Tag Archives: the ‘rona

FGC #633 Sonic CD

Truly, he must go fastThe future ain’t what it used to be.

Here in the present, we are looking at Sonic CD. Sonic CD is the chronological sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog that was released shortly after Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It started its existence as a port of Sonic 2 for the brand-new Sega CD hardware, but evolved during development into something wholly unique in the Sonic the Hedgehog canon. But, as a result of being tied to finnicky hardware and not being rereleased nearly as often as its contemporaries, Sonic CD has become something of the black sheep of the 2-D Sonic family. While some claim Sonic CD is the pinnacle of 16(ish)-bit platformers, many more shuffle Sonic CD into the “don’t bother” pile with the Master System games and Knuckles Chaotix. In short, a lot of professed Sonic fans will tell you not to waste your time.

And that is a shame, because Sonic CD is all about time. Superficially, Sonic CD’s plot and setting are based on a magical island where the past, present, and future are a little bit more accessible than elsewhere on Mobius, and this grants the hedgehog and his most hated scientist buddy the opportunity to wage war across different epochs. Most worlds start in a pleasant present, but Sonic can easily travel to the future to see a world where Robotnik has conquered the (little) planet, or zoom back to the past to repel the egg army before it ever got going. And how does one save the world from the past? Well, it requires searching over the whole of the current zone, and finding/destroying two of Eggman’s “traps” (the animal/plant containment unit is understandable, but a projector of Metal Sonic somehow changing the shape of destiny raises questions). And the important part of that? The searching. Whereas general “secrets” have always been a part of the Sonic formula, Sonic CD dedicatedly hides two “essential” secrets in two distinct locations in every zone. This is not a situation wherein you simply push against every wall to find a giant ring transporter or two, this is an open invitation to learn the maps of these zones, and devote yourself to finding their specific minutiae. This is a “gotta go fast” Sonic the Hedgehog title, but the player is also all but told they will be more successful if they take their time.

But all is not lost if you absolutely want to play a Sonic the Hedgehog game like a hyperactive omnivore. There are two routes to the good ending: you can either explore every level and find (/destroy) every collectible, or you can conquer the special stages at the end of each level, and obtain all the Time Stones. Apparently claiming the Time Stones guarantees that Eggman will never find these precious rocks, and this will create the same eternally happy ending for everyone on Little Planet. And regardless of method, how do you know you obtained said happy ending? Well, you will see a happy little message at the end of every zone like so…

GOOD END

And fun fact? I am pretty sure that message triggered some kind of PTSD in my soul.

Mainly because I finally put my library back together after a year (home improvements! Oh boy!), I have been reading some “classic” comics recently. It has been mostly stuff from the 90’s heyday of the immediate aftermath of the likes of Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman setting the funny papers ablaze a few years earlier. And the amusing thing about reading comics from this nebulous 90’s-or-so era? There are always excuses to peek at the far-off future of a few decades down the line, and it is not uncommon for their future to be literally now. 2015 or 2020 seems to be the exact point that a lot of authors of the time settled on for “the future”, and, while it is always fun to mock a random writer’s attempts at guessing the trends of the future (where is my jetpack fuetcha, you monsters?!), there is another pervasive trend in predicting the future: it is bad. And that is okay! Because these are fictional works starring heroes and heroines trying to make the world a better place. It is only natural that they would witness a “bad future” so they can be reminded what they are fighting for and/or against. A good future is bad! It’s boring! A future where your girlfriend has been transformed into a snake monster, and your best friend is missing all the fun appendages gives you something to struggle against. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? Keep reading to find out!

Away we goBut there is a bit of an issue with the persistent use of the “bad future” trope. As someone currently living in the revolutionary future of 2022, I can confirm that we never saw half this “bad” coming. There is an international plague, and the biggest reason it spreads is the economy would be really inconvenienced if Sneezin’ Harold didn’t come in today to properly stock the Chex Mix. Our politicians are not necessarily overly corrupt ghouls, but they are almost universally old enough to base their decisions on opinions formed roughly around the fall of disco. And let’s not overlook the fact that an entire generation seems to have been brainwashed by online services initially created for the purpose of distributing silly cat pictures. Which generation am I talking about? Could be a few choices there! And the scary thing about all this? I wouldn’t even call this present-future bad. It’s not like we have to worry about dictators with alien, orange skin ascending to illegitimate power or something. Things can’t be all that bad! Nobody I know has cybernetic arms!

And it kind of scares me that we could be living in the exact bad future we have been warned of by fiction going back the last hundred years… and we just… got used to it? Sonic CD has a clear bad future: it is the future where Dr. Robotnik has conquered the planet. But do the happy little animals that have not been robotocized in that “future” still go about their daily lives? Are they still doing the same things they have always done, just with a few more badniks around? Sonic can save Amy Rose and “beat the game” without ever once creating a good future. Does that mean Sonic is okay with all of this? Just so long as the people close to him are safe, Sonic is totally cool with whatever the future brings? That is very zen of you, you monster.

I played trumpetBah! I’m overanalyzing a game about a hedgehog trying to stop a robot hedgehog from kidnapping a pink hedgehog. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Sonic CD was never intended as a social commentary on the world that would exist three decades after its release. These are just the musings of a writer that has experience an unusual amount of trauma in the last few years (and months and weeks and days). Things feel bad, and you are now reading these anxieties given written flesh and marginally viable metaphors. No badniks are currently littering the streets.

But there is something we can learn from Sonic CD. Sonic might not have to create good futures, but he can, and it just takes a little effort. Maybe it is through careful exploration, maybe through conquering special stages, but Sonic does have the ability to change the course of history. And we do, too. Are we living in a bad future? Maybe. But there is still more future ahead of us, and we can change that. Bad things have happened. Horrible decisions have been made. But it is not all over yet, and we can still put in the effort, and fish out whatever Time Stones are going to fix the mess.

You can make a good future (at least in zone 2).

FGC #633 Sonic CD

  • Here we go!System: Would you believe this was initially available on the Sega CD? It’s true! It seems there was also a standalone port on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC around 2011, and it was part of the Sonic Gems Collection on Playstation 2 and Gamecube. It most recently was available as part of the Sonic Origins compilation on Playstation 4/5, Xbox X/S, and Nintendo Switch (no slash).
  • Number of players: If there is a two player racing mode or something here, we are not acknowledging it.
  • Port O Call: As you have likely guessed, most screenshots in this article are from the Sonic Origins version of Sonic CD. What has changed from the original release? I have no idea! I mean, it is widescreen, there is no such thing as “lives”, there is the “drop dash”, you can retry special stages repeatedly; we all know those changes are in there. But the little things? Other than the fact that they dropped Sonic’s “I’m out of here” voice, I have no clue about the little things that have been changed. Let’s assume the fact that I played this a lot more intently than the Sonic Gems version is a simple matter of the ergonomics of the Nintendo Switch, and not because they made sweeping changes.
  • Favorite Boss: The Egg Conveyer is a deadly treadmill meant to trap Sonic in an endless loop of running… but the weakness of the Egg Conveyer is the very treadmill Sonic will inevitably run upon. So, basically, Robotnik built a machine that is weak to its own purpose. This is why you always fail, Ivo.
  • Favorite Zone: Stardust Speedway joins Sonic the Hedgehog’s Star Light Zone as another star-themed zone that is my absolute favorite. And, hey, I dislike Tidal Tempest as much as Labyrinth Zone! This really should have been the “first” sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I played through Sonic CD once before, but apparently it did not stick in my mind, as I totally forgot Sonic Mania’s Metallic Madness first appeared as the final zone of Sonic CD. I thought the shrink ray and “tetris spikes” were original to Mania!
  • Watch it, Buddy: In honor of the release of Sonic Origins, BEAT was going to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles on the stream. But he get held up for a week, so I was forced to play Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) instead. I am not going to play that again for the FGC, so here is the stream:

    Please enjoy watching how long it takes for me to get a ball in a hole.
  • Did you know? Every bad future theme on the Japanese soundtrack has lyrics/singing except Tidal Tempest. I do not know why bad futures gets vocal tracks, and what Tidal Tempest did to avoid such a fate, but here we are.
  • Would I play again: Count me as someone who finds Sonic CD to be more of a forgotten gem than a stain on Sonic’s good name. That said, I would still probably play one of the Sega Genesis CD-less titles first. Maybe I will get to this one again on its inevitable next rerelease.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Martial Champion! Never heard of it? I’m not surprised! Come back next week, and learn something new! Please look forward to it!

Look out!

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

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

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

Cars are also rolling murder machines.

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

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

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

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

Enter the crash test dummies.

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

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

Because who could say no to this weirdo?

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

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

Oh, and a few videogames. They… existed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies

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

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

This is someone's fetish

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

That looks like a nice planetMy grandparents and extended family (aka my grandparents’ siblings) always had a home or two in Florida, so, long before I was even capable of forming memories, my family would take annual road trips down Florida way. From the time I actually could remember, these trips mostly followed the same pattern: visit some great aunts and uncles in Northern Florida on the way in, stop at St. Augustine for some history-learnin’, and then scoot down to the Orlando area for the requisite theme parks and surprisingly inexpensive buffets. After that, it was time for the long car ride home, and the best a wee Goggle Bob could hope for was a stop at South of the Border. This pattern continued into my teen years, when it ceased thanks to a combination of those great aunts and uncles aging out of their entertaining-guests years (sleeping on the floor of a nursing home is simply not a fun way to end a visit) and myself aging out of my want-to-spend-any-time-with-my-family years. As a result, whereas I had extremely fond memories of my many Florida road trips, it was not something I ever returned to as an adult. There are other places to vacation, obviously, and maybe I could pick up Disney World again when I have kids or particularly mouse-obsessed dogs or something.

I did return to Orlando a few years ago, though, when my girlfriend (now wife) had the opportunity to fly down there with her sister. Compared to the ol’ family road trips, though, this was a much more concentrated, smaller affair. Not that I would expect anything else! We live in a different world from when I was a child, and now using planes and rideshare apps makes a lot more sense than driving for 20 hours. We didn’t get to stop by the Northern Florida locations, but that was an event that was exclusively reserved for driving through Florida, not saying in Orlando. In fact, unless some global catastrophe occurred, I could not see myself doing anything but flying down to Florida ever again.

And then, of course, a global catastrophe occurred! Whoops!

So, complete with a trip to South of the Border, my wife (definitely now wife) and I drove down to Florida (also, because she would yell at me if she read such a statement, I am legally obligated to admit that my wife did 99.9% of the driving… and you do not want to know what that 0.1% constitutes). We went to Orlando. We went to St. Augustine. We saw all the sites (give or take the theme parks that may have been identified as a little too… plaguey), and enjoyed ourselves in a way that would have been impossible with the typical “just fly in” method. And, since this trip so closely echoed the vacations I took as a child, there was something more than a tinge of nostalgia involved, too. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a picture that was presumably taken by my mother back in the late 80’s…

I had to be, like, seven

And here is a snap taken by my wife this very year…

I had to be, like, 37

See a little similarity there? Thank goodness Florida’s oldest city doesn’t change much.

It was a strange mix of emotions to be experiencing something that was so familiar, yet so different. I had not realized how much those old family vacations had become a part of myself -a part of my very soul- and how returning to a place I had not seen in two decades would fill me with such an odd feeling of… home. This was not just a matter of familiarity or nostalgia, this was a feeling that I was somehow someplace that was objectively “correct”, and why had I not done this in so long? Things changed, as they always must, but the warmth here was so inadvertently welcoming, I could completely ignore any and all faults that were now happening. I did not care if that dork wearing a MAGA hat was yelling on a street corner, or if that bartender was serving drinks with his mask firmly around his chin; none of that mattered, because I was somewhere that felt simultaneously near and distant. It was a kind of concrete ephemeral, like living through a physical fantasy. In short, it is an impossible to define feeling that is somewhere between nostalgia, surprise, contentment.

Though, for something a little more universal, I got the same feeling from fighting this guy.

38 for this one

Welcome back, Kraid. Welcome back, the feeling of Super Metroid.

Metroid Dread is the first official, new 2-D Metroid in almost twenty years. In that time, we had a host of 3-D Metroid titles, one remake of the original Metroid that hewed closely to Metroid Fusion, and a remake of Metroid 2. That remake is relevant to today’s proceedings, as Metroid Dread is from the same people that brought us Metroid: Samus Returns four years ago. And, bad news, Metroid: Samus Returns had some significant problems. It relied way too heavily on bosses (and even random, “mook” monsters) that had both very distinct puzzle patterns, and far too much health (to showcase said patterns). Basically, every ten seconds Samus Aran had to stop and use a friggen’ protractor to determine things like “counter windows” or “missile efficiency”. This made Metroid: Samus Returns very much its own take on the Metroid formula, with a greater emphasis on “Samus the Hunter” than “Samus the Planet Explorer/Exploder”.

But Metroid Dread brings back the feeling of Super Metroid for the first time since… well, probably since the last time I went on a road trip to Florida (and I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout this year).

I need an ice beamTo be clear, Metroid Dread is definitely the descendant of Metroid: Samus Returns. Many monsters still exist to encourage counter tactics, and there does not seem to be a single boss that does not include a protracted “counter sequence” wherein Samus flips and twirls through a cutscene that involves no greater gameplay that “keep hammering Y”. Additionally, the EMMI sections seem to be the obvious heir of the Digby the Diggernaut sections of M:SR, with instant death being the punishment for not immediately knowing which way our latest whacky robot is going to turn. Are EMMI and Diggernaut encounters exactly the same? Of course not, but there is a familiar feeling when seeing an instant (and weightless) Game Over because Samus’s precognition didn’t shout “right” when left was always going to be fatal.

But even in the EMMI sections, you see the OG Samus Aran shine through. EMMI introduces some significant “stealth gameplay” to the 2-D Metroid formula for the first time since minor scripted SA-X encounters in Metroid Fusion. But the difference between Solid Snake and Solid Samus is that our favorite bounty hunter has slightly more vertical mobility than Smokey the Merc. Right from the start, alerting your local EMMI may have advantages, as Samus can spin jump around an arena a lot more effectively (and enjoyably) than draining her lifeforce to maintain stealth mode. And by the time Samus has acquired the Space Jump and Gravity Suit? Screw it! Let the EMMI give chase! Samus probably enjoys the cardio of active fleeing! It’s good for the heart!

And that is why Metroid Dread feels so… right. Yes, there are counters, stealth segments, and some particularly weird design decisions along the way (no, Mercury Steam, I did not want to fight the same stupid bird-spear boss like, four times in a row with very little variation), but Samus feels like Samus all throughout. Or, more specifically, she feels like Super Metroid’s version of Samus Aran. And, lest you think I am misremembering a game I have replayed to death, it is absolutely a trick of recollection, as Super Metroid Samus controlled nothing like Metroid Dread Samus. Totally different, tremendously more floaty animal in Super Metroid. But does Dread feel like “old” Samus? Very much so. You won’t be thinking about the distinctive differences between wall jumps by the time Samus is screw attacking through wannabe skrees.

LOVE ORBWhich brings us back to Kraid. Kraid: Dread follows much the same pattern Super Kraid did 27 years earlier. This is not the exact same fight, as Kraid’s belly spews work differently, and that omnipresent opportunity for a counter scene hangs over the battle with every flash of yellow. But this is Kraid. This is Samus Aran facing down a monster that is initially one screen tall, and then graduates to a full two screen lengths. This is a battle where you must jump on spike protrusions, work your way up to that scaly head, and then fire a baiting-beam before launching missiles into Kraid’s maw. It is a Kraid fight. It feels like a Kraid fight. And, while there have been many battles like it across this and other franchises, this is the first time in decades that Kraid has simply felt like… Kraid.

And the feeling of doing that? Of fighting this Kraid iteration after all these years? It is something beyond nostalgia. It is coming home.

Metroid Dread might not be perfect, but it does present a feeling that is beyond nostalgia. This is a happiness that is not based on simply remembering history, but knowing that what was once good in the past is still here in the present. It is looking at two photographs separated by decades, and knowing that both places are, ultimately, one happy same.

Metroid Dread is a Metroid Dream.

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

NOTE: Spoilers will appear in this area

  • System: Nintendo Switch exclusive. Man am I glad that we are past the DS/3DS/Wii/WiiU era of having no idea how specific gimmicks would be emulated on future consoles.
  • Number of players: One day, we will have a Metroid game where you can play as someone other than Samus. Federation Force? Hunters? No, I don’t see those games with unlockable art in the gallery. They probably didn’t happen.
  • Love that airdashPowerup: Finding 25% of an e-tank or a mere 2-pack of missiles is offensive, and I will not continue to tolerate this kind of withholding. I am willing to accept that new and interesting challenges may be created by reserving the morph ball or gravity suit for later areas, but shinesparking all over creation for a measly two missiles is rude.
  • Can’t touch this: Though I do appreciate that additional power bombs are available without sequence breaking. One of the greatest annoyances in Samus Returns was finding a new item way the hell at the end of the game, and then your only hope of getting additional ammo was backtracking all over creation. Even if it is upsetting to be told you cannot use an “early” discovered power bomb yet, at least it means you will have a stock when they finally become operational.
  • But Super Missiles totally suck now for some reason: Oh yeah. Totally. Most nothing powerup in the game.
  • Amiibo Corner: Unfortunately, thanks to disparate shipping times, my official Metroid Dread amiibos did not arrive until literally a few hours after I 100% completed the game. Just as well, as their boons of random health/missile refills aren’t all that exciting. Could the EMMI amiibo maybe start a chao garden minigame wherein you raise your own terminator? Let ‘em race around homemade Tourian courses? Could be fun!
  • Ridley is too big: He’s so big, he forgot to show up! 100% completion earns some art that confirms the main villain used his troops to hogtie and bound a Kraid down in the depths of a lava pit, so it is my headcanon the ol’ Raven Dork took one look at a revived Ridley, figured it was too much trouble, and left the space dragon to roam the universe on his own. Besides, we must save a surprise for Metroid 6.
  • What is Wrong with our Heroine? Samus, I don’t know anything about bird people death customs, but I am glad you were punished for leaving Quiet Robe’s corpse to just rot there. Think about what you did while dealing with those reactivated EMMIs.
  • Sorry!  Bad Robot!Did you know? It seems that every 2-D Metroid since Metroid 2 has ended with a “villain” heel turn. Baby Metroid plays against type and saves Samus in 2 and Super, SA-X cooperates with Samus during the finale of Fusion, and now Metroid 5 features Quiet Robe-X merging with Samus despite the X creature earlier enabling killer robots. Looking forward to Metroid 6, wherein Samus is saved at the last minute by a very friendly space mutant.
  • Would I play again: This is the first Metroid I have wanted to instantly replay in forever. I’m not going to, because I haven’t even finished that one Persona game that came out like forever ago, but it is on the agenda! It’s going to happen! Even if I completely ignore Hard Mode for the rest of my life!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Zero Wing! Yes! That Zero Wing! From the internet! Please look forward to it!

Sorry birdie
This concludes my coverage of Metroid: Other Dads

FGC #574 Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection

Here they come!This was either the absolute perfect time to release Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, or the absolute worst.

Yes, folks, we’re going to talk about COVID, the past year, and probably squeeze some ghouls ‘n ghosts in there, too.

Let’s pretend this article is actually about the title matter, though, and address Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. It’s a Ghosts ‘n Gobilins game! In the year 2021! And it is a 2-D “old school” title like its forebearers! No 3-D Maximo for this Arthur! And, in a lot of ways, it follows the Contra 4 model of being “the most Ghosts ‘n Goblins”. Yes, there is new content across this latest Demon Realm, but it’s hard to point at any one thing and not see how it is a precise evolution of something that existed in a previous G ‘n G title. As an easy example: all of the bosses are foes Arthur has faced before, but they all have new patterns, so they are effectively new challenges wearing old skins. Same for the many venues Arthur must traverse, and the surprisingly high number of demon stomachs he is going to have to trudge through. Technically there is nothing and everything new here, and it’s a fun time for G ‘n G fans old and new.

But you don’t play a G ‘n G game for the scenic vistas, you play for the challenge. And does Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection challenge the player? Hell yes. GnGR leans completely into the challenging spectacle of previous G ‘n G titles, and even seems to ascend to the level of “masocore” that is usually only reserved for Super Mario Maker stages made by sexual deviants (you heard me, you maniacs!). In fact, it is possible that GnGR focuses too hard on difficulty, because there is a definite feeling that the “flow” of previous titles has been forsaken for checkpoint-based mini challenges. This title does not contain anything as dramatically epic as Super Ghouls’ second stage, so it is hard to escape the impression that the game was designed around a difficult-and-escalating series of “challenge areas”, not a cohesive Demon World. Or, put another way, for reasons that will never make any sense, there is the boss of a stage that is a deteriorating stone dragon, and then you must progress through a series of stone dragon riding challenges in the next stage. Wouldn’t the previous boss be Let's run!an excellent capper to that area that contains nothing but its brethren? Yes! But then the difficulty curve would arc in the wrong direction, and we cannot have that. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is about the challenge, so everything about its world is about the challenge first and foremost. You are playing a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game, over everything else, you should be worried about maintaining careful offensive with continual defense.

And constantly dodging everything in a concentrated, eternal effort to survive? Yeah, that’s been this last year in a nutshell.

I’m not writing this article for right now. I’m writing this essay so I don’t forget what 2020 has been. I’m writing this article so I can remind myself what has happened. I’m writing this for future generations trying to understand why there are millions of weirdos that act bizarre because “oh, they lived through COVID”. If you’re reading this in the Spring of 2021, shortly after GnGR’s release, then this is all going to be something you are inordinately familiar with. And that “something”? It’s that life has been impossible for the last year.

While it is still fresh in my mind and not polluted by nostalgia, here is the arc of the last year or so. As of New Year’s Day, 2020, I was celebrating in Athens, Greece on a European trip that my (now) wife had planned for our vacation. At the time, there were news reports that China had some kind of weird virus thing going on, and, by the tone of the reports, they were trying to contain it by setting up concentration camps. Ha ha! Weird, backwards China is stomping all over the rights of its citizens because they can’t keep a virus under control. And here I am, exploring the Parthenon with thousands of other tourists, and petting strange cats I found on the street. Hey, babe, it’s okay, I’m not going to get worms, I’ll wash my hands eventually.

We eventually came back to the States, and I formally asked the love of my life to marry me. That was the final day of February (Leap Day!), and there wasn’t much of a question as to whether she would agree to the arrangement, as we had already literally set the date a month prior (we travel backwards through time on occasion).Slashy slashy 11/20/20 was chosen because the numbers looked cool. Sweet! We proceeded to have a rockin’ engagement bash thrown by our friends, and we were partying like Gatsby. Things were looking up, and I’m pretty sure we hadn’t heard about that virus from another continent since January. Is that thing still around?

And then we hit March. It is remarkable, in retrospect, how quickly things changed. On what was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, many bars were not only 100% open and operating, but they had all sorts of “special” drinks that mocked the current situation and recommendations. Would you care for a quarantini? Or a maskgarita? COVID was considered little more than a punchline, and, while the locals were well aware that New York City was already suffering, nobody thought to consider that a virus ravaging an area a short car ride away would actually impact the local population.

And then we hit real quarantine. Offices hastily closing and frantically switching to “remote” setups. Retail businesses randomly declaring themselves essential because they sold absolutely critical items, like Funko Pops. And a deluge of information that may or may not have ever been correct. Masks were either essential or a silly precaution only employed by the most germophobic nerds. What could qualify as a mask? A scarf? A bandana? A banana? Whatever. And don’t touch anything! Or maybe do, but use hand sanitizer constantly! Assuming you can buy it at all, because it has been sold out for weeks! And speaking of shopping, leave your groceries in the garage for three days, because apparently they need to die, venture through the underworld, and then be reborn on the third day in order to be cleansed of all impurities. It was a weird time! You practically had to have a score card to determine whether someone wearing a facemask while bicycling was either the biggest dork on the planet, or a person that was infinitely more responsible than your average plebian.

WeeeeeBut it was all in pursuit of one thing: nobody wanted to get sick. The Corona Virus was reported as deadly from day one, and even people that claimed it was little more than “a big flu” knew they didn’t want to get sick, regardless of survivability. As more data was released regarding how ‘rona could impact the lungs of even a healthy person in unprecedented ways, it was confirmed that this was a virus that was more than just a week or two in bed. So we all did the only thing we could: we dodged. We followed the rules. We stayed home. If we went outside, we avoided other people. We went shopping as little as possible, and (if at all possible), during less crowded hours. We touched nothing. We hugged nothing. We spent all day, every day either “hiding” in quarantine, or venturing out only when it was possible to assess the value of every last action, and whether it was “worth it” to get the ‘rona because you had to go out for more paper towels. You want to die for that Taco Bell run? Be my guest. I’ll attend your funeral on Zoom.

And I’m not even going to consider the number of people that had to make that decision for the purpose of continuing to have an income. My wife and I both were fortunate enough to be in positions where we simply changed tracks to remote working (gee, that “switch” sounds so easy now), but so many people were forced into situations wherein they literally had to risk their lives so more fortunate folks could have food or healthcare. And this is to say nothing of people who had no choice but to risk their wellbeing for their family or friends that required their presence. I took up a job as a Legend of Zelda NPC, and walked around the neighborhood, dropping off supplies and food at the front door of my parents. But I am (again) lucky that any of the older folks in my life did not need constant care, nor did they require me to physically be there (potentially with an “outside the bubble” health aide involved, too). We threw around the term “heroes” a lot during the start of the pandemic, because it genuinely did seem heroic to risk your own lungs to help another, whether that be through produce stocking or helping an older person get upstairs.

RiitBut, as this life of dodging everything wore on, an important question began to surface: when can we have fun bbagain? And, as alluded to earlier, this presented a difficult question in my own life: when am I going to get married?

Our original wedding date was November 20, 2020. That sounded cool an’ all, but by the time we were finally able to meet with “the venue” in June, that already seemed dangerously optimistic. What had initially been a two week quarantine was still going strong come Summer. Some fragments of normalcy had begun to return (the only reason that we were meeting in June was because hotels had just been allowed to legally reopen), but we were still nervous about setting any concrete plans for November. It would be one thing to plan a wedding if it was a simple affair, but at the point you have to make decisions about booking a DJ, you want to know that your deposit is not going to go to waste. So, as of June 2020, we made the decision to push the wedding out to March of 2021. Surely “one year later” would give the world enough time to recover from all of this nonsense. Surely putting some money down on March being a good time would be a safe bet.

Lord, typing this in March of 2021 makes me wonder how I was ever so stupid.

In all honesty, I do not remember exactly when we determined we would go back to the November 20th date. I know a significant factor was determining that there would be no way in hell that allowing my wife’s family to fly in November or March would be a good idea, but I am not certain when that information was first evident. Regardless, we decided to reinstate the wedding on November 20, and plan for what would be (in my wife’s own words) “the most expensive backyard BBQ ever”. It would be outside. The guest list would only include local people that we were generally already interacting with at that point anyway (aka a lot of coworkers). We would pray for a sunny day, and hope for the best with… everything.

Hot stuffAnd if I thought life was nothing but dodging before, planning a wedding with the looming threat of coronavirus and its attendant issues was its own, zombie-deluge level challenge. Not only was there the general fear that the wedding cake or dress might not be available due to a local outbreak, there was also the hazard that a government could, at any moment, essentially make our wedding illegal. Okay, we vowed that the actual wedding ceremony would happen one way or another (if every participant had to be on a stream, so be it), but the actual reception was the tough nut to crack. We wanted to celebrate our union! We wanted to at least have the appearance of a normal wedding (albeit one without hugs)! We wanted to have some goldarned pigs in a blanket, dammit!

Spoilers: our extremely limited backyard BBQ of a wedding reception did go off without a hitch. The dress was there, the cake was there, and, more importantly than all of that, literally no one got sick as a result of our wedding. We did everything right, apparently, and the small enclave of our friends and family that attended had a good time and did not contract a deadly disease. It was everything we could ever hope for, given the circumstances.

And when I think of what could have happened, I am still shaken by what I could have done.

I do not know what I would have done if I had been showing some kind of symptoms shortly before the wedding. Or, I suppose if I’m being completely honest, I think I do know what I would have done. I think I would have gone forward with the wedding. If I knew I had coronavirus, if I outright tested positive, I know I would have cancelled everything. But if I “just” had a strong headache, a less responsive sense of smell, or was just kind of generally sneezing more? And I did not have enough time to get the results of a (presumably rapid) test? I probably would have gone forward with the wedding as planned. Hey, everybody gets an upset stomach before their wedding, right? It’s probably nothing! Why should I cancel the months of planning and disappoint all those happy guests with a no-show groom? Why not endanger the lives of everyone I know and care about for a chance at some decent cake?

Bad timesAnd it is freaking horrifying knowing that it is possible you could do that. It would have been difficult to cancel the wedding and its attendant features so close to the event, so I probably would have gone ahead and allowed people to be infected because to do otherwise would be a hassle. But I did not have to make that decision, and I possibly would have made the right decision (just reschedule, you absolute asshole). And, relatedly, it is equally horrifying to know that anyone else could be in that same situation, and making the same wrong decision. And infecting everyone around them. And spreading a deadly virus even further. And all in the name of getting those little eggroll things that only seem to exist at catered events. Acknowledge how you must multiply all of these potentials for virus transmission by your entire life and everywhere you have to be just to survive, and life becomes a gauntlet of dodging, dodging, dodging. Anyone could have made selfish decisions. Anyone could have made well-meaning decisions to help others, but wound up infected as a result. Anyone could be a threat to you, your family, and everyone you know. And it takes little more than a sneeze…

And that has been life for the last year. That’s the gameplay of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. Dodge, dodge, dodge and hope you don’t make the wrong jump into an abyss. Hope you have the right equipment for all the challenges you’ll face. Hope you don’t have to make a terrible choice because of the sheer randomness of what is happening. In much the same way an hour and a half flew by while I fought the same boss over and over, a year has now gone by while I spent all of my spare mental energy trying to determine if it is safe to deal with some jerk that seems to genuinely believe it is safe to go see Tenant. We have all spent the last year dodging assaults from all possible directions. We’ve all spent a year playing Ghost ‘n Goblins Resurrection.

But, end of the day, at least I can say I beat Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. And we’ll find all the shadow orbs in this pandemic, too.

FGC #574 Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection

  • This sucksSystem: Seems like we’re only looking at Nintendo Switch at the moment.
  • Number of players: Arthur is a single hero kind of guy, but he can get assistance from a second “assistant” player. But that’s cheating!
  • Get those upgrades: Holy cow, Gold Armor is a game-changer. And I would not have ever known if not for the skill unlock system eventually leading to an “armor powerup” spell. Yes, it takes forever to charge, but being able to start from practically any checkpoint with a gold armor powerup is amazing. It well and truly makes GnGR one of those games that frontloads the difficulty, and things get a lot easier as you level up.
  • Favorite Weapon: Gold Armor-Crossbow is practically Contra’s Spread Gun, and it can fell a Red Arremer on its charge in a single shot. I liked being able to sling arrows already, guys, you didn’t have to sweeten the deal that much.
  • Favorite Boss: I like me some flamin’ devil dogs. Fire Cerberus? Whatever that puppy happens to be called, he’s my favorite boss, as he is pure G ‘n G in a nutshell. The whole thing seems impossible at first, and there is always a level of randomness, but you can overcome if you figure out the patterns and tells. Or you have that golden arrow thing, too. Whatever works.
  • Step into the Shadows: I was expecting the “second run” of GnGR to be the typical “the real game starts now” wherein the stages are the same, just harder with additional traps and spawns. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the “shadow stages” are more or less entirely new challenges with familiar level layouts/graphics. Good on GnGR for “for real” doubling the length of the game, and not just including its own Very Hard mode.
  • ChompyDid you know? Satan appears as the third boss (or fifth, if you are completing all the stages). There are (many!) demons that stand above Satan in this universe. And that reminds me: despite being Satan, the big guy rarely gets to star as a final boss. Any games you can think of where straight up named-Satan is the finale, and not some random fallen angel (ala Lucifer)?
  • Would I play again: Like a Mega Man X title, it is genuinely fun to replay earlier stages with a complete set of upgrades. And it is challenging-fun to play the game without a precise loadout. So I’m probably going to play the game with one of those choices. … But never both.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Big Bird’s Egg Catch for the Atari 2600. We’re going from 2021 to 1983! Please look forward to it!

These dorks