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FGC #542 Splatterhouse (2010)

It goes splatLet’s give some respect to a game that knows exactly what it wants to be, even if it just wants to be disgusting.

Here is a list of games that were released in 2010:

  • God of War 3
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Dead Rising 2
  • Bioshock 2
  • Dante’s Inferno
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

And 2010 was also a year some of these games were noted as champions of storytelling within the medium. Red Dead Redemption is a game that deserves to be held in the same exalted pantheon as its western forbearers. Bioshock 2 wasn’t as revolutionary as the game that (mostly) birthed its franchise, but it was still a somber look at greed and decay. Dead Rising 2 has a lot to say about the current state of the medical industry in the United States. Dante’s Inferno is the retelling of an epic poem that now somehow involves a hell of a lot of dismemberment. Actually, come to think of it, literally every one of these games involves a surprising amount of mutilation. And… was that the point? Were these complicated stories of love, betrayal, and a dude that somehow forgot he was Dracula, yarns that just happened to be attached to bloodbaths? Or was it the reverse? Were these violent videogames (utilizing the latest technology of the day to clearly render when you had successfully ejected an opponent’s spinal column) that also, incidentally, included tales that would rival those of Dante? These were all games that enjoyed varying levels of success, and now, ten years later, it’s impossible to discern the intentions of the writers and directors involved.

Such a fun place!Or we know exactly what they were thinking: hyper-violent action games were all the rage in 2010, and your average player would eat up any story that claimed to have influences more cerebral than a Burger King Kid’s Club flyer (… yeah… people in 2010 were dummies, I’m sure gamers got better in the meanwhile). If you had a game that was primarily shotgun-based, but wanted to score a few reviews that somehow still included the word “elegant”, all you had to do was wrap your story around a few heady concepts, and, before you could say “Kafkaesque”, you’ve got a hit on your hands. And, for better or worse, this would happen over and over again for years. A new game is released, it embraces an unhealthy amount of face punching, but also includes a reference to a philosophical concept or two, and it is graded as some manner of genius event for everyone involved. Then the shine rubs off (usually sometime around when the DLC release schedule winds down), and we’re left with a number of people scratching their head, vainly attempting to figure out why the hell there was such a big hubbub in the first place. Bioshock Infinite cured racism? I’m sure I remember that happening once…

But there was one game released in 2010 that knew exactly what it was and what it was about: Splatterhouse.

Splatterhouse is a 3-D, modern reimagining of the original Splatterhouse franchise. All of the old staples are there: a disastrous visit to an old house in the middle of nowhere, a girlfriend kidnapped, and a haunted mask that propels our protagonist to stalk the halls in a very Voorhees manner. There’s a clear goal (rescue girlfriend), obvious monsters (they’re the dudes with asymmetric tentacles), and an excuse or two for a little blood splatter. Old weapons are scattered about the area (who couldn’t use a 2×4) and even the old bosses are represented in straightforward (there cannot be that many dudes with chainsaws for hands) or figurative ways (a haunted room must evolve into a poltergeist colossus). This Splatterhouse is not a “modern remake” that completely eschews the source material in favor of something new and different, it is completely recognizable as Splatterhouse.

Hey buddyBut there is technically a new plot hoisted on Splatterhouse. What we have here is something that could have been implied by the original, practically narration-less Splatterhouse, but is now made concrete in 2010. “The Mask” is an ancient prisoner of monsters that slipped out, and is now using its magical/deadly powers for revenge. Your ultimate opponent is a Lovecraftian cadre of formless ones that want to enter this universe and transform it into their personal meat grinder. The majority of your foes are literal monsters stitched together by a vengeful, immortal college professor (that, incidentally, kind of looks like Lovecraft). And poor, traditionally mute Rick is now a conflicted student stuck in the middle. Rick wants to save “his girl”, and he certainly doesn’t want to be dead, but does he need to kill so many ostensibly living creatures in order to meet his goals? Mask is all about the violence, but Rick seems to have objections to the kill count that is rapidly mounting at the end of his fists. Does Rick need to be so violent? Is all this carnage really necessary? Can’t we all just get along?

And the answer is: No, Rick, you dumbass, this is a videogame. You’re here to paint the walls red. Everybody knows what this is, Ricky Boy, don’t fight it.

So much splatSplatterhouse may momentarily flirt with a greater calling to make comments on the nature of violence or explore its Cthulhu inspired universe; but, more than that, it is a game that knows exactly what its audience is here for. Like a good 80’s horror film, it assumes the viewers only want two things: blood and tits. To satisfy that bloodlust, practically every enemy can become part of a fatality-esque finisher that offers organs aplenty being splayed about. And if you choose to hold off on those QTEs, all monsters pop like blood ticks, so your Mask’s thirst for the red stuff is always satisfied. And if you’re looking for the other reason for an R (M) rating, Splatterhouse has straight up nudity ready to go from the first level. Jenny is apparently the only human female seen in this universe (granted, technically, there’s only like one 100% human male on screen in this story, and he’s dead before the game starts), and she has been kidnapped, but don’t let that stop you from whipping it out in her honor. Every stage has four fragments of “Jenny’s Pictures” scattered around, and, boy, let me tell you, Jenny was an exhibitionist. The Jenny model is shamelessly used in all sorts of situations, so whether it’s a steamy shower scene or a skimpy Halloween costume that is going to wet your noodle, Splatterhouse has got you covered. Ha! Covered! Totally unlike Jenny!

And is this gross? Absolutely. 90% of the content of the previous paragraph is disgusting. The idea that the player would be “rewarded” with naked pictures of the ostensible heroine of the story is not only narrowly male heteronormative, but also just plain gross. Jenny is not only a damsel in distress, her naked (and thereabouts) pictures are the prime reward for a player exploring these environments. By all accounts, she was created just to be ‘bating bait for the audience, and, plot-wise, all we learn about Jenny is that she likes posing for risqué photographs (on actual film! Is that a character trait?). And once you get past her, the only friendly cast member, the fact that you can only interact with your antagonists through bloodsport isn’t much better. Your opponents are monsters, yes, but it is plainly stated that a number of these “creatures” are humans that have been experimented on and mutated. And how do you deal with these lost souls (some of which are distinctly noted as people Rick once knew)? Your tear their insides out. And when a door is a pulsing eyeball, you tear that out, too! But don’t worry, when a mouth-door is involved, then you have to feed blood to it, so there’s no tearing there. But there’s still violence! In fact, there is nary a single problem in Splatterhouse that can’t be solved by wanton, bloody destruction. And that’s a moral we don’t need! Violence is not the answer, and any “game” that encourages hours of carnage cannot be good for the national psyche.

Except… that’s not any different from every other bloody brawler released in 2010. The only variance here is that Splatterhouse is completely honest about its vices, while its contemporaries tried to hide behind a veneer of respectability.

It looks badGod of War 3 ended by claiming the entire franchise was about the relationship between an abusive father and his son (that may have murdered his family), but it was also a trilogy that always took time to include topless women and what could best be described as a “sex minigame”. But don’t worry, kiddies, that happened slightly offscreen! This is a respectable game! Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a “mature” reimagining of Castlevania that incidentally treated its female cast like disposable props. Any women left standing? There’s Carmilla, a former holy warrior whose desecrated earthly remains became a vampire that is going to flirt with her opponent for about 80% of the fight. So a nun that has become corrupted and is now overtly sexual? Gosh, that couldn’t be an extremely well-trodden fetish or anything. This is a mature game. It’s not like Carmilla is wearing something like a nun’s habit split to reveal her breasts or anything. But that’s the way it goes, right? These are sophisticated games, so there might be a little t(its) to accompany your v(iolence). You know, maybe.

Or that’s the entire point, and so many games in 2010 were simultaneously nakedly chasing the heterosexual, 20-something male demographic and attempting to claim a seat at the table of “mature” media like books or movies (because everyone knows those mediums never pander to anybody). Testosterone-fueled escapes for a man’s Id were the norm (ha, were), but you could get away with it if you attached some tragedy to the proceedings. And not, like, horror movie, you-decided-to-take-the-wrong-turn tragedy, either! Pathos! You need the hero to really feel bad about his dead wife (do you want to review the previously mentioned 2010 games and tally up the number of dead wives involved? It is a concerning number!), so that way the “hero” is at least grimacing when he rips the heart out of the malevolent Tig Biddy. Kratos might be involved in an adventure that could incidentally involve a lot of nudity and violence, but he’s doing it for his family (even if they’re dead). This isn’t an adolescent fantasy, it’s a tale of love and redemption. It’s epic.

Don't touch that guySplatterhouse is just like its contemporaries, except it doesn’t chase that “epic” banner. Splatterhouse is a game that accepts its audience wants some nudity and violence, and, hey, here you go. You don’t have to analyze it. You don’t have to think about it. You just have to press X to explode-a-head. You can just review a gallery of naked pictures. You can be as horny or ferocious as you want, and Splatterhouse isn’t going to judge. It might be gross, but if it’s your thing, it’s not trying to hide your thing. Splatterhouse seems to believe it knows exactly what its audience wants, and it is going to unashamedly drown everyone in it.

Splatterhouse doesn’t try to be what it is not. Splatterhouse is Splatterhouse, and it should be commended for never apologizing for such.

Stay gross, Splatterhouse.

FGC #542 Splatterhouse (2010)

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Splatterhouse is not listed as an Xbox One backwards compatible game, but apparently something called “The Splatters™” is listed, so the search function is working properly.
  • Number of players: Just Rick and Mask, working as one player.
  • QTE fun!Beyond the Gore: Splatterhouse is a pretty typical 3-D action game of the era, but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. There are some 2-D areas that harken back to the old days, and they’re generally enjoyable (mostly because most of the usually spongey mooks suddenly are all 1-hit kills). There are also a few “jump areas” and “chases” that are predominantly quick time events, and they’re… less fun. It feels like we have gotten away from continual QTEs with our current gaming generation, which almost makes these portions vaguely nostalgic.
  • Favorite Area: The plot finds an excuse for magical portals to beam Rick outside of the titular Splatterhouse, so there are a few interesting venues available. The “ruined future”, “the past”, and slaughterhouse are all fun locations, but you really can’t beat the “Murder Carnival” that is some kind of pastiche of Disney World, a local fair, and an unruly number of giant entrails. And the hall of mirrors offers an excuse for all kinds of fights for Rick, so just enjoy the ride.
  • Are there Murder Clowns? Yep.
  • Say something mean: It’s fun being a murderous psychopath, but the final few areas find excuses to add different kinds of timers. Sometimes it is a collapsing bridge, sometimes it’s an “escort mission”, and sometimes there’s just an outright timer on the screen; but regardless of the reason, anytime your seconds are limited in Splatterhouse, it is pretty lousy. “Aiming” is a pain in the ass, and most combos keep going well after your opponent is finished. The result? You’re punching air for seconds on end while your death ticks closer and closer. Losing control isn’t a good thing when you don’t have time to spare.
  • Favorite Boss: Experiment 765 is a giant, electric ape with a hammer. He beats ol’ chainsaws-for-hands any day of the week.
  • Make clowns go splatDid you know? Whether it was intended as part of the original release or DLC that would never come, there was a lot of cut content in Splatterhouse. There was supposed to be a Nazi ice base (featuring that previously mentioned ape), a “dead island” tropical setting (including a boss that is only seen in a fish tank in the game proper), and even a finale in a collapsing chapel (there is a wedding/human sacrifice happening sometime around then, after all). Splatterhouse was kind of a bomb, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see what was intended to be “Splatterhouse Complete”, but I have to formally state that any game that includes extra violence against Nazis is a good thing.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. This is fun in the short term (most of the time), but it’s not really my thing. That said, Berserker Mode is a hoot, and, if I have to play a PS3-era beat ‘em up, this ain’t too bad. I’m not stalking the halls again anytime soon, but I could conceive of a world where I might give it a shot. At least there is a New Game+!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mario Tennis for the Virtual Boy! Spooky times are over, but we’re still seeing red. Please look forward to it!

That's what it looks like

FGC #541 Splatterhouse

Things go splatSigmund Freud put forth the psychological theory of psychosexual development. In short, Freud’s hypothesis was that boys and girls went through certain sexual developmental stages during childhood, and each of these phases had particular erogenous triggers that should be satisfied, even if only subconsciously. If these conditions were not properly met, a child would grow into an adult that had a specific fetish/fixation. If all went well, then the kid would grow to be a sexually well-adjusted man or woman that doesn’t google pictures of half-dressed centaurs when his fiancée is asleep. While Freud’s psychosexual outlines have been derided since the early 20th Century as sexist, homophobic, euro-centric, scientifically inaccurate, and generally unpleasant, Freud’s teachings still persist through to today… even if they only wind up as part of pop-psychology lectures provided by sitcom characters. Oh! And in videogames!

So let’s review Freud’s theory of psychosexual development through the medium of Splatterhouse.

The Oral Stage

The first stage lasts from birth until about one year. During this stage, the only way a person knows how to interact with the world is through oral means. It starts at the mother’s teat, and ends with every goddamn thing within reach being shoved into that toothless maw. Supposedly, if there is too little or too much (Freud is astrology for psychology nerds) oral gratification, they will grow to be an adult that is passive, gullible, and/or immature.

Not too gross

The Oral Stage is the foundation of Splatterhouse. Rick, a boy anxious just to have some alone time with his girlfriend in a creepy house that may or may not have blood all over the walls, is murdered seven seconds into his romantic rendezvous. But all is not lost! Rick is revived by a haunted facemask. The only caveat? He has to keep wearing the mask, which means he cannot orally enjoy anything. His face is permanently bound for the entirety of his adventure, so he has become little more than a deprived child (albeit one with the power to punch monsters to death).

Gross

Taunting Rick is the final boss of Splatterhouse, a gigantic head with toothy jaws that can only devour everything in its path (and throw rocks, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor). Rick has no mouth with which to orally interact, while his greatest foe is all consuming. Give or take a particularly unpleasant skin condition, Rick is forced to envy everything about his ultimate opponent.

The Anal Stage

If you like big butts and cannot lie, you are likely fixated on mistakes made during the anal stage of development. This stage, taking place from approximately eighteen months to three years, sees the focus shift from the upper digestive tract to the lower half. Pleasure is derived from satisfying the urges of everything below the equator, and the biggest factor here on whether or not someone will forever be hypnotized by the booty is effective toilet training. If training is too strict at this stage, it will inevitably lead to someone being “anal” and controlling; or, in the event of parents that aren’t too concerned about Kid Stinky, an adult might wind up becoming one of those guys with visible stink lines.

Gross

So it should be no surprise that Rick winds up in a literal sewer as soon as Level 2. Despite the fact that the titular Splatterhouse is a house that is literally in the middle of nowhere, it apparently has a robust sewer system, complete with water monsters. It is obvious that these creatures are meant to represent excrement, and would be festering, pulsating poop monsters if Splatterhouse had been released with more high definition options. Regardless, Rick fighting through the muck to murder monsters made of messes is a clear allusion to the anal stage, and how no one can ever truly live in a world where everything is clean.

The Phallic Phase

Here’s where things get interesting! From the ages of three to six, a person will explore their genitals. This is not a “sexual awakening” as we commonly think of it, but it is a time when the person involved realizes they can derive pleasure from touching their no-no places. Additionally, as children usually acquire a curiosity about other dark corners of anatomy, this is traditionally when they learn about the physical differences between men and women. This is also where the Oedipus complex comes into play, as a boy child is apparently coming around on “real” sexual feelings, and wants to unseat his father and claim his mother as a lover. If you’re wondering about Freud’s equivalent thinking for women, don’t bother, as Freud left Electra to Carl Jung, and claimed that women simply experience a “negative Oedipus complex” that, if not properly managed, will lead to a woman with the affliction of “high self-esteem”. Remember how I said this thing was a little sexist?

Gross

But Rick isn’t a woman! Rick is a man’s man, and, as such, he has to fight a pile of blood worms that couldn’t be any more phallic if they were starring in Captain Toad. The boss of Stage 1 is little more than a pile of severed, bloody wieners, and Rick has to fight off every last one before they drain his life force. And could there be any greater metaphor for the phallus? Well, there’s the final worm that bursts forth from a hanging man’s abdomen, but that one is a little more Alien than outright phallic.

The Latency Phase

From about age six to puberty, psychosexual development apparently just takes a moment to collect itself. You know all about “bloodworms”, but you can’t really do anything about any of that yet, so may as well just chill on everything until those hormones get going. But thoughts are still there! They just have to be channeled into something else. So, essentially, Freud thought that every 2nd grader is a churning ball of sexual energy, but is trying not to think about it while learning how to play dodgeball. Whatever, Siggy.

Not too Gross

However, this can be seen within Splatterhouse in the lead up to the finale of Stage 5. Rick is trying to rescue Jenny, but is menaced by ghost women in an art gallery. These apparitions are the only obviously female foes in the house, and it is clear they are restless spirits meant to represent Rick’s feelings for his mate. Rick knows he must find Jenny, but he has no idea how or where. Does he even know what he’s going to do when he gets there? In the meanwhile, he must turn his focus elsewhere. These ghosts seem to indicate that Rick’s desires are real, but no more substantial than wisps.

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase

For an extremely brief period just before puberty begins, it is posited that everyone goes through the meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase. This is an oft-overlooked stage in development when people’s thoughts turn exclusively to a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands. Why does this happen? Is it a universal, deep-seated affection for Leatherface? Or is it a matter of the fact that the most natural, pure sexual attraction is the one between a person and a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands? Nobody knows. But ask anyone over the age of 12 about their own meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase, and they’ll likely sigh contentedly.

Back to gross

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase is best emblemized by the boss of Stage 3, Biggy Man. Biggy Man is, naturally, a gigantic, fleshy fellow with gardening equipment implanted on his arms. Like his attendant phase of psychosexual development, he is a difficult boss if you do not come prepared. If you show up at his door with the (unsurprisingly phallic) shotgun, though, he’s a wee kitten, and will be purring (bleeding) in no time. Fear not this perfectly natural phase!

The Genital Phase

The genital phase is the grand finale of psychosexual development. At this point, we’re well and truly into puberty, and, in the immortal words of my pants when I turned 13, “let’s get our freak on” (to be clear, my pants could not actually talk, there were simply some unusual clothing designs available at Hot Topic in the 90s). Assuming someone has successfully completed all of their psychosexual development homework over the previous decade and change, the Genital Phase is where it all pays off, and adult, consenting relationships/relations can happen. You no longer want to have sex with your mom (or, if you’re a woman, negative-mom), and you will gain sexual satisfaction not only from your own biological parts, but also from satisfying the needs and desires of others. It’s a good time for everybody!… Unless you messed up on one of the earlier phases. Then you’re stuck begging randos on Chat Roulette to talk dirty about My Little Pony until you can finally climax. Sorry! I don’t make the rules!

Gross

In Splatterhouse, the genital phase is clearly meant to be the true climax of the game, and it presents itself as the boss fight with Rick’s kidnapped girlfriend, Jennifer. Aliens (?) implant… something… in Jenny, and she becomes a horrifying monster that may or may not resemble something from This Island Earth. She jumps around attempting to murder Rick, but occasionally reverts to her human form so she can beg for death. Homicide and suicide all in one? That sounds like every relationship I ever had as a teenager! Rick will eventually succeed in putting Jenny down, and, while she does return (to life) in the sequel, he did technically satisfy her desires in this instance, even if it may be brief. Good job, Rick, you’re psychosexually developed!

Enjoy the next stage where Splatterhouse keeps burping out fetuses.

Super Gross

And it all starts all over again! Thanks Siggy, for the eternal cycle of psychosexual development!

FGC #541 Splatterhouse

  • System: Arcade, and then the TurboGrafx-16. The arcade version is much more enjoyable if available (apparently as part of a Switch collection), as it has the original, lawsuit-bait Jason Voorhees mask. The TG16 version is available currently on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, though, so it may be slightly more accessible if you never nabbed the Wii version.
  • Number of players: Two players alternating. There is apparently code in the game for simultaneous play, but they couldn’t get it 100% implemented for release. Or they just thought it was dumb. Either way, not widely available.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is one of those pre-Final Fight beat ‘em ups where it’s kinda sorta a platforming game, too. Splatterhouse does seem to have a leg up on the competition, as it features multiple, branching paths, and very memorable bosses and environments. Unfortunately, it is still a quarter killer, so its difficulty is high for its relatively simply gameplay. And no one ever tells you how to do that essential slide move! Splatterhouse, overall, seems to balance out to a “medium essential” experience.
  • Things go grabWon’t someone please think of the children: The gore was turned down dramatically for the home versions. Additionally, a floating, upside cross was replaced with a severed head (or maybe a doll’s head?), and bladed weapons (like a meat cleaver) were replaced with sticks of wood. Oh! And when you murder the beating heart of the mansion, it doesn’t gush fluids, but immediately catches fire. That at least explains why the following stage is a bit toasty.
  • Favorite Weapon: The shotgun is amazing, but there are inexplicable harpoons around the mansion, too. Was the unseen Dr. West into whaling in his spare time? Or is this yet another phallic object of power produced by the mansion?
  • Favorite Moment: I always love mirror matches, so Rick’s malevolent reflection busting out of a reflection is simultaneously scary and fun. Jumpscares in an arcade game! Who would have thought?
  • What’s in a name? According to the TG16 port’s manual, the final boss is named “Hell Chaos”, and is presumably the mutated corpse of Dr. West, the Splatterhouse’s landlord. Hell Chaos doesn’t technically appear again in the franchise, but he does return as a cardboard cutout over a door in the 2010 version. He’s that (not) spooky. Sorry, Nemesis.
  • Did you know? In the arcade version, the crawling hand will occasionally give Rick the finger. That’s not polite, severed hand!
  • Let's reflect on thisWould I play again: Maybe. This is a game that is too difficult to play casually (without save states, memorization, or a childhood of playing the title constantly), but maybe I’ll give it a go for a credit or two sometime. It is damn satisfying to splat monsters against walls, and the arcade version is available as part of Splatterhouse 2010. Speaking of which…

What’s next? Random ROB knows how this goes, so we’re playing Splatterhouse again, but this time it’s the 2010 version. Let’s get ready to splat on a whole new generation of hardware. Please look forward to it!

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

Avenging Spirit is a game that is best known for the differences in its regional box art. In Japan, there was Phantasm, and it looked like this:

Can you feel the spirit?

Whereas when it was time to sell “Avenging Spirit” to Americans, we saw a box that looked like this:

USA! USA!

And this is definitely a case of intending the book to be judged by its cover, as, give or take a translation, we’ve got the exact same game in both cases. There is no greater emphasis on tommy guns in Avenging Spirit, and the exact same goofy ghost of Phantasm is the star of both versions. Avenging Spirit attempted to gain notoriety in American arcades before the release of its home version, so the good folks at Jaleco’s marketing department thought they could goose sales by focusing on mobsters and vengeance rather than anime ghosts.

And that probably would have worked… if an American company hadn’t used the exact same concept in 1940.

Avenging Spirit is a platforming action game. Fundamentally, it is little more than Mega Man. You run. You jump. You generally have the ability to shoot. There is a boss at the end of every stage, and they run the gamut from whack-a-mole snakes to Dr. Wily’s signature pod’s second cousin twice removed. Some stages are predominantly vertical, some are extremely horizontal, and they all have way too many spikes. Hey! Don’t blame the game! Blame the quarters! But if you are looking for a little extra, rare (for the time) challenge, you can collect three hidden keys hidden randomly across the worlds of Avenging Spirit. Find them all, and you’ll earn the “good ending” wherein you successfully rescue a kidnapped damsel. Miss even a single key, and your hero will celebrate the destruction of the enemy’s base by solemnly fading into nothingness. That’s the life of a spirit for ya!

Oh yeah, guess we have to address that whole avenging spirit angle.

Spirited awayThe hook for Avenging Spirit is pretty great. Your protagonist is a ghost. That means you can fly around the screen at will, opponents can’t hurt (or presumably even see) you, and you’re free to do whatever. Only caveat? Every moment you’re an unprotected spirit, you are losing health. That’s no good! But there is a solution: you can possess your opponents, and use their bodies however you like. And, let’s be clear here, with the exception of bosses, you can possess absolutely any “monster” stalking these levels. And all of your possible victims are varied and distinct! There are kung-fu ladies with crazy agility but lousy stamina, gangsters loaded to the bear with weaponry, Rambo for some reason, a yogi mystic that can kick and fly (!), and even a few dragon people and robots. You’ve got options upon options! And, since your chosen meat shield is probably going to expire pretty quickly anyway, you’ll be hopping from body to body often throughout the adventure. It’s basically a high-stakes version of Kirby’s Adventure where you try out a new skin suit anytime you get bored. … And is that more or less creepy than your average cannibalism-based platformer?

But lest you think you’re some random ghost that just decided to fight criminal organizations one day, there is a dedicated story/excuse for Avenging Spirit, too. The eponymous spirit technically starts this adventure as an average boy wandering around with his average girlfriend. But! Oh no! Disaster strikes when a murder of mobsters gun down our hero and kidnap his dear girlfriend. But all is not lost! Turns out your girlfriend’s dad was researching ghost energy, and Dr. Spengler is going to bring you back to un-life for the express purpose of rescuing his daughter. So you are the avenging spirit, off to save the day and (hopefully) save your best gal along the way.

And if that plot sounds remarkably familiar, it is because it is nearly exactly the original origin story of DC Comic’s The Spectre.

GangstaIn 1940, Jerry Siegel, one of the creators of Superman, premiered The Spectre in More Fun Comics #52. Spectre’s origin was practically already relayed in this article: Jim Corrigan was on his way to his fiancée’s engagement party (I’m no marriagologist, but wouldn’t that be his party, too?), when he was stopped by mobsters that killed him and fitted him with the ol’ cement shoes (or maybe a barrel). Jimmy would have been left to rot on the floor of the bay, but a mysterious, potentially omnipotent entity revives Jim Corrigan with the express purpose of avenging his own murder. Corrigan is revived as The Spectre, a vaguely superheroic apparition that wastes no time in saving his fiancée from those same thugs that led to his own end. Undead James decides to break off the engagement (apparently being a ghost-man is not as sexy as Patrick Swayze would lead you to believe), but he does continue living his “life” as The Spectre, avenging spirit.

But, while there may be similarities, there are more than a few differences between our featured phantasms. Our videogame avenging spirit, for instance, is fueled by science and a grieving father, whereas his comic book counterpart has pretty consistently been on a mission from capital-G God. Yes, that’s right, there is a divine god of the universe in the DC Comics universe, and his primary focus seems to be reanimating dudes so they can menace mobsters. What’s more, there is a drastic difference in power sets between the two specters. Possession is the reason for the season for Avenging Spirit, but The Spectre started his tenure by using godly power to visit divine punishment upon his foes. In short, Avenging Spirit is a weak ghost in need of a host to so much as throw a kick, while The Spectre has enough power to fight the anti-creator of the universe (the history of the DC universe is as eclectic as it is mind-boggling). In short, these two ghost-men may have similar origins, but their afterlives went in wildly different directions.

And maybe that’s the difference between Eastern and Western fantasies.

It's the invisible manLook, you can slap a mobster on the cover of Avenging Spirit. You can even claim that art is relevant, as the spirit is out for vengeance, and he absolutely can possess a criminal wielding a gun. This is technically something that happens in Avenging Spirit. However, the circumstances of it happening is not what is being displayed on that box. That picture is a mobster that is closer to Scarface, a villain mad with power both real and imagined, and firing wildly at any perceived threat that comes his way. That is patently not what happens in Avenging Spirit. If you possess a mobster in Avenging Spirit, you are doing it to stave off an incremental death that is constantly stalking your digital avatar. You have a “real world” powerful weapon, but your gun barely puts a dent in those robots reprising with missiles. You’re the archetypical “bad guy”, but you’re also just plain a bad guy at jumping. There’s nothing empowering about being an avenging spirit. We’ve got a fun game here, but odds are good you’re going to see the continue screen more than a few times across your quest. And you’ll probably miss a few keys, see the bad ending, and watch your hero fade unfulfilled into the afterlife. Meanwhile, The Spectre does not dissipate into some Heaven-based reward. The Spectre friggen’ turns his opponents into helpless candles, and then sticks them on some kid’s birthday cake. The Spectre of DC Comics is a living tommy gun, and he’s got the unlimited bullets of God on his side.

Many bodies availableSo good try, Jaleco, you correctly identified that Americans would rather see a spirit of vengeance with unlimited power than the friendly ghost that appeared in Japan. The Spectre has been a marginally successful hero for the last 80 years of DC Comics (I’m pretty sure he’s more popular than Animal Man), while Avenging Spirit barely survived long enough to see a 3DS rerelease. Unfortunately, Avenging Spirit did not offer the ghost power-trip that Americans desire, so it is remembered as little more than a meme on these shores. Yes, Americans want guns and mobsters, but, more than that, we want power, and Avenging Spirit is about as powerful as a faint fart.

… And if anyone at DC Comics wants to create a videogame featuring The Spectre rampaging through a city like Godzilla, go ahead and give me a call. I’ve got some concept documents around here somewhere…

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

  • System: Gameboy for the home version, arcade for the most colorful version. It was also released on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2011, which seems almost impossible.
  • Number of players: One on the Gameboy, two in the arcade. It is two player alternating, though, which unfortunately negates the joy of two ghosts fighting over possession of one body.
  • Favorite Opponent/Ally: There are these wizard looking dudes that can shoot lightning, and that’s really all I need. The yogis rank second, because they’re terrible at bosses, but the gift of flight is always the bee’s knees.
  • Wildly different graphicsPort-o-Call: The arcade version is lush and colorful, but it is also a dedicated quarter killer. You can’t even de-possess a dude without throwing yourself into suicide. That said, the Gameboy version plays better and seems to be more balanced for actually finishing the game, but the graphics seem more… abstract. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just a matter of the arcade version displaying what things are supposed to look like (yes, that is a dinosaur man walking around) fills in more than a few blanks on the Gameboy version.
  • An end: If you find all the keys, you not only rescue your girlfriend, you possess her as the “final” possession in the game. So you fight the end boss with the overwhelming power of love! And then the ending is… a little weird. Our avenging spirit completely dies, but at least he got to… be his girlfriend for a while? That sounds awkward.
  • Did you know? Okay, yes, DC Comics’ Deadman is closer in powerset to our featured Avenging Spirit. But even he routinely possesses the likes of Batman and Superman, and “I get to be Superman for a little bit, but even more quippy” is its own kind of power fantasy.
  • Would I play again: Why not? This is a fun, unique game, and there really isn’t anything like it out there in its era or this one. I’m not certain Geist ever actually existed, and it’s not like you see Mario possessing his opponents with some manner of magical hat or something.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Splatterhouse! We’re going to splat this and that! Please look forward to it!

Avenge this

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

Cold IronWe live in an age of science and reason. We have knowledge of vaccines, microbes, and the periodic table of elements. But it took us a long time to get to this point. For hundreds of years, our understanding of the universe was much more limited, and our thoughts on how the world worked were based on simple, rudimentary building blocks of the universe. Obviously, I am talking about the four elements of nature: fire, wind, water, and earth.

But… why?

It’s interesting to consider how many different cultures and regions settled on the same basic group of elements. The basis of Western thinking in Ancient Greece had ironed out the four elements before Aristotle, but it was that king of philosophers that further outlined important bits of the lore (“science!”), such as “fire is hot and dry while water is cold and wet”. That’s why that dude got so many statues! But this isn’t a matter of everyone on Earth running with some Grecian ideas, Babylonia had gods that were personified as the “cosmic” elements sea, earth, sky, and wind. In India, the theoretical start of both Hinduism and Buddhism referenced a similar elemental quartet that occasionally included a fifth (space/zero/”spirit”) buddy. Buddhism even went as far as creating four elements of abstracts to properly parallel the more concrete elements of nature. It seems like the odd man out of the usual ancient “four elements” is China, which decided to forsake “wind” for “wood”, and also toss “metal” into the mix to create a perfect little pentagram of strengths and weaknesses. Fire melts metal, metal chops wood, wood is super effective against ground types. Of course, even western thinking would adopt metal in time, as it wound up as part of alchemy, which would greatly influence modern scientific thinking, as alchemy essentially pioneered concepts like different states of matter.

WooshBut who cares about the science of the elements? What has really persisted to this day has been the continual existence of “four elements” in pop culture. What was your first introduction to the elements? Was it Final Fantasy’s four crystals? Star Trek: The Next Generation’s S07e16: Thine Own Self? Avatar: The Last Air Bender? Artus Wolffort’s 1641 painting? Whatever was your first, know that this is not going away for future generations. Disney’s Frozen 2 was released sometime back when movie theaters were viable, and it led up to the reveal that there is a magical cave in a magical land that contains four elemental crystals. And Elsa is the missing fifth element (the element of merchandising). The four elements is a trope that is literally older than the written word, and it seems like it is going to be an element of our storytelling for generations to come.

But it’s difficult to determine exactly why the elements are so enduring. Yes, there is simplicity to the elements, but are they as much a part of modern life as they were back in the day? Absolutely not. I can’t remember the last time I had to give a damn about soil. Is that even still around? Or is it about the simplicity of “systems” that arise from the elements? Everybody can understand water beats fire, but that only really explains the presence of elements in videogames. Games are important (he wrote on the videogame blog), but they are not responsible for late 20th century Bruce Willis box office smashes. What’s the modern appeal of the elements? Why are they so persistent across media? Why are we eternally damned to ponder the effectiveness of “wind”?

Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II has the answer: the four elements are terrifying.

I have no ideaWizards and Warrios was a pretty… passable NES title, and W&W2 is… well, I can’t in good conscious say Ironsword is at all a good game. It’s not a bad game, but it was also one of my childhood NES titles (I assume my grandmother was distracted by Fabio on the cover, and bought it for me without a second thought), and, like its sequel, it is a very… broken game. There are some great ideas here! Every stage follows a basic three act rhythm (please the local animal king, find the wizard-bane spell, murder the wizard) with two distinct areas, effectively creating a large, ten stage world. That’s pretty great for the era! Also significant for the time is a bevy of bulky, expressive sprites. And Kuros actually graphically upgrades as he tempers his gear, so you go from being some dork with bug eyes and a butter knife to a heavily armored murder machine by the time you are tackling Ice-Fire Mountain.

But the drawbacks of Ironsword are significant. For one thing, this game has been in existence for 31 years, and our top scientists still haven’t discovered how you’re supposed to attack monsters without suffering damage. There is probably some intended suitable technique for ramming Kuros’s sword into the nearest demon creature, but, unless you’re using magic (available only at the tail end of every level), you’re probably going to take some hits just attempting to clear out the local creatures. And then there’s the platforming that involves an awful lot of inclines that shove Kuros every which way but up. Are you just missing a jump? Or is your hero weirdly magnetizing to surfaces that are trying to kill him? Who knows! And don’t even get me started on the economy of small keys, and how there are far more treasure chests than there are keys, and how you’re apparently going to be stuck grinding gold because you blew your inventory on opening the wrong chest. Random isn’t fun, Ste Pickford, and it never was!

Leap of faithBut there is one thing Ironsword gets absolutely right: Malkil is a bastard. Malkil was the ultimate boss and source of Kuros’s misery in the original Wizards and Warriors, but he was blown into non-corporeal bits at the end of that adventure. But you can’t keep a bad wizard down, so Malkil somehow extended his life force to possess the four elements. Now Malkil is an angry cloud in the air, some manner of giant block of ice in a river, sentient lava in a volcano, and a particularly pissed off rock deep in the Earth. These are all huge bosses (particularly by NES standards), and Kuros has to acquire distinct spells just to stand a remote chance against these corrupted elements. And, assuming Kuros can pull that off (possibly with the help of a Game Genie), then the final battle becomes a fight between Kuros and all four of the elements high above a mountaintop. Kuros has obtained the titular Ironsword (fifth element?) at this point, but Malkil is zooming around as four separate elemental ghosts (or… something), so saving the day is locked behind one of the most annoying battles of 1989. If you win, the four animal kings will thank you, but if you lose, you’re in good company, because that final fight is rough.

And that’s exactly the way the four elements should be.

Aang is allowed to preach balance, and Pokémon is allowed to claim there is always a strength for every weakness. But the sad truth of the matter is that humanity sucks in comparison to all-powerful nature. We build homes. We make cities. We claim to have conquered this wild world, but when the world decides to really get wild, we’re doomed. Let’s review those four elements again, shall we? Water brings floods, and, thanks to the general greed of humanity, much of our land is slated to be submerged beneath the waves. Wind is the domain of hurricanes, and, if you’ve never had a tree fall on your home/car/grandma, congratulations, you’re not currently in a month’s long negotiation with your insurance agency. Earth occasionally quakes, and the slightest rumble is going to really wreck up your gundam collection. And fire, theoretically the most manageable of all natural disasters (it’s not like it can literally zap us from the heavens or something), is occasionally spurned by the revelation of gender, and can thus burn into coasts to cinders. And this is all before when elements decide to work together, building the impressive fire tornado of our worst nightmares. In short, the elements are terrifying, Wooshand if you need evidence of this, there are good odds you literally don’t have to do more than peak your head out your window (“Yes, grandma, I can hear you, but I’m writing an article right now, and the lawyers say I’m not supposed to move that branch until after the settlement. I’ll bring some noodles out to you later, okay?”).

So thank you, Ironsword, for reminding us why the four elements are still relevant today. It’s not about balance. It’s not about magical crystals in a princess’s magical cave. It’s about fear. It’s about terror. It’s about the fact that if even a single element decided to turn against humanity (with or without the assistance of an evil wizard), it’s going to be a bad time. In the face of a tidal wave or raging fire, we are little more than a jumpy dude wielding a pointy stick. In our world, there is no spell of Earth’s bane, and we are wholly at the mercy of the four elements.

Thanks, Kuros, for reminding us all that we are nothing next to the four elements of the Earth.

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

  • It's hot in hereSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, and then never again. The Rare Replay passed this warrior by.
  • Number of players: Kuros stalks the land alone.
  • Best Magic Spell: The Asp’s Tongue spell is apparently a magical spell that allows the heroic Kuros to rob a shopkeeper. Look, whatever it takes to get a dude to toss meat in the air for a solid minute.
  • Like writing your name in the sand: This game does not have a battery backup. This means that you are welcome to put your name in the high score table all you want, but it’s never going to last past a power off. However, this is one of the ol’ password-based NES titles, so you can “save” your progress in that aggravating manner. Try to remember which character in the password determines your life count!
  • What’s in a name? “Malkil” is a portmanteau of “kill” and “mal”, which is the Latin prefix for “bad”. But Malkil is just his last name, his full name is Angry Murder Malkil.
  • Did you know? Kuros can acquire extra points by finding “The Relics of Sindarin” hidden in each level. These relics include a book, ring, gauntlet, and a cross. “Sindarin” is the Elven-Tongue from the Lord of the Rings. So the implication of the Sindarin Cross is obvious: Elves believed in Jesus.
  • Would I play again: I hate this game. I will not be accepting questions about that at this time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Avenging Spirit! That spirit gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Kaching