Tag Archives: TurboGrafx-16

FGC #614 (The) Astyanax (& The Legendary Axe)

BY THIS AXE!Now for the tale of three axe ‘em ups.

Tokuhiro Takemori is credited with designing a handful of games around the late 80’s/early 90’s. Amagon was a run ‘n gun that could become a run ‘n punch thanks to an interesting transformation mechanic… but it was not all that fun to actually play. A similar “transformation based” game worked a lot better with Avenging Spirit, but, unfortunately, it appears that was Takemori’s last game as a director. And before all that, there was RoboWarrior, which was primarily a Bomberman/Blaster Master kind of a top down adventure that failed to turn any heads. But if you are looking at the oeuvre of Tokuhiro Takemori, you need to look at the weapon that dominated three (maybe 2.5) of his greatest creations: the axe.

But before we get to the axe, let us look to the buster. Many claim that the “mega buster” that was introduced in Mega Man 4 ruined the Mega Man franchise. And, while it did lead to very different gameplay from its predecessors, it is important to remember its place in gaming history. Want to know the greatest weapon in the 80’s kid’s arsenal? It was never the power glove, it was always turbo. The greatest action games of the NES all required a whole lot of b-button hammering, so a turbo button that allowed for the fastest shots on the block was the key to victory. Contra, Mega Man 1-3, and even Super Mario (with his iconic fireballs) could all be conquered through liberal use of a turbo button. Mega Man 4’s “stop and charge shot” may have mucked up what seemed to previously be perfect gameplay, but it also meant that toggling on “turbo” did not mean an instant victory. Metal blades are not the answer anymore, children!

Three years earlier, Tokuhiro Takemori applied this same thinking to an axe. The Legendary Axe was an early TurboGrafix-16 title that was exactly what it said in the title. You are Gogan! Who kinda looks like Amagon! Who already looked like Tarzan! And you must rescue your Jane, Flare, from the clutches of the nefarious Jagu, a half man, half monster that is a generally offensive “witch doctor”. It is all very “jungle adventure”, and the monsters that inhabit this land are mostly Heart of Darkness stereotypes like spear-tossing orcs, or angry birds and/or bears. The boss of level 2 is just straight up a large, rolling rock, so… yeah… Gogan’s adventure is a bit unremarkable.

But! Gogan wields the magical axe Sting, and you’re going to remember Sting for every breath you take. Swinging the titular legendary axe could be your typical 8-bit “hammer that axe” situation, but Sting charges strength between every blow. Swing wildly, and you will do a lot less damage than if you just waited a moment for the legendary axe gauge to climb to its apex. Yes, this absolutely means that there was a game in 1988 where you could work out proper damage-per-second calculations to accurately slay a boulder! And there are powerups along the way that increase Sting’s charge rate and the maximum strength of Sting’s attack, so there is a baby’s first leveling system, too!

With one simple mechanic, The Legendary Axe made some revolutionary changes to the face of action games.

The Legendary Axe was well-received, but it was well-received on a system that was an eternal loser to big ol’ Nintendo. Additionally, this revolutionary system was married to a game that did practically nothing to distinguish itself from any other generic action game available. Was Kabuki Quantum Fighter revolutionary? No, but you damn well remember that dude whipping his hair around. Gogan was so forgettable, I had to check an earlier paragraph to confirm I properly recalled his name. If there was some way to marry the gameplay of The Legendary Axe to a plot that actually stuck in a player’s brain…

Does it bite?Enter The Astyanax, an arcade game released a year later. The Astyanax features much the same gameplay as The Legendary Axe, now complete with an axe that glows with flames when fully charged. It also added a “screen crush” magical attack that could be empowered through pickups, and… that’s about it. From a gameplay perspective, The Astyanax is almost an exact clone of The Legendary Axe, albeit with more straightforward levels more suited to the arcade.

But The Astyanax has one thing The Legendary Axe never achieved: something memorable. The first boss in The Legendary Axe is a bear (or two), the first boss in The Astyanax is some manner of caterpillar-scorpion. The second stage features a fight in the shadow of a floating island, followed by climbing aboard (and murdering everything on) said floating island. A two headed hydra guards an elevator inhabited by bloody skeletons that rises to a fight with a cyclops. And then you finally battle the wizard that is clearly behind all of this…

WIZARD TIME!

Only to find that it was all the plot of xenomorph aliens from the hit movie Alien. No, seriously! It’s weird!

ALIEN TIME!

The Astyanax does not explain itself in any way. We open with a scene of heroic Roche claiming a legendary axe, and we know Roche is trying to kill a wizard because said wizard will not stop taunting you on every continue screen. After said wizard is axed, those aliens pop up, but we still end with a shot of the wizard’s tower crumbling into the lake. Were the aliens really behind everything? Were all the mythological monsters creeping about the result of alien breeding? Did the wizard just punch through reality too hard trying to score a sexy lady minion? We have no idea! We just know that Roche beat up some monsters of dubious origins but good, and the day is presumably saved.

A year later we saw Astyanax (no “the”). A year later we received a Nintendo cartridge that couldn’t shut up.

In some ways, Astyanax is the inevitable arcade-to-NES step down from The Astyanax. There is an attempt to make our hero (now outright named Astyanax) bigger than other 8-bit heroes, but he takes up way too much of the screen. There is now an emphasis on platforming (or at least platform… hopping?), and a bevy of instant death pits do not work well with knock-back, slowly spawning monsters, and limited lives. And big, scary, interesting bosses return, but they necessitate the NES dropping any and all backgrounds for these battles, so enjoy fighting Medusa in the gaping void.

But where Astyanax falters in gameplay, it more than overcompensates with talky-talk. Cinema scenes reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden tell the story of a teenage schoolboy that is transported to a magical land, instantly gains armor, an axe, and a magical fairy, and then battles a legion of skeletons in order to rescue a princess from an evil wizard that is also a remarkably poorly animated dragon. Over the course of Astyanax’s adventure, Cutie the fairy sacrifices her life to break the curse of a magical general, but, when Astyanax saves the day and is sent back to his mundane world, Cutie is reincarnated as a teenage girl. This seems important, even if the princess is bored with it.

PRINCESS TIME!

Xenomorphs are probably not involved, either. There’s one weird boss in Level 3 that appears to be some manner of alien, but it could just be, like, a particularly ugly monster. Whatever. Nobody talks about it.

This place sucksSo what is most important in Tokuhiro Takemori’s charging-your-axe trilogy? Well, the gameplay of The Legendary Axe is pretty great, but it is a clear first attempt, and its various opponents and locales are trivial. Astyanax for the NES has a remarkable story and bestiary, but the gameplay suffers in its translation to “Nintendo hard”. It seems like The Astyanax blends the charge-an-axe gameplay best with memorable locations and opponents. Oh! And you get a shield! It barely does anything, but it is unique to the arcade version, so it looks like The Astyanax is the winner.

So remember, kiddies, if you’re going to revolutionize action gameplay, include a shield. It worked for Roche, it worked for Alucard, and it can work for you!

FGC #614 Astyanax

  • System: Technically, ROB chose the Nintendo Entertainment System version, but there was the arcade game, and The Legendary Axe was a TurboGrafix-16 jaunt.
  • Number of players: The arcade version gets an unnamed, possibly-a-ghost second player. But the NES version is strictly solo.
  • DO NOT TOUCHStraying from the Light of God: Technically, Astyanax on the NES can “upgrade” his axe to a spear and a sword. However, the spirit of a chargeable axe is still there, so let’s just pretend he sticks to one pointy object.
  • What’s in a name? The Astyanax is known as The Lord of King in Japan. I guess it’s a King Arthur thing? The Astyanax is the one game in this trilogy where you’re not rescuing a princess, so the presence of royalty is wholly unwarranted. “Astyanax” still means “high king”, though, and is the name of a prince from The Illiad.
  • Familiar Faces: The skeleton general that ultimately causes the death of Cutie really resembles a certain skull-faced fellow from Willow. This may be a coincidence of the time, but I feel like I haven’t seen a skelly-general since…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I received this (NES) game as a gift from my grandmother one Christmas Eve. It was chosen with the very particular criteria of “you like Nintendo games, right? Here’s a Nintendo game.” Regardless, since it was a Christmas Eve gift, and not actual-Christmas, I remember staying up “waiting for Santa” by playing Astyanax for six continuous hours. I am moderately sure I made it to the third level.
  • Sexy?Did you know? Some risqué rewards are available in the arcade’s fifth level, as you can “strip” some female monsters of their chest plates, and watch them run around while trying to cover their chests. Brings a whole new meaning to an arcade “attract” mode. This, of course, did not appear on the NES, where the Medusa boss received a breast reduction when being localized. Guess that’s another Castlevania parallel.
  • Would I play again: The arcade version is a firm maybe. The Legendary Axe is a bit too hard once you reach the fourth level, and I do not feel like “memorizing” how to deal with an assault of fish people ever again. Astyanax for the NES is absolutely not happening, because screw Cutie, your life isn’t worth that many instant death pits. Go get a job with Link or something.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cruisin’ Blast for the Nintendo Switch! Let’s go cruiiiiiiising! Please look forward to it!

Swingin'
Can’t imagine why I’m thinking about Tarzan…

FGC #609 Zero Wing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody set us up the GIF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Er-hem.

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

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

FGC #609 Zero Wing

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

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

ENGAGE

FGC #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!