FGC #586 Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour

LETS RACING TIMEBack in the 1300s, Chaucer wrote the famous phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt.” But, in the 21st Century, can we quantify how much familiarity breeds contempt? And how much of that contempt can be directed at Disney World?

Today’s title is 100% a Disney product. The last few weeks, we have looked at games that are based on (now) Disney franchises. The Avengers! Mickey Mouse! A human girl that sings songs is next! But, theoretically, you could sever these properties from their root master, and still have a viable product. Mickey Mouse is Disney, but that rodent has proven he can survive in sorcery & swords/keys just as easily as entertain in a variety show. The Avengers existed before Disney, and they could do it again. But Disney World? Walt Disney World is Disney. Even more than Disney Land, Disney World was planned from Day 1 to be Walt Disney’s little “magical kingdom” that may or may not have been intended to be part of a larger eugenics experiment. But there are rides! And the rides have lore! Space Mountain is not just some banal Six Flags rollercoaster, it is about something (space, probably, or mountains). Entire destinations within Orlando now have whole, legitimate “themes”, and you can nary look at an enormous golf ball without being reminded of ol’ Uncle Walt’s dreams for a better, probably vaguely racist world of tomorrow. Since Papa Disney’s passing, his traditions have been kept alive, now with newer parks and features that all highlight that same brand of Disney magic, complete with very intricate tales of albino alligators body surfing down ill-advised ski slopes. Disney World literally defines the very concept of a theme park, and that theme is “Disney is all-encompassing”.

Stay coolSo here is Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour, a game that only Disney could sponsor. It has been stated before that a good kart racer is basically little more than a “controllable” theme park attraction, so here is a kart racer that is straight up just a series of races through theme park attractions. It’s win-win! And, while not everyone may be completely familiar with the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the majority of tracks on this tour of Disney World are more famous than half the characters that had entire games on the Dreamcast. Sorry, Seaman, but The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Tommorrowland all got movies in the years since this game’s release, and I’m pretty sure the Jungle Cruise wormed its way into that same criterion at some point in the last dismal year. Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and Hollywood Studios are comparatively newer attractions, but they all still are synonymous with the full Disney World experience. And the secret, bonus track is Splash Mountain? Why, I heard of that on Fox News! It must be popular! And, as one might expect, all the tracks are wholly recognizable as being tied to their “real” rides and venues. Even if every level did not have a full marquee of its name before the event, you would still be able to flawlessly match every track to their attendant attraction.

… Or… at least… I think you could? Probably?

I do not live in Orlando. In fact, I live a solid thousand miles from Disney World. Give or take the ease of air travel, there is no way I can just stop over at the Magic Kingdom on an afternoon. But I was raised as a privileged little boy, so my family visited Disney World once every year for as long as I could remember. There may have been some years off somewhere in there, but I definitely feel like my Disney quota was met annually. And that is significant! Because I can recite with perfect clarity the numerous times my parents messed up my childhood and set me on this path to being the cynical, miserable bastard I am today. But they didn’t screw up Disney! I got there once a year, and, while I have only been there once as an adult thus far, I still have overwhelmingly positive memories of Disney World. Thinking about the rides featured in this game are very much like thinking about some of the games featured on this very blog. Mega Man? Super Mario Bros? All remembered on the same happy echelon as Space Mountain.

Except, as Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour reminded me, that is a steaming pile of mouse hockey.

I once passed out as a direct result of Typhoon Lagoon and I am only going to admit it as ALT testLet’s be clear about something here: I have Mega Man memorized. Mega Man 1-6? Particularly Mega Man 2, 3, and 6? I could draw you maps. Literally! I am not going to claim I could literally play with my eyes closed, or get exact proportions of levels correct, but I definitely know Mega Man games like I know my own neighborhood. And that makes sense! I have played these games frequently from the time I was five, and, with an intervening thirty years, I have reached a point where I confidently know what I am doing when tasked with killing a Quick Man. Same for banishing a Bowser. Or mashing a metroid. Even defeating a Dedede is now second nature, as there are certain games I just know. And, in a weird way, I can safely say that, should you cut away the fluff and cruft of my very soul, and bring that which is “me” down to its absolute component pieces, you probably would find a map from Chrono Trigger. I am a simple man! I am powered by a 16-bit processor that has been chugging on A Link to the Past for years.

But is Disney World there in the core of my soul? Apparently not.

ArrrrrWalt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour sees its racers zoom through various rides and attractions from “real” Disney World. But could I tell you if these racecourses actually follow the arcs of their “source material” rides? Nope. It all feels vaguely familiar, and there are definitely a few landmarks that I can say come directly from the real park (hey, there are those pirates whistling at a dog!), but could I corroborate that they are properly distributed through their areas? Are there big, important parts missing? Are some rides much larger to fill out a track? Smaller? I feel like I should know these things, as some of these rides have been a part of my life since I was a child. But… nope. Just a general foggy memory of Space Mountain here, and I have no real idea if anything meant to simulate the ride is accurate to real-life innovations between 1975, 2000, and 2021. It all seems vaguely correct, but I really have no way of knowing. After all, it is not like I can just “pop in” to Disney World: 1997 in the same way I could boot up Mega Man 2 right now.

But maybe that is a good thing. Maybe the fact that all of my most cherished childhood memories are not always immediately available is ultimately good for my soul. I have Mega Man 3 for NES right here, but do I play it? No. If I am going to play that game, it will be on a videogame system that doesn’t require excessive blowing to get it going. And, even if I am in the mood for Mega Man, I could play Mega Man 11 first. Just for something different! Or Mega Man X for some of the best. Or Mega Man Battle Network for something that is both familiar and different. Ultimately, it is very unlikely that I will play Mega Man 3 in the near future. It is unlikely I will get my old Transformers out of the attic. It is unlikely I will fish out my old comics and give ‘em a read. It is impossible to revisit the Disney World of the 90’s (or so) that lives in my mind, and maybe separating myself from that is a good thing.

And I am pushed to this realization by one Bruno Biggs.

Go BrunoThe tracks of Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour are all 100% based on real Disney World locations. The cast of the game, however, is a different story. We have Chip and Dale in their Rescue Ranger regalia as the stars of this show, as their mischievous antics apparently were the impetus for the plot of this racing game (yes, of course there is a story/goal for this kart racer). Jiminy Cricket is also on-hand in his typical role of the era as company narrator (because no one knew what to do with the absence of ol’ Uncle Walt since the 60’s). But beyond that? There is not a Goofy, Donald, or even Pluto to be found. The playable cast includes the likes of Moe Whiplash, Polly Roger, and Otto Plugnut. Who are they? Who cares! WDWQ:MRT includes three Disney luminaries, and ten original characters that were never seen before, and destined to never be seen again. The company that owns Mickey friggen Mouse decided their company mascot could go ahead and sit this one out, and, in his place, we have Amanda Sparkle. You know! Amanda Sparkle! From absolutely nothing, ever!

But the unknowns of this cast are not to be completely ignored. Sure, they do not have the star power that we would see in House of Mouse (one Disney version of Smash Bros, successfully released for the same general audience a year later), but they do have something of a purpose. Every one of these characters is a clear mix of basic Disney anthropomorphic animal archetypes (duck, dog, mouse, etc) and some kind of theming from one of the featured Disney World attractions. The previously mentioned Amanda Sparkle is a dog-woman that is supposed to be a movie star, so she belongs to the Hollywood Studios area. Baron Karlott is just south of being a Count Duckula xerox, so he is chilling with The Haunted Mansion. If Polly Roger’s name doesn’t give her away, her pirate hat will, and Moe Whiplash is too root’n toot’n to belong anywhere but Big Thunder Mountain. And, considering this is a title where you must gradually unlock all levels, having someone on the cast immediately reminding you that the Epcot Test Track will eventually be available is a boon. Oliver Chickly III might not even be as recognizable as Clarabelle Cow, but at least he has a rationale.

Let's rockAnd, honestly? It is not the worst thing in the world to have these “nobodies” available in a Disney game. Consider that previously mentioned Bruno Biggs. Bruno is ostensibly the representative for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, as his bio outright states his personality is large, in-charge, and rockin’. He is also pretty large by himself, as he is the biggest racer, and is noticeably wearing a t-shirt that was likely purchased for his (much) littler sister. In fact, if I were to succinctly describe Bruno Biggs, I would simply claim that he is the unholy bastard child of Mickey Mouse and Pete (please do not send me the fanfic where this actually happens). Bruno is a big, round, Ub Iwerks-looking character, but with the familiar ears and snout of the most famous mouse this side of Pikachu. And he is… kind of cool? Like, he is clearly the “jerk” of the cast, but this is a kart racer, so he is less “Bowser conquers the galaxy” and more “Bowser in tennis matches”. And, on that level, he is one (but not the one) of my favorite characters in the game. He is not Mickey. He is the weird, funhouse mirror version of Mr. Mouse. And that is reasonable when you are revisiting a game from a couple of decades back.

And that seems to be best. Two years after the release of Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour, we saw Kingdom Hearts. While it may not have been intentional at the time, that lil’ franchise seemed to codify the Disney Trinity of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Beyond the world of Square titles, even beyond the world of videogames, it seems like the likes of Chip, Dale, or Horace Horsecollar have all taken a backseat to see that Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are always the stars of the show. There is no doubt that, were WDWQ:MRT released today, it would feature a story wherein Goofy messed up the Magic Kingdom, Donald and Mickey have to help out their buddy, and Pluto, Minnie, and Daisy were all available to race, too. Bruno Biggs would be nowhere to be seen, and you can just forget about a secret unlockable Ned Shredbetter.

Now it has frogs or whateverAnd maybe the fact that you are now curiously googling Ned Shredbetter is a good thing. You are not familiar with the cast of WDWQ:MRT, because they barely exist. In the same way that you may not completely recall every twist and turn on Space Mountain, Xperimental Utility Duck 71 is an alien mystery. And that can be fun! You know Mickey, you have seen him in a hundred other games. Let the other guys have a turn for once. Put down the traditional Mega Man, play a Disney kart racer from 2000. The old, comfortable standbys will still be available when you get back.

Familiarity will breed contempt, so go ahead and play with the unknown for a little while. Give Bruno a chance.

FGC #586 Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour

  • System: Playstation (1) and Sega Dreamcast. For the record, I played the Playstation version, as that was more immediately across the room. There is also a Game Boy Color version, though I have to assume that has a few graphical downgrades.
  • Number of players: The presence of a Dreamcast version may indicate there is a 4-player mode, but I’m going to claim two players, as nobody ever uses that Playstation multitap.
  • Not a thunderboltStory time: If you are curious, the official story is that Chip and Dale have damaged the machine that is responsible for the nightly Disney fireworks show, so they have to race around the park to find every last chunk to piece it all back together. Unfortunately, this makes WDWQ:MRT one of those “challenge-driven” kart racers where you have to collect seven whatsits across the course and finish in first if you want to see the next track. See also Sonic R or Diddy Kong Racing. Or don’t, because the Disney A.I. is brutal, and I want to go on Splash Mountain now, dammit!
  • Favorite Racer: Tiara Damáge’s whole deal is that she is a “little girl” that likes the villainesses more than the typical Disney Princesses. Good for her! She’s also a duck that dresses like Maleficent, so she 100% has my vote… even if she is a little too close to Magica De Spell to be completely original…
  • Favorite Track: With the way your vehicle changes to be appropriately a boat or kart or whatever for every track, it almost feels like this is the secret prequel to Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed. And then the Animal Kingdom: Dinosaur track includes those magical portals that seemed to pop up all over the place in that franchise. Seems like an odd coincidence…
  • Unanswered Questions: Is Jiminy Cricket drunk?
    What is up with those eyes

    I really don’t think he should be driving in that condition.
  • Did you know? The curators of the various Magic Kingdoms still officially call the whole thing Walt Disney World. When do you suppose they are going to drop that superfluous first name? Nobody ever visits John D. Rockefeller Center anymore.
  • Would I play again: I am willing to say this is the best kart racer on the Playstation 1. Unfortunately, it has to compete with the best kart racer on the Nintendo 64 for my attention, and that game is a little more accessible in the year 2021…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Hannah Montana: Rock Out the Show for the PSP! Yes! The Disney train is going to keep chugging with one of their most profitable characters! Please look forward to it!

I'm a tour guide

FGC #585 The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse

This cave is creepyWith the recent release of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, a lot of people are revisiting the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. And it isn’t all that hard! For a franchise that is fondly remembered from the early days of gaming, there have not been that many GnG titles through the generations. Aside from a few reboots of varying quality, the franchise barely got out of the 16-bit era without all but disappearing. Maybe the Resident Evil and Devil May Cry franchises filled the “horror” shaped hole in the hearts of Capcom? Or maybe it is more similar to how the Resident Evil franchise ultimately mutated and birthed the Devil May Cry franchise? After all, we could see a mutation in real time with GnG. 1991 saw Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, 1994 saw Demon’s Crest, and, in 1992, we saw the middle point between the two: The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse.

Admittedly, this was a bit of a deviation from the original Ghouls ‘n Ghosts formula. First of all, as keen-eyed players will notice immediately, Arthur is temporarily retired for this adventure, and has been replaced by a sentient mouse man. This is significant change in the formula, but this “Mickey Mouse” is apparently a noble warrior, not unlike Maximo or Firebrand of Demon’s Crest. And, speaking of Demon’s Crest, this was clearly the genesis of Red Arremer’s greatest skill in that title: switching between different “costumes” to utilize different abilities. Mickey does not come equipped with Arthur’s array of lances, daggers, and crossbows, but he does have the ability to switch between magical attacks, a firehose, and a grappling hook. And, if all else fails, Mickey has been granted the strength to leap on his opponents. Hey! It worked for that plumber guy!

This isn't spookySpeaking of Mario, The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse is undoubtedly one of the easiest titles in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. It is funny how a few minor changes make a difference in difficulty level. Mickey has three hearts to Arthur’s two, and additional “golden armor” hearts only make our hero even more resistant. Furthermore, there is a “shop” feature that can provide extra lives and powerups, so all those “money bags” that Arthur was always hording serve a purpose here. This would eventually be utilized in Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection with the collectible sprites that offer new abilities, but here it just offers Mickey a rudimentary leg up on his opponents. But these enhancements don’t mean it’s all fun and games for Mickey. The main offensive options for the costumes all require “energy”, and, while refills are abundant (and outright repeatedly provided during boss fights where they are a requirement), Arthur never had to worry about rationing his torch output in the middle of a heated battle. And that grappling hook powerup? Let’s just say that Arthur, double jump or no, would not survive the platforming challenges Mickey would be forced to negotiate. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a pile of hitpoints when those hearts take a dive into a pit…

But don’t worry, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts fans, once you see the worlds Mickey has to traverse, you’ll feel right at home. Presumably in an effort to draw in a new audience, this Ghosts ‘n Goblins title starts with an inviting opening stage, forsaking the traditional graveyard filled with zombies for a “happy” wooded area. But things get spooky fast, as there are malevolent, mutated bugs and bees around the forest, complete with a gigantic “dragonpillar” that recalls the three headed dragon of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. From there, Mickey receives “magic powers” to simultaneously use a ranged attack and swim through a giant tree. Is this “Dark Forest” being unusually damp meant to evoke the iconic second stage of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and its haunted ship and raft ride? Probably! This is a franchise known for occasionally relying on “oblique” references to older games. And this haunted forest is all topped off with an eerie giant spider invasion. Can you get scarier than arachnophobia?

Too hot!Well, yes, the Fire Grotto, is where the ghouls really kick into gear. The whole stage starts with a downward elevator ride that recalls a similarly deadly situation in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (though at least that elevator had the decency to go up). Then Mickey does the typical Demon Realm entrance thing by traipsing through a fiery Hell. Practically everything is on fire in this stage, and, while the firefighter costume does mitigate the various heated issues, you still have to deal with platforms that are apparently fueled by cranky souls. And a flaming stone guardian to top it all off? Be afraid, Mickey, be very afraid.

The following stage, Pete’s Peak, once again follows the Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts route of including the “cave area” after its blistering welcome, albeit this level is a lot less… fleshy than its sister stage. However, the boss of this miniventure is the same Cockatrice that menaced Arthur back in the previous title. You just keep spitting eggs, you gigantic, evil bird!

Mickey’s Stage 5 is arguably repeating Arthur’s adventure to an exact degree. The Deep Chill aka Snowy Valley outright reuses layouts from Arthur’s icy prison, though with the added fun of introducing a number of “sleds” that speed things along. This is the first stage that does not introduce a new “power”, so it is nice to see something that generally helps our hero (and confirms, once again, that Arthur’s biggest plight is that he has to slowly walk everywhere). In the case of the boss of this stage, we have no hard confirmation that SGnG’s Bēruaroken is an ice-skating walrus when thawed out, but it does seem like this monster does have a similar stance to Arthur’s icy opponent…

WeeeeeAnd then the finale of any good GnG game: the haunted castle. As alluded to in earlier levels, the final boss of this title is Pete, a giant, monarch-style creature in the vein of Astaroth, Lucifer, or Sardius. Does he have an extra face under that regal cloak? Who knows! But what we do know is that Pete’s Castle is the proper finale for this franchise, as it is a challenging, imposing area filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes. And spikes! The ol’ Capcom staple of just covering every goddamned thing with spikes and then throwing in a light boss rush is all that stands between Mickey and rescuing his princess. (… Who is a dog. And, to be clear, that is not a judgment of a princess replacement, Pluto is apparently literally a dog. At least this time the ending won’t reveal the “damsel”’s measurements.)

And that is the whole of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts 2: The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. Mostly. The ending implies that the whole of the adventure was a dream, and then Mickey awakens to a game of catch that is exactly how this whole plot kicked off in the first place. Does this imply that Mickey is stuck in an endless loop, forever searching for the “goddess bracelet” that would allow this hero to finally end King Pete permanently? Probably. Those loops are a GnG traditional, after all…

Stay away!For anyone curious about Mickey’s future involvement with the GnG franchise, not unlike The Red Blaze, Mickey would go on to have his own “spin-off” trilogy, but would not see another title beyond the Super Nintendo. And, while many of Mickey’s most prominent features would be carried forward to Demon’s Crest, this slight deviation in the GnG canon is now just as discarded as Maximo.

Sorry, Mickey, I guess your turn to be the star of something will have to come later. Apparently history is going to remember Sir Arthur as the leading man of this franchise.

FGC #585 The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse

  • System: Super Nintendo, and, later, Gameboy Advance. It seems like a lot of SNES games wound up on the final Gameboy (and we are better for it).
  • Number of players: 2 players in both cases, but alternating on the home console, while you can work together on the GBA. Of course, you need two cartridges to do that…
  • It's chillyPort-o-Call: The GBA port is obviously going to have a few more bells and whistles, as it was released a solid decade later. You can play as Minnie! And fight in competitive multiplayer games! And Disney is part of the title now, for some reason! Just in case you thought Capcom owned Mickey Mouse!
  • Favorite Costume: The mountain climbing gear has so much potential, but is only really built for one level (or the level is built for the costume… whatever!). However, the utility of the firefighter costume is gigantic, and it never wavers. Would you like to extinguish flames, battle soldiers, or freeze snowballs? You can do anything with the power of firefighting!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Speaking of specific costumes, this game is inextricably linked to Nintendo Power #44, the “bonus issue” that included a fold-out cover and a “Mega Man Spectacular”. This is also the origin of a Mario vs. Wario comic which reveals that Mario used to be kind of a dick. That is appropriate, given the presence of the cover boy.
  • ToastyDid you know? Speaking of Nintendo Power, the following characters/things appeared on Nintendo Power covers before Mickey Mouse: Wile E. Coyote, Darth Vader, Felix the Cat, Darkwing Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Chip ‘n Dale, the Joker, the Starship Enterprise, and Dracula’s severed head. Seminal Pugsley Addams headlined the following issue.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun little game… but emphasis on “little”. Once a GnG game is less challenging, it can easily be cleared within an hour or so. And that’s not bad! It just means I probably won’t bother again for a while. But I shall return to this interpretation of the Demon Realm…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour! Get ready to race around your favorite theme park in pursuit of nuts! Please look forward to it!

I miss the 90's

FGC #584 Avengers in the 1990’s

So mighty!Here’s a statement only 90’s kids will understand: The Avengers are the cheapest, most low-rent superheroes available.

To be clear, this is not to say that pre-Disney Marvel Comics didn’t have one hell of a superhero team on its hands. Ever heard of The X-Men? They were the bomb-diggity, and it is hard to convey to modern readers just how many children at the time were putting forks between their fingers and pretending to be Wolverine. This may have just been a result of the comics being fun and plentiful, but it is more likely that the X-Men were popular because they had a hit Saturday morning cartoon (that, if memory serves, had upwards of seven episodes across seven years), multiple tie-in videogames, and more action figures than you could ever hawk at a garage sale. The “culmination” of this massive popularity was the 2000 movie that defined superhero films/Hugh Jackman for a decade. And speaking of films, X-Men paved the way for other superheroes that were… also not known as Avengers. Spider-Man leaps immediately to mind, but this was also the era when DC Comics’ Batman came into his own grim popularity. And Batman was able to get there because his previous projects, like the Burton films and the amazing animated series, were also grand successes. And has there ever been a videogame console that didn’t host a Batman or Superman game of some kind? I’m not going to bother to do any research on this matter (the internet is all the way over there!), but it certainly feels like there was an Atari Jaguar Batman title! Point is that well before Disney decided to create its shared universe, superheroes were popular in all sorts of mediums.

… Except the Avengers. The Avengers were consistently forgettable.

Go robot goThe Avengers comics were always there (well, “always” as in “since Stan Lee decided to slap a bunch of his most lucrative properties [and Ant-Man] together”), and they were always at least moderately popular. The Avengers were appealing because they seemed to have a lot more latitude than other “superhero rosters”. Why? Well, in the absence of a clear Superman or Wonder Woman, you really could slot anybody into the team. Dropping a literal god for a dude that can shoot arrows? Sure! Bald “Celestial Madonna” because Magneto’s daughter is on vacation this week? Why not! But, unfortunately, this led to The Avengers not being as “established” as its rival teams (you know, other gangs where you could always count on spotting a Wolverine). This made for a franchise that was generally good, but also often something closer to Captain America and his Amazing Friends. Or, in the case of the number one reason some children of the 80s and 90s recognize any Avengers, Iron Man & his Amazing Friends.

While never as popular as Batman, Spider-Man, or The X-Men, Marvel had a moderate hit with an animated Fantastic Four series in 1994. This cleared the way for its “partner” television show (gotta have that “Marvel Action Hour” for syndication), Iron Man. Tony Stark was clearly the lead in Iron Man, but he was joined by a number of other Marvel luminaries, like Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. Were they collectively referred to as “The Avengers”? Nope! They were Force Works, which did exist in the comics of the era, but certainly not with Hawkguy. However, the basic concept was there, even if you had to wait until five years later to see the sequel series, Avengers: United They Stand, which lasted a whole thirteen weeks before fading into nothing. Why did it disappear so quickly? Likely because they based the whole thing on West Coast Avengers, a team that dropped Captain America for friggin’ Tigra. Tigra! The only Avenger to appear in 2019’s seminal musical film, Cats!

I don't understandsSo, through the 90s, kids that did not have easy access to comic book shops had one impression of The Avengers: they are the heroes that can’t support their own shows. Spider-Man stars in a 600-episode arc about some stupid stone tablet, and Captain America maybe gets to guest star in three. Lou Ferrigno will smash as Hulk whether he is animated or live-action, but Thor can only stop by for an episode or two. Iron Man gets his own show, and he winds up sponsoring refugee D-listers like Wanda Frank. And if these losers were to get a tie-in videogame, well, why should it goes well?

Captain America and The Avengers is a 1991 Arcade title from Data East. It is, like so many other licensed games of the time, a 4-player beat ‘em up. The variation du jour of CAatA is that you have the choice of throwing or detonating most background objects (Ninja Turtles only has exploding barrels! No options at all!), and some levels turn into shoot ‘em ups. That’s about it. So, like most other beat ‘em ups of the time, the game lives or dies on its heroes, enemies, and presentation. And how do those all work out? Poorly!

Your heroes are Captain America (yay!), Iron Man (woohoo!), Hawkeye (arrows are passable videogame weapons), and Vision (that guy). Your enemies are (per Turtle tradition) an army of generic robots that are wholly constructed of nitrous and dynamite. And the bosses? Well, there are more bosses than most beat ‘em ups, as you face a mid-boss and a final boss for each level. But quantity is no substitute for quality here, as your heroes face the likes of Living Laser, Klaw, Wizard, and Controller. Look, when you are facing a boss that is named after a videogame peripheral, you know the A-listers were too busy for this nonsense. Even more interesting villains, like Grim Reaper or Ultron, are reduced to “has a dash attack” and “has a fireball” do-nothings. And don’t even get me started on Mech. Taco, the Taco that walks like a mech (oddly, Mech. Taco has not appeared in any Disney flicks yet, but we all have our fingers crossed). Strangely, this means that noted Wasp villain, Whirlwind, comes off as the most interesting boss, as at least his windy powers impact not only the fight, but also the background and any incidental debris that may be scattered about. It’s neat! It’s maybe the only neat thing in the game!

I get that robot!Excuse me, there is one other “neat” thing: the Avengers couldn’t get through one game without some X-Men transplants. The Sentinel, a gigantic robot that is iconic for its relentless hunting of mutants, appears as a shoot ‘em up boss in Stage 2. It is identified as “Giant Robot”, but nobody is going to mistake that purple titan for the Iron Giant. And Juggernaut is the first boss to appear on Red Skull’s space station. This is easily the worst depiction of Juggs in a videogame (dude kind of looks like a hunched-over cyclops [not that Cyclops]), but this is unmistakably Charles Xavier’s beefcake brother. Dude is lumbering around as usual, just reminding you that you could migrate over to the X-Men arcade cabinet at any time. Wouldn’t you rather rescue Kitty Pryde than slug it out with the likes of Crossbones?

And if you want to play a game with X-Men anyway, maybe you should fast forward to Marvel Super Heroes In War of the Gems.

Captain America and The Avengers was a Data East joint, and, unless you were really into BurgerTime, you could be forgiven for assuming their Avengers tie-in would be lackluster. But Capcom! Now there was a gaming company to trust back in the 80s and 90s. They had Mega Man! And Street Fighter! And were able to make a passable game out of Talespin! And they successfully adapted The X-Men into a fighting game that spawned its own franchise! And the second game in that franchise was an Avengers game! Kinda! Marvel Super Heroes is conceptually based on the same Infinity Gauntlet Marvel comic series that would eventually become the most profitable movie duology of all time. But this version included the likes of Magneto, Juggernaut, Wolverine, Psylocke, and at least one multi-tentacled monstrosity. And there are noted Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk, too, so it marginally counts as an Avengers title! Probably! Oh, and if you wanted a little more plot, there was a SNES tie-in title that dropped three X-characters, and picked up a whole host of Avenger buddies! Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems, released in 1996, certainly should qualify as an Avengers game.

It also qualifies as yet another Avengers tie-in that feels cheap as hell.

Dem pucksThere are good bones here. This is a beat ‘em up with the occasional bit of 2-D platforming. Like X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, it is also a game where you can occasionally utilize special moves and combos like its attendant fighting game. This is a great change from the ol’ standard of “lose health/energy for doing anything” that has plagued many other Marvel games. And, while the roster cannot completely qualify as Avengers in 1996 (Wolverine and Spider-Man wouldn’t consistently join up until they had successful movie franchises), they are all roughly on the same power level, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to see Smart Hulk tussling with the same baddies as Captain America. Oh! And for a little variety, we do occasionally see a handful of areas where air is limited, so we basically get an organically incorporated timer for challenges. Got to get that heartrate up somehow!

Unfortunately, while the basic gameplay is marginally inventive (this is better than Final Fight with Captain America), the levels and their attendant enemies are anything but. For whatever reason, while the Marvel universe has some pretty amazing locales (Limbo is lovely this time of year), nearly all of the stages in MSHiWofG are forgettable, “video game-y” areas. There’s a lava level, ice level, sewer level, and aquarium (because who doesn’t need a water level in their beat ‘em up). Yes, you get to fly to Dr. Doom’s citadel, but it is more of an excuse to use a castle tile-set and incorporate a teleporter maze than anything. And your opponents through all of these battlegrounds? Well, they are simply “evil clones” of your Avengers, so you face armies of Iron Man-but-with-spikes, Wolverine-but-green, and Hulk-but-bald. Look, when Spider-Man is your hero without an evil clone, you done #$^&ed up. But do not think that just because an Avenger isn’t playable in the game that they will be left out of the fun. Daredevil gets a literal devil variant, Vision becomes a flying menace, and Hawkeye actually becomes a threat with an evil version that snipes from far-off platforms. Even an evil Silver Surfer slides through a stage! All the heroes you love! Ready for punching!

Dem pucksAnd it is supremely weird how this makes the whole game feel very… budget. There is never an explanation offered for this army of anti-Avengers, and their general designs are not distinct enough to warrant any further investigation on “who” these bad good guys are supposed to be. Is that supposed to be a She-Hulk that is also searching for the gems? No, because there are three of ‘em all in a line, and Jennifer Walters doesn’t have cloning powers. Alpha Flight, Canada’s premiere superhero team, seems to stalk around the Alaska stage, so you could totally justify their existence as our northern neighbors thinking they know best… but then the same “Evil Puck” creatures appear at the New York aquarium. And, somehow, the original characters make even less sense in this context. Blackheart pops up out of nowhere with exactly zero explanation as to why he is participating in this War of Gems, and Dr. Doom flees his castle to fight again later and unceremoniously die in space. You have the whole of the Marvel stable participating in the Infinity Wars, why forsake real, interesting villains for friggin’ Sasquatch?

I guess if you wanted to see the Avengers battle some actual villains, you would have to play their fighting game released the same year. Are you ready for Avengers: Galactic Storm? Because Data East certainly wasn’t…

Blast 'emFor reasons our top scientific minds are still trying to discern, this Avengers title is based on Operation Galactic Storm, an Avengers crossover from 1992 that is remembered by exactly nobody. This 1996 arcade game is the only proof it ever happened at all! And, while it is nice that we nearly got two fighting games featuring Captain America in a year, this roster is chockful of Avengers F-Stringers. Thor is on vacation, so please accept Thunderstrike! Iron Man is taking a powder so you can have the real man in armor, Black Knight! And Crystal, best known as being either Johnny Storm’s girlfriend, Black Bolt’s niece, or Quicksilver’s wife, is your standard one female Avenger rep. And the bad guys are exclusively Kree adversaries, so you are stuck with Supremor, Shatterax, and Korath-Thak. Remember last Christmas? When everyone was trying to find Korath the Pursuer action figures? No, of course not, that would be stupid. Korath looks like what would happen if Juggernaut shrunk in the dryer, and he is about as memorable as Cain Marko’s drycleaner (first appearance Amazing X-Men Volume 2 #15). At least we have Dr. Minerva, who is basically an evil Captain/Ms. Marvel. Wait! That just means we couldn’t get through another Avengers game without an X-Men character appearing. Dammit!

Oh, and the game looks terrible, and plays even worse. Please try to act surprised that the people behind Fighter’s History couldn’t produce a good licensed fighting game. Additionally, continue to feign shock that faux 3-D graphics in the mid 90’s aged about as well as Thunderstrike (if you have not already surmised, Thunderstrike is phenomenally stupid). About the only memorable bit in this Avengers title is that its story mode has instant continues (so you don’t have to blow quarters on a match continually “resetting” with every loss), and there are assist characters of dubious efficacy. It is cool that someone decided to model the Vision for this plastic universe, but it is a little saddening that this ‘droid of a thousand abilities only gets to perform a reverse dive kick. At least let my man bust out the laser eyes!

Dive kick!And what do all of these 90’s Avengers have in common? They’re cheap. They seem like knock-offs of other, better franchise games. Batman gets to fight Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face. Spider-Man fights Sandman, Venom, and at least one rampaging guerilla. Captain America can only ever fight Whirlwind, Bald Hulk, or the multi-tentacled avatar of a floating, green head. Iron Man gets dinky little sprites, Colossus gets big, chunky pixels and a special move that roars through the arcade. Magneto always shows up for Dazzler, while Vision can barely summon the attention of Ronan the Accuser. In short, back in the day, the most prominent Avenger would never rank above the most extraneous of X-Men. Kids of the 90’s were convinced that The Avengers were not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but little more than an opening act for the real heroes.

But, luckily, The Avengers were catapulted to greatness with the release of their 2012 film. And The Avengers never saw a “budget”, failure of a videogame ever again.

THE AVENGERS!

… Or The Avengers are stuck being those Avengers forever.

FGC #584 Captain America and The Avengers

  • Now I'm hungrySystem: Arcade initially (and used for these screenshots), and then Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Gear. The Game Boy and NES versions have the same name, but are generally different, also low-budget experiences.
  • Number of players: Get four in the arcade! Or two at home! Or zero on Game Gear, because those batteries ran out five minutes ago.
  • Favorite Avenger: Vision has a great walk. That… is about all that distinguishes these characters. You’d think there would be a significant disparity between a guy living in a robotic suit of armor and a dude that just shoots arrows, but here we are.
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Wasp appears as an assist “option” during the shooting sections. There is no sign of Scarlet Witch, unfortunately, despite the fact that Vision is playable, and Quicksilver bops in from time to time to drop health refills.
  • Hawkguy: Hawkeye is a playable character in this game from Data East, and also a participant in Sega’s Spider-Man arcade game. And he was one of the only two playable characters in the NES Avengers title. How did these companies all keep choosing Hawkeye!?
  • Favorite Boss: Red Skull seems to be cosplaying as Kingpin this time, and then he gets a giant, weirdly fleshy Terminator robot and a pope-bubble to hide in. This is literally the only boss in the game that is remotely memorable… give or take the taco.
  • I know this robot, tooDid you know? This localization is legendarily bad, but please be aware that octopus in Japanese is “tako”. Mecha Taco is clearly just “mechanical octopus”, but I guess someone was in the mood for Mexican.
  • Would I play again: This is not one of the great beat ‘em ups of our time. I’d rather play one of those.

FGC #584 Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems

  • But Hulk had hairSystem: Super Nintendo exclusive. Apparently there was talk of a Genesis port, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Nothing was learned from SNES Final Fight, so just one.
  • Hawkguy: No, seriously, what is the deal with Hawkeye? His clone appears in damn near every stage, and he is always a pain to avoid. Do arrows just work naturally well with videogame mechanics?
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Savage She-Hulk is an occasional opponent. She never appears as a boss, and she’s in full-on berserker mode, but she’s at least there. No, there are no evil Black Widows, Tigras, or even Jocastas to fight.
  • Best Surprise: Nebula, the cybernetic underling of Thanos, is the penultimate boss of the game. And she offers a pretty good fight, too. If I didn’t know better, I would assume her and her varied moveset was another transplant from the arcade fighting game, but, nope, she’s original to this one. And she’s a pretty fun cyborg for everybody!
  • Poor cyborgDid you know? There are sections where Avengers must fight underwater, and have a limited air meter. This makes sense for mostly human Captain America or mostly naked Hulk, but Iron Man has the same issue. He’s in a robot suit! It’s his thing! He doesn’t need to find a source of air! And, for some reason, everyone can breathe in space! What is going on here!?
  • Would I play again: I’ll take X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse first, and that’s only if, like, every other X-Men game is not available. This Wolverine adventure doesn’t even rank.

FGC #584 Avengers in Galactic Storm

  • System: Arcade exclusive, though it is being released as an Arcade1Up cabinet as a sorta-arcade exclusive.
  • Number of players: Two, though you can actually cooperate with your second player if you’d like. I have not ever seen two people that want to play this game, though.
  • Throw rocks!One Lady Avenger Per Game: Continuing the grand tradition of the most unassuming character being the absolute best, Crystal the Inhuman Princess kicks unaccountable amounts of ass in this one. She can summon meteors! And fireballs! And her hyper attack is a tidal wave! She’s easily the best Avenger available for this job, and puts Black Knight and his silly little bomber jacket to shame. There are, unfortunately, no Lady Avengers on the assist roster.
  • Favorite Assist: Giant Man is represented by a giant, inexplicably hairy arm flying into the frame. I like to pretend that The Avengers just became caught in a Monty Python sketch, and then I imagine what that fighting game would look like. For the record, it looks like Heaven.
  • Did you know? Dr. Minerva, Captain Marvel’s palette swap, did appear in the Captain Marvel movie as one of Carol’s Kree rivals. So that means we saw Minn-Erva on the big screen before Thunderstrike. Eat it, Eric Masterson.
  • Would I play again: No.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse! We’re going from one group of officially licensed Disney mascots to the big boy! Please look forward to it!

THE END

FGC #583 What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord!? 2

Shhhhh he's talkingLet’s talk about dungeons, Mario Making, and executive dysfunction.

Super Mario Maker 2 was released nearly two years ago. Initially, it had much the same issue as Street Fighter 5 or Splatoon 2: the previous version had been subject to frequent updates featuring both quality-of-life and just-plain-cool upgrades, and Super Mario Maker 2 did not feel different enough from its predecessor to really deserve that same dedication. I already made a bunch of Super Mario Maker 1 stages, why do I need to find new ways to utilize Cloud Strife-based puns for these same lakitu barrages? But, over time, Super Mario Maker 2 obtained its own updates, and now we’re looking at a totally new experience that involves frog suits, SMB2 mushrooms, and some patently-dubious ninji speedruns. Super Mario Maker 2 is well and truly its own animal at this point, and, while official support may be waning now (sorry, no new game styles for you), general community support is still there and active, so you can create infinity Mario stages for a very expectant audience. This is the perfect time to tear into Super Mario Maker 2!

Aaaand I can’t make a single damn level. The soul is willing, but the mind is weak and pasty…

There is a part of me that wants to create a Super Mario Maker 2 “game”. Eight worlds, four levels each, and theme each world around a different aspect of Mario. Maybe make World 1 something more based on Super Mario Bros. (1) gameplay, while a later world features the quirks of Super Mario Bros. 3. And the various powerups! And vehicles! I could make a whole world that is a vague shoot ‘em up! I love those things! I have a thousand ideas for Super Mario Maker 2, and I should be able to fill up a whole universe with ‘em inside of a few days.

Working awayBut, if I am being honest, that kind of project has always been a problem for me. I might want to do something, I might even have some great ideas for individual moments in some grand design, but when it comes time to actually sit down and do it, I am stuck. I cannot make even one level. Why? Well, some would claim it is a failing of the soul. Others may point to a low level form of executive dysfunction/dysexecutive syndrome and/or adult attention-deficit disorder. My father would just say I’m slacking off again (good job with the tough love, dad). Am I going to try to self-diagnose my inability to make Mario levels for a blog post? Maybe! But the end result is the same: there ain’t no Goggle Bob Super Mario Maker 2 stages available, and it is pretty safe to assume there won’t be any any time soon, either.

If you really want to get into the details of why Super Mario Maker 2 isn’t happening, look no further than the many, many options available within the game. I am being crippled by choice! I understand dividing it into manageable, themed chunks is not only a good design theory, but also something my brain can possibly process. I cannot deal with multiple “universes” of Mario availability, but I could potentially sit down and figure out the best damn Super Mario World courses possible. I could do that! But I’m not going to, because, even limited to one “style”, I can still choose from like twenty different monsters, ten different obstacles, and oh man I am totally ignoring how I could shoehorn Yoshi into all of this nonsense. And even all that comes after designing a level layout. How am I supposed to figure out how to stack seventy hammer bros if I can’t lay the path Mario is going to take!? Maybe I should start with a basic layout, and go from there… But would that be too boring?

Or maybe I should just play a game that is all basic layouts…

It's the food chain!What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord!? 2 is a Playstation Portable title from 2008 that didn’t see North American shores until 2010. Since this article is already ridiculously autobiographical, I will note that I purchased this game back in the day for two distinct reasons:

  1. At the time, I believed NIS America to be the sole source of humor in videogames, and NIS America was responsible for this localization.
  2. I believed this to be a Warioware/W.T.F. style minigame compilation, as was the style with “eccentric” titles of the time.

By now, both of those assumptions have been proven to be differing degrees of terrible. Congratulations on NIS for pioneering the concept of being glib about JRPG conventions, but, man, the American indie scene adopted that tone, and now you can’t get six games into the eShop without ramming into thirty snide references to how the good ol’ days of gaming weren’t always so good. And, more importantly, WDIDTDTML!?2 is not a minigame simulator. This is a game that has one basic gameplay concept expanded to multiple levels. And that concept? You are the bad guy, and you have to build your own dungeon to keep the heroes out and/or dead.

But don’t worry! Being an evil overlord is easy! Apparently thwarting heroes is as straightforward as playing Dig Dug. There are four or five stratums of dirt under every dungeon entrance, and it is your task, God of Destruction, to grab that pickaxe and plink out a path through the mud. Along the way, various monsters will be released from the surrounding ether, and, after a sufficiently winding path is constructed, you will place Demon Lord Badman in the most fortified location. Then, the heroes inevitably start their march toward Lord Badman, and the only thing that is going to hold them back is a twisty dungeon filled with an army of monsters. And do not worry if you lose a few monsters, because their essence can be “recycled” into bigger and badder baddies, so maybe Dolph Heroman, Slayer of Slimes, will be devoured by a reincarnated lizard the size of a Buick. Lord Badman is in good (bad) hands!

It's a party!And, according to the narrative details of WDIDTDTML!?2, those monsters getting “recycled” is ultimately the point of the game. Every dungeon you create is a mini eco system, and depending on how food (other monsters, adventurers) is distributed in this environment, you may see all kinds of mutations and variants in your creature population. Mutants may appear because they are overfeeding (sorry, those slimes are just too delicious), or they have been absorbing too much ambient dungeon mana. Or maybe they just dropped into the place from a gateway to Hell, and they are about to throw the whole ecosystem out of whack! I mean, it’s all good as long as Lord Badman is protected from encroaching mages, but, still, would have liked to see those omnomnom worms survive. And, for the record, if you would like to play with this whole “ecosystem” mechanic, there is a mode in WDIDTDTML!?2 that is basically “free play”, and you can see just how many skelemans (actually their names this time!) you can have operating before a Wookiemon devours the whole lot. We’re all learning together!

But whether you are here to see the mating habits of dragons or not, there is definitely some magic happening. You are making a dungeon! Okay… yes… I’ve been saying that all along, but you’re making a dungeon carelessly! Wait.. that’s still wrong… You’re making a dungeon without thinking? Dammit! What I am trying to say is that when playing WDIDTDTML!?2, you are using the same basic tools as your average Mario Maker (making levels, distributing monsters/traps), but you are doing it with all the haste necessary to repel an invading force. There is a time limit. There are resource limits. There is an immediate challenge, and I can deal with an immediate challenge. I can work with a deadline. Would I make more complicated, noteworthy, and potentially brilliant dungeons if I were working with the unfettered freedom available in a different “maker” style game? Of course! But would I actually make anything in that environment? Evidently not!

Look at that spriteSo, as much as I hate authority, I know something simple about myself: I cannot work unless someone is yelling at me. I cannot create unless there is a clear and present deadline. I cannot trust myself to do goddamned anything unless someone, whether they be a Hell Lord or not, is complaining about my lack of output. I could do anything, but I’m not going to do a damn thing until it can be described as “looming”.

And I’m going to keep playing WDIDTDTML!?2 until Super Mario Maker 3 includes a mode where Bowser yells about not having a built castle yet.

FGC #583 What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord!? 2

  • System: Sony PSP, and I’m pretty that’s it. There’s a quasi-sequel on the Vita, but I don’t think this UMD made the jump over to the digital realm of the Vita. Or maybe it did? I don’t know. Not like there’s an online shop where I can check.
  • Number of players: Just the one. It “feels” like it is 2-players with the existence of the invading heroes, but they’re exclusively A.I.-controlled.
  • What’s in a name? The original title for this game was “Holy Invasion Of Privacy, Badman! 2: Time To Tighten Up Security!”, however, there were some concerns about the Batman estate (carefully managed by billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne for some reason) taking legal action against the more Batusi-based title. The bad guy is still named Badman, though. Oh, and if we’re going with the original Japanese title, that’s “For a hero, [you are] quite [impudent/cheeky/bold] 2”. It must be a mouthful either way.
  • This is technically the first oneFavorite Monster: Black Hole Stomach is one of the overweight mutations of the succubus-style monsters. I appreciate the fact that this is, like, the one game I can name where there are “fat” human-type monsters, and they’re not just walking jokes or portrayed by a sprite that is simply marginally rounder. Black Hole Stomachs are just as jiggly as any other large monster. And their “ecosystem” stats mean they subsist on spirits! How do you gain weight by eating the ephemeral? Just a lot to like/unanswered questions there.
  • For the prequel: What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord!? 1 was a DLC-exclusive title that could be lost to the ages… but WDIDTDTML!?2 included it on the disc via entry of a secret code (that is listed in the instruction booklet). Hooray for game preservation! Of course, WDIDTDTML!?1 kind of feels like a warmup for WDIDTDTML!?2’s more intricate gameplay, so there is very little reason to go back to basics. But, hey, at least the option is available!
  • Did you know? Apparently no one has a complete WDIDTDTML!?2 Almanac of Monsters (and Heroes) online. But there is a “Holy Badman” wiki, so one could suppose that progress is being made.
  • Would I play again: If this were more accessible, totally. As it is, I don’t get out the PSP that often, so it’s kind of a bother. But I do enjoy digging out tunnels for our favorite Badman, so I would like to get back into it sometime.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain America and The Avengers for SNES! The Avengers, eh? I think I’ve heard of those guys! Please look forward to it!

It's a crane game