Tag Archives: TurboGrafx-16

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

Bubs n BobsThe release of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini offered me my first opportunity to play Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on something approaching “original” hardware. I had conquered Richter’s Big Adventure through emulation before (on the Wii and PSP), but I never completed the quest holding an actual approximation of a TG16 controller. And you know what confused me?

Take control

Damn, this thing got no buttons. That is practically a Nintendo Entertainment System Funpad for Babies™! This was the controller meant to steer Rondo of Blood? The game that is the direct prequel to one of the greatest games of all time? Which appeared on a system with a controller that contained, like, so many buttons and an eventual analogue stick or two? And all Richter had to beat back the forces of evil was little more than A & B? No, that cannot be right. A game that was a contemporary of Mortal Kombat 2, Mega Man X, and Secret of Mana surely could not be so limited by a controller and remain fun.

And then I used that same TurboGrafx-16 Mini to play Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. And now two buttons being loads of fun makes perfect sense.

Bubble Bobble has always been one of the most low-key best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is one of those unique-to-the-era experiences wherein game designers were not quite sure how to bridge the gap from arcade to home console parameters, and, what the hey, let’s just have a fun game with mostly contained levels and an overarching plot/theme that does eventually see a finish line. Bubble Bobble may have been experienced one non-scrolling screen at a time, but it had a variety of level configurations (hundo or so), interesting monsters, and a two-player simultaneous mode that could make enemies into friends and friends into enemies. Complete with a built-in hard mode and an excuse to call your neighbor over for bubbling times, Bubble Bobble had everything you could ever ask for in 1988 (or so).

Umbrella power!Unfortunately, not everything about Bubble Bobble was perfect. Bubble Bobble technically has precise controls, but sometimes getting your chosen dinosaur to do exactly what you want is a bit finicky. Who among us has not been trapped behind a wall, and forced to suss out the exact button combination to get Bub to properly bounce on a series of bubbles? Or been surprised at the relative difficulty of finding the correct way to pop a trapped opponent? Or finally reached the final boss, and then been downright confused at what you were supposed to do with that potion? Bubble Bobble is a great game, but we take for granted how much of its gameplay was predicated on knowing exactly what to do in any given situation. Granted, the same could be said for many games, but Bubble Bobble was one that could have used a little more tweaking to be immediately understandable.

And tweaks did occur in time for Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. Rainbow Islands (effectively Bubble Bobble 2) had a variety of… let’s call them… “innovative” gameplay elements that… may or may not have worked. Parasol Stars wisely decided to drop the meteorological-based play of Rainbow Islands and give the (now human) Bub and Bob a pair of parasols to better simulate classic Bubble Bobble gameplay. In much the same way a monster was once stunned by a bubble, now an umbrella can paralyze an opponent on contact, and then they can be pushed, thrown, or just eliminated at will. And you are going to want to use that push command plenty, because there are other monsters that are about “4 times your mass” size, and they can only be conquered by using smaller monsters as projectiles. Or maybe you could use those actual projectiles laying around…

Stay dampAs much as any other part of its progenitor title, Parasol Stars seems to distinctly build on the finale of Bubble Bobble. Now every “world” has a boss, and every boss is encountered in the same room as a potion that will grant magical powers to your parasol. No mere umbrella is going to vanquish Super Tom-kun, so the elements of water, fire, lightning, and star (it’s an element!) are going to have to help out. And, while you can simply launch little “bubbles” of these elements at your foes, you do have the option of “charging” and multiplying their power into a massive, unique attack. Fire lights the floor ablaze! Water creates a flood! Star makes stars (but, like, more stars)! And, considering these elemental potions create gameplay that is closer to Mega Man than anything involving bubbles popping, you can more easily focus on the task at hand. No need to figure out a boss pattern and how the hell your offense is going to work! These may be familiar elemental attacks at work, but the upgrade from Bubble Bobble to Parasol Stars has never been so obvious.

But that’s not all, folks! Despite Bub & Bob seemingly only requiring the limited general offensiveness of OG Bubble Bobble, there is a lot more to these magical parasols than meets the eye. You can find elemental bubbles in normal stages, for instance, and effortlessly balance these balls to charge up floods ‘n fires. And you can fire the bolts in multiple directions, just like launching monsters all over the place. And navigating these stages is a breeze, too, as you can ride the breeze with those umbrellas. Float leisurely down for an enemy ambush. And all you have to do is hold a button a little longer! Bub and/or Bob have got a myriad of options, and you can control it all with two buttons!

Only two buttons. Because that is all you’ve got.

Not the stars you need1991 was a fun year for buttons. This was a few months after the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was the very same year that Link needed every last tool in his arsenal to go back to the past. Battletoads proved amphibians needed a lot more than two buttons for eclectic gameplay. And, dang, this was the year that Street Fighter 2 premiered in arcades. Remember Street Fighter 2? Six “action buttons” and to do anything fun, you still had to memorize special motions? Or at least hammer that jab button? And it’s not like the same year’s Fatal Fury was any better!

And amidst all this, here is Parasol Stars, just quietly featuring two infinitely controllable characters bopping around thanks to two buttons.

Not every game needs every button. Mario has proven for years that he seems to steer best in 2-D with 2-buttons. Sonic has only ever needed one button. Your average JRPG or strategy game needs little more than what you would find on a mouse. Whether you are venturing into the Cave of Monsters or traipsing across the Castlevania countryside, you do not need that many buttons. A few easy to remember, intuitive button combinations (Hold A to float, press Forward+B to throw, etc), and you will be set for an entire adventure. The TurboGrafx-16 proved this time and time again, and Parasol Stars is a shining example of two buttons being absolutely all you need.

I, II, and an umbrella? That is the perfect equation for the finale of a fantastic story.

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

  • ToothySystem: This game saw more systems than you think… just mostly in other countries. But there was no arcade version! TurboGrafx-16, though, definitely. It seems other releases, like the NES version, stuck to Europe. Did we see the Atari ST or Gameboy ports?
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous, because this game is great.
  • Port-O-Call: Working Designs was responsible for the TG-16 American localization. This is good, as the game does not contain much text, and I am moderately certain they did not pump up all boss health to unhealthy levels. There was also supposed to be a Commodore 64 version, but an irate spouse destroyed the production files during a bitter divorce. No, I am not kidding.
  • Story Time: The canon explanation of what is happening here is that some nefarious force is sucking the color out of various planets, and visiting these spots and beating their bosses is restoring the universe to its former glory. … Except you only ever see the black and white worlds on the map screen, and color is instantly restored the minute you stop by any given planet. So it seems more like this monochromatic curse is just, ya know, a level select graphic flourish.
  • An end: You must collect three precious star cards (or whatever) to gain a key that unlocks the final two “worlds”. There is nothing over the course of the game that indicates that those collectible “miracles” will do anything but clear out some enemies, so I want to say I would be pretty damn pissed if I went through the whole game in 1991 and was granted some ambiguous “try again” message. That said, the infamous “bad end” is kind of an expected thing in this franchise…
  • ToastySnack Time: Bub and Bob can collect piles of food just in their first level, and much, much more over the course of their whole adventure. Is a residual side effect of the Bubble Bobble curse a bottomless stomach, or are they hoarding provisions for their entire planet? Whatever the case, score a fridge somewhere, kiddies, all of those watermelon slices are going to spoil.
  • Horse Puncher: This is another game wherein you routinely fight unicorns. I need to keep track of how often this happens.
  • Did you know? The boss fight theme for this game is straight up Kaoma’s Lambada. This was something of a copyright issue then and now, but nothing compared to how the previous Bubble Bobble game, Rainbow Islands, heisted (Somewhere) Over the Rainbow. Such a thing was possible back in the early 90s! Nowadays, we can’t even preserve the Neon Genesis Evangelion end credits…
  • Would I play again: I bought the TG-16 Mini for Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, but Parasol Stars is easily the best “hidden gem” on the system. I will play this game again, if only because I will need something to test a second controller. Does that add up to four buttons?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SaGa Frontier for the Playstation! Or maybe SaGa Frontier Remastered for the Playstation 4! Whatever works! We’re gonna spark some skills either way! Please look forward to it!

END?

FGC #541 Splatterhouse

Things go splatSigmund Freud put forth the psychological theory of psychosexual development. In short, Freud’s hypothesis was that boys and girls went through certain sexual developmental stages during childhood, and each of these phases had particular erogenous triggers that should be satisfied, even if only subconsciously. If these conditions were not properly met, a child would grow into an adult that had a specific fetish/fixation. If all went well, then the kid would grow to be a sexually well-adjusted man or woman that doesn’t google pictures of half-dressed centaurs when his fiancée is asleep. While Freud’s psychosexual outlines have been derided since the early 20th Century as sexist, homophobic, euro-centric, scientifically inaccurate, and generally unpleasant, Freud’s teachings still persist through to today… even if they only wind up as part of pop-psychology lectures provided by sitcom characters. Oh! And in videogames!

So let’s review Freud’s theory of psychosexual development through the medium of Splatterhouse.

The Oral Stage

The first stage lasts from birth until about one year. During this stage, the only way a person knows how to interact with the world is through oral means. It starts at the mother’s teat, and ends with every goddamn thing within reach being shoved into that toothless maw. Supposedly, if there is too little or too much (Freud is astrology for psychology nerds) oral gratification, they will grow to be an adult that is passive, gullible, and/or immature.

Not too gross

The Oral Stage is the foundation of Splatterhouse. Rick, a boy anxious just to have some alone time with his girlfriend in a creepy house that may or may not have blood all over the walls, is murdered seven seconds into his romantic rendezvous. But all is not lost! Rick is revived by a haunted facemask. The only caveat? He has to keep wearing the mask, which means he cannot orally enjoy anything. His face is permanently bound for the entirety of his adventure, so he has become little more than a deprived child (albeit one with the power to punch monsters to death).

Gross

Taunting Rick is the final boss of Splatterhouse, a gigantic head with toothy jaws that can only devour everything in its path (and throw rocks, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor). Rick has no mouth with which to orally interact, while his greatest foe is all consuming. Give or take a particularly unpleasant skin condition, Rick is forced to envy everything about his ultimate opponent.

The Anal Stage

If you like big butts and cannot lie, you are likely fixated on mistakes made during the anal stage of development. This stage, taking place from approximately eighteen months to three years, sees the focus shift from the upper digestive tract to the lower half. Pleasure is derived from satisfying the urges of everything below the equator, and the biggest factor here on whether or not someone will forever be hypnotized by the booty is effective toilet training. If training is too strict at this stage, it will inevitably lead to someone being “anal” and controlling; or, in the event of parents that aren’t too concerned about Kid Stinky, an adult might wind up becoming one of those guys with visible stink lines.

Gross

So it should be no surprise that Rick winds up in a literal sewer as soon as Level 2. Despite the fact that the titular Splatterhouse is a house that is literally in the middle of nowhere, it apparently has a robust sewer system, complete with water monsters. It is obvious that these creatures are meant to represent excrement, and would be festering, pulsating poop monsters if Splatterhouse had been released with more high definition options. Regardless, Rick fighting through the muck to murder monsters made of messes is a clear allusion to the anal stage, and how no one can ever truly live in a world where everything is clean.

The Phallic Phase

Here’s where things get interesting! From the ages of three to six, a person will explore their genitals. This is not a “sexual awakening” as we commonly think of it, but it is a time when the person involved realizes they can derive pleasure from touching their no-no places. Additionally, as children usually acquire a curiosity about other dark corners of anatomy, this is traditionally when they learn about the physical differences between men and women. This is also where the Oedipus complex comes into play, as a boy child is apparently coming around on “real” sexual feelings, and wants to unseat his father and claim his mother as a lover. If you’re wondering about Freud’s equivalent thinking for women, don’t bother, as Freud left Electra to Carl Jung, and claimed that women simply experience a “negative Oedipus complex” that, if not properly managed, will lead to a woman with the affliction of “high self-esteem”. Remember how I said this thing was a little sexist?

Gross

But Rick isn’t a woman! Rick is a man’s man, and, as such, he has to fight a pile of blood worms that couldn’t be any more phallic if they were starring in Captain Toad. The boss of Stage 1 is little more than a pile of severed, bloody wieners, and Rick has to fight off every last one before they drain his life force. And could there be any greater metaphor for the phallus? Well, there’s the final worm that bursts forth from a hanging man’s abdomen, but that one is a little more Alien than outright phallic.

The Latency Phase

From about age six to puberty, psychosexual development apparently just takes a moment to collect itself. You know all about “bloodworms”, but you can’t really do anything about any of that yet, so may as well just chill on everything until those hormones get going. But thoughts are still there! They just have to be channeled into something else. So, essentially, Freud thought that every 2nd grader is a churning ball of sexual energy, but is trying not to think about it while learning how to play dodgeball. Whatever, Siggy.

Not too Gross

However, this can be seen within Splatterhouse in the lead up to the finale of Stage 5. Rick is trying to rescue Jenny, but is menaced by ghost women in an art gallery. These apparitions are the only obviously female foes in the house, and it is clear they are restless spirits meant to represent Rick’s feelings for his mate. Rick knows he must find Jenny, but he has no idea how or where. Does he even know what he’s going to do when he gets there? In the meanwhile, he must turn his focus elsewhere. These ghosts seem to indicate that Rick’s desires are real, but no more substantial than wisps.

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase

For an extremely brief period just before puberty begins, it is posited that everyone goes through the meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase. This is an oft-overlooked stage in development when people’s thoughts turn exclusively to a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands. Why does this happen? Is it a universal, deep-seated affection for Leatherface? Or is it a matter of the fact that the most natural, pure sexual attraction is the one between a person and a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands? Nobody knows. But ask anyone over the age of 12 about their own meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase, and they’ll likely sigh contentedly.

Back to gross

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase is best emblemized by the boss of Stage 3, Biggy Man. Biggy Man is, naturally, a gigantic, fleshy fellow with gardening equipment implanted on his arms. Like his attendant phase of psychosexual development, he is a difficult boss if you do not come prepared. If you show up at his door with the (unsurprisingly phallic) shotgun, though, he’s a wee kitten, and will be purring (bleeding) in no time. Fear not this perfectly natural phase!

The Genital Phase

The genital phase is the grand finale of psychosexual development. At this point, we’re well and truly into puberty, and, in the immortal words of my pants when I turned 13, “let’s get our freak on” (to be clear, my pants could not actually talk, there were simply some unusual clothing designs available at Hot Topic in the 90s). Assuming someone has successfully completed all of their psychosexual development homework over the previous decade and change, the Genital Phase is where it all pays off, and adult, consenting relationships/relations can happen. You no longer want to have sex with your mom (or, if you’re a woman, negative-mom), and you will gain sexual satisfaction not only from your own biological parts, but also from satisfying the needs and desires of others. It’s a good time for everybody!… Unless you messed up on one of the earlier phases. Then you’re stuck begging randos on Chat Roulette to talk dirty about My Little Pony until you can finally climax. Sorry! I don’t make the rules!

Gross

In Splatterhouse, the genital phase is clearly meant to be the true climax of the game, and it presents itself as the boss fight with Rick’s kidnapped girlfriend, Jennifer. Aliens (?) implant… something… in Jenny, and she becomes a horrifying monster that may or may not resemble something from This Island Earth. She jumps around attempting to murder Rick, but occasionally reverts to her human form so she can beg for death. Homicide and suicide all in one? That sounds like every relationship I ever had as a teenager! Rick will eventually succeed in putting Jenny down, and, while she does return (to life) in the sequel, he did technically satisfy her desires in this instance, even if it may be brief. Good job, Rick, you’re psychosexually developed!

Enjoy the next stage where Splatterhouse keeps burping out fetuses.

Super Gross

And it all starts all over again! Thanks Siggy, for the eternal cycle of psychosexual development!

FGC #541 Splatterhouse

  • System: Arcade, and then the TurboGrafx-16. The arcade version is much more enjoyable if available (apparently as part of a Switch collection), as it has the original, lawsuit-bait Jason Voorhees mask. The TG16 version is available currently on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, though, so it may be slightly more accessible if you never nabbed the Wii version.
  • Number of players: Two players alternating. There is apparently code in the game for simultaneous play, but they couldn’t get it 100% implemented for release. Or they just thought it was dumb. Either way, not widely available.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is one of those pre-Final Fight beat ‘em ups where it’s kinda sorta a platforming game, too. Splatterhouse does seem to have a leg up on the competition, as it features multiple, branching paths, and very memorable bosses and environments. Unfortunately, it is still a quarter killer, so its difficulty is high for its relatively simply gameplay. And no one ever tells you how to do that essential slide move! Splatterhouse, overall, seems to balance out to a “medium essential” experience.
  • Things go grabWon’t someone please think of the children: The gore was turned down dramatically for the home versions. Additionally, a floating, upside cross was replaced with a severed head (or maybe a doll’s head?), and bladed weapons (like a meat cleaver) were replaced with sticks of wood. Oh! And when you murder the beating heart of the mansion, it doesn’t gush fluids, but immediately catches fire. That at least explains why the following stage is a bit toasty.
  • Favorite Weapon: The shotgun is amazing, but there are inexplicable harpoons around the mansion, too. Was the unseen Dr. West into whaling in his spare time? Or is this yet another phallic object of power produced by the mansion?
  • Favorite Moment: I always love mirror matches, so Rick’s malevolent reflection busting out of a reflection is simultaneously scary and fun. Jumpscares in an arcade game! Who would have thought?
  • What’s in a name? According to the TG16 port’s manual, the final boss is named “Hell Chaos”, and is presumably the mutated corpse of Dr. West, the Splatterhouse’s landlord. Hell Chaos doesn’t technically appear again in the franchise, but he does return as a cardboard cutout over a door in the 2010 version. He’s that (not) spooky. Sorry, Nemesis.
  • Did you know? In the arcade version, the crawling hand will occasionally give Rick the finger. That’s not polite, severed hand!
  • Let's reflect on thisWould I play again: Maybe. This is a game that is too difficult to play casually (without save states, memorization, or a childhood of playing the title constantly), but maybe I’ll give it a go for a credit or two sometime. It is damn satisfying to splat monsters against walls, and the arcade version is available as part of Splatterhouse 2010. Speaking of which…

What’s next? Random ROB knows how this goes, so we’re playing Splatterhouse again, but this time it’s the 2010 version. Let’s get ready to splat on a whole new generation of hardware. Please look forward to it!

FGC #522 R-Type (Dimensions)

Gonna be a R-Type TonightWhen Pokemon Go first launched in 2016, it had very limited functionality. There were no raids, trades, or PVP battles. The legendary Pokémon had to wait a year or so to arrive, ditto was MIA, and not even a single shiny would ever appear. Much of what is considered part and parcel with P-Go was nonexistent in those early days, and players would have to wait months to years to see what would eventually become the game we now all know and love (or gave up playing after Pokémon Going to the Polls). One of the first of these “new” features introduced was the buddy system. While the uses and benefits of the buddy system have also evolved over the years, the basic premise is still the same: you’re going to walk all around town, may as well do it with a Pokémon buddy. In exchange for walking with a companion, you earn candy that can power up that pocket monster… and that’s about it. There’s no rock-paper-scissors triangle for optimum buddy selection, nor is the right buddy going to save a player hours of grinding. It is, ultimately, a very simple system, and its impact on Pokémon Go gameplay is limited. It is little more than an excuse to have your digital avatar stand next to an imaginary creature.

Big buds

But look at that impressive buddy! She’s all “roar!” and I’m like “yeah!” I pet her every day, and I make sure her scales are clean, and of course I always make sure she has enough berries. I get kind of concerned sometimes because some tasks ask you to feed your buddy more, and I don’t want her to get fat or anything, but I think she’s going to be okay. She gets a lot of exercise walking with me, because we walk everywhere, and sometimes…

Er-hem.

My apologies. It seems that, while the Pokémon Go buddy system is little more than “click on a Pokémon you like for candy” from a gameplay perspective, it can make an impact on a player’s psyche. Your buddy is your buddy, and after you’ve walked literal miles with your companion, how can you do anything but like your buddy. Sure, it is technically nothing more than a collection of pixels that you occasionally use to fight other imaginary licensed Pokémon Company products, but… she’s your buddy! You’ve been through thick and thin together, and, when your Pokémon storage space is running low, you’d never damn your buddy to be transferred off to the professor at the candy factory. Your buddy is important to you!

And here’s our other big buddy for the day: let’s talk about a Force.

PEW PEWR-Type is a shoot ‘em up arcade title from the distant past of 1987. The same year that Mega Man first pew pewed Guts Man, the R-9 blasted off to save the universe from the Bydo invaders. The “shooting stuff in space” genre had existed since Asteroids first pitted triangles against circles, but R-Type seemed more similar to the gameplay of Gradius, released two years prior. R-Type once again presented a continually horizontally scrolling universe that was filled with obstacles and opponents. You could risk it all to blast certain enemies to nab progressively more powerful powerups before facing a big boss at the end of every stage (usually). It’s all very familiar, and, in some ways, R-Type comes off as an obvious clone of Gradius.

But R-Type does do its level best to set itself apart from the pack. For one thing, much of R-Type’s bestiary is based on the works of H.R. Giger (the genius behind the xenomorphs), which means every other boss looks like a penis. But even if the boss of level 2 causes you to question/confirm your own sexuality, it is at least much more distinctive than your average laser-spewing ship. And speaking of lasers and bosses, R-Type offers another significant change over the Gradius formula: a charge beam. You’ve got your traditional rapid-fire cannon, but you also have the option to stop, smell the roses, and charge up a cannon to a significantly more powerful “charged” attack. This makes R-Type one of the earliest shoot ‘em ups to acknowledge that a turbo button shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of offensive options. There are times when you’ll want to lay down some suppressing fire, and there are times when you’ll want to launch a charged shot against some alien weiner. You’ve got a choice, and that’s important when you want the game to be something more than a test to see who can break those arcade buttons the fastest.

And R-Type had one other important difference that set it apart from the pack. R-Type granted the player a Force.

PrawnA Force is, apparently, a spaceship-sized orange. But rather than dispense delicious juice, this orange deals only death. Once the R-9 acquires a Force through grabbing an available powerup, you’ve got a modular weapon that offers a number of benefits. Want some extra fire power? Well, affix that Force to the front of the ship, and you’ll be blasting everything in your path. Worried about your rear? Attach the Force to your exhaust port, and you’ll be able to cover your six with the Force shooting backwards. And R-Type doesn’t offer a catch-all, depleting shield like Gradius, but a Force is apparently built out of the fiercest materials known to orange-kind, and will absorb any number of shots and artillery. The Force is offense and defense, and you can even toss it around the stage to smack some hard to reach places (including the final boss). Is there anything a Force can’t do?

So is it any wonder that, while playing R-Type, I started regarding my Force as a loyal companion?

Look, of possibly all the videogame genres out there, the shoot ‘em up is often the most consistently lonely. JRPGs have entire parties of allies, and beat ‘em ups often offer many characters that will at least show up for the ending. You might be Haggar’ing alone, but you know Cody is supposed to be somewhere around here. Fighting games may be you against the world, but there are often canonical alliances, so you’ll always have a Ken for a Ryu. And even your average platformer is filled with a collection of friendly NPCs so you’re at least dimly aware that the princess is in another castle. Shoot ‘em ups, though? It’s just you against the world. 2-player modes are often alternating, and the rare 2-P cooperative mode is a wash, because where are you ever going to find a buddy on the same skill level? Aside from those minor concessions, shoot ‘em ups are simply a ship on one side, and 2,000,000,000,000 objects that can only be described as “enemy” on the other. Space is a very lonely place, and there’s a significant reason why some of the most fondly remembered shoot ‘em ups decided to bring along a team.

Go, buddy!But the R-9 doesn’t get a team. The R-9 just gets a Force. And maybe it’s the constant threat of death, the onslaught of shlong beasts, or even the space madness speaking, but my R-9 bonded with that Force immediately. They’re a little dude! Off shooting down the enemy where R-9 deigns not to go. So helpful! And brave! Who wants a little treat, huh? Does Force want a treat? You’re gonna get a treat, because I couldn’t beat that last boss without you. You want to bounce all over the stage? That’s okay! Just be back in time for the next deluge of sausage creatures, and we’re cool. We’re in this together, Force, and we’re going to get through this together, too.

Is the Force as expressive as any of Cloud’s allies? No. Is the Force going to get oodles of Edelgard / Force erotic fanfiction? Also no. Is the Force copyrighted by Disney? Probably yes. But none of that matters, because the Force is there when you need them. The Force might not be a living, breathing character, but they are reliable. They are my friend. The Force is my buddy.

The Force might be little more than a simple game mechanic, but sometimes it’s just nice to have a buddy.

FGC #522 R-Type (Dimensions)

  • System: R-Type started in the arcades, saw an excellent port on the Turbo-Grafix 16, and bounced around a lot of other systems from there. Like, a lot. From Gameboy to the WiiU. R-Type Dimensions is currently available on the Switch, Xbox 360, Playstations 3 & 4, and Steam. Odds are decent you can play it somewhere.
  • Number of players: 2 Player alternating to start, but you can do some co-op in Dimensions. Space isn’t so lonely after all!
  • This fight is trashWait, is this a review of R-Type or R-Type Dimensions? R-Type Dimensions is the modern “remake” of R-Type and R-Type II that, incidentally, allows you to use a button to switch to the original graphics and features. I… uh… presume that “features” part, because I can barely make any headway in the original R-Type. R-Type Dimensions offers an infinite lives mode, though, so I can survive slightly longer. Look! I’m a Gradius guy! I don’t have time to learn a whole new shoot ‘em up!
  • Any other advantages to R-Type Infinite (Lives) Mode? Your Force is with you from level 1 to the finale, and just chills on the screen waiting for you to return when you inevitably explode. Force is so dedicated to their job!
  • Favorite Weapon: Bouncy lasers are the only beams you will ever need. I’m almost certain light/lasers could never work like that, but I’m going to go the Gemini Laser route any time it is available.
  • Favorite Boss: Can I just pick the giant warship of Level 3? Hey, it’s my website, so I can! This monster takes up the whole stage, and is one of the most iconic battles in the R-Type franchise (according to how often it is wholesale copied for other games). And it’s fun! It really drives home the difference between R-Type and many other shooters (R-Type is good. That’s the difference).
  • I'm all wetDid you know? The boss of the first stage in R-Type is the Dobkeratops, a big ol’ orange mess of a monster. Dobkeratops is also the boss of the first stage in R-Type II, but you can only see its familiar face (?) if you decide to blast a healthy chunk of armor off its outer shell. Considering this is entirely optional, I’m pretty sure I assumed this was some kind of different creature for years.
  • Would I play again: R-Type is an amazing classic that I am only going to play again with infinite lives and instant respawns because I do not have time to blow all my progress on some sneaky monster lurking around Level 4. So, yes, I’m going to pet my Force again at some point.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Blues Brothers 2000 for the Nintendo 64! The other 1,999 Blues Brothers videogames were rather lackluster, but I’m sure this one will be good. Please look forward to it!

What am I even looking at?

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

BLOOD!Let’s talk about that thing that all the hep cats know how to do: act like you know what’s up.

Today’s game is Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. C:RoB is notable for being the Castlevania game that was featured as part of the intro to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and, arguably as a direct result, being one of the most important Castlevania games in the franchise. Castlevania: RoB was the last of the “old school”, action-based Castlevania titles before Symphony took the franchise in the general direction of metroidvania for decades. It’s also the game that, due to laziness and/or homages, provided roughly 70% of the sprites that would be reused ad nauseam for the following 60,000 games. I mean, there’s a good skeleton of spritework here, but if you’re reusing stuff from 1993, it’s going to get a little brittle. Ha ha ha. Bye bye. Whether it was intentional or not, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood wound up defining Castlevania for multiple hardware generations. You’d be hard pressed to find a single sequel that had more of a lasting impact on its parent franchise.

So it’s kind of a bummer Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was impossible for American audiences to play for about fifteen years.

WeeeeActually, let’s go ahead and aim for the highest end of the bummer scale: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood being tied to the Japanese exclusive PC Engine CD was a mega bummer. Castlevania: RoB is a pleasure to play, and it is a game that revels in the best of its NES ancestors while employing a controller with a very Famicom-esque 4-button setup. Two years after the experimentation of Simon Belmont’s 8-way whip and myriad of buttons in Super Castlevania, this is the franchise returning to its roots with jump, attack, and (generally) familiar sub weapons activated by holding up. The select button activates the new item crash ability, but, aside from that bit of heavy heart consumption, this is basic Belmonting back in action. And Castlevania is anxious to welcome its hero back with open (skeleton) arms, as all of the stages are pure Castlevania goodness built exactly for a man that jumps rigidly and whips even… uh… rigider. In truth, Richter Belmont is slightly more nimble than his less acrobatic ancestors, and Castlevania has learned how to adapt. He might not yet have a slide or rising uppercut, but he does have a backflip, and many a monster now has a pattern that is perfectly dodge-able with this unique version of the double jump. In short, like Trevor and Simon before him, Richter is facing challenges that are perfectly calibrated to his exact moveset. Unlike many (many, many, many) action platformers of the time, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was made with precision and care.

But there’s more to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood in the “care” department. Case in point: Richter, as part of the animated introductory sequence, looking over this old map left to him by his ancestors:

Unfurled!

I know that map! That looks like the map from Castlevania 1! Right there in the intro! This game knows Castlevania! That game I played!

And there are innumerable other overt Castlevania references throughout the game. The first level takes place in a burning town that is straight out of Castlevania 2. Richter and Maria become partners with a handshake that evokes the partners of yore. Shaft summons a legion of monsters that match the bosses of Castlevania 1. A ferryman promises to take you somewhere good, and a certain familiar mask breaks apart to reveal your opponent. Over and over, Castlevania: RoB practically shouts adulations about its exalted ancestors, and, if you’re on the same page, you’ll be shouting with glee in unison. Did you see that main hall with all the zombies? Leading to the giant bat’s decomposing arena? That’s some good Castlevaniaing right there!

But… to what end? Does Castlevania: Rondo of Blood need all these references to past titles?

Ol' FrankConsider Rondo of Blood’s place in the Castlevania canon at its release. It was, effectively, the fourth Castlevania game. There were the portable adventures, but, at the time, the Gameboy was considered “less than” its console big brothers, and Christopher Belmont was nary worth a second glance. Super Castlevania was an amazing game, but it was a “retelling” of Simon’s journey, and nearly all of its innovations were dropped for Rondo (and other future titles). And Haunted Castle? The arcade game? Let’s go ahead and label that as mythical as Akumajou Dracula X68000. So, yes, while it might not be a technically accurate way of labeling the game, Rondo of Blood is, at least in spirit, the fourth Castlevania title. Simon Belmont’s initial quest, Simon Belmont’s horrible night to have a curse, Trevor Belmont’s big ol’ vampire party, and now Richter Belmont’s time to shine. It’s a pretty straight line across the franchise there, and blatantly calling attention to your forbearers doesn’t seem all that essential at a time when Mario or Link would practically toss their entire canon for their latest game (Mario is…. let’s say he’s a baby this time, and he was raised by dinosaurs). Seven years is all that separated Castlevania 1 and this quasi Castlevania 4 (maybe 5? Maybe… 9?), so why revel in the past when the past was barely even passed?

Well, if pressed, let’s blame this gal:

Let's shake on it

Maria is a departure for the Castlevania franchise. History may not have always been Belmonts fighting Dracula, but this is certainly the first time the Prince of Darkness had to deal with a girl hurling doves at his face. Maria is supposedly twelve but acts like she’s five, wears a pink, frilly dress, and occasionally summons a kitten to fight her battles. For a franchise that often touts itself as “gothic horror”, Maria is an aberration like no other. Sypha was a serious magician that deliberately hid her gender to succeed in the male-dominated field of vampire-slaying, Maria is going to sing off-key at an army of golems on her way to “the bad man”. Graphically or tonally, Maria is something the Castlevania franchise has never seen before.

This is hotBut even beyond her heavy dosage of shocking pink, Maria is a whole new animal for the Castlevania franchise in a different way. Both Maria’s offenses and her acrobatics completely alter the flow of RoB. There had been more nimble characters in Castlevania before, but Grant never had the ability to rapid-fire a boss into submission, and Alucard’s bat-like maneuvering cost more hearts than it ever gained. Give or take the greater fragility of youth (Richter has learned how to take a hit over the years), Maria is better than Richter in every way that matters. She can mass-murder medusas en masse, and then double jump up a staircase to find a bonus shortcut. There are entire stages that can be outright skipped with her absurd mobility while Richter is stuck fighting that damned naked werewolf yet again. It’s easy to say Maria “breaks the game”, adding a sort of “easy mode” to a franchise that previously was celebrated for its technical difficulty.

But that’s cool, because Rondo of Blood earned this easy mode.

In some lesser version of Rondo of Blood, Maria would likely come off as some manner of Zero in Mega Man X4 situation: this game was made for Maria Renard, and Richter is only there because the director decided to throw the “old fans” a bone (“I guess it is his franchise… I guess…”). But, no, it is clear from every carefully placed block, pit, and enemy that this is a game made for a Belmont. This is a Castlevania adventure like any other, and a malicious mummy is no mere Family Guy-esque shallow “reference”, it is a pact with the player that this is the real deal. Yes, there’s a little girl over there that can completely tear Shaft a new one, but she’s just an option, not the star. Richter is the hero. Richter is the guy that can backflip away from a fireball, and he’s the hunter that is going to be responsible for Death’s dental bills.

SURPRISE!Castlevania: Rondo of Blood knows what’s up, and uses that knowledge to slide in a few perversions to the Castlevania formula. This is a game that knows its past and present, and, as a result, defined the franchise for the future. C: RoB is a game that was created with perfect precision.

… And if you want to see a version of Rondo of Blood that completely lacked that meticulousness…

It's the Dracula X!

Well, the Super Nintendo “version” is right there. And let us never speak of that square ever again.

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

  • System: I understand there was once some manner of system called a PC Engine CD? Sounds… unholy. But this is available as part of the PSP Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (though forbidden on the Vita TV), on the Playstation 4 Castlevania compilation (but not the other Castlevania compilation), the Nintendo Wii when that storefront was available, and now on the Turbo-Grafix 16 Mini. Play it on the mini. It has the controller this was always meant for.
  • Number of players: Richter or Maria, you can still only do it alone.
  • WeeeeeeePort-o-Call: The PSP remake, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, certainly brings the game into the 21st Century, but it seems to unnecessarily suck all the candy-colored joy out of the game. I can understand why this was done (Castlevania is a very serious franchise for very serious people that eat meat out of walls), but it squashes a healthy amount of the original’s charm. Or, put another way, Maria is wearing pants now. Just let the girl be her anachronistic self!
  • What’s that sound? The original has some seriously weird sound effects. Like, “sound of a buffalo farting out pre-digested wheatgrass” weird sound effects. They happen constantly. I am loving it.
  • Favorite Boss: Undead Shaft is a hoot. Please keep summoning bosses I already defeated! I love being reminded of earlier areas by being assaulted by rotting dragon flesh. … Wait, does this mean Rondo contains references to its own, immediate past? Hm.
  • BOOMDid you know? Koji Igarashi has stated in interviews that Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania 3 are his two favorite Castlevania games. Well duh.
  • Would I play again: In a skeleton’s heartbeat. Wait… Uh… Can I just say yes? This is one of the best Castlevania games out there, and it justifies the TG-16 Mini all on its own. Bedrock of the Castlevania franchise, and certainly worth another play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Celeste! It’s about the climb! Please look forward to it!

It's a Dril thing