Tag Archives: racing

FGC #553 Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Let's dash!Let’s talk about nerd love, acceptance, and solid gold cars.

I am a nerd. What’s more, I have pretty much always been a nerd. I’ve never been into pocket protectors, statistics, or even wore glasses all that often, but, to the average human being, I have long been a shining example of nerddom. And it’s not my fault! It’s just what I’m interested in! I like videogames. I like robots (and draw a distinction between “giant robots” “regular sized robots that fight” and “robots that occasionally transform into dinosaurs”). I was generally academically gifted in school. I won an award in junior high for “most likely to succeed with computers”. I never even planned to go into the computer field! I wanted to be a grade school teacher for some reason!

But, if we’re talking about junior high anyway, I may as well note that the first woman I ever “asked out” responded by dramatically feigning barfing and being out-and-out offended. That… leaves an impression.

Look, I want to be clear on one point: I am a handsome dude. For someone getting damn near forty, I have my hair, my figure, and a certain je ne sais quoi that brings all the boys to the yard. And, given I’ve had the same haircut since first grade, I pretty much have had the same basic thing going on since I was six. Issues arise, however, in the basic world of fashion. Despite Nintendo’s attempts to make me style savvy, I’ve never quite had an aptitude there, so I want to say I perhaps do no blame my potential suitor for reacting poorly when I was eleven. I mean, I had a goddamn ponytail, and I somehow thought that was a good thing. But, at the time, I didn’t quite understand that I shouldn’t wear sweatpants every damned day, so I thought there was something wrong with me. That thinking continued until… let’s see here… probably sometime last week? It was a while.

And my first real girlfriend didn’t help. A few short years after my first, disastrous attempt at romance, some lucky gal finally said yes, and we were off to the races (this is a desperate metaphor attempting to remotely tie-in today’s featured game earlier in the article. We’ll get there, folks!). Now, in this case, I was high on my own supply of raw ego. I was a high school freshman, she was a sophomore. I was dating an older woman. I was a goddamn stud. Go babies!And, even if the “relationship” only wound up lasting like two week and involved about as much physical interaction as an online game of Pong, it still set me over the moon that someone theoretically wanted me. Goggle Bob! Who did finally cut off that ponytail a year before! Probably a coincidence! But this is not to say all was well with the world. My dear girlfriend had aims to make me “more normal”, and she literally stated that she would go through my closet and get rid of “all those videogame t-shirts”.

First of all, Jesse, I didn’t have that many videogame t-shirts. Some were simply related to computers in general! And secondly, I got that Final Fantasy 7 shirt as part of a promotion for preordering, and it is limited edition and I am not ever going to see another one. I don’t think this relationship is going to work, Little Miss Trendy. There’s only room enough for one blonde in this relationship, and he carries a Buster Sword.

(Ha ha just kidding, she totally dumped my nerdy ass. But things definitely would have come to a head if she hadn’t!)

But this kind of thing continued practically through all of my teenage relationships. Even when I dated nerds! I had at least two girlfriends that were avowed Pokémon fans, but still reacted to my general hobby with tolerance at best, revulsion at worst. I often offered the second player controller in these games (whenever available, I mean, if I’m playing Ocarina of Time, you’re going to have to wait, babe), and I did my best to share my passions in socially acceptable ways (I very rarely publically embarrassed us in an effort to get the attention of an Electronics Boutique employee), but it always seemed for naught. It wasn’t about not liking a particular game, console, or genre; it seemed to be a simple “I don’t like videogames”. And this is an issue! I like videogames a lot!

We can do thisAnd it’s hard to explain to someone that doesn’t have an “unpopular” hobby how this works. Like, you, dear reader, you like music, right? Like listening to tunes? Maybe you listen to the radio when you’re in the car? And I’m not saying you like the same music as someone else, you’re obviously allowed to like pop music as much as jazz-techno fusion or whatever suits your fancy. But imagine, if you would, the moment you start dating someone, you’re cruising along in your finely crafted automobile (obviously a sweet 1960 classic Edsel Pacer), listening to the radio, and your significant other doesn’t simply say, “Oh, I don’t like this song, let’s change the station,” they say, “Oh, I don’t like music. Let’s sit in silence and never listen to music again.” And every time they hop in the car, and you’ve left the radio on from a previous, solo trip, they comment, “Oh, you were listening to that again. Why do you keep doing that?” And, tell me I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that, after dealing with that for a little while, you would, you know, go insane. And that’s not a great outcome for a relationship!

And that was the end result of 90% of my high school relationships.

What I’m saying here is that I completely understand people that think “girls don’t game”. It is wrong. It is wholly inaccurate. I even knew (or should have known) it was wrong when I was friggen’ eight years old, as the first person that showed me King’s Quest and the fabulous world of PC gaming was my (male) friend’s older sister. She played videogames! I just didn’t want to date her. None of the women I wanted to date played videogames, so, obviously, women didn’t play videogames (Yes, I was the Socrates of my high school marching band, thank you for noticing). The women that I wanted to date/actually dated acted like “gaming” was an activity roughly on par with drinking human blood (come to think of it, they were much cooler with vampires than gamers), so I internalized for a long time that women hated videogames. Could there be another explanation? Never! They sneered at Xenogears! The War & Peace of our generation! The only explanation for that must be gender-based universal loathing.

GLOMPAnd I assumed this was a wholly accurate assessment until I was in college. I dated another woman, and I assumed, like in many previous relationships, she barely tolerated my videogame addiction. She watched me play Metroid Fusion, Pokémon Ruby, and Mega Man Battle Network on the Gameboy Advance that was practically glued to my hands, and I simply assumed she was, at best, abiding my hobby. It never even crossed my weary mind that maybe playing a system that precluded a second player even existing was making an impact on whether or not we would play together. I just hunched over a Gameboy on the couch on a Saturday morning, poking at my beep bop machine, and assumed my beau was annoyed because her lady parts secreted some hormone that hated those darn games. There was no other explanation.

And then, on Valentine’s Day, she didn’t get me chocolate. She bought me Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (1,200 words to acknowledge the game of the day! New record!). And we had a game we could play together.

And damned if we didn’t play that game together for months.

Mario Kart Double Dash!! doesn’t get enough credit for being inordinately multiplayer. Yes, there are the Mario Kart-mandated two player versus racing and battle modes. And we’ve got versus four players out of the box, because the N64/Gamecube era of Nintendo absolutely loved four player options. And, even better, this Mario Kart included some kind of crazy Gamecube LAN option, so you could network together a bunch of systems, and get a tournament going with, like, a hajillion playerscitation needed. But all of those possibilities paled in comparison to the one mode that I saw continually from the moment I popped that little disc into my playbox: two player cooperative. For the first time in the franchise, two players could control one kart, and both could have input for one racer. The controls were simple: one player drove, the other was responsible for items, and the two could switch at any time. This created an incredibly balanced situation, as two players could alternate duties, or, if someone wasn’t as confident, take refuge in a “Tails mode” like situation where there is participation, but the responsibility of earning that trophy falls squarely on one player’s shoulders. So, in other words, it’s a two player mode that is truly perfect for experts and novices alike.

And it’s great for a boy that has been playing videogames continuously since toddlerhood, and a girl that is trying to understand said boy’s obsession.

STOMPNot to dash any dreams of a romantic ending here (that’s for Friday), but this is in no way the story of how I affirmed the love of my life over Mario Kart. Boy and Girl broke up with time to spare before the following Valentine’s Day (and it certainly wasn’t because Boy was a cheapskate and didn’t feel like buying another gift in a relationship that was already DOA, because Boy is clearly blameless in this situation). And, just in case you thought this whole tale was heading in that direction, this is not the story of how Boy thus realized his true love was videogames all along, and how he now sleeps in bed every night curled around his precious copy of Chrono Trigger. No, this is a story about acceptance. This is a story about how someone can accept you for who you are, even the parts of you they might not understand.

Look, I am pretty damn lucky. I like my birth gender. I am attracted to “the opposite” sex, and members of said sex that are traditionally, conventionally attractive. I’m white. Basically, what I’m saying is that if I show up to a family dinner with a date, I don’t have to spend the entire meal explaining how my choices are valid, and I’m not just “doing this” to make grandma cry. I know I’m lucky in that regard, and it’s simply a quirk of the universe that my dating habits are vanilla enough to be considered normal. But I’m also a giant nerd. I’m also a gamer, and, while it might not cause any concern for grandma, I can safely say I’ve never been in a relationship with a woman that didn’t have something to say about my general inclination to alternate between nights in bed and nights spent in Hyrule. And that’s valid! This is entry #553 on my blog that is almost exclusively about videogames! My name is Goggle Bob, and I have a problem! But issues have always arisen when I was with someone that refused to even tenuously understand that problem. Grandma was happy with my date, but my date wasn’t happy with something that brings me joy. For a long time, I genuinely believed I would never be with someone that would accept me for who I am, inexplicable obsession with Mega Man and all.

What even happened hereAnd then, one day, there was someone that accepted me. There was someone that tried to understand who I was, preoccupation with blue sparks and all. There was someone that wanted me. All of me.

And I never thought such a thing was even possible before.

So, ya know, thanks Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Really making some positive changes in the trajectory of entire lives there. Blue shells are a major franchise foul, but I guess that can be forgiven for changing my entire outlook on existence.

FGC #553 Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube. If you ask me which Nintendo game I would most want to see with a modern release/remix, this would be the one. Well, you know, now that Sunshine already got that treatment.
  • Number of players: Let’s just say four before getting into that whole “chaining Gamecubes together” thing.
  • So did you ever play on a series of linked Gamecubes? Nope. I mean, what, are you kidding? I have a hard enough time gathering four people together to agree on playing one videogame. I’m never going to see that many controllers in use outside of a convention, and I’m pretty sure those are illegal now.
  • I win!So, did you beat it? Wholly and completely, with Mirror Grand Tour and on two player cooperative. That solid gold car is mine, now and forever.
  • Best Team: Daisy and Birdo will always succeed. Wait…. This is supposed to be my “favorite” team? No, that doesn’t sound right. Daisy and Birdo are the best.
  • Favorite Track: I have to admire Baby Park for the raw simplicity of the track, and somehow making a circle (well, technically an oval) fun. It takes some significant level of chutzpah to make a track pretty much nothing, and rely on the basic gameplay of Mario Kart to carry the action. And it works like a charm, so good job all around.
  • Yes, this game was popular: Mario Kart: Double Dash was the second highest selling Gamecube game of all time. Super Smash Bros. Melee was number one. Then it’s Sunshine at numero tres. Sonic Mega Collection was number seventeen. Ya know, just throwing that out there.
  • Did you know? According to internal data, apparently the two “urban” stages, Mushroom Bridge and Mushroom City, were supposed to be dedicated to Koopa Troopa and Paratroopa (respectively). In the final release, those two nerds don’t get their own course, and we’re left assuming that Princess Peach purchased their unclaimed property. The monarchy has a habit of doing that.
  • Would I play again: In a heartbeat. Lord, I love me some Mario Kart: Double Dash. It even makes Garfield titles better! It’s scientifically proven!

What’s next? Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s) concludes with a look at Pokémon Go. You always knew there was going to be a Pokémon game in this group of articles, and I cannot disappoint! Please look forward to it!

Go go Daisy

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

Gonna take you for a rideLet’s talk about advertising, brands, my life, and how culture as we identify it is a goddamn trash fire.

And maybe we’ll get to Crazy Taxi, too, if we have time.

I am told I am a Millennial. This means that I am of a certain generation that grew up alongside advertisements that were simultaneously unambiguously advertisements, but also entertainment. I cut my teeth on He-Man and Voltron, concurrently loving every moment of every show and then clamoring for every last attendant toy. Then, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were repackaged for childish audiences, I was right there demanding everything. It wasn’t just about action figures and vehicles, I had the videogames, too, and my grandmother reading TMNT storybooks to me at night. And that’s a cherished memory from my childhood! The TMNT were ostensibly created initially as a parody of comic books, but quickly grew into a franchise that existed exclusively to sell toys themed after Canadian moose. But those ridiculous figures are an inextricable part of my childhood, so I remember them all in the same way I fondly remember family members.

And I have to believe that I am not alone in viewing the growth of my own maturity through my interaction with “brands”. When I was a child, I loved all my toys and games and such unquestioningly, begging for more and purely enjoying everything I had. When I became a teenager, I grew resentful of the fact that I was “tricked” into liking things, and determined I would be anti-conformist… or at least a version of anti-conformist that doesn’t shell out his hard-earned cash for the latest version of Optimus Prime. As I grew out of that phase, I came to a sort of gentle understanding with trademarked material. Yes, something might exist exclusively to sell random crap to me (or the host of people just like me), but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it in my own way. I can acknowledge that this latest version of a transforming robot was likely produced by slave labor in a foreign country in an effort to get a whole five bucks out of my pocket through some general application of nostalgia, but, hey, if it brings me joy, it can’t be all bad. This has brought me to a sort of relaxed middle ground: I feel I am not a “consumer whore” that will purchase literally anything that is produced if it has the right name on it (eat it, Funko), though, by the same token, I will certainly purchase any number of useless trinkets if I think it will make me happier. There are so many things in this world that are actively trying to make us miserable, from political organizations to natural disasters, why not take a moment to relish playing with officially licensed totems of your childhood?

Up on a hillBut, while I seem to have come to a comfortable understanding with the companies that dominate the landscape, that does not mean I believe corporations are or should be our friends. Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely a part of me that would volunteer to jump in front of a train if it meant Nintendo would keep pumping out videogames with the Nintendo Seal of Quality, but, if I were to make such a sacrifice, it would be for the good of humanity, and the next generation that deserves to grow up with their own Mario games (I’m so noble in these hypothetical, impossible situations). If Nintendo, or any “beloved” company, started begging for my dollar for nothing, I wouldn’t give them a dime, because what do I owe you? These companies do not care if my family, my friends, or even I live or die, so I cannot even pretend that my “support” means anything to them other than another possible zero on the bottom line. We live in a world that is practically wallpapered with advertising, and there’s no reason to feed that machine in the desperate hope that senpai will notice you if you’re a good little consumer. And making that choice matters! I can actively support people on social media that actually need that support, not a corporate account carefully managed to maximize clicks. I can shop at a local restaurant that needs my check to survive, and not a megachain that is literally in every other city on the planet. I’ll take a homegrown, local pizza place over Pizza Hut any day of the week.

But, then again, when someone takes Pizza Hut away, I’m not happy either.

Today’s game is Crazy Taxi (hey, I found a moment to actually talk about the real topic of the article! Yay!), a title that was initially released in the arcades in 1999, but is best known for its version on the Sega Dreamcast from January of 2000. In Crazy Taxi, you are a taxi driver in a large city, forever bound to ferry fares from one destination to another. As this game started as an arcade title, this is not a “story-based” experience, but more of a constant “score attack” situation. Pick up a passenger, take them to their destination, and then grab the next traveler as quickly as possible. In a way, this gameplay makes CT little more than a racing game. But, in another way, this foreshadowed the eventual creation of titles like Grand Theft Auto 3, as the intricate city, full of landmarks and interesting locales, would inevitably be aped by later games attempting to create “lived-in” environments. Crazy Taxi could be a simple title where you just drive from point A to point B and back again, but, thanks to its vast, sprawling city, it is much than another simple arcade “car game” (Sorry, Cruisin’, but it had to be said).

Oh, and another reason Crazy Taxi has such a memorable venue for its crazy taxiing? There’s a KFC!

Mmmm chicken

And other brand name stores! Crazy Taxi was something of a “real world” crossover event back in 2000. The soundtrack featured Way Down the Line, All I Want, and Change the World by The Offspring, and Ten in 2010, Them and Us, Hear It, and Inner Logic by Bad Religion. That was amazing! Instead of wee gaming beeps and boops, you’ve got that band that you know! Rachel is wearing a Bad Religion t-shirt right now! And she bought it at Tower Records, which is also a featured location in Crazy Taxi! Crazy Taxi had a crazy amount of product placement, and, at the time, many saw it as unequivocally a good thing. Videogames are getting more real!

Of course, as a wizened adult, it’s easy to see this same product placement as… uh… product placement. But in a bad way! After all, the entire point of the presence of these brands is that people are telling you they need to get to Kentucky Fried Chicken right the heck now. They need officially produced KFC brand mashed potatoes immediately, and, boy, player, wouldn’t it be nice if you had some of that finger-lickin’ good chicken right now? And the presence of The Offspring and Bad Religion simply exists to appeal to all those hep young teens and further slide videogames from “for babies” to “for the cool kids”. And it doesn’t hurt if you buy an Offspring album (at Tower Records!) as a result, either. When you consider that Crazy Taxi originated at the arcade, and many American arcades were situated within American malls, you can see how Crazy Taxi was a videogame that practically doubled as a flyer from the local Chamber of Commerce. Hungry for fun? Play Crazy Taxi! Hungry for pizza? Stop at Pizza Hut!

Mmmm pizza

Ah, yes, Pizza Hut…

Mmmm pizza

Pizza Hut is still a viable brand. While Tower Records has fallen since its Crazy Taxi appearance in 1999, Pizza Hut is still out there and stuffing cheese into various nooks and crannies. You can, in all likelihood, order a pizza from Pizza Hut right now, as you read this, and have a delicious, pizza-like substance in front of you by the time this article is over. Pizza Hut, in 2000 or 2020, is ubiquitous.

But it ain’t in Crazy Taxi anymore:

Mmmm pizza

When Crazy Taxi was released for Dreamcast, it featured a Pizza Hut. When Crazy Taxi was rereleased on contemporary systems with a little more longevity (Playstation 2, Gamecube), it still featured Pizza Hut. But when Crazy Taxi was rereleased in 2010 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Pizza Hut was dropped. All of the familiar, featured brands were dropped. The Offspring and Bad Religion were dropped. And, given this is the version that persists on Xbox One and PC platforms, the Crazy Taxi Sans Brands version is what is available today. If you buy Crazy Taxi today, you’re not going to see a single Pizza Hut.

You’ll just see something that kinda looks like a Pizza Hut.

Mmmm pizza

And that’s somehow even more depressing.

Look, I live in a town that used to have a Pizza Hut. We also used to have a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King. What happened? By and large, as much as I want this article to blatantly tie to the collapse of small towns and the inevitable end of Western Civilization thanks to megacorporations, it was pretty much simply because I live in an area that is already full-up on eating options. Without exaggeration, my hometown contains fourteen different choices for pizza delivery, and not a single one is a national chain (we ran Domino’s out of town, too). One town over isn’t any different, and it’s even got two different Italian restaurants named Mario’s and Luigi’s. That is a real thing that has happened! So, with local restaurants that are practically kings within their fiefdoms, it’s no wonder that chain restaurants have had issues getting a foothold. They try! And they seem marginally successful! But the word from the latest Checkers or Wendy’s attempt always seems to be the same: they’re doing good numbers, but they’re not doing corporate numbers. Pizza Hut’s money would be better spent in a town that doesn’t have literally twenty other options for immediate pizza delivery, so they’re leaving town. And, until some new restaurant goes in its place, you’re going to be looking at that familiar, abandoned roof for a few months.

And, at this point, I don’t even have that familiar roof staring back at me. Once again, I really want to make this article more melancholy, but the old Pizza Hut has been demolished, and it was replaced with a very prosperous local diner. It’s a success story all around: the big, bad brand was run out of town on a rail, and a local restaurant has taken its space and customers, and is improving the community. Pizza Hut has been vanquished, silence brand, the world is better without you. Go get Pizza Hut two towns over.

But… sometimes I miss cheesy crust pizza.

Rock outIn a weird way, brands are what bring us together. I live in a city without a Pizza Hut. If I have someone visit from out of town, and they’re in the mood for the $10 tastemaker, I can offer them none. There are alternatives, of course, but this particular item is not available. In fact, I could name the myriad of pizza places in town for you, gentle reader, and their names would mean nothing. I could tell you my favorite pizza place, a spot that locals have literally spoken of fighting in wars to preserve, and it would be as alien as if I named my favorite place as Bthnkor ah vulgtmnahog. Everyone knows Pizza Hut. Everyone has shared Pizza Hut, and, even if it isn’t your favorite, you at least know what I’m talking about. Pizza Hut is an impersonal brand, but it is local in the way that it is familiar. It is universal. It is an inextricable part of the culture. Pizza Hut is pizza.

So when a human-shaped collection of polygons in Crazy Taxi wants a pizza, they should, like their real-world counterparts, want a goddamn Pizza Hut. “Pizza Place” is a denial of reality! The Crazy Taxi of 2010, the only Crazy Taxi you can now legally purchase, is a lesser version of itself. What was once a game that simulated our world is now just as much a fantasy as Cloud’s latest jaunt. PaRappa may as well be working at Pizza Place!

WeeeeeBrands suck. The fact that we’re trapped in a world that is increasingly reliant on four or five corporations that own literally every other lesser, but-still-huge corporation is something out of a dystopian nightmare, and it looks like it is only going to get worse. But these companies are also an inseparable part of our shared culture, and, when one is erased, it makes an impact. The Offspring, Pizza Hut, and Tower Records were all a part of my life in 2000. They’re all fondly remembered, and, if you’re a certain age, you’re likely in the same boat. You could be humming an Offspring song, or imagining biting into a Pizza Hut pizza as we speak. And is that a bad thing? You may be reading this article on a different shore from this humble Goggle Bob, but we have a shared past. We have something that brings us together. We have Brand, and, in a world that is constantly trying to divide people, we have something that brings us closer, and makes us happy.

Corporations are bleeding us dry, but they’re also bringing us together. We don’t owe Brands anything, but sometimes they’re a part of who we are.

… Even if “who we are” is just “people who eat greasy pizza that was excised from an Xbox game.”

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

  • System: Started in the arcade, graduated to the Dreamcast, floated over to the Playstation 2 and Gamecube, and then migrated to the PS3 and Xbox 360/Xbox One. There is also a Gameboy Advance version. The GBA version ain’t half bad!
  • Number of players: Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the sequels to battle a buddy.
  • WeeeeeArcade or Home Version: Crazy Taxi picked up an extra city between the arcade and home ports, so, if you’re playing CT outside of the mall, you have the option of choosing your venue. The “Original City” (which is “original” as in “original to the console versions” not “the original city”) has a lot more interesting bridges, lighthouses, subways, and such, but the original city (dammit) of the arcade version is just so much more iconic. And you’re less likely to wind up underwater, too!
  • Favorite Driver: B.D. Joe appeared in later titles, right? I think he wins. I also like his hat. Incidentally, I very much appreciate that Sega correctly identified that half of all taxi drivers can’t correctly wear a shirt. Button up, you jerks, we’re trying to run a business here!
  • Did you know? Michael Jackson apparently owned a Crazy Taxi arcade “cabinet” (it’s more like a little car than a cabinet). Do you suppose he still had a good relationship with Sega?
  • Would I play again: Crazy Taxi would be the ideal game for something like a cell phone version… assuming a cell phone could properly control a Crazy Taxi. I rarely boot up CT, because it’s ideally played for all of three minutes, but I always enjoy it when I do. So I guess my answer is yes, but only on the rare occasions when I remember it’s on my Xbox, and I’m waiting for something to download.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken Tag Tournament 2! Tag, you’re it, and you’re gonna get hit! Please look forward to it!

I hate this

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

CRASH TIMEI’m very disappointed in the gaming community. My beef du jour? Nobody ever told me that Crash Bandicoot was so… fuzzy.

I am a child of videogames. One of my most vivid early memories was seeing Super Mario Bros. for the first time, and I associate friends, family, and lovers with games that were relevant to those people. My first best friend and I had a child-sized fistfight over Rampage. My grandfather owned and enjoyed (and shared) a Gameboy. My first girlfriend claimed she was going to burn my Final Fantasy 7 shirt (admittedly, I probably should have changed said shirt more often than once a month). But, speaking of first girlfriends and the occasional Final Fantasy, like anyone that has ever grown up, I was once a teenager. It’s sad, but true! And during my later teenage years, (hm… how to put this without sounding as creepy as possible) my lifelong burning love of videogames degenerated to mere embers (nailed it). Nintendo had lost its luster in the N64 age, and I had, for the first time in my life, dropped my Nintendo Power subscription. Other gaming platforms simply didn’t capture my attention like the ones that had brought me Mario and Zelda, and modern interpretations of old, migrated franchises were often weird and scary. Mega Man Legends? Legend of Mana? What is even happening there? To best illustrate my general anti-gaming sentiment at the time, I reserved Final Fantasy 7 with the same kind of gusto most people reserve for their wedding night in 1997, but, by 2000, the release of Final Fantasy 9 hit me with such a wet thud that I barely even purchased the title on its release day. What? Just because I didn’t much care for videogames for a year or so didn’t mean I didn’t still buy games. I just bought less!

AridBut if I had to point at another problem I, a surly teenager raging against the machine (the N64 is a machine), had with gaming at the time, I would likely name the Playstation 1 and Sony’s general… everything. At the turn of the 21st Century, there was a significant marketing push to assert that videogames were not “just for kids”, and were actually for dignified, mature adults that wanted to steer digital teenagers into fighting God. Oh! And skateboards! The Playstation was for mature adults that wanted to ride skateboards straight into an angry God’s gaping maw. Radical! It was bullshit. It was bullshit when Nintendo tried to pivot to “Play it Loud”, it was bullshit when Sega screamed their brand in your face, and it was bullshit when Sony decided to promote every other Playstation release as mature gaming simply because there were a few more polygons involved in Lara’s bra. But I was a teenager when Playstation was riding high on the maturity hog (his name is Buffus), so I bounced off that advertising campaign like Zero repelling off a wall (still bought those Mega Man X games…). Playstation is trying to be cool? Dude, Mario is cool enough, so I’m just going to grab 120 stars for the 10,000th time.

But Mario was not cool. And the number one person… marsupial… thing… saying that was Crash Bandicoot.

I never played the Crash Bandicoot games. Why? Because I was pissed at Crash Bandicoot. It didn’t matter if the Crash games were the best thing since Jumping Flash, their advertising campaign pissed me right off. We were told “Do not underestimate the power of the Playstation” while “real life” Crash Bandicoot and friends terrorized convenience stores. What was obviously some human in a Crash mascot costume insulted “plumber boy” and grabbed a megaphone to shout about the expansiveness of the Playstation library. He accused nuns of foul play! He teamed up with Robbie Knievel for motorcycle stunts! He endorsed Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizzas for some reason! And his kart racing game was promoted with an ad campaign featuring roller derbies, Crash chauffeuring rock stars/hot women, and one commercial that was a thinly veiled parody of Cops. Mario Kart 64 was amazing, and it only had a commercial that involved a creepy carnival! Or maybe that was a hallucination! Whatever! Point is that Nintendo didn’t need Crash’s crass tricks, it made games that were actually good. I didn’t need Crash and his dumb racing game.

But having now played a remake of “Crash’s dumb racing game”, I am seriously reconsidering my life choices.

So sweetCrash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is the 2019 complete overhaul of Crash’s first racing game, Crash Team Racing. It maintains the original plot, “adventure” trappings, and general gameplay of the original CTR, but is otherwise a nearly completely fresh game. The graphics are all new, many more racetracks have been added, and the roster has now been expanded from Crash’s immediate circle of friends to his entire high school yearbook. Unfortunately, modern gaming conventions like “legendary skins” and “micro transactions” have snuck in, too, but it seems petty to complain about a cornucopia of new content when the only issue is that you literally can’t have it all immediately. Aside from that minor scar on the face of gaming, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled is a perfect karting experience, easily one of the absolute best of the recent amazing kart racing titles (it’s in good company).

But that’s immaterial to the big shocker of CTRNF: this is my first Crash Bandicoot game, and, apparently, Crash Bandicoot is cute.

Like Diddy Kong Racing, this is a kart racer with a plot. As I expected, the plot is your typical overwrought melodrama about an invading force attempting to conquer the planet, and the only solution is racing, because the X button has to do something. However, what I was not expecting is that the threatening villain is… goofy. I had assumed Crash Bandicoot took its pun-based villains fairly seriously, but, nope, Nitros Oxide is such a clown, his ending involves learning to unicycle. And the boss characters? They may be marginally racist or ableist, but they’re definitely meant to be (generally one note) jokes. Don Pinstripelli Potorotti might have a tommy gun, but he’s not pointing it at the Nintendo Building like Commercial Crash Bandicoot would. And speaking of Crash Bandicoot, he’s less “attitude”, and more… Garfield. He just wants to nap, eventually saves the world through puttering around in a go kart, and then retires to take more naps. That is not the Crash Bandicoot I know! That is not the Crash Bandicoot I feared.

And just when I was thinking my preconceived notions couldn’t be any more obliterated, CTRNF presented a roly poly polar bear for my racing pleasure

Da Bears

So, unlike most of this meandering blog, there is a clear and succinct moral for today’s post. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or, to be slightly more modern, don’t judge a franchise by its advertising campaign. It doesn’t matter if you’re a surly teenager or an apparently still-surly adult: just give the actual game a try. You might like it! Or it might be Shadow the Hedgehog! Whatever the case, at least give the game an honest shot, because you might find you like it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab a megaphone and yell at the Nintendo building that their kart racers suck.

FGC #521 Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

  • System: All the big players of the current generation, so Playstation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Hey, at least the original version was a Playstation 1 exclusive.
  • WeeeeeNumber of Players: The original Crash Team Racing utilized the Playstation multitap for four player action. You stole the one thing the N64 had going for it!
  • Favorite Racer: It might be a bit of a cliché, but I always appreciate the Tails characters in these mascot games, so it looks like Coco Bandicoot wins for being the brains to Crash’s brawn. Or maybe I’m just happy we have a female cartoon character in a videogame that isn’t overtly sexualized. Or maybe I just like the sheer number of rainbows on her signature course. Whatever! Coco wins! Flawless victory.
  • Important Questions: Why does Baby Cortex have facial hair? I was led to believe that was not how babies work.
  • The Aesthetics: There are a number of courses that are outright bathed in neon. This is all I want from my videogame decorating, so please keep it up. If the F-Zero franchise isn’t going to provide some faux-future design, at least we have Crash.
  • Weighty Decisions: If I had to pinpoint one reason CTRNF works as a racing game, it’s that despite all the absurd courses with their illogical jumps and turns, all of the racers feel perfectly weighty. It might just be fantasy animals in go-karts (and one dude in a hovercraft), but this all feels right, and that adds to the general rollercoaster feel of the whole experience. And I like rollercoasters.
  • Crossover Appeal: Spyro appears as a racer, and has his own signature course. This is presumably a thank you for Crash Bandicoot appearing in Skylanders merchandise/the animated series. Considering Donkey Kong and Bowser also stopped by Skylanders, I am now anxiously awaiting Mario x Crash Kart.
  • ZapDid you know? Yes, the basic “story” gameplay of Crash Team Racing is very reminiscent of Diddy Kong Racing. And, yes, maybe the original designers of Crash Team Racing admit to building a replica of Diddy Kong Racing’s Crescent Island course to see if such a thing would be possible on the Playstation. But don’t worry! Crash Bandicoot never ripped off any Nintendo properties!
  • I thought you were over this Crash rivalry thing now? Apparently not.
  • Would I play again: Yes! This is a really fun racing game, and I’m very glad it wound up loaded onto my Switch thanks to an impulse-buy sale. I’ll likely load up a grand prix or two in the near future when I’m aimlessly flopping around on the couch. Sorry, Mario Kart 8, you’ve been dethroned by a bandicoot.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… R-Type Dimensions! Let’s battle that one giant shrimp looking thing that appears in every bit of R-Type art! Please look forward to it!

Watch yourself

FGC #517 Retro Game Challenge

What we are looking at here is exactly what modern gaming has been chasing for the last decade.

Died right at the end

And you don’t even notice it.

Retro Game Challenge is an odd duck swimming in a flock of odd geese (they’re over at Lake Eerie). It is a game technically based on a Japanese game/variety show (and we use that already ambiguous definition loosely) named GameCenter CX / Retro Game Master, which has been running for 17 years as of this writing. It’s apparently out-surviving Survivor! And that seems appropriate, as the main focus of the show is its host, Shinya Arino, attempting to complete classic games with legendarily great difficulty levels. This isn’t just some random stream, though; between the commentary and jumpsuit, this works out to something closer to Mystery Science Theater 3000 for videogames. And how does that translate to an actual videogame? Weirdly! “Put upon, sarcastically titled Retro Game Master-Arino” becomes a vaguely malevolent, virtual “Actual Retro Master of Games-Arino” who curses the player to be a child flung back in time to play videogames with Arino’s younger self. Master the games, beat Arino’s challenges, and you’ll return to your present… And one would hope that reward is better than a childhood where you’re cursed to play videogames all day…

VrooomBut that’s just the story of Retro Game Challenge, what’s really important is the actual game that’s involved. Scratch that, the game involved is games. Retro Game Challenge does its best to create modern facsimiles of retro games of the past. Rather than turn this into a simple retro compilation hosted by a celebrity (and, to be clear, this humble blogger would not object to such a thing), Retro Game Challenge goes the extra mile and crafts loving homages to the games of yesterday. There’s Cosmic Gate, a (slightly) advanced reimaging of Galaga, and Star Prince, a slightly more advanced shoot ‘em up in the vein of Gradius or R-Type. Then there’s the Haggleman series, which starts off as a simple arcade action title ala Mappy Land or alike, but graduates to a full, cinematic action-explorer like Ninja Gaiden with a touch of Metroidvania underpinnings. Rally King evokes the bygone days of racing games before the advent of Mode 7, and Guadia Quest is Dragon Warrior mixed with a little Final Fantasy and Pokémon. In fact, Guadia Quest seems to stand as the mission statement of the Retro Game Challenge titles: it’s very much a classic JRPG, but it’s also concise and user-friendly, and does not suffer from any of the jank that might detract from someone enjoying a classic JRPG in modern times. It looks retro. It feels retro. But its sensibilities are decidedly modern, so you’re not going to eject it from your DS after the eighteenth time you had to search for the STAIRS command.

And this is one way in which Retro Game Challenge was prescient. RGC was revitalizing in 2007/2009 (took a lil’ bit to localize that one) because it had been so long since we saw these “retro” titles. The concept of 2-D platforming had been demoted to the occasional portable title, and, outside of a Castlevania or two, that kind of “retro” gameplay had been constrained to the shadows. Similarly, JRPGs were, at the time, wholly grand affairs that featured 80-hour long plots and battle systems that required a master’s in exp point management (reminder: RGC was on the same system that featured a Xenosaga title). The “simple” Retro Game Challenge titles were a breath of fresh air in that thick fog of Assassin’s Creeds and Batmans that looked like Assassin’s Creeds.

CheekyAnd history has proven that people liked that fresh air. Retro Game Challenge was released just before the online stores of consoles found that people actually wanted retro titles… they just maybe didn’t need to spend $60 on a disc to get ‘em. Make it clear that these retro titles were not trying to compete with whatever defined AAA that week (remember when everyone was obsessed with Left 4 Dead? That feels like a distant dream…), and suddenly people were all about Mega Man 9 or (console) Cave Story or whatever came down the pike. Retro Game Challenge seemed to herald the start of the age of retro games being available on online stores, and, soon enough, you wouldn’t have to wrap these games up in a faux-compilation, people would just be willing to drop a Hamilton on Haggle Man to play for the afternoon. Retro Game Challenge saw our shores just as online storefronts offered more and more retro game challenges.

But there was one aspect of Retro Game Challenge that was visionary and wholly unique. Need me to draw you a picture?

Who's that pokemon

You have a built-in audience.

Game Master Arino has sent you back in time to play videogames with Child Arino. Technically, throughout the whole of Retro Game Challenge, you are effectively living with Child Arino, playing on his console, reading his magazines, and occasionally consuming snacks provided by his mom. You are playing games that he owns, but does he ever ask for the controller? Does he ever demand you boot up two player mode? Does he ever even take a break to the Little Arino’s Room when you’re approaching hour seven of going for the high score in Space Prince? Nope! Arino is always there. He flinches when you lose a life, and he cheers when you find a secret. He is the perfect host, but, more importantly, he is the perfect spectator. He is never bored with your gaming. He never tires of seeing your latest accomplishments. He is enrapt in your gaming, and only asks that you occasionally answer a random, inane question or two. So, yes, not only is he the perfect audience, but he wants to hear your opinion on matters. Ask me anything, Arino!

LOOK AT ME DO THIS!And isn’t that what every youtuber and streamer is chasing? Hell, isn’t that even the secret point of most MMORPGs? Any game with an online social feature lives and dies by the ways it allows the player to “brag” about their accomplishments. Nintendo avoided “achievements” and “trophies” for this very reason? Well, why do I seem to keep seeing raids in Pokémon Sword/Shield featuring ‘mons that are completely useless, but abundantly shiny. Stop showing off, trainers! I see you! I get it! People have a natural, understandable urge to boast in almost every setting, and much of modern gaming has been constructed around showing off your latest “legendary pull” or “raid loot”. From Pokémon Go to Fortnite to Final Fantasy 14 to whatever that one shooter is that I always forget the name of (Destiny? I want to say Destiny), there are a richness of ways to crow about your achievements, and build a potentially rapt audience around your accomplishments. Modern gaming and entire websites are literally built around this concept, because if you’ve got spectators, you’re never going to stop playing. Of course you need to buy that new DLC, you’ve got to stay at the top of your game for the fans. You wouldn’t want to see that subscriber count go down, would you?

And it all boils down to trying to impress a friendly kid sprawled out on the carpet. It’s all chasing an audience as attentive as Young Arino.

One title predicted the next decade of gaming through a background element that most saw as an afterthought. Retro Game Challenge was secretly Prophetic Game Challenge.

FGC #517 Retro Game Challenge

  • System: A Nintendo DS game posing as a series of Nintendo Entertainment System games.
  • Number of Players: It kind of looks like there should be two players, but you’re actually going it alone on this one.
  • Favorite Retro Game: It says something that, back when this game was released, I was most interested in Gaudia Quest, the faux JRPG. Nowadays, I barely have time for real level grinding, left alone mini level grinding, so I’m going with Haggleman 3, the Ninja Gaiden/Metroid-alike. Haggleman 1 also gets bonus points for being exactly what it wants to be. Rally King can be hurled into the sun.
  • Poor kidLet’s Read: This is one of the few videogames… uh… ever that praises the gaming magazines of the retro era. Retro gaming histories at large seem to ignore the tremendous impact a simple preview for Super Mario Bros 3 or Final Fantasy could have on the curve of gaming’s history, and this is at least one game that acknowledges how “Classified Information” likely sold more titles than Toys R Us. Come on, whatever Mega Man Legacy Collection comes next, you can license a few Nintendo Power pages for the gallery.
  • And now a word from our Sponsor: Retro Game Challenge also promotes something we rarely saw in the United States: games with corporate sponsorship. There are a number of Famicom titles that tie in to various products and services, but it seems like the best we could ever get in the West was a Ninja Turtle or two. Of course, RGC would only be appropriate for the US if its Cup o Noodle version of Rally King was converted into Super HaggleMan 2
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Five years ago (damn!), back when I was still trying to figure out exactly what I was even going to call this site, I originally considered naming this whole “random games to play and write” project “The Retro Gaming Challenge”. Then I was reminded that that was taken by this very game, so I switched over to “Fustian Gaming Challenge”… primarily because I like the word “fustian”. And then, approximately seventy entries later, I realized I should have just gone with “Random Select”. It would explain all the featured fighting games!
  • Don't haggle meDid you know? At the absolute end of the ending, Cyber Arino will remind you that there isn’t anything more to the ending by stating plainly, “Even if you wait, there won’t be anything”. You can then wait for a full thirty minutes (not easy to do on a handheld!), and finally be greeting with Arino’s concluding statement of… “See ya”. He’s an honest guy.
  • Would I play again: Everything about this game is a delight. Not only will I likely play it again, but maybe I can dig up a fan translation of its sequel. Man, I hope that localization is half as good and thoughtful as the original…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cannon Spike for the Sega Dreamcast! … Isn’t that just a special move from Street Fighter? Huh. Street Fighter is pretty good, though… Well, uh, please look forward to it.

Keep on kickin'