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FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

Microtransaction time!It is important to remember that sometimes the bad guys do lose.

Today we are looking at Double Dragon 3. Appropriate to the title of the franchise, Double Dragon 3 has two generally distinct versions: Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone, which was the arcade version that was ported to a couple of different systems (like Gameboy and Sega Genesis), and Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones, the Nintendo Entertainment System title that had the same overall concept, but significantly different gameplay. What was the difference in gameplay? Well, the NES version wasn’t constantly trying to fleece the player.

Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone is, superficially, the same beat ‘em up experience that the franchise had always delivered. Yes, we now have a situation wherein the Lee Brothers (now with a third bro! Because someone welded a third controller to the cabinet!) are going to go on a world tour to collect rocks with the eventual goal of being the best rockers on the planet or something, but the general minute-to-minute is unchanged. You have a collection of random mooks per stage that you are required to punch into submission, then the big boss shows up, you punch him (inevitably him) but good, and move on to the next stage. It doesn’t matter if you are in a generically grimy city or tumbling through a coliseum in Rome, this is the Double Dragon we all know and generally tolerate.

But there is one significant change in Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it’s right there on the first screen of the first level…

I hate everything about this
Technically this is the shop from the finale, but whatever, okay?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the shop. A shop just like this one appears in 80% of the levels of DD3:TRS, and usually at the start (the only exception is the final level, where it is the start of a boss gauntlet). Like in many games of the era, you can purchase a number of helpful items at said shop. You can top off your health points! Buy weapons for dealing additional damage! Or maximize your fists’ power to just do extra damage without the need of a sword! Or purchase “secret techniques” so you can perform flying kicks and throws! And the extra special cherry on top: buying extra “lives” not only means you purchase additional life bars for your protagonists, it also allows you to play as entirely different characters with marginally different offensive styles (or at least different hitboxes). Basically, if you want a new Double Dragon experience, it is all tied to the shop. This is the biggest difference between Double Dragon 3 and its predecessors (well, other than that direction-attack button thing from Double Dragon 2 being dropped), and it is all available for a few credits in the shop.

Oh, and I do mean credits, as Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones’ shops are all fueled by real, American quarters.

Damned treesLet us look at that shop’s inventory from a different perspective. Powering up your fighter? Well, that is going to save you quarters, as a dead enemy takes off a lot less health. Weapons? Also going to save your life, because it means you do not have to get any closer to hazardous fists. Speaking of life, having more lives is obviously going to put you further from having to insert another credit. And even the special moves are all jump based and obviously modeled after the most effective ways to survive in previous Double Dragon titles. In short, if you have any familiarity with Double Dragon (and, at this point in the existence of arcades, why wouldn’t you?), you are going to make a beeline for those items. Sure, it all costs real money, but those same quarters would be required to recover anyway. You’re practically saving money!

Or you would be, if Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones was a remotely fair game.

As an officially licensed beat ‘em upologist, I can say with some authority that the first two levels of DD3:TRS are about what you should expect from a beat ‘em up as far as challenges go. There is an unstoppable army of dudes, but you will defeat them, because they have basic patterns, and local traps and tricks can be utilized to blaze a trail straight through to China. But once you hit approximately level 3, the bullshit comes fast and furious. It is hard to say if it is deliberate or just poor programming, but any given fighter on your side has some significant lag after being stunned, so being essentially “stun locked” while battling a boss becomes the standard for many fights. Regular enemies gain some moves with absurd range so you can’t so much as jumpkick a tree without an across-the-screen interruption. And the final boss? By Anubis, she has the ability to toss your Bimmy across the screen from across the screen. She can just spam the same “death move” over and over again, and your only recourse is hoping the A.I. shows some modicum of mercy so you can maybe land a punch. The point here? You need those powerups to survive, so even if you “buy your levels” to maximum right from the get-go, you are still going to be down a few more dollars by the end of the adventure. Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones is unapologetically balanced to bleed your wallet dry.

And nobody liked that.

This sucks hardRecords of top grossing arcade machines from 1990 are difficult to find, but we can see the legacy of Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone in its own descendants. This arcade title premiered in America, but, by the time it migrated over to Japan six months later, its whole shop system had been hastily excised. Any and all shops in the game are now boarded up and inaccessible, and the first level that seemed to be designed around emphasizing the opening shop was “scrolled forward” permanently so you would never know there was such an embarrassment lurking around the corner. And, without the shops, weapons are now free and lying around, “secret techniques” are accessible at all times, and a player can spontaneously select any of the characters right from credit one. And, while you cannot spend a quarter to power up your punches, all of your opponents mysteriously do about a third less damage on their hits. Gosh! Put it all together, and it sure seems like the original version was balanced entirely around a player that spent about two dollars on bits and baubles! And that was dropped from the next version because nobody actually did that.

And then we finally get to the NES version. Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones was reportedly developed in parallel to the arcade version, but it was also released a year later, so it clearly had some foreknowledge of how things went in the arcade. In this case, some of the fun aspects of Double Dragon 2 that had been dropped for Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone returned in the NES version (you can always enjoy a hair grab). Additionally, the concept of multiple playable characters was adopted from the arcade, but now you do the more traditional NES thing of beating bosses who eventually join your team (Mega Dragon 3). And, like the Japanese arcade version, the shops are completely gone, and there is not so much as a points system to simulate the “joy” of purchasing weapons. Actually, you do get “limited ammo” weapons naturally with each of the selectable characters, but, with no way to refill your reserves, they are extremely situational.

Oh, and it is probably worth nothing that this version of Double Dragon 3 bombed, too. Like, Water World for Virtual Boy bombed…

What even happened here?Why? Well, NES DD3 has its own share of problems. For one thing, in one player mode, you only have one “life” for like half the game, and the concept of continuing is not introduced until Level 4. For another thing, while this whole experience feels a lot less janky than its predatory arcade counterpart, it is still pretty dang cumbersome for a 1991 NES title that should really know better. This was released the same year as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: The Manhattan Project! A beat ‘em up that is fun from start to finish! DD3 doesn’t even have the good sense to include a pig with a mace strapped to his head! Oh, and the translation/story is nearly incomprehensible, with a hatchet job of a “let’s include the girlfriend again” plot that somehow transforms Marion into an Egyptian death goddess. Granted, that may not make a huge impact on how a beat ‘em up is received, but the narrative was so unintelligible that not even glowing Nintendo Power coverage could polish this turd. And they successfully made Final Fantasy Legends seem sane! Between that and likely seeing a game over without exiting the first screen, it is easy to see how this beat ‘em up sequel did not leave a good impression.

And that's fineAnd despite the fact that Double Dragon then went on to headline the second videogame movie ever made (!), this is the game that killed the franchise. A “real” Double Dragon 4 would not be seen for decades, and the best the Lee Brothers could hope for for beat ‘em up action in the meanwhile was starring opposite some amphibians (and not even the popular amphibians!). It sure looks like, whether through apathy or dedicated protest, the public did not appreciate the rapacious Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stones, and it poisoned the franchise for years. And, given we never saw such predatory models in Double Dragon or another beat ‘em up ever again, it seems like even the videogame companies learned to avoid these terrible microtransactions.

So the bad guys trying to squeeze extra money out of their audience well and truly lost. We now live in a glorious future where…

I hate everything about this, too

Oh dammit.

FGC #625 Double Dragon 3: The Rosetta Stone

  • System: Let’s claim that today’s article is based on the arcade version exclusively, and the NES version is a weird footnote. The arcade version was distinctly ported to a number of systems, like Gameboy and Sega Genesis, but each of those had to include odd concessions to account for credits system. You mostly got virtual coins for “whatever”, so the shops still kinda worked without demanding you install a quarter slot on your Amiga. Also: not at all worth playing.
  • Number of players: Three in the arcade, two at home. Note that there is a special move you can only use when you have two players available, so that is yet another way this damned thing bleeds cash out of its players.
  • What the hell!?Favorite Fighter: It is abundantly clear that the arcade characters are not balanced as well as the Lee Brothers, and any given giant playable character is all vulnerable hit box and no reciprocal power. And Chin… man, we’re not talking about Chin. So I guess the default Lees win by default. Hooray for normalcy.
  • Favorite What The Hell is Happening: There is exactly one puzzle in the arcade version, and it is a “challenge” to walk across the right floor tiles to spell out “Rosetta”. You are also being chased by a gigantic alien monster the entire time. This creature is then never seen or referenced again. I… feel like this should be acknowledged.
  • An end: The NES version offers a customized epilogue for each of the characters, but the Famicom port only provides an ending for characters that are still alive. I guess this implies any of your defeated fighters are actually dead-dead, and Billy might be an only child if no one ever hits start on a second controller. Meanwhile, the ending for the arcade version is simply Billy rolling around in a pile of plundered gold. Thank you, Karnov.
  • Did you know? The NES version is the source of the infamous “Bimmy” mistranslation that misnames Jimmy to a name closer to his brother’s. However, like the arcade version, the American version came first here, and it is likely this is less a translation error as a programming error that only appears when the opening crawl has to name both players (it is completely absent in one player mode). So blame the computer nerds, not the language nerds.
  • Would I play again: Never. Other Double Dragon games are better than this. Yes, even that Double Dragon game. It’s better. You know it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby and the Forgotten Land! Here is where I use the prerequisite “it’s going to suck” joke! Please look forward to it!

This ain't Clone High

FGC #622 Infernax

This article may contain spoilers for Infernax, a title released within the last few months. Mind you, it isn’t exactly a “plot driven” adventure, but, if you’d like to go into this new game fairly clean, please keep it in mind. Additionally, speaking of “clean”, some of the images in today’s article may be on the bloody side. It’s that kind of game. Just letting everyone know!

Here is a fun worldInfernax is a “retro” action platforming title released in 2022. It started as an Adobe Flash game back in the elder days of the internet, and has now been upgraded to the crispest pixels available on Switch, Steam, and other advanced systems. But while the production of Infernax technically traces back twelve years, its origins go even further back than that. Infernax is heavily influenced by two prominent NES titles from 1987: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest and The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. And that is fascinating to this blogger, because Infernax is my favorite game of 2022 so far, and those two “biggest influences” on the game absolutely suck ass.

What the infernax happened here? What marks the difference between a-bear-to-play actual retro games and surprisingly fun faux retro titles? Well, a significant factor here seems to be…

Infernax has direct documentation

Now I get itPop quiz, hot shot: what do all the spells in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link actually do? You likely remember how Shield could cut damage, or Reflect is necessary for bouncing magic spells back and forth, but what about the fire spell? Does it simply hurl fireballs from Link’s sword, or do you actually need it somewhere? The Thunder spell is very similar: is it just a screen-clear, or something you need for defeating an appropriately named bird boss? And the Spell spell? Get the hell out of here, no one has ever remembered how and where that works without a FAQ. And, since we are looking at two games with very similar, confusing systems, go ahead and look up all the dead ends that require garlic in Castlevania 2. Do it, I’ll wait and get the article going again as soon as I hear the screaming stop.

But you know what Infernax has? Spell descriptions. Answers as to what exactly happens when you level up. Clean, immediate justifications as to what happens when you agree to make a choice that could either be deemed “good” or “evil” (the usual indicator is whether or not someone is bleeding/twitching on the floor). Yes, it diminishes the fun of discovering “secrets” for yourself, but should “what does the shield spell even do” be a secret in the first place? You want to play a game where you have to sus out the answers to difficult mysteries, you can play Phoenix Wright; I am playing a game where I hit monsters in the face with a blunt object, and I want to keep doing that without worry that I am doing something wrong.

And it is not just about plain English explanations for what stuff does…

FGC #621 Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Here comes those 'mon2001 saw the release of Shallow Hal, a generally unpleasant movie that took one fat joke and ballooned it to two solid hours. For anyone that never had the experience of watching the film (or missed the trailer, which is really all you need for this premise), the titular Shallow Hal is granted the hypnosis-induced ability to see people as physical representations of their personalities. So mean girls appear chubby and acne-ridden, while the overweigh-but-exceedingly nice Rosemary looks like Gwyneth Paltrow (because she’s Gwyneth Paltrow). This is, of course, an enormously problematic concept for a comedy, as everyone and their mother has already noted that there is no universe where such “unattractive” signifiers actually make anyone, ya know, unattractive. Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit is still Gwyneth Paltrow, dammit! Regardless, despite being mostly forgotten by the population at large, there is one bit in Shallow Hal that has always stuck in my mind. As part of the inevitable third act swerve, Shallow Hal is “cured” of his magical powers, and now sees Rosemary as the (supposedly) unattractive woman she has always been. The spell is broken in more ways than one, and now Shallow Hal laments the fact that he can no longer see his mate as the bombshell he always imagined her to be. Hal is forced to cope with how the woman he loves is no longer than woman he thought she was, even though she technically has not changed at all.

And that is a concept that has terrified me for a long time.

Get that bird!I am a weirdo. I like weird things. There is this one microwavable rice and chicken meal that was available in the frozen section around 2006 and I am convinced I was the only person that ever bought that (until they discontinued it for some odd reason). I have always had unusual tastes, and, while it is not impossible for me to like something popular, I seem to cherish the “weird stuff” a lot more than anything traditional. I am absolutely the person that would choose South of the Border over Disney World, and I am less interested in the Super Bowl than Netflix repurposing 1988 manga Bastard!! (of course I know it is going to be bad. It’s Bastard!!). And, to be perfectly clear, I am not noting all of this to paint myself as some cultural hipster that only likes the most esoteric of the eclectic; no, I am stating this simple fact to further reinforce that I do not know why I am weird. Where did this all come from? Why am I like this? No idea! And that means that whatever switch in my head that is labeled “likes weird stuff” could be clicked off at some point, right? I could wake up tomorrow, and realize I do not need a “Transformers collection” or “more comic books than could ever be read”. I could find myself in a situation wherein hobbies to which I have dedicated a lifetime no longer interest me. I could become someone who doesn’t like playing Pokémon games!

And, on a related note, after Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I never want to play a “normal” Pokémon game again.

I have always liked traditional Pokémon games. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon or Pokémon Ranger? Get that out of my face. But the good stuff? The games that started with the janky-ass Pokémon Red/Blue/Green, and, over decades, evolved into the Sword and Shield we know today? Perfection. Pokémon itself started when the Dragon Quest formula had been developed over multiple iterations, and now we had a perfect jumping off point for monster hunting. Eternally choosing between four moves! Evolution after certain conditions, but usually level ups! Trainers and pokémon alike itching for those turn based battles! And let’s not claim nothing has changed over the years. The types, breeding, and even simple battles have received multiple quality of life and speed improvements over the years, so it no longer takes hours to raise enough scratch to purchase better EVs. Pokémon, as a franchise, has always been “old school”, but it is the kind of old school that can be appreciated to this very day.

… Except when you play something that reinforces how “regular Pokémon” is a granny puttering along with Erdrick’s walker from 1984.

Too many 'monsRight from its announcement, everyone wanted to peg Pokémon Legends: Arceus as Pokémon: Breath of the Wild. And, let’s not kid ourselves, there is a lot of “open world” design involved in this Pokémon title. But you know what also heavily contributed to the latest way to catch a bidoof? Pokémon Snap. Pokémon Let’s Go. Games outside the catching genre, like Metal Gear Solid. There even seems to be a not insignificant amount of Xenoblade Chronicles in the mix. The mainline Pokémon series always felt like it was produced by people that had exclusively played the previous mainline Pokémon series, but now we have a Pokémon game that was designed by people that took a break from Blissey breeding. As a result, so much of what is Pokémon has been streamlined to a previously unheard-of degree. There’s an outbreak of gible? Once that meant challenging every last lil’ gator-dragon, reducing it to as little HP as possible, and then chucking balls and hoping for the best. Now you can catch fifteen of the suckers inside of three minutes, and all it takes is some bait and a good hiding place. Sure, you can still fight them, but why would you? Why would you ever bother with that again?

And, while the Breath of Wild comparison now comes to the forefront, the unprecedented level of physical motion allowed in this Pokémon title is… unprecedented. Like when you attempt to make a dramatic point but hit the wall of a limited vocabulary, previous Pokémon titles were infamous for how limited every region would become during actual play. Pokémon could be hiding around every corner was always the promise, but the reality was continually that chimecho was limited to a 4×7 block of grass outside one specific cave, pichu was only ever going to appear as the result of pikachu getting their volt tackle on, and you could always tell when you were inside a cave, because you spent the entire time tripping over low flying zubats. In short, from Pokémon Red to Pokémon Sword, you always knew you were on the prescribed path, and documenting Pokémon for a Pokédex that somehow already knew exactly where in the world to send you to find a kricketot. In Pokémon Legends: Arceus, though? Once you get some of the more mobile mounts, the idea of actually exploring for Pokémon opens up like a writer finally buying a thesaurus so they can use words like “unparalleled”. You can climb over rocks, sail across rivers, and even fly over a vast world where your literal bird’s eye view may also reveal a munchlax bathing in a nearby spring Taking flight(you pervert). You might still be bound by invisible borders and “limited” regions, but within those limits, it genuinely feels like you can go anywhere. And that is more important than anything in a franchise that has always vowed to make you, gentle trainer, the number one scientific authority on teddiursa habitats. For the first time ever, it feels like filling in that Pokédex is the result of studying a recently discovered spheal habitat, and not just that you tossed a pokéball after hypnosis finally cleared its accuracy bar.

And speaking of filling that Pokédex, holy croagunk on a cracker did they find new and interesting ways to simultaneously add new features to the universe and satisfy a player’s insatiable need for numbers to go up. Completing every Pokédex entry involves poké-specific challenges that seem appropriate for their various evolutionary stages. A baby ‘mon needs to be fed to gain points, while a fully evolved rock wrecker must be witnessed using strong moves to super effectively slay opponents. And, while we’re on the subject of slaying, “hit it until it faints” is not the answer to properly logging so many different pocket monsters. This is amazing in a franchise that has always claimed Pokémon can be our friends… and then proceeded to present a universe where you had to obliterate enough geodudes to build your own Stonehenge. It feels good to feed a piplup cake by the ocean, have a challenging fight against its alpha dad, and then see little check marks appear when you visit your local Pokémon professor. It is the same game it has always been, but now taken to a new level that simultaneously feels completely modern and honors what has come before.

And I don’t want to ever go back.

WeeeeeePokémon Violet & Scarlet was (were?) announced this past weekend. The next Pokémon generation is coming, and, for the first time in the franchise’s history, I am not excited about this new development. I am frightened. Do I think we will see another game in the style of Pokémon Legends: Arceus again? Absolutely, as today’s featured game has sold too well and been too critically praised to be a Pokémon Pinball-esque evolutionary dead end (RIP). But is Violet/Scarlet going to learn the lessons of Arceus by this Fall? Likely not, as the production time involved here seems to imply parallel teams, or at least a development department that would hesitate to throw the highly successful franchise into something that was already distinctly labeled as a spin-off (after all, this whole Legends game initially seemed to be marketed as a supplement to the more traditional Pokémon Brilliant/Shining Diamond/Pearl, a title(s) now resigned to the dustbin of history). In short, the gameplay of Pokémon Legends: Arceus seems unlikely to be repeated in a “main” game due to be released in a few months. And I’m not certain I can do without. I can’t go back to the old ways! Reducing a legendary to low HP and chucking Pokéballs like you’re desperately buying scratch off tickets is the worst part of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, and it’s the only way to catch in the mainline games! I have seen a better way! Sprigatito deserves better!

So Pokémon Legends: Arceus broke the spell. I used to be happy with the Pokémon franchise, and now I cannot even be arsed to look forward to its next main entry. The zen of catching pocket monsters has evaporated, and now I am left with an experience that previously entertained me for hours being little more than meh. Am I going to catch ‘em all again? Signs generally point to yes, but now I am going to know it can and has been improved elsewhere. What I thought was my dream is actually Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, and now I’m going to have to live through an unparalleled enervation of my own making.

Thanks, Pokémon Legends: Arceus. You are a videogame so good, you ruined my life.

FGC #621 Pokémon Legends: Arceus

  • This guy is hereSystem: Nintendo Switch. I would like to make the statement that this feels like the first Pokémon game ever that demanded a “console”… but I still played it in portable mode more often than not. Pokémon works really well while watching TV!
  • Number of players: Hey, I completed the Pokédex without once having to deal with another human being. That is an extremely welcome first for the franchise, and a reason that obtaining Magmortar is viable again. There is definitely multiplayer involved here, but this is an intended-as-one-player game.
  • Favorite Hisuian Pokémon: Oddly enough, I got a lot of mileage out of “snail” Goodra. I never liked ol’ goopy before, but her new typing and backpack really changes the game. Conversely, I’m going to call out Ursaluna and Sneasler, as they add absolutely nothing to their original designs. “What if Sneasel was taller and sad” is not a question that needed an answer.
  • So, Pearl or Diamond? The Pearl Clan has a cute leader with adorable “overheating” animations, another time traveler from Pokémon Black/White, a dog breeder who wears goggles for absolutely no reason, and some shirtless dude who climbs glaciers for fun. The Diamond Clan has that one jerk with the blue hair who obsesses over a damn skunk. Team Pearl for the win, and it isn’t even a contest.
  • Goggle Bob Headcanon: Those weird bracelet thingies are keeping Irida so warm all the time. This is my belief. At least for now.
  • Look at that big lugAction Hero: There is a lot to like in PL:A. However, the control scheme is bonkers, and I cannot fathom why things like “switch mounts” are on the horizontal cross pad, but then “activate mount” is a lettered button (while the vertical crosspad buttons trigger a game-freezing menu). This usually is merely more confusing than anything, but some of the more complicated bits of the game become incredibly frustrating with this setup. Catching the genie quartet springs immediately to mind, as hopping on an elk, jumping and dodging tornados, immediately dismounting the elk, auto targeting, and then tossing a Pokéball should not be as complicated as it feels.
  • Picture it: Porygon’s existence is a mystery. If it appeared in Ancient Hisui due to time warps, was documented in that epoch, and then was the first artificially created Pokémon in modern times. So which came first? Did Porygon inspire its own creation? Or was it invented independent of reports from previous generations, and no one knows they were exactly the same? No matter! What’s important is that Professor Laventon’s entries in the ‘dex reveal his exasperation at the creature…

    He has issues

    Which inspired some art to be commissioned from Gogglebob.com contributor Poochtastic1

    Click for larger

    What is going on with this thing!?

  • Did you catch ‘em all? Yes, with Spiritomb and his blasted 107 component fetch quest being the denouement. I wonder how many people “naturally” found all those baubles, and had a completed normal ‘dex before the legendaries emerge. I may be surprised by the answer, but my personal belief is that Spiritomb and finding a wisp off in the corner of some poison swamp is the finale for a lot of players (if they even bother).
  • Did you know? The entire plot of this game is an excuse to create a painting that closes a stable time loop to inspire the bad guys of Diamond/Pearl. This is my kind of convoluted to a T.
  • I don't want to learnWould I play again: I still have to feed a few more cranidos to really complete my ‘dex, so I’m not putting it down quite yet. And after that? Well, if we don’t see another “Legends” game, I can certainly see returning. If this is somehow even further improved with later iterations though… wow, just thinking about it…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Infernax! Oh, that sounds nice and toasty for this time of year. Please look forward to it!

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.

1984
Paperboy

Midway Games
Arcade

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?

1985
Gauntlet

Midway Games
Arcade

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!

1986
Castlevania

Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986 also had another familiar Grim Reaper…