Tag Archives: playstation

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

Transform!When I got married this past Fall, my (moments later) wife noted as part of her wedding vows that she would never understand the difference between Voltron and a Transformer. This is obviously an absurd issue that speaks to the fact that my beloved may have some manner of brain damage (I love you, honey, but if you can’t tell the difference between a robot lion that transforms into the leg of a giant man, and a robot lion that transforms into a regular-sized man, I really don’t know what to tell you) , but it is also a fine illustration of my love of Transformers. I’ve been collecting the little weirdos since I was a child literally praying to assemble all of the Predaking pieces, and, to this day, I am allowed one stupid Transformer purchase a year (because if I bought them as often as my impulsiveness demands, I would be literally drowning in the suckers)(and “drowning in useless media” is reserved for videogames in this house, natch). So big surprise here: I love Transformers.

And my favorite Transformers? Well, that would be the Beast Wars generation, a group of Transformers that have rarely been seen since the late mid-to-late 90’s. And despite my love for the characters, I have had a rough time over the years determining the exact origin of that affection. Was it a matter of timing with my childhood? No, I was the right age to be imprint on Grimlock, not Dinobot. Was it a love for 3-D animation? No, I kind of hated the brown, blocky aesthetic of Beast Wars. Was it an overabundance of affection for Waspinator, and everyone else just got to soak up the residuals? That… might be it. And in thinking about the simple fact that I really do enjoy the antics of the mechanical bug man, I came to one unavoidable conclusion:

I like Beast Wars because its stars are broken.

WeeeeLet’s not mince words here: this should not be a surprise. The essence of drama is conflict, and you are inevitably going to get more conflict when your protagonists and antagonists all equally need therapy. The old, “kiddy” Transformers of the 80’s were predominantly robotic gods that occasionally deigned to interface with humans out of some misplaced feelings for all sentient lifeforms, and, as a result, the majority of them came off as flawless/boring. It is no wonder that the dysfunctional Decepticons, like Soundwave and Starscream, had more of an influence on future generations than the likes of Ultra Magnus and Hot Rod. But that generation features the iconic Transformers that “everybody knows”, so they have been recycled and reformatted hundreds of times over the course of a million reboots. And has that made them any more human as time has passed? Yes, but not nearly to the degree as we saw with a cast of misfits that can occasionally transform into a rat or two.

Speaking of rodents, let us look at Rattrap, one of the stars of Beast Wars. Want to know Rattrap’s deal? He’s a jackass. That is pretty much his entire his personality. He is good at making gadgets and traps (oh, I just got that), but other than that, his main asset seems to be being available to make the occasional cynical remark. Apparently he was envisioned as a sort of “jaded combat veteran” character amongst his more youthful compatriots, but, given his propensity toward some childish antics with Cheetor, he comes off like a skeptical teenager more often than not. And how does that fit in with the rest of the Maximal crew? Well, Optimus Primal is obviously everyone’s barely-holding-it-together dad, Rhinox is the wise old grandpa that talks about the good ol’ days and nature a little too often, and recent adoptee Dinobot is just straight up Vegeta, puttering around talking about how he’s going to be the world’s strongest one of these days when he finally finds his good eye lasers. Then you’ll all see… Then you’ll all see…

And if you missed Beast Wars, please be aware that I just described the good guys. The bad guys are just plain bad guys.

DOOM!Beast Wars started with the rare conceit that the clearly-defined “bad guys” were starting this whole fight from a position of weakness. The heroic crew of the Axalon crash landed with a crew of potentially dozens of sleeping protoforms (Transformer fetuses…. Oh man this is a weird show), while the bad bots over on the Darksyde had an extremely limited crew of six. By the end of the pilot, one of those crew members had already defected. Further exacerbating matters was the fact that at least two of the remaining Predacons were dumb as a bag of hammers, while two other Preds were scheming and plotting against their own commander seemingly for no greater reason than it was a fun way to spend the afternoon. This meant that the Predacons had roughly the same teamwork aptitude as a box filled with rabid weasels hopped up on pixie stix. The Predacons had firepower, but they would have to stop fighting each other long enough to actually use said firepower.

And, yes, at least two of ‘em would wind up taking a mortal volcano bath before they ever pulled that off. Please let us know if lava is wet, Scorponok and Terrorsaur.

But this brings us nicely to the “extra”, later additions to the Beast Wars continuity. Remember those previously mentioned protoforms? Well, anytime the writers wanted to introduce a new character to either faction, a protoform would crash to Earth, and it would be time to learn about all the features of the latest toy. And fun fact? It appears the writers had one question when it came to introducing new characters: how is this guy broken? Literally! Pretty much every character that was introduced after the launch of Beast Wars was physically or mentally damaged in some unique way. Tigatron bumped his head, so felt more at home with mundane, organic cats than his fighting robot buddies. Inferno took it a step further, and was vaguely convinced he was a giant ant, and Megatron was his queen (this was correct, of course, but not in the way Inferno imagined). The rest is darknessBlackarachnia wound up trapped in a spider’s web from day one, and the fuzor twins could not stick to a single beast mode. And one of them had a southern accent! On prehistoric Earth! That had to be the result of a glitch or two. Airazor seemed like the most stable of the newbies, but the writers evidently forgot she existed every other week, so she was suffering through some manner of divine impediment. And we are not even going to acknowledge Depth Charge and Rampage, two Transformers that were (unusual for the series) “born” and fighting before the start of the Beast Wars. One is a rampaging, murderous psychopath that cares only for seeing the destruction of his enemies, and the other one can turn into a tank-crab. They are both about as emotionally stable as your average Stephen King antagonist, so please do not trust either with selling your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. It will not end well.

But, ultimately, that is the appeal of Beast Wars to this humble blogger. I would not want the cast of Beast Wars, Maximals or Predacons, to be responsible for anything in my life. They are supposed to be saving the Earth? No, that does not sound like a good plan for anybody. But I am very entertained by their antics. As the overarching plot of Beast Wars amps up from “monkey fight dinosaur” to “Megatron has traveled back in time and shot a sleeping Optimus Prime in the face and now you have to deal with that”, you never lose the feeling that the “heroic” Maximals are all about seven seconds from clocking out on this overly-long shift they somehow have been stuck on for overtime they know they’re going to have to fight human resources to even get. The heroes often come off as defeated even before their well-laid plans are disrupted by the villains, but the villains can barely hold it together for longer than seven seconds to actually disturb the ostensible protagonists.

The rest is darkness, againThe cast of Beast Wars? They are a bunch of losers that wound up in the middle of a Transformers war. And I can get behind a bunch of entertaining dunderheads. I like the Beast Wars era of Transformers the most because its stars are all living, breathing (?), mistakes.

Oh, but their Playstation 1 game was a bigger mistake. I don’t like that.

…. Dammit, article is already overly long as is. Guess I don’t have time to talk about the featured game! Clocking out for the day. Sorry!

FGC #565 Beast Wars: Transformers

  • System: Playstation (1) and PC. There’s actually a funny story about that PC version…
  • Number of players: The Playstation version is single player, but the PC version had an 8-player “battle royale” mode. Apparently there were more than a few people that actually liked this mode, and kept online servers going for a while. Or maybe they just liked it ironically? Whatever, who doesn’t want to be Cheetor?
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Oh, this is awful. It is a primitive 3rd person shooter with just the worst camera anyone can imagine. Someone went ahead and added some “lock-on” targeting so the experience isn’t wholly impossible… but it’s otherwise pretty impossible. I really can’t convey with mere words just how wrong doing practically anything in this game feels, even if you are allowed to choose between playing as either faction. Controlling a giant scorpion should not be this janky!
  • ANTS!Transform!: Oh yeah, most egregious error? You cannot attack in any way while transformed. In fact, the only reason to transform at all is to manage your “Energon Meter”. This makes a certain amount of sense for, like, Rattrap, but doesn’t really feel right for more offensive animals like Rhinox (note for those unaware: he is a rhino). And there are two separate characters that can transform into freakin’ dinosaurs, and all they can do is putter around like the spiders. Do you understand how hard you have to try to make a videogame about occasionally being a robot dinosaur boring!?
  • On the subject of having plans: You have to unlock Rattrap or Blackarachnia, and Airazor/Terrorsaur are only available in “rescue” minigames, but the whole of the stable Season 1 cast is otherwise represented here (Tigatron has never been reliable). Oh, wait, except for one major omission: Waspinator is not present in any way, shape, or form. That poor buzz boy gets no respect.
  • What’s in a name: They spelled Scorponok with an “I” in some of the game materials. I’m not going to say that’s exactly why the poor dummy died at the end of Season 1, but I’m not going to say it wasn’t a factor, either.
  • What’s in a voice: Oh yeah, the voice acting for this game is totally six guys trapped in an elevator recording lines at four in the morning. The original voice cast was apparently not available (or weren’t contractually obligated to participate in an awful PS1 game), so this Beast Wars adventure was voiced by some people that just weren’t into it. Or maybe I’m just focusing on Rhinox here, as he has the timber of a man that doesn’t really want to survive this adventure… or even the next few seconds.
  • Best Transformer Ever: It’s Optimal Optimus, who does not appear in this game. Primal Prime will also do in a pinch.
  • What is even happening?Did you know? There was an episode of Beast Wars that was scrapped because it was too damn depressing. The whole concept was Rattrap was going to attempt to revive Dinobot by forcing his undead spark into an (evil) Dinobot II, but the ultimate moral was to be that Dinobot is 100% dead and never coming back, get over it. … Also, in typing that out, maybe Beast Wars did have a byzantine, maudlin overarching plot…
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. I want to rewatch Beast Wars, though, so maybe this toy promotion worked out.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Rockin’ Kats for the NES! Let’s rock out with our tails out! Please look forward to it!

Don't pay attention

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!

FGC #560 Einhänder

Get ready to pewHas it ever been good enough to be just, ya know, good enough?

Today’s title is practically a fetish of a bygone epoch. Square (later devoured and digivolved into Square Enix) is a game company that has been around practically from the beginning of gaming. It was the company that brought us Final Fantasy, The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner, and Rad Racer. Today, Square Enix is responsible for Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Quest, Nier, Tomb Raider, Avengers, and Just Cause. But there was a time in the early 21st Century when there was one major complaint about Square (+/- Enix): “they just do Final Fantasy”. And, inevitably, when “they just do Final Fantasy” was brought up, earlier halcyon days of lore were inevitably summoned as well. “Remember when Square used to make more than RPGs? Remember Tobal No. 1? Remember The Bouncer? Remember Einhänder?” And all involved in such a conversation were nodding sagely at the evocation of the “good old days” of experimental Square, and memories of all those old fighting games, shoot ‘em ups, and whatever the hell The Bouncer was supposed to be.

Except it was bullshit. It was always bullshit. Why? Because no greater than seven people in America ever played Einhänder! And don’t even get me started on Tobal No. 2! Admit it, you don’t have a “buddy” that can “score imports”! Oh, you already traded the disc in, that’s why we can’t play it? Stop screwing with me, Donny, I know what you’re up to!

… Er-hem.

KABAMSquare definitely had an “experimental period” around the late 90s. Mind you, it really was not all that different from Square’s earlier output of Final Fantasy games right alongside “weird” games like Live a Live or Front Mission. But by 1997, everyone was looking to Square when it struck it rich with Final Fantasy 7. With Square at the top of the heap, everyone was diving headfirst into their whole catalogue… or at least reading Game Informer’s list of Square releases. “ Einhänder, eh? That looks cool,” was evidently said by an awful lot of people that didn’t actually play Einhänder, because damn, Ein, I’m pretty sure you got outsold by the Final Fantasy 8 demo disc. There’s no shame in that, it was a good demo disc (and it may have been packaged with a game? Who knows?), but it lends further credence to the theory that goddamned no one actually played Einhänder.

And a lack of Einhänder playing is clearly the greatest shame of late 90’s gamers. Is Einhänder good? Listen, bub, it might be the best shoot ‘em up of the Playstation 1 generation by a pretty wide margin! Not only is it just a good shmup in the tradition of Gradius or R-Type, it also utilizes the Playstation graphics engine in ways that are still impressive today. This mix of polygons and whatever the hell makes a PSX disc go is a feast for the eyes, and, if this article had not already firmly established the release window for Einhänder, then it would likely be very easy to trick you, dear reader, into believing this was a game released at the established, tail end of a console’s lifecycle (and not practically at its beginning). And it is not just about the graphics here in Einhänder Land (apparently the moon and/or Earth all along), the gameplay of Einhänder is as good as a shoot ‘em up gets. You dodge. You shoot. You score the occasional powerup through shooting. Opponents have easily-understood patterns, and you are given opportunities to respond and retaliate in kind. Your Einhänder is fragile, but powerups can take a few hits, so you are not always teetering on the abyss like a Vic Viper that forgot to load shields. In short, Einhänder is gorgeous, fair, and simple enough that anyone could learn to be an Einhänding master.

And maybe that is why no one played the damn thing.

WATCH OUTLook, Square didn’t become famous because they created Mario, Sonic, or Mike Haggar. Square gameplay was and is always going to be associated with one major thing: dudes with swords using those swords in complicated ways. Final Fantasy was never a game that stood by the standard “A is jump” mantra of many NES titles, it was a game where you had to cycle through three different menus just to get your little red dude to swing his sword at anything more substantial than thin air. From there, not only did the method to make your wee swordsman to swing said sword get more complicated (what the hell is a “Runic”!?) but the worlds surrounding our fantasy armies became significantly more complicated, too. Where once we just kind of accepted that there might be a space station still floating around the relics of a lost civilization, now we had to have fictions that told long, intricate stories about these capital-A “Ancients” and how modern scientists were still trying to mate them with Pokémon for some reason. Where once your hero didn’t have a name, now not only did they have names, families, and complicated motivations, they also had identity crises wherein they debated the true nature of being loved. By the time Square got around to smooshing all its most popular swords guys against Mickey Mouse, the “default” story that had to be told was expected to contain a tale of identity theft, teenage possession, and at least thirteen dudes in cloaks that will probably reveal their true motives in approximately fifteen years. Square makes complicated games. Square seems to revel in making complicated games.

Almost the endAnd, don’t worry, Einhänder contains a plot that could reasonably be described as complicated for its time. While this is not on the same echelon as Chrono Trigger and other contemporaries pushing the boundaries of what could be in a videogame story, this is still nowhere near “princess captured, rescue princess”. Your Einhänder is piloted by an anonymous pilot that thinks they’re just doing some basic military maneuvers for the glory of their planet/celestial body/whatever, but, in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that this soldier (and all soldiers like them) is a lot closer to being on a suicide mission than anything that could ever be survivable. And that’s bad, apparently! In the end, your unknown Einhänder pilot learns the truth, rebels in pretty straightforward ways, and ends all war forever or something through sheer survivability, and we all learn a valuable lesson about reading the fine print on any potentially earned medals.

But, while Einhänder has what might be considered a complicated plot for a shoot ‘em up (the Space Invaders Ultimania guide is thinner than a dehydrated needlefish) it also has a plot that is barely there. There are cutscenes in Einhänder, and they’re almost exclusively featuring whatever giant robot or missile you’re expected to shoot next. Other than that? Any and all explanations for what the hell is happening are constrained to the opening and ending. And that’s brilliant! We don’t need another game that does not understand how some genres are completely incompatible with “now stop playing and watch a movie”. Einhänder is a white-knuckle shoot ‘em up wherein there should not be a second where you feel safe to put the controller down. It even suits the underlying plot! You are in mortal danger at all times! Sitting around and reading a data entry on your local corrupt government is only going to detract from the Einhänder experience!

… Except that means that you are probably going to miss the semi-intricate plot as a result. That means that this shoot ‘em up is going to come off as… just another shoot ‘em up.

Yo!And is that good enough? This is the best shoot ‘em up of a console generation from a time when its parent company could have greenlit practically anything (“You want a Mana game that drops all previous gameplay conceits and can barely be described using human language? Legend of Mana it is!”), and, yet, we live in a world without an Einhänder 2(: Revenge of the Moon). By whatever rubric Square had for its late 90s releases, Einhänder did not succeed enough to merit further promotion or even a spiritual sequel. To this day, the best Einhänder can accomplish is starring in a mini game or two across different Square Enix properties. Einhänder, in the absence of the “complicated”, thorny nature of its brothers of the era became slippery, and slid right out of the gaming consciousness. If you played Einhänder in the 90’s, I salute you, but it is likely only because you are naturally attracted to weird German robots, and not because someone recommended it to you. The byzantine games of the era sucked up all the oxygen surrounding Square titles, and Einhänder wound up occupying that same “I heard about ‘em before they were cool” imaginary headspace. Nobody listened to Smash Mouth’s Fush Yu Mang, and nobody bought Einhänder. It was a good game, but that’s all it could ever be. Ain’t no cosplay Sephiroths mingling with giant robot monkey boss cosplayers in 2001 or 2021.

Einhänder, you were amazing, and great at what you did. But all you did was what you did, and it looks like that wasn’t enough.

FGC #560 Einhänder

  • System: Playstation 1. Could be available on the Playstation 3, if, like, you lived in Japan.
  • Number of players: This is a game that has made “one” part of its identity.
  • There's a secret moveFavorite Ship: Screw the unlockable bonus ships, I’ll take the simplicity of the Einhänder MK III any day. I like my one-handed spaceships like I like my coffee: straight, to the point, and capable of demolishing entire armies.
  • Favorite Powerup: I am easily influenced by box art, so I love me some laser swords. There is nothing I enjoy more than getting some weird ass weapon in a shoot ‘em up, and then being rewarded for standing inordinately close to a monster spewing bullets while my sword apparently hacks away while wholly motionless. It is a beautiful showcase of swordsmanship.
  • What’s in a name: Breaking it down, “händer” translates roughly to “handed” in English, while “Ein” means “that dog from Cowboy Bebop”. So an appropriate localization of Einhänder would be “a game about that really smart puppy that now has hands”. I think it is supposed to be about the shape of the ship.
  • Difficulty Modes: In addition to the usual easy/medium/hard/dark souls difficulty modes available in Einhänder, the Japanese version also includes an “unlimited mode” that grants infinite lives at the expense of not being able to score points. And they removed it for the American release! That’s the best feature available to a shoot ‘em up, and they took it out! Those bastards!
  • Lotta pewsDid you know? There was a strategy guide for Einhänder published in Japan. I realize this was the heyday of guide books, but I would never consider needing one for a shoot ‘em up. I’m assuming it was just a few maps, some random lore/art, and every other page simply stating “practice until your thumbs fall off”. That’s a good strategy.
  • Would I play again: Put it on Switch, you monsters! It’s all I’ve ever wanted! Or at least I will claim that is true for the remainder of this article!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Network Transmission for the Nintendo Gamecube! It’s time to jack in to the net, Lan! Please look forward to it!

ROBO MONKEY

FGC #557 Street Fighter: The Movie

Let's fight some streetsIf you are concerned about your own struggles with imposter syndrome, please remember that even the big guys aren’t always confident.

Let’s talk about Street Fighter’s identity issues.

A long time ago in an arcade long forgotten, there was Street Fighter 1. The year was 1987, the cabinet was initially based on the concept of pressure-sensitive buttons, and the game… was not that great. Technically everything about Street Fighter was there: Ryu, special moves, boxers marginally based on Mike Tyson; but something was missing. Some particular, undefinable trait was absent from the original Street Fighter formula (it was probably Zangief), so, while Street Fighter was not remembered as a complete bomb, it isn’t remembered as the origin of the genre either. And then someone tried to make a sequel, and we were graced with… Final Fight. What? You were expecting Street Fighter’s nigh-holy descendant? No, much like Devil May Cry accidently being born of Resident Evil’s attempts to iterate, Final Fight was the next mutation of Street Fighter’s gameplay. And, despite the fact that the two franchises should have swapped names right then and there, we would still have to wait a little for Street Fighter 2.

And the secret truth of Street Fighter 2? It is now abundantly clear that no one at Capcom had any idea as to why it was successful.

Ruy GuyStreet Fighter 2 was popular when I was a kid, and I know that time seemed to flow relatively differently when I was a child. I am aware of this issue, but I’m still pretty confident in saying that between the release of Street Fighter 2 and Street Fighter 3, approximately 12,000 years passed. But don’t worry, children of tomorrow, we had routine Street Fighter 2 content during that time. There was Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition (play as the bosses, even if some are broken!), Street Fighter 2: Turbo (maybe Dhalsim is teleporting on purpose now!), Super Street Fighter 2 (now with four new butts!), and Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (one more angry butt!). The same basic gameplay carried the title forward, though, so if you were a Blanka main (because you were awesome), all you ever got out of these upgrades was like one new move, and the ability to make Fei Long feel bad for existing. Which is great… For Capcom, at least, because they could still earn your quarters through releasing the same game over and over again. There was no risk of Street Fighter 2 accidentally becoming Final Fight: Streetwise if you never even tried to make a new Street Fighter sequel. No need to distill the essential “what works” of Street Fighter 2 if you just keep releasing Street Fighter 2: Now with Super Moves. Capcom is happy to see the quarters, you’re happy to play a game that is familiar, and E. Honda is happy just to have a steady paycheck. Everybody’s happy!

But, in the midst of Street Fighter mania, someone had the bright idea to exploit the most popular videogame in the arcades not for a sequel, but a movie. A movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, and Royal Trumpeter #3 of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. A movie that, as a result of drawing from a game that had the barest of bones of a plot to begin with, could be anything. Or it could just be Van Damme flip kicking for two hours. Who cares!? Street Fighter: The Movie was not constrained by its source material like some franchises, so it had the potential to be the greatest “videogame movie” of all time.

And that “greatest videogame movie of all time” would inevitably be… Mortal Kombat.

Street Fighter was a bit of a flop.

THE PITApparently the production of Street Fighter was a legendary disaster, so it’s really little surprise that the whole thing turned out a bit off. What’s more, the direction seemed to go well out of its way to include every Street Fighter that had appeared in Street Fighter 2 (give or take the one that was actually supposed to be a movie star), which mean that a lot of characters were adapted in unfortunate ways. Vega is a cage fighter, and Sagat is an arms dealer? Okay, it’s a little GI Joe, but it could work. But Balrog is a camera man in Chun-Li’s employ? That is less defensible. Dhalsim becoming a scientist is a vague stereotype upgrade (at least he isn’t wearing skulls like a necklace anymore), but Zangief as a mindless minion works dramatically less so. And Ryu and Ken go from franchise heroes to… karate hobos. Granted, that’s always been kind of Ryu’s thing (dude probably has an awful credit score), but he’s more of a grifter than the world’s greatest fighter in Street Fighter: The Movie. And, given one of Street Fighter 2’s paramount attributes was allowing the player to choose a “favorite character” out of a very varied (and international!) cast, the fact that the movie reduced most of those luminaries to be sidekicks to one of three “real stars” was a roundhouse to the lil’ Bison.

And then came the videogame tie-in…

Rat fireballs?You may be thinking that, given Street Fighter: The Movie existed only because it was based on one of the most popular videogames of the time, it did not need another, additional videogame exclusively based on the movie itself. But you’d be wrong, apparently, because Capcom commissioned Street Fighter: The Movie for arcades. And please note that this Street Fighter game was not actually developed by Capcom, but Incredible Technologies, the maniacs behind Time Killers, BloodStorm, and Peggle: The Game Inexplicably Not about Pegging. Why do such a thing? Well, at the time, Mortal Kombat was starting to eat Street Fighter’s lunch, so why not make a Street Fighter title with digitized actors, extra violence, and have it all thrown together by some nerds in Chicago? It worked for Midway and Mortal Kombat, so why not the game that popularized the genre in the first place, too?

Well, it might not work because it sucked, for one thing.

Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game: The Arcade Experience is not the Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat title that was so clearly intended here. This is Street Fighter x Pit Fighter. It’s sloppy. It features (almost) all the familiar Street Fighters and their familiar moves, but in a world that juggles just a little too easy. It feels weightless. It feels… wrong. And the many ways it deliberately apes Mortal Kombat feel particularly slapdash as well. There is an original character that seems to be born of a teenager’s notebook doodles (Blade! He has blades! He’s secretly Guile’s brother!), and he’s got three different color swapped buddies that really stretch the definition of “different”. There’s a stage that is an obvious cross between MK’s The Pit and Shao Kahn’s arena of Mortal Kombat 2. Sometimes digitized human spectators explode. Why? Don’t worry about it. And, while this game does seem to put more of an emphasis on uppercuts, it doesn’t feel enough like Mortal Kombat to warrant the many ways it feels like a lesser Street Fighter 2.

So, naturally, when Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game was ported to the home consoles, Capcom tossed the arcade version in the garbage.

CHOOSE YOUR DESTINYAt a time when home consoles were finally reaching that coveted echelon of “arcade perfect”, the concept of anything about Street Fighter: The Movie being arcade perfect was wholly dropped. Now appropriate for a movie game, Street Fighter: The Movie: The Home Game featured a dedicated “story mode” that would not be seen again in the franchise until Street Fighter 5. You can guide Guile through different locations and scenarios, and fight your way up to beating Bison. It’s… not very good, but it feels more like a justified videogame of a movie than its arcade counterpoint. And speaking of being a videogame, this version drops the physics of the arcade version, and returns to gameplay that is virtually indistinguishable from Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Give or take the impact of real digitized actors and actresses versus the stretching and shrinking of animated sprites (yes, Virginia, Ryu’s fist is normally an object of variable size), this is Street Fighter 2, the game you all know and love.

Well… I mean… mostly…

Dhalsim didn’t make the cut. It was probably too hard to figure out a way to make his stretching appear real (short of strapping Roshan Seth to a rack). In his place, there is Sawada, an original character from the movie that also appeared in the arcade game (though with different moves). Blade and his arcade buddies are missing, so sorry if you enjoyed their edgy (ha!) presence. And if you’re playing on the Playstation 1 version (a game that was literally a launch title for the system), well… you’re going to have a bad time. The Playstation wasn’t built for 2-D fighters, and you really need to migrate over to the Saturn to get the true Street Fighter: The Movie: Not A Gift Basket experience. And, oh yeah, if you can play it on the Saturn, there are real Capcom games that are a lot of fun on the system, so maybe just go ahead and ignore the whole thing. Darkstalkers is pretty fun…

My boy!So we’ve got two different versions of Street Fighter 2: both based on the original smash hit in one way or another, and both are totally skippable. Why? Well, that’s likely something someone at Capcom circa 1995 would like to know. Hell, maybe they still would like to know. Why is Street Fighter 2 successful? It’s not just the characters, because they’re all (mostly) here, and that didn’t do the trick. The lack of super violence? No. The special moves? Probably not. Whatever made Street Fighter 2 into the juggernaut it became could not be replicated for two different movie games, and two duds were dropped out into the world, never to be seen again (save by bored bloggers bossed around by bots).

Though there is a bright side here. Another movie, this time the animated Street Fighter feature, inspired its own tie-in title. Street Fighter Alpha/Zero started as little more than an excuse for a new, beefier Bison, but it quickly graduated through its own revisions into a worthy successor to the Street Fighter throne. This eventually led to not only the inevitable Street Fighter 3, but also the entire Versus franchise. What separated the Alpha series from its The Movie brethren? More issues than anyone could ever count. But could Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game(s) have been as good and memorable as the Alpha series? Sure! If only someone at Capcom had been able to figure out what made Street Fighter 2 so dang good.

The Street Fighter franchise: it has defined the genre to this very day, yet no one in charge of it had any damn idea why. Bunch of imposters…

FGC #557 Street Fighter: The Movie

  • System: A wholly unique experience for the arcades, and then the more traditional version for Sega Saturn and Playstation (1).
  • Go Sawada!Number of players: The arcade version has a hidden tag team mode (once again aping Mortal Kombat’s endurance matches), but all versions are still just two players.
  • Favorite Fighter: Blanka for the home versions (“Charlie” looks so ridiculous!), Ken for the arcade versions. Honestly, in aping Mortal Kombat, none of the fighters feel all that distinct in the arcade, so I might as well be playing as Blade anyway…
  • The Specialest Moves: The home version also introduced “EX” versions of regular special moves for the first time in the franchise. If you want super armor, you have a lousy Playstation game to thank.
  • What’s in a name: Like in the movies, the jumbled Vega/M. Bison/Balrog triangle is stuck in American mode, even for Japanese audiences. Though, oddly enough, Akuma retains his original Gouki name in his native land. Maybe that’s because he didn’t actually appear in the movie due to Jean-Claude’s inability to win without losing a round?
  • Did you know? Street Fighter 5 included a data entry for Blade, aka Gunloc of Saturday Night Slam Masters. This means Street Fighter: The Movie: The Arcade Experience is somehow a canon game in some way.
  • Would I play again: I’m not even going to watch the movie again, left alone play the tie-in titles. Making this game may have been the most important part of someone’s life, but for me, it was an unpleasant Tuesday.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mappy Land for the Nintendo Entertainment System! Let’s visit the house of mouse for some trampoline times! Please look forward to it!

Slice n dice