Tag Archives: nintendo entertainment system

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

Bubs n BobsThe release of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini offered me my first opportunity to play Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on something approaching “original” hardware. I had conquered Richter’s Big Adventure through emulation before (on the Wii and PSP), but I never completed the quest holding an actual approximation of a TG16 controller. And you know what confused me?

Take control

Damn, this thing got no buttons. That is practically a Nintendo Entertainment System Funpad for Babies™! This was the controller meant to steer Rondo of Blood? The game that is the direct prequel to one of the greatest games of all time? Which appeared on a system with a controller that contained, like, so many buttons and an eventual analogue stick or two? And all Richter had to beat back the forces of evil was little more than A & B? No, that cannot be right. A game that was a contemporary of Mortal Kombat 2, Mega Man X, and Secret of Mana surely could not be so limited by a controller and remain fun.

And then I used that same TurboGrafx-16 Mini to play Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. And now two buttons being loads of fun makes perfect sense.

Bubble Bobble has always been one of the most low-key best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is one of those unique-to-the-era experiences wherein game designers were not quite sure how to bridge the gap from arcade to home console parameters, and, what the hey, let’s just have a fun game with mostly contained levels and an overarching plot/theme that does eventually see a finish line. Bubble Bobble may have been experienced one non-scrolling screen at a time, but it had a variety of level configurations (hundo or so), interesting monsters, and a two-player simultaneous mode that could make enemies into friends and friends into enemies. Complete with a built-in hard mode and an excuse to call your neighbor over for bubbling times, Bubble Bobble had everything you could ever ask for in 1988 (or so).

Umbrella power!Unfortunately, not everything about Bubble Bobble was perfect. Bubble Bobble technically has precise controls, but sometimes getting your chosen dinosaur to do exactly what you want is a bit finicky. Who among us has not been trapped behind a wall, and forced to suss out the exact button combination to get Bub to properly bounce on a series of bubbles? Or been surprised at the relative difficulty of finding the correct way to pop a trapped opponent? Or finally reached the final boss, and then been downright confused at what you were supposed to do with that potion? Bubble Bobble is a great game, but we take for granted how much of its gameplay was predicated on knowing exactly what to do in any given situation. Granted, the same could be said for many games, but Bubble Bobble was one that could have used a little more tweaking to be immediately understandable.

And tweaks did occur in time for Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. Rainbow Islands (effectively Bubble Bobble 2) had a variety of… let’s call them… “innovative” gameplay elements that… may or may not have worked. Parasol Stars wisely decided to drop the meteorological-based play of Rainbow Islands and give the (now human) Bub and Bob a pair of parasols to better simulate classic Bubble Bobble gameplay. In much the same way a monster was once stunned by a bubble, now an umbrella can paralyze an opponent on contact, and then they can be pushed, thrown, or just eliminated at will. And you are going to want to use that push command plenty, because there are other monsters that are about “4 times your mass” size, and they can only be conquered by using smaller monsters as projectiles. Or maybe you could use those actual projectiles laying around…

Stay dampAs much as any other part of its progenitor title, Parasol Stars seems to distinctly build on the finale of Bubble Bobble. Now every “world” has a boss, and every boss is encountered in the same room as a potion that will grant magical powers to your parasol. No mere umbrella is going to vanquish Super Tom-kun, so the elements of water, fire, lightning, and star (it’s an element!) are going to have to help out. And, while you can simply launch little “bubbles” of these elements at your foes, you do have the option of “charging” and multiplying their power into a massive, unique attack. Fire lights the floor ablaze! Water creates a flood! Star makes stars (but, like, more stars)! And, considering these elemental potions create gameplay that is closer to Mega Man than anything involving bubbles popping, you can more easily focus on the task at hand. No need to figure out a boss pattern and how the hell your offense is going to work! These may be familiar elemental attacks at work, but the upgrade from Bubble Bobble to Parasol Stars has never been so obvious.

But that’s not all, folks! Despite Bub & Bob seemingly only requiring the limited general offensiveness of OG Bubble Bobble, there is a lot more to these magical parasols than meets the eye. You can find elemental bubbles in normal stages, for instance, and effortlessly balance these balls to charge up floods ‘n fires. And you can fire the bolts in multiple directions, just like launching monsters all over the place. And navigating these stages is a breeze, too, as you can ride the breeze with those umbrellas. Float leisurely down for an enemy ambush. And all you have to do is hold a button a little longer! Bub and/or Bob have got a myriad of options, and you can control it all with two buttons!

Only two buttons. Because that is all you’ve got.

Not the stars you need1991 was a fun year for buttons. This was a few months after the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was the very same year that Link needed every last tool in his arsenal to go back to the past. Battletoads proved amphibians needed a lot more than two buttons for eclectic gameplay. And, dang, this was the year that Street Fighter 2 premiered in arcades. Remember Street Fighter 2? Six “action buttons” and to do anything fun, you still had to memorize special motions? Or at least hammer that jab button? And it’s not like the same year’s Fatal Fury was any better!

And amidst all this, here is Parasol Stars, just quietly featuring two infinitely controllable characters bopping around thanks to two buttons.

Not every game needs every button. Mario has proven for years that he seems to steer best in 2-D with 2-buttons. Sonic has only ever needed one button. Your average JRPG or strategy game needs little more than what you would find on a mouse. Whether you are venturing into the Cave of Monsters or traipsing across the Castlevania countryside, you do not need that many buttons. A few easy to remember, intuitive button combinations (Hold A to float, press Forward+B to throw, etc), and you will be set for an entire adventure. The TurboGrafx-16 proved this time and time again, and Parasol Stars is a shining example of two buttons being absolutely all you need.

I, II, and an umbrella? That is the perfect equation for the finale of a fantastic story.

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

  • ToothySystem: This game saw more systems than you think… just mostly in other countries. But there was no arcade version! TurboGrafx-16, though, definitely. It seems other releases, like the NES version, stuck to Europe. Did we see the Atari ST or Gameboy ports?
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous, because this game is great.
  • Port-O-Call: Working Designs was responsible for the TG-16 American localization. This is good, as the game does not contain much text, and I am moderately certain they did not pump up all boss health to unhealthy levels. There was also supposed to be a Commodore 64 version, but an irate spouse destroyed the production files during a bitter divorce. No, I am not kidding.
  • Story Time: The canon explanation of what is happening here is that some nefarious force is sucking the color out of various planets, and visiting these spots and beating their bosses is restoring the universe to its former glory. … Except you only ever see the black and white worlds on the map screen, and color is instantly restored the minute you stop by any given planet. So it seems more like this monochromatic curse is just, ya know, a level select graphic flourish.
  • An end: You must collect three precious star cards (or whatever) to gain a key that unlocks the final two “worlds”. There is nothing over the course of the game that indicates that those collectible “miracles” will do anything but clear out some enemies, so I want to say I would be pretty damn pissed if I went through the whole game in 1991 and was granted some ambiguous “try again” message. That said, the infamous “bad end” is kind of an expected thing in this franchise…
  • ToastySnack Time: Bub and Bob can collect piles of food just in their first level, and much, much more over the course of their whole adventure. Is a residual side effect of the Bubble Bobble curse a bottomless stomach, or are they hoarding provisions for their entire planet? Whatever the case, score a fridge somewhere, kiddies, all of those watermelon slices are going to spoil.
  • Horse Puncher: This is another game wherein you routinely fight unicorns. I need to keep track of how often this happens.
  • Did you know? The boss fight theme for this game is straight up Kaoma’s Lambada. This was something of a copyright issue then and now, but nothing compared to how the previous Bubble Bobble game, Rainbow Islands, heisted (Somewhere) Over the Rainbow. Such a thing was possible back in the early 90s! Nowadays, we can’t even preserve the Neon Genesis Evangelion end credits…
  • Would I play again: I bought the TG-16 Mini for Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, but Parasol Stars is easily the best “hidden gem” on the system. I will play this game again, if only because I will need something to test a second controller. Does that add up to four buttons?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SaGa Frontier for the Playstation! Or maybe SaGa Frontier Remastered for the Playstation 4! Whatever works! We’re gonna spark some skills either way! Please look forward to it!

END?

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Once, Use Forever Items

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

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

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

Straight Upgrade Items

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

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

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

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

One and Done, Limited Items

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

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

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

Wish I could say the same about our final category…

Freemium Items

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

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

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

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

Er-hem.

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

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

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

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

I can!

FGC #591 Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl

Gonna be a mall brawlI have put some thought into this, and I have come to a realization:

I am mad that Kevin Smith is happy.

I am, and have always been, a comedy nerd. Back in the dark ages of VHS tape rentals, I would always convince my dad that it was in his best interest to rent the likes of Airplane, Young Frankenstein, and Nation Lampoon’s Any Goddamned Thing. And this worked out well, as my father generally enjoyed comedies as well. After all, he was the man that introduced me to Woody Allen, and I watched the likes of Annie Hall, Love and Death, and Crimes and Misdemeanors well before I understood about 110% of the sex jokes contained therein. But, while I loved all these comedies, I had one complaint: all of this humor was aimed at my dad’s generation. Chevy Chase had never played a Nintendo, and Leslie Nielsen clearly would never have an opinion on Voltron. I could watch a thousand “80’s comedies”, but when would I ever see a comedy that had the voice of an actual 80’s kid?

Enter Kevin Smith and Clerks.

To be absolutely clear, Kevin Smith is, by all definitions, not a contemporary of my generation. He was born nearly fifteen years before this author, and his experiences are firmly those of Generation X. That said? Goddamn did his early film oeuvre capture the feeling of being a teenager in the 90’s. Perhaps something about his directing and writing was universal, or maybe my generation just happened to live at the edge of such things as “malls” and “the Catholic Church” existing, but, whatever the cause, Kevin Smith’s films spoke to me. They were vulgar, often sexist/homophobic, and generally vaguely immature, but there was a truth buried in there that I felt like only my generation would understand. I was not old enough to date someone that had sucked 37 dicks (I mean, as far as I knew), but I was old enough to hang out at the mall, hate on magic eye posters, or have substantial opinions about working at a menial job. And if you want the kind of low-key youthful rebellion that would inevitably be inspired by Kevin Smith’s films, consider the fact that my friends and I watched Dogma around midnight on gigantic screens in the sanctuary of a church. Had the damnedest time finding the remote for that DVD player…

Hey, this is relevantAnd, since we are moderately on the subject, let’s talk about Dogma. Clerks was Kevin Smith’s amazing debut, and it all but defined the mood and attitude of a generation of people that were not even supposed to be here today. Mallrats was a farcical look at the world outside the horrible fate of retail (but still firmly entrenched in that world), and, while still a comedy, Chasing Amy tried its hand at being a little more serious than other Kevin Smith fare (and, I feel it is worth publicly stating: wow, watching that movie in 2021 is a different experience than in 1997). But Dogma? Literally holy crap, Dogma was an experience. It was star-studded! It was hilarious! It was taking huge, obvious swings at “The Church”, Christianity, and religion in general! And these were topics that were generally considered taboo in polite society! Sunday school never made references to crucifixions producing shit monsters, and they certainly never acknowledged how clergy would inevitably try to pimp themselves out with bobbleheads if given the chance. This was revolutionary stuff for my teenage friends and I, and it confirmed something I had always suspected: Kevin Smith was going to be the voice of my generation for our generation. This writer/director is going places, and he is going to go places we never would have ever expected.

And then Kevin Smith’s next movie featured a character named Cocknocker.

A sack full of 'emLet’s take a step back and address Woody Allen. First of all, to be perfectly clear, fuck Woody Allen. This paragraph is likely going to sound like Woody Allen is being lauded, but, to be clear, fuck that guy. However, one can complement the arc of his works from his first movies back in the sixties (and works going back to fifties) to today. He started with generally farcical parodies, gradually moved into what would define the romantic comedy, and then made his way to something more akin to “serious pieces” that happened to have a few jokes sprinkled in. From there, there was a clear period of vaguely defensive “I liked your old, funny movies” bouts of navel-gazing, and then he finally seemed to settle on something more comedic again, albeit usually with a sort of mature (re: old man) edge to the proceedings. And, say what you will about your enjoyment of any of those movies, but it is certainly a way to see a man progress and grow and change with his own media. Woody Allen did not win an award and simply make that same prestigious movie over and over again, he, like all of us, changed, and his output reflected that. And, sure, he did eventually go back to that romantic comedy well an awful lot, but he tried to do something different, and really did produce some films that could have only come from a man that had the life experiences of someone that had been writing comedy for arguably his entire life. Woody Allen has done odious, reprehensible things in his existence, but you can also see how the art changed with the man, and thus, also with a generation.

As I write this, Kevin Smith is currently promoting his latest production: He-Man: Masters of the Universe: Revelation. What’s more, he is promoting it by saying, “Your old toys are exactly where you left ‘em, Kids – and we took really good care of them!” The potential voice of our generation is still speaking for our generation, and he is advocating for nearly forty years of arrested development. Play with your old toys again, children of the three-hour Saturday Morning Advertising Block. Do not think critically of your current situation at all! Enjoy Mer-Man!

This looks familiarAnd, in much the same manner, here is today’s game, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl. To be clear, Kevin Smith is not directly responsible for JaSB:MB. He definitely approved the project, it is all based on characters he created, and he does technically headline/star in the game, but he did not sit down to program this View Askewniverse-based adventure. That was primarily left to Tomas Guinan and Spoony Bard Productions. But does Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl feel like something that was produced by Kevin Smith? For better or worse, yes, very much so. JaSB:MB is filled to the brim with references to Smith’s most popular works (like Mall Rats, Dogma, and Clerks), as well as significant nods to less fashionable productions like Clerks: The Animated Series and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Or maybe they were his more popular productions with his fans? I cannot say for certain, as I have personally been quoting Plug and Leonardo Leonardo for years. And they both appear in Level 6! Wow! If you are a fan of “those Jay and Silent Bob shows”, you are going to love this trip through the mall.

But if you are not here to see Patrick Swayzee (and his horse, Road House, from that movie he was in), there is not much here for you. This is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by the likes of River City Ransom… but without the leveling/advancement system that made that title so memorable. Or this is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by Double Dragon… but without the precise punch/kick system and platforming that made Double Dragon and its sequel NES mainstays. This is a hodgepodge of concepts and characters from other NES beat ‘em ups (Abobo appears as a pretzel!), but ultimately something that never even pretends it is better than its original sources. There is a Turbo Tunnel! Like in Battletoads! But it is shorter and includes far less risks than the game it is referencing (come on, man, you couldn’t figure out how to implement pits into this system?). Same for the faux Mega Man fight against Cocknocker, as that simulates a robot master battle with sound effects and graphics, but not any mega-gameplay that makes that situation fun. About the only thing that really stands out as innovative in JaSB:MB is the battle against Golgothan the Excremental that requires your chosen hero wield a nearby plunger to actually do some damage. This adds an extra, previously unseen bit of strategy to the proceedings, and it would be a fascinating mechanic if the damned boss could not “camp” the one item you need to defeat it. So actually grabbing that weapon-of-choice can be a shitshow if the enemy AI decides to be crap? I know that guy!Wonderful. And that seems to be the game in a nutshell: there are good bones here, but the flesh wrapped around it is powered by about 5% good ideas, and 95% nostalgia.

But what the hell would you expect?

Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl never claimed it was going to be the next Taro-esque commentary on the state of gaming. It was never supposed to be an evolution for the beat ‘em up genre, or the apparently-a-genre-for-the-last-decade 8-bit retro craze. This whole exercise was never going to be anything of the sort. This is a game that was released for Kevin Smith fans, and initially distributed on an actual, playable Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge because Kevin Smith fans are inevitably fans of the NES. This is a game wholly entrenched in its own nostalgia for media that is now old enough to drink, and a writer/director that could be a literal grandpa any day now. This is a “by fans, for fans” affair, and asking it to question its medium or source material is folly. You want to ask greater questions of the universe, you buy a different game. You buy a Jay and Silent Bob game because you want to participate in goofy antics with Jay and Silent Bob.

And you do not watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie for deep thoughts. You watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie because you want to laugh. And you will laugh, because farts are funny.

I also know this guyKevin Smith could have, at one point in his career, pivoted to becoming a “serious” creator. He could have become a serious man in a serious world that has very serious things to say about serious topics. He could have followed the same arc as so many comedians before him, and focused on his deeper thoughts. He did not. He decided to use his filmmaker clout to write comic books where Green Lantern eats out Black Canary, and Batman pisses himself (uh, to be clear, these were two unrelated events). He said his piece on religion, and then went on to create whatever the hell Tusk is supposed to be about. And the thing about all of that? He seems happy about it! He is uncritically producing a movie about a commercial from forty years ago, and he is having a blast doing it! I can barely get through this paragraph without throwing shade at Mattel, but Kevin Smith is right there, happily telling his audience that all their toys are back and better than ever.

And you know what? Good for him! Kevin Smith seems happy. And, unlike other writer/directors, we are not constantly hearing about how he is a horrible person. Maybe we need more people producing a lifetime of “light” entertainment, and significantly less “serious” directors that are currently wanted for various sex crimes. When the biggest scandal to come out of a guy is “those jorts”, we are in a good place. Kevin Smith may not have become the auteur I wanted him to be, but he seems like a good person. And if he produces a funny movie every once in a while, hey, all the better.

The world could use more Kevin Smiths. And the gaming world can have a few Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawls, too.

FGC #591 Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl

  • System: Technically, this is a NES game. There’s a cartridge and everything! But the expanded-palette “arcade mode” is also available for the modern usual suspects, like Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4.
  • The fans are upsetNumber of players: Well, it is Jay and Silent Bob, so two players are available. Does the game get more difficult with more buddies? Or are the enemy mobs the same? I don’t know!
  • Favorite Boss: Abobo-as-a-pretzel is super annoying, but he reaches an entire other level when he is joined by some weird little pretzel baby creature. We’re in a crowded elevator, kid, I don’t need you jump kicking me over and over again while I’m trying to punch your dad!
  • A moment for the departed: Clerks: The Animated Series (which is referenced frequently across this game) is easily the funniest single six episodes of any cartoon ever produced. It was also, technically, the first DVD I ever purchased, and the first disc that ever went into my Playstation 2. Sorry, Dead or Alive 2, but I was a little more interested in finding the answer to the immortal question of “why are we walking like this?” Also, mark this one down as another animated series that made reference to South of the Border.

    Put it on the list

    I’m going to start keeping track of this.

  • Let the past be past: Back to the actual game, I could have done without the NES standard of starting every stage from the start after a continue. The fact that Jay and Silent Bob refill health as time passes is helpful, but if you get unexpectedly wrecked by a boss, it is a gigantic pain to have to repeat everything on your way back to another potential loss. And the final stage being a boss rush? Nobody wanted to play that in the first place…
  • An end: If you are curious about the secret identity of the final boss, go ahead and consider that mystery story trope about how the culprit is always the named character that is otherwise mysteriously absent. And, without revealing the shocking conclusion, I can disclose that, yeah, Jay and Silent Bob do make it back home to Quik Stop.
  • Who is Leonardo Leonardo?For the sequel: Theoretically, this game is the “Curse of the Moon” to an eventual, other beat ‘em up titled Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. It looks good! It looks like more of the same, actually, but with modern art and conventions. And that’s enough! Trading 8-bit graphics for “goofy” animation should be fun. And we need more fun.
  • Did you know? Dante was supposed to die in the first Clerks movie, but that “alternate ending” was scrapped before the premiere. This is why, in the Devil May Cry franchise, there is often a “Dante must die” mode. Some people just won’t let it go.
  • Would I play again: Probably, but purely as a novelty. This game may have issues, but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, so I could see playing it again with another Kevin Smith fan. Hey, I might not watch Dogma every other day, but I do watch it again every decade or so…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Muse Dash for the Nintendo Switch! Time to run to the music! Or from the music? Something like that! Please look forward to it!

It's the turbo tunnel
This is like some kind of generational trauma, isn’t it?

FGC #576 Contra

June 1, 2633

GIFs you can hearMy name is Lance Bean. I have been dispatched to an archipelago near New Zealand with my partner, Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer. Why is he called Mad Dog? Because he was responsible for packing for this mission, and the dumbass didn’t even bring any shirts for us. Multi-purpose gun? Check. Suntan lotion? Bug spray? A friggen towel? Nope. I am traveling with an animal.

And our superiors apparently recognized that. Mad Dog is here to shoot stuff, but I have been distinctly tasked with documenting this journey. Apparently, prior to two years ago, this was a completely abandoned island. Then a meteorite crashed on the area, and the place has been hopping ever since. Now satellite images show that there appears to be a heavily armed militia preparing for an invasion, and nobody much likes that. However, no one can figure out the exact affiliation of this army, so there is some conjecture among the science types that these dorks arrived here on that previously mentioned space rock. Do I truck with that theory? Of course not. But I have been tasked with documenting this mission and any “weirdness” (their exact words) that may be involved. I’m not holding my breath there, but it at least gives me a reason to send Bill out in front while I scribble down some notes.

Mad Dog, I’m going to spend most of this mission looking for a t-shirt shop thanks to you, so you’re going to deal with these dorks and their stupid exploding bridges.

June 2, 2633

What even is this thing?Bill and I have ventured through two distinct areas, and I have learned two things:
1. The “army” doesn’t seem to be affiliated with any known superpower, but they do call themselves Red Falcon.
2. Red Falcon hella loves backpacks.

Other than that? Nothing to report. Where we landed was some dense forest, and it was crowded with guys running around doing nothing. Guess we interrupted Red Falcon calisthenics? And then Bill blew ‘em all to whatever afterlife is relevant to backpack worshippers. There were a few turret guns and a literal gun wall, but nothing we couldn’t handle. I mean, look, our boys back home keep sending gun modulations through flying orb thingys, so we’re not going to be impressed when confronted with a cannon that can aim in a whole three directions.

Once we got on the other side of that defensive wall, we at least saw Red Falcon had some interesting tech. I emphasize “had”, though, because we blew it all to Kingdom Come. It is not my fault if you seal all your doors with extremely volatile, glowing red buttons. Oh, and head’s up, Red Falcon? Some weirdo doing jumping jacks across a wall is not the impenetrable defense you seem to think it is. Incidentally, as per my orders, I did want to stop and take a look at all this tech sprinkled around the base, but Bill… well… Bill apparently got a flamethrower modulator on his gun, and having a flamethrower pissed him off so much, he had to burn the whole base down. First world problems…

Regardless, nothing extraordinary about Red Falcon to report so far. There was some kind of weird, angry eyeball thing at the end of this labyrinth fortress, but it was probably a robot or a hologram or something. It shot bubbles? Literally nothing to write home about. Apparently we’re going back outside tomorrow, so looking forward to that.

June 3, 2633

Thar be dragonsMad Dog is a dick.

Look, Bill, this is really straightforward: you jump and tumble and whatever and shoot the bad guys, and I hang back and write up these mission reports. I have to stand there and take notes. It is my job. And it’s cool that you get to flip around like a coked-up acrobat on floating rocks or whatever, but do not leave me behind. This is pretty basic stuff. I am your partner. I am helping. And I will literally die if you run ahead of me and leave me to get blasted while I’m trying to catalogue that 800th backpack dude. Yes, I know you think this is stupid, but it is important to the mission, and that means it is important to you. You want to get medals, Bill? Oh, no, I guess you don’t, because you can’t even remember to bring a shirt. Dammit, Bill.

Stop calling me “scorpion”, Bill. Is that supposed to be an insult? No, scorpions are not known for being slow. That isn’t a thing.

For the record, the waterfall was nice and pleasant. Nothing too exciting going on here, but the “gun wall” from that first base was replaced with some kind of mobile dragon statue. Red Falcon apparently is really into robotic masonry, but this has otherwise been a pretty uninteresting day. Now for another day, another base.

June 4, 2633

Where is my shirt, BillFirst task of the day: another dumbass series of hallways. Who cares? This is, like, exactly like the last base, but with more guns. Been there, done that. There was even some kind of hologram monster thingy shooting bubbles at the end. Red Falcon apparently has decent technology, but it uses it all for bubble cyclopes and dragon statues. I admire that, though it isn’t particularly effective in the face of Mad Dog.

But speaking of Mad Dog, I was cursing my dear companion for most of the day (again), because today’s adventure was blanketed in snow. How does that work? We were looking at a reasonable 50-60 when we touched down (yes, Bill, I understand that it is Summer at home, but we’re in the southern hemisphere, genius), but now we are trudging through a blizzard. Technically, we are also close to where that meteor touched down, so it is possible there was some manner of ecological event here, and, (conjecture) the meteor is somehow “draining” the life (and temperature) out of the area. Or maybe Red Falcon invested in a weather machine, and is training its grunts for snowy backpacking. Really could be a lot of explanations here.

Regardless, Bill couldn’t care less, and he seems to keep warm by pressing himself up against “spike trucks” (his words) and firing away. I guess the adrenaline is keeping his shirtless self going. There was some kind of “hover ship” at the entrance to the next base, but that thing barely warrants a mention. However, it does seem like that base is going down into the Earth and “following” that meteor that hit the archipelago two years ago, so we might see some answers tomorrow.

And maybe, once we’re inside, Red Falcon will turn up the thermostat.

June 5, 2633

I do not like this dudeThis has been a… memorable day.

So our first stop was some kind of factory or power company or… something. It’s hard to tell, because whatever was ever supposed to be going on here appears to be partially broken now. There are pipes that are half broken, expelling… something that is deadly. You do not want to touch that stuff. And, whether the place is actually functioning or not, there were a pile of soldiers defending the area. Maybe they like the energy blasts? Trying to warm the place up? This Energy Zone (Bill’s naming scheme, based on the fact that he woke up and “crushed” some stupid energy drink) is a complete mystery, and I can’t see any humans actively working within this “factory”.

Oh, and the reason I note that “human” thing? There was what appeared to be a person in a football uniform guarding the following area… except he was about three times the size of your average human. This goliath tossed some disc thing around the area, but the biggest threat was the fact that he was just… big. I could have reasonably described everything “big” we faced up to this point as some kind of robot, but this was definitely a biological entity. He (it?) smelled alive, at least. Is this the effect of the meteor on a human? Some genetically manipulated malcontent? However this beast came into existence, we put it in the ground, albeit after it soaked way too much artillery.

By comparison, the following area was fairly mundane. It seemed to be a deliberate “trap zone” (how does that work for you, Bill? Hangar Zone? No, that’s stupid) to keep invaders like us out. Of course, the whole area seemed… off. Like maybe someone on the planning board had read about how to repel invaders, but didn’t quite understand what was actually going to be useful. Spiked walls? Deadly. A mine cart that just putters along at 5 MPH and doesn’t go anywhere? Maybe head back to the drawing board, Red Falcon. You’ll get us next time, I’m sure.

Regardless, one final door busting, and we’re good to go. Given all these fortifications, I’m guessing we’ll see the heart of this mission tomorrow.

June 6, 2633

Java is cancelledOkay…

Okay.

That was… something.

I will keep this report brief: yes, the meteorite apparently brought some aliens with it. I have no idea how to even describe these things, but Bill called the big sausage-looking thing “Java”. Why? It made me spill my morning coffee, and Bill was having a laugh. He has been a jackass to the very end. Also, I would love to document more of what we experienced on that wretched island, but our favorite jackass blew up the whole island. Was that part of his mission? Destroy every last trace of the nightmare I just experienced? Good job, Mad Dog, you shot a pulsating, mammoth heart until an entire archipelago detonated. Oh, did I not mention the solitary heart the size of a Hummer? And how it was protected by an army of spider-aliens that were continually spawning from acid-dripping eggs? And how I had to spend like twenty minutes prying one of those suckers off Bill’s face? That was not a fun time for anybody involved.

I am done with this nonsense. Yes, there were aliens. Yes, a lot of those “backpack dudes” were probably aliens, too. It was, probably very literally, aliens all the way down. And I am done. I’m not doing that again. You want to send this “Scorpion” against an army of aliens again, you can count me out. I know that meteor had to come from somewhere, but If these aliens strike back, that’s super, but I’m staying home.

I’m going to need thirty lifetimes’ worth of therapy now…

FGC #576 Contra

  • System: We do not have time to name every system that has hosted Contra. I can at least confirm that everyone thinks of the NES or Arcade versions, but some of those ports have appeared on the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Commodore 64, and… let’s say Playstation 4.
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous in a time when that was rarely ever seen. Particularly in an action game! That’s important!
  • Back in Action: And, while 2-P is important, I’d also claim that one of the chief reasons Contra became so popular was that “instant respawning” was practically unheard of at the time. Nobody likes to restart from the beginning of the level! They want to pick up right from where their corpse lies! And Contra’s instant respawns were wonderful! Just a shame that Lance and Bill were always so… fragile.
  • Favorite Weapon: Spread. It works in other games, too. Special shoutout to the incredible uselessness of flamethrower, and the horrible “tiny shield” that is generated by coupling a laser with a rapid-fire controller. It’s like tackling the alien hordes with a blowtorch!
  • Land of the Rising Fun: The Japanese version of Contra includes cutscenes, snow, pulsating alien hives, “mission reports”, and a full map. It’s all available on the modern console Contra collection, and I will admit that not being able to read those mission reports may have inspired this article.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This is a game I can finish without ever taking a hit. I rarely “practice” that hard on a game, but it happened with Contra, because I had to record Contra footage about a decade ago, and I refused to record any deaths. My mortal enemy is this pipe, though.

    Stupid pipe

    Or maybe Achille’s heel is a more appropriate moniker for that one…

  • Did you know? American editions of Contra seemed to downplay the whole “future war” thing, but keep all those whacky aliens and magical guns. This is a weird choice that nobody in 1987 actually cared about.
  • Would I play again: I like to run ‘n gun. This is the ideal game to play for like a half hour and just be done. That happens a lot in my household.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rock ‘n Roll Racing for the 16-bit system of your choice! First we are going to rock, then we are going to blow up a race car, and then we might roll. Please look forward to it!

Hate this guy