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FGC #546 Jet Set Radio

Let's skateAre all videogames naturally authoritarian?

To begin, let us consider the concept of authority. Most of us encounter authority first through parents, who are generally adverse to a child’s natural predisposition to licking delicious wall outlets. From there, childhood is a virtual gauntlet of different authority figures. And some of those so-called “authorities” can’t even get their act together long enough to present the same messaging! Which homework am I supposed to focus on for “three hours of studying” a night, teaching staff? You all claimed every subject was the most important I’d ever encounter, and me not even believe that English class could ever be helpful! And coach says I’m supposed to be working on my gluts during that time, anyway! I’m going to just give up and lick some more outlets until mom yells at me again.

But, to be clear, authorities do not stop just because you finally graduate past the school system. In our daily lives as adults, we frequently encounter men and women that have authority over us, whether that authority be real, imagined, or distant. A boss may control whether or not you have a weekend to yourself, and a politician that was elected in Kentucky may for some reason have authority over whether or not you can control the functions of your own body. And, since this is a videogame blog, let’s go ahead and claim some of those “imagined” authorities don’t even know they are authorities. Nintendo says its latest retro release will not be available after March: does that mean they have commanded you to make a purchase now, because you are terrified of missing out? Authority comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes from the most unlikely of sources. Or, sometimes, there are super likely sources, like the police.

Run!The police are… a bit of a thing of late. Or maybe they always have been a thing? This is a difficult topic to broach, as this is a very public blog, and I hesitate to make any statements that could be interpreted as overtly political. Ha ha ha. Just kidding. The truth is I hesitate to make any statements that could get me fired, politically ostracized, or outright jailed. Do I think all cops are bastards? I can say, with complete confidence, that I know one retired police officer that I would not describe as a bastard. I also know one not-retired, not-fired police officer who, when my house was robbed, immediately accused my neighbor that was literally across the street because “you know, we get a lot of calls about that mixed family,” despite the fact that actual evidence proved this to be a completely baseless accusation. So, ya know, there are people on both sides (“Aren’t you missing a word in that quote?” “No.”). And, regardless of my feelings on individual police officers, I am all for defunding the police, as even the smallest PD seems to account for enormous chunks of city budgets. I have absolutely no qualms about stating that our teachers should have more funding than our police officers. But maybe this thinking is influenced by my love of videogames? I have only played a handful of games where high school teachers have been villains (and they mostly involved anime teens), but I have played a lot of videogames where the opponents were the police. I wonder why that is…

Today’s featured title, Jet Set Radio, is one such game. Technically, the real, “final” enemy of JSR is a billionaire mogul who thinks that reassembling a magical record is going to kick off a thousand years of Shin Megami Tensei, but, if you’re looking at the street level villains of Jet Set Radio, it’s only rival gangs (that eventually become friendly) and cops (who are never friendly). The plot of Jet Set Radio is (initially) simple: sweet ass magical rollerblades have been invented, sweet ass music has always been invented, and now the kids with their blades and their hip hop are skating around town and spraypainting their logos all over the place. You are one of these kids, and, since you’re actively breaking the law at all times (being this radical is illegal), the police are your constant enemy. Some are anonymous storm troopers, some are very well-defined enemies of Lupin III, and some are using friggin missile-launching helicopters to take down teenagers; but they all work together to stop the kids from having a fun time. I just want to shred and tag, man, don’t be all The Man about it.

RUN AWAY!And, if you’re just following the plot of Jet Set Radio, it is extremely anti-authoritarian. The police are a problem from the first level, but they are, more or less, little more than a nuisance. JSR distinctly portrays the police as incompetent, and, in a game that technically doesn’t have any offensive options (the “bosses” of this game are defeated by spraypainting and then becoming too embarrassed to be a threat), they are easily thwarted by simply skating around. They’ll never catch those wily kids! And, similarly, when the “real” big bad surfaces with a plan that could obliterate the city and potentially all life on the planet, it is eventually revealed that… it wouldn’t have worked. Magical demon summoning isn’t real, silly, and Evil CEO Goji was always going to be just as unsuccessful as Police Captain Onishima. The message here is clear: not only are known authorities ineffective, they’re downright goofy. The hip teenagers were always going to succeed, and these squares never had a damn clue.

And this is very common in media aimed at teenagers. Hell, you could claim that the very concept of a “teenager” is the result of identifying that at a certain point a “child” reaches an age where they object to authority (and maybe we should be able to market directly to that demographic). As such, in many videogames, you continually see teenagers save the world from evil organizations (or occasionally religions) that are run by fussy old men. Videogames don’t really have a “punk” genre, but it does have any number of teens that pathologically battle the very concept of authority. Is there that much of a difference between Beat and friends battling against the authority of a corrupt company and Cloud and friends combating another, slightly different corrupt company (and don’t claim Cloud isn’t a teenager: coma years don’t count). Tifa might not be shredding around on rollerblades (and we’re worse for it), but she’s fighting for personal freedom just as much as Gum.

Anti-wallBut, while many videogames focus on the freedom that their protagonists are fighting for, these heroes, in actuality, have absolutely zero autonomy. Final Fantasy 7 is practically a game all about how there’s no getting off the train your controller is on, but Jet Set Radio is a lot more similar than it cares to admit. Yes, there’s the obvious overarching plot that requires a playthrough, so Beat is always going to go from “new kid” with a new gang to ultimately the savior of the city (and Coin is always going to be nebulously having a bad time). But the more important thing is that, like it or not, you are locked into this game where Jet Set Radio happens to happen. Want to just cruise around on your wicked blades? Well, too bad, there are malevolent cops and/or assassins in every level. Want to escape those cops in new and interesting ways? That’s great, but there are only one or two pre-approved “escape routes” per level. And do you just want to skip a level, maybe because skating around the sewers tagging moving targets 30 times has never been fun? That’s another negative, kiddo, because you absolutely have to progress in JSR linearly. You want to play this game in a manner not prescribed by Sega? Not on my dime, pal.

Jet Set Radio is about being an anti-authority radical teen, but playing Jet Set Radio means submitting wholly to the authority of its directors. Jet Set Radio, in its most popular form, is wholly authoritarian.

But all is not lost! There is still freedom out there for Beat, Gum, and whatever that third guy was named (uh…. Beanie?). While the console versions of JSR must languish in a world without change, mods are available if you’ve decided to start skating on PC. And let us consider how much the gang from JSR has moved past their initial medium, and now frequently appear through fanart, fan videos, and enough cosplay to keep its admirers hating any conventions involving stairs for years. In short, whether it is in the digital world or the real one, the fans have wrested control of Jet Set Radio away from its authorities, and now the humble player has more than a few options on how they want to play around in that anti-authoritarian world. The system works!

Keep on rockin'And what’s the moral there? Well, there is hope. Videogames are, by their nature, authoritarian, because, more than in any other medium, a videogame can be programmed to force the player to either play the game how directed, or walk away. A book or movie is always going to include a fastforward feature, but videogames can allow for so much as a “chapter skip” to be outlawed. However, given enough time and effort, fans can reclaim practically anything, and, before you know it, Tab (that’s his name!) has been replaced by C.J., and authority has been reclaimed. It’s not easy to make such mods, and it’s not necessarily easy for a player to simply install such a thing, but it is possible. It is worth the effort.

Authority can be overthrown. Whether it be in Jet Set Radio or in our real world, things can change. Things will change. We just need to work together.

FGC #546 Jet Set Radio

  • System: Originally Sega Dreamcast, and then all over the place as of about the Playstation 3/Xbox 360. It’s currently Xbox One backwards compatible, which I think means it will work with the XboxxobX or whatever the next system is called.
  • Number of players: You’ve got a full gang, but you skate alone.
  • WeeeeeeSo, does this entire article exist because apparently your old Dreamcast VMU crapped out, and you never made any progress in the PS3 version, so, in order to capture gameplay from Jet Set Radio, you had to start completely from scratch despite beating/unlocking everything about twenty years ago? Maybe.
  • Urge to continually call this game “Jet Grind Radio”: High.
  • Favorite GG: Yo-Yo always looks like he is going to start some #$&!, so I see that lime-green hoodie a lot. He also says “yo” a lot, which, as someone who used such a word roughly 40,000,000 times in my school days, seems relatable.
  • Do you hold a grudge against Jet Set Radio because you always blamed it for the continual usage of grinding in Sonic Adventure 2 and later Sonic games, which you have always hated? Yes.
  • For the Future: I’ve never actually played Jet Set Radio Future. This is because… uh… um… I guess because the robot never told me to play it. Is it any good? It’s weird, I just never thought we needed more JSR than OG JSR.
  • Did you know? The logo of Goji and the Rokkaku Group is meant to be a hexagon (which is a pun on “Rokkaku” in Japanese), but it looks an awful lot like the Nintendo Gamecube logo. Granted, this is somehow before the Gamecube even existed, but it still seems rather fascinating.
  • Would I play again: Hell, why not? It would be nice if I could play it in a new, unique way, though…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Bros. 2! Wait, didn’t we already do that one? I’m sorry? I’m receiving word that there are two Super Mario Bros. 2s. Oh, well that works. Please look forward to that!

Grinding right along
Authority or not, this is pretty fun

FGC #534 Limbo

How low will we go?Dreams are awesome. They are a shared part of our collective humanity, but nobody knows how they work. Everybody dreams, and science has proven that dreams are absolutely essential to a person functioning properly. And why is that? Nobody knows! Dreams are vital to our crazy brains, but the exact explanations for why are varied and occasionally ridiculous. Maybe our cognition just needs a break. Maybe it’s a simple “escape hatch” for the brain, a sort of “my head is pooping right now”, and “dreams” as we know them are some kind of side-effect (head farts?). Maybe we need to experience fantasy and nonsense on a nightly basis, or our ability to properly discern reality falls apart. Or maybe there’s a deep, primal need to occasionally imagine a world where Warwick Davis is really interested in your testicles for some reason. Am I the only one that has that dream? No, that has to be universal…

Regardless of the biological origin of dreams, they are a shared experience, and everyone understands the ephemeral nature of dreams. We occasionally discuss “the classics”, like imagining you are caught unprepared for a math test, or have shown up for an important business meeting wearing nothing but your “Are You Up 2 It” official Sonic the Hedgehog 2 shirt; but our conscious minds often ignore how fluid things become when we are unconscious. One minute you’re talking to your great grandmother, the next moment she’s a cat you haven’t seen since childhood, and you’re at the mall for some reason, and grandma-cat ran away, but your second lover from college is here, and they’re making goose noises, and, for some reason, you just won the lottery, so you’re going to buy an assload of transformers, but now the mall is on fire, and you should probably deal with that first, because you’re a firefighter, obviously. And the amazing part of dreams is how quickly your mind adapts to whatever is created by your mind (though, granted, when phrased like that, it does seem fairly obvious). Under normal circumstances, your undead great grandma transforming into a feline would be cause for concern, but in a dream, that is normal, and you roll with it. It’s absurd, but you naturally assume it to be genuine right now.

And that’s exactly how videogames work.

This ends poorlyNow, of course, I can already hear the cacophony of comments telling me I’m wrong about this (… I mean, assuming this website ever had an active comments section. Metalman Master? Are you okay?). Some videogames may work on dream logic, but don’t movies and books work the same way, too? And aren’t there an overwhelming number of realistic videogames wherein family members rarely become animals? And that’s all true, but it ignores how often videogames have to compromise true cohesion for being, ya know, videogames. To put it plainly: a grounded movie like The Godfather may have had some fantastic elements involved in its story that would require a lot of coincidence for such a thing to play out exactly the same in real life (the cost of oranges alone…), but The Godfather doesn’t have to find a way to shoehorn in a sewer level, either. Videogames have requirements, and sometimes that means your all-powerful, god-like hero has to demean himself by participating in a sidequest that involves finding a hundred puppies. Sometimes the guy that can jump 70 feet in the air for a “limit break” can’t find a way to bypass a gnarled root that happens to be blocking an important path. And, as we all know, if your hero is in a heated battle, he can likely soak as many bullets as he has medkits. But put that same hero in front of a gun during a cutscene, and suddenly that insane HP count means nothing. Yes, all fiction works on “dream logic” to a degree, but, more than any other medium, videogames require dream logic to function. Tolkien never had to balance Frodo’s stats so he’d be viable in multiplayer…

It's about the climbAnd dream logic works wonderfully for videogames. The lava level is next to the ice level, that’s just how it is, and you don’t have to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out why the Mushroom Kingdom hasn’t flooded yet. Similarly, dream logic can be applied liberally according to the director’s desires, and that’s why one of gaming’s most popular franchises features three guys who are all the same guy and he’s not to be confused with the guy who is also thirteen other guys. It all makes perfect sense! A game following logic that should only be possible in a certain kind of anti-reality isn’t a bug, it’s a feature of the medium, and every last JRPG or regular-sized robot adventure has prepared us for stories where it’s perfectly natural that the villain has sentient flames for hands or whatever.

And, more than any other game, Limbo uses its dream logic in the best ways possible.

Limbo is a game that defined the indie gaming scene for a solid few years. It is short. It is simple. Your protagonist can walk, jump, and push/pull objects. That’s it, and you can (only) do all this in a world that is literally black and white. There is no dialogue. There are no other playable characters. There are collectibles that do nothing more than unlock achievements for achievement’s sake. You are walking left to right, and are eventually going to reach the end. Or an end. Limbo doesn’t provide anything in the way of goals, but it’s a videogame, so you’re probably doing… something. Save the world? Save the princess? Whatever. It’s somewhere over to the right.

And, yes, if that sounds like dream logic, then you’re ready for the next part: Limbo uses its limited palette magnificently to blend all sorts of realities.

Here he comesI’m pretty sure Limbo starts in some kind of forest. It then proceeds to some manner of village, a city, an industrial site, and the finale takes place in an area one could describe as “Buzz Saws R Us” that coincidentally features some pretty swank future technology. Is it an alien space craft? An anti-gravity testing site? Or maybe just a particularly loaded Chuck E Cheese? Whatever the case, a location featuring the ability to reverse the fundamental laws of nature is a far cry from earlier areas where opponents were equipped with blow darts. And this all happens over the course of a few hours! Why can’t the weirdos from the first area go hang out in the techtopia that is an hour’s walk away? Come on, guys, it can’t be that hard to solve those ladder puzzles on your way to a better life!

And the answer is, obviously, it doesn’t matter. Limbo doesn’t take place in a world, it takes place in a dream. Limbo isn’t a place with real rules governing giant spider monsters, it is an environment to explore, a spot to exist for a few hours. It is a place that might be mortally dangerous for your unnamed protagonist, but it is also somewhere where you, the player, can enjoy yourself. It is a game world. It is a home for your mind to relax, free from the pressures of the real world. It is a dream. It might not make linear sense, it might not have a clear goal or reason for existence, and you could spend the rest of your life trying to understand its every nuance and significance (what are so many bear traps meant to represent?), but none of that matters. It’s there to help your brain, and you don’t have to understand every last where and why about that. This is good for you. You need it. Enjoy it.

I think we're closeLimbo, with its simultaneously limited and diverse world, reminds us what is important about videogames. Sometimes it’s not about a rich mythology, intricate gameplay, or a story that makes you feel some fundamental part of your soul; it’s about the journey, and experiencing everything as it comes. A spider can segue into a neon sign into a mine cart, and that’s all that it needs to do. We don’t know why we need dreams to survive, and, similarly, we don’t need to know why videogames can make our lives better. Sometimes it’s just about enjoying this thing that is happening in front of your eyes, and ours is not to reason why a series of weird, white eggs can be smashed along the way.

Limbo is a game that works on dream logic, and, as such, it becomes a dream of a videogame.

And dreams are still awesome.

FGC #534 Limbo

  • System: Initially an Xbox 360, but it eventually wound up on the PS3, Vita, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. Might I recommend playing one of the portable versions in a darkened room?
  • Number of Players: This is one player to the max.
  • So, which version? The later versions of Limbo apparently include extra levels and a bonus stage if you collect all the trinkets about (and, to be clear, it’s not that kind of bonus stage). However, I’m sticking to the Xbox 360 version, as its almost “half finished” nature is appealing to me. I don’t want more content! I want a game that feels like it ends completely randomly!
  • A bad place to stayHey, what’s the story here? Nobody knows! People have been trying to interpret exactly what happens in Limbo for years, and, as a noted Kingdom Heartsologist, I would like to formally state that nothing about Limbo’s story matters. Is he dead? Is she dead? Are we all dead? It doesn’t matter! It’s a videogame! It’s a dream! Go overanalyze a Zelda game!
  • Favorite Puzzle… Thingy? Event? Whatever. It’s the giant spider. I have never felt so much animosity toward a creature I eventually rolled around like a ball.
  • Did you know? To the best of anyone’s knowledge, there is no such thing as a “brain slug” that can attach to someone’s head to make them walk in a particular direction. However! There is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a kind of fungus that “infects” ants, kills them, but still makes them walk over to leaves for some shade. This process apparently takes days, and, during that time, the host-ant’s head will literally explode from the force of the spores bursting forth. So, just, ya know, it’s rough being an ant.
  • Would I play again: There were many complaints about Limbo being too short back around its release, but sometimes short is a good thing! I could play through Limbo again sometime. Maybe around Halloween? That sounds like a good time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland for the Nintendo DS! Oh good! It’s everyone’s favorite Zelda character, Tingle! Kooloo Limpah! Please look forward to it!

Good frog
I’m sure this makes perfect sense… somehow.

FGC #533 Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Please note that this article contains spoilers for the whole of the Tekken franchise, including the fairly recently released Tekken 7. You have been warned.

Let's TekkenTekken Tag Tournament 2 boasts a roster of 59 characters, the largest selectable cast ever in a Tekken title. And, while you have a variety of choices between Bob, Slim Bob, and other dudes with less awesome names, the story of Tekken only cares about a handful of established characters. Who, you may ask, are the most important people in the Tekken universe? It’s the Mishima family! They’re the source of all evil in their world, but also the people most likely to save it.

So, since the Mishimas are the only people in Tekken that matter, let’s rank their relative threat-of-global-extinction levels.

Asuka Kazama

HiyaWho is She: Asuka is on this list by a technicality: she’s the cousin of Jin Kazama (basically), and only related to the Mishimas because someone with her last name boinked one of ‘em. She is not invited to family reunions, and it appears she is one of the few relevant characters that doesn’t want to fight for a piece of the Mishima Corp pie. She only joined the tournament in the first place because some thugs roughed up her dad, and she’s only stuck around since then because some French debutant really, really wants to punch her in the face. If the whole “Japanese schoolgirl that doesn’t really impact the plot but has a rich, blonde rival” thing sounds familiar, that’s because it is exactly Sakura of Street Fighter’s plot tracing back to Street Fighter Alpha, and the writers of Tekken should be ashamed of themselves for heisting a plot that has not appeared in every other anime ever. Anywho, Asuka is basically a normie that occasionally has to deal with Mishima hijinks, so there isn’t much to worry about.

Threat Level: Extremely Low. She has vague, angelic powers, but they only manifest when she’s not punching people. Given she lives in a punch-based universe, that’s not going to happen very often. Other than that, unless the world is destroyed by some light incense, she’s a complete lack of a threat.

Lars Alexandersson

He gonna getchaWho is He: The Tekken franchise, right from the beginning, has had no problem with including “goofy” characters. Yoshimitsu is a cyborg ninja robot dude, and Ganryu is a sumo wrestler in pursuit of kisses. There’s a kangaroo with boxing gloves somewhere in there. But Tekken’s real plot was always helmed by serious dudes with serious issues wearing shirts… until Tekken 6. Tekken 6 was the story of an ancient god of death resurfacing, and the only man that could stop him was this sentai looking mofo. He’s got a red cape. He’s got preposterous anime hair. His sidekick is an android girl with dubious clothing options. And you can tell he’s a real Tekken protagonist, because he’s a Mishima. He’s the illegitimate son of Heihachi Mishima, and, after years of working for Tekken Force, he decided to (bloodline) rebel and be whatever counts as a good guy in this universe. Lars is on the side of the angels (metaphorical, not the literal ones in this story), and is now fighting against his former employer/dad.

Threat Level: Vaguely Low. Lars is currently fighting the good fight… but he is using his own private army to do so. Like his hair buddy, Goku, this is a dude with a lot of power and a lot of potential to destroy the planet, but he’s firmly established as being on the light side of things, so we’re probably safe from this swede.

Jun Kazama

She seems niceWho is She: Jun Kazama made her debut in Tekken 2… and then died. But before she died, she fell for Kazuya Mishima, and had a son, Jin Kazama. She met her baby daddy while fighting for an organization run by Captain Planet, and she also has some ability to transform into an angel (literally, again) and heal the tormented soul of Kazuya. So she’s a good gal! But, again, she is currently dead, and, unlike nearly every other Tekken character, she seems to be staying dead. When Ogre kills you so the rest of your family can experience man pain, he doesn’t mess around.

Threat Level: Theoretically Low. Jun is dead, but she also slept with a devil, and eventually birthed another. That is just the kind of thing that swirls around a resurrection, so nobody is going to be surprised if she returns to life, and, like, has guns for arms or something. There’s a precedent.

Lee Chaolan

You're turning violet, VioletWho is He: Lee was introduced in Tekken 1 as Kazuya’s rival. The source of their rivalry? Heihachi dropped his son Kazuya off a cliff at a young age (as you do), and adopted a scrappy street urchin as his new, better, more-resistant-to-gravity son. Thus, Lee is not a Mishima by blood, but has been the heir to the kingdom on more than a few occasions. He was technically expelled from the family/company for siding with Kazuya during Tekken 2, but then decided to start his own company in time for Tekken 4. Lee now has his own megacorporation, and bankrolls Lars in his quest to stop the Mishimas. He also built a robot.

Threat Level: Medium-to-Low. You can’t trust anyone in this universe that has their own potentially evil corporation, but Lee is generally a pretty relaxed dude. He could take over the world tomorrow with his army of robots that understand every martial art ever conceived… but he’d rather just dress in all violent and hang around his palatial Bahamas estate. We’re in trouble if he ever gets off his ass, though.

Jinpachi Mishima

Friendly dudeWho is He: The patriarch of the Mishima clan, father of Heihachi, grandfather of Kazuya, and great-grandfather of Jin. Also maybe a demon? He founded the Mishima Zaibatsu during World War 2, made a whole lot of money on a whole lot of death, and then had a Tony Stark-esque turn to the light when he realized he was profiting from needless misery. Jinpachi wanted focused misery, so he dedicated himself and his company to martial arts, so he could more effectively punch individual men square in the balls. That’s satisfying! Heihachi wasn’t a fan, though, so he overtook the company, and left his dad bound in the basement. Jinpachi straight up died of starvation. But! He was revived by a demon of some sort, and became the hardest boss in Tekken history. Jin put an end to that, though, as Jinpachi was purified with a mighty great-grandson punch to his mean bean machine.

Threat Level: Medium. Jinpachi was a good guy, and then a dead guy, but that somehow didn’t stop him from coming back as a friggin’ Ghouls ‘n Ghosts boss. Sure, he’s just a dead old man right now, but Mishimas seem to be pretty indestructible, and we’re only ever one bad eclipse away from an army of malevolent grandpas overrunning the human realm. Keep an eye on that grave, Jin.

Unknown

Who knowsWho is She: Nobody knows! The ostensible boss of both Tekken Tag Tournament titles is a woman covered in goop. She originally seemed to be possessed by some kind of wolf spirit, but, in her most recent appearance, the wolf is gone, but she disguises herself as Jun Kazama. Final bosses being malevolent copies of the protagonist’s mother was a popular trend at the time (see also Soulcalibur). Regardless of her origins, Unknown seems to have power to spare (she spars with Ogre without hesitation) along with her ability to leak oil all over the scenery, so she’s clearly a menace.

Threat Level: Theoretically high, practically low. Unknown unfortunately only exists in a non-canon version of the universe, so she has about as much likelihood of destroying the world as Howard the Duck. But the Tekken franchise has never shied away from adopting non-canon people and events as law at a later date (there is an entire convoluted backstory for that fighting raptor and the wooden dummy), so Unknown could make a deadly comeback! She did get to have the time of her soulless life in the Namco x Capcom Universe, after all.

Kazumi Mishima

Say hi, momWho is She: Given Jinpachi spent his autumn years shooting fireballs out of his chest and generally menacing the populace during Tekken 5, it was assumed that Jinpachi was the origin of the “devil gene” that granted super powers to some of his progeny. Sure, Heihachi never had those abilities, but he was kind of a dick, and science has proven that certain genetic traits skip a generation if they feel like it. But it turns out the real origin of the devil gene was Heihachi’s wife/Kazuya’s mom, Kazumi. Kazumi was originally fated to kill Heihachi, but, because he pleased her pet tiger, they wound up married instead. They had a very nice family life, until that pesky devil gene manifested in Kazumi, and, one particularly physical spat later, Kazumi had a neck that was a lot more flexible. Kazumi didn’t want to live as someone possessed by her devil genetics, so Heihachi’s murder of his wife was a noble sacrifice he had to make (thanks again, man pain!), but Kazuya didn’t get the memo on that one, so he’s been more than a little pissed off ever since.

Threat Level: Theoretically high, effectively low. Kazumi is dead, but, like Jinpachi, that didn’t stop her from being a final boss. Kazumi initially embraced her devil side to stop Heihachi because she thought he might turn out to be a bad guy, and, now, after three generations of Mishimas wrecking up the place, Kazumi would be downright righteous in embracing her dark side. Could she cause a cataclysm in an attempt to clean up the place? Probably! If her corpse gets out there again, we’re all gonna fear a spankin’ from mama. Oh! And Akuma of Street Fighter owes her a favor, so that can’t be good.

Jin Kazama

The sonWho is He: Oh, don’t even get me started. Tekken 3 decided to add an extra generation to the central conflict of Tekken, and introduced Jin, son of Jun and Kazuya. At this time, Kazuya had been killed during the climax of T2, and Jun was dead by the hands of T3’s final boss. This meant that Jin was little more than an excuse to include moves from both of his parents, and his easy, simple goal was avenging his mother. Simple protagonist, simple motivations. Unfortunately, things escalated quickly from there, and, yada yada yada, now Jin is the anti-hero at the center of literally every war in the Tekken universe. The whole place is going to hell in a hand basket, and it’s all because Jin has issues with his clone-daddy and grandpa.

Threat Level: Unequivocally high. Jin possesses that devil gene, and has been transforming into a winged monster man since the finale of Tekken 3. This has influenced his behavior a bit of late, being ultimately responsible for an awful lot of hardship during Tekken 6 (when he kinda sorta summoned a god of death), even if said conflict was in pursuit of ridding himself of his devil half. Like, dude, the ends don’t justify the means if you have to figure out the plural of “genocide” to explain your plan. And it didn’t work anyway! Regardless, Jin is technically a good guy, he’s just extremely likely to level a continent in his pursuit of “good”.

Heihachi Mishima

The grandpaWho is He: This Mishima is not a good guy. Heihachi is the most common leader of the Mishima Zaibatsu, and the man who still claims he left his father to starve to death in the basement for benevolent reasons. Do not believe a thing this man says. In the same year he killed his wife and imprisoned his father, he threw his son off a cliff; so, once again, this is not someone who should be trusted with, like, hand soap, left alone King of Iron Fist trophies. Heihachi often asserts that he is on the side of the angels (“I threw you off that mountain for your own good, son”), but there is always a devious angle involved. The best you can say for Heihachi is that he is not distinctly inclined to do evil by some devil gene, so at least he’s not a literal monster like some of his offspring. Or does the fact that he does all of this willingly make him even worse? It is worse, isn’t it?

Threat Level: At this absolute moment, low, any other moment, incredibly high. Heihachi is a global threat to himself and others (mostly others), and the only thing holding him back is that he’s currently deceased. This has not stopped him before, though, as Heihachi has been “confirmed dead” in pretty much every other Tekken release (sometimes even dying during the intro!). This time, after broadcasting a fight between Akuma and his son and exposing the latter as a devil to the entire world, Kazuya came looking for revenge (oh, also, Heihachi shot him with a space laser), and the two battled in the corona of an active volcano (the… uh… volcano location wasn’t relevant to the story or fight or anything, it was just metal as hell). Kazuya wound up emerging victorious, mainly because he had the devil gene, and he wasn’t a friggen 75 year old man. Heihachi then took a dip in the magma (oh! The volcano was relevant!), and that’s the last anyone saw him outside of a Smash Bros cameo. Will he return? If he does, he’ll probably be an unstoppable lava monster, so he’s still pretty damn high on the threat index.

Kazuya Mishima

The daddy issuesWho is He: The goddamned man of the hour. In Tekken 1, Kazuya was just a street fighter attempting to defeat his abusive dad. He succeeded, took the reins of his father’s business, and then tried to conquer Japan with an army of dinosaur soldiers (see? Canon). This was blamed on his devil gene attempting to take control, but, even after his death and resurrection, Kazuya has been a cuss throughout the rest of the series. You know he killed and conquered the corporation that clone-resurrected him in the first place? It’s what he does! At this point, he’s successfully killed his father and gained full control of his devil powers, so the only thing standing in his way is his flake of a son.

Threat Level: Gigantic. Kazuya always had two goals: 1. Kill dad 2. Take over the world. Now number one is crossed off the list! And we’re talking about a guy that is a trained martial artist, can fly, and shrugged off a laser from space. Do you know what that means? He’s basically Final Fantasy’s Bahamut! He’s a space dragon in the making, and everyone is just going to have to deal with that. Kazuya ZERO is coming.

Kuma II

UnbearableWho is He: Kuma II is the son of Kuma, a bear that died of old age. Kuma II is an animal with the intelligence of a man, and has served as Heihachi’s bodyguard since Tekken 3. Kuma has trained with Heihachi and on his own, and is an expert martial artist/bear. He is currently an officer in the same Tekken Force that once hosted Lars.

Threat Level: Immeasurable. Screw devil genes and ancient ghosts, Kuma II is a bear! A real bear! And his old master/friend/father is dead! Have you ever seen a bear smart enough to become a military officer when he’s pissed off? No! Of course not! That would be silly! Because Kuma II is one of a kind, and now Kazuya is going to be in his sights. Screw space lasers, bears are the true kings of the world, and Kazuya is going to take a lava-dip via vengeful paws. And after that? Kuma II is going to have some time on his hands, and we all better beware…

FGC #533 Tekken Tag Tournament 2

  • System: Arcade, Playstation 3, Xbox 360/One, and WiiU. WiiU? Really? Huh.
  • Number of players: Four fighters controlled by two people equals one good time.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I like tag-team fighting games. I like Tekken. I like unwieldy rosters. I like… basically everything about Tekken Tag Tournament 2. They even brought back dedicated endings that are completely ridiculous! And I guess the fighting portions of the game are good, too!
  • These dorksFavorite Character: You might expect Kuma, but Doctor Bosconovitch is my first pick whenever he appears. He falls down a lot! But he’s trying! And, like all good Tekken characters, he’s probably been dead for years, and that doesn’t matter one iota.
  • Be the Boss: The fact that you can finally play as Jinpachi in this title is worth the price of admission. He’s so strong! And bad at directions! He might not have a mouth for a stomach anymore (or vice versa?), but he’s a great pick all the same.
  • Bob or Skinny Bob: Regular, overweight Bob seems more honest.
  • Gon? No Gon.
  • Did you know? According to events in the story mode of Tekken 6, Kuma understands both English and German. Given he was raised in Japan by a Japanese man, we can assume Kuma is trilingual.
  • The devil insideWould I play again: Odds are really high on this one. If it weren’t for Tekken 7 including its host of completely ridiculous new characters (Negan versus a giant robot? Sweet), it wouldn’t even be a contest. As it is, TTT2 is just a really good Tekken experience, and I’ll at least play it over the previous six or seven Tekken titles.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Limbo for the Xbox 360! How low can you go? Can you go so low you touch the dark, murky depths of your soul? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

Gonna take you for a rideLet’s talk about advertising, brands, my life, and how culture as we identify it is a goddamn trash fire.

And maybe we’ll get to Crazy Taxi, too, if we have time.

I am told I am a Millennial. This means that I am of a certain generation that grew up alongside advertisements that were simultaneously unambiguously advertisements, but also entertainment. I cut my teeth on He-Man and Voltron, concurrently loving every moment of every show and then clamoring for every last attendant toy. Then, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were repackaged for childish audiences, I was right there demanding everything. It wasn’t just about action figures and vehicles, I had the videogames, too, and my grandmother reading TMNT storybooks to me at night. And that’s a cherished memory from my childhood! The TMNT were ostensibly created initially as a parody of comic books, but quickly grew into a franchise that existed exclusively to sell toys themed after Canadian moose. But those ridiculous figures are an inextricable part of my childhood, so I remember them all in the same way I fondly remember family members.

And I have to believe that I am not alone in viewing the growth of my own maturity through my interaction with “brands”. When I was a child, I loved all my toys and games and such unquestioningly, begging for more and purely enjoying everything I had. When I became a teenager, I grew resentful of the fact that I was “tricked” into liking things, and determined I would be anti-conformist… or at least a version of anti-conformist that doesn’t shell out his hard-earned cash for the latest version of Optimus Prime. As I grew out of that phase, I came to a sort of gentle understanding with trademarked material. Yes, something might exist exclusively to sell random crap to me (or the host of people just like me), but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it in my own way. I can acknowledge that this latest version of a transforming robot was likely produced by slave labor in a foreign country in an effort to get a whole five bucks out of my pocket through some general application of nostalgia, but, hey, if it brings me joy, it can’t be all bad. This has brought me to a sort of relaxed middle ground: I feel I am not a “consumer whore” that will purchase literally anything that is produced if it has the right name on it (eat it, Funko), though, by the same token, I will certainly purchase any number of useless trinkets if I think it will make me happier. There are so many things in this world that are actively trying to make us miserable, from political organizations to natural disasters, why not take a moment to relish playing with officially licensed totems of your childhood?

Up on a hillBut, while I seem to have come to a comfortable understanding with the companies that dominate the landscape, that does not mean I believe corporations are or should be our friends. Don’t get me wrong: there is absolutely a part of me that would volunteer to jump in front of a train if it meant Nintendo would keep pumping out videogames with the Nintendo Seal of Quality, but, if I were to make such a sacrifice, it would be for the good of humanity, and the next generation that deserves to grow up with their own Mario games (I’m so noble in these hypothetical, impossible situations). If Nintendo, or any “beloved” company, started begging for my dollar for nothing, I wouldn’t give them a dime, because what do I owe you? These companies do not care if my family, my friends, or even I live or die, so I cannot even pretend that my “support” means anything to them other than another possible zero on the bottom line. We live in a world that is practically wallpapered with advertising, and there’s no reason to feed that machine in the desperate hope that senpai will notice you if you’re a good little consumer. And making that choice matters! I can actively support people on social media that actually need that support, not a corporate account carefully managed to maximize clicks. I can shop at a local restaurant that needs my check to survive, and not a megachain that is literally in every other city on the planet. I’ll take a homegrown, local pizza place over Pizza Hut any day of the week.

But, then again, when someone takes Pizza Hut away, I’m not happy either.

Today’s game is Crazy Taxi (hey, I found a moment to actually talk about the real topic of the article! Yay!), a title that was initially released in the arcades in 1999, but is best known for its version on the Sega Dreamcast from January of 2000. In Crazy Taxi, you are a taxi driver in a large city, forever bound to ferry fares from one destination to another. As this game started as an arcade title, this is not a “story-based” experience, but more of a constant “score attack” situation. Pick up a passenger, take them to their destination, and then grab the next traveler as quickly as possible. In a way, this gameplay makes CT little more than a racing game. But, in another way, this foreshadowed the eventual creation of titles like Grand Theft Auto 3, as the intricate city, full of landmarks and interesting locales, would inevitably be aped by later games attempting to create “lived-in” environments. Crazy Taxi could be a simple title where you just drive from point A to point B and back again, but, thanks to its vast, sprawling city, it is much than another simple arcade “car game” (Sorry, Cruisin’, but it had to be said).

Oh, and another reason Crazy Taxi has such a memorable venue for its crazy taxiing? There’s a KFC!

Mmmm chicken

And other brand name stores! Crazy Taxi was something of a “real world” crossover event back in 2000. The soundtrack featured Way Down the Line, All I Want, and Change the World by The Offspring, and Ten in 2010, Them and Us, Hear It, and Inner Logic by Bad Religion. That was amazing! Instead of wee gaming beeps and boops, you’ve got that band that you know! Rachel is wearing a Bad Religion t-shirt right now! And she bought it at Tower Records, which is also a featured location in Crazy Taxi! Crazy Taxi had a crazy amount of product placement, and, at the time, many saw it as unequivocally a good thing. Videogames are getting more real!

Of course, as a wizened adult, it’s easy to see this same product placement as… uh… product placement. But in a bad way! After all, the entire point of the presence of these brands is that people are telling you they need to get to Kentucky Fried Chicken right the heck now. They need officially produced KFC brand mashed potatoes immediately, and, boy, player, wouldn’t it be nice if you had some of that finger-lickin’ good chicken right now? And the presence of The Offspring and Bad Religion simply exists to appeal to all those hep young teens and further slide videogames from “for babies” to “for the cool kids”. And it doesn’t hurt if you buy an Offspring album (at Tower Records!) as a result, either. When you consider that Crazy Taxi originated at the arcade, and many American arcades were situated within American malls, you can see how Crazy Taxi was a videogame that practically doubled as a flyer from the local Chamber of Commerce. Hungry for fun? Play Crazy Taxi! Hungry for pizza? Stop at Pizza Hut!

Mmmm pizza

Ah, yes, Pizza Hut…

Mmmm pizza

Pizza Hut is still a viable brand. While Tower Records has fallen since its Crazy Taxi appearance in 1999, Pizza Hut is still out there and stuffing cheese into various nooks and crannies. You can, in all likelihood, order a pizza from Pizza Hut right now, as you read this, and have a delicious, pizza-like substance in front of you by the time this article is over. Pizza Hut, in 2000 or 2020, is ubiquitous.

But it ain’t in Crazy Taxi anymore:

Mmmm pizza

When Crazy Taxi was released for Dreamcast, it featured a Pizza Hut. When Crazy Taxi was rereleased on contemporary systems with a little more longevity (Playstation 2, Gamecube), it still featured Pizza Hut. But when Crazy Taxi was rereleased in 2010 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Pizza Hut was dropped. All of the familiar, featured brands were dropped. The Offspring and Bad Religion were dropped. And, given this is the version that persists on Xbox One and PC platforms, the Crazy Taxi Sans Brands version is what is available today. If you buy Crazy Taxi today, you’re not going to see a single Pizza Hut.

You’ll just see something that kinda looks like a Pizza Hut.

Mmmm pizza

And that’s somehow even more depressing.

Look, I live in a town that used to have a Pizza Hut. We also used to have a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King. What happened? By and large, as much as I want this article to blatantly tie to the collapse of small towns and the inevitable end of Western Civilization thanks to megacorporations, it was pretty much simply because I live in an area that is already full-up on eating options. Without exaggeration, my hometown contains fourteen different choices for pizza delivery, and not a single one is a national chain (we ran Domino’s out of town, too). One town over isn’t any different, and it’s even got two different Italian restaurants named Mario’s and Luigi’s. That is a real thing that has happened! So, with local restaurants that are practically kings within their fiefdoms, it’s no wonder that chain restaurants have had issues getting a foothold. They try! And they seem marginally successful! But the word from the latest Checkers or Wendy’s attempt always seems to be the same: they’re doing good numbers, but they’re not doing corporate numbers. Pizza Hut’s money would be better spent in a town that doesn’t have literally twenty other options for immediate pizza delivery, so they’re leaving town. And, until some new restaurant goes in its place, you’re going to be looking at that familiar, abandoned roof for a few months.

And, at this point, I don’t even have that familiar roof staring back at me. Once again, I really want to make this article more melancholy, but the old Pizza Hut has been demolished, and it was replaced with a very prosperous local diner. It’s a success story all around: the big, bad brand was run out of town on a rail, and a local restaurant has taken its space and customers, and is improving the community. Pizza Hut has been vanquished, silence brand, the world is better without you. Go get Pizza Hut two towns over.

But… sometimes I miss cheesy crust pizza.

Rock outIn a weird way, brands are what bring us together. I live in a city without a Pizza Hut. If I have someone visit from out of town, and they’re in the mood for the $10 tastemaker, I can offer them none. There are alternatives, of course, but this particular item is not available. In fact, I could name the myriad of pizza places in town for you, gentle reader, and their names would mean nothing. I could tell you my favorite pizza place, a spot that locals have literally spoken of fighting in wars to preserve, and it would be as alien as if I named my favorite place as Bthnkor ah vulgtmnahog. Everyone knows Pizza Hut. Everyone has shared Pizza Hut, and, even if it isn’t your favorite, you at least know what I’m talking about. Pizza Hut is an impersonal brand, but it is local in the way that it is familiar. It is universal. It is an inextricable part of the culture. Pizza Hut is pizza.

So when a human-shaped collection of polygons in Crazy Taxi wants a pizza, they should, like their real-world counterparts, want a goddamn Pizza Hut. “Pizza Place” is a denial of reality! The Crazy Taxi of 2010, the only Crazy Taxi you can now legally purchase, is a lesser version of itself. What was once a game that simulated our world is now just as much a fantasy as Cloud’s latest jaunt. PaRappa may as well be working at Pizza Place!

WeeeeeBrands suck. The fact that we’re trapped in a world that is increasingly reliant on four or five corporations that own literally every other lesser, but-still-huge corporation is something out of a dystopian nightmare, and it looks like it is only going to get worse. But these companies are also an inseparable part of our shared culture, and, when one is erased, it makes an impact. The Offspring, Pizza Hut, and Tower Records were all a part of my life in 2000. They’re all fondly remembered, and, if you’re a certain age, you’re likely in the same boat. You could be humming an Offspring song, or imagining biting into a Pizza Hut pizza as we speak. And is that a bad thing? You may be reading this article on a different shore from this humble Goggle Bob, but we have a shared past. We have something that brings us together. We have Brand, and, in a world that is constantly trying to divide people, we have something that brings us closer, and makes us happy.

Corporations are bleeding us dry, but they’re also bringing us together. We don’t owe Brands anything, but sometimes they’re a part of who we are.

… Even if “who we are” is just “people who eat greasy pizza that was excised from an Xbox game.”

FGC #532 Crazy Taxi

  • System: Started in the arcade, graduated to the Dreamcast, floated over to the Playstation 2 and Gamecube, and then migrated to the PS3 and Xbox 360/Xbox One. There is also a Gameboy Advance version. The GBA version ain’t half bad!
  • Number of players: Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the sequels to battle a buddy.
  • WeeeeeArcade or Home Version: Crazy Taxi picked up an extra city between the arcade and home ports, so, if you’re playing CT outside of the mall, you have the option of choosing your venue. The “Original City” (which is “original” as in “original to the console versions” not “the original city”) has a lot more interesting bridges, lighthouses, subways, and such, but the original city (dammit) of the arcade version is just so much more iconic. And you’re less likely to wind up underwater, too!
  • Favorite Driver: B.D. Joe appeared in later titles, right? I think he wins. I also like his hat. Incidentally, I very much appreciate that Sega correctly identified that half of all taxi drivers can’t correctly wear a shirt. Button up, you jerks, we’re trying to run a business here!
  • Did you know? Michael Jackson apparently owned a Crazy Taxi arcade “cabinet” (it’s more like a little car than a cabinet). Do you suppose he still had a good relationship with Sega?
  • Would I play again: Crazy Taxi would be the ideal game for something like a cell phone version… assuming a cell phone could properly control a Crazy Taxi. I rarely boot up CT, because it’s ideally played for all of three minutes, but I always enjoy it when I do. So I guess my answer is yes, but only on the rare occasions when I remember it’s on my Xbox, and I’m waiting for something to download.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken Tag Tournament 2! Tag, you’re it, and you’re gonna get hit! Please look forward to it!

I hate this