Tag Archives: arcade

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!

Repel
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
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 #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…

FGC #628 Popeye

Let's pop an eye?A popular nerd debate has always been who would win in a fight: Superman or Goku. Aside from the obvious problem with this dispute (as two sons of exploded planets that generally fight for justice, Superman and Goku would instantly become best friends and go to driving school together), the mere concept of such a battle ignores what makes Kal-El and Kakarot work. These two potential super friends are not powerful because they can push planets and fire energy beams, they are “strong” because they are eternally righteous and exist in a universe that will always narratively support their good deeds. Goku might lose a fighting tournament, and Superman might lose a footrace with the Flash, but when the world is threatened? When some monster from space is whipping out the human extinction attack? Then, and only then, will these heroes find the incredible strength necessary to save (and possibly revive) everyone they love. Goku and Superman were not first created with unfettered strength or super ventriloquism, they developed these powers as their rescues demanded it, and have since become “over 9,000” powerhouses with the rolling tumbleweed of continuity. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku? Whichever hero had a friend in danger first, and then they would miraculously become Super Saiyan Level Krypton or empowered by the Universe 7’s sun’s rays just enough to triumph and save the day.

And it’s all moot, anyway, because Popeye would kick both of their asses. Popeye is the ur-hero of the last century.

Get those notesPopeye was introduced to the world nearly ten years before Clark Kent ever made the scene. In his initial appearance, Popeye was a sailor-side character that gained unfathomable luck by rubbing the hairs of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. This allowed Popeye to cheat at gambling (yes, having hen-derived luck would be considered outright fraud by most major casinos), and, more importantly, have enough luck to survive what would have been a fatal shooting. While the lesson of “do not cheat at gambling unless you can verify your own immortality” was an important one, Popeye inadvertently introduced his oft-imitated formula for popularity/victory right there at the start. As “lucky invincibility” gave way to “incredible strength”, Popeye would often find himself in a completely impossible situation, with the only key to solve the latest problem being a conveniently available can of spinach. Spinach wasn’t always the answer to Popeye’s problems, but back in the days of Thimble Theatre starring Popeye, a quick burst of overwhelming power would solve many Sea Hag or Toar the Caveman related issues.

And then in 1932, King Features and Fleischer Studios teamed up to create the Popeye Theatrical Cartoons. For a solid 25 years, audiences watched shorts wherein Popeye would be trapped in an unwinnable position, but, at the last minute, our hero would down a can of spinach, grow muscles that looked way too cancerous to be healthy, and then wallop every problem in his path. Over and over again, Popeye would take a beating, seemingly be completely defeated, and then rally at the last moment with the help of one magical leafy green. And it was not just about strength for Popeye! Spinach would often confer hitherto unknown abilities upon our favorite sailor man, with at least a few cases where Popeye gained incredible smarts or acrobatic prowess. Was there an episode wherein Popeye instantly gained an understanding of Latin and proceeded to perform open heart surgery? No, but only because not enough people had heard of Daniel Hale Williams, and Max Fleischer didn’t want audiences to be confused. Operating skills aside, Popeye shorts reinforced incessantly that Popeye could do anything or defeat anybody just so long as he nabbed his favorite spinach within the final few moments of a conflict. Whether it was saving Olive Oyl or guaranteeing the safety of Sweat Pea, Popeye would always save the day.

Like in ZeldaAnd can you even count how many heroes followed the template of Popeye? Put the sailor man in a sailor fuku and we’ve got Sailor Moon. Strip him down to his pants and you’ve got The Hulk with that last minute burst of anger. Hell, let Popeye be a little more chill, and your “spinach” could very well be Columbo saying, “just one more thing.” Popeye is the ur-hero because his modus operandi is perfect for our 20-40 minute dramas, whether they feature slow and congenial detectives or massive muscle monsters. And then when you get into the realm of videogame heroes…

At their very core, videogames are all about “underdog” humans triumphing over “advanced” machines. That is all baloney, of course, as videogames have been designed to be won for decades. But the player has to feel like there is a challenge. The player must think that Link could never un-conquer a kingdom under the thumb of a pigman’s army, or that there is no possible way this little blue hedgehog could save his friends from a robotic invasion. The odds must be against you. The enemy must be seemingly unsurmountable. How are you going to get out of this one? Well, maybe you’ll find some spinach at just the right moment…

CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP

And then there’s Mario. Mario and Donkey Kong were famously created because Shigeru Miyamoto could not immediately obtain the Popeye license, and a new protagonist/antagonist duo had to be born. The proud pummeler became a pudgy plumber, and the big gorilla of an antagonist became a literal gorilla (and the Olive Oyl to Pauline transition was… succinct). Other than that? Donkey Kong could be Popeye (or it would be titled “Bluto”, I guess). The spinach to hammer transition is apparent, and, when Miyamoto finally got his hands on Popeye for the seminal arcade/NES hit, very little had changed. Popeye scampers around collecting hearts, letters, and musical notes while Bluto stomps about attempting to ruin Popeye’s day. The only real difference between this and Donkey Kong is that the Sea Hag becomes the stationary “monkey” that tosses off random projectiles, and Bluto fills the role of the sentient fireball that stalks our hero. But the fact that Popeye very well could be Mario neatly summarizes how the Mario/Bowser dynamic is something that was established nearly a century ago, and the only real change has been a reliance on fungus over spinach. Popeye is Mario.

Go nutsIt is fun to imagine epic battles between western superheroes and anime monkey gods, but when you get down to the mundane minutia of such a melee, you find that it is mirror matches all the way down. Goku, Superman, and even Mario owe their existence to a comic strip character from before the Vatican’s (technical) existence. It’s all Popeye, just with different flavors of spinach.

Heroes of the last century? They am what they am.

FGC #628 Popeye

  • System: This article is primarily inspired by the original Popeye game that appeared in arcades and on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Just recently, however, there was a 3-D “upgrade” of the Popeye arcade game for the Nintendo Switch. Note the extreme use of quotes on “upgrade” there. Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Commodore 64 versions are all also in circulation (assuming it is the early 80s).
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Everyone can be Popeye!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a good early arcade game. You have concise goals, obvious antagonists, and the ol’ spinach allows for some dramatic changes in fortune. I will maintain that Brutus is a little too powerful at the start of the arcade game (his “gotcha” grabs from other levels are always going to eat up a quarter or two), but the NES version seems balanced for a fun play session of fifteen minutes or so.
  • Get 'emFavorite Thing You Can Make Happen Once Every 7,000 Plays: Punching the barrel directly onto Bluto and trapping him for a few seconds is the most satisfying thing you can do in an arcade game. It requires absolutely meticulous timing and infinite luck, but when you nail it? Best feeling in the world.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: A Popeye arcade cabinet used to sit at the base of the Sombrero Tower in South of the Border for years… Or at least the years I would go on family vacations as a child. I never got to play Popeye, because we were inevitably just pitstopping there, and it was time to ignore videogames and get back in the car for ten hours, Wee Goggle Bob. I think I covet this game more as a result…
  • Port-O-Call: The Switch version of Popeye technically has the same gameplay (run around three levels on a loop, collect trinkets tossed by Olive Oyl, occasionally eat spinach), but the advent of 3-D environments dramatically changes the game. Bluto is an omnipresent threat on a single screen, 2-D plane, but it is rare to feel like he is in the same area code when you have significantly more room to maneuver. Switch Popeye somehow still works because of the classic gameplay loop of “run around and grab things”, but the cat ‘n mouse game of the original is markedly neutered. You’d be better off spending your quarters elsewhere…
  • Did you know? Popeye doesn’t have a jump button. He doesn’t need a jump button, but it is weird that this title completely eschewed the action that made Jump Man a star.
  • OopsWould I play again: Hey, why not? It is a fun time, and, while I may not play it until my eyes bleed like some arcade titles (hi, Ms. Pac-Man), it is an enjoyable experience. Popeye may be every hero, but it is good to see he got at least one good game all his own.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Radical Dreamers! And that has nothing to do with the rerelease I have been anticipating for the last twenty years! I swear! Please look forward to it!