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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 #567 BlazBlue: Centralfiction

This post originally appeared about two years ago on a forum post that… apparently no longer exists. Whoops! In the interest of my beloved words reaching as many people as possible, please enjoy this nonsense with the excuse that I am now playing the Switch version of BlazBlue: Centralfiction. Oh, and be aware there are spoilers for the entire franchise here, and it is super GIF heavy. I probably should have led with that…

Time to Blaze itWhat you have to understand is that BlazBlue could be so, so simple. At first glance, it’s a pretty straightforward story: 100 years in “our” future, but 100 years before the events of the game, mankind goes too far, and accidentally releases magic (good), and the Black Beast (bad) on the universe. The Black Beast nearly destroys the world, but six brave heroes rise up and seal away the ancient evil. Now, in the present (of the game), a terrorist in a red coat is running around wrecking stuff, and it is assumed he is trying to revive the ancient evil. Naturally, he’s misunderstood, and the real bad guy is hiding in plain sight within the current ruling government, so the wheel of fate is turning, action!

And were this a simple, traditional fighting game universe, that would be it. There would be a “new” gang of heroes, a few would have obvious or subtle ties to the previous legends, throw in a wannabe ninja or two, and you’d have a pretty straightforward fighting game universe. Everybody battles at first, they eventually join up, and the inevitable “return of the Black Beast” is defeated by friendship and mashing the jab button. It could work! It could work well! Perhaps in that universe, all would be joyful, and I wouldn’t be getting ready to explain how the pretty sorcerer lady had sex with a goddamn cat. Maybe that universe would be better for all of us…

This isn't realActually, speaking of universes, BlazBlue does something interesting with its overall plot. Were you around for the Mortal Kombat debates of the 90’s? I’m not talking about the silly disputes over whether Mortal Kombat was too violent for young eyeballs; no, I’m talking about the important arguments about things that mattered. I’m talking about the debates over which Mortal Kombat endings were canon. Did Scorpion really kill Sub-Zero? Did Kano really kill Sheeva, or did she kill him (and did Sonya watch)? Yes, we know Liu Kang won a tournament or two from that opening roll, but we want to know some details! Johnny Cage: Goro-slayer or conceited movie star? This is important to my fanfic, dammit!

BlazBlue does its best to sidestep all of that, and introduces some canon multiversal theory to the fighting game genre. All endings are valid. Yes, Ragna saved one world, and Arakune devoured everyone and everything in another world. Every single BlazBlue game has multiple endings for each of its characters, and every ending is equally canon, because the forces of good and evil at the highest levels are distinctly watching every universe to see the potential best outcome. And it’s a very distinct plot point in practically all of the games! All endings are canon, so, yes, that goofy finale where Dan wins the tournament and Zangief becomes a robot totally happened.

Unfortunately, it seems like the writers wanted to justify this conceit, and… things got complicated.

This story has no beginning and no end. It is a tale of souls and swords that, unfortunately, gets a little confused along the way. I guess we’ll start with the kids…

FGC #562 Q*Bert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@!#?

FGC #562 Q*Bert

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

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

GO FOR IT!