Tag Archives: giant robots

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

What's the sitch?Steven Universe is an animated series that originally premiered on Cartoon Network in 2013. It ran through 2019, and wound up with five seasons and 160 episodes. It also birthed three complete JRPG-style videogames, and two “quickie” mobile titles.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil is an animated series that originally premiered on Disney XD in 2015. It ran through 2019, and wound up with four seasons and 140 episodes. It also birthed… zero videogames.

And can you guess which franchise starred a female lead?

Look, there are a lot of excuses that could be bandied about here. Cartoon Network and Disney have very different needs for merchandising! Disney Channel doesn’t care about videogames! That’s why we’ve got a Gravity Falls game sitting over on the 3DS! No… wait… how about Steven Universe was more of a hit! I mean, it’s not like Star vs. the Forces of Evil was the biggest premiere Disney XD ever had! Oh, it was? Award winning, too? Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation? Okay, guess it was popular and award winning. Steven Universe was more action-based? No, I’m pretty sure there are more episodes of Steven eating donuts around Beach City than there are of Star blasting regenerating lizard monsters with magic. And don’t even attempt to claim that somehow the curators of Star Butterfly aren’t as “into videogames” as the staff behind Steven Universe. Steven might live near an arcade, but Star has frequented an arcade dimension. Star vs. The Forces of Evil was a success in every way, and a direct contemporary of Steven Universe. But only one franchise got an “Apple arcade exclusive” title…

Let's goIt is hard not to see this as an issue with the fact that one game very clearly has a male lead, and the other is “stuck” with a woman in the title. And even that is bullshit! Steven Universe lives in a world that is wall-to-wall ladies, with the literal strongest beings in the (Steven) universe standing tall as gigantic women. And, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil certainly stars Star, her constant companion, Marco Diaz, is the obvious mundane audience surrogate. She is a fantastic magical girl from another dimension, he is a normal kid that likes karate. Guess which one is supposed to be more relatable to today’s tweens? If you are getting all gender binary here, you could easily argue that Steven Universe lives in a world already conquered by women, and Star Butterfly lives in a world that is constantly being overrun (in benevolent and malevolent ways) by men. But marketing is marketing, and Steven Universe’s pink shield is apparently assumed to be powered by testosterone, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil is wall-to-wall puppies and unicorns (I mean, not going to lie, there are a lot of unicorns. But they’re the kind of unicorns that gore people [in Disney appropriate ways]). Star is a show for girls, girls don’t play videogames, so games for girls are pointless.

And, yes, if you are reading this blog, Gogglebob.com recognizes that you likely do not agree. There are plenty of games “for girls”, whether they be titles that are distinctly aimed at the demographic (DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power has “girls” right there in the title), or games with situations that generally happen to have more feminine interests (Style Savvy, Vocaloid singalongs, anything involving a tanuki-based economy). Not everything has to be Barbie Horse Adventures or Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen stalking the malls. But, by the same token, there are any number of books, television shows, and movies aimed squarely at the pink demographic. And some of ‘em ain’t bad! My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a show/comic book that was one fluorescent horse away from being the girl demographic ideal, but it also wound up having universal appeal with fun, likeable characters. Just because an idea is distinctly young woman-coded does not mean it cannot be universal.

Too shinyAnd that brings us to today’s game. Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? Brothers and sisters? This game couldn’t be more “for girls” if it friggen came with [REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRAPH DELETED FOR RAMPANT SEXISM].

If you did not watch Disney Channel back in the early 21st Century, here’s the sitch: Kim Possible is a teenage cheerleader by day, and a James Bond-esque super spy by night. Her parents approve of her globe-trotting adventures (though there are concerns about flying to South America on a school night), and her problems are usually solved through a combination of cool gadgets and expert gymnastics. As is often the case with superheroes, though, her villains are a significant draw here. Señor Senior, Senior is a rich, generally pleasant old man that is currently spending his vast fortune on seeing that his spoiled son, Señor Senior, Junior becomes a capable supervillain. Frugal Lucre is attempting to commit super crimes on an extremely limited budget. DNAmy is creating chimera monsters thanks to her love of ersatz beanie babies. And the biggest, baddest villain of all in Kim’s rogue’s gallery is Dr. Drakken, the diabolical mad scientist that is responsible for about 70% of all trouble that comes Kim’s way.

Dr. Drakken also spends most of this game on the couch.

The plot of Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty typical television trope. While on a normal mission, Dr. Drakken and Ron Stoppable, Kim Possible’s sidekick, both attempt to grab a magical monkey idol. Unfortunately, the idol switches the “brains” of Drakken and Ron, so both are stuck inhabiting each other’s bodies. SlappyDoes this lead to wacky hijinks? Kinda! But it mostly means that the two male leads of the franchise spend most of the game appearing in loading screens committing shenanigans appropriate to two cantankerous roommates. Villain Drakken and Hero Ron are both sidelined for this whole story, and it is the motivating factor in getting their female counterparts to work towards the same goal. Kim Possible has to save her sidekick/boyfriend (please see continuity footnotes in the bullet point section, true believers), and Shego, Dr. Drakken’s green and black-clad muscle, has to save her boss. Bitter rivals have to unite to save their men!

Did you catch that reversal? This is a videogame that starts from the premise of transforming its two most prominent males into damsels in distress that must be rescued by the female heroes. And it was more subtle than in Super Princess Peach!

But more important than the clear example of girl power™ on display is that Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty damn fun game. It is a 2-D platformer / beat ‘em up! On a console! In the Playstation 2 era! That hardly ever happened! And, while there is definitely some Playstation 2 “jank” going on here, it is a pretty visually impressive game. And that’s great, because the gameplay nailed the general concept of flying around as a pair of extremely lethal gymnasts. You run. You jump. You rebound off walls, swing from flagpoles, and utilize a grappling hook when things get dicey. Is it perfect? No, because 2-D-in-3-D platforming has some issues, and this is a game that really needs some “coyote time” so Kimmy stops falling off ledges. But is it fun? Does it work? Yes and yes. Through multiple exciting venues (karate temple, British city streets, Tokyo city streets, zeppelin, snow base, giant monkey robot), Kim and Shego gracefully leap through lasers, wrecking balls, and a surprisingly high number of traffic jams. And the combat ain’t half bad, either! It is not Viewtiful Joe (about the only similar game I can think of from this era), PEW PEWbut it is also more interesting than your typical arcade beat ‘em up. And your heroines have gadgets and acrobatic moves that are beyond the usual “punch” and “jump kick” that are your customary, limited options. And, regardless of whether you can piledrive your opponents, it still feels enjoyable and kinetic, so you never lose that feeling of “running” through a level in pursuit of the latest villain.

In short, KP:WtS? is a game that really feels like inhabiting the title character. This is not some ridiculous adaptation wherein a sitcom has to be transformed into your funny dad fighting dinosaurs, or something completely out of left field wherein a beloved childhood icon is gathering eggs. This is Kim Possible, and you are controlling all the most action-y aspects of her adventures. And you get to play as the fan favorite villain, too! And, give or take a naked mole rat, you are only playing as women, and those women are the people driving the plot. In a property made for “girls”, the “girls” are center stage in every way, and there are zero concessions made to the “boy demographic” that is assumed to be the source of all videogame revenue. There is no unlockable bikini costume or super-powered male alternative character. This is a game about girls for girls. It is a girl game. And this boy enjoys it, too, because it is a great videogame.

tick tickAnd nobody has ever played it, because it was assumed to be just a random licensed game in 2006. There is no dedicated, marginally unhinged fandom online calling for a sequel. This title is forsaken to be forgotten in a year where the top games were Dead Rising, Bully, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Boy games. One of those games literally has two women in the title, but undisputedly stars a boy having a boy adventure with kidnapped childhood girlfriends and evil wizards. That is what is remembered. That is what today’s games are based on. And our modern Kim Possible properties aren’t even granted the chance to have a game.

Steven Universe gets a trilogy. Star Butterfly can’t even swing a gacha title.

We need more girl games. It is Possible.

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

  • System: Playstation 2. Look, Buena Vista Games had no idea Nintendo would eventually name one of their consoles after this game.
  • Number of players: There are multiplayer shenanigans available, but there does not appear to be a Kim/Shego continuous co-op mode. Boo!
  • Cat PossibleWhat’s in a name: Oh yeah, the title is a pun. “What’s the sitch(uation)” is Kim’s usual catch phrase, and the brains of Drakken and Ron got “switched”, so, “What’s the switch?” Or maybe it is about switching between Kim and Shego? Whatever! There are layers!
  • Voice Acting: The whole of this game features the actual stars of Kim Possible reprising all of their usual roles. So Drakken’s voice actor, John Di Maggio, is appearing in his seventeenth videogame of the Playstation 2 era. This might be a first for Patton Oswalt, though…
  • Continuity Corner: Alright, Kim Possible nerds, let’s all agree that Ron Stoppable and Kim Possible are officially dating during the events of this game. Yes, this adventure could be taking place at any point in the timeline according to dialogue, but Kim uses the EMP “toy” gun here, and she recognizes this weapon of choice. Said gun is introduced during the same adventure in the television series wherein Kim and Ron started dating, so, logically, this whole game has to take place after Kim Possible: So the Drama. Sidenote: I enjoy watching Kim Possible.
  • Favorite Stage: There are a few levels that go full hog on the whole “this is a videogame” thing. There’s an inexplicable clocktower in the middle of England! … Wait… is that supposed to be Big Ben? Does Kim Possible break a national landmark so she can get through a door? Bah! What’s important is that the final stage involves climbing a Godzilla-sized mechanical monkey, and that has more gears and platforms than anyone could ever need. Gimme some of dat.
  • Favorite Costume: You can earn costumes by collecting doodads throughout the various levels. The obvious best choice for both heroines is to have them switch outfits, but second place could go to Kim Possible’s fast food uniform. It looks very… normal for a character that is battling ninja monkeys.
  • Did you know? Speaking of fast food, the hangout spot in Kim Possible is a Taco Bell-esque chain Mexican restaurant by the name of Bueno Nacho. It is a pretty typical, deliberately campy parody of “tex-mex” American restaurants, and the “original location” is seen during the Kim Possible Movie…

    This is Bueno Nacho

    Look familiar? This is clearly a mashup of an old school McDonalds and another piece of “fake Mexican” Americana…

    This is South of the Border

    See? I’m not the only one that has been there!

  • Would I play again: Really fun, but really unlikely to play again. There are collectibles in every stage, and the actual gameplay of the levels/bonus levels are enjoyable. But after you’ve done everything? You’ve done everything. And if I am looking for a game that really has “joy of movement” down, Mario is right over there…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power for Nintendo Switch! Yes! Let’s put our money (words?) where our mouth is (where words come from) and look at a modern videogame “for girls”. Please look forward to it!

I'm just asking

FGC #584 Avengers in the 1990’s

So mighty!Here’s a statement only 90’s kids will understand: The Avengers are the cheapest, most low-rent superheroes available.

To be clear, this is not to say that pre-Disney Marvel Comics didn’t have one hell of a superhero team on its hands. Ever heard of The X-Men? They were the bomb-diggity, and it is hard to convey to modern readers just how many children at the time were putting forks between their fingers and pretending to be Wolverine. This may have just been a result of the comics being fun and plentiful, but it is more likely that the X-Men were popular because they had a hit Saturday morning cartoon (that, if memory serves, had upwards of seven episodes across seven years), multiple tie-in videogames, and more action figures than you could ever hawk at a garage sale. The “culmination” of this massive popularity was the 2000 movie that defined superhero films/Hugh Jackman for a decade. And speaking of films, X-Men paved the way for other superheroes that were… also not known as Avengers. Spider-Man leaps immediately to mind, but this was also the era when DC Comics’ Batman came into his own grim popularity. And Batman was able to get there because his previous projects, like the Burton films and the amazing animated series, were also grand successes. And has there ever been a videogame console that didn’t host a Batman or Superman game of some kind? I’m not going to bother to do any research on this matter (the internet is all the way over there!), but it certainly feels like there was an Atari Jaguar Batman title! Point is that well before Disney decided to create its shared universe, superheroes were popular in all sorts of mediums.

… Except the Avengers. The Avengers were consistently forgettable.

Go robot goThe Avengers comics were always there (well, “always” as in “since Stan Lee decided to slap a bunch of his most lucrative properties [and Ant-Man] together”), and they were always at least moderately popular. The Avengers were appealing because they seemed to have a lot more latitude than other “superhero rosters”. Why? Well, in the absence of a clear Superman or Wonder Woman, you really could slot anybody into the team. Dropping a literal god for a dude that can shoot arrows? Sure! Bald “Celestial Madonna” because Magneto’s daughter is on vacation this week? Why not! But, unfortunately, this led to The Avengers not being as “established” as its rival teams (you know, other gangs where you could always count on spotting a Wolverine). This made for a franchise that was generally good, but also often something closer to Captain America and his Amazing Friends. Or, in the case of the number one reason some children of the 80s and 90s recognize any Avengers, Iron Man & his Amazing Friends.

While never as popular as Batman, Spider-Man, or The X-Men, Marvel had a moderate hit with an animated Fantastic Four series in 1994. This cleared the way for its “partner” television show (gotta have that “Marvel Action Hour” for syndication), Iron Man. Tony Stark was clearly the lead in Iron Man, but he was joined by a number of other Marvel luminaries, like Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. Were they collectively referred to as “The Avengers”? Nope! They were Force Works, which did exist in the comics of the era, but certainly not with Hawkguy. However, the basic concept was there, even if you had to wait until five years later to see the sequel series, Avengers: United They Stand, which lasted a whole thirteen weeks before fading into nothing. Why did it disappear so quickly? Likely because they based the whole thing on West Coast Avengers, a team that dropped Captain America for friggin’ Tigra. Tigra! The only Avenger to appear in 2019’s seminal musical film, Cats!

I don't understandsSo, through the 90s, kids that did not have easy access to comic book shops had one impression of The Avengers: they are the heroes that can’t support their own shows. Spider-Man stars in a 600-episode arc about some stupid stone tablet, and Captain America maybe gets to guest star in three. Lou Ferrigno will smash as Hulk whether he is animated or live-action, but Thor can only stop by for an episode or two. Iron Man gets his own show, and he winds up sponsoring refugee D-listers like Wanda Frank. And if these losers were to get a tie-in videogame, well, why should it goes well?

Captain America and The Avengers is a 1991 Arcade title from Data East. It is, like so many other licensed games of the time, a 4-player beat ‘em up. The variation du jour of CAatA is that you have the choice of throwing or detonating most background objects (Ninja Turtles only has exploding barrels! No options at all!), and some levels turn into shoot ‘em ups. That’s about it. So, like most other beat ‘em ups of the time, the game lives or dies on its heroes, enemies, and presentation. And how do those all work out? Poorly!

Your heroes are Captain America (yay!), Iron Man (woohoo!), Hawkeye (arrows are passable videogame weapons), and Vision (that guy). Your enemies are (per Turtle tradition) an army of generic robots that are wholly constructed of nitrous and dynamite. And the bosses? Well, there are more bosses than most beat ‘em ups, as you face a mid-boss and a final boss for each level. But quantity is no substitute for quality here, as your heroes face the likes of Living Laser, Klaw, Wizard, and Controller. Look, when you are facing a boss that is named after a videogame peripheral, you know the A-listers were too busy for this nonsense. Even more interesting villains, like Grim Reaper or Ultron, are reduced to “has a dash attack” and “has a fireball” do-nothings. And don’t even get me started on Mech. Taco, the Taco that walks like a mech (oddly, Mech. Taco has not appeared in any Disney flicks yet, but we all have our fingers crossed). Strangely, this means that noted Wasp villain, Whirlwind, comes off as the most interesting boss, as at least his windy powers impact not only the fight, but also the background and any incidental debris that may be scattered about. It’s neat! It’s maybe the only neat thing in the game!

I get that robot!Excuse me, there is one other “neat” thing: the Avengers couldn’t get through one game without some X-Men transplants. The Sentinel, a gigantic robot that is iconic for its relentless hunting of mutants, appears as a shoot ‘em up boss in Stage 2. It is identified as “Giant Robot”, but nobody is going to mistake that purple titan for the Iron Giant. And Juggernaut is the first boss to appear on Red Skull’s space station. This is easily the worst depiction of Juggs in a videogame (dude kind of looks like a hunched-over cyclops [not that Cyclops]), but this is unmistakably Charles Xavier’s beefcake brother. Dude is lumbering around as usual, just reminding you that you could migrate over to the X-Men arcade cabinet at any time. Wouldn’t you rather rescue Kitty Pryde than slug it out with the likes of Crossbones?

And if you want to play a game with X-Men anyway, maybe you should fast forward to Marvel Super Heroes In War of the Gems.

Captain America and The Avengers was a Data East joint, and, unless you were really into BurgerTime, you could be forgiven for assuming their Avengers tie-in would be lackluster. But Capcom! Now there was a gaming company to trust back in the 80s and 90s. They had Mega Man! And Street Fighter! And were able to make a passable game out of Talespin! And they successfully adapted The X-Men into a fighting game that spawned its own franchise! And the second game in that franchise was an Avengers game! Kinda! Marvel Super Heroes is conceptually based on the same Infinity Gauntlet Marvel comic series that would eventually become the most profitable movie duology of all time. But this version included the likes of Magneto, Juggernaut, Wolverine, Psylocke, and at least one multi-tentacled monstrosity. And there are noted Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk, too, so it marginally counts as an Avengers title! Probably! Oh, and if you wanted a little more plot, there was a SNES tie-in title that dropped three X-characters, and picked up a whole host of Avenger buddies! Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems, released in 1996, certainly should qualify as an Avengers game.

It also qualifies as yet another Avengers tie-in that feels cheap as hell.

Dem pucksThere are good bones here. This is a beat ‘em up with the occasional bit of 2-D platforming. Like X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, it is also a game where you can occasionally utilize special moves and combos like its attendant fighting game. This is a great change from the ol’ standard of “lose health/energy for doing anything” that has plagued many other Marvel games. And, while the roster cannot completely qualify as Avengers in 1996 (Wolverine and Spider-Man wouldn’t consistently join up until they had successful movie franchises), they are all roughly on the same power level, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to see Smart Hulk tussling with the same baddies as Captain America. Oh! And for a little variety, we do occasionally see a handful of areas where air is limited, so we basically get an organically incorporated timer for challenges. Got to get that heartrate up somehow!

Unfortunately, while the basic gameplay is marginally inventive (this is better than Final Fight with Captain America), the levels and their attendant enemies are anything but. For whatever reason, while the Marvel universe has some pretty amazing locales (Limbo is lovely this time of year), nearly all of the stages in MSHiWofG are forgettable, “video game-y” areas. There’s a lava level, ice level, sewer level, and aquarium (because who doesn’t need a water level in their beat ‘em up). Yes, you get to fly to Dr. Doom’s citadel, but it is more of an excuse to use a castle tile-set and incorporate a teleporter maze than anything. And your opponents through all of these battlegrounds? Well, they are simply “evil clones” of your Avengers, so you face armies of Iron Man-but-with-spikes, Wolverine-but-green, and Hulk-but-bald. Look, when Spider-Man is your hero without an evil clone, you done #$^&ed up. But do not think that just because an Avenger isn’t playable in the game that they will be left out of the fun. Daredevil gets a literal devil variant, Vision becomes a flying menace, and Hawkeye actually becomes a threat with an evil version that snipes from far-off platforms. Even an evil Silver Surfer slides through a stage! All the heroes you love! Ready for punching!

Dem pucksAnd it is supremely weird how this makes the whole game feel very… budget. There is never an explanation offered for this army of anti-Avengers, and their general designs are not distinct enough to warrant any further investigation on “who” these bad good guys are supposed to be. Is that supposed to be a She-Hulk that is also searching for the gems? No, because there are three of ‘em all in a line, and Jennifer Walters doesn’t have cloning powers. Alpha Flight, Canada’s premiere superhero team, seems to stalk around the Alaska stage, so you could totally justify their existence as our northern neighbors thinking they know best… but then the same “Evil Puck” creatures appear at the New York aquarium. And, somehow, the original characters make even less sense in this context. Blackheart pops up out of nowhere with exactly zero explanation as to why he is participating in this War of Gems, and Dr. Doom flees his castle to fight again later and unceremoniously die in space. You have the whole of the Marvel stable participating in the Infinity Wars, why forsake real, interesting villains for friggin’ Sasquatch?

I guess if you wanted to see the Avengers battle some actual villains, you would have to play their fighting game released the same year. Are you ready for Avengers: Galactic Storm? Because Data East certainly wasn’t…

Blast 'emFor reasons our top scientific minds are still trying to discern, this Avengers title is based on Operation Galactic Storm, an Avengers crossover from 1992 that is remembered by exactly nobody. This 1996 arcade game is the only proof it ever happened at all! And, while it is nice that we nearly got two fighting games featuring Captain America in a year, this roster is chockful of Avengers F-Stringers. Thor is on vacation, so please accept Thunderstrike! Iron Man is taking a powder so you can have the real man in armor, Black Knight! And Crystal, best known as being either Johnny Storm’s girlfriend, Black Bolt’s niece, or Quicksilver’s wife, is your standard one female Avenger rep. And the bad guys are exclusively Kree adversaries, so you are stuck with Supremor, Shatterax, and Korath-Thak. Remember last Christmas? When everyone was trying to find Korath the Pursuer action figures? No, of course not, that would be stupid. Korath looks like what would happen if Juggernaut shrunk in the dryer, and he is about as memorable as Cain Marko’s drycleaner (first appearance Amazing X-Men Volume 2 #15). At least we have Dr. Minerva, who is basically an evil Captain/Ms. Marvel. Wait! That just means we couldn’t get through another Avengers game without an X-Men character appearing. Dammit!

Oh, and the game looks terrible, and plays even worse. Please try to act surprised that the people behind Fighter’s History couldn’t produce a good licensed fighting game. Additionally, continue to feign shock that faux 3-D graphics in the mid 90’s aged about as well as Thunderstrike (if you have not already surmised, Thunderstrike is phenomenally stupid). About the only memorable bit in this Avengers title is that its story mode has instant continues (so you don’t have to blow quarters on a match continually “resetting” with every loss), and there are assist characters of dubious efficacy. It is cool that someone decided to model the Vision for this plastic universe, but it is a little saddening that this ‘droid of a thousand abilities only gets to perform a reverse dive kick. At least let my man bust out the laser eyes!

Dive kick!And what do all of these 90’s Avengers have in common? They’re cheap. They seem like knock-offs of other, better franchise games. Batman gets to fight Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face. Spider-Man fights Sandman, Venom, and at least one rampaging guerilla. Captain America can only ever fight Whirlwind, Bald Hulk, or the multi-tentacled avatar of a floating, green head. Iron Man gets dinky little sprites, Colossus gets big, chunky pixels and a special move that roars through the arcade. Magneto always shows up for Dazzler, while Vision can barely summon the attention of Ronan the Accuser. In short, back in the day, the most prominent Avenger would never rank above the most extraneous of X-Men. Kids of the 90’s were convinced that The Avengers were not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but little more than an opening act for the real heroes.

But, luckily, The Avengers were catapulted to greatness with the release of their 2012 film. And The Avengers never saw a “budget”, failure of a videogame ever again.

THE AVENGERS!

… Or The Avengers are stuck being those Avengers forever.

FGC #584 Captain America and The Avengers

  • Now I'm hungrySystem: Arcade initially (and used for these screenshots), and then Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Gear. The Game Boy and NES versions have the same name, but are generally different, also low-budget experiences.
  • Number of players: Get four in the arcade! Or two at home! Or zero on Game Gear, because those batteries ran out five minutes ago.
  • Favorite Avenger: Vision has a great walk. That… is about all that distinguishes these characters. You’d think there would be a significant disparity between a guy living in a robotic suit of armor and a dude that just shoots arrows, but here we are.
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Wasp appears as an assist “option” during the shooting sections. There is no sign of Scarlet Witch, unfortunately, despite the fact that Vision is playable, and Quicksilver bops in from time to time to drop health refills.
  • Hawkguy: Hawkeye is a playable character in this game from Data East, and also a participant in Sega’s Spider-Man arcade game. And he was one of the only two playable characters in the NES Avengers title. How did these companies all keep choosing Hawkeye!?
  • Favorite Boss: Red Skull seems to be cosplaying as Kingpin this time, and then he gets a giant, weirdly fleshy Terminator robot and a pope-bubble to hide in. This is literally the only boss in the game that is remotely memorable… give or take the taco.
  • I know this robot, tooDid you know? This localization is legendarily bad, but please be aware that octopus in Japanese is “tako”. Mecha Taco is clearly just “mechanical octopus”, but I guess someone was in the mood for Mexican.
  • Would I play again: This is not one of the great beat ‘em ups of our time. I’d rather play one of those.

FGC #584 Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems

  • But Hulk had hairSystem: Super Nintendo exclusive. Apparently there was talk of a Genesis port, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Nothing was learned from SNES Final Fight, so just one.
  • Hawkguy: No, seriously, what is the deal with Hawkeye? His clone appears in damn near every stage, and he is always a pain to avoid. Do arrows just work naturally well with videogame mechanics?
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Savage She-Hulk is an occasional opponent. She never appears as a boss, and she’s in full-on berserker mode, but she’s at least there. No, there are no evil Black Widows, Tigras, or even Jocastas to fight.
  • Best Surprise: Nebula, the cybernetic underling of Thanos, is the penultimate boss of the game. And she offers a pretty good fight, too. If I didn’t know better, I would assume her and her varied moveset was another transplant from the arcade fighting game, but, nope, she’s original to this one. And she’s a pretty fun cyborg for everybody!
  • Poor cyborgDid you know? There are sections where Avengers must fight underwater, and have a limited air meter. This makes sense for mostly human Captain America or mostly naked Hulk, but Iron Man has the same issue. He’s in a robot suit! It’s his thing! He doesn’t need to find a source of air! And, for some reason, everyone can breathe in space! What is going on here!?
  • Would I play again: I’ll take X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse first, and that’s only if, like, every other X-Men game is not available. This Wolverine adventure doesn’t even rank.

FGC #584 Avengers in Galactic Storm

  • System: Arcade exclusive, though it is being released as an Arcade1Up cabinet as a sorta-arcade exclusive.
  • Number of players: Two, though you can actually cooperate with your second player if you’d like. I have not ever seen two people that want to play this game, though.
  • Throw rocks!One Lady Avenger Per Game: Continuing the grand tradition of the most unassuming character being the absolute best, Crystal the Inhuman Princess kicks unaccountable amounts of ass in this one. She can summon meteors! And fireballs! And her hyper attack is a tidal wave! She’s easily the best Avenger available for this job, and puts Black Knight and his silly little bomber jacket to shame. There are, unfortunately, no Lady Avengers on the assist roster.
  • Favorite Assist: Giant Man is represented by a giant, inexplicably hairy arm flying into the frame. I like to pretend that The Avengers just became caught in a Monty Python sketch, and then I imagine what that fighting game would look like. For the record, it looks like Heaven.
  • Did you know? Dr. Minerva, Captain Marvel’s palette swap, did appear in the Captain Marvel movie as one of Carol’s Kree rivals. So that means we saw Minn-Erva on the big screen before Thunderstrike. Eat it, Eric Masterson.
  • Would I play again: No.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse! We’re going from one group of officially licensed Disney mascots to the big boy! Please look forward to it!

THE END

FGC #568 Wild Guns (Reloaded)

Now reloadingLet’s talk about cowboys, challenges, and save states.

Today’s game is Wild Guns, which has been on the ol’ ROB list for a while. Why? Wild Guns Reloaded, the remake of Wild Guns, was released a few years back, so I have a physical copy of that floating around the collection. And then, just about a year ago, Wild Guns, the original SNES version, was added to the Nintendo Switch’s online library. This is a rare opportunity for the FGC! This is a game that I did not play during its heyday, but now I can play its original and upgraded versions side by side on legitimate hardware! I can compare and contrast versions! I love comparing and contrasting! I’ve been doing it since grade school!

Unfortunately, I hit a pretty familiar wall in Wild Guns almost immediately: this game is hard as (Cement Man’s) balls.

Wild Guns is, at its core, a graduated shooting gallery. On a basic level, there is very little difference between the gameplay of Wild Guns and your average shooting gallery you might find at an amusement park (that’s where all the arcades went, right? They’re still safe and happy at Six Flags?). You play as one of two (or four) cowboys/cowgirls/cowdogs who stand in the “foreground”, a series of targets pop up on another plane, and they require a whole lotta shootin’. Unlike in your traditional shooting gallery, though, these targets shoot back, so you have to not only manually aim, but also shuffle, jump, and roll around the screen to avoid a hail of bullets. And, just for the fun of it, this ain’t just a Western, it’s a Western in Space (or, at least, some nebulous future), so half of your opponents are tanks, giant brain pods, and a whole murder of Terminators. And if you are at all on the fence about shooting robots with shotguns, let me assure you that the inclusion of all sorts of Contra-esque opponents is unequivocally a good thing, as they allow for a lot more varied attacks than your traditional six-shooter. It is simply more fun to dodge the claws of a giant, mechanical crab than your 700th stampeding horse.

Blow it up goodAnd, while this is a fun game, I am inclined to blame the abuser (the game) and not the victim (my poor gaming skills). Despite being remarkably straightforward, the controls and “details” of Wild Guns can often be confusing to a neophyte. I have an attack button, but what am I supposed to do when one random bad hombre wanders into the foreground? Use my special attack? That works, but apparently Up+Attack whips out a hitherto unmentioned melee weapon. Would have been good to know that three deaths ago! Oh, and everything is a one-hit kill. Probably should have mentioned that immediately, as one stray (yellow, tennis ball-sized) bullet is just as deadly as having a car thrown in your face. Granted, this kind of weakness-to-firearms is true to mundane existence, too, but I think we are all used to heroes that are slightly more resistant. And, give or take the occasional laser lasso, absolutely everything in Wild Guns is instantly deadly, which pairs poorly with depth perception involving a little more wiggle room than should be allowed. With the faux 3-D layout of these stages, it can be difficult in the heat of battle to determine whether a bullet is going to safely sail to the side, or straight into poor Annie’s heart. It takes some significant practice to survive Wild Guns, and it feels like not every death is actually the fault of the player.

Though one could argue that this is the entire point of Wild Guns. I played “upgraded version” Wild Guns Reloaded initially, and foolishly assumed it had modern trappings and an appropriate “easy mode”. I was wrong. While Wild Gun Reloaded contains an easy mode, that easy mode did not transform WGR into a cakewalk where I could just soak in some giant robot fights. When I lost my last life on easy mode, I chose “Continue”… and then had to start at the beginning of the game all over again. Wild Guns Reloaded is just like the original Wild Guns: you are expected to clear three entire stages on your limited count of lives, and if you do not survive, it is right back to start for you. Despite the fact that you could lose nearly all of your life within the first seconds of the first stage, you have to survive straight through two stages, two minibosses, and the final big boss capper for the level to see the next continue point. And, yes, in all stages, if you whiff it during the final boss, you are returned back to the start of that level, and have to survive every other onslaught all over again just for a chance to maybe learn the pattern that led to your death the first time. Wild Guns demands a lot of practice to reach the final battle, and, while the challenges are not insurmountable, they will lead to a player being much more conservative with their playstyle. You can pick up that lit stick of dynamite and toss it back at an opponent, but do you want to? Do you really want to take the chance that that explosion will be fatal, and then you won’t have enough stamina to outlast the monster at the end of the level? CRAB!Can you afford to stop dodging for even a second, lest you have to repeat everything ad nauseum? No one likes losing progress, so are you willing to risk your valuable time on a jump that may or may not land you right on top of a knife’s edge? You are constantly stuck making life or death decisions in Wild Guns Reloaded, and you know the punishment for a wrong decision is having to do it all over again.

And then I played Wild Guns on the Nintendo Switch Online “Snesflix” service. That emulator contains a rewind feature. And, shock of shocks, I completed Wild Guns inside of an hour without a single (logged) death.

Gee, wonder what changed?

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I support cheating in videogames. What’s more, I’m one of those nerds that can and will wax philosophic on the nature of if you even can cheat in a videogame. Is a “game” defined as a competition between two entities? Is it man versus (the people who programmed the) machine? In that case, is it cheating that I have way more experience with videogames than should be expected of a player? Or, put another way, do you figure the AI in Wily’s latest Robot Master is capable of understanding that it is fighting a Mega Man that has obliterated thirty years’ worth of its robotic brethren? I hack in huge experience gains in JRPGs because I don’t want to waste my time grinding. I hack in gigantic funbucks accounts in fighting games because I don’t want to spend the rest of the day beating Very Hard with Worst Character™ just to see a gallery image. And, yes, I use save states and rewind features in action games, because my time is valuable, and I don’t need to repeat an entire level (or, in some NES examples, an entire game) because the boss scored a lucky hit. Mistakes happen, and you should not have to waste your time because you hit the jump button without the all-important directional pad input that would transform that deadly hop into an invincible roll.

But, yes, it would be foolish to claim that using save states does not drastically change the game being played. Wild Guns is not a game that involves much resource management or having to think “three steps ahead”. Wild Guns is a pure action game, so if you have the ability to “rewind” as little as two seconds, you can dodge that bullet. You can throw that dynamite faster. You can duck left, when you now know dodging right would have been fatal. And thus do all those “life or death” decisions fall by the wayside. What’s left? A competent shooting game with some whacky enemies that are color swapped repeatedly, a handful of memorable bosses, and that one guy who does a hula dance on the side of a train. Wild Guns transforms from a white-knuckle ride to a pleasant-but-forgettable game with the addition of one minor gameplay option. And it is not just about save states! If Wild Guns included an “instant continue” feature or infinite lives, it would similarly become easy to live sloppily in this New Old West, and we would be talking about a different experience. Wild Guns is, for better or worse, defined by the existence of its omnipresent challenge, and changing that changes everything.

GET IT!?So what’s the moral here? Well, it seems that even if you have the ability and will to cheat, maybe hold off on cheating for a solid half hour before diving into the cheaters’ pool. Even if a videogame was made by three people, it was made to be played a certain way, and denying yourself that experience is denying everyone that made that game. Save states, rewind, or even your traditional Game Genie will change that base experience, and you are missing out on what might be the entire point of any given game. Don’t cheat, kids, because you’re only cheating yourself.

And next week, Random ROB has chosen… Battletoads? Goddammit! Forget I said anything. Cheat to your heart’s content, everyone!

FGC #568 Wild Guns (Reloaded)

  • System: Super Nintendo, then “Reloaded” on Playstation 4, Windows, and Switch, and then the SNES version popped up again on the Switch. It was also on the Wii and WiiU, but those systems feel like some kind of fleeting dream now.
  • Number of players: 2 player simultaneous! And 4 in Reloaded! That looks like fun, and I will give it a shot the absolute minute I find someone that can play this game and doesn’t die in seven seconds!
  • Go doggy goWhy Reloaded: I apologize if I made Wild Guns Reloaded sound impossible with its lack of contemporary conveniences. The widescreen format of this modern version really does feel like how the game is meant to be played, even if such a thing were not possible back in 1994. And the new characters (and possibility of four players!) are just aces. … And I’ll never beat it, because who has the time?
  • Favorite Character: Every character except Clint. Annie is the original cowgirl that can conquer an army of robots while wearing a frilly dress. Doris is the rarely seen videogame “big girl” with even bigger grenades (not a euphemism). Bullet is a Dachshund. This leaves us with Clint, who is only a generic Western protagonist. See you never, Space Cowboy.
  • Favorite Gun: Just to piss you off, sometimes a gun powerup will transform your deadly weaponry into something more appropriate to Splatoon, and you won’t be able to do a lick of damage for fifty bullets or so. This is evil, and I hate it. Or, when I’m playing with save states, I am capable of finding it funny. Weird how that works out.
  • Did you know? I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned “a videogame (that) was made by three people”, Wild Guns was put together over the course of five months with three core designers and two support staff members. In that context, Wild Guns is an accomplishment on par with the Parthenon.
  • Would I play again: This is a great “arcade style” game that could be fun to play for a half hour some random afternoon. Of course, if I don’t want that to be a frustrating time, I’m going to have to remember how to actually survive the game. Hm. That might make this a “no”…

What’s next? Random ROB actually has chosen Battletoads, but it’s not regular ol’ Battletoads, it’s Battletoads 2020! The future is now! Or at least Monday! Please look forward to it!

BIG OL BRAIN
So is it biting Metroid or Contra?

FGC #560 Einhänder

Get ready to pewHas it ever been good enough to be just, ya know, good enough?

Today’s title is practically a fetish of a bygone epoch. Square (later devoured and digivolved into Square Enix) is a game company that has been around practically from the beginning of gaming. It was the company that brought us Final Fantasy, The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner, and Rad Racer. Today, Square Enix is responsible for Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Quest, Nier, Tomb Raider, Avengers, and Just Cause. But there was a time in the early 21st Century when there was one major complaint about Square (+/- Enix): “they just do Final Fantasy”. And, inevitably, when “they just do Final Fantasy” was brought up, earlier halcyon days of lore were inevitably summoned as well. “Remember when Square used to make more than RPGs? Remember Tobal No. 1? Remember The Bouncer? Remember Einhänder?” And all involved in such a conversation were nodding sagely at the evocation of the “good old days” of experimental Square, and memories of all those old fighting games, shoot ‘em ups, and whatever the hell The Bouncer was supposed to be.

Except it was bullshit. It was always bullshit. Why? Because no greater than seven people in America ever played Einhänder! And don’t even get me started on Tobal No. 2! Admit it, you don’t have a “buddy” that can “score imports”! Oh, you already traded the disc in, that’s why we can’t play it? Stop screwing with me, Donny, I know what you’re up to!

… Er-hem.

KABAMSquare definitely had an “experimental period” around the late 90s. Mind you, it really was not all that different from Square’s earlier output of Final Fantasy games right alongside “weird” games like Live a Live or Front Mission. But by 1997, everyone was looking to Square when it struck it rich with Final Fantasy 7. With Square at the top of the heap, everyone was diving headfirst into their whole catalogue… or at least reading Game Informer’s list of Square releases. “ Einhänder, eh? That looks cool,” was evidently said by an awful lot of people that didn’t actually play Einhänder, because damn, Ein, I’m pretty sure you got outsold by the Final Fantasy 8 demo disc. There’s no shame in that, it was a good demo disc (and it may have been packaged with a game? Who knows?), but it lends further credence to the theory that goddamned no one actually played Einhänder.

And a lack of Einhänder playing is clearly the greatest shame of late 90’s gamers. Is Einhänder good? Listen, bub, it might be the best shoot ‘em up of the Playstation 1 generation by a pretty wide margin! Not only is it just a good shmup in the tradition of Gradius or R-Type, it also utilizes the Playstation graphics engine in ways that are still impressive today. This mix of polygons and whatever the hell makes a PSX disc go is a feast for the eyes, and, if this article had not already firmly established the release window for Einhänder, then it would likely be very easy to trick you, dear reader, into believing this was a game released at the established, tail end of a console’s lifecycle (and not practically at its beginning). And it is not just about the graphics here in Einhänder Land (apparently the moon and/or Earth all along), the gameplay of Einhänder is as good as a shoot ‘em up gets. You dodge. You shoot. You score the occasional powerup through shooting. Opponents have easily-understood patterns, and you are given opportunities to respond and retaliate in kind. Your Einhänder is fragile, but powerups can take a few hits, so you are not always teetering on the abyss like a Vic Viper that forgot to load shields. In short, Einhänder is gorgeous, fair, and simple enough that anyone could learn to be an Einhänding master.

And maybe that is why no one played the damn thing.

WATCH OUTLook, Square didn’t become famous because they created Mario, Sonic, or Mike Haggar. Square gameplay was and is always going to be associated with one major thing: dudes with swords using those swords in complicated ways. Final Fantasy was never a game that stood by the standard “A is jump” mantra of many NES titles, it was a game where you had to cycle through three different menus just to get your little red dude to swing his sword at anything more substantial than thin air. From there, not only did the method to make your wee swordsman to swing said sword get more complicated (what the hell is a “Runic”!?) but the worlds surrounding our fantasy armies became significantly more complicated, too. Where once we just kind of accepted that there might be a space station still floating around the relics of a lost civilization, now we had to have fictions that told long, intricate stories about these capital-A “Ancients” and how modern scientists were still trying to mate them with Pokémon for some reason. Where once your hero didn’t have a name, now not only did they have names, families, and complicated motivations, they also had identity crises wherein they debated the true nature of being loved. By the time Square got around to smooshing all its most popular swords guys against Mickey Mouse, the “default” story that had to be told was expected to contain a tale of identity theft, teenage possession, and at least thirteen dudes in cloaks that will probably reveal their true motives in approximately fifteen years. Square makes complicated games. Square seems to revel in making complicated games.

Almost the endAnd, don’t worry, Einhänder contains a plot that could reasonably be described as complicated for its time. While this is not on the same echelon as Chrono Trigger and other contemporaries pushing the boundaries of what could be in a videogame story, this is still nowhere near “princess captured, rescue princess”. Your Einhänder is piloted by an anonymous pilot that thinks they’re just doing some basic military maneuvers for the glory of their planet/celestial body/whatever, but, in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that this soldier (and all soldiers like them) is a lot closer to being on a suicide mission than anything that could ever be survivable. And that’s bad, apparently! In the end, your unknown Einhänder pilot learns the truth, rebels in pretty straightforward ways, and ends all war forever or something through sheer survivability, and we all learn a valuable lesson about reading the fine print on any potentially earned medals.

But, while Einhänder has what might be considered a complicated plot for a shoot ‘em up (the Space Invaders Ultimania guide is thinner than a dehydrated needlefish) it also has a plot that is barely there. There are cutscenes in Einhänder, and they’re almost exclusively featuring whatever giant robot or missile you’re expected to shoot next. Other than that? Any and all explanations for what the hell is happening are constrained to the opening and ending. And that’s brilliant! We don’t need another game that does not understand how some genres are completely incompatible with “now stop playing and watch a movie”. Einhänder is a white-knuckle shoot ‘em up wherein there should not be a second where you feel safe to put the controller down. It even suits the underlying plot! You are in mortal danger at all times! Sitting around and reading a data entry on your local corrupt government is only going to detract from the Einhänder experience!

… Except that means that you are probably going to miss the semi-intricate plot as a result. That means that this shoot ‘em up is going to come off as… just another shoot ‘em up.

Yo!And is that good enough? This is the best shoot ‘em up of a console generation from a time when its parent company could have greenlit practically anything (“You want a Mana game that drops all previous gameplay conceits and can barely be described using human language? Legend of Mana it is!”), and, yet, we live in a world without an Einhänder 2(: Revenge of the Moon). By whatever rubric Square had for its late 90s releases, Einhänder did not succeed enough to merit further promotion or even a spiritual sequel. To this day, the best Einhänder can accomplish is starring in a mini game or two across different Square Enix properties. Einhänder, in the absence of the “complicated”, thorny nature of its brothers of the era became slippery, and slid right out of the gaming consciousness. If you played Einhänder in the 90’s, I salute you, but it is likely only because you are naturally attracted to weird German robots, and not because someone recommended it to you. The byzantine games of the era sucked up all the oxygen surrounding Square titles, and Einhänder wound up occupying that same “I heard about ‘em before they were cool” imaginary headspace. Nobody listened to Smash Mouth’s Fush Yu Mang, and nobody bought Einhänder. It was a good game, but that’s all it could ever be. Ain’t no cosplay Sephiroths mingling with giant robot monkey boss cosplayers in 2001 or 2021.

Einhänder, you were amazing, and great at what you did. But all you did was what you did, and it looks like that wasn’t enough.

FGC #560 Einhänder

  • System: Playstation 1. Could be available on the Playstation 3, if, like, you lived in Japan.
  • Number of players: This is a game that has made “one” part of its identity.
  • There's a secret moveFavorite Ship: Screw the unlockable bonus ships, I’ll take the simplicity of the Einhänder MK III any day. I like my one-handed spaceships like I like my coffee: straight, to the point, and capable of demolishing entire armies.
  • Favorite Powerup: I am easily influenced by box art, so I love me some laser swords. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting some weird ass weapon in a shoot ‘em up, and then being rewarded for standing inordinately close to a monster spewing bullets while my sword apparently hacks away while wholly motionless. It is a beautiful showcase of swordsmanship.
  • What’s in a name: Breaking it down, “händer” translates roughly to “handed” in English, while “Ein” means “that dog from Cowboy Bebop”. So an appropriate localization of Einhänder would be “a game about that really smart puppy that now has hands”. I think it is supposed to be about the shape of the ship.
  • Difficulty Modes: In addition to the usual easy/medium/hard/dark souls difficulty modes available in Einhänder, the Japanese version also includes an “unlimited mode” that grants infinite lives at the expense of not being able to score points. And they removed it for the American release! That’s the best feature available to a shoot ‘em up, and they took it out! Those bastards!
  • Lotta pewsDid you know? There was a strategy guide for Einhänder published in Japan. I realize this was the heyday of guide books, but I would never consider needing one for a shoot ‘em up. I’m assuming it was just a few maps, some random lore/art, and every other page simply stating “practice until your thumbs fall off”. That’s a good strategy.
  • Would I play again: Put it on Switch, you monsters! It’s all I’ve ever wanted! Or at least I will claim that is true for the remainder of this article!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Network Transmission for the Nintendo Gamecube! It’s time to jack in to the net, Lan! Please look forward to it!

ROBO MONKEY