Tag Archives: action

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

Dante!What’s so wrong with taking a hit?

Today’s title is Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, featuring the titular Dante. The creation of the original Devil May Cry is a long and complicated story that involves what was originally intended to be Resident Evil 4 gradually evolving and leaving the world of “realistic survival horror” and drifting straight into “a dude with a sword menaces skeletons”. Play Devil May Cry next to Resident Evil 2 or RE: Code Veronica and you might see some similarities between the gameplay of the titles, but there is a bit of a difference between the two plots and situations. Resident Evil is the story of fragile humans desperately trying to survive in a situation where science has gone mad and turned an entire mansion and/or city into a death trap, while Devil May Cry features a one-man army beating back the legions of (literally) Hell. Basically, this means that Chris Redfield has to fight for his life when encountering a herd of zombies, while Dante would have that Raccoon City incident wrapped up inside of a level or two.

And, according to production documents regarding what would eventually become Devil May Cry, “Dante” was always going to be a big damn superhero. The original idea for Resident Evil 4 was to make an action game that was “very cool”. The hero was going to be “Tony”, a man enhanced with biotechnology to the point that he was super smart and super cool and all the ladies thought he was the bomb diggity and the coffee barista always got his name right because he was so dreamy. Also, notably, Tony was supposed to be “invincible”. Obviously, invincible doesn’t play well with a game having any sort of difficulty, so this description of Tony’s abilities was likely just an exaggeration of his general durability compared to the average Jill Sandwich. Or maybe it was always the intention that Tony-to-be-Dante could take a significant amount of damage, as, by the time Devil May Cry 3 was starting, we had a hero that could do this…


That’s Dante attempting to eat a pizza, but unfortunately being interrupted by the forces of Hell driving a few scythes into his abdomen. Dante is unfazed. He’s still walking. And he’s still going to kick every last living sin’s ass. And who cares if there’s a blade or two stuck in his leg? He’s half demon, dammit, he knows how to take a hit and still be cool. As long as nobody steps on his pizza, this is barely an inconvenience for our “invincible” protagonist.

And then the game actually starts, and Dante dies in about six hits.

Let's playIn the grand scheme of things, Dante is a pretty resilient guy. Over the course of Devil May Cry 3, Dante has the misfortunate of being hit by demonic blades, a charging, flaming stallion, and even the occasional rocket launcher (wait, are you hit by a rocket launcher, or just the rocket? I never thought I would have to know the answer to this question…). He can survive damage from all these traditionally lethal items presumably thanks to his resilient birthright… but he can’t survive much. I know I would be dead after one cutting combo from a succubus, so I really shouldn’t be judging, but Dante can really only endure three or so intense attacks with his default life gauge (and, even with upgrades, he ain’t exactly Superman). It’s reverse Final Fantasy-syndrome! He’s invincible through cutscenes, but during the actual action, Dante must die.

And how fragile is Dante? Well, he’s so delicate that Capcom saw fit to release an entire “Special Edition” of DMC3 that “corrected” how quickly Dante dies.

Well, actually, Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition doesn’t do anything for Dante’s vulnerability. He’s still not actually going to survive that many scythes to the gut. But, when he does die, Dante gets better thanks to much more frequent checkpoints. And that’s important! Even if you’ve mastered the general mook patterns by chapter 3, you’ve still got another fifteen or so bosses that cap nearly every level with unique patterns and attacks. And how are you supposed to know how Vergil Version Two is going to kick your ass when you’re encountering that opponent for the first time? Either you’re memorizing a strategy guide/FAQ, or Dante’s gentle ass is going to get beat, and you’ll have to repeat the entire level. And what’s the fun in that? Echoing challenges you already beat because the final confrontation is complicated and unexpected? Boss fights are supposed to be interesting! And challenging! But not immediately identifying a boss’s weakness should not be an excuse to send you back to the start, particularly when Dante can go down after a mere handful of misses. DMC3: SE corrected this abhorrent mistake found in the original edition, and you only had to buy an entirely new edition of the game to enjoy such a thing. Ah, the heady days before DLC.

That could have hurtBut whether you’re playing the special edition or not, DMC3 is constantly judging you for taking any damage. Literally! Like many games of the era, DMC3 evaluates your performance at all times. You’re expected to juggle multiple enemies and gain bonus points for SSStylish!!! combos, and obviously you’re supposed to grab every last pickup you can find, but a significant part of your rank is based on damage taken and number of items used (and the main reason you’d use an item would be to recover health, so they may as well be the same thing). So even if you survive every last onslaught and never see a dead Dante, the game will go out of its way to criticize your performance for not being completely immaculate. And your combo counter resets after an opponent’s tap, too. Want that S-Rank? Well, then Dante must dodge every assault from the bottom of the tower to the top. Good luck!

And it’s easy to see how this kind of thinking led to its logical endpoint: Bayonetta. Bayonetta was not conceived as an invincible bioweapon of a human, she actually is immaculate. Her entire personality is based on the concept that no man, woman, or angel touches her unless she wants to be touched, and her gameplay follows suit. She can’t so much as open a door without dodging lightning, so it makes perfect sense that you would be judged for not properly “being” Bayonetta and taking a hit or two while controlling the bullet witch. She personifies the S rank that players are trying to achieve, and it’s practically written into her DNA (or at least her playstyle in Smash Bros).

But Dante isn’t Bayonetta. Dante is a meathead that can’t figure out what to name his business until some lady says the corniest line in history. Dante is a dumbass that saves the whole of humanity almost entirely because his brother dared to steal some jewelry. Dante goes to the Gates of Hell, and he didn’t even think to pack a shirt! This is not a guy that thinks too hard about dodging attacks that are beneath him. This is a Big McLargehuge that can soak a few bullets, knows it, and changes nothing about his lifestyle save confirming his aftershave doesn’t distinctly remind him of gunfire. Or maybe he markedly goes for that smoky scent? Regardless! Dante is a man who knows that he can take a hit or two, but his gameplay punishes you for daring to live Dante’s life like Dante. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff! Like a knife in his back! If it’s a small knife!

OuchAnd, ultimately, what would be the harm in playing a game where you are Superman? This isn’t to say you should be invulnerable at all times in all games, but what would be the issue with offering a “Dante must have a fun time” mode to compliment the seven different variations on hard mode offered in your average action game? And this isn’t a proposal for your basic “easy mode”, this is a distinct mode where you’re ranked on how many stitches Dante is going to need at the end of a stage, and rewarded for it. Do you know how many tears you put in that snazzy red coat? Cool! Now you’re living life like an unkillable half-a-demon! Sssmokin’ (bullet holes)!

So what’s so bad about taking a hit? Nothing. Nothing at all, particularly when you’re playing as a hero that spends half the game getting slashed in the face (okay, maybe not the face, that’s his moneymaker). Not every protagonist needs to be Bayonetta. Let a few heroes take their lumps, and let the player be empowered by steering an “invincible” lead.

Or, barring that, at least let Dante walk around with a scythe in his knee. It adds character.

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

  • System: I may have purchased this game entirely too many times. Just within my own collection, I can count two versions for the Playstation 2, one collection on the Playstation 3 (but also on Xbox 360), and now the Switch version. At least I didn’t pick it up on the PC!
  • GrossNumber of players: Two in very specific areas! Like, there’s that one boss fight, or that fighting style that is earned about 75% of the way through the game. And now the Switch version allows for two players in its endless challenge mode.
  • Favorite Weapon: I’m normally a swords guy (or at least a guy that enjoys some Beowulf punching and kicking), but I’m partial to the Spiral rifle for this adventure. It packs a punch, and I have literally no idea where Dante is storing that gigantic gun when it’s not in use. His coat might be long, but it’s not a anti-tank rifle long.
  • Favorite Level: The Belly of Leviathan is about the only time that Dante gets to get out of that musty old tower until the absolute finale, so that’s going to be my pick. I love that Temen-ni-gru has this wonderful sense of place that resonates with later areas when it gets wrecked or starts rotating around like some kind of Castle Dracula, but… it gets old. Give me Dante and the whale any day.
  • How about that retconning: Vergil being made into a legitimate character and not just a sentient pile of spooky armor was the best thing that ever happened to this franchise. And the fact that Verg is a complete dick, but a different kind of dick from Dante, is just a nice bonus.
  • Boss Rush: I normally enjoy a good boss rush, and I certainly enjoy a boss rush that allows you to choose which bosses to challenge all over again (and avoiding that damn Nevan battle is icing on the cake), but, that said, I have no idea why the doppelganger battle reappears immediately after headlining a stage. It wasn’t that difficult of a battle in the first place! Why is there an abrupt repeat? It’s reeks of filler.
  • I wanna rockA Sign of the Times: It’s kind of interesting to look at this game as an obvious middle point between Resident Evil and Bayonetta. There are a number of clear “Resident Evil camera angles” here and there across the tower, and some of the weirder gate/key puzzles seem like they would be much more at home in Raccoon City. But there is also an inordinate amount of emphasis placed on combat style, and some cinema scenes that were just itching to become QTEs appropriate to the Bayonetta universe. It might not be the same creators distinctly involved across the franchises, but it seems like playing Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 3, and Bayonetta in order would give a good idea of game evolution across systems.
  • Did you know? Hideki Kamiya, the original director of Devil May Cry and the man who also directed Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Bayonetta, did not direct Devil May Cry 3. But he did advise on Dante’s general personality and origins before scooting over to PlatinumGames. So, just so we’re clear, Dante was always intended to be a meathead. His daddy said so.
  • Would I play again: I always run out of steam by the time I unlock Vergil, and always intend to come back to his complete mode… but it hasn’t happened yet. I just keep buying new versions of Devil May Cry 3! So I guess I’ll play it again from scratch when we get the Playstation 5…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crossover time! For the next three weeks (or six entries, whatever comes first), we’re going to look at games in the “crossover” genre. Our first game? It’ll be the granddaddy of all crossovers. Please look forward to it!


FGC #146 X-Kaliber 2097

Dang mutantsGuys? Guys? Alright, guys, today I’m going to talk about the single raddest videogame on the Super Nintendo: X-Kaliber 2097. Now I know a lot of people have a problem with videogame stories: they think they’re dumb, stupid, or just dopey. And, yeah, I get that, right? Like, Mario is clearly for big babies (Bowser doesn’t even talk), and even Zelda is bogged down with fairies and other lame stuff. But, dude, let me tell you, X-Kaliber 2097 has the best story ever.

So it’s the future, right? 2097 AD, specifically (it’s right there in the title, duh). And everyone is living in fear. People work all day and night, and don’t even go to parks! This is all because a big evil dude named Raptor (like the dinosaur) has taken over the world. Raptor is strong, and he has a super powerful sword that can kill anybody. Anybody! He’s also super rich, so he’s bribed all the cops and other good guys. So everyone is stuck toiling away, while Raptor rules the world with his super sword.

Damn you, KaneBut there’s still hope! There are two people that Raptor couldn’t buy off: Slash and Alix. Alix is just the girl, so nobody cares about her, but Slash is a cool guy. Slash has a magic sword of his own, X-Kaliber, and he can totally cut robots and mutants in half with it. So Raptor is totally afraid of Slash, because he can’t bribe him and his sword is just as strong as his. Even Kane, Raptor’s best friend, is like “Oh no, Raptor, he has a sword that is strong like yours!” So Raptor comes up with a plan: he’ll kidnap Alix, and force Slash to surrender. But Slash isn’t a chump! Slash decides he’s going to fight to get Alix back, and never give up! Slash is gonna X-Kaliber every bad guy in 2097!

But there are a lot of bad guys! See, Raptor has an entire army of robots and mutants, and they’re all running around and riding motorcycles and turning into balls and stuff. Slash is amazing, but he’s not invincible (unless you use a code), so you have to cut up barrels and stuff to find Coke, hamburgers, and ribs to restore health. And every level has a midboss, too, usually some kind of mutant, like a dude that can puke acid, or another dude that can turn into sewer water (ew). But the important guys are the bosses, as they’re the ones that really tell the story.

JerkThe first boss is Tattoo. Tattoo is like… like you know Blanka from Street Fighter? Okay, so take Blanka, but make him a total badass, like, he stands up straight and has a giant sword from Aladdin. Then you’ve got Tattoo. Except Tattoo is even cooler than Blanka, because he has a big rose tattoo on his chest, and when he flexes, he can shoot a giant thorn whip out of his tattoo. It’s so awesome! He’s got a living tattoo! He’s the first boss, so he isn’t too hard, but he could totally carry his own movie.

The next level features Chainsaw. When you first see chainsaw, you’re all confused, because he has a giant gun, not a chainsaw, so what’s the deal? But then when you hit him a bunch of times, his face starts to fall off, and holy crap, Chainsaw is a Terminator! He’s all metal and everything! And then when he drops his gun, his right arm turns out to be a chainsaw. See? Buzz buzzThere are layers. Chainsaw’s chainsaw arm is no match for X-Kaliber, though, so he dies pretty quick. Hasta la vista, baby.

After a really annoying construction site level, Kane is the next boss. Like I said before, Kane is Raptor’s number one guy, and he looks like a typical mobster. Kane’s weapon is a cane he uses like a sword, but, come on, there’s no way a cane can fight the strongest sword in the world. Kane also has the power to throw his bowler hat like a boomerang, which is pretty original, but, really, hats and canes aren’t going to stop Slash. He’s the strongest one there is!

So Slash goes through the sewers and finds Raptor’s secret mutant making factory. All these mutants are being made by Dr. Blast, an evil scientist. Dr. Blast tries to fight Slash, but he can’t win, because he’s a simple nerd, what’s he supposed to do? But guess what? Dr. Blast drinks a magic science potion, and he turns into a giant Buggyscorpion/fly/mosquito creature that can shoot acid everywhere. This fight is really hard, because he’s one of those armored bugs, but Slash wins anyway. After the fight, Slash is all, “I should have brought bug spray.” He also talks about how Dr. Blast couldn’t have made all these mutants, so what’s going on?

So he goes right to Raptor’s mansion to get some answers and rescue Alix. Raptor finally shows up to fight at the end of the mansion, and he reveals that’s he’s Slash’s brother. Oh my gosh! The big bad guy and the good guy are brothers! Then they fight, because they both have super swords, and they have to know who has the best super sword. Slash wins, because X-Kaliber is the best sword of King Arther, and Raptor dies.

JerkBut it’s not over yet! It turns out all the mutants and robots and stuff didn’t come from Dr. Blast, it all came from a giant alien monster named Krux. Krux is an alien mobster that was just using Raptor as a front, and now Krux has stolen Alix! Looks like X-Kaliber isn’t getting retired yet!

So Slash goes to the alien dimension, and finds Spuke, Krux’s lieutenant. Spuke is a scary clown, and you can tell he’s bad, because his name is a combination of “spew” and “puke”. He spits acid, too, and flies around the screen rolled up in a ball, like Blanka (but not Tattoo). But Spuke doesn’t even have a weapon, so he’s diced clown parts thanks to Slash.

ALIENSFinally, Slash fights Krux, who is starting to merge with Alix. But Slash knows what he’s doing, and aims just right, and fights Krux until Krux dies. In the end, the aliens are banished, Alix is saved, and Slash saves the world. Now everyone can go out and play, and don’t have to work anymore.

In conclusion, X-Kaliber 2097 is the greatest game ever made.

FGC #146 X-Kaliber 2097

  • System: Super Nintendo, the most super of all systems.
  • Number of players: Oh yeah, there’s a two player fighting mode. All the bosses I mentioned? You can play as them, and fight like it’s Street Fighter. That is really cool, and it lets you use all the cool boss moves, like Dr. Blast’s flying acid attacks.
  • Favorite Boss: Chainsaw is a terminator! He gets an awesome gun, and then a chainsaw! Those are the best weapons!
  • Just play the gig, man: The band Psykosonik provided the soundtrack for this game. Know what other soundtrack they’re on? Mortal Kombat (the movie). That means they’re totally cool, even if I’ve never heard of ‘em.
  • Localization: This game is called Sword Maniac in Japan, and all the characters have totally different names. Like Tattoo? In Japan, his name is Tattoo Man. That’s just so weird.
  • This worksCode Junkies: There’s a code to make Slash totally invincible, and another code to select any level. I don’t think you should cheat in a game like this (you should experience it how it was meant to be played), but if you’re no good at video games, that invincible code will let you experience this amazing story without need mad skillz.
  • Did you know? Slash is a master swordsman, so when he cuts upwards, things get cut in half vertically, and when he swings his sword sideways, things get cut horizontally. It’s just another way this game is totally realistic.
  • Would I play again: Man, I don’t know if I can play this game again. Like, it’s totally awesome, but I want to remember it just as is, you know? Too much of a good thing and all that.

What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Prime Pinball for the Nintendo DS! Are you ready to rumble with a big ball of Samus? You better be! Please look forward to it!

FGC #145 Bayonetta

So coolThis old man has a complaint: why does everything have to be cool?

Today’s game is Bayonetta. Do I need to explain Bayonetta at all? Since its release six years ago (and even before), Bayonetta has been the subject of a lot of videogame news coverage. Good news: this isn’t a Time Killers or Hatred situation, Bayonetta is, from an objective perspective, a good game. It’s a Platinum action/beat ‘em up game, which means good things for anyone that enjoys a lot of action. Need to unlock a door? A key is boring, how about throwing the doors wide by dodging a bolt a lightning. It worked for the titular Bayonetta, and it worked for some truck robots a few years later. And it’s not just about squeezing excitement out of a game’s every pore, Platinum games are all about careful, deliberate challenges that start small and scale to extreme levels. Whether you’re summoning a hair monster or revengencing yourself upon your enemies, Platinum generally knows how to show the player a good time.

The bad news, though, is that Bayonetta got a lot of attention for its… let’s say questionable aesthetic. According to the head honcho of Bayonetta’s development, everyone’s favorite pop sucker was designed every step of the way with “sexiness” in mind. Her gun-heels, magic hair, and general personality type were all designed to titillate. Personally, I find this idea fairly ridiculous, as I believe it was Sharkespeare that said “I know sexiness only when it swims up and bites me on the ass.” In other words, sexiness is interpreted by the audience, and Bayonetta fits a very narrow interpretation of seduction. Personally, I didn’t even think about it until the game has these two standing next to each other…

The girls

… And I realized that maybe Bayonetta isn’t even completely shaped like a human. We’re not quite in the realm of Liefieldian anatomy yet, but we’re still hovering somewhere around “what is wrong with that woman?” Sorry, I know it’s a personal hang-up, but I demand my objects of desire actually look like humans. So, yes, pose and preen all you want, witch, I’m still seeing a woman about as desirable as a Gardevoir.

But that’s the thing about this whole debate: Bayonetta is a divisive character because she’s so stylistically unique. Whether you think she is a “sexy” character, an empowering character, or an object to be ogled, she was basically designed to be everything, so your reading is equally valid. Yes, she’s an objectified heroine, but she also kicks a metric ton of ass through brains and brawn, so she’s a fine role-model. … I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s all up to your interpretation, and if someone disagrees with that, fine, that’s how opinions work.

But there is one thing Bayonetta absolutely is. She may or may not be sexy. She may or may not be objectified. She may or may not even be remotely realistic. All of that is up for debate. But there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty.

Bayonetta is cool.

And, honestly? I’m tired of cool. Videogames shouldn’t overwhelmingly feature cool characters.

Even the shops are cool!Now, to be clear, this isn’t some old nerd ranting about the days when he used to get transformed into an eggplant and like it, dammit; no, this is about how videogames work. Have you played Bayonetta? When you first started, were you any good at it? Did you score an S rank on every battle, or were you limping along with a sliver of health? Bayonetta’s gameplay is all about dodging, so how good were you at dodging angel monsters and giants (and giant monsters) you had never seen before? Yes, you might be an S-class angel slayer now, but I’m going to guess you weren’t when you first picked up the controller. You got better at Bayonetta, and, technically, Bayonetta herself got better with you.

Except… from level one (even before that if we’re including cutscenes and prologues) Bayonetta was already cool. She was already harvesting the hosts of Heaven and dropping pithy one-liners with or without your help. If anything, you playing as Bayonetta made her less cool. Way to go, poindexter.

I maintain that Mega Man X is the ur-videogame, because the titular X grows exactly in pace with the player. X gains abilities as “you” find upgrades (and learn to explore the stages), defeat bosses (and learn their patterns/weaknesses), and maybe even acquire a hadouken Totally rad(and learn to read Nintendo Power). This is perfectly mirrored in the plot, as old, “outdated” X must be rescued by cool Zero during the opening stages (when you’re absolutely more likely to be running low on health while getting acquainted with the controls anyway), but is able to avenge and triumph where Zero fails much later during the final siege. Mega Man X doesn’t start cool, but he gets there, and eventually surpasses the game’s own definition of cool (who, in retrospect, I guess is kind of a zero).

But modern (predominantly Western) videogame character design wants to skip to the end from the first moment. Bayonetta is never not cool. Nathan Drake is never not cool. Kratos, God of War, is never not cool. And, in cases like Kratos, sometimes the “cool” character is rewarded time and time again for simply being an asshole. Kratos ushers in the apocalypse on more than one occasion, and the narrative seems to be unironically shouting, “Are you not entertained!?” Kratos killed everyone in Ancient Greece (literally), and because of his unimpeachable coolness, you’re supposed to celebrate his victory.

This, really, is my issue with the character that must always be cool. It creates the dual problems of “there’s nowhere to go but up” (which is antithetical to how videogame skills work) and “they’re cool, so they must be right”. Bayonetta, let’s face it, is kind of a jerk to everyone in her immediate area. Her abilities on the battlefield are empowering and unrivaled, but she also treats nearly every other character in the cast like a clown. But it’s okay! Because she’s cool! It’s all in good fun, what’s to worry about? Well, how about the fact that she’s yet another hero in yet another game that acts like everyone that isn’t the protagonist is disposable? In a medium that has an unfortunate stereotype about attracting a number of antisocial loners, maybe we shouldn’t be elevating the concept of “I’m the hero, I’m the only person in the world.”

GulpBut, hey, ya know, it’s cool. Cool heroes and heroines sell videogames, nobody wants to play as some tubby guy in overalls or some kind of anonymous goat herder. We want to be the coolest right now, and damn character or skill development. Who cares about empathy for the less privileged when you’ve got snarky comebacks?

Bayonetta is yet another too cool heroine fighting against a world of squares. She’s the only thing in her world that matters, and I feel like that should matter more.

FGC #145 Bayonetta

  • System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and, in a late entry, the WiiU.
  • Number of players: There can be only one “coolest”.
  • So your ideal videogame heroine is…: Tina Belcher. Obviously.
  • Hail to the Sega: Space Harrier and Hang-On, classic Sega arcade games, both get dedicated levels. I barely noticed the Hang-On stage, but, despite my general shooter prowess, I got hung-up on the Space Harrier stage for what seemed like ages. I want to say it was because its checkpoint distribution may not have been all that great, but it also might be because I have never been good at Space Harrier.
  • Admit it, you’re not very good at this game: I’m not! I’ve completed Bayonetta, but I simply don’t have the reflexes to finish everything with S rank or gain enough coin to buy out that shop. It’s really what got me thinking about this, because Bayonetta is always like, “Oh, I am simply the best,” while I’m looking at a health gauge hovering around zero and a rank that nets me a statue of a fat guy falling down.
  • NOW!Quick Times: Oh, and all quick time events should be thrown into a fire. All of them.
  • Favorite Angel: It comes early, but Beloved gets my vote. Nothing like a giant baby-faced golem towing around an axe the size of a small house.
  • Did you know? I’m still disappointed that the announcer for Super Smash Bros. 4 doesn’t faux-whisper, “Bayonetta” whenever the character is
  • Would I play again? I keep meaning to play the WiiU version… but Bayonetta 2 is right there (even in the same case!), and I feel like that game is an improvement in every way. Well, it’s still overly cool…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… X-Kaliber 2097 for the SNES! This… this isn’t an X-Men game, is it? Just very 90’s? Alright. Well, please look forward to it!

FGC #131 Gunstar Heroes

These losersIf Random ROB was at all predictable, I could have made the previous few entries into some sort of “theme week”. Starting with entry #125, we’ve had, in order…

  • Sonic Rivals, a 2-D platforming game with an emphasis on speed/racing.
  • Super Adventure Island 2, a 2-D “adventure” game with an emphasis on learning new skills and finding treasure.
  • The Itchy & Scratchy Game, a 2-D action/fighting game that could be interpreted as a primitive ancestor to Smash Bros (or at least its basic gameplay).
  • Metroid Fusion, a 2-D metroidvania with an emphasis on exploration and crazy bosses.
  • Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, a 2-D animation simulator with unusual controls and even stranger set pieces.
  • Mario vs. Donkey Kong, a 2-D “puzzle platformer” with measured Mario movements.

While many (entire companies) seem to have it in their minds that 2-D gaming is exclusively the domain of 90’s animals with attitude running and jumping, it’s pretty clear that that is not the case. Heck, a number of the games listed above are from that ancient, homogenized 16-bit era, and, guess what? Something like Pac-Man 2 couldn’t be more different from The Itchy & Scratchy Game if it tried, and they’re both primarily based on the concept of “playable cartoons”. And, as has been discussed on this very site, Metroid and the likes of Super Adventure Island 2 are very different gaming experiences despite having many surface level similarities. Point is, you get right down to it, even if you’ve only got two dimensions, you’ve got infinite possibilities.

And we haven’t even hit my favorite 2-D sub-genre yet.

Actually, even saying that makes me wince a little, as, deep in my heart, I know I’m a sucker for metroidvania games. Super Metroid is OWIEindisputably one of my favorite games of all time, and I’ll gladly play through practically any game in that series at the slightest provocation. And, honestly, I am completely incapable of interpreting any of the “IGAvania” Castlevania games as bad in any plausible way. However, the recent glut of “indie” metroidvania games has proven that when a metroidvania game is bad, it can be dire. Backtracking is an integral part of the metroidvania genre, and when that is applied to a game that doesn’t really know what it’s doing? Suddenly the template for the best game in the world becomes one of the worst. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the worst thing a video game can do is be boring, and a bad metroidvania is pretty much guaranteed to be boring.

But you know what isn’t boring? Running around and shooting the hell out of everything.

If my video game judging rubric is that “boring = bad”, and the opposite is true? Well then, Gunstar Heroes is the best game ever made. There is nary a second in Gunstar Heroes that is given over to “waiting for something to happen”. From the first moment you start your first level in this game, you’re assaulted on all sides by murderous enemy soldiers. Or you’re trying to catch a rapidly ascending airship. Or you’re catapulting through a mineshaft. From there, you’re battling a minimum of three boss monsters per level, often culminating in a beast that is many times your hero’s size. And then there’s a sprinkling of boss rushes here and there, like the clash(s) against Seven Force, a gigantic mech that is basically an excuse for you to battle Treasure’s digital Lego creations. Top it all off with a trip to space to battle Super God Frankenstein, and you’re lucky if you have five seconds to breathe while counting your score.

Best Minecart stageGunstar Heroes is an action game that practically defines the word “action”. It’s fundamentally the same gameplay as Mega Man (jump, jump, slide), but it lives much more on the Contra side of the things. If you’re not firing your gun at all times, you’re doing something wrong, and you’ll probably be looking at a Game Over screen pretty soon. In fact, that’s about the only way the action stops (give or take a level select screen), and you’ll probably see it a bunch if it’s your first time, because Gunstar Heroes expects you to know what’s coming, and instantly be able to identify boss patterns and incoming bullet hells. If you want to use some infinite vitality code and rob yourself of the experience of memorizing exactly how mechanical lobsters work, that’s your business, but I do have to say that this is one of the few video games out there where unbridled invincibility won’t detract from the experience one iota. Alright, it might be a little less fun if you just camp out and unload a flamethrower up Core Runner’s core nethers, but I don’t fault anyone for wanting to keep the party going for as long as possible, regardless of skill.

I can’t say enough good things about Gunstar Heroes, and my only regret about the game is that, as a Nintendo kid, I didn’t know it existed until around the Playstation 2 era. So many years wasted…

But why do I think this game is so great? I mean, yeah, the “nonstop action” and “crazy bosses” are pretty amazing, but any given Dance Dance Revolution game offers plenty of reasons to need a breather, and even Krion Conquest had its share of interesting level cappers. And if I’m going on so much about how I love run ‘n gun gameplay, why don’t you see me expounding on the joys of Halo or Doom? Fight the enemy soldiers, kill the boss, what’s the big difference?

And I want to say it’s the limited two dimensions that make all the difference.

Gunstar Heroes was once disparaged for its small characters, but it has “tiny” sprites for a reason, and that reason is to cram as much action onto the screen as possible. In a time when there was already a push for graphics over gameplay (“graphics” in this case Vrrooooombeing gigantic, detailed sprites like you’d find in Street Fighter 2), Gunstar Heroes eschewed the norms and made teeny dudes that could be smushed into the limited view of a 2-D stage. And it was magnificent, because it created a world where Gunstar Red and Blue are constantly assaulted from all sides. There’s no question about where the bullet that got you originated, because you can see it coming no matter what. You’re surrounded. Outnumbered. This is not fair to your little 16-bit hero, but it’s fair to you, the player, because you can see it all. You can survive, you can win, and it’s all thanks to the 2-D layout.

This is something that has been lost in the FPS genre. As immersive as a first person shooter can be, it’s not going to be perfect until we can simulate real peripheral vision and “knowing” someone is sneaking up on “you”. A quick look over your shoulder is impossible (or at least disorienting) in a modern FPS, and when your health starts rapidly dropping, you might not even know that it’s because you back has suddenly become holier than a cheese grater. To be clear, I’m not saying this is a reason FPS games are “bad”, simply that it’s a disadvantage of the genre, and something that can quickly cause frustration and a disassembled controller. And if the action stops… that’s not so great for an action game.

So that’s why I love 2-D action “run ‘n gun” games. Like many video games, it’s an approximation of reality, and, while it’s “unrealistic” that you can see those creatures sneaking up behind you, it creates a much more fair environment for the player, which dramatically increases the odds of the game getting, you know, played. Gunstar Heroes is arguably the pinnacle of this thinking, with a “tough but fair” design structure that, when you’re on, you’re really fuggin’ on. It’s a great game with amazing Genesis technical feats and fun characters, but what’s most important about Gunstar Heroes is that it’s an action game that does everything to maximize the action.

Put 'er thereIt’s clear that, despite what the early 21st century may have tried to hoist on us, 2-D has its advantages. Even after thirty years of gaming, there’s still a lot of treasure buried in those hills, and Gunstar Heroes is a perfect example of everything right about 2-D gaming.

FGC #131 Gunstar Heroes

  • System: Sega Genesis, though also available on a number of random Genesis collections throughout the Ages, and most recently available on Nintendo 3DS as part of the excellent 3D Classics Series. You have no excuse.
  • Number of players: Secret shame? I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a two-player simultaneous game of Gunstar Heroes going. Why’s everybody always gotta play Smash Bros?
  • Port o’ Call: Gunstar Super Heroes is a totally separate game and will be treated as such. It’s a sequel, dammit. Totally different characters.
  • Mecha Hitler: How many wannabe Hitlers with mechanical limbs are going to show up in video games?

    World/Gunstar Heroes

    I want to say at least two.

  • Favorite Boss: G.I. Orange basically throws a helicopter at the player. And he spends most of the game standing around flexing. Can’t really stay mad at that guy.
  • Bet on Black: I want to say this is the only game in the history of gaming that has ever presented me with a board game “board” and not made me groan immediately. Animal Crossing, Mario Party, and Pictionary could learn something…
  • Did you know? The 2009 edition of Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition named Gunstar Heroes the 33rd best game of all time. Chrono Trigger was 32. Considering Super Mario Kart (the game, not the franchise) was number one, I want to say the list was merely designed to enflame.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall! …. What? Huh. Alright, I want to say this game isn’t on any “best of” lists. Maybe best games that involve the mall? Maybe? Uh, please look forward to it.

So squishy