Tag Archives: two players

FGC #369 Ninja Master’s

NINJA!This is my greatest gaming regret.

As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, I own a lot of videogames. Every single entry in the FGC is related to a game I actually own (physically, if at all possible), and I’m not afraid to say that… maybe I have a problem. My “gaming room” is wall-to-wall plastic knickknacks, and, assuming the amiibo army doesn’t expand beyond its nation’s borders, that is unlikely to change. I am physically incapable of “trading in” an old, no-longer-played videogame, and if that means that one day they shall find me buried beneath a stack of lousy Simpsons merchandise, so be it. I chose the game life, and I know how it ends.

But, looming death aside, I regret very few purchases. The (not) secret mission statement of this blog is that every game, good or bad, has a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s Super Mario or Lollipop Chainsaw, every videogame has some kind of message at its core… even if that message is simply “please go to the mall”. It’s very rare that I buy a terrible game for a significant amount of dough (one way or another, the “Make my Videos” of my collection were generally purchased for less than the price of a gallon of bleach), and, even when that does inevitably happen, at least I get a cool story out of the deal. I have measured my life in plastic cartridges, and my library being my library is worth more than any copy of Little Samson (according to current ebay values).

And all that said? The Neo Geo X sucks, and I want it out of my life.

The Neo Geo X should have been a thing of beauty. It was the Switch before we had the Switch! Take a look…

Look at that sucker

The Neo Geo X was basically a portable system that played Neo Geo games, but it also could dock, and then output HDMI straight into your increasingly intimidating gigantic television. And it was released with a colossal arcade stick! And 20 preloaded games! You didn’t have to switch cartridges to get your Geo on! It could be the ideal portable system with an excellent mini library, and then plug into your television for two player fun times! And the preloaded library was pretty robust, too, with King of Fighters ’95, King of the Monsters, Metal Slug, and World Heroes Perfect! Add in a few random forgotten gems (or “forgotten gems”), and the Neo Geo X looked like a pretty good get for $200 (which, reminder, would be less than the cost of a whole four contemporary games in 2012).

And, from a personal perspective, I was excited about the Neo Geo X. I never owned a Neo Geo, and, by the time I had enough scratch to afford such an expense, nearly every worthwhile Neo Geo title had already been released on more accessible consoles. In fact, when you look at the Fatal Fury Archives, Metal Slug Anthologies, and even some of the random games popping up on assorted collections, it seemed like the waiting game was the right way to do it. Why waste time switching expensive cartridges when every last game is on one disc on a system you were going to play anyway? The Neo Geo X seemed like a godsend for this kind of thinking, because I still have to own a Neo Geo, right? It should be represented somewhere in my Hall of Gaming, and the NGX would scratch that itch and be a pretty great system besides. Portable World Hero times! Metal Slug anywhere I want! And big, chunky arcade sticks for couch multiplayer! Bring the arcade experience home!

So I brought the Neo Geo X home, and… it sucked. It sucked a lot.

Look at these nerdsI’m not sure what I expected (yes I am, see the previous paragraph), but the Neo Geo X landed with a wet thud on my gaming carpet (this isn’t a metaphor). I guess I somehow thought this emulated Neo Geo experience would be… improved (? Somehow?) over my previous Neo Geo encounters, but, nope, that’s plain ol’ Metal Slug on my TV again, same as last time. And portable World Heroes is fun an’ all, but it’s just as limited as any fighting game from 1995 (yeesh) is going to be in 2012.

And, come to think of it, that’s exactly why the Neo Geo X was terrible: it was a 2012 system limited to 90’s tech.

To be clear, this isn’t about a retro system hosting retro games. I love retro games (source: this entire blog). No, the problem here was Ninja Master’s, the bonus game that was released with the Neo Geo X at launch. The Neo Geo X came preloaded with its own assortment of games, and Ninja Master’s was additionally included on a SD card “cartridge”. Slide in the card, and you’ve got 21 games! Woo! Presumably, future Neo Geo Xs would not have this extra game included, and let us all revel in our early adopter bounty. Nothing like an extra fighting game for fightin’!

Except… Ninja Master’s really was just an SD card with a game on there. The Neo Geo X could not accept old Neo Geo Cartridges or CDs, and expansions were limited to a chunk of physical media that was probably best known for living in your digital camera. The Neo Geo X did not have a network jack or a wireless receiver. Online play was out of the question, but, more importantly, you were never going to download new (old) games to the system. Any expansions for the system were going to be tied to SD cards for the rest of forever, and, thus, juggling “cartridges” would be the norm. To state a now obvious flaw, because the system launched with only Metal Slug (1), you were never going to have a portable Neo Geo that allowed for rapidly flipping through all the Metal Slug adventures. It was impossible. The system couldn’t handle something so basic, it had appeared on the PSP three years prior.

Get 'emThe Neo Geo X seemed like a great idea at its conception, but it was outdated before it got out of the box. We take it for granted, but the face of gaming, and the scope of what is possible, has changed dramatically over the last few years. A system that never updates? It sounds nice from a “I just want to play my games right now” perspective, but it also means what you bought is what you’ve got, forever, and that the average Neo Geo X is no better than one of those portable Sega emulators you’d find at the supermarket. The Neo Geo X was priced like a big boy system, but it had all the support of an Atari 60-in-one controller. And those NGX arcade controllers were cool, but they were wired, and wired controllers are sooo Playstation 1, not Playstation Fun. Yes, this was a retro system from top to bottom, but it was retro in the worst way.

So, with no future (and Mark of the Wolves being the only must-have game that was eventually released on cartridge), the Neo Geo X was plunked into a drawer the absolute first moment I needed more shelf space. It was conceivable that I’d want to play it again, but literally every game I wanted to play on that system was available faster and easier on other platforms. And on systems with wireless controllers! And save states! And other quality of life improvements that are so ingrained in modern gaming, I can’t even name them all. All those contemporary features are completely natural now, while the Neo Geo X is archaic. And the problem was not that the Neo Geo X was outdated, it’s that it was outdated from the moment it was released.

In time, Nintendo would prove “how you do it” with the NES and SNES Classics. They might not be portable, but their crisp emulation and amazing libraries proved that you could release a retro system that people would want (nay, demand), and you could do it at a price point that doesn’t attempt to compete with the “real” systems. And while my SNES Classic is never going to see as much play as my original SNES, it’s certainly going to see more use than the Neo Geo X, because it at least tried to understand the gamers of the age. The Neo Geo X? It didn’t even try, and I’ll always feel like a sucker for ever being excited about that useless lump of plastic.

The Neo Geo X is my biggest gaming regret.

FGC #369 Ninja Master’s

  • System: Neo Geo and Neo Geo X. It also appeared on the Playstation 2 and Playstation 4 as part of collections. But you ever hear about the Neo Geo X? It’s this system that…
  • Number of Players: Two simultaneous Ninja Masters in Ninja Master’s.
  • Kid Yin?Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Ninja Master’s is a pretty basic SNK fighting game. Its themes and general style are reminiscent of Samurai Shodown, but it allows the player to choose whether to wield a weapon or not. Oh, and you can lose your weapon, too. Come to think of it, it’s kind of like an early, 2-D Soul Edge. Other than that, it’s almost entirely forgettable, and the fact that it was used as a “bonus” to promote a new (old) system is a little peculiar.
  • What’s in a name: The technical, full title is Ninja Master’s: Haō Ninpō Chō, which roughly translates to something about a ninja master having the sacred Jedi texts or whatever. What’s important is that the American version very deliberately cuts it to simply Ninja Master’s, which gives the impression that no one at SNK understands how apostrophes work.
  • Favorite Character: Unzen is a hulking (seriously, he looks like The Hulk) Buddhist monk with no pupils and a giant hammer. He will crush you, and then shout random kōans at your corpse. He is everything I ever want to be.
  • Did you know? This is yet another videogame where you can fight (or fight as) Nobunaga, the Julius Caesar of 16th Century Japan. In this case, the grand unifier of Japan is possessed by a demon, so there’s an excuse for him to be the final boss beyond being the most famous dude in the roster. Well, next to Goemon, at least.
  • Would I play again: Ninja Master’s and the Neo Geo X are going back in the closet of shame with my Atari games and that keyboard for the Dreamcast. See you never, Ninja Master’s!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mighty Bomb Jack for the NES! I’m sure that’s going to be a blast! Please look forward to it!

Ouch

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

New age of heroes?It seems gauche to hold the father accountable for the sins of the son, but sometimes it must be done. Today’s article is about Street Fighter 4, and exactly why its arcade mode is better than anything in Street Fighter 5. I’d love to talk about the other merits of SF4, but, alas, sacrifices must be made so the new generation can learn a lesson.

An Arcade Mode Must Have a Good Roster

We’ll start simple: you’ve got to have a lot of fighters in your fighting game. How many is a requirement? Well, technically, you could get away with as few as… Vanilla Skullgirls, come over here, I need to count your characters… eight fighters. Technically. Unfortunately, for any sort of good arcade mode, you’re probably going to need a solid twelve. Why? Simple: you don’t want the battle to be over before it begins.

This brings us to our first major point: an arcade mode is not just a fighting game. A fighting game can be many things. For many people, the entire concept of a one-player mode in a fighting game is perfunctory. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For a certain subset of fans, there may as well only be eight characters, because that’s all the dudes that can fit into the “top tier”, and the presence of Dan is nothing more than cruft. And, if you play Street Fighter like that, if you’re ignoring the very existence of Vega for five games running now, that’s fine. There’s an entire community that is carefully maintaining those tier lists, and why would you ever side with the scrubbiest of scrubs?

Look at 'em allBut an arcade mode is different. An arcade mode requires variety, and fighting the same three fighters for eight rounds is going to get old fast. It doesn’t matter if there are different “teams”, or a Zangief wearing a different hat, what’s important is that you’re not going to see the same handful of fighters every time, and you might even be surprised by the AI’s next pick. You’ve played through arcade mode with five different fighters, but you somehow never fought Dhalsim until now? That’s cool! What isn’t cool is battling the same dumb Ryu & Ken teamup for the 7,000th time. By about the time you’ve memorized the repeated thoughtless intro lines, you’ll know that an arcade mode needs a grand roster to sustain itself.

And speaking of variety…

An Arcade Mode Should be Random as Heck

Character variety is one thing, but it’s another thing if every one player experience is the same exact battles every single time. It’s a simple, stupid request, but is it too much to ask for your battles to be randomized? Bosses can go ahead and dominate the end game, as I don’t mind seeing Seth/Bison/That Guy in the Thong every time, but how about adding a little spice to the lead up? In fact, it appears that Ultra Street Fighter 4 has sixteen different costumes for Sakura alone, so maybe I don’t have to see her default fuku every time she pops into the ring.

WeeeeeThis may all seem cosmetic (if you’re going to fight Ken every time, what does it matter if Ken is first every time?), but it does a lot for our stupid monkey brains. When you’re fighting random fighters in random outfits, even if it’s the twelve billionth time you’ve trounced Juri, it still feels new and exciting when she randomly pops up after Balrog dressed like a cat. Meanwhile, when you always know that Character X is going to be in X position, the single player mode quickly becomes a chore, and you’re simply pummeling Sagat because you know you’re ‘supposed ta. An arcade mode should be fun, and part of that fun is including some variability.

And speaking of being tricked into having fun…

An Arcade Mode Needs Forward Momentum

Next time you’re watching a random procedural on television, take note of how often the characters simply sit down to talk, or have conversations over the phone while sitting around like normal people. Take that number, and compare it to how often protagonists walk and talk, or discuss a case while gliding down a hallway, or even while in a car, dashing to the newest crime scene. You will quickly notice that, while the characters might just be lamely recounting the plot or inching toward a conclusion the audience already discovered three commercial breaks back, there is a lot of movement involved, because that creates the illusion of forward momentum. And we need forward momentum! If two detectives are just chilling at a diner talking about murders over a side of gravy fries, it tells the audience that the heroes are in no rush, there are no stakes, and if they don’t care, why should you?

OwieAn arcade mode must serve that same master. During a tournament, it’s perfectly fine to watch every fight take place in front of that stupid practice background, but that isn’t going to cut it in arcade mode. You need to believe that Ibuki, a penniless teenager from a secret village of likely destitute ninja (there just isn’t a lot of call for ninja in today’s job market), is bounding from Africa to America to Asia exclusively so she can mix it up with Chun-Li for a minute and a half. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and yes, it certainly adds to the load times, but it provides that special feeling that progress is being made, and that a journey is taking place. The simple fact that Zangief got out of his own bear-wrestling comfort zone is a story all its own, and it’s one worth telling.

And speaking of stories…

An Arcade Mode Needs a Story like a Bunny Needs a Car

Bunnies do not need cars. Bunnies do not know how to drive cars.

Dem buns

But it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is adorable when a bunny drives a little bunny-sized car.

In much the same way, a “story mode” is no more an “arcade mode” than a driving bunny is somehow your new chauffeur. Do not conflate “story” with “arcade”. An arcade mode can absolutely be about discovering the final fate of Balrog, but it’s also a fun way to demo a new fighter. A story mode might provide all the story content you could ever desire, but, practically by definition, it’s going to require playing as some characters that aren’t Ken. And that’s rough! If you’re trying to get a real feel for Guile, and Guile isn’t featured in story mode even once, then what the heck was the point?

Once again, an arcade mode can have a story, and it can have rivals, and it certainly should have some kind of ending (see the previous bullet point), but it doesn’t require any of that. Those who need a story should look elsewhere, possibly somewhere someone cares about friggen’ Urien.

But speaking of caring about half-naked, super powered monsters…

An Arcade Mode Needs Difficulty Escalation

Sticks and stonesIn the old days, we had bosses, who were not balanced in the player’s favor at all, and could occasionally climb the background itself to gain another unfair advantage. Nowadays, we have escalating AI, so your first bout might be a perfect, but the fourth is going to be a nail biter. And, through it all, we’ve had difficulty sliders, so you could choose your own adventure and climb the ranks with the help of a star or two. What’s important through it all is that you could watch your own skills escalate, and confront challenges as they appeared. A “hard” version of story mode won’t help in that department, and any sort of intensification in survival mode is certainly not going to scratch that itch. Why? Because the continue button is essential to climbing difficulty.

Look, we all get knocked down. We all lose matches. Even the greatest fighter in the world loses a match every once in a while, even if it’s just because he was distracted and worried about his carrier pigeons back home. And a difficulty escalation is only going to exacerbate that eventuality. Sagat is more difficult than Blanka, and you’re a lot more likely to lose to the cyclops than the beast man. That’s basic math. But an arcade mode allows you to continue, allows you to try again, and doesn’t irrevocably punish you for trying to box outside your weight class. You can get back up, find a path to victory, and, most importantly, actually achieve something in an arcade mode. Victory is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly more likely when a difficulty increase is a speed bump and not a road block.

And when you can actually succeed, you have fun.

And that’s what an arcade mode needs most of all.

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

  • System: We’re looking at all Street Fighter 4s here, so arcade, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 for the initial release, but PC, mobile devices, Playstation 4, and Xbox One by the end of its tenure. And I think the 3DS version counts, too.
  • Number of players: Streets are fought in pairs.
  • Eat itVersion Differences: Vanilla Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 2-2. Super Street Fighter 4 includes a few alpha and 3 buddies, and introduces the oily guy and the spider lady. Arcade Edition includes four new Ryus, and Ultra Street Fighter 4 borrowed the extra fighters from Street Fighter X Tekken. Ultra was used for this review, because I prefer to pick my Poison.
  • Favorite Character: Sakura is always there for me, but in the interest of choosing someone interesting, I’ll say Gouken. He’s… like… “broken Ryu”, and I’ll never forget the first time I activated his hurricane kick and flew into the sky. Such a majestic flying old man.
  • Favorite Featured New Character: Gouken doesn’t count? Of the new fighters, I’ll take Juri, as her kicking style is pretty interesting. Rufus is second runner up there, as he’s entirely the right kind of goofy, but I’ve never quite mastered his moves. And El Fuerte…. sucks.
  • Favorite Arcade Mode Ending: Poison starts a KISS-esque rock band of Metro City alums and Ryu/Ken. What fever dream produced that insanity?
  • Did you know? Akuma is the worst assassin ever. As of Street Fighter 3 (which was released before 4, but takes place later in the timeline), Akuma had supposedly killed his brother and Ryu’s master, Gouken (making him the Uncle Ben of the series), M. Bison (at the end of SF2), and Gen (an old man looking for a noble death in Alpha). When Street Fighter 4 kicked off, all three “kills” were back and ready to brawl. That is simply insulting! As of Street Fighter 5, it’s implied Akuma has killed Gen again… but we’ll see if that sticks.
  • Would I play again: Oh, I spent so much time talking about arcade modes that I forgot to really talk about the game. I like it! I like it a lot! Street Fighter 4 is pretty fun, ya’all.

What’s next? Our first post of 2018 is going to review 2017! Let us look to the past as we move forward to the future! Or something! Please look forward to looking back!

OH MY CAR

FGC #361 Psychic Force 2012

LETS GET PSYCHICSource of gamer shame #3,191: being unaware of some crappy franchise that is obviously crappy, but you should have cared about it back in the day.

Psychic Force 2012 is a fighting game. There are a dozen or so fighters, they all have their own special moves and motivations (“I’ve got to find and/or kill my sister! Still debating!”), and everybody gets a cinematic “story mode” that allows for some angst and hijinks. However, unlike the Tekkens or Street Fighters of the day, PF2012 leans heavily into the gameplay we’d see again in the PS2 Dragonball Z games. Both fighters are contained to a large, boxy arena, and everyone is allowed to fly around and shoot fireballs to their heart’s content. Combos are generally simple punch-kick-punch affairs, and a lot of strategy relies on properly charging your “psychic meter” for gigantic psychic attacks. This fighting game ain’t exactly a cerebral playground, but it’s slightly more tactical than Streets of Rage.

And I didn’t play the game until about 2015, when I picked up the 1999 Dreamcast title on a lark while mocking the concept of “the future of 2012”. Ha ha! Silly game designers of the late 20th Century, why did you think we’d have psychic powers inside of a decade? Everybody knows we have to spend all our time inventing super fighting robots for everlasting peace!

But I quickly learned the kicker of Psychic Force 2012: this is a game I would have loved in 1999.

Gonna fightI am a nerd, and I have always been a nerd. I was weaned on Voltron, and I grew up on Transformers. I remember the first time I played Super Mario Bros. more vividly than my first kiss. I’m never going to admit that I may have been mentally running through Super Metroid during one of my first sexual encounters (there were circumstances!). 1999 may have technically been one of the least nerdy years of my life (mainly because I let my Nintendo Power subscription lapse), but I was still watching a bootleg version of Princess Mononoke with my significant other (side note: it was the Japanese dub, but with Chinese subtitles. There was no way to understand anything). I might have been trying my best to be cool at the time (this involved joining drama club… oh man I think I might have been even nerdier than I thought), but I still knew damn well what I liked. I still played Soulcalibur until my Dreamcast self-destructed, and I still secretly watched Pokémon every morning because when is Ash finally gonna catch ‘em all!? I was a sucker for my geeky interests, always have been and always will be, and 1999 was just another year where that was accurate.

And Psychic Force 2012? PF2012 is anime as hell.

Look at those characters! Look at those archetypes! The icy cop! The spiky haired protagonist! The walking school uniform with a short skirt despite flight being involved! The person of color that has somehow been transformed into a living gun! It’s all anime from the very start, and it continues to be anime through every moment. Characters blab on about missing siblings and departed masters. There’s an evil megacorp that wants to use magical powers for dirty reasons. I’m pretty sure the hero winds up with a harem by the end (this is a lie). And this isn’t some “abstract” anime like Kendo Rage or other older, more conceptual games. The graphics here are on point, and it’s likely as close as a Teenage Goggle Bob was ever going to get to playing a “real life” Dragon Ball game.

So animeBut Teenage Goggle Bob did not play Psychic Force 2012. Somehow, Psychic Force 2012 completely flew off the radar. And we can’t blame the Dreamcast exclusively for this one, either, as Psychic Force 1 and Psychic Force 2 were both available on the Playstation. They were probably sitting on the rental shelf right next to Monster Rancher, but, no, they were utterly ignored. Maybe I missed seeing it, maybe I thought the protagonist’s hair was too spiky, maybe it was just a matter of Microplay never wound up stocking a game with such a generic title. Whatever the case, Psychic Force was never on my radar, and, thus, it was never played when it could have been relevant.

And it’s not just about the anime. Maybe I’m getting nostalgic for a time that was practically nonexistent from the start. Fighting games were initially huge in the arcades, and, if you lived in an area with a good number of coin-options, you could be pummeled by all sorts of interesting people. Then, the arcades began to wither and die at the advent of consoles that could actually render a proper jab, and all the fighting games moved home. And, for a period that could not have been longer than two years, those fighting games led to fun times on the couch with friends. SoulCalibur, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter 3… it was all over by about the time Capcom was fighting SNK, but man was it fun to piledrive each other for days with a spinning Russian man. Soon enough, clicking plastic guitars (of all things) would be dominating the living room, and local battles would give way to online matchups that guaranteed no one ever had to go outside again. Yes, I realize I’m selfishly attributing some global fighting game domination to my late high school/early college years, a time when I had very little responsibility and a lot of free time, but, dammit, this is my website, and I’m going to imagine the past how I want!

WeeeeeSo I’m sorry I never hooked up with Psychic Force 2012. It’s not a great game, and playing it today is like licking a fire poker (ill-advised), but it certainly could have found a place in my life back at the turn of the millennium. We needed a breather from SoulCalibur once in a while, right? Psychic Force 2012 could have been that anime game we’d all be anxious to play right after the latest Cowboy Bebop.

Sorry, Psychic Force 2012. You never got a fair shake.

FGC #361 Psychic Force 2012

  • System: Sega Dreamcast. This game is also basically the same, give or take, as Psychic Force 2 for the Playstation.
  • Number of players: Is fighting game.
  • What’s in a name: The original Psychic Force takes place in the distant future of 2010 AD. The sequel takes place two years later, so I suppose that’s how we got the odd (still even) year/title of 2012. This bit of dating was dropped for the Playstation version, because 2012 had become just that much closer.
  • Favorite fighter: This cast is anime as hell… and also pretty damn shallow. Maybe it’s because I found the game as an adult, but these archetypes really aren’t doing it for me. Let’s go with Genshin Kenjoh, the rare anime old man that isn’t perving on all the women at all times.
  • ChillyWatch and Learn: Like many fighting games of the era, there is a “watch” mode that allows you to sit back and check out an exhibition between computer opponents. If you set the AI down to the lowest level, however, there are good odds both combatants will never, ever throw a punch. This is not very exciting!
  • Did you know? Patty is wearing a typical anime schoolgirl uniform, but her skirt is coded like shorts. This means you never get a “panty shot”, as, despite all the flying around, the skirt sticks to her legs. This is amazing! We had the technology in 1999, and we lost it! Modesty could return!
  • Would I play again: If it were 2000 or so, yes. In a post-2012 world, though, we’re done. Sorry again, Psychic Force.

What’s next? Random ROB…. Is taking a backseat to a recent release. Kinda. I never got over Breath of the Wild, so we’re going to review the recently released DLC chapter. Please look forward to it!

FGC #360 Monster Rancher

You never know when some particular piece of media will strike you. Monster Rancher might be the most personal game I own.

Let’s start with the facts: I played Monster Rancher a lot. How much is a lot? Well there are these stats:

Double Winner!

720 Wins! And add that to the slight fact that that screencap was taken in the Monster Rancher year of 1062. The game starts in 1000. My player avatar has been a monster rancher for 62 years! Holly, the ever-present assistant monster rancher, should be in a retirement home! I can’t even remember my first monster!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the basics: Monster Rancher is a Playstation 1 game that was released in 1997. To be clear on the timeline here, that would put MR’s release a solid year before Pokémon Red/Blue hit the states in 1998. And the comparisons between Monster Rancher and Pokémon are appropriate. They’re both games about loving and raising unusual creatures, and then forcing them to fight for your amusement/money. The big difference here, though, is that Pokémon started with 151 fairly unique creatures (electrode and voltorb are objectively similar), while Monster Rancher mostly relied on less than a dozen “types”, and mixed and matched their attributes in a couple hundred different ways. Tiger plus Eyeball = Hairy Eyeball isn’t exactly as original as a Jigglypuff, but it still leads to a larger bestiary. And where do you find these fantastic beasts? In Pokémon, they’re hiding in tall grass, but Monster Rancher was a little bit different. Monster Rancher concealed all of its monsters in much more mundane locations…

Eye of the Tiger!Let’s rewind even further in this inevitably autobiographical article. I was a gigantic videogame nerd as a child, but music wasn’t really my thing. Or, to be more precise, I simply happily listened to my parents’ oldies stations, and I was fairly convinced The Beatles and The Traveling Wilburys were the be-all end-all of harmony. This belief had a brief hiccup in about fifth grade, when I discovered “Weird” Al Yankovic and proceeded to demand his every last tape. So, while I wound up with Amish Paradise, I passed on every last Gangsta’s Paradise or practically anything else that was supposed to be interesting to my generation. Yes, this means I missed Nirvana. But I had Bomberman to keep me company, so I didn’t much mind. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I started to listen to my own music.

And then the floodgates were open.

Ignoring a few “comedy albums” (technically, my first CD ever was a Simpsons soundtrack… I regret nothing), I still remember buying my first three “real” CDs: Squirrel Nut Zippers – Hot, Ben Folds Five – Whatever and Ever Amen, and Jethro Tull – Greatest Hits. My tastes are very… eclectic. From there on, I started collecting albums like I collected videogames. In fact, since this was a time when Playstation titles were at an all-time low ($40 brand new across the board), buying a new CD of any kind, game or music, was roughly the same financial decision. And, given this was also the first time in my life I had a disposable income (welcome to teenage employment!), I quickly amassed a glut of CDs of all shapes and sizes (okay, they were all the same shape and size, but their covers were different!). Now who wants to listen to the Barenaked Ladies discography and play Mega Man X4?

Don't look directly at itSo enter Monster Rancher. At first, MR appeared to be another random monster raising game. Yes, we all knew about incoming Pokémon at this point. Yes, I’m pretty sure we were all at least dimly aware of Digimon, too. All the ‘mon games were on the cusp of global dominance, but before all of those, we had Tamagotchi, the insidious little “virtual pets” that were crying and (virtual) pooping “augmented reality” experiences before the term even existed. For anyone that missed that trend, we’re talking about electronic babies. You had to care for them at all times, react to their insistent beeping, and, if you were a good little monster parent, you wound up with a twenty pixel dragon or something. As if you can’t tell from my present level of disdain, I loathed the little (wannabe) monsters, and, as a result, even the likes of Pokémon sounded like some lame cash-in on the monster-raising fad. I eventually played Monster Rancher, not because I wanted some of that cool, monster ranching action, but because I wanted to rent a videogame, and literally nothing else available looked like any fun. Congrats, Monster Rancher, you were the absolute last choice.

But to say that “last choice” worked out well is something of an understatement. The main hook of Monster Rancher? Stick any CD in that Playstation slot, from Butthole Surfers to William Shatner Sings the Hits, and you’ll get a brand new monster. Your favorite album might create a winged dinosaur, or that demo that came with your CD wallet could produce a hulking golem. The CDs are seemingly randomized, but they’re consistent, so if you find a monster you like, keep that disc handy for breeding later. And some discs are decidedly less random, which would explain why I bought a Madonna album exclusively for its unique Pixie. Yes, in an age a solid decade before DLC, Monster Rancher found a way to get its dedicated fans to go out and buy Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits for some inexplicable reason.

When I first discovered the hook of Monster Rancher, I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually play the “game” for a week. I had collected my CDs in real life, and now here was a virtual world rewarding me for such hoarding. I was on cloud nine. What’s more, I was spending all my time on that cloud scanning every last disc I owned. When that ended, I went through my dad’s entire CD collection. By the time that had ended, I’d already bought the game (and a Van Halen album that contained another unique Pixie), and started monster ranching in earnest.

That’s about when the OCD really kicked in.

MURDERYou can summon monsters from real world CDs, but some CDs are “locked”. While you can acquire an absolutely rocking naga from any old disc, some of the more unique monsters, like dragons, magicians, and giant robots, may only be summoned if you’ve “earned” that species in the game proper. So, yes, Billy Joel can provide a unique ape, but you have to earn the right by careful monster rearing, battling, and some good ol’ fashioned luck on expeditions. This infuriated me. Here I was, entitled to some awesome monsters for deigning to own Tecmo’s Deception, but, no, I can’t have the little biters, because I haven’t played the game enough. I’ll show ‘em! I’ll show ‘em all! I’ll earn every last monster in this stupid game, and then I’ll finally have a completed personal bestiary. It’s not about catchin’ ‘em all, it’s about knowing that every last disc I own is equally accountable.

And then I played the game for 62 years.

Did I enjoy every minute of it? Of course not, this is a ranching sim, so a healthy amount of Monster Rancher is just navigating menus and killing time. Battles are long and tedious, and, while they’re not entirely unpleasant, they do involve a lot of time invested before potentially losing everything (you could easily win six matches, take an unlucky crit in the seventh, and literally watch your monster die as a result). Expeditions are a necessary part of unlocking any interesting monsters, but, even with perfect stats, they’re little more than reskinned slot machines. And, in general, the dialogue is perfunctory and randomly accusatory (I’m spoiling the monster? Really? He only gets fed once a month!”). Monster Rancher unquestionably has its good points, but the minute-to-minute of the experience is sorely lacking.

I was a teenagerBut that didn’t matter. To this day, Monster Rancher is still one of my favorite games, unmatched by even its sequels. It was, for all purposes, a particular moment in time, crystallized in a videogame. By just a few years (maybe even months) later, I’d be hording MP3s, and buying entire albums would become a part of grandpa’s generation. New Playstation titles would rise in price, and, for a little while (poor college days), I’d barely buy a new game at all. Had Monster Rancher dropped just a half year later, it would have been a random rental I’d forget about forever. But, no, Monster Rancher was there just when I needed to indulge my ridiculous collector tendencies, and it became as synonymous with my teenage years as my first girlfriend (who, incidentally, got a monster named after her in my save).

Monster Rancher might not have been the best game, but it is one of the best games to me.

FGC #360 Monster Rancher

  • System: Playstation 1. Given the central gimmick, I’d say this one is nigh impossible to emulate/port without bringing the rest of the late 90’s with it.
  • Number of Players: Two! And you can import a buddy’s monsters for battles, too! I… I never found another human being that owned this game.
  • Speaking of Discs: You can play this game on the Playstation 3, but I did not test if the central CD summoning mechanic still worked. I don’t want to push my poor backwards compatible Playstation 3 disc reader any further than I already have. I need that thing for LPs!
  • Favorite Breed: Pixies were always my favorite as a teenager, as I was a teenager, and a half naked lady monster is naturally going to seem appealing. As an adult (and when I actually wanted to beat the game), I usually went with the humble golem or magic. To be clear, there’s a monster that is just named “magic”. It kinda looks like Michael Jordan. This is a weird game.
  • It’s good to have fans: There’s a popularity gauge for your monster in this game, and filling it can lead to some excellent fan mail.

    Winner!

    I am great!

  • Did you know? For whatever reason, all monsters are assumed to be male, so male pronouns are used universally. This is very odd for the clearly female pixie breed. “It” should be allowed when you’re talking about a creature that eats raw meat off the ground.
  • Would I play again: I love this game. I love it more than I’ve loved some other particularly dear inanimate objects. But I’m probably never going to play it again, because it is very much a product of its time. We’ll always have the memories…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Psychic Force 2012! Journey to the marvelous future of 2012, and join the Psychic Force! Or fight them! Please look forward to it!

Don't you look at me
We do not talk about Doodle in polite company