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FGC #524 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

Note: This article will contain spoilers for Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. And maybe a few for Curse of the Moon 1 while we’re at it. The spoilers will be kind of dry, but there is discussion regarding the final boss, so you have been warned.

Aw, my blood got stainedToday, we’re going to talk about comradery, and wanting to jump in a bottomless pit when your buds aren’t around.

Previously on Gogglebob.com: I played Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (1), and declared it the greatest thing since the invention of the magical whip. It took the basic concept of Castlevania 3, refined it to more modern sensibilities, and created an experience that was at once familiar and entirely new. What initially looked like a simple retread of an 8-bit title quickly blossomed and revealed itself to be so much more. And a significant factor in that bombshell was the general surprise of how all the characters could be utilized in wildly different ways. Miriam could be an expert ally with amazing agility and attack range, or you could sacrifice her on the end of your blade and gain a new attack. Your choice! And the levels were designed for any and all choices, so you could technically tackle the tower with a Zangetsu flush with companions or little more than a piddly sword. Play on Casual Mode if you stick to only the sword! You’ll thank me later!

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 could have repeated the (exemplary) pattern of its progenitor. This could have been another expertly crafted game where you have a choice between joining some pals, going alone, or forfeiting friends for even greater abilities. Maybe throw in an extra boss for some particular “runs”, and call it a day. Zangetsu is a generally aloof protagonist, anyway, so even after his “real story” was released, a tale of Zangy equally joining or rejecting a dog in a mech wouldn’t be seen as a departure for the character/franchise. And the only reason we got B:CotM2 was because B:CotM1 was unbelievably well-liked, so a sequel that is “more of the same” would be wholly acceptable.

But no, Curse of the Moon 2 distinctly sets itself apart from its predecessor. CotM2 is a game about friendship, and relying on others.

Buzz buzzThe first difference here is obvious: you can’t not have a buddy in Curse of the Moon 2. Whether you want her or not, Dominique is going to be joining your quest after the first level. Robert is enlisting after a fight with Princess Toadstool. And Hachi the dog is going to be your constant companion after punching a train. These are your cohorts, and you’re stuck with them for the adventure. And that’s good for the player, ultimately, as the obstacles of CotM2 are built for a full party. It’s not just about Robert’s gun or Dominique’s spear being useful on occasion, it’s about how all the allies can work in concert to reach new and unexpected areas. Dominique uses her pogo jump to reach a high wall, Robert clings to the side for a moment, and then Hachi horizontally hovers to a valuable powerup. We’re all buds working toward a common goal! CotM1 seemed built for different characters to clear different paths, but challenges were generally constructed for allies working separately (give or take some transitive spells). Alfred’s fire shield could get you past a barrage of arrows, but Miriam, Gebel, or Zangetsu would be completely flummoxed by such a barrier, and be effectively useless. The same question in CotM2 could have multiple answers (Robert’s crawl, Hachi’s invincibility), so it seems the designers decided to add additional “challenges” to the same problem. Now you’ll need Hachi’s berserk mode, but then quickly switch to Dominique’s pogo spear to avoid taking a hit from another opponent. Everybody is working together so well!

And that is probably a big influence on why losing a comrade in CotM2 leads to some very… deadly situations.

Watch those tentaclesBoth CotM1 and CotM2 have the same “lives” system. In normal mode (Veteran? We’re calling it that? Am I old?), losing a “life” while playing as a particular character does not mean your precious life counter depletes, it simply means the impacted character is taken off the board. In order to lose an entire life, literally every character has to perish. In many cases, this is an ideal setup, as simply losing a companion means you can respawn somewhere close to your death (rooms aren’t all that big), while an entire lost life means being set back to a candle that resets a full third of the level. And losing a companion isn’t hard! Alfred or Robert both have health meters that would qualify as uninsurable preexisting conditions, and practically every character has issues with knockback. It doesn’t matter if you’re navigating those haunted corridors with perfect precision, if the wrong bird bumps into you at the wrong time, you’re going down in the drink. And that’s it for your chosen buddy!

But, while the systems in both games may be the same, the worlds of CotM1 and CotM2 couldn’t be more different. CotM1 was built for one hero at a time, but CotM2 continually introduces challenges that encourage cycling through your entire repertoire. One hallway is filled with frogs that require stomps from a robo-dog, the next room is lousy with axe knights that could stand to be introduced to a rifle, and then you need the spear of a nun to take out rows of wannabe zombies. You are continually and constantly thrust into situations where you have to use the full party in CotM2. But what happens when you don’t have a full party? Well, it gets dicey. When you need a ranged attack, and all you have is a sword that could barely qualify as a letter opener, you’re going to have a bad time. When you can see a high path overhead, but your bounding beauty is otherwise engaged with Death, you’re stuck knowing you missed out on a We're working togetherbetter route. And then, ultimately, what’s the point? Your favored companion is gone, it is going to be a pain in the ass to make it across these chandeliers as Robert, why not end it all? Just toss yourself in a pit and be done with it. You might lose a little progress, but you’ll be reunited with your friends in death.

And it seems like a terrible moral, but that seems to be the point of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2.

There are four chapters in CotM2. Each “chapter” is basically a run through the same levels (give or take a little variability for the final level/boss), and is lengthy enough that it would be considered an entire game back in the olden days. The first chapter sees Zangetsu’s initial assault on demon-kind, and, as the levels progress, he gains new companions and skills. At the end of this initial chapter, one of his new friends is devil-napped, and the remaining group decides to venture through Chapter 2 to perform a rescue. This creates an interesting situation wherein you now have 3/4s of the party from the start, but, since one companion is missing for the entirety of the chapter, said ally’s absence is continually felt as early as the second level. And, depending on if Zangetsu is diligent in using his current allies to find fresh, hidden paths, it is entirely possible Chapter 2 will be a complete failure, and then Zangetsu will be forced to tackle a third chapter with an entirely different host of partners. These new buddies (or old buddies, as they are the cast of CotM1) offer many different options to separate them from their metaphorical descendants… but they’re still not the same companions you’ve been utilizing for the previous two chapters, so situations where “oh, Robert would be great here” quickly erode into a feeling of “Aw, I miss Robert”. Finally, after all that, the final chapter is unlocked, and now you have the option of using the entire party of both games, but you have to pick and choose who you’re going to “rescue” from each level before tackling the final challenge. You miss Hachi? Well, go get ‘em! You could have a full party of everybody, or simply make a beeline to the finale with only your trusty sword to guide you. Hey! For the first time in CotM2, you have a choice! It took a while, but we’re back to the freedom of CotM1!

Except… you don’t have a choice. You never had a choice.

It's too hot todayThere’s something else new in CotM2 that hasn’t been mentioned yet: between every level, there is a brief scene between the current members of Zangetsu’s party. In snippets of life that only take seconds at a time, we initially see reluctant associates begrudgingly tolerating each other between battles. Then, when one is taken from them, the remainder mourns, but resolves to see the situation (and their hearts) mended. When Zangetsu is reunited with the familiar cast of his first adventure, they spend their downtime laughing and jocularly carving ice sculptures (as you do). And, finally, when everyone has convened to build a spaceship to fly up and murder the moon, conversations between the assembled hunters seem fun and lighthearted. Everyone fights evil across multiple dungeons, yes, but they actively become friends during that time. To ignore the bonds that have been formed would be as unbecoming as ignoring how many shortcuts Gebel can use when he transforms into a bat.

But even if you do ignore the obvious fact that Alfred is going to invite this whole gang to his wedding, you can’t escape your companions. Since the option finally becomes available during the final chapter, you may assume that taking Zangetsu alone to the final battle would result in a unique, albeit lonely, ending like CotM1. Unfortunately for all the dedicated loners out there, that does not happen. Zangetsu may approach the finale of CotM2 alone, but his companions will return for the ultimate battle, and they will assist Zangetsu whether he likes it or not. In the end, whether you decide to retrieve the best pup (and the rest of those hangers-on) doesn’t matter: the bonds you’ve formed are going to be there regardless.

This is familiarSo maybe it’s appropriate that losing an ally during a level feels like a setback every time. Maybe diving into instant death to retrieve a buddy is right in a game that puts such an overt emphasis on friendship and comradery. Maybe the fact that you absolutely have to rely on your party, one way or another, is the most distinct way Curse of the Moon 2 chose to distinguish itself from its predecessor. This is your traditional “8-bit sequel” that reuses monsters, characters, and other assets; but it also found a new and interesting way to present its franchise. Curse of the Moon 2 is its own animal with its own moral about the importance of friendship and the necessity of relying on others.

… Or you can just unlock solo mode, and ignore the whole thing…

But still!

FGC #524 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

  • System: Looks like this one is on the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. Did it make it to the Vita this time? No it did not.
  • Number of players: And just to add to the friendship, this game is two-player simultaneous. I would really like to try that sometime! Apparently it even allows for a Tails-esque “mascot” second player! They got my letters!
  • BiteyFavorite Character: I really want to say Hachi the Dog. He’s awesome, and his hover and nigh-invulnerability is always useful. That said, Robert seems like the most unique member of the cast (more so than the dog riding a robot? Really?), and his crawl, rifle, and wall jump are all extremely…. I guess “interesting” would be the right word. I didn’t use him as much as the rest of the cast, but I wanted to figure out where he would work best, and that means a lot in this well tread genre. He’s new and different, so the Mega Man X character gets second place. … Or maybe I’m just partial to Bobs
  • Favorite Boss: Once again, the official website apparently names most of the bosses. And they’re pretty neat! It seems like the “sub” Bloodstained games put a lot of macabre thought into their monster messes. Titankhamun, the giant mummy, wins my vote here, as he’s responsible for a frantic battle that rewards Robert’s participation. Projectiles can come in handy when your opponent is filling the screen with ‘em!
  • Boss Rush: Speaking of which, unlocking the Boss Rush after clearing the advanced versions of the bosses on parade like four times, and then starting the actual challenge with the “original” bosses is… a little confusing. I literally don’t remember the first chapter at this point! How was that dragon supposed to work again?
  • Begin Again: Is there ever an explanation for why the ever-changing gang has to retreat back to the first stage for every new chapter? I mean, aside from it being an excuse to play through the whole of the game again? It seems like that volcano would be a pretty safe place to rest and regroup…
  • I can hear these blocksGoggle Bob Fact: I wasn’t planning on reviewing this game after the original Curse of the Moon. This is mainly because I feel like I review way too many Castlevania games as it is. … Or… almost Castlevania games. Regardless, the friendship factor was pretty interesting, so congratulations to the Curse of the Moon 2 staff on actually making something new and interesting for the franchise(ish).
  • So, did you beat it? As if you can’t tell from the spoilers-abound, yes, I beat every last route and option within said routes. However, I’m not going to tackle the freshly updated higher difficulty levels, because this game is hard enough on Veteran mode. Zangetsu can barely survive this horrible night to have a curse as it is!
  • Did you know? With current technology, it is impossible for a Welsh Corgi to pilot a robot. I’m sorry.
  • Would I play again: It would be pretty fun to see how Ultimate Zangetsu completely wrecks house through Chapter One. Hmmmm…..

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parodius! Is… Is that the franchise, or a particular, never-localized game, ROB? I have to figure something out? Okay, fine. Stupid robot. Guess we’ve got Parodius up next, somehow, gang. Please look forward to it!

Good dog
Third best commute I’ve ever seen

FGC #522 R-Type (Dimensions)

Gonna be a R-Type TonightWhen Pokemon Go first launched in 2016, it had very limited functionality. There were no raids, trades, or PVP battles. The legendary Pokémon had to wait a year or so to arrive, ditto was MIA, and not even a single shiny would ever appear. Much of what is considered part and parcel with P-Go was nonexistent in those early days, and players would have to wait months to years to see what would eventually become the game we now all know and love (or gave up playing after Pokémon Going to the Polls). One of the first of these “new” features introduced was the buddy system. While the uses and benefits of the buddy system have also evolved over the years, the basic premise is still the same: you’re going to walk all around town, may as well do it with a Pokémon buddy. In exchange for walking with a companion, you earn candy that can power up that pocket monster… and that’s about it. There’s no rock-paper-scissors triangle for optimum buddy selection, nor is the right buddy going to save a player hours of grinding. It is, ultimately, a very simple system, and its impact on Pokémon Go gameplay is limited. It is little more than an excuse to have your digital avatar stand next to an imaginary creature.

Big buds

But look at that impressive buddy! She’s all “roar!” and I’m like “yeah!” I pet her every day, and I make sure her scales are clean, and of course I always make sure she has enough berries. I get kind of concerned sometimes because some tasks ask you to feed your buddy more, and I don’t want her to get fat or anything, but I think she’s going to be okay. She gets a lot of exercise walking with me, because we walk everywhere, and sometimes…

Er-hem.

My apologies. It seems that, while the Pokémon Go buddy system is little more than “click on a Pokémon you like for candy” from a gameplay perspective, it can make an impact on a player’s psyche. Your buddy is your buddy, and after you’ve walked literal miles with your companion, how can you do anything but like your buddy. Sure, it is technically nothing more than a collection of pixels that you occasionally use to fight other imaginary licensed Pokémon Company products, but… she’s your buddy! You’ve been through thick and thin together, and, when your Pokémon storage space is running low, you’d never damn your buddy to be transferred off to the professor at the candy factory. Your buddy is important to you!

And here’s our other big buddy for the day: let’s talk about a Force.

PEW PEWR-Type is a shoot ‘em up arcade title from the distant past of 1987. The same year that Mega Man first pew pewed Guts Man, the R-9 blasted off to save the universe from the Bydo invaders. The “shooting stuff in space” genre had existed since Asteroids first pitted triangles against circles, but R-Type seemed more similar to the gameplay of Gradius, released two years prior. R-Type once again presented a continually horizontally scrolling universe that was filled with obstacles and opponents. You could risk it all to blast certain enemies to nab progressively more powerful powerups before facing a big boss at the end of every stage (usually). It’s all very familiar, and, in some ways, R-Type comes off as an obvious clone of Gradius.

But R-Type does do its level best to set itself apart from the pack. For one thing, much of R-Type’s bestiary is based on the works of H.R. Giger (the genius behind the xenomorphs), which means every other boss looks like a penis. But even if the boss of level 2 causes you to question/confirm your own sexuality, it is at least much more distinctive than your average laser-spewing ship. And speaking of lasers and bosses, R-Type offers another significant change over the Gradius formula: a charge beam. You’ve got your traditional rapid-fire cannon, but you also have the option to stop, smell the roses, and charge up a cannon to a significantly more powerful “charged” attack. This makes R-Type one of the earliest shoot ‘em ups to acknowledge that a turbo button shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of offensive options. There are times when you’ll want to lay down some suppressing fire, and there are times when you’ll want to launch a charged shot against some alien weiner. You’ve got a choice, and that’s important when you want the game to be something more than a test to see who can break those arcade buttons the fastest.

And R-Type had one other important difference that set it apart from the pack. R-Type granted the player a Force.

PrawnA Force is, apparently, a spaceship-sized orange. But rather than dispense delicious juice, this orange deals only death. Once the R-9 acquires a Force through grabbing an available powerup, you’ve got a modular weapon that offers a number of benefits. Want some extra fire power? Well, affix that Force to the front of the ship, and you’ll be blasting everything in your path. Worried about your rear? Attach the Force to your exhaust port, and you’ll be able to cover your six with the Force shooting backwards. And R-Type doesn’t offer a catch-all, depleting shield like Gradius, but a Force is apparently built out of the fiercest materials known to orange-kind, and will absorb any number of shots and artillery. The Force is offense and defense, and you can even toss it around the stage to smack some hard to reach places (including the final boss). Is there anything a Force can’t do?

So is it any wonder that, while playing R-Type, I started regarding my Force as a loyal companion?

Look, of possibly all the videogame genres out there, the shoot ‘em up is often the most consistently lonely. JRPGs have entire parties of allies, and beat ‘em ups often offer many characters that will at least show up for the ending. You might be Haggar’ing alone, but you know Cody is supposed to be somewhere around here. Fighting games may be you against the world, but there are often canonical alliances, so you’ll always have a Ken for a Ryu. And even your average platformer is filled with a collection of friendly NPCs so you’re at least dimly aware that the princess is in another castle. Shoot ‘em ups, though? It’s just you against the world. 2-player modes are often alternating, and the rare 2-P cooperative mode is a wash, because where are you ever going to find a buddy on the same skill level? Aside from those minor concessions, shoot ‘em ups are simply a ship on one side, and 2,000,000,000,000 objects that can only be described as “enemy” on the other. Space is a very lonely place, and there’s a significant reason why some of the most fondly remembered shoot ‘em ups decided to bring along a team.

Go, buddy!But the R-9 doesn’t get a team. The R-9 just gets a Force. And maybe it’s the constant threat of death, the onslaught of shlong beasts, or even the space madness speaking, but my R-9 bonded with that Force immediately. They’re a little dude! Off shooting down the enemy where R-9 deigns not to go. So helpful! And brave! Who wants a little treat, huh? Does Force want a treat? You’re gonna get a treat, because I couldn’t beat that last boss without you. You want to bounce all over the stage? That’s okay! Just be back in time for the next deluge of sausage creatures, and we’re cool. We’re in this together, Force, and we’re going to get through this together, too.

Is the Force as expressive as any of Cloud’s allies? No. Is the Force going to get oodles of Edelgard / Force erotic fanfiction? Also no. Is the Force copyrighted by Disney? Probably yes. But none of that matters, because the Force is there when you need them. The Force might not be a living, breathing character, but they are reliable. They are my friend. The Force is my buddy.

The Force might be little more than a simple game mechanic, but sometimes it’s just nice to have a buddy.

FGC #522 R-Type (Dimensions)

  • System: R-Type started in the arcades, saw an excellent port on the Turbo-Grafix 16, and bounced around a lot of other systems from there. Like, a lot. From Gameboy to the WiiU. R-Type Dimensions is currently available on the Switch, Xbox 360, Playstations 3 & 4, and Steam. Odds are decent you can play it somewhere.
  • Number of players: 2 Player alternating to start, but you can do some co-op in Dimensions. Space isn’t so lonely after all!
  • This fight is trashWait, is this a review of R-Type or R-Type Dimensions? R-Type Dimensions is the modern “remake” of R-Type and R-Type II that, incidentally, allows you to use a button to switch to the original graphics and features. I… uh… presume that “features” part, because I can barely make any headway in the original R-Type. R-Type Dimensions offers an infinite lives mode, though, so I can survive slightly longer. Look! I’m a Gradius guy! I don’t have time to learn a whole new shoot ‘em up!
  • Any other advantages to R-Type Infinite (Lives) Mode? Your Force is with you from level 1 to the finale, and just chills on the screen waiting for you to return when you inevitably explode. Force is so dedicated to their job!
  • Favorite Weapon: Bouncy lasers are the only beams you will ever need. I’m almost certain light/lasers could never work like that, but I’m going to go the Gemini Laser route any time it is available.
  • Favorite Boss: Can I just pick the giant warship of Level 3? Hey, it’s my website, so I can! This monster takes up the whole stage, and is one of the most iconic battles in the R-Type franchise (according to how often it is wholesale copied for other games). And it’s fun! It really drives home the difference between R-Type and many other shooters (R-Type is good. That’s the difference).
  • I'm all wetDid you know? The boss of the first stage in R-Type is the Dobkeratops, a big ol’ orange mess of a monster. Dobkeratops is also the boss of the first stage in R-Type II, but you can only see its familiar face (?) if you decide to blast a healthy chunk of armor off its outer shell. Considering this is entirely optional, I’m pretty sure I assumed this was some kind of different creature for years.
  • Would I play again: R-Type is an amazing classic that I am only going to play again with infinite lives and instant respawns because I do not have time to blow all my progress on some sneaky monster lurking around Level 4. So, yes, I’m going to pet my Force again at some point.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Blues Brothers 2000 for the Nintendo 64! The other 1,999 Blues Brothers videogames were rather lackluster, but I’m sure this one will be good. Please look forward to it!

What am I even looking at?

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

CRASH TIMEI’m very disappointed in the gaming community. My beef du jour? Nobody ever told me that Crash Bandicoot was so… fuzzy.

I am a child of videogames. One of my most vivid early memories was seeing Super Mario Bros. for the first time, and I associate friends, family, and lovers with games that were relevant to those people. My first best friend and I had a child-sized fistfight over Rampage. My grandfather owned and enjoyed (and shared) a Gameboy. My first girlfriend claimed she was going to burn my Final Fantasy 7 shirt (admittedly, I probably should have changed said shirt more often than once a month). But, speaking of first girlfriends and the occasional Final Fantasy, like anyone that has ever grown up, I was once a teenager. It’s sad, but true! And during my later teenage years, (hm… how to put this without sounding as creepy as possible) my lifelong burning love of videogames degenerated to mere embers (nailed it). Nintendo had lost its luster in the N64 age, and I had, for the first time in my life, dropped my Nintendo Power subscription. Other gaming platforms simply didn’t capture my attention like the ones that had brought me Mario and Zelda, and modern interpretations of old, migrated franchises were often weird and scary. Mega Man Legends? Legend of Mana? What is even happening there? To best illustrate my general anti-gaming sentiment at the time, I reserved Final Fantasy 7 with the same kind of gusto most people reserve for their wedding night in 1997, but, by 2000, the release of Final Fantasy 9 hit me with such a wet thud that I barely even purchased the title on its release day. What? Just because I didn’t much care for videogames for a year or so didn’t mean I didn’t still buy games. I just bought less!

AridBut if I had to point at another problem I, a surly teenager raging against the machine (the N64 is a machine), had with gaming at the time, I would likely name the Playstation 1 and Sony’s general… everything. At the turn of the 21st Century, there was a significant marketing push to assert that videogames were not “just for kids”, and were actually for dignified, mature adults that wanted to steer digital teenagers into fighting God. Oh! And skateboards! The Playstation was for mature adults that wanted to ride skateboards straight into an angry God’s gaping maw. Radical! It was bullshit. It was bullshit when Nintendo tried to pivot to “Play it Loud”, it was bullshit when Sega screamed their brand in your face, and it was bullshit when Sony decided to promote every other Playstation release as mature gaming simply because there were a few more polygons involved in Lara’s bra. But I was a teenager when Playstation was riding high on the maturity hog (his name is Buffus), so I bounced off that advertising campaign like Zero repelling off a wall (still bought those Mega Man X games…). Playstation is trying to be cool? Dude, Mario is cool enough, so I’m just going to grab 120 stars for the 10,000th time.

But Mario was not cool. And the number one person… marsupial… thing… saying that was Crash Bandicoot.

I never played the Crash Bandicoot games. Why? Because I was pissed at Crash Bandicoot. It didn’t matter if the Crash games were the best thing since Jumping Flash, their advertising campaign pissed me right off. We were told “Do not underestimate the power of the Playstation” while “real life” Crash Bandicoot and friends terrorized convenience stores. What was obviously some human in a Crash mascot costume insulted “plumber boy” and grabbed a megaphone to shout about the expansiveness of the Playstation library. He accused nuns of foul play! He teamed up with Robbie Knievel for motorcycle stunts! He endorsed Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizzas for some reason! And his kart racing game was promoted with an ad campaign featuring roller derbies, Crash chauffeuring rock stars/hot women, and one commercial that was a thinly veiled parody of Cops. Mario Kart 64 was amazing, and it only had a commercial that involved a creepy carnival! Or maybe that was a hallucination! Whatever! Point is that Nintendo didn’t need Crash’s crass tricks, it made games that were actually good. I didn’t need Crash and his dumb racing game.

But having now played a remake of “Crash’s dumb racing game”, I am seriously reconsidering my life choices.

So sweetCrash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the 2019 complete overhaul of Crash’s first racing game, Crash Team Racing. It maintains the original plot, “adventure” trappings, and general gameplay of the original CTR, but is otherwise a nearly completely fresh game. The graphics are all new, many more racetracks have been added, and the roster has now been expanded from Crash’s immediate circle of friends to his entire high school yearbook. Unfortunately, modern gaming conventions like “legendary skins” and “micro transactions” have snuck in, too, but it seems petty to complain about a cornucopia of new content when the only issue is that you literally can’t have it all immediately. Aside from that minor scar on the face of gaming, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a perfect karting experience, easily one of the absolute best of the recent amazing kart racing titles (it’s in good company).

But that’s immaterial to the big shocker of CTRNF: this is my first Crash Bandicoot game, and, apparently, Crash Bandicoot is cute.

Like Diddy Kong Racing, this is a kart racer with a plot. As I expected, the plot is your typical overwrought melodrama about an invading force attempting to conquer the planet, and the only solution is racing, because the X button has to do something. However, what I was not expecting is that the threatening villain is… goofy. I had assumed Crash Bandicoot took its pun-based villains fairly seriously, but, nope, Nitros Oxide is such a clown, his ending involves learning to unicycle. And the boss characters? They may be marginally racist or ableist, but they’re definitely meant to be (generally one note) jokes. Don Pinstripelli Potorotti might have a tommy gun, but he’s not pointing it at the Nintendo Building like Commercial Crash Bandicoot would. And speaking of Crash Bandicoot, he’s less “attitude”, and more… Garfield. He just wants to nap, eventually saves the world through puttering around in a go kart, and then retires to take more naps. That is not the Crash Bandicoot I know! That is not the Crash Bandicoot I feared.

And just when I was thinking my preconceived notions couldn’t be any more obliterated, CTRNF presented a roly poly polar bear for my racing pleasure

Da Bears

So, unlike most of this meandering blog, there is a clear and succinct moral for today’s post. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or, to be slightly more modern, don’t judge a franchise by its advertising campaign. It doesn’t matter if you’re a surly teenager or an apparently still-surly adult: just give the actual game a try. You might like it! Or it might be Shadow the Hedgehog! Whatever the case, at least give the game an honest shot, because you might find you like it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab a megaphone and yell at the Nintendo building that their kart racers suck.

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

  • System: All the big players of the current generation, so Playstation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Hey, at least the original version was a Playstation 1 exclusive.
  • WeeeeeNumber of Players: The original Crash Team Racing utilized the Playstation multitap for four player action. You stole the one thing the N64 had going for it!
  • Favorite Racer: It might be a bit of a cliché, but I always appreciate the Tails characters in these mascot games, so it looks like Coco Bandicoot wins for being the brains to Crash’s brawn. Or maybe I’m just happy we have a female cartoon character in a videogame that isn’t overtly sexualized. Or maybe I just like the sheer number of rainbows on her signature course. Whatever! Coco wins! Flawless victory.
  • Important Questions: Why does Baby Cortex have facial hair? I was led to believe that was not how babies work.
  • The Aesthetics: There are a number of courses that are outright bathed in neon. This is all I want from my videogame decorating, so please keep it up. If the F-Zero franchise isn’t going to provide some faux-future design, at least we have Crash.
  • Weighty Decisions: If I had to pinpoint one reason CTRNF works as a racing game, it’s that despite all the absurd courses with their illogical jumps and turns, all of the racers feel perfectly weighty. It might just be fantasy animals in go-karts (and one dude in a hovercraft), but this all feels right, and that adds to the general rollercoaster feel of the whole experience. And I like rollercoasters.
  • Crossover Appeal: Spyro appears as a racer, and has his own signature course. This is presumably a thank you for Crash Bandicoot appearing in Skylanders merchandise/the animated series. Considering Donkey Kong and Bowser also stopped by Skylanders, I am now anxiously awaiting Mario x Crash Kart.
  • ZapDid you know? Yes, the basic “story” gameplay of Crash Team Racing is very reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing. And, yes, maybe the original designers of Crash Team Racing admit to building a replica of Diddy Kong Racing’s Crescent Island course to see if such a thing would be possible on the Playstation. But don’t worry! Crash Bandicoot never ripped off any Nintendo properties!
  • I thought you were over this Crash rivalry thing now? Apparently not.
  • Would I play again: Yes! This is a really fun racing game, and I’m very glad it wound up loaded onto my Switch thanks to an impulse-buy sale. I’ll likely load up a grand prix or two in the near future when I’m aimlessly flopping around on the couch. Sorry, Mario Kart 8, you’ve been dethroned by a bandicoot.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… R-Type Dimensions! Let’s battle that one giant shrimp looking thing that appears in every bit of R-Type art! Please look forward to it!

Watch yourself

FGC #516 Celeste

Let's climbWhat does it mean when “difficult” equals “fun”?

Today’s game is Celeste, which Google apparently describes as “A game about climbing a mountain”. Big deal! You climb about seventeen mountains across your average 32-bit JRPG, and it’s hard to even recall how often you are forced to dash across mountaintops in your average platformer. Mario was climbing mountains before he was even born (technically)! But what makes Celeste different from any other trip up some rocks is that Celeste is truly about the challenge of climbing inhospitable terrain. On its surface, Celeste is little more than a basic platformer: you run, you jump, you cling, you dash, and that’s all you got. There is combat in only the absolute loosest sense (maybe you can hop on the occasional angry ghost), and the typical “collectibles” are little more than excuses for challenge rooms. Celeste is a very simple game, so its surface-level description as “A game about climbing a mountain” is very apt. This isn’t a complicated experience for a complicated world, this is climbing a mountain, plain and simple.

But don’t let the simple trappings of Celeste fool you into believing this is a retro title bereft of a plot. Celeste is about climbing a mountain, but, more than that, it’s about a woman learning that she can climb a mountain. Madeline is climbing this mountain, and, when her journey begins, her self-loathing and doubt is so palatable, it transforms into a living entity named Badeline. While Madeline and Badeline initially clash, over the course of the adventure, Madeline comes to accept Badeline, as Baddy was never her evil twin, but a part of herself that she tried to ignore. Once Madeline has accepted herself, “bad side” and all, she levels up as a character and a human being, and gains a second air dash. This is life-affirming and hella sweet. Along her way to self-actualization, though, a number of levels also seem to follow a sort of “lesson” framing, with that previously mentioned angry ghost demonstrating the dangers of putting the needs of toxic people over your own, and another level ending with instructions on breathing exercises that can help mitigate depression and panic attacks. Celeste might have an extremely basic plot, but the narrative successfully turns this simple videogame goal into a story about overcoming challenges both mentally and physically. The mountain is a metaphor!

This is funAnd we’ve seen “the mountain is a metaphor” before on this very blog. There’s another game that sticks in this humble blogger’s head that used the exact same story framing: Catherine. Catherine is a game that is mostly remembered for showing its whole ass with some of the worst sexual politics this side of Persona 5 (gee, wonder if there’s a connection there), but it was also a story about comparing the struggles of Vincent and his dream-mountain climbing to real-life decision making and the trials and tribulations of navigating the dangers of reality. And, if you think that metaphor is simply implied, don’t worry, the writers of Catherine assumed you were an idiot, and framed their story with a character breaking the fourth wall to shout “it’s an allegory!” at all the nimrods that bought Catherine because the logo looked like panties. To say the least, Celeste was slightly more subtle with its morals while maintaining the added benefit of 100% less upskirt camera angles; but it still boils down to the same palpable lesson: you can treat the complications of life like a video game. This mountain may initially seem insurmountable, and you may fall again and again, but you will reach the peak. Whether you’re Vincent or Madeline, you can climb.

But when multiple stories present the moral that you can triumph in real life despite hardships, what does it mean when you play these games to face those “hardships” for fun?

Why compare Celeste to Catherine? Well, Catherine might have an odious plot and tone, but its gameplay is almost wholly different from anything else that has come down the pike in the last decade (and, as you may be aware, I’ve played a lot of videogames over the last decade). The combination of puzzle and action in Catherine is a sweet success, and, while it might be fair to say the writers of Catherine should be shipped off to Penlackicus: The Isle Where Pens Are Forbidden, the gameplay of Catherine is something that can be returned to again and again. It’s unique! It’s frenetic! Occasionally sheep are murdered for their insolence! That’s always a good time (assuming you’re not a shepherd). Similarly, Celeste is an amazing platformer designed by people that understand the genre better than most Sonic curators, and solving each environmental conundrum is as delightful as it is precise. Once you have a full grasp of Madeline’s moveset (and its occasional evolutions), you’ll be revisiting each path to collect a pie’s worth of strawberries not because you have to, but because you’ll want to spend more time bounding and dashing around her world. Celeste and Catherine, two games containing obvious lessons about triumphing over impediments even when such a thing seems impossible, are both games that make those impediments… fun.

NOT FUNAnd, on a personal note, Celeste is the game I played most during the Spring Quarantine of 2020. The world was falling apart in drastically unprecedented ways, I personally had no guarantee whether or not I would have any kind of income from day to day (spoilers for anyone concerned: I made out okay), and there was the threat of a deadly virus striking seemingly at all times. Granted, as I write this article, things aren’t much better, but there’s now a certain kind of uncomfortable familiarity with the situation. Yes, leaving the house is still a gauntlet of social distancing not unlike attempting to dash through a hotel filled with malevolent and deadly energy, but at least it no longer feels like the whole of society is going to gradually slide into the nearest ocean (we have to wait for 2038 for that). Back in March, when everything was unknown and something as basic as “wear a mask” was reported with equal claims of it being our one saving grace and a way to instantly obtain a malady known as “fungus nose”, things were a lot more ambiguous. And, thinking back on that time, I can safely say that I was probably about thirty seconds away from a mental breakdown every moment. I won’t exactly say I was tangibly depressed, but it was more like I was… concerned. Perpetually concerned. Perpetually might-have-a-heart-attack concerned. In retrospect, it was a surprisingly gentle time, as most businesses were closed (so there was little reason to go outside and risk my life for a damn haircut), the concept that someone might be financially hurting was universally understood (extra unemployment and money from a government that was pretending to care about its citizens that week), and, give or take some supermarket meltdowns, people seemed unusually empathetic for a month or so (we’re all in this together!). Maybe it was just an illusion brought on by not having to directly deal with (much of) the public for a month or so, but, in retrospect, the general start of this COVID insanity seemed like it was the best part; something approaching a reprieve before we settled into Let's move itthe usual rhythms of watching our leaders toss more and more “essential” workers into the meat grinder. But when that “reprieve” was happening, it seemed like anything but, as I deal with uncertainty about as well as having a swarm of bees in my pants. March and April’s COVID situation brought me seemingly unlimited stress, and I chose to relax by… playing a game that is supposed to be stressful.

And it eventually dawned on me why I was doing such a thing: even when it seems impossible to make progress in Celeste, even when the next obstacle seems completely insurmountable, even if you’re barely trying, if you fail, at least you won’t lose anything.

And, in an uncertain world, that is infinitely comforting.

Celeste is about climbing a mountain, yes, but the climb happens one screen at a time. Madeline might be required to exhibit some arduous acrobatics, but if she fails, she’s immediately returned to the last place she had even footing. There are no continues that have to be conserved, or lives that have to be limited. While you will lose a strawberry bonus for dying halfway through its retrieval, once you have hit solid ground with your bounty, there’s no way to lose that prize, whether through immediately failing on the same screen, or at some later point in the level. Celeste is also extremely forgiving with save locations, so you can pop into a precise third of a stage if you want to clock in some practice in a particular area. Madeline may become frequently frustrated by the various trials she has to face, but the player is given every advantage in attempting the climb. There might be a number quickly approaching infinity next to that death count, but it’s all worth it if you finish the stage. You won’t be locked out of any future content for burying Madeline more often than the X-Men.

And, hell, I don’t know what Madeline has to worry about. I’m pretty sure I’d be happy as a clam if I mortally screwed up over and over, but came back fresh as a daisy five seconds later every time.

This blowsRemember those uncertain COVID times I mentioned earlier? In the Fall of 2019, I finally took the initiative, looked at my rainy day fund that hadn’t been touched for literally years, and cashed in on remodeling my ancient, remembers-the-fall-of-Napoleon bathroom. It was a lot of money, but I sat down with a ledger, looked at the past year’s profits and losses, and determined it would be a passable expense. I also consulted with my fiancée, who informed me she would leave me if she had to deal with a bathroom that involved a crankshaft toilet one more time. Wait, excuse me, she wasn’t my fiancée at the time. That came later, with the other major expense I picked up in February: an engagement ring. In that case, it was money I really didn’t want to spend, but, hey, I’m pretty sure I love the woman I’m buying it for, and she is a material girl ™ , so may as well make the love of my life happy. So those were two huge, once in a lifetime expenses that I decided would be endurable if typical trends continued. And then a worldwide plague tossed the idea of “typical trends” straight out the window. So, right about when I was concerned that my profession wasn’t as Thunderdome-proof as I might have liked, I also had blown my emergency savings on a sink faucet that doesn’t pour out exclusively spiders (I… really needed that bathroom renovation). Once again, to be absolutely clear, I made it out of that initial quarantine with a job and only a modest hit to my income, but did I know that would be the outcome in March? Of course not. I spent my days worrying over decisions I had made during The Before Time, and I wouldn’t stop worrying until there was a more comfortable “end” in sight. What good is an engagement ring when you can’t support the ones you love? What good is a tile shower in the face of a catastrophe? Can I just reset to a save point from a scant few months prior? Can I get a do-over on this apocalypse thing?

WeeeeeAnd, when I think about it, this is why I play “hard games” when things are stressful. No matter how badly I mess up in Celeste, it’s not going to impact my life. No matter how many times I damn Vincent to death in Catherine, it’s not going to make a dent in my bank account. Every setback in Bloodborne might mean I lose some resources, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to lose my home. Calling a videogame hard is all well and good, but the fact that there are no consequences (maybe beyond losing a few useless hours of actual life) is what transforms “difficult” into “fun”. Drop any consequences for failure, and repeated failures are enjoyable.

The climb is long, hard, and treacherous. But when you won’t lose a thing doing it, it’s fun.

FGC #516 Celeste

  • System: This is another “whaddya got” situation: Steam, Linux, MacOS, Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and certain garage door openers. This one is probably going to get around in future generations, too.
  • Number of players: Maddy rarely enjoys company, as she is a bit of a loner.
  • ScaryFavorite Level: The hotel stage is my uncontested favorite. It has a decent moral, a quasi-boss battle, and I love me some little black ghosty things that don’t allow you to re-traverse certain edges. It all works together beautifully, and seems to encapsulate what’s great about Celeste.
  • So, did you beat it: I’m sorry to say I don’t have every last strawberry, but I’m good with everything else that is going on. Celeste is damn good stuff, and it’s worth triumphing over tribulations to grieve over grandmas. Or… something.
  • Missing Pieces: I completely missed Theo’s explanation of the mountain and its ruined city during my initial playthrough, so I’m pretty sure I assumed the whole of the game was little more than magical realism on my first go. Mind you, that’s still kind of accurate, but Mt. Celeste is apparently supposed to be a “real” location in videogame Canada, not a complete hallucination like my initial impression.
  • Speaking of Dreams: This is the best animation of 2018.

    YUMMY

    Slurp!

  • Black Lives Matter: Celeste was my go-to “relax during quarantine” game, but it also publically resurfaced recently as part of the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. I will literally never get through the 1,741 bits of software that were included in that bundle, but I enjoy being reminded that that amazing set of games was so successful in raising $8,154,644.19 for a worthy cause. Way to go, Itch.
  • Did you know? M. Thorson made a full thread on Twitter about all the ways Celeste is designed to “feel right” for the player. I’m just going to go ahead and link to it rather than recount the full details, so just be aware that there is an inordinate amount of care involved in the creation of a good platformer. Also, “coyote time” is something that should be applied to every platformer ever. Looking at you, Castlevania.
  • Would I play again: Celeste is platforming comfort food for me. And I feel we could all use a little more comfort right now.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Retro Game Challenge for the Nintendo DS! Speaking of challenges and retro games, here’s… uh… both. I guess. Anyway, please look forward to it!

HUGS