Tag Archives: HAL

FGC #502 Day Dreamin’ Davey

Behold the game that accidentally enshrines a sacred trifecta of gaming.

Day Dreamin’ Davey is clearly an odd duck. For one thing, for reasons no one seems to understand, DDD is widely believed to have been a cancelled NES game. Maybe this was the result of some confusing Nintendo Power coverage? Or perhaps one random nerd on the internet claimed it only existed in ROM form, and that was how a myth was born? No matter. What’s important is that Day Dreamin’ Davey is a real game that is available in real cartridge form, and you could hop over to eBay and pick up a copy if you’d like. Buy it now for a Jackson! Or don’t! Because the game sucks out loud. Despite the pedigree of the incomparable HAL Laboratory publishing this happy little adventure, this is actually a Sculptured Software joint. Don’t remember Sculptured Software? Well please remind yourself of this poor Gorilla or the even more maligned Robin of Locksley. Day Dreamin’ Davey is very similar to those adventures, as it is another game that features strangely incongruent graphics, unresponsive controls, unpredictable death traps, and a propensity toward delving into different genres and playstyles without actually excelling in a single one. If you are looking for what could be defined as a good videogame on even the most basic level, skip DDD, as you’d be better served playing something at least passable, like a LJN title (wait a minute…).

I hate this placeBut, while Day Dreamin’ Davey might assault your eyes and fingers like some manner of freshly sentient paper shredder that has returned to visit revenge upon the user that has forced it to dismember so many documents, it does at least contain an interesting concept. Day Dreamin’ Davey was released in 1992, a time when videogames as a cultural concept were still fairly new, but had already established a firm grip on the hearts and minds of a generation of kids. And, as such, there were likely a number of children out there day dreamin’ about life being a videogame while participating in mundane chores like sitting through lectures or eating lunch (?). Day Dreamin’ Davey is meant to portray the experience of your average “Davey” during this time, when every errant comment or confrontation culminated with imagining the world as a fetch quest or boss battle. As someone that may or may not have been a child with ADD and a propensity to shout “Get equipped with… Socks!” every morning while getting dressed, I can safely say that many kids related to Davey’s continual attempts to turn rulers into swords. And, while it may have taken decades for the term to be defined so succinctly, the very concept of DDD did make a wee Goggle Bob “feel seen”. The only difference between my younger self and Davey was that Davey had a complete lack of an imagination! He never fantasized about fighting a giant robot even once!

Okay, yes, that might be a little unfair to poor Davey. Davey is limited by the fact that he exists within a NES game, and, if we’re being honest, you could only do so much with basic Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. The average juvenile could imagine a thousand fantasy scenarios to justify punching a bully in a face, but Davey is limited by the number of pixel costumes that can be glued to his bulbous head. Day Dreamin’ Davey screams “we had a budget” from top to bottom, and the fact that it was a NES title released the same year we were seeing the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Super Contra didn’t inspire much confidence. This was a game rushed out the door so it would beat the inevitable collapse of its chosen system, and not a “culmination of a generation of hardware” title like Kirby’s Adventure. So, while Davey has ten day dream levels to fight through, they’re limited to three distinct “settings”, and each progressive stage in the same setting is just the further exploration of the same map/ideas as last time. It’s a pretty traditional setup for a NES game, and not terribly dissimilar from Super Mario’s original adventure only really featuring overworld, underground, and castle settings (“what about underwater?” “shut-up.”). No need to disparage Davey’s imagination for not fighting against the constraints of the console.

And what Davey did imagine? Well that’s how gaming was defined in the 80s.

STABSDavey’s first world is the typical medieval fantasy setting. We’ve got knights, dragons, and I’m pretty sure those are supposed to be hobbits continually biting at Davey’s ankles. Everything here is vaguely King Arthur themed (there’s a literal Excalibur lying around), but make it a little more generic, and it could be practically any fantasy videogame from the 80’s. A lot of early videogames were simply Dungeons and Dragons campaigns with one new thing. Final Fantasy was D&D with a floating techno castle or two. Dragon Quest was D&D with a unique bestiary. The Legend of Zelda was D&D with…. Okay, it’s just D&D. The first level is literally a dungeon with a dragon! So many videogames descended from table top gaming that was itself a direct descendent of Tolkien that borrowed from the likes of the King Arthur myths, and it all boiled down to one simple truth: man really wants to slay a giant, fire-breathing lizard. … Wait… is Super Mario Bros. a D&D campaign? No matter! Davey day dreams about dragon-slaying, so we’ve got that apparently base element of human desire covered.

And then we move on to the second setting for Davey: The Old West. In this case, Davey is deputized, and it’s his job to take out a few bad hombres terrorizing a tiny hamlet. Now, it may be your immediate thought that there were Western games, but they were by no means a dominant genre on the NES. And you’d be right! But the genre Davey is experiencing here isn’t just “Western”, it is the genre that Western belongs to: Gun. Davey is participating in a gun story. The parameters here? Davey is the law, and he alone can solve problems with his trusty firearm. Does that sound like something that is more prevalent on the NES (and all of gaming)? Have gun, it’s you against the aliens. Have gun, it’s you against a city full of drug dealers. Have gun for a hand, it’s you against robot masters. The Western trappings are just an excuse to draw Davey in a cool hat, everything else about this section is the same old story of one guy with a gun against the world. And that’s perfect for a videogame setting, so it was seen over and over again.

Hey cowboyAnd Davey’s third option for day dreamin’ is Ancient Greece. Give or take a kid that icarused around, this setting seems like the most unique for the time. Even if an ersatz Link was once forced to battle in Olympus, the era of philosophers and Spartans is not exactly overrepresented in gray, plastic cartridges. But then Davey reminds you that he is fighting a cyclops. And satyrs. And by about the time that Davey fights past an army of skeletons lurking in Hades, it becomes obvious: “mythology” as a genre is what keeps the gears of games going. If a title isn’t sampling an age of dragons and knights or modernity (gun!), its opponents likely have Greek origins. Medusa has turned many a would-be hero to stone, and Charon has ferried more than a few protagonists for a coin or two. It doesn’t matter if this is a temple or a haunted mansion, there’s a minotaur. Davey might go the extra kilometer by including Plato, but his visit with Athena has been seen in more than a few games.

So congratulations to Davey’s limited imagination. In a game that can barely clear the bar of “decent hit detection” or “providing a marginal amount of fun”, Davey managed to feature the three most prominent genres in 20th Century gaming. Hell, if Day Dreamin’ Davey included a level where he’s a sad dad trying to guide his helpless child through a level or two, it would have included future gaming genres, too.

Way to go, game everyone thought was cancelled, your limitations are iconic.

FGC #502 Day Dreamin’ Davey

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. Just because HAL is involved here, I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about Davey for Smash.
  • Number of players: Day dreamin’, like Davey, is a singular activity.
  • BANG BANGController Options: You can use the NES Zapper for the “shoot out” boss stages of the Old West areas. And, considering these events comprise maybe 0.03% of the game’s total play time, it’s uncertain why anyone would ever do such a thing. But keep that Zapper handy! Maybe trying to shoot a ten pixel-wide area is fun in some parallel universe where people played this on their CRTVs!
  • How the times have changed: Go ahead and show me a game made today where a child accidentally shoots his teacher with a (water) gun. Or nearly blinds a random classmate. Or beats a level by giving a bully a black eye. … Okay, that last one might have happened in Bully.
  • An end: This game is the definition of a story that “just ends”. I don’t think Davey even makes it through a full day of school-based day dreamin’. At a certain point (sometime roughly after lunch), the whole adventure just calls it quits, and Davey is declared a winner for not being sent to juvenile detention this week.
  • Favorite Level: Each of the three “worlds” seems to put an emphasis on a different aspect of the game. Medieval Times is more about the action and combat. Ancient Greece has more of an emphasis on finding particular items and using your inventory to overcome obstacles. And The Old West is more about resource management and rationing your money and bullets to properly police the town. Of the three, I’d rather the Old West section be the dominant playstyle, as I really like Davey’s hat it seems the most interesting and nuanced.
  • ALSO BANGSSay something nice: There is exactly one surprising moment in Day Dreamin’ Davey, and that’s when, as part of the final Old West stage, Davey has to duck down a tunnel, and finds himself in the Underworld of Ancient Greece. It looks and feels like the game has glitched out and dropped Davey in the wrong level, but then Hades himself appears and says “Deputy, what are you doing here?” before teleporting Davey back to the familiar western town. It is the exact kind of “kiddy crossover” that any child with a decent imagination would create with the “toys” available in this game, and the fact that it can surprise an adult gamer is just icing on the cake.
  • Did you know? According to studies promoted by Google, people spend about 47% of their waking hours daydreaming. You would think there would be more videogames about something we collectively do for about half our days…
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. This game feels like it was stitched together over the course of a long weekend. Everything about it is janky beyond any reasonable level, and it’s a lot more fun to play literally any other NES game. This is a confusing relic only to be played once every 500 or so games.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 5! A game that, in its native Japan, was released the same year as Day Dreamin’ Davey, a game we shall never mention again! Now it’s time to get a job! Please look forward to it!

THE RIVER STYX
“Welcome to Hell, Davey.”

FGC #464 Pokémon Snap

Gotta photo capture 'em allPokémon Snap doesn’t get enough credit for being the only Pokémon game that matters.

Pokémon Snap was not always a Pokémon game. It apparently started its time well before the release of the Nintendo 64 as “Jack and the Beanstalk”, a game that does not, in any perceptible way, exist. Was it intended as another Mario 64-esque platformer? A beanstalk-explorer like Ocarina of Time? Or was it actually some manner of JRPG? That last choice might be the most accurate, as, apparently, features from Jack and the Beanstalk were eventually integrated into the N64 release of Mother 3… which was then also scrapped. However, we do know that the original Jack and the Beanstalk did involve photography, as Iwata once confessed that Snap’s ancestor did allow the player to take pictures, but nobody could figure out why the player would take pictures. Yes, in the days before camera phones, selfies, and a built-in screenshot button, it was assumed that someone wouldn’t take random pictures if they didn’t have to (Final Fantasy 15 would be a very different game with this philosophy). What was the solution? Add something people actually liked looking at! Pokémon! Yes, Pikachu is on everything, so why not capture him on film instead of in a pokéball? He’d probably be happier that way…

So Pokémon Snap was designed around taking pictures of “peaceful” Pokémon, and not the pocket monsters that constantly assault young children scampering through tall grass. This, bizarrely, transforms the game into a first person shooter. You’re stuck on (literal) rails behind the eyes of Todd Snap, a kid who has been conscripted into a photographic war that vaguely resembles Disney Land rides. Todd must take the best pictures of Pokémon possible, and, while this is supposed to be a serene environment, he’s often asked to hurl apples and smoke bombs in the name of that perfect shot. Yes, Todd, we all believe that you beaned that Diglett into catalepsy because you were trying to feed the little critter. But, even with the nonlethal ammunition, the entire experience seems a lot closer to Doom than Pokémon Red or Pokémon Stadium. Even ignoring the lack of critter kidnapping, this is a very different Pokémon game.

And, in 1999, that is exactly what the franchise needed.

SAUR!Gamers almost always, as a rule, ignore tie-in media and how it impacts their favorite games. Many of Mario’s biggest fans grew up with the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and now publicly disavow any knowledge of that time Luigi was cursed by Mario’s errant copy of the Necronomicon, and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, had to be summoned to purify our favorite plumber. That is not canon. Nor is it canon that Link frequently uttered “excuse me, princess” while palling around with a surprisingly horny fairy. And Mega Man certainly was never green (unless he was equipped with Leaf Shield) and was never transformed into a robot caveman. Cartoon tie-ins (and their brethren: cereal, toys, and all other kinds of merchandise) are to be considered completely non-canon. And nothing much about that has changed in the years since Captain N. Yes, Persona and Blazblue have their own modern animes, but they’re wholly useless, as they just rehash the already robust story modes of their respective games. It’s cool to see Yukiko in full animated regalia, but it’s an experience just as empty as watching Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. Actually, at least MK:DotR had the decency to include original content to sate an appetite for stories…

But there’s a reason Pokémon: The Animated Series blazed the trail for the “anime invasion” of the early 21st Century. You could claim it was simply its easy to understand, but robust story. You could claim it was the generally gorgeous animation (for, ya know, the late 90’s). You could even claim it was just a matter of good ol’ Pikachu being as cute as a button. But all that is secondary to the real reason Pokémon: The Adventures of Ash Ketchum and That One Squirtle was good: it took the concept of Pokémon Red/Blue and made it real. Let’s be honest here: Pokémon Red/Blue (and Green?) is an extremely limited experience. You find monsters, you catch monsters, you fight monsters against monsters. The end. There’s an overarching plot, and there’s an evil organization of propulsion-based baddies out there to defeat, but the world of Pokémon Red/Blue is otherwise very… sparse. Psyduck might have an interesting pokédex entry about lulling opponents into a false sense of security with its odd expressions, but it’s effectively the same as any other random water Pokémon in a battle. And battles are all you have!

Love that eggBut that’s the rub about Pokémon Red/Blue, the iconic pokédex (which appears to be some kind of magical, hand-written encyclopedia in the original game) tells a tale about a much more interesting world of magical creatures. Marowak throws its bone like a boomerang. Jynx starts dance parties with its mighty hips. Porygon can live in the internet at will. Lapras was hunted to extinction by previous generations. Hell, the very concept of a “legendary” Pokémon barely exists in the gameplay of the original game. The super birds are just randomly found in caves (and one power plant), but their pokédex entries claim they are mythical monsters that appear before the damned (which, granted, is probably the natural outcome of encountering a creature that can capriciously summon lightning). There are oodles of lore, both magical and mundane, relayed through the pokédex, but absolutely none of it appears in the game proper. If you ever wanted to see a herd of Pikachu in the forest, or a Cubone gently weeping from behind its skull mask (you monster), you needed to look elsewhere. You needed to look to the Pokémon official anime.

And, eventually, you could look to the first game that involved Pokémon being Pokémon: Pokémon Snap.

Mew!Yes, Pokémon Snap has very different gameplay from other Pokémon games. But, more importantly, it allows its Pokémon to be divorced from their usual game-based battles, and lets Pokémon just be… Pokémon. Pikachu is allowed to scamper and surf around. Gyarados is free to swim up waterfalls with impunity. And events that could only occur thanks to a boring “level up” in the “real” games are free to happen as nature intended. Magnemites gather in a trio to form a Magneton, and Slowpoke fishes up a Shellder to become Slowbro. These are all events and behaviors outlined or implied in the greater lore, but never given a chance to breathe thanks to the gameplay being entirely monster violence based.

And, ultimately, this is why Pokémon Snap doesn’t need a sequel (though, let’s be clear, I would jump on such a thing immediately). What’s important about Pokémon Snap isn’t beanstalks, photography, or its gameplay, it’s that the world of Pokémon was finally fully realized in its proper, digital format. Taking random cues equally from Pokémon Red/Blue as the Pokémon television series, Pokémon Snap took the Pokémon franchise into a direction that allowed its monsters to be more than movelists. Yes, a thunder stone will evolve Pikachu, but wouldn’t you rather see Pika play with some berries? Maybe, maybe not, but what’s important is that Pokémon Snap created a world where that was possible. And that world…

Bewear!

Is now the world we live in…

Pikachu!

In more ways than one.

Pokémon Snap was the first Pokémon game to truly explore the world of Pokémon. And that matters.

FGC #464 Pokémon Snap

  • System: Nintendo 64 for the initial release, but also eventually available for Wii and WiiU. I highly recommend the latter versions, as the N64 is unpleasant to look at.
  • Number of players: Sorry, my dude Todd rides alone.
  • Wasn’t Hey You, Pikachu the first real Pokémon spin-off? I didn’t say it wasn’t. It was just not at all important to anyone but microphone enthusiasts. Didn’t Alakazam own a shop in that thing? Non-canon.
  • They can be friends!Not Canon: The three legendary birds hatch from eggs found around the various environments. But everyone knows legendary Pokémon don’t hatch from random eggs! They are summoned by Lord Arceus in a grand and unerringly confusing ceremony that takes place on a sacred mountaintop. And then they hatch from eggs! But smaller eggs! I think!
  • Make it a Blockbuster Night: I still have the original manual and insert that advertises how you can take your Pokémon Snap cartridge to Blockbuster Video to print out poképhotos. When Snap was rereleased on Wii/WiiU, it changed this functionality to online sharing. And that’s great, but looks like I still have to go to Blockbuster to hang these gorgeous polygons on my wall.
  • Favorite Pokémon (this game): Magikarp appears in more stages than Pikachu, so it is clearly the MVP of the event. And it only gets to evolve into a Gyarados in its final appearance. What a little trooper!
  • An end: Your reward for completing all the (relevant) tasks is an opportunity to float above the clouds and photograph the mythical Mew. And that’s right about when the game just wholesale turns into Killer 7, as you have to “pester” Mew into losing its shield, and then take photos of the naked genetic Pokémon. It’s an odd choice, particularly given the whole “cloud” area would be the perfect opportunity to involve other flying/fascinating Pokémon. Also, harassing Mew is just plain mean.
  • Did you know? A mere 63 Pokémon appear in this adventure, despite the fact that the entire goal of the franchise is “catching ‘em all”, which, at this point, was a measly 151 Pokémon. This is likely the result of Pokémon Snap being demoted from its original position on the doomed 64DD expansion, and not at all an intentional slight against my man Drowzee.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for a level or two. Pokemon Snap requires a lot of “grinding” to gain the more useful items (it’s a good way to get extra play out of a game with only seven short levels), but replaying stages with everything available is rather enjoyable. I wouldn’t say no to a portable version that already has a flute unlocked…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tetrisphere for the N64. It’s like Tetris, but round! Please look forward to it!

I have no idea

FGC #409 Kirby Star Allies

EVERYBODY DANCE NOWKirby is a hero because he never forgets his friends.

Kirby is a force of pure id. The diminutive pink ball (seriously, it’s canon that he’s less than a foot high) is an endless source of destruction for Dream Land. Assuming some malcontent were to lay a paw on even one slice of Kirby’s cake, our “hero” would descend upon the land in a flurry of annihilation, and consume every man, woman, and block from here to his goal. If an evil clown is riding a tomato, Kirby will consume fiend and fruit alike, and then move on to swallow one of those giant bear things. And let’s not even consider the property damage incurred by a reckless warrior wearing a bandana and wielding a hammer! Kirby should be hero and villain to the generally drowsy denizens of Popstar.

But Kirby is only considered a hero by all but the most stubborn of penguin monarchy. And why? Because Kirby is so damn inclusive.

Let’s back up a moment, and consider the concept of a supporting cast. In fact, since I’m psyched about some upcoming Avengers times, let’s talk about superhero supporting casts. Iron Man kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe, and he’s always had his Pepper Potts on standby. There’s also War Machine, who has appeared in every IM movie, and a surprisingly high number of Avengers/Captain America films. But then we have the supporting cast from every other Marvel film, and do the auxiliary characters ever escape the gravity of their private little universes? I’d love to see Thor’s Science Squad discuss matters with Spider-Man’s STEM kids, or even see some Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comingle with a Strange fellow or two, but I’m pretty sure the best we’re going to get is Wong comparing hair care tips with Okoye. And, in a way, that’s fine, because Avengers: Infinity War already looks overstuffed with every hero under Ego the Living Planet, but it also sucks for every incidental character that has ever outshone their main star. I’m not going to start shouting, “Bring back Peggy Carter!” but… well, okay, I might start doing that. Bring back Peggy Carter! And Iron Man’s dad! They were the best ones!

WeeeeBut the fact that the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has been so long lasting (do we have a single movie universe/franchise with one solid continuity that has ever lasted this long?) has erased our memories of what normally happens in superhero movies. Let’s look across the aisle at Batman. If you’ve got a Batman movie, you have to have the old standbys: Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, and Martha Wayne’s necklace. But past that? Well, if you liked a particular character from one Batman movie, there is absolutely no guarantee that character will ever be seen again. Lucius Fox? He’s a strong maybe. Robin? Depends on the decade. Batgirl? Geez, I know I’m one of six people that enjoyed Alicia Silverstone’s performance, but we’re somehow never seeing that character again. And even if a character returns, it doesn’t mean they’ll be remotely similar to their previous incarnation. Batman is always Batman, but Catwoman might be a Tim Burton fantasy, or a Bond Girl that incidentally owns a motorcycle. And the Al Ghul family can’t even stick to one nationality!

The unfortunate point of all this superhero talk is that it’s rough being a tertiary character when your best friend has their name in the title. Superman might always have his Jimmy Olsen, but not even the biggest blockbuster of 2017 is going to stick Etta Candy in anyone’s vocabulary. And that sucks for any audience member that actually prefers these “sidekick” heroes (or, as might be the case in that ridiculously male dominated field, heroine). If you’re looking for the benevolent Leslie Thompkins of the Batman mythos, please never watch Gotham, as she’s… a wee bit on the crazy side. But maybe she’ll be better in Batman’s next adaptation!

But Kirby doesn’t have that problem. Kirby has friends forever.

NINJA!We’re going on 26 years of Kirby, and Kirby’s main cast has absolutely not changed with the times. Kirby is the same hungry ‘n heroic puff he has been since day one. King Dedede is a greedy hammerhead of a flightless (kinda) bird (also kinda). Even the freaking tree with a face has been serving the exact same purpose since his introduction as Kirby’s first ever boss. Waddle Dee is Dedede’s minion whether he’s got a bandana or not, and Scarfy is still just as angry about Kirby’s inhalations now decades after that stopped being Kirby’s main offensive maneuver. Link, Samus, and Sonic might explore entirely new universes with every installment, but Kirby’s world has been rigidly defined from his inception.

But Kirby isn’t just about repetition, Kirby is all about the little guy (again, not even a foot tall, but I’m not talking about him this time).

As a member of not only the Metroid Preservation Society, but also someone who has been tirelessly stumping for the Equal Rights for Goombas campaign, I like incidental bad guys in videogames. I could care less about King K. Rool, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Kudgel again. Starman might have dominated the Earthbound box, but I’d rather see the Wild Wooly Shambler make a comeback. And, unlike shield-bearing heroes, I like like-likes. And it looks like Kirby is right there with me! Waddle Dees and Waddle Doos are locks, but we’ve also got Birdon and his fabulous headdress. Bio Spark the ninja, too! Chef Kawasaki! Bugzzy returns! And they’re all playable!

And then you get some DLC, and you’ve got a hamster on the roster, too! What more could you ask for!?

WeeeeeeSo, in a way, Kirby Star Allies is the ultimate form of the Kirby experience. Kirby never forgets his friends, so it’s only natural that he would wander around the universe and make brand new friends everywhere he goes. Yesterday’s villain is today’s best friend, and Kirby’s team of Dedede, Metaknight, and Marx is proof of that. And, even though it’s certain we’ll see another Kirby title after this series highpoint, you don’t have to worry never seeing Kirby’s “Batgirl” ever again. Kirby never forgets his friends, and that’s a fine explanation for why they keep that maniac around.

Kirby’s one tough creampuff, but he’s never going to forget even one of his friends.

… Except Lololo. Screw that guy.

FGC #409 Kirby Star Allies

  • System: Nintendo Switch, the best damn system ever named after a piece of routing equipment.
  • Number of players: Bring all your friends! Four!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kirby rules! All Kirby games are good, and Star Allies is fun for the whole family (of mutant, one-eyed waddlers). My only complaint stems from the game relying on the same bosses and minibosses a little too often, and not in stimulating ways. Fighting Whispy Woods more than once in a playthrough, particularly when you know there’s going to be an arena mode anyway, is pushing it. And miniboss twins are okay, but where’s the full 4 v 4 brawl? Keep making me fight Mr. Frosty, fine, but at least make it interesting!
  • CreepyFavorite Copy Ability: How did it take this long for Kirby to become Spider-Kirby? Trapping opponents is fun, hi-jump makes a return as a friend ability, and Kirby gains the coolest hat in the world. Kirby does well doing everything a spider can.
  • Favorite Ally: Bonkers the Gorilla has a hammer and my heart.
  • Sad but true: That minigame where Kirby bats an incoming meteor into the stratosphere is the closest we’re ever going to get to a decent FLCL game.
  • Did you know? In all Kirby 25th Anniversary orchestra artwork, Bonkers plays the timpani. Don’t date drummers.
  • Would I play again: Yes, and please release more and more DLC so I can play Kirby again every month. Bring back that painter kid, Nintendo!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Battle Network 6: Cybeast Gregar for the Gameboy Advance! Oh boy! It’s time to give my spell checker an absolute conniption! Please look forward to it!

KIRBY!

FGC #351 Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Hashi no kahbi!Nintendo’s worst videogame system proves one simple truth: you can be yourself, or you can be something else, but you can’t be both.

The Nintendo 64 was Nintendo’s third console system. The Nintendo Entertainment System was synonymous with videogames, brought the entire industry back from the brink, and managed to turn Nintendo into an uncontested juggernaut of the industry. The Super Nintendo had to deal with the upstart Sega Genesis, but it was still home to some of the best games of the era, and a number of releases that, even to this day, unequivocally are the greatest hits of the medium. The Nintendo 64, though… the N64 got problems. It started with a rocky, anemic launch. It bled third-party support almost instantly. It never hosted a worthwhile JRPG when that genre defined the epoch. Its final first-party game was a scaled-up Gameboy title (I’ll save you some googling, it was Dr. Mario). There were some great games for the N64, but Ocarina of Time had to share shelf space with Turok: Rage Wars. The N64 made it hard to be a Nintendo fan.

But let’s take a step back and consider what being a “Nintendo fan” really meant at the time. We take it for granted nowadays, but the very concept of a “console war” didn’t seem to exist before the 16-bit era. The Atari didn’t seem to have any significant competitors, and the NES was videogames for the 80s. It wasn’t until the Sega Genesis decided it needed a chunk of that market share that the flames of “us vs. them” had to be fanned. Did you ever read Nintendo Power from that time? Or Sega Visions? What were already basically propaganda magazines decided to go all in on the most important battle of our time (hedgehogs vs. plumbers), and every other month you’d get new information on how blast processing isn’t even a real thing, riding a dinosaur is for babies, or the essential truth that so much as demoing a second videogame console is infidelity of the highest order. You cannot serve two masters, little gamer, and you should inflict this vital fact upon everyone on the playground.

ROCKYSo, by the time we hit the Playstation vs. N64 years, don’t worry, Nintendo Power, we got this. We know those vipers at Sony are trying to eat our lunch again with their Final Fantasies and Mega Mans and other franchises we used to enjoy on Nintendo systems, and we’ll defend you! We’re forever in debt to the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule, and Castlevania. Wait… they got a new Castlevania? And the N64 just has some dork with a chainsaw? Dude. Dude. Look, guys, I’ll keep playing Pokémon, but, uh, I gotta get going. Tekken is waiting, and it’s got a panda fighting a dinosaur.

And Nintendo noticed. Before the N64 was even released, it became clear that CD based systems were finally going to be the wave of the future (after a rocky bump in the road compliments of INXS), and the cartridge was to quickly go the way of Caveman Games. But Nintendo didn’t like the looks of load times, so we were forced to read the phrase “expensive cartridges” for the next five years. And then the Nintendo 64 launched with dopey Mario and frivolous Pilotwings. Wrong! We needed more big boy games for big boys, so we quickly received Cruisin’ USA, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and Killer Instinct. Ah, yes, that’s the stuff. Mature games for a mature gaming community. And 2-D games are out of style, so we need all 3-D, all the time. It worked for Mario, so how about we get Donkey Kong into the 3rd dimension. And keep churning out those violent fighting games and grown-up shooters. It’s what the people want!

RAINBOW RIDEIt’s clear what happened here: Nintendo had a solid vision for the future of their console… and then “course corrected” to please the masses ten minutes before the system even launched. The controller with camera buttons and an analog stick wound up chasing the system that could be operated with one hand (say what you will about JRPGs, but they only require all of two buttons), and all those polygons decided to stumble over full motion video instead. What developers remained on the N64 were scrambling to match the cinematic experiences available on the Playstation, and the whole library became a mess of neither fish nor fowl nonsense. Look, I love Jet Force Gemini as much as the next guy, but you have to admit that, even that late in the N64’s lifespan, it comes off as pretty patchwork.

Which is a shame, because first party Nintendo games that followed the “Nintendo way” from the start are pretty amazing. Mario 64 feels like a natural progression of the franchise, and Ocarina of Time is right there with it. Mario Kart 64 refined (SNES) Mario Kart into solid gold, and Star Fox 64 truly used the new technology to turn a bunch of random shapes into a thrilling story of fox versus wolf. And Donkey Kong 64 isn’t responsible for any homicides (as far as we know)! And then we’ve got Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Kirby 64 is a 2-D platforming game not unlike many other Kirby adventures. It’s (incredibly disappointingly) much slower and less frantic than Kirby Super Star, but it is right about at normal Dreamland speed. Basically, if you liked any Kirby game featuring helpful hamsters, this adventure is about what you’d expect. There are doodads to acquire (a staple of both the N64 and slower Kirby titles), but, by and large, this is a very straightforward platformer. Move from left to right, occasionally climb a ladder, and have a ball utilizing Kirby’s eclectic moveset. Maybe you’ll eat a hedgehog? That’ll show those Sega dorks.

And, side note? This game is beautiful.

WeeeeeOkay, granted, it’s Playstation/N64 style beautiful, but it is still beautiful nonetheless. The pastels of Pop Star really pop, and everything moves just right. In spite of Kirby’s N64 Smash model, Kirby is actually spherical, and not a pile of edged polygons. Special effects from special powers may seem basic, but in the same manner that a Kirby Krackle can sell a comic book (uhhh… different Kirby), Kirby makes self-immolation look perfect across every system. Everything combines wonderfully, and, without a doubt, this is a game that is undeniably a gorgeous experience.

And this stands in stark contrast to every other N64 game.

N64 games are terrible looking. They contain some of the worst draw distances and fog warnings outside of H.P. Lovecraft. Their protagonists almost always look like they were carved out of some particularly unpleasant rocks by a partially blind sculptor (who maybe is missing a few fingers). Nobody ever moves right. Let’s face it, Majora’s Mask was a success because it identified that every last character populating N64 Hyrule was horrifying. And this happened to third and first party games alike: in an effort to ape the most popular games of the day, polygons and Vaseline were smeared everywhere, and suddenly our greatest heroes started resembling Tobor: The Refrigerator That Walks Like a Man.

Let's chillBut here’s Kirby, just doing the thing he’s always done. There is no attempt to force 3-D gameplay. There is no byzantine story mode. There is no desire to go full angry eyes. It’s just Kirby, a character that premiered on a system without so much as the possibility of color, scaled up to modern technology. It’s fun. It’s pretty. And it’s one of the best games on the N64.

And game reviewers of the time derided the game for being “too kiddy” and “a throwback”. One of the best games on the system, but “too easy”. It generally got great scores, but the expression “no Goldeneye” was thrown around a bit.

So… uh… I guess maybe don’t be yourself? Let’s stick to the blocky bitmaps. Gotta be popular.

FGC #351 Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

  • System: N64. It also resurfaced on the Wii and WiiU, but I want to say it wasn’t on the super awesome Kirby collection released at the end of the Wii’s lifespan. … It was? Dammit! I turned on my N64 for nothing!
  • Number of players: One for the main gameplay, four for the inevitable minigame sections. Which reminds me…
  • What may have been: Early screenshots of this title seemed to indicate that it would have been four players, with Dedede, Waddle Dee, and Adeleine (the painter dude) filling the other playable slots. This would have been very consistent with N64’s emphasis on four player titles, and an excellent “upgrade” from the two player modes of Kirby Super Star. Alas, it was not to be, and was likely lost with the 64DD. And then we wouldn’t see a similar four player Kirby experience for eleven years.
  • Away we goFavorite Power: All this talk of Pretty Soldier Kirby and I didn’t even mention the main hook for the title: combining powers. Mix cutter and fire to build a flaming sword! Ice and needle to make a deadly snowflake! And rock and spark to make a… lightbulb? Whatever. What’s important is that bomb plus needle will transform Kirby into an invincible Gordo monster, and that’s been a dream since Kirby’s first adventure. Show those jerks who’s the spikiest, Kirby!
  • So, did you beat it? This is one of the rare N64 games that I didn’t finish while the system was fresh (because, admittedly, I was playing those more “mature” JRPGs at the time), but 100%’ed well past its initial release. It’s that good! Or Kirby is that good! Or I have OCD! It’s one of those!
  • Turn the lights off: You ever notice that Kirby seems to see a release toward the end of the system’s lifespan? Kirby 3, Kirby 64, and even Kirby’s Dream Collection were all practically the last boats out of their respective systems. Weird. Anyway, look forward to Kirby Battle Royale for the 3DS!
  • Did you know? The familiar “Kirby dance” does not appear at any point in this game, as worlds end with Kirby waving to the screen instead of dancing. Maybe he just noticed the player, and got self conscious?
  • Would I play again: It’s on the short list of N64 games I enjoy playing, so that’s a yes. I… I think all the rest are all Nintendo games, too. What a weird little system.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bloody Roar 3 for the Playstation 2! Roar! And… Blood! Please look forward to it!

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