Tag Archives: data east

FGC #584 Avengers in the 1990’s

So mighty!Here’s a statement only 90’s kids will understand: The Avengers are the cheapest, most low-rent superheroes available.

To be clear, this is not to say that pre-Disney Marvel Comics didn’t have one hell of a superhero team on its hands. Ever heard of The X-Men? They were the bomb-diggity, and it is hard to convey to modern readers just how many children at the time were putting forks between their fingers and pretending to be Wolverine. This may have just been a result of the comics being fun and plentiful, but it is more likely that the X-Men were popular because they had a hit Saturday morning cartoon (that, if memory serves, had upwards of seven episodes across seven years), multiple tie-in videogames, and more action figures than you could ever hawk at a garage sale. The “culmination” of this massive popularity was the 2000 movie that defined superhero films/Hugh Jackman for a decade. And speaking of films, X-Men paved the way for other superheroes that were… also not known as Avengers. Spider-Man leaps immediately to mind, but this was also the era when DC Comics’ Batman came into his own grim popularity. And Batman was able to get there because his previous projects, like the Burton films and the amazing animated series, were also grand successes. And has there ever been a videogame console that didn’t host a Batman or Superman game of some kind? I’m not going to bother to do any research on this matter (the internet is all the way over there!), but it certainly feels like there was an Atari Jaguar Batman title! Point is that well before Disney decided to create its shared universe, superheroes were popular in all sorts of mediums.

… Except the Avengers. The Avengers were consistently forgettable.

Go robot goThe Avengers comics were always there (well, “always” as in “since Stan Lee decided to slap a bunch of his most lucrative properties [and Ant-Man] together”), and they were always at least moderately popular. The Avengers were appealing because they seemed to have a lot more latitude than other “superhero rosters”. Why? Well, in the absence of a clear Superman or Wonder Woman, you really could slot anybody into the team. Dropping a literal god for a dude that can shoot arrows? Sure! Bald “Celestial Madonna” because Magneto’s daughter is on vacation this week? Why not! But, unfortunately, this led to The Avengers not being as “established” as its rival teams (you know, other gangs where you could always count on spotting a Wolverine). This made for a franchise that was generally good, but also often something closer to Captain America and his Amazing Friends. Or, in the case of the number one reason some children of the 80s and 90s recognize any Avengers, Iron Man & his Amazing Friends.

While never as popular as Batman, Spider-Man, or The X-Men, Marvel had a moderate hit with an animated Fantastic Four series in 1994. This cleared the way for its “partner” television show (gotta have that “Marvel Action Hour” for syndication), Iron Man. Tony Stark was clearly the lead in Iron Man, but he was joined by a number of other Marvel luminaries, like Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. Were they collectively referred to as “The Avengers”? Nope! They were Force Works, which did exist in the comics of the era, but certainly not with Hawkguy. However, the basic concept was there, even if you had to wait until five years later to see the sequel series, Avengers: United They Stand, which lasted a whole thirteen weeks before fading into nothing. Why did it disappear so quickly? Likely because they based the whole thing on West Coast Avengers, a team that dropped Captain America for friggin’ Tigra. Tigra! The only Avenger to appear in 2019’s seminal musical film, Cats!

I don't understandsSo, through the 90s, kids that did not have easy access to comic book shops had one impression of The Avengers: they are the heroes that can’t support their own shows. Spider-Man stars in a 600-episode arc about some stupid stone tablet, and Captain America maybe gets to guest star in three. Lou Ferrigno will smash as Hulk whether he is animated or live-action, but Thor can only stop by for an episode or two. Iron Man gets his own show, and he winds up sponsoring refugee D-listers like Wanda Frank. And if these losers were to get a tie-in videogame, well, why should it goes well?

Captain America and The Avengers is a 1991 Arcade title from Data East. It is, like so many other licensed games of the time, a 4-player beat ‘em up. The variation du jour of CAatA is that you have the choice of throwing or detonating most background objects (Ninja Turtles only has exploding barrels! No options at all!), and some levels turn into shoot ‘em ups. That’s about it. So, like most other beat ‘em ups of the time, the game lives or dies on its heroes, enemies, and presentation. And how do those all work out? Poorly!

Your heroes are Captain America (yay!), Iron Man (woohoo!), Hawkeye (arrows are passable videogame weapons), and Vision (that guy). Your enemies are (per Turtle tradition) an army of generic robots that are wholly constructed of nitrous and dynamite. And the bosses? Well, there are more bosses than most beat ‘em ups, as you face a mid-boss and a final boss for each level. But quantity is no substitute for quality here, as your heroes face the likes of Living Laser, Klaw, Wizard, and Controller. Look, when you are facing a boss that is named after a videogame peripheral, you know the A-listers were too busy for this nonsense. Even more interesting villains, like Grim Reaper or Ultron, are reduced to “has a dash attack” and “has a fireball” do-nothings. And don’t even get me started on Mech. Taco, the Taco that walks like a mech (oddly, Mech. Taco has not appeared in any Disney flicks yet, but we all have our fingers crossed). Strangely, this means that noted Wasp villain, Whirlwind, comes off as the most interesting boss, as at least his windy powers impact not only the fight, but also the background and any incidental debris that may be scattered about. It’s neat! It’s maybe the only neat thing in the game!

I get that robot!Excuse me, there is one other “neat” thing: the Avengers couldn’t get through one game without some X-Men transplants. The Sentinel, a gigantic robot that is iconic for its relentless hunting of mutants, appears as a shoot ‘em up boss in Stage 2. It is identified as “Giant Robot”, but nobody is going to mistake that purple titan for the Iron Giant. And Juggernaut is the first boss to appear on Red Skull’s space station. This is easily the worst depiction of Juggs in a videogame (dude kind of looks like a hunched-over cyclops [not that Cyclops]), but this is unmistakably Charles Xavier’s beefcake brother. Dude is lumbering around as usual, just reminding you that you could migrate over to the X-Men arcade cabinet at any time. Wouldn’t you rather rescue Kitty Pryde than slug it out with the likes of Crossbones?

And if you want to play a game with X-Men anyway, maybe you should fast forward to Marvel Super Heroes In War of the Gems.

Captain America and The Avengers was a Data East joint, and, unless you were really into BurgerTime, you could be forgiven for assuming their Avengers tie-in would be lackluster. But Capcom! Now there was a gaming company to trust back in the 80s and 90s. They had Mega Man! And Street Fighter! And were able to make a passable game out of Talespin! And they successfully adapted The X-Men into a fighting game that spawned its own franchise! And the second game in that franchise was an Avengers game! Kinda! Marvel Super Heroes is conceptually based on the same Infinity Gauntlet Marvel comic series that would eventually become the most profitable movie duology of all time. But this version included the likes of Magneto, Juggernaut, Wolverine, Psylocke, and at least one multi-tentacled monstrosity. And there are noted Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk, too, so it marginally counts as an Avengers title! Probably! Oh, and if you wanted a little more plot, there was a SNES tie-in title that dropped three X-characters, and picked up a whole host of Avenger buddies! Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems, released in 1996, certainly should qualify as an Avengers game.

It also qualifies as yet another Avengers tie-in that feels cheap as hell.

Dem pucksThere are good bones here. This is a beat ‘em up with the occasional bit of 2-D platforming. Like X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, it is also a game where you can occasionally utilize special moves and combos like its attendant fighting game. This is a great change from the ol’ standard of “lose health/energy for doing anything” that has plagued many other Marvel games. And, while the roster cannot completely qualify as Avengers in 1996 (Wolverine and Spider-Man wouldn’t consistently join up until they had successful movie franchises), they are all roughly on the same power level, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to see Smart Hulk tussling with the same baddies as Captain America. Oh! And for a little variety, we do occasionally see a handful of areas where air is limited, so we basically get an organically incorporated timer for challenges. Got to get that heartrate up somehow!

Unfortunately, while the basic gameplay is marginally inventive (this is better than Final Fight with Captain America), the levels and their attendant enemies are anything but. For whatever reason, while the Marvel universe has some pretty amazing locales (Limbo is lovely this time of year), nearly all of the stages in MSHiWofG are forgettable, “video game-y” areas. There’s a lava level, ice level, sewer level, and aquarium (because who doesn’t need a water level in their beat ‘em up). Yes, you get to fly to Dr. Doom’s citadel, but it is more of an excuse to use a castle tile-set and incorporate a teleporter maze than anything. And your opponents through all of these battlegrounds? Well, they are simply “evil clones” of your Avengers, so you face armies of Iron Man-but-with-spikes, Wolverine-but-green, and Hulk-but-bald. Look, when Spider-Man is your hero without an evil clone, you done #$^&ed up. But do not think that just because an Avenger isn’t playable in the game that they will be left out of the fun. Daredevil gets a literal devil variant, Vision becomes a flying menace, and Hawkeye actually becomes a threat with an evil version that snipes from far-off platforms. Even an evil Silver Surfer slides through a stage! All the heroes you love! Ready for punching!

Dem pucksAnd it is supremely weird how this makes the whole game feel very… budget. There is never an explanation offered for this army of anti-Avengers, and their general designs are not distinct enough to warrant any further investigation on “who” these bad good guys are supposed to be. Is that supposed to be a She-Hulk that is also searching for the gems? No, because there are three of ‘em all in a line, and Jennifer Walters doesn’t have cloning powers. Alpha Flight, Canada’s premiere superhero team, seems to stalk around the Alaska stage, so you could totally justify their existence as our northern neighbors thinking they know best… but then the same “Evil Puck” creatures appear at the New York aquarium. And, somehow, the original characters make even less sense in this context. Blackheart pops up out of nowhere with exactly zero explanation as to why he is participating in this War of Gems, and Dr. Doom flees his castle to fight again later and unceremoniously die in space. You have the whole of the Marvel stable participating in the Infinity Wars, why forsake real, interesting villains for friggin’ Sasquatch?

I guess if you wanted to see the Avengers battle some actual villains, you would have to play their fighting game released the same year. Are you ready for Avengers: Galactic Storm? Because Data East certainly wasn’t…

Blast 'emFor reasons our top scientific minds are still trying to discern, this Avengers title is based on Operation Galactic Storm, an Avengers crossover from 1992 that is remembered by exactly nobody. This 1996 arcade game is the only proof it ever happened at all! And, while it is nice that we nearly got two fighting games featuring Captain America in a year, this roster is chockful of Avengers F-Stringers. Thor is on vacation, so please accept Thunderstrike! Iron Man is taking a powder so you can have the real man in armor, Black Knight! And Crystal, best known as being either Johnny Storm’s girlfriend, Black Bolt’s niece, or Quicksilver’s wife, is your standard one female Avenger rep. And the bad guys are exclusively Kree adversaries, so you are stuck with Supremor, Shatterax, and Korath-Thak. Remember last Christmas? When everyone was trying to find Korath the Pursuer action figures? No, of course not, that would be stupid. Korath looks like what would happen if Juggernaut shrunk in the dryer, and he is about as memorable as Cain Marko’s drycleaner (first appearance Amazing X-Men Volume 2 #15). At least we have Dr. Minerva, who is basically an evil Captain/Ms. Marvel. Wait! That just means we couldn’t get through another Avengers game without an X-Men character appearing. Dammit!

Oh, and the game looks terrible, and plays even worse. Please try to act surprised that the people behind Fighter’s History couldn’t produce a good licensed fighting game. Additionally, continue to feign shock that faux 3-D graphics in the mid 90’s aged about as well as Thunderstrike (if you have not already surmised, Thunderstrike is phenomenally stupid). About the only memorable bit in this Avengers title is that its story mode has instant continues (so you don’t have to blow quarters on a match continually “resetting” with every loss), and there are assist characters of dubious efficacy. It is cool that someone decided to model the Vision for this plastic universe, but it is a little saddening that this ‘droid of a thousand abilities only gets to perform a reverse dive kick. At least let my man bust out the laser eyes!

Dive kick!And what do all of these 90’s Avengers have in common? They’re cheap. They seem like knock-offs of other, better franchise games. Batman gets to fight Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face. Spider-Man fights Sandman, Venom, and at least one rampaging guerilla. Captain America can only ever fight Whirlwind, Bald Hulk, or the multi-tentacled avatar of a floating, green head. Iron Man gets dinky little sprites, Colossus gets big, chunky pixels and a special move that roars through the arcade. Magneto always shows up for Dazzler, while Vision can barely summon the attention of Ronan the Accuser. In short, back in the day, the most prominent Avenger would never rank above the most extraneous of X-Men. Kids of the 90’s were convinced that The Avengers were not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but little more than an opening act for the real heroes.

But, luckily, The Avengers were catapulted to greatness with the release of their 2012 film. And The Avengers never saw a “budget”, failure of a videogame ever again.

THE AVENGERS!

… Or The Avengers are stuck being those Avengers forever.

FGC #584 Captain America and The Avengers

  • Now I'm hungrySystem: Arcade initially (and used for these screenshots), and then Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Gear. The Game Boy and NES versions have the same name, but are generally different, also low-budget experiences.
  • Number of players: Get four in the arcade! Or two at home! Or zero on Game Gear, because those batteries ran out five minutes ago.
  • Favorite Avenger: Vision has a great walk. That… is about all that distinguishes these characters. You’d think there would be a significant disparity between a guy living in a robotic suit of armor and a dude that just shoots arrows, but here we are.
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Wasp appears as an assist “option” during the shooting sections. There is no sign of Scarlet Witch, unfortunately, despite the fact that Vision is playable, and Quicksilver bops in from time to time to drop health refills.
  • Hawkguy: Hawkeye is a playable character in this game from Data East, and also a participant in Sega’s Spider-Man arcade game. And he was one of the only two playable characters in the NES Avengers title. How did these companies all keep choosing Hawkeye!?
  • Favorite Boss: Red Skull seems to be cosplaying as Kingpin this time, and then he gets a giant, weirdly fleshy Terminator robot and a pope-bubble to hide in. This is literally the only boss in the game that is remotely memorable… give or take the taco.
  • I know this robot, tooDid you know? This localization is legendarily bad, but please be aware that octopus in Japanese is “tako”. Mecha Taco is clearly just “mechanical octopus”, but I guess someone was in the mood for Mexican.
  • Would I play again: This is not one of the great beat ‘em ups of our time. I’d rather play one of those.

FGC #584 Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems

  • But Hulk had hairSystem: Super Nintendo exclusive. Apparently there was talk of a Genesis port, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Nothing was learned from SNES Final Fight, so just one.
  • Hawkguy: No, seriously, what is the deal with Hawkeye? His clone appears in damn near every stage, and he is always a pain to avoid. Do arrows just work naturally well with videogame mechanics?
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Savage She-Hulk is an occasional opponent. She never appears as a boss, and she’s in full-on berserker mode, but she’s at least there. No, there are no evil Black Widows, Tigras, or even Jocastas to fight.
  • Best Surprise: Nebula, the cybernetic underling of Thanos, is the penultimate boss of the game. And she offers a pretty good fight, too. If I didn’t know better, I would assume her and her varied moveset was another transplant from the arcade fighting game, but, nope, she’s original to this one. And she’s a pretty fun cyborg for everybody!
  • Poor cyborgDid you know? There are sections where Avengers must fight underwater, and have a limited air meter. This makes sense for mostly human Captain America or mostly naked Hulk, but Iron Man has the same issue. He’s in a robot suit! It’s his thing! He doesn’t need to find a source of air! And, for some reason, everyone can breathe in space! What is going on here!?
  • Would I play again: I’ll take X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse first, and that’s only if, like, every other X-Men game is not available. This Wolverine adventure doesn’t even rank.

FGC #584 Avengers in Galactic Storm

  • System: Arcade exclusive, though it is being released as an Arcade1Up cabinet as a sorta-arcade exclusive.
  • Number of players: Two, though you can actually cooperate with your second player if you’d like. I have not ever seen two people that want to play this game, though.
  • Throw rocks!One Lady Avenger Per Game: Continuing the grand tradition of the most unassuming character being the absolute best, Crystal the Inhuman Princess kicks unaccountable amounts of ass in this one. She can summon meteors! And fireballs! And her hyper attack is a tidal wave! She’s easily the best Avenger available for this job, and puts Black Knight and his silly little bomber jacket to shame. There are, unfortunately, no Lady Avengers on the assist roster.
  • Favorite Assist: Giant Man is represented by a giant, inexplicably hairy arm flying into the frame. I like to pretend that The Avengers just became caught in a Monty Python sketch, and then I imagine what that fighting game would look like. For the record, it looks like Heaven.
  • Did you know? Dr. Minerva, Captain Marvel’s palette swap, did appear in the Captain Marvel movie as one of Carol’s Kree rivals. So that means we saw Minn-Erva on the big screen before Thunderstrike. Eat it, Eric Masterson.
  • Would I play again: No.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse! We’re going from one group of officially licensed Disney mascots to the big boy! Please look forward to it!

THE END

FGC #415 Congo’s Caper

That little devilCongo’s Caper is the spiritual successor to Joe & Mac (and the literal sequel in Japan, where it is known as Caveman Ninja 2). Appropriately, the plot of this caper is pretty much the same as what we saw in SNES Joe & Mac. Previously, The Devil kidnapped a collection of cave babes, and Joe & Mac had to rescue their harem. Now, a slightly smaller The Devil decides to kidnap Congo’s girlfriend, and it’s up to Congo to venture forth and save his damsel. And he does! Then she gets kidnapped again, and apparently The Devil brought sidekicks for round 2. And then it turns out it was all the work of Tyrano Satan, whom Congo eventually banishes, and Congo’s girlfriend is rescued again. Hooray! All is well, and one would assume there is a lot of hot, 16-bit sex happening opposite the credits sequence.

Oh, but why did The Devil kidnap Girl? Repeatedly? Well, the answer to that is pretty obvious: because girls are made for kidnapping. Duh.

And that’s bad for everybody.

So everyone is familiar with the “damsel in distress” trope, right? Smarter people than I have elucidated why this particular story telling crutch is terrible, and how it is a good thing that we have gotten away from the tired old “knight saves princess” narrative that dominated our fiction landscape for so many years. We’ve moved well past Mario must rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, and now we have more complicated stories like… Mario must rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, but with a new hat. Huh. Seems like the kiddy stuff is still mired in medieval morality. But let’s look to adult entertainment! Something mature! That maybe made more money than there will ever be! Yes, let’s look to Avengers: Infinity War, a movie featuring a complicated villain with intense plans and a clear goal that goes far beyond… Oh, wait, he just kidnapped the charismatic guy’s girlfriend for some reason. And Weeeeenow the charming hero is all sad and angry, and is going to flip out at just the right time because his girl is missing. Sigh. So, yes, Congo’s Caper is employing an ancient, tired trope, but it’s also exactly what we’re seeing 25 years later. New coat of (purple) paint, same old “our Princess is in another castle”.

And this is a “tired” trope because it’s immediately obvious how the concept is harmful to women. The very notion treats women like objects, like a prize to be won, and, come on, it couldn’t be more obvious how that is a bad thing. Women are people! Women have opinions and rights and the ability to wriggle out of ropes to vaunt over lava pits and rescue their own damn selves. And that’s just considering the kidnapped women in question, never mind the women in the audience that only get to see representation as useless damsels. To pick on Avengers: Infinity War again, if you’re a boy, you can choose your hero, and be confident that, even if they don’t survive to see the final credits, they’re going to kick ass from start to finish. The women of the movie are a lot more… passive (hey, remember Pepper Potts was at the start of the film entirely to make Iron Man feel bad), and a woman who had previously been a complete bad ass in her other movies now spends most of the film as a captive (or worse). What does that tell all the little girls in the audience that previously just wanted to emulate a radical, dual-wielding heroine? Damsels are bad for a solid 50% of the population, no questions asked.

But what about the real minority in our world? What about the poor men?

Don't trust those dudesOkay, I felt dirty typing that. Yes, we absolutely live in a mancentric manocracy here on Man World, and there is never any question that men are in charge in every situation. If you’re convinced men are some put upon people because sometimes a judge will side with a woman in a divorce case because she just happens to not be addicted to heroin, that’s great and all, but I don’t want to hear about it. Men are in charge, period, and if you’re confused on that point, take a look at voting statistics to see why we’re currently in a political quagmire (which quagmire am I talking about? Does it matter?). Dudes rule the world, and women aren’t even allowed to wear pants that include viable pockets.

But there’s something important about the men that are ruling world. Christ, I thought we were going to get through one week without staring straight at the guy, but let’s look at our old pal Donald Trump. Here is a man who treats women like objects as a matter of course. He is the perfect embodiment of a person that believes women have no agency at all, and even on the rare occasions that it may be supposed that woman are actually humans, it’s clear that a man’s needs come first. They want it. They’ll give it up because you’re rich. In fact, women are to be collected and hunted like they are money. One more thing to be acquired. One more item to horde. Women are, like cash, real estate, and political power, just one more status symbol that says you’re a real man.

WeeeeeeAnd maybe that is fine for Donald Trump. We’re talking about a wiener that has been married three times, and has cheated on every single one of those women (oftentimes with the next wife on the list). We’re talking about a man who, by all accounts, ran for president for no other reason than to assuage his already bloated (and malignant) ego. Maybe he should be treating women like objects, because feeling love for objects is the only way he’s going to feel those emotions at all. Maybe that’s just him. But it’s hard to ignore that this is the man who is currently the President of the United States, and thus, for good or ill, an indelible role model for an entire generation of men. Want to be president one day, Little Timmy? Look to your great hero, President Trump.

Which brings us back to the original point of this little tirade: if enough men see women as objects, it doesn’t matter that there are “enlightened” or “woke” men, the societal norms of “women as property” is still going to bite everyone in the ass (and not in the fun way). How are men adversely impacted by this toxic masculinity? Well, how many men stay in terrible relationships because they’re afraid of “losing” the woman in their life? Want to see a guy never break up with a woman? I don’t care if she’s the worst, most toxic person in the world, if a girlfriend/fiancé/wife is desired by another, rival male, that man is going to stay in that relationship forever. She might be terrible (or at least terrible for him), but if there’s the threat that she will be lost to another man? Forget about it, he’ll ceaselessly fight tooth and nail for her.

Heck, he might even fight a devil, four caveman masters, and an angry tyrannosaurus.

Dino timesSo here’s the Goggle Bob Challenge ™ for the week: You might not be writing the latest videogame about a damsel in distress, but try to think about how decades of rescuing princesses has impacted your life. Women, you are not objects, you never were, and don’t drive yourselves insane trying to be the “perfect princess” for the Mario in your life. Men, do not treat women like objects, whether that means literally objectifying them, or incidentally thinking of them as possessions in your own decision making. If The Devil kidnaps “your” woman, maybe let it slide this time. She might be happier living in that posh T-Rex stomach.

After all, if you treat women like objects, you’re no better than a caveman.

FGC #415 Congo’s Caper

  • System: Super Nintendo, and that’s all, folks. No Genesis version. No Gameboy port. No modern console rerelease. How often does that happen?
  • Number of players: Congo must caper alone.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Congo’s Caper is the straight platformer to Joe & Mac’s platformer/beat ‘em up mashup. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly generic platformer, and, coming on the same system as Super Mario World or Mega Man X, it doesn’t really have much to put it ahead of the pack. That said, it’s a very pretty and cartoony game, and, give or take a few stages that are absolutely boring (a bunch of slowly moving platforms over spikes? Really?) it’s a fun little adventure. Congo’s Caper is basically the old standard for a “rental” game, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
  • DEVIL!That’s not how that works: Magical red gems will evolve Congo the Monkey into Congo the Human (but with a tail). Another three gems will cause Congo to go Super Saiyan, which pretty much just makes Congo’s jumps more sparkly. Take a few hits, and you’ll go back to monkey form, though. Evolution is a harsh mistress.
  • Tips from the Pros: The L & R buttons activate Congo’s run. You don’t ever need to do this before a level that features an Indiana Jones-esque giant rolling ball of death. If you forget the L & R buttons exist, you will die approximately 10,000 times.
  • Favorite Boss: The Devil’s minions are four Neanderthals that could double as robot masters. We’ve got Ninja Man, Pirate Man, Techno Man, and Dracula Man. Of the four, Techno Man is clearly the winner, as he produces a robot dinosaur, and then attacks from Dr. Wily’s saucer. Dude knows how to live.
  • Did you know? The “roll” ability in this game is fairly insane. It allows Congo to roll along in a ball, and he’s completely invincible the entire time. This roll can only be activated on an incline, but there are a few levels and one entire boss that will fall instantly before Congo’s mighty roll. Eat your heart out, hedgehog.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. It’s a fun game, but generally kind of mediocre. I’ve rescued you enough, Congo’s unnamed girlfriend.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bioshock Infinite! I’ve been waiting for that one forever. Oh, and bad news, I’m probably going to indulge in a pretty similar amount of ranting, too. So, uh, please look forward to that!

Butt!

FGC #414 Joe & Mac

I don't even know...Let us discuss the curious case of the Super Nintendo port of Joe & Man: Caveman Ninja.

Like with many videogames of the early 90’s (1991! Did such a far off year ever really exist?), this story starts in the arcades. Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (alternately known as simply Caveman Ninja or Joe and Mac: Caveman Combat) was one of those vaguely beat ‘em up-esque 2-D action titles that you usually only saw out of Capcom (I still remember you, Magic Sword). Joe and Mac are caveman bros that must hold back an entire Neanderthal army and rescue a few “cave babes” from the likes of dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and at least one giant skeleton monster. The title is comical and cartoony, and seems to lean heavily into being a sort of “parody” title. Tyrannosauruses barf out cavemen, Little Shop of Horrors lends a certain giant plant to the proceedings, and we even get to “laugh” at the tired “overweight woman is boy crazy, boy is repulsed” trope. Real knee-slappers all around! Humor aside, though, Joe & Mac is an enjoyable arcade experience, and exactly the kind of game you’d expect to play in a pre-Street Fighter 2 arcade.

What set Joe & Mac apart from its arcade brethren? Well, once you cut out the comedy and expressive sprite-work, there’s pretty much nothing. But why would you ignore that!? Joe and Mac isn’t trying to be the Citizen Souls (Dark Kane?) of gaming, it’s a just a fun way to blow some quarters for the afternoon. There are improvements to be made across the board, but most of those advances would ignore the requirements of an arcade game. It’s a little too easy to lose health quickly and painfully… but considering loss of life necessitates another quarter, I don’t hear any change machines complaining. And the stage selections mean you will miss levels when choosing between Path A and Path B, but, that’s just an excuse to play the game all over again to see all the content.

Hm. If Joe and Mac wasn’t tethered to the arcade, it could be a better game, so the console ports must show stark improvement.

… Right?

ZAPLet’s review a few of the console ports. The MS-DOS port (what passed for “PC” back in the day) was basically the arcade version, so one would suppose that doesn’t count. Similarly, the Sega Genesis version tried to be the arcade version, and is pretty much the same thing, give or take a few graphical tweaks. As one might expect, the NES version is severely compromised, as the big, bad bosses of Joe & Mac don’t really translate to 8-bits very well. They had to make the generic baby dinosaur mook a mini-boss! And no one bothered to animate the cave babes actually kissing our heroes! Regardless, it’s compromised, but it’s clearly an attempt at directly porting Joe & Mac Arcade. And the Gameboy version might actually be better than the NES port… which isn’t terribly surprising, given it was released a year later. It’s still not great, but it’s passable for an early 90’s Gameboy title. Oh, and like its NES buddy, it follows the basic rules and flow of the arcade release. So that only leaves the Super Nintendo port, and… it’s a little different.

If you were to play Arcade Joe & Mac, play some other games at the arcade, and then scoot home to play SNES Joe & Mac, you might not notice much of a difference. These are both games that feature the titular Joe & Mac rescuing cave babes from the forces of evil. In both adventures, Joe & Mac fight (almost) the same bosses, which employ (mostly) the same patterns. There is jumping and weapon hurling and meat grabbing. And, while the SNES version has an overworld map, the basic flow of the game is almost exactly the same, give or take the ability to try those “forking” stages in one continuous playthrough.

But, if you play the two games in rapid succession (perhaps because you live in a glorious future where entire arcade cabinets may be digitized into tiny MAME roms), you will note that the arcade and SNES versions of Joe & Mac are as different as a caveman ninja and a Neanderthal.

Little bubFirst, and most noticeably, the SNES version completely drops the Master Higgins-esque health system of the arcade. There is a constant “health timer” in the arcade version, and, should Joe or Mac stop eating everything in sight for longer than six seconds, they will certainly expire from insatiable hunger. This eating disorder is absent from the SNES port, so Joe and Mac can explore their environment at a much more leisurely pace. And that’s great, because there are bonus rooms around, and they can only be accessed through vigilant determination. Oh, and you’re allowed to toggle obtained weapons with L&R, so you’re no longer stuck with whatever weapon you happened to bump into (anyone that played the earlier Konami titles is well aware of the “joys” of accidentally ditching your holy water for a stupid dagger). And these are all improvements! Joe and Mac for the Super Nintendo is the superior Joe and Mac version! Everything is good forever!

Except… SNES Joe and Mac left a surprising amount of content on the cutting room floor. For one thing, the weapons selection has been severely limited, which eliminates some of the most interesting attacks. Joe can no longer launch gigantic sparks at opponents, and Mac has completely lost the ability to summon a spiritual “other self” to menace an ankylosaurus. And speaking of offensive options, Joe & Mac can “charge” attacks for bigger bangs in other versions, while that option is sorely missing on the Super Nintendo. And, believe me, stronger attacks are dearly missed when bosses are massive HP sponges. Oh, and the stages that randomly transform the title into a dedicated shooting game are missing entirely, which is a major loss for anyone that ever wanted a caveman based shoot ‘em up (guess we have to go back to Bonk for that). Frankly, the Super Nintendo version is missing a number of features that made Arcade Joe & Mac great.

And then there are the weird changes. The final boss of nearly every version is some unholy amalgamation of a dinosaur and a Neanderthal. It is never explained where this creature originated, but it makes a kind of sense at the end of a game where you fight dinosaurs and Neanderthals (separately) every five seconds. The SNES version introduces… Satan. Or… some kind of devil, at least. And he’s living inside a T-Rex’s belly, and is kidnapping cave babes because… uh… He was bored? And the multiple endings of the arcade game were dropped… sorta. The “funny” ending where Joe & Mac are chased by a bevy of heavy ladies is gone. That is, unless you know a key sequence that reinstates this alternate/tired ending. Why bother with such a thing? I don’t think “slightly different ending with a secret code” was exactly a selling point back in 1991.

BEAT EM ALL

But this all brings us back to the original question: why?

Joe & Mac was published in the arcade and at home by Data East. The most accurate ports all originated with Data East. This was not a situation where Capcom made the arcade cabinet, and then LJN was somehow responsible for the port. This was all in-house, and any changes made to the formula must have been overseen by at least the same producer. And, by all accounts, none of these changes were the result of “memory issues” or similar excuses from the 8-bit days. If the Sega Genesis could handle that deleted tusk weapon, it certainly could have appeared on the Super Nintendo. AwogaBy all accounts, there’s no real reason for the changes made to the SNES port, and we’re unlikely to ever have a clue why these changes were made. Was this an attempt to segue into a more adventure-y sequel? Establish the Joe & Mac extended universe? Play around with the L&R buttons? The world may never know the answer.

Joe & Mac for the Super Nintendo is just different enough from its version brethren to raise a few eyebrows, but not different enough to feel like its own game. And the reasons for that are lost to prehistory…

FGC #414 Joe & Mac

  • System: Joe & Mac get around. Let’s say the arcade version is the start, and then we’ve got Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Nintendo Entertainment System, DOS, and the Amiga for some reason. All that, and I don’t think it has returned in modern times for any sort of Virtual Console.
  • Number of players: Joe and Mac. And, depending on the version and mode, you can clobber your buddy into submission while fighting your opponents.
  • Favorite Weapon: The wheel revolutionized human transportation, and it was a fine way to whack a pterodactyl.
  • Favorite Boss: There’s this gray, water based dinosaur that rules over the waterfall/river stage. It’s not that remarkable, but it’s doing that 16-bit thing where its neck is a series of disconnected circles. For some reason, I always find that endearing.
  • RollyDid you know? During two player games, a gauge will appear to track which character has clubbed the boss the most. The winner earns a kiss from a cave babe, and the loser has to sit back and watch his pal get the girl. This is sexist and stupid and the cause of way too many fights when I was playing this game with friends when I was ten.
  • Would I play again: Like any beat ‘em up-alike, Joe & Mac is pretty fun when you have a playmate in the area. And I inexplicably have fond memories of this title, so it’s probably going to get played again. Now, which version to play…

What’s next? We’re closing out 16-Bit Cavemen Week with the sequel to Joe & Mac! No, not Joe & Mac 2. That would be silly. I’m thinking something a little more… caper-y. Please look forward to it!

FGC #113 Karnov

Just, like lightningI’ve always had a soft spot for Karnov. Like a handful of other NES games, Karnov was a cartridge I returned to time and time again when I was a kid, and, unlike games I played basically because they were there (like Fester’s Quest or Friday the Thirteenth), I genuinely enjoyed playing Karnov.

I also barely ever got past the second level.

I’ve examined this phenomenon before, but when you’re a child, you assume there’s something wrong with you, not the game, and it must be your own immature skills that are causing the problem. Mr. Sandman isn’t impossible, you’re just bad at this. Your friend’s older brother beat him, he said so, and you could do it too, if you tried. I want to say it’s a side effect of a child’s natural belief in authority (it must be right, Mom/Nintendo said it), but whatever the source, the end result is an almost innate belief that there are no bad games, just bad players.

But, sorry folks, Karnov is a bad game.

For the benefit of my younger self (who, I guess, I’m assuming has the ability to peruse the internet through some kind of time tunnel), I will now list everything that is objectively wrong with Karnov.

It’s Mega Man with Super Mario Bros HP

Number one issue by a long shot: this is an arcade “quarter killer” (ala Contra) ported with the tiniest of concessions for the couch. Karnov is a stocky Russian fellow with the ability to shoot fire from his maw (for some reason), and you’re responsible for guiding this intrepid fellow on a quest for booty and maybe a shirt. In the arcade, you’re collecting the torn scraps of a treasure map, and, after the finale, Karnov will be rewarded with a McDuckian pile of Hate those guysgold. The NES version stripped out all traces of plot, so now it’s just Karnov mowing down monsters in pursuit of… a congratulations screen. And it’s one that you will never see, because Karnov is dead within two hits.

Yes, Karnov is extremely fragile, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as his arcade twin couldn’t even sustain that much damage: you lost a life (7.5 cents) after a single blow. I can almost forgive an arcade game getting greedy for change, but it translates very poorly to a home port. Mega Man? There’s a robot that can take a hit, and Karnov’s gameplay is a lot closer to that of the Blue Bomber than Super Mario. And it really doesn’t help that…

Enemy spawns seem completely random

Now I’m sure this point could be disproven by cracking open the rom and checking the base code for Karnov’s adventure, but even with 25 years of experience with the game, I still wouldn’t be able to tell you what makes some enemies appear in particular areas. Just within the first level, there are a few dragon-birds and rock monsters that are entirely consistent, but then an army of scimitar wielding thugs appear out of nowhere to surround Karnov completely arbitrarily. I have no idea what triggers this deluge of monsters, and it doesn’t get better when highly mobile “cloud creatures” pop out of the woodwork on the next screen. It only gets worse in the following level, where a shining, golden alien appears to almost certainly slay your hero… or Goldie sits this one out, and Karnov saunters by completely unmolested. I have no idea what causes either situation, but one is completely fatal, while the other just boring.

Hate this guyThis is, ultimately, why Karnov’s limited health is such an issue: with monsters (some of them dramatically overpowered) materializing haphazardly (and sometimes right on top of our hero), you barely have a chance to react to an encroaching threat. And after abandoning a bald corpse and returning to the scene of the homicide… that enemy isn’t coming back. You’re ready to dodge, but, no, nothing. And then an arbitrary rock monster poofs out and you’re dead again. And then your third life is lost because the first monster decided to return. The joy of death!

Contra was fine with its limited health, because the enemies’ rules were well established, and it was possible to anticipate and avoid danger. Karnov can’t be consistent for ten seconds. Actually, I take that back, there’s one place where Karnov is maddeningly consistent…

All of the bosses are exactly the same

The boss of Level One is a green fish creature that advances and shoots a storm of bullets. Boss #2 is a… I don’t know… dog walker that advances and shoots a storm of bullets. Then we’ve got a T-Rex that advances and shoots a storm of bullets, a centipede woman that advances and shoots a storm of bullets, and then King Maybe it's a lion?Ghidorah, who advances and shoots a storm of bullets. Sometimes the same boss is reused between a pair of levels, not that you have any hope of noticing a difference.

The challenge here, of course, is that you have to rapidly spew fireballs while dodging every blast from the boss du jour like it’s friggen Gradius. Do it quick, or the monster will be right on top of you, and then it’s time to repeat half the stage over again! Woohee!

Oh, but don’t think that repeating the stage is going to do you any favors preparing for its finale, because…

Powerups are terrible

There is one worthwhile powerup in this game, and it’s the little red ball that either restores your health or expands your firepower. That’s about it. Despite this immediately apparent fact, there’s an entire inventory of powerups available to Karnov, and they all range from “too limited to ever be useful” or “required for one particular purpose”.

Let’s see here: in the “too limited” column we have items like the speed shoes, which will increase your walking/jumping abilities for a limited time. This is great!… except you’re very unlikely to get any enjoyment out of accidently careening into the nearest enemy at high speed. There’s a boomerang that does massive damage!… but they’re generally far too hidden to ever be reliably useful. And a Hate hershield! That should help against the bullet-hell bosses! Oh, no, wait, the shield only blocks Karnov’s torso, so do your best to duck and jump every fireball that isn’t aimed at one particular spot.

And then there’s the “required” powerups. There’s a reusable ladder that you obtain early in the game, and it’s the only way out of a few traps or over expansive pits. There’s a mask that allows Karnov to see hidden powerups, but by the very nature of hidden powerups, there’s rarely a clear indicator as to where it might be useful to use your (limited) masks. And bombs are terrible offensively, and appear to exist only to blow a few holes through like two walls in the entire game.

The wings might be outright most useful powerup in any 2-D game. While their time is limited, using the wings allows Karnov absolute, unfettered flight around any given stage, which is a boon not only to his mobility, but also his dodging prowess. Unfortunately…

Without the right powerup, you can get stuck forever

Stage 8 appears to be some sort of “city in the sky”, and if you didn’t have the foresight to bring a pair of wings, you’re done. Jump as far as you can, you won’t reach anything but a bottomless pit. Made it all the way to Level 8, but didn’t bring the right gear? You’re done. Brought your wings, but lose ‘em to an overzealous monster? You’re done. Continue? Sorry, you don’t get to keep your items after a game over, so you’re done.

Flying right alongLevel 8 is the most obvious example, but there are a number of lesser areas that require bombs or a ladder and, don’t have what you need? May as well just sit and wait for the timer to kill you, because you’re not going anywhere. Boobeam Trap has nothing on this game.

This all adds up to a game that is, from a design standpoint, objectively bad. Karnov makes mistake after mistake, and doesn’t ever seem to offer a play experience that warrants trying to overcome its many shortcomings.

Which is a shame, really. Karnov has an interesting, unique Central Asian (like Russia and Middle East) theme, appealing music, and an unusual, endearing protagonist. Perhaps with some kind of health bar hack, a “pause menu” to select powerups (oh yes, I forgot to mention that the mere act of selecting an item from your inventory is likely to get you killed), and a greater variety of bosses, Karnov could actually be a great game. “Super Karnov” could have been a wonderful 16-bit reimagining of the concept, but, alas, Karnov never again scored a solo mission.

Maybe it’s just as well. I just got past the second level of his first adventure.

FGC #113 Karnov

  • System: NES is what I’ll always think of, but the arcade game is pretty similar. Come to think of it, the arcade version has graphics that I would describe as “very Genesis”.
  • Number of players: There can be only one Karnov.
  • Does this make any sense?Just play the gig, man: I will say that the main (only?) theme of Karnov is something that has been stuck in my head forever. Oddly, when I try to recall Tetris’s Type A theme, sometimes this one pops into my mental playlist.
  • Karnov through the ages: Karnov was apparently Data East’s mascot, so he popped up in a lot of other games, generally as an enemy. We already covered Fighter’s History some time ago, so let us reflect on Bad Dudes. Karnov fought against the eponymous Bad Dudes. Does that make Karnov a Good Dude?
  • Special K: Oh, and Karnov collects a bunch of K boxes. Can’t he grab something a little more innovative, like a bunch of tiny Karnov heads?
  • Did you know? There’s a “code” that involves the second controller that allows you to… instantly kill Karnov. I can only imagine this “cheat” was inserted into the game because the development team found a number of places where “wait around to die” was the only option. Good design!
  • Would I play again? I really want to say no! But I know I’ll get that Karnov urge again, and I’ll be right back to Karnoving around.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Jungle Beat for the Nintendo Gamecube! Get your bongos ready! Please look forward to it!

Kinda alright