Tag Archives: kangaroo

FGC #499 Ballz

BALLZ!In the early 90s (practically the infancy of gaming as we know it) there was a tremendous controversy over videogames, sex, and violence. There were concerns that, since videogames had progressed past being red dot versus blue dot and now featured tremendously less abstract decapitations, videogames were profane and poisoning the poor kiddies playing them, and, please, won’t someone do something to protect us all? In a move that certainly wasn’t just a shortcut to placating the masses, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was founded in 1994. It was thus to be the job of the ESRB to rate games according to their content, and clearly label every release with information denoting it as “E for Everybody” to “M for Mature”. However, a year earlier, Sega of America introduced the Videogame Rating Council, a slightly more primitive version of the ESRB that had much the same goal (pacifying Karen). In this case, we had three ratings: GA for general audiences, and two version of MA (mature audiences) with two different ages: 13 and 17. Games that earned a MA-17 rating included Lethal Enforcers and Mortal Kombat 2, while MA-13 went to the likes of Super Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat (1), and Lunar: The Silver Star Story.

And Ballz. Ballz is for mature 13-year olds only.

In a lot of ways, Ballz was improbably ahead of its time. For one thing, it’s a 3-D fighting game released about seven seconds before the era where that was the only fighting game style available. Shortly before the release of Tekken or Battle Arena Toshinden, here was a fighter taking place on a “real” 3-D plane where you could just as easily side-step around a fireball as jump. There are even techniques involved here that would become standard within the genre, like dodge rolling away from a fallen position, or grappling with an opponent in a manner that is impossible (or at least boring) in 2-D titles. And there are some systems that never caught on that could be very interesting in the right hands. Every character can morph into every other character. Could you imagine that in a more robust fighting game engine? You’re fighting the entire roster at once every time! High level play in such an environment could be amazing! Counter pick after counter pick until the timer runs out!

Bad dino!But one feature that was certainly adopted by Ballz’s fighting game descendants is the overt bombast of a seemingly average fight. The fighting game genre has always been “loud”, and anyone that spent ten seconds in an arcade in the early 90s could tell you exactly how many sonic booms were tossed by Guile in an afternoon (the answer is infinity plus one). But, as fighting games evolved in graphics, they too evolved in piercing presentation. Possibly as a result of copying real-world, “real” sports, fighting games went on to adopt cinematic staging by standardizing features like replays, wrestling-esque taunts, and announcers. As a result, the average fighting game nowadays is chattier than your average JRPG, and we’re never allowed to forget that the soul still burns. Whether or not this makes things better is up to the player, but it’s pretty clear that if you play a Japanese fighting game, and it doesn’t have seven different settings for “announcer”, toss on your hazmat suit, because you’re handling toxic garbage.

Ballz has its own announcer. Its announcer is just a little more… silent than the modern incarnations.

Ballz’s designers knew the game had to drip attitude, and that that wasn’t going to be properly conveyed by a simple fight between a ballerina and a rhino. No, they needed something more. Silent protagonists were not going to cut it, and primitive 16-bit cartridges weren’t going to support the literary magnum opus required of Ballz. What Ballz needed was special. Ballz needed a damn Jumbotron ™. Ballz decided to screw subtlety to the sticking-place, and just ram a gigantic television screen into the background. Maybe even a couple! And this screen could display taunts, announcements, and a comprehensive running fight commentary in the background. So, during each and every fight, you’ve got a background that is expounding such complicated thoughts as “administer smackies” while a few lesser screens display what appears to be an animated GIF of fireworks before displaying the game’s logo. Is it distracting? Of course! But does it convey exactly what Ballz is all about? Also yes! While it is always confusing who the hell is “talking” through the Get 'emvarious screens (some are clearly statements by the combatants, but there seems to be an omniscient “narrator” somewhere in there, too. And then there’s some random malcontent that really wants you to “taunt the ostrich”…), all of the statements stick to the basic theme and attitude of Ballz. It’s irreverent! It’s anti-establishment! In a world of sober Fatalities and Cinekills, Ballz is juvenile and insolent. Ryu is seriously trying to test his serious skills in a very serious tournament, but Yoko the Ballz Monkey is seriously going to fart in his face. This whole game is a synonym for testicles! Get it!?

And it is for this reason that I must compliment the Videogame Rating Council on a job well done.

Initially, it seemed ridiculous that this title would be rated MA-13. It’s silly! It’s a “violent” videogame, but all the characters are made of multi-colored balls. They are barely human shaped, and the idea that this title could be taken seriously in any legitimate way seems as ridiculous as a sumo wrestler tackling a kangaroo (which, to be clear, can happen in Ballz). Ballz being rated MA-13 literally puts it on the same level as the infamous Mortal Kombat, and, unless there’s some missable stage hidden around here, there is absolutely no one that has their still-beating heart ripped out of their ribs. Mortal Kombat defined videogame violence for an entire generation, while Ballz is roughly as vicious as the Pixar logo. Did you see what that desk lamp did to that letter? I am amazed children are allowed to view such a thing.

But Ballz does warrant its rating. Not because it is a violent videogame, but because only a thirteen year old would enjoy this. Ballz has a tone that matches the way a young teenager farts in the general direction of authority. This isn’t high satire, this is a game precisely designed for someone that is just mature enough to be thirteen.

BUTT STUFF

And everybody behind Ballz knew it.

So thank you, gentle members of the Videogame Rating Council in 1994, for knowing that, too. You truly thought of the children.

FGC #499 Ballz

  • System: Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo initially, and then a “director’s cut” for the 3DO. There’s a system seller!
  • Number of players: Two fighters comprised of ever so many balls.
  • This sucksPort differences: This game was very obviously designed for the Sega Genesis (the three button control scheme gives it away), but it looks so much better on the SNES. However, Nintendo did not have its own ratings board, and demanded that Ballz remove its more risqué elements. There’s no almost naked butt to be found on the SNES version, and instead of starting with “you gotta have… Ballz!” the intro reads “you’ve got to play… Ballz!” One little change makes all the difference, apparently.
  • Favorite Fighter: Crusher the Rhino-Man is exactly the kind of Spider-Man villain that I want to see appear in more games.
  • Favorite Boss: There are five separate bosses randomly sprinkled across the single player campaign. The first three are all animals, and obviously follow the traditional threat graduation schema of ostrich -> kangaroo -> tyrannosaurus. From there, you’ve got an opponent that is a blue genie that transforms into other animals, but is not actually an animal. And then the final boss is a murder clown.
  • So there’s a clown factor? Boomer the circus clown is a regular fighter, and The Jester is the final boss, organizer of this tournament, and theoretical announcer. That’s two scary clowns in one game! There should be a videogame council that exists to protect children from that.
  • Did you know? Lamprey the Genie is so named because of the general pun on the phrase “Genie’s Lamp”. He has nothing to do with eels. Thank God.
  • Would I play again: Nope. There are so many other fighting game options that are actually, ya know, good. Maybe find me a version of Ballz where everyone doesn’t feel like they’re scooting around on rollerblades, and we’ll talk.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bah. It’s #500. Let’s keep it a surprise. Tune in Friday for something or other. I’m sure it will be nice. Please look forward to it!

Nevermind...

FGC #115 Kangaroo

Go kangaThe most first world problem there is today is that we (I assume that if you’re reading this video game blog you are firmly entrenched in the first world) have far too many entertainment choices. There is a new blockbuster movie literally every week. 24 hour networks flood the airwaves with show after show in numbers far exceeding the hundreds. The whole of Western music is available for download instantaneously. And video games, oh my beloved medium of choice… Well, this is entry #115 in the FGC, and I’ve covered less than 10% of my collection alone thus far. And that’s simply my physical collection, I’m not even counting digital releases (most of which I’ve purchased for less than a Lincoln). Point is, I would likely die of old age attempting to complete every video game I have right now, and that would be ignoring the five or so new games that drop every week. If you are not entertained, you are not trying hard enough.

Of course, in thinking of “video games” as some giant wad of thousands of games, I’m ignoring the great gulfs in content between some experiences. I’ve played Grand Theft Auto 3 off and on numerous times in the last fifteen years (that can’t be right…), and I still don’t think I’ve found everything in that world. Similarly, I watch some people play games I know by heart and see techniques I never would have considered. Final Fantasy 9 has new sidequests! Top Spin can be useful! A block can be hit for 416 years! I’ve somehow written thousands of words about one single game! Whether intended or not, it doesn’t seem absurd to say that you could ream infinity hours of enjoyment from some thoughtfully constructed games.

But this, obviously, hasn’t always been the way. Video games, in their earliest incarnations, were barely more than you could fit into a single screen. Pong was two paddles and a dot. Pac-Man was a maze, some dots, Dunnofour larger dots, and a handful of moving pieces. Space Invaders was a fleet of invaders, barracks, and a ship that shot dots. I want to be clear that these games weren’t bad, they were merely very, very simple. Chess has endured for centuries, and it’s just a board and 32 pieces, so there’s nothing wrong with simple.

It was back in the age of Pac-Man and Space Invaders that Sun Electronics/Atari released Kangaroo in the arcades. Kangaroo is the eternal tale of a Kangaroo Mama getting separated from her Kangaroo Joey, and then Joey gets kidnapped by monkeys for some reason. Kangaroo Mama must now traverse four unique stages in an effort to rescue Joey and, if she’s feeling particularly saucy, collect fruit along the way. The only fruits Kangaroo Mama should avoid are the deluge of apple cores being tossed her way by a mass of malevolent monkeys. Heck, the final level practically becomes a bullet hell as Kangaroo Mama attempts to punch out a tower of chimps (a personal dream of mine, incidentally).

Kangaroo is actually a pretty fun arcade game. It has a protagonist that can do more than just jump (she can punch, too!) and you’ve got ducking options so you’re not stuck with only one way to “dodge”. By 1982 definitions, it’s pretty robust.

PowBut that is the arcade game, and ROB chose Kangaroo for the Atari 2600. As you might expect, Atari Kangaroo is a severely stripped down version of the arcade game. The graphics are reduced to practically nothing, an entire level (the most interesting, monkey-punching one) is dropped, and Boxing Guerilla, the breakout star of Kangaroo Arcade, is left on the curb. All that’s left is a game where Kangaroo Mama climbs a trio of ladder obstacle courses while avoiding incoming apples (dots) and the occasional monkey.

And it’s Donkey Kong.

Kangaroo Arcade, at its base, is a Donkey Kong clone. It’s a good Donkey Kong clone, and it’s one that added enough that it’s not immediately obvious… but once you strip out a few of the arcade’s innovations, Kangaroo Atari 2600 reveals itself as “Donkey Kong with a punch button”. Hell, it even hosts decidedly simian antagonists! Horizontal barrels have become banana-gobblers, and the vertical barrels are replaced with dropping apple dots. And now it’s just a matter of going left to right, jumping when you need to, and climbing every ladder. Hop to collect fruit (that isn’t nearly as useful as a hammer) for bonus points!

And it’s funny to compare it to what we have today. I want to say Skyrim was the most recent “everybody imitate this” hit, and, since then, we’ve seen a number of game reviews that boil down to “this is a Skyrim clone”. Have you ever really considered what that means, though? There are so many moving parts in Skyrim, so many things to do and see, that, were you to “clone” even a tenth of that game, Ouchyou’d still have an entirely different experience. The gameplay, layout, graphics, or general tone of a game may be a “clone” of Skyrim, but it still winds up being unique game. This has been going on since the age of “Mario clones” or “Sonic clones”. Hell, one of my favorite franchises started as nothing more than a “GTA clone”. Clones aren’t a bad thing!

But… they’re a bad thing when there isn’t much meat on those bones. While attempting to copy the Mona Lisa might yield an entirely new piece of art, copying a smiley face is just going to get you… a smiley face. It might be a different color, it might be a slightly different shape, but it’s still just going to be Boss Smiley. And that’s where Kangaroo lies. And where it dies. Kangaroo Atari 2600 is a lesser Donkey Kong, and that’s all it will ever be.

So, gentle reader, be glad we live in the advanced entertainment wonderland of today. A mere thirty years ago, games were so simple, the best we could hope for as a follow-up to a revolutionary title was “well, the same thing, but with a marsupial.” Sure, your death may eventually come at the hands of a collapsing cabinet of SNES cartridges, but you will not have died in vain, for you died in the name of sophisticated concepts, and the guarantee that we would never see a Kangaroo ever again.

This “first world problem” is more like “first world protection”.

FGC #115 Kangaroo

  • System: Atari 2600 is where it shows its true stripes, but the arcade is available, too. There was a later Atari release that was “arcade perfect”, but I refuse to count higher than 2,600.
  • Number of Players: Two player alternating. Go for that high score!
  • The screen is flashingRingabel: Also, every stage contains a bell that will replenish or “upgrade” the obtainable fruit throughout the level. This creates an actual reason to return to earlier parts of the stage to get the highest score… if you want to ignore your poor, lost joey like some kind of monster, that is.
  • Just play the gig, man: “Oh Susana!” and “Westminster Quarters” both get played at random points in the game. I have never understood why games past 1990 stopped using “classical” music.
  • Did you know? “Kangaroo” was actually part of the CBS Supercade animated series during 1984. She joined the cartoon block with Space Ace, and she replaced Pitfall Harry, Frogger, and, ironically, Donkey Kong Junior. Huh, if you consider DKJ his own (forgotten) entity, none of the stars of the Supercade went on to do anything interesting. Well, I guess there was that Mario guy…
  • Would I play again: No. I don’t even really like Donkey Kong that much.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen…SNK vs Capcom Chaos. Wow, we went a whole week without a fighting game, let’s get back to watching Ryu punch some Geese. Please look forward to it!