meat tube!

So here’s Alien versus Predator, one of the earliest crossover titles in gaming. It may not be a crossover title between strictly videogame-based characters, but it is a crossover between two huge franchises. And, even if we want to ignore how badly everyone wanted to see aliens and predators fight back in the 90’s, you could even consider Alien versus Predator a crossover between three franchises: Alien, Predator, and the surprisingly well-defined “90’s Capcom Aesthetic”. The two humans starring in Alien versus Predator could have been Final Fight characters (and one arguably swiftly inspired both Resident Evil and Street Fighter characters), and, give or take a gun-for-an-arm, they’d be comfortable in any other beat ‘em up in the Capcom stable. So how do these “three” franchises interact? Well, the aliens are the persistent enemies of the game… but they’re indistinguishable from typical beat ‘em up opponents in all ways save their iconic visual design. The “facehugger” alien babies even operate exactly like TMNT’s mousers! And the differences between the “unevolved” Capcom humans and their advanced Predator compatriots? Barely worth mentioning. Yes, there are variances in speed or skill between the four playable characters, and every fighter gets a unique weapon, and there are a handful of “subtle” differences amongst the cast in things like firearm-usage… but they’re essentially interchangeable. The entire point of the original Predator film was that humans are at a slight disadvantage when combating an alien threat that happens to have advanced weaponry and the ability to Unpleasantbecome completely invisible, but you’d never know there was such a gulf in capability from playing Alien versus Predator. Apparently Lt. Linn Kurosawa has a greater “skill” stat than either playable predator. Does that mean she’s a thousand times more skilled than ol’ Dutch? And why couldn’t Ripley punch her way across a xenomorph invasion? Was it just because her stats were too low for anyone to hear her scream?

Is Aliens versus Predator a fun arcade game? Of course it is. It’s one of the best beat ‘em ups out there, and it’s a genuine shame that it was not available for home play for decades (well, legally, at least). But is it a good crossover game? No. It irons out everything unique about the franchises involved, and offers a smooth, indistinct product that is indistinguishable from any other beat ‘em up of the day. The gameplay of AvP is great, but it is gameplay that could be featuring Captain Commando as easily as Predator Hunter. In the end, the very diverse stars of these very diverse franchises only add up to “look at that thar alien”.

And an entire generation of gaming crossovers followed suit.

And when that happens, whoever wins, we lose.

FGC #493 Alien vs. Predator

  • System: Initially only arcade, but now available for the Capcom Home Arcade. You know that one, right? It’s that “mini console” that looks like a giant Capcom logo/arcade stick? I’m sure it actually exists. I think I saw it in England one time.
  • Number of players: Three simultaneous players. Why they didn’t just allow for free reign with a full set of the four selectable characters is beyond me.
  • BraaaaainsFavorite Character: Predator Warrior is the obvious best, despite the clear disadvantage of deciding to bring a pointy stick to an alien fight. Linn Kurosawa gets second place for being nimble as hell. Predator Hunter and Major Dutch don’t even rank.
  • But Dutch is supposed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger with a gun arm, right? Oh yes. Certainly. That is the eventual governor of California running around and pounding aliens. I wonder if Arnold ever gets residuals for all the videogame characters that aped him for a solid two decades…
  • The beauty of Aliens: Thanks to the attendant franchise, this is one of those rare beat ‘em ups where you don’t fight a single “generic guy” until around the fourth level. It’s all aliens until you kill the queen, and they return again later when it’s revealed that the big secret of the story is that humans are breeding their own aliens. Who would have suspected that humans were the real aliens all along? Or… something.
  • The ugly of Aliens: Unfortunately, the flip side of the alien army is that the majority of the bosses are just “alien with a new skill”. Spitting alien. Hard-shelled alien. Make space great again alien. When the inevitable boss rush occurs during the final level, you can barely tell the big boys from the lil’ dudes.
  • Bonus Time: There is exactly one stage where you’re granted unlimited ammo, and are asked to gun down every last alien from the back of a moving truck. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. And now I want an AvP shootin’ game (not on the Jaguar).
  • Conventions of the genre: A predator eating hot pizza off the floor never gets old.
  • Bonus!Did you know? Lt. Linn Kurosawa likely inspired Ibuki from Street Fighter 3, who debuted three years later. There’s a distinct similarity in hairstyling there, and there’s also the minor fact that Ibuki has a classmate named Sarai Kurosawa. There might be a connection!
  • Would I play again: Hopefully this arcade game makes its way to modern consoles, as it would be an ideal budget beat ‘em up for the Switch or PS4. I would spend five dollars to play through this again with friends. Maybe even ten!

What’s next? Crossovers continue with another game featuring humans and aliens playing well together. Please look forward to it!

WRONG FRANCHISE

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 #394 Young Justice: Legacy

JUSTICE!Corporations do not understand universes.

What separates us from the animals? Intelligence? Morality? The ability to claim horseradish and “creamy” horseradish are the same edible substance? No, on a basic level, what makes us the top of the food chain is our pattern recognition. You see a little bit of the stuff in some animals (“sit!” = put butt on floor for treat), but even the smartest animal doesn’t seem to have the object permanence to so much as code a simple C++ “hello world” script. Meanwhile, over on the human side of the Animal Kingdom, toddlers are barely verbal before they start asking the why of everything. If there is a reason that things fall down, there must also be a reason for the color of the walls, or why Daddy is always crank calling the neighbors after he drinks his special juice. What we consider thinking is merely a long chain of if-then statements going back to the first time you realized there was a reason grandma always screamed when you attempted to climb the stove.

So it’s only natural that we approach our media with the same basic thinking. We certainly could enjoy Merrie Melodies, newspaper comic strips, and other chunks of media that contain and require exactly zero continuity… but did you notice how the greatest examples of that phenomenon are almost entirely as outdated as a protractor? Continuity is king nowadays, and everything from Superman to the latest Kanye West album must contain no less than a decade’s worth of references and in-jokes. And, if you ever wondered why such a thing was now considered standard, it’s because the marketing department figured out a long time ago that your eyeballs were going to stay glued to the boob tube through that commercial break if you were promised just the tiniest glimmer of what happens next. Those last ten minutes were setting up the “if”, and, if you can hold out a little longer, you’ll be granted the all-important “then”. All of your dreams will come true! Or maybe you’ll at least find out who shot J.R.

But the thing about continuity is that, should it go on long enough, it gets a little complicated. And that previously mentioned marketing department? They do not like complicated.

Get 'emIt’s basic math, really. If you’re in the business of selling your product (and if you’re producing a product for literally any other reason, my God man, what are you even doing?), you need to do two things: maintain your audience, and grow your audience. So once you’ve got your initial viewers good and entrenched, then it’s time to start expanding and finding new ways to hook new people. And, hey, you’ve got some fans that will stick with you through anything, so why not toss out the baby and its stupid bath water, start fresh, and tell all those newbies that we’ve got a perfect “jumping on point”? What could possibly go wrong? You think the established fans will leave? They might! But who needs those nerds? They just spent the last six months complaining on their stupid forums because you had the audacity to name the latest love interest after your dog. It was a coincidence, you damn fanatics! It wasn’t supposed to mean anything! Reboot this thing, and maybe we’ll get a new, better audience that will finally buy that warehouse full of F-tier Pops.

And, while the reboot is practically synonymous with the comic book industry, it is certainly the standard in practically every medium you can name. Was A Link to the Past 100% beholden to the original Legend of Zelda? Does the latest Mario release take a time out to explain the lack of Bowser Jr? Is there a single Transformers movie that clarifies the current whereabouts of Orson Welles? Can anyone even remember how many 007s we’ve gone through? Not every story has to have a giant “reboot” brand on its cover, but “that old story didn’t matter” is assumed to be the norm any time there isn’t a number in the title. After all, you’re not going to score any new fans by requiring homework.

But those old fans? They have long memories. And, what’s more, they have desires.

BZZZZTLet’s take Star Trek as an example. I have no doubt that, whether you’re reading this article in 2018 or 2098, there is some manner of Star Trek-related media available. It’s inevitable! It’s a franchise that is based on a simple concept (“Space: The Final Frontier”), and can be adapted into anything from a retro futuristic romp to a Seth Macfarlane vanity project. However, in the next century, I would be very surprised if my Star Trek ever resurfaces in any given form ever again. What’s my Star Trek, you obviously don’t want to ask? Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the story of a single dad in a frontier space station attempting to balance science and religion while a shape shifting sheriff gets in a fight with gluttonous bartender. I would give my left pinky toe (it’s really important for balance!) to see the further adventures of Ben Sisko, Miles O’Brien, and Elim Garak (master tailor), but I know that’s never going to happen again. Books are available, and maybe we’ll see some manner of comic book if IDW is feeling saucy, but to just sit down at 5 in the evening and visit Deep Space Nine from the comfort of my couch? That will never happen again. The franchise lives on, but the joy of that particular mini universe is lost forever.

And companies don’t realize how desperate fans can be for those forgotten universes.

Today’s game is Young Justice: Legacy. At the time of Young Justice: Legacy’s announcement, Young Justice: The Animated Series was on a season break. The plan was that you’d have Young Justice in reruns, and then there would be Young Justice: Season 2, which would take place after a significant (and cast rearranging) time jump. Young Justice: Legacy would fill in the blanks on that time skip, so if you were wondering why Aqua Lad was off crying in the corner and screaming “you’re not my real dad!” Young Justice: Legacy was here to explain every little detail. And that’s a great idea! That has the potential to not only fuel an interesting tie-in product, but also goose the sales a bit with all those nerds that want to bathe themselves in the poisonous spring that is continuity. Everybody wins!

CLOWN MUSICUnfortunately, Young Justice: Legacy is not very good (hey, that’s the other theme of this week). And, somewhere along production, it seems that someone noticed that it wasn’t very good. Young Justice: Legacy was not released during the gap between seasons of Young Justice, because it suffered from numerous setbacks and delays. Not only was YJ:L postponed, it was outright cancelled for the Wii/WiiU. And then, when it was finally released on PS3/X360/3DS (somebody liked systems with a “3” in the title), Young Justice: The Series… was cancelled. Sorry! Just a little late!

And that’s why people bought Young Justice: Legacy.

Young Justice: Legacy is a lousy clone of the much more successful/fun X-Men/Marvel Gauntlet-alikes of a few years prior. Walk, fight random mooks, walk some more, maybe use a super power every once in a while. Bosses are simultaneously more interesting (here’s Killer Frost! And she’s riding ice pillars!) and more stupid (why the hell can’t Superboy just fly to match her altitude!?) than the rest of the game. And, if you’re good, the finale is a battle against a magical dragon that has no business being the final boss of a DC Superhero title (basically, imagine if the final boss of Injustice was a Pokémon… assuming it wasn’t DLC). Even with a multiplayer mode that is exactly as tepid as the main campaign, there is practically no reason to play this game, save being really dedicated to playing as Miss Martian.

And that’s all this stupid game needs.

Shiny!Young Justice the series is technically based on a comic originally kickstarted by Peter David in 1998. But that is fairly misleading, as the only reason “Young Justice” wasn’t “Teen Titans” was because the “Titans” had all grown up and taken their group name to college in an effort to impress other freshmen. Considering the two properties to be thematically identical, we’re then looking back to Teen Titan’s premiere back in 1964. For the record, that was an epoch before the last time we had to impeach a president. And, in the same way we’ve had a number of administrations since the 60’s, there have been an innumerable number of Teen Titans in that time. In short, if you say, “I like teenage superheroes in the DC Universe”, you could be talking about any number of groups over the last fifty years. And that’s even before you get into spin-offs, elseworlds, and, of course, television shows. Young Justice, the 2010-2013 Cartoon Network program, was just a drop in the ocean of Teen Titan media. And, unfortunately, it was always destined to be forgotten.

And that sucks for anyone that wanted to see this version of Robin ride again.

So Young Justice: Legacy might not be any good, but it does star all those heroes from that nearly forgotten sub-franchise. It’s a complete story with twists, turns, and villains that are all (almost all) recognizable from the original series. M’gann M’orzz is the Young Justice iteration, not the “lesser” versions you’d find in the comic books or random Supergirl episodes. All your old friends are here, and you get to join them in a fight! Sure, the game is no great shakes, but it shakes the part of your brain that contains great memories of a Red Arrow that isn’t addicted to parkour. Young Justice: Legacy thrives, because, until the inevitable revival, it’s the last lifeboat containing all your pals. And even if it’s going to be a pain, aren’t you going to toss them a life preserver?

So forget the reboots, Big Media, and revel in the continuity. It’s pretty clear that anyone…

Wait…

What am I saying? I don’t want to be a sucker and blow my hard earned dough on nostalgia. No! I have to stop this article before it’s too late! Hollywood! Toy companies! Forget I said anything! You don’t need to…

DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE

Oh noooooo!

FGC #394 Young Justice: Legacy

  • System: Nintendo 3DS, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. I would assume the Nintendo 3DS version is slightly different from its console brothers… but, meh, Google Image Search is all the way over there.
  • Number of players: It has to be at least two. But you can control three characters per stage. Was it three players? Maybe? There was an online mode, so I’m going to upgrade that to “probably”.
  • Favorite Playable Character: If I say Miss Martian, everyone is just going to yell at me for actually liking catch phrases. Oh, wait, Zatanna is considered young enough to qualify for the roster, so that’s my pick. Unparalleled magical powers should always be available during beat ‘em ups.
  • BUM BUM BUMFavorite Non-Playable Character: Klarion bum bum bum The Witch Boy! For no reason, I just happened to remember that I have a Young Justice script signed by Peter David. Go fig.
  • Favorite Character That is Surprisingly Not Playable: We’ve got Nightwing, we’ve got Robin, and we’ve even got Batgirl, but Batman himself is not playable. He’s lurking around, but I am downright impressed the producers had the restraint to not make him a playable character. Good job, guys!
  • Did you know? The final unlocked Titan (uh… Young Justicer?) is Rocket, the sidekick of Icon, star of Milestone Comics. Milestone Comics was an interesting and diverse little universe hiding on the fringes of DC Comics, and, like most attempts at diversity in comic books, every character involved has been almost completely forgotten. But at least Rocket is well worth unlocking, as her moves are some of the best available. And it’s not like there’s some other teenage Milestone Comics hero that people have been begging for for years or anything. Note: Because no one remembers Milestone Comics and would understand that wry reference, I’m talking about Static Shock. There. Happy?
  • Would I play again: Nah. There are some people that obsess over Young Justice, but I’m not one of ‘em. More of a Gargoyles fan, myself.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy Dissidia NT! Oddly enough, this is a recent release, but ROB picked from the deep end of the pool for once, so it’s an actually randomly picked recent release. Go fig. Anyway, please look forward to it!

USE THE FORCE
How do forcefields even work?