Tag Archives: platformer

FGC #569 Battletoads (2020)

There’s a moment about 75% of the way through Battletoads (2020) that… well, let’s let the GIF do the talkin’ here…

RAGE

That is Pimple, and, spoilers, he is freaking the heck out. He has been generally chill and mellow throughout this Battletoads adventure, but has now been pushed too far, and the following level is going to be Pimple rampaging like a toad built only for battle. Pimple, the reliable rock of the Battletoad trio, is well and truly done, and he is not going to take this lying down.

And this moment brilliantly features exactly how the creators of Battletoads (2020) fundamentally understand the Battletoads of 1991.

Let's motorOur favorite toads had an ultimately brief period of fame (or… close enough to fame) for approximately three years. We saw an NES game, a Gameboy game, a Super Nintendo game, an arcade game, and one vaguely memorable crossover. There was also a rigorous comic book promotion in there, and an animated series that arguably never saw the light of day (does direct to VHS pilot even count as real?). And was there any sort of unifying Battletoads mythos in all of this? Nope! The Battletoads were “real” people that were digitized into a virtual world, or they were “real” toad people from space, or they had that whole “Thing Ring do your thing” dealy going on with magical morphing. And there was some confusion within the original games if this was happening over and over again (apparently the Dark Queen really likes kidnapping), or if this was all some manner of Legend of Zelda “the same tale retold” situation, and Battlemaniacs was basically the “grown-up” telling of OG Battletoads. And the arcade version was clearly a version of Battletoads where we finally had the technology to let a toad fight a snake! Was that supposed to happen back in the NES days? Who knows!

So, if someone were asked to distill some consistency from three years’ worth of Battletoads mythos, would it be possible? The only thing that was constant across those games was that everyone in this universe had a general 90’s irreverent attitude, and, when the ‘toads punched stuff, sometimes their limbs changed. Across multiple games, mediums, and graphical capabilities, that was all we really had as concentrated Battletoads. They have attitude, and they morph their limbs.

And it is kind of amazing that that is exactly what is displayed in that above Pimple GIF. That is what is on display in the entirety of Battletoads 2020. Everyone in this universe has an irreverent attitude, and it is animated with a rubbery, lively style that is appropriate to heroes that have always been able to stretch and contort into whatever is going to be most visually interesting/proper for the moment. In the same way that Rash can transform into a battering ram on command (forward, forward+B), he can also morph into an office drone or spaceship pilot. The Battletoads are, fundamentally, just as adaptable as the Looney Tunes of yore, and they absolutely should exist in a game/universe wherein they are just as malleable.

My baby!In a world wherein the curators of Battletoads absolutely could have based an entire game on the “meme” of Battletoads, the idea that they are all “Turbo Tunnels and NES hard”, Battletoads 2020 wound up being true to a Battletoads franchise that is more than just its internet reputation. This is a triumph beyond measure, and my hats off to the writers, directors, and producers of Battletoads.

Also, while the designers of Battletoads are listening, I have one other thing to say about the 2020 game: it sucks. It sucks so bad.

The original, first level of the initial Battletoads game, Battletoads, is a beat ‘em up. Likely thanks to first impressions, many people (including myself) collectively refer to Battletoads as a beat ‘em up style game. Unfortunately, if you play past the first level (big “if”, because this is Battletoads, and you would be forgiven for losing to Giant Walker), you’ll find the second stage is practically a different game, complete with different rules. Similarly, the third stage, the infamous Turbo Tunnel, starts with a sprinkling of combat, and is then an entirely pacifist-friendly “battle” with stationary walls (you just happen to be going really, really fast). The next levels are (in order) a 2-D platforming/snowball fight, 3-D beat ‘em/surfing safari, and 2-D platforming (on snakes). In fact, once you clear Level 7 (of 12), you never see a 3-D beat ‘em up section again, and all combat is on a 2-D plane. In short (as I have documented in detail before) Battletoads is a beat ‘em up about as much as Mario Odyssey is with its occasional forays into t-rex-based carnage. We had one arcade game that seemed capable of staying on target, but every other Battletoads game cannot stick to a genre longer than the span of a level. When you’ve got Jimmy and Billy Lee piloting spaceships, you know something has gone terribly wrong…

Get those lumberjacks!And Battletoads 2020 initially seems to lean on the beat ‘em up trappings of its forebears. As one might expect for the update of a nearly 30 year old franchise, Battletoads 2020 is a might more complicated than its ancestor. This is no longer a simple case of “punch/jump/dash”, there are now options for strong and quick attacks, charge attacks, and a few possibilities for using your toady tongue as a grappling hook. And you’ve got grappling options! Would you like to collect flies, swing your toad from the foreground to the background, or, ya know, grapple (ala Mike Haggar). It is obvious that, in the same way a lot of thought went into an animation style that seemed appropriate for Battletoads, a lot of consideration was given to creating a beat ‘em up system that not only was fun to play, but was also appropriate to our heroes. The presence of a blocking monster means you’ll be using the stylish charge moves that were previously reserved for “smash” combo finishers. The mobile “shooting” creatures will encourage jumping for a dodge, and then a new jumping attack. And tongue moves! We are featuring toads, people, let’s act like it and highlight the one thing toads are known for (aside from hopping and kissing princesses). That slurping sound should have been for more than health refills for Battletoads from the beginning!

Except… it all kind of… doesn’t feel right? Or work right? There is a lot in the beat ‘em up sections of Battletoads that feels almost wholly broken. For instance, health drains stupidly quickly, so a single punch from an opponent can drain a third of your HP. In a way, this makes sense, as a single player game allows the usage of all three of the Battletoads, so you effectively have triple the health you see on any one life bar, and a fallen Battletoad revives if you wait a whole 20 seconds. You are practically invincible! But it still feels bad to whiff a dodge and be mercilessly punished. And, speaking of which, you will be punished, because managing the Battletoads’ battlin’ is a lesson in humility. It is very difficult to find the exact timing on when any of your protagonists can exactly cancel a combo to perform a dodge, so practically any string of punches is a risk. And that is not a good look for a beat ‘em up, as it means a conservative player is likely to zoom around the screen, eternally dodging, and only throw a single punch for fear of starting an inescapable combo chain. And that works, but it also works to make each individual fight move at a Battlesnail’s pace. And if you feel like being more loose with your health, good luck refilling on available flies, as those previously mentioned tongue moves are mapped to surprisingly confusing controls, and you are a lot more likely to accidentally drag a dangerous enemy into your proximity than down a life powerup.

And if you are getting the impression that I did not enjoy the beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads, congratulations, you have reading comprehension. The beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads 2020 are the worst parts of Battletoads 2020.

So it works out that Battletoads has the same inability to focus on any one genre as its ancestors.

Here is a vague spoiler warning for those of you that want to experience the manic intensity of Battletoads in its natural, astonishing way. Stop reading if you want to experience this all on your own dime…

FGC #564 Kirby Super Star (Ultra)

I can hear this GIFThere are many that claim Kirby Super Star is the secret origin of Super Smash Bros. This is likely wholly accurate, as both games were directed by Masahiro Sakurai, and both titles seem to feature controllable characters with extremely similar general abilities (Kirby’s “ball shield” is very familiar to anyone that ever found the block button in Smash). This brings us to another popular theory: in much the same way that Super Smash Bros is a mix of a fighting game and platformer, Kirby Super Star has strayed from Kirby’s platforming roots, and is closer to a combination platformer/beat ‘em up. In short, Kirby Super Star has less in common with Mario, and more influence from Final Fight.

This is, to be absolutely clear, grizzoshit. Kirby Super Star is not a beat ‘em up. There are too many treasure chests to find for this Great Kirby Offensive to ever be a beat ‘em up. But I, the magnanimous king of this website, will forgive you for ever believing Kirby Super Star could be a beat ‘em up. Why, gentle reader? Because I see how a poor, unenlightened soul may be confused by the artistry on display in Kirby Super Star.

Why do people think Kirby Super Star might be a beat ‘em up? Because, like in any good beat ‘em up, it feels damn good to hit things in Kirby Super Star.

Kirby has always been a violent little dude. While Mario might bop his opponents or toss a friendly fireball, Kirby was swallowing his opponents right from day one. And that was not in a playful, “haha now you’re lunch” Pac-Man way, either. Kirby could swallow an opponent for some empty calories, but he was a lot more likely to then spit his potential lunch as a deadly projectile. So, yes, while you might reasonably be able to complete a pacificist run of Sonic the Hedgehog (give or take some mad scientist bosses), Kirby has always had physical conflict baked into his DNA (or at least his dinner). Even simply breathing deeply generated a mini-projectile for Kirby! And his following adventure saw the puff ball gain the ability to “copy” the skills of his foes, and the powers that stuck with our pink hero all seemed more offensive than movement-based. High Jump and Ball were fun and all, but audiences clearly wanted swordplay and hammer time. And regardless of which abilities would eventually make the cut(ter), early Kirby titles established its protagonist not as a dude that would just run and jump, but someone who was going to slice a deadly swath through adorable star blocks.

I like this birdBut, in the same way that Kirby graduated from simple sucking to copying abilities, the ability to copy at all had to evolve with its attendant hero. On the Gameboy, this took the form of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, wherein having a different animal buddy impacted abilities in different ways, so what was a flurry of sparks on “regular” Kirby became a lightbulb when in the presence of a fish. It… made sense at the time. On the Super Nintendo, Kirby was able to utilize each copy ability in a variety of ways. For instance, the simple parasol was no longer a sword-with-a-floaty-jump it was on the NES, it now involved its own special dash attack, a “meteor attack”, and it could shield Kirby in new and interesting ways. And how was this all possible without any animal buddies? Simple! Kirby got a moveset! He can utilize option A, but it becomes option B while jumping, option C while dashing, and option D if it happens to be used while jumping and dashing. In some cases, there were distinct input commands for “special techniques” that could do all sorts of things (or at least generate a fireball). Kirby has got options!

More handsAnd, yes, this sounds a lot like a beat ‘em up. It very much sounds like the more complicated beat ‘em ups (Streets of Rage comes immediately to mind) that utilize not some simple “jump+punch = special” architecture, but a variety of special moves activated with particular inputs. And, obviously, you use special moves in beat ‘em ups because they are more powerful and useful than regular moves. … Or is it that obvious? Special moves are special, and they are usually visually magnificent (never a bad time when someone’s fist catch fire), but they definitely have an entry barrier with their special inputs. How do you convey to the player that a special move is, ya know, special? Some people are naturally going to gravitate toward “complicated = better”, but there is an equally larger audience that is going to ask why they should press all these extra commands when simply one button is going to do the job. Sure, it might do more damage, but why bother? Well how about you bother because dammit it feels good to hit things.

This is the secret of Kirby Super Star and good beat ‘em ups. You can face armies of the exact same guy (whether that be Waddle Dee or Two P), you can venture through areas that look remarkably similar (how many times has Kirby wandered through a nondescript forest?), and you can fight the same collection of bosses but-now-a-different-color until the it’s time for your sleep ability to kick in, and, in the end, it will work because it feels good to hit (these) things. Every one of Kirby’s Super Star abilities has an offensive component, and whether you are wielding a fireball or mirror dash, when you smack into an opponent, it feels substantial. Even the more “movement” based abilities, like Wing or Jet, generate “forcefields” that will obliterate blocks and opponents alike. And, of course, if either of those abilities activate their dash attacks, well, Rocky the rock dude is going to be in traction for the next week. And, just in case you think that simple contact is the only way to generate a beefy hit, the Plasma ability proves that this can apply to long range attacks, too. Throw off a simple plasma spark, and it “feels” like you are generating no more force than your average pencil eraser; but charge up to a full plasma ball, and the screen practically vibrates with the overwhelming energy Kirby has blasted into the universe. Sure, it takes a moment to charge up, but you do that because it feels good to annihilate that Bio Spark in a single plasma explosion.

Do it, Kirby!And, even more than Kirby’s shield and other similarities, this is the origin of Super Smash Bros. Super Smash Bros is a game where, no matter what happens, it feels good to “smash” your opponent. It feels good to send Jigglypuff sailing over the horizon, and our primitive lizard brains react well to the sound of the smash-shotgun, the vibration of the controller with every smash, and the temporary “lag” that occurs in an effort to further extend the moment of a perfect smash. Super Smash Bros is more than a strangely chaotic version of Mario’s last birthday party, it is also a game that flawlessly conveys to a player how much fun it can be to hit things. And, even though the roster may wear and the challenges may diminish over time, it always feels good to smash in Smash Bros. It’s right there in the title for a reason!

So congratulations, Kirby Super Star. You might not be a beat ‘em up, but you did refine one of that genre’s greatest strengths. It feels good to hit things in Kirby Super Star, so it feels good to play Kirby Super Star.

Beware the pink fury of Kirby. He is going to hit things while smiling the whole time.

FGC #564 Kirby Super Star (Ultra)

  • System: Super Nintendo for one glorious Christmas Season in 1996. Then it was rereleased on Nintendo Wii, Wii U, and Switch. There was also the Nintendo DS version, Kirby Super Star Ultra, which I may as well play, too, because it’s fun to hit things on the small screen.
  • Totally wrongNumber of players: This is a wonderful little title that uses a “Tails” 2-player mode. History has proven that it is ideal for playing a fun platformer while babysitting. Though, to be clear, you may have to coach a child on the basics of “press up to open doors”.
  • Port-o-Call: On one hand, it is difficult to improve on perfection, so Kirby Super Star Ultra seems to provide very limited upgrades to the original. There are entirely new modes/levels/bosses, but, like Chrono Trigger DS, the original content is so jam-packed with fun that the “extra” stuff feels vaguely exhausting. That said, it does reintroduce Kabula the Angry Blimp, so it gets bonus points there.
  • This was never a good idea: Though, to be clear, the DS version is abhorrent in its two player mode, as it absolutely requires two cartridges to get anywhere. You can technically share a cart to a limited degree, but the game won’t even appear on the second DS’s screen, so good luck playing through Super Star Ultra while crouched over someone else’s teeny tiny screen.
  • What’s in a name: In Europe, this game is known as Kirby’s Fun Pak. This is egregious, as the acronym for Kirby Super Star is almost KISS.
  • Favorite Copy Ability: Plasma is my go-to in basically every situation. You just cannot beat launching a green ball of electronic nonsense at all times, and the “static generation” bits are fun to make Kirby look like a little pink maniac. Though we do have to give the Paint ability props here, too, as paint is apparently one of the most powerful forces in the Kirby universe.
  • Get that blimpUnanswered Questions: Does anyone know what happened to Meta Knight’s crew? Like, dude had a bird captain working for him in addition to his regular army, and I’m genuinely curious what happened to those guys.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: In my youth, I may or may not have drawn an entire comic book based on the general beats of Kirby Super Star. It is a prequel story about Kirby and Jynx teaming up to take down Meta Knight and his fabulous bird ship. If I do say so myself, it is not all that bad, though I did make the (wholly incorrect) artistic choice of giving Kirby visible teeth…
  • Did you know? Completing every last bit of Kirby Super Star Ultra unlocks some “outtakes” of Kirby in his iconic cinemas from the original. This means that, like Altered Beast, Kirby is an actor portraying these adventures for an unseen audience. I choose to believe the “real” Kirby is an Estonian dwarf in a costume.
  • Would I play again: Did I ever get around to plainly stating how much I love this game? It is my favorite Kirby game, and that puts it in the running for favorite videogame of all time. I like hitting things. I will play Kirby Super Star again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Beast Wars: Transformers for the Playstation! Get ready to enter beast mode! Please look forward to it!

He can't go around?

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 #523 Blues Brothers 2000

Gonna sing the bluesYou have to understand just how impossible it is that Blues Brothers 2000 for the Nintendo 64 exists.

As one might expect, this long, sordid story starts with The Blues Brothers, the 1980 film. Ever seen it? It’s a great movie! It’s a comedy featuring two comedians at the top of their game, and it is also, incidentally, completely bonkers. It’s a movie with a plot, an easily followed story, and clear, well-defined characters… but it’s also a bunch of dudes just messing around and seeing what they can get away with. This was the movie that originally held the record for most wrecked cars in a single film (a title that would eventually be stolen by GI Joe, apparently). James Brown, John Hooker, and Aretha Goddamn Franklin all turned in amazing performances that proved they had no idea how to lip sync to their own songs. Dan Akroyd claims to have included cocaine in the film’s budget to “help the cast stay awake during night shoots”. This may have had an impact on some of the actors involved, as there is this anecdote (compliments of IMDB) involving John Belushi:

John Belushi disappeared while filming one of the night scenes. Dan Aykroyd looked around and saw a single house with its lights on. He went to the house and was prepared to identify himself, the movie, and that they were looking for Belushi. Before he could, the homeowner looked at him, smiled and said, “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The homeowner told them Belushi had entered their house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and then crashed on their couch. Situations like that prompted Aykroyd to affectionately dub Belushi “America’s Guest”.

Despite the Vatican approving of the film as an official “Catholic Classic” in 2010, there may have been some sinful behavior occurring during the creation of The Blues Brothers. And, unfortunately for the world at large, some of that behavior may have caught up with the iconic cast. John Candy, the marginal antagonist of the film, passed away at the far-too-soon age of 43. John Belushi, milk and sandwich fan, passed earlier at 33. And Dan Aykroyd, most tragically of all, made a guest star appearance on Home Improvement. The pillars of The Blues Brothers had fallen into oblivion since their amazing movie that had grown from little more than a Saturday Night Live sketch, so it was unlikely we would ever see the iconic characters ever again.

And then there was Blues Brothers 2000.

Press it my friendThe troubled creation of Blues Brothers 2000 could fill an entire article all on its own, so let’s just hit the bullet points. First of all, John Landis (director/writer) and Dan Aykroyd (Grosse Pointe Blank) originally created a script that was essentially exactly the first movie, just with slightly different guest stars. That was scrapped, but, somewhere between that and the final product, Landis & Aykroyd reportedly reached a point where they were convinced the “studio changes” made to the film would guarantee Blues Brothers 2000 would be a bomb. And it was! Ten years after the release of Blues Brothers 2000, Entertainment Weekly named the film #4 in the Top 25 Worst Sequels Ever Made. Why? Well, a pretty obvious reason is that Blues Brothers 2000 went in a wildly different direction from its origins, and adopted a very “magical” and arguably “kiddy” tone. Apparently this was a side-effect of that previously mentioned “studio meddling”, as the edict for Blues Brothers 2000 was to create something more child-friendly. Yes, somehow, somewhere, someone thought that it would be a good idea to make the sequel to a movie where the entire cast was high on cocaine into something that was an all-ages romp with a new, child Blues Brother that had previously starred in 3 Ninjas Kick Back.

But… well… it wasn’t a super terrible idea? After all, Dan Aykroyd had also starred in Ghostbusters, a film that took off in a surprisingly child-friendly direction. What was a movie that included harsh jabs at the concept of mortality, bureaucracy, and at least one instance of a protagonist preparing for some date raping became an animated series starring Garfield and produced enough toys to fill a (my) basement. Even now, the “child-friendly” Ghostbusters became more enduring than the “OG” versions of the characters, as you sure don’t see anything but Egon’s pomping rat tail on the comic shelves. Ghostbusters 2 seemed to lean into this child-friendly version of the Busters, so it made a certain amount of sense to hope for similar success with wee Buster Blues. It worked once, so let’s see if we can get Blues Brothers 2000 to the same point as Ghostbusters and its toys, spinoffs, and videogames.

Or you could just create the tie-in videogame regardless of movie popularity, and hope for the best. Let’s go with that option.

NEVER!There is evidence Blues Brothers 2000 was originally going to be a much more ambitious project. It was going to span multiple systems (aka the Playstation 1, and not just the N64, though this was also the era you could never rule out a Gameboy tie-in…), include some distinct racing/car chase segments, and, at the very least, contain many more locations from the actual film. Unfortunately, much of what was showcased in previews for BB2000 was never to be. What wound up being the final product was little more than a collection-based 3-D platformer that loosely followed the plot of Blues Brothers 2000. Elwood Blues has to get the band back together, and, thanks to a little clerical mix-up, he has to fight his way out of a prison and then against the mob to do it. Blues Brothers 2000 might not be an exact adaptation of its source material, but it’s the kind of thing that could work for a videogame. There’s a good chance it could be a successful movie tie-in product.

Of course, that would assume the game wasn’t released a solid two years after the release/failure of the movie. Hey! At least this Blues Brothers 2000 finally came out in 2000!

Big FightAnd Blues Brothers 2000 for the N64 could have had a chance if it released concurrently with its movie. In 1998, we were a mere two years past the release of Mario 64. 3-D platforming collectathons were still fresh and new! Camera controls were difficult, but even Mario had an issue with his Lakitu a time or two. There would have been a lot more forgiveness for a janky 3-D platformer in 1998. But in the year 2000? This was after Banjo-Kazooie had demonstrated that Mario wasn’t the only jump ‘n collect in town, and then Donkey Kong 64 exhausted all that good will. In fact, 2000 was just about the end of that console generation, so the likes of Perfect Dark, Majora’s Mask, and the entire Dreamcast library were hitting the shelves. This meant Banjo-Tooie was there, too, a title many claim is one of the best N64 games available. 1998 could have worked, but two years later was not the time to release a game where a malformed 3-D dude collects musical notes. It draws… unfortunate comparisons.

And if you think those extra two years of production were dedicated to making a more polished experience, you’ll be disappointed. Blues Brothers 2000 has some interesting ideas, like a pile of varied minigames, “hub areas” that are more than haunted castles, and powerups that only spawn while a gramophone are playing (it’s inexplicable, but at least it’s interesting), but all of them are more than a little half-baked. First and foremost, there is a mandatory PaRappa-esque rhythm game that pops up on occasion, and it is impossible. This could have been Guitar Hero before Guitar Hero, but, nope, it’s a haphazard “press A now” affair with terrible beat-detection and absolutely no indictors as to what you’re doing wrong. It’s “difficult” entirely because there is zero useful feedback on what the game wants. The combat of the game is similarly difficult, as the hit detection is atrocious, so you can never be quite sure if you’re losing because your timing is off, or if Elwood is being tossed across the room because his opponent suddenly gained the same attack range as a Belushi-sandwich search. And there’s no invincibility frames for poor Elwood! The odds of him being instantly obliterated by some errant door laser are high! There’s a skeleton of a good idea here and there, as this isn’t just a “stupid” collectathon that treads the exact same ground over and over… but that skeleton probably needed another 2000 years of playtesting.

ZAPAnd, while we’re considering what it would take for Blues Brothers 2000 to become an actually good videogame, also consider whether or not Blues Brothers 2000 was ever supposed to be, ya know, Blues Brothers 2000. Surprisingly enough, there is not much information from the creators of Blues Brothers 2000, so we’re left to wonder what happened here. The first stage is Elwood breaking out of Jail? Great! That makes sense for the often-incarcerated Elwood. And Chicago? That’s a gimme of a level for the Blues Brothers. The Louisiana Swamp makes a certain amount of sense considering the film’s finale (even if it mostly looks like a more mundane Bob-omb Battlefield most of the time), but “Spooky Graveyard”? That is about as generic as a videogame level as you’ll ever see, and could have been imported from literally any other title in production. Both Blues Brothers films featured a variety of iconic locations and set pieces that could easily be converted to videogame scenarios, but Elwood was never afraid of no ghost. Was this some generic platformer that was eventually married to a movie property? Was this something that happened during production? Did someone just need another level, and “haunted” was what came up on the ol’ genre roulette table? Titus isn’t offering any answers, presumably because they are still working through the backlog of unanswered questions regarding Superman 64. That’s a Clark Kentian task all by itself!

Big funBut, whether Blues Brothers 2000 was a random hackjob or a very dedicated piece of licensed software, Blues Brothers 2000 for the N64 happened. It is a very late 90’s Nintendo 64 title based on an ill-conceived sequel to a beloved classic starring many actors that were dead before said sequel was conceived. There is no way anyone should be able to control Elwood Blues with an analogue stick, but, apparently, here we are. Despite literally everything, there is a Blues Brothers 2000 game for the Nintendo 64.

The Nintendo 64: it missed out on the entire Square catalogue, but it had Blues Brothers 2000.

FGC #523 Blues Brothers 2000

  • System: Nintendo 64. Sorry, Sony fans, Nintendo has got a lock on Blues Brothers fun.
  • Number of players: The main campaign is single player. However, the rhythm game (which is a crime against humanity and basic decency) is available as a two player mode. I do not care for it.
  • Pak Watch: This is one of those N64 titles that would be capable of saving, but, nope, you need a N64 memory card controller pak to do so. Luckily, the whole of the game only takes like two hours, so you don’t really need that save feature. And additional lucky: no one will ever bother to play Blues Brothers 2000 through to completion, so don’t worry about it.
  • Just play the gig, man: You’re collecting musical notes to play music actually from the movie. And the background music seems to be N64-erized versions of familiar songs, too. The soundtrack of Blues Brothers 2000 isn’t quite as iconic as the original Blues Brothers, but, hey, it’s not bad hearing some bastardization of John Popper while hopping around.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: I have no idea what happens if you reach the final area and haven’t found every last collectible. Presumably, you’re barred from seeing the true ending that involves a skeleton playing the trumpet.
    Jug band!

    Can’t miss that!
  • Say something nice: Elwood Blues looks kind of cool in a N64-polygonal cartoon character kind of way. And the enemies seem vaguely reminiscent of the later Psychonauts. Does this mean Double Fine drew inspiration from Blues Brothers 2000? Probably not.
  • Did you know? “The Warden” is the first big boss of Blues Brothers 2000. In the actual film, the warden is played by Frank Oz. By association, this means that, without question, Elwood Blues has beaten up Yoda.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. This is not a fun game in any real way. It is absolutely passable, but should not be played over any other game for any reason.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2! Whip it good, Miriam, it’s time to show the moon whose boss. Please look forward to it!

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