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FGC #579 Guacamelee! 2

Sit down and eat your guacYo, white guy here, and I’m going to talk about cultural appropriation regarding a country/culture that is the whipping boy of an entire American political party. Oh, and we’re also going to explore a distinctly American vacation destination, too. And if we have time after all that, there will probably be something about a videogame in here.

Just remember: you’re always a wiener when you talk about Mexico, amigos.

For those of you that have not looked at a map lately, Mexico is one of two countries that border on the United States. And, let’s be clear on what has apparently happened here, it is “America’s” “oh no you’re bringing down the property values” neighbor. Canada is always the example of where United States citizens will flee when their chosen candidate doesn’t win an election, and Mexico is always portrayed as the crime capital of the continent. If someone is “going to Mexico” in fiction, they are inevitably doing it to escape the consequences of some wrongdoing, or to commit all new wrongdoings. Or, to put it another way, nobody ever talks about being kidnapped by a drug kingpin in Ontario. And, to be absolutely clear about my position on this nonsense: this is bullshit. You want to talk about a dangerous place in North America, USA? Have you seen yourself lately? Do you know how many school shootings have happened since I started writing this paragraph? Do you know how many of those big, scary drugs were passed around just in a local Wal-Mart parking lot? You want to build a wall, you nitwits? Maybe you could “build a wall” around those Fox News pundits that seem to be suggesting life-saving vaccines are causing boneitis!?

And the kicker of all of this? You can apparently run two separate presidential campaigns on the concept of Hispanophobia, yet one of the chief vacation destinations for “Americans” is Mexico. Look! There goes Ted Cruz now! Mexico is unquestionably one of the USA’s prime spots for relaxation, and the sheer number of all-inclusive resorts available across the country are a testament to how many (literal) dollars are spent in a country filled with people that a political party wants to “keep out”. The hypocrisy is palpable, and the $475,000,000,000 Americans spend a year on Mexican vacations (2016 data) is proof enough that it is more than a handful of Democrats that enjoy the company of Mexicans.

But if you’re looking for a Mexican vacation, and don’t want to deal with the actual country of Mexico, have you considered… South Carolina?

Welcome to paradise

South of the Border is a roadside attraction in South Carolina, USA. It is just past the North Carolina/South Carolina border on I-95, thus, ya know, “south of the border”. South of the Border is a place that has grown from a simple beer stand to a “resort” that now proudly features five restaurants, seven gift shops, 300-foot-tall observation tower, two pools, campground, reptile habitat, and a giant gorilla wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt. And how has South of the Border seen such unprecedented success over the years? By exploiting arbitrary laws! When South of the Border started as little more than a bar in 1949, it was manipulating the fact that the local North Carolina counties were currently dry. And when local prohibition laws lightened up, fireworks were still illegal in many states. But not South Carolina! So people from all over traipsed over the border to the closest fireworks depot available. Even today, when many “safe” fireworks are available across the country, South of the Border utilizes the more generous laws of S.C. to sell some fireworks sets that are… well, they’re not exactly guaranteed to blow off a limb, but the advertising does seem to imply that as a distinct possibility. And through South of the Border’s meteoric rise to fame, it maintained the “joke” of its own name, by importing Mexican “trinkets” and proudly displaying a vaguely Mexican motif around the grounds.

And, to be absolutely clear, I love the place. Bury me in a coffin with zigzagged red and yellow stripes that light up every time someone gets within 40 feet of the thing, because I love this level of kitsch. Nigh everything at S.O.B. is gigantic and garish. There is more neon pumping through this quasi-city than Las Vegas. There are haphazardly distributed statues of dinosaurs, hats, and dinosaurs wearing hats. Gift shops sell an equal number of children’s toys and “the world’s largest condom”. You can eat at a steakhouse or “Porky’s Truck Stop”. There are marginally abandoned rides for the kids, and you may get the distinct impression that there might be a “monster” running around that will eventually be thwarted by some meddling kids. There is “The Sombrero Restaurant”, and, inexplicably, it has nothing to do with the restaurant that is like 100 yards away and shaped like a giant sombrero. There are “Year 2000” mugs on sale in the year 2021…

WELCOME TO THE FUTURE

They’re vintage! Oh, and there’s the official mascot of South of the Border, Pedro.

These dorks
This Goggle Bob photobombed these poor Pedros

Pedro has… issues.

Pedro is the “face” of South of the Border. He’s gone through a few permutations through the years (who hasn’t?), but Pedro has consistently been the most prominent piece of South of the Border iconography for decades. And where did Pedro originate? Well, let’s check the ol’ South of the Border official website for some information…

“Mr. Schafer [founder of South of the Border] went to Mexico to establish import connections and met two young men. He helped them get admitted to the United States, and they went to work at the motel office as bellboys for several years. People started calling them Pedro and Pancho, and eventually just Pedro.”

Let’s… let’s just sift through the… implications of this story, and the way it is told today. First of all, “Pedro and Pancho” are not recounted by their real names, simply Pedro and Pancho. Dudes inspired the most recognizable part of South of the Border, but they don’t rank high enough to earn a credit like Mr. Schafer. Second, the whole “Pedro and Pancho” thing is a stereotype bordering on slur, right? Did a little research here, and it appears to be something that pops up in On the Road by Jack Kerouac, a book that compared Native Mexican “Indians” to “the Pedros and Panchos of silly civilized American lore”. As the tone in that passage seems to indicate that Kerouac is mocking the stereotype, the phrase was probably already widely used in the 50’s. Regardless of whether it was one of those “cultural osmosis” situations or a stereotype that arose from too many episodes of The Cisco Kid, I’m willing to bet that the original “Pedro and Pacho” were not too excited about being renamed for their American jobs. And then they were just both rechristened “Pedro”? Like remembering two separate names was too hard? Or just “telling apart two Mexicans” was going to be a problem for too many people?! And somehow this wholesome story is considered safe enough that it is not only publicly listed on South of the Border’s website, but you can also get it on a t-shirt!?!

This is not okay!

And as much as I love South of the Border, this serves as an uneasy reminder that South of the Border is promoting the general concept of Mexico while doing nothing to give back to actual Mexico. It is not like 70% of every sale needs to assist a random family in Mexico City (though that wouldn’t be a bad idea), but this is still a situation wherein a loose definition of Mexican Culture is being adapted, slapped on a glowing billboard, and then used to sell fireworks. It is nice that South of the Border is unambiguously supporting Mexico with its theming (as of 2021, there were not any signs/merch that I could find that were promoting “keep them out” or alike), but it is still a story of white guys that reduced their Mexican workers to “they’re both Pedro”. In much the same way South of the Border grew as a business by exploiting border-based loopholes, this inextricable chunk of Americana also preyed on the general aesthetics of a Mexico its locals likely would never touch.

You see it, right?And that (finally) brings us to today’s game, Guacamelee! 2. Here is a game about the “Mexiverse” that was made by real, live… Canadians. Huh.

Before we go any further, it must be stated that Guacamelee! 2 is an amazing videogame. And Guacamelee! (1) was, too! Which is good, because G!2 reuses an awful lot from its immediate ancestor. Nearly all of the special moves available to our favorite luchador are rehashes from the prior game, which very well could work poorly for a game that is just enough of a Metroidvania that it should know better. But, on the other hand, Juan always handled like a dream, mixing the simplicity of Smash Bros’ “direction + button” controls with movement and beat ‘em up challenges alike that are the ol’ “easy to learn, difficult to master” that makes up the best of videogames. So, yes, G!2 is a lot like G!1, but G!1 was amazing, so how are you supposed to improve on that? And the new challenges that are introduced, like drifting dimensional zones and various chicken powers, are welcome and well-explored. Did you like Guacamelee! (1)? Do you enjoy beat ‘em ups and/or Metroidvanias, like, at all? Guacamelee! 2 has you covered, and is one of the best entries in two different genres.

And, if you haven’t noticed from the screenshots and name, Guacamelee! 2 is Mexican as Infierno. And, given Guacamelee! 2’s general… levity with everything, it leads to a pretty obvious question: is this another South of the Border situation? Is this an affectionate parody, or a simple exploitation of a culture?

Get 'emFirst of all, according to interviews, the Mexican theming of Guacamelee! (1) was not the origin of the game. The setting for Guacamelee! originated with one of Drinkbox’s animators, Augusto, and was only approved after generating some concept art. And, once again, we are talking about a flock of Canadians here. That is kind of an auspicious start to a game that would eventually feature “The Mexiverse”. And an awful lot of what is featured in both Guacamelee! titles focus on two things: Día de los Muertos and Luchadores. And, while these are two indivisible pieces of Mexican culture, it is also possible to showcase their basic iconography without any more than a shallow reading of the source material. Everybody likes ornate skeletons, right? And wrestlers in funny masks? Throw in some dudes with a decent tan, and that’s Mexico, baby! Let’s get those sweet Coco bucks!

But there is more to Guacamelee! 2 than a few Cempasúchil petals sprinkled around. In an effort to not just be some random white guy talking about a culture he only has the most tangential relation to (technically I have pre-New Mexico statehood “New Mexican” blood in these veins, and all that really means is that there is an ancient recipe for fajitas in my family cook book [oddly, this is not a joke]), I consulted friend-of-Gogglebob.com Zef, a person that is very familiar with Mexico (almost like he lived there for years of his life or something). Here is Zef’s (partially paraphrased) take on Guacamelee!:

GET IT!?“[Guacamelee! has the kind of references that come from] knowing the culture and living in it, and appreciating cultural in-jokes that most people outside Mexico will probably never get, but which have Mexicans in stitches. Instead of appropriating something from a culture for the benefit of, ahem, a foreign audience, it takes the native audience aside and makes a private joke just for them.

This is very similar to what it does with gaming culture as a whole, as Guacamelee is also [in]famous for all of its videogame memes and injokes. When the most difficult, most brutal puzzle-platforming gauntlet rewards you with the same message as the Special Zone of Super Mario World, you know that was done with intent, and that while some people may need to look it up, those who remember it will gape and then laugh at it. And when it goes and has you climbing onto giant feathered snakes that weave up and down and left and right, deftly combining the iconic ‘Kukulkan descends the pyramid staircase’ Spring Equinox event in Chichen-Itza with the Snake level from Battletoads, that’s like a triple-layer pun and I’m all here for it.

Another important thing that often gets overlooked is that, while the games are full of stereotypes, and ‘benign racism’ is definitely a thing in many media productions, the Guac games go a long way towards diluting those same stereotypes by providing a very diverse cast of characters–protagonists, villains, or even just NPCs. As a concrete example, there’s definitely ‘lazy Mexican in a sarape’ background characters, but because of that variety of depictions, the audience can read them as lazy because that’s what the individual character is, as opposed to the ethnicity or the culture. If anything, given the roles they fill and the circumstances of narrative development, I’d say that they’re fantasy stereotypes first and foremost, and Mexican stereotypes second.

Here we goThere’s also a certain jai ne se quoi in the way characters speak, their mannerisms and word choice, that is distinctly ESL (and this, coming from an English-as-Second-Language person). The script may have been originally penned by a native English-speaking Canadian, I don’t have the credits with me, but it was tweaked and adjusted well enough that, as weird as it may sound, it feels localized from Spanish speech.

Now, of course, Guacamelee does maintain certain stereotypes I’d like to see diluted, myself. Both games take place in ‘culturally distinct’ locations such as rural villages, jungles, deserts, and Pre-Columbian-style temples. Which is all well and good, Mesoamerican civilizations need their day in the sun and it’s nice to show colorful and vibrant villages as opposed to the dusty shantytown stereotype (and thank god it isn’t all just Western-inspired deserts and cacti and sombreros everywhere). But it would be wonderful if Guac 3 had, say, ‘concrete jungle’ locales where you had to navigate a big city with Colonial-era architecture alongside modern glass towers and concrete apartment buildings. Just as there’s variety in the depictions of rural villagers and luchadores, it’d be nice if it could show diversity in many other areas of Mexican culture and not just Day of the Dead. The premise certainly supports it, as AAA Lucha Libre is famous and popular at all strata of Mex society.”

BLINK IT!Thank you for that comprehensive explanation, Zef! And, for the record, Zef would like it to be said that this is just the opinion of one Mex. However, let it also be said that Gogglebob.com officially promotes the opinion of anyone that enjoys Guacamelee! 2.

So what does this all mean? Is Guacamelee! 2 another game that is destined to go down in history as a Mexi-leech that thinks “they’re all Pedro”, or is it a shining bastion of Mexican culture in a medium that barely remembers there is anything other than Japan and “America”? Well, as usual, it is not something that is that cut and dry. But one thing is for certain: Guacamelee! 2 is a damn fine videogame, and it contains a host of loving nods to Mexico that are a lot more interesting than a dude in a sombrero.

And, hey, after everything from the last… centuries… Mexico deserves at least that.

FGC #579 Guacamelee! 2

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Personally, I prefer the Switch version, as you can play the “important” parts on the TV, and futz around with the more challenging areas while in handheld mode/watching TV.
  • Number of players: Four! You can have four different players at a time! That sounds really fun! And absolutely not something I’m ever going to be able to get a group together to actually do! I’ll be more likely to organize a road trip to South of the Border first…
  • Is it hot in here?Speaking of Challenge Levels: Like in G!1, G!2 has a number of areas that really test the valor of your luchadore. And, like in the original, I am forced to complete every one of these challenges, as I kind of live for that nonsense. Luckily, the respawn rate for these challenges (and the rest of the game, for that matter) is tough but fair, and no challenge seems too far outside the realm of possibility. Even if it did take like two hours for me to get through that chicken crucible…
  • Weird Connections: Speaking of, the existence of “The Crucible” and way too many chicken jokes really reminds of Fable 2. Whatever happened to that franchise? … No, I’m not actually asking that question.
  • Favorite Mexiverse Timeline: The conceit of the Mexiverse at large allows for Juan to visit a number of videogame parody areas, like “Limbo”, a grindy JRPG universe, or a whole timeline apparently dedicated to being a terrible cell phone gacha. That said, the best timeline is one where you get to beat up a car not once, but twice. Thank you, Street Fighter, for giving us the iconic struggle of man versus random vehicle they just happened to encounter. And, hey, thanks again to Zef for reminding us that the featured car is not remotely random, but another “Mexican reference”. Once again turning my mic over to the expert… “The classic Volkswagen Beetle used to be ubiquitous on Mexican roads, as it was cheap, easy to get parts for and repair, and efficient as a taxi cab for its size and ease of driving. So, it received the moniker of “Volchito” (or, to some, Vocho). That’s the kind of detail that comes from knowing the culture and living in it, and appreciating cultural in-jokes that most people outside Mexico will probably never get, but which have Mexicans in stitches.”
  • He is The Juan: There is much made of the plot with Juan being the last living Juan in the Mexiverse. But… is that the joke? Like, Juan died at the start of Guacamelee!, and I’m moderately certain he is dead again about 5% of the way into Guacamelee! 2. Dude basically lives in the realm of the dead, so I don’t see the big deal about sticking a dead Juan’s skull on any random body. He’s a resilient guy. He’ll get used to it.
  • Favorite Costume: Hey, the Switch version came with all the DLC. Guess I’ll dress up as Flame Face, because I like racking up the combo meter and having a flaming head. It worked for Nicolas Cage!
  • Our final fantasyFavorite Boss: Zope y Cactuardo combines two things I love in a game: a boss that is using “your” moves against you, and a giant cactus. Wait, no. The giant cactus is good because it reinforces how Juan really “only” punches and grapples, so a boss that is too spikey to touch is completely omnipotent. Please, nobody give Juan a gun! It will mess up his mojo!
  • Did you know? Drinkbox has claimed they created new moves for Juan, but went back to the originals after determining the OG moves were more intuitive. Just as well, performing a perfect headbutt still feels satisfying when destroying a hundred skeletons.
  • Did you know (South of the Border Edition)? If you think I’m the only person that has ever taken notice of good ol’ South of the Border, please refer to this frame from Season 6 of The Simpsons.
    GET IT!?

    Yes, in 1995, Bart vs. Australia was already parodying of our friend in the sombrero. The Simpsons did it, indeed.

  • Would I play again: This game is super fun. I will play it again. That’s it. That’s the answer. I love this game.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Powered Up for the Sony PSP! Mega is all powered up and ready to go! And he got really short for some reason, too! Please look forward to it!

Gobble
No no. This isn’t right at all.

FGC #562 Q*Bert

No colorLet’s look at the evolution of gaming/Q*Bert over the years.

In 1982, gaming was just taking its first, tentative steps towards Gaming as we know it. Pac-Man and Pong had blazed the trail with their joystick/wheely thing controls, but now we were seeing new and innovative ways to play. Kangaroo, for instance, was a game that was very similar to the likes of Donkey Kong, but added an all-important offensive action to its heroine’s repertoire. Kangaroo could punch out monkeys and apples alike, and one could argue this simple act was the start of “videogame violence” for years to come (sorry, dead monkeys, you gotta start somewhere). And speaking of offensive options, Dig Dug first started digging in ’82, and he had the ability to “pump up” his opponents until they popped. This had the dual purpose of inspiring a generation of bizarre fetishes and featuring a hero that always had the ability to turn the tables on his opponents. Unlike Pac-Man or Mario that had to rely on sporadically distributed powerups, Taizo the Digger was hunted and hunter all in one. This would become the norm for practically all of gaming to come.

But if one game presciently granted a glimpse of gaming of the future, it was Pitfall. Nearly four decades ago, Pitfall Harry explored a large world of tricks, traps, and treasure. Harry had much to do in his (certainly not Mayan) adventure, and, while his moveset was limited, it was contextually sensitive to all sorts of challenges. Harry didn’t simply jump over opponents, he leapt to swing across vines, or hopped over the heads of gators. Pitfall was a revelation for everything its protagonist (and by extension, the player) could do, even if this was still the era of extremely blocky dudes puttering around monochrome backgrounds.

Lookin' GoodAnd 1982 also saw the release of Q*Bert. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops.

Ten years later, in 1992, the face of gaming had irrevocably changed. The arcade gave way to the domination of the console, and now Sega and Nintendo were battling it out. But there was the Personal Computer, too! Wolfenstein 3D had just been released, and the whole of the FPS genre was just starting to congeal into Doom (to be released the next year). For some, the “3-D” nature of first person shooters promised to be what “the future of gaming” was always expected to be: fully immersive fighting (through the legions of Hell/nazis, apparently).

But away from the monitor and back at the television, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was pushing the boundaries of the genre that had become known as platforming. Sonic could run, jump, and dash; but he did it at speeds that could not have even been imagined ten years prior. And this latest Sonic allowed for two player simultaneous play! Just like in those competitive fighting games that had been making the scene! And Mortal Kombat was the most prominent “new fighter” of ’92. Now there was a radical shift in gaming! Kangaroo might have punched out a monkey, but, for better or worse, she never tore the head off of an opponent. And look at all those buttons! “Punch” is a thing of the past: Sub-Zero had a variety of punches, kicks, and fireballs (well, snowballs) at his disposal. You didn’t just need an instruction manual for your average fighting game, you needed a strategy guide (thanks, Nintendo Power!).

Good bless QBertBut while we’re considering strategy, let us also consider Super Mario Kart. Mario had cameoed in a sports title here or there over the years (he got really good at Golf, apparently), but he mostly just starred in his own adventures that involved running and jumping. Super Mario Kart was a great success as a fun racing game, but it also showcased how a videogame mascot could shift all their normal “verbs”, but still be unmistakably that familiar mascot. Mushrooms can make you super tall, or they can give you a speed boost. Turtle shells can become projectiles divorced from their turtles. And anyone that has ever played any Mario Kart knows the difference between a Starman that allows you to mow down goombas and one that allows you to speed to the finish line. Mario Kart showed that even the most rigidly defined mascot could be anything, and paved the way for the Sonic Racing or unprecedented crossovers of today.

And then there was Q*Bert for Gameboy, and Q*Bert 3 for Super Nintendo, both released in 1992. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, six punch buttons, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. Sometimes there are a variety of new colors and backgrounds, though. You know, at least on the system that has color.

Let’s hop forward seven years. By the time 1999 rolled around, the “mascot wars” of the previous console generation had concluded, and newcomer Sony was riding high with the Playstation and the serious, cinematic Final Fantasy franchise. This was the year we were finally going to see the sequel to Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy: Whatever, and it pushed the boundaries for what was expected of the JRPG genre. Have you ever heard of Triple Triad? Guardian Forces? Dog Missiles? If you haven’t, don’t worry about it, it was all only around for one game, but it did establish that you could have complicated battle systems that were only relevant for one title. Fight, magic, item wasn’t the only fish in the sea, anymore, let’s get ready to get some gambits up in here!

Go QBert!This was also a time when gaming was getting more serious… but “serious” as more of a teenager’s definition. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater allowed a “real human” avatar to perform intricate skateboarding tricks in a universe that apparently had unlimited and instant healthcare. Silent Hill allowed a player to explore the depths of the human psyche in a world that was going to be complete in a few years with the introduction of a certain pyramid headed fellow that really knew how to swing around half a pair of scissors. Or maybe you just wanted to be the Driver, and cruise around realistic (enough) cities? In a way, these games were just as big on the fantasy as Mario (no, you cannot drive a car into a building in reality and continue to have a good time), but they were a lot more “real” than anything Pitfall Harry ever did.

And if you wanted some fantasy, don’t worry, you still had the likes of Ape Escape or Donkey Kong 64 to hold you over. DK64 saw the collectathon at its most… collecty, and showcased all the different ways Kongs can run, jump, and shoot on their way to an ultimate goal of wringing out 12,000,000 (monotonous) hours of gameplay. And Ape Escape was no simple monkey game, it was a sneak and capture event closer to Metal Gear than Donkey Kong. Even visually “childish” games in 1999 weren’t so simple.

And then there was Q*Bert for Playstation. Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. This time there was an adventure mode, but that was just an excuse to stick cinema scenes on either side of a world. Everything else was just Q*Bert hops.

BERT!The following five years allowed for a number of innovations in gaming. In 2004 we saw Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which was the first Grand Theft Auto to feature extensive customization to its grand, open world. It also had planes, bazookas, and the opportunity for your C.J. to cosplay as The Notorious B.I.G. for the entire adventure. It is arguable that this Grand Theft Auto went too far into the whacky territory after its sequels eventually tried to rein everything back in with sad Russians in GTA4 and sad dads in GTA5, but the Saints Row franchise carried that whacky football straight to the end zone. Gaming had started goofy, become serious, and then migrated back to goofy all over again.

And speaking of marginally goofy, this was the year we saw Fable, which touted a rich morality system and a story that was different every time you played it. Did that actually happen? Well, not really, but it did seemingly start the trend of games that bet their whole asses on save baby/eat baby morality. It was no longer enough to run, jump, and punch; now you had to determine whether or not you were doing all those things while simultaneously becoming Mecha Hitler. Or Mecha Mother Theresa? You’ve got choices!

But on the simpler side of things, there was Katamari Damacy. This straightforward little game featured a protagonist that could only roll around a ball, but that ball could grow from the size of a paperclip to roughly the girth of a galaxy. And, more importantly than the gameplay, it was released for a whole $20, kickstarting the (now standard) belief that not every videogame had to be a AAA, 40 hour feature. Before internet connections fully graduated from 56K, Katamari Damacy showed us a glimpse of the future of downloadable titles.

Eat it!And speaking of downloadable, this year also saw an official Flash (RIP) version of Q*Bert. In a game that would be ported to “real” Windows a year later, Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, “punch”, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. At least this Q*venture was free.

Now we fast-forward a decade to 2014. What innovations did this year hold for gaming? Well, we wound up skipping the exact year for a lot of big’uns from this epoch, so we’re left with staring straight at Dark Souls 2. Did you ever hear about Dark Souls? It’s the Dark Souls of Bloodborne games. Love it or hate it, Dark Souls impacted gaming in more ways than we will ever admit, arguably revitalizing the general gameplay of the rogue-like and encouraging increasing your own personal gaming skills while marginally leveling up your chosen hero. In a similar manner, this was the year we saw Bayonetta 2, a shining example of the likewise “hardcore” stylish action genre. Gaming could be slow and methodical or fast and elegant, but, in both cases, it was a little more complicated than guiding a puck through a maze.

And if you still wanted the mascots of yore, don’t worry, they were represented, too. If you wanted to see everybody fight everybody, Super Smash Bros 4 WiiU/3DS was released in 2014. Smash Bros was always a shining example of videogame protagonists leaving their usual genre and sailing into something completely different (Star Fox left his ship!), but Smash 4 would eventually grow and mutate to be a veritable yearbook of every character that had ever mattered in gaming (sorry, Geno, you don’t matter). And if you wanted something new from “cartoony” characters, this was also the year that Shovel Knight proved Kickstarting retro platformers was wholly viable, and could have amazing, enduring results. Come to think of it, Shovel Knight was partially inspired by Dark Souls, too…

CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTERBut there was one game released that year that was not inspired by Dark Souls. Q*Bert Rebooted, seemingly rebooted to promote an Adam Sandler vehicle, was a game where Q*Bert only need move from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changes block colors simply by touching blocks, and his only “offensive option” is baiting a malevolent snake into a bottomless pit. Q*Bert does not have a bonus jump, shovel, or other abilities. Q*Bert simply hops. He also hopped to nearly every platform available, so this one is still downloadable on modern consoles.

And Q*Bert returned for the most recent time in 2019 for iOS. Do we need to review the gaming breakthroughs of such a recent year? Fire Emblem: Three Houses and its perfect blend of chess and dating simulation? Super Mario Maker 2 and its ability to grant the player full creative control over familiar gameplay? Untitled Goose Game and its goose? Whatever the hell happens in Sekiro? (I gather it is a photography simulator.) 2019 was an amazing year for gaming where we not only had all this, but also Q*Bert. And what did Q*Bert do? He moved from block to block in a generally diagonal manner. He changed blocks colors. He baited a snake into a pit. Q*Bert only knows hops.

He was Q*Bert. He is Q*Bert. The face of gaming may irrevocably change, but Q*Bert is Q*Bert forever.

@!#?

FGC #562 Q*Bert

  • Go lil buddySystem: I’m pretty sure the lil’ Bert appeared on nearly every console system, give or take a few outliers. Playstation 2? Sega Genesis? And I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on Atari Lynx, either. Other than that, there’s probably some Q*Bert in some form on your preferred console.
  • Number of players: One Q*Bert, but two people can take turns if they are so inclined.
  • Don’t make a sound: Q*Bert’s claim to fame has always been the bizarre recordings that approximate the sound an orange monster man might make when brained with a purple marble. Unfortunately, playing Q*Bert in the year 2021 just reminds me that I never want to hear from a belligerent orange creature ever again.
  • Hey, what about Q*Bert’s Qubes: The only Q*Bert to truly mix up traditional Q*Bert gameplay was… not all that different. It basically just added the idea of “rotating” cubes according to the direction Q*Bert hops (as opposed to one simple, all-purpose tap), and added a handful of new enemies (there may have been a crab). Other than that, the way it “separated” the blocks made the game a lot more difficult to visually parse, and there’s probably a reason this Q*title is generally forgotten and ignored.
  • Did you know? Q*Bert for Playstation started with a cinema scene based in Q*Bert’s blocky little world. Weird thing? His weirdass universe looks a lot like modern Minecraft. Did Steve colonize Q*World? Is that the secret origin of the franchise?
  • Would I play again: Q*Bert is great for a whole five minutes before you remember it’s just goddamned Q*Bert. I will probably waste those five minutes again in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Wallachia Reign of Dracula! Or did ROB actually choose Bloodstained: Classic Mode? Actually, it’s both! We’re going to have a double header next! Please look forward to it!

GO FOR IT!

FGC #558 Mappy Land

Mappy time!Namco, you screwed up. You chose the wrong company mascot.

Pac-Man sucks.

Look, I get it. Pac-Man is definitely a cultural touch stone. In a lot of ways, Pac-Man is the original videogame mascot. Statistically, most people reading this are too young to remember (as people that remember so far back at this point are mostly just slurping up apple sauce and accusing the staff at The Home for Retired Gamers of being “space invaders”) but there was a time when “Pac-Man” gripped the nation. You could buy a Pac-Man lamp, watch, and mini freezer down at the local Sears, and still be home in time to watch the Christmas Special. Pac-Man had his own hit song and a parody song by Weird Al (granted, it was more of a B-Side, but it counts!). Pac-Man was everywhere for a few years, and, while many regarded it as a fad (because it absolutely was), the idea of a culturally significant videogame character paved the way for Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Steven McMinecraft.

But, in much the same way that early videogames had to work out all the kinks before graduating to their later, sublime heights, Pac-Man was not built for the big leagues right out of the gate (maze?). Sonic showed his attitude from the first moment he paused to sneer at the player, and even pudgy, boxy little Legend of Zelda Link established his adventuring roots once he was told how dangerous it was to go alone. Pac-Man, though? That dude didn’t even have eyes. There is genius in the simple, immediately recognizable design of Pac-Man, but you could say the same of a football. And you don’t see any NFL mascots that are just giant, sentient footballs, do you? (I am genuinely asking here, I don’t watch a lot of sports.) Pac-Man is amazing, but he’s more pac than man, and an outside longshot to attach to an entire merchandizing empire. This ain’t a funny Star Wars beeping trashcan pushing action figures, Pac-Man is barely a complete pizza.

And then there’s Mappy. Mappy’s got legs.

(… Uh, literally. Pac-Man doesn’t naturally have those, either.)

Let's danceLet’s start with an obvious advantage: Mappy is vaguely human shaped (eat it, puck man). He’s also a cartoon mouse. Those things are pretty popular. He’s also a cop, and, while it is difficult to approve of that vocation, it does give him a clear purpose. Mappy has the eternal goal of arresting the bad guys. Pac-Man? He’s just a mortal sin (gluttony!) personified. Mappy is trying to clean up the mean streets of wherever anthropomorphic cats and mice hang out, and he’s doing it one trampoline at a time. Oh! And that allows for an immediately recognizable dichotomy, as Mappy winds up involved in a literal game of cat and mouse. That even explains how this all works, right? Mappy is a mouse, so contact with an unrestrained cat is going to lead to instant death. It is immediately easy to understand, which is essential in a videogame. Nobody needs a tutorial to understand that cat beats mouse.

And the gameplay of the original Mappy? Similarly straightforward. You can use trampolines to bounce to separate levels, and it’s your job to collect all the doodads scattered around. Unlike some protagonists, you’re not collecting for the sake of amassing wealth (though you do get points), but to rescue these stolen items from the nefarious cat gang. You’re raiding a criminal warehouse! Just like Batman! Everybody loves Batman! And also like Batman, Mappy is not a trigger happy police officer, he uses traps and strategy to tackle his foes. Mappy’s greatest weapon is not a gun, but a bunch of doors that open with varying strength and inexplicable abilities. Some doors possess meager door-range, but a number of rainbow doors fire… I don’t know… door-beams across the arena. Microwaves? And, if you’re smart, you’ll be able to utilize these magical doors to negate an entire gang of nefarious cats. Mappy is not a strong hero, he is a clever hero.

(Which, incidentally, is better than a certain “hero” that can only be described as “hungry”.)

I recognize this mazeAfter the success of the arcade-based Mappy, Namco(t) did its best to adapt that clever mouse gameplay to the home consoles. In much the same way that Mario Bros. had to go Super and involve gigantic, scrolling stages, Mappy left the warehouse, and started to venture across multiple levels. Mappy Land saw Mappy visiting island getaways, the Old West, and haunted graveyards (yes, Pac-Idiot, Mappy can handle ghosts, too). It is not a coincidence that the first area of Mappy Land is a train station, sending a clear message to the player that Mappy is ready and willing to travel the world. And don’t worry! The different stages are not just some half-assed attempt at graphical variety: every land Mappy visits has its own share of tricks and traps, from bowling balls to boxing bags to other things that probably start with B.

And, to be absolutely clear, these items and traps are the best thing to come out of a videogame from 1986. In every level, your cat opponents will ineffectually dance at the sight of a common cattail cat toy or stack of coins (those money grubbing cats), or be knocked out by catnip. In a medium that usually involves your opponents being blown to smithereens, it is delightfully goofy. And even more than the items, the traps are continually cartoony. Mappy rides a pulley that zooms across the screen and bowls over his opponents. Mappy rapidly spins around on handlebars to banish pirates. And, my personal favorite, Mappy drops small “bombs” that detonate and launch cats into the sky to become glorious fireworks. At a time when games were abstract but still clearly violent (you think Mega Man is shooting tickles at the robot masters?), Mappy evidently inhabits a “toon universe” where physics are only important if they don’t get in the way of a gag. No, I don’t think an adult mouse man can actually fly across the dawn while suspended by a balloon, but it does make for an interesting stage mechanic.

And then what was in store for Mappy after his stunningly creative 1986 adventure? Nothing.

BANGOkay, yes, there have been a handful of Mappy games since his NES premiere. Much like Pac-Man Jr., Mappy’s son got into the act for the sequel, but Mappy Kids almost entirely dropped the trampoline-based gameplay of the originals for something like a more traditional platformer. It was more standard, but it was also a lot more forgettable (you know, except that part where you play Spot the Difference with a picture of a klansman). Then, about a decade later, there was the arcade “arrangement” version that was basically Arcade Mappy 2… though with the significant caveat that it never made it over to home consoles. And from there all Mappy could ever scrounge up was a pachinko machine or two, and a mobile game that has an extremely dubious existence (go ahead and find me a video of Mappy World. I’ll wait). And then there’s Touch the Mappy. Nobody wanted to touch the Mappy. Poor dude had a memorable arcade game, a stellar console debut, and then he was trapped by the mousetrap of history.

Pac-Man, meanwhile? There’s a guy who barely had a game to begin with, yet, after decades of games that barely make a lick of sense, he’s palling around with Donkey Kong, Lucina, and Cloud.

Let's fly

And he stole Mappy’s trampoline! And he’s letting everybody use it!

Namco could have had an excellent, understandable mascot creature, but they dropped him for a gliding circle. You messed up, Namco, and everybody knows it. Mappy should have had that top spot, and yellow dot creature is still the most hopeless of gaming’s popular mascots.

FGC #558 Mappy Land

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System to start, then there were a few dozen years of no Mappy Land, and then we got it on WiiU. Now it is available on Switch as part of the Namco(t) Museum Archives Collection (Volume 2).
  • Number of players: 1 Player Mappy, because, what, you going to feature Mapico, Mappy’s wife? Preposterous!
  • Hey, what about Hopping Mappy? We don’t talk about any pogo-stick based games here.
  • Lovin' the tropicsFavorite Level: I’ve always appreciated the tropical stage that features moving trampolines, climbing vines, and all the fish you could ever eat (or feed to cats). In a weird way, the whole level feels like an expanded version of Donkey Kong Jr., and I would certainly be down for a Super DK Jr. any day of the week.
  • Favorite Trap: Did I already mention the fireworks? Because it’s the fireworks. You can somehow get multiple cats at once with one wholly stationary bomb. These cats are apparently pretty dumb!
  • What’s in a name: The actual names of your feline antagonists are Goro (the big guy) and his lackeys, the Meowkies. I would use these names more if Goro didn’t call to mind another significant arcade antagonist.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This was one of my few NES titles when I was the youngest of the young. I hated it. I played 800,000 hours of it. I… was a conflicted child.
  • Did you know? Namco Super Wars, a tactical RPG for the Wonderswan that may be the precursor to other tactical Namco games, includes Mappy. He’s a white, fuzzy mouse-man, and, given the art style of the game, this anthropomorphic animal would likely be a lot more comfortable in the Five Nights at Freddy’s universe. I would post some official art, but I’m afraid of those cold, red eyes following me into the night.
  • Would I play again: I mean, if you’ve got a general hankering for some slightly graduated arcade action, you can’t go too wrong with Mappy Land. It is easily available on the Switch now, so the only thing holding me back from another playthrough is the Switch currently contains every game that has ever existed. That’s some steep competition for a little mouse.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity! That’s going to be a fun time for all those lil’ Hyrule Warriors. Please look forward to it!

Looks familiar
This is what all weddings are like

Year in Review: 2020

Disappointment of the Year: Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Go Impa GoAnother year, another reason to state that the disappointment of the year is not the worst game I played this year, it is simply the game that in some (significant) way disappointed me (and specifically me, I’m a very selfish guy). And the winner this year? It’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, a game that I anxiously expected, and then wound up bouncing off of like an arrow plinking off of Daruk’s mega-shield. Why? Simple answer: the goddamn world map. There was a lot of extra content in the previous Hyrule Warriors, but the main quest was sequestered off in its own little campaign with a little flow chart and maybe a Linkle (depending on the version). Hyrule Warriors 2, meanwhile, decided to stick the optional content all together on one map, and… and… I just can’t deal with that right now. 2020 has been an overwhelming year, and I cannot deal with 2,000 Hyrulian villagers that need some random quantity of fish. Look, guys, I’m dealing with a lot right now, I will get you your damn beetles later. Couple this with a plot that feels more pandering the more it unfolds, and I have a weird aversion to playing a game I was ostensibly eagerly anticipating.

So, yes, I’m saying I am stalling on a game I anticipated because my own anxiety can’t deal with Hyrule’s problems. It happens! And it’s disappointing.

Reason to not let me out of the house for the Year: Nintendo Switch eShop

Eerily accurateUgh, seriously? This category made a lot more sense when it was safe to actively leave the house. This has been an excellent year for me to avoid buying excess amiibos and alike, because, early in this year, I had genuine fears I wasn’t going to have enough income to buy food. It all worked out about as well as could be expected at this point, but, man, not a great year for randomly indulging in frivolous hobbies. I only bought like 7,000 “cheap” eShop titles during quarantine, so… Okay, maybe I still indulge in frolicsome nonsense. Did I really shell out for Wheel of Fortune? It was only five bucks? Okay, I guess that’s alright then…

Game with the absolute worst release date of the Year: Persona 5 Royal

Wake up, dummyIf it seems like this “year in review” list is dominated by references to the Great Plague of 2020, congratulations, you’ve noticed the theme, and nothing about that is going to change. From March on, this year has been conquered by COVID-19 (which is pretty damn impressive considering 2020 was an election year), and basically the whole of the world has been changed as a result. I am only noting this in case someone was lucky enough to be in a coma for the last ten months, just suddenly awoke, and immediately dashed over to Gogglebob.com for my annual year in review (hi, Walter, welcome back!). Everyone else reading this? I’m sure I don’t need to remind you. Anyway, this nonsense really kicked into gear around March 20 (to my recall), and Persona 5 Royal was released on March 31. And you know what nobody wants during an unprecedented pandemic that has changed life as we know it? A game that reminds you of The Before Times, both in its “real life”-based gameplay, and the fact that it is 90% a game you already played back during better times (and it had significant issues then). So, sorry, Persona 5 Royal, you managed to release at exactly the wrong time, and, while your protagonist might have the exact same “it’s quarantine” haircut I was sporting in April, it was not a great time to engage with an 80 hour, recycled JRPG.

Compilation of the Year: Namco Museum Archives Vol. 1 and Vol. 2

Wakka wakkaAKA the Namcot Collection, this (these) compilation of NES Namco titles is notable for bringing us unique versions of games that could otherwise be lost to history. Or, to put it another way, we finally got that one Splatterhouse game. It might not be the best game out there, but, like Pac-Land or Dragon Buster, it’s something that should at least be available somewhere. And, bonus, we got unique “demake” versions of Gaplus and Pac-Man Championship Edition. This year was great for arcade-style games that are more focused on score attacks than… uh… focusing, so this Namco compilation really ate the power pellet.

… Would have been nice if it was all one, appropriately priced package, though…

Title of the Year: Cyberpunk 2077

I have not purchased and/or played Cyberpunk 2077. I have simply been an amused audience for all the glitches and nonsense that has been associated with this game that may very well be decent under this pile of glitches (OG Final Fantasy 15 filled that space a few years back), but there is no way I’m shelling out for a title that apparently was born on the backs of abused employees. That said? Holy cow is that a terrible title. Cyberpunk 2077? You’re just going to go ahead and name your game after a target that, head’s up, you’re not even remotely hitting? That would be like taking a game that mixed flying space stations and war machines with swords and sorcery, and then naming it something like “Fantasy Genre”! That’s just silly!

System of the Year: Nintendo Switch

Pew pewPlaystation 5 and Xbox Whatever: It’s The Next One were both released this year. Did I jump on them? No. Was it because I’d rather have an occasionally portable system that inexplicably contains compilations of every Mega Man franchise (save that one with the dork on the moon)? Yes. Thanks for being you, Nintendo Switch. You didn’t even need that Collection of SaGa to win this spot, but it was a nice bonus.

DLC of the Year: Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

Classy dudeI just like the bulbous headed deer that rides the horsey. That thing is better than Steve. I’m sure there are other reasons to enjoy the two expansions of Pokémon Sword/Shield, but the horsey comes immediately to mind. Maybe there was a karate bear? I don’t recall. He is nothing before the horsey.

Remake of the Year: Resident Evil 3

Uh… see the next section for the real winner of this category. Second runner up? Well, that Trials of Mana remake wasn’t so hot, so I guess Resident Evil 3. That seemed like a nice upgrade over the original. Staaaaaars and whatnot. Moving on…

Game of the Year: Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Going up?Look, there’s a part of me that screams “I don’t want to be that guy”. Last year, I chose Kingdom Hearts 3 as my game of the year. Before that (may have missed a year in there), I chose a nostalgic Sonic the Hedgehog title. So, what, my favorite every year is going to be some kind of “retro” videogame that reminds me of when I was young and pure and playing games that generally involved murdering monsters and robots? Apparently! I’d love to be original, I’d love to choose a game that is new and different and maybe involves a severed Medusa head, but here I am, choosing another Square Enix title that wallows in nostalgia and years of anticipation.

But at least Final Fantasy 7 Remake is right there with me. As discussed extensively in my original article on the subject, Final Fantasy 7 Remake has a lot to say about the past, the present, and the “good vibes” one gets from hanging out with old friends (even if those friends are remembered as 32-bit jumbles of polygons). It’s also just plain fun. FF7R is insightful and you get to fight a tonberry for no real reason. Could I ask for anything more? Well, yes, Aerith and Tifa could finally kiss, but they do have to save something for the sequel.

Games I’m sure are great, but I haven’t played: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Hades, Shantae and the Seven Sirens, Among Us, Moon

Look, just be glad I played any new videogames at all this year. It was a rough time! I barely even played Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and that should have been a slam dunk!

Gogglebob.com Introspection 2020

I’ve spent enough of this article bemoaning a terrible year for literally everyone I know (and don’t know!). But it’s also the year I got married. That was nice! And speaking of nice, this site has given me something “frivolous” to focus on through thick and thin, so I’m pretty happy with that, too. I maintain that this “project” is winding down (I swear I’m not going past FGC #655! I mean it this time!), but that doesn’t mean I’m preparing to abandon everything here. And this was the year that I picked up consistent live streaming with some friends, so that was an unexpected bonus of 2020, too. 2020 may have robbed us of my originally intended FGC #500 (I’ll make the real version… one day), but Gogglebob.com had a good year otherwise…

Oh, and here are some favorite articles from the year (not already casually mentioned edition):

FGC #473 Dragon Warrior 4
FGC #479 Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE
FGC #503 Final Fantasy 5
FGC #520 X-Men: Children of the Atom
FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass & I Wanna Be The Guy
FGC #538 Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
FGC #541 Splatterhouse

And that’s it for this godforsaken year. Here’s looking for to a 2021 that isn’t such a bummer!

What’s next? Random ROB is back and has chosen… Street Fighter: The Movie. Oh boy! It’s movie time! Please look forward to it!