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FGC #541 Splatterhouse

Things go splatSigmund Freud put forth the psychological theory of psychosexual development. In short, Freud’s hypothesis was that boys and girls went through certain sexual developmental stages during childhood, and each of these phases had particular erogenous triggers that should be satisfied, even if only subconsciously. If these conditions were not properly met, a child would grow into an adult that had a specific fetish/fixation. If all went well, then the kid would grow to be a sexually well-adjusted man or woman that doesn’t google pictures of half-dressed centaurs when his fiancée is asleep. While Freud’s psychosexual outlines have been derided since the early 20th Century as sexist, homophobic, euro-centric, scientifically inaccurate, and generally unpleasant, Freud’s teachings still persist through to today… even if they only wind up as part of pop-psychology lectures provided by sitcom characters. Oh! And in videogames!

So let’s review Freud’s theory of psychosexual development through the medium of Splatterhouse.

The Oral Stage

The first stage lasts from birth until about one year. During this stage, the only way a person knows how to interact with the world is through oral means. It starts at the mother’s teat, and ends with every goddamn thing within reach being shoved into that toothless maw. Supposedly, if there is too little or too much (Freud is astrology for psychology nerds) oral gratification, they will grow to be an adult that is passive, gullible, and/or immature.

Not too gross

The Oral Stage is the foundation of Splatterhouse. Rick, a boy anxious just to have some alone time with his girlfriend in a creepy house that may or may not have blood all over the walls, is murdered seven seconds into his romantic rendezvous. But all is not lost! Rick is revived by a haunted facemask. The only caveat? He has to keep wearing the mask, which means he cannot orally enjoy anything. His face is permanently bound for the entirety of his adventure, so he has become little more than a deprived child (albeit one with the power to punch monsters to death).

Gross

Taunting Rick is the final boss of Splatterhouse, a gigantic head with toothy jaws that can only devour everything in its path (and throw rocks, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor). Rick has no mouth with which to orally interact, while his greatest foe is all consuming. Give or take a particularly unpleasant skin condition, Rick is forced to envy everything about his ultimate opponent.

The Anal Stage

If you like big butts and cannot lie, you are likely fixated on mistakes made during the anal stage of development. This stage, taking place from approximately eighteen months to three years, sees the focus shift from the upper digestive tract to the lower half. Pleasure is derived from satisfying the urges of everything below the equator, and the biggest factor here on whether or not someone will forever be hypnotized by the booty is effective toilet training. If training is too strict at this stage, it will inevitably lead to someone being “anal” and controlling; or, in the event of parents that aren’t too concerned about Kid Stinky, an adult might wind up becoming one of those guys with visible stink lines.

Gross

So it should be no surprise that Rick winds up in a literal sewer as soon as Level 2. Despite the fact that the titular Splatterhouse is a house that is literally in the middle of nowhere, it apparently has a robust sewer system, complete with water monsters. It is obvious that these creatures are meant to represent excrement, and would be festering, pulsating poop monsters if Splatterhouse had been released with more high definition options. Regardless, Rick fighting through the muck to murder monsters made of messes is a clear allusion to the anal stage, and how no one can ever truly live in a world where everything is clean.

The Phallic Phase

Here’s where things get interesting! From the ages of three to six, a person will explore their genitals. This is not a “sexual awakening” as we commonly think of it, but it is a time when the person involved realizes they can derive pleasure from touching their no-no places. Additionally, as children usually acquire a curiosity about other dark corners of anatomy, this is traditionally when they learn about the physical differences between men and women. This is also where the Oedipus complex comes into play, as a boy child is apparently coming around on “real” sexual feelings, and wants to unseat his father and claim his mother as a lover. If you’re wondering about Freud’s equivalent thinking for women, don’t bother, as Freud left Electra to Carl Jung, and claimed that women simply experience a “negative Oedipus complex” that, if not properly managed, will lead to a woman with the affliction of “high self-esteem”. Remember how I said this thing was a little sexist?

Gross

But Rick isn’t a woman! Rick is a man’s man, and, as such, he has to fight a pile of blood worms that couldn’t be any more phallic if they were starring in Captain Toad. The boss of Stage 1 is little more than a pile of severed, bloody wieners, and Rick has to fight off every last one before they drain his life force. And could there be any greater metaphor for the phallus? Well, there’s the final worm that bursts forth from a hanging man’s abdomen, but that one is a little more Alien than outright phallic.

The Latency Phase

From about age six to puberty, psychosexual development apparently just takes a moment to collect itself. You know all about “bloodworms”, but you can’t really do anything about any of that yet, so may as well just chill on everything until those hormones get going. But thoughts are still there! They just have to be channeled into something else. So, essentially, Freud thought that every 2nd grader is a churning ball of sexual energy, but is trying not to think about it while learning how to play dodgeball. Whatever, Siggy.

Not too Gross

However, this can be seen within Splatterhouse in the lead up to the finale of Stage 5. Rick is trying to rescue Jenny, but is menaced by ghost women in an art gallery. These apparitions are the only obviously female foes in the house, and it is clear they are restless spirits meant to represent Rick’s feelings for his mate. Rick knows he must find Jenny, but he has no idea how or where. Does he even know what he’s going to do when he gets there? In the meanwhile, he must turn his focus elsewhere. These ghosts seem to indicate that Rick’s desires are real, but no more substantial than wisps.

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase

For an extremely brief period just before puberty begins, it is posited that everyone goes through the meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase. This is an oft-overlooked stage in development when people’s thoughts turn exclusively to a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands. Why does this happen? Is it a universal, deep-seated affection for Leatherface? Or is it a matter of the fact that the most natural, pure sexual attraction is the one between a person and a meaty dude with chainsaws for hands? Nobody knows. But ask anyone over the age of 12 about their own meaty dude with chainsaws for hands phase, and they’ll likely sigh contentedly.

Back to gross

The Meaty Dude with Chainsaws for Hands Phase is best emblemized by the boss of Stage 3, Biggy Man. Biggy Man is, naturally, a gigantic, fleshy fellow with gardening equipment implanted on his arms. Like his attendant phase of psychosexual development, he is a difficult boss if you do not come prepared. If you show up at his door with the (unsurprisingly phallic) shotgun, though, he’s a wee kitten, and will be purring (bleeding) in no time. Fear not this perfectly natural phase!

The Genital Phase

The genital phase is the grand finale of psychosexual development. At this point, we’re well and truly into puberty, and, in the immortal words of my pants when I turned 13, “let’s get our freak on” (to be clear, my pants could not actually talk, there were simply some unusual clothing designs available at Hot Topic in the 90s). Assuming someone has successfully completed all of their psychosexual development homework over the previous decade and change, the Genital Phase is where it all pays off, and adult, consenting relationships/relations can happen. You no longer want to have sex with your mom (or, if you’re a woman, negative-mom), and you will gain sexual satisfaction not only from your own biological parts, but also from satisfying the needs and desires of others. It’s a good time for everybody!… Unless you messed up on one of the earlier phases. Then you’re stuck begging randos on Chat Roulette to talk dirty about My Little Pony until you can finally climax. Sorry! I don’t make the rules!

Gross

In Splatterhouse, the genital phase is clearly meant to be the true climax of the game, and it presents itself as the boss fight with Rick’s kidnapped girlfriend, Jennifer. Aliens (?) implant… something… in Jenny, and she becomes a horrifying monster that may or may not resemble something from This Island Earth. She jumps around attempting to murder Rick, but occasionally reverts to her human form so she can beg for death. Homicide and suicide all in one? That sounds like every relationship I ever had as a teenager! Rick will eventually succeed in putting Jenny down, and, while she does return (to life) in the sequel, he did technically satisfy her desires in this instance, even if it may be brief. Good job, Rick, you’re psychosexually developed!

Enjoy the next stage where Splatterhouse keeps burping out fetuses.

Super Gross

And it all starts all over again! Thanks Siggy, for the eternal cycle of psychosexual development!

FGC #541 Splatterhouse

  • System: Arcade, and then the TurboGrafx-16. The arcade version is much more enjoyable if available (apparently as part of a Switch collection), as it has the original, lawsuit-bait Jason Voorhees mask. The TG16 version is available currently on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, though, so it may be slightly more accessible if you never nabbed the Wii version.
  • Number of players: Two players alternating. There is apparently code in the game for simultaneous play, but they couldn’t get it 100% implemented for release. Or they just thought it was dumb. Either way, not widely available.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is one of those pre-Final Fight beat ‘em ups where it’s kinda sorta a platforming game, too. Splatterhouse does seem to have a leg up on the competition, as it features multiple, branching paths, and very memorable bosses and environments. Unfortunately, it is still a quarter killer, so its difficulty is high for its relatively simply gameplay. And no one ever tells you how to do that essential slide move! Splatterhouse, overall, seems to balance out to a “medium essential” experience.
  • Things go grabWon’t someone please think of the children: The gore was turned down dramatically for the home versions. Additionally, a floating, upside cross was replaced with a severed head (or maybe a doll’s head?), and bladed weapons (like a meat cleaver) were replaced with sticks of wood. Oh! And when you murder the beating heart of the mansion, it doesn’t gush fluids, but immediately catches fire. That at least explains why the following stage is a bit toasty.
  • Favorite Weapon: The shotgun is amazing, but there are inexplicable harpoons around the mansion, too. Was the unseen Dr. West into whaling in his spare time? Or is this yet another phallic object of power produced by the mansion?
  • Favorite Moment: I always love mirror matches, so Rick’s malevolent reflection busting out of a reflection is simultaneously scary and fun. Jumpscares in an arcade game! Who would have thought?
  • What’s in a name? According to the TG16 port’s manual, the final boss is named “Hell Chaos”, and is presumably the mutated corpse of Dr. West, the Splatterhouse’s landlord. Hell Chaos doesn’t technically appear again in the franchise, but he does return as a cardboard cutout over a door in the 2010 version. He’s that (not) spooky. Sorry, Nemesis.
  • Did you know? In the arcade version, the crawling hand will occasionally give Rick the finger. That’s not polite, severed hand!
  • Let's reflect on thisWould I play again: Maybe. This is a game that is too difficult to play casually (without save states, memorization, or a childhood of playing the title constantly), but maybe I’ll give it a go for a credit or two sometime. It is damn satisfying to splat monsters against walls, and the arcade version is available as part of Splatterhouse 2010. Speaking of which…

What’s next? Random ROB knows how this goes, so we’re playing Splatterhouse again, but this time it’s the 2010 version. Let’s get ready to splat on a whole new generation of hardware. Please look forward to it!

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

BLOOD!Let’s talk about that thing that all the hep cats know how to do: act like you know what’s up.

Today’s game is Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. C:RoB is notable for being the Castlevania game that was featured as part of the intro to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and, arguably as a direct result, being one of the most important Castlevania games in the franchise. Castlevania: RoB was the last of the “old school”, action-based Castlevania titles before Symphony took the franchise in the general direction of metroidvania for decades. It’s also the game that, due to laziness and/or homages, provided roughly 70% of the sprites that would be reused ad nauseam for the following 60,000 games. I mean, there’s a good skeleton of spritework here, but if you’re reusing stuff from 1993, it’s going to get a little brittle. Ha ha ha. Bye bye. Whether it was intentional or not, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood wound up defining Castlevania for multiple hardware generations. You’d be hard pressed to find a single sequel that had more of a lasting impact on its parent franchise.

So it’s kind of a bummer Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was impossible for American audiences to play for about fifteen years.

WeeeeActually, let’s go ahead and aim for the highest end of the bummer scale: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood being tied to the Japanese exclusive PC Engine CD was a mega bummer. Castlevania: RoB is a pleasure to play, and it is a game that revels in the best of its NES ancestors while employing a controller with a very Famicom-esque 4-button setup. Two years after the experimentation of Simon Belmont’s 8-way whip and myriad of buttons in Super Castlevania, this is the franchise returning to its roots with jump, attack, and (generally) familiar sub weapons activated by holding up. The select button activates the new item crash ability, but, aside from that bit of heavy heart consumption, this is basic Belmonting back in action. And Castlevania is anxious to welcome its hero back with open (skeleton) arms, as all of the stages are pure Castlevania goodness built exactly for a man that jumps rigidly and whips even… uh… rigider. In truth, Richter Belmont is slightly more nimble than his less acrobatic ancestors, and Castlevania has learned how to adapt. He might not yet have a slide or rising uppercut, but he does have a backflip, and many a monster now has a pattern that is perfectly dodge-able with this unique version of the double jump. In short, like Trevor and Simon before him, Richter is facing challenges that are perfectly calibrated to his exact moveset. Unlike many (many, many, many) action platformers of the time, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was made with precision and care.

But there’s more to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood in the “care” department. Case in point: Richter, as part of the animated introductory sequence, looking over this old map left to him by his ancestors:

Unfurled!

I know that map! That looks like the map from Castlevania 1! Right there in the intro! This game knows Castlevania! That game I played!

And there are innumerable other overt Castlevania references throughout the game. The first level takes place in a burning town that is straight out of Castlevania 2. Richter and Maria become partners with a handshake that evokes the partners of yore. Shaft summons a legion of monsters that match the bosses of Castlevania 1. A ferryman promises to take you somewhere good, and a certain familiar mask breaks apart to reveal your opponent. Over and over, Castlevania: RoB practically shouts adulations about its exalted ancestors, and, if you’re on the same page, you’ll be shouting with glee in unison. Did you see that main hall with all the zombies? Leading to the giant bat’s decomposing arena? That’s some good Castlevaniaing right there!

But… to what end? Does Castlevania: Rondo of Blood need all these references to past titles?

Ol' FrankConsider Rondo of Blood’s place in the Castlevania canon at its release. It was, effectively, the fourth Castlevania game. There were the portable adventures, but, at the time, the Gameboy was considered “less than” its console big brothers, and Christopher Belmont was nary worth a second glance. Super Castlevania was an amazing game, but it was a “retelling” of Simon’s journey, and nearly all of its innovations were dropped for Rondo (and other future titles). And Haunted Castle? The arcade game? Let’s go ahead and label that as mythical as Akumajou Dracula X68000. So, yes, while it might not be a technically accurate way of labeling the game, Rondo of Blood is, at least in spirit, the fourth Castlevania title. Simon Belmont’s initial quest, Simon Belmont’s horrible night to have a curse, Trevor Belmont’s big ol’ vampire party, and now Richter Belmont’s time to shine. It’s a pretty straight line across the franchise there, and blatantly calling attention to your forbearers doesn’t seem all that essential at a time when Mario or Link would practically toss their entire canon for their latest game (Mario is…. let’s say he’s a baby this time, and he was raised by dinosaurs). Seven years is all that separated Castlevania 1 and this quasi Castlevania 4 (maybe 5? Maybe… 9?), so why revel in the past when the past was barely even passed?

Well, if pressed, let’s blame this gal:

Let's shake on it

Maria is a departure for the Castlevania franchise. History may not have always been Belmonts fighting Dracula, but this is certainly the first time the Prince of Darkness had to deal with a girl hurling doves at his face. Maria is supposedly twelve but acts like she’s five, wears a pink, frilly dress, and occasionally summons a kitten to fight her battles. For a franchise that often touts itself as “gothic horror”, Maria is an aberration like no other. Sypha was a serious magician that deliberately hid her gender to succeed in the male-dominated field of vampire-slaying, Maria is going to sing off-key at an army of golems on her way to “the bad man”. Graphically or tonally, Maria is something the Castlevania franchise has never seen before.

This is hotBut even beyond her heavy dosage of shocking pink, Maria is a whole new animal for the Castlevania franchise in a different way. Both Maria’s offenses and her acrobatics completely alter the flow of RoB. There had been more nimble characters in Castlevania before, but Grant never had the ability to rapid-fire a boss into submission, and Alucard’s bat-like maneuvering cost more hearts than it ever gained. Give or take the greater fragility of youth (Richter has learned how to take a hit over the years), Maria is better than Richter in every way that matters. She can mass-murder medusas en masse, and then double jump up a staircase to find a bonus shortcut. There are entire stages that can be outright skipped with her absurd mobility while Richter is stuck fighting that damned naked werewolf yet again. It’s easy to say Maria “breaks the game”, adding a sort of “easy mode” to a franchise that previously was celebrated for its technical difficulty.

But that’s cool, because Rondo of Blood earned this easy mode.

In some lesser version of Rondo of Blood, Maria would likely come off as some manner of Zero in Mega Man X4 situation: this game was made for Maria Renard, and Richter is only there because the director decided to throw the “old fans” a bone (“I guess it is his franchise… I guess…”). But, no, it is clear from every carefully placed block, pit, and enemy that this is a game made for a Belmont. This is a Castlevania adventure like any other, and a malicious mummy is no mere Family Guy-esque shallow “reference”, it is a pact with the player that this is the real deal. Yes, there’s a little girl over there that can completely tear Shaft a new one, but she’s just an option, not the star. Richter is the hero. Richter is the guy that can backflip away from a fireball, and he’s the hunter that is going to be responsible for Death’s dental bills.

SURPRISE!Castlevania: Rondo of Blood knows what’s up, and uses that knowledge to slide in a few perversions to the Castlevania formula. This is a game that knows its past and present, and, as a result, defined the franchise for the future. C: RoB is a game that was created with perfect precision.

… And if you want to see a version of Rondo of Blood that completely lacked that meticulousness…

It's the Dracula X!

Well, the Super Nintendo “version” is right there. And let us never speak of that square ever again.

FGC #515 Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

  • System: I understand there was once some manner of system called a PC Engine CD? Sounds… unholy. But this is available as part of the PSP Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (though forbidden on the Vita TV), on the Playstation 4 Castlevania compilation (but not the other Castlevania compilation), the Nintendo Wii when that storefront was available, and now on the Turbo-Grafix 16 Mini. Play it on the mini. It has the controller this was always meant for.
  • Number of players: Richter or Maria, you can still only do it alone.
  • WeeeeeeePort-o-Call: The PSP remake, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, certainly brings the game into the 21st Century, but it seems to unnecessarily suck all the candy-colored joy out of the game. I can understand why this was done (Castlevania is a very serious franchise for very serious people that eat meat out of walls), but it squashes a healthy amount of the original’s charm. Or, put another way, Maria is wearing pants now. Just let the girl be her anachronistic self!
  • What’s that sound? The original has some seriously weird sound effects. Like, “sound of a buffalo farting out pre-digested wheatgrass” weird sound effects. They happen constantly. I am loving it.
  • Favorite Boss: Undead Shaft is a hoot. Please keep summoning bosses I already defeated! I love being reminded of earlier areas by being assaulted by rotting dragon flesh. … Wait, does this mean Rondo contains references to its own, immediate past? Hm.
  • BOOMDid you know? Koji Igarashi has stated in interviews that Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania 3 are his two favorite Castlevania games. Well duh.
  • Would I play again: In a skeleton’s heartbeat. Wait… Uh… Can I just say yes? This is one of the best Castlevania games out there, and it justifies the TG-16 Mini all on its own. Bedrock of the Castlevania franchise, and certainly worth another play.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Celeste! It’s about the climb! Please look forward to it!

It's a Dril thing

FGC #504 Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

CORRUPTION MOST FOULChildren of the future! This article is for you, those with covid-resistant immune systems and glorious vestigial pinky fingers. This humble 21st century boy is considering why Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is the only Metroid Prime game he ever unequivocally enjoyed, and whether or not such an outcome is even possible for the eternally forthcoming Metroid Prime 4. Future people! You have Metroid Prime 4. It may be glorious! But please enable your Ancient English translators, and enjoy the musings of this prehistoric gamer.

Before we approach an even remote present, we have to look at the distant past. Super Metroid was (and continues to be) one of the most amazing games that was ever released by Nintendo. And to follow this epic adventure, there was… nothing. I was barely in elementary school when Super Metroid hit the shelves, and we wouldn’t hear an official peep about its follow-up until I was well into high school. And that’s forever when you’re not old enough to purchase renters’ insurance! And when we did finally get word about this long awaited sequel, it was not what anyone expected. A first person shooter! Like Doom! That’s not Metroid! That’s barely even a Nintendo genre! Many japes were made about the Metroid franchise being “reborn” as something similarly nonsensical, like a puzzle or pinball game, because, seriously, could you imagine something more absurd? Super Metroid defined an entire subset of 2-D action titles, and moving its heroine into another dimension would be tantamount to having Robert Downey Jr. fight Jeff Bridges in a realistic superhero movie. Such a thing could never work! And Nintendo even seemed to have its own doubts, as the eventual Metroid Prime launched right alongside a 2-D Metroid adventure. We’re going to try this, guys, but if anyone gets scared, there’s a blue Samus right there if you need her…

This is ballsLuckily, Metroid Prime was a pretty great experience (he wrote, implying that great videogames are somehow a matter of luck and not hours and years worth of hard work). In fact, it could be argued that Metroid Prime was a success because it was the perfect inverse of its 2-D twin, Metroid Fusion (maybe an evil twin, but certainly fraternal). Metroid Fusion superficially retained the exact same gameplay as Super Metroid, but was a very separate animal from its ancestor, as it adopted much more of a “level by level” structure with a dash of overly talkative robot. Meanwhile, Metroid Prime changed seemingly everything by entering the third dimension and putting a much larger emphasis on things like “beam switching” or “log scanning”, but the world of Metroid Prime was very much Super Metroid. Give or take an icy area, practically every environment on Tallon IV could be matched to a location in Super Metroid, and this was clearly by (brilliant) design. Controlling Samus in Metroid Prime may have been new and scary, but, altered names or no, this was a very familiar environment with very familiar opponents for our players. That missile tank is hidden in that same wall, your x-ray scope is just a little different now.

And, if pressed, I would tell you that is exactly why I finished Metroid Prime. It’s also a significant factor in why I didn’t finish Metroid Prime 2.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was a more confident version of Metroid Prime. No longer aping Super Metroid out of a (probably well-placed) fear of offending the Metroid fanbase, MP2 utilized a number of new ideas that further separated this adventure from the traditional Metroid experience (which had only cemented itself in, what, four games?). Required beams had carefully rationed ammo counts. Many caverns were designed around the concept of “cover” (what else do you call ducking behind a wall because the air is trying to kill you?). And the light/dark world of Aether was a completely new environment for our cosmic star heroine (though not new for another Nintendo hero). In short, MP2 did advance the Metroid Prime series on its own, separate track, and that repelled some fans.

… Or it was just me. And maybe I just don’t like ammo managing. Whatever! I didn’t like Echoes. Get over it. I have.

But Metroid Prime 3: Corruption? Now there is a game I could play all day (and did!).

BLUE BLUEIn many ways, MP3:C continues the innovative spirit of MP2. A large, continuous “world” has been ditched for multiple planets (and the occasional spacecraft) that all have separate, disparate maps. The concept of “beam ammo” has been dropped, but a new hyper mode fueled by energy tanks seems to organically fill that resource-based hole. And, for the first time in this franchise, the story seems to be genuinely and progressively character-driven. The Metroid Prime series has always had oodles of log entries and amazing environmental storytelling, but this is the first time a trio of frenemy bounty hunters was introduced so they could eventually be corrupted and become exciting boss battles. Samus Aran is the ruthless hunter of legend, but this is the first time in her franchise she felt moderately sad about missiling an opponent to oblivion (there had been deaths that made Samus sad in previous games, but those were mostly induced by Mother Brain, and not Samus’s own blaster). All new gameplay and all new feelings seem like a terrible fit for a new Metroid title, and, by all accounts, your cranky-about-any-and-all-change Goggle Bob should have bounced off Metroid Prime 3 just as quickly as Metroid Prime 2. But there’s a 100% save game file here that says that bad end never happened…

What did happen? Simple answer: for the first time, a FPS felt natural.

Shoot 'em upI’ve mentioned before (possibly even in this current screed) that I can barely deal with first person shooter titles. I bounce off the general “feel” of FPSs like a wave beam plinking off an Alpha Metroid’s carapace. For reasons I’ve never been able to completely understand, I deal poorly with the first person perspective (it might have something to do with my real-life terrible depth perception), and have never wholly enjoyed a FPS title. Until Metroid Prime 3. MP3:C I played and played, and, give or take times when those AAs drained down to nothing and had to be recharged, I kept my wiimote at the ready nigh-constantly for this experience. And that wiimote was likely the entire reason for such an unprecedented event. The sharp motion controls of Metroid Prime 3 made the entire experience, from Samus first exiting her ship to her final showdown with not-Mother Brain, one that felt natural for the first time in the franchise. Samus is wearing a magical technological suit of armor, and any FPS worth its salt is going to do its best to make that situation feel normal. But traditional controller-based FPS titles make it feel like you’re inhabiting a mascot costume that incidentally shoots laser beams. MP3:C grants you the feeling of being a person that has a screw attack, but, more importantly, also has peripheral vision. Moving that wiimote around will allow Samus (and the player) to quickly survey an area, and, when you’re exploring multiple worlds that contain roughly 90% deadly fauna by volume, it makes all the difference. No more drained energy because a pirate drone was hiding in the corner of the room, Samus now has a full, reflexive range of vision, and it makes Metroid Prime 3 a wholly unique experience.

… And it’s going to continue to be a unique experience, because the Nintendo Wii was apparently an evolutionary dead-end. Star Fox Zero seemed to prove the same “motion controls and views working in concert” effect wasn’t possible with the WiiU, and the Nintendo Switch is more concerned with portability than a control scheme that is wholly motion-based. And that’s a good thing! Watch any Nintendo fan immediately wince at the mention of “waggle”, and you’ll understand why motion controls have fallen by the wayside. But they worked amazingly well in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and it will feel like a loss when they don’t return for Metroid Prime 4.

Pew PewSo, readers of the future, please use your time-jumping cellular phones to email Gogglebob.com and let this humble author know how Metroid Prime 4 has finally turned out. The Metroid Prime franchise went from red-headed stepchild to interesting diversion to ignorable variation to one of the best franchises on the Nintendo Wii, and I’m inordinately interested in how its descendant will fair in our unknown future. Maybe it will “only” be another fun FPS. Maybe it will revolutionize the franchise and videogame controls again. Maybe it will be a complete dud that fails to distract humanity from their daily struggles against hordes of invading metal bugs. Whatever the case, the franchise has been so many things across three simple games, it is a complete unknown as to how the fourth will impact the gaming landscape.

Will Metroid Prime 4 merely be worthy of a few hours of grapple hooking around, or another 100% complete mission? Only time will tell…

FGC #504 Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

  • System: Nintendo Wii, and then also available for the Nintendo Wii U while emulating the Nintendo Wii. …. Does that even count?
  • Number of players: This bounty hunter works alone.
  • Wasn’t there also a Metroid Prime title for the Nintendo DS? Nope.
  • But there was a big demo that launched with the Nintendo DS and everything! Really have no idea what you’re talking about. This is the only Metroid game where Samus must fight against other, rogue bounty hunters. Any other such game clearly doesn’t exist. Got Metroid Prime Trilogy right here. Trilogy. Three.
  • Ah, screw itAnd don’t the other games in Metroid Prime Trilogy have retrofitted motion controls? Yes, but they were added after the fact, and it just doesn’t feel the same as a game that was designed for them from the start. Very subtle differences in there that make Metroid Prime 1 & 2’s controls feel different from 3.
  • Is that just an excuse to continue to not play Metroid Prime 2: Echoes? Nope. Moving on!
  • Regarding the Metroid Prime: It will never not be interesting to me that the main antagonist for all of the Metroid Prime titles is a mutated creature that was originally called “Metroid Prime”. It was initially just a metroid, then it got phazoned to all hell, then got beat by Samus, and then became Samus thanks primarily to some random suit hijinks. But Dark Samus is still, at its core, the Metroid Prime, and, considering this is a franchise already named for its murder amoebas, this trilogy might have the cleverest title in gaming.
  • How about that final boss: It was Mother Brain, but not Mother Brain, because Mother Brain is a separate entity, and… You know what, it doesn’t matter. The directors of Metroid Prime finally found a way to wedge the OG Metroid final boss in there, and we should just be happy for the fanservice instead of chastising yet another strafe-based final boss that turned one of the most unique final encounters in a NES game into a pretty typical final fight. Just let me blow up a floating brain in peace, Retro!
  • Love that guyRidley is Too Big: After taking a game off, Ridley returns for a number of battles. Meta Ridley is pretty similar to his OG prime form, but Omega Ridley is a big, bad, phazon-powered machine. And I am here for anything that makes big ol’ Ridley even bigger. And, hey, Proteus Ridley of Samus Returns seems to confirm that Omega Ridley “outgrowing” his cybernetics is what eventually leads to “regular” Ridley in Super Metroid. … I may spend way too much time considering the biological timeline of your average Ridley. Just so long as he isn’t some dumb bird this time…
  • Favorite Bounty Hunter: Ghor, Rundas, and Gandrayda were three bounty hunters brought in to assist the Galactic Federation on this whole “Dark Samus threatening the universe thing”, and, naturally, they all become corrupted and must be laid low by Samus. Ghor is portrayed as some kind of mecha-Ghandi (he gives his bounties to the poor? Really?) before corruption, and Rundas was just kind of cool (get it!?) and generally helpful, but Gandrayda, the sassy shape-shifter, makes the best impression. Though she does lose a few points for mimicking Samus with her abilities, as we’re already dealing with a game that has one “Bad Samus” running around, and an entire army of parasite Samus creatures over in Fusion. Just be yourself, Gandrayda! We don’t need any more Samuses!
  • Did you know: Gandrayda and Samus Aran are the only two female bounty hunters so far to appear in the Metroid franchise. Considering these games started with exactly one woman, it’s rather concerning that number has only grown to two after thirty years.
  • Would I play again: Yes, but only with proper Wii controls. I can’t imagine a Metroid Prime Trilogy existing outside of the Nintendo Wii… and I’m pretty sure that’s the only Wii title that makes me say that. Maybe Wii Sports? Whatever the case, Metroid Prime 3 will be played again, just only ever with its original hardware.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker for the Sega Genesis. That’s not going to be awkward! Please look forward to dancing around that one!

So pointy

FGC #495 Castlevania Judgment & Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

This is gonna be weirdYou want a videogame crossover, you’ve got options. But apparently you can’t have all the options.

The Castlevania franchise is fairly unique, as, right from its third entry, its creators decided to introduce different time periods. Like Zelda, it was determined you could only tell the same story with the same hero so often (apparently twice), and it was time to move on to a different epoch with the same basic trappings for the next adventure. However, unlike in The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania seemed to revel in introducing completely new characters with every age, and (depending on the quest du jour) also introducing an additional supporting cast or secondary antagonists. Unfortunately, all of these “extra” characters were always disposable, as all Castlevania ever really needed was a Dracula and a hero that could menace bats. This meant that, by about the mid 2000s, there were a handful of really great characters across the Castlevania franchise that only ever had one or two chances to shine. Such a waste. Why can’t all of our Castlevania stars find a way to play together and get along?

So why don’t we have a Castlevania Crossover featuring all our favorites? And, if the first one doesn’t shake out, let’s do it again!

It started with Castlevania Judgment. At a time when nearly every Castlevania title was sentenced to the miniscule portable systems of the time, there was much excitement about the first “real” Castlevania title on the Nintendo Wii (the dominant console of the era). But then Castlevania Judgment was… not what anyone expected. Anyone.

Get 'emFirst of all, it was a fighting game. But that could work! Castlevania is a platforming franchise, but it’s also always been about little more than burly dudes with long hair fighting demons from Hell. And that’s, like, 90% of fighting games (the other 10% are just karate tournaments), so that is a good fit. And this was during a period when fighting games were generally pretty experimental, so, before fighting games settled back into just being online matches to mirror the arcade fights of days long gone, the time was right for an innovative fighting game based on action/platforming gameplay. And a fighting game would be ideal for the Castlevania heroes that, since Symphony of the Night, had gradually been accruing more and more “moves”. Alucard could utilize an entire army’s worth of weaponry, magical spells, and an inexplicable jump kick. He could put Guile’s lousy sonic boom to shame without even trying.

Unfortunately, Castlevania Judgment was (to put it charitably) a little too experimental. It was neither fish nor fowl: in trying to be a fighting game that aped the motions of an action/platformer, it created an environment where the two fighters didn’t really know if they should be dodging encroaching zombies or attempting to punch (whip?) their opponent. Combos are futile when you might be interrupted by an errant jumping fish, but dodge-rolling around the arena while Dracula just stands there drinking wine is equally ineffective. And the way the movesets were limited for “simple controls” (the calling card of a game designed for the assumed-to-be-casual audience of the Wii) wound up contributing to many fighters that were savagely unbalanced. Yes, I know Maria was always better than Richter in their debut title, but getting wrecked simply because one player chose a little girl and her owl in a fighting game is an entirely separate experience. There’s a skeleton of a good game here (ha! Topical Castlevania metaphor!), but it needed another game’s worth of tweaking to hatch an actual enjoyable, enduring experience out of this egg (are there any monsters that “hatch” in Castlevania? Bah. More of a Metroid thing).

Hi, DadBut there was one place where Castlevania Judgment excelled: plot. Wait, no, that’s a lie. The plot is a stupid excuse to pull various Castlevania characters from 1456 to 1942 to fight a Grim Reaper from 10,000 years in the future. It’s barely worth mentioning (which is really sad when there’s a skeleton at the end of time involved). But what’s great about this title is that all the various stars of Castlevania are all allowed to interact. Finally! In fact, it involves a number of heroes and heroines that were nearly totally mute in their initial appearances, so we can finally see what’s going on in Simon’s head. It’s not all just terrible nights to have a curse! And the crossover of Judgment allows for the insanity of great grandpa versus distant descendant, which allows for even more story fun. It may be little more than fanservice, but, for a fan of the franchise, Castlevania Judgment justifies itself through its cast’s interactions. It didn’t matter that the art style was a few too many bodies short of a Legion, what mattered was that this was Eric interacting with Grant, and that was pretty damn cool.

But, for a videogame, gameplay is key, so Judgment is simply remembered for being a complete flop of a Castlevania experiment. It was by no means the “Castlevania returns to consoles” that everyone wanted. It was some weirdo title featuring the cast of Death Note, not Castlevania HD. No, if we wanted that, we had to wait for the “real” Castlevania HD: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.

And that one was an odd duck, too.

Don't step on meSuperficially, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is nothing we haven’t seen before. Literally! C:HD is entirely assembled from Castlevania assets scrambled together from previous titles. It’s mostly just the IGA-vania titles (starting with Symphony), but there are also some significant Rondo and even 8-bit influences to be found here. And the gameplay, on a superficial level, is exactly the same the likes of Alucard or Shanoa have seen before: venture through a giant maze, stab some demons, collect a glut of treasure, and beat the damage-sponge of a boss. All very familiar, and, given this was at a time when we could rely on seeing a 2-D Castlevania title every other year or so, it was something that felt almost… extraneous.

But interpreting Castlevania: Harmony of Despair not as “this year’s recycled assets” but as a crossover culmination of the previous decade’s worth of Castlevania content paints a different picture. This is Metroidvania action in its purest form, which is something that is usually only available upon completing the latest Castlevania adventure. You don’t have to spend half of this title waiting to earn a double jump, or blow hours finding the right room that contains the right story flag to find the next area. This is just running, jumping, and exploring huge maps and battling worthy bosses. Exploration through unlocking has fallen by the wayside, yes, but what is left in its place is an uncontaminated Castlevania experience where you can just enjoy the innumerable of abilities of your chosen protagonist. If Castlevania is about man versus castle, then this is Castlevania to the Castlevaniaest power.

And the multiplayer options available to this title add a whole new dimension to the experience. You can cooperate! You can compete for treasure! You can select a character with a wildly different movement skill, and giggle as your ground-based buddy has to watch you fly through the sky on magnetic wings. There are a million ways to play with friends, and the “HD” of Harmony of Despair lends itself to a wonderful online experience where these enormous levels can easily house six active vampire killers. What we have here is not only a pure Castlevania experience, but a purely fun experience as well.

I am despairingBut there ain’t no plot. There’s no reason to do anything in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair past scoring points and clearing stages. You play C:HD for the same reason you play Madden or Tennis: just have fun with the game. And, while that is certainly a valid reason to play any videogame, it feels like a loss for the Castlevania franchise. Alucard likely would have a lot to say about pairing up with the reincarnated, pretty-boy version of his father, but C:HD doesn’t want to delve into that conversation. C:HD is about a magical book that contains magical heroes fighting a magical castle, and it’s nothing more than that. Everyone involved is just a 2-D simulation of their “real world” counterpart, and, while this is a crossover for every manner of sentient armor in the franchise, it is not a crossover for the iconic characters of Castlevania.

Which raises the question: which Castlevania Crossover wins? Castlevania Judgment eschewed typical Castlevania gameplay, but reveled in the personalities of its popular protagonists. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair was Castlevania gameplay taken to its most logical (and fun!) extreme, but reduced its iconic heroes to little more than different jumping stats. And the winner? Well, they both lost. Castlevania Judgment is regarded as an embarrassing diversion for the franchise that was never to be revisited again, and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair puttered out so completely it didn’t survive long enough to release its final planned DLC (Hammer! We could have had Hammer!). In both cases, both Castlevania Crossovers were disappointments to the curators of the franchise, and likely contributed in no small part to Castlevania rebooting and/or becoming a series of slot machines. Considering both Judgment and Harmony of Despair were epitomes of different aspects of the franchise, it’s rather depressing to see them both become epitaphs for an era.

But, hey, maybe watching the franchise die is appropriate for a pair of titles where you’re encouraged to kill Dracula about 17,000 different times. That dude can’t reincarnate forever!

FGC #495 Castlevania Judgment

  • Get 'emSystem: Nintendo Wii. This means it is technically also playable on the WiiU, but it was never officially ported to any other system due to, ya know, the embarrassment.
  • Number of players: If they’re fighting, they’re coming in twos.
  • Favorite Fighter: There’s no doubt about it, Maria Renard is a beast. I don’t care if she’s a 15 year old acting like a six year old and is mostly doing her damage through a particularly superb owl, she’s simply the best. And in this game where everyone looks like they spent a little too much time at Hot Topic, I’m also very happy to see that much pink.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: One big problem a number of people had with Judgment is that it includes characters from time periods divorced from their initial, iconic introductions. Sypha is a fledgling sorceress that has never encountered Alucard, Maria is a petulant teenager obsessed with “maturity”, and Bloodlines’ Eric is a petulant brat. This is a far cry from how these heroes act in their source material. However, I’m all for it, as I am a firm believer that people change over the years, and, sure, the stoic and dedicated “Wind” may have been a bit of a pissant when he was a kid. Who wasn’t? For anyone curious, this is basically a reverse “Cranky Old Man Luke Skywalker” syndrome, and I’m okay with it.
  • Why is this happening: It turns out that the whole plot of Judgment is the result of the evil plans of Galamoth, the future tyrant dinosaur wizard that cannot deal with Dracula being more powerful than a tyrannosaurus. This means that, ultimately, this title is another spinoff of Kid Dracula.
  • What’s in a name: Judgment only has one “e” in it.
  • Superb OwlDid you know? Of the default, non-DLC, non-needs-another-game-to-unlock characters, only Alucard appears as playable in both Judgment and Harmony of Despair. Shanoa joins Judgment if you connect Order of Ecclesia, and Maria and Simon both were added to C:HD as DLC, but only Alucard is there in both from the beginning. And he’s not even a Belmont!
  • Would I play again: I have a certain macabre fascination with this title. I don’t hate it… but I’m not really anxious to play it again. I like thinking about it, though!

FGC #495 Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

  • System: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The Playstation 3 version has local multiplayer, but the Xbox 360 version can be played on the Xbox One, so one might be more available than the other.
  • ZOOM!Number of players: Six. That… rarely happens.
  • Favorite Character: Shanoa if we’re talking about the default cast, but Yoko Belnades if we’re including DLC. What? I guess I enjoy dark magician girls.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: The “grinding” nature of Harmony of Despair and its rare boss drops is rather unpleasant. If you want the best gear, you’re going to repeat the same levels over and over, and there’s never anything fun about that. But then again, the whole point is to play these levels repeatedly to get better “scores”… so maybe this is a good thing?
  • But the DLC level that is just the entirely of Castlevania 1 as one complete map is the best, right? Oh, absolutely.
  • Love that castleDid you know? Even if he’s only 8-bit, with his double jump, slide, and collection of subweapons, Simon Belmont in Harmony of Despair is actually the closest he’ll ever be to his eventual incarnation in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Granted, he’s still mostly just copying Richter… but it works!
  • Would I play again: Man, it sure would be nice to get an online gang together to raid Dracula’s castle again. You definitely lose something when you’re playing this game alone, but just revisiting it for this article reminded me how fun the whole experience could be. I’m sure I’ll be stalking those halls again soon enough…

What’s next? Let’s see what happens when two entire games ram straight into each other. Please look forward to it!

This is what Konami wants