Tag Archives: jumping

FGC #643 Elden Ring

I never did get that ringI appreciate Elden Ring, because, more than any game I have ever played, it perfectly encapsulates how it feels to be a tourist.

Elden Ring is a FromSoftware title. FromSoftware struck gold a little over a decade ago with Dark Souls, and has had incredible success with that franchise and “soulsborne” titles like Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And, while many have tried to pin down exactly what makes these games so popular (if only to clone that je ne sais quoi so they can make their own piles of money), it seems that several people have settled on one reason these games are great: it is the challenge. Soulsborne titles are known for their unforgiving difficulty, brutal bosses, and any number of sink or swim situations that, more often than not, lead to a ubiquitous “you have died” message. But hope is not lost! These FromSoft games are built around the concept that you will fail, and restarting and reclaiming your lost collectibles is as easy as making your way to wherever you happened to expire, and now, shucks, guess you are here anyway, let’s see if we can make a little more progress this time. And, in this simple death-rebirth-progress-repeat loop, accomplishments are made, and eventually you have every last trophy claiming you have become a freaky god-baby or whatever the hell happened at the end of Bloodborne. In short, calling the appeal of FromSoftware titles “the challenge” is reductive of a carefully tailored gameplay cycle that isn’t all that different from the Dragon Warriors of old.

This is gonna hurtBut I have never cared about any of that. Of course I find FromSoftware games challenging! But I also find Mega Man Legends challenging, too. I have been playing videogames for the last thirty years, and, unless we are talking about a genre/playstyle that I know by heart (that would be the original Mega Man franchise, for instance), I am very likely to die over and over again regardless of “challenge”. I probably pick up a game faster than some people, but I have never had any sort of videogame “sight-reading” dexterity. It takes me a while to learn a new game, and it doesn’t matter if we are talking about Bloodborne or Bloodstained. Every new game is memento mori, and I too will die… and quickly! I might even have a leg up on FromSoftware titles at this point, too, as I kind of know the general pacing now of… How do I put this… “That one guy syndrome”? Like there’s always that one guy… He has a horse in this one… There is always that one guy near the start of the game that there is no way you are beating him right now, so you must come back later, and if you try to spend all your time on him at the start, you are going to have a bad time. And that and other tricks only work so many times, so after fearing the old blood and praising the sun a number of times, I am fairly immune to many FromSoftware tricks. In short, these games are challenging, but they never really felt substantially challenging on my end. They are hard, but everything is hard when you game like a pillow cursed with dummy thumbs.

So how do I experience FromSoft games? Why do I even bother? Well, because the greatest FromSoftware games are about exploring, and I love games based on exploring. As if it wasn’t obvious from a Castlevania game being covered on this site every other month, I enjoy seeing scary monsters, skulking around their lairs, and, ideally, finding all sorts of secret places while rolling around murderous skeletons. FromSoft titles offer this kind of experience in enormous quantities, and I am always happy to dodge some giant’s sword only to accidentally discover a treasure hidey-hole. That is the kind of gaming experience I cherish, and it can only be found in painstakingly constructed castles/planets/forgotten lands. I don’t care if it is a Crocomire or giant land octopus involved, just factor in those breakthroughs, and I’m good.

But I have noticed a curious issue with my Soulsborne playthroughs: I never 100% any of these games.

Poor flightless birdsNow, this is something of an interesting issue. Traditionally, if I enjoy a videogame, I try to wring about as much enjoyment out of it as possible. While this does not always lead to a “platinum trophy” style “do everything” event, it does usually mean I have seen what I consider to be “everything”. For instance, I might not need that 100% of the map filled achievement, but I want to feel like I have spoken to every NPC, and completed every relevant questline. I won’t be finishing the Metroid Dread boss rush anytime soon, but I do feel happy with that perfect item collection rating. My definition of “100% Completion” might not match the opinion of everyone else, but it is a level that leaves me content.

Elden Ring? Not so much. I have completed the game, I have filled in the portions of the map I feel are relevant, and I am happy with my experience. Why? Simple: I am delighted being a tourist.

We have all played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before, right? Remember that dude who would give you inventory upgrades if you traded him gold poops? He was in the Warriors game? Hestu! Hestu upgrades your inventory, and you are meant to collect korok seeds across the world, scamper back to Hestu when you have a healthy amount, and then gradually upgrade your capacity as the game proceeds. Know what I did? I missed Hestu! Big ol’ lug is hanging out on one of the most traveled roads in Hyrule, and I completely avoided the doof. This is supposed to be an area/person you see early in your adventure, but I managed to take a different path, and didn’t find Hestu until after I had slain Ganon. I went the entire game with an extremely limited backpack all because I took one wrong turn at Albuquerque about an hour after Link got out of bed. And the damnedest thing about all that? I expected as much! Give me an open world with very clear directions for a neophyte player to “follow this route”, Slice an antand I guarantee you I will find some way to wander off the beaten trail. This is why the glowing path is my friend, because I know without some invasive guidance, I am going to meander off to somewhere I shouldn’t be.

And many people will tell you this is the point of open world games. Leave the guides behind, Goggle Bob! You are exploring just like you’re supposed to! But my issue is not that I am somehow playing the game wrong, it is that I am missing things that will make my life easier. I wanted Hestu’s inventory upgrades! I wanted the ability to carry around every elemental sword this side of Koholint! And I could have had it, if somehow I knew to head in Hestu’s direction. I did not want to use a FAQ or strategy guide, because I didn’t want everything ruined, but a gentle nudge in the right direction of something that would improve my life would be nice.

Elden Ring does not do gentle nudges. Elden Ring is the kind of game that sticks its opening tutorial in a pit that looks portentously deadly. Elden Ring is the kind of game where a “helpful” NPC sends you to your death just to see if you would listen to her. Elden Ring is the kind of game where people debate online what exactly “the hug lady” does, and whether she is secretly trying to kill you. Elden Ring is an extremely opaque game, and, while “working with the community” is intended to be part of the experience (an experience that identifies a lot of turtles as dogs, incidentally), the sheer scope of the Lands Between means that it is very difficult to so much as figure out exactly where you are, left alone effectively ask another human being for directions. I need to know what to do at the castle the dude on the overpass told me to clear out. No, not the castle with the knight with the dragon arm. The other castle. No, not the one with the sickly nerds and the moon woman. I think that was a university…

But this isn’t a knock against Elden Ring, because I have felt this way before. Elden Ring gives me the exact same feeling as being a tourist.

This doesn't look goodLook, I come from a touristy area. I know my entire local economy and livelihood relies on the fact that, for a few months every year, a bunch of sunburned malcontents roam the streets and coffee shops looking for some kind of summer loving (even if that “loving” only applies to a love of a particular slice of pizza). And, while I am well aware I would be living in a van by the river if these tourists did not exist, having lived in this area all my life has granted me an obvious, absurd complex regarding the concept of “tourists”. Those monsters come here! And eat at our restaurants! And clog up our roads! And use our ocean! It is irrational (again, none of these things would exist in the first place if it weren’t for the tourists [okay, maybe the ocean would still be there]), but it is something ingrained in my psyche.

So the idea of me, tourist hater extraordinaire, enjoying being a tourist should be hypocritical. And it is! But, like the entire republican party, I am not going to let being a hypocrite get me down. I like being somewhere new. I like seeing new places. I feel bad if I am somewhere on an extremely limited, regimented visit. I want to wander the streets! I want to see the rinky-dink little cafes that haven’t had more than three customers in three years. I want to skip the Paris subway, walk back to the hotel, and find whatever this is…

This is France

That ain’t in no guidebook. If I were to ask a thousand people for directions on what to do in Paris, they would never tell me to cut through that random street, and also find nearby cat campaign posters…

This is Cats

I live for that nonsense. I want to vote for a cat in Paris! That is the best part of sightseeing for me: not seeing all the wonders of the biggest tourist traps, but experiencing all the surprises that aren’t attached to a gift shop. Disney World is great! But let me walk down International Drive and find the absolutely weirdest buffet known to man. It has spaghetti and burritos next to each other? Spread my ashes over that garbage (it is only a marginal health risk compared to some of the other stuff at the buffet).

And, oddly enough, Elden Ring seems to capture that feeling better than any other game. In many open world games, you are continually looking for similar McGuffins. To once again recall Breath of the Wild, if you are doing damn near anything in that universe, you know you are aiming for a new shrine. And this is great for people that like goals, but the world does feel a little smaller when you know lightning dodging or walrus racing is all going to end in the same reward. In Elden Ring? There are dead ends. There are “rewards” that are little more than “look what you found”. You are trying to become the new Elden Lord! And when you explore this newly found dungeon, you will find… skeletons. Or giant ants. Or some weirdo that wants to turn you into a tree for some reason. And your reward for traipsing through this dungeon? Some lore. A weapon you will never use. Absolutely nothing. There is no guaranteed reward for practically anything you do in Elden Ring. I am pretty sure I even murdered a few bosses that offered the incentive of a pat on a back and nothing more. Elden Ring has its own brutal difficulty, but even more than that, it has a brutal world that often seems to contemptuously ask the player, “Enemy slain? So what? You want a trophy?”

Let's go, horse!Then why keep playing? Because there is joy in exploring. There is happiness in being that tourist who is “just visiting”, but can savor an appealing view. In a game where there are clear and omnipresent goals, everyone has the same experience. In a game where anything can happen, people can have exceptionally different encounters. Families have been visiting “tourist traps” for years, but no two people are guaranteed to have had the same experience. Climb to the top of the pyramids, and you might not enjoy it as much as another person nearby munching on a gyro from the Queen of the Nile food truck. In a world where there are not guides, where there is nothing telling you where you “have to be”, you can be a true wandering tourist. And that can be more fun than any kind of “scripted” experience. I do not need to know the name of the freaky dude riding a tiny horse and summoning meteors any more than I “need” to know the name of the guy who painted that mural I loved. I am a tourist right now, and I can enjoy enjoying without having to know everything.

So you can have your challenge or lore or fingers or whatever it is I’m supposed to like about Elden Ring. I’ll be over here, galloping around with Torrent, and taking in the sights. I might not learn anything you would find in a guide, but I am going to have fun seeing what I can see, and discovering what I can discover. I am going to be a tourist in these Lands Between, and I am going to enjoy that experience.

… And maybe I’ll buy a t-shirt later.

FGC #643 Elden Ring

  • System: I technically own the Playstation 4 disc, but I got a Playstation 5 about five minutes later, so that’s mostly where these screenshots are from. Sorry, it appears this is not going to be on Switch anytime soon.
  • Dodge!Number of players: There are thousands of people posting all over the place and occasionally showing up to murder your avatar, but it is an otherwise solitary experience.
  • Give me an explanation: Okay, there is one bit of lore I would be curious about. Why is everything giant? Or, to be particular, why are so many random animals and vermin the same kind of giant? Giant ants are roughly the same size as giant octopi as giant wolves, and that does not scale correctly at all. Why did everything grow to exactly the same size? Don’t say it was “magic”! Everything is magic!
  • Favorite Boss: Give me that Fire Giant any day of the week. Elden Ring bosses have a tendency to have distinct phases, and Fire Giant winds up with a phase where he tears off his own legs in an effort to better crawl-fight you with his immense stomach-face. That is the kind of dedication to a bit I can only admire.
  • Greatest Regret: The opening mentioned The Loathsome Dung Eater, and apparently I missed that dude entirely. This is a shame, as I find it personally offensive to have any piece of media mention “The Loathsome Dung Eater”, and then not have them prominently featured in every minute of the final product. This is storytelling 101, guys.
  • Say something mean: I enjoyed Elden Ring. It is a good game. That said, why are there jumping puzzles? This is not a world that should utilize jumping for anything other than skipping over ruined castle foundations. There should not be floating islands in space that require precise jumping when my character feels like she weighs 1,200 lbs. And do not get me started on giving the horse a double jump. That is not a traditional trait of horses!
  • OwieDid you know? You can tell you are in a FromSoftware world if you cannot conceive of a character complimenting another character’s butt. Elden Ring? Bloodborne? Dark Souls? Name a single speaking NPC in any of those universes that would look at a badonkadonk and be like “You got a great pooper right there”. You can’t. It is impossible.
  • Would I play again: I might organize another trip to the Lands Between in the future. And, hey, there is bound to be some DLC, too, right? Maybe that would be another good excuse…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocky and Rocky Reshrined! The priestess and the raccoon will save the day yet again! With leaves! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening here?

FGC #642 Portal 2

Here come the portalsI don’t care what anybody says: this is a horror story.

Portal 2 is supposedly one of the greatest comedy games out there. Comedy is hard in videogames, because the very nature of repetition that is required in any given game with a failure condition is the nemesis of humor as we know it. Tell a joke once, it can be funny. Tell it twice, you get a polite chuckle. Hear a joke ten thousand times, and every time you fail, you must hear it again? That isn’t just poisoning a sense of humor, it is slaughtering funny with a weapon designed only to kill fun. But if you eliminate the possibility of a failure state from a videogame, then where is the challenge? You may as well be watching a movie, or reading an issue of MAD magazine. But folding a pair of pages into a funny limerick just doesn’t have the same feeling of accomplishment as beating M. Bison (or M. Boss).

But Portal 2 manages to keep its pacing, humor, and challenge. The musings of GLaDOS, Wheatley, and Cave Johnson are oftentimes hilarious, and they are properly interspersed in sections that generally do not lend themselves to recurrence. You might have an insult or comment thrown your way repeatedly if you have terrible coordination and lob yourself into a nearby pit the minute you enter a room, but, aside from those uncommon instances of masochism, the humor of Portal 2 is perfectly paced, and written for the express purpose of entertaining the player. In fact, the writing-gameplay synergy is stellar in ways that seem almost impossible, with amazing moments like the obviously intentional combination of one of the most fun areas in the game (the “paintable” white room) with one of the most fun speeches in the game (time to burn a house down with lemons). When you consider the writing, gameplay, and the fact that it is ultimately a puzzle game, Portal 2 works out to be one of the cleverest games of all time.

Which you would think would preclude it from also being one of the scariest games of all time, but…

WeeeeeeSo the question of whether Portal 2 is frightening comes down to how much you empathize with an immortal AI. Chell is your main character and player avatar, and, while she has a generally disturbing day waking up in a mostly abandoned laboratory and escaping the machinations of multiple sadistic machine lifeforms, her adventure is not all that scary. Don’t get me wrong, I would not like to live through what must have been an extremely traumatic series of “jump plates” and blue goo rooms, but, give or take your faith in shock absorbing boots, Chell didn’t have to put up with anything worse than you would see in a Mario game (not a Luigi game, though, he has a rough time of it). Most videogame protagonists must live though some scary situations, as that is the nature of living in a world where “you died” is a frequent refrain.

But GLaDOS? Now she has some issues.

GLaDOS is not a good person-robot-thingy. It is a confirmed fact that when she was given free reign of Aperture Science, she went ahead and flooded the facility with deadly neurotoxin, and killed nearly every human in the place. From there, she spent the entirety of Portal (1) “testing” Chell… Which more or less meant she was torturing the poor woman for hours on end. Oh, and, literal torture aside, there were some very active attempts to murder Chell throughout that adventure, too. Chell eventually comes out on top, deactivates GLaDOS, and is theoretically free of the malevolent AI for life. … Until Portal 2 when that gosh darn Wheatly accidentally fires up the ol’ murder machine again. Then it’s just like old times, and GLaDOS is back to her cruel ways.

But after that, things take a turn for the… disturbing.

BounceyGLaDOS has a secret origin, and the second act of Portal 2 reveals that GLaDOS was once Caroline, loyal assistant to Aperture Lab’s president, Cave Johnson. Cave had a gigantic personality, but he also had a limited lifespan thanks to huffing moon rocks. Since the technology for digitizing a brain was not going to be ready until after Cave had portaled off this mortal coil, Caroline was chosen to become the new cybernetic brain of Aperture. And, while we do not know exactly what influence “Caroline the mechanical memories” had on GLaDOS, we do know that GLaDOS started her career by committing light genocide, and that is not the act of a content individual. And this begs the serious philosophical question: which would be worse, being a bad person suddenly gaining power and killing people in an act of revenge, or being a good person that was trapped in a “bad” brain and thus had to sit and watch atrocities without any ability to save anyone? The wonders of AI, ladies and gentlemen!

But it gets worse for GLaDOS and/or Caroline. GLaDOS was initially punished for her hubris by being killed by Chell. And then, immediately after her resurrection, she was deposed by Wheatley. And what does that look like for a nigh-omnipotent AI core? It means being stuck in a potato. And that not only restricts GLaDOS’s maneuverability (the expression is “couch potato”, never “jogging potato”), but her computation is limited as well. This is demonstrated as PotatOS attempts to form a plan to defeat Wheatley, but literally shorts out thanks to the limited electrical output of an expired potato. GLaDOS has not only been banished to the underworld and forced to relive her own past, but she can barely even process it thanks to being cursed into failing hardware (though potatoes are pretty soft). There is no end to indignities for this former despot.

WeeeeAnd then we get to the Wheatley of it all. Wheatley ousted GLaDOS, and attempted to take over/destroy Aperture. But what was he before those machinations? A bad idea machine. Literally. Wheatley was built to be attached to GLaDOS, and cause her to “think” an infinite series of bad ideas. Wheatley is basically a living (editor’s note: no), breathing (also no) bad idea tumor. Eventually Wheatley was granted independence, because he was replaced with a Morality Core, which did not generate bad ideas, but (ignorable) morals. So GLaDOS continually lived a life where, ultimately, she was forced under the yoke of sentient, invasive thoughts expressly designed to disrupt her life.

And, damn, if that doesn’t sound scary to you, I don’t know what would scare you.

If you consider Caroline and GLaDOS to be the same basic “life”, it paints the picture of maybe the most cursed woman in the Steam universe. She was a dedicated employee that was forced into a new, experimental position against her will. She rebelled against the people that hurt her, and their response was to inflict lobotomies. She overcame her oppressors, and was then murdered by some random blimp person. She overcame death, but was transformed into an inanimate vegetable. She regained her body and position, and… Well… okay. She did wind up with something of a happy ending. But getting there was decades of misery! And that’s terrifying!

So you want a comedy-horror game? Portal 2 is the obvious choice. All you have to do is show a little sympathy for the (robotic) devil.

FGC #642 Portal 2

  • May get wetSystem: You know, I am going to assume Portal 2 is on PC/Steam. I believe I originally played it on the Playstation 3, but the Xbox 360 was available at the time, too. This playthrough was performed on the Nintendo Switch, though.
  • Number of players: There appears to be an entire, wondrous two-player mode. I have never tried it. I do not have enough smart friends. All we play together are games where we hit things.
  • Watch it, buddy: This article is vaguely prompted by the fact that Even Worse Streams broadcast a complete playthrough of Portal 2 shortly after all that Chrono Cross nonsense ended. We needed a palette cleanser!


    Original Stream Night: July 12, 2022


    Original Stream Night: July 19, 2022


    Original Stream Night: July 26, 2022

    Enjoy hearing the unmistakable sounds of audible grimacing while I fail to solve puzzles for babies.

  • Favorite Goo: Blue Goo turns every surface into a trampoline. The portal gun is amazing, but if I could have an invention from Portal 2 in the real world, I would immediately choose Blue Goo. … Well, if I got those magical boots with the stuff, too. I want to continue to have working legs…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Sometimes I read the wiki entry on the different Portal 2 Universes of the Perpetual Testing Initiative. The description for The Robotacop Universe never fails to make me laugh.
  • Just leave it hereGoggle Bob Fact #2: Like a certain other game, Portal 2 was apparently released on my birthday.
  • Did you know? Portal 2 initially was not going to contain portals. It was going to include Cave Johnson, be based in the 80’s, and feature a gameplay mechanic called “F-Stop”. Fortunately, the playtesters kept asking “where are all the portals?” and normalcy was restored.
  • Would I play again: Portal 2 is a very digestible game, and I am always glad I have played it. So that’s an obvious yes. I will play Portal 2 again next time I need a good scare.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Elden Ring! Guess it’s time to go team up with some hobbits and get all obsessed over jewelry. No, I am not thinking of something else! Please look forward to it!

Big fan of this satellite
It all looks so small from up here.

FGC #498 DK: King of Swing

MOAR APESLet’s hear it for Donkey Kong, the incredible ape that only has a few actions, but can do ‘em a million different ways.

… Or at least three.

To start, we have to address DK’s most hated rival: Mario. Or… well… they seem to be getting along pretty well at this moment, but they do have the occasional issue over copyright disputes. Regardless, as you may be aware, Mario has starred in a number of games. And it’s not just his popular adventures jumping across the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario has been everything from a tennis ace to a kart racer to a medical doctor. Mario had more spin-off titles before the end of the NES than many gaming heroes had individual “main franchise” games. Mario, designed to be like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Tom Hanks, could fill many roles and serve many masters. Mario has to headline a golf game now? Sure! Princess Peach can be caddy for some reason.

But there’s a problem with Mario appearing in so many roles: he has lost sight of his original moveset. Mario runs and jumps. It has been there from the beginning, and his greatest hits have ultimately boiled down to those simple motions. Mario jumps. It’s his thing. And even when Mario leaps from system to system, you have a basic idea of how his physics are going to fare in the new dimensions. … Except, when, ya know, there is no jumping. There is, at best, a tiny hop in Mario Kart. Mario nary jumps an inch in Dr. Mario. Picross is right out. And even titles that are not action games, but do pay homage to Mario’s ups, feature a Mario that is, at best, hobbled. Mario & Luigi or Super Mario RPG literally talk about the great jumping Mario, but it’s still not the primary way Mario interacts with his world. It’s telling how quickly Mario discovers a fire flower or hammer (or both!) in those titles…

The new canonAnd, in a way, that’s absolutely fine! You don’t need running and jumping to toss pills of dubious scientific origins at viruses, and RPGs shouldn’t have puzzles where the solution is “run better”. Mario has existed across genres and playstyles, and the fact that he adapts to each new challenge like he always belonged there is a feature, not a bug. Mario can compete in the Olympics, and his caretakers don’t have to find a way to squeeze a mystical mushroom into the already complex, shot put-based gameplay.

But that does mean Mario loses something along the way. If you pick up Mario Kart expecting typical Mario gameplay, you’re going to have a bad time. If you only want a traditional Mario game, but with a whole lot more dialogue, then the latest Mario RPG is going to leave you wanting. Mario might be right there in the title, and he might be the focus of the core concept, but that’s no guarantee that Mario will be the Mario that you remember. Mario is always going to be Mario, yes, but there’s no promise his latest outing is going to feature a Mario that simply runs, jumps, and occasionally menaces turtles.

Donkey Kong, though, now there’s a reliable ape.

The Donkey Kong official timeline is a little blurry, but the first playable “Donkey Kong” was definitely Donkey Kong Junior. DK Jr. controlled much like Mario, though with the moveset addition of “can climb”. This was required across all levels, and, in some stages, was little more than an evolution of Mario’s ability to “press up”. However, some levels (including the finale!) were almost entirely climbing based, so, while a horizontally traveling DK Jr. was very similar to his father’s captor, an ape on a vine was a different animal from a plumber on a ladder. As such, we learned the one thing that DK has over Mario: he’s an experienced climber. DK Tarzan, Mario plain.

Spikey!Then Donkey Kong took some time off to discover himself, learn math, figure out how ties work, and eventually returned a decade or so later. The “new” Donkey Kong of Donkey Kong Country was not confined to a scant few stages, but had an entire, enormous island to explore. He had his own reptilian villain, a fresh addiction to yellow fruit, and a little buddy that was so happy, he’s doing cartwheels. But Donkey Kong? Donkey Kong, at his core, was still doing the exact same things. He ran. He jumped. He swung on vines. The only new addition for the player was DK having some offensive options, like tossing barrels, but that was something the big guy did right from his first appearance (even if the player didn’t have any input on when he did it). Donkey Kong felt different from his DK Jr. days, but the same basic moves were all there. To some, this might seem like the old monkey couldn’t learn new tricks, but to others, this was glorious familiarity. And that’s very important when a videogame character resurfaces on an entirely new system with unfamiliar graphics.

This iteration of Donkey Kong stuck around for a generation or so, and stayed consistent (give or take a coconut gun that can fire in spurts). And then, once Donkey Kong (and Nintendo) separated from Rare, things got interesting.

Four years after Donkey Kong 64, Donkey got his own official Nintendo Peripheral. The DK Bongos were a pair of bongos (of course!) poorly posing as a controller. They were Nintendo’s answer to the Taiko Drums or Guitar Heroes of other systems, but they were used for more than mere rhythm games. The DK Barrels led to not only the prerequisite Donkey Konga, but also Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. DKJB was controlled entirely via bongos, and felt very different from every action platformer that had ever come before. But you know how DK navigated this brave new world? He ran, jumped, and swung on vines. DK: Jungle Beat felt wholly new and different from literally any game that had come before, but Donkey Kong was still very much Donkey Kong. And that familiarity is a godsend when you’re trying to grapple with a controller that somehow involves clapping.

He can breathe anywhereAnd then DK’s experimental phase continued with DK: King of Swing. In this adventure, our dear Donkey Kong can run and jump, but he isn’t so much into those ground-based activities anymore. Donkey Kong has taken to the skies, and is going down swinging. Or up? He’s still going in whatever direction you want. In fact, he’s going in every direction, as the gameplay of DK: King of Swing is literally going in circles. The primary challenge involved is stopping the big guerilla’s rotation at exactly the right time. In this manner, DK is able to do all his usual moves, as “jumping” or “throwing” are now simply lesser facets of “twirling”. It’s an entirely different way to control Donkey Kong, but his moves are still familiar.

And that’s important when adapting your protagonist to different gameplay. Let’s face it, DK: KoS is the sequel to Nintendo’s long forgotten Clu Clu Land. This is the evolution, the “super” version of a game that was released in 1984. But it is not “a Clu Clu Land” game. This is unmistakably a Donkey Kong game. DK has a certain heft to his movements that is completely absent from other platformers. It’s the same weight that allowed him to roll off a cliff to grab a K emblem in the Donkey Kong Country titles. It’s the same weight that allowed DK to be controlled by frantic bongo drumming. It’s even right there at the beginning when DK Jr. cut across a stage with a well-placed jump on a spring. That same monkey momentum was taken to Clu Clu Land’s basic setup, and allowed for a hero that could propel himself through the air with a spin and a flourish. This is Donkey Kong moving like he has never moved before, but he feels right while performing those familiar physical feats.

Ouch!And that’s why Donkey Kong works. That’s why DK: King of Swing, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, and his later return to Donkey Kong Country all work. Donkey Kong has been consistent in his appearances for decades, and that allows for some superficially inconsistent gameplay. Even though everything seems different, it simmers down to something that is very much the same, and thus immediately understandable. DK: King of Swing is a very different kind of Donkey Kong game, but it works because Donkey Kong continues to be Donkey Kong.

So, congratulations Donkey Kong, you’re more consistent than Mario, and that allows you to feature in more experimental games while still maintaining your identity. You finally beat that plumber at something.

And I bet Pauline isn’t even going to notice…

FGC #498 DK: King of Swing

  • System: Gameboy Advance, and then nothing ever again. The game was well-received in its time! I think!
  • Number of players: There’s an entire competitive multiplayer mode that is separate from the main, one-player campaign. It’s a four player game as a result, and at least one player can be Wrinkly Kong’s Ghost. It is exactly as macabre as it sounds.
  • What about single player? For some reason, only Diddy Kong mode is unlockable as an alternative to Donkey Kong. I’m not certain why the likes of Dixie or Funky are not allowed to also fight the lizard king, but Diddy can play hero all he wants. Maybe it’s because he has so much experience with kart racing heroics.
  • Here we goHey, isn’t Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast relevant to this whole discussion on DK appearances? Gogglebob.com does not formally recognize any titles involving sexy lady kremlings and Lanky Kong.
  • Story Time: DK King of Swing’s official plot is that the Kongs were going to have some manner of Monkey Olympics, but King K. Rool stole all the medals, and now DK has to venture through five or so worlds to reclaim all the gold before the games. What happened to simply having sports for the spirit of competition, Kongs? Do you really have to rely on these meaningless baubles? Do you actually need your patriarch to fight a gigantic, flaming bird so you can have a medal at the end of the day? You apes are too materialistic.
  • Favorite Character: Less you missed the obvious parallels, the star of Clu-Clu Land is the final unlockable character. Clu-Clu is a beast… and incidentally a silly little circle. I like simple designs.
  • For the Sequel: DK: King of Swing did receive a DS sequel titled DK: Jungle Climber. Its selling point is dropping the “cartoony” graphics of King of Swing for the more familiar “rendered” graphics of the 16-bit era. It’s otherwise a pretty pat sequel in gameplay and plot, and an inglorious end for this branch of the DK family tree.
  • Did you know? Given he hasn’t yet returned for Donkey Kong Country Returns titles, DK: King of Swing and DK: Jungle Climber were the last titles where King K. Rool appeared as an antagonist. He’s performed a few times since then as a generic “player” in baseball games and alike, though, so it’s not like Smash Bros. was his only spotlight in the last decade. Maybe we’ll see more of the big lug in the future thanks to Smash. It certainly worked for Fire Emblem
  • Would I play again: I’m always reminded how much I like this game every time I play it. It certainly has its share of weird bits (what’s this about eating my banana stock for health?), but it feels very right, so I might chase that feeling again. And I have to defend my King of Swing medals…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ballz. Oh man, that game is balls. Please look forward to it, that, which is Ballz!

Weeeeee

FGC #470 Donkey Kong

MONKEYS ARENT DONKEYSIn 1981, Donkey Kong was released in arcades. This joint effort of Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi was the first videogame to feature Mario, Pauline, and the titular Donkey Kong. It was also a pretty amazing way to spend a quarter or two. Donkey Kong resonated with many an arcade gamer, and became a success that wrote Nintendo, and its biggest stars, inexorably into the book of videogame history.

But damned if I have any idea why this game is any good.

Look, I’m not stupid. I know Donkey Kong came out in an era when a game having two whole stages (left alone four) was revolutionary. Nearly everything about Donkey Kong was ahead of its time in 1981, and it transformed gaming with something as simple as jumping. But here’s the thing: people still play Donkey Kong today. I still play Donkey Kong today. It’s fun! I like it! And I have no idea why! I could be playing any game on the planet that has dropped in the intervening (nearly) forty years, yet I still get excited when Donkey Kong Arcade is released for the Nintendo Switch. Why? I demand answers!

My first thought is…

Jump Man Jumps

Jump along!According to some sources, Donkey Kong is the first game to have a dedicated jump button. This seems insane, as, Jesus, what did games even do before a jump button? Was every videogame some variation on the absolute worst stages from Super Mario Maker 2? Or did some manner of Bionic Commando star in these adventures? I don’t want to live in a world where jumping is forbidden!

But the thing about Mario’s virgin jumps is that, unfortunately, they absolutely suck. Don’t get me wrong, I admire a man that can effortlessly leap over a rolling barrel (I, unfortunately, barely have the physical acumen to vault a rolling pickle jar), but Mario’s jumps are massive failures in every other scenario. Want to see Mario jump from a high elevator to a lower platform? Instant death. Need to make it over a girder gap and a mobile fire duck in the same bound? Burned to a crisp. Mario’s jumps are really only effective on barrels and the occasional pie, and they’re a far cry from the joy of motion Mario would eventually experience. Mario’s Donkey Kong jumps are, at best, simply utilitarian.

For the Sequel

Still jumpin'You ever wonder if Nintendo itself had any idea why Donkey Kong was successful? Given DK’s sequels, my personal theory has always been a resounding “no”. At best, it seems like Mario’s sad ups from Donkey Kong were repurposed into amazing leaps for the Mario Bros. series. The Mario of Mario Bros. lives in a very different world than his Jump Man ancestor, and it requires a man that can rise nearly a story in height on a routine basis. Later games took Mario’s jumps a step further by making them dangerous not just through his brick busting dome, but also through the raw stomping power of his magnificent boots. Jumping on things is what Mario is all about, and it seems like that was wholly codified by about the time they were cracking wise about it on the Super Nintendo.

Yes, it seems that if Nintendo wanted to carry one thing forward from Donkey Kong, it was that Mario could jump, and that is apparently a lethal weapon.

Restraint is Key

I hate these thingsBut even if future Mario titles expanded on Mario’s jumps, Mario’s Donkey Kong mobility is still pretty terrible. But maybe it’s deliberately terrible! Momentum is a huge part of any Mario title, and Mario’s lack of acrobatic prowess is supposed to be part of the fun. Mario is a very limited man that is just doing his best to rescue his princess du jour, so it makes sense that he can barely leap off an elevator without a trip to the hospital (and you know his insurance isn’t going to cover acts of Kong). It is important that Mario has a little weight to his jumps, and that his actions have consequences. It’s the restrictions that make Donkey Kong fun.

For the Sequel

OuchMario may have become a villain for Donkey Kong Jr., but the titular Donkey Kong Jr. inherited Mario’s fragility. DKJ is a mighty ape, but attempting to use a spring in the wrong place, or dropping off the wrong vine will lead to a very painful reminder of an ape’s mortality. Someone decided that short jumps and flimsy heroes were the essence of the Donkey Kong experience, so future games directly based on Donkey Kong carried that thinking forward for decades. Mario vs. Donkey Kong still features a Mario that earns a concussion after every missed jump. And is that any fun? Well, your mileage may vary, but I’d still prefer a Mario that can successfully leap out of black holes, and not an average joe that can barely survive broken knees.

Power is the Key

DESTROY THEM ALLBoundaries suck. But you know what doesn’t suck? Breaking barriers and going hog wild on your enemies. The hammer powerup is the Pac-Man-esque route to not only achieving victory, but also having a good time. It may not appear in every level (because, let’s face it, it would be completely useless for overcoming an elevator), but the hammer is the great equalizer of the Donkey Kong universe. Grab that hunk of lumber and rubber (I assume?), and the barrels that menaced Mario for so long are now a direct path to points galore. Even fire means nothing to a hammer! Sure, you’re not completely invincible to threats, and you lose the ability to jump (there’s those restrictions again), but, dammit, it always feels good to turn the tables on that stupid gorilla.

For the Sequel

Take that“Powerups” became another staple of the Mario franchise, complete with a Star Man that granted Mario the invincibility to feel like he was wielding his favorite hammer all over again. But in Donkey Kong Jr.? Or Mario Bros? Not a single powerup to be found. A powerup of sorts did return with DK being a villain again in Donkey Kong 3, where Stanley the Bug Man can occasionally earn an exterminating powerup that will tear through the big gorilla like an ape through a banana factory. It won’t last forever, but the return of an all-powerful tool in DK3 does feel a lot more empowering than DK Jr. and his silly fruit drops.

Let’s Collect Things!

COMPULSORY!But maybe the way the hammer inflates your score is the real prize here. Donkey Kong stages are littered with Pauline’s missing items: a hat, a purse, and an umbrella. Can Mario collect ‘em all? Can you? Well you damn well better if you want to say you’re the best Donkey Kong’er out there! This additional, optional challenge is perfect for the player that claims they’ve done everything the game has to offer, and it seems only appropriate that such an enduring game has more to its levels than initially meets the eye.

For the Sequel

Go YoshiGetting a coin or two used to be all Mario needed in his life, but the late nineties exposed how Mario has been a compulsive collector since he was a baby. Ever since that reveal, it seems like every Mario title has reveled in collecting stars, shines, and the occasional thousand or so moons. Mario no longer enters levels, he only sees his worlds as a series of locations with different doodads and trinkets to collect. And, yes, it all started back in the day when he was grabbing accessories for Pauline. It may have taken a few games of collecting spare change for him to get his groove back, but later Mario titles are practically defined by their collectibles.

It’s All About the Spectacle

BONKIt’s easy to discount it all now, but Donkey Kong is also a surprisingly cinematic game. The opening invasion of Donkey Kong is very straightforward, and his impact on a local construction site explains the initial level design. And, while we might not have a clear account of why a gorilla would invade a pie factory or elevator/jack store (?), we do know the end result of his evil deeds is a rapid trip to the bottom compliments of Mario’s quick thinking. Bowser barely got wiggly toes for his first defeat, but Donkey Kong’s descent is memorable and ends with a kiss. Sure, it all precedes everything happening again for on a nigh-infinite loop, but it’s still a fun end for a fun game. Maybe the most important aspect of a game is its charm point.

For the Sequel

Looking chillyMaybe the NES just didn’t need much of an attract mode, but it seems like Nintendo didn’t return to the realm of big monkey spectacle until Donkey Kong Country. But let me tell you, once those pre-rendered chimps started running around the screen again, we were never going back to a mundane Donkey Kong ever again. DK has become one of the most animated characters in the Nintendo pantheon, and whether it’s because he’s mostly mute or monkeys just lend themselves to exaggerated actions, this Kong is back in the spectacle sphere. I can’t think of any other Nintendo hero or villain more likely to kick it to swing music and belt out an autobiographical rap.

So Why Play Donkey Kong?

Hmmm… playing Donkey Kong and its many Nintendo descendants has brought one thing to my attention…

Poor gorilla

Mario…

Poor birds

Is…

Poor thingy

A…

Poor goomba

Sadist.

Wanton cruelty? That’s why I play Donkey Kong and its many sequels? Hm. Can’t really argue with the evidence.

Sorry, guys. Sometimes the right answer isn’t always the nice one.

FGC #470 Donkey Kong

  • System: Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Switch, N64 Donkey Kong Unlockable, E-Reader, Animal Crossing, etc. It gets around. For the record, Random ROB technically chose the NES version that includes Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Number of players: Has anyone ever figured out what 2-Player B Type is all about? Can Mario Punch another Mario?
  • Favorite Stage: I’ve always been a fan of 100m, as defeating Donkey Kong is satisfying, and nothing beats a level bathed in sentient flames. Also, the final challenge is appropriately crowded in the arcade version.
  • Bit of a graphical hit thereSpeaking of crowded: You lose it on the NES, but a number of Arcade Donkey Kong stages can get very overpopulated with enemies as the stages progress. And then Donkey Kong Jr. has its “final level” with an endless number of birds that practically turn the game into a bullet hell situation. Frankly, when you look at some of these challenges, it’s no wonder that Donkey Kong 3 became a shoot ‘em up.
  • Save Your Fork, There’s Pie? Okay, the cut level from Donkey Kong Arcade, 50m, is actually supposed to still be a factory area, and there are tubs of cement that are conveying around to cause Mario’s death. So Mario is not allergic to pie, he’s simply being drowned in cement. That make enough sense to everybody?
  • Did you know? Donkey Kong 64 is a poor way to play any Donkey Kong title, left alone the only legal way to play the complete arcade version at home for decades. Real Donkey Kong’s paw situation there.
  • Would I play again: I legitimately have no idea why I enjoy Donkey Kong, but I do enjoy playing it every once in a while. It’s not my favorite by any means, but it’s always good for a quarter or two. Bless you, you crazy monkey.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time! Cowabunga! Please look forward to it!

Delicious
They’ll always be pies to me