Tag Archives: one player

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

Gonna take you for a rideLet’s talk about advertising, brands, my life, and how culture as we identify it is a goddamn trash fire.

And maybe we’ll get to Crazy Taxi, too, if we have time.

I am told I am a Millennial. This means that I am of a certain generation that grew up alongside advertisements that were simultaneously unambiguously advertisements, but also entertainment. I cut my teeth on He-Man and Voltron, concurrently loving every moment of every show and then clamoring for every last attendant toy. Then, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were repackaged for childish audiences, I was right there demanding everything. It wasn’t just about action figures and vehicles, I had the videogames, too, and my grandmother reading TMNT storybooks to me at night. And that’s a cherished memory from my childhood! The TMNT were ostensibly created initially as a parody of comic books, but quickly grew into a franchise that existed exclusively to sell toys themed after Canadian moose. But those ridiculous figures are an inextricable part of my childhood, so I remember them all in the same way I fondly remember family members.

And I have to believe that I am not alone in viewing the growth of my own maturity through my interaction with “brands”. When I was a child, I loved all my toys and games and such unquestioningly, begging for more and purely enjoying everything I had. When I became a teenager, I grew resentful of the fact that I was “tricked” into liking things, and determined I would be anti-conformist… or at least a version of anti-conformist that doesn’t shell out his hard-earned cash for the latest version of Optimus Prime. As I grew out of that phase, I came to a sort of gentle understanding with trademarked material. Yes, something might exist exclusively to sell random crap to me (or the host of people just like me), but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it in my own way. I can acknowledge that this latest version of a transforming robot was likely produced by slave labor in a foreign country in an effort to get a whole five bucks out of my pocket through some general application of nostalgia, but, hey, if it brings me joy, it can’t be all bad. This has brought me to a sort of relaxed middle ground: I feel I am not a “consumer whore” that will purchase literally anything that is produced if it has the right name on it (eat it, Funko), though, by the same token, I will certainly purchase any number of useless trinkets if I think it will make me happier. There are so many things in this world that are actively trying to make us miserable, from political organizations to natural disasters, why not take a moment to relish playing with officially licensed totems of your childhood?

Up on a hillBut, while I seem to have come to a comfortable understanding with the companies that dominate the landscape, that does not mean I believe corporations are or should be our friends. Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely a part of me that would volunteer to jump in front of a train if it meant Nintendo would keep pumping out videogames with the Nintendo Seal of Quality, but, if I were to make such a sacrifice, it would be for the good of humanity, and the next generation that deserves to grow up with their own Mario games (I’m so noble in these hypothetical, impossible situations). If Nintendo, or any “beloved” company, started begging for my dollar for nothing, I wouldn’t give them a dime, because what do I owe you? These companies do not care if my family, my friends, or even I live or die, so I cannot even pretend that my “support” means anything to them other than another possible zero on the bottom line. We live in a world that is practically wallpapered with advertising, and there’s no reason to feed that machine in the desperate hope that senpai will notice you if you’re a good little consumer. And making that choice matters! I can actively support people on social media that actually need that support, not a corporate account carefully managed to maximize clicks. I can shop at a local restaurant that needs my check to survive, and not a megachain that is literally in every other city on the planet. I’ll take a homegrown, local pizza place over Pizza Hut any day of the week.

But, then again, when someone takes Pizza Hut away, I’m not happy either.

Today’s game is Crazy Taxi (hey, I found a moment to actually talk about the real topic of the article! Yay!), a title that was initially released in the arcades in 1999, but is best known for its version on the Sega Dreamcast from January of 2000. In Crazy Taxi, you are a taxi driver in a large city, forever bound to ferry fares from one destination to another. As this game started as an arcade title, this is not a “story-based” experience, but more of a constant “score attack” situation. Pick up a passenger, take them to their destination, and then grab the next traveler as quickly as possible. In a way, this gameplay makes CT little more than a racing game. But, in another way, this foreshadowed the eventual creation of titles like Grand Theft Auto 3, as the intricate city, full of landmarks and interesting locales, would inevitably be aped by later games attempting to create “lived-in” environments. Crazy Taxi could be a simple title where you just drive from point A to point B and back again, but, thanks to its vast, sprawling city, it is much than another simple arcade “car game” (Sorry, Cruisin’, but it had to be said).

Oh, and another reason Crazy Taxi has such a memorable venue for its crazy taxiing? There’s a KFC!

Mmmm chicken

And other brand name stores! Crazy Taxi was something of a “real world” crossover event back in 2000. The soundtrack featured Way Down the Line, All I Want, and Change the World by The Offspring, and Ten in 2010, Them and Us, Hear It, and Inner Logic by Bad Religion. That was amazing! Instead of wee gaming beeps and boops, you’ve got that band that you know! Rachel is wearing a Bad Religion t-shirt right now! And she bought it at Tower Records, which is also a featured location in Crazy Taxi! Crazy Taxi had a crazy amount of product placement, and, at the time, many saw it as unequivocally a good thing. Videogames are getting more real!

Of course, as a wizened adult, it’s easy to see this same product placement as… uh… product placement. But in a bad way! After all, the entire point of the presence of these brands is that people are telling you they need to get to Kentucky Fried Chicken right the heck now. They need officially produced KFC brand mashed potatoes immediately, and, boy, player, wouldn’t it be nice if you had some of that finger-lickin’ good chicken right now? And the presence of The Offspring and Bad Religion simply exists to appeal to all those hep young teens and further slide videogames from “for babies” to “for the cool kids”. And it doesn’t hurt if you buy an Offspring album (at Tower Records!) as a result, either. When you consider that Crazy Taxi originated at the arcade, and many American arcades were situated within American malls, you can see how Crazy Taxi was a videogame that practically doubled as a flyer from the local Chamber of Commerce. Hungry for fun? Play Crazy Taxi! Hungry for pizza? Stop at Pizza Hut!

Mmmm pizza

Ah, yes, Pizza Hut…

Mmmm pizza

Pizza Hut is still a viable brand. While Tower Records has fallen since its Crazy Taxi appearance in 1999, Pizza Hut is still out there and stuffing cheese into various nooks and crannies. You can, in all likelihood, order a pizza from Pizza Hut right now, as you read this, and have a delicious, pizza-like substance in front of you by the time this article is over. Pizza Hut, in 2000 or 2020, is ubiquitous.

But it ain’t in Crazy Taxi anymore:

Mmmm pizza

When Crazy Taxi was released for Dreamcast, it featured a Pizza Hut. When Crazy Taxi was rereleased on contemporary systems with a little more longevity (Playstation 2, Gamecube), it still featured Pizza Hut. But when Crazy Taxi was rereleased in 2010 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Pizza Hut was dropped. All of the familiar, featured brands were dropped. The Offspring and Bad Religion were dropped. And, given this is the version that persists on Xbox One and PC platforms, the Crazy Taxi Sans Brands version is what is available today. If you buy Crazy Taxi today, you’re not going to see a single Pizza Hut.

You’ll just see something that kinda looks like a Pizza Hut.

Mmmm pizza

And that’s somehow even more depressing.

Look, I live in a town that used to have a Pizza Hut. We also used to have a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King. What happened? By and large, as much as I want this article to blatantly tie to the collapse of small towns and the inevitable end of Western Civilization thanks to megacorporations, it was pretty much simply because I live in an area that is already full-up on eating options. Without exaggeration, my hometown contains fourteen different choices for pizza delivery, and not a single one is a national chain (we ran Domino’s out of town, too). One town over isn’t any different, and it’s even got two different Italian restaurants named Mario’s and Luigi’s. That is a real thing that has happened! So, with local restaurants that are practically kings within their fiefdoms, it’s no wonder that chain restaurants have had issues getting a foothold. They try! And they seem marginally successful! But the word from the latest Checkers or Wendy’s attempt always seems to be the same: they’re doing good numbers, but they’re not doing corporate numbers. Pizza Hut’s money would be better spent in a town that doesn’t have literally twenty other options for immediate pizza delivery, so they’re leaving town. And, until some new restaurant goes in its place, you’re going to be looking at that familiar, abandoned roof for a few months.

And, at this point, I don’t even have that familiar roof staring back at me. Once again, I really want to make this article more melancholy, but the old Pizza Hut has been demolished, and it was replaced with a very prosperous local diner. It’s a success story all around: the big, bad brand was run out of town on a rail, and a local restaurant has taken its space and customers, and is improving the community. Pizza Hut has been vanquished, silence brand, the world is better without you. Go get Pizza Hut two towns over.

But… sometimes I miss cheesy crust pizza.

Rock outIn a weird way, brands are what bring us together. I live in a city without a Pizza Hut. If I have someone visit from out of town, and they’re in the mood for the $10 tastemaker, I can offer them none. There are alternatives, of course, but this particular item is not available. In fact, I could name the myriad of pizza places in town for you, gentle reader, and their names would mean nothing. I could tell you my favorite pizza place, a spot that locals have literally spoken of fighting in wars to preserve, and it would be as alien as if I named my favorite place as Bthnkor ah vulgtmnahog. Everyone knows Pizza Hut. Everyone has shared Pizza Hut, and, even if it isn’t your favorite, you at least know what I’m talking about. Pizza Hut is an impersonal brand, but it is local in the way that it is familiar. It is universal. It is an inextricable part of the culture. Pizza Hut is pizza.

So when a human-shaped collection of polygons in Crazy Taxi wants a pizza, they should, like their real-world counterparts, want a goddamn Pizza Hut. “Pizza Place” is a denial of reality! The Crazy Taxi of 2010, the only Crazy Taxi you can now legally purchase, is a lesser version of itself. What was once a game that simulated our world is now just as much a fantasy as Cloud’s latest jaunt. PaRappa may as well be working at Pizza Place!

WeeeeeBrands suck. The fact that we’re trapped in a world that is increasingly reliant on four or five corporations that own literally every other lesser, but-still-huge corporation is something out of a dystopian nightmare, and it looks like it is only going to get worse. But these companies are also an inseparable part of our shared culture, and, when one is erased, it makes an impact. The Offspring, Pizza Hut, and Tower Records were all a part of my life in 2000. They’re all fondly remembered, and, if you’re a certain age, you’re likely in the same boat. You could be humming an Offspring song, or imagining biting into a Pizza Hut pizza as we speak. And is that a bad thing? You may be reading this article on a different shore from this humble Goggle Bob, but we have a shared past. We have something that brings us together. We have Brand, and, in a world that is constantly trying to divide people, we have something that brings us closer, and makes us happy.

Corporations are bleeding us dry, but they’re also bringing us together. We don’t owe Brands anything, but sometimes they’re a part of who we are.

… Even if “who we are” is just “people who eat greasy pizza that was excised from an Xbox game.”

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

  • System: Started in the arcade, graduated to the Dreamcast, floated over to the Playstation 2 and Gamecube, and then migrated to the PS3 and Xbox 360/Xbox One. There is also a Gameboy Advance version. The GBA version ain’t half bad!
  • Number of players: Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the sequels to battle a buddy.
  • WeeeeeArcade or Home Version: Crazy Taxi picked up an extra city between the arcade and home ports, so, if you’re playing CT outside of the mall, you have the option of choosing your venue. The “Original City” (which is “original” as in “original to the console versions” not “the original city”) has a lot more interesting bridges, lighthouses, subways, and such, but the original city (dammit) of the arcade version is just so much more iconic. And you’re less likely to wind up underwater, too!
  • Favorite Driver: B.D. Joe appeared in later titles, right? I think he wins. I also like his hat. Incidentally, I very much appreciate that Sega correctly identified that half of all taxi drivers can’t correctly wear a shirt. Button up, you jerks, we’re trying to run a business here!
  • Did you know? Michael Jackson apparently owned a Crazy Taxi arcade “cabinet” (it’s more like a little car than a cabinet). Do you suppose he still had a good relationship with Sega?
  • Would I play again: Crazy Taxi would be the ideal game for something like a cell phone version… assuming a cell phone could properly control a Crazy Taxi. I rarely boot up CT, because it’s ideally played for all of three minutes, but I always enjoy it when I do. So I guess my answer is yes, but only on the rare occasions when I remember it’s on my Xbox, and I’m waiting for something to download.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken Tag Tournament 2! Tag, you’re it, and you’re gonna get hit! Please look forward to it!

I hate this

FGC #531 Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

It's getting squishyThey don’t make anti-heroes like they used to.

Literally.

Today’s game is Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. After premiering in Super Mario Land 2 as the main antagonist and only man with the raw chutzpah to steal an entire land out from under Mario’s moustache, Wario returned for his own adventure in the direct sequel. This is fairly significant, because, in almost all other cases with Nintendo characters, it takes forever for prominent villains to get their own adventures. And that’s assuming it ever happens at all! Ganon(dorf) wasn’t playable in a “real” Zelda game until Hyrule Warriors, and the canonicity of that one is dubious at best. Bowser similarly is usually only allowed to costar in spin-off titles, and King Dedede is only ever granted a turn as the hero when his wee nemesis is taking a nap. Other mascot villains don’t fare much better, as our favorite mad scientists didn’t see playable appearances until much later in their careers (Dr. Wily is, of course, represented by his creations in this example. Dude does not want to leave his hoverpod). The opposite numbers for our favorite heroes back in the 90’s were rarely controlled by the player, which was a huge shame, as everybody wants to be the villain. Wario being a playable character so soon after his introduction was unheard of in its time, and it is still a rarity today. Final Fantasy 7 Remake didn’t involve a single playable Sephiroth!

But Wario made the scene in his first “heroic” appearance. Wario wasn’t on a quest to save the princess or liberate some foreign land: he just wanted housing! Wario was homeless after Mario kicked him out of his ill-gotten estate (and what does Mario need a castle for anyway? He’s always away! He’s probably listing it on AirBnB as we speak), so Wario turned his eye to a group of pirates so he could steal their castle. Never mind that the pirates had apparently heisted a building-sized golden statue (!) that Peach had commissioned (!!!), Wario was is in it for the possibility of having a roof over his head. That’s a sympathetic quest, right? A man just wants his own sanctuary, and if a billion little round guys with spears are standing between him and his goals, that’s on them. Wario might not end up with Captain Syrup’s castle in the end (mostly because it exploded), but he does collect a hefty helping of coin over the course of the quest, so he buys his own castle/shack/planet (variable ending!) off a genie. Happy ending for everybody! Wario might be a “bad guy”, but his goals are not so much bad, just a little self-serving. It’s the American dream!

But if you think for even one second that Wario is at all a good guy, well, take a look at this malcontent:

It's Wario time

Wario is established as his own man in a variety of ways. He has Mario’s mad ups, but he also has a downward “butt stomp” that was new for the gamers of 1994. His “fire” isn’t a flower that launches balls, but a dragon hat that functions like a flamethrower. Garlic, not mushrooms, will cause Wario to become super, and his most iconic powerup turns him into something approaching a raging bull. And, whether he’s part bovine or not, Wario doesn’t run, he smashes with a forward shoulder. Wario’s Wario Land appearance is an expert case in modifying “normal” gameplay to still be extremely similar, but just different enough to establish the new protagonist as his own man. When Nintendo did the same again for Princess Peach’s solo outing, the addition of magical umbrella emotions to the Mario formula felt clunky and “gimmicky”, but Wario was a slam dunk right from the starting gate (I am working on understanding sports metaphors).

But none of that matters, because look at this bitch:

It's Wario time

Wario moves and looks like a… well… asshole. Wario is designed to quite literally walk around like he owns the place. Lesser monsters bounce off of him, blocks tremble in his presence, and the ground literally quakes at the force of his unruly ass. Through it all, Wario perpetually gazes out at the player as if to say, “Hey, I’m gonna wreck some shit. Wanna come along?” And that’s the thing: Wario doesn’t say anything. Wario is just as mute as Mario was in his previous adventures, and, long before anyone ever heard about how it was “Wario time”, Wario had to showcase his boundless personality through mime and pixels. The game starts with Wario menacing a pirate duck, and, before the player even smacks start, Wario is out and proud about the fact that he’s a gigantic jerk. Even if you missed Super Mario Land 2, this nimrod with elf shoes establishes himself inside of the opening seconds without so much as uttering a “Hello, stupids”.

And Wario isn’t alone! The pixel pioneers of the 90’s were apparently experts at establishing “this is your protagonist, but he is not a good guy.” It seems like there is a dearth of antiheroes on the pre-FMV consoles, but when you do have a bad guy in a starring role, they’re established pretty damn quick. Want to see another famous walking animation on the Gameboy?

He's a real Firebrand

Firebrand is not a friendly dude, and his jaunty little walk is the signature of a demon that is going to burn down your village. Firebrand is saving his kingdom right now, but if you need a princess kidnaped later, he’ll swoop in when he gets a chance.

And, at the risk of sounding like a nostalgic old man, you just don’t see that kind of instant character formation anymore.

Back in the day, you knew when you were dealing with an anti-hero. What do Wario and Firebrand have in common? They were both enemies first! If you stood in opposition to a brave knight or plumber, you knew you were on Team Bad Guy. Nowadays? Who bloody knows what makes a bad guy. Kratos has a kill count that is literally the population of Ancient Greece (complete with gods!), but his most recent adventure portrays him in a very forgiving light. The criminal stars of Grand Theft Auto participate in the same carnage as your average Lego title, but Trevor has terrible hair, so he’s probably the worst. And it’s telling that at least one franchise was able to hide the fact that you were playing as the main villain all along, the player just didn’t notice due to being so numb to the average amount of slaying inherent to the genre (I’m talking about this game/franchise, for the record). It’s difficult in your average modern videogame to tell whether you’re a playing the part of a vaguely homicidal hero or a villain with a heart of gold. All these heroes and villains are just so good at murdering…

That's one big birdAnd, by and large, this is by design. One way or another, the saintly protagonist of one game is supposed to look like the secret maniac of another tale for all sorts of reasons. Is this a game where the ultimate revelation is that you were the bad guy all along? Or how about you were supposed to be bad, but the plot has proven you were in the right, and it was society that was bad? Or is it just because market research has told us that mostly white guys with dark hair buy videogames? Whatever the root cause, our heroes have become indistinguishable from our antiheroes, and the only thing you can really count on is that the more villainous among us at least are going to make surly comments after encounters.

But is that all we have now? One-liners that are more or less cutting depending on the darkness of the character involved? Even the good guys have goatees, so we can’t judge someone by malevolent facial hair. Gone are the days when a walk would tell you everything you needed to know; you have to complete a 40 hour adventure just to figure out if your protagonist was on the side of the angels or the devils. And don’t even get me started on whether or not the slightest drip of moral ambiguity is going to cause a flood of youtube explanation videos that will list all the ways you’ve been wrong all along. The real villain was the player all along? Gosh, you don’t say. Throw another plank of switcheroo wood on the pile, Shamus, this lumber will keep us warm for another seven winters.

Wario does not know uncertainty. Wario does not have a greater, more benevolent motive. Wario is an asshole. He looks like an asshole. He moves like an asshole. There is no debate: Wario is an asshole, and that’s all he needs to be.

Give us more modern characters like old school Wario. Give us more amusing, unambiguous assholes.

FGC #531 Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

  • System: Gameboy. This one came back on the 3DS Virtual Console, and is well worth a look if that thing is still around.
  • Don't get stabbedNumber of players: Wario needs only his pith helmet on his quest for riches.
  • Big Bad Wario: I want to say Wario Land was the first 2-D platforming game where I was allowed to bump into a weaponless opponent without suffering terrible consequences. Mario can’t so much as get within spitting distance of a goomba without losing his powerups, but Wario bumps around bad(der) guys with ease. Unless Wario is hit by the pointy end of something (which, granted, happens a lot), he is practically invincible compared to his “good” counterpart.
  • Favorite Powerup: Give me Jet Wario or give me death. Incidentally, I was very saddened when I first grabbed a fire hat after having a jet hat, and it didn’t transform into a flying-dragon hat. That was only in the Virtual Boy game! And I liked that!
  • Bizarro World: It’s interesting to compare the map of Wario Land to Super Mario World to see how many similarities there are. Inexplicable giant dome-hills are always nice, and there’s a prerequisite Forest of Illusion waiting before the final areas, too. I wonder if this was an effort to further affirm that Wario, right down to his very “land”, is a funhouse mirror version of Mario… Or if there just weren’t that many great ideas for world maps back in the 90’s. It could go either way.
  • So, did you beat it? Not only did I beat the game, but I apparently earned Wario his own planet. I guess you only have to have all the treasures and clear about 10,000 gold to get the highest reward. And that’s not too hard when you get lucky with the “double your money” chance game after every boss fight. … Or use save states to always get the best result. Yes, I’m cheating, but it’s what Wario would have wanted.
  • Winner!Did you know? Apparently there is an unused scene in the game data for Bobo, the giant vulture boss that rules the roost of the SS Teacup. It seems to showcase Bobo sitting in the woods… and that’s about it. Was Bobo supposed to be more involved in the plot? Was he the big bird of the island that initially appeared to be the main antagonist, but was then replaced by Captain Syrup? Was this the inspiration for Captain Toad’s arch nemesis? The world may never know.
  • Would I play again: This is an excellent game, and possibly one of the best Gameboy games. That said, the Virtual Boy sequel and Wario Land 4 does this basic gameplay better, and the later Wario Gameboy titles are revolutionary in new and exciting ways. Wario Land is great for a long car ride in 1990, but it has been surpassed by its sequels in every way. I’m glad for having playing Wario Land again, but it’s unlikely to happen again while other Warios are around.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crazy Taxi for the Sega Dreamcast! Let’s go for a wild ride! Please look forward to it!

Does this explain lousy AI?

FGC #530 Little Nemo: The Dream Master

Let's get dreamyLittle Nemo: The Dream Master is an excellent NES Capcom title. It doesn’t always get the same accolades as Mega Man or Ducktales, but it is worthy of its Capcom pedigree. Did you know that this game basically pioneered Kirby’s copy ability well before the advent of the little puff ball? Or that the presence of the keys makes this the rare NES collectathon that encourages combing large, lush stages? LN:TDM has a few issues here and there, but it is a game where you can trade your normal skills for the jumps of a frog, the punches of a gorilla, or the stickiness (?) of a lizard. That counts for a lot when you are on the same system as some comparatively primitive adventures. Little Nemo feels like the prequel to a SNES game that could have been absolutely amazing, but, as it is, it is simply a NES title that pushes the boundaries of what was possible in 1990.

But we’re not going to talk about that today.

We’re going to talk about the worst, scariest level in a Capcom title.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s look at House of Toys.

House 'o Toys

Right from the start, it is obvious that something is wrong with this level. Every other stage begins with some whimsical creature, like Flip the Chain Smoking Frog Monster, introducing the basic concept for the area. “Oh, Nemo, use your candy to feed moles for some reason,” they say. Or, “Oh, look, this is your house, a thing I shouldn’t have to tell you, but here we are, guess we’re going to provide clumsy exposition now.” What are you told by your creature-greeter at House of Toys? Nothing. There is not a friendly face to be found. There isn’t even the illusion of narration or an explanation for your current predicament. You are at the House of Toys now. Expecting a warm welcome? No. House of Toys is all you will ever know.

And speaking of friendlies, let’s take a quick look at the best part of Little Nemo: The Dream Master. As was mentioned, Little Nemo is a fairly revolutionary title for the way it utilized animal friends as powerups. This was not another NES title that had “one size fits all” powerups like a spread beam or muscle serum, this was a game that constantly presented new challenges and puzzles, and the only solution to these puzzles was to get the help of an animal buddy. If you needed to reach a high area, you befriended a frog. If you had to climb even higher, you might gain the assistance of a bee. And levels with particular trials, like the prerequisite underwater stage, featured singular encounters with friendly animals adapted only to those areas. Basically, every new stage is interesting not only because of the geography or enemies available, but also the promise of new and interesting animals with exciting new abilities.

You will die hereAnd what particular powerups and/or animals appear in House of Toys? None. Nada. Zilch. There is not a single animal companion in the third level. There isn’t a hidden guerilla, sneaky lizard, or even a hermit crab to be found. You will not find a single ally anywhere in House of Toys. Not only is this lonely, but it also means Little Nemo will be stuck with his little life bar and its extremely limited durability. And as far as offense goes, there is no mouse hammer or hornet stinger to help Nemo this time, so the absolute best Nemo can hope for is ineffectually tossing candy like some manner of rogue oompa loompa. Do toys care about candy? Not so much. Nemo’s lifespan is going to be drastically shortened in his solitude.

And if you think House of Toys is going to go easy on Nemo because he’s completely, wretchedly alone, you’ve got another thing coming. And that “another thing” is “a constant assault of airborne opponents”. The main “monsters” of House of Toys are flying threats in the form of toy airplanes and floating, bombing balloons. In both cases, you are dealing with foes that appear above Nemo… and that’s not great for a little dude that can only toss candy horizontally forward. Not that your candy is going to do any good, though! At best, Nemo can only stun a foe on a good day, and when the screen is constantly scrolling forward, a motionless enemy is just as deadly as a mobile one.

And, yes, this is the only automatic, horizontally scrolling stage in the game. Yes, that is going to get you killed via squishing against any number of blocks. Thanks for asking!

A little pokeyBut wait, there’s more! It is not enough that you are being literally dive-bombed by an army of toys, there have to be a host of traps across the stage, too. It starts simple enough with some crashing crate-looking things, where the worst you have to worry about is mistaking the perfectly flat “enemy” platforms for something you can actually jump on without taking damage. Can more traps be equipped with “do not touch” signs? The encroaching spikes throughout the stage don’t need warning signs, though. Everyone knows anything slightly pointy is incurable poison to every last NES hero, so it’s no wonder that you’ll expectantly steer Nemo away from those prickly pals. But good luck with that! The hit detection on the spikes is atrocious, and nudging Nemo in the general direction of anything triangular will result in instant death. Since this kind of sloppy mapping only appears in this stage, it may be a side effect of the auto-scrolling. Or House of Toys was just designed by masochists! There could be any number of explanations for why every goddamn thing is trying to kill Nemo for a solid few minutes.

And then the stage itself starts trying to eat you:

WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING!?

That’s not great, either.

And if this all seems like a terrible idea for a level, also consider that House of Toys eschews one of the most important parts of Little Nemo: The Dream Master. The majority of stages in LN:TDM require Nemo to find keys scattered about the level. This leads to exploration and experimentation, and seems to be the essence of Nemo’s appeal. Since House of Toys relies on an autoscroll that absolutely precludes the ability to backtrack at all, there are no keys to “find” across the level. Exploration is dropped for an endless parade of death traps, and that is the complete opposite of the rest of the game’s style. And, hey, because no one had a good idea on how to incorporate the keys that are the point of other levels, there’s a cache of keys right there at the end. That’s right! The designers of LN:TDM didn’t have a clue on how to integrate the gameplay they themselves had established. It’s a bizarre reminder that the rest of Nemo’s quest isn’t this horrible!

My magic wandBut! There is something of a vindication for this shift in gameplay within Little Nemo: The Dream Master. The final levels introduce an assault on the Nightmare King’s lair, and the key conceit is dropped for something that is more action-based. This shift is welcome, as it creates a more dramatic finale for Nemo: the adventure is no longer about having fun in Dream Land, it is now a no holds barred battle against an invading monarch. That’s cool! But is House of Toys an effective preview of later challenges? Well, it might be if it equipped Nemo with the powerful Morningstar (pictured in use versus a penguin) that makes those last levels actually survivable. And, oh yeah, if this didn’t happen five levels before the finale. This is Level 3! They’re aping the challenges of the final levels before you’ve even mastered the basics! That’s lunacy!

House of Toys is a black mark on an otherwise amazing NES title. It eschews everything unique about the game, and drops a straightforward action level into the middle of whimsical, exploration-based stages. And then it kills Nemo quickly and frequently. For one stage, Nemo’s pleasant dream becomes a nightmare, and I’m unlikely to forgive House of Toys for this transgression anytime soon.

Toys are supposed to be fun, dammit!

FGC #530 Little Nemo: The Dream Master

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. Like the Disney Afternoon Collection, the fact that this game is associated with a license outside of Capcom’s usual oeuvre means it never saw direct sequels or rereleases. And, unlike the Disney Afternoon Collection, it’s unlikely it will be rescued by a craptillion dollar company. C’est la vie.
  • Number of players: This Nemo dreams alone.
  • Another explanation: There is a rarely seen Little Nemo arcade game from Capcom, too. It’s pretty similar to the Willow arcade game, and it’s a sort of “action beat ‘em up” that occupies the space between Mega Man and Final Fight. And its first stage is familiar…

    To the arcade!

    Was the ill-advised House of Toys an aborted attempt the capture the same gameplay as the arcade title? Or is it a simple matter of reusing the same iconography of the attendant movie? The world may never know.

  • Favorite Animal Buddy: It’s bee. If it’s an NES game, and you can fly with a particular ability, I’m going to choose that buddy every time. It doesn’t hurt that this hornet can also visit spikey death upon its enemies, too. That lizard can barely walk, but the bee is just an unending parade of destruction.
  • What’s in a name? Little Nemo: The Dream Master is based on the movie Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, which is based on the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland which itself was a spin-off of Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. In Japan, the game is called Pajama Hero Nemo. … Whatever works.
  • Goggle Bob Fact #1: This was one of the few videogames I owned as a child (well, “few” compared to how many I have now). As a result, I played it a lot… with the stage select code. I’m pretty sure I skipped Level 3 every time. Go figure.
  • The city in the skyGoggle Bob Fact #2: This is one of the few videogames I have owned that I eventually tossed in the garbage. No, gentle reader, this was not because House of Toys drove me to hitherto unknown levels of destruction; it was simply because of the cat. Or a cat. Some cat (or other animal of like size) puked all over my Little Nemo cartridge, and no one in the house wanted to clean or even touch what was possibly the most gross hunk of plastic in the house. Luckily, this was years after the NES was relevant, but it still hurts to know that my “original” copy of Little Nemo was lost to an explosion of Whiskas.
  • Did you know? People are aware that Flip, the frog-thing that greets you at the start of the first level, continually has a cigar in the movie (and arcade game), but had his smoking censored for the NES edition. However, you might not know that the Guerilla buddy is supposed to have a big, fat stogey, too. This explains why that hairy ape is continually making ducklips through the whole adventure.
  • Would I play again? This is a beloved piece of my childhood that seems lost to the ages. I might not fire up my NES for another go, but it would be really great if someone could make a new Nemo game. I’d buy that on day one. Hint hint, Pie for Breakfast Studios.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 for the Nintendo Gameboy. Is Mario even in that game? Why does he get billing at all? Wario is the best! And please look forward to his adventures!

Check out that tongue

FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

knock knockIt is 2020, and Banjo-Kazooie is still one of the best 3-D platformers of all time.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: I have no affection for Banjo and Kazooie. I hit puberty right around when Banjo was making the scene, and that resulted in some lingering issues regarding the goofy bear. Actually, to be clear, I officially became a teenager a couple of years earlier (right about in time for me to focus on other things in polygonal graphics), and that meant I was well and truly over it by the time the Nintendo 64 was hitting its stride. Did I still play videogames? Of course. But did I only play videogames for mature, highly sophisticated teenagers such as myself? Indubitably. Excuse me, Rare & Nintendo, I only have time for developed JRPGs right now. Did you see that tactics game insult God during the intro? I don’t think this fuzzy creature is going to offer me a similar experience.

So I didn’t play Banjo-Kazooie in its prime. Despite loving Mario 64, I had moved on to other genres by the time one was supposed to be collecting collectathons, so BK was dropped as easily as DK (he’s the leader of the bunch). And, as I eventually became a poor college student during this time, I didn’t wind up snagging the game in any capacity until the Gamecube had conquered the gaming continent (or at least the Nintendo island). Then I was able to pick up N64 games by the bucketful, as they had dropped in value from “hundreds of hours of fun should cost nearly a hundred dollars” to “you can have a new game, but you have to buy one less taco”. So Banjo-Kazooie was purchased with other titles that I had deigned too “kiddy” at the time (see also: Paper Mario). I played it for about a week, collected what I could, beat the bulk of the game, and then moved on to other adventures. There were new, better games out, and why should I waste my time on something so obviously past its prime? Just look at Eternal Darkness! Need I be more fair? Aim for something more in the same genre? Well, I recall jumping directly from BK to Mario Sunshine. “Now this is a modern platformer!” I exclaimed to an empty room while dropping bear ‘n bird forever…

And who knew that nearly 20 years later, I’d be writing an article about how Banjo-Kazooie kicks Mario Sunshine’s soggy ass?

Here we goWait, heck, I feel like I have to elaborate on my own opinions again. I like 3-D Mario titles. Hell, I consider all of them to be some of the best videogames out there. I’ve spoken of it before, but the feeling of controlling Mario is unparalleled. There is nothing like perfectly leaping over obstacles to grab another star, shine, or moon. I like Mario Sunshine. It is probably the Nintendo Gamecube title I revisit the most, and that’s saying a lot when you consider how many smashing brothers reside in that system. 3-D Mario games are still the gold standard for moving and “playing” in a 3-D space.

And, to be clear, Banjo is no Mario. This bear might have the somersault jump, and something approximating Mario’s 3-D triple leap, but the similarities end there. Beyond that, Banjo’s moveset is a bit stiff. It’s not bad! It’s actually pretty great compared to some of the turds that appeared in the 3-D space in the late 90’s. But there are a lot of… little things that hold Banjo back in his first adventure. Shooting requires stopping and ducking, which is immediately frustrating when a witch is lobbing fireballs. Switching to Kazooie’s footwork is fun for climbing hills, but it’s another move that requires you stop and swap. And why are we even talking about a bird walking when she can be flying? Banjo’s Kazooie-aided float jump is pretty fun, but actual flight can be a bear. Landing and/or determining your exact location relative to the ground is difficult when you’re anywhere past about six feet off terra firma, and dive-bombing your opponents is nearly impossible to properly aim (and, half the time, you add injury to insult by losing health if you miss). Maybe it’s the familiarity, maybe it’s the focused design, but, somehow, Mario feels effortless to control, while Banjo is stuck in a number of situations where his abilities are lacking thanks to a combination of controls and camera. It should not take any more than a second to power-poop an egg into a hole!

Don't look at meBut judging Banjo-Kazooie as merely a platformer does it a disservice. Yes, Banjo doesn’t control as well as Mario. Mario wins that match every time, against every opponent. But Banjo-Kazooie does beat Mario in its own, chosen field: Banjo-Kazooie is a better collectathon than Mario 64. What’s more, Mario, from Yoshi’s Island to Odyssey, has never beaten Banjo-Kazooie at its own game.

Banjo-Kazooie is every bit the collectathon your parents warned you about (“Stay away from that bad boy, and don’t waste time grabbing everything in a collectathon!”). Every one of the nine worlds in BK contain no less than 100 music notes, 10 jiggies, 5 jinjos (required to obtain one jiggy), 2 honeycombs (health), and any number of silver skulls, eggs, and feathers of all colors. And, like many collectathons, every last bauble and collectible is simultaneously optional and mandatory: you need to nab a certain percentage of everything previously listed, but you don’t need every last item if you stocked up on some in an earlier level. Regardless of required amounts, though, this does mean there is a lot to find in every level, which is always a blessing and a curse. It is fun to find a new jiggy, but it is also a pain when you’ve got nine out of ten and… where did that last one go again? Was I supposed to beat some manner of giant crab, or explore the depths of the ocean? It’s… somewhere around here… Right?

But that is exactly where Banjo-Kazooie excels. By clearly defining the number of essential collectibles for every area, a simple checklist is immediately generated. By limiting the size of levels to something that can be easily traversed in minutes, you’re never stuck in an area that is far too large to explore for that final music note. By transparently outlining “extras” in an area with the assistance of a friendly mole, you always know if there is still a new move or ability to find. And when every world gives you a clear goal and a constrained play area, you wind up not having to sweat the small stuff. Found eight jiggies, have a general idea on the locations of those last two, but haven’t completed their associated challenges yet? Great! Now you can caper around the area at will, and all you have to worry about is eventually returning to those last few pieces of gold. When you know the parameters of every world’s challenges, you can have fun within those borders. No need to obsessively press A next to every nook, cranny, and NPC to hope for the best…

WeeeeeeAnd this is a lesson Mario never seems to learn. Mario 64 vacillated between “you can earn every star immediately” and “you must complete challenge A before moving on to challenge B” from level to level. Mario Sunshine decided to focus on sequential challenges, and wound up making each “world” more of a “level” in the process (and aggravatingly tossed unaccountable blue coins all over the place in the process). The Super Mario Galaxy games focused even further on making “courses” as opposed to “exploration worlds”, and would once again hide a collectible or two around a level, but never a consistent amount. Mario Odyssey finally returned to the exploration of Marios gone by… but every area suddenly contained an unruly number of moons. Would this mundane block randomly grant you a moon? Or do you have to defeat a mighty boss to get the same reward? How about jump roping for thousands of hours? All the collectibles were equal in value, but violently varied in their collection methods. And, since that “final moon” for the level could be found through something as routine as throwing a hat at an unexceptional frog (basically how I spend my Tuesdays anyway), a player without a distinct guide was forced to try every goddamn thing in every world about six times. Hey, sorry to bother you again, but maybe you are the one skeleton dude that will hand over that final moon…

Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have this problem. Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have autoscrolling levels, flying shyguys hording red coins, or areas that require six kinds of backtracking. Every one of its nine worlds is very honest about its challenges and collectibles, and, if you’re getting lost, there’s probably a googly-eyed toilet around that will shout some clues at you. There are no situations where you will have to repeat an entire area just for one last jiggy, and (by my count) there is only one possible challenge Nice placethat requires a powerup out of sequence with the rest of the game’s flow (that would be the running shoes in the ice stage, for the curious). Everything else is straightforward to a fault, and you’re every bit as capable of immediately finding everything in the first world as you are at the finale. Banjo-Kazooie is designed in such a way to help a player understand the rhythm of its worlds very quickly, and then, once that is accomplished, gently guide play from one challenge to the next.

Banjo-Kazooie is an expertly planned collectathon that wholly avoids the greatest pitfalls of the genre. That makes it one of the best 3-D platformers ever committed to cartridge. It is, to this day, a smashing success.

FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

  • System: N64 to begin, and then it migrated over to the Xbox 360. It’s currently available on Xbox One, too, as part of the Rare Replay collection. This is ideal, as N64 games make my eyes bleed.
  • Number of Players: This is one of the few “Nintendo” N64 games that didn’t at least try to use all four controller ports. So one player here.
  • Reused Game: As I have stated before, I generally do not delete old save files from used games if I can help it. This is because I have brain problems, and treat save files like precious children. So, speaking of children, here’s what the previous owner of my copy of Banjo-Kazooie was up to…

    33 hours, and they didn’t even beat the game. Tell me your secrets, N64 cartridge! Did someone just like running around in circles for hours? That’s perfectly okay! Just tell me what happened!

  • Port-o-Call: Okay, I might insult the graphics of the N64 on a routine basis (I think it goes back to that teenage angst thing mentioned earlier), but the controls of Banjo-Kazooie really were made for the N64 controller, so playing it on the original hardware at least once adds a little context to how the whole “using a gold feather” thing made sense on at least one console. That said, definitely play the Xbox360 version, because at least that unlocks new features for other Banjo-based games.
  • Are you talking about the Stop ‘N’ Swop Eggs and the Ice Key? Yes. Please don’t get me started on Nintendo Power lying to me yet again. I’m still grumbling about Crash Man.
  • This is the worstHey, Mario 64 called, it wants its everything back: There was a lot of discourse in the 90’s that Banjo-Kazooie wholesale ripped off Mario 64. There’s a desert level full of pyramids and flying, a huge castle filled with secrets and portraits, and, perhaps most damning of all, an entire ice level themed around an impossibly large snowman. And, while these are all great points, it’s important to note that Banjo-Kazooie is 100% its own adventure. How can you tell? Well, you don’t see oversized cartoon eyes on Mario 64’s ridiculous eel, do you? Check. Mate.
  • Favorite Level: Tick Tock Woods actually disproves my thesis, as you are repeatedly returning to the same area with slightly different changes, and then have to explore the whole area all over again. It’s like a dry run for Donkey Kong 64! That said, it’s the exception that proves the rule, and I enjoy even the slightest scraps of time travel, so I’m down. Also, it contains the only worthwhile magical transformation in the game, so I’ll take it.
  • Everybody Talks: If I’ve got one complaint about Banjo-Kazooie, it’s that absolutely every damn thing has something to say, and 90% of that dialogue is awful. I don’t need a shark explaining that he is trying to eat me, Rare, he’s a shark. And the whole Gruntilda thing could be fun from a “she’s a scary/gross Halloween witch” perspective, but the entirety of her interactions with the world boil down to “she’s fat”. Over and over again. Same joke. She’s fat, and nobody likes her because she’s fat. And it’s wonderful to see that joke continued into the most recent Banjo adventure…
  • The goggles do nothing: And they insult people for wearing goggles!

    The goggles!

    But I guess it gets better.

    They do nothing!

    Partial credit.

  • Did you know? Diddy Kong and Donkey Kong are not disguised as a basic chimp and guerrilla lurking in the first world. Those are totally different characters, and, if you want Banjo and Diddy to interact, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
  • Would I play again: Probably! I was impressed by how Banjo-Kazooie fares compared even to its own direct sequels, and I’ll probably give Banjo another go in the future. It’s fun collecting things when a game is designed around placating my OCD, and not just running it into overdrive.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES! Yes, that’s right, it’s inexplicable bee transformation week here at Gogglebob.com! Please look forward to it!

Bee yourself