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FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s Dilbert.

Fuck Dilbert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, okay, one more quote from the man:

Seriously!?

Yeah, sure that makes perfect sense, undecided voter.

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

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

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

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

He did alright

Thanks, Jim.

FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

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

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

Crunch
In Sega Genesis, television eats you!

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

So shinyRecently(ish) on the ol’ World of Final Fantasy live stream, my compatriots, BEAT and fanboymaster, discussed the idea of a collectathon, and settled on the decision that the term “collectathon” is one that was designed by game reviewers who did not actually care for the genre in any conceivable way. The word itself speaks to the exhaustion that is caused by participating in a collectathon, and, more than likely, the term was coined after so many random games that required all kinds of esoteric methods to finally achieve some level of “game completion”. In short, according to my contemporaries, “collectathon” became a term to insult the genre it was describing.

However, I disagree (and I would have elaborated more on my position during the stream, but we had to get back to discussing episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). For one thing, I used to date a woman who ran recreationally, and, to her, the idea of a marathon was actually a fun time. I, personally, am completely incapable of understanding such a feeling, but there are apparently people out there that that both enjoy what others see as a grueling gauntlet and have sex with me (wait… maybe there’s a connection there). But the idea of –thon being a watch word (suffix?) aside, there’s also the whole “collecta-“ part of the equation. And noting that a whole lot of collecting is going to be involved seems valid! Your biggest collectathons require amassing all kinds of crazy nonsense, and, in the same way that a shoot ‘em up contains a lot of shooting or a role playing game involves eating a whole lot of rolls, the noble collectathon is all about collecting. And, as collectathons progressed through the end of the 90s and into the current millennium, they certainly put more and more of an effort-based emphasis on collecting at the cost of boss fights, minigames, or other distractions from the primary goal of collecting. In short, according to this humble writer, the collectathon is well-served by its popular moniker.

And, besides, if you want to insult a collectathon, call it by the name that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest so desperately deserves: a goddamn mindreading simulator.

This is funBefore I start actively swearing, let me state one thing plainly: Donkey Kong Country 2 is a good videogame. Hell, it’s one of the best on the Super Nintendo, and, considering its competition, that is very much saying something. It’s an action platformer that lives up to the pedigree of Mario or Sonic, but it is also its own animal with extremely unique, consistent physics. As would eventually be refined by the WiiU era, Donkey Kong Country has always had a very distinctive “feeling”; and, after its maiden voyage in Donkey Kong Country 1, DKC2 seemed to perfect that feeling for the Super Nintendo. And we got Dixie! A significant issue with DKC1 is that it never had a “raccoon tail” or similar option of having access to a character with a less precise, more forgiving jump (not like you can drag that flapping ostrich into every stage). DKC2 gave us Dixie Kong and her ponytail-copter that allowed for slower, but more easily-controlled jumps. And you’re going to need it, too, because absolutely every DKC2 level has its own discrete challenge, so not a single pixel is wasted on repeating or recycling level concepts over and over. In an age where every third platformer contained stages that were indistinguishable from each other (looking at you, Bubsy), you could never mistake one DKC2 stage for another. Yes, those briars might be familiar, but this time you’re using mobile barrels as opposed to flying a parrot. Or is this the stage with the spider? Maybe! Better play the level to find out.

But variety isn’t always a good thing, and that issue rears its ugly head when you get back to that collectathon aspect. The sad truth of Donkey Kong Country 2? It apparently expects you to be psychic.

SPLURTPreviously on this blog, I recognized Banjo & Kazooie as the perfect collectathon. Long article short, it is all about carefully explaining its challenges to the player, and then granting the player all the options available to say “so have at it”. There are ten jiggys in this world, you know there are only ten jiggys, so get to work, and when you’ve collected nine, know that that one place on the map with a weird squirrel is probably your final destination. Donkey Kong Country 2, also created by Banjo & Kazooie’s Rare, is obviously the ancestor of many of B&K’s indulgences (and we’re not just talking about the inexplicable, self-contained quiz show). Does every weird-ass animal in this universe have giant googly eyes? Yes. Speaking of animals, the buddies have now mostly been transformed from “power-ups” (ala Yoshi in Super Mario World) to required “transformations” that mean this stage is absolutely going to require the abilities of a springy snake. And, yes, so much more so than in Donkey Kong Country 1, collecting bits and baubles is a requirement if you want to see the whole of the game. Not only do you need to find Krem Coins in bonus areas if you want to complete all the levels, you also need banana coins to pay Kongs for the privilege of saving, and DK Coins so Cranky Kong can shut his fat gob for once in this damned franchise. Whereas bonus areas were simply bonuses in DKC1, now every last challenge must be conquered if you want to play the entirety of Donkey Kong Country 2.

And if you are looking for a little consistency in the “bonuses” of DKC2, you are cartwheeling up the wrong vine.

Take thatThere is one DK coin in every level. You can always find it in the level proper… except that one time a DK coin is hidden in a bonus stage. And the final “jump challenge” of every level is always a simple bonus for consumables… except when it is required for the DK coin in about three stages. You can count on bonus rooms to appear in pairs across the various levels, but don’t let your guard down after you’ve found one, because there are a handful of stages that contain three. And speaking of finding bonus areas, don’t worry, because there’s always a banana arrow or even just a single banana indicating that something might be up with this particular wall or area. Or there isn’t. Better nudge a carried barrel against every single vertical surface any time you see one available. Maybe you should backtrack with the barrel, too, because that works, too. Not often, of course, but every once in a while it’s mandatory. Oh! And you know how those thorny vines are always going to obliterate your kongs? Well there are a few false thorn walls, so you might want to smoosh up against deadly spikes just on the off chance it’s that one part where that’s the only way to find the DK coin. Don’t ask me which level they appear in, but they’re there, so you better give it a shot more often than not. Sorry if you lose a life!

And if this sounds completely absurd, congratulations, you’re paying attention. Donkey Kong Country 2 does not effectively (or at least consistently) convey to the player the parameters of its compulsory secrets. The best way to play Donkey Kong Country 2 is to apparently fall into every pit and eat every spike, Kong health be damned. Or use an emulator, and rewind every mistake. Or read a FAQ. Or the only viable option available in 1995: be a goddamned mind reader, and know exactly what Rare was thinking at all times.

Go DiddyA collectathon can be fun. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a fun game. But literally banging your head against every wall is not fun. Trying to figure out what the hell Rare happened to be thinking from level to level is not fun. Sometimes it is fun to find a particularly well-hidden secret, but, more often than not, the path to finding that secret is fraught with trial, error, and a whole lot of dead monkeys. And nobody wants to see that! We have so many laws against that!

Disparage not the noble collectathon, but please acknowledge the woes of the olden mindreading simulator. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest set Rare on the path of defining the collectathon, but, in its pupal form, the collectathon was responsible for more frustration than fun.

… Or at least it sold a lot of copies of Nintendo Power…

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, and now any Nintendo system that will support an emulator. Didn’t get loaned out to Xbox One’s Rare Replay, though.
  • Number of players: There are two Kongs on this adventure, so you may as well have two players.
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Ignoring the snake that is the clear precursor to Spring Mario, I’m going to go with Squitter the Spider, because the ability to make your own platforms in a 16-bit platformer was a revelation back in the 90’s. Much like Kirby’s flight abilities or the P-Wing, this felt like breaking the whole game back in the day… even if the poor spider only appeared in a handful of levels. And the power-webs are a nice bonus, too.
  • Diddy on Top: Do you suppose Nintendo would allow this to happen in a modern release?

    WINNER!

    I kind of have to believe that Nintendo would let Diddy tie with Mario, not win, if something like this were tried today. Then again, maybe it only happened the first time because there is clearly an insult to Sonic and Earthworm Jim thrown in there.

  • Setting a tone: I have to say, it is downright impressive how the Kremling’s home island, the setting for DKC2, absolutely sucks. Give or take one vaguely malevolent amusement park, you can see why these lizards are constantly trying to conquer other realms, because sitting at home with the poisonous bogs, giant beehives, and castle overflowing with acid does not seem like a good time. Donkey Kong Country seems like a place I would like to stay, Crocodile Isle is… not going to get five stars on the ol’ vacation rankings.
  • An End: Find every last Krem Coin, and Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie will watch Crocodile Isle sink into the ocean, with K. Rool escaping on his pirate ship. Does this seem like a good idea, guys? To leave your mortal enemy homeless? That’s only going to lead to issues down the line, and you know it.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This article is being published on my wedding day. This has nothing to do with anything, but I figure I’ll make a note of it.
  • It is hot in hereDid you know? Dixie Kong took some significant time off after Donkey Kong Country 3. She didn’t appear in Donkey Kong 64 (that was her sister, Tiny), but she did make it back in time for Donkey Konga and Jungle Climber. Now she seems to appear nearly every time we see Donkey, though, so it looks like her retirement was short lived.
  • Would I play again: I realize that this article makes it sound like Donkey Kong Country 2 is a bad game. But it’s not! I swear! It just has some horrible tendencies towards making my OCD flip out on every flat surface in every level. That hampers my ability to enjoy the game! But would I ever play it again? Yes, because this is some of the best platforming on the SNES. Like for another game, I just need to turn my brain off, and then we’ll be fine.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Garfield: Caught in the Act for Sega Genesis. Oh no! I hate Mondays, too! Please look forward to it!

Weeeeee
This counts as a minecart, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, other games weren’t so lucky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One poison mushroom is all it takes…

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

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

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

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

I do not care for this

FGC #541 Splatterhouse

Things go splatSigmund Freud put forth the psychological theory of psychosexual development. In short, Freud’s hypothesis was that boys and girls went through certain sexual developmental stages during childhood, and each of these phases had particular erogenous triggers that should be satisfied, even if only subconsciously. If these conditions were not properly met, a child would grow into an adult that had a specific fetish/fixation. If all went well, then the kid would grow to be a sexually well-adjusted man or woman that doesn’t google pictures of half-dressed centaurs when his fiancée is asleep. While Freud’s psychosexual outlines have been derided since the early 20th Century as sexist, homophobic, euro-centric, scientifically inaccurate, and generally unpleasant, Freud’s teachings still persist through to today… even if they only wind up as part of pop-psychology lectures provided by sitcom characters. Oh! And in videogames!

So let’s review Freud’s theory of psychosexual development through the medium of Splatterhouse.

The Oral Stage

The first stage lasts from birth until about one year. During this stage, the only way a person knows how to interact with the world is through oral means. It starts at the mother’s teat, and ends with every goddamn thing within reach being shoved into that toothless maw. Supposedly, if there is too little or too much (Freud is astrology for psychology nerds) oral gratification, they will grow to be an adult that is passive, gullible, and/or immature.

Not too gross

The Oral Stage is the foundation of Splatterhouse. Rick, a boy anxious just to have some alone time with his girlfriend in a creepy house that may or may not have blood all over the walls, is murdered seven seconds into his romantic rendezvous. But all is not lost! Rick is revived by a haunted facemask. The only caveat? He has to keep wearing the mask, which means he cannot orally enjoy anything. His face is permanently bound for the entirety of his adventure, so he has become little more than a deprived child (albeit one with the power to punch monsters to death).

Gross

Taunting Rick is the final boss of Splatterhouse, a gigantic head with toothy jaws that can only devour everything in its path (and throw rocks, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor). Rick has no mouth with which to orally interact, while his greatest foe is all consuming. Give or take a particularly unpleasant skin condition, Rick is forced to envy everything about his ultimate opponent.

The Anal Stage

If you like big butts and cannot lie, you are likely fixated on mistakes made during the anal stage of development. This stage, taking place from approximately eighteen months to three years, sees the focus shift from the upper digestive tract to the lower half. Pleasure is derived from satisfying the urges of everything below the equator, and the biggest factor here on whether or not someone will forever be hypnotized by the booty is effective toilet training. If training is too strict at this stage, it will inevitably lead to someone being “anal” and controlling; or, in the event of parents that aren’t too concerned about Kid Stinky, an adult might wind up becoming one of those guys with visible stink lines.

Gross

So it should be no surprise that Rick winds up in a literal sewer as soon as Level 2. Despite the fact that the titular Splatterhouse is a house that is literally in the middle of nowhere, it apparently has a robust sewer system, complete with water monsters. It is obvious that these creatures are meant to represent excrement, and would be festering, pulsating poop monsters if Splatterhouse had been released with more high definition options. Regardless, Rick fighting through the muck to murder monsters made of messes is a clear allusion to the anal stage, and how no one can ever truly live in a world where everything is clean.

The Phallic Phase

Here’s where things get interesting! From the ages of three to six, a person will explore their genitals. This is not a “sexual awakening” as we commonly think of it, but it is a time when the person involved realizes they can derive pleasure from touching their no-no places. Additionally, as children usually acquire a curiosity about other dark corners of anatomy, this is traditionally when they learn about the physical differences between men and women. This is also where the Oedipus complex comes into play, as a boy child is apparently coming around on “real” sexual feelings, and wants to unseat his father and claim his mother as a lover. If you’re wondering about Freud’s equivalent thinking for women, don’t bother, as Freud left Electra to Carl Jung, and claimed that women simply experience a “negative Oedipus complex” that, if not properly managed, will lead to a woman with the affliction of “high self-esteem”. Remember how I said this thing was a little sexist?

Gross

But Rick isn’t a woman! Rick is a man’s man, and, as such, he has to fight a pile of blood worms that couldn’t be any more phallic if they were starring in Captain Toad. The boss of Stage 1 is little more than a pile of severed, bloody wieners, and Rick has to fight off every last one before they drain his life force. And could there be any greater metaphor for the phallus? Well, there’s the final worm that bursts forth from a hanging man’s abdomen, but that one is a little more Alien than outright phallic.

The Latency Phase

From about age six to puberty, psychosexual development apparently just takes a moment to collect itself. You know all about “bloodworms”, but you can’t really do anything about any of that yet, so may as well just chill on everything until those hormones get going. But thoughts are still there! They just have to be channeled into something else. So, essentially, Freud thought that every 2nd grader is a churning ball of sexual energy, but is trying not to think about it while learning how to play dodgeball. Whatever, Siggy.

Not too Gross

However, this can be seen within Splatterhouse in the lead up to the finale of Stage 5. Rick is trying to rescue Jenny, but is menaced by ghost women in an art gallery. These apparitions are the only obviously female foes in the house, and it is clear they are restless spirits meant to represent Rick’s feelings for his mate. Rick knows he must find Jenny, but he has no idea how or where. Does he even know what he’s going to do when he gets there? In the meanwhile, he must turn his focus elsewhere. These ghosts seem to indicate that Rick’s desires are real, but no more substantial than wisps.

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase

For an extremely brief period just before puberty begins, it is posited that everyone goes through the meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase. This is an oft-overlooked stage in development when people’s thoughts turn exclusively to a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands. Why does this happen? Is it a universal, deep-seated affection for Leatherface? Or is it a matter of the fact that the most natural, pure sexual attraction is the one between a person and a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands? Nobody knows. But ask anyone over the age of 12 about their own meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase, and they’ll likely sigh contentedly.

Back to gross

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase is best emblemized by the boss of Stage 3, Biggy Man. Biggy Man is, naturally, a gigantic, fleshy fellow with gardening equipment implanted on his arms. Like his attendant phase of psychosexual development, he is a difficult boss if you do not come prepared. If you show up at his door with the (unsurprisingly phallic) shotgun, though, he’s a wee kitten, and will be purring (bleeding) in no time. Fear not this perfectly natural phase!

The Genital Phase

The genital phase is the grand finale of psychosexual development. At this point, we’re well and truly into puberty, and, in the immortal words of my pants when I turned 13, “let’s get our freak on” (to be clear, my pants could not actually talk, there were simply some unusual clothing designs available at Hot Topic in the 90s). Assuming someone has successfully completed all of their psychosexual development homework over the previous decade and change, the Genital Phase is where it all pays off, and adult, consenting relationships/relations can happen. You no longer want to have sex with your mom (or, if you’re a woman, negative-mom), and you will gain sexual satisfaction not only from your own biological parts, but also from satisfying the needs and desires of others. It’s a good time for everybody!… Unless you messed up on one of the earlier phases. Then you’re stuck begging randos on Chat Roulette to talk dirty about My Little Pony until you can finally climax. Sorry! I don’t make the rules!

Gross

In Splatterhouse, the genital phase is clearly meant to be the true climax of the game, and it presents itself as the boss fight with Rick’s kidnapped girlfriend, Jennifer. Aliens (?) implant… something… in Jenny, and she becomes a horrifying monster that may or may not resemble something from This Island Earth. She jumps around attempting to murder Rick, but occasionally reverts to her human form so she can beg for death. Homicide and suicide all in one? That sounds like every relationship I ever had as a teenager! Rick will eventually succeed in putting Jenny down, and, while she does return (to life) in the sequel, he did technically satisfy her desires in this instance, even if it may be brief. Good job, Rick, you’re psychosexually developed!

Enjoy the next stage where Splatterhouse keeps burping out fetuses.

Super Gross

And it all starts all over again! Thanks Siggy, for the eternal cycle of psychosexual development!

FGC #541 Splatterhouse

  • System: Arcade, and then the TurboGrafx-16. The arcade version is much more enjoyable if available (apparently as part of a Switch collection), as it has the original, lawsuit-bait Jason Voorhees mask. The TG16 version is available currently on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, though, so it may be slightly more accessible if you never nabbed the Wii version.
  • Number of players: Two players alternating. There is apparently code in the game for simultaneous play, but they couldn’t get it 100% implemented for release. Or they just thought it was dumb. Either way, not widely available.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is one of those pre-Final Fight beat ‘em ups where it’s kinda sorta a platforming game, too. Splatterhouse does seem to have a leg up on the competition, as it features multiple, branching paths, and very memorable bosses and environments. Unfortunately, it is still a quarter killer, so its difficulty is high for its relatively simply gameplay. And no one ever tells you how to do that essential slide move! Splatterhouse, overall, seems to balance out to a “medium essential” experience.
  • Things go grabWon’t someone please think of the children: The gore was turned down dramatically for the home versions. Additionally, a floating, upside cross was replaced with a severed head (or maybe a doll’s head?), and bladed weapons (like a meat cleaver) were replaced with sticks of wood. Oh! And when you murder the beating heart of the mansion, it doesn’t gush fluids, but immediately catches fire. That at least explains why the following stage is a bit toasty.
  • Favorite Weapon: The shotgun is amazing, but there are inexplicable harpoons around the mansion, too. Was the unseen Dr. West into whaling in his spare time? Or is this yet another phallic object of power produced by the mansion?
  • Favorite Moment: I always love mirror matches, so Rick’s malevolent reflection busting out of a reflection is simultaneously scary and fun. Jumpscares in an arcade game! Who would have thought?
  • What’s in a name? According to the TG16 port’s manual, the final boss is named “Hell Chaos”, and is presumably the mutated corpse of Dr. West, the Splatterhouse’s landlord. Hell Chaos doesn’t technically appear again in the franchise, but he does return as a cardboard cutout over a door in the 2010 version. He’s that (not) spooky. Sorry, Nemesis.
  • Did you know? In the arcade version, the crawling hand will occasionally give Rick the finger. That’s not polite, severed hand!
  • Let's reflect on thisWould I play again: Maybe. This is a game that is too difficult to play casually (without save states, memorization, or a childhood of playing the title constantly), but maybe I’ll give it a go for a credit or two sometime. It is damn satisfying to splat monsters against walls, and the arcade version is available as part of Splatterhouse 2010. Speaking of which…

What’s next? Random ROB knows how this goes, so we’re playing Splatterhouse again, but this time it’s the 2010 version. Let’s get ready to splat on a whole new generation of hardware. Please look forward to it!