FGC #550 Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

This counts as the titleI feel like I’ve been tricked so many times, I’m sad when I’m not being tricked.

Wait a tick… That might be a little confusing. Let’s take a look at an obvious example. Pokémon, come on down.

Today’s game is technically not even a game at all, but an expansion of a game that was previously covered, Pokémon: Sword/Shield. I will save you valuable clicking and/or reading time and immediately sum up a general review of Pokémon: SS (that is still an unfortunate abbreviation): it is good. In fact, it is very good. It really might be the ideal Pokémon game, give or take how much drama you like to see in your games that also feature electric rats. It’s a very straightforward tale of a boy/girl ascending from humble beginnings to becoming the champion of the universe, and, along the way, you get to fight a giant, man-eating spike-dragon or two. And the post-game is pretty great, too, as, while it is lacking in any more plot depth, it has practically infinite possibilities in the “Wild Area” and its many opportunities for new catches (and, yes, I am counting the postgame “weird hair dude” fights in that calculation. That story should have been part of the main game, and you know it). Even before DLC, Pokémon Sword/Shield could have been a game that still would have delivered content for months.

Scooting alongBut we live in a world where no game can ever truly be finished, so Pokémon Sword/Shield earned two whole new “campaigns” in the name of downloadable content. In the Isle of Armor, your trainer visits a hitherto unexplored island that is vaguely Eastern-themed, trains in a Pokémon dojo, and eventually defeats the grandmaster while earning a new, karate-based Pokémon. Meanwhile, in the Crown Tundra, your customized protagonist goes on a quest in an occasionally frozen wasteland to discover a host of legendary Pokémon, and maybe help out some manner of telepathic deer with popularity problems. In both areas, there are new whacky characters to encounter, challenges to overcome, and, of course, Pokémon to catch. Pokémon Sword/Shield started with what many claimed was an insultingly low number of Pokémon available to the player, and, while the expansions don’t fill in the entire pokéroster, you certainly have more of a variety available now (still no sign of Drowzee, though). And that’s great! Sure, you can just airdrop your entire living pokédex from Pokémon Home straight into Sword and claim you’ve completed the ‘dex, but it’s a lot more fun to pedal out into the ocean, and discover a tenacool for the first time all over again. This is bloody Pokémon, dammit, go out there and catch ‘em all.

And this is why DLC is perfect for the Pokémon franchise. Depending on how you look at it, every Pokémon game ever has been structured like DLC, give or take the first one (and even that we could reasonably claim that was simply DLC for Monster Rancher). Every time the story is the same: a few new characters, some fresh and interesting geography, and those adorable little murderous critters we all want to store in our balls. Are there new legendaries? A smattering of choice creatures that are so limited, you’re either going to have to buy a new version or hit the trade forums? A Champion that is like a billion years old, but is clearly going to lose to a preteen? It’s always all there, and it’s always just as predictable as last time. And that’s great! Said it before, and I’ll say it again: great DLC should be more of the same. You liked the initial package, so additional content should be like that opening gamut, but with just enough new twists to keep things interesting. And, whether that be DLC or a True Romance“mainline title”, that is every Pokémon game to a T. There have been some tweaks over the years (some were amazing, some should have been there from the start [looking at you, Wrap]), but every Pokémon title works like good DLC. So it should be absolutely no surprise that the DLC for Pokémon Sword/Shield is magnificent: it’s exactly what we expect from a Pokémon game!

Except… it pushed aside something else that we expect from a Pokémon game, and that is generating some confusing concern from this Pokémon Trainer.

Back in the far off past, back in a time when Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium cemented the idea that there would never be any more Pokémon than the original 151, we were introduced to Pokémon Yellow. It was an adventure that was simultaneously familiar and new. It was ostensibly an attempt to capture the universal popularity of the Pokémon Anime, and integrate that audience into the world of Pokémon videogames. But, somewhere along the way, it wound up improving the franchise as a whole, too. Whether it was in an attempt to capture “casuals” or simply right what once went wrong, Pokémon Yellow is an unmistakable improvement on the original Pokémon Red/Blue(/Green). There were many small quality of life improvements, and, what’s more, it was the first time in the franchise when a Pokémon could follow its trainer across the map. In short, even if you already played Pokémon Red/Blue, Pokémon Yellow had something new (and better!) for you. And if you never played any version at all? Well, Yellow was the one to get.

WeeeeeAnd, whether this was inspired by the success of Yellow or a general need to always see improvement, nearly every following Pokémon generation published a “Yellow Version” of its own. Pokémon Crystal brought some actual animation to the franchise, and Pokémon Emerald saw the Battle Tower (which may or may not have absorbed years of my life). Pokemon Black/White and Pokemon Sun/Moon even earned entire sequels (or they were just excuses to turn another single title into two games). It seems the only generation that didn’t receive a “third option” was Pokémon X/Y, and its obvious “Pokémon Z” hooks were rolled into the rushed (in a good way! I swear!) Pokémon Sun/Moon. Many expected Pokémon Sword/Shield to follow suit with Pokémon Armor… but there is that Isle of Armor right there. And I don’t think we’re going to see Pokémon Gun anytime soon…

Yes, of course, it’s still entirely possible we’re going to see Pokemon Sword/Shield 2. Hell, Nintendo would be leaving money on the table by ignoring such a possibility. But there are a lot of indicators in this DLC that this is the last we will be seeing of this generation. There are many benchmarks from these “third” Pokémon games, and they all seem to exist in this DLC. Cool features that should have been there from the beginning? The DLC has starter gigantimax forms. A host of extra moves and move tutors to enhance the meta battling? Trade your ore in the Isle of Armor for all sorts of moves. A refinement of a system that was just shy of making sense in the main game? Please enjoy the gigantimax expeditions in the Crown Tundra. Complete with a new way to challenge champions and gym leaders, everything about this expansion screams “here is your traditionally mandated sequel”. As one might expect, the first official expansion in Pokémon history is very familiar to those that have followed the franchise, and seems to deliberately preclude the idea of these “ideas” being presented as new for the sequel.

SQUWAKAnd, God help me, if we don’t see a Pokemon Sword/Shield 2, I’m going to miss buying the same game again. I’m going to miss forking over money that could be better spent on literally anything else (including another, whole new game), and settling in for more of the same (but with a new hat). I’m going to miss battling through the exact same fights, but slightly rearranged, so I can finally battle a champion that now has a Blastoise for some reason. I’m going to miss wasting my time on something that already consumed hours and days of my life, all in pursuit of one extra Technical Machine that teaches Earthquake. Or maybe a Gigantimax Hypno? I would waste so much sweat for such an opportunity…

I am very happy with the Pokémon Sword/Shield DLC. I have enjoyed my additional adventures, and the characters that have populated these new locations. But knowing that its existence likely means I won’t be playing through Pokémon Sword/Shield again because, unprompted by a new “version”, I will never find the time/will saddens me. I know I’m avoiding an unnecessary time-sink. I know it is literally saving me money. But I like my rituals, and when they’re interrupted, I am apparently disappointed.

….

Guess I better pre-order Pokémon Soul Sword on the Nintendo SweeCube now. November of 2033 will be here before you know it.

FGC #550 Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

  • System: Nintendo Switch, home of the franchise (that isn’t on mobile devices).
  • Number of Players: Have you tried these four-person raid adventures? They’re a lot better than the old raids, but I still feel like there’s way too much randomness involved. You are gifted a grass pokémon, you fight a water pokémon, but it ice beams your bulbasaur right out of the gate. Whoops! Four deaths and you lose forever! Very good system you have here.
  • Did you catch ‘em all? Not only in the game proper, but also in Pokémon Home, which I think means I have caught every pokémon ever for all time.
    This is how you know I'm awesome

    Except maybe the new mythicals… dammit…
  • Favorite Pokémon (DLC edition): Okay, technically not many new Pokémon were introduced with the DLC, and that is an absolute shame. New monsters are what this franchise is all about! With that caveat out of the way, I’m going to throw my support behind the new electric trashcan, Regieleki. Its ridiculous electric glass cannon status is amazing, and I’m glad there is something faster that speed-demon Deoyxs. Eat it, alien DNA Pokémon!
  • Watch the Weather: Over the course of the previous article, I noted how scary it was that a huge chunk of the Galar continent apparently has snow storms next to sand storms next to thunder storms. That’s a lot of storms! That said, the new “Wild Areas” pull the same trick, but they seem a lot more desolate, so it’s okay. Some rinky dink dojo or a town that has to pray to Pinky and the Brain for crops is obviously going to have issues with their localized mega storms. I mean, duh.
  • Favorite New Trainer: Klara is my aesthetic (poisonous cotton candy), and she’s a failed musician who “only sold 8 copies of her debut album”. So she decided to enter the challenging world of Slowbro battling by training at a remote dojo to maybe inherent a karate bear. I can get behind that.
  • Best Partner: If you chose any partner but Marnie for the Championship Doubles Battle, I don’t want to talk to you.
  • Let's fightGoggle Bob Fact: This expansion was first announced/revealed last year when I was vacationing in Poland. I will never forget being hunched over a laptop in my (now) wife’s childhood bedroom, desperate for Pokémon news… Or maybe just excited to hear something 100% in English. I may or may not have been homesick, so the prospect of a new kind of Articuno is always going to hold a special place in my heart.
  • Did you know? Most of the trainer numbers are secret, relevant jokes about their respective trainers. For instance, Klara’s number, 881, can be pronounced in Japanese as “dangerous”. This is, obviously, very appropriate.
  • Would I play again: I think that was the point of the whole article!

What’s next? Random ROB is taking the next two weeks off, and I’ll be presenting four articles that are part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). Look, I know this is a hedonistic blog on most days (dude, it’s a blog), but there are a few articles related to… events in my life that have been rattling around my head for a while, so I figure I’m going to put pen to paper on those before this blog runs its course (sometime in about another hundred articles). So we’re going to kick off this indulgence with The Legend of the Mystical Ninja come Monday. Please look forward to it!

Roll on, boys
Still the best ending

FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

Let's danceDear things I loved as a child: please don’t embarrass me as an adult.

Garfield: Caught in the Act is a game I played when I was a child. Why? Come on, stupid, you know the answer to this one: like all right-thinking children, I loved Garfield. Some of my first purchases as a good little consumer were Garfield collections bought from the school book fair, and one of my favorite cartoons was Garfield & Friends. Despite the fact that a solid three pages scarred me for life, Garfield: His 9 Lives was one of the earliest books/comic books/graphic novels that I remember reading and rereading until the pages crumbled to dust. So, yeah, given the opportunity to play a Sega Genesis game starring Garfield, I jumped on the cartridge like a cat on lasagna.

And Garfield: Caught in the Act is… well… I mean… You can see that they tried, right? Coming off of Aladdin, this is obviously a videogame that leans heavily into that whole “hand drawn sprite animation” trend. Garfield looks gorgeous. He runs. He jumps. He dances! And he does it all with a full range of motion that would even put his daily cartoon to shame. Eat it, US Acres, this is the good stuff. And the Catsablanca stage? With that faux monochrome style? C’est la fête. Unfortunately, the gameplay does not quite live up to the visuals. Garfield is gorgeous, yes, but the actual levels seem sloppy, with frequent traps and enemies that come out of nowhere. What’s more, the designers seemed to recognize that Garfield was going to take a lot of damage, so he has ten hit points, and life power-ups are distributed roughly every nine inches. This leads to a weird situation wherein, aside from the handful of bosses, you almost always feel like you are playing the game… wrong. Are you supposed to be taking this much damage? Tanking this many hits? Probably, because there are another six hamburgers ahead, so you may as well soak those malevolent ghosts. And G:CitA relies on level design that is very… Bubsy… with a number of branching paths and “underground” areas that require random doors and the screen’s focus fuddling all over the map. The game is pretty to look at, but not exactly delightful to hold.

Holy CatsAnd, as someone who has continued to follow Garfield titles through adulthood, this seems to be the standard for our favorite orange feline. Garfield and his Nine Lives for Gameboy Advance has about as much to do with the comic of the same name as Garfield has to do with exercise, but it is another pleasant enough micro platformer. The same could be said for Garfield and The Search for Pooky. They’re passable, and the worst you can say is that they are clearly not the kind of lovingly crafted games you’d find elsewhere on the system. And if you’re looking for something on modern consoles, try Garfield Kart: Furious Racing. This one allows you to play as any number of Garfield luminaries (Liz! You know Liz! The woman that made Jon drink dog sperm? Her!) with gameplay that matches Mario Kart: Double Dash (complete with blue sparks), but is otherwise a fairly generic kart racer. And that’s fine! It’s a Garfield game, and that lazy cat has been sponsoring mediocre games for decades now.

Garfield is just kind of there, being occasionally funny, but at least reliably marginally entertaining. As one of my favorite childhood comic strips, I’m rather happy to see Garfield popping up on occasion, and I enjoy getting reacquainted with these old friends (when the related games are on sale for like ten bucks). Garfield made me happy as a child, and he brings a smile to my face even now.

And then there’s Dilbert.

Fuck Dilbert.

Beat the bossBack to autobiography land, I was a voracious reader as a child, but it was years before I encountered another comic strip that captured my attention like Garfield. The comic strips of the day were generally aimed at parents, the elderly, and whatever the hell is the audience for Pluggers. It seemed like the comic strips that were aimed at kids were too kiddy, and the ones that were aimed at adults were too exclusive (yes, B.C., please make another joke about President Taft. That doesn’t get old). And then Dilbert came along, and I was enrapt. It may seem weird that a comic primarily about office work appealed to a kid that was still a few years away from having his first job, but you really have to understand the weird timeframe wherein Dilbert came into prominence. Did you know that not everyone used to have a computer? Or access to the internet? The cast of Doonesbury had never seen a computer, and it was likely because the author was right there on the same page. But Dilbert! Here was a place where computers not only existed, but they could be involved in jokes! Nobody made jokes about computers! Or the internet! Or Linux nerds! There was an entire strip that called Linux nerds bearded, suspender wearing weirdos! That was funny and accurate! Holy RAM, Dilbert, you’re speaking my language!

And, lest you think it was just a matter of my nerdy tendencies, there was something else about Dilbert that caught my eye. The secret truth of Dilbert? The entire strip is about a handful of mundane characters that are smarter than literally everyone else on Earth. The public at large seemed to fixate exclusively on the pointy-haired boss and his boundless incompetence, but the premise of roughly 80% of Dilbert strips is simply “Dilbert is smarter than everyone else”. And, spoilers, regardless of your own standing in life, you are supposed to relate to Dilbert. You are supposed to see the rest of the world as a bunch of belligerent nitwits, and you are Dilbert, the mouthless man that steps back and stares through the fourth wall in a way that says, “Wow, ain’t this guy a moron? Nyuk nyuk.” And if Dilbert’s general helplessness isn’t doing it for your ego, then there’s Dogbert, who is consistently portrayed as a genius that is capable of conquering the world… Go doctorbut doesn’t feel like doing that this week. “Bah,” he says as he waves his paw. And if you think this assessment of Dilbert is somehow incorrect, here is a simple reminder that the first Dilbert collection was titled “Always Postpone Meetings With Time-Wasting Morons”, and the first original Dilbert book was “Dilbert’s Clues For The Clueless”, which took time on every page to outline a different kind of “clueless” person. Dilbert is about life in an office, yes, but it is more about how the great, unwashed masses are a bunch of “clueless” yokels.

And, dang, I don’t mind telling you that pre-teen and particularly teenage Goggle Bob ate that shit up with a spoon. You tell ‘em, Dilbert, you’re the only person on Earth that knows what’s up!

Of course, when you put it that way, it should have been obvious the author of Dilbert, Scott Adams, would become some kind of… is there even a word for this? Wannabe fascist? That sounds right.

I’m not going to review the many sins of Mr. Adams over the last few years, but let’s stick to one quote from 2016. After the 2016 Democratic Convention, he had this to say:

“If you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men.”

Hail to the kingSo maybe he’s just a misogynist? He definitely has supported Trump in a variety of ways over the last few years, and it seems like a significant factor there is the misbegotten belief that Trump is some manner of “alpha male” (or, in Scott’s own words, he has an impressive “talent stack”). Now we don’t know if this is because Adams truly sees the orange, lumpy Donald Trump as the pinnacle of humanity, or if an inheritance tax would be a threat to his income, or just because he legitimately believes that republicans would be hunted under a democratic regime. Nobody knows! But one thing is clear: Scott Adams was anxious to support a wannabe dictator, and has repeatedly, consistently defended his backing of Donald Trump, despite openly admitting it has impacted his speaking engagements/income. The man is so deep in the Trump camp, he’s finding Rudy Giuliani’s discarded llama bones.

Oh, okay, one more quote from the man:

Seriously!?

Yeah, sure that makes perfect sense, undecided voter.

And, yes, I’m downright ashamed to have ever supported the man. And most people aren’t “online enough” to even know he’s very publicly one of the 72,000,000 people that evidently vehemently supports a man that is totally okay with hundreds of thousands of Americans dying for no reason. And, because some people in my family distinctly remember my Dilbert obsession from twenty years ago (and know damn well that I am still a giant nerd), I occasionally am still gifted Dilbert merchandise. My dad winds up getting me a Dilbert calendar every year! And that’s directly supporting a man that would manifestly be perfectly okay with some of my good friends being sent to the Gulag (or worse)! And is already totally cool with children being stowed in cages! I like Catbert as much as the next guy, but that is a bit over the line.

Er-hem. Sorry. This gets me a little… exasperated.

It's Gameboy timeSo what’s the point here? Scott Adams sucks, and Jim Davis is awesome because his celebrity is used for milquetoast endeavors? Hating Mondays works better than hating bosses? Dilbert should eat more lasagna? Nah, it’s never that simple. I think the lesson here is that, in this age of “cancel culture” (the quotes mean I take this phenomenon about as seriously as the ever-present threat of bigfoot), you don’t need to be “cancelled” to be noxious. No one ever told me that the author of Dilbert was some kind of toxic creature, I simply identified that from his very public beliefs and statements. I am never going to buy Dilbert merchandise again, despite my initial love for the franchise, because the idea of Scott Adams profiting off my vices is repellant. I am, however, going to download Garfield Kart, because, what the heck, it might be a fun time, and Jim Davis seems pretty alright. Maybe I’m wrong! But, in a world where I could either defend Scott Adams (with my wallet) or ignore his output for the rest of my days, I’m going to go with the latter. This isn’t because of some monolithic “cancel movement” or whatever, it is simply because everything the man says deters me. Simple as that.

Garfield, you might not have the best games around, but thank you for simply being you in these tumultuous times. I’ll airmail an annoying kitten to Abu Dhabi in your honor.

He did alright

Thanks, Jim.

FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

  • System: Sega Genesis. From the people that brought you Star Wars Arcade and Eternal Champions, apparently.
  • Number of players: Garfield is a loner cat.
  • Favorite Boss: Level 2/Cave Cat was apparently supposed to originally be Level 1, but it was determined Cave Cat was no fun, and Level 1 became the original Level 2, Count Slobula’s Castle. That said, Cave Cat does end with a battle with a giant skeleton, so it’s pretty great.
  • An end: Credit where credit is due, G:CinA has an “alien” final boss that is made from discarded television components, and he’s rendered in Vectorman-esque uncanny, 16-bit 3-D. Considering the rest of the game is lavish 16-bit “normal” 2-D animation, it really makes the final challenge pop. It’s just kind of a shame that that “final challenge” is a silly mirror-pushing puzzle.
  • WeeeeeeHey, not all of these pictures are from Garfield: Caught in the Act: Yes, well, I wanted to see if any of Garfield’s other adventures held up and/or descended into fascism. They mostly don’t. But, if you’re curious, the other images are from Garfield and his Nine Lives for Gameboy Advance, and Furious Racing for the Nintendo Switch. Also Dr. Garfield, which is imaginary and not available as a ROM patch, obviously.
  • Say something nice about Garfield and his Nine Lives: This game seems a lot more focused than Garfield: Caught in the Act, as you’re not expected to soak a hit every three inches. That said, it’s also a lot less meticulous in its graphics, and certainly looks like a desperate cash grab. It’s slightly better than Monsters Inc. for the GBA, though!
  • Say something nice about Garfield Kart Furious Racing: This really is an exact clone of Mario Kart Double Dash’s mechanics. Even though you’re only ever racing as one Garfieldian character, you can hold two powerups at once. It’s very familiar! And every item has an easy, two-button option for whether you launch it ahead or behind your racer. The tracks and the characters are rather mundane, but the general usability of Furious Racing is surprisingly high.
  • It is Furious, though, not Furry-ous? Correct. It’s a shame.
  • Did you know? Garfield is forever tainted by Mike Pence loving the rotund cat. This probably doesn’t have anything to do with Pence loving other, slightly larger orange animals.
  • Would I play again: Maybe! Garfield is responsible for good vibes, so I might play, like, a level again. It’s pretty to look at!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon: Sword: Isle of Armor & Crown Tundra Expansion! Yeah! Sure! Let’s believe that was randomly chosen, and I don’t just want to talk about Pokémon again! So get ready for, ya know, talking about Pokémon again! Please look forward to it!

Crunch
In Sega Genesis, television eats you!

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

So shinyRecently(ish) on the ol’ World of Final Fantasy live stream, my compatriots, BEAT and fanboymaster, discussed the idea of a collectathon, and settled on the decision that the term “collectathon” is one that was designed by game reviewers who did not actually care for the genre in any conceivable way. The word itself speaks to the exhaustion that is caused by participating in a collectathon, and, more than likely, the term was coined after so many random games that required all kinds of esoteric methods to finally achieve some level of “game completion”. In short, according to my contemporaries, “collectathon” became a term to insult the genre it was describing.

However, I disagree (and I would have elaborated more on my position during the stream, but we had to get back to discussing episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). For one thing, I used to date a woman who ran recreationally, and, to her, the idea of a marathon was actually a fun time. I, personally, am completely incapable of understanding such a feeling, but there are apparently people out there that that both enjoy what others see as a grueling gauntlet and have sex with me (wait… maybe there’s a connection there). But the idea of –thon being a watch word (suffix?) aside, there’s also the whole “collecta-“ part of the equation. And noting that a whole lot of collecting is going to be involved seems valid! Your biggest collectathons require amassing all kinds of crazy nonsense, and, in the same way that a shoot ‘em up contains a lot of shooting or a role playing game involves eating a whole lot of rolls, the noble collectathon is all about collecting. And, as collectathons progressed through the end of the 90s and into the current millennium, they certainly put more and more of an effort-based emphasis on collecting at the cost of boss fights, minigames, or other distractions from the primary goal of collecting. In short, according to this humble writer, the collectathon is well-served by its popular moniker.

And, besides, if you want to insult a collectathon, call it by the name that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest so desperately deserves: a goddamn mindreading simulator.

This is funBefore I start actively swearing, let me state one thing plainly: Donkey Kong Country 2 is a good videogame. Hell, it’s one of the best on the Super Nintendo, and, considering its competition, that is very much saying something. It’s an action platformer that lives up to the pedigree of Mario or Sonic, but it is also its own animal with extremely unique, consistent physics. As would eventually be refined by the WiiU era, Donkey Kong Country has always had a very distinctive “feeling”; and, after its maiden voyage in Donkey Kong Country 1, DKC2 seemed to perfect that feeling for the Super Nintendo. And we got Dixie! A significant issue with DKC1 is that it never had a “raccoon tail” or similar option of having access to a character with a less precise, more forgiving jump (not like you can drag that flapping ostrich into every stage). DKC2 gave us Dixie Kong and her ponytail-copter that allowed for slower, but more easily-controlled jumps. And you’re going to need it, too, because absolutely every DKC2 level has its own discrete challenge, so not a single pixel is wasted on repeating or recycling level concepts over and over. In an age where every third platformer contained stages that were indistinguishable from each other (looking at you, Bubsy), you could never mistake one DKC2 stage for another. Yes, those briars might be familiar, but this time you’re using mobile barrels as opposed to flying a parrot. Or is this the stage with the spider? Maybe! Better play the level to find out.

But variety isn’t always a good thing, and that issue rears its ugly head when you get back to that collectathon aspect. The sad truth of Donkey Kong Country 2? It apparently expects you to be psychic.

SPLURTPreviously on this blog, I recognized Banjo & Kazooie as the perfect collectathon. Long article short, it is all about carefully explaining its challenges to the player, and then granting the player all the options available to say “so have at it”. There are ten jiggys in this world, you know there are only ten jiggys, so get to work, and when you’ve collected nine, know that that one place on the map with a weird squirrel is probably your final destination. Donkey Kong Country 2, also created by Banjo & Kazooie’s Rare, is obviously the ancestor of many of B&K’s indulgences (and we’re not just talking about the inexplicable, self-contained quiz show). Does every weird-ass animal in this universe have giant googly eyes? Yes. Speaking of animals, the buddies have now mostly been transformed from “power-ups” (ala Yoshi in Super Mario World) to required “transformations” that mean this stage is absolutely going to require the abilities of a springy snake. And, yes, so much more so than in Donkey Kong Country 1, collecting bits and baubles is a requirement if you want to see the whole of the game. Not only do you need to find Krem Coins in bonus areas if you want to complete all the levels, you also need banana coins to pay Kongs for the privilege of saving, and DK Coins so Cranky Kong can shut his fat gob for once in this damned franchise. Whereas bonus areas were simply bonuses in DKC1, now every last challenge must be conquered if you want to play the entirety of Donkey Kong Country 2.

And if you are looking for a little consistency in the “bonuses” of DKC2, you are cartwheeling up the wrong vine.

Take thatThere is one DK coin in every level. You can always find it in the level proper… except that one time a DK coin is hidden in a bonus stage. And the final “jump challenge” of every level is always a simple bonus for consumables… except when it is required for the DK coin in about three stages. You can count on bonus rooms to appear in pairs across the various levels, but don’t let your guard down after you’ve found one, because there are a handful of stages that contain three. And speaking of finding bonus areas, don’t worry, because there’s always a banana arrow or even just a single banana indicating that something might be up with this particular wall or area. Or there isn’t. Better nudge a carried barrel against every single vertical surface any time you see one available. Maybe you should backtrack with the barrel, too, because that works, too. Not often, of course, but every once in a while it’s mandatory. Oh! And you know how those thorny vines are always going to obliterate your kongs? Well there are a few false thorn walls, so you might want to smoosh up against deadly spikes just on the off chance it’s that one part where that’s the only way to find the DK coin. Don’t ask me which level they appear in, but they’re there, so you better give it a shot more often than not. Sorry if you lose a life!

And if this sounds completely absurd, congratulations, you’re paying attention. Donkey Kong Country 2 does not effectively (or at least consistently) convey to the player the parameters of its compulsory secrets. The best way to play Donkey Kong Country 2 is to apparently fall into every pit and eat every spike, Kong health be damned. Or use an emulator, and rewind every mistake. Or read a FAQ. Or the only viable option available in 1995: be a goddamned mind reader, and know exactly what Rare was thinking at all times.

Go DiddyA collectathon can be fun. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a fun game. But literally banging your head against every wall is not fun. Trying to figure out what the hell Rare happened to be thinking from level to level is not fun. Sometimes it is fun to find a particularly well-hidden secret, but, more often than not, the path to finding that secret is fraught with trial, error, and a whole lot of dead monkeys. And nobody wants to see that! We have so many laws against that!

Disparage not the noble collectathon, but please acknowledge the woes of the olden mindreading simulator. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest set Rare on the path of defining the collectathon, but, in its pupal form, the collectathon was responsible for more frustration than fun.

… Or at least it sold a lot of copies of Nintendo Power…

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, and now any Nintendo system that will support an emulator. Didn’t get loaned out to Xbox One’s Rare Replay, though.
  • Number of players: There are two Kongs on this adventure, so you may as well have two players.
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Ignoring the snake that is the clear precursor to Spring Mario, I’m going to go with Squitter the Spider, because the ability to make your own platforms in a 16-bit platformer was a revelation back in the 90’s. Much like Kirby’s flight abilities or the P-Wing, this felt like breaking the whole game back in the day… even if the poor spider only appeared in a handful of levels. And the power-webs are a nice bonus, too.
  • Diddy on Top: Do you suppose Nintendo would allow this to happen in a modern release?

    WINNER!

    I kind of have to believe that Nintendo would let Diddy tie with Mario, not win, if something like this were tried today. Then again, maybe it only happened the first time because there is clearly an insult to Sonic and Earthworm Jim thrown in there.

  • Setting a tone: I have to say, it is downright impressive how the Kremling’s home island, the setting for DKC2, absolutely sucks. Give or take one vaguely malevolent amusement park, you can see why these lizards are constantly trying to conquer other realms, because sitting at home with the poisonous bogs, giant beehives, and castle overflowing with acid does not seem like a good time. Donkey Kong Country seems like a place I would like to stay, Crocodile Isle is… not going to get five stars on the ol’ vacation rankings.
  • An End: Find every last Krem Coin, and Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie will watch Crocodile Isle sink into the ocean, with K. Rool escaping on his pirate ship. Does this seem like a good idea, guys? To leave your mortal enemy homeless? That’s only going to lead to issues down the line, and you know it.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This article is being published on my wedding day. This has nothing to do with anything, but I figure I’ll make a note of it.
  • It is hot in hereDid you know? Dixie Kong took some significant time off after Donkey Kong Country 3. She didn’t appear in Donkey Kong 64 (that was her sister, Tiny), but she did make it back in time for Donkey Konga and Jungle Climber. Now she seems to appear nearly every time we see Donkey, though, so it looks like her retirement was short lived.
  • Would I play again: I realize that this article makes it sound like Donkey Kong Country 2 is a bad game. But it’s not! I swear! It just has some horrible tendencies towards making my OCD flip out on every flat surface in every level. That hampers my ability to enjoy the game! But would I ever play it again? Yes, because this is some of the best platforming on the SNES. Like for another game, I just need to turn my brain off, and then we’ll be fine.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Garfield: Caught in the Act for Sega Genesis. Oh no! I hate Mondays, too! Please look forward to it!

Weeeeee
This counts as a minecart, right?

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

Dispatches from an alternative universe!
This article is provided by Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724

Let's do the MarioThe original Super Mario Bros. brought the concept of gaming back from the brink of ruin. So it seems only appropriate that, 35 years later, we examine its sequel, the game that crashed the videogame market forever.

Super Mario Bros. was a revelation here, there, and everywhere. When it was released in 1985, Nintendo knew they had a hit on their hands within a mere four months, which wound up being plenty of time for its creators and curators to consider a sequel. What was it about Super Mario Bros. that everyone enjoyed? Running? Jumping? Malevolent chestnuts? Jumping on malevolent chestnuts? Nobody had the answers, but the designers of Mario did have a theory: people wanted more. They had already begun working on arcade versions of Super Mario Bros., and, given this version was thirsty for quarters, it was designed to be more difficult. Could this be adapted to be the official sequel to Super Mario Bros.? Why not! Super Mario Bros. 2 would be a game that assumed you had already played Super Mario Bros. 1 until your eyes popped out of your skull, and, after a licensed optometrist put those peepers back in place, you’d be ready for more Mario challenges.

So, on a metaphorical level, Super Mario Bros. 2 was designed not to start with World 1, but Super Mario Bros. 1 World 9-1. There are no simple “tutorial” words in Super Mario Bros. 2, just militant turtles and twisting mazes. There are new mushrooms that do not grant Mario new abilities, but simply poison the plumber. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not only a game that requires you master Mario’s physics before you even pop the cartridge in your system, it is also a game that requires you memorize the intricacies of its often dubious world. Super Mario Bros. 1 disguised the length of a handful of castles with a looping maze that required a particular path, but Super Mario Bros. 2 habitually leans on warp pipes that will send Mario back to the start of a stage, or even the start of the game. Super Mario Bros. 2 requires dedication from its audience, and it makes absolutely no concessions for a novice player (give or take a secret way to earn a hundred lives within its opening level). You will lose all of your progress often and repeatedly, and only complete knowledge of the game will allow you to circumvent a frequent, inglorious Game Over.

This sucksIt seems the tipping point for this tale happened when Super Mario Bros. 2 was being exported to America. Howard Lincoln, a man who was responsible for play-testing games for American audiences, felt the game was too difficult, and would not play well with American audiences. He famously said of the game, “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.” However, Lincoln’s protests were ignored. While there was brief discussion regarding “reskinning” another title as “Super Mario Bros. 2 USA”, Super Mario Bros. 2 was released as is, with no changes or tweaks made to the abhorrent difficulty of the game. America was going to face down its first poisonous mushroom, and it would not be left in the cold by its Japanese brothers.

And it was a success. Of course it was a success! Nintendo had already set out to make Mario the most well-known mascot since Mickey Mouse, and, back in the 80’s, it looked like they were going to succeed. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 2 was difficult, but it was flanked by The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Nintendo Cereal System, and Nintendo’s own propaganda rag, Nintendo Power. In fact, many claim the success of Super Mario Bros. 2 could be attributed to its place on the cover of Nintendo Power #1 (famously showing a clay Mario as he grabbed a flagpole in front of a blue Bowser) and spread across the “tips and tricks” contained therein. Super Mario Bros. 2 needed a comprehensive guide if you hoped to conquer it, and Nintendo wisely delivered such in every toy and book store across the country. Before long, everyone was “beating” Super Mario Bros. 2, and it seemed like the gambit of releasing such a difficult game paid off. Sure, SMB2 was “beyond Nintendo hard”, but Nintendo stepped in to help the players, and, ultimately the game itself.

Unfortunately, other games weren’t so lucky.

As was said at the time: so goes Mario, so goes the world. Super Mario Bros. (1) inspired a thousand 2-D platforming clones that all attempted to capture the magic of Mario. Did any succeed? Yes, a small handful did, but certainly no greater than a dozen. Super Mario Bros. 2 had a similar effect on the trajectory of videogames. Where once a sequel would account for new players (what would eventually become known as the nigh mythical “first time gamer”), all new sequels produced decided to follow Super Mario Bros. 2’s trail. This led to a variety of games that all seemed dedicated to murdering the player within the opening moments. Bubble Bobble 2’s starting “Floor 101” combined a million monsters with a timer that could barely be surmounted. Contra 2 led to a generation memorizing its “ten extra lives code” because you’d lose your first three inside of the opening seconds. Rygar 2 utilized every mapping “trick” available to create levels that had extremely poorly defined endpoints, and Gradius 2’s “poison powerups” made acquiring a shield intolerable. Final Fantasy 2 introduced an archaic leveling system that was about as opaque as a behemoth, and Dragon Quest (Warrior in the West) 2 featured dungeons that contained traps upon traps. Even Nintendo wasn’t immune to its own hype, as The Legend of Zelda 2 released with more invisible walls and spongey “green Moblins” than you could shake a stick at. And, to this day, no one has gotten past the first stage of Punch-Out 2 without tool assists. The only sequel that seemed to dodge this absurd difficulty fate was Mega Man 2, but, even there, some said the infamous Quick Man stage seemed like something that was “Super Mario Bros. 2 hard”.

And, God, what was done to Tetris 2 was criminal. It’s no wonder the Gameboy hardly lasted a year.

glub glubThough, of course, that was the inevitable end of this trend. Super Mario Bros. 2 was a success, but every game attempting to ape Super Mario Bros. 2 just hammered a nail into the coffin of gaming harder and harder. By the time of the predicted Super Mario Bros. 3 release, sales of Nintendo consoles had plummeted. Sure, this was the system that had Mario, Link, and Kid Icarus, but nearly every game that included a “2” was an awful slog of anti-fun. If this was the direction gaming was going, apparently the general public wanted nothing to do with it. In retrospect, it should have been expected: the Videogame Crash of 1983 was followed six short years later by the Videogame Crash of 1989. Stores stopped stocking videogames at all, and, by 1990, you could no more purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System in America than a pet rock. The fad of “gaming” had faded, returned, and faded all over again within the span of a decade.

And, like E.T. before it, everyone pointed to Super Mario Bros. 2 as the most prominent example of the reason no one wanted to touch a controller ever again.

So what became of gaming after the crash of ’89? There is no shame in not being aware of the last thirty years of videogame history, as the hobby became little more than a niche occupied by some very dedicated enthusiasts. Those that stuck around after Super Mario Bros. 2 demanded more and more severe challenges, and, given they were the entire audience, the gaming companies of yesterday and today were happy to oblige. Nintendo got out of the hardware business after the twin bombs of its Nintendo Entertainment System 2 and Super Mario Bros. 4 (infamously featuring a rideable dinosaur that would, after a set period of time, eat the player), but they are still making games for the personal computer, and the recent Super Mario Bros. 35 certainly seems to be 35 times as challenging as Mario’s original adventure. Other companies from the NES era, like Capcom and Ultra, faded into the ether, but they have been replaced by modern, “indie” developers that attempt to capture the feelings of the original titles like Castlevania 2 (a game that literally asked its players to bang their heads against cliffs). Oddly, it seems the most profitable gaming Wart?company in the modern era is a British gang by the name of Rare Limited, as their most recent release, Battletoads 3, is topping the sales charts. Granted, at this point, topping the videogame sales charts is roughly as financially relevant as selling the most model train sets in June, but it is still an accomplishment.

And that’s the world that Super Mario Bros. 2 created. It was a difficult, grueling videogame, and, thanks to its unprecedented success, every other company decided to make games that were more tedious than fun. As we now “celebrate” the 35th anniversary of the first Super Mario Bros. (there is even word President Dean will publically recognize the milestone), please remember that, thanks to one fateful sequel, Nintendo also smothered gaming in its crib.

One poison mushroom is all it takes…

Thank you for the guest article, Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724. I’ll be sending over my thank-you article about the failure of HD-DVD in this universe shortly!

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

  • Dodge 'emSystem: Nintendo Famicom originally, but most of the West saw it as part of the Super Mario All-Stars compilation on the Super Nintendo.
  • Number of players: It’s just one player, right? You have to choose a brother, but can’t cooperate? That is bad, and the game should feel bad.
  • Speaking of All-Stars: The 16-bit remake really did this game dirty. The original NES version clearly has graphics that are an upgrade over the original, “launch” Super Mario Bros. palette. However, the SNES version seems to use the majority of the same assets for both games, giving the impression that SMB2j was little more than an expansion for SMB1. Way to rewrite history, Nintendo!
  • Other complaints: No new enemies or “creatures” are introduced for Super Mario Bros. 2, save that lovely toxic fungus. The Mushroom Kingdom has one of the most interesting bestiaries in gaming, so it’s kind of a shame that the likes of bob-omb, shy guy, or dry bones didn’t premiere in this title. I like a goomba as much as the next guy, but Mario is at his best when he’s introducing something more interesting than “Blue Bowser”.
  • Mario or Luigi? As a child, I saw as a child, and assumed jump height was everything. Now, as an adult, I prefer a hero that is less slippery, and is not demolished by strong winds. I have matured.
  • Other connections: You cannot tell me the same thinking that inspired SMB2j’s ridiculous “spend half the level up above the boundaries thanks to overly powerful springs” level design is not also responsible for (real) Super Mario Bros. 2/Doki Doki Panic’s more albatross riding-based stages. It feels very familiar…
  • Watch those cloudsGoggle Bob Fact: Nintendo Power goaded me into finding World 9 and sending a picture of proof so I could earn a badge of honor for my accomplishment… but I’m pretty sure my dad never properly developed the film, and it may or may not have actually been mailed. Regardless, I do not have a spiffy trophy badge, and my life is all the worse for it.
  • Did you know? The A/B/C/D levels clearly reuse stage layouts from earlier in the game, but SMB2j doesn’t otherwise recycle any levels before rescuing a princess. This is in stark contrast with SMB1, which reuses levels constantly starting with World 5’s castle. Or am I just thinking of Super Mario 35
  • Would I play again: I would literally play any other Mario game first. I don’t really believe this game would have crashed the entire videogame industry exclusively because it is bad, but I do believe SMB2j and its hidden blocks/aggravating warps was basically the start of “Kaizo Mario”, and that’s never been the reason I play Mario titles. Sorry, history, I like fun games.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country 2 for the Super Nintendo! It’s sequel time, again, so it’s time to see Diddy’s Kong Quest! Please look forward to it!

I do not care for this