Tag Archives: spooky

FGC #574 Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection

Here they come!This was either the absolute perfect time to release Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, or the absolute worst.

Yes, folks, we’re going to talk about COVID, the past year, and probably squeeze some ghouls ‘n ghosts in there, too.

Let’s pretend this article is actually about the title matter, though, and address Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. It’s a Ghosts ‘n Gobilins game! In the year 2021! And it is a 2-D “old school” title like its forebearers! No 3-D Maximo for this Arthur! And, in a lot of ways, it follows the Contra 4 model of being “the most Ghosts ‘n Goblins”. Yes, there is new content across this latest Demon Realm, but it’s hard to point at any one thing and not see how it is a precise evolution of something that existed in a previous G ‘n G title. As an easy example: all of the bosses are foes Arthur has faced before, but they all have new patterns, so they are effectively new challenges wearing old skins. Same for the many venues Arthur must traverse, and the surprisingly high number of demon stomachs he is going to have to trudge through. Technically there is nothing and everything new here, and it’s a fun time for G ‘n G fans old and new.

But you don’t play a G ‘n G game for the scenic vistas, you play for the challenge. And does Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection challenge the player? Hell yes. GnGR leans completely into the challenging spectacle of previous G ‘n G titles, and even seems to ascend to the level of “masocore” that is usually only reserved for Super Mario Maker stages made by sexual deviants (you heard me, you maniacs!). In fact, it is possible that GnGR focuses too hard on difficulty, because there is a definite feeling that the “flow” of previous titles has been forsaken for checkpoint-based mini challenges. This title does not contain anything as dramatically epic as Super Ghouls’ second stage, so it is hard to escape the impression that the game was designed around a difficult-and-escalating series of “challenge areas”, not a cohesive Demon World. Or, put another way, for reasons that will never make any sense, there is the boss of a stage that is a deteriorating stone dragon, and then you must progress through a series of stone dragon riding challenges in the next stage. Wouldn’t the previous boss be Let's run!an excellent capper to that area that contains nothing but its brethren? Yes! But then the difficulty curve would arc in the wrong direction, and we cannot have that. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is about the challenge, so everything about its world is about the challenge first and foremost. You are playing a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game, over everything else, you should be worried about maintaining careful offensive with continual defense.

And constantly dodging everything in a concentrated, eternal effort to survive? Yeah, that’s been this last year in a nutshell.

I’m not writing this article for right now. I’m writing this essay so I don’t forget what 2020 has been. I’m writing this article so I can remind myself what has happened. I’m writing this for future generations trying to understand why there are millions of weirdos that act bizarre because “oh, they lived through COVID”. If you’re reading this in the Spring of 2021, shortly after GnGR’s release, then this is all going to be something you are inordinately familiar with. And that “something”? It’s that life has been impossible for the last year.

While it is still fresh in my mind and not polluted by nostalgia, here is the arc of the last year or so. As of New Year’s Day, 2020, I was celebrating in Athens, Greece on a European trip that my (now) wife had planned for our vacation. At the time, there were news reports that China had some kind of weird virus thing going on, and, by the tone of the reports, they were trying to contain it by setting up concentration camps. Ha ha! Weird, backwards China is stomping all over the rights of its citizens because they can’t keep a virus under control. And here I am, exploring the Parthenon with thousands of other tourists, and petting strange cats I found on the street. Hey, babe, it’s okay, I’m not going to get worms, I’ll wash my hands eventually.

We eventually came back to the States, and I formally asked the love of my life to marry me. That was the final day of February (Leap Day!), and there wasn’t much of a question as to whether she would agree to the arrangement, as we had already literally set the date a month prior (we travel backwards through time on occasion).Slashy slashy 11/20/20 was chosen because the numbers looked cool. Sweet! We proceeded to have a rockin’ engagement bash thrown by our friends, and we were partying like Gatsby. Things were looking up, and I’m pretty sure we hadn’t heard about that virus from another continent since January. Is that thing still around?

And then we hit March. It is remarkable, in retrospect, how quickly things changed. On what was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, many bars were not only 100% open and operating, but they had all sorts of “special” drinks that mocked the current situation and recommendations. Would you care for a quarantini? Or a maskgarita? COVID was considered little more than a punchline, and, while the locals were well aware that New York City was already suffering, nobody thought to consider that a virus ravaging an area a short car ride away would actually impact the local population.

And then we hit real quarantine. Offices hastily closing and frantically switching to “remote” setups. Retail businesses randomly declaring themselves essential because they sold absolutely critical items, like Funko Pops. And a deluge of information that may or may not have ever been correct. Masks were either essential or a silly precaution only employed by the most germophobic nerds. What could qualify as a mask? A scarf? A bandana? A banana? Whatever. And don’t touch anything! Or maybe do, but use hand sanitizer constantly! Assuming you can buy it at all, because it has been sold out for weeks! And speaking of shopping, leave your groceries in the garage for three days, because apparently they need to die, venture through the underworld, and then be reborn on the third day in order to be cleansed of all impurities. It was a weird time! You practically had to have a score card to determine whether someone wearing a facemask while bicycling was either the biggest dork on the planet, or a person that was infinitely more responsible than your average plebian.

WeeeeeBut it was all in pursuit of one thing: nobody wanted to get sick. The Corona Virus was reported as deadly from day one, and even people that claimed it was little more than “a big flu” knew they didn’t want to get sick, regardless of survivability. As more data was released regarding how ‘rona could impact the lungs of even a healthy person in unprecedented ways, it was confirmed that this was a virus that was more than just a week or two in bed. So we all did the only thing we could: we dodged. We followed the rules. We stayed home. If we went outside, we avoided other people. We went shopping as little as possible, and (if at all possible), during less crowded hours. We touched nothing. We hugged nothing. We spent all day, every day either “hiding” in quarantine, or venturing out only when it was possible to assess the value of every last action, and whether it was “worth it” to get the ‘rona because you had to go out for more paper towels. You want to die for that Taco Bell run? Be my guest. I’ll attend your funeral on Zoom.

And I’m not even going to consider the number of people that had to make that decision for the purpose of continuing to have an income. My wife and I both were fortunate enough to be in positions where we simply changed tracks to remote working (gee, that “switch” sounds so easy now), but so many people were forced into situations wherein they literally had to risk their lives so more fortunate folks could have food or healthcare. And this is to say nothing of people who had no choice but to risk their wellbeing for their family or friends that required their presence. I took up a job as a Legend of Zelda NPC, and walked around the neighborhood, dropping off supplies and food at the front door of my parents. But I am (again) lucky that any of the older folks in my life did not need constant care, nor did they require me to physically be there (potentially with an “outside the bubble” health aide involved, too). We threw around the term “heroes” a lot during the start of the pandemic, because it genuinely did seem heroic to risk your own lungs to help another, whether that be through produce stocking or helping an older person get upstairs.

RiitBut, as this life of dodging everything wore on, an important question began to surface: when can we have fun bbagain? And, as alluded to earlier, this presented a difficult question in my own life: when am I going to get married?

Our original wedding date was November 20, 2020. That sounded cool an’ all, but by the time we were finally able to meet with “the venue” in June, that already seemed dangerously optimistic. What had initially been a two week quarantine was still going strong come Summer. Some fragments of normalcy had begun to return (the only reason that we were meeting in June was because hotels had just been allowed to legally reopen), but we were still nervous about setting any concrete plans for November. It would be one thing to plan a wedding if it was a simple affair, but at the point you have to make decisions about booking a DJ, you want to know that your deposit is not going to go to waste. So, as of June 2020, we made the decision to push the wedding out to March of 2021. Surely “one year later” would give the world enough time to recover from all of this nonsense. Surely putting some money down on March being a good time would be a safe bet.

Lord, typing this in March of 2021 makes me wonder how I was ever so stupid.

In all honesty, I do not remember exactly when we determined we would go back to the November 20th date. I know a significant factor was determining that there would be no way in hell that allowing my wife’s family to fly in November or March would be a good idea, but I am not certain when that information was first evident. Regardless, we decided to reinstate the wedding on November 20, and plan for what would be (in my wife’s own words) “the most expensive backyard BBQ ever”. It would be outside. The guest list would only include local people that we were generally already interacting with at that point anyway (aka a lot of coworkers). We would pray for a sunny day, and hope for the best with… everything.

Hot stuffAnd if I thought life was nothing but dodging before, planning a wedding with the looming threat of coronavirus and its attendant issues was its own, zombie-deluge level challenge. Not only was there the general fear that the wedding cake or dress might not be available due to a local outbreak, there was also the hazard that a government could, at any moment, essentially make our wedding illegal. Okay, we vowed that the actual wedding ceremony would happen one way or another (if every participant had to be on a stream, so be it), but the actual reception was the tough nut to crack. We wanted to celebrate our union! We wanted to at least have the appearance of a normal wedding (albeit one without hugs)! We wanted to have some goldarned pigs in a blanket, dammit!

Spoilers: our extremely limited backyard BBQ of a wedding reception did go off without a hitch. The dress was there, the cake was there, and, more importantly than all of that, literally no one got sick as a result of our wedding. We did everything right, apparently, and the small enclave of our friends and family that attended had a good time and did not contract a deadly disease. It was everything we could ever hope for, given the circumstances.

And when I think of what could have happened, I am still shaken by what I could have done.

I do not know what I would have done if I had been showing some kind of symptoms shortly before the wedding. Or, I suppose if I’m being completely honest, I think I do know what I would have done. I think I would have gone forward with the wedding. If I knew I had coronavirus, if I outright tested positive, I know I would have cancelled everything. But if I “just” had a strong headache, a less responsive sense of smell, or was just kind of generally sneezing more? And I did not have enough time to get the results of a (presumably rapid) test? I probably would have gone forward with the wedding as planned. Hey, everybody gets an upset stomach before their wedding, right? It’s probably nothing! Why should I cancel the months of planning and disappoint all those happy guests with a no-show groom? Why not endanger the lives of everyone I know and care about for a chance at some decent cake?

Bad timesAnd it is freaking horrifying knowing that it is possible you could do that. It would have been difficult to cancel the wedding and its attendant features so close to the event, so I probably would have gone ahead and allowed people to be infected because to do otherwise would be a hassle. But I did not have to make that decision, and I possibly would have made the right decision (just reschedule, you absolute asshole). And, relatedly, it is equally horrifying to know that anyone else could be in that same situation, and making the same wrong decision. And infecting everyone around them. And spreading a deadly virus even further. And all in the name of getting those little eggroll things that only seem to exist at catered events. Acknowledge how you must multiply all of these potentials for virus transmission by your entire life and everywhere you have to be just to survive, and life becomes a gauntlet of dodging, dodging, dodging. Anyone could have made selfish decisions. Anyone could have made well-meaning decisions to help others, but wound up infected as a result. Anyone could be a threat to you, your family, and everyone you know. And it takes little more than a sneeze…

And that has been life for the last year. That’s the gameplay of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. Dodge, dodge, dodge and hope you don’t make the wrong jump into an abyss. Hope you have the right equipment for all the challenges you’ll face. Hope you don’t have to make a terrible choice because of the sheer randomness of what is happening. In much the same way an hour and a half flew by while I fought the same boss over and over, a year has now gone by while I spent all of my spare mental energy trying to determine if it is safe to deal with some jerk that seems to genuinely believe it is safe to go see Tenant. We have all spent the last year dodging assaults from all possible directions. We’ve all spent a year playing Ghost ‘n Goblins Resurrection.

But, end of the day, at least I can say I beat Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. And we’ll find all the shadow orbs in this pandemic, too.

FGC #574 Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection

  • This sucksSystem: Seems like we’re only looking at Nintendo Switch at the moment.
  • Number of players: Arthur is a single hero kind of guy, but he can get assistance from a second “assistant” player. But that’s cheating!
  • Get those upgrades: Holy cow, Gold Armor is a game-changer. And I would not have ever known if not for the skill unlock system eventually leading to an “armor powerup” spell. Yes, it takes forever to charge, but being able to start from practically any checkpoint with a gold armor powerup is amazing. It well and truly makes GnGR one of those games that frontloads the difficulty, and things get a lot easier as you level up.
  • Favorite Weapon: Gold Armor-Crossbow is practically Contra’s Spread Gun, and it can fell a Red Arremer on its charge in a single shot. I liked being able to sling arrows already, guys, you didn’t have to sweeten the deal that much.
  • Favorite Boss: I like me some flamin’ devil dogs. Fire Cerberus? Whatever that puppy happens to be called, he’s my favorite boss, as he is pure G ‘n G in a nutshell. The whole thing seems impossible at first, and there is always a level of randomness, but you can overcome if you figure out the patterns and tells. Or you have that golden arrow thing, too. Whatever works.
  • Step into the Shadows: I was expecting the “second run” of GnGR to be the typical “the real game starts now” wherein the stages are the same, just harder with additional traps and spawns. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the “shadow stages” are more or less entirely new challenges with familiar level layouts/graphics. Good on GnGR for “for real” doubling the length of the game, and not just including its own Very Hard mode.
  • ChompyDid you know? Satan appears as the third boss (or fifth, if you are completing all the stages). There are (many!) demons that stand above Satan in this universe. And that reminds me: despite being Satan, the big guy rarely gets to star as a final boss. Any games you can think of where straight up named-Satan is the finale, and not some random fallen angel (ala Lucifer)?
  • Would I play again: Like a Mega Man X title, it is genuinely fun to replay earlier stages with a complete set of upgrades. And it is challenging-fun to play the game without a precise loadout. So I’m probably going to play the game with one of those choices. … But never both.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Big Bird’s Egg Catch for the Atari 2600. We’re going from 2021 to 1983! Please look forward to it!

These dorks

FGC #572 Night Trap

It's a trapThe sooner you internalize this simple fact, the happier you will be: Nobody knows what they are doing.

Let’s talk about the game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything. Let’s talk about Night Trap.

It is reasonable to assume you have heard of Night Trap. But do you know what the game actually is? It is interactive fiction! It is a playable movie! It is a game that ostensibly tries to be a “videogame” (as opposed to, like, one of those “games” you can play with a DVD remote), but features real, human actors. Night Trap has “graphics” on par with your average Marvel movie, which was practically unheard of at the time. In fact, “practically” nothing, Night Trap was approved for production in 1986, and filmed (with the intention of being released shortly) in 1987.

1987! That was the same year as Castlevania: Simon’s Quest, R-Type (1), and Final Fantasy (1)! Can you imagine a videogame having such amazing fidelity in 1987! And it isn’t Dragon’s Lair! This could have revolutionized gaming as we know it!

Heavy emphasis on the “could have” there, though. Years before the release of Night Trap, a murderer’s row of people that were ostensibly successful in the western videogame development world of the 80’s (Nolan Bushnell! Even my beloved videogame-shunning wife knows that name!), gathered together to create what would be this infamous title. Within this group, Tom Zito produced a device by the name of the NEMO. NEMO (considered so valuable, its acronym literally stood for Never Ever Mention Outside) could use VHS technology to create “movie-based” gaming through playing four video tracks. This technology was used to sculpt a proof-of-concept prototype, Scene of the Crime, which clearly displayed how one could enjoy a “murder mystery” type game. Clue was a fruitful property, right? Well, someone at Hasbro agreed, and NEMO was on its way to powering Night Trap.

What else is on?It is probably worth noting at this point that the brilliant minds that had previously been responsible for videogames as we know them maybe did not have a great idea of what people wanted from videogames. I have written about this phenomenon before, but the first twenty years of gaming were practically defined by people realizing that something would be a cool idea for a videogame (detective work!) and then just completely blowing it with an execution that was about as fun as watching an adorable puppy choking on your math homework (passively watching monitors for maybe something to happen!). The same generation of genius programmers that brought us the likes of Asteroids and Pitfall settled on the “gameplay” of Scene of the Crime being little more than meticulously watching a movie. Nobody wants to hold a controller in their hands and quietly wait for something to maybe happen. But Scene of the Crime, excellent tech demo or not, is just that, and Night Trap would not be much better. You may have been responsible for the whole of gaming in the 80’s, guys, but that didn’t mean you had a damn clue what would make a fun videogame.

And speaking of people that did not know what would work, let’s get back to Hasbro. Hasbro was ready to fund the production of Night Trap (one of the first videogames to include live actors, “movie” directors, and a director of photography that would go on to shoot Forrest Gump), but there were a few notes. Unfortunately, Hasbro was a toy company, so they were downright afraid of any lawsuits that may arise from violence that could be copied by an impressionable child. So the “vampires” intended to be Night Trap’s antagonists weren’t allowed to actually draw blood, and they had to use some manner of grabby-arm trash collector to ensnare their victims. This meant everything slid precipitously into the “goofy” category. Additionally, Hasbro eventually learned of the cost of producing the NEMO system game console that would actually play Night Trap (MSRP in 2021 dollars? About $630), and decided that, grabby vampires or not, Night Trap was literally not worth it. Hasbro purchased and funded the NEMO and its attendant games, but dropped ‘em like a hot potato(head).

Kind of a small dungeonAnd Hasbro in the 80’s really did know toys! They produced Jem (of the Holograms, natch) who once outsold Barbie. They won a lawsuit that allowed them to sell Transformers, or Go-Bots, or something that was a robot that could turn into probably not a robot. They purchased a children’s furniture company, and improved its profitability from millions to billions. And Hasbro was right on the cusp of being responsible for Barney the Dinosaur of Infinite Love/Money. This was a Hasbro that was hugely successful and poised to become the number one toy company in the known universe.

Yet, they could not foresee that new technology would be costly. Nor could they foresee that vampires using zoo-equipment might have unanticipated legal consequence. Brilliant toy company, stupid videogame producer.

But, like a vampire hobbling through the suburbs, Night Trap would not die. Rob Fulop, one of Night Trap’s designers, would call it a day at this point, and go on to be responsible for Petz. But Tom Zito purchased the rights to the NEMO games, and eventually founded his own company in an effort to make an appeal to Sony and its forthcoming Super NES CD-ROM system. That was a dead end and a half, so Zito migrated over to the only decent CD-based platform in town, Sega and its Sega CD.

So, six years after being conceived and five years after being filmed, Night Trap was finally released for the Sega CD in 1992. And, at this point in time, it was only a spectacular failure.

Get 'emHasbro may have been divorced from the project, but their changes remained. A game that was once supposed to feature ninja gradually morphed into something that included vampires, and now neutered vampires were scampering about. But it would be disingenuous to simply blame Hasbro for this debacle. Those ninja were replaced with vampires in the first place because it was determined that too much darkness would play poorly on modern television screens. So a game that was initially designed to be cloaked in shadow had to step out into the harsh light of poor illumination. What’s more, the one interactive bit of Night Trap, that the player could activate traps that would eject or otherwise harm the villains of the piece, necessitated some extremely awkward behavior from the stuntmen playing these malcontents. So our Draculas had to be reduced to “henchmen” that skulked along like Renfields that had been forsaking the blood for far too much hooch. And, as one might expect, those “real live actors” involved in the filming of Night Trap had no real idea what they were doing. To be clear, they were likely consummate professionals, but this was a new medium, and its not like a director can direct when they do not even have a full picture of what the final product is going to be. In short, Night Trap was a mess, and practically every corner of it exuded b-movie shlock.

And, oh yeah, the gameplay was frustrating, obtuse, and demanded a lot more dedication than Night Trap should have ever required. Do you know what color code is required at Minute 4 in the bedroom? No? Well get ready to watch someone die, stupid!

Actually, watching someone die repeatedly might make an impact on an impressionable player… Huh, I wonder if anyone else noticed that? Anyone like, you know, the entire United States Senate.

NERDS!Night Trap saw release in 1992, and it is cited as one of the chief reasons we had the 1993 Congressional Hearings on Videogames. Night Trap and its tremendously more popular cousin, Mortal Kombat, were cited as the primary motivating factors in this series of hearings, but, make no mistake, videogames had been a popular scapegoat for years. In 1982, Surgeon General Koop claimed that videogames could be affecting children’s health, as apparently Pac-Mania had infected the general populace. And, as Hasbro was well aware, this was the era when “won’t someone please think of the children” escalated to the point that you could barely have a dude in furry underwear bully a skeleton without someone shouting about kids hitting each other with homemade nunchucks. And, as we all know, once you involve the welfare of children, you know there are predators that are perfectly happy to profit off that fear, whether that be through actual profits or an eternal campaign bullet point.

In the fullness of time? These congressional hearings did have a good outcome: the creation of a ratings system for videogames. Considering the same had existed for movies for years, this was an excellent innovation for a medium that was still in its fledgling stages. But beyond that? This whole hearing was nonsense from top to bottom. The likes of Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl were obviously punching down on a medium that did not yet have the clout to resist such a slanderous public hearing, and certain companies took the occasion to hurl accusations at their most prominent competitors. Howard Lincoln says Sega hurts kids that Nintendon’t. Yes, there were probably some genuinely concerned people involved in these hearings that frequently showcased clips of “videogame violence”, but it seems like the biggest names in gaming and politics were mostly just there to advance their own agendas (and Captain Kangaroo, too, who had reasons known only to him).

She's basically dancingAnd this was and continues to be terrible. Ever hear about Seduction of the Innocent? It was a book published by a psychologist in 1954, and it eventually led to Congress launching an inquiry that neutered the comics industry for decades. In short, Fredric Wertham called Batman gay (not an exaggeration, true believers), and that snowballed into the giants of the comics industry corralling guidelines into a path that incidentally promoted the very comics that those industry giants were selling. And if you weren’t one of those giants? If you were publishing horror and/or horny material? Sorry, you are out of business. Literally! And this meant that the Western comic book medium became regarded as the domain of children for (apparently) the rest of time. Want to see what an American “manga market” could look like? Too bad! We had Seduction of the Innocent and a bunch of gold-diggers pushing their own superheroes forward, and now all we get is Iron Man, Iron Man: Civil War, and Iron Man: First Sip.

And it could have happened to videogames, too! Actually, it absolutely did. Thanks to ESRB regulations and conservative retailers, videogames were not sold in many brick and mortar stores if they ranked as an “Adults Only” title. And considering that physical stores were all that existed for a long time, we didn’t see anything that could even prod at that AO rating until three console generations later. And while no one is exactly lamenting a lack of Senran Kagura on the Super Nintendo, it is hard to say if something like the entire Suda51 or Yoko Taro oeuvre would have been allowed in the wake of 1990s videogame panic. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, gaming needs more voices in its chorus, and we would be missing out on some very distinct tones if we universally outlawed android butts.

But that was the sad reality of videogames for decades. All thanks to a pack of opportunistic senators. All thanks to some very imprudent videogame directing. All thanks to very fearful toy manufacturers. All thanks to some ill-advised hardware consideration. Going back years, damage was done to the videogame medium for decades, all thanks to a series of ostensible pillars in their respective fields making the wrong choices.

Love this guyAnd what can we learn from this? Well, at every step in the process no one really did anything objectively wrong. Wanting to drop brutal ninja for fantastic vampires is not wrong. Wanting to protect children from the horrors of violence is not wrong. Wanting to revolutionize gaming in new and exciting ways is not wrong. But the end result? Night Trap scarred gaming for decades, but it was the men (I’m going to go ahead and assume it was mostly men here) in charge that made the repeated decisions to somehow make this product and its legacy worse and worse. No one did anything wrong, but they made the wrongest decisions possible. And, as a result, Night Trap became a game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything in its wake.

Kind of makes you wonder what would happen if these people were in charge of something actually important

FGC #572 Night Trap

  • System: Despite objections from 1990s Nintendo, Night Trap is now available for the Nintendo Switch. Amazing! It is also available for the Sega CD, Sega CD/32X (long story), 3DO (such a cursed system), and, eventually, the Playstation 4/Vita (also significantly cursed).
  • Number of players: No way you could play this with anyone else. Ever.
  • Port-o-Call: The Sega CD is a bit of a… let’s say the graphics took a hit. Not all recordings are created equal. Or at a resolution above 10 x 10 pixels. But the 32X version is a significant improvement. And the modern versions actually look like the game is supposed to look. That said, it’s all the same terrible game, so don’t get too excited.
  • What us even happening?Let’s talk about the plot: A lot can be said for how the gameplay is terrible, and the acting is horrendous. But one thing that is often overlooked is that, whether it’s because the writing has to account for multiple characters that may or may not be kidnapped, or simply because no one knew what they were doing, the ostensible protagonists are wholly forgettable. You are supposed to be saving lives here! And the only character that even seems worthy of having a name is the secret vampire ham-man! Everybody else is just horrible, and that is likely a contributing factor in Night Trap being about as fondly remembered as polio.
  • So, did you beat it? Naw. Went ahead and watched a “full” run through on youtube, but there is no way I am going to take the time to carefully map out exactly where “I” have to be when. The whole thing is just exhausting for the payoff of having watched a complete movie.
  • For the Sequel: Everything about Night Trap/Scene of the Crime would eventually “work” in other games. Scene of the Crime’s concept of detective work would eventually be adapted into the hugely entertaining Phoenix Wright franchise by finding the right level of interface for solving a murder, and the basic gameplay of Night Trap would later work as the Five Nights at Freddy’s series. So, in other words, what the NEMO needed was more whacky lawyers/animatronics.
  • Did you know? The other game that was supposed to launch with the Hasbro NEMO? Sewer Shark. Now there’s a system seller for the ages!
  • Would I play again: Not for all the wannabe vampires in Castlevania. This game is a bear in every conceivable way. And not a cuddly bear! One of those bears that leaves you generally dissatisfied with your current organ count.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bowser’s Fury! Or Furry! It’s one of those! Please look forward to it!

It's out of control
Any version that doesn’t include a Genesis controller is not real.

FGC #566 Rockin’ Kats

Let's go catsHow much does the happiness of your protagonist impact your enjoyment of a videogame?

Today we are looking at Rockin’ Kats, a forgotten gem from the good folks at Atlus. Long before Atlus produced videogames about teenagers obsessed with the subconscious and/or time traveling, there was Rockin’ Kats, a game about a cat-man fighting a bunch of dog-men for his cat-lady friend. It seems that Willy, aka “The Rockin’ Kat”, has caught the attention of a local mob boss, Mugsy, and Will’s girlfriend, Jill, has been kidnapped. Willy thus must defeat four of Mugsy’s chief lieutenants across four different bases, and then make the final assault on Mugsy’s compound to save Jill once and for all. But don’t worry about Willy, gentle reader, he’s got a “punch gun” that can clobber bad guys, grab objects, and even double as a grappling hook. Combine this with Willy’s natural, NES-born ability to jump around like a maniac, and he should have Jill home and loving the Jazz Age by lunchtime.

And, likely as result of being a “late” Nintendo Entertainment System title, Rockin’ Kats is oozing personality. The entire adventure is presented as a series of television “episodes”, so there’s the distinct feeling that this whole story is less a “videogame”, and more of a syndicated cartoon akin to Tom & Jerry. Dog kidnaps cat, other cat fights dog, the day is saved, repeat in half hour intervals at 7 AM every weekday morning. What’s more, every sprite is impressive, so the individual mooks are distinctive, every mini boss is a unique challenge, and the bosses are memorable for more than their patterns. And Willy! That dude is just having a ball scampering through cities, mountains, and sewers! He bounds and punches and flips through the air with ease. I mean, take a look at this hep cat…

Just flipping away like it ain’t no thang, and then landing with a perfect little flourish that is sure to wow the judges. Willy might be in a life or death situation here, but that’s not the first thing on his kitty brain. Willy is not worried. Willy is enjoying it.

And that got this glorious blogger to thinking: how many other videogame heroes actually enjoy their jobs?

Let us start with the obvious: Simon Belmont does not enjoy being Simon Belmont. Poor ol’ barbarian does exactly what he is destined to do, and is literally cursed to carry around assorted organs for his job well done. Similarly, it is hard to imagine any other Belmont actually enjoying their sworn duty, as, best case scenario for all of them is the opportunity to probably not be run out of town on a cross. Maria might be the sole exception to this rule in Castlevania, as she openly and loudly volunteers for vampire-slaying duty, but she is all mopey about every godamned thing in time for Symphony of the Night, so it appears this job is destined to take a toll.

Super fun parkAnd speaking of generations taking a toll, there is Mega Man. The super fighting robot could have spent the rest of his days working as a maid, but he famously volunteered to pew down his former buddies. And then he did it 82 more times. Or more? Are we counting the teleporter fights? No matter! What’s important is that Mega Man 2 laid the groundwork for solemn Mega Men way back in 1988, which eventually led to The Melancholy of Mega Man X five years later. Now there’s a guy that hates his job! Mega Man X is literally the most powerful reploid on the planet, has a great support group of family and friends that are seemingly invincible/immortal, and he gets a new set of armor from his dad every holiday season; but he still spends most of his adventures sitting around moping about how the cannon on his arm only knows for sure when he’s finally going to stop crying. In short, if you are playing as Mega Man X, you are playing as a character that hates his life.

But it is not all bad for iconic heroes! Mario initially was wholly mute in his adventures, and it was up to the player to determine whether or not Mario was enjoying his switch in vocation from plumber to pouncer. But from Mario 64 on, Mario has been “wee”ing and “woohoo”ing across battlefields, and, give or take occasionally drowning in silent agony, Mario visibly enjoys his time rescuing princesses. Conversely, anytime Luigi is in a group, he hoots along with his bro, but when he is alone, he is an unmistakable mix of scared and annoyed (sca-nnoyed… no, wait, that’s just what happens when The Mighty Mighty Bosstones come on the playlist). Luigi does not like exploring a haunted house, houses, or a motel, and the only thing he is not afraid of is someone knowing he is afraid. But between the brothers, there is a beoveralled tie-breaker: Wario. Right from the first time he stole a whole damn castle, and then immediately afterward when he tried to steal another castle, Wario has squeezed enjoyment out of his job just as easily as squeezing a garlic bulb. You can tell from that omnipresent wicked grin that Wario is not going to let some malevolent genie or gang of pirates get him down, so he is enjoying every time he gets to be a protagonist.

That gorillaAnd, in the same way you can just know that Wario enjoys Warioing, having a happy protagonist can impact your feelings on a videogame. It is not a coincidence that Mega Man X(1), a game that just generally nods to X having some issues, is a more well received title than Mega Man X7, wherein X is so depressed, you have to fight just to get him to leave his lounger. Similarly, Super Metroid is a game wherein Samus experiences untold trauma (you ever accidentally wind up blowing up the planet you once called home? It isn’t great), but does not dwell on such. If you want Sad Samus, you have to hit Metroid: Other M, which you won’t, because there isn’t a person alive that would recommend that game. Sure, you could easily argue that these “sad” games have other factors that make them terrible, but there is a greater reason that people so vehemently defend why these games are bad. It is one thing to play a game that is bad, but it is another thing to play a game that makes your hero feel bad.

And if you need further proof of this, look no further than the Prince of Persia franchise from the early 21st century. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was an immensely popular game staring a hero that loved his job. Sure, this prince had screwed up the whole of his world to the point that he accidentally murdered his entire family and friends, but he also could rewind time and run up walls. And what could be more fun than that? The whole narrative conceit of Sands of Time is that Prince is practically bragging about his adventure, and any flubs or errant deaths are just “that didn’t really happen”. Prince likes being Prince. Meanwhile, the sequel, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within had the exact same gameplay, some improvements to the battle system, and a protagonist that would rather take an angry nap than fight a relentless sand monster. Guess what everyone focused on? Guess why IGN dropped Sands of Time’s 9/10 score to Warrior Within’s meager 8.5/10? (Look, that 0.5 meant a lot at the time.) The main reason was inevitably that this new, surly Prince was dramatically less fun to play as and with.

Hey, it's a fun sewerWe play videogames for fun, dammit. Unless the whole point of the game is oppressive horror (yes, my Bloodborne create-a-saddy might be scowling right now), your protagonist should be happy. What is the point otherwise? Do you get off on making shirtless, Persian men do whatever you say, despite their persistent objections? Because, uh… if you’re into that… maybe shoot me a private message. There are some titles on Steam…

Bah! Never mind that! Just remember that it is important that a game’s protagonist actually enjoys being the game’s protagonist. Luigi might get a title game every console generation or so, but he’s sure not the dude hosting endless kart championships. By the same token, Willy’s exuberance has undoubtedly made him the most popular hero ever produced by Atlus, and we’re all awaiting this Rockin’ Kat’s next adventure.

Keep on rockin’ a complete lack of angst, Willy.

FGC #566 Rockin’ Kats

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for its first and only release. You could technically count its presence on a PlayChoice-10 as an arcade release if you really wanted.
  • Number of players: Just the one kat. A sequel would have probably introduced Milly Kat.
  • The haunted dobermanMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a great NES action-platformer with a fun character and expressive sprites. It is also one of those gauntlets that somehow makes the final, fifth level as long as the other four stages combined. Complete with including every boss and mini boss! It is… an odd choice. But regardless of a final stage that may as well be the entire game, it is very entertaining, and a fine way to spend a couple of hours having fun with a grapplin’ cat.
  • An end: The final boss is defeated by punching Mugsy so hard, he is launched onto the moon. Very good, very dragon ball. But after the credits roll, you are presented with an even harder “second quest” that drops all your weapons and items, and will end after an extremely limited three lives. This is Rockin’ Kats: Super Hard Mode, and if you feel like finishing that, you are a better cat than me.
  • Favorite Weapon: The… what are they called?… Two Balls? Double Shot? Whatever, those two thingys extend your weapon’s reach just enough so as to make practically every boss a cakewalk. I enjoy cake, so that’s my weapon of choice, even if the mace really looks cool.
  • Favorite Boss: You cannot go wrong with a four-handed robot that eventually transforms into some bastardized version of Cut Man. Dr. Wily would be proud.
  • Eat your heart out, CastlevaniaDid you know? There are a few codes hidden in Rockin’ Kats. If you pause the game and press Down+A+B, you will have six lives and full health. If you pause the game and press Up+A+B, you will lose all of your lives, and only have one sliver of health remaining. Please remember to use the proper code for the proper situation.
  • Would I play again: This is a great NES game! I would really like to see what could have been done with Super Rockin’ Kats, but we do not live in such a glorious world. I suppose I will be content with what we have for now…

What’s next? The season of love is upon us, so it’s time for Wankery Week yet again! Come back Monday for some mildly NSFW hijinks as we take a look at whether or not some Smash Sisters should be allowed into a boys’ club!

Gotta fly fast
Another blue dude that very much enjoys his job.

FGC #563 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Classic Mode & Wallachia Reign of Dracula

Thighs!Look, I’ve had a few “rules” for this project from the very beginning. One of those rules is that I not exclusively focus on the big, obvious titles. Stretch Panic needs love, too, and we don’t have to spend all day talking about Super Mario Bros. 3 and its infernal hopping shoes. This is basic stuff, people, and, while I feel I need to address a few games before I wrap up this blog around post #655 or so (less than a hundred to go! I’m sticking to that! Probably!), I am doing my best to not make this blog an endless parade of Final Fantasy titles. There is still time for the likes of Mappy Land!

But, my good dudes, I have a confession to make: I can’t stop posting about Castlevania games. I’m sorry, but they are so… what are the words I’m looking for here… They are so simultaneously rigidly defined, yet variable. There are always the same basic pieces in play, but there are so many ways those components can be arranged that you get a different game every time. Sometimes there is a single castle, sometimes that castle gets flipped upside down, and sometimes you are just stalking around the countryside looking for ribs. You’ve got options! And combine that with gameplay that is similarly “familiar, but different”, and you have a franchise that could prompt this humble blogger to write literally volumes.

So imagine my relief when the gods gifted me two Castlevania games that weren’t really Castlevania games. I don’t have to reset the “days since a Castlevania post” sign now! Hooray!

Let’s start with the Not-Castlevania game that is the most Castlevania: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Classic Mode.

Flip alongFirst of all, it is known that this blog has previously based entire articles around DLC expansions. So let us be clear here: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Classic Mode is not an expansion. It is not bonus content. It is an entire game. Why is it so easy to plainly state that? Because B:RotNCM is exactly the length of Castlevania (1). It is by definition a complete game because it apes a complete game in unmistakable ways. There are 5.5 stages with six bosses. It is a complete journey through one (1) haunted mansion, and contains grinding gears, underground waterways, and a surprisingly survivable fall from a tower. There is an axe-bone, shard-stop watch, cross-boomerang, and dagger-uhhh-dagger. This is Castlevania to a C, and, if your only memories of Castlevania exist within a fog that can accumulate over a few years, you would be forgiven for believing this is little more than a remake with HD graphics (and maybe a few serial numbers filed off the Medusa Heads).

But, like a good Castlevania title, the devil’s in the details (vampire’s in the variables?). While Miriam may initially appear to be as limited as the strong-but-crotchety Simon Belmont, actually playing with your protagonist reveals that she has all the finesse of the much more acrobatic Richter Belmont. And that’s kind of amazing! Bloodstained: Classic Mode effectively marries the energetic options of Castlevania’s final “level-based” 2-D hero with the general, measured layouts of the franchise’s premiere. This creates the unrivaled experience of producing a Castlevania game that has a laser-focused path to victory (no branching rivers in this Castlevania adventure) but with a heroine that can afford to backflip away from an encroaching flea-monkey. And when you start finding the “secret” ways to use Miriam’s entire arsenal…

Weeeee

Well, who needs Grant when you’re a one woman army of super powers? Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Classic Mode initially gives the impression of a nostalgic rehash of things that came before, but is its own experience in all the right ways.

And, speaking of surprisingly innovative titles, there’s Wallachia Reign of Dracula, another game that follows a warrior woman fighting a castle lord through a very different path.

The bestiary has defined Castlevania practically from its inception. You fight Dracula, obviously, but on your way through his humble abode you also battle a Greek Gorgon, a bat of unusual size, Egyptian pharaohs, and Frankenstein(‘s monster buddy, Flea Man). In later games, Dracula’s menagerie would expand to include elder gods, headless pirates, and an arguably extraneous number of succubi. You could imagine an entire tale about where Dracula found all those malcontents! Bloodstained, Classic Mode or no, followed this template while swapping gorgons for dullahans, but still retained much of the (public domain) cast of characters. The message is clear: If you’re going to fight Dracula/a reasonable simulacrum of a nefarious count, you’re going to have to put your weapon of choice through more than a few zombies.

Wallachia Reign of Dracula poses a different question: what if Vlad III Dracula aka Vlad the Impaler was just, ya know, a dude that liked impaling?

Don't look backElcin is a woman that had a seriously bad Tuesday when Vlad invaded her hometown, kidnapped her brother, and killed her parents. Elcin vowed revenge, and took up a bow and sword to track down her tormentor and kick his ass straight off his throne. But Vlad isn’t going to take this insurrection lying down, so he sicks his entire army on the poor woman. And that army? Well, there are a lot of soldiers. Some of the soldiers are abnormally tall, and a couple of ‘em have horses. There are also some really agile dudes that flip around with deadly claws. Oh! And there are a few dogs, hawks, and bears, too. Other than that? Sorry, this Vlad is entirely mundane, so there isn’t a reanimated skeleton to be seen. There are plenty of corpses, as Vlad is still just wild about impaling, but those carcasses aren’t going anywhere. There is horror for Elcin to encounter, but those horrors are no more fantastic than a visit to a funeral home (well, at least a funeral home in a remarkably bad neighborhood).

But a mundane world does not mean Elcin is trapped in a boring game. Wallachia Reign of Dracula publicly advertises that it is a retro title in the vein of Castlevania, but it is much closer to an old-school “arcade action” arcade title like Magic Sword or Willow. And that’s pretty great, as that whole genre seems to have fallen by the wayside as retro titles continue to revisit the likes of Mega Man or Final Fight. The concept of occasionally jumping over obstacles but mostly wholesale murdering a pile of anonymous grunts with long range weapons needs love, too! And you’ve got a sword that works more like a shield for incoming projectiles, too, so there is more nuance here than “grab a turbo controller and let those unlimited arrows fly”.

Look out for jugglersIn fact, it is somewhere in that meticulous combat that Wallachia Reign of Dracula feels the most like a Castlevania title. Even when there aren’t werewolves stalking about, there is still pressure around every corner, and the most important decisions you ever make are regarding threat control. You can take the time to stop, aim, and shoot at that solider that is pacing back and forth on that platform, or you can ignore him, and hope he doesn’t shoot back. Choose your own adventure! And, while such a choice may seem simple in and of itself (how long will it take you to aim? A second? That’s time that could be spent jumping!), the real challenge starts when there are moving platforms, flaming catapults, and an entire tank bearing down on your heroine. Now what do you do? Now what do you prioritize? Make your choices fast, because you’ll be dead on the ground if you can’t reach the verdict. But don’t worry, you do have a few extra lives before the next continue, so if you choose wrong, at least you can see how it might have been if you had just used a charge arrow on that bear instead of relying on rapid fire. Soon, you’ll be reflexively sniping down murderous hawks with ease, but when you first encounter these challenges, there is much to consider before making your (possibly fatal) move.

And this is the true essence of Castlevania. There may be a thousand variables in a Belmont adventure, but, in the end, it’s about choice. It’s about situations where you can go left or right, and, head’s up, right is going to get you killed. In the “old school” games, like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Classic Mode or Wallachia Reign of Dracula, these choices are generally about monster management. Do you really want to waste your hearts chucking axes at a bone dragon, or do you trudge up those stairs while it is still tossing fire all over the place? In the “Metroidvania” titles, these choices are generally less deadly, but choosing to explore a random nook or cranny may reward (or punish) your protagonist in a myriad of ways. Castlevania is about choice, and games that truly carry on the spirit of Castlevania know that. Both of these featured games know that secret of Castlevania, even if they choose different paths to teach that lesson.

… And, man, I’m going to have a hard time claiming this article wasn’t about Castlevania…

FGC #563 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Classic Mode

  • What time is it?System: Wherever Bloodstaineds are sold. Playstation 4, Xbox One, Steam, and Nintendo Switch all seem like viable options.
  • Number of players: Miriam can’t even bring along an old lady shouting for blood on this solitary journey.
  • Hey, wasn’t there another Bloodstained “classic mode”? Yes, but that experience is much more of… how to put this… a modern interpretation of retro. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a game that very dedicatedly included new and interesting features that would never have been possible in an OG Castlevania. And, complete with the sequel introducing a dog mech, the whole thing is a lot closer to a Mega Man X / Zero title, anyway. It can’t be “classic” if your hero spins around in the air with a sword twirling in an endless circle.
  • What about Ninja Gaiden? Oh, screw (attack) you.
  • Favorite Boss: I appreciate that the Mummy du jour is replaced with a pair of doppelgangers. I generally welcome the ways the bosses have been adapted to their “modern” forms, but far too many of them seemed too… familiar. At least the doppelgangers weren’t instantly recognizable exclusively for their obvious connections to the past… even if they are equally weak to “holy water”.
  • Did you know? My solemn belief is that there is no way that Dullahan boss wasn’t also a reference to that wannabe Terminator from Contra 3.
  • Getting toward the endWould I play again: This is a difficult choice! Like, I very much enjoy Classic Mode, but it is also just close enough to other experiences so as to feel… unnecessary? Basically, I have the capability to play Castlevania (1) again, and I don’t do that often, because I usually play the later Castlevania titles. And, in a similar manner, I think I would play Curse of the Moon 2 again before Classic Mode, simply because I like its gameplay options. Will I ever play Classic Mode again? Probably, but it would be as more of a curiosity in a few years than the feeling that I really need to play the game again. And Bloodstained keeps producing other great expansion content, too…

FGC #563 Wallachia Reign of Dracula

  • I know that guy!System: Nintendo Switch ‘n Steam seems to be the answer here. Maybe it will see other systems, but hopping on Switch is enough for me.
  • Number of Players: You’re doing this one alone.
  • Favorite Opponent: You cannot go wrong with fighting bears. They’re so… bears.
  • More Power: “Subweapons” seem to be split into categories. There are special arrows that appear in specifically limited quantities (similar to the items of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and there are helper characters that are powered by collectable orbs (like the old days of Castlevania hearts). On the plus side, the ally abilities are pretty damn powerful, and can absolutely demolish a boss or two. On the other hand, there were occasions where I traipsed through an entire level and never gained enough orbs to use one of those attacks once. I like a screen-clearing attack as much as the next guy, but this seems like it could have been balanced better.
  • More connections: WRoD and Bloodstained are connected in more ways than their obvious influence. For one thing, Elcin can earn Miriam’s default outfit from Bloodstained (but, unfortunately, she doesn’t get to meet a murder barber that can change her hairstyle). Also, both WRoD and B:RotN Classic Mode limit the ability to see the entire game if you play on Easy Mode. This is universally a dick move, and I don’t care who hears that.
  • Let's roll!Did you know? There are two distinct places in this game where a mysterious “fog” is piped into a room, and then “supernatural” things happen, like Vlad’s bride becoming a succubus, or a dragon statue breathing fire. This is a pretty unique way to sneak something more fantastic into a game that is very grounded, and I encourage more videogame protagonists to get super high while battling evil. Yoshi was cool with it.
  • Would I play again: Probably yes. This is a fun “arcade” style game, so I’m probably going to stick another quarter in there in the future. The first few levels are very smooth, so I could see playing them while waiting for my latest Switch purchase to download.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby Super Star for the SNES! Speaking of franchises I can never stop talking about, here’s Kirby! Six times! Please look forward to it!

Just shoot arrows at it