Tag Archives: nostalgia

FGC #631 Voltron: Defender of the Universe

Let’s talk about games preservation and the defender of the universe.

This is Voltron

Keep on defendin' in the free worldToday’s subject is Voltron: Defender of the Universe for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. It is a Voltron title released five years before the critically praised Netflix Voltron “revival” of 2016. Theoretically, this Voltron experience was produced to promote the failed Voltron “sequel” Voltron Force, which was released the same year. But, to be absolutely clear, Voltron: Defender of the Universe is wholly based on the original Voltron series, and does not feature any “next generation” nonsense or a Sven that is old and grizzly from his stay at space hospital. This is the story of Keith, Lance, Pidge, Hunk, and whoever is piloting Blue Lion this week as they attempt to repel an army of purple people punishers with the occasional skull tank. There are robeasts. There are evil witches. And there are three main levels, so you will form Blazing Sword three times.

And if you are curious “how it plays”, it is primarily a twin stick shooter. There are multiplayer options available, but, by and large, you are looking at three stages of solo stick shootin’ mooks, a boss, and then forming Voltron to Simon Says until a robeast is slain. Repeat three times, and you have successfully defended the universe in perpetuity. There are two space stages that could be mistaken for lion-based Gradius, and the rest is running around random environments (and, for the record, we have “grass planet”, “desert planet”, and the finale, “Bowser planet”). Oh! And you have your choice of five lions, all with different stats (and three different-sized models between them). This is definitely Voltron.

You Cannot Buy Voltron

Big BlueUnfortunately, you’re just going to have to take my word on all this information, as you cannot purchase Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Obviously, V:DotU is a licensed videogame, and, at some point Wikipedia fails to date, that license expired. As a result, the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions are no longer available. There never was a PC release, so that is right out; and we never saw a physical release for this bite-sized adventure that only includes three worlds. Additionally, even if you do still have the game available, the DLC has been delisted, too. So if you missed that “survival mode” that was released six months after the initial availability, you are out of luck. And, as the extra special poison cherry on top, the Playstation 3 storefront as a whole has been “retired” to the point that it requires bizarre workarounds simply to access your own content (“I have to change my password now? Again?”), so you better hope your PS3 hard drive stays safe if you want future Voltron times. And going to go ahead and assume (but literally no way to confirm) the latest Xbox models do not carry this title forward…

In short, if you want to play Voltron: Defender of the Universe, and you didn’t buy it eleven years ago, you are just as damned as Medusa Anga (Robeast #27, true believers).

Is Voltron Worth Saving?

Because GradiusLet’s be clear on one important note: Voltron: Defender of the Universe was made almost exclusively for fans of a series that had ended over 25 years before the game’s release. Give or take the opening narration that accompanies every boot (just like it started every episode of the original series), there is no real explanation of what is happening here, or how the characters relate to what is happening on the screen. There are five lions! They turn into a giant robot man! Why? Who the hell knows! The antagonists don’t seem friendly with each other, but no explanation is given for why they are attacking, or why their vehicles look like things that could be easily scaled down to fit comfortably into a child’s hands. And there are random cut-ins from members of the Voltron Force, and… who are these people? Why does the blue one keep changing? Why does the green one sound so weird? And then the game ends by introducing another Voltron force? Is there the slightest bit of context for that narrative swerve? Nope!

Everything significant about Voltron: DotU was lifted wholesale from the original Voltron English dub. Animated scenes are marginally upscaled copies of the original (that look to be slightly above Sega CD quality), and all sound bites feature “the original voice actors” because they were lifted from the original dub tracks. Apparently Peter Cullen recorded a few new lines as the narrator, but you’d be forgiven if you assumed all those lines about “Voltron defeated Zarkon” were direct copy ‘n paste jobs. And the three “episodes” of the game are straight up Voltron episodes (specifically the opening “miniseries” with Part 4 featured, Episode 44 Voltron vs. Voltron, and Episode 50 the nigh finale of Zarkon Becomes a Robeast) that do no favors to the narration by skipping a solid fifty episodes of plot. In short, if you came into this franchise blind, Voltron: Defender of the Universe makes absolutely no attempt to welcome a new audience.

Meanwhile, if you were already a fan of Voltron, this is mana from heaven. Hearing the original voices, fighting those familiar playsets and toys, and even just hearing “Voltron will be right back after these messages” every time you pause is amazing. At release, it had been a quarter of a century since Voltron was new on the airwaves, and, even if this was a rehash of familiar plots, this game was a love letter to the original Voltron English release that was important to a number of childhoods (chief among them mine, because I am important [to me]). Voltron: Defender of the Universe was released at a time when Voltron awareness was at an all-time low, and it was the best thing to come out of Voltron in a long while (brother, if you talk about Voltron: The Third Dimension in this house, I will show you the door).

But, like this game, the world of 2011 is no more. Voltron is now a known property, no longer relegated to obscure DVD collections and “l33t rips”, but available immediately in its entirety on Netflix. And the new Voltron series brought with it years of new Voltron content and action figures. While the fervor has died down since the Netflix series ended, Voltron is now more available than ever, and a super fan does not need a PS3 game for their fix. Voltron has moved on, so maybe the loss of one random game isn’t a big deal. Newbies would get nothing out of the game, and the real fans have an embarrassment of riches to keep them company. The world doesn’t need Voltron: Defender of the Universe.

The Universe needs Voltron

What is the difference between this videogame and all the other Voltron media now freely available? Well, like it says in that very question, Votron: Defender of the Universe is a videogame. Specifically, it is a videogame from the early days of downloadable titles. And that is an entire branch of videogame history that people seem to ignore. V:DotU is a twin-stick shooter! Like Geometry Wars! Remember Geometry Wars? Everyone was playing it for a solid six months. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was once the single most downloaded game on the Xbox 360. But you will find more people that talk about its contemporaries of Resident Evil 4, Psychonauts, or God of War before they mention the little shooter that could. And by the time you get to 2011, you have Voltron competing against the likes of Batman: Arkham City, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Portal 2. Does V:DotU deserve to be spoken of in the same breathless tones as a game that revolutionized singing robots for the second time? No, but it would be nice if someone remembered it happened.

You gonna dieMuch like its parent series, Voltron: Defender of the Universe is a product of its time. The “fan service” that is continually on display was a naked attempt to appeal to the demographic that was just then grown up enough to max out their credit cards on nostalgic crap. The “twin stick” gameplay is something literally anyone could master, so it could bring in Voltron fans without requiring JRPG or fighting game-style expertise. And, yes, it was a “budget” downloadable title in a time when that kind of thing was viable for licensed products. If it was successful, they could produce enough DLC to expand into a “full” game. If it dropped like a wet thud (which is closer to the reality of what happened), it would still be a complete experience well worth ten bucks worth of Xbox points. In short, V:DotU had clear goals and an audience, and it was not the only of its kind in 2011.

But now that portion of videogame history seems to be stricken from the record. Much in the same way that the original Japanese Beast King GoLion is forgotten in a sea of other mecha anime in its native land, Voltron: Defender of the Universe for the PS3 is forgotten here. It is another in an ocean of downloadable twin stick shooters from the era. And that era in its entirety? It has been ignored for the AAA titles (and their copycats) of the age. Skyward Sword just received a rerelease despite its difficult to emulate controls, Portal 2 has never not been available on your computer, and even Saints Row: The Third was a comparatively modest hit that somehow has representation to this very day. And never mind that this was the same year both Dark Souls and Minecraft were released! Ain’t nobody talkin’ ‘bout the latest game being a Voltron: Defender of the Universe-borne-like.

pew pewSo, yes, the world needs Voltron: Defender of the Universe because the world needs its history. We need the failure games. We need the licensed games. We need the ability to experience these games that are lost in legal limbo, because watching a youtube let’s play or reading about it on a blog is simply not the same. We need to play these lost games, and live in a world where they are available. We need to learn from our collective past, and not simply sweep history under the rug. Now, more than ever, we need a defender of the universe, even if that defender failed to make an impact on said universe.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe, like all games of its ilk, deserves a chance to be played. And if you need anyone to defend this defender? Then I’ll form the head.

FGC #631 Voltron: Defender of the Universe

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. You know, if you got them when they were available…
  • Number of players: I have no idea. Seriously! I know there are at least two players available, but it is possible they jacked that up to the whole five with online play. I really don’t know!
  • Favorite Voltron Lion: Green has always been my go-to, but his nimble movements and shooting exist at the cost of crappy armor, and the later stages require a little more durability. So with that in mind, Black Lion seems to win as the general allrounder that can survive long enough to put down the forces of the Drule Empire. Sorry, Pidge, I want to see you live through this fight.
  • I will survive!So whatcha got: If you are asking what Voltron: DotU has gameplay wise over its twin stick competitors, I point to “survival mode”, wherein you are punted out of your lion and forced to survive on foot if your HP drops to zero. It takes ten whole seconds for a Voltron lion to repair itself, so ducking and avoiding heavy artillery is a must if you want to literally save a lost life and hop back into your vehicle for an offensive. On earlier levels, this is basically a ticket to infinite lives; on later levels, it is survival mode in every sense of the word. And it’s fun!
  • Exploitable: You receive bonus points for surviving Survival Mode. I do not know if there is an upper limit to the number of times you will receive points for surviving, but it sure seems like a ticket to a max score would be to repeatedly crash your lion, and then “survive” over and over again. What are the million point strats for Voltron?
  • Favorite Level: Surprising no one, I prefer the two autoscrolling space stages. They may nix Survival Mode (sorry, no spacesuits for Voltron Force), but the simple progression of floating through space and obliterating anything in your path is ideal for a twin stick lion shooter. And the latter space stage even gets a cameo from Castle of Lions floating around! Always good!
  • Form Blazing Sword: All Voltron fights are “press X at the right time” style affairs, not unlike getting a critical in Shadow Hearts. This is… a choice. It is presented with a GUI not unlike a fighting game, though, and now I am just imagining a Mech on Monster style fighting game. Or has that been done before?
  • Did you know? In the original Voltron (and thus, this game), Pidge was voiced by Neil Ross, the same man that voiced Keith. Pidge basically had such a bizarre voice because there were like six people voicing dozens of people on the show, and you have got to keep everybody separate somehow. See also: Inhumanoids, where Neil Ross was responsible for voicing everyone from Herc Armstrong to Ronald Reagan. And he was Green Goblin on the 1994 Spider-Man animated series! So at least he stuck to a good color.
  • You gonna dieWould I play again: Some stages in Voltron: Defender of the Universe are downright… relaxing? Basic run and shoot gameplay that ain’t too bad on a Saturday afternoon. I am unlikely to play the whole thing from top to bottom again, but it is likely on the replay list for individual levels.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pac-Land! The one where Pac-Man is running around on legs for some reason. Please look forward to it!

FGC #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

I would rather watch thisI am so terrified of being stupid that I may never enjoy anything ever again.

A long time ago in a plagueless epoch long past, it was stated well before the term “Millennial” was ever coined that Millennials interact with advertising differently than their parents. Supposedly, studies had been done that Millennials are more naturally resist to ads that worked on their forebearers, and this next generation of consumers required different tactics. No more could you simply stick Lucy Ricardo on the boob tube and have her tell people exactly what chocolate to buy; no, brands had to build a relationship with their audience. Millennials naturally resisted any and all advertisements that were presented as advertisements, and they loudly joked about the futility of blatant product placement. The paradigm has shifted! A new people is born that needs all new practices!

Or maybe they just needed to make a goddamned movie about chipmunks and their decreasing ability to be proper rescue rangers.

Let’s double back on that whole “Millennials react differently to advertising than their parents” thing. It is the opinion of Gogglebob.com and its attendant subsidiaries that this is and always has been bullshit. Yes, we react differently to advertising, but that is going to be true of literally every generation and the 50-year-old advertising executives that never want to change for any reason, ever. But even beyond that, Millennials were raised with a very unusual feeling of anti-permanence. Ever wonder why nerds are so obsessed with the concept of a fictional “canon”? While this has been a problem for generations, this was significantly exacerbated by a very variable childhood for the 80’s boys. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a completely different continuity between their action figure box descriptions and their animated series. The Transformers had entirely separate universes if you watched a show or read the comics. Even He-Man, often looked to as the ur-“merchandising as entertainment” toy that kicked off the last forty years, could not master a universe where their stage play was half as fantastic as their box art. And we don’t even acknowledge the movie! So, with such contrasting childhood presentations, is it any wonder that an entire generation of nerds craved an authority to tell them what was “real”?

Start at the beginningAnd, whether you were a turbo nerd that noticed Donatello had markedly different eyes across adaptations or not, this impacted vast swaths of people of a certain age. And that can have some long term ramifications! Kids notice when there are incongruities in their own little universe, and, as they grow into surly teenagers, they eventually identify these “incongruities” as “lies our parents told us”. And, when reaching a certain age means you realize your entire childhood was a slapdash fabrication designed only to get you to bug your parents to go to Toys Я Us right now, cynicism is the only result. Are you surprised that an entire generation would thus crave an ephemeral genuine article, and reflexively reject any further attempt at trickery? We were a generation that read propaganda magazines for fun in our childhood, you can’t just toss us a warmed-up smattering of media leftovers and expect us to roll over and play consumer. We care about our properties, because you made us this way, dad! If we were never meant to know the Zelda timeline, then what was even the point of buying three different Zelda encyclopedias, huh!?

Err… actually… yeah. You can pretty quickly see how marketing switched around from “buy this product because we say so” to “buy this product because it is the real story”. And that “real story” can apply in a lot of different ways. We no longer laud actors, we appreciate their characters. Michael Myers and Seth Green are not selling cars, it is Dr. Evil and son Scott that have a Superbowl spot. Networks are not telling you to go out and buy cat food, it is the silly Adult Swim bumper telling you to buy into the latest streaming service. And Soap Company is all about telling you, dear consumer, that it is now hiring models that are not “model skinny”, as, apparently, Soap Company is the arbiter of whether or not bodies are desirable or not. One way or another, it is all about authority and permission, and advertising agencies have learned that Millennials react well to corporations that are working “with” their audience… even if that authorization is apocryphal.

How could it be betterWhat right does any company have to tell its audience what is canon? Original author? Sorry, you died. Company that acquired the rights in some merger? You will never undo Jaxxon T. Tumperakki just because you rubbed George’s beard the right way. And speaking of Disney, to even understand the most popular characters in their stable, you have to acknowledge that their stars were always meant to be adaptable cartoon “stars” that could fit into any situation. Mickey Mouse is a steamboat thief and magical warrior king, and he was literally designed to be able to be anything in between. Disney characters can be anything! Stop trying to sell us the “real story” of any given reboot! Stop trying to make “behind the music” for chipmunks!

… Yeah, alright, let’s talk about that trailer.

For any readers stumbling onto this blog post from the far-flung future of three months from now, understand that this entire article was written in response to the launch of the first trailer for Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers: The 2022 Motion Picture. I have not seen the movie. I have no real idea what the movie is going to look like. It could turn out to be the greatest thing since Citizen Kane (or at least The Lego Movie). I don’t know! But I do know that I had an almost instinctual, gut reaction to the trailer when I first saw it. And, even on a day when they also announced a Bioshock television show, this trailer stuck in my brain unlike any other chunk of media in recent memory. Hell, when was the last time I delayed an FGC post just so I could talk about something that happened “this” week? Maybe a Metroid game

And why do I care? Well, because this trailer impressed upon me two basic facts:

  1. I hate it. I hate it so much. This is a beloved children’s property by way of that food movie with the racist bread. This is some lowest common denominator dreck that is going to take potshots at the last thirty years of animation, and act like it is a damn trendsetter for daring to swing at a 2007 CGI movie nobody remembers (Beowulf. Yes it was a movie). You can’t claim you’re “doing a Roger Rabbit”, literally include Roger Rabbit, and then ignore the fact that the world of Roger Rabbit was a jaded metaphor for actual Hollywood, not some joyful romp through the dustbins of the Disney Entertainment Conglomerate.
  2. This is extremely my jam.

Fuck it! Just fuck it! I am not afraid to admit that this is probably the exact movie I would create if given the chance. Jokes about animation that only make sense to people that remember really specific movies (again, Beowulf)? Sure! Extremely meta concept wherein Disney Stars are actual Disney Stars? It I'm your biggest fanbeats rehashing a fight against Fat Cat. And while I might not ever indulge in the tired trope of “washed up stars” and “retired chipmunks”, the high concept lunacy of “CGI makeover” being a toon’s version of plastic surgery is right up my esoteric alley. Throw in an oblique reference to Chip ‘n Dale not having any time for maintaining airships, and you could practically see my signature on the script. And, while I am unlikely to be the person helming any Disney properties anytime soon (despite my prodigious Gargoyles fanfiction), I could even see being completely content with these concepts/gags as part of a comic book. I loved that time Lex Luthor and Porky Pig got to hang out, so a “where are they now” miniseries on the Rescue Rangers would be amazing. Hell, that’s just a little bit south of where the Darkwing Duck comic started anyway! And I loved that thing!

But this is a movie. This is a trailer that is being shared on every social media platform at 10 AM on a Tuesday. This is something that is being covered on every entertainment website ever created, and attached to a bursting comments section showcasing everyone’s slightest thought on the subject. This is something that will be advertised during commercial breaks, youtube pre rolls, and possibly even previews before big screen flicks. Hell, there are even odds this will have a trailer attached to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Chip n’ Dale will not be as ubiquitous as Encanto 2: Bruno’s Behooving, but it is likely to have a significant cultural presence between now and its release.

And that makes me want to kill it. I want to see violence visited upon it. I want it to pay for the crime of being advertised to the masses and being everything I could ever want.

Nobody likes sewersThis is pandering. From the first moment they lovingly flash over a Nintendo Entertainment System and its attendant NES cartridge, you know exactly who this trailer is for. This is not for super fans that have a Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers poster on their office wall (that I am currently looking at for inspiration, obviously), this is for people who dimly remember enjoying a cartoon some random weekdays after school. This is for people who can identify a “Nintendo game”, but do not even consider there could be someone out there with those games “mint in box”. This is a trailer aimed squarely at people that will not write 1,634 words (and counting!) about a goddamned movie trailer while pretending they are writing an article for a videogame blog. And I wonder what it is like to not be this crazy.

Er-hem.

It would be easy to step back from that statement as “oh you so cray cray” and call it a day, but I feel it is worth examining how I got to here. Strange but true: I wrote this article. All that nonsense about advertising at the top of the page? That is something that I have internalized since I heard the simple fact that “we” are supposed to be more resistant to advertising than our parents. It is something I have seen proven and reinforced over many years. God help me, the Digging the catfact that I am not easily “tricked” is something that I have made to be part of my own feeling of self. I am someone that does not “fall for” advertising. I am better than that. And, as a result, I am constantly on guard. I know nostalgia has been weaponized against me before. I know there is a Mega Man themed gacha right over there, perfectly willing to bleed my wallet dry in the name of getting Halloween Themed Roll on a good pull. I know I have become the “target demo”, and now my own childhood and hobbies are being used against me. I know they’re all out to get me, dammit! This trailer is the latest in crass pandering to a generation that can never let its guard down, lest corporate forces invade and conquer the whole of the cosmos!

… Or it’s just a silly movie about rescue rodents.

While it may not be their usual, this is a Disney movie, firmly premiering on a Disney-exclusive platform. If Disney could find a way to require any and all viewers to live in Disney sponsored housing while drinking Disney flavored cola, they would absolutely do lock that kind of nonsense down. This is a horrible, greedy company that would gladly ransom your childhood if it meant making an extra six bucks. It grants me no pleasure to do anything that supports such a company or its endeavors.

But on the other hand? This is a movie that I think will be at least worth a watch. This is something that will at least garner a few chuckles, if only because they make fun of that one movie with the Grendel (Beowulf!). I know I could boycott this movie. I know I could live without it. But if I am being honest, I also know that I and literally everyone I know could boycott this movie, and it would impact Disney’s bottom line about as much as closing Disney World: Detroit Location. If I somehow convince my tens of followers that this chipmunk movie is the second coming of Hitler, congratulations, a bunch of people that don’t have Disney Plus anyway are going to hesitate before they pirate the thing. This movie is crass propaganda for a past that never existed meant to profit off a generation already drowning in nostalgia… but what else am I gonna do with a free two hours?

So you know what? Screw it. I know it is an ad. I know this is likely some marketing executive’s wet dream about a Disney Afternoon extended universe (God help me if this movie has a post-credits Bonkers cameo). I know I am being tricked. But, at a certain point, you have to pick your battles. You must acknowledge that maybe being mad at a faceless corporation all the time is only going to hurt you, and never hurt said company. Maybe, at a certain point, you just shut up and enjoy the chipmunk movie.

And whether you make that decision or not, Disney and its nostalgia machine is never going to stop. You know, it never fails…

FGC #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

  • System: It was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994, making it the last Disney Afternoon game on its debut console (Ducktales [1] was released in ’89). It popped up again on the Disney Afternoon Collection in 2017 for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, Steam, and not the Switch (because we live in Hell).
  • Number of players: Chip ‘n Dale are both playable simultaneously, so that’s two rescue rangers.
  • Flap flap flapMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Yes, this whole “game” was an excuse to talk about a movie trailer. It’s my blog, I do what I want. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 is more of Rescue Rangers 1, but with better box physics, and a lack of level select/choose your own path. But at least Gadget gets a sprite! In a perfect world, this would be the Mega Man 2 of Disney Afternoon games, but, as it is, it is a mostly forgotten nicety that is fun to play when you have a chance. Please do not look at eBay to discover how much that chance can cost…
  • The Little Things: No overworld map, no route select, and the best you can get out of having any sort of choice is the final three areas can be played in any order. This is a notable step down from the preceding game… but it can be forgiven, because there is some manner of bat-dog boss. Eat that, weird ass alien from the original.
  • Further Improvements: There is a level with a ticking-bomb timer! And some of the throwing items have interesting secondary attributes! And all of the bosses have Kirby-esque “return fire” opportunities to attack, rather than tossing a little red ball around. Somebody really identified what was slapdash in CnDRR, and improved it across the board for the sequel. Too bad it was released after everyone stopped playing NES games…
  • Favorite Boss: One of the last levels is a clocktower that seems like it was shamelessly imported from a Castlevania. And at the top of the tower is not Death, but an ostrich riding a gear like a unicycle. It is hard to remember anything else after dealing with that kind of nonsense.
  • Not the clock tower you were looking forAn end: We get the typical Capcom NES ending sequence here, as the heroes teleport away to watch the villain’s castle crumble to dust. But did Fat Cat survive? Well, no, not if you only use further NES games as evidence. Maybe this movie will inspire a retro Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 3?
  • Did you know? Monterey Jack using cheese as a drug metaphor was already part of the text, guys. Like, it was the entire basis of the character. You’re not clever.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I’m going to play the Disney Afternoon Collection again, and then I’m going to watch the Disney Afternoon Modern Movie, because I am a loser. I admit defeat. Happy?

What’s next? Okay, now we’re going to hit The Incredible Crash Test Dummies… assuming nothing more interesting happens again. No guarantees! Please look forward to an unknown future!

It just looks familiar

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

That looks like a nice planetMy grandparents and extended family (aka my grandparents’ siblings) always had a home or two in Florida, so, long before I was even capable of forming memories, my family would take annual road trips down Florida way. From the time I actually could remember, these trips mostly followed the same pattern: visit some great aunts and uncles in Northern Florida on the way in, stop at St. Augustine for some history-learnin’, and then scoot down to the Orlando area for the requisite theme parks and surprisingly inexpensive buffets. After that, it was time for the long car ride home, and the best a wee Goggle Bob could hope for was a stop at South of the Border. This pattern continued into my teen years, when it ceased thanks to a combination of those great aunts and uncles aging out of their entertaining-guests years (sleeping on the floor of a nursing home is simply not a fun way to end a visit) and myself aging out of my want-to-spend-any-time-with-my-family years. As a result, whereas I had extremely fond memories of my many Florida road trips, it was not something I ever returned to as an adult. There are other places to vacation, obviously, and maybe I could pick up Disney World again when I have kids or particularly mouse-obsessed dogs or something.

I did return to Orlando a few years ago, though, when my girlfriend (now wife) had the opportunity to fly down there with her sister. Compared to the ol’ family road trips, though, this was a much more concentrated, smaller affair. Not that I would expect anything else! We live in a different world from when I was a child, and now using planes and rideshare apps makes a lot more sense than driving for 20 hours. We didn’t get to stop by the Northern Florida locations, but that was an event that was exclusively reserved for driving through Florida, not saying in Orlando. In fact, unless some global catastrophe occurred, I could not see myself doing anything but flying down to Florida ever again.

And then, of course, a global catastrophe occurred! Whoops!

So, complete with a trip to South of the Border, my wife (definitely now wife) and I drove down to Florida (also, because she would yell at me if she read such a statement, I am legally obligated to admit that my wife did 99.9% of the driving… and you do not want to know what that 0.1% constitutes). We went to Orlando. We went to St. Augustine. We saw all the sites (give or take the theme parks that may have been identified as a little too… plaguey), and enjoyed ourselves in a way that would have been impossible with the typical “just fly in” method. And, since this trip so closely echoed the vacations I took as a child, there was something more than a tinge of nostalgia involved, too. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a picture that was presumably taken by my mother back in the late 80’s…

I had to be, like, seven

And here is a snap taken by my wife this very year…

I had to be, like, 37

See a little similarity there? Thank goodness Florida’s oldest city doesn’t change much.

It was a strange mix of emotions to be experiencing something that was so familiar, yet so different. I had not realized how much those old family vacations had become a part of myself -a part of my very soul- and how returning to a place I had not seen in two decades would fill me with such an odd feeling of… home. This was not just a matter of familiarity or nostalgia, this was a feeling that I was somehow someplace that was objectively “correct”, and why had I not done this in so long? Things changed, as they always must, but the warmth here was so inadvertently welcoming, I could completely ignore any and all faults that were now happening. I did not care if that dork wearing a MAGA hat was yelling on a street corner, or if that bartender was serving drinks with his mask firmly around his chin; none of that mattered, because I was somewhere that felt simultaneously near and distant. It was a kind of concrete ephemeral, like living through a physical fantasy. In short, it is an impossible to define feeling that is somewhere between nostalgia, surprise, contentment.

Though, for something a little more universal, I got the same feeling from fighting this guy.

38 for this one

Welcome back, Kraid. Welcome back, the feeling of Super Metroid.

Metroid Dread is the first official, new 2-D Metroid in almost twenty years. In that time, we had a host of 3-D Metroid titles, one remake of the original Metroid that hewed closely to Metroid Fusion, and a remake of Metroid 2. That remake is relevant to today’s proceedings, as Metroid Dread is from the same people that brought us Metroid: Samus Returns four years ago. And, bad news, Metroid: Samus Returns had some significant problems. It relied way too heavily on bosses (and even random, “mook” monsters) that had both very distinct puzzle patterns, and far too much health (to showcase said patterns). Basically, every ten seconds Samus Aran had to stop and use a friggen’ protractor to determine things like “counter windows” or “missile efficiency”. This made Metroid: Samus Returns very much its own take on the Metroid formula, with a greater emphasis on “Samus the Hunter” than “Samus the Planet Explorer/Exploder”.

But Metroid Dread brings back the feeling of Super Metroid for the first time since… well, probably since the last time I went on a road trip to Florida (and I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout this year).

I need an ice beamTo be clear, Metroid Dread is definitely the descendant of Metroid: Samus Returns. Many monsters still exist to encourage counter tactics, and there does not seem to be a single boss that does not include a protracted “counter sequence” wherein Samus flips and twirls through a cutscene that involves no greater gameplay that “keep hammering Y”. Additionally, the EMMI sections seem to be the obvious heir of the Digby the Diggernaut sections of M:SR, with instant death being the punishment for not immediately knowing which way our latest whacky robot is going to turn. Are EMMI and Diggernaut encounters exactly the same? Of course not, but there is a familiar feeling when seeing an instant (and weightless) Game Over because Samus’s precognition didn’t shout “right” when left was always going to be fatal.

But even in the EMMI sections, you see the OG Samus Aran shine through. EMMI introduces some significant “stealth gameplay” to the 2-D Metroid formula for the first time since minor scripted SA-X encounters in Metroid Fusion. But the difference between Solid Snake and Solid Samus is that our favorite bounty hunter has slightly more vertical mobility than Smokey the Merc. Right from the start, alerting your local EMMI may have advantages, as Samus can spin jump around an arena a lot more effectively (and enjoyably) than draining her lifeforce to maintain stealth mode. And by the time Samus has acquired the Space Jump and Gravity Suit? Screw it! Let the EMMI give chase! Samus probably enjoys the cardio of active fleeing! It’s good for the heart!

And that is why Metroid Dread feels so… right. Yes, there are counters, stealth segments, and some particularly weird design decisions along the way (no, Mercury Steam, I did not want to fight the same stupid bird-spear boss like, four times in a row with very little variation), but Samus feels like Samus all throughout. Or, more specifically, she feels like Super Metroid’s version of Samus Aran. And, lest you think I am misremembering a game I have replayed to death, it is absolutely a trick of recollection, as Super Metroid Samus controlled nothing like Metroid Dread Samus. Totally different, tremendously more floaty animal in Super Metroid. But does Dread feel like “old” Samus? Very much so. You won’t be thinking about the distinctive differences between wall jumps by the time Samus is screw attacking through wannabe skrees.

LOVE ORBWhich brings us back to Kraid. Kraid: Dread follows much the same pattern Super Kraid did 27 years earlier. This is not the exact same fight, as Kraid’s belly spews work differently, and that omnipresent opportunity for a counter scene hangs over the battle with every flash of yellow. But this is Kraid. This is Samus Aran facing down a monster that is initially one screen tall, and then graduates to a full two screen lengths. This is a battle where you must jump on spike protrusions, work your way up to that scaly head, and then fire a baiting-beam before launching missiles into Kraid’s maw. It is a Kraid fight. It feels like a Kraid fight. And, while there have been many battles like it across this and other franchises, this is the first time in decades that Kraid has simply felt like… Kraid.

And the feeling of doing that? Of fighting this Kraid iteration after all these years? It is something beyond nostalgia. It is coming home.

Metroid Dread might not be perfect, but it does present a feeling that is beyond nostalgia. This is a happiness that is not based on simply remembering history, but knowing that what was once good in the past is still here in the present. It is looking at two photographs separated by decades, and knowing that both places are, ultimately, one happy same.

Metroid Dread is a Metroid Dream.

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

NOTE: Spoilers will appear in this area

  • System: Nintendo Switch exclusive. Man am I glad that we are past the DS/3DS/Wii/WiiU era of having no idea how specific gimmicks would be emulated on future consoles.
  • Number of players: One day, we will have a Metroid game where you can play as someone other than Samus. Federation Force? Hunters? No, I don’t see those games with unlockable art in the gallery. They probably didn’t happen.
  • Love that airdashPowerup: Finding 25% of an e-tank or a mere 2-pack of missiles is offensive, and I will not continue to tolerate this kind of withholding. I am willing to accept that new and interesting challenges may be created by reserving the morph ball or gravity suit for later areas, but shinesparking all over creation for a measly two missiles is rude.
  • Can’t touch this: Though I do appreciate that additional power bombs are available without sequence breaking. One of the greatest annoyances in Samus Returns was finding a new item way the hell at the end of the game, and then your only hope of getting additional ammo was backtracking all over creation. Even if it is upsetting to be told you cannot use an “early” discovered power bomb yet, at least it means you will have a stock when they finally become operational.
  • But Super Missiles totally suck now for some reason: Oh yeah. Totally. Most nothing powerup in the game.
  • Amiibo Corner: Unfortunately, thanks to disparate shipping times, my official Metroid Dread amiibos did not arrive until literally a few hours after I 100% completed the game. Just as well, as their boons of random health/missile refills aren’t all that exciting. Could the EMMI amiibo maybe start a chao garden minigame wherein you raise your own terminator? Let ‘em race around homemade Tourian courses? Could be fun!
  • Ridley is too big: He’s so big, he forgot to show up! 100% completion earns some art that confirms the main villain used his troops to hogtie and bound a Kraid down in the depths of a lava pit, so it is my headcanon the ol’ Raven Dork took one look at a revived Ridley, figured it was too much trouble, and left the space dragon to roam the universe on his own. Besides, we must save a surprise for Metroid 6.
  • What is Wrong with our Heroine? Samus, I don’t know anything about bird people death customs, but I am glad you were punished for leaving Quiet Robe’s corpse to just rot there. Think about what you did while dealing with those reactivated EMMIs.
  • Sorry!  Bad Robot!Did you know? It seems that every 2-D Metroid since Metroid 2 has ended with a “villain” heel turn. Baby Metroid plays against type and saves Samus in 2 and Super, SA-X cooperates with Samus during the finale of Fusion, and now Metroid 5 features Quiet Robe-X merging with Samus despite the X creature earlier enabling killer robots. Looking forward to Metroid 6, wherein Samus is saved at the last minute by a very friendly space mutant.
  • Would I play again: This is the first Metroid I have wanted to instantly replay in forever. I’m not going to, because I haven’t even finished that one Persona game that came out like forever ago, but it is on the agenda! It’s going to happen! Even if I completely ignore Hard Mode for the rest of my life!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Zero Wing! Yes! That Zero Wing! From the internet! Please look forward to it!

Sorry birdie
This concludes my coverage of Metroid: Other Dads

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

BLOOD!Let’s talk about that thing that all the hep cats know how to do: act like you know what’s up.

Today’s game is Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. C:RoB is notable for being the Castlevania game that was featured as part of the intro to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and, arguably as a direct result, being one of the most important Castlevania games in the franchise. Castlevania: RoB was the last of the “old school”, action-based Castlevania titles before Symphony took the franchise in the general direction of metroidvania for decades. It’s also the game that, due to laziness and/or homages, provided roughly 70% of the sprites that would be reused ad nauseam for the following 60,000 games. I mean, there’s a good skeleton of spritework here, but if you’re reusing stuff from 1993, it’s going to get a little brittle. Ha ha ha. Bye bye. Whether it was intentional or not, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood wound up defining Castlevania for multiple hardware generations. You’d be hard pressed to find a single sequel that had more of a lasting impact on its parent franchise.

So it’s kind of a bummer Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was impossible for American audiences to play for about fifteen years.

WeeeeActually, let’s go ahead and aim for the highest end of the bummer scale: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood being tied to the Japanese exclusive PC Engine CD was a mega bummer. Castlevania: RoB is a pleasure to play, and it is a game that revels in the best of its NES ancestors while employing a controller with a very Famicom-esque 4-button setup. Two years after the experimentation of Simon Belmont’s 8-way whip and myriad of buttons in Super Castlevania, this is the franchise returning to its roots with jump, attack, and (generally) familiar sub weapons activated by holding up. The select button activates the new item crash ability, but, aside from that bit of heavy heart consumption, this is basic Belmonting back in action. And Castlevania is anxious to welcome its hero back with open (skeleton) arms, as all of the stages are pure Castlevania goodness built exactly for a man that jumps rigidly and whips even… uh… rigider. In truth, Richter Belmont is slightly more nimble than his less acrobatic ancestors, and Castlevania has learned how to adapt. He might not yet have a slide or rising uppercut, but he does have a backflip, and many a monster now has a pattern that is perfectly dodge-able with this unique version of the double jump. In short, like Trevor and Simon before him, Richter is facing challenges that are perfectly calibrated to his exact moveset. Unlike many (many, many, many) action platformers of the time, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was made with precision and care.

But there’s more to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood in the “care” department. Case in point: Richter, as part of the animated introductory sequence, looking over this old map left to him by his ancestors:

Unfurled!

I know that map! That looks like the map from Castlevania 1! Right there in the intro! This game knows Castlevania! That game I played!

And there are innumerable other overt Castlevania references throughout the game. The first level takes place in a burning town that is straight out of Castlevania 2. Richter and Maria become partners with a handshake that evokes the partners of yore. Shaft summons a legion of monsters that match the bosses of Castlevania 1. A ferryman promises to take you somewhere good, and a certain familiar mask breaks apart to reveal your opponent. Over and over, Castlevania: RoB practically shouts adulations about its exalted ancestors, and, if you’re on the same page, you’ll be shouting with glee in unison. Did you see that main hall with all the zombies? Leading to the giant bat’s decomposing arena? That’s some good Castlevaniaing right there!

But… to what end? Does Castlevania: Rondo of Blood need all these references to past titles?

Ol' FrankConsider Rondo of Blood’s place in the Castlevania canon at its release. It was, effectively, the fourth Castlevania game. There were the portable adventures, but, at the time, the Gameboy was considered “less than” its console big brothers, and Christopher Belmont was nary worth a second glance. Super Castlevania was an amazing game, but it was a “retelling” of Simon’s journey, and nearly all of its innovations were dropped for Rondo (and other future titles). And Haunted Castle? The arcade game? Let’s go ahead and label that as mythical as Akumajou Dracula X68000. So, yes, while it might not be a technically accurate way of labeling the game, Rondo of Blood is, at least in spirit, the fourth Castlevania title. Simon Belmont’s initial quest, Simon Belmont’s horrible night to have a curse, Trevor Belmont’s big ol’ vampire party, and now Richter Belmont’s time to shine. It’s a pretty straight line across the franchise there, and blatantly calling attention to your forbearers doesn’t seem all that essential at a time when Mario or Link would practically toss their entire canon for their latest game (Mario is…. let’s say he’s a baby this time, and he was raised by dinosaurs). Seven years is all that separated Castlevania 1 and this quasi Castlevania 4 (maybe 5? Maybe… 9?), so why revel in the past when the past was barely even passed?

Well, if pressed, let’s blame this gal:

Let's shake on it

Maria is a departure for the Castlevania franchise. History may not have always been Belmonts fighting Dracula, but this is certainly the first time the Prince of Darkness had to deal with a girl hurling doves at his face. Maria is supposedly twelve but acts like she’s five, wears a pink, frilly dress, and occasionally summons a kitten to fight her battles. For a franchise that often touts itself as “gothic horror”, Maria is an aberration like no other. Sypha was a serious magician that deliberately hid her gender to succeed in the male-dominated field of vampire-slaying, Maria is going to sing off-key at an army of golems on her way to “the bad man”. Graphically or tonally, Maria is something the Castlevania franchise has never seen before.

This is hotBut even beyond her heavy dosage of shocking pink, Maria is a whole new animal for the Castlevania franchise in a different way. Both Maria’s offenses and her acrobatics completely alter the flow of RoB. There had been more nimble characters in Castlevania before, but Grant never had the ability to rapid-fire a boss into submission, and Alucard’s bat-like maneuvering cost more hearts than it ever gained. Give or take the greater fragility of youth (Richter has learned how to take a hit over the years), Maria is better than Richter in every way that matters. She can mass-murder medusas en masse, and then double jump up a staircase to find a bonus shortcut. There are entire stages that can be outright skipped with her absurd mobility while Richter is stuck fighting that damned naked werewolf yet again. It’s easy to say Maria “breaks the game”, adding a sort of “easy mode” to a franchise that previously was celebrated for its technical difficulty.

But that’s cool, because Rondo of Blood earned this easy mode.

In some lesser version of Rondo of Blood, Maria would likely come off as some manner of Zero in Mega Man X4 situation: this game was made for Maria Renard, and Richter is only there because the director decided to throw the “old fans” a bone (“I guess it is his franchise… I guess…”). But, no, it is clear from every carefully placed block, pit, and enemy that this is a game made for a Belmont. This is a Castlevania adventure like any other, and a malicious mummy is no mere Family Guy-esque shallow “reference”, it is a pact with the player that this is the real deal. Yes, there’s a little girl over there that can completely tear Shaft a new one, but she’s just an option, not the star. Richter is the hero. Richter is the guy that can backflip away from a fireball, and he’s the hunter that is going to be responsible for Death’s dental bills.

SURPRISE!Castlevania: Rondo of Blood knows what’s up, and uses that knowledge to slide in a few perversions to the Castlevania formula. This is a game that knows its past and present, and, as a result, defined the franchise for the future. C: RoB is a game that was created with perfect precision.

… And if you want to see a version of Rondo of Blood that completely lacked that meticulousness…

It's the Dracula X!

Well, the Super Nintendo “version” is right there. And let us never speak of that square ever again.

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

  • System: I understand there was once some manner of system called a PC Engine CD? Sounds… unholy. But this is available as part of the PSP Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (though forbidden on the Vita TV), on the Playstation 4 Castlevania compilation (but not the other Castlevania compilation), the Nintendo Wii when that storefront was available, and now on the Turbo-Grafix 16 Mini. Play it on the mini. It has the controller this was always meant for.
  • Number of players: Richter or Maria, you can still only do it alone.
  • WeeeeeeePort-o-Call: The PSP remake, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, certainly brings the game into the 21st Century, but it seems to unnecessarily suck all the candy-colored joy out of the game. I can understand why this was done (Castlevania is a very serious franchise for very serious people that eat meat out of walls), but it squashes a healthy amount of the original’s charm. Or, put another way, Maria is wearing pants now. Just let the girl be her anachronistic self!
  • What’s that sound? The original has some seriously weird sound effects. Like, “sound of a buffalo farting out pre-digested wheatgrass” weird sound effects. They happen constantly. I am loving it.
  • Favorite Boss: Undead Shaft is a hoot. Please keep summoning bosses I already defeated! I love being reminded of earlier areas by being assaulted by rotting dragon flesh. … Wait, does this mean Rondo contains references to its own, immediate past? Hm.
  • BOOMDid you know? Koji Igarashi has stated in interviews that Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania 3 are his two favorite Castlevania games. Well duh.
  • Would I play again: In a skeleton’s heartbeat. Wait… Uh… Can I just say yes? This is one of the best Castlevania games out there, and it justifies the TG-16 Mini all on its own. Bedrock of the Castlevania franchise, and certainly worth another play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Celeste! It’s about the climb! Please look forward to it!

It's a Dril thing