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FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

ZOOMI don’t know about your experience, but, back in the 90’s, the local arcades had more than a few beat ‘em up mainstays. There was always Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles and/or Turtles in Time. The Simpsons was a staple, and so was X-Men. But once you got past those, there could be anything and everything. Did this arcade have Final Fight? Or a Neo-Geo? Or… what? There were so many beat ‘em ups back in the day, and it’s a damn shame so many have been lost from the annals of time. So, on the occasion of ROB choosing Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (making a choice leftover from our “games preservation is important” featured series), let’s take a look at the 90’s beat ‘em ups that time forgot. After all, in this modern age, these are games that are as classic as cadillacs, but as extinct as dinosaurs.

Ninja Combat

Go ninja goRelease Year: 1990

Length: 0:35

What is it? Good ol’ fashioned ninja violence erupts as a pair of ninja have to fight evil ninja in a ninja fortress that has appeared in Ninja York City. Joe and Hayabusa (no relation to other, better-known ninja) are against the world, and all they have to help them is infinity shurikens and the occasional ninja scroll (no relation to other, better-known ninja scrolls).

What’s the hook? Actually, they’re not completely alone. The duo are joined by three other allies that start as enemies, and, as the stages progress, you can select different characters with different abilities. So you actually earn skills as you progress in a beat ‘em up! That’s neat! Other than that, it’s a pretty traditional beat ‘em up featuring terrible walk animations and a main attack that has slightly better range than Cody’s fists.

How is the cast? The original dummies are useless, and should be banished to World Heroes. Then you get a dude that dual-wields swords, and you never have to deal with those nitwits again. You also eventually have the choice of an overly muscled bruiser that punches swords for fun, and a woman that is just straight-up a rejected 80’s She-Ra character. She can summon butterflies, apparently. I’m pretty sure her name is Butter-Beater or something.

Best Boss? A mecha dinosaur-man starts a fight by tackling an entire train, and the battle ends when you decapitate the sucker. That’s 30% more radical than anything that happens in most beat ‘em ups.

What’s that on the ground? You’re in New York City, so American food abounds. Grab a burger or two if you need some health.

Anything else? There are a number of opponents that look like klansmen. Punch them extra hard.

Is it worth a quarter? This is an extremely janky game, but it’s not without its merits. As a title that came out in… 1990? What? I thought this was, like, something from 1986. What the hell? Dude, SNK/Alpha Denshi should have known better by this point. I take it back, play anything other than Ninja Combat. You can summon a fire dragon better in other games.

Growl / Runark

GROWL!Release Year: 1991

Length: 0:35

What is it? Nefarious poachers are capturing local animals, so it’s your job to get out there and rescue ‘em all! Save elephants, birds, and at least two guerillas by punching every ever-loving thing you can see. And if you happen to find a weapon, you can whip ‘em, and whip ‘em good.

What’s the hook? This is pulpy as hell, so if you like Indiana Jones or Doc Savage, you’ll be right at home. Additionally, some animals wind up helping during the battle, so it’s nice to play at least one old school game where birds aren’t your mortal enemy. But if Growl does one thing well, it’s mobs. There are so many opponents on the screen at one time that you’ll have to invite three buddies to come along for some poachin’ punchin’. And Growl is equal opportunity! There are women in business suits with grenades, so don’t feel bad about inviting some gals to the party.

How is the cast? There are four possible characters, but, visually, it’s two sets of twins. Though they do all have different stats! … Which also kind of sucks, as “health” is a stat, and why are you going to take a gamble on dying faster in a game that literally charges you more the more you die? That’s just not cool, Growl!

Best Boss? About halfway through the game, you must fight an army of classy, chubby dudes in fezzes. Now, I’m not saying that this finally simulates what it would be like to face an army consisting entirely of evil clones of Sallah, John Rhys-Davies’s character from Indiana Jones, but it is certainly similar to that situation straight from our wildest dreams.

What’s that on the ground? The Sega Genesis port provided health powerups (apples, incidentally), but the original arcade version only offers weapons. Grenades, guns, and daggers are all available for your fighting pleasure. Oh, and be careful with that dynamite, opponents literally explode in this universe, and you don’t want to get too many human remains on your unbuttoned shirt.

Anything else? There is exactly one, seemingly random platforming section inside of a volcano. Other than that and one bonus stage that involves punching boxes, this is all violence against your fellow man.

Is it worth a quarter? Oh, I completely forgot to mention the dude with lit dynamite strapped to his chest that throws tanks around. He seemed kind of important. Whatever! This is a fun beat ‘em up, and offers no lack of people to beat up. Give or take how easily your character can be hit-stunned (which is why you bring a buddy!), this is a great time for all, and particularly enjoyable if you’re interested in finding out the greatest secret behind poaching (spoilers: all poachers are led by an evil butler that is being mind-controlled by an alien worm. Now you know!).

Eight Man

Eat it, SevenRelease Year: 1991

Length: 0:30

What is it? Eight Man, Kazumasa Hirai’s 1963 manga, is widely regarded as the origin of super cyborg heroics in Japanese culture. In much the same way that Superman got a weird, quasi-beat ‘em up in the arcades in 1988, Eight Man earned his time to shine in 1991. It was exactly as weird as Superman’s adventure.

What’s the hook? This is another beat ‘em up that tows the line between outright beatin’ and 2-D platforming. There are bottomless pits abound, and you’re constrained to the one dimension. That said, for being that weird kind of in-between experience, it’s pretty good. There may be an overreliance on stages that take place while running, though. They’re all the exact same stage! And they happen way too often!

How is the cast? Eight and Nine are just color swaps, so nothing interesting there. I suppose it should be noted that Nine is his own distinct person in the manga, but here he’s just Super Mario Bros. 3 Luigi. Let the second player have his own personality!

Best Boss? Just like R-Type, there is one stage that is entirely given to some giant floating fortress thingy. Unlike R-Type, you’re just a little dude, so it’s a little more difficult to punch a plane into submission. But you can do it! If you try!

What’s that on the ground? No food for Eight Man, but you can grab some capsules out of the sky for additional energy. It’s very Contra. And if you score enough Eight Energy, you’ll be an explosive ball of invincible energy. Nothing like mowing down every evil robot in town.

Anything else? Apparently everyone in this world subsists on a steady diet of gasoline, so absolutely everything is about as volatile as a hummingbird sipping on nitrous. Sometimes sharks explode.

Is it worth a quarter? Everybody should fight an angry, biologically engineered dog at least once, right? It’s not the best beat ‘em up out there (or maybe even a beat ‘em up at all, depending on your criteria), but it does continually convey a feeling of “action”, so it should get your adrenaline pumping. If you feel like being a super-powered cyborg man, you could do much worse.

Pu•Li•Ru•La

Release Year: 1991

Length: 0:25

What is it? It’s a beat ‘em up of a different color. This whole game looks like a Ghibli film (albeit one possible on 90’s arcade hardware), and the plot is a little unusual for the genre. A boy and a girl are given magic wands to rescue the concept of time from a time-guard that has accidentally transformed into a malevolent clown. This ain’t Metro City! The majority of your opponents are also animals that have been transformed, so whacking them into submission also leads to a surprising amount of platypuses running around the screen.

What’s the hook? Look at this nonsense! There’s an entire stage that exists in a living dream, and it’s crowded with photo-realistic giant people. All of Radishland is a fever dream of colors and animations, and you’d be hard pressed to find another beat ‘em up with such a creative look. Bart Simpson never had to deal with being licked to death.

How is the cast? Unfortunately, for all the creativity on display, the actual playable characters are rather dull. You’ve got boy, who is occasionally surly in dialogue, and girl, who seems to be the responsible “big sister” type. Apparently their names are Zac and Mel? It doesn’t matter, though, as they’re just Mario & Luigi and little more than combat delivery devices.

Best Boss? Disappointingly, the ridiculous dream stage ends with a Kabuki Quantum Fighter boss, and not some manner of photo-realistic cow or whatever. However, the previous level involves some kind of Tengu-Face-Woman monster with an incredibly phallic nose, so that’s going to be my pick. Incidentally, there’s another boss with what seems to be a bladed-codpiece, so I don’t think that nose flopping around is an accident.

What’s that on the ground? There aren’t traditional food pickups in PLRL, but there are bikinis scattered about that, when whacked with a magical wand, summon faeries. They may restore health or magic. Oh yeah. Did I mention the magic yet? These are essentially Golden Axe-style magic spells, but instead of summoning a blazing dragon, you wind up with a stampede of dogs, or a giant microwave. That is a good trade-off for never finding floor meat.

Anything else? The American/International version is censored. The original involves an area featuring giant lady legs, and a door between them that releases pink elephants. This may or may not be a metaphor.

Is it worth a quarter? You could get a lot out of Pu•Li•Ru•La just by watching its attract screen, but it is worth a play to “see what happens next” at least once. And you get to save woodland creatures! That’s always worked for Sonic the Hedgehog.

Metamorphic Force

BEAST MODERelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:40

What is it? This is practically a license-less version of Konami’s own X-Men arcade game, but, since those mighty mutants set the standard for super powers, somebody had to figure out an alternative. How about the same gameplay, but now you’re a werewolf? Does that work for everybody?

What’s the hook? Obviously, we’re pulling a page from Altered Beast, and each of the fighters can transform into anthropomorphic animals on the regular. Naturally, this means you have to fight an army of lizard creatures (and the occasional oni), and the final boss is going to be Trogdor the Dragon Man. It’s a furry convention. That’s the hook.

How is the cast? In what may or may not be an allusion to Captain Planet, four generally fit dudes have been chosen from across the globe to channel the spirits of ancient animal warriors. The French Claude attacks with a rapier and can become a wolfman. Ban is a Japanese martial artist that may be a bull. Max appears to be the American boxer that can transform into a panther. And the best is Ivan, who is supposed to be Russian, but is clearly Canadian. He’s wearing flannel and attacking with a recently cut log! … Or maybe I imagined the flannel. He’s still got the log, though! And he can transform into a bear, which, given the beard, seems redundant.

Best Boss? An entire stage is given over to the She-Devil that is decked out in some manner of 90’s swimsuit, but the more worthy boss is the Optimus Prime-looking robot man that lives in the Moai ruins. Granted, he’s probably just a rejected design for Nimrod from the X-Men game, but it’s nice to have something metal to punch in a game full of scaly dudes.

What’s that on the ground? There is one hidden prime rib in this game, but otherwise, you’re stuck with chalices that reward health and/or animal energy. And when these powerups don’t explode out of defeated bosses, they’re generally found by pummeling Golden Axe-esque gnomes… or at least some dude running around with a giant bag. That is marginally more interesting than an army of barrels (also available).

Anything else? You’ve got Gauntlet-style health, so it’s a numeral, and it’s constantly decreasing, regardless of your own skill level. This is a quarter killer down to the bone.

Is it worth a quarter? It turns out X-Men might not be that fun without the X-Men! Metamorphic Force has an interesting style, but the fact that you can’t always be in beast mode really detracts from the experience. Whenever you’ve been beaten down into human form, everything takes far too long to die, and you’re mostly just idling, waiting for that powerup gnome to waddle on over. And nobody likes to kill time in a beat ‘em up! That said, the graphics are memorable, the vaguely Grecian setting is distinct, and you’d be hard pressed to find another game that offers more lizard punching.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Further go ninjaRelease Year: 1993

Length: 1:00

What is it? The Baseball Hall of Fame has been ransacked, and you control one of four sentai/robot baseball people. They vaguely resemble what would happen if Mega Man had to fight a series of Robot Masters all based on Strike Man. But the nonsensical plot is nothing next to the bright, colorful visuals and general sense of humor throughout this universe.

What’s the hook? It’s a beat ‘em up from Irem, so this doesn’t come from the Capcom/Konami pedigree. But is it any good? Oh my yes. This game deserves to steal X-Men’s spot in the arcade! If the game wasn’t impregnably Japanese, this would have probably been a gigantic hit stateside. In a world that didn’t need another overly dour beat ‘em up, Ninja Baseball Bat Man goes all in on being “fun”, and it wholly succeeds.

How is the cast? Another “everybody gets a specific skill” situation. Captain Jose (Red) is balanced, Twinbats Ryno (Green) dualwields (baseball bats) with incredible speed, Beanball Roger (Yellow) is heavy and powerful, and Stick Straw (Blue) has significant reach. Also, unlike a certain group of turtles, these brothers all have distinct body types and sizes. Straw (“Daaaaarryl”) is the best, not because of his long range, but because he has the classiest walking animation.

Best Boss? The finale is the evil baseball commissioner wearing a golden statue of Babe Ruth that has been partially transformed into a giant robot. Coincidentally enough, that antagonist also appears during the finale of The Grapes of Wrath.

What’s that on the ground? Pizza and various baseball foods are available. You can also summon a troop of cheerleaders that may damage your opponents, or leave additional food. No matter what happens, they will make you feel better about your quest to stamp out a bunch of murderous baseball robots.

Anything else? This was apparently an attempt by Irem to appeal to Americans. We like baseball, right? And sentai heroes fighting tanookis? That sounds American!

Is it worth a quarter? Do I need to repeat the bit about the Babe Ruth statue again? Because I will if I have to.

Monster Maulers

MonstrousRelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:30

What is it? Choose one of three sentai-esque heroes, and repel a monster invasion across the globe. There are special moves, a malevolent/medium-sexy centaur, and ultimate villains that are basically the
Doronbo Gang. Haven’t you always wanted to punch them? Now you can!

What’s the hook? Truth be told, this is mostly an asymmetrical fighting game. The various monsters across the globe could be interpreted as a series of “bosses” that are missing their usual mooks, but this still controls like a fighting game, complete with fireball motions. That said, the last levels finally offer some generic guys in the form of regular-sized robots, so Monster Maulers is going on this list. Consider this the lost bridge between the gameplay of Final Fight and Street Fighter 2, as remixed by Konami (and maybe Yatterman).

How is the cast? Your sentai heroes du jour are generic guy, generic girl, and super wrestler prime. Eagle, the man with the muscles, offers the opportunity to piledrive a floating brain, so he’s clearly the best pick. But Kotetsu and Anne are both very distinctive, and you can probably have fun with them while pummeling intermittently gross collections of sentient organs. After all, somebody has to choose Ryu every once in a while.

Best Boss? Fungus/Slime is a… slime. It morphs through a variety of forms, though, so it’s a little more interesting than your typical Dragon Quest opponent. Just try not to get absorbed into its membrane. It is going to take, like, seventeen bottles of shampoo to cure that condition.

What’s that on the ground? Monster Maulers is unfortunately too close to a fighting game to include powerups. Sorry!

Anything else? The best way to beat the multi-headed Dragon is to get up on the hydra’s back.

Is it worth a quarter? This is a very unique game (for the 90’s), so it’s worth giving it a go at least once. The bosses are interesting, the graphic design is eclectic, and the ending involves a surprising amount of man butt. And it’s a Konami game, so you know you’ll get to pummel a Moai head. What’s not to like?

Violent Storm

Too violentRelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:45

What is it? In a post-apocalyptic future, three buds must battle through a street gang of mutants and cyborgs in an effort to rescue their friend that is also a girl. It’s basically Double Dragon… which itself was biting hard on Fight of the North Star, but there is an important difference here…

What’s the hook? Violent Storm is arguably a parody of Double Dragon, as it certainly leans hard into its own madcap humor. What’s funnier than physical violence? More beat ‘em ups should be this amusing! Regardless, “Dabel” busting through a wall is clearly not Abobo, so stop trying to claim this game is plagiarism. Parody is fair use!

How is the cast? Wade, Boris, and Kyle are all very distinct with their own special moves and preferences for radio stations. They absolutely do not have any idea how to dress, but they’re excellent martial artists, and Kyle even went the extra mile and stole Chun-Li’s lightning kick. He’s the winner, but all of the boys “feel” fun to use, so you can’t go wrong with this trio.

Best Boss? It’s hard to choose! Perusing the final stage’s museum for portraits of the bosses, you’re reminded of the likes of Drigger the wrestler that looks like he was beamed out of Conan the Barbarian, or Sledge, who may or may not be trying (and failing) to cosplay as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. But I’m going to go with Doyle, the boss of the factory stage, who apparently attempted to load himself into Power Loader, but only got halfway through, so he’s merely equipped with fork arms and a jetpack. He tried!

What’s that on the ground? There is food all over the place. There’s even a woman in the background of one stage eating what is clearly a pizza powerup, but she won’t share. Hand that over, lady, I’m trying to rescue people here.

Anything else? The music is Splatoon-y as hell. Not coincidentally, this might be the one game on this list that really makes me want to find the soundtrack.

Is it worth a quarter? Yes. God yes. Maybe this is just because I play a lot of beat ‘em ups, but it is a breath of fresh air to play one that doesn’t take itself absurdly seriously. This is a genre about punching the same dudes over and over again in remotely different configurations. You need to be able to have fun with that, every other beat ‘em up producer of the 90’s! Are you listening to me?!

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs!Release Year: 1993

Length: 1:00

What is it? Based on the animated series of the same name (itself based on a comic), this is a Capcom beat ‘em up very much in the vein of Final Fight. In fact, the general gameplay feels exactly the same, the graphics for the map are very similar, and some of the generic mooks are all but exact copies of their Metro City cousins. But Final Fight didn’t feature any dinosaurs, now did it? Also, Blanka of Street Fighter is a guest opponent (under the alias “Bludge”), and he’s always a good time.

What’s the hook? Aside from dinosaurs that must be “protected” lest they become rampaging monsters, the hook here is that you get to drive a Cadillac and mow down baddies for exactly one level. Other than that, the best you can hope for is the occasional lizard man to break up the monotony.

How is the cast? This one takes a page from Alien vs. Predator and makes the characters distinct through their proficiencies. Jack is balanced, Hannah uses items (re: guns) effectively, Mustapha is quick, and Mess is the bruiser. Mess completely wrecks house, and his only downside is an impossibly stupid name.

Best Boss? One stage features a parasite monster that leaps from generic guy to generic guy creating new dinosaur-mutants. This bug creates an unusual amount of tension, as it’s hard to tell when and if it will ever be defeated, as it continually finds new and bigger hosts. That’s a pretty good trick for a game in a genre that traditionally betrays pressure with life bars.

What’s that on the ground? This is a Capcom beat ‘em up, so a whole variety of different food items are available. There are also guns and rocket launchers that will literally blast your opponents into meaty pieces. Please do not eat the chunks.

Anything else? The final boss is a two headed tyrannosaurus man with a scientist stuck in his chest. That leaves an impression.

Is it worth a quarter? It might be a Final Fight clone with guns, but Final Fight is one of the best, so it’s pretty damn fun. Like every beat ‘em up on this list, it’s easy to enjoy your time with Cadillacs and dinosaurs.

FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

  • The living endSystem: Arcade only, guys. Maybe one day we’ll see some kind of home version. Maybe something that inexplicably also includes every other game on this list? You can use my name if you want, developers!
  • Number of players: The rare three-player option. It would be four, but somebody has to drive the caddy.
  • Favorite Weapon: You get a free rocket launcher every time you have to continue. This allows you to absolutely obliterate your opponents, and I see no problem with that. Rockets are surely worth a quarter.
  • It Stinks: The official, canon explanation for how cars run in the future of CaD is that all vehicles have been modified to be fueled by dinosaur dung. Crapillacs from Dinosaurs.
  • For the Sequel: Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm for the Sega CD is more of a shoot ‘em up than a beat ‘em up. It also bombed miserably, which is probably why we never saw a home port of the arcade game. Elon Musk was also a credited programmer on that project, which cannot be good for anybody.
  • Did you know? Cadillacs and Dinosaurs is based on the comic Xenozoic Tales. XT was published from 1987 to 1996 by Kitchen Sink Press, and offers… 14 issues. Man, Spider-Man stars in that many comic books in like a week! Whatever, at least it was popular enough to spawn a videogame and a candy bar.
  • Would I play again: Why not? It’s a fun little beat ‘em up, and those can be an excellent way to relax. The fact that dinosaurs are involved in this title is just gravy.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors 2! Wizards are moderately scary, so that’s an allowed pick for October. … Even if I hate the damn game. Please look forward to it!

FGC #530 Little Nemo: The Dream Master

Let's get dreamyLittle Nemo: The Dream Master is an excellent NES Capcom title. It doesn’t always get the same accolades as Mega Man or Ducktales, but it is worthy of its Capcom pedigree. Did you know that this game basically pioneered Kirby’s copy ability well before the advent of the little puff ball? Or that the presence of the keys makes this the rare NES collectathon that encourages combing large, lush stages? LN:TDM has a few issues here and there, but it is a game where you can trade your normal skills for the jumps of a frog, the punches of a gorilla, or the stickiness (?) of a lizard. That counts for a lot when you are on the same system as some comparatively primitive adventures. Little Nemo feels like the prequel to a SNES game that could have been absolutely amazing, but, as it is, it is simply a NES title that pushes the boundaries of what was possible in 1990.

But we’re not going to talk about that today.

We’re going to talk about the worst, scariest level in a Capcom title.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s look at House of Toys.

House 'o Toys

Right from the start, it is obvious that something is wrong with this level. Every other stage begins with some whimsical creature, like Flip the Chain Smoking Frog Monster, introducing the basic concept for the area. “Oh, Nemo, use your candy to feed moles for some reason,” they say. Or, “Oh, look, this is your house, a thing I shouldn’t have to tell you, but here we are, guess we’re going to provide clumsy exposition now.” What are you told by your creature-greeter at House of Toys? Nothing. There is not a friendly face to be found. There isn’t even the illusion of narration or an explanation for your current predicament. You are at the House of Toys now. Expecting a warm welcome? No. House of Toys is all you will ever know.

And speaking of friendlies, let’s take a quick look at the best part of Little Nemo: The Dream Master. As was mentioned, Little Nemo is a fairly revolutionary title for the way it utilized animal friends as powerups. This was not another NES title that had “one size fits all” powerups like a spread beam or muscle serum, this was a game that constantly presented new challenges and puzzles, and the only solution to these puzzles was to get the help of an animal buddy. If you needed to reach a high area, you befriended a frog. If you had to climb even higher, you might gain the assistance of a bee. And levels with particular trials, like the prerequisite underwater stage, featured singular encounters with friendly animals adapted only to those areas. Basically, every new stage is interesting not only because of the geography or enemies available, but also the promise of new and interesting animals with exciting new abilities.

You will die hereAnd what particular powerups and/or animals appear in House of Toys? None. Nada. Zilch. There is not a single animal companion in the third level. There isn’t a hidden guerilla, sneaky lizard, or even a hermit crab to be found. You will not find a single ally anywhere in House of Toys. Not only is this lonely, but it also means Little Nemo will be stuck with his little life bar and its extremely limited durability. And as far as offense goes, there is no mouse hammer or hornet stinger to help Nemo this time, so the absolute best Nemo can hope for is ineffectually tossing candy like some manner of rogue oompa loompa. Do toys care about candy? Not so much. Nemo’s lifespan is going to be drastically shortened in his solitude.

And if you think House of Toys is going to go easy on Nemo because he’s completely, wretchedly alone, you’ve got another thing coming. And that “another thing” is “a constant assault of airborne opponents”. The main “monsters” of House of Toys are flying threats in the form of toy airplanes and floating, bombing balloons. In both cases, you are dealing with foes that appear above Nemo… and that’s not great for a little dude that can only toss candy horizontally forward. Not that your candy is going to do any good, though! At best, Nemo can only stun a foe on a good day, and when the screen is constantly scrolling forward, a motionless enemy is just as deadly as a mobile one.

And, yes, this is the only automatic, horizontally scrolling stage in the game. Yes, that is going to get you killed via squishing against any number of blocks. Thanks for asking!

A little pokeyBut wait, there’s more! It is not enough that you are being literally dive-bombed by an army of toys, there have to be a host of traps across the stage, too. It starts simple enough with some crashing crate-looking things, where the worst you have to worry about is mistaking the perfectly flat “enemy” platforms for something you can actually jump on without taking damage. Can more traps be equipped with “do not touch” signs? The encroaching spikes throughout the stage don’t need warning signs, though. Everyone knows anything slightly pointy is incurable poison to every last NES hero, so it’s no wonder that you’ll expectantly steer Nemo away from those prickly pals. But good luck with that! The hit detection on the spikes is atrocious, and nudging Nemo in the general direction of anything triangular will result in instant death. Since this kind of sloppy mapping only appears in this stage, it may be a side effect of the auto-scrolling. Or House of Toys was just designed by masochists! There could be any number of explanations for why every goddamn thing is trying to kill Nemo for a solid few minutes.

And then the stage itself starts trying to eat you:

WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING!?

That’s not great, either.

And if this all seems like a terrible idea for a level, also consider that House of Toys eschews one of the most important parts of Little Nemo: The Dream Master. The majority of stages in LN:TDM require Nemo to find keys scattered about the level. This leads to exploration and experimentation, and seems to be the essence of Nemo’s appeal. Since House of Toys relies on an autoscroll that absolutely precludes the ability to backtrack at all, there are no keys to “find” across the level. Exploration is dropped for an endless parade of death traps, and that is the complete opposite of the rest of the game’s style. And, hey, because no one had a good idea on how to incorporate the keys that are the point of other levels, there’s a cache of keys right there at the end. That’s right! The designers of LN:TDM didn’t have a clue on how to integrate the gameplay they themselves had established. It’s a bizarre reminder that the rest of Nemo’s quest isn’t this horrible!

My magic wandBut! There is something of a vindication for this shift in gameplay within Little Nemo: The Dream Master. The final levels introduce an assault on the Nightmare King’s lair, and the key conceit is dropped for something that is more action-based. This shift is welcome, as it creates a more dramatic finale for Nemo: the adventure is no longer about having fun in Dream Land, it is now a no holds barred battle against an invading monarch. That’s cool! But is House of Toys an effective preview of later challenges? Well, it might be if it equipped Nemo with the powerful Morningstar (pictured in use versus a penguin) that makes those last levels actually survivable. And, oh yeah, if this didn’t happen five levels before the finale. This is Level 3! They’re aping the challenges of the final levels before you’ve even mastered the basics! That’s lunacy!

House of Toys is a black mark on an otherwise amazing NES title. It eschews everything unique about the game, and drops a straightforward action level into the middle of whimsical, exploration-based stages. And then it kills Nemo quickly and frequently. For one stage, Nemo’s pleasant dream becomes a nightmare, and I’m unlikely to forgive House of Toys for this transgression anytime soon.

Toys are supposed to be fun, dammit!

FGC #530 Little Nemo: The Dream Master

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. Like the Disney Afternoon Collection, the fact that this game is associated with a license outside of Capcom’s usual oeuvre means it never saw direct sequels or rereleases. And, unlike the Disney Afternoon Collection, it’s unlikely it will be rescued by a craptillion dollar company. C’est la vie.
  • Number of players: This Nemo dreams alone.
  • Another explanation: There is a rarely seen Little Nemo arcade game from Capcom, too. It’s pretty similar to the Willow arcade game, and it’s a sort of “action beat ‘em up” that occupies the space between Mega Man and Final Fight. And its first stage is familiar…

    To the arcade!

    Was the ill-advised House of Toys an aborted attempt the capture the same gameplay as the arcade title? Or is it a simple matter of reusing the same iconography of the attendant movie? The world may never know.

  • Favorite Animal Buddy: It’s bee. If it’s an NES game, and you can fly with a particular ability, I’m going to choose that buddy every time. It doesn’t hurt that this hornet can also visit spikey death upon its enemies, too. That lizard can barely walk, but the bee is just an unending parade of destruction.
  • What’s in a name? Little Nemo: The Dream Master is based on the movie Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, which is based on the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland which itself was a spin-off of Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. In Japan, the game is called Pajama Hero Nemo. … Whatever works.
  • Goggle Bob Fact #1: This was one of the few videogames I owned as a child (well, “few” compared to how many I have now). As a result, I played it a lot… with the stage select code. I’m pretty sure I skipped Level 3 every time. Go figure.
  • The city in the skyGoggle Bob Fact #2: This is one of the few videogames I have owned that I eventually tossed in the garbage. No, gentle reader, this was not because House of Toys drove me to hitherto unknown levels of destruction; it was simply because of the cat. Or a cat. Some cat (or other animal of like size) puked all over my Little Nemo cartridge, and no one in the house wanted to clean or even touch what was possibly the most gross hunk of plastic in the house. Luckily, this was years after the NES was relevant, but it still hurts to know that my “original” copy of Little Nemo was lost to an explosion of Whiskas.
  • Did you know? People are aware that Flip, the frog-thing that greets you at the start of the first level, continually has a cigar in the movie (and arcade game), but had his smoking censored for the NES edition. However, you might not know that the Guerilla buddy is supposed to have a big, fat stogey, too. This explains why that hairy ape is continually making ducklips through the whole adventure.
  • Would I play again? This is a beloved piece of my childhood that seems lost to the ages. I might not fire up my NES for another go, but it would be really great if someone could make a new Nemo game. I’d buy that on day one. Hint hint, Pie for Breakfast Studios.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 for the Nintendo Gameboy. Is Mario even in that game? Why does he get billing at all? Wario is the best! And please look forward to his adventures!

Check out that tongue

FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass & I Wanna Be The Guy

We'll start hereToday’s game is Mega Man & Bass. I first played this title in approximately 2000, and discovered it randomly on an old SNES ROM site. I thought I was aware of every last Mega Man title, but this was wholly new to me. And hard. And weird! So, naturally, I assumed it was a fan-made ROM hack. They were popular at the time, and it would certainly explain why this SNES game was using (Playstation) Mega Man 8 graphics. Videogame franchises don’t go backwards!

Of course, Mega Man & Bass was a legitimate Capcom release, it just wasn’t legitimately released in America until a few years later. However, playing the game today reminded me of that old “ROM hack” scene, and how there were an equal number of titles that repurposed sprites for new and innovative challenges… and more than a few that simply replaced Mario with Kenny from South Park and called it a day. It was a confusing time, and the quality was all over the place.

But there’s one game that was a cut above the rest. I Wanna Be the Guy is a game that repurposed sprites like so many of those ROMs of yesteryear, but was wholly original in its gameplay, and arguably created an entire genre all on its own. IWBTG is an amazing experience, and, since its release, has become a phenomenon all its own. Unfortunately, like many of its contemporaries, there isn’t much information on its creation, as your average publicist doesn’t quite know what to do with a game featuring a Green Dragon that is also a Yellow Devil (how does that work?). In an effort to get more information on I Wanna Be the Guy and its creation, I decided to sit down and speak with its writer/producer/director/artist/creator Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly. Hopefully this can provide a glimpse of “the scene” of the time (at least how it impacted the creation of IWBTG), and a passing oral history of I Wanna Be the Guy.

Goggle Bob: Let’s start with the dumb basics, when did you first have the idea for IWBTG?
This is Owata
Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly: So this was during the 4chan heydays. Back when everyone just kinda sucked instead of just being outward nazis. So for me, besides all the hentai, a big appeal was the flash board and the weird games on there. Which is where I played the original version of Owata, the 2chan emoticon based masocore game. I feel like it might have been the first game quite like that? It didn’t repurpose sprites — it had like ascii versions of videogame references — but it was the bedrock for IWBTG. Part of it was that since Owata was, at the time, unfinished, so I felt like I had an opening to expand to a bigger game.

Goggle Bob: and do you recall when exactly that was?

Kayin: Sometime in early 2007?

Goggle Bob: Gotcha. So when you first started working on IWBTG, was the audience you had in mind basically fellow 4chaners on the board, or something larger? Or were you even just doing it to amuse yourself?

Kayin: Mostly to amuse myself. I consumed 4chan, but never really was part of the ‘community’. The whole anon thing was weird to me, I actually like being a person. So I never linked or talked about it there outside a few situations where I found a thread about the game. No, it was for my friends and soon later, part of the “#FinalFight” community which.. wasn’t about capcom’s final fight so much as a community centered around Scott Sharkey. The community was getting to the point there where a lot of us didn’t even know who Sharkey was. I was just there because other people were. I shared my game with them on what was at the time the pyoko boards and later became the brontoforumus.

Goggle Bob: So IWBTG initially drew inspiration from a game that barely had graphics at all… but somehow still pulled from Super Mario Bros, if memory serves. How quickly did IWBTG start adopting outside sprites and alike during production?

Kayin: The most striking thing in Owata to me was these big ‘ascii sprites’ of Zangief and Guile that were…. an obvious inspiration. And it started basically as soon as I got to the first boss. I don’t know WHY I wanted to make a giant Mike Tyson but it… felt like the right idea.
Punch!  Dodge!
Goggle Bob: Never doubt the desire for a giant Mike Tyson. We’re jumping around a bit, but since you mentioned that memorable boss, a related question: a significant reason I personally find IWBTG so revolutionary is how it keeps one “base” kind of gameplay, and marries it to a number of disparate parts, like Mike Tyson from Punch-Out… which is… what? A rhythm fighting game? And combines it with gameplay that is closer to Mega Man or Metroid. And the question I’m getting to on that is… I suppose… Why? Like, why did you draw significantly from very different sources and adapt them to your game?

Kayin: I liked a lot of different games. I think it’s also because I’m a very visually minded person so games having very differing sources gameplay wise isn’t something that mattered to me. Or it mattered, but the discontinuity made it funnier, like with the platforming zelda section.

Goggle Bob: Which is certainly does! So your intentions with making it funnier was, during production, predominantly for a small, tight audience?

Kayin: Yeah. Maybe about half way through I started to have a looming sense it was going to blow up, but early on? Nah, just for a small audience.

Goggle Bob: So basically anyone of a certain age recognizes a number of the videogame sprites and such, but, if you were aiming for a small enclave initially, are there a significant number of inside jokes in IWBTG? Items that would be only understood by your “initial” audience?

Kayin: No, I still wanted to keep things pretty general? I originally intended on it but never got to any. While I knew who my audience was, I wasn’t making the game FOR THEM I made -A- game, knowing they would be there to play it

Goggle Bob: An excellent way of thinking… though I was hoping that would explain the prominence of Mecha Birdo…
Bad Birdo
Kayin: Why -not- mecha birdo?

Goggle Bob: Fair enough! Speaking of Birdo and friends, we’re talking about… 13 years ago. Technically not that long, but forever in technology time. With that in mind, how difficult was it during creation to get all the sprites you needed?

Kayin: It is forever ago! And not that hard. I think the site of choice at the time was Shyguy Kingdom which worked for finding most sprites I needed?

Goggle Bob: Was there anything you wanted to include but you couldn’t find a decent source?

Kayin: Not quite? I wish I could have found an actual transparent png of a good shmup warning image for Mecha Birdo but making one was just fine. I feel like 2007, sprites for most all popular games were ripped and widely available.

Goggle Bob: Which I’m sure made your life easier. How much of the art in IWBTG is original?

Kayin: Almost everything that isn’t obviously a reference? Tourian and Dracula’s Castle are the only two areas I believe that have tilesets taken from other games. Oh, and the Zelda screen, obviously!

Goggle Bob: So everyone remembers a giant, green Zangief, but a significant chunk of the game you had to manually create?

Kayin: Granted, I use the same tiles for most of the game. It’s not a lot of sprite work, but in terms of what the player sees, they see more of my stuff than references. My stuff, at least back then, just wasn’t impressive at all.

Goggle Bob: It got the job done. “Delicious Fruit” was original, right? That seems to have migrated across the internet

Kayin: Yes!

Goggle Bob: Is there anything in the game that is original that you find people THINK is a reference?

Kayin: Well everyone thinks I Wanna be the Guy is a Homestar Runner reference which is understandable but it was just a thing a friend said when we were babbling back and forth to each other.

Goggle Bob: Come to think of it, reference or not, how early in production did you “know” this was going to be “I Wanna Be the Guy (The Movie The Game)”?

Kayin: I went in with that name I think?

Goggle Bob: Then that would be pretty early! Alright, back to actual release: when was IWBTG officially first released, and where was it available?

Kayin: It was progressively released for months. I didn’t hide it. I had a website and people could play the newest versions. It was ‘finished’ as in completable in October of 2007.

Goggle Bob: You didn’t hide it, but did you in any way “promote” it?

Kayin: Not really. 100% word of mouth.

Goggle Bob: And since its release, have you ever really investigated where people “find” IWBTG? Have there been any particular “surges” in interest over the years?

Kayin: All of them now have to do with Let’s Plays and Twitch streams. Nothing else comes close. Even back in the day, YouTube is what made the game REALLY blow up.

Goggle Bob: Which seems to be a pattern for the masocore games… Come to think of it, do you feel more people have WATCHED your game, rather than PLAYED it?

Kayin: OH absolutely. A few pewdiepie videos equals more than IWBTG has ever been downloaded.

Goggle Bob: And how do you feel about that? You did create an intricate videogame, not a YouTube video

Kayin: More than enough people played it and I knew enough from watching people test it that watching was fun in its own way. I think it’s an excellent part of the experience.
Here comes a moon!
Goggle Bob: Yes, I can safely say that I have had more fun watching IWBTG than playing it: from a watcher’s perspective, it’s like reading a mystery novel, and having the detective reveal the murderer… just in this case, the “murderer” is a wall of spikes you were supposed to get in back of.

Kayin: I’d say watching it as a viewer is all about dramatic irony. You know tragedy is coming and it can’t be stopped!

Goggle Bob: I don’t know if you’ve heard this one before, but I actually “found” IWBTG back in the day thanks to a number of articles on TV Tropes referencing the game and its many “subversions”.

Kayin: I can believe that! The TV Tropes article on IWBTG is pretty extensive if I recall.

Goggle Bob: Which I guess brings us to another topic: you said you designed this game with one community in mind, but IWBTG seems to have created its own community and dedicated fans. Or at least there’s more of a wiki for it than Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Mall Madness. Even when you were beginning to suspect IWBTG would be a hit, did you ever expect its current level of fame?

Kayin: Surprisingly yeah? Like it exceeded my moderate expectations but I knew this was possible. I wasn’t counting on it or getting ahead of myself or necessarily thought it was so great. I just had this feeling like… “I… think I’m in the right place at the right time?” That said with fans, I did NOT expect the sheer amount of fangames. That said though, most fangames are fangames of fangames and not IWBTG fangames if that makes sense.

Goggle Bob: It makes perfect sense. Do you consider IWBTG a “fangame” for the games it references?

Kayin: I wouldn’t say that myself but if someone else did I wouldn’t say they’re wrong either.

Goggle Bob: Fair enough, IWBTG is certainly its own animal. But, of course, you can’t say something is totally original when “death by surprise Ryu” is a persistent threat. 13 years later, do you regret that IWBTG is so closely tied to IPs that were borrowed?

Kayin: Not at all. I think borrowing from culture is good!

Goggle Bob: So if some wizard cursed you to live your life over again… or at least from 2007 on… would you make IWBTG essentially the same?

Kayin: Outside of improving a few little things, yeah. No real regrets.

Goggle Bob: Any regrets regarding the seemingly aborted IWBTG sequel projects?
Back to Mega Man
Kayin: I Wanna Save the Kids didn’t have the legs I thought it might. It stopped because the idea wasn’t that great. Gaiden? 50/50. I regret it to some degree but at the same time I moved on for a reason Maybe one day I’ll make more Gaiden, but I mostly feel happier working on other games.

Goggle Bob: Which fits neatly with my next question: do you ever get the itch to pursue another project like IWBTG? Something simpler and more in the realm of borrowing, and not banging your head against figuring out how to program stairs to work perfectly?

Kayin: Not so much? I have an idea but I don’t have that ENTIRE DESIRE to make those ideas real. It also helps that it’s less economically feasible. Ads are basically dead and mixing legit and legally grey work together seems risky. It’s fine when you’re a nobody buuuuut… yeah. Also I feel like a lot of people do the masocore stuff better than me now. I’m not needed anymore.

Goggle Bob: And, prior to 2007, did you ever think that you would be in such a position as a result of IWBTG? Did you ever think that this game with Zangief shooting Blankas would put you in the place where you could say you made an impact on gaming, it’s time for a new generation now?

Kayin: Yeah that’s weird. Like I said I had a strong instinct that game was going to make it, but I didn’t expect it to be formative? When I made it I already felt late to the party but now that whole little stretch of history is a blip.

Goggle Bob: Which is why I wanted to interview you about this: there are so few voices from that period recorded, and so much from then has been litigated into oblivion. IWBTG is a success story in more ways than one

Kayin: Yeah, it’s funny, back then it felt like SO MUCH STUFF WAS HAPPENING AND EVERYTHING WAS HAPPENING SO FAST and it was so fast that a lot of it just got lost

Goggle Bob: And even if these games are lost to the ages, their impact is still being felt today. “Parody games” closer to the tone of IWBTG of varying quality are available seemingly monthly on digital storefronts, and whatever happens to be the latest “masocore indie” is practically a mainstay for Nintendo Directs.

Kayin: And a lot of the ‘cheap’ ones still are really clever!

Goggle Bob: I think that about wraps it up. Anything you’d like to say to anyone considering building their own “IWBTG” today?
They're sharp
Kayin: For anyone making a funny masocore game now: Consider you have to compete with the collective cleverness of everyone who owns Mario Maker.

Goggle Bob: Ha, that’s a high cliff to climb.

Kayin: Right? It’s not blue oceans any more for masocore.

Goggle Bob: Well, thank you again for this, I feel like it’s important to get SOME voices from the forgotten corners of gaming… even if some of the games involved are anything but forgotten.

Kayin: No problem! Hope it was what you were looking for! I know I wasn’t as nitty gritty in that scene as some people.

Goggle Bob: Not exactly hard hitting reporting, but its the kind of stuff that gives a little snapshot of what it was back then, even if it was just “this forum” and “that website”. Thank you again for providing a record of the creation of I Wanna Be the Guy.

Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly can be found at his website at Kayin.moe, or on Twitter at @KayinNasaki. Please look forward to his upcoming game, Brave Earth: Prologue (I know I am).

FGC #527 I Wanna Be the Guy

  • System: PC. Oh, I should have asked Kayin about a Switch port.
  • Number of players: Just one kid, trying to be the guy.
  • Let's be a guy!Special Thanks: Once again, a special thank you to Kayin for agreeing to this interview and being an excellent interviewee. Also thanks to BEAT, a skeleton who let me borrow some screengrabs from his ancient runthrough of IWBTG. That is one helpful skeleman right there.
  • Favorite Death: I will never forget getting trashed by Dracula’s wineglass. That is some primo humor through gameplay right there.
  • So, did you beat it? No, sorry. I played through most of the game back in the day, but I washed out at The Guy’s Castle. I just lost steam, and got distracted by something else. What was it? I don’t even remember anymore. Although, given I was mostly playing it at my old job… it may have been actual work.
  • Did you know? Dragon Devil is the only version of the Yellow Devil I can tolerate. How did Kayin do that?
  • Would I play again: I’d rather retire to watching I Wanna Be the Guy than playing it right now. I enjoy “difficult games”, but I just don’t have the time right now to rediscover the nuance involved in properly leaping across clouds and not being crushed by spike walls. Looking forward to Brave Earth Prologue, though…

FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass (the original inspiration for this article)

  • Chill OutSystem: The Super Famicom for one specific country, and then Gameboy Advance for international releases. From there, it was never seen again, even as part of the Mega Man Legacy Collection.
  • Number of Players: You may play as Mega Man or Bass, but not both.
  • Port-o-Call: It might not have an official translation, but play this game on the SNES hardware if at all possible. The GBA version crops the screen dramatically, and, considering we’re already dealing with big, chunky PSX sprites, you need to see everything that is happening. Or just memorize every room with ceiling spikes. Whatever works.
  • So, you thought this was a romhack? I said I was young and stupid! Look, it has all the hallmarks: sprites repurposed from another system, a difficulty curve far beyond the usual level for the franchise, and some great ideas with often bad implementation (for instance, Dynamo Man’s energy restore is a nugget of a good idea that winds up being nothing but frustrating). When I started this interview, Kayin sagely pointed out that MM&B would have been practically impossible back when I played the game, and I very much agree with him now, in the year 2020. But back then I just assumed Japanese fans were a million times better at creating games than Americans. It makes sense when you consider the gaming landscape of the time! I swear!
  • Mega Man or Bass? Bass forever. A double jump is the most essential move in gaming history, and the slide is right down there at the bottom with, like, inventory juggling or something. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to believe Mega Man could ever beat Bass.
  • Favorite Robot Master: Pirate Man is my everything. He’s a robot pirate! Does he steal software or treasure? I mean, his lair is filled with gold, but it’s entirely possible that gold is all really expensive optical storage.
  • Did you know? According to series director Keiji Inafune, the creation of Mega Man & Bass was like “one big party”. I assume this means the staff was high as hell the entire time, and that is the only explanation I will accept for King acquiring a Voltron-tank for his finale.
  • Stay hotWould I play again: I always forget about this game when I play other Mega Man titles (mainly because it doesn’t appear on so many collections), so MM&B doesn’t get played all that often. That said, it is a fun game, and I often get an itch for it… once every five years or so.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Adventure for the Atari! Let’s go battle some ducks! Please look forward to it!

I know that guy

FGC #520 X-Men: Children of the Atom

Let’s start at the end to find the beginning.

Let's get infiniteIn 2017, Capcom released Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, possibly the most embarrassing flop in the history of videogames. This should have been a slam dunk! It was a fighting game released after the resurgence of fighting game popularity, so there was a built-in audience ready and willing to fight online and at tournaments. The cast was also at the absolute peak of their popularity, as the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and The Guardians of the Galaxy were dominating the box office with hit after hit. The latest Avengers movie had just produced more profit than the entirety of South Americacitation needed. And the Capcom side of things? Sure, some of the cast was a little esoteric, but seeing the likes of Jedah or Dante is exciting for people that actually play videogames (and, hey, this is a videogame!). And next gen graphics! I have been led to believe that people love those crazy framerates! Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite should have been a generation-defining fighting game for all sorts of reasons.

But Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite was a dud. Why? Well, it seems like the big issue was that, in trying to court the Marvel movie audience, the direction of MvC:I left its fans in the dust. A bright, cartoony style was dropped for something that was trying for realistic, but wound up settling in the uncanny valley. The gameplay was weirdly stiff, and, even though the Story Mode was a hoot, the minute-to-minute of the experience simply felt… off. And perhaps worst of all, some of the most remarkable fighters from the previous title were dropped (sorry, Phoenixes), and the new arrivals were uninteresting, limited, and mostly DLC. When a franchise introduces a playable trash panda, you can’t follow that up with “Storm, but white”. And speaking of which, likely thanks to that movie-mandate, the entire X-Men cast was dropped from the franchise. Gone were the likes of Wolverine and Sentinel, and the best we could hope for was the (paid) return of Venom.

Let's go crazyAll in all, MvC: Infinite seemed like a lesser version of a game that had been released six years prior, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds brought the Versus Franchise roaring back, and Ultimate MvC3, its seemingly inevitable update, is noted by many to be the best in the franchise. This is clearly a title that was created by fans, for the fans (how else could you explain the presence of MODOK and Trish?), but also maintained a balance between the very disparate characters. You could equally have fun choosing a wee little red power ranger or a hulking… uh… Hulk. Hell, this is a game that managed to balance fights between multi-tentacled monstrosities and god-dogs. But, balanced or not, there was no lack of spectacle, and every last fight felt appropriately marvelous. Give or take Jill Valentine becoming some kind of angry cyborg cat (sorry, I have no idea what Resident Evil was doing that week), UMvC3 was received well for being a flawless entry in the Versus Franchise.

Just what I expectedAnd it’s not like that would be a cakewalk from UMvC3’s inception; it was forced to bring back the franchise after 2000’s Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, which is noted by many to be the best in the franchise. MvC2 is not a balanced game like its descendant, but it’s not like anyone wanted balance anyway. This is mahvel, baby. This is a game that decided to cap off the (at the time) end of the Versus Franchise (mostly due to licensing issues), and include literally every fighter that had ever appeared. After years of Versus games that liberally dropped and added fighters as it moved along, MvC2 decided to just throw everything against the wall to see what stuck (and maybe include a talking cactus, too). This led to one of the wildest fighting games in history, as suddenly a gigantic stand-in for Satan could get his tailed-ass beat by an army of miniscule Servbots. There were 56 total characters, and, while there were a number of Ryu wannabes and the occasional Iron Man recolor on the roster (and two Wolverines, for some reason), this roster remains to this day one of the most eclectic in all of gaming. Where else are you going to find a metal tyrant battling a mummy? And, while some nuance amongst the characters was lost, there is no greater feeling than unleashing three hyper moves’ worth of beam attacks against a walking suit of armor. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was just the right kind of absurd foolishness we all needed after weathering the Y2K bug (which, miraculously, was not a playable character).

Let's go crazyBut that wouldn’t have even been possible were it not for the release of Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes two years earlier. The “original” MvC is noted by many to be the best in the franchise, as it wrung every bit of action and distinction out of its (compared to its descendants) limited roster. This was the initial game to introduce familiar videogame faces that were new to the world of fighting games, so now, like Athena ascending to King of Fighters, you saw Captain Commando and Strider executing fierce punches for the first time. It also included a bevy of cameo characters that guested for singular attacks, which, finally, allowed Jubilee to join in the melee. And if the balanced tag team action of the Versus Franchise wasn’t enough for you, there was also the Variable Cross, which allowed a whole team to attack simultaneously, so War Machine could set Morrigan up for the spike. This was the perfect mix of old and new, so, like a playable Mega Man, it was the familiar seen in an all-new light that was somehow instantly and effortlessly refined.

KISSESBut why was it all familiar? Well, because we had already enjoyed X-Men vs. Street Fighter in 1996 and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter in 1997. Both games were the starting bell for what would be known as the Versus Franchise, but primarily only reused assists from prior games, whether they be Marvel or Street Fighter titles. X-Men vs. Street Fighter at least gave us luminaries like Rogue or Sabertooth, but MSHvSF was wholly recycled from previous titles, and was likely only published because someone wanted to see Shuma Gorath tackle Sakura. Whether sprites and moves were recycled from earlier titles is immaterial, though, as this crossover gameplay was wholly new to the Capcom stable. You can fight as two people at once (kinda)! You can combine super moves (totally)! Wolverine can finally take a chunk out of M. Bison! And MSHvSF may have been light on new character content, but it did introduce the vital ability to summon your partner for an assist. In short, everything that defines the Versus Franchise was right there at its beginning, even if it wasn’t yet a welcoming place for Arthur to hang out.

UPPERCUTBut even before we ever had a single tag battle, the basic gameplay of the Versus Franchise premiered with 1995’s X-Men: Children of the Atom. XM:CotA (and its spiritual sequel a year later, Marvel Super Heroes) was essentially based on the Street Fighter Alpha engine, but with a little… mutation. While the Street Fighter franchise veered more into realistic, restrained fighting in Street Fighter 3 (well, as realistic as a fight can be when one participant is an albino made of electrified jelly), X-Men:CotA adopted all the “based on an anime” indulgences of Alpha, and dialed it up to eleven with super jumping, laser beams, and midair combos. It was still natural to anyone that had played Street Fighter (or, of course, Darkstalkers), but the pomp and bombast of every battle was an experience that was wholly unique. And that made perfect sense! These weren’t mundane “street fighters”, these were Marvel’s mightiest mutants, so you had to have a game that accounted for characters with a non-standard number of arms. X-Men: CotA started what would become a franchise all its own by taking the familiar and marrying it to the fantastic.

But where did X-Men: Children of the Atom come from? From Cyclops battling Silver Samurai to Mega Man blasting Marrow to Thor fighting Sigma on the Rainbow Bridge, where did this all truly begin? With Street Fighter? Final Fight? What is the origin of this decades-old fighting game franchise?

Well, if I told you it all spun out of the opening credits adaption of the Japanese localization of a Fox Kids cartoon from 1992, would you believe me?

So much jumping

No, of course not. That would be silly. Let’s just say this all started with Street Fighter, and call it a day.

Thank you, Ryu, for bringing us the amazing Versus Franchise. Let us never speak of Omega Red’s impact ever again.

FGC #520 X-Men: Children of the Atom

  • System: Arcade for the arcade experience, but the Sega Saturn version will do in a pinch. It kind of has a weird screen aspect thing going on, but it’s otherwise pretty tops. The Playstation 1 version is not discussed in polite company.
  • Number of players: We might not be able to select two X-Men at once yet, but you can certainly have two players.
  • Death SpiralWho Are These Guys: Even assuming the game is based primarily on the X-Men animated series, you have to wonder where half this roster came from. Wolverine? Great! Cyclops? A keeper! Psylocke? Okay, I guess Jim Lee got a vote. Omega Red? A poor man’s Sabertooth at least would have an interesting moveset. But Spiral? Spiral? Mojo’s occasional sidekick? And Silver Samurai? Did someone just have a “sword guy” moveset laying around, and here we are? I would love to see an interview with the team that made those decisions.
  • Favorite Fighter: That said, give me Omega Red any day. He’s got range, the ability to drain the life out of his opponents, and a rad ponytail. What more could you ask for?
  • Say Something Mean: I love this game and everything in it… save the fact that way too many of the fireballs or fireball-type moves are directionally controlled by your chosen attack button. That’s the kind of thing that works well in theory, but I despise keying in a fireball motion, but hitting the wrong button, so now said fireball is going straight up in the air, damned never to hit a soul. Maybe this is why Wolverine and his limited claws are chosen so often.
  • Versus Origins: In case anyone was curious, both of the “original” Versus games were Versus games before they ever officially earned that moniker. X-Men vs. Street Fighter starts in X-Men: CotA via a secret battle with Akuma, and a certain wee Darkstalker snuck into Marvel Super Heroes before Marvel vs. Capcom.
  • Win Quotes: The Versus Franchise eventually dropped win quotes (and then returned to them), but the fact that they discarded gems like Cyclops passively aggressively insulting the X-Men…
    I don't get it

    Or some big Akira Yoshida energy…
    Gaijin?

    Is a loss.
  • Forgotten Worlds: Playing through the whole of the Versus Franchise is interesting, as, while the characters are generally perennial (sorry, Marrow), the backgrounds of the various stages over the years portray storylines and locations that were important once, and are now completely forgotten. Remember when Daredevil was the leader of a ninja cabal? Or when the Celestials were prominent? Or when there was a Mega Man Legends franchise?
  • Did you know? When the Fox Kids X-Men series aired in Japan, each episode suffered some content cuts so they could make room for… promotion for this X-Men videogame. It traditionally involved the (Japanese) voice actors playing the game, and “acting out” their characters’ reactions to parts of the game. So maybe there is a significant connection here…
  • Would I play again: There are some parts of X-Men: Children of the Atom that are wholly unique and not simply absorbed by later sequels, so I occasionally return to this old standby. That said, it doesn’t happen very often, so my thumbs are a lot more likely to see Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crash Team Racing: Nitro Refueled! Guess there’s going to be some racing, and we’ll try not to crash. Ha ha ha. Please look forward to it!

This seems apt
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