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FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

ZOOMI don’t know about your experience, but, back in the 90’s, the local arcades had more than a few beat ‘em up mainstays. There was always Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles and/or Turtles in Time. The Simpsons was a staple, and so was X-Men. But once you got past those, there could be anything and everything. Did this arcade have Final Fight? Or a Neo-Geo? Or… what? There were so many beat ‘em ups back in the day, and it’s a damn shame so many have been lost from the annals of time. So, on the occasion of ROB choosing Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (making a choice leftover from our “games preservation is important” featured series), let’s take a look at the 90’s beat ‘em ups that time forgot. After all, in this modern age, these are games that are as classic as cadillacs, but as extinct as dinosaurs.

Ninja Combat

Go ninja goRelease Year: 1990

Length: 0:35

What is it? Good ol’ fashioned ninja violence erupts as a pair of ninja have to fight evil ninja in a ninja fortress that has appeared in Ninja York City. Joe and Hayabusa (no relation to other, better-known ninja) are against the world, and all they have to help them is infinity shurikens and the occasional ninja scroll (no relation to other, better-known ninja scrolls).

What’s the hook? Actually, they’re not completely alone. The duo are joined by three other allies that start as enemies, and, as the stages progress, you can select different characters with different abilities. So you actually earn skills as you progress in a beat ‘em up! That’s neat! Other than that, it’s a pretty traditional beat ‘em up featuring terrible walk animations and a main attack that has slightly better range than Cody’s fists.

How is the cast? The original dummies are useless, and should be banished to World Heroes. Then you get a dude that dual-wields swords, and you never have to deal with those nitwits again. You also eventually have the choice of an overly muscled bruiser that punches swords for fun, and a woman that is just straight-up a rejected 80’s She-Ra character. She can summon butterflies, apparently. I’m pretty sure her name is Butter-Beater or something.

Best Boss? A mecha dinosaur-man starts a fight by tackling an entire train, and the battle ends when you decapitate the sucker. That’s 30% more radical than anything that happens in most beat ‘em ups.

What’s that on the ground? You’re in New York City, so American food abounds. Grab a burger or two if you need some health.

Anything else? There are a number of opponents that look like klansmen. Punch them extra hard.

Is it worth a quarter? This is an extremely janky game, but it’s not without its merits. As a title that came out in… 1990? What? I thought this was, like, something from 1986. What the hell? Dude, SNK/Alpha Denshi should have known better by this point. I take it back, play anything other than Ninja Combat. You can summon a fire dragon better in other games.

Growl / Runark

GROWL!Release Year: 1991

Length: 0:35

What is it? Nefarious poachers are capturing local animals, so it’s your job to get out there and rescue ‘em all! Save elephants, birds, and at least two guerillas by punching every ever-loving thing you can see. And if you happen to find a weapon, you can whip ‘em, and whip ‘em good.

What’s the hook? This is pulpy as hell, so if you like Indiana Jones or Doc Savage, you’ll be right at home. Additionally, some animals wind up helping during the battle, so it’s nice to play at least one old school game where birds aren’t your mortal enemy. But if Growl does one thing well, it’s mobs. There are so many opponents on the screen at one time that you’ll have to invite three buddies to come along for some poachin’ punchin’. And Growl is equal opportunity! There are women in business suits with grenades, so don’t feel bad about inviting some gals to the party.

How is the cast? There are four possible characters, but, visually, it’s two sets of twins. Though they do all have different stats! … Which also kind of sucks, as “health” is a stat, and why are you going to take a gamble on dying faster in a game that literally charges you more the more you die? That’s just not cool, Growl!

Best Boss? About halfway through the game, you must fight an army of classy, chubby dudes in fezzes. Now, I’m not saying that this finally simulates what it would be like to face an army consisting entirely of evil clones of Sallah, John Rhys-Davies’s character from Indiana Jones, but it is certainly similar to that situation straight from our wildest dreams.

What’s that on the ground? The Sega Genesis port provided health powerups (apples, incidentally), but the original arcade version only offers weapons. Grenades, guns, and daggers are all available for your fighting pleasure. Oh, and be careful with that dynamite, opponents literally explode in this universe, and you don’t want to get too many human remains on your unbuttoned shirt.

Anything else? There is exactly one, seemingly random platforming section inside of a volcano. Other than that and one bonus stage that involves punching boxes, this is all violence against your fellow man.

Is it worth a quarter? Oh, I completely forgot to mention the dude with lit dynamite strapped to his chest that throws tanks around. He seemed kind of important. Whatever! This is a fun beat ‘em up, and offers no lack of people to beat up. Give or take how easily your character can be hit-stunned (which is why you bring a buddy!), this is a great time for all, and particularly enjoyable if you’re interested in finding out the greatest secret behind poaching (spoilers: all poachers are led by an evil butler that is being mind-controlled by an alien worm. Now you know!).

Eight Man

Eat it, SevenRelease Year: 1991

Length: 0:30

What is it? Eight Man, Kazumasa Hirai’s 1963 manga, is widely regarded as the origin of super cyborg heroics in Japanese culture. In much the same way that Superman got a weird, quasi-beat ‘em up in the arcades in 1988, Eight Man earned his time to shine in 1991. It was exactly as weird as Superman’s adventure.

What’s the hook? This is another beat ‘em up that tows the line between outright beatin’ and 2-D platforming. There are bottomless pits abound, and you’re constrained to the one dimension. That said, for being that weird kind of in-between experience, it’s pretty good. There may be an overreliance on stages that take place while running, though. They’re all the exact same stage! And they happen way too often!

How is the cast? Eight and Nine are just color swaps, so nothing interesting there. I suppose it should be noted that Nine is his own distinct person in the manga, but here he’s just Super Mario Bros. 3 Luigi. Let the second player have his own personality!

Best Boss? Just like R-Type, there is one stage that is entirely given to some giant floating fortress thingy. Unlike R-Type, you’re just a little dude, so it’s a little more difficult to punch a plane into submission. But you can do it! If you try!

What’s that on the ground? No food for Eight Man, but you can grab some capsules out of the sky for additional energy. It’s very Contra. And if you score enough Eight Energy, you’ll be an explosive ball of invincible energy. Nothing like mowing down every evil robot in town.

Anything else? Apparently everyone in this world subsists on a steady diet of gasoline, so absolutely everything is about as volatile as a hummingbird sipping on nitrous. Sometimes sharks explode.

Is it worth a quarter? Everybody should fight an angry, biologically engineered dog at least once, right? It’s not the best beat ‘em up out there (or maybe even a beat ‘em up at all, depending on your criteria), but it does continually convey a feeling of “action”, so it should get your adrenaline pumping. If you feel like being a super-powered cyborg man, you could do much worse.

Pu•Li•Ru•La

Release Year: 1991

Length: 0:25

What is it? It’s a beat ‘em up of a different color. This whole game looks like a Ghibli film (albeit one possible on 90’s arcade hardware), and the plot is a little unusual for the genre. A boy and a girl are given magic wands to rescue the concept of time from a time-guard that has accidentally transformed into a malevolent clown. This ain’t Metro City! The majority of your opponents are also animals that have been transformed, so whacking them into submission also leads to a surprising amount of platypuses running around the screen.

What’s the hook? Look at this nonsense! There’s an entire stage that exists in a living dream, and it’s crowded with photo-realistic giant people. All of Radishland is a fever dream of colors and animations, and you’d be hard pressed to find another beat ‘em up with such a creative look. Bart Simpson never had to deal with being licked to death.

How is the cast? Unfortunately, for all the creativity on display, the actual playable characters are rather dull. You’ve got boy, who is occasionally surly in dialogue, and girl, who seems to be the responsible “big sister” type. Apparently their names are Zac and Mel? It doesn’t matter, though, as they’re just Mario & Luigi and little more than combat delivery devices.

Best Boss? Disappointingly, the ridiculous dream stage ends with a Kabuki Quantum Fighter boss, and not some manner of photo-realistic cow or whatever. However, the previous level involves some kind of Tengu-Face-Woman monster with an incredibly phallic nose, so that’s going to be my pick. Incidentally, there’s another boss with what seems to be a bladed-codpiece, so I don’t think that nose flopping around is an accident.

What’s that on the ground? There aren’t traditional food pickups in PLRL, but there are bikinis scattered about that, when whacked with a magical wand, summon faeries. They may restore health or magic. Oh yeah. Did I mention the magic yet? These are essentially Golden Axe-style magic spells, but instead of summoning a blazing dragon, you wind up with a stampede of dogs, or a giant microwave. That is a good trade-off for never finding floor meat.

Anything else? The American/International version is censored. The original involves an area featuring giant lady legs, and a door between them that releases pink elephants. This may or may not be a metaphor.

Is it worth a quarter? You could get a lot out of Pu•Li•Ru•La just by watching its attract screen, but it is worth a play to “see what happens next” at least once. And you get to save woodland creatures! That’s always worked for Sonic the Hedgehog.

Metamorphic Force

BEAST MODERelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:40

What is it? This is practically a license-less version of Konami’s own X-Men arcade game, but, since those mighty mutants set the standard for super powers, somebody had to figure out an alternative. How about the same gameplay, but now you’re a werewolf? Does that work for everybody?

What’s the hook? Obviously, we’re pulling a page from Altered Beast, and each of the fighters can transform into anthropomorphic animals on the regular. Naturally, this means you have to fight an army of lizard creatures (and the occasional oni), and the final boss is going to be Trogdor the Dragon Man. It’s a furry convention. That’s the hook.

How is the cast? In what may or may not be an allusion to Captain Planet, four generally fit dudes have been chosen from across the globe to channel the spirits of ancient animal warriors. The French Claude attacks with a rapier and can become a wolfman. Ban is a Japanese martial artist that may be a bull. Max appears to be the American boxer that can transform into a panther. And the best is Ivan, who is supposed to be Russian, but is clearly Canadian. He’s wearing flannel and attacking with a recently cut log! … Or maybe I imagined the flannel. He’s still got the log, though! And he can transform into a bear, which, given the beard, seems redundant.

Best Boss? An entire stage is given over to the She-Devil that is decked out in some manner of 90’s swimsuit, but the more worthy boss is the Optimus Prime-looking robot man that lives in the Moai ruins. Granted, he’s probably just a rejected design for Nimrod from the X-Men game, but it’s nice to have something metal to punch in a game full of scaly dudes.

What’s that on the ground? There is one hidden prime rib in this game, but otherwise, you’re stuck with chalices that reward health and/or animal energy. And when these powerups don’t explode out of defeated bosses, they’re generally found by pummeling Golden Axe-esque gnomes… or at least some dude running around with a giant bag. That is marginally more interesting than an army of barrels (also available).

Anything else? You’ve got Gauntlet-style health, so it’s a numeral, and it’s constantly decreasing, regardless of your own skill level. This is a quarter killer down to the bone.

Is it worth a quarter? It turns out X-Men might not be that fun without the X-Men! Metamorphic Force has an interesting style, but the fact that you can’t always be in beast mode really detracts from the experience. Whenever you’ve been beaten down into human form, everything takes far too long to die, and you’re mostly just idling, waiting for that powerup gnome to waddle on over. And nobody likes to kill time in a beat ‘em up! That said, the graphics are memorable, the vaguely Grecian setting is distinct, and you’d be hard pressed to find another game that offers more lizard punching.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Further go ninjaRelease Year: 1993

Length: 1:00

What is it? The Baseball Hall of Fame has been ransacked, and you control one of four sentai/robot baseball people. They vaguely resemble what would happen if Mega Man had to fight a series of Robot Masters all based on Strike Man. But the nonsensical plot is nothing next to the bright, colorful visuals and general sense of humor throughout this universe.

What’s the hook? It’s a beat ‘em up from Irem, so this doesn’t come from the Capcom/Konami pedigree. But is it any good? Oh my yes. This game deserves to steal X-Men’s spot in the arcade! If the game wasn’t impregnably Japanese, this would have probably been a gigantic hit stateside. In a world that didn’t need another overly dour beat ‘em up, Ninja Baseball Bat Man goes all in on being “fun”, and it wholly succeeds.

How is the cast? Another “everybody gets a specific skill” situation. Captain Jose (Red) is balanced, Twinbats Ryno (Green) dualwields (baseball bats) with incredible speed, Beanball Roger (Yellow) is heavy and powerful, and Stick Straw (Blue) has significant reach. Also, unlike a certain group of turtles, these brothers all have distinct body types and sizes. Straw (“Daaaaarryl”) is the best, not because of his long range, but because he has the classiest walking animation.

Best Boss? The finale is the evil baseball commissioner wearing a golden statue of Babe Ruth that has been partially transformed into a giant robot. Coincidentally enough, that antagonist also appears during the finale of The Grapes of Wrath.

What’s that on the ground? Pizza and various baseball foods are available. You can also summon a troop of cheerleaders that may damage your opponents, or leave additional food. No matter what happens, they will make you feel better about your quest to stamp out a bunch of murderous baseball robots.

Anything else? This was apparently an attempt by Irem to appeal to Americans. We like baseball, right? And sentai heroes fighting tanookis? That sounds American!

Is it worth a quarter? Do I need to repeat the bit about the Babe Ruth statue again? Because I will if I have to.

Monster Maulers

MonstrousRelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:30

What is it? Choose one of three sentai-esque heroes, and repel a monster invasion across the globe. There are special moves, a malevolent/medium-sexy centaur, and ultimate villains that are basically the
Doronbo Gang. Haven’t you always wanted to punch them? Now you can!

What’s the hook? Truth be told, this is mostly an asymmetrical fighting game. The various monsters across the globe could be interpreted as a series of “bosses” that are missing their usual mooks, but this still controls like a fighting game, complete with fireball motions. That said, the last levels finally offer some generic guys in the form of regular-sized robots, so Monster Maulers is going on this list. Consider this the lost bridge between the gameplay of Final Fight and Street Fighter 2, as remixed by Konami (and maybe Yatterman).

How is the cast? Your sentai heroes du jour are generic guy, generic girl, and super wrestler prime. Eagle, the man with the muscles, offers the opportunity to piledrive a floating brain, so he’s clearly the best pick. But Kotetsu and Anne are both very distinctive, and you can probably have fun with them while pummeling intermittently gross collections of sentient organs. After all, somebody has to choose Ryu every once in a while.

Best Boss? Fungus/Slime is a… slime. It morphs through a variety of forms, though, so it’s a little more interesting than your typical Dragon Quest opponent. Just try not to get absorbed into its membrane. It is going to take, like, seventeen bottles of shampoo to cure that condition.

What’s that on the ground? Monster Maulers is unfortunately too close to a fighting game to include powerups. Sorry!

Anything else? The best way to beat the multi-headed Dragon is to get up on the hydra’s back.

Is it worth a quarter? This is a very unique game (for the 90’s), so it’s worth giving it a go at least once. The bosses are interesting, the graphic design is eclectic, and the ending involves a surprising amount of man butt. And it’s a Konami game, so you know you’ll get to pummel a Moai head. What’s not to like?

Violent Storm

Too violentRelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:45

What is it? In a post-apocalyptic future, three buds must battle through a street gang of mutants and cyborgs in an effort to rescue their friend that is also a girl. It’s basically Double Dragon… which itself was biting hard on Fight of the North Star, but there is an important difference here…

What’s the hook? Violent Storm is arguably a parody of Double Dragon, as it certainly leans hard into its own madcap humor. What’s funnier than physical violence? More beat ‘em ups should be this amusing! Regardless, “Dabel” busting through a wall is clearly not Abobo, so stop trying to claim this game is plagiarism. Parody is fair use!

How is the cast? Wade, Boris, and Kyle are all very distinct with their own special moves and preferences for radio stations. They absolutely do not have any idea how to dress, but they’re excellent martial artists, and Kyle even went the extra mile and stole Chun-Li’s lightning kick. He’s the winner, but all of the boys “feel” fun to use, so you can’t go wrong with this trio.

Best Boss? It’s hard to choose! Perusing the final stage’s museum for portraits of the bosses, you’re reminded of the likes of Drigger the wrestler that looks like he was beamed out of Conan the Barbarian, or Sledge, who may or may not be trying (and failing) to cosplay as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. But I’m going to go with Doyle, the boss of the factory stage, who apparently attempted to load himself into Power Loader, but only got halfway through, so he’s merely equipped with fork arms and a jetpack. He tried!

What’s that on the ground? There is food all over the place. There’s even a woman in the background of one stage eating what is clearly a pizza powerup, but she won’t share. Hand that over, lady, I’m trying to rescue people here.

Anything else? The music is Splatoon-y as hell. Not coincidentally, this might be the one game on this list that really makes me want to find the soundtrack.

Is it worth a quarter? Yes. God yes. Maybe this is just because I play a lot of beat ‘em ups, but it is a breath of fresh air to play one that doesn’t take itself absurdly seriously. This is a genre about punching the same dudes over and over again in remotely different configurations. You need to be able to have fun with that, every other beat ‘em up producer of the 90’s! Are you listening to me?!

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs!Release Year: 1993

Length: 1:00

What is it? Based on the animated series of the same name (itself based on a comic), this is a Capcom beat ‘em up very much in the vein of Final Fight. In fact, the general gameplay feels exactly the same, the graphics for the map are very similar, and some of the generic mooks are all but exact copies of their Metro City cousins. But Final Fight didn’t feature any dinosaurs, now did it? Also, Blanka of Street Fighter is a guest opponent (under the alias “Bludge”), and he’s always a good time.

What’s the hook? Aside from dinosaurs that must be “protected” lest they become rampaging monsters, the hook here is that you get to drive a Cadillac and mow down baddies for exactly one level. Other than that, the best you can hope for is the occasional lizard man to break up the monotony.

How is the cast? This one takes a page from Alien vs. Predator and makes the characters distinct through their proficiencies. Jack is balanced, Hannah uses items (re: guns) effectively, Mustapha is quick, and Mess is the bruiser. Mess completely wrecks house, and his only downside is an impossibly stupid name.

Best Boss? One stage features a parasite monster that leaps from generic guy to generic guy creating new dinosaur-mutants. This bug creates an unusual amount of tension, as it’s hard to tell when and if it will ever be defeated, as it continually finds new and bigger hosts. That’s a pretty good trick for a game in a genre that traditionally betrays pressure with life bars.

What’s that on the ground? This is a Capcom beat ‘em up, so a whole variety of different food items are available. There are also guns and rocket launchers that will literally blast your opponents into meaty pieces. Please do not eat the chunks.

Anything else? The final boss is a two headed tyrannosaurus man with a scientist stuck in his chest. That leaves an impression.

Is it worth a quarter? It might be a Final Fight clone with guns, but Final Fight is one of the best, so it’s pretty damn fun. Like every beat ‘em up on this list, it’s easy to enjoy your time with Cadillacs and dinosaurs.

FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

  • The living endSystem: Arcade only, guys. Maybe one day we’ll see some kind of home version. Maybe something that inexplicably also includes every other game on this list? You can use my name if you want, developers!
  • Number of players: The rare three-player option. It would be four, but somebody has to drive the caddy.
  • Favorite Weapon: You get a free rocket launcher every time you have to continue. This allows you to absolutely obliterate your opponents, and I see no problem with that. Rockets are surely worth a quarter.
  • It Stinks: The official, canon explanation for how cars run in the future of CaD is that all vehicles have been modified to be fueled by dinosaur dung. Crapillacs from Dinosaurs.
  • For the Sequel: Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm for the Sega CD is more of a shoot ‘em up than a beat ‘em up. It also bombed miserably, which is probably why we never saw a home port of the arcade game. Elon Musk was also a credited programmer on that project, which cannot be good for anybody.
  • Did you know? Cadillacs and Dinosaurs is based on the comic Xenozoic Tales. XT was published from 1987 to 1996 by Kitchen Sink Press, and offers… 14 issues. Man, Spider-Man stars in that many comic books in like a week! Whatever, at least it was popular enough to spawn a videogame and a candy bar.
  • Would I play again: Why not? It’s a fun little beat ‘em up, and those can be an excellent way to relax. The fact that dinosaurs are involved in this title is just gravy.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors 2! Wizards are moderately scary, so that’s an allowed pick for October. … Even if I hate the damn game. Please look forward to it!

FGC #499 Ballz

BALLZ!In the early 90s (practically the infancy of gaming as we know it) there was a tremendous controversy over videogames, sex, and violence. There were concerns that, since videogames had progressed past being red dot versus blue dot and now featured tremendously less abstract decapitations, videogames were profane and poisoning the poor kiddies playing them, and, please, won’t someone do something to protect us all? In a move that certainly wasn’t just a shortcut to placating the masses, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was founded in 1994. It was thus to be the job of the ESRB to rate games according to their content, and clearly label every release with information denoting it as “E for Everybody” to “M for Mature”. However, a year earlier, Sega of America introduced the Videogame Rating Council, a slightly more primitive version of the ESRB that had much the same goal (pacifying Karen). In this case, we had three ratings: GA for general audiences, and two version of MA (mature audiences) with two different ages: 13 and 17. Games that earned a MA-17 rating included Lethal Enforcers and Mortal Kombat 2, while MA-13 went to the likes of Super Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat (1), and Lunar: The Silver Star Story.

And Ballz. Ballz is for mature 13-year olds only.

In a lot of ways, Ballz was improbably ahead of its time. For one thing, it’s a 3-D fighting game released about seven seconds before the era where that was the only fighting game style available. Shortly before the release of Tekken or Battle Arena Toshinden, here was a fighter taking place on a “real” 3-D plane where you could just as easily side-step around a fireball as jump. There are even techniques involved here that would become standard within the genre, like dodge rolling away from a fallen position, or grappling with an opponent in a manner that is impossible (or at least boring) in 2-D titles. And there are some systems that never caught on that could be very interesting in the right hands. Every character can morph into every other character. Could you imagine that in a more robust fighting game engine? You’re fighting the entire roster at once every time! High level play in such an environment could be amazing! Counter pick after counter pick until the timer runs out!

Bad dino!But one feature that was certainly adopted by Ballz’s fighting game descendants is the overt bombast of a seemingly average fight. The fighting game genre has always been “loud”, and anyone that spent ten seconds in an arcade in the early 90s could tell you exactly how many sonic booms were tossed by Guile in an afternoon (the answer is infinity plus one). But, as fighting games evolved in graphics, they too evolved in piercing presentation. Possibly as a result of copying real-world, “real” sports, fighting games went on to adopt cinematic staging by standardizing features like replays, wrestling-esque taunts, and announcers. As a result, the average fighting game nowadays is chattier than your average JRPG, and we’re never allowed to forget that the soul still burns. Whether or not this makes things better is up to the player, but it’s pretty clear that if you play a Japanese fighting game, and it doesn’t have seven different settings for “announcer”, toss on your hazmat suit, because you’re handling toxic garbage.

Ballz has its own announcer. Its announcer is just a little more… silent than the modern incarnations.

Ballz’s designers knew the game had to drip attitude, and that that wasn’t going to be properly conveyed by a simple fight between a ballerina and a rhino. No, they needed something more. Silent protagonists were not going to cut it, and primitive 16-bit cartridges weren’t going to support the literary magnum opus required of Ballz. What Ballz needed was special. Ballz needed a damn Jumbotron ™. Ballz decided to screw subtlety to the sticking-place, and just ram a gigantic television screen into the background. Maybe even a couple! And this screen could display taunts, announcements, and a comprehensive running fight commentary in the background. So, during each and every fight, you’ve got a background that is expounding such complicated thoughts as “administer smackies” while a few lesser screens display what appears to be an animated GIF of fireworks before displaying the game’s logo. Is it distracting? Of course! But does it convey exactly what Ballz is all about? Also yes! While it is always confusing who the hell is “talking” through the Get 'emvarious screens (some are clearly statements by the combatants, but there seems to be an omniscient “narrator” somewhere in there, too. And then there’s some random malcontent that really wants you to “taunt the ostrich”…), all of the statements stick to the basic theme and attitude of Ballz. It’s irreverent! It’s anti-establishment! In a world of sober Fatalities and Cinekills, Ballz is juvenile and insolent. Ryu is seriously trying to test his serious skills in a very serious tournament, but Yoko the Ballz Monkey is seriously going to fart in his face. This whole game is a synonym for testicles! Get it!?

And it is for this reason that I must compliment the Videogame Rating Council on a job well done.

Initially, it seemed ridiculous that this title would be rated MA-13. It’s silly! It’s a “violent” videogame, but all the characters are made of multi-colored balls. They are barely human shaped, and the idea that this title could be taken seriously in any legitimate way seems as ridiculous as a sumo wrestler tackling a kangaroo (which, to be clear, can happen in Ballz). Ballz being rated MA-13 literally puts it on the same level as the infamous Mortal Kombat, and, unless there’s some missable stage hidden around here, there is absolutely no one that has their still-beating heart ripped out of their ribs. Mortal Kombat defined videogame violence for an entire generation, while Ballz is roughly as vicious as the Pixar logo. Did you see what that desk lamp did to that letter? I am amazed children are allowed to view such a thing.

But Ballz does warrant its rating. Not because it is a violent videogame, but because only a thirteen year old would enjoy this. Ballz has a tone that matches the way a young teenager farts in the general direction of authority. This isn’t high satire, this is a game precisely designed for someone that is just mature enough to be thirteen.

BUTT STUFF

And everybody behind Ballz knew it.

So thank you, gentle members of the Videogame Rating Council in 1994, for knowing that, too. You truly thought of the children.

FGC #499 Ballz

  • System: Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo initially, and then a “director’s cut” for the 3DO. There’s a system seller!
  • Number of players: Two fighters comprised of ever so many balls.
  • This sucksPort differences: This game was very obviously designed for the Sega Genesis (the three button control scheme gives it away), but it looks so much better on the SNES. However, Nintendo did not have its own ratings board, and demanded that Ballz remove its more risqué elements. There’s no almost naked butt to be found on the SNES version, and instead of starting with “you gotta have… Ballz!” the intro reads “you’ve got to play… Ballz!” One little change makes all the difference, apparently.
  • Favorite Fighter: Crusher the Rhino-Man is exactly the kind of Spider-Man villain that I want to see appear in more games.
  • Favorite Boss: There are five separate bosses randomly sprinkled across the single player campaign. The first three are all animals, and obviously follow the traditional threat graduation schema of ostrich -> kangaroo -> tyrannosaurus. From there, you’ve got an opponent that is a blue genie that transforms into other animals, but is not actually an animal. And then the final boss is a murder clown.
  • So there’s a clown factor? Boomer the circus clown is a regular fighter, and The Jester is the final boss, organizer of this tournament, and theoretical announcer. That’s two scary clowns in one game! There should be a videogame council that exists to protect children from that.
  • Did you know? Lamprey the Genie is so named because of the general pun on the phrase “Genie’s Lamp”. He has nothing to do with eels. Thank God.
  • Would I play again: Nope. There are so many other fighting game options that are actually, ya know, good. Maybe find me a version of Ballz where everyone doesn’t feel like they’re scooting around on rollerblades, and we’ll talk.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bah. It’s #500. Let’s keep it a surprise. Tune in Friday for something or other. I’m sure it will be nice. Please look forward to it!

Nevermind...

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!