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FGC #030 Rampage Through Time

Lizzy is a starPac-Man is one of Gaming’s first and most enduring mascots. There was some hubbub in the last year that Pac-Man didn’t deserve a “slot” among the other stars of Super Smash Bros. 4, but it could easily be argued that Pac-Man is the entire reason there could even be a Super Smash Bros. Pac-Man is the tried and true original video game mascot, receiving a level of fame far beyond that of most Nobel Prize Winners. Pac-Man had his own hit song, multiple television shows, more merchandise than you could even imagine, and he’s the official spirit animal of 75% of the pizzas on Earth. Pac-Man is the proof of concept, the reason we have mascots like Link and Mario. Pac-Man is the origin of the fact that any five year old could attribute more personality traits to a lil’ round, hungry, pink puffball than the main character of your average Adam Sandler vehicle. It all started with one world-wide phenomenon.

And Pac-Man has starred in, like, three good games over 35 years. That’s, what, an 8% chance of seeing a decent Pac-Man game every year since before I was born? Terrible.

This is a problem that has afflicted many beloved game franchises from the early “Arcade Era” of Gaming. Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Gauntlet: all games that are beloved in their arcade incarnations, all games that left an indelible make on Gaming History, and all games that have never again achieved the same level of impact as their original release. Hell, Pac-Man with its Ms. Pac-Man progeny might be the only game of that era to have a more successful sequel. From Asteroids to Dig Dug, all of these games have had sequels and “modern updates” throughout the decades, but nary a one has had the staying power of franchises we’ve just recently declared dead, like Castlevania or Gradius. Mega Man had years of memorable adventures before his retirement, Frogger barely had time to cross the street.

Geography is hardAs you’ve likely surmised, Rampage is a member of this lost generation of games. Rampage, in its original incarnation, is maybe one of the most brilliant concepts ever committed to pixels. You like Godzilla? How would you like to be Godzilla? Well before Grand Theft Auto decided to profit from a nation’s collective ID, Rampage stomped onto the scene to exchange your quarters for wholesale, wanton destruction. Hit that start button, choose Lizzie (not Godzilla), George (not King Kong), or Ralph (a giant werewolf, why not?) and start breaking buildings, smashing tanks, and devouring any helpless humans that happen to cross your path. Midway wasn’t being subtle with its influences, either; the Rampage cabinet depicted a very Fay Wray woman hanging out of a skyscraper (and her dress), while a humongous monkey walloped a giant green lizard. Come to Rampage. Play Rampage. Destroy everything.

In its own way, everything about Rampage was ideal for the arcades. It could be played by three people simultaneously, which is about the optimum number of people to crowd around the average arcade cabinet. Players could simply go about their merry way crushing the world, or bash each other and fight amongst themselves until someone needed to insert another credit. As an added bonus, upon defeating your frenemy, the defeated monster would shrink down to a more snack-sized human… and… well… you should know what to do. Assuming you survived, the game seemed to go on forever, with levels just different enough to imply that you’re making progress, but not so different as to shock the player. And, yes, the gameplay was primarily punch, kick, and jump. Is there a building? Punch it. Is there a tank? Kick it. No need for a tutorial.

Rampage was, inevitably, an arcade hit. It was no Pac-Man, of course, but it was a game that sucked down more than its fair share of quarters (and time). It was then ported to various platforms to varying degrees of success, like the NES (alright), Commodore 64 (pretty great), and Atari (oh God no). It was fun to play the game at home, finally, and to avoid wasting hundreds of quarters just because some teenager sauntered up to the cabinet and kicked your wolfy face in.

And then… nothing.

Chicka Chicka Wil' Wil' WestRampage didn’t return for an entire console generation, which was approximately forever in video game playing time, and finally reemerged in 1997 with Rampage World Tour. Rampage World Tour improved its graphics in not only an aesthetic manner, but also added a claymation-esque house style that gave Rampage a much needed unique image. And… that was it. There are buildings you can bounce on, the screen now scrolls, and there’s a “boss” walking mech that occasionally pops up. Other than that? Rampage World Tour was exactly the same as its previous incarnation; though this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s an arcade game, and there wasn’t anything else like it in ’97 just the same as back in the 80’s, so despite the easily copied premise and already copied characters, Rampage was fairly unique. It was well worth a couple of bucks when you saw the cabinet at an arcade or campground or bar mitzvah.

And, as was the style at the time, the game popped up on Playstation and N64 (and Saturn) (and Gameboy Color). Like its spiritual siblings in the beat ‘em up genre, it was pretty boring on your own on the couch, but it was a lot of fun if you had some friends over. Ah… the nights spent destroying the world…

Here’s where we hit a snag: Rampage could not come up with any new ideas. Rampage World Tour must have been at least a moderate hit, as it spawned another sequel on the home consoles, Rampage 2: Universal Tour, where the Rampage franchise jumped immediately to the “in Space!” subtitle. It was exactly the same game, except now there were three new monsters at the outset: a giant rhino (okay), mouse (uhhh), and lobster (… what?), and a fourth new alien cyclops monster eventually available. Beyond that? Exact same gameplay, just now with a few alien enemies to pound and a few locations with “for real” landmarks. Yes, you can dismantle the World Trade Center on the way to rescue a confined Gorilla George. Giant lobster claws can melt steel beams.

Nothing makes senseAnd then, finally, we have the genesis of today’s entry: Rampage Through Time. Having crushed all of Earth and Space, it was time for the monsters to pick on time itself, so the sliver of a plot provided sees the ever expanding gang of giant mutant monsters hopping into a time portal and just crushing whatever shows up. 90% of the game is exactly the same Rampage that’s been going on since the 80’s. The other 10% of the game? Nobody has any idea.

The first major change is that the game is three players at all times, with one human player and two CPU characters. Now destroying the world isn’t enough, you have to beat the other monsters in three distinct categories, or it’s Game Over. This isn’t too difficult, as the CPU is about as intelligent as a you’d expect a giant mutated rat to be, so it’s not like anything is added to the experience, you just now have to wait for a couple of idiots to catch up with your avatar so the screen will scroll properly. And then at the end of each group of four levels, you have to compete against the other two nitwits in a wholly unrelated mini game, like a shooting gallery or a Breakout clone. Win, and you advance to more Rampage stages; lose, and it’s Game Over, back to the title screen. Considering there isn’t even much of a “results screen” to confirm your loss, this can be a little confusing. Did I just fail, or did the game just end?

So, basically, here’s Rampage: three games of exactly the same gameplay, and then a fourth where they were so clearly grasping for straws they decided to integrate pass/fail minigames that would one day find their perfect home in the dollar bin of the app store. Despite the fact that Rampage had maybe the best concept for a video game back in the 80’s, no one ever did anything interesting with it, and the franchise withered on the vine, eventually being consumed by the squirrel of sadness. Rampage’s finale came in the form of Rampage: Total Destruction, where the franchise returned to the exact same gameplay, but now supporting an overwhelming thirty playable monsters with inventive names like Ramsy the Ram and Icky the Echidna. I’m pretty sure the game sold six copies across three systems.

Combat?  Really?Here’s a tip, Rampage, maybe next time you come up with a wonderful, enduring game concept, maybe you could spend another thirty seconds figuring out how to do something new and fun with that same concept. You’re never going to be successful with… wait… what? You cast The Rock for what? …Oh. This is going to end in ruins.

FGC #30 Rampage Through Time

  • System: Playstation, and just Playstation, despite the preceding two games also appearing on the N64.
  • Number of Players: Three, and I never get tired of being able to note games with three players.
  • I think you missed a Rampage game: Okay, yes, there was Rampage Puzzle Attack for the GBA. It was basically Puzzle Fighter, and, frankly, a puzzle game based on frogger would have made more sense. “Cerebral” isn’t exactly Rampage’s bag.
  • There’s also cutscenes: And they’re horrible. They’re somehow about the game, but don’t add anything at all. There’s some kind of play at humor, like it’s vaguely reminiscent of the California Raisins Christmas Special, but it all falls flat. And considering the glut of Game Overs that make it likely to see the same stupid intro over and over again, well, it gets old fast.
  • Eat ham and jamFavorite Monster: Even though Fabio the Flea is right up there, Lizzie has been my girl since the early days. I didn’t even know she was a woman when I first started playing the game, I just knew she was a dinosaur, and that’s all I ever needed to know.
  • Memories of Rampage: My grandparents had a guest house when I was growing up, and most of the guests were million year old elderly couples and whatnot, so if I was at the cottage for the day, I had nothing to do with the visitors at all. One day, a trio of teenagers rolled in, and I was approximately eleven or so, so I thought these teens were like the coolest thing ever. I practically begged them to play Rampage World Tour with me (I had my N64 on hand because Grandma’s House was boring as all get out), and they finally joined in on a game. I thought I was the coolest kid on the block. We played that game for hours… until one of the teens literally punched out another because he wouldn’t stop eating his defeated monster. I excused myself at about that point. Years later, when my grandmother would occasionally make reference to that one idiot kid that stayed at her place and managed to lose a tooth in Room 2, I decided to keep my mouth shut.
  • Rampage apparel: I actually own a Rampage promotional shirt with art from Rampage: Universal Tour that reads “Boris Ate New York and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”. Ha ha, take that, stupid t-shirt cliche. Man, the 90’s were stupid…
  • Did you know? Rampage for the arcade is literally endless, while the NES and other console versions have a clear final level and ending. Of course, all the claymation games have deliberate endings, so you can get some kind of closure while playing as monsters that literally destroy everything in their path. Were you expecting a twist ending? Ralph finds a tribe of other giant werewolves and goes on to live happily with his werewolf bride and a litter of homicidal puppies? No, the ending is “you killed everybody, way to go”. Rampage Through Time’s finale has a news reporter stating that it’s the end of the world… and then he falls over in his chair. Ha ha ha.
  • Would I play again? Nah. Rampage or Rampage World Tour, maybe, and likely only with friends, but this dreck is staying the hell out of any Playstation devices I have lying around. It’s one of those games that doesn’t seem to like the player, and who has time for that anymore?

Damn Robots

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Darkwing Duck for the NES.

Yeah, okay, there’s no way I’m not going to say it.
Let’s get dangerous.
Please look forward to it!

FGC #004 Mortal Kombat Trilogy

Stryker is bad and should feel badMortal Kombat is a sincerely weird series.

Right from the get-go, MK was a strange mix of realistic graphics and over the top gore, famously featuring a masked ninja effortlessly plucking the head and spinal column from a blonde in gym wear. Somehow, seven random fighters (“A Japanese god and… how about an Australian cyborg? Do we have one of those yet?”) with approximately three special moves apiece and barely any variation in “normal” moves combined to form a Voltron of unstoppable arcade juggernautery. I almost feel bad for the makers of Street Fighter II, who must have put hours of effort into something as silly as every last fighter having an “electric x-ray” animation in response to one character’s special move, and then watched as Mortal Kombat flew to the top of the pack based exclusively on its ability to just tear your heart out.

Oh, and Goro. Goro was always pretty cool.

Mortal Kombat quickly begat Mortal Kombat 2, which was a typical video game sequel: more of the same, with maybe a few bits of “silly” tossed in to offset the ultra-violence. Don’t worry, moms, we’re all in on the joke here! Your kids can’t turn into dragons, right? See, it’s all whimsical, loony tunes violence. Please ignore that fellow with the hat bisecting that man with the swords in his arms.

Bunny!Speaking of Looney Tunes, this is about where the insane mythology creep started, as Mortal Kombat was no longer a martial arts tournament hosted by an ancient master, oh no, this was all a plot by the ruler of another dimension that got all of its fashion tips from Mad Max. And that green ninja hiding in the first game? He’s a member of an ancient lizard race and secretly fighting for oh man I cannot finish this sentence.

Can’t we just have a ludicrous four armed dragon man without having to explain his entire breed’s history?

And then came Mortal Kombat 3, where we learned the four armed dragon men had a long standing rivalry with the fanatical horsey man with the metal tail.

Mortal Kombat Trilogy is appropriately named, as it is the third version of the third game in the Mortal Kombat series. Featuring the largest cast Mortal Kombat would ever see until Mortal Kombat Armageddon (effectively Mortal Kombat Trilogy 2), you’ve got a lot of choices for pummeling in MKT, from She-Goro to She-Kahn or even She-Reptile (note that She-Sub-Zero would not be introduced until Mortal Kombat 5, and we’d have to wait until MK6 for She-Kano). There’s even some male characters, like Yellow Ninja, Blue Ninja, Prince Reference, Red Ninja, and two versions of Gray Ninja! How do those boys at Midway come up with this stuff!?

Shake it, sisterSecret shame? I might be a little harsh here with a series that is, at its core, just an excuse for roundhouses and uppercuts, but the sad truth is that I eat this stuff up with a spoon. I have always been a sucker for “comic book” universes, and Mortal Kombat is no exception. You can sell me one hundred issues of the Green Lantern Corps fighting the Yellow Lantern Corps and better watch out for the Red Lantern Corps, and you can keep me up all night on a wiki detailing the full exploits of the guy named after a temperature.

Let’s take a look at the theoretical Mortal Kombat mascot: Scorpion. For those of you that are unaware, Scorpion is literally part of Mortal Kombat’s current caretakers’ logo and has appeared in nearly every Mortal Kombat game and spin off (he missed the original version of Mortal Kombat 3, but swung back in with a vengeance in MK3 Ultimate and Trilogy). Scorpion is the face of Mortal Kombat, and no one has ever had any idea what to do with him.

In Mortal Kombat I, Scorpion was a simple skeleton man that wanted revenge on Sub-Zero, who had forcibly caused Scorpion to lose about eleven pounds during a previous, fatal encounter. Fire Ghost vs. Ice Man, a tale as old as time. Scorpion wound up scoring the only fatality to canonically take place during Mortal Kombat I, and introduced Sub-Zero to his own private burning man exhibition. Flame Wraith gets his revenge, end of story.

Mortal Kombat 2 sees Sub-Zero return, and Scorpion could swear he remembers killing that guy, but maybe his fireball missed? Or Smokey the Bear put him out? Who knows, Scorpion telejumps at the chance to double kill Sub-Zero. But Scorpion finds that, whoops, this Sub-Zero is actually the younger brother of the dead Sub-Zero, and cools his skull down to friendly fire levels. Young Sub-Zero seems to bear Scorpion no ill-will for his part in his brother’s flambé, which, really, we could all learn a lesson here about forgiving unstoppable murder skeletons.

Shao Kahn gets downright glutinous in Mortal Kombat 3, attempts to steal all the souls on Earth and in Hell, and accidentally releases Scorpion to roam the Earth and thrash ninja robots. Scorpion’s bio for the game claims he’s unaffiliated with any side, so he’s just running around, throwing spears at folks because it seems like something to do. Suppose it beats Hell.

Toasty!Scorpion remembers nothing and goes right back to trying to kill Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat 4. Scorpion completely flakes on not only having already killed Sub-Zero, but also learning that Current Sub-Zero is not Dead Sub-Zero. Scorpion comes this close to committing murder for absolutely no reason, but pulls back when he learns that Quan Chi, the Shang Tsung of MK4 (… err… MK2 Shang Tsung), was actually responsible for his family’s death. Whoops! Scorpion is actually pretty good at this vengeance thing, so he drags Quan Chi to Hell… wait… we’re calling it the Nether Realm now.

In what seems to be one part Dante and one part Three Stooges, Scorpion continues to torture Quan Chi until the start of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. He just chases him around not-Hell, swinging his axe all over the place and presumably repeatedly shouting something about getting over there. Quan Chi eventually found a couple of oni (onis? It’s just one of those words you hope you never need to know the plural), was like, “Hey, you guys? That yellow ninja guy said yo’ mama so fat, when she sits around the third circle of Hell, she sits AROUND the third circle of Hell!” Quan Chi then scampered off and started the titular Deadly Alliance while Scorpion dealt with the dual oni, Bashy and Pigpen. According to canon, Scorpion didn’t even really participate in MK:DA, and was simply tossed into a soulnado (glossary: soulnado: a tornado of souls) which sent Scorpion off to the Realm of the Elder Gods, effectively MK’s Heaven.

The afterlife of the Mortal Kombat universe is peculiar and terrible.

The Elder Gods are basically DC’s Guardians of the Universe: know-it-alls from the dawn of time that somehow have never made a worthwhile decision within our generation. The Elder Gods take one look at Scorpion, avenging demon from Hell, and unanimously decide to elect Scorpion as their champion, successfully making him the champion of all of existence. I don’t need to add anything to that, do I? Flaming Vengeance Incarnate is the defender of all that has ever been? Gonna end poorly.

And it does! All of reality gets sucked down the toilet, and Lord Raiden reboots all of existence after making a brief stop over in the DC Universe. A new world is formed in Mortal Kombat 9, and… Scorpion is a vengeful wraith hell bent on liquefying Sub-Zero. Go with what you know, right?

Penguin!Now we’re up to Mortal Kombat X, home of a very much alive Scorpion. How did that happen? I’d claim you should play the game and find out for yourself, but, spoilers, it’s because Cyber Sub-Zero was a hit in Mortal Kombat 9, and the writers needed a new “the same, but different!” iconic character. So, Scorpion, best known as “Ninja Ghost Rider” is now some Asian guy with inexplicable fire powers. Of course, if Cyber Sub-Zero is any indication, Scorps will be back to normal by next game, probably due to a flesh mangling accident with a paper shredder Sub-Zero was trying to repair or something, so let’s not get too used to the new status quo.

Bizarro PitMy point to all this nonsense? Mortal Kombat’s story is about as well plotted and forward thinking as your average DC comics plot (Hal Jordan: Hero, Out-of-Touch Old Man, Super Villain, Dead, Alive, Greatest Hero Ever, Renegade, Space Hobo). Mortal Kombat Trilogy is an early, lame effort to bring these characters together for one final showdown before beginning the truly terrible era of “games no one liked that introduce sixteen new characters a game that are all the same as the previous characters, but maybe with different hair” (MK: GNOLTI16NCAGTAATSATPCBMWDH). It is impossible to play this game today without seeing the insanity of the future stretching before it, and it’s retroactively ruined an experience that could just be a man with metal arms shooting missiles at Elvira.

Or maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve wasted so much valuable brain space on this series. Did you know Stryker was originally intended for Mortal Kombat I? See the original idea…

FGC #4 Mortal Kombat Trilogy

  • System: N64, Playstation
  • Number of Players: 2, really. 8 in a “tournament”, but good luck getting that going.
  • This Roster Looks Familiar: It is, give or take, exactly the same as the MK9 roster. Assuming Random ROB ever chooses that game, I’ve got a lovely post about reliving past glories all ready to go.
  • Admit it, you’ve played this and Killer Instinct Gold more hours than you’ve devoted to anything else in your life: Never!
  • PSX or N64: The N64 is lacking the ability to play as the bosses and unmasked Sub-Zero, and it lacks the PSX’s one-button fatality cheat that makes life so much better. On the other hand, the load times on the PSX edition are atrocious, particularly in a game where matches are over in fifteen seconds. So, good news, we’re all losers! Maybe the Saturn version was best, but I’m not buying this game again!
  • Did you know? The PSX version is the only MK game where you can play as a centaur without any kind of code. This should be an option in other games. I’m not talking about just other Mortal Kombat games, I mean every video game. Think about it. Princess Zelda is just chilling in Ganon’s clutches, and to her rescue is Link, brave Hylian Centaur of Lore. Wait. Nevermind, just googled that. Bad idea.
  • Would I play again? Exclusively for nostalgia purposes. The actual nuts and bolts of playing this game are improved upon in every conceivable way by Mortal Kombat 9. Assuming some centaur-related DLC was ever released for that game, we’d have absolutely no reason to turn on MKT again.

Quite the Fatality

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Yoshi Touch & Go. Woof. Alright. Let’s see how that shakes out, you stupid robot. Please look forward to it!