Tag Archives: thar be dragons

FGC #595 New Pokémon Snap

Gotta snap em allAfter years of waiting, Nintendo and/or Pokémon Company finally decided to release a new Pokémon Snap title. The appropriately titled New Pokémon Snap is, naturally, an all-new adventure that allows you, humble trainer, to cruise around in a bubble and take pictures of adorable little Pokémon critters. Hooray! Our favorite pastime has come home!

But the drive for Pokémon photography is predicated on one thing: you actually want to see Pokémon. Sure, Pikachu is a looker, and nobody is going to turn down an opportunity to snap a Jigglypuff, but are all Pokémon worthy of your digital film? Would you stop by a Blockbuster kiosk to print a photo of a Grimer? Or Tyranitar? Are all Pokémon created equally photogenic?

No, of course not. That would be silly.

So let’s take a look at the top Pokémon ain’t nobody wanna photograph.

#755 Morelull

DO NOT EATMorelull is a mushroom Pokémon that primarily appears at night. It is based on bioluminescent fungi, and it utilizes its generally cute exterior to dual-type its Grass and sneak into the dragon-slaying Fairy category.

It also forgot to grow a damn face. So it might steal yours!

You can do a lot with Pokémon designs, and it seems like there has been a mandate since Generation 3 or so to make every Pokémon as generally adorable as possible. Yes, there are big, mean brutes in the Pokémon world, but they generally all have vaguely-human-esque faces, and nary a horror among them. Want a Pokémon that is just rows and rows of teeth popping out of every joint and limb? Sorry, no, you are going to get a smiley face on that legendary cosmic horror.

And, while Morelull may not be a cosmic horror, it is a generalized horror. Morelull initially appears to be cute with its big (voidy) eyes, but it hides a terrible secret. Morelull subsists on living energy. Morelull’s whole plan is to put a creature to sleep, and then use the move Strength Sap to drain their lifeforce. So they are basically little mushroom vampires.

So is Morelull traditionally ugly? No. But are its cold, dead eyes the last thing you are going to see before you fall asleep for the final time on the cold, uncaring forest floor? Yep.

There is no beauty in being food for malevolent mushrooms.

Is Morelull in New Pokémon Snap? Yes. Please make sure your protective bubble cart is properly sealed before visiting any jungles during the night.

#685 Slurpuff

SLURPSome Pokémon are unsightly based on their concept.

Slurpuff is your basic “embodies some random notion or whatever” Pokémon. In this case, Slurpuff embodies the sense of taste/smell, and is a noted Pokémon for loving and judging desserts. It is all about that sweet life, and, if you are a Patissier, you are definitely going to want one on your team. That heightened sense of taste and pink body makes it the perfect bakery mascot, and it doesn’t hurt that the creature can tongue-lash a dragon to death, too.

Except… with everyone’s focus on Slurpuff’s taste, no one really considers how Slurpuff must feel. Slurpuff does nothing but lick things, and it is always seen with its large tongue hanging out. We already knew that, but then the pokédex for Pokémon Shield revealed that Slufpuff is officially covered in fur. So Slurpuff has a long tongue that is always subconsciously licking itself, and all Slurpuff ever does otherwise is eat sweets. Do the math on that? Slurpuff is always going to be a sticky, matted mess of a monster.

Imagine a cat that has just rolled in corn syrup. That’s Slurpuff. All the time.

Gross.

Is Slurpuff in New Pokémon Snap? No. Your main character has a camera, not a bathtub.

#764 Comfey

GROSSLook at this sick freak of a Pokémon.

Comfey is disguising itself as a Hawaiian (Aloan) style lei. At first glance, you might think that Comfey is some manner of flower ouroboros, and little more than another friendly, inexplicably floating grass type. But Comfey is not the whole “lei”, Comfey is just a little dude that appears to have some flowers in his teeny tiny paws, and said flowers follow a ring-string that loops back to Comfey’s butt. In fact, Comfey is not a grass type at all, but another fairy type. A “naked” Comfey, technically, has nothing to do with flowers.

But you absolutely do not want a naked Comfey anywhere near flowers…

FGC #578 Red Earth & Capcom Fighting Evolution

Let's fightNow for the tale of two separate and incredibly unequal videogames.

And, uh, don’t worry. Both games contain dinosaur-dragons, so that should keep your interest.

In 1996, Capcom released Red Earth. Known by the much more metal name of War-Zard in Japan, Red Earth was a fighting game that did its best to set itself apart from its peers. Just how different is it? Well…

· There are four selectable characters, and if you do not play 2-P mode, you will never fight the other heroes of the adventure. But who do you fight?
· Dinosaurs! And Squids! And at least one Chimera+ (the plus is for two extra heads)! There are eight levels in Red Earth, and each features a decidedly not-human adversary. The closest you are going to see to something like an even matchup is a harpy that at least does not have any extra limbs on your character, but the same cannot be said for Gi Gi the robotic statue with as many arms as possible.
· And, to be clear, these “bosses” are absolutely not fair fights, complete with a few super moves that can eliminate half your lifebar in one go. These moves are very telegraphed, but if you choose not to dodge at the right time? Down you go.
· Likely to mitigate some of this unfairness, there are health power-ups randomly scattered around. Additionally, continuing after a loss does not reset your opponent’s life meter. Unlike in your typical fighting game, you can (more or less) pick up exactly where you left off after dropping in another quarter.
ROAR· And you’ll want to pick up that joystick again, because every fighter has a story that advances with every fight, and an ending or three with multiple available choices. Play the game well enough, and you just might see your heroine naked and humping an alien. Or maybe she gets a puppy!
· And you may want to pursue all those extra endings, because your character actually levels up, gains new abilities, and increases stats with points that are awarded for every hit. This serves the dual purpose of encouraging playing the game more, and offering the possibility of growing stronger mid-match even if you have been repeatedly losing to the oni du jour.

This all adds up to a game that feels like a fighting game in the individual moments, but plays like an entirely different animal. Much like Konami’s Monster Maulers (released three years prior), this is an attempt to bring some of the most popular conventions of the beat ‘em up genre (health powerups, “boss fights”, multiple routes) into a fighting game to create a more inimitable experience. Additionally, the “leveling system” may unfortunately be a naked attempt at adding “grinding” to a genre that absolutely does not need that kind of nonsense, but it does encourage the player to earn a “new experience” when trying a replay. And, if you are the type to never deviate from a preferred “main”, that’s a pretty big get. Make your Lion King (uh… not that Lion King. He’s just a king that happens to be half-lion) the best Lion King (still not Disney-related) he can be.

Squidly bitsAnd while we are looking at reasons Red Earth was able to set itself apart from the pack (no lions at all involved in that statement, to be clear), consider that this was the first of three(ish) games to feature Capcom’s CP System III. In layman’s terms, pondexter? It means that, like its CPS3 brother, Street Fighter 3, this is one of the most gorgeous sprite-based fighting games out there. Everything from the cloth on Tessa’s hammer pants to the heat bellowing out of Hauzer’s maw is elegantly animated. Even “incidental” bits, like the continue screen countdown, include pixels not likely to ever be seen again. CPS3 may be known for Street Fighter 3 (and maybe a JoJo game), but its maiden voyage here really makes an impact on the ol’ eyeballs.

In short, Red Earth is unique and stunning. It is exactly the kind of fighting game the world needed in 1996, and it promised a great future for the genre.

But there never was a Red Earth 2. Not even a “Turbo” edition graced this title, and the OG version was barely even distributed in North America. If you wanted to play as the lord of lions or the ninja that could fell a sphinx, you would have to wait eight years to see their second adventure. You would have to wait for Capcom Fighting Evolution.

And, sorry Warzard fans, it wasn’t very good.

Further squidsCapcom Fighting Evolution came on the heels of the Marvel vs. Capcom series that was amazing, but also assumed to be totally dead/impossible thanks to Capcom losing Marvel’s favor (don’t worry, kiddies, it would eventually return). Capcom Fighting Evolution also came after the Capcom vs. SNK series, an evolutionary offshoot of the Versus franchise that some still claim is some of the best 2-D fighting you’ll ever see. And what could Capcom Fighting Evolution offer after all of that? Well, even without the accompaniment of Captain America or Geese Howard, the Capcom universe had its fair share of luminaries. You could simply toss every Street Fighter into a game, and it would be gold. Or you could combine Darkstalkers, Street Fighters, Final Fighters, and… what have we got left here? Rival Schools? Whatever! It could work! And that’s before you get into including the likes of Mega Man or Breath of Fire heroes. A “pure” Capcom Versus fighter could be a thing of beauty!

Or it could just be a mishmash of random sprites all slapping against each other. Guess which one we got?

While Red Earth was a potential new future for fighting games, Capcom Fighting Evolution forsook its name and sounded a death knell for the genre. Capcom Fighting Evolution was less a brand new experience and more of a “going out of business sale” for an era. Capcom took four fighters from each of its most popular fighting games, and plunked them all in a 2v2 fighting game. And, while that could have been fun for everybody, a significant drawback of this process was reusing the original sprites of each of these brawlers without any attempt to visually normalize… anything. Morrigan’s sprite was the creaky bane of MvC2 in 2000, and Dimitri did not look any better next to Street Fighter 3 characters four years later. And, to make matters worse, those sprites from Street Fighter 3 that looked so gorgeous in their original game had a number of frames and animations reduced, so they were literally pale imitations of their former selves. And, lest you think these complaints are entirely graphics-based, don’t worry, a game that attempts to merge the intricacies of three different Street Fighter games, Darkstalkers, and an asymmetrical “boss fighter” doesn’t exactly work from a gameplay perspective either. You wouldn’t parry a dinosaur!

WINNER!But that’s kind of the thing: you can parry a dinosaur. Capcom Fighting Evolution contains characters from Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, Darkstalkers, and (most importantly) Red Earth. And, while there are still exactly four Red Earth playable characters, now two of the “bosses” are available for your playing pleasure. Want to be the dinosaur? Or the squid? Have at it! Are these former boss-class monsters rebalanced to be appropriate combatants? Well, as much as anything else is balanced in this game! You probably do not want to take a lumbering dinosaur’s gigantic hitbox up against Metro City’s best ninja, but you can certainly fell that fighter if your fireballs are true. And, while playing as ol’ squidly bits is probably less rewarding than the more sensible adventures of Tessa back on Red Earth, it is inordinately satisfying to see Zangief piledrive an eldritch horror.

And that’s basically Capcom Fighting Evolution in a nutshell: it is objectively bad, but can be subjectively good. CFE is a rushed product featuring many poorly considered decisions, but it is also a game wherein Sakura can fell a furry Conan. Is Red Earth a better game than Capcom Fighting Evolution? Pretty much by every metric! But, in being a tighter experience, it loses the fun you might experience with a looser game that lets you pit a rifle-toting ninja against a psycho-powered dictator.

Some games are good. Some games are bad. But any game where you can fight a dinosaur at least has its priorities straight.

FGC #578 Red Earth

  • THE WARZARD!System: Arcade exclusive. I guess we have to hope for some manner of “Capcom Mini” device to see this one. Maybe they could stick it in the inevitable next Street Fighter 3 compilation?
  • Number of players: Two players, and you can only play as the (mostly defined as) humans. No playable living suit of armor for you.
  • Favorite Character: Like in Pocket Fighter, I’m going with Tessa here. She’s a witch that may or may not have found a second job in Little Witch Academia, and her general… Ryu-ness goes down easy. Second place goes to Kenji the Ninja, but he is a little too Strider-esque to win on his own merits.
  • Favorite Boss: Gi Gi is the robotic monster that Huitzil wishes he could be. Also, his multiple arms and swords may have inspired the best boss in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, so bonus points there.
  • Finish Him: A lot of sources will claim Red Earth was one of the few Capcom titles to include Mortal Kombat-esque fatalities. And they’re not entirely wrong… but these “fatalities” are a lot closer to “Zero slices a robot in half because he used his sword for the final hit” affairs. And, considering you’re only “killing” monsters and robots, comparing it all to Mortal Kombat seems a little disingenuous.
  • What’s in a name: In America, this is Red Earth, clearly meant to convey how this takes place in an alternate timeline/Earth that is ruled by swords and sorcery (and the occasional mech). In Japan, this is known as Warzard, because the final boss is a wizard that starts a war. Either title seems appropriate, but Red Earth at least explains why there is an island nation called “The Kingdom of Reese”.
  • SLICEAn end: If you continue too often, you only get a paragraph of text and a basic message that your protagonist won, hooray. If you manage to conserve a few credits, though, you get a “choose your own adventure” where you can decide your central character’s ultimate fate. Be warned, I was not kidding earlier when I said that the wrong choice could see Tessa naked and straddling an alien, though. Generally NSFW proof here. Oh, also, if you continue the exact right number of times with Mai-Ling, she gets a new pet. Not certain how one heroine winds up in a porno, and the other gets a puppy.
  • For the sequel: Literally every one of Kenji’s endings involves his death. I have to wonder if there were plans to make Kenji a “legacy” character in future titles (as it is easy to replace a ninja that doesn’t ever show a bit of skin, left alone his face), or if Kenji just slept with the director’s spouse, and had to be punished for his hubris. One way or another, it is a wonder that guy made it into Capcom Fighting Evolution.
  • Did you know? The most obvious bad guy (but not the final boss) is Blade, who is a living suit of armor powered by an emerald containing his (once human) soul. This is notable, because, four years later, the final boss of the seminal Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was a living suit of armor powered by a magical gem-core. Is MvC2 the secret sequel to Red Earth? No, of course not. That would be silly. Shuma Gorath doesn’t have enough tentacles.
  • Would I play again: It is a shame Red Earth was only ever four playable characters and a handful of bosses. It feels like an expanded Super Red Earth II Turbo could have really been something special. As it is, it’s a game I’ll likely pick up again, if only to satisfy my need to bisect an oni.

FGC #578 Capcom Fighting Evolution

  • I ain't lionSystem: Apparently there was an arcade release, but most people were exposed to this contagion through Playstation 2 or Xbox. There is the distinct possibility you were able to get it on Playstation 3 as a PS2 rerelease, though.
  • Number of players: Two alternating fighters per team, and two players may control them. Sorry, these are more King of Fighters rules, and not the rapid switching of proper Versus titles.
  • Midnight Bliss: This is another title that went the extra mile and included Dimitri and his ability to metaphorically rape his opponents. While this move never stops being gross, at least most of the Midnight Bliss sprites lean on “humorous” rather than “sexy”. I mean, assuming “schoolgirl with the fossilized head of a dinosaur (wearing lipstick)” isn’t your fetish. If it is, hey, more power to you.
  • Original the Character: Ingrid is the only original character in Capcom Fighting Evolution, and was created for the game Capcom Fighting Evolution was always supposed to be… but never, ever came to fruition. So the last daughter of Capcom Fighting All-Stars has been forced to bounce around the universe with an ever-mutating backstory. In Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, she was a time traveler. In Project X Zone 2, she had nigh-omnipotent dimension hopping powers. And now, in her Street Fighter 5 profile, she’s a “Code Holder” that is fighting against a fellow named Death. This is the story closest to her original concept, but who knows how long it will last…
  • What does dinosaur blood taste like?Favorite Character: This is one of the weird situations wherein my first pick is the biggest bear wrestler of them all, Zangief. Probably to balance out with the prehistoric heavyweights, Zangief actually has a little agility in this title, and a grappler with some speed is something to be feared. Or maybe they just wanted him to be able to compete with Alex? Who is pretty much the same, but without that all-important chest hair situation? I really can’t say.
  • Did you know? For the record, all sprites in CFE are from the character’s most recent appearance in their designated game… except for the iconic Street Fighter 2 cast. Ryu and M. Bison are encores from Capcom vs. SNK, and Guile is from Street Fighter Alpha 3. And Zangief? He’s a got a completely new sprite that is predominantly (but not entirely) based on his Alpha 3 incarnation. I guess somebody at Capcom liked Zangief, too.
  • Would I play again: I still think of this game as “bad”. On the other hand, in just trying to get a feel for it for this article, I wound up playing the thing for a little over an hour. That might not seem like much, but I had it in mind that I would only play for one arcade cycle… and just kept playing. So there’s something there! So, yeah, I’ll probably be tricked into playing this one again. Maybe I’ll even play as the dinosaur…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Guacamelee! 2! Enter the Mexiverse, and lucha your brains out! Please look forward to it!

Look at that hat
Is this… like… a sex thing?

FGC #550 Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

This counts as the titleI feel like I’ve been tricked so many times, I’m sad when I’m not being tricked.

Wait a tick… That might be a little confusing. Let’s take a look at an obvious example. Pokémon, come on down.

Today’s game is technically not even a game at all, but an expansion of a game that was previously covered, Pokémon: Sword/Shield. I will save you valuable clicking and/or reading time and immediately sum up a general review of Pokémon: SS (that is still an unfortunate abbreviation): it is good. In fact, it is very good. It really might be the ideal Pokémon game, give or take how much drama you like to see in your games that also feature electric rats. It’s a very straightforward tale of a boy/girl ascending from humble beginnings to becoming the champion of the universe, and, along the way, you get to fight a giant, man-eating spike-dragon or two. And the post-game is pretty great, too, as, while it is lacking in any more plot depth, it has practically infinite possibilities in the “Wild Area” and its many opportunities for new catches (and, yes, I am counting the postgame “weird hair dude” fights in that calculation. That story should have been part of the main game, and you know it). Even before DLC, Pokémon Sword/Shield could have been a game that still would have delivered content for months.

Scooting alongBut we live in a world where no game can ever truly be finished, so Pokémon Sword/Shield earned two whole new “campaigns” in the name of downloadable content. In the Isle of Armor, your trainer visits a hitherto unexplored island that is vaguely Eastern-themed, trains in a Pokémon dojo, and eventually defeats the grandmaster while earning a new, karate-based Pokémon. Meanwhile, in the Crown Tundra, your customized protagonist goes on a quest in an occasionally frozen wasteland to discover a host of legendary Pokémon, and maybe help out some manner of telepathic deer with popularity problems. In both areas, there are new whacky characters to encounter, challenges to overcome, and, of course, Pokémon to catch. Pokémon Sword/Shield started with what many claimed was an insultingly low number of Pokémon available to the player, and, while the expansions don’t fill in the entire pokéroster, you certainly have more of a variety available now (still no sign of Drowzee, though). And that’s great! Sure, you can just airdrop your entire living pokédex from Pokémon Home straight into Sword and claim you’ve completed the ‘dex, but it’s a lot more fun to pedal out into the ocean, and discover a tenacool for the first time all over again. This is bloody Pokémon, dammit, go out there and catch ‘em all.

And this is why DLC is perfect for the Pokémon franchise. Depending on how you look at it, every Pokémon game ever has been structured like DLC, give or take the first one (and even that we could reasonably claim that was simply DLC for Monster Rancher). Every time the story is the same: a few new characters, some fresh and interesting geography, and those adorable little murderous critters we all want to store in our balls. Are there new legendaries? A smattering of choice creatures that are so limited, you’re either going to have to buy a new version or hit the trade forums? A Champion that is like a billion years old, but is clearly going to lose to a preteen? It’s always all there, and it’s always just as predictable as last time. And that’s great! Said it before, and I’ll say it again: great DLC should be more of the same. You liked the initial package, so additional content should be like that opening gamut, but with just enough new twists to keep things interesting. And, whether that be DLC or a True Romance“mainline title”, that is every Pokémon game to a T. There have been some tweaks over the years (some were amazing, some should have been there from the start [looking at you, Wrap]), but every Pokémon title works like good DLC. So it should be absolutely no surprise that the DLC for Pokémon Sword/Shield is magnificent: it’s exactly what we expect from a Pokémon game!

Except… it pushed aside something else that we expect from a Pokémon game, and that is generating some confusing concern from this Pokémon Trainer.

Back in the far off past, back in a time when Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Stadium cemented the idea that there would never be any more Pokémon than the original 151, we were introduced to Pokémon Yellow. It was an adventure that was simultaneously familiar and new. It was ostensibly an attempt to capture the universal popularity of the Pokémon Anime, and integrate that audience into the world of Pokémon videogames. But, somewhere along the way, it wound up improving the franchise as a whole, too. Whether it was in an attempt to capture “casuals” or simply right what once went wrong, Pokémon Yellow is an unmistakable improvement on the original Pokémon Red/Blue(/Green). There were many small quality of life improvements, and, what’s more, it was the first time in the franchise when a Pokémon could follow its trainer across the map. In short, even if you already played Pokémon Red/Blue, Pokémon Yellow had something new (and better!) for you. And if you never played any version at all? Well, Yellow was the one to get.

WeeeeeAnd, whether this was inspired by the success of Yellow or a general need to always see improvement, nearly every following Pokémon generation published a “Yellow Version” of its own. Pokémon Crystal brought some actual animation to the franchise, and Pokémon Emerald saw the Battle Tower (which may or may not have absorbed years of my life). Pokemon Black/White and Pokemon Sun/Moon even earned entire sequels (or they were just excuses to turn another single title into two games). It seems the only generation that didn’t receive a “third option” was Pokémon X/Y, and its obvious “Pokémon Z” hooks were rolled into the rushed (in a good way! I swear!) Pokémon Sun/Moon. Many expected Pokémon Sword/Shield to follow suit with Pokémon Armor… but there is that Isle of Armor right there. And I don’t think we’re going to see Pokémon Gun anytime soon…

Yes, of course, it’s still entirely possible we’re going to see Pokemon Sword/Shield 2. Hell, Nintendo would be leaving money on the table by ignoring such a possibility. But there are a lot of indicators in this DLC that this is the last we will be seeing of this generation. There are many benchmarks from these “third” Pokémon games, and they all seem to exist in this DLC. Cool features that should have been there from the beginning? The DLC has starter gigantimax forms. A host of extra moves and move tutors to enhance the meta battling? Trade your ore in the Isle of Armor for all sorts of moves. A refinement of a system that was just shy of making sense in the main game? Please enjoy the gigantimax expeditions in the Crown Tundra. Complete with a new way to challenge champions and gym leaders, everything about this expansion screams “here is your traditionally mandated sequel”. As one might expect, the first official expansion in Pokémon history is very familiar to those that have followed the franchise, and seems to deliberately preclude the idea of these “ideas” being presented as new for the sequel.

SQUWAKAnd, God help me, if we don’t see a Pokemon Sword/Shield 2, I’m going to miss buying the same game again. I’m going to miss forking over money that could be better spent on literally anything else (including another, whole new game), and settling in for more of the same (but with a new hat). I’m going to miss battling through the exact same fights, but slightly rearranged, so I can finally battle a champion that now has a Blastoise for some reason. I’m going to miss wasting my time on something that already consumed hours and days of my life, all in pursuit of one extra Technical Machine that teaches Earthquake. Or maybe a Gigantimax Hypno? I would waste so much sweat for such an opportunity…

I am very happy with the Pokémon Sword/Shield DLC. I have enjoyed my additional adventures, and the characters that have populated these new locations. But knowing that its existence likely means I won’t be playing through Pokémon Sword/Shield again because, unprompted by a new “version”, I will never find the time/will saddens me. I know I’m avoiding an unnecessary time-sink. I know it is literally saving me money. But I like my rituals, and when they’re interrupted, I am apparently disappointed.

….

Guess I better pre-order Pokémon Soul Sword on the Nintendo SweeCube now. November of 2033 will be here before you know it.

FGC #550 Pokémon Sword & Shield: Isle of Armor / Crown Tundra

  • System: Nintendo Switch, home of the franchise (that isn’t on mobile devices).
  • Number of Players: Have you tried these four-person raid adventures? They’re a lot better than the old raids, but I still feel like there’s way too much randomness involved. You are gifted a grass pokémon, you fight a water pokémon, but it ice beams your bulbasaur right out of the gate. Whoops! Four deaths and you lose forever! Very good system you have here.
  • Did you catch ‘em all? Not only in the game proper, but also in Pokémon Home, which I think means I have caught every pokémon ever for all time.
    This is how you know I'm awesome

    Except maybe the new mythicals… dammit…
  • Favorite Pokémon (DLC edition): Okay, technically not many new Pokémon were introduced with the DLC, and that is an absolute shame. New monsters are what this franchise is all about! With that caveat out of the way, I’m going to throw my support behind the new electric trashcan, Regieleki. Its ridiculous electric glass cannon status is amazing, and I’m glad there is something faster that speed-demon Deoyxs. Eat it, alien DNA Pokémon!
  • Watch the Weather: Over the course of the previous article, I noted how scary it was that a huge chunk of the Galar continent apparently has snow storms next to sand storms next to thunder storms. That’s a lot of storms! That said, the new “Wild Areas” pull the same trick, but they seem a lot more desolate, so it’s okay. Some rinky dink dojo or a town that has to pray to Pinky and the Brain for crops is obviously going to have issues with their localized mega storms. I mean, duh.
  • Favorite New Trainer: Klara is my aesthetic (poisonous cotton candy), and she’s a failed musician who “only sold 8 copies of her debut album”. So she decided to enter the challenging world of Slowbro battling by training at a remote dojo to maybe inherent a karate bear. I can get behind that.
  • Best Partner: If you chose any partner but Marnie for the Championship Doubles Battle, I don’t want to talk to you.
  • Let's fightGoggle Bob Fact: This expansion was first announced/revealed last year when I was vacationing in Poland. I will never forget being hunched over a laptop in my (now) wife’s childhood bedroom, desperate for Pokémon news… Or maybe just excited to hear something 100% in English. I may or may not have been homesick, so the prospect of a new kind of Articuno is always going to hold a special place in my heart.
  • Did you know? Most of the trainer numbers are secret, relevant jokes about their respective trainers. For instance, Klara’s number, 881, can be pronounced in Japanese as “dangerous”. This is, obviously, very appropriate.
  • Would I play again: I think that was the point of the whole article!

What’s next? Random ROB is taking the next two weeks off, and I’ll be presenting four articles that are part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). Look, I know this is a hedonistic blog on most days (dude, it’s a blog), but there are a few articles related to… events in my life that have been rattling around my head for a while, so I figure I’m going to put pen to paper on those before this blog runs its course (sometime in about another hundred articles). So we’re going to kick off this indulgence with The Legend of the Mystical Ninja come Monday. Please look forward to it!

Roll on, boys
Still the best ending

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

Cold IronWe live in an age of science and reason. We have knowledge of vaccines, microbes, and the periodic table of elements. But it took us a long time to get to this point. For hundreds of years, our understanding of the universe was much more limited, and our thoughts on how the world worked were based on simple, rudimentary building blocks of the universe. Obviously, I am talking about the four elements of nature: fire, wind, water, and earth.

But… why?

It’s interesting to consider how many different cultures and regions settled on the same basic group of elements. The basis of Western thinking in Ancient Greece had ironed out the four elements before Aristotle, but it was that king of philosophers that further outlined important bits of the lore (“science!”), such as “fire is hot and dry while water is cold and wet”. That’s why that dude got so many statues! But this isn’t a matter of everyone on Earth running with some Grecian ideas, Babylonia had gods that were personified as the “cosmic” elements sea, earth, sky, and wind. In India, the theoretical start of both Hinduism and Buddhism referenced a similar elemental quartet that occasionally included a fifth (space/zero/”spirit”) buddy. Buddhism even went as far as creating four elements of abstracts to properly parallel the more concrete elements of nature. It seems like the odd man out of the usual ancient “four elements” is China, which decided to forsake “wind” for “wood”, and also toss “metal” into the mix to create a perfect little pentagram of strengths and weaknesses. Fire melts metal, metal chops wood, wood is super effective against ground types. Of course, even western thinking would adopt metal in time, as it wound up as part of alchemy, which would greatly influence modern scientific thinking, as alchemy essentially pioneered concepts like different states of matter.

WooshBut who cares about the science of the elements? What has really persisted to this day has been the continual existence of “four elements” in pop culture. What was your first introduction to the elements? Was it Final Fantasy’s four crystals? Star Trek: The Next Generation’s S07e16: Thine Own Self? Avatar: The Last Air Bender? Artus Wolffort’s 1641 painting? Whatever was your first, know that this is not going away for future generations. Disney’s Frozen 2 was released sometime back when movie theaters were viable, and it led up to the reveal that there is a magical cave in a magical land that contains four elemental crystals. And Elsa is the missing fifth element (the element of merchandising). The four elements is a trope that is literally older than the written word, and it seems like it is going to be an element of our storytelling for generations to come.

But it’s difficult to determine exactly why the elements are so enduring. Yes, there is simplicity to the elements, but are they as much a part of modern life as they were back in the day? Absolutely not. I can’t remember the last time I had to give a damn about soil. Is that even still around? Or is it about the simplicity of “systems” that arise from the elements? Everybody can understand water beats fire, but that only really explains the presence of elements in videogames. Games are important (he wrote on the videogame blog), but they are not responsible for late 20th century Bruce Willis box office smashes. What’s the modern appeal of the elements? Why are they so persistent across media? Why are we eternally damned to ponder the effectiveness of “wind”?

Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II has the answer: the four elements are terrifying.

I have no ideaWizards and Warrios was a pretty… passable NES title, and W&W2 is… well, I can’t in good conscious say Ironsword is at all a good game. It’s not a bad game, but it was also one of my childhood NES titles (I assume my grandmother was distracted by Fabio on the cover, and bought it for me without a second thought), and, like its sequel, it is a very… broken game. There are some great ideas here! Every stage follows a basic three act rhythm (please the local animal king, find the wizard-bane spell, murder the wizard) with two distinct areas, effectively creating a large, ten stage world. That’s pretty great for the era! Also significant for the time is a bevy of bulky, expressive sprites. And Kuros actually graphically upgrades as he tempers his gear, so you go from being some dork with bug eyes and a butter knife to a heavily armored murder machine by the time you are tackling Ice-Fire Mountain.

But the drawbacks of Ironsword are significant. For one thing, this game has been in existence for 31 years, and our top scientists still haven’t discovered how you’re supposed to attack monsters without suffering damage. There is probably some intended suitable technique for ramming Kuros’s sword into the nearest demon creature, but, unless you’re using magic (available only at the tail end of every level), you’re probably going to take some hits just attempting to clear out the local creatures. And then there’s the platforming that involves an awful lot of inclines that shove Kuros every which way but up. Are you just missing a jump? Or is your hero weirdly magnetizing to surfaces that are trying to kill him? Who knows! And don’t even get me started on the economy of small keys, and how there are far more treasure chests than there are keys, and how you’re apparently going to be stuck grinding gold because you blew your inventory on opening the wrong chest. Random isn’t fun, Ste Pickford, and it never was!

Leap of faithBut there is one thing Ironsword gets absolutely right: Malkil is a bastard. Malkil was the ultimate boss and source of Kuros’s misery in the original Wizards and Warriors, but he was blown into non-corporeal bits at the end of that adventure. But you can’t keep a bad wizard down, so Malkil somehow extended his life force to possess the four elements. Now Malkil is an angry cloud in the air, some manner of giant block of ice in a river, sentient lava in a volcano, and a particularly pissed off rock deep in the Earth. These are all huge bosses (particularly by NES standards), and Kuros has to acquire distinct spells just to stand a remote chance against these corrupted elements. And, assuming Kuros can pull that off (possibly with the help of a Game Genie), then the final battle becomes a fight between Kuros and all four of the elements high above a mountaintop. Kuros has obtained the titular Ironsword (fifth element?) at this point, but Malkil is zooming around as four separate elemental ghosts (or… something), so saving the day is locked behind one of the most annoying battles of 1989. If you win, the four animal kings will thank you, but if you lose, you’re in good company, because that final fight is rough.

And that’s exactly the way the four elements should be.

Aang is allowed to preach balance, and Pokémon is allowed to claim there is always a strength for every weakness. But the sad truth of the matter is that humanity sucks in comparison to all-powerful nature. We build homes. We make cities. We claim to have conquered this wild world, but when the world decides to really get wild, we’re doomed. Let’s review those four elements again, shall we? Water brings floods, and, thanks to the general greed of humanity, much of our land is slated to be submerged beneath the waves. Wind is the domain of hurricanes, and, if you’ve never had a tree fall on your home/car/grandma, congratulations, you’re not currently in a month’s long negotiation with your insurance agency. Earth occasionally quakes, and the slightest rumble is going to really wreck up your gundam collection. And fire, theoretically the most manageable of all natural disasters (it’s not like it can literally zap us from the heavens or something), is occasionally spurned by the revelation of gender, and can thus burn into coasts to cinders. And this is all before when elements decide to work together, building the impressive fire tornado of our worst nightmares. In short, the elements are terrifying, Wooshand if you need evidence of this, there are good odds you literally don’t have to do more than peak your head out your window (“Yes, grandma, I can hear you, but I’m writing an article right now, and the lawyers say I’m not supposed to move that branch until after the settlement. I’ll bring some noodles out to you later, okay?”).

So thank you, Ironsword, for reminding us why the four elements are still relevant today. It’s not about balance. It’s not about magical crystals in a princess’s magical cave. It’s about fear. It’s about terror. It’s about the fact that if even a single element decided to turn against humanity (with or without the assistance of an evil wizard), it’s going to be a bad time. In the face of a tidal wave or raging fire, we are little more than a jumpy dude wielding a pointy stick. In our world, there is no spell of Earth’s bane, and we are wholly at the mercy of the four elements.

Thanks, Kuros, for reminding us all that we are nothing next to the four elements of the Earth.

FGC #539 Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II

  • It's hot in hereSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, and then never again. The Rare Replay passed this warrior by.
  • Number of players: Kuros stalks the land alone.
  • Best Magic Spell: The Asp’s Tongue spell is apparently a magical spell that allows the heroic Kuros to rob a shopkeeper. Look, whatever it takes to get a dude to toss meat in the air for a solid minute.
  • Like writing your name in the sand: This game does not have a battery backup. This means that you are welcome to put your name in the high score table all you want, but it’s never going to last past a power off. However, this is one of the ol’ password-based NES titles, so you can “save” your progress in that aggravating manner. Try to remember which character in the password determines your life count!
  • What’s in a name? “Malkil” is a portmanteau of “kill” and “mal”, which is the Latin prefix for “bad”. But Malkil is just his last name, his full name is Angry Murder Malkil.
  • Did you know? Kuros can acquire extra points by finding “The Relics of Sindarin” hidden in each level. These relics include a book, ring, gauntlet, and a cross. “Sindarin” is the Elven-Tongue from the Lord of the Rings. So the implication of the Sindarin Cross is obvious: Elves believed in Jesus.
  • Would I play again: I hate this game. I will not be accepting questions about that at this time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Avenging Spirit! That spirit gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

Kaching