Tag Archives: vacation

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

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

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

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

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

I had to be, like, seven

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

I had to be, like, 37

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

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

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

38 for this one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metroid Dread is a Metroid Dream.

FGC #608 Metroid Dread

NOTE: Spoilers will appear in this area

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

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

Sorry birdie
This concludes my coverage of Metroid: Other Dads

FGC #194 Castlevania

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
— Matthew 16:26

Well, that depends on the value of the whole world, now doesn’t it?

WhoopsCastlevania was the start of the Castlevania franchise, a series of games that stretch from 1986 to the present. You want to claim Castlevania is dead? Fine, but know that “undead” and “returns every generation” is kind of the whole point of some stories. Regardless of Konami’s current health, Castlevania (1) started it all with a man, a whip, and a vampire with poor interior decorating skills.

To look back, it’s kind of amazing how much of Castlevania was established right there in its first game. Mermen, zombies, giant bats, medusa heads, and even all the significant subweapons premiered right alongside the Belmont clan. The iconic “entering the castle” opening and zombie-filled corridor has been repeated ad nauseam, and even more minor elements like wall meat and level clear celebratory orbs seem to have stuck around through the ages. Death is all around, particularly in the penultimate level, whether it’s the 21st century or some time back in The Crusades.

But then there’s the money thing.

kachingCastlevania was released in the age of the score, those halcyon days when, in the transition from arcade to home console, every game had to have a “kept” score. Presumably, this was to make it seem important to attain the “high score”, and some additional game replays could be wrung out of “sure, you beat it, but now try to beat it better.” And, in a number of games, your score could be increased by gathering some kind of collectible, whether it be money or strange little dots. Sometimes there was an explanation: Mario collects coins, because an extra life may be purchased for a hundred (this is likely why toads are always so nervous: they know the exact value of life in the Mushroom Kingdom). Mega Man accumulated orbs in his first adventure, but forsook the process by the time mecha dragons floated into the picture. Monster Hunter Arthur grabbed bags of loot throughout the Demon Realm, and Scrooge McDuck was just plain hording his wealth. Anybody know a place I can cash in this moon cheese?

Simon Belmont was no different from his contemporaries. Simon may find money bags all over Dracula’s Castle, and, considering the denominations, he should be pretty well off by the time this horrible night is complete.

Except… why? Why is Simon Belmont, a mystical combination of Conan the Barbarian and Van Helsing, looting a dilapidated castle of its few remaining treasures?

Get it allFirst, to shrug off any cries of “it’s just a gameplay quirk of the time”, consider that future “modern” Castlevania games often feature a shop of some kind. Symphony of the Night predominantly started the trend, but it seems like every following Dracula hunt featured a “mundane” character that simply wanted all the cash available to trade for a cruddy rack of lamb or potion. The prices seem a little beyond MSRP, but I suppose that’s the benefit of location: when you’ve got werewolves at the door, a healing potion suddenly becomes a lot more valuable. Regardless, the point is clear: Dracula’s Castle is loaded with loot, and an enterprising shop keep can really clean up.

But Simon has no such ally, so he’s hording every last dime for himself. Fair enough, I suppose. Not like he needs anything but an axe and whip to survive, anyway.

Oh, but I can already hear you, “What of Castlevania 2, hm? Simon does a fair bit of buying in that game! He even starts with enough purchasing power for some holy water!” Well guess what, smart guy, Simon isn’t using currency in Castlevania 2, he’s trading hearts for all purchasable items. This makes a certain amount of sense, as he’s exclusively buying gear that will aid him in vampire (parts) hunting, so why not trade raw monster guts for that stake? Couple this with a purchasable “infinity giant diamonds”, and it’s pretty clear that the local hunter economy is based not on actual dough, but whatever one can obtain while slaying a gaggle of skeletons.

Hey, they do line upBut it’s worth looking at Castlevania 2, too. Castlevania 2 is the only other adventure featuring Simon Belmont. Simon may have stared in a number of Castlevania games, but they were all “remakes” of the original quest. Simon enters castle, re-kills an undead monstrosity or two, slays Dracula, and then retreats to a nearby cliff to count his winnings. Tell the same story over and over again, it doesn’t say what happens next, which is the exclusive domain of (the surprisingly never remade) Castlevania 2. By the time of C2 (seven years later), Simon is forced to fight the forces of Dracula once again thanks to a curse inflicted upon the poor lad during their (incorrectly designated) final battle. Despite the fact that Simon saved everyone from an unending, bloody death, the people of Castlevania do very little to aid Simon, and often confuse the adventurer with tales of head banging and graveyard ducks.

Why? Why are the people of Castlevania as hostile to Simon as the monsters that emerge from poison bogs?

The answer is simple: Simon robbed the hell out of Castlevania, and blew it all on a seven year vacation.

Dracula is a bad guy, right? And he’s got a literal army of the undead. The undead don’t need much (what with being mostly dead and all), so that’s an army that doesn’t need to be fed, clothed (skeletons are notorious exhibitionists), or even desire standard living (ha!) conditions. Yet Dracula likely accrues a lot of cash from his victims, because, hey, who walks around broke? Going to suck the blood out of a guy, why not see if he’s got some pocket change on ‘em? Torment a country long enough, and you’ve got a pile of coins just laying around. What to do? Well why not hang your bags of gold from the candles as a clear sign that you’re the king of this castle? Check it: I’ve got my bling out in the open, and whatcha gonna do about it? Go ahead, grab that cash, you’ll be fleaman chow by morning.

But Simon, brave hero of his people, took that money back. He whipped every candle, murdered every merman, and reclaimed the riches of Castlevania.

MINEExcept… he didn’t share.

Again, there’s a seven year gap between Castlevania and Castlevania 2. As of Castlevania 2, the people of Castlevania treat Simon as a stranger. There is no “this is my house” or “this is my family”, he’s just here in the kingdom like the Warriors of Light that wandered into Cornelia. It’s pretty clear that Simon has been away for a while. Where? Well, where would you go if you had an entire kingdom’s worth of treasure and just spent a night in a dank, dilapidated castle? The answer is, clearly, someplace sunny. I can’t speak to the vacation spots of 1691, but I’m pretty damn sure there had to be somewhere with beaches and a complete lack of medusas within traveling distance. You can hire a pretty fast carriage ride with enough gold to support entire towns.

Simon knew about his curse. You don’t just forget about wounds incurred while battling an immortal bloodsucker, but he did his best to ignore any issues for nearly a decade. After all, what’s the point in being alive if you have to spend it in a town constantly trying to sell you stupid multicolored crystals? Screw that noise, blow their savings on another daiquiri, and, if the curse gets to be too much, then come back and toast those Dracula bits. Besides, it’s not like that would be that hard. It’s not like the people of Castlevania would hold a grudge, and hide Dracula’s various organs all over the countryside out of spite. That would be ridiculous.

So what profit is it to a man, if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul? I dunno, a seven year vacation sounds pretty alright. I can barely score a three-day weekend, I think Simon had a pretty good life there for a while. And it all worked out okay in the end, right? Simon survives 66% of Castlevania 2 endings, and that ain’t bad. Let the grandkids deal with the monsters, it’s time for another appletini.

FGC #194 Castlevania

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and probably more systems than I can count thanks to various ports. If we include remakes, it’s every system ever. Probably. Commodore 64 is somehow in there, at least.
  • Number of players: There might be score-keeping in Castlevania, but there isn’t a vestigial 2 player co-op mode. Only one vampire killer here.
  • Come on!Favorite Boss: I’m going to go with Medusa because it’s the only boss that doesn’t strike mortal fear into my heart. Frankenstein’s Monster and Death are both nearly impossible in this game, and, while I know what to do at this point, there’s still far too much stress even knowing I’m approaching those guys.
  • What about Giant Bat: If you get demoted to regular monster by the last level, you don’t count.
  • An end: The ending of Castlevania displays a “cast roll” that seems to imply that Castlevania was simply a movie/play with ersatz horror movie actors. This was cut from later releases, probably because Altered Beast did it better.
  • Did you know? There are unused items in Castlevania’s sprite maps. Everyone knows you can obtain a crown, treasure chest, and moai head through careful searching, but there are also sprites for women’s shoes, coffee, a letter (sealed with a heart), and… a basket of kittens. I would play a Castlevania game that was just a Belmont escorting a basket of kittens through the castle.
  • Would I play again? Yes! …. Wait, no. Castlevania 3 still exists. Almost forgot.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Drill Dozer for the Gameboy Advance. Get your rumble ready! Please look forward to it!