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FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Here comes some funDoes being an adult suck?

A long time ago on a console generation far, far away, there was a game called something like Project Dream, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, or maybe just Conker’s Quest. This prototype of a game was showcased for the press at the tail end of the 20th Century, and many journalists were exposed to a title that was meant to evoke the concept of a “playable (Disney’s) Bambi”. Unfortunately, this was being highlighted after a decade of cute mascot platformers, and, more recently, the publicly beloved Banjo & Kazooie. So, whereas Conker 64 was certainly impressive, many complained it was more of the same from the exact same studio that was now becoming best known for bumbling bees and not belligerent battletoads. This caused the studio that had once wanted so bad to make their own Mortal Kombat to snap, and Conker 64 was transformed into something that was intended for a wholly different audience. The explanation was “kids who were 6 when they played the first Mario game are now 26,” and an N64 platformer/collectathon for adults was born. The writing and presentation were going to be M for Mature, even if the gameplay may be M for Mario 64.

But this conversion of Conker’s world offers us a rare (heh) opportunity to apply science to videogame production. We all know what mascot-based action games from the N64 era look like. There are a variety of examples available, from Glover to that tongue game. But none of these games went for a full mature audience. Give or take Gex trying to appeal to hip 40 somethings that love Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, none of Conker’s contemporaries even attempted to appeal to anyone old enough to drive. There may have been a “subtle” joke here or there, but that key “young adult” demographic was always assumed to be a parent that wandered into Little Timmy’s playroom, and not the person actually playing the game. Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows us exactly what these games would look like if they were made for adults.

And Conker paints a bleak picture of adulthood.

PeanutbutteryLet’s start with the bit that is the least psychologically offensive (assuming you are not my grandmother). Conker’s Bad Fur Day involves a number of jokes that are entirely based on the ol’ “so now that the kids are asleep…” kind of thinking. Where a “kiddy platformer” might have a snow-based world, Conker has a scatological-based area (complete with fart-based theme song). Vampires have been all over children’s games, but they were somehow bloodless. Here, we have a vampire that inspires wall-to-wall blood. Conker’s “princess” is shaped like a bombshell, and his main villain is going to suffer a gruesome death (one way or another). This is all very… what’s the best way to put this… “mature” is certainly not the right word… Well, it is straight up puerile, but it is childish in a way that acknowledges none of this would be possible in “kiddy” action games. We are allowed to do whatever we want, so let’s model the hell out of that (literal) shit.

But then justifying some of those “mature” inclinations starts to cause problems. Conker’s Bad Fur Day includes swearing. In fact, the game contains a lot of swearing. And, likely in pursuit of rationalizing said swearing, practically every character in the game (and absolutely including Conker) is an asshole. Just within the opening areas, there is a bee that is notably cheating on his wife, some farm equipment that is constantly insulting each other, and a talking box that immediately launches into a fatphobic tirade. Are these characters funny? If that is your thing, sure, it is funny to see these “cute” anthropomorphic animals and objects act like jerks. But it also affirms that everything with googly eyes in this universe is on the highest echelon of terrible. If you would like to spend the day enjoying a videogame free of body shaming, sorry, you will have to look elsewhere, even if the creature body shaming does not even have a body.

GET IT!?And, yes, if you are a child/teen that somehow managed to score the M-rated game off a clueless family member, it certainly would leave the impression that all adults ever do is insult each other. And that’s not true! It only happens when we get upset about whippersnappers being on our lawns!

But the inexorable march of adulthood being a gauntlet of misery continues. Conker has a beautiful (for a squirrel), capable girlfriend. So how does the game start? With Conker lying to her so he can stay out drinking. After that, technically, the entire game is the story of Conker trying to get back to her after all that drinking, but, when they are finally reunited, she is quickly fridged by the main villain. However, Conker gains god-like control of his world through conscripting a programmer! And does he bring Berri back to life with his newfound powers? Of course not! He forgets all about her! And that’s the joke! Ha ha! Funny squirrel! Could have saved a loved one’s life, but he got obsessed with slicing up an alien instead!

But adulthood isn’t just about being a jerk to everyone in your immediate area, it’s also about making references to pop culture! That previously mentioned alien is absolutely a chest-bursting xenomorph, and you’ll have to battle a Terminator parody before you get out of the first area. Saving Private Ryan was the talk of the town back in the late 90’s, so it gets the “war” level and an entire section of the multiplayer. And did you catch The Matrix? Conker hopes you did, because the final level makes absolutely no sense without that clarification of Keanu Reeves being why everyone is suddenly carrying guns and wearing trench coats. The wee young’uns can only dream of parodying R-Rated movies!

CHOMPSpeaking of paper-thin parodies, women are little more than their chests in Conker’s world. Jugga the Cavewoman has a pretty straightforward name for a woman that is about to make a penis size joke, and Sunflower the sunflower looks like a children’s drawing of a plant… save for the enormous gazongas. And, yes, you can use her breasts as a trampoline. Men can be monsters, gangsters, monster gangsters, scientists, and kings in this game. Women are almost unanimously walking anatomy jokes.

Oh, and if you’re curious, the ending sees Conker becoming king, but he has now learned that he hates everyone that lives in the country he rules. So he just goes to the bar where this all started to become a depressed alcoholic.

Adult videogames, everybody!

Put this all together, and it makes adulthood out to be miserable. Mario barely says a word through Mario 64, but all those “woos” sure do sound like the guy is having fun. Banjo & Kazooie might have a little more of a coarse edge to their dialogue, but they are still rescuing a loved one, and interacting with fun characters while doing it. If the “mature” version of those adventures is a game wherein the hero loses everything and discovers he hates literally everybody left alive, then what is the point of growing up? You want to be old enough to drink just so you can drink yourself straight into the gutter? It seemed to work for Conker!

SlicerOr maybe it is simply this version of “maturity” that makes adulthood look awful. The medium of videogames has grown a lot since 2001, and “Mature” doesn’t just mean a game includes fatalities anymore. Now we have games with super violent, sexy robots twirling about with swords but also taking the time to acknowledge the emotional needs of their buddies. We have the hyper violent franchises where things might be horrible all over the place, but at least our protagonists take time out of their day to be sad dads. And speaking of sad, Conker’s tale may end on a depressing note, but one of the best games out there is all about depression. In all of these situations, adults are the focus, and adulthood does look like an endless gauntlet of challenges that are designed to wear you down, but there is hope. From 2-B to Kratos to Madeline, everyone has problems they need to overcome, but they also have friends, support systems, and achievable ambitions. They do not simply make a flippant comment and move on to the next movie parody.

Oh, and none of them have to venture through a level covered in shit.

Is Conker’s Bad Fur Day a bad game for the way it offers a “mature” video game? No. There is room enough in this world for the “Bathroom Reader” of videogames. But its presentation of what it is to be “adult” is significantly lacking. While there are trials and tribulations as an adult, that does not mean it is all despair, all the time. There is joy. There is love. There is more to life than hitting rock monsters with frying pans. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is meant to platform one of Conker’s worst days, but that does not mean he has to live in the worst world.

It sucks to be an adult sometimes, but it doesn’t suck all the time.

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

  • Because... uh... get it?System: Nintendo 64 to start, then miraculously migrated over to Xbox with Conker: Live & Reloaded. Then we got something close to the original again as part of Rare Replay on the Xbox One. If you are curious, this is all because Rare drifted to Microsoft. I am sure that has nothing to do with Conker chainsawing the N64 logo at the start of the game.
  • Number of players: There is a complete multiplayer mode in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and it even has online functionality in the Xbox version. Or it did, back when that was still viable. What’s important is that there is a multiplayer mode completely separate from the single player adventure.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There is more to a videogame than story, presentation, and writing! We also have gameplay! And it is… passable. Look, you can see the seams of exactly how this Conker title would work out if it were a “traditional” Rare N64 title, and every couple of (inexplicably sentient, talking) bucks hidden around the area being transformed into “collect the shines” would be a very short trip. That said, while the various activities involved are interesting and eclectic, the actual “control” of Conker isn’t on the same level as Banjo or Mario. Or, put another way, any time you have to complete an actual platforming “challenge” with this squirrel, you are going to have a bad time. I said it before, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day is “middle to high” on the ol’ N64 scale.
  • Just play the gig, man: I am highlighting the song made out of farts once again. The Great Mighty Poo anthem also gets a trophy. You just don’t see many flatulence-based songs anymore.
  • Won’t someone please think of the children: The above-mentioned shit song got censored in the Xbox version, though. Also, for some reason, there are a lot more bleeps on Conker’s remade adventure. Considering the “kiddy” Nintendo 64 version allowed everything short of the nefarious f-word, this is an amusing change between systems.
  • This is a pain in the patootFavorite Level: I used to enjoy “It’s War” for its humor, but, in retrospect, I think that may be because I am an idiot. It is a really annoying level! So I will go with Uga Buga now, as the cave/dinosaur/rock thing going on there is a lot more comfortably platform-y for this platformer.
  • Did you know? Conker’s Pocket Tales was a legitimate Gameboy Color title that put Conker in a Zelda-like fantasy world that was 100% kid friendly. Damn near no one was buying Gameboy titles that didn’t feature Pokémon at this point, but if they did, hoo boy, that would be some kind of transition between games.
  • Would I play again: Not likely. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was impressive in its time, but its time has long since passed. And until we see another day featuring this ornery squirrel, he can stay mothballed with the rest of his Rare buddies. You don’t see Sabre Wulf getting out there anymore, either…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken’s Nina Williams in Death by Degrees! Yes! It’s that game I played like a year ago on the stream, now finally getting an FGC article! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #634 Martial Champion

So many fighting gamesNot all fighting games are created equal. For every Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or even Clayfighter, there are a bevvy of games that seem to have been forgotten by all but the most dedicated of fighting game enthusiasts. But that does not mean we can’t learn from these “lost” fighting games! Every fighting game, no matter why they were forgotten, has something to offer. Let’s take a look at some forgotten fighting games, and see why they deserve at least a cursory glance…

King of the Monsters
1991

RAWRWhat is going on here: One of the best games to take place in the far-flung future of 1996, King of the Monsters is the story of what happens when six or twelve legally distinct monsters all decide to rumble and see who will be the titular King of the Monsters. This is bad news for anyone that lives in the future-past Japan that is their battleground, but great for anyone that has ever wanted to see a rock giant fight a snot ghost.

Best Character: Is Astro Guy really a monster? He looks like Ultraman, and there is Beetle Mania over there to be his trademark inexplicable giant bug opponent. Astro Guy wins, as he may be a copy like every other monster, but at least he is the kind of monster that didn’t already appear in Rampage.

What can we learn: King of Monsters was released before “fighting games” became codified with Street Fighter 2 (dropped that same year), so King of Monsters almost feels like a “wrestling game”. It has turnbuckle attacks, an emphasis on grabs, and, most importantly, you have to pin your opponent for three seconds to score a win. And that can be fun! An empty life bar is not a loss in King of Monsters, it just means it will be more difficult to get up when Rocky the Moai power dives on your monster. Extending the match a little longer is great in a game with a scant six playable characters, and it is nice to see the potential for a turnaround despite a theoretical impending loss. Let’s see some last-minute grappling from modern games!

Dino Rex
1992

Big boys starting this offWhat is going on here: Like Primal Rage, this is a 2-D fighter featuring dinosaurs battling for supremacy. Also like Primal Rage, this game absolutely sucks. You’ve got three attack buttons, special moves, combos, and the ability to “charge meter” via shouting, but… Oh man. The central conceit here is that you are technically playing as a scantily clad man controlling a dinosaur via whip, and it sure feels like you have only a whip’s worth of control over your chosen dinosaur.

Best Character: All the humans in this game are generic prehistoric dudes (though, if a match ends in a draw, you can play as one of the dudes, and they curiously have Ryu’s moveset), so we presumably must pick a favorite dinosaur here. And is it possible to pick a dinosaur that is not the mighty Tyrannosaurus? It might be purple again, but it is still a goddamned t-rex.

What can we learn: Dino Rex is a bad fighting game for the fact that you are very likely to lose because it is difficult to confirm whether your controller is working at all, but sometimes it feels good to get your ass kicked, because it also kicks everyone else’s asses. The storyline for Dino Rex posits this is an annual dinosaur fighting tournament to win the hand of an Amazon Queen, so there are spectators, and an arena built up for this yearly battle. And, since dinosaurs are fighting, it gets absolutely wrecked. It is fun to watch the surrounding area get destroyed by careless dinosaurs! And someone on staff evidently noticed, as the bonus stage is controlling your dinosaur in a “dream sequence” that sees a modern city getting similarly smashed. So if you’re going to make a bad fighting game, at least let us destroy everything in it.

Martial Champion
1993

What is going on here: One of Konami’s rare, early fighting games (they were more into beat ‘em ups), this is a pretty obvious Street Fighter 2 clone where a bunch of international weirdos are all punching and kicking in an effort to become… I don’t know… some kind of Martial Arts Champion or something. Your attack options are limited to three buttons (high, mid, low), and there are a total of ten selectable characters (and one unplayable boss).

Best Character: Avu is a tempting choice, as he is basically Karnov (he’s even got fire breath!), but I’m going to choose Bobby. Not only does he have the best name, but he seems to exist as an obvious example of “Well, Guile looks kinda American, but is there any way we can crank that up to ten million?”

What can we learn: Martial Champion has a variable weapon system! Kinda! Some fighters have weapons, and said weapons can be knocked out of a fighter’s hands. And the opponent can retrieve these weapons! And… maybe do nothing? If a fighter doesn’t have a weapon to begin with, it seems they do not have any abilities with any weapons. But! Even if you can’t use it, playing keep away with a weapon is good fun. Thought you had increased range with that scimitar before, loser? Now you’re not getting it back until a knock down. Good luck!

Now let’s talk about Shaq-Fu…

FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

Microtransaction time!It is important to remember that sometimes the bad guys do lose.

Today we are looking at Double Dragon 3. Appropriate to the title of the franchise, Double Dragon 3 has two generally distinct versions: Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone, which was the arcade version that was ported to a couple of different systems (like Gameboy and Sega Genesis), and Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, the Nintendo Entertainment System title that had the same overall concept, but significantly different gameplay. What was the difference in gameplay? Well, the NES version wasn’t constantly trying to fleece the player.

Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone is, superficially, the same beat ‘em up experience that the franchise had always delivered. Yes, we now have a situation wherein the Lee Brothers (now with a third bro! Because someone welded a third controller to the cabinet!) are going to go on a world tour to collect rocks with the eventual goal of being the best rockers on the planet or something, but the general minute-to-minute is unchanged. You have a collection of random mooks per stage that you are required to punch into submission, then the big boss shows up, you punch him (inevitably him) but good, and move on to the next stage. It doesn’t matter if you are in a generically grimy city or tumbling through a coliseum in Rome, this is the Double Dragon we all know and generally tolerate.

But there is one significant change in Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it’s right there on the first screen of the first level…

I hate everything about this
Technically this is the shop from the finale, but whatever, okay?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the shop. A shop just like this one appears in 80% of the levels of DD3:TRS, and usually at the start (the only exception is the final level, where it is the start of a boss gauntlet). Like in many games of the era, you can purchase a number of helpful items at said shop. You can top off your health points! Buy weapons for dealing additional damage! Or maximize your fists’ power to just do extra damage without the need of a sword! Or purchase “secret techniques” so you can perform flying kicks and throws! And the extra special cherry on top: buying extra “lives” not only means you purchase additional life bars for your protagonists, it also allows you to play as entirely different characters with marginally different offensive styles (or at least different hitboxes). Basically, if you want a new Double Dragon experience, it is all tied to the shop. This is the biggest difference between Double Dragon 3 and its predecessors (well, other than that direction-attack button thing from Double Dragon 2 being dropped), and it is all available for a few credits in the shop.

Oh, and I do mean credits, as Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones’ shops are all fueled by real, American quarters.

Damned treesLet us look at that shop’s inventory from a different perspective. Powering up your fighter? Well, that is going to save you quarters, as a dead enemy takes off a lot less health. Weapons? Also going to save your life, because it means you do not have to get any closer to hazardous fists. Speaking of life, having more lives is obviously going to put you further from having to insert another credit. And even the special moves are all jump based and obviously modeled after the most effective ways to survive in previous Double Dragon titles. In short, if you have any familiarity with Double Dragon (and, at this point in the existence of arcades, why wouldn’t you?), you are going to make a beeline for those items. Sure, it all costs real money, but those same quarters would be required to recover anyway. You’re practically saving money!

Or you would be, if Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones was a remotely fair game.

As an officially licensed beat ‘em upologist, I can say with some authority that the first two levels of DD3:TRS are about what you should expect from a beat ‘em up as far as challenges go. There is an unstoppable army of dudes, but you will defeat them, because they have basic patterns, and local traps and tricks can be utilized to blaze a trail straight through to China. But once you hit approximately level 3, the bullshit comes fast and furious. It is hard to say if it is deliberate or just poor programming, but any given fighter on your side has some significant lag after being stunned, so being essentially “stun locked” while battling a boss becomes the standard for many fights. Regular enemies gain some moves with absurd range so you can’t so much as jumpkick a tree without an across-the-screen interruption. And the final boss? By Anubis, she has the ability to toss your Bimmy across the screen from across the screen. She can just spam the same “death move” over and over again, and your only recourse is hoping the A.I. shows some modicum of mercy so you can maybe land a punch. The point here? You need those powerups to survive, so even if you “buy your levels” to maximum right from the get-go, you are still going to be down a few more dollars by the end of the adventure. Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones is unapologetically balanced to bleed your wallet dry.

And nobody liked that.

This sucks hardRecords of top grossing arcade machines from 1990 are difficult to find, but we can see the legacy of Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone in its own descendants. This arcade title premiered in America, but, by the time it migrated over to Japan six months later, its whole shop system had been hastily excised. Any and all shops in the game are now boarded up and inaccessible, and the first level that seemed to be designed around emphasizing the opening shop was “scrolled forward” permanently so you would never know there was such an embarrassment lurking around the corner. And, without the shops, weapons are now free and lying around, “secret techniques” are accessible at all times, and a player can spontaneously select any of the characters right from credit one. And, while you cannot spend a quarter to power up your punches, all of your opponents mysteriously do about a third less damage on their hits. Gosh! Put it all together, and it sure seems like the original version was balanced entirely around a player that spent about two dollars on bits and baubles! And that was dropped from the next version because nobody actually did that.

And then we finally get to the NES version. Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones was reportedly developed in parallel to the arcade version, but it was also released a year later, so it clearly had some foreknowledge of how things went in the arcade. In this case, some of the fun aspects of Double Dragon 2 that had been dropped for Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone returned in the NES version (you can always enjoy a hair grab). Additionally, the concept of multiple playable characters was adopted from the arcade, but now you do the more traditional NES thing of beating bosses who eventually join your team (Mega Dragon 3). And, like the Japanese arcade version, the shops are completely gone, and there is not so much as a points system to simulate the “joy” of purchasing weapons. Actually, you do get “limited ammo” weapons naturally with each of the selectable characters, but, with no way to refill your reserves, they are extremely situational.

Oh, and it is probably worth nothing that this version of Double Dragon 3 bombed, too. Like, Water World for Virtual Boy bombed…

What even happened here?Why? Well, NES DD3 has its own share of problems. For one thing, in one player mode, you only have one “life” for like half the game, and the concept of continuing is not introduced until Level 4. For another thing, while this whole experience feels a lot less janky than its predatory arcade counterpart, it is still pretty dang cumbersome for a 1991 NES title that should really know better. This was released the same year as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: The Manhattan Project! A beat ‘em up that is fun from start to finish! DD3 doesn’t even have the good sense to include a pig with a mace strapped to his head! Oh, and the translation/story is nearly incomprehensible, with a hatchet job of a “let’s include the girlfriend again” plot that somehow transforms Marion into an Egyptian death goddess. Granted, that may not make a huge impact on how a beat ‘em up is received, but the narrative was so unintelligible that not even glowing Nintendo Power coverage could polish this turd. And they successfully made Final Fantasy Legends seem sane! Between that and likely seeing a game over without exiting the first screen, it is easy to see how this beat ‘em up sequel did not leave a good impression.

And that's fineAnd despite the fact that Double Dragon then went on to headline the second videogame movie ever made (!), this is the game that killed the franchise. A “real” Double Dragon 4 would not be seen for decades, and the best the Lee Brothers could hope for for beat ‘em up action in the meanwhile was starring opposite some amphibians (and not even the popular amphibians!). It sure looks like, whether through apathy or dedicated protest, the public did not appreciate the rapacious Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it poisoned the franchise for years. And, given we never saw such predatory models in Double Dragon or another beat ‘em up ever again, it seems like even the videogame companies learned to avoid these terrible microtransactions.

So the bad guys trying to squeeze extra money out of their audience well and truly lost. We now live in a glorious future where…

I hate everything about this, too

Oh dammit.

FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

  • System: Let’s claim that today’s article is based on the arcade version exclusively, and the NES version is a weird footnote. The arcade version was distinctly ported to a number of systems, like Gameboy and Sega Genesis, but each of those had to include odd concessions to account for credits system. You mostly got virtual coins for “whatever”, so the shops still kinda worked without demanding you install a quarter slot on your Amiga. Also: not at all worth playing.
  • Number of players: Three in the arcade, two at home. Note that there is a special move you can only use when you have two players available, so that is yet another way this damned thing bleeds cash out of its players.
  • What the hell!?Favorite Fighter: It is abundantly clear that the arcade characters are not balanced as well as the Lee Brothers, and any given giant playable character is all vulnerable hit box and no reciprocal power. And Chin… man, we’re not talking about Chin. So I guess the default Lees win by default. Hooray for normalcy.
  • Favorite What The Hell is Happening: There is exactly one puzzle in the arcade version, and it is a “challenge” to walk across the right floor tiles to spell out “Rosetta”. You are also being chased by a gigantic alien monster the entire time. This creature is then never seen or referenced again. I… feel like this should be acknowledged.
  • An end: The NES version offers a customized epilogue for each of the characters, but the Famicom port only provides an ending for characters that are still alive. I guess this implies any of your defeated fighters are actually dead-dead, and Billy might be an only child if no one ever hits start on a second controller. Meanwhile, the ending for the arcade version is simply Billy rolling around in a pile of plundered gold. Thank you, Karnov.
  • Did you know? The NES version is the source of the infamous “Bimmy” mistranslation that misnames Jimmy to a name closer to his brother’s. However, like the arcade version, the American version came first here, and it is likely this is less a translation error as a programming error that only appears when the opening crawl has to name both players (it is completely absent in one player mode). So blame the computer nerds, not the language nerds.
  • Would I play again: Never. Other Double Dragon games are better than this. Yes, even that Double Dragon game. It’s better. You know it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby and the Forgotten Land! Here is where I use the prerequisite “it’s going to suck” joke! Please look forward to it!

This ain't Clone High

FGC #618 Body Harvest

SPACE STATION BODY HARVESTHelp me out here. I am trying to determine whether Body Harvest, a Nintendo 64 game released in 1998, absolutely needs a modern remake, or if it is a game that could only ever be a product of its unique time.

Body Harvest deserves the 21st Century!

Superficially, Body Harvest has a traditional videogame premise that could slot into any gaming epoch. Giant, vaguely mechanical bugs have attacked Earth, and it is your job to repel the invasion. Hell, that’s just Space Invaders! But the twist here is that you have the ability to 4-D travel along the timeline of their invasion, and you can battle bugs back in the far-off past of World War I or the far-flung future of six years ago (hey, 2016 seemed pretty advanced in 1998). And it isn’t just about slightly changing the background to match a setting, either, each of the four time periods featured in Body Harvest dramatically differ in the firepower, vehicles, or just plain people you encounter.

And that is the first check in our “please remake” column: this was Grand Theft Auto before there was a GTA(3), but with even more variety. Technically, this should not be a surprise, as Body Harvest was designed by DMA Design, which went on to become Rockstar, which was directly responsible for Grand Theft Auto 3 a scant three years later. You can see the exact gameplay with your little orange warrior skipping from car to tank that would be recycled for Claude hopping from… well… He got a tank, too, didn’t he? But, as much as Grand Theft Auto 3 and its descendants tried to mix things up with fun or interesting new vehicles, they still have nothing on rolling around in a Japanese Zero plane while splatting insects. The different time periods naturally lend themselves to a variety of vehicles, and Body Harvest deserves to have Adam grabbing a veritable Gran Turismo of automobiles during his 1966 trip to America.

Stay dampBut this also leads to a significant sign of Body Harvest’s times. There are multiple vehicles in every epoch… but they are all pretty much the same. A plane is a plane, a tank is a tank, and nobody ever likes to be railroaded into a boat. A modern remake of Body Harvest could actually make these vehicles feel distinct, as you better believe it would feel different to drive a Grecian jeep in 1916 versus an American luxury car in 1966. And the weapons? There is a mythical “sun shield” in early 20th Century Greece that functions exactly like a laser from decades later. Does that make a bit of sense? Nope. A game that was designed nowadays could truly make the gulf of a century of technology felt during gameplay.

And speaking of modern changes, you have likely heard that every franchise wants to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild nowadays. Well, here is a game that was Breath of the Wild long before Link ever considered his first sheikah slate. The worlds of Body Harvest are huge, and they even follow a familiar pattern of “fog” obscuring the world map until you find and defeat a proper giant bug. Unlike a similar DMA Design game of the era, Space Station Silicon Valley, Body Harvest revels in its open world gameplay, and rewards the player with massive playgrounds when they unlock the epoch’s plane equivalent (usually a plane). Yes, the regions of these worlds work like “levels” with bite sized challenges, but the future tech justified “fast travel” between different areas reinforces how Body Harvest was definitely a game before its time.

What in blazes is thatAnd, yes, that means these “huge” worlds are 100% “huge” with the caveat that they are areas in a N64 game. Just like how the giant bugs scale with your lil’ space marine, so they do seem to be gargantuan, formidable opponents… that can barely move. In the same way that exploring a giant world needs a little more horsepower to craft a truly giant world, the enormous bug monsters would be a whole lot scarier if they were not hampered by a system that allowed them to move about as fast as a sloth contemplating the benefits of a reverse mortgage. The whole concept here is that bugs the sizes of buildings are wiping out humanity, so it is super important that these creatures are immediately perceptible as maddeningly enormous. Unfortunately, that makes everything but the basic drones effectively immobile, so a little more RAM under the hood could really add to the threatening bug realism here.

In short, everything that Body Harvest tries to do could be made better by modern technology. You can almost feel the game that Body Harvest could be if it were released in 2022.

But would it still be the same game if it were released today? Because…

Body Harvest is a relic of the 20th Century!

Want to know the number one thing that surprised this 21st Century Boy when playing this pre-2000 videogame? Adam the Orange Warrior can enter houses. In fact, you have to enter a house as part of the opening of the game, and making progress through the various areas all but requires stopping into people’s homes. And they are not just dialogue boxes hiding in houses: these are actual “maps” that include hidden items, health refills, and even the occasional puzzle. Some of the “ancient Greek” dungeons could be mistaken for Zelda areas, and some of the future “sewers” could be entire (terrible) games on their own. And they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore! You know that if Body Harvest were made a few years later, “somebody put the bridge up” would simply be a communications dialogue box, and not a house including a person. The “dungeon puzzles” would somehow be modified to be solvable without leaving your car du jour, and any sort of regional/epoch variety would be completely lost. Actually seeing and interacting with people in a game where you are trying to save said people makes a big difference. You are not rescuing random humans that fill up your “humans lost” meter, you are saving that guy that lives in that house over there. The one with the water barrel that fills up your health! He’s important!

This is a friendly placeBut that does bring us to the whole “different time periods” problem of Body Harvest’s design. To be absolutely clear on what happens in Body Harvest, every epoch also has its own geographic location. 1916 is Greece, 1941 is Java, 1966 is a generic city in America, and 1991 is Siberia. If you find some NPC you like in the first time period, sorry to say that you are not ever going to encounter that guy again. It is a shame, as one of the coolest things a videogame can do is play with time travel for the ever popular “plant a seed, watch the tree grow” experience that is generally impossible in actual reality (or at least far too boring). However, this also means Body Harvest straddles the line between “open world” and “levels”. By the finale of the 1916 area, you can go practically anywhere on that map, and maybe find a random laser component or two to make your life easier. But the minute you activate the boss of the level and claim victory? You ain’t seein’ 1916 or Greece ever again, boy-o.

And that is antithetical to modern day “open world” design. The benefit of Breath of the Wild is that, barring Link breaking his own legs while shield-surfing down a mountain, you can always return to the starting plateau. You can venture around the world in any order you want, and then venture backwards through that same world as you so choose. Cutting off areas by epochs? That is either going to mean there are places you can never return to; or, even worse, making “backwards” time travel a mandatory solution to puzzles. It is cool to see a world grow up over a hundred years, it is dramatically less fun to be told you have to scoot back to previous areas every other scene because someone programmed in backtracking puzzles. That’s the opposite of an open world! That’s a crap world!

It must stink down hereSo maybe Body Harvest is bound to its own epoch. Maybe we could never see such a game today, because too many modern conventions seem to state, “we don’t do that anymore”. Designing entire building interiors just to support random NPCs? An open world that is not an open world? Levels? Screw that noise. That is some 1998 wiz biz, and we are unlikely to ever see it again.

Or not? What do you think, humble reader? Could we see an ideal Body Harvest HD? Or is it never going to be half the game it once was in an effort to be the game it could be today? Past or Future? And does said past or future include giant bugs?

The world may never know. Then again, maybe we’ll see Body Harvest HD before Grand Theft Auto 6…

FGC #618 Body Harvest

  • System: Nintendo 64. It was nearly a launch game! … But then some stuff happened.
  • Number of players: Adam Orange must fight a hundred years of giant bugs all alone.
  • Where in time is giant bugs: Most of the epochs are just an excuse to pal around in familiar settings of the last century, but the modern level in Siberia is either a tremendous diss to Russia, or an excuse for a zombie level. Or both! Siberia’s military facility (?) is lousy with all sorts of modern armaments, but it also has a severe nuclear zombie issue. Maybe it is supposed to be a Chernobyl reference? The dangers of modern technology? Whatever. Point is that it is a really weird final “real” level, and maybe speaks to the developers getting bored about 80% of the way through their own idea.
  • I do not like it hereAn end: The finale is, as was the style at the time, a level that forsakes everything that made the game great, and just an excuse to zoom around an alien asteroid in a homicidal hovercraft. At least you used the hovercraft in other levels/battles, so it is not completely out of left field; but it is still a sad excuse to not have a final “future” level with more interesting future vehicles. And then you kill a giant cockroach that is also your brother. Real Shakespeare s%&# right there.
  • Filthy Cheater: There are also a variety of cheats coded into the game, with some lifesaving (health refill, have all weapons) and some a little more on the silly side of things (have fat legs). Come to think of it, the N64 era was the golden age of ridiculous cheats. Or maybe we all just enjoyed big head mode a little too much.
  • Favorite Vehicle: For some reason, my dad has always liked the Ford Edsel. It is a weird little car, and my dad is a weird little guy, so it makes sense. So imagine my surprised when Edsels pop up as the first car available in the America stage of 1966! Despite the fact that the Edsel stopped production in 1960! Weird little choice, guys!
  • Did you know? Body Harvest was going to be an N64 launch game compliments of Nintendo publishing. And, according to a scant few interviews on the subject, Body Harvest was micromanaged by Nintendo of Japan quite a bit before the company outright dropped the title for theoretically “it’s too violent” reasons. DMA Design struggled to find another publisher, and Body Harvest was eventually released in its current (and only) incarnation. Worth noting? This inevitably caused a bit of a gulf between DMA Design and Nintendo, and considering DMA digivolved into becoming Rockstar… is there an alternate universe where Body Harvest stayed the Nintendo course, and Grand Theft Auto 3 is a Nintendo Gamecube launch game?
  • God bless America/bugsWould I play again: Maybe? Body Harvest is a strange game that is very much a product of its time, but it is a downright shame it never saw a follow up to its own unique flavor of gameplay. Grand Theft Auto 3 is the obvious descendant, but I could use a game with a rocket launcher and a few more giant bugs. So maybe I’ll try Body Harvest again for the experience.

What’s next? Looks like Valentine’s Day is next Monday, so we’re going to have a special Wankery Week article ready for the holiday of love. There will be cooking! Please look forward to it!