Tag Archives: childhood

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

Not that Saga....There is nothing like an old friend stopping by to remind you of who you were.

It is certainly a cliché, but I was a different person in 1998. I was a gawky teen/band nerd that mostly assumed women were another, significantly alien species; and, more importantly, I had just let my Nintendo Power subscription lapse. It was a long, N64-based time coming, but, for the first time in my life, I was no longer “connected” to the gaming world. There would not be a monthly periodical arriving to inform me of all the grand games coming to my favorite console anymore, and, as a result, I was lost in the wilderness of Electronics Boutique during every visit. SaGa Frontier caught my eye for one simple reason: it was the same color as Final Fantasy 7. Overwhelmingly white CD case with some Amano-looking wispy dude wearing a patently ridiculous clothing/amulet combo? Sign me the hell up. Final Fantasy was a known quantity, Squaresoft was where Chrono Trigger originated, and a return to “sorcery” (an aspect of older Final Fantasy games that had been gradually given over to techno worlds at the time) was all that I needed. I had no idea what SaGa Frontier had in store for me, but I did have forty bucks of Summer spending I could spare for the experience.

And, yes, SaGa Frontier is certainly an experience.

SHINING KICKSaGa Frontier was directed and produced by Akitoshi Kawazu. And, while the SaGa franchise was familiar to fans in Japan, over here in America Town, Kawazu had only shown his hand in the Final Fantasy Legend series. And you only played that franchise if you had a Nintendo Gameboy and a really high tolerance for staring at a tiny, pea-green square’s worth of text (and a similarly high patience for banana smuggling). What’s more, the origins of practically everything involved in SaGa was introduced in Final Fantasy 2… a game that never saw release/a strategy guide in the West. And it is hard to describe just how different Kawazu directed games can be at times. Like, to attempt a terrible metaphor for the masses that might not have grown up farming cactuars on remote islands, it would be like… Hm… Imagine if Kawazu made cars. These Kawazu Cars would seem completely normal, but you could only use the brakes by licking the steering wheel in just the right way. Would plenty of people die thanks to this vehicle? Yes, obviously. It would lead to global catastrophes. But can you imagine the tongue-dexterity of those that survived? They would be able to lick-brake in amazing ways! And they would probably be better at parallel parking for some reason! Kawazu games will make you better at all games, because they encourage creative thinking and cultivating skills you might leave to languish elsewhere… but these games are also notoriously brutal in their learning curves. If you get it, you get it, but if you don’t, your protagonist is pudding.

And, gentle reader, let me tell you that, in 1998, I was not ready for SaGa Frontier. I tried to approach the game as a traditional Squaresoft jaunt, and I was rewarded for my hubris with a number of dead heroes and heroines. What I projected would be a simple “mindlessly kill monsters, get stronger” experience required far more nuance than I ever anticipated. Robotically “grinding” in SF means the encounters get stronger, but your characters do not necessarily gain the new skills to meet these challenges. Actually succeeding means learning the abilities and aptitudes of your chosen warriors, training them in those specific areas, and then whipping out a Dream Super Combo after hours of hoping you chose the right martial artist for the job. It requires thinking, planning, comboing, and a full grasp of SaGa Frontier and its myriad of gameplay systems. And if you fail? Well, a collection of my own save files parked right before the final bosses, but with no possible path to victory seems to indicate that making the game “unwinnable” is a perfectly valid outcome for a SaGa title.

And, when I was 15, that seemed… reasonable? Like… maybe I deserved it?

GET IT?!I mean, I did deserve it, right? I played the game wrong, and my punishment was an incomplete experience that could only be rectified by starting over. Memory card space was at a premium at the time, so it was not like I could simply reload from an earlier point where maybe I could have constructed a more useful party or learned a more useful skill. There are a thousand options in SaGa Frontier, and I chose the wrong options. And, in a way, this was not a big deal. SaGa Frontier was likely to be my “big JRPG purchase” to last me until Christmas, so I had time. This would be “my game” for the next few months, and if I had to restart, I would simply do that. Start all over armed with the knowledge I had sparked from an aborted playthrough and do better this time. Hell, the multiple characters/scenarios seemed to even encourage this: I failed with Emelia, and I could go back to her, but why not try Asellus this time? And, if I was really trying hard, I could hit the generally accurate advice of Gamefaqs, or shell out a few more precious dollars for a strategy guide. Now I was on the right track! I could handle seeing at least one aqua-colored sorcerer’s ending (or what passed for such). I might never see that all important dev room that required the full dedication of a player and memory card, but I could come close.

And now it is 2021. After 23 years, things are… different.

DO NOT TOUCHSaGa Frontier was once the only game I purchased within a whole season. Now, SaGa Frontier Remastered is one of many games I purchased within that same time period. Hell, it’s not the only game I purchased within one month. Double Hell, it’s not the only Square-Enix remaster of a game I already played that I purchased within a period of two weeks. By Blue’s Eternal Hell, I have some entertainment options now!

But that doesn’t do me as much good as my inordinately jealous 15-year-old self would believe. I have the income to purchase a game every seven seconds (and the Nintendo eShop alone produces new content apace), but, bad news, I have no time to actually play these games. Where once a game that touts seven or eight different scenarios that can take about ten hours each seemed like an unbelievable boon for the boy that could clear Donkey Kong Country before even opening his second Christmas present; now “you will lose 80-90 hours of your life” sounds like a goldarned threat. And it is “only” ten hours a scenario if you know what you’re doing. The idea that I could squeak through nine hours and then have to do it all over again because Hour Ten was too much? Preposterous! I could be playing every Mario game ever made right now, why would I ever bother with escorting some spoony bard to halfheartedly avenging his father? Dude can write a ballad about it, and I’ll listen to that. I do have three minutes to spare for a song sometime around next week…

And, while replaying SaGa Frontier does continue to give me the warm fuzzies, it also makes me think the game is a complete mess. SaGa Frontier offers new frontiers in freedom, and you can often go anywhere in its world, and visit areas that are made “for” a character that you are not using. And in any other JRPG with the premise of multiple playable characters/scenarios, you would arrive at an abandoned temple meant for Riki, but Red would say “there’s no reason we have to be here” and walk away. Or there would be a permanent “guard” outside. Or you wouldn’t even be able to select the area on the map. Or something. SaGa Frontier gives you the autonomy to say “hey, you want to explore here? Go ahead!” And that was sorely lacking from other JRPGs in its day! And our today, too! How many people would get excited yesterday or today by trying to squeeze one character into a place they “shouldn’t be” just to see what would happen? (“Hey, I got Gogo to work in the World of Balance!”) But, that said, the answer here is sad, because you can bring T260G to somewhere she is not supposed to go… and the best you see out of it is maybe some decent treasure. But more likely it is just a literal waste of time. A throne room with no king, or a secret passage leading to no secret. You went to the wrong ruins, buddy. And did that feel worth it for you? Maybe! But more often than not, when an area doesn’t have a distinct reward, it feels like you did something incorrectly. It varies from player to player, but it is very easy to do a lot in SaGa Frontier, and feel like the end result of those adventures is a whole lotta nuttin’. And exploring an area meant for Riki during Emelia’s campaign, finding nothing, and then revisiting it for the “real” scenario with Riki feels less like “I got this” and more like “Oh, heck, now I have to fight this stupid squid again”.

Because it never... Oh never mindWhen there is the possibility that you can explore 90% of the whole game with one scenario, there is the distinct danger that the player is going to become too exhausted/frustrated trying to play 630% of the game. And never mind “knowing” that, like, one goofy NPC or dungeon is going to be a silly diversion in six scenarios, but absolutely essential in scenario seven…

Which brings me to a conclusion that my 15-year-old self never would have even considered: SaGa Frontier was a little too understood by its authors. There are a lot of design decisions that can absolutely make sense in SaGa Frontier, but only if you really appreciate the whole of the game. You must understand every scenario, every sidequest, and the importance of knowing the difference between the two before you burn out on experiencing everything. Or that, narratively, the fact that, say, Blue is very much just a jerk, and isn’t like another PSX Final Fantasy-esque “he’ll be less gruff eventually” protagonist is super important to his ultimate fate, but you really can’t understand the full scope of that until you realize Blue’s counterpart, Rogue, was “the good twin” all along thanks to encounters in other scenarios. And the whole of the game (once again: thanks memory cards) is not the easiest thing to grasp under the best of circumstances. A lot of these decisions make sense in the fullness of understanding all of SaGa Frontier, but in the individual moments of it, it is all over the place, and likely to “offend” a player with its very distinct choices.

And Time Lord knows it offends this modern-day Goggle Bob.

FIREWORKS!SaGa Frontier is a good game. SaGa Frontier Remastered is a good game made even better. But playing the two games at two very different points in my life has reminded me how much things have changed over the last few decades. A game that was once “difficult” can now be safely judged as “difficult to understand”. And, while this does not detract from the experience, it may impress upon this player that, at an age when time is valuable, maybe learning the ins and outs of an extremely unique JRPG is not the best use of the day.

SaGa Frontier, it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve changed. And you’re better, but still too the same.

FGC #599.1 SaGa Frontier (Remastered)

  • System: Playstation 1 for the original, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and various contemporary computer platforms for the modern player. Was it ever a PSN release? It could have worked on the Vita…
  • Number of Players: Fuse makes for our eighth playable character in the remaster, but you still can only control one at a time.
  • I’m not racist, but: I do not care for monsters. A lot of effort for very little return. Though I do appreciate how lummox and skeleton king alike can turn into a slime pile thanks to a bad chunk of monster meat.
  • Make your choice: Choosing Rune Magic means you will go to prison. Arcane Magic means you will get tipsy as hell and drunkenly stumble through a jungle of deadly, sober monsters. I know my choice.
  • Roll it aroundSo are you still just super bitter about being locked out of the Emelia “good ending” because you decided to follow a lead when you should have just immediately given up? No, of course not. That would be silly. That is totally not the reason I harbor resentment against the entire SaGa franchise. I don’t know why you would ever think such a thing.
  • Reading is fundamental: Yes, I still have the strategy guide from the late 90’s. Yes, it is still useful for about 90% of the game, as full-color maps and a bestiary are always valuable. And, hey, it is generally nice to be reminded of which characters can recruit which other characters. Did you know Emelia hates robots? I think it comes up somewhere…
  • The times change: I remember finding Red’s scenario as a mock Power Ranger so exciting and unique back when I first played SaGa Frontier. Now I am tired of sentai sendups, and SF’s version of the trope isn’t even all that interesting (is M Black supposed to be sympathetic because of, like, two bits of dialogue? Really?). Move along, Red, Viewtiful Joe has taken your place in my heart.
  • Did you know? There are three characters in SaGa Frontier named “Red”. Red is a main character that fights against Black X. Rouge (French for Red) is the twin rival of Blue the Magician. Red Turnip is a turnip with a poor sense of direction. Find some new colors, SaGa!
  • Would I play again: Funny you should ask that…

What’s next? We’re not done with SaGa Frontier just yet. Come back on Friday for a deep dive on my favorite SaGa Frontier story. Please look forward to it!

Pew I Do

FGC #586 Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour

LETS RACING TIMEBack in the 1300s, Chaucer wrote the famous phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt.” But, in the 21st Century, can we quantify how much familiarity breeds contempt? And how much of that contempt can be directed at Disney World?

Today’s title is 100% a Disney product. The last few weeks, we have looked at games that are based on (now) Disney franchises. The Avengers! Mickey Mouse! A human girl that sings songs is next! But, theoretically, you could sever these properties from their root master, and still have a viable product. Mickey Mouse is Disney, but that rodent has proven he can survive in sorcery & swords/keys just as easily as entertain in a variety show. The Avengers existed before Disney, and they could do it again. But Disney World? Walt Disney World is Disney. Even more than Disney Land, Disney World was planned from Day 1 to be Walt Disney’s little “magical kingdom” that may or may not have been intended to be part of a larger eugenics experiment. But there are rides! And the rides have lore! Space Mountain is not just some banal Six Flags rollercoaster, it is about something (space, probably, or mountains). Entire destinations within Orlando now have whole, legitimate “themes”, and you can nary look at an enormous golf ball without being reminded of ol’ Uncle Walt’s dreams for a better, probably vaguely racist world of tomorrow. Since Papa Disney’s passing, his traditions have been kept alive, now with newer parks and features that all highlight that same brand of Disney magic, complete with very intricate tales of albino alligators body surfing down ill-advised ski slopes. Disney World literally defines the very concept of a theme park, and that theme is “Disney is all-encompassing”.

Stay coolSo here is Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour, a game that only Disney could sponsor. It has been stated before that a good kart racer is basically little more than a “controllable” theme park attraction, so here is a kart racer that is straight up just a series of races through theme park attractions. It’s win-win! And, while not everyone may be completely familiar with the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, the majority of tracks on this tour of Disney World are more famous than half the characters that had entire games on the Dreamcast. Sorry, Seaman, but The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Tommorrowland all got movies in the years since this game’s release, and I’m pretty sure the Jungle Cruise wormed its way into that same criterion at some point in the last dismal year. Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and Hollywood Studios are comparatively newer attractions, but they all still are synonymous with the full Disney World experience. And the secret, bonus track is Splash Mountain? Why, I heard of that on Fox News! It must be popular! And, as one might expect, all the tracks are wholly recognizable as being tied to their “real” rides and venues. Even if every level did not have a full marquee of its name before the event, you would still be able to flawlessly match every track to their attendant attraction.

… Or… at least… I think you could? Probably?

I do not live in Orlando. In fact, I live a solid thousand miles from Disney World. Give or take the ease of air travel, there is no way I can just stop over at the Magic Kingdom on an afternoon. But I was raised as a privileged little boy, so my family visited Disney World once every year for as long as I could remember. There may have been some years off somewhere in there, but I definitely feel like my Disney quota was met annually. And that is significant! Because I can recite with perfect clarity the numerous times my parents messed up my childhood and set me on this path to being the cynical, miserable bastard I am today. But they didn’t screw up Disney! I got there once a year, and, while I have only been there once as an adult thus far, I still have overwhelmingly positive memories of Disney World. Thinking about the rides featured in this game are very much like thinking about some of the games featured on this very blog. Mega Man? Super Mario Bros? All remembered on the same happy echelon as Space Mountain.

Except, as Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour reminded me, that is a steaming pile of mouse hockey.

I once passed out as a direct result of Typhoon Lagoon and I am only going to admit it as ALT testLet’s be clear about something here: I have Mega Man memorized. Mega Man 1-6? Particularly Mega Man 2, 3, and 6? I could draw you maps. Literally! I am not going to claim I could literally play with my eyes closed, or get exact proportions of levels correct, but I definitely know Mega Man games like I know my own neighborhood. And that makes sense! I have played these games frequently from the time I was five, and, with an intervening thirty years, I have reached a point where I confidently know what I am doing when tasked with killing a Quick Man. Same for banishing a Bowser. Or mashing a metroid. Even defeating a Dedede is now second nature, as there are certain games I just know. And, in a weird way, I can safely say that, should you cut away the fluff and cruft of my very soul, and bring that which is “me” down to its absolute component pieces, you probably would find a map from Chrono Trigger. I am a simple man! I am powered by a 16-bit processor that has been chugging on A Link to the Past for years.

But is Disney World there in the core of my soul? Apparently not.

ArrrrrWalt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour sees its racers zoom through various rides and attractions from “real” Disney World. But could I tell you if these racecourses actually follow the arcs of their “source material” rides? Nope. It all feels vaguely familiar, and there are definitely a few landmarks that I can say come directly from the real park (hey, there are those pirates whistling at a dog!), but could I corroborate that they are properly distributed through their areas? Are there big, important parts missing? Are some rides much larger to fill out a track? Smaller? I feel like I should know these things, as some of these rides have been a part of my life since I was a child. But… nope. Just a general foggy memory of Space Mountain here, and I have no real idea if anything meant to simulate the ride is accurate to real-life innovations between 1975, 2000, and 2021. It all seems vaguely correct, but I really have no way of knowing. After all, it is not like I can just “pop in” to Disney World: 1997 in the same way I could boot up Mega Man 2 right now.

But maybe that is a good thing. Maybe the fact that all of my most cherished childhood memories are not always immediately available is ultimately good for my soul. I have Mega Man 3 for NES right here, but do I play it? No. If I am going to play that game, it will be on a videogame system that doesn’t require excessive blowing to get it going. And, even if I am in the mood for Mega Man, I could play Mega Man 11 first. Just for something different! Or Mega Man X for some of the best. Or Mega Man Battle Network for something that is both familiar and different. Ultimately, it is very unlikely that I will play Mega Man 3 in the near future. It is unlikely I will get my old Transformers out of the attic. It is unlikely I will fish out my old comics and give ‘em a read. It is impossible to revisit the Disney World of the 90’s (or so) that lives in my mind, and maybe separating myself from that is a good thing.

And I am pushed to this realization by one Bruno Biggs.

Go BrunoThe tracks of Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour are all 100% based on real Disney World locations. The cast of the game, however, is a different story. We have Chip and Dale in their Rescue Ranger regalia as the stars of this show, as their mischievous antics apparently were the impetus for the plot of this racing game (yes, of course there is a story/goal for this kart racer). Jiminy Cricket is also on-hand in his typical role of the era as company narrator (because no one knew what to do with the absence of ol’ Uncle Walt since the 60’s). But beyond that? There is not a Goofy, Donald, or even Pluto to be found. The playable cast includes the likes of Moe Whiplash, Polly Roger, and Otto Plugnut. Who are they? Who cares! WDWQ:MRT includes three Disney luminaries, and ten original characters that were never seen before, and destined to never be seen again. The company that owns Mickey friggen Mouse decided their company mascot could go ahead and sit this one out, and, in his place, we have Amanda Sparkle. You know! Amanda Sparkle! From absolutely nothing, ever!

But the unknowns of this cast are not to be completely ignored. Sure, they do not have the star power that we would see in House of Mouse (one Disney version of Smash Bros, successfully released for the same general audience a year later), but they do have something of a purpose. Every one of these characters is a clear mix of basic Disney anthropomorphic animal archetypes (duck, dog, mouse, etc) and some kind of theming from one of the featured Disney World attractions. The previously mentioned Amanda Sparkle is a dog-woman that is supposed to be a movie star, so she belongs to the Hollywood Studios area. Baron Karlott is just south of being a Count Duckula xerox, so he is chilling with The Haunted Mansion. If Polly Roger’s name doesn’t give her away, her pirate hat will, and Moe Whiplash is too root’n toot’n to belong anywhere but Big Thunder Mountain. And, considering this is a title where you must gradually unlock all levels, having someone on the cast immediately reminding you that the Epcot Test Track will eventually be available is a boon. Oliver Chickly III might not even be as recognizable as Clarabelle Cow, but at least he has a rationale.

Let's rockAnd, honestly? It is not the worst thing in the world to have these “nobodies” available in a Disney game. Consider that previously mentioned Bruno Biggs. Bruno is ostensibly the representative for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, as his bio outright states his personality is large, in-charge, and rockin’. He is also pretty large by himself, as he is the biggest racer, and is noticeably wearing a t-shirt that was likely purchased for his (much) littler sister. In fact, if I were to succinctly describe Bruno Biggs, I would simply claim that he is the unholy bastard child of Mickey Mouse and Pete (please do not send me the fanfic where this actually happens). Bruno is a big, round, Ub Iwerks-looking character, but with the familiar ears and snout of the most famous mouse this side of Pikachu. And he is… kind of cool? Like, he is clearly the “jerk” of the cast, but this is a kart racer, so he is less “Bowser conquers the galaxy” and more “Bowser in tennis matches”. And, on that level, he is one (but not the one) of my favorite characters in the game. He is not Mickey. He is the weird, funhouse mirror version of Mr. Mouse. And that is reasonable when you are revisiting a game from a couple of decades back.

And that seems to be best. Two years after the release of Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour, we saw Kingdom Hearts. While it may not have been intentional at the time, that lil’ franchise seemed to codify the Disney Trinity of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Beyond the world of Square titles, even beyond the world of videogames, it seems like the likes of Chip, Dale, or Horace Horsecollar have all taken a backseat to see that Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are always the stars of the show. There is no doubt that, were WDWQ:MRT released today, it would feature a story wherein Goofy messed up the Magic Kingdom, Donald and Mickey have to help out their buddy, and Pluto, Minnie, and Daisy were all available to race, too. Bruno Biggs would be nowhere to be seen, and you can just forget about a secret unlockable Ned Shredbetter.

Now it has frogs or whateverAnd maybe the fact that you are now curiously googling Ned Shredbetter is a good thing. You are not familiar with the cast of WDWQ:MRT, because they barely exist. In the same way that you may not completely recall every twist and turn on Space Mountain, Xperimental Utility Duck 71 is an alien mystery. And that can be fun! You know Mickey, you have seen him in a hundred other games. Let the other guys have a turn for once. Put down the traditional Mega Man, play a Disney kart racer from 2000. The old, comfortable standbys will still be available when you get back.

Familiarity will breed contempt, so go ahead and play with the unknown for a little while. Give Bruno a chance.

FGC #586 Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour

  • System: Playstation (1) and Sega Dreamcast. For the record, I played the Playstation version, as that was more immediately across the room. There is also a Game Boy Color version, though I have to assume that has a few graphical downgrades.
  • Number of players: The presence of a Dreamcast version may indicate there is a 4-player mode, but I’m going to claim two players, as nobody ever uses that Playstation multitap.
  • Not a thunderboltStory time: If you are curious, the official story is that Chip and Dale have damaged the machine that is responsible for the nightly Disney fireworks show, so they have to race around the park to find every last chunk to piece it all back together. Unfortunately, this makes WDWQ:MRT one of those “challenge-driven” kart racers where you have to collect seven whatsits across the course and finish in first if you want to see the next track. See also Sonic R or Diddy Kong Racing. Or don’t, because the Disney A.I. is brutal, and I want to go on Splash Mountain now, dammit!
  • Favorite Racer: Tiara Damáge’s whole deal is that she is a “little girl” that likes the villainesses more than the typical Disney Princesses. Good for her! She’s also a duck that dresses like Maleficent, so she 100% has my vote… even if she is a little too close to Magica De Spell to be completely original…
  • Favorite Track: With the way your vehicle changes to be appropriately a boat or kart or whatever for every track, it almost feels like this is the secret prequel to Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed. And then the Animal Kingdom: Dinosaur track includes those magical portals that seemed to pop up all over the place in that franchise. Seems like an odd coincidence…
  • Unanswered Questions: Is Jiminy Cricket drunk?
    What is up with those eyes

    I really don’t think he should be driving in that condition.
  • Did you know? The curators of the various Magic Kingdoms still officially call the whole thing Walt Disney World. When do you suppose they are going to drop that superfluous first name? Nobody ever visits John D. Rockefeller Center anymore.
  • Would I play again: I am willing to say this is the best kart racer on the Playstation 1. Unfortunately, it has to compete with the best kart racer on the Nintendo 64 for my attention, and that game is a little more accessible in the year 2021…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Hannah Montana: Rock Out the Show for the PSP! Yes! The Disney train is going to keep chugging with one of their most profitable characters! Please look forward to it!

I'm a tour guide

FGC #577 Rock n’ Roll Racing

VrooomGentle reader, what do you want from videogame music? Because, confession time, I have a… storied past with videogame music versus many of my nerd peers…

This sad fact is by no means universal, but… how do I put this? Ah, here is a good example: If it is retro videogame trivia night (an actual thing that happens, I swear), and I am on deck for “name that tune”, I am probably going to lose. Did I play Mega Man 2 approximately ten million times as a child? Yes. However, can my brain immediately identify Wood Man’s theme as a classic beat meant to invoke the dodging of robotic ostriches? Nope. I know the Wood Man theme, I enjoy the Wood Man theme, but, when divorced from playing the game or seeing a track list, my brain never makes that immediate connection that I am listening to Wood Man’s theme. Why? Because my secret shame is that I played Mega Man 2 over and over again, but I didn’t listen to the music.

Sorry, pointdexters, I’ve been listening to real music this whole time! Ha ha! Eat noogies!

Though, to be honest, this was more of an issue of my environment than anything else. As was the style at the time, I often played videogames at the family “entertainment center”. And, as this beast was predominantly a result of the eighties (even if it was used well into… well… right now… buy some new equipment, Dad!), there was a heavy emphasis on its onboard tape/CD player. So, if I was playing a videogame, I had a choice: I could crank up the (tiny, tinny) TV to listen to DuckTales’ amazing jams, or I could just hit play on whatever album was currently in the player and crank it through the gigantic speakers that adorned the room. And guess which choice my parents heavily encouraged over an afternoon of listening to a Nintendo’s beeps and boops…

Cruisin' Not USAUltimately, I suppose it has always been a matter of how “music” is to my parents in the same way that “videogames” are to my attention starved mind. I need a new videogame every seventeen seconds to survive, and my parents were often compulsively purchasing albums at about the same rate when I was a wee Goggle Bob. They have slowed down in recent years (primarily due to the generational issue of “music stopped being good when I was thirty”), but it seemed like there was a new record on the player literally every week when I was a kid. And, what’s more, if an album turned out to be particularly loved, it would wind up in heavy rotation in that 5-CD advanced sound system (which, incidentally, I believe is the most “luxury” item my father has ever purchased to this very day). As one might expect, I eventually wound up following in my parents’ footsteps as I grew older, so my playtime eventually included my own tunes. This means that, right off the top of my head…

· Breath of Fire 2 was released right about the same time as my dad got the Queen’s Greatest Hits 2-disc set, so I want to say that entire game is fueled exclusively by Freddy Mercury in my mind.

· My mother purchased Blondie’s Greatest Hits when I was finally allowed to have a Virtual Boy (there was some debate on whether it would permanently scar my eyes). This is why One Way or Another always makes me think of Wario.

· And, lest you think this list is only based on my parents’ musical tastes, the legendary Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a Christmas present alongside a Best Buy gift card that got me Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut album. I am more likely to recall Jackson Cannery than Zelda’s Lullaby.

And, to be clear, there were some standouts in my childhood/teenage videogame library. Final Fantasy 3 (or 6) got a pass for “real” chiptunes thanks to Nintendo Power gushing about the music (Nintendo Power gushed about everything, but somehow that penetrated my brain before a playthrough), and Chrono Trigger snuck in there for much the same reason. But beyond that? Beyond games I knew I was playing “for the music”? Sorry, bud, but you can’t compete with this Van Halen CD I certainly didn’t pick up just to impress a girl I liked for ten minutes (yet my enjoyment of Van Halen lives on). My father said that “Sonic Boom! Sonic Boom!” coming from the TV was annoying, so I’m going to keep the Billy Joel cranked up, just as God and/or Dad intended.

But that is not to say if I am playing a videogame, even from the 16-bit era, I don’t want to hear videogame music.

Look outToday’s game is Rock n’ Roll Racing. It is one of those racing titles from before Nintendo and Gran Turismo apparently codified the genre. Like Mario Kart, there are weapons, powerups, and the occasional opportunity to expertly steer into a shortcut or straight off the course. However, unlike the “Mode-7” inspired racers that dominate the genre today, this one looks almost like a classic Zelda adventure with its isometric perspective. This had been seen in many racing games (I will never not have a quarter for Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road), and had recently been seen in Silicon & Synapse’s own SNES title, Radical Psycho Machine Racing. In fact, give or take the futuristic setting, Rock n’ Roll Racing is RPM Racing 2 in all but name. So why the brand jump? Why forsake the previous game that must have dazzled upwards of thirteen supporters and latch onto a completely different title, potentially offending the rabid RPM Racing fanbase? Simple. When you’ve got rock n’ roll licensing, you make your game about rock n’ roll. Rock ‘n Roll Racing got Bad to the Bone, Highway Star, Paranoid, Born to be Wild, Radar Love, and (most importantly) Peter Gunn. When you’ve got songs like that, you forsake everything RPM Racing ever stood for, and promote the rock n’ roll, baby!

Hot stuffOf course, having the license to a song or six does not mean you can actually play the song. Rock n’ Roll Racing was always intended for the Super Nintendo, and, unfortunately, Nintendo technology of the time could barely support the Clayfighter theme, left alone Steppenwolf belting out a little ditty about being wild. As a result, Rock n’ Roll Racing had to “reduce” all of its greatest hits to chiptunes. And it works! Vocals may be gone, but these are unmistakably the driving anthems that will propel your racer from planet to planet via a rockin’ rocket ship or two. The rock n’ roll of Rock n’ Roll Racing may have been midi-ised for the Super Nintendo (and eventually the Sega Genesis), but it was still recognizable, and thus unlike anything else available at the time. Those dumb baby games with Mario could never support even the slightest slice of Black Sabbath.

But time marched on, and, despite all odds, Rock n’ Roll Racing got a remaster on modern consoles. Silicon & Synapse became Blizzard, had a hit or two with some kind of Diabcraft-watch thing, and someone with an affectionate heart greenlit Blizzard Arcade Collection, a title that featured zero games made by a company named Blizzard, or ever appeared in an arcade. It is a collection, though! And it’s not just a collection of retro titles, either, as every one of the included games (The Lost Vikings and Blackthorne snuck in here, too) included a “best remix” version that modernized aspect ratios, merged levels from different versions, and upgraded the graphics all around (as best as one can do such a thing with 30 year old games, of course). And, in the case of Rock n’ Roll racing, the “real” Rock n’ Roll was finally included, and now the full vocal tracks of these classic hits are available for your racing pleasure.

And I hate it.

I understand that this makes zero sense. When given the choice, if I am playing an 8/16/sometimes 32-bit title, I will listen to “real music”, because that is the way I was raised. But when a game tells me I will listen to “real music”, I’m out. Despite years of conditioning, I immediately find the situation… offensive. You not only want me to listen to Peter Gunn, a song I love, but you want me to listen to the full instrumental track of it? The same song I have chosen to listen to over and over again? You monsters. This modern take on Rock n’ Roll Racing should be the version that grabs my attention immediately. It is a great game! It has got great music! Yet here I sit, switching back to the SNES version, because I don’t want to hear Ian Gillan smashing out his hits. I’m playing a videogame, so I better hear videogame music, dammit.

Winner!  Maybe!What do I want out of videogame music? Apparently I want chiptunes. I might enjoy listening to other jams while playing my games, but I absolutely do not want a game to tell me what songs I should be listening to. You hear that, other franchises? I don’t care how funny you think your fake DJs are, I can jockey my own discs, thank you.

So… uh… guess my answer is kind of complicated. I want either my own music, or what my dad will still call “that beepy music”. And there can be no middle ground. What do you want from videogame music, dedicated reader who suffered through this meandering article? Is your answer more… sane?

FGC #577 Rock n’ Roll Racing

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, and now part of Blizzard Arcade Collection on modern consoles like Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Super Nintendo WiiU… I mean Switch. There was also a Gameboy Advance version in there, too, but never a 3DO edition.
  • Number of players: 2-player split screen, or maybe 4 if you can use modern technology. What’s important is that multiplayer is definitely involved.
  • Who will win?It’s a Personal Problem: This might not be the best racing game of all time or something, but it does have personality in spades. The “lore” for the various planets, racers, and even advertisers is fun all around, and, had this game been even more of a hit, we’d probably be looking at a few Loudmouth Larry Geocities fan pages. Let the carnage begin!
  • Favorite Racer: Katarina Lyons is my favorite pick, because she successfully foretold the coming of Avatar (the cats, not the cartoon). She also handles really well. Olaf gets a bonus mention though for being the best cameo/crossover in the Blizzard library.
  • Favorite Rival Racer: Ragewortt is some manner of malevolent frog king, and I am here for that.
  • Level Up: I appreciate the concept of purchasing new/customizable cars, but, in practice, it seems like you either have to be an expect racer, or “level up” according to the planet difficulty tiers. And I hate leveling up in skill based games! You hear me, beat ‘em ups!? I don’t want to wonder if my proficiencies are subpar, or I just haven’t grinded enough! I don’t need more stress in my life right now! Though I guess it does give prize money a reason to exist, so it can’t be all bad…
  • Did you know? I swear the only reason the announcer uses the “(Character) looks lost out there!” expression repeatedly is so that we can get a decent “Olaf looks lost out there!” whenever that particular viking is lagging behind.
  • Kinda mustard coloredWould I play again: Rock n’ Roll Racing was always on the FGC docket, so it is kind of a wonder it got a modern rerelease just in time to satisfy the random robot. And now I can play its prequel, too! RnRR is the kind of title I always get a hankering to play every five years or so, and I can (hopefully) say my Switch digital library isn’t going anywhere, so we’re definitely looking at some additional rocking and rolling in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Capcom Fighting Evolution for the Playstation 2! Is this evolution, or devolution? We’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

The giving birdAccording to contemporary evolutionary theory, our modern-day birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. For the longest time, dinosaurs were assumed to merely be the big brothers to our current crop of not-so-terrible thunder lizards, but a recent spat of scientists being attacked by antagonistic pigeons has given rise to the theory that there is a direct link between your Jurassic Park’s raptors and… well… raptors. Huh. Maybe we should have been able to figure that one out earlier. But, regardless of whether or not the Dinosaucers should have had feathers, one thing is obvious: there is a clear and undeniable link between dinosaurs and birds.

So the link between Big Bird and Barney the Dinosaur is just a matter of evolution, right? Two beloved childhood stars, both literally built to appeal to and educate children. Both sing songs, teach lessons, and share an evolutionary bloodline. On a genetic level, they are practically the same creature.

Except there is one major evolutionary difference: Big Bird is fondly remembered and supported to this day, and Barney the Dinosaur was always universally loathed.

Why? It’s all about love.

Look, we all appreciate Sesame Street as some shining bastion of children’s programming, but, to examine a quote from one of its creators, Big Bird’s chosen street had vaguely sinister sounding origins. Sesame Street was to be a show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them”. It is great that there is that “do something good” caveat there, but ignore that little bit, and it almost sounds like Cookie Monster was invented by a supervillain attempting to take over the world. And, regardless of intentions, Sesame Street did take over the world. Sesame Street is a global institution, appearing in as many countries as there are palette swaps for Big Bird. And it is all based on one simple concept: learning should be fun for kids. Education does not all have to be stodgy teachers explaining math in a monotone, it can also be obsessive-compulsive vampires and cranky trash people.

Grab it!But, as time has gone on, Sesame Street has also become a place where children can learn from puppets how to be more human. Ever since the Snuffleupagus snafu of the 70s, Sesame Street has paid careful attention to guaranteeing the children of yesterday and today not only know how to count cookies, but also how to cope with a cruel and uncaring world of grouches. Sesame Street is not just about goofy songs and guest stars that are comfortable making eye contact with muppets, it is also about addressing children from all walks of life (those born into families both amazing and dreary), and teaching them that they are going to get through this world. Sesame Street is not universal for every child (how could it be?), but it does do its best accommodate as many children as possible, and express that the world may not be perfect, but they are loved.

And then there’s Barney. Barney just straight up says “I love you” like a jackass. And he does it over and over for every episode! What the hell, dinosaur?!

Barney & Friends, a children’s television show that premiered in 1988, had a similar origin to Sesame Street. It was created to fill a gap, but, while Sesame Street was broadly established to appeal to preschoolers, Barney was aiming for more of the kindergarten set. His creator, Sheryl Leach, believed that her son had outgrown anything available on television and video, so she set out to fashion a singing dinosaur that could entertain children of specific ages. After an initial VHS splash, the concept was graduated from direct-to-video edutainment to a television series in 1992. And from there, Barney & Friends became an American phenomenon, with the purple dinosaur singing everywhere from your television to the toy aisle to the Daytime Emmys. If you were exposed to a child of a certain age in the 90’s, you were exposed to Barney. And his songs would be stuck in your head for the rest of the day…

It's a sunny dayOh, and if you didn’t have a kid around that demanded to see Barney, you were probably familiar with the creature, too. Barney had a bit of a… negative following. Or, put another way, to my knowledge, this is the first time I am covering something on this blog that had a roleplaying book dedicated to a “jihad” to destroy it. Barney was almost universally loathed. Yes, of course there were “kids”, preteens, and other sarcastic malcontents that made up “funny” songs about barbequing the purple dinosaur’s head, but the whole antipathy enterprise leaked into adult entertainment, too. Remember The Critic? An obvious descendent of The Simpsons, and one of the few dittos of the era to actually be funny? A full half of its fifth episode was given over to an extended parody of Barney the Dinosaur (Humphrey the Hippo… why do I remember that unbidden?). This was a primetime show! For adults! Mostly! And they dipped into the “Barney sucks” well immediately. And if you needed something less animated, Barkley was dunking (literally) on Barney on Saturday Night Live. Barney was an object of scorn everywhere for a few years, and people were able to massively profit off the previously mentioned RPG sourcebook based on destroying Barney, or ersatz appearances like Mr. Huggles in a 2007 Xbox game (Monster Madness, incidentally). And more than a few Youtube careers were launched by involving “a Barney” in one way or another…

So this brings us back to a simple question: Why? There have always been Sesame Street parodies, but none possessed the same consistent vitriol we all saw in the Barney universe. Why was Barney so universally, consistently despised?

Maybe it’s just because he loved too much.

Go Barney!Barney is supposed to be a big, purple manifestation of unconditional love. He loves you, you love him, we’re a great big family. Barney is great for kids, because his unconditional love of the audience tells children that there are people out there that will love you no matter what. That is a great moral! But, to anyone over the age of five, it sounds an awful lot like bullshit. In fact, that very bullshit is likely a significant reason why Barney was so loathed. A generation of kids that had just experienced He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Ninja Turtles was now seeing the next generation (or their little siblings) being influenced by Barney the Lover. And, whether anyone really understood what was happening, they all recognized this… deception. Barney did not love you. Barney did not even know you. And neither did Prince Adam of Eternia, Sargent Slaughter, or Leonardo, but they all took time out of their day to give you some Sailor Says knowledge and sell a few toys for a half hour a day. They didn’t know you, they didn’t care about you, but they made you think they cared about you. And you, a stupid kid, bought it, literally, every time you waddled into Toys R’ Us. And an entire generation was just starting to realize this. He-Man had retired. The Ninja Turtles were losing shelf space to the Power Rangers. Our lovers had left us, and here was a new sucker ready to be tricked by the latest dinosaur of love. He’ll leave you like they all left us, Little Timmy! Do not love Barney! He doesn’t really love you! Flush his body down the potty while you can!

Just not goodThat is the difference between Big Bird and Barney. Despite a similar evolution, they are both the products of very different times. Big Bird loves you, but it is not his whole identity. Barney exists in a world wherein he cannot conceive of being unloved, and, while that works for some ages, it does not for people starting to understand all their heroes were little more than toy commercials. And, as a result, to this day, Big Bird continues to star in any number of counting-based videogames, while Barney never escaped the Sega Genesis. Love did not keep Barney alive, and it never could. In our modern world, Big Bird still stalks the Earth, while Barney is extinct. A big, purple evolutionary dead end.

… Or maybe just nobody liked his songs. Man, I’m not a paleontologist.

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

  • System: Atari 2600. It’s got pretty good graphics for an Atari title!
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Likely assuming their audience were literal preschoolers, that alternating happens pretty damn often. You don’t have to wait for your turn for long.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a game for babies… and surprisingly well-balanced for multiple ages. The lower-difficulty levels see a Big Bird that automatically magnetizes to where an egg falls, but later stages allow the player to more precisely position the bird so as to more effectively fail at catching an egg. Oh, and the chutes get more zig-zaggy. And invisible. That makes things complicated!
  • Where did they go?You are in Control: Big Bird’s Egg Catch was built for the Atari Kid’s Controller. That controller was, essentially, a num pad. It was basically only built for educational/egg-based games. But since it had more buttons and was more complicated than your typical Atari “paddle”, it was kind of ironic that this became the “Kid’s Controller” and not “Accountant’s Delight”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Many of “my” Atari games were games my grandfather found interesting (like Pac-Man) that I incidentally got to play. But I want to say Big Bird’s Egg Catch was the first videogame ever distinctly purchased for “Little Bobby”. Either that or my grandfather really liked gigantic birds.
  • How about that Barney Genesis Game? Barney’s Hide & Seek Game (yes, “Game” is part of the title) is basically a platforming title wherein you find marginally hidden children (and one child dinosaur). As much as it would make sense, It is not a “find in the picture” game, and it definitely controls like a Mario title… albeit a Mario title wherein our hero is trapped inside of a bulky dinosaur costume. Barney steers like a drunk truck is what I am saying. Regardless, it is not nearly as fun as catching eggs with Big Bird, but it… uh… exists? Technically? I guess it officially has significant (for the time) voice acting, so that’s nice.
  • Fly awayDid you know? Barney’s “I Love You” song was used for psychological torture at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. That’s the fact. No moral.
  • Would I play again: Big Bird’s Egg Catch could work as some kind of cell phone title that is played for like ten minutes while waiting for your shots. But am I going to break out the 2600 to play it some more? Nah.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Contra for the NES! We are going from loving birds and dinosaurs to extremely unloving commandos! Please look forward to it!