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FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

Mega Fun

This is Mega Man. Mega Man has appeared in countless videogame titles, a handful of animated series, an excellent comic book, a reasonably acceptable holiday special, and more sprite comics than will ever be acknowledged. Like many “stars” of videogames and videogame adaptions, the Blue Bomber has a choose-your-own-adventure sort of canon, and, while there is a dedicated Mega Man timeline, if you want to claim that Mega lives in San Francisco or Monsteropolis, you don’t have to be wrong. And, on a personal note, I type this all with no small amount of authority, as I have dedicated thousands of hours of my life to Mega Man. That right there is Mega Man as he appears in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and, should you require I provide a complete history of his exploits and appearances, that can be arranged.

Back off, boy

This is Astro Boy. It is a well-known fact that Astro Boy is a significant influence on the creation of Mega Man. Astro Boy was the creation of Osamu Tezuka in 1951. That would have been a year when my grandfather was younger than I am now, so Astro Boy has been around for quite a while. Astro Boy has appeared in a number of cartoons, comics, and movies since his premiere, and he even scored one of the best Gameboy Advance games ever created in 2003/2004. Astro Boy: Omega Factor is a Treasure beat ‘em up/shoot ‘em up that plays like a lost Super Nintendo classic in the absolute best ways. It also features a surprisingly remarkable story mode involving betrayal, racism, time travel, and Osamu Tezuka creations as guest stars. In fact…

Look at em all

A major point of Astro Boy: Omega Factor is that it includes a full, Smash Bros-esque roster of classic characters. Some are allies, some are bosses, and some only exist to be hidden powerups. Whatever their purpose in the game, they all appear in a final “who’s who” that relays to a neophyte fan who you are looking at and why you should care. In a lot of ways, it is similar to the “trophy mode” of many Smash Bros. titles, and it similarly begs the player to learn more about Osamu Tezuka and his prolific body of works.

And… uh… I know nothing about these guys and gals. In fact, I am going to see if I can view the Tezuka stars exclusively through the lens of the various Smash Brothers. It worked for Mega Man and Astro Boy, right? Let’s start this off with…

Dark Pit

A friendly guy

Dark Pit is the evil twin of the star of Kid Icarus, Pit. Pit has been around since the bygone era of Captain N: The Game Master, but Dark Pit was a new addition to the mythos back when Kid Icarus finally earned its third title, Kid Icarus: Uprising. Dark Pit was created by a magical mirror that was meant to draw out the worst traits of Pit… but Pit was too much of a good boy, so it created an “evil” twin that could best be described as surly. Dark Pit is an exact match for Pit in combat, though he has different divine patrons, so he can beat his counterpart in a few key areas. Regardless, Dark Pit pretty well defines the concept of the darker, edgier rival character, even if “darker” in this case mostly means “can say one (1) additional cuss word”.

Atlas

Nice hair

Atlas is Astro Boy’s mechanical adversary, and, in many incarnations, his literal or figurative sibling. This bother of a brother is as angry as Astro Boy is friendly, and has the typical rival problem of always having to be the very best, even if it means burning down the planet on the way to victory. In Omega Factor, Atlas is a tragic villain with a background involving moons and girls in suspended animation on said moons. This puts Atlas in some prime real estate to be the obvious villain at the start of the adventure, but more of a footnote as the story goes on. In fact, if you want a real villain, you should look at…

Ganondorf

Piggy

Ganondorf first appeared as the Dark Wizard Ganon in The Legend of Zelda in 1986. Fun fact: distinct from characters like karting king Bowser or baseball star K. Rool, Ganon was one of the few Nintendo villains to never be playable in an affable capacity. You couldn’t even control Ganon outside of Smash Bros. until Hyrule Warriors in 2014, and even there, he was involved in a campaign to kill literally every other playable character. Not the friendly sort! And why would he be? He is an immortal outcast that desires nothing more than ruling/destroying a kingdom or two. Ganondorf is not a pleasant fellow.

Garon

Big Boy

Garon is an unstoppable robot from the stars that towers over Astro Boy and may have nearly conquered Earth once or twice. And, oh yeah, depending on the translation, sometimes he is simply known as “Satan”. That is not a name you want to see assigned to a giant robot. Garon is one of the monsters that Astro Boy wasn’t able to defeat with basic armaments in his original appearance, so ol’ Astro has to trick Garon into monkeying with the gravity and inadvertently hurling himself into the stratosphere. Now, I’m not saying this could ever work on Ganondorf, but has anyone ever tried tricking the big guy when he was making a wish on the Triforce? It might have some fun results.

Falco Lombardi

Bird boy

Let’s get back to the heroes. Falco Lombardi is the ace pilot of the Star Fox team. He has occasional fights with his leader, Fox McCloud, but generally seems to get along with his other fellow pilots, Slippy and Peppy. There have been a few rare occasions when Falco tried to strike out on his own, but, give or take when he tried to join F-Zero, he remains a loyal pilot. He’s also a bird-man. This isn’t unusual in his universe of eclectic animal people, and nobody really makes a big deal about his avian ancestry.

Duke Red

Bird brain

Duke Red appears in all sorts of Tezuka materials, most notably (in my mind) as a criminal kingpin in Metropolis. He has been a villain many times, but is a well-meaning politician in Omega Factor that kinda sorta creates a doomsday device that literally destroys the planet. Whoopsie. Regardless, what is important is that Duke Red is some kind of bird man, and nobody ever draws attention to this fact. Many Tezuka worlds are racist as hell, so he is patently not living in some kind of utopia universe. Maybe people aren’t familiar with birds in these stories? Whatever. This whole thing makes a whole lot less sense when there isn’t a talking toad around…

Bayonetta

Bullet Hell Woman

It is miraculous that Bayonetta appears in Super Smash Bros. This is the franchise that had to stick nylons on some scantily clad weapon ladies, and could not include King of Fighter’s Mai as a background character because her design was not built for good little boys and girls. Bayonetta meanwhile is a bullet witch that hunts angels with the power of removing her clothes. She exclusively appears in games rated M for Mature, and swears like a sailor while destroying celestial creatures with hair-based attacks. And those heels! Attached to those legs! Won’t someone please think of the children!? I mean, she kicks ass and her games are awesome, but she looks a little out of place standing next to the Ice Climbers.

Prime Rose

Nice sword

In Omega Factor, Prime Rose is practically the definition of a damsel in distress, as she is caged in a tube for nearly her entire appearance, and two boy (robots) have to fight over her while she is double rescued by a brilliant surgeon. Likely as a result of being stuck in a tube/operating table, when Prime Rose is finally well enough to speak, she exclusively appears while stark naked. However, when she later is part of the game’s glossary of characters, she is wearing a battle bikini and equipped with a sword. Why? Well, apparently she originates from a 1982 manga that was meant to capitalize on a “cute girl” craze. And then there was a movie where she was some kind of anime Red Sonya. So, hey, when do we get to play that game? Prime Rose and Bayonetta could team up!

Banjo & Kazooie

Banjo!

Speaking of pairs, in the beginning, there was Banjo, and he was pretty good at racing. But this bear’s career didn’t take off until a bird’s egg fell into Banjo’s backpack, and Kazooie was born. Thus, the inseparable (except in that one game) pair joined forces, and beat back any green witch mean enough to cause a ruckus in Banjo’s neck of the woods. Banjo & Kazooie haven’t seen much play in recent years, but they are the good kind of goofy mascots that can appear in practically anything. Hey! Nintendo and Rare? Let Banjo do the Olympics with Mario. Everybody will enjoy it.

The Amazing Three

Dumb horse thing

The Amazing Three are aliens from a far-off planet that were sent here to assess whether or not Earth should be allowed to continue to Earth along, or should be obliterated with a neutron bomb. Considering we’re still here, looks like we passed. Once the Amazing Three arrive on Earth, they take the forms of a rabbit, horse, and duck. That is enough like a bear and bird for me to be happy with this article’s comparison. Also, let’s be real here: Banjo & Kazooie need the ability to destroy their planet at all times. Can’t find that last musical note? Destroy the universe. It is appropriate retaliation. Oh, anyway, The Amazing Three appear as comic relief in Omega Factor, so let’s not worry about how Nokko the Horse Alien is eventually responsible for the birth of Bojack Horseman.

Piranha Plant

CHOMP

Piranha Plant is just one of those dudes you never consider who appears in damn near everything. Not unlike the cheap cheap, P.P. has not only done his best to appear in countless Mario platformers; the prickly plant has also appeared as background fodder in various Mario Karts, Parties, and probably somewhere in those soccer games. Of course Piranha Plant became a full fledged fighter in Super Smash Bros Ultimate: he appeared in the original Smash Bros as an obstacle in the hidden arena. Even Bowser didn’t make an appearance in that game!

Black Looks

Unfortunate name

Black Looks, aka Black Lux, was little more than a pissed off dude that hated robots in his original appearance. However, in Omega Factor, Black Looks becomes a trench coat clad army of dudes with laser guns and a major hate-on for robots. They are relentless, and, in typical Treasure fashion, there are some inexplicably stretched sprites of Black Looks, so you get to fight a few “humans” that are twelve feet tall. And this is the legacy of the piranha plant: a simple fellow that, through no fault of his own, is now an entire army unto himself. No one should be surprised when Black Looks start popping out of pipes and biting plumbers.

Incineroar

Gotta catch em all

Incineroar, the heel Pokémon. Although it’s rough mannered and egotistical, it finds beating down unworthy opponents boring. It gets motivated for stronger opponents. When its fighting spirit is set alight, the flames around its waist become especially intense.

Brontus

Big Bird

Mont-Blanc, aka Brontus, one of the world’s seven strongest robots. A guide from Switzerland, it is said he had over 100,000 horsepower. He met Pluto, a gigantic bull robot, and was destroyed within a minute. He then appeared in the 1963 and 1980 anime… and was similarly immediately crushed. In Omega Factor, he is marginally invincible, and can shoot fireballs. So, like a Pokémon, his abilities are increased dramatically the minute he can run around in an actual action game.

Sora

I know that guy!

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s final fighter: Sora hails from Kingdom Hearts, a game that may have been discussed on this site. Sora has an extremely convoluted backstory, but what is important is that he will fight for his friends, and his friends include a whole lot of Disney properties. Goofy, Mickey, Aladdin, Elsa, Jack Skellington: Sora knows all the big players, and they are all connected to his heart. Of course, you’re not allowed to mention any of them in Smash Bros., because Disney keeps an iron grip on its intellectual property, and apparently the world will explode if Mario’s white gloves touch Donald’s feathery butt. And speaking of Disney being litigious…

Pook

Pooka?

I know this one! Pook (aka Bobo) is a trouble making little boy robot that appears across various Astro Boy stories, but, more importantly, this Pook can transform into Jungle Emperor Leo aka Kimba the White Lion. Ever hear about Kimba? Kinda sounds like Simba, don’t it? Well, that is theoretically not a coincidence, as there have been many accusations over the years that Disney outright stole much of Kimba the White Lion when it was not able to purchase the rights. But, let’s be real here: that’s hogwash. After all, everyone involved in The Lion King’s production has claimed that they never even saw Kimba the White Lion, and it is just a coincidence that both stories involve lion protagonists with rhyming names, wise mandrill advisors, fratricide, a lion with an eye scar taking over in the prince’s absence, hyena henchmen, and a cute lioness love interest. And the scenes that look like they were wholesale lifted from the original Tezuka anime? Complete fluke! And Kimba doesn’t even know Elton John, so they’re absolutely separate movies. Let’s just put that rumor to rest now.

Donkey Kong

You know him well

But we can’t ignore every bit of litigation in every company’s past. Donkey Kong is an established bit of Nintendo history now, but he came with a lawsuit in his early days. The estate of the late great King Kong claimed Donkey Kong was biting on the whole “big gorilla kidnaps woman and climbs on stuff” shtick, and Nintendo nearly had to retract its greatest selling arcade game for fear that it would be squashed by copyright law. While Nintendo won in the end, it just goes to show that even the most original companies often come from origins that border on theft, and all ideas stand on the borrowed shoulders of giants. If we are being honest, there would be no Donkey Kong without King Kong, and there would be no Mighty No. 9 without a Mega Man who needs his Astro Boy.

Sharaku

EYEBALL

And that’s just Krillin fused with Tien Shinhan, right? This Osamu Tezuka guy is a hack.

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

  • System: Gameboy Advance. If ever a game deserved to be ported to something for modern consoles, this would be it.
  • Number of players: Astro Boy gets by with the support of his friends, but is stuck in a single player game.
  • Here comes the factor!Favorite Astro Friend: It is a great bit of storyline/gameplay synergy that Astro Boy levels up as he meets more people. I normally cannot stand a leveling system in a beat ‘em up, but I’ll allow it if it means Unico adds to your fighting power. Anywho, Don Dracula, head vampire of Mu, is cowering on a train, and will sell out his boss unprompted by anything, so going to congratulate that vampire on being my favorite “ally” in this adventure.
  • What gets your points? Power up Astro Boy’s mega death laser for maximum fun. Yes, it is a hyper move that requires charging some punches, but it is absolutely the best way to do damage to practically everything. In a way, it seems like Astro Boy learned how to be a videogame from Marvel vs. Capcom 2… which may explain why I like it so much.
  • So, did you beat it? I used a FAQ back in the day, because some of the conditions for unlocking the proper paths are complete nonsense (replay the tutorial stage? Really?). That said, for a game that is based on just punching and/or lasering stuff as hard as you can, the way the plot progresses is a really interesting way to get the player to experience the same levels over again. I would be annoyed if it weren’t so much fun.
  • All aboardGoggle Bob Fact: This game was a Christmas gift from my grandmother, and now this article is publishing on her birthday. She would have been nearly 110 this year! That’s weird!
  • Did you know? The North American version of this game was delayed to coincide with the release of the Astro Boy Saturday Morning Cartoon. This allowed Treasure to put some additional polish on the experience during the waiting period, so maybe that’s why this is easily one of Treasure’s best games. Or maybe fighting robots are just a natural fit for videogames. Whatever. It works!
  • Would I play again: Yes. Now somebody release it on Switch so I can play it without having to dig out an ancient portable system with pulsating batteries.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Body Harvest for the Nintendo 64! We gonna fight some bugs! Please look forward to it!

ROBOT
Robots! We get it!

FGC #607 Metroid

PRAY FOR PEACE IN SPACESamus Aran has been described as “The Hunter”. She has been described as a mobile tank. She was been described as the ultimate warrior. She has been described as the most powerful woman in the Nintendo pantheon.

And, after all that, I think a great Metroid game makes Samus Aran a bimbo.

My first Metroid was Metroid 1. I have three huge, unforgettable memories of Metroid from when I was a Wee Goggle Bob:

  1. The Ice Beam is so much better than the Wave Beam that, to this day, I still see the Wave Beam as a punishment/threat akin to those birds in Ninja Gaiden.
  2. Kraid is a giant pain in the ass (even when not giant).
  3. The Screw Attack was a boon like no other.

And to be clear on that final point, it is hard to describe the Screw Attack to someone who didn’t only ever play games like Super Mario Bros. (and its many contemporary clones) or Mega Man 2 for comparison. I remember distinctly describing “imagine you got a star man every time you jumped” to other kids that had not been able to make it through the caverns of Zebes. And did the screw attack actually serve the same purpose as a star man’s familiar invincibility? No. But it changed Samus for the better, and allowed her to sail through a number of monsters that previously would wreck her day. Whatever you consider the true final challenge of Metroid 1 to be (either an immobile brain in a lava factory or a dungeon full of jellyfish), the screw attack barely helps. But for actually adventuring through the other 90% of the game? Eat it, ripper that could otherwise soak 100 missiles, Samus Aran coming through, and you better get out of the way or be diced into your component pixels!

This seems dirtyAnd that feeling has never left my relative enjoyment of Metroid. In fact, I would argue that it is the main difference between Castlevania and Metroid titles. In a Castlevania game, you are constantly accruing new abilities and skills, but, by and large, it is a ladder system, and the bosses are climbing the rungs as you trade a +1 sword for a +2 sword/bat transformation. You are expected to graduate with these skills in the regular encounters just as much as the bosses that now have patterns that account for wolf forms. However, in a Metroid game, you get new skills, but are primarily improving what you have (practically) from the beginning. There are no gradually developing swords to find, just more missiles. Or more super bombs. Or more e-tanks. And the bosses are not 100% tests of skill, but gateways to confirm you have collected enough missiles, e-tanks, or whatever Samus has to find this mission. Can they be beaten with skill, precision, and a charge beam? Yes, but it feels more like they have 100 missiles of health because you are supposed to have 100 missiles by now. And you need those “gatekeeper” bosses, because otherwise you would just screw attack through everything straight to Mother Brain. And somebody has got to be a boss around here!

And that is ultimately what I want from a Metroid game. I do not need the difficulty to escalate as I venture further. I want it to get easier. I want Samus to become dumber, because she has upgraded her pea shooter to launch 50 continuous super missiles that are capable of literally rocking the planet. When Samus has 30 energy dots and the ability to transform into a cowardly ball, she should be precise and technical in all encounters. When she has more e-tanks than she knows what to do with and is blasting deadly rainbows out of her arm, she can soak a few hits while bad guys explode.

And if you still want a challenge? Then you have the option to not pick up that e-tank or missile expansion. Super Metroid‘s “would you like to turn off your screw attack” menu is poison to my playstyle, but it is an option. You can have a difficult trek through Zebes if you would like. “Challenge runs” are aptly named, but by no means required.

BLOW IT UPAnd speaking of Super Metroid, the original Metroid only included the Screw Attack, but Super Metroid upgraded everything down to Samus’s sneezes to be wholly homicidal. Jumping kills with the Screw Attack, running kills with the Speed Booster, and you can literally fly-dash-kill with the (slightly draining) Shinespark ability. And this is all before the finale of Super Metroid sees Samus gain a revenge beam that is capable of obliterating wall and brainnosaurus rex alike.

And it is interesting to consider what it means for Samus Aran when her ultimate goal is becoming practically invincible. Right from the start of Metroid, Samus’s abilities are some of the sharpest on the NES. Mega Man cannot duck, but Samus can roll into a ball to become a mobile, pint-sized target. Simon Belmont’s single-arc jump is one of the most perilous moves in his arsenal, while Samus has more air mobility than some birds (she takes after her dad). Mario can toss off bouncing balls, Samus can rapidly acquire beams that cover the length of the screen, freeze opponents, and/or travel straight through any object. Samus Aran is a formidable opponent from an era when most heroes could nary dream of having the mobility afforded by a Chozo costume. But once she has maximum missiles, energy tanks, and enough bird artifacts to soak a mortar shell? Well, then, who cares? She can just wade in lava like a toad (that enjoys a remarkably warm bath) and murder her parents’ killer by wave beaming through the floor.

NO PTSD FOR YOUAnd speaking of Ridley, that space dragon may exemplify this philosophy even more than the hyper beam. Meta Ridley of the Prime franchise may be sporting enhancements and brains, but “regular” Ridley is consistently all teeth, nails, and a tail that is 100% spikes by volume. By Super Metroid, Ridley is clawing and slashing and fighting like a wounded animal. There is no pattern to discern, no “phases” to go through. He is just a monster that may or may not eat your family, as there is no deeper Ridley to Ridley. This doesn’t work for everyone in this or any other game (Dracula would never sully his cape by fighting like that), but this is what it is to fight a bear… or The Incredible Hulk. Ridley is trying anything that works, and Samus is standing solid and using everything she’s got as her only defense. This kind of sucks from a videogame design perspective, but that “I just got lucky” feeling after Ridley finally explodes really works for why Ridley is memorable.

The best way to beat a brainless monster is to be a brainless monster.

So, yes, I want Samus Aran to be a bimbo by the time she reaches the end of her quest. After acquiring a PHD in Zebethian lost technology, I want Samus to be a big, dumb clod that will not get out of the way of a rinka while shoveling missiles into a jar. I want the last stand of Samus Aran to be the final flickering of her ultimate brain cell. A gibbering nincompoop could eradicate the Metroid menace with all those upgrades, and I want to play as that nincompoop.

And if Samus has to think about performing a single counter? That’s some other heroine. Samus is too dummy thicc with power to fit in with any of that rubbish.

FGC #607 Metroid

  • I don't understandSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, but mostly played through e-reader in some version of Animal Crossing. Or maybe I am thinking of the version that was unlockable in Metroid Fusion? Or the GBA classic reissue? Look, it is on practically every Nintendo system ever created, save the Super Nintendo and N64.
  • Number of players: Samus does not encounter a single living thing that is not trying to kill her on Zebes, so only one player.
  • Favorite Powerup: You think it might be the screw attack? There is a reason I made that thing my desktop wallpaper!
  • Speedy Sister: The number one thing I noticed replaying Metroid in 2021? Dang, it goes fast. You only need, what? Morph ball, bombs, ice beam, and hi jump to complete the entire mission? No extra time spent here trying to remember where the hell the space jump got to, just nab some new boots and make a beeline for your local space dragon.
  • Ridley is too big: It is kind of miraculous that Ridley graduated to the main series antagonist role after Metroid, as he is certainly the easier of the two “mini” bosses of Metroid. Sure, Ridley officially has the second area, and gets a whole two scary statue heads leading to his lair, but Kraid? Kraid has his own weirdo clone to confuse new players, more health than has ever been measured, and the raw invulnerability of solid stomach spikes. And he even hides his requisite e-tank better than Ridley! Kraid got robbed when future editions devolved him into a mindless dinosaur. (And he lost all his hair, too.)
  • Map it out: My memories of playing Metroid as a child recall a Zebes that was easily ten times the size it actually is… mainly because I didn’t see a complete map until some “retro” Nintendo Power coverage of the game years later. When you are stuck in the depths of Brinstar with no way to distinguish between a lot of same-y rooms…. Well… let’s just say this game would be very different with Super Metroid’s automap.
  • The big finaleGoggle Bob Fact: I used to have a Nintendo sponsored calendar when I was young enough to not be literate. Metroid was the featured game of one of the months. As I was able to identify an “M” and someone clearly using an arm buster, I thought I was looking at Mega Man, not Samus Aran. I have been ashamed of this mistake continuously since I was 8.
  • Bounty Hunter: The original Famicom version of Metroid has save files, and a menu for such that is similar to The Legend of Zelda. If you complete the game, Samus’s icon receives lil’ money bag icons to indicate a clear. And if you finish the mission faster? Samus gets more money bags. But, money or not, the NES version is the only one with Zero Suit Samus and the “new game plus” of restarting with previous powerups. So what good is all the money in the universe compared to that?
  • Did you know? There are a few “unused” rooms within the code for Metroid. One contains an item orb on a random pedestal over lava. This is unusual, as item orbs only exist connected to Chozo statues in the normal version of Metroid. The room does resemble the location where you are likely to find your first missile upgrade, though, so maybe orbs were initially supposed to be more plentiful.
  • Would I play again: Yes, but only if there’s a map handy. I cannot remember which walls I am supposed to bomb for the life in me!

What’s next? Random ROB has not so randomly chosen… Metroid Dread! We just did the start, let’s see the most recent end! Please look forward to it!

THE END
“The Other Metroid?” Some kind of… Other M?

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Reflections are importantCastlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was released back in 2002 on the Gameboy Advance. It was the first Koji Igarashi-directed metroidvania to follow the wildly successful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and would be followed by the critically beloved Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow a year later. While many at the time lauded Harmony of Dissonance for being a step up from the non-canon, non-Iga-directed Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, in the years since, Harmony of Dissonance has gained the reputation as one of the “lesser” Igavanias. Nobody seems to claim it is particularly bad, but the understood consensus is that you would be better off playing literally any other metroidvania in the franchise. Iga was still getting used to portable Castlevanias, guys, play one of the games after he found his skelelegs.

And that is a damn shame, because Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance has some great ideas that were never seen in the franchise ever again. Take for instance…

Juste Belmont is all you need

This guy looks familiarCastlevania stars Simon Belmont. Castlevania 3 stars Trevor Belmont. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood stars Richter Belmont. And then we got Castlevania: Symphony of the Night starring Alucard, and we only ever saw one Belmont in a headlining role ever again. Juste Belmont is that Belmont, and he’s here to chew bubblegum and whip skeletons (and he’s fresh out of bubblegum).

Juste Belmont plays like a Belmont. There is no gimmick here, no secret power that makes Juste a creature of the night just like his opponents. He runs. He jumps. He attacks with a whip of clearly defined length, and flicks its limp form around to block medusa heads at will. He can perform some of the “later” Belmont abilities, like the slide and backward dash. He even has a forward dash, because some weirdo gave the Gameboy Advance an L and R button. But, a few extra skills aside, Juste is familiar, and a clear descendant of Grandpa Simon (and maybe the old man that trained Richter a few decades later).

And in the friggen Castlevania franchise, it is nice to play as a Castlevania protagonist.

You could claim there is a clear dichotomy between Simon-like protagonists and Alucard-like protagonists in the Castlevania franchise. Soma is an Alucard. Shanoa is an Alucard. Castlevania-wannabe Miriam is an Alucard. But claiming there are only two options is reductive. John Morris of Portrait of Ruin is very close to being the typical Belmont, but there is a lot more nuance and variety to his moveset. Or, put another way, there is no way Juste Belmont could ever turn into an owl. It may be a result of the presence of Charlotte, but, one way or another, John is no Alucard, but he certainly is not a straight-Belmont, either.

And having a 100% Belmont on the team makes for a different, unique game. Juste eventually gains a “super jump” to traverse long vertical passages, but, for the majority of his adventure, he is stuck with little more than a regular Belmont arc jump. And that changes the castle dramatically! There is no expectation here that you will eventually be able to fly into narrow passages as a bat, or “mist” through glass windows. Juste is stuck with legitimate keys-as-keys, and a castle that could reasonably be traversed by a human on foot. And that’s the rub! Belmonts are humans, and that appropriately restrains the Castle to something that is never going to require reversing gravity or filling in map squares by bumbling around as a wolf.

It is nice to be human sometimes and know that castle completion is not tied to some esoteric ability you will find five feet before Dracula. HoD perhaps hampers itself too much with its human protagonist, but a more thoughtful sequel could use this “limitation” to open all sorts of doors.

But speaking of being a Belmont…

The Vampire Killer is all you need

Nice viewLook, I like variety as much as the next guy. I like finding peanuts and learning that Alucard must toss them in the air to get so much as a bite. I like earning the “curry” power, and forcing an ability-copying boss to chuck hot plates like it is his super power. I like there being two different fairies, one with inexplicable piano prowess. I enjoy the sheer breadth of nonsense “stuff” that appears in the Igavania titles, and I appreciate every time I find a new secret or ferryman skulking around in the shadows.

But, dang, sometimes I just want to play a videogame, ya know?

The thing about variety is that is causes choice anxiety. You have a sword, right? And it is fast and strong, but there is a stronger sword that is slower. Which is going to perform more damage per second? Which will allow you to quickly backdash away from danger? Which has the more powerful “arc” to blocking enemy fireballs? They have elements, too? So is the holy sword going to cut down all these undead foes, or are some of these monsters supposed to be resistant to the light of God? Is this one of those franchises where fire beats water, or the opposite? Thunder do anything for anybody? I have a fast, lightning-based sword, but is that going to do zero damage to rocky enemies? Am I thinking of Pokémon again?

Then there’s Juste. Juste doesn’t have to have a brain in his head, because he has a whip in his hands.

The Vampire Killer is supposed to be the greatest Dracula murderer of all time. It was all Simon, Trevor, and Richter ever needed. Juste wields this same weapon, but is allowed to have a little customization. With the right item, it can shoot fireballs like Christopher Belmont, change elements for weakness hunting, or just plain upgrade to stronger versions like back during the Quest days. In general, it is linear progression with the tiniest bit of customization for particular circumstances. And that’s great! You don’t have to spend the rest of your day worrying distinguishing between +1 Pow or +1 Speed when “have whip” is all you need to know. There is joy in finding the secret sword that makes farting noises when it hits skeletons, but there is also joy in not having to worry about your equipment screen, and ignoring any worrying about bringing the wrong hammer to a guardian fight.

Sometimes, the Vampire Killer is all you need… and that never happened in a 2-D ‘vania again.

And on that note…

Mundane Monsters are all you need

Prior to Harmony of Dissonance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon introduced the concept of particular monsters dropping unique abilities. After HoD, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow pioneered a system whereby literally every monster dropped some kind of attack, ability, or upgrade. This became the standard for Castlevania titles going forward, and now it seems completely normal to fight mermen over and over until you can breathe underwater.

Harmony of Dissonance made no such attempt at having a wholly unique “ability drop” for every monster lurking around the castle. And, not coincidentally, Harmony of Dissonance also included this creature:

Creepy Crawly

Now, I’m not saying that when you grant every monster a unique, obtainable ability, you lose the chance to make some gigantic weirdos that have nothing to do with “can throw spear” or “+2 Con”, but… It does seem like more than a coincidence that we never saw that dude again.

Nobody wants to grind a hundred skeleton spiders.

Two Castles are all you need

Out and inCastlevania: Symphony of the Night turned the franchise on its head by including an entire hidden castle in addition to the “traditional” solitary sanctuary of Dracula. Later titles would either stick to one large castle (the Sorrows, Bloodstained [which we are still claiming is a Castlevania]) or one castle plus a number of “level” areas (Portrait, Order of Ecclesia). Never again did the franchise try two separate, but similar, castles.

And two castles are the exact right number of castles to have!

The concept of a “dark world” works similarly to time travel in many videogames. In short, you have two distinct areas, but they influence each other in interesting ways. In the time travel adventures, you can usually affect change in the past that dramatically impacts the future. The classic “fill a lake in the past, see a future where a desert becomes a forest in the future” dichotomy serves as an easy example here. Similarly, you can have “light/dark world” situations wherein one area is a funhouse mirror version of another area, but making changes to one “castle” can drastically impact the other. The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past or Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver are the classic examples here, but many videogames utilize these dual worlds to create exciting scenarios and save on assets. An evil mirror world is fun and economical!

Unfortunately, for having two castles (both distinctly noted as being formed from two differing minds), Harmony of Dissonance whiffs on doing anything interesting with the concept. Whether there was ever meticulous thought put into the differences between the “normal” and “chaos”-based castles is irrelevant, as the end result is a castle that is effectively double the size, but with very few actual parallels. Yes, you might find some similar or “reference” monsters in comparable rooms. Yes, you are likely to see a few more deadly monsters or blood-red sunsets in the “bad” castle. But, beyond a few extremely basic “wasn’t this room a little different over there” situations, this is a complete waste of a brilliant idea. Harmony’s two castles could be so much fun in a different, more considered game.

This is funAnd that is the tragedy of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance: there are a lot of appealing ideas here, but they ultimately add up to an experience that is aggravatingly rote. With proper budget, drive, and familiarity, a direct sequel to HoD’s ideas could be one of the best titles in the franchise. As it is… well… Let’s just say that Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow keeps getting paired with HoD in collections, and it is obvious which game you should play.

(And in case you’re curious, it is the one that actually had its own sequel.)

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

  • System: Gameboy Advance on two separate occasions! Later, we had a WiiU release, and now it is on modern systems thanks to the latest Castlevania Advance Collection.
  • Number of players: This Castlevania quest is even more solitary than usual. Do you learn that weird shopkeeper’s name? That seems like it should be important! Guess we are sticking to one player.
  • Story Time: Props to HoD for featuring almost exclusively two characters: Juste, and his frenemy Maxim. Literally no one else matters in this story of childhood friends having occasional spats over kidnapping other childhood friends, and that kind of laser focus on the task at hand is great in a Metroidvania. I guess Death gets to squeeze a word or two in, too? Who cares? That dork is a little too Strider this time, anyway.
  • Love this bossThe Other Hero: Naturally, Maxim mode is unlocked upon completing the game. And Maxim rocks! While the meticulous planning that went into producing this Belmont-based adventure goes right out the window the minute Mr. Triple Jump appears on the scene, it is fun to see how much of the castle can be explored immediately without a need for keys or teleporters. Give Maxxy a way to level up, and it would likely be one of my favorite “other” modes in Castlevania history.
  • Favorite Sub Weapon: Juste has distinctly Sypha Belnades genes, and can utilize magical books to powerup his attacks. Unfortunately, this skill is completely useless, and should be ignored. Sorry, Great Gramma Sypha, you cannot beat traditional holy water.
  • Favorite Boss: Speaking of Sypha, two Castlevania 3 bosses return in modern-ish form: the Skull Knight and Cyclops. Cyclops is my favorite in the game, as he looks so goofy compared to his original, menacing sprite. Skull Knight does get a rad laser, though…
  • Interior Decorating: Apparently, that “Furniture Room”, where you can collect various tables and candelabras and such to decorate one tiny cube in Dracula’s Castle is a holdover from an idea that was nixed during the production of Symphony of the Night. This would have absolutely made sense for Alucard, as he would logically have his own room in his father’s castle. But Juste Belmont? A man who knows damn well that castle is going to collapse seven seconds after whipping an evil count? He should know better than to put effort into trimming such a damned castle.
  • ClassyDid you know? The doors that Juste uses to travel between the two castles look just like the portals the Doppelganger used in Symphony of the Night. Does this mean Alucard didn’t kill a monster, but an alternate universe duplicate? Probably not! And don’t suggest that again. Alucard has enough guilt without potential murder-suicides!
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Or at least not for another few decades. I want to see the HoD sequel, but the actual game isn’t all that fun… particularly when nearly every other Castlevania would be a better time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Curses ‘N Chaos! We’re going to celebrate the Day of the Dead with a visit from Castlevania ‘n Curses’ old friend Death. Please look forward to it!

WRONG

FGC #585 The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse

This cave is creepyWith the recent release of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, a lot of people are revisiting the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. And it isn’t all that hard! For a franchise that is fondly remembered from the early days of gaming, there have not been that many GnG titles through the generations. Aside from a few reboots of varying quality, the franchise barely got out of the 16-bit era without all but disappearing. Maybe the Resident Evil and Devil May Cry franchises filled the “horror” shaped hole in the hearts of Capcom? Or maybe it is more similar to how the Resident Evil franchise ultimately mutated and birthed the Devil May Cry franchise? After all, we could see a mutation in real time with GnG. 1991 saw Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, 1994 saw Demon’s Crest, and, in 1992, we saw the middle point between the two: The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse.

Admittedly, this was a bit of a deviation from the original Ghouls ‘n Ghosts formula. First of all, as keen-eyed players will notice immediately, Arthur is temporarily retired for this adventure, and has been replaced by a sentient mouse man. This is significant change in the formula, but this “Mickey Mouse” is apparently a noble warrior, not unlike Maximo or Firebrand of Demon’s Crest. And, speaking of Demon’s Crest, this was clearly the genesis of Red Arremer’s greatest skill in that title: switching between different “costumes” to utilize different abilities. Mickey does not come equipped with Arthur’s array of lances, daggers, and crossbows, but he does have the ability to switch between magical attacks, a firehose, and a grappling hook. And, if all else fails, Mickey has been granted the strength to leap on his opponents. Hey! It worked for that plumber guy!

This isn't spookySpeaking of Mario, The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse is undoubtedly one of the easiest titles in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. It is funny how a few minor changes make a difference in difficulty level. Mickey has three hearts to Arthur’s two, and additional “golden armor” hearts only make our hero even more resistant. Furthermore, there is a “shop” feature that can provide extra lives and powerups, so all those “money bags” that Arthur was always hording serve a purpose here. This would eventually be utilized in Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection with the collectible sprites that offer new abilities, but here it just offers Mickey a rudimentary leg up on his opponents. But these enhancements don’t mean it’s all fun and games for Mickey. The main offensive options for the costumes all require “energy”, and, while refills are abundant (and outright repeatedly provided during boss fights where they are a requirement), Arthur never had to worry about rationing his torch output in the middle of a heated battle. And that grappling hook powerup? Let’s just say that Arthur, double jump or no, would not survive the platforming challenges Mickey would be forced to negotiate. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a pile of hitpoints when those hearts take a dive into a pit…

But don’t worry, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts fans, once you see the worlds Mickey has to traverse, you’ll feel right at home. Presumably in an effort to draw in a new audience, this Ghosts ‘n Goblins title starts with an inviting opening stage, forsaking the traditional graveyard filled with zombies for a “happy” wooded area. But things get spooky fast, as there are malevolent, mutated bugs and bees around the forest, complete with a gigantic “dragonpillar” that recalls the three headed dragon of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. From there, Mickey receives “magic powers” to simultaneously use a ranged attack and swim through a giant tree. Is this “Dark Forest” being unusually damp meant to evoke the iconic second stage of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and its haunted ship and raft ride? Probably! This is a franchise known for occasionally relying on “oblique” references to older games. And this haunted forest is all topped off with an eerie giant spider invasion. Can you get scarier than arachnophobia?

Too hot!Well, yes, the Fire Grotto, is where the ghouls really kick into gear. The whole stage starts with a downward elevator ride that recalls a similarly deadly situation in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (though at least that elevator had the decency to go up). Then Mickey does the typical Demon Realm entrance thing by traipsing through a fiery Hell. Practically everything is on fire in this stage, and, while the firefighter costume does mitigate the various heated issues, you still have to deal with platforms that are apparently fueled by cranky souls. And a flaming stone guardian to top it all off? Be afraid, Mickey, be very afraid.

The following stage, Pete’s Peak, once again follows the Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts route of including the “cave area” after its blistering welcome, albeit this level is a lot less… fleshy than its sister stage. However, the boss of this miniventure is the same Cockatrice that menaced Arthur back in the previous title. You just keep spitting eggs, you gigantic, evil bird!

Mickey’s Stage 5 is arguably repeating Arthur’s adventure to an exact degree. The Deep Chill aka Snowy Valley outright reuses layouts from Arthur’s icy prison, though with the added fun of introducing a number of “sleds” that speed things along. This is the first stage that does not introduce a new “power”, so it is nice to see something that generally helps our hero (and confirms, once again, that Arthur’s biggest plight is that he has to slowly walk everywhere). In the case of the boss of this stage, we have no hard confirmation that SGnG’s Bēruaroken is an ice-skating walrus when thawed out, but it does seem like this monster does have a similar stance to Arthur’s icy opponent…

WeeeeeAnd then the finale of any good GnG game: the haunted castle. As alluded to in earlier levels, the final boss of this title is Pete, a giant, monarch-style creature in the vein of Astaroth, Lucifer, or Sardius. Does he have an extra face under that regal cloak? Who knows! But what we do know is that Pete’s Castle is the proper finale for this franchise, as it is a challenging, imposing area filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes. And spikes! The ol’ Capcom staple of just covering every goddamned thing with spikes and then throwing in a light boss rush is all that stands between Mickey and rescuing his princess. (… Who is a dog. And, to be clear, that is not a judgment of a princess replacement, Pluto is apparently literally a dog. At least this time the ending won’t reveal the “damsel”’s measurements.)

And that is the whole of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts 2: The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. Mostly. The ending implies that the whole of the adventure was a dream, and then Mickey awakens to a game of catch that is exactly how this whole plot kicked off in the first place. Does this imply that Mickey is stuck in an endless loop, forever searching for the “goddess bracelet” that would allow this hero to finally end King Pete permanently? Probably. Those loops are a GnG traditional, after all…

Stay away!For anyone curious about Mickey’s future involvement with the GnG franchise, not unlike The Red Blaze, Mickey would go on to have his own “spin-off” trilogy, but would not see another title beyond the Super Nintendo. And, while many of Mickey’s most prominent features would be carried forward to Demon’s Crest, this slight deviation in the GnG canon is now just as discarded as Maximo.

Sorry, Mickey, I guess your turn to be the star of something will have to come later. Apparently history is going to remember Sir Arthur as the leading man of this franchise.

FGC #585 The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse

  • System: Super Nintendo, and, later, Gameboy Advance. It seems like a lot of SNES games wound up on the final Gameboy (and we are better for it).
  • Number of players: 2 players in both cases, but alternating on the home console, while you can work together on the GBA. Of course, you need two cartridges to do that…
  • It's chillyPort-o-Call: The GBA port is obviously going to have a few more bells and whistles, as it was released a solid decade later. You can play as Minnie! And fight in competitive multiplayer games! And Disney is part of the title now, for some reason! Just in case you thought Capcom owned Mickey Mouse!
  • Favorite Costume: The mountain climbing gear has so much potential, but is only really built for one level (or the level is built for the costume… whatever!). However, the utility of the firefighter costume is gigantic, and it never wavers. Would you like to extinguish flames, battle soldiers, or freeze snowballs? You can do anything with the power of firefighting!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Speaking of specific costumes, this game is inextricably linked to Nintendo Power #44, the “bonus issue” that included a fold-out cover and a “Mega Man Spectacular”. This is also the origin of a Mario vs. Wario comic which reveals that Mario used to be kind of a dick. That is appropriate, given the presence of the cover boy.
  • ToastyDid you know? Speaking of Nintendo Power, the following characters/things appeared on Nintendo Power covers before Mickey Mouse: Wile E. Coyote, Darth Vader, Felix the Cat, Darkwing Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Chip ‘n Dale, the Joker, the Starship Enterprise, and Dracula’s severed head. Seminal Pugsley Addams headlined the following issue.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun little game… but emphasis on “little”. Once a GnG game is less challenging, it can easily be cleared within an hour or so. And that’s not bad! It just means I probably won’t bother again for a while. But I shall return to this interpretation of the Demon Realm…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour! Get ready to race around your favorite theme park in pursuit of nuts! Please look forward to it!

I miss the 90's