FGC #610 Samurai Shodown (Franchise)

So badassI have learned that I am here for the weirdos.

Samurai Shodown is not my franchise. I am a fighting game fan, and have been since I first saw a furry Soviet dude power slam some guy with too many skulls. But, by the time Samurai Shodown was appearing in my local arcade, there was already a myriad of options that more easily drew my attention. If I wanted a basic 2-D fighting game, I’d play Street Fighter 2. If I wanted to see a little super violence, I’d play Mortal Kombat. If I wanted to see a weapons-based fighter, I’d play Soul Edge/Soulcalibur. If I wanted to plug some quarters into a Neo Geo machine, I’d go with something along the lines of King of Fighters (Fatal Fury also qualifies there). Hell, even vaguely recognizable, possibly historical figures fighting was available in World Heroes, and that game had a mecha-Hitler you could pummel into the pavement. In short, Samurai Shodown held the unfortunate position of being a fighting game that looked pretty good, but was also popular at the exact same time some of the best fighting games of the era were receiving routine updates/players. Or, put another way, not only is Cammy going to grab my attention faster than Neinhalt Sieger, there are also a few more potential opponents crowded around her cabinet. Sorry, SamSho, I’ll get to you in another thirty years.

And… uh… here we are.

On my grand list of games I want to cover before this FGC project ends (I currently claim I am stopping at FGC #655… a full hundred articles past the last point I said I would stop…), I have a meager handful of fighting games remaining. Every title from that first paragraph has been examined and reexamined (sometimes ad nauseum), so now we are down to fighting games that are… let’s say… exploratory? Games wherein I do not have encyclopedic knowledge of ridiculous plots or muscle memory that will allow me to toss out down-downforward-forward-punch fireballs until three years after I’m dead. Some of these “unexplored” games on the list are amusing misfires, but I will admit I was expecting a lot of the Samurai Shodown franchise. After all, I had at least played this in the past, and, though these play sessions may have been tremendously shorter than any time I spent with Guilty Gear, they were enjoyable. And I always appreciated the Samurai Shodown characters that appeared in other games. That bird with the hawk? She seems nice! It should be fun and enlightening to play through the Samurai Shodown Neogeo Collection and see what this glorious franchise has in store.

And I found it… underwhelming.

Get 'em lil dudeTo be clear, “underwhelming” is the exact word for this situation. None of the Samurai Shodown titles appear to be outright bad. The gameplay primarily seems to be focused more on defense than offense, but, make no mistake, you can attain a victory by going in with swords blazin’. Or maybe no swords! Characters in most of the games seem to have two distinct playstyles: with or without weapon. Be disarmed as the result of a button mashing contest, and you have to rely on your fists for a moment or two, which makes for a fun change in tactics. It’s like you’re playing as two characters at once! I am always down for that! And, while the “Engrish” and general story is simultaneously noteworthy and forgettable, there is definitely something happening here. Bushido and all that riot is great, but I am going to stand at attention when some nerd cuts down a pair of trees without even trying. Oh, and who doesn’t like some random dude running around in the background of battles tossing off powerups? There is good stuff here in Samurai Shodown!

But it all felt very… slippery. Not talking about the controls, mind you, those are perfect and responsive. Just, somehow, the whole experience felt forgettable. Like whether my chosen samurai won was going to be quickly forgotten. Or, perhaps, how my fighter won was what would be forgettable. I understand that, once again, this is not my game, so it is entirely possible I was missing something, but the general reason I won any given match seemed nebulous. And, in a fighting game, that makes everything feel unusually light. Across the multiple Samurai Shodown games, there are multiple ways to win a match… Or… More accurately, there are multiple ways to practically instantly drain a life bar. And, while slicing off the limb of an opponent feels like it should be remarkable, when you stumble on “I guess that special move just does that sometimes” it feels… wrong. Did I really win? Or was that more of an accident than my usual victories? Whatever the root cause of the issue, this made the various SS titles feel insubstantial in their gameplay.

MAGIC!But that does not have to be the be all and end all of a fighting game. A fun cast can completely rescue confusing gameplay. The previously mentioned World Heroes was not a great game by any means, but it did include a football player fighting Jack the Ripper, so it more than qualifies for gold status. Samurai Shodown’s cast meanwhile… Well, it is hard to judge some of these characters in 2021, as, like Samurai Shodown itself, there are clear examples of “this was done better elsewhere” through the decades. Like World Heroes already had a pretty good Joan de Arc analogue, so Charlotte is lacking. Haohmaru, the games’ marquee hero, feels like a lesser Mitsurugi of Soulcalibur. Hanzo the ninja could not be any more generically “this is our ninja” if he tried, and I’d rather pick up Red Earth if that is all that is available. Weller the American “I wanna be Japanese” character is so much more distinctive as Bang of BlazBlue, and I’m pretty sure Kyoshiro Senryo was one of the final bosses in that Simpsons beat ‘em up. It is no wonder that Nakoruru wound up as the persistent Samurai Showdown rep, as “has a bird” separates her from much of her fighting game sorority (though her general “fighting shrine maiden” thing causes her to blend into the anime trope ether).

But there was one character that seemed tremendously less forgettable than his contemporaries: Genan Shiranui, aka the little green guy with a claw.

Get 'emArguably, this is another example of “done elsewhere”, as Genan and his obvious spiritual brother, Earthquake, both resemble SNK/King of Fighters characters Choi Bounge and Chang Koehan. And if you wanted to claim that it was a coincidence that there was a King of Fighters influence, please note that Genan’s surname is Shiranui, the same as Mai Shiranui, heroine of Fatal Fury and King of Fighters. And, oh yeah, Mai (or at least her identical, historically appropriate ancestor) outright appears in Genan’s Samurai Shodown (1) ending. So, ya know, wearing influences on their sleeve there.

But Genan is memorable all on his own. He is green. He is wearing torn clothing that tells more of a story with visuals than Jubei can hope to muster with an entire story mode. He is constantly licking a metal claw, which is probably unsanitary. His background involves implied cannibalism. He apparently has a pair of kids that hide in his sack-clothes. This is the exact kind of eccentricity I want from a fighting game character, and it was clear right from the first Samurai Shodown that Genan was gonna be my guy.

And then the franchise dropped him like a rotten potato as of Samurai Shodown 3. Dammit! Only two games for my green meanie!

While I tried to soldier on with some pale dork with blue hair… it just wasn’t the same. I have to assume that Genan was nixed in an effort to make Samurai Shodown slightly more realistic (in a universe where people routinely, graphically die before being revived by a quarter), or to pad out the roster with slightly more distinctively “Samurai Shodown” characters (there was that brief period in the 90’s when crossovers and/or homages were considered bad). Whatever the cause, Genan was gone before we truly knew ye, and, in his absence, everything about Samurai Shodown became slippery again. Oh, build up a rage meter to do super moves? Ho-hum. I don’t want red skin. I want it green, dammit! And, given how the franchise seemed to drift into generally more serious settings over time, I was convinced Samurai Shodown was never going to have an entry that was “for Goggle Bob”. Not the end of the world, there are plenty of fighting game franchises that I can enjoy; but it would be a hard confirmation that this wasn’t “for me”.

Then I got to Samuri Shodown 6. Then I got to this nonsense…

What is even happening here?

That appears to be some manner of ancient puppet automaton, and it is fighting… a dog. Just a dog.

I am here for that.

Samurai Shodown 6 is a “dream match” title that includes a playable version of practically every character that had appeared in Samurai Shodown up to that point. Genan is back. Earthquake is back. That big red guy that was a mix of Genan and Earthquake is back. The flag dude hidden character is back. And speaking of “hidden” characters, every pet and animal is playable, too. Are they effective? Not remotely. But sometimes you just want to play as a monkey. It worked for Eternal Champions (no it didn’t). And the new characters of Samurai Shodown 6, like a swan-turned-maid and a chubby guy who really likes fireworks, all exude a noticeable air of levity. Ocha-Maro Karakuri, that mobile puppet up there, seems positively mundane in a roster that includes an anime pretty boy that is based on historical jackass/president Andrew Jackson.

DO NOT LIKEAnd it wasn’t until I hit Samurai Shodown 6 that I realized that this kind of nonsense is exactly what I want. Who have I always gravitated towards in other fighting games? Blanka. Tung Fu Rue. Cyrax. The misfits. The absolute last fighter I ever pick is your typical Ryu or Bruce Lee clone du jour. My favorite fighting game is a title wherein you can have a multi-tentacled god team up with a teeny tiny robot servant working alongside a member of S.T.A.R.S. This is why the other Samurai Shodown titles seemed boring to me! I simply cannot enjoy a videogame unless the character select screen includes a healthy number of people that have absolutely no business being in any sort of polite society, left alone a videogame (sorry, Dr. Faust, you know it is true). Apparently I do not care if there is an amazing combo system, intuitive gameplay, or the best netcode in the universe. All I want is some dork cosplaying as Freddy Krueger (and, no, actual Freddy doesn’t count).

Is Samurai Shodown ever going to be “my” fighting game franchise? No. But does it remind me what I actually want in a fighting game? Absolutely. Give me a little green weirdo any day of the week, and I’ll give your game a fair shake.

And if you want to have a brand new, modern edition of your franchise, and you choose to drop said weirdo? Well, don’t expect me to buy a season pass anytime soon…

FGC #610 Samurai Shodown (Franchise)

  • OuchSystem: Samurai Shodown is supposedly the fighting game that put the Neo Geo on the map. But I don’t see no King of Samurai ’99 on my Playstation! Whatever! The franchise has been on practically every system from a certain epoch (take a look at that Gameboy version sometime), but the collection is currently available on (mostly) modern consoles like Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Most of what you see here is via Switch and PS4.
  • Number of players: This isn’t Super Samurai Bros, so two players.
  • Who let the dogs out? Perhaps, once you get past the violence, rage, and weapon-combat, the defining characteristic of Samurai Shodown is how many fighters have pets and other auxiliary sprites as “backup”. It would certainly explain why bird-lady is so heavily featured in crossovers…
  • Favorite Character (not the green guy): It’s the red guy. Youkai Kusaregedo is a gigantic monster that first appeared in Samurai Shodown 5. He is described as an undead devil that was a “very kind man” in life, but was also a cannibal. That… is certainly a type of kind. Regardless, now he is a hulking beast, and I am only mildly disturbed by the fact that his canon story is that, in a fit of hunger, he devoured his pregnant daughter. I like playing as him, but I’m not inviting him to Christmas dinner anytime soon.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: I am required by law to note my favorite bit of Engrish from Samurai Shodown 2.

    Funster!

    As a noted funster, this had to be logged.

  • Lost in Translation: Maybe Samurai Shodown is supposed to be funny, but got lost in translation? Like, there are some goofy, tropey fighters skulking around, and maybe their intrinsic humor doesn’t come through in a different culture. Nicotine Caffeine has to have something going on here.
  • Let's go nutsThe Black Swan: Iroha is a scantily clad maid premiering in Samurai Shodown 6. She was previously a swan, but transformed into a woman wielding guillotines so as to get closer to her master. And that master? They are supposed to be the player. So, yes, this character is a walking fetish in more ways than one. Is it any wonder she got her own spin off game, and was some of the earliest DLC for the latest Samurai Shodown?
  • Favorite Samurai Shodown Title: As if it was not obvious, Samurai Shodown 6 wins here. The recently released Samurai Shodown 5 Gold is very close to 6’s complete nonsense, but, to my knowledge, you cannot play as a dog in Gold. You can do that in 6. Twice.
  • Did you know? The one character that had been previously playable but is not in Samurai Shodown 6 is Hikyaku, the delivery man that runs through the background in other Shodown titles. He was playable in the Gameboy port of Samurai Shodown as a bonus for anyone that deigned to play a Neo Geo fighting game on the friggen’ Gameboy, but was never available on a big boy system. If you are unfamiliar with the Samurai Shodown franchise, Here we go againjust imagine a playable version of the postman from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask. This is also a likely explanation for why he was never seen again.
  • Would I play again: There are so many good fighting games out there! Maybe I’ll hit the modern SamSho when all the DLC is on sale/includes my boy.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Misadventures of Tron Bonne! We’re going to go on a misadventure, Miss Tron! Please look forward to it!

FGC #609 Zero Wing

The most zero of wingsNFTs are terrible. I also hate the fact that when it comes to the existence of NFTs, I… get it?

I believe understanding the drive for NFTs is the source of some self-loathing.

Since my mom occasionally remembers I have a blog, let us define NFTs. At the absolute base level, a non-fungible token (NFT) is a receipt. It is a proof of ownership for a “thing”. In the case of NFTs as they are currently exploding across the internet, this “thing” is traditionally art of some kind. In many cases, the NFT being sold is a unique graphic, and, in much the same way you could purchase a painting from a gallery that also has multiple poster reproductions, the owner of the NFT owns the “original”. And, yes, this ownership is wholly virtual, and you absolutely do need to invest in a color printer if you want something that you could easily display for your grandma. But we have been living in a world with horse armor for over a decade, so spending money in an effort to own a virtual resource is kind of inevitable in today’s society. So what is the problem with owning a Lazy Lion or two?

Well, there is the whole “NFTs are hastening the degradation of our entire planet” thing. The blockchain that powers non-fungible tokens is a wonderous invention that can theoretically be used as 100% proof a transaction has occurred without the involvement of an all-seeing, all-powerful corporate entity being involved. It is commerce sponsored by true anonymity! Unfortunately, maintaining such a database requires a whole lot of computer processing per transaction/verification, and we are not so much talking about “mom ran the vacuum too long” as we are looking at “mom just burned down the entire South American Rainforest”. And never mind that that whole “outlaw capitalism” thing is its own kind of delusion, too, as the blockchains are controlled by companies like publicly traded Etherium. Does this mean Etherium is going to bust down your door with incriminating crypto receipts the minute it becomes slightly financially or ethically profitable? Probably not, but it does mean that there is a company profiting from literally every NFT transaction, which translates to another situation wherein the mere act of buying/selling is a revenue stream unto itself. Etherium wants to be the next Visa, and NFTs are a big part of that plan. Also, there is a significant link between the boom of NFTs and their overt links to white collar crime/money laundering. In much the same way the second largest usage of bitcoin is paying digital ransoms, there is a not insignificant number of NFT transactions that can only be explained by “crime is happening”.

Look at this guyIn the end, depending on exactly how you look at NFTs, you could make the claim that they are simply vanity items roughly on par with custom license plates or purchased PSN avatars. If you are being tremendously less generous, you can also claim that NFTs are multi-level marketing schemes for a whole new “tech bro” generation, and anyone getting involved at the moment is firmly at the bottom of the pyramid. But regardless of your feelings on NFTs as a whole, they seem to be sticking around, and services like Twitter and Adobe are making distinct spaces for people to create/peddle/showcase their NFT collections.

And it is a goddamned shame this whole process is so toxic, because the greatest appeal of NFTs is something my generation has been begging for for decades.

Today’s title is Zero Wing. It was initially an arcade jaunt that migrated to various consoles in disparate regions, and is little more than the flavor of the week of the (then extremely popular) shoot ‘em up genre. It scrolls from left to right (like Gradius), features levels that generally start with comfortable generic areas before ramping up to distinctive, gimmicky challenges (like Gradius), and you have a number of options for upgrades earned by destroying distinct opponents (like Gradius). In this case, your powerups can be a sequential graduation of firepower if you stick to the same color-coded pickups, or you can toggle between power lasers to spread blasts if you change lanes/colors. The most unique thing in Zero Wing gameplay is an extra button for a sort of “tractor beam” that allows you to not only collect abilities, but also grab some of your smaller foes and fling them at larger opponents. This creates a very exceptional situation wherein you are almost happy when a boss brings an entourage to a fight, as it means a whole host of fresh projectiles just wandered into your armory. Defeating a big boss by chucking infinite minions really is the most distinctive, remarkable part of Zero Wing.

Well, I mean, that is if you ignore this…

Somebody set us up the GIF

The Sega Mega Drive version of Zero Wing, only released in European regions, has a legendarily “Engrish” introduction cinema. While this European title did not see any success in America for obvious reasons (nobody was scrambling to import a console port of a lesser shoot ‘em up from the late 80s), when the world of emulation got hold of “5,000 Sega Genesis ROMs FREE”, Zero Wing saw a significant resurgence in popularity…

Around 1998, “All your base are belong to us” invaded the internet at large. It started somewhere around Rage Games, migrated over to Zany Video Game Quotes, and from there dragged itself across various forums and chatrooms. By 2000, the meme had been featured in some way or another on every major nerd entertainment site that existed at the time. In 2001, Wired wrote an article on the meme, and it was subsequently covered in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, and USA Today. In 2004, it was hacked into a news/weather broadcast. In 2006, it came part and parcel with a YouTube site update. In 2014, Elon Musk parodied it in a desperate post regarding patents. To this very day, segments from the Zero Wing intro are quoted by people of a certain age, and it likely will be repeated “for great justice” until the end of human civilization. In short, Zero Wing somehow contained a segment of dialogue that is going to be around for at least a generation, a trend that defined the concept of memes before the descriptor was widely used, and a collective template for the masses that populated the “early days” of the internet. Even if it was not deliberate, Zero Wing became an inexorable part of our culture.

And, incidentally, the creators of Zero Wing didn’t see a dime for creating this artistic touchstone.

I like these colorsI saw the credits roll on this (kinda) Sega Genesis game, so I can safely say Zero Wing was forged by, like, twelve people. As a company, it was created by Toaplan Co, founded in 1979, but defunct by 1994. While many people that worked for Toaplan migrated to other, more modern developers like Square Enix and Taito, but the time Toaplan was releasing Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves (you’ve played that, right?), it was pretty much done. The rights to Toaplan games are now in the possession of Tatsujin, and if that was ever a company that wanted to capitalize on the Zero Wing mania of the early 21st Century, they certainly didn’t get off their duffs to do anything about it. So, basically, in the absence of a “Zero Wing Project” to promote, and the fact that you did not have to purchase Zero Wing to participate in that global meme, there was no way that the popularity of Zero Wing would translate into a penny for the people that actually made the thing.

And, on one hand, who cares? They made a videogame, they were compensated for making a videogame, and, end of the day, that should be enough. It became a meme? Well, sure, but so did that one dude scribbling on stone tablets about Ea-nasir, and you don’t see his estate getting a retroactive payout. Companies being paid perpetually for accomplishments from 1928 is exactly what is wrong with copyright law right now. Just be happy Zero Wing made people happy, guys.

Keep on diggingBut we do live in a capitalist society. We do not measure success by how much happiness you have brought to others, or how content you are with the creations you have produced. We live in a world wherein there is a monthly ranking of who are the richest, most successful people in the country, and we never for a moment consider why we automatically conflate “rich” and “successful”. By this rubric, being responsible for a meme that is shared by millions should be considered “successful”, and thus should translate into untold riches. And, while the exchange rate for how popularity should trade is difficult to define, it would be nice if, ya know, there was at least something tossed at the creators beyond a niche interview titled something like Meme: Origins.

And, in a more personal way, this has been the problem of my entire generation. You produce a cute bit of art, it is copied by a popular online account, and you watch thousands of likes go to your creation that has now, incidentally, been shared without so much as a note that it was authored by a human being. Or you start a blog with your name on it containing articles that people read on a weekly basis, it gets promoted by some random share on Redditt, and the best you get for your troubles is a complaint from your hosting company that too damn many people visited your site this week. Or you get a Patreon going, and then discover that literally every other website available will drop your posts like hot garbage the minute you link to the one place where you may actually receive the tiniest of financial contributions. But don’t worry, Millennials! You can survive without a thousand followers, you just have to know that you are wasting your “brand”, and you might not ever be able to achieve your dreams because you don’t have enough of an online footprint to warrant the ability to afford health insurance. I do not understand why everyone I know is depressed!

… Er-hem.

Tanks a lotThis is why I understand the appeal of NFTs. The concept of “minting” your art, meme, or idea is attractive. The fact that you have produced something, it has a set value, and someone will eventually pay that value for said something is amazing as a concept. It may be exactly how commerce has worked since the days of Ea-nasir, but, for a generation that has been told to hustle for exposure for the last twenty years, it seems downright revolutionary. For people that watched a mediocre videogame become a universal meme that still didn’t mean a cent for its actual creators, an NFT can look like salvation. That could happen to you! Without even knowing it is happening, you could create the next Pepe. You could be the next distracted boyfriend meme. And it could change your life… but not change how you still have to report to a job you hate 40 hours a week. Actually monetizing how the internet as we know it “works” would change a lot of lives, and potentially create an artistic revolution.

But NFTs ain’t it. Maybe something like that will be available in the future, but the solution is not in this blockchain. One day, we will have an answer that actually helps individuals and the world as a whole. One day, people will not have to beg for scraps when their faces are used in GIFs distributed by wealthy tech giants. In the meanwhile, NFTs are not a solution to this problem. NFTs are simply… someone setting us up the bomb.

FGC #609 Zero Wing

  • System: Arcade initially, and then whatever passes for a Sega Genesis in Japan and Europe. It also saw a PC Engine CD-Rom port in Japan, too.
  • Number of players: Oh! It’s two players! I guess that makes it slightly distinctive, too!
  • GrossAnything else of note? Yes, the monsters (or whatever) of the piece all seem to lean closer to biological than mechanical. This creates a lovely little Geiger-esque world wherein the final boss being a giant brain in a jar feels positively mundane next to some of the other creatures skulking around.
  • So, does that intro actually impact anything in the game: Nope! It was created exclusively for the home game, and does not exist in the original arcade version. I guess we all had to know why we were launching every Zig (or why that one big ship was exploding at the top of the first level). But, sorry, ol’ Cats is barely recognizable as the same cyborg during the finale, so don’t expect any closure for that sad space captain facepalming forever.
  • Favorite Weapon: Lasers. Lasers everywhere. Lasers for president of the universe.
  • Did you know? According to Tatsuya Uemura, the lead programmer of the arcade and Sega Genesis versions of Zero Wing, the opening crawl was translated by an employee whose English was “really terrible”. You… probably already knew that.
  • Would I play again: This was probably a pretty good shoot ‘em up for 1989. It is no great shakes in 2021. I like it! It’s not bad! I am just never going to bother with this ever again. Enjoy your spot in history, though, Zero Wing!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Samurai Shodown! Speaking of games with marginally passable translations, it is time to live by the Bushido code in an effort to impress some dork with a pair of flags. Please look forward to it!

ENGAGE

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

That looks like a nice planetMy grandparents and extended family (aka my grandparents’ siblings) always had a home or two in Florida, so, long before I was even capable of forming memories, my family would take annual road trips down Florida way. From the time I actually could remember, these trips mostly followed the same pattern: visit some great aunts and uncles in Northern Florida on the way in, stop at St. Augustine for some history-learnin’, and then scoot down to the Orlando area for the requisite theme parks and surprisingly inexpensive buffets. After that, it was time for the long car ride home, and the best a wee Goggle Bob could hope for was a stop at South of the Border. This pattern continued into my teen years, when it ceased thanks to a combination of those great aunts and uncles aging out of their entertaining-guests years (sleeping on the floor of a nursing home is simply not a fun way to end a visit) and myself aging out of my want-to-spend-any-time-with-my-family years. As a result, whereas I had extremely fond memories of my many Florida road trips, it was not something I ever returned to as an adult. There are other places to vacation, obviously, and maybe I could pick up Disney World again when I have kids or particularly mouse-obsessed dogs or something.

I did return to Orlando a few years ago, though, when my girlfriend (now wife) had the opportunity to fly down there with her sister. Compared to the ol’ family road trips, though, this was a much more concentrated, smaller affair. Not that I would expect anything else! We live in a different world from when I was a child, and now using planes and rideshare apps makes a lot more sense than driving for 20 hours. We didn’t get to stop by the Northern Florida locations, but that was an event that was exclusively reserved for driving through Florida, not saying in Orlando. In fact, unless some global catastrophe occurred, I could not see myself doing anything but flying down to Florida ever again.

And then, of course, a global catastrophe occurred! Whoops!

So, complete with a trip to South of the Border, my wife (definitely now wife) and I drove down to Florida (also, because she would yell at me if she read such a statement, I am legally obligated to admit that my wife did 99.9% of the driving… and you do not want to know what that 0.1% constitutes). We went to Orlando. We went to St. Augustine. We saw all the sites (give or take the theme parks that may have been identified as a little too… plaguey), and enjoyed ourselves in a way that would have been impossible with the typical “just fly in” method. And, since this trip so closely echoed the vacations I took as a child, there was something more than a tinge of nostalgia involved, too. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a picture that was presumably taken by my mother back in the late 80’s…

I had to be, like, seven

And here is a snap taken by my wife this very year…

I had to be, like, 37

See a little similarity there? Thank goodness Florida’s oldest city doesn’t change much.

It was a strange mix of emotions to be experiencing something that was so familiar, yet so different. I had not realized how much those old family vacations had become a part of myself -a part of my very soul- and how returning to a place I had not seen in two decades would fill me with such an odd feeling of… home. This was not just a matter of familiarity or nostalgia, this was a feeling that I was somehow someplace that was objectively “correct”, and why had I not done this in so long? Things changed, as they always must, but the warmth here was so inadvertently welcoming, I could completely ignore any and all faults that were now happening. I did not care if that dork wearing a MAGA hat was yelling on a street corner, or if that bartender was serving drinks with his mask firmly around his chin; none of that mattered, because I was somewhere that felt simultaneously near and distant. It was a kind of concrete ephemeral, like living through a physical fantasy. In short, it is an impossible to define feeling that is somewhere between nostalgia, surprise, contentment.

Though, for something a little more universal, I got the same feeling from fighting this guy.

38 for this one

Welcome back, Kraid. Welcome back, the feeling of Super Metroid.

Metroid Dread is the first official, new 2-D Metroid in almost twenty years. In that time, we had a host of 3-D Metroid titles, one remake of the original Metroid that hewed closely to Metroid Fusion, and a remake of Metroid 2. That remake is relevant to today’s proceedings, as Metroid Dread is from the same people that brought us Metroid: Samus Returns four years ago. And, bad news, Metroid: Samus Returns had some significant problems. It relied way too heavily on bosses (and even random, “mook” monsters) that had both very distinct puzzle patterns, and far too much health (to showcase said patterns). Basically, every ten seconds Samus Aran had to stop and use a friggen’ protractor to determine things like “counter windows” or “missile efficiency”. This made Metroid: Samus Returns very much its own take on the Metroid formula, with a greater emphasis on “Samus the Hunter” than “Samus the Planet Explorer/Exploder”.

But Metroid Dread brings back the feeling of Super Metroid for the first time since… well, probably since the last time I went on a road trip to Florida (and I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout this year).

I need an ice beamTo be clear, Metroid Dread is definitely the descendant of Metroid: Samus Returns. Many monsters still exist to encourage counter tactics, and there does not seem to be a single boss that does not include a protracted “counter sequence” wherein Samus flips and twirls through a cutscene that involves no greater gameplay that “keep hammering Y”. Additionally, the EMMI sections seem to be the obvious heir of the Digby the Diggernaut sections of M:SR, with instant death being the punishment for not immediately knowing which way our latest whacky robot is going to turn. Are EMMI and Diggernaut encounters exactly the same? Of course not, but there is a familiar feeling when seeing an instant (and weightless) Game Over because Samus’s precognition didn’t shout “right” when left was always going to be fatal.

But even in the EMMI sections, you see the OG Samus Aran shine through. EMMI introduces some significant “stealth gameplay” to the 2-D Metroid formula for the first time since minor scripted SA-X encounters in Metroid Fusion. But the difference between Solid Snake and Solid Samus is that our favorite bounty hunter has slightly more vertical mobility than Smokey the Merc. Right from the start, alerting your local EMMI may have advantages, as Samus can spin jump around an arena a lot more effectively (and enjoyably) than draining her lifeforce to maintain stealth mode. And by the time Samus has acquired the Space Jump and Gravity Suit? Screw it! Let the EMMI give chase! Samus probably enjoys the cardio of active fleeing! It’s good for the heart!

And that is why Metroid Dread feels so… right. Yes, there are counters, stealth segments, and some particularly weird design decisions along the way (no, Mercury Steam, I did not want to fight the same stupid bird-spear boss like, four times in a row with very little variation), but Samus feels like Samus all throughout. Or, more specifically, she feels like Super Metroid’s version of Samus Aran. And, lest you think I am misremembering a game I have replayed to death, it is absolutely a trick of recollection, as Super Metroid Samus controlled nothing like Metroid Dread Samus. Totally different, tremendously more floaty animal in Super Metroid. But does Dread feel like “old” Samus? Very much so. You won’t be thinking about the distinctive differences between wall jumps by the time Samus is screw attacking through wannabe skrees.

LOVE ORBWhich brings us back to Kraid. Kraid: Dread follows much the same pattern Super Kraid did 27 years earlier. This is not the exact same fight, as Kraid’s belly spews work differently, and that omnipresent opportunity for a counter scene hangs over the battle with every flash of yellow. But this is Kraid. This is Samus Aran facing down a monster that is initially one screen tall, and then graduates to a full two screen lengths. This is a battle where you must jump on spike protrusions, work your way up to that scaly head, and then fire a baiting-beam before launching missiles into Kraid’s maw. It is a Kraid fight. It feels like a Kraid fight. And, while there have been many battles like it across this and other franchises, this is the first time in decades that Kraid has simply felt like… Kraid.

And the feeling of doing that? Of fighting this Kraid iteration after all these years? It is something beyond nostalgia. It is coming home.

Metroid Dread might not be perfect, but it does present a feeling that is beyond nostalgia. This is a happiness that is not based on simply remembering history, but knowing that what was once good in the past is still here in the present. It is looking at two photographs separated by decades, and knowing that both places are, ultimately, one happy same.

Metroid Dread is a Metroid Dream.

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

NOTE: Spoilers will appear in this area

  • System: Nintendo Switch exclusive. Man am I glad that we are past the DS/3DS/Wii/WiiU era of having no idea how specific gimmicks would be emulated on future consoles.
  • Number of players: One day, we will have a Metroid game where you can play as someone other than Samus. Federation Force? Hunters? No, I don’t see those games with unlockable art in the gallery. They probably didn’t happen.
  • Love that airdashPowerup: Finding 25% of an e-tank or a mere 2-pack of missiles is offensive, and I will not continue to tolerate this kind of withholding. I am willing to accept that new and interesting challenges may be created by reserving the morph ball or gravity suit for later areas, but shinesparking all over creation for a measly two missiles is rude.
  • Can’t touch this: Though I do appreciate that additional power bombs are available without sequence breaking. One of the greatest annoyances in Samus Returns was finding a new item way the hell at the end of the game, and then your only hope of getting additional ammo was backtracking all over creation. Even if it is upsetting to be told you cannot use an “early” discovered power bomb yet, at least it means you will have a stock when they finally become operational.
  • But Super Missiles totally suck now for some reason: Oh yeah. Totally. Most nothing powerup in the game.
  • Amiibo Corner: Unfortunately, thanks to disparate shipping times, my official Metroid Dread amiibos did not arrive until literally a few hours after I 100% completed the game. Just as well, as their boons of random health/missile refills aren’t all that exciting. Could the EMMI amiibo maybe start a chao garden minigame wherein you raise your own terminator? Let ‘em race around homemade Tourian courses? Could be fun!
  • Ridley is too big: He’s so big, he forgot to show up! 100% completion earns some art that confirms the main villain used his troops to hogtie and bound a Kraid down in the depths of a lava pit, so it is my headcanon the ol’ Raven Dork took one look at a revived Ridley, figured it was too much trouble, and left the space dragon to roam the universe on his own. Besides, we must save a surprise for Metroid 6.
  • What is Wrong with our Heroine? Samus, I don’t know anything about bird people death customs, but I am glad you were punished for leaving Quiet Robe’s corpse to just rot there. Think about what you did while dealing with those reactivated EMMIs.
  • Sorry!  Bad Robot!Did you know? It seems that every 2-D Metroid since Metroid 2 has ended with a “villain” heel turn. Baby Metroid plays against type and saves Samus in 2 and Super, SA-X cooperates with Samus during the finale of Fusion, and now Metroid 5 features Quiet Robe-X merging with Samus despite the X creature earlier enabling killer robots. Looking forward to Metroid 6, wherein Samus is saved at the last minute by a very friendly space mutant.
  • Would I play again: This is the first Metroid I have wanted to instantly replay in forever. I’m not going to, because I haven’t even finished that one Persona game that came out like forever ago, but it is on the agenda! It’s going to happen! Even if I completely ignore Hard Mode for the rest of my life!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Zero Wing! Yes! That Zero Wing! From the internet! Please look forward to it!

Sorry birdie
This concludes my coverage of Metroid: Other Dads

FGC #607 Metroid

PRAY FOR PEACE IN SPACESamus Aran has been described as “The Hunter”. She has been described as a mobile tank. She was been described as the ultimate warrior. She has been described as the most powerful woman in the Nintendo pantheon.

And, after all that, I think a great Metroid game makes Samus Aran a bimbo.

My first Metroid was Metroid 1. I have three huge, unforgettable memories of Metroid from when I was a Wee Goggle Bob:

  1. The Ice Beam is so much better than the Wave Beam that, to this day, I still see the Wave Beam as a punishment/threat akin to those birds in Ninja Gaiden.
  2. Kraid is a giant pain in the ass (even when not giant).
  3. The Screw Attack was a boon like no other.

And to be clear on that final point, it is hard to describe the Screw Attack to someone who didn’t only ever play games like Super Mario Bros. (and its many contemporary clones) or Mega Man 2 for comparison. I remember distinctly describing “imagine you got a star man every time you jumped” to other kids that had not been able to make it through the caverns of Zebes. And did the screw attack actually serve the same purpose as a star man’s familiar invincibility? No. But it changed Samus for the better, and allowed her to sail through a number of monsters that previously would wreck her day. Whatever you consider the true final challenge of Metroid 1 to be (either an immobile brain in a lava factory or a dungeon full of jellyfish), the screw attack barely helps. But for actually adventuring through the other 90% of the game? Eat it, ripper that could otherwise soak 100 missiles, Samus Aran coming through, and you better get out of the way or be diced into your component pixels!

This seems dirtyAnd that feeling has never left my relative enjoyment of Metroid. In fact, I would argue that it is the main difference between Castlevania and Metroid titles. In a Castlevania game, you are constantly accruing new abilities and skills, but, by and large, it is a ladder system, and the bosses are climbing the rungs as you trade a +1 sword for a +2 sword/bat transformation. You are expected to graduate with these skills in the regular encounters just as much as the bosses that now have patterns that account for wolf forms. However, in a Metroid game, you get new skills, but are primarily improving what you have (practically) from the beginning. There are no gradually developing swords to find, just more missiles. Or more super bombs. Or more e-tanks. And the bosses are not 100% tests of skill, but gateways to confirm you have collected enough missiles, e-tanks, or whatever Samus has to find this mission. Can they be beaten with skill, precision, and a charge beam? Yes, but it feels more like they have 100 missiles of health because you are supposed to have 100 missiles by now. And you need those “gatekeeper” bosses, because otherwise you would just screw attack through everything straight to Mother Brain. And somebody has got to be a boss around here!

And that is ultimately what I want from a Metroid game. I do not need the difficulty to escalate as I venture further. I want it to get easier. I want Samus to become dumber, because she has upgraded her pea shooter to launch 50 continuous super missiles that are capable of literally rocking the planet. When Samus has 30 energy dots and the ability to transform into a cowardly ball, she should be precise and technical in all encounters. When she has more e-tanks than she knows what to do with and is blasting deadly rainbows out of her arm, she can soak a few hits while bad guys explode.

And if you still want a challenge? Then you have the option to not pick up that e-tank or missile expansion. Super Metroid‘s “would you like to turn off your screw attack” menu is poison to my playstyle, but it is an option. You can have a difficult trek through Zebes if you would like. “Challenge runs” are aptly named, but by no means required.

BLOW IT UPAnd speaking of Super Metroid, the original Metroid only included the Screw Attack, but Super Metroid upgraded everything down to Samus’s sneezes to be wholly homicidal. Jumping kills with the Screw Attack, running kills with the Speed Booster, and you can literally fly-dash-kill with the (slightly draining) Shinespark ability. And this is all before the finale of Super Metroid sees Samus gain a revenge beam that is capable of obliterating wall and brainnosaurus rex alike.

And it is interesting to consider what it means for Samus Aran when her ultimate goal is becoming practically invincible. Right from the start of Metroid, Samus’s abilities are some of the sharpest on the NES. Mega Man cannot duck, but Samus can roll into a ball to become a mobile, pint-sized target. Simon Belmont’s single-arc jump is one of the most perilous moves in his arsenal, while Samus has more air mobility than some birds (she takes after her dad). Mario can toss off bouncing balls, Samus can rapidly acquire beams that cover the length of the screen, freeze opponents, and/or travel straight through any object. Samus Aran is a formidable opponent from an era when most heroes could nary dream of having the mobility afforded by a Chozo costume. But once she has maximum missiles, energy tanks, and enough bird artifacts to soak a mortar shell? Well, then, who cares? She can just wade in lava like a toad (that enjoys a remarkably warm bath) and murder her parents’ killer by wave beaming through the floor.

NO PTSD FOR YOUAnd speaking of Ridley, that space dragon may exemplify this philosophy even more than the hyper beam. Meta Ridley of the Prime franchise may be sporting enhancements and brains, but “regular” Ridley is consistently all teeth, nails, and a tail that is 100% spikes by volume. By Super Metroid, Ridley is clawing and slashing and fighting like a wounded animal. There is no pattern to discern, no “phases” to go through. He is just a monster that may or may not eat your family, as there is no deeper Ridley to Ridley. This doesn’t work for everyone in this or any other game (Dracula would never sully his cape by fighting like that), but this is what it is to fight a bear… or The Incredible Hulk. Ridley is trying anything that works, and Samus is standing solid and using everything she’s got as her only defense. This kind of sucks from a videogame design perspective, but that “I just got lucky” feeling after Ridley finally explodes really works for why Ridley is memorable.

The best way to beat a brainless monster is to be a brainless monster.

So, yes, I want Samus Aran to be a bimbo by the time she reaches the end of her quest. After acquiring a PHD in Zebethian lost technology, I want Samus to be a big, dumb clod that will not get out of the way of a rinka while shoveling missiles into a jar. I want the last stand of Samus Aran to be the final flickering of her ultimate brain cell. A gibbering nincompoop could eradicate the Metroid menace with all those upgrades, and I want to play as that nincompoop.

And if Samus has to think about performing a single counter? That’s some other heroine. Samus is too dummy thicc with power to fit in with any of that rubbish.

FGC #607 Metroid

  • I don't understandSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, but mostly played through e-reader in some version of Animal Crossing. Or maybe I am thinking of the version that was unlockable in Metroid Fusion? Or the GBA classic reissue? Look, it is on practically every Nintendo system ever created, save the Super Nintendo and N64.
  • Number of players: Samus does not encounter a single living thing that is not trying to kill her on Zebes, so only one player.
  • Favorite Powerup: You think it might be the screw attack? There is a reason I made that thing my desktop wallpaper!
  • Speedy Sister: The number one thing I noticed replaying Metroid in 2021? Dang, it goes fast. You only need, what? Morph ball, bombs, ice beam, and hi jump to complete the entire mission? No extra time spent here trying to remember where the hell the space jump got to, just nab some new boots and make a beeline for your local space dragon.
  • Ridley is too big: It is kind of miraculous that Ridley graduated to the main series antagonist role after Metroid, as he is certainly the easier of the two “mini” bosses of Metroid. Sure, Ridley officially has the second area, and gets a whole two scary statue heads leading to his lair, but Kraid? Kraid has his own weirdo clone to confuse new players, more health than has ever been measured, and the raw invulnerability of solid stomach spikes. And he even hides his requisite e-tank better than Ridley! Kraid got robbed when future editions devolved him into a mindless dinosaur. (And he lost all his hair, too.)
  • Map it out: My memories of playing Metroid as a child recall a Zebes that was easily ten times the size it actually is… mainly because I didn’t see a complete map until some “retro” Nintendo Power coverage of the game years later. When you are stuck in the depths of Brinstar with no way to distinguish between a lot of same-y rooms…. Well… let’s just say this game would be very different with Super Metroid’s automap.
  • The big finaleGoggle Bob Fact: I used to have a Nintendo sponsored calendar when I was young enough to not be literate. Metroid was the featured game of one of the months. As I was able to identify an “M” and someone clearly using an arm buster, I thought I was looking at Mega Man, not Samus Aran. I have been ashamed of this mistake continuously since I was 8.
  • Bounty Hunter: The original Famicom version of Metroid has save files, and a menu for such that is similar to The Legend of Zelda. If you complete the game, Samus’s icon receives lil’ money bag icons to indicate a clear. And if you finish the mission faster? Samus gets more money bags. But, money or not, the NES version is the only one with Zero Suit Samus and the “new game plus” of restarting with previous powerups. So what good is all the money in the universe compared to that?
  • Did you know? There are a few “unused” rooms within the code for Metroid. One contains an item orb on a random pedestal over lava. This is unusual, as item orbs only exist connected to Chozo statues in the normal version of Metroid. The room does resemble the location where you are likely to find your first missile upgrade, though, so maybe orbs were initially supposed to be more plentiful.
  • Would I play again: Yes, but only if there’s a map handy. I cannot remember which walls I am supposed to bomb for the life in me!

What’s next? Random ROB has not so randomly chosen… Metroid Dread! We just did the start, let’s see the most recent end! Please look forward to it!

THE END
“The Other Metroid?” Some kind of… Other M?