Tag Archives: grand theft auto

FGC #618 Body Harvest

SPACE STATION BODY HARVESTHelp me out here. I am trying to determine whether Body Harvest, a Nintendo 64 game released in 1998, absolutely needs a modern remake, or if it is a game that could only ever be a product of its unique time.

Body Harvest deserves the 21st Century!

Superficially, Body Harvest has a traditional videogame premise that could slot into any gaming epoch. Giant, vaguely mechanical bugs have attacked Earth, and it is your job to repel the invasion. Hell, that’s just Space Invaders! But the twist here is that you have the ability to 4-D travel along the timeline of their invasion, and you can battle bugs back in the far-off past of World War I or the far-flung future of six years ago (hey, 2016 seemed pretty advanced in 1998). And it isn’t just about slightly changing the background to match a setting, either, each of the four time periods featured in Body Harvest dramatically differ in the firepower, vehicles, or just plain people you encounter.

And that is the first check in our “please remake” column: this was Grand Theft Auto before there was a GTA(3), but with even more variety. Technically, this should not be a surprise, as Body Harvest was designed by DMA Design, which went on to become Rockstar, which was directly responsible for Grand Theft Auto 3 a scant three years later. You can see the exact gameplay with your little orange warrior skipping from car to tank that would be recycled for Claude hopping from… well… He got a tank, too, didn’t he? But, as much as Grand Theft Auto 3 and its descendants tried to mix things up with fun or interesting new vehicles, they still have nothing on rolling around in a Japanese Zero plane while splatting insects. The different time periods naturally lend themselves to a variety of vehicles, and Body Harvest deserves to have Adam grabbing a veritable Gran Turismo of automobiles during his 1966 trip to America.

Stay dampBut this also leads to a significant sign of Body Harvest’s times. There are multiple vehicles in every epoch… but they are all pretty much the same. A plane is a plane, a tank is a tank, and nobody ever likes to be railroaded into a boat. A modern remake of Body Harvest could actually make these vehicles feel distinct, as you better believe it would feel different to drive a Grecian jeep in 1916 versus an American luxury car in 1966. And the weapons? There is a mythical “sun shield” in early 20th Century Greece that functions exactly like a laser from decades later. Does that make a bit of sense? Nope. A game that was designed nowadays could truly make the gulf of a century of technology felt during gameplay.

And speaking of modern changes, you have likely heard that every franchise wants to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild nowadays. Well, here is a game that was Breath of the Wild long before Link ever considered his first sheikah slate. The worlds of Body Harvest are huge, and they even follow a familiar pattern of “fog” obscuring the world map until you find and defeat a proper giant bug. Unlike a similar DMA Design game of the era, Space Station Silicon Valley, Body Harvest revels in its open world gameplay, and rewards the player with massive playgrounds when they unlock the epoch’s plane equivalent (usually a plane). Yes, the regions of these worlds work like “levels” with bite sized challenges, but the future tech justified “fast travel” between different areas reinforces how Body Harvest was definitely a game before its time.

What in blazes is thatAnd, yes, that means these “huge” worlds are 100% “huge” with the caveat that they are areas in a N64 game. Just like how the giant bugs scale with your lil’ space marine, so they do seem to be gargantuan, formidable opponents… that can barely move. In the same way that exploring a giant world needs a little more horsepower to craft a truly giant world, the enormous bug monsters would be a whole lot scarier if they were not hampered by a system that allowed them to move about as fast as a sloth contemplating the benefits of a reverse mortgage. The whole concept here is that bugs the sizes of buildings are wiping out humanity, so it is super important that these creatures are immediately perceptible as maddeningly enormous. Unfortunately, that makes everything but the basic drones effectively immobile, so a little more RAM under the hood could really add to the threatening bug realism here.

In short, everything that Body Harvest tries to do could be made better by modern technology. You can almost feel the game that Body Harvest could be if it were released in 2022.

But would it still be the same game if it were released today? Because…

Body Harvest is a relic of the 20th Century!

Want to know the number one thing that surprised this 21st Century Boy when playing this pre-2000 videogame? Adam the Orange Warrior can enter houses. In fact, you have to enter a house as part of the opening of the game, and making progress through the various areas all but requires stopping into people’s homes. And they are not just dialogue boxes hiding in houses: these are actual “maps” that include hidden items, health refills, and even the occasional puzzle. Some of the “ancient Greek” dungeons could be mistaken for Zelda areas, and some of the future “sewers” could be entire (terrible) games on their own. And they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore! You know that if Body Harvest were made a few years later, “somebody put the bridge up” would simply be a communications dialogue box, and not a house including a person. The “dungeon puzzles” would somehow be modified to be solvable without leaving your car du jour, and any sort of regional/epoch variety would be completely lost. Actually seeing and interacting with people in a game where you are trying to save said people makes a big difference. You are not rescuing random humans that fill up your “humans lost” meter, you are saving that guy that lives in that house over there. The one with the water barrel that fills up your health! He’s important!

This is a friendly placeBut that does bring us to the whole “different time periods” problem of Body Harvest’s design. To be absolutely clear on what happens in Body Harvest, every epoch also has its own geographic location. 1916 is Greece, 1941 is Java, 1966 is a generic city in America, and 1991 is Siberia. If you find some NPC you like in the first time period, sorry to say that you are not ever going to encounter that guy again. It is a shame, as one of the coolest things a videogame can do is play with time travel for the ever popular “plant a seed, watch the tree grow” experience that is generally impossible in actual reality (or at least far too boring). However, this also means Body Harvest straddles the line between “open world” and “levels”. By the finale of the 1916 area, you can go practically anywhere on that map, and maybe find a random laser component or two to make your life easier. But the minute you activate the boss of the level and claim victory? You ain’t seein’ 1916 or Greece ever again, boy-o.

And that is antithetical to modern day “open world” design. The benefit of Breath of the Wild is that, barring Link breaking his own legs while shield-surfing down a mountain, you can always return to the starting plateau. You can venture around the world in any order you want, and then venture backwards through that same world as you so choose. Cutting off areas by epochs? That is either going to mean there are places you can never return to; or, even worse, making “backwards” time travel a mandatory solution to puzzles. It is cool to see a world grow up over a hundred years, it is dramatically less fun to be told you have to scoot back to previous areas every other scene because someone programmed in backtracking puzzles. That’s the opposite of an open world! That’s a crap world!

It must stink down hereSo maybe Body Harvest is bound to its own epoch. Maybe we could never see such a game today, because too many modern conventions seem to state, “we don’t do that anymore”. Designing entire building interiors just to support random NPCs? An open world that is not an open world? Levels? Screw that noise. That is some 1998 wiz biz, and we are unlikely to ever see it again.

Or not? What do you think, humble reader? Could we see an ideal Body Harvest HD? Or is it never going to be half the game it once was in an effort to be the game it could be today? Past or Future? And does said past or future include giant bugs?

The world may never know. Then again, maybe we’ll see Body Harvest HD before Grand Theft Auto 6…

FGC #618 Body Harvest

  • System: Nintendo 64. It was nearly a launch game! … But then some stuff happened.
  • Number of players: Adam Orange must fight a hundred years of giant bugs all alone.
  • Where in time is giant bugs: Most of the epochs are just an excuse to pal around in familiar settings of the last century, but the modern level in Siberia is either a tremendous diss to Russia, or an excuse for a zombie level. Or both! Siberia’s military facility (?) is lousy with all sorts of modern armaments, but it also has a severe nuclear zombie issue. Maybe it is supposed to be a Chernobyl reference? The dangers of modern technology? Whatever. Point is that it is a really weird final “real” level, and maybe speaks to the developers getting bored about 80% of the way through their own idea.
  • I do not like it hereAn end: The finale is, as was the style at the time, a level that forsakes everything that made the game great, and just an excuse to zoom around an alien asteroid in a homicidal hovercraft. At least you used the hovercraft in other levels/battles, so it is not completely out of left field; but it is still a sad excuse to not have a final “future” level with more interesting future vehicles. And then you kill a giant cockroach that is also your brother. Real Shakespeare s%&# right there.
  • Filthy Cheater: There are also a variety of cheats coded into the game, with some lifesaving (health refill, have all weapons) and some a little more on the silly side of things (have fat legs). Come to think of it, the N64 era was the golden age of ridiculous cheats. Or maybe we all just enjoyed big head mode a little too much.
  • Favorite Vehicle: For some reason, my dad has always liked the Ford Edsel. It is a weird little car, and my dad is a weird little guy, so it makes sense. So imagine my surprised when Edsels pop up as the first car available in the America stage of 1966! Despite the fact that the Edsel stopped production in 1960! Weird little choice, guys!
  • Did you know? Body Harvest was going to be an N64 launch game compliments of Nintendo publishing. And, according to a scant few interviews on the subject, Body Harvest was micromanaged by Nintendo of Japan quite a bit before the company outright dropped the title for theoretically “it’s too violent” reasons. DMA Design struggled to find another publisher, and Body Harvest was eventually released in its current (and only) incarnation. Worth noting? This inevitably caused a bit of a gulf between DMA Design and Nintendo, and considering DMA digivolved into becoming Rockstar… is there an alternate universe where Body Harvest stayed the Nintendo course, and Grand Theft Auto 3 is a Nintendo Gamecube launch game?
  • God bless America/bugsWould I play again: Maybe? Body Harvest is a strange game that is very much a product of its time, but it is a downright shame it never saw a follow up to its own unique flavor of gameplay. Grand Theft Auto 3 is the obvious descendant, but I could use a game with a rocket launcher and a few more giant bugs. So maybe I’ll try Body Harvest again for the experience.

What’s next? Looks like Valentine’s Day is next Monday, so we’re going to have a special Wankery Week article ready for the holiday of love. There will be cooking! Please look forward to it!

FGC #590 Final Fight: Streetwise

Today’s article contains one (arguably) graphic GIF of Playstation 2 quality. The image is basically the point of this essay, but if you are squeamish around such a thing, please be aware of its presence beyond the “read more” link du jour. Probably nothing you haven’t seen before, but, ya know, it bothered me, which brings us to today’s topic…

That logo is hotWhere is your videogame uncanny valley threshold?

Today’s game is Final Fight: Streetwise. As many people know, this was Final Fight’s attempt to enter the 21st Century with a Playstation 2 game that upgraded/marginally rebooted the original arcade classic. And, given Final Fight was always a handful of baseball bats away from just being The Warriors, this could have worked out well. Fight weirdos in strange costumes across a generally grungy city? Tale as old as time! And, while Final Fight: Streetwise maintained the concept of “beat ‘em all up”, it went a little off the rails when it decided to start aping the wrong crowd.

The blitheringly obvious greatest influence on Final Fight: Streetwise? Grand Theft Auto 3.

And this was not a good thing.

It is easy to see what happened here. Grand Theft Auto 3 was possibly the most popular and influential videogame of the era. And, to be clear, “influential” in this case absolutely means “there were 10,000 games all trying to get a piece of that sweet, sweet GTA3 pie”. This was the epoch when “sandbox gameplay” became a bullet point on every game cover from Final Fantasy to Hitman. Some of these copies were net goods, though. Spider-Man went from having “levels” to gaining the sprawling cities he always needed, and we likely would have never seen something like Fable without it being pitched as a “medieval GTA”. But, on the other end of the spectrum, we had any number of titles that wanted to make a claim at “gigantic, open worlds” without putting in the effort to actually design said worlds. And thus did we play through a number of games that would have been simple, progress from level to level affairs a few years earlier, but now had to have “hub cities” that were about as densely populated as Lost Springs, Wyoming (look it up!). And now you were forced to putter around for hours between missions and maybe the best you could hope for was some kind of collectible scavenger hunt. Apparently, the lesson so many game designers took from GTA3 was not that it had a fun, varied world where you were constantly learning you could do new things (God, I could write an article just about the exhilaration of finding a car jump ramp for the first time in GTA3), but simply that it was “big”, and you could walk around at your leisure. Oh, and GTA has a lot of “maturity”. Maybe we should shoehorn some cusses into our games, too…

FIGHT!Final Fight: Streetwise decided to chase the gameplay concepts and maturity of Grand Theft Auto 3 like a Japanophile running down a katana collection. FF:S takes place in a largeish (by PS2 standards) world with distinct neighborhoods, shops, and citizenry. There is the main plot, and a variety of “side quests” that can be distributed by assorted townsfolk/drug dealers. There are quests, both required and optional, that allow for the player to experience an escalation of regular gameplay, or more “minigame”-like fare. And, while Final Fight has always been a “street” franchise that included mature themes (the boss of Level 3 is a corrupt cop! You can eat his gum!) and roaming, malevolent gangs, the decision was clearly made at some point to make Final Fight: Streetwise feature characters that could be immediately described as “hardcore”. The central problem of this story is not a princess kidnapping, but a new drug on the streets. Our current hero is battling in an underground fight club to make ends meet, and all the previous protagonists are all suffering from various states of decay and corruption. And the new characters are all either morally compromised, or clearly too good to survive the whole of this adventure. This is a real story about real people in a real mean neighborhood.

And, unfortunately, you are not at all prepared for how this game is blitheringly, rock stupid from top to bottom.

You can read a game summary, Final Fight wiki article, or even the previous paragraph and think to yourself, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” You may be like me, and imagine a game that indulges in that “grim ‘n gritty” style, but, even if it’s not your thing, it can still be good. It has happened before, right? It doesn’t have to be bad! This is a Capcom game! They know what they’re doing!

This happens all the timeWell, bad news, folks, Final Fight: Streetwise is an aggressively stupid game. There is no other way to describe it! This is a story where the featured characters are all idiots that always choose the single stupidest move possible. “This guy tried to kill me once, but maybe if I be polite, things will be better… whoops, got tricked, now he tried to kill me again.” That’s a plot point! It is meant to be a surprise when the mafioso that initially threw the protagonist into a deadly pit fight then again tries to kill the hero through an immediate bout of arson even though he was being so polite. And, granted, “being polite” should be rewarded for Kyle Travers, as his default mode is just cursing and punching people. I am not just talking about during gameplay, either! Kyle immediately resorts to fighting literally everyone he encounters. With a deft hand, a writer could portray Kyle as a man that knows he is in a rough situation, and immediately reacts to even the slightest kindness with inversely reciprocal brutality. But this is not a story written by a deft hand. This is a story about solving every problem with punching, and being rewarded for punching as hard as possible. And this translates to the gameplay, as literally everything in this world, from the sidequests to the gyms where you can spend your rewards, exists exclusively to power Kyle’s punches. And, again, this is a videogame, that could work. But, unfortunately, it all works to make this Final Fight world seem entirely too small to support the kind of game that could be happening here. It makes every corner of Kyle’s quest feel… stupid. This is a stupid hero doing stupid things in a stupid world.

A meeting of the mindsBut it is still a world. And it is a world that, with its “streetwise” aesthetics, tries to be realistic. The voice acting and graphics are great (by a Playstation 2 standard), and, if you are willing to forgive a number of (stupid) limiting choices in the game, you could easily see this as more of a “real world” than the cartoon world where you frequently see a dude in a gi tossing fireballs out of his hands. The venues in Final Fight: Streetwise are like those from the original Final Fight: subways, fighting rings, and the mean streets. And, while there are a few fantastic special moves as Kyle levels up, the majority of the fighting is based on traditional punches, kicks, and grapples. It is easy to slide into the simple comfort of playing this generally mundane game, and imagine you are controlling a real character in a real world.

And then you bash a sleeping dog with a baseball bat.

Here comes a GIF of that thing I just said

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 #421 Saints Row 4

Saints!Saints Row 4 is an over-the-top videogame about a world beset by aliens, destroyed, and then rebuilt in a Matrix-esque virtual reality wherein your player avatar, The President of the United States, is granted amazing super powers in an effort to eventually conquer the alien threat and conquer all of time so as to save the human race.

So let’s spend this article talking about urban planning.

Wait, sorry, I have been informed that it is moderately possible to stay on topic while addressing this blatantly boring matter, so we may as well give that a try. Take two…

Saints Row 2 was an amazing little chunk of a game. After Saints Row was reviewed as “like Grand Theft Auto, but we forgot to figure out the ‘but’”, Saints Row 2 shook the gaming world by being the most Grand Theft Auto-est Grand Theft Auto to ever Grand Theft Auto. That is to say, the Grand Theft Auto from before Rockstar decided to smother any fun in the franchise by sticking its head so far up its own butt that no excitement could ever escape this airtight asszone. And it wasn’t just about a completely bonkers plot that may or may not have contained covering sections of the city in raw sewage! No, Saints Row 2 took the customization features of San Andreas and dialed them up to eleven. So many options! So much clothing! Hell, they had to build an entire mall to house all those shopping choices!

And, in my humble opinion, that mall might be the best part of Saints Row 2.

WeeeeeYes, it’s just one silly area. Yes, it’s an area that probably ultimately only exists for one set piece mission that involves a shootout in a mall (that seems less funny in 2018). And, yes, I might just like it because I have a weird inclination toward hanging out at any mall, virtual ones included. But whatever the original reason for that lil’ shopping center, it is one of my favorite spots, and a significant reason for this is simple: it’s a place. It is somewhere in the Saints Row 2 city that you can actually go. It’s not just another empty, set-dressing building. It’s a real location, and, even if there is an obvious “now loading” parking garage or elevator, it still feels like an organic piece of the city. It’s not just a place to customize your trench coat, it’s a place, and it makes the world of Saints Row 2 feel that much more real.

And, like in our blighted present, you can never go to the mall again. Saints Row 3 dropped not only the mall, but seemingly the entire concept of going inside a big, open building.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, people noticed. I noticed. Saints Row 3 was an amazing game, but almost everyone seemed to recognize that its base city was somehow… less. There were more exciting cutscenes, set pieces, and the occasional reason to deploy a parachute after leaping from your hover-bike, but there weren’t any malls. There weren’t any places that made the SR3 city feel like a real place; simply stores that were singular rooms, and the occasional “level area” that felt very much like a Hyrulian dungeon. The Saints Row 3 city was a shell of the former glory of the series, particularly at a time when other franchises seemed to be moving forward with more immersive worlds.

And then Saints Row 4 effectively told the world that that was good enough, and outright reused the “old” city of Saints Row 3. New game, old city. Party foul, Volition, directors of Saints Row 4. You destroyed half the fun of an open world game before I even opened the box.

Tanks for the memoriesOf course, anyone familiar with the franchise or its producers knows the truth of the matter. In short, without reusing assets to an absurd degree, there literally would be no Saints Row 4. And that would be a major loss for the universe! Saints Row 4 is an irrational amount of fun, predominantly because it takes the typical, mundane world of Saints Row 3 (well, as mundane as any world with Mayor Burt Reynolds could be) and adds super powers. Run like The Flash, fly like Superman, and telekinetically whip some cars around like Matthew Malloy (like you can’t use Wikipedia). When you were previously tethered to finding a conveniently unlocked car every seventeen seconds, being able to Hulk jump straight out of a lake and onto a building is a bit of a game changer, and truly makes Saints Row 4 its own experience. The wisdom of Solomon is telling me you don’t need a new city when you’ve got the speed of Mercury.

But you know what? Let’s stop trying to justify the loss of a new city, and acknowledge that Steelport, the official city of Saints Row 3 & 4, is actually pretty great.

Consider the number one complaint about modern open world games: there’s nothing to do. From Breath of the Wild to Skyrim to Dragon’s… Dogma? Age? Something like that… For all of those worlds, it seems the number one complaint is that there’s a crazy, humungous world to explore, but nothing to do. And that makes perfect sense, as any neighborhood where every dungeon and dragon is squished together is going to feel a bit claustrophobic. If your horse doesn’t have anywhere to run around, everywhere is going to feel like Hyrule Field, and then you may as well just be playing an N64 game. A big world needs the option to feel boring, because wide open spaces are practically a requirement.

WeeeeeeeBut all of the open world games named a moment ago are fantasy-based worlds. An empty field feels natural in Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls because “the wilds of the frontier” are practically built into the genre. That’s not going to fly in an urban environment, because, come on, when was the last time you saw seven inches of a city uninhabited by anything. In New York City, I saw a landlord-tenant dispute over a sleeping bag. This means that, assuming you want your sandbox city to be remotely realistic, it’s time to populate every millimeter of the place with something. There are no nice rocks or fields of tumbleweed in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; no, every bit of the city has to have a building or fountain or maybe just a spot where some dude carrying a dildo spawns. You need something, otherwise the world is going to look unfinished.

And then there’s the form and function factor. This is a proper videogame, not some manner of Endless Ocean nonsense, so there are missions. Missions require venues, so of course robbing the bank or destroying the alien antennae needs a spot to be marked on the map. So that means you have to build a bank or an antennae. And they can’t be next to each other! No! There must be some space between them. And there’s a car chase at the tail end of the mission? Wow, better design the streets around that for some interesting twists and turns. Don’t forget to add a fruit cart! Now multiply that kind of thinking by about, what, twenty? To account for all the story missions? And how many optional missions are there? How many street races, ragdoll showcases, and gang fights have to be included? And what do you do when missions start running into missions? It’s not like every section of the city is walled off entirely; you need to account for jobs that will use the same highways and byways. Everything has to fit together, and I don’t have to remind any artists out there how difficult it can be when you have to change just one thing, and are then forced to change every damn thing around it. Smoothing out one road might change the entire shape of the city!

Just thinking about it gets me exhausted.

Take a lookBut this is the strength of Steelport. With a limited number of changes, the same city was used for two different games brimming with content. And that’s amazing! Considering that Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4 have dramatically different movement options available (a tank is not the same as Supergirl speed), the fact that the same city can be used at all is a minor miracle. And once you factor in all the missions across both games, well, it seems a little silly to be worried about the loss of a few open buildings. Yes, you might not have the same “lived-in” feeling of Saints Row 2, but SR3 and SR4 both use their shared city to do their jobs incredibly well. If you can use the same city to stage a noir-ish gang war story of betrayal and luchadores in the same place as a sci-fi epic featuring aliens and Agent Smith, then you’re clearly doing something right.

There’s nothing lazy about building something to last, and there’s nothing indolent about Steelport. This is how you reuse assets: by building something amazing and adaptable right from the beginning, and showcasing that remarkable flexibility. Here’s to the city planners of Steelport, because they know how to shape a city for the ages.

Though I do still miss the mall…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

  • System: Available on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The Gat Out of Hell expansion (/entirely new game) came out at just the right time to boot this one up to the current gen consoles.
  • Number of players: Like SR3, this one has multiplayer that I have literally never tried. Let’s assume it’s good!
  • Favorite Weapon: There is a gun that inflates people’s heads. While I would like the ability to randomly inflate other body parts (I would very much like someone to explode thanks to unreasonably swollen calves), I can’t say no to N64-style body morphing.
  • OuchiePresident for a Day: It impacts practically nothing, but this title begins with your protagonist as President of the United States. I would personally like to play more adventures where you’re a Super Hero President… but then I start thinking about how my ideal game is Dynasty Warriors: Oops All Presidents, and how much it would kick ass to take out hordes of enemies with an extremely over-leveled William Howard Taft.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes. This is one of the few titles I actually completely Platinum’ed. I would be more proud of that if it didn’t involve rubberbanding a controller so I could fly around on a hover bike for an hour…
  • Did you know? This game canonizes the “Saints Row 1 model” character as a virtual reality created “boss” during one mission. This means that, without a doubt, if your protagonist is female in Saints Row 4, she’s trans, and not just implied to “look different” like in Saints Row 2. I think this means we have exactly one videogame franchise with a potentially trans hero. Progress!
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. I intended to play through Saints Row 4 on PS4 for this review, even… but it’s a long game! And I have a 100% save file right there on PS3! And I like running around like an invincible idiot! It happens!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain Commando! Caaaaaaptain Commaaaaaando! Or… maybe I’m thinking of something else…. No matter! Please look forward to it!

Where did it all go?