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FGC #582 Game & Watch Gallery

Let's watch some gamesThe best way to preserve your past is to literally own your past.

The Nintendo Game & Watch is technology that is fairly unique for this blog: the first Game & Watch was released before I was even born. While I have always considered myself blessed to be a games preservationist that has grown alongside the gaming medium, Game & Watch arguably belongs to Generation X with its initial release in 1980. Premiering with titles that I am doing my best not to describe as “primitive as a Flintstone”, the Game & Watch initially showcased games like Ball, Flagman, Vermin, and Judge. These pocket-sized devices all played one game per unit, and featured not only time-keeping functionality, but upwards of two game modes. Were these titles basic? Yes, of course. But could they be fun? Absolutely! If nothing else, they beat playing with your calculator on a train ride, so further Game & Watch titles were consistently released straight through 1986. At about that point, the Gameboy was preparing to take over the portable market, so new Game & Watch models became limited, and new titles for the “system” began to dribble out at a slower pace. But, for a time, Game & Watch ruled the roost, and Nintendo “the toy company” established itself in this new “videogame market” that may or may not have been recovering from an apocalyptic alien invasion (that is currently buried in New Mexico).

In short, if you are considering the whole of the history of videogames, you have to remember the Game & Watch. The Nintendo Entertainment System may have defined the home console for a generation, but just a few years before that box (and its dastardly robot) graced our shores, we were already playing with power, one Game & Watch at a time. And, while the “limited to one game” thing was saddening, this also encouraged an awful lot of wonderful mutations across the line. This was the first we saw buttons that increased or decreased in number according to a game. This was the first we saw the iconic crosspad. This is the first we saw “dual screen” gameplay, in both horizontal and vertical formats. Game & Watch is the first place we saw Luigi.

Boxes!And that latter point is pretty damn relevant, because when was the last time you heard about Mario’s other jobs with his brother? Nobody questioned when Mario claimed he was a doctor, because we were already used to his construction, bottling, and cement factory jobs…

A Mario Bros. where two brothers prove their plumbing credentials through flipping over turtles and crabs is the Mario Bros. everyone always remembers, but Game & Watch Mario Bros. was released four months before its arcade brother. It was a horizontal dual screen Game & Watch title, and saw Mario and Luigi (again, appearing in a game for the first time) working at some manner of delivery plant (is that a thing?). Both of the brothers (each clearly labeled by their respective joypads as “Mario” and “Luigi”) must work in tandem to pass something (boxes? cakes? bottles?) along and into a waiting delivery truck. There are not any “tricks or traps” to speak of, but the intermediary conveyer belt is a harsh mistress, and likely to break more than a few whatsits if the brothers (or your thumbs) don’t move fast enough. There are no monsters here, though, so this is a wholly mundane adventure focusing on what must be Mario & Luigi’s summer jobs. And speaking of jobs, this particular Game & Watch model eventually earned sponsorships from some businesses like Pokka (a Japanese food company) and Campari (an Italian liqueur producer). So Mario does know what alcohol is!

But if you are getting your historical information from Nintendo, Mario’s wine knowledge has been… let’s say obfuscated.

The new styleGame & Watch Mario Bros. has not been completely forgotten by Nintendo, but it has been diluted in modern incarnations. Mario Bros. appeared in both Game & Watch Gallery 3 for the Nintendo Gameboy, and Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Gameboy Advance. Unfortunately, there was basically no way for modern (“modern” being “made after 1984”) systems to emulate the hugely horizontal play area of the original Game & Watch, so everything was compressed to fit a squarer playing area. And, obviously, Mario & Luigi now work at a simple package delivery company, so the impressionable players could never have an inkling that the super brothers were ever transporting wine. And the “modern” reimagining? Well, now we’ve got a cake factory in the works (not even a cement factory?), Wario is a delivery driver (that should not be allowed), and Bowser occasionally stops by to muck up the conveyer belts (dude does not have anything better to do today). In both the GBC and GBA versions, it is a much prettier and a more modern, palatable experience… but it isn’t remotely the same. The basic elements of Mario Bros. are there, but everything from the sunny graphics to the aspect ratio feels like an entirely different animal. For the first appearance of the most famous player two in all of gaming, Game & Watch Mario Bros. is preserved about as well as a sandwich bag filled with ranch dressing (honey, I know you hate to throw out food, but we have a perfectly good bottle of the stuff right there on door).

And don’t even get me started on Game & Watch The Legend of Zelda!

Rescue the laundry!But let’s not imagine we live in a world where Game & Watch and its contributions are completely ignored. Why, there’s Mr. Game & Watch right there, starring in one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises. And his “package attack” move echoes exact animations from Game & Watch Mario Bros. Same for his down taunt, which recalls the exasperated sitting of the brothers when completing a level. And we just got a Super Mario Bros. 35th Anniversary Edition Game & Watch! It didn’t actually include Game & Watch Mario Bros., but it definitely included… uh… Ball, apparently! And Super Mario Bros.! Everybody likes Super Mario Bros. better anyway! What’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that whole likability thing with a healthy mix of hardware versus profitability. Would people rather play Super Mario Bros. or Game & Watch Mario Bros.? Well, considering the Game & Watch collection was a modest hit, while Super Mario Bros. is a game that is continually released on every system ever produced by Nintendo (and with a few weird mutations, too), it seems pretty obvious that more people are interested in seeing the brothers when they are a little more super. And that is convenient, because Super Mario Bros. can be perfectly (or at least reasonably) emulated to practically any device with a screen, whereas the wine factory (I am sticking to this for you, Campari) requires two side-by-side screens for a perfect experience. And Nintendo has decided to drop this whole “dual screen” thing as of the retirement of the 3DS and WiiU, so official Nintendo hardware is out of the question. Could some other company, maybe one without as many valid revenue streams as Nintendo, carry this burden? Some “lesser” hardware manufacturer would be happy to reissue a few Mario games. An Evercade for the Game & Watch? I know I would be down for such a boutique item.

Octo!But it ain’t gonna happen. Nintendo holds an iron grip on any and all legal ownership of Mario, Luigi, and the Game & Watch. It would not be as profitable to focus on “perfect” Game & Watch preservation as it would be to steer those resources into other departments, but, by the same token, there is no way Nintendo is going to let someone else profit from technology made by Nintendo nearly 40 years ago. The original creator of Game & Watch died nearly 25 years ago (!), but Nintendo is going to own that hardware lock, stock, and barrel until the day you die. And if you are under the mistaken impression that Nintendo would be cool with some modern modding, go ahead and ask anyone that listed a video on youtube about how to hack the latest Game & Watch release. Oh, wait, you can’t, because Nintendo copyright claimed all of them out of existence. Want to do anything you want with that fifty dollar doodad you got for Christmas? Not on Nintendo’s (game &) watch, buddy!

But this is the future for nearly all intellectual property out there. Nintendo will own Game & Watch for the next hundred years, and there is absolutely no reason they would ever have to loosen their grip on the IP. And, with that in mind, they control how Game & Watch content exists for the rest of time. You want to play the original game? No, no you don’t. You want to play with silly, beepy Mr. Game & Watch, and exchange tales of his “references” with your friends. You don’t want to remember when Nintendo was proudly peddling liquor sponsorships to get a foothold, you want to remember when the Nintendo Entertainment System defined gaming. There was never a “desperate” Mario that had to beg for your attention. There has only ever been a complete, genre-defining Mario.

History is what you make of it. And if you own your history, so much the better. For you.

FGC #582 Game & Watch Gallery

  • ToadholeSystem: Technically ROB chose the Gallery for Gameboy, but I did a lot of focusing on the Gameboy Color enhanced Game & Watch Gallery 3. Also tossed in some Gameboy Advance Game & Watch Gallery 4 action, too. I have a lot of random Game & Watch Galleries scattered about the place.
  • Number of players: You can link cable all of these games, right? If you can’t, I’m still going to claim they are two players, because you can at least do some boxing in Game & Watch Gallery 4. It counts!
  • Can’t you just be happy with the fact that there are four Gameboy games that preserve Game & Watch titles? Well, yes, that is good, but the last Game & Watch Gameboy title was released in 2002, with the more digital versions only seeing release as recently as 2008. While Game & Watch games are technically available in some ways (you can grab the GBA version on WiiU as of 2016), it sure seems the birth of Nintendo gaming is going to stay locked away in a vault.
  • So you’re saying a new Game & Watch line will be released seven seconds after publishing this article? Yes, that seems to be how it works.
  • Favorite Game & Watch game (collection based): Octopus is part of Game & Watch Gallery 1, and I appreciate how that game has always been as “simple” as other G&W games, but contains an awful lot of strategy. Or maybe I just like matching wits with an octopus. Whatever! You want the spiritual ancestor to practically every videogame I have ever enjoyed, though, just check out Octopus.
  • Love that little guyFavorite Game & Watch game (modern revision): Game & Watch Gallery 4 went harder than it had to with its remixed graphics, and I appreciate that Donkey Kong Jr. got one final showcase before he was retired seemingly forever. That little dude always needed a few more starring roles, and Gogglebob.com does not officially recognize Donkey Kong (of Donkey Kong Country) as Junior’s grownup incarnation. And further proof Mario once had a mean streak!
  • Favorite Game & Watch game (that we will never see again): Mickey Mouse had his own Game & Watch game. Like another children’s star, it was a game involving our hero grabbing eggs from chickens. Minnie was responsible for watch/alarm duties. And we will never see it again, because I cannot imagine the legal quagmire that would result from both companies even addressing the issue. This never happened, guys!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Game & Watch Mario Bros. is one of the first videogames I ever played, as my cousin had that Game & Watch, and I successfully begged my parents to let me try it. I am moderately certain Toddler Goggle Bob did not immediately break the thing… but my memory from that time may be a little hazy.
  • Did you know? The Nintendo DS title Personal Trainer: Cooking, which is little more than a dedicated cookbook that is somehow not Cooking Mama, included Game & Watch Chef as a hidden feature. Chef… is not a game that is going to make you a better cook.
  • Save 'em!Would I play again: I like revisiting the infant stages of the Mario we know today. I would totally be down with all of these titles being ported to the Switch, as they work very well for dealing with random boredom. Other than that, though? Well, sometimes it is nice to know something is being preserved, but maybe I could play something else…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord? 2 for the Sony PSP! Oh, what I have done to deserve this, my ROB? Nothing? It’s actually a good game? Okay, great. Then please look forward to it!

Where is Little Mac?

FGC #568 Wild Guns (Reloaded)

Now reloadingLet’s talk about cowboys, challenges, and save states.

Today’s game is Wild Guns, which has been on the ol’ ROB list for a while. Why? Wild Guns Reloaded, the remake of Wild Guns, was released a few years back, so I have a physical copy of that floating around the collection. And then, just about a year ago, Wild Guns, the original SNES version, was added to the Nintendo Switch’s online library. This is a rare opportunity for the FGC! This is a game that I did not play during its heyday, but now I can play its original and upgraded versions side by side on legitimate hardware! I can compare and contrast versions! I love comparing and contrasting! I’ve been doing it since grade school!

Unfortunately, I hit a pretty familiar wall in Wild Guns almost immediately: this game is hard as (Cement Man’s) balls.

Wild Guns is, at its core, a graduated shooting gallery. On a basic level, there is very little difference between the gameplay of Wild Guns and your average shooting gallery you might find at an amusement park (that’s where all the arcades went, right? They’re still safe and happy at Six Flags?). You play as one of two (or four) cowboys/cowgirls/cowdogs who stand in the “foreground”, a series of targets pop up on another plane, and they require a whole lotta shootin’. Unlike in your traditional shooting gallery, though, these targets shoot back, so you have to not only manually aim, but also shuffle, jump, and roll around the screen to avoid a hail of bullets. And, just for the fun of it, this ain’t just a Western, it’s a Western in Space (or, at least, some nebulous future), so half of your opponents are tanks, giant brain pods, and a whole murder of Terminators. And if you are at all on the fence about shooting robots with shotguns, let me assure you that the inclusion of all sorts of Contra-esque opponents is unequivocally a good thing, as they allow for a lot more varied attacks than your traditional six-shooter. It is simply more fun to dodge the claws of a giant, mechanical crab than your 700th stampeding horse.

Blow it up goodAnd, while this is a fun game, I am inclined to blame the abuser (the game) and not the victim (my poor gaming skills). Despite being remarkably straightforward, the controls and “details” of Wild Guns can often be confusing to a neophyte. I have an attack button, but what am I supposed to do when one random bad hombre wanders into the foreground? Use my special attack? That works, but apparently Up+Attack whips out a hitherto unmentioned melee weapon. Would have been good to know that three deaths ago! Oh, and everything is a one-hit kill. Probably should have mentioned that immediately, as one stray (yellow, tennis ball-sized) bullet is just as deadly as having a car thrown in your face. Granted, this kind of weakness-to-firearms is true to mundane existence, too, but I think we are all used to heroes that are slightly more resistant. And, give or take the occasional laser lasso, absolutely everything in Wild Guns is instantly deadly, which pairs poorly with depth perception involving a little more wiggle room than should be allowed. With the faux 3-D layout of these stages, it can be difficult in the heat of battle to determine whether a bullet is going to safely sail to the side, or straight into poor Annie’s heart. It takes some significant practice to survive Wild Guns, and it feels like not every death is actually the fault of the player.

Though one could argue that this is the entire point of Wild Guns. I played “upgraded version” Wild Guns Reloaded initially, and foolishly assumed it had modern trappings and an appropriate “easy mode”. I was wrong. While Wild Gun Reloaded contains an easy mode, that easy mode did not transform WGR into a cakewalk where I could just soak in some giant robot fights. When I lost my last life on easy mode, I chose “Continue”… and then had to start at the beginning of the game all over again. Wild Guns Reloaded is just like the original Wild Guns: you are expected to clear three entire stages on your limited count of lives, and if you do not survive, it is right back to start for you. Despite the fact that you could lose nearly all of your life within the first seconds of the first stage, you have to survive straight through two stages, two minibosses, and the final big boss capper for the level to see the next continue point. And, yes, in all stages, if you whiff it during the final boss, you are returned back to the start of that level, and have to survive every other onslaught all over again just for a chance to maybe learn the pattern that led to your death the first time. Wild Guns demands a lot of practice to reach the final battle, and, while the challenges are not insurmountable, they will lead to a player being much more conservative with their playstyle. You can pick up that lit stick of dynamite and toss it back at an opponent, but do you want to? Do you really want to take the chance that that explosion will be fatal, and then you won’t have enough stamina to outlast the monster at the end of the level? CRAB!Can you afford to stop dodging for even a second, lest you have to repeat everything ad nauseum? No one likes losing progress, so are you willing to risk your valuable time on a jump that may or may not land you right on top of a knife’s edge? You are constantly stuck making life or death decisions in Wild Guns Reloaded, and you know the punishment for a wrong decision is having to do it all over again.

And then I played Wild Guns on the Nintendo Switch Online “Snesflix” service. That emulator contains a rewind feature. And, shock of shocks, I completed Wild Guns inside of an hour without a single (logged) death.

Gee, wonder what changed?

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I support cheating in videogames. What’s more, I’m one of those nerds that can and will wax philosophic on the nature of if you even can cheat in a videogame. Is a “game” defined as a competition between two entities? Is it man versus (the people who programmed the) machine? In that case, is it cheating that I have way more experience with videogames than should be expected of a player? Or, put another way, do you figure the AI in Wily’s latest Robot Master is capable of understanding that it is fighting a Mega Man that has obliterated thirty years’ worth of its robotic brethren? I hack in huge experience gains in JRPGs because I don’t want to waste my time grinding. I hack in gigantic funbucks accounts in fighting games because I don’t want to spend the rest of the day beating Very Hard with Worst Character™ just to see a gallery image. And, yes, I use save states and rewind features in action games, because my time is valuable, and I don’t need to repeat an entire level (or, in some NES examples, an entire game) because the boss scored a lucky hit. Mistakes happen, and you should not have to waste your time because you hit the jump button without the all-important directional pad input that would transform that deadly hop into an invincible roll.

But, yes, it would be foolish to claim that using save states does not drastically change the game being played. Wild Guns is not a game that involves much resource management or having to think “three steps ahead”. Wild Guns is a pure action game, so if you have the ability to “rewind” as little as two seconds, you can dodge that bullet. You can throw that dynamite faster. You can duck left, when you now know dodging right would have been fatal. And thus do all those “life or death” decisions fall by the wayside. What’s left? A competent shooting game with some whacky enemies that are color swapped repeatedly, a handful of memorable bosses, and that one guy who does a hula dance on the side of a train. Wild Guns transforms from a white-knuckle ride to a pleasant-but-forgettable game with the addition of one minor gameplay option. And it is not just about save states! If Wild Guns included an “instant continue” feature or infinite lives, it would similarly become easy to live sloppily in this New Old West, and we would be talking about a different experience. Wild Guns is, for better or worse, defined by the existence of its omnipresent challenge, and changing that changes everything.

GET IT!?So what’s the moral here? Well, it seems that even if you have the ability and will to cheat, maybe hold off on cheating for a solid half hour before diving into the cheaters’ pool. Even if a videogame was made by three people, it was made to be played a certain way, and denying yourself that experience is denying everyone that made that game. Save states, rewind, or even your traditional Game Genie will change that base experience, and you are missing out on what might be the entire point of any given game. Don’t cheat, kids, because you’re only cheating yourself.

And next week, Random ROB has chosen… Battletoads? Goddammit! Forget I said anything. Cheat to your heart’s content, everyone!

FGC #568 Wild Guns (Reloaded)

  • System: Super Nintendo, then “Reloaded” on Playstation 4, Windows, and Switch, and then the SNES version popped up again on the Switch. It was also on the Wii and WiiU, but those systems feel like some kind of fleeting dream now.
  • Number of players: 2 player simultaneous! And 4 in Reloaded! That looks like fun, and I will give it a shot the absolute minute I find someone that can play this game and doesn’t die in seven seconds!
  • Go doggy goWhy Reloaded: I apologize if I made Wild Guns Reloaded sound impossible with its lack of contemporary conveniences. The widescreen format of this modern version really does feel like how the game is meant to be played, even if such a thing were not possible back in 1994. And the new characters (and possibility of four players!) are just aces. … And I’ll never beat it, because who has the time?
  • Favorite Character: Every character except Clint. Annie is the original cowgirl that can conquer an army of robots while wearing a frilly dress. Doris is the rarely seen videogame “big girl” with even bigger grenades (not a euphemism). Bullet is a Dachshund. This leaves us with Clint, who is only a generic Western protagonist. See you never, Space Cowboy.
  • Favorite Gun: Just to piss you off, sometimes a gun powerup will transform your deadly weaponry into something more appropriate to Splatoon, and you won’t be able to do a lick of damage for fifty bullets or so. This is evil, and I hate it. Or, when I’m playing with save states, I am capable of finding it funny. Weird how that works out.
  • Did you know? I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned “a videogame (that) was made by three people”, Wild Guns was put together over the course of five months with three core designers and two support staff members. In that context, Wild Guns is an accomplishment on par with the Parthenon.
  • Would I play again: This is a great “arcade style” game that could be fun to play for a half hour some random afternoon. Of course, if I don’t want that to be a frustrating time, I’m going to have to remember how to actually survive the game. Hm. That might make this a “no”…

What’s next? Random ROB actually has chosen Battletoads, but it’s not regular ol’ Battletoads, it’s Battletoads 2020! The future is now! Or at least Monday! Please look forward to it!

BIG OL BRAIN
So is it biting Metroid or Contra?

FGC #564 Kirby Super Star (Ultra)

I can hear this GIFThere are many that claim Kirby Super Star is the secret origin of Super Smash Bros. This is likely wholly accurate, as both games were directed by Masahiro Sakurai, and both titles seem to feature controllable characters with extremely similar general abilities (Kirby’s “ball shield” is very familiar to anyone that ever found the block button in Smash). This brings us to another popular theory: in much the same way that Super Smash Bros is a mix of a fighting game and platformer, Kirby Super Star has strayed from Kirby’s platforming roots, and is closer to a combination platformer/beat ‘em up. In short, Kirby Super Star has less in common with Mario, and more influence from Final Fight.

This is, to be absolutely clear, grizzoshit. Kirby Super Star is not a beat ‘em up. There are too many treasure chests to find for this Great Kirby Offensive to ever be a beat ‘em up. But I, the magnanimous king of this website, will forgive you for ever believing Kirby Super Star could be a beat ‘em up. Why, gentle reader? Because I see how a poor, unenlightened soul may be confused by the artistry on display in Kirby Super Star.

Why do people think Kirby Super Star might be a beat ‘em up? Because, like in any good beat ‘em up, it feels damn good to hit things in Kirby Super Star.

Kirby has always been a violent little dude. While Mario might bop his opponents or toss a friendly fireball, Kirby was swallowing his opponents right from day one. And that was not in a playful, “haha now you’re lunch” Pac-Man way, either. Kirby could swallow an opponent for some empty calories, but he was a lot more likely to then spit his potential lunch as a deadly projectile. So, yes, while you might reasonably be able to complete a pacificist run of Sonic the Hedgehog (give or take some mad scientist bosses), Kirby has always had physical conflict baked into his DNA (or at least his dinner). Even simply breathing deeply generated a mini-projectile for Kirby! And his following adventure saw the puff ball gain the ability to “copy” the skills of his foes, and the powers that stuck with our pink hero all seemed more offensive than movement-based. High Jump and Ball were fun and all, but audiences clearly wanted swordplay and hammer time. And regardless of which abilities would eventually make the cut(ter), early Kirby titles established its protagonist not as a dude that would just run and jump, but someone who was going to slice a deadly swath through adorable star blocks.

I like this birdBut, in the same way that Kirby graduated from simple sucking to copying abilities, the ability to copy at all had to evolve with its attendant hero. On the Gameboy, this took the form of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, wherein having a different animal buddy impacted abilities in different ways, so what was a flurry of sparks on “regular” Kirby became a lightbulb when in the presence of a fish. It… made sense at the time. On the Super Nintendo, Kirby was able to utilize each copy ability in a variety of ways. For instance, the simple parasol was no longer a sword-with-a-floaty-jump it was on the NES, it now involved its own special dash attack, a “meteor attack”, and it could shield Kirby in new and interesting ways. And how was this all possible without any animal buddies? Simple! Kirby got a moveset! He can utilize option A, but it becomes option B while jumping, option C while dashing, and option D if it happens to be used while jumping and dashing. In some cases, there were distinct input commands for “special techniques” that could do all sorts of things (or at least generate a fireball). Kirby has got options!

More handsAnd, yes, this sounds a lot like a beat ‘em up. It very much sounds like the more complicated beat ‘em ups (Streets of Rage comes immediately to mind) that utilize not some simple “jump+punch = special” architecture, but a variety of special moves activated with particular inputs. And, obviously, you use special moves in beat ‘em ups because they are more powerful and useful than regular moves. … Or is it that obvious? Special moves are special, and they are usually visually magnificent (never a bad time when someone’s fist catch fire), but they definitely have an entry barrier with their special inputs. How do you convey to the player that a special move is, ya know, special? Some people are naturally going to gravitate toward “complicated = better”, but there is an equally larger audience that is going to ask why they should press all these extra commands when simply one button is going to do the job. Sure, it might do more damage, but why bother? Well how about you bother because dammit it feels good to hit things.

This is the secret of Kirby Super Star and good beat ‘em ups. You can face armies of the exact same guy (whether that be Waddle Dee or Two P), you can venture through areas that look remarkably similar (how many times has Kirby wandered through a nondescript forest?), and you can fight the same collection of bosses but-now-a-different-color until the it’s time for your sleep ability to kick in, and, in the end, it will work because it feels good to hit (these) things. Every one of Kirby’s Super Star abilities has an offensive component, and whether you are wielding a fireball or mirror dash, when you smack into an opponent, it feels substantial. Even the more “movement” based abilities, like Wing or Jet, generate “forcefields” that will obliterate blocks and opponents alike. And, of course, if either of those abilities activate their dash attacks, well, Rocky the rock dude is going to be in traction for the next week. And, just in case you think that simple contact is the only way to generate a beefy hit, the Plasma ability proves that this can apply to long range attacks, too. Throw off a simple plasma spark, and it “feels” like you are generating no more force than your average pencil eraser; but charge up to a full plasma ball, and the screen practically vibrates with the overwhelming energy Kirby has blasted into the universe. Sure, it takes a moment to charge up, but you do that because it feels good to annihilate that Bio Spark in a single plasma explosion.

Do it, Kirby!And, even more than Kirby’s shield and other similarities, this is the origin of Super Smash Bros. Super Smash Bros is a game where, no matter what happens, it feels good to “smash” your opponent. It feels good to send Jigglypuff sailing over the horizon, and our primitive lizard brains react well to the sound of the smash-shotgun, the vibration of the controller with every smash, and the temporary “lag” that occurs in an effort to further extend the moment of a perfect smash. Super Smash Bros is more than a strangely chaotic version of Mario’s last birthday party, it is also a game that flawlessly conveys to a player how much fun it can be to hit things. And, even though the roster may wear and the challenges may diminish over time, it always feels good to smash in Smash Bros. It’s right there in the title for a reason!

So congratulations, Kirby Super Star. You might not be a beat ‘em up, but you did refine one of that genre’s greatest strengths. It feels good to hit things in Kirby Super Star, so it feels good to play Kirby Super Star.

Beware the pink fury of Kirby. He is going to hit things while smiling the whole time.

FGC #564 Kirby Super Star (Ultra)

  • System: Super Nintendo for one glorious Christmas Season in 1996. Then it was rereleased on Nintendo Wii, Wii U, and Switch. There was also the Nintendo DS version, Kirby Super Star Ultra, which I may as well play, too, because it’s fun to hit things on the small screen.
  • Totally wrongNumber of players: This is a wonderful little title that uses a “Tails” 2-player mode. History has proven that it is ideal for playing a fun platformer while babysitting. Though, to be clear, you may have to coach a child on the basics of “press up to open doors”.
  • Port-o-Call: On one hand, it is difficult to improve on perfection, so Kirby Super Star Ultra seems to provide very limited upgrades to the original. There are entirely new modes/levels/bosses, but, like Chrono Trigger DS, the original content is so jam-packed with fun that the “extra” stuff feels vaguely exhausting. That said, it does reintroduce Kabula the Angry Blimp, so it gets bonus points there.
  • This was never a good idea: Though, to be clear, the DS version is abhorrent in its two player mode, as it absolutely requires two cartridges to get anywhere. You can technically share a cart to a limited degree, but the game won’t even appear on the second DS’s screen, so good luck playing through Super Star Ultra while crouched over someone else’s teeny tiny screen.
  • What’s in a name: In Europe, this game is known as Kirby’s Fun Pak. This is egregious, as the acronym for Kirby Super Star is almost KISS.
  • Favorite Copy Ability: Plasma is my go-to in basically every situation. You just cannot beat launching a green ball of electronic nonsense at all times, and the “static generation” bits are fun to make Kirby look like a little pink maniac. Though we do have to give the Paint ability props here, too, as paint is apparently one of the most powerful forces in the Kirby universe.
  • Get that blimpUnanswered Questions: Does anyone know what happened to Meta Knight’s crew? Like, dude had a bird captain working for him in addition to his regular army, and I’m genuinely curious what happened to those guys.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: In my youth, I may or may not have drawn an entire comic book based on the general beats of Kirby Super Star. It is a prequel story about Kirby and Jynx teaming up to take down Meta Knight and his fabulous bird ship. If I do say so myself, it is not all that bad, though I did make the (wholly incorrect) artistic choice of giving Kirby visible teeth…
  • Did you know? Completing every last bit of Kirby Super Star Ultra unlocks some “outtakes” of Kirby in his iconic cinemas from the original. This means that, like Altered Beast, Kirby is an actor portraying these adventures for an unseen audience. I choose to believe the “real” Kirby is an Estonian dwarf in a costume.
  • Would I play again: Did I ever get around to plainly stating how much I love this game? It is my favorite Kirby game, and that puts it in the running for favorite videogame of all time. I like hitting things. I will play Kirby Super Star again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Beast Wars: Transformers for the Playstation! Get ready to enter beast mode! Please look forward to it!

He can't go around?

FGC #558 Mappy Land

Mappy time!Namco, you screwed up. You chose the wrong company mascot.

Pac-Man sucks.

Look, I get it. Pac-Man is definitely a cultural touch stone. In a lot of ways, Pac-Man is the original videogame mascot. Statistically, most people reading this are too young to remember (as people that remember so far back at this point are mostly just slurping up apple sauce and accusing the staff at The Home for Retired Gamers of being “space invaders”) but there was a time when “Pac-Man” gripped the nation. You could buy a Pac-Man lamp, watch, and mini freezer down at the local Sears, and still be home in time to watch the Christmas Special. Pac-Man had his own hit song and a parody song by Weird Al (granted, it was more of a B-Side, but it counts!). Pac-Man was everywhere for a few years, and, while many regarded it as a fad (because it absolutely was), the idea of a culturally significant videogame character paved the way for Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Steven McMinecraft.

But, in much the same way that early videogames had to work out all the kinks before graduating to their later, sublime heights, Pac-Man was not built for the big leagues right out of the gate (maze?). Sonic showed his attitude from the first moment he paused to sneer at the player, and even pudgy, boxy little Legend of Zelda Link established his adventuring roots once he was told how dangerous it was to go alone. Pac-Man, though? That dude didn’t even have eyes. There is genius in the simple, immediately recognizable design of Pac-Man, but you could say the same of a football. And you don’t see any NFL mascots that are just giant, sentient footballs, do you? (I am genuinely asking here, I don’t watch a lot of sports.) Pac-Man is amazing, but he’s more pac than man, and an outside longshot to attach to an entire merchandizing empire. This ain’t a funny Star Wars beeping trashcan pushing action figures, Pac-Man is barely a complete pizza.

And then there’s Mappy. Mappy’s got legs.

(… Uh, literally. Pac-Man doesn’t naturally have those, either.)

Let's danceLet’s start with an obvious advantage: Mappy is vaguely human shaped (eat it, puck man). He’s also a cartoon mouse. Those things are pretty popular. He’s also a cop, and, while it is difficult to approve of that vocation, it does give him a clear purpose. Mappy has the eternal goal of arresting the bad guys. Pac-Man? He’s just a mortal sin (gluttony!) personified. Mappy is trying to clean up the mean streets of wherever anthropomorphic cats and mice hang out, and he’s doing it one trampoline at a time. Oh! And that allows for an immediately recognizable dichotomy, as Mappy winds up involved in a literal game of cat and mouse. That even explains how this all works, right? Mappy is a mouse, so contact with an unrestrained cat is going to lead to instant death. It is immediately easy to understand, which is essential in a videogame. Nobody needs a tutorial to understand that cat beats mouse.

And the gameplay of the original Mappy? Similarly straightforward. You can use trampolines to bounce to separate levels, and it’s your job to collect all the doodads scattered around. Unlike some protagonists, you’re not collecting for the sake of amassing wealth (though you do get points), but to rescue these stolen items from the nefarious cat gang. You’re raiding a criminal warehouse! Just like Batman! Everybody loves Batman! And also like Batman, Mappy is not a trigger happy police officer, he uses traps and strategy to tackle his foes. Mappy’s greatest weapon is not a gun, but a bunch of doors that open with varying strength and inexplicable abilities. Some doors possess meager door-range, but a number of rainbow doors fire… I don’t know… door-beams across the arena. Microwaves? And, if you’re smart, you’ll be able to utilize these magical doors to negate an entire gang of nefarious cats. Mappy is not a strong hero, he is a clever hero.

(Which, incidentally, is better than a certain “hero” that can only be described as “hungry”.)

I recognize this mazeAfter the success of the arcade-based Mappy, Namco(t) did its best to adapt that clever mouse gameplay to the home consoles. In much the same way that Mario Bros. had to go Super and involve gigantic, scrolling stages, Mappy left the warehouse, and started to venture across multiple levels. Mappy Land saw Mappy visiting island getaways, the Old West, and haunted graveyards (yes, Pac-Idiot, Mappy can handle ghosts, too). It is not a coincidence that the first area of Mappy Land is a train station, sending a clear message to the player that Mappy is ready and willing to travel the world. And don’t worry! The different stages are not just some half-assed attempt at graphical variety: every land Mappy visits has its own share of tricks and traps, from bowling balls to boxing bags to other things that probably start with B.

And, to be absolutely clear, these items and traps are the best thing to come out of a videogame from 1986. In every level, your cat opponents will ineffectually dance at the sight of a common cattail cat toy or stack of coins (those money grubbing cats), or be knocked out by catnip. In a medium that usually involves your opponents being blown to smithereens, it is delightfully goofy. And even more than the items, the traps are continually cartoony. Mappy rides a pulley that zooms across the screen and bowls over his opponents. Mappy rapidly spins around on handlebars to banish pirates. And, my personal favorite, Mappy drops small “bombs” that detonate and launch cats into the sky to become glorious fireworks. At a time when games were abstract but still clearly violent (you think Mega Man is shooting tickles at the robot masters?), Mappy evidently inhabits a “toon universe” where physics are only important if they don’t get in the way of a gag. No, I don’t think an adult mouse man can actually fly across the dawn while suspended by a balloon, but it does make for an interesting stage mechanic.

And then what was in store for Mappy after his stunningly creative 1986 adventure? Nothing.

BANGOkay, yes, there have been a handful of Mappy games since his NES premiere. Much like Pac-Man Jr., Mappy’s son got into the act for the sequel, but Mappy Kids almost entirely dropped the trampoline-based gameplay of the originals for something like a more traditional platformer. It was more standard, but it was also a lot more forgettable (you know, except that part where you play Spot the Difference with a picture of a klansman). Then, about a decade later, there was the arcade “arrangement” version that was basically Arcade Mappy 2… though with the significant caveat that it never made it over to home consoles. And from there all Mappy could ever scrounge up was a pachinko machine or two, and a mobile game that has an extremely dubious existence (go ahead and find me a video of Mappy World. I’ll wait). And then there’s Touch the Mappy. Nobody wanted to touch the Mappy. Poor dude had a memorable arcade game, a stellar console debut, and then he was trapped by the mousetrap of history.

Pac-Man, meanwhile? There’s a guy who barely had a game to begin with, yet, after decades of games that barely make a lick of sense, he’s palling around with Donkey Kong, Lucina, and Cloud.

Let's fly

And he stole Mappy’s trampoline! And he’s letting everybody use it!

Namco could have had an excellent, understandable mascot creature, but they dropped him for a gliding circle. You messed up, Namco, and everybody knows it. Mappy should have had that top spot, and yellow dot creature is still the most hopeless of gaming’s popular mascots.

FGC #558 Mappy Land

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System to start, then there were a few dozen years of no Mappy Land, and then we got it on WiiU. Now it is available on Switch as part of the Namco(t) Museum Archives Collection (Volume 2).
  • Number of players: 1 Player Mappy, because, what, you going to feature Mapico, Mappy’s wife? Preposterous!
  • Hey, what about Hopping Mappy? We don’t talk about any pogo-stick based games here.
  • Lovin' the tropicsFavorite Level: I’ve always appreciated the tropical stage that features moving trampolines, climbing vines, and all the fish you could ever eat (or feed to cats). In a weird way, the whole level feels like an expanded version of Donkey Kong Jr., and I would certainly be down for a Super DK Jr. any day of the week.
  • Favorite Trap: Did I already mention the fireworks? Because it’s the fireworks. You can somehow get multiple cats at once with one wholly stationary bomb. These cats are apparently pretty dumb!
  • What’s in a name: The actual names of your feline antagonists are Goro (the big guy) and his lackeys, the Meowkies. I would use these names more if Goro didn’t call to mind another significant arcade antagonist.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: This was one of my few NES titles when I was the youngest of the young. I hated it. I played 800,000 hours of it. I… was a conflicted child.
  • Did you know? Namco Super Wars, a tactical RPG for the Wonderswan that may be the precursor to other tactical Namco games, includes Mappy. He’s a white, fuzzy mouse-man, and, given the art style of the game, this anthropomorphic animal would likely be a lot more comfortable in the Five Nights at Freddy’s universe. I would post some official art, but I’m afraid of those cold, red eyes following me into the night.
  • Would I play again: I mean, if you’ve got a general hankering for some slightly graduated arcade action, you can’t go too wrong with Mappy Land. It is easily available on the Switch now, so the only thing holding me back from another playthrough is the Switch currently contains every game that has ever existed. That’s some steep competition for a little mouse.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity! That’s going to be a fun time for all those lil’ Hyrule Warriors. Please look forward to it!

Looks familiar
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