Tag Archives: nights

FGC #556 Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!

Tis the SeasonI have always been fond of Christmas, but I find my dear wife loves the holiday more than should be allowed. She’s not a religious woman by any means, but, given the current state of my electric bill, I can safely state that she worships our Christmas Tree with the same reverence that my grandmother paid to the reason for the season. And the Christmas specials! We have somehow watched a number of those suckers this year, because who doesn’t need to see some couple learn the true meaning of Christmas while falling in love and referencing other, more popular Christmas movies. Yes! This is trite and has been done over and over since Miracle on 34th Street! We get it! Stop lampshading it, Aubrey Plaza!

But, having been exposed to far too much Christmas, I am reminded that my favorite hobby is vaguely devoid of Christmas cheer. Mario doesn’t have a Christmas Special in his featured medium (sorry, Super Show, you’re not canon), and Link might be an elf all dressed in green, but the dude sticks to horses, and never reindeer. There are a variety of reasons for this potential blind spot in the world of gaming: not wanting to tie perennial games to a particular season, many of the most popular games coming from a culture that doesn’t put as much of an emphasis on Christmas, or even just a general aversion to figuring out who copyrighted Santa Claus this year. But, one way or another, the end result is that, while you might be able to fish a Christmas episode out of practically any sitcom you could ever name (Step by Step had at least two!), you won’t be seeing Mega Man fighting Candy Cane Man at any point in his last thirty years.

But the holidays have snuck into a few games here and there. So, in the interest of finding some Christmas cheer, let’s figure out how to spend The Twelve Days of Gaming Christmas.

The First Day of Gaming Christmas: Donkey Kong Country 3

Gettin' it onDonkey Kong Country 3 pretty much inspired this article, so it may as well get top billing. And what does top billing mean in this case? That DKC3 sucks! Rare consistently came out with a Donkey Kong game for three Christmas seasons in a row, so it made a certain amount of sense that the franchise would pay tribute to the merriest of holidays. The only issue? It’s a “blink and you miss it” code that simply exchanges bananas/collectibles for ornaments and presents. And not even all bananas! Just the ones in bonus stages! Other than that, Kiddy Kong doesn’t even get a santa hat, and King K. Rool doesn’t wear so much as a red lab coat. Try harder, Rare!

The Second Day of Gaming Christmas: Diddy Kong Racing

… This is vaguely trying harder. Diddy Kong Racing is famously a game that was pushed out because Nintendo needed some kind of Christmas (season) cheer to goose the system that made the immeasurably incorrect decision to not be a FMV machine. In the absence of a certain bear’s premiere, something akin to Mario Kart was produced, and, likely due to the season that necessitated its existence, there is an entire level that seems vaguely Christmas themed. There is snow! And decorated trees! And… no actual mention of Christmas. Huh. Like in Donkey Kong Country 3, there is no concrete evidence that Christmas actually exists in the world of the Kongs, but it seems like there is certainly… uh… something going on here.

The Third Day of Gaming Christmas: Cave Story

Cave Story+, the Cave Story remake developed by Nicalis (let’s not get into that), features a few hidden bells and whistles. For one thing, Cave Story now has an agnostic approach to holidays, and will, according to the system’s internal clock, dress its heroes and villains appropriately for Halloween and Christmas. From December 24 (Christmas Eve) to January 6 (Epiphany), Quote is a reindeer, presents litter the labyrinths, and the Mimiga have to grab a snow shovel to dig out their driveways. Of course, like over in Donkey Kong Country, there’s no actual acknowledgement that all this Christmas cheer is happening, so it’s hard to determine if this race of sentient rabbits living on a floating island is actually expecting a visit from St. Nick.

The Fourth Day of Gaming Christmas: Clayfighter 63 1/3

Wack em smack emNow here’s a visit from St. Nick… and he’s gonna kill ya! Clayfighter has always had a super fighting snowman on the roster, but the third (or so) entry in the franchise went ahead and added Sumo Santa. Now, the exact lore of the Clayfighter universe has always been a little murky, so it’s hard to say if this is supposed to be the real Santa, or something more akin to a Toy Story-esque, animated-by-mutating-clay simulacrum of Santa that simply thinks he is Santa (and has built his own fake North Pole on a tropical island as a result). Regardless of origins, this is definitely Santa Claus, so it’s more of an affirmation of the holidays than the Kongs ever got.

The Fifth Day of Gaming Christmas: NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

It is not on fireWhat could be better than playing as Santa Claus? Playing as Santa Claus for free! In the age of miserly DLC (re: 2006-the rest of time), Santa Claus and an elf helper were released as a team as a free update to NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. And that’s pretty great! By Donner, it’s wholly in the spirit of not only the holiday, but also NBA Jam, a franchise that previously allowed Raiden, Will Smith, and Bill Clinton on the roster. The only thing holding this Santa appearance back from a higher spot is the unfortunate implication that this is, like every other mascot in the NBA, just a regular dude (with mad ups) in a Santa costume, and not the real McCoy. Yes, children, Hugo the gigantic blue/green hornet is not a real human-bee hybrid. There is no such thing. Sorry to ruin that for you.

The Sixth Day of Gaming Christmas: Secret of Mana

It's a secret to everybodyYes, please Santa, give me the weird stuff. Santa Claus is an actual character in the Secret of Mana world. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his reindeer, Rudolph. Santa once tried to steal a Mana Seed to grow a giant Christmas tree, but he became possessed by its power, and was transformed into a (literal, color-swapped) monster as a result. However, the Heroes of Mana helped Santa return to normal, and we all learned a valuable lesson about playing with someone else’s chestnuts. Except… uh… can we think about this for a minute? What holiday does Santa celebrate? Is it Christmas? Is there a Christ in the Mana world? Because there is definitely a Mana Goddess over there, as she has appeared and directly intervened in this world on multiple occasions. And she’s, like, tangible. Sometimes she’s your girlfriend! Is she in competition with a/the Christian God? Is Santa one of the last few believers in Christmas and, thus, Christ? In the name of Randi, what is going on here!?

The Seventh Day of Gaming Christmas: Batman: Arkham Origins

I AM THE NIGHTLet’s focus on something more plausible: it’s not easy being Batman: Arkham Origins. This is the forgotten middle child of the Arkham franchise; it is not the stellar premiere, the exhilarating Gargoyles fanfic, nor the one with the goddamned bat-tank. It wasn’t even developed by Rocksteady, so there are a number of people that don’t even consider B:AO a “real” Arkham title. But, try as they might, surly fans can’t take the most important thing away from Batman: Christmas. Batman may or may not be a strict Christian (all of that punching doesn’t seem very Jesus-y), but Christmas certainly exists in his world (actually, Batman has literally teamed up with an angel on occasion, so it’s factually true that capital-G God exists in the DC Universe), and this adventure takes place on Christmas Eve. And, granted, the setting might just be there to be a backdrop to explain why a blizzard has blocked off any not-coded sections of Gotham, but still! It is your favorite superhero opposite your favorite holiday (No, not Groot on Arbor Day). Like Twisted Metal or Parasite Eve before it, Batman: Arkham Origins effectively uses the Christmas setting for some holiday hijinks, so it’s more jolly than your average “here’s a Santa now” game.

The Eighth Day of Gaming Christmas: Home Alone

Like a certain flying mammal-themed hero, Kevin McCallister must repel criminals opposite a Christmas backdrop. And, while Batman only has a game or two that involves Christmas (I think the Sega CD version sneaks some Holidaze in there), every Home Alone game is Christmas themed. Did you know the Sega Genesis version involved filling up the Wet Bandit’s “pain meters”? Or that the SNES version was all about hording as much wealth as possible? Or that the NES version was absolutely awful? But regardless of platform, it’s always Christmas for Kevin, so Home Alone is indisputably a Christmas game. Granted, it is just because it is based on a Christmas movie, but we’ll ignore that technicality for the sake of the children.

The Ninth Day of Gaming Christmas: Elite Beat Agents

AGENTS ARE GOElite Beat Agents is not a Christmas game. However, it does include one level, A Christmas Gift, that features You’re the Inspiration, a song originally performed by Chicago. The premise of the stage is that young child Lucy Stevens (whom it is noted wants to marry someone like her dad) loses her father to an accident, and the Elite Beat Agents sing to inspire a little girl and her mother to reconcile in the face of a Christmas where daddy is never going to be home ever again. Or maybe he comes back as a ghost? And that’s the true spirit of Christmas? Whatever. What’s important is that if you fail this level, you simultaneously ruin Christmas, a seven-year-old’s day, and the entire afterlife of some bear-purchasing phantasm. So be extra careful with that stylus.

The Tenth Day of Gaming Christmas: Persona 4

WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING HEREI will admit that I have on occasion claimed to be an expert in Japanese culture. This is predominantly because I play a lot of videogames and watch a lot of anime, so I understand that Japanese people routinely ride their giant robots to please their fathers, transform into magical costumes to repel the Negaverse, and occasionally consume mushrooms to grow large. I have also learned much from the Persona franchise, which simulates the life of your typical Japanese high school boy and his ever expanding harm of classmates, teachers, and any random woman that happens to cross his path. And, most of all, I have learned that Christmas is apparently not a religious holiday in Japan, but a romantic one. You’re supposed to spend it with your sweetie! And deny any and all sexual autonomy of your mate, if at all possible! And maybe that’s why you go to jail on Christmas in Persona 5! … Maybe! In conclusion, Japan has a very rich and varied culture.

The Eleventh Day of Gaming Christmas: Holiday Lemmings

Here they goIt’s Lemmings, but everything is Christmas themed. Everything. This ain’t some Donkey Kong Country nonsense, this is Lemmings, but every lemming gets a Santa outfit, every song is Jingle Bells, and every level is celebrating an extremely White Christmas. Given there were multiple Holiday Lemmings releases over the years, this was probably as close as we could ever get to some annual holiday cheer from a popular gaming franchise back in the 90’s. Unfortunately, the Lemmings seem to have fallen off a cliff since the end of the 20th Century, so these Christmas capers have been lost to the ages. Should old Lemmings be forgot, and never brought to DOS, though, we still have the most prominent “Christmas Special” in gaming…

The Twelfth Day of Gaming Christmas: Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams

Nighty nightIt is impossible to relay the significance of Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams to modern audiences. You know Mario 64? The game the defined the Nintendo 64, and changed gaming forever? Well, imagine if, after the success of that, someone decided to release Mario 64 again, but it was only Bob-Omb Battlefield, and Mario had a new hat, but only when the internal clock hit a certain date. And, somehow, fans fixated hard on this barely new content, and regarded the whole thing as an entirely new game, because Mario made a passing mention of already collecting 120 stars or something. Well, NiGHTS was the Sega Saturn’s attempt to be Mario 64, and Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams is its bizarre, complimentary spinoff. It has a story! It has karaoke! It has Sonic the Hedgehog in 3-D for the first time ever! And it’s all completely dependent on the time of year, so if you want to see Santa, you better play on Christmas. It is also a scarce commodity, releasing only for the generally ignored Sega Saturn, and a Playstation 2 Sega Age re-release that changed a few things. Other than that, if you want to see NiGHTS as jolly as possible, you’re stuck, and you better hope Sega All-Stars Racing came up with some holiday DLC.

So Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams simply must be the most Christmas game there ever could be. It only truly works one day a year, is extremely limited, and is inexplicably the hottest item of the holiday season, despite being, ya know, friggin’ NiGHTS. Videogames as a whole may not have as many Christmas specials as other mediums, but there are at least a dozen or so games that mostly acknowledge Christmas exists.

Merry bananamas, Donkey Kong. Merry bananamas, everybody.

FGC #556 Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, Wii, Wii U, and now Switch. You can find this Christmas cheer on an overwhelming number of Nintendo systems.
  • Number of players: That weird kind of Donkey Kong 2-player that nobody likes.
  • Let's have funPort-o-Call: The Gameboy Advance version made a number of changes, including redesigning the Brother Bears, adding a whole world and boss, and giving Cranky an actual place to shine (or something like that) in his own dojo. It’s kind of a shame the “basic” SNES version is the one that is rereleased over and over again.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I like Donkey Kong Country 3 more than Donkey Kong Country 2. There. I said it. DKC3 is all over the place with a pile of half-baked gimmicks and techniques that last for maybe one stage, tops. And it’s disorienting! One random stage in the middle of the second world is a race? Comes out of nowhere, and is never seen again. But, that said, it seems like most of the bonus areas and their attendant challenges are at least related to the stage du jour, whereas DKC2 has that same kind of short attention span, but completely randomizes where what is a “challenge” is placed throughout the game. Or, put another way, I’m still salty about fake thorn vines in DKC2. All that said, all the DKC games are a fun time, but I might have had the least frustration with DKC3.
  • Favorite Kong: This game is so totally designed for Kiddy Kong that Dixie feels almost entirely perfunctory. I think I counted on one paw the number of times her float jump was useful, whereas Kiddy’s general roll and momentum was nearly always the answer (when you haven’t been transformed into another animal).
  • The Places You’ll Go: I always appreciated the interactive map/overworld of Donkey Kong Country 3. It might be a pain in the ass to have to steer your Kongs into a non-descript beach just to find a Banana Bird, but this does feel like the evolution of a “map world” first introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3. I always wanted to go exploring in those games, particularly with an ape-built helicopter.
  • It's snowyFavorite Boss: Belcha is a giant barrel that attempts to crowd the Kongs off the stage. He’s just like Crocomire, though less slimy (and less likely to become a skeleton). Possibly because he is so familiar, Belcha has always been my favorite, even if he is fought in the infinitely boring “mill” background.
  • Did you know? The official story for this game is that Donkey and Diddy were kidnapped during their fishing trip. I’m not certain “Donkey Kong fishing” has ever been seen before or since in the Donkey Kong franchise, but I am interested in seeing Link and DK team up to fish against Animal Crossing Villager and Byleth. Noctis can judge!
  • Would I play again: I like this Double Trouble, so I’ll probably play it again in… oh… Let’s say another five years.

What’s next? We’re going to toss some Kingdom Hearts nonsense in here, and then, a week from today, you’ll be able to read my annual year in review. Oh boy! My opinions on things! Please look forward to it!

FGC #383 Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg

Here is the case for Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg:

Billy!

And here is the main reason anyone ever bought Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg:

Sonic!

And that starburst is no lie. Billy Hatcher is the creation of Sonic Team and its (then) head, Yuji Naka, the man widely credited with the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog.

But does that mean anything?

Sonic!Let’s start with Yuji Naka. To start, Yuji Naka is a programmer, not an artist or character designer, but it is that programming that is absolutely the reason we have Sonic the Hedgehog. Naka created one simple trick for animating hedgehogs: he developed an algorithm for rendering sprites on curves. And that’s huge! We absolutely take it for granted now, but the very concept of Sonic on a loop would be impossible without such coding. So, sure, Naka didn’t draw the first Sonic, nor did he design the hedgehog’s levels, but he was responsible for a part of Sonic that is so iconic, it is still a huge part of the blue blur today. You don’t see Mario doing loops, but it is practically synonymous with Sonic the Hedgehog.

And the rest of Yuji Naka and Sonic Team’s history seems to be based around similar breakthroughs.

I don’t need to write a history of Sonic the Hedgehog, as such a thing has been covered by minds much greater than mine. However, there is a dearth of information on the trajectory of Sonic Team. We all know about Sonic, CDs, and Knuckles, but let’s talk about the heroes that never met Eggman. Let’s revisit Ristar.

GRAB!Naka didn’t seem to have much to do with Ristar, but the basic concept for the adventure came from his pre-rolling ideas for Sonic the Hedgehog. The “original” Sonic (or at least one of them) was a bunny that would grab enemies with his extendable ears. This concept fell by the wayside when Sonic earned his speed and rolling (rabbits don’t roll, do they?), but was eventually revived for Ristar. And it was good! In a time of innumerable “mascots with attitude” (which only existed because of Sonic anyway), Ristar stood out not only for his memorable design, but also his fun “grab and fling” gameplay. Sure, we’d see something similar again with Mischief Makers, but it was almost wholly unique for the time (and still is). Ristar, like Sonic, rode a wave of a new and interesting gameplay mechanic, and could easily have been the hedgehog’s successor.

But Ristar premiered all of a few months before the release of the Sega Saturn, so that rising star got eclipsed by a planet, and was never seen again.

But Sonic Team still had Sonic, so they still had the ear of their parent company. That Saturn release brought new opportunities, and, with the innovation of an analogue controller, Nights Into Dreams made the scene.

And, boy, did that game ever suck.

FLY!Okay, I’m just salty because Nights is a terrible, terrible game, but many people saw the appeal of the action floating title. Once again, Sega took a new technology (the aforementioned analogue controller), and married it to some gameplay that had never been seen before. Naka (he’s back!) endeavored to make a game that was based on flight, but a more gentle flight, as opposed to the cape or raccoon-based actions of some other heroes. And, to Nights’ credit, that feeling absolutely comes through during the gameplay. Nights may have been phenomenally boring for anyone that was expecting another Mario 64, but, taken on its own terms, it’s a pleasant experience. Once again, Sonic Team used unique physics and development to create a singular game, this time complete with the rare human character that has the same kind of universal appeal as your more memorable mascots.

But the Saturn crashed and burned, so there was no new Sonic to be found there.

But speaking of burning, Sonic Team’s next big release was Burning Rangers, a sort of action/FPS-ish mash-up that focused on futuristic firefighters… uh… fighting fires. It’s what they do. At a time when Doom and Final Fantasy 7 alike were setting the world ablaze with complicated heroes and murder rates that put Robocop’s Detroit to shame, Burning Rangers was a semi-serious “anime game” that focused not on combating people or demons, but fires. And the future setting allowed for some interesting gameplay maneuvers, like jet boots (always appreciated) and a host of fire-retardant “weapons”. And the fires looked pretty cool, too! It’s still the Sega Saturn, but fire was a lot more believable here than on a number of contemporary systems. Go Burning Rangers, go! For inflammable justice!

Unfortunately, Burning Rangers had the dual problems of “not good enough (hit detection)” and “such small portions (of four levels)”, so it got flushed down the same toilet as the Saturn. Oh, and there wasn’t a memorable enough character in the whole ranger squad.

MICE!But the Dreamcast brought new opportunities, and a metric mickey-load of mice. ChuChu Rocket! was described as an action puzzle game, but that is completely wrong. ChuChu Rocket! is frenetic joy in mini, mousey form. Once again, Yuji Naka used the latest technology to create something that appeared to be graphically simple, but had a lot going on under the hood. At any given ChuChu moment, there may be hundreds (or at least a hundred) lil’ mice on the screen at a time. While we take such a thing for granted nowadays, that was an exciting new frontier in 1999. And the Dreamcast was capable of supporting this nonsense not only on the couch, but online as well. No small feat in the age of AOL. Or, actually, it meant a lot of small feet puttering around and attempting to avoid KapuKapus. And, can’t stress this enough, ChuChu Rocket! was one of the best multiplayer games of the era, and certainly the most unique.

But it all paled in comparison to Sonic Team’s Phantasy Star Online. Naka simply produced this title, but it was another example of Sonic Team pushing technology to the limits. In this case, the online capabilities of the Dreamcast were extended to create arguably the first MMORPG on a console. And it was good! And fun! And full of hungry mags! And if it were released on a system that was actually popular, and during an era when high speed internet was standard (and not the exclusive domain of college students) it might have been one of the defining works of the genre. But, unfortunately, PSO seems to be remembered and recounted in the same breaths as Atari’s Adventure: it basically started a genre, and did it well, but by the time that genre was actually mainstream, the ancestor was all but forgotten. Sorry, PSO, at least we’ll always have old Penny Arcade strips to remind us of the good old days.

Samba de Amigo was also a Dreamcast title that utilized a brand new piece of technology. And that tech was… plastic maracas. Uh, for some reason, that failed to capture the zeitgeist of the nation.

EGG!And then, finally, we arrive at our “from the creators of Sonic the Hedgehog” title of the day, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. BHatGE was the first new Sonic Team IP to ever appear on a non-Sega system. Sonic Team had already gained some Gamecube experience with rereleases of the Sonic Adventure titles, and Billy Hatcher does feel like a natural evolution of the SA engine. But this is no mere Sonic clone! Even with a “spin dash” like egg rolling skill, nearly all of Billy’s moveset is all new… or at least all different. Rolling an egg and “using” the egg for acrobatic maneuvers sounds pretty straightforward (see any game where you push boulders or blocks), but it’s obvious that a lot of care and effort went into… egg physics? Is that a thing? What’s important is that “Billy” and “Billy with an egg” are arguably two totally different characters, and the utilization of both movesets (and protecting your egg whenever possible) is important to making progress.

So if you’re expecting Sonic out of Billy Hatcher, or any other non-Sonic Sonic Team game, you’re out of luck. Billy Hatcher is no more Sonic the Hedgehog than Ristar or Burning Rangers. But if you look at the history of Sonic Team’s other adventures, that’s exactly what should be expected. Sure, Sonic Team is known for their eponymous mascot, but they have an established history of using new technology and techniques to create new IPs and experiences. Granted, not a single one of them has moved on to anything but random crossover games, but it’s the thought that counts. After all, the world would be a lesser place without Nights or PSO, so keep on innovating, Sonic Team! And keep on rolling, Billy Hatcher!

FGC #383 Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube. There was also a PC port in Europe, because… I have no idea.
  • Number of players: Multiplayer egg races are available, so four. Did you know that Billy has all sorts of friends that I absolutely cannot name right now? Maybe his girlfriend is named Roll? I might be thinking of some other hero, though.
  • GET OUTSonic Team Coda: Aside from Feel the Magic, it seems post-Billy Sonic Team has been exclusively sticking to established IPs, like Phantasy Star and Puyo Pop. However, the spirit of innovation seems to live on in the Sonic series, as it’s pretty obvious how Sonic Unleashed was an attempt at 3-D Ristar. Of course, most of this experimentation has not been remotely well received by the fanbase, so is it any wonder that Naka is moving on to squarer pastures?
  • So, did you beat it? Back in the day, I got really into Billy Hatcher, and unlocked/beat about 95% of the game. I exploded so many ravens, it was ridiculous. This was back when Mario 64-esque action games were completely my jam. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I no longer have the attention span to 100% most any game that includes physical challenges (JRPGs are easy, and can be 100%’ed while watching The Good Place), so I kind of miss my old standards for dedication when I see a completed (or thereabouts) Gamecube-era save.
  • Favorite Hatchling: You can gain the cooperation of a KapuKapu, and that is marvelous.
  • Connectivity: Oh, and this is one of those old Gamecube games that utilized the ability to send games to your Gameboy Advance through a link cable (and, in this title, hatching the proper egg). I never got to test out such features (as it would have interrupted my Pokémon Ruby/Metroid Fusion time), but it’s always nice to have portable options. And to be reminded the VMU ever existed…
  • Aborted History: This was released during the epoch when Nintendo seemed kind of skittish about referencing other systems when a Nintendo alternative was available.

    Sonic!

    Look, it’s Sonic the Hedgehog! From that one Gamecube game!

  • Did you know? There is a real life Billy Hatcher! He played major league baseball for a number of teams back in the 80’s/90’s. William Augustus Hatcher’s batting average was 264, had 54 home runs, and he even played for the Philadelphia Phillies at a time when I remotely paid attention to such a thing. I am absolutely sure he doesn’t see a dime of royalties, either.
  • Would I play again: Billy Hatcher is an interesting, enjoyable game. I’d be all about a Billy Hatcher 2, but I doubt I’ll ever play the original again. This is another Sonic Team forgotten gem (emerald?), but I think I like Sonic Team’s more memorable gems better.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sega 3D Classics Collection for the 3DS! Guess we’re going to see Sonic again, but with a little more depth this time. Please look forward to it!

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