Tag Archives: vic viper

FGC #066 Gradius III

LET'S GO!It’s hard to believe now, when a new system is just a $600 barrier to prevent playing Final Fantasy: The Next Generation, but back in 1991, the launch of the Super Nintendo was practically a religious experience. The Nintendo Entertainment System had redefined gaming, and, while there had been about 7,000 different Atari iterations, the NES, to my childish mind, was a system that would be the same forever. Little gray cartridges, gently blown, would be slotted into that equally gray box until the end of time, and Mega Man 34 (featuring Sad Man) should be coming out this Christmas. You have to remember, the NES went from barely being able to support an arcade port of 75% of Donkey Kong to pumping out the gothic masterpiece that was Castlevania 3, so there was no reason to believe there could even be a ceiling to the little system that could: we’d just play NES games forever.

But, no, for the betterment of all mankind, Nintendo (Power) announced the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a video game console with an unfathomable 16-bits of processing power (whatever that means), a new controller with double the buttons (L & R? What the hell?), and a cartridge slot that didn’t make that unfortunate creaking noise (not widely advertised). As one may expect, I begged my parents for the latest in entertainment, because, surely, this must be the apex of gaming, nay, civilization, and I would never need anything new ever again… aside from the myriad of new SNES games, of course. But still! Little facesI mean, how could I live without the SNES? It had a new Mario Bros. game, for crying out loud!

So, Christmas, 1991, I received a new Super Nintendo and three new SNES games, because I was spoiled like last month’s milk. Super Mario World was a given, as this was the golden era when video game systems actually came with games, as opposed to demos (later), download codes (much later), or absolutely nothing (I hate you, N64). The other fruits of my bounty were Final Fight (the only single player game that I received/a sin against God) and Gradius III. I had actually used Final Fight as an example of the kind of amazing games that would now be available at home (I spent a lot of time at the arcade, so I did my best to convince my parents that this system/game would be an investment that would save them money/gas), so it was no great surprise when that arrived under the Christmas tree. Gradius III, however, was a complete mystery to me, and, to this day, I’m not certain as to why it was chosen for that precious third slot (which, as my birthday is in late April, would be the last I’d see a new game until Spring). Aside from a clerk just recommending whatever stock he wanted to deplete, the best I can figure is that I already had Gradius for NES, and my parents had seen me playing the game, so they decided to pick up the sequel.

Only problem? I hated Gradius.

Gradius belongs to the space shmup genre, and the record will show that I enjoy that genre very much. Now. Back then, however, Gradius was practically my kryptonite. A to jump, B to run? I could finish that game in an hour. A to jump, B to shoot? Nothing to it, I’ll see an enemy base exploding by nightfall. Even something weird like that top-down elf simulator with the MOVE MOVE MOVEold man handing out swords was doable after a few a stops and starts. But Gradius? And similar games, like Abadox or Life Force? Forget it. I distinctly remember renting Abadox as a child, and never making it past the second level even after playing it continuously for three days. I, just now, pulled up a video of Gradius and… let’s see here… yes, I don’t think I ever consistently made it past the third, Moai based level. And I know I never beat that game, as I never forget a giant brain. I owned Gradius as a child, which makes it one of those rarified NES games I played constantly (because I’m pretty sure there were something like 68 hours in a day when I was a child), but I barely ever made it past level three.

I was good at other video games. I could beat other video games. Clearly, the problem was with the game.

So, let us return to that fateful Christmas. I distinctly recall that, by Christmas Dinner (about 5 PM, my holidays were always carefully regimented as a child), I had to be torn away from Super Mario’s World, where I had already reached Star Road 5. After the meal, I would see Special World conquered before Boxing Day. Final Fight was a game I was “saving” for my best friend and neighbor with whom I had trounced Double Dragon II, and, two player or not, Metro City had been saved before the new year. But Gradius III? I’m completely certain my SNES never saw that game’s ending, but saw its Level 1 more times than I ever booted the Virtual Boy.

Burn, baby, burnAnd it’s a shame, too, because Gradius III has some really interesting levels. Yes, they’re all just auto-scrolling shoot ‘em up bullet gauntlets, but they’re not just grass world, ice world, desert world, techno world like so many lesser games would have puked out. Some of the stages include some really interesting vistas that even use those old tropes to great effect, like the flaming world that births some particularly nasty dragons. I’d make the assertion that every single one of Gradius III’s stages are memorable, possibly with the exception of Level 3, though that world seems like a loving homage to the original Gradius more than anything else, and includes an underground area, so, really, what is there to complain about?

But, despite my (literally) best efforts, I could barely pilot the Vic Viper out of Moai World’s gravity. I can actually tell you the exact spot that ended my quests so many times, and that’s the plantasaurus rex creature at the end of the vegetation planet, Level 6. Two of my favorite levels follow that boss, and I can’t tell if I genuinely enjoyed those stages as a kid, or if I was just so elated to ever see those worlds after so many wasted deaths. I would have been happy to beat Gradius III, but even more than that, I just wanted to see what the rest of the game had to offer.

I have no idea when I actually finally “got good” at shmups. I want to say it was sometime around when I started playing Death Smiles, a game I purchased because the “special edition” had dropped in value to somewhere around the cost of a NEVER FORGETgumball. Somehow, I found I was really quite good at the game, and, sometime shortly thereafter, I returned to the shmups that had tormented me in my youth, and blasted all the cores I could find. Maybe I had gotten better at pattern recognition, or my TV had gotten large enough to actually see what was happening, or maybe Bangai-O rewired my DNA. I don’t know, but, coupled with their delightfully limited length, the shmup went from something I feared like the plague to one of my most preferred genres, second only to games that can be described as “Like Mega Man, but”.

Gradius III and I may have reconciled, but I’ll never forget that utter feeling of helplessness when faced with a completely insurmountable challenge. So, the next time you hear someone railing against Nintendo’s love of “super guides”, or tutorials and modern innovations making franchises that used to be difficult “too easy’, remember that there’s a kid out there just trying to enjoy his Christmas present, and hoping that this time, maybe, he’ll finally see Level 7. There’s a great big galaxy out there, why not open it up for everybody?

FGC #66 Gradius III

  • System: Super Nintendo, and available on the Wii Virtual Console.
  • Number of Players: 2, alternating. Lord British flies again!
  • Port-o-Call: There’s also the original Arcade version, which I believe saw release on the Playstation 2 as part of a compilation. It is, basically, an entirely different game, and completely impossible.
  • Impossible? If you thought the SNES version was difficult, the arcade version barely makes it to the Level 2 Bubble Boss before it turns into an absolute bullet hell, and then never lets up. And there’s no continues. And option stealers steal all of your options. And every once in a while, a little man exits the arcade cabinet and kicks you right in the balls. If you don’t have balls, he just stares at you in an unsettling manner.
  • Favorite Stage: World 8, “Mayors on Parade” aka the Boss Rush. I could play level after level of just nothing but Gradius bosses. Somebody at Treasure, evidently, agrees.
  • Favorite Weapon Setup: Here it is.
    I am a creature of habit

    Is it the reason I couldn’t get anywhere for years? I don’t know, but I do know that I enjoy charging lasers. It’s like Mega Man, but in space.
  • Konami Code: I want to say this is the only video game, ever, where the precious Konami Code outright kills you. If you want all your powerups at once, you’re going to have to use those new fangled L & R buttons. I don’t think that permutation of the code ever returned, either. You’re weird, Gradius III.
  • Did you know? I want to say the arcade version of Gradius III is the worst cabinet to ever hit the arcade. As mentioned, there’s no continues, but it’s longer than the home version. The end result? 25¢ for a game that is over an hour long. That’s just bad math! Well, okay, it would likely take a million quarters to actually get good enough to do that, but it still seems like poor design. Maybe next time just make the whole thing a pachinko machine.
  • Would I play again: Yeah, probably. The nostalgia is strong with this one, and, for all my deaths as a child, it feels oddly empowering to revisit the game and blow all those planets to smithereens. Not like we’re getting any new Gradius games, anyway…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Xenoblade Chronicles! ROB, you rascally child of mechonis, have you been getting jealous of my side projects? Oh well, seems like a good time to hit this one anyway, so it’s Shulk time! Come on, you bunch of jokers, look forward to it!

Retro stage, maybe

FGC #012 Otomedius Excellent

To everything, turn turn turnOur culture has a problem with death. Obviously, it is a fundamental aspect of being alive to fear death. You may even say it is something of an evolutionary imperative, as every single one of your ancestors lived at least long enough to survive some aspect of puberty, which, if my experience is correct, can last as long as thirty years. Nothing would get done if everyone was dying all the time, which is also why no one ever visits the Fire Planes of Kratok, or the Dread Island of Dr. Lasereverything.

But beyond a personal fear of death, we, as a society, seem to fear the death of others equally. It’s only natural to mourn the passing of a beloved grandparent, or even weep at the thought of losing someone close, no matter what the circumstances. There’s a kind of hope in living, some irrationality that makes us believe that even though Missy the Cat is missing three limbs, 1.5 eyes, her tail, and is starting to smell a bit unusual, maybe she’s going to pull through, and we’ll have our adorable little fluff ball back. It’s absurd from a rational perspective, but dealing with death can almost never be coherent, and witness any “death with dignity” debate to see just how heated convictions can become on this topic. We see death as a threat, and rarely as a mercy.

So it’s only natural that we apply this same brand of thinking to imaginary entities. Done right, death in media can be poignant and lasting, even in a medium like movies where, technically, every single character is effectively erased from existence within an hour and a half, but who can forget the death of REDACTED in REDACTED? On the other side of the coin, there’s “comic book death”, wherein a character that has lasted for six decades is dead now, totally completely dead (otherwise the issue wouldn’t have an entirely black cover with just the logo [and price tag]), and, make no mistake, this character is gone forever, please care, and we totally swear he’s not going to be back in eight months in a thrilling, six part trade. It’s, again, irrational, but it seems to work, as comic book companies report major sales every time they kill Spider-Man or Batman or whoever is hopping into the threshing machine this week. It’s death, so it matters.

Pixels the size of golf ballsAnd then there’s the most slippery of all deaths: the death of an idea. It has been said time and time again, by revolutionaries and rulers, that you cannot kill an idea. No matter what, as long as someone thinks it, as long as some ancient grimoire survives, an idea will live on. But ideas in the modern era have become IPs, and people, particularly gamers, are attached to these “ideas”. Ask any Mega Man fan, and you will likely hear a lament regarding the death of the Blue Bomber. If this happens to you, literally slap them in the face, and remind them that in approximately a year’s time, we’ve seen Mega Man the character join one of the most popular franchises of all time, the game series itself wrapped into a brand new, affordable six game set for the newest generation of consoles, and games like Shovel Knight and Mighty No. 9 carrying on the spirit of the little metal boy’s gameplay. But, boo hoo, we haven’t seen Mega Man 11 or Mega Man X9 or Mega Man ZYX Battle Force 4: Purple Flaming Skull of Wily. Ideas, and even IPs, are undead, like Castlevania’s own Dracula, all just biding their time until it’s decided they’ll turn a profit again. Mark my words, if Little Mac can reenter the ring, then we’ll see Master Higgins waddling across the islands again.

But “death” is still scary for us, and if “the public” doesn’t deal well with death, then what of our corporate overlords? Surely they can’t just sit idly by and watch the likes of Gradius or Castlevania fade into memory, supporting only pachinko machines and waiting for some VP twenty years down the line asking “Oh, whatever happened to…” Even if franchises like Parodius don’t sell, there must be a way to transform those precious ideas into earnings, right?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Otomedius Excelllent, the greatest evidence for the concept of IP death with dignity I can find.

Right off the bat, the gameplay here is Gradius. Straight-up Gradius: collect powerups, grab your speed-up, missles, laser (screw you, double), options, and force field, battle in space against weird lines of balls and then on a “planet” of some kind, reach the boss, destroy the core, live, die, repeat. There is practically nothing, from a level to level perspective, that differentiates this game from Gradius. And, to be absolutely clear, this is not a franchise published by some newcomer lawyer dodger that is just aping the original: this is Konami, the originators of Gradius. Konami made a Gradius game, and didn’t call it Gradius. Why?

Look away!Because Vic Vipers don’t go to Heaven.

It’s a known fact that there’s a lucrative “pervert” market in Japan. I mean, let’s not mince words here, there’s a place for porn in every society, it’s not like there isn’t a dildo factory or two hanging around the USA, we just have different kinks. The Land of the Free will keep pumping out games with Greek Murder Gods going for hot coffee with random wenches, and Japan is going to keep producing games for the otaku that eat up underdressed school girls having whacky adventures and often finding themselves comparing bust sizes in hot springs. … Man, come to think of it, I thought my own kinks were oddly specific, but what got an entire subculture hung up on the same stupid beach episodes over and over again?

However it happened, it happened, and it doesn’t seem to be going away, as indicated by that copy of Omega Quintet I purchased last month while I was drunk, I swear, you can’t prove anything. Er-hem. So Konami had the bright idea to solder the teen girl squad dynamic onto Gradius, and, poof, here’s Otomedius Excelllent, it’s like that game you used to play, but bubblegum colored and every time you beat the game, you unlock more and more embarrassing photos of the pilots in various states of undress. It’s the best of no worlds!

Nothing about this is okayKonami couldn’t stop at Gradius, though, the rest of the cast and some locations feature significant references to Parodius, Castlevania, and even Ganbare Goemon (Mystical Ninja, for those of you… no, never mind, if you remember Mystical Ninja at all, you know its Japanese name. Why did I think otherwise?). That’s right, folks, the last anyone saw of a 2-D Belmont was in a magical girl Gradius game. Got your Battle of 1999 right here, guys!

It’s a strange thing, too, as one of my most cherished franchises is Super Smash Bros., which takes a similar “kitchen sink” approach to disparate franchises and characters, but creates an air of reverence and admiration for its cast, as opposed to what we see here, where the order of the day seems to be to transform icons into teenage girls and stick ‘em in bloomers. Make no mistake, no one is reviving Goemon here because there’s a genuine love for the parent franchise, it’s because, hey, you know what IP we have laying around? Goemon! Let’s design some DLC based on that! And Ebisumaru dies a little more inside. Or farts. He probably farts.

So why do I even own this game that clearly sickens me? Because it is Gradius. As I’ve mentioned, it plays like Gradius, I enjoy Gradius, so I’m going to keep playing it. Sad confession? This is probably one of my most played Xbox 360 games, and exclusively because (we’ve covered this) I like Gradius. It’s fun, it’s “pick up and play”, and I can complete an entire game session inside of an hour or so. When I just want to “play a video game” but still want to avoid getting involved in some forty hour plot or going online and getting my ass whopped by some frame-memorizing savant, I just fire up Gradius… I mean… Otomedius Excelllent, and bust up a few big cores.

Tanuki!According the Wikipedia, the most recent Gradius game released is a 2011 slot machine. Predominantly, the world of shooters now is the likes of Geometry Wars and twin stick shooters, which, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy, but they’re not Gradius. I could just go back to Gradius V, but Otomedius Excelllent does PLAY well, the only issue is it just embarrasses every fiber of my being. I don’t believe Gradius is dead, it’s just enjoying a respite beneath a hill in Avalon, waiting to awaken one day when we are most in need. But in the meanwhile, perhaps we can just let the king rest, build a few more empires in his absence, and let Vic Viper’s return be a celebrated event.

But can we avoid digging up a corpse and sticking a skirt on it. Please?

FGC #12 Otomedius Excelllent

  • System: Xbox 360, which seems wrong, but there it is.
  • Number of Players: 3, though I’ve never been able to admit to another living soul that I own this game. Incidentally, this blog will self destruct in three minutes.
  • Love ya, Konami LadyBest Pilot: Erul Tron, pilot of Lord British. Everytime I remind myself that I can recall this information at will, it feels like there are spiders crawling all over me.
  • But Tell Us How You Really Feel: Honestly, the idea of a “little” Gradius craft is kind of a fun concept. There’s a level that involves racing along a highway, and you’re no bigger than cars; later, there’s a boss that is an “original” Big Core Gradius boss that now completely dwarfs your avatar. It’s really clever for a game that couldn’t be more otaku bait if it included a Vocaloid.
  • Don’t You Own All the US released Vocaloid Games? I like rhythm games. Shut-up.
  • Did You Know? The “Special Edition” is, as of this writing, still available for less than a Jackson on Amazon.com. The Special Edition includes the game, a soundtrack, an art book, a two sided pillow case, and, for absolutely no additional charge, the sound of me silently judging you from afar. It resonates with disappointment.
  • Would I play again? Yeah… (Goggle Bob looks at the floor, forlorn) Yeah…

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the original, Genesis version, for the record. I don’t understand, though, why isn’t Big the Cat in this game? Oh well. Please look forward to it!