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FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

Dispatches from an alternative universe!
This article is provided by Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724

Let's do the MarioThe original Super Mario Bros. brought the concept of gaming back from the brink of ruin. So it seems only appropriate that, 35 years later, we examine its sequel, the game that crashed the videogame market forever.

Super Mario Bros. was a revelation here, there, and everywhere. When it was released in 1985, Nintendo knew they had a hit on their hands within a mere four months, which wound up being plenty of time for its creators and curators to consider a sequel. What was it about Super Mario Bros. that everyone enjoyed? Running? Jumping? Malevolent chestnuts? Jumping on malevolent chestnuts? Nobody had the answers, but the designers of Mario did have a theory: people wanted more. They had already begun working on arcade versions of Super Mario Bros., and, given this version was thirsty for quarters, it was designed to be more difficult. Could this be adapted to be the official sequel to Super Mario Bros.? Why not! Super Mario Bros. 2 would be a game that assumed you had already played Super Mario Bros. 1 until your eyes popped out of your skull, and, after a licensed optometrist put those peepers back in place, you’d be ready for more Mario challenges.

So, on a metaphorical level, Super Mario Bros. 2 was designed not to start with World 1, but Super Mario Bros. 1 World 9-1. There are no simple “tutorial” words in Super Mario Bros. 2, just militant turtles and twisting mazes. There are new mushrooms that do not grant Mario new abilities, but simply poison the plumber. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not only a game that requires you master Mario’s physics before you even pop the cartridge in your system, it is also a game that requires you memorize the intricacies of its often dubious world. Super Mario Bros. 1 disguised the length of a handful of castles with a looping maze that required a particular path, but Super Mario Bros. 2 habitually leans on warp pipes that will send Mario back to the start of a stage, or even the start of the game. Super Mario Bros. 2 requires dedication from its audience, and it makes absolutely no concessions for a novice player (give or take a secret way to earn a hundred lives within its opening level). You will lose all of your progress often and repeatedly, and only complete knowledge of the game will allow you to circumvent a frequent, inglorious Game Over.

This sucksIt seems the tipping point for this tale happened when Super Mario Bros. 2 was being exported to America. Howard Lincoln, a man who was responsible for play-testing games for American audiences, felt the game was too difficult, and would not play well with American audiences. He famously said of the game, “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.” However, Lincoln’s protests were ignored. While there was brief discussion regarding “reskinning” another title as “Super Mario Bros. 2 USA”, Super Mario Bros. 2 was released as is, with no changes or tweaks made to the abhorrent difficulty of the game. America was going to face down its first poisonous mushroom, and it would not be left in the cold by its Japanese brothers.

And it was a success. Of course it was a success! Nintendo had already set out to make Mario the most well-known mascot since Mickey Mouse, and, back in the 80’s, it looked like they were going to succeed. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 2 was difficult, but it was flanked by The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Nintendo Cereal System, and Nintendo’s own propaganda rag, Nintendo Power. In fact, many claim the success of Super Mario Bros. 2 could be attributed to its place on the cover of Nintendo Power #1 (famously showing a clay Mario as he grabbed a flagpole in front of a blue Bowser) and spread across the “tips and tricks” contained therein. Super Mario Bros. 2 needed a comprehensive guide if you hoped to conquer it, and Nintendo wisely delivered such in every toy and book store across the country. Before long, everyone was “beating” Super Mario Bros. 2, and it seemed like the gambit of releasing such a difficult game paid off. Sure, SMB2 was “beyond Nintendo hard”, but Nintendo stepped in to help the players, and, ultimately the game itself.

Unfortunately, other games weren’t so lucky.

As was said at the time: so goes Mario, so goes the world. Super Mario Bros. (1) inspired a thousand 2-D platforming clones that all attempted to capture the magic of Mario. Did any succeed? Yes, a small handful did, but certainly no greater than a dozen. Super Mario Bros. 2 had a similar effect on the trajectory of videogames. Where once a sequel would account for new players (what would eventually become known as the nigh mythical “first time gamer”), all new sequels produced decided to follow Super Mario Bros. 2’s trail. This led to a variety of games that all seemed dedicated to murdering the player within the opening moments. Bubble Bobble 2’s starting “Floor 101” combined a million monsters with a timer that could barely be surmounted. Contra 2 led to a generation memorizing its “ten extra lives code” because you’d lose your first three inside of the opening seconds. Rygar 2 utilized every mapping “trick” available to create levels that had extremely poorly defined endpoints, and Gradius 2’s “poison powerups” made acquiring a shield intolerable. Final Fantasy 2 introduced an archaic leveling system that was about as opaque as a behemoth, and Dragon Quest (Warrior in the West) 2 featured dungeons that contained traps upon traps. Even Nintendo wasn’t immune to its own hype, as The Legend of Zelda 2 released with more invisible walls and spongey “green Moblins” than you could shake a stick at. And, to this day, no one has gotten past the first stage of Punch-Out 2 without tool assists. The only sequel that seemed to dodge this absurd difficulty fate was Mega Man 2, but, even there, some said the infamous Quick Man stage seemed like something that was “Super Mario Bros. 2 hard”.

And, God, what was done to Tetris 2 was criminal. It’s no wonder the Gameboy hardly lasted a year.

glub glubThough, of course, that was the inevitable end of this trend. Super Mario Bros. 2 was a success, but every game attempting to ape Super Mario Bros. 2 just hammered a nail into the coffin of gaming harder and harder. By the time of the predicted Super Mario Bros. 3 release, sales of Nintendo consoles had plummeted. Sure, this was the system that had Mario, Link, and Kid Icarus, but nearly every game that included a “2” was an awful slog of anti-fun. If this was the direction gaming was going, apparently the general public wanted nothing to do with it. In retrospect, it should have been expected: the Videogame Crash of 1983 was followed six short years later by the Videogame Crash of 1989. Stores stopped stocking videogames at all, and, by 1990, you could no more purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System in America than a pet rock. The fad of “gaming” had faded, returned, and faded all over again within the span of a decade.

And, like E.T. before it, everyone pointed to Super Mario Bros. 2 as the most prominent example of the reason no one wanted to touch a controller ever again.

So what became of gaming after the crash of ’89? There is no shame in not being aware of the last thirty years of videogame history, as the hobby became little more than a niche occupied by some very dedicated enthusiasts. Those that stuck around after Super Mario Bros. 2 demanded more and more severe challenges, and, given they were the entire audience, the gaming companies of yesterday and today were happy to oblige. Nintendo got out of the hardware business after the twin bombs of its Nintendo Entertainment System 2 and Super Mario Bros. 4 (infamously featuring a rideable dinosaur that would, after a set period of time, eat the player), but they are still making games for the personal computer, and the recent Super Mario Bros. 35 certainly seems to be 35 times as challenging as Mario’s original adventure. Other companies from the NES era, like Capcom and Ultra, faded into the ether, but they have been replaced by modern, “indie” developers that attempt to capture the feelings of the original titles like Castlevania 2 (a game that literally asked its players to bang their heads against cliffs). Oddly, it seems the most profitable gaming Wart?company in the modern era is a British gang by the name of Rare Limited, as their most recent release, Battletoads 3, is topping the sales charts. Granted, at this point, topping the videogame sales charts is roughly as financially relevant as selling the most model train sets in June, but it is still an accomplishment.

And that’s the world that Super Mario Bros. 2 created. It was a difficult, grueling videogame, and, thanks to its unprecedented success, every other company decided to make games that were more tedious than fun. As we now “celebrate” the 35th anniversary of the first Super Mario Bros. (there is even word President Dean will publically recognize the milestone), please remember that, thanks to one fateful sequel, Nintendo also smothered gaming in its crib.

One poison mushroom is all it takes…

Thank you for the guest article, Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724. I’ll be sending over my thank-you article about the failure of HD-DVD in this universe shortly!

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

  • Dodge 'emSystem: Nintendo Famicom originally, but most of the West saw it as part of the Super Mario All-Stars compilation on the Super Nintendo.
  • Number of players: It’s just one player, right? You have to choose a brother, but can’t cooperate? That is bad, and the game should feel bad.
  • Speaking of All-Stars: The 16-bit remake really did this game dirty. The original NES version clearly has graphics that are an upgrade over the original, “launch” Super Mario Bros. palette. However, the SNES version seems to use the majority of the same assets for both games, giving the impression that SMB2j was little more than an expansion for SMB1. Way to rewrite history, Nintendo!
  • Other complaints: No new enemies or “creatures” are introduced for Super Mario Bros. 2, save that lovely toxic fungus. The Mushroom Kingdom has one of the most interesting bestiaries in gaming, so it’s kind of a shame that the likes of bob-omb, shy guy, or dry bones didn’t premiere in this title. I like a goomba as much as the next guy, but Mario is at his best when he’s introducing something more interesting than “Blue Bowser”.
  • Mario or Luigi? As a child, I saw as a child, and assumed jump height was everything. Now, as an adult, I prefer a hero that is less slippery, and is not demolished by strong winds. I have matured.
  • Other connections: You cannot tell me the same thinking that inspired SMB2j’s ridiculous “spend half the level up above the boundaries thanks to overly powerful springs” level design is not also responsible for (real) Super Mario Bros. 2/Doki Doki Panic’s more albatross riding-based stages. It feels very familiar…
  • Watch those cloudsGoggle Bob Fact: Nintendo Power goaded me into finding World 9 and sending a picture of proof so I could earn a badge of honor for my accomplishment… but I’m pretty sure my dad never properly developed the film, and it may or may not have actually been mailed. Regardless, I do not have a spiffy trophy badge, and my life is all the worse for it.
  • Did you know? The A/B/C/D levels clearly reuse stage layouts from earlier in the game, but SMB2j doesn’t otherwise recycle any levels before rescuing a princess. This is in stark contrast with SMB1, which reuses levels constantly starting with World 5’s castle. Or am I just thinking of Super Mario 35
  • Would I play again: I would literally play any other Mario game first. I don’t really believe this game would have crashed the entire videogame industry exclusively because it is bad, but I do believe SMB2j and its hidden blocks/aggravating warps was basically the start of “Kaizo Mario”, and that’s never been the reason I play Mario titles. Sorry, history, I like fun games.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country 2 for the Super Nintendo! It’s sequel time, again, so it’s time to see Diddy’s Kong Quest! Please look forward to it!

I do not care for this

FGC #545 Bangai-O Spirits

Gogglebob.com officially started in 2015, and it also contains articles written months or even years before the official launch of the site. I don’t personally consider myself someone who puts forth a “brand”, but, after something like 700 articles about videogames (total reached by including all auxiliary Kingdom Hearts and Let’s Play materials), I feel like my general opinions and “tone” have been well established. It’s been over five years of Gogglebob.com… and for most of that time, I was single. And, now, considering my bride-to-be isn’t much of a videogame fan (past some obvious luminaries), gaming is still generally a solitary hobby for myself. What am I getting at? Well, I worry, because, as of publication of this article, I am about two weeks away from getting married. Is that going to change me? Is that going to change the articles you find on Gogglebob.com? Am I going to become a “wife guy”? I’m worried about my identity! Even when I’m writing about something as esoteric as Brain Dead 13, this website is my autobiography, and I’m worried about who I am (and the site!) mutating in the face of such a drastic life change.

But, no, that’s silly. I am Goggle Bob, and, no matter what happens, no matter who becomes a permanent part of my life, a permanent part of me, I am always going to be myself. This is gogglebob.com, I am Goggle Bob, and that is never going to change.

So today I (Goggle Bob!) am going to talk about tampons.

I, being of the biological male persuasion, do not understand tampons. I am unfamiliar with their exact usage, and, while it has been explained to me a few times over the years, all I could really grok from those lessons is that they look really uncomfortable. They kind of resemble future-tech Molotov cocktails? And they’re supposed to go where? Yeah, that’s not for me. And, while I’ve had a general grip of the purpose of tampon usage for years, they had yet to live in my home until my fiancée officially moved in a little while back. Now, in the same room where I read my all-important leftover 1999 strategy guides, there is a box of tampons. And, because I occasionally get bored of reading how important it is I visit Playonline for more information, sometimes I dare make eye contact with one of those tampon boxes. And what did I find in perusing this box? Tampons come in different levels! Apparently here is the ranking for one brand:

POW

  • Light
  • Regular
  • Super
  • Super Plus
  • Ultra

And, to be clear, that is from lightest (light) to heaviest (ultra). And, while I may not be blessed with body parts that ever have to interact with a tampon, I do have an opinion on this situation from an engineering perspective: This is stupid.

Seriously, ladies (or the men that are apparently in charge of ranking women’s menstrual flow), there are some serious issues here. Light makes sense, but regular? You are claiming there is some sort of national average for periods, and it is apparently only level 2? And then super to super plus? Okay, there’s at least an escalation, but, unless you’re Kara Zor-El, I don’t think anyone has ever described anything to do with that time of the month as “super”. And the final level is ultra? Were tampons invented as a tie-in to the N64? Because that is the only explanation for a final level being “Ultra”. Ultimate is right there! It starts with a U, too!

So, in the interest of making the lives of people who menstruate better (they already have to deal with so much! Like the entire population of people who don’t!), I propose a new ranking system for tampons. In the future, all tampons should be ranked according to Bangai-O titles.

LEVEL1
Level: Light Hover Attack

The Bangai-O franchise theoretically started in the late 90’s. However, there was a game that was the main inspiration for Bangai-O: Hover Attack. Hover Attack features a robot (maybe a human?) who has a limited missile gauge and a hover gauge, but, other than those limitations, the world is their oyster. They can fly! In a game from 1984! And they’ve got a cool hoverboard, too! The people of the 80’s loved those things! Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a real Bangai-O experience, the technology of the time could not cut the muster on rendering more than a few misssiles, so it doesn’t feature what would be the defining staple of the series. It’s like Bangai-O, but if Bangai-O was much… lighter.

LEVEL2
Level: Regular Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh

WeeeeeeOkay, there’s no question here: we’re dealing with a tried and true Explosive, Invincible Bangai-O here. There is flying. There are enemies. There are missiles upon missiles upon missiles. You can blast your opponents out of the sky, and then collect enough fruit to live like a king. It’s here, and there’s no question it’s here. Or… actually, that’s kind of the problem: it’s not here. It’s Bangai-O, but it’s also limited to a Japanese release, and barely surviving there at that. So, in short, this is Bangai-O that exists, is definitely a Bangai-O experience, but is still on the slight side of things.

LEVEL3
Level: Super Bangai-O!

Oh blastNow we’re talking. If there are going to be five levels of something, here’s the exact, recognizable middle. That’s how numbers work! Bangai-O is the game we all know and love (and occasionally inspires hallucinations). This is Bangai-O… nay… BANGAI-O! and its accomplishments are legion. This is the game that taught us all to love shoot ‘em ups again in the age of ubiquitous polygons and JRPGs. This is the game that satisfied all our ids with explosions of a Bay-ian caliber. Bangai-O was a revelation… and the only downside is that many people don’t even know it had any sequels. It is the baseline of Bangai-O, so it stands in the middle of all other levels, presumably inviting an errant Goldilocks.

LEVEL4
Level: Super Plus Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury

May as well just call this game “Bangai-O: Super Plus”. It’s Bangai-O taken to the next level. Stage creation? Check. Online options? Check. Big honkin’ missiles that defy all laws of conservation of mass? Double check. Depending on your thinking, though, it is not exactly the straight-up action game that Bangai-O pioneered for the franchise. In short, thinking of this as “simply” a shoot ‘em up will get you killed pretty fast, but treating it as something closer to a puzzle title will see your ship surviving well into a fruit coma. It’s just a puzzle game where, you know, the solution involves a healthy number of explosives. Some people can’t handle it, though, so this is a fine signifier of a “heavy” Bangai-O.

LEVEL5
Level: Ultra Bangai-O Spirits

PEW PEWBut this is as hefty as Bangai-O gets. In a similar manner to its descendant, Bangai-O HD, Bangai-O Spirits is a puzzle game masquerading as an action title. But where Missile Fury sticks to a more straightforward loadout for its challenges, Spirits drowns its audience in a multiple choice quiz before every battle. Do you want to focus on shooting, or melee attacks? Bringing in the rebounding laser, or the baseball bat? Going to focus on reflecting opponent’s shots, or simply blasting them out of the sky? You’ve got options! Options upon options! And these options are absolute murder, because it is often difficult to say if you failed because you didn’t identify what you were supposed to be doing, or because you didn’t drag in whatever weapon you were supposed to have. There’s a reason this title has such a comprehensive tutorial structure (which includes the game’s seemingly contractually obligated plot), because if you’re not prepared, the “real” levels of Bangai-O Spirits are going to drown you in a deluge of pure, unfettered Bangai-O.

But if you’re aware of the weight of Bangai-O Spirits, you’ll be prepared. And that’s why tampon companies and Bangai-O should get together to revamp their level grading, and get everybody on the same page. You need to know what kind of tampon you’re purchasing in the exact same way you need to know what kind of Bangai-O you’ll be experiencing. Tampax, give me a call, I’m certain we can work out a level grading system that is a little more explosive/invincible.

FGC #545 Bangai-O Spirits

  • POWSystem: Nintendo DS, and this is another sad tale of a game being locked into a system that time has now forgotten.
  • Number of players: It’s technically multiplayer with the whole level sharing thing, but it’s really a one-player experience.
  • Are there skeletons? Yes.
  • Is there a Pac-Man pastiche? Certainly.
  • Is this the best game ever? Very much a contender.
  • What’s with that tutorial? Yes, there are a lot of tutorials involved. Yes, you should consider them completely mandatory, because there is no way you are going to remotely survive the “real game” if you don’t learn about the myriad of new ways to blow stuff up in Spirits. Also, it’s the only part of the game that has a “plot”… if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • How’s the plot? Funny, but forgettable. I’m pretty sure there are at least three characters involved. Maybe four? They probably have names.
  • Favorite weapon: It hurts my soul to not choose the baseball bat, but I’m more into the missiles that tear through enemy bullets like tissue paper. I’m sure they have a distinct designation, but that’s inconsequential: if I can survive the level with ‘em, they’re my first choice.
  • POWDid you know? You can share created levels with other players by playing tones out of the DS that other Bangai-O Spirits games can interpret and decode. This is what gaming looked like before the internet was widely available, and I am here for it.
  • Would I play again: There is a heavy, overflowing chance that that is a solid yes. Doubly so if someone could port this to a modern system. Switch? Please? This is an ideal portable experience, and I could use a new reason to wreck a joycon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Jet Set Radio! Yo yo yo, DJ Professor K is gonna tell you the righteous tale of the GGs, son. Please look forward to it!

No Pow

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

Avenging Spirit is a game that is best known for the differences in its regional box art. In Japan, there was Phantasm, and it looked like this:

Can you feel the spirit?

Whereas when it was time to sell “Avenging Spirit” to Americans, we saw a box that looked like this:

USA! USA!

And this is definitely a case of intending the book to be judged by its cover, as, give or take a translation, we’ve got the exact same game in both cases. There is no greater emphasis on tommy guns in Avenging Spirit, and the exact same goofy ghost of Phantasm is the star of both versions. Avenging Spirit attempted to gain notoriety in American arcades before the release of its home version, so the good folks at Jaleco’s marketing department thought they could goose sales by focusing on mobsters and vengeance rather than anime ghosts.

And that probably would have worked… if an American company hadn’t used the exact same concept in 1940.

Avenging Spirit is a platforming action game. Fundamentally, it is little more than Mega Man. You run. You jump. You generally have the ability to shoot. There is a boss at the end of every stage, and they run the gamut from whack-a-mole snakes to Dr. Wily’s signature pod’s second cousin twice removed. Some stages are predominantly vertical, some are extremely horizontal, and they all have way too many spikes. Hey! Don’t blame the game! Blame the quarters! But if you are looking for a little extra, rare (for the time) challenge, you can collect three hidden keys hidden randomly across the worlds of Avenging Spirit. Find them all, and you’ll earn the “good ending” wherein you successfully rescue a kidnapped damsel. Miss even a single key, and your hero will celebrate the destruction of the enemy’s base by solemnly fading into nothingness. That’s the life of a spirit for ya!

Oh yeah, guess we have to address that whole avenging spirit angle.

Spirited awayThe hook for Avenging Spirit is pretty great. Your protagonist is a ghost. That means you can fly around the screen at will, opponents can’t hurt (or presumably even see) you, and you’re free to do whatever. Only caveat? Every moment you’re an unprotected spirit, you are losing health. That’s no good! But there is a solution: you can possess your opponents, and use their bodies however you like. And, let’s be clear here, with the exception of bosses, you can possess absolutely any “monster” stalking these levels. And all of your possible victims are varied and distinct! There are kung-fu ladies with crazy agility but lousy stamina, gangsters loaded to the bear with weaponry, Rambo for some reason, a yogi mystic that can kick and fly (!), and even a few dragon people and robots. You’ve got options upon options! And, since your chosen meat shield is probably going to expire pretty quickly anyway, you’ll be hopping from body to body often throughout the adventure. It’s basically a high-stakes version of Kirby’s Adventure where you try out a new skin suit anytime you get bored. … And is that more or less creepy than your average cannibalism-based platformer?

But lest you think you’re some random ghost that just decided to fight criminal organizations one day, there is a dedicated story/excuse for Avenging Spirit, too. The eponymous spirit technically starts this adventure as an average boy wandering around with his average girlfriend. But! Oh no! Disaster strikes when a murder of mobsters gun down our hero and kidnap his dear girlfriend. But all is not lost! Turns out your girlfriend’s dad was researching ghost energy, and Dr. Spengler is going to bring you back to un-life for the express purpose of rescuing his daughter. So you are the avenging spirit, off to save the day and (hopefully) save your best gal along the way.

And if that plot sounds remarkably familiar, it is because it is nearly exactly the original origin story of DC Comic’s The Spectre.

GangstaIn 1940, Jerry Siegel, one of the creators of Superman, premiered The Spectre in More Fun Comics #52. Spectre’s origin was practically already relayed in this article: Jim Corrigan was on his way to his fiancée’s engagement party (I’m no marriagologist, but wouldn’t that be his party, too?), when he was stopped by mobsters that killed him and fitted him with the ol’ cement shoes (or maybe a barrel). Jimmy would have been left to rot on the floor of the bay, but a mysterious, potentially omnipotent entity revives Jim Corrigan with the express purpose of avenging his own murder. Corrigan is revived as The Spectre, a vaguely superheroic apparition that wastes no time in saving his fiancée from those same thugs that led to his own end. Undead James decides to break off the engagement (apparently being a ghost-man is not as sexy as Patrick Swayze would lead you to believe), but he does continue living his “life” as The Spectre, avenging spirit.

But, while there may be similarities, there are more than a few differences between our featured phantasms. Our videogame avenging spirit, for instance, is fueled by science and a grieving father, whereas his comic book counterpart has pretty consistently been on a mission from capital-G God. Yes, that’s right, there is a divine god of the universe in the DC Comics universe, and his primary focus seems to be reanimating dudes so they can menace mobsters. What’s more, there is a drastic difference in power sets between the two specters. Possession is the reason for the season for Avenging Spirit, but The Spectre started his tenure by using godly power to visit divine punishment upon his foes. In short, Avenging Spirit is a weak ghost in need of a host to so much as throw a kick, while The Spectre has enough power to fight the anti-creator of the universe (the history of the DC universe is as eclectic as it is mind-boggling). In short, these two ghost-men may have similar origins, but their afterlives went in wildly different directions.

And maybe that’s the difference between Eastern and Western fantasies.

It's the invisible manLook, you can slap a mobster on the cover of Avenging Spirit. You can even claim that art is relevant, as the spirit is out for vengeance, and he absolutely can possess a criminal wielding a gun. This is technically something that happens in Avenging Spirit. However, the circumstances of it happening is not what is being displayed on that box. That picture is a mobster that is closer to Scarface, a villain mad with power both real and imagined, and firing wildly at any perceived threat that comes his way. That is patently not what happens in Avenging Spirit. If you possess a mobster in Avenging Spirit, you are doing it to stave off an incremental death that is constantly stalking your digital avatar. You have a “real world” powerful weapon, but your gun barely puts a dent in those robots reprising with missiles. You’re the archetypical “bad guy”, but you’re also just plain a bad guy at jumping. There’s nothing empowering about being an avenging spirit. We’ve got a fun game here, but odds are good you’re going to see the continue screen more than a few times across your quest. And you’ll probably miss a few keys, see the bad ending, and watch your hero fade unfulfilled into the afterlife. Meanwhile, The Spectre does not dissipate into some Heaven-based reward. The Spectre friggen’ turns his opponents into helpless candles, and then sticks them on some kid’s birthday cake. The Spectre of DC Comics is a living tommy gun, and he’s got the unlimited bullets of God on his side.

Many bodies availableSo good try, Jaleco, you correctly identified that Americans would rather see a spirit of vengeance with unlimited power than the friendly ghost that appeared in Japan. The Spectre has been a marginally successful hero for the last 80 years of DC Comics (I’m pretty sure he’s more popular than Animal Man), while Avenging Spirit barely survived long enough to see a 3DS rerelease. Unfortunately, Avenging Spirit did not offer the ghost power-trip that Americans desire, so it is remembered as little more than a meme on these shores. Yes, Americans want guns and mobsters, but, more than that, we want power, and Avenging Spirit is about as powerful as a faint fart.

… And if anyone at DC Comics wants to create a videogame featuring The Spectre rampaging through a city like Godzilla, go ahead and give me a call. I’ve got some concept documents around here somewhere…

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

  • System: Gameboy for the home version, arcade for the most colorful version. It was also released on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2011, which seems almost impossible.
  • Number of players: One on the Gameboy, two in the arcade. It is two player alternating, though, which unfortunately negates the joy of two ghosts fighting over possession of one body.
  • Favorite Opponent/Ally: There are these wizard looking dudes that can shoot lightning, and that’s really all I need. The yogis rank second, because they’re terrible at bosses, but the gift of flight is always the bee’s knees.
  • Wildly different graphicsPort-o-Call: The arcade version is lush and colorful, but it is also a dedicated quarter killer. You can’t even de-possess a dude without throwing yourself into suicide. That said, the Gameboy version plays better and seems to be more balanced for actually finishing the game, but the graphics seem more… abstract. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just a matter of the arcade version displaying what things are supposed to look like (yes, that is a dinosaur man walking around) fills in more than a few blanks on the Gameboy version.
  • An end: If you find all the keys, you not only rescue your girlfriend, you possess her as the “final” possession in the game. So you fight the end boss with the overwhelming power of love! And then the ending is… a little weird. Our avenging spirit completely dies, but at least he got to… be his girlfriend for a while? That sounds awkward.
  • Did you know? Okay, yes, DC Comics’ Deadman is closer in powerset to our featured Avenging Spirit. But even he routinely possesses the likes of Batman and Superman, and “I get to be Superman for a little bit, but even more quippy” is its own kind of power fantasy.
  • Would I play again: Why not? This is a fun, unique game, and there really isn’t anything like it out there in its era or this one. I’m not certain Geist ever actually existed, and it’s not like you see Mario possessing his opponents with some manner of magical hat or something.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Splatterhouse! We’re going to splat this and that! Please look forward to it!

Avenge this

FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

ZOOMI don’t know about your experience, but, back in the 90’s, the local arcades had more than a few beat ‘em up mainstays. There was always Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles and/or Turtles in Time. The Simpsons was a staple, and so was X-Men. But once you got past those, there could be anything and everything. Did this arcade have Final Fight? Or a Neo-Geo? Or… what? There were so many beat ‘em ups back in the day, and it’s a damn shame so many have been lost from the annals of time. So, on the occasion of ROB choosing Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (making a choice leftover from our “games preservation is important” featured series), let’s take a look at the 90’s beat ‘em ups that time forgot. After all, in this modern age, these are games that are as classic as cadillacs, but as extinct as dinosaurs.

Ninja Combat

Go ninja goRelease Year: 1990

Length: 0:35

What is it? Good ol’ fashioned ninja violence erupts as a pair of ninja have to fight evil ninja in a ninja fortress that has appeared in Ninja York City. Joe and Hayabusa (no relation to other, better-known ninja) are against the world, and all they have to help them is infinity shurikens and the occasional ninja scroll (no relation to other, better-known ninja scrolls).

What’s the hook? Actually, they’re not completely alone. The duo are joined by three other allies that start as enemies, and, as the stages progress, you can select different characters with different abilities. So you actually earn skills as you progress in a beat ‘em up! That’s neat! Other than that, it’s a pretty traditional beat ‘em up featuring terrible walk animations and a main attack that has slightly better range than Cody’s fists.

How is the cast? The original dummies are useless, and should be banished to World Heroes. Then you get a dude that dual-wields swords, and you never have to deal with those nitwits again. You also eventually have the choice of an overly muscled bruiser that punches swords for fun, and a woman that is just straight-up a rejected 80’s She-Ra character. She can summon butterflies, apparently. I’m pretty sure her name is Butter-Beater or something.

Best Boss? A mecha dinosaur-man starts a fight by tackling an entire train, and the battle ends when you decapitate the sucker. That’s 30% more radical than anything that happens in most beat ‘em ups.

What’s that on the ground? You’re in New York City, so American food abounds. Grab a burger or two if you need some health.

Anything else? There are a number of opponents that look like klansmen. Punch them extra hard.

Is it worth a quarter? This is an extremely janky game, but it’s not without its merits. As a title that came out in… 1990? What? I thought this was, like, something from 1986. What the hell? Dude, SNK/Alpha Denshi should have known better by this point. I take it back, play anything other than Ninja Combat. You can summon a fire dragon better in other games.

Growl / Runark

GROWL!Release Year: 1991

Length: 0:35

What is it? Nefarious poachers are capturing local animals, so it’s your job to get out there and rescue ‘em all! Save elephants, birds, and at least two guerillas by punching every ever-loving thing you can see. And if you happen to find a weapon, you can whip ‘em, and whip ‘em good.

What’s the hook? This is pulpy as hell, so if you like Indiana Jones or Doc Savage, you’ll be right at home. Additionally, some animals wind up helping during the battle, so it’s nice to play at least one old school game where birds aren’t your mortal enemy. But if Growl does one thing well, it’s mobs. There are so many opponents on the screen at one time that you’ll have to invite three buddies to come along for some poachin’ punchin’. And Growl is equal opportunity! There are women in business suits with grenades, so don’t feel bad about inviting some gals to the party.

How is the cast? There are four possible characters, but, visually, it’s two sets of twins. Though they do all have different stats! … Which also kind of sucks, as “health” is a stat, and why are you going to take a gamble on dying faster in a game that literally charges you more the more you die? That’s just not cool, Growl!

Best Boss? About halfway through the game, you must fight an army of classy, chubby dudes in fezzes. Now, I’m not saying that this finally simulates what it would be like to face an army consisting entirely of evil clones of Sallah, John Rhys-Davies’s character from Indiana Jones, but it is certainly similar to that situation straight from our wildest dreams.

What’s that on the ground? The Sega Genesis port provided health powerups (apples, incidentally), but the original arcade version only offers weapons. Grenades, guns, and daggers are all available for your fighting pleasure. Oh, and be careful with that dynamite, opponents literally explode in this universe, and you don’t want to get too many human remains on your unbuttoned shirt.

Anything else? There is exactly one, seemingly random platforming section inside of a volcano. Other than that and one bonus stage that involves punching boxes, this is all violence against your fellow man.

Is it worth a quarter? Oh, I completely forgot to mention the dude with lit dynamite strapped to his chest that throws tanks around. He seemed kind of important. Whatever! This is a fun beat ‘em up, and offers no lack of people to beat up. Give or take how easily your character can be hit-stunned (which is why you bring a buddy!), this is a great time for all, and particularly enjoyable if you’re interested in finding out the greatest secret behind poaching (spoilers: all poachers are led by an evil butler that is being mind-controlled by an alien worm. Now you know!).

Eight Man

Eat it, SevenRelease Year: 1991

Length: 0:30

What is it? Eight Man, Kazumasa Hirai’s 1963 manga, is widely regarded as the origin of super cyborg heroics in Japanese culture. In much the same way that Superman got a weird, quasi-beat ‘em up in the arcades in 1988, Eight Man earned his time to shine in 1991. It was exactly as weird as Superman’s adventure.

What’s the hook? This is another beat ‘em up that tows the line between outright beatin’ and 2-D platforming. There are bottomless pits abound, and you’re constrained to the one dimension. That said, for being that weird kind of in-between experience, it’s pretty good. There may be an overreliance on stages that take place while running, though. They’re all the exact same stage! And they happen way too often!

How is the cast? Eight and Nine are just color swaps, so nothing interesting there. I suppose it should be noted that Nine is his own distinct person in the manga, but here he’s just Super Mario Bros. 3 Luigi. Let the second player have his own personality!

Best Boss? Just like R-Type, there is one stage that is entirely given to some giant floating fortress thingy. Unlike R-Type, you’re just a little dude, so it’s a little more difficult to punch a plane into submission. But you can do it! If you try!

What’s that on the ground? No food for Eight Man, but you can grab some capsules out of the sky for additional energy. It’s very Contra. And if you score enough Eight Energy, you’ll be an explosive ball of invincible energy. Nothing like mowing down every evil robot in town.

Anything else? Apparently everyone in this world subsists on a steady diet of gasoline, so absolutely everything is about as volatile as a hummingbird sipping on nitrous. Sometimes sharks explode.

Is it worth a quarter? Everybody should fight an angry, biologically engineered dog at least once, right? It’s not the best beat ‘em up out there (or maybe even a beat ‘em up at all, depending on your criteria), but it does continually convey a feeling of “action”, so it should get your adrenaline pumping. If you feel like being a super-powered cyborg man, you could do much worse.

Pu•Li•Ru•La

Release Year: 1991

Length: 0:25

What is it? It’s a beat ‘em up of a different color. This whole game looks like a Ghibli film (albeit one possible on 90’s arcade hardware), and the plot is a little unusual for the genre. A boy and a girl are given magic wands to rescue the concept of time from a time-guard that has accidentally transformed into a malevolent clown. This ain’t Metro City! The majority of your opponents are also animals that have been transformed, so whacking them into submission also leads to a surprising amount of platypuses running around the screen.

What’s the hook? Look at this nonsense! There’s an entire stage that exists in a living dream, and it’s crowded with photo-realistic giant people. All of Radishland is a fever dream of colors and animations, and you’d be hard pressed to find another beat ‘em up with such a creative look. Bart Simpson never had to deal with being licked to death.

How is the cast? Unfortunately, for all the creativity on display, the actual playable characters are rather dull. You’ve got boy, who is occasionally surly in dialogue, and girl, who seems to be the responsible “big sister” type. Apparently their names are Zac and Mel? It doesn’t matter, though, as they’re just Mario & Luigi and little more than combat delivery devices.

Best Boss? Disappointingly, the ridiculous dream stage ends with a Kabuki Quantum Fighter boss, and not some manner of photo-realistic cow or whatever. However, the previous level involves some kind of Tengu-Face-Woman monster with an incredibly phallic nose, so that’s going to be my pick. Incidentally, there’s another boss with what seems to be a bladed-codpiece, so I don’t think that nose flopping around is an accident.

What’s that on the ground? There aren’t traditional food pickups in PLRL, but there are bikinis scattered about that, when whacked with a magical wand, summon faeries. They may restore health or magic. Oh yeah. Did I mention the magic yet? These are essentially Golden Axe-style magic spells, but instead of summoning a blazing dragon, you wind up with a stampede of dogs, or a giant microwave. That is a good trade-off for never finding floor meat.

Anything else? The American/International version is censored. The original involves an area featuring giant lady legs, and a door between them that releases pink elephants. This may or may not be a metaphor.

Is it worth a quarter? You could get a lot out of Pu•Li•Ru•La just by watching its attract screen, but it is worth a play to “see what happens next” at least once. And you get to save woodland creatures! That’s always worked for Sonic the Hedgehog.

Metamorphic Force

BEAST MODERelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:40

What is it? This is practically a license-less version of Konami’s own X-Men arcade game, but, since those mighty mutants set the standard for super powers, somebody had to figure out an alternative. How about the same gameplay, but now you’re a werewolf? Does that work for everybody?

What’s the hook? Obviously, we’re pulling a page from Altered Beast, and each of the fighters can transform into anthropomorphic animals on the regular. Naturally, this means you have to fight an army of lizard creatures (and the occasional oni), and the final boss is going to be Trogdor the Dragon Man. It’s a furry convention. That’s the hook.

How is the cast? In what may or may not be an allusion to Captain Planet, four generally fit dudes have been chosen from across the globe to channel the spirits of ancient animal warriors. The French Claude attacks with a rapier and can become a wolfman. Ban is a Japanese martial artist that may be a bull. Max appears to be the American boxer that can transform into a panther. And the best is Ivan, who is supposed to be Russian, but is clearly Canadian. He’s wearing flannel and attacking with a recently cut log! … Or maybe I imagined the flannel. He’s still got the log, though! And he can transform into a bear, which, given the beard, seems redundant.

Best Boss? An entire stage is given over to the She-Devil that is decked out in some manner of 90’s swimsuit, but the more worthy boss is the Optimus Prime-looking robot man that lives in the Moai ruins. Granted, he’s probably just a rejected design for Nimrod from the X-Men game, but it’s nice to have something metal to punch in a game full of scaly dudes.

What’s that on the ground? There is one hidden prime rib in this game, but otherwise, you’re stuck with chalices that reward health and/or animal energy. And when these powerups don’t explode out of defeated bosses, they’re generally found by pummeling Golden Axe-esque gnomes… or at least some dude running around with a giant bag. That is marginally more interesting than an army of barrels (also available).

Anything else? You’ve got Gauntlet-style health, so it’s a numeral, and it’s constantly decreasing, regardless of your own skill level. This is a quarter killer down to the bone.

Is it worth a quarter? It turns out X-Men might not be that fun without the X-Men! Metamorphic Force has an interesting style, but the fact that you can’t always be in beast mode really detracts from the experience. Whenever you’ve been beaten down into human form, everything takes far too long to die, and you’re mostly just idling, waiting for that powerup gnome to waddle on over. And nobody likes to kill time in a beat ‘em up! That said, the graphics are memorable, the vaguely Grecian setting is distinct, and you’d be hard pressed to find another game that offers more lizard punching.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man

Further go ninjaRelease Year: 1993

Length: 1:00

What is it? The Baseball Hall of Fame has been ransacked, and you control one of four sentai/robot baseball people. They vaguely resemble what would happen if Mega Man had to fight a series of Robot Masters all based on Strike Man. But the nonsensical plot is nothing next to the bright, colorful visuals and general sense of humor throughout this universe.

What’s the hook? It’s a beat ‘em up from Irem, so this doesn’t come from the Capcom/Konami pedigree. But is it any good? Oh my yes. This game deserves to steal X-Men’s spot in the arcade! If the game wasn’t impregnably Japanese, this would have probably been a gigantic hit stateside. In a world that didn’t need another overly dour beat ‘em up, Ninja Baseball Bat Man goes all in on being “fun”, and it wholly succeeds.

How is the cast? Another “everybody gets a specific skill” situation. Captain Jose (Red) is balanced, Twinbats Ryno (Green) dualwields (baseball bats) with incredible speed, Beanball Roger (Yellow) is heavy and powerful, and Stick Straw (Blue) has significant reach. Also, unlike a certain group of turtles, these brothers all have distinct body types and sizes. Straw (“Daaaaarryl”) is the best, not because of his long range, but because he has the classiest walking animation.

Best Boss? The finale is the evil baseball commissioner wearing a golden statue of Babe Ruth that has been partially transformed into a giant robot. Coincidentally enough, that antagonist also appears during the finale of The Grapes of Wrath.

What’s that on the ground? Pizza and various baseball foods are available. You can also summon a troop of cheerleaders that may damage your opponents, or leave additional food. No matter what happens, they will make you feel better about your quest to stamp out a bunch of murderous baseball robots.

Anything else? This was apparently an attempt by Irem to appeal to Americans. We like baseball, right? And sentai heroes fighting tanookis? That sounds American!

Is it worth a quarter? Do I need to repeat the bit about the Babe Ruth statue again? Because I will if I have to.

Monster Maulers

MonstrousRelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:30

What is it? Choose one of three sentai-esque heroes, and repel a monster invasion across the globe. There are special moves, a malevolent/medium-sexy centaur, and ultimate villains that are basically the
Doronbo Gang. Haven’t you always wanted to punch them? Now you can!

What’s the hook? Truth be told, this is mostly an asymmetrical fighting game. The various monsters across the globe could be interpreted as a series of “bosses” that are missing their usual mooks, but this still controls like a fighting game, complete with fireball motions. That said, the last levels finally offer some generic guys in the form of regular-sized robots, so Monster Maulers is going on this list. Consider this the lost bridge between the gameplay of Final Fight and Street Fighter 2, as remixed by Konami (and maybe Yatterman).

How is the cast? Your sentai heroes du jour are generic guy, generic girl, and super wrestler prime. Eagle, the man with the muscles, offers the opportunity to piledrive a floating brain, so he’s clearly the best pick. But Kotetsu and Anne are both very distinctive, and you can probably have fun with them while pummeling intermittently gross collections of sentient organs. After all, somebody has to choose Ryu every once in a while.

Best Boss? Fungus/Slime is a… slime. It morphs through a variety of forms, though, so it’s a little more interesting than your typical Dragon Quest opponent. Just try not to get absorbed into its membrane. It is going to take, like, seventeen bottles of shampoo to cure that condition.

What’s that on the ground? Monster Maulers is unfortunately too close to a fighting game to include powerups. Sorry!

Anything else? The best way to beat the multi-headed Dragon is to get up on the hydra’s back.

Is it worth a quarter? This is a very unique game (for the 90’s), so it’s worth giving it a go at least once. The bosses are interesting, the graphic design is eclectic, and the ending involves a surprising amount of man butt. And it’s a Konami game, so you know you’ll get to pummel a Moai head. What’s not to like?

Violent Storm

Too violentRelease Year: 1993

Length: 0:45

What is it? In a post-apocalyptic future, three buds must battle through a street gang of mutants and cyborgs in an effort to rescue their friend that is also a girl. It’s basically Double Dragon… which itself was biting hard on Fight of the North Star, but there is an important difference here…

What’s the hook? Violent Storm is arguably a parody of Double Dragon, as it certainly leans hard into its own madcap humor. What’s funnier than physical violence? More beat ‘em ups should be this amusing! Regardless, “Dabel” busting through a wall is clearly not Abobo, so stop trying to claim this game is plagiarism. Parody is fair use!

How is the cast? Wade, Boris, and Kyle are all very distinct with their own special moves and preferences for radio stations. They absolutely do not have any idea how to dress, but they’re excellent martial artists, and Kyle even went the extra mile and stole Chun-Li’s lightning kick. He’s the winner, but all of the boys “feel” fun to use, so you can’t go wrong with this trio.

Best Boss? It’s hard to choose! Perusing the final stage’s museum for portraits of the bosses, you’re reminded of the likes of Drigger the wrestler that looks like he was beamed out of Conan the Barbarian, or Sledge, who may or may not be trying (and failing) to cosplay as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. But I’m going to go with Doyle, the boss of the factory stage, who apparently attempted to load himself into Power Loader, but only got halfway through, so he’s merely equipped with fork arms and a jetpack. He tried!

What’s that on the ground? There is food all over the place. There’s even a woman in the background of one stage eating what is clearly a pizza powerup, but she won’t share. Hand that over, lady, I’m trying to rescue people here.

Anything else? The music is Splatoon-y as hell. Not coincidentally, this might be the one game on this list that really makes me want to find the soundtrack.

Is it worth a quarter? Yes. God yes. Maybe this is just because I play a lot of beat ‘em ups, but it is a breath of fresh air to play one that doesn’t take itself absurdly seriously. This is a genre about punching the same dudes over and over again in remotely different configurations. You need to be able to have fun with that, every other beat ‘em up producer of the 90’s! Are you listening to me?!

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs!Release Year: 1993

Length: 1:00

What is it? Based on the animated series of the same name (itself based on a comic), this is a Capcom beat ‘em up very much in the vein of Final Fight. In fact, the general gameplay feels exactly the same, the graphics for the map are very similar, and some of the generic mooks are all but exact copies of their Metro City cousins. But Final Fight didn’t feature any dinosaurs, now did it? Also, Blanka of Street Fighter is a guest opponent (under the alias “Bludge”), and he’s always a good time.

What’s the hook? Aside from dinosaurs that must be “protected” lest they become rampaging monsters, the hook here is that you get to drive a Cadillac and mow down baddies for exactly one level. Other than that, the best you can hope for is the occasional lizard man to break up the monotony.

How is the cast? This one takes a page from Alien vs. Predator and makes the characters distinct through their proficiencies. Jack is balanced, Hannah uses items (re: guns) effectively, Mustapha is quick, and Mess is the bruiser. Mess completely wrecks house, and his only downside is an impossibly stupid name.

Best Boss? One stage features a parasite monster that leaps from generic guy to generic guy creating new dinosaur-mutants. This bug creates an unusual amount of tension, as it’s hard to tell when and if it will ever be defeated, as it continually finds new and bigger hosts. That’s a pretty good trick for a game in a genre that traditionally betrays pressure with life bars.

What’s that on the ground? This is a Capcom beat ‘em up, so a whole variety of different food items are available. There are also guns and rocket launchers that will literally blast your opponents into meaty pieces. Please do not eat the chunks.

Anything else? The final boss is a two headed tyrannosaurus man with a scientist stuck in his chest. That leaves an impression.

Is it worth a quarter? It might be a Final Fight clone with guns, but Final Fight is one of the best, so it’s pretty damn fun. Like every beat ‘em up on this list, it’s easy to enjoy your time with Cadillacs and dinosaurs.

FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

  • The living endSystem: Arcade only, guys. Maybe one day we’ll see some kind of home version. Maybe something that inexplicably also includes every other game on this list? You can use my name if you want, developers!
  • Number of players: The rare three-player option. It would be four, but somebody has to drive the caddy.
  • Favorite Weapon: You get a free rocket launcher every time you have to continue. This allows you to absolutely obliterate your opponents, and I see no problem with that. Rockets are surely worth a quarter.
  • It Stinks: The official, canon explanation for how cars run in the future of CaD is that all vehicles have been modified to be fueled by dinosaur dung. Crapillacs from Dinosaurs.
  • For the Sequel: Cadillacs and Dinosaurs: The Second Cataclysm for the Sega CD is more of a shoot ‘em up than a beat ‘em up. It also bombed miserably, which is probably why we never saw a home port of the arcade game. Elon Musk was also a credited programmer on that project, which cannot be good for anybody.
  • Did you know? Cadillacs and Dinosaurs is based on the comic Xenozoic Tales. XT was published from 1987 to 1996 by Kitchen Sink Press, and offers… 14 issues. Man, Spider-Man stars in that many comic books in like a week! Whatever, at least it was popular enough to spawn a videogame and a candy bar.
  • Would I play again: Why not? It’s a fun little beat ‘em up, and those can be an excellent way to relax. The fact that dinosaurs are involved in this title is just gravy.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors 2! Wizards are moderately scary, so that’s an allowed pick for October. … Even if I hate the damn game. Please look forward to it!