Tag Archives: two players

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

It's sticky
Beware the goo!

FGC #476 Final Fantasy 9

Fantasy Time!Final Fantasy 9 doesn’t get enough respect for being the top of its very specific, very forgotten class.

It’s easy to see why someone would have issues with Final Fantasy 9 at its initial release. For starters, it was a JRPG right there at the end of the Playstation 1 JRPG boom. This meant it had a healthy amount of competition from all angles (including an in-house rivalry with Square’s own Chrono Cross). And, honestly, a “throwback” JRPG in that environment was the worst possible idea. Yes, the Final Fantasy franchise had drifted very far from the medieval fantasy origins of Final Fantasy (give or take a floating techno city), but that didn’t mean the rest of the genre had moved on with it. Medieval fantasy JRPGs were a dime a dozen in 2000, and practically everything in Final Fantasy 9 had been done by other JRPGs of the eon. Fantasy world with a whole bunch of depressed furries? We’ve already got Breath of Fire. Your Princess suicidally depressed into a haircut thanks to being responsible for the destruction of her kingdom? Straight out of the Wild Arms playbook. Hell, even some seemingly unique flourishes are improbably specifically from other titles of the epoch: the malevolent monster fog that initially rescinds and then blankets the world in a time of crisis is the entire premise of Legend of Legaia. In short, there’s a thin line between “retro” and “derivative”, and then it’s an even shorter hop to “outright theft”. And it probably didn’t help that Final Fantasy 9’s hero is a thief…

And, come to think of it, that thief was a problem, too. Every protagonist, from Beatrix to Zidane, is deliberately evocative of other heroes in the Final Fantasy franchise. Vivi might go through an interesting journey from “9 year old” to “inspiration for an entire society”, but a quick glance reminds you he’s still just a generic Final Fantasy Black Mage. Freya is a dragoon obsessed with her potential lover, and Dagger is a princess with global responsibility issues. And Eiko? Look, I’m sorry, but Rydia called, and she wants her everything back. And it’s kind of hard to not be cynical when you’ve seen these characters before and liked their games better. With very little exaggeration, by the time some people played Final Fantasy 9, they had already played Final Fantasy 6 for approximately 500 hours. BORKYou want your protagonist to fill the shoes of Locke Cole, you damn well better be sure he’s going to bring something new to the table. Oh? At one point in one dungeon he gets sad about being a monkey? But then he instantly recovers? Wow, Final Fantasy 9, you phoned it in so hard, Steiner just learned the rotary-dial ability.

But now it’s twenty years later. Time has passed, and, for better or worse, the world is very different. Now JRPGs are only medieval when they’re also showcasing anime high school students. Now Final Fantasy is a brand that includes more spin-offs and “experiments” than it does actual numbered entries (and those numbered entries get their own, specific spin-offs, too!). The idea that any one game could capture the zeitgeist of the franchise and its most prominent age is no more possible than you could now produce a film that somehow featured every movie star back to the dawn of Hollywood. The Final Fantasy franchise is now so much more than “there used to be crystals, right?”, so Final Fantasy 9 being some kind of deliberate nostalgic journey seems… quaint.

… And it’s not like anyone is going to compare FF9 to Legend of Legaia anymore. Nobody remembers Legend of Legaia.

So now, divorced from the expectations of the bygone year of 2000, it’s easy to play Final Fantasy 9 and see that the real innovations could never be found by watching this…

Weeeeee

But by playing through this…

What's the haps?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the intricacies of Final Fantasy 9’s plot and its various scenarios, let me explain what you’re seeing there. Ultimately, this is not a complicated scene: it’s Darth Vader telling Luke he’s his daddy. Zidane has just discovered his home planet, and Garland here is explaining how he created Zidane to destroy the (or at least one) world, and souls have to migrate through a magical tree, and Zidane’s brother is another destroyer-monkey that apparently exists with an expiration date, and… Actually, come to think of it? Maybe this scene is a little complicated. This happens a lot in JRPGs: the crux of the plot involves a lot of metaphysical and metaphorical ideas, and there’s really no way to get that information to the player without evoking some kind of massive info dump. In this case, Final Fantasy 9 has wholly invented its own version of the afterlife/reincarnation, and, in order to simultaneously explain the details of that system and how the villains are gumming up the works, you basically need an introductory course on Final Fantasy 9’s religion. Christians don’t know how easy they have it when they can just toss off a line like, “I’ll send you to Hell!” without having to follow it with, “Which is a location where the greatest sinners are eternally tortured by Satan, a demon that once fell from Grace when…”

BORKBut what is being explained isn’t important (sorry about the previous paragraph, I’ll try not to waste your time with asides in the future… wait! Dammit!), what’s important to the entire genre is how it’s being explained. Garland is not confined to a mere text box, nor is Garland a giant cut-out that encompasses half the screen. Garland is hovering across a magical mushroom patch (or… something) and explaining the why of Final Fantasy 9 while “escaping” Zidane. This is inevitably leading to a showdown of some sort, and requires the player to actively “play” while listening to Garland. Want to know more? Of course you do! Follow the floating evil dude. You’re actively playing a videogame, after all, and a role-playing game at that. You think Zidane wants to know more? Of course he does! You’re playing as Zidane! Your goals are one in the same. Now go on, scoot, follow that bearded knight and get the whole story. After all, if you’re Zidane, you’re part of the story.

And that’s something we never saw again.

The very next Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy 10 (yes, I know stating sequential numbers sounds obvious, but please remember that the next FF after that was Final Fantasy 10-2), relied on voice acting and dedicated cinema scenes for its plot advancement, thus making the franchise “like a movie”. And that’s great for anyone that uses their PS2 to play DVDs, but maybe not the best for the person picking up a controller to actually play a game. Regardless, we were all very excited about Final Fantasy 10, its movies, and other similar games like Metal Gear Solid 2 or Xenosaga. Game-movies are the future! It’s like the moving pictures! Videogames can finally be as respectable as Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2! Games are art! … Except we weren’t lauding the “game” part of our videogames, we were just excited about the occasional moments when a videogame could feature a mini-movie… and whether or not any sort of player participation was involved was completely moot. Grab some popcorn! It’s time to play a videogame!

PLORPBut I’m not telling you, dear audience, anything you don’t already know. We remember the bygone Playstation 2 years, and we remember the gradual drift from “movie games” back to “games you actually play”. Yes, we still deal with the latest games touting sparkling stars performing minor voice acting, or “deeply cinematic visuals”, but, by and large we’ve gotten away from action games just sitting back and letting Norman Reedus deliver a soliloquy about baby carrying… Except for in the genre that started this whole mess. JRPGs are still considered plot-delivery devices, and, whether you’re playing a game featuring a lady trying to organize her armies against a dragon goddess, or some title where everyone inexplicably wants to %&*# the dragons in a wildly different way, you still wind up with “sit here and watch” cinema scenes for everything from tea parties to castle storming. Somewhere along the line, it was determined that JRPGs are closer to visual novels than any other genre, and would you care to sit down and have some exposition today? It might be explaining a planet’s apocalyptic backstory, or it could simply be the recounting of a supporting player’s daddy issues, but it still means you’re just sitting there smacking X to advance.

And what’s worse? In the absence of the seemingly unlimited budget of pre-Spirits Within Square, everything has flattened out to this…

So brave

And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a “retro-throwback”, or a JRPG so popular that it apparently earned its spot in Smash Bros history…

What a bunch of jokers

The directors of Final Fantasy 9 knew exactly what they were doing. Final Fantasy 9 is a game that never loses sight of being a videogame, and uses every “trick” that surfaced in the thirteen years that had passed since Final Fantasy. From multiple character animations, to dynamically moving villains, to even something as simple as “interrupting” text boxes, Final Fantasy 9 does everything it can to keep the player engaged in every conceivable way. After all, why would you bother with another goofy sidequest or “Active Time Event” if each wasn’t vibrant and remarkable?

Final Fantasy 9 truly was the end point of all JRPGs that came before. It’s just a shame it was also the end of the dynamic JRPG.

FGC #476 Final Fantasy 9

  • System: Playstation 1 in its first go, but it’s made it to the Playstation 3, Vita, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Switch in the intervening years. May I recommend any version that involves a fast forward button?
  • Number of players: Oddly enough, Final Fantasy 9 has the ability to assign combat controls to either controller port, so you can technically co-op play FF9. Yay! I called Vivi!
  • Remake Reproblems: I very much appreciate everything that is involved in the HD remake of Final Fantasy 9. Fast forwarding is amazing for a game that has always had absurdly slow combat. Automatically maxing your levels and abilities for when you don’t feel like grinding from square one is something I have wanted forever. And the graphical touchups add a new volume to a game that a lot of us originally played on ancient televisions that could barely handle three colors. But, man oh man, someone didn’t put nearly enough time into making sure the new HD sprites match the “HD” cinematics. Some of the most dramatic scenes in this game now appear to be animated by the folks behind Monty Python, and it’s not the best look.
  • HUNGRY!Cool Car: Your final airship is the Invincible, a destructive “monster ship” from Zidane’s home planet (and another Final Fantasy reference). It is also the ship that obliterated Princess Dagger’s home on two separate occasions. Dagger lampshades the situation if you chat with her aboard your new ride, but it’s still more than a little weird that the first princess of PTSD is totally cool with riding around on her own personal atomic bomb.
  • Favorite Dungeon: Gizamaluke’s Grotto is the best name for a dungeon ever, and I will hear no objections to this apparent fact. The fact that it contains multiple exits and a moogle wedding is just gravy.
  • What’s in a name: Pumice is the stone that eventually allows you to summon the combat airship, Ark. However, in the original Japanese, Pumice is known as the “Floating Stone”. That makes a lot more sense for this franchise.
  • What’s in a name Part 2: One of Kuja’s pet dragons, Nova Dragon, was originally named Shinryu, ala the chief reptilian super boss of the series. Given Nova Dragon provides such a lackluster fight, It’s probably for the best that this one got changed…
  • So, did you beat it: I got everything on the original hardware, including the Strategy Guide that is a reward for murdering the super boss. And I did that all without a real strategy guide, because the official strategy guide for Final Fantasy 9 is the worst thing to ever happen to the medium.
  • But you still own it, right? I got the collector’s edition!
    I hate this thing

    Visit Playonline for more information on how my life is a lie!
  • Did you know? There are nine knights of Pluto! And Pluto is the ninth planet in our solar system. Or… at least it used to be…
  • Would I play again: This… is not my favorite Final Fantasy title. I love exactly what it did, but the speed of everything kills me, and my knowledge of all those sidequests I’m ignoring if I ever want to finish the game again within my lifetime is terrible for my conscience. Final Fantasy 9, you’re an amazing game, but I just can’t deal with you right now.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Stretch Panic for the Playstation 2! …. God dammit. Please look forward to it, if you must.

WARK

FGC #475 Contra 4

Get 'emSometimes a game isn’t the “best” in the franchise. Sometimes a game goes well beyond such an accolade. Sometimes a game is the “most” in the franchise. And, for the Contra franchise, Contra 4 is the most Contra that has ever existed.

When considering the most a franchise has ever been, you immediately realize that some franchises will literally never have a “most” entry. Final Fantasy, for instance, wildly bounces around different narratives and gameplay styles within its own releases. By the time we hit Final Fantasy 7, for instance, you could say its techno-magic world was already trite within the franchise (see FF6) or a crazy deviation from the franchise’s origins (see FF1). That gulf has only widened with time, so your “best” Final Fantasy has equal odds on containing a Ramuh that is a wizened old lightning wizard or some manner of buff centaur. They’re both valid, but also equally impossible to quantify as the definition of a feature within a franchise. Mario games are similar, as it’s very difficult to see Donkey Kong existing in even the same universe as Super Mario Odyssey (and not just because Bowser got bored and literally rebooted the universe). You’ve always got your goombas and your princesses and whatnot, but the simple act of jumping varies incredibly whether or not there are four players or black holes about. How can you say what is the most Mario when the only connecting tissue in his universe is a pair of blue overalls?

But sometimes the more iterative games are even worse. Mega Man had a very straight line through the NES era, and, even when a Mega Man title is released today, it is still very much like its forbearers. However, it seems every Mega Man title adds some new wrinkle to the formula, whether that be something like slides or armor made from dogs (well, one dog). And, while you can still subjectively choose a “best” Mega Man, the entire franchise doesn’t seem to include one title that is simply the finest of literally everything that has come before it. You won’t earn that accolade by adding gears or a dash to the preexisting gameplay. And, ultimately, that is how we define what a “most” game must be: a game that takes everything from the previous entries, cuts off the crusts, and forms an enchanting sandwich filled with only the absolute best parts.

And Contra 4 is that sandwich. And it is delicious.

… Even if it is stuffed with an overabundance of alien larvae.

Creepy CrawlyIf you hadn’t played Contra (1) in a while (which, considering Contra 4 was released in celebration of Contra’s 20th anniversary, was very likely for many people), you might be forgiven for assuming Contra 4 was some kind of remake or reimagining. Many of the familiar trappings of Contra are right there from the beginning (like a certain laser core wall or a dragon gate at the top of a waterfall [its name is Gromaides, you buffoon]), and levels do have a tendency to switch from radical 2-D to tolerable 3-D hallway-based fortresses. And there’s a giant, pulsating heart at the (an) end, too! But then you might notice there are a few items from Super Contra (3) in there, too, like a ruined cityscape ruled by an enormous alien, or a final alien monster that needs to be brain-blasted. And isn’t that giant robot straight out of Contra: Hard Corps? Black Viper from Operation C? A mountain of corpses from Shattered Soldier? Is that whole ruined city the one from Contra Force, a game absolutely no one has ever played? Holy cow, this isn’t a remake! This is everything that has ever appeared in a 2-D Contra! It’s maximum Contra!

And it’s not just about the setting, bosses, and strangely high number of gross bugs scuttling about: Contra 4 is also about condensing the Contra gameplay to its most recognizable form. The grappling hook feels like the only thing we haven’t seen before in 2-D Contra, and it vaguely feels like something that was added more for managing the dual screens of the DS. But aside from that addition? There is literally nothing here that hasn’t been seen before. Two weapons for runnin’ n’ gunnin’, a jump for alien vaulting, and your always trusty ability to duck (eat it, Mega Man) is all you need to complete this adventure. And the weapons are all basic Contra mainstays, like the laser, machine gun, or that whaddyacallit thingy that blows up real good. Grenade launcher? Crusher? Something like that. But even though everything here is familiar, it’s also its best possible self. You will not be straddled with the crappy laser of the NES version, this laser gun is the best it has ever been (and we will hear nothing of classic versions). And Spread? Your opponents have seemingly been arranged in ideal spread formations, so Spread has never felt so… right. ZAPAnd that’s how Contra 4 feels in a nutshell: there are so many situations and abilities involved that, while it’s all been done before, it is done so perfectly here that, when you hit your stride, it feels amazing. The fact that later levels are gated behind limited lives and continues is not an accident: it is a way of telling the player that the ideal way to play Contra 4 is to play it while coasting on the high of a death-defying run.

This article could just be a list of the ways Contra 4 references other Contra games. This could be a list of the ways Contra 4 refines the Contra experience that has come before. I could even do my best to note how upgrading weapons starts out impossible, and quickly becomes second nature. But, when you get right down to it, everything about that would be entirely perfunctory. In much the same way Contra 4 is the most Contra, there is no real way to explain how Contra 4 works beyond just saying “go play Contra 4”. It is Contra. It is every Contra. It’s all the good of the franchise wrapped up in one perfect little cartridge.

Contra 4 may subjectively be the best Contra game, but it is certainly objectively the most Contra game that has ever existed.

FGC #475 Contra 4

  • System: Nintendo DS. This is the only issue, as not only is the game tied to an extinct system, it is also made flawlessly for said extinct system. There was no way the dual screen-based stages were ever going to work in a WiiU tablet/television situation, and it barely works (thanks to screen dimensions) on the 3DS. And now either option barely exists anyway! Sorry, everyone I just told to play Contra 4!
  • Number of players: I’m going to assume that it’s two, but I’ve never played this game with a buddy. Maybe the two player mode isn’t great? Maybe it’s wholly perfect, too? Don’t know. Don’t care.
  • Damn bugsFavorite Character: I know it’s Wayforward being Wayforward with its female characters, but I appreciate Sheena Etranzi, the heroine of Hard Corps, appearing in Contra 4. She’s, what, the only female character in the franchise that isn’t at least partially a robot/bionoid? Is that right? Even if she winds up being “the hot blonde” on the roster, she’s still representing 51% of humanity like a champ.
  • Super Code: You can enter the Konami code to obtain some extra lives (which are rather essential when you’re starting out in this death-coaster), but code entry requires screen tapping in that familiar pattern to earn your cheat. This is simultaneously very cute and very annoying.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I would like to stretch this article to insane lengths so I have more room for screenshots, but… that apparently isn’t happening. Damn!
  • Did you know? The boss of the city zone, Crustacean Cruiser, is eerily reminiscent of a similar giant bug boss in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Ohme. Given that giant slug is one of my favorite fights in both franchises, I’m going to allow this random, universe-shattering homage.
  • Would I play again: This is the best Contra and one of the best Nintendo DS games available. It’s just a damned shame that the Nintendo DS isn’t so viable anymore… But I will find a way to play it all again! I swear!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 9! Speaking of games that try to encompass everything that has come before, here’s the adventure of our second-favorite Saiyan in fantasy land! Please look forward to it!

The eyes have it

FGC #471 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4: Turtles in Time

Cowabunga!Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time was the sequel to the enormously popular Konami arcade title, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While they were only released two years apart (1989 vs. 1991), home videogame technology had progressed dramatically in the intervening years, and Turtles in Time could be ported to the “revolutionary” Super Nintendo, and not the severely compromised Nintendo Entertainment System. As a result, many claimed the SNES Turtles in Time cartridge was the first perfect port of one of Konami’s amazing licensed beat ‘em ups. This became very important in the years to come, as other popular beat ‘em ups from the era, like The Simpsons or X-Men, would not see a faithful port until approximately three console generations later.

Unfortunately, Turtles in Time for the SNES is by no means an exact port. It is a fun, interesting game, but it is also a failure for arcade purity. So what are the differences between the arcade and SNES versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time? Well…

Less Animated

ZAPThis is probably the greatest problem for TMNT:TiT:SNES, and the item most likely to be missed by its young audience. Back in ’92, if you were capable of playing your SNES next to an arcade cabinet, you’d immediately see how so many animations were dropped during the conversion. The turtles themselves lost emotive movements across the board. Each and every boss loses taunting gestures and unique death animations. Foot Soldiers slide from a gang of bullies to identical robots. Even your enemies’ death animations are transformed from teleportation effects to simple, mundane explosions.

And isn’t that always the way? You’re sold on a “perfect” arcade port, but what do you get? A product that is now only south of being perfect, but unmistakably wrong when held up to its remarkable origin. You’re expected to just ignore it. To love it anyway. But you can’t, can you? Now that you know it’s compromised, you’re always going to see the issues, and no amount of extra cannon balls or bonus stages is ever going to change that. Oh, you get Mode 7 on the home port? Bah! Nobody has ever cared about Mode 7, you cop.

Four Players vs. Two Players

Yummy!Four players is the ideal number of players for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beat ‘em up. Why? There are four turtles! This is abundantly obvious, but guess how many turtles can be simultaneously playable in the SNES version? Two. Just two. So, like some kind of wretched Battletoad, the turtles are limited to pairs while recovering the Statue of Liberty from the Foot Clan. Where are the other two turtles while a duo saves the day? Who knows! But they could be right there, just like in the arcade version.

Of course, maybe the lack of four players was a boon for the console version. When was the last time you had four people crowded around your Super Nintendo? Hell, when was the last time you got even two people together to play the same game? And, no, Smash Bros. doesn’t count. I’m talking about a cooperative, multiplayer title that was meant to hold everyone’s interest past the first level. Tell the truth: Portal 2’s coop levels are still sitting there unplayed, aren’t they? Ever actually play with a buddy in those New Super Mario Bros. games? Have you ever seen Luigi? Even once? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Sit down, buddy, TMNT:TiT:SNES just saved you having to affirm how you only have, like, two friends, and they both live in Idaho for some reason. They left you. You are alone. At least one SNES game doesn’t rub it in.

A Whole New Stage!

Also a great action figureYeah, that’s right… The Super Nintendo version isn’t a failure. It’s actually better than the arcade original! What further proof do you need than the Technodrome stage, a completely new level that does not appear in the arcade. It’s got two or three bosses, loads of interesting traps and tricks, and what is a TMNT game without the Technodrome? It was an oversight that such an important locale did not appear at your local arcade.

Except… we did already have the Technodrome at the arcade. It was in the previous game. And, unlike the city street from the second level, there really isn’t that much variety available to the Technodrome. There are a lot of streets and sewers in NYC, but only one Technodrome. And did Turtles in Time ever actually need a Technodrome? We already have the space base of 2100, which, complete with a Krang fight, is clearly the Technodrome expy for this adventure. What does that make the SNES Technodrome level? Nothing. It’s bloat in a game that is already limiting your credits to increase replay/rental value. So, sorry Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, just some Konami director that decided they could bleed a few more minutes out of your life with another superfluous challenge. Do you feel good about finishing that elevator level that took seven seconds to render? Hold on to that feeling, you simpleton.

Bonus Stages!

GET THAT PIZZAJust to break up the monotony of your typical beat ‘em up, the SNES version scattered a few bonus levels across the game. In both cases, they are levels that already appeared in the arcade version, but were repurposed for collecting pizza boxes and occasionally dodging enormous pepperoni xenomorphs. Both stages also feature the turtles zooming around on surf/hover boards, so there’s a lovely feeling of speed and urgency, even if you’re stuck in a sewer.

Though these stages aren’t really a bonus, are they? They’re there to break up the “monotony” of a beat ‘em up? What if you actually like playing beat ‘em ups? What if the game you purchased and already played in the arcade was already the game you actually wanted to play? Why would you need some pizza-nabbing mission in the middle of a game about slashing robots to bits? It’s just more busy-work, brought down to the masses so maybe, for one level, you can have a friendly competition with that second (but not third or fourth) player. I’m not even entertaining the possibility that your buddy survived to the second bonus level, 2020 AD. That’s entirely improbable. You’ll be alone again by 2020, just like in real life.

New Bosses!

Watch the hornsTokka and Rahzar originally appeared in the arcade pirates-based stage, but they were transported to an earlier (yet somehow, chronologically, later) level when the Technodrome needed a spare boss or two. And who replaced them on the gangplank galleon? Bebop and Rocksteady! And they’re dressed like pirates! They have unique, epoch-appropriate weapons and everything! Leatherhead doesn’t fit his archaic surroundings, but Bebop and Rocksteady (of all people!) know how to cosplay with the best of ‘em.

Of course, some of the other new bosses found on the home console aren’t as creative. The Rat King now leads in the third stage, and he’s riding the Footski, a sort of jet ski-tank. And where did such a thing originate? Well, this vehicle barely appeared in the animated series (and was pretty far off-model when it was showcased in all of one episode), but it was a pretty popular toy at the time. In fact, the version the Rat King rides here is likely wholly inspired by the toy. And why would the generally independent Rat King be riding a Foot Soldier vehicle? Why, it couldn’t be to sell more toys, could it? It couldn’t be because your entire childhood was a lie, and everything you ever loved and adored was a trick to make your parents spend more money on cheap doodads that would inevitably be destroyed when the next piece of plastic crap came along. And that certainly isn’t the same reason Cement Man, an arcade boss that was miraculously never featured as an action figure, was replaced by Slash, one of the most plentiful TMNT figures out there. Why, it almost seems like these new bosses weren’t added to the game to add variety or challenge, but just as more reasons for you to scream at your parents that you need, “More!” right now. Consume, children, consume.

Super Shredder!

SHRED HEADSpeaking of popular toys, the finale of the original TMNT: TiT is simply Shredder in the Technodrome (hey, you do get there) menacing our hero turtles with ninja magic or some such nonsense. Back on the home console, the fight is exactly the same, but Super Shredder is your opponent. He powered up to super levels, and now you have to defeat the unstoppable beast that appeared at the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze.

The Super Shredder toy was my holy grail when I was about eight years old. I wasn’t a giant Shredder fan, but, for some reason, Super Shredder was never available in my area, so my doting grandparents could never buy me that one toy I wanted. I would have done anything for a Super Shredder! And I had one chance: my dad worked with a guy that had a part time job at the local toy store. Hooray! Surely he would be able to figure out where magical, nearly non-existent toys come from! And one day he called my dad, because two Super Shredders had finally arrived. I was ecstatic, and my father and I rushed to the toy store. And we got it! Happy ending!

… Almost.

I got my toy, but a time later, there was some other toy I wanted, and I asked if my dad’s friend could help with that acquisition, too. My father sat me down and explained he didn’t talk to this former friend anymore. Why? Well, turns out the guy had been arrested. I pressed my dad repeatedly for more information, and he eventually relented. Turns out this malcontent had been caught exposing himself to customers at his toy store job. I was told exactly why that was a crime, and, if I ever saw the scoundrel ever again, I was to get another adult immediately. I left thinking this guy was just some common weirdo, and it wasn’t until years later that I worked out the exact connection between “exposing himself” and “works at a toy store”.

And now Super Shredder always makes me think of that.

So thanks a lot, Super Nintendo version of Turtles in Time.

Thanks.

All the Bosses Have Life Bars!

Snapping TurtleArgh… I’m… can… can we just take a break? It’s been a while since I really thought about that, and… I… I just don’t feel like talking about… life bars? I’m supposed to be upset about little red squares right now? Don’t they make the game easier? Or at least more transparent? Is comparing the differences between two really similar games all that important at all?

Look, you’re going to finish this article, or next you’re going to review Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, and you’re going to have to talk about how your parents’ divorce meant that you wound up with a Sega Genesis at your father’s house, and you were expected to act like one whole, separate videogame console at each house was some kind of net-good result of your parents loudly and publicly fighting for a decade. Buck up, and brag to all the kids how your life is so great because you can play Mario and Sonic games. You want to acknowledge that this is a direct line to how you still, twenty goddamned years later, hang your own self-worth on how many videogames you own? You want that? You want to go down that manhole?

Like Jesus!Can’t I just focus on something fun from that game? Like how everybody inexplicably walks on water?

No. No, you will talk about childhood trauma, and you will revel in it.

Okay, fine. I’ll finish the damn comparison. What’s next?

The unique Boxing Bots are replaced by Roadkill Rodneys

Um. That’s pretty much the extent of that. Like, one useless robot got swapped for another. Does… anyone care about that? Did anyone actually notice? There are some other Foot Soldiers that only appear on the console, too. Are we going to cover those? No? Okay. Can we move on to the next item and get this list over and done with?

There’s a Throw Move! And You Need it to Beat Shredder!

Toss 'emUgh, Shredder again. I thought we were done with that guy. But I guess it makes sense that you have to fight the Turtles’ ultimate rival twice in the same game. And it makes a certain amount of sense that, rather than figure out a new boss pattern, Shredder would appear as the game’s one and only puzzle boss. Not that a puzzle boss makes any damn sense in a beat ‘em up, anyway. Just one more stupid speedbump on your way to an ending that is equal parts unnecessary and unimaginative. Wow. You won. Here are the turtles on a blimp. Whoopee. We done here?

Time Trials! Versus Mode!

Nope. We’re done. Game over, turtles.

FGC #471 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

  • System: Arcade and Super Nintendo. Duh.
  • Number of Players: This has been covered.
  • The obvious reason for this articleThat went to some dark places: Okay, full disclosure, I worked out the skeleton of this article while flying economy over the Atlantic Ocean. If you’ve never had the pleasure, it’s about nine hours of inhumane discomfort, and the only reprieve from the overwhelming torture is the occasional lukewarm hot pocket. Playing a once beloved game while crammed into one of those unfortunate little chairs is… a singular experience. It put me in a bit of a mood.
  • But you still like the game, right? Oh yes. Playing the arcade version and SNES version back to back really drives home how the SNES version is objectively better. There’s more content, it has more opportunities for pizza, and it’s pretty clear the “difficulty” was adjusted to be something that wasn’t merely a quarter killer. There’s a real rhythm to the home version that isn’t there in the more chaotic arcade title. And the arcade version at least looks pretty.
  • How About that Versus Mode: Just play Tournament Fighters. This engine was never meant for direct competition. Or, heck, play that Time Trial mode. You can get the highest score! I know you can!
  • Favorite Turtle: If you can’t tell from the screenshots, it’s Donny. That bo staff is the bee’s knees.
  • Did you know? I occasionally vacillate on the plural of “ninja”…

    Go ninja go

    But I know that ain’t right.

  • Would I play again: Certainly. I would like to get some friends over for it, but I could deal with a solo outing every once in a while. I’m quite happy playing by myself, thank you.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen to sit it out while Wankery Week returns for the annual Valentine’s Day (Week) special! We’re only covering one wankery game this year, but it… Well, I can’t say it’s really any good. But it exists! So please look forward to it!

Gross!