Tag Archives: firebrand

FGC #602 Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness

SCARYI know you would destroy the world if you thought it would be a little fun.

There are two kinds of videogame worlds:

  1. Our world (but in a videogame).
  2. Something like our world, albeit possibly at a different point in time. The allowed epochs are “medieval” or “future”. If a director is feeling saucy, “ninja” is also acceptable.

And that’s that. Think about nearly any videogame setting long enough, and you will see that it boils down to one of those two options. And even when you have things like robots fighting or ponies attempting to magic their problems away, it still winds up being a world that is generally recognizable as our own. Is your world full of electric rats and haunted keychains? Well, it’s still got department stores selling bicycles, so it is practically home. And we are all forced to identify with Middle Earth/Camelot environments repeatedly, so if a princess needs saving, we can and will handle it (even if she is a princess of a kingdom of mushrooms).

Of course, this makes perfect sense. A game will always have a win condition. Many videogames will attach a familiar plot to that win condition so as to encourage/enrapture the player. Rescue the princess. Defend the kingdom. Save the world. And why would you do that? Because you’re a good person? Phht, no! Because you recognize this world as something familiar, something like your own. Something worth saving. Even the greatest misanthrope believes we live in a world that is worth protecting against a giant space laser, so why not do the same in a digital world? Even with a slight change in time, location, or planet, videogames tend to include extremely human characters. And you like humans, right? 99% of people that play videogames are humans, so it is generally assumed you are on board with saving humans, even when they’re a little less humany. Close enough, right?

But how about some zombies? Or a kingdom of demons? How do you feel about saving the forces of Hell from… another Hell?

Today’s game is Gargoyle’s Quest II. It is the Nintendo Entertainment System-based (mostly) sequel to Gargoyle’s Quest, an exclusively Gameboy jaunt. The original, monochrome adventure portrayed our titular gargoyle, Firebrand, in his home dimension of the Ghoul Realm in glorious pea green and/or gray. The NES version got a full-color upgrade, and the Ghoul Realm is… well…

Real estate values are low here

Look, I do not want to judge, but if you have seas the color of blood, you are either living on an Earth that has had a few too many Impacts, or you are distinctly somewhere you don’t want to be. And who does want to live there? Why, all the enemies from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, of course! You have a significant undead population, several demons apparently wearing clothes, and a substantial number of kings and queens who have additional heads on their abdomens. This is the Ghoul Realm, after all, it would be weird if there were not any ghouls running around. Hell, the plot even begins with a quick note that this is all taking place before “Man” even became much of a thing…

But lest you think this gargoyle’s quest is steering toward a twist that involves the rise of a number of boxer shorts-clad knights assaulting Firebrand’s kingdom, do not worry, this is a strictly demon-on-demon violence affair. The “dark light” is sweeping through the realm, and, in its wake are crippled kings, double-deceased zombies, and at least one group of scientists that are reduced to gibbering idiocy. The ultimate source of this destructive wave is Breager, a demon lord that was summoned to the realm by Evil King Goza (granted, we are just assuming Goza is a king because he owns a castle. He could just be ludicrously wealthy). Breager is a four-armed giant (double Firebrand’s height!) that can summon a bevy of fireballs without so much as leaving his throne.

Breager is also indistinguishable from the rest of the “good” demon cast of Gargoyle’s Quest.

Terrible bugsLet us examine Firebrand’s allies. Samuel of Sidon is a cross between a dwarf and some manner of furry bug. Hecate the fallen angel is a minotaur/lizard hybrid. Queen Verona is a gigantic chunk of ice-monster. Morock is the infamous Astaroth that rules Ghosts ‘n Goblins as the capital-d Devil. Lethe is that second version of Astaroth from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Barr is a boss from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and is mostly notable for his detachable head. And Rushifell/Loki/Lucifer is the final monarch of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. In short, every one of Firebrand’s named supporters is not remotely human at best, and a noted antagonist of humanity at worst. His opponents are not any better, as we’ve got a “head in the abdomen dude” right out of the starting gate, but with a serpent tail in place of legs. Then there’s a Death Balloon (no further explanation necessary), Sand Frog (ditto), and Twin Guardians that could be Firebrand’s evil twins (before you literally fight Firebrand’s evil twin). Then we’ve got the final boss fights, which are back to “more heads equal more evils” thinking.

So, yes, if you, the fleshy human reading this article, ever encountered one of Firebrand’s friends or foes, you would run away screaming. Yet you, the player controlling the Red Blaze, are saving these unknowable horrors from slightly different unknowable horrors. Why would you do such a thing? You are saving a world of “people” that are only going to live on to make Arthur’s life that much harder! Why are you even entertaining this nonsense?

The answer is simple: because you can.

Fine, stay in your chairLet’s not pretend you have to play videogames. “But thou must” may be how Dragon Quest starts, but you absolutely have the choice of turning off the NES and grabbing a whole different game off the shelf. No one is making you play Gargoyle’s Quest anymore than anyone is forcing you to play Super Mario Bros. one world at a time. There are warp zones for a reason! But you can beat every last Bowser if you want, just the same as you can maneuver Firebrand into banishing all those demon-demons. It is not about the story, it is about the challenge. It is about taking this unique hero, be they pink puff or bat-winged monster, and seeing if you can succeed. Are you saving a kingdom of fungi or fun guys (that eat people)? Immaterial! Videogames offer the only story telling medium wherein you can actively and continually loathe the protagonist, but enjoy exploring the world that they inhabit. Or, to put a point on it, hate the player, love the game. Particularly if the player hates you.

So, yeah, you’re gonna save the Ghoul Realm. You are going to save every last monster that will one day define the concept of monsters. You do not have to. No one is saying you must. But you will. It is fun, and you like fun things, right?

The world is going to burn, and you lit the match. All because you liked flying with the silly little red dude…

FGC #602 Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness

  • Let us reflectSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, and an enhanced, region-locked Gameboy version.
  • Number of Players: Firebrand simply cannot work with others.
  • Port-o-Call: If you can stomach the lack of color, the Gameboy edition does seem to be the definitive version. That desert that is completely devoid of landmarks in the NES edition has a whole dungeon now! And you can earn a homing-fireball! Tell me that wouldn’t make a few fights about 200% easier.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Like Kirby’s Adventure, this is one of those great, late NES titles that wholly justifies platforming games by granting some limited flight options. That was just what everyone needed after experiencing the glories of raccoon-travel. Other than that, it is basically a Mega Man game, and who can say no to that?
  • RPG Elements: The world map is entirely perfunctory, and adds pretty much nothing to the gameplay experience other than an easy way to backtrack. However, it does go a long way toward making the Ghoul Realm feel like a big, wide open area. The Ghouls ‘n Ghosts version of it is, like, three lil’ levels.
  • For the sequel: Demon’s Crest is the sequel, an unfortunate end to any and all gargoyle quests. Now, that plot learned a thing or two from its prequels, and you are now actively avenging Firebrand against a world/Phalanx that has wronged him. See? It is not about saving demons, it is about making demons feel bad. Totally different universe of storytelling there.
  • This is not a clawStory time: Gargoyle’s Quest 2 is actually the prequel to Gargoyle’s Quest (1), and is another one of those situations wherein almost the exact thing happened to an ancestor/descendant pair. However, it is worth noting that the Firebrand of Gargoyle’s Quest (1) is almost certainly the same protagonist of Demon’s Quest, and probably the jerk that directly deals with Arthur on a regular basis. Of course, I am no authority on the subject. All these red, winged demons look the same to me.
  • An End: The penultimate boss is the hardest boss in the game. There, I said it. You unlock unlimited flight, high jumps, and dragon-fire breath before the real final boss, and then that donk doesn’t even get out of his chair. Meet the Red Blaze, dumbass, and burn until my grandson kicks your ass all over again.
  • What’s in a name? The Twin Guardians are clearly a pair of malevolent gargoyles. This is Gargoyle’s Quest. Is there a reason they can’t just, ya know, be called gargoyles? Did Disney copyright that, too?
  • Favorite Boss: I appreciate the Maze of Mirror’s Doppelganger boss, and how attacking your own reflection will only hurt you. And it utilizes Firebrand’s “enemy” attacks of shooting fire and randomly swooping around! Hey, wait a minute, why can’t my Firebrand swoop like that?
  • Did you know? The original, Japanese version of the title screen is kickin’ ass with a cool, animated frame of flames. The American/European title screen is so, so boring by comparison.
  • Would I play again: This game gets breezier every time I play it. I would be down for a new gargoyle-based quest, but, until that surfaces, I will happily give the old one a go.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dante’s Inferno for the Playstation 3! Folks, it looks like ROB wants me to go to Hell. Please look forward to it!

Every single one of us, devil inside

FGC #574 Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection

Here they come!This was either the absolute perfect time to release Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, or the absolute worst.

Yes, folks, we’re going to talk about COVID, the past year, and probably squeeze some ghouls ‘n ghosts in there, too.

Let’s pretend this article is actually about the title matter, though, and address Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. It’s a Ghosts ‘n Gobilins game! In the year 2021! And it is a 2-D “old school” title like its forebearers! No 3-D Maximo for this Arthur! And, in a lot of ways, it follows the Contra 4 model of being “the most Ghosts ‘n Goblins”. Yes, there is new content across this latest Demon Realm, but it’s hard to point at any one thing and not see how it is a precise evolution of something that existed in a previous G ‘n G title. As an easy example: all of the bosses are foes Arthur has faced before, but they all have new patterns, so they are effectively new challenges wearing old skins. Same for the many venues Arthur must traverse, and the surprisingly high number of demon stomachs he is going to have to trudge through. Technically there is nothing and everything new here, and it’s a fun time for G ‘n G fans old and new.

But you don’t play a G ‘n G game for the scenic vistas, you play for the challenge. And does Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection challenge the player? Hell yes. GnGR leans completely into the challenging spectacle of previous G ‘n G titles, and even seems to ascend to the level of “masocore” that is usually only reserved for Super Mario Maker stages made by sexual deviants (you heard me, you maniacs!). In fact, it is possible that GnGR focuses too hard on difficulty, because there is a definite feeling that the “flow” of previous titles has been forsaken for checkpoint-based mini challenges. This title does not contain anything as dramatically epic as Super Ghouls’ second stage, so it is hard to escape the impression that the game was designed around a difficult-and-escalating series of “challenge areas”, not a cohesive Demon World. Or, put another way, for reasons that will never make any sense, there is the boss of a stage that is a deteriorating stone dragon, and then you must progress through a series of stone dragon riding challenges in the next stage. Wouldn’t the previous boss be Let's run!an excellent capper to that area that contains nothing but its brethren? Yes! But then the difficulty curve would arc in the wrong direction, and we cannot have that. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is about the challenge, so everything about its world is about the challenge first and foremost. You are playing a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game, over everything else, you should be worried about maintaining careful offensive with continual defense.

And constantly dodging everything in a concentrated, eternal effort to survive? Yeah, that’s been this last year in a nutshell.

I’m not writing this article for right now. I’m writing this essay so I don’t forget what 2020 has been. I’m writing this article so I can remind myself what has happened. I’m writing this for future generations trying to understand why there are millions of weirdos that act bizarre because “oh, they lived through COVID”. If you’re reading this in the Spring of 2021, shortly after GnGR’s release, then this is all going to be something you are inordinately familiar with. And that “something”? It’s that life has been impossible for the last year.

While it is still fresh in my mind and not polluted by nostalgia, here is the arc of the last year or so. As of New Year’s Day, 2020, I was celebrating in Athens, Greece on a European trip that my (now) wife had planned for our vacation. At the time, there were news reports that China had some kind of weird virus thing going on, and, by the tone of the reports, they were trying to contain it by setting up concentration camps. Ha ha! Weird, backwards China is stomping all over the rights of its citizens because they can’t keep a virus under control. And here I am, exploring the Parthenon with thousands of other tourists, and petting strange cats I found on the street. Hey, babe, it’s okay, I’m not going to get worms, I’ll wash my hands eventually.

We eventually came back to the States, and I formally asked the love of my life to marry me. That was the final day of February (Leap Day!), and there wasn’t much of a question as to whether she would agree to the arrangement, as we had already literally set the date a month prior (we travel backwards through time on occasion).Slashy slashy 11/20/20 was chosen because the numbers looked cool. Sweet! We proceeded to have a rockin’ engagement bash thrown by our friends, and we were partying like Gatsby. Things were looking up, and I’m pretty sure we hadn’t heard about that virus from another continent since January. Is that thing still around?

And then we hit March. It is remarkable, in retrospect, how quickly things changed. On what was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, many bars were not only 100% open and operating, but they had all sorts of “special” drinks that mocked the current situation and recommendations. Would you care for a quarantini? Or a maskgarita? COVID was considered little more than a punchline, and, while the locals were well aware that New York City was already suffering, nobody thought to consider that a virus ravaging an area a short car ride away would actually impact the local population.

And then we hit real quarantine. Offices hastily closing and frantically switching to “remote” setups. Retail businesses randomly declaring themselves essential because they sold absolutely critical items, like Funko Pops. And a deluge of information that may or may not have ever been correct. Masks were either essential or a silly precaution only employed by the most germophobic nerds. What could qualify as a mask? A scarf? A bandana? A banana? Whatever. And don’t touch anything! Or maybe do, but use hand sanitizer constantly! Assuming you can buy it at all, because it has been sold out for weeks! And speaking of shopping, leave your groceries in the garage for three days, because apparently they need to die, venture through the underworld, and then be reborn on the third day in order to be cleansed of all impurities. It was a weird time! You practically had to have a score card to determine whether someone wearing a facemask while bicycling was either the biggest dork on the planet, or a person that was infinitely more responsible than your average plebian.

WeeeeeBut it was all in pursuit of one thing: nobody wanted to get sick. The Corona Virus was reported as deadly from day one, and even people that claimed it was little more than “a big flu” knew they didn’t want to get sick, regardless of survivability. As more data was released regarding how ‘rona could impact the lungs of even a healthy person in unprecedented ways, it was confirmed that this was a virus that was more than just a week or two in bed. So we all did the only thing we could: we dodged. We followed the rules. We stayed home. If we went outside, we avoided other people. We went shopping as little as possible, and (if at all possible), during less crowded hours. We touched nothing. We hugged nothing. We spent all day, every day either “hiding” in quarantine, or venturing out only when it was possible to assess the value of every last action, and whether it was “worth it” to get the ‘rona because you had to go out for more paper towels. You want to die for that Taco Bell run? Be my guest. I’ll attend your funeral on Zoom.

And I’m not even going to consider the number of people that had to make that decision for the purpose of continuing to have an income. My wife and I both were fortunate enough to be in positions where we simply changed tracks to remote working (gee, that “switch” sounds so easy now), but so many people were forced into situations wherein they literally had to risk their lives so more fortunate folks could have food or healthcare. And this is to say nothing of people who had no choice but to risk their wellbeing for their family or friends that required their presence. I took up a job as a Legend of Zelda NPC, and walked around the neighborhood, dropping off supplies and food at the front door of my parents. But I am (again) lucky that any of the older folks in my life did not need constant care, nor did they require me to physically be there (potentially with an “outside the bubble” health aide involved, too). We threw around the term “heroes” a lot during the start of the pandemic, because it genuinely did seem heroic to risk your own lungs to help another, whether that be through produce stocking or helping an older person get upstairs.

RiitBut, as this life of dodging everything wore on, an important question began to surface: when can we have fun bbagain? And, as alluded to earlier, this presented a difficult question in my own life: when am I going to get married?

Our original wedding date was November 20, 2020. That sounded cool an’ all, but by the time we were finally able to meet with “the venue” in June, that already seemed dangerously optimistic. What had initially been a two week quarantine was still going strong come Summer. Some fragments of normalcy had begun to return (the only reason that we were meeting in June was because hotels had just been allowed to legally reopen), but we were still nervous about setting any concrete plans for November. It would be one thing to plan a wedding if it was a simple affair, but at the point you have to make decisions about booking a DJ, you want to know that your deposit is not going to go to waste. So, as of June 2020, we made the decision to push the wedding out to March of 2021. Surely “one year later” would give the world enough time to recover from all of this nonsense. Surely putting some money down on March being a good time would be a safe bet.

Lord, typing this in March of 2021 makes me wonder how I was ever so stupid.

In all honesty, I do not remember exactly when we determined we would go back to the November 20th date. I know a significant factor was determining that there would be no way in hell that allowing my wife’s family to fly in November or March would be a good idea, but I am not certain when that information was first evident. Regardless, we decided to reinstate the wedding on November 20, and plan for what would be (in my wife’s own words) “the most expensive backyard BBQ ever”. It would be outside. The guest list would only include local people that we were generally already interacting with at that point anyway (aka a lot of coworkers). We would pray for a sunny day, and hope for the best with… everything.

Hot stuffAnd if I thought life was nothing but dodging before, planning a wedding with the looming threat of coronavirus and its attendant issues was its own, zombie-deluge level challenge. Not only was there the general fear that the wedding cake or dress might not be available due to a local outbreak, there was also the hazard that a government could, at any moment, essentially make our wedding illegal. Okay, we vowed that the actual wedding ceremony would happen one way or another (if every participant had to be on a stream, so be it), but the actual reception was the tough nut to crack. We wanted to celebrate our union! We wanted to at least have the appearance of a normal wedding (albeit one without hugs)! We wanted to have some goldarned pigs in a blanket, dammit!

Spoilers: our extremely limited backyard BBQ of a wedding reception did go off without a hitch. The dress was there, the cake was there, and, more importantly than all of that, literally no one got sick as a result of our wedding. We did everything right, apparently, and the small enclave of our friends and family that attended had a good time and did not contract a deadly disease. It was everything we could ever hope for, given the circumstances.

And when I think of what could have happened, I am still shaken by what I could have done.

I do not know what I would have done if I had been showing some kind of symptoms shortly before the wedding. Or, I suppose if I’m being completely honest, I think I do know what I would have done. I think I would have gone forward with the wedding. If I knew I had coronavirus, if I outright tested positive, I know I would have cancelled everything. But if I “just” had a strong headache, a less responsive sense of smell, or was just kind of generally sneezing more? And I did not have enough time to get the results of a (presumably rapid) test? I probably would have gone forward with the wedding as planned. Hey, everybody gets an upset stomach before their wedding, right? It’s probably nothing! Why should I cancel the months of planning and disappoint all those happy guests with a no-show groom? Why not endanger the lives of everyone I know and care about for a chance at some decent cake?

Bad timesAnd it is freaking horrifying knowing that it is possible you could do that. It would have been difficult to cancel the wedding and its attendant features so close to the event, so I probably would have gone ahead and allowed people to be infected because to do otherwise would be a hassle. But I did not have to make that decision, and I possibly would have made the right decision (just reschedule, you absolute asshole). And, relatedly, it is equally horrifying to know that anyone else could be in that same situation, and making the same wrong decision. And infecting everyone around them. And spreading a deadly virus even further. And all in the name of getting those little eggroll things that only seem to exist at catered events. Acknowledge how you must multiply all of these potentials for virus transmission by your entire life and everywhere you have to be just to survive, and life becomes a gauntlet of dodging, dodging, dodging. Anyone could have made selfish decisions. Anyone could have made well-meaning decisions to help others, but wound up infected as a result. Anyone could be a threat to you, your family, and everyone you know. And it takes little more than a sneeze…

And that has been life for the last year. That’s the gameplay of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. Dodge, dodge, dodge and hope you don’t make the wrong jump into an abyss. Hope you have the right equipment for all the challenges you’ll face. Hope you don’t have to make a terrible choice because of the sheer randomness of what is happening. In much the same way an hour and a half flew by while I fought the same boss over and over, a year has now gone by while I spent all of my spare mental energy trying to determine if it is safe to deal with some jerk that seems to genuinely believe it is safe to go see Tenant. We have all spent the last year dodging assaults from all possible directions. We’ve all spent a year playing Ghost ‘n Goblins Resurrection.

But, end of the day, at least I can say I beat Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. And we’ll find all the shadow orbs in this pandemic, too.

FGC #574 Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection

  • This sucksSystem: Seems like we’re only looking at Nintendo Switch at the moment.
  • Number of players: Arthur is a single hero kind of guy, but he can get assistance from a second “assistant” player. But that’s cheating!
  • Get those upgrades: Holy cow, Gold Armor is a game-changer. And I would not have ever known if not for the skill unlock system eventually leading to an “armor powerup” spell. Yes, it takes forever to charge, but being able to start from practically any checkpoint with a gold armor powerup is amazing. It well and truly makes GnGR one of those games that frontloads the difficulty, and things get a lot easier as you level up.
  • Favorite Weapon: Gold Armor-Crossbow is practically Contra’s Spread Gun, and it can fell a Red Arremer on its charge in a single shot. I liked being able to sling arrows already, guys, you didn’t have to sweeten the deal that much.
  • Favorite Boss: I like me some flamin’ devil dogs. Fire Cerberus? Whatever that puppy happens to be called, he’s my favorite boss, as he is pure G ‘n G in a nutshell. The whole thing seems impossible at first, and there is always a level of randomness, but you can overcome if you figure out the patterns and tells. Or you have that golden arrow thing, too. Whatever works.
  • Step into the Shadows: I was expecting the “second run” of GnGR to be the typical “the real game starts now” wherein the stages are the same, just harder with additional traps and spawns. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the “shadow stages” are more or less entirely new challenges with familiar level layouts/graphics. Good on GnGR for “for real” doubling the length of the game, and not just including its own Very Hard mode.
  • ChompyDid you know? Satan appears as the third boss (or fifth, if you are completing all the stages). There are (many!) demons that stand above Satan in this universe. And that reminds me: despite being Satan, the big guy rarely gets to star as a final boss. Any games you can think of where straight up named-Satan is the finale, and not some random fallen angel (ala Lucifer)?
  • Would I play again: Like a Mega Man X title, it is genuinely fun to replay earlier stages with a complete set of upgrades. And it is challenging-fun to play the game without a precise loadout. So I’m probably going to play the game with one of those choices. … But never both.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Big Bird’s Egg Catch for the Atari 2600. We’re going from 2021 to 1983! Please look forward to it!

These dorks

FGC #531 Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

It's getting squishyThey don’t make anti-heroes like they used to.

Literally.

Today’s game is Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. After premiering in Super Mario Land 2 as the main antagonist and only man with the raw chutzpah to steal an entire land out from under Mario’s moustache, Wario returned for his own adventure in the direct sequel. This is fairly significant, because, in almost all other cases with Nintendo characters, it takes forever for prominent villains to get their own adventures. And that’s assuming it ever happens at all! Ganon(dorf) wasn’t playable in a “real” Zelda game until Hyrule Warriors, and the canonicity of that one is dubious at best. Bowser similarly is usually only allowed to costar in spin-off titles, and King Dedede is only ever granted a turn as the hero when his wee nemesis is taking a nap. Other mascot villains don’t fare much better, as our favorite mad scientists didn’t see playable appearances until much later in their careers (Dr. Wily is, of course, represented by his creations in this example. Dude does not want to leave his hoverpod). The opposite numbers for our favorite heroes back in the 90’s were rarely controlled by the player, which was a huge shame, as everybody wants to be the villain. Wario being a playable character so soon after his introduction was unheard of in its time, and it is still a rarity today. Final Fantasy 7 Remake didn’t involve a single playable Sephiroth!

But Wario made the scene in his first “heroic” appearance. Wario wasn’t on a quest to save the princess or liberate some foreign land: he just wanted housing! Wario was homeless after Mario kicked him out of his ill-gotten estate (and what does Mario need a castle for anyway? He’s always away! He’s probably listing it on AirBnB as we speak), so Wario turned his eye to a group of pirates so he could steal their castle. Never mind that the pirates had apparently heisted a building-sized golden statue (!) that Peach had commissioned (!!!), Wario was is in it for the possibility of having a roof over his head. That’s a sympathetic quest, right? A man just wants his own sanctuary, and if a billion little round guys with spears are standing between him and his goals, that’s on them. Wario might not end up with Captain Syrup’s castle in the end (mostly because it exploded), but he does collect a hefty helping of coin over the course of the quest, so he buys his own castle/shack/planet (variable ending!) off a genie. Happy ending for everybody! Wario might be a “bad guy”, but his goals are not so much bad, just a little self-serving. It’s the American dream!

But if you think for even one second that Wario is at all a good guy, well, take a look at this malcontent:

It's Wario time

Wario is established as his own man in a variety of ways. He has Mario’s mad ups, but he also has a downward “butt stomp” that was new for the gamers of 1994. His “fire” isn’t a flower that launches balls, but a dragon hat that functions like a flamethrower. Garlic, not mushrooms, will cause Wario to become super, and his most iconic powerup turns him into something approaching a raging bull. And, whether he’s part bovine or not, Wario doesn’t run, he smashes with a forward shoulder. Wario’s Wario Land appearance is an expert case in modifying “normal” gameplay to still be extremely similar, but just different enough to establish the new protagonist as his own man. When Nintendo did the same again for Princess Peach’s solo outing, the addition of magical umbrella emotions to the Mario formula felt clunky and “gimmicky”, but Wario was a slam dunk right from the starting gate (I am working on understanding sports metaphors).

But none of that matters, because look at this bitch:

It's Wario time

Wario moves and looks like a… well… asshole. Wario is designed to quite literally walk around like he owns the place. Lesser monsters bounce off of him, blocks tremble in his presence, and the ground literally quakes at the force of his unruly ass. Through it all, Wario perpetually gazes out at the player as if to say, “Hey, I’m gonna wreck some shit. Wanna come along?” And that’s the thing: Wario doesn’t say anything. Wario is just as mute as Mario was in his previous adventures, and, long before anyone ever heard about how it was “Wario time”, Wario had to showcase his boundless personality through mime and pixels. The game starts with Wario menacing a pirate duck, and, before the player even smacks start, Wario is out and proud about the fact that he’s a gigantic jerk. Even if you missed Super Mario Land 2, this nimrod with elf shoes establishes himself inside of the opening seconds without so much as uttering a “Hello, stupids”.

And Wario isn’t alone! The pixel pioneers of the 90’s were apparently experts at establishing “this is your protagonist, but he is not a good guy.” It seems like there is a dearth of antiheroes on the pre-FMV consoles, but when you do have a bad guy in a starring role, they’re established pretty damn quick. Want to see another famous walking animation on the Gameboy?

He's a real Firebrand

Firebrand is not a friendly dude, and his jaunty little walk is the signature of a demon that is going to burn down your village. Firebrand is saving his kingdom right now, but if you need a princess kidnaped later, he’ll swoop in when he gets a chance.

And, at the risk of sounding like a nostalgic old man, you just don’t see that kind of instant character formation anymore.

Back in the day, you knew when you were dealing with an anti-hero. What do Wario and Firebrand have in common? They were both enemies first! If you stood in opposition to a brave knight or plumber, you knew you were on Team Bad Guy. Nowadays? Who bloody knows what makes a bad guy. Kratos has a kill count that is literally the population of Ancient Greece (complete with gods!), but his most recent adventure portrays him in a very forgiving light. The criminal stars of Grand Theft Auto participate in the same carnage as your average Lego title, but Trevor has terrible hair, so he’s probably the worst. And it’s telling that at least one franchise was able to hide the fact that you were playing as the main villain all along, the player just didn’t notice due to being so numb to the average amount of slaying inherent to the genre (I’m talking about this game/franchise, for the record). It’s difficult in your average modern videogame to tell whether you’re a playing the part of a vaguely homicidal hero or a villain with a heart of gold. All these heroes and villains are just so good at murdering…

That's one big birdAnd, by and large, this is by design. One way or another, the saintly protagonist of one game is supposed to look like the secret maniac of another tale for all sorts of reasons. Is this a game where the ultimate revelation is that you were the bad guy all along? Or how about you were supposed to be bad, but the plot has proven you were in the right, and it was society that was bad? Or is it just because market research has told us that mostly white guys with dark hair buy videogames? Whatever the root cause, our heroes have become indistinguishable from our antiheroes, and the only thing you can really count on is that the more villainous among us at least are going to make surly comments after encounters.

But is that all we have now? One-liners that are more or less cutting depending on the darkness of the character involved? Even the good guys have goatees, so we can’t judge someone by malevolent facial hair. Gone are the days when a walk would tell you everything you needed to know; you have to complete a 40 hour adventure just to figure out if your protagonist was on the side of the angels or the devils. And don’t even get me started on whether or not the slightest drip of moral ambiguity is going to cause a flood of youtube explanation videos that will list all the ways you’ve been wrong all along. The real villain was the player all along? Gosh, you don’t say. Throw another plank of switcheroo wood on the pile, Shamus, this lumber will keep us warm for another seven winters.

Wario does not know uncertainty. Wario does not have a greater, more benevolent motive. Wario is an asshole. He looks like an asshole. He moves like an asshole. There is no debate: Wario is an asshole, and that’s all he needs to be.

Give us more modern characters like old school Wario. Give us more amusing, unambiguous assholes.

FGC #531 Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

  • System: Gameboy. This one came back on the 3DS Virtual Console, and is well worth a look if that thing is still around.
  • Don't get stabbedNumber of players: Wario needs only his pith helmet on his quest for riches.
  • Big Bad Wario: I want to say Wario Land was the first 2-D platforming game where I was allowed to bump into a weaponless opponent without suffering terrible consequences. Mario can’t so much as get within spitting distance of a goomba without losing his powerups, but Wario bumps around bad(der) guys with ease. Unless Wario is hit by the pointy end of something (which, granted, happens a lot), he is practically invincible compared to his “good” counterpart.
  • Favorite Powerup: Give me Jet Wario or give me death. Incidentally, I was very saddened when I first grabbed a fire hat after having a jet hat, and it didn’t transform into a flying-dragon hat. That was only in the Virtual Boy game! And I liked that!
  • Bizarro World: It’s interesting to compare the map of Wario Land to Super Mario World to see how many similarities there are. Inexplicable giant dome-hills are always nice, and there’s a prerequisite Forest of Illusion waiting before the final areas, too. I wonder if this was an effort to further affirm that Wario, right down to his very “land”, is a funhouse mirror version of Mario… Or if there just weren’t that many great ideas for world maps back in the 90’s. It could go either way.
  • So, did you beat it? Not only did I beat the game, but I apparently earned Wario his own planet. I guess you only have to have all the treasures and clear about 10,000 gold to get the highest reward. And that’s not too hard when you get lucky with the “double your money” chance game after every boss fight. … Or use save states to always get the best result. Yes, I’m cheating, but it’s what Wario would have wanted.
  • Winner!Did you know? Apparently there is an unused scene in the game data for Bobo, the giant vulture boss that rules the roost of the SS Teacup. It seems to showcase Bobo sitting in the woods… and that’s about it. Was Bobo supposed to be more involved in the plot? Was he the big bird of the island that initially appeared to be the main antagonist, but was then replaced by Captain Syrup? Was this the inspiration for Captain Toad’s arch nemesis? The world may never know.
  • Would I play again: This is an excellent game, and possibly one of the best Gameboy games. That said, the Virtual Boy sequel and Wario Land 4 does this basic gameplay better, and the later Wario Gameboy titles are revolutionary in new and exciting ways. Wario Land is great for a long car ride in 1990, but it has been surpassed by its sequels in every way. I’m glad for having playing Wario Land again, but it’s unlikely to happen again while other Warios are around.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crazy Taxi for the Sega Dreamcast! Let’s go for a wild ride! Please look forward to it!

Does this explain lousy AI?

FGC #332 Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

Note: This article may contain general spoilers for the story mode of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Nothing heavy, but you have been warned.

Gonna take you for a ride?I once claimed that Street Fighter V was the most disappointing game of 2016, and I stand by that statement. Street Fighter V at launch wasn’t a bad game, and it certainly was another Street Fighter game, just… Like the unenviable musk that lingers around anyone that stands downwind of Zangief, there was an unmistaken stench of exploitation surrounding the entire enterprise. Arcade mode was gone, survival mode was boring (could you please use random select for opponents? Please?), and online versus seemed built for someone that had already picked out a “main” (on day one, apparently). Eventually, we received a full story mode, new fighters (and a few old ones), and at least one character that apparently snuck in from a certain other game. Street Fighter V still comes off as disappointing, but now it at least feels like a complete game (albeit one still made for the more hardcore fans).

When I first started playing Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite while waiting for the complete download to finish, I was already noting why MvCI would inevitably be my most disappointing game of 2017. Admittedly, for my tastes, MvCI had an uphill battle, as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is one of my top games of all time. And, if that game didn’t exist, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 would fill that same space. I’ve loved the Vs. series since Akuma first smacked around Cyclops, and the later entries that seem to include every character ever (except Daredevil) hit every neuron in my brain’s pleasure center like an epileptic Ping-Pong ball. I have videogame attention deficit disorder, and all I want to do is play as every character in every other round. I’m not certain I’ve ever picked the same team in MvC2 twice (except when trying to beat Abyss, then it’s Cable/Mega Man/Cyclops all the way). And MvC3 felt like a game that was built by people that played MvC2 for a decade, made a mental list of everything they’d add if they could, and then did. Zero! Thor! She-Hulk! Give or take an X-Man or two, that roster is perfect, and the gameplay matches it. And it’s even fairly balanced! No more Sentinel/Magneto/Storm defeating everybody! Most of the time!

Pew pewConversely, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite feels like it was designed by committee. There is not a single Marvel character that did not appear in a movie (or, in Captain Marvel’s case, is about to appear in a movie). The Capcom side isn’t much better, and features three stubbly white guys that have nearly identical facial portraits. We’re chasing power stones, where are the crazy anime characters of Power Stone? Where are my ghost tricks? Where is Ryu (the dragon, not the other one)? Heck, we don’t even have a single Street Fighter that was introduced after 1991. Akuma and Wolverine practically started this franchise, but they’re left behind because I guess the new, edgy version of Bionic Commando is a bigger draw (but not the new, edgy version of Dante, that guy sucks). And, while I know I’m railing at corporate overlords that only deign to make such a game because they have the spare cash from all the successes that are featured in this title (Avengers: The Movie made more money than the GOP of most countries, and I’m sure at least six people bought Dead Rising 4), I’m still more than a little annoyed at how… cheap this all appears. This feels like the most low-rent and recycled the franchise has ever been, and that’s even considering one of the best entries was about 80% recycled content.

And, oh yeah, the graphics suck. They, like, just do. I can’t explain Captain Marvel’s face. I… I don’t want to look at it anymore.

Lady Marvel

Dammit! Now I’ll never read this article again.

So I was all ready to hate on MvCI as the biggest letdown of the year when, after 40 gigs and 4 hours, the download finally completed (note: despite apparently having downloaded nearly 2 TB of games to my Playstation 4, I still only kill time with Sonic Mania. I will play that game until my eyes fall out of my skull). I could already play with the complete roster in versus mode, but now story and arcade modes were available. Fun fact: arcade mode is nothing, but it at least exists, so it has a leg up over Street Fighter V. And then there was story mode. I wasn’t expecting much, but, since I more or less bought the game “for the story” (it certainly wasn’t just so I could play as Rocket Raccoon [again]), I decided to give it a try.

And damned if that didn’t justify the entire endeavor.

Looks different, tooSaid it before, and I’ll say it again: There is no way to please fans of a crossover series. “Heroes” are meant to be the heroes of their own stories, and when you group a bunch of main characters together, everyone gets reduced to their component parts. A character that previously led an entire adventure is condensed to being “the smart one” because they solved like one problem without punching in the original tale. And, inevitably, your favorite character is reduced to being practically a sidekick to whoever is arbitrarily chosen as the “real” hero of the piece, and, ugh, did you see how Sora was able to defeat Power Trident Ursula with a stupid lightning spell? Totally non-canon. That would never happen.

And this is all utterly true of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite…