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FGC #479 Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse

Here comes Grant“Grant? Grant, my man, how are you? How’s the family? Good. Good. Look, I’m calling because I have a bit of an opportunity for you. You ready? You sitting down? Okay, great, look, I got the call from Konami, and they want you to star in the next Castlevania game. Yes, you! No no, look, I understand what you’re saying. Yes, there is technically a Belmont starring in this game. No, not Simon this time, it’s… let me see if I wrote this down… it’s Ralph? Is that right? Ralph Belmont. He’s supposed to be Simon’s grandfather or something. So, okay, yeah, you’re not the star, but you’re going to be one of the stars in the first ever Castlevania game featuring more than one vampire slayer. And you’re going to be one of the good ones, too! Like, without question, you’re going to be the first partner that can be recruited. What? Oh yeah, there are two other people involved, some wizard lady and a bat-dude. I think he’s supposed to be related to Dracula? No, don’t worry about it, he’s a standup guy. At least… I think he’s a guy. Half guy? Is that a thing? What? Yeah, sorry, I’m getting off track. So, yeah, you’re going to be the first ever person to team up with a Belmont to take on Dracula! You! Grant Danasty!

“No… Buddy, do you understand what I’m saying? You’re not going to get a whip. You, and only you, are going to have an unlimited cache of daggers. Yes, Ralph gets daggers, too, but you have infinity daggers. And not only that, but you know how the Belmont dude in those other games was all slow and everything? Well you get to jump around like Mario. I know! Kids love Mario! You’re going to be the Mario of Castlevania! Except with knives! And I guess you can use an axe, too, so that way you get a powerup power like everybody else. I mean, between you and me? That Dracula Kid only gets a cruddy stopwatch. You’ve got an axe! Like a dwarf! What? No, I’m not calling you short. I’m calling you strong! Castlevania 3: Starring Grant Danasty is going to be a totally different experience. I don’t see why anyone would use any of those other so-called heroes at all!

Bad guy!“Oh, but one teeny tiny admonition: You have to play a monster in your first appearance. The whole deal is, like, Dracula cursed you to be a monster in some clock tower, so you have to fight Ralph and climb around on walls and scream like you’re a big, bad guy. I think some prosthetics are involved. But it’s good! Like, sure, you have to act like a monster, but it’s all because you have some tragic backstory with a lost group of bandits that have been fighting against Dracula taking over the local countryside. Oh, and it all ties into your ending, too. The vampire guy just stands there and broods, but your finale sees you rebuilding the town and being remembered as a hero.

“So, trust me, man, you are going to love all of this. You’re going to be synonymous with Castlevania! Castlevania 3: Legacy of Grant! Tell me you’re down for this, and I’ll let Konami know they’ve got one acrobatic ace on Ralph’s team!”

—-

Get 'em“Grant, my main man, calling again because I’ve got some great news: you’re going to America, baby! Castlevania 3 got picked up for localization, so you’re going to be an international star! Burt Reynolds, Madonna, and now Grant Danasty! You are gold, baby!

“Just, you know, few caveats. Nothing, really, but I figure I should mention ‘em to you. Just as a courtesy thing. First of all, and this shouldn’t really impact you at all, but they’re changing a few graphics here and there. Some naked statues are a little less naked, some crosses are a little less cross-y… You know, those whacky Americans, they got all kinds of problems. And… uh… well, you know, same vein and all, they may have… well, I think the parlance is “nerfed” your appearance a little. You know how you had all those daggers? Well, now Grant is stuck with one single danger, and you’re not allowed to throw it. … Yeah, look, I understand what you’re saying, but you’re looking at this all wrong. You’re more of a challenge now! You know you completely wrecked the Japanese version with your ability to crawl through shortcuts and pelt that cyclops with your daggers, so now there’s a reason to use dopey ol’ Trevor. … Oh, yeah, they changed his name. ‘Ralph’ didn’t really resonate in the States… Oh, yeah, no, I hear you, but… Yes, Alucard gets to keep his fireballs. No, buddy, I don’t think that just because Alucard’s mobility is infinite and you have a fiddly jump to… Grant, seriously? Listen to me. You’re going to be great. They’re going to love you! Grant Danusty is going to be a household name. … Grant Danasty. Yes. What did I say? Sorry, slip of the tongue.

“Oh, one last thing. Apparently your backstory now is that you’re a pirate. It doesn’t impact anything, but I guess they wanted to explain the bandana? Hey, that was your fashion choice, don’t blame me. Besides, it’s not like anyone is going to remember some dumb biography from an instruction manual in twenty years. They’re going to remember Grant! The man that stabbed Dracula right in the face! I’ll call Konami right now and tell ‘em Grant Danusty is down! … Oh, sorry, I think I have a cold or something.”

“Grant, hey, I know it’s been… really? Seven years? Wow, where does the time go? Look, calling because I got you another gig in Castlevania! I know, right? They never reuse protagonists, but here we are! Grant is back, baby!

“… Well, okay, I’ve spoken to Castlevania’s new director, Iga or something, and… Well, okay, remember Alucard? I guess he made an impact on somebody, and now he’s getting his own game. … No, I’m sorry, the whole thing is supposed to take place like hundreds of years after Castlevania 3, so… Well, I guess in the story, you’re kind of… uh… dead. But don’t worry! I looked at your contract, and if Alucard appears in a game within a decade of CS3, then you have to, too! So I got you in!

Take that!“… Well, yeah, you’re not the hero. You can’t always be the star, Grant. It’s more of a cameo, really, but a gig is a gig, right? And your buddies Ralph… sorry, Trevor and Sypha will be there. It’s just a boss fight… Yes, you’re a boss monster again… Yeah, apparently you’re a zombie version of yourself… Yeah, look, just take the gig, man. Grant gets to be 32-bits, your fans get to see you all over again, and it’s going to be great. You don’t see Christopher Belmont getting these calls, do you? It’s a paycheck, buddy, just have some fun with your friends, don’t think too hard about it. At least you’ll get your daggers back!”

“Grant, my nasty boy, where have you been? Eleven years just flies by, right? Well, look, I’m calling you with some amazing news. They’re making a Castlevania fighting game, and it’s only going to include fourteen legends from across the whole franchise. And one of those legends? You guessed it, the one and only Grant Danasty. … Nope! You’re not a boss or a monster or anything. It’s just you, Grant, and you’re a playable character all over again! And your old buds are in the game, too, so if you want to see Alucard all… You’re not talking… Oh, Grant, come on, I know a sword to the face hurts, but you were supposed to be an evil zombie. You have to let it go.

“Although… uh… Speaking of things you’re going to have to let go, they decided to… expand your backstory a little bit for this one. No, you don’t have to worry about that pirate thing again, I don’t know why you keep bringing that up… No, apparently there is, like, time travel in this one, and the ‘you’ that is fighting is a Grant from after Castlevania 3, and after Trevor and Sypha get married. And… uh… If I’m reading this right, your whole deal is that you’re jealous that Trevor and Sypha are together, so you skipped their wedding and… What? Well, okay, yeah, I guess it kind of makes you sound like a ‘douchebag’, but you don’t need to use that kind of language. You fell for a girl while you went on an adventure, and that makes you relatable. What? No, it really doesn’t matter that you only ever shared a single screen back in the day, it’s what’s called a retcon. You had a thing for Sypha, she went for Trevor, and you’re fighting to impress her. Easy-peasy. You don’t have to change a bit.

“Oh… wait, there is one thing. I just got a fax of… Woof… Okay, apparently your costume is going to look like… uh…

Classy kind of guy

“No, you’re not a mummy monster. Why do you keep thinking someone is trying to make you a monster? It’s just… a stylistic choice. Happens all the time! You should see what they’ve got this Maria kid wearing. Trust me, you’re going to make out great with this Judgment thing! These fighting games always take off, and you’re on the ground floor! There’s going to be, like, medusa head DLC in three years, and you’re going to be part of the original crop. You are Castlevania all over again, Grant!”

“Grant. Grant, I know you’re listening. You have to stop calling me. It’s been almost ten years since that Judgment disaster. Konami… or what passes for Konami nowadays… They’re done with you, okay? It sucks, but it happens. And this new thing? The Netflix series? They’re not interested. Your “team” contract ran out a long time ago, and the writers here? They don’t care. I don’t know if it’s the whole pirate thing, or how there is already enough of the aristocracy versus the peasants thing going on, or maybe it’s just that “surly Trevor” subsumed your personality… but, Grant? You listening to me? You have to let it go. This is a new Castlevania, and it’s not for you.

Winner“Look, Grant are you?… Grant? Grant, you’re a good guy. Remember the good times! You were the top of the heap in Castlevania 3. You were right there at the beginning, you could kill a skeleton from a hundred meters, and you didn’t need a single heart to scuttle all over the world and make every level your playground. Things may have gone downhill from there, but you were top of the heap at the start, and people will remember that. Hey, I hear there’s a whole Classic Castlevania Collection being released, and it’s got the American and Japanese versions. Think about it, man, everybody is going to see your glory days all over again, no stupid Netflix show required. Netflix shmetflix, you’re the big man from Castlevania, Grant, and they’re crazy for not seeing it.

“Grant? You alright? … Yeah, okay, I’ll come over. Break open a wall, we’re gonna have a meat feast tonight. A toast to Grant Danusty, buddy!

“… What?”

FGC #479 Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System is your classic go-to, but it has recently resurfaced on Wii, WiiU, 3DS, and Switch/PS4 for compilations. Yes, I am pretty sure I purchased this game on every one of those systems.
  • Number of players: One vampire slayer at a time, please.
  • Favorite Slayer: Alucard. What? I like dhampirs.
  • Favorite Route: Whatever allows me to skip that falling block area. Considering I also want to pick up Alucard, that usually means swinging through his crypt, and then moving on to Castlevania’s inexplicable Fake Atlantis. Sorry I had to drown an entire city on the way to Dracula, guys, but that’s what you get for employing a loadbearing dragon.
  • Lookin' GoodFrom the peanut gallery: My better half objected to every time I switched characters, and commented “don’t make that horrible sound again.”
  • Goggle Bob Fact: My grandparents mailed me this game as a Christmas gift back when I was a wee Goggle Bob. Some part of me would have wanted to have my vacationing grandparents home for the holidays… but another part of me was very content to hunt vampires all day and night for weeks. Childhood: it’s a tradeoff.
  • So, did you beat it? I want to say this is a game I played 10,000 times as a kid, but never actually conquered until the innovation of save states. This is saddening, but have you ever actually fought Dracula III’s final form? It is a death-spewing monster the likes of which the franchise has rarely seen (and the hellish pits don’t help).
  • Did you know? The Grant Doppelgänger still uses constant throwing daggers, while Grant is left with his piddly stabbing stick in the American version. The computer cheats!
  • Would I play again: This is easily one of, if not my most, favorite Castlevania titles. I drift back to Castlevania 3 about once annually, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Three Dirty Dwarves for the Sega Saturn! That’s three more dirty dwarves than we normally get! Please look forward to it!

Buds!

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

For shovelry!Just the other day, my father walked into my kitchen, and, because I had carelessly left a fresh delivery on my kitchen counter, my dad asked what exactly he was looking at.

“What’s Shovel Knight from?”
“He’s Shovel Knight. From… Shovel Knight.”
“Oh. So is that a movie? Comic book? Comic book movie?”
“Nope, it’s a videogame.”
“Oh. Does he… uh… dig?”

Yes dad, Shovel Knight does dig. And he bounces and battles dragons and saves the love of his life and brings hope to all the people of his homey little hamlet. And he’s been around for six years, and he’s rocketed from nonexistence to possibly the most adaptable character in the last few years of gaming. And, yes, he’s a little golden amiibo that is sitting on my kitchen counter.

And considering that all happened thanks to fan support, focused marketing, and damn good gameplay, it’s hard to believe Shovel Knight’s giant blue helmet isn’t the face of gaming of the last decade.

Now, it’s an easy thing to imagine Shovel Knight sprang into existence in the Spring of 2013 when the official Shovel Knight Kickstarter kicked into high gear. Or, perhaps, you would like to attribute his creation to when Nick Wozniak and his team first pioneered the concept over a lunch “that got too serious”. But to truly understand the origins of Shovel Knight, you have to go back to the late 90’s or so. Back at the turn of the 21st Century, 2-D platforming rapidly went from “is videogames” to “oh God everything that is 2-D is trash, strike it from thine sight”. For reasons that are still mysterious to even our most learned historians (though there is a hypothesis that Gamepro may have been involved), this kind of thinking persisted through many years, causing many a beloved franchise to embrace 3-D or die. Mario 64 was a revelation, Mega Man X7… less so. But the belief that a game could not be 2-D seemed to Shinyhold fast for a decade, and the only place you could find such an experience would be in the Gameboy ghetto of game development. It’s telling that one of the most popular games of 1997 had to retreat to the portable space, while its 3-D rival of the year managed to dominate the console industry for years to come. The message to game producers was clear: you weren’t going to get anywhere with 2-D. And doubly so if you were dropping cutting edge graphics for a “retro” experience. That kind of nonsense best be relegated to some manner of easter egg. No one would every buy a retro platformer.

So it makes perfect sense that Shovel Knight’s initial fundraising goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed, and Yacht Club collected over four times as much funding ($311,502) in less than a month’s time. Shovel Knight’s audience was starved for Shovel Knight-esque content, and, while the yolk of 3-D oppression had been shaken in the years leading to 2013, it was still a time when the prospect of something “like old Capcom games” was going to appeal to a very dedicated subset of nerds. This meant that the whole of Shovel Knight’s “bonus” content was funded before ol’ SK officially touched his first trowel, so a game crammed with amazing content was forthcoming. 14,749 people were ready for some amazing retro action that would be shared with WiiU, 3DS and PC players shortly.

And, from a gameplay perspective, Shovel Knight did not disappoint. Shovel Knight is an excellent platformer that borrows liberally from the entire NES library, but combines all those pieces to be its own exceptional Voltron. Shovel Knight’s downward stab was apparently inspired by Link, but his greatest hopping challenges seem to evoke Ducktales more than anything. And the “arc” of the quest is much more akin to Mega Man, what with clearly defined “gimmick” bosses (Propeller Knight and Gyro Man were separated at birth) and stages that rely wonderfully on their masters’ theming. And maybe that world map is supposed to suggest Super Mario Bros. 3. Or those upgrades are supposed to remind us of Samus Aran’s evolving arsenal. And there were a few items that inched closer to modern sensibilities, like the collectables that advanced replay value (often hidden in accompanying “challenge” areas), or the death system that was a lot closer to Dark Souls than Darkwing Duck. But wherever the inspirations originated, Shovel Knight combined all of its pieces to be an extraordinary experience. Join the clubAnd it didn’t hurt to see a cast of memorable characters fighting through an unforgettable tale of loss and tragedy (and eventual triumph). Wrap this all up with a host of modern “achievements”, and Shovel Knight was one of the finest games of 2014.

But it wasn’t anywhere near done.

Shovel Knight was everything anyone could want from a retro platformer, but it wasn’t the complete game that had been funded a year earlier. All of those bonus bells and whistles would gradually dribble out over the following months and years. Things like Gender/Body Swap mode was little more than a (staggering and inclusive) skin for our heroes and villains, but Plague of Shadows was practically an entirely different game labeled as merely an “expansion”. The adventure, now featuring the morally gray Plague Knight, was a whole new way to play through familiar levels, and featured an added “town area” and a few other extras (peculiarly powered by washing machines) to boot. This was released alongside a number of quick challenges for Shovel Knight, and, coupled with some new console exclusives (and, uh, additional console releases, too) like challenges from Kratos and The Battletoads, it was clear that Shovel Knight’s additional content wasn’t going to be some hastily manufactured DLC.

And let me tell you, about a year and a half later, just in time for the release of the Switch, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment proved Shovel Knight “DLC” was going to be a lot more than a meager expansion.

Spin it!Plague of Shadows was an all-new story with an all-new character (well, all-new for control purposes), but it still saw its hero (“hero”) venture through (most of) the same levels as Shovel Knight. The new play style radically altered your options for traversal, but it was still just a game starring Luigi instead of Mario (well, Super Mario Bros. 2 Luigi, at least). Specter of Torment reused those same levels, but modified them to the point they are barely recognizable. And that’s a good thing! Specter Knight possessed his own moveset, and, rather than mere rehashes, all of his stages were modified to be challenging for that specific moveset. This made Specter of Torment a complete sequel to Shovel Knight! Well… that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it’s more akin to a romhack? Or, like the NES games Shovel Knight so adores, it’s an “old school” sequel. Almost all the same assets, but rearranged so completely as to be practically unrecognizable. A shining example of the proper way to recycle pixels.

And, oh yeah, Specter Knight is a blast to play as. He’s the Zero to Shovel Knight’s Mega Man (or… uh… Scrooge McDuck?), and really feels like he belongs in an entirely different game. Which is appropriate, as his “entirely different game” seems to only reuse the general aesthetics of its prequel/sequel. The world of Specter Knight goes to some very unexpected places (like the origins of Shovel Knight’s best gal pal), and eschews some gameplay conventions (like the world map) while picking up all new challenges (like an endless tower of pain)(and grinding! Like Sonic!). It’s still unmistakably Shovel Knight, but it’s a whole new experience through and through.

SPIN FOR YOUR LIFEAnd then, in 2019, they did the same thing again with King Knight and Shovel Knight: King of Cards. Give or take one extremely subjective card game (I hate all card games [even that one], but my understanding is that some weirdos can enjoy such a thing), King Knight’s adventure is another slam dunk. The general tone (and lighting) seems closer to its OG Shovel Knight origins, but Kingy’s quest to be king of at least something features dramatically shorter levels and more bite-sized challenges than any of the other campaigns. And that’s a refreshing change of pace that additionally gives some of the gimmicks of the previous tetralogy some room to breathe. Green goo and a bouncy-butted beetle finally get a showcase in their own, complete level! Considering the number one complaint anyone ever leveled against Shovel Knight was that its stages were too long (which, seriously, you gonna complain about there being too much game to play? Philistines), King Knight’s King of Cards is a sequel to Shovel Knight that listened to its greatest detractors. Yacht Club learned something!

And then, to top it all off, Shovel Knight dropped its own version of Smash Bros. You can control every knight! And make ‘em fight! And most of the significant NPCs are PCs now, too. So, finally, you can see who would hold ultimate victory in a battle between Mona, Baz, Mole Knight, and those purple goo monsters from the final tower. And, for being an 8-bit redux inspired by a game that originally appeared on 64-bit hardware, it’s pretty damn impressive. It can get a little confusing when you’re trying to find your sprite against similar colored backgrounds (or against similar-colored enemies), but the designs of the Shovel Knight cast compensate for a lot, so you can usually tell the difference between a Shovel Knight and a Black Knight. And if you can’t? Well, just go ahead and have fun with it. This is an 8-bit platformer fighting game, after all. It’s supposed to be about as chaotic as a bucket full of enemy crabs.

Get up thereSo that’s 3.5 games, right? We’ve got Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows as two pretty similar experiences, but Specter of Torment, King of Cards, and Shovel Knight Showdown are all as different as Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Showdown is practically an entirely different genre. I’m going to call that a total of 3.5 games that all fall under the Shovel Knight umbrella.

And it all came from one Kickstarter.

And if you bought the initial Shovel Knight at launch, the whole package cost a measly twenty bucks. You’re actually rewarded for being an early adopter.

Shovel Knight is a game that seemed to last a decade with its various expansions, but, more than that, it is a shining example of what was possible for a few brief years in the 2010s. Kickstarter was an extremely popular platform earlier in the decade, and, while it produced many excellent games and projects, it is primarily recounted now by any number of fans who wound up burned by creators who had the collective managerial skills of a hamster (and not that hamster with the hardhat). Kickstarter and alike is now seen more as a generally reliable healthcare plan than a platform that might create the next game you’ll play for five years. But in the last decade, it was responsible for Shovel Knight. And the triumph of Shovel Knight paved the way for oodles of retro platformer titles. Was every retro game good? No, of course not. But they never would have seen the light of day without Shovel Knight blazing a trail. And, while this trend is likely coming to its close, the current digital marketplace does speak to Shovel Knight’s success.

And, as appropriate for a knight that came from the crowds, he has now returned to the crowds as the most cameoed newcomer of the decade:

Smash it Good!
Slash it Good!
Bonk it good

Not bad for a dude that didn’t exist when the decade started.

Shovel Knight is the 2010s distilled down to its purest, more hopeful form. It is an experience that could only come from one time in gaming’s history. And it’s a damn fine game to boot.

2010: The decade of Shovelry.

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

  • System: Whaddya got? Nintendo 3DS, WiiU, and PC to start, but eventually shovelry spread to the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and the Amazon Fire TV (for some reason).
  • Look away!Number of Players: 2-Players was eventually patched in (with or without amiibo), and Shovel Knight Showdown is 4 players simultaneous. But most people think about the single player campaign, because Shovel Knight appeals to lonely, insomniac nerds.
  • Just play the gig, man: Did I mention the music was amazing? Because it is. Jake Kaufman seems to be responsible for the majority of amazing American soundtracks for the decade, and the addition of one of Mega Man’s composers is just the perfect addition. The fact that every song gets a little in-game director’s commentary is pretty boss, too.
  • Favorite System: Shovel Knight appeared across multiple platforms, but the 3DS version still might be the best. It has 3-D and the ability to quickly switch between items (or whatever they’re called in the version du jour). Battletoads are no substitute for being able to avoid a pause menu.
  • Lucasian Problems: Kudos to Shovel Knight’s team for not returning to Shovel of Hope with every update to “backdate” changes from later expansions. It would be the easiest thing in the world to sneak in “remake” NPCs that allude to what happens in other knights’ adventures (or, hell, advertise those experiences), but Shovel of Hope remains unmolested and devoid of unnecessary changes. Thank you for the restraint.
  • Favorite Character: Percy the Horse Scholar. I will not be accepting questions at this time.
  • Go Toads!Amiibo Corner: Naturally, I preordered the Order of No Quarter amiibos when they were first announced. That was in the fall of 2017. They were released in December of 2019. That might be the longest preorder for a videogame-related item I’ve ever maintained. Good thing I still care about collecting every damn amiibo in existence!
  • Say something mean: Propeller Knight’s stage is the worst in every version/adventure. This isn’t because of the frequent bottomless pits (though, admittedly, that do not help); it’s the auto scrolling areas, and spots that may as well be auto scrolling because you need to wait for a cannonball or wind gust. I hate waiting! I want to run! Don’t hold me down, Propeller Knight!
  • Did you know? Shovel Knight is almost a NES game… though it does include three additional audio channels and four extra colors not available to original Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. There are some other “tweaks” here and there, too, but what’s important is that the screen shakes during explosions unmistakably like in an old school game.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. This is the cream of the crop for 2-D platformers, and I love me some 2-D platformers. Long may his shovel reign!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Sword for the Nintendo Switch! … Yeah… that was a totally random choice, and not the result of me putting a hundred hours into the thing over the last few months… Yeeeep! Gonna be a totally randomly chosen modern game next week! Please look forward to it!

Shake it

FGC #464 Pokémon Snap

Gotta photo capture 'em allPokémon Snap doesn’t get enough credit for being the only Pokémon game that matters.

Pokémon Snap was not always a Pokémon game. It apparently started its time well before the release of the Nintendo 64 as “Jack and the Beanstalk”, a game that does not, in any perceptible way, exist. Was it intended as another Mario 64-esque platformer? A beanstalk-explorer like Ocarina of Time? Or was it actually some manner of JRPG? That last choice might be the most accurate, as, apparently, features from Jack and the Beanstalk were eventually integrated into the N64 release of Mother 3… which was then also scrapped. However, we do know that the original Jack and the Beanstalk did involve photography, as Iwata once confessed that Snap’s ancestor did allow the player to take pictures, but nobody could figure out why the player would take pictures. Yes, in the days before camera phones, selfies, and a built-in screenshot button, it was assumed that someone wouldn’t take random pictures if they didn’t have to (Final Fantasy 15 would be a very different game with this philosophy). What was the solution? Add something people actually liked looking at! Pokémon! Yes, Pikachu is on everything, so why not capture him on film instead of in a pokéball? He’d probably be happier that way…

So Pokémon Snap was designed around taking pictures of “peaceful” Pokémon, and not the pocket monsters that constantly assault young children scampering through tall grass. This, bizarrely, transforms the game into a first person shooter. You’re stuck on (literal) rails behind the eyes of Todd Snap, a kid who has been conscripted into a photographic war that vaguely resembles Disney Land rides. Todd must take the best pictures of Pokémon possible, and, while this is supposed to be a serene environment, he’s often asked to hurl apples and smoke bombs in the name of that perfect shot. Yes, Todd, we all believe that you beaned that Diglett into catalepsy because you were trying to feed the little critter. But, even with the nonlethal ammunition, the entire experience seems a lot closer to Doom than Pokémon Red or Pokémon Stadium. Even ignoring the lack of critter kidnapping, this is a very different Pokémon game.

And, in 1999, that is exactly what the franchise needed.

SAUR!Gamers almost always, as a rule, ignore tie-in media and how it impacts their favorite games. Many of Mario’s biggest fans grew up with the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and now publicly disavow any knowledge of that time Luigi was cursed by Mario’s errant copy of the Necronomicon, and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, had to be summoned to purify our favorite plumber. That is not canon. Nor is it canon that Link frequently uttered “excuse me, princess” while palling around with a surprisingly horny fairy. And Mega Man certainly was never green (unless he was equipped with Leaf Shield) and was never transformed into a robot caveman. Cartoon tie-ins (and their brethren: cereal, toys, and all other kinds of merchandise) are to be considered completely non-canon. And nothing much about that has changed in the years since Captain N. Yes, Persona and Blazblue have their own modern animes, but they’re wholly useless, as they just rehash the already robust story modes of their respective games. It’s cool to see Yukiko in full animated regalia, but it’s an experience just as empty as watching Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. Actually, at least MK:DotR had the decency to include original content to sate an appetite for stories…

But there’s a reason Pokémon: The Animated Series blazed the trail for the “anime invasion” of the early 21st Century. You could claim it was simply its easy to understand, but robust story. You could claim it was the generally gorgeous animation (for, ya know, the late 90’s). You could even claim it was just a matter of good ol’ Pikachu being as cute as a button. But all that is secondary to the real reason Pokémon: The Adventures of Ash Ketchum and That One Squirtle was good: it took the concept of Pokémon Red/Blue and made it real. Let’s be honest here: Pokémon Red/Blue (and Green?) is an extremely limited experience. You find monsters, you catch monsters, you fight monsters against monsters. The end. There’s an overarching plot, and there’s an evil organization of propulsion-based baddies out there to defeat, but the world of Pokémon Red/Blue is otherwise very… sparse. Psyduck might have an interesting pokédex entry about lulling opponents into a false sense of security with its odd expressions, but it’s effectively the same as any other random water Pokémon in a battle. And battles are all you have!

Love that eggBut that’s the rub about Pokémon Red/Blue, the iconic pokédex (which appears to be some kind of magical, hand-written encyclopedia in the original game) tells a tale about a much more interesting world of magical creatures. Marowak throws its bone like a boomerang. Jynx starts dance parties with its mighty hips. Porygon can live in the internet at will. Lapras was hunted to extinction by previous generations. Hell, the very concept of a “legendary” Pokémon barely exists in the gameplay of the original game. The super birds are just randomly found in caves (and one power plant), but their pokédex entries claim they are mythical monsters that appear before the damned (which, granted, is probably the natural outcome of encountering a creature that can capriciously summon lightning). There are oodles of lore, both magical and mundane, relayed through the pokédex, but absolutely none of it appears in the game proper. If you ever wanted to see a herd of Pikachu in the forest, or a Cubone gently weeping from behind its skull mask (you monster), you needed to look elsewhere. You needed to look to the Pokémon official anime.

And, eventually, you could look to the first game that involved Pokémon being Pokémon: Pokémon Snap.

Mew!Yes, Pokémon Snap has very different gameplay from other Pokémon games. But, more importantly, it allows its Pokémon to be divorced from their usual game-based battles, and lets Pokémon just be… Pokémon. Pikachu is allowed to scamper and surf around. Gyarados is free to swim up waterfalls with impunity. And events that could only occur thanks to a boring “level up” in the “real” games are free to happen as nature intended. Magnemites gather in a trio to form a Magneton, and Slowpoke fishes up a Shellder to become Slowbro. These are all events and behaviors outlined or implied in the greater lore, but never given a chance to breathe thanks to the gameplay being entirely monster violence based.

And, ultimately, this is why Pokémon Snap doesn’t need a sequel (though, let’s be clear, I would jump on such a thing immediately). What’s important about Pokémon Snap isn’t beanstalks, photography, or its gameplay, it’s that the world of Pokémon was finally fully realized in its proper, digital format. Taking random cues equally from Pokémon Red/Blue as the Pokémon television series, Pokémon Snap took the Pokémon franchise into a direction that allowed its monsters to be more than movelists. Yes, a thunder stone will evolve Pikachu, but wouldn’t you rather see Pika play with some berries? Maybe, maybe not, but what’s important is that Pokémon Snap created a world where that was possible. And that world…

Bewear!

Is now the world we live in…

Pikachu!

In more ways than one.

Pokémon Snap was the first Pokémon game to truly explore the world of Pokémon. And that matters.

FGC #464 Pokémon Snap

  • System: Nintendo 64 for the initial release, but also eventually available for Wii and WiiU. I highly recommend the latter versions, as the N64 is unpleasant to look at.
  • Number of players: Sorry, my dude Todd rides alone.
  • Wasn’t Hey You, Pikachu the first real Pokémon spin-off? I didn’t say it wasn’t. It was just not at all important to anyone but microphone enthusiasts. Didn’t Alakazam own a shop in that thing? Non-canon.
  • They can be friends!Not Canon: The three legendary birds hatch from eggs found around the various environments. But everyone knows legendary Pokémon don’t hatch from random eggs! They are summoned by Lord Arceus in a grand and unerringly confusing ceremony that takes place on a sacred mountaintop. And then they hatch from eggs! But smaller eggs! I think!
  • Make it a Blockbuster Night: I still have the original manual and insert that advertises how you can take your Pokémon Snap cartridge to Blockbuster Video to print out poképhotos. When Snap was rereleased on Wii/WiiU, it changed this functionality to online sharing. And that’s great, but looks like I still have to go to Blockbuster to hang these gorgeous polygons on my wall.
  • Favorite Pokémon (this game): Magikarp appears in more stages than Pikachu, so it is clearly the MVP of the event. And it only gets to evolve into a Gyarados in its final appearance. What a little trooper!
  • An end: Your reward for completing all the (relevant) tasks is an opportunity to float above the clouds and photograph the mythical Mew. And that’s right about when the game just wholesale turns into Killer 7, as you have to “pester” Mew into losing its shield, and then take photos of the naked genetic Pokémon. It’s an odd choice, particularly given the whole “cloud” area would be the perfect opportunity to involve other flying/fascinating Pokémon. Also, harassing Mew is just plain mean.
  • Did you know? A mere 63 Pokémon appear in this adventure, despite the fact that the entire goal of the franchise is “catching ‘em all”, which, at this point, was a measly 151 Pokémon. This is likely the result of Pokémon Snap being demoted from its original position on the doomed 64DD expansion, and not at all an intentional slight against my man Drowzee.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for a level or two. Pokemon Snap requires a lot of “grinding” to gain the more useful items (it’s a good way to get extra play out of a game with only seven short levels), but replaying stages with everything available is rather enjoyable. I wouldn’t say no to a portable version that already has a flute unlocked…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tetrisphere for the N64. It’s like Tetris, but round! Please look forward to it!

I have no idea

FGC #441 Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II

Here comes some starsThe original StarTropics game was an action/RPG hybrid that saw young Mike Jones venture through some ill-defined “South Seas” Caribbean-esque tropical venues. Mike traversed caves, spoke to parrots, and eventually discovered the source of all of his woes were mysterious aliens. The aliens are well established as antagonists from early on, though (StarTropics), so they’re not completely out of left field in this otherwise mundane adventure about Mike exploring some deadly vacation destinations. In a time when NES titles were often incredibly bonkers, Mike’s quest was arguably simply a much more ordinary Legend of Zelda.

And then we got StarTropics 2. And it was insane-o cuckoo banana pants crazy.

So, in the interest of properly conveying the plot and further adventures of Mike Jones, please enjoy these 30 unmodified images from my playthrough of StarTropics 2. It’s pretty straightforward!







Let’s see what else happens to Mike…