Tag Archives: sega

FGC #546 Jet Set Radio

Let's skateAre all videogames naturally authoritarian?

To begin, let us consider the concept of authority. Most of us encounter authority first through parents, who are generally adverse to a child’s natural predisposition to licking delicious wall outlets. From there, childhood is a virtual gauntlet of different authority figures. And some of those so-called “authorities” can’t even get their act together long enough to present the same messaging! Which homework am I supposed to focus on for “three hours of studying” a night, teaching staff? You all claimed every subject was the most important I’d ever encounter, and me not even believe that English class could ever be helpful! And coach says I’m supposed to be working on my gluts during that time, anyway! I’m going to just give up and lick some more outlets until mom yells at me again.

But, to be clear, authorities do not stop just because you finally graduate past the school system. In our daily lives as adults, we frequently encounter men and women that have authority over us, whether that authority be real, imagined, or distant. A boss may control whether or not you have a weekend to yourself, and a politician that was elected in Kentucky may for some reason have authority over whether or not you can control the functions of your own body. And, since this is a videogame blog, let’s go ahead and claim some of those “imagined” authorities don’t even know they are authorities. Nintendo says its latest retro release will not be available after March: does that mean they have commanded you to make a purchase now, because you are terrified of missing out? Authority comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes from the most unlikely of sources. Or, sometimes, there are super likely sources, like the police.

Run!The police are… a bit of a thing of late. Or maybe they always have been a thing? This is a difficult topic to broach, as this is a very public blog, and I hesitate to make any statements that could be interpreted as overtly political. Ha ha ha. Just kidding. The truth is I hesitate to make any statements that could get me fired, politically ostracized, or outright jailed. Do I think all cops are bastards? I can say, with complete confidence, that I know one retired police officer that I would not describe as a bastard. I also know one not-retired, not-fired police officer who, when my house was robbed, immediately accused my neighbor that was literally across the street because “you know, we get a lot of calls about that mixed family,” despite the fact that actual evidence proved this to be a completely baseless accusation. So, ya know, there are people on both sides (“Aren’t you missing a word in that quote?” “No.”). And, regardless of my feelings on individual police officers, I am all for defunding the police, as even the smallest PD seems to account for enormous chunks of city budgets. I have absolutely no qualms about stating that our teachers should have more funding than our police officers. But maybe this thinking is influenced by my love of videogames? I have only played a handful of games where high school teachers have been villains (and they mostly involved anime teens), but I have played a lot of videogames where the opponents were the police. I wonder why that is…

Today’s featured title, Jet Set Radio, is one such game. Technically, the real, “final” enemy of JSR is a billionaire mogul who thinks that reassembling a magical record is going to kick off a thousand years of Shin Megami Tensei, but, if you’re looking at the street level villains of Jet Set Radio, it’s only rival gangs (that eventually become friendly) and cops (who are never friendly). The plot of Jet Set Radio is (initially) simple: sweet ass magical rollerblades have been invented, sweet ass music has always been invented, and now the kids with their blades and their hip hop are skating around town and spraypainting their logos all over the place. You are one of these kids, and, since you’re actively breaking the law at all times (being this radical is illegal), the police are your constant enemy. Some are anonymous storm troopers, some are very well-defined enemies of Lupin III, and some are using friggin missile-launching helicopters to take down teenagers; but they all work together to stop the kids from having a fun time. I just want to shred and tag, man, don’t be all The Man about it.

RUN AWAY!And, if you’re just following the plot of Jet Set Radio, it is extremely anti-authoritarian. The police are a problem from the first level, but they are, more or less, little more than a nuisance. JSR distinctly portrays the police as incompetent, and, in a game that technically doesn’t have any offensive options (the “bosses” of this game are defeated by spraypainting and then becoming too embarrassed to be a threat), they are easily thwarted by simply skating around. They’ll never catch those wily kids! And, similarly, when the “real” big bad surfaces with a plan that could obliterate the city and potentially all life on the planet, it is eventually revealed that… it wouldn’t have worked. Magical demon summoning isn’t real, silly, and Evil CEO Goji was always going to be just as unsuccessful as Police Captain Onishima. The message here is clear: not only are known authorities ineffective, they’re downright goofy. The hip teenagers were always going to succeed, and these squares never had a damn clue.

And this is very common in media aimed at teenagers. Hell, you could claim that the very concept of a “teenager” is the result of identifying that at a certain point a “child” reaches an age where they object to authority (and maybe we should be able to market directly to that demographic). As such, in many videogames, you continually see teenagers save the world from evil organizations (or occasionally religions) that are run by fussy old men. Videogames don’t really have a “punk” genre, but it does have any number of teens that pathologically battle the very concept of authority. Is there that much of a difference between Beat and friends battling against the authority of a corrupt company and Cloud and friends combating another, slightly different corrupt company (and don’t claim Cloud isn’t a teenager: coma years don’t count). Tifa might not be shredding around on rollerblades (and we’re worse for it), but she’s fighting for personal freedom just as much as Gum.

Anti-wallBut, while many videogames focus on the freedom that their protagonists are fighting for, these heroes, in actuality, have absolutely zero autonomy. Final Fantasy 7 is practically a game all about how there’s no getting off the train your controller is on, but Jet Set Radio is a lot more similar than it cares to admit. Yes, there’s the obvious overarching plot that requires a playthrough, so Beat is always going to go from “new kid” with a new gang to ultimately the savior of the city (and Coin is always going to be nebulously having a bad time). But the more important thing is that, like it or not, you are locked into this game where Jet Set Radio happens to happen. Want to just cruise around on your wicked blades? Well, too bad, there are malevolent cops and/or assassins in every level. Want to escape those cops in new and interesting ways? That’s great, but there are only one or two pre-approved “escape routes” per level. And do you just want to skip a level, maybe because skating around the sewers tagging moving targets 30 times has never been fun? That’s another negative, kiddo, because you absolutely have to progress in JSR linearly. You want to play this game in a manner not prescribed by Sega? Not on my dime, pal.

Jet Set Radio is about being an anti-authority radical teen, but playing Jet Set Radio means submitting wholly to the authority of its directors. Jet Set Radio, in its most popular form, is wholly authoritarian.

But all is not lost! There is still freedom out there for Beat, Gum, and whatever that third guy was named (uh…. Beanie?). While the console versions of JSR must languish in a world without change, mods are available if you’ve decided to start skating on PC. And let us consider how much the gang from JSR has moved past their initial medium, and now frequently appear through fanart, fan videos, and enough cosplay to keep its admirers hating any conventions involving stairs for years. In short, whether it is in the digital world or the real one, the fans have wrested control of Jet Set Radio away from its authorities, and now the humble player has more than a few options on how they want to play around in that anti-authoritarian world. The system works!

Keep on rockin'And what’s the moral there? Well, there is hope. Videogames are, by their nature, authoritarian, because, more than in any other medium, a videogame can be programmed to force the player to either play the game how directed, or walk away. A book or movie is always going to include a fastforward feature, but videogames can allow for so much as a “chapter skip” to be outlawed. However, given enough time and effort, fans can reclaim practically anything, and, before you know it, Tab (that’s his name!) has been replaced by C.J., and authority has been reclaimed. It’s not easy to make such mods, and it’s not necessarily easy for a player to simply install such a thing, but it is possible. It is worth the effort.

Authority can be overthrown. Whether it be in Jet Set Radio or in our real world, things can change. Things will change. We just need to work together.

FGC #546 Jet Set Radio

  • System: Originally Sega Dreamcast, and then all over the place as of about the Playstation 3/Xbox 360. It’s currently Xbox One backwards compatible, which I think means it will work with the XboxxobX or whatever the next system is called.
  • Number of players: You’ve got a full gang, but you skate alone.
  • WeeeeeeSo, does this entire article exist because apparently your old Dreamcast VMU crapped out, and you never made any progress in the PS3 version, so, in order to capture gameplay from Jet Set Radio, you had to start completely from scratch despite beating/unlocking everything about twenty years ago? Maybe.
  • Urge to continually call this game “Jet Grind Radio”: High.
  • Favorite GG: Yo-Yo always looks like he is going to start some #$&!, so I see that lime-green hoodie a lot. He also says “yo” a lot, which, as someone who used such a word roughly 40,000,000 times in my school days, seems relatable.
  • Do you hold a grudge against Jet Set Radio because you always blamed it for the continual usage of grinding in Sonic Adventure 2 and later Sonic games, which you have always hated? Yes.
  • For the Future: I’ve never actually played Jet Set Radio Future. This is because… uh… um… I guess because the robot never told me to play it. Is it any good? It’s weird, I just never thought we needed more JSR than OG JSR.
  • Did you know? The logo of Goji and the Rokkaku Group is meant to be a hexagon (which is a pun on “Rokkaku” in Japanese), but it looks an awful lot like the Nintendo Gamecube logo. Granted, this is somehow before the Gamecube even existed, but it still seems rather fascinating.
  • Would I play again: Hell, why not? It would be nice if I could play it in a new, unique way, though…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Bros. 2! Wait, didn’t we already do that one? I’m sorry? I’m receiving word that there are two Super Mario Bros. 2s. Oh, well that works. Please look forward to that!

Grinding right along
Authority or not, this is pretty fun

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmmm chicken

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

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

Mmmm pizza

Ah, yes, Pizza Hut…

Mmmm pizza

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

But it ain’t in Crazy Taxi anymore:

Mmmm pizza

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

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

Mmmm pizza

And that’s somehow even more depressing.

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

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

But… sometimes I miss cheesy crust pizza.

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

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

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

I hate this

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

The moon does appearConsider this a trigger warning: this is going to be a fairly heady article. It’s going to get personal, too. We’re talking about Michael Jackson, and… yeah, I don’t think I need to further explain what difficult topics will be explored. This is your warning… or something approaching that.

And, to be clear, this is a goddamn shame. We’re covering a game (or two) featuring Michael Jackson today, and, ladies and gentlemen, the jokes write themselves. There is a part of me that really wants to travel the low road on this one, and point out how something like 90% of the content here has aged monumentally poorly. You want some humorous content? Here’s MJ getting railed by some manner of dick-robot.

Right in the beans

Haha! He’s gonna be singing soprano after that!

But, if I’m being honest (and that’s the point of this essay), that’s exactly why I feel I need to be serious here. Yes, a videogame starring Michael Jackson has aged poorly. Yes, that is fairly inevitable with any product starring someone that was a cultural icon (see also some mall adventures). And, yes, due to the details of Jackson’s fall from grace, even a common trope like “save the kidnapped children” is going to be seen in a different light. This is all true. But the important part? The thing that would not stop running through my mind while playing this random Sega Genesis cartridge from 1990 is just how overwhelmingly sad the whole thing made me feel.

When I was a kid, Michael Jackson was my goddamned hero.

Save her!I’ve claimed in the past that my musical tastes as a child were entirely and wholly provided by my parents, who, as children of the 50’s, had more of an inclination to listen to The Big Bopper and The Beatles than Aerosmith. By the time I was a teenager, I learned both of my parents had been actively shielding me from “the hard stuff”, but even the forbidden list was predominantly songs that were golden oldies. My mother didn’t like the idea of me listening to Bohemian Rhapsody even by my teenage years, as it was “a suicide song”, but that was still a song released almost a decade before I was even born. Point is that, for all “the hits of the 80’s” that my local FM station assures me are real, I listened to maybe 1% of what was actually popular when it was prevalent. I think only Don’t Worry, Be Happy was on the approved list…

But, somehow, Michael Jackson was the exception. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly why MJ was an exception: “Weird” Al Yankovic. My parents knew their beloved, gigantically nerdy son, and figured I would enjoy the likes of “Fat” or “Eat it”. Weird Al’s oeuvre was obviously kid friendly, and (not going to lie) it was probably a great choice, as I’m pretty sure absorbing Weird Al’s recurring clever wordplay when I was a child is why I make word choice good now. But listening to a series of parody songs inevitably invites a need to hear those source songs, and, since WAY seemed to have a thing for MJ songs, you can guess what was high on the listening list. It wasn’t very long before I graduated from Weird Al’s Even Worse to Michael Jackson’s Bad (wait… isn’t that backwards?).

And I was in love.

ZOMBIES!I’m not even going to try to define why Michael Jackson was popular with the public at large. However, I can safely point to a handful of reasons why I, personally, liked Michael Jackson. In no particular order:

1. His music slapped
2. Actual moonwalking was fun and easy
3. Music videos that could and would include claymation

However that list does ignore the prime reason I adored Michael Jackson: he was a big damn weirdo.

Look, this is a blog where I occasionally compare relationships old and new to videogames. I have written obscure NES hero fanfic. I don’t think my dear audience believes there was a switch in my head that flipped to “big ol’ weirdo” when I became an adult. I was a weird kid. I had friends, I participated in activities, and I had extremely loving and protective parents; but there’s no debate as to who was “the weird kid” in any given classroom. And being the weird kid? There’s no helping being the weird kid. The dumb kid can get some special educational help, the smelly kid can get a shower, and the kid who pissed himself in first grade can just learn to beat up every other kid by second grade. But the weird kid? You don’t really ever stop being the weird kid. You’re always going to get distracted by Weeeeunusual bird feathers on the ground, or spend gym class planning out your victory dance rather than actually playing the assigned sport. You try not to be weird by carefully noting the last grade you’re ever allowed to talk about cartoons (it was third), but that all falls apart the moment you obviously get excited about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. And then it’s noogie time, and you’re reminded that, one way or another, you’re not like everybody else.

Michael Jackson was a universally beloved musical icon. And Michael Jackson wasn’t like anybody else.

Michael Jackson was a star, and he lived his life exactly how he wanted to live it. And this isn’t about residing on a ranch literally named for never outgrowing childhood, this is about his actual performances. He sang the lyrics he wanted to sing. He danced the way he wanted to dance. And he took his performances and personas to some extremely unusual places. He wasn’t content to simply have a “scary song”, he had to produce an entire music video featuring zombies as an homage to old horror movies. He appeared in cartoons when the medium was considered about as culturally relevant as cereal commercials. And if he wanted his own videogame, he got his own damn videogame.

Get in there!Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker appeared in many guises on many systems, but the two main versions were the arcade game and its Sega Genesis counterpart. To be honest, neither game is particularly that good. The arcade version is something of a rote beat ‘em up with its only defining characteristic being a monkey-based powerup that transforms your chosen Michael into a laser-blasting robot. The Genesis version isn’t much better, but is marginally more unique. This is more of a Rolling Thunder/Elevator Action-esque affair, and the caveat is that you have to open like every goddamn window, trunk, and door between Michael and the enemy’s secret base to find the lost children required to finish a stage. There’s a nugget of a good game idea in there, but it winds up becoming little more than Michael Jackson’s hide ‘n seek as he checks every closet in the house for more and more children (… dammit, I said I would avoid the low hanging fruit…).

And, despite the fact that both of these games aren’t particularly good, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was one of the two reasons this Nintendo kid wanted a Sega Genesis. There was Sonic the Hedgehog and Michael Jackson, and all a Wee Goggle Bob wanted in this world was a system where they were both combined (and maybe a game, too). Michael Jackson, the King of Pop that was also a giant weirdo, was waiting for me there. He liked videogames, too!

And then everything happened.

To be clear for anyone that didn’t live through it, it wasn’t like society declared him cancelled, and then Michael Jackson was forever banished from the public eye. Michael Jackson had always been weird, but now there were allegations. Now there was a reason to chastise the man for doing things that were not simply unusual, but wrong. And not everyone believed it! It was a slow drip of accusations, lawsuits, and the occasional televised “deeper look”. Regardless, Michael Jackson retreated more and more from the public eye, and, by the time he passed in 2009, he was remembered as practically a different person from his 1990 incarnation. Hell, the change happened so gradually, it allowed The Simpsons to go from idolizing Michael Jackson as the most important person to ever visit Springfield…

Michael Jackson!?

To, four years later, claiming Michael Jackson was little more than a mythical, malevolent phantom…

Who!?

A hero had become a villain, and now we’re at a point where MJ has been wiped from the show’s history.

And eleven years after Michael’s death, I’m still not sure what the hell I’m supposed to learn from such an event.

Do I believe the allegations at this point? Yes. Duh. Though, if I’m being completely honest, it took me a long time to get there. Michael Jackson is weird! I believed that people were just taking his obvious weakness for children and childish pursuits and turning it into some kind of pedophilia. In retrospect, that seems almost dangerously optimistic, but, at the time, it was just how I defended my hero. And that was the problem. Whether it be because of my impressionable age, the indoctrination of videogames and media where he was a literal hero, or simply because I wanted to listen to good music without thinking too hard about bad things, I followed Michael Jackson a lot longer than I should have. In retrospect, I regret ever giving the man so much I AM ROBOTas a dime, left alone allowing him to dominate that precious tape collection I always lugged to the nearest boombox. Michael Jackson was my hero, a hero that stood for everything I cared about when I was a certain age, and then it turned out that he was scarring children for life literally while I was supporting him. I was a fan of a “hero” that has victims.

Has this influenced my own life? Probably. I’m not going to point the finger squarely at one Bad individual, but I feel like this is part of the reason I gravitate toward fictional heroes like Optimus Prime or Voltron while leaving the real world behind. Barack Obama is a president and a man I felt I could stand behind, but I could never support the man with the kind of all-consuming dedication I have seen from other fans, because he was and still is, ultimately, a man. And a man has flaws. Sometimes those flaws are making decisions you don’t agree with, sometimes those flaws are literally criminal, but they are still reasons not to venerate any given man or woman. We’re all people, and we should treat every person with an even dosage of doubt.

This is where we are: I play a videogame about a pop star rescuing children from zombies with the help of a monkey, and the only thing I can think of is how we should be skeptical of literally every human on Earth. Michael Jackson ruined the lives of many children. He was not a hero. He didn’t “rescue kids” anymore than he could turn into a robot. But it’s not all bad! There are good people! There are people worthy of praise! They might not be perfect, but there are people that actually save children. You don’t have to worship them, but there are people that balance the cosmic scales, even if not a single one is the King of Pop. We can move on from Michael Jackson.

Right in the beans

And MJ can just eat a piledriver.

FGC #505 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

  • System: Sega Genesis is technically the version ROB chose, but the Arcade version is also a valid choice that follows roughly the same plot and concept. That concept is that Michael Jackson can turn into a space ship or a car anytime he wants, but chooses not to.
  • Number of players: One on the Genesis, the unusual three in the arcade. You would think Jackson would account for five.
  • THE CHANGEAdaptation: Yes, this is videogame tie-in game for Michael Jackson’s movie of the same name. If you missed out on his cinematic masterpiece, it’s basically a loosely connected collection of music videos and concert footage that includes a miniscule feature about Michael Jackson rescuing children from his former manager/mob boss. It’s worth a look if you’re ever on Youtube and feel like watching something that will make you hate yourself for a solid hour or so.
  • Favorite Level: Like The Simpsons Arcade Game, the third stage inexplicably turns into a graveyard featuring innumerable zombies. Their continual leaps recall Chinese hopping vampires, though, and there are at least two zombies that split in half to rain knives from the sky. What I’m saying is that my favorite level is the absolute weirdest.
  • So, does Thriller play over the zombie level? Nope! Apparently there was a licensing issue, as MJ didn’t write the entirety of Thriller. However, there are some prototype versions of the game floating around that retain the song. Vincent Price doesn’t appear in any version, though, unfortunately.
  • An End: The arcade version sticks to one genre, but the finale of the Genesis game gets a light shoot ‘em up in there for the final confrontation. It is the exact opposite of fun, but it is vaguely reminiscent of that Star Wars game. Oh, and the actual ending of the game is just Michael dancing with a monkey.
  • Did you know? The basic premise of this article is also why I will not be covering Space Channel 5 or Space Channel 5: Part 2. I can only deal with so many Michaels in power.
  • Would I play again: Did I mention that this game is not particularly good? It wasn’t terrible for the early 90s, but it has not aged well in more ways than one. There are a lot of other games I can play that are about 120% less problematic.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gunstar Super Heroes for the Gameboy Advance! Now there are some heroes we can get behind! Please look forward to it!

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

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

Sparkles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sparkles

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

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

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

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

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

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

WINNER