Tag Archives: regular sized robots

FGC #635 Rocket Knight

Let's rocket alongThe Rocket Knight franchise is a great collection of games starring a possum with a jetpack. Did you see the way he dangles on his little tail? Totally adorbs. Unfortunately, these four games contain one of the most confusing naming schemes in the history of gaming. So let us take a quick break to review the games starring Sparkster, and delineate which games appeared when and where. This will simultaneously be informative and note how many games contain giant robots (it’s all of them).

Rocket Knight Adventures
1993
Sega Genesis
The Original

This is so coolIf there is a reason there is a “Rocket Knight” franchise in any tangible way, it is because of this game. And not just because this is the one that started it all! Rocket Knight Adventures is clearly a labor of love by a team that not only was interested in what was next for gaming in 1993, but also Konami’s illuminous past.

As an obvious example of Sparkster showcasing what was contemporary in gaming, we have how this awesome possum moves. This little dude is all about speed, and, complete with a jetpack perpetually tied to his back, Sparky is ready to literally fly through levels. But, while much of the level design is built around seeing how far you can get this rocket knight to ricochet around the world, it is not all simply spin-dashing to a brighter future. This knight and his projectile-blade recalls the combat of Mega Man X, and giant, mechanical bosses would be right at home in any Maverick lineup.

Oh, and there’s a minecart stage. You do not get anymore 16-bit than a minecart stage.

But there are also homages to the past of gaming littered across this (then) modern title. For one thing, one of the shoot ‘em up stages straight up includes a pig piloting a Gradius big core. It isn’t remotely subtle! And there are some some more understated “old school” bits tossed around Sparkster’s world, too. It is clear that this game was created by people that were beholden to the glorious arcade past of Konami (or they, ya know, worked there. Could go either way).

Regardless of the reason, Rocket Knight Adventures perfectly balances the contemporary (animal mascot platformers that gotta go fast) with the (oftentimes difficult) past of Rocket Knight’s ancestors. And, couple this with a few amazing gimmick levels (did I mention the giant robot rocking and socking boss?), and Rocket Knight Adventures is a sight to behold.

Sparkster
1994
Super Nintendo
The Port

Play the hitsIn America, the only Rocket Knight title to ever launch on a Nintendo console is simply “Sparkster”. In Japan, it goes by the longer title, “Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2”. So which is it? A parallel game on an entirely difference videogame system, or a sequel that hopped between platforms? The answer is… confusing.

In a lot of ways, this game feels like an example of the 16-bit mainstay of a game appearing in two totally different versions across two systems. Much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, this initially looks like two Konami games both playing to their system’s respective strengths. Sparkster seems to showcase a more expressive rodent that moves at a faster clip (yes, Virginia, the SNES was capable of its own kind of blast processing), but entirely drops “hardware tricks” like the Genesis reflection lava cave. The graphics are entirely different, and seem to be deliberately adapted for the different color palette and more integrated HUD. And the plot is much the same (for a 16-bit game), with wolves in place of pigs, and Axel Gear still on the side of the devils.

But then there are bits that seem to paint this as a deliberate sequel. The shoot ‘em up sections have now changed from Gradius-style 2-D horizontal shupping to a top-down, 1942-esque vertical affair. We have lost our giant robot boss fight, but replaced it with a stage full of ridable giant robot ostriches. This satisfies our robot quotient and supplicates the need for a minecart. And, if you really need some giant robots, plenty are offered as all-new, all-different bosses. Sparkster does feel like an improvement over its predecessor in a lot of ways, but not all of those upgrades cannot simply be attributed to moving between systems.

Regardless of how it was created, Sparkster is still an amazing experience. It does not feel quite as artisanal as its prequel/portmate, but it is still one of the best platforming games on the Super Nintendo. And that’s pretty amazing, considering this is the same system that hosted Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit!

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2
1994
Sega Genesis
The Real Sequel

I do not care for sandOkay, maybe the Super Nintendo game is supposed to be a port of this Sparkster title. Whatever! Sparky is back on the Sega Genesis here, and we have another game that is immediately evidently unique and different from the previous two. Much of the same gameplay is carried forward (rocketing around, spinning when allowed, firing endless sword beams), but there are a number of innovations across the title. Not all of them are strictly upgrades, though…

Look, your mileage may vary on whether or not you see an improvement here, but Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 gets pretty close to going full collectathon. Whereas previous Rocket Knight titles locked their best endings behind difficulty levels (old school!), now you are going to have to find a hidden sword in each stage (and never skip the intro level) if you want to see “Golden Sparkster” conquer this latest threat. And, while the powered up yellow possum is highly reminiscent of Super Sonic, this is a much less useful hyper mode, as it is impossible to obtain before the absolute final battle. Couple this with some sprawling stages that require a lot more exploration than previous titles (and, by “exploration”, we mean “it is entirely possible you will get lost going up and down the same stupid pipes in that same stupid airship stage”), and it seems like the directors of Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 wanted more than another straightforward action game. Unfortunately, when “straightforward action game” is the reason you’re playing the game in the first place…

But this is still a great game! The final boss fight includes one of the greatest gimmicks that has ever existed in an action game (you and the main villain “swap brains”), and, while it may not immediately lend itself to other climaxes, it is surprising and a curious way to play the game. Similarly, the giant robot boss fight of the first Sparkster has now been expanded to a giant robot level, and I cannot be the only person that was begging for such a thing after getting a taste of it in the first title. And, again, this is still a Sparkster game, so even when you are stuck trying to find the right way out of a pyramid, it is fun to play. Sparkster still sparks around… just he might be better suited to his earlier adventures.

Rocket Knight
2010
Xbox 360 / Playstation 3
The Modern Remake

Do not touchAfter a little over fifteen years, Sparkster returned to us via a downloadable title created by Konami fans that were now firmly established on Konami’s payroll. Rocket Knight is a very different animal from its forebears (well, still a possum), as the “charging” system for causing this knight to rocket around has been dramatically altered. The ABC rule of “always be charging” has now been forsaken for something slightly less active, and it does create a slightly more leisurely feel. However, once you get past that change, this is definitely Rocket Knight like you remember it, with enough ricocheting to make a Hanna-Barbera rabbit blush. And new innovations like projectile reflection or drilling add just enough new gameplay variety to make your average wolf/pig encounter more remarkable than in the 16-bit days.

Unfortunately, some of those innovations just make you long for what may have been. Rocket Knight feels like the definition of a 2010 videogame download title (“Xbox Live Arcade Title”). It is amazing! But it is quick! There are basically four worlds here, and a whole quarter of that count is given over to a few stages that are very much glorified tutorials. By the time we are hitting the interesting stuff (like an icy world that freezes your jetpack or a thrilling escape from an exploding factory), we are already practically done. While Rocket Knight seems to be about the same length as its predecessors, it still feels like it ends just when it was getting exciting.

Oh, and there are plenty of giant robots to fight, but not a single one that you get to ride. I could take that giant pig-bot out for a spin, but noooooo…

But one way or another, this is the end of the Rocket Knight franchise. Will we ever see that possum ever again? Maybe! But at least he flew away on a high note that left us wanting more.

Even if we still need a guide to determine which game was which..

FGC #635 Rocket Knight

  • A bit chilly hereSystem: Xbox 360 to start, with Playstation 3 and PC following shortly thereafter. Full disclosure: this whole article was inspired by purchasing an Xbox Series X, and discovering to my delight that Rocket Knight was fully backwards compatible and waiting for me on the new system.
  • Number of players: One of these days that princess is going to have to suit up and be player two. Until then, we are sticking with one rocket knight.
  • Favorite Level: I cannot emphasize enough how the gimmick of the ice level freezing Sparkster’s rocket pack makes for simultaneously new/exciting gameplay and makes perfect, in-plot sense. A miraculous combination of gameplay and setting. Really makes me beg for a universe where this title had a little room to stretch its legs.
  • Favorite Boss: I generally do not like the final boss, as it spends way too much of its existence in something of an invincible/unhittable state. That said, he is a giant, golden pig robot… so I kind of have a hard time getting mad at the guy.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: Rocket Knight returns to the 2-D, horizontal scrolling shoot ‘em up levels of the original adventure. However, it would not be incorrect to state that these levels are much more robust than anything that appeared back in the 90’s, and flying around with this possum leads to some of the best experiences in the game. So what I’m saying is can we finally get a modern Gradius from the same team? Please?
  • Pow powGotta Collect ‘Em All: Rocket Knight now has collectathon elements, as a ranking on each level is based on finding every last gem and doodad throughout the level. A number of these items are “normal”, and would be found easily through traditional level traversal. Unfortunately, there seem to be a couple in every stage that require some dedicated searching or jump-blast coordination, and… Can we not? Can we just have fun zooming around, and not worrying if a 1-Up is hidden in that little alcove over there? This was the worst part of Rocket Knight Adventures 2…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Like Mega Man 9, this is one of the first titles I bought as “digital only”, and did not simply wait for a physical release like I had for every other title. It seems appropriate that it used to require “modern update on retro franchise” to get me to go outside my comfort zone.
  • Did you know? Rocket Knight was a free “games with gold” title for Xbox in November of 2021, eleven years after its release. So if you were waiting for a “sale” for over a decade, have I got a deal for you! That expired!
  • Would I play again: Probably… albeit in another few years. Even with all the baubles to collect, there isn’t much to this game. It is there, it is fun, and then it ends. I have no great drive to immediately return… but I know it will happen eventually. Thus is the magnetic pull of such an excellent possum.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64! We’re going from the squeaky clean knight to the belligerent squirrel. Please look forward to it!

Zzzzzap

FGC #634 Martial Champion

So many fighting gamesNot all fighting games are created equal. For every Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or even Clayfighter, there are a bevvy of games that seem to have been forgotten by all but the most dedicated of fighting game enthusiasts. But that does not mean we can’t learn from these “lost” fighting games! Every fighting game, no matter why they were forgotten, has something to offer. Let’s take a look at some forgotten fighting games, and see why they deserve at least a cursory glance…

King of the Monsters
1991

RAWRWhat is going on here: One of the best games to take place in the far-flung future of 1996, King of the Monsters is the story of what happens when six or twelve legally distinct monsters all decide to rumble and see who will be the titular King of the Monsters. This is bad news for anyone that lives in the future-past Japan that is their battleground, but great for anyone that has ever wanted to see a rock giant fight a snot ghost.

Best Character: Is Astro Guy really a monster? He looks like Ultraman, and there is Beetle Mania over there to be his trademark inexplicable giant bug opponent. Astro Guy wins, as he may be a copy like every other monster, but at least he is the kind of monster that didn’t already appear in Rampage.

What can we learn: King of Monsters was released before “fighting games” became codified with Street Fighter 2 (dropped that same year), so King of Monsters almost feels like a “wrestling game”. It has turnbuckle attacks, an emphasis on grabs, and, most importantly, you have to pin your opponent for three seconds to score a win. And that can be fun! An empty life bar is not a loss in King of Monsters, it just means it will be more difficult to get up when Rocky the Moai power dives on your monster. Extending the match a little longer is great in a game with a scant six playable characters, and it is nice to see the potential for a turnaround despite a theoretical impending loss. Let’s see some last-minute grappling from modern games!

Dino Rex
1992

Big boys starting this offWhat is going on here: Like Primal Rage, this is a 2-D fighter featuring dinosaurs battling for supremacy. Also like Primal Rage, this game absolutely sucks. You’ve got three attack buttons, special moves, combos, and the ability to “charge meter” via shouting, but… Oh man. The central conceit here is that you are technically playing as a scantily clad man controlling a dinosaur via whip, and it sure feels like you have only a whip’s worth of control over your chosen dinosaur.

Best Character: All the humans in this game are generic prehistoric dudes (though, if a match ends in a draw, you can play as one of the dudes, and they curiously have Ryu’s moveset), so we presumably must pick a favorite dinosaur here. And is it possible to pick a dinosaur that is not the mighty Tyrannosaurus? It might be purple again, but it is still a goddamned t-rex.

What can we learn: Dino Rex is a bad fighting game for the fact that you are very likely to lose because it is difficult to confirm whether your controller is working at all, but sometimes it feels good to get your ass kicked, because it also kicks everyone else’s asses. The storyline for Dino Rex posits this is an annual dinosaur fighting tournament to win the hand of an Amazon Queen, so there are spectators, and an arena built up for this yearly battle. And, since dinosaurs are fighting, it gets absolutely wrecked. It is fun to watch the surrounding area get destroyed by careless dinosaurs! And someone on staff evidently noticed, as the bonus stage is controlling your dinosaur in a “dream sequence” that sees a modern city getting similarly smashed. So if you’re going to make a bad fighting game, at least let us destroy everything in it.

Martial Champion
1993

What is going on here: One of Konami’s rare, early fighting games (they were more into beat ‘em ups), this is a pretty obvious Street Fighter 2 clone where a bunch of international weirdos are all punching and kicking in an effort to become… I don’t know… some kind of Martial Arts Champion or something. Your attack options are limited to three buttons (high, mid, low), and there are a total of ten selectable characters (and one unplayable boss).

Best Character: Avu is a tempting choice, as he is basically Karnov (he’s even got fire breath!), but I’m going to choose Bobby. Not only does he have the best name, but he seems to exist as an obvious example of “Well, Guile looks kinda American, but is there any way we can crank that up to ten million?”

What can we learn: Martial Champion has a variable weapon system! Kinda! Some fighters have weapons, and said weapons can be knocked out of a fighter’s hands. And the opponent can retrieve these weapons! And… maybe do nothing? If a fighter doesn’t have a weapon to begin with, it seems they do not have any abilities with any weapons. But! Even if you can’t use it, playing keep away with a weapon is good fun. Thought you had increased range with that scimitar before, loser? Now you’re not getting it back until a knock down. Good luck!

Now let’s talk about Shaq-Fu…

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

Mega Fun

This is Mega Man. Mega Man has appeared in countless videogame titles, a handful of animated series, an excellent comic book, a reasonably acceptable holiday special, and more sprite comics than will ever be acknowledged. Like many “stars” of videogames and videogame adaptions, the Blue Bomber has a choose-your-own-adventure sort of canon, and, while there is a dedicated Mega Man timeline, if you want to claim that Mega lives in San Francisco or Monsteropolis, you don’t have to be wrong. And, on a personal note, I type this all with no small amount of authority, as I have dedicated thousands of hours of my life to Mega Man. That right there is Mega Man as he appears in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and, should you require I provide a complete history of his exploits and appearances, that can be arranged.

Back off, boy

This is Astro Boy. It is a well-known fact that Astro Boy is a significant influence on the creation of Mega Man. Astro Boy was the creation of Osamu Tezuka in 1951. That would have been a year when my grandfather was younger than I am now, so Astro Boy has been around for quite a while. Astro Boy has appeared in a number of cartoons, comics, and movies since his premiere, and he even scored one of the best Gameboy Advance games ever created in 2003/2004. Astro Boy: Omega Factor is a Treasure beat ‘em up/shoot ‘em up that plays like a lost Super Nintendo classic in the absolute best ways. It also features a surprisingly remarkable story mode involving betrayal, racism, time travel, and Osamu Tezuka creations as guest stars. In fact…

Look at em all

A major point of Astro Boy: Omega Factor is that it includes a full, Smash Bros-esque roster of classic characters. Some are allies, some are bosses, and some only exist to be hidden powerups. Whatever their purpose in the game, they all appear in a final “who’s who” that relays to a neophyte fan who you are looking at and why you should care. In a lot of ways, it is similar to the “trophy mode” of many Smash Bros. titles, and it similarly begs the player to learn more about Osamu Tezuka and his prolific body of works.

And… uh… I know nothing about these guys and gals. In fact, I am going to see if I can view the Tezuka stars exclusively through the lens of the various Smash Brothers. It worked for Mega Man and Astro Boy, right? Let’s start this off with…

Dark Pit

A friendly guy

Dark Pit is the evil twin of the star of Kid Icarus, Pit. Pit has been around since the bygone era of Captain N: The Game Master, but Dark Pit was a new addition to the mythos back when Kid Icarus finally earned its third title, Kid Icarus: Uprising. Dark Pit was created by a magical mirror that was meant to draw out the worst traits of Pit… but Pit was too much of a good boy, so it created an “evil” twin that could best be described as surly. Dark Pit is an exact match for Pit in combat, though he has different divine patrons, so he can beat his counterpart in a few key areas. Regardless, Dark Pit pretty well defines the concept of the darker, edgier rival character, even if “darker” in this case mostly means “can say one (1) additional cuss word”.

Atlas

Nice hair

Atlas is Astro Boy’s mechanical adversary, and, in many incarnations, his literal or figurative sibling. This bother of a brother is as angry as Astro Boy is friendly, and has the typical rival problem of always having to be the very best, even if it means burning down the planet on the way to victory. In Omega Factor, Atlas is a tragic villain with a background involving moons and girls in suspended animation on said moons. This puts Atlas in some prime real estate to be the obvious villain at the start of the adventure, but more of a footnote as the story goes on. In fact, if you want a real villain, you should look at…

Ganondorf

Piggy

Ganondorf first appeared as the Dark Wizard Ganon in The Legend of Zelda in 1986. Fun fact: distinct from characters like karting king Bowser or baseball star K. Rool, Ganon was one of the few Nintendo villains to never be playable in an affable capacity. You couldn’t even control Ganon outside of Smash Bros. until Hyrule Warriors in 2014, and even there, he was involved in a campaign to kill literally every other playable character. Not the friendly sort! And why would he be? He is an immortal outcast that desires nothing more than ruling/destroying a kingdom or two. Ganondorf is not a pleasant fellow.

Garon

Big Boy

Garon is an unstoppable robot from the stars that towers over Astro Boy and may have nearly conquered Earth once or twice. And, oh yeah, depending on the translation, sometimes he is simply known as “Satan”. That is not a name you want to see assigned to a giant robot. Garon is one of the monsters that Astro Boy wasn’t able to defeat with basic armaments in his original appearance, so ol’ Astro has to trick Garon into monkeying with the gravity and inadvertently hurling himself into the stratosphere. Now, I’m not saying this could ever work on Ganondorf, but has anyone ever tried tricking the big guy when he was making a wish on the Triforce? It might have some fun results.

Falco Lombardi

Bird boy

Let’s get back to the heroes. Falco Lombardi is the ace pilot of the Star Fox team. He has occasional fights with his leader, Fox McCloud, but generally seems to get along with his other fellow pilots, Slippy and Peppy. There have been a few rare occasions when Falco tried to strike out on his own, but, give or take when he tried to join F-Zero, he remains a loyal pilot. He’s also a bird-man. This isn’t unusual in his universe of eclectic animal people, and nobody really makes a big deal about his avian ancestry.

Duke Red

Bird brain

Duke Red appears in all sorts of Tezuka materials, most notably (in my mind) as a criminal kingpin in Metropolis. He has been a villain many times, but is a well-meaning politician in Omega Factor that kinda sorta creates a doomsday device that literally destroys the planet. Whoopsie. Regardless, what is important is that Duke Red is some kind of bird man, and nobody ever draws attention to this fact. Many Tezuka worlds are racist as hell, so he is patently not living in some kind of utopia universe. Maybe people aren’t familiar with birds in these stories? Whatever. This whole thing makes a whole lot less sense when there isn’t a talking toad around…

Bayonetta

Bullet Hell Woman

It is miraculous that Bayonetta appears in Super Smash Bros. This is the franchise that had to stick nylons on some scantily clad weapon ladies, and could not include King of Fighter’s Mai as a background character because her design was not built for good little boys and girls. Bayonetta meanwhile is a bullet witch that hunts angels with the power of removing her clothes. She exclusively appears in games rated M for Mature, and swears like a sailor while destroying celestial creatures with hair-based attacks. And those heels! Attached to those legs! Won’t someone please think of the children!? I mean, she kicks ass and her games are awesome, but she looks a little out of place standing next to the Ice Climbers.

Prime Rose

Nice sword

In Omega Factor, Prime Rose is practically the definition of a damsel in distress, as she is caged in a tube for nearly her entire appearance, and two boy (robots) have to fight over her while she is double rescued by a brilliant surgeon. Likely as a result of being stuck in a tube/operating table, when Prime Rose is finally well enough to speak, she exclusively appears while stark naked. However, when she later is part of the game’s glossary of characters, she is wearing a battle bikini and equipped with a sword. Why? Well, apparently she originates from a 1982 manga that was meant to capitalize on a “cute girl” craze. And then there was a movie where she was some kind of anime Red Sonya. So, hey, when do we get to play that game? Prime Rose and Bayonetta could team up!

Banjo & Kazooie

Banjo!

Speaking of pairs, in the beginning, there was Banjo, and he was pretty good at racing. But this bear’s career didn’t take off until a bird’s egg fell into Banjo’s backpack, and Kazooie was born. Thus, the inseparable (except in that one game) pair joined forces, and beat back any green witch mean enough to cause a ruckus in Banjo’s neck of the woods. Banjo & Kazooie haven’t seen much play in recent years, but they are the good kind of goofy mascots that can appear in practically anything. Hey! Nintendo and Rare? Let Banjo do the Olympics with Mario. Everybody will enjoy it.

The Amazing Three

Dumb horse thing

The Amazing Three are aliens from a far-off planet that were sent here to assess whether or not Earth should be allowed to continue to Earth along, or should be obliterated with a neutron bomb. Considering we’re still here, looks like we passed. Once the Amazing Three arrive on Earth, they take the forms of a rabbit, horse, and duck. That is enough like a bear and bird for me to be happy with this article’s comparison. Also, let’s be real here: Banjo & Kazooie need the ability to destroy their planet at all times. Can’t find that last musical note? Destroy the universe. It is appropriate retaliation. Oh, anyway, The Amazing Three appear as comic relief in Omega Factor, so let’s not worry about how Nokko the Horse Alien is eventually responsible for the birth of Bojack Horseman.

Piranha Plant

CHOMP

Piranha Plant is just one of those dudes you never consider who appears in damn near everything. Not unlike the cheap cheap, P.P. has not only done his best to appear in countless Mario platformers; the prickly plant has also appeared as background fodder in various Mario Karts, Parties, and probably somewhere in those soccer games. Of course Piranha Plant became a full fledged fighter in Super Smash Bros Ultimate: he appeared in the original Smash Bros as an obstacle in the hidden arena. Even Bowser didn’t make an appearance in that game!

Black Looks

Unfortunate name

Black Looks, aka Black Lux, was little more than a pissed off dude that hated robots in his original appearance. However, in Omega Factor, Black Looks becomes a trench coat clad army of dudes with laser guns and a major hate-on for robots. They are relentless, and, in typical Treasure fashion, there are some inexplicably stretched sprites of Black Looks, so you get to fight a few “humans” that are twelve feet tall. And this is the legacy of the piranha plant: a simple fellow that, through no fault of his own, is now an entire army unto himself. No one should be surprised when Black Looks start popping out of pipes and biting plumbers.

Incineroar

Gotta catch em all

Incineroar, the heel Pokémon. Although it’s rough mannered and egotistical, it finds beating down unworthy opponents boring. It gets motivated for stronger opponents. When its fighting spirit is set alight, the flames around its waist become especially intense.

Brontus

Big Bird

Mont-Blanc, aka Brontus, one of the world’s seven strongest robots. A guide from Switzerland, it is said he had over 100,000 horsepower. He met Pluto, a gigantic bull robot, and was destroyed within a minute. He then appeared in the 1963 and 1980 anime… and was similarly immediately crushed. In Omega Factor, he is marginally invincible, and can shoot fireballs. So, like a Pokémon, his abilities are increased dramatically the minute he can run around in an actual action game.

Sora

I know that guy!

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s final fighter: Sora hails from Kingdom Hearts, a game that may have been discussed on this site. Sora has an extremely convoluted backstory, but what is important is that he will fight for his friends, and his friends include a whole lot of Disney properties. Goofy, Mickey, Aladdin, Elsa, Jack Skellington: Sora knows all the big players, and they are all connected to his heart. Of course, you’re not allowed to mention any of them in Smash Bros., because Disney keeps an iron grip on its intellectual property, and apparently the world will explode if Mario’s white gloves touch Donald’s feathery butt. And speaking of Disney being litigious…

Pook

Pooka?

I know this one! Pook (aka Bobo) is a trouble making little boy robot that appears across various Astro Boy stories, but, more importantly, this Pook can transform into Jungle Emperor Leo aka Kimba the White Lion. Ever hear about Kimba? Kinda sounds like Simba, don’t it? Well, that is theoretically not a coincidence, as there have been many accusations over the years that Disney outright stole much of Kimba the White Lion when it was not able to purchase the rights. But, let’s be real here: that’s hogwash. After all, everyone involved in The Lion King’s production has claimed that they never even saw Kimba the White Lion, and it is just a coincidence that both stories involve lion protagonists with rhyming names, wise mandrill advisors, fratricide, a lion with an eye scar taking over in the prince’s absence, hyena henchmen, and a cute lioness love interest. And the scenes that look like they were wholesale lifted from the original Tezuka anime? Complete fluke! And Kimba doesn’t even know Elton John, so they’re absolutely separate movies. Let’s just put that rumor to rest now.

Donkey Kong

You know him well

But we can’t ignore every bit of litigation in every company’s past. Donkey Kong is an established bit of Nintendo history now, but he came with a lawsuit in his early days. The estate of the late great King Kong claimed Donkey Kong was biting on the whole “big gorilla kidnaps woman and climbs on stuff” shtick, and Nintendo nearly had to retract its greatest selling arcade game for fear that it would be squashed by copyright law. While Nintendo won in the end, it just goes to show that even the most original companies often come from origins that border on theft, and all ideas stand on the borrowed shoulders of giants. If we are being honest, there would be no Donkey Kong without King Kong, and there would be no Mighty No. 9 without a Mega Man who needs his Astro Boy.

Sharaku

EYEBALL

And that’s just Krillin fused with Tien Shinhan, right? This Osamu Tezuka guy is a hack.

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

  • System: Gameboy Advance. If ever a game deserved to be ported to something for modern consoles, this would be it.
  • Number of players: Astro Boy gets by with the support of his friends, but is stuck in a single player game.
  • Here comes the factor!Favorite Astro Friend: It is a great bit of storyline/gameplay synergy that Astro Boy levels up as he meets more people. I normally cannot stand a leveling system in a beat ‘em up, but I’ll allow it if it means Unico adds to your fighting power. Anywho, Don Dracula, head vampire of Mu, is cowering on a train, and will sell out his boss unprompted by anything, so going to congratulate that vampire on being my favorite “ally” in this adventure.
  • What gets your points? Power up Astro Boy’s mega death laser for maximum fun. Yes, it is a hyper move that requires charging some punches, but it is absolutely the best way to do damage to practically everything. In a way, it seems like Astro Boy learned how to be a videogame from Marvel vs. Capcom 2… which may explain why I like it so much.
  • So, did you beat it? I used a FAQ back in the day, because some of the conditions for unlocking the proper paths are complete nonsense (replay the tutorial stage? Really?). That said, for a game that is based on just punching and/or lasering stuff as hard as you can, the way the plot progresses is a really interesting way to get the player to experience the same levels over again. I would be annoyed if it weren’t so much fun.
  • All aboardGoggle Bob Fact: This game was a Christmas gift from my grandmother, and now this article is publishing on her birthday. She would have been nearly 110 this year! That’s weird!
  • Did you know? The North American version of this game was delayed to coincide with the release of the Astro Boy Saturday Morning Cartoon. This allowed Treasure to put some additional polish on the experience during the waiting period, so maybe that’s why this is easily one of Treasure’s best games. Or maybe fighting robots are just a natural fit for videogames. Whatever. It works!
  • Would I play again: Yes. Now somebody release it on Switch so I can play it without having to dig out an ancient portable system with pulsating batteries.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Body Harvest for the Nintendo 64! We gonna fight some bugs! Please look forward to it!

ROBOT
Robots! We get it!

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

This article contains spoilers for Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2. We go hard on Axiom Verge, but Axiom Verge 2 spoilers are considered to be “light”. That said, if you want to go into either game “clean”, you have been warned…

Very moodyFear. Isolation. Losing your very sense of self. Learning that you may be becoming a threat to yourself and others. Having an unstoppable magic gun that allows you to function as a God.

Which one of these doesn’t fit?

Axiom Verge is easily one of the best metroidvania titles of the last decade. For that matter, it is one of the best games, period, of all time. But its place in time is important, as much of Axiom Verge relies on an understanding from both the author and the audience of many games that have come before. Metroid was amazing and arguably kicked off the metroidvania (hey, it’s right there in the title) genre, but it was also a glitchy mess. Mario had one minus world, Metroid had an entire planet’s worth of areas that could be discovered if you jumped off of a doorway the “wrong” way. Axiom Verge uses this concept to create “intended glitches” in the form of breach blocks, unique areas, and even enemies that all rely on the visual shorthand of “oh, this area is fudged”. It takes what was already a pretty great planet explore ‘em up and transforms it into something simultaneously new and nostalgic. Axiom Verge is not the only game to utilize “glitches” and the shorthand of the medium itself to create memorable moments, but it might be the game that does so the most seamlessly and wittily. If Axiom Verge was just a dedicated metroidvania, it would be excellent, but its own unique flavor elevates it to something extraordinary.

Aim away from faceAnd, hey, as a special bonus, Axiom Verge has an interesting plot, too. You are Trace, a friendly scientist that was crippled in a lab accident a few years back. But he’s fine now! Because he was revived on an alien planet for the express purpose of committing the most complicated suicide known to man. “Your” Trace is a clone of a young man that would eventually become an interdimensional despot that conquered an entire planet and is at least partially responsible for releasing a plague that is wholly responsible for a genocide or two. Young Trace must now find and stop Old Trace, aka Athetos, and learn along the way that his own allies, the Rusalki, are maybe not the most reliable giant mechanoids in the omniverse. It creates tension from all sides of this tale, and the fact that the Rusalki are fond of reminding you that they can literally kill you at any time with a thought does not exactly engender a trust that you are on the right side of this conflict. Like many of the best metroidvania titles available, Axiom Verge has created a world where you feel alone not just because you’re stuck with only jumpy bugs for company, but because anything that can communicate in something other than screams is likely trying to kill you, too.

Except it is a little undercut by the fact that Axiom Verge seems to transform Trace into a friggin’ god.

Look, maybe I’m confused, and that is the point here. Trace is destined to become an unstoppable monster of a man, and maybe it was the Axiom Disrupter that got him there. Maybe that is the purpose of the exercise for Trace: absolute power corrupts, and absolute gun grants absolute power. But… that does not seem to be reinforced by Trace’s circumstances. When Trace wins the day, he is immediately betrayed by his Rusalki friend, and can only helplessly watch as promises are broken. Throughout the adventure, Trace attempts to show autonomy by resisting the violent nature of being a videogame protagonist, but, save one boss that forgot to lock the doors, Trace is forced to murder every mutant between his pod and freedom. There is even one “boss” that is just a soggy mess of altruistic protoplasm, but it’s gotta go, because it is in the way of a powerup. Over and over again, it is reinforced that Trace has no control over his own existence.

Drill away, tooBut Trace has seemingly unlimited control over everything else in his life. Trace starts with a basic peashooter, but it quickly graduates to something that can fire “bullets” that handle any situation. Somewhere in there, he acquires a drone that allows for nigh-invincible exploration (drones can die, but Trace doesn’t suffer any consequences), a grappling hook that improves traversal immensely, and something that could best be described as a “glitch gun”. That final item is particularly amazing, as even the most powerful enemy can be blasted through a wall until it has been glitched into a state of extreme vulnerability. And just when that glitch gun loses its luster, Trace acquires screen-impacting glitch bombs. And that is right about when Trace gains the ability to teleport to his own drones, so he can toss a lil’ buddy down a corridor, dodge every monster in the area, and then teleport to safety. Want to be the pacifist Trace always claims to be? Just drone around town and have a fun time!

And, ultimately, that is the problem. The reason Axiom Verge is great is, ultimately, because it is fun. And you don’t get to be fun by having a severely limited protagonist. It is fun to screw attack Zebes as Samus Aran, and it is fun to glitch, trick, and obliterate your mindless opponents in Axiom Verge. It is a blast to see a final area that initially seems daunting, but then gradually discover how to use your myriad of abilities to navigate the dangers without a single scratch. There is nothing more enjoyable than solving a series of logic puzzles, earning a flame thrower for your efforts, and then barbequing every problem you could ever encounter. Solving problems through variable violence might not be Trace’s bag, but it is irrefutably the most fun to be had on Sudra.

So is it even possible to have fun in a metroidvania without becoming ridiculously empowered and/or presenting a series of challenges that tax those ridiculous powers? Can the protagonist of a fun metroidvania be anything but a killing machine?

Gee, pretty convenient Axiom Verge 2 is right there.

This is a terrible placeIn a lot of ways, Axiom Verge 2 repeats Axiom Verge beats. Indra is a scientist-CEO that knows a thing or two about computer equipment, but not necessarily how to defeat a mecha-bug. She will get there, though, with the help of a number of powerups that upgrade her offensive and acrobatic abilities. And the ability to summon and/or be a drone, which is apparently a recurring thing! Dimension hopping will be involved, subduing someone that is maybe yourself is certainly on the menu, and, in the end, our heroine is going to toe the line between life and death as something wholly “other” from her original self. Every Axiom Verge protagonist dies at least once, apparently. If you took Trace through his metroidvania world, you’ll be perfectly comfortable with Indra bumping around a dimension or two in Axiom Verge 2. It’s a sequel! You’re back for more of the same, so there is a lot of “the same” here.

But where Axiom Verge 2 deviates wildly from its predecessor makes all the difference. Indra does not receive a magical gun at the start of her journey, she obtains something little more fantastical than a pickaxe. When Indra inevitably gains her first sufficiently-advanced-technology-is-indistinguishable-from-magic upgrade shortly thereafter, she gains exactly zero additional offensive options. From there, she gets… a boomerang. It worked for Link, right? Well, it barely works here, and, while Indra gains greater and greater abilities as her quest proceeds, she never comes close to gaining the same destructive strength as Trace. The shock droids of the first area are still just as likely to incapacitate Indra at the end of her adventure as the beginning, and the upgraded “boss” monsters… Well… probably best if you just keep walking, Indra. Ain’t nothin’ you can do to that mobile tank…

But, much more than in Axiom Verge, in Axiom Verge 2, that seems to be the whole point.

Big ol' boyThere is not a single boss in Axiom Verge that must be permanently killed. There are (by my count) two bosses you must actively/temporarily incapacitate, but every other opponent can be ignored. In fact, were it not for the generally claustrophobic halls of the Breach Dimension, it would likely be tremendously easier to beat Axiom Verge 2 by not attacking a single soul. Do you get rewards for smashing robots or felling alien fauna? A health power up here or there is your only prize, as any form of “leveling” is almost entirely based on exploration (there are, like, four upgrades out of a hundred you get from actual violence). Beyond that, you are never chastised for running, and a number of the biggest, scariest monsters will be content to lumber around the same room for eternity if you do not fell them. And why would you? For outright attacks, you have, at best, a cool sword. Ever try to take down a tree with a machete? And the tree is also trying to eat you? Well, it’s like that, so why would you put yourself in such danger? Just walk away, Indra!

Trace may have claimed to be something like a peacemaker, but he literally could not leave his first room without letting his weapon rip. Indra, meanwhile, may gain the (limited) power to be a thinking bomb, but she lives in a world where it is possible to only use that ability to open passageways. She gains similar glitch/hacking tech, but can use it exclusively to have enemies drop health powerups. Indra never becomes godlike in her abilities, and that is a good thing, because, in an exploration-based world, she actually has incentive to explore. Find those passageways! Discover all the ways a breach-attractor can get you out of trouble! Do it all for the possibility of not getting destroyed by a leering space head. You’ll thank me later!

And… that feels weird.

KABAMIn fact, it repeatedly feels wrong. I want to be gameplay-Trace, not plot-Trace. I want to roll around the planet with enough power to conquer said planet. I want the local rabble to fear my strength, because, dammit it feels good to be wholly in power. Hey, droid jet that is trying to kill me? I will hack you, embarrass you, and then kill you! Because I’m the best! But Indra can’t be the best. No matter how many upgrades you find on her world, she will never come close to being half as strong as Nintendo’s intergalactic bounty hunter. Indra is never going to be able to solve her problems with weaponry, because she will never find the weapons that would allow that. So, as a player, I am disappointed in her lack of laser boomerangs.

Yet, Axiom Verge 2 still winds up being one of the best games I have ever played. Axiom Verge 2 may actually be one of the best examples of gameplay-plot synergy out there. I genuinely believe Samus Aran is capable of being vulnerable around the space dragon that ate her parents… but it is harder to believe after I have seen her explode entire planets. Meanwhile, Indra is a mother, scientist, and CEO, and I believe this is how someone from those circumstances would become a powerful robot lady. Is she vastly changed by the end of her quest? Of course. But she also is not vaporizing space monsters with a cannon capable of melting mountains. She might be able to morph into a drone, but that doesn’t give her a leg up on swinging a sword. While this author doesn’t know anyone that became a cyborg while exploring another dimension, that progression seems right. Axiom Verge 2 might turn the typical Metroid paradigm on its head, but it feels like it gets there by an honest path.

But this is a videogame website, so we have to ask the question: which is better? We have two vaguely mundane protagonists, but only one wielding a god-gun. And which makes for a better game? Well, I am a wiener, so I am going to claim both. I want Axiom Verge, because I like mowing down monsters. But Axiom Verge 2 felt more genuine and thoughtful, so I suppose I can give up raw power for authenticity. Axiom Verge 2 initially disappointed me by not being Axiom Verge, but it seems like a game I might think back on more often than its progenitor.

… Or I’ll just grab a new weapon that doubles as a grappling hook, and forget those “feelings” things ever happened…

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

  • Zipping AroundSystem: Axiom Verge was released on everything relevant at its release (PS4, PC, WiiU, Xbox One, the friggen’ Vita), and a few extra systems since (Nintendo Switch). Axiom Verge 2 is currently on Switch, PC, and PS4, and I think a Playstation 5 version is incoming. Or it is just the PS4 version? Who the heck knows.
  • Number of players: Speed running against other players is kind of like competitive multiplayer, but it is primarily single player.
  • Just play the gig, man: The music in both games is incredible. And so is the pixel art, level design, and general plotting. But the music is really good! … Like everything else. Dammit.
  • Alone in the Dark: Okay, maybe my main “disappointment” with Axiom Verge 2 is that it uses dynamic lighting to create “dark” areas in early parts of the game. While it makes for an excellent, moody setting, I abhor any malady in a videogame that hampers the player’s sight. This also applies to status effects in Kingdom Hearts PSP titles, and any time Mario encounters a “dark” ghost house. I am having flashbacks to my college, tic-tac-sized TV screen. It’s traumatic!
  • A matter of skill: Also, I do not care for allocating “skill points” in Axiom Verge 2. This is a great way to take hold of your unique playstyle or something, but it mostly just gives me choice paralysis, and I never upgrade anything, because I assume I am going to get some awesome ability later in the game, and not have the scratch to buy its cooler version. And that happens! When you get a flying powerup super late in the game! Please go back to just dropping missile containers, please.
  • Just hanging outStory Time (super-duper spoilers): It is possible and very probable that the big connection between Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2 is that Indra of AV2 eventually becomes Ophelia the giant robot lady of Axiom Verge, thus making AV2 a prequel to Trace’s adventures. And there are a lot of little lore bits, too, like how your breach buddy can accidentally infect humans, and transform them into Axiom Verge bosses. Or it is all a bunch of coincidences in an infinite multiverse, and we should really just relax.
  • Favorite boss (first game): Never going to forget that Kraid wannabe that was peaking out of an acid pool in Axiom Verge. He might not have moved much, but he certainly was tall. And, sometimes, tall is all you need.
  • Favorite boss (second game): The “always revive every time” boss battle with yourself seemed to initially tease that you were both invincible, but having a respawn point right there added a special level of futility to the proceedings. Violence is not the answer! When everyone is immortal, at least…
  • Did you know? Okay, nothing in Axiom Verge 2 comes close to the hallucination sequence in Axiom Verge, so it is hard to admit that one game isn’t better than the other.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Duh. I was excited to have an excuse to play Axiom Verge again in time for Axiom Verge 2, and I will likely still think the same in five years when Axiom Verge 3 rolls around. Good stuff!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the Gameboy Advance! Get ready for the other little metal boy on the block! Please look forward to it!

Here it comes
Just go ahead and utilize that doomsday weapon for funsies