Tag Archives: keep beach city weird

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 #640 Resident Evil 4

Biohazard!This is our official Halloween article for the year, so we may as well look at something spooky. What do we have available? Ghosts? No, those are too played out. Vampires? Been there, done that a lot. Hell? Ditto. The Grim Reaper? Did that last year. Skeletons? No, some of my best friends are skeletons. Zombies? Getting closer. Oh! I know! We will cover the scariest thing of all…

My good boys and ghouls, today we are going to talk about organized religion.

And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at one of the best games of all time, Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 was released in 2005 on the Nintendo Gamecube, and, unlike the rest of the Capcom Five (five games [finally four] all meant to bolster the Nintendo Gamecube with exclusivity), Resident Evil 4 became a game that would live to see a version/port on every successive console generation (sorry you didn’t make it, Viewtiful Joe). And with good reason! Resident Evil 4 is somehow the perfect combination of gorgeous, modern, and… there should really be a better word for this… videogamey. Maybe it was a result of a tortured, years long development process (that wound up accidentally spawning another franchise), or maybe it was because Capcom had been creating videogames since some of its fans were in diapers, but Resident Evil 4 somehow became a videogame’s videogame. Put another way, this is a serious game about a serious special agent completing a serious mission in a serious world… that somehow still finds the time to include a minecart level. And it is integrated flawlessly! It is the most natural minecart level in the history of minecart levels! Whoever was responsible for that should be recognized as history’s greatest mind!

VroomIn fact, Resident Evil 4 may be such a great game exclusively because it perfectly integrates gaming conventions into a story/setting that would be indistinguishable from something you would see premiering after Better Call Saul (or… what was prestige television in 2005… Bones? It was Bones, wasn’t it?). Leon has a variety of “real world” weapons with recognizable advantages and disadvantages, and they all conveniently can be “leveled up” and are associated with color-coded ammo bundles. “Item drops” are a huge part of the game experience, but it makes perfect sense that a random villager would have some of the local currency on their person. And as for life-up drops… maybe they were trying to bring that healing herb back home to their sick child! And speaking of herbs, the whole “combine life up items into better life up items” thing is as anti-reality as it gets, but it somehow feels right that Leon is a survivor that can do some light pharmaceutical work while wandering around a haunted castle.

And the focus of Leon’s mission, rescuing Ashley Graham, President Graham’s daughter, is the dreaded escort mission gameplay taken to its logical extreme. Analyzing how much of the game sees the player palling around with Leon and Ashley simultaneously explicates how subtle much of Resident Evil 4 is with its gameplay: Ashley is not actually present for great swaths of the adventure, primarily because there are many reasons for the duo to separate (reasons usually involve new and interesting ways to be kidnapped). But your brain fills in the gaps, and imagines this to be a buddy comedy with the super cop (not a cop) and his attendant damsel in distress. The reality is that the gameplay of where Ashley is “escorted” makes enough of an impact to paper over the parts where the “videogame” pushes through, and Leon must stalk through a lava stage to earn one of three statue pieces that will unlock the next boss fight. But no matter, you will tell your friends that this is a fun, realistic game where you are protecting a woman while gunning down magical zombies left and right.

Is it hot in here?Oh, excuse me. You do not fight zombies in Resident Evil 4. You fight “Ganados”, the majority of which belong to the Los Illuminados cult.

So, yes, your enemy in Resident Evil 4, from your first villager to the final battle against a mutant “Pope”, is a battle against organized religion.

Now, to be clear for anyone who may have avoided Resident Evil 4 but is inexplicably still reading this article, Los Illuminados is not based on any real-world religion. Its icon looks more like something that would make a cool tattoo than anything associated with a real faith. Their robes were clearly generic Big Lots clearance hauls, and their churches are Catholic buildings because they only had a maximum of ten years to convert the local population to the hot new craze. So, okay, there may be a little Christianity mixed in there, but only because Spain already had some old religion laying around ready to be repurposed. But the actual beliefs of Los Illuminados are what is important here, and that has nothing to do with Christianity. These dudes worship a very real (in their world) parasite that is spread through injections. For the average person in Los Illuminados, there is a simple baptismal ceremony that involves ingesting parasite eggs, only to then be “reborn” with a mature parasite, and then it is back to a life of mundane farming and unwavering loyalty to the administrators higher up on the food chain. So, okay, it is pretty much feudal Christianity right down to the blissful servitude (serf-itude), but… uh… At least Christianity never gives you a sentient sword for a head! As far as I know!

This seems familiarBut the obvious religious parallel of Los Illuminados is not important beyond one simple thing: Los Illuminados is immediately recognizable as a religion. Upon starting the game, in short order you are introduced to devout opponents, random documents talking about faith, and a Rasputin-looking leader running around raving like a madman. Your ultimate opponent, Osmund Saddler, is eventually proven to be a plotting bio-weapon research chief, but he certainly dresses the part of high priest (complete with freaky parasite staff). And from village to castle to island compound, you encounter armies of Los Illuminados followers that are 100% willing to die to protect what they consider to be the cornerstone of their faith. Sure, there is a bit of a “mind control parasite” thing going on here, but you are not simply fighting people here, you are fighting believers.

And that’s why these zombies are scarier than anything you ever saw back in Raccoon City.

Noted Quaker and church billboard inspiration subject D. Elton Trueblood once eloquently stated “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” And, let’s be real here, “trust without reservation” is terrifying. Unconditional trust, like unconditional love, sounds wonderful for the person experiencing it, but horrifying for anyone that might “get in the way” of said trust. You cannot reason with someone that trusts without substantiation. You cannot disprove or present evidence to refute someone with unconditional trust. You literally cannot stop such a thing from continuing when a simple nugget of doubt is no longer an option. And that is all well and good in a situation wherein someone believes in something universally generous… but it is significantly more of a problem if they believe in a religion that actively encourages hurting others. Or they believe in a religion that has been perverted to make it appear that you should be hurting others. And then you have a situation where someone believes in a God that loves all His children, except maybe those different folk around the block. We should limit their rights, or find new and interesting ways to hurt them. It is the only way, because my belief in my God is unwavering, and this is what He wants.

Sorry, guyYou cannot fight faith. In the same way you cannot stop a teenager from running off with their latest beau that they are convinced they will love forever, the only cure for crippling faith is the person involved finding their own way through those beliefs. And when you factor organized religion into the deal, things get even worse. A person may eventually discover they have believed in something dishonest, but when they are surrounded by a veritable gang of people who all believe the same thing, it becomes unlikely they will ever come to a revelation that contradicts the group. Throw in a few leaders that likely have personal goals that can be bolstered by a legion of followers, and you have an association built to trap people in a cage of (false) certainty. And an organization filled to the brim with rational people willing to do anything irrational just so long as it pleases the group and its leaders? It is hard to imagine anything scarier…

And Resident Evil 4 illustrates this doomsday scenario to the letter. Saddler starts as a man with a plan, and influences a weak local official (a child monarch) to gain the resources he needs to distribute his faith. Then, he uses a local priest to spread the word of cleansing one’s sins through the magic of plague eggs. After converting the whole of a Spanish village, Saddler gets ready for the big leagues. The strategy that instigates the plot of Resident Evil 4 is using an American turncoat to capture the president’s daughter, and then eventually return her infested with the light of creepy parasites. This would convert a global superpower to the bad religion, and, from there, the world would be next on the chopping block. So if you need a quick summary of this plan, it was a short hop from charismatic smart guy to local religion to marriage of church and state to apocalypse.

And all it takes is a little blind faith.

HERE COMES GODOrganized religion is not inherently bad. However, the potential for devotion and its inevitable structuring being exploited for nefarious purposes is infinite. Whether it be abused by an enterprising biologist or an entire political party, religion can be used as a force for subjugating people, and bringing more evil into this world.

And that’s your chilling Halloween tale for 2022.

FGC #640 Resident Evil 4

  • System: It all started on the Nintendo Gamecube. However, it could not be confined, so there was an outbreak on the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and (most recently) the Oculus Quest 2. We are going to draw special attention to the Nintendo Wii version, as it had special aiming controls that are completely repellent. Or that may just be my uncoordinated ass saying that.
  • Number of players: You can play with any of a variety of mercenaries, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Weapon: The rocket launcher is forbidden, right? I guess the Rifle (semi-auto) wins then, as there are so many places where you can snipe off a group of monsters that are standing around doing nothing. Hey chain gun guy! Please don’t move while I decapitate you! Thanks!
  • Memories of the Past: Remember the chainsaw Gamecube controller? That had to be the most ill-advised controller of its generation… Even if it did predict exactly what we would keep seeing on the Wii…
  • COME ON!Say something mean: For a game that so perfectly mixes gameplay and plot, Ashley is a big letdown. From a conceptual standpoint, anytime Ashley is kidnapped should be literally the worst thing to happen to Leon, as his entire mission is rescuing Ashley. But in a practical way, anytime Ashley is carted off means that you won’t have to worry about her wandering into beartraps or being sliced by parasites or whatever, so it is a relief when she’s gone. You know you’ll get her back anyway, as there was never any chance the Resident Evil franchise was going to bump off a cute schoolgirl (college is a school!). So, basically, “Ashley has been kidnapped by horrible monsters” is less “oh no” and more “great, a vacation”.
  • Population Density: My final kill count on this run through was 899 (and a horrid hit ratio of 58%). Given the number of houses and such around the area, it is hard to believe more than 100 people lived in this chunk of Spain. So let’s assume an awful lot of people were smooshed into Salazar Castle. He had to have a staff!
  • I did that on purposeI Just Got That: Noted jackass Ramon Salazer has a puzzle in his castle that requires finding all the pieces of a chimera that comprises a goat, lion, and snake. Then, when you finally fight Salazer, he is combined with his Verduo bodyguard and the Queen Plaga to create a chimera monster comprised of three distinct lifeforms. Neat symmetry!
  • Did you know? The Euro was the standard in Spain by 2002, so the fact that this disturbing village is still using Pesetas in 2004 is an obvious example of how The Merchant is some kind of crazy person. Why would you sell so many rocket launchers to a guy only carrying defunct currency!?
  • Would I play again: Odds are super good on that one. I don’t enjoy a lot of Resident Evil games, but RE4 is a masterclass in making a game for everyone (who wants to shoot zombies). And, hey, this one is a lot easier on a repeat playthrough. Hand me my infinite rocket launcher, my good man.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… God of War 3! It is time for an extremely angry dude to murder every last god he can find! That’s one way to handle religion! Please look forward to it!

NOW KISS

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Here comes some funDoes being an adult suck?

A long time ago on a console generation far, far away, there was a game called something like Project Dream, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, or maybe just Conker’s Quest. This prototype of a game was showcased for the press at the tail end of the 20th Century, and many journalists were exposed to a title that was meant to evoke the concept of a “playable (Disney’s) Bambi”. Unfortunately, this was being highlighted after a decade of cute mascot platformers, and, more recently, the publicly beloved Banjo & Kazooie. So, whereas Conker 64 was certainly impressive, many complained it was more of the same from the exact same studio that was now becoming best known for bumbling bees and not belligerent battletoads. This caused the studio that had once wanted so bad to make their own Mortal Kombat to snap, and Conker 64 was transformed into something that was intended for a wholly different audience. The explanation was “kids who were 6 when they played the first Mario game are now 26,” and an N64 platformer/collectathon for adults was born. The writing and presentation were going to be M for Mature, even if the gameplay may be M for Mario 64.

But this conversion of Conker’s world offers us a rare (heh) opportunity to apply science to videogame production. We all know what mascot-based action games from the N64 era look like. There are a variety of examples available, from Glover to that tongue game. But none of these games went for a full mature audience. Give or take Gex trying to appeal to hip 40 somethings that love Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, none of Conker’s contemporaries even attempted to appeal to anyone old enough to drive. There may have been a “subtle” joke here or there, but that key “young adult” demographic was always assumed to be a parent that wandered into Little Timmy’s playroom, and not the person actually playing the game. Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows us exactly what these games would look like if they were made for adults.

And Conker paints a bleak picture of adulthood.

PeanutbutteryLet’s start with the bit that is the least psychologically offensive (assuming you are not my grandmother). Conker’s Bad Fur Day involves a number of jokes that are entirely based on the ol’ “so now that the kids are asleep…” kind of thinking. Where a “kiddy platformer” might have a snow-based world, Conker has a scatological-based area (complete with fart-based theme song). Vampires have been all over children’s games, but they were somehow bloodless. Here, we have a vampire that inspires wall-to-wall blood. Conker’s “princess” is shaped like a bombshell, and his main villain is going to suffer a gruesome death (one way or another). This is all very… what’s the best way to put this… “mature” is certainly not the right word… Well, it is straight up puerile, but it is childish in a way that acknowledges none of this would be possible in “kiddy” action games. We are allowed to do whatever we want, so let’s model the hell out of that (literal) shit.

But then justifying some of those “mature” inclinations starts to cause problems. Conker’s Bad Fur Day includes swearing. In fact, the game contains a lot of swearing. And, likely in pursuit of rationalizing said swearing, practically every character in the game (and absolutely including Conker) is an asshole. Just within the opening areas, there is a bee that is notably cheating on his wife, some farm equipment that is constantly insulting each other, and a talking box that immediately launches into a fatphobic tirade. Are these characters funny? If that is your thing, sure, it is funny to see these “cute” anthropomorphic animals and objects act like jerks. But it also affirms that everything with googly eyes in this universe is on the highest echelon of terrible. If you would like to spend the day enjoying a videogame free of body shaming, sorry, you will have to look elsewhere, even if the creature body shaming does not even have a body.

GET IT!?And, yes, if you are a child/teen that somehow managed to score the M-rated game off a clueless family member, it certainly would leave the impression that all adults ever do is insult each other. And that’s not true! It only happens when we get upset about whippersnappers being on our lawns!

But the inexorable march of adulthood being a gauntlet of misery continues. Conker has a beautiful (for a squirrel), capable girlfriend. So how does the game start? With Conker lying to her so he can stay out drinking. After that, technically, the entire game is the story of Conker trying to get back to her after all that drinking, but, when they are finally reunited, she is quickly fridged by the main villain. However, Conker gains god-like control of his world through conscripting a programmer! And does he bring Berri back to life with his newfound powers? Of course not! He forgets all about her! And that’s the joke! Ha ha! Funny squirrel! Could have saved a loved one’s life, but he got obsessed with slicing up an alien instead!

But adulthood isn’t just about being a jerk to everyone in your immediate area, it’s also about making references to pop culture! That previously mentioned alien is absolutely a chest-bursting xenomorph, and you’ll have to battle a Terminator parody before you get out of the first area. Saving Private Ryan was the talk of the town back in the late 90’s, so it gets the “war” level and an entire section of the multiplayer. And did you catch The Matrix? Conker hopes you did, because the final level makes absolutely no sense without that clarification of Keanu Reeves being why everyone is suddenly carrying guns and wearing trench coats. The wee young’uns can only dream of parodying R-Rated movies!

CHOMPSpeaking of paper-thin parodies, women are little more than their chests in Conker’s world. Jugga the Cavewoman has a pretty straightforward name for a woman that is about to make a penis size joke, and Sunflower the sunflower looks like a children’s drawing of a plant… save for the enormous gazongas. And, yes, you can use her breasts as a trampoline. Men can be monsters, gangsters, monster gangsters, scientists, and kings in this game. Women are almost unanimously walking anatomy jokes.

Oh, and if you’re curious, the ending sees Conker becoming king, but he has now learned that he hates everyone that lives in the country he rules. So he just goes to the bar where this all started to become a depressed alcoholic.

Adult videogames, everybody!

Put this all together, and it makes adulthood out to be miserable. Mario barely says a word through Mario 64, but all those “woos” sure do sound like the guy is having fun. Banjo & Kazooie might have a little more of a coarse edge to their dialogue, but they are still rescuing a loved one, and interacting with fun characters while doing it. If the “mature” version of those adventures is a game wherein the hero loses everything and discovers he hates literally everybody left alive, then what is the point of growing up? You want to be old enough to drink just so you can drink yourself straight into the gutter? It seemed to work for Conker!

SlicerOr maybe it is simply this version of “maturity” that makes adulthood look awful. The medium of videogames has grown a lot since 2001, and “Mature” doesn’t just mean a game includes fatalities anymore. Now we have games with super violent, sexy robots twirling about with swords but also taking the time to acknowledge the emotional needs of their buddies. We have the hyper violent franchises where things might be horrible all over the place, but at least our protagonists take time out of their day to be sad dads. And speaking of sad, Conker’s tale may end on a depressing note, but one of the best games out there is all about depression. In all of these situations, adults are the focus, and adulthood does look like an endless gauntlet of challenges that are designed to wear you down, but there is hope. From 2-B to Kratos to Madeline, everyone has problems they need to overcome, but they also have friends, support systems, and achievable ambitions. They do not simply make a flippant comment and move on to the next movie parody.

Oh, and none of them have to venture through a level covered in shit.

Is Conker’s Bad Fur Day a bad game for the way it offers a “mature” video game? No. There is room enough in this world for the “Bathroom Reader” of videogames. But its presentation of what it is to be “adult” is significantly lacking. While there are trials and tribulations as an adult, that does not mean it is all despair, all the time. There is joy. There is love. There is more to life than hitting rock monsters with frying pans. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is meant to platform one of Conker’s worst days, but that does not mean he has to live in the worst world.

It sucks to be an adult sometimes, but it doesn’t suck all the time.

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

  • Because... uh... get it?System: Nintendo 64 to start, then miraculously migrated over to Xbox with Conker: Live & Reloaded. Then we got something close to the original again as part of Rare Replay on the Xbox One. If you are curious, this is all because Rare drifted to Microsoft. I am sure that has nothing to do with Conker chainsawing the N64 logo at the start of the game.
  • Number of players: There is a complete multiplayer mode in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and it even has online functionality in the Xbox version. Or it did, back when that was still viable. What’s important is that there is a multiplayer mode completely separate from the single player adventure.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There is more to a videogame than story, presentation, and writing! We also have gameplay! And it is… passable. Look, you can see the seams of exactly how this Conker title would work out if it were a “traditional” Rare N64 title, and every couple of (inexplicably sentient, talking) bucks hidden around the area being transformed into “collect the shines” would be a very short trip. That said, while the various activities involved are interesting and eclectic, the actual “control” of Conker isn’t on the same level as Banjo or Mario. Or, put another way, any time you have to complete an actual platforming “challenge” with this squirrel, you are going to have a bad time. I said it before, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day is “middle to high” on the ol’ N64 scale.
  • Just play the gig, man: I am highlighting the song made out of farts once again. The Great Mighty Poo anthem also gets a trophy. You just don’t see many flatulence-based songs anymore.
  • Won’t someone please think of the children: The above-mentioned shit song got censored in the Xbox version, though. Also, for some reason, there are a lot more bleeps on Conker’s remade adventure. Considering the “kiddy” Nintendo 64 version allowed everything short of the nefarious f-word, this is an amusing change between systems.
  • This is a pain in the patootFavorite Level: I used to enjoy “It’s War” for its humor, but, in retrospect, I think that may be because I am an idiot. It is a really annoying level! So I will go with Uga Buga now, as the cave/dinosaur/rock thing going on there is a lot more comfortably platform-y for this platformer.
  • Did you know? Conker’s Pocket Tales was a legitimate Gameboy Color title that put Conker in a Zelda-like fantasy world that was 100% kid friendly. Damn near no one was buying Gameboy titles that didn’t feature Pokémon at this point, but if they did, hoo boy, that would be some kind of transition between games.
  • Would I play again: Not likely. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was impressive in its time, but its time has long since passed. And until we see another day featuring this ornery squirrel, he can stay mothballed with the rest of his Rare buddies. You don’t see Sabre Wulf getting out there anymore, either…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken’s Nina Williams in Death by Degrees! Yes! It’s that game I played like a year ago on the stream, now finally getting an FGC article! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #632 Pac-Land

This is a Pac that is in timeThis article is going to require a little background.

In 1980, Pac-Man was released. By 1984, Pac-Man had spread as Pac-Fever, and the whole of the world (or at least the part of the world that had quarters) was obsessed with the little yellow dude (and his wife, if we are legally allowed to mention her this week). So, for the first time in four years, Pac-Man decided to branch out. After multiple Pac titles that attempted to capitalize on the familiar Pac-Man gameplay (and a seemingly infinite number of “maze likes” that copied Pac-Man’s gameplay wholesale), Pac-Land sauntered onto the scene to try something different. No more would Pac-Man wander around nondescript mazes in an attempt to gobble up dots. No! This puck-man had legs! And a hat! And he was venturing far from home to return a lost fairy to Fairyland (as you do), and gaining flying boots (good thing he has feet now!) for his troubles. No more was Pac-Man obsessed with endless consumption, and the “four” ghosts that had plagued him in the past were now an army with planes, chains, and automobiles. About the only thing here that was 100% pac-gameplay was the beloved power pellet, and even that wound up being more of an “end of the level” bonus than the nigh-always accessible “spinach” of previous pac-titles. Pac-Land was and continues to be a whole new dimension for Pac-Man.

Look at him goBut it was not simply Pac-Man that was revolutionized by Pac-Land. Pac-Land, right there in 1984, practically invented the concept of the endless runner. Where once ol’ Pac-Man could only be credited for normalizing the maze-based gameplay that was the focus of his early adventures, Pac-Land created something that would come to define “mobile titles” for a generation of hardware. The arcade cabinet for Pac-Land had no joystick: there was a jump button, and directional run buttons. You cannot “steer” Pac-Man, you simply control how fast he is going (by repeatedly tapping the run button to go faster), and when Pac-Man jumps. And that’s it! There is little backtracking, there is no permanently turning from danger: there is simply running. Endless running. Once every few stages, you gain an infinite jump, but that is the only real “change” that ever occurs in Pac-Land. This is an endless runner with extremely simple gameplay, and, considering it was released in 1984, it was eerily prescient on a possible future for gaming that would come two decades later.

But creating a genre was not enough for Pac-Land to leave an indelible mark on gaming forever. Shigeru Miyamoto reportedly stated that Pac-Land was an influence on Nintendo games going forward. Do a little research, and you’ll find that Miyamoto was very specific about what Pac-Land influenced. For at least one legendary games designer, Pac-Land was all about this…

This is normal Pac-Land

Or… to be clear…

Now do you get it?

The big thing that influenced Shigeru Miyamoto? The sky of Pac’s Land is blue. In a 1998 interview, Shigeru Miyamoto admitted that he saw Pac-Land as stiff competition for his already successful (but undoubtedly waning) Donkey Kong. And he had a 2-D side scroller already in mind for Jump Man, but Pac-Land had something he had not considered: a world.

Right from the initial release, Pac-Land’s blue skies separated it from the land. When Pac-Land was transported overseas to America, it gained additional details that tied it to the (then new) Pac-Man animated series. But, regardless of version, Pac-Land always had a clear sense of geography and space. Pac-Man starts at his home. Pac-Man ventures through a town, whether that be a pristine village with houses and fire hydrants, or a jumbled mass of seaside walls and water. There is a forest. There is a mountainside. It genuinely feels like there is a lot of land for Pac-Man to cover on his way to Fairyland. And Fairyland looks completely separate from Pac-Man’s world! And then, immediately after visiting this magical grove, Pac-Man ventures back over familiar territory, but with a new, unstoppable super power. The world is the same, Pac-Man is changed, and a simple narrative begins to take shape. And it all traces back to something as simple as the sky being blue.

But no spiniesAnd let’s not underestimate how a “blue sky” led to the success of Super Mario Bros. SMB has amazing gameplay, memorable characters, and a “loop” that lends itself perfectly to gaming in 1985. But that blue sky is what keeps you going. Mario’s first adventure was in a nondescript construction site that could be easily mistaken for a pie factory. Mario’s second journey was through a sewer that was identified by prominent pipes. But Super Mario Bros.? That is an adventure through a world. Mario is saving the Mushroom Kingdom, and everything from bricks to castles to deep oceans tell the player that Mario is making progress through this land. This is a place, this is a country, and it has been conquered by an invading force of turtles and chestnuts. You will venture through every underground area, every cloud-filled sky, to save this place. We’re sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another castle, and that means you are going to the next, separate castle. So there are more castles, Toad?! Aren’t we excited to see more of this world?

Over time, backgrounds became standard in games that did not ever need a sense of place. The whole of the fighting game genre is replete with titles that made the choice between “they are fighting in a large, grassy field” or “they are fighting specifically in front of a busy Chinese street where some dude is selling caged chickens”. While the distinction is not universal, it seems the games that made the latter choice are more likely to be successes. Similarly, JRPGs have come to be defined by their worlds, with “generic dungeons” always paling in comparison to skulking through volcanos, sky fortresses, or ice caverns. Could the likes of Cloud or This sucks so badThe Luminary be content with caves that have nothing more to them than black backgrounds and an assortment of monsters? Theoretically yes, but wouldn’t you rather venture through a dilapidated train yard? The tiniest bit of background adds… background to the proceedings, and that can make all the difference in a narrative that is meant to drive the player and disguise how so many games are simply about making numbers go up.

So, like Shigeru Miyamoto, let us thank the inspirational Pac-Land. With the simple addition of backgrounds, Pac-Man was given a world. And from that world, whole universes have formed.

FGC #632 Pac-Land

  • System: I am not comfortable with all the ways you can play Pac-Land. There was the NES port. The Commodore 64 or Atari ST ports. The TurboGrafx-16 port. It had a Lynx port. And then it wound up on the Playstation, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 as parts of various collections. It was available ala carte on the WiiU. And now it is available on all modern systems thanks to yet another Pac-collection. It… wasn’t on the Super Nintendo, I guess.
  • Number of players: Technically two, put it is alternating.
  • Port-o-Call: Depending on your version or region, you may find a lot of differences between the various Pac-Lands. Does the “rest stop” church have a cross? Is the music playing the same ditty from the Pac-Man animated series? Have Ms. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man been replaced by the nefarious imposters, Pac-Mom and Pac-Sis? Don’t for a moment imagine that time and copyright law have not impacted the gentle denizens of Pac-Land.
  • The keys suckFavorite Level: Anything that does not involve the “broken” ground of the water stages is my favorite. I guess the mountain stages win, then? I like the idea that Pac-Man is going on a happy little hike, and the ghosts just happen to be an omnipresent threat that haunts Pac’s life because of all those crimes he did in the 60’s.
  • For the Sequel: The obvious, direct sequel to Pac-Land is Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. That was another attempt to invent an entirely new genre of pac-gameplay, and… well… Cell phones or not, the whole “marginally control a cartoon character” thing never really caught on. More’s the pity, as Pac-Man 2 is definitely the more revolutionary title, if only because making Pac-Man mad at cows is a gameplay echelon The Last of Us could only ever hope to achieve.
  • Did you know? A lot of Pac-Man’s move set in Smash Bros. is partially or wholly based on actions/obstacles found in Pac-Land. So if you are wondering where he got that jump, MS Paint scrolling background, or the fire hydrant, look no further than Pac-Land. Or don’t, because literally every other Pac-Man game is probably a better choice.
  • Would I play again: This is yet another important title in gaming history that I do not need to play ever again. And I won’t miss it, either! Ms. Pac-Man is right there! Assuming I’m legally allowed to play it this week!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic CD! It’s like regular Sonic the Hedgehog, but with all the power of CD technology! Wow! Please look forward to it!

Goodbye forever!
Happier times…