Tag Archives: puzzle

FGC #611 The Misadventures of Tron Bonne

nice airplaneThis was Mega Man’s last chance to be a contender, but now Mega Man will always only be Mega Man.

For those of you that do not follow the career of our favorite super fighting robot, Mega Man has gone through several permutations throughout the years. He started as the simple Mega Man, but already graduated to being the “spirit” of (separate) Mega Man X six years later. From there, Mega Man has gone through many different versions and spin off franchises. Some of these franchises were further explorations of “original” Mega Man gameplay (Mega Man Zero somersaults to mind as an example), while other offshoots used familiar iconography in conjunction with wholly unique situations (Mega Man Battle Network… oddly enough, often releasing simultaneously with Mega Man Zero). But whatever the situation, you could count on Mega Man running, jumping, and shooting his way to victory.

… Except when he was hosting a board game. Or racing a go kart. Or that one time he wound up in a bad SEGA CD-esque anime “super” adventure…

There was a hot minute in Capcom’s history when the likes of Super Joe or Captain Commando were intended to be the Mario of the brand. But, somewhere in there, Mega Man became the de facto face of a business that was almost immediately synonymous with gaming. Mega Man! The little robot that blinks! And it was not just a matter of Capcom promoting its blue bomber; Mega Man appeared as a regular on Captain N: The Game Master, too! Complete with a Nintendo Power covers, Mega Man was extraordinarily popular in his salad days.

Oh blast itAnd, as one would expect, this meant Mega Man became involved in several experimental titles. Mega Man could always be relied on to show up every Christmas with a handful of Robot Masters to rob and/or obliterate, but did you know that Japan saw Rock Board, featuring Mega Man’s two feuding daddies playing boardgames? Or that time Mega Man had to rely on soccer to defeat Dr. Wily? And once we got past the Super Nintendo, the Playstation proved to be the console generation that saw Mega Man experimenting the most. Mega Man: Battle & Chase was Mega’s chance at a kart racer, and Super Adventure Rockman saw Rock starring in his own FMV/anime challenge. We also saw two Mega Man quasi-fighting games in the arcades during this era (finally! You can play as Duo!), and, as the Playstation gave way to the Playstation 2, the obscure Rock Strategy appeared on Asian PCs. Mega Man got around at the turn of the millennium, all while his “traditional” action gameplay had three different flavors immediately available. How should Capcom fill your cup? Mega Man Classic, dark and frothy Mega Man X, or the newest hotness, the legendary Mega Man Dash?

Back in its prime, we had no idea Mega Man Dash/Legends would only ever see three entries. Two of these titles were the straightforward Mega Man Legends and Mega Man Legends 2, which both featured running, jumping, and exploring a world that would be very comfortable including a Duff McWhalen or Doc Robot. But the second title released in this quasi-trilogy, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, included running, jumping, and… a robot management simulator? And a puzzle game? And some light gambling? Wait, did I just see a rogue-like sneak into the background? What is going on here!?

STAY OUTIn more ways than one, it is clear that The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was intended to be the experimental offshoot of the already fairly experimental Mega Man Legends. While Mega Man Legends went out of its way to confirm that this was the next generation for our blue hero, his “sister” Roll, and quasi-father Beard Guy, TMoTB barely made the most token of efforts to confirm it existed within the Mega Man universe. 8-Bit Mega Man appears in a random easter egg cameo, and… that’s it. No Dr. Wily boat rental here, and the concept of “Mega Man Legends” is barely even acknowledged on anything but the box copy. Beyond that, this is a story starring Tron Bonne and her family (characters introduced exclusively for Mega Man Legends) before they encountered our third favorite Mega Man. All characters outside the family, whether they be allies, villains, or frenemy police officers, are wholly new and were created exclusively for this adventure. And, give or take visual connection between Glyde and Glide.exe, none of these characters ever received so much as an echo in other Mega Man materials. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is an island onto itself that was never truly revisited again in a franchise that has lasted to this day.

And that’s a damn shame, as once The Misadventures of Tron Bonne gets going, it fires on absolutely every cylinder available. Entire sections are given over to block puzzles, and said puzzles are careful, fun, and thoughtful. Meanwhile, “let’s rob a bank” or “let’s steal all the cows” are exaggerated bits of buffoonery where the action immediately feeds into the exact level of chaos you need when you can chuck whole trees at houses. The weakest segments are the “RPG dungeon” levels, which drag as you wait for your lil’ servbots to stop being squished, flaming casualties long enough to hit a switch or open a treasure chest. But even there, the NPCs of these caves are entertaining and memorable, and, give or take a quiz champ that should be left to die in a forgotten grotto, every “person” in these events could stand to survive to see the Battle Network franchise. Maybe they could control TediousMan.exe? Of course, even those RPG bits remind you that the “action segments” are king here, as every RPG boss is a matter of properly strafing around an arena and targeting servbots at the right weak point. Additionally, the opening and final segments of the whole game are both 100% examples of “action bits”, so, sorry if you really excelled at block shuffling, you need more active abilities to see Ms. Tron save the day.

GET ME OUT OF HEREOr… maybe that isn’t completely accurate. The final battle is a fight like practically any other standard Mega Man title with patterns to recognize and weapons to utilize; but there is one significant difference: levels. Your final matchup is fought not by Tron, but her favorite servbot. And said servbot can be a complete weakling or a daring master of bazookas. What makes the difference? You are responsible for “raising” the servbots between other events, and their levels are wholly dependent on the amount of love, care, and torture you shower on your minifigs. This means that, if you ever want to succeed in this world of airpirates battling other airpirates, you must engage in some light Tamagotchi gameplay to keep your army growing apace with your pocketbook. It’s an action game! It’s a simulation! And if you overlook either side of the equation, you’ll be no more successful than a JRPG player that ignores every town’s equipment shop. You have to remember to upgrade your g(G)ear(s)! (Not that that problem ever occurred on the stream…)

In short, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was wildly experimental, and required the player to manage all sorts of skills to maintain a proper Tron Bonne capable of triumphing over her (relatively more) evil foes.

And then we never saw another Mega Man game try that again.

Asked and answeredThe Mega Man Zero franchise was the obvious continuation of Mega Man 2-D gameplay, but from Mega Zero 1 to Mega Man ZX Advent, we never saw so much as a cyber elf farming simulator. Similarly, Mega Man X made one attempt at its own JRPG with action elements and some very confusing warring factions… but probably the number one thing anyone remembers from that adventure is that it could unlock Cut Man in Mega Man X8. It seems the only future Mega Man franchise that tried to branch out from its “we’re doing the same thing every year like clockwork” gameplay was the Mega Man Battle Network series. Though, even in that case, its side games were either attempts to emulate other Mega Man games (Mega Man Network Transmission), or diversions that could barely come together as complete titles (Rockman.EXE Battle Chip Stadium, Mega Man Battle Chip Challenge). And by the time that franchise graduated to Mega Man Star Force on the next generation of hardware, the best anyone could hope for was an enhanced rerelease in the form of Rockman.EXE Operate Shooting Star. Bit of an inglorious end for an entire Mega Man Universe…

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was a wildly experimental, incredibly entertaining diversion from traditional Mega Man gameplay that somehow still included wholly recognizable experiences. And not only was it never attempted again, but it apparently was the end of any experimentation in the Mega Man franchise. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures 2 sure ain’t what my grandfather would recognize as a Pac-Man game, and Zelda Warriors is not your traditional Link jaunt. But Mega Man? Mega Man 11 is very much “the next Mega Man game”, and apparently a tie-in game for Mega Man: Fully Charged is too much to hope for. Mega Man is no longer allowed deviation, and that mandate has apparently been the norm since Tron retired from questing in 1999.

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is a great game that apparently had horrible consequences. Sorry, Mega Man, but looks like Miss Tron is the reason you’ll never see a tennis court. Maybe Mario could let you guest sometime…

FGC #611 The Misadventures of Tron Bonne

  • All cops are wrestlersSystem: Playstation 1, because that is the system that could include a demo disc for Mega Man Legends 2 (coming soon!). A Playstation 3 PSN release is also available.
  • Number of players: For a game with forty servbots, you only get one player. Kind of amazing some multiplayer minigames didn’t sneak in there.
  • For the Future: You can see the first rumbling of much of the Mega Man Battle Network franchise in the Mega Man Legends series, and it is hard not to notice how the various “characters” of the RPG segments in TMOTB map easily to personalities that would be revisited by the time Lan was playing with his NetNavi. Tuttle, the dork exploring a cave in a top hat and suit, is just begging for something like FancyLad.exe.
  • Risk it All: There is also a casino level available. I am sure there is some ridiculous method for exploiting this mission and earning all the zenny you would ever need inside of the third mission or something. But, as someone that finds gambling inevitably stacked against my favor in most games (and most of reality), I only ever see my poor favorite servbot losing cash while his mistress rests. Sorry, Miss Tron!
  • Favorite Weapon: Give me a bazooka, or give me death. Or give me death, too, when my rate of fire is too low to beat back some ruins-based monster mech. That happened on the stream!
  • Watch it, Buddy: Speaking of which, here is the archival footage of my misadventures with Tron Bonne.



    There is a bit of an audio issue at the top of video 1, but the rest is just vibes. Oh! And I’m not super terrible at this one like the last Mega Man Legends game!

  • Did you know? Tron’s voice actress sings the theme songs in the Japanese version. Under normal circumstances, “the main character sings” usually strikes me as out of character for nearly every videogame heroine I can name. I can do thisHowever, the concept that Tron is trying to earn a few extra bucks through releasing her own album is 100% congruous with a woman that would spend her day shuffling apple boxes for a meager payout. Karaoke is Plan R or so on the list.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I had forgotten how much fun this game can be. Mind you, I am not going to play it again for a while, but when I do? Oh boy! Fun times to be had!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D! Possibly because I accidentally vacuumed up some automaton’s favorite gyro, this robot is trying to visit misery upon me! Please grab your 3-D glasses, and look forward to Jim Power!

ANOTHER LOSER

FGC #597 BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!

BOX TIMES!I do not consider myself “good at videogames”. Despite playing the dang things for nearly my entire life (I believe I did take some time off while potty training), I still imagine myself as an “average” player. I do not hold any speed run records. I have never achieved some grand rank in a fighting game. There are several games in my collection where, the minute something got too hard, I gave up, and never looked back. Even some of my most beloved games, like titles in the Final Fantasy or Mega Man franchises, I have only completed by never deviating from priorly acquired knowledge (or, put another way, I’m not sure Heat Man’s stage can be beaten without Bubble Lead). In short, while I can definitely play videogames, I have never considered myself “good”, because there are people that literally define the best, and I am nowhere near their echelon.

But then there’s my wife. My wife sucks at videogames.

Okay, that isn’t fair or accurate. My wife is actually very good at many videogames. She saw the end of Candy Crush back when that game had an end (you know, before they just loaded in infinity challenges). She is currently at level 500 or so in Best Fiends, and she started that game, like, last week. She is also a higher level than me on Pokémon Go. That last point is very important, as my wife is an excellent min/maxer, and the minute she understands a system, she can and will exploit it to the utmost to be the best there ever was. I am moderately proud of this fact, but I also know this means that if she ever “gets into” a MMORPG, I will lose my beloved forever. Such is the curse of a husband.

Hook it!To be more specific, my dear wife is not particularly good at action-based games. Every title I just named could best be described as a puzzle game or RPG. But once you get into games that are more based on bounding over pits or battling against bruisers, she’s out. We spent some time playing Mario, but my princess spent most of her time floating around in a bubble. We tried a few cooperative beat ‘em ups, and my Blaze died a lot while noting it was way too repetitive. Can you imagine? A game where you punch the same three guys an estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000 times being called repetitive? Preposterous! And, despite all these objections, I keep trying to get my wife to play action games with me. There are plenty of two-player experiences out there, so there must be one that Mrs. Goggle Bob can play with her Mister. What’s a boy to do?

Maybe it’s time for the box.

Today’s game is Boxboy & Boxgirl (technically titled BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!, but I cannot consistently utilize that persistent use of capitals nor the annoying punctuation). This game was purchased randomly on a Nintendo Switch sale, and chosen pretty much for its HAL pedigree. Kirby is always a good time, so this boxing must be a similar experience. Oh? There’s a two player mode? Well why don’t we give it a try, honey? You like puzzle games, right?

Yes, Boxboy & Boxgirl certainly is a puzzle game. If you’ve never boxed before, Boxboy is a franchise wherein a boy who is a box must create additional boxes so as to bypass various obstacles. Spike pits, laser beams, bottomless chasms: you know, that kind of thing. In Boxboy’s world, there is always a box-based solution to a problem. And Boxboy & Boxgirl expands that concept by allowing two boxpeople to cooperate and solve problems together. There is a conveyer belt that Boxboy alone could never overcome, but what if a sentient box wearing a bow made even more boxes? Now we’re cooking with gas (boxes)! And, if you are the kind of genius that desires even greater challenges, consider that Boxboy is wholly based on its puzzle premise, and there are logged rewards for producing as few boxes as possible. You can complete most any stage by uncovering a solution and throwing boxes at it until you are the victor, but can you return and discover the most box-efficient way out of the dungeon? And can you do it while cooperating with a buddy?

A relationship is work?And, to get back to the relationship box of this article, I want to be clear that my wife and I are excellent problem solvers. We successfully designed and reconstructed a bathroom, so overcoming obstacles with a box or two ain’t no thang. Spoilers: my wife and I did complete the whole 2-player campaign in Boxboy & Boxgirl, and this article does not end with a pending divorce. We are good at working together. We are both good at solving “space” problems, and, given how my wife works a closet, I have no doubt she would be able to handle Leon’s inventory of ammo like a pro the likes of which Las Plagas has never seen.

But, beyond suitcase stuffing, I can safely say that a certain important person in my life would not make it out of a zombie outbreak alive.

Husband and wife are both great at problem solving. This comes from years of curiosity, education, and a healthy diet of complicated cheeses with equally complicated packaging. But we both have very different histories when it comes to controlling little metal boys that must banish robotic masters. Man has decades of experience with every videogame system that has ever come down the pike (give or take CD-i), and Woman is uncomfortable so much as holding a controller. So things that I take for granted are wholly alien to my love. She does not “just know” the arc of a Boxgirl’s jump is always going to be the same. She does not realize that there are pixels of space that you can use to “float” a Boxboy over the edge of a cliff. And she better not have known that her moving Boxgirl at that one specific time was going to shove Boxboy into an oncoming laser, because if she does, she is a murderer. In short, she does not know platforming like her husband, and, even if she has the exact same (or better!) mental aptitude as her partner, she does not have the experience that tells her what is going to happen when she presses A. She has a general idea that Boxgirl is going to jump, but the how and where are a mystery.

In short, for someone that doesn’t have years of videogame experience, the puzzles are puzzles, but “moving” is a puzzle, too.

OUCHSo what is today’s lesson? Well, I suppose that even if you do not consider yourself “good” at videogames (like me!), maybe you should consider how good you really are. Years of experience have made you a different person with different skills that you would not have otherwise, and do not take that for granted. And, if you are dealing with someone that does not have the same understanding (maybe someone you are married to), be patient. Do not assume that everyone just has to practice to “git gud”, and realize that you may have decades of “practice” that you are completely discounting. Not everyone has spent their life pressing B to fire, or up to enter doors, and something even that simple is new information to about 90% of the population.

And maybe if we could apply this empathetic thinking to something beyond videogames, we might live in a better world.

… And then we could get back to solving our problems with boxes.

FGC #597 BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!

  • System: Boxxy has been boxed into the Nintendo Switch, and cannot escape.
  • Number of players: Well, if it was single player, there wouldn’t be much of an article here.
  • They have names, you know: Qbby is Boxboy, Qucy is Boxgirl. But if you wanted me to use those names, HAL, maybe you should have named the game QBBY! + QUCY!
  • Did you even try the single player mode? Nope! I played other box games, thank you, I do not need to try being some loner rectangle when I have other games I haven’t beaten yet (I am going to use this excuse until I finally beat Deadly Towers).
  • So did you spend any medals on cool costumes or whatever? Nope! We are solving puzzles right now. Do not have time for box customization. That lil’ bow is all the clothing we need between two (or three) boxes.
  • An end: Turns out we were about one world away from beating the game on the stream. Could have saved a baby box live! But no! We have human endurance levels! Bah!
  • Watch it, buddy: Oh yeah, since this was the Valentine’s Day stream, you can watch my wife kill me repeatedly while everyone laughs.


    It’s fun for the whole (box) family.

  • Did you know? There is a Boxboy Amiibo. That is more than Dr. Stewart, star of F-Zero, ever got. Sorry, bud.
  • Would I play again: My dear wife has requested further box-based challenges. Probably not returning to BOXBOY, but wasn’t there something about a death being squared floating around?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III for the TurboGrafx-16! From bubbles to parasols, those crazy twins are going to do it all! Please look forward to it!

Get it
Cooperation is key!

FGC #516 Celeste

Let's climbWhat does it mean when “difficult” equals “fun”?

Today’s game is Celeste, which Google apparently describes as “A game about climbing a mountain”. Big deal! You climb about seventeen mountains across your average 32-bit JRPG, and it’s hard to even recall how often you are forced to dash across mountaintops in your average platformer. Mario was climbing mountains before he was even born (technically)! But what makes Celeste different from any other trip up some rocks is that Celeste is truly about the challenge of climbing inhospitable terrain. On its surface, Celeste is little more than a basic platformer: you run, you jump, you cling, you dash, and that’s all you got. There is combat in only the absolute loosest sense (maybe you can hop on the occasional angry ghost), and the typical “collectibles” are little more than excuses for challenge rooms. Celeste is a very simple game, so its surface-level description as “A game about climbing a mountain” is very apt. This isn’t a complicated experience for a complicated world, this is climbing a mountain, plain and simple.

But don’t let the simple trappings of Celeste fool you into believing this is a retro title bereft of a plot. Celeste is about climbing a mountain, but, more than that, it’s about a woman learning that she can climb a mountain. Madeline is climbing this mountain, and, when her journey begins, her self-loathing and doubt is so palatable, it transforms into a living entity named Badeline. While Madeline and Badeline initially clash, over the course of the adventure, Madeline comes to accept Badeline, as Baddy was never her evil twin, but a part of herself that she tried to ignore. Once Madeline has accepted herself, “bad side” and all, she levels up as a character and a human being, and gains a second air dash. This is life-affirming and hella sweet. Along her way to self-actualization, though, a number of levels also seem to follow a sort of “lesson” framing, with that previously mentioned angry ghost demonstrating the dangers of putting the needs of toxic people over your own, and another level ending with instructions on breathing exercises that can help mitigate depression and panic attacks. Celeste might have an extremely basic plot, but the narrative successfully turns this simple videogame goal into a story about overcoming challenges both mentally and physically. The mountain is a metaphor!

This is funAnd we’ve seen “the mountain is a metaphor” before on this very blog. There’s another game that sticks in this humble blogger’s head that used the exact same story framing: Catherine. Catherine is a game that is mostly remembered for showing its whole ass with some of the worst sexual politics this side of Persona 5 (gee, wonder if there’s a connection there), but it was also a story about comparing the struggles of Vincent and his dream-mountain climbing to real-life decision making and the trials and tribulations of navigating the dangers of reality. And, if you think that metaphor is simply implied, don’t worry, the writers of Catherine assumed you were an idiot, and framed their story with a character breaking the fourth wall to shout “it’s an allegory!” at all the nimrods that bought Catherine because the logo looked like panties. To say the least, Celeste was slightly more subtle with its morals while maintaining the added benefit of 100% less upskirt camera angles; but it still boils down to the same palpable lesson: you can treat the complications of life like a video game. This mountain may initially seem insurmountable, and you may fall again and again, but you will reach the peak. Whether you’re Vincent or Madeline, you can climb.

But when multiple stories present the moral that you can triumph in real life despite hardships, what does it mean when you play these games to face those “hardships” for fun?

Why compare Celeste to Catherine? Well, Catherine might have an odious plot and tone, but its gameplay is almost wholly different from anything else that has come down the pike in the last decade (and, as you may be aware, I’ve played a lot of videogames over the last decade). The combination of puzzle and action in Catherine is a sweet success, and, while it might be fair to say the writers of Catherine should be shipped off to Penlackicus: The Isle Where Pens Are Forbidden, the gameplay of Catherine is something that can be returned to again and again. It’s unique! It’s frenetic! Occasionally sheep are murdered for their insolence! That’s always a good time (assuming you’re not a shepherd). Similarly, Celeste is an amazing platformer designed by people that understand the genre better than most Sonic curators, and solving each environmental conundrum is as delightful as it is precise. Once you have a full grasp of Madeline’s moveset (and its occasional evolutions), you’ll be revisiting each path to collect a pie’s worth of strawberries not because you have to, but because you’ll want to spend more time bounding and dashing around her world. Celeste and Catherine, two games containing obvious lessons about triumphing over impediments even when such a thing seems impossible, are both games that make those impediments… fun.

NOT FUNAnd, on a personal note, Celeste is the game I played most during the Spring Quarantine of 2020. The world was falling apart in drastically unprecedented ways, I personally had no guarantee whether or not I would have any kind of income from day to day (spoilers for anyone concerned: I made out okay), and there was the threat of a deadly virus striking seemingly at all times. Granted, as I write this article, things aren’t much better, but there’s now a certain kind of uncomfortable familiarity with the situation. Yes, leaving the house is still a gauntlet of social distancing not unlike attempting to dash through a hotel filled with malevolent and deadly energy, but at least it no longer feels like the whole of society is going to gradually slide into the nearest ocean (we have to wait for 2038 for that). Back in March, when everything was unknown and something as basic as “wear a mask” was reported with equal claims of it being our one saving grace and a way to instantly obtain a malady known as “fungus nose”, things were a lot more ambiguous. And, thinking back on that time, I can safely say that I was probably about thirty seconds away from a mental breakdown every moment. I won’t exactly say I was tangibly depressed, but it was more like I was… concerned. Perpetually concerned. Perpetually might-have-a-heart-attack concerned. In retrospect, it was a surprisingly gentle time, as most businesses were closed (so there was little reason to go outside and risk my life for a damn haircut), the concept that someone might be financially hurting was universally understood (extra unemployment and money from a government that was pretending to care about its citizens that week), and, give or take some supermarket meltdowns, people seemed unusually empathetic for a month or so (we’re all in this together!). Maybe it was just an illusion brought on by not having to directly deal with (much of) the public for a month or so, but, in retrospect, the general start of this COVID insanity seemed like it was the best part; something approaching a reprieve before we settled into Let's move itthe usual rhythms of watching our leaders toss more and more “essential” workers into the meat grinder. But when that “reprieve” was happening, it seemed like anything but, as I deal with uncertainty about as well as having a swarm of bees in my pants. March and April’s COVID situation brought me seemingly unlimited stress, and I chose to relax by… playing a game that is supposed to be stressful.

And it eventually dawned on me why I was doing such a thing: even when it seems impossible to make progress in Celeste, even when the next obstacle seems completely insurmountable, even if you’re barely trying, if you fail, at least you won’t lose anything.

And, in an uncertain world, that is infinitely comforting.

Celeste is about climbing a mountain, yes, but the climb happens one screen at a time. Madeline might be required to exhibit some arduous acrobatics, but if she fails, she’s immediately returned to the last place she had even footing. There are no continues that have to be conserved, or lives that have to be limited. While you will lose a strawberry bonus for dying halfway through its retrieval, once you have hit solid ground with your bounty, there’s no way to lose that prize, whether through immediately failing on the same screen, or at some later point in the level. Celeste is also extremely forgiving with save locations, so you can pop into a precise third of a stage if you want to clock in some practice in a particular area. Madeline may become frequently frustrated by the various trials she has to face, but the player is given every advantage in attempting the climb. There might be a number quickly approaching infinity next to that death count, but it’s all worth it if you finish the stage. You won’t be locked out of any future content for burying Madeline more often than the X-Men.

And, hell, I don’t know what Madeline has to worry about. I’m pretty sure I’d be happy as a clam if I mortally screwed up over and over, but came back fresh as a daisy five seconds later every time.

This blowsRemember those uncertain COVID times I mentioned earlier? In the Fall of 2019, I finally took the initiative, looked at my rainy day fund that hadn’t been touched for literally years, and cashed in on remodeling my ancient, remembers-the-fall-of-Napoleon bathroom. It was a lot of money, but I sat down with a ledger, looked at the past year’s profits and losses, and determined it would be a passable expense. I also consulted with my fiancée, who informed me she would leave me if she had to deal with a bathroom that involved a crankshaft toilet one more time. Wait, excuse me, she wasn’t my fiancée at the time. That came later, with the other major expense I picked up in February: an engagement ring. In that case, it was money I really didn’t want to spend, but, hey, I’m pretty sure I love the woman I’m buying it for, and she is a material girl ™ , so may as well make the love of my life happy. So those were two huge, once in a lifetime expenses that I decided would be endurable if typical trends continued. And then a worldwide plague tossed the idea of “typical trends” straight out the window. So, right about when I was concerned that my profession wasn’t as Thunderdome-proof as I might have liked, I also had blown my emergency savings on a sink faucet that doesn’t pour out exclusively spiders (I… really needed that bathroom renovation). Once again, to be absolutely clear, I made it out of that initial quarantine with a job and only a modest hit to my income, but did I know that would be the outcome in March? Of course not. I spent my days worrying over decisions I had made during The Before Time, and I wouldn’t stop worrying until there was a more comfortable “end” in sight. What good is an engagement ring when you can’t support the ones you love? What good is a tile shower in the face of a catastrophe? Can I just reset to a save point from a scant few months prior? Can I get a do-over on this apocalypse thing?

WeeeeeAnd, when I think about it, this is why I play “hard games” when things are stressful. No matter how badly I mess up in Celeste, it’s not going to impact my life. No matter how many times I damn Vincent to death in Catherine, it’s not going to make a dent in my bank account. Every setback in Bloodborne might mean I lose some resources, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to lose my home. Calling a videogame hard is all well and good, but the fact that there are no consequences (maybe beyond losing a few useless hours of actual life) is what transforms “difficult” into “fun”. Drop any consequences for failure, and repeated failures are enjoyable.

The climb is long, hard, and treacherous. But when you won’t lose a thing doing it, it’s fun.

FGC #516 Celeste

  • System: This is another “whaddya got” situation: Steam, Linux, MacOS, Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and certain garage door openers. This one is probably going to get around in future generations, too.
  • Number of players: Maddy rarely enjoys company, as she is a bit of a loner.
  • ScaryFavorite Level: The hotel stage is my uncontested favorite. It has a decent moral, a quasi-boss battle, and I love me some little black ghosty things that don’t allow you to re-traverse certain edges. It all works together beautifully, and seems to encapsulate what’s great about Celeste.
  • So, did you beat it: I’m sorry to say I don’t have every last strawberry, but I’m good with everything else that is going on. Celeste is damn good stuff, and it’s worth triumphing over tribulations to grieve over grandmas. Or… something.
  • Missing Pieces: I completely missed Theo’s explanation of the mountain and its ruined city during my initial playthrough, so I’m pretty sure I assumed the whole of the game was little more than magical realism on my first go. Mind you, that’s still kind of accurate, but Mt. Celeste is apparently supposed to be a “real” location in videogame Canada, not a complete hallucination like my initial impression.
  • Speaking of Dreams: This is the best animation of 2018.

    YUMMY

    Slurp!

  • Black Lives Matter: Celeste was my go-to “relax during quarantine” game, but it also publically resurfaced recently as part of the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. I will literally never get through the 1,741 bits of software that were included in that bundle, but I enjoy being reminded that that amazing set of games was so successful in raising $8,154,644.19 for a worthy cause. Way to go, Itch.
  • Did you know? M. Thorson made a full thread on Twitter about all the ways Celeste is designed to “feel right” for the player. I’m just going to go ahead and link to it rather than recount the full details, so just be aware that there is an inordinate amount of care involved in the creation of a good platformer. Also, “coyote time” is something that should be applied to every platformer ever. Looking at you, Castlevania.
  • Would I play again: Celeste is platforming comfort food for me. And I feel we could all use a little more comfort right now.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Retro Game Challenge for the Nintendo DS! Speaking of challenges and retro games, here’s… uh… both. I guess. Anyway, please look forward to it!

HUGS

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

BLOCKS!My fiancée will tell you quite loudly and clearly that she does not play videogames. My fiancée is also a liar. She plays videogames. She just doesn’t play “videogames” as she thinks the world defines them. She plays Candy Crush. She plays some other game that looks exactly the same, but involves farm animals. I think there’s another one with soda. She plays these games constantly, whether we’re sitting watching a movie or traveling to the wilds of Canada. And Pokémon Go! When it’s raining, she will get in the car, and drive around the neighborhood for hours looking to find a shiny or conquer a local gym. If this were a MMORPG, she’d be sitting at a computer for hours, but since her chosen raids are partially based in the real world, she’s not really playing a videogame, you understand. I proposed to her with a friggen’ Pokéball, for crying out loud!

Sparkles

But, no, she doesn’t play videogames. Yes, I completely understand that compared to my gaming habits, she doesn’t “play videogames” (she doesn’t even have a videogame blog! Can you imagine?), but to claim that she doesn’t play videogames at all seems… disingenuous. She doesn’t play the same kind of videogames that are traditionally covered on this blog, but she absolutely plays videogames. And, what’s more, these are not simple, even-your-grandma-can-play games. She routinely plays games that involve experience points, rationed continues, and complex resource management. There’s no judgment against supposed “casuals” here, videogames are videogames, and whether or not a Pikachu or some manner of sentient fruit is involved is inconsequential.

Blocks!One videogame my fiancée plays is Tetris. According to her own words, it is her favorite videogame (which, reminder, is something she doesn’t play). She’s been playing it for years, and notes that during some of the less hectic times in her life, she played quite a lot of it. She’s good at it. I can say with firsthand knowledge that she kicks ass at Tetris, and I have the recorded play sessions from Tetris Effect to prove it.

And, given I believe this is the first I’ve ever mentioned my fiancée on this blog, I feel I should note something else: she’s a bit of a… let’s say… completionist. She pathologically cannot deal with leaving tasks unfinished, and her Type A personality compels her to complete goals to the best of her ability, earn an A on that math test, and then win the big football game because she spiked the final 3-pointer (she tells me she also understands sports better than I do). She deals poorly with losing for any reason in any way, and, officer, I assure you this black eye of mine is from walking into a doorknob, and certainly not because the dear love of my life threw a chair at me when I caught a rare Pokémon before her. As a result of this personality quirk that she honestly and wholly admits is an issue, we don’t often play competitive games together. Even if I win, I lose, so let’s play some games where we either cooperate or work in parallel. It’s better for our collective mental health.

So I really should have known better than to suggest we play Puyo Puyo Tetris for crossover week (“week”). I should have used my good eye to foresee the inevitable.

WeeeeeFor those of you unfamiliar with the title, Puyo Puyo Tetris is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a puzzle game that combines Puyo Puyo and Tetris. For those of you unfamiliar with Puyo Puyo, it’s a color-block matching game that has visited America in various disguises over the years. For those of you unfamiliar with Tetris, welcome to Earth, and I hope you enjoy your stay on our humble planet. In both cases, we’re dealing with games where objects fall infinitely from the sky, and you must carefully manage these bits and pieces so they “clear” and your play area is not filled with so much useless junk. And this version of these respective games is predominantly based on the concept of multiplayer, so you also have to deal with offensive “junk blocks” that are generated by your opponent doing well. It’s not enough to play the game with skill, you also have to be wary of your rival playing the game with that same skill, but faster.

But just because both games are involved, don’t think they don’t completely interact. Back in the Super Nintendo days, we had Tetris & Dr. Mario, but that title was little more than an excuse to tape two Gameboy games together and sell the package for $70. Tetris and Dr. Mario intermingled about as much as Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 in Super Mario All-Stars. Puyo Puyo Tetris is another story. You can play head-to-head Puyo Puyo or head-to-head Tetris, but you can also play Puyo Puyo while your opponent picks up a game of Tetris. And it’s not simply “parallel play”, a properly completed Tetris can send junk sailing over to your Puyopponent. And it doesn’t stop there! There are other “versus” modes available that involve both games, like a puzzle speed run mode (called Big Bang Mode because “puzzle mode” sounds like a punishment), or another option where the game rapidly alternates between Puyo Puyo and Tetris boards. There’s even a mode that combines Tetris and Puyo Puyo into one focused game that adopts blocks and puyos from both franchises.

I think it was that mode in particular that caused my fiancée to start shouting expletives I cannot repeat on this blog.

I have no ideaLook, Tetris and Puyo Puyo being played in a sort of parallel is one thing, but outright combining the gameplay of both into one complete board is borderline crazy. The benefit of both of these games is that, individually, there isn’t much that has to be learned or understood to get going. Yes, there are complicated techniques involving starting combos or focused spinning or whatever in both games, but they’re both superficially very straightforward. Match the colors, line up the blocks. Empty spaces bad, alternating colors bad. The end. The best puzzle games are instantly understandable, and both Tetris and Puyo Puyo fit that bill. This is literally the reason your grandpa wanted a Gameboy. But Tetris + Puyo Puyo is confusing. Clearing a line requires using Tetris blocks, while popping puyos require puyo bubbles, and you don’t always have access to either kind of block. What’s worse, there are some moves that don’t seem to have obvious consequences, like how squishing some puyo bubbles with tetris blocks looks like you’re clearing out the clutter, but the bubbles will respawn and fall shortly thereafter. It’s something that happens every time, but it’s not immediate or often enough for a player to quickly distinguish whether these “junk blocks” are the result of something done by the player or their opponent. It creates a sort of “stress” that is not the traditional “things are getting heated because the board is filling up” stress, but more of an “I have no idea why things are happening or how I can make it better” stress. And it occurred to me that this stress could be very traumatic for some people right around when I won a match and my dear fiancée hit me with a folding chair. She is normally so respectful of the furniture!

And this might just be the pain meds talking, but there’s a certain… beauty in this crossover chaos.

What?Tetris x Puyo Puyo loses something. It loses its simplicity, and, with that, it loses its immediate and obvious accessibility. It loses an “easiness” that has been comfortable for decades. But it gains something in exchange. It is more complicated, but that complication adds nuance and techniques that would otherwise be completely absent from the experience. It adds a whole new dimension that was never there before, and would be completely impossible to so much as touch in the normal, base games. I have played a lot of Tetris games over the years, but they’ve always been constrained by being… Tetris. Adding Puyo Puyo to Tetris creates a whole new world of possibilities, and, while it does take some time to learn, it is an actual new experience. Tetris Effect, you’re great, but this is a genuinely, wholly fresh experience, and it’s satisfying to shift over to such a change once in a lifetime.

Tetris loses a little bit of itself. Puyo Puyo loses a little bit of itself. But what is gained, the final gestalt of the merging of these two things, that is greater than the two original items. Sometimes it’s hard to learn the ins and outs of this new…. thing, but it’s worth it. Both games are better for having crossed over.

Oh, anyway, did I mention I’m engaged?

She sparkles

I did? Yeah, there might be a metaphor here.

I love you, honey, and I’m looking forward to our crossover continuing.

Now… uh… could you put down that tire iron? I promise I was only kidding about playing Mario Kart…

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

  • System: My understanding is that this is available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Steam. However, there are also versions available in Japan (from 2014!) for Xbox One, 3DS, Wii U, Playstation Vita, and Playstation 3. This game is more traveled than I thought!
  • Number of players: Four player split screen action! Online modes available, too! It’s all very crazy and/or fun!
  • Favorite Mode: It’s the Puyo Puyo x Tetris mode. Did you get that from the article? I like new things right now. That may change in the near future.
  • But seriously folks: My dear fiancée is not physically violent. If you are in a relationship with someone that abuses you, physically or mentally, and you don’t have any options, please seek help. There are many highly trained counselors and nonprofit organizations out there that can help you, even in our current, nebulous existence. And I am not saying this because someone is holding a frying pan to my head.
  • Let's go!How about that Story Mode: Is this what it’s like for other people playing Kingdom Hearts? There are just all these weird anime characters with silly hair running around and shouting at each other for level after level, and, eventually, it is revealed this is all because “god” is angry and lonely and might need a hug. Or to play Tetris. And then the universe is saved thanks to a robot that sounds like a Pokémon.
  • Did you know? This is the first American release of a straight Puyo Puyo title since Puyo Pop Fever in 2004. Everybody counts the years between Metroid releases as some sign as to whether or not the franchise is dead, but nobody gives a damn about when Puyos haven’t been seen for a decade….
  • Would I play again: Just as soon as the swelling goes down, I think we could try playing this one again. I am going to have to find some manner of anchor to confirm the Switch isn’t tossed across the room, though.

What’s next? Enough with the mushy stuff! Our final crossover title is going to be the best crossover game released in the last decade. Please look forward to it!

WINNER