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FGC #578 Red Earth & Capcom Fighting Evolution

Let's fightNow for the tale of two separate and incredibly unequal videogames.

And, uh, don’t worry. Both games contain dinosaur-dragons, so that should keep your interest.

In 1996, Capcom released Red Earth. Known by the much more metal name of War-Zard in Japan, Red Earth was a fighting game that did its best to set itself apart from its peers. Just how different is it? Well…

· There are four selectable characters, and if you do not play 2-P mode, you will never fight the other heroes of the adventure. But who do you fight?
· Dinosaurs! And Squids! And at least one Chimera+ (the plus is for two extra heads)! There are eight levels in Red Earth, and each features a decidedly not-human adversary. The closest you are going to see to something like an even matchup is a harpy that at least does not have any extra limbs on your character, but the same cannot be said for Gi Gi the robotic statue with as many arms as possible.
· And, to be clear, these “bosses” are absolutely not fair fights, complete with a few super moves that can eliminate half your lifebar in one go. These moves are very telegraphed, but if you choose not to dodge at the right time? Down you go.
· Likely to mitigate some of this unfairness, there are health power-ups randomly scattered around. Additionally, continuing after a loss does not reset your opponent’s life meter. Unlike in your typical fighting game, you can (more or less) pick up exactly where you left off after dropping in another quarter.
ROAR· And you’ll want to pick up that joystick again, because every fighter has a story that advances with every fight, and an ending or three with multiple available choices. Play the game well enough, and you just might see your heroine naked and humping an alien. Or maybe she gets a puppy!
· And you may want to pursue all those extra endings, because your character actually levels up, gains new abilities, and increases stats with points that are awarded for every hit. This serves the dual purpose of encouraging playing the game more, and offering the possibility of growing stronger mid-match even if you have been repeatedly losing to the oni du jour.

This all adds up to a game that feels like a fighting game in the individual moments, but plays like an entirely different animal. Much like Konami’s Monster Maulers (released three years prior), this is an attempt to bring some of the most popular conventions of the beat ‘em up genre (health powerups, “boss fights”, multiple routes) into a fighting game to create a more inimitable experience. Additionally, the “leveling system” may unfortunately be a naked attempt at adding “grinding” to a genre that absolutely does not need that kind of nonsense, but it does encourage the player to earn a “new experience” when trying a replay. And, if you are the type to never deviate from a preferred “main”, that’s a pretty big get. Make your Lion King (uh… not that Lion King. He’s just a king that happens to be half-lion) the best Lion King (still not Disney-related) he can be.

Squidly bitsAnd while we are looking at reasons Red Earth was able to set itself apart from the pack (no lions at all involved in that statement, to be clear), consider that this was the first of three(ish) games to feature Capcom’s CP System III. In layman’s terms, pondexter? It means that, like its CPS3 brother, Street Fighter 3, this is one of the most gorgeous sprite-based fighting games out there. Everything from the cloth on Tessa’s hammer pants to the heat bellowing out of Hauzer’s maw is elegantly animated. Even “incidental” bits, like the continue screen countdown, include pixels not likely to ever be seen again. CPS3 may be known for Street Fighter 3 (and maybe a JoJo game), but its maiden voyage here really makes an impact on the ol’ eyeballs.

In short, Red Earth is unique and stunning. It is exactly the kind of fighting game the world needed in 1996, and it promised a great future for the genre.

But there never was a Red Earth 2. Not even a “Turbo” edition graced this title, and the OG version was barely even distributed in North America. If you wanted to play as the lord of lions or the ninja that could fell a sphinx, you would have to wait eight years to see their second adventure. You would have to wait for Capcom Fighting Evolution.

And, sorry Warzard fans, it wasn’t very good.

Further squidsCapcom Fighting Evolution came on the heels of the Marvel vs. Capcom series that was amazing, but also assumed to be totally dead/impossible thanks to Capcom losing Marvel’s favor (don’t worry, kiddies, it would eventually return). Capcom Fighting Evolution also came after the Capcom vs. SNK series, an evolutionary offshoot of the Versus franchise that some still claim is some of the best 2-D fighting you’ll ever see. And what could Capcom Fighting Evolution offer after all of that? Well, even without the accompaniment of Captain America or Geese Howard, the Capcom universe had its fair share of luminaries. You could simply toss every Street Fighter into a game, and it would be gold. Or you could combine Darkstalkers, Street Fighters, Final Fighters, and… what have we got left here? Rival Schools? Whatever! It could work! And that’s before you get into including the likes of Mega Man or Breath of Fire heroes. A “pure” Capcom Versus fighter could be a thing of beauty!

Or it could just be a mishmash of random sprites all slapping against each other. Guess which one we got?

While Red Earth was a potential new future for fighting games, Capcom Fighting Evolution forsook its name and sounded a death knell for the genre. Capcom Fighting Evolution was less a brand new experience and more of a “going out of business sale” for an era. Capcom took four fighters from each of its most popular fighting games, and plunked them all in a 2v2 fighting game. And, while that could have been fun for everybody, a significant drawback of this process was reusing the original sprites of each of these brawlers without any attempt to visually normalize… anything. Morrigan’s sprite was the creaky bane of MvC2 in 2000, and Dimitri did not look any better next to Street Fighter 3 characters four years later. And, to make matters worse, those sprites from Street Fighter 3 that looked so gorgeous in their original game had a number of frames and animations reduced, so they were literally pale imitations of their former selves. And, lest you think these complaints are entirely graphics-based, don’t worry, a game that attempts to merge the intricacies of three different Street Fighter games, Darkstalkers, and an asymmetrical “boss fighter” doesn’t exactly work from a gameplay perspective either. You wouldn’t parry a dinosaur!

WINNER!But that’s kind of the thing: you can parry a dinosaur. Capcom Fighting Evolution contains characters from Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, Darkstalkers, and (most importantly) Red Earth. And, while there are still exactly four Red Earth playable characters, now two of the “bosses” are available for your playing pleasure. Want to be the dinosaur? Or the squid? Have at it! Are these former boss-class monsters rebalanced to be appropriate combatants? Well, as much as anything else is balanced in this game! You probably do not want to take a lumbering dinosaur’s gigantic hitbox up against Metro City’s best ninja, but you can certainly fell that fighter if your fireballs are true. And, while playing as ol’ squidly bits is probably less rewarding than the more sensible adventures of Tessa back on Red Earth, it is inordinately satisfying to see Zangief piledrive an eldritch horror.

And that’s basically Capcom Fighting Evolution in a nutshell: it is objectively bad, but can be subjectively good. CFE is a rushed product featuring many poorly considered decisions, but it is also a game wherein Sakura can fell a furry Conan. Is Red Earth a better game than Capcom Fighting Evolution? Pretty much by every metric! But, in being a tighter experience, it loses the fun you might experience with a looser game that lets you pit a rifle-toting ninja against a psycho-powered dictator.

Some games are good. Some games are bad. But any game where you can fight a dinosaur at least has its priorities straight.

FGC #578 Red Earth

  • THE WARZARD!System: Arcade exclusive. I guess we have to hope for some manner of “Capcom Mini” device to see this one. Maybe they could stick it in the inevitable next Street Fighter 3 compilation?
  • Number of players: Two players, and you can only play as the (mostly defined as) humans. No playable living suit of armor for you.
  • Favorite Character: Like in Pocket Fighter, I’m going with Tessa here. She’s a witch that may or may not have found a second job in Little Witch Academia, and her general… Ryu-ness goes down easy. Second place goes to Kenji the Ninja, but he is a little too Strider-esque to win on his own merits.
  • Favorite Boss: Gi Gi is the robotic monster that Huitzil wishes he could be. Also, his multiple arms and swords may have inspired the best boss in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, so bonus points there.
  • Finish Him: A lot of sources will claim Red Earth was one of the few Capcom titles to include Mortal Kombat-esque fatalities. And they’re not entirely wrong… but these “fatalities” are a lot closer to “Zero slices a robot in half because he used his sword for the final hit” affairs. And, considering you’re only “killing” monsters and robots, comparing it all to Mortal Kombat seems a little disingenuous.
  • What’s in a name: In America, this is Red Earth, clearly meant to convey how this takes place in an alternate timeline/Earth that is ruled by swords and sorcery (and the occasional mech). In Japan, this is known as Warzard, because the final boss is a wizard that starts a war. Either title seems appropriate, but Red Earth at least explains why there is an island nation called “The Kingdom of Reese”.
  • SLICEAn end: If you continue too often, you only get a paragraph of text and a basic message that your protagonist won, hooray. If you manage to conserve a few credits, though, you get a “choose your own adventure” where you can decide your central character’s ultimate fate. Be warned, I was not kidding earlier when I said that the wrong choice could see Tessa naked and straddling an alien, though. Generally NSFW proof here. Oh, also, if you continue the exact right number of times with Mai-Ling, she gets a new pet. Not certain how one heroine winds up in a porno, and the other gets a puppy.
  • For the sequel: Literally every one of Kenji’s endings involves his death. I have to wonder if there were plans to make Kenji a “legacy” character in future titles (as it is easy to replace a ninja that doesn’t ever show a bit of skin, left alone his face), or if Kenji just slept with the director’s spouse, and had to be punished for his hubris. One way or another, it is a wonder that guy made it into Capcom Fighting Evolution.
  • Did you know? The most obvious bad guy (but not the final boss) is Blade, who is a living suit of armor powered by an emerald containing his (once human) soul. This is notable, because, four years later, the final boss of the seminal Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was a living suit of armor powered by a magical gem-core. Is MvC2 the secret sequel to Red Earth? No, of course not. That would be silly. Shuma Gorath doesn’t have enough tentacles.
  • Would I play again: It is a shame Red Earth was only ever four playable characters and a handful of bosses. It feels like an expanded Super Red Earth II Turbo could have really been something special. As it is, it’s a game I’ll likely pick up again, if only to satisfy my need to bisect an oni.

FGC #578 Capcom Fighting Evolution

  • I ain't lionSystem: Apparently there was an arcade release, but most people were exposed to this contagion through Playstation 2 or Xbox. There is the distinct possibility you were able to get it on Playstation 3 as a PS2 rerelease, though.
  • Number of players: Two alternating fighters per team, and two players may control them. Sorry, these are more King of Fighters rules, and not the rapid switching of proper Versus titles.
  • Midnight Bliss: This is another title that went the extra mile and included Dimitri and his ability to metaphorically rape his opponents. While this move never stops being gross, at least most of the Midnight Bliss sprites lean on “humorous” rather than “sexy”. I mean, assuming “schoolgirl with the fossilized head of a dinosaur (wearing lipstick)” isn’t your fetish. If it is, hey, more power to you.
  • Original the Character: Ingrid is the only original character in Capcom Fighting Evolution, and was created for the game Capcom Fighting Evolution was always supposed to be… but never, ever came to fruition. So the last daughter of Capcom Fighting All-Stars has been forced to bounce around the universe with an ever-mutating backstory. In Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, she was a time traveler. In Project X Zone 2, she had nigh-omnipotent dimension hopping powers. And now, in her Street Fighter 5 profile, she’s a “Code Holder” that is fighting against a fellow named Death. This is the story closest to her original concept, but who knows how long it will last…
  • What does dinosaur blood taste like?Favorite Character: This is one of the weird situations wherein my first pick is the biggest bear wrestler of them all, Zangief. Probably to balance out with the prehistoric heavyweights, Zangief actually has a little agility in this title, and a grappler with some speed is something to be feared. Or maybe they just wanted him to be able to compete with Alex? Who is pretty much the same, but without that all-important chest hair situation? I really can’t say.
  • Did you know? For the record, all sprites in CFE are from the character’s most recent appearance in their designated game… except for the iconic Street Fighter 2 cast. Ryu and M. Bison are encores from Capcom vs. SNK, and Guile is from Street Fighter Alpha 3. And Zangief? He’s a got a completely new sprite that is predominantly (but not entirely) based on his Alpha 3 incarnation. I guess somebody at Capcom liked Zangief, too.
  • Would I play again: I still think of this game as “bad”. On the other hand, in just trying to get a feel for it for this article, I wound up playing the thing for a little over an hour. That might not seem like much, but I had it in mind that I would only play for one arcade cycle… and just kept playing. So there’s something there! So, yeah, I’ll probably be tricked into playing this one again. Maybe I’ll even play as the dinosaur…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Guacamelee! 2! Enter the Mexiverse, and lucha your brains out! Please look forward to it!

Look at that hat
Is this… like… a sex thing?

FGC #571 Shock Troopers

This is shockingShock Troopers is an Arcade/Neo Geo title from 1997. It is, in essence, an upgrade to SNK’s Ikari Warriors, a franchise that had debuted a little over a decade earlier. It is a top-down run ‘n gun with an emphasis on dodging, exploding, and occasionally going toe-to-toe with a tank. It may not be the most memorable game in the SNK pantheon (or even the most memorable Neo Geo game that involved shooting your way through an entire war, as that was somehow a very well-worn genre on the system), but it is certainly a fun experience for anyone that has ever enjoyed the likes of Contra or very particular parts of Bionic Commando.

And, ultimately, somebody must have liked Shock Troopers, because it warranted a sequel being released the following year: Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad. Mind you, it is entirely possible that Shock Troopers 2 was intended as an utterly different franchise, and merely wound up with Shock Troopers branding for expediency. ST:2S is a top-down shooter, but it drops the “basic” powerup-based offense of ST1 for a weapon leveling system that is closer to Blaster Master than Contra. It also places more of an emphasis on controlling vehicles, drops the signature multiple paths available in the original, and, while the graphics are certainly an upgrade, feels like a simpler, “step back” for what could have become an established franchise. Also, in what is perhaps the most damning omission of all, the game has dropped “team” mode, and now only features four playable characters, a far cry from ST1’s cast of eight. Granted, Shock Troopers 2 relies on the fact that it stars the titular “2nd Squad”, so it is no surprise there is no cast overlap. However, should Shock Troopers 2nd Squad be forgiven for the fact that the cast went from…

Always select Big Mama

… to…

Never select the punk

Notice anything, ya know, different about that 2nd squad? Is it, perhaps, a complete lack of melanin?

Let’s do the math on this one: There are 8 playable characters in Shock Troopers. It is difficult to say for certain with old graphics and generally anime-inspired art, but it can be honestly stated that there are at least four characters that could be described as “tanned” or darker. There are also three blonde characters, and one dark-haired fellow who has the same skin-tone as the blonde characters. So it can be confidently stated that there are four white people in the cast, and four people of color. Shock Troopers 2nd Squad cuts the cast in half, and now there are four white people, and zero people of color. Again, these are two totally different casts, but its clear that when the franchise wanted to boil down the cast to a lesser number, the people of color got cut, and the white remained.

I do not need to explain how this is fucked up.

However, I feel I do need to elaborate on how this is the exact level of fucked up that still continues to this day. Yes, it is easy to chastise a game from nearly 25 years ago for not adhering to the societal norms of today. Yes, we were all dimly aware of racism back at the tail end of the 90’s, and this was well before the enlightened children of the future all happened to simultaneously notice that Nintendo’s entire Smash Bros. roster has more white people named “dark” than actual people with dark skin. But this was the start of “tokenism”, right? A time we widely acknowledge where there might be “a black guy” or two in the cast, but they were only there because the designers “had to” hit some arbitrary percentage goal. A cast of color in the original Shock Troopers should not be lauded for existing or lamented when it was dropped for the sequel, because these characters were little more than the typical “minority hires” of the day. White characters with dark skin, and nothing more.

But Big Mama has something to say about that.

Here comes Big Mama

Now, to be clear, Big Mama is hella problematic. Big Mama is, right down to her name, a deeply racist and offensive stereotype. In a game where there is very little definition for the individual characters (“Marie Bee likes cats” is all you’ll get out of one of Shock Trooper’s other leading ladies), Big Mama does get the characterization of her name (this ain’t Big Papa), and her one ending image, which shows Big Mama being a mama to some random kid.

You win, Mama

Maybe her kid? Maybe a white person’s kid? We are not ruling out that possibility, because Big Mama seems to be in the same category as noted pancake accompaniment, Aunt Jemima. If you are unfamiliar with the mammy/mammie stereotype, it is remarkably straightforward: it is meant to represent the enslaved women of color that were forced to raise the children of their white slavers. Like a nanny, but completely owned by another human being. It is a generally affectionately referenced stereotype (again, check your breakfast table), but it is still a venomous, hurtful reminder that it was once perfectly okay for a black woman to be forced into a role against her will (and, yes, your syrup has made moves away from this for this very reason). Big Mama, complete with one victory animation that borders on offensive, is a textbook mammy stereotype.

WINNERBut, that said, Big Mama is also capable. She is strong. She is one of the few Shock Troopers that does not use an “extra” weapon, like a knife or (inexplicable) boomerang, as she can successfully pummel a foe in close quarters. She comes equipped with her own bazooka, though, for when the going gets rough, and her official art shows her equipped with a Rambo-esque bullet belt’s worth of firepower. And this all ties into something very important: Big Mama is jacked. Big Mama appears to be 110% muscle, and there is no videogame universe where that is not seen as a tremendous asset (okay, maybe not in Pokémon). Big Mama is the rare female playable character in a videogame that is not wafer-thin, and she has got the big guns to put her in Zangief’s piledriving class (which he teaches on Monday nights at the Y). Big Mama is wholly unique not just in Shock Troopers (where there are two other standard issue skinny white women available), but also across gaming, because here are all the other large, muscular black women I can recall playing as across other videogames…

On rare occasions, we get a Sheva (Resident Evil), Elena, or even MK’s Jade, but there is no way any of those women could reasonably take a punch from Goro. Big Mama, though? She could tear Goro’s arms off just as easily as Jax. Big Mama has a unique race, gender, and body type for gaming. And, give or take one of Chrono Cross’s cast of thousands, it’s difficult to immediately recall a single playable character that even comes close to fitting those same parameters. Big Mama is a singular woman in her entire medium.

She is the winner!And she got dropped for the sequel and any of the myriad of other SNK/Neo Geo crossover materials across the last two decades. Shock Troopers introduced a character that could embody a severely underrepresented chunk of the population, but dropped her at the earliest opportunity. Two decades of busty blondes later, and we have yet to see another Big Mama.

And that’s fucked up.

FGC #571 Shock Troopers

  • System: Neo Geo / Arcade initially, and then (like most Neo Geo games) it resurfaced in one way or another for the PS2, PS3, PS4, PSP, Xbox One, Wii, and Nintendo Switch. It looks like it skipped the WiiU, but, then again, so did Nintendo (HEY-O!).
  • Number of players: Looks like two, but you have a choice of eight characters. That is because…
  • Make the dream work: The player has a choice between playing as one hero (“lonly” mode, thanks SNK translation team), or a team of three. I literally cannot fathom why someone would play as anything other than a team. You get three life bars, so you can switch when one is running low (and wait until you see a health powerup)! You get three different offensive/agility options, as every character plays distinctly! You have an excuse to use the chubby white dude and his clearly circumstance-based poison bombs! Why would you ever limit yourself to one character per credit?
  • Favorite Character: Oh, maybe because you want to show Big Mama solidarity. I understand wanting to showcase Big Mama.
  • Say something nice about character design in Shock Troopers 2nd Squad: I mean, it’s nice that both of the women in Shock Troopers 2 aren’t the typical blonde bombshells you see in gaming, and Lulu is fairly androgynous (which is a welcome alternative to “boob delivery creature). Also, Toy is a punk with a laser, which ain’t bad.
  • EAT BUILDING!Favorite Boss: Oh yeah, the boss designs definitely improved between sequels. In the first Shock Troopers, you mostly just fight fantastic military weaponry, like a helicopter or battle tank (“battle tank” is defined as any tank that has more spikes than your usual tank). In Shock Troopers 2, you fight significantly more varied opponents, including an entire office building that changes into a missile/laser fortress. It is basically a Transformer, and I am here for that.
  • Pick Your Poison: Shock Troopers offers three different routes to the final level, complete with an opportunity to switch paths about halfway through. That adds a fun reason to replay the game! That said, Jungle is terribly boring, while Valley lets you blow up a submarine. And Mountain lets you climb a cliffside by hand, and then use a zipline. So why would you take any route other than Mountain?
  • What’s in a name? The terrorists of ST1 are known as the Bloody Scorpions. The sequel features DIO, led by a man named Nakatomi. This implies that the initial Bloody Scorpions are not around anymore because they found a good day to die hard.
  • Did you know? If you leave the banana life up sitting on the ground too long, a monkey will dash over, and steal your bananas. How cheeky!
  • WeeeeeeWould I play again: Shock Troopers is a fun little run ‘n gun with multiple routes and characters that wholly encourage additional playthroughs. I will probably do that! … If I remember this game exists, and there aren’t any Contra games I want to play at that immediate moment.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Night Trap! The game that almost broke all of gaming! Woo boy! Please look forward to it!

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