Tag Archives: fangame

FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass & I Wanna Be The Guy

We'll start hereToday’s game is Mega Man & Bass. I first played this title in approximately 2000, and discovered it randomly on an old SNES ROM site. I thought I was aware of every last Mega Man title, but this was wholly new to me. And hard. And weird! So, naturally, I assumed it was a fan-made ROM hack. They were popular at the time, and it would certainly explain why this SNES game was using (Playstation) Mega Man 8 graphics. Videogame franchises don’t go backwards!

Of course, Mega Man & Bass was a legitimate Capcom release, it just wasn’t legitimately released in America until a few years later. However, playing the game today reminded me of that old “ROM hack” scene, and how there were an equal number of titles that repurposed sprites for new and innovative challenges… and more than a few that simply replaced Mario with Kenny from South Park and called it a day. It was a confusing time, and the quality was all over the place.

But there’s one game that was a cut above the rest. I Wanna Be the Guy is a game that repurposed sprites like so many of those ROMs of yesteryear, but was wholly original in its gameplay, and arguably created an entire genre all on its own. IWBTG is an amazing experience, and, since its release, has become a phenomenon all its own. Unfortunately, like many of its contemporaries, there isn’t much information on its creation, as your average publicist doesn’t quite know what to do with a game featuring a Green Dragon that is also a Yellow Devil (how does that work?). In an effort to get more information on I Wanna Be the Guy and its creation, I decided to sit down and speak with its writer/producer/director/artist/creator Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly. Hopefully this can provide a glimpse of “the scene” of the time (at least how it impacted the creation of IWBTG), and a passing oral history of I Wanna Be the Guy.

Goggle Bob: Let’s start with the dumb basics, when did you first have the idea for IWBTG?
This is Owata
Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly: So this was during the 4chan heydays. Back when everyone just kinda sucked instead of just being outward nazis. So for me, besides all the hentai, a big appeal was the flash board and the weird games on there. Which is where I played the original version of Owata, the 2chan emoticon based masocore game. I feel like it might have been the first game quite like that? It didn’t repurpose sprites — it had like ascii versions of videogame references — but it was the bedrock for IWBTG. Part of it was that since Owata was, at the time, unfinished, so I felt like I had an opening to expand to a bigger game.

Goggle Bob: and do you recall when exactly that was?

Kayin: Sometime in early 2007?

Goggle Bob: Gotcha. So when you first started working on IWBTG, was the audience you had in mind basically fellow 4chaners on the board, or something larger? Or were you even just doing it to amuse yourself?

Kayin: Mostly to amuse myself. I consumed 4chan, but never really was part of the ‘community’. The whole anon thing was weird to me, I actually like being a person. So I never linked or talked about it there outside a few situations where I found a thread about the game. No, it was for my friends and soon later, part of the “#FinalFight” community which.. wasn’t about capcom’s final fight so much as a community centered around Scott Sharkey. The community was getting to the point there where a lot of us didn’t even know who Sharkey was. I was just there because other people were. I shared my game with them on what was at the time the pyoko boards and later became the brontoforumus.

Goggle Bob: So IWBTG initially drew inspiration from a game that barely had graphics at all… but somehow still pulled from Super Mario Bros, if memory serves. How quickly did IWBTG start adopting outside sprites and alike during production?

Kayin: The most striking thing in Owata to me was these big ‘ascii sprites’ of Zangief and Guile that were…. an obvious inspiration. And it started basically as soon as I got to the first boss. I don’t know WHY I wanted to make a giant Mike Tyson but it… felt like the right idea.
Punch!  Dodge!
Goggle Bob: Never doubt the desire for a giant Mike Tyson. We’re jumping around a bit, but since you mentioned that memorable boss, a related question: a significant reason I personally find IWBTG so revolutionary is how it keeps one “base” kind of gameplay, and marries it to a number of disparate parts, like Mike Tyson from Punch-Out… which is… what? A rhythm fighting game? And combines it with gameplay that is closer to Mega Man or Metroid. And the question I’m getting to on that is… I suppose… Why? Like, why did you draw significantly from very different sources and adapt them to your game?

Kayin: I liked a lot of different games. I think it’s also because I’m a very visually minded person so games having very differing sources gameplay wise isn’t something that mattered to me. Or it mattered, but the discontinuity made it funnier, like with the platforming zelda section.

Goggle Bob: Which is certainly does! So your intentions with making it funnier was, during production, predominantly for a small, tight audience?

Kayin: Yeah. Maybe about half way through I started to have a looming sense it was going to blow up, but early on? Nah, just for a small audience.

Goggle Bob: So basically anyone of a certain age recognizes a number of the videogame sprites and such, but, if you were aiming for a small enclave initially, are there a significant number of inside jokes in IWBTG? Items that would be only understood by your “initial” audience?

Kayin: No, I still wanted to keep things pretty general? I originally intended on it but never got to any. While I knew who my audience was, I wasn’t making the game FOR THEM I made -A- game, knowing they would be there to play it

Goggle Bob: An excellent way of thinking… though I was hoping that would explain the prominence of Mecha Birdo…
Bad Birdo
Kayin: Why -not- mecha birdo?

Goggle Bob: Fair enough! Speaking of Birdo and friends, we’re talking about… 13 years ago. Technically not that long, but forever in technology time. With that in mind, how difficult was it during creation to get all the sprites you needed?

Kayin: It is forever ago! And not that hard. I think the site of choice at the time was Shyguy Kingdom which worked for finding most sprites I needed?

Goggle Bob: Was there anything you wanted to include but you couldn’t find a decent source?

Kayin: Not quite? I wish I could have found an actual transparent png of a good shmup warning image for Mecha Birdo but making one was just fine. I feel like 2007, sprites for most all popular games were ripped and widely available.

Goggle Bob: Which I’m sure made your life easier. How much of the art in IWBTG is original?

Kayin: Almost everything that isn’t obviously a reference? Tourian and Dracula’s Castle are the only two areas I believe that have tilesets taken from other games. Oh, and the Zelda screen, obviously!

Goggle Bob: So everyone remembers a giant, green Zangief, but a significant chunk of the game you had to manually create?

Kayin: Granted, I use the same tiles for most of the game. It’s not a lot of sprite work, but in terms of what the player sees, they see more of my stuff than references. My stuff, at least back then, just wasn’t impressive at all.

Goggle Bob: It got the job done. “Delicious Fruit” was original, right? That seems to have migrated across the internet

Kayin: Yes!

Goggle Bob: Is there anything in the game that is original that you find people THINK is a reference?

Kayin: Well everyone thinks I Wanna be the Guy is a Homestar Runner reference which is understandable but it was just a thing a friend said when we were babbling back and forth to each other.

Goggle Bob: Come to think of it, reference or not, how early in production did you “know” this was going to be “I Wanna Be the Guy (The Movie The Game)”?

Kayin: I went in with that name I think?

Goggle Bob: Then that would be pretty early! Alright, back to actual release: when was IWBTG officially first released, and where was it available?

Kayin: It was progressively released for months. I didn’t hide it. I had a website and people could play the newest versions. It was ‘finished’ as in completable in October of 2007.

Goggle Bob: You didn’t hide it, but did you in any way “promote” it?

Kayin: Not really. 100% word of mouth.

Goggle Bob: And since its release, have you ever really investigated where people “find” IWBTG? Have there been any particular “surges” in interest over the years?

Kayin: All of them now have to do with Let’s Plays and Twitch streams. Nothing else comes close. Even back in the day, YouTube is what made the game REALLY blow up.

Goggle Bob: Which seems to be a pattern for the masocore games… Come to think of it, do you feel more people have WATCHED your game, rather than PLAYED it?

Kayin: OH absolutely. A few pewdiepie videos equals more than IWBTG has ever been downloaded.

Goggle Bob: And how do you feel about that? You did create an intricate videogame, not a YouTube video

Kayin: More than enough people played it and I knew enough from watching people test it that watching was fun in its own way. I think it’s an excellent part of the experience.
Here comes a moon!
Goggle Bob: Yes, I can safely say that I have had more fun watching IWBTG than playing it: from a watcher’s perspective, it’s like reading a mystery novel, and having the detective reveal the murderer… just in this case, the “murderer” is a wall of spikes you were supposed to get in back of.

Kayin: I’d say watching it as a viewer is all about dramatic irony. You know tragedy is coming and it can’t be stopped!

Goggle Bob: I don’t know if you’ve heard this one before, but I actually “found” IWBTG back in the day thanks to a number of articles on TV Tropes referencing the game and its many “subversions”.

Kayin: I can believe that! The TV Tropes article on IWBTG is pretty extensive if I recall.

Goggle Bob: Which I guess brings us to another topic: you said you designed this game with one community in mind, but IWBTG seems to have created its own community and dedicated fans. Or at least there’s more of a wiki for it than Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Mall Madness. Even when you were beginning to suspect IWBTG would be a hit, did you ever expect its current level of fame?

Kayin: Surprisingly yeah? Like it exceeded my moderate expectations but I knew this was possible. I wasn’t counting on it or getting ahead of myself or necessarily thought it was so great. I just had this feeling like… “I… think I’m in the right place at the right time?” That said with fans, I did NOT expect the sheer amount of fangames. That said though, most fangames are fangames of fangames and not IWBTG fangames if that makes sense.

Goggle Bob: It makes perfect sense. Do you consider IWBTG a “fangame” for the games it references?

Kayin: I wouldn’t say that myself but if someone else did I wouldn’t say they’re wrong either.

Goggle Bob: Fair enough, IWBTG is certainly its own animal. But, of course, you can’t say something is totally original when “death by surprise Ryu” is a persistent threat. 13 years later, do you regret that IWBTG is so closely tied to IPs that were borrowed?

Kayin: Not at all. I think borrowing from culture is good!

Goggle Bob: So if some wizard cursed you to live your life over again… or at least from 2007 on… would you make IWBTG essentially the same?

Kayin: Outside of improving a few little things, yeah. No real regrets.

Goggle Bob: Any regrets regarding the seemingly aborted IWBTG sequel projects?
Back to Mega Man
Kayin: I Wanna Save the Kids didn’t have the legs I thought it might. It stopped because the idea wasn’t that great. Gaiden? 50/50. I regret it to some degree but at the same time I moved on for a reason Maybe one day I’ll make more Gaiden, but I mostly feel happier working on other games.

Goggle Bob: Which fits neatly with my next question: do you ever get the itch to pursue another project like IWBTG? Something simpler and more in the realm of borrowing, and not banging your head against figuring out how to program stairs to work perfectly?

Kayin: Not so much? I have an idea but I don’t have that ENTIRE DESIRE to make those ideas real. It also helps that it’s less economically feasible. Ads are basically dead and mixing legit and legally grey work together seems risky. It’s fine when you’re a nobody buuuuut… yeah. Also I feel like a lot of people do the masocore stuff better than me now. I’m not needed anymore.

Goggle Bob: And, prior to 2007, did you ever think that you would be in such a position as a result of IWBTG? Did you ever think that this game with Zangief shooting Blankas would put you in the place where you could say you made an impact on gaming, it’s time for a new generation now?

Kayin: Yeah that’s weird. Like I said I had a strong instinct that game was going to make it, but I didn’t expect it to be formative? When I made it I already felt late to the party but now that whole little stretch of history is a blip.

Goggle Bob: Which is why I wanted to interview you about this: there are so few voices from that period recorded, and so much from then has been litigated into oblivion. IWBTG is a success story in more ways than one

Kayin: Yeah, it’s funny, back then it felt like SO MUCH STUFF WAS HAPPENING AND EVERYTHING WAS HAPPENING SO FAST and it was so fast that a lot of it just got lost

Goggle Bob: And even if these games are lost to the ages, their impact is still being felt today. “Parody games” closer to the tone of IWBTG of varying quality are available seemingly monthly on digital storefronts, and whatever happens to be the latest “masocore indie” is practically a mainstay for Nintendo Directs.

Kayin: And a lot of the ‘cheap’ ones still are really clever!

Goggle Bob: I think that about wraps it up. Anything you’d like to say to anyone considering building their own “IWBTG” today?
They're sharp
Kayin: For anyone making a funny masocore game now: Consider you have to compete with the collective cleverness of everyone who owns Mario Maker.

Goggle Bob: Ha, that’s a high cliff to climb.

Kayin: Right? It’s not blue oceans any more for masocore.

Goggle Bob: Well, thank you again for this, I feel like it’s important to get SOME voices from the forgotten corners of gaming… even if some of the games involved are anything but forgotten.

Kayin: No problem! Hope it was what you were looking for! I know I wasn’t as nitty gritty in that scene as some people.

Goggle Bob: Not exactly hard hitting reporting, but its the kind of stuff that gives a little snapshot of what it was back then, even if it was just “this forum” and “that website”. Thank you again for providing a record of the creation of I Wanna Be the Guy.

Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly can be found at his website at Kayin.moe, or on Twitter at @KayinNasaki. Please look forward to his upcoming game, Brave Earth: Prologue (I know I am).

FGC #527 I Wanna Be the Guy

  • System: PC. Oh, I should have asked Kayin about a Switch port.
  • Number of players: Just one kid, trying to be the guy.
  • Let's be a guy!Special Thanks: Once again, a special thank you to Kayin for agreeing to this interview and being an excellent interviewee. Also thanks to BEAT, a skeleton who let me borrow some screengrabs from his ancient runthrough of IWBTG. That is one helpful skeleman right there.
  • Favorite Death: I will never forget getting trashed by Dracula’s wineglass. That is some primo humor through gameplay right there.
  • So, did you beat it? No, sorry. I played through most of the game back in the day, but I washed out at The Guy’s Castle. I just lost steam, and got distracted by something else. What was it? I don’t even remember anymore. Although, given I was mostly playing it at my old job… it may have been actual work.
  • Did you know? Dragon Devil is the only version of the Yellow Devil I can tolerate. How did Kayin do that?
  • Would I play again: I’d rather retire to watching I Wanna Be the Guy than playing it right now. I enjoy “difficult games”, but I just don’t have the time right now to rediscover the nuance involved in properly leaping across clouds and not being crushed by spike walls. Looking forward to Brave Earth Prologue, though…

FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass (the original inspiration for this article)

  • Chill OutSystem: The Super Famicom for one specific country, and then Gameboy Advance for international releases. From there, it was never seen again, even as part of the Mega Man Legacy Collection.
  • Number of Players: You may play as Mega Man or Bass, but not both.
  • Port-o-Call: It might not have an official translation, but play this game on the SNES hardware if at all possible. The GBA version crops the screen dramatically, and, considering we’re already dealing with big, chunky PSX sprites, you need to see everything that is happening. Or just memorize every room with ceiling spikes. Whatever works.
  • So, you thought this was a romhack? I said I was young and stupid! Look, it has all the hallmarks: sprites repurposed from another system, a difficulty curve far beyond the usual level for the franchise, and some great ideas with often bad implementation (for instance, Dynamo Man’s energy restore is a nugget of a good idea that winds up being nothing but frustrating). When I started this interview, Kayin sagely pointed out that MM&B would have been practically impossible back when I played the game, and I very much agree with him now, in the year 2020. But back then I just assumed Japanese fans were a million times better at creating games than Americans. It makes sense when you consider the gaming landscape of the time! I swear!
  • Mega Man or Bass? Bass forever. A double jump is the most essential move in gaming history, and the slide is right down there at the bottom with, like, inventory juggling or something. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to believe Mega Man could ever beat Bass.
  • Favorite Robot Master: Pirate Man is my everything. He’s a robot pirate! Does he steal software or treasure? I mean, his lair is filled with gold, but it’s entirely possible that gold is all really expensive optical storage.
  • Did you know? According to series director Keiji Inafune, the creation of Mega Man & Bass was like “one big party”. I assume this means the staff was high as hell the entire time, and that is the only explanation I will accept for King acquiring a Voltron-tank for his finale.
  • Stay hotWould I play again: I always forget about this game when I play other Mega Man titles (mainly because it doesn’t appear on so many collections), so MM&B doesn’t get played all that often. That said, it is a fun game, and I often get an itch for it… once every five years or so.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Adventure for the Atari! Let’s go battle some ducks! Please look forward to it!

I know that guy

FGC #511 Pokémon Gold / Silver / Crystal

In these uncertain times, I’ve been thinking about sequels, storytelling, special people, and, specifically, this old man:

How ya doin', old man

That GIF is a capture from Pokémon Red (or Blue, if you’re nasty), and it features an old man that lives in Vermilion City, a beautiful town by the sea. He’s using his pokémon to help build a home overlooking the nearby port, and, assuming Lt. Surge doesn’t expand his gym to conquer the entire seaside, it should provide a lovely view for the man’s future. He’ll build his house by the ocean, and retire to enjoy his autumn years in a rocking chair overlooking gorgeous waves of magikarp capering across the beach. Maybe he’ll relax on the S.S. Anne when he needs a vacation, but he’ll always have a charming home to come back to.

Except when you return to visit the old man in Pokémon Gold/Silver, a game that takes place three years later, you find this sorry sight.

NOT GREAT, BOB

The poor old man is still out working in the fields because he is literally poor. His dreams are denied, and, apparently as some manner of karmic punishment for his hubris, he is forced to stand out in this empty field with Pokémon 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is there during the day. He is there in the dead of night. The new clock feature of Pokémon Gold/Silver reveals a man eternally caught between a rock and a hard place, and his machamp is never going to smash that rock.

And his sorry, never-ending fate is all thanks to one man.

Let us skip ahead a bit to Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon. Like many (all?) Pokémon games, PUS/M contains an area where the game’s developers hang out within the game. Your avatar can wander around these faux Game Freak offices, and speak to NPCs that are based on the real creators of the real game you’re playing right now. Neat! And, since the PUS/M generation of Pokémon games was the first to allow transferring pokémon from Pokémon Gold/Silver, you can potentially have poképals in your Generation 7 team that originated from Generation 2. If you do, one of the Game Freak developers will offer this special bit of dialogue regarding the older game:

“When we were having trouble fitting all the data in for Gold and Silver, and we were really in a pinch, this amazing guy came along and made a program for us that solved all our problems. He went on to become the amazing president of a real big company soon after that, too.”

WINNERThat “amazing guy” was Satoru Iwata, a man responsible for more than a few amazing videogames, and the eventual “amazing president” of a “real big company”, Nintendo. For a more detailed explanation of what happened, according to interviews from around the release of Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver, Iwata was working at HAL at the time, but somehow became a liaison between Nintendo and Game Freak, despite technically working for neither. And, since Iwata was an expert programmer, he used his knowledge from converting the battle system of Pokémon Red/Blue to Pokémon Stadium and his general familiarity with the Gameboy to create a graphic-compression tool that allowed the programmers of Pokémon Gold/Silver to cram more Pokémon content into a Gameboy cart than ever before. Pokémon S/G was initially far too large for a Gameboy title, but now the programmers had so much room to breathe, they could practically fit two Pokémon games on there!

So they did. Want to revisit the world of Pokémon Red/Blue in Pokémon Gold/Silver? You absolutely can!

Back in 1999, Pokémon Gold/Silver had some huge shoes to fill, as Pokémon Red/Blue (maybe even Green) was one of the most successful Gameboy games of all time. It launched a franchise that is still ridiculously profitable popular to this day! And, while there had been a number of auxiliary Pokémon games capitalizing on the original 151 Pokémon, this was the first “new generation” ever for this already beloved series. Whether the concept was Iwata’s demand or simply something Game Freak decided “might be cool” (accounts on this matter differ), Iwata’s graphics compression utility allowed for the inclusion of not only Pokémon from the supremely popular initial Pokemon title, but also roughly 90% of its entire world. It was the perfect move at the perfect time for the series, as it married the new to the notable, and those familiar gym leaders and locales could stand shoulder to shoulder with the future of the franchise. Discovering a whole, well-known world over at the right edge of the map was simultaneously a reward for the player, and a reassuring statement that the Pokémon world wasn’t going to forget its past. It was everything a Pokémon fan could ask for.

SLOWUnfortunately, while this was the best possible outcome for a sequel, it was not all rainbows and rhydons for the population of Kanto. Claiming that Pokémon Gold/Silver contained the entirety of Pokémon Red/Blue’s home region is a bit of a stretch, as much of PR/B had to be truncated and reduced to fit the world and pacing of its sequel. Viridian Forest, the humble pikachu’s ancestral home, was reduced to a scant few rows of trees. Pokémon Tower, a place for deceased Pokémon to enjoy their eternal slumber, was overtaken by capitalism and converted into a gaudy Radio Tower. Cinnabar Island became “the ravaged town of the past” when a volcano erupted and permanently destroyed the entire city. In short, in service of a sequel, it appears major ecological disasters rocked Kanto and its citizenry, eternally marring their home.

And, yes, in this damaged world, a man is without a home, and has been standing alone in a field for three years. And it’s all thanks to one man using his expert programming knowledge to expand one Gameboy game. The Old Man of Vermilion could have lived in the quantum uncertainty of most JRPG NPCs, but, no, a genius had to step in, revolutionize Gameboy programming, and damn this helpless fellow to an eternal existence alone, unloved, and exposed to the elements. No other Pokémon game revisited Kanto at a later date, so Iwata’s expansion on the sequel was this Old Man’s final curtain call.

Even the Pokémon Gold/Silver remakes left him out in the cold.

STILL NOT GREAT, BOB

And this is the cruel nature of sequels. Even though we always want more content from our favorite worlds, they often must abolish happy endings for the sake of revisiting drama. Every new season of a television series must reset its characters to prevent them from remembering previous lessons, and every adventure series has to revive an ancient evil or two to keep the swords swinging. Every videogame that revisits old areas must constrain these previous worlds to smaller digital footprints, and lives have to be ruined to keep the franchise flowing. Do you think Brock wanted to forever be a gym leader in some podunk town? Of course not! But he’s got to return for that cameo, so here he is. Buffy the Vampire Slayer must live, die, and live again, Harry Potter has to revisit a fresh hell every single year, and Pokémon’s own Red has to spend the rest of his days huddled in a cave with his Pikachu. It is the curse of sequels, and we inflict it on our heroes because we can’t live without knowing what happens next.

But there is still hope.

Shake itIn 2017, ShockSlayer released Pokémon Crystal Clear. It is an extensive romhack of Pokémon Crystal, the official Nintendo upgrade to Pokémon Gold/Silver. It features a number of graphical upgrades (all the Pokémon “map sprites” now actually look like their assigned Pokémon), significant quality of life changes (you no longer need to know CUT to travel greater than fifteen yards), and you can select a starter from a variety of Pokémon that range from charmander to porygon to ditto. Most significantly, however, it adds the ability to travel the world of Pokémon Gold/Silver as easily as choosing the FLY command, and offers the opportunity to start your quest in either Johto or Kanto. In other words, it takes the basic gameplay of Pokémon G/S/C, and transforms it into an expansive, open-world adventure where you are no longer inhibited by Team Rocket blockades or an inability to surf. You can fight the signature gyms in nearly any order, and they all scale to your experience level (or at least badge count). It is an amazing way to experience a decades old game, and adds a breath of fresh air to the whole Pokémon experience. It is a damn shame that Nintendo has forced Pokémon Crystal Clear to scamper off to hide in the darker corners of the internet, as this is a “hack” that deserves to be spread across the light of day.

But, more importantly, it makes one more change to the canon of Pokémon.

This is fine

He still doesn’t have a home, but he has hope. Hope! What more can an eternally homeless old man ask for?

A story continuing might make its stars more miserable, but there’s always a chance someone else will pick up the torch and make things better. There might not ever truly be happy endings, but there’s always fresh hope for ongoing happiness.

FGC #511 Pokémon Gold / Silver / Crystal

  • System: Nintendo Gameboy / Gameboy Color, and then available virtually for the Nintendo 3DS. Whatever the system, your save battery has expired by now.
  • Number of players: You’ll never catch ‘em all without trading, so two.
  • Eat crunchSo, which version: Can I just say Crystal Clear now and forever? This is not the first time Gogglebob.com recognizes a fan creation as the definitive version of a game, but the existence of Crystal Clear does provide an actual reason to play an older Pokémon game, as the “free-form” gameplay found here isn’t simply overwritten with the upgrades of the later games. Crystal Clear is a new experience that isn’t going to be moot when we see Let’s Go Eevee’s Silver Soul or whatever.
  • Favorite Gym Leader (this generation): Whitney is just like, “screw it, you have to fight my cow”. And then her cow completely wrecks your %$&#. Kick ass and roll out, Whitney, you deserve it.
  • Favorite Gen 2 Pokémon: Mareep/Ampharos. Ampharos was my original MVP in Pokémon Gold, as surfing across vast seas and thunderpunching tentacools into the stratosphere caused my Amphy’s (named Asimov) levels to similarly skyrocket. Then, quite a few years later, I wound up asking out my now fiancée on Mareep Community Day. So, yeah, that Pokémon definitely gets a spot of honor.
  • The King is Dead: Seemingly exclusively to counter the dominance of Psychic type Pokémon in R/B, this generation introduced the defensive Steel type, and the offensive Dark type. This means that Tyranitar made the scene, and now the legions of psychic legendaries have to worry about a godzilla that is perfectly willing to eat a mountain on its way to stomping a Mewtwo.
  • What time is it: This was the first Pokémon game with an internal clock. I’m simply noting this because it explains why I still think you can only catch Lapras on Fridays.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: In high school, another student and I may or may not have intimidated a freshman into choosing a particular starter so it could be traded and bred to match our lack of said starter. This is what a nerd bully does, apparently.
  • POKEMON!Did you know? Pokémon Crystal was the first mainline Pokémon title with animated Pokémon. We really take it for granted nowadays when a Pikachu can turn its head, but back then, this required the noble loss of approximately 10,000 good pixels. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
  • Would I play again: I really enjoyed playing through Pokémon Crystal Clear… but it’s still Gen 2 Pokémon. Going to go ahead and mosey over to some of the more modern releases when I don’t feel like juggling my monsters in Bill’s PC.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crystal Castles for the Atari 2600! I know it’s an old game, everyone, but please bear with me. Please look forward to it!

FGC #354 Sonic Mania & Sonic Forces

SONIC!In the year of our Lord 2017, two Sonic the Hedgehog games were released within months of each other. And both of those games were really good.

That has never happened before.

This is an unprecedented event. This is the kind of thing that shakes your belief system. This is akin to discovering that your soul mate is and has always been a 90 year old retired construction worker named Danielle. How does something like this happen? What does it say about you? Does this mean that other “impossible” goals in this reality were actually achievable? Was there some secret way to breed ponies and kittens together to create the mythical/adorable pitten? All things are possible in this post-Sonic the Hedgehog Can Be Good Twice world, and we should all live in constant fear of the next shock to our collective system. Next, Aero the Acro-Bat is going to come soaring in to rave reviews, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it!

But before that happens, we are going to look at the differences between Sonic Mania, an amazing 2-D Sonic title, and Sonic Forces, an amazing 3-D/2-D Sonic title. Maybe we’ll discover the secret to Sonic success? Or does only madness await us? Let’s find out!

Stage Length is Important (or not)

Weeeee!Sonic Mania is, for all intents and purposes, Sonic 4 & Knuckles. Or Sonic & Knuckles 2? Look, what’s important is that it is very much a sequel to the Sega Genesis titles, and it employs a number of tricks and tips from that era. Included in that bag of tricks is the ol’ “giant stages full of secrets” standard that became popular with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and its many hidden giant rings. Sonic has never been about exploring, but Sonic 3 did add the joy of pushing on all “solid” walls at all times. Could there be a secret in this direction? Or maybe over here? Let’s explore every nook and cranny until time runs out. Or… wait… that’s terrible! We don’t want to run out of time! These stages should be smaller! … But we don’t want to lose any content! This is confusing!

Meanwhile, Sonic Forces is all about shorter stages. The average Sonic Forces stage can be completed within all of two minutes. This is something of an accomplishment, as 3-D platforming games have a tendency to take hours just to burn through the “introduction” portion of a level. Traversing 3-D space takes a long time! But, despite the existence of these short stages, there are a myriad of routes available, so, like in Sonic Mania, there are secrets to discover up and down Sonic’s world. You’re unlikely to ever see ten minutes on Sonic Force’s timer, but levels can still be played for hours in an attempt to find new and fascinating routes.

Basically, we’re looking at two completely different approaches to level design and how to discover secrets. One takes the “old school” concepts of 2-D design, but expands them to possibly unwieldy levels, while the other shrinks 3-D sensibilities to bite-sized nuggets that are over before they begin. And they’re both great! Bah! That doesn’t make a lick of sense!

Bosses should be one thing (or the other)

He has somewhere to beYou finished a stage, and now it’s time for a boss. Sonic Mania throws everything at poor Sonic, up to and including a kitchen sink that will eventually be transformed back into a penguin. Some stages end with a simple “jump here” boss. Some levels lead to a high-speed chase. Sometimes the boss is a puzzle that requires careful observation, timing, and bouncing. Sometimes you have to fight Shinobi. And, if you’re particularly unlucky, you might be faced with that one damn boss from Hydrocity wasn’t any fun the first time, so why the hell did some nitwit decide it was time for that jerkass to return!? Er-hem. The bosses of Sonic Mania are an eclectic bunch, and a lot of stress is derived from whether or not you’re going to face Heavy Rider & Jimmy or goddamn Metal Sonic. But, stupid Metal Sonic aside, nearly all of these boss battles can be completed inside of thirty seconds, so there’s not much to complain about.

Sonic Forces, naturally, features bosses that take much longer. By and large, the bosses of Sonic Forces are generally more cinematic affairs, and do their best to utilize the story telling potential of 3-D adventures with epic clashes between Sonic (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and his most dangerous foes (and that one dork from Lost World). Thus, these battles generally contain multiple phases, wildly changing patterns, and the occasional finale that features any number of hedgehogs powering up to supersonic speeds. In general, this leads to more interesting battles, though at the cost of having to hear about Sonic believing in you over and over again should you hit a particularly rough spot. Sonic, dude, I know we can beat this boss, just shut up about it and get your damn homing attack working properly. I’m just as tired of this Virtual Boy dimension as you are.

So, once again, both games take completely separate paths to reach the same generally enjoyable but somehow flawed destination. Huh.

Show Don’t Tell (or Shout Everything)

I like the look of these guysSonic Mania contains the typical Sonic the Hedgehog Sega Genesis plot: Dr. Eggman is up to no good, and it’s time to stop him. Not a single bit of dialogue is spoken, and the new antagonists, The Hard Boiled Heavies, are not given names during actual gameplay. But, in the same way you learned everything you ever needed to know about Knuckles from his ability to jump on switches (he’s kind of a dick), the Heavies are clearly defined by their actions. In the end, Sonic saves the day (of course) and puts down a minor robot uprising while sending Robotnik packing. Oh, and there might have been time travel involved, too? Doesn’t matter, a rollercoaster doesn’t need a story to be fun.

Sonic Forces has the most bonkers plot to ever grace Sonic’s elongated snout. Sonic the Hedgehog is dead! Forever! And Eggman has conquered the entire planet inside of a couple of months! Our last hope is Original the Character and a resistance of whacky animal pals! And Tails had such a sadgasm over his dead buddy that he summoned another Sonic the Hedgehog from another dimension! And it turns out (regular) Sonic is alive again! And all of this happens before the fourth stage (of thirty)! I’m not even going to get into how Eggman gave a magical rock that controls reality to an anonymous moron that is cataclysmically annoyed by Shadow the Hedgehog. And then somebody summons the freaking sun like gravity ain’t no thang!

Sonic Forces’ plot never shuts up, and that makes it glorious. There is not a single sane person on this planet that ever needed to see Knuckles the Echidna and Vector the Crocodile discus the horrors of war, but here it is. Sonic instantly makes best friends with the player’s haphazardly created deviantart avatar while Tails wanders around with his mentor’s inter-dimensional ghost from another timeline. I’m pretty sure Amy Rose makes a joke about having an all Sonic threeway somewhere in there. The story moves at breakneck speed, it’s completely demented, and it’s magnificent. If you’re going to have a plot where a group of rebel furries un-conquer a planet inside of four days, this is the way to do it.

So completely silent, gameplay-based storytelling versus senseless talky talk that spirals around exclusively for lunatics. Either one works

Knuckles Is

In one adventure, Knuckles is the noble leader of a resistance movement that is humanity’s last hope. … Or what passes for “humanity” in this world.

Who are those guys in the back?

In another world, Knuckles maybe has the pattern recognition of a goldfish.

He's knuckles!

…. Echidnas can be anything?

Tight Controls are Essential/Unnecessary

Weeee?Sonic Mania controls like a dream. It feels like the Sega Genesis titles never ended, and, after years of terrible approximations, “real” Sonic has returned. Sonic’s momentum is untouchable, and, whether you’re navigating between moving platforms or over an ocean of flaming oil, you’re completely in control. Sonic can spin dash up to mach speed at a moment’s notice, but he can also handle shifting blocks like a pro. Give or take a few accidentally deadly “squishing” spots, Sonic Mania provides perfect Sonic movement.

Sonic Forces, unfortunately, carries forward many of 3-D Sonic’s movement problems. During the 2-D areas in particular, it is nearly impossible to get Sonic to 100% follow your inputs, and not instantly break into some uncontrollable, inevitably deadly forward momentum. This Sonic is designed backwards from his constant need to barrel forward, and that leads to a number of terrible, unwanted deaths at the hands of bottomless pits or stationary spikes. Sonic the Hedgehog should never be defeated by an inanimate object!

But, then again, it doesn’t matter.

3-D Sonic is also built for his homing dash, and Orginal the Character has an inexplicable grappling hook. Both abilities allow Sonic/Original to instantly dash forward and onto a specific point, and the stage design is generally built for that essential ability. And, more often than not, it works wonderfully. Sure, you can steer a freight train into a parking space a lot easier than this Hedgehog, but why bother? Sonic is the King of Speed, so keeping your goin’ fast. There might be an accidental death or two, but you don’t have any lives to lose, so don’t worry about it. You want to put brakes on your bumper cars? Don’t be silly.

Just because you’ve got the same hedgehog in two different games doesn’t mean he has to control exactly the same.

Fanservice Can Go Both Ways

Sonic Mania is a love letter to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. Not only are stages remastered and remixed, but there are an amazing number of “little touches” that recall Sonic’s decades-long history. There are traps originating from Game Gear titles. There are bosses that crept out of ill-advised arcade fighting games. There are loving homages to the Sonic fan community and its myriad of modders. You could spend a day reading the Wikipedia pages dedicated to each individual zone. Did you know that Sonic’s shake at the start of Chemical Plant Zone was a reference to Sonic Spinball? Of course you didn’t know that! Nobody played Sonic Spinball!

Sonic Forces primarily speeds off in the other direction. Rather than dwell on Sonic’s past, Sonic has made a brand new friend: you! You are Original the Character, an anthropomorphic animal of your own creation, and Sonic totally wants to be your best friend! But don’t worry, it’s not just because he loves your sparkling (and completely silent) personality, it’s also because you’ve got the skillz. In an effort to create the most beloved original character in history, the kindly creators of Sonic Forces combined your chance notebook sketches with the one and only Spider-Man! Grapple around the city like an avenging arachnid! Get ready to employ all sorts of amazing acrobatic techniques to save and stand by your favorite hedgehog. You love Sonic, and now Sonic loves you! You’re the best Sonic Fan ever!

Chemical Plant Zone is a Scourge

I HATE THIS LEVELBoth Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces contain remixed versions of Chemical Plant Zone. Sonic Mania adds bouncy chemicals, while Sonic Forces adds the occasional sprinkling of lasers. This proves that, even with a basic theme, you can have riotously different interpretations of the same level. Unfortunately, as good as these zones may be, they still come from the same base of the cruddy Chemical Plant Zone.

So, there, that’s it. All good Sonic games contain a Chemical Plant Zone.

Ugh. This universe is the worst.

FGC #354 Sonic Mania

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: There’s Sonic & Tails mode for multiple players, and some manner of race mode that I am never touching.
  • Favorite Zone: Oil Ocean becoming combustible thanks to the fire shield is the exact kind of “remix” the world needed.
  • Something special: The special stages are very reminiscent of Sonic & Knuckles as well, as they seem difficult initially, but are second nature in no time at all. This is a tremendous step up from the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 special stages, which are impossible.
  • Thanks, JimmyJust play the gig, man: Everything about this soundtrack is amazing, but the way each stage is remixed for various areas and events is amazing. Flying Battery might not be my favorite zone, but its second act gets the best tunes.
  • Did you know? Sonic Mania was one of the top selling Switch titles, outselling even Minecraft. Like, it didn’t outsell Minecraft on every system, but go ahead and tell your know-it-all nephew that Sonic is more popular than Minecraft.
  • Would I play again: In a heartbeat. Sonic Mania 2 is all I want from this sick and twisted world.

FGC #354 Sonic Forces

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Only one of these systems is technically portable.
  • Number of players: You can be all sorts of crazy characters, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Zone: Null Space is a stage that takes place in “null space” for all of ten seconds before becoming another random city level. You would think this would bother me, but, come on, takes a special kind of game to trump up some alternate dimension and then utilize it for less time than it takes to blow a fart.
  • Head Canon Corner: In Sonic Generations, “old” Sonic is stated to be Sonic’s younger self. In Sonic Forces, “old” Sonic is recognized, but Tails claims he is from another dimension, not the past. My theory? This is not a retcon, and when Old Sonic the Hedgehog saw his 3-D future during Generations, he decided he wanted nothing of it, and caused a split timeline/dimension when he decided to never leave the joys of 2-D exclusives. And that’s where Sonic Mania originates.
  • EggyThe disease is inside me: Okay, full disclosure? I may have been mentally working out my Original the Character’s backstory while I was bored during zones. She’s purple, so I figure she’s the adopted sister of Fang the Sniper, and one day she decided…
  • Did you know? It sounds crazy, but the last time Shadow the Hedgehog was a playable character in a “main” Sonic game, it was 2006. Yes, that 2006. That game really killed the poor hedgehog’s street cred.
  • Would I play again: Not as quickly as Sonic Mania, but I am going to return to 100% this title at one point. It’s just too fun! And how often does that happen?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, and we’re going to pair it with Pocket Fighter aka Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix! It’s time for a whole pile of chibi street fighters! Please look forward to it!

THIS IS NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE

FGC #165 Another Metroid 2 Remake: Return of Samus

The wait is over/foreverMetroid II: The Return of Samus will always hold a special place in my heart. I was not allowed to have a Gameboy as a child, but when my father decided to paint the entirety of our home, he let me temporarily swap systems with a friend of mine. Vinnie got my Genesis, and I got a Gameboy with Metroid II. In the time it took (my dad) to paint an entire house, I guided Samus Aran through SR388, and wiped the Metroid threat from the galaxy. To this day, whenever I smell wet paint, I think of Metroid hunting, and the sheer joy of first discovering the space jump.

That said? I’m never playing that thing again. Metroid II: The Return of Samus is a fun, beloved game from my childhood, and now it may as well be a pile of puke.

Another Metroid 2 Remake: Return of Samus is brilliant in every conceivable way.

For those of you that haven’t yet discovered this gem (or those from a near future present that has legally obliterated all traces of the game), AM2R:RoS is a fan made remake of the original, monochrome Metroid II. Despite the fact that Nintendo seemed to once be very proud of the teeny Aran adventure (Metroid II was used in a lot of Super Gameboy promotional material, including the dang box art), Metroid II has been pretty much ignored since the release of Super Metroid. Maybe it’s out of respect for Gunpei Yokoi, maybe it’s the fact that the Metroid series has never been that popular in Japan, or maybe it’s just that nobody wanted to reanimate that Alpha Metroid sprite; but whatever the case, it seems inordinately unlikely to see a Nintendo made Metroid II remake at this point, particularly given it’s been twelve years (geez!) since Metroid: Zero Mission, the remake of Metroid (1).

Nature abhors a vacuum, though, so a small collection of dedicated fans decided to make their own damn Metroid II remake. It took eight years or so, but it was Dorkfinally released last week (relative to this article’s original posting date), and, naturally, I leapt onto this game like some sort of floating, fanged jellyfish monster. I waited for a quiet Sunday afternoon, and played through the entirety of the game in one sitting. And guess what? I liked it! I liked it a lot!

This is the first Metroid game that actually feels like Super Metroid. Yes, this remake primarily uses the physics of Metroid: Zero Mission, but it doesn’t adhere to the overarching design philosophies of either GBA Metroid title. Both of those games had a tendency to rely on the “Metroid with levels” design theory wherein a screw attack or space jump might unlock a new area, but once you’re there, it’s basically a challenge course in some particular skill or obstacle. Here is lava area. Here is ice beam area. Here is where you find gravity suit. It’s more overt in Metroid Fusion, but Metroid: Zero Mission seems to subscribe to the same philosophy, albeit slightly more subtlety. This is absolutely not the case in Super Metroid, where great swaths of Meridia and Brinstar are entirely optional. Yes, Kraid and Ridley have “level” lead-ups, but it’s entirely likely you’ll complete the whole game and never encounter a giant, spinning turtle or submersible digging bot. AM2R:RoS follows Super Metroid with its share of secrets and areas that exist simply to be explored, Weeeeelike Samus is venturing through some kind of labyrinthine planet or something.

In short, Another Metroid 2 Remake: Return of Samus is the first 2-D Metroid game since 1994 that I actually wanted to “re-explore” after completion, and that’s huge.

And, to be clear, this is a “fan-made game”, but it avoids the typical “fan-made” pitfalls. There is not some byzantine fanfiction plot that elucidates how Original Character: Do Not Steal has been responsible for everything from the get-go (or, conversely, a Mary Sue that winds up being more powerful/helpful than the protagonist). There is not a default challenge echelon that exists only for people that have dedicated their lives to genre x (looking at you, Mega Man Unlimited… and even Street Fighter X Mega Man to a lesser degree). And the bane of every Super Metroid hack out there: this game does not require perfect mastery of bomb jumping, shinesparking, or wall jumping. Yes, these techniques will help a speed run or someone going for 100% item completion, but they’re not required at any point, which is super, because bomb jumping has been crap since Metroid (1), and we’re all just afraid to admit it.

Under normal circumstances, I’d say that the greatest praise I could offer this game is that if Nintendo released it as a “real” title tomorrow, I wouldn’t change a thing. This is an excellent, professional game, and completely ignores any need for a “well, for a fangame” qualifier. Unfortunately, Nintendo seems to be currently incapable of producing a Metroid game of this caliber, so I think we’d all know something was up if this gem was actually released under the actual copyright owner’s banner.

It's still not funThat’s right, I’m saying Another Metroid 2 Remake: Return of Samus is too good for Nintendo.

Bah, that was 800 words on why you should damn well be playing this game. I’m going to close out the article with random observations that are about specific bits of the game, and thus will spoil random nonsense. If you want to play AM2R:RoS without being spoiled (which I highly recommend), don’t read any further. If you’ve already played the game or don’t give a damn, then lay on, MacDuff.