Tag Archives: saturn

FGC #520 X-Men: Children of the Atom

Let’s start at the end to find the beginning.

Let's get infiniteIn 2017, Capcom released Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, possibly the most embarrassing flop in the history of videogames. This should have been a slam dunk! It was a fighting game released after the resurgence of fighting game popularity, so there was a built-in audience ready and willing to fight online and at tournaments. The cast was also at the absolute peak of their popularity, as the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and The Guardians of the Galaxy were dominating the box office with hit after hit. The latest Avengers movie had just produced more profit than the entirety of South Americacitation needed. And the Capcom side of things? Sure, some of the cast was a little esoteric, but seeing the likes of Jedah or Dante is exciting for people that actually play videogames (and, hey, this is a videogame!). And next gen graphics! I have been led to believe that people love those crazy framerates! Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite should have been a generation-defining fighting game for all sorts of reasons.

But Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite was a dud. Why? Well, it seems like the big issue was that, in trying to court the Marvel movie audience, the direction of MvC:I left its fans in the dust. A bright, cartoony style was dropped for something that was trying for realistic, but wound up settling in the uncanny valley. The gameplay was weirdly stiff, and, even though the Story Mode was a hoot, the minute-to-minute of the experience simply felt… off. And perhaps worst of all, some of the most remarkable fighters from the previous title were dropped (sorry, Phoenixes), and the new arrivals were uninteresting, limited, and mostly DLC. When a franchise introduces a playable trash panda, you can’t follow that up with “Storm, but white”. And speaking of which, likely thanks to that movie-mandate, the entire X-Men cast was dropped from the franchise. Gone were the likes of Wolverine and Sentinel, and the best we could hope for was the (paid) return of Venom.

Let's go crazyAll in all, MvC: Infinite seemed like a lesser version of a game that had been released six years prior, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds brought the Versus Franchise roaring back, and Ultimate MvC3, its seemingly inevitable update, is noted by many to be the best in the franchise. This is clearly a title that was created by fans, for the fans (how else could you explain the presence of MODOK and Trish?), but also maintained a balance between the very disparate characters. You could equally have fun choosing a wee little red power ranger or a hulking… uh… Hulk. Hell, this is a game that managed to balance fights between multi-tentacled monstrosities and god-dogs. But, balanced or not, there was no lack of spectacle, and every last fight felt appropriately marvelous. Give or take Jill Valentine becoming some kind of angry cyborg cat (sorry, I have no idea what Resident Evil was doing that week), UMvC3 was received well for being a flawless entry in the Versus Franchise.

Just what I expectedAnd it’s not like that would be a cakewalk from UMvC3’s inception; it was forced to bring back the franchise after 2000’s Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, which is noted by many to be the best in the franchise. MvC2 is not a balanced game like its descendant, but it’s not like anyone wanted balance anyway. This is mahvel, baby. This is a game that decided to cap off the (at the time) end of the Versus Franchise (mostly due to licensing issues), and include literally every fighter that had ever appeared. After years of Versus games that liberally dropped and added fighters as it moved along, MvC2 decided to just throw everything against the wall to see what stuck (and maybe include a talking cactus, too). This led to one of the wildest fighting games in history, as suddenly a gigantic stand-in for Satan could get his tailed-ass beat by an army of miniscule Servbots. There were 56 total characters, and, while there were a number of Ryu wannabes and the occasional Iron Man recolor on the roster (and two Wolverines, for some reason), this roster remains to this day one of the most eclectic in all of gaming. Where else are you going to find a metal tyrant battling a mummy? And, while some nuance amongst the characters was lost, there is no greater feeling than unleashing three hyper moves’ worth of beam attacks against a walking suit of armor. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was just the right kind of absurd foolishness we all needed after weathering the Y2K bug (which, miraculously, was not a playable character).

Let's go crazyBut that wouldn’t have even been possible were it not for the release of Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes two years earlier. The “original” MvC is noted by many to be the best in the franchise, as it wrung every bit of action and distinction out of its (compared to its descendants) limited roster. This was the initial game to introduce familiar videogame faces that were new to the world of fighting games, so now, like Athena ascending to King of Fighters, you saw Captain Commando and Strider executing fierce punches for the first time. It also included a bevy of cameo characters that guested for singular attacks, which, finally, allowed Jubilee to join in the melee. And if the balanced tag team action of the Versus Franchise wasn’t enough for you, there was also the Variable Cross, which allowed a whole team to attack simultaneously, so War Machine could set Morrigan up for the spike. This was the perfect mix of old and new, so, like a playable Mega Man, it was the familiar seen in an all-new light that was somehow instantly and effortlessly refined.

KISSESBut why was it all familiar? Well, because we had already enjoyed X-Men vs. Street Fighter in 1996 and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter in 1997. Both games were the starting bell for what would be known as the Versus Franchise, but primarily only reused assists from prior games, whether they be Marvel or Street Fighter titles. X-Men vs. Street Fighter at least gave us luminaries like Rogue or Sabertooth, but MSHvSF was wholly recycled from previous titles, and was likely only published because someone wanted to see Shuma Gorath tackle Sakura. Whether sprites and moves were recycled from earlier titles is immaterial, though, as this crossover gameplay was wholly new to the Capcom stable. You can fight as two people at once (kinda)! You can combine super moves (totally)! Wolverine can finally take a chunk out of M. Bison! And MSHvSF may have been light on new character content, but it did introduce the vital ability to summon your partner for an assist. In short, everything that defines the Versus Franchise was right there at its beginning, even if it wasn’t yet a welcoming place for Arthur to hang out.

UPPERCUTBut even before we ever had a single tag battle, the basic gameplay of the Versus Franchise premiered with 1995’s X-Men: Children of the Atom. XM:CotA (and its spiritual sequel a year later, Marvel Super Heroes) was essentially based on the Street Fighter Alpha engine, but with a little… mutation. While the Street Fighter franchise veered more into realistic, restrained fighting in Street Fighter 3 (well, as realistic as a fight can be when one participant is an albino made of electrified jelly), X-Men:CotA adopted all the “based on an anime” indulgences of Alpha, and dialed it up to eleven with super jumping, laser beams, and midair combos. It was still natural to anyone that had played Street Fighter (or, of course, Darkstalkers), but the pomp and bombast of every battle was an experience that was wholly unique. And that made perfect sense! These weren’t mundane “street fighters”, these were Marvel’s mightiest mutants, so you had to have a game that accounted for characters with a non-standard number of arms. X-Men: CotA started what would become a franchise all its own by taking the familiar and marrying it to the fantastic.

But where did X-Men: Children of the Atom come from? From Cyclops battling Silver Samurai to Mega Man blasting Marrow to Thor fighting Sigma on the Rainbow Bridge, where did this all truly begin? With Street Fighter? Final Fight? What is the origin of this decades-old fighting game franchise?

Well, if I told you it all spun out of the opening credits adaption of the Japanese localization of a Fox Kids cartoon from 1992, would you believe me?

So much jumping

No, of course not. That would be silly. Let’s just say this all started with Street Fighter, and call it a day.

Thank you, Ryu, for bringing us the amazing Versus Franchise. Let us never speak of Omega Red’s impact ever again.

FGC #520 X-Men: Children of the Atom

  • System: Arcade for the arcade experience, but the Sega Saturn version will do in a pinch. It kind of has a weird screen aspect thing going on, but it’s otherwise pretty tops. The Playstation 1 version is not discussed in polite company.
  • Number of players: We might not be able to select two X-Men at once yet, but you can certainly have two players.
  • Death SpiralWho Are These Guys: Even assuming the game is based primarily on the X-Men animated series, you have to wonder where half this roster came from. Wolverine? Great! Cyclops? A keeper! Psylocke? Okay, I guess Jim Lee got a vote. Omega Red? A poor man’s Sabertooth at least would have an interesting moveset. But Spiral? Spiral? Mojo’s occasional sidekick? And Silver Samurai? Did someone just have a “sword guy” moveset laying around, and here we are? I would love to see an interview with the team that made those decisions.
  • Favorite Fighter: That said, give me Omega Red any day. He’s got range, the ability to drain the life out of his opponents, and a rad ponytail. What more could you ask for?
  • Say Something Mean: I love this game and everything in it… save the fact that way too many of the fireballs or fireball-type moves are directionally controlled by your chosen attack button. That’s the kind of thing that works well in theory, but I despise keying in a fireball motion, but hitting the wrong button, so now said fireball is going straight up in the air, damned never to hit a soul. Maybe this is why Wolverine and his limited claws are chosen so often.
  • Versus Origins: In case anyone was curious, both of the “original” Versus games were Versus games before they ever officially earned that moniker. X-Men vs. Street Fighter starts in X-Men: CotA via a secret battle with Akuma, and a certain wee Darkstalker snuck into Marvel Super Heroes before Marvel vs. Capcom.
  • Win Quotes: The Versus Franchise eventually dropped win quotes (and then returned to them), but the fact that they discarded gems like Cyclops passively aggressively insulting the X-Men…
    I don't get it

    Or some big Akira Yoshida energy…
    Gaijin?

    Is a loss.
  • Forgotten Worlds: Playing through the whole of the Versus Franchise is interesting, as, while the characters are generally perennial (sorry, Marrow), the backgrounds of the various stages over the years portray storylines and locations that were important once, and are now completely forgotten. Remember when Daredevil was the leader of a ninja cabal? Or when the Celestials were prominent? Or when there was a Mega Man Legends franchise?
  • Did you know? When the Fox Kids X-Men series aired in Japan, each episode suffered some content cuts so they could make room for… promotion for this X-Men videogame. It traditionally involved the (Japanese) voice actors playing the game, and “acting out” their characters’ reactions to parts of the game. So maybe there is a significant connection here…
  • Would I play again: There are some parts of X-Men: Children of the Atom that are wholly unique and not simply absorbed by later sequels, so I occasionally return to this old standby. That said, it doesn’t happen very often, so my thumbs are a lot more likely to see Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crash Team Racing: Nitro Refueled! Guess there’s going to be some racing, and we’ll try not to crash. Ha ha ha. Please look forward to it!

This seems apt
Submitted without comment

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

DWARVES!We judge videogames by many criteria. Graphics? Inevitably important. Sound & Music? That is a must. Story? That has become vital in much of today’s gaming scene (except when it’s a fighting game). Presentation? Sheer volume of glitches? And, of course, gameplay is the king, as, if you can’t enjoy playing the game, why is it even a game at all? Without even checking the latest Gamepro ranking scale (that’s still a thing, right?), you can easily envision a hundred criteria for “what makes a good game”.

So where does “personality” fit in there? How much should we weigh a game’s personality against its other flaws?

Today’s featured title is Three Dirty Dwarves for the Sega Saturn. Never heard of it? It was also ported to Windows PC and… nothing else. Does that help? No? Okay, we’re talking about a beat ‘em up that was released for the Sega Saturn the same year we saw the likes of Tomb Raider and Super Mario 64. Yes, it seems other games stole Three Dirty Dwarves’ spotlight, and, if we’re being honest, people probably only remember a maximum of four unique titles from the Sega Saturn on a good day. Three Dirty Dwarves was not an arcade port, it did not star Sonic the Hedgehog or Sarah Bryant, and it wasn’t a game that saw every other system of the era. This was a game that was (almost) exclusive to the Sega Saturn from the same company that gave us Ecco the Dolphin and Kolibri. Let’s face it: Three Dirty Dwarves was never going to be as remembered as Tiny Tank: Up Your Arsenal.

This sucksAnd the gameplay of Three Dirty Dwarves doesn’t do the title any favors, either. It’s a beat ‘em up, but with a very unusual health/failure system. Venturing through a mutated version of The Bronx, you control one of the titular Three Dirty Dwarves. And, while 3DD firmly belongs to a genre that traditionally requires things like health bars and variations on the concept of “chip damage”, these dwarves all “die” after one hit. It doesn’t matter if it was a bite from a rat, a punch from a random mook, or some manner of meteoric fireball: everything will knock out your dwarf du jour with a single tap. But there’s still hope! As long as one dwarf remains, he can hit an unconscious dwarf with his melee attack, and we’re back in business! This means you simultaneously are constantly vulnerable and have infinite lives (in all modes save hard mode, incidentally). When you’re halfway through a level and have two dwarves down, the raw panic and drive in attempting to save your fellow warriors leaves an impression, and is an interesting spin on typical beat ‘em up formulas (a distinctive health system similar to another Sega hero). Unfortunately, that revive panic is mostly caused because your dwarves fall way too quickly, and a new monster on the screen often has equal odds on being surmountable or instantly vaporizing your entire party with the cheapest deaths possible. Did I mention you barely have any invincibility frames after losing a dwarf? Because that can lead to more than a few game overs.

And the basic beat ‘em up gameplay isn’t all that amazing here, either. You’ve got your dwarves, and they all have a melee attack, or a long-range attack that (depending on the dwarf involved) either has a long windup or cool-down period. There are also screen-clearing attacks that… clear… the screen… yeah… but require found consumables to use. Ultimately, the gameplay winds up being pretty similar to what you’d find in another game featuring at least one dwarf, and, as far as the level-to-level of battling, there isn’t much of an improvement here over a game that was released at the tail end of the 80s.

The pit bossOn a basic, “is this game good” level, an initial review would be very negative. It’s a beat ‘em up with extremely fragile beat ‘em uppers, and the occasional platforming or puzzle-esque segment is rarely welcome. It’s not a very good game, even by the more lenient standards of the late 20th century. This is not a game that should have ever come before Mario Kart 64, Super Mario RPG, or some other 1996 videogame that probably includes Mario.

But, when you get past the gameplay having its share of issues, the sheer volume of personality exuding Three Dirty Dwarves is immeasurable.

First of all, for a beat ‘em up, there is a seriously bonkers story happening here. Long (very long!) story short: a quartet of kids were grown in a lab for the express purpose of becoming genius military weapons. Or creating military weapons with their genius? Small distinction there, I suppose. Regardless, the kids are not happy with their test tube origins and eternal imprisonment, so they decided to put their amazing brainpower toward escaping. Rather than create some manner of bad key machine, the children looked toward interdimensional/interfictional travel. See, the four children play a D&D-esque game, and the dungeon master (dungeon mistress, in this case) figures out a way to pull the three other children’s roleplay avatars into the real world. Now the three dirty dwarves that were previously imaginary are in the real world and ready to save the moppets that created them. But oh no! The process also sucked all the orcs and dragons that existed in the game to the real world, too, so it’s not like the dwarves are going to have an easy time making it to the evil military’s child prison. And, of course, the military has its own collection of other, generally malevolent science experiments. And this all happens in The Bronx for some reason, so maybe watch out for some of the more malicious New Yorkers of the late 90s. Rudy Giuliani was mayor. It wasn’t a great time.

Ninja!And, while we’re talking about the monsters the dwarves have to face, let’s note that the bestiary of Three Dirty Dwarves is large and in charge. Even the best beat ‘em ups seem to collect three or five archetype characters (fat guy, skinny guy, medium guy, robot), and then repaint them across seven levels. There is variety in how some opponents may block or gain new weapons, but you’re still obviously fighting the same Two P. sprites. Three Dirty Dwarves still has standard mooks, but it offers new and interesting monsters with practically every level. The junkyard stage includes gigantic scrap mechs, while the military industrial complex offers psychic babies. And the general streets of New York may include everything from unruly police officers to naked ninja. Come to think of it, the ninja may be cops, too, it’s just hard to tell without the uniforms…

And the whole thing, from the dwarfs to their opponents to animated cutscenes, is tied together with a very unique art style. It seems like the greatest influence here would have to be Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and his iconic Rat Fink, but the whole affair gives the vibe that tattoo artists decided to make their own videogame. Could you describe the graphics as “good” in the traditional sense? Probably not, as much of what’s on display looks like it originated MS Paint, and not the console that was meant to defeat the Playstation. But it oozes personality, and I can safely say it doesn’t look like a single other game on the Sega Saturn (and not just because there are like six other Saturn games). And while we’re being superficial, the music is also wholly unique. It might not sound like anything else from this era of gaming (it leans surprisingly heavily on hip hop beats), but it slaps. It slaps but good.

Oh, and there’s a level where you fight a dragon with a wrecking ball. That’s rarely seen elsewhere, too.

Let's go!But personality or no, Three Dirty Dwarves comes down to one basic truth: it’s not all that fun to play. You might relish seeing a lady wielding duct tape as a weapon, or an inexplicable minecart level that is equally inexplicably passable, but it all works out to a game that feels more like a chore than a fun time. You’re interested in seeing what crazy thing happens next, but actually getting through a level is a stressful task.

So how should we rank personality when grading a game? It’s hard to say, but it is easy to say that Three Dirty Dwarves needs a better gameplay score to balance its personality score.

And, hey, if it had as much fun gameplay as it did personality, it might actually have been more remembered than Mario.

… Or at least it would be remembered at all.

FGC #480 Three Dirty Dwarves

  • System: Sega Saturn and a Windows version that I’m sure exists somewhere, forgotten, in the back room of a former Electronics Boutique.
  • Number of players: Three! There was apparently a Sega Saturn multitap! It was probably intended for Bomberman!
  • Favorite Dwarf: Of Corthag, Taconic, and Greg, I choose Corthag, as he’s apparently the only dwarf that decided to pick up a firearm. Greg has baseballs! Baseballs! At least Taconic went with a bowling ball. That worked out for The Simpsons.
  • Favorite Boss: Man of a Thousand Swords was “once a mild-mannered salesman from Jersey City” who collected one sword too many. Considering I always feared that would be my fate if I got into weapon collecting, I’m going to sympathetically give him the nod.
  • Tank policeIt’s All a Game: The fact that the dwarves are just the RPG avatars of the kidnapped kids rarely comes up (you can collect dice, at least), save during the ending, when the children have to roll to “control” the dwarves’ inclination toward following the bad guy for wealth and power. Considering that tabletop gaming was still extremely niche back in the late 90’s, saving this bit of nerdity for the ending seems apropos.
  • Did you know? Corthag’s favorite movie is listed as Porky in Wackyland. That’s a seven minute short! That’s not a movie! You stupid dwarf!
  • Would I play again: Maybe if there were some revised version that made everything less… stressful. The way the dwarves die so quickly is terrible on some of the longer levels, and I have no time nowadays to deal with a game where I could lose valuable minutes of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t see a remake anytime soon…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man ZX Advent! It’s time for the reign of the Mega Men! Please look forward to it!

This looks familiar
This looks like a 70’s Garfield Special, and I am here for it.

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

Blaze itWhat constitutes a videogame “star”?

Today’s game is Blazing Dragons, a Playstation (1)/Sega Saturn adventure game from nearly 25 years ago. I am also a thing from over 25 years ago, and I purchased this game back when it was new. Well… fairly new. I was a young buck on vacation, and I want to say this Playstation jewel case was glimmering back at me from a discount bin somewhere around Delaware. Under normal circumstances, I likely would have paid Blazing Dragons the same heed I’d grant Bubsy or Gex, but this game featured one important phrase on its cover:

STARRING!
“Starring the voices of Terry Jones & Cheech Marin”

Now, even though I was technically officially a teenager at this point, I could not give less of a damn about Cheech Marin. I was a nerd, and was not nearly cool enough to know anyone that could ever acquire a drug. But, thanks to that previously mentioned nerdity, I could probably quote every third thing Terry Jones had ever said. Yes, I’m sure my audience will be shocked to learn that I was a Monty Python fan, and, just about when Blazing Dragons was new(ish), I was old enough to finally get all those sex jokes that flew completely over my head in my younger years. The Meaning of Life finally made sense! And included tits! Double bonus! Thus, seeing a videogame (my favorite medium!) featuring one of my favorite writers/directors/actors was practically a no-brainer for wee(ish) Goggle Bob. And it was on sale! Score!

HA HA HABut, even as a dedicated Monty Python fan, I could understand why Blazing Dragons was wallowing in the discount bin. It’s a Sierra-esque adventure game with no death conditions (that I could find…) and about three minigames that actually require a controller. So, to begin with, it’s a game practically made for the mouse on a pair of systems that didn’t have (easy) access to that peripheral. Beyond the controls, this is typical adventure game fare, and you must collect every random object lying around the kingdom, and then use it on every other object in a desperate attempt to find the proper solution to puzzles like “where is my corn” (you have to use a sheet) and “save the princess” (you have to use a mirror to hypnotize the court jester and then use a suitcase to dress him up like a lady). It’s clear that the “humor” of this universe applies to the puzzles, so solutions are often deliberately obtuse (sneak into the castle by wrapping prunes in newspaper and then tying it up with ribbon), but at least the lack of failure states means you only have to spend the afternoon clicking (not clicking) one thing against the other until something finally works. And, hey, you’ll probably remember to grab the hair tonic to menace Rapunzel the next time you play, so replays are usually pretty breezy. A speedrun of this game would probably take less time than listening to some nerd act out the whole Knights Who Say Ni bit.

But does the game adequately capture the spirit of Monty Python? Is Terry Jones permeating this little black disc? Heck no. Blazing Dragons does its best to follow the general humor of Monty Python and similar comedies of the 70s/80s. There’s an emphasis on parody here (see, it’s the dragons that are the good guys, and the expy for King Arthur and Merlin are the bad guys), a few fairytales are ribbed beyond the obvious Arthurian parallels, and, of course, there’s the old trope of men imitating women because Michael Bell throwing his voice is always assumed to be funny. And, uh, everyone has outrageous accents, so that helps. Blazing Dragons isn’t exactly a disappointment on the humor front (it is still generally funny, like watching a wannabe billionaire’s toupee flap around in the wind), but it’s certainly no Flying Circus. If you’re attracted to Terry Jones (not like that) (… though maybe like that), you’ll be generally entertained by the maybe 15 minutes of dialogue he recorded for this adventure, but sidesplitting isn’t on the menu.

ALL NIGHT LONGBut Terry Jones is the reason this game is in my collection. I wouldn’t have given it the time of day, but Terry Jones, man. Terry Jones! Life of Brian! Blazing Dragons might have been a dud, but would I buy another product featuring Terry Jones? Spoilers: of course I would (and did)! But another videogame? Well, maybe not. Writing an amazing movie or book doesn’t mean you can make a fun videogame. It might seem obvious, but that was news to me twenty years ago.

But that got me thinking: what star’s name would actually get me to buy a videogame today?

First of all, to get the obvious out the way, a specific actor/comedian/performer isn’t going to cut it. We live in a world where Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas got all of the talent in Hollywood (and James Woods) to show up in 2004, and all anyone remembers from that game is fun times with rocket launchers. Nowadays, we’ve got full motion capture and graphics capable of rendering an actor’s real life eye boogers, and it’s equally useless for creating truly good videogames. Nobody cares if the next Katamari Damacy title (may there be one) features the prince or an undead mocap of Prince: it’s all about rolling those sweet, sweet balls. And even more acting-based games like Telltale’s output may be enhanced by a decent performer in a role, but Tom Cruise isn’t going to make me care about clicking on random objects. Sorry, Maverick, but I’d prefer a maverick hunter.

Burn, babyBut what about the orators of the videogame world? I keep noting actors and writers that were successful in other fields, but not necessarily videogames. Christopher Lambert might play a mean Raiden in a movie, but that doesn’t mean he can deliver the uppercuts required to be a successful thunder god in the digital space. Where are the Spielbergs or Tarantinos of the gaming world? The men and… crap, it’s inevitably going to just be men… the people that can just stick a “presents” on anything in their medium and score a hit, from Ready Player One to Tiny Toons? Where are the videogame rockstars?!

Oh, right, I’m posting this on the eve of the release of Death Stranding, a Hideo Kojima Presents joint. As Kojima has noted on his own Twitter, Kojima Productions started when he had to leave his home at Konami, and was left with only his wit, ingenuity, a dedicated team of professionals, the massive success of every game he ever slapped his name on (except Boktai), and Norman Reedus’s personal cell number. Hideo Kojima managed to transform that grab-bag of practically nothing into a very successful videogame… or at least what is probably going to be a very successful videogame, because, again, as of this writing, the game isn’t even released yet. But! The internet seems to report on everything Kojima says (or when he farts in the general direction of a cosplayer), so Death Stranding is likely going to be an unprecedented (completely precedented) hit. It combines everything you loved about his old games, plus that guy from The Walking Dead peeing! Who could ask for anything more?!

But… this seems familiar to me. I remember the last time an amazing videogame director was ousted from his parent company, and was forced to strike out on his own to create an all-new, maybe slightly familiar franchise. I’m wracking my brain, I just can’t quite remember…

DAMMIT!

Oh. Right.

There are no videogame stars. And never judge a game by its credits. “Stars” are monsters.

FGC #457 Blazing Dragons

  • System: Playstation 1 and Sega Saturn. You’d think there would be a PC version, but I can’t seem to find any evidence of one.
  • Number of players: Solitary dragon quest.
  • Favorite Puzzle: In order to properly impersonate the villain of the piece, you have to grab a mask of his face, and then dunk said mask in a pile of manure. This is possibly the least subtle joke in history, but it does give you a firm grasp of the various odors of this universe.
  • Winner!Other Stars: Cheech ‘n Terry got the cover blurb, but Harry Shearer, Jim Cummings, and Charlie Adler all hit the recording booth for this adventure. The rest of the cast is a murderer’s row of 90’s VA talent, too, even including seemingly the entire cast of Rugrats. How many games can say that? Well, aside from Rugrats: Search for Reptar.
  • Waiting: The load times on this sucker are atrocious, and they occur every ten seconds or so. I’m pretty sure Blazing Dragons is optimized for some system that never hosted the poor thing.
  • Personal Vengeance: This game wiped out my original PSX memory card. I didn’t quite understand what “formatting” meant back in the day, and the instruction manual claims that the “format memory card” option is necessary to save your game. And that’s the story of how I lost my first Wild Arms save.
  • Secret Shame: In my younger days, I had a crush on Princess Flame. Yes, she’s a four-legged, hairless dragon, but I do have a thing for exotic accents, and the heart wants what the heart wants.
  • An end: The finale is basically an extended bit with Terry Jones complaining about adventure game tropes while marginally in character. So put Blazing Dragons in the pile with the other games that aren’t comfortable in their own skin.
  • Did you know? This game was delayed seemingly so it could be released at the same time as an accompanying animated series… that only seemed to air in Canada. And it was completely off-model and vaguely unrecognizable compared to its source game (Princess Flame, what have they done to you?). But Terry Jones got a created by credit, so at least it’s similar enough for the lawyers.
  • Would I play again: How about I just read a FAQ and nebulously recall what happens when you use the pipe cleaner on the termite mound? Sounds about equally enjoyable…

What’s next? There’s a certain holiday coming up, so we’re going to look at a game that is slightly scary. … Or at least it was when I was young enough to dress up every year. What could it be? It’s a trick! Or a treat! Please look forward to it!

Hair today, gone tomorrow

FGC #424 Brain Dead 13

This game are sickFunny thing about the Playstation and its era of videogames: it proved that no one had a damn idea what they wanted from a videogame.

Today’s game is Brain Dead 13. It is another title that, like Dragon’s Lair or Time Gal before it, is barely more than a playable cartoon. The player controls Lance, a typical computer geek, who, during an average tech support house call, winds up in the clutches of a mad scientist (and, as someone in the tech field, I can safely say we’ve all been there). It’s your job to guide Lance back to safety, and escape Fritz, an imp with an impressive mastery of chainsaws for a creature with hooks for hands. Of course “controlling” Lance is a bit of a misnomer, as this entire game is prerecorded, and it’s less Mario, and more “press left now or die”. It’s something you’ve seen before if you were a child of the 80’s, and it’s something we saw an awful lot in the early CD era of gaming. Is it a “game” or is it an “interactive movie”? Gamepro tried to answer that question a couple of times, but I’m pretty sure Scary Larry never gave us a response. C’est la vie.

Of course, whenever a game like this comes up, it is compared to Dragon’s Lair (I’ve already done it once!), the title that pioneered and defined this kind of gaming experience. The corollary to that that is rarely mentioned? Dragon’s Lair hit the arcades in 1983. For a bit of comparison, Super Mario Bros. (1) hit the Famicom in 1985. The laserdisc/CD-based “playable cartoon” is older than Bowser.

Prepare to die... a lotAnd it’s easy to see why Dragon’s Lair was successful. It’s pretty! It probably made about fourteen billion dollars in quarters, as, come on, who can resist those Don Bluth graphics when it’s playing an attract mode next to friggin’ Joust? Who doesn’t want to be Dirk the Daring when the alternative is… Ice Climbers? I don’t even want to consider the universe where someone would choose those parka wearing nincompoops over a fully realized cartoon dude fighting for his Marilyn Monroe-inspired love. Yes, we’ve all been claiming for years that graphics don’t matter, but even one with such a refined palate as myself may or may not have once bought a game entirely because of its fine graphics, and completely ignored a better game that unfortunately looked like the ass end of an ass (or even just looked different from what was supposed to be advanced). A lot of people decided to swim to the Dragon’s Lair shore from the deep, barren gulf between “animated feature” and “pixels that kinda maybe look like a ghost, but we’re calling it a monster”.

So it makes a certain amount of sense that when the CD-based consoles started to become available, there was a push to produce more FMV/”cartoon” titles. It took all of seven seconds to recognize the difference between a Shinobi and the high resolution (for the 90’s) art of any given prerecorded CD title. The thinking must have been amazingly simple: pump out some videogames that look astonishing, and people will line up to buy the newest systems with their advanced graphics. We could have all been happy with games produced under that premise.

Unfortunately, what we got was Sewer Shark. Nobody was happy with Sewer Shark.

The Sega CD, by and large, was a failure. Give or take a Myst, PC gaming would take years to reach the same echelon of fame as its console brethren. And the Playstation… well that revolutionized gaming in a way that is still relevant today. Why? Because it might be the first videogame system that was successful because someone made a conscious decision to make videogames.

Brain Dead 13 is a Playstation title. What’s more, it’s a Playstation title that came at the start of the system’s lifespan, and, thus, was inadvertently influential on a certain demographic of nerds. It would not be surprising to find that not a single person reading this article ever played Brain Dead 13. However, it would be astounding if no one ever saw this gremlin in this exact pose…

Fritz!

Brain Dead 13 wasn’t exactly getting airtime during Seinfield, but it was introduced via a disproportionate number of GamePro pages. It was featured in Electronic Gaming Monthly. And I’m going to go ahead and guess that it probably was on AOL’s frontpage for its videogames community at least once. Like Battle Arena Toshinden, Brain Dead 13 is one of those titles that, should the history of the world be abolished and replaced exclusively with late 90’s videogame magazines, might finally be recognized as one of the biggest games of 1996 (or so).

But you’re not going to find Brain Dead 13 on the Playstation Classic. In fact, you’re not going to find it anywhere. Why? Because the early days of CD gaming taught us a valuable lesson about videogames: we like to actually play videogames.

Sports!Brain Dead 13 is gorgeous, particularly when compared to the polygons that could poke an eye out from the early PSX days. Unfortunately, beyond being pretty, there isn’t much “there” there. This title, designed for home consoles (and computers), and not to be a quarter-munching arcade machine, has all the replayability of a VHS cassette. In fact, Dragon’s Lair and similar titles from this specific genre have been released in recent years with a “just let me press play and watch what happens” feature. Brain Dead 13 has not been lucky enough to receive such a rerelease, but the first Youtube result for BD13 is a 47 minute “longplay” of the entire title (which includes an approximately 15 minute death compilation). And if you watch that 47 minute video? Congratulations, you have seen literally everything Brain Dead 13 has to offer! And, technically, you suffered through the same exact experience you would have if you actually played the game, just give or take actually pressing the buttons and dying a whole heck of a lot.

And, as the past decade of let’s play debates have proven, there are a number of people that seem to believe the preceding statement could be true of all videogames. You watch a longplay of some random game, see the player 100% every last challenge the dev can throw into the title, and then why would you ever need to “play” the game at all? You’ve seen everything there could be! Videogames are videogames, man, and there’s no difference between pressing down to make Lance duck under Fritz’s blades than making Super Mario crouch below Bowser’s fireballs. A videogame is a videogame, so let’s all buy some videogames! Sewer Shark ahoy!

Yeah, it’s all bullshit. (You hear me, Atlus!?)

Netflix might try to redefine gaming with some manner of Bandersnatch Box. Google might try to define gaming by marrying Youtube to a streaming console. Microsoft might try to define gaming with whoever has the most trophies wins. But you want to know who I think got it right? Nintendo. And you know why? Because we both believe videogames come from the same place. We believe videogames should be able to be played anytime, anywhere, with any internet connection. In short, we believe videogames are…

Freedom!

… No, that isn’t right. Not that kind of freedom.

Brain Dead 13 is, by a technical definition, a videogame. However, it offers exactly zero freedom. There is simply a win or loss state in response to every input, and there is nothing in-between. Brain Dead 13’s contemporaries, though? They offered freedom. Mega Man may have been about defeating renegade robots, but it was also about jumping and shooting around vast stages filled with traps and hidden powerups. Contra was about runnin’ n’ gunnin’, but there was always time to kill your little brother on a trip up a cliffside. Zelda offered a world of exploration (and oftentimes, two worlds), and Right in the eyeFinal Fantasy gave us scores of characters to tromp around exotic lands. So which wound up defining the hardware generation: Brain Dead 13 or Final Fantasy 7? Yes, the way Final Fantasy 7 seemed to toe the line between “freedom” and “enjoy watching this movie” (and its many, many imitators that veered over to the wrong side of that divide) may have confirmed that the developers of the Playstation era were still confused about what a videogame truly was; but by the biggest hit of the Playstation 2 era, we truly had our freedom. Grand Theft Auto 3 solidified the freedom that was inherent in videogames, and titles like Brain Dead 13 were forever relegated to the likes of novelty compilations.

Brain Dead 13, you were a relic of a time before gaming had matured enough to know what it was. Forever wield you chainsaw, confident in the knowledge that you are the awkward high school yearbook photo of gaming’s history.

FGC #424 Brain Dead 13

  • System: Playstation 1 for the purpose of this review, but we’ve also got a murderers’ row of CD-based systems, like the 3DO, CD-I, Saturn, and the goddamned Jaguar CD. Also, apparently this was released for iOS in 2010… but that’s probably not available anywhere anymore.
  • Number of players: You are alone in a haunted house.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Everyone in this title is a cartoonish caricature of various horror tropes, like the nefarious brain in the jar, or at least two characters that seem to originate from Frankenstein. However Vivi is… a little less Roger Rabbit, a little more Jessica Rabbit than the rest of the cast. Though I suppose Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a horror trope onto herself…
  • NSFW?What’s in the box: This is one of those rare, early Playstation titles that was released in the giant, entirely-too-vertical OG Playstation box. And those things are royal hell on trying to organize a game collection. Tekken 1, you may never be filed next to your latter brethren.
  • Favorite… uh… Room: There is an early one with a puppet that is supposed to be a famous composer or something. Mozart? I don’t know. It seems like the least derivative location in the game. Would you rather I choose the one-eyed witch? Or the other one-eyed witch?
  • So, did you beat it: Nope. I always play this game for about a half hour, die a billion times, and then decide there are better uses for my time. I could be mowing the lawn! Or scraping nails along a chalkboard!
  • Did you know? The absolute first release of Brain Dead 13 for Playstation contained a bug that prevented the game from starting up. At all. Like, that was it. The end. No Brain Dead 13 for you. I realize this may have been a small blessing for some people that had the misfortune of purchasing the title, but, come on guys, I’m pretty sure someone should have caught the bug that refuses to let the game even start.
  • Would I play again: Whoops! Did I already compare this game to nails on a chalkboard? Spoilers: that was the answer.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to just let me talk about Kingdom Hearts 3! Good plan, ROB! So we’re going to get another Kingdom Hearts FAQ entry, and FGC “coverage” of Kingdom Hearts 3. Wow! So much Kingdom Hearts! Two whole articles! Please look forward to it!

Better castle, though