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FGC #584 Avengers in the 1990’s

So mighty!Here’s a statement only 90’s kids will understand: The Avengers are the cheapest, most low-rent superheroes available.

To be clear, this is not to say that pre-Disney Marvel Comics didn’t have one hell of a superhero team on its hands. Ever heard of The X-Men? They were the bomb-diggity, and it is hard to convey to modern readers just how many children at the time were putting forks between their fingers and pretending to be Wolverine. This may have just been a result of the comics being fun and plentiful, but it is more likely that the X-Men were popular because they had a hit Saturday morning cartoon (that, if memory serves, had upwards of seven episodes across seven years), multiple tie-in videogames, and more action figures than you could ever hawk at a garage sale. The “culmination” of this massive popularity was the 2000 movie that defined superhero films/Hugh Jackman for a decade. And speaking of films, X-Men paved the way for other superheroes that were… also not known as Avengers. Spider-Man leaps immediately to mind, but this was also the era when DC Comics’ Batman came into his own grim popularity. And Batman was able to get there because his previous projects, like the Burton films and the amazing animated series, were also grand successes. And has there ever been a videogame console that didn’t host a Batman or Superman game of some kind? I’m not going to bother to do any research on this matter (the internet is all the way over there!), but it certainly feels like there was an Atari Jaguar Batman title! Point is that well before Disney decided to create its shared universe, superheroes were popular in all sorts of mediums.

… Except the Avengers. The Avengers were consistently forgettable.

Go robot goThe Avengers comics were always there (well, “always” as in “since Stan Lee decided to slap a bunch of his most lucrative properties [and Ant-Man] together”), and they were always at least moderately popular. The Avengers were appealing because they seemed to have a lot more latitude than other “superhero rosters”. Why? Well, in the absence of a clear Superman or Wonder Woman, you really could slot anybody into the team. Dropping a literal god for a dude that can shoot arrows? Sure! Bald “Celestial Madonna” because Magneto’s daughter is on vacation this week? Why not! But, unfortunately, this led to The Avengers not being as “established” as its rival teams (you know, other gangs where you could always count on spotting a Wolverine). This made for a franchise that was generally good, but also often something closer to Captain America and his Amazing Friends. Or, in the case of the number one reason some children of the 80s and 90s recognize any Avengers, Iron Man & his Amazing Friends.

While never as popular as Batman, Spider-Man, or The X-Men, Marvel had a moderate hit with an animated Fantastic Four series in 1994. This cleared the way for its “partner” television show (gotta have that “Marvel Action Hour” for syndication), Iron Man. Tony Stark was clearly the lead in Iron Man, but he was joined by a number of other Marvel luminaries, like Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. Were they collectively referred to as “The Avengers”? Nope! They were Force Works, which did exist in the comics of the era, but certainly not with Hawkguy. However, the basic concept was there, even if you had to wait until five years later to see the sequel series, Avengers: United They Stand, which lasted a whole thirteen weeks before fading into nothing. Why did it disappear so quickly? Likely because they based the whole thing on West Coast Avengers, a team that dropped Captain America for friggin’ Tigra. Tigra! The only Avenger to appear in 2019’s seminal musical film, Cats!

I don't understandsSo, through the 90s, kids that did not have easy access to comic book shops had one impression of The Avengers: they are the heroes that can’t support their own shows. Spider-Man stars in a 600-episode arc about some stupid stone tablet, and Captain America maybe gets to guest star in three. Lou Ferrigno will smash as Hulk whether he is animated or live-action, but Thor can only stop by for an episode or two. Iron Man gets his own show, and he winds up sponsoring refugee D-listers like Wanda Frank. And if these losers were to get a tie-in videogame, well, why should it goes well?

Captain America and The Avengers is a 1991 Arcade title from Data East. It is, like so many other licensed games of the time, a 4-player beat ‘em up. The variation du jour of CAatA is that you have the choice of throwing or detonating most background objects (Ninja Turtles only has exploding barrels! No options at all!), and some levels turn into shoot ‘em ups. That’s about it. So, like most other beat ‘em ups of the time, the game lives or dies on its heroes, enemies, and presentation. And how do those all work out? Poorly!

Your heroes are Captain America (yay!), Iron Man (woohoo!), Hawkeye (arrows are passable videogame weapons), and Vision (that guy). Your enemies are (per Turtle tradition) an army of generic robots that are wholly constructed of nitrous and dynamite. And the bosses? Well, there are more bosses than most beat ‘em ups, as you face a mid-boss and a final boss for each level. But quantity is no substitute for quality here, as your heroes face the likes of Living Laser, Klaw, Wizard, and Controller. Look, when you are facing a boss that is named after a videogame peripheral, you know the A-listers were too busy for this nonsense. Even more interesting villains, like Grim Reaper or Ultron, are reduced to “has a dash attack” and “has a fireball” do-nothings. And don’t even get me started on Mech. Taco, the Taco that walks like a mech (oddly, Mech. Taco has not appeared in any Disney flicks yet, but we all have our fingers crossed). Strangely, this means that noted Wasp villain, Whirlwind, comes off as the most interesting boss, as at least his windy powers impact not only the fight, but also the background and any incidental debris that may be scattered about. It’s neat! It’s maybe the only neat thing in the game!

I get that robot!Excuse me, there is one other “neat” thing: the Avengers couldn’t get through one game without some X-Men transplants. The Sentinel, a gigantic robot that is iconic for its relentless hunting of mutants, appears as a shoot ‘em up boss in Stage 2. It is identified as “Giant Robot”, but nobody is going to mistake that purple titan for the Iron Giant. And Juggernaut is the first boss to appear on Red Skull’s space station. This is easily the worst depiction of Juggs in a videogame (dude kind of looks like a hunched-over cyclops [not that Cyclops]), but this is unmistakably Charles Xavier’s beefcake brother. Dude is lumbering around as usual, just reminding you that you could migrate over to the X-Men arcade cabinet at any time. Wouldn’t you rather rescue Kitty Pryde than slug it out with the likes of Crossbones?

And if you want to play a game with X-Men anyway, maybe you should fast forward to Marvel Super Heroes In War of the Gems.

Captain America and The Avengers was a Data East joint, and, unless you were really into BurgerTime, you could be forgiven for assuming their Avengers tie-in would be lackluster. But Capcom! Now there was a gaming company to trust back in the 80s and 90s. They had Mega Man! And Street Fighter! And were able to make a passable game out of Talespin! And they successfully adapted The X-Men into a fighting game that spawned its own franchise! And the second game in that franchise was an Avengers game! Kinda! Marvel Super Heroes is conceptually based on the same Infinity Gauntlet Marvel comic series that would eventually become the most profitable movie duology of all time. But this version included the likes of Magneto, Juggernaut, Wolverine, Psylocke, and at least one multi-tentacled monstrosity. And there are noted Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk, too, so it marginally counts as an Avengers title! Probably! Oh, and if you wanted a little more plot, there was a SNES tie-in title that dropped three X-characters, and picked up a whole host of Avenger buddies! Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems, released in 1996, certainly should qualify as an Avengers game.

It also qualifies as yet another Avengers tie-in that feels cheap as hell.

Dem pucksThere are good bones here. This is a beat ‘em up with the occasional bit of 2-D platforming. Like X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, it is also a game where you can occasionally utilize special moves and combos like its attendant fighting game. This is a great change from the ol’ standard of “lose health/energy for doing anything” that has plagued many other Marvel games. And, while the roster cannot completely qualify as Avengers in 1996 (Wolverine and Spider-Man wouldn’t consistently join up until they had successful movie franchises), they are all roughly on the same power level, so it doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to see Smart Hulk tussling with the same baddies as Captain America. Oh! And for a little variety, we do occasionally see a handful of areas where air is limited, so we basically get an organically incorporated timer for challenges. Got to get that heartrate up somehow!

Unfortunately, while the basic gameplay is marginally inventive (this is better than Final Fight with Captain America), the levels and their attendant enemies are anything but. For whatever reason, while the Marvel universe has some pretty amazing locales (Limbo is lovely this time of year), nearly all of the stages in MSHiWofG are forgettable, “video game-y” areas. There’s a lava level, ice level, sewer level, and aquarium (because who doesn’t need a water level in their beat ‘em up). Yes, you get to fly to Dr. Doom’s citadel, but it is more of an excuse to use a castle tile-set and incorporate a teleporter maze than anything. And your opponents through all of these battlegrounds? Well, they are simply “evil clones” of your Avengers, so you face armies of Iron Man-but-with-spikes, Wolverine-but-green, and Hulk-but-bald. Look, when Spider-Man is your hero without an evil clone, you done #$^&ed up. But do not think that just because an Avenger isn’t playable in the game that they will be left out of the fun. Daredevil gets a literal devil variant, Vision becomes a flying menace, and Hawkeye actually becomes a threat with an evil version that snipes from far-off platforms. Even an evil Silver Surfer slides through a stage! All the heroes you love! Ready for punching!

Dem pucksAnd it is supremely weird how this makes the whole game feel very… budget. There is never an explanation offered for this army of anti-Avengers, and their general designs are not distinct enough to warrant any further investigation on “who” these bad good guys are supposed to be. Is that supposed to be a She-Hulk that is also searching for the gems? No, because there are three of ‘em all in a line, and Jennifer Walters doesn’t have cloning powers. Alpha Flight, Canada’s premiere superhero team, seems to stalk around the Alaska stage, so you could totally justify their existence as our northern neighbors thinking they know best… but then the same “Evil Puck” creatures appear at the New York aquarium. And, somehow, the original characters make even less sense in this context. Blackheart pops up out of nowhere with exactly zero explanation as to why he is participating in this War of Gems, and Dr. Doom flees his castle to fight again later and unceremoniously die in space. You have the whole of the Marvel stable participating in the Infinity Wars, why forsake real, interesting villains for friggin’ Sasquatch?

I guess if you wanted to see the Avengers battle some actual villains, you would have to play their fighting game released the same year. Are you ready for Avengers: Galactic Storm? Because Data East certainly wasn’t…

Blast 'emFor reasons our top scientific minds are still trying to discern, this Avengers title is based on Operation Galactic Storm, an Avengers crossover from 1992 that is remembered by exactly nobody. This 1996 arcade game is the only proof it ever happened at all! And, while it is nice that we nearly got two fighting games featuring Captain America in a year, this roster is chockful of Avengers F-Stringers. Thor is on vacation, so please accept Thunderstrike! Iron Man is taking a powder so you can have the real man in armor, Black Knight! And Crystal, best known as being either Johnny Storm’s girlfriend, Black Bolt’s niece, or Quicksilver’s wife, is your standard one female Avenger rep. And the bad guys are exclusively Kree adversaries, so you are stuck with Supremor, Shatterax, and Korath-Thak. Remember last Christmas? When everyone was trying to find Korath the Pursuer action figures? No, of course not, that would be stupid. Korath looks like what would happen if Juggernaut shrunk in the dryer, and he is about as memorable as Cain Marko’s drycleaner (first appearance Amazing X-Men Volume 2 #15). At least we have Dr. Minerva, who is basically an evil Captain/Ms. Marvel. Wait! That just means we couldn’t get through another Avengers game without an X-Men character appearing. Dammit!

Oh, and the game looks terrible, and plays even worse. Please try to act surprised that the people behind Fighter’s History couldn’t produce a good licensed fighting game. Additionally, continue to feign shock that faux 3-D graphics in the mid 90’s aged about as well as Thunderstrike (if you have not already surmised, Thunderstrike is phenomenally stupid). About the only memorable bit in this Avengers title is that its story mode has instant continues (so you don’t have to blow quarters on a match continually “resetting” with every loss), and there are assist characters of dubious efficacy. It is cool that someone decided to model the Vision for this plastic universe, but it is a little saddening that this ‘droid of a thousand abilities only gets to perform a reverse dive kick. At least let my man bust out the laser eyes!

Dive kick!And what do all of these 90’s Avengers have in common? They’re cheap. They seem like knock-offs of other, better franchise games. Batman gets to fight Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face. Spider-Man fights Sandman, Venom, and at least one rampaging guerilla. Captain America can only ever fight Whirlwind, Bald Hulk, or the multi-tentacled avatar of a floating, green head. Iron Man gets dinky little sprites, Colossus gets big, chunky pixels and a special move that roars through the arcade. Magneto always shows up for Dazzler, while Vision can barely summon the attention of Ronan the Accuser. In short, back in the day, the most prominent Avenger would never rank above the most extraneous of X-Men. Kids of the 90’s were convinced that The Avengers were not Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but little more than an opening act for the real heroes.

But, luckily, The Avengers were catapulted to greatness with the release of their 2012 film. And The Avengers never saw a “budget”, failure of a videogame ever again.

THE AVENGERS!

… Or The Avengers are stuck being those Avengers forever.

FGC #584 Captain America and The Avengers

  • Now I'm hungrySystem: Arcade initially (and used for these screenshots), and then Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Gear. The Game Boy and NES versions have the same name, but are generally different, also low-budget experiences.
  • Number of players: Get four in the arcade! Or two at home! Or zero on Game Gear, because those batteries ran out five minutes ago.
  • Favorite Avenger: Vision has a great walk. That… is about all that distinguishes these characters. You’d think there would be a significant disparity between a guy living in a robotic suit of armor and a dude that just shoots arrows, but here we are.
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Wasp appears as an assist “option” during the shooting sections. There is no sign of Scarlet Witch, unfortunately, despite the fact that Vision is playable, and Quicksilver bops in from time to time to drop health refills.
  • Hawkguy: Hawkeye is a playable character in this game from Data East, and also a participant in Sega’s Spider-Man arcade game. And he was one of the only two playable characters in the NES Avengers title. How did these companies all keep choosing Hawkeye!?
  • Favorite Boss: Red Skull seems to be cosplaying as Kingpin this time, and then he gets a giant, weirdly fleshy Terminator robot and a pope-bubble to hide in. This is literally the only boss in the game that is remotely memorable… give or take the taco.
  • I know this robot, tooDid you know? This localization is legendarily bad, but please be aware that octopus in Japanese is “tako”. Mecha Taco is clearly just “mechanical octopus”, but I guess someone was in the mood for Mexican.
  • Would I play again: This is not one of the great beat ‘em ups of our time. I’d rather play one of those.

FGC #584 Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems

  • But Hulk had hairSystem: Super Nintendo exclusive. Apparently there was talk of a Genesis port, but it never materialized.
  • Number of players: Nothing was learned from SNES Final Fight, so just one.
  • Hawkguy: No, seriously, what is the deal with Hawkeye? His clone appears in damn near every stage, and he is always a pain to avoid. Do arrows just work naturally well with videogame mechanics?
  • One Lady Avenger Per Game: Savage She-Hulk is an occasional opponent. She never appears as a boss, and she’s in full-on berserker mode, but she’s at least there. No, there are no evil Black Widows, Tigras, or even Jocastas to fight.
  • Best Surprise: Nebula, the cybernetic underling of Thanos, is the penultimate boss of the game. And she offers a pretty good fight, too. If I didn’t know better, I would assume her and her varied moveset was another transplant from the arcade fighting game, but, nope, she’s original to this one. And she’s a pretty fun cyborg for everybody!
  • Poor cyborgDid you know? There are sections where Avengers must fight underwater, and have a limited air meter. This makes sense for mostly human Captain America or mostly naked Hulk, but Iron Man has the same issue. He’s in a robot suit! It’s his thing! He doesn’t need to find a source of air! And, for some reason, everyone can breathe in space! What is going on here!?
  • Would I play again: I’ll take X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse first, and that’s only if, like, every other X-Men game is not available. This Wolverine adventure doesn’t even rank.

FGC #584 Avengers in Galactic Storm

  • System: Arcade exclusive, though it is being released as an Arcade1Up cabinet as a sorta-arcade exclusive.
  • Number of players: Two, though you can actually cooperate with your second player if you’d like. I have not ever seen two people that want to play this game, though.
  • Throw rocks!One Lady Avenger Per Game: Continuing the grand tradition of the most unassuming character being the absolute best, Crystal the Inhuman Princess kicks unaccountable amounts of ass in this one. She can summon meteors! And fireballs! And her hyper attack is a tidal wave! She’s easily the best Avenger available for this job, and puts Black Knight and his silly little bomber jacket to shame. There are, unfortunately, no Lady Avengers on the assist roster.
  • Favorite Assist: Giant Man is represented by a giant, inexplicably hairy arm flying into the frame. I like to pretend that The Avengers just became caught in a Monty Python sketch, and then I imagine what that fighting game would look like. For the record, it looks like Heaven.
  • Did you know? Dr. Minerva, Captain Marvel’s palette swap, did appear in the Captain Marvel movie as one of Carol’s Kree rivals. So that means we saw Minn-Erva on the big screen before Thunderstrike. Eat it, Eric Masterson.
  • Would I play again: No.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse! We’re going from one group of officially licensed Disney mascots to the big boy! Please look forward to it!

THE END

FGC #577 Rock n’ Roll Racing

VrooomGentle reader, what do you want from videogame music? Because, confession time, I have a… storied past with videogame music versus many of my nerd peers…

This sad fact is by no means universal, but… how do I put this? Ah, here is a good example: If it is retro videogame trivia night (an actual thing that happens, I swear), and I am on deck for “name that tune”, I am probably going to lose. Did I play Mega Man 2 approximately ten million times as a child? Yes. However, can my brain immediately identify Wood Man’s theme as a classic beat meant to invoke the dodging of robotic ostriches? Nope. I know the Wood Man theme, I enjoy the Wood Man theme, but, when divorced from playing the game or seeing a track list, my brain never makes that immediate connection that I am listening to Wood Man’s theme. Why? Because my secret shame is that I played Mega Man 2 over and over again, but I didn’t listen to the music.

Sorry, pointdexters, I’ve been listening to real music this whole time! Ha ha! Eat noogies!

Though, to be honest, this was more of an issue of my environment than anything else. As was the style at the time, I often played videogames at the family “entertainment center”. And, as this beast was predominantly a result of the eighties (even if it was used well into… well… right now… buy some new equipment, Dad!), there was a heavy emphasis on its onboard tape/CD player. So, if I was playing a videogame, I had a choice: I could crank up the (tiny, tinny) TV to listen to DuckTales’ amazing jams, or I could just hit play on whatever album was currently in the player and crank it through the gigantic speakers that adorned the room. And guess which choice my parents heavily encouraged over an afternoon of listening to a Nintendo’s beeps and boops…

Cruisin' Not USAUltimately, I suppose it has always been a matter of how “music” is to my parents in the same way that “videogames” are to my attention starved mind. I need a new videogame every seventeen seconds to survive, and my parents were often compulsively purchasing albums at about the same rate when I was a wee Goggle Bob. They have slowed down in recent years (primarily due to the generational issue of “music stopped being good when I was thirty”), but it seemed like there was a new record on the player literally every week when I was a kid. And, what’s more, if an album turned out to be particularly loved, it would wind up in heavy rotation in that 5-CD advanced sound system (which, incidentally, I believe is the most “luxury” item my father has ever purchased to this very day). As one might expect, I eventually wound up following in my parents’ footsteps as I grew older, so my playtime eventually included my own tunes. This means that, right off the top of my head…

· Breath of Fire 2 was released right about the same time as my dad got the Queen’s Greatest Hits 2-disc set, so I want to say that entire game is fueled exclusively by Freddy Mercury in my mind.

· My mother purchased Blondie’s Greatest Hits when I was finally allowed to have a Virtual Boy (there was some debate on whether it would permanently scar my eyes). This is why One Way or Another always makes me think of Wario.

· And, lest you think this list is only based on my parents’ musical tastes, the legendary Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a Christmas present alongside a Best Buy gift card that got me Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut album. I am more likely to recall Jackson Cannery than Zelda’s Lullaby.

And, to be clear, there were some standouts in my childhood/teenage videogame library. Final Fantasy 3 (or 6) got a pass for “real” chiptunes thanks to Nintendo Power gushing about the music (Nintendo Power gushed about everything, but somehow that penetrated my brain before a playthrough), and Chrono Trigger snuck in there for much the same reason. But beyond that? Beyond games I knew I was playing “for the music”? Sorry, bud, but you can’t compete with this Van Halen CD I certainly didn’t pick up just to impress a girl I liked for ten minutes (yet my enjoyment of Van Halen lives on). My father said that “Sonic Boom! Sonic Boom!” coming from the TV was annoying, so I’m going to keep the Billy Joel cranked up, just as God and/or Dad intended.

But that is not to say if I am playing a videogame, even from the 16-bit era, I don’t want to hear videogame music.

Look outToday’s game is Rock n’ Roll Racing. It is one of those racing titles from before Nintendo and Gran Turismo apparently codified the genre. Like Mario Kart, there are weapons, powerups, and the occasional opportunity to expertly steer into a shortcut or straight off the course. However, unlike the “Mode-7” inspired racers that dominate the genre today, this one looks almost like a classic Zelda adventure with its isometric perspective. This had been seen in many racing games (I will never not have a quarter for Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road), and had recently been seen in Silicon & Synapse’s own SNES title, Radical Psycho Machine Racing. In fact, give or take the futuristic setting, Rock n’ Roll Racing is RPM Racing 2 in all but name. So why the brand jump? Why forsake the previous game that must have dazzled upwards of thirteen supporters and latch onto a completely different title, potentially offending the rabid RPM Racing fanbase? Simple. When you’ve got rock n’ roll licensing, you make your game about rock n’ roll. Rock ‘n Roll Racing got Bad to the Bone, Highway Star, Paranoid, Born to be Wild, Radar Love, and (most importantly) Peter Gunn. When you’ve got songs like that, you forsake everything RPM Racing ever stood for, and promote the rock n’ roll, baby!

Hot stuffOf course, having the license to a song or six does not mean you can actually play the song. Rock n’ Roll Racing was always intended for the Super Nintendo, and, unfortunately, Nintendo technology of the time could barely support the Clayfighter theme, left alone Steppenwolf belting out a little ditty about being wild. As a result, Rock n’ Roll Racing had to “reduce” all of its greatest hits to chiptunes. And it works! Vocals may be gone, but these are unmistakably the driving anthems that will propel your racer from planet to planet via a rockin’ rocket ship or two. The rock n’ roll of Rock n’ Roll Racing may have been midi-ised for the Super Nintendo (and eventually the Sega Genesis), but it was still recognizable, and thus unlike anything else available at the time. Those dumb baby games with Mario could never support even the slightest slice of Black Sabbath.

But time marched on, and, despite all odds, Rock n’ Roll Racing got a remaster on modern consoles. Silicon & Synapse became Blizzard, had a hit or two with some kind of Diabcraft-watch thing, and someone with an affectionate heart greenlit Blizzard Arcade Collection, a title that featured zero games made by a company named Blizzard, or ever appeared in an arcade. It is a collection, though! And it’s not just a collection of retro titles, either, as every one of the included games (The Lost Vikings and Blackthorne snuck in here, too) included a “best remix” version that modernized aspect ratios, merged levels from different versions, and upgraded the graphics all around (as best as one can do such a thing with 30 year old games, of course). And, in the case of Rock n’ Roll racing, the “real” Rock n’ Roll was finally included, and now the full vocal tracks of these classic hits are available for your racing pleasure.

And I hate it.

I understand that this makes zero sense. When given the choice, if I am playing an 8/16/sometimes 32-bit title, I will listen to “real music”, because that is the way I was raised. But when a game tells me I will listen to “real music”, I’m out. Despite years of conditioning, I immediately find the situation… offensive. You not only want me to listen to Peter Gunn, a song I love, but you want me to listen to the full instrumental track of it? The same song I have chosen to listen to over and over again? You monsters. This modern take on Rock n’ Roll Racing should be the version that grabs my attention immediately. It is a great game! It has got great music! Yet here I sit, switching back to the SNES version, because I don’t want to hear Ian Gillan smashing out his hits. I’m playing a videogame, so I better hear videogame music, dammit.

Winner!  Maybe!What do I want out of videogame music? Apparently I want chiptunes. I might enjoy listening to other jams while playing my games, but I absolutely do not want a game to tell me what songs I should be listening to. You hear that, other franchises? I don’t care how funny you think your fake DJs are, I can jockey my own discs, thank you.

So… uh… guess my answer is kind of complicated. I want either my own music, or what my dad will still call “that beepy music”. And there can be no middle ground. What do you want from videogame music, dedicated reader who suffered through this meandering article? Is your answer more… sane?

FGC #577 Rock n’ Roll Racing

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, and now part of Blizzard Arcade Collection on modern consoles like Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Super Nintendo WiiU… I mean Switch. There was also a Gameboy Advance version in there, too, but never a 3DO edition.
  • Number of players: 2-player split screen, or maybe 4 if you can use modern technology. What’s important is that multiplayer is definitely involved.
  • Who will win?It’s a Personal Problem: This might not be the best racing game of all time or something, but it does have personality in spades. The “lore” for the various planets, racers, and even advertisers is fun all around, and, had this game been even more of a hit, we’d probably be looking at a few Loudmouth Larry Geocities fan pages. Let the carnage begin!
  • Favorite Racer: Katarina Lyons is my favorite pick, because she successfully foretold the coming of Avatar (the cats, not the cartoon). She also handles really well. Olaf gets a bonus mention though for being the best cameo/crossover in the Blizzard library.
  • Favorite Rival Racer: Ragewortt is some manner of malevolent frog king, and I am here for that.
  • Level Up: I appreciate the concept of purchasing new/customizable cars, but, in practice, it seems like you either have to be an expect racer, or “level up” according to the planet difficulty tiers. And I hate leveling up in skill based games! You hear me, beat ‘em ups!? I don’t want to wonder if my proficiencies are subpar, or I just haven’t grinded enough! I don’t need more stress in my life right now! Though I guess it does give prize money a reason to exist, so it can’t be all bad…
  • Did you know? I swear the only reason the announcer uses the “(Character) looks lost out there!” expression repeatedly is so that we can get a decent “Olaf looks lost out there!” whenever that particular viking is lagging behind.
  • Kinda mustard coloredWould I play again: Rock n’ Roll Racing was always on the FGC docket, so it is kind of a wonder it got a modern rerelease just in time to satisfy the random robot. And now I can play its prequel, too! RnRR is the kind of title I always get a hankering to play every five years or so, and I can (hopefully) say my Switch digital library isn’t going anywhere, so we’re definitely looking at some additional rocking and rolling in the future.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Capcom Fighting Evolution for the Playstation 2! Is this evolution, or devolution? We’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

The giving birdAccording to contemporary evolutionary theory, our modern-day birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. For the longest time, dinosaurs were assumed to merely be the big brothers to our current crop of not-so-terrible thunder lizards, but a recent spat of scientists being attacked by antagonistic pigeons has given rise to the theory that there is a direct link between your Jurassic Park’s raptors and… well… raptors. Huh. Maybe we should have been able to figure that one out earlier. But, regardless of whether or not the Dinosaucers should have had feathers, one thing is obvious: there is a clear and undeniable link between dinosaurs and birds.

So the link between Big Bird and Barney the Dinosaur is just a matter of evolution, right? Two beloved childhood stars, both literally built to appeal to and educate children. Both sing songs, teach lessons, and share an evolutionary bloodline. On a genetic level, they are practically the same creature.

Except there is one major evolutionary difference: Big Bird is fondly remembered and supported to this day, and Barney the Dinosaur was always universally loathed.

Why? It’s all about love.

Look, we all appreciate Sesame Street as some shining bastion of children’s programming, but, to examine a quote from one of its creators, Big Bird’s chosen street had vaguely sinister sounding origins. Sesame Street was to be a show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them”. It is great that there is that “do something good” caveat there, but ignore that little bit, and it almost sounds like Cookie Monster was invented by a supervillain attempting to take over the world. And, regardless of intentions, Sesame Street did take over the world. Sesame Street is a global institution, appearing in as many countries as there are palette swaps for Big Bird. And it is all based on one simple concept: learning should be fun for kids. Education does not all have to be stodgy teachers explaining math in a monotone, it can also be obsessive-compulsive vampires and cranky trash people.

Grab it!But, as time has gone on, Sesame Street has also become a place where children can learn from puppets how to be more human. Ever since the Snuffleupagus snafu of the 70s, Sesame Street has paid careful attention to guaranteeing the children of yesterday and today not only know how to count cookies, but also how to cope with a cruel and uncaring world of grouches. Sesame Street is not just about goofy songs and guest stars that are comfortable making eye contact with muppets, it is also about addressing children from all walks of life (those born into families both amazing and dreary), and teaching them that they are going to get through this world. Sesame Street is not universal for every child (how could it be?), but it does do its best accommodate as many children as possible, and express that the world may not be perfect, but they are loved.

And then there’s Barney. Barney just straight up says “I love you” like a jackass. And he does it over and over for every episode! What the hell, dinosaur?!

Barney & Friends, a children’s television show that premiered in 1988, had a similar origin to Sesame Street. It was created to fill a gap, but, while Sesame Street was broadly established to appeal to preschoolers, Barney was aiming for more of the kindergarten set. His creator, Sheryl Leach, believed that her son had outgrown anything available on television and video, so she set out to fashion a singing dinosaur that could entertain children of specific ages. After an initial VHS splash, the concept was graduated from direct-to-video edutainment to a television series in 1992. And from there, Barney & Friends became an American phenomenon, with the purple dinosaur singing everywhere from your television to the toy aisle to the Daytime Emmys. If you were exposed to a child of a certain age in the 90’s, you were exposed to Barney. And his songs would be stuck in your head for the rest of the day…

It's a sunny dayOh, and if you didn’t have a kid around that demanded to see Barney, you were probably familiar with the creature, too. Barney had a bit of a… negative following. Or, put another way, to my knowledge, this is the first time I am covering something on this blog that had a roleplaying book dedicated to a “jihad” to destroy it. Barney was almost universally loathed. Yes, of course there were “kids”, preteens, and other sarcastic malcontents that made up “funny” songs about barbequing the purple dinosaur’s head, but the whole antipathy enterprise leaked into adult entertainment, too. Remember The Critic? An obvious descendent of The Simpsons, and one of the few dittos of the era to actually be funny? A full half of its fifth episode was given over to an extended parody of Barney the Dinosaur (Humphrey the Hippo… why do I remember that unbidden?). This was a primetime show! For adults! Mostly! And they dipped into the “Barney sucks” well immediately. And if you needed something less animated, Barkley was dunking (literally) on Barney on Saturday Night Live. Barney was an object of scorn everywhere for a few years, and people were able to massively profit off the previously mentioned RPG sourcebook based on destroying Barney, or ersatz appearances like Mr. Huggles in a 2007 Xbox game (Monster Madness, incidentally). And more than a few Youtube careers were launched by involving “a Barney” in one way or another…

So this brings us back to a simple question: Why? There have always been Sesame Street parodies, but none possessed the same consistent vitriol we all saw in the Barney universe. Why was Barney so universally, consistently despised?

Maybe it’s just because he loved too much.

Go Barney!Barney is supposed to be a big, purple manifestation of unconditional love. He loves you, you love him, we’re a great big family. Barney is great for kids, because his unconditional love of the audience tells children that there are people out there that will love you no matter what. That is a great moral! But, to anyone over the age of five, it sounds an awful lot like bullshit. In fact, that very bullshit is likely a significant reason why Barney was so loathed. A generation of kids that had just experienced He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Ninja Turtles was now seeing the next generation (or their little siblings) being influenced by Barney the Lover. And, whether anyone really understood what was happening, they all recognized this… deception. Barney did not love you. Barney did not even know you. And neither did Prince Adam of Eternia, Sargent Slaughter, or Leonardo, but they all took time out of their day to give you some Sailor Says knowledge and sell a few toys for a half hour a day. They didn’t know you, they didn’t care about you, but they made you think they cared about you. And you, a stupid kid, bought it, literally, every time you waddled into Toys R’ Us. And an entire generation was just starting to realize this. He-Man had retired. The Ninja Turtles were losing shelf space to the Power Rangers. Our lovers had left us, and here was a new sucker ready to be tricked by the latest dinosaur of love. He’ll leave you like they all left us, Little Timmy! Do not love Barney! He doesn’t really love you! Flush his body down the potty while you can!

Just not goodThat is the difference between Big Bird and Barney. Despite a similar evolution, they are both the products of very different times. Big Bird loves you, but it is not his whole identity. Barney exists in a world wherein he cannot conceive of being unloved, and, while that works for some ages, it does not for people starting to understand all their heroes were little more than toy commercials. And, as a result, to this day, Big Bird continues to star in any number of counting-based videogames, while Barney never escaped the Sega Genesis. Love did not keep Barney alive, and it never could. In our modern world, Big Bird still stalks the Earth, while Barney is extinct. A big, purple evolutionary dead end.

… Or maybe just nobody liked his songs. Man, I’m not a paleontologist.

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

  • System: Atari 2600. It’s got pretty good graphics for an Atari title!
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Likely assuming their audience were literal preschoolers, that alternating happens pretty damn often. You don’t have to wait for your turn for long.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a game for babies… and surprisingly well-balanced for multiple ages. The lower-difficulty levels see a Big Bird that automatically magnetizes to where an egg falls, but later stages allow the player to more precisely position the bird so as to more effectively fail at catching an egg. Oh, and the chutes get more zig-zaggy. And invisible. That makes things complicated!
  • Where did they go?You are in Control: Big Bird’s Egg Catch was built for the Atari Kid’s Controller. That controller was, essentially, a num pad. It was basically only built for educational/egg-based games. But since it had more buttons and was more complicated than your typical Atari “paddle”, it was kind of ironic that this became the “Kid’s Controller” and not “Accountant’s Delight”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Many of “my” Atari games were games my grandfather found interesting (like Pac-Man) that I incidentally got to play. But I want to say Big Bird’s Egg Catch was the first videogame ever distinctly purchased for “Little Bobby”. Either that or my grandfather really liked gigantic birds.
  • How about that Barney Genesis Game? Barney’s Hide & Seek Game (yes, “Game” is part of the title) is basically a platforming title wherein you find marginally hidden children (and one child dinosaur). As much as it would make sense, It is not a “find in the picture” game, and it definitely controls like a Mario title… albeit a Mario title wherein our hero is trapped inside of a bulky dinosaur costume. Barney steers like a drunk truck is what I am saying. Regardless, it is not nearly as fun as catching eggs with Big Bird, but it… uh… exists? Technically? I guess it officially has significant (for the time) voice acting, so that’s nice.
  • Fly awayDid you know? Barney’s “I Love You” song was used for psychological torture at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. That’s the fact. No moral.
  • Would I play again: Big Bird’s Egg Catch could work as some kind of cell phone title that is played for like ten minutes while waiting for your shots. But am I going to break out the 2600 to play it some more? Nah.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Contra for the NES! We are going from loving birds and dinosaurs to extremely unloving commandos! Please look forward to it!

FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

Let's danceDear things I loved as a child: please don’t embarrass me as an adult.

Garfield: Caught in the Act is a game I played when I was a child. Why? Come on, stupid, you know the answer to this one: like all right-thinking children, I loved Garfield. Some of my first purchases as a good little consumer were Garfield collections bought from the school book fair, and one of my favorite cartoons was Garfield & Friends. Despite the fact that a solid three pages scarred me for life, Garfield: His 9 Lives was one of the earliest books/comic books/graphic novels that I remember reading and rereading until the pages crumbled to dust. So, yeah, given the opportunity to play a Sega Genesis game starring Garfield, I jumped on the cartridge like a cat on lasagna.

And Garfield: Caught in the Act is… well… I mean… You can see that they tried, right? Coming off of Aladdin, this is obviously a videogame that leans heavily into that whole “hand drawn sprite animation” trend. Garfield looks gorgeous. He runs. He jumps. He dances! And he does it all with a full range of motion that would even put his daily cartoon to shame. Eat it, US Acres, this is the good stuff. And the Catsablanca stage? With that faux monochrome style? C’est la fête. Unfortunately, the gameplay does not quite live up to the visuals. Garfield is gorgeous, yes, but the actual levels seem sloppy, with frequent traps and enemies that come out of nowhere. What’s more, the designers seemed to recognize that Garfield was going to take a lot of damage, so he has ten hit points, and life power-ups are distributed roughly every nine inches. This leads to a weird situation wherein, aside from the handful of bosses, you almost always feel like you are playing the game… wrong. Are you supposed to be taking this much damage? Tanking this many hits? Probably, because there are another six hamburgers ahead, so you may as well soak those malevolent ghosts. And G:CitA relies on level design that is very… Bubsy… with a number of branching paths and “underground” areas that require random doors and the screen’s focus fuddling all over the map. The game is pretty to look at, but not exactly delightful to hold.

Holy CatsAnd, as someone who has continued to follow Garfield titles through adulthood, this seems to be the standard for our favorite orange feline. Garfield and his Nine Lives for Gameboy Advance has about as much to do with the comic of the same name as Garfield has to do with exercise, but it is another pleasant enough micro platformer. The same could be said for Garfield and The Search for Pooky. They’re passable, and the worst you can say is that they are clearly not the kind of lovingly crafted games you’d find elsewhere on the system. And if you’re looking for something on modern consoles, try Garfield Kart: Furious Racing. This one allows you to play as any number of Garfield luminaries (Liz! You know Liz! The woman that made Jon drink dog sperm? Her!) with gameplay that matches Mario Kart: Double Dash (complete with blue sparks), but is otherwise a fairly generic kart racer. And that’s fine! It’s a Garfield game, and that lazy cat has been sponsoring mediocre games for decades now.

Garfield is just kind of there, being occasionally funny, but at least reliably marginally entertaining. As one of my favorite childhood comic strips, I’m rather happy to see Garfield popping up on occasion, and I enjoy getting reacquainted with these old friends (when the related games are on sale for like ten bucks). Garfield made me happy as a child, and he brings a smile to my face even now.

And then there’s Dilbert.

Fuck Dilbert.

Beat the bossBack to autobiography land, I was a voracious reader as a child, but it was years before I encountered another comic strip that captured my attention like Garfield. The comic strips of the day were generally aimed at parents, the elderly, and whatever the hell is the audience for Pluggers. It seemed like the comic strips that were aimed at kids were too kiddy, and the ones that were aimed at adults were too exclusive (yes, B.C., please make another joke about President Taft. That doesn’t get old). And then Dilbert came along, and I was enrapt. It may seem weird that a comic primarily about office work appealed to a kid that was still a few years away from having his first job, but you really have to understand the weird timeframe wherein Dilbert came into prominence. Did you know that not everyone used to have a computer? Or access to the internet? The cast of Doonesbury had never seen a computer, and it was likely because the author was right there on the same page. But Dilbert! Here was a place where computers not only existed, but they could be involved in jokes! Nobody made jokes about computers! Or the internet! Or Linux nerds! There was an entire strip that called Linux nerds bearded, suspender wearing weirdos! That was funny and accurate! Holy RAM, Dilbert, you’re speaking my language!

And, lest you think it was just a matter of my nerdy tendencies, there was something else about Dilbert that caught my eye. The secret truth of Dilbert? The entire strip is about a handful of mundane characters that are smarter than literally everyone else on Earth. The public at large seemed to fixate exclusively on the pointy-haired boss and his boundless incompetence, but the premise of roughly 80% of Dilbert strips is simply “Dilbert is smarter than everyone else”. And, spoilers, regardless of your own standing in life, you are supposed to relate to Dilbert. You are supposed to see the rest of the world as a bunch of belligerent nitwits, and you are Dilbert, the mouthless man that steps back and stares through the fourth wall in a way that says, “Wow, ain’t this guy a moron? Nyuk nyuk.” And if Dilbert’s general helplessness isn’t doing it for your ego, then there’s Dogbert, who is consistently portrayed as a genius that is capable of conquering the world… Go doctorbut doesn’t feel like doing that this week. “Bah,” he says as he waves his paw. And if you think this assessment of Dilbert is somehow incorrect, here is a simple reminder that the first Dilbert collection was titled “Always Postpone Meetings With Time-Wasting Morons”, and the first original Dilbert book was “Dilbert’s Clues For The Clueless”, which took time on every page to outline a different kind of “clueless” person. Dilbert is about life in an office, yes, but it is more about how the great, unwashed masses are a bunch of “clueless” yokels.

And, dang, I don’t mind telling you that pre-teen and particularly teenage Goggle Bob ate that shit up with a spoon. You tell ‘em, Dilbert, you’re the only person on Earth that knows what’s up!

Of course, when you put it that way, it should have been obvious the author of Dilbert, Scott Adams, would become some kind of… is there even a word for this? Wannabe fascist? That sounds right.

I’m not going to review the many sins of Mr. Adams over the last few years, but let’s stick to one quote from 2016. After the 2016 Democratic Convention, he had this to say:

“If you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men.”

Hail to the kingSo maybe he’s just a misogynist? He definitely has supported Trump in a variety of ways over the last few years, and it seems like a significant factor there is the misbegotten belief that Trump is some manner of “alpha male” (or, in Scott’s own words, he has an impressive “talent stack”). Now we don’t know if this is because Adams truly sees the orange, lumpy Donald Trump as the pinnacle of humanity, or if an inheritance tax would be a threat to his income, or just because he legitimately believes that republicans would be hunted under a democratic regime. Nobody knows! But one thing is clear: Scott Adams was anxious to support a wannabe dictator, and has repeatedly, consistently defended his backing of Donald Trump, despite openly admitting it has impacted his speaking engagements/income. The man is so deep in the Trump camp, he’s finding Rudy Giuliani’s discarded llama bones.

Oh, okay, one more quote from the man:

Seriously!?

Yeah, sure that makes perfect sense, undecided voter.

And, yes, I’m downright ashamed to have ever supported the man. And most people aren’t “online enough” to even know he’s very publicly one of the 72,000,000 people that evidently vehemently supports a man that is totally okay with hundreds of thousands of Americans dying for no reason. And, because some people in my family distinctly remember my Dilbert obsession from twenty years ago (and know damn well that I am still a giant nerd), I occasionally am still gifted Dilbert merchandise. My dad winds up getting me a Dilbert calendar every year! And that’s directly supporting a man that would manifestly be perfectly okay with some of my good friends being sent to the Gulag (or worse)! And is already totally cool with children being stowed in cages! I like Catbert as much as the next guy, but that is a bit over the line.

Er-hem. Sorry. This gets me a little… exasperated.

It's Gameboy timeSo what’s the point here? Scott Adams sucks, and Jim Davis is awesome because his celebrity is used for milquetoast endeavors? Hating Mondays works better than hating bosses? Dilbert should eat more lasagna? Nah, it’s never that simple. I think the lesson here is that, in this age of “cancel culture” (the quotes mean I take this phenomenon about as seriously as the ever-present threat of bigfoot), you don’t need to be “cancelled” to be noxious. No one ever told me that the author of Dilbert was some kind of toxic creature, I simply identified that from his very public beliefs and statements. I am never going to buy Dilbert merchandise again, despite my initial love for the franchise, because the idea of Scott Adams profiting off my vices is repellant. I am, however, going to download Garfield Kart, because, what the heck, it might be a fun time, and Jim Davis seems pretty alright. Maybe I’m wrong! But, in a world where I could either defend Scott Adams (with my wallet) or ignore his output for the rest of my days, I’m going to go with the latter. This isn’t because of some monolithic “cancel movement” or whatever, it is simply because everything the man says deters me. Simple as that.

Garfield, you might not have the best games around, but thank you for simply being you in these tumultuous times. I’ll airmail an annoying kitten to Abu Dhabi in your honor.

He did alright

Thanks, Jim.

FGC #549 Garfield: Caught in the Act

  • System: Sega Genesis. From the people that brought you Star Wars Arcade and Eternal Champions, apparently.
  • Number of players: Garfield is a loner cat.
  • Favorite Boss: Level 2/Cave Cat was apparently supposed to originally be Level 1, but it was determined Cave Cat was no fun, and Level 1 became the original Level 2, Count Slobula’s Castle. That said, Cave Cat does end with a battle with a giant skeleton, so it’s pretty great.
  • An end: Credit where credit is due, G:CinA has an “alien” final boss that is made from discarded television components, and he’s rendered in Vectorman-esque uncanny, 16-bit 3-D. Considering the rest of the game is lavish 16-bit “normal” 2-D animation, it really makes the final challenge pop. It’s just kind of a shame that that “final challenge” is a silly mirror-pushing puzzle.
  • WeeeeeeHey, not all of these pictures are from Garfield: Caught in the Act: Yes, well, I wanted to see if any of Garfield’s other adventures held up and/or descended into fascism. They mostly don’t. But, if you’re curious, the other images are from Garfield and his Nine Lives for Gameboy Advance, and Furious Racing for the Nintendo Switch. Also Dr. Garfield, which is imaginary and not available as a ROM patch, obviously.
  • Say something nice about Garfield and his Nine Lives: This game seems a lot more focused than Garfield: Caught in the Act, as you’re not expected to soak a hit every three inches. That said, it’s also a lot less meticulous in its graphics, and certainly looks like a desperate cash grab. It’s slightly better than Monsters Inc. for the GBA, though!
  • Say something nice about Garfield Kart Furious Racing: This really is an exact clone of Mario Kart Double Dash’s mechanics. Even though you’re only ever racing as one Garfieldian character, you can hold two powerups at once. It’s very familiar! And every item has an easy, two-button option for whether you launch it ahead or behind your racer. The tracks and the characters are rather mundane, but the general usability of Furious Racing is surprisingly high.
  • It is Furious, though, not Furry-ous? Correct. It’s a shame.
  • Did you know? Garfield is forever tainted by Mike Pence loving the rotund cat. This probably doesn’t have anything to do with Pence loving other, slightly larger orange animals.
  • Would I play again: Maybe! Garfield is responsible for good vibes, so I might play, like, a level again. It’s pretty to look at!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon: Sword: Isle of Armor & Crown Tundra Expansion! Yeah! Sure! Let’s believe that was randomly chosen, and I don’t just want to talk about Pokémon again! So get ready for, ya know, talking about Pokémon again! Please look forward to it!

Crunch
In Sega Genesis, television eats you!