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FGC #644 Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

Go Pocky!Videogames are complicated, complex creations. Miss one goddamn thing in there, and the whole thing can fall apart.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is the latest in a series of games released within recent years that nobody would have ever predicted we would see, but, impossibly enough, here we are (see also “American” Radical Dreamers, or that immaculate Record of Lodoss War tie-in). Pocky & Rocky was an astonishing little Super Nintendo title (itself a quasi-sequel to an arcade game) that perfectly captured the chaos and joy of a run ‘n gun like Ikari Warriors or very particular (unpopular) levels in Contra 3. However, unlike many games where you are given a bazooka and an enemy army to obliterate, Pocky & Rocky often erred on the side of adorable. There were certainly scary monsters running around, but you are definitely playing as either a chibi shrine maiden or a roly-poly raccoon, and your greatest allies are gods of plenty that leisurely float around on clouds. This is a scenario where you are saving the world from demonic invaders, but the first boss is also a goblin that is named for partying too hard.

But it is tricky for a player to party too hard with Pocky & Rocky. Despite the cutesy appearance, Pocky & Rocky has always been difficult to the point of parody. This should not be a great surprise, as the game is practically a shoot ‘em up, and that genre is known for a number of entries that were as equally likely to please a player as make them cry. It doesn’t matter if you are steering the Vic Viper through a hail of bullets or Pocky through a maze of oncoming nuts, your health is fragile, and you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the stage in no time if you dare show the slightest sloppiness. Pocky & Rocky was always fun (and easier) with two players, but not unlike Contra or Toejam & Earl, nobody holding a controller was all that convinced they’d see past level 3…

I know this guyAnd Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continues this tradition with aplomb. Is it cute? Listen, bub, you’ve got a playable raccoon and a shrine maiden cosplaying as a fox yōkai (or maybe it is technically a fox yōkai cosplaying as a shrine maiden? Whatever!). There is the signature turn into darkness as our protagonists travel through time to burning villages with disturbingly buff versions of ancient gods, and the challenge is continually buff-god worthy. Unfortunately, the game seems to follow a reverse difficulty curve, as your health and abilities expand dramatically as the game progresses. While there is not a single level or boss that is a pushover, it does seem like the earlier areas are a lot more difficult to conquer with your meager opening offerings. Regardless, even that is arguably Pocky & Rocky to a T, so there is very little to complain about in this remake-y sequel.

Well, except all the nonsense I am about to complain about ad nauseum…

It is hard to pick apart Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. It would be so easy to say this game lacks polish! But that is completely wrong! Pocky & Rocky Reshrined has remarkable sprite-based graphics that must have taken years of experience and craftmanship to appear so beautiful and animated. But you will be distracted from that artistry the moment you notice a glaringly obvious typo…

FORTUNE!
Did you mean “fortune”?

But more importantly than presentation, there are gameplay quirks that frequently detract from the experience. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continually feels like a “tough but fair” shooter… except when a monster spawns directly on top of you, and how the heck were you supposed to see that coming? Bosses are large and in charge, except for the middle crop of creatures that feel like they could be conquered by a toddler. Oh! And the glaringly obvious issue that 2-player mode is locked behind completing the game, and then an additional character that can only be unlocked by completing the exact same game twice (while other, more appealing modes are available that patently will not unlock said character)? That speaks to a severe misunderstanding of why people are playing Pocky & Rocky in the first place. And, while none of these issues somehow equate to making Pocky & Rocky Reshrined unplayable, there are a significant number of problems that feel like the videogame equivalent of writing an essay but skipping the proofreading stage (fun fact: my original intention was to deliberately add some typos to that sentence, but my autocorrect has thwarted me at every turn, and I am far too lazy to attempt to train it differently. Sorry!).

Not that tailsWhich brings us to the actual make or break of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. Possibly the worst thing your humble author did to P&RR is play Cuphead’s DLC immediately before switching over to tanuki times. As a result of this blunder, it was immediately revealed that Cuphead possessed one simple action that Pocky & Rocky Reshrined did not: stationary/locked aiming. In Cuphead, you can hold a shoulder button to keep your porcelain playable character aimed at an opponent. This allows for situations where, at the press of a button, you can stay “locked” facing your focus, but back away to a more advantageous position. Or stay stationary, and rotate around so you can aim without leaving your safe spot. This is an essential move in any game where the difference between life and death can sometimes be measured in miniscule pixels, and it is completely absent from Pocky & Rocky Reshrined.

And, to be clear, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined was designed without this function in mind. There are three different powerup options for every character available, and they can be summarized as “spread”, “strong”, and “homing” (more or less). A homing bullet loses an awful lot of functionality when you have more robust aiming options, and the challenge involved in a number of bosses (and even a few of the regular monsters) is based entirely on how you must choose between aiming your leaves in the right direction, or staying safe from a salvo. Hell, there is even the improved melee attack that seems to reflect everything, and that is a defensive option that you don’t see in any other game. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined seems to have been carefully calibrated to not include this feature seen in the likes of Cuphead.

Watch the bugsBut that doesn’t stop it from feeling lacking in comparison. It may be deliberate, but it still feels like something has been lost, and that other, contemporary games are better for having such a feature. In short, it feels like, thanks to one missing piece, the whole thing falls apart.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is indisputably a great videogame. But failing to enshrine polish seen in other games leaves it lacking.

FGC #644 Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

  • System: You got your Nintendo Switch, and your Playstation 4, and looks like that is about it.
  • Number of players: Two, but only after you unlock the option, you monsters.
  • Favorite Level: Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is just parallel enough to the original Pocky & Rocky that you can almost recognize some of the new stages as references to the source material. What was once a level where you flew through blue skies is now an assault on a series of airships, and it makes for one of the most fun levels. You must defeat your opponents here to progress, and that means a whole lot of airship destruction. So, basically, if you ever wanted to wreck up Final Fantasy’s main mode of transportation, this is the game for you.
  • Gimme fiveFavorite Character: The goddess Ame no Uzume can float over pits, but her “bullets” are a little too spaced out for my liking. So maybe this is the Stockholm syndrome talking, but Hotaru Gozen, the samurai lady that requires beating the game twice to unlock, is probably my favorite pick. She turns a shooter into something more like… well… I don’t know what genre this is supposed to be, but she does have to get up close and personal with all opponents. It’s like playing as Zero in an early Mega Man game!
  • An end? The finale reveals that the final boss and source of all the trouble ‘round these parts is basically a divine abuse victim that had a few problems with her pantheon before bopping over to Fantasy Japan to wreck up the place. After being defeated in an amazing boss fight that includes way too many lasers, she shrinks back down to normal friend-size and… becomes a new Fantasy Japan goddess. And, like, I get that she had a rough time of it, and may have been manipulated by darkness or whatever, but I feel like she lit an awful lot of the country on fire, and was then “punished” with godhood. Talk about failing upwards…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I ordered the physical copy of this release well ahead of its release, but it took forever (okay, maybe a week) to arrive. This vexed me to the point that I nearly downloaded a virtual copy in the meanwhile, despite the fact that I have a backlog of approximately five billion games…
  • I recognize this guy, tooDid you know? The original Pocky & Rocky featured a harpy that marginally looked like a naked lady. The American/European version put that harpy in some armor, conferred it a beak, and turned the whole thing into an angry bird. I understand granting her protection against (feathered) nudity, but why go full bird? Not like this is the kind of game where you can’t have female opponents, as your heroine certainly takes more than a few hits.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun game! It is great and I like it a lot! However, a lot of the post-game content feels weirdly grindy, and… Well… There are other games that have the shoot ‘em up features I crave. Put this one down for a strong maybe.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge! Time to slice and dice with some turtle pals! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #634 Martial Champion

So many fighting gamesNot all fighting games are created equal. For every Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or even Clayfighter, there are a bevvy of games that seem to have been forgotten by all but the most dedicated of fighting game enthusiasts. But that does not mean we can’t learn from these “lost” fighting games! Every fighting game, no matter why they were forgotten, has something to offer. Let’s take a look at some forgotten fighting games, and see why they deserve at least a cursory glance…

King of the Monsters
1991

RAWRWhat is going on here: One of the best games to take place in the far-flung future of 1996, King of the Monsters is the story of what happens when six or twelve legally distinct monsters all decide to rumble and see who will be the titular King of the Monsters. This is bad news for anyone that lives in the future-past Japan that is their battleground, but great for anyone that has ever wanted to see a rock giant fight a snot ghost.

Best Character: Is Astro Guy really a monster? He looks like Ultraman, and there is Beetle Mania over there to be his trademark inexplicable giant bug opponent. Astro Guy wins, as he may be a copy like every other monster, but at least he is the kind of monster that didn’t already appear in Rampage.

What can we learn: King of Monsters was released before “fighting games” became codified with Street Fighter 2 (dropped that same year), so King of Monsters almost feels like a “wrestling game”. It has turnbuckle attacks, an emphasis on grabs, and, most importantly, you have to pin your opponent for three seconds to score a win. And that can be fun! An empty life bar is not a loss in King of Monsters, it just means it will be more difficult to get up when Rocky the Moai power dives on your monster. Extending the match a little longer is great in a game with a scant six playable characters, and it is nice to see the potential for a turnaround despite a theoretical impending loss. Let’s see some last-minute grappling from modern games!

Dino Rex
1992

Big boys starting this offWhat is going on here: Like Primal Rage, this is a 2-D fighter featuring dinosaurs battling for supremacy. Also like Primal Rage, this game absolutely sucks. You’ve got three attack buttons, special moves, combos, and the ability to “charge meter” via shouting, but… Oh man. The central conceit here is that you are technically playing as a scantily clad man controlling a dinosaur via whip, and it sure feels like you have only a whip’s worth of control over your chosen dinosaur.

Best Character: All the humans in this game are generic prehistoric dudes (though, if a match ends in a draw, you can play as one of the dudes, and they curiously have Ryu’s moveset), so we presumably must pick a favorite dinosaur here. And is it possible to pick a dinosaur that is not the mighty Tyrannosaurus? It might be purple again, but it is still a goddamned t-rex.

What can we learn: Dino Rex is a bad fighting game for the fact that you are very likely to lose because it is difficult to confirm whether your controller is working at all, but sometimes it feels good to get your ass kicked, because it also kicks everyone else’s asses. The storyline for Dino Rex posits this is an annual dinosaur fighting tournament to win the hand of an Amazon Queen, so there are spectators, and an arena built up for this yearly battle. And, since dinosaurs are fighting, it gets absolutely wrecked. It is fun to watch the surrounding area get destroyed by careless dinosaurs! And someone on staff evidently noticed, as the bonus stage is controlling your dinosaur in a “dream sequence” that sees a modern city getting similarly smashed. So if you’re going to make a bad fighting game, at least let us destroy everything in it.

Martial Champion
1993

What is going on here: One of Konami’s rare, early fighting games (they were more into beat ‘em ups), this is a pretty obvious Street Fighter 2 clone where a bunch of international weirdos are all punching and kicking in an effort to become… I don’t know… some kind of Martial Arts Champion or something. Your attack options are limited to three buttons (high, mid, low), and there are a total of ten selectable characters (and one unplayable boss).

Best Character: Avu is a tempting choice, as he is basically Karnov (he’s even got fire breath!), but I’m going to choose Bobby. Not only does he have the best name, but he seems to exist as an obvious example of “Well, Guile looks kinda American, but is there any way we can crank that up to ten million?”

What can we learn: Martial Champion has a variable weapon system! Kinda! Some fighters have weapons, and said weapons can be knocked out of a fighter’s hands. And the opponent can retrieve these weapons! And… maybe do nothing? If a fighter doesn’t have a weapon to begin with, it seems they do not have any abilities with any weapons. But! Even if you can’t use it, playing keep away with a weapon is good fun. Thought you had increased range with that scimitar before, loser? Now you’re not getting it back until a knock down. Good luck!

Now let’s talk about Shaq-Fu…

WW #11 Peach Ball: Senran Kagura

Due to the subject matter today, some items may be NSFW. Barring some terrible graphics, we’re sorta aiming for PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware…

NOW LOADINGWelcome back to Wankery Week!

It’s been since the Fall of 2018 when I last tagged a game for Wankery Week, and the last official Wankery Week entry was in the bygone era of that previous February, so let’s restate what Wankery Week is all about. Wankery Week is not just about looking at games that are overtly horny. Wankery Week is about looking at horny games, and seeing what they bring to the horny discourse (or, as it is colloquially known, the hornyverse). All too often, horny videogames are written off as “it’s just a horny game”, or “it’s offensive to over half of the population”, or even “titty soft, haha, moving on”. And, while such statements are useful for distinguishing between games that are “horny” or “just incidentally skeevy”, it’s not informative to people that are interested in playing a horny games. There are literally thousands of games on Steam that are all based on “you might see a boob”, so maybe we should take a deeper look at whether or not a game with such a premise is actually any good.

Or, put another way, we continually judge JRPGs by their overarching stories, fighting games by how complicated they made their inputs, and platformers by how well their specific jumping physics handle. Why do we just right off every horny game as “it’s horny”? That’s not helping anybody!

And there’s also this whole thing about sexuality, fetishes, and how we all interpret desire differently. But the important thing is whether or not you should play a certain videogame, right?

o, with that in mind, today’s game is Peach Ball: Senran Kagura…

FGC #389 Super Mario 3D World

Mario!There are some videogame franchises I can “rank” without question. Want to know my order for favorite Mega Man games? I made that sequence my pin number. How about a comprehensive explanation of why Final Fantasy 10 is better than Final Fantasy 12? I’ve got you covered. Heck, if you’re feeling really saucy, I could probably compare and contrast nearly every JRPG that was released in the last decade. Well… not every JRPG, despite recent posts, there are some Omega Quintet titles out there that even I can’t stomach. But I’m pretty sure I could accurately compare the finer points of Radiant Historia to some of the nonsense in Persona 5.

And there’s a reason I feel I could perform such a feat. It’s simple: so many videogames are exactly the same. Okay, that’s a touch of an exaggeration, but the concept seems rather pat. After all, this is why we like videogames. I enjoy some variety once in a while, but I don’t want to have to spend the next three weeks figuring out a control scheme just so I can play a fifteen hour game. To again use Persona as an example, while there are many fascinating ideas and concepts in that franchise (even going back to the pre-Persona 3 titles), that entre quinology (not the word I’m thinking of) still boils down to “is a JRPG”. Run through dungeons, fight monsters, use the spells and attacks that make the battles end quickly, and earn new skills and powers as you move along. And that’s what I want! Sitting down to play a new game shouldn’t be a chore, and immediately knowing what to do gets the dopamine a-pumpin’. Haha! An ice dragon? I’ve got my fire sword, and I’m going to be feasting on frozen dragon gizzards by nightfall!

Here he comes!And, while that may make some games predictable, it certainly makes them a lot easier to compare. When every game has an obvious A, B, and C, then you can effortlessly compare those ABCs to each other. Is this Robot Master better than that Robot Master? (Note: every Robot Master is better than Toad Man.) Does this title have the better soundtrack? How about controls? If the interface is vastly improved from original to sequel, that’s going to make a huge impact. And the levels! The dungeons! Surely there must be a difference between lava caves. These items are the lifeblood of any given franchise, and it’s fun to objectively compare these matters until you have a vigorous understanding of your “favorite”.

And then there’s the Mario franchise. Trying to compare Mario games is… tricky.

While Mario has always appeared to be the All-Father of gaming’s most familiar faces, it’s a lot more accurate to identify Mario as the trickster god of the medium. Donkey Kong featured a Jump Man that could barely vault a barrel, but then Mario Bros starred brothers that could leap a third of the screen in a single bound. Super Mario Bros. was all about turtles and flinging fireballs, and then Super Mario Bros. 2 brought us a bounty of vegetables and shy guys. Ever seen a raccoon fly? Maybe a dude riding a dinosaur? Now save some stars in a painting! Or clean up an island resort with your water gun! Travel to the furthest reaches of the Galaxy! Or just hang out in some random city! Mario is, and has always been, all over the map. And that’s even before you get to the time his fat, elven twin tried to steal his private theme park. Those overalls might be consistent, but Mario’s gameplay is as mercurial as the T-1000.

Go!Given we had to wait for the Switch to see Mario scoot along on his own little odyssey, it would be fair to call Super Mario 3D World the significant Mario game for the WiiU. In an attempt to define this Mario, it is a sequel to a portable Mario title that had been released a few years earlier. Or, it’s a sequel to another Mario lineage that brought four player couch co-op to the Mushroom Kingdom. Or it’s the sequel to Mario Galaxy? I saw a Charging Chuck in there, let’s just claim it’s a Super Mario World sequel, and move on. What’s important is that Super Mario 3D World is a platforming style Mario game (not to be confused with tennis or racing or… qix?), and we all know what to expect from that. Jumping, running, goomba squishing, and maybe Princess Peach can float in this one. She can? Awesome. Super Mario 3D World is another Mario game on another Mario system.

But the level to level creativity of this title is insane. There are grasslands, icy mountains, and lava castles just like any other platformer, but there are also stages that are built around speed boosters. Or overhead “dungeons” that would be more comfortable hiding around Hyrule. Or serene beaches crowded with vacationing goombas. And the powerups! Items like the Double Cherry or Boomerang Flower may initially seem like simple, “here’s the featured item du jour” type forgettable powerups, but once you burn through a level with an unstoppable army of four Luigis hurling boomerangs at boos, you’ll be singing a different tune. And, while the stages may all seem like complete chaos, they’re all carefully designed, and work equally marvelously with one player as well as four. It’s bedlam, and correctly guessing whether the next stage will be a “jumping puzzle” or a hammer bros. gauntlet is impossible. But it’s all the kind of organized anarchy that can only come from a deft directorial hand.

And that’s Mario.

WeeeeYou never know what you’re going to get with a Mario game. 3D? 2D? Some… kinda of… time traveling… adventure… maybe? Doesn’t matter! What’s important is that Mario has the best, most consistent perfection average in the business. Want to know why I’ll buy every Mario game from now until the end of time? It’s because there is no “Mario Cycle”, no “nobody likes this franchise until the next title comes out” corollary to its reviews. Mario games are just good, and, even when they get experimental, they still define the industry. Mario isn’t consistent in anything but being amazing, and that’s why his adventures are so unique.

Though, obviously, Super Mario 3D World is one of the best. Probably… Number 4? No, maybe 3…

FGC #389 Super Mario 3D World

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. Complete with some fairly vestigial “gamepad features”, I feel like this one could easily be ported to the fabulous success that is the WiiU’s successor.
  • Number of players: Four! I’ve never actually tried out a complete four players in this game, but three is pretty tops all by itself. Well, I mean, tops for watching all of your uncoordinated friends die.
  • So, did you beat it? Yep, every last stage, including the impossible final gauntlets. Mind you, I haven’t beaten it all with every last character… but maybe one day. Gotta use those stamps in Miiverse, right? Wait… what’s that about Miiverse?
  • WeeeeGrand Finale: Of the many recent battles with Bowser, having the big guy go hog wild with the featured powerups of the title made for one of the most memorable encounters. It’s conceptually no different from any other “Bowser chase” final area, but the lunacy of Panther Bowser popping through a wall while Panther Bowser scales a building… Amazing.
  • Toad Origins: Also, it’s telling about the significance of the Mario franchise that a “once a world minigame” grew into an entire, remarkable title all on its own. I realize that fungus have a tendency to develop wildly when they start to take over, but if that kind of growth leads to Toad hunting down treasure, I’m down.
  • Favorite Stage: Take me to the beach any day.
  • Did you know? Chargin’ Chuck first appeared in Super Mario World, then Yoshi’s Safari, and then… nothing. Chuck didn’t reappear until this title, a full 20 years later. But those football hooligans are back for Odyssey, so maybe they’ll stick around this time.
  • Would I play again: Oh my yes. Totally yes. Need an excuse to get a full complement of players in my basement yes. Just hope the WiiU holds out…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Darkstalkers 3 for the Playstation 1! Vampires and mummies and yeti, oh my! Please look forward to it!

Noooo
Why does this always happen to Weegi?