Tag Archives: shoot ’em up

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

Mega Fun

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

Back off, boy

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

Look at em all

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

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

Dark Pit

A friendly guy

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

Atlas

Nice hair

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

Ganondorf

Piggy

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

Garon

Big Boy

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

Falco Lombardi

Bird boy

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

Duke Red

Bird brain

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

Bayonetta

Bullet Hell Woman

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

Prime Rose

Nice sword

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

Banjo & Kazooie

Banjo!

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

The Amazing Three

Dumb horse thing

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

Piranha Plant

CHOMP

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

Black Looks

Unfortunate name

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

Incineroar

Gotta catch em all

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

Brontus

Big Bird

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

Sora

I know that guy!

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

Pook

Pooka?

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

Donkey Kong

You know him well

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

Sharaku

EYEBALL

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

FGC #617 Astro Boy: Omega Factor

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

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

ROBOT
Robots! We get it!

FGC #612 Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D

ELECTRO BRAINI do not think that I, as a mature grownup, can emotionally handle Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D. So I worry for the children.

It is weird being an adult. For most people my age, this would likely be “it is weird being a parent”, but I found the love of my life relatively late, and we haven’t produced any offspring recently. But I am something of an uncle to a couple of kids, and I am often around for things like holidays, activities, and seasonal events that my wife has a tendency to inflict upon the young (in her culture, cookie decorating is apparently mandatory under penalty of decapitation). This means that I see these squirts a lot, and in many different circumstances. I am around for fun, breezy activities such as pumpkin picking, but I am also in the general vicinity when the teenager gets home from a band practice where his crush crushed his dreams.

And that is weird! That the 14-year-old just had his heart broken? For the first time in high school, possibly the first time ever? It is an emotionally confusing situation for us adults. What is the best option here? It is equally true to say, “Oh, I understand, that is the worst feeling in the world,” as “Dude, who cares? There are plenty of other fish in the sea. You’re 14!” One is understanding, but may embiggen the situation further, possibly prolonging the emotional crisis. But how insensitive would it be to immediately minimize the sensitive toll this is taking on the kid, and ask him to just skip to the next chapter without acknowledging any sort of reflection? And if you think this is the time for a nuanced conversation about the intricacies of relationships, I have got bad news for you, because said 14-year-old only has about seventeen seconds of attention span before he gets back to more important matters like Hyrule Warriors. He is still going to be upset over his crush, mind you, but at least he’ll be mulling it over while killing moblins with a fish lady.

BEWARE ARM THINGI consider something like that, and I genuinely wonder if I could emotionally handle just being a teenager nowadays. Personally, I started being turned down by cute girls right around when AOL Instant Messenger was just becoming a thing. I did not yet have a Livejournal, Facebook, or blog of any kind to publicly confess my feelings, and if I wanted the whole school to know something was happening, I had to tackle whoever oversaw the morning announcements and slip into the recording booth with a cunning disguise (this is why I own so many trench coats). Nowadays, there is a constant, unceasing communication tunnel available to any and all teenagers, and if you posted something embarrassing on Instagram, the whole school is going to know about it in less time than it takes to beg for an edit button. Exactly one time in high school I recall a friend having his life upended by an abusive ex-girlfriend who shared (printed!) their embarrassing chat logs (well, embarrassing for him). I am going to go ahead and guess that kind of event happens every seven seconds with the latest generation of high schoolers, and probably even more so now that COVID has pushed “dating” further into the cyber realm. I said some deeply humiliating things to women in my high school days, and the fact that there is only a record of about 60% of that nonsense is the reason I can still function (the rest is, inevitably, stored way the hell back in my Hotmail account… I keep meaning to delete my entire past…). My point is that I was an emotional infant when I was a teenager, and the sheer scope of things that now exist to outright destroy a teenager… It boggles the mind.

But then again, Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D nearly made me cry, too, so maybe there was just something wrong with me.

It's too redIf you have never had the pleasure of playing Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D, let me take you down a (not) fun little rabbit hole. If you squint, this game could be an excellent 16-bit title that just happened to include one random gimmick. JP:TLDi3D has a few basic level types that all see at least two stages: 2-D run ‘n gun, 2-D jetpack ‘n gun, overhead 3-D run and/or gun, and shoot ‘em up. Much of the title could very easily be compared to Super Contra (not Super C), as that runnin’ ‘n gunnin’ is already familiar before the 3-D areas that are extremely reminiscent of “those damn levels” from Contra 3. And for a little extra fun, there are two full stages that are evocative of a less complicated Gradius, and a handful of “jetpack bosses” that seem to function in much the same way, just with a larger hitbox. And considering Contra and Gradius were both exalted games around the time Jim Power dropped into our dimension, there is the potential for this game to be a good action shooter with the stunt of 3-D glasses enhancing your play experience. Hey, Plok sold its action on less!

Unfortunately, even Plok had gameplay that was lightyears ahead of anything Jim Power could hope for. Many have derided Contra games over the years for the realistic flourish of “one bullet = one death”. Jim is trapped in a world that is similarly instantly fatal in every way, but, unlike Lance and Bill, Jim is not dealing with a creator that cared about any level of fairness. Opponents, projectiles, and some freaky things with monster arms come fast and furious for Jim’s life, and it is an absolute rarity that you will have any time to react before your hero is obliterated. Tricks and traps infest JP:TLDi3D, so the “run ‘n gun” gameplay quickly transforms into “crawl ‘n gun” if you want to survive longer than three seconds. There is also a timer that continually demands perfection (many of the later levels leave you literally seconds to spare between timer refills), and a few (but not all) stages are impossible to complete without finding random keys in exactly the right order. Lava sucksIn short, JP:TLDi3D was either built for players that already knew the ins and outs of JP:TLDi3D, or the whole stupid thing is just some kind of psychological test to see if a human being can successfully memorize every little detail about a seven level videogame.

Oh! And the 3-D effects that give the title its name? They are completely bugged, and the backgrounds do not scroll correctly. 3-D glasses or no, the end result is something that is a lot more likely to make you puke than play any further. Unless the main reason you progress in videogames is to see if their directors ever fix their own mistakes…

Unfortunately, the FGC is not the first time I grumbled at this… experience. I rented Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D when I was but a Wee Goggle Bob. The box art looked neat! There were screenshots that looked like games I did like! And “revolutionary 3-D graphics”? Sign me the heck up! I rented Jim Power so friggen hard, man.

… And I learned the game was awful. I am moderately certain I did not make it to the second level, but I do have vague memories of hating that labyrinth stage. I know I did not have any cheat codes handy, and I absolutely know that I never made it to the shoot ‘em up stage featured on the back of the box (which I figured, like Solar Jetman, was likely the last level, not the third). It was an unpleasant experience from top to bottom, and, given I was a dumb kid, I did not even fully comprehend that the game was bad. I thought, as I had many times before, that I was simply bad at videogames, and I had wasted my biweekly rental on a title that reminded me I was bad at choosing and playing games. I may have cried.

I’m pretty sure there was no way any adult in the area could mend my heart that had been inexplicably broken by Jim Power.

This looks familiarSo I think about Jim Power, and I think about my “nephews”, and I think… well… I guess every generation has issues. Like, yes, this dear teenage child lives in a universe where his every flaw and attempt to use a lightsaber could be recorded and laughed at for the next meme period (a phase of no less than 24 hours, no greater than the rest of time), but he also lives in a world that is Jim Power-immune. He can play a terrible videogame, and then hop on the internet, and immediately learn that said game actually is bad. People agree with him! Authoritative adults may agree with him! There are pages of “Not Recommended” reviews! Don’t cry, child, you are not alone! The same bubble of society that will judge your every choice and action can also agree with those choices! You are living in a glorious future wherein you do not have to have an emotional breakdown over playing the wrong videogame! It is going to be okay!

I mean, sucks about embarrassing yourself in front of your whole school, but it’s cool that you don’t have to worry about Jim Power, right? See? The kids are going to be alright.

FGC #612 Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D

  • System: Super Nintendo is kind of the origin. Technically, much of the game is based on Jim Power in Mutant Planet, a game that saw such cursed systems as the Atari ST, the TurboGrafix-CD, and the Amiga. Then, nearly 30 years later, it got a Steam/Sega Genesis/Nintendo Entertainment System version. It… has been a weird time for ol’ Jim.
  • Number of players: Only one player need suffer through this experience.
  • Scoot alongPort-o-Call: So all screenshots and reviews on Gogglebob.com of Jim Power are based on the Super Nintendo version from 1993 that will eternally haunt my nightmares. However, Jim Power: The Arcade Game was partially created back in the 90’s, and completed and dropped on Steam this past year. It and an entirely-from-scratch NES version are available and apparently contain quality of life improvements… but I am never touching either. You literally cannot force me to play any more Jim Power than I already have.
  • Absolute Impossibility: It is hopeless to attempt to describe just how terrible the 3-D stages are. There are, like, “portally things” that rotate the screen continually, and “swamps” of these portals that you must cross. Imagine if Mario 64’s Lakitu cameraman was drunk and doing doughnuts through the whole game, and you have a fragment of an idea of how it all works.
  • Favorite Boss: There is a gigantic warship stage/boss that is reminiscent of a similar recurring situation in the R-Type franchise. This is… passable as an encounter. Some fights, like the final, gigantic devil boss, are completely impossible to properly dodge and counter, so it is good to see a fight that is at least moderately fair.
  • Did you know? This game pretty much stole music from Ys III. I do not know if this is the result of friendly sharing, a similar composer, or outright theft, but listen to Ys III’s A Searing Struggle, and then Jim Power’s Forgotten Path. It is… something.
  • Would I play again: Eat my ass, Jim Power. Eat it right up.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Santa’s Xmas Adventure Complete Edition! Because it’s Christmas! And that is apparently a videogame! Oh boy! Please look forward to it!

It is just a scaled up regular enemy
A final boss should at least blink

FGC #609 Zero Wing

The most zero of wingsNFTs are terrible. I also hate the fact that when it comes to the existence of NFTs, I… get it?

I believe understanding the drive for NFTs is the source of some self-loathing.

Since my mom occasionally remembers I have a blog, let us define NFTs. At the absolute base level, a non-fungible token (NFT) is a receipt. It is a proof of ownership for a “thing”. In the case of NFTs as they are currently exploding across the internet, this “thing” is traditionally art of some kind. In many cases, the NFT being sold is a unique graphic, and, in much the same way you could purchase a painting from a gallery that also has multiple poster reproductions, the owner of the NFT owns the “original”. And, yes, this ownership is wholly virtual, and you absolutely do need to invest in a color printer if you want something that you could easily display for your grandma. But we have been living in a world with horse armor for over a decade, so spending money in an effort to own a virtual resource is kind of inevitable in today’s society. So what is the problem with owning a Lazy Lion or two?

Well, there is the whole “NFTs are hastening the degradation of our entire planet” thing. The blockchain that powers non-fungible tokens is a wonderous invention that can theoretically be used as 100% proof a transaction has occurred without the involvement of an all-seeing, all-powerful corporate entity being involved. It is commerce sponsored by true anonymity! Unfortunately, maintaining such a database requires a whole lot of computer processing per transaction/verification, and we are not so much talking about “mom ran the vacuum too long” as we are looking at “mom just burned down the entire South American Rainforest”. And never mind that that whole “outlaw capitalism” thing is its own kind of delusion, too, as the blockchains are controlled by companies like publicly traded Etherium. Does this mean Etherium is going to bust down your door with incriminating crypto receipts the minute it becomes slightly financially or ethically profitable? Probably not, but it does mean that there is a company profiting from literally every NFT transaction, which translates to another situation wherein the mere act of buying/selling is a revenue stream unto itself. Etherium wants to be the next Visa, and NFTs are a big part of that plan. Also, there is a significant link between the boom of NFTs and their overt links to white collar crime/money laundering. In much the same way the second largest usage of bitcoin is paying digital ransoms, there is a not insignificant number of NFT transactions that can only be explained by “crime is happening”.

Look at this guyIn the end, depending on exactly how you look at NFTs, you could make the claim that they are simply vanity items roughly on par with custom license plates or purchased PSN avatars. If you are being tremendously less generous, you can also claim that NFTs are multi-level marketing schemes for a whole new “tech bro” generation, and anyone getting involved at the moment is firmly at the bottom of the pyramid. But regardless of your feelings on NFTs as a whole, they seem to be sticking around, and services like Twitter and Adobe are making distinct spaces for people to create/peddle/showcase their NFT collections.

And it is a goddamned shame this whole process is so toxic, because the greatest appeal of NFTs is something my generation has been begging for for decades.

Today’s title is Zero Wing. It was initially an arcade jaunt that migrated to various consoles in disparate regions, and is little more than the flavor of the week of the (then extremely popular) shoot ‘em up genre. It scrolls from left to right (like Gradius), features levels that generally start with comfortable generic areas before ramping up to distinctive, gimmicky challenges (like Gradius), and you have a number of options for upgrades earned by destroying distinct opponents (like Gradius). In this case, your powerups can be a sequential graduation of firepower if you stick to the same color-coded pickups, or you can toggle between power lasers to spread blasts if you change lanes/colors. The most unique thing in Zero Wing gameplay is an extra button for a sort of “tractor beam” that allows you to not only collect abilities, but also grab some of your smaller foes and fling them at larger opponents. This creates a very exceptional situation wherein you are almost happy when a boss brings an entourage to a fight, as it means a whole host of fresh projectiles just wandered into your armory. Defeating a big boss by chucking infinite minions really is the most distinctive, remarkable part of Zero Wing.

Well, I mean, that is if you ignore this…

Somebody set us up the GIF

The Sega Mega Drive version of Zero Wing, only released in European regions, has a legendarily “Engrish” introduction cinema. While this European title did not see any success in America for obvious reasons (nobody was scrambling to import a console port of a lesser shoot ‘em up from the late 80s), when the world of emulation got hold of “5,000 Sega Genesis ROMs FREE”, Zero Wing saw a significant resurgence in popularity…

Around 1998, “All your base are belong to us” invaded the internet at large. It started somewhere around Rage Games, migrated over to Zany Video Game Quotes, and from there dragged itself across various forums and chatrooms. By 2000, the meme had been featured in some way or another on every major nerd entertainment site that existed at the time. In 2001, Wired wrote an article on the meme, and it was subsequently covered in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, and USA Today. In 2004, it was hacked into a news/weather broadcast. In 2006, it came part and parcel with a YouTube site update. In 2014, Elon Musk parodied it in a desperate post regarding patents. To this very day, segments from the Zero Wing intro are quoted by people of a certain age, and it likely will be repeated “for great justice” until the end of human civilization. In short, Zero Wing somehow contained a segment of dialogue that is going to be around for at least a generation, a trend that defined the concept of memes before the descriptor was widely used, and a collective template for the masses that populated the “early days” of the internet. Even if it was not deliberate, Zero Wing became an inexorable part of our culture.

And, incidentally, the creators of Zero Wing didn’t see a dime for creating this artistic touchstone.

I like these colorsI saw the credits roll on this (kinda) Sega Genesis game, so I can safely say Zero Wing was forged by, like, twelve people. As a company, it was created by Toaplan Co, founded in 1979, but defunct by 1994. While many people that worked for Toaplan migrated to other, more modern developers like Square Enix and Taito, but the time Toaplan was releasing Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves (you’ve played that, right?), it was pretty much done. The rights to Toaplan games are now in the possession of Tatsujin, and if that was ever a company that wanted to capitalize on the Zero Wing mania of the early 21st Century, they certainly didn’t get off their duffs to do anything about it. So, basically, in the absence of a “Zero Wing Project” to promote, and the fact that you did not have to purchase Zero Wing to participate in that global meme, there was no way that the popularity of Zero Wing would translate into a penny for the people that actually made the thing.

And, on one hand, who cares? They made a videogame, they were compensated for making a videogame, and, end of the day, that should be enough. It became a meme? Well, sure, but so did that one dude scribbling on stone tablets about Ea-nasir, and you don’t see his estate getting a retroactive payout. Companies being paid perpetually for accomplishments from 1928 is exactly what is wrong with copyright law right now. Just be happy Zero Wing made people happy, guys.

Keep on diggingBut we do live in a capitalist society. We do not measure success by how much happiness you have brought to others, or how content you are with the creations you have produced. We live in a world wherein there is a monthly ranking of who are the richest, most successful people in the country, and we never for a moment consider why we automatically conflate “rich” and “successful”. By this rubric, being responsible for a meme that is shared by millions should be considered “successful”, and thus should translate into untold riches. And, while the exchange rate for how popularity should trade is difficult to define, it would be nice if, ya know, there was at least something tossed at the creators beyond a niche interview titled something like Meme: Origins.

And, in a more personal way, this has been the problem of my entire generation. You produce a cute bit of art, it is copied by a popular online account, and you watch thousands of likes go to your creation that has now, incidentally, been shared without so much as a note that it was authored by a human being. Or you start a blog with your name on it containing articles that people read on a weekly basis, it gets promoted by some random share on Redditt, and the best you get for your troubles is a complaint from your hosting company that too damn many people visited your site this week. Or you get a Patreon going, and then discover that literally every other website available will drop your posts like hot garbage the minute you link to the one place where you may actually receive the tiniest of financial contributions. But don’t worry, Millennials! You can survive without a thousand followers, you just have to know that you are wasting your “brand”, and you might not ever be able to achieve your dreams because you don’t have enough of an online footprint to warrant the ability to afford health insurance. I do not understand why everyone I know is depressed!

… Er-hem.

Tanks a lotThis is why I understand the appeal of NFTs. The concept of “minting” your art, meme, or idea is attractive. The fact that you have produced something, it has a set value, and someone will eventually pay that value for said something is amazing as a concept. It may be exactly how commerce has worked since the days of Ea-nasir, but, for a generation that has been told to hustle for exposure for the last twenty years, it seems downright revolutionary. For people that watched a mediocre videogame become a universal meme that still didn’t mean a cent for its actual creators, an NFT can look like salvation. That could happen to you! Without even knowing it is happening, you could create the next Pepe. You could be the next distracted boyfriend meme. And it could change your life… but not change how you still have to report to a job you hate 40 hours a week. Actually monetizing how the internet as we know it “works” would change a lot of lives, and potentially create an artistic revolution.

But NFTs ain’t it. Maybe something like that will be available in the future, but the solution is not in this blockchain. One day, we will have an answer that actually helps individuals and the world as a whole. One day, people will not have to beg for scraps when their faces are used in GIFs distributed by wealthy tech giants. In the meanwhile, NFTs are not a solution to this problem. NFTs are simply… someone setting us up the bomb.

FGC #609 Zero Wing

  • System: Arcade initially, and then whatever passes for a Sega Genesis in Japan and Europe. It also saw a PC Engine CD-Rom port in Japan, too.
  • Number of players: Oh! It’s two players! I guess that makes it slightly distinctive, too!
  • GrossAnything else of note? Yes, the monsters (or whatever) of the piece all seem to lean closer to biological than mechanical. This creates a lovely little Geiger-esque world wherein the final boss being a giant brain in a jar feels positively mundane next to some of the other creatures skulking around.
  • So, does that intro actually impact anything in the game: Nope! It was created exclusively for the home game, and does not exist in the original arcade version. I guess we all had to know why we were launching every Zig (or why that one big ship was exploding at the top of the first level). But, sorry, ol’ Cats is barely recognizable as the same cyborg during the finale, so don’t expect any closure for that sad space captain facepalming forever.
  • Favorite Weapon: Lasers. Lasers everywhere. Lasers for president of the universe.
  • Did you know? According to Tatsuya Uemura, the lead programmer of the arcade and Sega Genesis versions of Zero Wing, the opening crawl was translated by an employee whose English was “really terrible”. You… probably already knew that.
  • Would I play again: This was probably a pretty good shoot ‘em up for 1989. It is no great shakes in 2021. I like it! It’s not bad! I am just never going to bother with this ever again. Enjoy your spot in history, though, Zero Wing!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Samurai Shodown! Speaking of games with marginally passable translations, it is time to live by the Bushido code in an effort to impress some dork with a pair of flags. Please look forward to it!

ENGAGE

FGC #594 Aero Fighters 2

Are we fighting the air?Chrono Trigger is one of the greatest videogames ever created… but it is hard to convey that in an advertisement in the pages of Gamepro. So Square USA Advertising had to focus on some less hyperbolic bullet points. Chrono Trigger: It is about time travel! It has character designs from the Dragon Ball Z guy! It was produced by the people behind Final Fantasy! And, most of all, Chrono Trigger has multiple endings! More than ten! That is an amazing number of endings!

And, in the year 2021, it is difficult to understand why “so many endings” was, like, the best thing to ever happen to us 90’s kids.

For a look at why “endings” had a very different meaning back in the day, let us examine Aero Fighters 2.

At first blush, there is not much about Aero Fighters 2 that distinguishes itself from anything else in the shoot ‘em up field of 1994. This is a basic vertical scrolling affair for two players. There are some whimsical enemies, so this is a little better than a mundane 1942, but there are still a lot of tanks, aircraft carriers, and “missile bases” to demolish. Aero Fighters 2 also tries to be “real” by including legitimate locations (Mexico is a real place!) and featuring their attendant national landmarks. Or, put another way, yes, you can get powerups by shooting the Eiffel Tower. Other than that, it is just a two button shooter where powerups just advance your weaponry in a linear fashion, and you can hit that bomb button if things get dicey. Nothing worth writing home about, and certainly not a reason to switch the ol’ Neo Geo over from World Heroes.

Oh, wait, there is the character select screen…

Love that dolphin

And a friggen flying dolphin. That should raise a few eyebrows.

To be clear about the gameplay of Aero Fighters 2: yes there is a difference between the individual pilots during (aero) fighting. The different attacks and “bombs” of each aero fighter do have distinct effects on the world at large, so there is certainly an incentive to switch after every quarter and see which character better suits your playstyle. But, by the same token, this is not a fighting game. The different flyers have different (mostly real) ships, but they do not have drastically different hitboxes or movements. In other words, you do not have to master a different “flying technique” to compensate for whether or not your chosen hero is a head in a jar. We are working off the same concept we see over and over again in racing games, TRPGs, and even modern mobile slot machines: you can have multiple-limbed aliens battling alongside actual Welsh Corgis, but they are all effectively “the same”, because they all exist in the same car/ship/playing card. Blanka and Ryu are drastically different fighters. Mao Mao and Robo Keaton are, in essence, remarkably similar planes.

But Spanky the Dolphin is an actual goddamned dolphin. That demands an explanation!

And Aero Fighters 2 is ready to fill in the blanks. … Kind of. Right from hitting the start button, any given pilot relays their thoughts, and that segues into a light running narrative through the whole of the game. Every level begins with a sort of “check-in”, and our pilots often communicate deep thoughts like “It’s time to save Mexico!” or “Man, I could use a water.” If you are playing in two player mode, though, these monologues become dialogues, and the different characters bounce off each other in different ways. How does the combined force of Ellen & Cindy deal with Captain Silver? How does that change when a cyborg is involved? Find out! You can learn all sorts of things from seeing how people interact when they are between missions and/or a dolphin.

Like... to eat?

But it is not enough. Aero Fighters 2 is always a flurry of activity. Even between missions, your pilots only have a sentence or two of narration, because, dammit, there are more aliens to blast! This may be a transcontinental flight, but it is over inside of twenty minutes. There is barely a second to admire the Statue of Liberty as you zoom by with your bullets blasting. The only respite for our heroes lies at the end of this aero fight. And that is also when you will finally get to see an explanation for Spanky’s existence.

… Or you’ll just find out that a dolphin likes swimming.

Try to stay amusedBut wait! There’s more! Spanky has multiple endings! Every duo in Aero Fighters 2 has an ending that is specific to the two characters in question. And this is not a simple “fit the same pieces together with slight variations” deal like Cannon Spike, either. If Spanky and Bobby win the day, you learn that Spanky can “always count on whales”. Hi-En learns to surf on Spanky, and Spanky obliterates Steve when the rockstar suggests that the dolphin join a circus. Spanky, Cindy & Ellen all get to party on a private island, and Robo Keaton only reveals that he is a Transformer when Spanky is present. And when Mao-Mao conscripts Spanky into a variety show (or… something?), Spanky groans that he can do better than being a featured oddity. Oh, and everybody dies in Silver’s ending. There… may be a parrot involved. It is weird. Let’s not dwell on it.

And what do we learn about Spanky through all of this? Well, it is not exactly a full treatise on a character that clearly deserves his own franchise, but it is something. Spanky is prideful. Spanky is a friend to all sea life. Spanky can have fun with his comrades. Spanky can swim (you probably guessed that one). None of these facts are revelations, but they are information. It is data, and, what’s more, it is entertaining data. It is enjoyable to see the dolphin you have guided through a warzone eventually laze about his own paradise. An ending in Aero Fighters 2 is fun for the player and the characters involved (unless they explode. Then it is just entertaining for the player).

And this brings us to a basic fact about gaming in the 90’s: an “ending” was the only part of a videogame that got to be purely entertaining.

Videogames are (supposed to be) fun. That is irrefutable. But they are also the kind of fun where your chosen hero dies repeatedly. Or maybe they simply suffer. Whatever we have as a “lose condition”, one thing is certain: you are going to see it a lot. You choose Spanky the Dolphin at the arcade, and you know you are going to have to either be a perfect player, or you are going to have to keep feeding that Dolphin quarters to keep him alive and flying. And when you finally see that ending? That is the only time Spanky gets to rest. That is the only occasion that you can bask in the glow of completion, socialize with your favorite marine mammal, and mutually toast a job well done.

And that is exactly why endings were so important in the 90’s, and through much of gaming.

Gradius timeGames have gotten better at this! In much the same way that videogames identified that they do not have to be all bullet hells all the time, many gaming narratives have grown and matured to the point that there is time for the characters to have fun within their own games. Final Fantasy 1’s Fighter never gets a break to enjoy Corneria, but Noctis of Final Fantasy 15 is chilling and cruising through the best time of his life through about 80% of his adventure. And years before that, Cloud got to hash out some of his backstory and enjoy himself around the Golden Saucer. Lest you think this is JRPG exclusive, though, just look at how a testosterone-fueled maniac like Kratos of God of War gets breaks between boss fights to sleep with sexy ladies or push boxes full of dudes around. Whether you are venturing across the world or simply killing ninja in your living room, your modern videogame involves a protagonist that can do more than be an action hero at all times. They can have deep internal monologues about being sad over their daughters for days!

But back in the arcade days? Impossible. Back when 16 bits were all you had to flesh out a creature? Nope. You must save that for the ending. So an “ending” for gamers in the 90’s meant one thing: happiness. Joy. And maybe a side of character development. All this and more in your average ending. And a game like Chrono Trigger or Aero Fighters 2 that boasted multiple endings? Well, damn, that’s some more bang for your buck. Mega Man X might be an amazing game, but that Reploid only gets an ending once. That’s crap! Gimme some nonsense with Reptites ruling the world right now.

Back in the 90’s, so many endings meant a game was so, so good.

FGC #594 Aero Fighters 2

  • Pew pewSystem: Nintendo Switch or Playstation 4 now, Neo Geo back in the day. This also makes it an arcade game by default.
  • Number of players: Definitely two. No way you would get those extra endings without a buddy.
  • Favorite Pilot: It cannot be anyone but Spanky the Dolphin, proud representative of the nation of United Nations. With Spanky out of the way, though, Robo Keaton must be appreciated, as he was the hero of Aero Fighters (1) that finished his headlining game by exploding. But he’s okay! Mostly! I mean… being a face in a jar doesn’t seem so bad, and he is still headlining.
  • An end: Another reason to “see all the endings” is that there are multiple final bosses, and they seem to be chosen completely randomly. A black eyeball that recalls the finale of Link’s Awakening is your most common opponent, but some manner of ghost doll and a fish from Kirby is also a possible opponent. Mind you, that eyeball appears an awful lot, so it is unlikely anyone even believed those alternate bosses actually existed before the advent of cheap cameras and/or the internet.
  • What’s in a name? The Aero Fighters franchise is known as Sonic Wings in Japan. Both titles are frustratingly generic, so it is hard to say why a title change was necessary at all. Are Americans just not that into wings? Make America aero again? Too many unanswered questions…
  • I know that towerDid you know? “Steve” is “Angela” in the original, Japanese version of Sonic Wings 2. However, Steve/Angela notably appears naked with male characteristics in at least one of their endings. And damn near every other ending involving “Steve” comes off as queer-bashing, and… and I don’t even know how to describe it when “Angela” is involved. Steve/Angela is apparently based on a Rose of Versailles character that was a woman raised as a man, so there is definitely a trans origin to the character, and… Ugh. Let’s just say it is probably offensive by any standard, and call it a day.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I like aero fighting alien armies, and this is a game that does not wear out its welcome for a play session. And I have to see all those endings…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… New Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo Switch! Let’s get out there and take some pretty pictures of pretty pikachus! Please look forward to it!

Winner!