Tag Archives: arcade

SBC #06 Fox & Star Fox 2

Doing this againTwo facts:

  • Star Fox 2 is an amazing, fun game.
  • Star Fox 2 would have destroyed Nintendo if it were released in 1995.

So let us examine how two incongruent truths exist.

Star Fox 2 is Great!

The original Star Fox is a great game that is probably best described as Nintendo’s finest candidate for the Star Fox: Super Challenge. It is a 3-D rail shooter that sees Fox & friends fly between planets in an effort to repel a deadly ape invasion. It is great fun, and a marvelous technical achievement for its time. It is also a remarkably straightforward game, with a meager number of named characters battling over an army of anonymous polygons, bosses exactly as remarkable as their unexceptional names (“Mommy, I want a Blade Barrier action figure!”), and gameplay that is the very definition of “on rails”. Give or take different difficulty routes, Star Fox is an extremely basic game released at a time when Mario was finding secret exits, Link was exploring a gigantic world, and even Kirby was rocking an intricate adventure back on the NES. Star Fox was comparatively limited, and fun in spite of the fact that it did not possess the freedom of its contemporaries. Sometimes a decent “score attack” is all you need!

WeeeeStar Fox 2 took everything to the next level. In the first game, you exclusively controlled Fox, and your wingmen were 10% helpful, 90% escort missions. Now you had a full selection of six playable pilots, and your chosen partner was a trusted advisor and another potential life meter. And speaking of wingmen, the two newest Star Fox recruits were a pair of women with novel, distinct attendant stories. We were dealing with a Mario Kart-esque situation wherein different characters were all generally very similar, but the option of personally steering Slippy Toad in and out of danger was appreciated. Additionally, the Star Wolf team was introduced, so Sonic could fight Shadow, and a player could really sink their teeth into a dogfight between two comparable canis. It sure beats the pants off Professor Hanger.

But Star Fox 2’s improvements were not limited to plot options. Star Fox 2 expanded the shoot ‘em up gameplay of Star Fox and added what could best be described as baby’s first real time strategy game. You have two arwings, and Andross has an army that includes ships, planetary bases, missiles, and at least one (1) space dragon. It is your mission to steer your two pilots around the galaxy, and block any and all oncoming threats that could potentially harm Corneria. As such, you must carefully manage your (two) resources, and scoot around a very active galactic battlefield to keep your base secure, your navigators healthy, and Andross in a constant state of exploding. At a time when “world map” mostly meant pressing right to go to the next level, this dynamic universe was practically unheard of on home consoles.

Love this guyBut let’s not ignore the main event: Star Fox is a shoot ‘em up, and Star Fox 2 expands on that gameplay, too. Dogfights! Flying in full, 3-D arenas! Exploring bases by transforming into a walking, shooting robot! Charged attacks! Bosses that are more complicated than aiming for a glowing weak point! Mostly! The basics of Star Fox feel like a demo for the more attractive gameplay of Star Fox 2, and the fact that we wouldn’t see many of these features until the Nintendo 64 is a major loss for Super Nintendo players of the mid 90’s.

Of course, such thinking is moot, as the world of 1995 would not have accepted Star Fox 2.

Star Fox 2 would Fail!

It has long been said that there were whole decades where the general population did not know what they wanted from a videogame, and 1995 was definitely one of those epochs. Children born after the R U E advertising campaign have to understand that there was a year when the likes of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Comix Zone, and Street Fighter Alpha were panned as too derivative and/or boring; while the likes of Battle Arena Toshinden, Brain Dead 13, and The 11th Hour were lauded as the future of gaming. While it is easy to simply blame this on the public swaying with the trends of the time, there are some elements of their ancient reviewing criteria that have stuck with us through the ages. One of the big ones? A game has to be long and contain “hours of gameplay” to be good. If a game is short, you are not getting enough bang for your buck, and it is indisputably bad.

And Star Fox 2 is over within a half hour.

Them's pigsIf you have moderate skills with 3-D movement, shooting, and positioning your arwings between homebase and a few dozen missiles, it is very easy to complete Star Fox 2 in the time it takes to watch a TV show. Obviously, if your poor Falco isn’t as much as an ace as advertised, and the buzzard is crashing every three seconds, things are going to take longer; but if you have reasonable skills, Normal is more easily conquered than sitting through The Jerky Boys: The Movie. Harder modes add extra obstacles, onslaughts, and Star Wolf members, but Normal Mode is literally Normal Mode, so why would you expect the game to be significantly longer on different levels? And once you beat the game in a half hour, you will likely realize that you could do that even faster, so clearing Star Fox 2 quicker than it takes to watch one spell animation on the Playstation is theoretically possible.

Lest your modern brain think this is a problem, understand that this is the appeal of Star Fox 2. This is a game that is meant to be played to “completion”, but never truly conquered until you have discovered the proper paths to an unbeatable high score. Star Fox 2 ends with the defeat of Andross, but also an arcade-esque “enter your initials” high score table of everyone that has ever completed Star Fox 2 on this cart. You are meant to repel this invasion repeatedly, and get better at it every time. Yes, Star Fox 2 is supposed to take a half hour, but then you will play through it again and again, and devote hours and hours to the game in pursuit of the perfect Star Wolf defeat. And, since you could reasonably get an entire play session out of a short period of time, it would be the ideal game to play “between” other events (or even other games). Have a spare few minutes to yourself? Final Fantasy 6 would require an entire afternoon of making progress, but Star Fox 2 only demands 20 minutes. Maybe you’ll beat your last high score, maybe you won’t, but you’ll have a fun, speedy time trying.

Thank you, PaRappa!But ain’t no way anyone would have identified that in 1995. Back then, Star Fox 2 would have been panned as a tiny voyage that could never stand up to longer adventures like Castlevania: Dracula X. Only fighting games were allowed to have short “arcade modes”, and the idea of an action game that could roll credits in less than an hour was preposterous. This wasn’t the 8-bit era anymore! This wasn’t a time when you could clear Ice Climbers as easily as grabbing an eggplant! This was the gorram future, when these 3-D models were welcome to run around, but they damn well better be attached to a game that is properly worth $70. A Super FX2 chip game that ends before it begins? Inevitable thumbs down and sad face from Scary Larry.

Star Fox 2 is exactly where it should be

But the good news? No one has ever paid for Star Fox 2.

Star Fox 2 was eventually released in 2017 on the Super NES Classic Edition. It was one of 21 games on the device, and many see it as a “bonus game” that didn’t really fit with its contemporaries. It was “an extra”, and little more. For anyone that missed the mini, it was released two years later on the Nintendo Switch Online service as one of the many games you “get anyway” with a subscription to Nintendo online services. In both cases, Star Fox 2 was not a standalone product, and was a perk for already purchasing something that contained Super Metroid. And, while Star Fox 2 was a curiosity on the SNES Classic, on the Nintendo Switch, it flourishes.

This happens fastStar Fox 2 is finally home somewhere it can be used effectively. Star Fox 2 was never going to be a game that worked well with “switching in” a cartridge. That simple process was one where you could be changing over to a new, longer game, and not playing something you already marginally finished. But now that Star Fox 2 is available on a system where you can hop between games as easily as pressing your crosspad? Now you can truly play Star Fox 2 in a way that it can prove its genius. When you have twenty minutes to yourself, you now can defend the Lylat System in the same way you might play a few rounds of a rhythm game or a couple online matches in a fighting game. Star Fox 2 is now, finally permitted to thrive.

Star Fox 2: The best 1995 game released over twenty years later.

SBC #06 Fox & Star Fox 2

Fox in Super Smash Bros Ultimate


  • He any good? With his iconic moves like the reflector or the blaster, Fox is possibly the character most known for his appearance in Smash Bros over his own starring roles. And he’s fast. So very fast. Not my cup of tea, as I prefer slow and smashy, but Fox is definitely good and content with his lightning kick.
  • That final smash work? Finally! The Landmaster is no longer involved! Unfortunately, this makes Fox’s final smash little more than a cutscene. I guess it’s nice to be reminded that the rest of the squad exists?
  • The background work? The Corneria Cruise with the Great Fox is basically a modified version of the original Sector Z tour from Super Smash Bros. The shape is the same, but the original Sector Z stage was weirdly huge, while this stage is an itty bitty giant spaceship. No matter. You can still hide out on that laser at the bottom for absolutely no reason.
  • First Appearance: I understand why, but Fox is so slow back on the N64. It feels like he can barely do damage, but his ability to hop all over the arena and grab 70 items before Donkey Kong can even blink is pretty choice.
  • Classic Mode: “Spaceborne Smash” sees Fox battling all the smashers that come from the stars. And that means we all have to be reminded that Metaknight of Kirby’s cast comes from space. This naturally concludes with Star Wolf and Master Hand. Is Master Hand a stand-in for a giant face that is normally Fox’s enemy?
  • Smash Trivia: Fox’s background based “smash taunt” started the tradition of one stage having specific scenes with “outside” characters talking. This led to Shadow Moses Island and Palutenia’s Wisdom in later games, so it is arguably Fox’s most important contribution to the franchise.
  • Dash!

  • Amiibo Corner: Trophy Fox is dynamic and dashing forward, complete with his little shield charm and scouter. Still, this kind of direction-oriented amiibo needs a matching buddy going in the other direction. Falco? You available?
  • Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? Arguably, nobody remembers today’s game. Star Fox 2 influenced future titles, but it doesn’t seem to have made an individual impact on Smash Bros.

Fox in Star Fox 2

  • System: It was intended for the Super Nintendo, but it can only be played on a novelty mini console, and the Nintendo Switch.
  • Number of players: Maybe if they made this a “full release”, it would include a versus mode like Star Fox 64. Sticking to single player, now, though.
  • WeeeeeA shape of things to come: The RTS system here would obviously return in Star Fox Command, the “walker” would come back in Star Fox Zero, and nearly everything else became part of Star Fox 64. That said, the way the walker steers feels remarkably like Super Mario 64, and it is difficult to see those sections of Star Fox 2 as anything but a trial run for that eventual classic.
  • Those we left behind: Even though they would have likely caught the furry world by storm like Krystal, I do feel like the Star Fox Team is lesser for ditching Miyu the Lynx and Fay the Poodle. Aside from the obvious dose of estrogen being sorely lacking for so long, the idea of an aristocratic socialite turned pilot bickering with Falco is delightful. Less of a loss is Star Wolf’s Algy the Lemur, who lacks the plot hook of replacement Andrew’s fail-nephew status.
  • Favorite Pilot: Let’s just go with Miyu the Lynx. There really isn’t a moment for any one pilot to shine in this adventure, but Miyu has a lot of potential as one of the neophytes. Also: I like cats.
  • An End: Andross apparently only really knows how to build giant faces and cubes that also feature a bunch of faces. There is an unexplored vanity that permeates everything this less-than-a-king-kong does.
  • Choose your fighterDid you know? This was the last game that involved a working relationship between Argonaut Software and Nintendo. They collaborated on Star Fox, Stunt Race FX, and Star Fox 2. But Argonaut’s successor, Q-Games, would work with Nintendo again in 2006 on Star Fox Command. And the connection between Star Fox 2 and Star Fox Command is, in retrospect, glaringly obvious.
  • Would I play again: I have not yet stopped playing this game, as it is an excellent way to wind down after playing some other game. And I play a lot of games! So Star Fox 2 will show up again.

What’s next? King Dedede is going to save Dreamland… assuming Kirby doesn’t screw it all up! Please look forward to it!

No biting

FGC #645 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Go go shredder manThe best beat ‘em ups are dumb as hell.

While Gogglebob.com is still officially claiming that any and all articles appearing within the Fustian Gaming Challenge are randomly chosen (“random” can mean a lot!), today’s article is obviously inspired by the glut of excellent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle gaming that has been released within the last year. A whole new turtle experience (but primarily based on the 80’s cartoon), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, was released in June of 2022. Then, a whole two (or so) months later, we were graced with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, which collected seemingly every turtle game from the early days of the Nintendo versus Sega console wars (though the lack of Tiger Handheld titles was obviously a glaring omission). While this collection does include a few titles that are outside the beat ‘em up genre, the focus here are the arcade and console games that showcase ninja walking left to right and incessantly detonating foot soldiers. Many of these titles have been played and covered on this site before, but now having all the arcade, NES, SNES, and Genesis turtle beat ‘em ups immediately available and just a swipe away from each other? Amazing! I’m going to spend the next week finding all the stupid ways you can fight Krang!

And, having devoured all these titles in rapid succession, one simple truth emerges: all of these games are really good! Some are better than others, some are more memorable than others, and every single one includes a fight against Shredder that borders on unfair; but they are all a good time from beginning to end. It would be easy to simply reward infinite bonus points to these titles for practically defining the genre for a generation, but even the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade) is still fun throughout, and does not need a corollary “oh we owe this so much” like some progenitors of genres. Pick a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up, any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up released or rereleased in 2022, and you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself.

I don't get itAnd that’s… kind of weird, right? Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking? No, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge was a whole new experience. Maybe it’s a love of classic turtles? No, if I’m being honest, I would like to see nearly any other incarnation of these hero turtles included in a beat ‘em up. Is it because the beat ‘em up genre has languished for so long? No, that may have been true a decade or so back, but with everything from new Streets of Rage to Ninja Warriors, we are living in a neo golden age of beat ‘em ups. The humble beat ‘em up is soaring to the heavens! On an elevator where you have to beat everybody up! So why is a game from before we even hit the 90’s still so good?

Simple answer, stupid: it’s because it’s stupid.

There is not much to a beat ‘em up game. You walk down pathways that are so straightforward, it is literally impossible to get lost. There is no such thing as needing a map for a beat ‘em up. And speaking of strategy, 90% of your opponents in a beat ‘em up require just as much thinking as jabbing your index finger down. Oh no! Seventeen foot soldiers! I wonder if jump kicking over and over will stop them? And, while the generals are generally more complicated than their foot soldiers (oh… I just got that), they are still little more than the same mooks with extra steps. Double the health, and maybe there’s a laser gun, but no extra brains are available. In fact, “no extra brains” seems to be the name of the game here, as a brainless five-year-old could conquer any of these games. And I should know! I used to be that brainless five-year-old! I had a whole lot of quarters, but no sense!

Love that rhinoAnd that is the point. Are any of the TMNT titles truly “brainless”? Absolutely not. These are carefully crafted games designed to seem brainless. Anyone that ever tried a one-credit run of these titles will tell you that Rocksteady has tremendously more nuance to his charges, foot soldiers of all different colors have dramatically distinct attack patterns, and there is a way to make Shredder keel without ever eating a mutagen beam. There is a rhythm here, a carefully calculated method to the madness that, like the best movies or music, makes it all look easy. And that’s the point! The games are not brainless, but you are supposed to be brainless, because if you’re not thinking, you’re not thinking about how many tokens you’re dropping in there. Baxter Stockman just knocked you flat? Dang! You almost had ‘em! Better drop another quarter, dollar, or however much money it takes to lay that scientist-fly flat. 90% of 90’s beat ‘em ups are perfectly calibrated to drain 90% of your wallet without you even noticing 90% of the time.

And, brother, if you got friends around the arcade cabinet with you sharing the experience? Encouraging you to keep going, and support the team with more of your hard-earned (or grandpa provided) dough? Oh, you’re going to be there until the end. Welcome to the cult of the beat ‘em up, please follow the Konami scripture.

Buy all our playsets and toysAnd if you’re wondering why it took so long for beat ‘em ups to find their footing in the modern era, simply consider how much this business model gameplay does not work with an at-home experience. The comradery of crowding around a cabinet is completely absent from online play, and paying once for a DLC title is not nearly the same as paying for a game a quarter at a time. Once you drop the essential trappings of the genre (and arguably their entire point for existence), you’ve got dumb gameplay that serves… nothing. Videogames are supposed to make you feel smart! Every puzzle you unravel in a game (whether it be in Candy Crush or Phoenix Wright) is designed to be resolved and tickle your brain in the right ways so you believe you are better for having solved the mystery. Every JRPG that challenges you to master its “system” is another exercise in making you feel sharper than a +1 vorpal blade. And those “skill trees” and bosses with weaknesses in action games are there to commend you for making the brilliant deduction that the fire move will hurt the ice monster. Achievement unlocked: you are a super player. Playing a game that is naturally “stupid” is the antithesis of that, and why would you bother playing such a thing when other games that properly massage your endorphins are immediately available?

Well, because you recognize Tokka, Rahzar, and Tempestra.

These games are good and stupid. And when you’re feeling stupid, a decent shot of nostalgia will keep things going.

And I’d love to list more reasons to play these games, but I just played a lot of turtle beat ‘em ups, and everything is kind of… fuzzy for some reason…

Me am like beat ‘em ups. Play more. Cowabunga.

FGC #645 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

  • System: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC/Steam. Make sure you choose the system that all your friends own!
  • Number of players: Six! And it is super fun when you get everyone together and working against Shredder’s forces. In fact…
  • Watch it, Buddy: All sorts of turtle stuff happened on Even Worse Streams. We all played Shredder’s Revenge, and we… kinda played the Arcade collection. There were some technical issues! You may watch ‘em below.

    Original Stream Date: June 21, 2022

    Original Stream Date: August 30, 2022

    Original Stream Date: September 6, 2022

    The collection episode doesn’t really have any beat ‘em ups in there, but there wasn’t a place for it elsewhere on the site…

  • Favorite Turtle: You may notice that I played as Donatello in every one of those streams. This is by design.
  • Also goodFavorite Boss: Dirtbag and Groundchuck are the price cut, bargain bin version of Bebop and Rocksteady, and I am a man that likes his discounts. I always appreciate the duo bosses in beat ‘em ups, because it makes for a fine counter to playing with a buddy, and an excellent excuse to strategize with your partner(s). Oh, and Groundchuck is some manner of cyborg bull. That gets bonus points, too.
  • Favorite Boss (Tournament Edition): Anytime Wingnut appears, you are going to have a good time. I have adored that action figure for years (it’s so weirdly gross!), so I am glad to see this Batman get a spot as an aerial opponent.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Speaking of toys, I noted on the Shredder’s Revenge stream that I had the Knuckle Head vehicle as a kid. And here’s proof!

    So adorable

    A new toy and a new dinosaur friend! Best Christmas ever!

  • Let’s talk about another game: For possibly the first time since I was twelve, I played through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist as part of the collection. While it is the official Konami beat ‘em up for Sega Genesis, it is weird how much it feels like a fan romhack of Turtles in Time. Areas are repurposed haphazardly (I guess there’s just a pirate ship in the sewers now?), the one original boss is from the movie and has extremely limited animations, and an entire level is a boss rush (in a game with, like, five bosses). It’s still a fun game from start to finish, though! It is a good romhack.
  • Did you know? The Punk Frogs appear in Shredder’s Revenge as helper characters. Attila, Genghis, Napoleon Bonafrog, and Rasputin apparently made a lasting impression on the fandom… despite only appearing in six episodes of the original series. Irma, another helper character, appeared in, like, a million episodes. Regardless, what is important is that they are known as the “Punk” frogs, but they are clearly surfer dudes. Know your genres!
  • Would I play again: Anytime I need some good, stupid fun, I know the heroes on a half shell to call.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Killer Instinct for the Xbox One! Is Fulgore still full of gore? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Okay, that was impressive

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

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

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

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 #632 Pac-Land

This is a Pac that is in timeThis article is going to require a little background.

In 1980, Pac-Man was released. By 1984, Pac-Man had spread as Pac-Fever, and the whole of the world (or at least the part of the world that had quarters) was obsessed with the little yellow dude (and his wife, if we are legally allowed to mention her this week). So, for the first time in four years, Pac-Man decided to branch out. After multiple Pac titles that attempted to capitalize on the familiar Pac-Man gameplay (and a seemingly infinite number of “maze likes” that copied Pac-Man’s gameplay wholesale), Pac-Land sauntered onto the scene to try something different. No more would Pac-Man wander around nondescript mazes in an attempt to gobble up dots. No! This puck-man had legs! And a hat! And he was venturing far from home to return a lost fairy to Fairyland (as you do), and gaining flying boots (good thing he has feet now!) for his troubles. No more was Pac-Man obsessed with endless consumption, and the “four” ghosts that had plagued him in the past were now an army with planes, chains, and automobiles. About the only thing here that was 100% pac-gameplay was the beloved power pellet, and even that wound up being more of an “end of the level” bonus than the nigh-always accessible “spinach” of previous pac-titles. Pac-Land was and continues to be a whole new dimension for Pac-Man.

Look at him goBut it was not simply Pac-Man that was revolutionized by Pac-Land. Pac-Land, right there in 1984, practically invented the concept of the endless runner. Where once ol’ Pac-Man could only be credited for normalizing the maze-based gameplay that was the focus of his early adventures, Pac-Land created something that would come to define “mobile titles” for a generation of hardware. The arcade cabinet for Pac-Land had no joystick: there was a jump button, and directional run buttons. You cannot “steer” Pac-Man, you simply control how fast he is going (by repeatedly tapping the run button to go faster), and when Pac-Man jumps. And that’s it! There is little backtracking, there is no permanently turning from danger: there is simply running. Endless running. Once every few stages, you gain an infinite jump, but that is the only real “change” that ever occurs in Pac-Land. This is an endless runner with extremely simple gameplay, and, considering it was released in 1984, it was eerily prescient on a possible future for gaming that would come two decades later.

But creating a genre was not enough for Pac-Land to leave an indelible mark on gaming forever. Shigeru Miyamoto reportedly stated that Pac-Land was an influence on Nintendo games going forward. Do a little research, and you’ll find that Miyamoto was very specific about what Pac-Land influenced. For at least one legendary games designer, Pac-Land was all about this…

This is normal Pac-Land

Or… to be clear…

Now do you get it?

The big thing that influenced Shigeru Miyamoto? The sky of Pac’s Land is blue. In a 1998 interview, Shigeru Miyamoto admitted that he saw Pac-Land as stiff competition for his already successful (but undoubtedly waning) Donkey Kong. And he had a 2-D side scroller already in mind for Jump Man, but Pac-Land had something he had not considered: a world.

Right from the initial release, Pac-Land’s blue skies separated it from the land. When Pac-Land was transported overseas to America, it gained additional details that tied it to the (then new) Pac-Man animated series. But, regardless of version, Pac-Land always had a clear sense of geography and space. Pac-Man starts at his home. Pac-Man ventures through a town, whether that be a pristine village with houses and fire hydrants, or a jumbled mass of seaside walls and water. There is a forest. There is a mountainside. It genuinely feels like there is a lot of land for Pac-Man to cover on his way to Fairyland. And Fairyland looks completely separate from Pac-Man’s world! And then, immediately after visiting this magical grove, Pac-Man ventures back over familiar territory, but with a new, unstoppable super power. The world is the same, Pac-Man is changed, and a simple narrative begins to take shape. And it all traces back to something as simple as the sky being blue.

But no spiniesAnd let’s not underestimate how a “blue sky” led to the success of Super Mario Bros. SMB has amazing gameplay, memorable characters, and a “loop” that lends itself perfectly to gaming in 1985. But that blue sky is what keeps you going. Mario’s first adventure was in a nondescript construction site that could be easily mistaken for a pie factory. Mario’s second journey was through a sewer that was identified by prominent pipes. But Super Mario Bros.? That is an adventure through a world. Mario is saving the Mushroom Kingdom, and everything from bricks to castles to deep oceans tell the player that Mario is making progress through this land. This is a place, this is a country, and it has been conquered by an invading force of turtles and chestnuts. You will venture through every underground area, every cloud-filled sky, to save this place. We’re sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another castle, and that means you are going to the next, separate castle. So there are more castles, Toad?! Aren’t we excited to see more of this world?

Over time, backgrounds became standard in games that did not ever need a sense of place. The whole of the fighting game genre is replete with titles that made the choice between “they are fighting in a large, grassy field” or “they are fighting specifically in front of a busy Chinese street where some dude is selling caged chickens”. While the distinction is not universal, it seems the games that made the latter choice are more likely to be successes. Similarly, JRPGs have come to be defined by their worlds, with “generic dungeons” always paling in comparison to skulking through volcanos, sky fortresses, or ice caverns. Could the likes of Cloud or This sucks so badThe Luminary be content with caves that have nothing more to them than black backgrounds and an assortment of monsters? Theoretically yes, but wouldn’t you rather venture through a dilapidated train yard? The tiniest bit of background adds… background to the proceedings, and that can make all the difference in a narrative that is meant to drive the player and disguise how so many games are simply about making numbers go up.

So, like Shigeru Miyamoto, let us thank the inspirational Pac-Land. With the simple addition of backgrounds, Pac-Man was given a world. And from that world, whole universes have formed.

FGC #632 Pac-Land

  • System: I am not comfortable with all the ways you can play Pac-Land. There was the NES port. The Commodore 64 or Atari ST ports. The TurboGrafx-16 port. It had a Lynx port. And then it wound up on the Playstation, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 as parts of various collections. It was available ala carte on the WiiU. And now it is available on all modern systems thanks to yet another Pac-collection. It… wasn’t on the Super Nintendo, I guess.
  • Number of players: Technically two, put it is alternating.
  • Port-o-Call: Depending on your version or region, you may find a lot of differences between the various Pac-Lands. Does the “rest stop” church have a cross? Is the music playing the same ditty from the Pac-Man animated series? Have Ms. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man been replaced by the nefarious imposters, Pac-Mom and Pac-Sis? Don’t for a moment imagine that time and copyright law have not impacted the gentle denizens of Pac-Land.
  • The keys suckFavorite Level: Anything that does not involve the “broken” ground of the water stages is my favorite. I guess the mountain stages win, then? I like the idea that Pac-Man is going on a happy little hike, and the ghosts just happen to be an omnipresent threat that haunts Pac’s life because of all those crimes he did in the 60’s.
  • For the Sequel: The obvious, direct sequel to Pac-Land is Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. That was another attempt to invent an entirely new genre of pac-gameplay, and… well… Cell phones or not, the whole “marginally control a cartoon character” thing never really caught on. More’s the pity, as Pac-Man 2 is definitely the more revolutionary title, if only because making Pac-Man mad at cows is a gameplay echelon The Last of Us could only ever hope to achieve.
  • Did you know? A lot of Pac-Man’s move set in Smash Bros. is partially or wholly based on actions/obstacles found in Pac-Land. So if you are wondering where he got that jump, MS Paint scrolling background, or the fire hydrant, look no further than Pac-Land. Or don’t, because literally every other Pac-Man game is probably a better choice.
  • Would I play again: This is yet another important title in gaming history that I do not need to play ever again. And I won’t miss it, either! Ms. Pac-Man is right there! Assuming I’m legally allowed to play it this week!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic CD! It’s like regular Sonic the Hedgehog, but with all the power of CD technology! Wow! Please look forward to it!

Goodbye forever!
Happier times…