Tag Archives: frog

FGC #577 Rock n’ Roll Racing

VrooomGentle reader, what do you want from videogame music? Because, confession time, I have a… storied past with videogame music versus many of my nerd peers…

This sad fact is by no means universal, but… how do I put this? Ah, here is a good example: If it is retro videogame trivia night (an actual thing that happens, I swear), and I am on deck for “name that tune”, I am probably going to lose. Did I play Mega Man 2 approximately ten million times as a child? Yes. However, can my brain immediately identify Wood Man’s theme as a classic beat meant to invoke the dodging of robotic ostriches? Nope. I know the Wood Man theme, I enjoy the Wood Man theme, but, when divorced from playing the game or seeing a track list, my brain never makes that immediate connection that I am listening to Wood Man’s theme. Why? Because my secret shame is that I played Mega Man 2 over and over again, but I didn’t listen to the music.

Sorry, pointdexters, I’ve been listening to real music this whole time! Ha ha! Eat noogies!

Though, to be honest, this was more of an issue of my environment than anything else. As was the style at the time, I often played videogames at the family “entertainment center”. And, as this beast was predominantly a result of the eighties (even if it was used well into… well… right now… buy some new equipment, Dad!), there was a heavy emphasis on its onboard tape/CD player. So, if I was playing a videogame, I had a choice: I could crank up the (tiny, tinny) TV to listen to DuckTales’ amazing jams, or I could just hit play on whatever album was currently in the player and crank it through the gigantic speakers that adorned the room. And guess which choice my parents heavily encouraged over an afternoon of listening to a Nintendo’s beeps and boops…

Cruisin' Not USAUltimately, I suppose it has always been a matter of how “music” is to my parents in the same way that “videogames” are to my attention starved mind. I need a new videogame every seventeen seconds to survive, and my parents were often compulsively purchasing albums at about the same rate when I was a wee Goggle Bob. They have slowed down in recent years (primarily due to the generational issue of “music stopped being good when I was thirty”), but it seemed like there was a new record on the player literally every week when I was a kid. And, what’s more, if an album turned out to be particularly loved, it would wind up in heavy rotation in that 5-CD advanced sound system (which, incidentally, I believe is the most “luxury” item my father has ever purchased to this very day). As one might expect, I eventually wound up following in my parents’ footsteps as I grew older, so my playtime eventually included my own tunes. This means that, right off the top of my head…

· Breath of Fire 2 was released right about the same time as my dad got the Queen’s Greatest Hits 2-disc set, so I want to say that entire game is fueled exclusively by Freddy Mercury in my mind.

· My mother purchased Blondie’s Greatest Hits when I was finally allowed to have a Virtual Boy (there was some debate on whether it would permanently scar my eyes). This is why One Way or Another always makes me think of Wario.

· And, lest you think this list is only based on my parents’ musical tastes, the legendary Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a Christmas present alongside a Best Buy gift card that got me Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut album. I am more likely to recall Jackson Cannery than Zelda’s Lullaby.

And, to be clear, there were some standouts in my childhood/teenage videogame library. Final Fantasy 3 (or 6) got a pass for “real” chiptunes thanks to Nintendo Power gushing about the music (Nintendo Power gushed about everything, but somehow that penetrated my brain before a playthrough), and Chrono Trigger snuck in there for much the same reason. But beyond that? Beyond games I knew I was playing “for the music”? Sorry, bud, but you can’t compete with this Van Halen CD I certainly didn’t pick up just to impress a girl I liked for ten minutes (yet my enjoyment of Van Halen lives on). My father said that “Sonic Boom! Sonic Boom!” coming from the TV was annoying, so I’m going to keep the Billy Joel cranked up, just as God and/or Dad intended.

But that is not to say if I am playing a videogame, even from the 16-bit era, I don’t want to hear videogame music.

Look outToday’s game is Rock n’ Roll Racing. It is one of those racing titles from before Nintendo and Gran Turismo apparently codified the genre. Like Mario Kart, there are weapons, powerups, and the occasional opportunity to expertly steer into a shortcut or straight off the course. However, unlike the “Mode-7” inspired racers that dominate the genre today, this one looks almost like a classic Zelda adventure with its isometric perspective. This had been seen in many racing games (I will never not have a quarter for Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road), and had recently been seen in Silicon & Synapse’s own SNES title, Radical Psycho Machine Racing. In fact, give or take the futuristic setting, Rock n’ Roll Racing is RPM Racing 2 in all but name. So why the brand jump? Why forsake the previous game that must have dazzled upwards of thirteen supporters and latch onto a completely different title, potentially offending the rabid RPM Racing fanbase? Simple. When you’ve got rock n’ roll licensing, you make your game about rock n’ roll. Rock ‘n Roll Racing got Bad to the Bone, Highway Star, Paranoid, Born to be Wild, Radar Love, and (most importantly) Peter Gunn. When you’ve got songs like that, you forsake everything RPM Racing ever stood for, and promote the rock n’ roll, baby!

Hot stuffOf course, having the license to a song or six does not mean you can actually play the song. Rock n’ Roll Racing was always intended for the Super Nintendo, and, unfortunately, Nintendo technology of the time could barely support the Clayfighter theme, left alone Steppenwolf belting out a little ditty about being wild. As a result, Rock n’ Roll Racing had to “reduce” all of its greatest hits to chiptunes. And it works! Vocals may be gone, but these are unmistakably the driving anthems that will propel your racer from planet to planet via a rockin’ rocket ship or two. The rock n’ roll of Rock n’ Roll Racing may have been midi-ised for the Super Nintendo (and eventually the Sega Genesis), but it was still recognizable, and thus unlike anything else available at the time. Those dumb baby games with Mario could never support even the slightest slice of Black Sabbath.

But time marched on, and, despite all odds, Rock n’ Roll Racing got a remaster on modern consoles. Silicon & Synapse became Blizzard, had a hit or two with some kind of Diabcraft-watch thing, and someone with an affectionate heart greenlit Blizzard Arcade Collection, a title that featured zero games made by a company named Blizzard, or ever appeared in an arcade. It is a collection, though! And it’s not just a collection of retro titles, either, as every one of the included games (The Lost Vikings and Blackthorne snuck in here, too) included a “best remix” version that modernized aspect ratios, merged levels from different versions, and upgraded the graphics all around (as best as one can do such a thing with 30 year old games, of course). And, in the case of Rock n’ Roll racing, the “real” Rock n’ Roll was finally included, and now the full vocal tracks of these classic hits are available for your racing pleasure.

And I hate it.

I understand that this makes zero sense. When given the choice, if I am playing an 8/16/sometimes 32-bit title, I will listen to “real music”, because that is the way I was raised. But when a game tells me I will listen to “real music”, I’m out. Despite years of conditioning, I immediately find the situation… offensive. You not only want me to listen to Peter Gunn, a song I love, but you want me to listen to the full instrumental track of it? The same song I have chosen to listen to over and over again? You monsters. This modern take on Rock n’ Roll Racing should be the version that grabs my attention immediately. It is a great game! It has got great music! Yet here I sit, switching back to the SNES version, because I don’t want to hear Ian Gillan smashing out his hits. I’m playing a videogame, so I better hear videogame music, dammit.

Winner!  Maybe!What do I want out of videogame music? Apparently I want chiptunes. I might enjoy listening to other jams while playing my games, but I absolutely do not want a game to tell me what songs I should be listening to. You hear that, other franchises? I don’t care how funny you think your fake DJs are, I can jockey my own discs, thank you.

So… uh… guess my answer is kind of complicated. I want either my own music, or what my dad will still call “that beepy music”. And there can be no middle ground. What do you want from videogame music, dedicated reader who suffered through this meandering article? Is your answer more… sane?

FGC #577 Rock n’ Roll Racing

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, and now part of Blizzard Arcade Collection on modern consoles like Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Super Nintendo WiiU… I mean Switch. There was also a Gameboy Advance version in there, too, but never a 3DO edition.
  • Number of players: 2-player split screen, or maybe 4 if you can use modern technology. What’s important is that multiplayer is definitely involved.
  • Who will win?It’s a Personal Problem: This might not be the best racing game of all time or something, but it does have personality in spades. The “lore” for the various planets, racers, and even advertisers is fun all around, and, had this game been even more of a hit, we’d probably be looking at a few Loudmouth Larry Geocities fan pages. Let the carnage begin!
  • Favorite Racer: Katarina Lyons is my favorite pick, because she successfully foretold the coming of Avatar (the cats, not the cartoon). She also handles really well. Olaf gets a bonus mention though for being the best cameo/crossover in the Blizzard library.
  • Favorite Rival Racer: Ragewortt is some manner of malevolent frog king, and I am here for that.
  • Level Up: I appreciate the concept of purchasing new/customizable cars, but, in practice, it seems like you either have to be an expect racer, or “level up” according to the planet difficulty tiers. And I hate leveling up in skill based games! You hear me, beat ‘em ups!? I don’t want to wonder if my proficiencies are subpar, or I just haven’t grinded enough! I don’t need more stress in my life right now! Though I guess it does give prize money a reason to exist, so it can’t be all bad…
  • Did you know? I swear the only reason the announcer uses the “(Character) looks lost out there!” expression repeatedly is so that we can get a decent “Olaf looks lost out there!” whenever that particular viking is lagging behind.
  • Kinda mustard coloredWould I play again: Rock n’ Roll Racing was always on the FGC docket, so it is kind of a wonder it got a modern rerelease just in time to satisfy the random robot. And now I can play its prequel, too! RnRR is the kind of title I always get a hankering to play every five years or so, and I can (hopefully) say my Switch digital library isn’t going anywhere, so we’re definitely looking at some additional rocking and rolling in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Capcom Fighting Evolution for the Playstation 2! Is this evolution, or devolution? We’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

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 #381 Diddy Kong Racing

Let's race!Diddy Kong Racing had a fairly interesting and ridiculous development process. Almost immediately after the launch of the N64 (and the release of Killer Instinct Gold), Rare started in on their next game and first “original” N64 title (as KI Gold was basically an arcade port). This process started with “Wild Cartoon Kingdom”, which was basically a real-time strategy game (!) based on an executive’s trip to Disney World. Then, for reasons that are no doubt lost to time/whiskey, the RTS became a racing game, and mutated into Pro-Am 64, an RC-car based title. Then, a certain bear and bird got their big debut game delayed, so Rare/Nintendo needed a big mascot title to fill its upcoming holiday season. Pro-Am 64 was modified again, and, this time, “Cartoon Kingdom” returned with a number of furry animal pals in cars, planes, and hovercrafts. After a long and confusing road to creation, a certain monkey got slammed on the marquee, and Diddy Kong Racing was born.

But was it any good?

Wait, belay that question. I don’t mean “was the game any good?” Diddy Kong Racing was an interesting take on racing games (which, thanks to the technology of the late 90’s, was a genre that had seen about 7,000 titles in two years), as it combined the exploratory nature of action games like Mario 64 and the tight racing experience of Mario Kart. It wasn’t a very complicated or nuanced take on either of its two contributing gameplay styles, but it was certainly fun. While Mario Kart 64 might be the most fondly remembered racing title of the generation, there’s nothing wrong with being in second place in that race. Diddy Kong 64 was weird and experimental, but it was certainly good at being an amusing racing game with its own identity.

But it’s that identity that we’re here to investigate. DKR took a long road to production, but, somewhere in there, it was nearly a bunch of anonymous windup cars. Then, in an effort to be a “big name” title, it grabbed a kong, and turned all of its unknowns into what would hopefully be the next Mario Kart. Or do you want to tell me you ever considered the intelligence of your average koopa troopa before he started pelting you with red shells? Diddy Kong Racing was clearly intended as a way for Rare and Nintendo to promote a new stable of remarkable characters, but how did they do? We’ve got a couple of decades of hindsight here, so let’s answer this question once and for all: Are the stars of Diddy Kong racing any good?

Diddy Kong

Diddy!Diddy is the one known quantity for Diddy Kong Racing, which is probably why it’s, ya know, Diddy Kong Racing. After appearing in Mario Kart, Smash Bros, and every Donkey Kong title that doesn’t involve tinker toys, it’s hard to believe, but Diddy Kong was still a pretty new quantity back in 1997. Donkey Kong Country was only three years old, and it wasn’t like Diddy ever gained the same kind of traction as the upcoming Pikachu. He wasn’t even playable in Donkey Kong Country 3! However, as legend tells it, Donkey Kong was originally slated for this spot, but Rare suggested Diddy star for a little variety. Donkey already gets to hang out with Mario, why not promote the lil’ chimp with his own franchise? And, hey, DK could still swing by next time, anyway. What have you got to lose?

Well, seems that Rare and Nintendo made the right choice in this one, as Diddy really does fit his eponymous game pretty well. Donkey would have a tendency to overshadow the rest of this cast not only figuratively, but literally as well. DK is a big guy (ape)! Diddy’s presence allows for more “childlike” mascots, like… almost the entire cast, and that gives Diddy Kong Racing a different identity from its Mario-based cousin. Diddy Kong Racing doesn’t have to be for kids, but the “kiddy” characters and visuals give it a more whimsical feeling, and that’s important when you’ve got magical vehicles that change shape at the behest of a genie.

Verdict: Diddy Kong has been an excellent mascot for Nintendo for years, and he fits the game perfectly. Good job, Diddy!

Krunch

Get emAnd here’s our first dud.

Mario Kart has always been a pretty interesting title without its cast, but nobody would have ever played the thing if it featured a bunch of anonymous randos. See also: Smash Bros and the confusingly high number of Melee/Brawl clone games that are dropping within the year. Sure, the gameplay is great and fun and whatever, but, dude, I signed up to play as Samus Aran, not generic lady with a gun. But we take for granted that these games have these all-star casts. It’s likely impossible to figure out the chicken and egg of those franchises, but, at some point, somebody in Nintendo had to say, “Hey, let’s actually include all of our best characters. And Captain Falcon! That should get people’s attention!” Mario Kart could easily be Mario racing against seven goombas, but it is so much sweeter when Yoshi is in the mix.

Krunch Kremling is a Kremling, and the sad thing is that he could have been any Kremling. At this point, we’d already seen three Donkey Kong Country titles, and, in all of those games, Kremlings were the main antagonists. This means that there was already an entire army of kritters to choose from, yet Rare decided to go with a generic representation of the species. Sure, he’s got a cool motorcycle jacket, and I guess he gets bonus points for being a Kremling with the wherewithal to follow Diddy to a magical island, but he’s no Kaptain K. Rool. Don’t want your Bowser eclipsing the cast? Klubba would be a fine choice. Or Klobber! Or any Kremling that is at least recognizable, and not “just a crocodile”. Come on, Rare, you’re trying to build a brand here. Use the tools you have.

Verdict: It’s nice to see an established “race” represented in the game, and it’s always good to have an enemy-turned-ally, but Krunch is a disappointment in every other way.

Banjo

BANJO!Banjo is a star in waiting. If you’re curious about the timeline here, the entire reason Diddy Kong Racing is Diddy Kong Racing is because Nintendo/Rare needed a mascot game for Christmas, and the original intended title created to fill that slot was Banjo-Kazooie. So, effectively, if it weren’t for Banjo Bear being slow to the starting line, we wouldn’t be looking at Diddy Kong Racing at all, and I might be posting about Uniracers 2 or something. For this reason alone, Banjo should be celebrated as the savior of DKR Island.

And, even if it was Banjo’s lack of haste to be blamed for DKR, it was still a great idea to include Banjo on the roster. This is the proverbial “passing of the torch” from one mascot to another. Donkey begat Diddy, and now Diddy shall beget Banjo. And it worked! Banjo was a success, and, even with a measly three games under his belt, Banjo still holds enough cultural clout to warrant his own Mighty Number 9. And the games weren’t bad, either! Everybody wins! Let’s hear it for Banjo!

Verdict: Way to go, bear! You may have yet to discover your companion bird, but you’re going places.

Tiptup

TipsyNow here’s a guy who is such a loser, nobody can even remember his origins.

Tiptup did technically premier in Diddy Kong Racing. And, let’s face it, he’s basically a joke. He’s a turtle in a race. There are entire fables about why that is a terrible idea! But Tiptup didn’t stop at Diddy Kong Racing, he waddled on to appear in Banjo-Kazooie as a support character with his own choir. And then he became (or already was) a dad in Banjo-Tooie. And I’m pretty sure he at least made a cameo in that other Banjo game. And he was originally intended to be a friend of Banjo in the scrapped Project Dream game that would eventually morph into the “real” Banjo franchise. In short, Tiptup is indisputably a part of the Banjo universe.

But, when Diddy Kong Racing was eventually rereleased for the Nintendo DS, Tiptup was still there on the roster. This might seem natural, but Banjo and Conker were both dropped from that title, because Rare had long since abandoned Nintendo for softer pastures, and “their” property wasn’t going to see any extra eyeballs.

But Tiptup was still there, abandoned by his friends.

And considering “The Tiptup Case” isn’t a part of Nintendo legislative history, it doesn’t look like his owners thought he was anyone important either.

Sorry, Tiptup, you’re so forgettable, your own creators don’t give a damn about you.

Verdict: Don’t worry, I won’t forget about you… uh… turtle… guy?

Timber

Is he supposed to be a lumberjack?Diddy is the visiting celebrity, Banjo is the next generation in waiting, and poor Timber the Tiger is the intended protagonist of the piece. Diddy Kong Racing does have a plot, and it’s that the nefarious Wizpig swooped in and cursed the inhabitants of this happy little island while Timber’s parents were off, I don’t know, getting high in a van by the river or something. Timber is still home alone, and it’s up to him to de-curse the island with the help of his whacky friends. … No wonder he requested a chimp for assistance. This kid is doomed.

Unfortunately, DKR was built for players that could choose any character for any level at any time. And that’s great! A large adventure like DKR would be terrible if it locked you into one racer for every last challenge. Unfortunately, that means that any focus on Timber is completely lost, and most people only know Timber is the intended protagonist from the instruction manual (and even that was likely forsaken for that piece of cardboard that explains the controls). Combine this with the fact that Timber didn’t even make it to the cover of his own game on the DS rerelease (but there’s Tiptup!), and Timber pretty much fails in his protagonist role. Sorry, Timber, you’re another forgotten casualty of the franchise.

Verdict: Timber didn’t even have the star power to sneak back into a Banjo title. Guess his parents aren’t letting him out of their sight for a good long while.

Drumstick

BAGAWNow here’s a plot hero! Drumstick is supposedly the Obi Wan Chicken of DKR, and he’s the first to challenge Wizpig to a race for the island. He loses immediately, and is transformed into a frog for his troubles. Whoops. Drumstick spends the majority of the story as a frog with a rooster comb, but, should you rescue the majority of the island anyway, you’ll be able to release the curse on Drumstick, and thus the chicken man will be yours.

And that’s awesome! Unlocking characters started to become a means unto itself at the start of the millennium, but there was still a little mystique to earning a rooster dude through sheer effort back in 1997. And, what’s more, with the “legend” of Drumstick being the greatest racer on the island, you, the player, felt like the greatest racer around when you finally de-frogged the guy. And heroes transforming into frogs was all the rage back in the 90s! Just ask that marshmallow kid!

Verdict: Drumstick winds up being the one racer that actually seems related to the plot, so he’s a bit more memorable than the rest of these nerds. Too bad someone decided his ideal design would be “rejected KFC mascot”, though.

Pipsy

SqueakyYou know it’s a 90’s game when there’s “that one girl”. The lone female of the DKR species is Pipsy the Mouse, and, to her credit, she’s one of the best racers in the game. Sure, that might be a subjective statement in most any kart racing game, but Pipsy is a damn beast, and her handling is second to none. But, other than that, Pipsy has absolutely no defining features beyond her gender. There’s a reason we never saw Pipsy’s Big Adventure.

Verdict: If you’re going to have a cartoon mouse mascot, you have to go big. Pipsy did not.

Bumper

The goggles!And here’s Bumper the Badger. As far as anyone can tell, he was intended as the “big and friendly” archetype in this lineup. He’s… big… and… uh… friendly. That’s all we got here. Nothing much to… Wait a minute. Is he wearing goggles? He is! Bumper the Badger is wearing goggles! That should be praised! Bumper knows what’s up! He has his furry paw on the pulse of fashion! Way to go, Bumper! We need more rockin’ Badgers!

Verdict: I assume the great, unwashed masses could not see the inherent value of the goggles, so Bumper wound up another critter in the loser column.

Conker

Conks!Conker is a squirrel in a t-shirt. Nobody is ever going to toss a game to this nobody.

Verdict: Welp, that’s everybody. We’ve got more losers than anything, so it certainly seems that Diddy Kong Racing irresponsibly squandered its mascot powers, and never went anywhere with these also-rans. Hey, you can’t always win the gold.

FGC #381 Diddy Kong Racing

  • System: Nintendo 64 initially, and then a rerelease on Nintendo DS, the system where N64 games went to retire.
  • Number of players: It’s four players, right? It’s a N64 game, so that’s my best guess.
  • Hey, what about T.T. the Clock? That is an imaginary character, and you clearly just made him up.
  • Dirty Cheater: Not unlike Goldeneye, there are a number of cheats “built in” to the game. Some of the cheats impact the random battle items that are earned during races, which is a feature Mario Kart players have been begging for forever. There’s also a cheat that is titled “TOXICOFFENDER”, which turns all balloons green. That is delightful.
  • Raj!Favorite Boss: Wizpig is the Wizard Pig should win on sheer chutzpah alone (when life gives you pork, become a wizard!), but I’m going to choose Bubble the Octopus as my favorite semi-malevolent opponent. He was an angry octopus boss before Mario and squid kids made it mandatory.
  • Did you know? Pipsy is supposedly based on a character from a canceled project named Astro Mouse. The titular Astro Mouse is male, has a space helmet, and seems to have a healthy amount of 90’s ‘tude. He could be the origin of Pipsy, but, seriously, how many different ways can you render a mouse?
  • Would I play again: Maybe, once, for the nostalgia. I’m not playing the game “for real” ever again, but trying out a track or two every once in a while wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Ball FighterZ! Or maybe I just want to play another DBZ game. DBS game? Whatever! What’s important is that Goku is coming to town. Please look forward to it!

FGC #009 Donkey Kong Country

Mine or rollercoaster?History is written by the winners, be they ape or dinosaur.

Donkey Kong Country was the big crazy holiday release for the Super Nintendo. It was a revolution in graphics available on the SNES, or so we were told, and a pretty alright game to play to boot. The console wars were over, Nintendo was the victor, and Donkey Kong carried the victory barrel over the kremling finish line. Somewhere, a Genesis kid wept bitter tears as everyone abandoned the diminutive blue hedgehog for a pair of primates. They had to go fast.

The following year, the war won, Sega floundering and assembling green balls into strange vectors, the Playstation still waiting with baited breath for the cloud of prosperity that would still be two years away, (Super) Nintendo games only had each other to battle. In one holiday season, we saw eternal triumphs like Chrono Trigger clashing for a child’s wallet with the likes of beloved mascot games, like Earthworm Jim 2. And, direct from Nintendo, we had two amazing games: Yoshi’s Island and Donkey Kong Country 2. The rivalry between the two games would echo through the annals of the then fairly fresh internet (popularly known as AOL in those days), and now, decades later, much is still made of the competitors, story book graphics vs. prerendered, indepth gameplay vs. run ‘n jump, “Trojan horse” marketing vs. charming, and I think I’ve even heard some good ol’ East vs. West enmity in there.

But here we stand, two decades later, and are forced to ask ourselves: who won?

First, we look at Donkey Kong Country. Poor, sweet, forgotten Donkey Kong Country. Oh? What’s that you say? Yes, I can hear you, gentle reader, out there in internet land, as your monocle flies from your face and your top hat reaches disagreeable heights, propelled by the steam rising from your ears. Yes, I stand by my statement, your incredulity aside, Donkey Kong Country has been forgotten by gaming at large, and I realized this only while playing the ol’ girl.

The bee is also spikeyDonkey Kong Country is, and I apologize for the heresy you’re about experience, Super Mario Bros. 3. I realize this may be antithetical to every belief you have, but attempt a run of Super Mario Bros. 3 without ever acquiring a super leaf, without ever taking to the skies, and then play Donkey Kong Country. Things will seem oddly familiar, I guarantee. Make no mistake, Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the greatest platformers ever for a reason (that reason is The Wizard), and DKC cannot be held to its exacting standard, but if the folks at Rare were going to… ape any game in the Nintendo anthology for their creation, they may as well grab one of the best. Much though I’m sure the impulse was there, I’m glad they didn’t choose to introduce the new Donkey Kong in a game emulating, say, Clu-Clu Land. Who would want to play that?

I shouldn’t have to elaborate on this point, and I might be high on pesticides right now, but Donkey Kong Country is, like the finer, old Mario games, a game where you run from left to right, jump on an eclectic mix of antagonistic animals, and then clear the goal before wandering into the next obstacle course. The main theme of Super Mario Bros. 3 is titled “Still Running Around”, and that may as well be the central theme-theme of the game. Donkey (and Diddy, can’t forget the smart one of the stupid apes) are “still running around” through their entire adventure, with occasional breaks for swimming labyrinths (not unlike the more maze-y stages of SMB3) and maybe a minecart or two. Donkey Kong’s animal friends (is that redundant? That always seems to be the phrase used, but they’re all animals, apes, fish, frogs, etc., so aren’t they all just “friends”?) recall Super Mario World’s Yoshi mechanics; so much so that I still expect DK to punch Engarde in the face every time he wants the swordfish to propel forward. Dinosaur abuse is deeply rooted in my psyche. And then every world concludes with a boss battle that is primarily a skirmish of well timed jumps, save a few gimmicks that may include Bowser-baiting or Bee-barreling.

One day we'll find it...There’s a gameplay mechanic here that exists, but is no more important in Donkey Kong Country than it is in Super Mario Bros. 3, and that’s “collecting”. Yes, there are hidden stages in DKC, and, yes, there are KONG letters in every stage, but neither “collectible” is any more gameplay important than Mario’s Warp Whistles or Flying Coin Ships. Yes, you can score “100%” in DKC the same way you can collect every last coin in SMB3, but neither game ends with a message reminding you that you missed something, or a final boss that is locked away behind some outlandish condition. There are collectibles and “secrets” on Donkey Kong’s island, but they’re fairly insignificant compared to the fun of rolling toward the finale over as many lizards as possible. That banana horde is going to fill up no matter how many exclamation points you weld onto stage names.

And then came Donkey Kong Country 2, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. As mentioned previously, they were released at nearly the same time, and much has been made of their differences through the decades. No one ever seems to take a moment to compare DKC2 to DKC, though, as DKC2 is seemingly universally lauded as the victor in that ape fight.

But we lost something between DKC and DKC2, and it was the same thing that was “lost” when Mario landed on Yoshi’s Island. As I mentioned in my Yoshi Touch & Go article, Yoshi’s Island introduced the “collection” elements to the Mario platformer universe, and that acquisition has never gone away. Whether it be stars or shines or giant coins, every Mario game is now expected to have some collection element, lest gamers just get bored with running from left to right, in 2D space or three, and additional game content is locked behind these collectibles. Some games are more intensive than others, but it’s there in every Mario game since 1995. Similarly, either thanks to some collaboration in the halls of Nintendo, or just a coincidence of parallel development, Donkey Kong Country 2 acquired a significant collectible element, adding DK “hero coins” and making the hidden stages of the previous game a requirement to see the complete ending and battle the true final boss.

Mine or rollercoaster?This is why I see Donkey Kong Country as forgotten, as the first thing most gamers mention when the DKC series rears its furry head is the “collectathon” elements that have been a staple of the series ever since 1995, DKC2 and DKC3 made the franchise lock significant content behind collecting, and Donkey Kong 64 made the collectathon elements its central focus, to the point that it basically retired the franchise and made the idea of collectibles in a game more of a threat than a feature. This is all absent in Donkey Kong Country, where running and jumping is all that’s required. Go go gorilla!

All of this is just circling back to my original question: Who won, Donkey Kong or Yoshi? As I write this in 2015, both franchises have enjoyed a new renaissance despite a decade or so of inactivity. DK has returned to his roots in Donkey Kong Country Returns and its sequel, and both games have been well received and fun. Yarn Yoshi is on the horizon, and Yoshi’s New Island didn’t cause any noticeable lesions on my body, which is more than I can say for most of the Yoshi franchise since its debut. Assuming Yarn Yoshi is everything it appears to be, both franchises seem to be at about the same plane of “alright”, so we can’t really judge them on that level.

If you see this coming in the ocean, you swim the other wayLet’s look at Mario. Mario has had a record number of 2D platforming games released recently, compared to the N64/GBA/NGC era when we never saw Mario just enjoying the simple pleasures of turtle stomping in limited dimensions. There’s even a pretty easy argument to be made that the recent Super Mario Land 3D branch of the franchise, despite being, obviously, 3D, is much more rooted in the 2D Mario games than the likes of Mario 64. And what happens in those games? Mario runs from left to right, often as quickly as possible, and collects along the way, three special star coins.

Huh, that sounds kind of familiar.

Replace those star coins with KONG letters, and you’ve got Donkey Kong Country to a T. Yes, Mario has power-ups and bob-ombs and whatever crazy platform mechanics that are based on how many people in the room you can get to sneeze or whatever Nintendo came up for the latest game, but in the end, it is nearly the exact same gameplay as the original Donkey Kong Country. It might be a plumber hopping on a dinosaur as opposed to an ape utilizing a rhino, but, in the end, it comes out very similar. And that’s what Nintendo is hanging their number one mascot/cash cow on in a series that doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Your revolution is over, Yoshi. Condolences. The dinosaurs lost.

Cranky is my spirit animalFGC #9: Donkey Kong Country

  • System: Super Nintendo
  • Number of Players: 2, though it’s a much more frustrating experience with two players than one. Have you ever tried it? Whatever you do, don’t try it with a potential mate. I speak from experience. Just play Double Dash with DK and Diddy and claim it’s the same thing.
  • Donkey Kong or Diddy Kong? Despite Donkey having the clear advantage with his unparalleled ground pound and ability to tackle enemies that laugh off Diddy’s pounces, Diddy is my boy, and his cartwheels are just the bee’s knees. Worst part of Donkey Kong Country Returns is that they saddle you with Donkey and his stupid tie while Diddy is right there!
  • Been kinda hard on Yoshi lately, ya know? Blame ROB! I swear I like Yoshi’s Island just fine. It’s an excellent game! Its sequels and lasting impact on gaming seems to wither as I pay more attention to it, though.
  • Did You Know? Rare told me they studied actual real live apes to perfectly animate the Kong’s movements. I learned this from a VHS tape that arrived, unsolicited, at my home. I presume that Nintendo is waiting for the day it is profitable enough to fund time travel expeditions for Miyamoto to study real live Yoshi in their natural habitat.
  • Would I Play Again? I only re-played through the first three worlds for this article, and I am just fascinated that all this time I have been ignoring this game for its “superior” sequel, DKC2. I am seriously considering heading back to Donkey Kong Country in my nonexistent spare time.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Ice Climber!? ROB, you %^*$ son of a $$%@. Please look forward to it! I’m not!