Tag Archives: sexual dimorphism

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Here comes some funDoes being an adult suck?

A long time ago on a console generation far, far away, there was a game called something like Project Dream, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, or maybe just Conker’s Quest. This prototype of a game was showcased for the press at the tail end of the 20th Century, and many journalists were exposed to a title that was meant to evoke the concept of a “playable (Disney’s) Bambi”. Unfortunately, this was being highlighted after a decade of cute mascot platformers, and, more recently, the publicly beloved Banjo & Kazooie. So, whereas Conker 64 was certainly impressive, many complained it was more of the same from the exact same studio that was now becoming best known for bumbling bees and not belligerent battletoads. This caused the studio that had once wanted so bad to make their own Mortal Kombat to snap, and Conker 64 was transformed into something that was intended for a wholly different audience. The explanation was “kids who were 6 when they played the first Mario game are now 26,” and an N64 platformer/collectathon for adults was born. The writing and presentation were going to be M for Mature, even if the gameplay may be M for Mario 64.

But this conversion of Conker’s world offers us a rare (heh) opportunity to apply science to videogame production. We all know what mascot-based action games from the N64 era look like. There are a variety of examples available, from Glover to that tongue game. But none of these games went for a full mature audience. Give or take Gex trying to appeal to hip 40 somethings that love Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, none of Conker’s contemporaries even attempted to appeal to anyone old enough to drive. There may have been a “subtle” joke here or there, but that key “young adult” demographic was always assumed to be a parent that wandered into Little Timmy’s playroom, and not the person actually playing the game. Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows us exactly what these games would look like if they were made for adults.

And Conker paints a bleak picture of adulthood.

PeanutbutteryLet’s start with the bit that is the least psychologically offensive (assuming you are not my grandmother). Conker’s Bad Fur Day involves a number of jokes that are entirely based on the ol’ “so now that the kids are asleep…” kind of thinking. Where a “kiddy platformer” might have a snow-based world, Conker has a scatological-based area (complete with fart-based theme song). Vampires have been all over children’s games, but they were somehow bloodless. Here, we have a vampire that inspires wall-to-wall blood. Conker’s “princess” is shaped like a bombshell, and his main villain is going to suffer a gruesome death (one way or another). This is all very… what’s the best way to put this… “mature” is certainly not the right word… Well, it is straight up puerile, but it is childish in a way that acknowledges none of this would be possible in “kiddy” action games. We are allowed to do whatever we want, so let’s model the hell out of that (literal) shit.

But then justifying some of those “mature” inclinations starts to cause problems. Conker’s Bad Fur Day includes swearing. In fact, the game contains a lot of swearing. And, likely in pursuit of rationalizing said swearing, practically every character in the game (and absolutely including Conker) is an asshole. Just within the opening areas, there is a bee that is notably cheating on his wife, some farm equipment that is constantly insulting each other, and a talking box that immediately launches into a fatphobic tirade. Are these characters funny? If that is your thing, sure, it is funny to see these “cute” anthropomorphic animals and objects act like jerks. But it also affirms that everything with googly eyes in this universe is on the highest echelon of terrible. If you would like to spend the day enjoying a videogame free of body shaming, sorry, you will have to look elsewhere, even if the creature body shaming does not even have a body.

GET IT!?And, yes, if you are a child/teen that somehow managed to score the M-rated game off a clueless family member, it certainly would leave the impression that all adults ever do is insult each other. And that’s not true! It only happens when we get upset about whippersnappers being on our lawns!

But the inexorable march of adulthood being a gauntlet of misery continues. Conker has a beautiful (for a squirrel), capable girlfriend. So how does the game start? With Conker lying to her so he can stay out drinking. After that, technically, the entire game is the story of Conker trying to get back to her after all that drinking, but, when they are finally reunited, she is quickly fridged by the main villain. However, Conker gains god-like control of his world through conscripting a programmer! And does he bring Berri back to life with his newfound powers? Of course not! He forgets all about her! And that’s the joke! Ha ha! Funny squirrel! Could have saved a loved one’s life, but he got obsessed with slicing up an alien instead!

But adulthood isn’t just about being a jerk to everyone in your immediate area, it’s also about making references to pop culture! That previously mentioned alien is absolutely a chest-bursting xenomorph, and you’ll have to battle a Terminator parody before you get out of the first area. Saving Private Ryan was the talk of the town back in the late 90’s, so it gets the “war” level and an entire section of the multiplayer. And did you catch The Matrix? Conker hopes you did, because the final level makes absolutely no sense without that clarification of Keanu Reeves being why everyone is suddenly carrying guns and wearing trench coats. The wee young’uns can only dream of parodying R-Rated movies!

CHOMPSpeaking of paper-thin parodies, women are little more than their chests in Conker’s world. Jugga the Cavewoman has a pretty straightforward name for a woman that is about to make a penis size joke, and Sunflower the sunflower looks like a children’s drawing of a plant… save for the enormous gazongas. And, yes, you can use her breasts as a trampoline. Men can be monsters, gangsters, monster gangsters, scientists, and kings in this game. Women are almost unanimously walking anatomy jokes.

Oh, and if you’re curious, the ending sees Conker becoming king, but he has now learned that he hates everyone that lives in the country he rules. So he just goes to the bar where this all started to become a depressed alcoholic.

Adult videogames, everybody!

Put this all together, and it makes adulthood out to be miserable. Mario barely says a word through Mario 64, but all those “woos” sure do sound like the guy is having fun. Banjo & Kazooie might have a little more of a coarse edge to their dialogue, but they are still rescuing a loved one, and interacting with fun characters while doing it. If the “mature” version of those adventures is a game wherein the hero loses everything and discovers he hates literally everybody left alive, then what is the point of growing up? You want to be old enough to drink just so you can drink yourself straight into the gutter? It seemed to work for Conker!

SlicerOr maybe it is simply this version of “maturity” that makes adulthood look awful. The medium of videogames has grown a lot since 2001, and “Mature” doesn’t just mean a game includes fatalities anymore. Now we have games with super violent, sexy robots twirling about with swords but also taking the time to acknowledge the emotional needs of their buddies. We have the hyper violent franchises where things might be horrible all over the place, but at least our protagonists take time out of their day to be sad dads. And speaking of sad, Conker’s tale may end on a depressing note, but one of the best games out there is all about depression. In all of these situations, adults are the focus, and adulthood does look like an endless gauntlet of challenges that are designed to wear you down, but there is hope. From 2-B to Kratos to Madeline, everyone has problems they need to overcome, but they also have friends, support systems, and achievable ambitions. They do not simply make a flippant comment and move on to the next movie parody.

Oh, and none of them have to venture through a level covered in shit.

Is Conker’s Bad Fur Day a bad game for the way it offers a “mature” video game? No. There is room enough in this world for the “Bathroom Reader” of videogames. But its presentation of what it is to be “adult” is significantly lacking. While there are trials and tribulations as an adult, that does not mean it is all despair, all the time. There is joy. There is love. There is more to life than hitting rock monsters with frying pans. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is meant to platform one of Conker’s worst days, but that does not mean he has to live in the worst world.

It sucks to be an adult sometimes, but it doesn’t suck all the time.

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

  • Because... uh... get it?System: Nintendo 64 to start, then miraculously migrated over to Xbox with Conker: Live & Reloaded. Then we got something close to the original again as part of Rare Replay on the Xbox One. If you are curious, this is all because Rare drifted to Microsoft. I am sure that has nothing to do with Conker chainsawing the N64 logo at the start of the game.
  • Number of players: There is a complete multiplayer mode in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and it even has online functionality in the Xbox version. Or it did, back when that was still viable. What’s important is that there is a multiplayer mode completely separate from the single player adventure.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There is more to a videogame than story, presentation, and writing! We also have gameplay! And it is… passable. Look, you can see the seams of exactly how this Conker title would work out if it were a “traditional” Rare N64 title, and every couple of (inexplicably sentient, talking) bucks hidden around the area being transformed into “collect the shines” would be a very short trip. That said, while the various activities involved are interesting and eclectic, the actual “control” of Conker isn’t on the same level as Banjo or Mario. Or, put another way, any time you have to complete an actual platforming “challenge” with this squirrel, you are going to have a bad time. I said it before, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day is “middle to high” on the ol’ N64 scale.
  • Just play the gig, man: I am highlighting the song made out of farts once again. The Great Mighty Poo anthem also gets a trophy. You just don’t see many flatulence-based songs anymore.
  • Won’t someone please think of the children: The above-mentioned shit song got censored in the Xbox version, though. Also, for some reason, there are a lot more bleeps on Conker’s remade adventure. Considering the “kiddy” Nintendo 64 version allowed everything short of the nefarious f-word, this is an amusing change between systems.
  • This is a pain in the patootFavorite Level: I used to enjoy “It’s War” for its humor, but, in retrospect, I think that may be because I am an idiot. It is a really annoying level! So I will go with Uga Buga now, as the cave/dinosaur/rock thing going on there is a lot more comfortably platform-y for this platformer.
  • Did you know? Conker’s Pocket Tales was a legitimate Gameboy Color title that put Conker in a Zelda-like fantasy world that was 100% kid friendly. Damn near no one was buying Gameboy titles that didn’t feature Pokémon at this point, but if they did, hoo boy, that would be some kind of transition between games.
  • Would I play again: Not likely. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was impressive in its time, but its time has long since passed. And until we see another day featuring this ornery squirrel, he can stay mothballed with the rest of his Rare buddies. You don’t see Sabre Wulf getting out there anymore, either…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken’s Nina Williams in Death by Degrees! Yes! It’s that game I played like a year ago on the stream, now finally getting an FGC article! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #623 Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja

DUDE TIMEThe president has been kidnapped by ninja! Bad Dudes is a cross-country romp for two generally not good fellows who have to beat down an entire army of evil ninja on their way to rescuing President Ronnie. And, while the opening narration notes that ninja crime is on the rise, and not even the White House is safe, it doesn’t answer one important question: who, specifically, kidnapped President Ronnie? The Secret Service is calling in the Bad Dudes as soon as Ronnie is kidnapped, but where were they for the actual event? Who had the wherewithal to sneak into the White House and commit this heinous ninja crime?

Let’s look at the bosses of this evil ninja cartel, and examine who had the gumption to kidnap the eternal President of the 80’s. We will start at the top, with…

Dragon Ninja: The Big Boss

The Big Guy

He Did It: This is the big boss of the ninja organization, and the final boss of the game. By the finale, he has President Ronny in his private helicopter, and he can only be fought after venturing through an entire Ninja Factory that includes zombie versions of every boss that has come before. This is very much the big man in charge, and he has President Ronnie right there. This must be the culprit!

He Didn’t Do It: Yes, Dragon Ninja was ultimately responsible for this kidnapping, but he did not do the deed. Can you see this guy? Wannabe kabuki ass flipping around with an army of dogs at his beck and call? I know security was more lax in the 80s, but there is no way this dude got anywhere near the White House. Bro couldn’t get into a Smithsonian food truck, left alone the most secure building in town. No, Dragon Ninja was handed Ronnie at some point, but he likely never left his Ninja Factory. One of those henchmen has to be the culprit…

Devil Pole

Spin that pole

He Did It: Given his placement as the penultimate boss that guards the cave leading to the Ninja Factory, one would assume that Devil Pole is Dragon Ninja’s second in command. Dragon Pole also fulfills that all important ninja position of being the bald guy with a stick that can absolutely wreck everybody, regardless of opponents with tremendously more lethal weaponry. It worked for Daredevil! So this “Stick” is likely the man for the job whenever Dragon Ninja needs to get down to the dirty work.

He Didn’t Do It: He’s just not ninja enough for the job. Devil Pole is absolutely some manner of martial arts master (have you ever seen a bad dude survive his spin stick?), but he also doesn’t fit the description of “ninja” that is so important in this caper. If Devil Pole was responsible, then the CIA would be putting out an APB on Liu Kang. They know it was a ninja, and Devil Pole doesn’t look like any ninja I’ve ever seen.

Akaikage

Watch the chain

He Did It: This is a ninja’s ninja. He fights bad dudes atop a moving train while wielding what appears to be a kunai on a chain. That scores an obvious ten out of ten “believe it”’s on the Naruto-Boruto Scale. He is also wearing a mask to obscure his face in the event of crimes, and his jumping abilities are beyond the pale. In short, if you are planning on kidnapping a president, Akaikage is probably the first guy you call.

He Didn’t Do It: My rudimentary Japanese and knowledge of 1985 arcade games tells me that “Akai” means “red”, and “Kage” means “shadow”. But this “ninja” is only wearing the tiniest red bandana, and mostly green and black for the rest of his outfit. And don’t claim this is for camouflage purposes, as there ain’t anything green about this moving train. So the obvious conclusion? Akaikage is some kind of wannabe that chose his name because it sounded cool. Couple this concept with the fact that abilities like “jump” and “throw chain” are not exactly rocket science, and it is likely Akaikage isn’t a ninja at all, but just some dork on the train that wanted to help out his “nippon friends”. It is possible Akaikage is the real deal, but it is also very likely that, on and on, he is just another weeb in the wall.

Animal

I know that guy

He Did It: No. Not even entertaining that option.

He Didn’t Do It: Should we just ignore that this is a real person? The official, canon name for this guy is “Animal”, and, oh yeah, he looks an awful lot like a grayer version of the World Wrestling Federation star Joseph Michael Laurinaitis aka Road Warrior Animal. He was pretty popular! Hung out with Road Warrior Hawk! Has nothing to do with the KISS Army or Gwar! And here is this pixelated “Animal” just stopping around the forest like he owns the place. This is blatant copyright infringement at best, and identity theft at worst! This indignity will not stand!

… But, uh, anyway. Joe never kidnapped the president, so we’re going to assume this Warrior didn’t, either.

Kamui the Multiple Ninja

Maddrox?

He Did It: Another extremely likely suspect. Kamui appears to be a traditional ninja, but he has the ability to create “real” duplicates of himself in seemingly infinite quantities. That must be a significant boon for espionage missions, as being able to sneak into, say, the White House as one dude, and then instantly produce an army could solve a lot of problems. And Kamui here seems to be invincible while his duplicates are present, so conquering any kind of security should take about seven seconds. Keep shooting at the shadow clones, dummies, while Kamui sneaks off with Ronnie in tow.

He Didn’t Do It: The only real evidence that Kamui is not Public Enemy #1 is that he is the boss of the sewer level. If one of your top, powerful ninja lieutenants successfully accomplished the most daring kidnapping in history, would you assign him to sewer duty? He may be laying low by literally laying low, but the most likely explanation is that Kamui is not our perpetrator. A proper Ronnie-napper would not smell like a ninja turtle.

Iron the Claw

Don't get tetanus

He Did It: Another ninja’s ninja, Iron is covered in shadow-encouraging purple, and equipped with a metal claw that can grow to twice his size. He is the boss of the convoy stage, so you know he’s got some status in the organization, and his complicated spinning jumps and claw attacks can tear a bad dude to ribbons.

He Didn’t Do it: President Ronnie is like six feet tall and full of burgers. There is no way on Hattori Hanzo’s green Earth that Iron could successfully heft the president up and out. At best, he would need about three other Minis to carry that weight, and, at that point, your stealth rating has dropped to zero. No way Iron is getting out of there alive.

Karnov

THE MAIN MAN

He Did It: Of course he did it. He’s fugging Karnov!

He Didn’t Do It: Nope, he did it. Karnov can breathe fire when fighting a bad dude, but we all know he can also wear all-seeing masks, produce ladders, and even fly if he decided to bring along the right powerups. And, while Karnov looks less like a ninja and more like a chubby Russian guy, you better believe that, in a world where Karnov exists, if he decided to join a ninja gang, it would be national news. When you are the king of a fighting tournament and known for never wearing a shirt, you better believe the paparazzi knows all your affiliations. And who else could get close enough to President Ronnie? Karnov is an international treasure! Anyone would let him in!

Yep, case closed. It was Karnov. Go get ‘em, Bad Dudes.

FGC #623 Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja

  • System: The arcade version was used for this article, and played on an Evercade cartridge. But the NES version is pretty well known, and at least one of these versions is currently available on the Nintendo Switch (maybe both?). Beyond that, you have a lot of random systems from the era, like the Apple II or Commodore 64. Also, the Zeebo had Bad Dudes at some point. Look it up!
  • Number of players: Two is the greatest number of Bad Dudes any one game could support.
  • Great place to fightMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Bad Dudes is a rudimentary beat ‘em up, and an obvious quarter killer (the final boss can knock out a life inside of two hits!). That said, the arcade version absolutely nails the sensation of digital punching, and every defeated ninja feels like an accomplishment. Much like Smash Bros. years later, Bad Dudes seemingly put all of its R&D budget into perfectly replicating big, meaty hits, and it adds a memorable, visceral quality to the whole adventure.
  • What’s in a name: It is Bad Dudes on the NES, but DragonNinja in Japan and Europe. So, one way or another, it is named after the protagonists or the antagonist. The official arcade title uses both sides, so everybody is happy.
  • Favorite Weapon: None work like nunchucks.
  • Sexual dimorphism is a scourge: Traditional zako ninja are all assumed to be male ninja, because the Kunoici female ninja are very much presenting any and all feminine signifiers. Is there a reason any ninja needs fishnets and a short skirt? Mobility? Maybe?
  • An end: The infamous “let’s go out for burgers” ending only appears in the American version. The Japanese version gets some Masonry Dudes building a statue of the Bad Dudes, and, more importantly, “credits” for the enemies of the game. (Almost) Everybody gets a name! This article would be impossible without that! Or at least more confusing!
  • Did you know: Chelnov, star of Atomic Runner Chelnov, appears in Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja as a spraypainted tag proudly displayed on the train of Level 5.

    Everybody knows him!  RIGHT?!

    Chelnov would later go on to be the final boss of Fighter’s History 3 (Fighter’s History: Mizoguchi Kiki Ippatsu!!), meaning the atomic runner not only appeared in a game with Karnov, but finally got to fight the big galoot a few years later.

  • Would I play again: This is the ideal arcade game in more ways than one. If I ever see a Bad Dudes cabinet again, it is probably getting at least a buck. But if it is only available on a system competing with many, many other games… Well… I will probably play those first.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Food Fight! Keep your fork, there’s pie! Please look forward to it!

Some hot ninja

FGC #614 (The) Astyanax (& The Legendary Axe)

BY THIS AXE!Now for the tale of three axe ‘em ups.

Tokuhiro Takemori is credited with designing a handful of games around the late 80’s/early 90’s. Amagon was a run ‘n gun that could become a run ‘n punch thanks to an interesting transformation mechanic… but it was not all that fun to actually play. A similar “transformation based” game worked a lot better with Avenging Spirit, but, unfortunately, it appears that was Takemori’s last game as a director. And before all that, there was RoboWarrior, which was primarily a Bomberman/Blaster Master kind of a top down adventure that failed to turn any heads. But if you are looking at the oeuvre of Tokuhiro Takemori, you need to look at the weapon that dominated three (maybe 2.5) of his greatest creations: the axe.

But before we get to the axe, let us look to the buster. Many claim that the “mega buster” that was introduced in Mega Man 4 ruined the Mega Man franchise. And, while it did lead to very different gameplay from its predecessors, it is important to remember its place in gaming history. Want to know the greatest weapon in the 80’s kid’s arsenal? It was never the power glove, it was always turbo. The greatest action games of the NES all required a whole lot of b-button hammering, so a turbo button that allowed for the fastest shots on the block was the key to victory. Contra, Mega Man 1-3, and even Super Mario (with his iconic fireballs) could all be conquered through liberal use of a turbo button. Mega Man 4’s “stop and charge shot” may have mucked up what seemed to previously be perfect gameplay, but it also meant that toggling on “turbo” did not mean an instant victory. Metal blades are not the answer anymore, children!

Three years earlier, Tokuhiro Takemori applied this same thinking to an axe. The Legendary Axe was an early TurboGrafix-16 title that was exactly what it said in the title. You are Gogan! Who kinda looks like Amagon! Who already looked like Tarzan! And you must rescue your Jane, Flare, from the clutches of the nefarious Jagu, a half man, half monster that is a generally offensive “witch doctor”. It is all very “jungle adventure”, and the monsters that inhabit this land are mostly Heart of Darkness stereotypes like spear-tossing orcs, or angry birds and/or bears. The boss of level 2 is just straight up a large, rolling rock, so… yeah… Gogan’s adventure is a bit unremarkable.

But! Gogan wields the magical axe Sting, and you’re going to remember Sting for every breath you take. Swinging the titular legendary axe could be your typical 8-bit “hammer that axe” situation, but Sting charges strength between every blow. Swing wildly, and you will do a lot less damage than if you just waited a moment for the legendary axe gauge to climb to its apex. Yes, this absolutely means that there was a game in 1988 where you could work out proper damage-per-second calculations to accurately slay a boulder! And there are powerups along the way that increase Sting’s charge rate and the maximum strength of Sting’s attack, so there is a baby’s first leveling system, too!

With one simple mechanic, The Legendary Axe made some revolutionary changes to the face of action games.

The Legendary Axe was well-received, but it was well-received on a system that was an eternal loser to big ol’ Nintendo. Additionally, this revolutionary system was married to a game that did practically nothing to distinguish itself from any other generic action game available. Was Kabuki Quantum Fighter revolutionary? No, but you damn well remember that dude whipping his hair around. Gogan was so forgettable, I had to check an earlier paragraph to confirm I properly recalled his name. If there was some way to marry the gameplay of The Legendary Axe to a plot that actually stuck in a player’s brain…

Does it bite?Enter The Astyanax, an arcade game released a year later. The Astyanax features much the same gameplay as The Legendary Axe, now complete with an axe that glows with flames when fully charged. It also added a “screen crush” magical attack that could be empowered through pickups, and… that’s about it. From a gameplay perspective, The Astyanax is almost an exact clone of The Legendary Axe, albeit with more straightforward levels more suited to the arcade.

But The Astyanax has one thing The Legendary Axe never achieved: something memorable. The first boss in The Legendary Axe is a bear (or two), the first boss in The Astyanax is some manner of caterpillar-scorpion. The second stage features a fight in the shadow of a floating island, followed by climbing aboard (and murdering everything on) said floating island. A two headed hydra guards an elevator inhabited by bloody skeletons that rises to a fight with a cyclops. And then you finally battle the wizard that is clearly behind all of this…

WIZARD TIME!

Only to find that it was all the plot of xenomorph aliens from the hit movie Alien. No, seriously! It’s weird!

ALIEN TIME!

The Astyanax does not explain itself in any way. We open with a scene of heroic Roche claiming a legendary axe, and we know Roche is trying to kill a wizard because said wizard will not stop taunting you on every continue screen. After said wizard is axed, those aliens pop up, but we still end with a shot of the wizard’s tower crumbling into the lake. Were the aliens really behind everything? Were all the mythological monsters creeping about the result of alien breeding? Did the wizard just punch through reality too hard trying to score a sexy lady minion? We have no idea! We just know that Roche beat up some monsters of dubious origins but good, and the day is presumably saved.

A year later we saw Astyanax (no “the”). A year later we received a Nintendo cartridge that couldn’t shut up.

In some ways, Astyanax is the inevitable arcade-to-NES step down from The Astyanax. There is an attempt to make our hero (now outright named Astyanax) bigger than other 8-bit heroes, but he takes up way too much of the screen. There is now an emphasis on platforming (or at least platform… hopping?), and a bevy of instant death pits do not work well with knock-back, slowly spawning monsters, and limited lives. And big, scary, interesting bosses return, but they necessitate the NES dropping any and all backgrounds for these battles, so enjoy fighting Medusa in the gaping void.

But where Astyanax falters in gameplay, it more than overcompensates with talky-talk. Cinema scenes reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden tell the story of a teenage schoolboy that is transported to a magical land, instantly gains armor, an axe, and a magical fairy, and then battles a legion of skeletons in order to rescue a princess from an evil wizard that is also a remarkably poorly animated dragon. Over the course of Astyanax’s adventure, Cutie the fairy sacrifices her life to break the curse of a magical general, but, when Astyanax saves the day and is sent back to his mundane world, Cutie is reincarnated as a teenage girl. This seems important, even if the princess is bored with it.

PRINCESS TIME!

Xenomorphs are probably not involved, either. There’s one weird boss in Level 3 that appears to be some manner of alien, but it could just be, like, a particularly ugly monster. Whatever. Nobody talks about it.

This place sucksSo what is most important in Tokuhiro Takemori’s charging-your-axe trilogy? Well, the gameplay of The Legendary Axe is pretty great, but it is a clear first attempt, and its various opponents and locales are trivial. Astyanax for the NES has a remarkable story and bestiary, but the gameplay suffers in its translation to “Nintendo hard”. It seems like The Astyanax blends the charge-an-axe gameplay best with memorable locations and opponents. Oh! And you get a shield! It barely does anything, but it is unique to the arcade version, so it looks like The Astyanax is the winner.

So remember, kiddies, if you’re going to revolutionize action gameplay, include a shield. It worked for Roche, it worked for Alucard, and it can work for you!

FGC #614 Astyanax

  • System: Technically, ROB chose the Nintendo Entertainment System version, but there was the arcade game, and The Legendary Axe was a TurboGrafix-16 jaunt.
  • Number of players: The arcade version gets an unnamed, possibly-a-ghost second player. But the NES version is strictly solo.
  • DO NOT TOUCHStraying from the Light of God: Technically, Astyanax on the NES can “upgrade” his axe to a spear and a sword. However, the spirit of a chargeable axe is still there, so let’s just pretend he sticks to one pointy object.
  • What’s in a name? The Astyanax is known as The Lord of King in Japan. I guess it’s a King Arthur thing? The Astyanax is the one game in this trilogy where you’re not rescuing a princess, so the presence of royalty is wholly unwarranted. “Astyanax” still means “high king”, though, and is the name of a prince from The Illiad.
  • Familiar Faces: The skeleton general that ultimately causes the death of Cutie really resembles a certain skull-faced fellow from Willow. This may be a coincidence of the time, but I feel like I haven’t seen a skelly-general since…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I received this (NES) game as a gift from my grandmother one Christmas Eve. It was chosen with the very particular criteria of “you like Nintendo games, right? Here’s a Nintendo game.” Regardless, since it was a Christmas Eve gift, and not actual-Christmas, I remember staying up “waiting for Santa” by playing Astyanax for six continuous hours. I am moderately sure I made it to the third level.
  • Sexy?Did you know? Some risqué rewards are available in the arcade’s fifth level, as you can “strip” some female monsters of their chest plates, and watch them run around while trying to cover their chests. Brings a whole new meaning to an arcade “attract” mode. This, of course, did not appear on the NES, where the Medusa boss received a breast reduction when being localized. Guess that’s another Castlevania parallel.
  • Would I play again: The arcade version is a firm maybe. The Legendary Axe is a bit too hard once you reach the fourth level, and I do not feel like “memorizing” how to deal with an assault of fish people ever again. Astyanax for the NES is absolutely not happening, because screw Cutie, your life isn’t worth that many instant death pits. Go get a job with Link or something.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cruisin’ Blast for the Nintendo Switch! Let’s go cruiiiiiiising! Please look forward to it!

Swingin'
Can’t imagine why I’m thinking about Tarzan…

FGC #603 Dante’s Inferno

Let us address the many sins of Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno. We shall see if absolution is possible.

The Sin of Violence: Dante’s Inferno gets a brutal update

Let's fightLet’s get the big one out of the way first: who sits down to read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and thinks, “Damn! This would make a fine beat ‘em up”? This is something that apparently must have happened, as, here we are, living in a world where Dante ventures forth to tear Hell a new one with a magical scythe. The OG Dante was a poet who wrote his self-insert character into a complicated, but generally mellow, fanfic; this Dante is in a continual state of grating the bones of his enemies across his washboard abs. It is a significantly different interpretation of the same character. And, what’s more, OG Dante’s Inferno is amazingly descriptive in its journey from the underworld to the heavens, but it is also clearly meant as something of an allegory or “imaginary tale” right from the start. Dante was having a dream about his own moral standing in the world! Meanwhile, VG Dante is exactly fighting to save his fiancée and rescue a world threatened by Satan and the unrelenting forces of Hell. Nothing allegorical about pressing X to drive a blade into a sinner’s face!

Excuse me. I’m getting ahead of myself. My own prejudices against PS2/PS3-style “mature” games are shining through here, and I apologize for dismissing Dante’s Inferno for being a reimagining that was beholden to (then) modern videogame trends. This is unfair, as Real Dante’s Inferno likely survived to the present day entirely because it was contemporary. It was an epic poem, but it was not written in Latin. It involved historical and fictional celebrities that were bumming around various parts of the afterlife. The main character was the prototypical everyman hanging with a trendy historical figure. Complete with more name-dropping than a Kardashian feature, the Divine Comedy was made from its outset to be a popular piece of media, and it is only through centuries and gradually changing standards that it now seems so stiff and religious. I mean, it was always going to be religious as hell with all those popes running around, but popes were basically the Avengers of 1320.

So, alright, VG Dante’s Inferno can be forgiven for going the “popular” route with its interpretation of OG Dante’s Inferno. History has proven that Dante Alighieri clearly would have forsaken all the indie JRPGs of the era to make his story a 3-D action title if he had the technology. But there is still the problem of…

The Sin of Heresy: Dante must cry

OopsDante’s Inferno was released for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PSP in 2010. Given the marketing blitz that accompanied the game (“Please visit our E3 booth and be tortured by something other than long lines!”) and the years that have passed since, we will likely never get a real answer on exactly what the designers and marketing department responsible for Dante’s Inferno were thinking. In an obvious way, this deadly Dante screams “this isn’t your daddy’s epic poem,” and lurks around the caverns of Hell doing all sorts of things that could not even be imagined by an epic poet from 690 years prior. This is a videogame from the future, old man, get out of the way and start hammering O to earn salvation!

On the other hand, Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno is inexplicably beholden to the original source material. All of the Circles of Hell are followed precisely according to the source material, despite the fact that figuring out an action-game interpretation of “Level 13: Wood of the Suicides” must have been a pain in the branches. The setting is also firmly rooted in its original epoch, and many of the damned souls that appear across the game are not only seven centuries out of fashion, but also punished for a number of sins we wouldn’t even think about today (“Oh, damned to the circle of violence for… being gay? Really?”). It would have been wholly in the spirit of Dante’s Inferno to update Hell for the modern damned (“Do you punish for forgive this prominent ex-president that may or may not have started a hostage crisis to further his political career?”), or at least drop in period-appropriate fictional characters that are more familiar to modern audiences (not like Dante was doing anything but biting on myths about Helen of Troy anyway), but, nope, you get to make measured choices about Emperor Frederick II. You know! Emperor Frederick II! From all those movies!

And then there are all the little “flourishes” to remind you of the original poem. Game over screens drop annotated passages after every death (and there are quite a few before you see a repeat… assuming you don’t die every seven seconds). Virgil makes absolutely no sense as a character, but stops by to offer his (sometimes literally) same advice and narration as in the original work. And, if you need to answer the question of “what is the absolute worst way to experience a piece of literature”, you can read the entirety of this third of the Divine Comedy via a saved file on your Dante’s Inferno disc. Press L1 to scroll the text faster!

But this, too, could be forgiven. It is cynical to interpret all of these choices as some bizarre, aborted attempt at tying a videogame into school curriculums or college literary programs. Maybe the designers just loved the source material, and wanted to expose the unwashed masses to some culture. Maybe all of these attempts to cram more epic poetry into an epic game was wholly altruistic.

Though that would raise questions about tone…

The Sin of Fraud: Is this supposed to be serious?

The baby!So it is God of War, but instead of Greek/Roman mythology, it is Christian mythology (and, to be clear, I am a Christian, and I can tell you that 99% of Dante’s writings do not appear in the Bible, so “mythology” is the best way to designate this imagining of Hell). And the God of War franchise is known for being equally deadly serious about deicide or Icarus tripping down a hole. It is almost funny how Kratos responds to literally everything from enemy warriors to a dude trapped in a box with “this person must die”, but that is just who Kratos (circa 2010) is as a person. He lives in a serious, violent world, and he has serious, violent solutions to problems.

And then there’s Dante. Dante fights babies.

Dante’s Inferno has an amazing, unique bestiary with delightfully grotesque monsters symbolizing the various sins. There are also the unbaptized babies of limbo, which are literally just toddlers with swords for arms. And, since babies are not generally known for their threat level, you often fight many of the little tykes at once, prompting bizarre fights wherein you are viciously reaping widdle cutiepies. It is… a choice, and, while the grim and focused start of Dante’s Inferno tells you that this is supposed to be a tale of serious betrayal and heartbreaking consequences, the fact that you are slaughtering babies shortly thereafter undercuts the narrative. Earning the “bad nanny” achievement for “Kill(ing) 20 Unbaptized Children” is something that leaves an impression, too.

And, lest you think we are merely focusing on one ill-advised enemy, there are plenty of moments in Dante’s Inferno that turn hell into a circus (though, in case you are wondering, all clowns do go to Hell). The choice of torturing or absolving sinners is a constant struggle throughout this adventure, and, while torturing prompts a quick and gory cutscene, the road to salvation involves an unusual rhythm game that is shockingly reminiscent of Gitaroo Man. Then you have the fact that Hell is apparently littered with enough collectibles to make a bird ‘n bear proud, complete with happy little messages every time you find Tristan’s Desire or complete a challenge or whatever. Oh, and every goddamned person Dante has ever met in his life has apparently been damned to Hell, so get ready for the most family-reunion-based journey into darkness you could ever imagine.

And, individually, any one of these transgressions against sincerity would not impact the narrative. But when they all combine, they form an unstoppable Voltron of silliness that threatens to blazing sword any shred of dignity in Dante’s world to pieces. You can have a story about a disgraced knight fighting his way through Hell to save the world, but you cannot involve this many angry babies in the proceedings and expect it to be taken seriously.

But being silly should not be a sin. A sin should be something like…

The Sin of Sloth: This Hell is Tedious

It's a little chilly hereWriting in a contemporary vernacular is often cited as a prime reason Dante’s Divine Comedy has endured through the ages, but it is likely there is another, more obvious reason people have been reading The Inferno for so long: it is friggen fun. For being a tale of woe and suffering, it is enjoyable to see all the ironic punishments that Dante has imagined for the various sinners of the ages. In an unusual way, when you consider the number of “celebrity” sentences involved in the Inferno, Dante’s Inferno could have and likely did read as a revenge tale in its day. Did not like that one Emperor that overtaxed your grandpa? Well now he’s rutting about in poop for the rest of eternity! That’s what you get, loser! And that kind of thing persists into the modern era, because the concept of your landlord forever being tortured by Lucifer’s freezing wings is everlasting.

Gamer Dante’s Inferno is less everlasting, though. In defense of the game, there is a consistent, intimidating art style, and the monsters you fight across Hell are a lot more unique and diverse than your average beat ‘em up of the same three guys (or an army of the same shadow people). But sometime around when you explode your twelfth super fat puking guy, you realize that there is not much there there. This has a very American McGee’s Alice or McFarlane Toys Reimagining vibe to it, as everything has been reimagined to be broadly edgier… but that’s about all they got. Once you get past Dante’s bizarre fashion choices and slaughtered a baby or two, you realize that the best they will ever be able to do with the final boss is toss a few extra pentagrams into the proceeding. And once you do come to that realization, Hell becomes boring. There is a palpable tedium to seeing “shocking” items over and over, and it really does not help when those same outrageous opponents start looping endlessly during the finale.

And abandon all hope ye who believe the gameplay will save this adventure. That dreariness is locked in practically from the start, with the only real ability enhancements that significantly impact playstyles being reserved for four distinct points across the journey. Beyond that, you simply have relics and upgrade trees that make insignificant changes to the action (“Stop the presses! The combo meter has an extra two seconds of forgiveness!”), and the action is only ever “it’s God of War”. There were already, like, a bunch of God of War games before Dante’s Inferno hit the Playstation, guys! And the PSP does too count!

Look, when your Hell is defined by its monotony, you are committing a mortal sin. But even that sin is nothing before…

The Sin of Lust: Forsaken Beatrice

There is no saving thisThis Dante is not a poet or everyman. This Dante is specifically a knight of the Crusades. This Dante is a man that was deceived by The Church, and was told that his sins would be absolved if he was a good little soldier. When he died, he found he was damned, so he fought back against Death, stole his scythe, and then decided to fight to redeem his myriad sins (though you have to wonder how super damned you would be after literally killing the anthropomorphism of a cosmic rule). Unfortunately, he was dragged to Hell when he returned home and found his father and fiancée were both killed in his absence. Now the soul of said fiancée is in the hands of Lucifer (also his father, but nobody cares about that jerk). Dante dives into the pit to rescue Beatrice, and save us all from Satan along the way.

So before we go any further in this sad tale, let us examine the original Divine Comedy’s Beatrice. To be clear, in reality, Beatrice was not ever Dante’s wife, and was merely a nine year old girl who made a significant impression on ol’ Dante when he was also nine (if this sounds ridiculous, please consider that this whole scenario apparently worked for Darth Vader). Beatrice was a real person first, and never a lover. In the context of the Divine Comedy, Fictional Beatrice basically steals the chronicler role from Virgil when Dante hits Heaven, because Virgil isn’t allowed past purgatory. But don’t worry, Beatrice is more than a replacement Navi, as while Virgil is the eternal symbol of man’s intelligence and reason, Beatrice is meant to represent the divine, and the holiness of the humanities and man’s general impulses towards art. Yes, it is a bit of a cliché that a poet would consider poetry to be sacred, but you must give Dante a break, as you are someone reading these words on a gorram videogame blog. Beyond all that, though, Beatrice is certainly an unattainable beauty to Dante, but she is also literally the most helpful person in Heaven. That says a lot about the measure of the woman that is the celestial Beatrice.

In Dante’s Inferno for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Beatrice open mouth kisses Satan. For a while.

Big sloppy kisses

That looks vaguely uncomfortable for a woman that avoided the male gaze a few centuries back by simply being described as having fair skin and emerald eyes.

Once again, if you squint, you can almost see how this story was created. Dante is an unrepentantly (okay, not technically true) violent man that is irredeemable (again, the whole point is…) in his many murderous actions, so it is easy to see how he needed something “pure” to fight for to endear himself to the player. So if rescuing a princess worked for Link, let’s apply it to another knight. Unfortunately, that immediately delves into the “women as objects” trope, so someone likely thought it would be a good idea to give Beatrice some of her own agency. So no longer is Beatrice simply being damned by Dante’s actions, now she is a woman that chose to go the evil route with Lucifer as her new groom. Apparently selecting Hell in the stratum of the mortal sin of lust is… well, no two ways about it, you’re gonna turn into a whore. Like, literally, complete with pinup transformation and a whole lot of necking. And then, of course Dante has to rescue his former bride from the clutches of almost certainly kinky sex with the Prince of Darkness, because, dang, wouldn’t Dante feel bad if he went through all of this nonsense, and he didn’t win a sexy lady out of the deal?

And, hell, that’s terrible.

Just like the rest of Dante’s Inferno.

Yeah, let’s go ahead and damn Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno for all eternity. Some sins are beyond forgiveness.

FGC #603 Dante’s Inferno

  • I always liked NormanSystem: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PSP. The Playstation 3 version was used for this review, and the PSP is clearly some kind of mad dream of a deranged, damned king.
  • Number of players: Virgil would have been the obvious second player, but no dice there. Just Dante.
  • Pick your poison: In other games, Classic Mode implies the greatest challenge. Here, apparently, “classic” is meant to denote “based on a literary classic that does not involve buttons”, so Classic Mode is 100% easy mode. You can switch at any time, too, so maybe “practically invincible” mode can come in handy once in a while.
  • Eat the baby: Dante’s Inferno was released during that era where every game had to have a superficial morality system (thank you very much, Bioshock). Thus, you continually have the option of punishing or absolving sinners and/or demons. And, much like in many games of the era, absolving appears to always be the proper answer, as you continually gain more “holy bullets” and experience points from showing mercy. I appreciate the moral, but it is yet another example of Dante’s Inferno going about 30% into an interesting idea before immediately giving up.
  • Speaking of Morality: Okay, so the sin that damns Beatrice in the first place is that Dante forsook the vow he made before God to never make love to another woman. And why did he do that? Well, because an “enemy” woman begged for her brother’s life to be spared, and Dante satisfied this request for the nookie. But! The saved soldier was not her brother! He was her husband! And said husband then spent the remainder of his life tracking down Dante’s family, and then killing his father and Beatrice! And what are we supposed to take from that? Mercy leads to more violence? Sinning in the name of kindness leads to more sins? Sex equals homicide? Murderers are always gonna murder? Going to be a while before I unpack that one.
  • Plot Twist: At the finale of the adventure, Lucifer reveals that the gigantic chains Dante/you have randomly severed throughout Hell were actually the only things holding ol’ Scratch back. This would have been a much bigger surprise if you couldn’t hear Satan laugh maniacally every single time you cut a chain. Dude just has zero poker face.
  • What is he thinking?Downloadable Content: There were eventually legitimate expansions to Dante’s Inferno that offer a prelude (based on the poem, and involves werewolves) and an additional playable character (Dante’s guardian angel in the flesh). But right there from launch were purchasable “experience points” to kit out Dante with new moves faster for a few bucks. This is likely why the save file for Dante’s Inferno is locked against copying, because what is player autonomy in the face of potential DLC sales?
  • Watch along: Dante apparently stitched his own cross onto his chest, and that iconic quilt offers animated vignettes about Dante’s various sins. This… is actually kind of cool, even if it does raise more than a few questions about Dante’s apparently enormous embroidery skills. Less cool is that there was an animated tie-in film that corralled some pretty big name creators in the name of Dante’s Inferno: The Anime. Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic seems to maintain the general visuals of its source game, but dodges some pretty important plot beats, like Dante conquering the Grim Reaper and stealing his signature weapon. And given it was Direct-to-DVD, watching it through traditional means may be all but impossible now. Maybe Dante could sew a recap blanket for you.
  • Did you know? They motion-captured an actual toddler to get realistic baby motions for the murder-infants. The designers were so proud of this, they made a featurette about it that only unlocks after completing the game. Learning more about child monsters is your reward for trudging through Hell. That has to be a sin, too, right?
  • Would I play again: I was very happy to see this disc leave my Playstation 3. I played the silly Dante game, Lord, do You want me to suffer again?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance! It just wouldn’t be October without a trip to Castlevania! Please look forward to it!

Eat up!