Tag Archives: witch fetish

FGC #512 Crystal Castles

Draw that mazeCrystal Castles is a 1983 arcade title that invented videogames. Doesn’t that seem important? Doesn’t that seem like a reason Crystal Castles should be remembered as more than a Wikipedia article titled “Crystal Castles (video game)”? Crystal Castles defined gaming, and you’ve got to sort through a disambiguation page to even find it? Bah!

Don’t believe me? Here’s a partial list of how Crystal Castles was a might more important than some yellow hockey puck that clearly had a better publicist.

There are 37 levels, and that’s it!

What is even happeningRemember playing Donkey Kong? Pac-Man? Space Invaders? Remember beating those games? Yes? Liar! You may have dropped DK from the highest tower, or witnessed the birth of Pac Jr. in Ms. Pac-Man, but you can’t beat those early arcade hits. Why? Because they literally never end. They’re programmed to loop forever and ever. This was a deliberate move, as this was back in the day that the longer a game went on, the more quarters it could suck from unsuspecting pockets. Who would ever want to play a videogame they had already finished?

Well, the designers for Crystal Castles decided that maybe a videogame should, ya know, end. Crystal Castles has a level structure that should be very familiar to modern audiences: there are nine “worlds”, and each “world” contains four “stages”. Difficulty progresses as you climb higher in the worlds, and every fourth stage features a sort of quasi-boss when Berthilda the Witch stalks the land.

And if that sounds like the exact structure of Super Mario Bros, congratulations, you understand why Bentley Bear should be just as popular as Mario. … Okay, that might be a stretch, but Berthilda should at least be allowed to come to Bowser’s kart races.

There’s an actual ending!

This is the endIf there are a limited number of stages, there has to be a finale, right? Something to find at the end of the rainbow to confirm you’re worthy of that pot of gold? Well, after clearing 36 stages, there’s the END level, a simple stage that seems to be an outright reward for making it to the furthest possible point in Bentley Bear’s world. Clear this (surprisingly) easy denouement and you’ll be rewarded with a special message broadcast directly from the black void of the arcade cabinet.

I give up : you win
You must be a video whiz

Oh man. I’m a video whiz? Screw modern day achievements and trophies, I just want to be a video whiz! It’s not enough that the other guys at the arcade know I’m on the high score table, now the fourth wall is broken, and Crystal Castles itself knows that I’m the goddamn best there is. This simple message makes it all worth it!

There are secrets to find!

Enjoy your eggsBut if the game ends with the declaration that the player is a whiz, then why would said player ever play the game again? Points? Bragging Rights? No, of course not, the greatest design secret is secrets. There are secrets to find in Crystal Castles, and you have no way of knowing how many there are. Some are straightforward, like jumping in secret locations to find extra lives or a warp between stages. And those might be ideal for speed runners and alike, but they’re not on the same level as secrets that are completely meaningless. And bonus points if the secrets are meaningless and sound like playground rumors. Jump in one particular spot in the first level a hundred times (!), and you’ll see the words ATARI appear over and over in the following stage. Mysterious letters will appear if you jump in a precise location on level 5-4. Why would Franz X. Lanzinger, creator of Crystal Castles, flash the initials FXL across the screen? It’s a secret to everybody. But you’re going to keep playing Crystal Castles to discover all those secrets! Hey, is that castle shaped like the initials at the top of the high score table? Is there anything else like that? Maybe you should try jumping around that nondescript corner over there. You might find something cool!

There are Unique Monsters (with unique weaknesses)!

The monsters!But then again, assuming you’re going to see the finale of Crystal Castles at all is a bit of a stretch. Crystal Castles takes a lot of practice, as, like many modern games, you need to “learn” the game before you can make any headway. Sure, you might be able to conquer a level or two with your first few quarters, but you’re going to hit a brick wall about as soon as the later stages ramp up the difficulty. You might not have to face the Bed of Chaos, but attempting to round up all the gems (yes, Bentley Bear collects gems, not edible dots like his gluttonous contemporaries) quickly becomes perilous when nefarious crystal balls are rolling around at Mach speed. This world gets more and more dangerous as the castles grow in complexity, so seeing one of gaming’s first endings is unlikely for a novice player.

But Bentley Bear is not without options for defending himself. Bentley doesn’t have a punch, fireballs, or some catch-all “power pellet”, but every one of his opponents has a weakness, and knowing what’s super effective is what is going to take you to the top of the league. Evil Trees are vile pursuers, but they will pause if they’re leapt over (which, yeah, if I was a mobile tree, I’d be stunned by someone vaulting over my branches). The Gem Eaters are monstrous beasts that devour your beloved gems, but they can be taken off the board entirely if Bentley tackles them while they’re eating. And even Berthilda the Witch, Bentley’s greatest rival (… that mostly just putters around in a square and doesn’t bother anybody but please don’t think too hard about that), is weak to Bentley if he grabs a magical hat, thus proving the dichotomy of prey becoming predator when a proper weapon changes hands. Bentley is going to get every last gem, and he’s going to do it because he lives in a world where every rock can meet some paper.

There’s inherent Tension!

THE BEES!But not all of Bentley’s obstacles are surmountable. Bentley is a bear, so, of course, his ultimate rival is a swarm of bees. Apparently the bees have been pursuing Bentley his entire life(citation needed), and they are always a step or two behind him. Thus, if Bentley spends more than approximately twenty seconds in any one place, the swarm will descend upon him, and it’s bye bye bear boy. What can Bentley do? He doesn’t have many options other than to collect all of the gems as quickly as possible, and move on to the next wing of the castle as soon as that familiar buzzing starts. Was Crystal Castles the inspiration for later titles that feature continually hunting monsters like Resident Evil 3 or Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within? We have no way of knowing, but I am currently accepting any and all art of Bentley Bear hanging out with Jill Valentine. I think they would be friends.

There’s this Dancing Skeleton!

Dance, my pretty

Skeletons are as videogames as health-restoring apple pie. It is good Crystal Castles identified this fact before Simon Belmont started his eternal quest of skele-cide.

But does Crystal Castles get remembered for anything?

The short answer is no. Crystal Castles was an Atari game, and, much like many of the pre-Mario mascots out there, Bentley was forgotten by the time the likes of Mega Man and Vic Viper flew into town. Like Pitfall Harry or that duck from Adventure, Bentley defined gaming for the future, but was completely forsaken for more marketable heroes. Now he’s doomed to fill out the background of parties and let other stars shine in the foreground.

Also dance

Bless you, Crystal Castles, and thank you for establishing the standards of gaming.

FGC #512 Crystal Castles

  • System: All sorts of ancient systems, like various Ataris, BBC Micro, and the Apple II, but then nothing else for a long time. It often pops up on modern Atari compilations, though, so the Atari 2600 version is on the Playstation 4 with its arcade counterpart, and the 2600 version is available on the Evercade.
  • Number of players: Two, but alternating. You have to share this bear.
  • So pleasantWhich Version: The home, Atari version of Crystal Castles isn’t as faithful as Dig Dug. The good news is that all the nuance of the arcade version is there (with interesting mazes and unique enemies and all that), but there is a dearth of gems about the titular castles, and that changes the whole game. The arcade version basically asks you to walk everywhere to obtain every gem, whereas the Atari version is more about aiming for those distinct gems that are randomly scattered about. It leads to a lot more precise steering of your favorite bear, and feels extremely separate from the OG version. That said, it’s still a fun time, so give it a shot.
  • So is Bentley Bear the most important bear in all of gaming? No. That would be Kuma from Tekken, but thank you for asking. Freddy Fazbear would be right up there if he were an actual bear.
  • One Dirty Trick: In the later levels, Bentley’s favorite powerup, the wizard’s hat, bounces all over the stage. Now, I’m not going to claim that Nintendo stole this concept for the eventual, similarly invincibility-inducing Starman, but Bentley’s headwear does bounce around in a pretty familiar manner.
  • Further Monsters: The warp zone areas seem to be mostly populated by ghost creatures. This is some fun narrative framing for “you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be” when cutting across the castle’s shortcuts. Environmental storytelling!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I really thought this was Mr. Do. When Random ROB chose Mr. Do some time back, I legitimately thought to myself “Oh, that arcade game with the trackball and the castles.” I was mistaken. Sorry, pre-Nintendo mascot creatures.
  • Did you know? The band Crystal Castles nabbed their name from a line from the old She-Ra cartoon, so they have absolutely nothing to do with this videogame. Forget I brought it up.
  • Would I play again: This game is history! Ancient history! And I’m no time traveler, so I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this Age of Atari any time soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Willow for the Nintendo Entertainment System! You are drunk, ROB, and when you are drunk, you forget that I am in charge! So let’s go steal a baby! Please look forward to it!

FGC #101 Persona 4 Dancing All Night

Gaze into my eyesDid you enjoy Persona 4? Yes? Great! You’re not alone! Millions of gamers worldwide enjoyed Persona 4, and Atlus, ever one to hitch their wagon to a bucking bronco and hope for the best, decided to exploit that love with a series of Persona 4 spin-offs. Persona 4 wound up with its own portable redux (which was great!), two fighting games (which were alright!), and an Etrian dungeon crawler (if that’s your thing!). Then, when it seemed like we’d finally get Persona 4: Super Yosuke World, Atlus zagged and gave us a rhythm game, because… I guess Rise is an idol, so… why not?

Now, full disclosure, I love rhythm games. From Gitaroo-Man to Guitar Hero to Project Diva, I unashamedly enjoy rhythm games, primarily because I just like pressing buttons. Tell me you never tried to complete a Sonic the Hedgehog level by only jumping to the beat. No? Alright, fine. Maybe it’s just me. Whatever the reason, I’m not lining up on a cold January evening at midnight to get the latest Parappa game (should such a thing ever exist), but I do generally enjoy rhythm games, and, one way or another, the latest releases do have a way of showing up on my systems after a while (and that “while” usually means “flash sale”).

So, as someone who enjoys Persona and rhythm games, this game couldn’t be any more obviously my kind of game without including a little blue robot. But I must never assume I am the majority, even in the face of how many Transformers movies keep getting produced. Persona 4 was popular, but it was a JRPG, which is, give or take Mario & Luigi, about as far from a rhythm game as you can get. In the interest of helping a potentially confused populace, here’s a guide: ask yourself what you enjoyed about Persona 4, and then check below for how that translates to Persona 4: Dancing All night.

Did you play Persona 4 for the Social Links?

Bad news: everything about the Social Link system of Persona 4 was dropped for Dancing All Night. With the exception of family and party members, every single social link character has been completely lost, save a “secret” cameo by a certain Velvet room resident. ElectronicaOn one hand, this saves us from having to see expert trombonist Ayane Matsunaga ever again, on the other hand, we are deprived of a world where we can watch Mistress of Death Hisano Kuroda bust a move (and maybe a hip). Considering all the Persona 4 sequels (that phrase makes my brain itch) have played fast and loose with continuity, I’m not buying the “we didn’t bring back any of these characters because they were all optional” justification. I want to see Fox the fox dance for shrine offerings, dammit, I don’t want excuses!

Did you play Persona 4 for the calendar management sim?

Sorry, but no day planning for you. The entirety of this game takes place over three days or so, and you get absolutely no choices on how you want to spend your dancing time. Come to think of it, the plot of the game involves a universe with freaky, parallel time, which seems like a mere plot contrivance, but it could have allowed for perfect, 100% completion runs for choosing exactly when to eat a snack or study while in a nega-universe. Or maybe that sounds ridiculous by even Persona standards.

Did you play Persona 4 for the Dungeons/Battle System?

Woo, yeah, this is another one in the loss column. Yes, the party fights their way through shadows creeping over a series of dungeons, but it’s done entirely via text boxes. So, yes, there’s a dungeon involved, but, no, you don’t get to I'm sorryexplore an inch of it. Not that Persona 4’s dungeons were all that great to being with… but someone had to enjoy them? Right?

As far as the battle system of Persona 4, no, nothing returns. Obviously, this is a rhythm game, but there’s no attempt to implement the tiniest bit of Persona 4’s strategy into the gameplay. Particular hits to exploit elemental weaknesses or “all out” bonuses for making proper choices are not a possibility here, and the closest we get is calling in an additional party member when you’re already doing well. Considering the “strategy” involved with that is simply “don’t suck”, I have a hard time saying there’s any remains of the battle system here.

Did you play Persona 4 for all those whacky demons/gods?

If you enjoyed filling the pages of the compendium for Persona 4, great news! You don’t have to do that again… because Dancing All Night removes that idea entirely. Playing demon Pokémon with fusions and collections and leveling and skill mutating and whatever is all completely gone, and not coming back. It’s a shame, because I’m currently imagining a compendium with various international pop stars mix and matched with random mythological creatures and… no… No, it’s too beautiful for this world. David Bowie mixed with Helios? And he has skills that increase the odds of your combos continuing? It would be nice…

Did you play Persona 4 for the main cast?

Now we’re talking… Yes! Yes, Persona 4 Dancing All Night highlights all your favorite main characters, and even is the Persona 4 spin-off that takes place the I'm shipping thisfurthest in the future, so you get to see how everyone turns out. And it turns out… no one ever changes, and everyone will forever be exactly how you remember them, because character growth is for people in other franchises. Hell, a couple of characters have to backslide a bit just so they can have the exact same revelations all over again! Hooray for familiarity!

Did you play Persona 4 for the plot?

Well.. errmm… about that… uh…..

Did you play Persona 4 for a billion words with zero substance?

There we go!

Persona 4 was, at its core, a mystery, and a pretty interesting mystery at that. It established its stakes early, set forth a distinct pattern, and then challenged the player to find and assemble all clues into the correct answer. Fight your way to the truth, stay honest, do what’s right, and you’ll “achieve” the best ending in Persona 4 by being a good detective, and a good person.

Unfortunately, Persona 4 also assumed its audience was marginally brain-damaged, so it “reviewed” the plot on a monthly (in game) basis, which often led to the characters saying the same stupid things over and over to each other. Oh, you say there’s a fog involved? I completely forgot about that, given you only mentioned it seven times in the last two hours. It… got old fast.

SHUT UPThen again, I can’t really fault the writers of Persona 4, as the game can be an eighty hour experience, and not everyone has the kind of life that would allow for that time commitment all at once. It’s a pain when you’re marathoning the experience, but it’s a boon when you’re thirty hours into the game, but only have an hour or two a week to play. That would mean you’re, what, fifteen weeks away from when you started the story? Everyone plays video games differently, and there’s no reason to penalize a player that can’t hook the game to their veins.

So, in an eighty hour game, all that talky-talk makes sense. In a game that can be completely 100%’ed inside of ten hours? Not so much.

Persona 4 Dancing All Night really, really wants to be a visual novel. This may work in a JRPG, it even can pass in the Fighting Game genre with contemporaries like Blazblue and Guilty Gear, but a rhythm game? Oh my, no. When the average “battle” is something like three minutes long and very thumb-intensive, slapping ten minutes of dialogue on either side of the experience is exhausting. Yes, you can skip all the jibber-jabber, but, assuming you’re anything like me, there’s that fear that “there will be a test on this later”, and you’ll hit a brick wall because you don’t know what choice to make. If that sounds absurd, remember that that exact thing can bar you from the proper ending in Persona 4.

And all this wouldn’t even be that bad if the story wasn’t deliberately constructed in such a manner that the same stupid beats happen rapidly (and boringly) over and over again. When one of the characters is going the distance and lampshading the issue about 40% through the game…

THEN STOP IT

You know something’s up.

Yes, Persona 4 was a very talky game, but there was substance there, and the thousands of text boxes actually added up to something interesting. Here, the plot is obvious from the first fifteen minutes (particularly if you’ve, you know, played Persona 4), which is coincidentally how long it takes to get to the first dance in the game. Guys, I understand you likely slapped together this plot because you wanted to see the P4 cast experience some actually meaningful victories, and not just fluffy “yay you beat Bowser” quick wins… but this story still manages to be insubstantial. It’s going to a fancy steak house and being served an entrée of potato chips; all that effort, and you probably would have enjoyed it more in your pajamas.

But if you like Persona 4’s plot for just the words and words and words, congratulations, here’s your game.

Did you play Persona 4 for its music?

Oh, this is another good one! This game has a lot of really great music tracks from Persona 4 for some reason. It’s almost like that’s the entire point of So weird...the game, but that seems absurd, because there’s like an hour’s worth of music here, and approximately nine hours of dialogue. Your reward for completing the game isn’t more musical tracks, it’s more story, so, clearly, this must be a story-driven game. It’s nice that they included such a wide musical variety with the story, though.

So, Is Persona 4 Dancing All Night right for you?

Bow before your teddy-bear garbed master, you’re buying another Persona 4 spin-off whether you like it or not. Don’t you want to know what happens to Risette’s singing career? No? You’re not even a little bit curious? Come on, there’s shadows, and costumes, and the Velvet room. It’s all beary interesting! Come on, give it a whirl…

FGC #101 Persona 4 Dancing All Night

  • System: PS Vita. Oddly, so far, the only exclusive Vita games I’ve reviewed are Persona 4 based.
  • Number of players: One. Actually, this game might be two players, but that would require finding another Vita owner, and that doesn’t sound possible.
  • Special Ed: Yes, I ordered the special edition of this game about six months in advance from Amazon, and, yes, I still have Golden Disco Teddy on my keychain. I am a shameless mark for any and all Persona related merchandise. I think I own like six Persona art books…
  • Favorite Track: There’s a lot of great music in this game, but none of it is as ridiculous as the expanded Junes Theme. In a way, that song had to be in there, but in another? It’s like they expanded a McDonald’s jingle to three minutes, and then based a music video on it. That takes a special kind of dedication.
  • FrogmanFavorite Coda: So every character’s persona gets a rad solo for completing a song as flawlessly as possible. Each persona has a different featured instrument, and Chie’s Tomoe is equipped with a trumpet. I cannot describe how absolutely perfectly this makes sense and aligns with every lady trumpet player I have ever known. Congratulations, Persona 4, I now concede that you understand brass sections.
  • Did you know? I actually mentioned the “Rise was supposed to be a punk” trivia in the previous Persona 4 entry, but I want to revisit it because without “Risette the idol”, it’s likely that this game would have had to find a whole new excuse for its existence. Maybe Yosuke gets bored and hooks up with a dance troupe, and the rest of the cast has to join in to save him? It would have at least been more interesting than what we got…
  • Would I play again: Yes. I might be hard on the story mode of this game, but I love rhythm games, and, when you get down to it, the rhythm game part of this rhythm game is actually pretty good. And I like the music! Just have to ignore the part of the game that obviously involved the most production time…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda! Actually, ROB chose that Zelda compilation for the Gamecube, but I’m not reviewing four Zelda games at once, so we’re sticking to the original. 102 entry has the bomb. Please look forward to it!