Tag Archives: gameboy

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

Bubs n BobsThe release of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini offered me my first opportunity to play Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on something approaching “original” hardware. I had conquered Richter’s Big Adventure through emulation before (on the Wii and PSP), but I never completed the quest holding an actual approximation of a TG16 controller. And you know what confused me?

Take control

Damn, this thing got no buttons. That is practically a Nintendo Entertainment System Funpad for Babies™! This was the controller meant to steer Rondo of Blood? The game that is the direct prequel to one of the greatest games of all time? Which appeared on a system with a controller that contained, like, so many buttons and an eventual analogue stick or two? And all Richter had to beat back the forces of evil was little more than A & B? No, that cannot be right. A game that was a contemporary of Mortal Kombat 2, Mega Man X, and Secret of Mana surely could not be so limited by a controller and remain fun.

And then I used that same TurboGrafx-16 Mini to play Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. And now two buttons being loads of fun makes perfect sense.

Bubble Bobble has always been one of the most low-key best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is one of those unique-to-the-era experiences wherein game designers were not quite sure how to bridge the gap from arcade to home console parameters, and, what the hey, let’s just have a fun game with mostly contained levels and an overarching plot/theme that does eventually see a finish line. Bubble Bobble may have been experienced one non-scrolling screen at a time, but it had a variety of level configurations (hundo or so), interesting monsters, and a two-player simultaneous mode that could make enemies into friends and friends into enemies. Complete with a built-in hard mode and an excuse to call your neighbor over for bubbling times, Bubble Bobble had everything you could ever ask for in 1988 (or so).

Umbrella power!Unfortunately, not everything about Bubble Bobble was perfect. Bubble Bobble technically has precise controls, but sometimes getting your chosen dinosaur to do exactly what you want is a bit finicky. Who among us has not been trapped behind a wall, and forced to suss out the exact button combination to get Bub to properly bounce on a series of bubbles? Or been surprised at the relative difficulty of finding the correct way to pop a trapped opponent? Or finally reached the final boss, and then been downright confused at what you were supposed to do with that potion? Bubble Bobble is a great game, but we take for granted how much of its gameplay was predicated on knowing exactly what to do in any given situation. Granted, the same could be said for many games, but Bubble Bobble was one that could have used a little more tweaking to be immediately understandable.

And tweaks did occur in time for Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. Rainbow Islands (effectively Bubble Bobble 2) had a variety of… let’s call them… “innovative” gameplay elements that… may or may not have worked. Parasol Stars wisely decided to drop the meteorological-based play of Rainbow Islands and give the (now human) Bub and Bob a pair of parasols to better simulate classic Bubble Bobble gameplay. In much the same way a monster was once stunned by a bubble, now an umbrella can paralyze an opponent on contact, and then they can be pushed, thrown, or just eliminated at will. And you are going to want to use that push command plenty, because there are other monsters that are about “4 times your mass” size, and they can only be conquered by using smaller monsters as projectiles. Or maybe you could use those actual projectiles laying around…

Stay dampAs much as any other part of its progenitor title, Parasol Stars seems to distinctly build on the finale of Bubble Bobble. Now every “world” has a boss, and every boss is encountered in the same room as a potion that will grant magical powers to your parasol. No mere umbrella is going to vanquish Super Tom-kun, so the elements of water, fire, lightning, and star (it’s an element!) are going to have to help out. And, while you can simply launch little “bubbles” of these elements at your foes, you do have the option of “charging” and multiplying their power into a massive, unique attack. Fire lights the floor ablaze! Water creates a flood! Star makes stars (but, like, more stars)! And, considering these elemental potions create gameplay that is closer to Mega Man than anything involving bubbles popping, you can more easily focus on the task at hand. No need to figure out a boss pattern and how the hell your offense is going to work! These may be familiar elemental attacks at work, but the upgrade from Bubble Bobble to Parasol Stars has never been so obvious.

But that’s not all, folks! Despite Bub & Bob seemingly only requiring the limited general offensiveness of OG Bubble Bobble, there is a lot more to these magical parasols than meets the eye. You can find elemental bubbles in normal stages, for instance, and effortlessly balance these balls to charge up floods ‘n fires. And you can fire the bolts in multiple directions, just like launching monsters all over the place. And navigating these stages is a breeze, too, as you can ride the breeze with those umbrellas. Float leisurely down for an enemy ambush. And all you have to do is hold a button a little longer! Bub and/or Bob have got a myriad of options, and you can control it all with two buttons!

Only two buttons. Because that is all you’ve got.

Not the stars you need1991 was a fun year for buttons. This was a few months after the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was the very same year that Link needed every last tool in his arsenal to go back to the past. Battletoads proved amphibians needed a lot more than two buttons for eclectic gameplay. And, dang, this was the year that Street Fighter 2 premiered in arcades. Remember Street Fighter 2? Six “action buttons” and to do anything fun, you still had to memorize special motions? Or at least hammer that jab button? And it’s not like the same year’s Fatal Fury was any better!

And amidst all this, here is Parasol Stars, just quietly featuring two infinitely controllable characters bopping around thanks to two buttons.

Not every game needs every button. Mario has proven for years that he seems to steer best in 2-D with 2-buttons. Sonic has only ever needed one button. Your average JRPG or strategy game needs little more than what you would find on a mouse. Whether you are venturing into the Cave of Monsters or traipsing across the Castlevania countryside, you do not need that many buttons. A few easy to remember, intuitive button combinations (Hold A to float, press Forward+B to throw, etc), and you will be set for an entire adventure. The TurboGrafx-16 proved this time and time again, and Parasol Stars is a shining example of two buttons being absolutely all you need.

I, II, and an umbrella? That is the perfect equation for the finale of a fantastic story.

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

  • ToothySystem: This game saw more systems than you think… just mostly in other countries. But there was no arcade version! TurboGrafx-16, though, definitely. It seems other releases, like the NES version, stuck to Europe. Did we see the Atari ST or Gameboy ports?
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous, because this game is great.
  • Port-O-Call: Working Designs was responsible for the TG-16 American localization. This is good, as the game does not contain much text, and I am moderately certain they did not pump up all boss health to unhealthy levels. There was also supposed to be a Commodore 64 version, but an irate spouse destroyed the production files during a bitter divorce. No, I am not kidding.
  • Story Time: The canon explanation of what is happening here is that some nefarious force is sucking the color out of various planets, and visiting these spots and beating their bosses is restoring the universe to its former glory. … Except you only ever see the black and white worlds on the map screen, and color is instantly restored the minute you stop by any given planet. So it seems more like this monochromatic curse is just, ya know, a level select graphic flourish.
  • An end: You must collect three precious star cards (or whatever) to gain a key that unlocks the final two “worlds”. There is nothing over the course of the game that indicates that those collectible “miracles” will do anything but clear out some enemies, so I want to say I would be pretty damn pissed if I went through the whole game in 1991 and was granted some ambiguous “try again” message. That said, the infamous “bad end” is kind of an expected thing in this franchise…
  • ToastySnack Time: Bub and Bob can collect piles of food just in their first level, and much, much more over the course of their whole adventure. Is a residual side effect of the Bubble Bobble curse a bottomless stomach, or are they hoarding provisions for their entire planet? Whatever the case, score a fridge somewhere, kiddies, all of those watermelon slices are going to spoil.
  • Horse Puncher: This is another game wherein you routinely fight unicorns. I need to keep track of how often this happens.
  • Did you know? The boss fight theme for this game is straight up Kaoma’s Lambada. This was something of a copyright issue then and now, but nothing compared to how the previous Bubble Bobble game, Rainbow Islands, heisted (Somewhere) Over the Rainbow. Such a thing was possible back in the early 90s! Nowadays, we can’t even preserve the Neon Genesis Evangelion end credits…
  • Would I play again: I bought the TG-16 Mini for Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, but Parasol Stars is easily the best “hidden gem” on the system. I will play this game again, if only because I will need something to test a second controller. Does that add up to four buttons?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SaGa Frontier for the Playstation! Or maybe SaGa Frontier Remastered for the Playstation 4! Whatever works! We’re gonna spark some skills either way! Please look forward to it!

END?

FGC #582 Game & Watch Gallery

Let's watch some gamesThe best way to preserve your past is to literally own your past.

The Nintendo Game & Watch is technology that is fairly unique for this blog: the first Game & Watch was released before I was even born. While I have always considered myself blessed to be a games preservationist that has grown alongside the gaming medium, Game & Watch arguably belongs to Generation X with its initial release in 1980. Premiering with titles that I am doing my best not to describe as “primitive as a Flintstone”, the Game & Watch initially showcased games like Ball, Flagman, Vermin, and Judge. These pocket-sized devices all played one game per unit, and featured not only time-keeping functionality, but upwards of two game modes. Were these titles basic? Yes, of course. But could they be fun? Absolutely! If nothing else, they beat playing with your calculator on a train ride, so further Game & Watch titles were consistently released straight through 1986. At about that point, the Gameboy was preparing to take over the portable market, so new Game & Watch models became limited, and new titles for the “system” began to dribble out at a slower pace. But, for a time, Game & Watch ruled the roost, and Nintendo “the toy company” established itself in this new “videogame market” that may or may not have been recovering from an apocalyptic alien invasion (that is currently buried in New Mexico).

In short, if you are considering the whole of the history of videogames, you have to remember the Game & Watch. The Nintendo Entertainment System may have defined the home console for a generation, but just a few years before that box (and its dastardly robot) graced our shores, we were already playing with power, one Game & Watch at a time. And, while the “limited to one game” thing was saddening, this also encouraged an awful lot of wonderful mutations across the line. This was the first we saw buttons that increased or decreased in number according to a game. This was the first we saw the iconic crosspad. This is the first we saw “dual screen” gameplay, in both horizontal and vertical formats. Game & Watch is the first place we saw Luigi.

Boxes!And that latter point is pretty damn relevant, because when was the last time you heard about Mario’s other jobs with his brother? Nobody questioned when Mario claimed he was a doctor, because we were already used to his construction, bottling, and cement factory jobs…

A Mario Bros. where two brothers prove their plumbing credentials through flipping over turtles and crabs is the Mario Bros. everyone always remembers, but Game & Watch Mario Bros. was released four months before its arcade brother. It was a horizontal dual screen Game & Watch title, and saw Mario and Luigi (again, appearing in a game for the first time) working at some manner of delivery plant (is that a thing?). Both of the brothers (each clearly labeled by their respective joypads as “Mario” and “Luigi”) must work in tandem to pass something (boxes? cakes? bottles?) along and into a waiting delivery truck. There are not any “tricks or traps” to speak of, but the intermediary conveyer belt is a harsh mistress, and likely to break more than a few whatsits if the brothers (or your thumbs) don’t move fast enough. There are no monsters here, though, so this is a wholly mundane adventure focusing on what must be Mario & Luigi’s summer jobs. And speaking of jobs, this particular Game & Watch model eventually earned sponsorships from some businesses like Pokka (a Japanese food company) and Campari (an Italian liqueur producer). So Mario does know what alcohol is!

But if you are getting your historical information from Nintendo, Mario’s wine knowledge has been… let’s say obfuscated.

The new styleGame & Watch Mario Bros. has not been completely forgotten by Nintendo, but it has been diluted in modern incarnations. Mario Bros. appeared in both Game & Watch Gallery 3 for the Nintendo Gameboy, and Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Gameboy Advance. Unfortunately, there was basically no way for modern (“modern” being “made after 1984”) systems to emulate the hugely horizontal play area of the original Game & Watch, so everything was compressed to fit a squarer playing area. And, obviously, Mario & Luigi now work at a simple package delivery company, so the impressionable players could never have an inkling that the super brothers were ever transporting wine. And the “modern” reimagining? Well, now we’ve got a cake factory in the works (not even a cement factory?), Wario is a delivery driver (that should not be allowed), and Bowser occasionally stops by to muck up the conveyer belts (dude does not have anything better to do today). In both the GBC and GBA versions, it is a much prettier and a more modern, palatable experience… but it isn’t remotely the same. The basic elements of Mario Bros. are there, but everything from the sunny graphics to the aspect ratio feels like an entirely different animal. For the first appearance of the most famous player two in all of gaming, Game & Watch Mario Bros. is preserved about as well as a sandwich bag filled with ranch dressing (honey, I know you hate to throw out food, but we have a perfectly good bottle of the stuff right there on door).

And don’t even get me started on Game & Watch The Legend of Zelda!

Rescue the laundry!But let’s not imagine we live in a world where Game & Watch and its contributions are completely ignored. Why, there’s Mr. Game & Watch right there, starring in one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises. And his “package attack” move echoes exact animations from Game & Watch Mario Bros. Same for his down taunt, which recalls the exasperated sitting of the brothers when completing a level. And we just got a Super Mario Bros. 35th Anniversary Edition Game & Watch! It didn’t actually include Game & Watch Mario Bros., but it definitely included… uh… Ball, apparently! And Super Mario Bros.! Everybody likes Super Mario Bros. better anyway! What’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that whole likability thing with a healthy mix of hardware versus profitability. Would people rather play Super Mario Bros. or Game & Watch Mario Bros.? Well, considering the Game & Watch collection was a modest hit, while Super Mario Bros. is a game that is continually released on every system ever produced by Nintendo (and with a few weird mutations, too), it seems pretty obvious that more people are interested in seeing the brothers when they are a little more super. And that is convenient, because Super Mario Bros. can be perfectly (or at least reasonably) emulated to practically any device with a screen, whereas the wine factory (I am sticking to this for you, Campari) requires two side-by-side screens for a perfect experience. And Nintendo has decided to drop this whole “dual screen” thing as of the retirement of the 3DS and WiiU, so official Nintendo hardware is out of the question. Could some other company, maybe one without as many valid revenue streams as Nintendo, carry this burden? Some “lesser” hardware manufacturer would be happy to reissue a few Mario games. An Evercade for the Game & Watch? I know I would be down for such a boutique item.

Octo!But it ain’t gonna happen. Nintendo holds an iron grip on any and all legal ownership of Mario, Luigi, and the Game & Watch. It would not be as profitable to focus on “perfect” Game & Watch preservation as it would be to steer those resources into other departments, but, by the same token, there is no way Nintendo is going to let someone else profit from technology made by Nintendo nearly 40 years ago. The original creator of Game & Watch died nearly 25 years ago (!), but Nintendo is going to own that hardware lock, stock, and barrel until the day you die. And if you are under the mistaken impression that Nintendo would be cool with some modern modding, go ahead and ask anyone that listed a video on youtube about how to hack the latest Game & Watch release. Oh, wait, you can’t, because Nintendo copyright claimed all of them out of existence. Want to do anything you want with that fifty dollar doodad you got for Christmas? Not on Nintendo’s (game &) watch, buddy!

But this is the future for nearly all intellectual property out there. Nintendo will own Game & Watch for the next hundred years, and there is absolutely no reason they would ever have to loosen their grip on the IP. And, with that in mind, they control how Game & Watch content exists for the rest of time. You want to play the original game? No, no you don’t. You want to play with silly, beepy Mr. Game & Watch, and exchange tales of his “references” with your friends. You don’t want to remember when Nintendo was proudly peddling liquor sponsorships to get a foothold, you want to remember when the Nintendo Entertainment System defined gaming. There was never a “desperate” Mario that had to beg for your attention. There has only ever been a complete, genre-defining Mario.

History is what you make of it. And if you own your history, so much the better. For you.

FGC #582 Game & Watch Gallery

  • ToadholeSystem: Technically ROB chose the Gallery for Gameboy, but I did a lot of focusing on the Gameboy Color enhanced Game & Watch Gallery 3. Also tossed in some Gameboy Advance Game & Watch Gallery 4 action, too. I have a lot of random Game & Watch Galleries scattered about the place.
  • Number of players: You can link cable all of these games, right? If you can’t, I’m still going to claim they are two players, because you can at least do some boxing in Game & Watch Gallery 4. It counts!
  • Can’t you just be happy with the fact that there are four Gameboy games that preserve Game & Watch titles? Well, yes, that is good, but the last Game & Watch Gameboy title was released in 2002, with the more digital versions only seeing release as recently as 2008. While Game & Watch games are technically available in some ways (you can grab the GBA version on WiiU as of 2016), it sure seems the birth of Nintendo gaming is going to stay locked away in a vault.
  • So you’re saying a new Game & Watch line will be released seven seconds after publishing this article? Yes, that seems to be how it works.
  • Favorite Game & Watch game (collection based): Octopus is part of Game & Watch Gallery 1, and I appreciate how that game has always been as “simple” as other G&W games, but contains an awful lot of strategy. Or maybe I just like matching wits with an octopus. Whatever! You want the spiritual ancestor to practically every videogame I have ever enjoyed, though, just check out Octopus.
  • Love that little guyFavorite Game & Watch game (modern revision): Game & Watch Gallery 4 went harder than it had to with its remixed graphics, and I appreciate that Donkey Kong Jr. got one final showcase before he was retired seemingly forever. That little dude always needed a few more starring roles, and Gogglebob.com does not officially recognize Donkey Kong (of Donkey Kong Country) as Junior’s grownup incarnation. And further proof Mario once had a mean streak!
  • Favorite Game & Watch game (that we will never see again): Mickey Mouse had his own Game & Watch game. Like another children’s star, it was a game involving our hero grabbing eggs from chickens. Minnie was responsible for watch/alarm duties. And we will never see it again, because I cannot imagine the legal quagmire that would result from both companies even addressing the issue. This never happened, guys!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Game & Watch Mario Bros. is one of the first videogames I ever played, as my cousin had that Game & Watch, and I successfully begged my parents to let me try it. I am moderately certain Toddler Goggle Bob did not immediately break the thing… but my memory from that time may be a little hazy.
  • Did you know? The Nintendo DS title Personal Trainer: Cooking, which is little more than a dedicated cookbook that is somehow not Cooking Mama, included Game & Watch Chef as a hidden feature. Chef… is not a game that is going to make you a better cook.
  • Save 'em!Would I play again: I like revisiting the infant stages of the Mario we know today. I would totally be down with all of these titles being ported to the Switch, as they work very well for dealing with random boredom. Other than that, though? Well, sometimes it is nice to know something is being preserved, but maybe I could play something else…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord? 2 for the Sony PSP! Oh, what I have done to deserve this, my ROB? Nothing? It’s actually a good game? Okay, great. Then please look forward to it!

Where is Little Mac?

FGC #562 Q*Bert

No colorLet’s look at the evolution of gaming/Q*Bert over the years.

In 1982, gaming was just taking its first, tentative steps towards Gaming as we know it. Pac-Man and Pong had blazed the trail with their joystick/wheely thing controls, but now we were seeing new and innovative ways to play. Kangaroo, for instance, was a game that was very similar to the likes of Donkey Kong, but added an all-important offensive action to its heroine’s repertoire. Kangaroo could punch out monkeys and apples alike, and one could argue this simple act was the start of “videogame violence” for years to come (sorry, dead monkeys, you gotta start somewhere). And speaking of offensive options, Dig Dug first started digging in ’82, and he had the ability to “pump up” his opponents until they popped. This had the dual purpose of inspiring a generation of bizarre fetishes and featuring a hero that always had the ability to turn the tables on his opponents. Unlike Pac-Man or Mario that had to rely on sporadically distributed powerups, Taizo the Digger was hunted and hunter all in one. This would become the norm for practically all of gaming to come.

But if one game presciently granted a glimpse of gaming of the future, it was Pitfall. Nearly four decades ago, Pitfall Harry explored a large world of tricks, traps, and treasure. Harry had much to do in his (certainly not Mayan) adventure, and, while his moveset was limited, it was contextually sensitive to all sorts of challenges. Harry didn’t simply jump over opponents, he leapt to swing across vines, or hopped over the heads of gators. Pitfall was a revelation for everything its protagonist (and by extension, the player) could do, even if this was still the era of extremely blocky dudes puttering around monochrome backgrounds.

Lookin' GoodAnd 1982 also saw the release of Q*Bert. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops.

Ten years later, in 1992, the face of gaming had irrevocably changed. The arcade gave way to the domination of the console, and now Sega and Nintendo were battling it out. But there was the Personal Computer, too! Wolfenstein 3D had just been released, and the whole of the FPS genre was just starting to congeal into Doom (to be released the next year). For some, the “3-D” nature of first person shooters promised to be what “the future of gaming” was always expected to be: fully immersive fighting (through the legions of Hell/nazis, apparently).

But away from the monitor and back at the television, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was pushing the boundaries of the genre that had become known as platforming. Sonic could run, jump, and dash; but he did it at speeds that could not have even been imagined ten years prior. And this latest Sonic allowed for two player simultaneous play! Just like in those competitive fighting games that had been making the scene! And Mortal Kombat was the most prominent “new fighter” of ’92. Now there was a radical shift in gaming! Kangaroo might have punched out a monkey, but, for better or worse, she never tore the head off of an opponent. And look at all those buttons! “Punch” is a thing of the past: Sub-Zero had a variety of punches, kicks, and fireballs (well, snowballs) at his disposal. You didn’t just need an instruction manual for your average fighting game, you needed a strategy guide (thanks, Nintendo Power!).

Good bless QBertBut while we’re considering strategy, let us also consider Super Mario Kart. Mario had cameoed in a sports title here or there over the years (he got really good at Golf, apparently), but he mostly just starred in his own adventures that involved running and jumping. Super Mario Kart was a great success as a fun racing game, but it also showcased how a videogame mascot could shift all their normal “verbs”, but still be unmistakably that familiar mascot. Mushrooms can make you super tall, or they can give you a speed boost. Turtle shells can become projectiles divorced from their turtles. And anyone that has ever played any Mario Kart knows the difference between a Starman that allows you to mow down goombas and one that allows you to speed to the finish line. Mario Kart showed that even the most rigidly defined mascot could be anything, and paved the way for the Sonic Racing or unprecedented crossovers of today.

And then there was Q*Bert for Gameboy, and Q*Bert 3 for Super Nintendo, both released in 1992. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, six punch buttons, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. Sometimes there are a variety of new colors and backgrounds, though. You know, at least on the system that has color.

Let’s hop forward seven years. By the time 1999 rolled around, the “mascot wars” of the previous console generation had concluded, and newcomer Sony was riding high with the Playstation and the serious, cinematic Final Fantasy franchise. This was the year we were finally going to see the sequel to Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy: Whatever, and it pushed the boundaries for what was expected of the JRPG genre. Have you ever heard of Triple Triad? Guardian Forces? Dog Missiles? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it, it was all only around for one game, but it did establish that you could have complicated battle systems that were only relevant for one title. Fight, magic, item wasn’t the only fish in the sea, anymore, let’s get ready to get some gambits up in here!

Go QBert!This was also a time when gaming was getting more serious… but “serious” as more of a teenager’s definition. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater allowed a “real human” avatar to perform intricate skateboarding tricks in a universe that apparently had unlimited and instant healthcare. Silent Hill allowed a player to explore the depths of the human psyche in a world that was going to be complete in a few years with the introduction of a certain pyramid headed fellow that really knew how to swing around half a pair of scissors. Or maybe you just wanted to be the Driver, and cruise around realistic (enough) cities? In a way, these games were just as big on the fantasy as Mario (no, you cannot drive a car into a building in reality and continue to have a good time), but they were a lot more “real” than anything Pitfall Harry ever did.

And if you wanted some fantasy, don’t worry, you still had the likes of Ape Escape or Donkey Kong 64 to hold you over. DK64 saw the collectathon at its most… collecty, and showcased all the different ways Kongs can run, jump, and shoot on their way to an ultimate goal of wringing out 12,000,000 (monotonous) hours of gameplay. And Ape Escape was no simple monkey game, it was a sneak and capture event closer to Metal Gear than Donkey Kong. Even visually “childish” games in 1999 weren’t so simple.

And then there was Q*Bert for Playstation. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. This time there was an adventure mode, but that was just an excuse to stick cinema scenes on either side of a world. Everything else was just Q*Bert hops.

BERT!The following five years allowed for a number of innovations in gaming. In 2004 we saw Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which was the first Grand Theft Auto to feature extensive customization to its grand, open world. It also had planes, bazookas, and the opportunity for your C.J. to cosplay as The Notorious B.I.G. for the entire adventure. It is arguable that this Grand Theft Auto went too far into the whacky territory after its sequels eventually tried to rein everything back in with sad Russians in GTA4 and sad dads in GTA5, but the Saints Row franchise carried that whacky football straight to the end zone. Gaming had started goofy, become serious, and then migrated back to goofy all over again.

And speaking of marginally goofy, this was the year we saw Fable, which touted a rich morality system and a story that was different every time you played it. Did that actually happen? Well, not really, but it did seemingly start the trend of games that bet their whole asses on save baby/eat baby morality. It was no longer enough to run, jump, and punch; now you had to determine whether or not you were doing all those things while simultaneously becoming Mecha Hitler. Or Mecha Mother Theresa? You’ve got choices!

But on the simpler side of things, there was Katamari Damacy. This straightforward little game featured a protagonist that could only roll around a ball, but that ball could grow from the size of a paperclip to roughly the girth of a galaxy. And, more importantly than the gameplay, it was released for a whole $20, kickstarting the (now standard) belief that not every videogame had to be a AAA, 40 hour feature. Before internet connections fully graduated from 56K, Katamari Damacy showed us a glimpse of the future of downloadable titles.

Eat it!And speaking of downloadable, this year also saw an official Flash (RIP) version of Q*Bert. In a game that would be ported to “real” Windows a year later, Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. At least this Q*venture was free.

Now we fast-forward a decade to 2014. What innovations did this year hold for gaming? Well, we wound up skipping the exact year for a lot of big’uns from this epoch, so we’re left with staring straight at Dark Souls 2. Did you ever hear about Dark Souls? It’s the Dark Souls of Bloodborne games. Love it or hate it, Dark Souls impacted gaming in more ways than we will ever admit, arguably revitalizing the general gameplay of the rogue-like and encouraging increasing your own personal gaming skills while marginally leveling up your chosen hero. In a similar manner, this was the year we saw Bayonetta 2, a shining example of the likewise “hardcore” stylish action genre. Gaming could be slow and methodical or fast and elegant, but, in both cases, it was a little more complicated than guiding a puck through a maze.

And if you still wanted the mascots of yore, don’t worry, they were represented, too. If you wanted to see everybody fight everybody, Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU/3DS was released in 2014. Smash Bros was always a shining example of videogame protagonists leaving their usual genre and sailing into something completely different (Star Fox left his ship!), but Smash 4 would eventually grow and mutate to be a veritable yearbook of every character that had ever mattered in gaming (sorry, Geno, you don’t matter). And if you wanted something new from “cartoony” characters, this was also the year that Shovel Knight proved Kickstarting retro platformers was wholly viable, and could have amazing, enduring results. Come to think of it, Shovel Knight was partially inspired by Dark Souls, too…

CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTERBut there was one game released that year that was not inspired by Dark Souls. Q*Bert Rebooted, seemingly rebooted to promote an Adam Sandler vehicle, was a game where Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, shovel, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. He also hopped to nearly every platform available, so this one is still downloadable on modern consoles.

And Q*Bert returned for the most recent time in 2019 for iOS. Do we need to review the gaming breakthroughs of such a recent year? Fire Emblem: Three Houses and its perfect blend of chess and dating simulation? Super Mario Maker 2 and its ability to grant the player full creative control over familiar gameplay? Untitled Goose Game and its goose? Whatever the hell happens in Sekiro? (I gather it is a photography simulator.) 2019 was an amazing year for gaming where we not only had all this, but also Q*Bert. And what did Q*Bert do? He moved from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changed blocks colors. He baited a snake into a pit. Q*Bert only knows hops.

He was Q*Bert. He is Q*Bert. The face of gaming may irrevocably change, but Q*Bert is Q*Bert forever.

@!#?

FGC #562 Q*Bert

  • Go lil buddySystem: I’m pretty sure the lil’ Bert appeared on nearly every console system, give or take a few outliers. Playstation 2? Sega Genesis? And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on Atari Lynx, either. Other than that, there’s probably some Q*Bert in some form on your preferred console.
  • Number of players: One Q*Bert, but two people can take turns if they are so inclined.
  • Don’t make a sound: Q*Bert’s claim to fame has always been the bizarre recordings that approximate the sound an orange monster man might make when brained with a purple marble. Unfortunately, playing Q*Bert in the year 2021 just reminds me that I never want to hear from a belligerent orange creature ever again.
  • Hey, what about Q*Bert’s Qubes: The only Q*Bert to truly mix up traditional Q*Bert gameplay was… not all that different. It basically just added the idea of “rotating” cubes according to the direction Q*Bert hops (as opposed to one simple, all-purpose tap), and added a handful of new enemies (there may have been a crab). Other than that, the way it “separated” the blocks made the game a lot more difficult to visually parse, and there’s probably a reason this Q*title is generally forgotten and ignored.
  • Did you know? Q*Bert for Playstation started with a cinema scene based in Q*Bert’s blocky little world. Weird thing? His weirdass universe looks a lot like modern Minecraft. Did Steve colonize Q*World? Is that the secret origin of the franchise?
  • Would I play again: Q*Bert is great for a whole five minutes before you remember it’s just goddamned Q*Bert. I will probably waste those five minutes again in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wallachia Reign of Dracula! Or did ROB actually choose Bloodstained: Classic Mode? Actually, it’s both! We’re going to have a double header next! Please look forward to it!

GO FOR IT!

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

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

Can you feel the spirit?

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

USA! USA!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

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

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

Avenge this