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FGC #610 Samurai Shodown (Franchise)

So badassI have learned that I am here for the weirdos.

Samurai Shodown is not my franchise. I am a fighting game fan, and have been since I first saw a furry Soviet dude power slam some guy with too many skulls. But, by the time Samurai Shodown was appearing in my local arcade, there was already a myriad of options that more easily drew my attention. If I wanted a basic 2-D fighting game, I’d play Street Fighter 2. If I wanted to see a little super violence, I’d play Mortal Kombat. If I wanted to see a weapons-based fighter, I’d play Soul Edge/Soulcalibur. If I wanted to plug some quarters into a Neo Geo machine, I’d go with something along the lines of King of Fighters (Fatal Fury also qualifies there). Hell, even vaguely recognizable, possibly historical figures fighting was available in World Heroes, and that game had a mecha-Hitler you could pummel into the pavement. In short, Samurai Shodown held the unfortunate position of being a fighting game that looked pretty good, but was also popular at the exact same time some of the best fighting games of the era were receiving routine updates/players. Or, put another way, not only is Cammy going to grab my attention faster than Neinhalt Sieger, there are also a few more potential opponents crowded around her cabinet. Sorry, SamSho, I’ll get to you in another thirty years.

And… uh… here we are.

On my grand list of games I want to cover before this FGC project ends (I currently claim I am stopping at FGC #655… a full hundred articles past the last point I said I would stop…), I have a meager handful of fighting games remaining. Every title from that first paragraph has been examined and reexamined (sometimes ad nauseum), so now we are down to fighting games that are… let’s say… exploratory? Games wherein I do not have encyclopedic knowledge of ridiculous plots or muscle memory that will allow me to toss out down-downforward-forward-punch fireballs until three years after I’m dead. Some of these “unexplored” games on the list are amusing misfires, but I will admit I was expecting a lot of the Samurai Shodown franchise. After all, I had at least played this in the past, and, though these play sessions may have been tremendously shorter than any time I spent with Guilty Gear, they were enjoyable. And I always appreciated the Samurai Shodown characters that appeared in other games. That bird with the hawk? She seems nice! It should be fun and enlightening to play through the Samurai Shodown Neogeo Collection and see what this glorious franchise has in store.

And I found it… underwhelming.

Get 'em lil dudeTo be clear, “underwhelming” is the exact word for this situation. None of the Samurai Shodown titles appear to be outright bad. The gameplay primarily seems to be focused more on defense than offense, but, make no mistake, you can attain a victory by going in with swords blazin’. Or maybe no swords! Characters in most of the games seem to have two distinct playstyles: with or without weapon. Be disarmed as the result of a button mashing contest, and you have to rely on your fists for a moment or two, which makes for a fun change in tactics. It’s like you’re playing as two characters at once! I am always down for that! And, while the “Engrish” and general story is simultaneously noteworthy and forgettable, there is definitely something happening here. Bushido and all that riot is great, but I am going to stand at attention when some nerd cuts down a pair of trees without even trying. Oh, and who doesn’t like some random dude running around in the background of battles tossing off powerups? There is good stuff here in Samurai Shodown!

But it all felt very… slippery. Not talking about the controls, mind you, those are perfect and responsive. Just, somehow, the whole experience felt forgettable. Like whether my chosen samurai won was going to be quickly forgotten. Or, perhaps, how my fighter won was what would be forgettable. I understand that, once again, this is not my game, so it is entirely possible I was missing something, but the general reason I won any given match seemed nebulous. And, in a fighting game, that makes everything feel unusually light. Across the multiple Samurai Shodown games, there are multiple ways to win a match… Or… More accurately, there are multiple ways to practically instantly drain a life bar. And, while slicing off the limb of an opponent feels like it should be remarkable, when you stumble on “I guess that special move just does that sometimes” it feels… wrong. Did I really win? Or was that more of an accident than my usual victories? Whatever the root cause of the issue, this made the various SS titles feel insubstantial in their gameplay.

MAGIC!But that does not have to be the be all and end all of a fighting game. A fun cast can completely rescue confusing gameplay. The previously mentioned World Heroes was not a great game by any means, but it did include a football player fighting Jack the Ripper, so it more than qualifies for gold status. Samurai Shodown’s cast meanwhile… Well, it is hard to judge some of these characters in 2021, as, like Samurai Shodown itself, there are clear examples of “this was done better elsewhere” through the decades. Like World Heroes already had a pretty good Joan de Arc analogue, so Charlotte is lacking. Haohmaru, the games’ marquee hero, feels like a lesser Mitsurugi of Soulcalibur. Hanzo the ninja could not be any more generically “this is our ninja” if he tried, and I’d rather pick up Red Earth if that is all that is available. Weller the American “I wanna be Japanese” character is so much more distinctive as Bang of BlazBlue, and I’m pretty sure Kyoshiro Senryo was one of the final bosses in that Simpsons beat ‘em up. It is no wonder that Nakoruru wound up as the persistent Samurai Showdown rep, as “has a bird” separates her from much of her fighting game sorority (though her general “fighting shrine maiden” thing causes her to blend into the anime trope ether).

But there was one character that seemed tremendously less forgettable than his contemporaries: Genan Shiranui, aka the little green guy with a claw.

Get 'emArguably, this is another example of “done elsewhere”, as Genan and his obvious spiritual brother, Earthquake, both resemble SNK/King of Fighters characters Choi Bounge and Chang Koehan. And if you wanted to claim that it was a coincidence that there was a King of Fighters influence, please note that Genan’s surname is Shiranui, the same as Mai Shiranui, heroine of Fatal Fury and King of Fighters. And, oh yeah, Mai (or at least her identical, historically appropriate ancestor) outright appears in Genan’s Samurai Shodown (1) ending. So, ya know, wearing influences on their sleeve there.

But Genan is memorable all on his own. He is green. He is wearing torn clothing that tells more of a story with visuals than Jubei can hope to muster with an entire story mode. He is constantly licking a metal claw, which is probably unsanitary. His background involves implied cannibalism. He apparently has a pair of kids that hide in his sack-clothes. This is the exact kind of eccentricity I want from a fighting game character, and it was clear right from the first Samurai Shodown that Genan was gonna be my guy.

And then the franchise dropped him like a rotten potato as of Samurai Shodown 3. Dammit! Only two games for my green meanie!

While I tried to soldier on with some pale dork with blue hair… it just wasn’t the same. I have to assume that Genan was nixed in an effort to make Samurai Shodown slightly more realistic (in a universe where people routinely, graphically die before being revived by a quarter), or to pad out the roster with slightly more distinctively “Samurai Shodown” characters (there was that brief period in the 90’s when crossovers and/or homages were considered bad). Whatever the cause, Genan was gone before we truly knew ye, and, in his absence, everything about Samurai Shodown became slippery again. Oh, build up a rage meter to do super moves? Ho-hum. I don’t want red skin. I want it green, dammit! And, given how the franchise seemed to drift into generally more serious settings over time, I was convinced Samurai Shodown was never going to have an entry that was “for Goggle Bob”. Not the end of the world, there are plenty of fighting game franchises that I can enjoy; but it would be a hard confirmation that this wasn’t “for me”.

Then I got to Samuri Shodown 6. Then I got to this nonsense…

What is even happening here?

That appears to be some manner of ancient puppet automaton, and it is fighting… a dog. Just a dog.

I am here for that.

Samurai Shodown 6 is a “dream match” title that includes a playable version of practically every character that had appeared in Samurai Shodown up to that point. Genan is back. Earthquake is back. That big red guy that was a mix of Genan and Earthquake is back. The flag dude hidden character is back. And speaking of “hidden” characters, every pet and animal is playable, too. Are they effective? Not remotely. But sometimes you just want to play as a monkey. It worked for Eternal Champions (no it didn’t). And the new characters of Samurai Shodown 6, like a swan-turned-maid and a chubby guy who really likes fireworks, all exude a noticeable air of levity. Ocha-Maro Karakuri, that mobile puppet up there, seems positively mundane in a roster that includes an anime pretty boy that is based on historical jackass/president Andrew Jackson.

DO NOT LIKEAnd it wasn’t until I hit Samurai Shodown 6 that I realized that this kind of nonsense is exactly what I want. Who have I always gravitated towards in other fighting games? Blanka. Tung Fu Rue. Cyrax. The misfits. The absolute last fighter I ever pick is your typical Ryu or Bruce Lee clone du jour. My favorite fighting game is a title wherein you can have a multi-tentacled god team up with a teeny tiny robot servant working alongside a member of S.T.A.R.S. This is why the other Samurai Shodown titles seemed boring to me! I simply cannot enjoy a videogame unless the character select screen includes a healthy number of people that have absolutely no business being in any sort of polite society, left alone a videogame (sorry, Dr. Faust, you know it is true). Apparently I do not care if there is an amazing combo system, intuitive gameplay, or the best netcode in the universe. All I want is some dork cosplaying as Freddy Krueger (and, no, actual Freddy doesn’t count).

Is Samurai Shodown ever going to be “my” fighting game franchise? No. But does it remind me what I actually want in a fighting game? Absolutely. Give me a little green weirdo any day of the week, and I’ll give your game a fair shake.

And if you want to have a brand new, modern edition of your franchise, and you choose to drop said weirdo? Well, don’t expect me to buy a season pass anytime soon…

FGC #610 Samurai Shodown (Franchise)

  • OuchSystem: Samurai Shodown is supposedly the fighting game that put the Neo Geo on the map. But I don’t see no King of Samurai ’99 on my Playstation! Whatever! The franchise has been on practically every system from a certain epoch (take a look at that Gameboy version sometime), but the collection is currently available on (mostly) modern consoles like Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Most of what you see here is via Switch and PS4.
  • Number of players: This isn’t Super Samurai Bros, so two players.
  • Who let the dogs out? Perhaps, once you get past the violence, rage, and weapon-combat, the defining characteristic of Samurai Shodown is how many fighters have pets and other auxiliary sprites as “backup”. It would certainly explain why bird-lady is so heavily featured in crossovers…
  • Favorite Character (not the green guy): It’s the red guy. Youkai Kusaregedo is a gigantic monster that first appeared in Samurai Shodown 5. He is described as an undead devil that was a “very kind man” in life, but was also a cannibal. That… is certainly a type of kind. Regardless, now he is a hulking beast, and I am only mildly disturbed by the fact that his canon story is that, in a fit of hunger, he devoured his pregnant daughter. I like playing as him, but I’m not inviting him to Christmas dinner anytime soon.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: I am required by law to note my favorite bit of Engrish from Samurai Shodown 2.

    Funster!

    As a noted funster, this had to be logged.

  • Lost in Translation: Maybe Samurai Shodown is supposed to be funny, but got lost in translation? Like, there are some goofy, tropey fighters skulking around, and maybe their intrinsic humor doesn’t come through in a different culture. Nicotine Caffeine has to have something going on here.
  • Let's go nutsThe Black Swan: Iroha is a scantily clad maid premiering in Samurai Shodown 6. She was previously a swan, but transformed into a woman wielding guillotines so as to get closer to her master. And that master? They are supposed to be the player. So, yes, this character is a walking fetish in more ways than one. Is it any wonder she got her own spin off game, and was some of the earliest DLC for the latest Samurai Shodown?
  • Favorite Samurai Shodown Title: As if it was not obvious, Samurai Shodown 6 wins here. The recently released Samurai Shodown 5 Gold is very close to 6’s complete nonsense, but, to my knowledge, you cannot play as a dog in Gold. You can do that in 6. Twice.
  • Did you know? The one character that had been previously playable but is not in Samurai Shodown 6 is Hikyaku, the delivery man that runs through the background in other Shodown titles. He was playable in the Gameboy port of Samurai Shodown as a bonus for anyone that deigned to play a Neo Geo fighting game on the friggen’ Gameboy, but was never available on a big boy system. If you are unfamiliar with the Samurai Shodown franchise, Here we go againjust imagine a playable version of the postman from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask. This is also a likely explanation for why he was never seen again.
  • Would I play again: There are so many good fighting games out there! Maybe I’ll hit the modern SamSho when all the DLC is on sale/includes my boy.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Misadventures of Tron Bonne! We’re going to go on a misadventure, Miss Tron! Please look forward to it!

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!

FGC #571 Shock Troopers

This is shockingShock Troopers is an Arcade/Neo Geo title from 1997. It is, in essence, an upgrade to SNK’s Ikari Warriors, a franchise that had debuted a little over a decade earlier. It is a top-down run ‘n gun with an emphasis on dodging, exploding, and occasionally going toe-to-toe with a tank. It may not be the most memorable game in the SNK pantheon (or even the most memorable Neo Geo game that involved shooting your way through an entire war, as that was somehow a very well-worn genre on the system), but it is certainly a fun experience for anyone that has ever enjoyed the likes of Contra or very particular parts of Bionic Commando.

And, ultimately, somebody must have liked Shock Troopers, because it warranted a sequel being released the following year: Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad. Mind you, it is entirely possible that Shock Troopers 2 was intended as an utterly different franchise, and merely wound up with Shock Troopers branding for expediency. ST:2S is a top-down shooter, but it drops the “basic” powerup-based offense of ST1 for a weapon leveling system that is closer to Blaster Master than Contra. It also places more of an emphasis on controlling vehicles, drops the signature multiple paths available in the original, and, while the graphics are certainly an upgrade, feels like a simpler, “step back” for what could have become an established franchise. Also, in what is perhaps the most damning omission of all, the game has dropped “team” mode, and now only features four playable characters, a far cry from ST1’s cast of eight. Granted, Shock Troopers 2 relies on the fact that it stars the titular “2nd Squad”, so it is no surprise there is no cast overlap. However, should Shock Troopers 2nd Squad be forgiven for the fact that the cast went from…

Always select Big Mama

… to…

Never select the punk

Notice anything, ya know, different about that 2nd squad? Is it, perhaps, a complete lack of melanin?

Let’s do the math on this one: There are 8 playable characters in Shock Troopers. It is difficult to say for certain with old graphics and generally anime-inspired art, but it can be honestly stated that there are at least four characters that could be described as “tanned” or darker. There are also three blonde characters, and one dark-haired fellow who has the same skin-tone as the blonde characters. So it can be confidently stated that there are four white people in the cast, and four people of color. Shock Troopers 2nd Squad cuts the cast in half, and now there are four white people, and zero people of color. Again, these are two totally different casts, but its clear that when the franchise wanted to boil down the cast to a lesser number, the people of color got cut, and the white remained.

I do not need to explain how this is fucked up.

However, I feel I do need to elaborate on how this is the exact level of fucked up that still continues to this day. Yes, it is easy to chastise a game from nearly 25 years ago for not adhering to the societal norms of today. Yes, we were all dimly aware of racism back at the tail end of the 90’s, and this was well before the enlightened children of the future all happened to simultaneously notice that Nintendo’s entire Smash Bros. roster has more white people named “dark” than actual people with dark skin. But this was the start of “tokenism”, right? A time we widely acknowledge where there might be “a black guy” or two in the cast, but they were only there because the designers “had to” hit some arbitrary percentage goal. A cast of color in the original Shock Troopers should not be lauded for existing or lamented when it was dropped for the sequel, because these characters were little more than the typical “minority hires” of the day. White characters with dark skin, and nothing more.

But Big Mama has something to say about that.

Here comes Big Mama

Now, to be clear, Big Mama is hella problematic. Big Mama is, right down to her name, a deeply racist and offensive stereotype. In a game where there is very little definition for the individual characters (“Marie Bee likes cats” is all you’ll get out of one of Shock Trooper’s other leading ladies), Big Mama does get the characterization of her name (this ain’t Big Papa), and her one ending image, which shows Big Mama being a mama to some random kid.

You win, Mama

Maybe her kid? Maybe a white person’s kid? We are not ruling out that possibility, because Big Mama seems to be in the same category as noted pancake accompaniment, Aunt Jemima. If you are unfamiliar with the mammy/mammie stereotype, it is remarkably straightforward: it is meant to represent the enslaved women of color that were forced to raise the children of their white slavers. Like a nanny, but completely owned by another human being. It is a generally affectionately referenced stereotype (again, check your breakfast table), but it is still a venomous, hurtful reminder that it was once perfectly okay for a black woman to be forced into a role against her will (and, yes, your syrup has made moves away from this for this very reason). Big Mama, complete with one victory animation that borders on offensive, is a textbook mammy stereotype.

WINNERBut, that said, Big Mama is also capable. She is strong. She is one of the few Shock Troopers that does not use an “extra” weapon, like a knife or (inexplicable) boomerang, as she can successfully pummel a foe in close quarters. She comes equipped with her own bazooka, though, for when the going gets rough, and her official art shows her equipped with a Rambo-esque bullet belt’s worth of firepower. And this all ties into something very important: Big Mama is jacked. Big Mama appears to be 110% muscle, and there is no videogame universe where that is not seen as a tremendous asset (okay, maybe not in Pokémon). Big Mama is the rare female playable character in a videogame that is not wafer-thin, and she has got the big guns to put her in Zangief’s piledriving class (which he teaches on Monday nights at the Y). Big Mama is wholly unique not just in Shock Troopers (where there are two other standard issue skinny white women available), but also across gaming, because here are all the other large, muscular black women I can recall playing as across other videogames…

On rare occasions, we get a Sheva (Resident Evil), Elena, or even MK’s Jade, but there is no way any of those women could reasonably take a punch from Goro. Big Mama, though? She could tear Goro’s arms off just as easily as Jax. Big Mama has a unique race, gender, and body type for gaming. And, give or take one of Chrono Cross’s cast of thousands, it’s difficult to immediately recall a single playable character that even comes close to fitting those same parameters. Big Mama is a singular woman in her entire medium.

She is the winner!And she got dropped for the sequel and any of the myriad of other SNK/Neo Geo crossover materials across the last two decades. Shock Troopers introduced a character that could embody a severely underrepresented chunk of the population, but dropped her at the earliest opportunity. Two decades of busty blondes later, and we have yet to see another Big Mama.

And that’s fucked up.

FGC #571 Shock Troopers

  • System: Neo Geo / Arcade initially, and then (like most Neo Geo games) it resurfaced in one way or another for the PS2, PS3, PS4, PSP, Xbox One, Wii, and Nintendo Switch. It looks like it skipped the WiiU, but, then again, so did Nintendo (HEY-O!).
  • Number of players: Looks like two, but you have a choice of eight characters. That is because…
  • Make the dream work: The player has a choice between playing as one hero (“lonly” mode, thanks SNK translation team), or a team of three. I literally cannot fathom why someone would play as anything other than a team. You get three life bars, so you can switch when one is running low (and wait until you see a health powerup)! You get three different offensive/agility options, as every character plays distinctly! You have an excuse to use the chubby white dude and his clearly circumstance-based poison bombs! Why would you ever limit yourself to one character per credit?
  • Favorite Character: Oh, maybe because you want to show Big Mama solidarity. I understand wanting to showcase Big Mama.
  • Say something nice about character design in Shock Troopers 2nd Squad: I mean, it’s nice that both of the women in Shock Troopers 2 aren’t the typical blonde bombshells you see in gaming, and Lulu is fairly androgynous (which is a welcome alternative to “boob delivery creature). Also, Toy is a punk with a laser, which ain’t bad.
  • EAT BUILDING!Favorite Boss: Oh yeah, the boss designs definitely improved between sequels. In the first Shock Troopers, you mostly just fight fantastic military weaponry, like a helicopter or battle tank (“battle tank” is defined as any tank that has more spikes than your usual tank). In Shock Troopers 2, you fight significantly more varied opponents, including an entire office building that changes into a missile/laser fortress. It is basically a Transformer, and I am here for that.
  • Pick Your Poison: Shock Troopers offers three different routes to the final level, complete with an opportunity to switch paths about halfway through. That adds a fun reason to replay the game! That said, Jungle is terribly boring, while Valley lets you blow up a submarine. And Mountain lets you climb a cliffside by hand, and then use a zipline. So why would you take any route other than Mountain?
  • What’s in a name? The terrorists of ST1 are known as the Bloody Scorpions. The sequel features DIO, led by a man named Nakatomi. This implies that the initial Bloody Scorpions are not around anymore because they found a good day to die hard.
  • Did you know? If you leave the banana life up sitting on the ground too long, a monkey will dash over, and steal your bananas. How cheeky!
  • WeeeeeeWould I play again: Shock Troopers is a fun little run ‘n gun with multiple routes and characters that wholly encourage additional playthroughs. I will probably do that! … If I remember this game exists, and there aren’t any Contra games I want to play at that immediate moment.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Night Trap! The game that almost broke all of gaming! Woo boy! Please look forward to it!

FGC #492 King of Fighters (Franchise)

Sports!If you want to understand the essence of a videogame crossover, you need look no further than King of Fighters ’94.

King of Fighters was initially imagined as a beat ‘em up titled Survivor. The prototype featured characters from The Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury (two established SNK fighting games) battling in teams of three against waves of vaguely anonymous mooks. Given both of the parent games were about burly dudes fighting against criminal gangs, this seemed like a natural progression in both storylines and gameplay. But, presumably because fighting games were really hitting their stride around the early 90s, Survivor the beat ‘em up mutated into King of Fighters the fighting game. The concept of three-man teams survived the transition, and, more importantly, King of Fighters maintained its status as a crossover title involving two popular SNK franchises.

And then things got weird. Two more games were included in the crossover hijinks: Psycho Soldier Starring Athena and Ikari Warriors. And if you’re curious what those games look like…

She's psycho

Pew pew

So what happens when you try to marry that to something like this?

Let's fight

Well, in the end, you wind up with this:

Now we're fightin'

But it might take a moment to get there.

To understand what happened, you have to understand the insane leaps and bounds that happened in gaming in the 80s and 90s. Remember Pac-Man? His debut was released in 1980. Pac-Man could be controlled with zero buttons, one four-way paddle, and a human being that didn’t need to understand anything more than “Pac-Man go wakka wakka”. Pac-Man had no “moves” other than simply moving, and his opponents were four of the same guy in different colored coats. Pac-Man did not jump, duck, dash, or even attack in any way that didn’t just involve steering around a maze. And even when Ms. Pac-Man or Super Pac-Man made the scene, it was still the same basic gameplay that was little more than tracing your finger around a children’s menu placemat. But, from there, we graduated to games where there was shooting, jumping, and the occasional bit of shooting and jumping. Games that started with “Mario go hop” evolved into finding ways that one could attack or otherwise interact with the world through that jumping, and, by as early as the late-80’s, we already needed tutorials and alike to explain exactly what happens when you use a grenade over your basic rifle.

Go idol!So Ikari Warriors, essentially a top-down copy of Contra (… which gets no credit from this blog for being released a year before Contra), was released in the early days of games becoming “complicated”. There were two buttons! You could control a man and a tank! Two players could simultaneously coordinate their attacks and work together! Or compete for powerups! Ikari Warriors was much more complicated than Pac-Man or Space Invaders, but it still wasn’t that complicated. Run ‘n gun is the basic gist of it, and you really don’t need an intricate control scheme to dodge bullets. And, while the setting is very different, Psycho Soldier, released the same year, is a very similar situation. This game is 2-D, and it features school children with psychic powers, but it still boils down to “dodge attacks, shoot bad guys”. In this case, the “complicated bits” involve debating on whether or not to conduct some light demolition when the auto-scroll is bearing down on your idol, and considering the merits of grabbing a powerup that may or may not be erased about seven seconds later by an errant giant beetle. It’s… a weird game. Regardless, in both Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier, we’ve got gameplay significantly more complicated than “pizza man stuck in a maze”.

But it ain’t no fighting game.

It is the belief of Gogglebob.com and its subsidiaries that fighting games require the most complicated “controls” of any genre. There are games that, on a whole, are more complicated (looking straight at you, TRPGs), but usually those “complicated” games require a meager “point and click” or “press A on the right menu” interface. Meanwhile, fighting games often have more required action buttons than your average console controller, intricate motions for “specials”, and even more elaborate patterns for those all-important super/hyper/tension moves. This isn’t to say that there aren’t fighting games that eschew those convoluted controls, but most fighting games still trace back to a certain title that included six different fighting buttons that may or may not have produced different results if you were standing or moving.

Stabby stabbyOr, put another way, in 1991, there was a new videogame where a hedgehog could run, jump, crouch, and roll. Also in 1991, there was a new game where a karate champion could walk, block, crouch, defensive crouch, back flip, forward flip, jump, jab, strong punch, fierce punch, short kick, forward kick, roundhouse, jump jab, jump strong punch, jump fierce punch, jump short kick, jump forward kick, jump roundhouse, crouch jab, crouch strong punch, crouch fierce punch, crouch short kick, crouch forward kick, crouch roundhouse, throw a fireball, hurricane kick, and dragon punch. Same year, two very fondly remembered games, but just a smidge of difference between what their two protagonists can do.

So, yes, there’s a little bit of a difference between Psycho Soldier Athena and King of Fighters ’94 Athena.

Athena and Sie Kensou both originated from a side-scrolling action game. Ralf Jones and Clark Still (names changed in America to protect the innocent) originated in a top-down action game (and Heidern, their third teammate, too, but he was mostly just a talking head). The ’94 American Sports Team of Lucky Glauber the basketball player, Brian Battler the football player, and Heavy-D! the boxer were meant to be evocative of their respective sports videogames of the era. How does Madden NFL ’94 gameplay translate to King of Fighters ’94? That’s Brian Battler’s beat! All of these characters from wildly disparate backgrounds and games were smooshed together, granted multiple attacks, special moves, and the occasional power move, and were able to fight on an even keel. King of Fighters ’94 found a way for Psycho Soldier Athena to stand shoulder to shoulder and fist to fist with Terry Bogard.

Lil' dudesAnd what’s important here is that what made these “transplant” characters themselves in the first place is still there. Athena has the ability to toss off magical, psycho power moves. Ralf is towing heavy artillery and fighting in front of his crashed transport. Lucky Glauber can dunk on his opponents in more ways than one. They all have their punches, kicks, and uppercuts like Joe Higashi or Ryo Sakazaki, but they also retain moves and abilities that distinctly evoke their initial appearances. The arena is different, but these fighters with incongruent pasts are still recognizable as evolutions of their original forms. Clark is still Clark.

And, while later King of Fighters titles would not revisit the idea of pulling characters from other genres for some time (the first it returned was in ’99 with Metal Slug’s Fio as a mere striker [assist] character, and then we barely saw it in any other way save for spin-offs or the absolute most recent edition), it set the standard for what videogame crossovers would have to be. A crossover in a movie, novel, or television program doesn’t require completely redesigning the guest star du jour. The Golden Girls can guest star on Teen Titans Go and it doesn’t mean Darkseid can’t appear in the same episode (it happened! Look it up!), but if the cast of Empty Nest (more things to look up!) wants to appear in Super Mario Bros, they better learn to jump over turtles. The Avengers can be the most robust crossover film in history, but that’s because it’s only a movie drawing from other movies. They didn’t have to adapt a single action hero to a fighting game at all, and that makes the whole experience so much easier. Can you imagine trying to figure out a moveset for Wong? And then balancing that against a Wakandian warrior? The mind boggles!

So thank you, King of Fighters, for showing us all what a videogame crossover must be. It’s not about dropping as many ingredients as possible into the broth like in any other medium, it’s about adapting every participant from their contrasting origins to the featured genre. It’s about making a balanced, enjoyable experience that incidentally includes stars from times in gaming that have long been forgotten. It’s about going from this…

I miss that guy

To this…

Let's smash!

So thank you, King of Fighters, for defining the videogame crossover for generations.

FGC #492 King of Fighters (Franchise)

  • System: Started out on the Neo Geo, but eventually migrated to various Playstation models. I’m sure the older versions are available on the Switch, too. So let’s just generically say it’s available wherever videogames are sold.
  • Number of players: Two. It’s a fighting game. It’s two.
  • Wait, wasn’t this article mostly about King of Fighters ’94, and not the whole franchise: Look, I’m not going to review each individual KoF game at this point, and ’95 is mostly the same as ’94 but with some much preferred upgrades, and some of the intervening games… Ugh, it’s already getting complicated. This article is my dedication to the franchise. I don’t want to get into explaining NESTS or why there’s now a idol sporting electric, fake eyeballs, and…. Stop it! This is just about King of Fighters and its impact on gaming at large. The end!
  • Get 'emYou really want to talk about the plot, don’t you? My main problem with the King of Fighters franchise is that, like some other games, what started as a simple crossover story rapidly added a host of original characters with singular motivations that made the entire experience completely impregnable to a player that just happened to be wandering through with a spare quarter or two. Kyo was an interesting addition to the cast that was deliberately built to appeal to the “new generation” (as Terry and Ryo were old men in their 20s by the time of KoF), but there was no way that entire plots needed to hang on his magical blood, fire-boy rivalry, or that time he got cloned for no apparent reason. Even when Kyo isn’t the literal center of the universe, you know you’re just five seconds away from his second cousin’s roommate appearing and declaring the start of “The Iron Blood Saga” or some such thing, and… can we just get a game where Samurai Shodown protagonists fight pachinko heroines?
  • So do you have an explanation for this timeline where characters established as being from the 70s battle the large, adult sons of other combatants? Nope! Moving on.
  • Favorite Character(s): Chang Koehan the giant and Choi Bounge the wee gremlin sporting a spiky hand are my favorite picks across the franchise. They’ve had a few other teammates over the years, so I can’t just say “Korean Team” or “Villains Team”. It’s those two. They’re awesome. They brought a wrecking ball to a fighting game. And apparently they were both originally conceived to add some levity to the initially dour cast of King of Fighters, so, ya know, mission accomplished.
  • Favorite King of Fighters game: In this case, the most recent one is the best one, and that appears to be King of Fighters 14. After 13 was an unimpressive dud, 14 came roaring back with amazing graphics, an excellent “feel”, and more fanservice than I could shake a buster wolf at. My understanding is that this KoF is the start of a new storyline for the franchise, and I eagerly await whatever may be next.
  • You got 'emGoggle Bob Fact: I generally avoided this franchise in my childhood thanks to a Fighting Game Player’s Guide I picked up for Mortal Kombat information that incidentally covered the most recent King of Fighters game, too. The inputs for the KoF fighters looked so insane I didn’t even try the franchise for years for fear of having to properly activate Terry’s overly complicated burning knuckle or whatever. Fatal Fury 3, unfortunately, fell into the same boat. However, I eventually found King of Fighters ’95 on the Playstation (1) for a steal, and then I fell in love with a purple ninja and a boy with a stick. … Not literally. Mostly.
  • Did you know? The only team that did not return between King of Fighters ’94 and ’95 is the American Sports Team. Likely as a reference to this, multiple later games feature members of the team receiving invitations, but then being beaten and losing said invitations to other, newer (and usually more interesting) teams. But they seem to keep reappearing for cameos in other King of Fighter games (and even their spinoffs), so at least they’re still getting work.
  • Would I play again: King of Fighters isn’t my favorite fighting game franchise (or even my favorite crossover fighting game franchise), but it’s still a fun time, so I’ll give some of these titles another go in the near future. Who doesn’t like psycho soldiers fighting regular soldiers?

What’s next? Crossover “Week” (I have really got to figure out a good title for “six articles with one basic premise” situations) continues with a look at a different kind of crossover to hit the arcades. It might not be a Vs. game, but it’s certainly got “Vs” in the title. Please look forward to it!