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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!

FGC #525 Parodius

Today, we’re going to address some reader mail. Let’s look at our first letter from one Mr. Tiger of Battle Creek, Michigan.

It's Greeeeeat

Well, Tony, if we want to know what parody actually means, we should look at some videogames. Are parody videogames supposed to be fun? Funny? A “send-up”? Let’s find out! We’ll start with the game that apparently prompted your question…

Parodius (Franchise) (1988, Konami)

PARODY TIMEWhat is it? In a long forgotten age, Gradius was one of Konami’s tent pole franchises. Given Gradius was a super-serious shoot ‘em up wherein the fate of the galaxy depended wholly on a ship that exploded every seven seconds, someone at Konami decided to produce a game with the same basic gameplay, but a wildly different tone. Parodius was born, and it featured an octopus saving the world from penguins. Or something. Parodius wound up becoming a franchise onto itself, and, for about a decade, you could count on at least one adventure every once in a while where a ship that shot boxing gloves attacked a giant lady that moved like a robot.

Is it fun? If you like Gradius, you’ll like Parodius. You’ve got overwhelmingly fragile “ships” (sometimes they are octopi) that can cycle through powerups by nabbing orbs to launch missiles against gigantic bosses. The game is just as difficult as its serious Gradius cousin, though, as death means losing your abilities and often starting back from an earlier point in the level. But it’s an excellent and ultimately fair shoot ‘em up, so if that’s your thing, it’s going to be a fun time.

But is it funny? Initially, it’s simply funny for the absurdity of sticking an octopus or lone option in the place of the Vic Viper. Eventually, the franchise tried its hand at adding more complicated joke characters, like a bald eagle decked out for American patriotism, or an entire stage full of slave-labor penguins (uh… it’s funnier than it sounds). Later games even added an overarching plot that involved a cantankerous octopus boss making off with your wages in clearly labeled dollar sign bags. That’s always funny! I think!

So is it a parody? Yep! It’s right there in the title. Parodius features familiar bits from Gradius, R-Type, and other games of the era repurposed to be funny or occasionally sexy (and we are very much employing air quotes for “sexy” here). This is a “burlesque imitation” to a T.

Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti (1989, Namco)

Splat!What is it? Splatterhouse was a hyperviolent beat ‘em up/action title that was released in arcades in 1989. It is, at its core, a pastiche of horror movies of the 80’s roughly adapted for a videogame format where you’re the monster combating other monsters to save a princess. In a way, this already makes Splatterhouse a sort of parody. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in an attempt to make Splatterhouse gameplay more palatable for the Nintendo Family Computer (emphasis on the “family” part of that Famicom), the gore was turned down to one, and the comedy was cranked up to eleven.

Is it fun? In so much as Splatterhouse gameplay is fun, S:WG is fun. It’s pretty basic: walk to the right, chop down baddies, eventually reach a boss, kill what you gotta kill to move forward. Not unlike Parodius, the game is very unforgiving, and you’ll want to take as little damage as possible if you want to stretch your three lives (continues) to the end of the adventure. With the caveat that this is an early NES game that should not be judged by 2020 standards, Wanpaku Graffiti is pretty fun to play.

But is it funny? Again, judging it as a NES game from 1989, it’s pretty comical. It follows the same pattern as Parodius and doesn’t rely on text, but presents bosses and opponents that are… amusing. The big bad is The Great Pumpkin. The boss of the first level is Thriller-era Michael Jackson. The finale sees “the director” accidentally stumble on set. It might not be laugh out loud funny, but it is at least silly.

So is it a parody? Transforming one of the most violent games of the day into its own “kiddy mode” sure seems like a parody. Also, the protagonist, Rick, is downright adorable in his chibi form, so it’s hard not to smile as you chop up zombies riding tombstone pogo sticks. There’s a lot of ambient amusement in this affectionate adaptation.

Kid Dracula (1990, Konami)

It's the kidWhat is it? Parodius worked out for Gradius, so why not parody Castlevania? Kid Dracula is the story of Dracula’s son (or his younger self? Or Alucard’s younger self? Can we get a timeline here?) venturing around the world to stop the forces of Galamoth, a robot dragon from the end of time. Or… something. Whatever the situation, it’s Castlevania through a more comical filter.

Is it fun? This is basically Castlevania sensibilities mixed with Mega Man-style gameplay and the ability to walk on the ceiling or transform into a bat. If it was released in America in 1990, I would have married the game by now.

But is it funny? Like other games on this list, it has a general level of “whacky” to its humor. Once again, the basic concept here is that the original franchise is deathly serious, so any time you have to fight a “goofy” chicken, it’s supposed to be funny. Of course, Kid D’s shorts are always going to be funny on their own.

So is it a parody? Unfortunately, Kid Dracula seems to drop the distinct parody elements pretty early in the adventure. The first level is straight up Castlevania, and it’s a blast to deal with a castle full of spikey traps and inane zombies, but the franchise connection seems all but lost later when you’re fighting a giant robot on an airship. For better or worse, Kid Dracula moves past its parody factor pretty quickly.

Star Parodier (1992, Hudson Soft)

Right there in the name againWhat is it? Parodius worked, so why not another parody shoot ‘em up? Hudson had the Star Soldier franchise kicking around since 1986, so why not give that shooter a send up? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions?

Is it fun? This is the vertical shoot ‘em up to Parodius’s horizontal shoot ‘em up. That said, it seems a lot easier to survive in Star Soldier/Star Parodier, as you acquire a shield a whole lot quicker. There’s also a slightly more cerebral powerup system, wherein you have a few options (not those options), and can enhance them by grabbing like-colored pickups, or switch to another color for a slightly different attack. It’s a neat idea for a shoot ‘em up, which is already a style of game that requires a lot of quick thinking and darting around the screen.

But is it funny? Parodius clone plays by Parodius rules. Star Parodier is definitely its own game, but its humor style is still “look at the next whacky thing that shows up”. Also a strangely high number of penguins…

So is it a parody? Yes. Or… I assume. I’ve only ever played like three levels of one Star Soldier game… so this seems like a parody of that. I think? They replaced a round boss with a ferris wheel, so I think that counts. Whatever! Look, you can play as a flying Bomberman, so that’s at least a parody of something.

ClayFighter (1993, Interplay)

Whack em smack emWhat is it? Shoot ‘em ups are old hat, let’s move on to the next big thing: fighting games. Clayfighter is technically your typical fighter, but with a cast of Claymation loonies that lampoon everything from Elvis to… blobs? Is that a thing? Do people not like blobs? But… nothing beats the blob!

Is it fun? OG Clayfighter is a fighting game in the Street Fighter 2 mold (… was that a pun?), and plays very similarly. It doesn’t have quite the move variety as its target franchise (ducking attacks are often exactly the same as a standing or jumping action), but it’s still a much better fighter than some of the turds that were cranked out during the era of its birth. You ever play Fighter’s History? Don’t.

But is it funny? Hey, this is the first parody game on this list created by an American studio! And it’s pretty amusing in a 90’s kid kinda way. Remember when “Fat Elvis” was the target of every other late night show, despite the obvious handicap that he had been dead for decades? And “the fat lady sings” was somehow an oft-repeated and literalized phrase? And we were all afraid of clowns? Clayfighter spends all of its humor bucks pretty quickly after you see a fighter’s complete moveset, but isn’t that how all fighting games work, anyway?

So is it a parody? Clayfighter eventually went on to produce C2: Judgment Clay, which was more of the same, but with a veneer of extra MK parody, and Clayfighter 63⅓, which was a super specific parody of Killer Instinct Gold. That said, the original Clayfighter isn’t too precise of a parody (N. Boss is the closest we get to a fighter parodying an actual character from another game, and that’s mostly just the name), and more a parody of the concept of “serious” fighting games. So it qualifies, but it’s less “parody” and more “vaguely humorous”.

Pyst (1996, Parroty Interactive)

It's pronounced P-ystWhat is it? Myst was an adventure game that was the most popular videogame of 1993/1994. It was ubiquitous, and, somehow, everyone from your next door neighbor to your dad to your other next door neighbor that was secretly your real dad had played it. Realizing that such an omnipresent game was ripe for parody, Parroty Interactive (a division of Palladium Interactive) was founded to produce a game mocking Myst and its associated culture. Pyst was released three years after Myst, and… it wasn’t great.

Is it fun? Pyst is barely a game. There had been adventure games that were funny in the past (the entire LucasArts oeuvre was amazing, and would be featured in this article if they weren’t their own thing, completely eschewing the need to be a parody to be funny), and there’s a lot of potential in lampooning the esoteric puzzles of Myst… but this ain’t doin’ it. Pyst is little more than going from screen to screen and clicking on buttons to activate videos. It’s about as fun as “playing” Youtube (but marginally less racist).

But is it funny? I will admit that I chuckled a bit at Pyst when I was a young’un. It’s like Airplane! But for a videogame! That said, the jokes are rough, and it’s less an affectionate parody of the game itself, and more of a parody of the culture and general public reactions to the game itself. It’s not something that was produced by someone that played Myst for twenty hours and then ran out and bought the companion books, it’s a Saturday Night Live skit based on one those videogames the kids seem to like. And, further cementing the SNL connection, John Goodman is in a few scenes for some reason. That… is something.

So is it a parody? Well, certainly, even if it barely qualifies as a game. Someone forgot to fill in the whole “videogame” part of the “videogame parody” equation, but it definitely happened. Take that, game that revolutionized what a videogame could be, and was then somehow forgotten presumably because all the sequels sucked!

Star Warped (1997, Parroty Interactive)

STAR!What is it? Parroty returned the next year with Star Warped, their “parody” of Star Wars. In this case, someone decided to include a videogame in the videogame, as there are some meager minigames and a skimpy fighting game pastiche. The whole experience is hosted by a pair of brothers that are Star Wars superfans that supposedly have not left the house since first watching and consequently dedicating their lives to Star Wars. But they were somehow able to collect oodles of Star Wars merchandise in the meanwhile! Before the advent of the internet being “The Internet”! This parody has some gaping plot holes!

Is it fun? There might be a game this time, but nobody said those games had to be any fun. Do you enjoy using your mouse to play whack-a-ewok? A fighting game that looks like it was animated in the most primitive version of Flash available (actually, in 1997, that might be a completely factual description)? If you’re looking for actual gameplay out of a Parroty Interactive title, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

But is it funny? Do you like laughing at nerds? Great! Enjoy watching them caper around and talk about Star Wars like it’s a religion. And then you can play as Cool –Handless Luke and fight Pizza-Flipping Greedo. Yes! Someone took the time to make a parody of Greedo! Are you laughing yet!?

So is it a parody? Man, this game sucks, but it’s why parodies are important. This is one of the last remaining relics of the “before time” for Star Wars. You know how Disney bought Star Wars for $4,050,000,000? They did that because Star Wars is a very serious film franchise for very serious people (and certainly not children). And it only got to that point because the hype around the “Prequel Trilogy” rebranded Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon on par with the Moon Landing. Before 1999, though? Star Wars was just some weird franchise for weirdos that hang around in their weird basements. Star Warped is a perfect encapsulation of that embarrassing era for the franchise. It’s a parody of a particular time and place in a cultural zeitgeist, and it would be all but forgotten if not for digging Star Warped out of the dustbin of history. In the same way that Scary Movie can remind us all of the Scream-craze of the late 20th Century, Star Warped inadvertently can remind us of the Dork Ages of Star Wars.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001, Rare)

It's kind of a swearWhat is it? Parroty Interactive went on to produce an X-Files parody and a parody of an operating system (seriously!), and then went out of business. Or pivoted to making learning games. Whatever. They didn’t survive to make it to Riven, so somebody else had to pick up the parody torch. Rare had always produced games with a generally humorous bent (even Donkey Kong Country premiered with DK kicking out the old man), so it seemed natural when they produced Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a game meant to clash with the traditionally “squeaky clean” image for Nintendo systems/releases. Join a typical “videogame mascot” that has become a little more surly than your average bear or hedgehog.

Is it fun? This was Rare at the height of their 3-D action/adventure/collectathon powers, so Conker’s Bad Fur Day is, if nothing else, a pretty fun game to play. For the personal Goggle Bob rankings, I’d put it above Donkey Kong 64 and Jetforce Gemini, but below Banjo-Kazooie or Mario 64. And those are all top tier games to begin with! It’s right up there! And, hey, it even foresaw the future of Mario with context-based abilities that only appear in particular levels. Mario should write Conker a thank you note.

But is it funny? I was the exact right age when this title was released (old enough to not be shocked, but young enough to find peeing unequivocally funny), so your mileage may vary, but Conker’s day is a funny one. The basis of much of the humor is the cute animal creature (Conker) having to deal with “real world” problems, like war or hangovers. And the juxtaposition works! It (as is always the case with Rare) maybe relies on being a little too talky and anxious to explain the joke on many occasions (a googly-eyed poop needs no explanation), but it’s about twenty times funnier than anything else on the Nintendo 64 not involving a giant ninja robot.

So is it a parody? One could easily argue that the gameplay of Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a 100% mundane 3-D platformer experience, and the occasional jokes or wisecracks from his furry friends aren’t enough to warrant a full parody label. But CBFD is more than that! The gameplay doesn’t have to be that subversive when an alien bursts from out of a panther’s chest. The incongruity of this Diddy Kong Racer facing a world that is about twenty miles above his maturity level is the joke here, and it winds up as a perfect parody of the heyday of videogame mascots. Gex could never touch this squirrel.

The Simpsons Game (2007, Electronic Arts)

Katamari MilhouseWhat is it? Hey, everybody, it’s another Simpsons video game. Try to sound excited! This time, we’ve got a game that was actually penned by writers of The Simpsons series! That’s good. But it is The Simpsons writers of 2007, and it gets very self-referential, very fast. That’s bad. But it’s the best videogame The Simpsons have ever seen. That’s good. But it is also looking at videogames from a very “dad” perspective, so the jokes are more broad than biting. That’s bad. But you can earn all kinds of achievements. That’s good. But the achievements contain Potassium Benzoate.

Is it fun? Continuing the platforming/collectathon tradition of Conker, The Simpsons Game predominantly vacillates between “obstacle course” style levels and excuses to bump around and find random crap all over the place. And The Simpsons get super powers! Which is fun! Homer turning into a big, doughy wrecking ball is always going to be a great time, and the different ways the various Simpsons can work together through diverse levels is a great.

But is it funny? It’s basically a Simpsons episode in videogame form, so what is there to complain about? This is the first game on this list that allowed for the “modern” convenience of overt and incidental voice acting, so quips come fast and furious. And the various super powers and situations the Simpsons encounter add some much needed physical/visual humor to the proceedings. Humor is hard when all you can do is make a whacky looking dancer boss, it’s a lot easier when you’ve got next gen graphics and the best voice actors in the business.

So is it a parody? While The Simpsons themselves are the yellow butts of a few jokes, the main target here is generic “videogames”. The family ventures through levels themed after Dungeons & Dragons, Pokémon, and whatever franchise is exploiting World War 2 the most this week. And one of the big collectibles for the game is simply “videogame clichés” that can be amassed for achievements. And special guest Will Wright wants to destroy NES cartridges full of 8-bit Simpsons. It’s still very broad (Patty and Selma are a two-headed dragon! That’s a thing happens in games, right!?), but it is very much “The Simpsons tackle videogames”, so calling it a parody of the medium at large (of 2007) seems accurate.

Hatoful Boyfriend (2011, PigeoNation Inc.)

Love dem birdsWhat is it? It’s another Japanese visual novel where you’re the transfer student at a high school, and you’re about to get into all sorts of weird and wacky situations with your new classmates. Maybe even romance will bloom! One minor caveat, though: you’re the only human in a world of giant, intelligent birds. Yes, this game started as an April Fool’s Day “prank”, but it’s one of about three visual novels this author can stomach.

Is it fun? It’s a visual novel, so that’s a resounding no. What? Press X to advance text isn’t my bag on a good day. Oh, I’m supposed to enjoy the roleplaying? Well la de da, give me a call when your roleplaying involves killing god.

But is it funny? You don’t play visual novels for the gameplay, you do it for the sweet, sweet writing. Or the pictures where “you” fall face first into a cyclops’ panties. Whatever floats your boat. Regardless, the writing and scenarios for Hatoful Boyfriend are some top notch anime bullshit. And that’s great! Because the entire cast is comprised of photo-realistic birds, so it’s immediately apparent how everything in your average visual novel is absurd nonsense even when there aren’t avian creatures abound. And then a doctor eats you.

So is it a parody? Most visual novels “reward” the player with scenes of…. Can I say pornography? How about art? You receive art for taking particular paths or options. A game where your potential suitors are replaced with pigeons is certainly going to qualify as a parody, as it draws a stark contrast between the usual expectations and our feathered friends. It is parody in absurdity in a genre that has had already entered the realm of self-parody. Good birds. Pretty birds.

Divekick (2013, One True Game Studios)

Kick it againWhat is it? It’s another fighting game, but this one more or less the result of decades of giant nerds playing fight games. Years of scientists studying characters, tiers, and frame data have determined one thing: the divekick is the only viable fighting game move. So here’s a fighting game where all the characters can only perform a diving jump kick. There are different combatants. There are different techniques. But there is only divekick.

Is it fun? In a way, this is a fighting game boiled down to its absolute essence. There’s a variety of characters, a story mode with rivals and endings, and warnings about the prevalence of concussions. But it’s all in the service of a fighting game where one hit wins every match, and one (or two) buttons is all you will ever need. And that’s fun! It’s not the kind of game anyone would want to be alone with on a desert island, but it is enjoyable for short bursts. The ideal downloadable title for the modern console/computer.

But is it funny? There’s a mutated skunkbear that is named Redacted because it is way too similar to one of Marvel’s mightiest mutants. That’s funny! Kicking someone in the head might not be the funniest thing in the world, but the characters and general situations are filled with humor. Oh, and the master wears boots on his hands. That’s silly.

So is it a parody? This is one of those “affectionate parodies” I’ve been referencing elsewhere in the article. This is insider politics for fighting game fans, and a true work that was created by fanatics, for fanatics. It’s a parody that loves its source material, but still acknowledges fighting games are more than a little goofy. There could be another paragraph here just explaining the seven layers of dumb Street Fighter jokes surrounding the final boss, and that’s a sign that something parody-related has happened here.

Lego City Undercover (2013, TT Games)

Goin' undercoverWhat is it? The Lego Videogame franchise finally got away from straight franchise adaptions in 2013, and produced Lego City Undercover, a game featuring an average (Lego) cop that runs over a strangely high number of (Lego) pedestrians. The game is a large departure for the traditional gameplay of the Lego titles, as it is less “levels”, and more of an open-world, mission-based situation. Also, there is full voice acting and a wholly original plot, so this is like a real videogame, and not just Star Wars-lite.

Is it fun? Damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is basically a Grand Theft Auto title with Lego sensibilities, and it’s kind of amazing how effectively those two genres mesh. What’s more, Lego City Undercover is better than your average Lego game, as it doesn’t require the player to obsessively break every goddamn thing every seven inches for additional studs (there is more than a little breakage, of course, but it doesn’t have nearly the same emphasis as seen in other Lego titles). This is just swinging, driving, and busting criminals all over a Lego city, and that’s pretty damn great.

But is it funny? Double damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is generally hilarious on occasion, which should come as no surprise, as actual comedy writers were hired to punch up the entirety of the game’s script. If there are seven seconds of “downtime” in the plot, you can be sure that space will be filled with some manner of capering. And, on a personal note, while cops and robbers are equally lampooned across the game (along with anything else that wanders into the frame), I am currently enjoying any humor derived at the expense of the boys in blue. Those egos could stand to be deflated a pinch…

So is it a parody? In Grand Theft Auto, you are a criminal. In Lego City Undercover, you are a police officer. Somehow, the gameplay is exactly the same. Funny how that works. Lego City Undercover manages to present a family-friendly take on the genre that also provides some insightful (and seemingly deliberate) commentary on the state of the world, and that’s a sign you’re dealing with an excellent parody. Some of GTA’s imitators may border on parody (Saints Row comes immediately to mind), but Lego City Undercover distinguishes itself as its own, albeit parodic, animal.

Goat Simulator (2014, Coffee Stain Studios)

DEM GOATS!What is it? You’re a mundane goat. That’s it. Thanks for playing.

Is it fun? Oh, wait, little caveat here: Goat Sim is more of a game physics demo that evolved into a full-fledged game… Or… almost evolved, at least. There are general goals for your goat simulating here, but, by and large, it’s just you (a goat) in a medium-to-large playground, and your only real tasks are finding new and interesting ways to be destructive. It’s like Blast Corps, but, ya know, with a goat.

But is it funny? In a way, this is a total “make your own fun” adventure. However, despite the fact that the game generally lacks legitimate goals or a level structure, the “playgrounds” available are all meticulously designed. What does that mean? Well, imagine a million perfectly aligned dominoes, and you’re playing as the wrecking ball that just crashed into this clumsy metaphor. This is not a game that relies on clever dialogue, this is a game that relies on the player’s innate need to lick a moving tractor to see what happens. Spoilers: it winds up funny.

So is it a parody? Goat Simulator is the kind of game that could only happen after decades of established videogames. This is a game that looks at the many, many ways you can interact with a world in a videogame, and then pushes them to absurd levels. Yes, you can climb that gigantic crane and jump off… but please don’t do that while aiming for the highly volatile gas station, or bad things might happen. Combine this with a variety of “cheats” and achievements that encourage complete lunacy (a basic rule of the universe is that you should never give a goat a jetpack), and Goat Simulator is more than a simple goat game, it’s a parody of gaming as a whole. And then there’s that MMORPG mode. Class: Microwave is just silly.

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns! (2019, Fantastico Studio)

What is it? A man eats a unicorn-flavored ice cream, and, yada yada yada, now he’s being propelled through the sky on a toilet and shooting up his worst fears. And if you guessed “worst fears” included “Salt Bae”, then congratulations, you’re one of the cool kids for today!

Is it fun? It’s a modern “bullet hell” shoot ‘em up, so if you like that, this one is pretty great. The gameplay conceit du jour is that every explosion drops rupees, and catchin’ ‘em all will lead to your arsenal being immediately upgraded. Like with Star Parodier above, this is an interesting mechanic for advancement in an already frenetic genre, so it fits into the shoot ‘em up genre like a glove. Oh, and you can barf unicorn puke all over the place if things get too overwhelming.

But is it funny? This is referential humor at its most obvious. You could be shooting ships or wieners or whatever, but, no, it’s all references to pop culture. Is it overtly funny? Not necessarily. Is it satisfying to lay suppressing fire on a giant, orange toupee? It’s not bad. The basic joke in this game is seeing what ridiculous thing pops up as a boss next, so please enjoy a chuckle when you have to go hand-to-hand with The Pope.

So is it a parody? We’re right back to where we started: a shoot ‘em up with the usual nonsense replaced with joke characters. If Parodius was a parody of Gradius, then it makes transitive sense that Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns is the modern (and American) parody of Gradius’s same genre. This parody doesn’t have much to say beyond “yes, these things exist”, but it winds up being an amusing way to spend an hour or so. Not all parodies are created equal, but there is certainly room for parodies in the videogame sphere.

So what does parody actually mean, Tony? It means you’re going to have a good time.

… Until you die sixty times in a row to the same stupid boss. Then the joke gets a bit stale.

FGC #525 Parodius

  • Poor penguinSystem: You may find Parodius on practically any videogame system… outside of the United States. Even Europe saw a couple of Parodius games! The best the Americas can hope for is the occasional big fat nothing. I somehow have a Gameboy version, though. Blame Europe again.
  • Number of players: 2 player simultaneous! Who cares if Americans wouldn’t get the references, here’s a reason this shoot ‘em up could have done well in the West.
  • What did you actually play: As is my wont, I played through the complete Parodius arcade collection for this article (even if ROB did technically choose the Gameboy version). This is definitely a franchise that gets better as it progresses, and Sexy Parodius is great with its branching paths and gigantic monsters/ladies. My understanding is that there is also a Parodius Tactics game for the Playstation 1 by the name of Paro Wars… and I’m not touching that with a ten foot penguin.
  • Favorite Pilot: Michael and Gabriel are flying pig angels. I’m pretty sure there need be no further explanation.
  • Worst Powerup Ever: The Oh!/!? powerup block will immediately strip you of all power. It is horrible beyond measure, and, considering the average arcade game doesn’t come with much of a manual, downright mean-spirited. One would suppose it at least gives you a reason to pay attention to manual powerup activation…
  • Konami gonna Konami: If you’re wondering what the Parodius franchise is up to nowadays, may I interest you in a series of pachinko machines?
  • Super 'Sexy'Most Excellent: Otomedius carried on the basic concept of Parodius for a little while, basically focusing on the “sexy” part of Sexy Parodius. It didn’t last very long, but at least it gave the Twin Bee franchise another spotlight.
  • Did you know? Koitsu, Aitsu, Soitsu and Doitsu, the little dudes riding paper airplanes, reappear as monster cards in the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise. The Vic Viper pops up there, too, so Konami kept its crossovers going.
  • Would I play again: Yes! Can someone look into porting this entire franchise to the Switch? Get to working on that! That system needs more penguins!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 7 Remake! Time to get reacquainted with some old friends! Please look forward to it!

Big ol' heads

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

BLOOD!Let’s talk about that thing that all the hep cats know how to do: act like you know what’s up.

Today’s game is Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. C:RoB is notable for being the Castlevania game that was featured as part of the intro to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and, arguably as a direct result, being one of the most important Castlevania games in the franchise. Castlevania: RoB was the last of the “old school”, action-based Castlevania titles before Symphony took the franchise in the general direction of metroidvania for decades. It’s also the game that, due to laziness and/or homages, provided roughly 70% of the sprites that would be reused ad nauseam for the following 60,000 games. I mean, there’s a good skeleton of spritework here, but if you’re reusing stuff from 1993, it’s going to get a little brittle. Ha ha ha. Bye bye. Whether it was intentional or not, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood wound up defining Castlevania for multiple hardware generations. You’d be hard pressed to find a single sequel that had more of a lasting impact on its parent franchise.

So it’s kind of a bummer Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was impossible for American audiences to play for about fifteen years.

WeeeeActually, let’s go ahead and aim for the highest end of the bummer scale: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood being tied to the Japanese exclusive PC Engine CD was a mega bummer. Castlevania: RoB is a pleasure to play, and it is a game that revels in the best of its NES ancestors while employing a controller with a very Famicom-esque 4-button setup. Two years after the experimentation of Simon Belmont’s 8-way whip and myriad of buttons in Super Castlevania, this is the franchise returning to its roots with jump, attack, and (generally) familiar sub weapons activated by holding up. The select button activates the new item crash ability, but, aside from that bit of heavy heart consumption, this is basic Belmonting back in action. And Castlevania is anxious to welcome its hero back with open (skeleton) arms, as all of the stages are pure Castlevania goodness built exactly for a man that jumps rigidly and whips even… uh… rigider. In truth, Richter Belmont is slightly more nimble than his less acrobatic ancestors, and Castlevania has learned how to adapt. He might not yet have a slide or rising uppercut, but he does have a backflip, and many a monster now has a pattern that is perfectly dodge-able with this unique version of the double jump. In short, like Trevor and Simon before him, Richter is facing challenges that are perfectly calibrated to his exact moveset. Unlike many (many, many, many) action platformers of the time, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was made with precision and care.

But there’s more to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood in the “care” department. Case in point: Richter, as part of the animated introductory sequence, looking over this old map left to him by his ancestors:

Unfurled!

I know that map! That looks like the map from Castlevania 1! Right there in the intro! This game knows Castlevania! That game I played!

And there are innumerable other overt Castlevania references throughout the game. The first level takes place in a burning town that is straight out of Castlevania 2. Richter and Maria become partners with a handshake that evokes the partners of yore. Shaft summons a legion of monsters that match the bosses of Castlevania 1. A ferryman promises to take you somewhere good, and a certain familiar mask breaks apart to reveal your opponent. Over and over, Castlevania: RoB practically shouts adulations about its exalted ancestors, and, if you’re on the same page, you’ll be shouting with glee in unison. Did you see that main hall with all the zombies? Leading to the giant bat’s decomposing arena? That’s some good Castlevaniaing right there!

But… to what end? Does Castlevania: Rondo of Blood need all these references to past titles?

Ol' FrankConsider Rondo of Blood’s place in the Castlevania canon at its release. It was, effectively, the fourth Castlevania game. There were the portable adventures, but, at the time, the Gameboy was considered “less than” its console big brothers, and Christopher Belmont was nary worth a second glance. Super Castlevania was an amazing game, but it was a “retelling” of Simon’s journey, and nearly all of its innovations were dropped for Rondo (and other future titles). And Haunted Castle? The arcade game? Let’s go ahead and label that as mythical as Akumajou Dracula X68000. So, yes, while it might not be a technically accurate way of labeling the game, Rondo of Blood is, at least in spirit, the fourth Castlevania title. Simon Belmont’s initial quest, Simon Belmont’s horrible night to have a curse, Trevor Belmont’s big ol’ vampire party, and now Richter Belmont’s time to shine. It’s a pretty straight line across the franchise there, and blatantly calling attention to your forbearers doesn’t seem all that essential at a time when Mario or Link would practically toss their entire canon for their latest game (Mario is…. let’s say he’s a baby this time, and he was raised by dinosaurs). Seven years is all that separated Castlevania 1 and this quasi Castlevania 4 (maybe 5? Maybe… 9?), so why revel in the past when the past was barely even passed?

Well, if pressed, let’s blame this gal:

Let's shake on it

Maria is a departure for the Castlevania franchise. History may not have always been Belmonts fighting Dracula, but this is certainly the first time the Prince of Darkness had to deal with a girl hurling doves at his face. Maria is supposedly twelve but acts like she’s five, wears a pink, frilly dress, and occasionally summons a kitten to fight her battles. For a franchise that often touts itself as “gothic horror”, Maria is an aberration like no other. Sypha was a serious magician that deliberately hid her gender to succeed in the male-dominated field of vampire-slaying, Maria is going to sing off-key at an army of golems on her way to “the bad man”. Graphically or tonally, Maria is something the Castlevania franchise has never seen before.

This is hotBut even beyond her heavy dosage of shocking pink, Maria is a whole new animal for the Castlevania franchise in a different way. Both Maria’s offenses and her acrobatics completely alter the flow of RoB. There had been more nimble characters in Castlevania before, but Grant never had the ability to rapid-fire a boss into submission, and Alucard’s bat-like maneuvering cost more hearts than it ever gained. Give or take the greater fragility of youth (Richter has learned how to take a hit over the years), Maria is better than Richter in every way that matters. She can mass-murder medusas en masse, and then double jump up a staircase to find a bonus shortcut. There are entire stages that can be outright skipped with her absurd mobility while Richter is stuck fighting that damned naked werewolf yet again. It’s easy to say Maria “breaks the game”, adding a sort of “easy mode” to a franchise that previously was celebrated for its technical difficulty.

But that’s cool, because Rondo of Blood earned this easy mode.

In some lesser version of Rondo of Blood, Maria would likely come off as some manner of Zero in Mega Man X4 situation: this game was made for Maria Renard, and Richter is only there because the director decided to throw the “old fans” a bone (“I guess it is his franchise… I guess…”). But, no, it is clear from every carefully placed block, pit, and enemy that this is a game made for a Belmont. This is a Castlevania adventure like any other, and a malicious mummy is no mere Family Guy-esque shallow “reference”, it is a pact with the player that this is the real deal. Yes, there’s a little girl over there that can completely tear Shaft a new one, but she’s just an option, not the star. Richter is the hero. Richter is the guy that can backflip away from a fireball, and he’s the hunter that is going to be responsible for Death’s dental bills.

SURPRISE!Castlevania: Rondo of Blood knows what’s up, and uses that knowledge to slide in a few perversions to the Castlevania formula. This is a game that knows its past and present, and, as a result, defined the franchise for the future. C: RoB is a game that was created with perfect precision.

… And if you want to see a version of Rondo of Blood that completely lacked that meticulousness…

It's the Dracula X!

Well, the Super Nintendo “version” is right there. And let us never speak of that square ever again.

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

  • System: I understand there was once some manner of system called a PC Engine CD? Sounds… unholy. But this is available as part of the PSP Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (though forbidden on the Vita TV), on the Playstation 4 Castlevania compilation (but not the other Castlevania compilation), the Nintendo Wii when that storefront was available, and now on the Turbo-Grafix 16 Mini. Play it on the mini. It has the controller this was always meant for.
  • Number of players: Richter or Maria, you can still only do it alone.
  • WeeeeeeePort-o-Call: The PSP remake, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, certainly brings the game into the 21st Century, but it seems to unnecessarily suck all the candy-colored joy out of the game. I can understand why this was done (Castlevania is a very serious franchise for very serious people that eat meat out of walls), but it squashes a healthy amount of the original’s charm. Or, put another way, Maria is wearing pants now. Just let the girl be her anachronistic self!
  • What’s that sound? The original has some seriously weird sound effects. Like, “sound of a buffalo farting out pre-digested wheatgrass” weird sound effects. They happen constantly. I am loving it.
  • Favorite Boss: Undead Shaft is a hoot. Please keep summoning bosses I already defeated! I love being reminded of earlier areas by being assaulted by rotting dragon flesh. … Wait, does this mean Rondo contains references to its own, immediate past? Hm.
  • BOOMDid you know? Koji Igarashi has stated in interviews that Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania 3 are his two favorite Castlevania games. Well duh.
  • Would I play again: In a skeleton’s heartbeat. Wait… Uh… Can I just say yes? This is one of the best Castlevania games out there, and it justifies the TG-16 Mini all on its own. Bedrock of the Castlevania franchise, and certainly worth another play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Celeste! It’s about the climb! Please look forward to it!

It's a Dril thing

FGC #510 The Simpsons (Arcade)

Which franchise wound up with the best Konami Arcade Beat ‘em Up? Let’s run the numbers!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

Tonight I dine on Turtle Soup• The quintessential beat ‘em up: this is the licensed arcade game that defined the genre, and arcades, for years to come
• It’s four players, which is always a fun time for everybody. There is no friendly fire, and there are no tangible rewards for scoring better than another player. This is a friendly, cooperative beat ‘em up.
• … Except when your buddy steals a life-restoring pizza out from under you. Then it is on. Let’s take this discussion to the Mortal Kombat cabinet.
• For better or worse, all of the turtles control almost exactly the same. A dedicated herpetologist can probably explain the nuances between a Donny and a Raph, but that’s mostly cosmetic. Four playable characters that may as well be color-swaps of each other.
• Meanwhile, there is a fairly large roster of opponents, they just all look identical. The hoards of Foot Soliders besieging the turtles are nearly all indistinguishable, but their different weapons lead to different attack patterns.
• Past Foot Soliders, there are, like, two other enemies.
• You can fight a sentient brain in a robot wrester’s body.
• Occasionally, there are exploding barrels.
• The skateboarding stage is the most radical thing that happened in 1989.
• TMNT: Turtles in Time should really count toward the turtles’ final score, but playing that game now unearths traumatic memories.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Final Ranking: Two Players out of Four.

X-Men (1992)

Welcome to Die• Six players! It’s double wide for double the fun! … Or at least 50% more wide.
• A handful of “extra” offensive options are available. Most important: you can kick opponents when they’re down. This offers a fun way to gamble on dealing damage (do you target a downed opponent but risk reprisal from the enemies still standing?), and also gives the impression that Scott Summers walks around kicking lizardmen in the junk.
• Characters are varied in visual style as well as special moves. Their common movesets are generic, but those mutant powers? Nobody is going to mistake the frantic teleporting of Nightcrawler for the power surges of Colossus.
• Offers the ultimate in Canadian entertainment: Wolverine versus The Wendigo.
• There are many of the same robots over and over, but there are also plant/dirt monsters, cyborg marauders, tiny dinosaur people, and at least one swarm of angry, robotic bees.
• No Nasty Boys, though.
• You don’t get more iconic than “Nothing moves The Blob!”
• Okay, maybe, “X-Men, welcome to die!” But Blob sells his declarations better than Magneto.
• The extra “mutant power orb” is confusing at best, and a psychological trick designed to ruin a player’s health at worst. It… just doesn’t work that well on any level.
• Only the Japanese version offers health powerups. Nary a pizza to be found for the X-Men.

X-Men Final Ranking: 120 mighty mutants out of a possible 198.

Bucky O’Hare (1992)

That wascally wabbit• This is what we in the biz (there is no biz) call a pseudo-beat ‘em up. All the beat ‘em up trappings are there, but this game is much more shooter than beat ‘em up. This is the unholy combination of Contra and Final Fight.
• And, uh, that’s pretty great.
• However, some of the genre trappings are a little confused, so, for instance, you take damage for simply touching an opponent, which is a bit of a rub in a game that is already a deliberate quarter killer.
• But still, bang bang shoot shoot.
• The playable characters are visually varied, but there are very few practical difference between the cast. This is particularly egregious when at least one of your possible choices is a four-armed space pirate duck.
• Two stages scroll vertically, and a few areas completely descend into shoot ‘em ups. Added variety, or diving into a genre no one asked for? Take your pick.
• The mooks of the Bucky O’Hare universe were never that interesting to begin with, so mowing down waves of identical frogs is less than satisfying.
• Technically created by Larry Hama.
• You’re not allowed to play as Bruce the Betelgeusian Berserker Baboon or, to a dramatically lesser extent, Willy DuWitt.
• Apparently developed by the team that would eventually become Treasure, but I don’t buy it, because there isn’t an exhaustingly long boss rush anywhere in the game.

Bucky O’Hare Final Ranking: 75% of a thinly veiled metaphor for modern consumer culture that absolutely nobody understood because it was immediately merchandised to all hell.

Asterix (1992)

The big guy• Only two players.
• Friendly fire is enabled, which I’m sure seemed like a good idea at the time.
• Asterix and Obelix are very different characters, though with interchangeable controls. They’re simultaneously extremely different but immediately understandable.
• Possibly the most gameplay variety in a Konami licensed beat ‘em up. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can only dream of chariot racing.
• Literally tossing around your opponents like ragdolls is always going to be fun.
• Opponents can be beaten while they’re down for the all-important purpose of smacking them against other, slightly more conscious enemies.
• Powered up punches are a logical extension of other titles’ super moves, and feel appropriately cartoony.
• Unfortunately, some bosses necessitate powered up punches for a final coup de grâce, and outright requiring a player to do anything in an arcade setting is a black mark against fun.
• Very unfortunately only available in Europe or locally at that one arcade owned by that Agnieszka person… and Agnieszka seems pretty sketchy.

Asterix Final Ranking: Disqualified for not being American enough. Grab some apple pie and get back to our judge’s panel.

The Simpsons (1991)

BLINKER• Four players, and all four are the prime members of the titular Simpsons family. No being stuck with Dazzler here.
• Basic attacks and special moves both differentiate the characters. No one is mistaking Marge’s vacuum cleaner or butt bump for El Barto’s skateboard skill.
• Weapons and items are available frequently across multiple stages. A hammer may be used to brutalize teacups, and Lisa is allowed to fire a slingshot at the Burns Army. The Japanese version even offers the occasional nuclear bomb.
• The Simpsons may combine powers, thus meaning there’s a better reason than usual to encourage additional players to come and bond. What’s more, attract mode and a boss both clue the player into how to properly join forces.
• There are more background gags in this game than most modern episodes of The Simpsons.
• Despite the fairly mundane setting (evil billionaire kidnaps baby, tale as old as time), the various levels are varied and interesting. Moe’s Bar might be a bit longer than it ever appeared in the series proper, but the nearby graveyard is a blast, and the television station includes more robots and ninja than one would expect. The Dream World is the pinnacle, complete with unique enemies, objects, and a bowling ball boss.
• There are two bonus stages that give a humble player the opportunity to completely mangle some poor arcade owner’s buttons. Sorry, Agnieszka.

The Simpsons final ranking: Well, this one is hard to judge, as…

Wait a minute… We have some late-breaking news…

Woof

Apparently you can throw a dog at your opponents in The Simpsons, and said dog is just happy to be there throughout the hurling.

Okay, yes, The Simpsons unequivocally wins this competition. Don’t have a cow, man, that’s just how it is.

FGC #510 The Simpsons (Arcade)

  • System: Arcade, but briefly available on Playstation network for the PS3, and Xbox Live for the Xbox 360. It likely disappeared again, though.
  • Number of Players: Four Simpsons. Sorry, Maggie, you have to be the macguffin this time.
  • Port-o-Call: There’s also a MS-DOS version of The Simpsons, and… Well, it’s from that same school of weird photocopying that led to the Mega Man DOS ports. It looks completely correct (for a DOS port from the early 90s), but it feels incredibly wrong (for anything ever). Jump once in that game, and you’ll turn it off in favor of MAME immediately.
  • ZAPAcross the Sea: The Japanese version includes more “weapons”, and hidden spots throughout levels that award fruit and alike. Whether this is because that version was released later or because Konami thought its native players needed more incentive to play a Simpsons game is unknown. What’s important is that Lisa can launch random cherry bombs against opponents, and that’s always fun.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: My grandfather was always happy to provide quarters for his grandson, but was not happy with that Bart character casually utilizing the word “hell”. He would not have granted The Simpson this great beat ‘em up honor (he might have defaulted to Bomberman).
  • Favorite Simpson (this game): Marge. I just think she’s neat.
  • Did you know? There is more than a passing similarity between the final boss of The Simpsons and the final boss of Bucky O’Hare. In both cases, you’re battling the antagonist of the series as a hulking robot that gradually loses parts and morphs into different fighting modes. Then again, maybe this is just a trope of action games, as every game from Smash TV to Three Dirty Dwarves pulls a similar trick.
  • Would I play again: This is the most fun you can have with a Konami beat ‘em up. So says Goggle Bob, who will inevitably play this game with or without friends again. Give it a few months.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Gold for the Nintendo Gameboy! That’s the gold standard for Gameboy titles! Please look forward to it!

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