Tag Archives: childhood

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

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

CRASH TIMEI’m very disappointed in the gaming community. My beef du jour? Nobody ever told me that Crash Bandicoot was so… fuzzy.

I am a child of videogames. One of my most vivid early memories was seeing Super Mario Bros. for the first time, and I associate friends, family, and lovers with games that were relevant to those people. My first best friend and I had a child-sized fistfight over Rampage. My grandfather owned and enjoyed (and shared) a Gameboy. My first girlfriend claimed she was going to burn my Final Fantasy 7 shirt (admittedly, I probably should have changed said shirt more often than once a month). But, speaking of first girlfriends and the occasional Final Fantasy, like anyone that has ever grown up, I was once a teenager. It’s sad, but true! And during my later teenage years, (hm… how to put this without sounding as creepy as possible) my lifelong burning love of videogames degenerated to mere embers (nailed it). Nintendo had lost its luster in the N64 age, and I had, for the first time in my life, dropped my Nintendo Power subscription. Other gaming platforms simply didn’t capture my attention like the ones that had brought me Mario and Zelda, and modern interpretations of old, migrated franchises were often weird and scary. Mega Man Legends? Legend of Mana? What is even happening there? To best illustrate my general anti-gaming sentiment at the time, I reserved Final Fantasy 7 with the same kind of gusto most people reserve for their wedding night in 1997, but, by 2000, the release of Final Fantasy 9 hit me with such a wet thud that I barely even purchased the title on its release day. What? Just because I didn’t much care for videogames for a year or so didn’t mean I didn’t still buy games. I just bought less!

AridBut if I had to point at another problem I, a surly teenager raging against the machine (the N64 is a machine), had with gaming at the time, I would likely name the Playstation 1 and Sony’s general… everything. At the turn of the 21st Century, there was a significant marketing push to assert that videogames were not “just for kids”, and were actually for dignified, mature adults that wanted to steer digital teenagers into fighting God. Oh! And skateboards! The Playstation was for mature adults that wanted to ride skateboards straight into an angry God’s gaping maw. Radical! It was bullshit. It was bullshit when Nintendo tried to pivot to “Play it Loud”, it was bullshit when Sega screamed their brand in your face, and it was bullshit when Sony decided to promote every other Playstation release as mature gaming simply because there were a few more polygons involved in Lara’s bra. But I was a teenager when Playstation was riding high on the maturity hog (his name is Buffus), so I bounced off that advertising campaign like Zero repelling off a wall (still bought those Mega Man X games…). Playstation is trying to be cool? Dude, Mario is cool enough, so I’m just going to grab 120 stars for the 10,000th time.

But Mario was not cool. And the number one person… marsupial… thing… saying that was Crash Bandicoot.

I never played the Crash Bandicoot games. Why? Because I was pissed at Crash Bandicoot. It didn’t matter if the Crash games were the best thing since Jumping Flash, their advertising campaign pissed me right off. We were told “Do not underestimate the power of the Playstation” while “real life” Crash Bandicoot and friends terrorized convenience stores. What was obviously some human in a Crash mascot costume insulted “plumber boy” and grabbed a megaphone to shout about the expansiveness of the Playstation library. He accused nuns of foul play! He teamed up with Robbie Knievel for motorcycle stunts! He endorsed Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizzas for some reason! And his kart racing game was promoted with an ad campaign featuring roller derbies, Crash chauffeuring rock stars/hot women, and one commercial that was a thinly veiled parody of Cops. Mario Kart 64 was amazing, and it only had a commercial that involved a creepy carnival! Or maybe that was a hallucination! Whatever! Point is that Nintendo didn’t need Crash’s crass tricks, it made games that were actually good. I didn’t need Crash and his dumb racing game.

But having now played a remake of “Crash’s dumb racing game”, I am seriously reconsidering my life choices.

So sweetCrash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the 2019 complete overhaul of Crash’s first racing game, Crash Team Racing. It maintains the original plot, “adventure” trappings, and general gameplay of the original CTR, but is otherwise a nearly completely fresh game. The graphics are all new, many more racetracks have been added, and the roster has now been expanded from Crash’s immediate circle of friends to his entire high school yearbook. Unfortunately, modern gaming conventions like “legendary skins” and “micro transactions” have snuck in, too, but it seems petty to complain about a cornucopia of new content when the only issue is that you literally can’t have it all immediately. Aside from that minor scar on the face of gaming, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a perfect karting experience, easily one of the absolute best of the recent amazing kart racing titles (it’s in good company).

But that’s immaterial to the big shocker of CTRNF: this is my first Crash Bandicoot game, and, apparently, Crash Bandicoot is cute.

Like Diddy Kong Racing, this is a kart racer with a plot. As I expected, the plot is your typical overwrought melodrama about an invading force attempting to conquer the planet, and the only solution is racing, because the X button has to do something. However, what I was not expecting is that the threatening villain is… goofy. I had assumed Crash Bandicoot took its pun-based villains fairly seriously, but, nope, Nitros Oxide is such a clown, his ending involves learning to unicycle. And the boss characters? They may be marginally racist or ableist, but they’re definitely meant to be (generally one note) jokes. Don Pinstripelli Potorotti might have a tommy gun, but he’s not pointing it at the Nintendo Building like Commercial Crash Bandicoot would. And speaking of Crash Bandicoot, he’s less “attitude”, and more… Garfield. He just wants to nap, eventually saves the world through puttering around in a go kart, and then retires to take more naps. That is not the Crash Bandicoot I know! That is not the Crash Bandicoot I feared.

And just when I was thinking my preconceived notions couldn’t be any more obliterated, CTRNF presented a roly poly polar bear for my racing pleasure

Da Bears

So, unlike most of this meandering blog, there is a clear and succinct moral for today’s post. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or, to be slightly more modern, don’t judge a franchise by its advertising campaign. It doesn’t matter if you’re a surly teenager or an apparently still-surly adult: just give the actual game a try. You might like it! Or it might be Shadow the Hedgehog! Whatever the case, at least give the game an honest shot, because you might find you like it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab a megaphone and yell at the Nintendo building that their kart racers suck.

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

  • System: All the big players of the current generation, so Playstation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Hey, at least the original version was a Playstation 1 exclusive.
  • WeeeeeNumber of Players: The original Crash Team Racing utilized the Playstation multitap for four player action. You stole the one thing the N64 had going for it!
  • Favorite Racer: It might be a bit of a cliché, but I always appreciate the Tails characters in these mascot games, so it looks like Coco Bandicoot wins for being the brains to Crash’s brawn. Or maybe I’m just happy we have a female cartoon character in a videogame that isn’t overtly sexualized. Or maybe I just like the sheer number of rainbows on her signature course. Whatever! Coco wins! Flawless victory.
  • Important Questions: Why does Baby Cortex have facial hair? I was led to believe that was not how babies work.
  • The Aesthetics: There are a number of courses that are outright bathed in neon. This is all I want from my videogame decorating, so please keep it up. If the F-Zero franchise isn’t going to provide some faux-future design, at least we have Crash.
  • Weighty Decisions: If I had to pinpoint one reason CTRNF works as a racing game, it’s that despite all the absurd courses with their illogical jumps and turns, all of the racers feel perfectly weighty. It might just be fantasy animals in go-karts (and one dude in a hovercraft), but this all feels right, and that adds to the general rollercoaster feel of the whole experience. And I like rollercoasters.
  • Crossover Appeal: Spyro appears as a racer, and has his own signature course. This is presumably a thank you for Crash Bandicoot appearing in Skylanders merchandise/the animated series. Considering Donkey Kong and Bowser also stopped by Skylanders, I am now anxiously awaiting Mario x Crash Kart.
  • ZapDid you know? Yes, the basic “story” gameplay of Crash Team Racing is very reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing. And, yes, maybe the original designers of Crash Team Racing admit to building a replica of Diddy Kong Racing’s Crescent Island course to see if such a thing would be possible on the Playstation. But don’t worry! Crash Bandicoot never ripped off any Nintendo properties!
  • I thought you were over this Crash rivalry thing now? Apparently not.
  • Would I play again: Yes! This is a really fun racing game, and I’m very glad it wound up loaded onto my Switch thanks to an impulse-buy sale. I’ll likely load up a grand prix or two in the near future when I’m aimlessly flopping around on the couch. Sorry, Mario Kart 8, you’ve been dethroned by a bandicoot.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… R-Type Dimensions! Let’s battle that one giant shrimp looking thing that appears in every bit of R-Type art! Please look forward to it!

Watch yourself