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FGC #533 Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Please note that this article contains spoilers for the whole of the Tekken franchise, including the fairly recently released Tekken 7. You have been warned.

Let's TekkenTekken Tag Tournament 2 boasts a roster of 59 characters, the largest selectable cast ever in a Tekken title. And, while you have a variety of choices between Bob, Slim Bob, and other dudes with less awesome names, the story of Tekken only cares about a handful of established characters. Who, you may ask, are the most important people in the Tekken universe? It’s the Mishima family! They’re the source of all evil in their world, but also the people most likely to save it.

So, since the Mishimas are the only people in Tekken that matter, let’s rank their relative threat-of-global-extinction levels.

Asuka Kazama

HiyaWho is She: Asuka is on this list by a technicality: she’s the cousin of Jin Kazama (basically), and only related to the Mishimas because someone with her last name boinked one of ‘em. She is not invited to family reunions, and it appears she is one of the few relevant characters that doesn’t want to fight for a piece of the Mishima Corp pie. She only joined the tournament in the first place because some thugs roughed up her dad, and she’s only stuck around since then because some French debutant really, really wants to punch her in the face. If the whole “Japanese schoolgirl that doesn’t really impact the plot but has a rich, blonde rival” thing sounds familiar, that’s because it is exactly Sakura of Street Fighter’s plot tracing back to Street Fighter Alpha, and the writers of Tekken should be ashamed of themselves for heisting a plot that has not appeared in every other anime ever. Anywho, Asuka is basically a normie that occasionally has to deal with Mishima hijinks, so there isn’t much to worry about.

Threat Level: Extremely Low. She has vague, angelic powers, but they only manifest when she’s not punching people. Given she lives in a punch-based universe, that’s not going to happen very often. Other than that, unless the world is destroyed by some light incense, she’s a complete lack of a threat.

Lars Alexandersson

He gonna getchaWho is He: The Tekken franchise, right from the beginning, has had no problem with including “goofy” characters. Yoshimitsu is a cyborg ninja robot dude, and Ganryu is a sumo wrestler in pursuit of kisses. There’s a kangaroo with boxing gloves somewhere in there. But Tekken’s real plot was always helmed by serious dudes with serious issues wearing shirts… until Tekken 6. Tekken 6 was the story of an ancient god of death resurfacing, and the only man that could stop him was this sentai looking mofo. He’s got a red cape. He’s got preposterous anime hair. His sidekick is an android girl with dubious clothing options. And you can tell he’s a real Tekken protagonist, because he’s a Mishima. He’s the illegitimate son of Heihachi Mishima, and, after years of working for Tekken Force, he decided to (bloodline) rebel and be whatever counts as a good guy in this universe. Lars is on the side of the angels (metaphorical, not the literal ones in this story), and is now fighting against his former employer/dad.

Threat Level: Vaguely Low. Lars is currently fighting the good fight… but he is using his own private army to do so. Like his hair buddy, Goku, this is a dude with a lot of power and a lot of potential to destroy the planet, but he’s firmly established as being on the light side of things, so we’re probably safe from this swede.

Jun Kazama

She seems niceWho is She: Jun Kazama made her debut in Tekken 2… and then died. But before she died, she fell for Kazuya Mishima, and had a son, Jin Kazama. She met her baby daddy while fighting for an organization run by Captain Planet, and she also has some ability to transform into an angel (literally, again) and heal the tormented soul of Kazuya. So she’s a good gal! But, again, she is currently dead, and, unlike nearly every other Tekken character, she seems to be staying dead. When Ogre kills you so the rest of your family can experience man pain, he doesn’t mess around.

Threat Level: Theoretically Low. Jun is dead, but she also slept with a devil, and eventually birthed another. That is just the kind of thing that swirls around a resurrection, so nobody is going to be surprised if she returns to life, and, like, has guns for arms or something. There’s a precedent.

Lee Chaolan

You're turning violet, VioletWho is He: Lee was introduced in Tekken 1 as Kazuya’s rival. The source of their rivalry? Heihachi dropped his son Kazuya off a cliff at a young age (as you do), and adopted a scrappy street urchin as his new, better, more-resistant-to-gravity son. Thus, Lee is not a Mishima by blood, but has been the heir to the kingdom on more than a few occasions. He was technically expelled from the family/company for siding with Kazuya during Tekken 2, but then decided to start his own company in time for Tekken 4. Lee now has his own megacorporation, and bankrolls Lars in his quest to stop the Mishimas. He also built a robot.

Threat Level: Medium-to-Low. You can’t trust anyone in this universe that has their own potentially evil corporation, but Lee is generally a pretty relaxed dude. He could take over the world tomorrow with his army of robots that understand every martial art ever conceived… but he’d rather just dress in all violent and hang around his palatial Bahamas estate. We’re in trouble if he ever gets off his ass, though.

Jinpachi Mishima

Friendly dudeWho is He: The patriarch of the Mishima clan, father of Heihachi, grandfather of Kazuya, and great-grandfather of Jin. Also maybe a demon? He founded the Mishima Zaibatsu during World War 2, made a whole lot of money on a whole lot of death, and then had a Tony Stark-esque turn to the light when he realized he was profiting from needless misery. Jinpachi wanted focused misery, so he dedicated himself and his company to martial arts, so he could more effectively punch individual men square in the balls. That’s satisfying! Heihachi wasn’t a fan, though, so he overtook the company, and left his dad bound in the basement. Jinpachi straight up died of starvation. But! He was revived by a demon of some sort, and became the hardest boss in Tekken history. Jin put an end to that, though, as Jinpachi was purified with a mighty great-grandson punch to his mean bean machine.

Threat Level: Medium. Jinpachi was a good guy, and then a dead guy, but that somehow didn’t stop him from coming back as a friggin’ Ghouls ‘n Ghosts boss. Sure, he’s just a dead old man right now, but Mishimas seem to be pretty indestructible, and we’re only ever one bad eclipse away from an army of malevolent grandpas overrunning the human realm. Keep an eye on that grave, Jin.

Unknown

Who knowsWho is She: Nobody knows! The ostensible boss of both Tekken Tag Tournament titles is a woman covered in goop. She originally seemed to be possessed by some kind of wolf spirit, but, in her most recent appearance, the wolf is gone, but she disguises herself as Jun Kazama. Final bosses being malevolent copies of the protagonist’s mother was a popular trend at the time (see also Soulcalibur). Regardless of her origins, Unknown seems to have power to spare (she spars with Ogre without hesitation) along with her ability to leak oil all over the scenery, so she’s clearly a menace.

Threat Level: Theoretically high, practically low. Unknown unfortunately only exists in a non-canon version of the universe, so she has about as much likelihood of destroying the world as Howard the Duck. But the Tekken franchise has never shied away from adopting non-canon people and events as law at a later date (there is an entire convoluted backstory for that fighting raptor and the wooden dummy), so Unknown could make a deadly comeback! She did get to have the time of her soulless life in the Namco x Capcom Universe, after all.

Kazumi Mishima

Say hi, momWho is She: Given Jinpachi spent his autumn years shooting fireballs out of his chest and generally menacing the populace during Tekken 5, it was assumed that Jinpachi was the origin of the “devil gene” that granted super powers to some of his progeny. Sure, Heihachi never had those abilities, but he was kind of a dick, and science has proven that certain genetic traits skip a generation if they feel like it. But it turns out the real origin of the devil gene was Heihachi’s wife/Kazuya’s mom, Kazumi. Kazumi was originally fated to kill Heihachi, but, because he pleased her pet tiger, they wound up married instead. They had a very nice family life, until that pesky devil gene manifested in Kazumi, and, one particularly physical spat later, Kazumi had a neck that was a lot more flexible. Kazumi didn’t want to live as someone possessed by her devil genetics, so Heihachi’s murder of his wife was a noble sacrifice he had to make (thanks again, man pain!), but Kazuya didn’t get the memo on that one, so he’s been more than a little pissed off ever since.

Threat Level: Theoretically high, effectively low. Kazumi is dead, but, like Jinpachi, that didn’t stop her from being a final boss. Kazumi initially embraced her devil side to stop Heihachi because she thought he might turn out to be a bad guy, and, now, after three generations of Mishimas wrecking up the place, Kazumi would be downright righteous in embracing her dark side. Could she cause a cataclysm in an attempt to clean up the place? Probably! If her corpse gets out there again, we’re all gonna fear a spankin’ from mama. Oh! And Akuma of Street Fighter owes her a favor, so that can’t be good.

Jin Kazama

The sonWho is He: Oh, don’t even get me started. Tekken 3 decided to add an extra generation to the central conflict of Tekken, and introduced Jin, son of Jun and Kazuya. At this time, Kazuya had been killed during the climax of T2, and Jun was dead by the hands of T3’s final boss. This meant that Jin was little more than an excuse to include moves from both of his parents, and his easy, simple goal was avenging his mother. Simple protagonist, simple motivations. Unfortunately, things escalated quickly from there, and, yada yada yada, now Jin is the anti-hero at the center of literally every war in the Tekken universe. The whole place is going to hell in a hand basket, and it’s all because Jin has issues with his clone-daddy and grandpa.

Threat Level: Unequivocally high. Jin possesses that devil gene, and has been transforming into a winged monster man since the finale of Tekken 3. This has influenced his behavior a bit of late, being ultimately responsible for an awful lot of hardship during Tekken 6 (when he kinda sorta summoned a god of death), even if said conflict was in pursuit of ridding himself of his devil half. Like, dude, the ends don’t justify the means if you have to figure out the plural of “genocide” to explain your plan. And it didn’t work anyway! Regardless, Jin is technically a good guy, he’s just extremely likely to level a continent in his pursuit of “good”.

Heihachi Mishima

The grandpaWho is He: This Mishima is not a good guy. Heihachi is the most common leader of the Mishima Zaibatsu, and the man who still claims he left his father to starve to death in the basement for benevolent reasons. Do not believe a thing this man says. In the same year he killed his wife and imprisoned his father, he threw his son off a cliff; so, once again, this is not someone who should be trusted with, like, hand soap, left alone King of Iron Fist trophies. Heihachi often asserts that he is on the side of the angels (“I threw you off that mountain for your own good, son”), but there is always a devious angle involved. The best you can say for Heihachi is that he is not distinctly inclined to do evil by some devil gene, so at least he’s not a literal monster like some of his offspring. Or does the fact that he does all of this willingly make him even worse? It is worse, isn’t it?

Threat Level: At this absolute moment, low, any other moment, incredibly high. Heihachi is a global threat to himself and others (mostly others), and the only thing holding him back is that he’s currently deceased. This has not stopped him before, though, as Heihachi has been “confirmed dead” in pretty much every other Tekken release (sometimes even dying during the intro!). This time, after broadcasting a fight between Akuma and his son and exposing the latter as a devil to the entire world, Kazuya came looking for revenge (oh, also, Heihachi shot him with a space laser), and the two battled in the corona of an active volcano (the… uh… volcano location wasn’t relevant to the story or fight or anything, it was just metal as hell). Kazuya wound up emerging victorious, mainly because he had the devil gene, and he wasn’t a friggen 75 year old man. Heihachi then took a dip in the magma (oh! The volcano was relevant!), and that’s the last anyone saw him outside of a Smash Bros cameo. Will he return? If he does, he’ll probably be an unstoppable lava monster, so he’s still pretty damn high on the threat index.

Kazuya Mishima

The daddy issuesWho is He: The goddamned man of the hour. In Tekken 1, Kazuya was just a street fighter attempting to defeat his abusive dad. He succeeded, took the reins of his father’s business, and then tried to conquer Japan with an army of dinosaur soldiers (see? Canon). This was blamed on his devil gene attempting to take control, but, even after his death and resurrection, Kazuya has been a cuss throughout the rest of the series. You know he killed and conquered the corporation that clone-resurrected him in the first place? It’s what he does! At this point, he’s successfully killed his father and gained full control of his devil powers, so the only thing standing in his way is his flake of a son.

Threat Level: Gigantic. Kazuya always had two goals: 1. Kill dad 2. Take over the world. Now number one is crossed off the list! And we’re talking about a guy that is a trained martial artist, can fly, and shrugged off a laser from space. Do you know what that means? He’s basically Final Fantasy’s Bahamut! He’s a space dragon in the making, and everyone is just going to have to deal with that. Kazuya ZERO is coming.

Kuma II

UnbearableWho is He: Kuma II is the son of Kuma, a bear that died of old age. Kuma II is an animal with the intelligence of a man, and has served as Heihachi’s bodyguard since Tekken 3. Kuma has trained with Heihachi and on his own, and is an expert martial artist/bear. He is currently an officer in the same Tekken Force that once hosted Lars.

Threat Level: Immeasurable. Screw devil genes and ancient ghosts, Kuma II is a bear! A real bear! And his old master/friend/father is dead! Have you ever seen a bear smart enough to become a military officer when he’s pissed off? No! Of course not! That would be silly! Because Kuma II is one of a kind, and now Kazuya is going to be in his sights. Screw space lasers, bears are the true kings of the world, and Kazuya is going to take a lava-dip via vengeful paws. And after that? Kuma II is going to have some time on his hands, and we all better beware…

FGC #533 Tekken Tag Tournament 2

  • System: Arcade, Playstation 3, Xbox 360/One, and WiiU. WiiU? Really? Huh.
  • Number of players: Four fighters controlled by two people equals one good time.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I like tag-team fighting games. I like Tekken. I like unwieldy rosters. I like… basically everything about Tekken Tag Tournament 2. They even brought back dedicated endings that are completely ridiculous! And I guess the fighting portions of the game are good, too!
  • These dorksFavorite Character: You might expect Kuma, but Doctor Bosconovitch is my first pick whenever he appears. He falls down a lot! But he’s trying! And, like all good Tekken characters, he’s probably been dead for years, and that doesn’t matter one iota.
  • Be the Boss: The fact that you can finally play as Jinpachi in this title is worth the price of admission. He’s so strong! And bad at directions! He might not have a mouth for a stomach anymore (or vice versa?), but he’s a great pick all the same.
  • Bob or Skinny Bob: Regular, overweight Bob seems more honest.
  • Gon? No Gon.
  • Did you know? According to events in the story mode of Tekken 6, Kuma understands both English and German. Given he was raised in Japan by a Japanese man, we can assume Kuma is trilingual.
  • The devil insideWould I play again: Odds are really high on this one. If it weren’t for Tekken 7 including its host of completely ridiculous new characters (Negan versus a giant robot? Sweet), it wouldn’t even be a contest. As it is, TTT2 is just a really good Tekken experience, and I’ll at least play it over the previous six or seven Tekken titles.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Limbo for the Xbox 360! How low can you go? Can you go so low you touch the dark, murky depths of your soul? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

FGC #526 Final Fantasy 7 Remake

This article contains hella spoilers for Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and a Thornton Wilder play. It happens. If you wish to experience FF7R untainted by foreknowledge, you have been warned. Now back to that play…

Let's talk about playsIn 1938, Thornton Wilder released Our Town. For anyone that has not seen or read the play, it is a deliberately simple production that showcases three different stages in the lives of the residents of Grover’s Corners. It begins with a focus on “daily life”, like children going to school and milk being delivered, proceeds to “love & marriage” with a joyous and stressful wedding day, and finally ends with “death and eternity”, a supernatural visit with the spirits literally haunting the local cemetery. The whole while, the play is hosted by the Stage Manager, a character that bleats his dialogue against the fourth wall. This “manager” separates their role between being a character in Grover’s Corners, narrator, and a congenial guy (or lady) that addresses questions from the audience. The Stage Manager and the general tone of the whole production was a result of Wilder acknowledging that he didn’t like the direction “the theater” was taking at the time, and Our Town was intended to drop intricate sets and impersonal narratives for a simple setup and direct interaction with the audience. Possibly because of this, Our Town has been popular since its premiere; however, Wilder often said the play was rarely performed correctly, as, in his own words, it “should be performed without sentimentality or ponderousness–simply, dryly, and sincerely.” Good luck with that, Thorn, as the final act of Our Town contains one of the most beautiful and insightful exchanges ever directly lifted by Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch:

“Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

“No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

If you’re curious about the context of such a statement: Emily, one of the stars of Our Town that has been showcased since her childhood days, has died during childbirth. She meets the other ghosts of the graveyard, and learns that, while she is unable to join the skeleton army, she can re-experience any moment from her past. She is warned not to try it, but she chooses to live out a mundane memory from her 12th birthday. Despite the fact that this is a typical, fairly boring day (children’s birthday parties in the early 20th Century rarely included enough N64 games to make them worthwhile), Emily can barely bear the weight of experiencing a time when her family was content, happy, and, most importantly, alive. Emily knows what happens to the people close to her 12 year old self, and she knows the hardships and death that await herself and others. Items as humble as sizzling bacon or a kiss from her mother are things Emily will never experience ever again, so this living memory of happier times is agonizing. Do people realize how good they have it when they have it? How every little piece of life is precious, and even something as routine as seeing a family member for breakfast can be lost in an instant? No. Of course not. The Saints and poets sometimes think about such, but you’re here reading a videogame essay, and gradually getting distracted by the fact that I mentioned bacon. Get a goddamn snack and then think about how good you have it, you frivolous living person.

So, after explaining one of the most important plays of the last century for 500 words, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve played Final Fantasy 7. You know the drill, right?

FGC #518 Cannon Spike

Let's spike it!Let’s pour one out for the concept of videogame characters as actors.

Today’s title is Cannon Spike, what could best be described as one of Capcom’s final arcade experiments. The same company that revolutionized the arcades by establishing at least two genres (crediting beat ‘em ups to Final Fight and fighting games to Street Fighter 2) while pumping out more than a few general hits for two decades basically attempted to create a twin-stick shoot ‘em up for the arcade and Dreamcast. Such a genre would become very popular around when the Xbox 360 started warring against Geometry a few years later, but in 2000, Cannon Spike was showcasing a fairly unexplored genre. And it was character based! No space ships for this shooter, it’s all about actual humans (give or take) zooming around and shooting on… roller blades. Okay, one kid has a skateboard. Look, this was clearly designed in the late 90’s. Don’t have a cow, man.

But this makes perfect sense for Capcom, as its bread and butter was earned through bright, colorful, memorable characters, rollerblades or no. Final Fight was a dumb beat ‘em up, but Haggar-mania led to more than a few dudes walking the streets sporting that glorious “one-suspender strap, no shirt” style. Mega Man’s host of robot masters guaranteed everyone had a favorite robot (I’m fond of Snake Man), and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts had some monsters that became so popular, they got their own games. Even Capcom’s JRPG division gave us the wonderful world of furries that is the Breath of Fire franchise. And Street Fighter 2? After the wholly forgettable duds of Street Fighter 1 (sorry, Birdie, but you know it’s true), the cast of SF2 was nothing but solid gold that got us to a point where “generic sumo guy” has more renown than the car manufacturer that also bears his moniker. And by 2000, we had seen Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter 3. Say what you will about SF3, but no one is ever going to forget battling a final boss that can rock a banana hammock so hard. Face it, in the era of Cannon Spike’s release, Capcom was the absolute best at creating remarkable characters, and every other gaming company should have just gone home to be a family man. Why would Capcom generate a generic shoot ‘em up ship when it could build the game around characters as extraordinary as those Street Fighters?

Or, here’s a thought, let’s just go ahead and use those Street Fighters wholesale. Is Cammy doing anything else this week?

Go Arthur!The cast of Cannon Spike is very familiar. They might be wearing slightly different outfits, but Cammy of Super Street Fighter 2 and Charlie of Street Fighter Alpha are immediately recognizable. Arthur of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts returns, too, but he’s encased in a vaguely familiar suit of golden armor. Shiba comes compliments of Three Wonders (look it up!), and Simone is technically original, but clearly has origins in a shared, licensed title. And, just for giggles, the two secret characters are B.B. Hood (of the Darkstalkers franchise) and Mega Man (of the Dr. Wily and his Rambunctious Robo Pals franchise). Give or take how much you believe in the omnipresent threat of xenomorphs, the cast of Cannon Spike is entirely recycled from other Capcom titles, complete with expies of Vega and Felicia on the villain’s roster. If you were a fan of Capcom and saw Cannon Spike’s player select screen, you were looking square at a screen full of familiar faces.

But… isn’t Charlie supposed to be dead? Aren’t Mega Man and B.B. Hood from another time and/or dimension? Arthur shouldn’t be palling around with robots! He’s from some silly medieval time that hasn’t even properly worked out pants-based technology! Is Cammy fighting Vega because of a Shadaloo-based sleight? And where does that leave Chun-Li? What’s going on here?!

And the answer is a resounding “it doesn’t matter”.

Blast itCannon Spike is not “canon” with the Street Fighter universe. Cannon Spike is not canon with any universe, Capcom or otherwise. Mega Man and The Hood feel like cameos, but Charlie, Cammy, and Vega are very much their own characters that just happen to resemble other videogame stars. You can count on these heroes and villains to behave similarly to their other-universe doppelgangers, but they’re their own men and women, with their own motivations and lives. Charlie never died fighting some evil organization, because this is his first evil organization. Cammy was never brainwashed (or grown?) by Bison, because there is no Bison. And Arthur never fought a legion of demons, because this is a world generally devoid of ghosts and/or goblins. You know these characters. You might love these characters. But these are not the characters you are used to seeing.

And that can be pretty great sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love continuity as much as the next nerd. But sometimes it’s nice to throw off the shackles of continuous stories, and just have fun with the basic archetypes involved. Arthur and Mega Man are always going to fight for justice for the sake of righteousness. Charlie is always going to be a hero that is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Cammy is always going to like cats (it’s part of her ending!). But consider that the Street Fighter story has technically been going strong since 1987, and has definitely been rigid since Street Fighter 2 in 1991. Include “sister series” Final Fight in that equation, and you have 30 years and hundreds of characters that have to be accounted for every time you tell a Street Fighter story. So wouldn’t it be nice to just have a game where Charlie doesn’t have to worry about being an undead abomination, and he’s allowed to zoom around on rollerblades? So can we have more games where Samus Aran doesn’t have to constantly reference her daddy issues, or where 2-B can run around without bearing the weight of the world? Can’t these characters from famous franchises just be like “actors”, and, like when you see Tom Hanks light up the cinema screen, you can just smile at the appearance of good ol’ Charlie once again?

In the HoodApparently the answer is no, as even “simple” characters like Mario are stuck with decades’ worth of continuity. Link has to consult a complicated timeline involving multiple dimensions before he can even get out of bed, and Mega Man is overwhelmingly tied to a chronology that sees the literal end of all humanity. Yes, while you’re having fun steering Mega Man through Coffee Man’s latest maze of zany traps and colorful robots, remember that this all ends with global catastrophe and thousands of years of mavericks warring against elves. It seems our heroes are stuck with histories that are often older than the people playing their games, and we’re not allowed a simple, Bugs Bunny-esque “he’s an opera singer now, just roll with it” reprieve. Even when we see such a thing, it’s generally because a director has gone soft on characters that were created for a dud, like when the cast of Snatcher kept migrating over to the Metal Gear universe. For reasons that have never been adequately explained, videogames are stuck with continuity like a bad case of crabs, and Mario doesn’t seem to be getting around to clearing out this sewer.

But at least we have Cannon Spike. At least we have one Capcom game where the heroes don’t have to explain themselves, and we can all just have fun runnin’ n’ gunnin’ on some anonymous secret base. At least this Charlie gets to have a life that doesn’t end before Street Fighter 2 even begins, and an Arthur that isn’t shackled to a literal hell world.

It just goes to show: to enjoy a company’s canon, sometimes you have to spike it.

FGC #518 Cannon Spike

  • System: Sega Dreamcast and Arcade. Modern gamers are going to have just the easiest time playing this one!
  • Number of players: Two! And it’s cooperative! It’s pretty great!
  • Let's rockPort-o-Call: Cannon Spike has the unfortunate issue of being a quarter-killer arcade title that limits credits on the home version. I completely understand the concept behind adding challenge through limitation here, but maybe we could have an infinite credits cheat for those of us that don’t want to play the first level over and over again? Actually, I think the first level is randomized… but still!
  • What’s in a name? Charlie is definitely named Charlie, not Nash like he is in Japanese territories. But the flamboyant murderer with a claw hand is named Balrog, ala his Japanese moniker, not Vega, his more familiar, American designation. So it appears there was some localization here, but not an awful lot.
  • Additional Names: One boss is a trio of mech opponents. They seem to be named according to their robot colors: Rick Blue, Bob Green, and Ken Brown. I don’t know about Rick, but Bob and Ken wind up with incredibly mundane names, which seems a little unusual for gigantic fighting robots.
  • Favorite Character: I like every character except Shiba, who refused to be an actual dog. That said, if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Mega Man. Don’t look at me like that! I have a type!
  • Other Crossovers: There aren’t any members of STARS, but there is a haunted mansion with zombie dogs, giant bio-monsters, and at least one peculiarly rotting guerilla. This is all an obvious allusion to Resident Evil, but the setting and the bullets flying fast and furious also evokes Sega’s House of the Dead franchise. Maybe this was an homage to another company that was having issues with the fall of the arcades?
  • I have to get to that game sometimeAn End: Cannon Spike not only has individual endings for every character, but it also has unique endings for every 2-player pairing of characters. An obvious advantage of this situation is that Charlie dies in his own, solo ending, but survives every other ending where he has a buddy around. An unfortunate side effect of this, though, is that every ending with Mega Man almost exclusively focuses on the Blue Bomber… which kind of gives the impression that Rock jets off on Rush while his partner is left to explode. It… does not portray our favorite robot in a favorable light.
  • Did you know? Cammy gets a Cannon Spike costume in Street Fighter 5, and it impacts her win quotes against Charlie and Vega. Unfortunately, Vega doesn’t get the same courtesy, which is a shame, as his Cannon Spike look of “emaciated, murderous zombie” is pretty distinctive… assuming you don’t just think he looks like Mumkhar.
  • Would I play again: Oh yeah, I kinda forgot to talk about the gameplay. It’s fun! It’s a lot of skating and shooting and could be pretty entertaining for an hour or so on a modern system. I’d play Cannon Spike again in a heartbeat… assuming there was an easy way to do that.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Smash TV! Wow! It’s twin stick shooting before twin stick shooting week! Or something! And there will be fabulous prizes! Please look forward to it!

Manson

FGC #513 Willow

WILLOW IS HAPPENINGWillow is a 1988 film from George Lucas and Ron Howard that aimed to do for the fantasy genre what Star Wars did for sci-fi. It is a tale that is, at its core, Lord of the Rings all over again, with the eponymous ring switched out for an adorable baby. Other than that, it’s a truncated LotR with the numbers filed off, as a hobbit (“Nelwyn”) sets off on a journey that will marshal the many human-esque races of the land, form a mighty army, and eventually depose a violent tyrant that winds up falling to the smallest of her potential opponents (okay, technically there are the Brownies, but Willow is pretty tiny). You can call it “hero’s journey”, “blatant plagiarism”, or whatever you’d like, but it still boils down to a well-made film with fun and fantasy involved in equal measure.

But if you were Capcom in 1988, and had to make a videogame based on the film, what would you do? There are a couple options available, so maybe you would…

Focus on the adventure! Make it a rollicking action game!

It's the chaseBefore we even hit the 90’s, Capcom knew how to make an action game. There was Mega Man. There was Ducktales. There was even Final Fight. But perhaps the greatest influence on what would become Willow: The Arcade Game was Ghosts ‘n Gobilins. We have a similar plot here, right? A hero that is dramatically out of his depth battles a horde of monsters and magical creatures, and the player enjoys running, jumping, and shooting various weapons. You’ve got a perfect template for medieval machinations right there, so why mess with a good thing? Whether you’re slicing up dog-boar monsters or skeletons, jump ‘n shoot is an entertaining time for anyone with a quarter or two.

And, as was seen in other Ghosts ‘n Goblins games, that kind of gameplay allows for some pretty interesting set pieces. Willow riding a raft down a turbulent river while assaulted by magical fish seems fairly familiar, but you’ve also got a thrilling chariot escape from a drunken brawl, and a sled ride that was not at all eventually stolen by a certain hedgehog. Willow was an action-packed movie, dammit, so you’ve got some amazing action in store for the arcade experience. There are even epic bosses that recall memorable scenes from the film, like a battle against the twin-headed troll-hydra, or that one ersatz Darth Vader with the skull helmet. And the final battle may involve a magically enchanted urn, but it’s also a pure wizard duel between an evil queen and Willow. Nobody is relying on a former ferret to save the day here!

And that’s a bit of a problem.

Off with his head!One could argue the whole point of Willow (film) is that Willow (character) kind of… sucks. He’s a little dude, and not built for combatting a world filled with great big dudes. He’s not even physically menacing among his own people, as the opening of the film sees him setting out on his adventure with a cadre of companions that are more likely to effectively swing a sword. But he’s got magic, right? He’s not a knight, he’s a mage? Yeah, well, the whole point of that little hero’s journey is not that he’s an adept magician in the whole “transform a goat into an ostrich” realm of magic, he’s much more proficient at sleight of hand and general trickery. He’s a thief trying to use his MP pool! And, if this sounds crazy, look at how Willow wins the day in the film: the final victory is achieved not through the wizarding world, but by Willow using his “hide the pig” trick. Willow saves everyone through guile and bluff, not whipping his wand around.

So it’s a departure for the character to see super-powered Arcade Willow. Sure, A.W. starts with a piddling little magic shot that would make a Crystal Lake counselor sneer in derision, but purchase a few upgrades with nearby treasure, and Arcade Willow becomes an elemental monster. He can summon tornados, explosions, and a crystal shield that blocks practically an entire screen’s worth of projectiles. He can also transform opponents into gold, or just plain freeze time if he feels like bending the laws of physics. Arcade Willow has no problem with magic. Arcade Willow has no problem with taking out an entire army. Arcade Willow is become Death, and you damn well better get out of his way.

It is empowering to control Arcade Willow, as he is going to save this world through magic the likes of which this world has never seen. Bavmorda can turn dissenters into pigs? Well Arcade Willow is going to turn her entire country into bacon.

But if we’re going to complain about Arcade Willow being too powerful, maybe we should look at the alternative…

Focus on the quest! Make it a RPG-Adventure hybrid!

WILLOW!Willow for the Nintendo Entertainment System is a very different animal from its arcade counterpart. First and foremost, it is an adventure game in the vein of The Legend of Zelda. How legend of Zelda is it? Well, you’ve got a sword, shield, and a magical ocarina that summons a flying creature that will take you to one of a few different preset locations. It is very Zelda. In a way, Willow almost feels like a missing link between the two NES Zelda titles. Your general controls, perspective, and inventory options are reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, but the frequent towns and an emphasis on talking to villagers and completing “fetch quests” to proceed to more complicated dungeons is very The Adventure of Link. And there’s magic! Willow gets a variety of magical options, from summoning thunder to actually offensively utilizing that magical cane. This is a Willow that is kitted out for a globe-trotting adventure!

Too bad NES Willow can’t actually use anything in his inventory.

Okay, technically any videogame character can become a god with the right player. There are likely tool-assisted speedruns of Willow wherein the player masterfully utilizes every skill in Willow’s prodigious bag of tricks. But speaking as someone who has played Willow as a child and an adult? NES Willow sucks. His sword range is abysmal. His magic points are never plentiful enough to tackle the myriad of monsters that are immune to weapons. There’s exactly one sword that will damage “magic”, and it’s about as offensively effective as a gentle breeze. And, speaking of which, practically every enemy that isn’t a slime has more HP than Willow can comfortably manage, Stabby stabbyso running from battles is often the correct answer. Oh, wait, that can’t be right, because the final area has a distinct experience threshold, so if you don’t take the time to murder everything from Nelwyn Town to Nockmaar Castle, you’ll be stuck grinding for those final, essential levels. And, if you’re curious, that level threshold is 13. It will take you an entire game’s worth of experience points to reach level 13. I’m pretty sure the Light Warriors reached level 13 before they got out of bed …

And it’s hard to ignore how that might be the point.

NES Willow sucks. He’s a poor swordsman, a middling magician, and literally every monster, from shielded skeletons to dual-headed ogres, can (and likely will) kill Willow without much of a thought. It requires a lot of practice and expertise to steer Willow through his world without dying to every other gigantic snake creature that blocks his path. Give him every spell, item, and sword in the world, and NES Willow is still likely to lie bleeding on the path outside his hometown because some manner of giant bug got the drop on him. NES Willow is not prepared for this journey that has been thrust upon him. He should be farming turnips, not Nockmarr hounds!

And, in a way, this terribly troublesome NES game captures the spirit of being Willow much more than its arcade counterpart. Willow is out of his depth! He has to learn to believe in himself, but it’s going to be a long road down a very dangerous path to get there. He technically has all the tools he’ll ever need, but it’s going to take ingenuity and gumption to conquer all the challenges that lie before him. It’s not raw strength that’s going to win this battle, but carefully managing not only your own resources, but also enlisting the help of others. NES Willow isn’t going to save the world alone, but he might be able to pull it off with a small army of eclectic assistants.

And that’s exactly how Willow saves the world in his titular film. The Willow NES game perfectly captures the feeling of a hero out of his depth and attempting to do the right thing against a mountain of nigh-insurmountable obstacles.

It’s just a lot more fun to play as demi-god Arcade Willow.

What would be the best way to make a videogame based on Willow? Hell if I know, but at least we got two desperate attempts that are both admirable in their own ways.

FGC #513 Willow

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System for the version you could (legally) play at home, and an arcade version for those of you that could ever find such a thing.
  • Number of players: Willow is on a solitary quest.
  • How did Madmartigan make out? In the arcade version, ol’ Mads is a selectable character, and his sword powers have shorter range than Willow, but they will chop down enemy projectiles. So he’s basically Zero. In the NES version, he never appears without being tied up. This is a very nice development for S&M Val Kilmer enthusiasts, but it means that Madmartigan is literally never useful in the console version. Hell, if you hadn’t seen the movie, you might assume Madmartigan was some manner of perversion of the usual “captured princess” trope. He does wind up exiting the game madly in love…
  • WeeeeeeStory Time: In both cases, the overall story of Willow is changed for the game adaption. This is presumably because you can’t have a decent videogame with the main protagonist strapped to a baby at all times. In fact, while Elora Danan does cameo, her macguffin role is replaced by a couple of elemental crests in the NES version. So if you’re looking for a situation where a female character is replaced by literally a rock in a videogame, here’s your easy example.
  • Vaguely Unsettling: In the NES version, there’s an old woman alone in a house that asks that you rescue her talking bird creature, Po. She provides healing herbs, and, after you find Po, those herbs heal him to the point that he becomes a valuable ally/warp zone. And then the old lady that set you to finding Po… just sits there silently for the rest of the game. She only says “…”, heals Willow, and then continues to never utter a peep. What happened there? I have no idea, but thinking about the ramifications is scarier than anything I’ve ever seen in Resident Evil.
  • Also Unsettling: Some gray wizard thingy can transform Willow into a pig, recalling the infamous scene in the film when Madmartigan and pals are transformed into swine via the most traumatizing G-rated body horror this side of Steven Universe. Glad to see that little bit made an impact on the staff at Capcom, too.
  • Squeal!Time Sink: For the record, Willow Arcade seems to last about as long as the average arcade game from the era, clocking in around 40 minutes to an hour. Willow NES is something of a proper adventure game, and took me around 5 hours from start to finish. And, to be clear, that is without cheating my way into infinite exp or consulting online maps every three seconds. Given Willow NES forsook a save battery for complicated passwords, I’m faultlessly willing to call this a sin against humanity.
  • An end: Willow wins, saves the world, let’s all have a party. Whatever. The real meat of the Willow NES ending is the credits that make absolutely no sense. Program by DAVID BO0WY and MOE? Monster design by Tom-Pon, Fish Man, and Tall Nob? Special thanks to Hearty.J? Supervision by Lucas Film? That sounds fake.
  • Did you know: Both IGN and Nintendo Power ultimately named the NES version as one of the best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. You can do nothing to dissuade me from the belief that these writers played the game with save states, and from a modern perspective of playing the game with a FAQ (and hindsight). Anyone that ever had to grind castle guards for hours so they wouldn’t bungle into a literally unwinnable boss fight would not declare Willow to be the best anything.
  • Would I play again: No thank you. I told myself I would complete Willow from start to finish (and no password cheating) for this blog, and I have completed that task. I have saved the world as a hobbit with a pig sticker, and now I’m done with that. Willow for NES is interesting, but it isn’t the most fun experience.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS! Now we’re talking swords and sorcery! Please look forward to it!

This is a sad dragon