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FGC #628 Popeye

Let's pop an eye?A popular nerd debate has always been who would win in a fight: Superman or Goku. Aside from the obvious problem with this dispute (as two sons of exploded planets that generally fight for justice, Superman and Goku would instantly become best friends and go to driving school together), the mere concept of such a battle ignores what makes Kal-El and Kakarot work. These two potential super friends are not powerful because they can push planets and fire energy beams, they are “strong” because they are eternally righteous and exist in a universe that will always narratively support their good deeds. Goku might lose a fighting tournament, and Superman might lose a footrace with the Flash, but when the world is threatened? When some monster from space is whipping out the human extinction attack? Then, and only then, will these heroes find the incredible strength necessary to save (and possibly revive) everyone they love. Goku and Superman were not first created with unfettered strength or super ventriloquism, they developed these powers as their rescues demanded it, and have since become “over 9,000” powerhouses with the rolling tumbleweed of continuity. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku? Whichever hero had a friend in danger first, and then they would miraculously become Super Saiyan Level Krypton or empowered by the Universe 7’s sun’s rays just enough to triumph and save the day.

And it’s all moot, anyway, because Popeye would kick both of their asses. Popeye is the ur-hero of the last century.

Get those notesPopeye was introduced to the world nearly ten years before Clark Kent ever made the scene. In his initial appearance, Popeye was a sailor-side character that gained unfathomable luck by rubbing the hairs of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. This allowed Popeye to cheat at gambling (yes, having hen-derived luck would be considered outright fraud by most major casinos), and, more importantly, have enough luck to survive what would have been a fatal shooting. While the lesson of “do not cheat at gambling unless you can verify your own immortality” was an important one, Popeye inadvertently introduced his oft-imitated formula for popularity/victory right there at the start. As “lucky invincibility” gave way to “incredible strength”, Popeye would often find himself in a completely impossible situation, with the only key to solve the latest problem being a conveniently available can of spinach. Spinach wasn’t always the answer to Popeye’s problems, but back in the days of Thimble Theatre starring Popeye, a quick burst of overwhelming power would solve many Sea Hag or Toar the Caveman related issues.

And then in 1932, King Features and Fleischer Studios teamed up to create the Popeye Theatrical Cartoons. For a solid 25 years, audiences watched shorts wherein Popeye would be trapped in an unwinnable position, but, at the last minute, our hero would down a can of spinach, grow muscles that looked way too cancerous to be healthy, and then wallop every problem in his path. Over and over again, Popeye would take a beating, seemingly be completely defeated, and then rally at the last moment with the help of one magical leafy green. And it was not just about strength for Popeye! Spinach would often confer hitherto unknown abilities upon our favorite sailor man, with at least a few cases where Popeye gained incredible smarts or acrobatic prowess. Was there an episode wherein Popeye instantly gained an understanding of Latin and proceeded to perform open heart surgery? No, but only because not enough people had heard of Daniel Hale Williams, and Max Fleischer didn’t want audiences to be confused. Operating skills aside, Popeye shorts reinforced incessantly that Popeye could do anything or defeat anybody just so long as he nabbed his favorite spinach within the final few moments of a conflict. Whether it was saving Olive Oyl or guaranteeing the safety of Sweat Pea, Popeye would always save the day.

Like in ZeldaAnd can you even count how many heroes followed the template of Popeye? Put the sailor man in a sailor fuku and we’ve got Sailor Moon. Strip him down to his pants and you’ve got The Hulk with that last minute burst of anger. Hell, let Popeye be a little more chill, and your “spinach” could very well be Columbo saying, “just one more thing.” Popeye is the ur-hero because his modus operandi is perfect for our 20-40 minute dramas, whether they feature slow and congenial detectives or massive muscle monsters. And then when you get into the realm of videogame heroes…

At their very core, videogames are all about “underdog” humans triumphing over “advanced” machines. That is all baloney, of course, as videogames have been designed to be won for decades. But the player has to feel like there is a challenge. The player must think that Link could never un-conquer a kingdom under the thumb of a pigman’s army, or that there is no possible way this little blue hedgehog could save his friends from a robotic invasion. The odds must be against you. The enemy must be seemingly unsurmountable. How are you going to get out of this one? Well, maybe you’ll find some spinach at just the right moment…

CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP

And then there’s Mario. Mario and Donkey Kong were famously created because Shigeru Miyamoto could not immediately obtain the Popeye license, and a new protagonist/antagonist duo had to be born. The proud pummeler became a pudgy plumber, and the big gorilla of an antagonist became a literal gorilla (and the Olive Oyl to Pauline transition was… succinct). Other than that? Donkey Kong could be Popeye (or it would be titled “Bluto”, I guess). The spinach to hammer transition is apparent, and, when Miyamoto finally got his hands on Popeye for the seminal arcade/NES hit, very little had changed. Popeye scampers around collecting hearts, letters, and musical notes while Bluto stomps about attempting to ruin Popeye’s day. The only real difference between this and Donkey Kong is that the Sea Hag becomes the stationary “monkey” that tosses off random projectiles, and Bluto fills the role of the sentient fireball that stalks our hero. But the fact that Popeye very well could be Mario neatly summarizes how the Mario/Bowser dynamic is something that was established nearly a century ago, and the only real change has been a reliance on fungus over spinach. Popeye is Mario.

Go nutsIt is fun to imagine epic battles between western superheroes and anime monkey gods, but when you get down to the mundane minutia of such a melee, you find that it is mirror matches all the way down. Goku, Superman, and even Mario owe their existence to a comic strip character from before the Vatican’s (technical) existence. It’s all Popeye, just with different flavors of spinach.

Heroes of the last century? They am what they am.

FGC #628 Popeye

  • System: This article is primarily inspired by the original Popeye game that appeared in arcades and on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Just recently, however, there was a 3-D “upgrade” of the Popeye arcade game for the Nintendo Switch. Note the extreme use of quotes on “upgrade” there. Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Commodore 64 versions are all also in circulation (assuming it is the early 80s).
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Everyone can be Popeye!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a good early arcade game. You have concise goals, obvious antagonists, and the ol’ spinach allows for some dramatic changes in fortune. I will maintain that Brutus is a little too powerful at the start of the arcade game (his “gotcha” grabs from other levels are always going to eat up a quarter or two), but the NES version seems balanced for a fun play session of fifteen minutes or so.
  • Get 'emFavorite Thing You Can Make Happen Once Every 7,000 Plays: Punching the barrel directly onto Bluto and trapping him for a few seconds is the most satisfying thing you can do in an arcade game. It requires absolutely meticulous timing and infinite luck, but when you nail it? Best feeling in the world.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: A Popeye arcade cabinet used to sit at the base of the Sombrero Tower in South of the Border for years… Or at least the years I would go on family vacations as a child. I never got to play Popeye, because we were inevitably just pitstopping there, and it was time to ignore videogames and get back in the car for ten hours, Wee Goggle Bob. I think I covet this game more as a result…
  • Port-O-Call: The Switch version of Popeye technically has the same gameplay (run around three levels on a loop, collect trinkets tossed by Olive Oyl, occasionally eat spinach), but the advent of 3-D environments dramatically changes the game. Bluto is an omnipresent threat on a single screen, 2-D plane, but it is rare to feel like he is in the same area code when you have significantly more room to maneuver. Switch Popeye somehow still works because of the classic gameplay loop of “run around and grab things”, but the cat ‘n mouse game of the original is markedly neutered. You’d be better off spending your quarters elsewhere…
  • Did you know? Popeye doesn’t have a jump button. He doesn’t need a jump button, but it is weird that this title completely eschewed the action that made Jump Man a star.
  • OopsWould I play again: Hey, why not? It is a fun time, and, while I may not play it until my eyes bleed like some arcade titles (hi, Ms. Pac-Man), it is an enjoyable experience. Popeye may be every hero, but it is good to see he got at least one good game all his own.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Radical Dreamers! And that has nothing to do with the rerelease I have been anticipating for the last twenty years! I swear! Please look forward to it!

FGC #623 Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja

DUDE TIMEThe president has been kidnapped by ninja! Bad Dudes is a cross-country romp for two generally not good fellows who have to beat down an entire army of evil ninja on their way to rescuing President Ronnie. And, while the opening narration notes that ninja crime is on the rise, and not even the White House is safe, it doesn’t answer one important question: who, specifically, kidnapped President Ronnie? The Secret Service is calling in the Bad Dudes as soon as Ronnie is kidnapped, but where were they for the actual event? Who had the wherewithal to sneak into the White House and commit this heinous ninja crime?

Let’s look at the bosses of this evil ninja cartel, and examine who had the gumption to kidnap the eternal President of the 80’s. We will start at the top, with…

Dragon Ninja: The Big Boss

The Big Guy

He Did It: This is the big boss of the ninja organization, and the final boss of the game. By the finale, he has President Ronny in his private helicopter, and he can only be fought after venturing through an entire Ninja Factory that includes zombie versions of every boss that has come before. This is very much the big man in charge, and he has President Ronnie right there. This must be the culprit!

He Didn’t Do It: Yes, Dragon Ninja was ultimately responsible for this kidnapping, but he did not do the deed. Can you see this guy? Wannabe kabuki ass flipping around with an army of dogs at his beck and call? I know security was more lax in the 80s, but there is no way this dude got anywhere near the White House. Bro couldn’t get into a Smithsonian food truck, left alone the most secure building in town. No, Dragon Ninja was handed Ronnie at some point, but he likely never left his Ninja Factory. One of those henchmen has to be the culprit…

Devil Pole

Spin that pole

He Did It: Given his placement as the penultimate boss that guards the cave leading to the Ninja Factory, one would assume that Devil Pole is Dragon Ninja’s second in command. Dragon Pole also fulfills that all important ninja position of being the bald guy with a stick that can absolutely wreck everybody, regardless of opponents with tremendously more lethal weaponry. It worked for Daredevil! So this “Stick” is likely the man for the job whenever Dragon Ninja needs to get down to the dirty work.

He Didn’t Do It: He’s just not ninja enough for the job. Devil Pole is absolutely some manner of martial arts master (have you ever seen a bad dude survive his spin stick?), but he also doesn’t fit the description of “ninja” that is so important in this caper. If Devil Pole was responsible, then the CIA would be putting out an APB on Liu Kang. They know it was a ninja, and Devil Pole doesn’t look like any ninja I’ve ever seen.

Akaikage

Watch the chain

He Did It: This is a ninja’s ninja. He fights bad dudes atop a moving train while wielding what appears to be a kunai on a chain. That scores an obvious ten out of ten “believe it”’s on the Naruto-Boruto Scale. He is also wearing a mask to obscure his face in the event of crimes, and his jumping abilities are beyond the pale. In short, if you are planning on kidnapping a president, Akaikage is probably the first guy you call.

He Didn’t Do It: My rudimentary Japanese and knowledge of 1985 arcade games tells me that “Akai” means “red”, and “Kage” means “shadow”. But this “ninja” is only wearing the tiniest red bandana, and mostly green and black for the rest of his outfit. And don’t claim this is for camouflage purposes, as there ain’t anything green about this moving train. So the obvious conclusion? Akaikage is some kind of wannabe that chose his name because it sounded cool. Couple this concept with the fact that abilities like “jump” and “throw chain” are not exactly rocket science, and it is likely Akaikage isn’t a ninja at all, but just some dork on the train that wanted to help out his “nippon friends”. It is possible Akaikage is the real deal, but it is also very likely that, on and on, he is just another weeb in the wall.

Animal

I know that guy

He Did It: No. Not even entertaining that option.

He Didn’t Do It: Should we just ignore that this is a real person? The official, canon name for this guy is “Animal”, and, oh yeah, he looks an awful lot like a grayer version of the World Wrestling Federation star Joseph Michael Laurinaitis aka Road Warrior Animal. He was pretty popular! Hung out with Road Warrior Hawk! Has nothing to do with the KISS Army or Gwar! And here is this pixelated “Animal” just stopping around the forest like he owns the place. This is blatant copyright infringement at best, and identity theft at worst! This indignity will not stand!

… But, uh, anyway. Joe never kidnapped the president, so we’re going to assume this Warrior didn’t, either.

Kamui the Multiple Ninja

Maddrox?

He Did It: Another extremely likely suspect. Kamui appears to be a traditional ninja, but he has the ability to create “real” duplicates of himself in seemingly infinite quantities. That must be a significant boon for espionage missions, as being able to sneak into, say, the White House as one dude, and then instantly produce an army could solve a lot of problems. And Kamui here seems to be invincible while his duplicates are present, so conquering any kind of security should take about seven seconds. Keep shooting at the shadow clones, dummies, while Kamui sneaks off with Ronnie in tow.

He Didn’t Do It: The only real evidence that Kamui is not Public Enemy #1 is that he is the boss of the sewer level. If one of your top, powerful ninja lieutenants successfully accomplished the most daring kidnapping in history, would you assign him to sewer duty? He may be laying low by literally laying low, but the most likely explanation is that Kamui is not our perpetrator. A proper Ronnie-napper would not smell like a ninja turtle.

Iron the Claw

Don't get tetanus

He Did It: Another ninja’s ninja, Iron is covered in shadow-encouraging purple, and equipped with a metal claw that can grow to twice his size. He is the boss of the convoy stage, so you know he’s got some status in the organization, and his complicated spinning jumps and claw attacks can tear a bad dude to ribbons.

He Didn’t Do it: President Ronnie is like six feet tall and full of burgers. There is no way on Hattori Hanzo’s green Earth that Iron could successfully heft the president up and out. At best, he would need about three other Minis to carry that weight, and, at that point, your stealth rating has dropped to zero. No way Iron is getting out of there alive.

Karnov

THE MAIN MAN

He Did It: Of course he did it. He’s fugging Karnov!

He Didn’t Do It: Nope, he did it. Karnov can breathe fire when fighting a bad dude, but we all know he can also wear all-seeing masks, produce ladders, and even fly if he decided to bring along the right powerups. And, while Karnov looks less like a ninja and more like a chubby Russian guy, you better believe that, in a world where Karnov exists, if he decided to join a ninja gang, it would be national news. When you are the king of a fighting tournament and known for never wearing a shirt, you better believe the paparazzi knows all your affiliations. And who else could get close enough to President Ronnie? Karnov is an international treasure! Anyone would let him in!

Yep, case closed. It was Karnov. Go get ‘em, Bad Dudes.

FGC #623 Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja

  • System: The arcade version was used for this article, and played on an Evercade cartridge. But the NES version is pretty well known, and at least one of these versions is currently available on the Nintendo Switch (maybe both?). Beyond that, you have a lot of random systems from the era, like the Apple II or Commodore 64. Also, the Zeebo had Bad Dudes at some point. Look it up!
  • Number of players: Two is the greatest number of Bad Dudes any one game could support.
  • Great place to fightMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Bad Dudes is a rudimentary beat ‘em up, and an obvious quarter killer (the final boss can knock out a life inside of two hits!). That said, the arcade version absolutely nails the sensation of digital punching, and every defeated ninja feels like an accomplishment. Much like Smash Bros. years later, Bad Dudes seemingly put all of its R&D budget into perfectly replicating big, meaty hits, and it adds a memorable, visceral quality to the whole adventure.
  • What’s in a name: It is Bad Dudes on the NES, but DragonNinja in Japan and Europe. So, one way or another, it is named after the protagonists or the antagonist. The official arcade title uses both sides, so everybody is happy.
  • Favorite Weapon: None work like nunchucks.
  • Sexual dimorphism is a scourge: Traditional zako ninja are all assumed to be male ninja, because the Kunoici female ninja are very much presenting any and all feminine signifiers. Is there a reason any ninja needs fishnets and a short skirt? Mobility? Maybe?
  • An end: The infamous “let’s go out for burgers” ending only appears in the American version. The Japanese version gets some Masonry Dudes building a statue of the Bad Dudes, and, more importantly, “credits” for the enemies of the game. (Almost) Everybody gets a name! This article would be impossible without that! Or at least more confusing!
  • Did you know: Chelnov, star of Atomic Runner Chelnov, appears in Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja as a spraypainted tag proudly displayed on the train of Level 5.

    Everybody knows him!  RIGHT?!

    Chelnov would later go on to be the final boss of Fighter’s History 3 (Fighter’s History: Mizoguchi Kiki Ippatsu!!), meaning the atomic runner not only appeared in a game with Karnov, but finally got to fight the big galoot a few years later.

  • Would I play again: This is the ideal arcade game in more ways than one. If I ever see a Bad Dudes cabinet again, it is probably getting at least a buck. But if it is only available on a system competing with many, many other games… Well… I will probably play those first.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Food Fight! Keep your fork, there’s pie! Please look forward to it!

Some hot ninja

FGC #576 Contra

June 1, 2633

GIFs you can hearMy name is Lance Bean. I have been dispatched to an archipelago near New Zealand with my partner, Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer. Why is he called Mad Dog? Because he was responsible for packing for this mission, and the dumbass didn’t even bring any shirts for us. Multi-purpose gun? Check. Suntan lotion? Bug spray? A friggen towel? Nope. I am traveling with an animal.

And our superiors apparently recognized that. Mad Dog is here to shoot stuff, but I have been distinctly tasked with documenting this journey. Apparently, prior to two years ago, this was a completely abandoned island. Then a meteorite crashed on the area, and the place has been hopping ever since. Now satellite images show that there appears to be a heavily armed militia preparing for an invasion, and nobody much likes that. However, no one can figure out the exact affiliation of this army, so there is some conjecture among the science types that these dorks arrived here on that previously mentioned space rock. Do I truck with that theory? Of course not. But I have been tasked with documenting this mission and any “weirdness” (their exact words) that may be involved. I’m not holding my breath there, but it at least gives me a reason to send Bill out in front while I scribble down some notes.

Mad Dog, I’m going to spend most of this mission looking for a t-shirt shop thanks to you, so you’re going to deal with these dorks and their stupid exploding bridges.

June 2, 2633

What even is this thing?Bill and I have ventured through two distinct areas, and I have learned two things:
1. The “army” doesn’t seem to be affiliated with any known superpower, but they do call themselves Red Falcon.
2. Red Falcon hella loves backpacks.

Other than that? Nothing to report. Where we landed was some dense forest, and it was crowded with guys running around doing nothing. Guess we interrupted Red Falcon calisthenics? And then Bill blew ‘em all to whatever afterlife is relevant to backpack worshippers. There were a few turret guns and a literal gun wall, but nothing we couldn’t handle. I mean, look, our boys back home keep sending gun modulations through flying orb thingys, so we’re not going to be impressed when confronted with a cannon that can aim in a whole three directions.

Once we got on the other side of that defensive wall, we at least saw Red Falcon had some interesting tech. I emphasize “had”, though, because we blew it all to Kingdom Come. It is not my fault if you seal all your doors with extremely volatile, glowing red buttons. Oh, and head’s up, Red Falcon? Some weirdo doing jumping jacks across a wall is not the impenetrable defense you seem to think it is. Incidentally, as per my orders, I did want to stop and take a look at all this tech sprinkled around the base, but Bill… well… Bill apparently got a flamethrower modulator on his gun, and having a flamethrower pissed him off so much, he had to burn the whole base down. First world problems…

Regardless, nothing extraordinary about Red Falcon to report so far. There was some kind of weird, angry eyeball thing at the end of this labyrinth fortress, but it was probably a robot or a hologram or something. It shot bubbles? Literally nothing to write home about. Apparently we’re going back outside tomorrow, so looking forward to that.

June 3, 2633

Thar be dragonsMad Dog is a dick.

Look, Bill, this is really straightforward: you jump and tumble and whatever and shoot the bad guys, and I hang back and write up these mission reports. I have to stand there and take notes. It is my job. And it’s cool that you get to flip around like a coked-up acrobat on floating rocks or whatever, but do not leave me behind. This is pretty basic stuff. I am your partner. I am helping. And I will literally die if you run ahead of me and leave me to get blasted while I’m trying to catalogue that 800th backpack dude. Yes, I know you think this is stupid, but it is important to the mission, and that means it is important to you. You want to get medals, Bill? Oh, no, I guess you don’t, because you can’t even remember to bring a shirt. Dammit, Bill.

Stop calling me “scorpion”, Bill. Is that supposed to be an insult? No, scorpions are not known for being slow. That isn’t a thing.

For the record, the waterfall was nice and pleasant. Nothing too exciting going on here, but the “gun wall” from that first base was replaced with some kind of mobile dragon statue. Red Falcon apparently is really into robotic masonry, but this has otherwise been a pretty uninteresting day. Now for another day, another base.

June 4, 2633

Where is my shirt, BillFirst task of the day: another dumbass series of hallways. Who cares? This is, like, exactly like the last base, but with more guns. Been there, done that. There was even some kind of hologram monster thingy shooting bubbles at the end. Red Falcon apparently has decent technology, but it uses it all for bubble cyclopes and dragon statues. I admire that, though it isn’t particularly effective in the face of Mad Dog.

But speaking of Mad Dog, I was cursing my dear companion for most of the day (again), because today’s adventure was blanketed in snow. How does that work? We were looking at a reasonable 50-60 when we touched down (yes, Bill, I understand that it is Summer at home, but we’re in the southern hemisphere, genius), but now we are trudging through a blizzard. Technically, we are also close to where that meteor touched down, so it is possible there was some manner of ecological event here, and, (conjecture) the meteor is somehow “draining” the life (and temperature) out of the area. Or maybe Red Falcon invested in a weather machine, and is training its grunts for snowy backpacking. Really could be a lot of explanations here.

Regardless, Bill couldn’t care less, and he seems to keep warm by pressing himself up against “spike trucks” (his words) and firing away. I guess the adrenaline is keeping his shirtless self going. There was some kind of “hover ship” at the entrance to the next base, but that thing barely warrants a mention. However, it does seem like that base is going down into the Earth and “following” that meteor that hit the archipelago two years ago, so we might see some answers tomorrow.

And maybe, once we’re inside, Red Falcon will turn up the thermostat.

June 5, 2633

I do not like this dudeThis has been a… memorable day.

So our first stop was some kind of factory or power company or… something. It’s hard to tell, because whatever was ever supposed to be going on here appears to be partially broken now. There are pipes that are half broken, expelling… something that is deadly. You do not want to touch that stuff. And, whether the place is actually functioning or not, there were a pile of soldiers defending the area. Maybe they like the energy blasts? Trying to warm the place up? This Energy Zone (Bill’s naming scheme, based on the fact that he woke up and “crushed” some stupid energy drink) is a complete mystery, and I can’t see any humans actively working within this “factory”.

Oh, and the reason I note that “human” thing? There was what appeared to be a person in a football uniform guarding the following area… except he was about three times the size of your average human. This goliath tossed some disc thing around the area, but the biggest threat was the fact that he was just… big. I could have reasonably described everything “big” we faced up to this point as some kind of robot, but this was definitely a biological entity. He (it?) smelled alive, at least. Is this the effect of the meteor on a human? Some genetically manipulated malcontent? However this beast came into existence, we put it in the ground, albeit after it soaked way too much artillery.

By comparison, the following area was fairly mundane. It seemed to be a deliberate “trap zone” (how does that work for you, Bill? Hangar Zone? No, that’s stupid) to keep invaders like us out. Of course, the whole area seemed… off. Like maybe someone on the planning board had read about how to repel invaders, but didn’t quite understand what was actually going to be useful. Spiked walls? Deadly. A mine cart that just putters along at 5 MPH and doesn’t go anywhere? Maybe head back to the drawing board, Red Falcon. You’ll get us next time, I’m sure.

Regardless, one final door busting, and we’re good to go. Given all these fortifications, I’m guessing we’ll see the heart of this mission tomorrow.

June 6, 2633

Java is cancelledOkay…

Okay.

That was… something.

I will keep this report brief: yes, the meteorite apparently brought some aliens with it. I have no idea how to even describe these things, but Bill called the big sausage-looking thing “Java”. Why? It made me spill my morning coffee, and Bill was having a laugh. He has been a jackass to the very end. Also, I would love to document more of what we experienced on that wretched island, but our favorite jackass blew up the whole island. Was that part of his mission? Destroy every last trace of the nightmare I just experienced? Good job, Mad Dog, you shot a pulsating, mammoth heart until an entire archipelago detonated. Oh, did I not mention the solitary heart the size of a Hummer? And how it was protected by an army of spider-aliens that were continually spawning from acid-dripping eggs? And how I had to spend like twenty minutes prying one of those suckers off Bill’s face? That was not a fun time for anybody involved.

I am done with this nonsense. Yes, there were aliens. Yes, a lot of those “backpack dudes” were probably aliens, too. It was, probably very literally, aliens all the way down. And I am done. I’m not doing that again. You want to send this “Scorpion” against an army of aliens again, you can count me out. I know that meteor had to come from somewhere, but If these aliens strike back, that’s super, but I’m staying home.

I’m going to need thirty lifetimes’ worth of therapy now…

FGC #576 Contra

  • System: We do not have time to name every system that has hosted Contra. I can at least confirm that everyone thinks of the NES or Arcade versions, but some of those ports have appeared on the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Commodore 64, and… let’s say Playstation 4.
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous in a time when that was rarely ever seen. Particularly in an action game! That’s important!
  • Back in Action: And, while 2-P is important, I’d also claim that one of the chief reasons Contra became so popular was that “instant respawning” was practically unheard of at the time. Nobody likes to restart from the beginning of the level! They want to pick up right from where their corpse lies! And Contra’s instant respawns were wonderful! Just a shame that Lance and Bill were always so… fragile.
  • Favorite Weapon: Spread. It works in other games, too. Special shoutout to the incredible uselessness of flamethrower, and the horrible “tiny shield” that is generated by coupling a laser with a rapid-fire controller. It’s like tackling the alien hordes with a blowtorch!
  • Land of the Rising Fun: The Japanese version of Contra includes cutscenes, snow, pulsating alien hives, “mission reports”, and a full map. It’s all available on the modern console Contra collection, and I will admit that not being able to read those mission reports may have inspired this article.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This is a game I can finish without ever taking a hit. I rarely “practice” that hard on a game, but it happened with Contra, because I had to record Contra footage about a decade ago, and I refused to record any deaths. My mortal enemy is this pipe, though.

    Stupid pipe

    Or maybe Achille’s heel is a more appropriate moniker for that one…

  • Did you know? American editions of Contra seemed to downplay the whole “future war” thing, but keep all those whacky aliens and magical guns. This is a weird choice that nobody in 1987 actually cared about.
  • Would I play again: I like to run ‘n gun. This is the ideal game to play for like a half hour and just be done. That happens a lot in my household.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rock ‘n Roll Racing for the 16-bit system of your choice! First we are going to rock, then we are going to blow up a race car, and then we might roll. Please look forward to it!

Hate this guy

FGC #509 Wheel of Fortune

WHEEL. OF. FORTUNE.Forget videogame sex and violence, it’s Wheel of Fortune ports that are destroying the lives of our children.

I speak on this topic as one that was poisoned by Wheel of Fortune at a young age. When I was just old enough to be literate, my mother and grandfather allowed me to join them in playing a wondrous new game for the Commodore 64: Wheel of Fortune. Of course, I was already familiar with Wheel of Fortune, as it’s been dominating the same timeslot since before I was born. There has literally never been a moment in my lifetime that Wheel of Fortune was not available to watch, and I’m pretty sure my grandparents watched it religiously literally until the day they died (give or take a coma that we’re not going to count toward final totals). So, yes, I was familiar with Wheel of Fortune before I ever hit my first F5 key to solve a puzzle. Who doesn’t want to spin that wheel and win fabulous prizes?

And, if I’m being generous, I will state that my parents meant well. After all, I was a young’un that loved videogames, game shows, and was just learning how to read. A videogame that combined all three wouldn’t only be fun, it would be educational. Goggle Bob learn words good from game! And, with my mother and grandfather taking the places of the other contestants (my dad would have participated if he wasn’t such a luddite that keyboards reflexively recoil in his presence), I was guaranteed that kind of “gentle” gameplay that comes from playing a board game with an emotionally handicapped opponent (err… to be clear, that’s saying the handicap the other players have is thanks to their familial emotions, and not that any of my family members are emotionally handicapped [though my grandfather was incapable of experiencing joy from SPINapproximately 1959-2004]). I might not have won every round, but I can certainly say my rivals were giving me more than enough time to solve a puzzle. And if everything didn’t go my way, hey, they could always blame that digital version of not-Pat Sajak to avert a tantrum. It seems like playing digital Wheel of Fortune with my family as a child was a net good for Wee Goggle Bob.

Except there was one tiny problem: I eventually got good at Wheel of Fortune. And, corollary issue: I’m not a millionaire that has experienced a fabulous, all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.

Wheel of Fortune has received surprisingly faithful ports over the years. Whereas other videogame adaptations created for home consoles have had to make some changes to the source material from time to time, Wheel of Fortune has been consistent. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor rarely fought dinosaurs during Home Improvement, but it happened in the first level of his SNES game. Nobody ever thinks to grab the dice for traditional family Pictionary, but there it is on the NES. Wheel of Fortune, however, is exactly what grandpa and grandma would expect of a videogame. There’s the wheel, the choosing of letters, and even the later editions include the occasional changes to the television show’s formula. Maybe it’s because the rules are easy to digitally adapt, maybe it’s because Wheel of Fortune Corp. demands absolute fidelity, but, whatever the case, Wheel of Fortune: The Home Game has been unwavering as long as there have been home games.

Which means that if you are good at Wheel of Fortune the videogame, you absolutely should have won thousands of dollars by now. That’s just basic science.

FABULOUSI identified this problem back in my childhood. I eventually gained the swerve and vocabulary to go up against the computer opponents, and, more often than not, I conquered my foes with aplomb. And that felt different than defeating my dear family. In this case, I knew the computer wasn’t giving me a free ride, because AIs were incapable of deferring to the emotional needs of a small child (I would expect a bot to cheat on a toaster’s behalf, but not for a human flesh bag). So, obviously, I was legitimately winning Wheel of Fortune. Hell, I was conquering a computer. I wasn’t a random contestant beating some dork from Idaho, I was John Henry. I was Garry Kasparov. I was Zack de la Rocha… I think. Point is that I had accomplished something every time I won Wheel of Fortune, and I imagined a peripheral that looked not unlike a familiar 5 1⁄4-inch floppy disc reader that would spit out dollars upon dollars after every victory. I was winning! I should have fabulous prizes, just like those winners on TV! Where is my brand new car!?

And it sounds ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure a big problem with my generation is we’re still waiting for those fabulous prizes.

No one is claiming that people play videogames to become fabulously wealthy. Yes, there are ways you can become rich and/or famous through playing videogames, but, unless I missed some amazing advertising campaigns, the latest Animal Crossing isn’t being touted as a gateway the striking it rich on Wall Street. And such a thing sounds absurd, but consider how many activities, coaches, and “academies” are offered to children (and adults!) that claim they will transform Little Timmy into the next Bo Jackson or Madonna (are these references still relevant? I’ve been on stay-at-home orders a while). No, videogames aren’t supposed to bring you riches beyond measure, but they are supposed to bring the player satisfaction. Give or take some desert buses, there are not games designed to be impossible to be completed, and, whether you’re dealing with Dark Souls or Darkwing Duck, you will eventually gain fulfillment from seeing the finale. It is how every game ends, Who are these nerds?but it is not necessarily inevitable. You have to try to reach that finish line, and can’t simply assume you’re going to win like when you’re going up against a well-meaning pop-pop. And nowadays, it’s not a matter of “beating a game”, there are achievements, trophies, and other accolades, online and off, that showcase just how thoroughly you’ve played a game. Want 100% completion? That all-important platinum trophy? Well, get to playing, player. You’re going to have to achieve that achievement.

Admit it: if you go through all that effort for all those achievements, don’t you expect to get something?

There’s no question that people have been cultivating their Gamerscores and Trophy collections for years. There have been occasions when games were released, and they were judged (and purchased!) solely on the basis of how quickly they would allow the player to accrue achievement points. People greedily reap these achievement scores, even knowing that some of those points were distributed for “achievements” like “successfully pressed X” or “generally nudged a controller for ten minutes”. Gamers don’t do that simply for bragging rights or alike, they do that because they think somewhere deep down in their dark gamer hearts that there will be a tangible reward for their accomplishments. They secretly believe that one day a super model is going to saunter on up to the crowd, demand to know who has the most gilded LOSERtrophies of them all, and then throw their clothes off in reaction to that one achievement awarded for riding a chocobo for eleven craptillion steps. Okay, yes, that sounds stupid to say out loud, but how many people actually think their videogame skills are going to have a real, profitable impact on the world? How many people think they’ve put 10,000 hours into a hobby, so, logically, all that hard work and effort is going to pay off? How many people don’t accomplish anything of value for the rest of humanity because they’re fixated on how many imaginary gamer points they can earn?

How many people think they should be millionaires that can win millions on Wheel of Fortune because they’ve already won imaginary millions on Wheel of Fortune?

You want the solution to the puzzle of my generation? Digital Wheel of Fortune ruined us all.

FGC #509 Wheel of Fortune

  • System: Every. Just every system that has ever happened. There was a PSP version, and that’s my qualifier for that statement. There was even supposed to be a version for the 3DO, but it didn’t come to fruition before the system imploded. So I guess the proper statement is that Wheel of Fortune is available for all systems that weren’t instant failures.
  • Number of players: Three is the generally accepted number, but two is allowed on systems that do not contain multitaps.
  • So, what did you play? For the purpose of this article, I played the OG C64/DOS version, the Super Nintendo edition that happened to be handy, and the Nintendo Switch version. The Switch version may have been played with my dear fiancée during a bout of heavy, quarantine-based drinking.
  • And how did that work out? Poorly! I completely failed to guess the proper solution to the following puzzle:
    I DON'T UNDERSTAND

    I am never going to gain fabulous prizes.
  • So, which version is best: Man, who has the time to play thirty years’ worth of Wheel of Fortune games? Let’s just say it is whatever version is most recent, because they apparently soldered a leveling system onto its custom character creator, so now you need to win like sixty rounds before you’re allowed to wear a t-shirt. That’s modern gaming!
  • Fabulous Prizes: For some reason, the vacation you can win in Switch Wheel of Fortune is always France. There’s this lovely pan of Paris, and it all looks very nice, but I would very much like to know what that country did to get featured in a videogame every ten minutes.
  • Did you know? Wheel of Fortune apparently trademarked “America’s Game”. Of course, it seems they didn’t trademark it very well, because googling that phrase will get you nothing but results regarding the football game event that I’m legally not allowed to name. Rhymes with “blooper hole”.
  • Would I play again: Wheel of Fortune is fun! And I’ll probably wind up playing it again on the Nintendo Super Switch U or whatever comes next. Maybe buying games I already own for five bucks over and over is the real prize.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Simpsons Arcade Game! Cowabunga, it’s time to rescue Maggie! Please look forward to it!

Green Hill Zone