Tag Archives: minecart

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.

FGC #501 Alundra

Dream about a better lifeLet’s take a look at Alundra, the most compellingly anarchist game on the Playstation

Alundra is a 1997/98 adventure jaunt originally released on the Playstation (1). It is a generally fondly remembered title, as it’s basically the 32-bit sequel to A Link to the Past that many fans wanted, but were so cruelly denied by a certain 3-D boy with a woodwind. This is a game featuring enigmatic dungeons and dangerous foes, but it also not so subtly evokes some fairly iconic moments and items from a game released years earlier. The line between “familiar”, “homage”, and “outright plagiarism” has never been as thin as when you grab an ice wand from a mini, hidden dungeon to storm a northern volcano to take down a gigantic dragon boss. But that’s not a bad thing! Whether you’re calling it the spiritual sequel to Zelda or Landstalker (reminder: 50% of Zelda games released before ’97 involved significant amounts of jumping), Alundra is still an excellent game in its own right. These dungeons really are innovative, and Alundra deliberately sticks to its guns without delving into half-baked minigames like a lot of other games from the era. This is pure adventure gameplay from start to finish, and, considering this is a robust Playstation title, this really could be the “traditional Zelda game” that could satisfy fans for a console generation.

But that’s only half of why Alundra is so fondly remembered. Alundra is a title with a unique twist: Alundra can enter people’s dreams, and apparently everyone is dreaming about complicated dungeons filled with monsters. Thus, Alundra’s mystical hook allows for a number of exceptional areas that wouldn’t otherwise appear in this world’s vaguely tropical setting. Yes, of course we’re dealing with a videogame where an ice dungeon can be next to a fire dungeon with little to no explanation, but it’s fun when the prerequisite “four elementals” dungeon is the result of a nightmare attempting to accommodate a victim with multiple personality disorder. We’re still a few years away from full-blown Psychonauts territory, but Alundra does know how to separate its set pieces from the established obstacles of the era.

And, while innovative excuses for excellent gameplay are what established Alundra as one of the best games for the Playstation, there’s one important part of Alundra that seems to be all but forgotten: Alundra is emotionally brutal.

Yay jumpingNo one is claiming Alundra is the first videogame to include death. Alundra came hot on the heels of the likes of Final Fantasy 4, one of many games where half the playable cast is heroically killed across the adventure (they get better). And Alundra technically competed on its own system against a title featuring one of the most well-known deaths in all of gaming (I am, of course, referring to the death of the Lost Vikings franchise). Alundra was released when gaming (or its audience) was starting to find its way to some kind of emotional maturity, and that inevitably meant that fewer heroes were being “sent to another dimension” and were actually starting to feel the cold embrace of death. Alundra sees his hometown (well, “hometown”) burn. Supporting, helpful townsfolk die. Alundra’s beloved old man mentor is killed. People die, you have to deal with it, and that’s all pretty par for the course. People die, but you’ll save the world in the end. Same as it ever was.

But Alundra finds new ways to pervert traditional expectations so these deaths have an impact. Early in the adventure, Alundra is tasked with entering the dream of one critically injured miner so he can then save another trio of miners trapped in a monkey-based avalanche. Of course the critically injured miner dies, but he died imparting important information to dear Alunda. He’s going to venture right into that mine, and find… oh, one of the miners died. Another one, too? And when you find the final miner, it turns out he’s likely been dead since before this adventure started. His corpse is bloated and waterlogged. It… ain’t pretty. So congratulations, Alundra, you ventured into the mines and saved exactly no one. Death and despair are your only reward. And it won’t be the last time that happens! Alundra will venture through two entire dungeons searching for the mystical macguffins of his chosen quest, and on two separate occasions he’ll be informed that the villains beat him to the punch, and, geez, why did you even try, dude?

It is, to say the least, a little demoralizing.

DIEAnd that’s great! Well, it’s not great for Alundra or the player, but it is wonderful for setting the basic mood of desperation and sadness that permeates the events of Alundra. Alundra first encounters this dismal little hamlet when its citizenry is simply experiencing rotten dreams, but those issues seem to escalate rapidly to “deadly nightmares” and eventual “wholesale destruction”. Things are bad, and the player’s own inability to effectively curtail the horror reinforces the hopelessness of Alundra’s lot in life. By the end of the game, literally everyone you have ever saved from a bad dream is dead, save a pair of twin children who were used as a magical monkey massacre gate. And did we talk about those dreams? It’s not just a gameplay conceit: nearly everyone seems to be dreaming of “dungeons”, and when was the last time you encountered a pleasant dungeon? Want to know what I dreamed about last night? We were at my mother’s house, and for some reason one of her cats was able to talk, and the cat was really weirdly racist. It kept saying that Koreans could always be distracted by a game of chess. It was disconcerting, and I woke up troubled by whatever my subconscious is doing. But I didn’t dream about a gigantic eyeball monster surrounded by spikes and lava. That’s what everyone in Alundra is stuck with, and that is going to lead to a lot of restless nights.

MONKEY!But this all pales to the general perversion of prophecy in Alundra. Sybill is a character that imparts her visionary dreams to Alundra and the player. And we all know how this one goes, right? She predicts something is going to happen, and, because this is a videogame, that thing eventually happens, despite everything you do to prevent it. It is how videogame prophecies work. It is how prophecies work in all of fiction. So you’re shown a vision of a man sacrificing himself so your buddy will then create a powerful magical sword. It’s sad, someone is going to die, but at least you’ll get the Master Sword that can defeat Ganon. Guys, act surprised when it happens, that way we won’t have to scream “spoilers” at a little prophetess.

And then someone kills the prophetess, because of course that happens.

And then someone saves the guy that is supposed to die. Okay, that was unexpected, but…

Oh, and then someone kills the dude that was supposed to forge the evil-busting sword. And the pattern of him making useful items for you after every villager’s death is broken because he’s super dead. His funeral was really long, and he isn’t coming back.

Sorry, player, no awesome new sword for you, because everybody is dead. Nothing you could do. Nothing you can ever do. Loser.

So what do you do? As is often the answer, you beat the shit out of god.

Except, if you follow the details of this story, you realize god isn’t so much god in this story. He’s the ruling class.

It's a pipeAlundra has a fairly robust mythological backstory for a game featuring a gigantic gorilla that can only travel by twirling its fists. In short, Alundra’s world used to have a collection of colossi as its gods, but they wound up fighting over the honor of being the one god among gods, and, yada yada yada, they’re all dead. And, what’s more, by the time they had finished fighting, all of humanity had forgotten they were useful gods anyway, so their whole conflict was kind of a wash. Enter Melzas, the antagonist of this tale, a creature that came from beyond the stars and thought he could give this whole “become as gods” thing a shot. He granted wonderful dreams to the local royalty, and managed to get the population on board with building shrines and statues in his honor. This worked out really well until about five years ago, when Melzas slipped up and the king somehow found out he was worshipping a malevolent alien. All of the churches and alters dedicated to Melzas were smashed, and poor ol’ Melly had to manipulate his remaining followers from the shadows. He didn’t want to wind up like those poor giants that came before, so he hatched a plan to scare the locals into praying to him. This worked for a time, but then Alundra, a dude that could stomp out these scary dreams, showed up. This meant Melzas had to upgrade the horrors being visited upon the townsfolk, and that eventually led to a pretty healthy body count. By the time Alundra has to storm Melzas’s sunken castle, the whole of the world as Alundra knows it has turned against their god, and they have chosen Alundra as their new protector and “hero”.

Wet DreamAnd, while that seems to be a pretty typical JRPG finale (time to fight god again), something very important happens here: it’s not just the hero fighting, it’s the people rebelling. When this story begins, everyone is worshipping Melzas as a god, because that is what they have always done, and they believe Melzas has their best interest at heart. Over the course of the adventure, the people find that Melzas would gladly sacrifice as many people as it takes to maintain his power. Sorry, children, grandma has to die, because Melzas thinks it is in Melzas’s best interest. This happens over and over again: death and destruction, and their god does nothing. When it’s revealed that this “god” is responsible, it’s almost a relief for his pitiable “followers”. He wasn’t helping them because he was the cause of their woes. All the misery visited upon everyone (Alundra and the player included!) was thanks to one despot that keeps claiming he’s going to make Inoa great again, but never does. The only one that was actually helping was Alundra! Let’s help Alundra! Let’s give him all of our prayers! Because the guy we were following sucks.

And then Alundra wins! Good times forever! And maybe… anarchy?

The ending seems to imply that Alundra defeated Melzas, returned to the village for a little wine, women, and song, and then headed out to do the typical hero adventurer thing. Other dungeons to conquer, other villages to save, talk to you guys later. Is there a replacement god for Melzas? Nope. Every remotely divine being in the area has already been slain. The demons are dead, but the gods are, too. And good riddance! Melzas and every other wannabe god in this story caused nothing but unhappiness or relied entirely on Alundra. God is dead, Alundra killed him, and we’re all going to be better off without him.

Big dudeWhat did this ruler ever do for his people? Nothing. And no one is anxious to hire another god to see the same thing happen again. Alundra is the last man standing that received any prayers, and he’s blown this popsicle stand. What does this village have left? Who is in control of their lives now?

No gods, no masters, only Alundra.

FGC #501 Alundra

  • System: Playstation and Playstation 3 (through PSN). I’m not sure what it would require, but somebody please go ahead and get this on the Switch.
  • Number of players: Alundra is number one!
  • Say something mean: Alundra’s overworld is expansive and just plain fun to explore, but it reminds me a bit too much of Link’s Awakening… and not in a good way. It is a royal pain to have to switch your weapons and items every three seconds because you encounter four different, continually respawning obstacles on your way to the west, and I would be much happier with something approaching a “ring menu” or L/R weapon switching or… something. Exploring the world is fun! But could we maybe not have to juggle between fire rod and mace every seven seconds?
  • You don't know how hard it was to pull this offMagic Hour: Alunda can use magic! … But you only ever attain a maximum of four charges, so it’s kind of useless. And your magic points are displayed as a collection of miniature, rotating crystals, which I can assure you distract my wandering eyes at all times. I keep expecting a quartet of tiny Light Warriors to invade my HUD!
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: First of all, you can’t tell me Meia, the only other dreamwalker in this world, wasn’t designed as Alundra’s player two. Those two have sprites that are way too similar for a pair of wannabe lovers. Beyond that, Meia is done dirty by the plot, as exactly when you discover that she has a tragic backstory involving religious persecution and more than a little stake-burning, she becomes super-duper useless, and never does anything ever again save offer advice like “fight bad dreams” or whatever. She was just getting interesting! And now she’s forced to stand around in town with all the other doomed villagers and pray to Alundra? Lame! Give her the leading role in Alundra 2! She’s so much more interesting than the main elf.
  • For the sequel: Which reminds me, there is no Alundra 2. Never been such an animal on this earth. More of a cryptid, really.
  • Back to Work: This is another Working Designs localization, so expect enemies to take way too much damage, and more than a few “translations” that maybe weren’t there in the original text. A few highlights include…

    Hey stupid

    The occasional hurtful insult…

    He's dead now

    Hurtful insults toward extremely specific individuals…

    Blaze it

    And opinions on whether or not Alundra should, as the kids say, blaze it. Thanks, Vic!

  • Goggle Bob Fact: My raw, unbridled hatred for ice-block pushing in puzzle-esque games stems from this very title. I want to say the Ice Manor is the first area that all but required a teenage Goggle Bob to hang out on Gamefaqs begging for tips straight from the non-pros. The age of strategy guides was over… Or at least online resources were a lot cheaper.
  • Did you know? The best weapon in Alundra is the Legend Sword, which technically has a little over triple the attack power of the next best weapon. The catch? You can only obtain it through dying and “quick restarting” sixteen times. It’s the “you suck, here’s the assist block” of 1997. But when you consider how much HP some of these bosses have, well…
  • Would I play again: This is a great game that is long and strong and down to get the gameplay on. I will play it again within my lifetime… it just might not be immediately. The last dungeon is a bit too time consuming for me to jump right back in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Day Dreamin’ Davey for the NES! Wow, ROB, that’s some surprisingly effective dream synergy between titles. You get an extra pork roll as a treat, and we get a NES game that has been all but forgotten. Please look forward to it!

Toasty