Tag Archives: childhood

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

Transform!When I got married this past Fall, my (moments later) wife noted as part of her wedding vows that she would never understand the difference between Voltron and a Transformer. This is obviously an absurd issue that speaks to the fact that my beloved may have some manner of brain damage (I love you, honey, but if you can’t tell the difference between a robot lion that transforms into the leg of a giant man, and a robot lion that transforms into a regular-sized man, I really don’t know what to tell you) , but it is also a fine illustration of my love of Transformers. I’ve been collecting the little weirdos since I was a child literally praying to assemble all of the Predaking pieces, and, to this day, I am allowed one stupid Transformer purchase a year (because if I bought them as often as my impulsiveness demands, I would be literally drowning in the suckers)(and “drowning in useless media” is reserved for videogames in this house, natch). So big surprise here: I love Transformers.

And my favorite Transformers? Well, that would be the Beast Wars generation, a group of Transformers that have rarely been seen since the late mid-to-late 90’s. And despite my love for the characters, I have had a rough time over the years determining the exact origin of that affection. Was it a matter of timing with my childhood? No, I was the right age to be imprint on Grimlock, not Dinobot. Was it a love for 3-D animation? No, I kind of hated the brown, blocky aesthetic of Beast Wars. Was it an overabundance of affection for Waspinator, and everyone else just got to soak up the residuals? That… might be it. And in thinking about the simple fact that I really do enjoy the antics of the mechanical bug man, I came to one unavoidable conclusion:

I like Beast Wars because its stars are broken.

WeeeeLet’s not mince words here: this should not be a surprise. The essence of drama is conflict, and you are inevitably going to get more conflict when your protagonists and antagonists all equally need therapy. The old, “kiddy” Transformers of the 80’s were predominantly robotic gods that occasionally deigned to interface with humans out of some misplaced feelings for all sentient lifeforms, and, as a result, the majority of them came off as flawless/boring. It is no wonder that the dysfunctional Decepticons, like Soundwave and Starscream, had more of an influence on future generations than the likes of Ultra Magnus and Hot Rod. But that generation features the iconic Transformers that “everybody knows”, so they have been recycled and reformatted hundreds of times over the course of a million reboots. And has that made them any more human as time has passed? Yes, but not nearly to the degree as we saw with a cast of misfits that can occasionally transform into a rat or two.

Speaking of rodents, let us look at Rattrap, one of the stars of Beast Wars. Want to know Rattrap’s deal? He’s a jackass. That is pretty much his entire his personality. He is good at making gadgets and traps (oh, I just got that), but other than that, his main asset seems to be being available to make the occasional cynical remark. Apparently he was envisioned as a sort of “jaded combat veteran” character amongst his more youthful compatriots, but, given his propensity toward some childish antics with Cheetor, he comes off like a skeptical teenager more often than not. And how does that fit in with the rest of the Maximal crew? Well, Optimus Primal is obviously everyone’s barely-holding-it-together dad, Rhinox is the wise old grandpa that talks about the good ol’ days and nature a little too often, and recent adoptee Dinobot is just straight up Vegeta, puttering around talking about how he’s going to be the world’s strongest one of these days when he finally finds his good eye lasers. Then you’ll all see… Then you’ll all see…

And if you missed Beast Wars, please be aware that I just described the good guys. The bad guys are just plain bad guys.

DOOM!Beast Wars started with the rare conceit that the clearly-defined “bad guys” were starting this whole fight from a position of weakness. The heroic crew of the Axalon crash landed with a crew of potentially dozens of sleeping protoforms (Transformer fetuses…. Oh man this is a weird show), while the bad bots over on the Darksyde had an extremely limited crew of six. By the end of the pilot, one of those crew members had already defected. Further exacerbating matters was the fact that at least two of the remaining Predacons were dumb as a bag of hammers, while two other Preds were scheming and plotting against their own commander seemingly for no greater reason than it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. This meant that the Predacons had roughly the same teamwork aptitude as a box filled with rabid weasels hopped up on pixie stix. The Predacons had firepower, but they would have to stop fighting each other long enough to actually use said firepower.

And, yes, at least two of ‘em would wind up taking a mortal volcano bath before they ever pulled that off. Please let us know if lava is wet, Scorponok and Terrorsaur.

But this brings us nicely to the “extra”, later additions to the Beast Wars continuity. Remember those previously mentioned protoforms? Well, anytime the writers wanted to introduce a new character to either faction, a protoform would crash to Earth, and it would be time to learn about all the features of the latest toy. And fun fact? It appears the writers had one question when it came to introducing new characters: how is this guy broken? Literally! Pretty much every character that was introduced after the launch of Beast Wars was physically or mentally damaged in some unique way. Tigatron bumped his head, so felt more at home with mundane, organic cats than his fighting robot buddies. Inferno took it a step further, and was vaguely convinced he was a giant ant, and Megatron was his queen (this was correct, of course, but not in the way Inferno imagined). The rest is darknessBlackarachnia wound up trapped in a spider’s web from day one, and the fuzor twins could not stick to a single beast mode. And one of them had a southern accent! On prehistoric Earth! That had to be the result of a glitch or two. Airazor seemed like the most stable of the newbies, but the writers evidently forgot she existed every other week, so she was suffering through some manner of divine impediment. And we are not even going to acknowledge Depth Charge and Rampage, two Transformers that were (unusual for the series) “born” and fighting before the start of the Beast Wars. One is a rampaging, murderous psychopath that cares only for seeing the destruction of his enemies, and the other one can turn into a tank-crab. They are both about as emotionally stable as your average Stephen King antagonist, so please do not trust either with selling your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. It will not end well.

But, ultimately, that is the appeal of Beast Wars to this humble blogger. I would not want the cast of Beast Wars, Maximals or Predacons, to be responsible for anything in my life. They are supposed to be saving the Earth? No, that does not sound like a good plan for anybody. But I am very entertained by their antics. As the overarching plot of Beast Wars amps up from “monkey fight dinosaur” to “Megatron has traveled back in time and shot a sleeping Optimus Prime in the face and now you have to deal with that”, you never lose the feeling that the “heroic” Maximals are all about seven seconds from clocking out on this overly-long shift they somehow have been stuck on for overtime they know they’re going to have to fight human resources to even get. The heroes often come off as defeated even before their well-laid plans are disrupted by the villains, but the villains can barely hold it together for longer than seven seconds to actually disturb the ostensible protagonists.

The rest is darkness, againThe cast of Beast Wars? They are a bunch of losers that wound up in the middle of a Transformers war. And I can get behind a bunch of entertaining dunderheads. I like the Beast Wars era of Transformers the most because its stars are all living, breathing (?), mistakes.

Oh, but their Playstation 1 game was a bigger mistake. I don’t like that.

…. Dammit, article is already overly long as is. Guess I don’t have time to talk about the featured game! Clocking out for the day. Sorry!

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

  • System: Playstation (1) and PC. There’s actually a funny story about that PC version…
  • Number of players: The Playstation version is single player, but the PC version had an 8-player “battle royale” mode. Apparently there were more than a few people that actually liked this mode, and kept online servers going for a while. Or maybe they just liked it ironically? Whatever, who doesn’t want to be Cheetor?
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Oh, this is awful. It is a primitive 3rd person shooter with just the worst camera anyone can imagine. Someone went ahead and added some “lock-on” targeting so the experience isn’t wholly impossible… but it’s otherwise pretty impossible. I really can’t convey with mere words just how wrong doing practically anything in this game feels, even if you are allowed to choose between playing as either faction. Controlling a giant scorpion should not be this janky!
  • ANTS!Transform!: Oh yeah, most egregious error? You cannot attack in any way while transformed. In fact, the only reason to transform at all is to manage your “Energon Meter”. This makes a certain amount of sense for, like, Rattrap, but doesn’t really feel right for more offensive animals like Rhinox (note for those unaware: he is a rhino). And there are two separate characters that can transform into freakin’ dinosaurs, and all they can do is putter around like the spiders. Do you understand how hard you have to try to make a videogame about occasionally being a robot dinosaur boring!?
  • On the subject of having plans: You have to unlock Rattrap or Blackarachnia, and Airazor/Terrorsaur are only available in “rescue” minigames, but the whole of the stable Season 1 cast is otherwise represented here (Tigatron has never been reliable). Oh, wait, except for one major omission: Waspinator is not present in any way, shape, or form. That poor buzz boy gets no respect.
  • What’s in a name: They spelled Scorponok with an “I” in some of the game materials. I’m not going to say that’s exactly why the poor dummy died at the end of Season 1, but I’m not going to say it wasn’t a factor, either.
  • What’s in a voice: Oh yeah, the voice acting for this game is totally six guys trapped in an elevator recording lines at four in the morning. The original voice cast was apparently not available (or weren’t contractually obligated to participate in an awful PS1 game), so this Beast Wars adventure was voiced by some people that just weren’t into it. Or maybe I’m just focusing on Rhinox here, as he has the timber of a man that doesn’t really want to survive this adventure… or even the next few seconds.
  • Best Transformer Ever: It’s Optimal Optimus, who does not appear in this game. Primal Prime will also do in a pinch.
  • What is even happening?Did you know? There was an episode of Beast Wars that was scrapped because it was too damn depressing. The whole concept was Rattrap was going to attempt to revive Dinobot by forcing his undead spark into an (evil) Dinobot II, but the ultimate moral was to be that Dinobot is 100% dead and never coming back, get over it. … Also, in typing that out, maybe Beast Wars did have a byzantine, maudlin overarching plot…
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. I want to rewatch Beast Wars, though, so maybe this toy promotion worked out.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rockin’ Kats for the NES! Let’s rock out with our tails out! Please look forward to it!

Don't pay attention

FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

Let's go ninja!The next two weeks will feature articles that are aggravatingly autobiographical as part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). I realize I’m not too conservative with the ol’ autobiographical moments on a good day (hey, this is my blog), but I feel these stories need to be told before I wrap up the FGC project (in another hundred articles, gotta plan ahead), and, well, if you can’t indulge yourself, then who else can you indulge?

So, fair warning, FGC #551 and #552 are going to be about videogames and friendship, and #553 and #554 are going to be about videogames and love. If you are just here for random videogame musings that aren’t entirely centered on my life experiences (then why are you here!?), we will resume true randomness with #555. I think E. Honda may be involved? I’ll have to check.

And with that caveat out of the way, let’s talk about what I learned in college.

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a very special videogame to yours truly. For one thing, I’m rather fond of legends, mystics, and ninja. So we’ve got a clear winner here. For another thing, it was inexplicably one of my few Super Nintendo cartridges back in the early days of the system. It wasn’t a launch game, but it was a game that came along early in the system’s lifespan, and well before I had a handful of JRPGs that were capable of capturing about 40 hours of my life at a time. And I feel I need to remind my presumably adult audience (I use swear words, like “butt”) that, when you are a child with nothing to do, any enjoyable distraction is forced to last for the approximately 40,000,000,000 spare hours you have over the course of the day. In short, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja a lot.

WeeeeeBut it wasn’t just about the single player experience in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. TLotMN, like many games of the era, contained a 2-player mode. Unlike many games of that era, however, its two player mode wasn’t a Mario-esque affair where you constantly traded turns back and forth. TLotMN allowed both players to play at both times! Like Contra! These Konami guys are pretty great! So TLotMN got played an awful lot not only by myself, but also in tandem with my next door neighbor and best friend, Jimmy. Final Fight might not have been two-players, but The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was, so we cooperated and did our best to save Ancient Japan from the forces of whatever the hell we were continually hitting with pipes.

Sad truth? We never, ever beat the game.

And, to be clear, this was not a game we played when we were young and hopelessly inept. Yes, back in the NES days, Jimmy and I were but babes, and we were generally about as effective at beating videogames as we were at solving quadratic equations. But by the Super Nintendo era? Brother, we were all-stars! I mean, like, literally, we beat Super Mario All-Stars. We also were able to one-credit stomping all over M. Bison in Street Fighter 2 (on, uh, the easier modes). Yes, by the time we had to grapple with L & R buttons, we were ready to conquer the world. … Just so long as that world didn’t contain The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.

EAT YO-YOAnd, looking back, I don’t exactly blame my younger self (plus guest) for not finishing the game. Yes, there are generous continues, but the password “save” system is one of those final relics of the NES era that needed to lay buried the absolute minute the save battery was invented. And TLotMN demands its players know exactly what to do when. For instance, if you blow all your cash in the arcade in Level 3, you’ll never be able to afford the mandatory travel visa in Level 6 (there’s probably a life lesson there, but I’m mad right now, and not having it). Cool powerups (that are advertised right there on the cover!) require time, money, and effort that continually makes them about as useful as actually trying to solve your problems by riding a tiger. And, yes, this is an early Konami game, so there are a few places where the directors apparently expect you to have Gradius-level reflexes. Yes, playing The Legend of the Mystical Ninja now, as an adult with save states, seems to portray the title as something on the easier side of the Sesame Street 123 – Battletoads scale, but there was a time when this game refused to allow entry to the final level. Beating that giant weeble wobble was just too hard for two children!

Eventually, emulators became available. Eventually, likely out of a misplaced sense of vanity, I conquered The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. But it was a lonely journey. By this time, there wasn’t anyone in my life that was still interested in Super Nintendo games (the N64/Playstation was the new hotness), and it seemed unlikely I would ever rectify the life-long mistake of not having completed TLotMN “the real way” (or at least the real way according to Bubble Bobble). Would I ever again have a friend that wanted to play as Dr. Yang ever again?

Enter: college.

MeowIt’s hard to explain to the youth of today, but, when I was first entering college, there was some weird kind of faux-retro thing going on for the NES/SNES era. To sum it up nicely, one time a number of us sat in the quad staring up into a dorm window while some unknown individual played Punch-Out! with a TV pointed toward his enrapt, outdoor audience. They were pretty good at it! It may have simply been the marketing of the time (I want to say this is right about when Hot Topic started stocking 8-bit Mega Man shirts), but the NES/SNES era was totally “in” when I was first matriculating, so, surely, this was the time to avenge myself upon various games. I was gonna save the princess with a buddy once and for all!

And, yes, gentle reader, I did find a buddy. I found multiple college buddies in fact, as it was apparently a pretty popular job to work odd hours as tech support for the college computer labs, and I was a human being that liked computers and odd hours. I “hung out” with a number of young techs from late at night to the early morning because, hey, that’s just the kind of guy I am (an insomniac, to be precise). And, given there was no authority but these techs in these computer labs, any time except mandated exam time wound up being given over to LAN parties and emulators aplenty. We even hooked a Dreamcast up to a VGA monitor once! It was horrible! But it happened, and someone managed to score a perfect in Soulcalibur against the computer before the screen was even properly operating. In fact, that very person was Jim, obvious spiritual descendant of the earlier mentioned Jimmy, and he and I attempted The Legend of the Mystical Ninja one evening.

It… didn’t go exactly as planned.

We sailed through the first level. That was fine. We were enjoying ourselves, beating up townsfolk, collecting lucky cats, etc. Then we got to the second zone. Contained within the second act is one of the many available minigames in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We had already tried goblin tossing and paint in the first area, so we decided to hit the faux arcade and play whatever was actively 2-player.

Here it comes

There is a game that is, effectively, Pong. Given it is only available in a 2-player game (there is no CPU opponent available), I jumped on the chance to play this otherwise gated content. Jim probably just wanted to give Pong a try. So, we did.

Get ready

And, since save states aren’t just for cheaters, we were also able to continually “reboot” the minigame anytime we wanted. Thanks to the ability to immediately reload from the top of a game, we technically could play this version of Pong all night.

Now this is happening
Dramatic Recreation

And we did. We played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja Pong from 11 PM until approximately 5 AM. It was nearly the entire shift, and it was entirely Pong.

We never beat The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We never beat the second level.

And that’s okay.

We had fun playing Pong. We didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish, but we had fun playing a videogame. Acknowledging the simple pronoun difference there is important.

It's hammer timeThough I loath to acknowledge the term, I am a gamer. I play videogames. I beat videogames. Nine times out of ten, if I’m playing a videogame at all, I am playing to win. And it doesn’t matter if I’m battling a human opponent or attempting to steer my protagonist toward some AI final boss: I need to cross that finish line. I need to be the very best, like no one ever was. I have no time for this inconsequential “Pong”, I have to get out there and beat the game!

Except when I don’t. Except when I can just have fun with the game, because it is, ya know, a game. It is made for fun. A videogame is not designed to be beaten, it is created to be enjoyed.

Want to know what I learned in college? It was that life sometimes doesn’t go exactly how you’d expect, but it’s still worth enjoying yourself. Sometimes you save Ancient Japan, and sometimes you play Pong for hours on end. Sometimes what you expect is not what happens, but it can be enjoyable regardless. You can’t control life. You can’t control other people. But you can control what makes you happy.

I also learned you can sneak liquor into the computer lab. But I think I already knew that…

FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

  • System: Super Nintendo. Didn’t it get rereleased on the Wii or WiiU? I think it was WiiU.
  • Number of Players: Did you read the article!? Goddammit!
  • I hate youMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Didn’t I? Whatever! I’ll talk about it more, then! The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is an extremely weird game in how it mixes 2-D “action” stages with towns that are loaded to the gills with, essentially, distractions. There is very little overlap between rewards you can obtain for painting buildings or hot tubs that restore health and the “real” progression in the plot, but, dammit, it’s fun. Long after I finished with other, more straightforward titles, I returned to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja for random fun and hijinks. Wait, dammit, now I’m veering back into autobiographical territory.
  • Favorite Minigame: I like painting. I feel like this whole “don’t ever go over the line again” thing has appeared in many other games as a minigame, but rarely as, like, a real game. I guess it’s like Snake? But not really? I like this better than Snake.
  • Eternal Trauma: I feel like entering Zone 6, and finally having a required amount of money to progress scarred me for life. I used to be such a happy child, using elixirs and spending money willy nilly, and now I am someone that hoards every last item and gold piece, confident in the idea that the game will require six hundred whositdaddies to advance. I blame Kid Ying.
  • Now I get it: For the record, that giant octopus at the end of Zone 3 is now a little more recognizable. No wonder he is attacking the (apparently eternal) Konami building!
  • More killer clownsLand of the Rising Fun: Yes, this is a game that was radically changed for localization, as it is aggressively Japanese. In the East, you’ve got Ganbare Goemon vaguely based on the historical/nigh-mythical Goemon, and in the West, you’ve got Kid Ying, who is just some marginally shifty dude that lives with a blue weirdo. That said, the game is still pretty damn Japanese, and it’s not like they changed Ancient Edo to be Old York City or something.
  • But they did change riceballs into pizza, right? Yes. Americans are physically incapable of understanding Japanese treats. See also: Ace Attorney, Digimon.
  • Did you know? There’s a “theater” in Zone 3 that features Dr. Yang dancing and farting. For some reason, it was removed from the American release. But! It is still referenced in Nintendo Power, a separate hint book, and the instruction manual. So we were obviously a hair’s width away from Ebisumaru blowing us all away.
  • Would I play again: Hell, why not? I like this game, even when I’m just playing Pong with friends. It is delightful, so The Legend of the Mystical Ninja always has a seat at my table.

What’s next? Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s) continues with Smarty Pants for the Nintendo Wii! Never heard of it? Well, that’s kind of the point! Please look forward to it!

Pew Pew
This is getting pretty meta

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

Cold IronWe live in an age of science and reason. We have knowledge of vaccines, microbes, and the periodic table of elements. But it took us a long time to get to this point. For hundreds of years, our understanding of the universe was much more limited, and our thoughts on how the world worked were based on simple, rudimentary building blocks of the universe. Obviously, I am talking about the four elements of nature: fire, wind, water, and earth.

But… why?

It’s interesting to consider how many different cultures and regions settled on the same basic group of elements. The basis of Western thinking in Ancient Greece had ironed out the four elements before Aristotle, but it was that king of philosophers that further outlined important bits of the lore (“science!”), such as “fire is hot and dry while water is cold and wet”. That’s why that dude got so many statues! But this isn’t a matter of everyone on Earth running with some Grecian ideas, Babylonia had gods that were personified as the “cosmic” elements sea, earth, sky, and wind. In India, the theoretical start of both Hinduism and Buddhism referenced a similar elemental quartet that occasionally included a fifth (space/zero/”spirit”) buddy. Buddhism even went as far as creating four elements of abstracts to properly parallel the more concrete elements of nature. It seems like the odd man out of the usual ancient “four elements” is China, which decided to forsake “wind” for “wood”, and also toss “metal” into the mix to create a perfect little pentagram of strengths and weaknesses. Fire melts metal, metal chops wood, wood is super effective against ground types. Of course, even western thinking would adopt metal in time, as it wound up as part of alchemy, which would greatly influence modern scientific thinking, as alchemy essentially pioneered concepts like different states of matter.

WooshBut who cares about the science of the elements? What has really persisted to this day has been the continual existence of “four elements” in pop culture. What was your first introduction to the elements? Was it Final Fantasy’s four crystals? Star Trek: The Next Generation’s S07e16: Thine Own Self? Avatar: The Last Air Bender? Artus Wolffort’s 1641 painting? Whatever was your first, know that this is not going away for future generations. Disney’s Frozen 2 was released sometime back when movie theaters were viable, and it led up to the reveal that there is a magical cave in a magical land that contains four elemental crystals. And Elsa is the missing fifth element (the element of merchandising). The four elements is a trope that is literally older than the written word, and it seems like it is going to be an element of our storytelling for generations to come.

But it’s difficult to determine exactly why the elements are so enduring. Yes, there is simplicity to the elements, but are they as much a part of modern life as they were back in the day? Absolutely not. I can’t remember the last time I had to give a damn about soil. Is that even still around? Or is it about the simplicity of “systems” that arise from the elements? Everybody can understand water beats fire, but that only really explains the presence of elements in videogames. Games are important (he wrote on the videogame blog), but they are not responsible for late 20th century Bruce Willis box office smashes. What’s the modern appeal of the elements? Why are they so persistent across media? Why are we eternally damned to ponder the effectiveness of “wind”?

Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II has the answer: the four elements are terrifying.

I have no ideaWizards and Warrios was a pretty… passable NES title, and W&W2 is… well, I can’t in good conscious say Ironsword is at all a good game. It’s not a bad game, but it was also one of my childhood NES titles (I assume my grandmother was distracted by Fabio on the cover, and bought it for me without a second thought), and, like its sequel, it is a very… broken game. There are some great ideas here! Every stage follows a basic three act rhythm (please the local animal king, find the wizard-bane spell, murder the wizard) with two distinct areas, effectively creating a large, ten stage world. That’s pretty great for the era! Also significant for the time is a bevy of bulky, expressive sprites. And Kuros actually graphically upgrades as he tempers his gear, so you go from being some dork with bug eyes and a butter knife to a heavily armored murder machine by the time you are tackling Ice-Fire Mountain.

But the drawbacks of Ironsword are significant. For one thing, this game has been in existence for 31 years, and our top scientists still haven’t discovered how you’re supposed to attack monsters without suffering damage. There is probably some intended suitable technique for ramming Kuros’s sword into the nearest demon creature, but, unless you’re using magic (available only at the tail end of every level), you’re probably going to take some hits just attempting to clear out the local creatures. And then there’s the platforming that involves an awful lot of inclines that shove Kuros every which way but up. Are you just missing a jump? Or is your hero weirdly magnetizing to surfaces that are trying to kill him? Who knows! And don’t even get me started on the economy of small keys, and how there are far more treasure chests than there are keys, and how you’re apparently going to be stuck grinding gold because you blew your inventory on opening the wrong chest. Random isn’t fun, Ste Pickford, and it never was!

Leap of faithBut there is one thing Ironsword gets absolutely right: Malkil is a bastard. Malkil was the ultimate boss and source of Kuros’s misery in the original Wizards and Warriors, but he was blown into non-corporeal bits at the end of that adventure. But you can’t keep a bad wizard down, so Malkil somehow extended his life force to possess the four elements. Now Malkil is an angry cloud in the air, some manner of giant block of ice in a river, sentient lava in a volcano, and a particularly pissed off rock deep in the Earth. These are all huge bosses (particularly by NES standards), and Kuros has to acquire distinct spells just to stand a remote chance against these corrupted elements. And, assuming Kuros can pull that off (possibly with the help of a Game Genie), then the final battle becomes a fight between Kuros and all four of the elements high above a mountaintop. Kuros has obtained the titular Ironsword (fifth element?) at this point, but Malkil is zooming around as four separate elemental ghosts (or… something), so saving the day is locked behind one of the most annoying battles of 1989. If you win, the four animal kings will thank you, but if you lose, you’re in good company, because that final fight is rough.

And that’s exactly the way the four elements should be.

Aang is allowed to preach balance, and Pokémon is allowed to claim there is always a strength for every weakness. But the sad truth of the matter is that humanity sucks in comparison to all-powerful nature. We build homes. We make cities. We claim to have conquered this wild world, but when the world decides to really get wild, we’re doomed. Let’s review those four elements again, shall we? Water brings floods, and, thanks to the general greed of humanity, much of our land is slated to be submerged beneath the waves. Wind is the domain of hurricanes, and, if you’ve never had a tree fall on your home/car/grandma, congratulations, you’re not currently in a month’s long negotiation with your insurance agency. Earth occasionally quakes, and the slightest rumble is going to really wreck up your gundam collection. And fire, theoretically the most manageable of all natural disasters (it’s not like it can literally zap us from the heavens or something), is occasionally spurned by the revelation of gender, and can thus burn into coasts to cinders. And this is all before when elements decide to work together, building the impressive fire tornado of our worst nightmares. In short, the elements are terrifying, Wooshand if you need evidence of this, there are good odds you literally don’t have to do more than peak your head out your window (“Yes, grandma, I can hear you, but I’m writing an article right now, and the lawyers say I’m not supposed to move that branch until after the settlement. I’ll bring some noodles out to you later, okay?”).

So thank you, Ironsword, for reminding us why the four elements are still relevant today. It’s not about balance. It’s not about magical crystals in a princess’s magical cave. It’s about fear. It’s about terror. It’s about the fact that if even a single element decided to turn against humanity (with or without the assistance of an evil wizard), it’s going to be a bad time. In the face of a tidal wave or raging fire, we are little more than a jumpy dude wielding a pointy stick. In our world, there is no spell of Earth’s bane, and we are wholly at the mercy of the four elements.

Thanks, Kuros, for reminding us all that we are nothing next to the four elements of the Earth.

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

  • It's hot in hereSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, and then never again. The Rare Replay passed this warrior by.
  • Number of players: Kuros stalks the land alone.
  • Best Magic Spell: The Asp’s Tongue spell is apparently a magical spell that allows the heroic Kuros to rob a shopkeeper. Look, whatever it takes to get a dude to toss meat in the air for a solid minute.
  • Like writing your name in the sand: This game does not have a battery backup. This means that you are welcome to put your name in the high score table all you want, but it’s never going to last past a power off. However, this is one of the ol’ password-based NES titles, so you can “save” your progress in that aggravating manner. Try to remember which character in the password determines your life count!
  • What’s in a name? “Malkil” is a portmanteau of “kill” and “mal”, which is the Latin prefix for “bad”. But Malkil is just his last name, his full name is Angry Murder Malkil.
  • Did you know? Kuros can acquire extra points by finding “The Relics of Sindarin” hidden in each level. These relics include a book, ring, gauntlet, and a cross. “Sindarin” is the Elven-Tongue from the Lord of the Rings. So the implication of the Sindarin Cross is obvious: Elves believed in Jesus.
  • Would I play again: I hate this game. I will not be accepting questions about that at this time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Avenging Spirit! That spirit gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Kaching

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