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FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Straight to hell!Let us consider the economy of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest (and how it has screwed me up to this day).

Castlevania 2 is an ambitious NES title that is also extremely broken. Much like Link’s second adventure, the curators of the Castlevania franchise decided to branch out in a more explore-y direction with Simon Belmont’s second quest. Unfortunately, it seems that the Goddess Zelda watches over all of her titles and guarantees proper Q&A testing… while Dracula just gets a graveyard duck. Or the graveyard duck was intentional! Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest has a legendarily inscrutable localization… but it ain’t that great in the original Klingon, either. The NPCs of C2 go out of their collective way to be cryptic at best, and downright dishonest at worst. There is a bad merchant in this town? Are you referring to how the ability to buy a white crystal over and over again is broken, or am I searching for a hidden dealer somewhere around here? And do not insult that kind lady peddling Holy Water. I wouldn’t be able to beat Dracula without her!

So is Simon’s Quest broken? Well, yes, because those ending screens are pretty damn fractured by any rubric. But is everything before Dracula’s defeat broken? Well, no, just all the information that the player needs to successfully complete this quest is some combination of esoteric and obfuscated. Finding your first mansion housing a rib might be child’s play, but knowing from there that you have to kneel at a nondescript lake or show a bleeding heart to a ferryman (or that said ferryman is apparently canonically cursed!) is the kind of thing you would never in a million quests personally discover “accidentally”. Some hints in the Japanese version were mangled for the American release, and we can blame a number of Debora Cliff head injuries on this simple fact; but, even then, you kind of have to “know” that the crystals work when you are just standing around… And “stand still and wait” is not exactly the prime way a videogame works. Simon’s Quest is not broken in every way, but a clear explanation of what is happening and what should be done would certainly help a fledgling player. Just give me a ferryman that outright states that they are looking for something, and we can go from there!

And then there is the economy of Simon’s Quest.

Just don't look!Previously on Castlevania, hearts fueled “sub items”, and that was it. There were moneybags that provided points, but there was nothing to buy. A heart “bought” you the ability to fling a dagger, though, so you had something you wanted to ration and “save” for the rough spots. A proper cross boomerang and the hearts to fuel it could be the difference between life and death. This would be the standard for Castlevania games after Castlevania 2, too, and we would not see exchanging currency for goods and services in the Castlevania franchise again until Symphony of the Night ten years later.

But in the meanwhile, here was Castlevania 2. Before you even leave the first town, you are introduced to the concept of trading hearts. In fact, items available in the first town are very clearly outlined as…

Buy Once, Use Forever Items

My aching crystal50 Hearts will get you two different items in Castlevania 2’s first bout of commerce. Local townsfolk will note that thou must purchase a White Crystal, but the Holy Water is available, too. And both items are literally essential to your adventure. The White Crystal will allow access to (or at least illuminate a hidden platform in) the first dungeon, which is a vital stop on the way to earning Dracula’s Rib. But do not discount the Holy Water, as you absolutely need its ability to break “soft” blocks. Oh no! You’ve only got fiddy hearts in your pocket when the game starts, and you need a hundo! Time to get to farming skeletons!

And you will want those extra hearts, as Holy Water, the White Crystal, and the eventually available basic Dagger are all the best items to purchase. The Holy Water not only unlocks previously inaccessible areas, but also is the most straightforward item in the game for consistently hitting enemies below Simon. The Dagger might fly much straighter, but it is also much more powerful, and can completely supplant the whip if you are saving up for something better. And the White Crystal? Not only do you need it for basic platform-seeing purposes, but it also has a resale value! You can trade the White Crystal for the Blue Crystal, and then trade up further to the Red Crystal. All of those crystals are critical, and, given a lack of fast travel or mobile merchants, you really shouldn’t leave home (town) without it!

Unfortunately, not everything in Castlevania 2 has the same kind of utility. Let’s just go ahead and whip that notion in the bud…

Straight Upgrade Items

STAY AWAYSimon already killed the only vampire that ever mattered, so the legendary Vampire Killer whip is apparently sitting on a shelf back at the Belmont estate. In the meanwhile, Simon has pulled out the trusty leather whip that he picked up down at the Transylvania S&M store (Grant DaNasty’s Nastiest Emporium). Unfortunately, this budget whip is far from the best, and a variety of other whips are available from more savvy storefronts. Would you care for a Thorn Whip? Chain Whip? Chain Whip with little star dealy bopper? You’ve got options!

Or… you have no real options at all. Unlike many modern games, you absolutely do not need to upgrade your whips sequentially. You will likely find a vendor for the Thorn Whip before anyone else, but, if you save your hearts, you will eventually find that Morning Star shop, and own the best whip hearts can buy before anything else. In fact, if you really know what you are doing, you can farm nighttime zombies, make a beeline for that miraculous whip, and wield all the power of Lucifer before entering your first mansion!

And there is a valuable lesson here: why waste your hard-earned hearts on anything but the best? Only one whip can be upgraded (for free!) to the critical Flame Whip, and only one whip has the power to fell Death before he can make his lethal approach. Why bother with anything less? The Chain Whip is one of the most expensive items in the game, and it is literally completely worthless if you can afford a Morning Star. Save those hearts! Go for the greatest! Do not waste time on incremental upgrades! Shoot for the gold!

But you may have to blow a few hearts along the way on…

One and Done, Limited Items

Eat it, orbYou may make an immediate run for the Morning Star, but there is one thing standing in your way: a deadly, life-draining swamp. The only solution to surviving this problem is to purchase some Laurels, initially only available about as far east as you can get without the aid of a tornado. Laurels make Simon temporarily invulnerable, and that is just the right level of vulnerable you need for a purple swamp filled with fire-spewing beasts.

But Laurels come at a cost. In an effort to guarantee Simon is not invincible forever, Laurels are limited items that can only be used a set number of times. You buy two Laurels, you get to be invincible twice. Pretty straightforward! In a similar manner, there are Oak Stakes, purchasable only within haunted mansions, which are essential for unlocking Dracula Part Orbs ™, and are immediately consumable. And, while it may seem like they are wholly optional, bulbs of garlic fall into the same category. Garlic initially presents as simply an offensive item that works similarly to the Holy Water of Castlevania (1), but it also summons random Romani in graveyards to distribute daggers and bags and whatnot. You could get through the whole of CS2 without a single clove of garlic, but it is going to make your life better in more ways than one if you shell out for that veggie.

And, give or take experimenting with garlic in any old graveyard, these one-and-done items are all very situational. You could use a Laurel anywhere, but you probably are going to conserve it for the moment you approach those shining, purple shores. Garlic is rarely necessary for average encounters, so save it for shop summoning or the occasional pizza. And you only ever need one oak stake per mystical orb, so you can stow that away until you need to earn a fingernail. In short, once you have a relative idea of what you are doing, you will never be in a situation where you can potentially “waste” one of these valuable, limited items. Short of whiffing it big on tacking an inanimate circle, you are not going to “accidentally” need another 50 hearts for a replacement anytime soon.

Wish I could say the same about our final category…

Freemium Items

MortThe Silver Knife can be found by properly placing garlic in the graveyard. The Gold Knife can be recovered from a downtrodden Death. And the Sacred Flame is hiding in a dark dungeon, but free for the taking if you gaze with Dracula’s eye. They are freebies! Items of absolute importance (well, maybe the Silver Knife is kind of a waste), and unerringly useful. The Sacred Flame is like an advanced Holy Water that can immolate Freddie the Claw Skeleman without a thought. And the Gold Knife can re-kill Dracula before he even has time to teleport out of his coffin. No wonder Death was hanging onto that blade!

But there is a bit of a drawback to these weapons of Drac destruction: they each cost hearts. Each of these items is free to add to your inventory, but cost a heart per use. And one or two hearts may not be the difference between life and death, but you need as many of those hearts as possible for all the finest upgrades. You need a new Oak Stake in every mansion, and who knows when you are going to have to reup on Laurels? And, if this is your first time venturing through Castlevania (or you just have a terrible memory), you would not know if you needed additional hearts for anything else. That Morning Star cost nearly every heart you could ever have, but is there something better out there? Some armor, maybe? Blue Ring? It worked for Link…

And, if you have not already guessed, this is why I never use the Silver Knife, Gold Knife, or Sacred Flame.

Sure, I may have hearts to spare by the time the final mansions are being raided, but would I ever use a weapon that consumes two whole hearts per use to clear those areas? Certainly not. I might need those hearts for later! Using these freemium items may make my life easier, but what if they are going to make my life worse when I need to grind for more hearts? And Dracula isn’t dead yet! What if I get up to his final chamber, and I run out of hearts!? I would have to engage with actually fighting Dracula the real way, and I simply do not have that kind of time. I would rather make every other part of this game harder than ever even think about wasting my valuable cash on something as trivial as my 10,000th violent skeleton. I’m saving up for that vacation home Simon is never going to use!

Er-hem.

Anyway, Castlevania 2 is apparently why I don’t play mobile games. Thanks for reading.

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

  • What a horrible night to have a swampSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System to start, and then it at least showed up on the recent Castlevania collection for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It was also on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. Sorry, Castlevania 2 does not see as many releases as Mega Man 2.
  • Number of players: Simon is facing this horrible night to have a curse alone.
  • Forever Apart: The various chunks of Dracula could also be considered usable “items”, but every other item save the initial rib is so… not useful. Also, can we take a moment to acknowledge that an official body part of Dracula is his ring? Not a single limb in there, but we somehow need his signet to cross his dumb bridge? And, while we are looking at lugging around bits of the count, is his complete lack of a brain there to account for his generally braindead plans? When you have to rely on the wizard Shaft to get things done, you know you are missing some pieces.
  • Boss Time: Castlevania is a franchise known for its bosses. And, in C2:SQ, there are a whole two of them, and you can walk right past one. Nobody likes you, Death! Camilla and her bloody tears is required, but only on the technicality that she drops the cross item that allows access to Dracula’s ruined castle. At least these jerks respawn for any potential rematches. I would not say no to seeing that in Symphony of the Night…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I played this game so much as a child, I memorized the code that grants all the items. It is complete gibberish, but I can recall this random assortment of letters and numbers immediately. If you ever see me in person, quiz me! I would transcribe it here, but I don’t feel like having Google steal my code for maximum Laurels.
  • I do not talk about musicAn end: Damn is it hard to get the best ending without optimizing dang near everything. Also, is it really worth it? Because it sure does seem like the accompanying text for any given ending does not match what actually happens. And, ya know, there is that whole “Simon dies almost every time” thing. Dude just cannot catch a break.
  • Did you know? According to the Castlevania timeline, Simon killing Dracula, blasting him into literal pieces, reassembling said pieces, and then immolating the count all over again only bought the world fifty years of Dracula-free time. Juste, Simon’s grandson, was the next Belmont to take up the whip chronologically in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. And Juste only had to beat Dracula once to keep Drac chilling until Richter time.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Dammit. It’s a Castlevania game, so I will blow my hard-earned hearts on any version of it that is ever released. Put this sucker on a cell phone with in-app heart purchases, and I’ll buy it, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Aero Fighters 2! Take to the skies! To fight! In flight! Please look forward to it!

I can!

FGC #531 Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

It's getting squishyThey don’t make anti-heroes like they used to.

Literally.

Today’s game is Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. After premiering in Super Mario Land 2 as the main antagonist and only man with the raw chutzpah to steal an entire land out from under Mario’s moustache, Wario returned for his own adventure in the direct sequel. This is fairly significant, because, in almost all other cases with Nintendo characters, it takes forever for prominent villains to get their own adventures. And that’s assuming it ever happens at all! Ganon(dorf) wasn’t playable in a “real” Zelda game until Hyrule Warriors, and the canonicity of that one is dubious at best. Bowser similarly is usually only allowed to costar in spin-off titles, and King Dedede is only ever granted a turn as the hero when his wee nemesis is taking a nap. Other mascot villains don’t fare much better, as our favorite mad scientists didn’t see playable appearances until much later in their careers (Dr. Wily is, of course, represented by his creations in this example. Dude does not want to leave his hoverpod). The opposite numbers for our favorite heroes back in the 90’s were rarely controlled by the player, which was a huge shame, as everybody wants to be the villain. Wario being a playable character so soon after his introduction was unheard of in its time, and it is still a rarity today. Final Fantasy 7 Remake didn’t involve a single playable Sephiroth!

But Wario made the scene in his first “heroic” appearance. Wario wasn’t on a quest to save the princess or liberate some foreign land: he just wanted housing! Wario was homeless after Mario kicked him out of his ill-gotten estate (and what does Mario need a castle for anyway? He’s always away! He’s probably listing it on AirBnB as we speak), so Wario turned his eye to a group of pirates so he could steal their castle. Never mind that the pirates had apparently heisted a building-sized golden statue (!) that Peach had commissioned (!!!), Wario was is in it for the possibility of having a roof over his head. That’s a sympathetic quest, right? A man just wants his own sanctuary, and if a billion little round guys with spears are standing between him and his goals, that’s on them. Wario might not end up with Captain Syrup’s castle in the end (mostly because it exploded), but he does collect a hefty helping of coin over the course of the quest, so he buys his own castle/shack/planet (variable ending!) off a genie. Happy ending for everybody! Wario might be a “bad guy”, but his goals are not so much bad, just a little self-serving. It’s the American dream!

But if you think for even one second that Wario is at all a good guy, well, take a look at this malcontent:

It's Wario time

Wario is established as his own man in a variety of ways. He has Mario’s mad ups, but he also has a downward “butt stomp” that was new for the gamers of 1994. His “fire” isn’t a flower that launches balls, but a dragon hat that functions like a flamethrower. Garlic, not mushrooms, will cause Wario to become super, and his most iconic powerup turns him into something approaching a raging bull. And, whether he’s part bovine or not, Wario doesn’t run, he smashes with a forward shoulder. Wario’s Wario Land appearance is an expert case in modifying “normal” gameplay to still be extremely similar, but just different enough to establish the new protagonist as his own man. When Nintendo did the same again for Princess Peach’s solo outing, the addition of magical umbrella emotions to the Mario formula felt clunky and “gimmicky”, but Wario was a slam dunk right from the starting gate (I am working on understanding sports metaphors).

But none of that matters, because look at this bitch:

It's Wario time

Wario moves and looks like a… well… asshole. Wario is designed to quite literally walk around like he owns the place. Lesser monsters bounce off of him, blocks tremble in his presence, and the ground literally quakes at the force of his unruly ass. Through it all, Wario perpetually gazes out at the player as if to say, “Hey, I’m gonna wreck some shit. Wanna come along?” And that’s the thing: Wario doesn’t say anything. Wario is just as mute as Mario was in his previous adventures, and, long before anyone ever heard about how it was “Wario time”, Wario had to showcase his boundless personality through mime and pixels. The game starts with Wario menacing a pirate duck, and, before the player even smacks start, Wario is out and proud about the fact that he’s a gigantic jerk. Even if you missed Super Mario Land 2, this nimrod with elf shoes establishes himself inside of the opening seconds without so much as uttering a “Hello, stupids”.

And Wario isn’t alone! The pixel pioneers of the 90’s were apparently experts at establishing “this is your protagonist, but he is not a good guy.” It seems like there is a dearth of antiheroes on the pre-FMV consoles, but when you do have a bad guy in a starring role, they’re established pretty damn quick. Want to see another famous walking animation on the Gameboy?

He's a real Firebrand

Firebrand is not a friendly dude, and his jaunty little walk is the signature of a demon that is going to burn down your village. Firebrand is saving his kingdom right now, but if you need a princess kidnaped later, he’ll swoop in when he gets a chance.

And, at the risk of sounding like a nostalgic old man, you just don’t see that kind of instant character formation anymore.

Back in the day, you knew when you were dealing with an anti-hero. What do Wario and Firebrand have in common? They were both enemies first! If you stood in opposition to a brave knight or plumber, you knew you were on Team Bad Guy. Nowadays? Who bloody knows what makes a bad guy. Kratos has a kill count that is literally the population of Ancient Greece (complete with gods!), but his most recent adventure portrays him in a very forgiving light. The criminal stars of Grand Theft Auto participate in the same carnage as your average Lego title, but Trevor has terrible hair, so he’s probably the worst. And it’s telling that at least one franchise was able to hide the fact that you were playing as the main villain all along, the player just didn’t notice due to being so numb to the average amount of slaying inherent to the genre (I’m talking about this game/franchise, for the record). It’s difficult in your average modern videogame to tell whether you’re a playing the part of a vaguely homicidal hero or a villain with a heart of gold. All these heroes and villains are just so good at murdering…

That's one big birdAnd, by and large, this is by design. One way or another, the saintly protagonist of one game is supposed to look like the secret maniac of another tale for all sorts of reasons. Is this a game where the ultimate revelation is that you were the bad guy all along? Or how about you were supposed to be bad, but the plot has proven you were in the right, and it was society that was bad? Or is it just because market research has told us that mostly white guys with dark hair buy videogames? Whatever the root cause, our heroes have become indistinguishable from our antiheroes, and the only thing you can really count on is that the more villainous among us at least are going to make surly comments after encounters.

But is that all we have now? One-liners that are more or less cutting depending on the darkness of the character involved? Even the good guys have goatees, so we can’t judge someone by malevolent facial hair. Gone are the days when a walk would tell you everything you needed to know; you have to complete a 40 hour adventure just to figure out if your protagonist was on the side of the angels or the devils. And don’t even get me started on whether or not the slightest drip of moral ambiguity is going to cause a flood of youtube explanation videos that will list all the ways you’ve been wrong all along. The real villain was the player all along? Gosh, you don’t say. Throw another plank of switcheroo wood on the pile, Shamus, this lumber will keep us warm for another seven winters.

Wario does not know uncertainty. Wario does not have a greater, more benevolent motive. Wario is an asshole. He looks like an asshole. He moves like an asshole. There is no debate: Wario is an asshole, and that’s all he needs to be.

Give us more modern characters like old school Wario. Give us more amusing, unambiguous assholes.

FGC #531 Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

  • System: Gameboy. This one came back on the 3DS Virtual Console, and is well worth a look if that thing is still around.
  • Don't get stabbedNumber of players: Wario needs only his pith helmet on his quest for riches.
  • Big Bad Wario: I want to say Wario Land was the first 2-D platforming game where I was allowed to bump into a weaponless opponent without suffering terrible consequences. Mario can’t so much as get within spitting distance of a goomba without losing his powerups, but Wario bumps around bad(der) guys with ease. Unless Wario is hit by the pointy end of something (which, granted, happens a lot), he is practically invincible compared to his “good” counterpart.
  • Favorite Powerup: Give me Jet Wario or give me death. Incidentally, I was very saddened when I first grabbed a fire hat after having a jet hat, and it didn’t transform into a flying-dragon hat. That was only in the Virtual Boy game! And I liked that!
  • Bizarro World: It’s interesting to compare the map of Wario Land to Super Mario World to see how many similarities there are. Inexplicable giant dome-hills are always nice, and there’s a prerequisite Forest of Illusion waiting before the final areas, too. I wonder if this was an effort to further affirm that Wario, right down to his very “land”, is a funhouse mirror version of Mario… Or if there just weren’t that many great ideas for world maps back in the 90’s. It could go either way.
  • So, did you beat it? Not only did I beat the game, but I apparently earned Wario his own planet. I guess you only have to have all the treasures and clear about 10,000 gold to get the highest reward. And that’s not too hard when you get lucky with the “double your money” chance game after every boss fight. … Or use save states to always get the best result. Yes, I’m cheating, but it’s what Wario would have wanted.
  • Winner!Did you know? Apparently there is an unused scene in the game data for Bobo, the giant vulture boss that rules the roost of the SS Teacup. It seems to showcase Bobo sitting in the woods… and that’s about it. Was Bobo supposed to be more involved in the plot? Was he the big bird of the island that initially appeared to be the main antagonist, but was then replaced by Captain Syrup? Was this the inspiration for Captain Toad’s arch nemesis? The world may never know.
  • Would I play again: This is an excellent game, and possibly one of the best Gameboy games. That said, the Virtual Boy sequel and Wario Land 4 does this basic gameplay better, and the later Wario Gameboy titles are revolutionary in new and exciting ways. Wario Land is great for a long car ride in 1990, but it has been surpassed by its sequels in every way. I’m glad for having playing Wario Land again, but it’s unlikely to happen again while other Warios are around.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crazy Taxi for the Sega Dreamcast! Let’s go for a wild ride! Please look forward to it!

Does this explain lousy AI?

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

BLOCKS!My fiancée will tell you quite loudly and clearly that she does not play videogames. My fiancée is also a liar. She plays videogames. She just doesn’t play “videogames” as she thinks the world defines them. She plays Candy Crush. She plays some other game that looks exactly the same, but involves farm animals. I think there’s another one with soda. She plays these games constantly, whether we’re sitting watching a movie or traveling to the wilds of Canada. And Pokémon Go! When it’s raining, she will get in the car, and drive around the neighborhood for hours looking to find a shiny or conquer a local gym. If this were a MMORPG, she’d be sitting at a computer for hours, but since her chosen raids are partially based in the real world, she’s not really playing a videogame, you understand. I proposed to her with a friggen’ Pokéball, for crying out loud!

Sparkles

But, no, she doesn’t play videogames. Yes, I completely understand that compared to my gaming habits, she doesn’t “play videogames” (she doesn’t even have a videogame blog! Can you imagine?), but to claim that she doesn’t play videogames at all seems… disingenuous. She doesn’t play the same kind of videogames that are traditionally covered on this blog, but she absolutely plays videogames. And, what’s more, these are not simple, even-your-grandma-can-play games. She routinely plays games that involve experience points, rationed continues, and complex resource management. There’s no judgment against supposed “casuals” here, videogames are videogames, and whether or not a Pikachu or some manner of sentient fruit is involved is inconsequential.

Blocks!One videogame my fiancée plays is Tetris. According to her own words, it is her favorite videogame (which, reminder, is something she doesn’t play). She’s been playing it for years, and notes that during some of the less hectic times in her life, she played quite a lot of it. She’s good at it. I can say with firsthand knowledge that she kicks ass at Tetris, and I have the recorded play sessions from Tetris Effect to prove it.

And, given I believe this is the first I’ve ever mentioned my fiancée on this blog, I feel I should note something else: she’s a bit of a… let’s say… completionist. She pathologically cannot deal with leaving tasks unfinished, and her Type A personality compels her to complete goals to the best of her ability, earn an A on that math test, and then win the big football game because she spiked the final 3-pointer (she tells me she also understands sports better than I do). She deals poorly with losing for any reason in any way, and, officer, I assure you this black eye of mine is from walking into a doorknob, and certainly not because the dear love of my life threw a chair at me when I caught a rare Pokémon before her. As a result of this personality quirk that she honestly and wholly admits is an issue, we don’t often play competitive games together. Even if I win, I lose, so let’s play some games where we either cooperate or work in parallel. It’s better for our collective mental health.

So I really should have known better than to suggest we play Puyo Puyo Tetris for crossover week (“week”). I should have used my good eye to foresee the inevitable.

WeeeeeFor those of you unfamiliar with the title, Puyo Puyo Tetris is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a puzzle game that combines Puyo Puyo and Tetris. For those of you unfamiliar with Puyo Puyo, it’s a color-block matching game that has visited America in various disguises over the years. For those of you unfamiliar with Tetris, welcome to Earth, and I hope you enjoy your stay on our humble planet. In both cases, we’re dealing with games where objects fall infinitely from the sky, and you must carefully manage these bits and pieces so they “clear” and your play area is not filled with so much useless junk. And this version of these respective games is predominantly based on the concept of multiplayer, so you also have to deal with offensive “junk blocks” that are generated by your opponent doing well. It’s not enough to play the game with skill, you also have to be wary of your rival playing the game with that same skill, but faster.

But just because both games are involved, don’t think they don’t completely interact. Back in the Super Nintendo days, we had Tetris & Dr. Mario, but that title was little more than an excuse to tape two Gameboy games together and sell the package for $70. Tetris and Dr. Mario intermingled about as much as Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 in Super Mario All-Stars. Puyo Puyo Tetris is another story. You can play head-to-head Puyo Puyo or head-to-head Tetris, but you can also play Puyo Puyo while your opponent picks up a game of Tetris. And it’s not simply “parallel play”, a properly completed Tetris can send junk sailing over to your Puyopponent. And it doesn’t stop there! There are other “versus” modes available that involve both games, like a puzzle speed run mode (called Big Bang Mode because “puzzle mode” sounds like a punishment), or another option where the game rapidly alternates between Puyo Puyo and Tetris boards. There’s even a mode that combines Tetris and Puyo Puyo into one focused game that adopts blocks and puyos from both franchises.

I think it was that mode in particular that caused my fiancée to start shouting expletives I cannot repeat on this blog.

I have no ideaLook, Tetris and Puyo Puyo being played in a sort of parallel is one thing, but outright combining the gameplay of both into one complete board is borderline crazy. The benefit of both of these games is that, individually, there isn’t much that has to be learned or understood to get going. Yes, there are complicated techniques involving starting combos or focused spinning or whatever in both games, but they’re both superficially very straightforward. Match the colors, line up the blocks. Empty spaces bad, alternating colors bad. The end. The best puzzle games are instantly understandable, and both Tetris and Puyo Puyo fit that bill. This is literally the reason your grandpa wanted a Gameboy. But Tetris + Puyo Puyo is confusing. Clearing a line requires using Tetris blocks, while popping puyos require puyo bubbles, and you don’t always have access to either kind of block. What’s worse, there are some moves that don’t seem to have obvious consequences, like how squishing some puyo bubbles with tetris blocks looks like you’re clearing out the clutter, but the bubbles will respawn and fall shortly thereafter. It’s something that happens every time, but it’s not immediate or often enough for a player to quickly distinguish whether these “junk blocks” are the result of something done by the player or their opponent. It creates a sort of “stress” that is not the traditional “things are getting heated because the board is filling up” stress, but more of an “I have no idea why things are happening or how I can make it better” stress. And it occurred to me that this stress could be very traumatic for some people right around when I won a match and my dear fiancée hit me with a folding chair. She is normally so respectful of the furniture!

And this might just be the pain meds talking, but there’s a certain… beauty in this crossover chaos.

What?Tetris x Puyo Puyo loses something. It loses its simplicity, and, with that, it loses its immediate and obvious accessibility. It loses an “easiness” that has been comfortable for decades. But it gains something in exchange. It is more complicated, but that complication adds nuance and techniques that would otherwise be completely absent from the experience. It adds a whole new dimension that was never there before, and would be completely impossible to so much as touch in the normal, base games. I have played a lot of Tetris games over the years, but they’ve always been constrained by being… Tetris. Adding Puyo Puyo to Tetris creates a whole new world of possibilities, and, while it does take some time to learn, it is an actual new experience. Tetris Effect, you’re great, but this is a genuinely, wholly fresh experience, and it’s satisfying to shift over to such a change once in a lifetime.

Tetris loses a little bit of itself. Puyo Puyo loses a little bit of itself. But what is gained, the final gestalt of the merging of these two things, that is greater than the two original items. Sometimes it’s hard to learn the ins and outs of this new…. thing, but it’s worth it. Both games are better for having crossed over.

Oh, anyway, did I mention I’m engaged?

She sparkles

I did? Yeah, there might be a metaphor here.

I love you, honey, and I’m looking forward to our crossover continuing.

Now… uh… could you put down that tire iron? I promise I was only kidding about playing Mario Kart…

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

  • System: My understanding is that this is available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Steam. However, there are also versions available in Japan (from 2014!) for Xbox One, 3DS, Wii U, Playstation Vita, and Playstation 3. This game is more traveled than I thought!
  • Number of players: Four player split screen action! Online modes available, too! It’s all very crazy and/or fun!
  • Favorite Mode: It’s the Puyo Puyo x Tetris mode. Did you get that from the article? I like new things right now. That may change in the near future.
  • But seriously folks: My dear fiancée is not physically violent. If you are in a relationship with someone that abuses you, physically or mentally, and you don’t have any options, please seek help. There are many highly trained counselors and nonprofit organizations out there that can help you, even in our current, nebulous existence. And I am not saying this because someone is holding a frying pan to my head.
  • Let's go!How about that Story Mode: Is this what it’s like for other people playing Kingdom Hearts? There are just all these weird anime characters with silly hair running around and shouting at each other for level after level, and, eventually, it is revealed this is all because “god” is angry and lonely and might need a hug. Or to play Tetris. And then the universe is saved thanks to a robot that sounds like a Pokémon.
  • Did you know? This is the first American release of a straight Puyo Puyo title since Puyo Pop Fever in 2004. Everybody counts the years between Metroid releases as some sign as to whether or not the franchise is dead, but nobody gives a damn about when Puyos haven’t been seen for a decade….
  • Would I play again: Just as soon as the swelling goes down, I think we could try playing this one again. I am going to have to find some manner of anchor to confirm the Switch isn’t tossed across the room, though.

What’s next? Enough with the mushy stuff! Our final crossover title is going to be the best crossover game released in the last decade. Please look forward to it!

WINNER

FGC #488 Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I can hear this GIFLet’s talk about when gameplay storytelling succeeds and fails.

Give or take a title screen or maybe a level select menu, there are practically zero words in Sonic the Hedgehog (1) regarding anything but the eponymous mammal and his clearing of a zone or two. But we still learned everything we needed to know about Sonic from the moment-to-moment of his first adventure. He’s fast. He’s brave. He squashes his nefarious opponents with the greatest of ease. And, while you could ascribe these same traits to any ol’ videogame hero, we also know what sets Sonic apart. He’s got attitude! Mario would be happy with being the player’s best friend. Mega Man is an unfeeling, occasionally blinking robot. Pit is having a really tough time of it. But Sonic? Sonic really would like you to move fast, player. He doesn’t have any authority over his own body for the duration of this game, and you could ram him straight into the closest badnik if you’d like, but… could we hurry this thing up? This erinaceid has got places to be.

Gotta stay in place fast

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has much the same script as Sonic the Hedgehog 1. There are some zones, an egg-shaped dude who likes robots perhaps a little too much, and one shining hero that is here to save the day. Oh, wait, my bad: there are two heroes! Sonic the Hedgehog 2 introduced Miles “Tails” Prower, and he’ll be assisting Sonic on this adventure. And what’s Tails like? Well, according to his debut game, Tails is a complete moron.

Let’s look at the evidence. Tails is, while participating as the second player, invincible. It has been mentioned before that this was and still is a revelation for cooperative platforming gaming. A little over twenty years before Nintendo figured out invulnerable Nabbit might be a fun way for Little Timmy to participate, Sonic the Hedgehog was blazing through levels with a buddy that could not be stopped by literally anything. Tails might fall victim to spikes, a bottomless pit, or the occasional squishing block, but he’s back literally seconds later to help Sonic all over again. The second player is never a burden upon the likely more experienced first player, and, give or take occasionally bonking a baddie at the wrong time, literally all a second player/Tails can do is help. A second player could enjoy a breezy, low-impact experience throughout Sonic 2, and help player one along the way.

Stay bossyLet’sHowever, in a way, this deviation from the norm seemed downright wrong in 1992. Being “less” as the second player, the mere sidekick to player one’s hero, seemed to justify all the punches thrown over who “has to be” Luigi back in the Super Mario Bros. days. What’s more, in a decision that still seems maddening today, Tails wasn’t even allowed to participate in the final levels. Hey, Sega, I’ve got an idea! Let’s promote this cool, accommodating new feature in the Sonic the Hedgehog mythos, and then not even allow it for the final, most difficult levels! That sounds wonderful! And, even if you’re not worried about sitting out the finale, playing as Tails means knowing you’re not steering the ship: the scroll of the level and the reactions of the baddies are always going to be firmly pivoting around the irreplaceable Sonic. Playing as Tails might be fun for a toddler or a mate that isn’t interested in paying attention, but there’s nothing empowering about Tails. It’s easy to consider yourself an afterthought when Sonic is constantly leaving you far behind.

And, unfortunately, single player mode portrays Tails in a similar light. It is wonderful that Sonic has a buddy, and said buddy doesn’t immediately turn the entire game into an escort mission. Anyone that has ever played an adventure-RPG knows that, given the chance, the AI can and will drain all your precious resources as Goofy downs the last ether. In short, Tails could be a burden, but he continues to be helpful… assuming you wait around for him. Tails is prone to losing time to traps and tribulations, and there is essentially zero reason Sonic would ever wait for his partner to recover while the clock is still ticking. Tails might be generally helpful here and there, but you’re never given a reason to really care whether Tails lives or dies.

Except when you want him to die.

Let's roll!

Like right here.

Everyone that has ever played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 knows what they’re seeing. Sonic and Tails collect rings to earn the precious Chaos Emeralds, and the only way they’re going to receive those gems is through grabbing every last ring they can find. And when Tails grabs a ring, that’s great, but Tails also can’t dodge a bomb for his furry little life. Tails can and will run straight into mines one after another, and, whether Sonic deftly leaps around the stage or not, Tails is still going to bleed rings like a jewelry store having a going out of business sale. While it’s clear that AI Tails is following the player’s lead on movements, he’s not following those movements nearly fast enough, so Tails is lagging behind. Tails is too slow for this special stage, and he’s bringing Sonic down as a result.

Red?And what does it mean when a character is continually being tripped by traps, falling behind the leader, and costing Sonic valuable rings due to slow reactions? It means Tails is slow. Tails is stupid.

(And don’t try to tell me Tails is a genius because he flies a plane in one level. That’s a standard videogame trope. The boys from Contra can steer a tank with ease, and those nimrods can’t even figure out basic shirt technology.)

Later games portrayed Tails not only as intelligent, but as a downright genius. Sonic Adventure 2 firmly placed Tails as the equal, benevolent balance to the evil genius of Dr. Eggman, but earlier Game Gear titles already portrayed Tails as an ingenious lil’ dude with access to a number of gadgets. Sonic has his speed, Tails has his smarts. But in the maiden voyage of Tails? Tails is a nitwit. And when Tails returned for Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, he didn’t fare better at all. He’s 33% of the playable cast, but he’s the one dummy who can’t figure out how to gain hyper emerald powers. And later games portray Knuckles as the “all brawn and no brains” protagonist of the franchise, but that’s only because he got tricked by Robotnik a time or two (or six). But I don’t see Tails escaping from Knuckles’ frequent traps. Tails! Why are you falling down one of Knuckles’ pitfalls? You can fly! We would have never had to suffer through the Hydrocity Pronunciation Wars if you could have remembered to literally get your ass in gear! Use your brain, dullard!

What just happened?So here’s the sad truth of Sonic the Hedgehog 2: after immediately and successfully establishing Sonic’s status quo with nary a word in Sonic the Hedgehog (1), StH2 dropped the ball completely with Tails. Later games would have to tell us Tails was smart, but those who remember his debut will never forget the tagalong that didn’t have enough IQ points to get out of the way of a bomb.

Tails could have at least had one idle animation where he does math homework…

FGC #488 Sonic the Hedgehog 2

  • System: Much like Mega Man 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is now available for every system that has ever existed, save the Nintendo 64. Okay, maybe Sonic is not as prolific as Mega Man, but he’s at least available on the Switch.
  • Number of players: If you don’t know the answer to this, you’re dumber than Tails.
  • Speaking of Special Stages: I hates them. I hates them so bad. Why are they so difficult? Why do they require pinpoint accuracy? Why in blazes did anyone think it was a good idea for them to wipe out your ring cache after every attempt? And why the hell has the stupid opening fanfare of the bonus stage theme been stuck in my head for twenty years!?
  • And speaking of hate: The final boss can go to hell. There. I said it. Can we move on to things I enjoy, yet?
  • Seriously?!?Wanna talk about how you manage to get three eggmen every time you ever try the slots in Casino Night Zone? Nope. Moving on!
  • Favorite Zone: Now we’re getting somewhere! Mystic Cave Zone has music that really slaps, and it has a lovely aesthetic to boot. I’m ambivalent about murderous lightning bugs, and the spike pit is rather unpleasant, and I could live without those hanging switches… Did I mention the music was great? Because the music is great.
  • Super Sonic Racing: This was the first game to feature Super Sonic. And he completely breaks everything in the game in every conceivable way, occasionally even glitching out and completely breaking himself. And that’s just fine, because no one is ever going to complete those bonus stages without save states anyway.
  • Did you know? Apparently Sonic the Hedgehog 2 takes place on “West Side Island”. We have no idea where West Side Island is on the Moebius world map, but I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s somewhere in the east.
  • Would I play again: This is not my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game (which more deliberately includes Knuckles), so I’m not itching for more Sonic 2 trouble in the near future. It’s a great game! But I feel it is less fun than 3 or Mania, so it might be another decade before I return to the Oil Ocean.

What’s next? Random ROB is closing out this two for twofer with… Breath of Fire 2! Join the second best Ryu from Capcom on a quest to slay the second best Jesus. Please look forward to it!

Respect?