Tag Archives: two players

SBC #08 Incineroar & Mortal Kombat 1

It is worrying that Mortal Kombat 1 has forgotten one simple fact: Mortal Kombat is and always has been about hype.

The latest Mortal Kombat game calls itself Mortal Kombat 1? Fine! You want to draw a comparison? Let’s go back to the beginning. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the best part of Mortal Kombat parenthesis one.

It's not an uppercut

Videogame historians have intermittently observed that the innovation of the Mortal Kombat franchise from the start was the emphasis on “stun” situations. The explanation goes that this key moment in any match is what separated MK from the army of contemporary fighting games that wanted a piece of the Street Fighter 2 pie. However, this is only half the story. Stun is an integral part of the Mortal Kombat formula, but not because this was something that impacted the mechanics of a fighting game. No, stun was integral because it generated hype. Stunning an opponent with Scorpion’s spear, Sub-Zero’s ice blast, or even Cage’s ball breaker offered an advantage to the attacker, but it also generated anticipation in the player, opponent, and audience. Liu Kang is helpless! That skeleton ninja could do anything to him! And, even if it was a pause that lasted less than a second, a stun generated hype that was unprecedented in fighting games. The continual push and pull of fighters being stunned created an incessant atmosphere of “anything can happen”. And that was before you got to the reason even your mom heard about Mortal Kombat…


This is the ultimate hype machine. A fighter is defeated! They stand there futilely, dizzied and helpless. What is the victor going to do? Will they spare their opponent? Will they simply punch air until their rival falls over? Roundhouse kick them across the screen? Or will they perform the supreme finisher: the fatality? It takes skill and knowledge to perform a fatality. A player must know the “secret code” that initiates the fatality, the proper distance between themselves and the opponent (which is never easy to negotiate in the limited fatality time window), and the appropriate sequence must be performed quickly and accurately. In situations where the victor fails to accurately enter the command, or accidentally punches the opponent mid input, the “winner” looks like a loser. But when they pull it off? It is the flawless finish to an ended encounter. The failure is missing key body parts! There is no coming back from that!

Welcome to the futureLater games within the initial Mortal Kombat Trilogy would offer alternatives to the basic fatality. Friendships and Babalities were widely derided as Mortal Kombat getting “too cartoon-y”, but they served the purpose of finishing an opponent in a unique way. They were not violent, but they were a way of embarrassing a defeated foe all the same. They even had particular use conditions that proved the player was superior, as a “silly” Babality could only be performed if the winner was expert enough to eke out a victory only using the kick buttons. That is extremely difficult when your color-coded ninja only uses punch-based special moves! Mortal Kombat imitator Killer Instinct ignored all pretense and called its similarly embarrassing finishing moves “Humiliations”, because subtly was not allowed in a game where a werewolf could fight a dinosaur. But that was the point: Fatalities, Friendships, Babalities, Animalities, and even the combo-based Brutalities were never just about gore or humor, they were all about one thing: humiliating the loser. One last stab of superiority before some other poor fool has to insert fifty cents.

And if you, an educated reader experiencing this article in the year of our Argus 2023, recognize this all as bullshit? Well… yeah. It is all bullshit. In Mortal Kombat, after Scorpion harpoons an opponent, there is a best move to use, because MK has extremely limited offensive options. An experienced Scorpion player is going to stun their opponent, and then use an uppercut every time, because that does the most damage. Similarly, once Scorpion wins, he is going to back up to sweep distance, hold block, and press up-up. Scorpion has one (1) fatality, and it is the only reasonable choice for finishing a match. Later games expand the repertoire, but even five different finishing options are going to be spent before a player clears the smallest of battle towers (left alone an arcade full of challengers). It’s fake! The idea that there is a choice, that there even could be hype involved here? It’s all fake!

And, yeah, buddy, but so is Pro Wrestling.

There's a centaur!If Street Fighter is the Olympic sport of fighting games. Mortal Kombat is Pro Wrestling. Not to imply that anyone playing MK11 or MK1 in a tournament is somehow “faking” their victories, but Mortal Kombat as a franchise has never been about exact technical execution. It takes skill to be a victor in Mortal Kombat! It takes a measured understanding of the game! But it also takes skill and understanding to properly piledrive an opponent in such a manner that no one is permanently hurt. Pro Wrestling is an amazing showing of physical prowess for everyone involved. It is a big, sweaty ballet (not to imply that ballet dancers do not sweat, it is simply less emphasized). But, in the same way that no one starts throwing cans on stage when the ending of Swan Lake is revealed (I think the swans win?), Pro Wrestling is not actually about “who is going to win”. Victories are “fake” insomuch as they are predetermined, but that does not mean that everyone involved is just a robot (except Business Robot, the robot businessman that can only communicate through bodyslams). It is a practiced art from toe to tip.

And Pro Wrestling lives and dies by hype. You cheer when the face wins, because you are excited about their possible victory. You boo the heel, because he did… uh… something? Pushed a grandma down some stairs? Conquered Earthrealm? Whatever. The point is that these stories, rivalries, and arcs are created whole cloth for the purpose of promoting matches. Fights are the only way to settle scores and win arguments, and you can buy a front row seat to it all. You are excited, because here are your favorites duking it out. That sassy thief with the robot eye is going to get a face full of sledgehammer because he’s been a bad little boy, and you are going to revel in his comeuppance.

Unless you are playing Mortal Kombat 1, where you are just going to watch the heel inexplicably run around like an idiot.

They have fun togetherTraditional caveat/mantra: Mortal Kombat 1 is not a bad game. It is a fun fighting game, and its story mode is still presented better than 95% of fighting games out there. There is significant single player content, and the online battles feel generally “right”. The usual NetherRealm Mortal Kombat checklist is properly completed: the cast is a good mix of important players and random mooks, and they all feel distinctive enough to warrant a slot on the roster. You are not going to get the exact same experience from Nitara the vampire as Havik the chaos priest. Mortal Kombat 1 is a good fighting game if you are looking for something to keep your thumbs twitching through the season (pass).

And part of the reason I am “emergency” slotting this into the review schedule is because I want to get these words to pixels while I still remember the hype leading up to Mortal Kombat 1. There were continual trailers showcasing the new-old characters. The old Mortal Kombat universe is dead! A new one stands in its place! And it’s coocoo crazygonuts! Scorpion and Sub-Zero are brothers! “Blind” Kenshi has perfectly working eyes. Baraka and Mileena are not a separate race/genetic freak (respectively), but afflicted with a strange new disease. The curators of Mortal Kombat knew damn well that this information would be exciting for the fanbase, and everyone was anxious to get hyped for the latest Mortal Kombat adventure.

And then Mortal Kombat 1 was released, and… Well, somebody forgot to tell the people in charge of the actual game that hype was important.

They work togetherThe new Mortal Kombat Universe is hype. No questions there: it is exciting to see vaguely familiar characters filling new and exciting roles (or at least seeing Kuai-Liang wearing yellow). That said, Mortal Kombat already did this whole thing once or twice with other games (Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks and Mortal Kombat 9), and you know damn well that an unmarred Havik is going to have his face half-melted off somewhere amid this plot (I mean, if you remember Havik at all). It is how storytelling works! Similarly, without delving into entirely unwarranted spoilers, the main plot of Story Mode eventually reaches a point where it kind of gets bored with the “new” Mortal Kombat Universe, and drifts back to including more than a few luminaries from the “old” Mortal Kombat Universe. And, while that could be hype as heck (“That’s right, kombat fans, your Kitana is back, and she’s stronger than ever!”), it is more or less an excuse to have a Super Friends/Avengers-style “all the good guys and all the bad guys run into each other” melee. Exciting for three seconds… and then confusing and chaotic. And, special bonus, it entirely drops any of the plot threads for the new Mortal Kombateers so the old guard can steal the spotlight back. Kind of a weird choice after spending six hours with the new class! Your heroes for 80% of the game have about as much impact on the finale as ants. And nobody ever gets hyped about ants.

But whatever, right? That’s the story mode. You play it once, you internalize your feelings for Kung Lao (he’s so dreamy), and then you move on to the real reason you play a fighting game. Time to fight all those people! Like in some kind of game!

BloodyUnfortunately, things are quickly undercut by practically every aspect of the presentation. Pre-match taunts are limited, and we are left with generic chest puffing and alike. Fighters that have legitimate, centuries-long beefs (Edenians are really old!) vaguely gesture toward something about winning, and otherwise act like they do not recognize their opponent. Matches are zippy and fun, but when it comes time to perform a fatality, everyone involved seems… bored. And, heck, there is the option of your fighter stepping back and letting someone else exact vengeance. In fact, those Kameos are a huge problem for hype…

The Kameo system of Mortal Kombat 1 sounds brilliant. The franchise has a deep bench of memorable kharacters, and it would be nigh impossible to do another “Mortal Kombat Trilogy” where everyone got to participate. But the Kameo system not only allows a greater range of MK luminaries, it also comes with the justification that any given Kameo fighter can be from any given Mortal Kombat timeline/universe. MK1 has playable Scorpion and Kameo Scorpion, and they are two totally different people with totally different backstories (one of the Scorpions is dead! But otherwise okay!). This opens the floodgates for all sorts of peculiar shenanigans, as fighters like Smoke have approximately seven different versions immediately available (for the record: ninja, robot ninja, nanomachine demon robot ninja, “recovering” robot ninja, demon ninja, undead demon ninja, new universe ninja). The Kameo system could be the greatest thing that ever happened to the thirty-year-old franchise.

In practice, though, it is so underwhelming, it sucks the air out of the room (and, unfortunately, Smoke is not directly involved). While some of the kameo kharacters do perform in the story mode in a deliberate (or at least present) capacity, it appears that they do not have voice actors that are providing anything but grunts. Given some of these Kameos are some of the most iconic members of the Mortal Kombat kast (Kano! Sonya! Goro lives!), their hushed existences are noticeable. And then when they actually participate in matches, they are… gofers. Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs was an accomplished soldier before Mortal Kombat ever started, and then he experienced one of the most varied histories across two different timelines. He is a warrior, cyborg, father, and champion of Earthrealm. In Mortal Kombat 1, his kameo is… running around and smacking the ground randomly. He does not say anything. His fatality is his klassic “big boot” move from Mortal Kombat 3, which is performed without comment or explanation. Jax, one of the most I love stomppivotal kharacters in the whole of Mortal Kombat (he even had his own [terrible] spinoff!) is… just kind of there. It is hard to get excited about Jax’s appearance, because he is little more than a skin and five extra moves.

This is the biggest problem with Mortal Kombat 1. Mortal Kombat is a franchise about hype, and Mortal Kombat 1 is best described as a game where “it is hard to get excited”. All the pieces are there. All the potential is there. However, it falls short on that je ne sais quoi responsible for the most memorable moments of the last three decades of kombat. It is Pro Wrestling without the drama. It is steak without the sizzle. It is Mortal Kombat without some random dude shouting “Mortal Kombat!”

And if anyone does find the hype for Mortal Kombat 1, tell it to get over here.

SBC #08 Incineroar & Mortal Kombat 1

Incineroar in Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Look at that guy

Look at that guy
I couldn’t decide between these two shots, so you get both

  • They any Good? Super strong! Super grappling! Super hype! … Absolutely terrible recovery and agility. As someone that enjoys the heavies, I would like Incineroar a lot more if I wasn’t convinced I’d be dead the absolute minute I made the wrong move. And, for what it is worth, this is the Pokémon in the playable cast that feels the most like a human. Reskin him as Randy Savage, and you wouldn’t even notice (Macho Man could independently generate fire, right?).
  • That final smash work? Max Malicious Moonsault is the most Pro Wrestling ability in Smash, but is otherwise unimpressive in a game frequently involving space lasers. It is obvious that more moves should end with an atomic explosion, but this one feels like an afterthought.
  • The background work? We are going to assign Incineroar to Prism Tower, as a proper Pokémon Hawaii never surfaced. This is the proto New Donk City, though slightly more survivable if you wind up on the wrong platform at the wrong time. It is pretty straightforward for a switching terrain stage. And, hey, you get legendary birds randomly appearing… even if Yveltal is a bird edge case.
  • Classic Mode: Burning Pro Wrestling Spirit! means fighting heavy characters in the squared circle. Donkey Kong is a king of the ring, which is probably a Punch-Out reference for the Punch-Out stage. It is nice that Incineroar gets a simple flat stage to survive with that hideous agility, but it doesn’t prepare you for the final battle against the hands…
  • Smash Trivia: Incineroar has the slowest movement speed in the game. This is why, when you attempt the obstacle course as part of Classic Mode, it feels like the poor feline is chugging through molasses.
  • Look at that guy

  • Amiibo Corner: You can feel the heat of that flaming belt, and it looks like they are grabbing someone. Can this kitty easily palm Kirby? Probably!
  • Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? Look, I know I am exploiting the flimsiest of excuses to relate the hype-based cat to the hype-based fighting game franchise. But! Incineroar’s Classic Mode ends in a Mirror Match. That’s a Mortal Kombat staple! So these games are totally related!

Incineroar (in spirit) in Mortal Kombat 1

  • He's back, babySystem: Currently available for Windows, Playstation 5, Xbox X/S, and the delightfully compromised Nintendo Switch. Everyone and everything in this game is ugly, but you do have the choice of picking a version where it is ugly and goofy.
  • Number of players: Until they make Kameos playable in the background like in Marvel vs. Capcom (1), we are going to stick to two simultaneous players.
  • What’s in a name? We have the original, 1992 Mortal Kombat. We have the 2011 Mortal Kombat that was the first official reboot of the franchise, and is often referred to as Mortal Kombat 9. And now we have Mortal Kombat 1, which 100% requires the backstory of knowing what the heck happened in Mortal Kombat 11. I’m not certain who NetherRealm is trying to fool here, but something like New Mortal Kombat or Mortal Kombat: ReMurdered might work better.
  • Favorite Fighter: Reptile has long been beloved (hey, my favorite color is green), and his current potential to randomly morph into a full or partial lizard is distinctive. He pairs well with Kameo Sareena, who similarly morphs into her demonic form. Those two crazy kids should get together.
  • Favorite Fatality: I prefer goofy to outright violent, so my current pick is Frost’s “freeze a dude’s abdomen, and then shatter that while leaving the rest of the body (marginally) intact”. That fatality probably has a better name… Regardless! It is a suitable mix of comical and violent that I prefer to a skull getting bisected.
  • This is a jokeUnlockable: Your reward for clearing Story Mode is obtaining a playable Havik. This is an odd choice, as Havik is D-Tier in the grand scheme of Mortal Kombat kharacters, and having to work for him is anomalous. He was originally designed as a possible skin for Noob Saibot! And is mostly just an angry zombie! Whatever! Shujinko being one of the hardest to obtain kameos feels slightly more earned. At least that guy damned the world once!
  • Plot Holes: So Liu Kang created his own universe with a generally more optimistic slant. Sindel is an independent, benevolent ruler. Mortal Kombat tournaments do not lead to dead participants. The villains of the world are generally less powerful. But good ol’ Liu also created a universe where an entire race has been demoted from “culture” to “fatal disease”. This feels… less than noble.
  • Did you know? Somehow, the weird relationship between Ermac and Kenshi continues. Straight from Kenshi’s introduction in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Kenshi and Ermac have always been telekinetic buddies despite having literally nothing else in common. Maybe they both just like the color green? Whatever. They are working together again in this new universe, though, so their bromance continues.
  • Would I play again: I find Mortal Kombat 1 disappointing, but I am not going to pretend that I will do anything but play it again for a week every time DLC drops. And the single player board game kontent has seasons and stories! I am all about that!

What’s next? Okay, so now we are going to get back to Pichu and his pals! Normal service resumes, so please look forward to it!

GIFs you can hear…

FGC #656 Double Dragon 2: The Revenge

The final revengeThis will be the final FGC entry.

… And, while I would love to have put together some grand retrospective of the 656 videogames covered on this blog project, I am going to forgo that. I’m just going to talk about an album I listened to five minutes before writing this.

Hey, it’s my blog, you get what you get. Why should that change now?

So I was just listening to the latest album from Ben Folds, What Matters Most. This is the first album I have bought in… God… probably a decade. Back in 1997 (or so), I purchased Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever Amen as one of my first CDs (as opposed to cassette tapes, as was the style at the time), and loved it. From there, I purchased their stellar debut album (which was still available on Best Buy shelves after two years), and purchased every release thereafter. As a result, I strongly associate various Ben Folds albums with different epochs in my life: I remember listening to that Jackson Canary equally while playing Ocarina of Time or sitting on a marching band bus; and I remember 1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner being purchased simultaneously with Smash Bros and then somehow being integral to flirting with a cute brunette who also enjoyed Ben Folds. Rockin’ the Suburbs became synonymous with studying and walking around my college campus. Ben Folds Live was released when I was as poor as I have ever been in my life, so it was enjoyed through the crappy speakers of an equally crappy laptop. And by the time Way to Normal or the A Cappella albums were released, I was much more “established” and content in my own skin and lifestyle, and remember happily singing along in a car that was not likely to explode. I was even thrilled when there was a version of Lonely Avenue that came with a book! It was 2010! I could read it in my recently assembled library!

Point is that I have grown up with Ben Folds albums. I have gone from a gangly teen to a 40-year-old whateverthehellIam, and now I have a new album in my hands.

And I am shocked and dismayed at the fact that Ben Folds has also gotten older!

Jumping alongWhat Matters Most is Ben Folds’s first album of new content in eight years. Going even further than that, it may be his first “normal” album released as a solo artist since 2008. 2012 saw a Ben Folds Five album, 2010 was a collaboration with Nick Hornby, and 2015’s So There was so experimental, it involved a friggen’ concerto. By comparison, this is a simple ten track affair with one collaborative track and a complete lack of anything attempting to bite on Gershwin. And it’s good! It is a great album, and a return to the good ol’ days of sitting down with a Ben Folds album and absorbing the excellent compositions and clever lyrics.

And it is also 100% written by a rockstar that is getting up there in years.

The sixth track, Back to Anonymous, is the most obvious culprit here. While Folds claims that this is all about wearing masks during COVD, this is a song that sounds a lot more like something lamenting and lampooning the concept of going back to being a “normal person” after being a celebrity for some time. Mind you, it is difficult to take this completely seriously, as most regular folk that I know have not had guest spots on FX sitcoms, but c’est la vie. From there, we also have the title track, What Matters Most, which, if the melancholy of nostalgia was looking for a theme song, this would be a frontrunner. Clouds with Ellipses holds a similar tone, and the first cut, But Wait There’s More, certainly presents itself with the unusual statement of “I am back, and just as relevant as remembering Rudy Giuliani”. Kristine from the 7th Grade is an entire song bemoaning unhinged email forwards from former friends, which is maybe the most middle-aged thing you can bemoan. And we have Winslow Gardens, too, which does the adorable elder thing of creating a palindrome where the narrating young couple is observed by old people in the beginning, but the “young couple” is now old and talking about watching a younger couple by the end. Old people love reminding young people they will be old people soon!

Away we goAnd none of these songs are bad, as they are all remarkable. But they are not what I think of when I think of a Ben Folds song. This was the guy who sold me that first album with the one-two punch of Brick and Song for the Dumped, two songs that both are filled with an indescribable amount of young adult angst, but from two wildly different sources. I have always come to Ben Folds songs for the “stories” involved, and those sharp lyrics that weave tales of (young) lovers and situations that have been familiar to me. And, while “my old friend from junior high is now an anti-vax zealot” is definitely familiar to my modern mind, I much prefer the two most poppy songs from this album: Exhausting Lover and Paddleboat Breakup. Both contain the kind of ironic pep that could trace back to Ben Folds Five’s Underground, and both tell universal stories of struggling lovers and dashes past Cracker Barrel. A scant 20% of this album is what I think a Ben Folds album should be, and it is hard to feel anything but disappointed when the rest of the album seems to have been written by dude pushing toward 60. I want to hear about Zak & Sara having a wild love affair! Not Zak & Sara discussing their 401K options!

Clock Tower!I want the artist who has always been older than me to now be younger than me! I was a teenager, and listened to your music! I want you to still be the same artist creating the same art as when I was 14! I have changed tremendously in that time, but I want you to be eternally in your 20s! Get back to that! I can sweeten the pot and give you another twenty bucks…

And then I think about how much I have changed in a mere eight years…

As has been said elsewhere on the site, I started this blog almost by accident. A long time ago on a forum now dead (though technically revived in a new for[u]m), I made some funny posts about Kingdom Hearts. Since I have been on the internet practically as long as it has existed (well, at least since AOL existed), I have a healthy fear of my “content” being wiped out by capricious website owners. As a result, I decided to put my Kingdom Hearts ramblings on my own site. Given the majority of those posts were already completed when I put together the site, I started the Fustian Gaming Challenge as an excuse to write new content about random videogames. On June 15, 2015, I posted my first article about Double Dragon. It was written literally the night before, and I had absolutely zero “backlog” waiting for future articles. I planned to write each of these articles basically as quickly as I played the games, and I figured I would be bored with it before I hit eighty articles. Now, 654 FGC articles, a handful of Let’s Plays, a weekly streaming series, and a weirdly in-depth look at Mortal Kombat later, I am writing about Double Dragon 2 for the final FGC article.

And, dang, I do not even recognize the person that wrote that Double Dragon article eight years ago…

OuchI look at it, I read it, and… it’s not even 1,000 words? That seems short for me. And it carefully adheres to focusing on the Sega Master System version, which is a kind of aim that I dropped almost immediately. And while I forgive myself for still finding my footing with properly producing images and GIFs, I wince at that ending. I sound like a goddamned host for a cancelled G4 show. I wrote this whole thing. I proofed it, diced up the individual screenshots, and proofed it again when I posted it for all the world to see. But if you were to ask me what I was thinking when I wrote all that, I would tell you honestly that I now have no idea. The Goggle Bob that started the FGC is just as gone as the beat, old couch where I first typed out that screed.

And that should be a big duh. My life has changed in significant ways since 2015, and some changes I literally never would have imagined when I first started this humble blog. Full disclosure? After the upheaval that was every goddamned thing that happened in 2016, I am downright ashamed of some of the articles written during the tail end of the halcyon Obama years. That one about Star Wars being a cultural touchstone? Madness in the face of a world that would one day see a president actively calling for people to drink bleach. And my own “relationship status” has gone through significant mutations since I first joked about Alyssa Milano getting her start with the Double Dragon movie; and, suffice to say, that can change a man’s opinions on various parts of this world. And speaking of “the world”, the shape of the web has changed radically in the last eight years. Some of my earliest bits are gags about Buzzfeed lists or Cracked articles, and, at the time I organized those “lists”, it seemed like I had been reading articles like those for years. Now I cannot remember the last time I even visited Cracked…

And I guess remembering officially brings us to today’s game.

I am good at thisUnlike Double Dragon (1), Double Dragon 2: The Revenge was one of my first and only early NES games. Presumably because my parents loved violence in all forms, I was granted Double Dragon 2 for some holiday occasion (probably Memorial Day), and, as one of my few games, I played it for seventy continuous years (estimate). And not only did I play it alone, but I played it with my best friend and neighbor, Jimmy. He was a year younger than me, and we spent many an afternoon playing Double Dragon 2, getting our collective asses kicked, and then going outside to reenact scenes from the game by punching air-ninja as hard as we could. And, while we were never any good at the game (the jumping puzzles and gears of Level 7 often ended our journey prematurely), we had worked out a few tricks for situations like spin kicking rooftop opponents or shoving dudes out of a helicopter. But that didn’t matter! We enjoyed those afternoons playing the same opening levels over and over again, beating the same three dudes into a pulp, and aimlessly swinging chains around.

Playing Double Dragon 2 now inevitably reminds me of those ancient days. And the weird thing? Playing this game with an eight-year-old feels about as far away in my memory as starting a blog eight years ago. I am not nine anymore, and I am not 32 anymore. I had it somewhere in my head that I started Gogglebob.com “a short time ago”, but now it all feels so… distant.

So this is officially the last FGC article.

Look out, worldGogglebob.com isn’t going anywhere. Let’s Plays and Even Worse streaming will continue. Hell, I’ll even write about any Kingdom Hearts nonsense that comes down the pike. But the FGC as a recurring project is done. I will likely revisit the format for some releases (I do enjoy seeing numbers go up), but I am done with the endeavor as it technically existed. I have written 655(+) articles on the subject of “random” games, and I have grown past that. Or, at least, it feels wrong to claim the same moniker on something I started so long ago. I am not the same person as I was in 2015, and my ongoing preoccupations should reflect that.

Random ROB is officially going to retire.

So tune in next week for the brand new project!

… Which is going to be remarkably similar to the old project.

FGC #656 Double Dragon 2: The Revenge

  • System: We are exclusively talking about the Nintendo Entertainment System version today. The arcade version is a different animal that adheres closer to the standards of the original Double Dragon. This is the version with 800% more jumping puzzles.
  • Number of players: Two! Simultaneous! I wonder if my parents picked this up so I would have more friends.
  • Favorite Boss: The battle tank is not actually “fought”, but you must jump around it to fight people on it, so that kinda sorta feels like a boss fight. It is at least at the end of the level, and vaguely reminiscent of the Technodrome. Absolute worst boss fight goes to those two ninja that attack in 2-D at the end of Level 2, and then appear in 3-D as part of the final level (that is not just a final boss). Those monsters were never meant to be able to move diagonally.
  • The evil twinStart All Over: You must enter a secret code on the Game Over screen if you wish to continue. What’s more, there are three different codes for the three different chunks of level. What’s even more than that: the third and final code must be entered on the second player controller regardless of whether it is a single player game or not. Someone really didn’t want a Young Goggle Bob to beat this game…
  • Pick your poison: There are three difficulty levels, and it seems like the different options only impact enemy health and offense. However, more importantly, the three difficulty levels gate later levels in the game, so easy only allows playing up through Level 3, and hard is the only way to see the final stage. This only existed in the American version of Double Dragon II, so this is one of the era’s anti-rental measures. Or maybe someone just noticed it only takes a half hour to beat the game…
  • Story Time: Noted Lee girlfriend Marian is dead at the start of this game, and apparently your quest for revenge initiates some manner of soul swap that causes her to be revived. Sure! Whatever! This makes the plot slightly more interesting than your average rescue mission, but it also means 95% of the game is just punching dudes because you’re angry. So at least Double Dragon II: The Revenge has an appropriate title…
  • A sign of the times: Weapons disappear when their associated enemies are defeated, even if you are going to continue to stand in the same area for even more fights. This is likely some limited memory issue, and, combined with Mondo the Yellow Surfer Dude, you can really feel the 1988 of it all.
  • The strayest of observations: This is an extremely blue/purple game.
  • There he goesDid you know: If you beat your brother in Type B mode, you absorb his lives. Thus, every time I played this game solo, I started with two players in Type B mode, and walloped Jimmy Lee until I had double the lives. This seems wrong somehow, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Coincidentally, including every dang thing on this site, this is Published Article #999. The new project premiere will be #1,001. I really could have coordinated it to be #1,000, but I have compulsions about updating the Let’s Play.
  • Would I play again: Only for the excuse of nostalgia. This is not a particularly good or interesting game, and its many beat ‘em up quirks are better in other games that have been released in the last (nearly) 40 years. Double Dragon Neon did everything here better, and it is more immediately available on my Switch, too.

What’s next for Gogglebob.com? The FGC is now over. Come back next week for its extremely comparable replacement that will feature a certain musical Final Fantasy game. Now and forever, please look forward to it!

See you Space Cowboy

FGC #654 Them’s Fightin’ Herds

Let's fight!I was blissfully nodding off to sleep when a terrifying thought jolted me into terminal consciousness:

I am an adult man who, at one point in his life, had very passionate opinions about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic canon.

To be clear on the circumstances of this horrifying reflection, my thinking went something like this: I had recently(ish) subscribed to HBO Max, now Max Headroom or whatever Warner Bros. AOL Discovery has determined it shall be named for tax purposes. After initially absorbing all the prestige, adult content that was advertised (Succession, Sopranos, The Beach That Makes You Old), my infantile brain decided it was time to watch/rewatch all the content on there that was clearly intended for children and/or people that never stopped collecting action figures. I watched my Justice League, Batman, and Teen Titans like nobody’s business. At some point in there, the HBO Go algorithm figured I was a 12-year-old boy, and started recommending shows like Batwheels. Batwheels, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, is an animated program wherein the Batmobile and other bat-vehicles are sentient, have Cars-esque faces, and help Batman fight crimes (that must occur on the road a lot more often than usual). To tell you everything you need to know about the intended demographics for this show, an episode description immediately available on Google reads, “In this country-inspired music video, Buff the Bat-Truck shows off his strength.”.

And my reaction to Batwheels? “Well, at least these are separate vehicles, and they didn’t try to turn the actual Bat-family into cars. That would be silly.”

IceyNow, to be absolutely clear on the history of Batman, we are talking about a fictional character that has been around since 1939 and is not in any way based on any real-life person living or dead. In the last near-century, Batman has gone through many permutations and versions, with a continuity that only makes marginal sense at the best of times. He has been a friendly cop playing dress up, a living urban legend, and whatever homicidal maniac Frank Miller churned out. He has always been one of the more “mortal” DC Comics characters… except on those seemingly annual occasions when he dies. One time Batman died just to give The Atom something to do during a team up, and ol’ Bruce Wayne was better the next month. Oh! And we are only thinking about the times Batman was Bruce Wayne here. There was a seemingly endless period when “Batman” was James Gordon in some manner of robotic bunny suit. But back to “regular” Batman, the Caped Crusader has appeared commonly as “the night” in his contemporary appearances, but there is also conceited Lego Batman, overcompensating Harley Quinn Batman, and apparently always high Teen Titans Go Batman. Batman is an archetype and part of our culture, so why can’t some writers “have their fun” and make a Batman that is dramatically different from his “canon” appearance?

So what would be wrong with Batman being a friggen’ car? And, while we’re on the subject, what would be so bad about six pony friends being teenage humans?

FALLLet us migrate from Batman over to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Like a number of impressionable not-at-all-young males of my age, I was enrapt in MLP:FiM when it was first released. If I had to point to a reason for imprinting on this show, it would likely be its unusual combination of kinetic animation, a dry sense of humor, and an unrelenting feeling of love between the main characters. It was an extremely tight balancing act, but you could simultaneously state the twin truths of “Twilight Sparkle would die for Pinky Pie” and “Twilight Sparkle is so tired of Pinky Pie’s shit” while enjoying the fact that these ponies occasionally bounced around like Looney Tunes. And combine this all with a surprisingly rich world of mythical creatures (my pet theory is that the MLP:FiM world is Hyrule if Epona got a hoof on the Triforce), and I was hooked. I never really waded into the bogs of “brony-ism” or other overt online communities based on talking about children’s talking horses, but I definitely enjoyed the show, and told my in-real-life friends about my not-real pony friends. Oh! And my facebook icon was DJ Pon-3 for a while. She wears goggles. I’m sure you understand.

So My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a runaway success not only with lonely adult males, but also its target demographic of preadolescent girls. Either because its producers recognized that its biggest fans (well, the biggest intentional fans) were gradually growing up, or simply because there was an easy avenue to sell more toys, MLP:FiM gained a movie that tested the waters of a spinoff series a scant three years after the ponies first premiered. It was well-received, and a year later, we had a full series order of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. MLP:EG ran for five years and eight seasons (though a few “seasons” had, like, three episodes), and survived on the hook of taking the characters/relationships we recognized from the horse show, and transplanting them onto multicolored human teenage girls. This allowed for more “grounded” stories like… let’s see here… “Rainbow Dash and Trixie compete over a guitar.” Well! There you go! Ponies can’t play guitar! Those hooves are terrible for nailing an F-chord!

If you have not already figured it out, I cannot tell you anything about My Little Pony: Equestria Girls because I never watched the show. And I never watched the show because I was protesting this crass, exploitative spinoff of a pony-based program produced and distributed by a toy company.

I sometimes wonder if I have brain problems…

She's so fluffyWhat I once considered to be very objective reasoning was thus: I have been a five-year-old ever since I was a five-year-old. As such, I have watched a number of franchises for children be rebooted over and over again. Some franchises seem to be treated with delicate care (any given Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series has more highs than lows), but many are not (I love you, Transformers, but you haven’t had an original concept for a series since Beast Wars… and now that has been mined for a movie). My Little Pony always seemed to lean into the “are not” column, and my encyclopedic knowledge of cartoons for children tells me that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a shining diamond (possibly the name of a pony) in a river of shit (probably not the name of a pony). The idea that Hasbro had a genuine hit on their hands thanks to the evident sincerity of its directors/cast, and then decided they needed to make a cash-in version of that… It felt unsavory. I was not going to support it. I was not going to watch a single episode, because I knew it was encouraging the wrong kind of behavior from a media conglomerate.

And now, roughly a decade later, I feel more than a little silly that I decided to put my foot down on “horses that can go to high school”.

A saner blogger might have devoted an article to the unicornian history of Them’s Fightin’ Herds. Originally conceived as a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fan project, “Fighting is Magic” was to be a fighting game featuring the stars of MLP:FiM. Early builds were released in 2012 (a year before Equestria Girls!), and it captivated the fighting game community with the unusual movesets that four-hooved creatures would demand. Unfortunately, it also caught the attention of Hasbro’s legal department, and a cease and desist was quickly issued. However! Lauren Faust creator of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (and, later, DC Super Hero Girls) took interest in the project, and apparently felt bad about her corporate overlords smooshing the project. As a result, a woman with an extremely successful television show or two under her belt volunteered to design new characters that would become Them’s Fightin’ Herds. Thus did TFH release for early access on PC in 2018, with a complete release in 2020. Then it stampeded over to consoles in 2022, with ongoing DLC characters releasing to round out the cast. In short, this game has come a long way from its origins as a fan project, and has now outlived its initial source material by a couple of years.

And I can’t shake the feeling that I never would have played it if it was available when I cared about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

He looks friendlyThe “main 6” of this Mane6 game are obvious expies for the unavailable main characters of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Arizona the cowgirl (literally) maps perfectly to ranch-pony Applejack, vain Velvet matches the personality of fashion-forward Rarity, Pom the sheep is just as frightened of interaction as Fluttershy and similarly uses her animal pals as a shield, Paprika the alpaca has the same “shatter the fourth wall just as long as it will be funny” abilities as Pinkie Pie, and Tiahuo the dragon-horse (my Dungeons and Dragons manual tells me this is technically a longma) shows the same flight abilities and dedication as Rainbow Dash. The only major outlier here is Oleander the unicorn, who has all the talent of Twilight Sparkle, but leans heavily into the “absolute power corrupts” trope of being something of a bad girl. But even that just shifts unerringly good canon Twilight Sparkle from her MLP:FM characterization to the darker interpretation of Twilight displayed in Friendship is Witchcraft (not going to lie: that might be the nerdiest sentence ever written for this blog). With support characters similarly being recognizable archetypes (paternal Texas just needs to talk a little less to be the fraternal Big McIntosh) it would be very easy to see Them’s Fightin’ Herds as not its own product, but a shallow rip-off of a franchise that was popular enough to feed into a political movement (not a good political movement). Even with the serial numbers filed off, this is just a shallow cash-in, and no more worthy of my precious time than that pointless program about pony-people prancing to prom.

The big buyBut get past any hangups about horse-content, and you will find that Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a very unique fighting game. A tournament featuring nothing but quadrupeds is just the tip of the iceberg here. The actual fighting is fast and fun, the “magic” button and its myriad uses is something worthy of putting Blazblue to shame, and even the character victory taunts are something that makes recent Mortal Kombat releases look like… uh… Mortal… Borebat? Does… does that work? No matter! What’s important is that Them’s Fightin’ Herds can stand shoulder to shoulder with the biggest fighting games out there.

And it even has something the big boys continuously flub: a memorable story mode. Rather than be a visual novel like BlazBlue, a “playable movie” like Guilty Gear/Street Fighter 5, or whatever the generally cringe comic-book-with-fights that Netherrealm usually has going on; Them’s Fightin’ Herds has a story mode that is an actual game. In presentation it is a pastiche of a 16-bit RPG, platformer, and fighting game. In practice it doesn’t always work (any time you try to do a platformer with beat ‘em up or fighting game mechanics, you’re going to have a bad time), but there are a number of challenges and scenarios that are rarely seen in the fighting game genre, story mode or no. There are boss fights that are more than just “a strong version of a regular fighter”! And an actual environment that makes the universe of TFH feel like more than a series of separate background illustrations. Them’s Fightin’ Herds’ story mode takes what could easily be seen as a silly pun attached to a wannabe franchise and transforms it into a living, breathing world all its own.

Story mode!And I wouldn’t have experienced any of this if I just made up my mind without actually playing the game. I never would have enjoyed what may have been my favorite fighting game of 2022 (hey, it was new to consoles) if I treated it the same as Equestria Girls. All the pieces were there in my head to enjoy it already, but I could have rejected it immediately.

And I am very glad I tried it.

… So now I guess I have to watch the Bat-trucks show…

FGC #654 Them’s Fightin’ Herds

  • System: Initially PC/Steam, but eventually hoofed it over to Switch, Playstation 4/5, and Xbox One/X/S. Note that I own the physical Playstation 5 version… because I think there was a discount for some reason. That usually sways me!
  • Number of players: Two! It’s a fighting game! Let’s not reinvent the wheel.
  • Watch the fireStory Time: The previously mentioned story mode tells the full tale of a magical world where only cool herbivores (and the occasional dragon) live, but an encroaching and vaguely magical gang of predators are due to arrive, and our heroes now need to repel a series of wolves, snakes, hawks, and bears. As a result, there is a lot more plot there than expected in a game that initially appears to simply be “sheep fight alpaca now”. My only complaint is that it makes the generally boring Arizona the main heroine, but concessions must be made when you get the inimitable Tara Strong to voice a character.
  • Favorite Fighter (original batch): TFH currently has “OG Skullgirls Syndrome” wherein the cast is unique and cool… and there are only like six characters. Terrible! But I’ll choose Oleander from this limited roster, as her homicidal spell book (let’s call him Fred) is a fun game mechanic and a delightful excuse for a character to talk to themselves. Also: technically the only “pony” in the pony game.
  • Favorite Fighter (DLC division): three add-on characters have been released as of this writing. Shanty is Grant Danasty in Goat form, and Texas is our federally mandated Juggernaut. But Velvet’s big daddy, Stronghoof is my favorite of the lot, as he remembered to bring a big damn ice axe to a hoof-fight. As someone that will eternally defend Soulcalibur’s Necron, I approve.
  • This is not realDid you know? Legends claim that the My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic beta was made into a “complete” game, and is still skulking the hallowed halls of the internet to this very day. It’s worth looking up for the amazing custom fighting animations, but don’t tell this ghost story at Hasbro HQ!
  • Would I play again: Yep! I am anxiously awaiting future DLC, and my only complaint is that we are likely going to have to wait another decade for this to reach the point that we can call it a 100% complete experience. We might be fighting against Arizona’s calves by then!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 6! Or maybe Final Fantasy 3! Whatever number you give it, it is going to be responsible for a number of essays on the subject of my second favorite game of all time. So please look forward to it!

Barking up the wrong tree

FGC #650 Haunting Starring Polterguy

Here comes the ghostIt is amazing how “eat the rich” can feel so right.

Today’s game is the marginally forgotten Sega Genesis title, Haunting Starring Polterguy. This was an Electronic Arts jaunt from 1993, and won a bit of acclaim at its release for being a very different kind of game. At a time when the consoles were dominated by furry platformers with attitude, Haunting Starring Polterguy was a distinctly humorous game with peculiar gameplay. You are a ghost, and it is your job to scare four different people by possessing a variety of objects that have been conveniently preprogrammed for potential scares. HsP definitely contains some annoying, contemporary “action game” conventions (there is a “Hell” level that is all dodging and jumping, and a completely unsuitable final boss), but, by and large, it is a unique experience that is still rare to this very day. We had… What? Geist? And that was mostly about being a first-person shooter in different forms? Haunting Starring Polterguy is one of the only titles to utilize such a universal concept in decades of gaming history despite the fact that playing as a spooky ghost trying to scare hapless humans is instantly recognizable. We have an entire holiday based on it! Two, if you include the works of Dickens!

And you know what else is another universal concept? Eat the rich. (Also a popular topic for Dickens.)

You are not a generic ghost in Haunting Starring Polterguy. You are, of course, the titular Polterguy. And Polterguy was not some born-dead apparition (eat it, Slimer), he was once a normal, living punk teenager who died thanks to a defective skateboard. And, since he blames this most bogus of deaths on the manufacturers of the board, he is going to haunt CEO Vito Sardini and his family until they run screaming from their home. And in much the same way that Polterguy is a very defined character (for a 90’s 16-bit title) the Sardinis are not just generic people in a house waiting for a spook ‘em up. The Sardinis are… Well, let’s look at Flo’s in-game biography…

Not an aunt

And if that was a little too subtle, how about we see what there is to say about her dear daughter…

Could one day be an aunt

The Sardinis are portrayed as three key things: vicious, selfish, and rich. And it is worth examining why those first two traits so quickly intersect with the third.

First of all, Haunting Starring Polterguy is a “children’s game” that does something far more brave than Grand Theft Auto: it involves children. Aside from fairly generic ghouls that seem to represent the basic concept of death, the four Sardinis are the only opponents Polterguy will ever face. And two of those Sardinis are kids! And, considering you are literally scaring them into homelessness, HsP does go out of its way to make prepubescent children creatures worthy of being tossed out on the street for their crimes. Tony and Mimi are presented as horrible little monsters in their own right, and, complete with unusual mentions of their love of various poisons, the basic concept here seems to be that the world would be better off without the Sardini family. Polterguy is a polter-guy while these rapscallions still live! That doesn’t seem right!

The garage is scaryBut why are Sardini children terrible? Well, obviously because they are rich. Papa Vito Sardini is just south of straight up being Mr. Monopoly as the very picture of capitalism with his suit and giant cigar, and Flo Sardini is the housewife that is assumed to be lambasting a cleaning staff just off screen. They are loaded, and their gigantic homes filled with wild excesses are monuments to their fortune. Hell, the warp from level 2 to level 3 is hidden in the “jacuzzi room”! There is no question that the Sardinis have grossly profited off suffering, and Polterguy is a not-living reminder that their money has been earned through causing literal death to others.

And it is amazing that I intrinsically understood this as a child.

I was roughly Tony Sardini’s age when Haunting Starring Polterguy was released. While I know I didn’t pick this one up on release day, I am estimating that my childhood memory of renting this game did occur when it was contemporary. And I will formally note that I do not consider myself to have been a smart child. Or teenager. Or young adult. Or… whatever I am right now. Adult? That doesn’t sound right… Regardless! I was not a gamer that ever picked up on subtext until roughly the release of Final Fantasy 13, so, back in the Final Fantasy 4 days, I was hopelessly drowning in a quagmire of the literal. But, luckily, there is nothing remotely subtle about the Sardinis. They are mean. They are rich. They are the enemy, and, should Polterguy fail in his mission to teach them a lesson, they will inevitably hurt more people. They are the bourgeois, and they must be stopped.

It's so hotAnd I got that. I understood that the rich were the enemy of a young, hip, teenager (who may or may not be alive). I was never cool/coordinated enough to be a skateboard champ, but I wanted to be a radical shredder. These “rich kids”? They were just as selfish and mean as the bullies at my school. And were the real bullies wealthy and privileged? Of course they were! One of my greatest enemies in primary school was the grandson of a superintendent. Kid was untouchable! I would have haunted his house in a second. And even as a dumb ten-year-old, I knew the reason he could get away with damn near anything was that his parents/grandparents were high enough on the food chain that none of my beloved teachers would ever so much as shoot an ornery glance in his direction. He was untouchable! And it was because of unearned wealth and power!

And, end of the day, when this is something that could be understood by a foolish child, it really raises the question of why “being rich” is something that is supposed to be aspirational.

We see it over and over again, right? We are told that “rich guy” is the smartest guy around, he has been so successful in everything, and then he’s put in a position where we can actively see the decisions he is making and the thoughts he is having, and it is clear we’re dealing with a charlatan. But then how was he so successful? Well, it is pretty easy to identify when someone has inherited billions of dollars, and how that could maybe purchase a few accolades and an entire public relations firm. And whether these braindead Scary Dancerbillionaires are aspiring to politics or simply owning a social media company, we do not need a Citizen Kane to be reminded that they are little more than monsters themselves. A wise writer once said of being rich, “In terms of cognitive impairment it’s probably like being kicked in the head by a horse every day”. And this fact is proven to us over and over again, generation through generation! It’s in our literature and parables going back centuries! We know it in our genetic code at this point that the rich would eat us all if given the tiniest opportunity!

So bite back.

Haunt that couch, Polterguy. When the revolution comes, you will be on the right side.

FGC #650 Haunting Starring Polterguy

  • System: Sega Genesis was technically the only place you could find Polterguy. However, there was an Electronic Arts collection released for the PSP. So EA Replay contains the most recent release of Polterguy… and that was 2006. Good luck finding this dead man now!
  • Scary SexyNumber of players: This is very much a single player game, but, inexplicably, there is a two-player mode. It is mostly an alternating adventure (player one haunts, dies, and then it is player two’s turn), but both players go head-to-head to race out of Hell and see who gets the next turn first. It is a shame that the simultaneous bits only occur in the dreary dungeon, as tandem haunting of the house might be fun. You could scare Sardinis into each other!
  • Optimum Run: And speaking of going to Hell: I literally cannot figure out if this game is meant to be… what’s the word that fits here… played without failure? Like… are you supposed to die? Or re-die? What I mean to say is that your health bar drains very quickly, and, considering “death” just means playing a different kind of level, it is difficult to determine whether “dying” is something that is supposed to happen routinely, or if there is some optimum way to scare everyone and always keep your health topped off. It certainly seems like the scares do not drop enough ectoplasm to keep Polterguy healthy, but maybe if you run all over the house and scare everyone in succession…
  • Cheat ‘em Up: Possibly as a concession to the above issue, there are level warps hidden in every stage. There is practically no way you would find these shortcuts on your own (less “run on top of some blocks to find the secret pipes” and more “haunt the garbage can in one specific room and press B C B B”), but they are quick and easy if you want to “continue” to a new stage. Or… just skip 75% of the game. That’s good, too.
  • Favorite Haunt: One of the doorways is enchanted to summon a skeleton cowboy with pistol blazing. Why is this doorway undead Western themed? Who knows!
  • Ride 'em cowboyAn End: The finale reveals that the family dog was some kind of malevolent force all along. Whether this entity is the reason the starring family is also malevolent is never explored, but you do have to fight the dog monster in a boss fight for which this gameplay system is woefully underequipped. But if you win, Polterguy is restored to life! And then he immediately dies again! Because that is funny! I guess!
  • Did you know? One of the most risqué haunts involves possessing a bath towel in the bathroom, and materializing a seemingly naked woman behind the towel. But when she removes the towel, it reveals she is a touch on the skinless side, and someone is going to be more than a little frightened by the Hellraiser lady walking around. Now that is something Nintendon’t do over on the Super Nintendo.
  • Would I play again: Maybe? This one is a fun curiosity, and really does have unique gameplay for the era. That said, Polterguy is not great at haunting my memory, and I am unlikely to pick it back up if it does not ever appear on a compilation again. So…. Fingers crossed for a Sega Genesis Mini III.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Goat Simulator 3! Let’s watch a goat do all sorts of things. I guarantee it will be spicy! Please look forward to it!

That's all, ghouls