Category Archives: Musings

FGC #623 Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja

DUDE TIMEThe president has been kidnapped by ninja! Bad Dudes is a cross-country romp for two generally not good fellows who have to beat down an entire army of evil ninja on their way to rescuing President Ronnie. And, while the opening narration notes that ninja crime is on the rise, and not even the White House is safe, it doesn’t answer one important question: who, specifically, kidnapped President Ronnie? The Secret Service is calling in the Bad Dudes as soon as Ronnie is kidnapped, but where were they for the actual event? Who had the wherewithal to sneak into the White House and commit this heinous ninja crime?

Let’s look at the bosses of this evil ninja cartel, and examine who had the gumption to kidnap the eternal President of the 80’s. We will start at the top, with…

Dragon Ninja: The Big Boss

The Big Guy

He Did It: This is the big boss of the ninja organization, and the final boss of the game. By the finale, he has President Ronny in his private helicopter, and he can only be fought after venturing through an entire Ninja Factory that includes zombie versions of every boss that has come before. This is very much the big man in charge, and he has President Ronnie right there. This must be the culprit!

He Didn’t Do It: Yes, Dragon Ninja was ultimately responsible for this kidnapping, but he did not do the deed. Can you see this guy? Wannabe kabuki ass flipping around with an army of dogs at his beck and call? I know security was more lax in the 80s, but there is no way this dude got anywhere near the White House. Bro couldn’t get into a Smithsonian food truck, left alone the most secure building in town. No, Dragon Ninja was handed Ronnie at some point, but he likely never left his Ninja Factory. One of those henchmen has to be the culprit…

Devil Pole

Spin that pole

He Did It: Given his placement as the penultimate boss that guards the cave leading to the Ninja Factory, one would assume that Devil Pole is Dragon Ninja’s second in command. Dragon Pole also fulfills that all important ninja position of being the bald guy with a stick that can absolutely wreck everybody, regardless of opponents with tremendously more lethal weaponry. It worked for Daredevil! So this “Stick” is likely the man for the job whenever Dragon Ninja needs to get down to the dirty work.

He Didn’t Do It: He’s just not ninja enough for the job. Devil Pole is absolutely some manner of martial arts master (have you ever seen a bad dude survive his spin stick?), but he also doesn’t fit the description of “ninja” that is so important in this caper. If Devil Pole was responsible, then the CIA would be putting out an APB on Liu Kang. They know it was a ninja, and Devil Pole doesn’t look like any ninja I’ve ever seen.

Akaikage

Watch the chain

He Did It: This is a ninja’s ninja. He fights bad dudes atop a moving train while wielding what appears to be a kunai on a chain. That scores an obvious ten out of ten “believe it”’s on the Naruto-Boruto Scale. He is also wearing a mask to obscure his face in the event of crimes, and his jumping abilities are beyond the pale. In short, if you are planning on kidnapping a president, Akaikage is probably the first guy you call.

He Didn’t Do It: My rudimentary Japanese and knowledge of 1985 arcade games tells me that “Akai” means “red”, and “Kage” means “shadow”. But this “ninja” is only wearing the tiniest red bandana, and mostly green and black for the rest of his outfit. And don’t claim this is for camouflage purposes, as there ain’t anything green about this moving train. So the obvious conclusion? Akaikage is some kind of wannabe that chose his name because it sounded cool. Couple this concept with the fact that abilities like “jump” and “throw chain” are not exactly rocket science, and it is likely Akaikage isn’t a ninja at all, but just some dork on the train that wanted to help out his “nippon friends”. It is possible Akaikage is the real deal, but it is also very likely that, on and on, he is just another weeb in the wall.

Animal

I know that guy

He Did It: No. Not even entertaining that option.

He Didn’t Do It: Should we just ignore that this is a real person? The official, canon name for this guy is “Animal”, and, oh yeah, he looks an awful lot like a grayer version of the World Wrestling Federation star Joseph Michael Laurinaitis aka Road Warrior Animal. He was pretty popular! Hung out with Road Warrior Hawk! Has nothing to do with the KISS Army or Gwar! And here is this pixelated “Animal” just stopping around the forest like he owns the place. This is blatant copyright infringement at best, and identity theft at worst! This indignity will not stand!

… But, uh, anyway. Joe never kidnapped the president, so we’re going to assume this Warrior didn’t, either.

Kamui the Multiple Ninja

Maddrox?

He Did It: Another extremely likely suspect. Kamui appears to be a traditional ninja, but he has the ability to create “real” duplicates of himself in seemingly infinite quantities. That must be a significant boon for espionage missions, as being able to sneak into, say, the White House as one dude, and then instantly produce an army could solve a lot of problems. And Kamui here seems to be invincible while his duplicates are present, so conquering any kind of security should take about seven seconds. Keep shooting at the shadow clones, dummies, while Kamui sneaks off with Ronnie in tow.

He Didn’t Do It: The only real evidence that Kamui is not Public Enemy #1 is that he is the boss of the sewer level. If one of your top, powerful ninja lieutenants successfully accomplished the most daring kidnapping in history, would you assign him to sewer duty? He may be laying low by literally laying low, but the most likely explanation is that Kamui is not our perpetrator. A proper Ronnie-napper would not smell like a ninja turtle.

Iron the Claw

Don't get tetanus

He Did It: Another ninja’s ninja, Iron is covered in shadow-encouraging purple, and equipped with a metal claw that can grow to twice his size. He is the boss of the convoy stage, so you know he’s got some status in the organization, and his complicated spinning jumps and claw attacks can tear a bad dude to ribbons.

He Didn’t Do it: President Ronnie is like six feet tall and full of burgers. There is no way on Hattori Hanzo’s green Earth that Iron could successfully heft the president up and out. At best, he would need about three other Minis to carry that weight, and, at that point, your stealth rating has dropped to zero. No way Iron is getting out of there alive.

Karnov

THE MAIN MAN

He Did It: Of course he did it. He’s fugging Karnov!

He Didn’t Do It: Nope, he did it. Karnov can breathe fire when fighting a bad dude, but we all know he can also wear all-seeing masks, produce ladders, and even fly if he decided to bring along the right powerups. And, while Karnov looks less like a ninja and more like a chubby Russian guy, you better believe that, in a world where Karnov exists, if he decided to join a ninja gang, it would be national news. When you are the king of a fighting tournament and known for never wearing a shirt, you better believe the paparazzi knows all your affiliations. And who else could get close enough to President Ronnie? Karnov is an international treasure! Anyone would let him in!

Yep, case closed. It was Karnov. Go get ‘em, Bad Dudes.

FGC #623 Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja

  • System: The arcade version was used for this article, and played on an Evercade cartridge. But the NES version is pretty well known, and at least one of these versions is currently available on the Nintendo Switch (maybe both?). Beyond that, you have a lot of random systems from the era, like the Apple II or Commodore 64. Also, the Zeebo had Bad Dudes at some point. Look it up!
  • Number of players: Two is the greatest number of Bad Dudes any one game could support.
  • Great place to fightMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Bad Dudes is a rudimentary beat ‘em up, and an obvious quarter killer (the final boss can knock out a life inside of two hits!). That said, the arcade version absolutely nails the sensation of digital punching, and every defeated ninja feels like an accomplishment. Much like Smash Bros. years later, Bad Dudes seemingly put all of its R&D budget into perfectly replicating big, meaty hits, and it adds a memorable, visceral quality to the whole adventure.
  • What’s in a name: It is Bad Dudes on the NES, but DragonNinja in Japan and Europe. So, one way or another, it is named after the protagonists or the antagonist. The official arcade title uses both sides, so everybody is happy.
  • Favorite Weapon: None work like nunchucks.
  • Sexual dimorphism is a scourge: Traditional zako ninja are all assumed to be male ninja, because the Kunoici female ninja are very much presenting any and all feminine signifiers. Is there a reason any ninja needs fishnets and a short skirt? Mobility? Maybe?
  • An end: The infamous “let’s go out for burgers” ending only appears in the American version. The Japanese version gets some Masonry Dudes building a statue of the Bad Dudes, and, more importantly, “credits” for the enemies of the game. (Almost) Everybody gets a name! This article would be impossible without that! Or at least more confusing!
  • Did you know: Chelnov, star of Atomic Runner Chelnov, appears in Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja as a spraypainted tag proudly displayed on the train of Level 5.

    Everybody knows him!  RIGHT?!

    Chelnov would later go on to be the final boss of Fighter’s History 3 (Fighter’s History: Mizoguchi Kiki Ippatsu!!), meaning the atomic runner not only appeared in a game with Karnov, but finally got to fight the big galoot a few years later.

  • Would I play again: This is the ideal arcade game in more ways than one. If I ever see a Bad Dudes cabinet again, it is probably getting at least a buck. But if it is only available on a system competing with many, many other games… Well… I will probably play those first.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Food Fight! Keep your fork, there’s pie! Please look forward to it!

Some hot ninja

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

Learning!Let’s look at the history of The Incredible Crash Dummies, and how they are enormously relevant today.

Cars are amazing. Much like the common copier, a car is a normal part of daily life for many people, but something that would be impossible science fiction a couple centuries back. An automobile is a device that an individual personally owns, and allows said individual to turn a trip that would previously take weeks into a handful of hours. Want to transport groceries from the market? Go on a road trip? Steal a couch from your neighbor? A car makes it all possible!

Cars are also rolling murder machines.

Automobiles are terrifying. They are gigantic hunks of plastic and metal that we routinely hurl through our neighborhoods at speeds that could turn a human being into bloody chunks. Statistically, automobiles are one of the leading causes of unintended death and injury in the United States, with 37,595 motor vehicle deaths in 2019. And, while the US has experienced less motor vehicle death since 1999, there has been an alarming trend of that number ticking back up since 2009. Did we lose some driving skill points with the Obama administration? Are people returning to more reckless driving after watching Gerard Butler’s Gamer? Can we blame “self-driving” cars that have demonstrated a Christine-esque bloodlust? The world may never know. What is important is that cars are helpful and an incredibly likely way for you or a loved one to die/be seriously injured.

But maybe it won’t be so bad if you wear a seatbelt. I learned that from some dummies.

This is gonna hurtThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a US Federal Agency that is ultimately responsible for vehicle safety standards. Like many American institutions, it is three lobbyists in a trench coat claiming they are working for the public good (and they’re totally old enough to buy beer, too, mister). The NHTSA was founded back when America had a three company monopoly on the very concept of cars, and has often been responsible for legislation that punished companies both foreign and domestic for attempting to gain a foothold that might make Henry Ford cry. Look up some details on the Citroën SM sometime if you’d like to see how the safest car ever™ can apparently be torpedoed by headlights. But, even if their motives are suspect in many situations, people at the NHTSA are firmly in the business of safety, so we have those proud men and women to thank for less cars immediately immolating their passengers. Oh! And seatbelts! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was practically founded to get seatbelts around your tummy.

Legislation made seatbelts mandatory on all cars produced after 1966. Then Reagan (naturally) dropped ‘em in a fit of deregulation. But they came back shortly thereafter, as the Supreme Court sided with insurance companies that wanted seatbelts in all cars (for altruistic purposes, I’m sure). New York then became the first state to require seatbelts to actually be worn in 1985. From there, other states quickly followed suit, and now New Hampshire is the only lawless hovel in the USA where seatbelts are optional. But as important as laws are, they are only as good as their enforcers. A seatbelt law is great for pulling someone over for the slimmest of reasons, but there were also many cops that, having grown up in a seatbelt-less environment, thought the law literally wasn’t worth enforcing. Seatbelts were and are a greater good for society and vehicle passengers… but they were kinda uncomfortable, and nobody likes being told what to do. It’s impossible to say if it’s bad or not.

Enter the crash test dummies.

COMMENCE LEARNINGIn 1986, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began running public service announcements featuring crash test dummies. Where did they come from? Well, in 1869, Mary Ward was killed by a steam-powered car. 60 years later, someone decided to look into that, so Wayne State University of Detroit started seeing dead people as test cadavers in controlled car crashes. Unfortunately, measuring what the heck was going on was practically impossible with the tools available in 1930, so things were rough. But it did work in some fashion, as much of what we know about car design safety and bodies being ejected through windshields comes from this era. Look it up! It’s in The Journal of Trauma! Which is a real thing! There were also animal test subjects for a time, too, because humans are the trashiest animals of all. But at some point in there, people stopped strapping corpses and bears (!) into cars, and the crash test dummy became standard. The dummy was apparently first used in 1949, and technology on assessing exactly how damaged a dummy could be by a crash gradually progressed as the decades passed. And, as the crash test dummy became an iconic part of car crashes, someone had the bright idea to stick those dummies out in front of a camera. Vince and Larry (voiced by Garfield!) were born, and their slapstick hijinks lasted as long as a normal commercial, and they taught everyone “you could learn a lot from a dummy”.

And, while it is hard to measure the success of the Crash Test Dummies campaign, they were apparently effective. The dummies were ubiquitous in the old days of limited television channels/entertainment options. It seems certain that they aired these PSAs in conjunction with family-oriented programing, so if mom, dad, grandma, and Jimmy Jr. were sitting down to watch Head of the Class or Designing Women, the Crash Test Dummies would be a part of the experience. And they were entertaining! If you heard Vince and Larry talking about mundane-but-inevitably-fatal tasks like crossing the street or driving down to the store, you kept your butt in your seat, and watched the carnage unfold. At the time when the official campaign was retired in 1999, seatbelt usage had risen from 21% to 67%. Was this because people had learned a lot from these dummies? Or was it because children loved the toyline?

Because who could say no to this weirdo?

Colors are real
(Bomb Man and Tron Bonne provided for scale)

The Incredible Crash Test Dummies was an action figure line that combined the two things boys like most: vehicles and wanton destruction. Every Crash Test Dummy vehicle was built to be driven, destroyed, and then immediately rebuilt. And these were not Lego-esque construction toys, they were cars with crash-apart windows, crumple zones, and other fun features designed to break (and instantly unbreak). Everything scaled very nicely with other toy lines (if you want to see a GI Joe live through a generally harrowing experience, go nuts), and the actual figures had neat features, too (Vince and Larry can really go to pieces at the drop of a hat). There were even “little buddy” style figures, like the cat, dog, and crash test child that parents demanded be banned. So there’s a collector’s market, too! Hooray! They were never on the same tier as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers, but the Incredible Crash Test Dummies must have had enough of a fanbase to sustain three different seasons of toys.

Oh, and a few videogames. They… existed.

Here we goTechnically, today’s chosen game is The Incredible Crash Test Dummies for the Super Nintendo. This version was ported to the Sega Genesis, Amiga, and other systems that did not have the wherewithal to host Chrono Trigger. There was also a Nintendo Entertainment System version, and that more or less played like a primitive sports title/minigame collection, and it was ported to the portables of the time. What ties these two versions together is that they were all absolutely terrible games. The NESalikes at least consistently reminded you that you were playing with crash test dummies, and practically every event involved some kind of slapstick carnage. The SNESalikes, however, were simply 16-bit mascot platformers (from the people that brought you B.O.B.), and were practically indistinguishable from the rest of the poorly considered dreck of the time. There is the charm point of the dummies losing their limbs as they lose health, but that doesn’t impact the gameplay nearly as much as you would think. Beyond that, there is a P-Balloon-esque powerup that encourages some limited flight-through-inflation… and that’s about it. This could easily be Swift the Tenrec racing against the nefarious Dr. Walrus, because no one would notice the difference if the Incredible Crash Test Dummies license was missing from The Incredible Crash Test Dummies game.

But there is a plot to the SNES version! And that plot is surprisingly germane to today’s point (we’ll get there eventually).

The Incredible Crash Dummies toy line initially featured Vince and Larry, the same dummies from the public service announcements. However, shortly after the toys were initially produced, parents began protesting the toy line, and networks stopped airing the PSAs. The reason? It was assumed that the PSAs were now serving the dual masters of public health and turning a profit. Every ad that told you to buckle your safety belt was inadvertently also informing children they could go buy The Incredible Crash Test Dummies merch down at K B Toys. This was seen as a bad thing by the public at large, so the toy line was made more distinct from the PSA characters. Vince and Larry kept on informing the public of the dangers of hugging windshields, and colorswaps took over as Slick and Spin. From there, Slick and Spin gained Pro-Tek Suits, as they had to combat their new enemies: the Junkbots! And those Junkbots barely looked like Crash Test Dummies! How convenient! This prompted a Saturday Morning Special/VHS Tape that told the (computer generated) tale of how the Crash Test Dummies must stop the nefarious Junkbots from stealing a really kicky vest or something. This same story/conflict became the plot of the Super Nintendo game, and now you too can battle the Junkbots and all their rad playsets and toys. Nobody likes youAnd never shall a Junkbot interact with Vince and Larry, else the safety of Crash Test Dummies implode. In short, whatever initial plans for The Incredible Crash Test Dummies line ever existed were seriously derailed the minute it seemed like the toys might endanger the successful PSA campaign.

And I am just trying to understand a world where a capitalistic campaign to make money off children is derailed and modified for the sake of public safety. Christ, I cannot even imagine that anymore.

You want Angry Ranting Goggle Bob? Sure, let’s do this. I lived through a number of significant events in recent American history. I remember when we were first supposed to hate Iraq, and I remember when we were asked to do that all over again a few years later with a similarly named president. I remember when 9/11 happened, and we were told to “never forget” the deaths of 2,996 people. I remember friggin’ freedom fries. And why do I mention any of these tragedies? Because they became focused, national campaigns demanding compliance. There is not a single person on Earth that ever heard of a law renaming a condiment due to political pressure, but, somehow, for six months, all the local restaurants employed servers that asked if you wanted “Catalina dressing” instead of “French”. Forget the crash test dummies, I have seen ridiculously successful advertising campaigns that benefitted only the US Government my entire life, and the public at large doesn’t even recognize such as propaganda. Or, put another way, next time someone shouts “America is Number One!” go ahead and ask them to name their sources. And, no, “freedom” is not an answer.

But this is not to say the United States of America is terrible! It is simply an affirmation that when the federal government wants something to be the standard for the country, they don’t need to make a law. All they need to do is pump the ubiquitous media with interview after interview about how something is our “enemy” or some ambiguous-but-vital goal is “impossible if we don’t all work together”. We all need to go to the mall right now, or the terrorists win.

Jumpin' AroundYet, now that there is a public health emergency that is likely to cause us to confirm how many people over a million you need to see dead before you start using a plural, the government cannot get its messaging straight. Killing Middle Eastern people was the only way we were ever going to ever be happy again, but getting a vaccine? Put that in the maybe column. Wear a mask? No, that might offend some customers that think this Applebee’s staff is somehow dirty. Actually close some goddamned stores because the risk of a localized outbreak will have a greater impact on society than Cletus buying his 256th Funko Pop? Never! Our government has never had a problem taking a bold, unwavering stance on the subject of massive, coordinated death, but when it comes to public health, everybody is shrugging and claiming personal choice is important. Nobody was talking about “personal choice” when the local donut shop was being vandalized every week after 9/11, Joe!

And this pisses me off after the last two years: Where are the Crash Test Dummies for COVID? I understand that Lorenzo Music might not be available for dubbing, but can we get a few decent voice actors to voice the… I don’t know… Mask Buddies? Some kind of ad that runs between Hulu reruns that promotes public health in the slightest bit? And not some “we’re all in this together” commercial to get you to go to Starbucks? The original Incredible Crash Test Dummies were a successful PSA and toy line! And videogame! That was awful! But still! You can do this! You can save lives and make a couple of bucks! I know you can do it, America! You have literally done it before!

Listen to this dummy. You could learn a lot from the past.

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

  • Battle all our playsets and toys!System: There was a full system breakdown during the article, so I will just reiterate that we’re focused on the Super Nintendo version today. Will I look at other ports? Absolutely not.
  • Number of players: This really should be two players, as Crash Test Dummies come in pairs. But no dice. Sorry.
  • Level Up: Your main offensive ability is jumping on your opponents, ala Super Mario Bros. But! You can also throw a limited-ammo spanner of some kind as a projectile. And it gets better as you defeat more bosses! Or… it is supposed to… or… something… as it mostly just gets “stronger” by flying in loop-de-loops or other bizarre patterns. Like a lot in this game, it is a choice.
  • Favorite Boss: It is hard to say how much this was influenced by the already toyetic movie, but it seems like the bosses were exclusively chosen to sell the vehicles offered by the toyline. And I’m okay with that! I have been fighting the Technodrome for years! The final boss is the best, as his morphing truck adapts the whole “build whatever” aspect of the Junkbots canon. Oh, but all the bosses are absolutely terrible to fight, because of horrendous hit detection, so you won’t ever see the final boss anyway.
  • Bonus Time: Every boss is immediately followed by a Turbo Tunnel-esque bonus stage wherein you are forced to ram your dummy into a wall with as much speed as possible. For this being the “bonus” of playing an Incredible Crash Test Dummies videogame, you would expect they would maybe put a little effort into parts flying everywhere, or possibly our favorite dummy saying something cute as he is ejected. Nope! Just dumb explosion graphics. Lame.
  • Away we go!Stage End: Every level ends with a spinning “Next Zone” sign, and your dummy rolling into a ball to eject off to parts unknown. That seems weirdly familiar for a 16-bit platformer….
  • Goggle Bob Fact: So I made reference to a local donut shop being vandalized during the article. This is seriously in reference to my college days. Immediately after 9/11, the local donut shop was run by a Pakistani dude who actually did have his 24/7 coffee/donut shop vandalized, like, all the time. This led to the situation wherein my friends and I, completely unaware of this, showed up one night at 3 AM for coffee and donuts, because we were, ya know, bored college students. The owner had a bat at the ready when we arrived, because he assumed we were there to rob and/or vandalize the place (admittedly, we did have multiple tall people with a post-Matrix inclination toward trench coats). It was a confusingly tense situation! Mostly because half our party was high as hell, and had a really hard time understanding what was happening! After we explained that we mostly just had the munchies, the guy calmed down, and we all had coffee and donuts and talked about how much it sucks that so many people were so reactively racist all of a sudden. And I want to say that, barring the premiere of the Justice League cartoon/Gamecube (we were nerds), we came back there and hung out with the guy every weekend that semester. After a few months, hostilities seemed to die down, he stopped personally working the night shift, and we went back to dealing with whoever was making minimum wage for corralling geeks on the graveyard shift. But the point is: don’t let anyone tell you the time after 9/11 was a time of “national unity”. It was only a time of national unity for people that didn’t have to protect their businesses and homes with baseball bats.
  • Did you know? Yes, actual bears were used as crash test dummies at one point in history. This is inhumane and marginally insane (do you know anyone built like a bear? … I mean… a real bear). But it did mean that, for some short epoch, bear was driving. And how can that be?
  • Would I play again: No. This is… No. B.O.B. might get a play first, and that’s horrible.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Legends: Arceus! Completely random that yet another Pokémon game appears on this blog! Maybe a Castlevania will be next! Anyway, please look forward to it!

This is someone's fetish

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 #591 Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl

Gonna be a mall brawlI have put some thought into this, and I have come to a realization:

I am mad that Kevin Smith is happy.

I am, and have always been, a comedy nerd. Back in the dark ages of VHS tape rentals, I would always convince my dad that it was in his best interest to rent the likes of Airplane, Young Frankenstein, and Nation Lampoon’s Any Goddamned Thing. And this worked out well, as my father generally enjoyed comedies as well. After all, he was the man that introduced me to Woody Allen, and I watched the likes of Annie Hall, Love and Death, and Crimes and Misdemeanors well before I understood about 110% of the sex jokes contained therein. But, while I loved all these comedies, I had one complaint: all of this humor was aimed at my dad’s generation. Chevy Chase had never played a Nintendo, and Leslie Nielsen clearly would never have an opinion on Voltron. I could watch a thousand “80’s comedies”, but when would I ever see a comedy that had the voice of an actual 80’s kid?

Enter Kevin Smith and Clerks.

To be absolutely clear, Kevin Smith is, by all definitions, not a contemporary of my generation. He was born nearly fifteen years before this author, and his experiences are firmly those of Generation X. That said? Goddamn did his early film oeuvre capture the feeling of being a teenager in the 90’s. Perhaps something about his directing and writing was universal, or maybe my generation just happened to live at the edge of such things as “malls” and “the Catholic Church” existing, but, whatever the cause, Kevin Smith’s films spoke to me. They were vulgar, often sexist/homophobic, and generally vaguely immature, but there was a truth buried in there that I felt like only my generation would understand. I was not old enough to date someone that had sucked 37 dicks (I mean, as far as I knew), but I was old enough to hang out at the mall, hate on magic eye posters, or have substantial opinions about working at a menial job. And if you want the kind of low-key youthful rebellion that would inevitably be inspired by Kevin Smith’s films, consider the fact that my friends and I watched Dogma around midnight on gigantic screens in the sanctuary of a church. Had the damnedest time finding the remote for that DVD player…

Hey, this is relevantAnd, since we are moderately on the subject, let’s talk about Dogma. Clerks was Kevin Smith’s amazing debut, and it all but defined the mood and attitude of a generation of people that were not even supposed to be here today. Mallrats was a farcical look at the world outside the horrible fate of retail (but still firmly entrenched in that world), and, while still a comedy, Chasing Amy tried its hand at being a little more serious than other Kevin Smith fare (and, I feel it is worth publicly stating: wow, watching that movie in 2021 is a different experience than in 1997). But Dogma? Literally holy crap, Dogma was an experience. It was star-studded! It was hilarious! It was taking huge, obvious swings at “The Church”, Christianity, and religion in general! And these were topics that were generally considered taboo in polite society! Sunday school never made references to crucifixions producing shit monsters, and they certainly never acknowledged how clergy would inevitably try to pimp themselves out with bobbleheads if given the chance. This was revolutionary stuff for my teenage friends and I, and it confirmed something I had always suspected: Kevin Smith was going to be the voice of my generation for our generation. This writer/director is going places, and he is going to go places we never would have ever expected.

And then Kevin Smith’s next movie featured a character named Cocknocker.

A sack full of 'emLet’s take a step back and address Woody Allen. First of all, to be perfectly clear, fuck Woody Allen. This paragraph is likely going to sound like Woody Allen is being lauded, but, to be clear, fuck that guy. However, one can complement the arc of his works from his first movies back in the sixties (and works going back to fifties) to today. He started with generally farcical parodies, gradually moved into what would define the romantic comedy, and then made his way to something more akin to “serious pieces” that happened to have a few jokes sprinkled in. From there, there was a clear period of vaguely defensive “I liked your old, funny movies” bouts of navel-gazing, and then he finally seemed to settle on something more comedic again, albeit usually with a sort of mature (re: old man) edge to the proceedings. And, say what you will about your enjoyment of any of those movies, but it is certainly a way to see a man progress and grow and change with his own media. Woody Allen did not win an award and simply make that same prestigious movie over and over again, he, like all of us, changed, and his output reflected that. And, sure, he did eventually go back to that romantic comedy well an awful lot, but he tried to do something different, and really did produce some films that could have only come from a man that had the life experiences of someone that had been writing comedy for arguably his entire life. Woody Allen has done odious, reprehensible things in his existence, but you can also see how the art changed with the man, and thus, also with a generation.

As I write this, Kevin Smith is currently promoting his latest production: He-Man: Masters of the Universe: Revelation. What’s more, he is promoting it by saying, “Your old toys are exactly where you left ‘em, Kids – and we took really good care of them!” The potential voice of our generation is still speaking for our generation, and he is advocating for nearly forty years of arrested development. Play with your old toys again, children of the three-hour Saturday Morning Advertising Block. Do not think critically of your current situation at all! Enjoy Mer-Man!

This looks familiarAnd, in much the same manner, here is today’s game, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl. To be clear, Kevin Smith is not directly responsible for JaSB:MB. He definitely approved the project, it is all based on characters he created, and he does technically headline/star in the game, but he did not sit down to program this View Askewniverse-based adventure. That was primarily left to Tomas Guinan and Spoony Bard Productions. But does Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl feel like something that was produced by Kevin Smith? For better or worse, yes, very much so. JaSB:MB is filled to the brim with references to Smith’s most popular works (like Mall Rats, Dogma, and Clerks), as well as significant nods to less fashionable productions like Clerks: The Animated Series and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Or maybe they were his more popular productions with his fans? I cannot say for certain, as I have personally been quoting Plug and Leonardo Leonardo for years. And they both appear in Level 6! Wow! If you are a fan of “those Jay and Silent Bob shows”, you are going to love this trip through the mall.

But if you are not here to see Patrick Swayzee (and his horse, Road House, from that movie he was in), there is not much here for you. This is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by the likes of River City Ransom… but without the leveling/advancement system that made that title so memorable. Or this is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by Double Dragon… but without the precise punch/kick system and platforming that made Double Dragon and its sequel NES mainstays. This is a hodgepodge of concepts and characters from other NES beat ‘em ups (Abobo appears as a pretzel!), but ultimately something that never even pretends it is better than its original sources. There is a Turbo Tunnel! Like in Battletoads! But it is shorter and includes far less risks than the game it is referencing (come on, man, you couldn’t figure out how to implement pits into this system?). Same for the faux Mega Man fight against Cocknocker, as that simulates a robot master battle with sound effects and graphics, but not any mega-gameplay that makes that situation fun. About the only thing that really stands out as innovative in JaSB:MB is the battle against Golgothan the Excremental that requires your chosen hero wield a nearby plunger to actually do some damage. This adds an extra, previously unseen bit of strategy to the proceedings, and it would be a fascinating mechanic if the damned boss could not “camp” the one item you need to defeat it. So actually grabbing that weapon-of-choice can be a shitshow if the enemy AI decides to be crap? I know that guy!Wonderful. And that seems to be the game in a nutshell: there are good bones here, but the flesh wrapped around it is powered by about 5% good ideas, and 95% nostalgia.

But what the hell would you expect?

Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl never claimed it was going to be the next Taro-esque commentary on the state of gaming. It was never supposed to be an evolution for the beat ‘em up genre, or the apparently-a-genre-for-the-last-decade 8-bit retro craze. This whole exercise was never going to be anything of the sort. This is a game that was released for Kevin Smith fans, and initially distributed on an actual, playable Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge because Kevin Smith fans are inevitably fans of the NES. This is a game wholly entrenched in its own nostalgia for media that is now old enough to drink, and a writer/director that could be a literal grandpa any day now. This is a “by fans, for fans” affair, and asking it to question its medium or source material is folly. You want to ask greater questions of the universe, you buy a different game. You buy a Jay and Silent Bob game because you want to participate in goofy antics with Jay and Silent Bob.

And you do not watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie for deep thoughts. You watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie because you want to laugh. And you will laugh, because farts are funny.

I also know this guyKevin Smith could have, at one point in his career, pivoted to becoming a “serious” creator. He could have become a serious man in a serious world that has very serious things to say about serious topics. He could have followed the same arc as so many comedians before him, and focused on his deeper thoughts. He did not. He decided to use his filmmaker clout to write comic books where Green Lantern eats out Black Canary, and Batman pisses himself (uh, to be clear, these were two unrelated events). He said his piece on religion, and then went on to create whatever the hell Tusk is supposed to be about. And the thing about all of that? He seems happy about it! He is uncritically producing a movie about a commercial from forty years ago, and he is having a blast doing it! I can barely get through this paragraph without throwing shade at Mattel, but Kevin Smith is right there, happily telling his audience that all their toys are back and better than ever.

And you know what? Good for him! Kevin Smith seems happy. And, unlike other writer/directors, we are not constantly hearing about how he is a horrible person. Maybe we need more people producing a lifetime of “light” entertainment, and significantly less “serious” directors that are currently wanted for various sex crimes. When the biggest scandal to come out of a guy is “those jorts”, we are in a good place. Kevin Smith may not have become the auteur I wanted him to be, but he seems like a good person. And if he produces a funny movie every once in a while, hey, all the better.

The world could use more Kevin Smiths. And the gaming world can have a few Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawls, too.

FGC #591 Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl

  • System: Technically, this is a NES game. There’s a cartridge and everything! But the expanded-palette “arcade mode” is also available for the modern usual suspects, like Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4.
  • The fans are upsetNumber of players: Well, it is Jay and Silent Bob, so two players are available. Does the game get more difficult with more buddies? Or are the enemy mobs the same? I don’t know!
  • Favorite Boss: Abobo-as-a-pretzel is super annoying, but he reaches an entire other level when he is joined by some weird little pretzel baby creature. We’re in a crowded elevator, kid, I don’t need you jump kicking me over and over again while I’m trying to punch your dad!
  • A moment for the departed: Clerks: The Animated Series (which is referenced frequently across this game) is easily the funniest single six episodes of any cartoon ever produced. It was also, technically, the first DVD I ever purchased, and the first disc that ever went into my Playstation 2. Sorry, Dead or Alive 2, but I was a little more interested in finding the answer to the immortal question of “why are we walking like this?” Also, mark this one down as another animated series that made reference to South of the Border.

    Put it on the list

    I’m going to start keeping track of this.

  • Let the past be past: Back to the actual game, I could have done without the NES standard of starting every stage from the start after a continue. The fact that Jay and Silent Bob refill health as time passes is helpful, but if you get unexpectedly wrecked by a boss, it is a gigantic pain to have to repeat everything on your way back to another potential loss. And the final stage being a boss rush? Nobody wanted to play that in the first place…
  • An end: If you are curious about the secret identity of the final boss, go ahead and consider that mystery story trope about how the culprit is always the named character that is otherwise mysteriously absent. And, without revealing the shocking conclusion, I can disclose that, yeah, Jay and Silent Bob do make it back home to Quik Stop.
  • Who is Leonardo Leonardo?For the sequel: Theoretically, this game is the “Curse of the Moon” to an eventual, other beat ‘em up titled Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. It looks good! It looks like more of the same, actually, but with modern art and conventions. And that’s enough! Trading 8-bit graphics for “goofy” animation should be fun. And we need more fun.
  • Did you know? Dante was supposed to die in the first Clerks movie, but that “alternate ending” was scrapped before the premiere. This is why, in the Devil May Cry franchise, there is often a “Dante must die” mode. Some people just won’t let it go.
  • Would I play again: Probably, but purely as a novelty. This game may have issues, but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, so I could see playing it again with another Kevin Smith fan. Hey, I might not watch Dogma every other day, but I do watch it again every decade or so…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Muse Dash for the Nintendo Switch! Time to run to the music! Or from the music? Something like that! Please look forward to it!

It's the turbo tunnel
This is like some kind of generational trauma, isn’t it?