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FGC #634 Martial Champion

So many fighting gamesNot all fighting games are created equal. For every Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or even Clayfighter, there are a bevvy of games that seem to have been forgotten by all but the most dedicated of fighting game enthusiasts. But that does not mean we can’t learn from these “lost” fighting games! Every fighting game, no matter why they were forgotten, has something to offer. Let’s take a look at some forgotten fighting games, and see why they deserve at least a cursory glance…

King of the Monsters
1991

RAWRWhat is going on here: One of the best games to take place in the far-flung future of 1996, King of the Monsters is the story of what happens when six or twelve legally distinct monsters all decide to rumble and see who will be the titular King of the Monsters. This is bad news for anyone that lives in the future-past Japan that is their battleground, but great for anyone that has ever wanted to see a rock giant fight a snot ghost.

Best Character: Is Astro Guy really a monster? He looks like Ultraman, and there is Beetle Mania over there to be his trademark inexplicable giant bug opponent. Astro Guy wins, as he may be a copy like every other monster, but at least he is the kind of monster that didn’t already appear in Rampage.

What can we learn: King of Monsters was released before “fighting games” became codified with Street Fighter 2 (dropped that same year), so King of Monsters almost feels like a “wrestling game”. It has turnbuckle attacks, an emphasis on grabs, and, most importantly, you have to pin your opponent for three seconds to score a win. And that can be fun! An empty life bar is not a loss in King of Monsters, it just means it will be more difficult to get up when Rocky the Moai power dives on your monster. Extending the match a little longer is great in a game with a scant six playable characters, and it is nice to see the potential for a turnaround despite a theoretical impending loss. Let’s see some last-minute grappling from modern games!

Dino Rex
1992

Big boys starting this offWhat is going on here: Like Primal Rage, this is a 2-D fighter featuring dinosaurs battling for supremacy. Also like Primal Rage, this game absolutely sucks. You’ve got three attack buttons, special moves, combos, and the ability to “charge meter” via shouting, but… Oh man. The central conceit here is that you are technically playing as a scantily clad man controlling a dinosaur via whip, and it sure feels like you have only a whip’s worth of control over your chosen dinosaur.

Best Character: All the humans in this game are generic prehistoric dudes (though, if a match ends in a draw, you can play as one of the dudes, and they curiously have Ryu’s moveset), so we presumably must pick a favorite dinosaur here. And is it possible to pick a dinosaur that is not the mighty Tyrannosaurus? It might be purple again, but it is still a goddamned t-rex.

What can we learn: Dino Rex is a bad fighting game for the fact that you are very likely to lose because it is difficult to confirm whether your controller is working at all, but sometimes it feels good to get your ass kicked, because it also kicks everyone else’s asses. The storyline for Dino Rex posits this is an annual dinosaur fighting tournament to win the hand of an Amazon Queen, so there are spectators, and an arena built up for this yearly battle. And, since dinosaurs are fighting, it gets absolutely wrecked. It is fun to watch the surrounding area get destroyed by careless dinosaurs! And someone on staff evidently noticed, as the bonus stage is controlling your dinosaur in a “dream sequence” that sees a modern city getting similarly smashed. So if you’re going to make a bad fighting game, at least let us destroy everything in it.

Martial Champion
1993

What is going on here: One of Konami’s rare, early fighting games (they were more into beat ‘em ups), this is a pretty obvious Street Fighter 2 clone where a bunch of international weirdos are all punching and kicking in an effort to become… I don’t know… some kind of Martial Arts Champion or something. Your attack options are limited to three buttons (high, mid, low), and there are a total of ten selectable characters (and one unplayable boss).

Best Character: Avu is a tempting choice, as he is basically Karnov (he’s even got fire breath!), but I’m going to choose Bobby. Not only does he have the best name, but he seems to exist as an obvious example of “Well, Guile looks kinda American, but is there any way we can crank that up to ten million?”

What can we learn: Martial Champion has a variable weapon system! Kinda! Some fighters have weapons, and said weapons can be knocked out of a fighter’s hands. And the opponent can retrieve these weapons! And… maybe do nothing? If a fighter doesn’t have a weapon to begin with, it seems they do not have any abilities with any weapons. But! Even if you can’t use it, playing keep away with a weapon is good fun. Thought you had increased range with that scimitar before, loser? Now you’re not getting it back until a knock down. Good luck!

Now let’s talk about Shaq-Fu…

FGC #632 Pac-Land

This is a Pac that is in timeThis article is going to require a little background.

In 1980, Pac-Man was released. By 1984, Pac-Man had spread as Pac-Fever, and the whole of the world (or at least the part of the world that had quarters) was obsessed with the little yellow dude (and his wife, if we are legally allowed to mention her this week). So, for the first time in four years, Pac-Man decided to branch out. After multiple Pac titles that attempted to capitalize on the familiar Pac-Man gameplay (and a seemingly infinite number of “maze likes” that copied Pac-Man’s gameplay wholesale), Pac-Land sauntered onto the scene to try something different. No more would Pac-Man wander around nondescript mazes in an attempt to gobble up dots. No! This puck-man had legs! And a hat! And he was venturing far from home to return a lost fairy to Fairyland (as you do), and gaining flying boots (good thing he has feet now!) for his troubles. No more was Pac-Man obsessed with endless consumption, and the “four” ghosts that had plagued him in the past were now an army with planes, chains, and automobiles. About the only thing here that was 100% pac-gameplay was the beloved power pellet, and even that wound up being more of an “end of the level” bonus than the nigh-always accessible “spinach” of previous pac-titles. Pac-Land was and continues to be a whole new dimension for Pac-Man.

Look at him goBut it was not simply Pac-Man that was revolutionized by Pac-Land. Pac-Land, right there in 1984, practically invented the concept of the endless runner. Where once ol’ Pac-Man could only be credited for normalizing the maze-based gameplay that was the focus of his early adventures, Pac-Land created something that would come to define “mobile titles” for a generation of hardware. The arcade cabinet for Pac-Land had no joystick: there was a jump button, and directional run buttons. You cannot “steer” Pac-Man, you simply control how fast he is going (by repeatedly tapping the run button to go faster), and when Pac-Man jumps. And that’s it! There is little backtracking, there is no permanently turning from danger: there is simply running. Endless running. Once every few stages, you gain an infinite jump, but that is the only real “change” that ever occurs in Pac-Land. This is an endless runner with extremely simple gameplay, and, considering it was released in 1984, it was eerily prescient on a possible future for gaming that would come two decades later.

But creating a genre was not enough for Pac-Land to leave an indelible mark on gaming forever. Shigeru Miyamoto reportedly stated that Pac-Land was an influence on Nintendo games going forward. Do a little research, and you’ll find that Miyamoto was very specific about what Pac-Land influenced. For at least one legendary games designer, Pac-Land was all about this…

This is normal Pac-Land

Or… to be clear…

Now do you get it?

The big thing that influenced Shigeru Miyamoto? The sky of Pac’s Land is blue. In a 1998 interview, Shigeru Miyamoto admitted that he saw Pac-Land as stiff competition for his already successful (but undoubtedly waning) Donkey Kong. And he had a 2-D side scroller already in mind for Jump Man, but Pac-Land had something he had not considered: a world.

Right from the initial release, Pac-Land’s blue skies separated it from the land. When Pac-Land was transported overseas to America, it gained additional details that tied it to the (then new) Pac-Man animated series. But, regardless of version, Pac-Land always had a clear sense of geography and space. Pac-Man starts at his home. Pac-Man ventures through a town, whether that be a pristine village with houses and fire hydrants, or a jumbled mass of seaside walls and water. There is a forest. There is a mountainside. It genuinely feels like there is a lot of land for Pac-Man to cover on his way to Fairyland. And Fairyland looks completely separate from Pac-Man’s world! And then, immediately after visiting this magical grove, Pac-Man ventures back over familiar territory, but with a new, unstoppable super power. The world is the same, Pac-Man is changed, and a simple narrative begins to take shape. And it all traces back to something as simple as the sky being blue.

But no spiniesAnd let’s not underestimate how a “blue sky” led to the success of Super Mario Bros. SMB has amazing gameplay, memorable characters, and a “loop” that lends itself perfectly to gaming in 1985. But that blue sky is what keeps you going. Mario’s first adventure was in a nondescript construction site that could be easily mistaken for a pie factory. Mario’s second journey was through a sewer that was identified by prominent pipes. But Super Mario Bros.? That is an adventure through a world. Mario is saving the Mushroom Kingdom, and everything from bricks to castles to deep oceans tell the player that Mario is making progress through this land. This is a place, this is a country, and it has been conquered by an invading force of turtles and chestnuts. You will venture through every underground area, every cloud-filled sky, to save this place. We’re sorry, Mario, but our princess is in another castle, and that means you are going to the next, separate castle. So there are more castles, Toad?! Aren’t we excited to see more of this world?

Over time, backgrounds became standard in games that did not ever need a sense of place. The whole of the fighting game genre is replete with titles that made the choice between “they are fighting in a large, grassy field” or “they are fighting specifically in front of a busy Chinese street where some dude is selling caged chickens”. While the distinction is not universal, it seems the games that made the latter choice are more likely to be successes. Similarly, JRPGs have come to be defined by their worlds, with “generic dungeons” always paling in comparison to skulking through volcanos, sky fortresses, or ice caverns. Could the likes of Cloud or This sucks so badThe Luminary be content with caves that have nothing more to them than black backgrounds and an assortment of monsters? Theoretically yes, but wouldn’t you rather venture through a dilapidated train yard? The tiniest bit of background adds… background to the proceedings, and that can make all the difference in a narrative that is meant to drive the player and disguise how so many games are simply about making numbers go up.

So, like Shigeru Miyamoto, let us thank the inspirational Pac-Land. With the simple addition of backgrounds, Pac-Man was given a world. And from that world, whole universes have formed.

FGC #632 Pac-Land

  • System: I am not comfortable with all the ways you can play Pac-Land. There was the NES port. The Commodore 64 or Atari ST ports. The TurboGrafx-16 port. It had a Lynx port. And then it wound up on the Playstation, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 as parts of various collections. It was available ala carte on the WiiU. And now it is available on all modern systems thanks to yet another Pac-collection. It… wasn’t on the Super Nintendo, I guess.
  • Number of players: Technically two, put it is alternating.
  • Port-o-Call: Depending on your version or region, you may find a lot of differences between the various Pac-Lands. Does the “rest stop” church have a cross? Is the music playing the same ditty from the Pac-Man animated series? Have Ms. Pac-Man and Baby Pac-Man been replaced by the nefarious imposters, Pac-Mom and Pac-Sis? Don’t for a moment imagine that time and copyright law have not impacted the gentle denizens of Pac-Land.
  • The keys suckFavorite Level: Anything that does not involve the “broken” ground of the water stages is my favorite. I guess the mountain stages win, then? I like the idea that Pac-Man is going on a happy little hike, and the ghosts just happen to be an omnipresent threat that haunts Pac’s life because of all those crimes he did in the 60’s.
  • For the Sequel: The obvious, direct sequel to Pac-Land is Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures. That was another attempt to invent an entirely new genre of pac-gameplay, and… well… Cell phones or not, the whole “marginally control a cartoon character” thing never really caught on. More’s the pity, as Pac-Man 2 is definitely the more revolutionary title, if only because making Pac-Man mad at cows is a gameplay echelon The Last of Us could only ever hope to achieve.
  • Did you know? A lot of Pac-Man’s move set in Smash Bros. is partially or wholly based on actions/obstacles found in Pac-Land. So if you are wondering where he got that jump, MS Paint scrolling background, or the fire hydrant, look no further than Pac-Land. Or don’t, because literally every other Pac-Man game is probably a better choice.
  • Would I play again: This is yet another important title in gaming history that I do not need to play ever again. And I won’t miss it, either! Ms. Pac-Man is right there! Assuming I’m legally allowed to play it this week!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic CD! It’s like regular Sonic the Hedgehog, but with all the power of CD technology! Wow! Please look forward to it!

Goodbye forever!
Happier times…

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

This article contains spoilers for Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2. We go hard on Axiom Verge, but Axiom Verge 2 spoilers are considered to be “light”. That said, if you want to go into either game “clean”, you have been warned…

Very moodyFear. Isolation. Losing your very sense of self. Learning that you may be becoming a threat to yourself and others. Having an unstoppable magic gun that allows you to function as a God.

Which one of these doesn’t fit?

Axiom Verge is easily one of the best metroidvania titles of the last decade. For that matter, it is one of the best games, period, of all time. But its place in time is important, as much of Axiom Verge relies on an understanding from both the author and the audience of many games that have come before. Metroid was amazing and arguably kicked off the metroidvania (hey, it’s right there in the title) genre, but it was also a glitchy mess. Mario had one minus world, Metroid had an entire planet’s worth of areas that could be discovered if you jumped off of a doorway the “wrong” way. Axiom Verge uses this concept to create “intended glitches” in the form of breach blocks, unique areas, and even enemies that all rely on the visual shorthand of “oh, this area is fudged”. It takes what was already a pretty great planet explore ‘em up and transforms it into something simultaneously new and nostalgic. Axiom Verge is not the only game to utilize “glitches” and the shorthand of the medium itself to create memorable moments, but it might be the game that does so the most seamlessly and wittily. If Axiom Verge was just a dedicated metroidvania, it would be excellent, but its own unique flavor elevates it to something extraordinary.

Aim away from faceAnd, hey, as a special bonus, Axiom Verge has an interesting plot, too. You are Trace, a friendly scientist that was crippled in a lab accident a few years back. But he’s fine now! Because he was revived on an alien planet for the express purpose of committing the most complicated suicide known to man. “Your” Trace is a clone of a young man that would eventually become an interdimensional despot that conquered an entire planet and is at least partially responsible for releasing a plague that is wholly responsible for a genocide or two. Young Trace must now find and stop Old Trace, aka Athetos, and learn along the way that his own allies, the Rusalki, are maybe not the most reliable giant mechanoids in the omniverse. It creates tension from all sides of this tale, and the fact that the Rusalki are fond of reminding you that they can literally kill you at any time with a thought does not exactly engender a trust that you are on the right side of this conflict. Like many of the best metroidvania titles available, Axiom Verge has created a world where you feel alone not just because you’re stuck with only jumpy bugs for company, but because anything that can communicate in something other than screams is likely trying to kill you, too.

Except it is a little undercut by the fact that Axiom Verge seems to transform Trace into a friggin’ god.

Look, maybe I’m confused, and that is the point here. Trace is destined to become an unstoppable monster of a man, and maybe it was the Axiom Disrupter that got him there. Maybe that is the purpose of the exercise for Trace: absolute power corrupts, and absolute gun grants absolute power. But… that does not seem to be reinforced by Trace’s circumstances. When Trace wins the day, he is immediately betrayed by his Rusalki friend, and can only helplessly watch as promises are broken. Throughout the adventure, Trace attempts to show autonomy by resisting the violent nature of being a videogame protagonist, but, save one boss that forgot to lock the doors, Trace is forced to murder every mutant between his pod and freedom. There is even one “boss” that is just a soggy mess of altruistic protoplasm, but it’s gotta go, because it is in the way of a powerup. Over and over again, it is reinforced that Trace has no control over his own existence.

Drill away, tooBut Trace has seemingly unlimited control over everything else in his life. Trace starts with a basic peashooter, but it quickly graduates to something that can fire “bullets” that handle any situation. Somewhere in there, he acquires a drone that allows for nigh-invincible exploration (drones can die, but Trace doesn’t suffer any consequences), a grappling hook that improves traversal immensely, and something that could best be described as a “glitch gun”. That final item is particularly amazing, as even the most powerful enemy can be blasted through a wall until it has been glitched into a state of extreme vulnerability. And just when that glitch gun loses its luster, Trace acquires screen-impacting glitch bombs. And that is right about when Trace gains the ability to teleport to his own drones, so he can toss a lil’ buddy down a corridor, dodge every monster in the area, and then teleport to safety. Want to be the pacifist Trace always claims to be? Just drone around town and have a fun time!

And, ultimately, that is the problem. The reason Axiom Verge is great is, ultimately, because it is fun. And you don’t get to be fun by having a severely limited protagonist. It is fun to screw attack Zebes as Samus Aran, and it is fun to glitch, trick, and obliterate your mindless opponents in Axiom Verge. It is a blast to see a final area that initially seems daunting, but then gradually discover how to use your myriad of abilities to navigate the dangers without a single scratch. There is nothing more enjoyable than solving a series of logic puzzles, earning a flame thrower for your efforts, and then barbequing every problem you could ever encounter. Solving problems through variable violence might not be Trace’s bag, but it is irrefutably the most fun to be had on Sudra.

So is it even possible to have fun in a metroidvania without becoming ridiculously empowered and/or presenting a series of challenges that tax those ridiculous powers? Can the protagonist of a fun metroidvania be anything but a killing machine?

Gee, pretty convenient Axiom Verge 2 is right there.

This is a terrible placeIn a lot of ways, Axiom Verge 2 repeats Axiom Verge beats. Indra is a scientist-CEO that knows a thing or two about computer equipment, but not necessarily how to defeat a mecha-bug. She will get there, though, with the help of a number of powerups that upgrade her offensive and acrobatic abilities. And the ability to summon and/or be a drone, which is apparently a recurring thing! Dimension hopping will be involved, subduing someone that is maybe yourself is certainly on the menu, and, in the end, our heroine is going to toe the line between life and death as something wholly “other” from her original self. Every Axiom Verge protagonist dies at least once, apparently. If you took Trace through his metroidvania world, you’ll be perfectly comfortable with Indra bumping around a dimension or two in Axiom Verge 2. It’s a sequel! You’re back for more of the same, so there is a lot of “the same” here.

But where Axiom Verge 2 deviates wildly from its predecessor makes all the difference. Indra does not receive a magical gun at the start of her journey, she obtains something little more fantastical than a pickaxe. When Indra inevitably gains her first sufficiently-advanced-technology-is-indistinguishable-from-magic upgrade shortly thereafter, she gains exactly zero additional offensive options. From there, she gets… a boomerang. It worked for Link, right? Well, it barely works here, and, while Indra gains greater and greater abilities as her quest proceeds, she never comes close to gaining the same destructive strength as Trace. The shock droids of the first area are still just as likely to incapacitate Indra at the end of her adventure as the beginning, and the upgraded “boss” monsters… Well… probably best if you just keep walking, Indra. Ain’t nothin’ you can do to that mobile tank…

But, much more than in Axiom Verge, in Axiom Verge 2, that seems to be the whole point.

Big ol' boyThere is not a single boss in Axiom Verge that must be permanently killed. There are (by my count) two bosses you must actively/temporarily incapacitate, but every other opponent can be ignored. In fact, were it not for the generally claustrophobic halls of the Breach Dimension, it would likely be tremendously easier to beat Axiom Verge 2 by not attacking a single soul. Do you get rewards for smashing robots or felling alien fauna? A health power up here or there is your only prize, as any form of “leveling” is almost entirely based on exploration (there are, like, four upgrades out of a hundred you get from actual violence). Beyond that, you are never chastised for running, and a number of the biggest, scariest monsters will be content to lumber around the same room for eternity if you do not fell them. And why would you? For outright attacks, you have, at best, a cool sword. Ever try to take down a tree with a machete? And the tree is also trying to eat you? Well, it’s like that, so why would you put yourself in such danger? Just walk away, Indra!

Trace may have claimed to be something like a peacemaker, but he literally could not leave his first room without letting his weapon rip. Indra, meanwhile, may gain the (limited) power to be a thinking bomb, but she lives in a world where it is possible to only use that ability to open passageways. She gains similar glitch/hacking tech, but can use it exclusively to have enemies drop health powerups. Indra never becomes godlike in her abilities, and that is a good thing, because, in an exploration-based world, she actually has incentive to explore. Find those passageways! Discover all the ways a breach-attractor can get you out of trouble! Do it all for the possibility of not getting destroyed by a leering space head. You’ll thank me later!

And… that feels weird.

KABAMIn fact, it repeatedly feels wrong. I want to be gameplay-Trace, not plot-Trace. I want to roll around the planet with enough power to conquer said planet. I want the local rabble to fear my strength, because, dammit it feels good to be wholly in power. Hey, droid jet that is trying to kill me? I will hack you, embarrass you, and then kill you! Because I’m the best! But Indra can’t be the best. No matter how many upgrades you find on her world, she will never come close to being half as strong as Nintendo’s intergalactic bounty hunter. Indra is never going to be able to solve her problems with weaponry, because she will never find the weapons that would allow that. So, as a player, I am disappointed in her lack of laser boomerangs.

Yet, Axiom Verge 2 still winds up being one of the best games I have ever played. Axiom Verge 2 may actually be one of the best examples of gameplay-plot synergy out there. I genuinely believe Samus Aran is capable of being vulnerable around the space dragon that ate her parents… but it is harder to believe after I have seen her explode entire planets. Meanwhile, Indra is a mother, scientist, and CEO, and I believe this is how someone from those circumstances would become a powerful robot lady. Is she vastly changed by the end of her quest? Of course. But she also is not vaporizing space monsters with a cannon capable of melting mountains. She might be able to morph into a drone, but that doesn’t give her a leg up on swinging a sword. While this author doesn’t know anyone that became a cyborg while exploring another dimension, that progression seems right. Axiom Verge 2 might turn the typical Metroid paradigm on its head, but it feels like it gets there by an honest path.

But this is a videogame website, so we have to ask the question: which is better? We have two vaguely mundane protagonists, but only one wielding a god-gun. And which makes for a better game? Well, I am a wiener, so I am going to claim both. I want Axiom Verge, because I like mowing down monsters. But Axiom Verge 2 felt more genuine and thoughtful, so I suppose I can give up raw power for authenticity. Axiom Verge 2 initially disappointed me by not being Axiom Verge, but it seems like a game I might think back on more often than its progenitor.

… Or I’ll just grab a new weapon that doubles as a grappling hook, and forget those “feelings” things ever happened…

FGC #616 Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2

  • Zipping AroundSystem: Axiom Verge was released on everything relevant at its release (PS4, PC, WiiU, Xbox One, the friggen’ Vita), and a few extra systems since (Nintendo Switch). Axiom Verge 2 is currently on Switch, PC, and PS4, and I think a Playstation 5 version is incoming. Or it is just the PS4 version? Who the heck knows.
  • Number of players: Speed running against other players is kind of like competitive multiplayer, but it is primarily single player.
  • Just play the gig, man: The music in both games is incredible. And so is the pixel art, level design, and general plotting. But the music is really good! … Like everything else. Dammit.
  • Alone in the Dark: Okay, maybe my main “disappointment” with Axiom Verge 2 is that it uses dynamic lighting to create “dark” areas in early parts of the game. While it makes for an excellent, moody setting, I abhor any malady in a videogame that hampers the player’s sight. This also applies to status effects in Kingdom Hearts PSP titles, and any time Mario encounters a “dark” ghost house. I am having flashbacks to my college, tic-tac-sized TV screen. It’s traumatic!
  • A matter of skill: Also, I do not care for allocating “skill points” in Axiom Verge 2. This is a great way to take hold of your unique playstyle or something, but it mostly just gives me choice paralysis, and I never upgrade anything, because I assume I am going to get some awesome ability later in the game, and not have the scratch to buy its cooler version. And that happens! When you get a flying powerup super late in the game! Please go back to just dropping missile containers, please.
  • Just hanging outStory Time (super-duper spoilers): It is possible and very probable that the big connection between Axiom Verge and Axiom Verge 2 is that Indra of AV2 eventually becomes Ophelia the giant robot lady of Axiom Verge, thus making AV2 a prequel to Trace’s adventures. And there are a lot of little lore bits, too, like how your breach buddy can accidentally infect humans, and transform them into Axiom Verge bosses. Or it is all a bunch of coincidences in an infinite multiverse, and we should really just relax.
  • Favorite boss (first game): Never going to forget that Kraid wannabe that was peaking out of an acid pool in Axiom Verge. He might not have moved much, but he certainly was tall. And, sometimes, tall is all you need.
  • Favorite boss (second game): The “always revive every time” boss battle with yourself seemed to initially tease that you were both invincible, but having a respawn point right there added a special level of futility to the proceedings. Violence is not the answer! When everyone is immortal, at least…
  • Did you know? Okay, nothing in Axiom Verge 2 comes close to the hallucination sequence in Axiom Verge, so it is hard to admit that one game isn’t better than the other.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Duh. I was excited to have an excuse to play Axiom Verge again in time for Axiom Verge 2, and I will likely still think the same in five years when Axiom Verge 3 rolls around. Good stuff!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Astro Boy: Omega Factor for the Gameboy Advance! Get ready for the other little metal boy on the block! Please look forward to it!

Here it comes
Just go ahead and utilize that doomsday weapon for funsies

FGC #607 Metroid

PRAY FOR PEACE IN SPACESamus Aran has been described as “The Hunter”. She has been described as a mobile tank. She was been described as the ultimate warrior. She has been described as the most powerful woman in the Nintendo pantheon.

And, after all that, I think a great Metroid game makes Samus Aran a bimbo.

My first Metroid was Metroid 1. I have three huge, unforgettable memories of Metroid from when I was a Wee Goggle Bob:

  1. The Ice Beam is so much better than the Wave Beam that, to this day, I still see the Wave Beam as a punishment/threat akin to those birds in Ninja Gaiden.
  2. Kraid is a giant pain in the ass (even when not giant).
  3. The Screw Attack was a boon like no other.

And to be clear on that final point, it is hard to describe the Screw Attack to someone who didn’t only ever play games like Super Mario Bros. (and its many contemporary clones) or Mega Man 2 for comparison. I remember distinctly describing “imagine you got a star man every time you jumped” to other kids that had not been able to make it through the caverns of Zebes. And did the screw attack actually serve the same purpose as a star man’s familiar invincibility? No. But it changed Samus for the better, and allowed her to sail through a number of monsters that previously would wreck her day. Whatever you consider the true final challenge of Metroid 1 to be (either an immobile brain in a lava factory or a dungeon full of jellyfish), the screw attack barely helps. But for actually adventuring through the other 90% of the game? Eat it, ripper that could otherwise soak 100 missiles, Samus Aran coming through, and you better get out of the way or be diced into your component pixels!

This seems dirtyAnd that feeling has never left my relative enjoyment of Metroid. In fact, I would argue that it is the main difference between Castlevania and Metroid titles. In a Castlevania game, you are constantly accruing new abilities and skills, but, by and large, it is a ladder system, and the bosses are climbing the rungs as you trade a +1 sword for a +2 sword/bat transformation. You are expected to graduate with these skills in the regular encounters just as much as the bosses that now have patterns that account for wolf forms. However, in a Metroid game, you get new skills, but are primarily improving what you have (practically) from the beginning. There are no gradually developing swords to find, just more missiles. Or more super bombs. Or more e-tanks. And the bosses are not 100% tests of skill, but gateways to confirm you have collected enough missiles, e-tanks, or whatever Samus has to find this mission. Can they be beaten with skill, precision, and a charge beam? Yes, but it feels more like they have 100 missiles of health because you are supposed to have 100 missiles by now. And you need those “gatekeeper” bosses, because otherwise you would just screw attack through everything straight to Mother Brain. And somebody has got to be a boss around here!

And that is ultimately what I want from a Metroid game. I do not need the difficulty to escalate as I venture further. I want it to get easier. I want Samus to become dumber, because she has upgraded her pea shooter to launch 50 continuous super missiles that are capable of literally rocking the planet. When Samus has 30 energy dots and the ability to transform into a cowardly ball, she should be precise and technical in all encounters. When she has more e-tanks than she knows what to do with and is blasting deadly rainbows out of her arm, she can soak a few hits while bad guys explode.

And if you still want a challenge? Then you have the option to not pick up that e-tank or missile expansion. Super Metroid‘s “would you like to turn off your screw attack” menu is poison to my playstyle, but it is an option. You can have a difficult trek through Zebes if you would like. “Challenge runs” are aptly named, but by no means required.

BLOW IT UPAnd speaking of Super Metroid, the original Metroid only included the Screw Attack, but Super Metroid upgraded everything down to Samus’s sneezes to be wholly homicidal. Jumping kills with the Screw Attack, running kills with the Speed Booster, and you can literally fly-dash-kill with the (slightly draining) Shinespark ability. And this is all before the finale of Super Metroid sees Samus gain a revenge beam that is capable of obliterating wall and brainnosaurus rex alike.

And it is interesting to consider what it means for Samus Aran when her ultimate goal is becoming practically invincible. Right from the start of Metroid, Samus’s abilities are some of the sharpest on the NES. Mega Man cannot duck, but Samus can roll into a ball to become a mobile, pint-sized target. Simon Belmont’s single-arc jump is one of the most perilous moves in his arsenal, while Samus has more air mobility than some birds (she takes after her dad). Mario can toss off bouncing balls, Samus can rapidly acquire beams that cover the length of the screen, freeze opponents, and/or travel straight through any object. Samus Aran is a formidable opponent from an era when most heroes could nary dream of having the mobility afforded by a Chozo costume. But once she has maximum missiles, energy tanks, and enough bird artifacts to soak a mortar shell? Well, then, who cares? She can just wade in lava like a toad (that enjoys a remarkably warm bath) and murder her parents’ killer by wave beaming through the floor.

NO PTSD FOR YOUAnd speaking of Ridley, that space dragon may exemplify this philosophy even more than the hyper beam. Meta Ridley of the Prime franchise may be sporting enhancements and brains, but “regular” Ridley is consistently all teeth, nails, and a tail that is 100% spikes by volume. By Super Metroid, Ridley is clawing and slashing and fighting like a wounded animal. There is no pattern to discern, no “phases” to go through. He is just a monster that may or may not eat your family, as there is no deeper Ridley to Ridley. This doesn’t work for everyone in this or any other game (Dracula would never sully his cape by fighting like that), but this is what it is to fight a bear… or The Incredible Hulk. Ridley is trying anything that works, and Samus is standing solid and using everything she’s got as her only defense. This kind of sucks from a videogame design perspective, but that “I just got lucky” feeling after Ridley finally explodes really works for why Ridley is memorable.

The best way to beat a brainless monster is to be a brainless monster.

So, yes, I want Samus Aran to be a bimbo by the time she reaches the end of her quest. After acquiring a PHD in Zebethian lost technology, I want Samus to be a big, dumb clod that will not get out of the way of a rinka while shoveling missiles into a jar. I want the last stand of Samus Aran to be the final flickering of her ultimate brain cell. A gibbering nincompoop could eradicate the Metroid menace with all those upgrades, and I want to play as that nincompoop.

And if Samus has to think about performing a single counter? That’s some other heroine. Samus is too dummy thicc with power to fit in with any of that rubbish.

FGC #607 Metroid

  • I don't understandSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System, but mostly played through e-reader in some version of Animal Crossing. Or maybe I am thinking of the version that was unlockable in Metroid Fusion? Or the GBA classic reissue? Look, it is on practically every Nintendo system ever created, save the Super Nintendo and N64.
  • Number of players: Samus does not encounter a single living thing that is not trying to kill her on Zebes, so only one player.
  • Favorite Powerup: You think it might be the screw attack? There is a reason I made that thing my desktop wallpaper!
  • Speedy Sister: The number one thing I noticed replaying Metroid in 2021? Dang, it goes fast. You only need, what? Morph ball, bombs, ice beam, and hi jump to complete the entire mission? No extra time spent here trying to remember where the hell the space jump got to, just nab some new boots and make a beeline for your local space dragon.
  • Ridley is too big: It is kind of miraculous that Ridley graduated to the main series antagonist role after Metroid, as he is certainly the easier of the two “mini” bosses of Metroid. Sure, Ridley officially has the second area, and gets a whole two scary statue heads leading to his lair, but Kraid? Kraid has his own weirdo clone to confuse new players, more health than has ever been measured, and the raw invulnerability of solid stomach spikes. And he even hides his requisite e-tank better than Ridley! Kraid got robbed when future editions devolved him into a mindless dinosaur. (And he lost all his hair, too.)
  • Map it out: My memories of playing Metroid as a child recall a Zebes that was easily ten times the size it actually is… mainly because I didn’t see a complete map until some “retro” Nintendo Power coverage of the game years later. When you are stuck in the depths of Brinstar with no way to distinguish between a lot of same-y rooms…. Well… let’s just say this game would be very different with Super Metroid’s automap.
  • The big finaleGoggle Bob Fact: I used to have a Nintendo sponsored calendar when I was young enough to not be literate. Metroid was the featured game of one of the months. As I was able to identify an “M” and someone clearly using an arm buster, I thought I was looking at Mega Man, not Samus Aran. I have been ashamed of this mistake continuously since I was 8.
  • Bounty Hunter: The original Famicom version of Metroid has save files, and a menu for such that is similar to The Legend of Zelda. If you complete the game, Samus’s icon receives lil’ money bag icons to indicate a clear. And if you finish the mission faster? Samus gets more money bags. But, money or not, the NES version is the only one with Zero Suit Samus and the “new game plus” of restarting with previous powerups. So what good is all the money in the universe compared to that?
  • Did you know? There are a few “unused” rooms within the code for Metroid. One contains an item orb on a random pedestal over lava. This is unusual, as item orbs only exist connected to Chozo statues in the normal version of Metroid. The room does resemble the location where you are likely to find your first missile upgrade, though, so maybe orbs were initially supposed to be more plentiful.
  • Would I play again: Yes, but only if there’s a map handy. I cannot remember which walls I am supposed to bomb for the life in me!

What’s next? Random ROB has not so randomly chosen… Metroid Dread! We just did the start, let’s see the most recent end! Please look forward to it!

THE END
“The Other Metroid?” Some kind of… Other M?