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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

FGC #555 Dead Rising 4 (Frank’s Big Package)

Frank West is a consumer whore.

Dead Rising (1) is a videogame that, arguably, is wholly unique in the history of gaming. It’s a Capcom title, and, given the pedigree, it should not be surprising that it superficially appears to be a continuation of the Final Fight-esque beat ‘em genre. There are hundreds of thousands of zombies to clobber, and, like in Haggar’s trek across his beloved city, there are going to be a lot of haymakers from one side of the screen to the other. But calling Dead Rising a beat ‘em up is extremely reductive, as there are those precious JRPG elements that were all the rage at the turn of the millennium. Frank is a scavenger, and you better believe he learns new and interesting ways to beat back the hordes while carefully managing the resources littering his immediate area (even if the sheer number of meats hanging around is a bit Metro City-esque again). But it’s somehow even more complicated than that, as the hard timer on the plot and various requirements cause Dead Rising to border on rogue-like territory. You’ll never beat this game optimally without some knowledge from prior deaths! And this was all sold on a marketing campaign that leaned heavily on the “look how many monsters are on the screen” thing. And, while this was indeed a remarkable accomplishment for the new Xbox 360 and the future of its gaming generation, it wound up being one of the least impressive segments of Dead Rising’s many accomplishments. Dead Rising is a game’s game, with so much to enjoy, conquer, and just plain do. And persistent references to Mega Man Legends weren’t bad, either…

Wreck the mallsAnd, of course, no discussion of Dead Rising would be complete without noting its well-worn plot. Tell me if you have heard this one before: Frank West is an “everyman” journalist that inadvertently gets caught up in a zombie outbreak that takes place at a gigantic mall. Frank must survive not only the zombies, but also other survivors that maybe aren’t coping in the healthiest of ways. Yes, give or take some extended lore that tells the full story of the origin of this outbreak, we’ve got Romero’s Dawn of the Dead here, right down to helicoptering into a mall “sanctuary”. And, to be absolutely clear, that’s perfectly fine! Donkey Kong is legally distinct from King Kong, and Dead Rising is allowed to liberally borrow a few elements from the grandpappy of all zombie movies. And, in both cases, it seems the main venue of the mall is important: there is a bit of commentary on the fact that the “mindless hordes” are obsessed with “stuff” (brains/supplies), and malls were the meccas of brainless entertainment for years and years. And, in both stories, any conflict that isn’t caused by the “force of nature” zombies is inevitably the result of survivors that snap and give in to their desires. It doesn’t matter if that desire is “want to live without revealing an infected wound” or “I need some mutton”, struggle and death is the result of these selfish actions. A mall might be a simple place to fight over bargains in our mundane world, but, in a zombie invasion, that same war is escalated to literally deadly levels. And, even if our heroes may be cantankerous and aggravating, they win and succeed as best they can because they do not give into their baser desires. Frank West and Peter alike avoid suicidal bad endings because they ignore the temptations of the world and do their best, despite their situations not being anywhere near “best”.

And then there’s Dead Rising 4’s Frank West. That Frank West is just going to have fun with it.

Gonna get itDead Rising 4 apparently started production as Dead Rising 1: Remake. This makes a certain amount of sense, as Dead Rising 2 focused on a wholly different character and setting, and Dead Rising 3 did much the same. Yet, through all of that, Frank West was regarded as the hero of the franchise, despite now canonically being an “old man” of about fifty (fifteen years happened over those plots!) who only pops in for the occasional DLC. A Dead Rising reboot could bring the franchise back to its more famous roots, and, bonus, you wouldn’t have to worry about that whole “whoops, we cured zombieism” issue that popped up in the later games. However, that reboot didn’t actually come to fruition, and Dead Rising 4 became a game that simply looked a lot like Dead Rising 1. Here’s the same town again. Here’s the same hero again. Here’s the exact same premise again. Throw in a terrible helicopter ride, and, yes, this might be Dead Rising: Fifteen Years Later, but it is certainly unmistakably Dead Rising: All Over Again.

Actually, scratch that, Dead Rising 4 is nothing like Dead Rising. The plot and players might be the same, but Dead Rising 4 wholly eschews the “rogue-like” elements of its predecessor. There is no time limit, and the plot is going to barrel forward regardless of your inability to rescue a survivor or two. Absent the claustrophobia imposed by a timer, DR4 becomes an incredibly open experience. Couple that with adopting Dead Rising 3’s “town structure”, and “Dead Rising” practically becomes a wholly different genre. This is no longer a game that could be called “survival horror”, it is Grand Theft Auto with zombies. And that can be fun! GTA NPCs are practically indistinguishable from zombies even on their best day, and, if you’re driving down a street and mowing over pedestrians, they may as well be the walking dead. And Dead Rising has always been about collecting to a certain degree, so an entire abandoned city (abandoned by the living, at least) is ideal for grabbing random knickknacks. It actually makes more sense to loot an abandoned hotel room in an outbreak than randomly robbing places all over Liberty City!

ChillyAnd, for many players, this change in gameplay is an unequivocal check in the plus column. You could easily make the argument that Frank “unfettered” is the most fun way to play any Dead Rising, and isn’t that what you were always working towards in the previous games? That all-important “free play” reward you’d obtain for clearing all the stiff requirements of the “real” game? It’s just in reverse here, as the “old” gameplay was still available (eventually) as DLC. Hell, if you’re playing the game on the Playstation 4, you can skip right to that mode immediately. But for the many other players that simply want to have fun transforming zombies into putrid pudding, all you need is the ability to hit that start button, and you’re off to the (shambling) races. There’s a great big world out there, Frank West, go have fun with it.

But… should Frank be having fun? Should an entire zombie apocalypse be fun? You can count the surviving population of Willamette without clearing a hundred, so Frank is living through something approaching genocide. Given this outbreak hits at the start of Black Friday, the underlying tragedy of Dead Rising 4 is that the local populace was gearing up for a lovely holiday with their families, and are now collectively damned to be little more than a tick on Frank’s hit counter as he plows through on a bizarre lawnmower-bumper car combo. Frank is quipping all the way, the player is having fun earning experience points, and… Dawn of the Dead this ain’t. That movie is a bummer, man. And what was that about a mall being the height of greed and consumerism? You’re not going to find that here. In fact, Frank West freaking loves being a consumer.

Like a sharkDead Rising 4 is a stuff-based game. A dollar bill is useless in zombie society, but “scrap” becomes your new currency, and it is veritably indistinguishable from any other kind of zenny, gil, or cash. You can spend money at “shelters”, and, if you’re a good little Frank, you can rescue other survivors that will expand a shelter’s inventory. That’s right: your most coveted reward is the opportunity to buy more things. And even if you somehow don’t engage with this scrap-based economy, you’re going to need every last trinket and inexplicable Vega claw you can find. Weapons break frequently, and you’re always going to need to find something new to bash the hordes. But wait! There’s more! This limited time offer allows you to combine weapons and items into even better items, so having a spare dinosaur hat or Christmas decoration is always going to be appropriate, because you never know what might turn out to be the essential component of a 5-star weapon.

And, assuming you somehow were missing the central moral here, please take a look at how Willamette is shaped. There are safe areas. There are places where you are all but guaranteed to find a new weapon or snack. And you know what these places are? Stores. “Safe” Shelters are where you can purchase respite, and abandoned stores are where you are most likely to find that shiny new thing (to kill with). The message is 100% clear: consumerism is good, places you can spend money are the best, and you’ll never have any fun unless you accumulate as much as possible (And don’t even get me started on the ultimate weapon, an exo-suit, is the product of the military industrial complex). Frank West is greedy, but his greed is not going to impede his survival, only enrich it.

That’s a far cry from your usual zombie land lesson.

Dead Rising PresentsDead Rising 4 is not a bad game. Far from it! But in a franchise that previously did its best to be downright oppressive with limiting indulgent tendencies, having so much freedom right from the start neuters the message of Frank’s previous adventure. No longer do you have to carefully weigh the cost of time spent recovering that Servbot hat against saving a survivor’s expiring life force, now you can leisurely grab as much of this world as you want, anytime you want. Dead Rising 4 is a very different game from its predecessors, and, as a result, it undermines the original in more ways than one.

And, gee, I wonder if there’s a connection between this franchise descending into its uncritical love of consumerism and its omnipresent setting of Christmas…

… Nah, probably a coincidence.

FGC #555 Dead Rising 4 (Frank’s Big Package)

  • System: The OG was Xbox One exclusive, but it has migrated over to Playstation 4 (with DLC!) by now.
  • Number of players: There are some multiplayer extra modes/DLC, but the original is single player. I guess you have some options.
  • How about those expansions: Mini Golf and Multiplayer appear to be strictly… uh… multiplayer, so I’m not hitting those anytime soon. Frank Rising is the obvious continuation of the story and a pretty interesting concept (Frank is a zombie!), but it quickly just becomes a fairly rote rehash of recurring Dead Rising stories/gameplay (Frank is a zombie… but that just means he has a different standard moveset and can’t ever pick up a bat for some reason). Capcom Heroes, a mode where you can randomly utilize the moves of other Capcom “heroes”, seems like it would be right up my alley, but considering it’s tied to a complete play through of the entire game again… it’s really not a substitute for the real thing. Also, giving Ryu a chi grenade seems wrong somehow.
  • Favorite Combo Weapon: I am not immune to the siren’s call of “get as much junk as possible”. I am but a man! And I am a man that loves hacking down the zombie gangs with Sub-Zero’s signature ice sword. I naturally gravitate toward melee weapons in these games (because I can’t aim for a damn), and freezing everything in sight is a nice bonus for studying the blade.
  • I’m Rick James: Look, I know a lot of people complained about “Old Man” Frank West becoming virtually indistinguishable from Ash Williams of the Evil Dead franchise. And I can see how there is a clear parallel there in setting, situation, and mentality. And you know what? Who the hell cares! More characters should be like Ash Williams, because Ash Williams is awesome. I look forward to a Nintendo game wherein Mario has a chainsaw arm and boomstick.
  • Stupid soldiers: I’m not a big fan of the sheer number of times Frank gets shot. Could we stick to monsters that generally claw, jump, and maybe spit acid? That feels a little more…. normal for a zombie apocalypse.
  • HadoukenDid you know? The original Dead Rising was chastised for employing a font that was optimized for HD resolutions, and was practically unreadable on old, standard definition televisions. This problem indicates that Dead Rising was initially released billions of years ago, possibly before the extinction of the dinosaurs.
  • Would I play again: I might be rough on the general messaging of Dead Rising 4, but that’s just because I hate a society that is somehow based on “buy all our playsets and toys”. Once you get past that, this is a pretty fun game, and I would gladly stomp around Willamette again (with the aid of a flamethrower car). I have always enjoyed “free mode” in Dead Rising, so I’m not exactly upset I don’t have to micromanage Frank’s life to have a good time. I’ll be back in time for Christmas!

What’s next? Speaking of Christmas, we’re going to have a look at another Christmas adventure… uh… kinda. Check back on Christmas Day for some holiday hijinks! Please look forward to it!

Go Captain

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

So shinyRecently(ish) on the ol’ World of Final Fantasy live stream, my compatriots, BEAT and fanboymaster, discussed the idea of a collectathon, and settled on the decision that the term “collectathon” is one that was designed by game reviewers who did not actually care for the genre in any conceivable way. The word itself speaks to the exhaustion that is caused by participating in a collectathon, and, more than likely, the term was coined after so many random games that required all kinds of esoteric methods to finally achieve some level of “game completion”. In short, according to my contemporaries, “collectathon” became a term to insult the genre it was describing.

However, I disagree (and I would have elaborated more on my position during the stream, but we had to get back to discussing episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force). For one thing, I used to date a woman who ran recreationally, and, to her, the idea of a marathon was actually a fun time. I, personally, am completely incapable of understanding such a feeling, but there are apparently people out there that that both enjoy what others see as a grueling gauntlet and have sex with me (wait… maybe there’s a connection there). But the idea of –thon being a watch word (suffix?) aside, there’s also the whole “collecta-“ part of the equation. And noting that a whole lot of collecting is going to be involved seems valid! Your biggest collectathons require amassing all kinds of crazy nonsense, and, in the same way that a shoot ‘em up contains a lot of shooting or a role playing game involves eating a whole lot of rolls, the noble collectathon is all about collecting. And, as collectathons progressed through the end of the 90s and into the current millennium, they certainly put more and more of an effort-based emphasis on collecting at the cost of boss fights, minigames, or other distractions from the primary goal of collecting. In short, according to this humble writer, the collectathon is well-served by its popular moniker.

And, besides, if you want to insult a collectathon, call it by the name that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest so desperately deserves: a goddamn mindreading simulator.

This is funBefore I start actively swearing, let me state one thing plainly: Donkey Kong Country 2 is a good videogame. Hell, it’s one of the best on the Super Nintendo, and, considering its competition, that is very much saying something. It’s an action platformer that lives up to the pedigree of Mario or Sonic, but it is also its own animal with extremely unique, consistent physics. As would eventually be refined by the WiiU era, Donkey Kong Country has always had a very distinctive “feeling”; and, after its maiden voyage in Donkey Kong Country 1, DKC2 seemed to perfect that feeling for the Super Nintendo. And we got Dixie! A significant issue with DKC1 is that it never had a “raccoon tail” or similar option of having access to a character with a less precise, more forgiving jump (not like you can drag that flapping ostrich into every stage). DKC2 gave us Dixie Kong and her ponytail-copter that allowed for slower, but more easily-controlled jumps. And you’re going to need it, too, because absolutely every DKC2 level has its own discrete challenge, so not a single pixel is wasted on repeating or recycling level concepts over and over. In an age where every third platformer contained stages that were indistinguishable from each other (looking at you, Bubsy), you could never mistake one DKC2 stage for another. Yes, those briars might be familiar, but this time you’re using mobile barrels as opposed to flying a parrot. Or is this the stage with the spider? Maybe! Better play the level to find out.

But variety isn’t always a good thing, and that issue rears its ugly head when you get back to that collectathon aspect. The sad truth of Donkey Kong Country 2? It apparently expects you to be psychic.

SPLURTPreviously on this blog, I recognized Banjo & Kazooie as the perfect collectathon. Long article short, it is all about carefully explaining its challenges to the player, and then granting the player all the options available to say “so have at it”. There are ten jiggys in this world, you know there are only ten jiggys, so get to work, and when you’ve collected nine, know that that one place on the map with a weird squirrel is probably your final destination. Donkey Kong Country 2, also created by Banjo & Kazooie’s Rare, is obviously the ancestor of many of B&K’s indulgences (and we’re not just talking about the inexplicable, self-contained quiz show). Does every weird-ass animal in this universe have giant googly eyes? Yes. Speaking of animals, the buddies have now mostly been transformed from “power-ups” (ala Yoshi in Super Mario World) to required “transformations” that mean this stage is absolutely going to require the abilities of a springy snake. And, yes, so much more so than in Donkey Kong Country 1, collecting bits and baubles is a requirement if you want to see the whole of the game. Not only do you need to find Krem Coins in bonus areas if you want to complete all the levels, you also need banana coins to pay Kongs for the privilege of saving, and DK Coins so Cranky Kong can shut his fat gob for once in this damned franchise. Whereas bonus areas were simply bonuses in DKC1, now every last challenge must be conquered if you want to play the entirety of Donkey Kong Country 2.

And if you are looking for a little consistency in the “bonuses” of DKC2, you are cartwheeling up the wrong vine.

Take thatThere is one DK coin in every level. You can always find it in the level proper… except that one time a DK coin is hidden in a bonus stage. And the final “jump challenge” of every level is always a simple bonus for consumables… except when it is required for the DK coin in about three stages. You can count on bonus rooms to appear in pairs across the various levels, but don’t let your guard down after you’ve found one, because there are a handful of stages that contain three. And speaking of finding bonus areas, don’t worry, because there’s always a banana arrow or even just a single banana indicating that something might be up with this particular wall or area. Or there isn’t. Better nudge a carried barrel against every single vertical surface any time you see one available. Maybe you should backtrack with the barrel, too, because that works, too. Not often, of course, but every once in a while it’s mandatory. Oh! And you know how those thorny vines are always going to obliterate your kongs? Well there are a few false thorn walls, so you might want to smoosh up against deadly spikes just on the off chance it’s that one part where that’s the only way to find the DK coin. Don’t ask me which level they appear in, but they’re there, so you better give it a shot more often than not. Sorry if you lose a life!

And if this sounds completely absurd, congratulations, you’re paying attention. Donkey Kong Country 2 does not effectively (or at least consistently) convey to the player the parameters of its compulsory secrets. The best way to play Donkey Kong Country 2 is to apparently fall into every pit and eat every spike, Kong health be damned. Or use an emulator, and rewind every mistake. Or read a FAQ. Or the only viable option available in 1995: be a goddamned mind reader, and know exactly what Rare was thinking at all times.

Go DiddyA collectathon can be fun. Donkey Kong Country 2 is a fun game. But literally banging your head against every wall is not fun. Trying to figure out what the hell Rare happened to be thinking from level to level is not fun. Sometimes it is fun to find a particularly well-hidden secret, but, more often than not, the path to finding that secret is fraught with trial, error, and a whole lot of dead monkeys. And nobody wants to see that! We have so many laws against that!

Disparage not the noble collectathon, but please acknowledge the woes of the olden mindreading simulator. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest set Rare on the path of defining the collectathon, but, in its pupal form, the collectathon was responsible for more frustration than fun.

… Or at least it sold a lot of copies of Nintendo Power…

FGC #548 Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

  • System: Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, and now any Nintendo system that will support an emulator. Didn’t get loaned out to Xbox One’s Rare Replay, though.
  • Number of players: There are two Kongs on this adventure, so you may as well have two players.
  • Favorite Animal Buddy: Ignoring the snake that is the clear precursor to Spring Mario, I’m going to go with Squitter the Spider, because the ability to make your own platforms in a 16-bit platformer was a revelation back in the 90’s. Much like Kirby’s flight abilities or the P-Wing, this felt like breaking the whole game back in the day… even if the poor spider only appeared in a handful of levels. And the power-webs are a nice bonus, too.
  • Diddy on Top: Do you suppose Nintendo would allow this to happen in a modern release?

    WINNER!

    I kind of have to believe that Nintendo would let Diddy tie with Mario, not win, if something like this were tried today. Then again, maybe it only happened the first time because there is clearly an insult to Sonic and Earthworm Jim thrown in there.

  • Setting a tone: I have to say, it is downright impressive how the Kremling’s home island, the setting for DKC2, absolutely sucks. Give or take one vaguely malevolent amusement park, you can see why these lizards are constantly trying to conquer other realms, because sitting at home with the poisonous bogs, giant beehives, and castle overflowing with acid does not seem like a good time. Donkey Kong Country seems like a place I would like to stay, Crocodile Isle is… not going to get five stars on the ol’ vacation rankings.
  • An End: Find every last Krem Coin, and Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie will watch Crocodile Isle sink into the ocean, with K. Rool escaping on his pirate ship. Does this seem like a good idea, guys? To leave your mortal enemy homeless? That’s only going to lead to issues down the line, and you know it.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This article is being published on my wedding day. This has nothing to do with anything, but I figure I’ll make a note of it.
  • It is hot in hereDid you know? Dixie Kong took some significant time off after Donkey Kong Country 3. She didn’t appear in Donkey Kong 64 (that was her sister, Tiny), but she did make it back in time for Donkey Konga and Jungle Climber. Now she seems to appear nearly every time we see Donkey, though, so it looks like her retirement was short lived.
  • Would I play again: I realize that this article makes it sound like Donkey Kong Country 2 is a bad game. But it’s not! I swear! It just has some horrible tendencies towards making my OCD flip out on every flat surface in every level. That hampers my ability to enjoy the game! But would I ever play it again? Yes, because this is some of the best platforming on the SNES. Like for another game, I just need to turn my brain off, and then we’ll be fine.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Garfield: Caught in the Act for Sega Genesis. Oh no! I hate Mondays, too! Please look forward to it!

Weeeeee
This counts as a minecart, right?

FGC #542 Splatterhouse (2010)

It goes splatLet’s give some respect to a game that knows exactly what it wants to be, even if it just wants to be disgusting.

Here is a list of games that were released in 2010:

  • God of War 3
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Dead Rising 2
  • Bioshock 2
  • Dante’s Inferno
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

And 2010 was also a year some of these games were noted as champions of storytelling within the medium. Red Dead Redemption is a game that deserves to be held in the same exalted pantheon as its western forbearers. Bioshock 2 wasn’t as revolutionary as the game that (mostly) birthed its franchise, but it was still a somber look at greed and decay. Dead Rising 2 has a lot to say about the current state of the medical industry in the United States. Dante’s Inferno is the retelling of an epic poem that now somehow involves a hell of a lot of dismemberment. Actually, come to think of it, literally every one of these games involves a surprising amount of mutilation. And… was that the point? Were these complicated stories of love, betrayal, and a dude that somehow forgot he was Dracula, yarns that just happened to be attached to bloodbaths? Or was it the reverse? Were these violent videogames (utilizing the latest technology of the day to clearly render when you had successfully ejected an opponent’s spinal column) that also, incidentally, included tales that would rival those of Dante? These were all games that enjoyed varying levels of success, and now, ten years later, it’s impossible to discern the intentions of the writers and directors involved.

Such a fun place!Or we know exactly what they were thinking: hyper-violent action games were all the rage in 2010, and your average player would eat up any story that claimed to have influences more cerebral than a Burger King Kid’s Club flyer (… yeah… people in 2010 were dummies, I’m sure gamers got better in the meanwhile). If you had a game that was primarily shotgun-based, but wanted to score a few reviews that somehow still included the word “elegant”, all you had to do was wrap your story around a few heady concepts, and, before you could say “Kafkaesque”, you’ve got a hit on your hands. And, for better or worse, this would happen over and over again for years. A new game is released, it embraces an unhealthy amount of face punching, but also includes a reference to a philosophical concept or two, and it is graded as some manner of genius event for everyone involved. Then the shine rubs off (usually sometime around when the DLC release schedule winds down), and we’re left with a number of people scratching their head, vainly attempting to figure out why the hell there was such a big hubbub in the first place. Bioshock Infinite cured racism? I’m sure I remember that happening once…

But there was one game released in 2010 that knew exactly what it was and what it was about: Splatterhouse.

Splatterhouse is a 3-D, modern reimagining of the original Splatterhouse franchise. All of the old staples are there: a disastrous visit to an old house in the middle of nowhere, a girlfriend kidnapped, and a haunted mask that propels our protagonist to stalk the halls in a very Voorhees manner. There’s a clear goal (rescue girlfriend), obvious monsters (they’re the dudes with asymmetric tentacles), and an excuse or two for a little blood splatter. Old weapons are scattered about the area (who couldn’t use a 2×4) and even the old bosses are represented in straightforward (there cannot be that many dudes with chainsaws for hands) or figurative ways (a haunted room must evolve into a poltergeist colossus). This Splatterhouse is not a “modern remake” that completely eschews the source material in favor of something new and different, it is completely recognizable as Splatterhouse.

Hey buddyBut there is technically a new plot hoisted on Splatterhouse. What we have here is something that could have been implied by the original, practically narration-less Splatterhouse, but is now made concrete in 2010. “The Mask” is an ancient prisoner of monsters that slipped out, and is now using its magical/deadly powers for revenge. Your ultimate opponent is a Lovecraftian cadre of formless ones that want to enter this universe and transform it into their personal meat grinder. The majority of your foes are literal monsters stitched together by a vengeful, immortal college professor (that, incidentally, kind of looks like Lovecraft). And poor, traditionally mute Rick is now a conflicted student stuck in the middle. Rick wants to save “his girl”, and he certainly doesn’t want to be dead, but does he need to kill so many ostensibly living creatures in order to meet his goals? Mask is all about the violence, but Rick seems to have objections to the kill count that is rapidly mounting at the end of his fists. Does Rick need to be so violent? Is all this carnage really necessary? Can’t we all just get along?

And the answer is: No, Rick, you dumbass, this is a videogame. You’re here to paint the walls red. Everybody knows what this is, Ricky Boy, don’t fight it.

So much splatSplatterhouse may momentarily flirt with a greater calling to make comments on the nature of violence or explore its Cthulhu inspired universe; but, more than that, it is a game that knows exactly what its audience is here for. Like a good 80’s horror film, it assumes the viewers only want two things: blood and tits. To satisfy that bloodlust, practically every enemy can become part of a fatality-esque finisher that offers organs aplenty being splayed about. And if you choose to hold off on those QTEs, all monsters pop like blood ticks, so your Mask’s thirst for the red stuff is always satisfied. And if you’re looking for the other reason for an R (M) rating, Splatterhouse has straight up nudity ready to go from the first level. Jenny is apparently the only human female seen in this universe (granted, technically, there’s only like one 100% human male on screen in this story, and he’s dead before the game starts), and she has been kidnapped, but don’t let that stop you from whipping it out in her honor. Every stage has four fragments of “Jenny’s Pictures” scattered around, and, boy, let me tell you, Jenny was an exhibitionist. The Jenny model is shamelessly used in all sorts of situations, so whether it’s a steamy shower scene or a skimpy Halloween costume that is going to wet your noodle, Splatterhouse has got you covered. Ha! Covered! Totally unlike Jenny!

And is this gross? Absolutely. 90% of the content of the previous paragraph is disgusting. The idea that the player would be “rewarded” with naked pictures of the ostensible heroine of the story is not only narrowly male heteronormative, but also just plain gross. Jenny is not only a damsel in distress, her naked (and thereabouts) pictures are the prime reward for a player exploring these environments. By all accounts, she was created just to be ‘bating bait for the audience, and, plot-wise, all we learn about Jenny is that she likes posing for risqué photographs (on actual film! Is that a character trait?). And once you get past her, the only friendly cast member, the fact that you can only interact with your antagonists through bloodsport isn’t much better. Your opponents are monsters, yes, but it is plainly stated that a number of these “creatures” are humans that have been experimented on and mutated. And how do you deal with these lost souls (some of which are distinctly noted as people Rick once knew)? Your tear their insides out. And when a door is a pulsing eyeball, you tear that out, too! But don’t worry, when a mouth-door is involved, then you have to feed blood to it, so there’s no tearing there. But there’s still violence! In fact, there is nary a single problem in Splatterhouse that can’t be solved by wanton, bloody destruction. And that’s a moral we don’t need! Violence is not the answer, and any “game” that encourages hours of carnage cannot be good for the national psyche.

Except… that’s not any different from every other bloody brawler released in 2010. The only variance here is that Splatterhouse is completely honest about its vices, while its contemporaries tried to hide behind a veneer of respectability.

It looks badGod of War 3 ended by claiming the entire franchise was about the relationship between an abusive father and his son (that may have murdered his family), but it was also a trilogy that always took time to include topless women and what could best be described as a “sex minigame”. But don’t worry, kiddies, that happened slightly offscreen! This is a respectable game! Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a “mature” reimagining of Castlevania that incidentally treated its female cast like disposable props. Any women left standing? There’s Carmilla, a former holy warrior whose desecrated earthly remains became a vampire that is going to flirt with her opponent for about 80% of the fight. So a nun that has become corrupted and is now overtly sexual? Gosh, that couldn’t be an extremely well-trodden fetish or anything. This is a mature game. It’s not like Carmilla is wearing something like a nun’s habit split to reveal her breasts or anything. But that’s the way it goes, right? These are sophisticated games, so there might be a little t(its) to accompany your v(iolence). You know, maybe.

Or that’s the entire point, and so many games in 2010 were simultaneously nakedly chasing the heterosexual, 20-something male demographic and attempting to claim a seat at the table of “mature” media like books or movies (because everyone knows those mediums never pander to anybody). Testosterone-fueled escapes for a man’s Id were the norm (ha, were), but you could get away with it if you attached some tragedy to the proceedings. And not, like, horror movie, you-decided-to-take-the-wrong-turn tragedy, either! Pathos! You need the hero to really feel bad about his dead wife (do you want to review the previously mentioned 2010 games and tally up the number of dead wives involved? It is a concerning number!), so that way the “hero” is at least grimacing when he rips the heart out of the malevolent Tig Biddy. Kratos might be involved in an adventure that could incidentally involve a lot of nudity and violence, but he’s doing it for his family (even if they’re dead). This isn’t an adolescent fantasy, it’s a tale of love and redemption. It’s epic.

Don't touch that guySplatterhouse is just like its contemporaries, except it doesn’t chase that “epic” banner. Splatterhouse is a game that accepts its audience wants some nudity and violence, and, hey, here you go. You don’t have to analyze it. You don’t have to think about it. You just have to press X to explode-a-head. You can just review a gallery of naked pictures. You can be as horny or ferocious as you want, and Splatterhouse isn’t going to judge. It might be gross, but if it’s your thing, it’s not trying to hide your thing. Splatterhouse seems to believe it knows exactly what its audience wants, and it is going to unashamedly drown everyone in it.

Splatterhouse doesn’t try to be what it is not. Splatterhouse is Splatterhouse, and it should be commended for never apologizing for such.

Stay gross, Splatterhouse.

FGC #542 Splatterhouse (2010)

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Splatterhouse is not listed as an Xbox One backwards compatible game, but apparently something called “The Splatters™” is listed, so the search function is working properly.
  • Number of players: Just Rick and Mask, working as one player.
  • QTE fun!Beyond the Gore: Splatterhouse is a pretty typical 3-D action game of the era, but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. There are some 2-D areas that harken back to the old days, and they’re generally enjoyable (mostly because most of the usually spongey mooks suddenly are all 1-hit kills). There are also a few “jump areas” and “chases” that are predominantly quick time events, and they’re… less fun. It feels like we have gotten away from continual QTEs with our current gaming generation, which almost makes these portions vaguely nostalgic.
  • Favorite Area: The plot finds an excuse for magical portals to beam Rick outside of the titular Splatterhouse, so there are a few interesting venues available. The “ruined future”, “the past”, and slaughterhouse are all fun locations, but you really can’t beat the “Murder Carnival” that is some kind of pastiche of Disney World, a local fair, and an unruly number of giant entrails. And the hall of mirrors offers an excuse for all kinds of fights for Rick, so just enjoy the ride.
  • Are there Murder Clowns? Yep.
  • Say something mean: It’s fun being a murderous psychopath, but the final few areas find excuses to add different kinds of timers. Sometimes it is a collapsing bridge, sometimes it’s an “escort mission”, and sometimes there’s just an outright timer on the screen; but regardless of the reason, anytime your seconds are limited in Splatterhouse, it is pretty lousy. “Aiming” is a pain in the ass, and most combos keep going well after your opponent is finished. The result? You’re punching air for seconds on end while your death ticks closer and closer. Losing control isn’t a good thing when you don’t have time to spare.
  • Favorite Boss: Experiment 765 is a giant, electric ape with a hammer. He beats ol’ chainsaws-for-hands any day of the week.
  • Make clowns go splatDid you know? Whether it was intended as part of the original release or DLC that would never come, there was a lot of cut content in Splatterhouse. There was supposed to be a Nazi ice base (featuring that previously mentioned ape), a “dead island” tropical setting (including a boss that is only seen in a fish tank in the game proper), and even a finale in a collapsing chapel (there is a wedding/human sacrifice happening sometime around then, after all). Splatterhouse was kind of a bomb, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see what was intended to be “Splatterhouse Complete”, but I have to formally state that any game that includes extra violence against Nazis is a good thing.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. This is fun in the short term (most of the time), but it’s not really my thing. That said, Berserker Mode is a hoot, and, if I have to play a PS3-era beat ‘em up, this ain’t too bad. I’m not stalking the halls again anytime soon, but I could conceive of a world where I might give it a shot. At least there is a New Game+!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mario Tennis for the Virtual Boy! Spooky times are over, but we’re still seeing red. Please look forward to it!

That's what it looks like