Tag Archives: activision

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

CRASH TIMEI’m very disappointed in the gaming community. My beef du jour? Nobody ever told me that Crash Bandicoot was so… fuzzy.

I am a child of videogames. One of my most vivid early memories was seeing Super Mario Bros. for the first time, and I associate friends, family, and lovers with games that were relevant to those people. My first best friend and I had a child-sized fistfight over Rampage. My grandfather owned and enjoyed (and shared) a Gameboy. My first girlfriend claimed she was going to burn my Final Fantasy 7 shirt (admittedly, I probably should have changed said shirt more often than once a month). But, speaking of first girlfriends and the occasional Final Fantasy, like anyone that has ever grown up, I was once a teenager. It’s sad, but true! And during my later teenage years, (hm… how to put this without sounding as creepy as possible) my lifelong burning love of videogames degenerated to mere embers (nailed it). Nintendo had lost its luster in the N64 age, and I had, for the first time in my life, dropped my Nintendo Power subscription. Other gaming platforms simply didn’t capture my attention like the ones that had brought me Mario and Zelda, and modern interpretations of old, migrated franchises were often weird and scary. Mega Man Legends? Legend of Mana? What is even happening there? To best illustrate my general anti-gaming sentiment at the time, I reserved Final Fantasy 7 with the same kind of gusto most people reserve for their wedding night in 1997, but, by 2000, the release of Final Fantasy 9 hit me with such a wet thud that I barely even purchased the title on its release day. What? Just because I didn’t much care for videogames for a year or so didn’t mean I didn’t still buy games. I just bought less!

AridBut if I had to point at another problem I, a surly teenager raging against the machine (the N64 is a machine), had with gaming at the time, I would likely name the Playstation 1 and Sony’s general… everything. At the turn of the 21st Century, there was a significant marketing push to assert that videogames were not “just for kids”, and were actually for dignified, mature adults that wanted to steer digital teenagers into fighting God. Oh! And skateboards! The Playstation was for mature adults that wanted to ride skateboards straight into an angry God’s gaping maw. Radical! It was bullshit. It was bullshit when Nintendo tried to pivot to “Play it Loud”, it was bullshit when Sega screamed their brand in your face, and it was bullshit when Sony decided to promote every other Playstation release as mature gaming simply because there were a few more polygons involved in Lara’s bra. But I was a teenager when Playstation was riding high on the maturity hog (his name is Buffus), so I bounced off that advertising campaign like Zero repelling off a wall (still bought those Mega Man X games…). Playstation is trying to be cool? Dude, Mario is cool enough, so I’m just going to grab 120 stars for the 10,000th time.

But Mario was not cool. And the number one person… marsupial… thing… saying that was Crash Bandicoot.

I never played the Crash Bandicoot games. Why? Because I was pissed at Crash Bandicoot. It didn’t matter if the Crash games were the best thing since Jumping Flash, their advertising campaign pissed me right off. We were told “Do not underestimate the power of the Playstation” while “real life” Crash Bandicoot and friends terrorized convenience stores. What was obviously some human in a Crash mascot costume insulted “plumber boy” and grabbed a megaphone to shout about the expansiveness of the Playstation library. He accused nuns of foul play! He teamed up with Robbie Knievel for motorcycle stunts! He endorsed Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizzas for some reason! And his kart racing game was promoted with an ad campaign featuring roller derbies, Crash chauffeuring rock stars/hot women, and one commercial that was a thinly veiled parody of Cops. Mario Kart 64 was amazing, and it only had a commercial that involved a creepy carnival! Or maybe that was a hallucination! Whatever! Point is that Nintendo didn’t need Crash’s crass tricks, it made games that were actually good. I didn’t need Crash and his dumb racing game.

But having now played a remake of “Crash’s dumb racing game”, I am seriously reconsidering my life choices.

So sweetCrash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the 2019 complete overhaul of Crash’s first racing game, Crash Team Racing. It maintains the original plot, “adventure” trappings, and general gameplay of the original CTR, but is otherwise a nearly completely fresh game. The graphics are all new, many more racetracks have been added, and the roster has now been expanded from Crash’s immediate circle of friends to his entire high school yearbook. Unfortunately, modern gaming conventions like “legendary skins” and “micro transactions” have snuck in, too, but it seems petty to complain about a cornucopia of new content when the only issue is that you literally can’t have it all immediately. Aside from that minor scar on the face of gaming, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a perfect karting experience, easily one of the absolute best of the recent amazing kart racing titles (it’s in good company).

But that’s immaterial to the big shocker of CTRNF: this is my first Crash Bandicoot game, and, apparently, Crash Bandicoot is cute.

Like Diddy Kong Racing, this is a kart racer with a plot. As I expected, the plot is your typical overwrought melodrama about an invading force attempting to conquer the planet, and the only solution is racing, because the X button has to do something. However, what I was not expecting is that the threatening villain is… goofy. I had assumed Crash Bandicoot took its pun-based villains fairly seriously, but, nope, Nitros Oxide is such a clown, his ending involves learning to unicycle. And the boss characters? They may be marginally racist or ableist, but they’re definitely meant to be (generally one note) jokes. Don Pinstripelli Potorotti might have a tommy gun, but he’s not pointing it at the Nintendo Building like Commercial Crash Bandicoot would. And speaking of Crash Bandicoot, he’s less “attitude”, and more… Garfield. He just wants to nap, eventually saves the world through puttering around in a go kart, and then retires to take more naps. That is not the Crash Bandicoot I know! That is not the Crash Bandicoot I feared.

And just when I was thinking my preconceived notions couldn’t be any more obliterated, CTRNF presented a roly poly polar bear for my racing pleasure

Da Bears

So, unlike most of this meandering blog, there is a clear and succinct moral for today’s post. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or, to be slightly more modern, don’t judge a franchise by its advertising campaign. It doesn’t matter if you’re a surly teenager or an apparently still-surly adult: just give the actual game a try. You might like it! Or it might be Shadow the Hedgehog! Whatever the case, at least give the game an honest shot, because you might find you like it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab a megaphone and yell at the Nintendo building that their kart racers suck.

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

  • System: All the big players of the current generation, so Playstation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Hey, at least the original version was a Playstation 1 exclusive.
  • WeeeeeNumber of Players: The original Crash Team Racing utilized the Playstation multitap for four player action. You stole the one thing the N64 had going for it!
  • Favorite Racer: It might be a bit of a cliché, but I always appreciate the Tails characters in these mascot games, so it looks like Coco Bandicoot wins for being the brains to Crash’s brawn. Or maybe I’m just happy we have a female cartoon character in a videogame that isn’t overtly sexualized. Or maybe I just like the sheer number of rainbows on her signature course. Whatever! Coco wins! Flawless victory.
  • Important Questions: Why does Baby Cortex have facial hair? I was led to believe that was not how babies work.
  • The Aesthetics: There are a number of courses that are outright bathed in neon. This is all I want from my videogame decorating, so please keep it up. If the F-Zero franchise isn’t going to provide some faux-future design, at least we have Crash.
  • Weighty Decisions: If I had to pinpoint one reason CTRNF works as a racing game, it’s that despite all the absurd courses with their illogical jumps and turns, all of the racers feel perfectly weighty. It might just be fantasy animals in go-karts (and one dude in a hovercraft), but this all feels right, and that adds to the general rollercoaster feel of the whole experience. And I like rollercoasters.
  • Crossover Appeal: Spyro appears as a racer, and has his own signature course. This is presumably a thank you for Crash Bandicoot appearing in Skylanders merchandise/the animated series. Considering Donkey Kong and Bowser also stopped by Skylanders, I am now anxiously awaiting Mario x Crash Kart.
  • ZapDid you know? Yes, the basic “story” gameplay of Crash Team Racing is very reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing. And, yes, maybe the original designers of Crash Team Racing admit to building a replica of Diddy Kong Racing’s Crescent Island course to see if such a thing would be possible on the Playstation. But don’t worry! Crash Bandicoot never ripped off any Nintendo properties!
  • I thought you were over this Crash rivalry thing now? Apparently not.
  • Would I play again: Yes! This is a really fun racing game, and I’m very glad it wound up loaded onto my Switch thanks to an impulse-buy sale. I’ll likely load up a grand prix or two in the near future when I’m aimlessly flopping around on the couch. Sorry, Mario Kart 8, you’ve been dethroned by a bandicoot.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… R-Type Dimensions! Let’s battle that one giant shrimp looking thing that appears in every bit of R-Type art! Please look forward to it!

Watch yourself

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

Ready to fireFighting games are the closest experiences we have to “standard” cinematic experiences. Your average “action”-based affair features a hero, hero’s best friend, and hero’s inevitable love interest versus the forces of bad guy and bad guy’s second. Toss in a couple of comic relief characters (works for either side), an inescapably doomed mentor, and maybe the romantic lead’s chubby friend, and, basically, you’ve got the full cast of a movie, dramatic television show, or fighting game. Walter and Jessie versus Gus and Mike, or Ryu and Ken versus M Bison and Sagat? It doesn’t matter from a basic story structure perspective. What does matter is how many videogames necessitate… a slightly larger cast. The blockbuster, genre-defining Super Mario Bros. movie involved King Koopa and his army of two (2) goombas. Super Mario Bros. for the NES included more goombas in its first ten seconds, and never mind the sheer number of surprisingly lethal turtles wandering around. JRPGs are all about defeating Big Bad and his four malevolent lieutenants… and the 17,000 random monsters between here and the next town. Remember that beloved scene in Back to the Future when Marty is walking back and forth between Doc’s Mansion and Hill Valley, and he has to slaughter twenty random wolves and Big Boss Wolf? Yeah, me neither. In short, a number of videogame genres are forced into a sort of endless loop of adding more and more “nobodies” to the plot to validate gameplay conventions, while Fighting Games have to put in no such effort. Liu Kang hates Shao Kahn, and, after fighting six guys, they’re gonna settle this thing. Who would want to play a game that complicates that story?

So it’s always kind of surprised me that more games don’t borrow (re: steal) the basic layout of a fighting game. I’d argue that Smash Bros. does this with aplomb while still being more of a “platform/action” game without carrying all the baggage of a typical fighter (and I suppose that statement thus includes every game that ever copied Smash Bros). And, in a way, most sports games follow the same template, as you don’t have to battle, say, the Dallas Cowboys Color Guard before tackling the real Cowboy opponents in the latest Madden. But I guess that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? In film, a tight cast is a standard bit of storytelling, while, in a videogame, you’re only going to see such a thing in a sports/competitive environment. Otherwise, without a bunch of random nobodies to kill, what are you going to do? We all love that Street Fighter 2 bonus stage, but you can only beat up a car so many times before it gets old.

Or maybe cars can beat up… each other?

Look out!Today we’re looking at a game from the Playstation/N64 days. Most people remember the mid to late 90’s as the age of the JRPG boom brought on by Final Fantasy 7; however, this was also the epoch of the rise of “cool people games”. After a decade of videogames being synonymous with furry mascots and stabby elves, the big guys all seemed anxious to push a mandate of more “mature” gaming. And by “mature”, I mean “appeals to teenagers that so desperately want to drive a car and maybe touch a boob”. This led to the premiere of many “realistic” heroes, like Gordon Freeman and Lara Croft, who fought real-life problems, like aliens and t-rexes. Okay, the games might not have been any more realistic than what came before, but at least they were less cartoony, and that was good enough for a generation that was, finally, ready to play it loud.

This, coupled with the advances in graphics and scaling technology, led to a lot of racing games. A lot. Like, there was a time when you could walk into an Electronics Boutique, and there was just a wall of random cool looking cars staring back at you. “Realistic” racing games were meant to be system sellers, and, perhaps as some kind of residual aftereffect of Blast Processing, speed was king. One of these days I’m going to review that Playstation “future” racing game that involves the half-pipe and moving at super-speed… but I’m not going to name it right now, because I can’t remember if it’s that game I’m thinking of, or that other game with the exact same premise. Or maybe it was that other one? Meh, I’ll figure out later. Point is that there were a lot of racing games at the time.

Racing games naturally fall into that “competition” category like fighting and sports games. That means that your average “car game” could easily copy the fighting game template, and do the whole “unique character/unique story/unique ending” thing. That’s good! That creates memorable characters, that, in a sea of “red car vs. blue car” could make your new unique IP standout. People are always going to remember Scorpion, you could transform your racing competition game into something perennial with the right merchandising. Let’s make a car fighting game, and be legends forever!

And that car fighting game became… Twisted Metal. Who doesn’t love Sweet Tooth!? He was in Playstation All-Stars!

Fear of a yellow busThree years later, there was Vigilante 8. Vigilante 8 does not feature any characters that resurfaced for Playstation All-Stars… or… anything else, so I guess there’s something to be said for being first to the finish line. However, Vigilante 8 attempted to do something rather unique with its car combat simulator: it copied everything about fighting games. Not content to just copy the (good) basic plot structure of a fighting game, Vigilante 8 went the extra mile by copying the worst part of fighting games: the distinctive, often esoteric motions for special moves. And it married that concept to a “fight” where you basically only have one reliable offensive option (shoot), so a new player will have something of an distinct disadvantage when battling a veteran player (or, ya know, the entire single player campaign). There are even car “fatalities” available, and the game constantly prompts the player to “total” incapacitated enemies… but… how am I supposed to do that again? Come on, Activision, you always knew this game was a rental at best, why do you think anyone would read the instruction manual?

Vigilante 8 isn’t a terrible game; it can actually be quite fun if everyone involved knows what they’re doing (and you have a TV large enough to accommodate blurry 64-bit split screens), and you’re not just skidding around each other desperately trying to clip your opponent with a Stay on target, jerkdinky machine gun (only in Videogame Land may a machine gun be effectively useless). But what could easily have been a memorable game with interesting characters (interesting by late 90’s videogame standards, mind you) is severely marred by a bizarre insistence on copying everything about fighting games, good and bad. Mortal Kombat with cars could be a great game, but only if you leave the silly input motions on the cutting room floor.

Pull that off, and maybe then we’ll get some decent memories out of a bunch of fighting cars.

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

  • System: Playstation, N64, and… Gameboy Color. Suffice it to say, the GBC version is a tweeeeak different, and looks more like R.C. Pro-AM. There’s also a modern HD version that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone ever mention.
  • Number of players: I believe we’re limited to the standard two on Playstation, but the N64 version takes full advantage of those multiple controller ports, and allows for up to four. The Gameboy port has never been simultaneously played by two people on Earth, so who knows about that one.
  • Get 'em, paPort-o-Call: The N64 version was released a solid nine months after the Playstation release, and seemed to gain a few bells and whistles to overcompensate for the delay. The most important changes seem to be that the secret character (an Area 51 alien) gets his own story mode, and story mode itself can be played with 2 player co-op. More wannabe fighting games need co-op story modes.
  • Favorite character: Beezwax is a bee keeper with bee-based special moves and a battle-camper. I can’t say no to that kind of insanity.
  • Did you know? Molo’s “battle school bus” featured heavily in advertising and the game’s box art. Then Columbine happened. Then, for some reason, the advertising campaign for Vigilante 8 went the way of the dodo. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: For a kid that wanted to claim that the N64 was somehow better than Playstation and its Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 at least could start an argument. Now, however, it’s little more than a curiosity. I doubt I’ll ever revisit this title.

What’s next? Random ROB is back up and working again, and we’ve got… Strider 2 for the Playstation! Yay! Ninja times are here again! Please look forward to it!

FGC #242 DJ Hero

Rock out!I’m racist against DJs.

Like most racists, I don’t mean every DJ out there, or even a number of people that could be called DJs. Some of my best friends are DJs! The first “adult” that I thought was a cool person (and not just another authority figure) was a DJ (he had a jukebox in his house!), but he was a radio DJ, a very distinct subset of DJ. And, of course, I bear no ill-will toward people that merely “DJ” their own “playlists”, as that is an action as natural as meticulously alphabetizing all of your videogames. Most people are DJs, and that’s okay. And, heck, back in my high school/college days, even I, Goggle Bob, was a DJ, albeit, again, a “radio DJ” and not some other malevolent type. I could spin all the hits with the best of ‘em, and I knew I was doing something right, because every popular kid in the school thought I was playing the worst music available. You’ll listen to this entire Ben Folds Five album and you’ll like it, you damn audience!

No, what I’m talking about is a very specific form of DJ. I’m talking about the performing DJ.

Again, like many racists, I claim I have a reason for this unbridled loathing. See, I have been a musical performer since… yeesh… does kid’s choir count? I’m not really “in the scene” now, but I am kind of an attention hog, so I’ve always found the stage to be inviting. So whether it be singing, trumpeting, or tickling the ivories, I’m big into performing in a musical way. I’m sure we have a picture of me being hardcore somewhere around here… Ah, here we go…

ROCK OUT

See! Totally rocking! Or… something! Look, I might not be that great at not stoppin’ the rockin’, but I’m pretty sure I was involved in a band that may have won an award from MTV2 at some point, so let’s claim that actually means something. But it’s not about the trophies, money, or the fans; it’s about the music, man. That’s what’s really important! Going out there with your original music that you’ve practiced long and hard, and seeing the smiles on the faces of the twelve people that happened to show up at this podunk bar on a Friday night instead of having a real life with friends and people that actually care about them. Wait, may have gotten a little sidetracked there. Again, to be clear, it’s about the music.

DJs? Modern, performing DJs? They just hit the F key and call it a day.

How I despise them.

I’m racist, so I’m going to draw the stereotype. First of all, it’s always a dude. I’m sure there are women DJs out there, but, like dwarves and drummers, I’ve never seen one. Second, they have a tendency toward trench coats and unkempt, dark hair. That’s my style! I saw it first! Goggles? Goggles!?! Mine, loser! But once you get past their disheveled appearance, then you get into the real reason I abhor them so, so much. The DJ’s instrument is a laptop. His music is other people’s music. His “skill” is measured by how effectively he can smack that F key to set off an air horn to the beat. Cross fade is considered more valuable than breathing. The beat is all. The beat is one. And if those Guitar Center speakers aren’t pumping out the bass, then get off the stage.

And audiences love it. Stupid, tasteless people love a good DJ. And I disdain them all the more. Wake up, sheeple!

DJ Hero at least makes being a DJ appear to be hard. Right off the bat, we’ve got this monstrosity:

ROB is not a DJ

The appeal of the Guitar Hero controller was that, hollow piece of plastic or not, it looked like a damn musical instrument (specifically, a guitar or something). Rock Band Drums didn’t exactly bring the bass, but they still appeared to be the typical “drum set of the future” that Casio has been peddling since the 80’s. And the Rock Band Keyboard is pretty much just a truncated keyboard, and any pianist would tell you mo’ keys equal mo’ problems, so hooray for lil’ keyboards.

The DJ Hero Turntable, meanwhile, is obviously a turntable, but… what else is going on here? Let’s check the manual…

What am I even looking at?

Crossfade slider? Blanking plate? Euphoria button!? What the hell is even happening?

Okay, okay, let’s not get crazy. I’m sure even the Wiimote looks scary and button-heavy to a time-displaced Neanderthal. The DJ Hero Turntable might not be as inviting as the Guitar Hero Guitar, but how does the game actually play? Is it just more clicky, plastic buttons, or is it actually a fun and innovative experience?

And the answer is, surprisingly, DJ Hero makes being a DJ appear to be actually… natural.

Rock out!DJ Hero is very much a descendant of Guitar Hero, so, yes, it is a bit heavy on the “just press the red button to the beat”. As someone who plays guitar (just not very well), I’ve always seen Guitar Hero as a really weird approximation of actual guitar playing, and I’m guessing DJ Hero is much the same way for record scratching. But the whole experience is much more… active than I ever expected. There is some actual skill involved in crossfading, and tapping along to the beat feels… right when orchestrating these dope mash-ups.

Yes, I suppose that’s the other thing that surprised me: there is some actual craft in the medleys available to play in DJ Hero. Granted, anytime someone invokes Queen, they’ve automatically got my attention, but I was downright surprised how many excellent tunes from yesterday and today (today being ten years ago) blend together perfectly. I was expecting a dubstep, glow stick rave of nonsense, but this… I could actually listen to the DJ Hero soundtrack, and that only enhances my desire to play more. Come to think of it, yes, wow, I could actually play DJ Hero quite a bit and enjoy being a DJ on my couch. By Grandmaster Flash, the disease is inside me!

So it might be responsible for one of the weirder peripherals I own, and it might be another “silly” Guitar Hero-style game, but DJ Hero is actually a worthwhile experience. It’s fun to play, has a lot of good music, and actually makes performance DJing appear viable. It’s a rarity that I find a videogame that turns around my perspective on an entire vocation, so good job, DJ Hero, you’re the hero this racist-against-DJs Goggle Bob needs.

Though I still want my trench coat back.

FGC #242 DJ Hero

  • System: I got mine for the Wii, but Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Playstation 2 versions are available.
  • Es Bueno!Number of players: If you can get two DJ Hero turntables, you can get two DJ Heroes a-scratchin’. Everybody wants to be a DJ Hero!
  • Favorite Track: I can’t explain why I like the Poison/Word Up combo, but I do, and I will broker no debate on it being the best track available.
  • Sinister: The natural “left handed” configuration for this device… doesn’t work out so hot. I am once again being discriminated against.
  • Unlockable: Apparently there are about twelve billion unlockable DJs, outfits, turntables, samples, and skins available. Ah, the heady days before DLC became the norm for every stupid thing that popped into a developer’s head.
  • Did you know? There was apparently some legal trouble with this game, as the publishers of Scratch: The Ultimate DJ claimed Activision stole their bit (and code). The case seems to have tumbled around between “dismissed” and “overturned” a couple of times, and my new DJ skills have severely hampered my already meager attention span, so let’s go ahead and claim that this was the reason we never saw a DJ Hero 2. Either that or the fact that I bought my copy of DJ Hero for five bucks at Big Lots was a factor.
  • Rock out!Would I play again: I’m surprised to be saying this, but, yes, probably. It’ll take a little effort for me to whip out that turntable again, but I did enjoy the experience, and might return to it in the near future. I… would be okay with being a DJ Hero.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon’s Lair for the NES! Ah, yes, the famous animated game that… wait… for the NES? There was an 8-bit version of Dragon’s Lair? That… can’t be good. Please… look forward to it?