Things I like about Metal Slug 3:
The word “Slug” repeated over and over again!
Cool Vehicles (slugs)!
Shoot ‘em Up levels!
Things I like about Metal Slug 3:
The word “Slug” repeated over and over again!
Cool Vehicles (slugs)!
Shoot ‘em Up levels!
Nintendo’s worst videogame system proves one simple truth: you can be yourself, or you can be something else, but you can’t be both.
The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s third console system. The Nintendo Entertainment System was synonymous with videogames, brought the entire industry back from the brink, and managed to turn Nintendo into an uncontested juggernaut of the industry. The Super Nintendo had to deal with the upstart Sega Genesis, but it was still home to some of the best games of the era, and a number of releases that, even to this day, unequivocally are the greatest hits of the medium. The Nintendo 64, though… the N64 got problems. It started with a rocky, anemic launch. It bled third-party support almost instantly. It never hosted a worthwhile JRPG when that genre defined the epoch. Its final first-party game was a scaled-up Gameboy title (I’ll save you some googling, it was Dr. Mario). There were some great games for the N64, but Ocarina of Time had to share shelf space with Turok: Rage Wars. The N64 made it hard to be a Nintendo fan.
But let’s take a step back and consider what being a “Nintendo fan” really meant at the time. We take it for granted nowadays, but the very concept of a “console war” didn’t seem to exist before the 16-bit era. The Atari didn’t seem to have any significant competitors, and the NES was videogames for the 80s. It wasn’t until the Sega Genesis decided it needed a chunk of that market share that the flames of “us vs. them” had to be fanned. Did you ever read Nintendo Power from that time? Or Sega Visions? What were already basically propaganda magazines decided to go all in on the most important battle of our time (hedgehogs vs. plumbers), and every other month you’d get new information on how blast processing isn’t even a real thing, riding a dinosaur is for babies, or the essential truth that so much as demoing a second videogame console is infidelity of the highest order. You cannot serve two masters, little gamer, and you should inflict this vital fact upon everyone on the playground.
So, by the time we hit the Playstation vs. N64 years, don’t worry, Nintendo Power, we got this. We know those vipers at Sony are trying to eat our lunch again with their Final Fantasies and Mega Mans and other franchises we used to enjoy on Nintendo systems, and we’ll defend you! We’re forever in debt to the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule, and Castlevania. Wait… they got a new Castlevania? And the N64 just has some dork with a chainsaw? Dude. Dude. Look, guys, I’ll keep playing Pokémon, but, uh, I gotta get going. Tekken is waiting, and it’s got a panda fighting a dinosaur.
And Nintendo noticed. Before the N64 was even released, it became clear that CD based systems were finally going to be the wave of the future (after a rocky bump in the road compliments of INXS), and the cartridge was to quickly go the way of Caveman Games. But Nintendo didn’t like the looks of load times, so we were forced to read the phrase “expensive cartridges” for the next five years. And then the Nintendo 64 launched with dopey Mario and frivolous Pilotwings. Wrong! We needed more big boy games for big boys, so we quickly received Cruisin’ USA, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and Killer Instinct. Ah, yes, that’s the stuff. Mature games for a mature gaming community. And 2-D games are out of style, so we need all 3-D, all the time. It worked for Mario, so how about we get Donkey Kong into the 3rd dimension. And keep churning out those violent fighting games and grown-up shooters. It’s what the people want!
It’s clear what happened here: Nintendo had a solid vision for the future of their console… and then “course corrected” to please the masses ten minutes before the system even launched. The controller with camera buttons and an analog stick wound up chasing the system that could be operated with one hand (say what you will about JRPGs, but they only require all of two buttons), and all those polygons decided to stumble over full motion video instead. What developers remained on the N64 were scrambling to match the cinematic experiences available on the Playstation, and the whole library became a mess of neither fish nor fowl nonsense. Look, I love Jet Force Gemini as much as the next guy, but you have to admit that, even that late in the N64’s lifespan, it comes off as pretty patchwork.
Which is a shame, because first party Nintendo games that followed the “Nintendo way” from the start are pretty amazing. Mario 64 feels like a natural progression of the franchise, and Ocarina of Time is right there with it. Mario Kart 64 refined (SNES) Mario Kart into solid gold, and Star Fox 64 truly used the new technology to turn a bunch of random shapes into a thrilling story of fox versus wolf. And Donkey Kong 64 isn’t responsible for any homicides (as far as we know)! And then we’ve got Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Kirby 64 is a 2-D platforming game not unlike many other Kirby adventures. It’s (incredibly disappointingly) much slower and less frantic than Kirby Super Star, but it is right about at normal Dreamland speed. Basically, if you liked any Kirby game featuring helpful hamsters, this adventure is about what you’d expect. There are doodads to acquire (a staple of both the N64 and slower Kirby titles), but, by and large, this is a very straightforward platformer. Move from left to right, occasionally climb a ladder, and have a ball utilizing Kirby’s eclectic moveset. Maybe you’ll eat a hedgehog? That’ll show those Sega dorks.
And, side note? This game is beautiful.
Okay, granted, it’s Playstation/N64 style beautiful, but it is still beautiful nonetheless. The pastels of Pop Star really pop, and everything moves just right. In spite of Kirby’s N64 Smash model, Kirby is actually spherical, and not a pile of edged polygons. Special effects from special powers may seem basic, but in the same manner that a Kirby Krackle can sell a comic book (uhhh… different Kirby), Kirby makes self-immolation look perfect across every system. Everything combines wonderfully, and, without a doubt, this is a game that is undeniably a gorgeous experience.
And this stands in stark contrast to every other N64 game.
N64 games are terrible looking. They contain some of the worst draw distances and fog warnings outside of H.P. Lovecraft. Their protagonists almost always look like they were carved out of some particularly unpleasant rocks by a partially blind sculptor (who maybe is missing a few fingers). Nobody ever moves right. Let’s face it, Majora’s Mask was a success because it identified that every last character populating N64 Hyrule was horrifying. And this happened to third and first party games alike: in an effort to ape the most popular games of the day, polygons and Vaseline were smeared everywhere, and suddenly our greatest heroes started resembling Tobor: The Refrigerator That Walks Like a Man.
But here’s Kirby, just doing the thing he’s always done. There is no attempt to force 3-D gameplay. There is no byzantine story mode. There is no desire to go full angry eyes. It’s just Kirby, a character that premiered on a system without so much as the possibility of color, scaled up to modern technology. It’s fun. It’s pretty. And it’s one of the best games on the N64.
And game reviewers of the time derided the game for being “too kiddy” and “a throwback”. One of the best games on the system, but “too easy”. It generally got great scores, but the expression “no Goldeneye” was thrown around a bit.
So… uh… I guess maybe don’t be yourself? Let’s stick to the blocky bitmaps. Gotta be popular.
FGC #351 Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bloody Roar 3 for the Playstation 2! Roar! And… Blood! Please look forward to it!
So here’s why Mario games are good.
Today’s game is Super Mario Galaxy 2, the final part of the Super Mario Galaxy duology. While some endlessly debate whether Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the better game (and I will remind you that SMG2 contains Yoshi), it is perhaps better to look at Super Mario Galaxy as one solid piece, accidentally fragmented into two sections. Let’s face it, SMG was released on the cusp of Nintendo learning how to add expansions to games (see the eventual joys of Smash Bros, Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart), and, should SMG have initially been released on the WiiU, we likely would have seen new planets until the release of the Switch. But, for now, the two games are separate but equal, with slight differences between the two, and an aggravating need to switch discs when you have to choose between riding a dolphin or a vulture.
But the reason the difference between the two games is insignificant is because both titles are amazing. Super Mario Galaxy is easily the apex of the Mario franchise (note for future readers: this article was published before the release of Mario Odyssey, or any other inevitable future endeavors, like Mario… Omniverse?), and the sheer volume of creativity and care on display in these games is astronomical. Yes, there are a few misses bouncing around the title (mostly experiments involving motion controls), and it would be nice to be able to play this Mario game with a “real” controller, but, by and large Mario Galaxy & Mario Galaxy 2 are perfect Mario games.
But why are they perfect? What is it about blasting around Mario’s Galaxy that makes these games so much fun? Is it the gravity? The enemies? The Bowser fights? (No, it’s never that.)
I’ve got a theory for Mario games (and nearly all action/platforming games), and it’s called “The Joy of Movement”. What makes a great Mario game? It’s whether or not you actually enjoy moving around.
At first blush, this seems abundantly obvious. After all, sloppy controls are often the death knell for poorly received games. Amagon probably would be a passable adventure if it were at all possible for the hero to actually deal with the encroaching threats of Everything-Kills-You Island. And while even games with terrible controls may occasionally succeed (looking at you, Grand Theft Auto), they usually nail at least one thing completely perfectly (like using rocket launchers on pedestrians). But for successful franchises, it’s obvious that enjoying actually moving your digital avatar is the most important thing. Sonic the Hedgehog is the poster child for this phenomenon (and the recent Sonic Mania being essentially Sonic & Knuckles 4 and being wildly successful cannot be a coincidence), but Mega Man also slots in perfectly here, too. Mega Man might not have 360° aiming or the ability to bend his robo-knees, but he’s perfectly suited to his world, and there’s joy to be had in flawlessly stomping over the corpse of a robot monkey on your way to barbecuing a wooden man. The joy of movement is real, and you’ve subconsciously experienced it practically every time you’ve played a worthwhile videogame.
And Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2? Here is the apex of joy of movement.
It’s initially very simple: Mario just plain controls well. You’ve got analogue walking/running, you’ve got the triple jump, and you can even hold a button to crawl along. Start combining some of these commands, and you’ve got the inimitable long jump and backflip. Go a little further, and you’ve got Mario exploring weird little planets with their weird little gravities, but still “moving” exactly the same. And intuitively, too! Leaping from one planetoid to another always “feels right”, and switching gravities is as natural as stomping on goombas. And speaking of feelings, the aggressive spin attack or the frantic spin jump both feel wonderful when you use the technique to survive an incoming chomp or avoid a crushing black hole.
But the powerups… now that’s where things get crazy. Bee Mario buzzes along and crawls exactly how anyone who has ever been outside would expect (though, granted, not every Mario fan has been outside recently). Boo Mario’s spectral floating feels fittingly weightless. Rock ‘n roll Mario moves with all the heft of a boulder, and no one bats an eye when inertia causes that Mario to go meteor. Running around at full tilt with an invincibility star is always cool, and fire flowers exploit a player’s desire to shake that wiimote and vaporize everything on six planets. Cloud Mario is likely the best thing to ever happen to the franchise, as generating your own platform with a panicked spin is something Mario has needed since he first dropped into that hole in World 1-1. Spring Mario can be a blast… you just have to think like a kangaroo. Or maybe an injured bird? Frog? I think frogs hop a lot.
Even Yoshi gets into the act. Tongue twisting across platforms is an innate delight, and swallowing every troopa in a ten mile radius is literally the reason these Yoshis were born. And Yoshi gets his own powerups! Balloon fetishists delight at a round and floating Yoshi. And the dash pepper leads to new and exciting challenges of the Turbo Tunnel variety, but with the important caveat of not being terrible. And, whether you’re riding a dinosaur or literally skating around a frozen planet, it’s all completely instinctive and… fun.
And that’s the joy of movement, the joy of a good Mario adventure. Every trot, every jump, every powerup just feels good, and that’s what keeps the player running towards 242 stars. Every obstacle course is masterfully crafted with Mario’s skills in mind, and every powerup is utilized in unique and electrifying ways to surmount new challenges.
When it feels good to just move, that’s when you’re playing a wonderful videogame.
FGC #331 Super Mario Galaxy 2
Hey, Rosalina, get out of the shot! You’re ruining my bullet point.
What’s next? Random ROB… better shut his trap, because I feel like playing Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. That’s just the way it is, robot. Please look forward to it!
Behold the agony that is caring for something.
I’ve always loved Dragon Ball Z. It was “precious anime” in a time when the only alternative available on a weekly basis was Sailor Moon (which I also loved… but it was for girls… right?), and, even as Pokémon blew the doors off the import market, I always followed Dragon Ball Z. Why do I like it? Because… I have no idea why. I suppose it’s the same reason I follow comic books: I like the characters, and, even though I know in my heart that there is absolutely no tension (do you think Goku is going to power up just in time to stop this overwhelming force?), I just… I just want to see how Krillin is doing, you know? Akira Toriyama designs some interesting/shallow characters (and I’ve got the tattoo to prove it), and, yes, I feel like I would like to know exactly how that android became a park ranger. Even when the plots spiral completely out of control (did… did everyone on Earth just die? Again?) and four characters combine into two characters and then one guy eats the other one and… Oh, never mind, you’ve seen the show, right? It’s DBZ. It’s crazy. Maybe that’s all it needs to be.
And, given the sheer scope of Dragon Ball Z, it’s easy for the average fan to get… shall we say “caught up” in the fiction. Goku’s battles may be technically straightforward, but there are also 291 episodes involving the minutiae of power levels, multiple warring factions, varying galactic civilizations, and an ever-present need to account for the four star dragon ball at all times. You could teach an entire class on the various forms of the average saiyan, and follow it up with a lecture on the socio-politico ramifications of the universal rule of Frieza. And is Vegeta the greatest hero ever, or just a huge asshole? Does deliberately exploding in the name of good absolve you of your sins of committing galactic genocides? And that’s all before you even get into the auxiliary materials, like trying to wedge the movies into a proper timeline, or debating whether or not GT is at all canon until the heat death of the universe (which may be caused by Goku). And the kick of it is that, until the fairly recent release of Dragon Ball Super, the DBZ series was done by the time it hit our shores. Even GT was pretty much out the door by the time we were fooling around with the Playstation, so this wasn’t even a “living” franchise, it was just nerds debating the particulars of a series that seemed to already bore its very creator.
It was likely this “Dragon Ball is dead” problem that led to a complete lack of decent DBZ games on our shores. Goku made his way to a number of systems in Japan, but, over on this side of the Pacific, all we had up through the Playstation was one Dragon Ball GT game that was… confusing. Released before the Frieza Saga had completed over here, attempting to decipher why Vegeta was now a monkey, a different color, and also known as “Baby” was… a little confusing. And that was before you even got to that chirping pink dude named Buu. Likely due to said confusion, Dragonball GT for the Playstation 1 didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and became a rare “forgotten gem” of the system. Or maybe it was only a gem for anyone that didn’t actually play the game, because it kinda sucked.
But we finally got a “real” Dragon Ball Z game in 2002, Dragon Ball Z Budokai. And it was good! Well… that might be a stretch… It was passable! It was not bad! Or it was not bad enough that I particularly noticed how bad it was! Hooray! Look, it was exactly what we wanted for years: an opportunity to play through the story of Dragon Ball Z with all our favorite characters, and then, when that got boring, an opportunity to see Cell fight Frieza and then kill Yamcha. It was canon and dream match all in one, and, while the gameplay wasn’t all the exciting, it was what it needed to be. You could fight as any one of many Gokus, and then conquer the universe through the amazing power of blondeness. And there was a vaguely JRPG-esque equipment system, too, so you could pretend like numbers go up was the point. Something for everyone!
So, naturally, DBZB got a sequel… and then another sequel… and then a whole new “rebooted” franchise with a new developer… and that got a sequel… and then we made it all the way to Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3. This would be 2007, and, if you’re paying attention (and I’m making sense), that means we had six Dragon Ball Z games in five years. From famine to feast! And, unfortunately, while some could likely tell you the exact differences between each title, to an outsider, this was basically five years of releasing new revisions for Street Fighter 2. Just replace Dee Jay with Android 8, and you have the basic idea. Yes, there was that “reboot” in there, but this was still the same characters and same plots and same “just keep hitting punch” gameplay, and, let’s be honest, DBZ was never Ibsen. Throw in all the what-if stories you want, it’s still just dudes punching each other until Goku shows up to really punch everybody.
As one might expect, I was kind of burned out by the release of DBZBT3. If memory serves, I didn’t even buy this game when it was remotely new, and simply fished it out of a clearance aisle somewhere in my travels. After years of other shallow DBZ games, I’m pretty sure I gave it a precursory play, enjoyed a few versus matches with the AI, and gave it up forever. I’m almost certain I didn’t play the game with another human even once, which, for a DBZ fighting game, is fairly damning. Sure, this title has more characters than any fighting game ever, but they’re all the same. And when you’ve got “Unnamed Frieza Henchman” on the roster, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel (a barrel that, incidentally, once contained giant monkeys).
So when ROB rolled this game, I figured I’d just play a few rounds, write a few thousand words on silly DBZ facts, and go grab some ramen (DBZ has a tendency to make me hungry). And the plan was moving along swimmingly until I decided to check the Gamefaqs “cheats” page. May as well see if I’m missing anything, right? Well, considering I had unlocked nothing in this game previously, I stared at the list of the characters I could be using if I just put in a little more effort. General Blue of Dragon Ball! The Pilaf Machine! Evil King Piccolo! Vegeta’s dad from the planet Vegeta who is also named King Vegeta! Spike the Devil Man! All I have to do is put in a little effort, and I too could be playing as Spopovich (you know, that one muscular bald guy? Not Nappa)!
But… I know it’s a lie. I know that I’m not going to play this game again, and any “achievements” would retreat as soon as I removed that disc from my Playstation 3. I know there is inevitably going to be a better, more improved DBZ game in short order (note: I am not talking about any particular game at this moment, but they keep happening). And, most of all, I know that I’m not going to play this game with anyone else, so these unlocked characters are exclusively for my own masturbatory enjoyment. And it wouldn’t even be for that much satisfaction! All of these characters play practically the same, and, while I acknowledge there are differences and “unusual properties” involved in the creation of these fighters, I’m certainly not going to put in the time to learn the intricacies of 98 characters in 161 forms. I wasn’t going to do that when this was the latest n a deluge of DBZ games, and I’m not going to do it now that it’s a decade later and outdated as hfil.
But the drive is still there. There are fighters to unlock… and I want to unlock them. I need to unlock them. I’m a Dragon Ball Z fan! How could I turn down the chance to play as every stupid version of that stupid monkey man that won’t stop endangering all of his stupid offspring? How can I still call myself a man after ignoring the cast of OG Dragon Ball in favor of that spiky dragon from GT? What kind of monster have I become that I won’t unlock the Ox Princess!?
Spoilers: I narrowly resisted wasting any more time with this franchise. And, in my heart of hearts, I know that’s only because there are some other games I want to play right now. Heck, I’d argue that the “three a week” format of the FGC is there entirely because… Well, because of this game. Sorry, Mercenary Tao in Cyborg Form, I’ve got places to be, no time to play with you now. Go save and/or destroy the planet on your own time.
So, anyway, if anyone knows a way to rewire my brain so I care about completing things that actually help people, please let me know.
FGC #329 Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby & the Amazing Mirror for the Gameboy Advance! Eight angry eyes, all staring back at you! Please look forward to it!