Tag Archives: trickster

FGC #297 Uniracers

Gotta race fastLet’s have a big hand for Uniracers, one of the stupidest, smartest games for the Super Nintendo.

Racing games have always been fairly intriguing from a gameplay perspective. Racing, in a weird way, is maybe the purest, easiest to understand form of gaming. If you were to take a random bumpkin off the street and show him someone playing Super Mario Bros. stage 5-1, there is no immediate indicator that this player is over halfway to saving a princess from dinoturtle clutches. Meanwhile, take that same unobservant fellow, show him a race with four cars, and one car is right there in the front, well, he’s easily going to spot the winner. And what’s more, depending on the perspective, it’s really easy to tell just how much that winner is winning. “A big lead” could be understood by Einstein or a toddler, and that instant recognition is essential for a fun gaming experience. Taking ten minutes to clear Quick Man’s stage isn’t a clear measurement that you’re doing something wrong, but being fourth place out of four cars certainly means it’s time to git gud.

Of course, while identifying the winner in a race is easy, recognizing how to get better at racing is a little bit more tricky. “Go faster” is the obvious answer here, but, by their very nature, videogames can’t be well balanced if one car/racer is naturally faster than another. There are games where the “challenge” is creating the perfect load-out before a race, but that creates more of a RRPG (Racing Role Playing Game) than a pure racing experience. And in games where there are projectiles (whether they be missiles or turtle shells), the answer usually involves dodging or properly rationing your own weapons supply, and acknowledging that ramming into seven banana peels in a row might slow your roll. But once you iron out all the fluff, once it’s just you and a couple of other cars (or maybe a time trial), then the careful dynamics of racing come to the forefront. How do you corner? Do you ever use your breaks? Better memorize that track, learn every last bend and nook and cranny, and then, and only then, will you be able to obtain the checkered flag.

WeeeeBut, uh, important side note? Pretty much none of that could work in a 2-D world.

Racing games need 3-D, or at least some stab at a 3-D world. Mario Kart might be a Mode 7 trick, but you’ll note Mario’s racing adventures are not nearly as 2-D as his turtle stomping times (or the delightful, pretend 2-D characters on the Mario Kart title screen). Super Off-Road and racing games of its time offered big, overhead maps that were closer to Zelda than Mega Man or Castlevania. And once gaming systems were able to support “real” 3-D, we never looked back, and haven’t so much as attempted a 2-D racing game since. And who would even want to try such a thing? A 2-D racing game would just be nothing more than “hold right to win”. Maybe the tracks could have some obstacles or other such nonsense, but it would still be an amazingly hobbled experience compared to proper racing.

But there was a 2-D racing game back in the 90’s, and it was one that everyone played…

Gotta go fast

Okay, yes, that was technically an action platformer hop ‘n bop (or whatever), but there was a 2-player “race mode” in every Sonic the Hedgehog since Sonic 2 (“So also Sonic 3?” “Yes.”). It wasn’t much of anything, but this was a game released within a decade of Ice Climber, so the stupid kids of the time (this stupid kid included) went gaga for (super) Sonic racing. And why wouldn’t we? This was Blast Processing! This was as fast as a 16-bit game could go! Feel the need for sonic speed!

So Nintendo, never one to be outdone by an erinaceinae, decided they were going to showcase the native speed of the Super Nintendo. With the help of DMA Design, Uniracers was born. And, naturally, it was a 2-D racing game… so hold right to win, article over. Have a nice day!

YuckBut wait, there’s more! Uniracers is not as simple as Sonic the Hedgehog 2P Mode, and it doesn’t rely on silly powerups or spiny distractions. Uniracers has one simple trick up its sleeve: do tricks. While racing forward (or backward, let’s not assume all tracks have to go right), if there’s a spare length of track, go ahead and jump, and attempt to flip your unicycle. Perform even the fastest flip, and you’ll gain a speed boost. Wipeout and you lose some speed. That’s it. Figure out the ins and outs of the tracks, determine exactly when you can get flipping and when you should hold off, and you’ll win every race. Quick, simple, and easy to understand. Always be tricky.

And that is brilliant in its simplicity. I… don’t think I’ve ever met an actual unicyclist, but I remember being seven and having a bike (but not a skateboard), and all anybody ever wanted to do was show off rad tricks. It’s natural to want to do “cool stuff” with your toys, and it follows directly into videogames. What is a speed run but a “tricky”, stylish way to play a videogame? So of course the first thing a player is going to do with a uniracer is attempt random tricks. And then that unicycle goes faster! Awesome! This is the path to victory! No tutorial necessary, you know everything you would ever need within the first ten seconds. And that’s the essence of a good racing game.

And that’s why Uniracers is simultaneously dazzling and thoughtless. It’s a 2-D racing game, which means extremely limited gameplay, but it also teaches the player that “simple” gameplay almost instantly, and exemplifies the “easy to learn, hard to master” maxim used to advertise many lesser games. Uniracers is a stupid concept with the smartest design, and thus becomes one of the best, wildest games on the Super Nintendo.

FGC #297 Uniracers

  • System: Super Nintendo. Gee, wonder why this franchise never saw another system.
  • RadicalNumber of players: I think you can have a league with, like, infinity players. Or maybe just eight. But there are only two simultaneous players, so we’ll say two.
  • Favorite Uniracer: Why would I enter my own name when there’s a red Robbie right there? Works for me, dude.
  • Pixar Problems: Pixar, foreshadowing its eventual absorption into the Disney machine, claims to hold the copyright on moderately sentient unicycles. Apparently that held up in court, and Uniracers was sued into oblivion, causing production of the game to stop prematurely. This is likely why the franchise has never been revisited. Oh, that, and unicycles are boring.
  • Brain Problems: I always think Uniracers and Stunt Race FX are N64 games for some reason. Conceptually, I know they’re not, but they’re lodged in that part of my brain. Probably has something to do with the box art…
  • Did you know? If you attempt to enter “Sonic” as a player name, the game will chastise you for being “Not cool enough”. Ice burn, Uniracers.
  • Would I play again: It sure would be nice to see Uniracers on, I don’t know, a tiny Super Nintendo or something, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. That said, I’d like to take Uniracers for a spin more often, but I’m a lot more likely to play something a tweak more complicated (like Mario Kart 64), so the odds are low on this one getting popped in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rumble Roses for the Playstation 2! I think I let ROB watch too much Netflix recently. Get ready for some foxy… wrestling. Please look forward to it!

Seriously

FGC #008 WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

$$$$It’s interesting to see how a mythological pantheon evolves in modern times. First we have Mario, the All-Father, the head-honcho and lord of his kingdom. He may be just a plumber, but his affinity for fire and position over all others likens the jump master to Egypt’s Ra. Next, there’s the perennial “wife goddess” Princess Peach, who embodies the very concept of femininity. Luigi is an eternal “lesser brother” god, who, like Poseidon, is his own kind of king, but eternally in the shadow of one that rules the heavens. Bowser is the adversary, through and through, always battling against the forces of good and coveting and stealing any light he can find. Donkey Kong is the archetypical “bestial” aspect of man, not unlike the concept of the werewolf, as he makes a fine cart racer or banana rescuer, but God help you when the full moon comes out, and he comes to steal your women to construction sites. Even noble Yoshi draws many comparisons to the noble steeds of legendary tales, like Pegasus or Sleipnir.

Nintendo has created a much fuller pantheon with its other franchises. Link is the hero, the mortal who ascends to legendary status through good deeds. Zelda is Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom (and war) who can always be relied upon to be the smartest deity on the battlefield. It would be easy to paint Ganondorf as another demon/adversary, but his actions are more akin to that of a god of war, an ongoing source of upheaval and death, but without which there would be no need for heroes. Samus Aran has suffered an identity crisis of late, because, in her most iconic appearances, she is little more than a death goddess. Point Samus at a problem, give it two hours, and wait for the sounds of an exploding planet. A single pikachu may be nothing more than a shockrat, but Pikachu as a Nintendo/Pokémon mascot has been portrayed as a mischievous but giving friend to children, not unlike the modern interpretation of Santa Claus. And Kirby sleeps soundly in his dreamland, growing ever closer to the time when he will awake, and devour iat aftft un a hauft ur lunk. Ha ghuftft ga’uia’ uia’ ghaalunt, ang ha ghuftft fta iantsullaftfta.

But every good pantheon needs a trickster. Africa’s Anansi, the Pacific Northwest’s Raven, Navajo’s Coyote, and all sorts of gods that didn’t even appear in Disney’s Gargoyles have haunted mythologists for years with tales of deceit and guile. The most famous trickster god is likely Loki of Norse/Marvel/Disney mythology, a continual thorn in the side of Odin and Thor, generally making both of their lives miserable, but not intolerable.

It's alright, I understand the desire for fameAnd that’s the trick with a good trickster god. Bowser the Adversary, as a good example, has become dramatically less threatening since his debut three decades ago, chiefly because his every last plan has failed spectacularly. He almost triumphed one time, and the entire universe reset just to spite him. Bowser is the bad guy, and he’s the bad guy in a medium meant to empower “the player”, so he is just never going to get anywhere. A trickster, though? A trickster can be a good trickster for centuries, as all he has to do is dupe the good guy, and, yes, the trickster will eventually be hammer-thubbed for his treachery, but he succeeded in his purpose, his trick, all the same. The good guy wins, the trickster wins, and the story is entertaining, so everybody wins.

Given you can read the title of this article, you can probably guess that I’m building to the reveal that Wario as the trickster god of the Nintendo pantheon. And you’re right! Gold star! Though, bad news, Wario will likely steal that gold star, and now you have nothing. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Wario started as a simple rival for Mario. In his debut, Super Mario Land 2, Wario heists Mario’s entire kingdom (newsflash: Mario has a kingdom?), and Mario has to reconquer his own land. Ho-hum. Wario could have easily been the next Tatanga or Wart, but, no, he returned for a few random sports games, and then got his own series starting with Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land. The Wario Land games cemented Wario’s “greed is good” credo, but played much like any other Mario video game. After all, isn’t the auxiliary goal of any Mario game to collect as many coins and treasures and doodads as possible on your way to the goal? Is shining champion Mario that different from gluttonous anti-hero Wario? In gameplay, not at all.

How is this so popular?But it’s WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! and its descendants that cements Wario as Nintendo’s trickster. The plot of WarioWare is simple: Wario wants all of the money forever, so he’s going to publish a videogame. Hey, worked for Nolan Bushnell, right? Only problem is that Wario has the video game crafting skills of Destructive Creations, so he has to round up his friends to craft his new masterpiece. Scratch that, that sounds too much like a teen movie or other such feel good story; no, Wario tricks all of his friends into creating video games for him. And that’s where the magic happens. Wario tricks you into playtesting.

Make no mistake, the entirety of WarioWare is a trick. WW was released in 2003, a full five years before the launch of the Apple App Store. Relevance? Much of WarioWare is based on bite sized games that last ten seconds, max. These short, “burst” games are all the rage now, in the age of cellphones and ipads and other devices those damn kids keep playing on my lawn. 2003 was still the age of “game lasts 800 hours and is considered college credit in six states”, when the idea of games that lasted three minutes because that’s how long you’ll be in the supermarket checkout line was a long way away. And the controls of WarioWare? One button, four directions, done. Want me to name another device with one button? It’s small and rectangular and rhymes with iTyrone. Nintendo… I mean Wario… invented a genre at least half a decade before its official debut. And how does one sell such a series of games before the advent of effortless downloads and teeny pricetags? Blend them all together, call it a combined “challenge”, and slap your most devious mascot on the cover. After all, we know we have a brand new, completely unproven (but fun!) game here, if it fails, we can just laugh it off as another Wario blunder. Oh, that wacky, smelly guy.

Mona... sounds like moneyWarioWare has served much the same purpose since its inception: a Trojan horse to get new ideas into your head. It’s no surprise that a WarioWare game has been released with nearly every new iteration of Nintendo hardware: WW Touched introduced touch gaming and the DS microphone to anyone with the new handheld, WW Smooth Moves showed off all the weird ways you can swing your wiimote, and Game & Wario was there to showcase the myriad of new tricks available to the WiiU’s tablet. WW Snapped was even there to promote the very idea of digital download games on a portable Nintendo System, and WW D.I.Y. stands as an early attempt by Nintendo to get a “community” going, an effort that would eventually bear fruit on the WiiU and its MiiVerse. WW Twisted is a clear forerunner to Nintendo’s own decade long love affair with gyroscopic, “move sensitive” gaming.

There’s a reason the Wario of WarioWare has superseded the Wario of the Wario Land franchise (and the Wario of Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman!, which was just an early trick to get you to buy a portable Bomberman title, which you already should have been buying) in everything, from sequels to the Smash Bros. series, and that’s the simple truth that Nintendo no longer sees Wario as a platforming Mario knock-off, no, Wario is the trickster that uses his craftiness to hoodwink friends and consumers alike into testing his, and Nintendo’s, latest obsession. Smash Bros and other “party” Nintendo franchises portray Wario as a fat, weird, smelly, “off” buffoon, because who ever suspects the lout is the one swindling the masses?

Mario? Link? Pikachu? If they’re telling you there’s a new game with their face on it, what you see is what you get. They’re transparent, they’re comfortable, they are there to be trusted and worshipped, and they’ll summon you every Christmas season, and you’ll give your offering and take their blessing. Wario? Wario is the stuff stories are made of. You don’t worship Wario, but you’ll hear his tales all the same, because, when all is said and done, the good gods battling the bad gods is boring, and sometimes you just want to play with a rascal. You know the trick is coming. You know you’re being duped. But you’re going to enjoy it.

PEPPER!FGC # 8 WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

  • System: Gameboy Advance
  • Number of Players: 1, though there’s a few 2 Player challenges
  • Highest Score: Got 74 on Dribble and Spitz’s challenges. I don’t even remember liking those games…
  • What’s with Nintendo associating “gross” with “experimental”? I don’t know, but it sure worked great for Earthbound!
  • Did You Know? Waluigi has never appeared in a WarioWare game, though he is considered by Smash Bros to be part of the Wario Universe. This is likely an indicator that the Mushroom Kingdom wants nothing to do with Waluigi, a sentiment shared by most anyone that has ever encountered that freak. Waluigi: a man without a country.
  • Would I Play Again? I’m lucky (gullible) enough to be a member of the 3DS Ambassador Program, so I have WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! permanently loaded onto my most portable gaming system. This likely makes this the first FGC game that I play frequently, albeit randomly. It’s not so much a matter of playing again, as I’ve never stopped.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country. Huh, guess ROB is on a kick thinking about his parent company. Bananas abound, everyone, please look forward to it!