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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 #525 Parodius

Today, we’re going to address some reader mail. Let’s look at our first letter from one Mr. Tiger of Battle Creek, Michigan.

It's Greeeeeat

Well, Tony, if we want to know what parody actually means, we should look at some videogames. Are parody videogames supposed to be fun? Funny? A “send-up”? Let’s find out! We’ll start with the game that apparently prompted your question…

Parodius (Franchise) (1988, Konami)

PARODY TIMEWhat is it? In a long forgotten age, Gradius was one of Konami’s tent pole franchises. Given Gradius was a super-serious shoot ‘em up wherein the fate of the galaxy depended wholly on a ship that exploded every seven seconds, someone at Konami decided to produce a game with the same basic gameplay, but a wildly different tone. Parodius was born, and it featured an octopus saving the world from penguins. Or something. Parodius wound up becoming a franchise onto itself, and, for about a decade, you could count on at least one adventure every once in a while where a ship that shot boxing gloves attacked a giant lady that moved like a robot.

Is it fun? If you like Gradius, you’ll like Parodius. You’ve got overwhelmingly fragile “ships” (sometimes they are octopi) that can cycle through powerups by nabbing orbs to launch missiles against gigantic bosses. The game is just as difficult as its serious Gradius cousin, though, as death means losing your abilities and often starting back from an earlier point in the level. But it’s an excellent and ultimately fair shoot ‘em up, so if that’s your thing, it’s going to be a fun time.

But is it funny? Initially, it’s simply funny for the absurdity of sticking an octopus or lone option in the place of the Vic Viper. Eventually, the franchise tried its hand at adding more complicated joke characters, like a bald eagle decked out for American patriotism, or an entire stage full of slave-labor penguins (uh… it’s funnier than it sounds). Later games even added an overarching plot that involved a cantankerous octopus boss making off with your wages in clearly labeled dollar sign bags. That’s always funny! I think!

So is it a parody? Yep! It’s right there in the title. Parodius features familiar bits from Gradius, R-Type, and other games of the era repurposed to be funny or occasionally sexy (and we are very much employing air quotes for “sexy” here). This is a “burlesque imitation” to a T.

Splatterhouse Wanpaku Graffiti (1989, Namco)

Splat!What is it? Splatterhouse was a hyperviolent beat ‘em up/action title that was released in arcades in 1989. It is, at its core, a pastiche of horror movies of the 80’s roughly adapted for a videogame format where you’re the monster combating other monsters to save a princess. In a way, this already makes Splatterhouse a sort of parody. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, in an attempt to make Splatterhouse gameplay more palatable for the Nintendo Family Computer (emphasis on the “family” part of that Famicom), the gore was turned down to one, and the comedy was cranked up to eleven.

Is it fun? In so much as Splatterhouse gameplay is fun, S:WG is fun. It’s pretty basic: walk to the right, chop down baddies, eventually reach a boss, kill what you gotta kill to move forward. Not unlike Parodius, the game is very unforgiving, and you’ll want to take as little damage as possible if you want to stretch your three lives (continues) to the end of the adventure. With the caveat that this is an early NES game that should not be judged by 2020 standards, Wanpaku Graffiti is pretty fun to play.

But is it funny? Again, judging it as a NES game from 1989, it’s pretty comical. It follows the same pattern as Parodius and doesn’t rely on text, but presents bosses and opponents that are… amusing. The big bad is The Great Pumpkin. The boss of the first level is Thriller-era Michael Jackson. The finale sees “the director” accidentally stumble on set. It might not be laugh out loud funny, but it is at least silly.

So is it a parody? Transforming one of the most violent games of the day into its own “kiddy mode” sure seems like a parody. Also, the protagonist, Rick, is downright adorable in his chibi form, so it’s hard not to smile as you chop up zombies riding tombstone pogo sticks. There’s a lot of ambient amusement in this affectionate adaptation.

Kid Dracula (1990, Konami)

It's the kidWhat is it? Parodius worked out for Gradius, so why not parody Castlevania? Kid Dracula is the story of Dracula’s son (or his younger self? Or Alucard’s younger self? Can we get a timeline here?) venturing around the world to stop the forces of Galamoth, a robot dragon from the end of time. Or… something. Whatever the situation, it’s Castlevania through a more comical filter.

Is it fun? This is basically Castlevania sensibilities mixed with Mega Man-style gameplay and the ability to walk on the ceiling or transform into a bat. If it was released in America in 1990, I would have married the game by now.

But is it funny? Like other games on this list, it has a general level of “whacky” to its humor. Once again, the basic concept here is that the original franchise is deathly serious, so any time you have to fight a “goofy” chicken, it’s supposed to be funny. Of course, Kid D’s shorts are always going to be funny on their own.

So is it a parody? Unfortunately, Kid Dracula seems to drop the distinct parody elements pretty early in the adventure. The first level is straight up Castlevania, and it’s a blast to deal with a castle full of spikey traps and inane zombies, but the franchise connection seems all but lost later when you’re fighting a giant robot on an airship. For better or worse, Kid Dracula moves past its parody factor pretty quickly.

Star Parodier (1992, Hudson Soft)

Right there in the name againWhat is it? Parodius worked, so why not another parody shoot ‘em up? Hudson had the Star Soldier franchise kicking around since 1986, so why not give that shooter a send up? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions?

Is it fun? This is the vertical shoot ‘em up to Parodius’s horizontal shoot ‘em up. That said, it seems a lot easier to survive in Star Soldier/Star Parodier, as you acquire a shield a whole lot quicker. There’s also a slightly more cerebral powerup system, wherein you have a few options (not those options), and can enhance them by grabbing like-colored pickups, or switch to another color for a slightly different attack. It’s a neat idea for a shoot ‘em up, which is already a style of game that requires a lot of quick thinking and darting around the screen.

But is it funny? Parodius clone plays by Parodius rules. Star Parodier is definitely its own game, but its humor style is still “look at the next whacky thing that shows up”. Also a strangely high number of penguins…

So is it a parody? Yes. Or… I assume. I’ve only ever played like three levels of one Star Soldier game… so this seems like a parody of that. I think? They replaced a round boss with a ferris wheel, so I think that counts. Whatever! Look, you can play as a flying Bomberman, so that’s at least a parody of something.

ClayFighter (1993, Interplay)

Whack em smack emWhat is it? Shoot ‘em ups are old hat, let’s move on to the next big thing: fighting games. Clayfighter is technically your typical fighter, but with a cast of Claymation loonies that lampoon everything from Elvis to… blobs? Is that a thing? Do people not like blobs? But… nothing beats the blob!

Is it fun? OG Clayfighter is a fighting game in the Street Fighter 2 mold (… was that a pun?), and plays very similarly. It doesn’t have quite the move variety as its target franchise (ducking attacks are often exactly the same as a standing or jumping action), but it’s still a much better fighter than some of the turds that were cranked out during the era of its birth. You ever play Fighter’s History? Don’t.

But is it funny? Hey, this is the first parody game on this list created by an American studio! And it’s pretty amusing in a 90’s kid kinda way. Remember when “Fat Elvis” was the target of every other late night show, despite the obvious handicap that he had been dead for decades? And “the fat lady sings” was somehow an oft-repeated and literalized phrase? And we were all afraid of clowns? Clayfighter spends all of its humor bucks pretty quickly after you see a fighter’s complete moveset, but isn’t that how all fighting games work, anyway?

So is it a parody? Clayfighter eventually went on to produce C2: Judgment Clay, which was more of the same, but with a veneer of extra MK parody, and Clayfighter 63⅓, which was a super specific parody of Killer Instinct Gold. That said, the original Clayfighter isn’t too precise of a parody (N. Boss is the closest we get to a fighter parodying an actual character from another game, and that’s mostly just the name), and more a parody of the concept of “serious” fighting games. So it qualifies, but it’s less “parody” and more “vaguely humorous”.

Pyst (1996, Parroty Interactive)

It's pronounced P-ystWhat is it? Myst was an adventure game that was the most popular videogame of 1993/1994. It was ubiquitous, and, somehow, everyone from your next door neighbor to your dad to your other next door neighbor that was secretly your real dad had played it. Realizing that such an omnipresent game was ripe for parody, Parroty Interactive (a division of Palladium Interactive) was founded to produce a game mocking Myst and its associated culture. Pyst was released three years after Myst, and… it wasn’t great.

Is it fun? Pyst is barely a game. There had been adventure games that were funny in the past (the entire LucasArts oeuvre was amazing, and would be featured in this article if they weren’t their own thing, completely eschewing the need to be a parody to be funny), and there’s a lot of potential in lampooning the esoteric puzzles of Myst… but this ain’t doin’ it. Pyst is little more than going from screen to screen and clicking on buttons to activate videos. It’s about as fun as “playing” Youtube (but marginally less racist).

But is it funny? I will admit that I chuckled a bit at Pyst when I was a young’un. It’s like Airplane! But for a videogame! That said, the jokes are rough, and it’s less an affectionate parody of the game itself, and more of a parody of the culture and general public reactions to the game itself. It’s not something that was produced by someone that played Myst for twenty hours and then ran out and bought the companion books, it’s a Saturday Night Live skit based on one those videogames the kids seem to like. And, further cementing the SNL connection, John Goodman is in a few scenes for some reason. That… is something.

So is it a parody? Well, certainly, even if it barely qualifies as a game. Someone forgot to fill in the whole “videogame” part of the “videogame parody” equation, but it definitely happened. Take that, game that revolutionized what a videogame could be, and was then somehow forgotten presumably because all the sequels sucked!

Star Warped (1997, Parroty Interactive)

STAR!What is it? Parroty returned the next year with Star Warped, their “parody” of Star Wars. In this case, someone decided to include a videogame in the videogame, as there are some meager minigames and a skimpy fighting game pastiche. The whole experience is hosted by a pair of brothers that are Star Wars superfans that supposedly have not left the house since first watching and consequently dedicating their lives to Star Wars. But they were somehow able to collect oodles of Star Wars merchandise in the meanwhile! Before the advent of the internet being “The Internet”! This parody has some gaping plot holes!

Is it fun? There might be a game this time, but nobody said those games had to be any fun. Do you enjoy using your mouse to play whack-a-ewok? A fighting game that looks like it was animated in the most primitive version of Flash available (actually, in 1997, that might be a completely factual description)? If you’re looking for actual gameplay out of a Parroty Interactive title, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

But is it funny? Do you like laughing at nerds? Great! Enjoy watching them caper around and talk about Star Wars like it’s a religion. And then you can play as Cool –Handless Luke and fight Pizza-Flipping Greedo. Yes! Someone took the time to make a parody of Greedo! Are you laughing yet!?

So is it a parody? Man, this game sucks, but it’s why parodies are important. This is one of the last remaining relics of the “before time” for Star Wars. You know how Disney bought Star Wars for $4,050,000,000? They did that because Star Wars is a very serious film franchise for very serious people (and certainly not children). And it only got to that point because the hype around the “Prequel Trilogy” rebranded Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon on par with the Moon Landing. Before 1999, though? Star Wars was just some weird franchise for weirdos that hang around in their weird basements. Star Warped is a perfect encapsulation of that embarrassing era for the franchise. It’s a parody of a particular time and place in a cultural zeitgeist, and it would be all but forgotten if not for digging Star Warped out of the dustbin of history. In the same way that Scary Movie can remind us all of the Scream-craze of the late 20th Century, Star Warped inadvertently can remind us of the Dork Ages of Star Wars.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001, Rare)

It's kind of a swearWhat is it? Parroty Interactive went on to produce an X-Files parody and a parody of an operating system (seriously!), and then went out of business. Or pivoted to making learning games. Whatever. They didn’t survive to make it to Riven, so somebody else had to pick up the parody torch. Rare had always produced games with a generally humorous bent (even Donkey Kong Country premiered with DK kicking out the old man), so it seemed natural when they produced Conker’s Bad Fur Day, a game meant to clash with the traditionally “squeaky clean” image for Nintendo systems/releases. Join a typical “videogame mascot” that has become a little more surly than your average bear or hedgehog.

Is it fun? This was Rare at the height of their 3-D action/adventure/collectathon powers, so Conker’s Bad Fur Day is, if nothing else, a pretty fun game to play. For the personal Goggle Bob rankings, I’d put it above Donkey Kong 64 and Jetforce Gemini, but below Banjo-Kazooie or Mario 64. And those are all top tier games to begin with! It’s right up there! And, hey, it even foresaw the future of Mario with context-based abilities that only appear in particular levels. Mario should write Conker a thank you note.

But is it funny? I was the exact right age when this title was released (old enough to not be shocked, but young enough to find peeing unequivocally funny), so your mileage may vary, but Conker’s day is a funny one. The basis of much of the humor is the cute animal creature (Conker) having to deal with “real world” problems, like war or hangovers. And the juxtaposition works! It (as is always the case with Rare) maybe relies on being a little too talky and anxious to explain the joke on many occasions (a googly-eyed poop needs no explanation), but it’s about twenty times funnier than anything else on the Nintendo 64 not involving a giant ninja robot.

So is it a parody? One could easily argue that the gameplay of Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a 100% mundane 3-D platformer experience, and the occasional jokes or wisecracks from his furry friends aren’t enough to warrant a full parody label. But CBFD is more than that! The gameplay doesn’t have to be that subversive when an alien bursts from out of a panther’s chest. The incongruity of this Diddy Kong Racer facing a world that is about twenty miles above his maturity level is the joke here, and it winds up as a perfect parody of the heyday of videogame mascots. Gex could never touch this squirrel.

The Simpsons Game (2007, Electronic Arts)

Katamari MilhouseWhat is it? Hey, everybody, it’s another Simpsons video game. Try to sound excited! This time, we’ve got a game that was actually penned by writers of The Simpsons series! That’s good. But it is The Simpsons writers of 2007, and it gets very self-referential, very fast. That’s bad. But it’s the best videogame The Simpsons have ever seen. That’s good. But it is also looking at videogames from a very “dad” perspective, so the jokes are more broad than biting. That’s bad. But you can earn all kinds of achievements. That’s good. But the achievements contain Potassium Benzoate.

Is it fun? Continuing the platforming/collectathon tradition of Conker, The Simpsons Game predominantly vacillates between “obstacle course” style levels and excuses to bump around and find random crap all over the place. And The Simpsons get super powers! Which is fun! Homer turning into a big, doughy wrecking ball is always going to be a great time, and the different ways the various Simpsons can work together through diverse levels is a great.

But is it funny? It’s basically a Simpsons episode in videogame form, so what is there to complain about? This is the first game on this list that allowed for the “modern” convenience of overt and incidental voice acting, so quips come fast and furious. And the various super powers and situations the Simpsons encounter add some much needed physical/visual humor to the proceedings. Humor is hard when all you can do is make a whacky looking dancer boss, it’s a lot easier when you’ve got next gen graphics and the best voice actors in the business.

So is it a parody? While The Simpsons themselves are the yellow butts of a few jokes, the main target here is generic “videogames”. The family ventures through levels themed after Dungeons & Dragons, Pokémon, and whatever franchise is exploiting World War 2 the most this week. And one of the big collectibles for the game is simply “videogame clichés” that can be amassed for achievements. And special guest Will Wright wants to destroy NES cartridges full of 8-bit Simpsons. It’s still very broad (Patty and Selma are a two-headed dragon! That’s a thing happens in games, right!?), but it is very much “The Simpsons tackle videogames”, so calling it a parody of the medium at large (of 2007) seems accurate.

Hatoful Boyfriend (2011, PigeoNation Inc.)

Love dem birdsWhat is it? It’s another Japanese visual novel where you’re the transfer student at a high school, and you’re about to get into all sorts of weird and wacky situations with your new classmates. Maybe even romance will bloom! One minor caveat, though: you’re the only human in a world of giant, intelligent birds. Yes, this game started as an April Fool’s Day “prank”, but it’s one of about three visual novels this author can stomach.

Is it fun? It’s a visual novel, so that’s a resounding no. What? Press X to advance text isn’t my bag on a good day. Oh, I’m supposed to enjoy the roleplaying? Well la de da, give me a call when your roleplaying involves killing god.

But is it funny? You don’t play visual novels for the gameplay, you do it for the sweet, sweet writing. Or the pictures where “you” fall face first into a cyclops’ panties. Whatever floats your boat. Regardless, the writing and scenarios for Hatoful Boyfriend are some top notch anime bullshit. And that’s great! Because the entire cast is comprised of photo-realistic birds, so it’s immediately apparent how everything in your average visual novel is absurd nonsense even when there aren’t avian creatures abound. And then a doctor eats you.

So is it a parody? Most visual novels “reward” the player with scenes of…. Can I say pornography? How about art? You receive art for taking particular paths or options. A game where your potential suitors are replaced with pigeons is certainly going to qualify as a parody, as it draws a stark contrast between the usual expectations and our feathered friends. It is parody in absurdity in a genre that has had already entered the realm of self-parody. Good birds. Pretty birds.

Divekick (2013, One True Game Studios)

Kick it againWhat is it? It’s another fighting game, but this one more or less the result of decades of giant nerds playing fight games. Years of scientists studying characters, tiers, and frame data have determined one thing: the divekick is the only viable fighting game move. So here’s a fighting game where all the characters can only perform a diving jump kick. There are different combatants. There are different techniques. But there is only divekick.

Is it fun? In a way, this is a fighting game boiled down to its absolute essence. There’s a variety of characters, a story mode with rivals and endings, and warnings about the prevalence of concussions. But it’s all in the service of a fighting game where one hit wins every match, and one (or two) buttons is all you will ever need. And that’s fun! It’s not the kind of game anyone would want to be alone with on a desert island, but it is enjoyable for short bursts. The ideal downloadable title for the modern console/computer.

But is it funny? There’s a mutated skunkbear that is named Redacted because it is way too similar to one of Marvel’s mightiest mutants. That’s funny! Kicking someone in the head might not be the funniest thing in the world, but the characters and general situations are filled with humor. Oh, and the master wears boots on his hands. That’s silly.

So is it a parody? This is one of those “affectionate parodies” I’ve been referencing elsewhere in the article. This is insider politics for fighting game fans, and a true work that was created by fanatics, for fanatics. It’s a parody that loves its source material, but still acknowledges fighting games are more than a little goofy. There could be another paragraph here just explaining the seven layers of dumb Street Fighter jokes surrounding the final boss, and that’s a sign that something parody-related has happened here.

Lego City Undercover (2013, TT Games)

Goin' undercoverWhat is it? The Lego Videogame franchise finally got away from straight franchise adaptions in 2013, and produced Lego City Undercover, a game featuring an average (Lego) cop that runs over a strangely high number of (Lego) pedestrians. The game is a large departure for the traditional gameplay of the Lego titles, as it is less “levels”, and more of an open-world, mission-based situation. Also, there is full voice acting and a wholly original plot, so this is like a real videogame, and not just Star Wars-lite.

Is it fun? Damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is basically a Grand Theft Auto title with Lego sensibilities, and it’s kind of amazing how effectively those two genres mesh. What’s more, Lego City Undercover is better than your average Lego game, as it doesn’t require the player to obsessively break every goddamn thing every seven inches for additional studs (there is more than a little breakage, of course, but it doesn’t have nearly the same emphasis as seen in other Lego titles). This is just swinging, driving, and busting criminals all over a Lego city, and that’s pretty damn great.

But is it funny? Double damn right it is. Lego City Undercover is generally hilarious on occasion, which should come as no surprise, as actual comedy writers were hired to punch up the entirety of the game’s script. If there are seven seconds of “downtime” in the plot, you can be sure that space will be filled with some manner of capering. And, on a personal note, while cops and robbers are equally lampooned across the game (along with anything else that wanders into the frame), I am currently enjoying any humor derived at the expense of the boys in blue. Those egos could stand to be deflated a pinch…

So is it a parody? In Grand Theft Auto, you are a criminal. In Lego City Undercover, you are a police officer. Somehow, the gameplay is exactly the same. Funny how that works. Lego City Undercover manages to present a family-friendly take on the genre that also provides some insightful (and seemingly deliberate) commentary on the state of the world, and that’s a sign you’re dealing with an excellent parody. Some of GTA’s imitators may border on parody (Saints Row comes immediately to mind), but Lego City Undercover distinguishes itself as its own, albeit parodic, animal.

Goat Simulator (2014, Coffee Stain Studios)

DEM GOATS!What is it? You’re a mundane goat. That’s it. Thanks for playing.

Is it fun? Oh, wait, little caveat here: Goat Sim is more of a game physics demo that evolved into a full-fledged game… Or… almost evolved, at least. There are general goals for your goat simulating here, but, by and large, it’s just you (a goat) in a medium-to-large playground, and your only real tasks are finding new and interesting ways to be destructive. It’s like Blast Corps, but, ya know, with a goat.

But is it funny? In a way, this is a total “make your own fun” adventure. However, despite the fact that the game generally lacks legitimate goals or a level structure, the “playgrounds” available are all meticulously designed. What does that mean? Well, imagine a million perfectly aligned dominoes, and you’re playing as the wrecking ball that just crashed into this clumsy metaphor. This is not a game that relies on clever dialogue, this is a game that relies on the player’s innate need to lick a moving tractor to see what happens. Spoilers: it winds up funny.

So is it a parody? Goat Simulator is the kind of game that could only happen after decades of established videogames. This is a game that looks at the many, many ways you can interact with a world in a videogame, and then pushes them to absurd levels. Yes, you can climb that gigantic crane and jump off… but please don’t do that while aiming for the highly volatile gas station, or bad things might happen. Combine this with a variety of “cheats” and achievements that encourage complete lunacy (a basic rule of the universe is that you should never give a goat a jetpack), and Goat Simulator is more than a simple goat game, it’s a parody of gaming as a whole. And then there’s that MMORPG mode. Class: Microwave is just silly.

Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns! (2019, Fantastico Studio)

What is it? A man eats a unicorn-flavored ice cream, and, yada yada yada, now he’s being propelled through the sky on a toilet and shooting up his worst fears. And if you guessed “worst fears” included “Salt Bae”, then congratulations, you’re one of the cool kids for today!

Is it fun? It’s a modern “bullet hell” shoot ‘em up, so if you like that, this one is pretty great. The gameplay conceit du jour is that every explosion drops rupees, and catchin’ ‘em all will lead to your arsenal being immediately upgraded. Like with Star Parodier above, this is an interesting mechanic for advancement in an already frenetic genre, so it fits into the shoot ‘em up genre like a glove. Oh, and you can barf unicorn puke all over the place if things get too overwhelming.

But is it funny? This is referential humor at its most obvious. You could be shooting ships or wieners or whatever, but, no, it’s all references to pop culture. Is it overtly funny? Not necessarily. Is it satisfying to lay suppressing fire on a giant, orange toupee? It’s not bad. The basic joke in this game is seeing what ridiculous thing pops up as a boss next, so please enjoy a chuckle when you have to go hand-to-hand with The Pope.

So is it a parody? We’re right back to where we started: a shoot ‘em up with the usual nonsense replaced with joke characters. If Parodius was a parody of Gradius, then it makes transitive sense that Rainbows, Toilets & Unicorns is the modern (and American) parody of Gradius’s same genre. This parody doesn’t have much to say beyond “yes, these things exist”, but it winds up being an amusing way to spend an hour or so. Not all parodies are created equal, but there is certainly room for parodies in the videogame sphere.

So what does parody actually mean, Tony? It means you’re going to have a good time.

… Until you die sixty times in a row to the same stupid boss. Then the joke gets a bit stale.

FGC #525 Parodius

  • Poor penguinSystem: You may find Parodius on practically any videogame system… outside of the United States. Even Europe saw a couple of Parodius games! The best the Americas can hope for is the occasional big fat nothing. I somehow have a Gameboy version, though. Blame Europe again.
  • Number of players: 2 player simultaneous! Who cares if Americans wouldn’t get the references, here’s a reason this shoot ‘em up could have done well in the West.
  • What did you actually play: As is my wont, I played through the complete Parodius arcade collection for this article (even if ROB did technically choose the Gameboy version). This is definitely a franchise that gets better as it progresses, and Sexy Parodius is great with its branching paths and gigantic monsters/ladies. My understanding is that there is also a Parodius Tactics game for the Playstation 1 by the name of Paro Wars… and I’m not touching that with a ten foot penguin.
  • Favorite Pilot: Michael and Gabriel are flying pig angels. I’m pretty sure there need be no further explanation.
  • Worst Powerup Ever: The Oh!/!? powerup block will immediately strip you of all power. It is horrible beyond measure, and, considering the average arcade game doesn’t come with much of a manual, downright mean-spirited. One would suppose it at least gives you a reason to pay attention to manual powerup activation…
  • Konami gonna Konami: If you’re wondering what the Parodius franchise is up to nowadays, may I interest you in a series of pachinko machines?
  • Super 'Sexy'Most Excellent: Otomedius carried on the basic concept of Parodius for a little while, basically focusing on the “sexy” part of Sexy Parodius. It didn’t last very long, but at least it gave the Twin Bee franchise another spotlight.
  • Did you know? Koitsu, Aitsu, Soitsu and Doitsu, the little dudes riding paper airplanes, reappear as monster cards in the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise. The Vic Viper pops up there, too, so Konami kept its crossovers going.
  • Would I play again: Yes! Can someone look into porting this entire franchise to the Switch? Get to working on that! That system needs more penguins!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 7 Remake! Time to get reacquainted with some old friends! Please look forward to it!

Big ol' heads

FGC #102 The Legend of Zelda

Bum BuuuuuumToday I shall relay to you two tales of The Legend of Zelda from my childhood. One, a minor note on the nature of video games, and the other, a tale of triumph of the human spirit.

There aren’t a lot of video games that I remember “when we first met”. Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, for instance, I know I played over a friend’s house first… but I can’t remember exactly which friend. I know the first time I saw anyone play it and be any good at it, it was watching my best friend’s older brother sail over the top of Level 1-2 and get all the way to Level 4. Can you imagine it? Level 4? He must have been some kind of genius. Additionally, a number of games in my childhood NES collection, in my memory, just appeared one day. I have literally no idea when Mega Man 2 or Friday the 13th came to hang out in my basement, even if, for better or worse, they became staples of my childhood. And Nintendo Power only muddied the waters, as I poured over strategy guides and maps for games like Final Fantasy incessantly seemingly years before I ever touched the A button to actually control Fighter.

But The Legend of Zelda is different, and it’s different because I was wrong.

I suppose another reason I don’t remember my first time with a number of games is that I rented video games almost constantly. Well… once every two weeks. On Tuesday. In retrospect, this was likely when the local video store (note for any younger folks reading this article: you used to be able to go to a store to temporarily “rent” VHS movies and video game cartridges. It was kind of like Playstation Now, if PSN was slightly less predatory) had a coupon of some sort running (my dad was/is very pragmatic), but in my young mind, this was better than getting an allowance. I got to play two new video games a month! Sure, it was only for a scant few days, but back then, half the games contained like five levels, total, so you could get the full experience in a pair of evenings. And, yes, I don’t think I have to point out that whenever I had a rental game to play, They dislike itI practically didn’t see sunlight until it was returned. Ah, it’s always fun when you remember just how long you’ve been committed to your bad habits.

So, one day, I decided to rent The Legend of Zelda. I don’t recall what grabbed my attention about the game (you weren’t even allowed to see the potentially shiny cartridges at this rental location), and, thinking about it, I’m almost convinced this was before the age of The Legend of Zelda / Super Mario Bros. cartoon shows. I don’t know if that’s accurate, timeline wise, but I’m almost certain I was going into LOZ completely green (I regret nothing). Anyway, my father and I took the game up to the counter, and the clerk (who in my memory was a fully grown, respectable adult… but was probably a 14 year old) asked me an important question.

“Someone lost the instruction book for this game. You gonna be okay without it?”

And my reply, which I can repeat verbatim to this day…

“Sure, A jumps, B shoots. I don’t need instructions.”

Oh, how wrong I was.

REEEEEEEWell, half wrong, because I’m forced to remember this encounter every time someone complains about the latest Zelda game being lousy with tutorials. Zelda is, and continues to be, a fairly unique experience. Yes, we now have games like Darksiders vying for the Zelda-alike crown, and you could probably make a decent case for Grand Theft Auto 3 and its descendants having more in common with Zelda than most NES games; but an actual, “true” use-your-tools-and-explore Zelda experience is still a rarity today, even within the Zelda franchise. If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re the type that already has played through a number of Zelda games, and likely even has a “preferred dungeon order” for your favorite entry, but to the average non-gamer (or child!) the Zelda experience is pretty different from gaming’s traditional “go this way now” design.

And The Legend of Zelda is amazing because you don’t need the instructions, it guides the player without ever saying a word (give or take an old man speaking out against the dangers of loneliness). I admit, the opening of Zelda, coming off a seemingly endless parade of platformers, seemed daunting at first, but I don’t ever remember being “stuck”. In no time, without any previous adventure (or Adventure) experience, I was slaying dragons with heads of indeterminate numbers and reclaiming Triforce chunks like a pro.

Well, actually, “being stuck” brings me to my other story.

Time passed. Now, years later in my mind (but probably really all of six months), The Legend of Zelda is a national phenomenon with a popular video game, cartoon, and even a breakfast cereal that tastes like a squirrel that died on a bed of wheat. The Legend of Zelda is no mere rental anymore; I and everyone I know owns that gleaming golden cartridge… yet none of us have beaten the game. The idea of Not a looker“beating Zelda” has become something of an urban legend in my peer group: yes, there are those that have claimed they’ve “killed Ganon”… but proof is hard to come by. One kid has a game save with Link holding a sword, obviously a sign that Ganon has been slain, but he named the save file Zelda… why would he do that?

Our biggest hurdle, as one might expect, was the difficulty spike in Level 6, with its army of Wizrobes haunting the halls and ending many a playthrough. From there, Level 7 was a piece of cake, easy to find and easy to complete, assuming you had heard from your friend’s older brother the trick of “feeding” the Moblin. But then… Level 8. Level 8 was a complete mystery to my friends and me. Where was it? We knew there was a piece of the Triforce missing, but where could it be? We were, collectively, stumped (hehe).

And then, hiding in the southern woods, I found it. I had bombed every wall, torched every forest, and even investigated old dungeons and hidden areas thinking that, maybe, there was a tunnel between dungeons somewhere in there. Today, we take for granted the “rules” of Zelda, and even the more rigid guidelines of the original (like how a bombable location will only exist on a facing wall in the overworld), but back then, after the last dungeon was revealed by playing a recorder at a lake, it seemed like anything was possible. So, yes, it took days to find that one tree that happened to hide the penultimate dungeon.

MINENow, I want to say this tale is one of victory and joy and my friends holding me aloft as we marched into the sunset, now confident that Hyrule would be safe forever… but that’s not this story. Yes, I did share this information with my friends, and yes, they were all quite happy with being able to make progress (even the ones that had claimed they’d already beaten the game… I guess they just forgot), but that’s not the narrative that sticks in my mind.

Confession: I’ve never actually seen It’s a Wonderful Life from start to finish. I never sought it out because, thanks to years and years of parodies, I feel like I’ve seen everything I need to see of that movie. I realize that makes no more sense than claiming you’ve seen the entirety of Citizen Kane thanks to The Simpsons, but, hey, there are only so many hours in the day, and I’ve never been a big fan of black and white. And the thing is, I’ve had the basic plot of It’s a Wonderful Life kicking around my head for years, because I can distinctly remember shortly after beating The Legend of Zelda and thinking back on my life.

For some bizarre reason, I guess I was a very introspective child, because, at an age no greater than eight (and maybe as low as… five?), I was already contemplating what I had accomplished in my life. If I’d never been born, would reality be any different? To be clear, I wasn’t suicidal, I was just, I don’t know, curious about what a world without me would look like, and if it would be any better or worse. I am that old man nowThis, without question, makes me laugh today, because, what, I was expecting to have won the Nobel Prize for eating macaroni and cheese? I don’t have children, but I’m impressed by any eight year old that has accomplished the amazing feat of not barfing on my lawn (because I know children who haven’t been able to pull that one off). But Wee Goggle Bob thought long and hard about this pending issue, and finally settled on something.

If I had never been born, my friends would never have found Dungeon 8.

My life had meaning.

And it’s stupid (because of course it is), but there’s something there. The Legend of Zelda gave a child the gift of a purpose, and while it is nothing like what would be my life’s pursuit (he said on his video game blog that updates four times a week), it was an accomplishment that was completely my own. I made everyone’s life better through playing this video game and sharing it with my friends. A kingdom was saved, friendships were forged, and an oversized pig monster was banished.

Not bad for a game where you can’t even jump.

FGC #102 The Legend of Zelda

  • System: NES to start, but it’s appeared on nearly every Nintendo system since in one way or another. This is as it should be.
  • Number of players: One, but that’s only if you’re not think tanking better ways to menace Moblins.
  • SynergyFavorite Monster: To this day, I still don’t understand Darknuts. Like, they’re just armored dudes that walk around. They barely have AI. I can attack ‘em from three different directions. So why the hell am I so damn afraid of a group of more than two of the creepy buggers? That one room in Dungeon 3? Shivers.
  • Video Rental Memories: The distinct store where I rented The Legend of Zelda for the first time was named West Coast Video… but it was not in any way associated with the West Coast Video franchise. They must have eventually received a cease & desist order, and then changed their name to… No Name Video. No Name was still my go to rental location for the next, oh, decade or so, and was responsible for many a “Who’s on First” routine.
  • Did you know? I think Aquamentus must have peed on Miyamoto’s leg or something. Despite being the first boss ever in The Legend of Zelda, Aquamentus only ever reappears in Oracle of Seasons, a game that started as a remake of The Legend of Zelda anyway. And while the unicorn-dragon sits on the sidelines, the likes of Digdogger gets an acid-encrusted cousin in A Link to the Past, and Gohma and Manhandla blossom all over the place.
  • Would I play again: It’s kind of inevitable. The Legend of Zelda isn’t my favorite video game, or even my favorite Zelda game, but I always wind up replaying it when Nintendo sees fit to rerelease it. Come to think of it, I believe that holds true for any Zelda game… but maybe we’ll get an 8-bit Link amiibo out of the next rerelease.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Dig Dug Digging Strike for the Nintendo DS. I… seriously don’t even remember that game being released. Huh. Oh well, time to drill and pump all over again. I guess. Please look forward to it!

Xenosaga Episode I Part 10: The Death of Fun (and Cherenkov)

Previously on Xenosaga: Junior exploded, explored, and extra-exploded a U-TIC battleship. Albedo started his part-time job as a full-time nutbar.

Now we’re back to the Elsa, just rolling into dock at a random space stop. Wawa OF THE FUTURE! (… Wawa is a regional convenience store where I have personally consumed a great number of hoagies [hoagie is a regional term for delicious]).

Always open a scene on your heroine!… looking around confused.

Shion is like a heat seeking missile when it comes to delivering food. The Elsa is going to have an eating disorder before this game is over.

Word is Cherenkov wandered off into the colony, and turns out that might not have been the best idea.

Bad idea.

Worst idea.
Bad ideas intensify…