Tag Archives: playstation 4

FGC #645 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Go go shredder manThe best beat ‘em ups are dumb as hell.

While Gogglebob.com is still officially claiming that any and all articles appearing within the Fustian Gaming Challenge are randomly chosen (“random” can mean a lot!), today’s article is obviously inspired by the glut of excellent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle gaming that has been released within the last year. A whole new turtle experience (but primarily based on the 80’s cartoon), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, was released in June of 2022. Then, a whole two (or so) months later, we were graced with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, which collected seemingly every turtle game from the early days of the Nintendo versus Sega console wars (though the lack of Tiger Handheld titles was obviously a glaring omission). While this collection does include a few titles that are outside the beat ‘em up genre, the focus here are the arcade and console games that showcase ninja walking left to right and incessantly detonating foot soldiers. Many of these titles have been played and covered on this site before, but now having all the arcade, NES, SNES, and Genesis turtle beat ‘em ups immediately available and just a swipe away from each other? Amazing! I’m going to spend the next week finding all the stupid ways you can fight Krang!

And, having devoured all these titles in rapid succession, one simple truth emerges: all of these games are really good! Some are better than others, some are more memorable than others, and every single one includes a fight against Shredder that borders on unfair; but they are all a good time from beginning to end. It would be easy to simply reward infinite bonus points to these titles for practically defining the genre for a generation, but even the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade) is still fun throughout, and does not need a corollary “oh we owe this so much” like some progenitors of genres. Pick a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up, any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up released or rereleased in 2022, and you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself.

I don't get itAnd that’s… kind of weird, right? Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking? No, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge was a whole new experience. Maybe it’s a love of classic turtles? No, if I’m being honest, I would like to see nearly any other incarnation of these hero turtles included in a beat ‘em up. Is it because the beat ‘em up genre has languished for so long? No, that may have been true a decade or so back, but with everything from new Streets of Rage to Ninja Warriors, we are living in a neo golden age of beat ‘em ups. The humble beat ‘em up is soaring to the heavens! On an elevator where you have to beat everybody up! So why is a game from before we even hit the 90’s still so good?

Simple answer, stupid: it’s because it’s stupid.

There is not much to a beat ‘em up game. You walk down pathways that are so straightforward, it is literally impossible to get lost. There is no such thing as needing a map for a beat ‘em up. And speaking of strategy, 90% of your opponents in a beat ‘em up require just as much thinking as jabbing your index finger down. Oh no! Seventeen foot soldiers! I wonder if jump kicking over and over will stop them? And, while the generals are generally more complicated than their foot soldiers (oh… I just got that), they are still little more than the same mooks with extra steps. Double the health, and maybe there’s a laser gun, but no extra brains are available. In fact, “no extra brains” seems to be the name of the game here, as a brainless five-year-old could conquer any of these games. And I should know! I used to be that brainless five-year-old! I had a whole lot of quarters, but no sense!

Love that rhinoAnd that is the point. Are any of the TMNT titles truly “brainless”? Absolutely not. These are carefully crafted games designed to seem brainless. Anyone that ever tried a one-credit run of these titles will tell you that Rocksteady has tremendously more nuance to his charges, foot soldiers of all different colors have dramatically distinct attack patterns, and there is a way to make Shredder keel without ever eating a mutagen beam. There is a rhythm here, a carefully calculated method to the madness that, like the best movies or music, makes it all look easy. And that’s the point! The games are not brainless, but you are supposed to be brainless, because if you’re not thinking, you’re not thinking about how many tokens you’re dropping in there. Baxter Stockman just knocked you flat? Dang! You almost had ‘em! Better drop another quarter, dollar, or however much money it takes to lay that scientist-fly flat. 90% of 90’s beat ‘em ups are perfectly calibrated to drain 90% of your wallet without you even noticing 90% of the time.

And, brother, if you got friends around the arcade cabinet with you sharing the experience? Encouraging you to keep going, and support the team with more of your hard-earned (or grandpa provided) dough? Oh, you’re going to be there until the end. Welcome to the cult of the beat ‘em up, please follow the Konami scripture.

Buy all our playsets and toysAnd if you’re wondering why it took so long for beat ‘em ups to find their footing in the modern era, simply consider how much this business model gameplay does not work with an at-home experience. The comradery of crowding around a cabinet is completely absent from online play, and paying once for a DLC title is not nearly the same as paying for a game a quarter at a time. Once you drop the essential trappings of the genre (and arguably their entire point for existence), you’ve got dumb gameplay that serves… nothing. Videogames are supposed to make you feel smart! Every puzzle you unravel in a game (whether it be in Candy Crush or Phoenix Wright) is designed to be resolved and tickle your brain in the right ways so you believe you are better for having solved the mystery. Every JRPG that challenges you to master its “system” is another exercise in making you feel sharper than a +1 vorpal blade. And those “skill trees” and bosses with weaknesses in action games are there to commend you for making the brilliant deduction that the fire move will hurt the ice monster. Achievement unlocked: you are a super player. Playing a game that is naturally “stupid” is the antithesis of that, and why would you bother playing such a thing when other games that properly massage your endorphins are immediately available?

Well, because you recognize Tokka, Rahzar, and Tempestra.

These games are good and stupid. And when you’re feeling stupid, a decent shot of nostalgia will keep things going.

And I’d love to list more reasons to play these games, but I just played a lot of turtle beat ‘em ups, and everything is kind of… fuzzy for some reason…

Me am like beat ‘em ups. Play more. Cowabunga.

FGC #645 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

  • System: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC/Steam. Make sure you choose the system that all your friends own!
  • Number of players: Six! And it is super fun when you get everyone together and working against Shredder’s forces. In fact…
  • Watch it, Buddy: All sorts of turtle stuff happened on Even Worse Streams. We all played Shredder’s Revenge, and we… kinda played the Arcade collection. There were some technical issues! You may watch ‘em below.


    Original Stream Date: June 21, 2022


    Original Stream Date: August 30, 2022


    Original Stream Date: September 6, 2022

    The collection episode doesn’t really have any beat ‘em ups in there, but there wasn’t a place for it elsewhere on the site…

  • Favorite Turtle: You may notice that I played as Donatello in every one of those streams. This is by design.
  • Also goodFavorite Boss: Dirtbag and Groundchuck are the price cut, bargain bin version of Bebop and Rocksteady, and I am a man that likes his discounts. I always appreciate the duo bosses in beat ‘em ups, because it makes for a fine counter to playing with a buddy, and an excellent excuse to strategize with your partner(s). Oh, and Groundchuck is some manner of cyborg bull. That gets bonus points, too.
  • Favorite Boss (Tournament Edition): Anytime Wingnut appears, you are going to have a good time. I have adored that action figure for years (it’s so weirdly gross!), so I am glad to see this Batman get a spot as an aerial opponent.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Speaking of toys, I noted on the Shredder’s Revenge stream that I had the Knuckle Head vehicle as a kid. And here’s proof!

    So adorable

    A new toy and a new dinosaur friend! Best Christmas ever!

  • Let’s talk about another game: For possibly the first time since I was twelve, I played through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist as part of the collection. While it is the official Konami beat ‘em up for Sega Genesis, it is weird how much it feels like a fan romhack of Turtles in Time. Areas are repurposed haphazardly (I guess there’s just a pirate ship in the sewers now?), the one original boss is from the movie and has extremely limited animations, and an entire level is a boss rush (in a game with, like, five bosses). It’s still a fun game from start to finish, though! It is a good romhack.
  • Did you know? The Punk Frogs appear in Shredder’s Revenge as helper characters. Attila, Genghis, Napoleon Bonafrog, and Rasputin apparently made a lasting impression on the fandom… despite only appearing in six episodes of the original series. Irma, another helper character, appeared in, like, a million episodes. Regardless, what is important is that they are known as the “Punk” frogs, but they are clearly surfer dudes. Know your genres!
  • Would I play again: Anytime I need some good, stupid fun, I know the heroes on a half shell to call.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Killer Instinct for the Xbox One! Is Fulgore still full of gore? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Repel
Okay, that was impressive

FGC #644 Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

Go Pocky!Videogames are complicated, complex creations. Miss one goddamn thing in there, and the whole thing can fall apart.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is the latest in a series of games released within recent years that nobody would have ever predicted we would see, but, impossibly enough, here we are (see also “American” Radical Dreamers, or that immaculate Record of Lodoss War tie-in). Pocky & Rocky was an astonishing little Super Nintendo title (itself a quasi-sequel to an arcade game) that perfectly captured the chaos and joy of a run ‘n gun like Ikari Warriors or very particular (unpopular) levels in Contra 3. However, unlike many games where you are given a bazooka and an enemy army to obliterate, Pocky & Rocky often erred on the side of adorable. There were certainly scary monsters running around, but you are definitely playing as either a chibi shrine maiden or a roly-poly raccoon, and your greatest allies are gods of plenty that leisurely float around on clouds. This is a scenario where you are saving the world from demonic invaders, but the first boss is also a goblin that is named for partying too hard.

But it is tricky for a player to party too hard with Pocky & Rocky. Despite the cutesy appearance, Pocky & Rocky has always been difficult to the point of parody. This should not be a great surprise, as the game is practically a shoot ‘em up, and that genre is known for a number of entries that were as equally likely to please a player as make them cry. It doesn’t matter if you are steering the Vic Viper through a hail of bullets or Pocky through a maze of oncoming nuts, your health is fragile, and you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the stage in no time if you dare show the slightest sloppiness. Pocky & Rocky was always fun (and easier) with two players, but not unlike Contra or Toejam & Earl, nobody holding a controller was all that convinced they’d see past level 3…

I know this guyAnd Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continues this tradition with aplomb. Is it cute? Listen, bub, you’ve got a playable raccoon and a shrine maiden cosplaying as a fox yōkai (or maybe it is technically a fox yōkai cosplaying as a shrine maiden? Whatever!). There is the signature turn into darkness as our protagonists travel through time to burning villages with disturbingly buff versions of ancient gods, and the challenge is continually buff-god worthy. Unfortunately, the game seems to follow a reverse difficulty curve, as your health and abilities expand dramatically as the game progresses. While there is not a single level or boss that is a pushover, it does seem like the earlier areas are a lot more difficult to conquer with your meager opening offerings. Regardless, even that is arguably Pocky & Rocky to a T, so there is very little to complain about in this remake-y sequel.

Well, except all the nonsense I am about to complain about ad nauseum…

It is hard to pick apart Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. It would be so easy to say this game lacks polish! But that is completely wrong! Pocky & Rocky Reshrined has remarkable sprite-based graphics that must have taken years of experience and craftmanship to appear so beautiful and animated. But you will be distracted from that artistry the moment you notice a glaringly obvious typo…

FORTUNE!
Did you mean “fortune”?

But more importantly than presentation, there are gameplay quirks that frequently detract from the experience. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continually feels like a “tough but fair” shooter… except when a monster spawns directly on top of you, and how the heck were you supposed to see that coming? Bosses are large and in charge, except for the middle crop of creatures that feel like they could be conquered by a toddler. Oh! And the glaringly obvious issue that 2-player mode is locked behind completing the game, and then an additional character that can only be unlocked by completing the exact same game twice (while other, more appealing modes are available that patently will not unlock said character)? That speaks to a severe misunderstanding of why people are playing Pocky & Rocky in the first place. And, while none of these issues somehow equate to making Pocky & Rocky Reshrined unplayable, there are a significant number of problems that feel like the videogame equivalent of writing an essay but skipping the proofreading stage (fun fact: my original intention was to deliberately add some typos to that sentence, but my autocorrect has thwarted me at every turn, and I am far too lazy to attempt to train it differently. Sorry!).

Not that tailsWhich brings us to the actual make or break of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. Possibly the worst thing your humble author did to P&RR is play Cuphead’s DLC immediately before switching over to tanuki times. As a result of this blunder, it was immediately revealed that Cuphead possessed one simple action that Pocky & Rocky Reshrined did not: stationary/locked aiming. In Cuphead, you can hold a shoulder button to keep your porcelain playable character aimed at an opponent. This allows for situations where, at the press of a button, you can stay “locked” facing your focus, but back away to a more advantageous position. Or stay stationary, and rotate around so you can aim without leaving your safe spot. This is an essential move in any game where the difference between life and death can sometimes be measured in miniscule pixels, and it is completely absent from Pocky & Rocky Reshrined.

And, to be clear, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined was designed without this function in mind. There are three different powerup options for every character available, and they can be summarized as “spread”, “strong”, and “homing” (more or less). A homing bullet loses an awful lot of functionality when you have more robust aiming options, and the challenge involved in a number of bosses (and even a few of the regular monsters) is based entirely on how you must choose between aiming your leaves in the right direction, or staying safe from a salvo. Hell, there is even the improved melee attack that seems to reflect everything, and that is a defensive option that you don’t see in any other game. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined seems to have been carefully calibrated to not include this feature seen in the likes of Cuphead.

Watch the bugsBut that doesn’t stop it from feeling lacking in comparison. It may be deliberate, but it still feels like something has been lost, and that other, contemporary games are better for having such a feature. In short, it feels like, thanks to one missing piece, the whole thing falls apart.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is indisputably a great videogame. But failing to enshrine polish seen in other games leaves it lacking.

FGC #644 Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

  • System: You got your Nintendo Switch, and your Playstation 4, and looks like that is about it.
  • Number of players: Two, but only after you unlock the option, you monsters.
  • Favorite Level: Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is just parallel enough to the original Pocky & Rocky that you can almost recognize some of the new stages as references to the source material. What was once a level where you flew through blue skies is now an assault on a series of airships, and it makes for one of the most fun levels. You must defeat your opponents here to progress, and that means a whole lot of airship destruction. So, basically, if you ever wanted to wreck up Final Fantasy’s main mode of transportation, this is the game for you.
  • Gimme fiveFavorite Character: The goddess Ame no Uzume can float over pits, but her “bullets” are a little too spaced out for my liking. So maybe this is the Stockholm syndrome talking, but Hotaru Gozen, the samurai lady that requires beating the game twice to unlock, is probably my favorite pick. She turns a shooter into something more like… well… I don’t know what genre this is supposed to be, but she does have to get up close and personal with all opponents. It’s like playing as Zero in an early Mega Man game!
  • An end? The finale reveals that the final boss and source of all the trouble ‘round these parts is basically a divine abuse victim that had a few problems with her pantheon before bopping over to Fantasy Japan to wreck up the place. After being defeated in an amazing boss fight that includes way too many lasers, she shrinks back down to normal friend-size and… becomes a new Fantasy Japan goddess. And, like, I get that she had a rough time of it, and may have been manipulated by darkness or whatever, but I feel like she lit an awful lot of the country on fire, and was then “punished” with godhood. Talk about failing upwards…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I ordered the physical copy of this release well ahead of its release, but it took forever (okay, maybe a week) to arrive. This vexed me to the point that I nearly downloaded a virtual copy in the meanwhile, despite the fact that I have a backlog of approximately five billion games…
  • I recognize this guy, tooDid you know? The original Pocky & Rocky featured a harpy that marginally looked like a naked lady. The American/European version put that harpy in some armor, conferred it a beak, and turned the whole thing into an angry bird. I understand granting her protection against (feathered) nudity, but why go full bird? Not like this is the kind of game where you can’t have female opponents, as your heroine certainly takes more than a few hits.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game! It is great and I like it a lot! However, a lot of the post-game content feels weirdly grindy, and… Well… There are other games that have the shoot ‘em up features I crave. Put this one down for a strong maybe.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge! Time to slice and dice with some turtle pals! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #643 Elden Ring

I never did get that ringI appreciate Elden Ring, because, more than any game I have ever played, it perfectly encapsulates how it feels to be a tourist.

Elden Ring is a FromSoftware title. FromSoftware struck gold a little over a decade ago with Dark Souls, and has had incredible success with that franchise and “soulsborne” titles like Bloodborne and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And, while many have tried to pin down exactly what makes these games so popular (if only to clone that je ne sais quoi so they can make their own piles of money), it seems that several people have settled on one reason these games are great: it is the challenge. Soulsborne titles are known for their unforgiving difficulty, brutal bosses, and any number of sink or swim situations that, more often than not, lead to a ubiquitous “you have died” message. But hope is not lost! These FromSoft games are built around the concept that you will fail, and restarting and reclaiming your lost collectibles is as easy as making your way to wherever you happened to expire, and now, shucks, guess you are here anyway, let’s see if we can make a little more progress this time. And, in this simple death-rebirth-progress-repeat loop, accomplishments are made, and eventually you have every last trophy claiming you have become a freaky god-baby or whatever the hell happened at the end of Bloodborne. In short, calling the appeal of FromSoftware titles “the challenge” is reductive of a carefully tailored gameplay cycle that isn’t all that different from the Dragon Warriors of old.

This is gonna hurtBut I have never cared about any of that. Of course I find FromSoftware games challenging! But I also find Mega Man Legends challenging, too. I have been playing videogames for the last thirty years, and, unless we are talking about a genre/playstyle that I know by heart (that would be the original Mega Man franchise, for instance), I am very likely to die over and over again regardless of “challenge”. I probably pick up a game faster than some people, but I have never had any sort of videogame “sight-reading” dexterity. It takes me a while to learn a new game, and it doesn’t matter if we are talking about Bloodborne or Bloodstained. Every new game is memento mori, and I too will die… and quickly! I might even have a leg up on FromSoftware titles at this point, too, as I kind of know the general pacing now of… How do I put this… “That one guy syndrome”? Like there’s always that one guy… He has a horse in this one… There is always that one guy near the start of the game that there is no way you are beating him right now, so you must come back later, and if you try to spend all your time on him at the start, you are going to have a bad time. And that and other tricks only work so many times, so after fearing the old blood and praising the sun a number of times, I am fairly immune to many FromSoftware tricks. In short, these games are challenging, but they never really felt substantially challenging on my end. They are hard, but everything is hard when you game like a pillow cursed with dummy thumbs.

So how do I experience FromSoft games? Why do I even bother? Well, because the greatest FromSoftware games are about exploring, and I love games based on exploring. As if it wasn’t obvious from a Castlevania game being covered on this site every other month, I enjoy seeing scary monsters, skulking around their lairs, and, ideally, finding all sorts of secret places while rolling around murderous skeletons. FromSoft titles offer this kind of experience in enormous quantities, and I am always happy to dodge some giant’s sword only to accidentally discover a treasure hidey-hole. That is the kind of gaming experience I cherish, and it can only be found in painstakingly constructed castles/planets/forgotten lands. I don’t care if it is a Crocomire or giant land octopus involved, just factor in those breakthroughs, and I’m good.

But I have noticed a curious issue with my Soulsborne playthroughs: I never 100% any of these games.

Poor flightless birdsNow, this is something of an interesting issue. Traditionally, if I enjoy a videogame, I try to wring about as much enjoyment out of it as possible. While this does not always lead to a “platinum trophy” style “do everything” event, it does usually mean I have seen what I consider to be “everything”. For instance, I might not need that 100% of the map filled achievement, but I want to feel like I have spoken to every NPC, and completed every relevant questline. I won’t be finishing the Metroid Dread boss rush anytime soon, but I do feel happy with that perfect item collection rating. My definition of “100% Completion” might not match the opinion of everyone else, but it is a level that leaves me content.

Elden Ring? Not so much. I have completed the game, I have filled in the portions of the map I feel are relevant, and I am happy with my experience. Why? Simple: I am delighted being a tourist.

We have all played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before, right? Remember that dude who would give you inventory upgrades if you traded him gold poops? He was in the Warriors game? Hestu! Hestu upgrades your inventory, and you are meant to collect korok seeds across the world, scamper back to Hestu when you have a healthy amount, and then gradually upgrade your capacity as the game proceeds. Know what I did? I missed Hestu! Big ol’ lug is hanging out on one of the most traveled roads in Hyrule, and I completely avoided the doof. This is supposed to be an area/person you see early in your adventure, but I managed to take a different path, and didn’t find Hestu until after I had slain Ganon. I went the entire game with an extremely limited backpack all because I took one wrong turn at Albuquerque about an hour after Link got out of bed. And the damnedest thing about all that? I expected as much! Give me an open world with very clear directions for a neophyte player to “follow this route”, Slice an antand I guarantee you I will find some way to wander off the beaten trail. This is why the glowing path is my friend, because I know without some invasive guidance, I am going to meander off to somewhere I shouldn’t be.

And many people will tell you this is the point of open world games. Leave the guides behind, Goggle Bob! You are exploring just like you’re supposed to! But my issue is not that I am somehow playing the game wrong, it is that I am missing things that will make my life easier. I wanted Hestu’s inventory upgrades! I wanted the ability to carry around every elemental sword this side of Koholint! And I could have had it, if somehow I knew to head in Hestu’s direction. I did not want to use a FAQ or strategy guide, because I didn’t want everything ruined, but a gentle nudge in the right direction of something that would improve my life would be nice.

Elden Ring does not do gentle nudges. Elden Ring is the kind of game that sticks its opening tutorial in a pit that looks portentously deadly. Elden Ring is the kind of game where a “helpful” NPC sends you to your death just to see if you would listen to her. Elden Ring is the kind of game where people debate online what exactly “the hug lady” does, and whether she is secretly trying to kill you. Elden Ring is an extremely opaque game, and, while “working with the community” is intended to be part of the experience (an experience that identifies a lot of turtles as dogs, incidentally), the sheer scope of the Lands Between means that it is very difficult to so much as figure out exactly where you are, left alone effectively ask another human being for directions. I need to know what to do at the castle the dude on the overpass told me to clear out. No, not the castle with the knight with the dragon arm. The other castle. No, not the one with the sickly nerds and the moon woman. I think that was a university…

But this isn’t a knock against Elden Ring, because I have felt this way before. Elden Ring gives me the exact same feeling as being a tourist.

This doesn't look goodLook, I come from a touristy area. I know my entire local economy and livelihood relies on the fact that, for a few months every year, a bunch of sunburned malcontents roam the streets and coffee shops looking for some kind of summer loving (even if that “loving” only applies to a love of a particular slice of pizza). And, while I am well aware I would be living in a van by the river if these tourists did not exist, having lived in this area all my life has granted me an obvious, absurd complex regarding the concept of “tourists”. Those monsters come here! And eat at our restaurants! And clog up our roads! And use our ocean! It is irrational (again, none of these things would exist in the first place if it weren’t for the tourists [okay, maybe the ocean would still be there]), but it is something ingrained in my psyche.

So the idea of me, tourist hater extraordinaire, enjoying being a tourist should be hypocritical. And it is! But, like the entire republican party, I am not going to let being a hypocrite get me down. I like being somewhere new. I like seeing new places. I feel bad if I am somewhere on an extremely limited, regimented visit. I want to wander the streets! I want to see the rinky-dink little cafes that haven’t had more than three customers in three years. I want to skip the Paris subway, walk back to the hotel, and find whatever this is…

This is France

That ain’t in no guidebook. If I were to ask a thousand people for directions on what to do in Paris, they would never tell me to cut through that random street, and also find nearby cat campaign posters…

This is Cats

I live for that nonsense. I want to vote for a cat in Paris! That is the best part of sightseeing for me: not seeing all the wonders of the biggest tourist traps, but experiencing all the surprises that aren’t attached to a gift shop. Disney World is great! But let me walk down International Drive and find the absolutely weirdest buffet known to man. It has spaghetti and burritos next to each other? Spread my ashes over that garbage (it is only a marginal health risk compared to some of the other stuff at the buffet).

And, oddly enough, Elden Ring seems to capture that feeling better than any other game. In many open world games, you are continually looking for similar McGuffins. To once again recall Breath of the Wild, if you are doing damn near anything in that universe, you know you are aiming for a new shrine. And this is great for people that like goals, but the world does feel a little smaller when you know lightning dodging or walrus racing is all going to end in the same reward. In Elden Ring? There are dead ends. There are “rewards” that are little more than “look what you found”. You are trying to become the new Elden Lord! And when you explore this newly found dungeon, you will find… skeletons. Or giant ants. Or some weirdo that wants to turn you into a tree for some reason. And your reward for traipsing through this dungeon? Some lore. A weapon you will never use. Absolutely nothing. There is no guaranteed reward for practically anything you do in Elden Ring. I am pretty sure I even murdered a few bosses that offered the incentive of a pat on a back and nothing more. Elden Ring has its own brutal difficulty, but even more than that, it has a brutal world that often seems to contemptuously ask the player, “Enemy slain? So what? You want a trophy?”

Let's go, horse!Then why keep playing? Because there is joy in exploring. There is happiness in being that tourist who is “just visiting”, but can savor an appealing view. In a game where there are clear and omnipresent goals, everyone has the same experience. In a game where anything can happen, people can have exceptionally different encounters. Families have been visiting “tourist traps” for years, but no two people are guaranteed to have had the same experience. Climb to the top of the pyramids, and you might not enjoy it as much as another person nearby munching on a gyro from the Queen of the Nile food truck. In a world where there are not guides, where there is nothing telling you where you “have to be”, you can be a true wandering tourist. And that can be more fun than any kind of “scripted” experience. I do not need to know the name of the freaky dude riding a tiny horse and summoning meteors any more than I “need” to know the name of the guy who painted that mural I loved. I am a tourist right now, and I can enjoy enjoying without having to know everything.

So you can have your challenge or lore or fingers or whatever it is I’m supposed to like about Elden Ring. I’ll be over here, galloping around with Torrent, and taking in the sights. I might not learn anything you would find in a guide, but I am going to have fun seeing what I can see, and discovering what I can discover. I am going to be a tourist in these Lands Between, and I am going to enjoy that experience.

… And maybe I’ll buy a t-shirt later.

FGC #643 Elden Ring

  • System: I technically own the Playstation 4 disc, but I got a Playstation 5 about five minutes later, so that’s mostly where these screenshots are from. Sorry, it appears this is not going to be on Switch anytime soon.
  • Dodge!Number of players: There are thousands of people posting all over the place and occasionally showing up to murder your avatar, but it is an otherwise solitary experience.
  • Give me an explanation: Okay, there is one bit of lore I would be curious about. Why is everything giant? Or, to be particular, why are so many random animals and vermin the same kind of giant? Giant ants are roughly the same size as giant octopi as giant wolves, and that does not scale correctly at all. Why did everything grow to exactly the same size? Don’t say it was “magic”! Everything is magic!
  • Favorite Boss: Give me that Fire Giant any day of the week. Elden Ring bosses have a tendency to have distinct phases, and Fire Giant winds up with a phase where he tears off his own legs in an effort to better crawl-fight you with his immense stomach-face. That is the kind of dedication to a bit I can only admire.
  • Greatest Regret: The opening mentioned The Loathsome Dung Eater, and apparently I missed that dude entirely. This is a shame, as I find it personally offensive to have any piece of media mention “The Loathsome Dung Eater”, and then not have them prominently featured in every minute of the final product. This is storytelling 101, guys.
  • Say something mean: I enjoyed Elden Ring. It is a good game. That said, why are there jumping puzzles? This is not a world that should utilize jumping for anything other than skipping over ruined castle foundations. There should not be floating islands in space that require precise jumping when my character feels like she weighs 1,200 lbs. And do not get me started on giving the horse a double jump. That is not a traditional trait of horses!
  • OwieDid you know? You can tell you are in a FromSoftware world if you cannot conceive of a character complimenting another character’s butt. Elden Ring? Bloodborne? Dark Souls? Name a single speaking NPC in any of those universes that would look at a badonkadonk and be like “You got a great pooper right there”. You can’t. It is impossible.
  • Would I play again: I might organize another trip to the Lands Between in the future. And, hey, there is bound to be some DLC, too, right? Maybe that would be another good excuse…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocky and Rocky Reshrined! The priestess and the raccoon will save the day yet again! With leaves! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening here?

FGC #641 God of War 3

Gonna war tonightHere is my idea for the perfect action game: just make 100% of a game based on 10% of God of War 3.

God of War 3 was released in 2010, so you will be forgiven for forgetting the current state of Kratos when this title first hit the Playstation 3. God of War (1) was a self-contained tale of a man that loses his family, blames the God of War, and then fights through hordes of mythical monsters to eventually grow to substantial size and murder/replace that other, equally vengeful god. But, despite this story ending on whatever is the opposite of a cliffhanger (sorry, too many Marvel movies have erased the concept of “finality” from my mind), there were multiple sequel hooks established in a host of unlockable endings. One such finale made the assertion that Kratos was aided on his quest by the almighty Zeus, and the thunder god was only so helpful because Kratos was one of his many bastard children (not going to judge here, Zeus was just not the kind of god that was fond of monogamy or protection). 2007’s God of War 2 decided to run with this thread, and the majority of that game was Kratos defying the Fates to earn an eventual confrontation with his deity daddy. But the deicide/parricide would have to wait, as Athena suffered the killing blow in place of Zeus, and the Z-Man escaped. But! Kratos was joined by the enormous and equally vengeful Titans, and GoW2 ended with the promise of a rock monster versus Mount Olympus battle that would justify the console generation upgrade. You can’t have those kinds of celestial fights on the piddling Playstation 2, mortal!

That's gotta stingSo three years later, the Playstation 3 granted us the conclusion to the Kratos(-is-super-angry) Trilogy. One thing was certain: Kratos was going to fight a lot of gods, and get all sorts of revenge on Zeus. But the in-between could be virtually anything! The God of War titles were never real time strategy games, so how would the multiple assaulting titans be handled? Would Kratos separate from them immediately? Would there be “titan-based gameplay” like what was seen in Shadow of the Colossus? Would Kratos be thrown to entirely new locales by the fury of war? Would you have the ability to summon titans to at least marginally aid in your dirty work? The possibilities were endless!

… And… well… God of War 3 was ultimately a typical God of War title. Kratos dies almost immediately, and once again must fight his way out of Hell/Hades. There are hordes of mythological monsters, and they all can be ultimately trounced by smacking the circle button until something or other is decapitated. Most of Kratos’s surrounding environments are either “magical (deadly) temple” or “generic (deadly) Grecian architecture”. There is the opportunity to participate in a sex-based mini game (this time with a goddess while also cucking a god you are about to murder). And the end of the story is exactly what everyone expected: Kratos formally overcomes his Oedipus complex by punching his father to death… even if that means the collapse of human society. Everybody, please, get over it. Kratos was working through some stuff. If half of Greece must be downed, destroyed, and exposed to a brand-new pandemic to get there, sorry, but Kratos really needed this release. If Zeus was your dad, you would be a lot more understanding.

But long before Kratos is within grappling range of Zeus, there is the start of God of War 3. And the absolute beginning of GoW3? That is one of the single best openings in gaming.

Ye GodsGod of War 3 does pick up exactly where God of War 2 left off. Kratos is literally standing on the shoulders of giants, and he is about to have a big, grand adventure assaulting all of Mount Olympus. And the trick of what happens next? It never stops. Kratos weaves his way in and out of the titans’ assault, and there is not a single moment when the screen is not shaking from a war that will ultimately shatter everything. This is still the beginning of a modern videogame, though, so there are plenty of tutorials, and the narration does seem to assume the player has never so much as pressed an X button before. But even if there are disembodied instructions for how to run following everywhere Kratos cares to go, Kratos is going places. An epic battle is raging, and Kratos is wiping the floor with the legions of heavenly warriors, monsters, and one entire god (on watery crab-horseback!). There is the prerequisite “learn how to push things” block puzzle in there, but it is snappy enough that Kratos can learn how to coddle cubes and get back to the battle in short order. And other than that? It is all battle, all the way, with Kratos utilizing all his end-game abilities from God of War 2 to cut a bloody swath across the area. And even though it feels like the war is never ending, there are still moments in there to introduce important items like save points, the Chains of Olympus, and a few glimpses of areas that will be visited much later in the game.

But whatever the details of the opening of God of War 3, the result is the same: the adrenaline is pumping, and flowing along at an amazing rate. When you are barely ever in the same spot for longer than thirty seconds without a massive flaming boulder destroying the place, you stay alert. When you are constantly fighting, using techniques that are both crushing and (visually) stunning, you are truly feeling the rage of Kratos. And you are already at maximum level from the finale of GoW2! You don’t have to so much as gaze upon a menu to power Kratos up any further. Your anti-hero is already as good as it gets, and all you need to focus on is the death of thousands by your bloody hands.

And then Kratos goes to Hell, and it all goes to hell.

Don't get stuckUpon defeating Poseidon and officially ending the prologue, Kratos falls from Olympus down to Hades. Once there, he accidentally bathes in the River Lethe, loses 90% of the acquired abilities of GoW2, and 100% of health and magic powerups. Oh, and since there is a river involved, Kratos has to swim, which is the most boring thing Kratos ever does in his opening trilogy (leaving some wiggle room here in case Dad of War ever makes swimming fun). From there, you are back to normal God of War “action”. Sure, there are epic battles again (sometimes against Titans, for a change), but it is all very… interruptible. Clear out some ghouls, and it is time to use your red orbs to power the weapon of your choice. Earn a new tool, and then you have to do a tutorial puzzle at the speed of snail to “learn” your new ability, and then perform another two puzzles just to prove you really know what you are doing with your new skill of “can run faster”. Beat a boss, and there is an inevitable refractory period where damn near nothing happens for like three screens (and maybe there is more swimming!).

Basically, once God of War 3 gets going, it frequently finds reasons to stop going. Do damn near anything, and you will be forced to pause to utilize any spoils of battle. Stop and smell the roses, Kratos. You’ll live longer.

And can you think of a worse way to spend an action game? I didn’t come here to pause! I came here to swiftly murder every mofo between here and the top of the mountain!

Even this is funSo here’s my ideal action game: just focus on that intro. Drop the leveling. Drop the pressing against every wall to find hidden health powerups. Drop any puzzle that cannot be solved outside of thirty seconds. Drop the tutorials for every new thing that comes along. Absolutely do not give a player time to “get used to” a new skill: just drop it in there, and if Kratos dies while trying to figure it out, let ‘em die. Keep the pace. Keep Kratos running, jumping, and swinging his chains around like a madman. Do not let the poor, undead godling breathe. Speed never had a twenty-minute intermission where Keanu Reeves had to navigate a skill tree, and Crank never had Jason Statham solve a crossword puzzle for a half hour. This is an action game, dammit, give me some action.

So what do I want from a new action game? The very beginning of God of War 3, and nothing. God of War 3 isn’t a bad experience, but its opening is sublime. And if we could get that, and only that, as an entire game? Well, that would make me as happy as a Kratos with a dead god-dad.

FGC #641 God of War 3

  • System: Playstation exclusive, though that may be Playstation 3 or Playstation 4. I think some of these screenshots are technically from a copy of the HD version being played on the Playstation 5. I can’t remember exactly which controller I was holding at the time…
  • Number of players: Kratos gives friends no quarter.
  • Other Offenders: On the subject of keeping the action going, while God of War 3 does not commit this particular sin, I can safely say that a “Mission Clear” grading results screen is a lack of action, too, Devil May Cry. While we’re at it, Sonic the Hedgehog is on notice.
  • I like green thingsFavorite Weapon: The Nemesis Whip is all sparkly and green, so why would you need anything more? Truth be told, I just like it because it feels like typical “Kratos whip blades” gameplay, but is just different enough to distinguish itself from the previous two games of swinging around the same stuff. Conversely, the Nemean Cestus feels appropriately bulky, but is too much of a departure from the reason I’m playing the game in the first place. You can punch out bad guys in any other game…
  • Favorite God: After lauding the opening, you might think I would choose Poseidon, the deity that caps off that section. But, truth be told, I prefer the “fight” against Hera, as she pretty much just keels over after drinking herself to death. This is an inglorious end, but I appreciate the fact that the designers did not attempt to create a three-part boss battle out of the stages of alcoholism.
  • Favorite Boss Battle: If we are going outside the gods, you have to respect the enormous fight against the gargantuan Cronos the Titan. This really feels like something that was intended to be in God of War 1, but was axed for hardware limitations. But now you can attack a giant’s thumbnail like it ain’t no thang! What more could you ask for?
  • This at least looks funStuff to do: There are a surprisingly high number of ridiculous minigames in this serious game about serious people. There is a “flying” section that seems like it would be more at home in a Sonic the Hedgehog game, some ridiculous puzzles in the labyrinth, and, of course, harp hero. I am not certain who on the design team wanted Kratos to participate in a rhythm game, but please find them, and commit Kratos upon them.
  • Did you know? Kevin Sorbo is the voice actor for a Hercules here that is very different from Sorbo’s role in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. This is being noted because any appearance by Kevin Sorbo in 2022 is tinged with a bit of… disgust.
  • Would I play again: Why not? This is the most God of War of the original God of War trilogy, so it will likely see a playthrough again before ever touching the PSP “side game”. And, hey, if I get bored, at least the best part of the game is all right there at the beginning…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Portal 2! It’s still alive! And coming next week! Please look forward to it!

They're best friends