Tag Archives: miyamoto

FGC #628 Popeye

Let's pop an eye?A popular nerd debate has always been who would win in a fight: Superman or Goku. Aside from the obvious problem with this dispute (as two sons of exploded planets that generally fight for justice, Superman and Goku would instantly become best friends and go to driving school together), the mere concept of such a battle ignores what makes Kal-El and Kakarot work. These two potential super friends are not powerful because they can push planets and fire energy beams, they are “strong” because they are eternally righteous and exist in a universe that will always narratively support their good deeds. Goku might lose a fighting tournament, and Superman might lose a footrace with the Flash, but when the world is threatened? When some monster from space is whipping out the human extinction attack? Then, and only then, will these heroes find the incredible strength necessary to save (and possibly revive) everyone they love. Goku and Superman were not first created with unfettered strength or super ventriloquism, they developed these powers as their rescues demanded it, and have since become “over 9,000” powerhouses with the rolling tumbleweed of continuity. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku? Whichever hero had a friend in danger first, and then they would miraculously become Super Saiyan Level Krypton or empowered by the Universe 7’s sun’s rays just enough to triumph and save the day.

And it’s all moot, anyway, because Popeye would kick both of their asses. Popeye is the ur-hero of the last century.

Get those notesPopeye was introduced to the world nearly ten years before Clark Kent ever made the scene. In his initial appearance, Popeye was a sailor-side character that gained unfathomable luck by rubbing the hairs of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. This allowed Popeye to cheat at gambling (yes, having hen-derived luck would be considered outright fraud by most major casinos), and, more importantly, have enough luck to survive what would have been a fatal shooting. While the lesson of “do not cheat at gambling unless you can verify your own immortality” was an important one, Popeye inadvertently introduced his oft-imitated formula for popularity/victory right there at the start. As “lucky invincibility” gave way to “incredible strength”, Popeye would often find himself in a completely impossible situation, with the only key to solve the latest problem being a conveniently available can of spinach. Spinach wasn’t always the answer to Popeye’s problems, but back in the days of Thimble Theatre starring Popeye, a quick burst of overwhelming power would solve many Sea Hag or Toar the Caveman related issues.

And then in 1932, King Features and Fleischer Studios teamed up to create the Popeye Theatrical Cartoons. For a solid 25 years, audiences watched shorts wherein Popeye would be trapped in an unwinnable position, but, at the last minute, our hero would down a can of spinach, grow muscles that looked way too cancerous to be healthy, and then wallop every problem in his path. Over and over again, Popeye would take a beating, seemingly be completely defeated, and then rally at the last moment with the help of one magical leafy green. And it was not just about strength for Popeye! Spinach would often confer hitherto unknown abilities upon our favorite sailor man, with at least a few cases where Popeye gained incredible smarts or acrobatic prowess. Was there an episode wherein Popeye instantly gained an understanding of Latin and proceeded to perform open heart surgery? No, but only because not enough people had heard of Daniel Hale Williams, and Max Fleischer didn’t want audiences to be confused. Operating skills aside, Popeye shorts reinforced incessantly that Popeye could do anything or defeat anybody just so long as he nabbed his favorite spinach within the final few moments of a conflict. Whether it was saving Olive Oyl or guaranteeing the safety of Sweat Pea, Popeye would always save the day.

Like in ZeldaAnd can you even count how many heroes followed the template of Popeye? Put the sailor man in a sailor fuku and we’ve got Sailor Moon. Strip him down to his pants and you’ve got The Hulk with that last minute burst of anger. Hell, let Popeye be a little more chill, and your “spinach” could very well be Columbo saying, “just one more thing.” Popeye is the ur-hero because his modus operandi is perfect for our 20-40 minute dramas, whether they feature slow and congenial detectives or massive muscle monsters. And then when you get into the realm of videogame heroes…

At their very core, videogames are all about “underdog” humans triumphing over “advanced” machines. That is all baloney, of course, as videogames have been designed to be won for decades. But the player has to feel like there is a challenge. The player must think that Link could never un-conquer a kingdom under the thumb of a pigman’s army, or that there is no possible way this little blue hedgehog could save his friends from a robotic invasion. The odds must be against you. The enemy must be seemingly unsurmountable. How are you going to get out of this one? Well, maybe you’ll find some spinach at just the right moment…

CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP

And then there’s Mario. Mario and Donkey Kong were famously created because Shigeru Miyamoto could not immediately obtain the Popeye license, and a new protagonist/antagonist duo had to be born. The proud pummeler became a pudgy plumber, and the big gorilla of an antagonist became a literal gorilla (and the Olive Oyl to Pauline transition was… succinct). Other than that? Donkey Kong could be Popeye (or it would be titled “Bluto”, I guess). The spinach to hammer transition is apparent, and, when Miyamoto finally got his hands on Popeye for the seminal arcade/NES hit, very little had changed. Popeye scampers around collecting hearts, letters, and musical notes while Bluto stomps about attempting to ruin Popeye’s day. The only real difference between this and Donkey Kong is that the Sea Hag becomes the stationary “monkey” that tosses off random projectiles, and Bluto fills the role of the sentient fireball that stalks our hero. But the fact that Popeye very well could be Mario neatly summarizes how the Mario/Bowser dynamic is something that was established nearly a century ago, and the only real change has been a reliance on fungus over spinach. Popeye is Mario.

Go nutsIt is fun to imagine epic battles between western superheroes and anime monkey gods, but when you get down to the mundane minutia of such a melee, you find that it is mirror matches all the way down. Goku, Superman, and even Mario owe their existence to a comic strip character from before the Vatican’s (technical) existence. It’s all Popeye, just with different flavors of spinach.

Heroes of the last century? They am what they am.

FGC #628 Popeye

  • System: This article is primarily inspired by the original Popeye game that appeared in arcades and on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Just recently, however, there was a 3-D “upgrade” of the Popeye arcade game for the Nintendo Switch. Note the extreme use of quotes on “upgrade” there. Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Commodore 64 versions are all also in circulation (assuming it is the early 80s).
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Everyone can be Popeye!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a good early arcade game. You have concise goals, obvious antagonists, and the ol’ spinach allows for some dramatic changes in fortune. I will maintain that Brutus is a little too powerful at the start of the arcade game (his “gotcha” grabs from other levels are always going to eat up a quarter or two), but the NES version seems balanced for a fun play session of fifteen minutes or so.
  • Get 'emFavorite Thing You Can Make Happen Once Every 7,000 Plays: Punching the barrel directly onto Bluto and trapping him for a few seconds is the most satisfying thing you can do in an arcade game. It requires absolutely meticulous timing and infinite luck, but when you nail it? Best feeling in the world.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: A Popeye arcade cabinet used to sit at the base of the Sombrero Tower in South of the Border for years… Or at least the years I would go on family vacations as a child. I never got to play Popeye, because we were inevitably just pitstopping there, and it was time to ignore videogames and get back in the car for ten hours, Wee Goggle Bob. I think I covet this game more as a result…
  • Port-O-Call: The Switch version of Popeye technically has the same gameplay (run around three levels on a loop, collect trinkets tossed by Olive Oyl, occasionally eat spinach), but the advent of 3-D environments dramatically changes the game. Bluto is an omnipresent threat on a single screen, 2-D plane, but it is rare to feel like he is in the same area code when you have significantly more room to maneuver. Switch Popeye somehow still works because of the classic gameplay loop of “run around and grab things”, but the cat ‘n mouse game of the original is markedly neutered. You’d be better off spending your quarters elsewhere…
  • Did you know? Popeye doesn’t have a jump button. He doesn’t need a jump button, but it is weird that this title completely eschewed the action that made Jump Man a star.
  • OopsWould I play again: Hey, why not? It is a fun time, and, while I may not play it until my eyes bleed like some arcade titles (hi, Ms. Pac-Man), it is an enjoyable experience. Popeye may be every hero, but it is good to see he got at least one good game all his own.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Radical Dreamers! And that has nothing to do with the rerelease I have been anticipating for the last twenty years! I swear! Please look forward to it!

FGC #244 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The greatest trick Miyamoto ever pulled was convincing the world Link didn’t exist.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Link of The Legend of Zelda, has claimed that Link is named for the fact that he is a “link” to the player. When you’re exploring the realm of Hyrule, you’re not doing it “with” Link, you are Link, and his every grunt and tumble is actually your own. Almost every Zelda game highlights this fact with a nearly entirely mute Link that is not so much a legendary hero, but just a dude in a tunic. He might have a sister, he might be a random farmhand, or he might even be a fairy boy, but Link is always intended to be the player from the moment you hit start. Your life is over, bird-flying kid, you’re mine now.

Except… that’s not very Nintendo.

There are a number of reasons Nintendo is friggen’ Nintendo, but one rationale that I’ve always believed is that, from the moment Jump Man became Mario, Nintendo just plain knows how to establish its characters. Mario doesn’t coincidentally wear the same gloves as Mickey Mouse. Maybe it’s the merchandizing, maybe it’s an overzealous fanbase, but, somehow, Nintendo seems to effortlessly create memorable characters. When even Samus Aran, a woman who barely spoke anything but narration for fifteen years, has a “character” to accidentally break during Another M, you know you’ve done something right (or, again, maybe it’s just a deranged fanbase).

“Blank slate in a green tunic” doesn’t exactly fit this pattern, though. Mario is silent save a few woo-hoos, but his personality is firmly established in his actions and acrobatics. “Cowardly” Luigi (flying brave Sir Link’s colors) is much in the same boat. Kirby is a damn pre-verbal pink ball, and I can tell you more about his personality than the headlining characters of La La Land (though, admittedly, I’m not sure about Kirby’s feelings on jazz). Yet Link is, time and time again, the most lauded Nintendo hero. He’s so… quiet? Well, he’s cool, at least. We know that much.

But why do we know that? Simple. It’s because of this hated creature…

HEY LISTEN!

Link might be a “link” to the player, but the real hero of Hyrule is whoever happens to be hanging out with Link on his quest. Without Navi, Tatl, or Fi, Link is… maybe brain damaged? Sheltered, at least. Extremely sheltered. This is the desert of the Gerudo. This is the Dungeon of Bad Vibes, you’re going to need a key or two. This is the field right outside your house. Have you never been here before? Should I stick a little note to your tunic to remind you which way is north? It’s up. Go up, Link. Oh Keese, why are you rolling everywhere?

… What I’m saying is that, without a companion creature, Link is basically a toddler with a sword. And that’s a crafting recipe for disaster.

This, of course, brings us to today’s topic: The Legend of Zelda: Midna Rules Edition. And, yes, Midna rules. It’s right there in the title! But why is Midna the boss? It’s because Link is a person, and not an anonymous “link”.

CLANGWhen The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (alternate title) begins, Link has a pretty solid life. He’s herding cow creatures, hanging out with swollen headed moppets, and kinda-sorta dating Pony Princess. It’s a phenomenally boring life, but it’s a life, and probably not that far off from even modern countryside living. This all changes with the Realm of Twilight invades, kidnaps a few kiddies, and transforms the surrounding area into a waking nightmare. Link himself is captured, tossed into a dungeon, and transformed into a puppy dog (maybe not in that order). It’s here that he meets Midna, a spritely elf with a penchant for wolf-riding, and the adventure begins in earnest. Together, Midna and Link venture forth to save two kingdoms, and maybe see if Zelda knows how to use that sword (answer: not really).

Oh, also, Midna kinda hates everything.

Midna is the deposed princess of another world. That sucks. She also got transformed into her current “imp” form thanks to a dark curse. That also sucks. And the guy that cursed her and conquered her kingdom? He’s malevolent, power-mad, and crazy-go-nuts bonkers, so it’s hard to make peace with the new administration and “just give him a chance”. In short, Midna doesn’t have a single reason to be happy before the game even begins. By the time she’s forced to work together with a mutt to strike down monkeys and gather shadow pieces, she’s pretty much at her lowest point. She’s cursed, beaten, and is probably going to wind up with a back out of alignment thanks to that silly hat. Just not a good day for Midna.

And she lets Link know about it.

HEHEHEHE

While it’s absolutely true in other Zelda materials, it would be way too reductive to label Midna as simply the “tsundere” archetype. Yes, she’s about three seconds from “it’s not because I like you or anything”, but Midna’s personality does actually evolve over the adventure. Right around the time that Link and Zelda literally save Midna’s life, she seems to noticeably thaw a bit, and her icy exterior gives way to a character that has to shatter dimensions just to keep her feelings in check. Wait, is that tsundere to a T? My bad. Let’s just say that comparing any character this nuanced to a damn anime trope is bad form, and leave it at that. Midna has layers, and it’s not just because she’s attached to a thirty hour adventure.

And it’s Midna’s layers that keep Link alive.

In The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Link initially sets out from Outset Island (oh, I just got that) to rescue his sister. Along the way, he learns of a lost kingdom and magical swords and Bird Person the mailman. By the time Link is kissing the King of Red Lions good-bye, Link’s sister, his own flesh and blood, has been nearly completely forgotten. She’s still there, yes, but she has nothing to do with anything past her hair color, and Link is ready for new, bigger adventures without whatsherface. Can’t quite remember her name… starts with… A?

WaterloggedMidna doesn’t let Link forget about his life. Hey stupid, you’ve got to rescue those kids. Hey stupid, you’ve got to restore Pony Princess’s broken brain meats. Hey stupid, wasn’t there another princess in this story? Do something about that. Hey stupid, I’m not your personal secretary, I’m a damn princess myself, how about you keep saving your stupid kingdom before I turn you into Fido again.

Hey, Link, do what you’re supposed to do.

It’s likely no coincidence that this is the Zelda game with a magical mirror as its main McGuffin, as Midna is the perfect mirror for Link. Midna is selfish when Link is noble. Midna throws a tantrum, and Link stays cool. She is chatty, he is mute. She’s just sitting there, and he is running around on all fours. Midna (appears to be) everything Link isn’t, and that defines Link wholly. Midna is the monster, and Link is the hero.

Link is not a cipher. Link is, as much as any other Nintendo mascot, an established character with clearly defined traits. Link is best demarcated by his opposite number, but, in a pinch, any fairy, sword, or boat will do. Link is the Hero of Hyrule, and we only know it because of his helpers.

Just be careful if you’re going to call Midna a helper…

FGC #244 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

  • System: I’m always surprised that this game is on so many systems. Technically, it’s on Gamecube (with the original, scarce Gamecube version), Wii (much more popular), and WiiU (via the HD rerelease). I still think of Twilight Princess as a “recent” Zelda title, so it always confuses me to learn it’s already on three different generations of hardware.
  • Number of players: There is only one hero in these two realms.
  • WeeeeeeeMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: There are three reasons I dislike this game. One, during the main quest, it seems like there’s an interruption every five feet, whether it be sumo wrestling, fluzzard flying, or bridge dueling. Second, every “hidden area” seems to have a “come back when you have item X” sign, so exploring before you have dual hookshots doesn’t work out well. And, finally, once you do have everything, the map is so damn big that it takes for-friggen-ever to get anywhere. Lake Hylia is… unruly. All that said, it’s still a Zelda game, so even at its worst, it’s better than like 90% of my library.
  • Favorite Item: I don’t care if it only gets used in one damn dungeon, the Spinner is the bee’s knees. PETA might have issues with this, but I feel like Epona should have been ditched for the second half of the game, and the Spinner should have picked up all of her movement abilities. Spinner-back archery? Yes please.
  • Wii-mote Possibility: The constant shaking of this game isn’t the best thing in the world, but gyroscopic archery did a lot to sell me on the possibility of the Wii. I’m actually curious how the “protect the carriage” bit works out on the Gamecube, because the aiming fun of the wiimote makes that escort mission actually tolerable.
  • D'awwGoggle Bob Fact: I had a very long, in-depth conversation with my (then) girlfriend over the phone while playing through the Sacred Grove/get the Master Sword section of the game. While I can barely remember the actual contents of the conversation, I literally cannot play that area without distinctly recalling my old apartment, my old (garbage) couch, and attempting to juggle the ancient flip phone of the day while shaking the wiimote. Stupid flashbulb memories…
  • Did you know? Midna’s “talking sounds” are actually English voice acting played backwards and distorted. Is this meant to imply that the Twilight Realm was really America all along? You damn, dirty shadow monsters!
  • Would I play again: I’ve been working on the HD rerelease off and on for a little while, but I still haven’t completed it. I kind of cooled on the game when Breath of the Wild seemed imminent. You don’t want to play too much Zelda at once! That said, I know I’ll get back to it eventually.

What’s next? We’re celebrating the Switch launch with the prequel to an anticipated Switch title, Super Bomberman 2. It’s gonna be a blast! Please look forward to it!

Love that song
Midnight release