Tag Archives: super nintendo entertainment system

FGC #635 Rocket Knight

Let's rocket alongThe Rocket Knight franchise is a great collection of games starring a possum with a jetpack. Did you see the way he dangles on his little tail? Totally adorbs. Unfortunately, these four games contain one of the most confusing naming schemes in the history of gaming. So let us take a quick break to review the games starring Sparkster, and delineate which games appeared when and where. This will simultaneously be informative and note how many games contain giant robots (it’s all of them).

Rocket Knight Adventures
1993
Sega Genesis
The Original

This is so coolIf there is a reason there is a “Rocket Knight” franchise in any tangible way, it is because of this game. And not just because this is the one that started it all! Rocket Knight Adventures is clearly a labor of love by a team that not only was interested in what was next for gaming in 1993, but also Konami’s illuminous past.

As an obvious example of Sparkster showcasing what was contemporary in gaming, we have how this awesome possum moves. This little dude is all about speed, and, complete with a jetpack perpetually tied to his back, Sparky is ready to literally fly through levels. But, while much of the level design is built around seeing how far you can get this rocket knight to ricochet around the world, it is not all simply spin-dashing to a brighter future. This knight and his projectile-blade recalls the combat of Mega Man X, and giant, mechanical bosses would be right at home in any Maverick lineup.

Oh, and there’s a minecart stage. You do not get anymore 16-bit than a minecart stage.

But there are also homages to the past of gaming littered across this (then) modern title. For one thing, one of the shoot ‘em up stages straight up includes a pig piloting a Gradius big core. It isn’t remotely subtle! And there are some some more understated “old school” bits tossed around Sparkster’s world, too. It is clear that this game was created by people that were beholden to the glorious arcade past of Konami (or they, ya know, worked there. Could go either way).

Regardless of the reason, Rocket Knight Adventures perfectly balances the contemporary (animal mascot platformers that gotta go fast) with the (oftentimes difficult) past of Rocket Knight’s ancestors. And, couple this with a few amazing gimmick levels (did I mention the giant robot rocking and socking boss?), and Rocket Knight Adventures is a sight to behold.

Sparkster
1994
Super Nintendo
The Port

Play the hitsIn America, the only Rocket Knight title to ever launch on a Nintendo console is simply “Sparkster”. In Japan, it goes by the longer title, “Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2”. So which is it? A parallel game on an entirely difference videogame system, or a sequel that hopped between platforms? The answer is… confusing.

In a lot of ways, this game feels like an example of the 16-bit mainstay of a game appearing in two totally different versions across two systems. Much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, this initially looks like two Konami games both playing to their system’s respective strengths. Sparkster seems to showcase a more expressive rodent that moves at a faster clip (yes, Virginia, the SNES was capable of its own kind of blast processing), but entirely drops “hardware tricks” like the Genesis reflection lava cave. The graphics are entirely different, and seem to be deliberately adapted for the different color palette and more integrated HUD. And the plot is much the same (for a 16-bit game), with wolves in place of pigs, and Axel Gear still on the side of the devils.

But then there are bits that seem to paint this as a deliberate sequel. The shoot ‘em up sections have now changed from Gradius-style 2-D horizontal shupping to a top-down, 1942-esque vertical affair. We have lost our giant robot boss fight, but replaced it with a stage full of ridable giant robot ostriches. This satisfies our robot quotient and supplicates the need for a minecart. And, if you really need some giant robots, plenty are offered as all-new, all-different bosses. Sparkster does feel like an improvement over its predecessor in a lot of ways, but not all of those upgrades cannot simply be attributed to moving between systems.

Regardless of how it was created, Sparkster is still an amazing experience. It does not feel quite as artisanal as its prequel/portmate, but it is still one of the best platforming games on the Super Nintendo. And that’s pretty amazing, considering this is the same system that hosted Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit!

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2
1994
Sega Genesis
The Real Sequel

I do not care for sandOkay, maybe the Super Nintendo game is supposed to be a port of this Sparkster title. Whatever! Sparky is back on the Sega Genesis here, and we have another game that is immediately evidently unique and different from the previous two. Much of the same gameplay is carried forward (rocketing around, spinning when allowed, firing endless sword beams), but there are a number of innovations across the title. Not all of them are strictly upgrades, though…

Look, your mileage may vary on whether or not you see an improvement here, but Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 gets pretty close to going full collectathon. Whereas previous Rocket Knight titles locked their best endings behind difficulty levels (old school!), now you are going to have to find a hidden sword in each stage (and never skip the intro level) if you want to see “Golden Sparkster” conquer this latest threat. And, while the powered up yellow possum is highly reminiscent of Super Sonic, this is a much less useful hyper mode, as it is impossible to obtain before the absolute final battle. Couple this with some sprawling stages that require a lot more exploration than previous titles (and, by “exploration”, we mean “it is entirely possible you will get lost going up and down the same stupid pipes in that same stupid airship stage”), and it seems like the directors of Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 wanted more than another straightforward action game. Unfortunately, when “straightforward action game” is the reason you’re playing the game in the first place…

But this is still a great game! The final boss fight includes one of the greatest gimmicks that has ever existed in an action game (you and the main villain “swap brains”), and, while it may not immediately lend itself to other climaxes, it is surprising and a curious way to play the game. Similarly, the giant robot boss fight of the first Sparkster has now been expanded to a giant robot level, and I cannot be the only person that was begging for such a thing after getting a taste of it in the first title. And, again, this is still a Sparkster game, so even when you are stuck trying to find the right way out of a pyramid, it is fun to play. Sparkster still sparks around… just he might be better suited to his earlier adventures.

Rocket Knight
2010
Xbox 360 / Playstation 3
The Modern Remake

Do not touchAfter a little over fifteen years, Sparkster returned to us via a downloadable title created by Konami fans that were now firmly established on Konami’s payroll. Rocket Knight is a very different animal from its forebears (well, still a possum), as the “charging” system for causing this knight to rocket around has been dramatically altered. The ABC rule of “always be charging” has now been forsaken for something slightly less active, and it does create a slightly more leisurely feel. However, once you get past that change, this is definitely Rocket Knight like you remember it, with enough ricocheting to make a Hanna-Barbera rabbit blush. And new innovations like projectile reflection or drilling add just enough new gameplay variety to make your average wolf/pig encounter more remarkable than in the 16-bit days.

Unfortunately, some of those innovations just make you long for what may have been. Rocket Knight feels like the definition of a 2010 videogame download title (“Xbox Live Arcade Title”). It is amazing! But it is quick! There are basically four worlds here, and a whole quarter of that count is given over to a few stages that are very much glorified tutorials. By the time we are hitting the interesting stuff (like an icy world that freezes your jetpack or a thrilling escape from an exploding factory), we are already practically done. While Rocket Knight seems to be about the same length as its predecessors, it still feels like it ends just when it was getting exciting.

Oh, and there are plenty of giant robots to fight, but not a single one that you get to ride. I could take that giant pig-bot out for a spin, but noooooo…

But one way or another, this is the end of the Rocket Knight franchise. Will we ever see that possum ever again? Maybe! But at least he flew away on a high note that left us wanting more.

Even if we still need a guide to determine which game was which..

FGC #635 Rocket Knight

  • A bit chilly hereSystem: Xbox 360 to start, with Playstation 3 and PC following shortly thereafter. Full disclosure: this whole article was inspired by purchasing an Xbox Series X, and discovering to my delight that Rocket Knight was fully backwards compatible and waiting for me on the new system.
  • Number of players: One of these days that princess is going to have to suit up and be player two. Until then, we are sticking with one rocket knight.
  • Favorite Level: I cannot emphasize enough how the gimmick of the ice level freezing Sparkster’s rocket pack makes for simultaneously new/exciting gameplay and makes perfect, in-plot sense. A miraculous combination of gameplay and setting. Really makes me beg for a universe where this title had a little room to stretch its legs.
  • Favorite Boss: I generally do not like the final boss, as it spends way too much of its existence in something of an invincible/unhittable state. That said, he is a giant, golden pig robot… so I kind of have a hard time getting mad at the guy.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: Rocket Knight returns to the 2-D, horizontal scrolling shoot ‘em up levels of the original adventure. However, it would not be incorrect to state that these levels are much more robust than anything that appeared back in the 90’s, and flying around with this possum leads to some of the best experiences in the game. So what I’m saying is can we finally get a modern Gradius from the same team? Please?
  • Pow powGotta Collect ‘Em All: Rocket Knight now has collectathon elements, as a ranking on each level is based on finding every last gem and doodad throughout the level. A number of these items are “normal”, and would be found easily through traditional level traversal. Unfortunately, there seem to be a couple in every stage that require some dedicated searching or jump-blast coordination, and… Can we not? Can we just have fun zooming around, and not worrying if a 1-Up is hidden in that little alcove over there? This was the worst part of Rocket Knight Adventures 2…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Like Mega Man 9, this is one of the first titles I bought as “digital only”, and did not simply wait for a physical release like I had for every other title. It seems appropriate that it used to require “modern update on retro franchise” to get me to go outside my comfort zone.
  • Did you know? Rocket Knight was a free “games with gold” title for Xbox in November of 2021, eleven years after its release. So if you were waiting for a “sale” for over a decade, have I got a deal for you! That expired!
  • Would I play again: Probably… albeit in another few years. Even with all the baubles to collect, there isn’t much to this game. It is there, it is fun, and then it ends. I have no great drive to immediately return… but I know it will happen eventually. Thus is the magnetic pull of such an excellent possum.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64! We’re going from the squeaky clean knight to the belligerent squirrel. Please look forward to it!

Zzzzzap

FGC #629 Radical Dreamers (Complete Edition)

So let’s talk about getting into fights.

Today’s game is Radical Dreamers, the quasi-sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, Chrono Trigger. Radical Dreamers is a 2 hour (or so) itty bitty side story to the titanic Chrono Trigger, and was released exclusively on the Japanese SatellaView back in 1996. Unfortunately, despite the global success of Chrono Trigger (arguably right up there with Final Fantasy 7 as one of the most praised and influential JRPGs of all time), Radical Dreamers never saw localization outside of Japan. Why? Well, being stuck on unique hardware aside (which is a pretty big aside), Radical Dreamers is a text-based game, and much of the gameplay makes this more of a visual novel than a traditional JRPG. And combine that with the fact that “visual novels” have never been as popular in the West as Japan, and, oh yeah, an entirely text-based game having to be translated into another language would have been a tall order back when one guy named Ted was the entire translation department for a company… well… It is hard to blame anyone for the lack of Radical Dreamers in our lives. And this was the status quo through the years, as even when we saw rerelease after rerelease of Chrono Trigger, Square (and later, Square Enix) decided time and time again that we would not have Radical Dreamers on the Playstation or Nintendo DS. And besides, Chrono Cross was supposed to be a complete “perfect reimagining” of Radical Dreamers, so why would we need the text-based prototype? Radical Dreamers didn’t contain a single Lucky Dan!

But some kind soul at Square Enix finally believed we were ready, so Radical Dreamers was released in the United States in 2022 as part of the appropriately named Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers collection. And now, after over two decades, this Chrono Trigger superfan finally got to play the “lost chapter” in his favorite franchise (that consists of like three games).

And you know what news I managed to miss over all the years of merely reading about Radical Dreamers? This mother fudger has random battles!

Here we goThis should not have been a surprise. Chrono Trigger did not have distinctly “random” fights, but it did have battles across many different time periods, and several of those fights were triggered by something as “random” as walking on the wrong floor tile. Similarly, Chrono Cross had its share of fights that were generally only triggered by smacking into a spot on the map, though with the caveat that a shockingly high number of areas outright required combat (go ahead and try to wake up the Black Dragon without fighting a town full of identical fishmen). With its creation sandwiched between its two more famous brothers, it seems completely natural that Radical Dreamers would be another game wherein a three-person band must repel the occasional ghost or demon. And, while sneaking around Viper Manor is something that could be “the same every time”, it is hard to see how random battles could not spice things up. Serge, your POV character, has health points. You have a reason to keep him alive, and now there are threats that could potentially deplete his life force. It is not just about bumping from room to room, it is about surviving this dangerous situation, and what could be more dangerous than fighting undead guards?

Look awayExcept… well… Battles are a little different in the world of a text adventure. Fight? Magic? Item? All normal things to see in a JRPG, but Radical Dreamers can be distinct. The nature of the beast here allows the narration to employ some fun tricks that would never fly in a traditional JRPG. One thing that flies, for instance, is Serge, as Magil defeats a ghost by enchanting Serge, and tossing the hapless teen at the ectoplasmic problem. Another example is a battle wherein a skeleton is described as assuming a position that is ”highly suggestive”, but the magic of text-based gameplay leaves the actual position to the imagination of the player. In short, whereas Radical Dreamers could have converted its simple “do you want to go left, right, or up the stairs” to “do you want to fight, run, or defend”, the writers did go the extra mile and craft a situation that feels wholly different from the traditional JRPG of the era.

But different does not always mean good. The first battle with a perverted skeleton is funny, but not so much on the third encounter that is exactly the same. This is a text-based game, and the downside of text-based games has always been that making the same choices will lead to the exact same outcomes. And, while that should simply be a problem when replaying the whole adventure, it is an issue that crops up over and over again in even a perfect playthrough of Radical Dreamers. It is possible in RD to continue to make progress and never see the same thing twice as you take your party through this mysterious mansion… except for the battles. There appear to be four different opponents (skeleton, ghost, demon, and goblin guard), and there are really good odds you will see the same fights repeatedly before you reach Lynx down in the basement. And if you do not know where you are going? If you get “lost” in this mansion and putter around the same hallways trying to remember just where the heck you found Radius’s dungeon the first time? You are certainly going to see the same fights continually. Nobody likes to do the same thing repeatedly, but, when your character has “real” HP, why would you risk not doing what worked earlier? Take the same path you did the last time you fought a demon. It means you will survive.

I think I know those guysAnd the even greater sin of boring the player is that it makes your party look stupid. Or maybe there is some level of collective Alzheimer’s going on? A ghost attacks! Serge ducks behind Magil! But Serge is shocked when Magil tosses the boy at the ghost! No one is hurt, but Serge sure has some questions. Just like last time. Exactly like last time. And there is only the (large) chance that you will fight the same monster repeatedly across one adventure, but it is definite that you will fight five goblins in a row when you raid the treasure chamber. And it is entirely possible those five goblin fights will all go exactly the same way, one after the other, with the characters all reacting exactly the same. In my own playthrough of this area, no less than three goblins died muttering to Magil, “where did you learn that spell? What kind of human are you?” It was creepy and interesting the first time! Not so much when it was repeated three times in a row. In short, not only are these “random battles” seemingly wholly pointless (there are no levels or experience to gain, but there is the slightest chance of gaining a dropped jewel after a battle, which increases Kid’s affection), they also actively detract from the characterization happening. These random battles remind the player that they are not involved in an epic story, they are playing a videogame.

But how is this different from the “random” battles in any “real” JRPG? How many times did Crono and friends have to fight goblins that followed the exact same patterns as the last thousand times they fought? How many times did Serge in the Chrono Cross universe fight skeletons that charmed his party members, slightly delaying a victory as he paused to pull out a healing element? How many other JRPGs feature battles that, over and over again, are exactly the same? You make progress in the dungeon, you eventually find your way to the big boss of the area, but your little dudes and dudettes are repeatedly fried by the same lesser dragons using the exact same fire breath attack? Really? They couldn’t figure out how to dodge the same assault they saw 80 times already? What is wrong with you idiots?

Kind of a cat?Well, at least not every game is the same. For an easy example, Final Fantasy 5 features four characters that eventually accumulate 22 jobs. That means there are thousands of different combinations of jobs and abilities within a Final Fantasy 5 party. And you could try them all! You could make every inconsequential battle a different opportunity to try something new. And you and your characters are never bored. But then you play something like… say… Wild Arms 3, and you have the exact same party with the exact same skills and (depending on the location) fight the exact same monsters continually for fifteen floors of the same dungeon. And, gee, I wonder which game was reviewed poorly for having “too many random encounters”. It was never about the number! It was always about the lack of variety! Bravely Default can support an endless dungeon of distinctive challenges. Xenosaga… not so much.

So is violence the answer? Well, it looks like the answer is extremely situational. If there are choices, if there are real options the player can choose, that makes all the difference. Then combat can be fun no matter the narrative situation. But when options are limited? When all you have are a few text boxes that lead to a handful of results? Then it is pointless. Just ignore it. Just run away. There is no reason to get in a fight if the rewards are only going to be thinking less of your own party.

And as far as the Radical Dreamers? Well, they better stay out of any and all fights. Don’t even think about lifting that swallow, Serge, it is never going to do you any good. We went a solid 20 years without this incarnation of Serge throwing hands, and it would be best if that continued.

FGC #629 Radical Dreamers (Complete Edition)

  • Looks like Marle...System: Super Nintendo kinda sorta but not really for anybody. Then, like a million years later, it was available as part of Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition for PC, Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. So now you can play it.
  • Number of players: It was very hard to make visual novels multiplayer in 1996, so this is single player.
  • A shape of things to come: The main path of Radical Dreamers is arguably somber, complete with a finale that all but guarantees someone will die (though they get better). That said, the alternate paths involve a whole lot of whacky mischief, including an inexplicable giant mech battle, so you can see how the likes of silly characters Funguy or Skelly wound up palling around with the rest of the dour Chrono Cross cast.
  • Returning Favorites: Radius (eventually of Chrono Cross) is locked up in a dungeon, and is lamenting the death of every other Acacia Dragoon (though they all have different names from CC’s luminaries). Riddel is Lynx’s adopted daughter, but now she is a blonde that is significantly more princess-y. The leader of the Porre forces is not Norris, but a creepy old lady named Vera that seems to naturally attract bats. And Lynx… might be a cat? It is hard to tell if he is supposed to be distinctly feline, or just has weird facial hair. Also, there is what is best described as “the nerd goblin”, and it is implied that he is Chrono Cross’s Dario… or at least someone that fills the same role as Riddel’s former lover.
  • Do I know you?So, is Magus back? Despite reports I have been hearing for years, Magil is never overtly confirmed to be Magus over the course of the adventure. That said, he knows a heck of a lot about the Masamune, the Lost Kingdom of Zeal, dark magic, and, oh yeah, he looks exactly like Magus from the first second of the game. The only evidence that appears that Magil is not Magus is that Magil seems more jovial than Magus ever was… but that isn’t hard to do. There are some turnips that are more jovial than Magus (and, no, I am not talking about that Turnip).
  • Did you know? Serge has a radically different design for Radical Dreamers. He is dressed like a complete moron. Or maybe the hero of Dragon Quest 7. Who was also a complete moron. It cannot be emphasized enough how Serge got a glow up for Chrono Cross.
  • Would I play again: Unlikely. This is an important artifact of gaming, particularly for someone who so thoroughly enjoys the Chrono Trigger franchise. That said, I am not a guy who enjoys visual novels past an initial playthrough, and if I want to read a novel about Chrono Trigger characters, I’ll just hit some fanfic. Fans got me through waiting for Chrono Cross to be released, and they can do it again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth! Time for an elf to take some time off her shelf. Please look forward to it!

So serene
Kind of looks like a preview for next week

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

Learning!Let’s look at the history of The Incredible Crash Dummies, and how they are enormously relevant today.

Cars are amazing. Much like the common copier, a car is a normal part of daily life for many people, but something that would be impossible science fiction a couple centuries back. An automobile is a device that an individual personally owns, and allows said individual to turn a trip that would previously take weeks into a handful of hours. Want to transport groceries from the market? Go on a road trip? Steal a couch from your neighbor? A car makes it all possible!

Cars are also rolling murder machines.

Automobiles are terrifying. They are gigantic hunks of plastic and metal that we routinely hurl through our neighborhoods at speeds that could turn a human being into bloody chunks. Statistically, automobiles are one of the leading causes of unintended death and injury in the United States, with 37,595 motor vehicle deaths in 2019. And, while the US has experienced less motor vehicle death since 1999, there has been an alarming trend of that number ticking back up since 2009. Did we lose some driving skill points with the Obama administration? Are people returning to more reckless driving after watching Gerard Butler’s Gamer? Can we blame “self-driving” cars that have demonstrated a Christine-esque bloodlust? The world may never know. What is important is that cars are helpful and an incredibly likely way for you or a loved one to die/be seriously injured.

But maybe it won’t be so bad if you wear a seatbelt. I learned that from some dummies.

This is gonna hurtThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a US Federal Agency that is ultimately responsible for vehicle safety standards. Like many American institutions, it is three lobbyists in a trench coat claiming they are working for the public good (and they’re totally old enough to buy beer, too, mister). The NHTSA was founded back when America had a three company monopoly on the very concept of cars, and has often been responsible for legislation that punished companies both foreign and domestic for attempting to gain a foothold that might make Henry Ford cry. Look up some details on the Citroën SM sometime if you’d like to see how the safest car ever™ can apparently be torpedoed by headlights. But, even if their motives are suspect in many situations, people at the NHTSA are firmly in the business of safety, so we have those proud men and women to thank for less cars immediately immolating their passengers. Oh! And seatbelts! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was practically founded to get seatbelts around your tummy.

Legislation made seatbelts mandatory on all cars produced after 1966. Then Reagan (naturally) dropped ‘em in a fit of deregulation. But they came back shortly thereafter, as the Supreme Court sided with insurance companies that wanted seatbelts in all cars (for altruistic purposes, I’m sure). New York then became the first state to require seatbelts to actually be worn in 1985. From there, other states quickly followed suit, and now New Hampshire is the only lawless hovel in the USA where seatbelts are optional. But as important as laws are, they are only as good as their enforcers. A seatbelt law is great for pulling someone over for the slimmest of reasons, but there were also many cops that, having grown up in a seatbelt-less environment, thought the law literally wasn’t worth enforcing. Seatbelts were and are a greater good for society and vehicle passengers… but they were kinda uncomfortable, and nobody likes being told what to do. It’s impossible to say if it’s bad or not.

Enter the crash test dummies.

COMMENCE LEARNINGIn 1986, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began running public service announcements featuring crash test dummies. Where did they come from? Well, in 1869, Mary Ward was killed by a steam-powered car. 60 years later, someone decided to look into that, so Wayne State University of Detroit started seeing dead people as test cadavers in controlled car crashes. Unfortunately, measuring what the heck was going on was practically impossible with the tools available in 1930, so things were rough. But it did work in some fashion, as much of what we know about car design safety and bodies being ejected through windshields comes from this era. Look it up! It’s in The Journal of Trauma! Which is a real thing! There were also animal test subjects for a time, too, because humans are the trashiest animals of all. But at some point in there, people stopped strapping corpses and bears (!) into cars, and the crash test dummy became standard. The dummy was apparently first used in 1949, and technology on assessing exactly how damaged a dummy could be by a crash gradually progressed as the decades passed. And, as the crash test dummy became an iconic part of car crashes, someone had the bright idea to stick those dummies out in front of a camera. Vince and Larry (voiced by Garfield!) were born, and their slapstick hijinks lasted as long as a normal commercial, and they taught everyone “you could learn a lot from a dummy”.

And, while it is hard to measure the success of the Crash Test Dummies campaign, they were apparently effective. The dummies were ubiquitous in the old days of limited television channels/entertainment options. It seems certain that they aired these PSAs in conjunction with family-oriented programing, so if mom, dad, grandma, and Jimmy Jr. were sitting down to watch Head of the Class or Designing Women, the Crash Test Dummies would be a part of the experience. And they were entertaining! If you heard Vince and Larry talking about mundane-but-inevitably-fatal tasks like crossing the street or driving down to the store, you kept your butt in your seat, and watched the carnage unfold. At the time when the official campaign was retired in 1999, seatbelt usage had risen from 21% to 67%. Was this because people had learned a lot from these dummies? Or was it because children loved the toyline?

Because who could say no to this weirdo?

Colors are real
(Bomb Man and Tron Bonne provided for scale)

The Incredible Crash Test Dummies was an action figure line that combined the two things boys like most: vehicles and wanton destruction. Every Crash Test Dummy vehicle was built to be driven, destroyed, and then immediately rebuilt. And these were not Lego-esque construction toys, they were cars with crash-apart windows, crumple zones, and other fun features designed to break (and instantly unbreak). Everything scaled very nicely with other toy lines (if you want to see a GI Joe live through a generally harrowing experience, go nuts), and the actual figures had neat features, too (Vince and Larry can really go to pieces at the drop of a hat). There were even “little buddy” style figures, like the cat, dog, and crash test child that parents demanded be banned. So there’s a collector’s market, too! Hooray! They were never on the same tier as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers, but the Incredible Crash Test Dummies must have had enough of a fanbase to sustain three different seasons of toys.

Oh, and a few videogames. They… existed.

Here we goTechnically, today’s chosen game is The Incredible Crash Test Dummies for the Super Nintendo. This version was ported to the Sega Genesis, Amiga, and other systems that did not have the wherewithal to host Chrono Trigger. There was also a Nintendo Entertainment System version, and that more or less played like a primitive sports title/minigame collection, and it was ported to the portables of the time. What ties these two versions together is that they were all absolutely terrible games. The NESalikes at least consistently reminded you that you were playing with crash test dummies, and practically every event involved some kind of slapstick carnage. The SNESalikes, however, were simply 16-bit mascot platformers (from the people that brought you B.O.B.), and were practically indistinguishable from the rest of the poorly considered dreck of the time. There is the charm point of the dummies losing their limbs as they lose health, but that doesn’t impact the gameplay nearly as much as you would think. Beyond that, there is a P-Balloon-esque powerup that encourages some limited flight-through-inflation… and that’s about it. This could easily be Swift the Tenrec racing against the nefarious Dr. Walrus, because no one would notice the difference if the Incredible Crash Test Dummies license was missing from The Incredible Crash Test Dummies game.

But there is a plot to the SNES version! And that plot is surprisingly germane to today’s point (we’ll get there eventually).

The Incredible Crash Dummies toy line initially featured Vince and Larry, the same dummies from the public service announcements. However, shortly after the toys were initially produced, parents began protesting the toy line, and networks stopped airing the PSAs. The reason? It was assumed that the PSAs were now serving the dual masters of public health and turning a profit. Every ad that told you to buckle your safety belt was inadvertently also informing children they could go buy The Incredible Crash Test Dummies merch down at K B Toys. This was seen as a bad thing by the public at large, so the toy line was made more distinct from the PSA characters. Vince and Larry kept on informing the public of the dangers of hugging windshields, and colorswaps took over as Slick and Spin. From there, Slick and Spin gained Pro-Tek Suits, as they had to combat their new enemies: the Junkbots! And those Junkbots barely looked like Crash Test Dummies! How convenient! This prompted a Saturday Morning Special/VHS Tape that told the (computer generated) tale of how the Crash Test Dummies must stop the nefarious Junkbots from stealing a really kicky vest or something. This same story/conflict became the plot of the Super Nintendo game, and now you too can battle the Junkbots and all their rad playsets and toys. Nobody likes youAnd never shall a Junkbot interact with Vince and Larry, else the safety of Crash Test Dummies implode. In short, whatever initial plans for The Incredible Crash Test Dummies line ever existed were seriously derailed the minute it seemed like the toys might endanger the successful PSA campaign.

And I am just trying to understand a world where a capitalistic campaign to make money off children is derailed and modified for the sake of public safety. Christ, I cannot even imagine that anymore.

You want Angry Ranting Goggle Bob? Sure, let’s do this. I lived through a number of significant events in recent American history. I remember when we were first supposed to hate Iraq, and I remember when we were asked to do that all over again a few years later with a similarly named president. I remember when 9/11 happened, and we were told to “never forget” the deaths of 2,996 people. I remember friggin’ freedom fries. And why do I mention any of these tragedies? Because they became focused, national campaigns demanding compliance. There is not a single person on Earth that ever heard of a law renaming a condiment due to political pressure, but, somehow, for six months, all the local restaurants employed servers that asked if you wanted “Catalina dressing” instead of “French”. Forget the crash test dummies, I have seen ridiculously successful advertising campaigns that benefitted only the US Government my entire life, and the public at large doesn’t even recognize such as propaganda. Or, put another way, next time someone shouts “America is Number One!” go ahead and ask them to name their sources. And, no, “freedom” is not an answer.

But this is not to say the United States of America is terrible! It is simply an affirmation that when the federal government wants something to be the standard for the country, they don’t need to make a law. All they need to do is pump the ubiquitous media with interview after interview about how something is our “enemy” or some ambiguous-but-vital goal is “impossible if we don’t all work together”. We all need to go to the mall right now, or the terrorists win.

Jumpin' AroundYet, now that there is a public health emergency that is likely to cause us to confirm how many people over a million you need to see dead before you start using a plural, the government cannot get its messaging straight. Killing Middle Eastern people was the only way we were ever going to ever be happy again, but getting a vaccine? Put that in the maybe column. Wear a mask? No, that might offend some customers that think this Applebee’s staff is somehow dirty. Actually close some goddamned stores because the risk of a localized outbreak will have a greater impact on society than Cletus buying his 256th Funko Pop? Never! Our government has never had a problem taking a bold, unwavering stance on the subject of massive, coordinated death, but when it comes to public health, everybody is shrugging and claiming personal choice is important. Nobody was talking about “personal choice” when the local donut shop was being vandalized every week after 9/11, Joe!

And this pisses me off after the last two years: Where are the Crash Test Dummies for COVID? I understand that Lorenzo Music might not be available for dubbing, but can we get a few decent voice actors to voice the… I don’t know… Mask Buddies? Some kind of ad that runs between Hulu reruns that promotes public health in the slightest bit? And not some “we’re all in this together” commercial to get you to go to Starbucks? The original Incredible Crash Test Dummies were a successful PSA and toy line! And videogame! That was awful! But still! You can do this! You can save lives and make a couple of bucks! I know you can do it, America! You have literally done it before!

Listen to this dummy. You could learn a lot from the past.

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

  • Battle all our playsets and toys!System: There was a full system breakdown during the article, so I will just reiterate that we’re focused on the Super Nintendo version today. Will I look at other ports? Absolutely not.
  • Number of players: This really should be two players, as Crash Test Dummies come in pairs. But no dice. Sorry.
  • Level Up: Your main offensive ability is jumping on your opponents, ala Super Mario Bros. But! You can also throw a limited-ammo spanner of some kind as a projectile. And it gets better as you defeat more bosses! Or… it is supposed to… or… something… as it mostly just gets “stronger” by flying in loop-de-loops or other bizarre patterns. Like a lot in this game, it is a choice.
  • Favorite Boss: It is hard to say how much this was influenced by the already toyetic movie, but it seems like the bosses were exclusively chosen to sell the vehicles offered by the toyline. And I’m okay with that! I have been fighting the Technodrome for years! The final boss is the best, as his morphing truck adapts the whole “build whatever” aspect of the Junkbots canon. Oh, but all the bosses are absolutely terrible to fight, because of horrendous hit detection, so you won’t ever see the final boss anyway.
  • Bonus Time: Every boss is immediately followed by a Turbo Tunnel-esque bonus stage wherein you are forced to ram your dummy into a wall with as much speed as possible. For this being the “bonus” of playing an Incredible Crash Test Dummies videogame, you would expect they would maybe put a little effort into parts flying everywhere, or possibly our favorite dummy saying something cute as he is ejected. Nope! Just dumb explosion graphics. Lame.
  • Away we go!Stage End: Every level ends with a spinning “Next Zone” sign, and your dummy rolling into a ball to eject off to parts unknown. That seems weirdly familiar for a 16-bit platformer….
  • Goggle Bob Fact: So I made reference to a local donut shop being vandalized during the article. This is seriously in reference to my college days. Immediately after 9/11, the local donut shop was run by a Pakistani dude who actually did have his 24/7 coffee/donut shop vandalized, like, all the time. This led to the situation wherein my friends and I, completely unaware of this, showed up one night at 3 AM for coffee and donuts, because we were, ya know, bored college students. The owner had a bat at the ready when we arrived, because he assumed we were there to rob and/or vandalize the place (admittedly, we did have multiple tall people with a post-Matrix inclination toward trench coats). It was a confusingly tense situation! Mostly because half our party was high as hell, and had a really hard time understanding what was happening! After we explained that we mostly just had the munchies, the guy calmed down, and we all had coffee and donuts and talked about how much it sucks that so many people were so reactively racist all of a sudden. And I want to say that, barring the premiere of the Justice League cartoon/Gamecube (we were nerds), we came back there and hung out with the guy every weekend that semester. After a few months, hostilities seemed to die down, he stopped personally working the night shift, and we went back to dealing with whoever was making minimum wage for corralling geeks on the graveyard shift. But the point is: don’t let anyone tell you the time after 9/11 was a time of “national unity”. It was only a time of national unity for people that didn’t have to protect their businesses and homes with baseball bats.
  • Did you know? Yes, actual bears were used as crash test dummies at one point in history. This is inhumane and marginally insane (do you know anyone built like a bear? … I mean… a real bear). But it did mean that, for some short epoch, bear was driving. And how can that be?
  • Would I play again: No. This is… No. B.O.B. might get a play first, and that’s horrible.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Legends: Arceus! Completely random that yet another Pokémon game appears on this blog! Maybe a Castlevania will be next! Anyway, please look forward to it!

This is someone's fetish

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