Tag Archives: playstation 2

FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

You are now believingSo what’s wrong with failure?

PaRappa the Rapper is a phenomenon that is hard to explain to modern audiences. Look, it was like this: for a long, long time, videogames were just beeps and boops and graphics that were blocky as hell. Or, perhaps, it was just a matter of, for many “gamers” of the time, this had been all anyone had ever known, and that “ever” was our entire childhoods. Studies have been performed that have proven, without a doubt, that, when someone is a child, a year lasts approximately eleventy billion millennia. Meanwhile, when you’re older, a single weekend lasts roughly as long as one cheese sandwich. This created the lopsided imagining that videogames would always be no better than what could be pumped out by an NES or Sega Genesis, and the concept of a theme song or graphics that existed in three dimensions was little more than a pipedream (the old videogames did have a lot of pipes, incidentally). This meant that when PaRappa the Rapper was released stateside in the fall of 1997, players went unexpectedly nuts. In 1997, in one game, you had a CD that featured what many hailed as the culmination of an entire franchise, another disc (or four) showcasing the future of the JRPG genre and what was possible for storytelling, and, finally, here was this weird little rap game that went in another, amazing third direction. The graphics were distinct, bright, and colorful. It had voice acting for every scene, level, and character (in English!). The gameplay was wholly new, or, at the very least, it felt new. Rhythmic button pressing wasn’t new by any means, but this didn’t feel like FMV nonsense or some earlier attempt at guitar heroing. PaRappa was an unexpected feast for the eyes, ears, and thumbs.

Of course, nowadays, everything that made PaRappa unique is completely mundane, and it has been for nearly twenty years. If you’re still excited by voice acting in 2020, you were either just beamed here from the distant part, or you finally figured out how to crank your hearing aid. Or maybe you’re just excited a fighting game finally earned an English dub

Let's rapBut PaRappa was an unexpected success in 1997, and that inevitably meant it was time for sequels. And that’s great! Because the original PaRappa the Rapper sucked. Yes, the characters were memorable. Yes, it was charming as all get out. And, yes, the nonviolent setting that managed to tell a compelling story was and still is a breath of fresh air. But have you ever actually played PaRappa the Rapper on the original hardware? Practically constructing the entire rhythm genre from raw materials comes with its own share of problems, as so much that we take for granted today is nonexistent in this maiden voyage. Button prompts sometimes appear microseconds before they’re relevant. “Hit detection” is scattershot, and it’s difficult to know exactly why “U Rappin’ Awful”. And, for reasons that no one has ever understood, the instant feedback of a congratulatory tone when you do something right (or perhaps a punishing buzz when something is performed incorrectly) is replaced with… farts. Seriously! I can’t figure out a way to describe these noises in any other way. I’m trying to press triangle at the right time, failing, and the only indicator as to what might be going wrong is some dude slightly off-screen taking his shirt off and going to town with the armpit noises. It’s not helpful, Musical Mike!

So, yes, from a gameplay perspective, PaRappa the Rapper had some significant issues. It was very easy to lose, and, given you had to repeat the entire stage after every bomb, every loss grew more and more frustrating. Was this by design? Was the game “artificially padded” to prevent immediate progress so as to obfuscate the fact that there are a total of six short stages? If you know what you’re doing, you can complete PaRappa in less time than it takes to watch a television show (granted, this is true when speedrunning most games of the era, but this is without even trying). Was the advanced difficulty meant to extend the length of the game? You gotta!Or was the lack of relevant feedback meant to simulate learning a “freeform” skill like rap? It’s not just about pressing buttons at the right time, player, there’s a je ne sais quoi that cannot be captured by a simple tutorial or… anything but a fart noise. PaRappa the Rapper is exasperating, yes, but it may be for a reason. And if it isn’t for a reason, then they’ll fix it in the inevitable sequel. … Right?

PaRappa the Rapper 2 certainly went in… some kind of direction.

On the surface, this is the same game, just a generation of hardware later. PtR2 is an adventure starring PaRappa where, in an effort to see a dog get deflowered by a flower, you must guide PaRappa through a series of rap battles wherein he gains confidence and the ability to buy a hamburger. All of the raps are new, there are a few more levels on top of the original count, and everything looks and sounds better than it did on the old hardware. There are even escalating, clearly labeled difficulty levels to add a little more replay value to the experience. PaRappa the Rapper 2 did everything PaRappa the Rapper 1 did, but better (give or take your subjective feelings on whether or not a moose driving instructor is better than a moose drill sergeant). But was it easier? Did the directors make more of an effort to help the player through a rap or two? Well, PtR2 did at least give us this guy…

Let's practice!

Come on, PaRappa, relax, it’s time to address this weirdo from your second game.

That’s Boxxy Boy, and he appears at the start of every level. It is his purpose to provide a “simple”, beat-heavy version of samplings of the song, so you’re granted an opportunity to practice before starting a level. You cannot fail Boxxy’s training sessions, and you are welcome to test out your phat beats in an environment where you either pass or keep trying (and are never told you’re being awful). It is a safe space, and, frankly, it’s a great concept for inclusion in a rhythm game. The Hatsune Miku games of today (and games based off the same basic concept) have major problems with starting a featured song with 40 required inputs before you even have a moment to figure out the BPM, so a little “here is what this is like” is welcome. Nobody likes to see a game over five seconds after the “level” starts!

Proof I can do thisBut… would that be so bad? Obviously, it sucked whenever you failed a level in PaRappa the Rapper 1, but, nine times out of ten, that wasn’t because of errors in the opening seconds. It takes time to get to a complicated bridge! And what was the punishment for failure in PtR1? Nothing. You had to repeat the level, but you didn’t have to repeat every previous level, or insert a quarter, or search all over for your missing turtle friends (I’m probably thinking of something specific). Failing sucks, but you’re always a quick restart away from trying again. PaRappa the Rapper 2 is no different, and its additional emphasis on scoring and replays means that there are even greater reasons to ignore any botches that would happen without the omnipresent training tutorial. What’s bad about failing except knowing that you failed?

Or is simply knowing you can suck enough?

According to interviews, Boxxy Boy’s tutorials were implemented because Rodney Greenblat, the man responsible for fashioning PaRappa and his world, was bad at playing Um Jammer Lammy. Thus, Boxxy was implemented to offer a “gentle” tutorial for anyone that was desperate to make it through the “real” game. And that’s a noble goal! Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that Boxxy only repeats one distinct section of the song, and does not prepare a player for pushing through those final beats. So ol’ Rodney is probably still going to lose, except now he knows there’s an entire, useless “mini stage” attached to his failures. Is this why we haven’t seen any new PaRappa characters since? Rodney is too demoralized by Boxxy?

You gotta love?And is that the fear here? That people will give up on PaRappa the Rapper because it is too easy to fail? Is failure so disheartening that people won’t even try? You could claim modern games that revel in try and retry, like Dark Souls and its ilk, disprove this theory. Everyone is chasing that Dark Souls pie right now! But, on the other hand, Souls and the entire “rogue-like” genre is wildly divisive. So much as coughing out the words “Dark Souls” on a forum (they still make those, right?) will lead to a thousand gamers explaining why DS is simultaneously the best and worst thing to ever happen since the Power Glove. And a significant reason for this is that you know there are hundreds of players out there that tried this fancy shmancy new genre, died 70 times, and made up their collective minds to never “waste time” like that ever again. Failure may be upsetting, but squandering your precious time on something that will never lead to success is even worse. Isn’t that why you have a day job? And what is the point of playing a game if you are never going to “beat it”?

And maybe that’s why Boxxy works. Failure sucks, and you absolutely cannot fail when practicing with Boxxy. There is no game over, there is no “thou must not pass” (as you can always skip the lil’ dude with the start button), and Boxxy does not judge you. Boxxy is a safe, friendly buddy, and, while you might not beat the next level, at least you can have a little entertainment with this sentient boombox. Is it as much fun as the “real” game? No. But at least no one is going to judge your skills here. Pass? Fail? You’ll be fine just pressing buttons.

There’s nothing wrong with failure, but it is nice to have a place you can avoid failure. Boxxy is here to help.

But he won’t be back again, because PaRappa the Rapper 2 was a failure, and the franchise never returned.

… So maybe it is a good idea to avoid failing.

FGC #537 PaRappa the Rapper 2

  • System: Playstation 2 initially, and then Playstation 4. I don’t think there was a PSP/Vita version, but I would not be surprised.
  • Yummy!Number of players: Invite over a friend for a rap battle! … I have never subjected anyone I know to this fate.
  • Favorite Level: Stage 5: Hair Scare features Um Jammer Lammy and her band, Milk Can. I like Um Jammer Lammy so much more than the little dog in a beanie, so I appreciate that stage. Look, Lammy is just objectively better, as she gets through her entire game without trying to get laid every five seconds, while PaRappa is just a horndog.
  • Play it Cool: Every one of the teachers (save the friendly ghost of Stage 1) encourages PaRappa to freestyle until he hits “Cool” ranking. I have never understood what exactly makes PaRappa go Cool, as I have no sense of rhythm, and I only know how to make raps good through excessive rhyming. I’m a writer! Not a musician! … Do you think Boxxy could give me a tutorial?
  • What’s in a name: PaRappa Town might sound like one of those lame “the planet is named after the main character” situations (Nobody lives in The World of Lufia, dammit), but “PaRappa” just means “paper-thin” in Japanese, so it’s appropriate for this 2-D environment. Now nobody render anything in 3-D, or it’s all going to fall apart.
  • Very Concerning: Beard Burger Master is rapping from beyond the grave in an effort to help PaRappa construct hamburgers. This is a vision of Hell, right?
  • Did you know? Rodney Greenblat, the character designer that is responsible for PaRappa’s iconic look, Let's Jamalso was responsible for the album art for They Might Be Giant’s self-titled debut album. Put your hand inside the PJ Berri head!
  • Would I play again: It takes a whole hour to complete PaRappa the Rapper 2, so the fact that it is loaded onto my PS4 means it might see play again. It’s a fun little game, Boxxy invasion or no.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cadillacs and Dinosaurs! It’s like Jurassic Park! But with cooler cars! Please look forward to it!

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmmm chicken

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

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

Mmmm pizza

Ah, yes, Pizza Hut…

Mmmm pizza

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

But it ain’t in Crazy Taxi anymore:

Mmmm pizza

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

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

Mmmm pizza

And that’s somehow even more depressing.

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

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

But… sometimes I miss cheesy crust pizza.

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

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

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

I hate this

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

Dante!What’s so wrong with taking a hit?

Today’s title is Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, featuring the titular Dante. The creation of the original Devil May Cry is a long and complicated story that involves what was originally intended to be Resident Evil 4 gradually evolving and leaving the world of “realistic survival horror” and drifting straight into “a dude with a sword menaces skeletons”. Play Devil May Cry next to Resident Evil 2 or RE: Code Veronica and you might see some similarities between the gameplay of the titles, but there is a bit of a difference between the two plots and situations. Resident Evil is the story of fragile humans desperately trying to survive in a situation where science has gone mad and turned an entire mansion and/or city into a death trap, while Devil May Cry features a one-man army beating back the legions of (literally) Hell. Basically, this means that Chris Redfield has to fight for his life when encountering a herd of zombies, while Dante would have that Raccoon City incident wrapped up inside of a level or two.

And, according to production documents regarding what would eventually become Devil May Cry, “Dante” was always going to be a big damn superhero. The original idea for Resident Evil 4 was to make an action game that was “very cool”. The hero was going to be “Tony”, a man enhanced with biotechnology to the point that he was super smart and super cool and all the ladies thought he was the bomb diggity and the coffee barista always got his name right because he was so dreamy. Also, notably, Tony was supposed to be “invincible”. Obviously, invincible doesn’t play well with a game having any sort of difficulty, so this description of Tony’s abilities was likely just an exaggeration of his general durability compared to the average Jill Sandwich. Or maybe it was always the intention that Tony-to-be-Dante could take a significant amount of damage, as, by the time Devil May Cry 3 was starting, we had a hero that could do this…

Ouch

That’s Dante attempting to eat a pizza, but unfortunately being interrupted by the forces of Hell driving a few scythes into his abdomen. Dante is unfazed. He’s still walking. And he’s still going to kick every last living sin’s ass. And who cares if there’s a blade or two stuck in his leg? He’s half demon, dammit, he knows how to take a hit and still be cool. As long as nobody steps on his pizza, this is barely an inconvenience for our “invincible” protagonist.

And then the game actually starts, and Dante dies in about six hits.

Let's playIn the grand scheme of things, Dante is a pretty resilient guy. Over the course of Devil May Cry 3, Dante has the misfortunate of being hit by demonic blades, a charging, flaming stallion, and even the occasional rocket launcher (wait, are you hit by a rocket launcher, or just the rocket? I never thought I would have to know the answer to this question…). He can survive damage from all these traditionally lethal items presumably thanks to his resilient birthright… but he can’t survive much. I know I would be dead after one cutting combo from a succubus, so I really shouldn’t be judging, but Dante can really only endure three or so intense attacks with his default life gauge (and, even with upgrades, he ain’t exactly Superman). It’s reverse Final Fantasy-syndrome! He’s invincible through cutscenes, but during the actual action, Dante must die.

And how fragile is Dante? Well, he’s so delicate that Capcom saw fit to release an entire “Special Edition” of DMC3 that “corrected” how quickly Dante dies.

Well, actually, Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition doesn’t do anything for Dante’s vulnerability. He’s still not actually going to survive that many scythes to the gut. But, when he does die, Dante gets better thanks to much more frequent checkpoints. And that’s important! Even if you’ve mastered the general mook patterns by chapter 3, you’ve still got another fifteen or so bosses that cap nearly every level with unique patterns and attacks. And how are you supposed to know how Vergil Version Two is going to kick your ass when you’re encountering that opponent for the first time? Either you’re memorizing a strategy guide/FAQ, or Dante’s gentle ass is going to get beat, and you’ll have to repeat the entire level. And what’s the fun in that? Echoing challenges you already beat because the final confrontation is complicated and unexpected? Boss fights are supposed to be interesting! And challenging! But not immediately identifying a boss’s weakness should not be an excuse to send you back to the start, particularly when Dante can go down after a mere handful of misses. DMC3: SE corrected this abhorrent mistake found in the original edition, and you only had to buy an entirely new edition of the game to enjoy such a thing. Ah, the heady days before DLC.

That could have hurtBut whether you’re playing the special edition or not, DMC3 is constantly judging you for taking any damage. Literally! Like many games of the era, DMC3 evaluates your performance at all times. You’re expected to juggle multiple enemies and gain bonus points for SSStylish!!! combos, and obviously you’re supposed to grab every last pickup you can find, but a significant part of your rank is based on damage taken and number of items used (and the main reason you’d use an item would be to recover health, so they may as well be the same thing). So even if you survive every last onslaught and never see a dead Dante, the game will go out of its way to criticize your performance for not being completely immaculate. And your combo counter resets after an opponent’s tap, too. Want that S-Rank? Well, then Dante must dodge every assault from the bottom of the tower to the top. Good luck!

And it’s easy to see how this kind of thinking led to its logical endpoint: Bayonetta. Bayonetta was not conceived as an invincible bioweapon of a human, she actually is immaculate. Her entire personality is based on the concept that no man, woman, or angel touches her unless she wants to be touched, and her gameplay follows suit. She can’t so much as open a door without dodging lightning, so it makes perfect sense that you would be judged for not properly “being” Bayonetta and taking a hit or two while controlling the bullet witch. She personifies the S rank that players are trying to achieve, and it’s practically written into her DNA (or at least her playstyle in Smash Bros).

But Dante isn’t Bayonetta. Dante is a meathead that can’t figure out what to name his business until some lady says the corniest line in history. Dante is a dumbass that saves the whole of humanity almost entirely because his brother dared to steal some jewelry. Dante goes to the Gates of Hell, and he didn’t even think to pack a shirt! This is not a guy that thinks too hard about dodging attacks that are beneath him. This is a Big McLargehuge that can soak a few bullets, knows it, and changes nothing about his lifestyle save confirming his aftershave doesn’t distinctly remind him of gunfire. Or maybe he markedly goes for that smoky scent? Regardless! Dante is a man who knows that he can take a hit or two, but his gameplay punishes you for daring to live Dante’s life like Dante. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff! Like a knife in his back! If it’s a small knife!

OuchAnd, ultimately, what would be the harm in playing a game where you are Superman? This isn’t to say you should be invulnerable at all times in all games, but what would be the issue with offering a “Dante must have a fun time” mode to compliment the seven different variations on hard mode offered in your average action game? And this isn’t a proposal for your basic “easy mode”, this is a distinct mode where you’re ranked on how many stitches Dante is going to need at the end of a stage, and rewarded for it. Do you know how many tears you put in that snazzy red coat? Cool! Now you’re living life like an unkillable half-a-demon! Sssmokin’ (bullet holes)!

So what’s so bad about taking a hit? Nothing. Nothing at all, particularly when you’re playing as a hero that spends half the game getting slashed in the face (okay, maybe not the face, that’s his moneymaker). Not every protagonist needs to be Bayonetta. Let a few heroes take their lumps, and let the player be empowered by steering an “invincible” lead.

Or, barring that, at least let Dante walk around with a scythe in his knee. It adds character.

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

  • System: I may have purchased this game entirely too many times. Just within my own collection, I can count two versions for the Playstation 2, one collection on the Playstation 3 (but also on Xbox 360), and now the Switch version. At least I didn’t pick it up on the PC!
  • GrossNumber of players: Two in very specific areas! Like, there’s that one boss fight, or that fighting style that is earned about 75% of the way through the game. And now the Switch version allows for two players in its endless challenge mode.
  • Favorite Weapon: I’m normally a swords guy (or at least a guy that enjoys some Beowulf punching and kicking), but I’m partial to the Spiral rifle for this adventure. It packs a punch, and I have literally no idea where Dante is storing that gigantic gun when it’s not in use. His coat might be long, but it’s not a anti-tank rifle long.
  • Favorite Level: The Belly of Leviathan is about the only time that Dante gets to get out of that musty old tower until the absolute finale, so that’s going to be my pick. I love that Temen-ni-gru has this wonderful sense of place that resonates with later areas when it gets wrecked or starts rotating around like some kind of Castle Dracula, but… it gets old. Give me Dante and the whale any day.
  • How about that retconning: Vergil being made into a legitimate character and not just a sentient pile of spooky armor was the best thing that ever happened to this franchise. And the fact that Verg is a complete dick, but a different kind of dick from Dante, is just a nice bonus.
  • Boss Rush: I normally enjoy a good boss rush, and I certainly enjoy a boss rush that allows you to choose which bosses to challenge all over again (and avoiding that damn Nevan battle is icing on the cake), but, that said, I have no idea why the doppelganger battle reappears immediately after headlining a stage. It wasn’t that difficult of a battle in the first place! Why is there an abrupt repeat? It’s reeks of filler.
  • I wanna rockA Sign of the Times: It’s kind of interesting to look at this game as an obvious middle point between Resident Evil and Bayonetta. There are a number of clear “Resident Evil camera angles” here and there across the tower, and some of the weirder gate/key puzzles seem like they would be much more at home in Raccoon City. But there is also an inordinate amount of emphasis placed on combat style, and some cinema scenes that were just itching to become QTEs appropriate to the Bayonetta universe. It might not be the same creators distinctly involved across the franchises, but it seems like playing Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 3, and Bayonetta in order would give a good idea of game evolution across systems.
  • Did you know? Hideki Kamiya, the original director of Devil May Cry and the man who also directed Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Bayonetta, did not direct Devil May Cry 3. But he did advise on Dante’s general personality and origins before scooting over to PlatinumGames. So, just so we’re clear, Dante was always intended to be a meathead. His daddy said so.
  • Would I play again: I always run out of steam by the time I unlock Vergil, and always intend to come back to his complete mode… but it hasn’t happened yet. I just keep buying new versions of Devil May Cry 3! So I guess I’ll play it again from scratch when we get the Playstation 5…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crossover time! For the next three weeks (or six entries, whatever comes first), we’re going to look at games in the “crossover” genre. Our first game? It’ll be the granddaddy of all crossovers. Please look forward to it!

Woof

FGC #482 Gradius V

Let's Grad!Let us consider the exact ways you may fight your way to the ending of Gradius V.

Gradius is a shoot ‘em up title that originated in the arcades, but gradually migrated to the home consoles (and the PSP, for some reason). The last release in the franchise was the poorly titled Gradius Rebirth is 2008. But prior to the franchise’s inglorious end, Gradius was one of those titles you would always expect to see at least once a console generation, often attempting to showcase the upgrades and benefits of the latest graphical hardware. Look how many dots there can be on the screen now! Ignore the slowdown! You’re going to love it! In short, Gradius was once a franchise that you could presume everyone had played.

But you’ll be forgiven for not remembering the intricacies of your typical Gradius adventure, so a little reminder will be allowed. Gradius showcases what may be one of the most complicated powerup systems to originate in the 80s. Unlike a Mario or Mega Man that might find a random “pickup” and instantly gain fire blasts or weapon energy, all of Gradius’s powerups contribute to a sort of “powerup purchase” display. At one end of the powerup scale, you have some basic items like Speed Up or Missiles. There at the end of the gauge are such musts as Shield and Options (and, to further elaborate for those unfamiliar, an “option” is a little glowy orb that effectively doubles your firepower. It is called an option because who the hell knows). This means that every single powerup presents not just an advantage over your enemies, but an opportunity for consideration and decision. Do you go for the “easy” powerups immediately, and stockpile speed and offensive options out of the gate? Or do you perhaps hamper your own abilities in pursuit of a more powerful option or shield? All of these opportunities are going to help you live longer, and it’s very important to consider exactly what is going to get you through the hectic combat surrounding Planet Gradius.

Come to think of it, though, these decisions are only important if you don’t know the game. If you know what’s coming next, you barely have to think about powerup management.

PewSee, the other important thing about Gradius powerups across the franchise is that, in the event of death, you lose everything. Occasionally the Gradius du jour grants you a minor boon like allowing you to reclaim a lost option, but, aside from that, crash the Vic Viper, and you’re back to square one. To say the least, this can be heartbreaking and demoralizing. The big, bad bosses of Gradius have been mass-murderers since day one, and they are rarely accompanied by mooks that will drop powerup capsules. The result? You might start a battle with four options worth of lasers blazing, but take a hit seven seconds into the fight, and you’ll be stuck with a piddly pea shooter. And death is the only option your opponents have! Gradius is not a franchise that has many verbs: it’s a shoot ‘em up that is either shoot or be shot. Aside from just temporarily delaying the Vic Viper, the only option a boss (or any other opponent, for that matter) has is to murder its opponent, so the only way a boss can be challenging is through wholesale wiping you and your powerups off the map. If you don’t know what’s coming, you will die quickly in any given fight.

But if you know what’s coming, you will survive. And if you survive, you keep your powerups. And thus do the powerful grow more powerful.

Growing stronger the longer you survive is a pretty common situation in games of all shapes and sizes, but it is emphasized to an insane degree in Gradius. It might sting to lose a spread gun in Contra, or drop a power leaf in Mario, but in both of those cases, you’re a mere powerup away from winning back what once was lost. In Gradius, you could spend an entire two levels amassing your arsenal, but you’ll still lose it all to an erratically positioned volcano. Got a shield that takes five hits? That’s super, but it’ll be gone in one “hit” if you’re fighting a boss with a particularly enduring laser. Sorry! But the other side of the coin is that it may take you two levels to gain all the powerups you need, but you will be appropriately powerful once you’ve amassed your army. Four options quintuple your firepower (editor’s note: take a math class), and extra speed or a spare laser will make a significant difference in how much you can cover the screen. Once you’re at maximum, bosses explode dramatically faster, and that means your survival is all but guaranteed. Ol’ Big Core has a move that assures your death every time? Don't touch anythingWell, it doesn’t much matter if it can’t survive long enough to use it. Having power in Gradius means you are going to survive significantly longer than your “lesser” peers, and that means you’ll have an easier time acquiring even more power. It means nothing to spend your spare powerup income on a nice, healthy shield insurance policy when you have literally purchased everything else you would ever need.

But what do you do when you’re powerless? Everyone has to start somewhere, and the theoretical of any videogame is that everyone equally starts from scratch. If these bosses are such murder monsters, you’re inevitably going to be stomped into the ground pretty quickly, and thus be forced to face these titans with the default, “loser” load-out with no hope of gaining any powerups to dig yourself out of that hole. What do you do when you’re so far on the bottom rung, you have nothing left to lose?

And that’s when we peek behind the curtain at the men that made the game.

DOUBLE PEWIn the arcade era, it was simple: Konami wanted your quarters. Every credit equaled twenty-five (or more!) cents, so you fought to survive because you wanted to save your own precious coinage. In the NES era, things got more dicey, as companies genuinely didn’t seem to know what the home market wanted out of arcade games. As a result (and certainly in Gradius), we saw a number of games that simulated the arcade experience by creating an arbitrary limit on lives/credits. Give or take a Game Genie, this meant the player once again had to preserve life in the name of actually seeing the finale. It didn’t matter if you had lasers for days or just a single missile to your name, you had to survive to make any progress.

But things had changed by the time Gradius V rolled around. In 2004, it was a known quantity that, while people enjoy a challenge, the population at large had been spoiled by save files and infinite continue points. If someone had beaten Gradius in 2004, it was a lot more likely they had done it on an emulator with save states than actually piloting the Vic Viper on its original hardware. So how was Konami to create a shoot ‘em up appropriate to the age? Later in the decade, they might have implemented DLC or a subscription model to “earn“ that missile launcher for a mere $3.99. In even just a few years’ time, they might have tied it to a digital account, and you could earn more credits if you would just sign your email on the dotted line. But in 2006? All anyone seemed to treasure was a bullet point on the back of the box that said “over 40 hours of gameplay”. How do you get a gameplay count out of a title that legitimately could be finished in an hour and a half? Konami had an idea!

You are allowed to have unlimited credits in Gradius V. You just have to play the game for seventeen cumulative hours.

And once you have unlimited credits? Whoo boy, you can just ram ol’ Vic up in there, and blast away. You die? You lose your powerups? Who gives a crap! You’re back in business faster than you can say “destroy the core”. Sure, it sucks to see your shields and score go the way of the McDonalds pizza, but you’re still making progress. You’re still saving the galaxy. You’re doing it “wrong”, but there’s no way you could ever do it completely right, so at least you’re doing it. You are denied the finer things in your powerups, but you’re still doing something that gives you those sweet dopamine hits. whoopsYou might not be as successful as those people that have gaming magazines/FAQs, the capability to memorize complicated patterns, or the talent to successfully study youtube videos, but you too can do it! And all it takes is paying Konami their mandated dues by devoting seventeen hours of your life to their game. A small price to pay to beat back the forces of Venom!

So that’s the answer for how you beat the most recent, numbered Gradius title. You can either utilize the powerup system to its most significant degree, never experience the slightest accident, and then ride your wave of options straight through to the finish line; or you can “earn” infinite lives through placating the creators at Konami and Treasure by blowing seventeen hours of your precious life unlocking Free Play. How you want to win is up to you!

And if you missed how this entire article is a metaphor for the current state of American economics, please reread the blog for seventeen hours.

FGC #482 Gradius V

  • System: Playstation 2, but also available for the Playstation 3. And… uh… guess the Playstation 4 isn’t happening.
  • Number of players: Two players! Pew pew with a friend who may or may not be British.
  • Careful!Further problems: “Revival Start” is an available option in Gradius V. This allows you to turn on a more challenging mode wherein you do not instantly respawn, but are revived at a previous location in the level, and all of your opponents are healed/revived with you. While it may be “old school”, this mode is not recommended, as all of the boss creatures have health meters that are not built for this in the least. You just keep crashing Vic Vipers into that problem until it solves itself, and don’t worry about revival start.
  • Maximum Complaints: The number one issue specific to Gradius V is that it seems to revel in focusing the Vic Viper on facing forward, but then compelling the autoscroll to go downwards (okay…) or completely backwards (I hate everything about this). It leads to a number of “gotcha” moments, and, frankly, puts this player in a bit of a bad mood.
  • Favorite Level: One of the later levels involves a torrential tide of green acid. While it is an absolute bear to navigate, it is rather fun to see how the screen shifts and “pours” the deadly jelly-for-which-you-are-not-ready all over the screen.
  • Did you know? The sheer number of missile options in this game has damaged my brain. I can never decide which direction I want my missiles to go, and, as a result, I always only ever pick powerup loadout #1. At least I understand the basic missile configuration…
  • Would I play again: I need a break from Gradius. Seventeen hours is too long to play anything…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fantasia for the Sega Genesis! Dammit, ROB! So many great Mickey Mouse games for the 16-bit generation, and you chose bloody Fantasia. Dammit! Gah, please look forward to it!

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