Tag Archives: two players

FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

UPPER!Streets of Rage 2 might be the best beat ‘em up of all time. It’s certainly the best BEU on the 16-bit consoles, and, considering that was the heyday of the genre, it’s hard to believe it could be topped elsewhere. But why is it the best? The BEU genre is pretty straightforward, so how is this game any better than Final Fight or Double Dragon?

The answer is simple: Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t suck.

… Hm, I should probably elaborate on that.

The beat ‘em up genre, one way or another, started in the arcades. If you want to cite Kung-Fu Master or Double Dragon, either way, they both premiered in arcade cabinets well before they hit the home consoles. From there, it was a only a matter of time before we got Final Fight, and then, inevitably, the parade of licensed beat ‘em ups that offered no real innovations to the genre, but God in Heaven is it fun to hit random dudes with Bart Simpson’s skateboard. The beat ‘em up completely conquered the arcade scene roughly until Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat decided it was fighting games’ turn, but even today, you’re likely to see Turtles in Time or X-Men at a roller rink (assuming roller rinks are still a thing at all… sorry I’m not a twelve year old girl).

HIYA!So, for the beat ‘em up to maintain arcade dominance for so long, the genre must have been doing something right. But what was it? The licensed beat ‘em ups have an easy answer: do you need to hear anything more than the title “Alien vs. Predator” to waste a quarter or two on finding out what that’s all about? “Be The Punisher”? Yeah, I’ll take a chance on that. But even the less “established” beat ‘em ups offered some level of “role play” that you couldn’t really experience at home. When Mario still looked like a random collection of brown pixels, here were King Arthur and his two or three knights, traipsing across the countryside, occasionally riding amazingly obedient horses. Here are all your favorite Saturday morning and mythological heroes, all at the arcade, and all ready to be controlled for the low, low cost of a single Washington (and the silver kind to boot).

That’s enough to get 25¢ out of practically anybody that can grip a joystick, but why was the beat ‘em up so successful? Simple: OCD. Or maybe just sunk cost fallacy. In general, unless it’s your absolute first time and some damn foot soldier keeps you in an arm lock for too damn long, you can make it up to the first boss on any given beat ‘em up on one credit. And then that boss is going to trounce you. And, depending on the game, that boss is going to laugh at you while the timer ticks down. Want to add another quarter? You know you will. You’re not going to let Abobo get away with that, are you? Come on, you got through the whole stage on one quarter, you can spare another to make this doof go down.

And so begins the worst problem in beat ‘em ups: quarter-killer, damage-sponge bosses. Rocksteady of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, possibly one of the most fought level one bosses in any videogame, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. He has, what, three moves? A kick, a charge, and a gun for jump kickers. That’s it. He should last for maybe eight hits, because, come on, a mouser is more complicated than this guy. But, no, he lasts forever, because if he can’t take the punishment, he’s not going to require more quarters to defeat, and if he doesn’t fleece your poor pockets, then what’s the point in being an arcade game?

YummyIn other words, beat ‘em ups were kings of the arcade because they were fun… and they made their owners a lot of dough. I don’t think those fat cat arcade barons are moving to Maui, but Final Fight probably did pay for at least a few trips to Disney World.

Streets of Rage apparently started in the arcades, but, fun fact, I have never seen a SoR cabinet in my life (I’m pretty sure this is another case of Wikipedia lying to me). Regardless, SoR started off a little… janky, and, in my humble opinion, wasn’t very good. It’s one of those Metroid 1 situations: you know there’s something cool here, but there is a lot of cruft involved, and, by the time you’re finally used to everything, it’s over. Though I suppose I’ll preserve that kind of whining for when ROB chooses that particular game…

What we’re here for today is Streets of Rage 2, and it does one thing absolutely marvelously: it actually scales boss health to something reasonable. It even scales all enemy health to a practical level.

It’s the subtlest little change, but it means so much to the game. The first boss in Streets of Rage 2 does not, at any point, retreat and force you to fight some random thugs while he eats a hamburger. The fourth boss does not have seventeen lifebars. Heck, the second boss brought a damn jetpack to the fight, but his HP is scaled to account for the fact that he can’t be hit all the time. He barely has more life than Symbol Y! It’s like Streets of Rage 2 actually respects the player’s time, and accounts for “this boss has three main patterns, he doesn’t have to be fought for the next ten minutes”. The average Streets of Rage 2 boss goes down in about as much time as a Robot Master, and that’s phenomenal! I might finish this game before I run out of imaginary, arbitrarily assigned credits because this is a console game, dammit! Somebody finally acknowledged that simple fact!

THE ENDishAnd there are a lot of little things in Streets of Rage 2 that make it appear as if the designers actually wanted to see the player succeed, and not just empty their coin purses into an imaginary arcade console. Food distribution is less random and closer to the power-up distribution of Super Mario Bros. games, for instance. Yes, there’s still a big fill up of meat before every boss, but you’re a lot more likely to see a life granting apple at more conscientious points than in any other beat ‘em up. And the average mooks, like their big boss brothers, aren’t massive damage sponges, so you’re not stuck in the same six square feet of a random city until the timer runs out. And even some of the less fair baddies, like those Road Warrior rejects or that one dude with a knife knifing around, can be defeating easily by acknowledging that jump kicks exist. There is not a single situation where there’s an infinity trap on the screen, and you’re going to die a thousand deaths to some random laser while you’re trying to position your character around that damn blast radius. Oh, and the special moves are pretty rad, too.

So, yes, you put it all together, and Streets of Rage 2 is the best beat ‘em up out there. It’s a lot of little things and one big thing working in concert, but, when it all combines, it forms a Voltron that blazing swords the competition.

Other beat ‘em ups are quick to rely on their arcade roots and suck for it. Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t (suck).

FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

  • System: Sega Genesis and arcade, though it has also seen rerelease on more systems than I’m going to list. The 3DS version is, as always, pretty damn rad.
  • Number of players: Oh, yeah, another reason people play beat ‘em ups is for the “easy” two player factor. Practically anyone can join in and be “helpful”, so whether it’s your videogame adverse mate or little brother, you can get a few extra punches in with a buddy.
  • WeeeeWhat’s in a name: The arcade machines glimpsed in Level 3 are for a game called “Bare Knuckle”. Ha! What nitwit would play a game called Bare Knuckle?
  • Favorite character: Normally Blaze would be my go-to, as I (almost) always favor the “faster” character in beat ‘em ups. But, in this case, I’m going to go with Skate. He’s faster than Blaze and he’s the only character with a proper dash attack. Considering the dash is my preferred attack in any BEU, that’s kind of deal sealer. Guess I do always go with the quickest choice.
  • Did you know? Let’s not talk about Blaze’s underwear. Let’s… just not.
  • Would I play again: Yes, which is always surprising for an “ancient” Genesis game. I just have to convince my friends that this is the beat ‘em up to play, and not The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, X-Men, Battletoads, Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fight, Knights of the Round…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS! Get your leaves ready, it’s time to go fluttering with Mario! Please look forward to it!

DO NOT CLICK

FGC #248 Cruis’n USA

CRUISE IT!Nothing ever changes.

There are always controversies in the videogame world. They’re generally about as “controversial” as someone preferring Dr. Pepper to Coke, but they’re there, and they’re constant. And you’d be forgiven for assuming these controversies are inventions of digital writers in need of the next big headline, or marketing companies desperate for any press, good or ill, that is going to get their name out there; but, no, these same controversies have been going on for decades. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the strange case of Cruis’n USA.

You may remember Cruis’n USA as “that racing game for N64”. It was featured in a lot of Nintendo Power coverage, saw a lot of play at the local arcades, and was lauded as “a game that isn’t Mario 64” for your brand new Nintendo 64 64-bit videogame system. It used partially digitized graphics to simulate a real race across the United States, and, unlike many racing games that were constrained to tracks or Mushroom Kingdoms, Cruis’n USA featured real locations like Golden Gate Bridge or the Redwood Forest. Of course, it was all about as real as a walking tour of Zebes (fun fact: the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore are about 15 hours apart from each other, not two minutes), but it’s all fun enough, and even “fake-real” racing was a change from the standard of the day (we were still a few years away from Gran Turismo).

But Cruis’n USA had its fair share of problems, practically from its inception. For instance…

THE DEMO IS A LIE!

Dead presidentsCruis’n USA saw release on the home consoles in 1996, but it was an arcade game released upon the public in November of 1994. The summer before that, it was first demoed at CES. It didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it was a stimulating experience for everyone involved, and there were many excited reports about Midway’s latest racer. This was the company that revolutionized the fighting game genre with Mortal Kombat a few years earlier, so, hey, maybe they’re going to strike gold again. Who doesn’t like hot cars and hotter venues?

But more important than the game itself was the announcement that Cruis’n USA was running on Ultra 64 hardware. The N64 was still two years away, and any information on the upcoming Nintendo system was like precious mana from Miyamoto. Cruis’n USA was running on the same tech as the successor to the Super Nintendo? Damn, son, that means the next Nintendo system is going to be off the chain! Did you see those digitized trophy girls? Or those sweet rides? The N64 is going to obliterate that silly Sega Saturn! Sony Playstation who?

Except… it was a fake.

Cruis’n USA was not running on Ultra 64 hardware. It was revealed that Cruis’n USA was made well before the U64 development tools were released, and only Rare, Nintendo’s super best friend 4eva, possessed said tools at all. Cruis’n USA was built on pretty typical arcade hardware of the time, and, shockingly, when the game was ported to the N64 two years later, it looked like your typical, downgraded “arcade port”. It was recognizable, but… not the same. Not quite the system seller everyone expected. Oh, and speaking of selling systems…

DELAYED AGAIN!?

Let's rollHere is a comprehensive list of Nintendo 64 launch titles:

  • Mario 64
  • Pilotwings 64

And that’s about that! Now, of course, there were more games to come, but to call the launch anemic is kind of an understatement. This was the first Nintendo system with native four controller support, and there wasn’t a single game available that offered more than a one player experience. Did anyone notice that? There literally was NO reason to purchase a second N64 controller at launch, left alone another two. Yes, we would eventually see a few fighting games and maybe some Wave Racing, but the initial N64 launch was… well, let’s just say they got lucky that Mario 64 was one the best games of all time.

Cruis’n USA was originally intended as a launch game… but it didn’t happen. And it’s a shame, too, because it really could have cleaned up and sold the N64 as a truly next generation, “adult” experience. This was the age of the rise of Playstation, when all the kids that had been weaned on blue robots and chubby elves were now teenagers and desired “maturity”, “real life situations”, and maybe “spine ripping”. The N64 launched exclusively with kiddy ‘intenda games when the gaming public was raiding the metaphorical liquor cabinets and looking for the hard stuff. It might not have made much of a difference, but Cruis’n USA could have at least said, “hey, you’re getting your driver’s license in a few years, let’s hit the road, cool kids!” as opposed to a line-up that asked, “wanna bake a cake?” Oh, and Cruis’n USA was two player, too. Might not have been a reason to buy a full four controllers, but at least it’s a fine excuse to show your new system to your friends. Spread the good word of Nintendo.

But Cruis’n USA didn’t get many good words, because…

CENSORSHIP!

PurpleAs a point of fact, I am a friend to animals. I like most animals, dogs and cats in particular, more than I like most people. If a human is mad at me for no reason, I assume that human is an asshole. If a cat is mad at me for no reason, I douse myself in tuna and purchase an excess stock of laser pointers. I like all the little critters of nature, and, when I’m driving, I will deliberately swerve to avoid a goose, turtle, or any other wayward creature that wanders into the road.

In Cruis’n USA for the arcade, however, you can mow down wildlife at your leisure. Cows and horses wander into the road, and you can transform them into bloody chunks for your amusement (though it does slow down your car). For some reason, this was removed from the home port, presumably because no one wants to explain the full ramifications of the phrase “bloody chunks” to a kid that just finished finding a tiny dinosaur on the roof of a magical castle.

And, thinking of the poor children, there were additional edits to make Cruis’n USA dramatically less sexy. In the original, first place earns you a trophy and a woman in a bikini top to go with it. On the N64, she put on a damn shirt (albeit one that appears to be painted on). And speaking of sex appeal, the arcade version ends with Bill Clinton in a truck-hot tub with a couple of 90’s babes atop the White House, while the N64 version only features your car on the roof (though there are still a few Secret Service dudes milling about… and a cow, for some reason). And, most ridiculously, the final leg of the Washington DC race features a tunnel made of giant hundred dollar bills on the N64, but the arcade version features those bills with Hillary Clinton smoking a cigar instead of ol’ Ben. I.. uh… guess that’s political commentary. And, good news, it’s somehow relevant and saddening twenty years later! Hooray?

Naturally, people noticed this overt editing (the arcade version saw two years’ worth of credits prior to home release, after all), Purple againso the fans inundated Midway and Nintendo with letters regarding this clear violation of freedom of speech and ludicrous censorship. We want to see our half-naked ladies, dammit!

Sound familiar? Nothing ever changes, folks. The gaming industry has been pulling the same tricks and making the same “mistakes” for decades, and they’re going to keep doing it. Next time there’s some gaming controversy, remember that it’s not the first time, and those issues are just gonna keep on cruis’n.

FGC #248 Cruis’n USA

  • System: N64, and arcade, technically. It’s also on the Wii Virtual Console. Or it was, at least.
  • Number of players: Let me tell you, back in the day, I routinely played my N64 on a screen roughly the size of an iphone. You do not want to know how difficult it was to play two-player split screen races on that. We still did, mind you, it just probably permanently marred my vision. Squinting 4 life!
  • Favorite Car: I don’t know… the red one? I’m not much of a car guy.
  • Don't know whyFilthy Cheater: Oh, wait, I do have a favorite car! It’s the school bus that you can only get through entering a secret code. In keeping in the theme of this article, I’ll note that if this game were released about fifteen years later, that bus would now be impossible-to-access DLC.
  • Did you know? I want to say that this was the first game I ever played that made saving to the N64 memory pack standard. Couldn’t spring for a damn save battery, Midway? Screw you guys.
  • Would I play again: I loved this game when it was first released. And… I don’t think I’ve touched it since the release of Final Fantasy 7. Think I’m going to keep that up.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ogre Battle! Get your chess pieces ready for an epic battle that nobody fully understands! Please look forward to it!

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

Kind of a tubby dragonThis game is pure, focused malice.

I want to be clear about something here: I am not merely using hyperbole to refer to a “difficult” or “poorly constructed” game. No, what we have here is a NES game that, for reasons that shall shortly become clear, was designed by people that vehemently loathe anyone that happened to support the Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was designed exclusively to make the world a worse place, and it was released solely for the purpose of spite. Dragon’s Lair for the NES is hate.

You probably already know about Dragon’s Lair. DL was an arcade game by animation legend Don Bluth, and was, effectively, a playable cartoon. Considering it was released in 1983, a year when most videogames looked like Bobby Is Going Home, Dragon’s Lair was something of a phenomenon. Yes, it was a “controlled” type game, wherein the goal is basically to play Simon Says effectively enough to keep the game “playing itself”, but it was still fun to watch. And, again, this was the age of the Atari, a time when “videogame” could mean anything from Pong to controlling tanks to a game that tests your ability to press up every thirty seconds. Dragon’s Lair was an early example of graphics trumping gameplay, but it was at a time when “gameplay” could be severely lacking and have horrible graphics, so it gets a pass.

THE REAL MCCOYUnfortunately, Dragon’s Lair didn’t get a pass from technology. Dragon’s Lair ran on laserdisc tech, and, suffice it to say, it would be a long time before anything disc-based infiltrated the home videogame market. So Dragon’s Lair (arcade) begat Space Ace (arcade) the following the year, and then… nothing. Dragon’s Lair didn’t see a sequel until 1991. Just a reminder: Dragon’s Lair (1) was a contemporary of the Atari, and Dragon’s Lair 2 was released a year after Super Mario World. That’s practically an eternity in videogame time, and it was during that eternity that Nintendo conquered the gaming market. When Dragon’s Lair launched, it was the most amazing thing many people had ever seen. Dragon’s Lair 2 was practically a footnote compared to “when’s the next Zelda coming out”.

And before Dragon’s Lair 2, there was Dragon’s Lair for the NES.

Dragon’s Lair NES was released in 1990. Just so we’re all on the same page, the NES was good and established by 1990, and other games released that year include Mega Man 3, Adventures of Lolo 2, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, and Solar Jetman. While there are a few oddballs even in that list, they’re all unmistakably NES games, whether they star waddling blue balls or not. By 1990, the NES kids were all well past trying to figure out this whole crosspad thing, and onto jumping and shooting and maybe pushing blocks like a champ. This was not the Wild West of the Atari age, this was a time of the Nintendo Seal of Quality and only being moderately confused when Little Nemo started wearing a live bee like a suit. It was an age of wonders, but it was also an age where we all knew A meant jump.

In Dragon’s Lair NES, B is the jump button. A attacks. Select is pause, and Start triggers a torch “item”. This is an ominous control scheme.

Also ominous? You’re unlikely to make it past the first screen of Dragon’s Lair NES.

ARGH!To say something nice, Dirk the Daring, the star of Dragon’s Lair, has excellent animation. He probably has one of the most complicated walking animations on the NES, and he really does move like a “real” person. He even turns around! This was a time when some sprites weren’t even expected to look in a different direction (hi, Gradius!), and we’ve got a Dirk walking along in a perfectly smooth bit of animation. Good job, Dragon’s Lair!

Unfortunately, this animation doesn’t come cheap, and that price is Dirk moves about as quickly as dried tar. And, fun fact, that problem doesn’t impact any other creature. Or piece of masonry. Or, Bluth-forbid, sea dragon.

Let’s revisit that first screen. There’s a bat swooping forward, and, like the good bats of Castlevania, he will infinitely respawn. Luckily, he only takes off a bit of your energy. Unfortunately, you’re not so lucky with the crumbling bridge, which inevitably leads to a moat of sudden death. If you attempt to jump the crumbling blocks, good luck, because starting Dirk’s ultra-slow jump means he’ll be in the drink before his crouching animation is complete. And turning around is right out, as he’ll slide off the bridge that way, too. However, if you manage to make it past the crumbly bits, you’ll encounter a sea dragon. Touch the dragon, and you’re dead. Touch the fireballs the dragon spews, and you’re dead. Attempt to hurl a dagger (press A) at the dragon, and you’ll lose that fire fight, and be dead. Hop over the dragon, and you’ll find the front gate of the castle has closed, and touching it means instant death. So, what you must do is walk aaaall the way back across the decaying bridge, hide in the corner, and hurl an ungainly number of daggers at the dragon until it finally dies. Also, just for funsies, if you duck to avoid fireballs, the dragon will duck too, and he’s completely out of range during that time. Assuming you survive this gauntlet until the dragon is defeated, you can then attempt to pass the bridge and the bat again, and, finally, make it to the next screen.

DammitOh, and side note? There are no continues in this game, so every time you lose your daily allotment of five lives, you have to do that entire sequence all over again.

And you will lose those lives quickly once you’re in the castle. That bat (which, don’t worry, will appear again and again) is apparently one of the few threats in the castle that will only take off a chunk of life as opposed to, ya know, instant death. Pits? Instant death. Snakes? Instant death. Moving walls? Instant death. Floating skulls? Sometimes lost health, sometimes instant death, with no overt distinction on why. Bosses? You better believe those lead to instant death. And even beyond that, you’ve got Dirk’s anemic jump, and moving platforms that aren’t consistent at all. Some platforms have their own “gravity”, and will ferry Dirk over pits. Other moving platforms move on their own terms, and Dirk has to walk across them to avoid pits below. And you won’t know which platform is which until you’re inevitably a pile of bones at the bottom of the nearest chasm. Oh, I’m sorry, was that your last life? Back to the moat, loser!

And that’s not all, folks! There are a number of subtle bits of malice in this adventure. The main “hub” of the game is an elevator (that will likely get you killed), and if you accidently enter an area you already completed (which, incidentally, aren’t marked at all), you have to repeat the level all over again. You may collect gold to increase your (useless) score, but if you stay still for longer than about a second (which is kind of inevitable with all these instant death traps whirling around), the Lizard King will appear and steal your gold and some health, just for funsies. And, at the (inevitable) end of your game, there’s a high score table that I swear is completely impossible to top. Seriously, you’d have to replay all the levels in this game about ten times to clear the highest score.

DAMMIT!Put all of this together, and it seems pretty clear that the game is actively taunting the player. You will never beat the first screen. You will never see the ending. You will never get the high score. Why are you even playing this game, you foolish Nintendo kid?

And I can’t help but imagine that that is deliberate.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, with its cutesy 8-bit graphics and simple play styles, conquered the home console market for what seemed like forever. There was no place for the big budget, fully animated likes of Dragon’s Lair on the NES, and, honestly, nobody really cared. Contra was fun. Castlevania was fun. Mega Man was fun. Dirk the Daring was a legend in his time, but he was a flash in the pan compared to the turtle-stomper in overalls. The laserdisc fell by the wayside, and the cartridge conquered the land. It must have been… discouraging to be the curator of yesterday’s news, and then be expected to port that masterpiece to the system that vanquished your hero. What was left to do but punish the children that dug Dirk’s grave?

Dragon’s Lair NES is malevolence in cartridge form. It is revenge given plastic. And it’s also kind of a crappy game, so, ya know, try to avoid it.

FGC #243 Dragon’s Lair (NES)

  • System: NES. It doesn’t even have the excuse of being on other systems to explain the wonky controls.
  • Number of players: Technically, it is two player alternating. But, like a two man con, if two people play this game, the odds of someone realizing “hey, this is terrible” immediately shoots up to nearly 100%.
  • Port-o-Call: Turns out the Japanese/European version of the game increased Dirk’s movement speeds to much more survivable levels. Unfortunately, they also added falling boulders to the elevator area, so I’m sticking to my “this game is hate” assessment.
  • So, did you beat it: Yes, with a healthy amount of modern cheating. For the record, your only “reward” is a single “congratulations” screen.

    WINNER!

    Daphne barely appears. Boo.

  • Favorite boss: Death, aka the Grim Reaper, is straight up the boss of a stage. I’m wondering if he just likes hanging around spooky castles. Not like he has anything better to do.
  • Did you know? You can actually reclaim your treasures from the Lizard King in a secret area at the bottom of the elevator. Considering the treasure does nothing but boost your score, and the odds of dying in practically any level in this game are infinitely high, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s not worth it.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Even with save states, this game is nearly impossible, and I only completed it to see if there was any level of satisfaction in doing so. Spoilers: nope.

What’s next? Random ROB… isn’t being so random next week. In honor of the release of the Switch, I’ll be covering three games that are at least tangentially related to the launch of Nintendo’s latest system. So first up is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Zelda time is here again! Please look forward to it!

Grandpa, that's just Maggie