Tag Archives: tmnt

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

Spidey!Spider-Man: The Video Game is important precisely because it is forgettable.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is an arcade title that never made its way to consoles. It’s part beat ‘em up, part 2-D platformer, and all general Sega lunacy. Released a year after Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, this title sees Spider-Man gain a few amazing friends, fight almost the exact same roster of villains, and eventually save the day/planet through the very Spider-Man solution of “punch everything ever”. Webs are used exclusively as concussive projectiles, a swinging kick is the most Spidey-esque move available, and I’m pretty sure ol’ Webhead kills Dr. Curt Connors. Twice. It’s a Spider-Man game, but it’s so loosely a Spider-Man product, it may as well be a malfunctioning Malibu Stacy doll.

But, hey, it was a fun time for 1992.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is not Final Fight. In fact, SM:TVG was released a solid three years after Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the arcade game). We had also seen Streets of Rage a year prior. The Simpsons (the arcade game) was released a year earlier, too. X-Men (the arcade game) was released the same year. In short, SM:TVG was not only already one of many Spider-Man videogames, but it was also yet another beat ‘em up in an already crowded beat ‘em up market. What did it do to set itself apart from the pack? Well, unfortunately, not much: Once a level, the perspective changes to a 2-D plane, and features almost Contra-esque run ‘n shoot action. Unfortunately, this was at a time when 2-D was starting to become passé, so lil’ dorky dudes shooting grappling hooks at a ridiculously scaled Venom sprite wasn’t going to impress anyone when Blanka’s screams were already beckoning from elsewhere in the arcade. So, yes, when a beat ‘em up needed every advantage it could find to be the next Double Dragon and not a Double Dragon 3, SM:TVG decided to go in possibly the worst direction. At least it didn’t include a boss on the second level that is virtually impossible due to a severe lack of available aerial attacks…

GOBLIN!

Oh. Oh dang.

But wait! Spider-Man: The Video Game is still fun! It’s a lot of fun! Or… at least I remember it being a fun. Maybe I just need to play it again? Sure! That sounds like a great idea! I’ll just pop it right in my…

Oh, right. SM:TVG was only available in arcades, and it sure as heck isn’t in any arcades anymore… Assuming you can find an arcade at all… This is going to get difficult.

But it does bring us to a prime reason videogame preservation is important: Videogame popularity is wildly capricious and ephemeral.

Get 'emThe beat ‘em up genre featured some of the biggest names of the time. Many people were first exposed to The X-Men not through a comic book, but through an arcade game (and we’re still trying to figure out why Dazzler isn’t more popular…). Mike Haggar was just a mayor who rarely wore a shirt, but the humble beat ‘em up made him a mainstay of gaming for generations. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The Simpsons? They were already everywhere, so it made sense they’d be gobbling up your quarters, too. When the beat ‘em up genre ruled the arcade, it well and truly owned gaming itself, and the consoles of the time were desperate to catch up to their coin-op brethren. It was cool to be a beat ‘em up, and everything that was cool wound up walking left-to-right and pummeling every random punk in their path.

But popularity ebbs and flows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons are still a “thing” (The Simpsons is currently entering its ∞th season), but they’re nowhere near the popularity they experienced in the late 80’s/early 90’s. In the meanwhile, The X-Men became the hottest super-hero franchise on the silver screen… and then fell to the wayside the minute that Spider-Man conquered the multiplex. And now Spider-Man is riding high again, but is nowhere near the popularity of some of his contemporaries in The Avengers. Oh Lord! Hawk Guy might be the most popular character in Spider-Man: The Video Game! What horrible future has our misdeeds wrought!?

THWANGAnd if you’re saying that Spider-Man: The Video Game (featuring Clint Barton) would do well today because of the popularity of its attached property: congratulations! You’re right! And if we had The Avengers palling around on the big screen back in 1992, then this mediocre beat ‘em up would likely be just as popular as the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons. And that would carry it forward to the future: some company (I guess Disney Interactive? Or… Capcom? Nintendo is publishing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? Maybe them?) would find it profitable enough to hit Sega up for its old code, and we’d see this arcade title ported to a virtual console or two. Or maybe it would have already happened, and we’d be able to buy it on Xbox Live because it was a promotion for Spider-Man: That One Where The Lizard Looks Like a Ninja Turtle. Or maybe it would have been enough of an arcade hit that it got ported to the Sega Genesis. Or Sega Saturn. Or Sega Dreamcast. Or Game Gear? I’m really not picky.

But, in its moment, Spider-Man wasn’t all that popular. We were still two years away from the massive popularity of the Spider-Man animated series, and the Spidey fans of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends were a decade past caring about videogames. Tobey Maguire may as well have been an eternity from popularizing battling a Green Goblin or two. While it seems hard to believe in the age of Avengers Endgame, there was a time when Spider-Man was just some random comic book character, and his masked mug was never going to grab more quarters than Michelangelo traveling through time.

And so history forgot Spider-Man: The Video Game. It is now impossible to play a videogame featuring Spider-Man and Hawkeye battling The Kingpin and Doctor Doom. There may be other similar experiences out there, but this one is lost forever. And all because Spider-Man wasn’t the hottest property available that month, but still a popular enough franchise to require licensing. It’s gone forever simply because of a quirk of timing.

This seems dangerousSpider-Man: The Video Game isn’t the best Spider-Man game out there. It didn’t define the genre, it didn’t show us all what it meant to be Spider-Man, and it suffered from the unfortunate handicap of including Namor. But it was a fun game, and future generations deserve an opportunity to play it.

Videogame preservation is important not only for the best and most unique games, but also the unexceptional titles. It might not be the most exciting game in the world, but what kid doesn’t want to play a Spider-Man game?

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

  • System: Arcade exclusively. That’s the problem!
  • Number of players: Four! And it was one of those arcade cabinets where you’re not tied to a character according to which joystick you grab, so us lefties aren’t stuck with Leonardo just because we wanted some elbow room.
  • Favorite Character: I very much want to say that Black Cat is my favorite character, as she is one of my favorite, overlooked Marvel heroines… but she kind of sucks in this game. A grappling hook swing special attack? Lame. But Namor, who can shoot friggen lightning bolts from his hands and toss random baddies far into the air? That’s the stuff. Imperious Rex, baby!
  • Other Influences: Namor walking around nearly naked with the abs of Hercules? His sprite reminds me of another Sega title.
  • Battle!The Spider that Walks like a Man: Spider-Man is an interesting character to animate, because his comic origins don’t really grant him an animated “walk”, but given his speed and super-powers, you could go in a lot of different directions with how a man blessed by a radioactive Spider God might wander around the place. Somehow, this led to Spider-Man of this title possessing a walking animation that makes Peter Parker appear to be… bored. And kind of slouchy? Look, what’s important is that Spider-Man really needs to visit a chiropractor.
  • So Close: Black Cat’s catchphrase for the game seems to be, “Jackpot!” You might have been thinking of a different lady in Spider-Man’s life, Sega…
  • Last known photo: I last saw this arcade cabinet at a festival in 2012. That is a lot more recent than I would expect, but I assume it was just a matter of some random carnival barker getting a deal on a game with a recognizable name. And one of the joysticks didn’t work. Lame.
  • Did you know? Scorpion and Venom appear as a sort of tandem boss in the first level. In the comics, years later, Mac Gargan (aka Scorpion) would eventually obtain the Venom symbiote as part of the Dark Reign event. Also: I am a gigantic nerd.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun beat ‘em up, and the 2-D sections are an excellent change of pace from the usual beat ‘em up “same three guys” gameplay. It’s just a shame I technically can’t play the game anymore…

What’s next? Spider-Man is always popular, but what happens when a game is released in one region, and then never leaves because its hero is… a penguin? With a weight problem? Our next lost forever title is Yume Penguin Monogatari. Please look forward to it!

So iconic

FGC #344 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project

CowabungaTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was indisputably the most popular children’s franchise of… whatever year I happened to be a child. After the likes of He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe paved the way for “Saturday Morning Cartoons” that could also dominate every aspect of a child’s life from cereal to underoos, TMNT dominated the landscape with toys, blankets, live shows… and I’m pretty sure I still have a TMNT sleeping bag in my shed. It is keeping my lawnmower warm and radical. So it’s no surprise that there were also TMNT movies and videogames, as, come on, total media domination can’t just stop at a cartoon series that ran roughly every minute of the day (on my VCR, at least).

But, when you get down to it, this all raises one very important (not at all important) question: Where is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie: The Game?

Konami (occasionally under the guise of Ultra) once seemed to churn out as many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games as possible. Come on, we all knew it was going to be a fad, right? It’s not like the franchise would be rebooted again and again until the end of time like Batman or Spider-Man; no, these fighting lizard people or whatever are going to be no more remembered in ten years than everything on the USA Cartoon Express. So let’s crank out those games! A title set before the franchise even became established? Sure. Arcade beat ‘em up? Konami can spin that gold in its sleep. And let’s toss a few random portable titles in there! Maybe one could be a metroidvania? That might be fun. Yes, Konami did its best to exploit the Turtles license, and… did anyone complain? No, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure TMNT: The Arcade Cabinet was responsible for supporting the economy of entire small towns (or at least the roller rink). Konami had no problem producing new TMNT games at the drop of a bandana.

Going up?But, once you get past the initial… uh… confused TMNT NES release, these games were all based on the animated series. And let’s not pretend you’re ignorant of what that means. Practically from its inception, TMNT had a tendency to introduce children to the concept of “micro continuities”. First, there’s the comic book that is a mixture of absurd and grimdark, wherein, incidentally, they killed Shredder within the first ten minutes. Then there’s the animated series, which is cute and bubbly and “rude” Raph at most occasionally makes a joke about Italian food. Then there are the toys! You might claim that the toys were just a logical outcropping of the series, but those of us that studiously read the back of those boxes knew better! This version of Ground Chuck is clearly different from the raging bull we got in the animated series, so the action figures must comprise their own universe. And then there were the storybooks and whatever was going on in the live show and Ninja Rap and…. You get the idea. Logically, all of those versions of the turtles couldn’t coexist, so any given TMNT merchandise that came down the pike had to fit into one or another category. Is Baxter Stockman a fly in this one? That means we’ve got a videogame based on the cartoon! It’s science!

Obviously, the movies had to be their own continuity. The turtles and April just met? Raph is the real leader? Corey Feldman? Yes, there’s no way this is real Ninja Turtles, this is everything through the Hollywood filter of “what’s gonna keep kids buying tickets”. After all, it’s easy to sell a tot a toy or “free” TV show, but good luck getting mom to ferry the whole brood to the movie theatre for the seventeenth time this week. We need real, human turtle monsters, and they need to be dealing with real, human problems like baldness and ninja gangs. And then they can travel through time! Because that’s something to do!

Snapping turtleAnd, of course, the TMNT movies had their own merchandise. There we children’s books (guess where I learned to properly spell “katana”). There were toys of slightly squishier plastic. There were posters and clothes and Halloween costumes that looked marginally different from last year’s Halloween costumes. As a surprise to absolutely no one, the TMNT movie was just as merchandized as every other bit of TMNT media.

But there was no videogame.

Not to say the movie universe didn’t influence a few videogames! For an easy example, the mutant stars of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze, Tokka and Rahzar, appear individually in today’s (generally ignored) featured game, and as a duo in the arcade hit, Turtles in Time. But they’re not the only villains to stumble off the big screen: Tatsu, Shredder’s dragon du jour, appears in the Genesis-exclusive Hyperstone Heist as one of the turtle’s greatest opponents. Seriously. He’s just a human dude, but he can actually block, which pretty much makes you invincible in a beat ‘em up. So it clearly wasn’t a matter of TMNT Movie characters being off-limits or forbidden by license limitations. Pretty much everything that appears in any given TMNT movie (Foot soliders, unique mutants, bald men) takes a jump kick to the face compliments of Konami.

(Oh, and if anyone wants to be pedantic, yes, Tokka and Rahzar did appear in the animated series, but it was approximately three years after their videogame debut. And, reminder, three years when you’re ten is more time than there is in the universe.)

But an actual TMNT Movie videogame never surfaced for any of the consoles. It would have been easy enough, too. It’s not like Konami needed to use photorealistic graphics or some such nonsense, just follow the excuse plot of one of the movies (or both! Together!), make sure the foot soldiers say “barf” instead of explode, and maybe toss in a cooperative Casey Jones for good measure. Are there not enough bosses in your average TMNT movie? Original TMNT NES had the turtles fighting anonymous robots when its stable wasn’t too established, and nobody complained about that (and, yes, we could deal with always-on-fire guy returning). What could have possibly been holding Konami back from TMNT: The Movie: The Game.

Oh, wait. Maybe it’s because Shredder kidnapping April and then suspending Manhattan in midair…

FLY!

Is more interesting than anything that ever happened in the movies.

Yeah.

It’s probably that.

FGC #344 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. I’m kind of surprised we never saw this resurface with the likes of Arcade and Turtles in Time. It’s a forgotten gem! (Not to be confused with Hyperstone Heist, featuring a literally forgotten gem.)
  • This is coolNumber of players: Two! And there’s a twist! There’s a “regular” mode, and a “friendly fire” mode wherein Raph can beat up Leo to his heart’s content. At least, that’s what happened every time I played with my friends…
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a TMNT beat ‘em up, but it’s the only one distinctly made for the NES. It’s pretty good! There seem to be some console bits you wouldn’t see in the arcade (like more of a story), and the graphics look more like they were made for the system, rather than scaled down from more robust hardware. And the special attacks are pretty cool! It’s still a fairly boring game half the time (there is practically zero enemy variety), but it’s a fun time. Or that’s just the nostalgia talking.
  • Favorite Turtle (this game): Raph’s drill attack is pretty amazing, and his traditional short range doesn’t seem all that short when throws are the way to go for most of the game. And jumpkicks are universal. Donny is second, because he’s Donny.
  • Nintendo Switch: You’re allowed to switch turtles after every death, so you don’t have to wait and waste a continue just because you picked the wrong tubular teen. Why isn’t that a feature in every beat ‘em up?
  • Don’t judge a book: There is a triceraton on the game’s cover. Triceratons do not appear in this title at all. I want to fight more dinosaurs!
  • Smart Kid: Even as a child, I kind of had a problem with the plot. The turtles are in Key West, Florida, and their plan is to surf back to Manhattan. For one thing, surfing does not work like that. For another, we’re talking about… let’s check the ol’ Google Maps here… 1,446 miles. 22 hours or so. I don’t care how mighty you are, you’re not going to be much of a ninja by the time you hit landfall.
  • OuchDid you know? In TMNT 3, Rahzar has an ice breath attack. In Turtles in Time, Tokka has ice breath, and Rahzar has a fire breath attack. What kind of breath do werewolves have, Konami!?
  • Would I play again: The nostalgia may trick me into going down this road again. It’s better than TMNT 2 in every way, but it’s also no Turtles in Time. Decisions, decisions.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ghouls ‘n Ghosts for the Sega Genesis! Oh! Spooky! Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls! Please look forward to it!

Showin' Hesh

FGC #238 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

CowbungaI’ve mentioned before that, as a kid, you kind of take everything in stride. Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber that jumps on turtles and saves mushroom people? Yeah, okay. Oh, wait, now he’s a live action dude on a variety show that features cartoons that include a magical elf every Friday? Yeah, that makes sense. Oh, now Mario can fly because he gained the tail of a raccoon, a creature not traditionally known for its flight capability? Whatever, man, as long as it’s fun. Similarly, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got their first videogame, I was elated, because, duh, Ninja Turtles and videogames: two tastes that go great together (like whipped cream and pizza). And thus did I play TMNT for hours, and I thought very little about its origins or eccentricities.

But now that I’m playing the game as an adult, I’m shell-shocked at how this might be the weirdest game on the NES.

It’s definitely a Ninja Turtle game

First, for anyone that skipped this magical adventure, I want to be absolutely clear that this is certainly a TMNT game. This is not the case of a bizarre localization where Goku became a random Native American or something. This is a radical turtle adventure that starts with an attract screen that is practically off the back of a TMNT action figure. Watch four mundane turtles mutate into awesome teenage ninja with four distinct weapon types! Look out for the evil Shredder! Bebop and Rocksteady are up to no good!

And it’s not just the intro, the overarching plot of this one could be a week-long arc on the cartoon. April is kidnapped. The Foot are going to destroy a local landmark. Splinter is kidnapped. Splinter is rescued, but it’s time to hunt down the Technodrome once and for all. There’s that nefarious Shredder, and we beat ‘em, but will he be back next week? Throw in Krang and maybe a random mutant or two, and you’ve practically got the entire series in one game. They even managed to wedge that silly blimp into a cutscene or two.

And speaking of cameos…

The Bosses are Amazing

Incoming!Bebop and Rocksteady are up to no good, and you personally get to stop them. And their boss patterns make sense: they’re both animal-people known for charging in headfirst, and here is a pair of jerks that do just that. It’s a shame you don’t get to fight them simultaneously, but there is something appropriate about Rocksteady watching Bebop get defeated and then just wandering off. Foot Mutants totally aren’t bros, yo.

But the later stage bosses are the real gems. Metalhead is not “Mecha Turtle”, dammit, he’s clearly the robo-turtle of the TMNT universe. Then we’ve got Big Mouser that, okay, maybe it doesn’t move much, but it is certainly the granddaddy of all mousers. And there’s a fight with the entire Technodrome. Sure, the scale is way off, but it’s probably the best turtle vs. tank battle you’re ever going to see in this or any other medium. It’s bigger on the inside.

The bosses are pretty damn TMNT, and their accompanying Foot Soldiers fit the flunky bill. But things start to go off the rails when you look at…

The Other Guys

Okay, so the Foot Clan are ninja. That can account for a lot of different variations on a theme. I mean, you’ve got all the crazy ninja weapons, and you could have mutant ninja, and maybe like big ninja to accompany nimble ninja. That all makes perfect sense, and this is a robot army of ninja, so even the occasional jetpack or laser gun would be allowed.

LOOK AT MEBut what we have here… uh… did anyone order a crawling eyeball? Or flying manta ray creatures? And are those Human Torch-esque “fire men”, or did some random Foot go full Thích Quảng Đức and decide to immolate around the place? I can deal with the occasional mutant frog monster, that’s practically canon, but “Chainsaw Maniac”? I think you might be a genre off, dude. And then there’s the… thing… that is just a bunch of spikes with legs creeping along the ceiling. That shouldn’t be a TMNT enemy. I’m not even certain that creature should be haunting anyone other than Lovecraft…

Oh, but these random Boomerang Buttheads (you never forget what you named enemies when you were seven) seem eerily reminiscent of Goriya, which reminds me…

Wow, this game is like The Adventure of Link

Back in 1989, videogames hadn’t quite coalesced into the rigidly defined genres of today. So when TMNT seemed a little bit like The Adventure of Link (a game released, in Japan, two years earlier), nobody thought much of it. Nowadays, we’ve had roughly six total games throughout history that can be described as “like The Adventure of Link”, so it kind of sticks out.

Party time!It’s a shame, too, because this set-up works surprisingly well with the level structure of TMNT. Heck, I’d argue that the overworld overhead perspective and underground “connected dungeons” structure of TMNT NES world works better than in The Adventure of Link. And it’s not just because of the Party Van! Let’s face it, you continue in The Adventure of Link, and the trek back to your favorite palace is more of a slog than anything. That huge, wide-open overworld is great in the beginning, but it’s just another stupid obstacle by about the time you acquire the raft. In TMNT, each level is self-contained and, more importantly, ends. Assuming you’ve got a continue remaining, you don’t ever have to cross the sewers of the first world ever again, and that’s a good thing for anyone that cares about their own time.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little disingenuous. You’re going to see the first level again and again, because, frankly…

This Game is Super Hard

It’s a NES game, so it’s a given that everything is trying to kill you. Also, this was before even the concept of “refill stations” or “save points” existed, so good luck rationing enough pizza to guarantee Donny has a full life meter at all times. And, yes, because Konami (Ultra if you’re nasty) is full of vindictive monsters, there are instant kill traps. If you want to count those Foot Tanks, there are instant kill traps on the first screen. Hope you didn’t pick your favorite turtle to inevitably be squished first!

And the platforming in this game is just plain cruel. See this? See this right here?

ARGH

I still have nightmares about this jump. Here’s your fun fact for the day! If you, like many poor, scrubby children of the 80’s, used a Game Genie to secure infinite life for your dear turtles, and you missed that one damn jump, the game would permanently freeze, and you’d have to start the whole adventure over again. What I’m saying is that even when you cheat, TMNT finds a way to punish your subpar ninja skills.

And I’ll remind you that this was a game essentially aimed at seven year olds. Konami, the “NES Generation” was already good at videogames at this point, but not this good.

Maybe I’m being hyperbolic. I mean, it’s not like there was an entire level that nobody ever got past.

Paddle on, bro

Oh, right, never mind.

So this is Turtle Power?

This all adds up to a very confusing game. It’s super hard, but made for children. It features the heroic Ninja Turtles and their mortal enemies, Robot with a Jet for a Head and Spikey Wall Guy. There’s The Adventure of Link gameplay, but with the water level nobody ever asked for! When I was a kid, I thought this was as normal as butter sandwiches (RECIPE: butter bread, put on top of other piece of bread, eat), but now, as an adult, I see this is a game as strange as spreading animal fat on couple of slabs of wheat and calling it lunch. WhoopsI understand licensed games could be anything back in the day, and Konami probably had all of about two hours of lead time to get this project out the door, but it still came out very… confused. Wolverine is a terrible game, but it’s a predictable terrible game. NES TMNT seems to zig every time you might expect a zag, and then you have to fight a mutant hedgehog for some reason.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES is a damn confusing game. It’s also kind of awesome, so, ya know, cowabunga.

FGC #238 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. It was also ported to various home computers of the time. Oh, it was also on the Wii Virtual Console for a hot minute, but it got rescinded due to licensing issues. I wonder how many games have actually left the Virtual Console never to return…
  • Number of Players: Four turtles, but only one player. Quite the let down for Wee Goggle Bob.
  • Favorite Turtle: Donny is best pony. Seriously, is there a reason to use anything other than that enormous bo staff? Donatello can murder Rocksteady without even having to stand up, and that’s to be commended.
  • What are they?Other Influences: The stage leading up to the Technodrome takes place in a series of caves, and there are floating jellyfish monsters. Now, I’m not saying TMNT ripped off Metroid (mainly because TMNT caves look more like “caves” than the caverns of NES Zebes), but it is a damn weird coincidence. Are, like, cave-based jellyfish creatures a thing in Japan? I’ve never been.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes! I even beat it back in the day, but, like Back to the Future, it was one of those deals where I beat the game, saw the very confusing ending (Splinter is human again? Huh?), and then was never able to get back there again (before the advent of savestates). I swear I thought I dreamed that sequence for years…
  • Land of the Rising Fun: In the Japanese version, April is identified as Splinter’s daughter, because why not? It’s not like the turtles would rescue a random woman in a yellow jumpsuit for no reason.
  • Did you know? The DOS port of TMNT contains an impossible jump in the third stage, so it’s technically impossible to beat without cheating/glitching. This is kind of amusing, because the “impossible jump” is not over an instant kill hazard, so it’s very likely that a lot of poor players banged their heads against that particular wall for years. Okay, I at least know my buddy Matt did that, because he talks about it every damn time someone so much as mentions a ninja turtle…
  • Would I play again: This game is weird and confusing, but I kind of love it. I like weird and confusing, evidently. So, yes, I’m probably going to see it back in the NES again before too long.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bobby is Going Home for the Atari! Ah, for the halcyon days of titles giving away the entire plot. Will Bobby make it home? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Not that kind of fun

FGC #096 X-Men vs. Street Fighter

Super Best BudsX-Men vs. Street Fighter was the start of, without question, one of my favorite Fighting Game franchises. On the other hand, to me, XvSF will always represent the end of an era.

It’s hard to describe today, but it seems like the arcades of yore are destined to be a singular, unique creature in the history of video games. Nowadays, arcade cabinets are something of a novelty. Look, you’re in a diner lobby, and there’s a copy of Ms. Pac-Man. How quaint! I can play a video game here in this alcove while I wait for my table… as if my phone can’t already do that. Similarly, actual arcades are now relegated to theme parks and tourist attractions, just as much a piece of entertainment fluff as Guess Your Weight Booths or Strong Man Contests. You wouldn’t spend a dollar to fill a clown’s mouth with liquid at home, and you wouldn’t blow 50¢ a pop to play a round of a video game either, but you might in the happy, shiny environment of a Six Flags. Whatever the case, arcades have ceased to become a destination, and are now nothing more than charming reminders of a time when tokens could be more valuable than gold.

To put all my cards on the table, I’m a child of the 80’s. As such, there was never a time in my memory that I did not possess a color television, VCR, and all the modern appliances of today (man, was the washing machine interesting to a ten year old). If there was something on TV I wanted to watch, I didn’t have to watch it through a store window like some Dickensian urchin, I watched it on the couch, or maybe a beanbag chair. What’s important was I didn’t have to wear shoes. We didn’t have Netflix, but we did have the video rental joint (heck, even the local supermarket rented movies), so any film I’d ever want to see (Back to the Future, over and over again) was available with like a buck and dad’s membership card. Point is, practically from birth, I had been spoiled with a complete lack of reasons to leave the house.

But the arcades were something different. I could puke out another seventeen paragraphs about this, but let’s take a quick look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the arcade…

Rockin' Steady

And then we’ve got the NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game.

Not so Steady

See the difference? It’s subtle, but I think you might be able to notice a slight graphical shift between the two versions. Even beyond that, TMNT NES was merely a two player game, while TMNT Arcade could support all four ninja turtles simultaneously. Couple this with a few other quality of life improvements (I want to fight Bebop and Rocksteady together, dammit!), and no one would ever claim the NES version had anything to offer over its arcade cousin, give or take the ability to be squashed by a snowplow.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the obvious example, but so many arcade games absolutely demolished their console brethren. Double Dragon and Robocop barely survived the switch from arcade to console, and some games, like Strider or Bad Dudes, became completely different experiences on the couch. Some games could barely be ported at all, like “sit down” racing games and more complex shooting games that included their own guns. And some essential titles never bothered, like The Simpsons and X-Men: The Arcade Game (which featured an amazing six players!). Donkey Kong, friggen Donkey Kong, never received an “arcade perfect” port, and that game was shorter than Jump Man!

So, to a child of the 80’s, the message was clear: the arcades are where the real games are, and the consoles will always be pale imitations. OuchYes, by the SNES era we were receiving “better” ports like SNES Street Fighter 2 or TMNT: Turtles in Time, but, inevitably, these games were still, in some fashion, gimped. The Playstation took it a step further, with console and arcade Tekken blurring the lines between home and arcade, but there was definitely one place the Playstation was left lacking…

Depending on who you ask, Capcom invented the Fighting Game genre with Street Fighter 2 (and you can see how there might be a flaw in that reasoning if you stop for a second to consider the “2” in there), and, from then on, redefined “a good fighting game” over and over again. Darkstalkers springs immediately to mind, but there are also lesser known titles like Rival Schools, Red Earth, and Star Gladiator. And through it all, we all knew pretty much anything involving Ryu would be golden, whether it was the Alpha series or that one aborted attempt at integrating skeleton luchadores. So when it was announced that Ryu and his street fighting buddies would battle against the X-Men, well, suffice it to say there was more than a little hype.

Ultimately, the Vs. series was just an evolution of the X-Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems fighting games that Capcom had already produced. Rather than create another fifteen 90’s X-Men sprites, Capcom decided to only manufacture a new trio (Rogue, Gambit, and Sabretooth), a new boss (Apocalypse), and populate the rest of the roster with reused Street Fighter Alpha 2 sprites. Granted, the Street Fighters gained new moves to properly compensate for a group of rivals that could literally kill with a glance, but, by and large, you can see how much of this game was a cost-cutting measure to continue exploiting a worthwhile license on a budget.

But, oh man, did it work.

Ryu vs. Cyclops, Ken vs. Wolverine, and M. Bison vs. Magneto were the “headliners” of the game, but it was kind of impossible to not have a favorite “who would win” matchup in that roster. My only complaint is that we never got the obvious Blanka vs. Beast match I’ve been waiting for for years (they’re both very smart! Blanka learned how to channel electricity from eels!), Best Buds 4 Everbut we did get Rogue vs. Cammy, Storm vs. Chun-Li, and, my personal favorite, Zangief vs. Juggernaut. And if you were just an X-Men fan, there were plenty of choices: Spiral and Iceman might not have made the cut, but Rogue vs. Gambit or Sabertooth vs. Wolverine are classic battles. And former bosses Juggernaut and Magneto are right there for the picking, so if you want to be a bad guy with a punch the length of the screen, feel free. All around, X-Men vs. Street Fighter was a fun, and unique, fighting game.

Assuming you were playing it in the arcade.

A trademark of the Vs. series is tag-team play: you choose two characters, and may switch between them both over the course of the match. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved there, as, not only should you choose the fighter best suited to the current opponent, but you can also swap characters so your prime fighter may rest and recover some vitality while the partner is out tossing fireballs. In later games, this would be expanded to include “summons” that allowed your partner to come out for a single move while your main fighter prepped for some other shenanigans. Honestly, it’s a very obvious addition to the 2-D fighter (King of Fighters says what?), but its “instant” implementation here never stopped being a blast.

Assuming you weren’t playing on the Playstation, at least. The Playstation couldn’t handle the tag-team play, so, sorry, you’re Ken is the masterstuck with one fighter at a time, and the “partner” is relegated to the occasional counter or “Variable Combination”, which allows both of your characters to use a hyper move simultaneously. This dramatically decreases the strategy involved in the game (Cyclops becomes the only partner worth having. OPTIC BLAST!), and, couple that with the reduced framerates and muddier graphics, it was pretty clear the Playstation version was inferior to its arcade counterpart.

But, really, that’s what we all expected at the time. It was another arcade port, so, of course it can’t be as good as the arcade version. That’s how it works: arcade games are always better in the arcade. Duh.

Except, for my memory, that was the last time that happened. Yes, there was also Marvel vs. Street Fighter and, eventually, Marvel vs. Capcom for the Playstation, but they both wound up ignored for one reason (“Don’t I already have a vs. game?”) or another (“I got it on Dreamcast”). By the era of the Dreamcast/Playstation 2, and, specifically, Soul Calibur and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, arcade ports had become perfect. More than that, they had become better than perfect. Show me someone who spent as much time as playing DC Soul Calibur as Arcade Soul Calibur, and I’ll show you someone who didn’t know a system could be thinking. Poor, misbegotten soul. And, yes, as some of you have already no doubt leapt to explain, there was a “perfect” X-Men vs. Street Fighter port for the home consoles, and it was on the Sega Saturn, a system that, unfortunately, was only owned by drug dealers and the criminally insane.

So, to me, X-Men vs. Street Fighter will always be the capstone on the end of an era. This was the last game that made me think, “It’s cool, but I’d still like to play that arcade machine.” There are other factors, but, looking at it from that perspective, it’s no wonder that, following this game’s release, the arcade’s grip on the hearts and minds of gamers began to soften, and, within a console generation, the arcade would go from The Spot to a minor novelty remembered only by ranting old men on blogs.

X-Men vs. Street Fighter, you may have been the swan song of the arcade, but at least you sung it in style.

FGC #96 X-Men vs. Street Fighter

  • System: Playstation for a gimped version, Sega Saturn for a good version, Arcade for the proper version.
  • Number of Players: 2, because Fighting Game. We’d have to wait until Marvel vs. Capcom for the true four.
  • Favorite Fighter: Split between who I like Think about itto use and who I want to be able to use. Rogue is awesome: I love her 90’s design, and, conceptually, I love her animations and special attacks that, really, boil down to “Superman that likes to punch things”. That said, I can barely win a match with her. On the other hand, I can somehow destroy everything with Dhalsim. Is he overpowered in this game? I’ve never been one for tiers, but it seems like he can zone like a champ in this one.
  • Z-Fighters: All winning X-Men get an “X” silhouette background, but Street Fighters get… a stylized Z? I suppose it’s a holdover from Street Fighter Alpha 2, but it’s surprising how that little detail has aged poorly alongside the perennial Street Fighters featured in this game (their 90’s designs are their designs).
  • Apocalypse Now: I want to say this is the first 2-D fighter I ever played to feature a gigantic, almost action-game-esque final boss. Apocalypse becomes screen filling in his final form, and he would eventually be followed by Onslaught, Abyss, and Galactus in other Vs. games. This was, incidentally, the best thing Onslaught ever did. Beyond that, it appears the Blazblue franchise and other “anime fighters” have picked up the tradition… which can be really confusing in an arcade mode that is over before you’ve even mastered your character’s super jump…
  • Akuma Now: Akuma is, once again, the unlockable fighter of this game. Despite his “hidden” status, he’s right there on the cover of the game. Such is the amazing draw of the one and only Akuma.
  • Did you know? I want to say this is the first game to include a lesbian kiss. I’m almost certain it’s the first game to include a lesbian-clone kiss.
    Southern Belle
  • Would I play again: I want to say yes, but, no, it’s completely overwritten with either Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (which includes all the fighters seen here), or Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (which is the more modern interpretation). I guess this game does include a Rogue that can steal special moves as opposed to just stat boosts, but that’s no reason to ignore any and all games that include Morrigan.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kid Chameleon for the Sega Genesis! Aw, I thought we might get a full week of Capcom. No matter, this is still a good one… assuming you have like six continuous hours to kill… Please look forward to it!

The End