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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 #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

I would rather watch thisI am so terrified of being stupid that I may never enjoy anything ever again.

A long time ago in a plagueless epoch long past, it was stated well before the term “Millennial” was ever coined that Millennials interact with advertising differently than their parents. Supposedly, studies had been done that Millennials are more naturally resist to ads that worked on their forebearers, and this next generation of consumers required different tactics. No more could you simply stick Lucy Ricardo on the boob tube and have her tell people exactly what chocolate to buy; no, brands had to build a relationship with their audience. Millennials naturally resisted any and all advertisements that were presented as advertisements, and they loudly joked about the futility of blatant product placement. The paradigm has shifted! A new people is born that needs all new practices!

Or maybe they just needed to make a goddamned movie about chipmunks and their decreasing ability to be proper rescue rangers.

Let’s double back on that whole “Millennials react differently to advertising than their parents” thing. It is the opinion of Gogglebob.com and its attendant subsidiaries that this is and always has been bullshit. Yes, we react differently to advertising, but that is going to be true of literally every generation and the 50-year-old advertising executives that never want to change for any reason, ever. But even beyond that, Millennials were raised with a very unusual feeling of anti-permanence. Ever wonder why nerds are so obsessed with the concept of a fictional “canon”? While this has been a problem for generations, this was significantly exacerbated by a very variable childhood for the 80’s boys. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a completely different continuity between their action figure box descriptions and their animated series. The Transformers had entirely separate universes if you watched a show or read the comics. Even He-Man, often looked to as the ur-“merchandising as entertainment” toy that kicked off the last forty years, could not master a universe where their stage play was half as fantastic as their box art. And we don’t even acknowledge the movie! So, with such contrasting childhood presentations, is it any wonder that an entire generation of nerds craved an authority to tell them what was “real”?

Start at the beginningAnd, whether you were a turbo nerd that noticed Donatello had markedly different eyes across adaptations or not, this impacted vast swaths of people of a certain age. And that can have some long term ramifications! Kids notice when there are incongruities in their own little universe, and, as they grow into surly teenagers, they eventually identify these “incongruities” as “lies our parents told us”. And, when reaching a certain age means you realize your entire childhood was a slapdash fabrication designed only to get you to bug your parents to go to Toys Я Us right now, cynicism is the only result. Are you surprised that an entire generation would thus crave an ephemeral genuine article, and reflexively reject any further attempt at trickery? We were a generation that read propaganda magazines for fun in our childhood, you can’t just toss us a warmed-up smattering of media leftovers and expect us to roll over and play consumer. We care about our properties, because you made us this way, dad! If we were never meant to know the Zelda timeline, then what was even the point of buying three different Zelda encyclopedias, huh!?

Err… actually… yeah. You can pretty quickly see how marketing switched around from “buy this product because we say so” to “buy this product because it is the real story”. And that “real story” can apply in a lot of different ways. We no longer laud actors, we appreciate their characters. Michael Myers and Seth Green are not selling cars, it is Dr. Evil and son Scott that have a Superbowl spot. Networks are not telling you to go out and buy cat food, it is the silly Adult Swim bumper telling you to buy into the latest streaming service. And Soap Company is all about telling you, dear consumer, that it is now hiring models that are not “model skinny”, as, apparently, Soap Company is the arbiter of whether or not bodies are desirable or not. One way or another, it is all about authority and permission, and advertising agencies have learned that Millennials react well to corporations that are working “with” their audience… even if that authorization is apocryphal.

How could it be betterWhat right does any company have to tell its audience what is canon? Original author? Sorry, you died. Company that acquired the rights in some merger? You will never undo Jaxxon T. Tumperakki just because you rubbed George’s beard the right way. And speaking of Disney, to even understand the most popular characters in their stable, you have to acknowledge that their stars were always meant to be adaptable cartoon “stars” that could fit into any situation. Mickey Mouse is a steamboat thief and magical warrior king, and he was literally designed to be able to be anything in between. Disney characters can be anything! Stop trying to sell us the “real story” of any given reboot! Stop trying to make “behind the music” for chipmunks!

… Yeah, alright, let’s talk about that trailer.

For any readers stumbling onto this blog post from the far-flung future of three months from now, understand that this entire article was written in response to the launch of the first trailer for Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers: The 2022 Motion Picture. I have not seen the movie. I have no real idea what the movie is going to look like. It could turn out to be the greatest thing since Citizen Kane (or at least The Lego Movie). I don’t know! But I do know that I had an almost instinctual, gut reaction to the trailer when I first saw it. And, even on a day when they also announced a Bioshock television show, this trailer stuck in my brain unlike any other chunk of media in recent memory. Hell, when was the last time I delayed an FGC post just so I could talk about something that happened “this” week? Maybe a Metroid game

And why do I care? Well, because this trailer impressed upon me two basic facts:

  1. I hate it. I hate it so much. This is a beloved children’s property by way of that food movie with the racist bread. This is some lowest common denominator dreck that is going to take potshots at the last thirty years of animation, and act like it is a damn trendsetter for daring to swing at a 2007 CGI movie nobody remembers (Beowulf. Yes it was a movie). You can’t claim you’re “doing a Roger Rabbit”, literally include Roger Rabbit, and then ignore the fact that the world of Roger Rabbit was a jaded metaphor for actual Hollywood, not some joyful romp through the dustbins of the Disney Entertainment Conglomerate.
  2. This is extremely my jam.

Fuck it! Just fuck it! I am not afraid to admit that this is probably the exact movie I would create if given the chance. Jokes about animation that only make sense to people that remember really specific movies (again, Beowulf)? Sure! Extremely meta concept wherein Disney Stars are actual Disney Stars? It I'm your biggest fanbeats rehashing a fight against Fat Cat. And while I might not ever indulge in the tired trope of “washed up stars” and “retired chipmunks”, the high concept lunacy of “CGI makeover” being a toon’s version of plastic surgery is right up my esoteric alley. Throw in an oblique reference to Chip ‘n Dale not having any time for maintaining airships, and you could practically see my signature on the script. And, while I am unlikely to be the person helming any Disney properties anytime soon (despite my prodigious Gargoyles fanfiction), I could even see being completely content with these concepts/gags as part of a comic book. I loved that time Lex Luthor and Porky Pig got to hang out, so a “where are they now” miniseries on the Rescue Rangers would be amazing. Hell, that’s just a little bit south of where the Darkwing Duck comic started anyway! And I loved that thing!

But this is a movie. This is a trailer that is being shared on every social media platform at 10 AM on a Tuesday. This is something that is being covered on every entertainment website ever created, and attached to a bursting comments section showcasing everyone’s slightest thought on the subject. This is something that will be advertised during commercial breaks, youtube pre rolls, and possibly even previews before big screen flicks. Hell, there are even odds this will have a trailer attached to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Chip n’ Dale will not be as ubiquitous as Encanto 2: Bruno’s Behooving, but it is likely to have a significant cultural presence between now and its release.

And that makes me want to kill it. I want to see violence visited upon it. I want it to pay for the crime of being advertised to the masses and being everything I could ever want.

Nobody likes sewersThis is pandering. From the first moment they lovingly flash over a Nintendo Entertainment System and its attendant NES cartridge, you know exactly who this trailer is for. This is not for super fans that have a Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers poster on their office wall (that I am currently looking at for inspiration, obviously), this is for people who dimly remember enjoying a cartoon some random weekdays after school. This is for people who can identify a “Nintendo game”, but do not even consider there could be someone out there with those games “mint in box”. This is a trailer aimed squarely at people that will not write 1,634 words (and counting!) about a goddamned movie trailer while pretending they are writing an article for a videogame blog. And I wonder what it is like to not be this crazy.

Er-hem.

It would be easy to step back from that statement as “oh you so cray cray” and call it a day, but I feel it is worth examining how I got to here. Strange but true: I wrote this article. All that nonsense about advertising at the top of the page? That is something that I have internalized since I heard the simple fact that “we” are supposed to be more resistant to advertising than our parents. It is something I have seen proven and reinforced over many years. God help me, the Digging the catfact that I am not easily “tricked” is something that I have made to be part of my own feeling of self. I am someone that does not “fall for” advertising. I am better than that. And, as a result, I am constantly on guard. I know nostalgia has been weaponized against me before. I know there is a Mega Man themed gacha right over there, perfectly willing to bleed my wallet dry in the name of getting Halloween Themed Roll on a good pull. I know I have become the “target demo”, and now my own childhood and hobbies are being used against me. I know they’re all out to get me, dammit! This trailer is the latest in crass pandering to a generation that can never let its guard down, lest corporate forces invade and conquer the whole of the cosmos!

… Or it’s just a silly movie about rescue rodents.

While it may not be their usual, this is a Disney movie, firmly premiering on a Disney-exclusive platform. If Disney could find a way to require any and all viewers to live in Disney sponsored housing while drinking Disney flavored cola, they would absolutely do lock that kind of nonsense down. This is a horrible, greedy company that would gladly ransom your childhood if it meant making an extra six bucks. It grants me no pleasure to do anything that supports such a company or its endeavors.

But on the other hand? This is a movie that I think will be at least worth a watch. This is something that will at least garner a few chuckles, if only because they make fun of that one movie with the Grendel (Beowulf!). I know I could boycott this movie. I know I could live without it. But if I am being honest, I also know that I and literally everyone I know could boycott this movie, and it would impact Disney’s bottom line about as much as closing Disney World: Detroit Location. If I somehow convince my tens of followers that this chipmunk movie is the second coming of Hitler, congratulations, a bunch of people that don’t have Disney Plus anyway are going to hesitate before they pirate the thing. This movie is crass propaganda for a past that never existed meant to profit off a generation already drowning in nostalgia… but what else am I gonna do with a free two hours?

So you know what? Screw it. I know it is an ad. I know this is likely some marketing executive’s wet dream about a Disney Afternoon extended universe (God help me if this movie has a post-credits Bonkers cameo). I know I am being tricked. But, at a certain point, you have to pick your battles. You must acknowledge that maybe being mad at a faceless corporation all the time is only going to hurt you, and never hurt said company. Maybe, at a certain point, you just shut up and enjoy the chipmunk movie.

And whether you make that decision or not, Disney and its nostalgia machine is never going to stop. You know, it never fails…

FGC #619 Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2

  • System: It was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994, making it the last Disney Afternoon game on its debut console (Ducktales [1] was released in ’89). It popped up again on the Disney Afternoon Collection in 2017 for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, Steam, and not the Switch (because we live in Hell).
  • Number of players: Chip ‘n Dale are both playable simultaneously, so that’s two rescue rangers.
  • Flap flap flapMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Yes, this whole “game” was an excuse to talk about a movie trailer. It’s my blog, I do what I want. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 is more of Rescue Rangers 1, but with better box physics, and a lack of level select/choose your own path. But at least Gadget gets a sprite! In a perfect world, this would be the Mega Man 2 of Disney Afternoon games, but, as it is, it is a mostly forgotten nicety that is fun to play when you have a chance. Please do not look at eBay to discover how much that chance can cost…
  • The Little Things: No overworld map, no route select, and the best you can get out of having any sort of choice is the final three areas can be played in any order. This is a notable step down from the preceding game… but it can be forgiven, because there is some manner of bat-dog boss. Eat that, weird ass alien from the original.
  • Further Improvements: There is a level with a ticking-bomb timer! And some of the throwing items have interesting secondary attributes! And all of the bosses have Kirby-esque “return fire” opportunities to attack, rather than tossing a little red ball around. Somebody really identified what was slapdash in CnDRR, and improved it across the board for the sequel. Too bad it was released after everyone stopped playing NES games…
  • Favorite Boss: One of the last levels is a clocktower that seems like it was shamelessly imported from a Castlevania. And at the top of the tower is not Death, but an ostrich riding a gear like a unicycle. It is hard to remember anything else after dealing with that kind of nonsense.
  • Not the clock tower you were looking forAn end: We get the typical Capcom NES ending sequence here, as the heroes teleport away to watch the villain’s castle crumble to dust. But did Fat Cat survive? Well, no, not if you only use further NES games as evidence. Maybe this movie will inspire a retro Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 3?
  • Did you know? Monterey Jack using cheese as a drug metaphor was already part of the text, guys. Like, it was the entire basis of the character. You’re not clever.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I’m going to play the Disney Afternoon Collection again, and then I’m going to watch the Disney Afternoon Modern Movie, because I am a loser. I admit defeat. Happy?

What’s next? Okay, now we’re going to hit The Incredible Crash Test Dummies… assuming nothing more interesting happens again. No guarantees! Please look forward to an unknown future!

It just looks familiar

FGC #612 Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D

ELECTRO BRAINI do not think that I, as a mature grownup, can emotionally handle Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D. So I worry for the children.

It is weird being an adult. For most people my age, this would likely be “it is weird being a parent”, but I found the love of my life relatively late, and we haven’t produced any offspring recently. But I am something of an uncle to a couple of kids, and I am often around for things like holidays, activities, and seasonal events that my wife has a tendency to inflict upon the young (in her culture, cookie decorating is apparently mandatory under penalty of decapitation). This means that I see these squirts a lot, and in many different circumstances. I am around for fun, breezy activities such as pumpkin picking, but I am also in the general vicinity when the teenager gets home from a band practice where his crush crushed his dreams.

And that is weird! That the 14-year-old just had his heart broken? For the first time in high school, possibly the first time ever? It is an emotionally confusing situation for us adults. What is the best option here? It is equally true to say, “Oh, I understand, that is the worst feeling in the world,” as “Dude, who cares? There are plenty of other fish in the sea. You’re 14!” One is understanding, but may embiggen the situation further, possibly prolonging the emotional crisis. But how insensitive would it be to immediately minimize the sensitive toll this is taking on the kid, and ask him to just skip to the next chapter without acknowledging any sort of reflection? And if you think this is the time for a nuanced conversation about the intricacies of relationships, I have got bad news for you, because said 14-year-old only has about seventeen seconds of attention span before he gets back to more important matters like Hyrule Warriors. He is still going to be upset over his crush, mind you, but at least he’ll be mulling it over while killing moblins with a fish lady.

BEWARE ARM THINGI consider something like that, and I genuinely wonder if I could emotionally handle just being a teenager nowadays. Personally, I started being turned down by cute girls right around when AOL Instant Messenger was just becoming a thing. I did not yet have a Livejournal, Facebook, or blog of any kind to publicly confess my feelings, and if I wanted the whole school to know something was happening, I had to tackle whoever oversaw the morning announcements and slip into the recording booth with a cunning disguise (this is why I own so many trench coats). Nowadays, there is a constant, unceasing communication tunnel available to any and all teenagers, and if you posted something embarrassing on Instagram, the whole school is going to know about it in less time than it takes to beg for an edit button. Exactly one time in high school I recall a friend having his life upended by an abusive ex-girlfriend who shared (printed!) their embarrassing chat logs (well, embarrassing for him). I am going to go ahead and guess that kind of event happens every seven seconds with the latest generation of high schoolers, and probably even more so now that COVID has pushed “dating” further into the cyber realm. I said some deeply humiliating things to women in my high school days, and the fact that there is only a record of about 60% of that nonsense is the reason I can still function (the rest is, inevitably, stored way the hell back in my Hotmail account… I keep meaning to delete my entire past…). My point is that I was an emotional infant when I was a teenager, and the sheer scope of things that now exist to outright destroy a teenager… It boggles the mind.

But then again, Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D nearly made me cry, too, so maybe there was just something wrong with me.

It's too redIf you have never had the pleasure of playing Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D, let me take you down a (not) fun little rabbit hole. If you squint, this game could be an excellent 16-bit title that just happened to include one random gimmick. JP:TLDi3D has a few basic level types that all see at least two stages: 2-D run ‘n gun, 2-D jetpack ‘n gun, overhead 3-D run and/or gun, and shoot ‘em up. Much of the title could very easily be compared to Super Contra (not Super C), as that runnin’ ‘n gunnin’ is already familiar before the 3-D areas that are extremely reminiscent of “those damn levels” from Contra 3. And for a little extra fun, there are two full stages that are evocative of a less complicated Gradius, and a handful of “jetpack bosses” that seem to function in much the same way, just with a larger hitbox. And considering Contra and Gradius were both exalted games around the time Jim Power dropped into our dimension, there is the potential for this game to be a good action shooter with the stunt of 3-D glasses enhancing your play experience. Hey, Plok sold its action on less!

Unfortunately, even Plok had gameplay that was lightyears ahead of anything Jim Power could hope for. Many have derided Contra games over the years for the realistic flourish of “one bullet = one death”. Jim is trapped in a world that is similarly instantly fatal in every way, but, unlike Lance and Bill, Jim is not dealing with a creator that cared about any level of fairness. Opponents, projectiles, and some freaky things with monster arms come fast and furious for Jim’s life, and it is an absolute rarity that you will have any time to react before your hero is obliterated. Tricks and traps infest JP:TLDi3D, so the “run ‘n gun” gameplay quickly transforms into “crawl ‘n gun” if you want to survive longer than three seconds. There is also a timer that continually demands perfection (many of the later levels leave you literally seconds to spare between timer refills), and a few (but not all) stages are impossible to complete without finding random keys in exactly the right order. Lava sucksIn short, JP:TLDi3D was either built for players that already knew the ins and outs of JP:TLDi3D, or the whole stupid thing is just some kind of psychological test to see if a human being can successfully memorize every little detail about a seven level videogame.

Oh! And the 3-D effects that give the title its name? They are completely bugged, and the backgrounds do not scroll correctly. 3-D glasses or no, the end result is something that is a lot more likely to make you puke than play any further. Unless the main reason you progress in videogames is to see if their directors ever fix their own mistakes…

Unfortunately, the FGC is not the first time I grumbled at this… experience. I rented Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D when I was but a Wee Goggle Bob. The box art looked neat! There were screenshots that looked like games I did like! And “revolutionary 3-D graphics”? Sign me the heck up! I rented Jim Power so friggen hard, man.

… And I learned the game was awful. I am moderately certain I did not make it to the second level, but I do have vague memories of hating that labyrinth stage. I know I did not have any cheat codes handy, and I absolutely know that I never made it to the shoot ‘em up stage featured on the back of the box (which I figured, like Solar Jetman, was likely the last level, not the third). It was an unpleasant experience from top to bottom, and, given I was a dumb kid, I did not even fully comprehend that the game was bad. I thought, as I had many times before, that I was simply bad at videogames, and I had wasted my biweekly rental on a title that reminded me I was bad at choosing and playing games. I may have cried.

I’m pretty sure there was no way any adult in the area could mend my heart that had been inexplicably broken by Jim Power.

This looks familiarSo I think about Jim Power, and I think about my “nephews”, and I think… well… I guess every generation has issues. Like, yes, this dear teenage child lives in a universe where his every flaw and attempt to use a lightsaber could be recorded and laughed at for the next meme period (a phase of no less than 24 hours, no greater than the rest of time), but he also lives in a world that is Jim Power-immune. He can play a terrible videogame, and then hop on the internet, and immediately learn that said game actually is bad. People agree with him! Authoritative adults may agree with him! There are pages of “Not Recommended” reviews! Don’t cry, child, you are not alone! The same bubble of society that will judge your every choice and action can also agree with those choices! You are living in a glorious future wherein you do not have to have an emotional breakdown over playing the wrong videogame! It is going to be okay!

I mean, sucks about embarrassing yourself in front of your whole school, but it’s cool that you don’t have to worry about Jim Power, right? See? The kids are going to be alright.

FGC #612 Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D

  • System: Super Nintendo is kind of the origin. Technically, much of the game is based on Jim Power in Mutant Planet, a game that saw such cursed systems as the Atari ST, the TurboGrafix-CD, and the Amiga. Then, nearly 30 years later, it got a Steam/Sega Genesis/Nintendo Entertainment System version. It… has been a weird time for ol’ Jim.
  • Number of players: Only one player need suffer through this experience.
  • Scoot alongPort-o-Call: So all screenshots and reviews on Gogglebob.com of Jim Power are based on the Super Nintendo version from 1993 that will eternally haunt my nightmares. However, Jim Power: The Arcade Game was partially created back in the 90’s, and completed and dropped on Steam this past year. It and an entirely-from-scratch NES version are available and apparently contain quality of life improvements… but I am never touching either. You literally cannot force me to play any more Jim Power than I already have.
  • Absolute Impossibility: It is hopeless to attempt to describe just how terrible the 3-D stages are. There are, like, “portally things” that rotate the screen continually, and “swamps” of these portals that you must cross. Imagine if Mario 64’s Lakitu cameraman was drunk and doing doughnuts through the whole game, and you have a fragment of an idea of how it all works.
  • Favorite Boss: There is a gigantic warship stage/boss that is reminiscent of a similar recurring situation in the R-Type franchise. This is… passable as an encounter. Some fights, like the final, gigantic devil boss, are completely impossible to properly dodge and counter, so it is good to see a fight that is at least moderately fair.
  • Did you know? This game pretty much stole music from Ys III. I do not know if this is the result of friendly sharing, a similar composer, or outright theft, but listen to Ys III’s A Searing Struggle, and then Jim Power’s Forgotten Path. It is… something.
  • Would I play again: Eat my ass, Jim Power. Eat it right up.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Santa’s Xmas Adventure Complete Edition! Because it’s Christmas! And that is apparently a videogame! Oh boy! Please look forward to it!

It is just a scaled up regular enemy
A final boss should at least blink

FGC #524 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

Note: This article will contain spoilers for Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. And maybe a few for Curse of the Moon 1 while we’re at it. The spoilers will be kind of dry, but there is discussion regarding the final boss, so you have been warned.

Aw, my blood got stainedToday, we’re going to talk about comradery, and wanting to jump in a bottomless pit when your buds aren’t around.

Previously on Gogglebob.com: I played Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (1), and declared it the greatest thing since the invention of the magical whip. It took the basic concept of Castlevania 3, refined it to more modern sensibilities, and created an experience that was at once familiar and entirely new. What initially looked like a simple retread of an 8-bit title quickly blossomed and revealed itself to be so much more. And a significant factor in that bombshell was the general surprise of how all the characters could be utilized in wildly different ways. Miriam could be an expert ally with amazing agility and attack range, or you could sacrifice her on the end of your blade and gain a new attack. Your choice! And the levels were designed for any and all choices, so you could technically tackle the tower with a Zangetsu flush with companions or little more than a piddly sword. Play on Casual Mode if you stick to only the sword! You’ll thank me later!

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 could have repeated the (exemplary) pattern of its progenitor. This could have been another expertly crafted game where you have a choice between joining some pals, going alone, or forfeiting friends for even greater abilities. Maybe throw in an extra boss for some particular “runs”, and call it a day. Zangetsu is a generally aloof protagonist, anyway, so even after his “real story” was released, a tale of Zangy equally joining or rejecting a dog in a mech wouldn’t be seen as a departure for the character/franchise. And the only reason we got B:CotM2 was because B:CotM1 was unbelievably well-liked, so a sequel that is “more of the same” would be wholly acceptable.

But no, Curse of the Moon 2 distinctly sets itself apart from its predecessor. CotM2 is a game about friendship, and relying on others.

Buzz buzzThe first difference here is obvious: you can’t not have a buddy in Curse of the Moon 2. Whether you want her or not, Dominique is going to be joining your quest after the first level. Robert is enlisting after a fight with Princess Toadstool. And Hachi the dog is going to be your constant companion after punching a train. These are your cohorts, and you’re stuck with them for the adventure. And that’s good for the player, ultimately, as the obstacles of CotM2 are built for a full party. It’s not just about Robert’s gun or Dominique’s spear being useful on occasion, it’s about how all the allies can work in concert to reach new and unexpected areas. Dominique uses her pogo jump to reach a high wall, Robert clings to the side for a moment, and then Hachi horizontally hovers to a valuable powerup. We’re all buds working toward a common goal! CotM1 seemed built for different characters to clear different paths, but challenges were generally constructed for allies working separately (give or take some transitive spells). Alfred’s fire shield could get you past a barrage of arrows, but Miriam, Gebel, or Zangetsu would be completely flummoxed by such a barrier, and be effectively useless. The same question in CotM2 could have multiple answers (Robert’s crawl, Hachi’s invincibility), so it seems the designers decided to add additional “challenges” to the same problem. Now you’ll need Hachi’s berserk mode, but then quickly switch to Dominique’s pogo spear to avoid taking a hit from another opponent. Everybody is working together so well!

And that is probably a big influence on why losing a comrade in CotM2 leads to some very… deadly situations.

Watch those tentaclesBoth CotM1 and CotM2 have the same “lives” system. In normal mode (Veteran? We’re calling it that? Am I old?), losing a “life” while playing as a particular character does not mean your precious life counter depletes, it simply means the impacted character is taken off the board. In order to lose an entire life, literally every character has to perish. In many cases, this is an ideal setup, as simply losing a companion means you can respawn somewhere close to your death (rooms aren’t all that big), while an entire lost life means being set back to a candle that resets a full third of the level. And losing a companion isn’t hard! Alfred or Robert both have health meters that would qualify as uninsurable preexisting conditions, and practically every character has issues with knockback. It doesn’t matter if you’re navigating those haunted corridors with perfect precision, if the wrong bird bumps into you at the wrong time, you’re going down in the drink. And that’s it for your chosen buddy!

But, while the systems in both games may be the same, the worlds of CotM1 and CotM2 couldn’t be more different. CotM1 was built for one hero at a time, but CotM2 continually introduces challenges that encourage cycling through your entire repertoire. One hallway is filled with frogs that require stomps from a robo-dog, the next room is lousy with axe knights that could stand to be introduced to a rifle, and then you need the spear of a nun to take out rows of wannabe zombies. You are continually and constantly thrust into situations where you have to use the full party in CotM2. But what happens when you don’t have a full party? Well, it gets dicey. When you need a ranged attack, and all you have is a sword that could barely qualify as a letter opener, you’re going to have a bad time. When you can see a high path overhead, but your bounding beauty is otherwise engaged with Death, you’re stuck knowing you missed out on a We're working togetherbetter route. And then, ultimately, what’s the point? Your favored companion is gone, it is going to be a pain in the ass to make it across these chandeliers as Robert, why not end it all? Just toss yourself in a pit and be done with it. You might lose a little progress, but you’ll be reunited with your friends in death.

And it seems like a terrible moral, but that seems to be the point of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2.

There are four chapters in CotM2. Each “chapter” is basically a run through the same levels (give or take a little variability for the final level/boss), and is lengthy enough that it would be considered an entire game back in the olden days. The first chapter sees Zangetsu’s initial assault on demon-kind, and, as the levels progress, he gains new companions and skills. At the end of this initial chapter, one of his new friends is devil-napped, and the remaining group decides to venture through Chapter 2 to perform a rescue. This creates an interesting situation wherein you now have 3/4s of the party from the start, but, since one companion is missing for the entirety of the chapter, said ally’s absence is continually felt as early as the second level. And, depending on if Zangetsu is diligent in using his current allies to find fresh, hidden paths, it is entirely possible Chapter 2 will be a complete failure, and then Zangetsu will be forced to tackle a third chapter with an entirely different host of partners. These new buddies (or old buddies, as they are the cast of CotM1) offer many different options to separate them from their metaphorical descendants… but they’re still not the same companions you’ve been utilizing for the previous two chapters, so situations where “oh, Robert would be great here” quickly erode into a feeling of “Aw, I miss Robert”. Finally, after all that, the final chapter is unlocked, and now you have the option of using the entire party of both games, but you have to pick and choose who you’re going to “rescue” from each level before tackling the final challenge. You miss Hachi? Well, go get ‘em! You could have a full party of everybody, or simply make a beeline to the finale with only your trusty sword to guide you. Hey! For the first time in CotM2, you have a choice! It took a while, but we’re back to the freedom of CotM1!

Except… you don’t have a choice. You never had a choice.

It's too hot todayThere’s something else new in CotM2 that hasn’t been mentioned yet: between every level, there is a brief scene between the current members of Zangetsu’s party. In snippets of life that only take seconds at a time, we initially see reluctant associates begrudgingly tolerating each other between battles. Then, when one is taken from them, the remainder mourns, but resolves to see the situation (and their hearts) mended. When Zangetsu is reunited with the familiar cast of his first adventure, they spend their downtime laughing and jocularly carving ice sculptures (as you do). And, finally, when everyone has convened to build a spaceship to fly up and murder the moon, conversations between the assembled hunters seem fun and lighthearted. Everyone fights evil across multiple dungeons, yes, but they actively become friends during that time. To ignore the bonds that have been formed would be as unbecoming as ignoring how many shortcuts Gebel can use when he transforms into a bat.

But even if you do ignore the obvious fact that Alfred is going to invite this whole gang to his wedding, you can’t escape your companions. Since the option finally becomes available during the final chapter, you may assume that taking Zangetsu alone to the final battle would result in a unique, albeit lonely, ending like CotM1. Unfortunately for all the dedicated loners out there, that does not happen. Zangetsu may approach the finale of CotM2 alone, but his companions will return for the ultimate battle, and they will assist Zangetsu whether he likes it or not. In the end, whether you decide to retrieve the best pup (and the rest of those hangers-on) doesn’t matter: the bonds you’ve formed are going to be there regardless.

This is familiarSo maybe it’s appropriate that losing an ally during a level feels like a setback every time. Maybe diving into instant death to retrieve a buddy is right in a game that puts such an overt emphasis on friendship and comradery. Maybe the fact that you absolutely have to rely on your party, one way or another, is the most distinct way Curse of the Moon 2 chose to distinguish itself from its predecessor. This is your traditional “8-bit sequel” that reuses monsters, characters, and other assets; but it also found a new and interesting way to present its franchise. Curse of the Moon 2 is its own animal with its own moral about the importance of friendship and the necessity of relying on others.

… Or you can just unlock solo mode, and ignore the whole thing…

But still!

FGC #524 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

  • System: Looks like this one is on the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. Did it make it to the Vita this time? No it did not.
  • Number of players: And just to add to the friendship, this game is two-player simultaneous. I would really like to try that sometime! Apparently it even allows for a Tails-esque “mascot” second player! They got my letters!
  • BiteyFavorite Character: I really want to say Hachi the Dog. He’s awesome, and his hover and nigh-invulnerability is always useful. That said, Robert seems like the most unique member of the cast (more so than the dog riding a robot? Really?), and his crawl, rifle, and wall jump are all extremely…. I guess “interesting” would be the right word. I didn’t use him as much as the rest of the cast, but I wanted to figure out where he would work best, and that means a lot in this well tread genre. He’s new and different, so the Mega Man X character gets second place. … Or maybe I’m just partial to Bobs
  • Favorite Boss: Once again, the official website apparently names most of the bosses. And they’re pretty neat! It seems like the “sub” Bloodstained games put a lot of macabre thought into their monster messes. Titankhamun, the giant mummy, wins my vote here, as he’s responsible for a frantic battle that rewards Robert’s participation. Projectiles can come in handy when your opponent is filling the screen with ‘em!
  • Boss Rush: Speaking of which, unlocking the Boss Rush after clearing the advanced versions of the bosses on parade like four times, and then starting the actual challenge with the “original” bosses is… a little confusing. I literally don’t remember the first chapter at this point! How was that dragon supposed to work again?
  • Begin Again: Is there ever an explanation for why the ever-changing gang has to retreat back to the first stage for every new chapter? I mean, aside from it being an excuse to play through the whole of the game again? It seems like that volcano would be a pretty safe place to rest and regroup…
  • I can hear these blocksGoggle Bob Fact: I wasn’t planning on reviewing this game after the original Curse of the Moon. This is mainly because I feel like I review way too many Castlevania games as it is. … Or… almost Castlevania games. Regardless, the friendship factor was pretty interesting, so congratulations to the Curse of the Moon 2 staff on actually making something new and interesting for the franchise(ish).
  • So, did you beat it? As if you can’t tell from the spoilers-abound, yes, I beat every last route and option within said routes. However, I’m not going to tackle the freshly updated higher difficulty levels, because this game is hard enough on Veteran mode. Zangetsu can barely survive this horrible night to have a curse as it is!
  • Did you know? With current technology, it is impossible for a Welsh Corgi to pilot a robot. I’m sorry.
  • Would I play again: It would be pretty fun to see how Ultimate Zangetsu completely wrecks house through Chapter One. Hmmmm…..

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parodius! Is… Is that the franchise, or a particular, never-localized game, ROB? I have to figure something out? Okay, fine. Stupid robot. Guess we’ve got Parodius up next, somehow, gang. Please look forward to it!

Good dog
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