Tag Archives: nintendo entertainment system

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

FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

Let's danceDear things I loved as a child: please don’t embarrass me as an adult.

Garfield: Caught in the Act is a game I played when I was a child. Why? Come on, stupid, you know the answer to this one: like all right-thinking children, I loved Garfield. Some of my first purchases as a good little consumer were Garfield collections bought from the school book fair, and one of my favorite cartoons was Garfield & Friends. Despite the fact that a solid three pages scarred me for life, Garfield: His 9 Lives was one of the earliest books/comic books/graphic novels that I remember reading and rereading until the pages crumbled to dust. So, yeah, given the opportunity to play a Sega Genesis game starring Garfield, I jumped on the cartridge like a cat on lasagna.

And Garfield: Caught in the Act is… well… I mean… You can see that they tried, right? Coming off of Aladdin, this is obviously a videogame that leans heavily into that whole “hand drawn sprite animation” trend. Garfield looks gorgeous. He runs. He jumps. He dances! And he does it all with a full range of motion that would even put his daily cartoon to shame. Eat it, US Acres, this is the good stuff. And the Catsablanca stage? With that faux monochrome style? C’est la fête. Unfortunately, the gameplay does not quite live up to the visuals. Garfield is gorgeous, yes, but the actual levels seem sloppy, with frequent traps and enemies that come out of nowhere. What’s more, the designers seemed to recognize that Garfield was going to take a lot of damage, so he has ten hit points, and life power-ups are distributed roughly every nine inches. This leads to a weird situation wherein, aside from the handful of bosses, you almost always feel like you are playing the game… wrong. Are you supposed to be taking this much damage? Tanking this many hits? Probably, because there are another six hamburgers ahead, so you may as well soak those malevolent ghosts. And G:CitA relies on level design that is very… Bubsy… with a number of branching paths and “underground” areas that require random doors and the screen’s focus fuddling all over the map. The game is pretty to look at, but not exactly delightful to hold.

Holy CatsAnd, as someone who has continued to follow Garfield titles through adulthood, this seems to be the standard for our favorite orange feline. Garfield and his Nine Lives for Gameboy Advance has about as much to do with the comic of the same name as Garfield has to do with exercise, but it is another pleasant enough micro platformer. The same could be said for Garfield and The Search for Pooky. They’re passable, and the worst you can say is that they are clearly not the kind of lovingly crafted games you’d find elsewhere on the system. And if you’re looking for something on modern consoles, try Garfield Kart: Furious Racing. This one allows you to play as any number of Garfield luminaries (Liz! You know Liz! The woman that made Jon drink dog sperm? Her!) with gameplay that matches Mario Kart: Double Dash (complete with blue sparks), but is otherwise a fairly generic kart racer. And that’s fine! It’s a Garfield game, and that lazy cat has been sponsoring mediocre games for decades now.

Garfield is just kind of there, being occasionally funny, but at least reliably marginally entertaining. As one of my favorite childhood comic strips, I’m rather happy to see Garfield popping up on occasion, and I enjoy getting reacquainted with these old friends (when the related games are on sale for like ten bucks). Garfield made me happy as a child, and he brings a smile to my face even now.

And then there’s Dilbert.

Fuck Dilbert.

Beat the bossBack to autobiography land, I was a voracious reader as a child, but it was years before I encountered another comic strip that captured my attention like Garfield. The comic strips of the day were generally aimed at parents, the elderly, and whatever the hell is the audience for Pluggers. It seemed like the comic strips that were aimed at kids were too kiddy, and the ones that were aimed at adults were too exclusive (yes, B.C., please make another joke about President Taft. That doesn’t get old). And then Dilbert came along, and I was enrapt. It may seem weird that a comic primarily about office work appealed to a kid that was still a few years away from having his first job, but you really have to understand the weird timeframe wherein Dilbert came into prominence. Did you know that not everyone used to have a computer? Or access to the internet? The cast of Doonesbury had never seen a computer, and it was likely because the author was right there on the same page. But Dilbert! Here was a place where computers not only existed, but they could be involved in jokes! Nobody made jokes about computers! Or the internet! Or Linux nerds! There was an entire strip that called Linux nerds bearded, suspender wearing weirdos! That was funny and accurate! Holy RAM, Dilbert, you’re speaking my language!

And, lest you think it was just a matter of my nerdy tendencies, there was something else about Dilbert that caught my eye. The secret truth of Dilbert? The entire strip is about a handful of mundane characters that are smarter than literally everyone else on Earth. The public at large seemed to fixate exclusively on the pointy-haired boss and his boundless incompetence, but the premise of roughly 80% of Dilbert strips is simply “Dilbert is smarter than everyone else”. And, spoilers, regardless of your own standing in life, you are supposed to relate to Dilbert. You are supposed to see the rest of the world as a bunch of belligerent nitwits, and you are Dilbert, the mouthless man that steps back and stares through the fourth wall in a way that says, “Wow, ain’t this guy a moron? Nyuk nyuk.” And if Dilbert’s general helplessness isn’t doing it for your ego, then there’s Dogbert, who is consistently portrayed as a genius that is capable of conquering the world… Go doctorbut doesn’t feel like doing that this week. “Bah,” he says as he waves his paw. And if you think this assessment of Dilbert is somehow incorrect, here is a simple reminder that the first Dilbert collection was titled “Always Postpone Meetings With Time-Wasting Morons”, and the first original Dilbert book was “Dilbert’s Clues For The Clueless”, which took time on every page to outline a different kind of “clueless” person. Dilbert is about life in an office, yes, but it is more about how the great, unwashed masses are a bunch of “clueless” yokels.

And, dang, I don’t mind telling you that pre-teen and particularly teenage Goggle Bob ate that shit up with a spoon. You tell ‘em, Dilbert, you’re the only person on Earth that knows what’s up!

Of course, when you put it that way, it should have been obvious the author of Dilbert, Scott Adams, would become some kind of… is there even a word for this? Wannabe fascist? That sounds right.

I’m not going to review the many sins of Mr. Adams over the last few years, but let’s stick to one quote from 2016. After the 2016 Democratic Convention, he had this to say:

“If you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men.”

Hail to the kingSo maybe he’s just a misogynist? He definitely has supported Trump in a variety of ways over the last few years, and it seems like a significant factor there is the misbegotten belief that Trump is some manner of “alpha male” (or, in Scott’s own words, he has an impressive “talent stack”). Now we don’t know if this is because Adams truly sees the orange, lumpy Donald Trump as the pinnacle of humanity, or if an inheritance tax would be a threat to his income, or just because he legitimately believes that republicans would be hunted under a democratic regime. Nobody knows! But one thing is clear: Scott Adams was anxious to support a wannabe dictator, and has repeatedly, consistently defended his backing of Donald Trump, despite openly admitting it has impacted his speaking engagements/income. The man is so deep in the Trump camp, he’s finding Rudy Giuliani’s discarded llama bones.

Oh, okay, one more quote from the man:

Seriously!?

Yeah, sure that makes perfect sense, undecided voter.

And, yes, I’m downright ashamed to have ever supported the man. And most people aren’t “online enough” to even know he’s very publicly one of the 72,000,000 people that evidently vehemently supports a man that is totally okay with hundreds of thousands of Americans dying for no reason. And, because some people in my family distinctly remember my Dilbert obsession from twenty years ago (and know damn well that I am still a giant nerd), I occasionally am still gifted Dilbert merchandise. My dad winds up getting me a Dilbert calendar every year! And that’s directly supporting a man that would manifestly be perfectly okay with some of my good friends being sent to the Gulag (or worse)! And is already totally cool with children being stowed in cages! I like Catbert as much as the next guy, but that is a bit over the line.

Er-hem. Sorry. This gets me a little… exasperated.

It's Gameboy timeSo what’s the point here? Scott Adams sucks, and Jim Davis is awesome because his celebrity is used for milquetoast endeavors? Hating Mondays works better than hating bosses? Dilbert should eat more lasagna? Nah, it’s never that simple. I think the lesson here is that, in this age of “cancel culture” (the quotes mean I take this phenomenon about as seriously as the ever-present threat of bigfoot), you don’t need to be “cancelled” to be noxious. No one ever told me that the author of Dilbert was some kind of toxic creature, I simply identified that from his very public beliefs and statements. I am never going to buy Dilbert merchandise again, despite my initial love for the franchise, because the idea of Scott Adams profiting off my vices is repellant. I am, however, going to download Garfield Kart, because, what the heck, it might be a fun time, and Jim Davis seems pretty alright. Maybe I’m wrong! But, in a world where I could either defend Scott Adams (with my wallet) or ignore his output for the rest of my days, I’m going to go with the latter. This isn’t because of some monolithic “cancel movement” or whatever, it is simply because everything the man says deters me. Simple as that.

Garfield, you might not have the best games around, but thank you for simply being you in these tumultuous times. I’ll airmail an annoying kitten to Abu Dhabi in your honor.

He did alright

Thanks, Jim.

FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

  • System: Sega Genesis. From the people that brought you Star Wars Arcade and Eternal Champions, apparently.
  • Number of players: Garfield is a loner cat.
  • Favorite Boss: Level 2/Cave Cat was apparently supposed to originally be Level 1, but it was determined Cave Cat was no fun, and Level 1 became the original Level 2, Count Slobula’s Castle. That said, Cave Cat does end with a battle with a giant skeleton, so it’s pretty great.
  • An end: Credit where credit is due, G:CinA has an “alien” final boss that is made from discarded television components, and he’s rendered in Vectorman-esque uncanny, 16-bit 3-D. Considering the rest of the game is lavish 16-bit “normal” 2-D animation, it really makes the final challenge pop. It’s just kind of a shame that that “final challenge” is a silly mirror-pushing puzzle.
  • WeeeeeeHey, not all of these pictures are from Garfield: Caught in the Act: Yes, well, I wanted to see if any of Garfield’s other adventures held up and/or descended into fascism. They mostly don’t. But, if you’re curious, the other images are from Garfield and his Nine Lives for Gameboy Advance, and Furious Racing for the Nintendo Switch. Also Dr. Garfield, which is imaginary and not available as a ROM patch, obviously.
  • Say something nice about Garfield and his Nine Lives: This game seems a lot more focused than Garfield: Caught in the Act, as you’re not expected to soak a hit every three inches. That said, it’s also a lot less meticulous in its graphics, and certainly looks like a desperate cash grab. It’s slightly better than Monsters Inc. for the GBA, though!
  • Say something nice about Garfield Kart Furious Racing: This really is an exact clone of Mario Kart Double Dash’s mechanics. Even though you’re only ever racing as one Garfieldian character, you can hold two powerups at once. It’s very familiar! And every item has an easy, two-button option for whether you launch it ahead or behind your racer. The tracks and the characters are rather mundane, but the general usability of Furious Racing is surprisingly high.
  • It is Furious, though, not Furry-ous? Correct. It’s a shame.
  • Did you know? Garfield is forever tainted by Mike Pence loving the rotund cat. This probably doesn’t have anything to do with Pence loving other, slightly larger orange animals.
  • Would I play again: Maybe! Garfield is responsible for good vibes, so I might play, like, a level again. It’s pretty to look at!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon: Sword: Isle of Armor & Crown Tundra Expansion! Yeah! Sure! Let’s believe that was randomly chosen, and I don’t just want to talk about Pokémon again! So get ready for, ya know, talking about Pokémon again! Please look forward to it!

Crunch
In Sega Genesis, television eats you!

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

Dispatches from an alternative universe!
This article is provided by Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724

Let's do the MarioThe original Super Mario Bros. brought the concept of gaming back from the brink of ruin. So it seems only appropriate that, 35 years later, we examine its sequel, the game that crashed the videogame market forever.

Super Mario Bros. was a revelation here, there, and everywhere. When it was released in 1985, Nintendo knew they had a hit on their hands within a mere four months, which wound up being plenty of time for its creators and curators to consider a sequel. What was it about Super Mario Bros. that everyone enjoyed? Running? Jumping? Malevolent chestnuts? Jumping on malevolent chestnuts? Nobody had the answers, but the designers of Mario did have a theory: people wanted more. They had already begun working on arcade versions of Super Mario Bros., and, given this version was thirsty for quarters, it was designed to be more difficult. Could this be adapted to be the official sequel to Super Mario Bros.? Why not! Super Mario Bros. 2 would be a game that assumed you had already played Super Mario Bros. 1 until your eyes popped out of your skull, and, after a licensed optometrist put those peepers back in place, you’d be ready for more Mario challenges.

So, on a metaphorical level, Super Mario Bros. 2 was designed not to start with World 1, but Super Mario Bros. 1 World 9-1. There are no simple “tutorial” words in Super Mario Bros. 2, just militant turtles and twisting mazes. There are new mushrooms that do not grant Mario new abilities, but simply poison the plumber. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not only a game that requires you master Mario’s physics before you even pop the cartridge in your system, it is also a game that requires you memorize the intricacies of its often dubious world. Super Mario Bros. 1 disguised the length of a handful of castles with a looping maze that required a particular path, but Super Mario Bros. 2 habitually leans on warp pipes that will send Mario back to the start of a stage, or even the start of the game. Super Mario Bros. 2 requires dedication from its audience, and it makes absolutely no concessions for a novice player (give or take a secret way to earn a hundred lives within its opening level). You will lose all of your progress often and repeatedly, and only complete knowledge of the game will allow you to circumvent a frequent, inglorious Game Over.

This sucksIt seems the tipping point for this tale happened when Super Mario Bros. 2 was being exported to America. Howard Lincoln, a man who was responsible for play-testing games for American audiences, felt the game was too difficult, and would not play well with American audiences. He famously said of the game, “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.” However, Lincoln’s protests were ignored. While there was brief discussion regarding “reskinning” another title as “Super Mario Bros. 2 USA”, Super Mario Bros. 2 was released as is, with no changes or tweaks made to the abhorrent difficulty of the game. America was going to face down its first poisonous mushroom, and it would not be left in the cold by its Japanese brothers.

And it was a success. Of course it was a success! Nintendo had already set out to make Mario the most well-known mascot since Mickey Mouse, and, back in the 80’s, it looked like they were going to succeed. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 2 was difficult, but it was flanked by The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Nintendo Cereal System, and Nintendo’s own propaganda rag, Nintendo Power. In fact, many claim the success of Super Mario Bros. 2 could be attributed to its place on the cover of Nintendo Power #1 (famously showing a clay Mario as he grabbed a flagpole in front of a blue Bowser) and spread across the “tips and tricks” contained therein. Super Mario Bros. 2 needed a comprehensive guide if you hoped to conquer it, and Nintendo wisely delivered such in every toy and book store across the country. Before long, everyone was “beating” Super Mario Bros. 2, and it seemed like the gambit of releasing such a difficult game paid off. Sure, SMB2 was “beyond Nintendo hard”, but Nintendo stepped in to help the players, and, ultimately the game itself.

Unfortunately, other games weren’t so lucky.

As was said at the time: so goes Mario, so goes the world. Super Mario Bros. (1) inspired a thousand 2-D platforming clones that all attempted to capture the magic of Mario. Did any succeed? Yes, a small handful did, but certainly no greater than a dozen. Super Mario Bros. 2 had a similar effect on the trajectory of videogames. Where once a sequel would account for new players (what would eventually become known as the nigh mythical “first time gamer”), all new sequels produced decided to follow Super Mario Bros. 2’s trail. This led to a variety of games that all seemed dedicated to murdering the player within the opening moments. Bubble Bobble 2’s starting “Floor 101” combined a million monsters with a timer that could barely be surmounted. Contra 2 led to a generation memorizing its “ten extra lives code” because you’d lose your first three inside of the opening seconds. Rygar 2 utilized every mapping “trick” available to create levels that had extremely poorly defined endpoints, and Gradius 2’s “poison powerups” made acquiring a shield intolerable. Final Fantasy 2 introduced an archaic leveling system that was about as opaque as a behemoth, and Dragon Quest (Warrior in the West) 2 featured dungeons that contained traps upon traps. Even Nintendo wasn’t immune to its own hype, as The Legend of Zelda 2 released with more invisible walls and spongey “green Moblins” than you could shake a stick at. And, to this day, no one has gotten past the first stage of Punch-Out 2 without tool assists. The only sequel that seemed to dodge this absurd difficulty fate was Mega Man 2, but, even there, some said the infamous Quick Man stage seemed like something that was “Super Mario Bros. 2 hard”.

And, God, what was done to Tetris 2 was criminal. It’s no wonder the Gameboy hardly lasted a year.

glub glubThough, of course, that was the inevitable end of this trend. Super Mario Bros. 2 was a success, but every game attempting to ape Super Mario Bros. 2 just hammered a nail into the coffin of gaming harder and harder. By the time of the predicted Super Mario Bros. 3 release, sales of Nintendo consoles had plummeted. Sure, this was the system that had Mario, Link, and Kid Icarus, but nearly every game that included a “2” was an awful slog of anti-fun. If this was the direction gaming was going, apparently the general public wanted nothing to do with it. In retrospect, it should have been expected: the Videogame Crash of 1983 was followed six short years later by the Videogame Crash of 1989. Stores stopped stocking videogames at all, and, by 1990, you could no more purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System in America than a pet rock. The fad of “gaming” had faded, returned, and faded all over again within the span of a decade.

And, like E.T. before it, everyone pointed to Super Mario Bros. 2 as the most prominent example of the reason no one wanted to touch a controller ever again.

So what became of gaming after the crash of ’89? There is no shame in not being aware of the last thirty years of videogame history, as the hobby became little more than a niche occupied by some very dedicated enthusiasts. Those that stuck around after Super Mario Bros. 2 demanded more and more severe challenges, and, given they were the entire audience, the gaming companies of yesterday and today were happy to oblige. Nintendo got out of the hardware business after the twin bombs of its Nintendo Entertainment System 2 and Super Mario Bros. 4 (infamously featuring a rideable dinosaur that would, after a set period of time, eat the player), but they are still making games for the personal computer, and the recent Super Mario Bros. 35 certainly seems to be 35 times as challenging as Mario’s original adventure. Other companies from the NES era, like Capcom and Ultra, faded into the ether, but they have been replaced by modern, “indie” developers that attempt to capture the feelings of the original titles like Castlevania 2 (a game that literally asked its players to bang their heads against cliffs). Oddly, it seems the most profitable gaming Wart?company in the modern era is a British gang by the name of Rare Limited, as their most recent release, Battletoads 3, is topping the sales charts. Granted, at this point, topping the videogame sales charts is roughly as financially relevant as selling the most model train sets in June, but it is still an accomplishment.

And that’s the world that Super Mario Bros. 2 created. It was a difficult, grueling videogame, and, thanks to its unprecedented success, every other company decided to make games that were more tedious than fun. As we now “celebrate” the 35th anniversary of the first Super Mario Bros. (there is even word President Dean will publically recognize the milestone), please remember that, thanks to one fateful sequel, Nintendo also smothered gaming in its crib.

One poison mushroom is all it takes…

Thank you for the guest article, Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724. I’ll be sending over my thank-you article about the failure of HD-DVD in this universe shortly!

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

  • Dodge 'emSystem: Nintendo Famicom originally, but most of the West saw it as part of the Super Mario All-Stars compilation on the Super Nintendo.
  • Number of players: It’s just one player, right? You have to choose a brother, but can’t cooperate? That is bad, and the game should feel bad.
  • Speaking of All-Stars: The 16-bit remake really did this game dirty. The original NES version clearly has graphics that are an upgrade over the original, “launch” Super Mario Bros. palette. However, the SNES version seems to use the majority of the same assets for both games, giving the impression that SMB2j was little more than an expansion for SMB1. Way to rewrite history, Nintendo!
  • Other complaints: No new enemies or “creatures” are introduced for Super Mario Bros. 2, save that lovely toxic fungus. The Mushroom Kingdom has one of the most interesting bestiaries in gaming, so it’s kind of a shame that the likes of bob-omb, shy guy, or dry bones didn’t premiere in this title. I like a goomba as much as the next guy, but Mario is at his best when he’s introducing something more interesting than “Blue Bowser”.
  • Mario or Luigi? As a child, I saw as a child, and assumed jump height was everything. Now, as an adult, I prefer a hero that is less slippery, and is not demolished by strong winds. I have matured.
  • Other connections: You cannot tell me the same thinking that inspired SMB2j’s ridiculous “spend half the level up above the boundaries thanks to overly powerful springs” level design is not also responsible for (real) Super Mario Bros. 2/Doki Doki Panic’s more albatross riding-based stages. It feels very familiar…
  • Watch those cloudsGoggle Bob Fact: Nintendo Power goaded me into finding World 9 and sending a picture of proof so I could earn a badge of honor for my accomplishment… but I’m pretty sure my dad never properly developed the film, and it may or may not have actually been mailed. Regardless, I do not have a spiffy trophy badge, and my life is all the worse for it.
  • Did you know? The A/B/C/D levels clearly reuse stage layouts from earlier in the game, but SMB2j doesn’t otherwise recycle any levels before rescuing a princess. This is in stark contrast with SMB1, which reuses levels constantly starting with World 5’s castle. Or am I just thinking of Super Mario 35
  • Would I play again: I would literally play any other Mario game first. I don’t really believe this game would have crashed the entire videogame industry exclusively because it is bad, but I do believe SMB2j and its hidden blocks/aggravating warps was basically the start of “Kaizo Mario”, and that’s never been the reason I play Mario titles. Sorry, history, I like fun games.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country 2 for the Super Nintendo! It’s sequel time, again, so it’s time to see Diddy’s Kong Quest! Please look forward to it!

I do not care for this

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

Cold IronWe live in an age of science and reason. We have knowledge of vaccines, microbes, and the periodic table of elements. But it took us a long time to get to this point. For hundreds of years, our understanding of the universe was much more limited, and our thoughts on how the world worked were based on simple, rudimentary building blocks of the universe. Obviously, I am talking about the four elements of nature: fire, wind, water, and earth.

But… why?

It’s interesting to consider how many different cultures and regions settled on the same basic group of elements. The basis of Western thinking in Ancient Greece had ironed out the four elements before Aristotle, but it was that king of philosophers that further outlined important bits of the lore (“science!”), such as “fire is hot and dry while water is cold and wet”. That’s why that dude got so many statues! But this isn’t a matter of everyone on Earth running with some Grecian ideas, Babylonia had gods that were personified as the “cosmic” elements sea, earth, sky, and wind. In India, the theoretical start of both Hinduism and Buddhism referenced a similar elemental quartet that occasionally included a fifth (space/zero/”spirit”) buddy. Buddhism even went as far as creating four elements of abstracts to properly parallel the more concrete elements of nature. It seems like the odd man out of the usual ancient “four elements” is China, which decided to forsake “wind” for “wood”, and also toss “metal” into the mix to create a perfect little pentagram of strengths and weaknesses. Fire melts metal, metal chops wood, wood is super effective against ground types. Of course, even western thinking would adopt metal in time, as it wound up as part of alchemy, which would greatly influence modern scientific thinking, as alchemy essentially pioneered concepts like different states of matter.

WooshBut who cares about the science of the elements? What has really persisted to this day has been the continual existence of “four elements” in pop culture. What was your first introduction to the elements? Was it Final Fantasy’s four crystals? Star Trek: The Next Generation’s S07e16: Thine Own Self? Avatar: The Last Air Bender? Artus Wolffort’s 1641 painting? Whatever was your first, know that this is not going away for future generations. Disney’s Frozen 2 was released sometime back when movie theaters were viable, and it led up to the reveal that there is a magical cave in a magical land that contains four elemental crystals. And Elsa is the missing fifth element (the element of merchandising). The four elements is a trope that is literally older than the written word, and it seems like it is going to be an element of our storytelling for generations to come.

But it’s difficult to determine exactly why the elements are so enduring. Yes, there is simplicity to the elements, but are they as much a part of modern life as they were back in the day? Absolutely not. I can’t remember the last time I had to give a damn about soil. Is that even still around? Or is it about the simplicity of “systems” that arise from the elements? Everybody can understand water beats fire, but that only really explains the presence of elements in videogames. Games are important (he wrote on the videogame blog), but they are not responsible for late 20th century Bruce Willis box office smashes. What’s the modern appeal of the elements? Why are they so persistent across media? Why are we eternally damned to ponder the effectiveness of “wind”?

Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II has the answer: the four elements are terrifying.

I have no ideaWizards and Warrios was a pretty… passable NES title, and W&W2 is… well, I can’t in good conscious say Ironsword is at all a good game. It’s not a bad game, but it was also one of my childhood NES titles (I assume my grandmother was distracted by Fabio on the cover, and bought it for me without a second thought), and, like its sequel, it is a very… broken game. There are some great ideas here! Every stage follows a basic three act rhythm (please the local animal king, find the wizard-bane spell, murder the wizard) with two distinct areas, effectively creating a large, ten stage world. That’s pretty great for the era! Also significant for the time is a bevy of bulky, expressive sprites. And Kuros actually graphically upgrades as he tempers his gear, so you go from being some dork with bug eyes and a butter knife to a heavily armored murder machine by the time you are tackling Ice-Fire Mountain.

But the drawbacks of Ironsword are significant. For one thing, this game has been in existence for 31 years, and our top scientists still haven’t discovered how you’re supposed to attack monsters without suffering damage. There is probably some intended suitable technique for ramming Kuros’s sword into the nearest demon creature, but, unless you’re using magic (available only at the tail end of every level), you’re probably going to take some hits just attempting to clear out the local creatures. And then there’s the platforming that involves an awful lot of inclines that shove Kuros every which way but up. Are you just missing a jump? Or is your hero weirdly magnetizing to surfaces that are trying to kill him? Who knows! And don’t even get me started on the economy of small keys, and how there are far more treasure chests than there are keys, and how you’re apparently going to be stuck grinding gold because you blew your inventory on opening the wrong chest. Random isn’t fun, Ste Pickford, and it never was!

Leap of faithBut there is one thing Ironsword gets absolutely right: Malkil is a bastard. Malkil was the ultimate boss and source of Kuros’s misery in the original Wizards and Warriors, but he was blown into non-corporeal bits at the end of that adventure. But you can’t keep a bad wizard down, so Malkil somehow extended his life force to possess the four elements. Now Malkil is an angry cloud in the air, some manner of giant block of ice in a river, sentient lava in a volcano, and a particularly pissed off rock deep in the Earth. These are all huge bosses (particularly by NES standards), and Kuros has to acquire distinct spells just to stand a remote chance against these corrupted elements. And, assuming Kuros can pull that off (possibly with the help of a Game Genie), then the final battle becomes a fight between Kuros and all four of the elements high above a mountaintop. Kuros has obtained the titular Ironsword (fifth element?) at this point, but Malkil is zooming around as four separate elemental ghosts (or… something), so saving the day is locked behind one of the most annoying battles of 1989. If you win, the four animal kings will thank you, but if you lose, you’re in good company, because that final fight is rough.

And that’s exactly the way the four elements should be.

Aang is allowed to preach balance, and Pokémon is allowed to claim there is always a strength for every weakness. But the sad truth of the matter is that humanity sucks in comparison to all-powerful nature. We build homes. We make cities. We claim to have conquered this wild world, but when the world decides to really get wild, we’re doomed. Let’s review those four elements again, shall we? Water brings floods, and, thanks to the general greed of humanity, much of our land is slated to be submerged beneath the waves. Wind is the domain of hurricanes, and, if you’ve never had a tree fall on your home/car/grandma, congratulations, you’re not currently in a month’s long negotiation with your insurance agency. Earth occasionally quakes, and the slightest rumble is going to really wreck up your gundam collection. And fire, theoretically the most manageable of all natural disasters (it’s not like it can literally zap us from the heavens or something), is occasionally spurned by the revelation of gender, and can thus burn into coasts to cinders. And this is all before when elements decide to work together, building the impressive fire tornado of our worst nightmares. In short, the elements are terrifying, Wooshand if you need evidence of this, there are good odds you literally don’t have to do more than peak your head out your window (“Yes, grandma, I can hear you, but I’m writing an article right now, and the lawyers say I’m not supposed to move that branch until after the settlement. I’ll bring some noodles out to you later, okay?”).

So thank you, Ironsword, for reminding us why the four elements are still relevant today. It’s not about balance. It’s not about magical crystals in a princess’s magical cave. It’s about fear. It’s about terror. It’s about the fact that if even a single element decided to turn against humanity (with or without the assistance of an evil wizard), it’s going to be a bad time. In the face of a tidal wave or raging fire, we are little more than a jumpy dude wielding a pointy stick. In our world, there is no spell of Earth’s bane, and we are wholly at the mercy of the four elements.

Thanks, Kuros, for reminding us all that we are nothing next to the four elements of the Earth.

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

  • It's hot in hereSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, and then never again. The Rare Replay passed this warrior by.
  • Number of players: Kuros stalks the land alone.
  • Best Magic Spell: The Asp’s Tongue spell is apparently a magical spell that allows the heroic Kuros to rob a shopkeeper. Look, whatever it takes to get a dude to toss meat in the air for a solid minute.
  • Like writing your name in the sand: This game does not have a battery backup. This means that you are welcome to put your name in the high score table all you want, but it’s never going to last past a power off. However, this is one of the ol’ password-based NES titles, so you can “save” your progress in that aggravating manner. Try to remember which character in the password determines your life count!
  • What’s in a name? “Malkil” is a portmanteau of “kill” and “mal”, which is the Latin prefix for “bad”. But Malkil is just his last name, his full name is Angry Murder Malkil.
  • Did you know? Kuros can acquire extra points by finding “The Relics of Sindarin” hidden in each level. These relics include a book, ring, gauntlet, and a cross. “Sindarin” is the Elven-Tongue from the Lord of the Rings. So the implication of the Sindarin Cross is obvious: Elves believed in Jesus.
  • Would I play again: I hate this game. I will not be accepting questions about that at this time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Avenging Spirit! That spirit gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Kaching