FGC #562 Q*Bert

No colorLet’s look at the evolution of gaming/Q*Bert over the years.

In 1982, gaming was just taking its first, tentative steps towards Gaming as we know it. Pac-Man and Pong had blazed the trail with their joystick/wheely thing controls, but now we were seeing new and innovative ways to play. Kangaroo, for instance, was a game that was very similar to the likes of Donkey Kong, but added an all-important offensive action to its heroine’s repertoire. Kangaroo could punch out monkeys and apples alike, and one could argue this simple act was the start of “videogame violence” for years to come (sorry, dead monkeys, you gotta start somewhere). And speaking of offensive options, Dig Dug first started digging in ’82, and he had the ability to “pump up” his opponents until they popped. This had the dual purpose of inspiring a generation of bizarre fetishes and featuring a hero that always had the ability to turn the tables on his opponents. Unlike Pac-Man or Mario that had to rely on sporadically distributed powerups, Taizo the Digger was hunted and hunter all in one. This would become the norm for practically all of gaming to come.

But if one game presciently granted a glimpse of gaming of the future, it was Pitfall. Nearly four decades ago, Pitfall Harry explored a large world of tricks, traps, and treasure. Harry had much to do in his (certainly not Mayan) adventure, and, while his moveset was limited, it was contextually sensitive to all sorts of challenges. Harry didn’t simply jump over opponents, he leapt to swing across vines, or hopped over the heads of gators. Pitfall was a revelation for everything its protagonist (and by extension, the player) could do, even if this was still the era of extremely blocky dudes puttering around monochrome backgrounds.

Lookin' GoodAnd 1982 also saw the release of Q*Bert. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops.

Ten years later, in 1992, the face of gaming had irrevocably changed. The arcade gave way to the domination of the console, and now Sega and Nintendo were battling it out. But there was the Personal Computer, too! Wolfenstein 3D had just been released, and the whole of the FPS genre was just starting to congeal into Doom (to be released the next year). For some, the “3-D” nature of first person shooters promised to be what “the future of gaming” was always expected to be: fully immersive fighting (through the legions of Hell/nazis, apparently).

But away from the monitor and back at the television, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was pushing the boundaries of the genre that had become known as platforming. Sonic could run, jump, and dash; but he did it at speeds that could not have even been imagined ten years prior. And this latest Sonic allowed for two player simultaneous play! Just like in those competitive fighting games that had been making the scene! And Mortal Kombat was the most prominent “new fighter” of ’92. Now there was a radical shift in gaming! Kangaroo might have punched out a monkey, but, for better or worse, she never tore the head off of an opponent. And look at all those buttons! “Punch” is a thing of the past: Sub-Zero had a variety of punches, kicks, and fireballs (well, snowballs) at his disposal. You didn’t just need an instruction manual for your average fighting game, you needed a strategy guide (thanks, Nintendo Power!).

Good bless QBertBut while we’re considering strategy, let us also consider Super Mario Kart. Mario had cameoed in a sports title here or there over the years (he got really good at Golf, apparently), but he mostly just starred in his own adventures that involved running and jumping. Super Mario Kart was a great success as a fun racing game, but it also showcased how a videogame mascot could shift all their normal “verbs”, but still be unmistakably that familiar mascot. Mushrooms can make you super tall, or they can give you a speed boost. Turtle shells can become projectiles divorced from their turtles. And anyone that has ever played any Mario Kart knows the difference between a Starman that allows you to mow down goombas and one that allows you to speed to the finish line. Mario Kart showed that even the most rigidly defined mascot could be anything, and paved the way for the Sonic Racing or unprecedented crossovers of today.

And then there was Q*Bert for Gameboy, and Q*Bert 3 for Super Nintendo, both released in 1992. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, six punch buttons, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. Sometimes there are a variety of new colors and backgrounds, though. You know, at least on the system that has color.

Let’s hop forward seven years. By the time 1999 rolled around, the “mascot wars” of the previous console generation had concluded, and newcomer Sony was riding high with the Playstation and the serious, cinematic Final Fantasy franchise. This was the year we were finally going to see the sequel to Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy: Whatever, and it pushed the boundaries for what was expected of the JRPG genre. Have you ever heard of Triple Triad? Guardian Forces? Dog Missiles? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it, it was all only around for one game, but it did establish that you could have complicated battle systems that were only relevant for one title. Fight, magic, item wasn’t the only fish in the sea, anymore, let’s get ready to get some gambits up in here!

Go QBert!This was also a time when gaming was getting more serious… but “serious” as more of a teenager’s definition. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater allowed a “real human” avatar to perform intricate skateboarding tricks in a universe that apparently had unlimited and instant healthcare. Silent Hill allowed a player to explore the depths of the human psyche in a world that was going to be complete in a few years with the introduction of a certain pyramid headed fellow that really knew how to swing around half a pair of scissors. Or maybe you just wanted to be the Driver, and cruise around realistic (enough) cities? In a way, these games were just as big on the fantasy as Mario (no, you cannot drive a car into a building in reality and continue to have a good time), but they were a lot more “real” than anything Pitfall Harry ever did.

And if you wanted some fantasy, don’t worry, you still had the likes of Ape Escape or Donkey Kong 64 to hold you over. DK64 saw the collectathon at its most… collecty, and showcased all the different ways Kongs can run, jump, and shoot on their way to an ultimate goal of wringing out 12,000,000 (monotonous) hours of gameplay. And Ape Escape was no simple monkey game, it was a sneak and capture event closer to Metal Gear than Donkey Kong. Even visually “childish” games in 1999 weren’t so simple.

And then there was Q*Bert for Playstation. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. This time there was an adventure mode, but that was just an excuse to stick cinema scenes on either side of a world. Everything else was just Q*Bert hops.

BERT!The following five years allowed for a number of innovations in gaming. In 2004 we saw Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which was the first Grand Theft Auto to feature extensive customization to its grand, open world. It also had planes, bazookas, and the opportunity for your C.J. to cosplay as The Notorious B.I.G. for the entire adventure. It is arguable that this Grand Theft Auto went too far into the whacky territory after its sequels eventually tried to rein everything back in with sad Russians in GTA4 and sad dads in GTA5, but the Saints Row franchise carried that whacky football straight to the end zone. Gaming had started goofy, become serious, and then migrated back to goofy all over again.

And speaking of marginally goofy, this was the year we saw Fable, which touted a rich morality system and a story that was different every time you played it. Did that actually happen? Well, not really, but it did seemingly start the trend of games that bet their whole asses on save baby/eat baby morality. It was no longer enough to run, jump, and punch; now you had to determine whether or not you were doing all those things while simultaneously becoming Mecha Hitler. Or Mecha Mother Theresa? You’ve got choices!

But on the simpler side of things, there was Katamari Damacy. This straightforward little game featured a protagonist that could only roll around a ball, but that ball could grow from the size of a paperclip to roughly the girth of a galaxy. And, more importantly than the gameplay, it was released for a whole $20, kickstarting the (now standard) belief that not every videogame had to be a AAA, 40 hour feature. Before internet connections fully graduated from 56K, Katamari Damacy showed us a glimpse of the future of downloadable titles.

Eat it!And speaking of downloadable, this year also saw an official Flash (RIP) version of Q*Bert. In a game that would be ported to “real” Windows a year later, Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. At least this Q*venture was free.

Now we fast-forward a decade to 2014. What innovations did this year hold for gaming? Well, we wound up skipping the exact year for a lot of big’uns from this epoch, so we’re left with staring straight at Dark Souls 2. Did you ever hear about Dark Souls? It’s the Dark Souls of Bloodborne games. Love it or hate it, Dark Souls impacted gaming in more ways than we will ever admit, arguably revitalizing the general gameplay of the rogue-like and encouraging increasing your own personal gaming skills while marginally leveling up your chosen hero. In a similar manner, this was the year we saw Bayonetta 2, a shining example of the likewise “hardcore” stylish action genre. Gaming could be slow and methodical or fast and elegant, but, in both cases, it was a little more complicated than guiding a puck through a maze.

And if you still wanted the mascots of yore, don’t worry, they were represented, too. If you wanted to see everybody fight everybody, Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU/3DS was released in 2014. Smash Bros was always a shining example of videogame protagonists leaving their usual genre and sailing into something completely different (Star Fox left his ship!), but Smash 4 would eventually grow and mutate to be a veritable yearbook of every character that had ever mattered in gaming (sorry, Geno, you don’t matter). And if you wanted something new from “cartoony” characters, this was also the year that Shovel Knight proved Kickstarting retro platformers was wholly viable, and could have amazing, enduring results. Come to think of it, Shovel Knight was partially inspired by Dark Souls, too…

CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTERBut there was one game released that year that was not inspired by Dark Souls. Q*Bert Rebooted, seemingly rebooted to promote an Adam Sandler vehicle, was a game where Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, shovel, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. He also hopped to nearly every platform available, so this one is still downloadable on modern consoles.

And Q*Bert returned for the most recent time in 2019 for iOS. Do we need to review the gaming breakthroughs of such a recent year? Fire Emblem: Three Houses and its perfect blend of chess and dating simulation? Super Mario Maker 2 and its ability to grant the player full creative control over familiar gameplay? Untitled Goose Game and its goose? Whatever the hell happens in Sekiro? (I gather it is a photography simulator.) 2019 was an amazing year for gaming where we not only had all this, but also Q*Bert. And what did Q*Bert do? He moved from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changed blocks colors. He baited a snake into a pit. Q*Bert only knows hops.

He was Q*Bert. He is Q*Bert. The face of gaming may irrevocably change, but Q*Bert is Q*Bert forever.

@!#?

FGC #562 Q*Bert

  • Go lil buddySystem: I’m pretty sure the lil’ Bert appeared on nearly every console system, give or take a few outliers. Playstation 2? Sega Genesis? And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on Atari Lynx, either. Other than that, there’s probably some Q*Bert in some form on your preferred console.
  • Number of players: One Q*Bert, but two people can take turns if they are so inclined.
  • Don’t make a sound: Q*Bert’s claim to fame has always been the bizarre recordings that approximate the sound an orange monster man might make when brained with a purple marble. Unfortunately, playing Q*Bert in the year 2021 just reminds me that I never want to hear from a belligerent orange creature ever again.
  • Hey, what about Q*Bert’s Qubes: The only Q*Bert to truly mix up traditional Q*Bert gameplay was… not all that different. It basically just added the idea of “rotating” cubes according to the direction Q*Bert hops (as opposed to one simple, all-purpose tap), and added a handful of new enemies (there may have been a crab). Other than that, the way it “separated” the blocks made the game a lot more difficult to visually parse, and there’s probably a reason this Q*title is generally forgotten and ignored.
  • Did you know? Q*Bert for Playstation started with a cinema scene based in Q*Bert’s blocky little world. Weird thing? His weirdass universe looks a lot like modern Minecraft. Did Steve colonize Q*World? Is that the secret origin of the franchise?
  • Would I play again: Q*Bert is great for a whole five minutes before you remember it’s just goddamned Q*Bert. I will probably waste those five minutes again in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wallachia Reign of Dracula! Or did ROB actually choose Bloodstained: Classic Mode? Actually, it’s both! We’re going to have a double header next! Please look forward to it!

GO FOR IT!

World of Final Fantasy Part 07

Chapter 20: Good Job Breaking It, Twins
Initial Stream: 10/27/20



00:00 – Tonight’s stream features guest commentator Rosella, who once joined me on a journey of looking at Persona 5 from a particular kind of critical perspective. We’re going to be less critical of Funko Fantasy.

Oh, also fanboymaster has an apology for any Family Matters enthusiasts in the audience.

Also, between updates, I ventured around some of the older dungeons to find their hidden, stronger monsters. It was 95% backtracking, and roughly 4% interesting content (the other 1% was a pair of cactuar I’m genuinely sad wasn’t on the stream), so you didn’t miss anything. The final result is that there are a lot more ignored mirages sitting in my monster box. The only relevant one seems to be the Phoenix that has joined my party, so that prompts a conversation about the upcoming Final Fantasy 16.

10:00 – Technically this update is starting from the very tail end of the previous chapter. We beat the first boss of that prior chapter (Tiamat! And a bull!) while fanboymaster describes Babel II.

21:00 – Finally done with the second boss, Kraken and eyeball, so now the new chapter officially begins. Feel free to log how little gameplay is actually in this chapter.

26:00 – A boss fight against Not-Garland, who will not-knock us all down. And, inexplicably, we all have stories about Squall’s Griever.

33:00 – Here is formally where all hell breaks loose in the World of Final Fantasy plot. This, naturally, prompts some discussion on Kingdom Hearts versus World of Final Fantasy. Did WoFF establish its characters enough to support this swerve? Did Kingdom Hearts?

38:33 – Can you identify this silhouette?



Tidus stops it from being officially summoned into this world, but if you recognized our guest villain, here’s your congratulatory image:


45:00 – Final Fantasy 8 is discussed while the heroes regroup and review exactly how they all started to hang out. If you needed some backstory on why Lightning suddenly knows Cloud, here you go.

48:00 – Technically gameplay resumes for the first time since…. What, 26:00? This is reminding me of another Let’s Play… Meanwhile, we unanimously agree we would like to go to the moon.

58:00 – Unfortunately, gameplay doesn’t last long. Hauyn and Tama both host cutscenes that are simultaneously long and not every informative.

1:01:00 – Towards the end here, just letting BEAT know that I did fulfill that request. This chapter putters out after more discussion over what the hell is happening. If you need more information on that…

What actually happened in the plot: After defeating a fiend or four, the twins open a crazy big door (not the Ultima Gate, that’s coming up), and defeat Brandelis, King of Bahamutian Army, in an area that looks like Heaven. The Masked Woman that appeared last chapter says to open the Ultima Gate, which inspires some weird flashbacks in the kids. Masked Woman unmasks, and turns out to be the twins’ (kinda adopted) sister Hauyn (aka Wyn). No, she wasn’t established in the plot previously, but just roll with it. The twins, trusting in Wyn, open the gate, and they free from a magical box… Wyn? Another Wyn? “Masked” Wyn turns out to have been Knight in the Golden Mask the whole time, and it was always the villainous generals (including the obviously not defeated Brandelis) leading the heroes to open the gate.

So all of “heaven” is revealed to be an evil arena (or something), and the four summoners that had been kidnapped (Rydia, Eiko, Yuna, Terra) are being tortured to hold the gate open. The bad guys are identified as the Order of the Circle (also never mentioned before). The Order of the Circle were apparently conquering the world for (sacrificial) giggles, and their true goal was summoning the Cogna, machine creatures from another dimension. And they’ve succeeded, as Cogna stream through the gate to invade the world. Looks like they are cyber-izing the planet, and resistance is futile. The Champions (FF heroes) rescue the summoners, though, shutting the gate. The villains escape, and the world is overrun with Cogna that already made it through. The heroes make it out thanks to Quistis in an airship, and they swing by Balamb Garden, which flies in the sky in this world. It is assumed that the Cogna were released so the generals could conquer the world (more?), and Reynn is afraid they accidentally released the bad guys when they were collecting the keys. Which they kinda did. Go back and check, there were ominous cutscenes and everything.

Mascot Creature Tama is freaking out about the whole thing, but the twins talk him down. Tama elaborates on the Exnine Knights maybe being The Order of the Circle, and, whatever, they’re bad. Maybe Enna Kros, the “god lady” tried to make this happen by setting the adventure in motion? Wyn seems to blame the twins for something, but literally states she will not help (or explain a damn thing) while the twins have their selective amnesia. Rorrik, the twins’ dad, is mentioned by Wyn for the first time, though. Wyn has a magic dagger, Siren the Summon, and a will to save the twins’ parents, so she’s going to peace out and save the world herself. And then we get an airship.

Chapter 21-1: Chapters of the Chosen
Initial Stream: 10/27/20



1:36 – Yes, we are playing this game on the 5 year anniversary of the international release. Can we talk about Final Fantasy 10-2, though? Let’s do that. It seems to be influencing my chapter titling, at least.

5:00 – We’ve got choices! There are five separate stories that all have to be sorted. Starting in Besaid, we fight Einhänder. Yes, that Einhänder. I apparently, impossibly kill it with a Blitzball in one hit during the ensuing minigame. This was not the result of cheating or raw skill, it was just pure, unfiltered luck.

11:00 –


14:00 – The Lute of Ragnarok is some manner of giant laser sword. This is the most helpful/apocalyptic Final Fantasy 1 reference I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t figured it out, this section of the game is a series of disparate minigames. Lightning has to play something like a rhythm game (minus the rhythm).

24:00 – Callback to BEAT’s favorite Cactuar Battle becomes a super random minigame. I looked up more information on this minigame afterwards, and, yep, it’s just totally random. Let’s talk about developing games for various Playstations while we punch a precious cactuar.

34:00 – Talking about some manner of Vee-ta game system opposite Edgar flirting with Terra. Then it’s time for battleship.

43:00 – Rosella understands this minigame a lot better than I do, and here’s where we start working together to finally conquer it while BEAT and fanboymaster play other games out of boredom. This officially makes Rosella the most useful person that has ever been on the stream. She might not provide 70,000 references to Adult Swim, but her assistance in conquering robots is invaluable.

49:30 – And our reward is a simple battle. What the heck, World of Final Fantasy?

What actually happened in the plot: Serafie, our fairy friend, finds “gossip” all over the world. Apparently the cogna are attacking everywhere at once, so the twins go to The Girl Who Forgot Her Name, who exists outside time, so they can help the Final Fantasy characters simultaneously. The Five Cogna Lords are attacking five distinct locations/hero squads. Shantotto, Yuna, and Tidus defend Besaid against Einhänder. With the help of a blitzball, they succeed, and Shantotto captures Einhänder for study. Warrior of Light, Princess Saria, and Eiko defend Corneria while Lightning recruits Ramuh to help in fighting Omega Weapon. Cid, Celes, and Squall fight Phantom Train and War Machine thanks to assistance from Cactuar Conductor (whom Reynn finally got to punch). Edgar, Vivi, Shelke, and Terra defend Figaro against wheelers.

Chapter 21-2: Cogna Line
Initial Stream: 10/27/20


00:00 – Picking up exactly where the last one left off, time to kill robots and insult Picross.

1:36 –


7:30 – fanboymaster again makes his feelings on Final Fantasy 6 known (see other streams for more information), and Wheels obliterates the chat in retaliation. Sorry, Wheels.

11:00 – We’ve completed the five cogna fights… and BEAT rages into his own death. Sorry! He’s dead now.

13:00 – We can advance the plot now, but since BEAT is dead, we’re going to just futz around with some optional content. Let’s see the airship content. It’s… basically just a few monsters hiding around the map. We can’t even land this airship anywhere!

20:00 – Rosella tells an amazing story about virtual reality, virtual skeevers, and actual dogs. All I’m doing is fighting dumb monsters.

30:00 – Despite the fact that other streamers need food badly, we try a few optional scenario things. Let’s check in on Chocobo times. Chocolatte and Bartz team up!

34:00 – Gigglemesh.


That is all.

36:00 – People have been kidnapped, chocobos have been kidnapped, let’s close this out with a mecha chocobo.

What actually happened in the plot: Tifa, Cloud, and Rydia fight Supraltima Weapon, which has absurd HP. After all five Cogna Lord locations have been saved, Quistis found the bad guys at the end of the chains connected to various towns. We need to hit a conquered town’s church to advance. Elsewhen: Bartz and Chocolatte save chocobos from black chocobos and robot chocobos. It was pleasant.

Next time on World of Final Fantasy: We need an intervention or twenty.

FGC #561 Mega Man Network Transmission

We gonna MegaThe Mega Man franchise has become vaguely unwieldy. A simple game about running, jumping, and shooting at robots has quickly become a franchise juggernaut that now contains thirty years’ worth of titles spanning multiple genres, systems, and epochs. If you want the whole of the Mega Man experience, you need multiple consoles, hundreds of games, and maybe even some time to watch an anime or two.

Or you could just play 2003’s Mega Man Network Transmission. That game has got it all.

This is Mega Man Battle Network!

At the turn of the 21st century, a great many videogame franchises went through a bit of an identity crisis. Nintendo declared Bowser was dead, or a dad, or maybe some kind of skeleton monster. Zelda drowned all of Hyrule, and Kirby got into star racing. The pervading thought seemed to be that old franchises had to change and grow to compete with the new generation, and, while there were some standouts from this period of change (hello there, Metroid Prime), we mostly now look back and lament Mario being strapped to a water gun for an entire console. Don’t worry, 2002 Goggle Bob, we’d regain our somersault jumps in time…

However, one success from this time was the reimagining of Mega Man. Completely dropping the Mega Man storyline that had been inexplicably going since 1987 (a storyline that had, incidentally, wiped out humanity), Mega Man Battle Network told the tale of an alternate timeline wherein Dr. Light/Hikari ditched robotics and really got into his own cyber-sona. This led to universe where Mega Man was not a super fighting robot, but a super fighting digital assistant that was also Dr. Light’s grandson and was also controlled by Dr. Light’s other, human grandson. In this universe where apparently human babies can be converted into immortal digital slaves damned to watch as their fleshy twin grows, ages, and dies, there are also viruses and “evil” net navigators to be fought, so the official Mega Man of the digital generation has a lot more to handle than existential crises in any given adventure.

Mega Man Network Transmission is technically the fourth released Mega Man Battle Network title (fourth or so, there is a little wiggle room with some of the other games that year), but is firmly placed in the franchise’s story as Mega Man Battle Network 1.5. Shortly after Megaman.exe’s first adventure, a mysterious “Professor” pops into the picture, and releases a terrible virus across the net. Lan the Human and Megaman.exe the Undying scramble into action to save the day! But this adventure is a little different from their Gameboy Advance origins, as…

This is Classic Mega Man!

Book it!First and foremost, Mega Man Network Transmission was designed as a retro title that harkened back to the gameplay of the original Mega Man titles. This was the 15th Anniversary of the Mega Man franchise, and MMNT was intended as a throwback to that “old style” that had died with the Sega Saturn. So, whereas Mega Man Battle Network had always paid tribute with its cast of Fire Mans, Proto Mans, and Wilys, now it was going to include actual movement options that recalled those bygone days. Megaman.exe can run, jump, and even slide (slide, slide!). Continually charging while jogging through a maze is encouraged, and memorizing a boss pattern or two is the name of the game if you want to make some progress. There are even some imitations of classic stages involved, like everybody’s favorite Quick Man laser gauntlet. You love instant death? Of course you do! It’s classic gameplay/horrors all over again!

But it’s not all classic gameplay here. Some bits of Mega Man Network Transmission are downright prescient, like…

This is Mega Man Starforce!

Eat some chipsThe big draw of the Mega Man Battle Network franchise (aside from stupid, sexy Dr. Regal) has always been its unique battle gameplay. To quickly summarize what is ultimately a very complicated system, it’s basically a card game, but including action movement, and sometimes the cards have letters that allow you to use multiple cards at once, and I think there are “classes” involved, and sometimes they combine into an “advanced” version, but only if you have the right cards, and you can only get cards from fighting viruses, or maybe by playing a lottery, and if you don’t have any cards, then you can still attack with a basic laser, but that doesn’t have an element, except maybe if you used a class change to be a different color Mega Man, but you can’t switch that during battles, and wood beats electricity. See? It’s simple!

Mega Man Network Transmission streamlines the chip system by a fair amount, allowing you to equip multiple chips at once without fear of matching letters or elements or whatever. Ostensibly, this is because you are using the chips for a much longer time (it takes goddamn forever for that gauge to refill before upgrades) and in a much wider battlefield (in “normal” MMBN, you only ever have to handle a maximum of three viruses at a time), but it works out to a more simplified version of traditional MMBN battle chip challenging. And that’s great! MMNT was meant to bridge the gap between old, new, and people that had just watched the surprisingly popular anime for the franchise, so simple is good!

And you know what else utilized a simplified version of Mega Man Battle Network’s battle chip system? Mega Man Starforce, the “sequel franchise” to MMBN. Was this inspired by Mega Man Network Transmission? Probably not, but it was an acknowledgement that MMBN might have had a little too much cruft from the get-go, and that could only be jettisoned in a spin-off or sequel franchise.

So enjoy Mega Man Network Transmission’s battle system. It’s like living in the future!

And speaking of the future…

This is Mega Man X!

These things are dumbMega Man Network Transmission is supposed to harken back to the good ol’ days of Classic Mega Man, but there is a significant dosage of RNA here, too. For one thing, there’s the plot, and it features the Zero Virus. That sound familiar? Yes, our favorite Wily reploid is now a literal virus that is attempting to cause netnavis to go maverick. And, as one might expect, Zero starts off as the obvious antagonist, but transforms into a helpful dude over the course of the adventure. He might not have as much luxurious girl hair as in his other appearances, but it’s pretty clear that the guest star du jour is straight out of Mega Man X.

And that gorgeous robot-virus-thingy is not the only item borrowed from Mega Man X. There are a number of gameplay flourishes straight out of the Maverick Wars here, complete with the increased speed, the likelihood of using a double jump, and these weird wire things that no one ever remembers fondly (or, often, remembers at all). It was clear that even the classic series was adopting Mega Man X moves later in its life (hi, Mega Man & Bass), but there is more Mega Man X here than Mega Man, even if there aren’t as many stages that directly harken back to that franchise.

But while we’re on the subject of Mega Man’s pal, Zero…

This is Mega Man Zero!

He got a haircutThe number one complaint about Mega Man Network Transmission? It’s too hard. In some ways, this complaint was completely valid, as it was a huge pain to restart entire levels because you got wrecked by a bad boss matchup. Sure, that had always been the way a Mega Man game played anyway, but this was coming off a franchise that allowed for saving anywhere, and a population that had gotten used to Mega Man containing save states. A “back to basics” approach also invited a “back to difficult” style that a lot of 2003’s audience wasn’t expecting.

But this was exactly what Mega Man Battle Network’s 2-D brother on the Gameboy Advance had been reveling in all along. Mega Man Zero was “classic Mega Man” on the GBA before Mega Man Battle Network ever even thought of testing the boundaries of the genre, and, as many had noted, it was super-duper hard. Or, if it wasn’t hard, it at least expected a lot of the player. “Save points” (or 1-ups) were stretched few and far between, and health was always at a premium. In much the same way, MMNT requires your best offenses always be locked behind battle chips, and you are often left unprepared if you blow all your mighty cannons on some middling mouse opponent.

But that’s exactly where Mega Man Zero and Mega Man Network Transmission are so similar: they’re all about resource management. Unlike the original Mega Man games that only encouraged weapon energy rationing (and provided a pile of powerups to help with that), MMZ and MMNT both demanded much more administration from the player. Whether it is battle chips or cyber elves, an inexperienced player is practically required to figure out what works for getting through a level, and then utilize those assets only when absolutely necessary. Of course, that winds up having its own kind of learning curve (and Mega Man Zero’s persistent ranking system seems to punish the player for using any resources, so mixed messages there), so, yes, these games probably could be considered hard. But whereas you only had one Flash Stopper to skip through Quick Man’s gauntlet back in the day, newer takes on that challenge offer additional options to the observant player.

Unfortunately, the challenge of Mega Man Network Transmission really did work against it. While you could claim Mega Man Zero was made for “hardcore” fans, MMNT seemed to aim for a different audience. In fact, you could say…

This is a Mega Man Cartoon!

PointyMega Man has had a number of animated tie-ins through the years. There was that Ruby-Spears nonsense, the anime about saving Christmas, and (particularly relevant to this article) an entire anime based on the Mega Man Battle Network series. It was popular. It was so popular, it rivaled Yu-Gi-Oh for number of stupid card-based plastic wads that were released through tie-in merchandise. And, even better than Yu-Gi-Oh, you actually cared about the characters, so buying action figures was not off the table. Stick that Bass/Forte figure on your desk with pride, young one, as any digital personal assistant that wears a cloak has to be badass.

Mega Man Network Transmission seemed to be catering to the audience that watched that anime. This, the first MMBN to be played on console (and presumably a big screen television), was pretty as a princess riding an oddly attractive horse. It is cell-shaded, various viruses have twinkling auras, and Megaman.exe rarely looked so good (in 2003). It was a feast for the eyes, and the graphics style certainly seemed to be designed to appeal to anyone that was watching cartoons (as opposed to the more “realistic” graphics of its contemporaries).

What’s more, it had full voice acting (albeit, not in many languages), and an easy to follow plot that was more about making friends with your potential enemies than blasting robots into everlasting pieces. Whether it was difficult or not, the general presentation of Mega Man Network Transmission seemed to harken to the many times Mega Man had mega fun with his mega pals on the mega television screen.

Though if you really want to compare Mega Man Network Transmission to another Mega Man experience, you probably should consider…

This is Mega Man Legends!

ShinyMega Man Network Transmission, for one reason or another, was not received well. According to reviewers it was too difficult, too cartoony, and/or too different to survive. Or maybe it wasn’t different enough to be its own thing? Regardless of the reason, MMNT never saw a direct sequel to its distinct kind of gameplay, and the franchise moved on, never taking the time to look back at what might have been in the parallel universe where Mega Man Network Transmission was popular.

So, like Mega Man Legends never continuing again, Mega Man Network Transmission was a gaming dead end.

And nobody has gotten around to releasing it on modern consoles, either!

Mega Man Network Transmission is every Mega Man game all rolled into one. The good, the bad, and the heartache.

FGC #561 Mega Man Network Transmission

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube, and then never anything again. And Capcom loves porting titles!
  • Number of players: The Mega Man Battle Network series is usually two player, but, sorry, only one netnavi at a time here. We can’t always have Mega Man 7.
  • MONEY!Cold Hard Cash: If you want to even stretch it a little further, the frequent zenny coins scattered around the levels are very similar to how screws were used to tempt players in the Gameboy classic Mega Man titles (Mega Man Land?). That said, “Mega Man collects money” is something that seemed to show up all across the franchises eventually, whether that be through screws, alloys, or zenny again. So you’re not getting a full section, Gameboy Mega Man, but you do at least earn a bullet point.
  • What about Mega Man ZX? I guess you can summon bosses? I don’t know. Ask me again at some point when I haven’t typed “Mega Man” 66 times.
  • Favorite Rival Navi: If we’re going with any navi, I choose Shadowman.exe, because I am secretly a twelve year old that loves ninja. If we have to choose one distinctly created for this adventure, though, I’d pick Gravityman.exe. That dude was never going to work in the constrained, “who cares about gravity anyway” world of MMBN, and he feels vaguely weighty (ha!) as a foe. He big. He round. He’s an absolute unit of an opponent.
  • Favorite Chip: For the second game in a row, I’m going to choose the humble sword. I like getting up close and personal with my opponents, and sword chips are so plentiful here, Megaman.exe practically becomes Protoman.exe. Runner-up is the life virus aura, but that does feel like cheating.
  • Did you know? Zero appears and becomes the first Mega Man X character to enter the canon of Mega Man Battle Network, but he would later be joined by Colonel and Iris. Unfortunately, none of the main Mavericks ever had a chance to shine in Battle Network or Star Force, so Wire Sponge got robbed.
  • It's too bright in hereWould I play again: If I was stuck on a desert island, and could only play one (non-compilation) Mega Man title, I would choose this one to get my Mega fix. That said, it is by no means the best Mega Man game, nor is it the most accessible, so the odds of me actually playing it again are slim. But maybe if Capcom deigns to release it again, it could happen…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Q*Bert! The little orange hopping whatsit rides again! Please look forward to it!

FGC #560 Einhänder

Get ready to pewHas it ever been good enough to be just, ya know, good enough?

Today’s title is practically a fetish of a bygone epoch. Square (later devoured and digivolved into Square Enix) is a game company that has been around practically from the beginning of gaming. It was the company that brought us Final Fantasy, The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner, and Rad Racer. Today, Square Enix is responsible for Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Quest, Nier, Tomb Raider, Avengers, and Just Cause. But there was a time in the early 21st Century when there was one major complaint about Square (+/- Enix): “they just do Final Fantasy”. And, inevitably, when “they just do Final Fantasy” was brought up, earlier halcyon days of lore were inevitably summoned as well. “Remember when Square used to make more than RPGs? Remember Tobal No. 1? Remember The Bouncer? Remember Einhänder?” And all involved in such a conversation were nodding sagely at the evocation of the “good old days” of experimental Square, and memories of all those old fighting games, shoot ‘em ups, and whatever the hell The Bouncer was supposed to be.

Except it was bullshit. It was always bullshit. Why? Because no greater than seven people in America ever played Einhänder! And don’t even get me started on Tobal No. 2! Admit it, you don’t have a “buddy” that can “score imports”! Oh, you already traded the disc in, that’s why we can’t play it? Stop screwing with me, Donny, I know what you’re up to!

… Er-hem.

KABAMSquare definitely had an “experimental period” around the late 90s. Mind you, it really was not all that different from Square’s earlier output of Final Fantasy games right alongside “weird” games like Live a Live or Front Mission. But by 1997, everyone was looking to Square when it struck it rich with Final Fantasy 7. With Square at the top of the heap, everyone was diving headfirst into their whole catalogue… or at least reading Game Informer’s list of Square releases. “ Einhänder, eh? That looks cool,” was evidently said by an awful lot of people that didn’t actually play Einhänder, because damn, Ein, I’m pretty sure you got outsold by the Final Fantasy 8 demo disc. There’s no shame in that, it was a good demo disc (and it may have been packaged with a game? Who knows?), but it lends further credence to the theory that goddamned no one actually played Einhänder.

And a lack of Einhänder playing is clearly the greatest shame of late 90’s gamers. Is Einhänder good? Listen, bub, it might be the best shoot ‘em up of the Playstation 1 generation by a pretty wide margin! Not only is it just a good shmup in the tradition of Gradius or R-Type, it also utilizes the Playstation graphics engine in ways that are still impressive today. This mix of polygons and whatever the hell makes a PSX disc go is a feast for the eyes, and, if this article had not already firmly established the release window for Einhänder, then it would likely be very easy to trick you, dear reader, into believing this was a game released at the established, tail end of a console’s lifecycle (and not practically at its beginning). And it is not just about the graphics here in Einhänder Land (apparently the moon and/or Earth all along), the gameplay of Einhänder is as good as a shoot ‘em up gets. You dodge. You shoot. You score the occasional powerup through shooting. Opponents have easily-understood patterns, and you are given opportunities to respond and retaliate in kind. Your Einhänder is fragile, but powerups can take a few hits, so you are not always teetering on the abyss like a Vic Viper that forgot to load shields. In short, Einhänder is gorgeous, fair, and simple enough that anyone could learn to be an Einhänding master.

And maybe that is why no one played the damn thing.

WATCH OUTLook, Square didn’t become famous because they created Mario, Sonic, or Mike Haggar. Square gameplay was and is always going to be associated with one major thing: dudes with swords using those swords in complicated ways. Final Fantasy was never a game that stood by the standard “A is jump” mantra of many NES titles, it was a game where you had to cycle through three different menus just to get your little red dude to swing his sword at anything more substantial than thin air. From there, not only did the method to make your wee swordsman to swing said sword get more complicated (what the hell is a “Runic”!?) but the worlds surrounding our fantasy armies became significantly more complicated, too. Where once we just kind of accepted that there might be a space station still floating around the relics of a lost civilization, now we had to have fictions that told long, intricate stories about these capital-A “Ancients” and how modern scientists were still trying to mate them with Pokémon for some reason. Where once your hero didn’t have a name, now not only did they have names, families, and complicated motivations, they also had identity crises wherein they debated the true nature of being loved. By the time Square got around to smooshing all its most popular swords guys against Mickey Mouse, the “default” story that had to be told was expected to contain a tale of identity theft, teenage possession, and at least thirteen dudes in cloaks that will probably reveal their true motives in approximately fifteen years. Square makes complicated games. Square seems to revel in making complicated games.

Almost the endAnd, don’t worry, Einhänder contains a plot that could reasonably be described as complicated for its time. While this is not on the same echelon as Chrono Trigger and other contemporaries pushing the boundaries of what could be in a videogame story, this is still nowhere near “princess captured, rescue princess”. Your Einhänder is piloted by an anonymous pilot that thinks they’re just doing some basic military maneuvers for the glory of their planet/celestial body/whatever, but, in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that this soldier (and all soldiers like them) is a lot closer to being on a suicide mission than anything that could ever be survivable. And that’s bad, apparently! In the end, your unknown Einhänder pilot learns the truth, rebels in pretty straightforward ways, and ends all war forever or something through sheer survivability, and we all learn a valuable lesson about reading the fine print on any potentially earned medals.

But, while Einhänder has what might be considered a complicated plot for a shoot ‘em up (the Space Invaders Ultimania guide is thinner than a dehydrated needlefish) it also has a plot that is barely there. There are cutscenes in Einhänder, and they’re almost exclusively featuring whatever giant robot or missile you’re expected to shoot next. Other than that? Any and all explanations for what the hell is happening are constrained to the opening and ending. And that’s brilliant! We don’t need another game that does not understand how some genres are completely incompatible with “now stop playing and watch a movie”. Einhänder is a white-knuckle shoot ‘em up wherein there should not be a second where you feel safe to put the controller down. It even suits the underlying plot! You are in mortal danger at all times! Sitting around and reading a data entry on your local corrupt government is only going to detract from the Einhänder experience!

… Except that means that you are probably going to miss the semi-intricate plot as a result. That means that this shoot ‘em up is going to come off as… just another shoot ‘em up.

Yo!And is that good enough? This is the best shoot ‘em up of a console generation from a time when its parent company could have greenlit practically anything (“You want a Mana game that drops all previous gameplay conceits and can barely be described using human language? Legend of Mana it is!”), and, yet, we live in a world without an Einhänder 2(: Revenge of the Moon). By whatever rubric Square had for its late 90s releases, Einhänder did not succeed enough to merit further promotion or even a spiritual sequel. To this day, the best Einhänder can accomplish is starring in a mini game or two across different Square Enix properties. Einhänder, in the absence of the “complicated”, thorny nature of its brothers of the era became slippery, and slid right out of the gaming consciousness. If you played Einhänder in the 90’s, I salute you, but it is likely only because you are naturally attracted to weird German robots, and not because someone recommended it to you. The byzantine games of the era sucked up all the oxygen surrounding Square titles, and Einhänder wound up occupying that same “I heard about ‘em before they were cool” imaginary headspace. Nobody listened to Smash Mouth’s Fush Yu Mang, and nobody bought Einhänder. It was a good game, but that’s all it could ever be. Ain’t no cosplay Sephiroths mingling with giant robot monkey boss cosplayers in 2001 or 2021.

Einhänder, you were amazing, and great at what you did. But all you did was what you did, and it looks like that wasn’t enough.

FGC #560 Einhänder

  • System: Playstation 1. Could be available on the Playstation 3, if, like, you lived in Japan.
  • Number of players: This is a game that has made “one” part of its identity.
  • There's a secret moveFavorite Ship: Screw the unlockable bonus ships, I’ll take the simplicity of the Einhänder MK III any day. I like my one-handed spaceships like I like my coffee: straight, to the point, and capable of demolishing entire armies.
  • Favorite Powerup: I am easily influenced by box art, so I love me some laser swords. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting some weird ass weapon in a shoot ‘em up, and then being rewarded for standing inordinately close to a monster spewing bullets while my sword apparently hacks away while wholly motionless. It is a beautiful showcase of swordsmanship.
  • What’s in a name: Breaking it down, “händer” translates roughly to “handed” in English, while “Ein” means “that dog from Cowboy Bebop”. So an appropriate localization of Einhänder would be “a game about that really smart puppy that now has hands”. I think it is supposed to be about the shape of the ship.
  • Difficulty Modes: In addition to the usual easy/medium/hard/dark souls difficulty modes available in Einhänder, the Japanese version also includes an “unlimited mode” that grants infinite lives at the expense of not being able to score points. And they removed it for the American release! That’s the best feature available to a shoot ‘em up, and they took it out! Those bastards!
  • Lotta pewsDid you know? There was a strategy guide for Einhänder published in Japan. I realize this was the heyday of guide books, but I would never consider needing one for a shoot ‘em up. I’m assuming it was just a few maps, some random lore/art, and every other page simply stating “practice until your thumbs fall off”. That’s a good strategy.
  • Would I play again: Put it on Switch, you monsters! It’s all I’ve ever wanted! Or at least I will claim that is true for the remainder of this article!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Network Transmission for the Nintendo Gamecube! It’s time to jack in to the net, Lan! Please look forward to it!

ROBO MONKEY