Tag Archives: tanks a lot

FGC #618 Body Harvest

SPACE STATION BODY HARVESTHelp me out here. I am trying to determine whether Body Harvest, a Nintendo 64 game released in 1998, absolutely needs a modern remake, or if it is a game that could only ever be a product of its unique time.

Body Harvest deserves the 21st Century!

Superficially, Body Harvest has a traditional videogame premise that could slot into any gaming epoch. Giant, vaguely mechanical bugs have attacked Earth, and it is your job to repel the invasion. Hell, that’s just Space Invaders! But the twist here is that you have the ability to 4-D travel along the timeline of their invasion, and you can battle bugs back in the far-off past of World War I or the far-flung future of six years ago (hey, 2016 seemed pretty advanced in 1998). And it isn’t just about slightly changing the background to match a setting, either, each of the four time periods featured in Body Harvest dramatically differ in the firepower, vehicles, or just plain people you encounter.

And that is the first check in our “please remake” column: this was Grand Theft Auto before there was a GTA(3), but with even more variety. Technically, this should not be a surprise, as Body Harvest was designed by DMA Design, which went on to become Rockstar, which was directly responsible for Grand Theft Auto 3 a scant three years later. You can see the exact gameplay with your little orange warrior skipping from car to tank that would be recycled for Claude hopping from… well… He got a tank, too, didn’t he? But, as much as Grand Theft Auto 3 and its descendants tried to mix things up with fun or interesting new vehicles, they still have nothing on rolling around in a Japanese Zero plane while splatting insects. The different time periods naturally lend themselves to a variety of vehicles, and Body Harvest deserves to have Adam grabbing a veritable Gran Turismo of automobiles during his 1966 trip to America.

Stay dampBut this also leads to a significant sign of Body Harvest’s times. There are multiple vehicles in every epoch… but they are all pretty much the same. A plane is a plane, a tank is a tank, and nobody ever likes to be railroaded into a boat. A modern remake of Body Harvest could actually make these vehicles feel distinct, as you better believe it would feel different to drive a Grecian jeep in 1916 versus an American luxury car in 1966. And the weapons? There is a mythical “sun shield” in early 20th Century Greece that functions exactly like a laser from decades later. Does that make a bit of sense? Nope. A game that was designed nowadays could truly make the gulf of a century of technology felt during gameplay.

And speaking of modern changes, you have likely heard that every franchise wants to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild nowadays. Well, here is a game that was Breath of the Wild long before Link ever considered his first sheikah slate. The worlds of Body Harvest are huge, and they even follow a familiar pattern of “fog” obscuring the world map until you find and defeat a proper giant bug. Unlike a similar DMA Design game of the era, Space Station Silicon Valley, Body Harvest revels in its open world gameplay, and rewards the player with massive playgrounds when they unlock the epoch’s plane equivalent (usually a plane). Yes, the regions of these worlds work like “levels” with bite sized challenges, but the future tech justified “fast travel” between different areas reinforces how Body Harvest was definitely a game before its time.

What in blazes is thatAnd, yes, that means these “huge” worlds are 100% “huge” with the caveat that they are areas in a N64 game. Just like how the giant bugs scale with your lil’ space marine, so they do seem to be gargantuan, formidable opponents… that can barely move. In the same way that exploring a giant world needs a little more horsepower to craft a truly giant world, the enormous bug monsters would be a whole lot scarier if they were not hampered by a system that allowed them to move about as fast as a sloth contemplating the benefits of a reverse mortgage. The whole concept here is that bugs the sizes of buildings are wiping out humanity, so it is super important that these creatures are immediately perceptible as maddeningly enormous. Unfortunately, that makes everything but the basic drones effectively immobile, so a little more RAM under the hood could really add to the threatening bug realism here.

In short, everything that Body Harvest tries to do could be made better by modern technology. You can almost feel the game that Body Harvest could be if it were released in 2022.

But would it still be the same game if it were released today? Because…

Body Harvest is a relic of the 20th Century!

Want to know the number one thing that surprised this 21st Century Boy when playing this pre-2000 videogame? Adam the Orange Warrior can enter houses. In fact, you have to enter a house as part of the opening of the game, and making progress through the various areas all but requires stopping into people’s homes. And they are not just dialogue boxes hiding in houses: these are actual “maps” that include hidden items, health refills, and even the occasional puzzle. Some of the “ancient Greek” dungeons could be mistaken for Zelda areas, and some of the future “sewers” could be entire (terrible) games on their own. And they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore! You know that if Body Harvest were made a few years later, “somebody put the bridge up” would simply be a communications dialogue box, and not a house including a person. The “dungeon puzzles” would somehow be modified to be solvable without leaving your car du jour, and any sort of regional/epoch variety would be completely lost. Actually seeing and interacting with people in a game where you are trying to save said people makes a big difference. You are not rescuing random humans that fill up your “humans lost” meter, you are saving that guy that lives in that house over there. The one with the water barrel that fills up your health! He’s important!

This is a friendly placeBut that does bring us to the whole “different time periods” problem of Body Harvest’s design. To be absolutely clear on what happens in Body Harvest, every epoch also has its own geographic location. 1916 is Greece, 1941 is Java, 1966 is a generic city in America, and 1991 is Siberia. If you find some NPC you like in the first time period, sorry to say that you are not ever going to encounter that guy again. It is a shame, as one of the coolest things a videogame can do is play with time travel for the ever popular “plant a seed, watch the tree grow” experience that is generally impossible in actual reality (or at least far too boring). However, this also means Body Harvest straddles the line between “open world” and “levels”. By the finale of the 1916 area, you can go practically anywhere on that map, and maybe find a random laser component or two to make your life easier. But the minute you activate the boss of the level and claim victory? You ain’t seein’ 1916 or Greece ever again, boy-o.

And that is antithetical to modern day “open world” design. The benefit of Breath of the Wild is that, barring Link breaking his own legs while shield-surfing down a mountain, you can always return to the starting plateau. You can venture around the world in any order you want, and then venture backwards through that same world as you so choose. Cutting off areas by epochs? That is either going to mean there are places you can never return to; or, even worse, making “backwards” time travel a mandatory solution to puzzles. It is cool to see a world grow up over a hundred years, it is dramatically less fun to be told you have to scoot back to previous areas every other scene because someone programmed in backtracking puzzles. That’s the opposite of an open world! That’s a crap world!

It must stink down hereSo maybe Body Harvest is bound to its own epoch. Maybe we could never see such a game today, because too many modern conventions seem to state, “we don’t do that anymore”. Designing entire building interiors just to support random NPCs? An open world that is not an open world? Levels? Screw that noise. That is some 1998 wiz biz, and we are unlikely to ever see it again.

Or not? What do you think, humble reader? Could we see an ideal Body Harvest HD? Or is it never going to be half the game it once was in an effort to be the game it could be today? Past or Future? And does said past or future include giant bugs?

The world may never know. Then again, maybe we’ll see Body Harvest HD before Grand Theft Auto 6…

FGC #618 Body Harvest

  • System: Nintendo 64. It was nearly a launch game! … But then some stuff happened.
  • Number of players: Adam Orange must fight a hundred years of giant bugs all alone.
  • Where in time is giant bugs: Most of the epochs are just an excuse to pal around in familiar settings of the last century, but the modern level in Siberia is either a tremendous diss to Russia, or an excuse for a zombie level. Or both! Siberia’s military facility (?) is lousy with all sorts of modern armaments, but it also has a severe nuclear zombie issue. Maybe it is supposed to be a Chernobyl reference? The dangers of modern technology? Whatever. Point is that it is a really weird final “real” level, and maybe speaks to the developers getting bored about 80% of the way through their own idea.
  • I do not like it hereAn end: The finale is, as was the style at the time, a level that forsakes everything that made the game great, and just an excuse to zoom around an alien asteroid in a homicidal hovercraft. At least you used the hovercraft in other levels/battles, so it is not completely out of left field; but it is still a sad excuse to not have a final “future” level with more interesting future vehicles. And then you kill a giant cockroach that is also your brother. Real Shakespeare s%&# right there.
  • Filthy Cheater: There are also a variety of cheats coded into the game, with some lifesaving (health refill, have all weapons) and some a little more on the silly side of things (have fat legs). Come to think of it, the N64 era was the golden age of ridiculous cheats. Or maybe we all just enjoyed big head mode a little too much.
  • Favorite Vehicle: For some reason, my dad has always liked the Ford Edsel. It is a weird little car, and my dad is a weird little guy, so it makes sense. So imagine my surprised when Edsels pop up as the first car available in the America stage of 1966! Despite the fact that the Edsel stopped production in 1960! Weird little choice, guys!
  • Did you know? Body Harvest was going to be an N64 launch game compliments of Nintendo publishing. And, according to a scant few interviews on the subject, Body Harvest was micromanaged by Nintendo of Japan quite a bit before the company outright dropped the title for theoretically “it’s too violent” reasons. DMA Design struggled to find another publisher, and Body Harvest was eventually released in its current (and only) incarnation. Worth noting? This inevitably caused a bit of a gulf between DMA Design and Nintendo, and considering DMA digivolved into becoming Rockstar… is there an alternate universe where Body Harvest stayed the Nintendo course, and Grand Theft Auto 3 is a Nintendo Gamecube launch game?
  • God bless America/bugsWould I play again: Maybe? Body Harvest is a strange game that is very much a product of its time, but it is a downright shame it never saw a follow up to its own unique flavor of gameplay. Grand Theft Auto 3 is the obvious descendant, but I could use a game with a rocket launcher and a few more giant bugs. So maybe I’ll try Body Harvest again for the experience.

What’s next? Looks like Valentine’s Day is next Monday, so we’re going to have a special Wankery Week article ready for the holiday of love. There will be cooking! Please look forward to it!

FGC #609 Zero Wing

The most zero of wingsNFTs are terrible. I also hate the fact that when it comes to the existence of NFTs, I… get it?

I believe understanding the drive for NFTs is the source of some self-loathing.

Since my mom occasionally remembers I have a blog, let us define NFTs. At the absolute base level, a non-fungible token (NFT) is a receipt. It is a proof of ownership for a “thing”. In the case of NFTs as they are currently exploding across the internet, this “thing” is traditionally art of some kind. In many cases, the NFT being sold is a unique graphic, and, in much the same way you could purchase a painting from a gallery that also has multiple poster reproductions, the owner of the NFT owns the “original”. And, yes, this ownership is wholly virtual, and you absolutely do need to invest in a color printer if you want something that you could easily display for your grandma. But we have been living in a world with horse armor for over a decade, so spending money in an effort to own a virtual resource is kind of inevitable in today’s society. So what is the problem with owning a Lazy Lion or two?

Well, there is the whole “NFTs are hastening the degradation of our entire planet” thing. The blockchain that powers non-fungible tokens is a wonderous invention that can theoretically be used as 100% proof a transaction has occurred without the involvement of an all-seeing, all-powerful corporate entity being involved. It is commerce sponsored by true anonymity! Unfortunately, maintaining such a database requires a whole lot of computer processing per transaction/verification, and we are not so much talking about “mom ran the vacuum too long” as we are looking at “mom just burned down the entire South American Rainforest”. And never mind that that whole “outlaw capitalism” thing is its own kind of delusion, too, as the blockchains are controlled by companies like publicly traded Etherium. Does this mean Etherium is going to bust down your door with incriminating crypto receipts the minute it becomes slightly financially or ethically profitable? Probably not, but it does mean that there is a company profiting from literally every NFT transaction, which translates to another situation wherein the mere act of buying/selling is a revenue stream unto itself. Etherium wants to be the next Visa, and NFTs are a big part of that plan. Also, there is a significant link between the boom of NFTs and their overt links to white collar crime/money laundering. In much the same way the second largest usage of bitcoin is paying digital ransoms, there is a not insignificant number of NFT transactions that can only be explained by “crime is happening”.

Look at this guyIn the end, depending on exactly how you look at NFTs, you could make the claim that they are simply vanity items roughly on par with custom license plates or purchased PSN avatars. If you are being tremendously less generous, you can also claim that NFTs are multi-level marketing schemes for a whole new “tech bro” generation, and anyone getting involved at the moment is firmly at the bottom of the pyramid. But regardless of your feelings on NFTs as a whole, they seem to be sticking around, and services like Twitter and Adobe are making distinct spaces for people to create/peddle/showcase their NFT collections.

And it is a goddamned shame this whole process is so toxic, because the greatest appeal of NFTs is something my generation has been begging for for decades.

Today’s title is Zero Wing. It was initially an arcade jaunt that migrated to various consoles in disparate regions, and is little more than the flavor of the week of the (then extremely popular) shoot ‘em up genre. It scrolls from left to right (like Gradius), features levels that generally start with comfortable generic areas before ramping up to distinctive, gimmicky challenges (like Gradius), and you have a number of options for upgrades earned by destroying distinct opponents (like Gradius). In this case, your powerups can be a sequential graduation of firepower if you stick to the same color-coded pickups, or you can toggle between power lasers to spread blasts if you change lanes/colors. The most unique thing in Zero Wing gameplay is an extra button for a sort of “tractor beam” that allows you to not only collect abilities, but also grab some of your smaller foes and fling them at larger opponents. This creates a very exceptional situation wherein you are almost happy when a boss brings an entourage to a fight, as it means a whole host of fresh projectiles just wandered into your armory. Defeating a big boss by chucking infinite minions really is the most distinctive, remarkable part of Zero Wing.

Well, I mean, that is if you ignore this…

Somebody set us up the GIF

The Sega Mega Drive version of Zero Wing, only released in European regions, has a legendarily “Engrish” introduction cinema. While this European title did not see any success in America for obvious reasons (nobody was scrambling to import a console port of a lesser shoot ‘em up from the late 80s), when the world of emulation got hold of “5,000 Sega Genesis ROMs FREE”, Zero Wing saw a significant resurgence in popularity…

Around 1998, “All your base are belong to us” invaded the internet at large. It started somewhere around Rage Games, migrated over to Zany Video Game Quotes, and from there dragged itself across various forums and chatrooms. By 2000, the meme had been featured in some way or another on every major nerd entertainment site that existed at the time. In 2001, Wired wrote an article on the meme, and it was subsequently covered in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, and USA Today. In 2004, it was hacked into a news/weather broadcast. In 2006, it came part and parcel with a YouTube site update. In 2014, Elon Musk parodied it in a desperate post regarding patents. To this very day, segments from the Zero Wing intro are quoted by people of a certain age, and it likely will be repeated “for great justice” until the end of human civilization. In short, Zero Wing somehow contained a segment of dialogue that is going to be around for at least a generation, a trend that defined the concept of memes before the descriptor was widely used, and a collective template for the masses that populated the “early days” of the internet. Even if it was not deliberate, Zero Wing became an inexorable part of our culture.

And, incidentally, the creators of Zero Wing didn’t see a dime for creating this artistic touchstone.

I like these colorsI saw the credits roll on this (kinda) Sega Genesis game, so I can safely say Zero Wing was forged by, like, twelve people. As a company, it was created by Toaplan Co, founded in 1979, but defunct by 1994. While many people that worked for Toaplan migrated to other, more modern developers like Square Enix and Taito, but the time Toaplan was releasing Snow Bros. 2: With New Elves (you’ve played that, right?), it was pretty much done. The rights to Toaplan games are now in the possession of Tatsujin, and if that was ever a company that wanted to capitalize on the Zero Wing mania of the early 21st Century, they certainly didn’t get off their duffs to do anything about it. So, basically, in the absence of a “Zero Wing Project” to promote, and the fact that you did not have to purchase Zero Wing to participate in that global meme, there was no way that the popularity of Zero Wing would translate into a penny for the people that actually made the thing.

And, on one hand, who cares? They made a videogame, they were compensated for making a videogame, and, end of the day, that should be enough. It became a meme? Well, sure, but so did that one dude scribbling on stone tablets about Ea-nasir, and you don’t see his estate getting a retroactive payout. Companies being paid perpetually for accomplishments from 1928 is exactly what is wrong with copyright law right now. Just be happy Zero Wing made people happy, guys.

Keep on diggingBut we do live in a capitalist society. We do not measure success by how much happiness you have brought to others, or how content you are with the creations you have produced. We live in a world wherein there is a monthly ranking of who are the richest, most successful people in the country, and we never for a moment consider why we automatically conflate “rich” and “successful”. By this rubric, being responsible for a meme that is shared by millions should be considered “successful”, and thus should translate into untold riches. And, while the exchange rate for how popularity should trade is difficult to define, it would be nice if, ya know, there was at least something tossed at the creators beyond a niche interview titled something like Meme: Origins.

And, in a more personal way, this has been the problem of my entire generation. You produce a cute bit of art, it is copied by a popular online account, and you watch thousands of likes go to your creation that has now, incidentally, been shared without so much as a note that it was authored by a human being. Or you start a blog with your name on it containing articles that people read on a weekly basis, it gets promoted by some random share on Redditt, and the best you get for your troubles is a complaint from your hosting company that too damn many people visited your site this week. Or you get a Patreon going, and then discover that literally every other website available will drop your posts like hot garbage the minute you link to the one place where you may actually receive the tiniest of financial contributions. But don’t worry, Millennials! You can survive without a thousand followers, you just have to know that you are wasting your “brand”, and you might not ever be able to achieve your dreams because you don’t have enough of an online footprint to warrant the ability to afford health insurance. I do not understand why everyone I know is depressed!

… Er-hem.

Tanks a lotThis is why I understand the appeal of NFTs. The concept of “minting” your art, meme, or idea is attractive. The fact that you have produced something, it has a set value, and someone will eventually pay that value for said something is amazing as a concept. It may be exactly how commerce has worked since the days of Ea-nasir, but, for a generation that has been told to hustle for exposure for the last twenty years, it seems downright revolutionary. For people that watched a mediocre videogame become a universal meme that still didn’t mean a cent for its actual creators, an NFT can look like salvation. That could happen to you! Without even knowing it is happening, you could create the next Pepe. You could be the next distracted boyfriend meme. And it could change your life… but not change how you still have to report to a job you hate 40 hours a week. Actually monetizing how the internet as we know it “works” would change a lot of lives, and potentially create an artistic revolution.

But NFTs ain’t it. Maybe something like that will be available in the future, but the solution is not in this blockchain. One day, we will have an answer that actually helps individuals and the world as a whole. One day, people will not have to beg for scraps when their faces are used in GIFs distributed by wealthy tech giants. In the meanwhile, NFTs are not a solution to this problem. NFTs are simply… someone setting us up the bomb.

FGC #609 Zero Wing

  • System: Arcade initially, and then whatever passes for a Sega Genesis in Japan and Europe. It also saw a PC Engine CD-Rom port in Japan, too.
  • Number of players: Oh! It’s two players! I guess that makes it slightly distinctive, too!
  • GrossAnything else of note? Yes, the monsters (or whatever) of the piece all seem to lean closer to biological than mechanical. This creates a lovely little Geiger-esque world wherein the final boss being a giant brain in a jar feels positively mundane next to some of the other creatures skulking around.
  • So, does that intro actually impact anything in the game: Nope! It was created exclusively for the home game, and does not exist in the original arcade version. I guess we all had to know why we were launching every Zig (or why that one big ship was exploding at the top of the first level). But, sorry, ol’ Cats is barely recognizable as the same cyborg during the finale, so don’t expect any closure for that sad space captain facepalming forever.
  • Favorite Weapon: Lasers. Lasers everywhere. Lasers for president of the universe.
  • Did you know? According to Tatsuya Uemura, the lead programmer of the arcade and Sega Genesis versions of Zero Wing, the opening crawl was translated by an employee whose English was “really terrible”. You… probably already knew that.
  • Would I play again: This was probably a pretty good shoot ‘em up for 1989. It is no great shakes in 2021. I like it! It’s not bad! I am just never going to bother with this ever again. Enjoy your spot in history, though, Zero Wing!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Samurai Shodown! Speaking of games with marginally passable translations, it is time to live by the Bushido code in an effort to impress some dork with a pair of flags. Please look forward to it!

ENGAGE

FGC #594 Aero Fighters 2

Are we fighting the air?Chrono Trigger is one of the greatest videogames ever created… but it is hard to convey that in an advertisement in the pages of Gamepro. So Square USA Advertising had to focus on some less hyperbolic bullet points. Chrono Trigger: It is about time travel! It has character designs from the Dragon Ball Z guy! It was produced by the people behind Final Fantasy! And, most of all, Chrono Trigger has multiple endings! More than ten! That is an amazing number of endings!

And, in the year 2021, it is difficult to understand why “so many endings” was, like, the best thing to ever happen to us 90’s kids.

For a look at why “endings” had a very different meaning back in the day, let us examine Aero Fighters 2.

At first blush, there is not much about Aero Fighters 2 that distinguishes itself from anything else in the shoot ‘em up field of 1994. This is a basic vertical scrolling affair for two players. There are some whimsical enemies, so this is a little better than a mundane 1942, but there are still a lot of tanks, aircraft carriers, and “missile bases” to demolish. Aero Fighters 2 also tries to be “real” by including legitimate locations (Mexico is a real place!) and featuring their attendant national landmarks. Or, put another way, yes, you can get powerups by shooting the Eiffel Tower. Other than that, it is just a two button shooter where powerups just advance your weaponry in a linear fashion, and you can hit that bomb button if things get dicey. Nothing worth writing home about, and certainly not a reason to switch the ol’ Neo Geo over from World Heroes.

Oh, wait, there is the character select screen…

Love that dolphin

And a friggen flying dolphin. That should raise a few eyebrows.

To be clear about the gameplay of Aero Fighters 2: yes there is a difference between the individual pilots during (aero) fighting. The different attacks and “bombs” of each aero fighter do have distinct effects on the world at large, so there is certainly an incentive to switch after every quarter and see which character better suits your playstyle. But, by the same token, this is not a fighting game. The different flyers have different (mostly real) ships, but they do not have drastically different hitboxes or movements. In other words, you do not have to master a different “flying technique” to compensate for whether or not your chosen hero is a head in a jar. We are working off the same concept we see over and over again in racing games, TRPGs, and even modern mobile slot machines: you can have multiple-limbed aliens battling alongside actual Welsh Corgis, but they are all effectively “the same”, because they all exist in the same car/ship/playing card. Blanka and Ryu are drastically different fighters. Mao Mao and Robo Keaton are, in essence, remarkably similar planes.

But Spanky the Dolphin is an actual goddamned dolphin. That demands an explanation!

And Aero Fighters 2 is ready to fill in the blanks. … Kind of. Right from hitting the start button, any given pilot relays their thoughts, and that segues into a light running narrative through the whole of the game. Every level begins with a sort of “check-in”, and our pilots often communicate deep thoughts like “It’s time to save Mexico!” or “Man, I could use a water.” If you are playing in two player mode, though, these monologues become dialogues, and the different characters bounce off each other in different ways. How does the combined force of Ellen & Cindy deal with Captain Silver? How does that change when a cyborg is involved? Find out! You can learn all sorts of things from seeing how people interact when they are between missions and/or a dolphin.

Like... to eat?

But it is not enough. Aero Fighters 2 is always a flurry of activity. Even between missions, your pilots only have a sentence or two of narration, because, dammit, there are more aliens to blast! This may be a transcontinental flight, but it is over inside of twenty minutes. There is barely a second to admire the Statue of Liberty as you zoom by with your bullets blasting. The only respite for our heroes lies at the end of this aero fight. And that is also when you will finally get to see an explanation for Spanky’s existence.

… Or you’ll just find out that a dolphin likes swimming.

Try to stay amusedBut wait! There’s more! Spanky has multiple endings! Every duo in Aero Fighters 2 has an ending that is specific to the two characters in question. And this is not a simple “fit the same pieces together with slight variations” deal like Cannon Spike, either. If Spanky and Bobby win the day, you learn that Spanky can “always count on whales”. Hi-En learns to surf on Spanky, and Spanky obliterates Steve when the rockstar suggests that the dolphin join a circus. Spanky, Cindy & Ellen all get to party on a private island, and Robo Keaton only reveals that he is a Transformer when Spanky is present. And when Mao-Mao conscripts Spanky into a variety show (or… something?), Spanky groans that he can do better than being a featured oddity. Oh, and everybody dies in Silver’s ending. There… may be a parrot involved. It is weird. Let’s not dwell on it.

And what do we learn about Spanky through all of this? Well, it is not exactly a full treatise on a character that clearly deserves his own franchise, but it is something. Spanky is prideful. Spanky is a friend to all sea life. Spanky can have fun with his comrades. Spanky can swim (you probably guessed that one). None of these facts are revelations, but they are information. It is data, and, what’s more, it is entertaining data. It is enjoyable to see the dolphin you have guided through a warzone eventually laze about his own paradise. An ending in Aero Fighters 2 is fun for the player and the characters involved (unless they explode. Then it is just entertaining for the player).

And this brings us to a basic fact about gaming in the 90’s: an “ending” was the only part of a videogame that got to be purely entertaining.

Videogames are (supposed to be) fun. That is irrefutable. But they are also the kind of fun where your chosen hero dies repeatedly. Or maybe they simply suffer. Whatever we have as a “lose condition”, one thing is certain: you are going to see it a lot. You choose Spanky the Dolphin at the arcade, and you know you are going to have to either be a perfect player, or you are going to have to keep feeding that Dolphin quarters to keep him alive and flying. And when you finally see that ending? That is the only time Spanky gets to rest. That is the only occasion that you can bask in the glow of completion, socialize with your favorite marine mammal, and mutually toast a job well done.

And that is exactly why endings were so important in the 90’s, and through much of gaming.

Gradius timeGames have gotten better at this! In much the same way that videogames identified that they do not have to be all bullet hells all the time, many gaming narratives have grown and matured to the point that there is time for the characters to have fun within their own games. Final Fantasy 1’s Fighter never gets a break to enjoy Corneria, but Noctis of Final Fantasy 15 is chilling and cruising through the best time of his life through about 80% of his adventure. And years before that, Cloud got to hash out some of his backstory and enjoy himself around the Golden Saucer. Lest you think this is JRPG exclusive, though, just look at how a testosterone-fueled maniac like Kratos of God of War gets breaks between boss fights to sleep with sexy ladies or push boxes full of dudes around. Whether you are venturing across the world or simply killing ninja in your living room, your modern videogame involves a protagonist that can do more than be an action hero at all times. They can have deep internal monologues about being sad over their daughters for days!

But back in the arcade days? Impossible. Back when 16 bits were all you had to flesh out a creature? Nope. You must save that for the ending. So an “ending” for gamers in the 90’s meant one thing: happiness. Joy. And maybe a side of character development. All this and more in your average ending. And a game like Chrono Trigger or Aero Fighters 2 that boasted multiple endings? Well, damn, that’s some more bang for your buck. Mega Man X might be an amazing game, but that Reploid only gets an ending once. That’s crap! Gimme some nonsense with Reptites ruling the world right now.

Back in the 90’s, so many endings meant a game was so, so good.

FGC #594 Aero Fighters 2

  • Pew pewSystem: Nintendo Switch or Playstation 4 now, Neo Geo back in the day. This also makes it an arcade game by default.
  • Number of players: Definitely two. No way you would get those extra endings without a buddy.
  • Favorite Pilot: It cannot be anyone but Spanky the Dolphin, proud representative of the nation of United Nations. With Spanky out of the way, though, Robo Keaton must be appreciated, as he was the hero of Aero Fighters (1) that finished his headlining game by exploding. But he’s okay! Mostly! I mean… being a face in a jar doesn’t seem so bad, and he is still headlining.
  • An end: Another reason to “see all the endings” is that there are multiple final bosses, and they seem to be chosen completely randomly. A black eyeball that recalls the finale of Link’s Awakening is your most common opponent, but some manner of ghost doll and a fish from Kirby is also a possible opponent. Mind you, that eyeball appears an awful lot, so it is unlikely anyone even believed those alternate bosses actually existed before the advent of cheap cameras and/or the internet.
  • What’s in a name? The Aero Fighters franchise is known as Sonic Wings in Japan. Both titles are frustratingly generic, so it is hard to say why a title change was necessary at all. Are Americans just not that into wings? Make America aero again? Too many unanswered questions…
  • I know that towerDid you know? “Steve” is “Angela” in the original, Japanese version of Sonic Wings 2. However, Steve/Angela notably appears naked with male characteristics in at least one of their endings. And damn near every other ending involving “Steve” comes off as queer-bashing, and… and I don’t even know how to describe it when “Angela” is involved. Steve/Angela is apparently based on a Rose of Versailles character that was a woman raised as a man, so there is definitely a trans origin to the character, and… Ugh. Let’s just say it is probably offensive by any standard, and call it a day.
  • Would I play again: Yes. I like aero fighting alien armies, and this is a game that does not wear out its welcome for a play session. And I have to see all those endings…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… New Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo Switch! Let’s get out there and take some pretty pictures of pretty pikachus! Please look forward to it!

Winner!

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

Frank West is a consumer whore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Nah, probably a coincidence.

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

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

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

Go Captain