Tag Archives: gauntlet

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.


Midway Games

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?


Midway Games

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!


Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986 also had another familiar Grim Reaper…

FGC #217 Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know!

What time is it?I want to like this game so bad. So, so very bad.

What I like: It’s Adventure Time!

I love Adventure Time! I’ve loved Adventure Time for a long time! I started watching the show approximately at the start of the second season, and, I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s a good show with a slightly off kilter view of the universe, and, frankly, it’s funny and adventurous. Jake the Dog and Finn the Human save and snicker at Ooo in equal measure, and that’s awesome for someone like me with a vague “laugh it off” life philosophy. And did I mention the mythology of the Adventure Time world? The apparently teenage princess of candy land is nearly a thousand years old, and was ultimately born of a catastrophically explosive war? Sign me the glob up!

Also, there’s Lumpy Space Princess, and that gal is always a good time.

What I like: It’s Adventure Time (for real)!

Chop chopNow, just because you’ve got the Adventure Time license, that doesn’t mean you’ve got a “true” Adventure Time game. The previous Wayforward Adventure Time game, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!!, was a Zelda 2-esque adventure game starring Finn and Jake… but it seemed to take random liberties with the characters. No, it wasn’t like Finn suddenly had the ability to fly and Jake could turn into a seven-headed hydra or something, but the whole thing stunk of “we need to randomly insert this character because he/she is popular, and who cares if it fits in the Adventure Time world”. Here’s Flame Princess… just… hanging out? Here’s Lemongrab… for some reason? And LSP becomes a world-destroying threat? Uh… okay. The game was generally good, make no mistake, but the plot and overall setting felt a lot like the licensed games of days gone by: here’s a great concept for a videogame, and we’ve quickly slapped an Adventure Time skin on the affair so as to fleece the kiddies (and adult-shaped kiddies). Again: good game, but it seems like a videogame based on an animated series that contains so many videogame influences should have had much better gaming synergy.

However, it seems the folks at WayforWard learned from their mistakes. Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! got Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time creator) completely on board, and the game is, in its entirety, canon. Yes, I am the kind of nerd that believes dreaded continuity to be the devil that destroyed the comics industry (everything about that statement is a lie), and I don’t think a videogame has to be “canon” to be “real”, but here… it makes a difference. I liked AT:HIK!WYSOG?!! despite its continuity gaffes, but every single one still took me out of the experience. It’s a silly, superfluous complaint to have, but I like to be immersed in my videogames based on a children’s properties. AT:EtDBIDK! seems to more properly handle each character, and even offers additional mythology through the story and its finale. As someone that feeds on ridiculous stories, I couldn’t be happier.

What I like: It’s Retro!

HDAdventure Time has a decidedly retro flair to its aesthetics, so it seems only natural that its tie-in videogames would appear to be similarly “8-bit”. From the title screen to the cinema scenes, AT:EtDBIDK! hues closely to a pixelated style that is a fine simulation of classic games. And, no, it’s not just retro for the sake of being retro; it really does seem appropriate for this literal dungeon crawler to look similar to the dungeon crawlers of decades ago (well, the ones that weren’t just text-based, at least). There’s more than a little Gauntlet in the DNA of this adventure, so a similarity to Midway quarter munchers is practically required. The whole thing should make BMO happy. Actually, speaking of which…

What I like: Hey, an actual use for the WiiU gamepad!

This game was released for practically every system available at its launch (nobody loves you, Vita), but the WiiU version contained a special feature. Rather than just offer the option to play the game on the big screen or the lil’ gamepad (like, ya know, every non-Nintendo game released for the WiiU ever), AT:EtDBIDK! sticks BMO on the gamepad, so you get to venture through the depths with a constant, adorable companion. It’s not exactly a system selling feature (I never need to hear the phrase, “Try it with mustard!” ever again), but it is cute and very Adventure Time appropriate. It also makes every other company that claimed they could never do anything with the WiiU gamepad look like an asshole, so thank you for that, Wayforward. It’s the little things that make a game great, even when that little thing is a minuscule, sentient game system.

What I like: The other little things!

PoofThis is a very Adventure Time game, and it’s clear that there was a deliberate move to maintain that Adventure Time feeling through everything. Cyclops tears cure status ailments. Status ailments include being cursed by a Hug Wolf. There’s a kitten gun (that’s a gun that shoots out kittens, as opposed to a gun meant for shooting kittens, or a gun that is kitten-appropriate sized). There are malevolent deer. Fiona and Cake are not real. Princess Bubblegum collects tyrannical taxes. Marceline the Vampire Queen doesn’t actually “die” in a dungeon, she seems to simply get annoyed and leave. From top to bottom, this is a very dedicated Adventure Time experience.

And there are easter eggs for retro-fanatics, too! The magic wand blasts out Legend of Zelda-style magic waves. A pile of skeletons isn’t the only Castlevania reference skulking around, and Choose Goose is channeling every JRPG merchant that ever was. There’s just so much to like here!

What I don’t like: This game sucks

Despite everything, this game sucks. Character movement speed is atrocious, and the monsters are too fast or the dungeons are too big (or both). It seems to take absolutely forever to get anywhere, and practically everything feels uphill. Worthwhile loot starts at, what, 100 pieces of treasure? Per floor, you’re lucky if you find 20 helpings of treasure. By my calculations, that means it would take for-freaking-ever to purchase anything worthwhile. There’s a powerup to make everything go faster!… but it’s a rogue-like, and you could potentially lose that hard-earned ability after a particularly costly hummingbird ambush. Now it’s back to square one! Woo!

ChillyBut you know what? The slow, plodding gameplay could work. Some of my favorite games are slow as balls, so that just means I utilize that rad WiiU gamepad and play the game on the small screen while watching horrible anime or something. Oh, wait, no… while the typical dungeon floors are slow and generally innocuous, the boss fights can be difficult and based on completely different skill sets (let’s play hide and seek!), so I better pay complete attention to those events, or risk losing my every last treasure. AT:EtDBIDK! isn’t consistent with its tedium, so, rather than getting to relax and enjoy a unique adventure, I’m constantly on edge. This isn’t Silent Hill. I love Harry Mason’s adventures, but sometimes I just want to be Jake the Dog and play a fun game while enjoying an everything burrito. Is that so wrong?

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! has a lot to like, but its gameplay completely turns me off. I really want to like everything about this game, but it is not to be. Maybe next time we’ll get an adventure where the fun will never end.

FGC #217 Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know!

  • System: WiiU is my preference, but you may also enjoy the experience on a Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, or Nintendo 3DS. I understand the 3DS version is atrocious, but I’ve never tried it, so that might just be typical internet hyperbole.
  • Number of players: Four, though I could not in good conscious ever recommend we play this game to my social circle. I still have at least one friend that is in an endless boredom coma thanks to playing Fortune Street, so I don’t want to risk the slowness of this title. Particularly when there are better Gauntlets about.
  • HUGS!Favorite character: Marceline the Vampire Queen and her rad axe are all I need. I’d choose her if she didn’t already have floaty powers, I swear. Then again, maybe I just have a weakness for vampires.
  • So, did you beat it? Nope. According to my in-game clock, I put fifteen hours into this game, and that’s about when I quit. I looked up the ending on Youtube, and the final boss fight looked… monotonous. That was pretty much the final nail in the coffin.
  • Did you know? Adventure Time has a ludicrously complicated and depressing backstory involving nuclear war and the destruction of nearly the entire human race. And it was all foreshadowed from the first second of the opening animation of every episode. Good job, Pen Ward.
  • Would I play again: Nooooope.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Skate or Die! Oh snap, I’m probably going to die. Please look forward to it! … Wait a minute.

FGC #156 Midway Arcade Origins

Keep rollin'I have a friend, and when anything newsworthy happens, his immediate response seems to be, “With all of this going on, it’s probably the end times.” It doesn’t matter if “this” is a full-scale riot or the release of Pokémon Go, his reaction is still the same. This is it. This is a sign of the apocalypse. Oscar Isaac will come for us all. Despite this person being a good friend, I don’t really know if he’s just that prone to hyperbole (which he certainly is, just the question is whether it’s on a literally apocalyptic level), or if he’s seriously stockpiling canned goods for the inevitable zombie/robot/Deathlok revolution. Whatever the case, I seem to hear the phrase a lot, and more than ever during an election year.

I know that this friend is not alone. As long as there has been the written word, there have been people scrawling something or other about “these must be the end times”, “the world is done, there’s no coming back”, or “kids today wear their hats wrong.” Miraculously, the world hasn’t ended yet, and I’m going to go ahead and claim that’s not going to happen for a good long while. If the world does explode, though, feel free to print out this article and mail it to me, and I’ll gladly send you a handwritten apology. Potential pen usage aside, we’re not looking at an apocalypse any time soon.

That said, our world is built on a series of apocalypses.

If you’re alive and reading this today, you’ve likely never seen a civilization crumble. Even if you’re one of my lucky centurion readers (I did mention Matlock in a review), you still likely originated from a civilization that can still be found on a map. Sure, it might be a little different than when you were first born (“There used to be more trees…”), but America is still America, and Europe is still Europe, even if the U.K. isn’t so much into that “united” thing anymore. One of the privileges of modern society, no matter your age, is having never experienced an apocalypse.

But make no mistake, there have been plenty of “worlds” ended. The Native American population once was the sole owner of this whole “America” thing, but a scant few centuries later, it’s hard to believe they ever Lizzy!represented an entire continent. Macedonia was the cradle of humanity a few thousand years before it saw the highest unemployment rate on the planet. Egypt was once the most advanced civilization on Earth, and now it’s primarily seen as a tourist trap for a handful of giant triangles. An ancient Grecian would likely weep over the current state of his kingdom, and wonder what horrible god brought this pestilence upon his people. Meanwhile, a modern Italian is probably just generally annoyed at the state of the country, and goes about the daily grind.

The world ended, we got over it.

And, of course, this brings us to the oft-predicted gaming apocalypse.

As I write this, a number of former stalwarts of the gaming universe, Capcom and Konami in particular, seem to have descended into the dread bowels of pachinko distribution. Many use this fact as support for the theory that gaming is dead forever, it’s never coming back, and we’re all doomed to a future of candy crushing and bird pacifying. Bullshit. Despite the fact that Capcom has seemingly given up on the Blue Bomber, we somehow have an inordinate number of Mega Man-alikes on the market, and I say “inordinate” entirely because you don’t see that kind of raw dedication to almost any other franchise… Except maybe Metroid, because, boy howdy, seems like Konami and Nintendo ignoring Castlevania and Metroid has led to more Metroidvanias than I can count. Yes, the old guard of gaming may be going in another direction, but even the franchises you used to love seem to have survived in all but (copyrighted) name.

The end of civilizationBut, like how we built our society on the bones of its previous occupants, this isn’t the first this has happened. Does anyone remember Midway? Midway Arcade Origins is our game of the day, and it contains all of Midway’s greatest hits. And I mean all of them.

Alright, fine, I’m being hyperbolic myself. This collection does not include Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, or War Gods. But what this game lacks in women in metal bikinis it more than makes up for by containing nearly every arcade hit for a decade. My initial plan for this game was to choose one game out of the thirty, focus on that, and maybe draw up some Rampage fanfiction or something (that sounds familiar…). That plan crashed on the rocks the minute I found it impossible to focus on any one game. Rampage is right next to Rampart, after all, and then we’ve got two Gauntlets, a Sinistar menacing Smash TV, and even Satan’s Hollow or Bubbles for obscure picks. It’s an embarrassment of riches!

While these are all simple and primitive arcade games, this collection is like catnip to my retro sensibilities. There was a time that a single life in any of these games would have cost me a quarter, and that was back when I was lucky to receive my monthly allowance of two dollars (that sounds absurd, but my parents were well aware that my grandparents would “cheat” my childhood budget every chance they got). Now that I have the ability to play these games with infinite credits from the comfort of my own couch, I suddenly find myself trapped in a retro-hole, unable to escape until I’ve Sudsytapped far too many root beers. Something like Spy Hunter should only hold my attention for a whole board or two, but then it’s hours later, and there are 29 other games to try. Be glad this article came out on time at all!

But the thing that really gets me is that almost none of these games are represented today (I guess Gauntlet has survived, but it’s not like we’re still afflicted with Marble Madness), yet they’re embodied everywhere. Smash TV is the ur-twin stick shooter, Super Off Road is every racing game in miniature, and Pit-Fighter has a pretty clear through line to Mortal Kombat. Despite the fact that we need Total Carnage more than ever in these troubled times, the majority of these franchises are completely forgotten, flushed forever into the leaky plumbing of gaming’s history.

So that’s what it looks like when the world ends. Arcades are pretty much a relic of the past, and Sinistar lives no more. But just because that era came to a close, and Bally-Midway has become Bally-Midway-Ozymandias, doesn’t mean that everything from that epoch is gone. Time marches on, things die, and worlds are lost, but the new world brings with it the treasures of old, and it’s a better world for it.

Even if it is the end times, it’s going to be all right. We’ll always have Toobin’.

FGC #156 Midway Arcade Origins

  • System: Playstation 3, Xbox 360. Every game included here once lived in the arcade (or your local deli), so that might count, too.
  • Number of Players: Is there a four player game in this compilation? I want to say it’s just three… Oh, wait! Gauntlet! Four!
  • Hail Satan: I want to say I have never seen a Satan’s Hollow arcade cabinet out in the wild.

    I can’t imagine why.
  • For the record: I want to make it clear that I didn’t mean to offend any Native American, Macedonian, Egyptian, or Italian/Grecian friends. Just saying those countries used to be practically the center of the world, and now they’re not. They’re still great places, though! Egypt has all sorts of… uhh… sand? It’s like living at the beach!
  • Favorite Game (MAO): I think Smash TV is my favorite arcade game to have unlimited credits, and my least favorite arcade game when on a budget. I have never won so many VCRs in my life!
  • Did you know? Root Beer Tapper is, obviously, a “hack” of Tapper, the original game that featured a bartender serving beer. This version also was officially endorsed by Budweiser, and, of course, had plenty of product placement. However, even with the Bud scrubbed out, the victory screen for the Root Beer Tapper bonus game still paraphrases the infamous “This Bud’s for you” slogan. Couldn’t come up with a new line, lazy programmers?
    Tap it my friend
  • Would I play again: Before I played this, I would have said I wouldn’t bother. Now I have a hankering to return to Rampaging with a buddy…

What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… Kinect Star Wars. I guess I’m going to play this game Solo. Han Solo. Han Solo. Please look forward to it!