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FGC #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

I would rather watch thisI am so terrified of being stupid that I may never enjoy anything ever again.

A long time ago in a plagueless epoch long past, it was stated well before the term “Millennial” was ever coined that Millennials interact with advertising differently than their parents. Supposedly, studies had been done that Millennials are more naturally resist to ads that worked on their forebearers, and this next generation of consumers required different tactics. No more could you simply stick Lucy Ricardo on the boob tube and have her tell people exactly what chocolate to buy; no, brands had to build a relationship with their audience. Millennials naturally resisted any and all advertisements that were presented as advertisements, and they loudly joked about the futility of blatant product placement. The paradigm has shifted! A new people is born that needs all new practices!

Or maybe they just needed to make a goddamned movie about chipmunks and their decreasing ability to be proper rescue rangers.

Let’s double back on that whole “Millennials react differently to advertising than their parents” thing. It is the opinion of Gogglebob.com and its attendant subsidiaries that this is and always has been bullshit. Yes, we react differently to advertising, but that is going to be true of literally every generation and the 50-year-old advertising executives that never want to change for any reason, ever. But even beyond that, Millennials were raised with a very unusual feeling of anti-permanence. Ever wonder why nerds are so obsessed with the concept of a fictional “canon”? While this has been a problem for generations, this was significantly exacerbated by a very variable childhood for the 80’s boys. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a completely different continuity between their action figure box descriptions and their animated series. The Transformers had entirely separate universes if you watched a show or read the comics. Even He-Man, often looked to as the ur-“merchandising as entertainment” toy that kicked off the last forty years, could not master a universe where their stage play was half as fantastic as their box art. And we don’t even acknowledge the movie! So, with such contrasting childhood presentations, is it any wonder that an entire generation of nerds craved an authority to tell them what was “real”?

Start at the beginningAnd, whether you were a turbo nerd that noticed Donatello had markedly different eyes across adaptations or not, this impacted vast swaths of people of a certain age. And that can have some long term ramifications! Kids notice when there are incongruities in their own little universe, and, as they grow into surly teenagers, they eventually identify these “incongruities” as “lies our parents told us”. And, when reaching a certain age means you realize your entire childhood was a slapdash fabrication designed only to get you to bug your parents to go to Toys Я Us right now, cynicism is the only result. Are you surprised that an entire generation would thus crave an ephemeral genuine article, and reflexively reject any further attempt at trickery? We were a generation that read propaganda magazines for fun in our childhood, you can’t just toss us a warmed-up smattering of media leftovers and expect us to roll over and play consumer. We care about our properties, because you made us this way, dad! If we were never meant to know the Zelda timeline, then what was even the point of buying three different Zelda encyclopedias, huh!?

Err… actually… yeah. You can pretty quickly see how marketing switched around from “buy this product because we say so” to “buy this product because it is the real story”. And that “real story” can apply in a lot of different ways. We no longer laud actors, we appreciate their characters. Michael Myers and Seth Green are not selling cars, it is Dr. Evil and son Scott that have a Superbowl spot. Networks are not telling you to go out and buy cat food, it is the silly Adult Swim bumper telling you to buy into the latest streaming service. And Soap Company is all about telling you, dear consumer, that it is now hiring models that are not “model skinny”, as, apparently, Soap Company is the arbiter of whether or not bodies are desirable or not. One way or another, it is all about authority and permission, and advertising agencies have learned that Millennials react well to corporations that are working “with” their audience… even if that authorization is apocryphal.

How could it be betterWhat right does any company have to tell its audience what is canon? Original author? Sorry, you died. Company that acquired the rights in some merger? You will never undo Jaxxon T. Tumperakki just because you rubbed George’s beard the right way. And speaking of Disney, to even understand the most popular characters in their stable, you have to acknowledge that their stars were always meant to be adaptable cartoon “stars” that could fit into any situation. Mickey Mouse is a steamboat thief and magical warrior king, and he was literally designed to be able to be anything in between. Disney characters can be anything! Stop trying to sell us the “real story” of any given reboot! Stop trying to make “behind the music” for chipmunks!

… Yeah, alright, let’s talk about that trailer.

For any readers stumbling onto this blog post from the far-flung future of three months from now, understand that this entire article was written in response to the launch of the first trailer for Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers: The 2022 Motion Picture. I have not seen the movie. I have no real idea what the movie is going to look like. It could turn out to be the greatest thing since Citizen Kane (or at least The Lego Movie). I don’t know! But I do know that I had an almost instinctual, gut reaction to the trailer when I first saw it. And, even on a day when they also announced a Bioshock television show, this trailer stuck in my brain unlike any other chunk of media in recent memory. Hell, when was the last time I delayed an FGC post just so I could talk about something that happened “this” week? Maybe a Metroid game

And why do I care? Well, because this trailer impressed upon me two basic facts:

  1. I hate it. I hate it so much. This is a beloved children’s property by way of that food movie with the racist bread. This is some lowest common denominator dreck that is going to take potshots at the last thirty years of animation, and act like it is a damn trendsetter for daring to swing at a 2007 CGI movie nobody remembers (Beowulf. Yes it was a movie). You can’t claim you’re “doing a Roger Rabbit”, literally include Roger Rabbit, and then ignore the fact that the world of Roger Rabbit was a jaded metaphor for actual Hollywood, not some joyful romp through the dustbins of the Disney Entertainment Conglomerate.
  2. This is extremely my jam.

Fuck it! Just fuck it! I am not afraid to admit that this is probably the exact movie I would create if given the chance. Jokes about animation that only make sense to people that remember really specific movies (again, Beowulf)? Sure! Extremely meta concept wherein Disney Stars are actual Disney Stars? It I'm your biggest fanbeats rehashing a fight against Fat Cat. And while I might not ever indulge in the tired trope of “washed up stars” and “retired chipmunks”, the high concept lunacy of “CGI makeover” being a toon’s version of plastic surgery is right up my esoteric alley. Throw in an oblique reference to Chip ‘n Dale not having any time for maintaining airships, and you could practically see my signature on the script. And, while I am unlikely to be the person helming any Disney properties anytime soon (despite my prodigious Gargoyles fanfiction), I could even see being completely content with these concepts/gags as part of a comic book. I loved that time Lex Luthor and Porky Pig got to hang out, so a “where are they now” miniseries on the Rescue Rangers would be amazing. Hell, that’s just a little bit south of where the Darkwing Duck comic started anyway! And I loved that thing!

But this is a movie. This is a trailer that is being shared on every social media platform at 10 AM on a Tuesday. This is something that is being covered on every entertainment website ever created, and attached to a bursting comments section showcasing everyone’s slightest thought on the subject. This is something that will be advertised during commercial breaks, youtube pre rolls, and possibly even previews before big screen flicks. Hell, there are even odds this will have a trailer attached to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Chip n’ Dale will not be as ubiquitous as Encanto 2: Bruno’s Behooving, but it is likely to have a significant cultural presence between now and its release.

And that makes me want to kill it. I want to see violence visited upon it. I want it to pay for the crime of being advertised to the masses and being everything I could ever want.

Nobody likes sewersThis is pandering. From the first moment they lovingly flash over a Nintendo Entertainment System and its attendant NES cartridge, you know exactly who this trailer is for. This is not for super fans that have a Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers poster on their office wall (that I am currently looking at for inspiration, obviously), this is for people who dimly remember enjoying a cartoon some random weekdays after school. This is for people who can identify a “Nintendo game”, but do not even consider there could be someone out there with those games “mint in box”. This is a trailer aimed squarely at people that will not write 1,634 words (and counting!) about a goddamned movie trailer while pretending they are writing an article for a videogame blog. And I wonder what it is like to not be this crazy.

Er-hem.

It would be easy to step back from that statement as “oh you so cray cray” and call it a day, but I feel it is worth examining how I got to here. Strange but true: I wrote this article. All that nonsense about advertising at the top of the page? That is something that I have internalized since I heard the simple fact that “we” are supposed to be more resistant to advertising than our parents. It is something I have seen proven and reinforced over many years. God help me, the Digging the catfact that I am not easily “tricked” is something that I have made to be part of my own feeling of self. I am someone that does not “fall for” advertising. I am better than that. And, as a result, I am constantly on guard. I know nostalgia has been weaponized against me before. I know there is a Mega Man themed gacha right over there, perfectly willing to bleed my wallet dry in the name of getting Halloween Themed Roll on a good pull. I know I have become the “target demo”, and now my own childhood and hobbies are being used against me. I know they’re all out to get me, dammit! This trailer is the latest in crass pandering to a generation that can never let its guard down, lest corporate forces invade and conquer the whole of the cosmos!

… Or it’s just a silly movie about rescue rodents.

While it may not be their usual, this is a Disney movie, firmly premiering on a Disney-exclusive platform. If Disney could find a way to require any and all viewers to live in Disney sponsored housing while drinking Disney flavored cola, they would absolutely do lock that kind of nonsense down. This is a horrible, greedy company that would gladly ransom your childhood if it meant making an extra six bucks. It grants me no pleasure to do anything that supports such a company or its endeavors.

But on the other hand? This is a movie that I think will be at least worth a watch. This is something that will at least garner a few chuckles, if only because they make fun of that one movie with the Grendel (Beowulf!). I know I could boycott this movie. I know I could live without it. But if I am being honest, I also know that I and literally everyone I know could boycott this movie, and it would impact Disney’s bottom line about as much as closing Disney World: Detroit Location. If I somehow convince my tens of followers that this chipmunk movie is the second coming of Hitler, congratulations, a bunch of people that don’t have Disney Plus anyway are going to hesitate before they pirate the thing. This movie is crass propaganda for a past that never existed meant to profit off a generation already drowning in nostalgia… but what else am I gonna do with a free two hours?

So you know what? Screw it. I know it is an ad. I know this is likely some marketing executive’s wet dream about a Disney Afternoon extended universe (God help me if this movie has a post-credits Bonkers cameo). I know I am being tricked. But, at a certain point, you have to pick your battles. You must acknowledge that maybe being mad at a faceless corporation all the time is only going to hurt you, and never hurt said company. Maybe, at a certain point, you just shut up and enjoy the chipmunk movie.

And whether you make that decision or not, Disney and its nostalgia machine is never going to stop. You know, it never fails…

FGC #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

  • System: It was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994, making it the last Disney Afternoon game on its debut console (Ducktales [1] was released in ’89). It popped up again on the Disney Afternoon Collection in 2017 for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, Steam, and not the Switch (because we live in Hell).
  • Number of players: Chip ‘n Dale are both playable simultaneously, so that’s two rescue rangers.
  • Flap flap flapMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Yes, this whole “game” was an excuse to talk about a movie trailer. It’s my blog, I do what I want. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 is more of Rescue Rangers 1, but with better box physics, and a lack of level select/choose your own path. But at least Gadget gets a sprite! In a perfect world, this would be the Mega Man 2 of Disney Afternoon games, but, as it is, it is a mostly forgotten nicety that is fun to play when you have a chance. Please do not look at eBay to discover how much that chance can cost…
  • The Little Things: No overworld map, no route select, and the best you can get out of having any sort of choice is the final three areas can be played in any order. This is a notable step down from the preceding game… but it can be forgiven, because there is some manner of bat-dog boss. Eat that, weird ass alien from the original.
  • Further Improvements: There is a level with a ticking-bomb timer! And some of the throwing items have interesting secondary attributes! And all of the bosses have Kirby-esque “return fire” opportunities to attack, rather than tossing a little red ball around. Somebody really identified what was slapdash in CnDRR, and improved it across the board for the sequel. Too bad it was released after everyone stopped playing NES games…
  • Favorite Boss: One of the last levels is a clocktower that seems like it was shamelessly imported from a Castlevania. And at the top of the tower is not Death, but an ostrich riding a gear like a unicycle. It is hard to remember anything else after dealing with that kind of nonsense.
  • Not the clock tower you were looking forAn end: We get the typical Capcom NES ending sequence here, as the heroes teleport away to watch the villain’s castle crumble to dust. But did Fat Cat survive? Well, no, not if you only use further NES games as evidence. Maybe this movie will inspire a retro Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 3?
  • Did you know? Monterey Jack using cheese as a drug metaphor was already part of the text, guys. Like, it was the entire basis of the character. You’re not clever.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I’m going to play the Disney Afternoon Collection again, and then I’m going to watch the Disney Afternoon Modern Movie, because I am a loser. I admit defeat. Happy?

What’s next? Okay, now we’re going to hit The Incredible Crash Test Dummies… assuming nothing more interesting happens again. No guarantees! Please look forward to an unknown future!

It just looks familiar

FGC #566 Rockin’ Kats

Let's go catsHow much does the happiness of your protagonist impact your enjoyment of a videogame?

Today we are looking at Rockin’ Kats, a forgotten gem from the good folks at Atlus. Long before Atlus produced videogames about teenagers obsessed with the subconscious and/or time traveling, there was Rockin’ Kats, a game about a cat-man fighting a bunch of dog-men for his cat-lady friend. It seems that Willy, aka “The Rockin’ Kat”, has caught the attention of a local mob boss, Mugsy, and Will’s girlfriend, Jill, has been kidnapped. Willy thus must defeat four of Mugsy’s chief lieutenants across four different bases, and then make the final assault on Mugsy’s compound to save Jill once and for all. But don’t worry about Willy, gentle reader, he’s got a “punch gun” that can clobber bad guys, grab objects, and even double as a grappling hook. Combine this with Willy’s natural, NES-born ability to jump around like a maniac, and he should have Jill home and loving the Jazz Age by lunchtime.

And, likely as result of being a “late” Nintendo Entertainment System title, Rockin’ Kats is oozing personality. The entire adventure is presented as a series of television “episodes”, so there’s the distinct feeling that this whole story is less a “videogame”, and more of a syndicated cartoon akin to Tom & Jerry. Dog kidnaps cat, other cat fights dog, the day is saved, repeat in half hour intervals at 7 AM every weekday morning. What’s more, every sprite is impressive, so the individual mooks are distinctive, every mini boss is a unique challenge, and the bosses are memorable for more than their patterns. And Willy! That dude is just having a ball scampering through cities, mountains, and sewers! He bounds and punches and flips through the air with ease. I mean, take a look at this hep cat…

Just flipping away like it ain’t no thang, and then landing with a perfect little flourish that is sure to wow the judges. Willy might be in a life or death situation here, but that’s not the first thing on his kitty brain. Willy is not worried. Willy is enjoying it.

And that got this glorious blogger to thinking: how many other videogame heroes actually enjoy their jobs?

Let us start with the obvious: Simon Belmont does not enjoy being Simon Belmont. Poor ol’ barbarian does exactly what he is destined to do, and is literally cursed to carry around assorted organs for his job well done. Similarly, it is hard to imagine any other Belmont actually enjoying their sworn duty, as, best case scenario for all of them is the opportunity to probably not be run out of town on a cross. Maria might be the sole exception to this rule in Castlevania, as she openly and loudly volunteers for vampire-slaying duty, but she is all mopey about every godamned thing in time for Symphony of the Night, so it appears this job is destined to take a toll.

Super fun parkAnd speaking of generations taking a toll, there is Mega Man. The super fighting robot could have spent the rest of his days working as a maid, but he famously volunteered to pew down his former buddies. And then he did it 82 more times. Or more? Are we counting the teleporter fights? No matter! What’s important is that Mega Man 2 laid the groundwork for solemn Mega Men way back in 1988, which eventually led to The Melancholy of Mega Man X five years later. Now there’s a guy that hates his job! Mega Man X is literally the most powerful reploid on the planet, has a great support group of family and friends that are seemingly invincible/immortal, and he gets a new set of armor from his dad every holiday season; but he still spends most of his adventures sitting around moping about how the cannon on his arm only knows for sure when he’s finally going to stop crying. In short, if you are playing as Mega Man X, you are playing as a character that hates his life.

But it is not all bad for iconic heroes! Mario initially was wholly mute in his adventures, and it was up to the player to determine whether or not Mario was enjoying his switch in vocation from plumber to pouncer. But from Mario 64 on, Mario has been “wee”ing and “woohoo”ing across battlefields, and, give or take occasionally drowning in silent agony, Mario visibly enjoys his time rescuing princesses. Conversely, anytime Luigi is in a group, he hoots along with his bro, but when he is alone, he is an unmistakable mix of scared and annoyed (sca-nnoyed… no, wait, that’s just what happens when The Mighty Mighty Bosstones come on the playlist). Luigi does not like exploring a haunted house, houses, or a motel, and the only thing he is not afraid of is someone knowing he is afraid. But between the brothers, there is a beoveralled tie-breaker: Wario. Right from the first time he stole a whole damn castle, and then immediately afterward when he tried to steal another castle, Wario has squeezed enjoyment out of his job just as easily as squeezing a garlic bulb. You can tell from that omnipresent wicked grin that Wario is not going to let some malevolent genie or gang of pirates get him down, so he is enjoying every time he gets to be a protagonist.

That gorillaAnd, in the same way you can just know that Wario enjoys Warioing, having a happy protagonist can impact your feelings on a videogame. It is not a coincidence that Mega Man X(1), a game that just generally nods to X having some issues, is a more well received title than Mega Man X7, wherein X is so depressed, you have to fight just to get him to leave his lounger. Similarly, Super Metroid is a game wherein Samus experiences untold trauma (you ever accidentally wind up blowing up the planet you once called home? It isn’t great), but does not dwell on such. If you want Sad Samus, you have to hit Metroid: Other M, which you won’t, because there isn’t a person alive that would recommend that game. Sure, you could easily argue that these “sad” games have other factors that make them terrible, but there is a greater reason that people so vehemently defend why these games are bad. It is one thing to play a game that is bad, but it is another thing to play a game that makes your hero feel bad.

And if you need further proof of this, look no further than the Prince of Persia franchise from the early 21st century. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was an immensely popular game staring a hero that loved his job. Sure, this prince had screwed up the whole of his world to the point that he accidentally murdered his entire family and friends, but he also could rewind time and run up walls. And what could be more fun than that? The whole narrative conceit of Sands of Time is that Prince is practically bragging about his adventure, and any flubs or errant deaths are just “that didn’t really happen”. Prince likes being Prince. Meanwhile, the sequel, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within had the exact same gameplay, some improvements to the battle system, and a protagonist that would rather take an angry nap than fight a relentless sand monster. Guess what everyone focused on? Guess why IGN dropped Sands of Time’s 9/10 score to Warrior Within’s meager 8.5/10? (Look, that 0.5 meant a lot at the time.) The main reason was inevitably that this new, surly Prince was dramatically less fun to play as and with.

Hey, it's a fun sewerWe play videogames for fun, dammit. Unless the whole point of the game is oppressive horror (yes, my Bloodborne create-a-saddy might be scowling right now), your protagonist should be happy. What is the point otherwise? Do you get off on making shirtless, Persian men do whatever you say, despite their persistent objections? Because, uh… if you’re into that… maybe shoot me a private message. There are some titles on Steam…

Bah! Never mind that! Just remember that it is important that a game’s protagonist actually enjoys being the game’s protagonist. Luigi might get a title game every console generation or so, but he’s sure not the dude hosting endless kart championships. By the same token, Willy’s exuberance has undoubtedly made him the most popular hero ever produced by Atlus, and we’re all awaiting this Rockin’ Kat’s next adventure.

Keep on rockin’ a complete lack of angst, Willy.

FGC #566 Rockin’ Kats

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for its first and only release. You could technically count its presence on a PlayChoice-10 as an arcade release if you really wanted.
  • Number of players: Just the one kat. A sequel would have probably introduced Milly Kat.
  • The haunted dobermanMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a great NES action-platformer with a fun character and expressive sprites. It is also one of those gauntlets that somehow makes the final, fifth level as long as the other four stages combined. Complete with including every boss and mini boss! It is… an odd choice. But regardless of a final stage that may as well be the entire game, it is very entertaining, and a fine way to spend a couple of hours having fun with a grapplin’ cat.
  • An end: The final boss is defeated by punching Mugsy so hard, he is launched onto the moon. Very good, very dragon ball. But after the credits roll, you are presented with an even harder “second quest” that drops all your weapons and items, and will end after an extremely limited three lives. This is Rockin’ Kats: Super Hard Mode, and if you feel like finishing that, you are a better cat than me.
  • Favorite Weapon: The… what are they called?… Two Balls? Double Shot? Whatever, those two thingys extend your weapon’s reach just enough so as to make practically every boss a cakewalk. I enjoy cake, so that’s my weapon of choice, even if the mace really looks cool.
  • Favorite Boss: You cannot go wrong with a four-handed robot that eventually transforms into some bastardized version of Cut Man. Dr. Wily would be proud.
  • Eat your heart out, CastlevaniaDid you know? There are a few codes hidden in Rockin’ Kats. If you pause the game and press Down+A+B, you will have six lives and full health. If you pause the game and press Up+A+B, you will lose all of your lives, and only have one sliver of health remaining. Please remember to use the proper code for the proper situation.
  • Would I play again: This is a great NES game! I would really like to see what could have been done with Super Rockin’ Kats, but we do not live in such a glorious world. I suppose I will be content with what we have for now…

What’s next? The season of love is upon us, so it’s time for Wankery Week yet again! Come back Monday for some mildly NSFW hijinks as we take a look at whether or not some Smash Sisters should be allowed into a boys’ club!

Gotta fly fast
Another blue dude that very much enjoys his job.

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

So shinyRecently(ish) on the ol’ World of Final Fantasy live stream, my compatriots, BEAT and fanboymaster, discussed the idea of a collectathon, and settled on the decision that the term “collectathon” is one that was designed by game reviewers who did not actually care for the genre in any conceivable way. The word itself speaks to the exhaustion that is caused by participating in a collectathon, and, more than likely, the term was coined after so many random games that required all kinds of esoteric methods to finally achieve some level of “game completion”. In short, according to my contemporaries, “collectathon” became a term to insult the genre it was describing.

However, I disagree (and I would have elaborated more on my position during the stream, but we had to get back to discussing episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). For one thing, I used to date a woman who ran recreationally, and, to her, the idea of a marathon was actually a fun time. I, personally, am completely incapable of understanding such a feeling, but there are apparently people out there that that both enjoy what others see as a grueling gauntlet and have sex with me (wait… maybe there’s a connection there). But the idea of –thon being a watch word (suffix?) aside, there’s also the whole “collecta-“ part of the equation. And noting that a whole lot of collecting is going to be involved seems valid! Your biggest collectathons require amassing all kinds of crazy nonsense, and, in the same way that a shoot ‘em up contains a lot of shooting or a role playing game involves eating a whole lot of rolls, the noble collectathon is all about collecting. And, as collectathons progressed through the end of the 90s and into the current millennium, they certainly put more and more of an effort-based emphasis on collecting at the cost of boss fights, minigames, or other distractions from the primary goal of collecting. In short, according to this humble writer, the collectathon is well-served by its popular moniker.

And, besides, if you want to insult a collectathon, call it by the name that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest so desperately deserves: a goddamn mindreading simulator.

This is funBefore I start actively swearing, let me state one thing plainly: Donkey Kong Country 2 is a good videogame. Hell, it’s one of the best on the Super Nintendo, and, considering its competition, that is very much saying something. It’s an action platformer that lives up to the pedigree of Mario or Sonic, but it is also its own animal with extremely unique, consistent physics. As would eventually be refined by the WiiU era, Donkey Kong Country has always had a very distinctive “feeling”; and, after its maiden voyage in Donkey Kong Country 1, DKC2 seemed to perfect that feeling for the Super Nintendo. And we got Dixie! A significant issue with DKC1 is that it never had a “raccoon tail” or similar option of having access to a character with a less precise, more forgiving jump (not like you can drag that flapping ostrich into every stage). DKC2 gave us Dixie Kong and her ponytail-copter that allowed for slower, but more easily-controlled jumps. And you’re going to need it, too, because absolutely every DKC2 level has its own discrete challenge, so not a single pixel is wasted on repeating or recycling level concepts over and over. In an age where every third platformer contained stages that were indistinguishable from each other (looking at you, Bubsy), you could never mistake one DKC2 stage for another. Yes, those briars might be familiar, but this time you’re using mobile barrels as opposed to flying a parrot. Or is this the stage with the spider? Maybe! Better play the level to find out.

But variety isn’t always a good thing, and that issue rears its ugly head when you get back to that collectathon aspect. The sad truth of Donkey Kong Country 2? It apparently expects you to be psychic.

SPLURTPreviously on this blog, I recognized Banjo & Kazooie as the perfect collectathon. Long article short, it is all about carefully explaining its challenges to the player, and then granting the player all the options available to say “so have at it”. There are ten jiggys in this world, you know there are only ten jiggys, so get to work, and when you’ve collected nine, know that that one place on the map with a weird squirrel is probably your final destination. Donkey Kong Country 2, also created by Banjo & Kazooie’s Rare, is obviously the ancestor of many of B&K’s indulgences (and we’re not just talking about the inexplicable, self-contained quiz show). Does every weird-ass animal in this universe have giant googly eyes? Yes. Speaking of animals, the buddies have now mostly been transformed from “power-ups” (ala Yoshi in Super Mario World) to required “transformations” that mean this stage is absolutely going to require the abilities of a springy snake. And, yes, so much more so than in Donkey Kong Country 1, collecting bits and baubles is a requirement if you want to see the whole of the game. Not only do you need to find Krem Coins in bonus areas if you want to complete all the levels, you also need banana coins to pay Kongs for the privilege of saving, and DK Coins so Cranky Kong can shut his fat gob for once in this damned franchise. Whereas bonus areas were simply bonuses in DKC1, now every last challenge must be conquered if you want to play the entirety of Donkey Kong Country 2.

And if you are looking for a little consistency in the “bonuses” of DKC2, you are cartwheeling up the wrong vine.

Take thatThere is one DK coin in every level. You can always find it in the level proper… except that one time a DK coin is hidden in a bonus stage. And the final “jump challenge” of every level is always a simple bonus for consumables… except when it is required for the DK coin in about three stages. You can count on bonus rooms to appear in pairs across the various levels, but don’t let your guard down after you’ve found one, because there are a handful of stages that contain three. And speaking of finding bonus areas, don’t worry, because there’s always a banana arrow or even just a single banana indicating that something might be up with this particular wall or area. Or there isn’t. Better nudge a carried barrel against every single vertical surface any time you see one available. Maybe you should backtrack with the barrel, too, because that works, too. Not often, of course, but every once in a while it’s mandatory. Oh! And you know how those thorny vines are always going to obliterate your kongs? Well there are a few false thorn walls, so you might want to smoosh up against deadly spikes just on the off chance it’s that one part where that’s the only way to find the DK coin. Don’t ask me which level they appear in, but they’re there, so you better give it a shot more often than not. Sorry if you lose a life!

And if this sounds completely absurd, congratulations, you’re paying attention. Donkey Kong Country 2 does not effectively (or at least consistently) convey to the player the parameters of its compulsory secrets. The best way to play Donkey Kong Country 2 is to apparently fall into every pit and eat every spike, Kong health be damned. Or use an emulator, and rewind every mistake. Or read a FAQ. Or the only viable option available in 1995: be a goddamned mind reader, and know exactly what Rare was thinking at all times.

Go DiddyA collectathon can be fun. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a fun game. But literally banging your head against every wall is not fun. Trying to figure out what the hell Rare happened to be thinking from level to level is not fun. Sometimes it is fun to find a particularly well-hidden secret, but, more often than not, the path to finding that secret is fraught with trial, error, and a whole lot of dead monkeys. And nobody wants to see that! We have so many laws against that!

Disparage not the noble collectathon, but please acknowledge the woes of the olden mindreading simulator. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest set Rare on the path of defining the collectathon, but, in its pupal form, the collectathon was responsible for more frustration than fun.

… Or at least it sold a lot of copies of Nintendo Power…

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, and now any Nintendo system that will support an emulator. Didn’t get loaned out to Xbox One’s Rare Replay, though.
  • Number of players: There are two Kongs on this adventure, so you may as well have two players.
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Ignoring the snake that is the clear precursor to Spring Mario, I’m going to go with Squitter the Spider, because the ability to make your own platforms in a 16-bit platformer was a revelation back in the 90’s. Much like Kirby’s flight abilities or the P-Wing, this felt like breaking the whole game back in the day… even if the poor spider only appeared in a handful of levels. And the power-webs are a nice bonus, too.
  • Diddy on Top: Do you suppose Nintendo would allow this to happen in a modern release?

    WINNER!

    I kind of have to believe that Nintendo would let Diddy tie with Mario, not win, if something like this were tried today. Then again, maybe it only happened the first time because there is clearly an insult to Sonic and Earthworm Jim thrown in there.

  • Setting a tone: I have to say, it is downright impressive how the Kremling’s home island, the setting for DKC2, absolutely sucks. Give or take one vaguely malevolent amusement park, you can see why these lizards are constantly trying to conquer other realms, because sitting at home with the poisonous bogs, giant beehives, and castle overflowing with acid does not seem like a good time. Donkey Kong Country seems like a place I would like to stay, Crocodile Isle is… not going to get five stars on the ol’ vacation rankings.
  • An End: Find every last Krem Coin, and Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie will watch Crocodile Isle sink into the ocean, with K. Rool escaping on his pirate ship. Does this seem like a good idea, guys? To leave your mortal enemy homeless? That’s only going to lead to issues down the line, and you know it.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This article is being published on my wedding day. This has nothing to do with anything, but I figure I’ll make a note of it.
  • It is hot in hereDid you know? Dixie Kong took some significant time off after Donkey Kong Country 3. She didn’t appear in Donkey Kong 64 (that was her sister, Tiny), but she did make it back in time for Donkey Konga and Jungle Climber. Now she seems to appear nearly every time we see Donkey, though, so it looks like her retirement was short lived.
  • Would I play again: I realize that this article makes it sound like Donkey Kong Country 2 is a bad game. But it’s not! I swear! It just has some horrible tendencies towards making my OCD flip out on every flat surface in every level. That hampers my ability to enjoy the game! But would I ever play it again? Yes, because this is some of the best platforming on the SNES. Like for another game, I just need to turn my brain off, and then we’ll be fine.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Garfield: Caught in the Act for Sega Genesis. Oh no! I hate Mondays, too! Please look forward to it!

Weeeeee
This counts as a minecart, right?

FGC #534 Limbo

How low will we go?Dreams are awesome. They are a shared part of our collective humanity, but nobody knows how they work. Everybody dreams, and science has proven that dreams are absolutely essential to a person functioning properly. And why is that? Nobody knows! Dreams are vital to our crazy brains, but the exact explanations for why are varied and occasionally ridiculous. Maybe our cognition just needs a break. Maybe it’s a simple “escape hatch” for the brain, a sort of “my head is pooping right now”, and “dreams” as we know them are some kind of side-effect (head farts?). Maybe we need to experience fantasy and nonsense on a nightly basis, or our ability to properly discern reality falls apart. Or maybe there’s a deep, primal need to occasionally imagine a world where Warwick Davis is really interested in your testicles for some reason. Am I the only one that has that dream? No, that has to be universal…

Regardless of the biological origin of dreams, they are a shared experience, and everyone understands the ephemeral nature of dreams. We occasionally discuss “the classics”, like imagining you are caught unprepared for a math test, or have shown up for an important business meeting wearing nothing but your “Are You Up 2 It” official Sonic the Hedgehog 2 shirt; but our conscious minds often ignore how fluid things become when we are unconscious. One minute you’re talking to your great grandmother, the next moment she’s a cat you haven’t seen since childhood, and you’re at the mall for some reason, and grandma-cat ran away, but your second lover from college is here, and they’re making goose noises, and, for some reason, you just won the lottery, so you’re going to buy an assload of transformers, but now the mall is on fire, and you should probably deal with that first, because you’re a firefighter, obviously. And the amazing part of dreams is how quickly your mind adapts to whatever is created by your mind (though, granted, when phrased like that, it does seem fairly obvious). Under normal circumstances, your undead great grandma transforming into a feline would be cause for concern, but in a dream, that is normal, and you roll with it. It’s absurd, but you naturally assume it to be genuine right now.

And that’s exactly how videogames work.

This ends poorlyNow, of course, I can already hear the cacophony of comments telling me I’m wrong about this (… I mean, assuming this website ever had an active comments section. Metalman Master? Are you okay?). Some videogames may work on dream logic, but don’t movies and books work the same way, too? And aren’t there an overwhelming number of realistic videogames wherein family members rarely become animals? And that’s all true, but it ignores how often videogames have to compromise true cohesion for being, ya know, videogames. To put it plainly: a grounded movie like The Godfather may have had some fantastic elements involved in its story that would require a lot of coincidence for such a thing to play out exactly the same in real life (the cost of oranges alone…), but The Godfather doesn’t have to find a way to shoehorn in a sewer level, either. Videogames have requirements, and sometimes that means your all-powerful, god-like hero has to demean himself by participating in a sidequest that involves finding a hundred puppies. Sometimes the guy that can jump 70 feet in the air for a “limit break” can’t find a way to bypass a gnarled root that happens to be blocking an important path. And, as we all know, if your hero is in a heated battle, he can likely soak as many bullets as he has medkits. But put that same hero in front of a gun during a cutscene, and suddenly that insane HP count means nothing. Yes, all fiction works on “dream logic” to a degree, but, more than any other medium, videogames require dream logic to function. Tolkien never had to balance Frodo’s stats so he’d be viable in multiplayer…

It's about the climbAnd dream logic works wonderfully for videogames. The lava level is next to the ice level, that’s just how it is, and you don’t have to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out why the Mushroom Kingdom hasn’t flooded yet. Similarly, dream logic can be applied liberally according to the director’s desires, and that’s why one of gaming’s most popular franchises features three guys who are all the same guy and he’s not to be confused with the guy who is also thirteen other guys. It all makes perfect sense! A game following logic that should only be possible in a certain kind of anti-reality isn’t a bug, it’s a feature of the medium, and every last JRPG or regular-sized robot adventure has prepared us for stories where it’s perfectly natural that the villain has sentient flames for hands or whatever.

And, more than any other game, Limbo uses its dream logic in the best ways possible.

Limbo is a game that defined the indie gaming scene for a solid few years. It is short. It is simple. Your protagonist can walk, jump, and push/pull objects. That’s it, and you can (only) do all this in a world that is literally black and white. There is no dialogue. There are no other playable characters. There are collectibles that do nothing more than unlock achievements for achievement’s sake. You are walking left to right, and are eventually going to reach the end. Or an end. Limbo doesn’t provide anything in the way of goals, but it’s a videogame, so you’re probably doing… something. Save the world? Save the princess? Whatever. It’s somewhere over to the right.

And, yes, if that sounds like dream logic, then you’re ready for the next part: Limbo uses its limited palette magnificently to blend all sorts of realities.

Here he comesI’m pretty sure Limbo starts in some kind of forest. It then proceeds to some manner of village, a city, an industrial site, and the finale takes place in an area one could describe as “Buzz Saws R Us” that coincidentally features some pretty swank future technology. Is it an alien space craft? An anti-gravity testing site? Or maybe just a particularly loaded Chuck E Cheese? Whatever the case, a location featuring the ability to reverse the fundamental laws of nature is a far cry from earlier areas where opponents were equipped with blow darts. And this all happens over the course of a few hours! Why can’t the weirdos from the first area go hang out in the techtopia that is an hour’s walk away? Come on, guys, it can’t be that hard to solve those ladder puzzles on your way to a better life!

And the answer is, obviously, it doesn’t matter. Limbo doesn’t take place in a world, it takes place in a dream. Limbo isn’t a place with real rules governing giant spider monsters, it is an environment to explore, a spot to exist for a few hours. It is a place that might be mortally dangerous for your unnamed protagonist, but it is also somewhere where you, the player, can enjoy yourself. It is a game world. It is a home for your mind to relax, free from the pressures of the real world. It is a dream. It might not make linear sense, it might not have a clear goal or reason for existence, and you could spend the rest of your life trying to understand its every nuance and significance (what are so many bear traps meant to represent?), but none of that matters. It’s there to help your brain, and you don’t have to understand every last where and why about that. This is good for you. You need it. Enjoy it.

I think we're closeLimbo, with its simultaneously limited and diverse world, reminds us what is important about videogames. Sometimes it’s not about a rich mythology, intricate gameplay, or a story that makes you feel some fundamental part of your soul; it’s about the journey, and experiencing everything as it comes. A spider can segue into a neon sign into a mine cart, and that’s all that it needs to do. We don’t know why we need dreams to survive, and, similarly, we don’t need to know why videogames can make our lives better. Sometimes it’s just about enjoying this thing that is happening in front of your eyes, and ours is not to reason why a series of weird, white eggs can be smashed along the way.

Limbo is a game that works on dream logic, and, as such, it becomes a dream of a videogame.

And dreams are still awesome.

FGC #534 Limbo

  • System: Initially an Xbox 360, but it eventually wound up on the PS3, Vita, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. Might I recommend playing one of the portable versions in a darkened room?
  • Number of Players: This is one player to the max.
  • So, which version? The later versions of Limbo apparently include extra levels and a bonus stage if you collect all the trinkets about (and, to be clear, it’s not that kind of bonus stage). However, I’m sticking to the Xbox 360 version, as its almost “half finished” nature is appealing to me. I don’t want more content! I want a game that feels like it ends completely randomly!
  • A bad place to stayHey, what’s the story here? Nobody knows! People have been trying to interpret exactly what happens in Limbo for years, and, as a noted Kingdom Heartsologist, I would like to formally state that nothing about Limbo’s story matters. Is he dead? Is she dead? Are we all dead? It doesn’t matter! It’s a videogame! It’s a dream! Go overanalyze a Zelda game!
  • Favorite Puzzle… Thingy? Event? Whatever. It’s the giant spider. I have never felt so much animosity toward a creature I eventually rolled around like a ball.
  • Did you know? To the best of anyone’s knowledge, there is no such thing as a “brain slug” that can attach to someone’s head to make them walk in a particular direction. However! There is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a kind of fungus that “infects” ants, kills them, but still makes them walk over to leaves for some shade. This process apparently takes days, and, during that time, the host-ant’s head will literally explode from the force of the spores bursting forth. So, just, ya know, it’s rough being an ant.
  • Would I play again: There were many complaints about Limbo being too short back around its release, but sometimes short is a good thing! I could play through Limbo again sometime. Maybe around Halloween? That sounds like a good time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland for the Nintendo DS! Oh good! It’s everyone’s favorite Zelda character, Tingle! Kooloo Limpah! Please look forward to it!

Good frog
I’m sure this makes perfect sense… somehow.