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FGC #635 Rocket Knight

Let's rocket alongThe Rocket Knight franchise is a great collection of games starring a possum with a jetpack. Did you see the way he dangles on his little tail? Totally adorbs. Unfortunately, these four games contain one of the most confusing naming schemes in the history of gaming. So let us take a quick break to review the games starring Sparkster, and delineate which games appeared when and where. This will simultaneously be informative and note how many games contain giant robots (it’s all of them).

Rocket Knight Adventures
1993
Sega Genesis
The Original

This is so coolIf there is a reason there is a “Rocket Knight” franchise in any tangible way, it is because of this game. And not just because this is the one that started it all! Rocket Knight Adventures is clearly a labor of love by a team that not only was interested in what was next for gaming in 1993, but also Konami’s illuminous past.

As an obvious example of Sparkster showcasing what was contemporary in gaming, we have how this awesome possum moves. This little dude is all about speed, and, complete with a jetpack perpetually tied to his back, Sparky is ready to literally fly through levels. But, while much of the level design is built around seeing how far you can get this rocket knight to ricochet around the world, it is not all simply spin-dashing to a brighter future. This knight and his projectile-blade recalls the combat of Mega Man X, and giant, mechanical bosses would be right at home in any Maverick lineup.

Oh, and there’s a minecart stage. You do not get anymore 16-bit than a minecart stage.

But there are also homages to the past of gaming littered across this (then) modern title. For one thing, one of the shoot ‘em up stages straight up includes a pig piloting a Gradius big core. It isn’t remotely subtle! And there are some some more understated “old school” bits tossed around Sparkster’s world, too. It is clear that this game was created by people that were beholden to the glorious arcade past of Konami (or they, ya know, worked there. Could go either way).

Regardless of the reason, Rocket Knight Adventures perfectly balances the contemporary (animal mascot platformers that gotta go fast) with the (oftentimes difficult) past of Rocket Knight’s ancestors. And, couple this with a few amazing gimmick levels (did I mention the giant robot rocking and socking boss?), and Rocket Knight Adventures is a sight to behold.

Sparkster
1994
Super Nintendo
The Port

Play the hitsIn America, the only Rocket Knight title to ever launch on a Nintendo console is simply “Sparkster”. In Japan, it goes by the longer title, “Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2”. So which is it? A parallel game on an entirely difference videogame system, or a sequel that hopped between platforms? The answer is… confusing.

In a lot of ways, this game feels like an example of the 16-bit mainstay of a game appearing in two totally different versions across two systems. Much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, this initially looks like two Konami games both playing to their system’s respective strengths. Sparkster seems to showcase a more expressive rodent that moves at a faster clip (yes, Virginia, the SNES was capable of its own kind of blast processing), but entirely drops “hardware tricks” like the Genesis reflection lava cave. The graphics are entirely different, and seem to be deliberately adapted for the different color palette and more integrated HUD. And the plot is much the same (for a 16-bit game), with wolves in place of pigs, and Axel Gear still on the side of the devils.

But then there are bits that seem to paint this as a deliberate sequel. The shoot ‘em up sections have now changed from Gradius-style 2-D horizontal shupping to a top-down, 1942-esque vertical affair. We have lost our giant robot boss fight, but replaced it with a stage full of ridable giant robot ostriches. This satisfies our robot quotient and supplicates the need for a minecart. And, if you really need some giant robots, plenty are offered as all-new, all-different bosses. Sparkster does feel like an improvement over its predecessor in a lot of ways, but not all of those upgrades cannot simply be attributed to moving between systems.

Regardless of how it was created, Sparkster is still an amazing experience. It does not feel quite as artisanal as its prequel/portmate, but it is still one of the best platforming games on the Super Nintendo. And that’s pretty amazing, considering this is the same system that hosted Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit!

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2
1994
Sega Genesis
The Real Sequel

I do not care for sandOkay, maybe the Super Nintendo game is supposed to be a port of this Sparkster title. Whatever! Sparky is back on the Sega Genesis here, and we have another game that is immediately evidently unique and different from the previous two. Much of the same gameplay is carried forward (rocketing around, spinning when allowed, firing endless sword beams), but there are a number of innovations across the title. Not all of them are strictly upgrades, though…

Look, your mileage may vary on whether or not you see an improvement here, but Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 gets pretty close to going full collectathon. Whereas previous Rocket Knight titles locked their best endings behind difficulty levels (old school!), now you are going to have to find a hidden sword in each stage (and never skip the intro level) if you want to see “Golden Sparkster” conquer this latest threat. And, while the powered up yellow possum is highly reminiscent of Super Sonic, this is a much less useful hyper mode, as it is impossible to obtain before the absolute final battle. Couple this with some sprawling stages that require a lot more exploration than previous titles (and, by “exploration”, we mean “it is entirely possible you will get lost going up and down the same stupid pipes in that same stupid airship stage”), and it seems like the directors of Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 wanted more than another straightforward action game. Unfortunately, when “straightforward action game” is the reason you’re playing the game in the first place…

But this is still a great game! The final boss fight includes one of the greatest gimmicks that has ever existed in an action game (you and the main villain “swap brains”), and, while it may not immediately lend itself to other climaxes, it is surprising and a curious way to play the game. Similarly, the giant robot boss fight of the first Sparkster has now been expanded to a giant robot level, and I cannot be the only person that was begging for such a thing after getting a taste of it in the first title. And, again, this is still a Sparkster game, so even when you are stuck trying to find the right way out of a pyramid, it is fun to play. Sparkster still sparks around… just he might be better suited to his earlier adventures.

Rocket Knight
2010
Xbox 360 / Playstation 3
The Modern Remake

Do not touchAfter a little over fifteen years, Sparkster returned to us via a downloadable title created by Konami fans that were now firmly established on Konami’s payroll. Rocket Knight is a very different animal from its forebears (well, still a possum), as the “charging” system for causing this knight to rocket around has been dramatically altered. The ABC rule of “always be charging” has now been forsaken for something slightly less active, and it does create a slightly more leisurely feel. However, once you get past that change, this is definitely Rocket Knight like you remember it, with enough ricocheting to make a Hanna-Barbera rabbit blush. And new innovations like projectile reflection or drilling add just enough new gameplay variety to make your average wolf/pig encounter more remarkable than in the 16-bit days.

Unfortunately, some of those innovations just make you long for what may have been. Rocket Knight feels like the definition of a 2010 videogame download title (“Xbox Live Arcade Title”). It is amazing! But it is quick! There are basically four worlds here, and a whole quarter of that count is given over to a few stages that are very much glorified tutorials. By the time we are hitting the interesting stuff (like an icy world that freezes your jetpack or a thrilling escape from an exploding factory), we are already practically done. While Rocket Knight seems to be about the same length as its predecessors, it still feels like it ends just when it was getting exciting.

Oh, and there are plenty of giant robots to fight, but not a single one that you get to ride. I could take that giant pig-bot out for a spin, but noooooo…

But one way or another, this is the end of the Rocket Knight franchise. Will we ever see that possum ever again? Maybe! But at least he flew away on a high note that left us wanting more.

Even if we still need a guide to determine which game was which..

FGC #635 Rocket Knight

  • A bit chilly hereSystem: Xbox 360 to start, with Playstation 3 and PC following shortly thereafter. Full disclosure: this whole article was inspired by purchasing an Xbox Series X, and discovering to my delight that Rocket Knight was fully backwards compatible and waiting for me on the new system.
  • Number of players: One of these days that princess is going to have to suit up and be player two. Until then, we are sticking with one rocket knight.
  • Favorite Level: I cannot emphasize enough how the gimmick of the ice level freezing Sparkster’s rocket pack makes for simultaneously new/exciting gameplay and makes perfect, in-plot sense. A miraculous combination of gameplay and setting. Really makes me beg for a universe where this title had a little room to stretch its legs.
  • Favorite Boss: I generally do not like the final boss, as it spends way too much of its existence in something of an invincible/unhittable state. That said, he is a giant, golden pig robot… so I kind of have a hard time getting mad at the guy.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: Rocket Knight returns to the 2-D, horizontal scrolling shoot ‘em up levels of the original adventure. However, it would not be incorrect to state that these levels are much more robust than anything that appeared back in the 90’s, and flying around with this possum leads to some of the best experiences in the game. So what I’m saying is can we finally get a modern Gradius from the same team? Please?
  • Pow powGotta Collect ‘Em All: Rocket Knight now has collectathon elements, as a ranking on each level is based on finding every last gem and doodad throughout the level. A number of these items are “normal”, and would be found easily through traditional level traversal. Unfortunately, there seem to be a couple in every stage that require some dedicated searching or jump-blast coordination, and… Can we not? Can we just have fun zooming around, and not worrying if a 1-Up is hidden in that little alcove over there? This was the worst part of Rocket Knight Adventures 2…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Like Mega Man 9, this is one of the first titles I bought as “digital only”, and did not simply wait for a physical release like I had for every other title. It seems appropriate that it used to require “modern update on retro franchise” to get me to go outside my comfort zone.
  • Did you know? Rocket Knight was a free “games with gold” title for Xbox in November of 2021, eleven years after its release. So if you were waiting for a “sale” for over a decade, have I got a deal for you! That expired!
  • Would I play again: Probably… albeit in another few years. Even with all the baubles to collect, there isn’t much to this game. It is there, it is fun, and then it ends. I have no great drive to immediately return… but I know it will happen eventually. Thus is the magnetic pull of such an excellent possum.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64! We’re going from the squeaky clean knight to the belligerent squirrel. Please look forward to it!

Zzzzzap

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 #631 Voltron: Defender of the Universe

Let’s talk about games preservation and the defender of the universe.

This is Voltron

Keep on defendin' in the free worldToday’s subject is Voltron: Defender of the Universe for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It is a Voltron title released five years before the critically praised Netflix Voltron “revival” of 2016. Theoretically, this Voltron experience was produced to promote the failed Voltron “sequel” Voltron Force, which was released the same year. But, to be absolutely clear, Voltron: Defender of the Universe is wholly based on the original Voltron series, and does not feature any “next generation” nonsense or a Sven that is old and grizzly from his stay at space hospital. This is the story of Keith, Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and whoever is piloting Blue Lion this week as they attempt to repel an army of purple people punishers with the occasional skull tank. There are robeasts. There are evil witches. And there are three main levels, so you will form Blazing Sword three times.

And if you are curious “how it plays”, it is primarily a twin stick shooter. There are multiplayer options available, but, by and large, you are looking at three stages of solo stick shootin’ mooks, a boss, and then forming Voltron to Simon Says until a robeast is slain. Repeat three times, and you have successfully defended the universe in perpetuity. There are two space stages that could be mistaken for lion-based Gradius, and the rest is running around random environments (and, for the record, we have “grass planet”, “desert planet”, and the finale, “Bowser planet”). Oh! And you have your choice of five lions, all with different stats (and three different-sized models between them). This is definitely Voltron.

You Cannot Buy Voltron

Big BlueUnfortunately, you’re just going to have to take my word on all this information, as you cannot purchase Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Obviously, V:DotU is a licensed videogame, and, at some point Wikipedia fails to date, that license expired. As a result, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions are no longer available. There never was a PC release, so that is right out; and we never saw a physical release for this bite-sized adventure that only includes three worlds. Additionally, even if you do still have the game available, the DLC has been delisted, too. So if you missed that “survival mode” that was released six months after the initial availability, you are out of luck. And, as the extra special poison cherry on top, the Playstation 3 storefront as a whole has been “retired” to the point that it requires bizarre workarounds simply to access your own content (“I have to change my password now? Again?”), so you better hope your PS3 hard drive stays safe if you want future Voltron times. And going to go ahead and assume (but literally no way to confirm) the latest Xbox models do not carry this title forward…

In short, if you want to play Voltron: Defender of the Universe, and you didn’t buy it eleven years ago, you are just as damned as Medusa Anga (Robeast #27, true believers).

Is Voltron Worth Saving?

Because GradiusLet’s be clear on one important note: Voltron: Defender of the Universe was made almost exclusively for fans of a series that had ended over 25 years before the game’s release. Give or take the opening narration that accompanies every boot (just like it started every episode of the original series), there is no real explanation of what is happening here, or how the characters relate to what is happening on the screen. There are five lions! They turn into a giant robot man! Why? Who the hell knows! The antagonists don’t seem friendly with each other, but no explanation is given for why they are attacking, or why their vehicles look like things that could be easily scaled down to fit comfortably into a child’s hands. And there are random cut-ins from members of the Voltron Force, and… who are these people? Why does the blue one keep changing? Why does the green one sound so weird? And then the game ends by introducing another Voltron force? Is there the slightest bit of context for that narrative swerve? Nope!

Everything significant about Voltron: DotU was lifted wholesale from the original Voltron English dub. Animated scenes are marginally upscaled copies of the original (that look to be slightly above Sega CD quality), and all sound bites feature “the original voice actors” because they were lifted from the original dub tracks. Apparently Peter Cullen recorded a few new lines as the narrator, but you’d be forgiven if you assumed all those lines about “Voltron defeated Zarkon” were direct copy ‘n paste jobs. And the three “episodes” of the game are straight up Voltron episodes (specifically the opening “miniseries” with Part 4 featured, Episode 44 Voltron vs. Voltron, and Episode 50 the nigh finale of Zarkon Becomes a Robeast) that do no favors to the narration by skipping a solid fifty episodes of plot. In short, if you came into this franchise blind, Voltron: Defender of the Universe makes absolutely no attempt to welcome a new audience.

Meanwhile, if you were already a fan of Voltron, this is mana from heaven. Hearing the original voices, fighting those familiar playsets and toys, and even just hearing “Voltron will be right back after these messages” every time you pause is amazing. At release, it had been a quarter of a century since Voltron was new on the airwaves, and, even if this was a rehash of familiar plots, this game was a love letter to the original Voltron English release that was important to a number of childhoods (chief among them mine, because I am important [to me]). Voltron: Defender of the Universe was released at a time when Voltron awareness was at an all-time low, and it was the best thing to come out of Voltron in a long while (brother, if you talk about Voltron: The Third Dimension in this house, I will show you the door).

But, like this game, the world of 2011 is no more. Voltron is now a known property, no longer relegated to obscure DVD collections and “l33t rips”, but available immediately in its entirety on Netflix. And the new Voltron series brought with it years of new Voltron content and action figures. While the fervor has died down since the Netflix series ended, Voltron is now more available than ever, and a super fan does not need a PS3 game for their fix. Voltron has moved on, so maybe the loss of one random game isn’t a big deal. Newbies would get nothing out of the game, and the real fans have an embarrassment of riches to keep them company. The world doesn’t need Voltron: Defender of the Universe.

The Universe needs Voltron

What is the difference between this videogame and all the other Voltron media now freely available? Well, like it says in that very question, Votron: Defender of the Universe is a videogame. Specifically, it is a videogame from the early days of downloadable titles. And that is an entire branch of videogame history that people seem to ignore. V:DotU is a twin-stick shooter! Like Geometry Wars! Remember Geometry Wars? Everyone was playing it for a solid six months. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was once the single most downloaded game on the Xbox 360. But you will find more people that talk about its contemporaries of Resident Evil 4, Psychonauts, or God of War before they mention the little shooter that could. And by the time you get to 2011, you have Voltron competing against the likes of Batman: Arkham City, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Portal 2. Does V:DotU deserve to be spoken of in the same breathless tones as a game that revolutionized singing robots for the second time? No, but it would be nice if someone remembered it happened.

You gonna dieMuch like its parent series, Voltron: Defender of the Universe is a product of its time. The “fan service” that is continually on display was a naked attempt to appeal to the demographic that was just then grown up enough to max out their credit cards on nostalgic crap. The “twin stick” gameplay is something literally anyone could master, so it could bring in Voltron fans without requiring JRPG or fighting game-style expertise. And, yes, it was a “budget” downloadable title in a time when that kind of thing was viable for licensed products. If it was successful, they could produce enough DLC to expand into a “full” game. If it dropped like a wet thud (which is closer to the reality of what happened), it would still be a complete experience well worth ten bucks worth of Xbox points. In short, V:DotU had clear goals and an audience, and it was not the only of its kind in 2011.

But now that portion of videogame history seems to be stricken from the record. Much in the same way that the original Japanese Beast King GoLion is forgotten in a sea of other mecha anime in its native land, Voltron: Defender of the Universe for the PS3 is forgotten here. It is another in an ocean of downloadable twin stick shooters from the era. And that era in its entirety? It has been ignored for the AAA titles (and their copycats) of the age. Skyward Sword just received a rerelease despite its difficult to emulate controls, Portal 2 has never not been available on your computer, and even Saints Row: The Third was a comparatively modest hit that somehow has representation to this very day. And never mind that this was the same year both Dark Souls and Minecraft were released! Ain’t nobody talkin’ ‘bout the latest game being a Voltron: Defender of the Universe-borne-like.

pew pewSo, yes, the world needs Voltron: Defender of the Universe because the world needs its history. We need the failure games. We need the licensed games. We need the ability to experience these games that are lost in legal limbo, because watching a youtube let’s play or reading about it on a blog is simply not the same. We need to play these lost games, and live in a world where they are available. We need to learn from our collective past, and not simply sweep history under the rug. Now, more than ever, we need a defender of the universe, even if that defender failed to make an impact on said universe.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe, like all games of its ilk, deserves a chance to be played. And if you need anyone to defend this defender? Then I’ll form the head.

FGC #631 Voltron: Defender of the Universe

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. You know, if you got them when they were available…
  • Number of players: I have no idea. Seriously! I know there are at least two players available, but it is possible they jacked that up to the whole five with online play. I really don’t know!
  • Favorite Voltron Lion: Green has always been my go-to, but his nimble movements and shooting exist at the cost of crappy armor, and the later stages require a little more durability. So with that in mind, Black Lion seems to win as the general allrounder that can survive long enough to put down the forces of the Drule Empire. Sorry, Pidge, I want to see you live through this fight.
  • I will survive!So whatcha got: If you are asking what Voltron: DotU has gameplay wise over its twin stick competitors, I point to “survival mode”, wherein you are punted out of your lion and forced to survive on foot if your HP drops to zero. It takes ten whole seconds for a Voltron lion to repair itself, so ducking and avoiding heavy artillery is a must if you want to literally save a lost life and hop back into your vehicle for an offensive. On earlier levels, this is basically a ticket to infinite lives; on later levels, it is survival mode in every sense of the word. And it’s fun!
  • Exploitable: You receive bonus points for surviving Survival Mode. I do not know if there is an upper limit to the number of times you will receive points for surviving, but it sure seems like a ticket to a max score would be to repeatedly crash your lion, and then “survive” over and over again. What are the million point strats for Voltron?
  • Favorite Level: Surprising no one, I prefer the two autoscrolling space stages. They may nix Survival Mode (sorry, no spacesuits for Voltron Force), but the simple progression of floating through space and obliterating anything in your path is ideal for a twin stick lion shooter. And the latter space stage even gets a cameo from Castle of Lions floating around! Always good!
  • Form Blazing Sword: All Voltron fights are “press X at the right time” style affairs, not unlike getting a critical in Shadow Hearts. This is… a choice. It is presented with a GUI not unlike a fighting game, though, and now I am just imagining a Mech on Monster style fighting game. Or has that been done before?
  • Did you know? In the original Voltron (and thus, this game), Pidge was voiced by Neil Ross, the same man that voiced Keith. Pidge basically had such a bizarre voice because there were like six people voicing dozens of people on the show, and you have got to keep everybody separate somehow. See also: Inhumanoids, where Neil Ross was responsible for voicing everyone from Herc Armstrong to Ronald Reagan. And he was Green Goblin on the 1994 Spider-Man animated series! So at least he stuck to a good color.
  • You gonna dieWould I play again: Some stages in Voltron: Defender of the Universe are downright… relaxing? Basic run and shoot gameplay that ain’t too bad on a Saturday afternoon. I am unlikely to play the whole thing from top to bottom again, but it is likely on the replay list for individual levels.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pac-Land! The one where Pac-Man is running around on legs for some reason. Please look forward to it!

FGC #630 Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, a game released within the last year. It is not really a plot-based game, but if you would like to go into the experience completely untainted by knowing the final (incredibly telegraphed) twist of the adventure, do not read this article. If this does not bother you, go ahead and read on…

Not Wonder LandThere is no other way to say this, so I’m just going to be out with it from the start: Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, which is maybe the 3,000th indie Metroidvania released in 2021, nearly made me cry.

I am going to talk about why.

Bah… I guess I should talk about the game for a hot second before getting into the details of my own anime-based psychological problems. RoLW:DiWL is, as previously stated, a Metroidvania. It specifically is a Metroidvania in the style of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and by “in the style of” I mean “Konami might need to hire a few more lawyers, but not too many lawyers, because man is it obvious what is happening here”. To say this game feels like Symphony of the Night is an understatement, and the minute-to-minute seems more like that seminal title than some later games made by the exact same guy who made Symphony of the Night in the first place (and, yes, I am talking about Bloodstained here). And, to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing for any franchises that may currently exist, as IGA already made Symphony of the Night, he did not have to do it again. Meanwhile, Team Ladybug clearly wanted to make a game that was “Symphony of the Night, but with an immortal elf instead of an immortal dhampir”, and then they went ahead and did it. And they did it well! RoLLW:DiWL is a phenomenal Metroidvania all on its own, and, if Symphony of the Night inspired much of it (right down to the protagonist’s persistant and unnecessary/radical shadow), then it is simply a testament to how SotN had amazing bones to begin with, and any fleshy homunculus built around it would be astounding.

Is it hot in here?But this is not to say that Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth does not have its own identity. For one thing, there is a surprisingly complex “color system” that influences every piece of gameplay. Deedlit has the ability to switch between wind and fire spirits through nearly the entirety of her adventure. When in wind mode, Deedlit can hover and boost a jump or too, and fire allows her to perform an invincible, flaming slide. This means you are frequently presented with rooms, monsters, and bosses that necessitate using one element or another. Or perhaps you will find that a certain “pattern” is tremendously more surmountable if you stop trying to jump with wind and start sliding with fire. Additionally, as one would expect in this kind of situation, different monsters are vulnerable to different elements, so if that fire dragon is withstanding a dozen fiery slashes, switch over to the windy side and blow that beast away. And everything from basic mooks to giant bosses seems to use at least one attack that is elementally themed, so turning on your fire element when facing down a blaze means you’ll take zero damage and absorb some extra mana to boot. We have seen “switching” mechanics in games before, in everything from Silhouette Mirage to Devil May Cry, but RoLW:DiWL makes it a gameplay feature both welcome and wonderful. And the simple way it is implemented without frequent menu finagling feels a lot better than at least one of its Metroidvania sisters.

So if you are looking for a great Metroidvania, look no further than Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. If you enjoyed Symphony of the Night, you will enjoy this. If you want to see some marginal improvement on the formula, you will enjoy the switching system involved. If you want most anything else new, you will not find much (the arrows work in fascinating ways… but do feel kind of like a vestigial gimmick, and the “magic spells” are absolutely vestigial), but what is there is solid gold. It is hard to imagine any reason anyone else would be tempted to play this Record of Lodoss War game.

Oh, wait, right. The whole “Record of Lodoss War” thing. That’s where things get… sentimental.

No EarthSo, for those of you that are unaware (which is anyone who is not a giant nerd very specifically between the ages of 35 and 50), Record of Lodoss War was a novel series and Japanese manga published between 1988 and 1993. It was also had an OVA (original video animation: essentially the “limited series event” of anime) that was finished in 1991, and a 27-episode anime in 1998. In its time, it was very popular. But, unfortunately, “its time” was before anime really made a foothold in the West (I personally blame Pokémon for that), and Record of Lodoss War was already looking pretty long in the tooth before Cowboy Bebop and G Gundam offered their stylish alternatives. And, while it is a shame that Record of Lodoss War seems to be forgotten by the nerd populace at large for anything more than being the anime that makes you say “well, you’d probably like Slayers more”, it is not a surprising end. Ultimately, Record of Lodoss War is incredibly dry by practically any epoch’s standards. It is the typical tale of swords and sorcery in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, and very little gives it that essential “twist” that separates it from the myriad of books, comics, and cartoons that have dominated the “fantasy genre” since Tolkien first decided to put hobbit to paper. It is a story of knights, wizards, elves, and dwarves, and if you have seen even one dragon slaying, you have heard it all before.

The good kind of bouncyBut it is hard not to have affection for these knights, wizard, elves, and dwarves. Record of Lodoss War is a banal story, but there is familiarity in the mundane. Parn is every young adventurer who grows to become a gallant knight over the course of his escapades. Etoh is the noble priest and Parn’s steady friend. Slayn the sensible wizard is similarly reliable and often a makeshift mentor figure. Ghim the dwarf is everything you expect from a dwarf willing to die to save another. Woodchuck the rogue is just as trustworthy as his archetype will allow (which isn’t very much). And Deedlit (the titular star of the game that I am pretty sure this article is still about) is the high elf that wants to learn about the “human” world outside of the insular community of elves she has always known. Put it all together, and we are looking at every tabletop roleplaying gang ever played. Yes, you might have had more unique players in your own Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun (look, an elf is an elf, dammit) games, but the wizened wizard or the reliable cleric is a trope for a reason: it just works. And if you are into that nonsense, it is hard not to see Slayn being similar to your friend Steve, or Woodchuck bearing more than a passing resemblance to your buddy Fruitbat (example nicknames will not be explained).

And that puts a little bit of a different spin on this adventure when you find out that Deedlit…