Tag Archives: game gear

FGC #519 (Super) Smash TV

Let's Smash!Am I a good parent?

Wait a tick… Of course I’m not. I don’t even have kids. But I deal with kids on occasion, and I’d kind of like to work out my….

Wait, let’s take it from the top.

So my best friend had a birthday the other day. Given this birthday was a big, round number (he’s an even 6,000 years old), under normal circumstances, there would likely be a surprise party involving everyone that has so much as sneezed in his general direction. Unfortunately, we live in an age where sneezing is forbidden, so the big, “blowout” party consisted of a whole five adults drinking various kinds of alcohol on an outside deck. There was a cake that was also alcohol, but it was still a cake. I understand this has become a meme of some kind? Please enjoy this edible barrel.

It's a lie

But this quintet of musty old people was not the full extent of the guest list. The birthday boy had managed to sire some brood in his 11,000 years on this planet, and they had to be occupied with… ya know… something. It turns out children aren’t fond of sitting around and discussing the works of Proust while sipping Cabernet Sauvignon (okay, we may have actually been just gossiping about dorks from high school while chugging whiskey… but still!), so they were banished to the basement to entertain themselves. Of course, the kids do not see my basement (affectionately referred to as “The Gameatorium”) as anything approaching a punishment. That’s where the Transformers live! And the videogames! And that robot that keeps shouting out the titles of random videogames! That’s always a fun curiosity! So, yes, the children spent their father’s birthday surrounded by more games than they’d likely ever see in their lives, and that was the last they saw of their parents until around 1 AM.

Now, despite the fact that the kids in question were surrounded by literally thousands of videogames, I didn’t have to worry too much about their virgin eyes seeing the horrors of some games in my collection. Children have energy in droves, but the trade-off is that their undeveloped brains are remarkably lazy when more immediate enjoyment is available. Nobody has time to figure out how that whole “Sega Saturn” thing works, so they’ll just stick a slab of cheese in the disc drive, wait for me to find that six months later, and move on to a more familiar system. In this case, there was a Nintendo Switch, so that seemed like the way to go for finding some familiar fun. And, since the Nintendo Switch is a rat, I can relay exactly what they played. Apparently Smash Bros was their first choice, so good job, children. Fortnite was tried, but I hadn’t updated that game in a dog’s age, and nobody felt like waiting through a gigabyte download. ARMS was next on the list, and it seems that and Snakeybus were played for a whole 20 seconds before moving on to Splatoon 2. That saw some more use, but it didn’t last forever, likely because the two kids had to share a controller to play against others online. They’re… not great at taking turns. This apparently prompted the eldest to search through my collection for something that was 2-player co-op. Presumably utilizing signals beamed directly into his brain by generally bored space aliens, Elder Child found a game that would involve not only co-op, but lots of shooting.

NEONAnd that game? Neon Chrome. “A ruthless twin-stick top-down shooter”.

Anytime I see a kid playing a game that is described as “ruthless”, I grow concerned.

If you’ve never played Neon Chrome, you are missing out on a fun experience. It’s a procedurally generated rogue-like twin stick shooter that offers a number of offensive options and opponents. It was originally released on Steam in 2016, migrated to the consoles, and eventually found a home on the Switch. This is the ideal final form for practically any rogue-like, as the “simple” top down shoot ‘em up nature of Neon Chrome and the need to grind (either to unlock new options or to just “git gud”) seems to work best while also burning through episodes of Gotham in parallel (Batman stomping around as a surly teenager while The Riddler and The Penguin make out? Sign me up!). It’s not a game that is ever going to set the world on fire, and I’m glad I picked it up on a random sale, but Neon Chrome is certainly a game that is in the top 30% of titles on my Switch, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering some of the other luminaries on that system.

And, as I was the only adult sober enough to do such a thing, I checked on the children during their Neon Chrome journey. Neon Chrome actually surprised me, as it led to these two brothers actually cooperating and working out techniques unique to 2-player mode. While I may have been concerned about heated shouts of “You’re supposed to cover my right!” the fact that they collaborated for (literally) hours seemed like a minor miracle unto itself. Usually there is crying, yelling, and at least one kid explaining to his parents how the other kid is not being “fair” or “helpful” or “won’t stop summoning Bizlackowaq the NEONDeath Bringer”. In this case, the brothers were simply sitting downstairs, playing the same game, and enrapt the whole while. This is unusual! This is a miracle! It allowed us adults the freedom to have wild bacchanalian activities until well into the morning (or at least have one uninterrupted conversation about bookshelf placement), and we all have Neon Chrome to thank.

And my only concern is that Neon Chrome is rated T for Teen, and every time when I checked on the kids, there was inevitably a blood-splattered corpse on the ground.

(Uh, to be clear, that corpse was in the game. There was very little Cain and Abel roleplay happening that night).

Now, I have played videogames all of my life. I have enjoyed videogames all of my life. And, likely as a direct result of that, I have always been sensitive to the controversies over videogame violence. I was there for Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and Ballz. I may or may not have held a lifelong grudge against a certain senator for stirring up anti-videogame rhetoric. I was in high school opposite Columbine and the “Doom controversy”. I have spent the last thirty years of my life entrenched in a thousand debates on videogames, violence, and whether or not that has any real impact on the players. I have always, always maintained that even the smallest children know the difference between fantasy and reality, and claiming otherwise is absolutely a bad-faith argument. We no more need to shield children from violent videogames than we need to block the nightly news and its usual parade of viciousness. Get over it, Joe, videogames are cool, you should just chill out.

NEONBut here I am, gawking like a yokel, starring at a pair of kids causing blood fountains on the screen, and contemplating whether or not I should leap in front of the television and demand they go back to playing Oscar’s Trash Race this instant, young man. Have I changed my mind? Since I’m now dealing with actual children I care about, have I altered my beliefs? Will I soon be shrieking about why won’t anyone think of the children?

And then I thought about my own childhood, and, coincidentally enough, playing videogames with the father of these wee ones.

As mentioned, I have been friends with Birthday Dad for a long time. We didn’t start hanging out with each when we were as young as his kids are now, but, in the grand scope of things, I would still look at our respective younger selves as “children” (granted, this also means I interpret almost all JRPG protagonists as children now, but that is just a side effect of being one of The Olds). And when we were kids? We got an early build of MAME going, and went to town on every arcade game that had ever dared strip us of our quarters. Battletoads arcade was on there, and Rampart saw an endless two player mode. And, of course, we had to conquer the old standby that many thought was impossible to finish: Smash TV.

(Hey, 1,400 words in, and we finally hit today’s featured game. That might be a new record on meandering!)

Smash TV is a quarter-killer from 1990 that sees the player taking on the role as a contestant on a hit game show in the far-flung future of 1999. Here, violence and maximum carnage rule supreme, and you have to guide a little dude with a helmet and no shirt through a series of arenas that generally contain an unhealthy number of mutants, robots, snakes, and jerks with baseball bats. Your ammo is unlimited, but your poor avatar can only take a single bullet before keeling over, so you have to be equal parts nimble and brutal. There are also a handful of bosses that exist to showcase the finest graphics that 1990 could ever hope to offer with the added bonus of mercilessly depleting every last extra life you had earned over the course of a level. Smash TV is an excellent twin-stick shooter that only requires approximately ten million credits to complete.

EYEBALL!And, if you hadn’t guessed from the subject of this article or that one screenshot where a dude is exploding into a puddle of eyeballs, Smash TV is very violent game. In this case, it’s not completely random violence, it’s something akin to Robocop or other hyper-violent movies from the 80’s that glorified violence while using it as a statement on society’s continual glorification of violence (… wait a minute). Smash TV is a game show where a contestant can win a million VCRs or “dream vacations”, but it’s all a farce, because that contestant likely won’t live to see a single tape on that brand new VCR. It’s a striking indictment of capitalism, as playing Smash TV for five minutes is just a microcosm of spending your life working for “fabulous prizes” that you will never enjoy because that work managed to break your back over the years (actually, that might just be a Billy Joel song). You might not be zapped into x-ray mode by a turtle-bot’s laser, but Smash TV is using its absurd violence to comment on the general irrationality of the modern grind. It’s violence with a point, dad, it’s not just some snuff game!

And my birthday pal and I used to play this game constantly. We hadn’t quite mastered save state technology, so we had to play Smash TV at home over and over again. In fact, I had made a similar attempt with a neighbor when I was younger with the Super Nintendo version. But the “arcade original” allowed for some USB controllers with actual twin sticks, so unlike that credit-limited earlier attempt, we were going to beat Smash TV if it killed us. And we did! This surprisingly lengthy arcade title was finished on a Friday evening otherwise mostly spent waiting for our drummer (if memory serves, we eventually had to drag him out of a Denny’s). It only took time, practice, virtual quarters, and absorbing hours and hours of the ol’ ultra-violence. No harm done!

FACE!And if their father and I turned out to be fine, upstanding citizens after witnessing so much carnage, shouldn’t the children be alright? I’m not certain which “parent trap” I’m falling for here. I’m recoiling at the thought of children seeing violence because I had a visceral reaction to two kids on a beanbag chair (it is a very large beanbag chair) gleefully laughing while a bloody corpse sputters into oblivion on the screen in front of us. On the other hand, isn’t “we turned out fine” the same kind of knee-jerk reaction to an issue? “My dad beat the crap out of me, and now I’m a perfectly normal human being that can’t achieve orgasm unless my car is plastered with 70 bumper sticks regarding treading and its relationship with me” is the kind of sentiment that is seen over and over again, and I’d hate to think I’m being so similarly shortsighted because I caught a whiff of the issue at hand being so close to my heart (did we just cover all the senses in one metaphor?). Is there an answer here that isn’t some warmed over musing that is as old as time itself (which, reminder, would be slightly younger than the boys’ father).

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a clear answer here. Yes, I played violent videogames as a kid, but did they affect me? It would be crazy to think they didn’t! I might never have actually physically hurt anyone when I was a schoolboy, but I can confirm that I had fantasies of whipping out a Baraka-esque armblade to scare off my more menacing and persistent bullies. I can safely say that little bit of imagined violence wouldn’t have ever been in my head without playing another game by John Tobias for hours on end. Am I a violent person? No. But I know there’s a part of me that thinks roundhouses can solve problems, and I’m willing to blame an entire gaming genre for that issue. Am I afraid these kids are going to stalk the halls with a machine gun like in Neon Chrome? Absolutely not. But I do know that a part of their brains is now perfectly okay with seeing a digitized dead body. Their lives aren’t over, but a small chunk of their innocence is. This wouldn’t have happened if they just stuck to Snakeybus…

Now clapAnd, really, I feel that gets to the crux of this issue. Even if I’m not a parent, am I doing something wrong by allowing a child to play a videogame that glorifies violence? No. I’m confident in saying that (taking the bold position that I judge myself as a good person). But did something happen here? Was some damage done? Yes. I feel that’s accurate. This wasn’t necessarily “bad”, but it happened. I’m not going to send everyone involved to therapy, but I might throw a few “child protections” on the Switch next time. I’m going to make sure there’s an environment where any game can be played (okay, not any) but the children are also aware the adults are handy, and happy to talk about whatever is going on. This “loss of innocence” might be inevitable, whether it’s thanks to a budget e-shop title or not, but at least the kids will be aware that they have parents (and parent-like creepy adults that have basements full of Transformers) that are there for them.

And then we’ll all play Smash TV together. Because my skills have gotten rusty, and I need to blow up Mutoid Man but good.

FGC #519 (Super) Smash TV

  • System: Arcade, and then practically every platform of the 80s and 90s. But not today! Presumably thanks to Midway crumbling to dust, this hasn’t seen an arcade compilation since Midway Arcade Treasures in the Xbox/PS2 era. It was on Xbox 360 with online play for a hot minute, but that seems to have faded into the ether as of 2010.
  • Number of players: Two contestants enter, possibly two contestants leave. It kind of depends on your income.
  • These guysPort-o-Call: Do not play this game on any consoles before the advent of the actual “twin sticks” for this twin stick shooter. Smash TV is practically unplayable on the NES, and the Super Smash TV iteration that appeared on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo isn’t much better. And there’s a Game Gear version? Not even going to test that one. This is one arcade game that requires something approaching its original hardware configuration.
  • Favorite Boss: Scarface is a giant, hovering face that is eventually very scarred. This is in sharp contrast to Mutoid Man, who I’m not certain ever mutoids at all. And Die Cobros? That’s just German for The Cobra Bros. I think. Yes, Scarface is the best balance of name and boss in Smash TV, so he’s my favorite.
  • Favorite Powerup: This is one of those games where being invincible also means mowing down your opponents by simply making contact. That’s always the best, so give me that glowing green circle any day of the week. Hell, one might be able to ascribe the success of Smash TV to getting the best powerup (at least temporarily) every time you drop in a quarter. Sweet dopamine rush…
  • Sage Advice: The messages that appear in every room…
    This is not a lie

    Can get a little weird. I’d rather hear about fabulous prizes, announcer, not impending turtles.
  • Influencers: Lest you think the connection between Robocop and Smash TV is imagined, the host of Smash TV will occasionally utter the absurd catchphrase from Robocop’s bad future, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” This presumably means that Smash TV Dude will be the next Mortal Kombat guest kharacter.
  • SnekDid you know? The Pleasure Dome, the final bonus area in Smash TV which requires ten keys, was mentioned in the original arcade releases… but wasn’t actually programmed into the game. Apparently the designers thought players would never get there anyway, so who cares? However, arcades apparently complained on behalf of disappointed players, and a later update finally implemented the actual Pleasure Dome. Is it any wonder this company eventually went on to create fake hidden kharacters in its most popular franchise?
  • Would I play again: Smash TV is a weirdly long game, and I’m an adult that is over this whole superviolence thing, so I doubt I’ll ever play the game for an extended period of time again. I might play Neon Chrome with the kiddies, though…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… X-Men: Children of the Atom for the Sega Saturn! Watch all the X-Men fight for the right to fight Juggernaut! Please look forward to it!

MEAT!

FGC #485 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World

That's Bart!What’s so wrong with Monty Burns?

Today’s game is The Simpsons: Bart Vs. the World. It’s the direct sequel to The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, and it’s another Acclaim title that puts the “crap” in “craptacular”. This go-around, Bart has dropped all the adventure game-lite trappings of the previous title, and all the action in Vs. the World is wholly based on platforming challenges and boss fights. There are a few puzzles littered here and there, but it’s much more “find this doodad” and not “use spray paint on trashcan” like in Vs. the Space Mutants. As a result, Vs. the World feels somehow… dumber than its predecessor. And, what’s worse, for the reemphasis on platforming and action set pieces (you skateboard down the Great Wall of China!), nobody thought to improve the atrocious controls of Vs. The Space Mutants, so those “platforming challenges” are very likely to be the death of your favorite Simpsons character (Bart, to be clear, not Disco Stu). Basically, the one unique part of Vs. the Space Mutants got dropped, and all we’re left with is that inscrutable “hold jump to run” nonsense.

But Bart vs. the World does have one advantage over Bart vs. the Space Mutants: It’s actually a Simpsons game. Like Fester before him, Vs. the Space Mutants forces Bart to battle aliens who presumably want to abduct some cows, man. And they’re not even Kang & Kodos! They’re just generic aliens (occasionally mutating forms through the different ports). Meanwhile, Bart vs. the World might see Bart up against the world, but it’s a world seemingly controlled by Homer Simpson’s boss, C. Montgomery Burns. This strangely convoluted plot involves Bart entering a drawing contest on The Krusty the Clown Show, winning thanks to Burns’ meddling, and then being sent on a trip around the world wherein Burns can destroy the “despised” Simpsons family. Die in darkness!This, naturally, raises a lot of questions, as… what is the goal here? Burns has to kill one of his employees’ children internationally, or it doesn’t count? Oh, wait, the last stop on the trip is Hollywood, so that doesn’t even work. Maybe Burns’ various assassins don’t want to go anywhere near the Springfield Tire Fire, so they’re scattered about the globe. Or maybe Burns just doesn’t want to spring for airfare for any killers, and shipping one Simpson family around is cheaper. Whatever the case, Bart is on an international scavenger hunt for Krusty brand merchandise, and Burns is trying to kill him all the while.

Which raises the question: if you had to pull a villain out of The Simpsons, why Burns?

At this point in the franchise, you can’t blame the source material. This videogame was released in 1991, and only had a solid two seasons of The Simpsons to draw from. And, in that batch of episodes, there were only a handful where Burns was the antagonist. In Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, Burns is a “villain”, but only because he won’t grant Homer and other “unskilled workers” a Christmas Bonus. From there, we’ve got Homer’s Odyssey, where Homer is fired for nearly causing a nuclear meltdown… which, let’s be honest, sounds like a pretty reasonable reason for termination. And that’s about it for Burns being a “villain” in Season 1. Babysitters are more of a threat!

Profits?Season 2 of The Simpsons ramps up Burns to full-blown antagonism levels, but we’re still nowhere near murderous. Three Eyes in Every Fish sees Burns running for governor after his plant poisons the local water supply, but, big deal, that’s been the Republican MO for the last few decades. Then Bart Gets Hit by a Car, but that was an accident, and more of a parable about not overreaching when trying to shake down the filthy rich. Brush With Greatness is the story of how Burns has an incredibly nonthreatening penis, and the Season 2 finale (which likely wasn’t even available when Bart vs. the World was being produced) is Blood Feud, wherein Homer goes nuts over Burns not being generous after receiving a blood transfusion. Again, we’re in a situation where Homer expects more than his boss has to give, and the central conflict is that Burns is appreciative, but not appreciative enough.

Yet Bart vs. the World portrays Burns as wholly homicidal. And if we’re going to include The Simpsons Arcade Game (released the same year), we’ve got a Burns that kidnaps babies and launches nuclear bombs. That’s a significant escalation from “sent a pleasant thank you note”!

So what happened here? Why, in only The Simpsons’ second year, did videogames promote Burns from “bad boss” to “genocidal madman”?

Well, it probably speaks to videogame producers identifying what The Simpsons was initially about.

After 20 some seasons and over 600 episodes, it’s hard to remember that The Simpsons started during the 80s/90s wave of blue-collar style sitcoms. After years of high concept situation comedies like “what if people were trapped on a desert island”, “what if they’re creepy and they’re kooky”, or even “what if a woman had a decent job”, The Simpsons rode in on a wave of programs like Roseanne or Married… With Children wherein the protagonists faced very real problems. No more did people worry about magical girl wives or whether they were secretly the dream of Bob Newhart; this new wave of sitcoms derived humor from upsetting real world situations, What is even happening here?like teenage pregnancy, hiding from your landlord, or gradually falling out of favor with your spouse. And the biggest, realest problem of all? Money! The world is a cold, harsh place, and your family is never going to love you if you can’t bring home a host of Christmas presents. There are jokes along the way, but, once upon a time, every “comedy” out there was expounding the horrors of our collective everyday drudgery.

And, while The Simpsons did lend itself to whimsy more often than not in those early seasons (Bart winds up making wine on another continent inside of ten episodes), it was still a very grounded, “real” sitcom. …Granted, this might just be because TV Guide was somehow impressed on a weekly basis that Homer didn’t ride a mastodon to work, so the writers deliberately, defiantly veered into “real world” territory just to sunder expectations… But this is still a franchise that officially started with a treatise on commercialism and a family trying to keep it together in the face of financial hardships. And the cause of that financial hardship? It’s Burns. The man who fires Homer a few episodes later? Burns. The old man responsible for injuring a young boy and then never paying for it? Burns. And is showing kindness to a rich white man financially rewarded? No, because you simply can’t win in a world where you’ve been constrained to the lowest rung of the ladder.

Of course Burns is the enemy of the Simpsons. Burns is the enemy of every working-class family.

Burns is money incarnate. Burns has all the power not only in Springfield (like, literally all the power), but he also decides whether Homer lives or dies. Want to keep earning a salary? Have a good Christmas? Lisa needs braces? Well, that dental plan is 100% controlled by one man. Burns doesn’t have to be villainous, he simply is villainous because of his position. He’s the king of the castle, and the Simpson family has to pay him tribute to so much as set up a tent in the courtyard. Burns is, one way or another, the source of all the woes afflicting the Simpsons.

Winner!So it’s only natural that transposing that character to other situations would mean he would have to adjust to the medium du jour. When Mr. Burns had to be the antagonist of a NES title, he became murderous and gained an army of generally identical/vaguely racist “family members”. When he had to headline a Konami beat ‘em up, he gained a super suit and explosive weaponry. When The Simpsons itself veered away from “reality” and more into “a cartoon”, Mr. Burns became an appropriately cartoonish supervillain with a penchant for petty antics. Mr. Burns was always the villain, just what is “the villain” had to change between mediums and epochs.

Except Mr. Burns himself never changed. In a 1989 sitcom, he was a rich, old, white (yellow) man. In a 1991 videogame, he was a rich, old, white man. In 2020, he is a rich, old, white man. Through thirty years, right there from his first appearance, he’s been a villain. His actions may have varied across the years, but he’s also been the same, easily identified archetype. He’s a rich, old, white man, and that makes him the natural enemy of the average, middle class family.

Mr. Burns was always going to be the villain. Mr. Burns has always been the villain. And everyone has been able to identify that right from the start.

FGC #485 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, but also the Game Gear and Master System a couple of years later. I absolutely do not want to see what this game looks like on the Game Gear.
  • Number of players: Just a Bart, man.
  • Thanks, momCollect-a-thon: This is another weird, early game featuring collectibles that can alter the course of the game. Every level is hiding a hidden Krusty doodad, and, if you collect them all, you get to play one extra level that is atrocious. It’s supposed to be a Duck Amuck-esque adventure for Bart in an “animated” world… but it’s mostly just a half-baked stage with terrible hit detection… which, granted, is basically the same as the rest of the game. But! If you clear it, you get a secret bonus ending where you can hit Mr. Burns with a pie. Cowabunga!
  • Favorite Continent: I guess it’s the final world, Hollywood, as it uses the tinsel town trappings to throw in a whole Halloween level. There’s a skeleton! It’s also, oddly enough, exactly the same excuse for a “horror level” that we saw in Gremlins 2. Was there some Acclaim/Sunsoft overlap?
  • It’s Trivia Time: There are various minigames available between levels. The best is Simpsons Trivia, which offers a number of questions regarding esoteric Simpsons knowledge. That makes fans happy! A sliding block puzzle that reminds good little Goggle Bobs of Beyond the Beyond is… less fun.
  • Say something nice: The “Bartman” powerup was pretty fun in the ol’ days before flight was shoehorned into every platforming game. It may have only lasted for something like seven seconds, but it’s always nice to have movement unfettered by the laws of gravity.
  • That's Moe!Did you know? Entertainment Weekly designated this title as a “travel-action game”. I would like to see more of this previously unknown genre.
  • Would I play again: No thank you. Is The Simpsons Arcade Game available? I think that would be my first choice over this mediocre platformer.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Land 2 for the Nintendo Gameboy! Everybody do the Mario! Or the Wario! Please look forward to it!

Homie, no!

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

ETERNAL!They tried. They damn well tried.

Mortal Kombat (1) was released for the Sega Genesis on Mortal Monday, September 13, 1993. It was, by all accounts, a wildly successful launch for a game that had been haunting arcades for nearly an entire year. What’s more, thanks to the likes of the “blood code” and the lack of censorship on the console, the Sega Genesis version was considered by many to be the “real” way to play Mortal Kombat at home. This was in stark contrast to the release of Street Fighter 2, which had seen amazing success on the SNES a year earlier, but hit the Sega Genesis like a flopping pile of assorted expired organs. And, two months later, we saw Eternal Champions, the unusual offspring of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Now, we would hate to disparage Mortal Kombat during Mortal Kombat Week (“week”), but let’s be real here: Mortal Kombat’s initial character variety sucks. By Mortal Kombat 2, we were fighting knife mutants and Oddjobs, but our virgin foray into the world of Elder Gods and dragon men pretty much included one interesting four-armed monster fighting a bunch of dudes in marginally themed gym clothes. The motion capture graphics were revolutionary at the time, but “a pair of sunglasses” does not interesting character design make. On the other hand, you have Street Fighter, which had bright, colorful goblin people fighting stretchy yogis, sumo wrestlers, and at least one Spaniard Ninja. Even when similar fighters are involved, no one is going to mistake Ryu for Sagat. Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, meanwhile, might seem a tad similar. Sub-Zero and Scorpion being clones are a bit of an extreme case, but they also comprise 28% of the playable roster.

Let's fight!Eternal Champions seemed to take a page from Street Fighter’s book rather than Mortal Kombat. Eternal Champions employed Ernie Chan, a Filipino-American comics artist, who worked with the Buscema brothers back in the ‘70’s. Before working with Sega, Chan was known for being an artist at DC Comics (Ghosts, House of Mystery, Detective Comics) and Marvel (Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange). Considering Chan was responsible for a healthy number of comic book covers for a full two years at DC Comics, he knew a thing or two about dynamic characters punching each other as hard as possible (the 1970s was before comic book characters decided to just stand around and philosophize at each other for six consecutive trades). It seems only natural that he would be responsible for designing some interesting punch mans, and, let me tell you, we got some remarkable fighters here.

The base concept of Eternal Champions is that the titular (kinda) Eternal Champion has plucked a series of heroes from their respective timelines, and granted them the potential prize of avoiding their otherwise inevitable deaths. Arguably, this could lead to a number of “stock” characters, as different timelines lead naturally to different archetypes, and we can certainly forgive a knight from ancient times or a “future man” from 21XX. But, against all odds, we have a pretty diverse cast in Eternal Champions. We do have a stock caveman, and Xavier Pendragon seems like a typical wizard hailing from Salem, but we also have Shadow Yamato (hm?), a modern corporate assassin that wouldn’t be out of place in Shadowrun. Trident is Atlantean, but basically a merman. RAX is a cyborg built for Teleroboxer, and Midknight is a bio engineer who kinda sorta turned himself into a vampire. And Jetta Maxx is a 19th century circus performer that attacks with all the agility you would expect from an acrobat. Why aren’t there more tumblers in fighting games? That seems like a natural fit!

HUG!None of the fighters in Eternal Champions are exactly setting the world on fire, but there is no way you’d mistake Larcen the 1920’s PI/cat burgler for Blade, the futuristic bounty hunter. And, whether it’s an accident of the “complicated” concept of time travel being involved, or because someone genuinely wanted to create a new Eternal Champions universe, but these fighters all have in-depth, fascinating backstories to accompany their stimulating visual designs. As a prerequisite for the plot, we immediately must learn how each fighter died (which allows for some always fun dramatic irony), why they were targeted for death (the premise of entire half hours of Law & Order), and why, had they lived, they would have made the world a better place. Additionally, this setup encourages the creation of cultures old and new (of course someone has to explain how the “future” works, but even Ancient Atlantis has some ‘splainin’ to do about its fish people), and, since this is a fighting game, it’s important to explain the whys of some of these special moves. Yes, ninja use ninja stars, but why exactly does Larcen have a grappling hook? There’s a reason for that!

Which reminds me: these exciting, distinct fighters work well for not only for biography screen attract modes, but also for actually being fighters. This is another situation where, unlike Mortal Kombat, if a character has a trident for a hand, they’re not going to throw the exact same punch as the robot dude. In fact, every fighter has a defined fighting style, and, while it does seem a little odd that the vampire scientist is trained in Jeet Kune Do, it does mean that every character feels distinct in more ways than simply a special move. And, of course, the special moves are their own kind of distinct, and not just a fireball and a jumping uppercut spread out among the cast. In short, the eternal champions collectively offer a unique experience for a time when the fighting genre was flooded with monotonous knock-offs.

TIME KILL(ERS)But there is one place where Eternal Champions differed from Street Fighter: it had fatalities. Or, to be more precise, the game had “stage fatalities” in the form of “Overkills”: make sure your opponent lands on a particular spot when their health is low, and the background will do your work for you. If you’re in prehistoric times, you’re about to see someone devoured by a dinosaur. Meanwhile, if you’re hanging in the early 20th Century, get ready for a drive-by. The 60’s naturally contain napalm, and the far-flung future of 2345 AD is wall-to-wall robots. It’s entirely possible you could complete Eternal Champions without once seeing an Overkill, though, so it seems like the whole feature was an afterthought. Mortal Kombat was likely an influence, but a fighter being zapped into oblivion by a neon sign (can that actually happen?) wasn’t exactly the point of Eternal Champions. It’s all about the character variety, we don’t need gorefests to sell our Sega cartridges.

Or maybe we do, because the Sega CD exclusive sequel/upgrade, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side dialed the gore up to eleven.

To be clear, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not the kind of fighting game sequel that completely eschewed former graphics and gameplay for something completely different (Battle Arena Toshinden was fond of that move). This is much more the Super Turbo to Eternal Champions’ Champion Edition. More characters were added to the cast (and a great many of them were “joke characters”, like Hooter, a mundane owl with a taste for rats and vengeance), the special move system was rejiggered, and the same overarching plot returned with a marginal twist. The Eternal Champion has gathered his warriors once again to fight for a chance to live (and I guess nobody won the last one), but now there are a few new entrants, and the nefarious Dark Champion is hatching an evil plan to be the hardest-to-unlock character in the history of fighting games (just use the cheat code). Superficially, this Eternal Champions is just the obvious and expected fighting game upgrade that would barely necessitate a season pass in today’s market.

Not fair... for DeathBut that Dark Champion does make an impact on the fatalities of EC:CotD. The Dark Champion can be summoned for a match ending “cinekill”, which will banish your opponent to a pre-recorded FMV hell where they will endure a death based on their greatest fear. Some of these videos are goofy (at least one character is crushed with a “I’m not touching you” finger motion), but the majority are either significantly gory (the cyborg has his limbs torn off in a rather unpleasant fashion) or pure nightmare fuel (I’m not the only one that has a fear of melting into some manner of fleshy liquid, am I?). And if you think the increased gore is relegated to cutscenes, don’t worry, there are also now “Vendettas” that allow you to use a special move toward the end of the match that will be a little more special than usual. They, again, run a realism gamut (which is more likely to make an impact: a character turning into a giant bug or one just whipping out a shotgun for a headshot?), but the end result of most Vendettas is a literal bloody pulp tossed around the arena. And the stage fatalities really earned their “Overkill” moniker, as some are excessive to the point of parody. “The Pit” of EC:CotD is not one, not two, but three pits in one! And, don’t worry, you get to watch as a 16-bit human body churns through three different buzzsaws. Street Fighter has different models for every character’s skeleton thanks to Blanka’s shocking attacks, but EC:CotD goes the extra mile by modeling individual organs that are primed to leak out of those skeletons. Yummy!

And why all the gore? Well, obviously because someone wanted Eternal Champions to be popular.

That's why he's the champMortal Kombat hit the Genesis in 1993, Eternal Champions saw its sequel released in 1995. In those intervening years, Mortal Kombat continued to be a juggernaut, particularly on the Sega Genesis. Street Fighter may have proven to be a lasting victor, but the sales numbers all touted Mortal Kombat as the champion of the system. Eternal Champions wanted a piece of that pie so badly. Sega did everything it could to promote EC, from country-wide, EGM-sponsored tournaments to a 7-11 slurpee promotion, but it couldn’t touch the genuine appeal of the game with the angry skeleton and the kung-fu dude. Eternal Champions never had a hold of the arcade appeal, tried to pump up the blood to compensate, and still got nowhere. An excellently crafted fighting game, and it’s still relegated to the discount bin of history.

Oh, and what finally killed Eternal Champions? Why was there never a third title? Well, there was supposed to be a Saturn version to wrap everything up, but Sega of Japan decided that Sega had too many fighting games (two), Eternal Champions was stealing too much attention from Virtua Fighter, and the eternal champions had to be retired. Sorry, guys, but there’s only room for one fighting game in this company.

Sorry, Eternal Champions. We know you tried everything, but it just wasn’t enough.

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

  • System: Sega CD for Challenge, but just regular Sega Genesis for just regular Eternal Champions. The new Sega Genesis Mini Classic Console is also available, but go ahead and grab the 6-button controller for that one.
  • Number of players: Up to and including two.
  • Favorite Character: Dr. Mitchell Midleton Knight has become the bio-engineered vampire monster Midknight! … Okay, he’s just Spider-Man’s Morbius, but… wait a tick. RAX is Cyborg, Shadow is Elektra, Trident is Aquaman, Blade is named friggen’ Blade… maybe these characters aren’t all that original…
  • Send in the Clowns: This happened.
    AHHHHHHH

    I’m never playing this again.
  • So 90’s it’s Grody: Want to know how to determine this game came out in 1995? Well, there’s a hidden fighter simply known as “The Senator” who exists as a parody of the controversy surrounding violent videogames. And he fights in front of an ersatz McDonalds surrounded by security, an obvious sendup of Bill Clinton’s love of jogging to burger joints. And Senator’s fatality is transforming into an uzi-wielding berserk postal clerk. And they claim memes were invented by the internet!
  • Failure State: Okay, maybe the reason Eternal Champions never became popular was because it was impossible to beat. The final boss is the Eternal Champion, and he’s got eight different “forms”, and they all have to be fought and defeated over the course of two rounds. And if you lose two rounds, there are no continues, you’re just booted back to your original timeline as a Bad End. So win eight continuous fights, or die. And Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side introduced another, meaner Eternal Champion after the first one, so good luck winning sixteen continuous fights.
  • Favorite Ending: Shadow Yamoto is a corporate ninja saboteur… and her ending sees her entering witness protection and making the world a better place by testifying against her former employer. It’s not exactly the most action packed finale for a ninja, but it does feel pretty right.
  • An End: Also, Crispy the Chicken’s ending involves losing his fortune in the 90’s financial crisis and then selling his eggs for booz money. This is a very dark game.
  • VIDEOGAME VIOLENCEDid you know? In further support of the Eternal Champions Expanded Universe, there were two spin-off titles released. Chicago Syndicate was a Game Gear title that was fairly Shinobi-esque and featured Larcen cleaning up Chicago in a bright green trench coat (the ‘20’s were a different time). And then there was X-Perts for the Sega Genesis, a light beat ‘em up presenting Shadow and her previously unseen team of X-Men wannabes. Both games are… not worth exploring.
  • Would I play again: If I’m in the mood for a distinctly 16-bit fighting game, I’ll choose Eternal Champions. Of course, that mood rarely happens…

What’s next? We’re going to kill some time with a game with the exact same plot all over again. Please look forward to it!

FGC #450 Mortal Kombat

MORTAL KOMBATMortal Kombat was one of (if not the) defining games of the 90’s, a time when gaming was just starting to stand on its own two feet. And, for better or worse, it changed gaming forever (M for Mature… or just “Mortal Kombat”? Makes ya think!). Mortal Kombat, with its spine-rips and death kisses, left an undeniable mark on the face of gaming, and whether it’s a rad scar or festering wound is up to the beholder.

But… why was Mortal Kombat popular?

It’s all about Originality

Street Fighter 2 is easy to understand. Street Fighter 2 is a damn fine fighting game with unique characters that can appeal to any (well, probably male) player. Don’t like generic karate guy? Here’s a green beast man, and he plays totally differently. There’s the lithe and nimble woman versus the gigantic, hairy grappler man. There are bosses that are carefully calibrated to drain your credits, but there is also a two player mode that is a significant draw. Take out your favorite sumo for a date with a yoga master, and battle all night long. Learn those special moves! Master one character, and move on to the next! Maybe one day you’ll beat Red Hitler and his stupid scissor kicks!

YOU GOT KANGEDMortal Kombat features four offensive buttons: High Punch, Low Punch, High Kick, and Low Kick. This is two less buttons than Street Fighter 2’s six button layout. If you’ve ever paid attention to Street Fighter 2’s jabs, you’ll note that every single Street Fighter has a different “light punch”. Same for medium. Same for every damn offensive option available. This is absolutely not the case in Mortal Kombat. “High Punch” is exactly the same for Liu Kang as Johnny Cage. Sonya’s got a jump kick, but it may as well belong to Kano. And you better believe Sub-Zero and Scorpion have the exact same animations, because, ya know, they’re the same person.

Ultimately, the only difference between characters in Mortal Kombat is the special moves, and, bad news, they’re all almost exactly the same, too. Liu Kang has a fireball that flies straight and true. Johnny Cage does, too. And Kano. And Sonya. And Raiden. Oh! Sub-Zero’s fireball freezes the opponent in place. And Scorpion’s fireball freezes the opponent and requires less walking. No wonder he’s the most popular character! Now give everybody a special that helps ‘em get across the screen, and… are we done here? There may be a few outliers, but, by and large, all of these unique characters play about as “uniquely” as White Bomberman and Black Bomberman.

Though maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree there. Maybe people are more interested not in what the characters do, but who the characters are. Maybe…

It’s all about the Characters

RAIDEN!Mortal Kombat has produced some very iconic videogame characters. There’s vain but heroic Johnny Cage, inordinately heroic Liu Kang, generally heroic Sonya, and… wait a tick, all those characters are just the same obvious traits plus one tiny quirk. Maybe they’re physically dissimilar? No, Sonya, Liu Kang, and Johnny Cage all just look like regular dudes that showed up in their gym clothes. Johnny and Looey didn’t even remember to pack a shirt. And it’s pretty clear that Sub-Zero and Scorpion totally botched their twin day fashions.

Am I just looking at the superficial? Well, when Mortal Kombat was lighting the arcades and home consoles ablaze, there wasn’t much more than that, anyway. Like with most fighting games, you got a character profile, and an ending, and that was it. There was the accompanying Mortal Kombat comic book, but its razor thin characterization didn’t exactly fill in the blanks on why Kano was a cyborg (eventual answer: why not?) or how Johnny Cage came to participate in this deadly fighting tournament (answer: he got a letter). Sub-Zero hates Scorpion, Sonya hates Kano, and I guess Goro killed Liu Kang’s ancestor. These razor-thin motivations don’t support characters, they simply support reasons for punching.

So, okay, punching is kind of the point, though. So does that mean…

It’s All About the Gameplay

mortal kombatMortal Kombat is a fighting game, so characters don’t matter past how much fun the game is to play. And is Mortal Kombat fun? Of course it is! I just said it was a fighting game! Pay attention! Fighting games are always fun, because punching some other dude in a digital arena is top shelf entertainment. Even the worst fighting games are fun for a little while.

But does the fun of Mortal Kombat last? At all? Well… uh… We already covered how every character is practically the same, so 2-player battles are going to get pretty predictable pretty fast. Maybe one player mode is more interesting? That has some fights against CPU opponents, the always popular mirror match, and then endurance matches. Endurance matches are kind of cool, right? Like, the same fight, but double? Who could say no to double the fighting? Aside from everyone that just finds it grueling and unfair, of course. And while we’re on the topic of unfair, we have Goro, the penultimate boss that in no way plays by the rules, so he absorbs your punches like they’re being thrown by some pasty nerd standing over an arcade cabinet. And the final challenge is just all the other fighters mixed together with a fireball barrage that can bleed off about 75% health.

The gameplay is pretty damn limited. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not the kind of gameplay that should make Mortal Kombat a perennial favorite that dominated the arcades and home consoles.

But maybe it was never about actually playing the game at all, maybe…

It’s All About the Blood and Gore

BLOOD!My dear, dead granny knew of Mortal Kombat, and she knew its name for one simple reason: blood. As was reported by a million moms clutching a million pearls, Mortal Kombat was unerringly violent, and a gross, disgusting mess of blood soaked through every interaction in this so-called vidya game. Mortal Kombat was such a blood orgy that the United States Senate had hearings showcasing the uncivilized ferocity on display for a mere half a buck in every arcade across the country! Could this epidemic of violence ever be stopped after Mortal Kombat opened the floodgates?!

Except… Mortal Kombat isn’t all that bloody.

Yes, there is blood (how else would we be able to tell the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ports apart), but is Mortal Kombat inherently violent? Well… yes… but not anymore than any other videogame! Contra saw Bill tearing through a thousand poor dudes with backpacks, but Congress never so much as uttered the word “Contra” in its hallowed halls. And Mario! Think of how many poor goombas he led to the slaughter! Is that game inherently less violent simply because it featured a tubby guy picking on chestnuts? Well, yes, but still! Mortal Kombat might have included a coupon for a few globs of blood with every roundhouse, but was it really the bloody mess described by so many Liebermans? Absolutely not.

THE PITBut what of the infamous fatalities? Yes, the scandalous spine-rip is bloody (awesome), but arguably the most famous fatality in the franchise is Scorpion’s “Toasty” finisher, and there isn’t a speck of blood in that ghastly inferno. Sonya’s heated kiss is on the same level, and Kano’s heart rip is about as bloody as a certain Spielberg movie. And the decapitations of Johnny Cage and Raiden are more “yes, that’s right, you do need a head to live” than anything approaching what you’d see in a horror movie of the time.

We may be looking at Mortal Kombat 1 through the lens of jaded 21st Century gamers (“I just watched Samus Aran drink the blood of her enemies six times this morning”), but the violence of Mortal Kombat was often less “bloody gore” and more a literal joke.

Actually, maybe that was the point of Mortal Kombat, maybe…

It’s All About the Humor

Back in the 90’s, it was hard to claim that Mortal Kombat was “funny”. But let’s be real here: the humor was there all along. Right the start (or maybe a particular revision), there was a certain green hidden character that had unlock conditions that seemed designed to be little more than a playground rumor. If “you have to earn a double flawless victory and perform a fatality and never block all while E.T. flies across the moon” isn’t a joke, then I’m turning in my comedian license (issued and signed by Yakov Smirnoff himself!). Speaking of which, what appears to be Peter Pan, an alien, a witch, and Santa Claus will fly over the moon at certain points. That sounds a bit humorous! And there’s certainly a reason skele-face Scorpion faces the screen with his hollow eyes after every fatality. He’s mugging for a laugh!

This became much more evident in later games, when Mortal Kombat introduced such silliness as babalities, friendships, animalities, and fatalities that were clearly just some random dude on the staff playing with Claymation (see Kabal for more details). But even back at the beginning, the humor was there, even before we saw Toasty Dan pop up to announce it was time to fight Smoke.

But it’s pretty clear that this wasn’t a selling point for the original Mortal Kombat. The humor was there, but nobody was feeding those cabinets quarters just because they wanted a laugh.

So what was the secret to Mortal Kombat’s success? It seems like we’ve ruled everything out, except…

Yeah!

Oh man, we have an answer.

Mortal Kombat was successful because it’s all about the sweet uppercuts.

Yeah!

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

FGC #450 Mortal Kombat

  • System: Arcade first and foremost, but then Mortal Monday came, and we had it on Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, and Nintendo Gameboy. Oh boy! Mortal Kombat on a portable!
  • Number of players: 2 kombatants.
  • Preferred System: Genesis might have the blood, but Super Nintendo has graphics that don’t look like the butt end of a butt. And I’m a Nintendo kid, so here we are.
  • Favorite Character: It’s obviously Sub-Zero, as he can freeze his opponent and slide. Amusingly enough, my first “main” for Mortal Kombat was Sonya Blade, but I drifted away from her when I realized she reminded me way too much of Jane Fonda.
  • FIGHT!Did you know? An NES port of Mortal Kombat was planned, but was cancelled fairly quickly (before they even entered the programming phase). For any young’uns out there, this was back when two generations of videogame hardware could be supported by Nintendo simultaneously, and not like today, when the WiiU was publically executed the moment the Switch made the scene.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Mortal Kombat, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t all that fun nowadays as anything more than a novelty, and is 100% supplicated by its sequels. If you’re getting Mortal Kombat today, it likely comes with Mortal Kombat 2 anyway…

What’s next? It’s Mortal Week! Mortal Kombat sure hit the big time with its release, and it had a number of imitators. We’re going to look at a different wannabe fighting game Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the next two weeks, and examine how some games did their best to copy the Mortal Kombat formula (and generally still failed). First up on the list: Eternal Champions. Please look forward to it!

MIGHT!