Category Archives: Other Media

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?

FGC #589 DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power

Here come the girls!You have to admire the balls on this girl game.

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is a Nintendo Switch title that was released this past June to very little fanfare. If we are instantly jumping to conclusions, we may presume that this is because this game is ultimately kind of a niche product that may not be advertised on the usual channels. Does DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power need to be promoted on gaming sites that might hype up the latest Mario release? No. But will it be advertised every other commercial break on Cartoon Network, currently airing the parent show’s second season? Going to go ahead and give that one a yes. And who can blame them! DCSHG:TP is based on a successful cartoon, so why not assume this game for the fans is going to primarily have an audience of those same fans? Nobody is pretending DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is anything but a chance to cash in on a popular show for a very distinct demographic.

And that is something as a shame, as DCSHG:TP could easily be described as “pretty good”. Is this the prestigious Goggle Bob Game of the Year: 2021? I can confidently say it is not. But is it a fun time with fun characters? Absolutely. DCSHG:TP is primarily a frenetic beat ‘em up, but also has significant beats from more exploration-based titles. It also features an interesting cast, a cute little story (at least one Luthor is at it again), and fun gameplay differences between its six different playable characters. In fact, one of the more interesting bits of DCSHG:TP is that the unique designs of the main characters are fully retained from the source material, so the cast has not been transformed into a bunch of “minifigs” that all have the same base body and moves. While they are superficially analogous, lithe Batgirl’s jumps and grappling moves are very different from thick Supergirl’s flight and laser eyes. In fact, complete with the voice acting and the memorable characterization of each “Super Hero Girl” (and villain), this may be one of the most distinctive casts in the gaming, left alone absolutely most distinctive female cast. Hey! DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power could win an award for 2021!

Helping little old ladies cross the streetUnfortunately, even with those distinctive characters, everything else about DCSHG:TP feels so… budget. In fact, maybe it is because of those distinctive characters! There are twelve “main” characters in each faction (heroes and villains, natch), but only three from each group is playable. This gives the impression that certain characters are more or less there simply for window dressing, or to satisfy some kind of behind-the-scenes contract. Giganta or Live Wire make for good boss fights, and you can kind of see how Bumblebee works as the goody’s support Q, but I literally have no idea if Green Lantern does a damned thing over the course of the whole game. I guess she makes nice with Poison Ivy once or twice? Poison Ivy, who, incidentally, does practically nothing herself for the entire game, too? And combine this with the same four enemy types continually reskinned across the same three or four areas (does the Lego building in the sewers count as part of the sewers or not?), and the whole game feels weirdly claustrophobic. You can see Zatanna just outside your selectable characters, or that amusement pier off in the distance, but you can never reach them. They are forever outside of your box, and you are stuck with Wonder Woman fighting the same evil bear in the same evil lair in a game that will never spare a bit of flare for some better fare.

And speaking of limited, there are a whole three named men in this game. To be clear, this is not a Love-Live or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic situation wherein it appears that the majority of men have been stricken with some unseen plague, and must not appear on camera for any reason. There are plenty of random, male NPCs running around doling out side missions and general fluffery. But there are a mere handful of named boys in this story. We’ve got…

  1. Lex Luthor, who needs no introduction, but, for the record, is more or less neutral in this tale.
  2. Toyman, who is one of the villains, and exists primarily to be responsible for the mobs of “toys” you fight across the game.
  3. Hal Jordan, the legendary Green Lantern.

And it is Hal that caught this player’s eye immediately. Hal Jordan! The Green Lantern since 1959! With his magical (not magical) green lantern ring, he has unlimited power on par with Superman. Hal Jordan! The man who has saved the world constantly, and once nearly destroyed all of time and space thanks to a particularly bad dye-job! Hal Jordan! Here he is now! Cowering!

THE GREEN LANTERN

There are seven chapters in DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power, and, while he is mentioned at the top of the game as Carol’s ex-boyfriend, Hal is not seen onscreen until Chapter Six. Given the directors could have continued the pattern of “you just missed him”, it would have been very easy to write around a lack of a Hal Jordan videogame model. But, after nearly 85% of the game is complete, here he is! And, while it would be an obvious turn to have The Green Lantern appear alongside the other Green Lantern that is already hanging around every scene, that does not happen. Hal Jordan does not appear in this game as a Green Lantern at all. Hal Jordan appears as a quivering, shaking mass of dread that is living in abject panic over his ex-girlfriend asking him for a date. This is not a Hal Jordan that appears in any other comic, movie, or videogame. This Hal Jordan, a guy (not that Guy) often billed as “The Man Without Fear”, is a coward.

And, damn, that takes some kind of courage.

It's electricHal Jordan is one of the chief superheroes of the DC Universe, and he is the only male superhero that appears in this game. He also does not help in any way, and he is… Can we use the term “sub-princess”? Like, nobody ever rescues him, because nobody cares to rescue him. He is in a bad situation in his various appearances, and no one does a thing to stop his tormentor. He is “saved” only because his Bowser got distracted and wandered off. And, in case you are wondering, this was not simply “staying true to the source material” of the animated DC Super Hero Girls. While Hal has issues with Carol in that series, the episode that introduces this conflict takes care to portray Green Lantern as a highly capable fighter, he simply has issues with this specific (cheerleader) problem. In later episodes, he appears with the Justice Dudes (or whatever they call themselves), and is a cocky, largely competent superhero. In the videogame adaption, though? You might entirely miss that whole “Green Lantern” thing, and assume Hal is a quivering mass of man jelly (editor’s note: rephrase that).

And this is huge! There was an easy “get excited about this cameo” opportunity here, and the directors of DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power absolutely did not go for it. They could have had a wannabe Superman outshine the cast you had been playing with for six chapters (or at least had a Green Lantern do something in this plot), but, nope, just an excuse to throw in a few jokes at Hal’s expense. In fact, Hal is better than a “joke” here, as he is used to enrich the Carol Ferris character. Star Sapphire is a playable character, so, naturally, they introduce the reason she is a supervillain. She is powered by her love for Hal Jordan, so Hal Jordan had to appear. Hal Jordan must appear as Carol’s beleaguered paramour, otherwise how would you understand Carol?

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power engaged in the wholesale character assassination of an established superhero to further enrich one of its own featured supervillains.

WeeeeeAnd, in an age of boys’ games, boys’ comics, and boys’ movies, making this girl game about its girls at the expense of the boys is impressive. Each of the three villainesses have an object they covet: Harley Quinn goes gaga over a comic book featuring the Joker, Catwoman races around the city to collect stolen jewels, and Carol Ferris dotes on her favorite man, Hal Jordan. Has this hero been objectified for the benefit of another character? Absolutely. And, while that is not exactly something that should be happening at all, it is an excellent and unexpected turn for the objectifying to be on the other gender for a change. Hal Jordan is arguably less consequential in this plot than a comic book, but this is not Hal’s story. Hal already has the last few decades of stories. He’ll be alright.

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is not afraid to make its heroines the focus of its story, and make the boys take a backseat for the adventure. DC Super Hero Girls rule.

FGC #589 DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power

  • System: Nintendo Switch. There is nothing really Switch-y about this one, so it may migrate around eventually in a Wonderful 101-way.
  • Number of players: Three superheroes, three supervillains, and one player at a time. A shame they couldn’t get some Secret of Mana-esque business going here.
  • Favorite Supervillain: Star Sapphire by a country mile. For some reason, the game introduces a character that is extremely different from every established gameplay style about 75% of the way through the proceedings. And, bam, the minute she shows up, you can play this like a friggen’ Mega Man game. Shoot! Air dash! Be a mean cheerleader! It all works!
  • SMAAAAASHHeard it before: I swear the “advance dialogue” sound is from The Legend of Zelda. Probably Wind Waker specifically, but I am not going to search down some sound effect files to confirm.
  • Build-a-town: There is a “town building” mini game. On one hand, it is rather cool to see your city grow from rubble, and then jump across rooftops that you helped construct. On the other hand, the actual logistics of it is barely a step up from Breath of Fire 2’s “which shop would you like here” city construction, and it works as little more than an excuse to blow cash from side missions on something other than clothes. Still, you can install statues of all the villains, so you can go delightfully off script…
  • Let’s talk about the show: This game worked its magic and made me check out the source show. It is… hard to describe, exactly, but I feel like an apt description is that it is a mix of Teen Titans Go, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Samurai Jack. The action scenes are really great, with frenetic fun all around. And there are some genuine, meaningful character moments between the main characters, with morals that are a little more mature than “friendship is good!”. I, an old man watching a children’s cartoon, very much appreciate this. That said, it is also super irreverent of DC Comics and superheroes in general, and, like in Venture Brothers, that is a deep well of humor. In one episode, Supergirl “dies”, pretends to be “Powergirl” to improve her image, and comes up with the concept of “I’m from… uh… Earth… erm… 2?” to which Superman immediately agrees and is like “Oh yeah… uh… Earth 2! Totally been there!” Then they go into language jokes the whole episode with Powergirl repeatedly noting they say things like “irregardless” on Earth 2. Love it. Five stars.
  • WeeeeeeWhat’s in a plot: For the record, this game appears to be a “microcontinuity” where the pilot/first episode is recreated as the game’s overall plot, but with the superhero girls and supervillains already established and palling around. That is kind of neat… but it does mean you know who the final boss is if you watched literally one episode of the source material. No plot twists for you!
  • An end: There was no way this game was going to end with anything but a giant robot fight followed by a noncommittal “life goes on as normal” finale. It’s a tie-in to a still running animated show! This ain’t Young Justice.
  • Did you know? This is somehow the second game in a row covered on this blog where the main heroine is a redhead that saves the world and occasionally works at a taco shack. Oh, and I guess Nicole Sullivan voices both Shego in Kim Possible and Supergirl in DC Superheroes. But the taco thing is more relevant.
  • Would I play again: The gameplay/enemies/locations get kind of rote a little too quickly, so I don’t really see sitting down and playing DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power on some marathon session to score a platinum trophy (or its spiritual equivalent). That said, I could see doing a sidequest here or there when I have a spare moment, so I am technically going to play the game again… just not an awful lot. I will see that Batgirl saves the day, but on my own time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fight: Streewise for the Playstation 2! Let’s watch Cody’s brother save the world while Cody does drugs! Sound like fun? Please look forward to it!

Morning yoga?
We can work it out

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

The giving birdAccording to contemporary evolutionary theory, our modern-day birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. For the longest time, dinosaurs were assumed to merely be the big brothers to our current crop of not-so-terrible thunder lizards, but a recent spat of scientists being attacked by antagonistic pigeons has given rise to the theory that there is a direct link between your Jurassic Park’s raptors and… well… raptors. Huh. Maybe we should have been able to figure that one out earlier. But, regardless of whether or not the Dinosaucers should have had feathers, one thing is obvious: there is a clear and undeniable link between dinosaurs and birds.

So the link between Big Bird and Barney the Dinosaur is just a matter of evolution, right? Two beloved childhood stars, both literally built to appeal to and educate children. Both sing songs, teach lessons, and share an evolutionary bloodline. On a genetic level, they are practically the same creature.

Except there is one major evolutionary difference: Big Bird is fondly remembered and supported to this day, and Barney the Dinosaur was always universally loathed.

Why? It’s all about love.

Look, we all appreciate Sesame Street as some shining bastion of children’s programming, but, to examine a quote from one of its creators, Big Bird’s chosen street had vaguely sinister sounding origins. Sesame Street was to be a show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them”. It is great that there is that “do something good” caveat there, but ignore that little bit, and it almost sounds like Cookie Monster was invented by a supervillain attempting to take over the world. And, regardless of intentions, Sesame Street did take over the world. Sesame Street is a global institution, appearing in as many countries as there are palette swaps for Big Bird. And it is all based on one simple concept: learning should be fun for kids. Education does not all have to be stodgy teachers explaining math in a monotone, it can also be obsessive-compulsive vampires and cranky trash people.

Grab it!But, as time has gone on, Sesame Street has also become a place where children can learn from puppets how to be more human. Ever since the Snuffleupagus snafu of the 70s, Sesame Street has paid careful attention to guaranteeing the children of yesterday and today not only know how to count cookies, but also how to cope with a cruel and uncaring world of grouches. Sesame Street is not just about goofy songs and guest stars that are comfortable making eye contact with muppets, it is also about addressing children from all walks of life (those born into families both amazing and dreary), and teaching them that they are going to get through this world. Sesame Street is not universal for every child (how could it be?), but it does do its best accommodate as many children as possible, and express that the world may not be perfect, but they are loved.

And then there’s Barney. Barney just straight up says “I love you” like a jackass. And he does it over and over for every episode! What the hell, dinosaur?!

Barney & Friends, a children’s television show that premiered in 1988, had a similar origin to Sesame Street. It was created to fill a gap, but, while Sesame Street was broadly established to appeal to preschoolers, Barney was aiming for more of the kindergarten set. His creator, Sheryl Leach, believed that her son had outgrown anything available on television and video, so she set out to fashion a singing dinosaur that could entertain children of specific ages. After an initial VHS splash, the concept was graduated from direct-to-video edutainment to a television series in 1992. And from there, Barney & Friends became an American phenomenon, with the purple dinosaur singing everywhere from your television to the toy aisle to the Daytime Emmys. If you were exposed to a child of a certain age in the 90’s, you were exposed to Barney. And his songs would be stuck in your head for the rest of the day…

It's a sunny dayOh, and if you didn’t have a kid around that demanded to see Barney, you were probably familiar with the creature, too. Barney had a bit of a… negative following. Or, put another way, to my knowledge, this is the first time I am covering something on this blog that had a roleplaying book dedicated to a “jihad” to destroy it. Barney was almost universally loathed. Yes, of course there were “kids”, preteens, and other sarcastic malcontents that made up “funny” songs about barbequing the purple dinosaur’s head, but the whole antipathy enterprise leaked into adult entertainment, too. Remember The Critic? An obvious descendent of The Simpsons, and one of the few dittos of the era to actually be funny? A full half of its fifth episode was given over to an extended parody of Barney the Dinosaur (Humphrey the Hippo… why do I remember that unbidden?). This was a primetime show! For adults! Mostly! And they dipped into the “Barney sucks” well immediately. And if you needed something less animated, Barkley was dunking (literally) on Barney on Saturday Night Live. Barney was an object of scorn everywhere for a few years, and people were able to massively profit off the previously mentioned RPG sourcebook based on destroying Barney, or ersatz appearances like Mr. Huggles in a 2007 Xbox game (Monster Madness, incidentally). And more than a few Youtube careers were launched by involving “a Barney” in one way or another…

So this brings us back to a simple question: Why? There have always been Sesame Street parodies, but none possessed the same consistent vitriol we all saw in the Barney universe. Why was Barney so universally, consistently despised?

Maybe it’s just because he loved too much.

Go Barney!Barney is supposed to be a big, purple manifestation of unconditional love. He loves you, you love him, we’re a great big family. Barney is great for kids, because his unconditional love of the audience tells children that there are people out there that will love you no matter what. That is a great moral! But, to anyone over the age of five, it sounds an awful lot like bullshit. In fact, that very bullshit is likely a significant reason why Barney was so loathed. A generation of kids that had just experienced He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Ninja Turtles was now seeing the next generation (or their little siblings) being influenced by Barney the Lover. And, whether anyone really understood what was happening, they all recognized this… deception. Barney did not love you. Barney did not even know you. And neither did Prince Adam of Eternia, Sargent Slaughter, or Leonardo, but they all took time out of their day to give you some Sailor Says knowledge and sell a few toys for a half hour a day. They didn’t know you, they didn’t care about you, but they made you think they cared about you. And you, a stupid kid, bought it, literally, every time you waddled into Toys R’ Us. And an entire generation was just starting to realize this. He-Man had retired. The Ninja Turtles were losing shelf space to the Power Rangers. Our lovers had left us, and here was a new sucker ready to be tricked by the latest dinosaur of love. He’ll leave you like they all left us, Little Timmy! Do not love Barney! He doesn’t really love you! Flush his body down the potty while you can!

Just not goodThat is the difference between Big Bird and Barney. Despite a similar evolution, they are both the products of very different times. Big Bird loves you, but it is not his whole identity. Barney exists in a world wherein he cannot conceive of being unloved, and, while that works for some ages, it does not for people starting to understand all their heroes were little more than toy commercials. And, as a result, to this day, Big Bird continues to star in any number of counting-based videogames, while Barney never escaped the Sega Genesis. Love did not keep Barney alive, and it never could. In our modern world, Big Bird still stalks the Earth, while Barney is extinct. A big, purple evolutionary dead end.

… Or maybe just nobody liked his songs. Man, I’m not a paleontologist.

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

  • System: Atari 2600. It’s got pretty good graphics for an Atari title!
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Likely assuming their audience were literal preschoolers, that alternating happens pretty damn often. You don’t have to wait for your turn for long.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a game for babies… and surprisingly well-balanced for multiple ages. The lower-difficulty levels see a Big Bird that automatically magnetizes to where an egg falls, but later stages allow the player to more precisely position the bird so as to more effectively fail at catching an egg. Oh, and the chutes get more zig-zaggy. And invisible. That makes things complicated!
  • Where did they go?You are in Control: Big Bird’s Egg Catch was built for the Atari Kid’s Controller. That controller was, essentially, a num pad. It was basically only built for educational/egg-based games. But since it had more buttons and was more complicated than your typical Atari “paddle”, it was kind of ironic that this became the “Kid’s Controller” and not “Accountant’s Delight”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Many of “my” Atari games were games my grandfather found interesting (like Pac-Man) that I incidentally got to play. But I want to say Big Bird’s Egg Catch was the first videogame ever distinctly purchased for “Little Bobby”. Either that or my grandfather really liked gigantic birds.
  • How about that Barney Genesis Game? Barney’s Hide & Seek Game (yes, “Game” is part of the title) is basically a platforming title wherein you find marginally hidden children (and one child dinosaur). As much as it would make sense, It is not a “find in the picture” game, and it definitely controls like a Mario title… albeit a Mario title wherein our hero is trapped inside of a bulky dinosaur costume. Barney steers like a drunk truck is what I am saying. Regardless, it is not nearly as fun as catching eggs with Big Bird, but it… uh… exists? Technically? I guess it officially has significant (for the time) voice acting, so that’s nice.
  • Fly awayDid you know? Barney’s “I Love You” song was used for psychological torture at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. That’s the fact. No moral.
  • Would I play again: Big Bird’s Egg Catch could work as some kind of cell phone title that is played for like ten minutes while waiting for your shots. But am I going to break out the 2600 to play it some more? Nah.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Contra for the NES! We are going from loving birds and dinosaurs to extremely unloving commandos! Please look forward to it!

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

Transform!When I got married this past Fall, my (moments later) wife noted as part of her wedding vows that she would never understand the difference between Voltron and a Transformer. This is obviously an absurd issue that speaks to the fact that my beloved may have some manner of brain damage (I love you, honey, but if you can’t tell the difference between a robot lion that transforms into the leg of a giant man, and a robot lion that transforms into a regular-sized man, I really don’t know what to tell you) , but it is also a fine illustration of my love of Transformers. I’ve been collecting the little weirdos since I was a child literally praying to assemble all of the Predaking pieces, and, to this day, I am allowed one stupid Transformer purchase a year (because if I bought them as often as my impulsiveness demands, I would be literally drowning in the suckers)(and “drowning in useless media” is reserved for videogames in this house, natch). So big surprise here: I love Transformers.

And my favorite Transformers? Well, that would be the Beast Wars generation, a group of Transformers that have rarely been seen since the late mid-to-late 90’s. And despite my love for the characters, I have had a rough time over the years determining the exact origin of that affection. Was it a matter of timing with my childhood? No, I was the right age to be imprint on Grimlock, not Dinobot. Was it a love for 3-D animation? No, I kind of hated the brown, blocky aesthetic of Beast Wars. Was it an overabundance of affection for Waspinator, and everyone else just got to soak up the residuals? That… might be it. And in thinking about the simple fact that I really do enjoy the antics of the mechanical bug man, I came to one unavoidable conclusion:

I like Beast Wars because its stars are broken.

WeeeeLet’s not mince words here: this should not be a surprise. The essence of drama is conflict, and you are inevitably going to get more conflict when your protagonists and antagonists all equally need therapy. The old, “kiddy” Transformers of the 80’s were predominantly robotic gods that occasionally deigned to interface with humans out of some misplaced feelings for all sentient lifeforms, and, as a result, the majority of them came off as flawless/boring. It is no wonder that the dysfunctional Decepticons, like Soundwave and Starscream, had more of an influence on future generations than the likes of Ultra Magnus and Hot Rod. But that generation features the iconic Transformers that “everybody knows”, so they have been recycled and reformatted hundreds of times over the course of a million reboots. And has that made them any more human as time has passed? Yes, but not nearly to the degree as we saw with a cast of misfits that can occasionally transform into a rat or two.

Speaking of rodents, let us look at Rattrap, one of the stars of Beast Wars. Want to know Rattrap’s deal? He’s a jackass. That is pretty much his entire his personality. He is good at making gadgets and traps (oh, I just got that), but other than that, his main asset seems to be being available to make the occasional cynical remark. Apparently he was envisioned as a sort of “jaded combat veteran” character amongst his more youthful compatriots, but, given his propensity toward some childish antics with Cheetor, he comes off like a skeptical teenager more often than not. And how does that fit in with the rest of the Maximal crew? Well, Optimus Primal is obviously everyone’s barely-holding-it-together dad, Rhinox is the wise old grandpa that talks about the good ol’ days and nature a little too often, and recent adoptee Dinobot is just straight up Vegeta, puttering around talking about how he’s going to be the world’s strongest one of these days when he finally finds his good eye lasers. Then you’ll all see… Then you’ll all see…

And if you missed Beast Wars, please be aware that I just described the good guys. The bad guys are just plain bad guys.

DOOM!Beast Wars started with the rare conceit that the clearly-defined “bad guys” were starting this whole fight from a position of weakness. The heroic crew of the Axalon crash landed with a crew of potentially dozens of sleeping protoforms (Transformer fetuses…. Oh man this is a weird show), while the bad bots over on the Darksyde had an extremely limited crew of six. By the end of the pilot, one of those crew members had already defected. Further exacerbating matters was the fact that at least two of the remaining Predacons were dumb as a bag of hammers, while two other Preds were scheming and plotting against their own commander seemingly for no greater reason than it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. This meant that the Predacons had roughly the same teamwork aptitude as a box filled with rabid weasels hopped up on pixie stix. The Predacons had firepower, but they would have to stop fighting each other long enough to actually use said firepower.

And, yes, at least two of ‘em would wind up taking a mortal volcano bath before they ever pulled that off. Please let us know if lava is wet, Scorponok and Terrorsaur.

But this brings us nicely to the “extra”, later additions to the Beast Wars continuity. Remember those previously mentioned protoforms? Well, anytime the writers wanted to introduce a new character to either faction, a protoform would crash to Earth, and it would be time to learn about all the features of the latest toy. And fun fact? It appears the writers had one question when it came to introducing new characters: how is this guy broken? Literally! Pretty much every character that was introduced after the launch of Beast Wars was physically or mentally damaged in some unique way. Tigatron bumped his head, so felt more at home with mundane, organic cats than his fighting robot buddies. Inferno took it a step further, and was vaguely convinced he was a giant ant, and Megatron was his queen (this was correct, of course, but not in the way Inferno imagined). The rest is darknessBlackarachnia wound up trapped in a spider’s web from day one, and the fuzor twins could not stick to a single beast mode. And one of them had a southern accent! On prehistoric Earth! That had to be the result of a glitch or two. Airazor seemed like the most stable of the newbies, but the writers evidently forgot she existed every other week, so she was suffering through some manner of divine impediment. And we are not even going to acknowledge Depth Charge and Rampage, two Transformers that were (unusual for the series) “born” and fighting before the start of the Beast Wars. One is a rampaging, murderous psychopath that cares only for seeing the destruction of his enemies, and the other one can turn into a tank-crab. They are both about as emotionally stable as your average Stephen King antagonist, so please do not trust either with selling your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. It will not end well.

But, ultimately, that is the appeal of Beast Wars to this humble blogger. I would not want the cast of Beast Wars, Maximals or Predacons, to be responsible for anything in my life. They are supposed to be saving the Earth? No, that does not sound like a good plan for anybody. But I am very entertained by their antics. As the overarching plot of Beast Wars amps up from “monkey fight dinosaur” to “Megatron has traveled back in time and shot a sleeping Optimus Prime in the face and now you have to deal with that”, you never lose the feeling that the “heroic” Maximals are all about seven seconds from clocking out on this overly-long shift they somehow have been stuck on for overtime they know they’re going to have to fight human resources to even get. The heroes often come off as defeated even before their well-laid plans are disrupted by the villains, but the villains can barely hold it together for longer than seven seconds to actually disturb the ostensible protagonists.

The rest is darkness, againThe cast of Beast Wars? They are a bunch of losers that wound up in the middle of a Transformers war. And I can get behind a bunch of entertaining dunderheads. I like the Beast Wars era of Transformers the most because its stars are all living, breathing (?), mistakes.

Oh, but their Playstation 1 game was a bigger mistake. I don’t like that.

…. Dammit, article is already overly long as is. Guess I don’t have time to talk about the featured game! Clocking out for the day. Sorry!

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

  • System: Playstation (1) and PC. There’s actually a funny story about that PC version…
  • Number of players: The Playstation version is single player, but the PC version had an 8-player “battle royale” mode. Apparently there were more than a few people that actually liked this mode, and kept online servers going for a while. Or maybe they just liked it ironically? Whatever, who doesn’t want to be Cheetor?
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Oh, this is awful. It is a primitive 3rd person shooter with just the worst camera anyone can imagine. Someone went ahead and added some “lock-on” targeting so the experience isn’t wholly impossible… but it’s otherwise pretty impossible. I really can’t convey with mere words just how wrong doing practically anything in this game feels, even if you are allowed to choose between playing as either faction. Controlling a giant scorpion should not be this janky!
  • ANTS!Transform!: Oh yeah, most egregious error? You cannot attack in any way while transformed. In fact, the only reason to transform at all is to manage your “Energon Meter”. This makes a certain amount of sense for, like, Rattrap, but doesn’t really feel right for more offensive animals like Rhinox (note for those unaware: he is a rhino). And there are two separate characters that can transform into freakin’ dinosaurs, and all they can do is putter around like the spiders. Do you understand how hard you have to try to make a videogame about occasionally being a robot dinosaur boring!?
  • On the subject of having plans: You have to unlock Rattrap or Blackarachnia, and Airazor/Terrorsaur are only available in “rescue” minigames, but the whole of the stable Season 1 cast is otherwise represented here (Tigatron has never been reliable). Oh, wait, except for one major omission: Waspinator is not present in any way, shape, or form. That poor buzz boy gets no respect.
  • What’s in a name: They spelled Scorponok with an “I” in some of the game materials. I’m not going to say that’s exactly why the poor dummy died at the end of Season 1, but I’m not going to say it wasn’t a factor, either.
  • What’s in a voice: Oh yeah, the voice acting for this game is totally six guys trapped in an elevator recording lines at four in the morning. The original voice cast was apparently not available (or weren’t contractually obligated to participate in an awful PS1 game), so this Beast Wars adventure was voiced by some people that just weren’t into it. Or maybe I’m just focusing on Rhinox here, as he has the timber of a man that doesn’t really want to survive this adventure… or even the next few seconds.
  • Best Transformer Ever: It’s Optimal Optimus, who does not appear in this game. Primal Prime will also do in a pinch.
  • What is even happening?Did you know? There was an episode of Beast Wars that was scrapped because it was too damn depressing. The whole concept was Rattrap was going to attempt to revive Dinobot by forcing his undead spark into an (evil) Dinobot II, but the ultimate moral was to be that Dinobot is 100% dead and never coming back, get over it. … Also, in typing that out, maybe Beast Wars did have a byzantine, maudlin overarching plot…
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. I want to rewatch Beast Wars, though, so maybe this toy promotion worked out.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rockin’ Kats for the NES! Let’s rock out with our tails out! Please look forward to it!

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