Tag Archives: collectathon

FGC #601 Psychonauts 2

This article contains spoilers for Psychonauts 2, primarily in regard to a lore twist that is learned approximately halfway through the game. If you have had long conversations with Ford Cruller, you know what I am talking about. Anyway, you have been warned…

THE PSYCHONAUTS!My grandfather was the eldest of seven brothers. As confirmed by those granduncles and practically our entire extended family, my grandfather was always known as a generally kind man who was also very quick to anger. And everyone thought this was wholly justified! He had to “keep in line” his younger, male siblings with very little help from a father growing up, and then he was a navy man just in time for World War II. He spent all day on a boat with a metaphorical collection “brothers” that all had to be disciplined and controlled, and… well… I don’t know if you have ever dealt with a man before, but they can get kind of rowdy. So is it any wonder that his experiences from childhood to young adulthood stayed with him his entire life? You cannot just “turn off” the person you have been for twenty years, and if that means you occasionally must throw your drunken brother-in-law off a balcony to make a point about being civil at dinner parties, so be it (also, in my grandfather’s [legal] defense, it was not a particularly high balcony). My grandfather lived to be older than most, and, even through to the age when he was frequently napping in the living room lounger, his whole family continued to have explanations for any temperamental shouting matches. He’s always been like that. That’s just who he is.

Until it wasn’t who he was.

Today’s game is the venerable/mythical Psychonauts 2. Psychonauts 2 is here! It was released! After 16 years of absolutely no Psychonauts (Gogglebob.com does not recognize the existence of virtual reality), here is Psychonauts all back again. And it is no exaggeration to say that Psychonauts is “back”, either. If your number one complaint about Psychonauts is that it never should have ended, Psychonauts 2 has got you covered with everything from the original, and a host of quality-of-life improvements to round out an “and then some”. Psychonauts 2 starts with a Raz that already knows the essential skills from Psychonauts 1 (sorry, invisibility, I said essential), and escalates from there with confidence that the audience does not need an entire level to understand PSI blasts again. All new abilities are then introduced, challenges are expanded, and, by the end, Raz will be thought-grappling while bossing a clone around with the best of ‘em. It is remarkable all on its own that Psychonauts 2 is simultaneously exactly more of the same, and something wholly new and different. This is the game Super Mario Bros. 2 could have been! If that wasn’t awful!

Connect the thoughtsAnd I would be remiss if I did not note that they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Psychonauts was one in a seemingly endless parade of collectathons that had been going strong for ten years when it was released back in 2005. But now it seems like the idea of searching environments for hard-to-find collectibles has fallen by the wayside, and Psychonauts 2 is an example of a lamented evolutionary dead-end that that did not survive to see 2021. Chasing figments or hooking hidden keys to hidden chests feels simultaneously antiquated and refreshing when the best other titles of this era can manage is a sidequest or two where you must rescue three cats. Three cats!? You lifestream-addled morons! This friggen’ foyer has 17 tickets to find, and five more scavenger hunt items just to add a little flavor. Is this the kind of gameplay that is sustainable for title after title demanding you achieve 101% to see a marginally satisfactory ending? No. Of course not. That’s why so many people in Liberty City had mental breakdowns when photographing graffiti and seeing a “1/5,000 found” notification. But now, as likely the one game this year that is going to ask you to achieve “Rank 102”, it is a much easier pill to swallow.

But a collectathon can only work if there are interesting worlds in which to do your collecting. Mario 64 had portraits that doubled as portals, Banjo Kazooie had entire realms inside its haunted castle (wait… that was just the same as Mario…), and Psychonauts has always been about exploring the mind. And abstract psychological concepts are fertile ground for a dungeon or ten! Psychonauts 1 featured bipolar disorders transformed into theatres and Napoleon complexes transferred to gigantic boardgames. Psychonauts 2 ups the ante (literally) with hospital-casinos, gameshows, and germ-riddled bowling alleys (uh… that is better than it sounds). It is a joy to explore these abstract worlds with concrete platforming abilities, and slingshotting over a gap to find some emotional baggage or sneaking under a bridge to find a bright idea is consistently pleasant. These “mindscapes” are beautifully realized from a conceptual and level-design standpoint, and every opportunity to enter a new level feels like a gift. Look, Ma, now I can jump in this crazy bee lady’s brain! Wonder what I’m gonna find there!

But there is one important difference between Psychonauts 1 and Psychonauts 2…

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

What's the sitch?Steven Universe is an animated series that originally premiered on Cartoon Network in 2013. It ran through 2019, and wound up with five seasons and 160 episodes. It also birthed three complete JRPG-style videogames, and two “quickie” mobile titles.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil is an animated series that originally premiered on Disney XD in 2015. It ran through 2019, and wound up with four seasons and 140 episodes. It also birthed… zero videogames.

And can you guess which franchise starred a female lead?

Look, there are a lot of excuses that could be bandied about here. Cartoon Network and Disney have very different needs for merchandising! Disney Channel doesn’t care about videogames! That’s why we’ve got a Gravity Falls game sitting over on the 3DS! No… wait… how about Steven Universe was more of a hit! I mean, it’s not like Star vs. the Forces of Evil was the biggest premiere Disney XD ever had! Oh, it was? Award winning, too? Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation? Okay, guess it was popular and award winning. Steven Universe was more action-based? No, I’m pretty sure there are more episodes of Steven eating donuts around Beach City than there are of Star blasting regenerating lizard monsters with magic. And don’t even attempt to claim that somehow the curators of Star Butterfly aren’t as “into videogames” as the staff behind Steven Universe. Steven might live near an arcade, but Star has frequented an arcade dimension. Star vs. The Forces of Evil was a success in every way, and a direct contemporary of Steven Universe. But only one franchise got an “Apple arcade exclusive” title…

Let's goIt is hard not to see this as an issue with the fact that one game very clearly has a male lead, and the other is “stuck” with a woman in the title. And even that is bullshit! Steven Universe lives in a world that is wall-to-wall ladies, with the literal strongest beings in the (Steven) universe standing tall as gigantic women. And, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil certainly stars Star, her constant companion, Marco Diaz, is the obvious mundane audience surrogate. She is a fantastic magical girl from another dimension, he is a normal kid that likes karate. Guess which one is supposed to be more relatable to today’s tweens? If you are getting all gender binary here, you could easily argue that Steven Universe lives in a world already conquered by women, and Star Butterfly lives in a world that is constantly being overrun (in benevolent and malevolent ways) by men. But marketing is marketing, and Steven Universe’s pink shield is apparently assumed to be powered by testosterone, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil is wall-to-wall puppies and unicorns (I mean, not going to lie, there are a lot of unicorns. But they’re the kind of unicorns that gore people [in Disney appropriate ways]). Star is a show for girls, girls don’t play videogames, so games for girls are pointless.

And, yes, if you are reading this blog, Gogglebob.com recognizes that you likely do not agree. There are plenty of games “for girls”, whether they be titles that are distinctly aimed at the demographic (DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power has “girls” right there in the title), or games with situations that generally happen to have more feminine interests (Style Savvy, Vocaloid singalongs, anything involving a tanuki-based economy). Not everything has to be Barbie Horse Adventures or Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen stalking the malls. But, by the same token, there are any number of books, television shows, and movies aimed squarely at the pink demographic. And some of ‘em ain’t bad! My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a show/comic book that was one fluorescent horse away from being the girl demographic ideal, but it also wound up having universal appeal with fun, likeable characters. Just because an idea is distinctly young woman-coded does not mean it cannot be universal.

Too shinyAnd that brings us to today’s game. Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? Brothers and sisters? This game couldn’t be more “for girls” if it friggen came with [REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRAPH DELETED FOR RAMPANT SEXISM].

If you did not watch Disney Channel back in the early 21st Century, here’s the sitch: Kim Possible is a teenage cheerleader by day, and a James Bond-esque super spy by night. Her parents approve of her globe-trotting adventures (though there are concerns about flying to South America on a school night), and her problems are usually solved through a combination of cool gadgets and expert gymnastics. As is often the case with superheroes, though, her villains are a significant draw here. Señor Senior, Senior is a rich, generally pleasant old man that is currently spending his vast fortune on seeing that his spoiled son, Señor Senior, Junior becomes a capable supervillain. Frugal Lucre is attempting to commit super crimes on an extremely limited budget. DNAmy is creating chimera monsters thanks to her love of ersatz beanie babies. And the biggest, baddest villain of all in Kim’s rogue’s gallery is Dr. Drakken, the diabolical mad scientist that is responsible for about 70% of all trouble that comes Kim’s way.

Dr. Drakken also spends most of this game on the couch.

The plot of Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty typical television trope. While on a normal mission, Dr. Drakken and Ron Stoppable, Kim Possible’s sidekick, both attempt to grab a magical monkey idol. Unfortunately, the idol switches the “brains” of Drakken and Ron, so both are stuck inhabiting each other’s bodies. SlappyDoes this lead to wacky hijinks? Kinda! But it mostly means that the two male leads of the franchise spend most of the game appearing in loading screens committing shenanigans appropriate to two cantankerous roommates. Villain Drakken and Hero Ron are both sidelined for this whole story, and it is the motivating factor in getting their female counterparts to work towards the same goal. Kim Possible has to save her sidekick/boyfriend (please see continuity footnotes in the bullet point section, true believers), and Shego, Dr. Drakken’s green and black-clad muscle, has to save her boss. Bitter rivals have to unite to save their men!

Did you catch that reversal? This is a videogame that starts from the premise of transforming its two most prominent males into damsels in distress that must be rescued by the female heroes. And it was more subtle than in Super Princess Peach!

But more important than the clear example of girl power™ on display is that Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty damn fun game. It is a 2-D platformer / beat ‘em up! On a console! In the Playstation 2 era! That hardly ever happened! And, while there is definitely some Playstation 2 “jank” going on here, it is a pretty visually impressive game. And that’s great, because the gameplay nailed the general concept of flying around as a pair of extremely lethal gymnasts. You run. You jump. You rebound off walls, swing from flagpoles, and utilize a grappling hook when things get dicey. Is it perfect? No, because 2-D-in-3-D platforming has some issues, and this is a game that really needs some “coyote time” so Kimmy stops falling off ledges. But is it fun? Does it work? Yes and yes. Through multiple exciting venues (karate temple, British city streets, Tokyo city streets, zeppelin, snow base, giant monkey robot), Kim and Shego gracefully leap through lasers, wrecking balls, and a surprisingly high number of traffic jams. And the combat ain’t half bad, either! It is not Viewtiful Joe (about the only similar game I can think of from this era), PEW PEWbut it is also more interesting than your typical arcade beat ‘em up. And your heroines have gadgets and acrobatic moves that are beyond the usual “punch” and “jump kick” that are your customary, limited options. And, regardless of whether you can piledrive your opponents, it still feels enjoyable and kinetic, so you never lose that feeling of “running” through a level in pursuit of the latest villain.

In short, KP:WtS? is a game that really feels like inhabiting the title character. This is not some ridiculous adaptation wherein a sitcom has to be transformed into your funny dad fighting dinosaurs, or something completely out of left field wherein a beloved childhood icon is gathering eggs. This is Kim Possible, and you are controlling all the most action-y aspects of her adventures. And you get to play as the fan favorite villain, too! And, give or take a naked mole rat, you are only playing as women, and those women are the people driving the plot. In a property made for “girls”, the “girls” are center stage in every way, and there are zero concessions made to the “boy demographic” that is assumed to be the source of all videogame revenue. There is no unlockable bikini costume or super-powered male alternative character. This is a game about girls for girls. It is a girl game. And this boy enjoys it, too, because it is a great videogame.

tick tickAnd nobody has ever played it, because it was assumed to be just a random licensed game in 2006. There is no dedicated, marginally unhinged fandom online calling for a sequel. This title is forsaken to be forgotten in a year where the top games were Dead Rising, Bully, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Boy games. One of those games literally has two women in the title, but undisputedly stars a boy having a boy adventure with kidnapped childhood girlfriends and evil wizards. That is what is remembered. That is what today’s games are based on. And our modern Kim Possible properties aren’t even granted the chance to have a game.

Steven Universe gets a trilogy. Star Butterfly can’t even swing a gacha title.

We need more girl games. It is Possible.

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

  • System: Playstation 2. Look, Buena Vista Games had no idea Nintendo would eventually name one of their consoles after this game.
  • Number of players: There are multiplayer shenanigans available, but there does not appear to be a Kim/Shego continuous co-op mode. Boo!
  • Cat PossibleWhat’s in a name: Oh yeah, the title is a pun. “What’s the sitch(uation)” is Kim’s usual catch phrase, and the brains of Drakken and Ron got “switched”, so, “What’s the switch?” Or maybe it is about switching between Kim and Shego? Whatever! There are layers!
  • Voice Acting: The whole of this game features the actual stars of Kim Possible reprising all of their usual roles. So Drakken’s voice actor, John Di Maggio, is appearing in his seventeenth videogame of the Playstation 2 era. This might be a first for Patton Oswalt, though…
  • Continuity Corner: Alright, Kim Possible nerds, let’s all agree that Ron Stoppable and Kim Possible are officially dating during the events of this game. Yes, this adventure could be taking place at any point in the timeline according to dialogue, but Kim uses the EMP “toy” gun here, and she recognizes this weapon of choice. Said gun is introduced during the same adventure in the television series wherein Kim and Ron started dating, so, logically, this whole game has to take place after Kim Possible: So the Drama. Sidenote: I enjoy watching Kim Possible.
  • Favorite Stage: There are a few levels that go full hog on the whole “this is a videogame” thing. There’s an inexplicable clocktower in the middle of England! … Wait… is that supposed to be Big Ben? Does Kim Possible break a national landmark so she can get through a door? Bah! What’s important is that the final stage involves climbing a Godzilla-sized mechanical monkey, and that has more gears and platforms than anyone could ever need. Gimme some of dat.
  • Favorite Costume: You can earn costumes by collecting doodads throughout the various levels. The obvious best choice for both heroines is to have them switch outfits, but second place could go to Kim Possible’s fast food uniform. It looks very… normal for a character that is battling ninja monkeys.
  • Did you know? Speaking of fast food, the hangout spot in Kim Possible is a Taco Bell-esque chain Mexican restaurant by the name of Bueno Nacho. It is a pretty typical, deliberately campy parody of “tex-mex” American restaurants, and the “original location” is seen during the Kim Possible Movie…

    This is Bueno Nacho

    Look familiar? This is clearly a mashup of an old school McDonalds and another piece of “fake Mexican” Americana…

    This is South of the Border

    See? I’m not the only one that has been there!

  • Would I play again: Really fun, but really unlikely to play again. There are collectibles in every stage, and the actual gameplay of the levels/bonus levels are enjoyable. But after you’ve done everything? You’ve done everything. And if I am looking for a game that really has “joy of movement” down, Mario is right over there…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power for Nintendo Switch! Yes! Let’s put our money (words?) where our mouth is (where words come from) and look at a modern videogame “for girls”. Please look forward to it!

I'm just asking

FGC #556 Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!

Tis the SeasonI have always been fond of Christmas, but I find my dear wife loves the holiday more than should be allowed. She’s not a religious woman by any means, but, given the current state of my electric bill, I can safely state that she worships our Christmas Tree with the same reverence that my grandmother paid to the reason for the season. And the Christmas specials! We have somehow watched a number of those suckers this year, because who doesn’t need to see some couple learn the true meaning of Christmas while falling in love and referencing other, more popular Christmas movies. Yes! This is trite and has been done over and over since Miracle on 34th Street! We get it! Stop lampshading it, Aubrey Plaza!

But, having been exposed to far too much Christmas, I am reminded that my favorite hobby is vaguely devoid of Christmas cheer. Mario doesn’t have a Christmas Special in his featured medium (sorry, Super Show, you’re not canon), and Link might be an elf all dressed in green, but the dude sticks to horses, and never reindeer. There are a variety of reasons for this potential blind spot in the world of gaming: not wanting to tie perennial games to a particular season, many of the most popular games coming from a culture that doesn’t put as much of an emphasis on Christmas, or even just a general aversion to figuring out who copyrighted Santa Claus this year. But, one way or another, the end result is that, while you might be able to fish a Christmas episode out of practically any sitcom you could ever name (Step by Step had at least two!), you won’t be seeing Mega Man fighting Candy Cane Man at any point in his last thirty years.

But the holidays have snuck into a few games here and there. So, in the interest of finding some Christmas cheer, let’s figure out how to spend The Twelve Days of Gaming Christmas.

The First Day of Gaming Christmas: Donkey Kong Country 3

Gettin' it onDonkey Kong Country 3 pretty much inspired this article, so it may as well get top billing. And what does top billing mean in this case? That DKC3 sucks! Rare consistently came out with a Donkey Kong game for three Christmas seasons in a row, so it made a certain amount of sense that the franchise would pay tribute to the merriest of holidays. The only issue? It’s a “blink and you miss it” code that simply exchanges bananas/collectibles for ornaments and presents. And not even all bananas! Just the ones in bonus stages! Other than that, Kiddy Kong doesn’t even get a santa hat, and King K. Rool doesn’t wear so much as a red lab coat. Try harder, Rare!

The Second Day of Gaming Christmas: Diddy Kong Racing

… This is vaguely trying harder. Diddy Kong Racing is famously a game that was pushed out because Nintendo needed some kind of Christmas (season) cheer to goose the system that made the immeasurably incorrect decision to not be a FMV machine. In the absence of a certain bear’s premiere, something akin to Mario Kart was produced, and, likely due to the season that necessitated its existence, there is an entire level that seems vaguely Christmas themed. There is snow! And decorated trees! And… no actual mention of Christmas. Huh. Like in Donkey Kong Country 3, there is no concrete evidence that Christmas actually exists in the world of the Kongs, but it seems like there is certainly… uh… something going on here.

The Third Day of Gaming Christmas: Cave Story

Cave Story+, the Cave Story remake developed by Nicalis (let’s not get into that), features a few hidden bells and whistles. For one thing, Cave Story now has an agnostic approach to holidays, and will, according to the system’s internal clock, dress its heroes and villains appropriately for Halloween and Christmas. From December 24 (Christmas Eve) to January 6 (Epiphany), Quote is a reindeer, presents litter the labyrinths, and the Mimiga have to grab a snow shovel to dig out their driveways. Of course, like over in Donkey Kong Country, there’s no actual acknowledgement that all this Christmas cheer is happening, so it’s hard to determine if this race of sentient rabbits living on a floating island is actually expecting a visit from St. Nick.

The Fourth Day of Gaming Christmas: Clayfighter 63 1/3

Wack em smack emNow here’s a visit from St. Nick… and he’s gonna kill ya! Clayfighter has always had a super fighting snowman on the roster, but the third (or so) entry in the franchise went ahead and added Sumo Santa. Now, the exact lore of the Clayfighter universe has always been a little murky, so it’s hard to say if this is supposed to be the real Santa, or something more akin to a Toy Story-esque, animated-by-mutating-clay simulacrum of Santa that simply thinks he is Santa (and has built his own fake North Pole on a tropical island as a result). Regardless of origins, this is definitely Santa Claus, so it’s more of an affirmation of the holidays than the Kongs ever got.

The Fifth Day of Gaming Christmas: NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

It is not on fireWhat could be better than playing as Santa Claus? Playing as Santa Claus for free! In the age of miserly DLC (re: 2006-the rest of time), Santa Claus and an elf helper were released as a team as a free update to NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. And that’s pretty great! By Donner, it’s wholly in the spirit of not only the holiday, but also NBA Jam, a franchise that previously allowed Raiden, Will Smith, and Bill Clinton on the roster. The only thing holding this Santa appearance back from a higher spot is the unfortunate implication that this is, like every other mascot in the NBA, just a regular dude (with mad ups) in a Santa costume, and not the real McCoy. Yes, children, Hugo the gigantic blue/green hornet is not a real human-bee hybrid. There is no such thing. Sorry to ruin that for you.

The Sixth Day of Gaming Christmas: Secret of Mana

It's a secret to everybodyYes, please Santa, give me the weird stuff. Santa Claus is an actual character in the Secret of Mana world. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his reindeer, Rudolph. Santa once tried to steal a Mana Seed to grow a giant Christmas tree, but he became possessed by its power, and was transformed into a (literal, color-swapped) monster as a result. However, the Heroes of Mana helped Santa return to normal, and we all learned a valuable lesson about playing with someone else’s chestnuts. Except… uh… can we think about this for a minute? What holiday does Santa celebrate? Is it Christmas? Is there a Christ in the Mana world? Because there is definitely a Mana Goddess over there, as she has appeared and directly intervened in this world on multiple occasions. And she’s, like, tangible. Sometimes she’s your girlfriend! Is she in competition with a/the Christian God? Is Santa one of the last few believers in Christmas and, thus, Christ? In the name of Randi, what is going on here!?

The Seventh Day of Gaming Christmas: Batman: Arkham Origins

I AM THE NIGHTLet’s focus on something more plausible: it’s not easy being Batman: Arkham Origins. This is the forgotten middle child of the Arkham franchise; it is not the stellar premiere, the exhilarating Gargoyles fanfic, nor the one with the goddamned bat-tank. It wasn’t even developed by Rocksteady, so there are a number of people that don’t even consider B:AO a “real” Arkham title. But, try as they might, surly fans can’t take the most important thing away from Batman: Christmas. Batman may or may not be a strict Christian (all of that punching doesn’t seem very Jesus-y), but Christmas certainly exists in his world (actually, Batman has literally teamed up with an angel on occasion, so it’s factually true that capital-G God exists in the DC Universe), and this adventure takes place on Christmas Eve. And, granted, the setting might just be there to be a backdrop to explain why a blizzard has blocked off any not-coded sections of Gotham, but still! It is your favorite superhero opposite your favorite holiday (No, not Groot on Arbor Day). Like Twisted Metal or Parasite Eve before it, Batman: Arkham Origins effectively uses the Christmas setting for some holiday hijinks, so it’s more jolly than your average “here’s a Santa now” game.

The Eighth Day of Gaming Christmas: Home Alone

Like a certain flying mammal-themed hero, Kevin McCallister must repel criminals opposite a Christmas backdrop. And, while Batman only has a game or two that involves Christmas (I think the Sega CD version sneaks some Holidaze in there), every Home Alone game is Christmas themed. Did you know the Sega Genesis version involved filling up the Wet Bandit’s “pain meters”? Or that the SNES version was all about hording as much wealth as possible? Or that the NES version was absolutely awful? But regardless of platform, it’s always Christmas for Kevin, so Home Alone is indisputably a Christmas game. Granted, it is just because it is based on a Christmas movie, but we’ll ignore that technicality for the sake of the children.

The Ninth Day of Gaming Christmas: Elite Beat Agents

AGENTS ARE GOElite Beat Agents is not a Christmas game. However, it does include one level, A Christmas Gift, that features You’re the Inspiration, a song originally performed by Chicago. The premise of the stage is that young child Lucy Stevens (whom it is noted wants to marry someone like her dad) loses her father to an accident, and the Elite Beat Agents sing to inspire a little girl and her mother to reconcile in the face of a Christmas where daddy is never going to be home ever again. Or maybe he comes back as a ghost? And that’s the true spirit of Christmas? Whatever. What’s important is that if you fail this level, you simultaneously ruin Christmas, a seven-year-old’s day, and the entire afterlife of some bear-purchasing phantasm. So be extra careful with that stylus.

The Tenth Day of Gaming Christmas: Persona 4

WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING HEREI will admit that I have on occasion claimed to be an expert in Japanese culture. This is predominantly because I play a lot of videogames and watch a lot of anime, so I understand that Japanese people routinely ride their giant robots to please their fathers, transform into magical costumes to repel the Negaverse, and occasionally consume mushrooms to grow large. I have also learned much from the Persona franchise, which simulates the life of your typical Japanese high school boy and his ever expanding harm of classmates, teachers, and any random woman that happens to cross his path. And, most of all, I have learned that Christmas is apparently not a religious holiday in Japan, but a romantic one. You’re supposed to spend it with your sweetie! And deny any and all sexual autonomy of your mate, if at all possible! And maybe that’s why you go to jail on Christmas in Persona 5! … Maybe! In conclusion, Japan has a very rich and varied culture.

The Eleventh Day of Gaming Christmas: Holiday Lemmings

Here they goIt’s Lemmings, but everything is Christmas themed. Everything. This ain’t some Donkey Kong Country nonsense, this is Lemmings, but every lemming gets a Santa outfit, every song is Jingle Bells, and every level is celebrating an extremely White Christmas. Given there were multiple Holiday Lemmings releases over the years, this was probably as close as we could ever get to some annual holiday cheer from a popular gaming franchise back in the 90’s. Unfortunately, the Lemmings seem to have fallen off a cliff since the end of the 20th Century, so these Christmas capers have been lost to the ages. Should old Lemmings be forgot, and never brought to DOS, though, we still have the most prominent “Christmas Special” in gaming…

The Twelfth Day of Gaming Christmas: Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams

Nighty nightIt is impossible to relay the significance of Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams to modern audiences. You know Mario 64? The game the defined the Nintendo 64, and changed gaming forever? Well, imagine if, after the success of that, someone decided to release Mario 64 again, but it was only Bob-Omb Battlefield, and Mario had a new hat, but only when the internal clock hit a certain date. And, somehow, fans fixated hard on this barely new content, and regarded the whole thing as an entirely new game, because Mario made a passing mention of already collecting 120 stars or something. Well, NiGHTS was the Sega Saturn’s attempt to be Mario 64, and Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams is its bizarre, complimentary spinoff. It has a story! It has karaoke! It has Sonic the Hedgehog in 3-D for the first time ever! And it’s all completely dependent on the time of year, so if you want to see Santa, you better play on Christmas. It is also a scarce commodity, releasing only for the generally ignored Sega Saturn, and a Playstation 2 Sega Age re-release that changed a few things. Other than that, if you want to see NiGHTS as jolly as possible, you’re stuck, and you better hope Sega All-Stars Racing came up with some holiday DLC.

So Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams simply must be the most Christmas game there ever could be. It only truly works one day a year, is extremely limited, and is inexplicably the hottest item of the holiday season, despite being, ya know, friggin’ NiGHTS. Videogames as a whole may not have as many Christmas specials as other mediums, but there are at least a dozen or so games that mostly acknowledge Christmas exists.

Merry bananamas, Donkey Kong. Merry bananamas, everybody.

FGC #556 Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, Wii, Wii U, and now Switch. You can find this Christmas cheer on an overwhelming number of Nintendo systems.
  • Number of players: That weird kind of Donkey Kong 2-player that nobody likes.
  • Let's have funPort-o-Call: The Gameboy Advance version made a number of changes, including redesigning the Brother Bears, adding a whole world and boss, and giving Cranky an actual place to shine (or something like that) in his own dojo. It’s kind of a shame the “basic” SNES version is the one that is rereleased over and over again.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I like Donkey Kong Country 3 more than Donkey Kong Country 2. There. I said it. DKC3 is all over the place with a pile of half-baked gimmicks and techniques that last for maybe one stage, tops. And it’s disorienting! One random stage in the middle of the second world is a race? Comes out of nowhere, and is never seen again. But, that said, it seems like most of the bonus areas and their attendant challenges are at least related to the stage du jour, whereas DKC2 has that same kind of short attention span, but completely randomizes where what is a “challenge” is placed throughout the game. Or, put another way, I’m still salty about fake thorn vines in DKC2. All that said, all the DKC games are a fun time, but I might have had the least frustration with DKC3.
  • Favorite Kong: This game is so totally designed for Kiddy Kong that Dixie feels almost entirely perfunctory. I think I counted on one paw the number of times her float jump was useful, whereas Kiddy’s general roll and momentum was nearly always the answer (when you haven’t been transformed into another animal).
  • The Places You’ll Go: I always appreciated the interactive map/overworld of Donkey Kong Country 3. It might be a pain in the ass to have to steer your Kongs into a non-descript beach just to find a Banana Bird, but this does feel like the evolution of a “map world” first introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3. I always wanted to go exploring in those games, particularly with an ape-built helicopter.
  • It's snowyFavorite Boss: Belcha is a giant barrel that attempts to crowd the Kongs off the stage. He’s just like Crocomire, though less slimy (and less likely to become a skeleton). Possibly because he is so familiar, Belcha has always been my favorite, even if he is fought in the infinitely boring “mill” background.
  • Did you know? The official story for this game is that Donkey and Diddy were kidnapped during their fishing trip. I’m not certain “Donkey Kong fishing” has ever been seen before or since in the Donkey Kong franchise, but I am interested in seeing Link and DK team up to fish against Animal Crossing Villager and Byleth. Noctis can judge!
  • Would I play again: I like this Double Trouble, so I’ll probably play it again in… oh… Let’s say another five years.

What’s next? We’re going to toss some Kingdom Hearts nonsense in here, and then, a week from today, you’ll be able to read my annual year in review. Oh boy! My opinions on things! Please look forward to it!

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

So shinyRecently(ish) on the ol’ World of Final Fantasy live stream, my compatriots, BEAT and fanboymaster, discussed the idea of a collectathon, and settled on the decision that the term “collectathon” is one that was designed by game reviewers who did not actually care for the genre in any conceivable way. The word itself speaks to the exhaustion that is caused by participating in a collectathon, and, more than likely, the term was coined after so many random games that required all kinds of esoteric methods to finally achieve some level of “game completion”. In short, according to my contemporaries, “collectathon” became a term to insult the genre it was describing.

However, I disagree (and I would have elaborated more on my position during the stream, but we had to get back to discussing episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). For one thing, I used to date a woman who ran recreationally, and, to her, the idea of a marathon was actually a fun time. I, personally, am completely incapable of understanding such a feeling, but there are apparently people out there that that both enjoy what others see as a grueling gauntlet and have sex with me (wait… maybe there’s a connection there). But the idea of –thon being a watch word (suffix?) aside, there’s also the whole “collecta-“ part of the equation. And noting that a whole lot of collecting is going to be involved seems valid! Your biggest collectathons require amassing all kinds of crazy nonsense, and, in the same way that a shoot ‘em up contains a lot of shooting or a role playing game involves eating a whole lot of rolls, the noble collectathon is all about collecting. And, as collectathons progressed through the end of the 90s and into the current millennium, they certainly put more and more of an effort-based emphasis on collecting at the cost of boss fights, minigames, or other distractions from the primary goal of collecting. In short, according to this humble writer, the collectathon is well-served by its popular moniker.

And, besides, if you want to insult a collectathon, call it by the name that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest so desperately deserves: a goddamn mindreading simulator.

This is funBefore I start actively swearing, let me state one thing plainly: Donkey Kong Country 2 is a good videogame. Hell, it’s one of the best on the Super Nintendo, and, considering its competition, that is very much saying something. It’s an action platformer that lives up to the pedigree of Mario or Sonic, but it is also its own animal with extremely unique, consistent physics. As would eventually be refined by the WiiU era, Donkey Kong Country has always had a very distinctive “feeling”; and, after its maiden voyage in Donkey Kong Country 1, DKC2 seemed to perfect that feeling for the Super Nintendo. And we got Dixie! A significant issue with DKC1 is that it never had a “raccoon tail” or similar option of having access to a character with a less precise, more forgiving jump (not like you can drag that flapping ostrich into every stage). DKC2 gave us Dixie Kong and her ponytail-copter that allowed for slower, but more easily-controlled jumps. And you’re going to need it, too, because absolutely every DKC2 level has its own discrete challenge, so not a single pixel is wasted on repeating or recycling level concepts over and over. In an age where every third platformer contained stages that were indistinguishable from each other (looking at you, Bubsy), you could never mistake one DKC2 stage for another. Yes, those briars might be familiar, but this time you’re using mobile barrels as opposed to flying a parrot. Or is this the stage with the spider? Maybe! Better play the level to find out.

But variety isn’t always a good thing, and that issue rears its ugly head when you get back to that collectathon aspect. The sad truth of Donkey Kong Country 2? It apparently expects you to be psychic.

SPLURTPreviously on this blog, I recognized Banjo & Kazooie as the perfect collectathon. Long article short, it is all about carefully explaining its challenges to the player, and then granting the player all the options available to say “so have at it”. There are ten jiggys in this world, you know there are only ten jiggys, so get to work, and when you’ve collected nine, know that that one place on the map with a weird squirrel is probably your final destination. Donkey Kong Country 2, also created by Banjo & Kazooie’s Rare, is obviously the ancestor of many of B&K’s indulgences (and we’re not just talking about the inexplicable, self-contained quiz show). Does every weird-ass animal in this universe have giant googly eyes? Yes. Speaking of animals, the buddies have now mostly been transformed from “power-ups” (ala Yoshi in Super Mario World) to required “transformations” that mean this stage is absolutely going to require the abilities of a springy snake. And, yes, so much more so than in Donkey Kong Country 1, collecting bits and baubles is a requirement if you want to see the whole of the game. Not only do you need to find Krem Coins in bonus areas if you want to complete all the levels, you also need banana coins to pay Kongs for the privilege of saving, and DK Coins so Cranky Kong can shut his fat gob for once in this damned franchise. Whereas bonus areas were simply bonuses in DKC1, now every last challenge must be conquered if you want to play the entirety of Donkey Kong Country 2.

And if you are looking for a little consistency in the “bonuses” of DKC2, you are cartwheeling up the wrong vine.

Take thatThere is one DK coin in every level. You can always find it in the level proper… except that one time a DK coin is hidden in a bonus stage. And the final “jump challenge” of every level is always a simple bonus for consumables… except when it is required for the DK coin in about three stages. You can count on bonus rooms to appear in pairs across the various levels, but don’t let your guard down after you’ve found one, because there are a handful of stages that contain three. And speaking of finding bonus areas, don’t worry, because there’s always a banana arrow or even just a single banana indicating that something might be up with this particular wall or area. Or there isn’t. Better nudge a carried barrel against every single vertical surface any time you see one available. Maybe you should backtrack with the barrel, too, because that works, too. Not often, of course, but every once in a while it’s mandatory. Oh! And you know how those thorny vines are always going to obliterate your kongs? Well there are a few false thorn walls, so you might want to smoosh up against deadly spikes just on the off chance it’s that one part where that’s the only way to find the DK coin. Don’t ask me which level they appear in, but they’re there, so you better give it a shot more often than not. Sorry if you lose a life!

And if this sounds completely absurd, congratulations, you’re paying attention. Donkey Kong Country 2 does not effectively (or at least consistently) convey to the player the parameters of its compulsory secrets. The best way to play Donkey Kong Country 2 is to apparently fall into every pit and eat every spike, Kong health be damned. Or use an emulator, and rewind every mistake. Or read a FAQ. Or the only viable option available in 1995: be a goddamned mind reader, and know exactly what Rare was thinking at all times.

Go DiddyA collectathon can be fun. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a fun game. But literally banging your head against every wall is not fun. Trying to figure out what the hell Rare happened to be thinking from level to level is not fun. Sometimes it is fun to find a particularly well-hidden secret, but, more often than not, the path to finding that secret is fraught with trial, error, and a whole lot of dead monkeys. And nobody wants to see that! We have so many laws against that!

Disparage not the noble collectathon, but please acknowledge the woes of the olden mindreading simulator. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest set Rare on the path of defining the collectathon, but, in its pupal form, the collectathon was responsible for more frustration than fun.

… Or at least it sold a lot of copies of Nintendo Power…

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, and now any Nintendo system that will support an emulator. Didn’t get loaned out to Xbox One’s Rare Replay, though.
  • Number of players: There are two Kongs on this adventure, so you may as well have two players.
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Ignoring the snake that is the clear precursor to Spring Mario, I’m going to go with Squitter the Spider, because the ability to make your own platforms in a 16-bit platformer was a revelation back in the 90’s. Much like Kirby’s flight abilities or the P-Wing, this felt like breaking the whole game back in the day… even if the poor spider only appeared in a handful of levels. And the power-webs are a nice bonus, too.
  • Diddy on Top: Do you suppose Nintendo would allow this to happen in a modern release?

    WINNER!

    I kind of have to believe that Nintendo would let Diddy tie with Mario, not win, if something like this were tried today. Then again, maybe it only happened the first time because there is clearly an insult to Sonic and Earthworm Jim thrown in there.

  • Setting a tone: I have to say, it is downright impressive how the Kremling’s home island, the setting for DKC2, absolutely sucks. Give or take one vaguely malevolent amusement park, you can see why these lizards are constantly trying to conquer other realms, because sitting at home with the poisonous bogs, giant beehives, and castle overflowing with acid does not seem like a good time. Donkey Kong Country seems like a place I would like to stay, Crocodile Isle is… not going to get five stars on the ol’ vacation rankings.
  • An End: Find every last Krem Coin, and Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie will watch Crocodile Isle sink into the ocean, with K. Rool escaping on his pirate ship. Does this seem like a good idea, guys? To leave your mortal enemy homeless? That’s only going to lead to issues down the line, and you know it.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This article is being published on my wedding day. This has nothing to do with anything, but I figure I’ll make a note of it.
  • It is hot in hereDid you know? Dixie Kong took some significant time off after Donkey Kong Country 3. She didn’t appear in Donkey Kong 64 (that was her sister, Tiny), but she did make it back in time for Donkey Konga and Jungle Climber. Now she seems to appear nearly every time we see Donkey, though, so it looks like her retirement was short lived.
  • Would I play again: I realize that this article makes it sound like Donkey Kong Country 2 is a bad game. But it’s not! I swear! It just has some horrible tendencies towards making my OCD flip out on every flat surface in every level. That hampers my ability to enjoy the game! But would I ever play it again? Yes, because this is some of the best platforming on the SNES. Like for another game, I just need to turn my brain off, and then we’ll be fine.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Garfield: Caught in the Act for Sega Genesis. Oh no! I hate Mondays, too! Please look forward to it!

Weeeeee
This counts as a minecart, right?