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FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

Mega Fun

This is Mega Man. Mega Man has appeared in countless videogame titles, a handful of animated series, an excellent comic book, a reasonably acceptable holiday special, and more sprite comics than will ever be acknowledged. Like many “stars” of videogames and videogame adaptions, the Blue Bomber has a choose-your-own-adventure sort of canon, and, while there is a dedicated Mega Man timeline, if you want to claim that Mega lives in San Francisco or Monsteropolis, you don’t have to be wrong. And, on a personal note, I type this all with no small amount of authority, as I have dedicated thousands of hours of my life to Mega Man. That right there is Mega Man as he appears in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and, should you require I provide a complete history of his exploits and appearances, that can be arranged.

Back off, boy

This is Astro Boy. It is a well-known fact that Astro Boy is a significant influence on the creation of Mega Man. Astro Boy was the creation of Osamu Tezuka in 1951. That would have been a year when my grandfather was younger than I am now, so Astro Boy has been around for quite a while. Astro Boy has appeared in a number of cartoons, comics, and movies since his premiere, and he even scored one of the best Gameboy Advance games ever created in 2003/2004. Astro Boy: Omega Factor is a Treasure beat ‘em up/shoot ‘em up that plays like a lost Super Nintendo classic in the absolute best ways. It also features a surprisingly remarkable story mode involving betrayal, racism, time travel, and Osamu Tezuka creations as guest stars. In fact…

Look at em all

A major point of Astro Boy: Omega Factor is that it includes a full, Smash Bros-esque roster of classic characters. Some are allies, some are bosses, and some only exist to be hidden powerups. Whatever their purpose in the game, they all appear in a final “who’s who” that relays to a neophyte fan who you are looking at and why you should care. In a lot of ways, it is similar to the “trophy mode” of many Smash Bros. titles, and it similarly begs the player to learn more about Osamu Tezuka and his prolific body of works.

And… uh… I know nothing about these guys and gals. In fact, I am going to see if I can view the Tezuka stars exclusively through the lens of the various Smash Brothers. It worked for Mega Man and Astro Boy, right? Let’s start this off with…

Dark Pit

A friendly guy

Dark Pit is the evil twin of the star of Kid Icarus, Pit. Pit has been around since the bygone era of Captain N: The Game Master, but Dark Pit was a new addition to the mythos back when Kid Icarus finally earned its third title, Kid Icarus: Uprising. Dark Pit was created by a magical mirror that was meant to draw out the worst traits of Pit… but Pit was too much of a good boy, so it created an “evil” twin that could best be described as surly. Dark Pit is an exact match for Pit in combat, though he has different divine patrons, so he can beat his counterpart in a few key areas. Regardless, Dark Pit pretty well defines the concept of the darker, edgier rival character, even if “darker” in this case mostly means “can say one (1) additional cuss word”.

Atlas

Nice hair

Atlas is Astro Boy’s mechanical adversary, and, in many incarnations, his literal or figurative sibling. This bother of a brother is as angry as Astro Boy is friendly, and has the typical rival problem of always having to be the very best, even if it means burning down the planet on the way to victory. In Omega Factor, Atlas is a tragic villain with a background involving moons and girls in suspended animation on said moons. This puts Atlas in some prime real estate to be the obvious villain at the start of the adventure, but more of a footnote as the story goes on. In fact, if you want a real villain, you should look at…

Ganondorf

Piggy

Ganondorf first appeared as the Dark Wizard Ganon in The Legend of Zelda in 1986. Fun fact: distinct from characters like karting king Bowser or baseball star K. Rool, Ganon was one of the few Nintendo villains to never be playable in an affable capacity. You couldn’t even control Ganon outside of Smash Bros. until Hyrule Warriors in 2014, and even there, he was involved in a campaign to kill literally every other playable character. Not the friendly sort! And why would he be? He is an immortal outcast that desires nothing more than ruling/destroying a kingdom or two. Ganondorf is not a pleasant fellow.

Garon

Big Boy

Garon is an unstoppable robot from the stars that towers over Astro Boy and may have nearly conquered Earth once or twice. And, oh yeah, depending on the translation, sometimes he is simply known as “Satan”. That is not a name you want to see assigned to a giant robot. Garon is one of the monsters that Astro Boy wasn’t able to defeat with basic armaments in his original appearance, so ol’ Astro has to trick Garon into monkeying with the gravity and inadvertently hurling himself into the stratosphere. Now, I’m not saying this could ever work on Ganondorf, but has anyone ever tried tricking the big guy when he was making a wish on the Triforce? It might have some fun results.

Falco Lombardi

Bird boy

Let’s get back to the heroes. Falco Lombardi is the ace pilot of the Star Fox team. He has occasional fights with his leader, Fox McCloud, but generally seems to get along with his other fellow pilots, Slippy and Peppy. There have been a few rare occasions when Falco tried to strike out on his own, but, give or take when he tried to join F-Zero, he remains a loyal pilot. He’s also a bird-man. This isn’t unusual in his universe of eclectic animal people, and nobody really makes a big deal about his avian ancestry.

Duke Red

Bird brain

Duke Red appears in all sorts of Tezuka materials, most notably (in my mind) as a criminal kingpin in Metropolis. He has been a villain many times, but is a well-meaning politician in Omega Factor that kinda sorta creates a doomsday device that literally destroys the planet. Whoopsie. Regardless, what is important is that Duke Red is some kind of bird man, and nobody ever draws attention to this fact. Many Tezuka worlds are racist as hell, so he is patently not living in some kind of utopia universe. Maybe people aren’t familiar with birds in these stories? Whatever. This whole thing makes a whole lot less sense when there isn’t a talking toad around…

Bayonetta

Bullet Hell Woman

It is miraculous that Bayonetta appears in Super Smash Bros. This is the franchise that had to stick nylons on some scantily clad weapon ladies, and could not include King of Fighter’s Mai as a background character because her design was not built for good little boys and girls. Bayonetta meanwhile is a bullet witch that hunts angels with the power of removing her clothes. She exclusively appears in games rated M for Mature, and swears like a sailor while destroying celestial creatures with hair-based attacks. And those heels! Attached to those legs! Won’t someone please think of the children!? I mean, she kicks ass and her games are awesome, but she looks a little out of place standing next to the Ice Climbers.

Prime Rose

Nice sword

In Omega Factor, Prime Rose is practically the definition of a damsel in distress, as she is caged in a tube for nearly her entire appearance, and two boy (robots) have to fight over her while she is double rescued by a brilliant surgeon. Likely as a result of being stuck in a tube/operating table, when Prime Rose is finally well enough to speak, she exclusively appears while stark naked. However, when she later is part of the game’s glossary of characters, she is wearing a battle bikini and equipped with a sword. Why? Well, apparently she originates from a 1982 manga that was meant to capitalize on a “cute girl” craze. And then there was a movie where she was some kind of anime Red Sonya. So, hey, when do we get to play that game? Prime Rose and Bayonetta could team up!

Banjo & Kazooie

Banjo!

Speaking of pairs, in the beginning, there was Banjo, and he was pretty good at racing. But this bear’s career didn’t take off until a bird’s egg fell into Banjo’s backpack, and Kazooie was born. Thus, the inseparable (except in that one game) pair joined forces, and beat back any green witch mean enough to cause a ruckus in Banjo’s neck of the woods. Banjo & Kazooie haven’t seen much play in recent years, but they are the good kind of goofy mascots that can appear in practically anything. Hey! Nintendo and Rare? Let Banjo do the Olympics with Mario. Everybody will enjoy it.

The Amazing Three

Dumb horse thing

The Amazing Three are aliens from a far-off planet that were sent here to assess whether or not Earth should be allowed to continue to Earth along, or should be obliterated with a neutron bomb. Considering we’re still here, looks like we passed. Once the Amazing Three arrive on Earth, they take the forms of a rabbit, horse, and duck. That is enough like a bear and bird for me to be happy with this article’s comparison. Also, let’s be real here: Banjo & Kazooie need the ability to destroy their planet at all times. Can’t find that last musical note? Destroy the universe. It is appropriate retaliation. Oh, anyway, The Amazing Three appear as comic relief in Omega Factor, so let’s not worry about how Nokko the Horse Alien is eventually responsible for the birth of Bojack Horseman.

Piranha Plant

CHOMP

Piranha Plant is just one of those dudes you never consider who appears in damn near everything. Not unlike the cheap cheap, P.P. has not only done his best to appear in countless Mario platformers; the prickly plant has also appeared as background fodder in various Mario Karts, Parties, and probably somewhere in those soccer games. Of course Piranha Plant became a full fledged fighter in Super Smash Bros Ultimate: he appeared in the original Smash Bros as an obstacle in the hidden arena. Even Bowser didn’t make an appearance in that game!

Black Looks

Unfortunate name

Black Looks, aka Black Lux, was little more than a pissed off dude that hated robots in his original appearance. However, in Omega Factor, Black Looks becomes a trench coat clad army of dudes with laser guns and a major hate-on for robots. They are relentless, and, in typical Treasure fashion, there are some inexplicably stretched sprites of Black Looks, so you get to fight a few “humans” that are twelve feet tall. And this is the legacy of the piranha plant: a simple fellow that, through no fault of his own, is now an entire army unto himself. No one should be surprised when Black Looks start popping out of pipes and biting plumbers.

Incineroar

Gotta catch em all

Incineroar, the heel Pokémon. Although it’s rough mannered and egotistical, it finds beating down unworthy opponents boring. It gets motivated for stronger opponents. When its fighting spirit is set alight, the flames around its waist become especially intense.

Brontus

Big Bird

Mont-Blanc, aka Brontus, one of the world’s seven strongest robots. A guide from Switzerland, it is said he had over 100,000 horsepower. He met Pluto, a gigantic bull robot, and was destroyed within a minute. He then appeared in the 1963 and 1980 anime… and was similarly immediately crushed. In Omega Factor, he is marginally invincible, and can shoot fireballs. So, like a Pokémon, his abilities are increased dramatically the minute he can run around in an actual action game.

Sora

I know that guy!

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s final fighter: Sora hails from Kingdom Hearts, a game that may have been discussed on this site. Sora has an extremely convoluted backstory, but what is important is that he will fight for his friends, and his friends include a whole lot of Disney properties. Goofy, Mickey, Aladdin, Elsa, Jack Skellington: Sora knows all the big players, and they are all connected to his heart. Of course, you’re not allowed to mention any of them in Smash Bros., because Disney keeps an iron grip on its intellectual property, and apparently the world will explode if Mario’s white gloves touch Donald’s feathery butt. And speaking of Disney being litigious…

Pook

Pooka?

I know this one! Pook (aka Bobo) is a trouble making little boy robot that appears across various Astro Boy stories, but, more importantly, this Pook can transform into Jungle Emperor Leo aka Kimba the White Lion. Ever hear about Kimba? Kinda sounds like Simba, don’t it? Well, that is theoretically not a coincidence, as there have been many accusations over the years that Disney outright stole much of Kimba the White Lion when it was not able to purchase the rights. But, let’s be real here: that’s hogwash. After all, everyone involved in The Lion King’s production has claimed that they never even saw Kimba the White Lion, and it is just a coincidence that both stories involve lion protagonists with rhyming names, wise mandrill advisors, fratricide, a lion with an eye scar taking over in the prince’s absence, hyena henchmen, and a cute lioness love interest. And the scenes that look like they were wholesale lifted from the original Tezuka anime? Complete fluke! And Kimba doesn’t even know Elton John, so they’re absolutely separate movies. Let’s just put that rumor to rest now.

Donkey Kong

You know him well

But we can’t ignore every bit of litigation in every company’s past. Donkey Kong is an established bit of Nintendo history now, but he came with a lawsuit in his early days. The estate of the late great King Kong claimed Donkey Kong was biting on the whole “big gorilla kidnaps woman and climbs on stuff” shtick, and Nintendo nearly had to retract its greatest selling arcade game for fear that it would be squashed by copyright law. While Nintendo won in the end, it just goes to show that even the most original companies often come from origins that border on theft, and all ideas stand on the borrowed shoulders of giants. If we are being honest, there would be no Donkey Kong without King Kong, and there would be no Mighty No. 9 without a Mega Man who needs his Astro Boy.

Sharaku

EYEBALL

And that’s just Krillin fused with Tien Shinhan, right? This Osamu Tezuka guy is a hack.

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

  • System: Gameboy Advance. If ever a game deserved to be ported to something for modern consoles, this would be it.
  • Number of players: Astro Boy gets by with the support of his friends, but is stuck in a single player game.
  • Here comes the factor!Favorite Astro Friend: It is a great bit of storyline/gameplay synergy that Astro Boy levels up as he meets more people. I normally cannot stand a leveling system in a beat ‘em up, but I’ll allow it if it means Unico adds to your fighting power. Anywho, Don Dracula, head vampire of Mu, is cowering on a train, and will sell out his boss unprompted by anything, so going to congratulate that vampire on being my favorite “ally” in this adventure.
  • What gets your points? Power up Astro Boy’s mega death laser for maximum fun. Yes, it is a hyper move that requires charging some punches, but it is absolutely the best way to do damage to practically everything. In a way, it seems like Astro Boy learned how to be a videogame from Marvel vs. Capcom 2… which may explain why I like it so much.
  • So, did you beat it? I used a FAQ back in the day, because some of the conditions for unlocking the proper paths are complete nonsense (replay the tutorial stage? Really?). That said, for a game that is based on just punching and/or lasering stuff as hard as you can, the way the plot progresses is a really interesting way to get the player to experience the same levels over again. I would be annoyed if it weren’t so much fun.
  • All aboardGoggle Bob Fact: This game was a Christmas gift from my grandmother, and now this article is publishing on her birthday. She would have been nearly 110 this year! That’s weird!
  • Did you know? The North American version of this game was delayed to coincide with the release of the Astro Boy Saturday Morning Cartoon. This allowed Treasure to put some additional polish on the experience during the waiting period, so maybe that’s why this is easily one of Treasure’s best games. Or maybe fighting robots are just a natural fit for videogames. Whatever. It works!
  • Would I play again: Yes. Now somebody release it on Switch so I can play it without having to dig out an ancient portable system with pulsating batteries.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Body Harvest for the Nintendo 64! We gonna fight some bugs! Please look forward to it!

ROBOT
Robots! We get it!

FGC #562 Q*Bert

No colorLet’s look at the evolution of gaming/Q*Bert over the years.

In 1982, gaming was just taking its first, tentative steps towards Gaming as we know it. Pac-Man and Pong had blazed the trail with their joystick/wheely thing controls, but now we were seeing new and innovative ways to play. Kangaroo, for instance, was a game that was very similar to the likes of Donkey Kong, but added an all-important offensive action to its heroine’s repertoire. Kangaroo could punch out monkeys and apples alike, and one could argue this simple act was the start of “videogame violence” for years to come (sorry, dead monkeys, you gotta start somewhere). And speaking of offensive options, Dig Dug first started digging in ’82, and he had the ability to “pump up” his opponents until they popped. This had the dual purpose of inspiring a generation of bizarre fetishes and featuring a hero that always had the ability to turn the tables on his opponents. Unlike Pac-Man or Mario that had to rely on sporadically distributed powerups, Taizo the Digger was hunted and hunter all in one. This would become the norm for practically all of gaming to come.

But if one game presciently granted a glimpse of gaming of the future, it was Pitfall. Nearly four decades ago, Pitfall Harry explored a large world of tricks, traps, and treasure. Harry had much to do in his (certainly not Mayan) adventure, and, while his moveset was limited, it was contextually sensitive to all sorts of challenges. Harry didn’t simply jump over opponents, he leapt to swing across vines, or hopped over the heads of gators. Pitfall was a revelation for everything its protagonist (and by extension, the player) could do, even if this was still the era of extremely blocky dudes puttering around monochrome backgrounds.

Lookin' GoodAnd 1982 also saw the release of Q*Bert. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops.

Ten years later, in 1992, the face of gaming had irrevocably changed. The arcade gave way to the domination of the console, and now Sega and Nintendo were battling it out. But there was the Personal Computer, too! Wolfenstein 3D had just been released, and the whole of the FPS genre was just starting to congeal into Doom (to be released the next year). For some, the “3-D” nature of first person shooters promised to be what “the future of gaming” was always expected to be: fully immersive fighting (through the legions of Hell/nazis, apparently).

But away from the monitor and back at the television, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was pushing the boundaries of the genre that had become known as platforming. Sonic could run, jump, and dash; but he did it at speeds that could not have even been imagined ten years prior. And this latest Sonic allowed for two player simultaneous play! Just like in those competitive fighting games that had been making the scene! And Mortal Kombat was the most prominent “new fighter” of ’92. Now there was a radical shift in gaming! Kangaroo might have punched out a monkey, but, for better or worse, she never tore the head off of an opponent. And look at all those buttons! “Punch” is a thing of the past: Sub-Zero had a variety of punches, kicks, and fireballs (well, snowballs) at his disposal. You didn’t just need an instruction manual for your average fighting game, you needed a strategy guide (thanks, Nintendo Power!).

Good bless QBertBut while we’re considering strategy, let us also consider Super Mario Kart. Mario had cameoed in a sports title here or there over the years (he got really good at Golf, apparently), but he mostly just starred in his own adventures that involved running and jumping. Super Mario Kart was a great success as a fun racing game, but it also showcased how a videogame mascot could shift all their normal “verbs”, but still be unmistakably that familiar mascot. Mushrooms can make you super tall, or they can give you a speed boost. Turtle shells can become projectiles divorced from their turtles. And anyone that has ever played any Mario Kart knows the difference between a Starman that allows you to mow down goombas and one that allows you to speed to the finish line. Mario Kart showed that even the most rigidly defined mascot could be anything, and paved the way for the Sonic Racing or unprecedented crossovers of today.

And then there was Q*Bert for Gameboy, and Q*Bert 3 for Super Nintendo, both released in 1992. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, six punch buttons, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. Sometimes there are a variety of new colors and backgrounds, though. You know, at least on the system that has color.

Let’s hop forward seven years. By the time 1999 rolled around, the “mascot wars” of the previous console generation had concluded, and newcomer Sony was riding high with the Playstation and the serious, cinematic Final Fantasy franchise. This was the year we were finally going to see the sequel to Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy: Whatever, and it pushed the boundaries for what was expected of the JRPG genre. Have you ever heard of Triple Triad? Guardian Forces? Dog Missiles? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it, it was all only around for one game, but it did establish that you could have complicated battle systems that were only relevant for one title. Fight, magic, item wasn’t the only fish in the sea, anymore, let’s get ready to get some gambits up in here!

Go QBert!This was also a time when gaming was getting more serious… but “serious” as more of a teenager’s definition. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater allowed a “real human” avatar to perform intricate skateboarding tricks in a universe that apparently had unlimited and instant healthcare. Silent Hill allowed a player to explore the depths of the human psyche in a world that was going to be complete in a few years with the introduction of a certain pyramid headed fellow that really knew how to swing around half a pair of scissors. Or maybe you just wanted to be the Driver, and cruise around realistic (enough) cities? In a way, these games were just as big on the fantasy as Mario (no, you cannot drive a car into a building in reality and continue to have a good time), but they were a lot more “real” than anything Pitfall Harry ever did.

And if you wanted some fantasy, don’t worry, you still had the likes of Ape Escape or Donkey Kong 64 to hold you over. DK64 saw the collectathon at its most… collecty, and showcased all the different ways Kongs can run, jump, and shoot on their way to an ultimate goal of wringing out 12,000,000 (monotonous) hours of gameplay. And Ape Escape was no simple monkey game, it was a sneak and capture event closer to Metal Gear than Donkey Kong. Even visually “childish” games in 1999 weren’t so simple.

And then there was Q*Bert for Playstation. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. This time there was an adventure mode, but that was just an excuse to stick cinema scenes on either side of a world. Everything else was just Q*Bert hops.

BERT!The following five years allowed for a number of innovations in gaming. In 2004 we saw Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which was the first Grand Theft Auto to feature extensive customization to its grand, open world. It also had planes, bazookas, and the opportunity for your C.J. to cosplay as The Notorious B.I.G. for the entire adventure. It is arguable that this Grand Theft Auto went too far into the whacky territory after its sequels eventually tried to rein everything back in with sad Russians in GTA4 and sad dads in GTA5, but the Saints Row franchise carried that whacky football straight to the end zone. Gaming had started goofy, become serious, and then migrated back to goofy all over again.

And speaking of marginally goofy, this was the year we saw Fable, which touted a rich morality system and a story that was different every time you played it. Did that actually happen? Well, not really, but it did seemingly start the trend of games that bet their whole asses on save baby/eat baby morality. It was no longer enough to run, jump, and punch; now you had to determine whether or not you were doing all those things while simultaneously becoming Mecha Hitler. Or Mecha Mother Theresa? You’ve got choices!

But on the simpler side of things, there was Katamari Damacy. This straightforward little game featured a protagonist that could only roll around a ball, but that ball could grow from the size of a paperclip to roughly the girth of a galaxy. And, more importantly than the gameplay, it was released for a whole $20, kickstarting the (now standard) belief that not every videogame had to be a AAA, 40 hour feature. Before internet connections fully graduated from 56K, Katamari Damacy showed us a glimpse of the future of downloadable titles.

Eat it!And speaking of downloadable, this year also saw an official Flash (RIP) version of Q*Bert. In a game that would be ported to “real” Windows a year later, Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. At least this Q*venture was free.

Now we fast-forward a decade to 2014. What innovations did this year hold for gaming? Well, we wound up skipping the exact year for a lot of big’uns from this epoch, so we’re left with staring straight at Dark Souls 2. Did you ever hear about Dark Souls? It’s the Dark Souls of Bloodborne games. Love it or hate it, Dark Souls impacted gaming in more ways than we will ever admit, arguably revitalizing the general gameplay of the rogue-like and encouraging increasing your own personal gaming skills while marginally leveling up your chosen hero. In a similar manner, this was the year we saw Bayonetta 2, a shining example of the likewise “hardcore” stylish action genre. Gaming could be slow and methodical or fast and elegant, but, in both cases, it was a little more complicated than guiding a puck through a maze.

And if you still wanted the mascots of yore, don’t worry, they were represented, too. If you wanted to see everybody fight everybody, Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU/3DS was released in 2014. Smash Bros was always a shining example of videogame protagonists leaving their usual genre and sailing into something completely different (Star Fox left his ship!), but Smash 4 would eventually grow and mutate to be a veritable yearbook of every character that had ever mattered in gaming (sorry, Geno, you don’t matter). And if you wanted something new from “cartoony” characters, this was also the year that Shovel Knight proved Kickstarting retro platformers was wholly viable, and could have amazing, enduring results. Come to think of it, Shovel Knight was partially inspired by Dark Souls, too…

CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTERBut there was one game released that year that was not inspired by Dark Souls. Q*Bert Rebooted, seemingly rebooted to promote an Adam Sandler vehicle, was a game where Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, shovel, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. He also hopped to nearly every platform available, so this one is still downloadable on modern consoles.

And Q*Bert returned for the most recent time in 2019 for iOS. Do we need to review the gaming breakthroughs of such a recent year? Fire Emblem: Three Houses and its perfect blend of chess and dating simulation? Super Mario Maker 2 and its ability to grant the player full creative control over familiar gameplay? Untitled Goose Game and its goose? Whatever the hell happens in Sekiro? (I gather it is a photography simulator.) 2019 was an amazing year for gaming where we not only had all this, but also Q*Bert. And what did Q*Bert do? He moved from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changed blocks colors. He baited a snake into a pit. Q*Bert only knows hops.

He was Q*Bert. He is Q*Bert. The face of gaming may irrevocably change, but Q*Bert is Q*Bert forever.

@!#?

FGC #562 Q*Bert

  • Go lil buddySystem: I’m pretty sure the lil’ Bert appeared on nearly every console system, give or take a few outliers. Playstation 2? Sega Genesis? And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on Atari Lynx, either. Other than that, there’s probably some Q*Bert in some form on your preferred console.
  • Number of players: One Q*Bert, but two people can take turns if they are so inclined.
  • Don’t make a sound: Q*Bert’s claim to fame has always been the bizarre recordings that approximate the sound an orange monster man might make when brained with a purple marble. Unfortunately, playing Q*Bert in the year 2021 just reminds me that I never want to hear from a belligerent orange creature ever again.
  • Hey, what about Q*Bert’s Qubes: The only Q*Bert to truly mix up traditional Q*Bert gameplay was… not all that different. It basically just added the idea of “rotating” cubes according to the direction Q*Bert hops (as opposed to one simple, all-purpose tap), and added a handful of new enemies (there may have been a crab). Other than that, the way it “separated” the blocks made the game a lot more difficult to visually parse, and there’s probably a reason this Q*title is generally forgotten and ignored.
  • Did you know? Q*Bert for Playstation started with a cinema scene based in Q*Bert’s blocky little world. Weird thing? His weirdass universe looks a lot like modern Minecraft. Did Steve colonize Q*World? Is that the secret origin of the franchise?
  • Would I play again: Q*Bert is great for a whole five minutes before you remember it’s just goddamned Q*Bert. I will probably waste those five minutes again in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wallachia Reign of Dracula! Or did ROB actually choose Bloodstained: Classic Mode? Actually, it’s both! We’re going to have a double header next! Please look forward to it!

GO FOR IT!

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

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

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

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

Ouch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woof

FGC #348 Anarchy Reigns

Here comes the gang!So here’s why I only played an hour of Anarchy Reigns before dropping it forever.

Anarchy Reigns is a Sega/Platinum game from about four years back. As a Platinum game, it is required to be stylish, and incorporate a combat system that is maybe too complicated for its own good. As a Sega game, it is required to be a disappointing sequel. Anarchy Reigns might sound like a singular entry (I don’t see any 2’s in there), but it is technically the sequel to Mad World, a fairly amazing (but often forgotten) Wii title. And, yes, the official word is that Anarchy Reigns is merely a “spiritual sequel”, but like half the cast shows up here, and, ya know, the friggin’ main character is the same, so don’t play me like that, Sega. This is Mad World 2, and you only dodged that branding because people prefer their games to be in color.

But speaking of branding, Anarchy Reigns makes an excellent first impression… from an instruction manual perspective. Look, I’ve mentioned this before, but I am a complete sucker for… let’s call it “game data”. I spent my formative years pouring over Nintendo Power issues (would you like to know the difference between the playable characters in Castlevania 3? I could have fed you this information before I even saw the cartridge), and I spend my downtime nowadays reading the entire contents of random wikis. I know more minutia about the cast of SoulCalibur than should be allowed. And, come to think of it, the period when I was least interested in videogames, roughly the end of the N64 era/start of the Playstation 2 era, was also the time when I was reading about games the least (primarily because of a poor college kid’s budget concerns, and the internet hadn’t become the internet yet). So that “love of reading about videogames” will eternally be tied to titles that feature fresh, interesting characters. I might still be behind the times on Overwatch, but, even from a distance, I can see the appeal of learning about the finer points of Eskimo girl, angel girl, yellow spandex girl, and that one fat guy. Anarchy Reigns initially looks like it could fill that same niche with intricate backstories for chainsaw boy, Weeee!bull boy, fashionable boy, and that one purple woman. Want to tell me Mathilda is the unholy lovechild of a geometry teacher and The Grimace? That’s awesome! Let me get my credit card so I can buy seventeen art books about that one character! Start a game by offering the tiniest glimmer of “story” for this zany cast of characters, and you’ve got my attention from jump street.

And then the good times keep rolling on! Start the single player campaign, and Anarchy Reigns introduces you to its world with a crowded bar at the end of the world. In rapid succession, you’re shown a wasteland of a planet, its burly inhabitants, and, most importantly, a robot bartender with an adorable bowtie. And then we get treasurable characterization for our main heavies. Jack is a burly mess of a maniac, but he also defends the lovable robo bartender, so we know he’s got a heart of gold. Nikolai Bulygin is a crooked cop and obviously destined to be on the side of the devils when push comes to shove, and Leo is his subordinate that is unavoidably going to have a change of heart because everyone he works with is a complete asshole. And Sasha Ivanoff is a woman! Okay… all the instant characterization can’t be great, but the majority of it is pretty damn good. If this were a Persona game, this kind of plot dump would take 70,000 dialogue boxes and a quick detour through three cutscenes. Here, in all of five minutes, you basically know everything you need to know. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s pretty inviting for a new(ish) property. You’ve got your heroes, your villains, and the basics of who they are all in less time than it takes for Chris to get me that pizza I asked for like three hours ago. I’m still hungry, Chris!

Then the game properly starts.

Aaaaaand I couldn’t turn it off fast enough.

VrooooomAfter establishing cool characters with an interesting conflict in an exciting world, our first opponents are… random mutants. Okay, every game needs fodder, what’s our first mission? Kill fifty mutants? Oh, that’s super. And then… wait, didn’t I kill the mutants well enough? Now I have to do it again to gain more… uh… blood experience (?) to unlock the next mission? Fine, guess the game wants me to be prepared for the next challenge, which is inevitably going to be epic. Maybe I’ll fight one of those cool guys from the opening cinematic? Oh, no, guess not, as the next mission is fighting some reheated bull dude who has nothing to do with anything. Can’t be bothered to remember that dude’s name, but if it was “Bull Shit”, I wouldn’t be surprised. Okay, that’s done, let’s say we’re done with the opening tutorial bits and… Oh, Christ, it’s an escort mission. With generic mutants again! And somehow that didn’t wind up providing enough EXP to unlock the next mission! Time to do the thing I didn’t like in the first place again so I can unlock something that is maybe not as terrible.

And that would be about the point that the disc gets ejected.

I wouldn’t be half as mad if I didn’t know Platinum could do better. Great characters, great premise, great world… and then it’s wasted on generic bad guys that mean nothing. Look, I get it, not every battle can be exciting and significant, and you’ve got to have something for the player to do between amazing set pieces and… Wait a minute… This was produced by the same people behind Bayonetta. Wasn’t that a game that couldn’t go seven seconds without summoning a hair-based Godzilla to devour a flying church that was filled with blood angels attempting to devour all of time or whateverthehell was going on in that plot? Say what you will about Bayonetta (Lord knows I have) but it was never boring. It took its interesting characters, and had ‘em fighting multi-headed dragons before we even got to the title screen. There’s a reason that, despite all of its flaws, people actually played Bayonetta 1 & 2. And part of that reason is that every damned thing in that adventure had something to say. Here comes the hook!Repetitive “score attacks” were relegated to the background, and game progression was not based on experience accumulation, but whether or not you could ride a friggen’ missile after leaping off a motorcycle. That’s the diametric opposite of an escort mission! And it’s the reason no one is begging to see Jack in Super Smash Bros.

It’s entirely possible I’m being hard on Anarchy Reigns. I might be utterly wrong, and this is somehow a worthwhile game if “you just stick to it”. But when you toss all your potential out with the mutants in the opening moments, you leave a terrible impression, and, frankly, there are other games I could be playing right now. Mad World is right there! I could play that again! Why waste time on tedious games when there are so many options available? … No, seriously, not being rhetorical for once. What is it about Anarchy Reigns that makes it any better than any other game out there? I don’t know, and I’m not going to play another stupid escort mission to find out.

Sorry, Anarchy Reigns, I have better games to play. Maybe, next time you’ll actually make Mad World 3 motivating.

FGC #348 Anarchy Reigns

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. I guess this means that this was one of those games that had online multiplayer that was free on one system, while subscription based on the other. Never quite understood how 360 wound up being the more popular system with that policy.
  • Number of players: Infinity multiplayer. Do we consider that “four”?
  • Let’s talk about multiplayer: Again, it seems like this title was intended as Overwatch before we had Overwatch. A colorful cast of original characters do not steal all battle it out in various arenas for online supremacy that means absolutely nothing. I don’t think loot boxes are involved, though. Regardless, I have never met a single human being that played this game online, so I never got to experience it for myself. Maybe it’s amazing! Or maybe it’s boring, because, come on, all of these characters play pretty much exactly the same. Nobody has an ice gun, either!
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a scourge: Mathilda has a spikey belt that hardens into a nail bat. That’s cool! She also presents herself for a rectal exam every time she uses her special move.

    What?

    That’s not so cool.

  • Did you know? Bayonetta did eventually slum it in this universe as DLC. I feel bad for her. She is much too stylish for this broken world.
  • Would I play again: If one of you convinces me this game is good, actually, I might give it a shot. But you’d have to be pretty damn convincing!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tetris Axis for the Nintendo 3DS! That’s much better than Tetris Access, the rarely seen database management software that is wall-to-wall squares. Please look forward to it!

What?