Tag Archives: mobile gaming

FGC #613 Santa’s X-Mas Adventure & Hades

They're like the same gameSanta’s Xmas Adventure Complete Edition ostensibly should be the most Christmas-y game available for my Playstation 4. However, when Santa’s Xmas Adventure appeared on a Black Friday Sale, I also picked up a physical copy of Hades, a title about a dude trying to escape some pretty hellish circumstances. And you know what? Hades might just be the most yule title in the inventory right now.

So let’s see how ostensible Christmas title Santa’s Xmas Adventure stacks up to Hades.

Christmas is about Presents!

Santa’s Xmas Adventure is straightforward. You know the elves? And all the presents they make for children? Well, those Tolkien-rejects done messed up this holiday season, and now the presents are spread all over the North Pole. Santa must venture out into the cold all on his lonesome to retrieve the presents, and only once his sack is filled to the brim with gifts will Christmas truly begin. Go, Santa, collect all the presents for everlasting peace!

Very puzzlingExcept there is a significant step missing in this Santa’s Christmas quest: he doesn’t actually give any presents. While Santa collects all the lost presents, he patently ignores distributing the presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world. I understand that some Santa’s Xmas Adventure fanfic rectifies this issue by creating unique scenarios wherein Santa flies presents around the world at (apparently) the speed of light, but the actual game does not include any present delivery.

Meanwhile, Hades is lousy with present giving and receiving. Zagreus is going to fight his way through every last level of the Underworld on his way up to the surface, but he wouldn’t make it past his first surprisingly fast fat guy without a boon or two from the Olympians. Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, and a whole host of other gods are continually offering their assistance to Hades, and, while these boons are fairly random, they are indispensable when Zagreus is mowing down plague rats. Zagreus gets by with a little gifting from his friends.

But gifts are not a one way street! Zagreus may return the favor by offering gifts of his own to gods, friends, and skeletons. By the time Zaggy is making significant progress in his Sisyphean journey, he is bubbling back up at home with a whole host of presents for any friendly that happens to be skulking around the great hall. And is there anything more Christmassy than giving the family dog some extra pets and an ambrosia treato?

‘Tis better to give than to receive, and Zagreus knows that better than Santa.

Hades: 1
Santa’s Xmas Adventure: 0

Christmas is about making lists, checking them twice

Check it as many times as you needIt is right there in the song: he is making a list, and he is checking it twice. Santa is known for his list keeping, but isn’t this a tradition that has transferred to us mundane humans? Of course you are getting gifts for immediate family members, but which of your friends rank? Are you going to the Hallmark store for your coworkers? Did Debbie in accounting rank this year, but Judy at reception is right out? And don’t forget to weigh all of your buddies against shipping times! I know Jimmy is a fan of all those etsy stores, but you better order that custom keychain two months before his favorite holiday!

Hades is a rogue-like. In a way, Christmas is a rogue-like. You make progress, you do good, you do bad, and, no matter the end result, it is still going to be something you have to do again next year. And, in much the same way you gradually get better at giving your friends and family gifts (or just learning that some people are only ever worth a Shrek 12th Anniversary Commemorative Ornament), you will gradually get better at guiding Zagreus to the surface. And lists help! There are lists to spare in Hades, with everything from the prophecies that offer rewards for performing specific actions, to oodles of skills and abilities to upgrade. And, like in real life, the lists serve to simultaneously highlight your goals and allow you to make informed decisions. Sure, you might die if you do not get that triple attack bonus/a gift for Steve, but wouldn’t you rather score something so much more useless because it allows you to put another check next to a name on a list? You know what is really important, right?

Santa’s Xmas adventure just lists whether or not you have collected all the presents in a level, and how many presents you need to unlock the next area. Ho Ho Ho-Hum.

Hades: 2
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 0

Christmas is about Santa

Surely Santa’s X-Mas Adventure is going to score the point here! This is a game all about a magical bearded dude in a red robe who judges…

SANTA!

Okay, both games get a point for that one.

Hades: 3
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Christmas is all about Winter

So icy!Santa’s X-Mas Adventure nails this one! Santa must trawl all along the North Pole to find his missing presents, and the environment is veritably the reason for the season. Santa’s home is known for its icy conditions, so that lends itself smoothly to sliding blocks around to make a path for jolly ol’ St. Nick. Granted, games have made the “slide blocks” concept work without blizzard conditions before, but it is nice to have an explanation for why your cursor can modify the landscape. Couple this with the endless snow during the game, and Santa’s X-Mas Adventure has got the Solstice Season down pat.

Except… well… It’s hard not to give Hades a point here, too. The concepts of temperature and seasons are woven so subtly into the narrative, it is impossible to ignore how Winter is just as important to the quixotic quest as a certain three-headed dog. Zagreus was born and raised in the underworld, so he literally does not understand an environment that is completely lacking in a steady stream of lava. Upon reaching the surface, Zagreus is shocked by the snowy landscape, and, from that point on, he gains the ability to utilize the cold (of grandma) as a chillingly effective offense. In the land of the hot, the cool is king! It may be hard to pin down an exact year for Hades’ origin, but it can be said with some finality that it takes place during a (the?) winter.

So, yes, everyone is a winner for this Winter Solstice.

Hades: 4
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 2

Christmas is all about the music!

I like it hereHades has some rocking tunes (played by one of the most famous bards in the business). Unfortunately for our rankings, Hades contains exactly zero verifiable Christmas songs. A tune or two may include some bell, but that is as good as it gets.

Santa’s X-Mas Adventure meanwhile… Wait… Dammit! There are no Christmas songs in this Christmas game. Terrible! I mean, nobody is demanding Mariah Carey do some licensing for a game that started out as a cell phone distraction, but could we grab a few public domain ditties for a little more Christmas cheer? A very chiptune Silent Night? A carol about caroling? Something?

Hades does not receive a point, and Santa’s X-Mas Adventure loses a point. This is the only fair path.

Hades: 4
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Christmas is all about family!

All about the familyThere is the theory that if there was no Christmas, someone would invent Christmas. Christmas comes at what has historically been the worst time of the year; a time when the crops have all frozen, we must rely on the leftovers of whatever is immediately available, and, if you leave grandma outside too long, she’s not getting a tan, she’s losing a toe. It is only in the most recent years of human history that “the winter” was anything but a death sentence, so it is only natural that everyone would come together during these trying, annually precedented times and find a way to celebrate. Over the years, it has gone from celebrating what might be the last stretch available with loved ones to a time when Debbie from accounting xeroxes the bottom of her elf costume during company cocktails, but it is still a celebration in defiance of a world that seems to be trying to kill you and yours.

But it ain’t always pretty.

We humans huddle together with our tribe when facing brutality, whether that brutality come from unfeeling elements or other tribes. This does not mean our own “tribe” is a boundless fountain of love. This does not mean we even have to like our own tribe. It simply means that those that we band together with have the tiniest bit of empathy, and are going to be more useful in times of danger than a blanket made of angry weasels (Winter is rough, man). As everyone knows and is reminded this time of year, visiting family may lead to a warm bed and a few gifts, but it may also lead to conversations that remind you that you inadvertently belong to a “tribe” that also includes an unhealthy amount of hate, fear, and blockchain evangelists.

When you get down to it, Hades is about that same thing. Hades is the story of a father that lies for altruistic reasons, a son that demands to know the truth, and a mother that genuinely wants to help, but is too hurt to do so (or she doesn’t understand how boats work). Everyone else is trying to assist in some way or another… though sometimes that support varies from doling out boons from the heavens (which, ultimately, is the Ancient Grecian equivalent of mailing an Amazon gift card) to rounding up your sisters to actively attempt murder (the toughest of loves). Friend, foe, or puppy that desires satyr snacks, they are all cooperating with our hero in some way, and they all have their own motivations for doing so. And, in some of the most twisted ways, every one of these characters cares for Zagreus. They are a family. And Hades is about family at all times.

Santa’s X-Mas Adventure features a Santa that might not even have a family. This is a Santa Claus entirely alone in a cold, endless winter. This is a depressing Santa. Nobody wants that!

Hades: 5
Santa’s X-Mas Adventure: 1

Happy Holidays, everybody. Now go out and use those gift cards to score the hottest Christmas game available, Hades.

FGC #613 Santa’s X-Mas Adventure

  • Okay we're done with this nowSystem: This has to be a graduated mobile game, right? Regardless, there is definitely a Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 version. Maybe it was just designed for the Switch? Touch controls seem kind of natural…
  • Number of players: Santa is a lone (timber) wolf, baby.
  • So it’s a puzzle game? Yep, just move blocks so Santa can walk to the goal. You are supposed to gather presents along the way, but you don’t strictly have to do that to unlock graduating levels. Eventually, the game ends when the heat death of the universe guarantees that human life can no longer survive.
  • What’s in a name: This is definitely Santa’s X-Mas Adventure. One must assume that Santa’s Christmas Adventure was already taken. Either that, or Master Xehanort stole naming privileges.
  • Did you know? Frosty the Snowman, It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Let it Snow, and Little Drummer Boy are all copyrighted Christmas songs. The Wassail Song, We Three Kings, and Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella are all public domain. Choose wisely.
  • Would I play again: It is nice to see a game that is unashamedly cashing in on grandmas that don’t know what to get their videogame playing grandchildren. I appreciate that. This is a terrible, boring videogame, but I appreciate its Christmas chutzpah.

FGC #613 Hades

  • Bounce backSystem: Oh, good, a game with an actual Wikipedia entry… PC, Mac, Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series XS… Yes, this is the new Shovel Knight for “awesome and available on damn near everything”.
  • Number of players: It seems like finding some way to DLC two player content would be the exact kind of thing that would happen to this critical darling, but I think it remains single player.
  • So, did you beat it? I refuse to even acknowledge any “no boons, infinity heat” challenge runs that are out there, but I did see to it that this family could experience something like a happy conclusion. I mean, it really is kind of impressive that there is a legitimate “ending” for a game that is meant to loop infinitely.
  • Favorite Weapon: Exagryph, the Adamant Rail, is my end all and be all. In any game that puts a premium on health (well, technically, that’s every game, but something like Mega Man is a lot more generous with the healing), I am going to take the choice that allows me to win… but be way the hell over there. And some of the tracking powerups allow for a complete lack of aiming, which is great for my sniper-adverse ass.
  • Most Hated Boss, Oh my God: Theseus and his bull buddy can eat a whole trash bag of expired gyros. I conceptually understand that they are the “master class” for Elysium, and basically only use attacks that imitate the minions that were creeping around the afterlife for heroes. But! They’re both way too… is random the right word? It feels random! They might be as carefully patterned as every other boss, but, yes, that fight feels random, and that is the enemy of fun in a rogue-like. … Yes, I know rogue-likes are random incarnate! Shut-up!
  • PlinkDid you know? “Classical” Zagreus seems to be most remembered as the son of Zeus, not Hades. This is presumably because Zaggy’s mother is fairly consistently Persephone, and Hades’ involvement is nebulous when you’re talking about a guy that ultimately seems to have wound up as a Dionysus-esque party god. He’s generally associated with being dead or a god of the dead, though, so he is an excellent choice for a professional Hell escaper.
  • Would I play again: If I had played this game in 2020, it likely would have been my game of the year. Oh well! It’s still pretty damn amazing in 2021, though! Oh, speaking of which…

What’s next? The time has come yet again for the annual year end round up, so the first post of 2022 is going to be the best of 2021. Please look forward to it!

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Straight to hell!Let us consider the economy of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest (and how it has screwed me up to this day).

Castlevania 2 is an ambitious NES title that is also extremely broken. Much like Link’s second adventure, the curators of the Castlevania franchise decided to branch out in a more explore-y direction with Simon Belmont’s second quest. Unfortunately, it seems that the Goddess Zelda watches over all of her titles and guarantees proper Q&A testing… while Dracula just gets a graveyard duck. Or the graveyard duck was intentional! Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest has a legendarily inscrutable localization… but it ain’t that great in the original Klingon, either. The NPCs of C2 go out of their collective way to be cryptic at best, and downright dishonest at worst. There is a bad merchant in this town? Are you referring to how the ability to buy a white crystal over and over again is broken, or am I searching for a hidden dealer somewhere around here? And do not insult that kind lady peddling Holy Water. I wouldn’t be able to beat Dracula without her!

So is Simon’s Quest broken? Well, yes, because those ending screens are pretty damn fractured by any rubric. But is everything before Dracula’s defeat broken? Well, no, just all the information that the player needs to successfully complete this quest is some combination of esoteric and obfuscated. Finding your first mansion housing a rib might be child’s play, but knowing from there that you have to kneel at a nondescript lake or show a bleeding heart to a ferryman (or that said ferryman is apparently canonically cursed!) is the kind of thing you would never in a million quests personally discover “accidentally”. Some hints in the Japanese version were mangled for the American release, and we can blame a number of Debora Cliff head injuries on this simple fact; but, even then, you kind of have to “know” that the crystals work when you are just standing around… And “stand still and wait” is not exactly the prime way a videogame works. Simon’s Quest is not broken in every way, but a clear explanation of what is happening and what should be done would certainly help a fledgling player. Just give me a ferryman that outright states that they are looking for something, and we can go from there!

And then there is the economy of Simon’s Quest.

Just don't look!Previously on Castlevania, hearts fueled “sub items”, and that was it. There were moneybags that provided points, but there was nothing to buy. A heart “bought” you the ability to fling a dagger, though, so you had something you wanted to ration and “save” for the rough spots. A proper cross boomerang and the hearts to fuel it could be the difference between life and death. This would be the standard for Castlevania games after Castlevania 2, too, and we would not see exchanging currency for goods and services in the Castlevania franchise again until Symphony of the Night ten years later.

But in the meanwhile, here was Castlevania 2. Before you even leave the first town, you are introduced to the concept of trading hearts. In fact, items available in the first town are very clearly outlined as…

Buy Once, Use Forever Items

My aching crystal50 Hearts will get you two different items in Castlevania 2’s first bout of commerce. Local townsfolk will note that thou must purchase a White Crystal, but the Holy Water is available, too. And both items are literally essential to your adventure. The White Crystal will allow access to (or at least illuminate a hidden platform in) the first dungeon, which is a vital stop on the way to earning Dracula’s Rib. But do not discount the Holy Water, as you absolutely need its ability to break “soft” blocks. Oh no! You’ve only got fiddy hearts in your pocket when the game starts, and you need a hundo! Time to get to farming skeletons!

And you will want those extra hearts, as Holy Water, the White Crystal, and the eventually available basic Dagger are all the best items to purchase. The Holy Water not only unlocks previously inaccessible areas, but also is the most straightforward item in the game for consistently hitting enemies below Simon. The Dagger might fly much straighter, but it is also much more powerful, and can completely supplant the whip if you are saving up for something better. And the White Crystal? Not only do you need it for basic platform-seeing purposes, but it also has a resale value! You can trade the White Crystal for the Blue Crystal, and then trade up further to the Red Crystal. All of those crystals are critical, and, given a lack of fast travel or mobile merchants, you really shouldn’t leave home (town) without it!

Unfortunately, not everything in Castlevania 2 has the same kind of utility. Let’s just go ahead and whip that notion in the bud…

Straight Upgrade Items

STAY AWAYSimon already killed the only vampire that ever mattered, so the legendary Vampire Killer whip is apparently sitting on a shelf back at the Belmont estate. In the meanwhile, Simon has pulled out the trusty leather whip that he picked up down at the Transylvania S&M store (Grant DaNasty’s Nastiest Emporium). Unfortunately, this budget whip is far from the best, and a variety of other whips are available from more savvy storefronts. Would you care for a Thorn Whip? Chain Whip? Chain Whip with little star dealy bopper? You’ve got options!

Or… you have no real options at all. Unlike many modern games, you absolutely do not need to upgrade your whips sequentially. You will likely find a vendor for the Thorn Whip before anyone else, but, if you save your hearts, you will eventually find that Morning Star shop, and own the best whip hearts can buy before anything else. In fact, if you really know what you are doing, you can farm nighttime zombies, make a beeline for that miraculous whip, and wield all the power of Lucifer before entering your first mansion!

And there is a valuable lesson here: why waste your hard-earned hearts on anything but the best? Only one whip can be upgraded (for free!) to the critical Flame Whip, and only one whip has the power to fell Death before he can make his lethal approach. Why bother with anything less? The Chain Whip is one of the most expensive items in the game, and it is literally completely worthless if you can afford a Morning Star. Save those hearts! Go for the greatest! Do not waste time on incremental upgrades! Shoot for the gold!

But you may have to blow a few hearts along the way on…

One and Done, Limited Items

Eat it, orbYou may make an immediate run for the Morning Star, but there is one thing standing in your way: a deadly, life-draining swamp. The only solution to surviving this problem is to purchase some Laurels, initially only available about as far east as you can get without the aid of a tornado. Laurels make Simon temporarily invulnerable, and that is just the right level of vulnerable you need for a purple swamp filled with fire-spewing beasts.

But Laurels come at a cost. In an effort to guarantee Simon is not invincible forever, Laurels are limited items that can only be used a set number of times. You buy two Laurels, you get to be invincible twice. Pretty straightforward! In a similar manner, there are Oak Stakes, purchasable only within haunted mansions, which are essential for unlocking Dracula Part Orbs ™, and are immediately consumable. And, while it may seem like they are wholly optional, bulbs of garlic fall into the same category. Garlic initially presents as simply an offensive item that works similarly to the Holy Water of Castlevania (1), but it also summons random Romani in graveyards to distribute daggers and bags and whatnot. You could get through the whole of CS2 without a single clove of garlic, but it is going to make your life better in more ways than one if you shell out for that veggie.

And, give or take experimenting with garlic in any old graveyard, these one-and-done items are all very situational. You could use a Laurel anywhere, but you probably are going to conserve it for the moment you approach those shining, purple shores. Garlic is rarely necessary for average encounters, so save it for shop summoning or the occasional pizza. And you only ever need one oak stake per mystical orb, so you can stow that away until you need to earn a fingernail. In short, once you have a relative idea of what you are doing, you will never be in a situation where you can potentially “waste” one of these valuable, limited items. Short of whiffing it big on tacking an inanimate circle, you are not going to “accidentally” need another 50 hearts for a replacement anytime soon.

Wish I could say the same about our final category…

Freemium Items

MortThe Silver Knife can be found by properly placing garlic in the graveyard. The Gold Knife can be recovered from a downtrodden Death. And the Sacred Flame is hiding in a dark dungeon, but free for the taking if you gaze with Dracula’s eye. They are freebies! Items of absolute importance (well, maybe the Silver Knife is kind of a waste), and unerringly useful. The Sacred Flame is like an advanced Holy Water that can immolate Freddie the Claw Skeleman without a thought. And the Gold Knife can re-kill Dracula before he even has time to teleport out of his coffin. No wonder Death was hanging onto that blade!

But there is a bit of a drawback to these weapons of Drac destruction: they each cost hearts. Each of these items is free to add to your inventory, but cost a heart per use. And one or two hearts may not be the difference between life and death, but you need as many of those hearts as possible for all the finest upgrades. You need a new Oak Stake in every mansion, and who knows when you are going to have to reup on Laurels? And, if this is your first time venturing through Castlevania (or you just have a terrible memory), you would not know if you needed additional hearts for anything else. That Morning Star cost nearly every heart you could ever have, but is there something better out there? Some armor, maybe? Blue Ring? It worked for Link…

And, if you have not already guessed, this is why I never use the Silver Knife, Gold Knife, or Sacred Flame.

Sure, I may have hearts to spare by the time the final mansions are being raided, but would I ever use a weapon that consumes two whole hearts per use to clear those areas? Certainly not. I might need those hearts for later! Using these freemium items may make my life easier, but what if they are going to make my life worse when I need to grind for more hearts? And Dracula isn’t dead yet! What if I get up to his final chamber, and I run out of hearts!? I would have to engage with actually fighting Dracula the real way, and I simply do not have that kind of time. I would rather make every other part of this game harder than ever even think about wasting my valuable cash on something as trivial as my 10,000th violent skeleton. I’m saving up for that vacation home Simon is never going to use!

Er-hem.

Anyway, Castlevania 2 is apparently why I don’t play mobile games. Thanks for reading.

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

  • What a horrible night to have a swampSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System to start, and then it at least showed up on the recent Castlevania collection for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It was also on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. Sorry, Castlevania 2 does not see as many releases as Mega Man 2.
  • Number of players: Simon is facing this horrible night to have a curse alone.
  • Forever Apart: The various chunks of Dracula could also be considered usable “items”, but every other item save the initial rib is so… not useful. Also, can we take a moment to acknowledge that an official body part of Dracula is his ring? Not a single limb in there, but we somehow need his signet to cross his dumb bridge? And, while we are looking at lugging around bits of the count, is his complete lack of a brain there to account for his generally braindead plans? When you have to rely on the wizard Shaft to get things done, you know you are missing some pieces.
  • Boss Time: Castlevania is a franchise known for its bosses. And, in C2:SQ, there are a whole two of them, and you can walk right past one. Nobody likes you, Death! Camilla and her bloody tears is required, but only on the technicality that she drops the cross item that allows access to Dracula’s ruined castle. At least these jerks respawn for any potential rematches. I would not say no to seeing that in Symphony of the Night…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I played this game so much as a child, I memorized the code that grants all the items. It is complete gibberish, but I can recall this random assortment of letters and numbers immediately. If you ever see me in person, quiz me! I would transcribe it here, but I don’t feel like having Google steal my code for maximum Laurels.
  • I do not talk about musicAn end: Damn is it hard to get the best ending without optimizing dang near everything. Also, is it really worth it? Because it sure does seem like the accompanying text for any given ending does not match what actually happens. And, ya know, there is that whole “Simon dies almost every time” thing. Dude just cannot catch a break.
  • Did you know? According to the Castlevania timeline, Simon killing Dracula, blasting him into literal pieces, reassembling said pieces, and then immolating the count all over again only bought the world fifty years of Dracula-free time. Juste, Simon’s grandson, was the next Belmont to take up the whip chronologically in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. And Juste only had to beat Dracula once to keep Drac chilling until Richter time.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Dammit. It’s a Castlevania game, so I will blow my hard-earned hearts on any version of it that is ever released. Put this sucker on a cell phone with in-app heart purchases, and I’ll buy it, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Aero Fighters 2! Take to the skies! To fight! In flight! Please look forward to it!

I can!

FGC #592 Muse Dash

Let's DashSo you’ve decided to get into the wonderful world of the videogame rhythm genre. Good for you! Rhythm games are some of the best pickup and play games out there, as they traditionally feature challenges that are exactly one song’s length. No half-hour failure states to be seen in this genre! And the music! Who doesn’t love music? Nobody, that’s who! So everyone should love rhythm games, too!

But, please be aware that there are three distinct kinds of rhythm games. In an effort to help a neophyte understand what has been happening in this genre that has been kicking around for 25 years, please enjoy a quick rundown of the places you’ll see.

The Artisanal Rhythm Game

There were proto-rhythm games practically as long as gaming has existed (anyone remember that bit in Back to the Future? I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet), but many point to PaRappa the Rapper as the true origin of what we consider to be rhythm games. And it makes sense! This was one of the first games released on a CD-based system that could handle something like “real” songs (if there is a library of early PC games weeping in the corner at this statement: good), and, after a slew of games where children wearing their pants backwards demanded that you make their videos, someone had finally figured out a good way to marry music to gameplay. On a superficial level, PaRappa was just pressing prescribed buttons to a preset beat. But on a practical level? Like all artisanal rhythm games, PaRappa was an inimitable experience that left an indelible impression on anyone that dared take driving lessons with a rapping dog.

Take it easyAnd why was PaRappa so unforgettable? Well, quite simply, because it was fun while goddamned everything about it funneled back into “make this more fun”. It was fun to press buttons to the beat. It was fun to be ranked “cool”. It was fun to meet these goofy characters. It was fun to see this unique art style in motion. The music was fun. The graphics were fun. Even seeing a game over screen, complete with PaRappa lamenting how he apparently did not believe hard enough, is fun. Absolutely everything about PaRappa fed back into one incredibly solid presentation, and, while the game was maybe not as long as those “70 hour JRPGs” that were also on the system, every moment you did play was incredible. It was not just about the songs or the lyrics or the characters, it was everything.

PaRappa the Rapper itself had a handful of sequels, and there were a few other games outside of PaRappa’s universe that tried for something similar. Gitaroo-Man immediately springs to mind as one of the luminaries of this era of rhythm games, but there was also the likes of Mad Maestro and Vib-Ribbon. All of these titles were unique not in just their subjects and presentations, but also in that they generally had wildly different ways to interpret “rhythm” as more than merely “press X when I say so”. Um Jammer Lammy and Gitaroo-Man both strummed their guitars in very different ways. And, give or take the classics of Mad Maestro, all of these games had wholly unique soundtracks that had to be good songs and good levels.

Unfortunately, it seems that this kind of presentation was not sustainable. Even at the height of the artisanal rhythm game age, there were only a few Space Channels to tune into. Entirely “artisanal” titles basically required that the games last about as long as your average album (or maybe a 2-disc greatest hits CD set), and, amazing presentation or no, people wanted more content. Pouring piles of resources into a 40 minute experience was never going to be viable, and the only reason we have a modern descendant of this age of rhythm games is that apparently Hatsune Miku is more prodigious than we ever could have imagined. If you want a Gitaroo-esque experience, you basically need to sign on with a Vocaloid. Otherwise, you are probably playing with the rhythm genre that ate artisanal’s lunch…

The Song-based Rhythm Game

Stay classyThis one makes sense, right? You play rhythm games for the music, so why not base the entire game around the music. Drop any unnecessary graphics, give up on even the illusion of a story, make all the characters generic avatars, and pour your entire budget into licensing rights. Maybe invest an extra six bucks in some hunk of plastic vaguely shaped like a musical instrument, and, bingo bongo, you’ve got an award-winning genre. Guitar Hero killed the Gitaroo-Man.

And that may not have been a bad thing.

If we acknowledge that artisanal rhythm titles were unsustainable, then perhaps we should admit that the likes of Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or even Dance Dance Revolution could be an infinite source of games. There is new music being produced every second of every day, and it would not be impossible to adapt every week’s Top 40 to a Rock Band chart. And, looking at a few digital storefronts, I am pretty sure the Rock Band DLC model tried that! And why wouldn’t they? When divorced from the burden of things like varied presentation or any semblance of a plot, you can just sync up your game to the radio and call it a day. Nobody is ever going to complain about more Beatles songs!

And while it may sound harsh to repeatedly insult an entire genre because nobody wanted to dress a teenager up in a winged helmet anymore, let us be clear on one thing: these rhythm games are just as fun as their more intricate forbearers. There is a reason the Guitar Hero controller became a staple of households in the early 21st Century, and you will pry my Taiko: Drum Master drum from my cold, calloused drummin’ hands. Some attempts within this genre did not work particularly well (hello again, DJ Hero), but whether you were rolling out a dance mat or an entire multipiece rock band, the rhythm games that existed to support their song libraries were universally fun. And modern releases in this genre (Taiko drumming is back, baby) remind us that we do not need ridiculous peripherals to have fun. Of course, Just Dance 20XX already knew that…

ShinyBut, as Rock Band gradually faded into memory (and Dance Dance Revolution barely made it out of the 90s), a simple question was posed: could rhythm games get back to being games? Sure, we have all seen people use a DDR mat to beat Final Fantasy 7, but could there be games designed to be videogames and rhythm games? Not quite the rhythm experiences of the artisanal titles, and something that could include a playlist like your typical Guitar Hero? Well…

The Rhythm Game Games

What makes a videogame a videogame? Why is digital solitaire considered some kind of empty diversion, while Triple Triad is lauded as the second coming of Cyber Jesus? How is Tetris the most important videogame of all time, while Candy Crush is exploitative dreck? Because nerds are snobs we have certain expectations about what makes a videogame a videogame. If you want to differentiate Lord of the Rings cosplay from a formal Final Fantasy game, you need a few of those trappings that always work as bullet points on the back of a box. Leveling system? Item management? Crafting? Gimme something, potential videogame, otherwise you will have to wallow in the Minesweeper pit.

Hit itDespite ranking and scores, there is a lot about the Song-based Rhythm Games Collection that does not feel like a videogame. It is just pressing buttons to a rhythm! You could annoy the rest of the freeway and just do that with your FM radio and a car horn! Similarly, while the Artisanal Rhythm Game may have all the progress and “numbers go up” you would expect from seeing Cloud venture forth to murder the guy with the best hair on the planet, the natural limits of the presentation preclude unlimited song variety. If only there were a way to keep a rhythm game visually interesting, include a variety of “systems” to keep the gamers happy, but still keep it simple enough to slot in an entire Top 40 worth of content. And it wouldn’t hurt if there were unlockables for days, too…

The Rhythm Game Games scratch the rhythm and game itches equally. On one hand, you have a game that is simple enough to support an initial pile of songs, and then include DLC tunes that will last until the workers stop building them new ones. On the other hand, you have all sorts of interesting “systems” included, and many of these systems allow you to unlock new songs, styles, and playable characters. Can you do such in other games? Of course! But in a Rhythm Game Game, it actually matters.

Take the title that inspired today’s article: Muse Dash. Muse Dash touts “97 initial popular songs” and “continuous free updates” as of its 2019 launch. Playing this title two years later, I am pretty sure I have discovered it currently includes 9,409 songs… though my math may be a tweak off. It takes a while to scroll through the song menus! And the sheer variety of songs available is important, because you are going to want to play through a lot of songs as Muse Dash allows your “player profile to level up”, and earn a lot of bits and baubles along with every level up. Want to earn all the playable characters? The “playable” assistants? Loading screen images? Marginally animated title screens? Well then you better get to playing through some of those 88,000,000 songs, because you have a lot of trophies to earn!

Look awayActually, referring to all the collectibles in Muse Dash as “trophies” is wildly reductive. Star high school quarterbacks and gamers alike all eventually learn the same truth: trophies are useless. But in Muse Dash, you earn actual gameplay elements. There are multiple characters to unlock (well, technically, there are only three characters, but they have multiple costumes that apparently change said character’s personalities, so same diff), but, more important than the cosmetic changes, every character allows for a different play “style”. One choice allows “excellent” ratings to be more easily attainable, while another continues the combo count regardless of an errant button press. One option even transforms the game into a vertical mode! In much the same way that playing as different characters in a fighting game radically changes the experience, the possibilities in Muse Dash similarly change the game. And that is before we get to the “helper” characters that not only offer different possibilities individually, but may combine with the playable characters in strange, unique, or just plain profitable ways. Think of all the different ways you can combine these choices into a game that is wholly customized for you!

Why, it is almost like there is an entire game in these menus before you play the rhythm game proper. It is a Rhythm Game Game.

This is, of course, nothing new in gaming. The idea that you spend more time outside of battles fiddling in menus in Pokémon or Final Fantasy alike is something that was established well before the turn of the millennium. And, in fact, simulating that “menu play” from Final Fantasy may have accidentally birthed this whole genre in Final Fantasy Theatrhythm. This is all nothing new to gaming at large, but it is new to the rhythm genre that has never really found the same kind of foothold as beat ‘em ups, fighting games, or even rogue-likes. Thanks to games like Muse Dash, people who “like videogames” can like rhythm games!

Or… uh… it looks like the company that made Muse Dash filed for bankruptcy in April?

Looking forward to updating this article with the next, next generation of rhythm games!

FGC #592 Muse Dash

  • Good coloringSystem: Nintendo Switch is where I played it, and this apparently also has a following on mobile devices. … But playing without buttons is not for me. Warioware can go touch itself.
  • Number of players: You could see how split screen could work for this without much effort, but this is definitely one player.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: There does not seem to be a single named male character in this entire game. That’s good! And the first item on the PeroPeroGames webstore is a statue of the Muse Dash heroine in bunny lingerie. That’s bad! The background noise of Muse Dash seems to split its attention between “bubblegum cute” and “these characters are sexy and bouncing” amongst its various menus, but the actual gameplay and general tone leans closer to “cute”.
  • Favorite Song: I would very much like to tell you my favorite song, but… I lost it. There was one in there I really liked! And I should have marked it as a favorite, as now it is lost in the hundreds-strong playlist of Muse Dash. The dangers of always adhering to that “random” button…
  • Favorite Stage: If I have one major complaint about Muse Dash, it’s that it contains a whole seven stages for its billion songs, and of those, approximately 80% seem to utilize the boring “Space Station” area (which looks more like a construction site). That said, the Castle area, filled with ghosts, skeletons, and a succubus, should be the dominant level. Those goofy vampires look so happy!
  • Get 'emDid you know? This game recommends you wear wired headphones on every boot. I have not worn headphones with a gaming system since… the Sega Genesis. What? I usually play in a room by myself! I like a warm sound in the room… Or to be listening to something else.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game to have loaded on my Switch forever. I could see playing a song here or there when I have a few moments between more dedicated playing experiences. … Or when I’m waiting for Smash Bros. to download an update… Whatever! This is a fun gamey game, and I can continue to earn bibs and baubles while playing great songs anytime.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest! It’s time to see if we can reassemble even a single Dracula! Please look forward to it!

Let's go!
Sometimes things can get hectic

FGC #554 Pokémon Go

An abridged timeline of events in my life related to Pokémon Go.

7/16/16

Started playing Pokémon Go. I had apprehensions about playing a game I damn well knew I was going to find addicting, so I didn’t sign up at launch. However, after a number of local businesses asked me how they could capitalize on the “Pokémon craze”, I figured I had to jump on the bandwagon. I choose Team Mystic, as Articuno is best bird.

7/17/16

Found Questionable Statue, the best dang Pokéstop in the whole of the game. Good lil’ statue there.

It's a good stop

7/19/16

Published this nonsense, clearly already hooked by the “fad”.

8/21/16

Evolved a Magikarp into a Gyrados for the first time. There is plenty of water around my local play area, but it’s still worth noting for finally scoring 400 candies.

8/22/16

There was a Snorlax on the boardwalk. It was my first, and, as this was before the radar in P-Go was precise, I literally ran all over town trying to find its exact location in time. I succeeded, but I may have parkoured off a building to do so.

9/11/16

Evolved a Dratini into a Dragonair into a Dragonite. This may have been one of the last Pokémon of Generation 1 to earn its final form in my ‘dex.

6/25/17

Questionable Statue graduated from being a Pokéstop to a Pokégym at some point around here. Very important for my favorite stop to be upgraded.

It's a good gym

10/27/17

Found an errant Sandshrew party on the beach. Pretty sure we celebrated until dawn.

Party time!

12/12/17

I catch Tiny Dancer, a Kirilia that becomes my walking buddy for 352 nonconsecutive kilometers (as of publishing this article).

2/24/18

At my second Pokémon Go Community Day, I encounter Pokémon Fight Club (as chronicled here), and have my first successful Pokémon raid. I get by with a little help from other nerds.

3/25/18

Prompted by interest in having another big raid day (as it was the third ever Pokémon Go Community Day), I hit the boardwalk to hopefully find another “fight club”. I found a raid party, and noticed there was exactly one Team Instinct member in a lobby that was crowded with people from Team Valor and Team Mystic. I asked out loud, “Who’s the Instinct?” and a cute blond replied she was the odd one out. She got a shiny Lugia out of the raid, and I had apparently just met my future wife.

4/15/18

Mareep Community Day was rainy, cold, and altogether miserable. Despite the weather that was only hospitable to electric sheep, there were enough of us to tackle a Latios raid (or maybe Latias. I always get those two confused). One of the people in the raid was the Team Instinct player from the previous month. Given the weather was unpleasant, I asked her if she would like to go grab a coffee to warm up and catch Pokémon from somewhere slightly less freezing. It was super effective.

4/18/18

I caught a Mew on my birthday after finally mastering the excellent curveball throw technique. Exceptional little mirage present.

5/28/18

Participated in my first EX Raid and caught a Mewtwo. It was at Questionable Statue. It was with a certain Team Instinct trainer. It is remembered fondly.

Don't ask my wife about this.  She will laugh.

9/11/18

Caught Corsola in Florida. Definitely did not travel alone.

10/22/18

Caught a bunch of giant Magikarp, and earned a medal. Playing by the ocean for the win!

11/14/18

Finally reached Level 40 after, what, two years at this point? This is primarily because I had performed approximately 10,000 raids with that Team Instinct Trainer.

11/26/18

This BS happened.

Gimme some coins

Occasionally I forget that Pokémon Go is a game designed to make money, and not a freemium soul-mate finding app.

1/27/19

Went on my first cruise with that Team Instinct Trainer. Found that there are gyms that are apparently only accessible by sea.

I want to live there

2/8/19

There is confirmation Pokémon Go is still a thing in the real world.

5/10/19

Back when going to the movies was a viable option, we saw Detective Pikachu at its premiere. We were not the only people in the audience playing Pokémon Go during the previews.

6/14/19

We visit Chicago for Pokémon Go Fest, a national gathering for Pokemon Go players (or just a bunch of nerds that wanted to catch a Pachirisu). We spend the weekend visiting landmarks, museums, and bizarro pizza dispensaries. There was a lot of walking accompanying the inordinate number of Pokélures around the city.

7/21/19

During yet another Community Day (we haven’t missed one together yet), I catch the horrible Shiny Mudkip Zero. It is a blight on my life I will never escape.

I can't quit you

8/25/19

I catch a particularly good Roselia deep in Mexico during a cruise that, thanks to a mega-hurricane, goes on a little too long. In the end, everything worked out fine, and we made out better with Hurricane Laura than so many people that lost their homes, but it was a bit dicey there for a while. At least I had accumulated some completed tasks so I could still have my research breakthroughs amidst such strife. It’s the little things that keep you sane.

9/20/19

For our trip to Pokémon Go Safari in Montreal, Canada, I printed out a “wanted” poster for a foreign Pokémon, and pinned it to my dear Instinct Trainer’s backpack. This attracted the attention of a kindly gentleman from Japan that didn’t speak a lick of English, but had a similar “can you trade this Pokémon” sign. Pokémon trading crosses language barriers rather effectively.

Gimme

12/30/19

Or maybe it doesn’t, because there is somehow a stop in Poland named “Optimus Prime”. That is clearly not the robot in disguise we all know and love!

This cannot be right

1/7/20

I catch a shiny fighting/psychic type at the Olympic Coliseum in Greece. This is vaguely appropriate.

2/5/20

I leave a Pokémon in a Polish Gym in December, and I wind up earning a gold medal as a result of it not being kicked out until early February. I’m pretty sure my happiny did not have any problems with customs, but she was surprisingly cold when she got back to the States.

2/29/20

This happened.

Go Goggle Bob

It happened right in front of Questionable Statue, mere feet from where we first met for a Lugia raid nearly two years prior. Amusingly enough, that picture was taken by a child who was, of course, on the boardwalk playing Pokémon Go.

4/19/20

As COVID rages and people were afraid to leave their homes, my Instinct Trainer and I take the opportunity to conquer as many local gyms as possible. Hey, we don’t have to interact with a soul to walk around the neighborhood. Blissey takes over the town in the name of Team Mystic.

She's all over the place

6/21/20

The rare Double Arlo.

This hardly happens

9/20/20

I am awarded a medal for defeating 1,000 Team Rocket trainers. I am truly a hero, but I would like to thank the recent “local” Pokémon Go Fest for granting me so many targets.

11/20/20

I state these words to my Team Instinct Trainer:

Looks delishI’m a giant nerd. Pikachu is apparently a featured guest at our reception, so I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of that. But as a result of being a giant nerd, I have absorbed the stories of roughly 5,000 different movies, videogames, and graphic novels. I’ve seen so many super heroes save so many worlds it’s kind of ridiculous. And that means I’ve also seen so many heroes die for the people they love. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Superman kick the bucket for Lois Lane at least six different ways. And all of these stories, it’s always the same: the hero make what we’re told is the ultimate sacrifice, they die for the person they love.

I’m going to vow right here before man, woman, and children that should not be watching this stream, that that is bullshit. I’m not going to die for you. I’m going to live for you.

I’m not going to take a bullet for you, fight some malevolent monster for you, or die in the vacuum of space for you. I can’t vow that I’m going to do something so super for you. But I can vow that I am going to do the dishes, mow the lawn, and take out the trash. I vow that I’ll go for walks with you, even when the weather is on the Polish side of things. I vow that we will talk, and that I will always be honest with you, and you will always know what I’m thinking. I vow that, above everything else, I will make you happy, to make sure you can be happy, and to do everything I can to see a smile on your face. And when things aren’t cheerful, during any bad times that may be ahead (like, you know, in the middle of a global pandemic), I vow that, while I might not be able to make problems go away with some kind of special move, I will do everything I can to make sure we get through it together. In our world, every storm has an end. Every night has a new morning. And I vow to be with you every morning from this day forward.

I vow to live for you, Trish, and I may not be a superhero or keyblade master or whatever, but I am a man that vows to love you forever.

I also caught a Tepig.

11/23/20

Despite the fact that the previously transcribed vows were broadcast across the world, not a single person seemed to notice the Chrono Trigger reference that was, like, right there. This doesn’t have anything to do with Pokémon Go, but it is nonetheless depressing.

11/30/20

The Pokémon Go Beyond “expansion” is released. Before informing my wife of this update, I remind her she is currently working from home, and needs to keep perspective on what needs to be completed, as we are adults. Fifteen minutes after we have this conversation, she is still in the beanbag chair, and still trying to complete as many Beyond tasks as possible without leaving the room.

12/11/20

I publish an article that is apparently meant to be sentimental, but mostly just talks about Pokémon. Or is it the other way around? C’est la vie.

FGC #554 Pokémon Go

  • System: Mobile, so get your Droids and Apples out.
  • Bulba!Number of players: It’s a generally solitary experience, but there is 2 player battling, and 2 player trading. And there are 20 person raids. And you’re kinda sorta playing with everyone on Earth. Let’s split the difference and call it two player like its Pokémon brethren.
  • Did you catch ‘em all: There has been no point in this game’s existence that I have had every available Pokémon. I have every Pokémon I can catch locally, but regionals have often escaped me. There was one time immediately after Pokémon Go Fest 2019 when I had every Pokémon except Uxie, but that’s as close as I ever got.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I have been to Athens, Greece once in my life. Three days after I flew out of there, Niantic released a regional Pokémon that exists only in Greece and Egypt. I have never been more mad at a videogame.
  • Goggle Bob Fact #2: I play this game every day. I take frequent (nigh daily, according to weather) walks with my wife while playing this game. I have played a lot of videogames in my time, but, if all hours are tabulated, this might be the videogame I’ve played the absolute most in my entire life, even if it is generally “passive”. And that’s saying something!
  • SPLASHFavorite Pokémon (Go edition): Machamp has been a big, burly beast from day one. Conkeldurr came for the throne, and he’s technically better, but I don’t have six maxed out Conkeldurrs, now do I?
  • Did you know? Playing Pokémon Go anywhere near a large body of water always generates some weird spawns. Water Pokémon you might expect, but Cacnea? I am so tired of seeing that guy.
  • Would I play again: I do.

What’s next? Vaguely related to events mentioned in this article, I’m taking a week off from totally new content. But! I’m going to be updating my World of Final Fantasy Let’s Play here on the site, so if you haven’t seen that elsewhere, it’s new to you! So come back Monday for some fun times with funko fantasies. Please look forward to it!

The Champion