Tag Archives: endless runner

FGC #632 Pac-Land

This is a Pac that is in timeThis article is going to require a little background.

In 1980, Pac-Man was released. By 1984, Pac-Man had spread as Pac-Fever, and the whole of the world (or at least the part of the world that had quarters) was obsessed with the little yellow dude (and his wife, if we are legally allowed to mention her this week). So, for the first time in four years, Pac-Man decided to branch out. After multiple Pac titles that attempted to capitalize on the familiar Pac-Man gameplay (and a seemingly infinite number of “maze likes” that copied Pac-Man’s gameplay wholesale), Pac-Land sauntered onto the scene to try something different. No more would Pac-Man wander around nondescript mazes in an attempt to gobble up dots. No! This puck-man had legs! And a hat! And he was venturing far from home to return a lost fairy to Fairyland (as you do), and gaining flying boots (good thing he has feet now!) for his troubles. No more was Pac-Man obsessed with endless consumption, and the “four” ghosts that had plagued him in the past were now an army with planes, chains, and automobiles. About the only thing here that was 100% pac-gameplay was the beloved power pellet, and even that wound up being more of an “end of the level” bonus than the nigh-always accessible “spinach” of previous pac-titles. Pac-Land was and continues to be a whole new dimension for Pac-Man.

Look at him goBut it was not simply Pac-Man that was revolutionized by Pac-Land. Pac-Land, right there in 1984, practically invented the concept of the endless runner. Where once ol’ Pac-Man could only be credited for normalizing the maze-based gameplay that was the focus of his early adventures, Pac-Land created something that would come to define “mobile titles” for a generation of hardware. The arcade cabinet for Pac-Land had no joystick: there was a jump button, and directional run buttons. You cannot “steer” Pac-Man, you simply control how fast he is going (by repeatedly tapping the run button to go faster), and when Pac-Man jumps. And that’s it! There is little backtracking, there is no permanently turning from danger: there is simply running. Endless running. Once every few stages, you gain an infinite jump, but that is the only real “change” that ever occurs in Pac-Land. This is an endless runner with extremely simple gameplay, and, considering it was released in 1984, it was eerily prescient on a possible future for gaming that would come two decades later.

But creating a genre was not enough for Pac-Land to leave an indelible mark on gaming forever. Shigeru Miyamoto reportedly stated that Pac-Land was an influence on Nintendo games going forward. Do a little research, and you’ll find that Miyamoto was very specific about what Pac-Land influenced. For at least one legendary games designer, Pac-Land was all about this…

This is normal Pac-Land

Or… to be clear…

Now do you get it?

The big thing that influenced Shigeru Miyamoto? The sky of Pac’s Land is blue. In a 1998 interview, Shigeru Miyamoto admitted that he saw Pac-Land as stiff competition for his already successful (but undoubtedly waning) Donkey Kong. And he had a 2-D side scroller already in mind for Jump Man, but Pac-Land had something he had not considered: a world.

Right from the initial release, Pac-Land’s blue skies separated it from the land. When Pac-Land was transported overseas to America, it gained additional details that tied it to the (then new) Pac-Man animated series. But, regardless of version, Pac-Land always had a clear sense of geography and space. Pac-Man starts at his home. Pac-Man ventures through a town, whether that be a pristine village with houses and fire hydrants, or a jumbled mass of seaside walls and water. There is a forest. There is a mountainside. It genuinely feels like there is a lot of land for Pac-Man to cover on his way to Fairyland. And Fairyland looks completely separate from Pac-Man’s world! And then, immediately after visiting this magical grove, Pac-Man ventures back over familiar territory, but with a new, unstoppable super power. The world is the same, Pac-Man is changed, and a simple narrative begins to take shape. And it all traces back to something as simple as the sky being blue.

But no spiniesAnd let’s not underestimate how a “blue sky” led to the success of Super Mario Bros. SMB has amazing gameplay, memorable characters, and a “loop” that lends itself perfectly to gaming in 1985. But that blue sky is what keeps you going. Mario’s first adventure was in a nondescript construction site that could be easily mistaken for a pie factory. Mario’s second journey was through a sewer that was identified by prominent pipes. But Super Mario Bros.? That is an adventure through a world. Mario is saving the Mushroom Kingdom, and everything from bricks to castles to deep oceans tell the player that Mario is making progress through this land. This is a place, this is a country, and it has been conquered by an invading force of turtles and chestnuts. You will venture through every underground area, every cloud-filled sky, to save this place. We’re sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another castle, and that means you are going to the next, separate castle. So there are more castles, Toad?! Aren’t we excited to see more of this world?

Over time, backgrounds became standard in games that did not ever need a sense of place. The whole of the fighting game genre is replete with titles that made the choice between “they are fighting in a large, grassy field” or “they are fighting specifically in front of a busy Chinese street where some dude is selling caged chickens”. While the distinction is not universal, it seems the games that made the latter choice are more likely to be successes. Similarly, JRPGs have come to be defined by their worlds, with “generic dungeons” always paling in comparison to skulking through volcanos, sky fortresses, or ice caverns. Could the likes of Cloud or This sucks so badThe Luminary be content with caves that have nothing more to them than black backgrounds and an assortment of monsters? Theoretically yes, but wouldn’t you rather venture through a dilapidated train yard? The tiniest bit of background adds… background to the proceedings, and that can make all the difference in a narrative that is meant to drive the player and disguise how so many games are simply about making numbers go up.

So, like Shigeru Miyamoto, let us thank the inspirational Pac-Land. With the simple addition of backgrounds, Pac-Man was given a world. And from that world, whole universes have formed.

FGC #632 Pac-Land

  • System: I am not comfortable with all the ways you can play Pac-Land. There was the NES port. The Commodore 64 or Atari ST ports. The TurboGrafx-16 port. It had a Lynx port. And then it wound up on the Playstation, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 as parts of various collections. It was available ala carte on the WiiU. And now it is available on all modern systems thanks to yet another Pac-collection. It… wasn’t on the Super Nintendo, I guess.
  • Number of players: Technically two, put it is alternating.
  • Port-o-Call: Depending on your version or region, you may find a lot of differences between the various Pac-Lands. Does the “rest stop” church have a cross? Is the music playing the same ditty from the Pac-Man animated series? Have Ms. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man been replaced by the nefarious imposters, Pac-Mom and Pac-Sis? Don’t for a moment imagine that time and copyright law have not impacted the gentle denizens of Pac-Land.
  • The keys suckFavorite Level: Anything that does not involve the “broken” ground of the water stages is my favorite. I guess the mountain stages win, then? I like the idea that Pac-Man is going on a happy little hike, and the ghosts just happen to be an omnipresent threat that haunts Pac’s life because of all those crimes he did in the 60’s.
  • For the Sequel: The obvious, direct sequel to Pac-Land is Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. That was another attempt to invent an entirely new genre of pac-gameplay, and… well… Cell phones or not, the whole “marginally control a cartoon character” thing never really caught on. More’s the pity, as Pac-Man 2 is definitely the more revolutionary title, if only because making Pac-Man mad at cows is a gameplay echelon The Last of Us could only ever hope to achieve.
  • Did you know? A lot of Pac-Man’s move set in Smash Bros. is partially or wholly based on actions/obstacles found in Pac-Land. So if you are wondering where he got that jump, MS Paint scrolling background, or the fire hydrant, look no further than Pac-Land. Or don’t, because literally every other Pac-Man game is probably a better choice.
  • Would I play again: This is yet another important title in gaming history that I do not need to play ever again. And I won’t miss it, either! Ms. Pac-Man is right there! Assuming I’m legally allowed to play it this week!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic CD! It’s like regular Sonic the Hedgehog, but with all the power of CD technology! Wow! Please look forward to it!

Goodbye forever!
Happier times…

FGC #592 Muse Dash

Let's DashSo you’ve decided to get into the wonderful world of the videogame rhythm genre. Good for you! Rhythm games are some of the best pickup and play games out there, as they traditionally feature challenges that are exactly one song’s length. No half-hour failure states to be seen in this genre! And the music! Who doesn’t love music? Nobody, that’s who! So everyone should love rhythm games, too!

But, please be aware that there are three distinct kinds of rhythm games. In an effort to help a neophyte understand what has been happening in this genre that has been kicking around for 25 years, please enjoy a quick rundown of the places you’ll see.

The Artisanal Rhythm Game

There were proto-rhythm games practically as long as gaming has existed (anyone remember that bit in Back to the Future? I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet), but many point to PaRappa the Rapper as the true origin of what we consider to be rhythm games. And it makes sense! This was one of the first games released on a CD-based system that could handle something like “real” songs (if there is a library of early PC games weeping in the corner at this statement: good), and, after a slew of games where children wearing their pants backwards demanded that you make their videos, someone had finally figured out a good way to marry music to gameplay. On a superficial level, PaRappa was just pressing prescribed buttons to a preset beat. But on a practical level? Like all artisanal rhythm games, PaRappa was an inimitable experience that left an indelible impression on anyone that dared take driving lessons with a rapping dog.

Take it easyAnd why was PaRappa so unforgettable? Well, quite simply, because it was fun while goddamned everything about it funneled back into “make this more fun”. It was fun to press buttons to the beat. It was fun to be ranked “cool”. It was fun to meet these goofy characters. It was fun to see this unique art style in motion. The music was fun. The graphics were fun. Even seeing a game over screen, complete with PaRappa lamenting how he apparently did not believe hard enough, is fun. Absolutely everything about PaRappa fed back into one incredibly solid presentation, and, while the game was maybe not as long as those “70 hour JRPGs” that were also on the system, every moment you did play was incredible. It was not just about the songs or the lyrics or the characters, it was everything.

PaRappa the Rapper itself had a handful of sequels, and there were a few other games outside of PaRappa’s universe that tried for something similar. Gitaroo-Man immediately springs to mind as one of the luminaries of this era of rhythm games, but there was also the likes of Mad Maestro and Vib-Ribbon. All of these titles were unique not in just their subjects and presentations, but also in that they generally had wildly different ways to interpret “rhythm” as more than merely “press X when I say so”. Um Jammer Lammy and Gitaroo-Man both strummed their guitars in very different ways. And, give or take the classics of Mad Maestro, all of these games had wholly unique soundtracks that had to be good songs and good levels.

Unfortunately, it seems that this kind of presentation was not sustainable. Even at the height of the artisanal rhythm game age, there were only a few Space Channels to tune into. Entirely “artisanal” titles basically required that the games last about as long as your average album (or maybe a 2-disc greatest hits CD set), and, amazing presentation or no, people wanted more content. Pouring piles of resources into a 40 minute experience was never going to be viable, and the only reason we have a modern descendant of this age of rhythm games is that apparently Hatsune Miku is more prodigious than we ever could have imagined. If you want a Gitaroo-esque experience, you basically need to sign on with a Vocaloid. Otherwise, you are probably playing with the rhythm genre that ate artisanal’s lunch…

The Song-based Rhythm Game

Stay classyThis one makes sense, right? You play rhythm games for the music, so why not base the entire game around the music. Drop any unnecessary graphics, give up on even the illusion of a story, make all the characters generic avatars, and pour your entire budget into licensing rights. Maybe invest an extra six bucks in some hunk of plastic vaguely shaped like a musical instrument, and, bingo bongo, you’ve got an award-winning genre. Guitar Hero killed the Gitaroo-Man.

And that may not have been a bad thing.

If we acknowledge that artisanal rhythm titles were unsustainable, then perhaps we should admit that the likes of Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or even Dance Dance Revolution could be an infinite source of games. There is new music being produced every second of every day, and it would not be impossible to adapt every week’s Top 40 to a Rock Band chart. And, looking at a few digital storefronts, I am pretty sure the Rock Band DLC model tried that! And why wouldn’t they? When divorced from the burden of things like varied presentation or any semblance of a plot, you can just sync up your game to the radio and call it a day. Nobody is ever going to complain about more Beatles songs!

And while it may sound harsh to repeatedly insult an entire genre because nobody wanted to dress a teenager up in a winged helmet anymore, let us be clear on one thing: these rhythm games are just as fun as their more intricate forbearers. There is a reason the Guitar Hero controller became a staple of households in the early 21st Century, and you will pry my Taiko: Drum Master drum from my cold, calloused drummin’ hands. Some attempts within this genre did not work particularly well (hello again, DJ Hero), but whether you were rolling out a dance mat or an entire multipiece rock band, the rhythm games that existed to support their song libraries were universally fun. And modern releases in this genre (Taiko drumming is back, baby) remind us that we do not need ridiculous peripherals to have fun. Of course, Just Dance 20XX already knew that…

ShinyBut, as Rock Band gradually faded into memory (and Dance Dance Revolution barely made it out of the 90s), a simple question was posed: could rhythm games get back to being games? Sure, we have all seen people use a DDR mat to beat Final Fantasy 7, but could there be games designed to be videogames and rhythm games? Not quite the rhythm experiences of the artisanal titles, and something that could include a playlist like your typical Guitar Hero? Well…

The Rhythm Game Games

What makes a videogame a videogame? Why is digital solitaire considered some kind of empty diversion, while Triple Triad is lauded as the second coming of Cyber Jesus? How is Tetris the most important videogame of all time, while Candy Crush is exploitative dreck? Because nerds are snobs we have certain expectations about what makes a videogame a videogame. If you want to differentiate Lord of the Rings cosplay from a formal Final Fantasy game, you need a few of those trappings that always work as bullet points on the back of a box. Leveling system? Item management? Crafting? Gimme something, potential videogame, otherwise you will have to wallow in the Minesweeper pit.

Hit itDespite ranking and scores, there is a lot about the Song-based Rhythm Games Collection that does not feel like a videogame. It is just pressing buttons to a rhythm! You could annoy the rest of the freeway and just do that with your FM radio and a car horn! Similarly, while the Artisanal Rhythm Game may have all the progress and “numbers go up” you would expect from seeing Cloud venture forth to murder the guy with the best hair on the planet, the natural limits of the presentation preclude unlimited song variety. If only there were a way to keep a rhythm game visually interesting, include a variety of “systems” to keep the gamers happy, but still keep it simple enough to slot in an entire Top 40 worth of content. And it wouldn’t hurt if there were unlockables for days, too…

The Rhythm Game Games scratch the rhythm and game itches equally. On one hand, you have a game that is simple enough to support an initial pile of songs, and then include DLC tunes that will last until the workers stop building them new ones. On the other hand, you have all sorts of interesting “systems” included, and many of these systems allow you to unlock new songs, styles, and playable characters. Can you do such in other games? Of course! But in a Rhythm Game Game, it actually matters.

Take the title that inspired today’s article: Muse Dash. Muse Dash touts “97 initial popular songs” and “continuous free updates” as of its 2019 launch. Playing this title two years later, I am pretty sure I have discovered it currently includes 9,409 songs… though my math may be a tweak off. It takes a while to scroll through the song menus! And the sheer variety of songs available is important, because you are going to want to play through a lot of songs as Muse Dash allows your “player profile to level up”, and earn a lot of bits and baubles along with every level up. Want to earn all the playable characters? The “playable” assistants? Loading screen images? Marginally animated title screens? Well then you better get to playing through some of those 88,000,000 songs, because you have a lot of trophies to earn!

Look awayActually, referring to all the collectibles in Muse Dash as “trophies” is wildly reductive. Star high school quarterbacks and gamers alike all eventually learn the same truth: trophies are useless. But in Muse Dash, you earn actual gameplay elements. There are multiple characters to unlock (well, technically, there are only three characters, but they have multiple costumes that apparently change said character’s personalities, so same diff), but, more important than the cosmetic changes, every character allows for a different play “style”. One choice allows “excellent” ratings to be more easily attainable, while another continues the combo count regardless of an errant button press. One option even transforms the game into a vertical mode! In much the same way that playing as different characters in a fighting game radically changes the experience, the possibilities in Muse Dash similarly change the game. And that is before we get to the “helper” characters that not only offer different possibilities individually, but may combine with the playable characters in strange, unique, or just plain profitable ways. Think of all the different ways you can combine these choices into a game that is wholly customized for you!

Why, it is almost like there is an entire game in these menus before you play the rhythm game proper. It is a Rhythm Game Game.

This is, of course, nothing new in gaming. The idea that you spend more time outside of battles fiddling in menus in Pokémon or Final Fantasy alike is something that was established well before the turn of the millennium. And, in fact, simulating that “menu play” from Final Fantasy may have accidentally birthed this whole genre in Final Fantasy Theatrhythm. This is all nothing new to gaming at large, but it is new to the rhythm genre that has never really found the same kind of foothold as beat ‘em ups, fighting games, or even rogue-likes. Thanks to games like Muse Dash, people who “like videogames” can like rhythm games!

Or… uh… it looks like the company that made Muse Dash filed for bankruptcy in April?

Looking forward to updating this article with the next, next generation of rhythm games!

FGC #592 Muse Dash

  • Good coloringSystem: Nintendo Switch is where I played it, and this apparently also has a following on mobile devices. … But playing without buttons is not for me. Warioware can go touch itself.
  • Number of players: You could see how split screen could work for this without much effort, but this is definitely one player.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: There does not seem to be a single named male character in this entire game. That’s good! And the first item on the PeroPeroGames webstore is a statue of the Muse Dash heroine in bunny lingerie. That’s bad! The background noise of Muse Dash seems to split its attention between “bubblegum cute” and “these characters are sexy and bouncing” amongst its various menus, but the actual gameplay and general tone leans closer to “cute”.
  • Favorite Song: I would very much like to tell you my favorite song, but… I lost it. There was one in there I really liked! And I should have marked it as a favorite, as now it is lost in the hundreds-strong playlist of Muse Dash. The dangers of always adhering to that “random” button…
  • Favorite Stage: If I have one major complaint about Muse Dash, it’s that it contains a whole seven stages for its billion songs, and of those, approximately 80% seem to utilize the boring “Space Station” area (which looks more like a construction site). That said, the Castle area, filled with ghosts, skeletons, and a succubus, should be the dominant level. Those goofy vampires look so happy!
  • Get 'emDid you know? This game recommends you wear wired headphones on every boot. I have not worn headphones with a gaming system since… the Sega Genesis. What? I usually play in a room by myself! I like a warm sound in the room… Or to be listening to something else.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game to have loaded on my Switch forever. I could see playing a song here or there when I have a few moments between more dedicated playing experiences. … Or when I’m waiting for Smash Bros. to download an update… Whatever! This is a fun gamey game, and I can continue to earn bibs and baubles while playing great songs anytime.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest! It’s time to see if we can reassemble even a single Dracula! Please look forward to it!

Let's go!
Sometimes things can get hectic

FGC #196 Back to the Future

Shouldn't the school and the dance be the same place?Back to the Future, the movie, has surprising origins. For the start of a timeless franchise, BTTF began as simply an idle thought inspired by an old yearbook: “If I knew my parents in high school, what would I think of them? Would I think them nerds? Bullies? … Sluts?” From that simple premise, an ageless trilogy was born, and everything involved (the time travel, the DeLorean, even Doc) was invented to serve a plot that got a teenage boy back to a place where his mom had a different kind of love for her son. It’s easy to forget after trips to the future and the Old West, but the only reason Marty McFly had an adventure at all was to serve a fairly mundane premise (“I bet dad was a nerd!”).

Videogames are forged in much the same fires. I’ve mentioned it before, but some of the greatest games and franchises came from simple concepts like “how about two guys fight” or “here’s an animal that runs fast”. The canon story of the Mega Man franchise involves thousands of years and having to learn the plural of “apocalypse”, and it’s all in the service of explaining why you have to talk to a monkey every time you want to save. The best videogames perfectly integrate their gimmicks with their gameplay and stories, and, sometimes, you get a portal gun out of the deal.

Unfortunately, there are also licensed games. Licensed games, by definition, must properly serve their corporate masters, so, more often than not, you get a big pile of crappy gameplay recklessly duct taped to a movie or book’s original plot. It’s just as rare to see a movie translate well to a videogame as it is to see a videogame transition properly to the big screen. It’s not impossible, but it’s often pretty damn difficult to translate the pacing of a movie to a game where there must be constant “somethings” happening. It can kind of work for an action movie (assuming the action movie features approximately 12,000,000,000 random mooks), but apply that same kind of a thinking to a sci-fi action comedy, and, well, good luck.

NOT FUNSo I don’t envy LJN for having to make a Back to the Future videogame. You could potentially make individual games out of parts of the Back to the Future story, but attempting to tie it all together? Recall that Marty spent an entire day locked in a garage. That is not a good premise for a level! So, while there are a lot of great moments in BTTF, bringing all those moments together in a manner that would be coherent wouldn’t really work for a videogame.

So LJN said, “Hey, screw it, let’s try to cram everything in here anyway.”

It didn’t work out well.

The biggest problem here is that LJN chose to base most of the game on Marty walks around aimlessly. It’s true that, if you really pay attention to BTTF, Marty spends a lot of time just walking between Doc’s place, the high school, and certain modest billboards. Fortunately, not much of the cinematic run time is given over to actually watching Marty walk down suburban 50’s streets while he avoids bees, hula hoops, and conspicuous bowling pins. However, LJN must have loved the idea of Marty on the tough streets of idyllic Hill Valley, because every “world” features at least three stupid segments of, basically, BTTF: The Endless Runner. I’ll give LJN credit for being ahead of its time on this one, but, in a universe that could involve driving a DeLorean, we’re stuck spending 80% of the game hoofing it. Sometimes there’s a skateboard, but the only way that enhances gameplay is by making the stupid game end faster.

NOT FUNLuckily, someone noticed this “gameplay” was about as fun as sitting in a deep fryer, so every few stages are punctuated with another iconic scene from the movie.

And LJN continued to get it wrong.

The first minigame is BTTF Tapper. Marty is at Lou’s Café, and he must repel a fundamental army of bullies with… root beer? As you can probably guess from my glib titling of the area, this bit plays a lot like Midway’s old Tapper game, and the gameplay is simply sliding Marty up and down to properly lob projectiles at approaching malcontents. This is about where every single childhood playthrough ended for Wee Goggle Bob, because you must eliminate, I believe, 20,000 bullies before you’re allowed to proceed. If you fail, you’re forced back to the start of the most recent walking stage, and then, hopefully, you’ll have better luck next time.

This is a weird way to memorialize Lou’s Café in videogame form. You may recall that there is a bully confrontation at Lou’s Café, but the real joy of that scene occurs right outside, when Marty creates a makeshift skateboard, and leaves Biff… in a crappy situation. This thrilling action sequence is ignored so Marty can serve drinks. Huh.

NOT FUNThe next minigame makes a little more sense, but only marginally. I suppose the game had to acknowledge time traveling oedipal complexes eventually, so at “The School”, Marty must attempt to repel the romantic advances of his mother through heart catching. While this could have translated to an X-rated game of Janken, what we wind up with is basically the previous Tapper challenge in reverse. Lorraine Baines produces a series of hearts, and Marty must “block” those hearts by… running straight into them. It is completely unintuitive, and you’re likely to lose a life immediately thanks to the total lack of an explanation beforehand (pop quiz: do you dodge or catch projectiles in every videogame ever made?). However, this challenge is about a million times easier to complete than the Tapper segment, particularly after having completed that gauntlet. Tapper is the Turbo Tunnel of BTTF, Heart Catcher is practically a Kirby game.

But no time for love, Dr. Jones, it’s time for the Under the Sea Dance. Lorraine is finally willing to settle for George, and Marty has to get those cute kids back together through Guitar Hero. I have to give LJN credit here, this primitive rhythm game is pretty alright for its era. You must “catch” music notes to keep the song going and your parents’ libido throbbing, and, if you ROCK OUTunderstand music at all, it’s remarkably easy. Regular notes are always “middle”, flats are always low, and sharps are always high. I can’t speak to how closely the arrangement actually resembles Johnny B Goode, but there are rhythm games even today that have worse interfaces than this ’89 NES game. Good job, LJN, you got one thing right.

Then again, this interpretation of the dance ignores all the other fun stuff that Marty could be doing during this scene, like ducking thugs or helping in a game of Punch-Out with Biff. Still! Good effort! Maybe we can revisit this scene in the sequel (whoops, nope).

And then, finally, we have Marty trying to make his way back to the future. It’s the night of the big thunderstorm, and (finally!) we’re behind the wheel of the DeLorean. It’s time to drive home! And… it sucks.

WINNERThe gameplay here is theoretically sound. You’ve got to hit that iconic 88 MPH, but you have to avoid lesser lightning bolts along the way. Luckily, you don’t have to assist Doc Brown in inventing the zip line, but every little bolt drastically hampers your speed. And it doesn’t matter if you maintain 88 MPH for the entire level, if you whiff at the finish line, guess what happens? That’s right, it’s an instant Game Over, and you’re right back to the beginning of the game. Not the previous level, you have to complete everything all over again. Considering this is the first time you ever see DeLorean gameplay, making the event pass/fail is downright punishing. But don’t worry! You’ll get another chance if you play the entire game again!

I.. don’t think many people spring for that option.

Back to the Future: The Movie is an amazing movie based on a simple idea. Back to the Future: The NES game is dreadful, and based only on pointless greed. Guess which one founded an empire.

FGC #196 Back to the Future

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and don’t expect to see it anywhere else.
  • Number of players: For such a great cast of memorable characters, we’ve only got Marty. Doc is presumably narrating to the player, but he isn’t even seen, left alone an available second player.
  • Just play the gig man: Most of the game has one background track, which is actually a sped up version of The Power of Love. It’s practically unrecognizable, though, so screw that noise.
  • UghSo, did you beat it: This was one of my precious few NES games as a child, and, yes, I actually beat it on the original hardware. And it was on my first go of the DeLorean stage to boot. And then… I never beat it again. I tried to showcase my mad skillz for my friends, but I was never able to complete that stage without save states again. Now I’m old and bitter.
  • An end: Oh, and your reward for completing this game is a single written paragraph about Marty successfully returning to his own time. You don’t even get a cathartic image of Marty living his new, high-rolling 80’s lifestyle.
  • Did you know? Bob Gale, one of the writers of Back to the Future, called this abomination the worst videogame ever, and recommended people not buy it. Another fine Bob from history, folks.
  • Would I play again: No. Never. And that stupid song is going to be stuck in my head forever, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine! I’ve never been able to determine if that is the best title ever, or the worst. Maybe we’ll figure it out. Please look forward to it!

FGC #005 Yoshi Touch & Go

Good catchThe cycle of video game releases is… unnatural.

As anyone that “stays current” with video games knows, there is a tremendous push in the industry for the latest and, presumably, greatest. As I type this, Batman: The Latest Battening has just been released, and social media is alight with discussions regarding The Bat’s firepower and framerate. In approximately two weeks, no one will be talking about poor ol’ Bruce Wayne, and we will have moved on to… let’s just check the release schedule here… ah, yes, Onechanbara Z2: Chaos Banana Split Edition. That one sounds like a winner.

In contrast, while video game hardware is pushed just as hard as its software, anyone who buys a video game system within its first six months to a year is considered an “early adopter”, or, as the French put it, “un idiot”. In my memory, there have been exactly two systems with software released in their first year that would last the entirety of the system’s existence: Nintendo Gamecube, exclusively due to Smash Bros Melee, and the Sega Dreamcast, which wins pretty much by a sad kind of default. No matter how box-y future and past systems have been, there has always, always been a dramatic draught of worthwhile games for anyone who buys a system at launch. Best case scenario? Maybe you can hope for five decent games within a system’s first year, and in some N64ish cases, that’s the best you can hope for forever. Buying a system at launch is costly from a monetary and sanity perspective.

So, it’s really no surprise that I do that all the time. It’s the most specific case of senility doctors have ever seen.

The Nintendo DS was the first portable system I was ever able to purchase at launch (and the second portable system I was allowed to own, ever)(If you don’t count the Virtual Boy as portable [because why would you?]}. Suffice it to say, I was excited to play a simultaneously gimped and improved version of Mario 64, and then… well… nothing.

Grapes equal eggs, duhI survey my Nintendo DS collection, and see games that I would never have purchased if not for this seemingly endless drought. Feel the Magic XY/XX? Wow, no. Zookeeper? You may have been at the forefront of a genre, but you’re about as fun as actually cleaning up monkey poop. Mr. Driller Drill Spirits? Actually my first Mr. Driller game, but another one that is somehow gimped on the “new” system. And then we come to today’s choice: Yoshi Touch & Go.

Yoshi Touch & Go had so much potential. This may sound like heresy to some, but Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is decidedly not my favorite Mario Bros game. In fact, it’s pretty low on the list. This is not to say I don’t enjoy Yoshi’s Island, quite the opposite, it is a very fun game; however, it introduced those “collectathon” elements to 2-D Mario platformers that drive me completely insane. I have that peculiar kind of OCD that compels me to follow the rulings of ludicrous plastic robots, and causes me to collect every last red coin and smiling flower that I can find. And they very concept of stages locked behind 100% completion? Forget about it. My favorite thing to do in Mario games is hold down the B Button and run like hell to the goal post, and Yoshi’s Island stops that impulse cold. Finding secret exits was one thing, but since Yoshi’s Island, I’ve had to scavenge around for red coins, golden coins, and yoshi coins, and something important has been lost in the midst of finding every damn bauble and bead. I can’t help but blame Yoshi’s Island on this development.

But Yoshi Touch & Go had the potential to be the all killer, no filler Yoshi’s Island. After all, it’s the same adorable Yoshi and friends in the same gorgeous coloring book atmosphere, but now there’s no great treasure hunt afoot, just time to just hoof it to the goal and enjoy the simple running, jumping, and egg tossing.

Adoption is weirdIt was supposed to be a thing of beauty.

Instead, here we are, with a game that also started its own kind of horrible genre. Yoshi is running alright, he is, shall we say, endlessly running through nondescript “levels” that feature the same stupid obstacles over and over again in slightly modified configurations. Oh, and levels start with an odd vertical section featuring a falling Baby Mario and even less control available to the player. The pendulum has swung in the other direction, where once there was a game that I lamented because it gave me too much to do, here is a game that contains about five minutes worth of “gameplay”.

I’m not one to assign dollar values to games. To some, a single video game is a tremendous financial burden, to others, its equivalent to a vending machine super ball. Nevertheless, Yoshi Touch & Go is the epitome of the modern “dollar game”. This is a game meant to be played on a phone while waiting in line to get into the local discothèque. This is a game that is meant to be downloaded, not played on a cartridge, and retrieved when you’re waiting for your Xbone to perform its nineteenth system update this week. Yoshi Touch & Go isn’t a bad game, it was just released about a decade before its proper format, for both pricing and play, was invented. Also, it’s a bad game.

Good catch, KamekThere’s a term I love in gaming, and that’s “late to the party”. For those of you that have just beamed here from Alpha Centauri 6, the term refers to playing a video game well after the hype has died down and anyone who cared about the game in the first place has moved on to greener, more bananaful pastures. I propose the term “early to the party” for any of the early adopters out there, as I can think of no finer metaphor. Ever get to the party too early? There’s you. The party host is still getting ready. The temporary host is someone you’d never want to speak to, perhaps the host’s spouse (whom you barely know) or parents (oh God no). The only other guests? The smelly kid, because that kid is always where suck can be found, and the well meaning guest with food, who came early because there was food to bring, but that’s where this particular guest’s social skills end. Who would you like to hang out with? Which will leave the greatest funk upon your soul? And what does it mean that you’re here with them?

Next time a new system gets released, just wait. Stay home, wait until a good amount of time has passed, and then go ahead and join the party. Maybe while you’re waiting, play some Yoshi Touch & Go. Replay the horror.

FGC # 5 Yoshi Touch & Go

  • System: Nintendo DS
  • Number of Players: 1. Okay, technically its 2P, but good luck finding another sucker to play this with.
  • Why Was This Post Delayed: Mainly because it is way too easy to slide into becoming one of those blogs that is always angry at games and ranting against how could some video game designer do this to me and blah blah blah. That’s not for me, there’s too much negativity in this world as is. So, took the time to find an angle to this game that wasn’t just “Wow, this game sucks”.
  • But this game sucks, right? Oh my, yes.
  • What’s Your Highest Score? I am not going to admit how much I actually played this game.
  • Did You Know? IGN said this game, “is one of the most original and unique games created for the system so far…” I want to remind everyone this game was released four months after the release of the DS. There were maybe fifteen other DS games in existence.
  • Would I Play Again? Decidedly no. It’s currently available for the WiiU, where I can play Bit Trip Runner 2 if I really need to. And you better believe my 3DS cartridge slot has better things to do.

And we're done

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Batman Arkham City. Hey, ROB, when did you get randomly relevant? Please look forward to it!