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FGC #275 Mega Man X3

Die monsterToday we’re going to talk about the value of value.

Unlike the Mega Man series, the Mega Man X franchise has a pretty straightforward set of power rankings. Millions have died in the Mega Man 2 v Mega Man 3 wars, but the X list is well established. Off the top of my head…

Mega Man X – Excellent Game
Mega Man X2 – Pretty Okay
Mega Man X3 – Meh
Mega Man X4 – Excellent Game
Mega Man X5 – Pretty Okay
Mega Man X6 – Terrible
Mega Man X7 – A gaping black hole of rot from which no fun may escape
Mega Man X8 – Pretty Okay

However, doing a quick EBay search that is in no way based on anything other than a quick EBay search conducted right now, here are apparently the current monetary values of the Mega Man X franchise:

Mega Man X – $30
Mega Man X2 – $90
Mega Man X3 – $200
Mega Man X4 – $12
Mega Man X5 – $12
Mega Man X6 – $18
Mega Man X7 – $12
Mega Man X8 – $30

(And, for the record, the Mega Man X Collection, which contains Mega Man X one through six, is worth about ten bucks.)

As far as I’m concerned, nothing about this makes sense.

WeeeeToday’s game is Mega Man X3, so let’s maybe take a quick glance at the most expensive Mega Man X game (not) available. Personally, I’m always going to have a soft spot for X3, because it was the one and only Mega Man game I owned for the SNES when I was but a wee Goggle Bob. Mega Man X and Mega Man X2 were both games I loved dearly, but because I was some kind of Mega Man savant, I could beat both games in a rental period, so… why bother with an actual purchase? Ha ha, you damn videogame publishers were right, West Coast Video was eating into your profits! However, by the time Mega Man X3 was released, the SNES rental wall was paltry, so I had to beg my parents for a birthday helping of Mega Man. They complied, and, because I didn’t want my parents thinking they were losing money on this whole “buy videogames” thing, I played the hell out of X3. I have probably beaten this game roughly three millions times, and that might be a low estimate. I can air dash like some kind of machine designed only for air dashing.

However, that doesn’t mean the game was any good.

Mega Man X3 does a lot of interesting things in an attempt to differentiate itself from its forefathers. For one thing, Zero is a playable character, finally. Unfortunately, Zero is very limited, as he only has one “life”, and the minute you crash that dork into a random pile of spikes, he’s out of the game forever. Even the quasi-save password system remembers that you shamefully killed your best reploid friend, and you may never use that red robot ever again. However, crippling handicap aside, Zero “feels” right, and he fills the exact same niche as in his Mega Man X (1) appearance. Zero is leaps and bounds ahead of X when the game begins, but, give X eight or so stages of powerups, and Zero is quickly outclassed. That’s great! That further defines two characters that could easily become Mario & Luigi given a less deft direction, and, while X4 and later decided to pursue a “separate but equal” kind of thinking for the duo, it’s nice to see one last hurrah for the “X only gets stronger and stronger” narrative before Zero decided to heist the franchise. And X can steal his beam sword, which is always fun.

You're a hero!And there is other cool stuff in X3, too! You can get your own ride armor that is kinda-sorta permanent (as opposed to “once in Chill Penguin’s stage, and then never again”) and can morph into other, sometimes better ride armors. There are random mini bosses that can make every playthrough different (though nothing changes if you religiously always use the exact same path through Robot Masters like some people [I’m currently giving the side eye to a mirror]). And I’m pretty sure this is the only SNES X game where the helmet piece is at all useful. It might hold up a teeny bit of gameplay, but seeing a grid map of the stage with points of interest marked all over the place really helps anyone with OCD and a lack of Nintendo Power (poor souls). Overall, it’s plain to see that Mega Man X3 was an attempt to keep the virtues of Mega Man X while expanding on what fans wanted to see (basically, more giant robots).

Unfortunately… a few Mega Man X3 features seem… a bit rushed. The most glaring example involves the sad fact that most of the Maverick Masters have patterns that are overly easy to predict. With the possible exception of Neon Tiger, I’d say that every Maverick in this mission can be conquered by tricking the AI into a sort of endless loop of running square into X’s buster. There are some cool Maverick designs in this game (Tunnel Rhino is basically “what if… spikes? All of the spikes.” And it works) but, even without the boss weaknesses, most of these guys have less AI than your average Merry Man. This is in stark contrast to Bit, Byte, and some of the more interesting Doppler Stage bosses, who have simple patterns, but with enough variation that they actually become engaging battles. It’s like the designers of Mega Man X3 knew they could do some interesting stuff, but completely shied away from doing that for any of the “real” bosses, which, let’s face it, are a significant part of why anybody plays a Mega Man game at all. This would be akin to making a Mario game where the jump physics are “okay, but a little bit off”. So, ya know, Super Mario Land 2.

Putter putterAnd the most telling of all the weird blunders are the lights in the Blizzard Buffalo stage. Like in Mega Man X, if you conquer one stage before entering another, it will impact that stage. In this case, the street and underground lights click on if you’ve already conquered Volt Catfish’s power plant. Unfortunately, unlike Mega Man X, this change doesn’t impact anything at all. It’s like someone correctly identified that the “stages impact each other” trait in Mega Man X was pretty cool, and then implemented it without a damn clue why that kind of thing is actually worthwhile. Flickering lights are not exciting! Unless this is a Mega Man Rave! Which would be cool! Just saying!

When you get right down to it, Mega Man X3 boils down to a resounding, “Meh”. Like a bad episode of a Bryan Fuller show, it’s probably still better than most of the stuff on your television, but it doesn’t stack up to its better ancestors (or descendants). It’s a perfectly passable, yet flawed, X game.

So then why is it the most monetarily valuable X game?

Well, we actually have an answer for this one. First, the game was released in late ’95/early ’96, when practically everyone was moving on from the SNES to greener, more disc-based pastures. This limited the manufacturing run. And the other reason is this sucker…

WEAPON GET

Like Mega Man X2, Mega Man X3 employed a special chip for rendering polygons (… or… rotating… or… something?). However, unlike X2, X3 only used this special graphical ability for… let’s see here… the weapon get screen, one stupid mini boss that looks like a snowflake, and the final-final form of Sigma, which is on screen for all of thirty seconds. However, even though this chip is, to say the least, underutilized, it still jacked up the original MSRP of Mega Man X3 to $70, scaring off all but the most dedicated of (my) parents. Limited print run plus expensive right out of the gate equals a lot of X3 cartridges going to wherever videogames go when they’re completely ignored (heaven?), so, by the time EBay started selling broken staplers for twelve bucks, Mega Man X3 was worth a king’s ransom (albeit, probably a very poor king).

But that’s all it takes! Mega Man X3 is a resoundingly meh game compared to its X-temporaries, but it’s rare, so it’s valuable. The end. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure purely because of desire, and not actual value. Well… desire and one stupid chip, I suppose.

Come on, pay attention to his name, we all know Zero isn’t worth this much.

FGC #275 Mega Man X3

  • System: Super Nintendo for the “real” version, but there was also a Playstation and Saturn port… albeit only in Japan. I think that’s the base of the Mega Man X Collection port, though.
  • Number of players: You’ve got two different Maverick Hunters this time, but still only one player.
  • OwieFavorite Maverick: Neon Tiger is like some manner of Wolverine robot, and that’s awesome. And, while I love Neon Tiger, if I’m thinking of X3, I’ll probably name Toxic Seahorse first, because that is probably the most memorably lazy boss fight in the series.
  • I’ve wasted my life: As mentioned, I replayed this game about 12,000 times as a child, but I was too much of a dummy to ever naturally discover that it’s possible to kill Bit, Byte, and Vile during their first encounter. Technically, I feel like I should let them live, as I prefer their fortress boss forms to the generic bots you face in their place… but I need to make up for like a decade of wasted dead robots, so now they must die every time.
  • Manual Transmission: Since this was one of my childhood games, I still have the original manual in excellent condition. The back of the book advertises the Ruby-Spears Mega Man animated action figures. Full disclosure? I’m not going to go get in a fight on EBay for it, but I would totally blow a hundred bucks on a Drill Man action figure.
  • Did you know? There was actually a 3DO version of this game planned, but it never came to fruition. The lack of the obvious Mega Man X3DO title is one of history’s greatest losses.
  • Would I play again: Somehow, this isn’t even the least of the X series, so it’ll probably get replayed when I inevitably say “Well, it beats X7.”

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers for the NES! Hooray! It’s the real debut of Volt Catfish! Please look forward to it!

Look out, Zero

FGC #264 Fighters Megamix

Let's fight!Fighters Megamix didn’t create the crossover fighting game genre. Fighters Megamix didn’t create the 3-D fighter. No, what Fighter’s Megamix did was create the first fighting game where you could fight as a car.

In my book, that counts for a lot.

Fighters Megamix is one of many fighting games to grace the Sega Saturn. The intention of the advertising campaign surrounding Fighters Megamix is right there on the box: “The ultimate team-up – Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2”… which, uh, is apparently a line from Game Informer. Wow, really low standard for pull quotes back then. Regardless, Fighters Megamix, despite the seemingly “unlimited” mega moniker, is, superficially, Virtua Fighter + Fighting Vipers. This, frankly, could have been enough to sell a game back in the day, because, hey, VF and FV are pretty fun games on their own. This isn’t even a Vs. game situation where the rosters are randomly trimmed in the name of balance and hitting release dates: this is straight up the complete cast of Virtua Fighter 2 battling every last fighter in Fighting Vipers 2. Fun times will be had by all!

The cast of Virtua Fighter 2 is not that exciting, though. Maybe Sega was trying to be more realistic, maybe the God of Fighting Games (Punchilicus) had a cold that day, but, somehow, in a post-Street Fighter 2 world, we got a cast of characters that are roughly as generic as America’s Best Cola Flavored Sugar Drink. Give or take a metal woman or two, we’ve got Karate Man, Chinese Lady, Gentle Wrestler, Woman, Ninja, Other Woman, and, my personal favorite, Kid in a Life Preserver. But, when those doofs are next to the cast of Fighting Vipers, their “seriousness” actually seems to work. Fighting Vipers has got a teenage girl in homemade, plastic armor, a radical glam rocker who attacks with his guitar, and not one, but two whole characters based on an executive asking, “well, aren’t rollerblades popular?”. This seems to make the Virtua Fighter cast appear as the valid, “mature” alternative to playing as a character dressed like Serpentor. Virtua Fighters are boring in their own games, but when a Megamix starts happening, they kind of work out.

And it appears someone noticed that, and decided to turn the contrasting weirdness up to eleven.

What just happened?Like many fighting games of the mid-to-late 90’s, there are a few unlockable characters to earn through repeated playthroughs. The first characters you’re likely to unlock are URA Bahn, a variant on Fighting Vipers’ Ryu, and Kids Akira, also a variant, but this time on Virtua Fighter’s main character. Except, while URA Bahn is just Bahn’s color (costume) swap, Kids Akira is Akira as a “chibi”, large-headed, and, frankly, adorable variation on Akira straight out of Virtua Fighter Kids. Right off the bat, we’ve got what seems to be a shot across the bow of Virtua Fighter’s steadfast seriousness. And then there’s Kumachan, a bear with zero points of articulation, so he basically “fights” like he’s being manipulated by an unseen toddler that is attempting to wring some fun out of an inanimate action figure. Oh, but Kumachan appears to be wearing armor, if you break his costume, then you will find that beneath the outer Kumachan shell of a bear, there’s… another bear. It’s bears all the way down!

And it’s weirdness all the way down, too. Siba seems like the most mundane hidden character, but his existence is owed to being deliberately cut content from the original Virtua Fighter, so he’s basically a playable piece of trivia. Then there’s Janet from Virtua Cop, and, even though she doesn’t get a “kick ‘em square in the bean machine” finisher from Dynamite Cop, she’s obviously a million times more interesting than the entire Virtua Fighter cast. That brings us to Rent-A-Hero, who hails from a franchise that has never made it out of Japan, mainly because it seems to be a humongous parody of sentai shows. So, basically, he’s a Power Ranger with the noticeable handicap of being battery-powered, so… uh… don’t take him into any matches that might take longer than a minute. And that luminary is our last human hidden character.

This is beary confusingBut don’t worry, we’ve still got Bean the Dynamite and Bark the Polar Bear. If those sound like lame Sonic the Hedgehogoriginal characters”, it’s because they are: Bean (who is apparently a duck?) and Bark both hail from Sonic The Fighters. Remember that Sonic the Hedgehog fighting game? No? Well, it was on one of the Sonic collections, and it was apparently from the same studio as Fighters Megamix, so here are a few refugees. Note that no one thought to go the obvious route and include, ya know, Sonic the friggen Hedgehog (on a Sega system lacking a definitive Sonic game to boot), but here’s Bark the Polar Bear, and he’s wearing a Santa costume! Oh boy!

And, finally, we have Deku, a green bean in a sombrero. Deku is not to be confused with Amingo, a cactus in a sombrero that would eventually appear in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. These are two totally separate characters, and “two fighting game crossovers featuring a bizarre Mexican stereotype” is just the kind of coincidence that happens when companies make fighting games for a decade or so. It was bound to happen.

Oh, wait, Deku isn’t our final hidden character after all. Technically, there’s also Mr. Meat (a piece of videogame meat with inexplicable [and unattached] hands and feet), Palm Tree (who is a palm tree), and, finally, Hornet. Hornet is a car that walks like a man. Hornet must suck the blood of the living, lest Hornet return to a lowly life as a race car. Also, Hornet is as tall as a human right now, for some reason. Hornet fights about as well as you’d expect a car with absolutely zero martial arts training to fight, but, hey, how many games can you fight as a car? (No, not fight as cars, that’s something else entirely.)

VROOM!

Let’s face facts: Fighting Vipers is long forgotten, and Virtua Fighter, try as it might, has never achieved the acclaim or fame of even lesser fighting games. But, for one shining moment, both franchises combined into the most memorable fighting game on the Sega Saturn. No, it didn’t change the face of the genre or invent a whole new playstyle like some of its contemporaries, but it was a fun time… mostly because most of its hidden cast is the result of a fever dream. Marvel vs. Capcom or King of the Fighters might be fun games, but they don’t allow the player to pit a car against a bean. That’s a matchup you’ll only find on the Saturn.

Head for Saturn, little polar bear. Head for Saturn.

FGC #264 Fighters Megamix

  • System: Sega Saturn. This is unlikely to see a rerelease, as it is impossible to sort out the rights to Deku,
  • Number of players: Two car-people enter, only one vrooms away.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: There’s a snake-themed character with brown coloring named B.M. … Someone had to know what was going on there. It’s not just me with my mind in the gutter… right?
  • What?Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Fighters Megamix creates an interesting twist on the typical arcade mode, and includes a number of “brackets” with distinct characters, like Muscle (for the “Zangief-esque” characters”) or Smart Guys (for the more tactical characters). There’s even a “Girls” tier exclusively for the female characters. That’s good! There are enough women in a fighting game that they can flesh out an entire tower of girl power, and that’s rare! What’s not so great is that your reward for battling through this mode is a credits sequence that contains more cheesecake than my dad’s birthday party. And, side note, that man really enjoys his cheesecake.
  • Also gross: Honey/Candy is sexualized to a fairly insane degree, and she’s supposed to be sixteen. Thanks, Sega!
  • Favorite Character: Gonna say it again, “Car that walks like a man.”
  • Did you know? The Dirty Fighters tournament involves a lot of characters that crouch and punch. I’m almost certain this means that the “dirty fighters” are all trying to punch my chosen hero where Virtua Fighter Kids come from. That’s dirty.
  • Would I play again: This is like the one Sega Saturn game I enjoy replaying. Good thing, too, considering I have to start a new save file every time I boot up the damn thing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Scribblenauts Unmasked for WiiU! Typing time with Batman! Please look forward to it!

BEAR OVER

FGC #233 Bubsy 3D

What a magnificent catHere is a partial list of things made worse by Bubsy 3D:

• First and foremost, videogames are worse, as a medium, thanks to Bubsy 3D. No matter what happens, whether we see the true Citizen Kane of gaming or if a videogame somehow rescues a starving boy from a well, people will be able to point to Bubsy 3D and say, “Yeah, but Bubsy 3D happened.” Stupid biased facts.

• Cats. Bubsy Bubsy Bubsy Bubsy Boooooooobcat is, technically a bobcat, but that’s close enough. I used to be a cat person, but Bubsy has made me a dog person through association. Sorry, my furry friends, you’ll have to chase your own red dots now.

• Bobcats. I mean, duh.

• The entire Third Dimension. It was a wonderful experiment, guys, but I’m pretty sure we should go back to some manner of flat world, because it’s pretty clear we can’t be trusted with depth and the perception thereof. I realize becoming 2-D in response to one lousy videogame may seem like overreacting, but can we really risk another Bubsy 3D?

• Jumping. This one is gonna hit the plumbers right in the overalls, but jumping is also another failure. Remember when Mario went 3-D, and he was granted a punch, because it was blisteringly obvious that jumping on moving, 3-D targets was going to get really old, really fast? Yeah, Bubsy didn’t learn that lesson, and even the most motionless monster is impossible to properly bop. And once you start running into those mobile UFO things? Nope, jumping was a mistake.

Move along, cat• Walking. Bubsy 3D somehow makes the simple act of walking a terrifying ordeal. Bubsy controls like a tank/Chris Redfield, and thus must be “steered”. Bubsy can only move forward or backward, and adding any sort of angle to that equation requires rotating like a bobcat on a BBQ spit. This is less than ideal on a good day, but the dark gods responsible for Bubsy’s existence decided to add another fly to the ointment: many pathways zig-zag. Walk forward, turn slightly, walk forward, turn slightly, walk forward, turn slightly, whoops, didn’t turn enough, fall to your death. No game should include a “walking challenge”.

• Water. Delightful, life giving water spells only death for Bubsy… which kind of makes sense, because we’re dealing with a cat, and they have legendary hydrophobia (and my grandfather has the scars to prove it). Except… Bubsy 3D has underwater levels. And, brother, if you thought nobody liked water stages in good games, you won’t believe the level of terrible going on in this abomination. So with water being either instantly fatal at the slightest touch or the basis for entire stages, Bubsy 3D can’t even be internally consistent with its insanity. Stupid water.

• Oxygen. The water stages run on Sonic the Hedgehog rules, and you must ration your air supply. At this point, not breathing is just easier than relaying the rest of that horror.

Won't someone think of the children!• Aliens. The “plot” of Bubsy 3D is that Bubsy accidently stowed away on an alien spaceship (presumably the same creatures from Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind), and is now wrecking up their alien planet because… he’s a dick? This isn’t self (yarn) defense anymore, he’s just attacking aliens because they’re there. If you think this is a “Oh, that silly Goggle Bob is making a mountain out of a molehill plot” thing, consider that the intro of the game features a panicked alien populace shouting, “What are we going to do!?” Bubsy looks bad, aliens look bad, and, somewhere, Steven Spielberg has a headache, and doesn’t know why.

• Cars. Cats should not be allowed to drive.

• The Mighty Atom. Despite being the building blocks of all matter in the known universe, and, incidentally, really really tiny, Bubsy attempts to use generics atoms as projectiles in Bubsy 3D. I say “attempts” because they are difficult to aim, will detonate and damage Bubsy if he holds one for too long, and, for reasons unknown, will boomerang and hurt Bubsy if they don’t hit anything. In short, atoms are the worst “powerup” in all of gaming. Imagine if a Fire Flower lit Mario ablaze, and you basically have the gist of it.

• Yarn. It doesn’t appear much in the game, but I don’t think I’m even capable of dealing with another yarn pun.

• Puns. No explanation necessary.

• Western gaming. You don’t see Japan cranking out crap like this. Well, you do, but usually it’s wrapped up in some kind of random sexual perversion, so at least you can admire their dedication to their craft. Incidentally, that “craft” is “panties”.

What even just happened?• The Sega 32X. This game was originally planned to be on the 32X, possibly one of the most under-supported gaming systems ever released. Star Wars, Doom, and that hummingbird game. There was a Sonic the Hedgehog game… starring & Knuckles. Sonic couldn’t make it. Doing his hair. Bubsy was originally slated to appear on the 32X, but his handlers decided that 32X wasn’t selling well enough, so the game was ported to Playstation. The Sega 32X wasn’t good enough for Bubsy. Forget After Burner, the 32X already has more burns than it can handle.

• The Playstation. No matter how much Sony owns the console market, it will always be the company responsible for allowing this game into our homes. The Playstation is worse for it. And, what’s more, since the Playstation brand had backwards compatibility up through the Playstation 3, Bubsy 3D is technically playable on three different systems. That’s three more systems than should have ever been allowed!

• The Sega Saturn. This was the second system to be snubbed by Bubsy 3D. Despite initial plans to ship Bubsy to Saturn, that trip was permanently delayed when Bubsy 3D was received about as well as a bobcat visiting a preschool. Under normal circumstances, not hosting Bubsy 3D would be a good thing, but the Saturn marks the second Sega system to be snubbed by the bobcat. That’s, like, how big of a failure do you have to be to be ignored by Bubsy twice?

• The Whole of Human History. In a way, we all responsible for letting Bubsy 3D happen.

And now a complete list of things not made worse by Bubsy 3D:

• Bubsy. Seriously, after his previous adventures how could he get any worse? The bottom is a lonely place, and, apparently, it’s home to a bobcat.

FGC #233 Bubsy 3D

  • System: Playstation, where it should stay contained.
  • Number of players: Oh yeah, there’s a 2-Player “death match”. Please don’t ask me to explain how that works in a shoddy 3-D platformer.
  • Just play the gig man: I can barely notice the insipid music, but the constant “cartoony” sound effects in Bubsy 3D are cause for alarm. I thought Scooby-Doo had poor sound design, but I had no idea.
  • Say something nice: The doctors tell me that my vision will return shortly, so at least the horrid graphics of this adventure do not cause permanent blindness.
  • How about some nightmare fuel? Sure!
    MELT AWAY TO NOTHING
  • Did you know? This was Bubsy’s creator’s return to Bubsy. He claimed that Bubsy 2 had damaged the Bubsy brand, and this was going to make Bubsy all better. Bubsy never headlined another game again.
  • Would I play again: If I do, that’s your sign that I have been replaced by some manner of replicant. If that occurs, do not hesitate, and please use a bazooka on “me” immediately. It’s better for all of us.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… House of the Dead: Overkill for Nintendo Wii! Hey! That might actually be fun! Who doesn’t like shooting zombies? Please look forward to it!

Serously?

FGC #175 Herc’s Adventures

Get 'emWhat is a “smart” videogame?

“Smart” is inevitably a subjective, loaded term. People are often described as smart as a result of good grades or quick thinking, but, as with so many things that define who we are, it’s a moving goalpost constantly ferried about by the audience. Is Donald Trump smart? He is college educated and successful in his field. If you vote “no” on this one, he’s also likely to retort with a hoary old, “Then if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” Theoretical Trump might have a point, but just because someone is wealthier than Stephen Hawking doesn’t mean they’re smarter. It’s all relative, and if the smartest man on Earth can’t figure out how to consistently make fire, then he’d look pretty dumb stranded on a deserted island (or just an episode of Survivor).

Different pieces of media also get the “smart” label. Citizen Kane is never going to finish my math homework, but it’s often regarded as a very smart movie. Suicide Squad, meanwhile, is “dumb fun”, even if it’s potentially just as big a waste of time as any other movie. I suppose the theory here is that movies that can be described as smart “really make you think”, while dumb movies are based primarily on explosions and watching fat people fall down. For better or worse, I feel like the internet as it currently stands has widely disproven this theory as indicated by the sheer number of articles I’ve read regarding popcorn flicks of the 80’s and 90’s and their impact on society and the secret meta meanings of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In other words, you can get a lot of “smart” out of “dumb”, so either descriptor for a movie, book, or television show seems disingenuous.

And then we have my favorite entertainment medium: videogames. A few short years ago, it would have been impossible to convince the general public that a videogame could ever possibly be described as “smart”. Like G 'n GLuckily, thanks to either actually good videogames or just focused advertising campaigns, a number of recent games have cleared the “smart” bar and occasionally won the title of “The Citizen Kane of Videogames”. Obviously, that phrase has no more actual meaning than claiming “Super Mario Bros. is the Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed of Videogames,” but the sentiment is there. Videogames can now be high art, and, as art, they can be smart. Unfortunately, I feel like we’re still a ways off from “The Louvre of Videogames”, but gaming as an art form has gained a lot more ground in recent years, so hooray for recognizing that gaming might be able to be smarter than the smarties.

Herc’s Adventures was released in 1997, the same year Final Fantasy 7 revitalized storytelling in videogames and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night put the “vania” in Metroidvania. At this time (nearly two decades ago, yeesh), videogames were still considered silly toys for children by much of the public. However, the “adventure genre” over in the land of personal computers was considered much more adult than anything seen on the consoles. The King’s Quest series was likely the most popular of these games, but Lucasarts had also carved out a critically acclaimed niche in the genre with titles like The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. At a time when many console games could barely provide coherent English, the Lucasarts adventure games provided interesting plots, clever puzzles, and humor.

Now, it’s impossible to know what people of the 80’s and 90’s were thinking (see: parachute pants), but Lucasarts adventure games were consistently referred to as “smart”, and it’s difficult to know if this was because of the gameplay or the writing. Io?Adventure games could basically be described by the more unwieldy phrase “logic puzzle games” thanks to the challenge of these titles ultimately relying on how quickly the player can adapt to the internal logic of the game’s world. This, naturally, was considered “smarter” than the twitch gaming of Super Mario Bros. or a button-mashing fighting game. And Lucasarts titles were considered even smarter than their PC brethren, as, unlike Sierra adventure games, Lucasarts tended to rely dramatically less on “you are dead” and gotcha moments. Actually being inviting to a player is only ever going to be interpreted as smart.

And the humor is the other side of the smart coin (which is probably sitting somewhere in the Batcave). I’m not going to dissect the frog and explain why humor is interpreted as smart on many occasions, but the rapid-fire jokes of games like Sam & Max portray a very smart writing staff. Again, these games were on the market at a time when the most popular console mascots (Mario, Link, Super Alfred Chicken) were all silent, and the talkers we did get (Bubsy, B.O.B.) were generally created by Deflucucus, Lord of Despair. Basically, when most console games couldn’t get out of the orbit of fart jokes (Boogerman! That happened!), Lucasarts was writing on a level that might make Woody Allen guffaw.

Despite the name, Herc’s Adventures is not an adventure game (well, it’s what I define as an adventure game [which means it fits the criteria of “kinda like Zelda”], but it’s not what Lucasarts defines as an adventure game). Herc’s Adventures is a more action-y game, and plays much more like Lucasarts’ other excellent console experience, Zombies Ate My Neighbors. The gameplay is much the same, but Herc’s Adventures eschews the schlock horror aesthetic of ZTMN for a tongue-in-cheek look at the myths of Ancient Greece. Hera, Goddess of Fertility and wife of Alpha God Zeus is still a goddess… but now also a stereotypical overweight What a lookerhousewife that eats cows like potato chips. Hercules is a narcissist, Cassandra predicts pizza rain, and Athena seems less Goddess of Wisdom and more Marvin the Martian. Also, actual Martians are involved, but I’ll try to avoid spoiling that particular plot point.

In a way, all of this is a “smart” interpretation of Greek Mythology. All the elements are already there (playboy Zeus pretty much would sleep with anything in the classical myths), this is just the more absurd (by modern standards) elements of the Greek Pantheon and its heroes dialed up to eleven. This isn’t just “let’s make Athena chubby and call it a day”, this is playing off myths that the creators of this game had to know pretty well in order to parody so effectively. Bacchus doesn’t get nearly enough exposure nowadays, but the folks at Lucasarts were quick to get that drunk on board. You have to be smart to lampoon your subject so well. I think there’s a magazine based on that.

But it’s a shame about the actual game portion of the videogame.

Herc’s Adventures isn’t a bad game, it’s just very banal. Unlike Zombies Ate My Neighbors, there are not levels, but a gigantic “overworld” that completely connects across the land… Except, each “area” is much more like a level than anything else, and backtracking rarely leads to shortcuts or additional powerups. Once you complete a not-level, there’s little reason to return, so it may as well be, ya know, a series of sequential levels. When you die (and you will die a lot), you do not simply respawn, but your character is banished to the underworld, and must fight out of an Croakedincreasingly more tortuous Tartarus. This sounds like a clever death mechanic… but you still only get five trips to the underworld before a Game Over, so why not give me some straight-up “lives” and save us the annoyance of this “extra” dungeon? And, honestly, it feels like the game makes a lot of rookie mistakes, like an unforgiving lack of invincible-after-hit frames, bottomless pits, and items that are limited, but offer no easy explanation for the what the hell you’ve got there. I was supposed to give this boar’s head to some dude back in the swamp? That’s great, but now that I missed that guy, it’s going to take up inventory space forever with no indication of its benefits? Great. Just great.

It’s disappointing that a game that is so clever and smart with its writing is boorish and dumb with its actual gameplay. Nobody ever claimed the (extremely limited) dialogue of Mega Man X or Super Metroid could rival Shakespeare; but, in the end, those are extremely smart games for how they use the conventions of gaming to not only craft impeccable experiences, but also tell memorable stories. DumbFinal Fantasy 7 might not have been the most original game in the JRPG field, but its story and gameplay were both amazing, and redefined a genre for generations as a result. Herc’s Adventures… well… it’s funny and has good writing, but its gameplay is so tedious, you’re unlikely to ever see the end. All this effort to make a perfect Poseidon, and most people are never going to bother completing the first quasi-level to see him.

A smart videogame knows how to be a videogame first, and the rest is secondary. Anything else is just… dumb.

FGC #175 Herc’s Adventures

  • System: Playstation and Sega Saturn. I’m not certain I’ve ever seen the Saturn version in the wild. It’s also on PSN, for the record.
  • Number of players: Two, and, like Zombies Ate My Neighbors, your second player is not going to survive long enough to enjoy anything.
  • Favorite Character: You’ve got your choice between Herc, a young Jason of Argonauts fame, and Atlanta, home of the Braves. I want to like Atlanta, because I normally enjoy ranged attacks, but she takes forever to reload, and she’s going to be eaten by a cyclops in that time. That leaves Jason, as he’s the speedy one, and, like in other games like this, speed is how you avoid the reaper (sometimes literally).
  • And yet again: I never get tired of how many fair-skinned blondes were running around Ancient Greece. I think this is where cheerleaders come from.
  • Get 'er!An End: Like some other Lucasarts adventures, the finale will see you encountering the designers of the game in their home office. This puts Herc’s Adventures on the same echelon as Chrono Trigger in exactly one category.
  • Did you know? Disney’s Hercules was released the same year as Herc’s Adventures, and I wonder if that was a calculated move. Think any grandmas mistook one game for the other?
  • Would I play again: Despite being rather hard on the thing, I do kind of enjoy this game, albeit only in a situation where I absolutely know what I’m doing. I might fire it up again at some point in the distant future, and shut it down the minute I die. I am not a patient man.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 7! Actually, ROB didn’t choose anything this time, I’m just going with 1997’s other biggie on the 19th anniversary of its release (before everybody does the same thing next year). And I’m not just covering Final Fantasy 7, I’ll be looking at everything (almost everything) in the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 all week. So come back Monday, and you’ll see there’s even a reason to come back Tuesday, too. Please look forward to it!

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