Tag Archives: south of the border

FGC #628 Popeye

Let's pop an eye?A popular nerd debate has always been who would win in a fight: Superman or Goku. Aside from the obvious problem with this dispute (as two sons of exploded planets that generally fight for justice, Superman and Goku would instantly become best friends and go to driving school together), the mere concept of such a battle ignores what makes Kal-El and Kakarot work. These two potential super friends are not powerful because they can push planets and fire energy beams, they are “strong” because they are eternally righteous and exist in a universe that will always narratively support their good deeds. Goku might lose a fighting tournament, and Superman might lose a footrace with the Flash, but when the world is threatened? When some monster from space is whipping out the human extinction attack? Then, and only then, will these heroes find the incredible strength necessary to save (and possibly revive) everyone they love. Goku and Superman were not first created with unfettered strength or super ventriloquism, they developed these powers as their rescues demanded it, and have since become “over 9,000” powerhouses with the rolling tumbleweed of continuity. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku? Whichever hero had a friend in danger first, and then they would miraculously become Super Saiyan Level Krypton or empowered by the Universe 7’s sun’s rays just enough to triumph and save the day.

And it’s all moot, anyway, because Popeye would kick both of their asses. Popeye is the ur-hero of the last century.

Get those notesPopeye was introduced to the world nearly ten years before Clark Kent ever made the scene. In his initial appearance, Popeye was a sailor-side character that gained unfathomable luck by rubbing the hairs of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. This allowed Popeye to cheat at gambling (yes, having hen-derived luck would be considered outright fraud by most major casinos), and, more importantly, have enough luck to survive what would have been a fatal shooting. While the lesson of “do not cheat at gambling unless you can verify your own immortality” was an important one, Popeye inadvertently introduced his oft-imitated formula for popularity/victory right there at the start. As “lucky invincibility” gave way to “incredible strength”, Popeye would often find himself in a completely impossible situation, with the only key to solve the latest problem being a conveniently available can of spinach. Spinach wasn’t always the answer to Popeye’s problems, but back in the days of Thimble Theatre starring Popeye, a quick burst of overwhelming power would solve many Sea Hag or Toar the Caveman related issues.

And then in 1932, King Features and Fleischer Studios teamed up to create the Popeye Theatrical Cartoons. For a solid 25 years, audiences watched shorts wherein Popeye would be trapped in an unwinnable position, but, at the last minute, our hero would down a can of spinach, grow muscles that looked way too cancerous to be healthy, and then wallop every problem in his path. Over and over again, Popeye would take a beating, seemingly be completely defeated, and then rally at the last moment with the help of one magical leafy green. And it was not just about strength for Popeye! Spinach would often confer hitherto unknown abilities upon our favorite sailor man, with at least a few cases where Popeye gained incredible smarts or acrobatic prowess. Was there an episode wherein Popeye instantly gained an understanding of Latin and proceeded to perform open heart surgery? No, but only because not enough people had heard of Daniel Hale Williams, and Max Fleischer didn’t want audiences to be confused. Operating skills aside, Popeye shorts reinforced incessantly that Popeye could do anything or defeat anybody just so long as he nabbed his favorite spinach within the final few moments of a conflict. Whether it was saving Olive Oyl or guaranteeing the safety of Sweat Pea, Popeye would always save the day.

Like in ZeldaAnd can you even count how many heroes followed the template of Popeye? Put the sailor man in a sailor fuku and we’ve got Sailor Moon. Strip him down to his pants and you’ve got The Hulk with that last minute burst of anger. Hell, let Popeye be a little more chill, and your “spinach” could very well be Columbo saying, “just one more thing.” Popeye is the ur-hero because his modus operandi is perfect for our 20-40 minute dramas, whether they feature slow and congenial detectives or massive muscle monsters. And then when you get into the realm of videogame heroes…

At their very core, videogames are all about “underdog” humans triumphing over “advanced” machines. That is all baloney, of course, as videogames have been designed to be won for decades. But the player has to feel like there is a challenge. The player must think that Link could never un-conquer a kingdom under the thumb of a pigman’s army, or that there is no possible way this little blue hedgehog could save his friends from a robotic invasion. The odds must be against you. The enemy must be seemingly unsurmountable. How are you going to get out of this one? Well, maybe you’ll find some spinach at just the right moment…

CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP

And then there’s Mario. Mario and Donkey Kong were famously created because Shigeru Miyamoto could not immediately obtain the Popeye license, and a new protagonist/antagonist duo had to be born. The proud pummeler became a pudgy plumber, and the big gorilla of an antagonist became a literal gorilla (and the Olive Oyl to Pauline transition was… succinct). Other than that? Donkey Kong could be Popeye (or it would be titled “Bluto”, I guess). The spinach to hammer transition is apparent, and, when Miyamoto finally got his hands on Popeye for the seminal arcade/NES hit, very little had changed. Popeye scampers around collecting hearts, letters, and musical notes while Bluto stomps about attempting to ruin Popeye’s day. The only real difference between this and Donkey Kong is that the Sea Hag becomes the stationary “monkey” that tosses off random projectiles, and Bluto fills the role of the sentient fireball that stalks our hero. But the fact that Popeye very well could be Mario neatly summarizes how the Mario/Bowser dynamic is something that was established nearly a century ago, and the only real change has been a reliance on fungus over spinach. Popeye is Mario.

Go nutsIt is fun to imagine epic battles between western superheroes and anime monkey gods, but when you get down to the mundane minutia of such a melee, you find that it is mirror matches all the way down. Goku, Superman, and even Mario owe their existence to a comic strip character from before the Vatican’s (technical) existence. It’s all Popeye, just with different flavors of spinach.

Heroes of the last century? They am what they am.

FGC #628 Popeye

  • System: This article is primarily inspired by the original Popeye game that appeared in arcades and on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Just recently, however, there was a 3-D “upgrade” of the Popeye arcade game for the Nintendo Switch. Note the extreme use of quotes on “upgrade” there. Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Commodore 64 versions are all also in circulation (assuming it is the early 80s).
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Everyone can be Popeye!
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a good early arcade game. You have concise goals, obvious antagonists, and the ol’ spinach allows for some dramatic changes in fortune. I will maintain that Brutus is a little too powerful at the start of the arcade game (his “gotcha” grabs from other levels are always going to eat up a quarter or two), but the NES version seems balanced for a fun play session of fifteen minutes or so.
  • Get 'emFavorite Thing You Can Make Happen Once Every 7,000 Plays: Punching the barrel directly onto Bluto and trapping him for a few seconds is the most satisfying thing you can do in an arcade game. It requires absolutely meticulous timing and infinite luck, but when you nail it? Best feeling in the world.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: A Popeye arcade cabinet used to sit at the base of the Sombrero Tower in South of the Border for years… Or at least the years I would go on family vacations as a child. I never got to play Popeye, because we were inevitably just pitstopping there, and it was time to ignore videogames and get back in the car for ten hours, Wee Goggle Bob. I think I covet this game more as a result…
  • Port-O-Call: The Switch version of Popeye technically has the same gameplay (run around three levels on a loop, collect trinkets tossed by Olive Oyl, occasionally eat spinach), but the advent of 3-D environments dramatically changes the game. Bluto is an omnipresent threat on a single screen, 2-D plane, but it is rare to feel like he is in the same area code when you have significantly more room to maneuver. Switch Popeye somehow still works because of the classic gameplay loop of “run around and grab things”, but the cat ‘n mouse game of the original is markedly neutered. You’d be better off spending your quarters elsewhere…
  • Did you know? Popeye doesn’t have a jump button. He doesn’t need a jump button, but it is weird that this title completely eschewed the action that made Jump Man a star.
  • OopsWould I play again: Hey, why not? It is a fun time, and, while I may not play it until my eyes bleed like some arcade titles (hi, Ms. Pac-Man), it is an enjoyable experience. Popeye may be every hero, but it is good to see he got at least one good game all his own.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Radical Dreamers! And that has nothing to do with the rerelease I have been anticipating for the last twenty years! I swear! Please look forward to it!

FGC #591 Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl

Gonna be a mall brawlI have put some thought into this, and I have come to a realization:

I am mad that Kevin Smith is happy.

I am, and have always been, a comedy nerd. Back in the dark ages of VHS tape rentals, I would always convince my dad that it was in his best interest to rent the likes of Airplane, Young Frankenstein, and Nation Lampoon’s Any Goddamned Thing. And this worked out well, as my father generally enjoyed comedies as well. After all, he was the man that introduced me to Woody Allen, and I watched the likes of Annie Hall, Love and Death, and Crimes and Misdemeanors well before I understood about 110% of the sex jokes contained therein. But, while I loved all these comedies, I had one complaint: all of this humor was aimed at my dad’s generation. Chevy Chase had never played a Nintendo, and Leslie Nielsen clearly would never have an opinion on Voltron. I could watch a thousand “80’s comedies”, but when would I ever see a comedy that had the voice of an actual 80’s kid?

Enter Kevin Smith and Clerks.

To be absolutely clear, Kevin Smith is, by all definitions, not a contemporary of my generation. He was born nearly fifteen years before this author, and his experiences are firmly those of Generation X. That said? Goddamn did his early film oeuvre capture the feeling of being a teenager in the 90’s. Perhaps something about his directing and writing was universal, or maybe my generation just happened to live at the edge of such things as “malls” and “the Catholic Church” existing, but, whatever the cause, Kevin Smith’s films spoke to me. They were vulgar, often sexist/homophobic, and generally vaguely immature, but there was a truth buried in there that I felt like only my generation would understand. I was not old enough to date someone that had sucked 37 dicks (I mean, as far as I knew), but I was old enough to hang out at the mall, hate on magic eye posters, or have substantial opinions about working at a menial job. And if you want the kind of low-key youthful rebellion that would inevitably be inspired by Kevin Smith’s films, consider the fact that my friends and I watched Dogma around midnight on gigantic screens in the sanctuary of a church. Had the damnedest time finding the remote for that DVD player…

Hey, this is relevantAnd, since we are moderately on the subject, let’s talk about Dogma. Clerks was Kevin Smith’s amazing debut, and it all but defined the mood and attitude of a generation of people that were not even supposed to be here today. Mallrats was a farcical look at the world outside the horrible fate of retail (but still firmly entrenched in that world), and, while still a comedy, Chasing Amy tried its hand at being a little more serious than other Kevin Smith fare (and, I feel it is worth publicly stating: wow, watching that movie in 2021 is a different experience than in 1997). But Dogma? Literally holy crap, Dogma was an experience. It was star-studded! It was hilarious! It was taking huge, obvious swings at “The Church”, Christianity, and religion in general! And these were topics that were generally considered taboo in polite society! Sunday school never made references to crucifixions producing shit monsters, and they certainly never acknowledged how clergy would inevitably try to pimp themselves out with bobbleheads if given the chance. This was revolutionary stuff for my teenage friends and I, and it confirmed something I had always suspected: Kevin Smith was going to be the voice of my generation for our generation. This writer/director is going places, and he is going to go places we never would have ever expected.

And then Kevin Smith’s next movie featured a character named Cocknocker.

A sack full of 'emLet’s take a step back and address Woody Allen. First of all, to be perfectly clear, fuck Woody Allen. This paragraph is likely going to sound like Woody Allen is being lauded, but, to be clear, fuck that guy. However, one can complement the arc of his works from his first movies back in the sixties (and works going back to fifties) to today. He started with generally farcical parodies, gradually moved into what would define the romantic comedy, and then made his way to something more akin to “serious pieces” that happened to have a few jokes sprinkled in. From there, there was a clear period of vaguely defensive “I liked your old, funny movies” bouts of navel-gazing, and then he finally seemed to settle on something more comedic again, albeit usually with a sort of mature (re: old man) edge to the proceedings. And, say what you will about your enjoyment of any of those movies, but it is certainly a way to see a man progress and grow and change with his own media. Woody Allen did not win an award and simply make that same prestigious movie over and over again, he, like all of us, changed, and his output reflected that. And, sure, he did eventually go back to that romantic comedy well an awful lot, but he tried to do something different, and really did produce some films that could have only come from a man that had the life experiences of someone that had been writing comedy for arguably his entire life. Woody Allen has done odious, reprehensible things in his existence, but you can also see how the art changed with the man, and thus, also with a generation.

As I write this, Kevin Smith is currently promoting his latest production: He-Man: Masters of the Universe: Revelation. What’s more, he is promoting it by saying, “Your old toys are exactly where you left ‘em, Kids – and we took really good care of them!” The potential voice of our generation is still speaking for our generation, and he is advocating for nearly forty years of arrested development. Play with your old toys again, children of the three-hour Saturday Morning Advertising Block. Do not think critically of your current situation at all! Enjoy Mer-Man!

This looks familiarAnd, in much the same manner, here is today’s game, Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl. To be clear, Kevin Smith is not directly responsible for JaSB:MB. He definitely approved the project, it is all based on characters he created, and he does technically headline/star in the game, but he did not sit down to program this View Askewniverse-based adventure. That was primarily left to Tomas Guinan and Spoony Bard Productions. But does Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl feel like something that was produced by Kevin Smith? For better or worse, yes, very much so. JaSB:MB is filled to the brim with references to Smith’s most popular works (like Mall Rats, Dogma, and Clerks), as well as significant nods to less fashionable productions like Clerks: The Animated Series and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Or maybe they were his more popular productions with his fans? I cannot say for certain, as I have personally been quoting Plug and Leonardo Leonardo for years. And they both appear in Level 6! Wow! If you are a fan of “those Jay and Silent Bob shows”, you are going to love this trip through the mall.

But if you are not here to see Patrick Swayzee (and his horse, Road House, from that movie he was in), there is not much here for you. This is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by the likes of River City Ransom… but without the leveling/advancement system that made that title so memorable. Or this is a beat ‘em up heavily inspired by Double Dragon… but without the precise punch/kick system and platforming that made Double Dragon and its sequel NES mainstays. This is a hodgepodge of concepts and characters from other NES beat ‘em ups (Abobo appears as a pretzel!), but ultimately something that never even pretends it is better than its original sources. There is a Turbo Tunnel! Like in Battletoads! But it is shorter and includes far less risks than the game it is referencing (come on, man, you couldn’t figure out how to implement pits into this system?). Same for the faux Mega Man fight against Cocknocker, as that simulates a robot master battle with sound effects and graphics, but not any mega-gameplay that makes that situation fun. About the only thing that really stands out as innovative in JaSB:MB is the battle against Golgothan the Excremental that requires your chosen hero wield a nearby plunger to actually do some damage. This adds an extra, previously unseen bit of strategy to the proceedings, and it would be a fascinating mechanic if the damned boss could not “camp” the one item you need to defeat it. So actually grabbing that weapon-of-choice can be a shitshow if the enemy AI decides to be crap? I know that guy!Wonderful. And that seems to be the game in a nutshell: there are good bones here, but the flesh wrapped around it is powered by about 5% good ideas, and 95% nostalgia.

But what the hell would you expect?

Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl never claimed it was going to be the next Taro-esque commentary on the state of gaming. It was never supposed to be an evolution for the beat ‘em up genre, or the apparently-a-genre-for-the-last-decade 8-bit retro craze. This whole exercise was never going to be anything of the sort. This is a game that was released for Kevin Smith fans, and initially distributed on an actual, playable Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge because Kevin Smith fans are inevitably fans of the NES. This is a game wholly entrenched in its own nostalgia for media that is now old enough to drink, and a writer/director that could be a literal grandpa any day now. This is a “by fans, for fans” affair, and asking it to question its medium or source material is folly. You want to ask greater questions of the universe, you buy a different game. You buy a Jay and Silent Bob game because you want to participate in goofy antics with Jay and Silent Bob.

And you do not watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie for deep thoughts. You watch a Jay and Silent Bob movie because you want to laugh. And you will laugh, because farts are funny.

I also know this guyKevin Smith could have, at one point in his career, pivoted to becoming a “serious” creator. He could have become a serious man in a serious world that has very serious things to say about serious topics. He could have followed the same arc as so many comedians before him, and focused on his deeper thoughts. He did not. He decided to use his filmmaker clout to write comic books where Green Lantern eats out Black Canary, and Batman pisses himself (uh, to be clear, these were two unrelated events). He said his piece on religion, and then went on to create whatever the hell Tusk is supposed to be about. And the thing about all of that? He seems happy about it! He is uncritically producing a movie about a commercial from forty years ago, and he is having a blast doing it! I can barely get through this paragraph without throwing shade at Mattel, but Kevin Smith is right there, happily telling his audience that all their toys are back and better than ever.

And you know what? Good for him! Kevin Smith seems happy. And, unlike other writer/directors, we are not constantly hearing about how he is a horrible person. Maybe we need more people producing a lifetime of “light” entertainment, and significantly less “serious” directors that are currently wanted for various sex crimes. When the biggest scandal to come out of a guy is “those jorts”, we are in a good place. Kevin Smith may not have become the auteur I wanted him to be, but he seems like a good person. And if he produces a funny movie every once in a while, hey, all the better.

The world could use more Kevin Smiths. And the gaming world can have a few Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawls, too.

FGC #591 Jay and Silent Bob: Mall Brawl

  • System: Technically, this is a NES game. There’s a cartridge and everything! But the expanded-palette “arcade mode” is also available for the modern usual suspects, like Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4.
  • The fans are upsetNumber of players: Well, it is Jay and Silent Bob, so two players are available. Does the game get more difficult with more buddies? Or are the enemy mobs the same? I don’t know!
  • Favorite Boss: Abobo-as-a-pretzel is super annoying, but he reaches an entire other level when he is joined by some weird little pretzel baby creature. We’re in a crowded elevator, kid, I don’t need you jump kicking me over and over again while I’m trying to punch your dad!
  • A moment for the departed: Clerks: The Animated Series (which is referenced frequently across this game) is easily the funniest single six episodes of any cartoon ever produced. It was also, technically, the first DVD I ever purchased, and the first disc that ever went into my Playstation 2. Sorry, Dead or Alive 2, but I was a little more interested in finding the answer to the immortal question of “why are we walking like this?” Also, mark this one down as another animated series that made reference to South of the Border.

    Put it on the list

    I’m going to start keeping track of this.

  • Let the past be past: Back to the actual game, I could have done without the NES standard of starting every stage from the start after a continue. The fact that Jay and Silent Bob refill health as time passes is helpful, but if you get unexpectedly wrecked by a boss, it is a gigantic pain to have to repeat everything on your way back to another potential loss. And the final stage being a boss rush? Nobody wanted to play that in the first place…
  • An end: If you are curious about the secret identity of the final boss, go ahead and consider that mystery story trope about how the culprit is always the named character that is otherwise mysteriously absent. And, without revealing the shocking conclusion, I can disclose that, yeah, Jay and Silent Bob do make it back home to Quik Stop.
  • Who is Leonardo Leonardo?For the sequel: Theoretically, this game is the “Curse of the Moon” to an eventual, other beat ‘em up titled Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. It looks good! It looks like more of the same, actually, but with modern art and conventions. And that’s enough! Trading 8-bit graphics for “goofy” animation should be fun. And we need more fun.
  • Did you know? Dante was supposed to die in the first Clerks movie, but that “alternate ending” was scrapped before the premiere. This is why, in the Devil May Cry franchise, there is often a “Dante must die” mode. Some people just won’t let it go.
  • Would I play again: Probably, but purely as a novelty. This game may have issues, but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, so I could see playing it again with another Kevin Smith fan. Hey, I might not watch Dogma every other day, but I do watch it again every decade or so…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Muse Dash for the Nintendo Switch! Time to run to the music! Or from the music? Something like that! Please look forward to it!

It's the turbo tunnel
This is like some kind of generational trauma, isn’t it?

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

What's the sitch?Steven Universe is an animated series that originally premiered on Cartoon Network in 2013. It ran through 2019, and wound up with five seasons and 160 episodes. It also birthed three complete JRPG-style videogames, and two “quickie” mobile titles.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil is an animated series that originally premiered on Disney XD in 2015. It ran through 2019, and wound up with four seasons and 140 episodes. It also birthed… zero videogames.

And can you guess which franchise starred a female lead?

Look, there are a lot of excuses that could be bandied about here. Cartoon Network and Disney have very different needs for merchandising! Disney Channel doesn’t care about videogames! That’s why we’ve got a Gravity Falls game sitting over on the 3DS! No… wait… how about Steven Universe was more of a hit! I mean, it’s not like Star vs. the Forces of Evil was the biggest premiere Disney XD ever had! Oh, it was? Award winning, too? Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation? Okay, guess it was popular and award winning. Steven Universe was more action-based? No, I’m pretty sure there are more episodes of Steven eating donuts around Beach City than there are of Star blasting regenerating lizard monsters with magic. And don’t even attempt to claim that somehow the curators of Star Butterfly aren’t as “into videogames” as the staff behind Steven Universe. Steven might live near an arcade, but Star has frequented an arcade dimension. Star vs. The Forces of Evil was a success in every way, and a direct contemporary of Steven Universe. But only one franchise got an “Apple arcade exclusive” title…

Let's goIt is hard not to see this as an issue with the fact that one game very clearly has a male lead, and the other is “stuck” with a woman in the title. And even that is bullshit! Steven Universe lives in a world that is wall-to-wall ladies, with the literal strongest beings in the (Steven) universe standing tall as gigantic women. And, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil certainly stars Star, her constant companion, Marco Diaz, is the obvious mundane audience surrogate. She is a fantastic magical girl from another dimension, he is a normal kid that likes karate. Guess which one is supposed to be more relatable to today’s tweens? If you are getting all gender binary here, you could easily argue that Steven Universe lives in a world already conquered by women, and Star Butterfly lives in a world that is constantly being overrun (in benevolent and malevolent ways) by men. But marketing is marketing, and Steven Universe’s pink shield is apparently assumed to be powered by testosterone, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil is wall-to-wall puppies and unicorns (I mean, not going to lie, there are a lot of unicorns. But they’re the kind of unicorns that gore people [in Disney appropriate ways]). Star is a show for girls, girls don’t play videogames, so games for girls are pointless.

And, yes, if you are reading this blog, Gogglebob.com recognizes that you likely do not agree. There are plenty of games “for girls”, whether they be titles that are distinctly aimed at the demographic (DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power has “girls” right there in the title), or games with situations that generally happen to have more feminine interests (Style Savvy, Vocaloid singalongs, anything involving a tanuki-based economy). Not everything has to be Barbie Horse Adventures or Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen stalking the malls. But, by the same token, there are any number of books, television shows, and movies aimed squarely at the pink demographic. And some of ‘em ain’t bad! My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a show/comic book that was one fluorescent horse away from being the girl demographic ideal, but it also wound up having universal appeal with fun, likeable characters. Just because an idea is distinctly young woman-coded does not mean it cannot be universal.

Too shinyAnd that brings us to today’s game. Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? Brothers and sisters? This game couldn’t be more “for girls” if it friggen came with [REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRAPH DELETED FOR RAMPANT SEXISM].

If you did not watch Disney Channel back in the early 21st Century, here’s the sitch: Kim Possible is a teenage cheerleader by day, and a James Bond-esque super spy by night. Her parents approve of her globe-trotting adventures (though there are concerns about flying to South America on a school night), and her problems are usually solved through a combination of cool gadgets and expert gymnastics. As is often the case with superheroes, though, her villains are a significant draw here. Señor Senior, Senior is a rich, generally pleasant old man that is currently spending his vast fortune on seeing that his spoiled son, Señor Senior, Junior becomes a capable supervillain. Frugal Lucre is attempting to commit super crimes on an extremely limited budget. DNAmy is creating chimera monsters thanks to her love of ersatz beanie babies. And the biggest, baddest villain of all in Kim’s rogue’s gallery is Dr. Drakken, the diabolical mad scientist that is responsible for about 70% of all trouble that comes Kim’s way.

Dr. Drakken also spends most of this game on the couch.

The plot of Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty typical television trope. While on a normal mission, Dr. Drakken and Ron Stoppable, Kim Possible’s sidekick, both attempt to grab a magical monkey idol. Unfortunately, the idol switches the “brains” of Drakken and Ron, so both are stuck inhabiting each other’s bodies. SlappyDoes this lead to wacky hijinks? Kinda! But it mostly means that the two male leads of the franchise spend most of the game appearing in loading screens committing shenanigans appropriate to two cantankerous roommates. Villain Drakken and Hero Ron are both sidelined for this whole story, and it is the motivating factor in getting their female counterparts to work towards the same goal. Kim Possible has to save her sidekick/boyfriend (please see continuity footnotes in the bullet point section, true believers), and Shego, Dr. Drakken’s green and black-clad muscle, has to save her boss. Bitter rivals have to unite to save their men!

Did you catch that reversal? This is a videogame that starts from the premise of transforming its two most prominent males into damsels in distress that must be rescued by the female heroes. And it was more subtle than in Super Princess Peach!

But more important than the clear example of girl power™ on display is that Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty damn fun game. It is a 2-D platformer / beat ‘em up! On a console! In the Playstation 2 era! That hardly ever happened! And, while there is definitely some Playstation 2 “jank” going on here, it is a pretty visually impressive game. And that’s great, because the gameplay nailed the general concept of flying around as a pair of extremely lethal gymnasts. You run. You jump. You rebound off walls, swing from flagpoles, and utilize a grappling hook when things get dicey. Is it perfect? No, because 2-D-in-3-D platforming has some issues, and this is a game that really needs some “coyote time” so Kimmy stops falling off ledges. But is it fun? Does it work? Yes and yes. Through multiple exciting venues (karate temple, British city streets, Tokyo city streets, zeppelin, snow base, giant monkey robot), Kim and Shego gracefully leap through lasers, wrecking balls, and a surprisingly high number of traffic jams. And the combat ain’t half bad, either! It is not Viewtiful Joe (about the only similar game I can think of from this era), PEW PEWbut it is also more interesting than your typical arcade beat ‘em up. And your heroines have gadgets and acrobatic moves that are beyond the usual “punch” and “jump kick” that are your customary, limited options. And, regardless of whether you can piledrive your opponents, it still feels enjoyable and kinetic, so you never lose that feeling of “running” through a level in pursuit of the latest villain.

In short, KP:WtS? is a game that really feels like inhabiting the title character. This is not some ridiculous adaptation wherein a sitcom has to be transformed into your funny dad fighting dinosaurs, or something completely out of left field wherein a beloved childhood icon is gathering eggs. This is Kim Possible, and you are controlling all the most action-y aspects of her adventures. And you get to play as the fan favorite villain, too! And, give or take a naked mole rat, you are only playing as women, and those women are the people driving the plot. In a property made for “girls”, the “girls” are center stage in every way, and there are zero concessions made to the “boy demographic” that is assumed to be the source of all videogame revenue. There is no unlockable bikini costume or super-powered male alternative character. This is a game about girls for girls. It is a girl game. And this boy enjoys it, too, because it is a great videogame.

tick tickAnd nobody has ever played it, because it was assumed to be just a random licensed game in 2006. There is no dedicated, marginally unhinged fandom online calling for a sequel. This title is forsaken to be forgotten in a year where the top games were Dead Rising, Bully, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Boy games. One of those games literally has two women in the title, but undisputedly stars a boy having a boy adventure with kidnapped childhood girlfriends and evil wizards. That is what is remembered. That is what today’s games are based on. And our modern Kim Possible properties aren’t even granted the chance to have a game.

Steven Universe gets a trilogy. Star Butterfly can’t even swing a gacha title.

We need more girl games. It is Possible.

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

  • System: Playstation 2. Look, Buena Vista Games had no idea Nintendo would eventually name one of their consoles after this game.
  • Number of players: There are multiplayer shenanigans available, but there does not appear to be a Kim/Shego continuous co-op mode. Boo!
  • Cat PossibleWhat’s in a name: Oh yeah, the title is a pun. “What’s the sitch(uation)” is Kim’s usual catch phrase, and the brains of Drakken and Ron got “switched”, so, “What’s the switch?” Or maybe it is about switching between Kim and Shego? Whatever! There are layers!
  • Voice Acting: The whole of this game features the actual stars of Kim Possible reprising all of their usual roles. So Drakken’s voice actor, John Di Maggio, is appearing in his seventeenth videogame of the Playstation 2 era. This might be a first for Patton Oswalt, though…
  • Continuity Corner: Alright, Kim Possible nerds, let’s all agree that Ron Stoppable and Kim Possible are officially dating during the events of this game. Yes, this adventure could be taking place at any point in the timeline according to dialogue, but Kim uses the EMP “toy” gun here, and she recognizes this weapon of choice. Said gun is introduced during the same adventure in the television series wherein Kim and Ron started dating, so, logically, this whole game has to take place after Kim Possible: So the Drama. Sidenote: I enjoy watching Kim Possible.
  • Favorite Stage: There are a few levels that go full hog on the whole “this is a videogame” thing. There’s an inexplicable clocktower in the middle of England! … Wait… is that supposed to be Big Ben? Does Kim Possible break a national landmark so she can get through a door? Bah! What’s important is that the final stage involves climbing a Godzilla-sized mechanical monkey, and that has more gears and platforms than anyone could ever need. Gimme some of dat.
  • Favorite Costume: You can earn costumes by collecting doodads throughout the various levels. The obvious best choice for both heroines is to have them switch outfits, but second place could go to Kim Possible’s fast food uniform. It looks very… normal for a character that is battling ninja monkeys.
  • Did you know? Speaking of fast food, the hangout spot in Kim Possible is a Taco Bell-esque chain Mexican restaurant by the name of Bueno Nacho. It is a pretty typical, deliberately campy parody of “tex-mex” American restaurants, and the “original location” is seen during the Kim Possible Movie…

    This is Bueno Nacho

    Look familiar? This is clearly a mashup of an old school McDonalds and another piece of “fake Mexican” Americana…

    This is South of the Border

    See? I’m not the only one that has been there!

  • Would I play again: Really fun, but really unlikely to play again. There are collectibles in every stage, and the actual gameplay of the levels/bonus levels are enjoyable. But after you’ve done everything? You’ve done everything. And if I am looking for a game that really has “joy of movement” down, Mario is right over there…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power for Nintendo Switch! Yes! Let’s put our money (words?) where our mouth is (where words come from) and look at a modern videogame “for girls”. Please look forward to it!

I'm just asking

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.