Tag Archives: midway

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.

1984
Paperboy

Midway Games
Arcade

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?

1985
Gauntlet

Midway Games
Arcade

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!

1986
Castlevania

Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986 also had another familiar Grim Reaper…

FGC #519 (Super) Smash TV

Let's Smash!Am I a good parent?

Wait a tick… Of course I’m not. I don’t even have kids. But I deal with kids on occasion, and I’d kind of like to work out my….

Wait, let’s take it from the top.

So my best friend had a birthday the other day. Given this birthday was a big, round number (he’s an even 6,000 years old), under normal circumstances, there would likely be a surprise party involving everyone that has so much as sneezed in his general direction. Unfortunately, we live in an age where sneezing is forbidden, so the big, “blowout” party consisted of a whole five adults drinking various kinds of alcohol on an outside deck. There was a cake that was also alcohol, but it was still a cake. I understand this has become a meme of some kind? Please enjoy this edible barrel.

It's a lie

But this quintet of musty old people was not the full extent of the guest list. The birthday boy had managed to sire some brood in his 11,000 years on this planet, and they had to be occupied with… ya know… something. It turns out children aren’t fond of sitting around and discussing the works of Proust while sipping Cabernet Sauvignon (okay, we may have actually been just gossiping about dorks from high school while chugging whiskey… but still!), so they were banished to the basement to entertain themselves. Of course, the kids do not see my basement (affectionately referred to as “The Gameatorium”) as anything approaching a punishment. That’s where the Transformers live! And the videogames! And that robot that keeps shouting out the titles of random videogames! That’s always a fun curiosity! So, yes, the children spent their father’s birthday surrounded by more games than they’d likely ever see in their lives, and that was the last they saw of their parents until around 1 AM.

Now, despite the fact that the kids in question were surrounded by literally thousands of videogames, I didn’t have to worry too much about their virgin eyes seeing the horrors of some games in my collection. Children have energy in droves, but the trade-off is that their undeveloped brains are remarkably lazy when more immediate enjoyment is available. Nobody has time to figure out how that whole “Sega Saturn” thing works, so they’ll just stick a slab of cheese in the disc drive, wait for me to find that six months later, and move on to a more familiar system. In this case, there was a Nintendo Switch, so that seemed like the way to go for finding some familiar fun. And, since the Nintendo Switch is a rat, I can relay exactly what they played. Apparently Smash Bros was their first choice, so good job, children. Fortnite was tried, but I hadn’t updated that game in a dog’s age, and nobody felt like waiting through a gigabyte download. ARMS was next on the list, and it seems that and Snakeybus were played for a whole 20 seconds before moving on to Splatoon 2. That saw some more use, but it didn’t last forever, likely because the two kids had to share a controller to play against others online. They’re… not great at taking turns. This apparently prompted the eldest to search through my collection for something that was 2-player co-op. Presumably utilizing signals beamed directly into his brain by generally bored space aliens, Elder Child found a game that would involve not only co-op, but lots of shooting.

NEONAnd that game? Neon Chrome. “A ruthless twin-stick top-down shooter”.

Anytime I see a kid playing a game that is described as “ruthless”, I grow concerned.

If you’ve never played Neon Chrome, you are missing out on a fun experience. It’s a procedurally generated rogue-like twin stick shooter that offers a number of offensive options and opponents. It was originally released on Steam in 2016, migrated to the consoles, and eventually found a home on the Switch. This is the ideal final form for practically any rogue-like, as the “simple” top down shoot ‘em up nature of Neon Chrome and the need to grind (either to unlock new options or to just “git gud”) seems to work best while also burning through episodes of Gotham in parallel (Batman stomping around as a surly teenager while The Riddler and The Penguin make out? Sign me up!). It’s not a game that is ever going to set the world on fire, and I’m glad I picked it up on a random sale, but Neon Chrome is certainly a game that is in the top 30% of titles on my Switch, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering some of the other luminaries on that system.

And, as I was the only adult sober enough to do such a thing, I checked on the children during their Neon Chrome journey. Neon Chrome actually surprised me, as it led to these two brothers actually cooperating and working out techniques unique to 2-player mode. While I may have been concerned about heated shouts of “You’re supposed to cover my right!” the fact that they collaborated for (literally) hours seemed like a minor miracle unto itself. Usually there is crying, yelling, and at least one kid explaining to his parents how the other kid is not being “fair” or “helpful” or “won’t stop summoning Bizlackowaq the NEONDeath Bringer”. In this case, the brothers were simply sitting downstairs, playing the same game, and enrapt the whole while. This is unusual! This is a miracle! It allowed us adults the freedom to have wild bacchanalian activities until well into the morning (or at least have one uninterrupted conversation about bookshelf placement), and we all have Neon Chrome to thank.

And my only concern is that Neon Chrome is rated T for Teen, and every time when I checked on the kids, there was inevitably a blood-splattered corpse on the ground.

(Uh, to be clear, that corpse was in the game. There was very little Cain and Abel roleplay happening that night).

Now, I have played videogames all of my life. I have enjoyed videogames all of my life. And, likely as a direct result of that, I have always been sensitive to the controversies over videogame violence. I was there for Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and Ballz. I may or may not have held a lifelong grudge against a certain senator for stirring up anti-videogame rhetoric. I was in high school opposite Columbine and the “Doom controversy”. I have spent the last thirty years of my life entrenched in a thousand debates on videogames, violence, and whether or not that has any real impact on the players. I have always, always maintained that even the smallest children know the difference between fantasy and reality, and claiming otherwise is absolutely a bad-faith argument. We no more need to shield children from violent videogames than we need to block the nightly news and its usual parade of viciousness. Get over it, Joe, videogames are cool, you should just chill out.

NEONBut here I am, gawking like a yokel, starring at a pair of kids causing blood fountains on the screen, and contemplating whether or not I should leap in front of the television and demand they go back to playing Oscar’s Trash Race this instant, young man. Have I changed my mind? Since I’m now dealing with actual children I care about, have I altered my beliefs? Will I soon be shrieking about why won’t anyone think of the children?

And then I thought about my own childhood, and, coincidentally enough, playing videogames with the father of these wee ones.

As mentioned, I have been friends with Birthday Dad for a long time. We didn’t start hanging out with each when we were as young as his kids are now, but, in the grand scope of things, I would still look at our respective younger selves as “children” (granted, this also means I interpret almost all JRPG protagonists as children now, but that is just a side effect of being one of The Olds). And when we were kids? We got an early build of MAME going, and went to town on every arcade game that had ever dared strip us of our quarters. Battletoads arcade was on there, and Rampart saw an endless two player mode. And, of course, we had to conquer the old standby that many thought was impossible to finish: Smash TV.

(Hey, 1,400 words in, and we finally hit today’s featured game. That might be a new record on meandering!)

Smash TV is a quarter-killer from 1990 that sees the player taking on the role as a contestant on a hit game show in the far-flung future of 1999. Here, violence and maximum carnage rule supreme, and you have to guide a little dude with a helmet and no shirt through a series of arenas that generally contain an unhealthy number of mutants, robots, snakes, and jerks with baseball bats. Your ammo is unlimited, but your poor avatar can only take a single bullet before keeling over, so you have to be equal parts nimble and brutal. There are also a handful of bosses that exist to showcase the finest graphics that 1990 could ever hope to offer with the added bonus of mercilessly depleting every last extra life you had earned over the course of a level. Smash TV is an excellent twin-stick shooter that only requires approximately ten million credits to complete.

EYEBALL!And, if you hadn’t guessed from the subject of this article or that one screenshot where a dude is exploding into a puddle of eyeballs, Smash TV is very violent game. In this case, it’s not completely random violence, it’s something akin to Robocop or other hyper-violent movies from the 80’s that glorified violence while using it as a statement on society’s continual glorification of violence (… wait a minute). Smash TV is a game show where a contestant can win a million VCRs or “dream vacations”, but it’s all a farce, because that contestant likely won’t live to see a single tape on that brand new VCR. It’s a striking indictment of capitalism, as playing Smash TV for five minutes is just a microcosm of spending your life working for “fabulous prizes” that you will never enjoy because that work managed to break your back over the years (actually, that might just be a Billy Joel song). You might not be zapped into x-ray mode by a turtle-bot’s laser, but Smash TV is using its absurd violence to comment on the general irrationality of the modern grind. It’s violence with a point, dad, it’s not just some snuff game!

And my birthday pal and I used to play this game constantly. We hadn’t quite mastered save state technology, so we had to play Smash TV at home over and over again. In fact, I had made a similar attempt with a neighbor when I was younger with the Super Nintendo version. But the “arcade original” allowed for some USB controllers with actual twin sticks, so unlike that credit-limited earlier attempt, we were going to beat Smash TV if it killed us. And we did! This surprisingly lengthy arcade title was finished on a Friday evening otherwise mostly spent waiting for our drummer (if memory serves, we eventually had to drag him out of a Denny’s). It only took time, practice, virtual quarters, and absorbing hours and hours of the ol’ ultra-violence. No harm done!

FACE!And if their father and I turned out to be fine, upstanding citizens after witnessing so much carnage, shouldn’t the children be alright? I’m not certain which “parent trap” I’m falling for here. I’m recoiling at the thought of children seeing violence because I had a visceral reaction to two kids on a beanbag chair (it is a very large beanbag chair) gleefully laughing while a bloody corpse sputters into oblivion on the screen in front of us. On the other hand, isn’t “we turned out fine” the same kind of knee-jerk reaction to an issue? “My dad beat the crap out of me, and now I’m a perfectly normal human being that can’t achieve orgasm unless my car is plastered with 70 bumper sticks regarding treading and its relationship with me” is the kind of sentiment that is seen over and over again, and I’d hate to think I’m being so similarly shortsighted because I caught a whiff of the issue at hand being so close to my heart (did we just cover all the senses in one metaphor?). Is there an answer here that isn’t some warmed over musing that is as old as time itself (which, reminder, would be slightly younger than the boys’ father).

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a clear answer here. Yes, I played violent videogames as a kid, but did they affect me? It would be crazy to think they didn’t! I might never have actually physically hurt anyone when I was a schoolboy, but I can confirm that I had fantasies of whipping out a Baraka-esque armblade to scare off my more menacing and persistent bullies. I can safely say that little bit of imagined violence wouldn’t have ever been in my head without playing another game by John Tobias for hours on end. Am I a violent person? No. But I know there’s a part of me that thinks roundhouses can solve problems, and I’m willing to blame an entire gaming genre for that issue. Am I afraid these kids are going to stalk the halls with a machine gun like in Neon Chrome? Absolutely not. But I do know that a part of their brains is now perfectly okay with seeing a digitized dead body. Their lives aren’t over, but a small chunk of their innocence is. This wouldn’t have happened if they just stuck to Snakeybus…

Now clapAnd, really, I feel that gets to the crux of this issue. Even if I’m not a parent, am I doing something wrong by allowing a child to play a videogame that glorifies violence? No. I’m confident in saying that (taking the bold position that I judge myself as a good person). But did something happen here? Was some damage done? Yes. I feel that’s accurate. This wasn’t necessarily “bad”, but it happened. I’m not going to send everyone involved to therapy, but I might throw a few “child protections” on the Switch next time. I’m going to make sure there’s an environment where any game can be played (okay, not any) but the children are also aware the adults are handy, and happy to talk about whatever is going on. This “loss of innocence” might be inevitable, whether it’s thanks to a budget e-shop title or not, but at least the kids will be aware that they have parents (and parent-like creepy adults that have basements full of Transformers) that are there for them.

And then we’ll all play Smash TV together. Because my skills have gotten rusty, and I need to blow up Mutoid Man but good.

FGC #519 (Super) Smash TV

  • System: Arcade, and then practically every platform of the 80s and 90s. But not today! Presumably thanks to Midway crumbling to dust, this hasn’t seen an arcade compilation since Midway Arcade Treasures in the Xbox/PS2 era. It was on Xbox 360 with online play for a hot minute, but that seems to have faded into the ether as of 2010.
  • Number of players: Two contestants enter, possibly two contestants leave. It kind of depends on your income.
  • These guysPort-o-Call: Do not play this game on any consoles before the advent of the actual “twin sticks” for this twin stick shooter. Smash TV is practically unplayable on the NES, and the Super Smash TV iteration that appeared on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo isn’t much better. And there’s a Game Gear version? Not even going to test that one. This is one arcade game that requires something approaching its original hardware configuration.
  • Favorite Boss: Scarface is a giant, hovering face that is eventually very scarred. This is in sharp contrast to Mutoid Man, who I’m not certain ever mutoids at all. And Die Cobros? That’s just German for The Cobra Bros. I think. Yes, Scarface is the best balance of name and boss in Smash TV, so he’s my favorite.
  • Favorite Powerup: This is one of those games where being invincible also means mowing down your opponents by simply making contact. That’s always the best, so give me that glowing green circle any day of the week. Hell, one might be able to ascribe the success of Smash TV to getting the best powerup (at least temporarily) every time you drop in a quarter. Sweet dopamine rush…
  • Sage Advice: The messages that appear in every room…
    This is not a lie

    Can get a little weird. I’d rather hear about fabulous prizes, announcer, not impending turtles.
  • Influencers: Lest you think the connection between Robocop and Smash TV is imagined, the host of Smash TV will occasionally utter the absurd catchphrase from Robocop’s bad future, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” This presumably means that Smash TV Dude will be the next Mortal Kombat guest kharacter.
  • SnekDid you know? The Pleasure Dome, the final bonus area in Smash TV which requires ten keys, was mentioned in the original arcade releases… but wasn’t actually programmed into the game. Apparently the designers thought players would never get there anyway, so who cares? However, arcades apparently complained on behalf of disappointed players, and a later update finally implemented the actual Pleasure Dome. Is it any wonder this company eventually went on to create fake hidden kharacters in its most popular franchise?
  • Would I play again: Smash TV is a weirdly long game, and I’m an adult that is over this whole superviolence thing, so I doubt I’ll ever play the game for an extended period of time again. I might play Neon Chrome with the kiddies, though…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… X-Men: Children of the Atom for the Sega Saturn! Watch all the X-Men fight for the right to fight Juggernaut! Please look forward to it!

MEAT!

MKK: The New MK Universe & Skarlet

In the beginning there was Midway, and it was good. In seven days and seven nights (or maybe, like, thirty years), Midway produced some of the most amazing arcade titles on the planet. Midway distributed Space Invaders. Midway distributed Pac-Man. I’m moderately certain Spy Hunter was somewhere in there. Tapper. Gorf. Smash TV. Journey: Not the Journey You’re Thinking Of. Let’s skip ahead to NBA Jam. NFL Blitz. Revolution X: Music is the Weapon. War Gods. Happy Feet for Nintendo DS. Ozzy & Drix for the Gameboy Advance. And, of course, through it all, Midway was responsible for Mortal Kombat and its many, many sequels.

Get 'em George
Happier Times

Unfortunately, Midway blew all its development money on Ozzy & Drix, and they went bankrupt in 2009. This, as you may expect, impacted the Mortal Kombat series. Specifically, this whole “goin’ bankrupt” thing started back around when Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was happening, so planned DLC for the game, Harley Quinn and Quan Chi, got cancelled due to a complete lack of interest in Quan Chi (and the bankruptcy thing, too, I guess). But! Possibly because Midway Chicago was already working with Warner Bros. Interactive, the WB purchased the remains of Midway Chicago and its IPs. This meant that, finally, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot could cross over with the lucrative The Suffering franchise. It also meant that Mortal Kombat and its kast of kharacters that once uppercutted Superman are now the property of the same dudes that owned Superman, so… hooray? Go ahead and add Sub-Zero to the Arrowverse Multiverse map, nerds.

Watch your nethers

But, crossover opportunities aside, the important result of the end of Midway was NetherRealm Studios. NetherRealm Studios technically started its WB time as WB Games Chicago, but, before that, this team was basically Midway Games Chicago. And who has been the consistent lead of this team? Ed Boon, one of the original four men that created Mortal Kombat. And why is it “NetherRealm Studios”? Well, because NRS predominantly only makes Mortal Kombat games (featuring Scorpion, popular denizen of the NetherRealm). They’ve also got the Injustice franchise, but that is, at its core, MK with a Batman skin. Beyond that, NetherRealm Studios has only ever produced one mobile WWE game and a mobile Batman Arkham City spin-off. The point here? We now have an entire videogame developer devoted to Mortal Kombat, and it doesn’t have to waste resources on maintaining the CarnEvil extended universe.

This is a great situation for Mortal Kombat! Finally, its team can take some time, breathe, and get back to designing the new legends of the Mortal Kombat franchise. We went through some lean, Hotaru-based years back there, and now we’re ready for the titans of a whole new generation. Show us this year’s Sub-Zero, NetherRealm Studios!

DESTROY

Oh, snap, he’s a robot? …. Didn’t you already do that? No? But, didn’t you already do all of this?

Mortal Kombat 9 (officially titled simply “Mortal Kombat”) was the first game produced by NetherRealm Studios (then officially titled WB Games Chicago). At its core, it is little more than a Star Trek 2009-esque reboot of the franchise. As a result, it introduced exactly zero new kharacters (until DLC, where we got one), and the best anyone could hope for was seeing some cyborgs take off their robot suits. From the perspective of someone expecting to make some new friends (and then roundhouse them), Mortal Kombat 9 was a complete disappointment.

On the other hand, Mortal Kombat 9, appropriately enough, was a return to form for the Mortal Kombat franchise. Did you enjoy all of the fighting styles of the previous three (non crossover) Mortal Kombat titles? They’re gone now! Back to four-button face-punching (or kicking). 3-D? Not in this timeline! Back to two dimensions! And do you like fatalities? Because the design team apparently put a premium on its finishers for the first time in the franchise’s history. After two games of “Heroic Brutalities” and supremely generic finishers, we’ve got some really specific buckets of blood being tossed around. There’s also a stage that contains a literal blood fountain! And it has nothing to do with Johnny Cage slashing an artery!

And, while the cast is wholly familiar, the story is appropriately Mortal Kombat bonkers, so we scored another goal there.

Mortal Kombat 9 has been tangentially referenced in the other recaps, but, because your stupid ape brain can only quantify events in a linear fashion, and all future kharacter spotlights will be firmly in this new timeline, let’s review how Mortal Kombat 9 went down.

So, to be clear, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (MK7) happened. And the end result was that literally everyone died except Raiden and Shao Kahn. And, frankly, Raiden wasn’t doing so great against a now mystically-empowered Kahn. So Raiden came up with the bright idea to send a magical text message back to his past self, and the general assumption was that Past-Raiden would be able to instantly understand Future-Raiden because, hey, they’re the same guy, right? And he’s got god-level knowledge, too! Raiden is the guardian of the entire realm of Earth, of course he’s going to be smart enough to figure out a message from his future self.

Unfortunately, Raiden is a blithering idiot. Both of ‘em.

Look out!
Granted, most MK kharacters have had brain injuries at this point

Raiden told Raiden that “He must win.” Raiden assumed that a pronoun would work, but, other than completely disqualifying Sonya Blade, it didn’t exactly help the situation. In fact, Past Raiden following the “He must win” mantra nearly got everybody killed (including a good number of “he”’s). And it all turned out to be some stupid riddle to begin with, and the only explanation for that is that apparently at least one Raiden involved here is suicidal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what you need to know about the brand new Mortal Kombat universe:

• “Past Raiden” starts at the top of Mortal Kombat 1. Given he is involved in a fighting tournament featuring almost exclusively men, “He must win” isn’t exactly helpful. And, since Raiden doesn’t have any further future information, he assumes that Liu Kang must win Mortal Kombat. Given that is how MK happened the first time, very little changes at this point in the timeline.

• However, there are a few inconsequential retcons. For instance, Baraka, Nightwolf, and (the human versions of) Cyrax & Sektor participate. Also, Quan Chi, who previously did not appear until MK4, is part of Shao Kahn’s general entourage. He’s currently acting like Scorpion’s manager, and it’s never not weird that mundane karate man Liu Kang has to deal with King Goth of Gothania pirouetting around.

• Also, Raiden tries to bribe Scorpion into not killing Sub-Zero I. But, Raiden? My man? Scorpion is an unstoppable vengeance demon fueled only by his desire to avenge himself upon nebulously blue, ninja-shaped life forms. You would have had an easier time bribing the Kool-Aid man into dodging brick walls.

• Liu Kang wins MK1 like normal, but things start going south during the second Mortal Kombat tournament. For one thing, Jax is slightly more gung-ho about rescuing Sonya in this timeline, so Ermac meets Jax’s enthusiasm by tearing the guy’s arms off.

• Also, Raiden sees a vision of Smoke being captured and transformed into a robot, and rescues Smoke from his cybernetic fate. However, this leaves Sub-Zero II vulnerable, and he’s captured by Lin Kuei forces. So now we have a whole new robot to deal with!

Kitana discovers the dark secret of Mileena (she never got braces), but Kitana does not kill Mileena. In the original timeline, Mileena had to be magically revived to participate in every title past MK2, and Kitana was being pursued by Shao Kahn for her murder. Kitana’s hands are clean in this timeline, but she still winds up on Shao Kahn’s shitlist for being a general nuisance.

Mime!
Obviously, Johnny Cage’s seminal Ninja Mime still happened.

• Oh, and quite crucially, Raiden interprets “he must win” as a call for the brash Kung Lao, not Liu Kang, to win Mortal Kombat 2. Kung Lao does pretty well until Shao Kahn realizes he’s wholly in charge of the tournament, and, when you make the rules, you can break the rules. So Shao Kahn breaks Kung Lao’s neck. Kung Lao becomes the first “real” casualty of the rebooted universe.

• Liu Kang kills Shao Kahn in retribution, and, like before, wins Mortal Kombat 2. However, Shao Kahn is revived about seven seconds later thanks to the ever-pesky Quan Chi. Quan Chi also kicks off MK3 by reviving Sindel. In the original timeline, there was never an exact explanation for how Shao Kahn survived MK2 and revived Sindel for MK3 (a wizard did it… seriously!), so Quan Chi’s presence here is only marginally a retcon.

• MK3 is fast and furious with the retcons and timeline changes. Kabal is now a cop (!) and Stryker’s partner (!). Like before, Kabal is BBQed in the early days of the Outworld invasion, but now it is confirmed that his cybernetics and magical speed powers are the results of Kano and Shang Tsung.

• Raiden screws the pooch by killing the horse. Motaro was Shao Kahn’s dragon du jour for MK3, but Raiden receives a vision of Motaro killing Johnny Cage, so Raiden kills Motaro first. Johnny is saved, but in the absence of his beloved centaur, Shao Kahn decides to kill Shang Tsung, drain his soul bowl, and transform Queen Sindel into her super saiyan form. Queen Sindel is now a boss-class monster (for story purposes, she’s still pretty lousy in actual gameplay).

• Sub-Zero, now a robot, seemingly kills Noob Saibot, who was already dead. It was confusing. But what’s important is that now Noob Saibot is going to have to take a game off to recover. Robot Sub-Zero never gets around to “freeing” his robot brethren like in the original timeline.

• And, since it looks like the good guys are actually winning this war against Shao Kahn, Queen Sindel gets sent to take out Team Good. And she does! Sindel leads an assault on Earthrealm that leaves… let’s see here… Nightwolf, Sub-Zero, Jax, Stryker, Smoke, Kabal, and… probably some other guys… all dead. Oh! Kitana! She’s dead. So is Sindel, in the end. This leaves us with only Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, and Sonya surviving into the fourth quarter.

• This all made Raiden really frustrated with the situation, one thing led to another, and, blah blah blah, Raiden may have killed Liu Kang and left him a particularly well done corpse.

Sorry!
“Sorry about that.”

• But that gives Raiden an idea: why not just give up? “He must win” is revealed to mean that Shao Kahn must win specifically Mortal Kombat 3, because the fights of Mortal Kombat 3 are not an officially sanctioned tournament presented by Mortal Kombat Korp., and, when Shao Kahn “wins”, the Elder Gods call foul, and Shao Kahn is obliterated on a technicality. Shao Kahn is gone forever (thus he can never go on to win Mortal Kombat 7), and Raiden has won Mortal Kombat 3 by the two sweetest words in the English language: default.

• But everybody is still dead, and, thanks to Netherrealm (the realm, not the company) contract negotiations, enslaved by Quan Chi. Only Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage are left standing to represent Team Good.

• And that’s why Mortal Kombat 4 starts with a full-blown Netherrealm invasion featuring Shinnok, Quan Chi, and an army of undead fighters. But that’s a story for next time.

Anywho, what does it all mean? Well, to use up my last few bullet points (I got them on sale at Target, and I want to use them all before they expire):

• Most of the Mortal Kombat old guard is dead. This does not stop them from participating in future titles, but they’re going to be angrier when they do.

• To be completely clear, Shao Kahn, is totally dead. So is Shang Tsung. So they’re not coming back for future titles like in the good ol’ days (or at least not for a whole one game).

• This means that Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, featuring Shang Tsung killing Liu Kang, will never happen in this timeline. And given those events immediately led to MK: Deception and MK: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat 5-7 will not “reboot”, and are not remembered by anyone.

• However, Mortal Kombat 9-11 have confirmed that events from the “old games” could happen again under different circumstances, and any kharacters introduced in those titles are still legitimate… they’re just not participating right now. Hotaru is still out there living his best life.

• And, of course, the timeline veering off into this new direction means there will be all new kharacters introduced in these (mostly) all new storylines.

So get ready for new, never before seen kharacters! … You just have to wait a game for ‘em, because there was nobody new in Mortal Kombat 9.

Blood!

… Well, except Skarlet. She was DLC, and didn’t actually impact the storyline proper, but Mortal Kombat 9 did technically have one original kharacter.

Skarlet is the “red female ninja” to match Ermac (the red boy ninja). Like Ermac, she originally existed as the rumored “fourth female ninja” in Mortal Kombat 2 that could only be accessed by glitching out the Sega Genesis version while licking a dog’s nose and chanting the entirety of Yellow Submarine backwards. Unfortunately, this was only a rumor, and, if a certain dog still looks at me funny when I pick up a Genesis controller, that’s a coincidence. Given (real) Skarlet was introduced well past the point that color-swaps were all the rage in MK, she was designed from the start to merely “evoke” the concept of being another ninja twin, and is not intended to actually be another literal sister to Kitana and Mileena. She’s still one of Shao Kahn’s assassin women, though, so she at least has the same job as the other ladies.

As far as her history, Skarlet was a starving street urchin that was “rescued” by Shao Kahn, and transformed into a blood-mage assassin. Yes, “blood” is a magical element in the Mortal Kombat universe, and, frankly, that makes a whole lotta sense (in the MK universe, people are 80% blood by volume). Skarlet is not a vampire (that would be Nitara), but she does gain unsubstantiated power through drinking blood. But, again, not a vampire, so she presumably eats a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables when she’s not empowering herself with the blood of her enemies. She can also telekinetically manipulate blood, and transform it into projectiles, swords, and balloon doggies (though that last one rarely comes up).

Skarlet also has “bloodhound”-like tracking abilities, and, while you may think this trait would grant her some manner of bounty-hunting-based task for her premiere in Mortal Kombat 9, her official job was keeping track of Quan Chi and determining whether or not he was up to anything untoward. Fun fact: she failed. But her boss was dead by the time MK9 concluded, so she didn’t have to worry about a poor performance review. Skarlet does not appear in Mortal Kombat 10, but she teams up with Reiko in service of Havik for the MKX comics, and her ultimate reward is Milenna chopping off her legs (!) and leaving her for dead. And then she died.

Like most dead people, Skarlet returns as a playable fighter in Mortal Kombat 11. In this case, “future” Skarlet appears to still be dead, but a Skarlet from roughly Mortal Kombat 2 (MK9) steps through a time portal to serve Shao Kahn in her usual bloody manner. But, in a more Avengers manner, she just winds up being “the henchwoman”, and is forced to fight (good, time-displaced) Kitana and Jade a couple of times. She loses every time, and winds up impacting the plot at large slightly less than Baraka. Hell, if she didn’t show up for MK11, she could have been replaced by Reptile, and literally nothing would change.

But at least she came back for one game, thus legitimizing the one original fighter from Mortal Kombat 9. This makes a certain amount of sense though, as it appears the MK franchise had been stockpiling all of its kreative juices for Mortal Kombat 10…

Tasty!
Speaking of creative juices…

Next time: Kill the franchise before it breeds!

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

This is how reproduction worksIf you’re at all interested in videogames, you’ve probably heard of the horrors of game preservation. Videogames are, almost by design, ephemeral. They’re here on the current software, and, if a game is a hit, you can be sure you’ll see it return in the next generation (maybe with a HD remaster!). If a game is a “cult classic”, you might spy a few nerds getting really excited when it shows up on what passes for the next generation’s virtual console. But, if it fails to make an impact, and it fails to have a big name attached to it, then it is likely gone forever. There are literally thousands of games that have languished on their original hardware, never to be seen by an audience ever again.

And this is, without question, a bad thing. More than any other medium, videogames are iterative and absolutely rely on what has come before. Sure, we all like to look at “defining” games like Mario and Zelda to explain where gaming has originated (and where it’s going), but the failures are just as important as the successes. Krion Conquest shows us exactly how to make Mega Man wrong. Early Metroidvania titles (Goonies 2 comes to mind) exemplify what features should be left on the cutting room floor (like God damn birds that steal your items). And the early xeroxes of Doom and Final Fantasy 7 demonstrate exactly what can go wrong in a FPS or JRPG. A bad movie is generally just a bad movie, but there is so much involved in a bad videogame, that there is much to learn past “don’t do that”.

And then there are chunks of our history that are lost forever not because they were somehow unworthy, but because of the great equalizer of all mediums: the legal department.

Munching alongJr. Pac-Man is a Pac-Man arcade game from 1983. The title made it to the Atari 2600 in ’86 (four years after the initial, disastrous Atari Pac-Man), and DOS/Commodore 64 two years later. In other words, it made the rounds in its day. However, you won’t see Jr. Pac-Man past 1990. It did not appear on any of the “modern” consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was not an unlockable in the arcade of Pac-Man 2. And, even today, when you score a Pac-Man collection on your platform of choice, it does not contain Jr. Pac-Man. The character of “Pac-Man’s son” might pop up from time to time, but his titular videogame is nowhere to be found. What happened?

Well, the answer to that is simple: Jr. Pac-Man never should have been born. Namco is the creator of the once and future Pac-Man, and merely licensed the property to Bally-Midway for release in the states. Then Pac-Man fever infected the nation… and Midway needed to sell more arcade machines. Everybody already had Pac-Man, and, thus, only arcade owners were raking in the quarters, not the arcade cabinet manufacturers. So, in a desperate bid to revitalize the Pac-Market, Midway released a slew of new Pac-Content. Ms. Pac-Man is the most famous example, but we also saw Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and the abhorrent Pac-Man Plus, a game that I’m almost certain is naturally haunted (not talking about the ghosts, they’re normal). And, from this bumper crop of Pac-Merchandise, we also saw Jr. Pac-Man.

So flashyAnd Jr. Pac-Man might be one of the best of the Midway Alterna-Pacs. It’s never going to dethrone Ms. Pac-Man, but it has some pretty interesting mechanics. For one thing, for better or worse, it’s the first Pac-Man title designed with a scrolling maze. This means bigger stages, naturally, but also a little more tension with monsters that could be doing anything when they’re off screen. And the bonus items now have much more of an impact on gameplay: an item (no longer just fruit, now we’ve got bicycles, trains, and… a cat?) will move around the maze of its own volition, and “fatten” the traditional pellets. A fat pellet will grant Junior more points, but they also slow this Pac down the tiniest bit… which can make a significant impact when there’s a ghost on your tail. But that’s not all! In a move that can only be described as a betrayal of everything a bonus item stands for, if an item comes in contact with a Power Pellet, both the item and the pellet will explode! And you’re down a Power Pellet! Oh, the humanity!

And, most bizarrely of all, Jr. Pac-Man decides to add to the Pac-Mythos. The round clear cinema scenes of Ms. Pac-Man showcased the pairing of two Pacs, and the attract mode of Jr. Pac-Man features the stork dropping off the new Pac-Bundle. Jr. Pac-Man scenes show another love story, but one between Junior and… a ghost! Yum-Yum is Blinky’s daughter, and it’s clear that he does not approve of these star-crossed lovers. Will Pac-Man Jr. run off with a tiny ghost with a bow in her hair (“hair”)? Play the game to find out!

Or don’t, because you can’t play the thing anywhere.

So verticalFor the sin of creating a licensed-but-unapproved Pac-Man title, Bally-Midway will no longer see any profits from the adventures of the second-littlest Pac. As a result, Jr. Pac-Man is not allowed to appear in any Pac-Collections, and, should you mention Jr. Pac-Man in polite company, the duchess shall be offended, and you will be asked to leave the premises. Jr. Pac-Man may be an interesting twist on the Pac-Formula, but it is nothing more than a redheaded step child to Namco, so it must be thrust out into the cold, never to be seen again (except maybe at Thanksgiving).

And more’s the pity.

Jr. Pac-Man isn’t the best Pac-Man game out there. It might not even be in the top three. But is it better than Pac-Land? Is it more of a Pac-Man game than Pac-Man 2? Does it have more to say about Pac-Play than Pac-Mania? There’s a clear “yes” to each of those questions. Jr. Pac-Man might not be an instant classic, but it’s unavoidably part of the Pac-Pantheon, and should be regarded as such. Jr. Pac-Man deserves a seat at the table, and that means someone born after 1988 deserves a chance to play it.

But it’s never going to happen, because of a licensing dispute from thirty years ago.

Videogame preservation is important, but it seems like the legal department is more important.

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

  • System: Arcade, Atari 2600, DOS, and Commodore 64… and then never again. If you can’t tell, you’re seeing Arcade and Atari 2600 for this article.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Does this means the Pacs have two sons?
  • Attempted Preservation: In an effort to find some version of Jr. Pac-Man, I managed to turn up a random flash version online.

    Not wakka

    It is… not great.

  • Continuity Issue: Actually, Jr. Pac-Man first appears as part of Ms. Pac-Man (the game… man, the phrasing on that sentence is weird) being dropped off by the stork as part of a later cinema scene. But then he arrives at the start of Jr. Pac-Man, when the Pacs have a home? Which is it, Pac-Authors?
  • Favorite Item: The final released maze is the “beer maze”. Let’s just go ahead and assume that’s a root beer, and Jr. Pac-Man is not trying to get drunk with his bad-influence ghost girlfriend.
  • What’s in a name: The orange ghost of Jr. Pac-Man is known as… Tim. Maybe he’s a ghost wizard?
  • Did you know? Ms. Pac-Man was a Midway hack, too, but Namco liked it. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I would like to, but there’s no way I’m fighting the Atari into playing this cartridge anytime soon. I suppose I could always drop a quarter in this guy, though…

    WAKKA WAKKA

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocket Tennis Color for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! It’s going to be 399-Love here at the FGC. Please look forward to it!