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FGC #579 Guacamelee! 2

Sit down and eat your guacYo, white guy here, and I’m going to talk about cultural appropriation regarding a country/culture that is the whipping boy of an entire American political party. Oh, and we’re also going to explore a distinctly American vacation destination, too. And if we have time after all that, there will probably be something about a videogame in here.

Just remember: you’re always a wiener when you talk about Mexico, amigos.

For those of you that have not looked at a map lately, Mexico is one of two countries that border on the United States. And, let’s be clear on what has apparently happened here, it is “America’s” “oh no you’re bringing down the property values” neighbor. Canada is always the example of where United States citizens will flee when their chosen candidate doesn’t win an election, and Mexico is always portrayed as the crime capital of the continent. If someone is “going to Mexico” in fiction, they are inevitably doing it to escape the consequences of some wrongdoing, or to commit all new wrongdoings. Or, to put it another way, nobody ever talks about being kidnapped by a drug kingpin in Ontario. And, to be absolutely clear about my position on this nonsense: this is bullshit. You want to talk about a dangerous place in North America, USA? Have you seen yourself lately? Do you know how many school shootings have happened since I started writing this paragraph? Do you know how many of those big, scary drugs were passed around just in a local Wal-Mart parking lot? You want to build a wall, you nitwits? Maybe you could “build a wall” around those Fox News pundits that seem to be suggesting life-saving vaccines are causing boneitis!?

And the kicker of all of this? You can apparently run two separate presidential campaigns on the concept of Hispanophobia, yet one of the chief vacation destinations for “Americans” is Mexico. Look! There goes Ted Cruz now! Mexico is unquestionably one of the USA’s prime spots for relaxation, and the sheer number of all-inclusive resorts available across the country are a testament to how many (literal) dollars are spent in a country filled with people that a political party wants to “keep out”. The hypocrisy is palpable, and the $475,000,000,000 Americans spend a year on Mexican vacations (2016 data) is proof enough that it is more than a handful of Democrats that enjoy the company of Mexicans.

But if you’re looking for a Mexican vacation, and don’t want to deal with the actual country of Mexico, have you considered… South Carolina?

Welcome to paradise

South of the Border is a roadside attraction in South Carolina, USA. It is just past the North Carolina/South Carolina border on I-95, thus, ya know, “south of the border”. South of the Border is a place that has grown from a simple beer stand to a “resort” that now proudly features five restaurants, seven gift shops, 300-foot-tall observation tower, two pools, campground, reptile habitat, and a giant gorilla wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt. And how has South of the Border seen such unprecedented success over the years? By exploiting arbitrary laws! When South of the Border started as little more than a bar in 1949, it was manipulating the fact that the local North Carolina counties were currently dry. And when local prohibition laws lightened up, fireworks were still illegal in many states. But not South Carolina! So people from all over traipsed over the border to the closest fireworks depot available. Even today, when many “safe” fireworks are available across the country, South of the Border utilizes the more generous laws of S.C. to sell some fireworks sets that are… well, they’re not exactly guaranteed to blow off a limb, but the advertising does seem to imply that as a distinct possibility. And through South of the Border’s meteoric rise to fame, it maintained the “joke” of its own name, by importing Mexican “trinkets” and proudly displaying a vaguely Mexican motif around the grounds.

And, to be absolutely clear, I love the place. Bury me in a coffin with zigzagged red and yellow stripes that light up every time someone gets within 40 feet of the thing, because I love this level of kitsch. Nigh everything at S.O.B. is gigantic and garish. There is more neon pumping through this quasi-city than Las Vegas. There are haphazardly distributed statues of dinosaurs, hats, and dinosaurs wearing hats. Gift shops sell an equal number of children’s toys and “the world’s largest condom”. You can eat at a steakhouse or “Porky’s Truck Stop”. There are marginally abandoned rides for the kids, and you may get the distinct impression that there might be a “monster” running around that will eventually be thwarted by some meddling kids. There is “The Sombrero Restaurant”, and, inexplicably, it has nothing to do with the restaurant that is like 100 yards away and shaped like a giant sombrero. There are “Year 2000” mugs on sale in the year 2021…

WELCOME TO THE FUTURE

They’re vintage! Oh, and there’s the official mascot of South of the Border, Pedro.

These dorks
This Goggle Bob photobombed these poor Pedros

Pedro has… issues.

Pedro is the “face” of South of the Border. He’s gone through a few permutations through the years (who hasn’t?), but Pedro has consistently been the most prominent piece of South of the Border iconography for decades. And where did Pedro originate? Well, let’s check the ol’ South of the Border official website for some information…

“Mr. Schafer [founder of South of the Border] went to Mexico to establish import connections and met two young men. He helped them get admitted to the United States, and they went to work at the motel office as bellboys for several years. People started calling them Pedro and Pancho, and eventually just Pedro.”

Let’s… let’s just sift through the… implications of this story, and the way it is told today. First of all, “Pedro and Pancho” are not recounted by their real names, simply Pedro and Pancho. Dudes inspired the most recognizable part of South of the Border, but they don’t rank high enough to earn a credit like Mr. Schafer. Second, the whole “Pedro and Pancho” thing is a stereotype bordering on slur, right? Did a little research here, and it appears to be something that pops up in On the Road by Jack Kerouac, a book that compared Native Mexican “Indians” to “the Pedros and Panchos of silly civilized American lore”. As the tone in that passage seems to indicate that Kerouac is mocking the stereotype, the phrase was probably already widely used in the 50’s. Regardless of whether it was one of those “cultural osmosis” situations or a stereotype that arose from too many episodes of The Cisco Kid, I’m willing to bet that the original “Pedro and Pacho” were not too excited about being renamed for their American jobs. And then they were just both rechristened “Pedro”? Like remembering two separate names was too hard? Or just “telling apart two Mexicans” was going to be a problem for too many people?! And somehow this wholesome story is considered safe enough that it is not only publicly listed on South of the Border’s website, but you can also get it on a t-shirt!?!

This is not okay!

And as much as I love South of the Border, this serves as an uneasy reminder that South of the Border is promoting the general concept of Mexico while doing nothing to give back to actual Mexico. It is not like 70% of every sale needs to assist a random family in Mexico City (though that wouldn’t be a bad idea), but this is still a situation wherein a loose definition of Mexican Culture is being adapted, slapped on a glowing billboard, and then used to sell fireworks. It is nice that South of the Border is unambiguously supporting Mexico with its theming (as of 2021, there were not any signs/merch that I could find that were promoting “keep them out” or alike), but it is still a story of white guys that reduced their Mexican workers to “they’re both Pedro”. In much the same way South of the Border grew as a business by exploiting border-based loopholes, this inextricable chunk of Americana also preyed on the general aesthetics of a Mexico its locals likely would never touch.

You see it, right?And that (finally) brings us to today’s game, Guacamelee! 2. Here is a game about the “Mexiverse” that was made by real, live… Canadians. Huh.

Before we go any further, it must be stated that Guacamelee! 2 is an amazing videogame. And Guacamelee! (1) was, too! Which is good, because G!2 reuses an awful lot from its immediate ancestor. Nearly all of the special moves available to our favorite luchador are rehashes from the prior game, which very well could work poorly for a game that is just enough of a Metroidvania that it should know better. But, on the other hand, Juan always handled like a dream, mixing the simplicity of Smash Bros’ “direction + button” controls with movement and beat ‘em up challenges alike that are the ol’ “easy to learn, difficult to master” that makes up the best of videogames. So, yes, G!2 is a lot like G!1, but G!1 was amazing, so how are you supposed to improve on that? And the new challenges that are introduced, like drifting dimensional zones and various chicken powers, are welcome and well-explored. Did you like Guacamelee! (1)? Do you enjoy beat ‘em ups and/or Metroidvanias, like, at all? Guacamelee! 2 has you covered, and is one of the best entries in two different genres.

And, if you haven’t noticed from the screenshots and name, Guacamelee! 2 is Mexican as Infierno. And, given Guacamelee! 2’s general… levity with everything, it leads to a pretty obvious question: is this another South of the Border situation? Is this an affectionate parody, or a simple exploitation of a culture?

Get 'emFirst of all, according to interviews, the Mexican theming of Guacamelee! (1) was not the origin of the game. The setting for Guacamelee! originated with one of Drinkbox’s animators, Augusto, and was only approved after generating some concept art. And, once again, we are talking about a flock of Canadians here. That is kind of an auspicious start to a game that would eventually feature “The Mexiverse”. And an awful lot of what is featured in both Guacamelee! titles focus on two things: Día de los Muertos and Luchadores. And, while these are two indivisible pieces of Mexican culture, it is also possible to showcase their basic iconography without any more than a shallow reading of the source material. Everybody likes ornate skeletons, right? And wrestlers in funny masks? Throw in some dudes with a decent tan, and that’s Mexico, baby! Let’s get those sweet Coco bucks!

But there is more to Guacamelee! 2 than a few Cempasúchil petals sprinkled around. In an effort to not just be some random white guy talking about a culture he only has the most tangential relation to (technically I have pre-New Mexico statehood “New Mexican” blood in these veins, and all that really means is that there is an ancient recipe for fajitas in my family cook book [oddly, this is not a joke]), I consulted friend-of-Gogglebob.com Zef, a person that is very familiar with Mexico (almost like he lived there for years of his life or something). Here is Zef’s (partially paraphrased) take on Guacamelee!:

GET IT!?“[Guacamelee! has the kind of references that come from] knowing the culture and living in it, and appreciating cultural in-jokes that most people outside Mexico will probably never get, but which have Mexicans in stitches. Instead of appropriating something from a culture for the benefit of, ahem, a foreign audience, it takes the native audience aside and makes a private joke just for them.

This is very similar to what it does with gaming culture as a whole, as Guacamelee is also [in]famous for all of its videogame memes and injokes. When the most difficult, most brutal puzzle-platforming gauntlet rewards you with the same message as the Special Zone of Super Mario World, you know that was done with intent, and that while some people may need to look it up, those who remember it will gape and then laugh at it. And when it goes and has you climbing onto giant feathered snakes that weave up and down and left and right, deftly combining the iconic ‘Kukulkan descends the pyramid staircase’ Spring Equinox event in Chichen-Itza with the Snake level from Battletoads, that’s like a triple-layer pun and I’m all here for it.

Another important thing that often gets overlooked is that, while the games are full of stereotypes, and ‘benign racism’ is definitely a thing in many media productions, the Guac games go a long way towards diluting those same stereotypes by providing a very diverse cast of characters–protagonists, villains, or even just NPCs. As a concrete example, there’s definitely ‘lazy Mexican in a sarape’ background characters, but because of that variety of depictions, the audience can read them as lazy because that’s what the individual character is, as opposed to the ethnicity or the culture. If anything, given the roles they fill and the circumstances of narrative development, I’d say that they’re fantasy stereotypes first and foremost, and Mexican stereotypes second.

Here we goThere’s also a certain jai ne se quoi in the way characters speak, their mannerisms and word choice, that is distinctly ESL (and this, coming from an English-as-Second-Language person). The script may have been originally penned by a native English-speaking Canadian, I don’t have the credits with me, but it was tweaked and adjusted well enough that, as weird as it may sound, it feels localized from Spanish speech.

Now, of course, Guacamelee does maintain certain stereotypes I’d like to see diluted, myself. Both games take place in ‘culturally distinct’ locations such as rural villages, jungles, deserts, and Pre-Columbian-style temples. Which is all well and good, Mesoamerican civilizations need their day in the sun and it’s nice to show colorful and vibrant villages as opposed to the dusty shantytown stereotype (and thank god it isn’t all just Western-inspired deserts and cacti and sombreros everywhere). But it would be wonderful if Guac 3 had, say, ‘concrete jungle’ locales where you had to navigate a big city with Colonial-era architecture alongside modern glass towers and concrete apartment buildings. Just as there’s variety in the depictions of rural villagers and luchadores, it’d be nice if it could show diversity in many other areas of Mexican culture and not just Day of the Dead. The premise certainly supports it, as AAA Lucha Libre is famous and popular at all strata of Mex society.”

BLINK IT!Thank you for that comprehensive explanation, Zef! And, for the record, Zef would like it to be said that this is just the opinion of one Mex. However, let it also be said that Gogglebob.com officially promotes the opinion of anyone that enjoys Guacamelee! 2.

So what does this all mean? Is Guacamelee! 2 another game that is destined to go down in history as a Mexi-leech that thinks “they’re all Pedro”, or is it a shining bastion of Mexican culture in a medium that barely remembers there is anything other than Japan and “America”? Well, as usual, it is not something that is that cut and dry. But one thing is for certain: Guacamelee! 2 is a damn fine videogame, and it contains a host of loving nods to Mexico that are a lot more interesting than a dude in a sombrero.

And, hey, after everything from the last… centuries… Mexico deserves at least that.

FGC #579 Guacamelee! 2

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Personally, I prefer the Switch version, as you can play the “important” parts on the TV, and futz around with the more challenging areas while in handheld mode/watching TV.
  • Number of players: Four! You can have four different players at a time! That sounds really fun! And absolutely not something I’m ever going to be able to get a group together to actually do! I’ll be more likely to organize a road trip to South of the Border first…
  • Is it hot in here?Speaking of Challenge Levels: Like in G!1, G!2 has a number of areas that really test the valor of your luchadore. And, like in the original, I am forced to complete every one of these challenges, as I kind of live for that nonsense. Luckily, the respawn rate for these challenges (and the rest of the game, for that matter) is tough but fair, and no challenge seems too far outside the realm of possibility. Even if it did take like two hours for me to get through that chicken crucible…
  • Weird Connections: Speaking of, the existence of “The Crucible” and way too many chicken jokes really reminds of Fable 2. Whatever happened to that franchise? … No, I’m not actually asking that question.
  • Favorite Mexiverse Timeline: The conceit of the Mexiverse at large allows for Juan to visit a number of videogame parody areas, like “Limbo”, a grindy JRPG universe, or a whole timeline apparently dedicated to being a terrible cell phone gacha. That said, the best timeline is one where you get to beat up a car not once, but twice. Thank you, Street Fighter, for giving us the iconic struggle of man versus random vehicle they just happened to encounter. And, hey, thanks again to Zef for reminding us that the featured car is not remotely random, but another “Mexican reference”. Once again turning my mic over to the expert… “The classic Volkswagen Beetle used to be ubiquitous on Mexican roads, as it was cheap, easy to get parts for and repair, and efficient as a taxi cab for its size and ease of driving. So, it received the moniker of “Volchito” (or, to some, Vocho). That’s the kind of detail that comes from knowing the culture and living in it, and appreciating cultural in-jokes that most people outside Mexico will probably never get, but which have Mexicans in stitches.”
  • He is The Juan: There is much made of the plot with Juan being the last living Juan in the Mexiverse. But… is that the joke? Like, Juan died at the start of Guacamelee!, and I’m moderately certain he is dead again about 5% of the way into Guacamelee! 2. Dude basically lives in the realm of the dead, so I don’t see the big deal about sticking a dead Juan’s skull on any random body. He’s a resilient guy. He’ll get used to it.
  • Favorite Costume: Hey, the Switch version came with all the DLC. Guess I’ll dress up as Flame Face, because I like racking up the combo meter and having a flaming head. It worked for Nicolas Cage!
  • Our final fantasyFavorite Boss: Zope y Cactuardo combines two things I love in a game: a boss that is using “your” moves against you, and a giant cactus. Wait, no. The giant cactus is good because it reinforces how Juan really “only” punches and grapples, so a boss that is too spikey to touch is completely omnipotent. Please, nobody give Juan a gun! It will mess up his mojo!
  • Did you know? Drinkbox has claimed they created new moves for Juan, but went back to the originals after determining the OG moves were more intuitive. Just as well, performing a perfect headbutt still feels satisfying when destroying a hundred skeletons.
  • Did you know (South of the Border Edition)? If you think I’m the only person that has ever taken notice of good ol’ South of the Border, please refer to this frame from Season 6 of The Simpsons.
    GET IT!?

    Yes, in 1995, Bart vs. Australia was already parodying of our friend in the sombrero. The Simpsons did it, indeed.

  • Would I play again: This game is super fun. I will play it again. That’s it. That’s the answer. I love this game.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Powered Up for the Sony PSP! Mega is all powered up and ready to go! And he got really short for some reason, too! Please look forward to it!

Gobble
No no. This isn’t right at all.

FGC #525 Parodius

Today, we’re going to address some reader mail. Let’s look at our first letter from one Mr. Tiger of Battle Creek, Michigan.

It's Greeeeeat

Well, Tony, if we want to know what parody actually means, we should look at some videogames. Are parody videogames supposed to be fun? Funny? A “send-up”? Let’s find out! We’ll start with the game that apparently prompted your question…

Parodius (Franchise) (1988, Konami)

PARODY TIMEWhat is it? In a long forgotten age, Gradius was one of Konami’s tent pole franchises. Given Gradius was a super-serious shoot ‘em up wherein the fate of the galaxy depended wholly on a ship that exploded every seven seconds, someone at Konami decided to produce a game with the same basic gameplay, but a wildly different tone. Parodius was born, and it featured an octopus saving the world from penguins. Or something. Parodius wound up becoming a franchise onto itself, and, for about a decade, you could count on at least one adventure every once in a while where a ship that shot boxing gloves attacked a giant lady that moved like a robot.

Is it fun? If you like Gradius, you’ll like Parodius. You’ve got overwhelmingly fragile “ships” (sometimes they are octopi) that can cycle through powerups by nabbing orbs to launch missiles against gigantic bosses. The game is just as difficult as its serious Gradius cousin, though, as death means losing your abilities and often starting back from an earlier point in the level. But it’s an excellent and ultimately fair shoot ‘em up, so if that’s your thing, it’s going to be a fun time.

But is it funny? Initially, it’s simply funny for the absurdity of sticking an octopus or lone option in the place of the Vic Viper. Eventually, the franchise tried its hand at adding more complicated joke characters, like a bald eagle decked out for American patriotism, or an entire stage full of slave-labor penguins (uh… it’s funnier than it sounds). Later games even added an overarching plot that involved a cantankerous octopus boss making off with your wages in clearly labeled dollar sign bags. That’s always funny! I think!

So is it a parody? Yep! It’s right there in the title. Parodius features familiar bits from Gradius, R-Type, and other games of the era repurposed to be funny or occasionally sexy (and we are very much employing air quotes for “sexy” here). This is a “burlesque imitation” to a T.

Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti (1989, Namco)

Splat!What is it? Splatterhouse was a hyperviolent beat ‘em up/action title that was released in arcades in 1989. It is, at its core, a pastiche of horror movies of the 80’s roughly adapted for a videogame format where you’re the monster combating other monsters to save a princess. In a way, this already makes Splatterhouse a sort of parody. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in an attempt to make Splatterhouse gameplay more palatable for the Nintendo Family Computer (emphasis on the “family” part of that Famicom), the gore was turned down to one, and the comedy was cranked up to eleven.

Is it fun? In so much as Splatterhouse gameplay is fun, S:WG is fun. It’s pretty basic: walk to the right, chop down baddies, eventually reach a boss, kill what you gotta kill to move forward. Not unlike Parodius, the game is very unforgiving, and you’ll want to take as little damage as possible if you want to stretch your three lives (continues) to the end of the adventure. With the caveat that this is an early NES game that should not be judged by 2020 standards, Wanpaku Graffiti is pretty fun to play.

But is it funny? Again, judging it as a NES game from 1989, it’s pretty comical. It follows the same pattern as Parodius and doesn’t rely on text, but presents bosses and opponents that are… amusing. The big bad is The Great Pumpkin. The boss of the first level is Thriller-era Michael Jackson. The finale sees “the director” accidentally stumble on set. It might not be laugh out loud funny, but it is at least silly.

So is it a parody? Transforming one of the most violent games of the day into its own “kiddy mode” sure seems like a parody. Also, the protagonist, Rick, is downright adorable in his chibi form, so it’s hard not to smile as you chop up zombies riding tombstone pogo sticks. There’s a lot of ambient amusement in this affectionate adaptation.

Kid Dracula (1990, Konami)

It's the kidWhat is it? Parodius worked out for Gradius, so why not parody Castlevania? Kid Dracula is the story of Dracula’s son (or his younger self? Or Alucard’s younger self? Can we get a timeline here?) venturing around the world to stop the forces of Galamoth, a robot dragon from the end of time. Or… something. Whatever the situation, it’s Castlevania through a more comical filter.

Is it fun? This is basically Castlevania sensibilities mixed with Mega Man-style gameplay and the ability to walk on the ceiling or transform into a bat. If it was released in America in 1990, I would have married the game by now.

But is it funny? Like other games on this list, it has a general level of “whacky” to its humor. Once again, the basic concept here is that the original franchise is deathly serious, so any time you have to fight a “goofy” chicken, it’s supposed to be funny. Of course, Kid D’s shorts are always going to be funny on their own.

So is it a parody? Unfortunately, Kid Dracula seems to drop the distinct parody elements pretty early in the adventure. The first level is straight up Castlevania, and it’s a blast to deal with a castle full of spikey traps and inane zombies, but the franchise connection seems all but lost later when you’re fighting a giant robot on an airship. For better or worse, Kid Dracula moves past its parody factor pretty quickly.

Star Parodier (1992, Hudson Soft)

Right there in the name againWhat is it? Parodius worked, so why not another parody shoot ‘em up? Hudson had the Star Soldier franchise kicking around since 1986, so why not give that shooter a send up? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions?

Is it fun? This is the vertical shoot ‘em up to Parodius’s horizontal shoot ‘em up. That said, it seems a lot easier to survive in Star Soldier/Star Parodier, as you acquire a shield a whole lot quicker. There’s also a slightly more cerebral powerup system, wherein you have a few options (not those options), and can enhance them by grabbing like-colored pickups, or switch to another color for a slightly different attack. It’s a neat idea for a shoot ‘em up, which is already a style of game that requires a lot of quick thinking and darting around the screen.

But is it funny? Parodius clone plays by Parodius rules. Star Parodier is definitely its own game, but its humor style is still “look at the next whacky thing that shows up”. Also a strangely high number of penguins…

So is it a parody? Yes. Or… I assume. I’ve only ever played like three levels of one Star Soldier game… so this seems like a parody of that. I think? They replaced a round boss with a ferris wheel, so I think that counts. Whatever! Look, you can play as a flying Bomberman, so that’s at least a parody of something.

ClayFighter (1993, Interplay)

Whack em smack emWhat is it? Shoot ‘em ups are old hat, let’s move on to the next big thing: fighting games. Clayfighter is technically your typical fighter, but with a cast of Claymation loonies that lampoon everything from Elvis to… blobs? Is that a thing? Do people not like blobs? But… nothing beats the blob!

Is it fun? OG Clayfighter is a fighting game in the Street Fighter 2 mold (… was that a pun?), and plays very similarly. It doesn’t have quite the move variety as its target franchise (ducking attacks are often exactly the same as a standing or jumping action), but it’s still a much better fighter than some of the turds that were cranked out during the era of its birth. You ever play Fighter’s History? Don’t.

But is it funny? Hey, this is the first parody game on this list created by an American studio! And it’s pretty amusing in a 90’s kid kinda way. Remember when “Fat Elvis” was the target of every other late night show, despite the obvious handicap that he had been dead for decades? And “the fat lady sings” was somehow an oft-repeated and literalized phrase? And we were all afraid of clowns? Clayfighter spends all of its humor bucks pretty quickly after you see a fighter’s complete moveset, but isn’t that how all fighting games work, anyway?

So is it a parody? Clayfighter eventually went on to produce C2: Judgment Clay, which was more of the same, but with a veneer of extra MK parody, and Clayfighter 63⅓, which was a super specific parody of Killer Instinct Gold. That said, the original Clayfighter isn’t too precise of a parody (N. Boss is the closest we get to a fighter parodying an actual character from another game, and that’s mostly just the name), and more a parody of the concept of “serious” fighting games. So it qualifies, but it’s less “parody” and more “vaguely humorous”.

Pyst (1996, Parroty Interactive)

It's pronounced P-ystWhat is it? Myst was an adventure game that was the most popular videogame of 1993/1994. It was ubiquitous, and, somehow, everyone from your next door neighbor to your dad to your other next door neighbor that was secretly your real dad had played it. Realizing that such an omnipresent game was ripe for parody, Parroty Interactive (a division of Palladium Interactive) was founded to produce a game mocking Myst and its associated culture. Pyst was released three years after Myst, and… it wasn’t great.

Is it fun? Pyst is barely a game. There had been adventure games that were funny in the past (the entire LucasArts oeuvre was amazing, and would be featured in this article if they weren’t their own thing, completely eschewing the need to be a parody to be funny), and there’s a lot of potential in lampooning the esoteric puzzles of Myst… but this ain’t doin’ it. Pyst is little more than going from screen to screen and clicking on buttons to activate videos. It’s about as fun as “playing” Youtube (but marginally less racist).

But is it funny? I will admit that I chuckled a bit at Pyst when I was a young’un. It’s like Airplane! But for a videogame! That said, the jokes are rough, and it’s less an affectionate parody of the game itself, and more of a parody of the culture and general public reactions to the game itself. It’s not something that was produced by someone that played Myst for twenty hours and then ran out and bought the companion books, it’s a Saturday Night Live skit based on one those videogames the kids seem to like. And, further cementing the SNL connection, John Goodman is in a few scenes for some reason. That… is something.

So is it a parody? Well, certainly, even if it barely qualifies as a game. Someone forgot to fill in the whole “videogame” part of the “videogame parody” equation, but it definitely happened. Take that, game that revolutionized what a videogame could be, and was then somehow forgotten presumably because all the sequels sucked!

Star Warped (1997, Parroty Interactive)

STAR!What is it? Parroty returned the next year with Star Warped, their “parody” of Star Wars. In this case, someone decided to include a videogame in the videogame, as there are some meager minigames and a skimpy fighting game pastiche. The whole experience is hosted by a pair of brothers that are Star Wars superfans that supposedly have not left the house since first watching and consequently dedicating their lives to Star Wars. But they were somehow able to collect oodles of Star Wars merchandise in the meanwhile! Before the advent of the internet being “The Internet”! This parody has some gaping plot holes!

Is it fun? There might be a game this time, but nobody said those games had to be any fun. Do you enjoy using your mouse to play whack-a-ewok? A fighting game that looks like it was animated in the most primitive version of Flash available (actually, in 1997, that might be a completely factual description)? If you’re looking for actual gameplay out of a Parroty Interactive title, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

But is it funny? Do you like laughing at nerds? Great! Enjoy watching them caper around and talk about Star Wars like it’s a religion. And then you can play as Cool –Handless Luke and fight Pizza-Flipping Greedo. Yes! Someone took the time to make a parody of Greedo! Are you laughing yet!?

So is it a parody? Man, this game sucks, but it’s why parodies are important. This is one of the last remaining relics of the “before time” for Star Wars. You know how Disney bought Star Wars for $4,050,000,000? They did that because Star Wars is a very serious film franchise for very serious people (and certainly not children). And it only got to that point because the hype around the “Prequel Trilogy” rebranded Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon on par with the Moon Landing. Before 1999, though? Star Wars was just some weird franchise for weirdos that hang around in their weird basements. Star Warped is a perfect encapsulation of that embarrassing era for the franchise. It’s a parody of a particular time and place in a cultural zeitgeist, and it would be all but forgotten if not for digging Star Warped out of the dustbin of history. In the same way that Scary Movie can remind us all of the Scream-craze of the late 20th Century, Star Warped inadvertently can remind us of the Dork Ages of Star Wars.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001, Rare)

It's kind of a swearWhat is it? Parroty Interactive went on to produce an X-Files parody and a parody of an operating system (seriously!), and then went out of business. Or pivoted to making learning games. Whatever. They didn’t survive to make it to Riven, so somebody else had to pick up the parody torch. Rare had always produced games with a generally humorous bent (even Donkey Kong Country premiered with DK kicking out the old man), so it seemed natural when they produced Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a game meant to clash with the traditionally “squeaky clean” image for Nintendo systems/releases. Join a typical “videogame mascot” that has become a little more surly than your average bear or hedgehog.

Is it fun? This was Rare at the height of their 3-D action/adventure/collectathon powers, so Conker’s Bad Fur Day is, if nothing else, a pretty fun game to play. For the personal Goggle Bob rankings, I’d put it above Donkey Kong 64 and Jetforce Gemini, but below Banjo-Kazooie or Mario 64. And those are all top tier games to begin with! It’s right up there! And, hey, it even foresaw the future of Mario with context-based abilities that only appear in particular levels. Mario should write Conker a thank you note.

But is it funny? I was the exact right age when this title was released (old enough to not be shocked, but young enough to find peeing unequivocally funny), so your mileage may vary, but Conker’s day is a funny one. The basis of much of the humor is the cute animal creature (Conker) having to deal with “real world” problems, like war or hangovers. And the juxtaposition works! It (as is always the case with Rare) maybe relies on being a little too talky and anxious to explain the joke on many occasions (a googly-eyed poop needs no explanation), but it’s about twenty times funnier than anything else on the Nintendo 64 not involving a giant ninja robot.

So is it a parody? One could easily argue that the gameplay of Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a 100% mundane 3-D platformer experience, and the occasional jokes or wisecracks from his furry friends aren’t enough to warrant a full parody label. But CBFD is more than that! The gameplay doesn’t have to be that subversive when an alien bursts from out of a panther’s chest. The incongruity of this Diddy Kong Racer facing a world that is about twenty miles above his maturity level is the joke here, and it winds up as a perfect parody of the heyday of videogame mascots. Gex could never touch this squirrel.

The Simpsons Game (2007, Electronic Arts)

Katamari MilhouseWhat is it? Hey, everybody, it’s another Simpsons video game. Try to sound excited! This time, we’ve got a game that was actually penned by writers of The Simpsons series! That’s good. But it is The Simpsons writers of 2007, and it gets very self-referential, very fast. That’s bad. But it’s the best videogame The Simpsons have ever seen. That’s good. But it is also looking at videogames from a very “dad” perspective, so the jokes are more broad than biting. That’s bad. But you can earn all kinds of achievements. That’s good. But the achievements contain Potassium Benzoate.

Is it fun? Continuing the platforming/collectathon tradition of Conker, The Simpsons Game predominantly vacillates between “obstacle course” style levels and excuses to bump around and find random crap all over the place. And The Simpsons get super powers! Which is fun! Homer turning into a big, doughy wrecking ball is always going to be a great time, and the different ways the various Simpsons can work together through diverse levels is a great.

But is it funny? It’s basically a Simpsons episode in videogame form, so what is there to complain about? This is the first game on this list that allowed for the “modern” convenience of overt and incidental voice acting, so quips come fast and furious. And the various super powers and situations the Simpsons encounter add some much needed physical/visual humor to the proceedings. Humor is hard when all you can do is make a whacky looking dancer boss, it’s a lot easier when you’ve got next gen graphics and the best voice actors in the business.

So is it a parody? While The Simpsons themselves are the yellow butts of a few jokes, the main target here is generic “videogames”. The family ventures through levels themed after Dungeons & Dragons, Pokémon, and whatever franchise is exploiting World War 2 the most this week. And one of the big collectibles for the game is simply “videogame clichés” that can be amassed for achievements. And special guest Will Wright wants to destroy NES cartridges full of 8-bit Simpsons. It’s still very broad (Patty and Selma are a two-headed dragon! That’s a thing happens in games, right!?), but it is very much “The Simpsons tackle videogames”, so calling it a parody of the medium at large (of 2007) seems accurate.

Hatoful Boyfriend (2011, PigeoNation Inc.)

Love dem birdsWhat is it? It’s another Japanese visual novel where you’re the transfer student at a high school, and you’re about to get into all sorts of weird and wacky situations with your new classmates. Maybe even romance will bloom! One minor caveat, though: you’re the only human in a world of giant, intelligent birds. Yes, this game started as an April Fool’s Day “prank”, but it’s one of about three visual novels this author can stomach.

Is it fun? It’s a visual novel, so that’s a resounding no. What? Press X to advance text isn’t my bag on a good day. Oh, I’m supposed to enjoy the roleplaying? Well la de da, give me a call when your roleplaying involves killing god.

But is it funny? You don’t play visual novels for the gameplay, you do it for the sweet, sweet writing. Or the pictures where “you” fall face first into a cyclops’ panties. Whatever floats your boat. Regardless, the writing and scenarios for Hatoful Boyfriend are some top notch anime bullshit. And that’s great! Because the entire cast is comprised of photo-realistic birds, so it’s immediately apparent how everything in your average visual novel is absurd nonsense even when there aren’t avian creatures abound. And then a doctor eats you.

So is it a parody? Most visual novels “reward” the player with scenes of…. Can I say pornography? How about art? You receive art for taking particular paths or options. A game where your potential suitors are replaced with pigeons is certainly going to qualify as a parody, as it draws a stark contrast between the usual expectations and our feathered friends. It is parody in absurdity in a genre that has had already entered the realm of self-parody. Good birds. Pretty birds.

Divekick (2013, One True Game Studios)

Kick it againWhat is it? It’s another fighting game, but this one more or less the result of decades of giant nerds playing fight games. Years of scientists studying characters, tiers, and frame data have determined one thing: the divekick is the only viable fighting game move. So here’s a fighting game where all the characters can only perform a diving jump kick. There are different combatants. There are different techniques. But there is only divekick.

Is it fun? In a way, this is a fighting game boiled down to its absolute essence. There’s a variety of characters, a story mode with rivals and endings, and warnings about the prevalence of concussions. But it’s all in the service of a fighting game where one hit wins every match, and one (or two) buttons is all you will ever need. And that’s fun! It’s not the kind of game anyone would want to be alone with on a desert island, but it is enjoyable for short bursts. The ideal downloadable title for the modern console/computer.

But is it funny? There’s a mutated skunkbear that is named Redacted because it is way too similar to one of Marvel’s mightiest mutants. That’s funny! Kicking someone in the head might not be the funniest thing in the world, but the characters and general situations are filled with humor. Oh, and the master wears boots on his hands. That’s silly.

So is it a parody? This is one of those “affectionate parodies” I’ve been referencing elsewhere in the article. This is insider politics for fighting game fans, and a true work that was created by fanatics, for fanatics. It’s a parody that loves its source material, but still acknowledges fighting games are more than a little goofy. There could be another paragraph here just explaining the seven layers of dumb Street Fighter jokes surrounding the final boss, and that’s a sign that something parody-related has happened here.

Lego City Undercover (2013, TT Games)

Goin' undercoverWhat is it? The Lego Videogame franchise finally got away from straight franchise adaptions in 2013, and produced Lego City Undercover, a game featuring an average (Lego) cop that runs over a strangely high number of (Lego) pedestrians. The game is a large departure for the traditional gameplay of the Lego titles, as it is less “levels”, and more of an open-world, mission-based situation. Also, there is full voice acting and a wholly original plot, so this is like a real videogame, and not just Star Wars-lite.

Is it fun? Damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is basically a Grand Theft Auto title with Lego sensibilities, and it’s kind of amazing how effectively those two genres mesh. What’s more, Lego City Undercover is better than your average Lego game, as it doesn’t require the player to obsessively break every goddamn thing every seven inches for additional studs (there is more than a little breakage, of course, but it doesn’t have nearly the same emphasis as seen in other Lego titles). This is just swinging, driving, and busting criminals all over a Lego city, and that’s pretty damn great.

But is it funny? Double damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is generally hilarious on occasion, which should come as no surprise, as actual comedy writers were hired to punch up the entirety of the game’s script. If there are seven seconds of “downtime” in the plot, you can be sure that space will be filled with some manner of capering. And, on a personal note, while cops and robbers are equally lampooned across the game (along with anything else that wanders into the frame), I am currently enjoying any humor derived at the expense of the boys in blue. Those egos could stand to be deflated a pinch…

So is it a parody? In Grand Theft Auto, you are a criminal. In Lego City Undercover, you are a police officer. Somehow, the gameplay is exactly the same. Funny how that works. Lego City Undercover manages to present a family-friendly take on the genre that also provides some insightful (and seemingly deliberate) commentary on the state of the world, and that’s a sign you’re dealing with an excellent parody. Some of GTA’s imitators may border on parody (Saints Row comes immediately to mind), but Lego City Undercover distinguishes itself as its own, albeit parodic, animal.

Goat Simulator (2014, Coffee Stain Studios)

DEM GOATS!What is it? You’re a mundane goat. That’s it. Thanks for playing.

Is it fun? Oh, wait, little caveat here: Goat Sim is more of a game physics demo that evolved into a full-fledged game… Or… almost evolved, at least. There are general goals for your goat simulating here, but, by and large, it’s just you (a goat) in a medium-to-large playground, and your only real tasks are finding new and interesting ways to be destructive. It’s like Blast Corps, but, ya know, with a goat.

But is it funny? In a way, this is a total “make your own fun” adventure. However, despite the fact that the game generally lacks legitimate goals or a level structure, the “playgrounds” available are all meticulously designed. What does that mean? Well, imagine a million perfectly aligned dominoes, and you’re playing as the wrecking ball that just crashed into this clumsy metaphor. This is not a game that relies on clever dialogue, this is a game that relies on the player’s innate need to lick a moving tractor to see what happens. Spoilers: it winds up funny.

So is it a parody? Goat Simulator is the kind of game that could only happen after decades of established videogames. This is a game that looks at the many, many ways you can interact with a world in a videogame, and then pushes them to absurd levels. Yes, you can climb that gigantic crane and jump off… but please don’t do that while aiming for the highly volatile gas station, or bad things might happen. Combine this with a variety of “cheats” and achievements that encourage complete lunacy (a basic rule of the universe is that you should never give a goat a jetpack), and Goat Simulator is more than a simple goat game, it’s a parody of gaming as a whole. And then there’s that MMORPG mode. Class: Microwave is just silly.

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns! (2019, Fantastico Studio)

What is it? A man eats a unicorn-flavored ice cream, and, yada yada yada, now he’s being propelled through the sky on a toilet and shooting up his worst fears. And if you guessed “worst fears” included “Salt Bae”, then congratulations, you’re one of the cool kids for today!

Is it fun? It’s a modern “bullet hell” shoot ‘em up, so if you like that, this one is pretty great. The gameplay conceit du jour is that every explosion drops rupees, and catchin’ ‘em all will lead to your arsenal being immediately upgraded. Like with Star Parodier above, this is an interesting mechanic for advancement in an already frenetic genre, so it fits into the shoot ‘em up genre like a glove. Oh, and you can barf unicorn puke all over the place if things get too overwhelming.

But is it funny? This is referential humor at its most obvious. You could be shooting ships or wieners or whatever, but, no, it’s all references to pop culture. Is it overtly funny? Not necessarily. Is it satisfying to lay suppressing fire on a giant, orange toupee? It’s not bad. The basic joke in this game is seeing what ridiculous thing pops up as a boss next, so please enjoy a chuckle when you have to go hand-to-hand with The Pope.

So is it a parody? We’re right back to where we started: a shoot ‘em up with the usual nonsense replaced with joke characters. If Parodius was a parody of Gradius, then it makes transitive sense that Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns is the modern (and American) parody of Gradius’s same genre. This parody doesn’t have much to say beyond “yes, these things exist”, but it winds up being an amusing way to spend an hour or so. Not all parodies are created equal, but there is certainly room for parodies in the videogame sphere.

So what does parody actually mean, Tony? It means you’re going to have a good time.

… Until you die sixty times in a row to the same stupid boss. Then the joke gets a bit stale.

FGC #525 Parodius

  • Poor penguinSystem: You may find Parodius on practically any videogame system… outside of the United States. Even Europe saw a couple of Parodius games! The best the Americas can hope for is the occasional big fat nothing. I somehow have a Gameboy version, though. Blame Europe again.
  • Number of players: 2 player simultaneous! Who cares if Americans wouldn’t get the references, here’s a reason this shoot ‘em up could have done well in the West.
  • What did you actually play: As is my wont, I played through the complete Parodius arcade collection for this article (even if ROB did technically choose the Gameboy version). This is definitely a franchise that gets better as it progresses, and Sexy Parodius is great with its branching paths and gigantic monsters/ladies. My understanding is that there is also a Parodius Tactics game for the Playstation 1 by the name of Paro Wars… and I’m not touching that with a ten foot penguin.
  • Favorite Pilot: Michael and Gabriel are flying pig angels. I’m pretty sure there need be no further explanation.
  • Worst Powerup Ever: The Oh!/!? powerup block will immediately strip you of all power. It is horrible beyond measure, and, considering the average arcade game doesn’t come with much of a manual, downright mean-spirited. One would suppose it at least gives you a reason to pay attention to manual powerup activation…
  • Konami gonna Konami: If you’re wondering what the Parodius franchise is up to nowadays, may I interest you in a series of pachinko machines?
  • Super 'Sexy'Most Excellent: Otomedius carried on the basic concept of Parodius for a little while, basically focusing on the “sexy” part of Sexy Parodius. It didn’t last very long, but at least it gave the Twin Bee franchise another spotlight.
  • Did you know? Koitsu, Aitsu, Soitsu and Doitsu, the little dudes riding paper airplanes, reappear as monster cards in the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise. The Vic Viper pops up there, too, so Konami kept its crossovers going.
  • Would I play again: Yes! Can someone look into porting this entire franchise to the Switch? Get to working on that! That system needs more penguins!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 7 Remake! Time to get reacquainted with some old friends! Please look forward to it!

Big ol' heads

FGC #510 The Simpsons (Arcade)

Which franchise wound up with the best Konami Arcade Beat ‘em Up? Let’s run the numbers!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

Tonight I dine on Turtle Soup• The quintessential beat ‘em up: this is the licensed arcade game that defined the genre, and arcades, for years to come
• It’s four players, which is always a fun time for everybody. There is no friendly fire, and there are no tangible rewards for scoring better than another player. This is a friendly, cooperative beat ‘em up.
• … Except when your buddy steals a life-restoring pizza out from under you. Then it is on. Let’s take this discussion to the Mortal Kombat cabinet.
• For better or worse, all of the turtles control almost exactly the same. A dedicated herpetologist can probably explain the nuances between a Donny and a Raph, but that’s mostly cosmetic. Four playable characters that may as well be color-swaps of each other.
• Meanwhile, there is a fairly large roster of opponents, they just all look identical. The hoards of Foot Soliders besieging the turtles are nearly all indistinguishable, but their different weapons lead to different attack patterns.
• Past Foot Soliders, there are, like, two other enemies.
• You can fight a sentient brain in a robot wrester’s body.
• Occasionally, there are exploding barrels.
• The skateboarding stage is the most radical thing that happened in 1989.
• TMNT: Turtles in Time should really count toward the turtles’ final score, but playing that game now unearths traumatic memories.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Final Ranking: Two Players out of Four.

X-Men (1992)

Welcome to Die• Six players! It’s double wide for double the fun! … Or at least 50% more wide.
• A handful of “extra” offensive options are available. Most important: you can kick opponents when they’re down. This offers a fun way to gamble on dealing damage (do you target a downed opponent but risk reprisal from the enemies still standing?), and also gives the impression that Scott Summers walks around kicking lizardmen in the junk.
• Characters are varied in visual style as well as special moves. Their common movesets are generic, but those mutant powers? Nobody is going to mistake the frantic teleporting of Nightcrawler for the power surges of Colossus.
• Offers the ultimate in Canadian entertainment: Wolverine versus The Wendigo.
• There are many of the same robots over and over, but there are also plant/dirt monsters, cyborg marauders, tiny dinosaur people, and at least one swarm of angry, robotic bees.
• No Nasty Boys, though.
• You don’t get more iconic than “Nothing moves The Blob!”
• Okay, maybe, “X-Men, welcome to die!” But Blob sells his declarations better than Magneto.
• The extra “mutant power orb” is confusing at best, and a psychological trick designed to ruin a player’s health at worst. It… just doesn’t work that well on any level.
• Only the Japanese version offers health powerups. Nary a pizza to be found for the X-Men.

X-Men Final Ranking: 120 mighty mutants out of a possible 198.

Bucky O’Hare (1992)

That wascally wabbit• This is what we in the biz (there is no biz) call a pseudo-beat ‘em up. All the beat ‘em up trappings are there, but this game is much more shooter than beat ‘em up. This is the unholy combination of Contra and Final Fight.
• And, uh, that’s pretty great.
• However, some of the genre trappings are a little confused, so, for instance, you take damage for simply touching an opponent, which is a bit of a rub in a game that is already a deliberate quarter killer.
• But still, bang bang shoot shoot.
• The playable characters are visually varied, but there are very few practical difference between the cast. This is particularly egregious when at least one of your possible choices is a four-armed space pirate duck.
• Two stages scroll vertically, and a few areas completely descend into shoot ‘em ups. Added variety, or diving into a genre no one asked for? Take your pick.
• The mooks of the Bucky O’Hare universe were never that interesting to begin with, so mowing down waves of identical frogs is less than satisfying.
• Technically created by Larry Hama.
• You’re not allowed to play as Bruce the Betelgeusian Berserker Baboon or, to a dramatically lesser extent, Willy DuWitt.
• Apparently developed by the team that would eventually become Treasure, but I don’t buy it, because there isn’t an exhaustingly long boss rush anywhere in the game.

Bucky O’Hare Final Ranking: 75% of a thinly veiled metaphor for modern consumer culture that absolutely nobody understood because it was immediately merchandised to all hell.

Asterix (1992)

The big guy• Only two players.
• Friendly fire is enabled, which I’m sure seemed like a good idea at the time.
• Asterix and Obelix are very different characters, though with interchangeable controls. They’re simultaneously extremely different but immediately understandable.
• Possibly the most gameplay variety in a Konami licensed beat ‘em up. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can only dream of chariot racing.
• Literally tossing around your opponents like ragdolls is always going to be fun.
• Opponents can be beaten while they’re down for the all-important purpose of smacking them against other, slightly more conscious enemies.
• Powered up punches are a logical extension of other titles’ super moves, and feel appropriately cartoony.
• Unfortunately, some bosses necessitate powered up punches for a final coup de grâce, and outright requiring a player to do anything in an arcade setting is a black mark against fun.
• Very unfortunately only available in Europe or locally at that one arcade owned by that Agnieszka person… and Agnieszka seems pretty sketchy.

Asterix Final Ranking: Disqualified for not being American enough. Grab some apple pie and get back to our judge’s panel.

The Simpsons (1991)

BLINKER• Four players, and all four are the prime members of the titular Simpsons family. No being stuck with Dazzler here.
• Basic attacks and special moves both differentiate the characters. No one is mistaking Marge’s vacuum cleaner or butt bump for El Barto’s skateboard skill.
• Weapons and items are available frequently across multiple stages. A hammer may be used to brutalize teacups, and Lisa is allowed to fire a slingshot at the Burns Army. The Japanese version even offers the occasional nuclear bomb.
• The Simpsons may combine powers, thus meaning there’s a better reason than usual to encourage additional players to come and bond. What’s more, attract mode and a boss both clue the player into how to properly join forces.
• There are more background gags in this game than most modern episodes of The Simpsons.
• Despite the fairly mundane setting (evil billionaire kidnaps baby, tale as old as time), the various levels are varied and interesting. Moe’s Bar might be a bit longer than it ever appeared in the series proper, but the nearby graveyard is a blast, and the television station includes more robots and ninja than one would expect. The Dream World is the pinnacle, complete with unique enemies, objects, and a bowling ball boss.
• There are two bonus stages that give a humble player the opportunity to completely mangle some poor arcade owner’s buttons. Sorry, Agnieszka.

The Simpsons final ranking: Well, this one is hard to judge, as…

Wait a minute… We have some late-breaking news…

Woof

Apparently you can throw a dog at your opponents in The Simpsons, and said dog is just happy to be there throughout the hurling.

Okay, yes, The Simpsons unequivocally wins this competition. Don’t have a cow, man, that’s just how it is.

FGC #510 The Simpsons (Arcade)

  • System: Arcade, but briefly available on Playstation network for the PS3, and Xbox Live for the Xbox 360. It likely disappeared again, though.
  • Number of Players: Four Simpsons. Sorry, Maggie, you have to be the macguffin this time.
  • Port-o-Call: There’s also a MS-DOS version of The Simpsons, and… Well, it’s from that same school of weird photocopying that led to the Mega Man DOS ports. It looks completely correct (for a DOS port from the early 90s), but it feels incredibly wrong (for anything ever). Jump once in that game, and you’ll turn it off in favor of MAME immediately.
  • ZAPAcross the Sea: The Japanese version includes more “weapons”, and hidden spots throughout levels that award fruit and alike. Whether this is because that version was released later or because Konami thought its native players needed more incentive to play a Simpsons game is unknown. What’s important is that Lisa can launch random cherry bombs against opponents, and that’s always fun.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: My grandfather was always happy to provide quarters for his grandson, but was not happy with that Bart character casually utilizing the word “hell”. He would not have granted The Simpson this great beat ‘em up honor (he might have defaulted to Bomberman).
  • Favorite Simpson (this game): Marge. I just think she’s neat.
  • Did you know? There is more than a passing similarity between the final boss of The Simpsons and the final boss of Bucky O’Hare. In both cases, you’re battling the antagonist of the series as a hulking robot that gradually loses parts and morphs into different fighting modes. Then again, maybe this is just a trope of action games, as every game from Smash TV to Three Dirty Dwarves pulls a similar trick.
  • Would I play again: This is the most fun you can have with a Konami beat ‘em up. So says Goggle Bob, who will inevitably play this game with or without friends again. Give it a few months.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Gold for the Nintendo Gameboy! That’s the gold standard for Gameboy titles! Please look forward to it!

He has a podcast

FGC #485 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World

That's Bart!What’s so wrong with Monty Burns?

Today’s game is The Simpsons: Bart Vs. the World. It’s the direct sequel to The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, and it’s another Acclaim title that puts the “crap” in “craptacular”. This go-around, Bart has dropped all the adventure game-lite trappings of the previous title, and all the action in Vs. the World is wholly based on platforming challenges and boss fights. There are a few puzzles littered here and there, but it’s much more “find this doodad” and not “use spray paint on trashcan” like in Vs. the Space Mutants. As a result, Vs. the World feels somehow… dumber than its predecessor. And, what’s worse, for the reemphasis on platforming and action set pieces (you skateboard down the Great Wall of China!), nobody thought to improve the atrocious controls of Vs. The Space Mutants, so those “platforming challenges” are very likely to be the death of your favorite Simpsons character (Bart, to be clear, not Disco Stu). Basically, the one unique part of Vs. the Space Mutants got dropped, and all we’re left with is that inscrutable “hold jump to run” nonsense.

But Bart vs. the World does have one advantage over Bart vs. the Space Mutants: It’s actually a Simpsons game. Like Fester before him, Vs. the Space Mutants forces Bart to battle aliens who presumably want to abduct some cows, man. And they’re not even Kang & Kodos! They’re just generic aliens (occasionally mutating forms through the different ports). Meanwhile, Bart vs. the World might see Bart up against the world, but it’s a world seemingly controlled by Homer Simpson’s boss, C. Montgomery Burns. This strangely convoluted plot involves Bart entering a drawing contest on The Krusty the Clown Show, winning thanks to Burns’ meddling, and then being sent on a trip around the world wherein Burns can destroy the “despised” Simpsons family. Die in darkness!This, naturally, raises a lot of questions, as… what is the goal here? Burns has to kill one of his employees’ children internationally, or it doesn’t count? Oh, wait, the last stop on the trip is Hollywood, so that doesn’t even work. Maybe Burns’ various assassins don’t want to go anywhere near the Springfield Tire Fire, so they’re scattered about the globe. Or maybe Burns just doesn’t want to spring for airfare for any killers, and shipping one Simpson family around is cheaper. Whatever the case, Bart is on an international scavenger hunt for Krusty brand merchandise, and Burns is trying to kill him all the while.

Which raises the question: if you had to pull a villain out of The Simpsons, why Burns?

At this point in the franchise, you can’t blame the source material. This videogame was released in 1991, and only had a solid two seasons of The Simpsons to draw from. And, in that batch of episodes, there were only a handful where Burns was the antagonist. In Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, Burns is a “villain”, but only because he won’t grant Homer and other “unskilled workers” a Christmas Bonus. From there, we’ve got Homer’s Odyssey, where Homer is fired for nearly causing a nuclear meltdown… which, let’s be honest, sounds like a pretty reasonable reason for termination. And that’s about it for Burns being a “villain” in Season 1. Babysitters are more of a threat!

Profits?Season 2 of The Simpsons ramps up Burns to full-blown antagonism levels, but we’re still nowhere near murderous. Three Eyes in Every Fish sees Burns running for governor after his plant poisons the local water supply, but, big deal, that’s been the Republican MO for the last few decades. Then Bart Gets Hit by a Car, but that was an accident, and more of a parable about not overreaching when trying to shake down the filthy rich. Brush With Greatness is the story of how Burns has an incredibly nonthreatening penis, and the Season 2 finale (which likely wasn’t even available when Bart vs. the World was being produced) is Blood Feud, wherein Homer goes nuts over Burns not being generous after receiving a blood transfusion. Again, we’re in a situation where Homer expects more than his boss has to give, and the central conflict is that Burns is appreciative, but not appreciative enough.

Yet Bart vs. the World portrays Burns as wholly homicidal. And if we’re going to include The Simpsons Arcade Game (released the same year), we’ve got a Burns that kidnaps babies and launches nuclear bombs. That’s a significant escalation from “sent a pleasant thank you note”!

So what happened here? Why, in only The Simpsons’ second year, did videogames promote Burns from “bad boss” to “genocidal madman”?

Well, it probably speaks to videogame producers identifying what The Simpsons was initially about.

After 20 some seasons and over 600 episodes, it’s hard to remember that The Simpsons started during the 80s/90s wave of blue-collar style sitcoms. After years of high concept situation comedies like “what if people were trapped on a desert island”, “what if they’re creepy and they’re kooky”, or even “what if a woman had a decent job”, The Simpsons rode in on a wave of programs like Roseanne or Married… With Children wherein the protagonists faced very real problems. No more did people worry about magical girl wives or whether they were secretly the dream of Bob Newhart; this new wave of sitcoms derived humor from upsetting real world situations, What is even happening here?like teenage pregnancy, hiding from your landlord, or gradually falling out of favor with your spouse. And the biggest, realest problem of all? Money! The world is a cold, harsh place, and your family is never going to love you if you can’t bring home a host of Christmas presents. There are jokes along the way, but, once upon a time, every “comedy” out there was expounding the horrors of our collective everyday drudgery.

And, while The Simpsons did lend itself to whimsy more often than not in those early seasons (Bart winds up making wine on another continent inside of ten episodes), it was still a very grounded, “real” sitcom. …Granted, this might just be because TV Guide was somehow impressed on a weekly basis that Homer didn’t ride a mastodon to work, so the writers deliberately, defiantly veered into “real world” territory just to sunder expectations… But this is still a franchise that officially started with a treatise on commercialism and a family trying to keep it together in the face of financial hardships. And the cause of that financial hardship? It’s Burns. The man who fires Homer a few episodes later? Burns. The old man responsible for injuring a young boy and then never paying for it? Burns. And is showing kindness to a rich white man financially rewarded? No, because you simply can’t win in a world where you’ve been constrained to the lowest rung of the ladder.

Of course Burns is the enemy of the Simpsons. Burns is the enemy of every working-class family.

Burns is money incarnate. Burns has all the power not only in Springfield (like, literally all the power), but he also decides whether Homer lives or dies. Want to keep earning a salary? Have a good Christmas? Lisa needs braces? Well, that dental plan is 100% controlled by one man. Burns doesn’t have to be villainous, he simply is villainous because of his position. He’s the king of the castle, and the Simpson family has to pay him tribute to so much as set up a tent in the courtyard. Burns is, one way or another, the source of all the woes afflicting the Simpsons.

Winner!So it’s only natural that transposing that character to other situations would mean he would have to adjust to the medium du jour. When Mr. Burns had to be the antagonist of a NES title, he became murderous and gained an army of generally identical/vaguely racist “family members”. When he had to headline a Konami beat ‘em up, he gained a super suit and explosive weaponry. When The Simpsons itself veered away from “reality” and more into “a cartoon”, Mr. Burns became an appropriately cartoonish supervillain with a penchant for petty antics. Mr. Burns was always the villain, just what is “the villain” had to change between mediums and epochs.

Except Mr. Burns himself never changed. In a 1989 sitcom, he was a rich, old, white (yellow) man. In a 1991 videogame, he was a rich, old, white man. In 2020, he is a rich, old, white man. Through thirty years, right there from his first appearance, he’s been a villain. His actions may have varied across the years, but he’s also been the same, easily identified archetype. He’s a rich, old, white man, and that makes him the natural enemy of the average, middle class family.

Mr. Burns was always going to be the villain. Mr. Burns has always been the villain. And everyone has been able to identify that right from the start.

FGC #485 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, but also the Game Gear and Master System a couple of years later. I absolutely do not want to see what this game looks like on the Game Gear.
  • Number of players: Just a Bart, man.
  • Thanks, momCollect-a-thon: This is another weird, early game featuring collectibles that can alter the course of the game. Every level is hiding a hidden Krusty doodad, and, if you collect them all, you get to play one extra level that is atrocious. It’s supposed to be a Duck Amuck-esque adventure for Bart in an “animated” world… but it’s mostly just a half-baked stage with terrible hit detection… which, granted, is basically the same as the rest of the game. But! If you clear it, you get a secret bonus ending where you can hit Mr. Burns with a pie. Cowabunga!
  • Favorite Continent: I guess it’s the final world, Hollywood, as it uses the tinsel town trappings to throw in a whole Halloween level. There’s a skeleton! It’s also, oddly enough, exactly the same excuse for a “horror level” that we saw in Gremlins 2. Was there some Acclaim/Sunsoft overlap?
  • It’s Trivia Time: There are various minigames available between levels. The best is Simpsons Trivia, which offers a number of questions regarding esoteric Simpsons knowledge. That makes fans happy! A sliding block puzzle that reminds good little Goggle Bobs of Beyond the Beyond is… less fun.
  • Say something nice: The “Bartman” powerup was pretty fun in the ol’ days before flight was shoehorned into every platforming game. It may have only lasted for something like seven seconds, but it’s always nice to have movement unfettered by the laws of gravity.
  • That's Moe!Did you know? Entertainment Weekly designated this title as a “travel-action game”. I would like to see more of this previously unknown genre.
  • Would I play again: No thank you. Is The Simpsons Arcade Game available? I think that would be my first choice over this mediocre platformer.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Land 2 for the Nintendo Gameboy! Everybody do the Mario! Or the Wario! Please look forward to it!

Homie, no!