Tag Archives: namco

FGC #558 Mappy Land

Mappy time!Namco, you screwed up. You chose the wrong company mascot.

Pac-Man sucks.

Look, I get it. Pac-Man is definitely a cultural touch stone. In a lot of ways, Pac-Man is the original videogame mascot. Statistically, most people reading this are too young to remember (as people that remember so far back at this point are mostly just slurping up apple sauce and accusing the staff at The Home for Retired Gamers of being “space invaders”) but there was a time when “Pac-Man” gripped the nation. You could buy a Pac-Man lamp, watch, and mini freezer down at the local Sears, and still be home in time to watch the Christmas Special. Pac-Man had his own hit song and a parody song by Weird Al (granted, it was more of a B-Side, but it counts!). Pac-Man was everywhere for a few years, and, while many regarded it as a fad (because it absolutely was), the idea of a culturally significant videogame character paved the way for Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Steven McMinecraft.

But, in much the same way that early videogames had to work out all the kinks before graduating to their later, sublime heights, Pac-Man was not built for the big leagues right out of the gate (maze?). Sonic showed his attitude from the first moment he paused to sneer at the player, and even pudgy, boxy little Legend of Zelda Link established his adventuring roots once he was told how dangerous it was to go alone. Pac-Man, though? That dude didn’t even have eyes. There is genius in the simple, immediately recognizable design of Pac-Man, but you could say the same of a football. And you don’t see any NFL mascots that are just giant, sentient footballs, do you? (I am genuinely asking here, I don’t watch a lot of sports.) Pac-Man is amazing, but he’s more pac than man, and an outside longshot to attach to an entire merchandizing empire. This ain’t a funny Star Wars beeping trashcan pushing action figures, Pac-Man is barely a complete pizza.

And then there’s Mappy. Mappy’s got legs.

(… Uh, literally. Pac-Man doesn’t naturally have those, either.)

Let's danceLet’s start with an obvious advantage: Mappy is vaguely human shaped (eat it, puck man). He’s also a cartoon mouse. Those things are pretty popular. He’s also a cop, and, while it is difficult to approve of that vocation, it does give him a clear purpose. Mappy has the eternal goal of arresting the bad guys. Pac-Man? He’s just a mortal sin (gluttony!) personified. Mappy is trying to clean up the mean streets of wherever anthropomorphic cats and mice hang out, and he’s doing it one trampoline at a time. Oh! And that allows for an immediately recognizable dichotomy, as Mappy winds up involved in a literal game of cat and mouse. That even explains how this all works, right? Mappy is a mouse, so contact with an unrestrained cat is going to lead to instant death. It is immediately easy to understand, which is essential in a videogame. Nobody needs a tutorial to understand that cat beats mouse.

And the gameplay of the original Mappy? Similarly straightforward. You can use trampolines to bounce to separate levels, and it’s your job to collect all the doodads scattered around. Unlike some protagonists, you’re not collecting for the sake of amassing wealth (though you do get points), but to rescue these stolen items from the nefarious cat gang. You’re raiding a criminal warehouse! Just like Batman! Everybody loves Batman! And also like Batman, Mappy is not a trigger happy police officer, he uses traps and strategy to tackle his foes. Mappy’s greatest weapon is not a gun, but a bunch of doors that open with varying strength and inexplicable abilities. Some doors possess meager door-range, but a number of rainbow doors fire… I don’t know… door-beams across the arena. Microwaves? And, if you’re smart, you’ll be able to utilize these magical doors to negate an entire gang of nefarious cats. Mappy is not a strong hero, he is a clever hero.

(Which, incidentally, is better than a certain “hero” that can only be described as “hungry”.)

I recognize this mazeAfter the success of the arcade-based Mappy, Namco(t) did its best to adapt that clever mouse gameplay to the home consoles. In much the same way that Mario Bros. had to go Super and involve gigantic, scrolling stages, Mappy left the warehouse, and started to venture across multiple levels. Mappy Land saw Mappy visiting island getaways, the Old West, and haunted graveyards (yes, Pac-Idiot, Mappy can handle ghosts, too). It is not a coincidence that the first area of Mappy Land is a train station, sending a clear message to the player that Mappy is ready and willing to travel the world. And don’t worry! The different stages are not just some half-assed attempt at graphical variety: every land Mappy visits has its own share of tricks and traps, from bowling balls to boxing bags to other things that probably start with B.

And, to be absolutely clear, these items and traps are the best thing to come out of a videogame from 1986. In every level, your cat opponents will ineffectually dance at the sight of a common cattail cat toy or stack of coins (those money grubbing cats), or be knocked out by catnip. In a medium that usually involves your opponents being blown to smithereens, it is delightfully goofy. And even more than the items, the traps are continually cartoony. Mappy rides a pulley that zooms across the screen and bowls over his opponents. Mappy rapidly spins around on handlebars to banish pirates. And, my personal favorite, Mappy drops small “bombs” that detonate and launch cats into the sky to become glorious fireworks. At a time when games were abstract but still clearly violent (you think Mega Man is shooting tickles at the robot masters?), Mappy evidently inhabits a “toon universe” where physics are only important if they don’t get in the way of a gag. No, I don’t think an adult mouse man can actually fly across the dawn while suspended by a balloon, but it does make for an interesting stage mechanic.

And then what was in store for Mappy after his stunningly creative 1986 adventure? Nothing.

BANGOkay, yes, there have been a handful of Mappy games since his NES premiere. Much like Pac-Man Jr., Mappy’s son got into the act for the sequel, but Mappy Kids almost entirely dropped the trampoline-based gameplay of the originals for something like a more traditional platformer. It was more standard, but it was also a lot more forgettable (you know, except that part where you play Spot the Difference with a picture of a klansman). Then, about a decade later, there was the arcade “arrangement” version that was basically Arcade Mappy 2… though with the significant caveat that it never made it over to home consoles. And from there all Mappy could ever scrounge up was a pachinko machine or two, and a mobile game that has an extremely dubious existence (go ahead and find me a video of Mappy World. I’ll wait). And then there’s Touch the Mappy. Nobody wanted to touch the Mappy. Poor dude had a memorable arcade game, a stellar console debut, and then he was trapped by the mousetrap of history.

Pac-Man, meanwhile? There’s a guy who barely had a game to begin with, yet, after decades of games that barely make a lick of sense, he’s palling around with Donkey Kong, Lucina, and Cloud.

Let's fly

And he stole Mappy’s trampoline! And he’s letting everybody use it!

Namco could have had an excellent, understandable mascot creature, but they dropped him for a gliding circle. You messed up, Namco, and everybody knows it. Mappy should have had that top spot, and yellow dot creature is still the most hopeless of gaming’s popular mascots.

FGC #558 Mappy Land

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System to start, then there were a few dozen years of no Mappy Land, and then we got it on WiiU. Now it is available on Switch as part of the Namco(t) Museum Archives Collection (Volume 2).
  • Number of players: 1 Player Mappy, because, what, you going to feature Mapico, Mappy’s wife? Preposterous!
  • Hey, what about Hopping Mappy? We don’t talk about any pogo-stick based games here.
  • Lovin' the tropicsFavorite Level: I’ve always appreciated the tropical stage that features moving trampolines, climbing vines, and all the fish you could ever eat (or feed to cats). In a weird way, the whole level feels like an expanded version of Donkey Kong Jr., and I would certainly be down for a Super DK Jr. any day of the week.
  • Favorite Trap: Did I already mention the fireworks? Because it’s the fireworks. You can somehow get multiple cats at once with one wholly stationary bomb. These cats are apparently pretty dumb!
  • What’s in a name: The actual names of your feline antagonists are Goro (the big guy) and his lackeys, the Meowkies. I would use these names more if Goro didn’t call to mind another significant arcade antagonist.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This was one of my few NES titles when I was the youngest of the young. I hated it. I played 800,000 hours of it. I… was a conflicted child.
  • Did you know? Namco Super Wars, a tactical RPG for the Wonderswan that may be the precursor to other tactical Namco games, includes Mappy. He’s a white, fuzzy mouse-man, and, given the art style of the game, this anthropomorphic animal would likely be a lot more comfortable in the Five Nights at Freddy’s universe. I would post some official art, but I’m afraid of those cold, red eyes following me into the night.
  • Would I play again: I mean, if you’ve got a general hankering for some slightly graduated arcade action, you can’t go too wrong with Mappy Land. It is easily available on the Switch now, so the only thing holding me back from another playthrough is the Switch currently contains every game that has ever existed. That’s some steep competition for a little mouse.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity! That’s going to be a fun time for all those lil’ Hyrule Warriors. Please look forward to it!

Looks familiar
This is what all weddings are like

Year in Review: 2020

Disappointment of the Year: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Go Impa GoAnother year, another reason to state that the disappointment of the year is not the worst game I played this year, it is simply the game that in some (significant) way disappointed me (and specifically me, I’m a very selfish guy). And the winner this year? It’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, a game that I anxiously expected, and then wound up bouncing off of like an arrow plinking off of Daruk’s mega-shield. Why? Simple answer: the goddamn world map. There was a lot of extra content in the previous Hyrule Warriors, but the main quest was sequestered off in its own little campaign with a little flow chart and maybe a Linkle (depending on the version). Hyrule Warriors 2, meanwhile, decided to stick the optional content all together on one map, and… and… I just can’t deal with that right now. 2020 has been an overwhelming year, and I cannot deal with 2,000 Hyrulian villagers that need some random quantity of fish. Look, guys, I’m dealing with a lot right now, I will get you your damn beetles later. Couple this with a plot that feels more pandering the more it unfolds, and I have a weird aversion to playing a game I was ostensibly eagerly anticipating.

So, yes, I’m saying I am stalling on a game I anticipated because my own anxiety can’t deal with Hyrule’s problems. It happens! And it’s disappointing.

Reason to not let me out of the house for the Year: Nintendo Switch eShop

Eerily accurateUgh, seriously? This category made a lot more sense when it was safe to actively leave the house. This has been an excellent year for me to avoid buying excess amiibos and alike, because, early in this year, I had genuine fears I wasn’t going to have enough income to buy food. It all worked out about as well as could be expected at this point, but, man, not a great year for randomly indulging in frivolous hobbies. I only bought like 7,000 “cheap” eShop titles during quarantine, so… Okay, maybe I still indulge in frolicsome nonsense. Did I really shell out for Wheel of Fortune? It was only five bucks? Okay, I guess that’s alright then…

Game with the absolute worst release date of the Year: Persona 5 Royal

Wake up, dummyIf it seems like this “year in review” list is dominated by references to the Great Plague of 2020, congratulations, you’ve noticed the theme, and nothing about that is going to change. From March on, this year has been conquered by COVID-19 (which is pretty damn impressive considering 2020 was an election year), and basically the whole of the world has been changed as a result. I am only noting this in case someone was lucky enough to be in a coma for the last ten months, just suddenly awoke, and immediately dashed over to Gogglebob.com for my annual year in review (hi, Walter, welcome back!). Everyone else reading this? I’m sure I don’t need to remind you. Anyway, this nonsense really kicked into gear around March 20 (to my recall), and Persona 5 Royal was released on March 31. And you know what nobody wants during an unprecedented pandemic that has changed life as we know it? A game that reminds you of The Before Times, both in its “real life”-based gameplay, and the fact that it is 90% a game you already played back during better times (and it had significant issues then). So, sorry, Persona 5 Royal, you managed to release at exactly the wrong time, and, while your protagonist might have the exact same “it’s quarantine” haircut I was sporting in April, it was not a great time to engage with an 80 hour, recycled JRPG.

Compilation of the Year: Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

Wakka wakkaAKA the Namcot Collection, this (these) compilation of NES Namco titles is notable for bringing us unique versions of games that could otherwise be lost to history. Or, to put it another way, we finally got that one Splatterhouse game. It might not be the best game out there, but, like Pac-Land or Dragon Buster, it’s something that should at least be available somewhere. And, bonus, we got unique “demake” versions of Gaplus and Pac-Man Championship Edition. This year was great for arcade-style games that are more focused on score attacks than… uh… focusing, so this Namco compilation really ate the power pellet.

… Would have been nice if it was all one, appropriately priced package, though…

Title of the Year: Cyberpunk 2077

I have not purchased and/or played Cyberpunk 2077. I have simply been an amused audience for all the glitches and nonsense that has been associated with this game that may very well be decent under this pile of glitches (OG Final Fantasy 15 filled that space a few years back), but there is no way I’m shelling out for a title that apparently was born on the backs of abused employees. That said? Holy cow is that a terrible title. Cyberpunk 2077? You’re just going to go ahead and name your game after a target that, head’s up, you’re not even remotely hitting? That would be like taking a game that mixed flying space stations and war machines with swords and sorcery, and then naming it something like “Fantasy Genre”! That’s just silly!

System of the Year: Nintendo Switch

Pew pewPlaystation 5 and Xbox Whatever: It’s The Next One were both released this year. Did I jump on them? No. Was it because I’d rather have an occasionally portable system that inexplicably contains compilations of every Mega Man franchise (save that one with the dork on the moon)? Yes. Thanks for being you, Nintendo Switch. You didn’t even need that Collection of SaGa to win this spot, but it was a nice bonus.

DLC of the Year: Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

Classy dudeI just like the bulbous headed deer that rides the horsey. That thing is better than Steve. I’m sure there are other reasons to enjoy the two expansions of Pokémon Sword/Shield, but the horsey comes immediately to mind. Maybe there was a karate bear? I don’t recall. He is nothing before the horsey.

Remake of the Year: Resident Evil 3

Uh… see the next section for the real winner of this category. Second runner up? Well, that Trials of Mana remake wasn’t so hot, so I guess Resident Evil 3. That seemed like a nice upgrade over the original. Staaaaaars and whatnot. Moving on…

Game of the Year: Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Going up?Look, there’s a part of me that screams “I don’t want to be that guy”. Last year, I chose Kingdom Hearts 3 as my game of the year. Before that (may have missed a year in there), I chose a nostalgic Sonic the Hedgehog title. So, what, my favorite every year is going to be some kind of “retro” videogame that reminds me of when I was young and pure and playing games that generally involved murdering monsters and robots? Apparently! I’d love to be original, I’d love to choose a game that is new and different and maybe involves a severed Medusa head, but here I am, choosing another Square Enix title that wallows in nostalgia and years of anticipation.

But at least Final Fantasy 7 Remake is right there with me. As discussed extensively in my original article on the subject, Final Fantasy 7 Remake has a lot to say about the past, the present, and the “good vibes” one gets from hanging out with old friends (even if those friends are remembered as 32-bit jumbles of polygons). It’s also just plain fun. FF7R is insightful and you get to fight a tonberry for no real reason. Could I ask for anything more? Well, yes, Aerith and Tifa could finally kiss, but they do have to save something for the sequel.

Games I’m sure are great, but I haven’t played: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Hades, Shantae and the Seven Sirens, Among Us, Moon

Look, just be glad I played any new videogames at all this year. It was a rough time! I barely even played Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and that should have been a slam dunk!

Gogglebob.com Introspection 2020

I’ve spent enough of this article bemoaning a terrible year for literally everyone I know (and don’t know!). But it’s also the year I got married. That was nice! And speaking of nice, this site has given me something “frivolous” to focus on through thick and thin, so I’m pretty happy with that, too. I maintain that this “project” is winding down (I swear I’m not going past FGC #655! I mean it this time!), but that doesn’t mean I’m preparing to abandon everything here. And this was the year that I picked up consistent live streaming with some friends, so that was an unexpected bonus of 2020, too. 2020 may have robbed us of my originally intended FGC #500 (I’ll make the real version… one day), but Gogglebob.com had a good year otherwise…

Oh, and here are some favorite articles from the year (not already casually mentioned edition):

FGC #473 Dragon Warrior 4
FGC #479 Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE
FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5
FGC #520 X-Men: Children of the Atom
FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass & I Wanna Be The Guy
FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
FGC #541 Splatterhouse

And that’s it for this godforsaken year. Here’s looking for to a 2021 that isn’t such a bummer!

What’s next? Random ROB is back and has chosen… Street Fighter: The Movie. Oh boy! It’s movie time! Please look forward to it!

FGC #490 Dig Dug

DIG! DUG!What is the soul of a videogame?

Today’s game is Dig Dug. What’s more, ROB has chosen the Atari 2600 version of Dig Dug. This makes a certain amount of sense, as this is the only “pure” version of Dig Dug in my collection. Why? Well, Dig Dug is probably a game that takes up a whole six bits of space, so practically every version of Dig Dug since 1985 has not been available as a “single” game, but part of some larger collection. And more’s the pity! Living compilation to compilation might be good for some of the most established games, like Pac-Man or Galaga, but it doesn’t do ol’ Dig Dug any favors. You’re going to play Dig Dug for five minutes, say “oh, this is where all those inflation fetishists got their start,” and then move on to the next game. When you’re playing Dig Dug on a compilation where you can finally find an answer to what the hell Pac & Pal is about, you’re going to skip right past the fygars.

Which is, unfortunately, a loss for anyone that enjoys the more complicated games of the “simple” arcade era. Dig Dug has a lot going on! Everyone is familiar with how you can pump up your opponents to popping proportions, but you’re also allowed the strategic kills through falling rocks. The OG Mr. Driller is drilling his way through the dirt, so he may as well use some dirt to his advantage! And, as demonstrated for anyone that ever stuck around to watch Dig Dug’s attract mode, there is more to pumping your opponents than meets the eye. Most consider the multiple action-button presses of sending a pooka to hell to be some manner of “number of hits” issue, but there’s strategy in blowing up these underground monsters. Any partially inflated adversary is immobile, and, more importantly, not a threat to Taizo Hori, so you’re welcome to walk (well, dig) right through ‘em. What does this mean? Well, you can partially inflate your prey, and then sneak along the edges to avoid the attacks of other rivals. Or fill up a few baddies, make sure they’re all deflating in a vertical line, and call down a rock to Burger Time them all into something resembling a pancake. Dig Dug has more options than you’d think, particularly for a game that features a scant four directions and one whole button.

He definitely puts some silly clown to shame.

Get 'emBut we’re not just talking about Dig Dug today, we’re talking about Dig Dug for the Atari 2600. This is not the first Atari port that has been covered on Gogglebob.com. We’ve seen the Kangaroo go from the arcade to your living room, but that was a situation where no one remembered the arcade version anyway, so who cares? We’ve seen Pac-Man make his way to the Atari, too, and that was an unmitigated disaster. And there was Mario Bros, which was probably the best anyone could ever expect of a Nintendo arcade game adapted to the 2600. But was it perfect? Absolutely not. The physics were just wrong (Mario doesn’t have any of his signature momentum in his movements), and the fireballs went from an occasional nuisance to an omnipresent threat. If you wanted a “kinda” Mario Bros experience, the Atari version was a fun time, but it was still a far cry from the subtle joys of the arcade original.

But Dig Dug for Atari 2600? Miraculously, in every way, this feels like Dig Dug.

And it’s easy to see why: everything is here. There may be only two monsters in Dig Dug, but they both showed up. They both function in the exact same way, and they both pop in the same satisfying manner. Rocks are there. The tunnels are familiar. And all the secrets of Hanzo’s favorite offense are preserved. This is Dig Dug. It might not have the finer graphics of the arcade edition, but, for a game that had to survive on the Atari, it is very much Dig Dug. Even a primitive attempt at the dirt gradient is here, complete with the different colors that appear on later levels. That means they actually expected someone to get past the third stage! That’s dedication and optimism!

Damn dragonsBut why does it work? Is it just because it’s a simple copy of the original? Because it looks close enough to the arcade style to be legitimate? Or is it something less tangible? Is it simply because this version of Dig Dug has the right “feel”?

And, to answer that question, we should look at two of Dig Dug’s sequels: Dig Dug 2, and Dig Dug Arrangement. Dig Dug 2 was released three years after the original Dig Dug, and attempted to build on Dig Dug’s initial gameplay by introducing wholesale island demolition to Dig Dug’s repertoire. Rather than puttering around underground, Taizo Hori is sticking to the sunlight this time, but still moving in the same general 4-directional manner. And rather than wholly relying on his trusty pump, he can now detonate parts of the playfield to sink multiple monsters in one destructive go. Does it wind up being a fun game? Yep! Destroying everything in an effort to quash a villain invasion is always a good time. But does it feel like the successor to Dig Dug? Not particularly. It’s certainly a sequel to Dig Dug, but it doesn’t quite feel like Dig Dug.

Arrange thisDig Dug Arrangement was released in 1996 as part of Namco Classics Collection Volume 2, a multi-game arcade cabinet. Competing for quarters against the OG and arranged versions of Pac-Man and Rally-X, this title saw Taizo return to underground pumping, but with a bevy of new monsters, levels, and even bosses. There are three whole islands, and they involve environments stretching from mundane cities to the moon. And the collection of new opponents is vulnerable to the same old actions, but there are a variety of new tricks and traps that can be employed against this parade of pests. And is it fun? Still, again, it is. But is it Dig Dug? Yes! Everything that is included isn’t some oblique slide to mine-laying or whatever was happening in Dig Dug 2, but Dig Dug taken to a more interesting dimension. It’s still four directions and one action button, but it’s also a game where detonating a robot will demolish the rest of your opponents, and discovering interesting ways to use that new technique is practically a game unto itself. A more appropriate title for the game might be Dig Dug Plus, as it feels like Dig Dug plus a whole lot of fun.

And that’s the best way to describe what makes a good Dig Dug: how it “feels”. It’s incredibly subjective, it’s nearly impossible to define, It's dark outbut how a game “feels” is as close as we can get to knowing the soul of a videogame experience. It’s not about the graphics or the frame rate or whether or not a character has enough cleavage (let’s face facts: Taizo is not showing enough skin in Arrangement), it’s about whether the game feels right. That’s the essence of a good game and a good port. It’s why Pac-Man Atari fails, and why Dig Dug Atari succeeds.

If it feels right, it touches the soul of the game, and that’s what makes for a happy player.

FGC #490 Dig Dug

  • System: We’re looking at the Atari version, but Dig Dug has been on practically every system ever made thanks to various compilations. It somehow missed the SNES, though.
  • Number of players: Probably one of those two player alternating Atari games, but one player is probably the right way to look at it.
  • Pooka or Fygar: Fygar scared me as a child, as you just never knew when those jerks were gonna toss off some atomic firebreath. Pookas, meanwhile, wear goggles. So you should know which is my favorite monster.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Dig Dug was one of the earliest games I ever played with “offensive options”, so I want to say Pooka was one of the first creatures, videogame or otherwise, that I ever instinctively murdered. The spree starts here!
  • OopsDid you know? Dig Dug Arranged has a two-player co-op mode, and both players share a score. That’s neat! It’s not competitive in any way! Everybody work together now.
  • Would I play again: Dig Dug is great arcade action. I might never try the Atari version again, but I’m sure I’ll hit the arcade version again on one of another six compilations.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Devil May Cry 3! That game is featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series! Please look forward to it!

FGC #462 Soulcalibur 6

The soul is up to somethingWho is Soulcalibur 6 for?

Okay, it’s for fighting game players. It’s a great fighting game! But let’s ask the important question: who is Soulcalibur 6’s story for?

Soul Edge/Blade started with a remarkably simple plot: there’s a super powerful sword, it’s super evil, and a ghost pirate done got his hands on it. Everybody fight! Maybe your character wants the sword for their own evil desires, maybe they want to destroy the sword, or maybe they’re just an S&M daddy that wants a new toy. Whatever the case, Soul Edge had a straightforward story with clear, understandable motivations for the fighters. Soulcalibur, Soul Edge’s sequel and the first official Soulcalibur game, picked up the story from Soul Edge’s logical endpoint: one hero succeeded in shattering the evil blade, but one villain grabbed the other half. Now there’s a demon knight running around with a damaged super weapon, and some rejects from Journey to the West are doing their best to deliver the secret good version of Soul Edge (the titular Soul Calibur) straight into that Nightmare’s heart. And they succeeded! And that’s the very moment things got stagnant.

The Soulcalibur franchise fell into the same trap as many of its fighting game contemporaries. Apparently, once you hit the sequel, you firm up your final boss, and you constantly warp the plot around that character whether it makes the tiniest bit of sense or not. Street Fighter 2 gave us M. Bison, the dictator that revives for the finale of every other Street Fighter adventure. Shao Kahn surfaced with Mortal Kombat 2, and his abs won the award for most present final boss in the franchise. Even Soulcalibur’s sister series, Tekken, introduced Devil Kazuya with its second installment, and that damn “devil gene” has been driving the plot (nowhere) ever since. It’s a weird coincidence, but it seems that the second installment in many fighting game franchises focuses on a villain that must A. be killed and B. return endlessly. And any X-Men fan can tell you that you can only come back from the dead so many times before the plot starts to get a little stale.

This gonna be goodBut come back from the dead is exactly what Nightmare did in Soulcalibur 2. Nightmare was vanquished during the finale of SC, but, four years later, he got better, and Siggy was forced to once again rampage across the countryside while the usual suspects stabbed him a whole bunch. Soulcalibur 3 saw Nightmare return again, but this time there was an immortal older dude who knew more about the history of Soul Edge than any of the usual players, so his “possessed form” was promoted to final boss. Soulcalibur 4 saw Nightmare return again, but this time there was an even older immortal older dude who knew more about the history of Soul Edge than any of the usual players, so he was promoted to final boss. Hrm, seem to be in a bit of a rut here, so let’s see if Soulcalibur 5 can squeeze in some new material.

Soulcalibur 5 turned the entire paradigm on its head. Yes, Nightmare/Soul Edge was still ultimately the source of everyone’s woes, but the storyline generally focused on the war between the children of Sophitia, a heroine that had been around since the first adventure. It seems one of her kids was a little bit possessed by evil, and her other child was a little possessed by being a prat. And, unfortunately, the fate of the world rests on whether or not these two goobers can reconcile their differences and battle a malevolent ghost version of their mom. That’s new! And different! And all it took to get there was scrapping the majority of the beloved roster, replacing them with “legacy” characters that are increasingly ridiculous (the cool and calculating ninja was swapped for Hannah Montana), and maybe introducing a werewolf or two. And it was all a resounding success! … Wait, no, sorry, I’m receiving word that… Yes, it appears Soulcalibur 5 took the greatest risks ever seen in the franchise, and thus did it kill the franchise. Whoopsidoodle.

Yes, I know it's a mirrorSo Soulcalibur 6 was in a bit of a pickle at its planning stages. Soulcalibur needed to bring back the fans that Soulcalibur 5 had so carelessly lost with its fortunetellers and Gokus, but it also needed to do something new. This was an all-new, all different generation of gaming hardware, and the world had changed since the release of Soulcalibur 5. Six years! Do you know how many Assassin’s Creeds came out in that time? And fighting games were actually relevant again! There is so much potential in a Soulcalibur 6 that pushes the envelope even further than Soulcalibur 5. An all new roster! An all new epoch! Tell the whole story of the first wielder of Soul Edge! Tell us what happens generations after the fighters we know! The only plot constraint is wedging a magical sword in there, and, let’s face it, magical swords are already part of every plot! I’m pretty sure Romeo & Juliet were talking about Excalibur somewhere in that play…

Unfortunately, Soulcalibur 6 decided it wasn’t going to try something new. Here’s a roster of extremely familiar faces, two new fighters for the sake of saying there’s something new at all, and the exact same plot as Soulcalibur (1). Everyone liked Soulcalibur, right? It was the best one? Yes, of course. And, ultimately, what’s the problem with rehashing an old plot? “New” Super Mario is always just saving the princess, why can’t we just have a Soulcalibur where everyone is fighting Nightmare like the first time? It’s not like a fighting game even really needs a plot!

And that stands to reason, but here’s Soulcalibur 6’s Soul Chronicle mode. Its inclusion is… confusing.

Soul Chronicle mode is, ultimately, the game’s typical “story mode”. This is where you choose your fighter, and see exactly what they were up to during this game’s general eon. There is a base story that tells the tale of the main protagonists of the piece (staff boy, nunchuck dandy, and the cheerleader) and how they eventually defeated Nightmare and his vaguely threatening army of lizards, golems, and fetishists. And, yes, there are accounts for each individual fighter, which is a boon for anyone that needs to know exactly what a wandering swordsman was up to during the feudal era (fun fact: he was wandering around having swordfights). Even if it’s a story that we’ve heard before, this all has the potential to be very interesting for a Soulcalibur aficionado.

Or at least it would be interesting if it wasn’t 90% this…

Let's chat

For those of you that don’t feel like squinting at that parade of modern, tiny fonts, that’s a scene where a beloved (technically) ally is sneak-stabbed by the villain of the story. That’s a pretty dramatic moment! And it’s entirely conveyed through text boxes, characters portraits, and the screen flashing a different color (red is bad). This is visual storytelling that could have been rendered for Ninja Gaiden, and seems just a tweak phoned-in a solid thirty years later. And it’s all the more distressing when you consider that Soulcalibur 6 is capable of some really great storytelling in special moves that last ten seconds

Let's fight!

There! Even without sound, there’s absolutely everything you need to know about this version of Xianghua. She’s got a cool sword, she’s elegant and skilled with said cool sword, and she’s a bit of a goofball. Her entire storymode adds up to the same result, but why waste a half hour with talking heads spewing tortuous dialogue when you can get the same result in less time than it takes to read one of my meandering articles? And it’s not like Soul Chronicle is enhanced by the gameplay of occasionally throwing in a battle here and there: Zasalamel’s story mode is just him reading Soul Edge’s Wikipedia entries in his palatial library, and he seriously never leaves his chair. Dude wields a scythe the size of a small farm animal, and he doesn’t even touch the thing, because, oh man, did you click on this hyperlink about King Algol? Totally interesting stuff!

So if Soulcalibur 6 has the exact same plot as Soulcalibur 1, and it didn’t improve the presentation of that story beyond something that could have been seen on the Dreamcast (or possibly an NES), then why did they even bother? Even if much of the presentation is lackluster, why go to all the trouble of hiring actors to read these lines? Why write this dialogue, or make these character portraits? Why bother telling the exact same story in an inferior way when you can just pull a Zasalamel and spend a solid hour reading the Soulcalibur Wiki? Who needs a rehash of Soulcalibur when Soulcalibur is right there!?

And then it occurred to me: I’m an idiot.

…Wait, let me try that again…

And then it occurred to me: Soulcalibur isn’t right there. Soulcalibur is nowhere. Soulcalibur 6 is the perfect entry point for new fans. And that’s exactly what Soulcalibur needs.

Here we goThe original Soulcalibur was released in the arcade in 1998, and hit the poor, doomed Dreamcast in 1999. It saw a rerelease on Xbox 360 in 2008, and apparently most recently appeared on Android devices in 2013 (with a controller-screen overlay that my brain refuses to understand). Even claiming that a cell phone version of Soulcalibur is a viable solution for anyone, the most recent release of Soulcalibur occurred five years before the release of Soulcalibur 6. And the version of Soulcalibur that gets the veteran players (including myself) all hot and bothered? That’s twenty years old. Soulcalibur is nearly old enough to drink. And it probably should drink, because, as you’ve already read, its plot from that point on somehow became equal parts convoluted and trite. So, rather than play two decades worth of outdated games, why not let the new fans catch up through their own all-new story mode. Why not give the fresh fans something to enjoy?

Soulcalibur 6 didn’t repeat Soulcalibur to give its practiced fans the warm fuzzies. Soulcalibur 6 was made to invite new fans to the table. Soulcalibur 6 is the ever-dreaded reboot, but it is a reboot in pursuit of strengthening a failing fanbase. And, considering that (as of this writing) we are entering an unforeseen Season 2 of DLC, it seems to have done the trick. Soulcalibur 6 isn’t the most revolutionary Soulcalibur title, but it has succeeded where others have failed.

Who is Soulcalibur 6 for? Fans old and new.

… Just don’t let the olds get too mad at the story mode being familiar.

FGC #462 Soulcalibur 6

  • System: Playstation 4 and Xbox One. A Switch version is just too much to ask for, I suppose.
  • Number of players: Rhymes with “Lou Sayers”.
  • READ A BOOKNot Just a Reboot: Okay, technically the story of Soulcalibur 6 isn’t just Soulcalibur 1 all over again, it is actually the story of a Star Trek 2009 situation wherein a future character (or two) is muddying the timeline to prevent the narrative dead-end of Soulcalibur 5 from ever happening. However, unlike in Star Trek or Mortal Kombat 9, this opportunity for a whole new story is principally wasted, and the “real” plot plays out exactly the same (give or take Kilik going super saiyan). About the only changes here are that Zasamel is now not going to become a complete screw up (though that wouldn’t have happened until a later game anyway), and Cassandra got started on her quest a little early. Actually, there are a few other fighters that “show up early” in this version of Soulcalibur, but, complete with age discrepancies, those seem more like retcons than actual timeline changes. Time travel or no, the plot synopsis for Soulcalibur 6 is just a copy and paste from Soulcalibur 1.
  • But there is an original story, too: Libra of the Soul features your own Create-a-Character (though not your Create-a-Character from any other mode, for some reason) fighting in an epic war between the two new characters, Another Sword Guy and Fabulous Rasputin. It’s also presented in a manner that is boring as hell. And it seems to have a healthy amount of tutorials, too. That would be great if your first thought on booting a new game is to get right into playing as Original Character, and not, ya know, going to town in the ol’ arcade mode with familiar faces. Still, good try? Maybe?
  • It's a comics thingBut what about Create-a-Character: Oh, that is aces. Nothing beats the Soulcalibur customization options… anywhere? In fact, it’s kind of weird that other games haven’t adapted what Soulcalibur did perfectly for like three games running. No matter, my only concern right now is whether I should name my long-haired, super bulky YoRaHa android “Chub-B” or “2-XL”.
  • Favorite Fighter: Seung-Mina conceptually, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with the final DLC character of Season 1, Cassandra. She’s like if Sophitia wasn’t inexplicably sad all the time.
  • Did you know: The internal project title for Soulcalibur 6 was “Luxor”, because the staff had the plan to make the game “brighter” like the original Soulcalibur. You know, the game where a man who murdered his father gains the ultimate murder sword and then murders half of Europe with a literally unquenchable bloodlust (for murder). Freaking sunshine and lollipops in this franchise from day one.
  • Would I play again: I’m playing it right now! Stop interrupting!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby’s Dreamland 3 for the Super Nintendo! Does… does this count as Thanksgiving content? Maybe? Or maybe I’m just hungry. Well, I know Kirby is hungry, so please look forward to it!

I like purple
I’m leaning toward Chub-B.