Tag Archives: wayforward

FGC #475 Contra 4

Get 'emSometimes a game isn’t the “best” in the franchise. Sometimes a game goes well beyond such an accolade. Sometimes a game is the “most” in the franchise. And, for the Contra franchise, Contra 4 is the most Contra that has ever existed.

When considering the most a franchise has ever been, you immediately realize that some franchises will literally never have a “most” entry. Final Fantasy, for instance, wildly bounces around different narratives and gameplay styles within its own releases. By the time we hit Final Fantasy 7, for instance, you could say its techno-magic world was already trite within the franchise (see FF6) or a crazy deviation from the franchise’s origins (see FF1). That gulf has only widened with time, so your “best” Final Fantasy has equal odds on containing a Ramuh that is a wizened old lightning wizard or some manner of buff centaur. They’re both valid, but also equally impossible to quantify as the definition of a feature within a franchise. Mario games are similar, as it’s very difficult to see Donkey Kong existing in even the same universe as Super Mario Odyssey (and not just because Bowser got bored and literally rebooted the universe). You’ve always got your goombas and your princesses and whatnot, but the simple act of jumping varies incredibly whether or not there are four players or black holes about. How can you say what is the most Mario when the only connecting tissue in his universe is a pair of blue overalls?

But sometimes the more iterative games are even worse. Mega Man had a very straight line through the NES era, and, even when a Mega Man title is released today, it is still very much like its forbearers. However, it seems every Mega Man title adds some new wrinkle to the formula, whether that be something like slides or armor made from dogs (well, one dog). And, while you can still subjectively choose a “best” Mega Man, the entire franchise doesn’t seem to include one title that is simply the finest of literally everything that has come before it. You won’t earn that accolade by adding gears or a dash to the preexisting gameplay. And, ultimately, that is how we define what a “most” game must be: a game that takes everything from the previous entries, cuts off the crusts, and forms an enchanting sandwich filled with only the absolute best parts.

And Contra 4 is that sandwich. And it is delicious.

… Even if it is stuffed with an overabundance of alien larvae.

Creepy CrawlyIf you hadn’t played Contra (1) in a while (which, considering Contra 4 was released in celebration of Contra’s 20th anniversary, was very likely for many people), you might be forgiven for assuming Contra 4 was some kind of remake or reimagining. Many of the familiar trappings of Contra are right there from the beginning (like a certain laser core wall or a dragon gate at the top of a waterfall [its name is Gromaides, you buffoon]), and levels do have a tendency to switch from radical 2-D to tolerable 3-D hallway-based fortresses. And there’s a giant, pulsating heart at the (an) end, too! But then you might notice there are a few items from Super Contra (3) in there, too, like a ruined cityscape ruled by an enormous alien, or a final alien monster that needs to be brain-blasted. And isn’t that giant robot straight out of Contra: Hard Corps? Black Viper from Operation C? A mountain of corpses from Shattered Soldier? Is that whole ruined city the one from Contra Force, a game absolutely no one has ever played? Holy cow, this isn’t a remake! This is everything that has ever appeared in a 2-D Contra! It’s maximum Contra!

And it’s not just about the setting, bosses, and strangely high number of gross bugs scuttling about: Contra 4 is also about condensing the Contra gameplay to its most recognizable form. The grappling hook feels like the only thing we haven’t seen before in 2-D Contra, and it vaguely feels like something that was added more for managing the dual screens of the DS. But aside from that addition? There is literally nothing here that hasn’t been seen before. Two weapons for runnin’ n’ gunnin’, a jump for alien vaulting, and your always trusty ability to duck (eat it, Mega Man) is all you need to complete this adventure. And the weapons are all basic Contra mainstays, like the laser, machine gun, or that whaddyacallit thingy that blows up real good. Grenade launcher? Crusher? Something like that. But even though everything here is familiar, it’s also its best possible self. You will not be straddled with the crappy laser of the NES version, this laser gun is the best it has ever been (and we will hear nothing of classic versions). And Spread? Your opponents have seemingly been arranged in ideal spread formations, so Spread has never felt so… right. ZAPAnd that’s how Contra 4 feels in a nutshell: there are so many situations and abilities involved that, while it’s all been done before, it is done so perfectly here that, when you hit your stride, it feels amazing. The fact that later levels are gated behind limited lives and continues is not an accident: it is a way of telling the player that the ideal way to play Contra 4 is to play it while coasting on the high of a death-defying run.

This article could just be a list of the ways Contra 4 references other Contra games. This could be a list of the ways Contra 4 refines the Contra experience that has come before. I could even do my best to note how upgrading weapons starts out impossible, and quickly becomes second nature. But, when you get right down to it, everything about that would be entirely perfunctory. In much the same way Contra 4 is the most Contra, there is no real way to explain how Contra 4 works beyond just saying “go play Contra 4”. It is Contra. It is every Contra. It’s all the good of the franchise wrapped up in one perfect little cartridge.

Contra 4 may subjectively be the best Contra game, but it is certainly objectively the most Contra game that has ever existed.

FGC #475 Contra 4

  • System: Nintendo DS. This is the only issue, as not only is the game tied to an extinct system, it is also made flawlessly for said extinct system. There was no way the dual screen-based stages were ever going to work in a WiiU tablet/television situation, and it barely works (thanks to screen dimensions) on the 3DS. And now either option barely exists anyway! Sorry, everyone I just told to play Contra 4!
  • Number of players: I’m going to assume that it’s two, but I’ve never played this game with a buddy. Maybe the two player mode isn’t great? Maybe it’s wholly perfect, too? Don’t know. Don’t care.
  • Damn bugsFavorite Character: I know it’s Wayforward being Wayforward with its female characters, but I appreciate Sheena Etranzi, the heroine of Hard Corps, appearing in Contra 4. She’s, what, the only female character in the franchise that isn’t at least partially a robot/bionoid? Is that right? Even if she winds up being “the hot blonde” on the roster, she’s still representing 51% of humanity like a champ.
  • Super Code: You can enter the Konami code to obtain some extra lives (which are rather essential when you’re starting out in this death-coaster), but code entry requires screen tapping in that familiar pattern to earn your cheat. This is simultaneously very cute and very annoying.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I would like to stretch this article to insane lengths so I have more room for screenshots, but… that apparently isn’t happening. Damn!
  • Did you know? The boss of the city zone, Crustacean Cruiser, is eerily reminiscent of a similar giant bug boss in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Ohme. Given that giant slug is one of my favorite fights in both franchises, I’m going to allow this random, universe-shattering homage.
  • Would I play again: This is the best Contra and one of the best Nintendo DS games available. It’s just a damned shame that the Nintendo DS isn’t so viable anymore… But I will find a way to play it all again! I swear!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 9! Speaking of games that try to encompass everything that has come before, here’s the adventure of our second-favorite Saiyan in fantasy land! Please look forward to it!

The eyes have it

FGC #396 Centipede: Infestation

GrossCentipede: Infestation is a 2011 Wayforward/Atari jaunt that sees heroic Max attempting to destroy legions of giant, irradiated bugs. It is, basically, a twin stick shooter on two different systems that don’t really have twin sticks. The 3DS version utilizes the crosspad and the traditional ABXY buttons, while the Wii employs some manner of sorcery and requires the player to point the wiimote in their desired aiming direction. And that’s lame, so just use the classic controller. Beyond the control scheme, Centipede: Infestation is basically just a shoot ‘em up with a familiar, ancient license attached. Thanks for playing, please look forward to Dig Dug: Earthquake.

But Centipede: Infestation does have the faintest glimmer of a plot, and it goes something like “sure, bugs are gigantic, deadly nuisances, but are they really the enemy?” We should love nature! And are insects the enemy for the minor crime of creeping across the kitchen counter? That doesn’t seem right! So let’s look at a few of the little buggers.

We’re going to look at real live bugs now, so you’ve been warned…

WW #04 Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

Due to the subject matter of this entire week, some items may be NSFW. We’ve got some PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware

Here's everybody!I’ve mentioned my buddy Matt before. Matt has two sons, one of which is prime video game playing age. As Matt and I are both tremendous nerds, no one disparages the child’s hobby, and while Uncle Goggle Bob may have had to unlock some of the more difficult content in some games (“Thanks for unlocking the weird mushroom, Goggle Bob”), the kid is pretty good for playing games to completion. Not too long ago, Matt’s kid dug up his father’s old Gameboy, and started playing Metroid 2. And, despite the game having the same graphical fidelity as a damp tissue, he enjoyed it. So, knowing that I’m a giant videogame nerd, Matt asked me what would be an ideal, similar game for the 3DS (his child’s general system of choice). Two games came to mind.

  1. Shovel Knight, because, while it may be difficult, I know the kid also enjoyed Duck Tales, so, ya know, if he enjoys Samus Aran and Scrooge McDuck, this seems like a slam dunk. Might be a little too difficult though, so I also considered…
  2. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse which, while it may rely on the Link’s Adventure formula of exploration, was still very close to Metroid 2 metroidvania gameplay. It also featured another fierce heroine (as opposed to hero), which is probably a good thing for boys to see every once in a while.

So, after deliberating on both choices, I decided to only recommend Shovel Knight. Want to know why? Well, in, say, Metroid 2, how do you get deeper into the game? You “land” on the planet, grab some powerups, shoot some blocks, discover the Alpha Metroid, kill it, and then proceed downward past some receding lava. This is some pretty typical video game advancement, so maybe we’ll look The Legend of Zelda 2: Link’s Adventure. In that game, it’s not unusual to have to deal with a villager that is claiming they have some spell or item you need, but you have to perform a fetch quest to obtain whatever this puissant peasant wants. Go to the Deadly Cave, obtain the Trophy, drag it back to Tom, Tom forks over the Jump Spell, and then it’s time to leap over that ledge in Frightening Cave and head onto Second Dungeon. This is much closer to how Shantae works.

Actually, let’s be particular about how Shantae “works”…

FGC #217 Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know!

What time is it?I want to like this game so bad. So, so very bad.

What I like: It’s Adventure Time!

I love Adventure Time! I’ve loved Adventure Time for a long time! I started watching the show approximately at the start of the second season, and, I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s a good show with a slightly off kilter view of the universe, and, frankly, it’s funny and adventurous. Jake the Dog and Finn the Human save and snicker at Ooo in equal measure, and that’s awesome for someone like me with a vague “laugh it off” life philosophy. And did I mention the mythology of the Adventure Time world? The apparently teenage princess of candy land is nearly a thousand years old, and was ultimately born of a catastrophically explosive war? Sign me the glob up!

Also, there’s Lumpy Space Princess, and that gal is always a good time.

What I like: It’s Adventure Time (for real)!

Chop chopNow, just because you’ve got the Adventure Time license, that doesn’t mean you’ve got a “true” Adventure Time game. The previous Wayforward Adventure Time game, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!!, was a Zelda 2-esque adventure game starring Finn and Jake… but it seemed to take random liberties with the characters. No, it wasn’t like Finn suddenly had the ability to fly and Jake could turn into a seven-headed hydra or something, but the whole thing stunk of “we need to randomly insert this character because he/she is popular, and who cares if it fits in the Adventure Time world”. Here’s Flame Princess… just… hanging out? Here’s Lemongrab… for some reason? And LSP becomes a world-destroying threat? Uh… okay. The game was generally good, make no mistake, but the plot and overall setting felt a lot like the licensed games of days gone by: here’s a great concept for a videogame, and we’ve quickly slapped an Adventure Time skin on the affair so as to fleece the kiddies (and adult-shaped kiddies). Again: good game, but it seems like a videogame based on an animated series that contains so many videogame influences should have had much better gaming synergy.

However, it seems the folks at WayforWard learned from their mistakes. Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! got Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time creator) completely on board, and the game is, in its entirety, canon. Yes, I am the kind of nerd that believes dreaded continuity to be the devil that destroyed the comics industry (everything about that statement is a lie), and I don’t think a videogame has to be “canon” to be “real”, but here… it makes a difference. I liked AT:HIK!WYSOG?!! despite its continuity gaffes, but every single one still took me out of the experience. It’s a silly, superfluous complaint to have, but I like to be immersed in my videogames based on a children’s properties. AT:EtDBIDK! seems to more properly handle each character, and even offers additional mythology through the story and its finale. As someone that feeds on ridiculous stories, I couldn’t be happier.

What I like: It’s Retro!

HDAdventure Time has a decidedly retro flair to its aesthetics, so it seems only natural that its tie-in videogames would appear to be similarly “8-bit”. From the title screen to the cinema scenes, AT:EtDBIDK! hues closely to a pixelated style that is a fine simulation of classic games. And, no, it’s not just retro for the sake of being retro; it really does seem appropriate for this literal dungeon crawler to look similar to the dungeon crawlers of decades ago (well, the ones that weren’t just text-based, at least). There’s more than a little Gauntlet in the DNA of this adventure, so a similarity to Midway quarter munchers is practically required. The whole thing should make BMO happy. Actually, speaking of which…

What I like: Hey, an actual use for the WiiU gamepad!

This game was released for practically every system available at its launch (nobody loves you, Vita), but the WiiU version contained a special feature. Rather than just offer the option to play the game on the big screen or the lil’ gamepad (like, ya know, every non-Nintendo game released for the WiiU ever), AT:EtDBIDK! sticks BMO on the gamepad, so you get to venture through the depths with a constant, adorable companion. It’s not exactly a system selling feature (I never need to hear the phrase, “Try it with mustard!” ever again), but it is cute and very Adventure Time appropriate. It also makes every other company that claimed they could never do anything with the WiiU gamepad look like an asshole, so thank you for that, Wayforward. It’s the little things that make a game great, even when that little thing is a minuscule, sentient game system.

What I like: The other little things!

PoofThis is a very Adventure Time game, and it’s clear that there was a deliberate move to maintain that Adventure Time feeling through everything. Cyclops tears cure status ailments. Status ailments include being cursed by a Hug Wolf. There’s a kitten gun (that’s a gun that shoots out kittens, as opposed to a gun meant for shooting kittens, or a gun that is kitten-appropriate sized). There are malevolent deer. Fiona and Cake are not real. Princess Bubblegum collects tyrannical taxes. Marceline the Vampire Queen doesn’t actually “die” in a dungeon, she seems to simply get annoyed and leave. From top to bottom, this is a very dedicated Adventure Time experience.

And there are easter eggs for retro-fanatics, too! The magic wand blasts out Legend of Zelda-style magic waves. A pile of skeletons isn’t the only Castlevania reference skulking around, and Choose Goose is channeling every JRPG merchant that ever was. There’s just so much to like here!

What I don’t like: This game sucks

Despite everything, this game sucks. Character movement speed is atrocious, and the monsters are too fast or the dungeons are too big (or both). It seems to take absolutely forever to get anywhere, and practically everything feels uphill. Worthwhile loot starts at, what, 100 pieces of treasure? Per floor, you’re lucky if you find 20 helpings of treasure. By my calculations, that means it would take for-freaking-ever to purchase anything worthwhile. There’s a powerup to make everything go faster!… but it’s a rogue-like, and you could potentially lose that hard-earned ability after a particularly costly hummingbird ambush. Now it’s back to square one! Woo!

ChillyBut you know what? The slow, plodding gameplay could work. Some of my favorite games are slow as balls, so that just means I utilize that rad WiiU gamepad and play the game on the small screen while watching horrible anime or something. Oh, wait, no… while the typical dungeon floors are slow and generally innocuous, the boss fights can be difficult and based on completely different skill sets (let’s play hide and seek!), so I better pay complete attention to those events, or risk losing my every last treasure. AT:EtDBIDK! isn’t consistent with its tedium, so, rather than getting to relax and enjoy a unique adventure, I’m constantly on edge. This isn’t Silent Hill. I love Harry Mason’s adventures, but sometimes I just want to be Jake the Dog and play a fun game while enjoying an everything burrito. Is that so wrong?

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! has a lot to like, but its gameplay completely turns me off. I really want to like everything about this game, but it is not to be. Maybe next time we’ll get an adventure where the fun will never end.

FGC #217 Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know!

  • System: WiiU is my preference, but you may also enjoy the experience on a Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, or Nintendo 3DS. I understand the 3DS version is atrocious, but I’ve never tried it, so that might just be typical internet hyperbole.
  • Number of players: Four, though I could not in good conscious ever recommend we play this game to my social circle. I still have at least one friend that is in an endless boredom coma thanks to playing Fortune Street, so I don’t want to risk the slowness of this title. Particularly when there are better Gauntlets about.
  • HUGS!Favorite character: Marceline the Vampire Queen and her rad axe are all I need. I’d choose her if she didn’t already have floaty powers, I swear. Then again, maybe I just have a weakness for vampires.
  • So, did you beat it? Nope. According to my in-game clock, I put fifteen hours into this game, and that’s about when I quit. I looked up the ending on Youtube, and the final boss fight looked… monotonous. That was pretty much the final nail in the coffin.
  • Did you know? Adventure Time has a ludicrously complicated and depressing backstory involving nuclear war and the destruction of nearly the entire human race. And it was all foreshadowed from the first second of the opening animation of every episode. Good job, Pen Ward.
  • Would I play again: Nooooope.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Skate or Die! Oh snap, I’m probably going to die. Please look forward to it! … Wait a minute.