Tag Archives: preservation

FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass & I Wanna Be The Guy

We'll start hereToday’s game is Mega Man & Bass. I first played this title in approximately 2000, and discovered it randomly on an old SNES ROM site. I thought I was aware of every last Mega Man title, but this was wholly new to me. And hard. And weird! So, naturally, I assumed it was a fan-made ROM hack. They were popular at the time, and it would certainly explain why this SNES game was using (Playstation) Mega Man 8 graphics. Videogame franchises don’t go backwards!

Of course, Mega Man & Bass was a legitimate Capcom release, it just wasn’t legitimately released in America until a few years later. However, playing the game today reminded me of that old “ROM hack” scene, and how there were an equal number of titles that repurposed sprites for new and innovative challenges… and more than a few that simply replaced Mario with Kenny from South Park and called it a day. It was a confusing time, and the quality was all over the place.

But there’s one game that was a cut above the rest. I Wanna Be the Guy is a game that repurposed sprites like so many of those ROMs of yesteryear, but was wholly original in its gameplay, and arguably created an entire genre all on its own. IWBTG is an amazing experience, and, since its release, has become a phenomenon all its own. Unfortunately, like many of its contemporaries, there isn’t much information on its creation, as your average publicist doesn’t quite know what to do with a game featuring a Green Dragon that is also a Yellow Devil (how does that work?). In an effort to get more information on I Wanna Be the Guy and its creation, I decided to sit down and speak with its writer/producer/director/artist/creator Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly. Hopefully this can provide a glimpse of “the scene” of the time (at least how it impacted the creation of IWBTG), and a passing oral history of I Wanna Be the Guy.

Goggle Bob: Let’s start with the dumb basics, when did you first have the idea for IWBTG?
This is Owata
Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly: So this was during the 4chan heydays. Back when everyone just kinda sucked instead of just being outward nazis. So for me, besides all the hentai, a big appeal was the flash board and the weird games on there. Which is where I played the original version of Owata, the 2chan emoticon based masocore game. I feel like it might have been the first game quite like that? It didn’t repurpose sprites — it had like ascii versions of videogame references — but it was the bedrock for IWBTG. Part of it was that since Owata was, at the time, unfinished, so I felt like I had an opening to expand to a bigger game.

Goggle Bob: and do you recall when exactly that was?

Kayin: Sometime in early 2007?

Goggle Bob: Gotcha. So when you first started working on IWBTG, was the audience you had in mind basically fellow 4chaners on the board, or something larger? Or were you even just doing it to amuse yourself?

Kayin: Mostly to amuse myself. I consumed 4chan, but never really was part of the ‘community’. The whole anon thing was weird to me, I actually like being a person. So I never linked or talked about it there outside a few situations where I found a thread about the game. No, it was for my friends and soon later, part of the “#FinalFight” community which.. wasn’t about capcom’s final fight so much as a community centered around Scott Sharkey. The community was getting to the point there where a lot of us didn’t even know who Sharkey was. I was just there because other people were. I shared my game with them on what was at the time the pyoko boards and later became the brontoforumus.

Goggle Bob: So IWBTG initially drew inspiration from a game that barely had graphics at all… but somehow still pulled from Super Mario Bros, if memory serves. How quickly did IWBTG start adopting outside sprites and alike during production?

Kayin: The most striking thing in Owata to me was these big ‘ascii sprites’ of Zangief and Guile that were…. an obvious inspiration. And it started basically as soon as I got to the first boss. I don’t know WHY I wanted to make a giant Mike Tyson but it… felt like the right idea.
Punch!  Dodge!
Goggle Bob: Never doubt the desire for a giant Mike Tyson. We’re jumping around a bit, but since you mentioned that memorable boss, a related question: a significant reason I personally find IWBTG so revolutionary is how it keeps one “base” kind of gameplay, and marries it to a number of disparate parts, like Mike Tyson from Punch-Out… which is… what? A rhythm fighting game? And combines it with gameplay that is closer to Mega Man or Metroid. And the question I’m getting to on that is… I suppose… Why? Like, why did you draw significantly from very different sources and adapt them to your game?

Kayin: I liked a lot of different games. I think it’s also because I’m a very visually minded person so games having very differing sources gameplay wise isn’t something that mattered to me. Or it mattered, but the discontinuity made it funnier, like with the platforming zelda section.

Goggle Bob: Which is certainly does! So your intentions with making it funnier was, during production, predominantly for a small, tight audience?

Kayin: Yeah. Maybe about half way through I started to have a looming sense it was going to blow up, but early on? Nah, just for a small audience.

Goggle Bob: So basically anyone of a certain age recognizes a number of the videogame sprites and such, but, if you were aiming for a small enclave initially, are there a significant number of inside jokes in IWBTG? Items that would be only understood by your “initial” audience?

Kayin: No, I still wanted to keep things pretty general? I originally intended on it but never got to any. While I knew who my audience was, I wasn’t making the game FOR THEM I made -A- game, knowing they would be there to play it

Goggle Bob: An excellent way of thinking… though I was hoping that would explain the prominence of Mecha Birdo…
Bad Birdo
Kayin: Why -not- mecha birdo?

Goggle Bob: Fair enough! Speaking of Birdo and friends, we’re talking about… 13 years ago. Technically not that long, but forever in technology time. With that in mind, how difficult was it during creation to get all the sprites you needed?

Kayin: It is forever ago! And not that hard. I think the site of choice at the time was Shyguy Kingdom which worked for finding most sprites I needed?

Goggle Bob: Was there anything you wanted to include but you couldn’t find a decent source?

Kayin: Not quite? I wish I could have found an actual transparent png of a good shmup warning image for Mecha Birdo but making one was just fine. I feel like 2007, sprites for most all popular games were ripped and widely available.

Goggle Bob: Which I’m sure made your life easier. How much of the art in IWBTG is original?

Kayin: Almost everything that isn’t obviously a reference? Tourian and Dracula’s Castle are the only two areas I believe that have tilesets taken from other games. Oh, and the Zelda screen, obviously!

Goggle Bob: So everyone remembers a giant, green Zangief, but a significant chunk of the game you had to manually create?

Kayin: Granted, I use the same tiles for most of the game. It’s not a lot of sprite work, but in terms of what the player sees, they see more of my stuff than references. My stuff, at least back then, just wasn’t impressive at all.

Goggle Bob: It got the job done. “Delicious Fruit” was original, right? That seems to have migrated across the internet

Kayin: Yes!

Goggle Bob: Is there anything in the game that is original that you find people THINK is a reference?

Kayin: Well everyone thinks I Wanna be the Guy is a Homestar Runner reference which is understandable but it was just a thing a friend said when we were babbling back and forth to each other.

Goggle Bob: Come to think of it, reference or not, how early in production did you “know” this was going to be “I Wanna Be the Guy (The Movie The Game)”?

Kayin: I went in with that name I think?

Goggle Bob: Then that would be pretty early! Alright, back to actual release: when was IWBTG officially first released, and where was it available?

Kayin: It was progressively released for months. I didn’t hide it. I had a website and people could play the newest versions. It was ‘finished’ as in completable in October of 2007.

Goggle Bob: You didn’t hide it, but did you in any way “promote” it?

Kayin: Not really. 100% word of mouth.

Goggle Bob: And since its release, have you ever really investigated where people “find” IWBTG? Have there been any particular “surges” in interest over the years?

Kayin: All of them now have to do with Let’s Plays and Twitch streams. Nothing else comes close. Even back in the day, YouTube is what made the game REALLY blow up.

Goggle Bob: Which seems to be a pattern for the masocore games… Come to think of it, do you feel more people have WATCHED your game, rather than PLAYED it?

Kayin: OH absolutely. A few pewdiepie videos equals more than IWBTG has ever been downloaded.

Goggle Bob: And how do you feel about that? You did create an intricate videogame, not a YouTube video

Kayin: More than enough people played it and I knew enough from watching people test it that watching was fun in its own way. I think it’s an excellent part of the experience.
Here comes a moon!
Goggle Bob: Yes, I can safely say that I have had more fun watching IWBTG than playing it: from a watcher’s perspective, it’s like reading a mystery novel, and having the detective reveal the murderer… just in this case, the “murderer” is a wall of spikes you were supposed to get in back of.

Kayin: I’d say watching it as a viewer is all about dramatic irony. You know tragedy is coming and it can’t be stopped!

Goggle Bob: I don’t know if you’ve heard this one before, but I actually “found” IWBTG back in the day thanks to a number of articles on TV Tropes referencing the game and its many “subversions”.

Kayin: I can believe that! The TV Tropes article on IWBTG is pretty extensive if I recall.

Goggle Bob: Which I guess brings us to another topic: you said you designed this game with one community in mind, but IWBTG seems to have created its own community and dedicated fans. Or at least there’s more of a wiki for it than Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Mall Madness. Even when you were beginning to suspect IWBTG would be a hit, did you ever expect its current level of fame?

Kayin: Surprisingly yeah? Like it exceeded my moderate expectations but I knew this was possible. I wasn’t counting on it or getting ahead of myself or necessarily thought it was so great. I just had this feeling like… “I… think I’m in the right place at the right time?” That said with fans, I did NOT expect the sheer amount of fangames. That said though, most fangames are fangames of fangames and not IWBTG fangames if that makes sense.

Goggle Bob: It makes perfect sense. Do you consider IWBTG a “fangame” for the games it references?

Kayin: I wouldn’t say that myself but if someone else did I wouldn’t say they’re wrong either.

Goggle Bob: Fair enough, IWBTG is certainly its own animal. But, of course, you can’t say something is totally original when “death by surprise Ryu” is a persistent threat. 13 years later, do you regret that IWBTG is so closely tied to IPs that were borrowed?

Kayin: Not at all. I think borrowing from culture is good!

Goggle Bob: So if some wizard cursed you to live your life over again… or at least from 2007 on… would you make IWBTG essentially the same?

Kayin: Outside of improving a few little things, yeah. No real regrets.

Goggle Bob: Any regrets regarding the seemingly aborted IWBTG sequel projects?
Back to Mega Man
Kayin: I Wanna Save the Kids didn’t have the legs I thought it might. It stopped because the idea wasn’t that great. Gaiden? 50/50. I regret it to some degree but at the same time I moved on for a reason Maybe one day I’ll make more Gaiden, but I mostly feel happier working on other games.

Goggle Bob: Which fits neatly with my next question: do you ever get the itch to pursue another project like IWBTG? Something simpler and more in the realm of borrowing, and not banging your head against figuring out how to program stairs to work perfectly?

Kayin: Not so much? I have an idea but I don’t have that ENTIRE DESIRE to make those ideas real. It also helps that it’s less economically feasible. Ads are basically dead and mixing legit and legally grey work together seems risky. It’s fine when you’re a nobody buuuuut… yeah. Also I feel like a lot of people do the masocore stuff better than me now. I’m not needed anymore.

Goggle Bob: And, prior to 2007, did you ever think that you would be in such a position as a result of IWBTG? Did you ever think that this game with Zangief shooting Blankas would put you in the place where you could say you made an impact on gaming, it’s time for a new generation now?

Kayin: Yeah that’s weird. Like I said I had a strong instinct that game was going to make it, but I didn’t expect it to be formative? When I made it I already felt late to the party but now that whole little stretch of history is a blip.

Goggle Bob: Which is why I wanted to interview you about this: there are so few voices from that period recorded, and so much from then has been litigated into oblivion. IWBTG is a success story in more ways than one

Kayin: Yeah, it’s funny, back then it felt like SO MUCH STUFF WAS HAPPENING AND EVERYTHING WAS HAPPENING SO FAST and it was so fast that a lot of it just got lost

Goggle Bob: And even if these games are lost to the ages, their impact is still being felt today. “Parody games” closer to the tone of IWBTG of varying quality are available seemingly monthly on digital storefronts, and whatever happens to be the latest “masocore indie” is practically a mainstay for Nintendo Directs.

Kayin: And a lot of the ‘cheap’ ones still are really clever!

Goggle Bob: I think that about wraps it up. Anything you’d like to say to anyone considering building their own “IWBTG” today?
They're sharp
Kayin: For anyone making a funny masocore game now: Consider you have to compete with the collective cleverness of everyone who owns Mario Maker.

Goggle Bob: Ha, that’s a high cliff to climb.

Kayin: Right? It’s not blue oceans any more for masocore.

Goggle Bob: Well, thank you again for this, I feel like it’s important to get SOME voices from the forgotten corners of gaming… even if some of the games involved are anything but forgotten.

Kayin: No problem! Hope it was what you were looking for! I know I wasn’t as nitty gritty in that scene as some people.

Goggle Bob: Not exactly hard hitting reporting, but its the kind of stuff that gives a little snapshot of what it was back then, even if it was just “this forum” and “that website”. Thank you again for providing a record of the creation of I Wanna Be the Guy.

Michael “Kayin” O’Reilly can be found at his website at Kayin.moe, or on Twitter at @KayinNasaki. Please look forward to his upcoming game, Brave Earth: Prologue (I know I am).

FGC #527 I Wanna Be the Guy

  • System: PC. Oh, I should have asked Kayin about a Switch port.
  • Number of players: Just one kid, trying to be the guy.
  • Let's be a guy!Special Thanks: Once again, a special thank you to Kayin for agreeing to this interview and being an excellent interviewee. Also thanks to BEAT, a skeleton who let me borrow some screengrabs from his ancient runthrough of IWBTG. That is one helpful skeleman right there.
  • Favorite Death: I will never forget getting trashed by Dracula’s wineglass. That is some primo humor through gameplay right there.
  • So, did you beat it? No, sorry. I played through most of the game back in the day, but I washed out at The Guy’s Castle. I just lost steam, and got distracted by something else. What was it? I don’t even remember anymore. Although, given I was mostly playing it at my old job… it may have been actual work.
  • Did you know? Dragon Devil is the only version of the Yellow Devil I can tolerate. How did Kayin do that?
  • Would I play again: I’d rather retire to watching I Wanna Be the Guy than playing it right now. I enjoy “difficult games”, but I just don’t have the time right now to rediscover the nuance involved in properly leaping across clouds and not being crushed by spike walls. Looking forward to Brave Earth Prologue, though…

FGC #527 Mega Man & Bass (the original inspiration for this article)

  • Chill OutSystem: The Super Famicom for one specific country, and then Gameboy Advance for international releases. From there, it was never seen again, even as part of the Mega Man Legacy Collection.
  • Number of Players: You may play as Mega Man or Bass, but not both.
  • Port-o-Call: It might not have an official translation, but play this game on the SNES hardware if at all possible. The GBA version crops the screen dramatically, and, considering we’re already dealing with big, chunky PSX sprites, you need to see everything that is happening. Or just memorize every room with ceiling spikes. Whatever works.
  • So, you thought this was a romhack? I said I was young and stupid! Look, it has all the hallmarks: sprites repurposed from another system, a difficulty curve far beyond the usual level for the franchise, and some great ideas with often bad implementation (for instance, Dynamo Man’s energy restore is a nugget of a good idea that winds up being nothing but frustrating). When I started this interview, Kayin sagely pointed out that MM&B would have been practically impossible back when I played the game, and I very much agree with him now, in the year 2020. But back then I just assumed Japanese fans were a million times better at creating games than Americans. It makes sense when you consider the gaming landscape of the time! I swear!
  • Mega Man or Bass? Bass forever. A double jump is the most essential move in gaming history, and the slide is right down there at the bottom with, like, inventory juggling or something. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to believe Mega Man could ever beat Bass.
  • Favorite Robot Master: Pirate Man is my everything. He’s a robot pirate! Does he steal software or treasure? I mean, his lair is filled with gold, but it’s entirely possible that gold is all really expensive optical storage.
  • Did you know? According to series director Keiji Inafune, the creation of Mega Man & Bass was like “one big party”. I assume this means the staff was high as hell the entire time, and that is the only explanation I will accept for King acquiring a Voltron-tank for his finale.
  • Stay hotWould I play again: I always forget about this game when I play other Mega Man titles (mainly because it doesn’t appear on so many collections), so MM&B doesn’t get played all that often. That said, it is a fun game, and I often get an itch for it… once every five years or so.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Adventure for the Atari! Let’s go battle some ducks! Please look forward to it!

I know that guy

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

Get on the mana train!Once again, this old man is wondering about the world that may have been.

Today’s game is Trials of Mana, the sequel to the venerable Secret of Mana (and descendant of Final Fantasy Adventure). Unlike practically every other title in the Mana franchise (did you know there was a TRPG? Oh, and that weird “action” one for the PS2?), Trials of Mana follows Secret of Mana in an iterative manner. Secret of Mana was a gigantic mess of ideas slapped together for a hypothetical/doomed system that was never meant to materialize, and, yeah, it kind of played like something that was never really prepared for the light of day. Don’t get me wrong, I will defend the fun of Secret of Mana until my dying day (I’m considering an epitaph that reads “Here rests Goggle Bob, and Secret of Mana was good, actually”. It’s the only way future generations will know!), but even I know in my heart of hearts that the game is a hot mess. The battle system is half-baked, the world itself has a number of “cutting room floor”-based dead ends, and the plot is a hodgepodge of different concepts that eventually culminates with a skeleton wizard out of nowhere. Trials of Mana seems like an honest attempt to take the best ideas from Secret of Mana, improve on them, and produce a game that could be its “intended form” from the start of its production. Does it work? Well… mostly.

LOOK OUTFirst of all, let’s address the biggest issue with Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana: magic sucks. There is no “quick casting” in either title, and, whether you want to cast a simple healing spell or summon a meteor from hell to rain unholy destruction upon the battlefield, you’re stuck cycling through random menus, waiting for casting, and then pausing any and all action while the spell animation completes. Trials of Mana works slightly differently from Secret; Secret would freeze only the target of most spells, while Trials freezes all of the action on the screen for every single casting. And, against all odds, somehow both systems are the absolute worst. When your opponent is frozen in Secret, you can just pile on the commands (and faerie walnuts) to stunlock your opponent into oblivion. It’s not very… strategic. This is avoided in Trials of Mana, but the constant, never-ending pauses thanks to friends and foes casting spells completely obliterates any sort of combat flow. And Trials somehow makes the worst even worse, as many bosses are programmed to counter magic spells, but, thanks to the inherent lag in the magic-freezing, it’s very difficult to perceive the if/then of countering that is inevitably going to get your party killed. So, if you somehow wound up with a mage on your team, maybe it’s best to let them sit there and do nothing, because it’s always fun to have a character on the roster that is (going to make you) dead weight.

Though maybe it would be a good idea to take a look at the whys of whether or not a mage is currently weighing down your team. Not unlike many games of yesterday and today, Trials of Mana starts with a clutch of unfamiliar characters, and you are asked to choose half of them to be your traveling party. The first character you select becomes the focal protagonist of the adventure, and the second two both play out their signature stories in brief, “aside” arcs. To be clear, this does not employ the modern/Dragon Quest method of having a main character that is 100% meant to be a player avatar that eventually earns some narratively well-defined, though multi-choice, companions; no, in this case, six different playthroughs of Trials of Mana could potentially feature six wildly dissimilar protagonists. And the difference isn’t merely cosmetic: each of the heroes has their own hopes and dreams, but more importantly, they have their own final dungeons and final bosses. CENSOR THISThere are three “pairs” of overlapping finales within the full cast of six, so it would technically require three different complete cycles through Trials of Mana to see every last dungeon and enemy the title has to offer. And, yes, if you’re curious about every story in the Trials of Mana universe, you’re going to need six different runs of a 15-20 hour game (good news: you’ll probably cut that down to ten hours by your fourth quest).

This, naturally, brings us to the topic of alternate realities.

There are six protagonists in Trials of Mana, but only one hero can ever wield the singular, titular (in Japan) Mana Sword. And, as mentioned, each pair of heroes has a unique antagonist. Riesz and Hawkeye, for instance, battle a vampire, a cat lady, and some manner of plant prince; meanwhile, Kevin and Charlotte are pitted against a murder clown and another damn skeleton wizard. Naturally, it is the choice of protagonist that determines the final boss, and the other antagonists are forced to screw off and die at the midpoint of the adventure to make room for the real big bad should they not be the focus of the story. It just wouldn’t do for Riesz to not battle the woman that murdered her parents, so, sorry Gourmand, you’re going to have to leave now. Where do murder clowns go where they die? Batman should look into it.

However, this creates some interesting plot gulfs for our potential heroes. Take Duran, the stalwart knight of Trials of Mana. If Duran is the hero of the piece, he fights against the nefarious Dragon Lord and his disciple, the Darkshine Knight. Eventually, Duran learns that the mysterious Darkshine Knight is in fact his father, a knight named Loki who once fought against the Dragon Lord, and was presumed dead by his best friend, the good King Richard. To say the least, the relationship between the orphaned Duran and his now malevolent father is a bit strained, but it all works out for the best when Duran and Darkshine Loki reconcile and the Dragon Lord is tossed down a conveniently located open shaft to nowhere. Or something. Look, what’s important is that Duran gets an amazing amount of closure on the whole psychologically traumatized orphan thing, and Darkshine Knight gets to die knowing that his son has grown into a noble, strong, Level 40 young man. … Or he doesn’t, because Duran wasn’t the main character, and all he does is stand motionless in the throne room as a completely forgettable NPC. Getting better!In this situation, the Dragon Lord is slain by whoever winds up being the real big bad, and Darkshine sticks around long enough to deliver a dragon obituary before peacing out to nonexistence. Duran never learns of his lineage, and Loki never sees his son again. Oh well! He’s not the main character! Don’t worry about it, audience! Somebody else got a happy ending! Just be happy with that!

But that’s the kind of thing that inevitably bothers me. Sure, it’s only one iteration of the story, but, in one universe, Duran is left not knowing for the rest of his life. He could have been a hero with a healthy memory of his undead father, but, no, now he’s likely going to be in therapy for the rest of his days. Poor dude didn’t get a faery companion, a father, or magical friends that may or may not be able to transform into werewolves. In one universe Duran is the Hero of Mana, in another, he can barely leave a room.

And in one universe, a young Goggle Bob played Trials of Mana. In another, he didn’t get to play the game “for real” until he was in his 30s.

Trials of Mana was never released in America (in this timeline). It did eventually receive a fan translation, though. I played that game on a creaky old laptop without a properly working soundcard (ah, college life), and, while I certainly enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t exactly all that notable. It was a Super Nintendo game being played concurrently with the heyday of the Playstation 2, and Trials of Mana didn’t come off as revolutionary when Grand Theft Auto 3 was also on the menu. And, yes, the format didn’t exactly help, as my beloved laptop (so beloved because it actually allowed me to not be glued to the computer lab at 3 am) was barely capable of supporting the full Mana experience. I played Trials of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 3) because I felt like I had to complete such an important part of Squaresoft history, not because I was anxiously looking forward to the next level.

And then, sometime in my 20’s, I managed to score a repro SNES cartridge of Secret of Mana 2 in English. I played it for about five minutes before growing weary of holding a SNES controller again.

They're asleep!Finally, a few weeks ago, Square-Enix deigned to release Trials of Mana for the Nintendo Switch in glorious American-o-vision. And, for the first time since I ice skated uphill against my old laptop over a decade prior, I played through the entirety of Trials of Mana. And it was rough. The music and graphics are still gorgeous, but all the quality of life improvements that modern JRPG/action titles have presented since the turn of the millennium are sorely missed. The class system is opaque, equipment juggling is unpleasant, and, let’s be honest, who has the time nowadays to complete an entire game three different ways for miniscule plot changes? There are two whole dungeons I missed on my playthrough? Who cares! I would have to complete 80% of the game again just to see a new variation on a cave? I’ll youtube that different final boss, thank you. I am a very important man with very important places to be. That fro-go place can barely open without me visiting!

But in 1995? Back then, this all could have worked. The era of the SNES saw a Goggle Bob with a significantly greater tolerance for bullshit. Back then, a new game only came down the pike (of my parents’ wallets) every six months or so, so a title with three different completely separate paths would have been more than welcome. Spell animations wouldn’t have bothered my young mind, because, I like the turtledamn, did you see those graphics? And the class system that practically requires a FAQ to enhance your party? You better believe I wouldn’t give a damn about proper character optimization. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word “optimization”! Probably literally!

In short: if Trials of Mana had been released in its proper epoch, it might have been one of my most beloved games. It might have been another Final Fantasy 6, Secret of Mana, or even Chrono Trigger.

There’s an entire other timeline out there where Trials of Mana is important to me. Here, in this reality, it is a random novelty that happened to show up on Nintendo Switch.

Trials of Mana, I’ll always wonder if you were meant for better things…

FGC #439 Trials of Mana

  • System: Nintendo Switch. It originally appeared on the Super Famicom in some lucky regions, though.
  • Number of players: Is there really multiplayer available for this game? I know there are reports that the remake won’t have multiplayer “like the original”, but I thought this was another Secret of Evermore situation where the original only had multiplayer thanks to enterprising modders. I’m going to tentatively call this one single player. Maybe it’s just two, but not three? Dammit.
  • What’s in a name: “Trials of Mana” may as well be nails on a chalkboard to my ears. It’s Seiken Densetsu 3, you jerks! Or Secret of Mana 2! Trials of Mana? Really? Because “Trials” starts with “Tri” and that’s marginally related to the number 3? Is that the best you could do? Obviously, the title should be Secret of Ma3a. I mean, duh. Come on, Square Enix, get on the Mana Beast.
  • Speaking of names: Don’t tell anyone, but I can’t even get my own naming conventions together:
    ERROR TYPE MISMATCH

    It’s a secret to everybody.
  • Favorite Hero: Kevin is a bruiser that can transform into a werewolf to cause even more bruises. And he can learn healing magic, so when he’s not bruising, he’s keeping the party alive. And he can learn a spell that transforms physical damage into MP refills, so his bruising can become an unlimited healing battery. Kevin is my hero.
  • An End: During the finale, the previously mentioned Super Werewolf Kevin learns that his best friend is still alive (because Kevin is really bad at identifying a heartbeat) and was accidentally buried alive (by Kevin), his mother is dead, and his father is a complete dick. Couple this with previously transforming his rival into a baby that wanders off into the woods, Kevin has a really weird life.
  • TOTES MCGOATSFavorite Benevodon: We’re really calling them that? Okay, fine. My vote goes to Dolan, the gigantic goat monster that scales an enormous tower just to reach out and touch some Mana Heroes. Also: you can’t tell me that Dolan wasn’t originally intended to be the God Beast (there!) of Darkness, as how could a gigantic goat not fit the ol’ dark arts?
  • Did you know? Heroes of Mana, a strategy RPG for Nintendo DS released in 2007, is a direct prequel to Trials of Mana. It features most of the parents of characters from Trials of Mana, and includes a number of locations and antagonists (a few of them in surprisingly heroic roles) as well. It’s kind of a shame that no one cared about the Mana franchise in 2007, so this title is almost entirely forgotten.
  • Would I play again: Probably! Never mind the upcoming remake, I will probably give another Trials story route a shot at some point. It might be a while, but the gameplay of Trials of Mana works well on the portable Switch, so I’ll probably play it again as one of those “I can play and watch TV” situations. I’ll save state the story scenes for when I have a spare moment to pay attention…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight! Let’s boogie! And put the gun down! Absolutely boogie without firearms! Please look forward to it!

RUN AWAY

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

BLOOD!If gaming is a language, then franchises must be dialects. And among dialects, of course there must be regional variances. And Castlevania: Bloodlines is, unfortunately, the regional dialect of Atlantis.

Gogglebob.com: come for the videogames, stay for the extremely strained metaphors.

Castlevania: Bloodlines is a game very near and dear to my heart. Back in my younger days, I was very much a Nintendo kid, but a Sega Genesis was available to me by about the midpoint of the 16-bit console wars. And, while I owned a mere three Genesis games, my dad granted me one Sega Genesis rental every two weeks. So, about twice a month, my ADD-addled brain got to experience a brand new videogame for a few days, and that whole new experience that was sure to make me scream, “Sega!”

…. Or I just rented Castlevania: Bloodlines again.

I’ve always been a Castlevania fan, and, frankly, I’ve always been a sucker for a game that I have to “defeat”. It took me a long time to come to grips with the idea that I don’t have to “beat” or “100%” a videogame, and showing my love for a piece of art doesn’t mean I have to experience every last secret room or collectible. But back in my younger years? If there was a game that I thought was even marginally fun, and I didn’t beat it? Then what the hell was I even playing the game for!? Fish gotta swim, dogs gotta bark, Pokémon gotta track my sleep for some reason, and videogames gotta get beat, ya know? And, since Castlevania: Bloodlines was an enjoyable Castlevania game that I absolutely could not beat (on Normal difficulty), it meant that I had to retry that title over and over again until I finally conquered death itself (and Death). My young thumbs were still not developed enough to suffer through its insane final boss gauntlet, but I was going to try, dammit!

Swing is the thingAnd, if I’m looking at this title with some kind of wizened hindsight, I can probably admit that the other reason I kept coming back to Castlevania: Bloodlines was that it was simply a damn good game. It features the signature measured level design of previous Castlevania titles, and, while your protagonist often feels like he is being propelled by the same force that could eventually push a snail to cross a parkway, the majority of the title feels fair and appropriately scaled to Belmont (Morris) speeds. The dual heroes of the tale are different enough to feature their own unique (and fun) moves (spear vaulting is great for vertical areas, and whip swinging is… amusing to look at), but also similar enough that we don’t wind up with an X/Zero situation where one character is that much more of an advantage. And, as always in the Castlevania series (give or take a Gameboy adventure), the music is top notch, and the creepy crawlies that haunt the European countryside are numerous and inventive. And murderous. They’re always murderous.

So it’s kind of a shame that the majority of the Castlevania loving public forgot Castlevania: Bloodlines ever existed.

Possibly more than any other franchise, Castlevania has always been a very… what’s the complete opposite of progressive?… nostalgic franchise. When Bowser got seven Koopa Kids and a brand new butt stomp for Super Mario Bros. 3, Dracula was still using his same ol’ teleport/fireball pattern for Castlevania 3. When Mega Man X completely redefined everything that Mega Man ever was, Super Castlevania IV still had Simon trudging through Drac’s dilapidated hallway o’ zombies. This isn’t to say that Castlevania has never had an original bone in its obviously an angry skeleton-based body, but Castlevania has always reveled in its past since before it escaped the gravity of the NES.

DEATH!And (I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear me say this) there is nothing wrong with a little videogame nostalgia. Particularly in the 16 and 32-bit days, it seemed like games were rapidly attempting to burn their pasts on the altar of “cool” and “new”. But it was still cool to see old mainstays like Frankenstein(‘s Monster) or Medusa show up when many contemporary titles were trying to reinvent the wheel by detonating every nearby car (literally, in the case of Grand Theft Auto III).

And, while Castlevania: Bloodlines certainly pays tribute to the Castlevanias we all loved before (“Hi, Frankenstein! Hi, Medusa!”), for a long time, it seemed like appropriate acknowledgment was not paid to Bloodlines in kind. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is the uncontested turning point of the franchise, and, as a direct sequel, it owed much of its plot and iconography to Rondo of Blood and its PC Engine/SNES origins. It also was clearly influenced by much of the imagery of Super Castlevania (that’s where Death met his buddies!), and the Reverse Castle featured the pieces of Dracula of Castlevania 2 mixed with the iconic bosses of Castlevania 1. And, while it almost seems like a footnote at this point, let’s not forget that Alucard premiered in Castlevania 3, and wound up fighting his zombified allies. Truly, Castlevania Symphony of the Night was the culmination of all console Castlevanias that came before, and paid homage to all of those titles in fun and inventive ways.

Except Bloodlines. Nobody cared about Castlevania: Bloodlines.

This is not a glitchAnd, unfortunately, this created a sort of ripple effect in the fandom. While Symphony of the Night encouraged visiting old titles to see first appearances of Slogra & Gaibon, Phantom Bat, or Grant DangheNasty, there was no such drive for Bloodlines. And when future titles decided to bring back more past friends and foes, we saw Skull Knight of Castlevania 3, not Mecha Knight of Bloodlines. And when we finally saw some significant references to Bloodlines in Portrait of Ruin, it was to let us know that both of Bloodlines’ protagonists died inglorious deaths, and Eric’s lance would only return as an accessory for a ghost. A whole Castlevania game was lost, and when the entire experience was lost and forgotten from the virtual consoles and collections that accompanied the new digital era, nobody batted an eye. You could download Super Castlevania, Castlevania: Dracula X, and even Castlevania Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines was wholly absent. And there were no conversations about the title, because, frankly, who cared? We got all the good Castlevanias, right? If Bloodlines was any good, it would be referenced heavily like those other titles. Symphony of the Night was the pinnacle. IGA wouldn’t steer us wrong.

But a miracle happened just recently. Castlevania: Bloodlines was released as part of the excellent Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Now, Bloodlines is able to stand tall next to its early Castlevania console brethren. Now, people are talking about Bloodlines, and many of them are talking about it for the first time. And they like it! They really, really like it! Because it’s a good game, and always has been! After a 25 year banishment from the gaming consciousness, Bloodlines has returned, and people are again speaking the language of magical lances and Gear Steamers. Bloodlines can once again take its proper place in the Castlevania pantheon, and rest easy knowing that now more people have seen its horrible Dracula and his disturbing crotch face.

DONT LOOK AT MEUltimately, I find this success story to be the best way to conclude this Game Preservation Week (“Week”). None of these games that have been discussed have to be gone forever. Like Castlevania: Bloodlines, we’re always just one collection or digital release (or mini console, apparently) from a title returning to the gaming consciousness. And let’s see some solid videogame archiving in the future, so another game isn’t lost to decades again. The future of gaming may be streaming, but let’s remember our past, our dead languages, and see how they can make our future better.

And then let’s whip some skeletons but good.

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

  • System: Sega Genesis. And now available for Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Sweet!
  • Number of Players: Two choices, but only one player. We’d have to wait for another forgotten Castlevania title to see some multiplayer Castlevania.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I rented Bloodlines from the local rental place so much, I eventually bought the cartridge when they were liquidating some of their “old” stock. That makes Bloodlines my fourth or fifth owned Sega Genesis game (the real money went to my beloved SNES).
  • Out of the Castle: Bloodlines follows John ‘n Eric as they battle around some of the more interesting mystical spots in Europe, like Atlantis or Pisa (?). This leads to some more interesting venues for our hunters to traverse, and maybe an excuse to battle a minotaur or two. And you get to fight World War I German war skeletons. That is so close to whipping undead Nazis!
  • RatzisFavorite Character: I lied earlier. Eric LeCarde makes this trip through Europe so much more manageable. His additional reach is a godsend, and the ability to vault straight into the skies… isn’t all the useful, actually, but it’s fun in exactly one room at Varsailles. Oh! And he has beautiful girl hair! I don’t see how that helps vampire slaying, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
  • A Little History: The big deal of Bloodlines is that it tries to tie the Castlevania mythos to Bram Stoker’s Dracula by claiming the vampire slayer Qunicey Morris (and thus his son and grandson) was actually a Belmont descendant. Who cares? What’s important is that Bloodlines seems to imply that Elizabeth Bartley started World War I as a cover for resurrecting Dracula. Now that’s something they don’t cover in history books!
  • Did you know? The Princess of Moss, the boss of The Versailles Palace stage, is a monster moth initially disguised as a woman. And that woman is apparently supposed to be Marie Antoinette, famous queen and cake-eater. Now, this is not to say that it is official Castlevania canon that Marie Antoinette was some manner of undead, immortal insect creature… but the opportunity is open for future Castlevania titles.
  • Would I play again: Now that I have it permanently loaded onto my portable Nintendo Switch? You’re damn skippy I’m going to play it again!

What’s next? Random ROB is back in action and has chosen… The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link! Are you sure that isn’t an Error, ROB? Oh well. Please look forward to it!

I hate this jerk.  He just... rains.

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

AND YOU HAVE MY AXEAnd now we’re going to talk about the slimy underbelly of the concept of games preservation: The Legends.

…. And why they suck.

Golden Axe is an interesting series. It started in 1989 as a medieval arcade beat ‘em up. Golden Axe was a pretty fun experience, but it also had the misfortune of being released the same year as the vastly more popular Final Fight. Golden Axe wasn’t exactly a bad game by comparison, but chicken riding and the occasional magic spell somehow didn’t catch the public’s interest in the face of a malevolent version of Animal from The Muppets. When Golden Axe hit the Genesis, it was just a year until we saw Streets of Rage, a vastly and obviously more popular title of the same genre. And then its sequel, Golden Axe 2, had the significant handicap of being released on the same system during the same year as Streets of Rage 2. Decades later, people are still talking about the tight design of Streets of Rage 2. No one is talking about Golden Axe 2.

But Golden Axe 2 wasn’t terrible. In fact, Golden Axe 2 holds a special place in my heart, as, back in the day, my beat ‘em up-addicted neighbor and myself (am I trying to imply that I don’t have a beat ‘em up addiction after writing about four of ‘em over the course of the last month or so?) played Golden Axe 2 solid for nearly an entire year (which is like twelve billion centuries in kid time). GA2 was a two player beat ‘em up that featured a dwarf and murder skeletons, so it obviously had something going on. And, while we barely ever made it to the finale (damn limited credits), we played that title over and over again, because it was just the right kind of mindless fun that is perfect when you’re a kid. You can ride a beast! You can run really fast and headbutt a soldier with a pointy hat! Murder skeletons! That’s some good stuff!

But my holy grail? That was a creature I only ever saw once, hiding in some smoky arcade while crossing the country on vacation. Once, lurking there in the darkness, I saw Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder.

SKELETONS!Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released right around the same time as Golden Axe 2. Presumably, it was a divergent title that utilized the full capability of an arcade machine while leaving Golden Axe 2 to wallow in the muck of the Sega Genesis. GA:TRoDA featured branching paths for levels, vertically scrolling areas, and big, impressive sprites. It was a game that had infinitely branching possibilities, and four distinct playable characters that could halt the revenge of Death Adder simultaneously. It was the platonic ideal of Golden Axe. I might have only gotten to play the game for a credit before being pulled back to I-95, but I knew that Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was the future of the amazing Golden Axe franchise.

But GA:TRoDA never made its way to home consoles. It was never released for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, or even the Dreamcast. It was not emulated to any Sega collections. It was not released on any Virtual Consoles. It was simply lost to history, a shining relic of the Golden Axe franchise that would one day ask us all to become beast riders. GA:TRoDA fell between the cracks of time, and, in my mind, became a legend of a game that we would always pine for with an unrequited longing.

So I decided to give Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder a spin for this theme week of forgotten games. And you know what? It kind of sucks!

ROCK OUTThere was exactly one thing I remembered perfectly about Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder: there’s a centaur. She’s a horse-lady, she’s got an American Gladiator bopper, and she can switch to regular human legs when she needs to ride a fire-breathing mantis (… what?). However, my memory failed to remember that Dora the Centaur is also joined by Stern the Barbarian (who apparently did not star in any other Golden Axe games despite looking exactly like the other barbarians), Trix the Elf (who is clearly some weird amalgamation of breakfast cereal mascots), and Goah the Giant, who is at best Goah the Maybe Would be Good at Basketball, but is rode around by Gilius Thunderhead, dwarven hero of the previous Golden Axe titles. And that’s a pretty eclectic group! Too bad they all… just play like Golden Axe characters. There are apparently some two-player shenanigans that are available with pairing up, but that’s not going to do any good in single player or in an arcade where it is impossible to shout over the rolling noise of much more popular machines. And, whether your fighters have any interesting moves or not is rather secondary to the glut of absolutely boring opponents that are available. I played this game a whole hour before writing this article, and… I’m having trouble remember exactly what I fought. There were some malevolent trees, and an army of the mask guy from World Heroes… and… uh… I think there was an ogre or two in there? Certainly a number of useless soldiers, but they are available in practically any medieval brawler. Murder skeletons are a given, but they’re on the home consoles, too. And the final boss, the titular Death Adder wielding the Golden Axe atop a castle that appears to be a giant statue of himself, is pretty memorable. Everything else? Not so much.

You'll never get me lucky charmsYet, I spent decades thinking this title, never released on home consoles, was some kind of solid gold Golden Axe gold standard (of gold). It was the beat ‘em up to end all beat ‘em ups, and we were cruelly denied such a glittering jewel, forever stuck with the likes of Golden Axe III (originally only released in the West on the Sega Channel because it sucked so bad) or The Last Action Hero. These were games that were sorely lacking in centaurs! And, while I wondered about the joys an arcade cabinet of The Revenge of Death Adder could bring me, the beat ‘em up genre withered and died on the vine. I would never see such delight ever again.

And then, years later I played the damn game, and it was boring and rote.

And then I played Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara, and, apparently, that was the game I was thinking of all along.

I thought there were shops in Golden Axe! Sorry!

Anyway, someone please make every videogame ever readily accessible, or this is going to keep happening. Please and thank you.

I really don’t want to take a chance on playing arcade Willow now…

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

  • System: Arcade only, dammit.
  • Number of players: Four! I want to say that other Golden Axes had a maximum of three… but probably just two. Four is important! That’s how many turtles there are!
  • Get 'em!It’s a kind of magic: This is the only Golden Axe title where a magic spell can summon a helpful item, and not just universally attack the screen. Trix the Elf can summon a tree that grants life giving, magically delicious fruit for the party. This adds an interesting “magic equals life” wrinkle to the gameplay… but most of the time you just reflexively hit the magic button when you’re surrounded, and wind up with a lousy bush instead of a mighty dragon. Good effort, Trix.
  • Favorite Character: Did I mention there was a centaur? Dora has all the power of a woman and a horse. And she seems to have really useful magic, too. There is literally no competition among the men here.
  • An End: Gilius Thunderhead leaps from his giant mount and dies delivering the final blow to Death Adder. This is apparently canon for future sequels, and the fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel, makes reference to this fact. So, see, all those Saturn owners needed a home port to understand the complicated plot of Golden Axe!
  • Did you know? The hero of Golden Axe: Beast Rider is Tyris Flare, the same Valkyrie that appeared in Golden Axe I and Golden Axe II. Even though she doesn’t appear in this game, I’m noting this now because I am absolutely never reviewing Golden Axe: Beast Riders.
  • Would I play again: There are different routes and characters, so every playthrough is different. But not different enough! I can only fight so many murder skeletons, so I’ll pass on another play of this forgotten title.

What’s next? One last non-random choice: Let’s talk about a “forgotten” game that recently came back to us in a marvelous little collection. Please look forward to it!

BANG