Tag Archives: level design

FGC #644 Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

Go Pocky!Videogames are complicated, complex creations. Miss one goddamn thing in there, and the whole thing can fall apart.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is the latest in a series of games released within recent years that nobody would have ever predicted we would see, but, impossibly enough, here we are (see also “American” Radical Dreamers, or that immaculate Record of Lodoss War tie-in). Pocky & Rocky was an astonishing little Super Nintendo title (itself a quasi-sequel to an arcade game) that perfectly captured the chaos and joy of a run ‘n gun like Ikari Warriors or very particular (unpopular) levels in Contra 3. However, unlike many games where you are given a bazooka and an enemy army to obliterate, Pocky & Rocky often erred on the side of adorable. There were certainly scary monsters running around, but you are definitely playing as either a chibi shrine maiden or a roly-poly raccoon, and your greatest allies are gods of plenty that leisurely float around on clouds. This is a scenario where you are saving the world from demonic invaders, but the first boss is also a goblin that is named for partying too hard.

But it is tricky for a player to party too hard with Pocky & Rocky. Despite the cutesy appearance, Pocky & Rocky has always been difficult to the point of parody. This should not be a great surprise, as the game is practically a shoot ‘em up, and that genre is known for a number of entries that were as equally likely to please a player as make them cry. It doesn’t matter if you are steering the Vic Viper through a hail of bullets or Pocky through a maze of oncoming nuts, your health is fragile, and you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the stage in no time if you dare show the slightest sloppiness. Pocky & Rocky was always fun (and easier) with two players, but not unlike Contra or Toejam & Earl, nobody holding a controller was all that convinced they’d see past level 3…

I know this guyAnd Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continues this tradition with aplomb. Is it cute? Listen, bub, you’ve got a playable raccoon and a shrine maiden cosplaying as a fox yōkai (or maybe it is technically a fox yōkai cosplaying as a shrine maiden? Whatever!). There is the signature turn into darkness as our protagonists travel through time to burning villages with disturbingly buff versions of ancient gods, and the challenge is continually buff-god worthy. Unfortunately, the game seems to follow a reverse difficulty curve, as your health and abilities expand dramatically as the game progresses. While there is not a single level or boss that is a pushover, it does seem like the earlier areas are a lot more difficult to conquer with your meager opening offerings. Regardless, even that is arguably Pocky & Rocky to a T, so there is very little to complain about in this remake-y sequel.

Well, except all the nonsense I am about to complain about ad nauseum…

It is hard to pick apart Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. It would be so easy to say this game lacks polish! But that is completely wrong! Pocky & Rocky Reshrined has remarkable sprite-based graphics that must have taken years of experience and craftmanship to appear so beautiful and animated. But you will be distracted from that artistry the moment you notice a glaringly obvious typo…

FORTUNE!
Did you mean “fortune”?

But more importantly than presentation, there are gameplay quirks that frequently detract from the experience. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continually feels like a “tough but fair” shooter… except when a monster spawns directly on top of you, and how the heck were you supposed to see that coming? Bosses are large and in charge, except for the middle crop of creatures that feel like they could be conquered by a toddler. Oh! And the glaringly obvious issue that 2-player mode is locked behind completing the game, and then an additional character that can only be unlocked by completing the exact same game twice (while other, more appealing modes are available that patently will not unlock said character)? That speaks to a severe misunderstanding of why people are playing Pocky & Rocky in the first place. And, while none of these issues somehow equate to making Pocky & Rocky Reshrined unplayable, there are a significant number of problems that feel like the videogame equivalent of writing an essay but skipping the proofreading stage (fun fact: my original intention was to deliberately add some typos to that sentence, but my autocorrect has thwarted me at every turn, and I am far too lazy to attempt to train it differently. Sorry!).

Not that tailsWhich brings us to the actual make or break of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. Possibly the worst thing your humble author did to P&RR is play Cuphead’s DLC immediately before switching over to tanuki times. As a result of this blunder, it was immediately revealed that Cuphead possessed one simple action that Pocky & Rocky Reshrined did not: stationary/locked aiming. In Cuphead, you can hold a shoulder button to keep your porcelain playable character aimed at an opponent. This allows for situations where, at the press of a button, you can stay “locked” facing your focus, but back away to a more advantageous position. Or stay stationary, and rotate around so you can aim without leaving your safe spot. This is an essential move in any game where the difference between life and death can sometimes be measured in miniscule pixels, and it is completely absent from Pocky & Rocky Reshrined.

And, to be clear, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined was designed without this function in mind. There are three different powerup options for every character available, and they can be summarized as “spread”, “strong”, and “homing” (more or less). A homing bullet loses an awful lot of functionality when you have more robust aiming options, and the challenge involved in a number of bosses (and even a few of the regular monsters) is based entirely on how you must choose between aiming your leaves in the right direction, or staying safe from a salvo. Hell, there is even the improved melee attack that seems to reflect everything, and that is a defensive option that you don’t see in any other game. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined seems to have been carefully calibrated to not include this feature seen in the likes of Cuphead.

Watch the bugsBut that doesn’t stop it from feeling lacking in comparison. It may be deliberate, but it still feels like something has been lost, and that other, contemporary games are better for having such a feature. In short, it feels like, thanks to one missing piece, the whole thing falls apart.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is indisputably a great videogame. But failing to enshrine polish seen in other games leaves it lacking.

FGC #644 Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

  • System: You got your Nintendo Switch, and your Playstation 4, and looks like that is about it.
  • Number of players: Two, but only after you unlock the option, you monsters.
  • Favorite Level: Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is just parallel enough to the original Pocky & Rocky that you can almost recognize some of the new stages as references to the source material. What was once a level where you flew through blue skies is now an assault on a series of airships, and it makes for one of the most fun levels. You must defeat your opponents here to progress, and that means a whole lot of airship destruction. So, basically, if you ever wanted to wreck up Final Fantasy’s main mode of transportation, this is the game for you.
  • Gimme fiveFavorite Character: The goddess Ame no Uzume can float over pits, but her “bullets” are a little too spaced out for my liking. So maybe this is the Stockholm syndrome talking, but Hotaru Gozen, the samurai lady that requires beating the game twice to unlock, is probably my favorite pick. She turns a shooter into something more like… well… I don’t know what genre this is supposed to be, but she does have to get up close and personal with all opponents. It’s like playing as Zero in an early Mega Man game!
  • An end? The finale reveals that the final boss and source of all the trouble ‘round these parts is basically a divine abuse victim that had a few problems with her pantheon before bopping over to Fantasy Japan to wreck up the place. After being defeated in an amazing boss fight that includes way too many lasers, she shrinks back down to normal friend-size and… becomes a new Fantasy Japan goddess. And, like, I get that she had a rough time of it, and may have been manipulated by darkness or whatever, but I feel like she lit an awful lot of the country on fire, and was then “punished” with godhood. Talk about failing upwards…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I ordered the physical copy of this release well ahead of its release, but it took forever (okay, maybe a week) to arrive. This vexed me to the point that I nearly downloaded a virtual copy in the meanwhile, despite the fact that I have a backlog of approximately five billion games…
  • I recognize this guy, tooDid you know? The original Pocky & Rocky featured a harpy that marginally looked like a naked lady. The American/European version put that harpy in some armor, conferred it a beak, and turned the whole thing into an angry bird. I understand granting her protection against (feathered) nudity, but why go full bird? Not like this is the kind of game where you can’t have female opponents, as your heroine certainly takes more than a few hits.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game! It is great and I like it a lot! However, a lot of the post-game content feels weirdly grindy, and… Well… There are other games that have the shoot ‘em up features I crave. Put this one down for a strong maybe.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge! Time to slice and dice with some turtle pals! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #643 Elden Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is France

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

This is Cats

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

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

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

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

… And maybe I’ll buy a t-shirt later.

FGC #643 Elden Ring

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

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

What is even happening here?

FGC #580 Mega Man Powered Up

There was a meme circulating recently that asked a simple question: if you were able to “takeover” any company/production studio/IP with impunity, what franchise would you helm and/or revive? Obviously, my mind races at even the suggestion of such a scenario. Is it finally time for Gitaroo-Man to take the stage again? Or can I decisively make that “Metroid 5” title that sees Samus somersaulting through a 2-D, futuristic/abandoned city (well, it’s not technically abandoned, there is a lot of sand around)? Or would I zero in on one of my most beloved/expansive franchises? Trade Mighty No. 9 for that all-important Mega Man Legends 3? Continue the X franchise into the real 202X? Or would I turn my gaze elsewhere? Would I settle for a sequel to an all-but-forgotten PSP game?

Would I demand Mega Man Powered Up 2?

Let’s talk about Mega Man Powered Up (1). Actually, wait, let’s talk about Mega Man (1). Mega Man has been discussed on this blog before, and we came to an unfortunate conclusion: it is not very good. It is not bad! It is just not very good, and, considering there are five other Mega Man titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System (and at least two Gameboy games!), there really is not a reason to play Mega Man (1) beyond morbid curiosity. Sure, Mega Man is where it all started, but it is by no means an essential entry in the franchise that would shortly thereafter allow a player to whack a sentient fan with all the strength of a dog punch. And perhaps it was this unfortunate fact that prompted Keiji Inafune, Mega Man’s adopted father, to produce Mega Man Powered Up, a game with the basic premise of Mega Man (1), but more than a few significant changes.

Swing itFirst of all, as one would expect, the original Mega Man graphics of 1987 were updated to something that would be a bit more appropriate for nearly twenty years later. This was a carefully measured graphical upgrade, too, as the target system for Mega Man Powered Up was the PSP, a very particular handheld with its own widescreen dimensions. Mega Man was made for a big fat TV that could host a fighting robot just as easily as Star Trek: The Next Generation, but Mega Man Powered Up had to fit a world that was much more rectangular. Given this shift to a different aspect ratio, Mega Man’s levels had to be reformatted into something less vertical, and generally more horizontal. And, hey, the fact that nobody had to fight the memory constraints of an early NES cartridge probably changed a few things, too. And speaking of constraints, every Mega Man game after Mega Man 1 featured eight robot masters, while Rock’s first adventure only included six opponents. How about another two for the road? Include some dubious voice acting and a little extra personality for every ‘bot, and then you’ve got a proper Mega Man that matches the style of the contemporary Mega Man titles of the era. Mega Man is all dressed up and ready for modern times.

Except Mega Man Powered Up was a snip ahead of its time.

Let’s talk about the PSP for a moment. The PSP was Sony’s first prominent videogame handheld, and the intended rival to the Nintendo DS. And while the UMDs of the PSP could boast more intensive experiences than anything on the DScitation needed, one thing the system lacked was a touch screen. This would be rectified with the PSP’s successor, but the feature that would launch a thousand mobile games was wholly absent from the Playstation Portable. And, lest we forget our history lessons, the PSP was also riding high right on the cusp of wireless internet functionality being standard. All PSP systems had online capabilities, but, if you were off a college campus, the average PSP user didn’t have easy access to that functionality until late in the system’s go-based life. This led to a few curious scenarios wherein game designers practically begged their audience to go hook up to a McDonald’s hotspot, and maybe the prompted players could get a little bonus The good doctorfor actually connecting to the wi-fi. An easy and relevant example: Mega Man Powered Up would offer a playable Roll only through a PSP system-based download, and you could connect again later to get some seasonal costumes. The message was clear: kids, please go online, and we’ll give you free stuff. Just go online, players, you’ll like it, we swear.

These two failings of the PSP are relevant because Mega Man Powered Up could have really used a touch screen and an audience with extensive online support. Why? Because Mega Man Powered Up featured a pretty robust level editor. And who wouldn’t want that?! Make your own Mega Man stages! I’ve been doing that with graph paper and my grandparent’s colored pens since I was seven! The only issue was that, without a touchscreen, the controls were cumbersome, and without a reliable internet connection, there was no way to share and trade with others. The functionality was technically there, but the community decidedly was not. So Mega Man Powered Up: Make Your Own Levels was little more than a five minute novelty, and not the Mario Maker it could be today with a potential Mega Man Powered Up 2.

But if we’re being honest (and what is a videogame blog without honesty?), the whole “Mega Man Maker” of a potential Mega Man Powered Up 2 would be completely perfunctory next to the real reason this humble blogger wants to see Mega Man Powered Up 2: MMPU let you play the whole game (and multiple challenge levels) as all the Mega Man Robot Masters.

Freeze!And it is hard to overstate how this is simultaneously the best and worst idea for revitalizing Mega Man (1). On one hand, who doesn’t want to play as the bad guys? It was fun to grab Cut Man’s rolling cutter, but why not have the man with the head-blade himself? And who wouldn’t want to run around blasting away with atomic fire that also inexplicably works as headgear? But, unfortunately, the original Robot Masters have more problems than dangerously themed hats. The original Mega Man bosses were extremely limited in their movesets, and Mega Man won everything upon stealing their master weapon. Elec Man has an amazing Elec Beam, but take it away, and he is no different than Mega Man. Run, jump, unique weapon, the end. And some of those weapons/robot masters don’t even work. Guts Man is an iconic opponent, but his Super Arm is situational at best, and outright, irredeemably useless at worst. Even granting Guts Man the ability to summon new blocks only upgrades him from “ineffectual” to “at least he’s not worse than anyone else”. Playing as the bosses of Mega Man is pretty great, but, for the purpose of unique, interesting gameplay challenges, this is the worst crop in the franchise.

But the potential cast of Mega Man Powered Up 2? Now there are some luminaries. Air Man can blow out multiple tornados, and potentially use his winds for platforming hijinks. Flash Man can stop time and spread his pellets around. Quick Man would be an amazing mix of agile mobility and a hypothetically inefficient offense. The invincible dash of Heat Man. The leaf rain of Wood Man. The mettle of Metal Man (he lives every second knowing that one day that Metal Blade will toll for him). Mega Man 2 has one of the most amazing lineups for any Mega Man title (the whole thing would be perfect if Crash Man would just curl up and explode), and the promise of Mega Man Powered Up 2 allowing these Wily Bots to rampage along would be more than enough to guarantee a hit. Hell, you don’t even have to make ‘em good guys! Go the Mega Man & Bass route, and have any given character rebel for no reason! I would give my left pinky for a Bubble Man that is boiling over and taking no prisoners!

Clean up the placeAnd, yes, that is my immediate thought for what game I would petition for a “new” version. I like to imagine I would come up with some game that is innovative, original, and unique in the gaming sphere, but I know what I want. It’s Mega Man. It’s more Mega Man, based on the combination of two really good Mega Man games. Mega Man 2 and Mega Man Powered Up? Mega Man Powered Up 2, please.

And then when we get to Mega Man Powered Up 3…

FGC #580 Mega Man Powered Up

  • System: Playstation Portable, and only PSP. You’re not even allowed to play this bad boy on the Vita. Probably something to do with the online functionality.
  • Number of players: You could share your levels with the whole world, but you’re probably just going to be playing alone.
  • Is the Yellow Devil still terrible? Absolutely. Worst part of the challenges, worst part of the game, worst part of the franchise. It is appropriately named.
  • Favorite Robot Master: Apparently my original choice for Mega Man 1 was Ice Man, but I want to give Time Man a nod on this go round. He can slow down time! But not stop it! We had to save that for Flash Man, apparently, and it’s that kind of continuity that always makes me happy. Also, Fire Man ranks as low as possible on this list for being just south of straight up revisiting Flame Hyenard. What is with Fire Masters with voice acting?
  • Favorite Robot Master (To Actually Play As): Now here is where Ice Man wins. I love ice beam-ing through levels, and it is rather fun seeing just how much of any given stage can be transformed into one continuous series of ice platforms. That said, though, unfreezable bosses are a lot more difficult with that plinky little blaster.
  • Vaguely offensiveHe is not Slick: Oil Man is the other new Robot Master, and he is… a tar baby. Like, straight up, that is exactly what they were going for with the lips and coloration. And that makes sense! Tar, oil, it’s all connected! That said, just because something makes a kind of rational sense doesn’t mean it isn’t hurtful and racist, so someone down the lane should have noted that this was a terrible idea. And the fact that he has a… let’s say “colloquial” accent that involves other Robot Masters calling him a “thug” absolutely does not mean the localization helped. Love that oil slide move! Everything else deserves a rewrite.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: If you were wondering why I have such an exact memory of the state of internet connections at Mega Man Powered Up’s release, it’s because I had to “overwrite” my MMPU save with Gamefaqs-provided data in order to “download” Roll. What was I supposed to do? Purchase a wireless router? I was a poor college student, dammit, and the campus wi-fi isn’t quite there yet!
  • Did you know? Keiji Inafune claimed that the “chibi” style of Mega Man Powered Up was always intended from Mega Man’s inception, but was impossible with NES technology. So we can conclude that, much like George Lucas, Keiji Inafune is a confirmed liar.
  • Would I play again: Probably… but only if the PSP miraculously becomes a lot easier to pick up an’ play. I appreciate that my ol’ portable still has a working battery, but it is a whale of a lot easier to play Mega Man 2 on any given videogame system (and certain toaster models).

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… . Hey! That looks like math! I was told there would be no math! Bah! Regardless, please look forward to it.

Guess he got blocked
This is the only blocking in a fight I support.

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #14: Kingdom Hearts 3

You said it, AxelSo, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts game since 2005, eh? How’s that working out?

Excuse me, but, despite the seemingly simple numbering of the third installment, there have been approximately twelve billion Kingdom Hearts titles in the last (nearly) fifteen years. And that’s something of a problem! All of those titles were very much Kingdom Hearts stories, but all of them (save Dream Drop Distance) primarily featured side characters, like Roxas, Ventus, or Aqua. And, because the Kingdom Hearts franchise has literally no idea how to write an ending, each of those characters wound up with unresolved stories begging for a climax come Kingdom Hearts 3. And does Kingdom Hearts 3 reach that long awaited climax for a cast of at least thirty freeloaders? … Wait, should that be a question?

Does Kingdom Hearts 3 reach that long awaited climax for a cast of at least thirty freeloaders?

Pretty much! It’s actually kind of impressive how many “side stories” have built up over the years, and Kingdom Hearts 3 ties up nearly all of them with a neat little (inevitably heart-shaped) bow during the final world.

Wait… “during the final world”? The game doesn’t gradually solve these problems over the course of the entire 20-30 hour game?

Oh my no. Have you played a Kingdom Hearts game before? All of that messy plot is saved for the final couple of hours, and the rest of the game is having fun around Disney-based worlds while creepy dudes in coats occasionally discuss their favorite Netflix shows (Ansem is apparently really into Ozark).

That sounds… bad.

That’s not a question. It’s a statement. A correct statement.

So is Kingdom Hearts 3 bad?

Poor girlCertainly not. In a lot of ways, Kingdom Hearts 3 is what the Kingdom Hearts titles have been striving for since the initial announcement of Squall Leonheart meets Dumbo. Disney worlds are huge and varied, NPCs actually exist (where appropriate) so Planet Tangled feels populated by actual people (as opposed to the Agrabah Marketplaces of the past that had apparently been struck neutron bombs), and the various worlds often contain mechanics that unmistakably separate the “levels” by something other than your Disney-approved guest characters. There are (relatively) Giant Robots in Toy Store world! A sailing system reminiscent of a mini-Wind Waker in Pirates of the Caribbean world! Big Hero 6 features a Crack Down-esque super-hero city playground! It’s pretty great, and a far cry from the themed hallways of some of the previous titles. In fact, in a weird way, it makes some of the more classically “videogame-y” worlds worse by comparison. Frozen is basically the ice level (complete with ice maze, ice tower, and the return of Square-mandated snowboarding), and Monsters Inc.’s factory stage is another fine showcase for our gaming friend, the conveyer belt. But those worlds aren’t bad! Just kind of ordinary when compared to exploring a gigantic toy store filled with murderous tsum tsums (which is rarely a destination for old-fashioned Chocobros).

So play Kingdom Hearts 3 for the Disney experience?

It’s certainly what is front and center. Four of the worlds are basically “play the movie” experiences wherein Sora gets to tagalong while a film unfolds (and, for some reason, a complete cutscene featuring the entirety of Let it Go), one world serves as a quasi-sequel (and inadvertent condemnation of capitalism), and two worlds seem to be excuses to hang out with a cool cast of characters. And that’s fun! It’s all very entertaining, and the only thing that really separates this whole experience from the much-missed Disney Infinity is that that “real” plot keeps rearing its ugly head (and Anna doesn’t get a grappling hook).

So the Kingdom Hearts plot is the worst part of Kingdom Hearts?

Not exactly. The narrative just…