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FGC #645 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Go go shredder manThe best beat ‘em ups are dumb as hell.

While Gogglebob.com is still officially claiming that any and all articles appearing within the Fustian Gaming Challenge are randomly chosen (“random” can mean a lot!), today’s article is obviously inspired by the glut of excellent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle gaming that has been released within the last year. A whole new turtle experience (but primarily based on the 80’s cartoon), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge, was released in June of 2022. Then, a whole two (or so) months later, we were graced with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection, which collected seemingly every turtle game from the early days of the Nintendo versus Sega console wars (though the lack of Tiger Handheld titles was obviously a glaring omission). While this collection does include a few titles that are outside the beat ‘em up genre, the focus here are the arcade and console games that showcase ninja walking left to right and incessantly detonating foot soldiers. Many of these titles have been played and covered on this site before, but now having all the arcade, NES, SNES, and Genesis turtle beat ‘em ups immediately available and just a swipe away from each other? Amazing! I’m going to spend the next week finding all the stupid ways you can fight Krang!

And, having devoured all these titles in rapid succession, one simple truth emerges: all of these games are really good! Some are better than others, some are more memorable than others, and every single one includes a fight against Shredder that borders on unfair; but they are all a good time from beginning to end. It would be easy to simply reward infinite bonus points to these titles for practically defining the genre for a generation, but even the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade) is still fun throughout, and does not need a corollary “oh we owe this so much” like some progenitors of genres. Pick a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up, any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle beat ‘em up released or rereleased in 2022, and you are guaranteed to enjoy yourself.

I don't get itAnd that’s… kind of weird, right? Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking? No, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge was a whole new experience. Maybe it’s a love of classic turtles? No, if I’m being honest, I would like to see nearly any other incarnation of these hero turtles included in a beat ‘em up. Is it because the beat ‘em up genre has languished for so long? No, that may have been true a decade or so back, but with everything from new Streets of Rage to Ninja Warriors, we are living in a neo golden age of beat ‘em ups. The humble beat ‘em up is soaring to the heavens! On an elevator where you have to beat everybody up! So why is a game from before we even hit the 90’s still so good?

Simple answer, stupid: it’s because it’s stupid.

There is not much to a beat ‘em up game. You walk down pathways that are so straightforward, it is literally impossible to get lost. There is no such thing as needing a map for a beat ‘em up. And speaking of strategy, 90% of your opponents in a beat ‘em up require just as much thinking as jabbing your index finger down. Oh no! Seventeen foot soldiers! I wonder if jump kicking over and over will stop them? And, while the generals are generally more complicated than their foot soldiers (oh… I just got that), they are still little more than the same mooks with extra steps. Double the health, and maybe there’s a laser gun, but no extra brains are available. In fact, “no extra brains” seems to be the name of the game here, as a brainless five-year-old could conquer any of these games. And I should know! I used to be that brainless five-year-old! I had a whole lot of quarters, but no sense!

Love that rhinoAnd that is the point. Are any of the TMNT titles truly “brainless”? Absolutely not. These are carefully crafted games designed to seem brainless. Anyone that ever tried a one-credit run of these titles will tell you that Rocksteady has tremendously more nuance to his charges, foot soldiers of all different colors have dramatically distinct attack patterns, and there is a way to make Shredder keel without ever eating a mutagen beam. There is a rhythm here, a carefully calculated method to the madness that, like the best movies or music, makes it all look easy. And that’s the point! The games are not brainless, but you are supposed to be brainless, because if you’re not thinking, you’re not thinking about how many tokens you’re dropping in there. Baxter Stockman just knocked you flat? Dang! You almost had ‘em! Better drop another quarter, dollar, or however much money it takes to lay that scientist-fly flat. 90% of 90’s beat ‘em ups are perfectly calibrated to drain 90% of your wallet without you even noticing 90% of the time.

And, brother, if you got friends around the arcade cabinet with you sharing the experience? Encouraging you to keep going, and support the team with more of your hard-earned (or grandpa provided) dough? Oh, you’re going to be there until the end. Welcome to the cult of the beat ‘em up, please follow the Konami scripture.

Buy all our playsets and toysAnd if you’re wondering why it took so long for beat ‘em ups to find their footing in the modern era, simply consider how much this business model gameplay does not work with an at-home experience. The comradery of crowding around a cabinet is completely absent from online play, and paying once for a DLC title is not nearly the same as paying for a game a quarter at a time. Once you drop the essential trappings of the genre (and arguably their entire point for existence), you’ve got dumb gameplay that serves… nothing. Videogames are supposed to make you feel smart! Every puzzle you unravel in a game (whether it be in Candy Crush or Phoenix Wright) is designed to be resolved and tickle your brain in the right ways so you believe you are better for having solved the mystery. Every JRPG that challenges you to master its “system” is another exercise in making you feel sharper than a +1 vorpal blade. And those “skill trees” and bosses with weaknesses in action games are there to commend you for making the brilliant deduction that the fire move will hurt the ice monster. Achievement unlocked: you are a super player. Playing a game that is naturally “stupid” is the antithesis of that, and why would you bother playing such a thing when other games that properly massage your endorphins are immediately available?

Well, because you recognize Tokka, Rahzar, and Tempestra.

These games are good and stupid. And when you’re feeling stupid, a decent shot of nostalgia will keep things going.

And I’d love to list more reasons to play these games, but I just played a lot of turtle beat ‘em ups, and everything is kind of… fuzzy for some reason…

Me am like beat ‘em ups. Play more. Cowabunga.

FGC #645 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

  • System: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC/Steam. Make sure you choose the system that all your friends own!
  • Number of players: Six! And it is super fun when you get everyone together and working against Shredder’s forces. In fact…
  • Watch it, Buddy: All sorts of turtle stuff happened on Even Worse Streams. We all played Shredder’s Revenge, and we… kinda played the Arcade collection. There were some technical issues! You may watch ‘em below.


    Original Stream Date: June 21, 2022


    Original Stream Date: August 30, 2022


    Original Stream Date: September 6, 2022

    The collection episode doesn’t really have any beat ‘em ups in there, but there wasn’t a place for it elsewhere on the site…

  • Favorite Turtle: You may notice that I played as Donatello in every one of those streams. This is by design.
  • Also goodFavorite Boss: Dirtbag and Groundchuck are the price cut, bargain bin version of Bebop and Rocksteady, and I am a man that likes his discounts. I always appreciate the duo bosses in beat ‘em ups, because it makes for a fine counter to playing with a buddy, and an excellent excuse to strategize with your partner(s). Oh, and Groundchuck is some manner of cyborg bull. That gets bonus points, too.
  • Favorite Boss (Tournament Edition): Anytime Wingnut appears, you are going to have a good time. I have adored that action figure for years (it’s so weirdly gross!), so I am glad to see this Batman get a spot as an aerial opponent.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Speaking of toys, I noted on the Shredder’s Revenge stream that I had the Knuckle Head vehicle as a kid. And here’s proof!

    So adorable

    A new toy and a new dinosaur friend! Best Christmas ever!

  • Let’s talk about another game: For possibly the first time since I was twelve, I played through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist as part of the collection. While it is the official Konami beat ‘em up for Sega Genesis, it is weird how much it feels like a fan romhack of Turtles in Time. Areas are repurposed haphazardly (I guess there’s just a pirate ship in the sewers now?), the one original boss is from the movie and has extremely limited animations, and an entire level is a boss rush (in a game with, like, five bosses). It’s still a fun game from start to finish, though! It is a good romhack.
  • Did you know? The Punk Frogs appear in Shredder’s Revenge as helper characters. Attila, Genghis, Napoleon Bonafrog, and Rasputin apparently made a lasting impression on the fandom… despite only appearing in six episodes of the original series. Irma, another helper character, appeared in, like, a million episodes. Regardless, what is important is that they are known as the “Punk” frogs, but they are clearly surfer dudes. Know your genres!
  • Would I play again: Anytime I need some good, stupid fun, I know the heroes on a half shell to call.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Killer Instinct for the Xbox One! Is Fulgore still full of gore? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Repel
Okay, that was impressive

FGC #640 Resident Evil 4

Biohazard!This is our official Halloween article for the year, so we may as well look at something spooky. What do we have available? Ghosts? No, those are too played out. Vampires? Been there, done that a lot. Hell? Ditto. The Grim Reaper? Did that last year. Skeletons? No, some of my best friends are skeletons. Zombies? Getting closer. Oh! I know! We will cover the scariest thing of all…

My good boys and ghouls, today we are going to talk about organized religion.

And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at one of the best games of all time, Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 was released in 2005 on the Nintendo Gamecube, and, unlike the rest of the Capcom Five (five games [finally four] all meant to bolster the Nintendo Gamecube with exclusivity), Resident Evil 4 became a game that would live to see a version/port on every successive console generation (sorry you didn’t make it, Viewtiful Joe). And with good reason! Resident Evil 4 is somehow the perfect combination of gorgeous, modern, and… there should really be a better word for this… videogamey. Maybe it was a result of a tortured, years long development process (that wound up accidentally spawning another franchise), or maybe it was because Capcom had been creating videogames since some of its fans were in diapers, but Resident Evil 4 somehow became a videogame’s videogame. Put another way, this is a serious game about a serious special agent completing a serious mission in a serious world… that somehow still finds the time to include a minecart level. And it is integrated flawlessly! It is the most natural minecart level in the history of minecart levels! Whoever was responsible for that should be recognized as history’s greatest mind!

VroomIn fact, Resident Evil 4 may be such a great game exclusively because it perfectly integrates gaming conventions into a story/setting that would be indistinguishable from something you would see premiering after Better Call Saul (or… what was prestige television in 2005… Bones? It was Bones, wasn’t it?). Leon has a variety of “real world” weapons with recognizable advantages and disadvantages, and they all conveniently can be “leveled up” and are associated with color-coded ammo bundles. “Item drops” are a huge part of the game experience, but it makes perfect sense that a random villager would have some of the local currency on their person. And as for life-up drops… maybe they were trying to bring that healing herb back home to their sick child! And speaking of herbs, the whole “combine life up items into better life up items” thing is as anti-reality as it gets, but it somehow feels right that Leon is a survivor that can do some light pharmaceutical work while wandering around a haunted castle.

And the focus of Leon’s mission, rescuing Ashley Graham, President Graham’s daughter, is the dreaded escort mission gameplay taken to its logical extreme. Analyzing how much of the game sees the player palling around with Leon and Ashley simultaneously explicates how subtle much of Resident Evil 4 is with its gameplay: Ashley is not actually present for great swaths of the adventure, primarily because there are many reasons for the duo to separate (reasons usually involve new and interesting ways to be kidnapped). But your brain fills in the gaps, and imagines this to be a buddy comedy with the super cop (not a cop) and his attendant damsel in distress. The reality is that the gameplay of where Ashley is “escorted” makes enough of an impact to paper over the parts where the “videogame” pushes through, and Leon must stalk through a lava stage to earn one of three statue pieces that will unlock the next boss fight. But no matter, you will tell your friends that this is a fun, realistic game where you are protecting a woman while gunning down magical zombies left and right.

Is it hot in here?Oh, excuse me. You do not fight zombies in Resident Evil 4. You fight “Ganados”, the majority of which belong to the Los Illuminados cult.

So, yes, your enemy in Resident Evil 4, from your first villager to the final battle against a mutant “Pope”, is a battle against organized religion.

Now, to be clear for anyone who may have avoided Resident Evil 4 but is inexplicably still reading this article, Los Illuminados is not based on any real-world religion. Its icon looks more like something that would make a cool tattoo than anything associated with a real faith. Their robes were clearly generic Big Lots clearance hauls, and their churches are Catholic buildings because they only had a maximum of ten years to convert the local population to the hot new craze. So, okay, there may be a little Christianity mixed in there, but only because Spain already had some old religion laying around ready to be repurposed. But the actual beliefs of Los Illuminados are what is important here, and that has nothing to do with Christianity. These dudes worship a very real (in their world) parasite that is spread through injections. For the average person in Los Illuminados, there is a simple baptismal ceremony that involves ingesting parasite eggs, only to then be “reborn” with a mature parasite, and then it is back to a life of mundane farming and unwavering loyalty to the administrators higher up on the food chain. So, okay, it is pretty much feudal Christianity right down to the blissful servitude (serf-itude), but… uh… At least Christianity never gives you a sentient sword for a head! As far as I know!

This seems familiarBut the obvious religious parallel of Los Illuminados is not important beyond one simple thing: Los Illuminados is immediately recognizable as a religion. Upon starting the game, in short order you are introduced to devout opponents, random documents talking about faith, and a Rasputin-looking leader running around raving like a madman. Your ultimate opponent, Osmund Saddler, is eventually proven to be a plotting bio-weapon research chief, but he certainly dresses the part of high priest (complete with freaky parasite staff). And from village to castle to island compound, you encounter armies of Los Illuminados followers that are 100% willing to die to protect what they consider to be the cornerstone of their faith. Sure, there is a bit of a “mind control parasite” thing going on here, but you are not simply fighting people here, you are fighting believers.

And that’s why these zombies are scarier than anything you ever saw back in Raccoon City.

Noted Quaker and church billboard inspiration subject D. Elton Trueblood once eloquently stated “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” And, let’s be real here, “trust without reservation” is terrifying. Unconditional trust, like unconditional love, sounds wonderful for the person experiencing it, but horrifying for anyone that might “get in the way” of said trust. You cannot reason with someone that trusts without substantiation. You cannot disprove or present evidence to refute someone with unconditional trust. You literally cannot stop such a thing from continuing when a simple nugget of doubt is no longer an option. And that is all well and good in a situation wherein someone believes in something universally generous… but it is significantly more of a problem if they believe in a religion that actively encourages hurting others. Or they believe in a religion that has been perverted to make it appear that you should be hurting others. And then you have a situation where someone believes in a God that loves all His children, except maybe those different folk around the block. We should limit their rights, or find new and interesting ways to hurt them. It is the only way, because my belief in my God is unwavering, and this is what He wants.

Sorry, guyYou cannot fight faith. In the same way you cannot stop a teenager from running off with their latest beau that they are convinced they will love forever, the only cure for crippling faith is the person involved finding their own way through those beliefs. And when you factor organized religion into the deal, things get even worse. A person may eventually discover they have believed in something dishonest, but when they are surrounded by a veritable gang of people who all believe the same thing, it becomes unlikely they will ever come to a revelation that contradicts the group. Throw in a few leaders that likely have personal goals that can be bolstered by a legion of followers, and you have an association built to trap people in a cage of (false) certainty. And an organization filled to the brim with rational people willing to do anything irrational just so long as it pleases the group and its leaders? It is hard to imagine anything scarier…

And Resident Evil 4 illustrates this doomsday scenario to the letter. Saddler starts as a man with a plan, and influences a weak local official (a child monarch) to gain the resources he needs to distribute his faith. Then, he uses a local priest to spread the word of cleansing one’s sins through the magic of plague eggs. After converting the whole of a Spanish village, Saddler gets ready for the big leagues. The strategy that instigates the plot of Resident Evil 4 is using an American turncoat to capture the president’s daughter, and then eventually return her infested with the light of creepy parasites. This would convert a global superpower to the bad religion, and, from there, the world would be next on the chopping block. So if you need a quick summary of this plan, it was a short hop from charismatic smart guy to local religion to marriage of church and state to apocalypse.

And all it takes is a little blind faith.

HERE COMES GODOrganized religion is not inherently bad. However, the potential for devotion and its inevitable structuring being exploited for nefarious purposes is infinite. Whether it be abused by an enterprising biologist or an entire political party, religion can be used as a force for subjugating people, and bringing more evil into this world.

And that’s your chilling Halloween tale for 2022.

FGC #640 Resident Evil 4

  • System: It all started on the Nintendo Gamecube. However, it could not be confined, so there was an outbreak on the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and (most recently) the Oculus Quest 2. We are going to draw special attention to the Nintendo Wii version, as it had special aiming controls that are completely repellent. Or that may just be my uncoordinated ass saying that.
  • Number of players: You can play with any of a variety of mercenaries, but only one at a time.
  • Favorite Weapon: The rocket launcher is forbidden, right? I guess the Rifle (semi-auto) wins then, as there are so many places where you can snipe off a group of monsters that are standing around doing nothing. Hey chain gun guy! Please don’t move while I decapitate you! Thanks!
  • Memories of the Past: Remember the chainsaw Gamecube controller? That had to be the most ill-advised controller of its generation… Even if it did predict exactly what we would keep seeing on the Wii…
  • COME ON!Say something mean: For a game that so perfectly mixes gameplay and plot, Ashley is a big letdown. From a conceptual standpoint, anytime Ashley is kidnapped should be literally the worst thing to happen to Leon, as his entire mission is rescuing Ashley. But in a practical way, anytime Ashley is carted off means that you won’t have to worry about her wandering into beartraps or being sliced by parasites or whatever, so it is a relief when she’s gone. You know you’ll get her back anyway, as there was never any chance the Resident Evil franchise was going to bump off a cute schoolgirl (college is a school!). So, basically, “Ashley has been kidnapped by horrible monsters” is less “oh no” and more “great, a vacation”.
  • Population Density: My final kill count on this run through was 899 (and a horrid hit ratio of 58%). Given the number of houses and such around the area, it is hard to believe more than 100 people lived in this chunk of Spain. So let’s assume an awful lot of people were smooshed into Salazar Castle. He had to have a staff!
  • I did that on purposeI Just Got That: Noted jackass Ramon Salazer has a puzzle in his castle that requires finding all the pieces of a chimera that comprises a goat, lion, and snake. Then, when you finally fight Salazer, he is combined with his Verduo bodyguard and the Queen Plaga to create a chimera monster comprised of three distinct lifeforms. Neat symmetry!
  • Did you know? The Euro was the standard in Spain by 2002, so the fact that this disturbing village is still using Pesetas in 2004 is an obvious example of how The Merchant is some kind of crazy person. Why would you sell so many rocket launchers to a guy only carrying defunct currency!?
  • Would I play again: Odds are super good on that one. I don’t enjoy a lot of Resident Evil games, but RE4 is a masterclass in making a game for everyone (who wants to shoot zombies). And, hey, this one is a lot easier on a repeat playthrough. Hand me my infinite rocket launcher, my good man.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… God of War 3! It is time for an extremely angry dude to murder every last god he can find! That’s one way to handle religion! Please look forward to it!

NOW KISS

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Here comes some funDoes being an adult suck?

A long time ago on a console generation far, far away, there was a game called something like Project Dream, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, or maybe just Conker’s Quest. This prototype of a game was showcased for the press at the tail end of the 20th Century, and many journalists were exposed to a title that was meant to evoke the concept of a “playable (Disney’s) Bambi”. Unfortunately, this was being highlighted after a decade of cute mascot platformers, and, more recently, the publicly beloved Banjo & Kazooie. So, whereas Conker 64 was certainly impressive, many complained it was more of the same from the exact same studio that was now becoming best known for bumbling bees and not belligerent battletoads. This caused the studio that had once wanted so bad to make their own Mortal Kombat to snap, and Conker 64 was transformed into something that was intended for a wholly different audience. The explanation was “kids who were 6 when they played the first Mario game are now 26,” and an N64 platformer/collectathon for adults was born. The writing and presentation were going to be M for Mature, even if the gameplay may be M for Mario 64.

But this conversion of Conker’s world offers us a rare (heh) opportunity to apply science to videogame production. We all know what mascot-based action games from the N64 era look like. There are a variety of examples available, from Glover to that tongue game. But none of these games went for a full mature audience. Give or take Gex trying to appeal to hip 40 somethings that love Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, none of Conker’s contemporaries even attempted to appeal to anyone old enough to drive. There may have been a “subtle” joke here or there, but that key “young adult” demographic was always assumed to be a parent that wandered into Little Timmy’s playroom, and not the person actually playing the game. Conker’s Bad Fur Day shows us exactly what these games would look like if they were made for adults.

And Conker paints a bleak picture of adulthood.

PeanutbutteryLet’s start with the bit that is the least psychologically offensive (assuming you are not my grandmother). Conker’s Bad Fur Day involves a number of jokes that are entirely based on the ol’ “so now that the kids are asleep…” kind of thinking. Where a “kiddy platformer” might have a snow-based world, Conker has a scatological-based area (complete with fart-based theme song). Vampires have been all over children’s games, but they were somehow bloodless. Here, we have a vampire that inspires wall-to-wall blood. Conker’s “princess” is shaped like a bombshell, and his main villain is going to suffer a gruesome death (one way or another). This is all very… what’s the best way to put this… “mature” is certainly not the right word… Well, it is straight up puerile, but it is childish in a way that acknowledges none of this would be possible in “kiddy” action games. We are allowed to do whatever we want, so let’s model the hell out of that (literal) shit.

But then justifying some of those “mature” inclinations starts to cause problems. Conker’s Bad Fur Day includes swearing. In fact, the game contains a lot of swearing. And, likely in pursuit of rationalizing said swearing, practically every character in the game (and absolutely including Conker) is an asshole. Just within the opening areas, there is a bee that is notably cheating on his wife, some farm equipment that is constantly insulting each other, and a talking box that immediately launches into a fatphobic tirade. Are these characters funny? If that is your thing, sure, it is funny to see these “cute” anthropomorphic animals and objects act like jerks. But it also affirms that everything with googly eyes in this universe is on the highest echelon of terrible. If you would like to spend the day enjoying a videogame free of body shaming, sorry, you will have to look elsewhere, even if the creature body shaming does not even have a body.

GET IT!?And, yes, if you are a child/teen that somehow managed to score the M-rated game off a clueless family member, it certainly would leave the impression that all adults ever do is insult each other. And that’s not true! It only happens when we get upset about whippersnappers being on our lawns!

But the inexorable march of adulthood being a gauntlet of misery continues. Conker has a beautiful (for a squirrel), capable girlfriend. So how does the game start? With Conker lying to her so he can stay out drinking. After that, technically, the entire game is the story of Conker trying to get back to her after all that drinking, but, when they are finally reunited, she is quickly fridged by the main villain. However, Conker gains god-like control of his world through conscripting a programmer! And does he bring Berri back to life with his newfound powers? Of course not! He forgets all about her! And that’s the joke! Ha ha! Funny squirrel! Could have saved a loved one’s life, but he got obsessed with slicing up an alien instead!

But adulthood isn’t just about being a jerk to everyone in your immediate area, it’s also about making references to pop culture! That previously mentioned alien is absolutely a chest-bursting xenomorph, and you’ll have to battle a Terminator parody before you get out of the first area. Saving Private Ryan was the talk of the town back in the late 90’s, so it gets the “war” level and an entire section of the multiplayer. And did you catch The Matrix? Conker hopes you did, because the final level makes absolutely no sense without that clarification of Keanu Reeves being why everyone is suddenly carrying guns and wearing trench coats. The wee young’uns can only dream of parodying R-Rated movies!

CHOMPSpeaking of paper-thin parodies, women are little more than their chests in Conker’s world. Jugga the Cavewoman has a pretty straightforward name for a woman that is about to make a penis size joke, and Sunflower the sunflower looks like a children’s drawing of a plant… save for the enormous gazongas. And, yes, you can use her breasts as a trampoline. Men can be monsters, gangsters, monster gangsters, scientists, and kings in this game. Women are almost unanimously walking anatomy jokes.

Oh, and if you’re curious, the ending sees Conker becoming king, but he has now learned that he hates everyone that lives in the country he rules. So he just goes to the bar where this all started to become a depressed alcoholic.

Adult videogames, everybody!

Put this all together, and it makes adulthood out to be miserable. Mario barely says a word through Mario 64, but all those “woos” sure do sound like the guy is having fun. Banjo & Kazooie might have a little more of a coarse edge to their dialogue, but they are still rescuing a loved one, and interacting with fun characters while doing it. If the “mature” version of those adventures is a game wherein the hero loses everything and discovers he hates literally everybody left alive, then what is the point of growing up? You want to be old enough to drink just so you can drink yourself straight into the gutter? It seemed to work for Conker!

SlicerOr maybe it is simply this version of “maturity” that makes adulthood look awful. The medium of videogames has grown a lot since 2001, and “Mature” doesn’t just mean a game includes fatalities anymore. Now we have games with super violent, sexy robots twirling about with swords but also taking the time to acknowledge the emotional needs of their buddies. We have the hyper violent franchises where things might be horrible all over the place, but at least our protagonists take time out of their day to be sad dads. And speaking of sad, Conker’s tale may end on a depressing note, but one of the best games out there is all about depression. In all of these situations, adults are the focus, and adulthood does look like an endless gauntlet of challenges that are designed to wear you down, but there is hope. From 2-B to Kratos to Madeline, everyone has problems they need to overcome, but they also have friends, support systems, and achievable ambitions. They do not simply make a flippant comment and move on to the next movie parody.

Oh, and none of them have to venture through a level covered in shit.

Is Conker’s Bad Fur Day a bad game for the way it offers a “mature” video game? No. There is room enough in this world for the “Bathroom Reader” of videogames. But its presentation of what it is to be “adult” is significantly lacking. While there are trials and tribulations as an adult, that does not mean it is all despair, all the time. There is joy. There is love. There is more to life than hitting rock monsters with frying pans. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is meant to platform one of Conker’s worst days, but that does not mean he has to live in the worst world.

It sucks to be an adult sometimes, but it doesn’t suck all the time.

FGC #636 Conker’s Bad Fur Day

  • Because... uh... get it?System: Nintendo 64 to start, then miraculously migrated over to Xbox with Conker: Live & Reloaded. Then we got something close to the original again as part of Rare Replay on the Xbox One. If you are curious, this is all because Rare drifted to Microsoft. I am sure that has nothing to do with Conker chainsawing the N64 logo at the start of the game.
  • Number of players: There is a complete multiplayer mode in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and it even has online functionality in the Xbox version. Or it did, back when that was still viable. What’s important is that there is a multiplayer mode completely separate from the single player adventure.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: There is more to a videogame than story, presentation, and writing! We also have gameplay! And it is… passable. Look, you can see the seams of exactly how this Conker title would work out if it were a “traditional” Rare N64 title, and every couple of (inexplicably sentient, talking) bucks hidden around the area being transformed into “collect the shines” would be a very short trip. That said, while the various activities involved are interesting and eclectic, the actual “control” of Conker isn’t on the same level as Banjo or Mario. Or, put another way, any time you have to complete an actual platforming “challenge” with this squirrel, you are going to have a bad time. I said it before, but Conker’s Bad Fur Day is “middle to high” on the ol’ N64 scale.
  • Just play the gig, man: I am highlighting the song made out of farts once again. The Great Mighty Poo anthem also gets a trophy. You just don’t see many flatulence-based songs anymore.
  • Won’t someone please think of the children: The above-mentioned shit song got censored in the Xbox version, though. Also, for some reason, there are a lot more bleeps on Conker’s remade adventure. Considering the “kiddy” Nintendo 64 version allowed everything short of the nefarious f-word, this is an amusing change between systems.
  • This is a pain in the patootFavorite Level: I used to enjoy “It’s War” for its humor, but, in retrospect, I think that may be because I am an idiot. It is a really annoying level! So I will go with Uga Buga now, as the cave/dinosaur/rock thing going on there is a lot more comfortably platform-y for this platformer.
  • Did you know? Conker’s Pocket Tales was a legitimate Gameboy Color title that put Conker in a Zelda-like fantasy world that was 100% kid friendly. Damn near no one was buying Gameboy titles that didn’t feature Pokémon at this point, but if they did, hoo boy, that would be some kind of transition between games.
  • Would I play again: Not likely. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was impressive in its time, but its time has long since passed. And until we see another day featuring this ornery squirrel, he can stay mothballed with the rest of his Rare buddies. You don’t see Sabre Wulf getting out there anymore, either…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken’s Nina Williams in Death by Degrees! Yes! It’s that game I played like a year ago on the stream, now finally getting an FGC article! Please look forward to it!

Toasty

FGC #635 Rocket Knight

Let's rocket alongThe Rocket Knight franchise is a great collection of games starring a possum with a jetpack. Did you see the way he dangles on his little tail? Totally adorbs. Unfortunately, these four games contain one of the most confusing naming schemes in the history of gaming. So let us take a quick break to review the games starring Sparkster, and delineate which games appeared when and where. This will simultaneously be informative and note how many games contain giant robots (it’s all of them).

Rocket Knight Adventures
1993
Sega Genesis
The Original

This is so coolIf there is a reason there is a “Rocket Knight” franchise in any tangible way, it is because of this game. And not just because this is the one that started it all! Rocket Knight Adventures is clearly a labor of love by a team that not only was interested in what was next for gaming in 1993, but also Konami’s illuminous past.

As an obvious example of Sparkster showcasing what was contemporary in gaming, we have how this awesome possum moves. This little dude is all about speed, and, complete with a jetpack perpetually tied to his back, Sparky is ready to literally fly through levels. But, while much of the level design is built around seeing how far you can get this rocket knight to ricochet around the world, it is not all simply spin-dashing to a brighter future. This knight and his projectile-blade recalls the combat of Mega Man X, and giant, mechanical bosses would be right at home in any Maverick lineup.

Oh, and there’s a minecart stage. You do not get anymore 16-bit than a minecart stage.

But there are also homages to the past of gaming littered across this (then) modern title. For one thing, one of the shoot ‘em up stages straight up includes a pig piloting a Gradius big core. It isn’t remotely subtle! And there are some some more understated “old school” bits tossed around Sparkster’s world, too. It is clear that this game was created by people that were beholden to the glorious arcade past of Konami (or they, ya know, worked there. Could go either way).

Regardless of the reason, Rocket Knight Adventures perfectly balances the contemporary (animal mascot platformers that gotta go fast) with the (oftentimes difficult) past of Rocket Knight’s ancestors. And, couple this with a few amazing gimmick levels (did I mention the giant robot rocking and socking boss?), and Rocket Knight Adventures is a sight to behold.

Sparkster
1994
Super Nintendo
The Port

Play the hitsIn America, the only Rocket Knight title to ever launch on a Nintendo console is simply “Sparkster”. In Japan, it goes by the longer title, “Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2”. So which is it? A parallel game on an entirely difference videogame system, or a sequel that hopped between platforms? The answer is… confusing.

In a lot of ways, this game feels like an example of the 16-bit mainstay of a game appearing in two totally different versions across two systems. Much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, this initially looks like two Konami games both playing to their system’s respective strengths. Sparkster seems to showcase a more expressive rodent that moves at a faster clip (yes, Virginia, the SNES was capable of its own kind of blast processing), but entirely drops “hardware tricks” like the Genesis reflection lava cave. The graphics are entirely different, and seem to be deliberately adapted for the different color palette and more integrated HUD. And the plot is much the same (for a 16-bit game), with wolves in place of pigs, and Axel Gear still on the side of the devils.

But then there are bits that seem to paint this as a deliberate sequel. The shoot ‘em up sections have now changed from Gradius-style 2-D horizontal shupping to a top-down, 1942-esque vertical affair. We have lost our giant robot boss fight, but replaced it with a stage full of ridable giant robot ostriches. This satisfies our robot quotient and supplicates the need for a minecart. And, if you really need some giant robots, plenty are offered as all-new, all-different bosses. Sparkster does feel like an improvement over its predecessor in a lot of ways, but not all of those upgrades cannot simply be attributed to moving between systems.

Regardless of how it was created, Sparkster is still an amazing experience. It does not feel quite as artisanal as its prequel/portmate, but it is still one of the best platforming games on the Super Nintendo. And that’s pretty amazing, considering this is the same system that hosted Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit!

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2
1994
Sega Genesis
The Real Sequel

I do not care for sandOkay, maybe the Super Nintendo game is supposed to be a port of this Sparkster title. Whatever! Sparky is back on the Sega Genesis here, and we have another game that is immediately evidently unique and different from the previous two. Much of the same gameplay is carried forward (rocketing around, spinning when allowed, firing endless sword beams), but there are a number of innovations across the title. Not all of them are strictly upgrades, though…

Look, your mileage may vary on whether or not you see an improvement here, but Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 gets pretty close to going full collectathon. Whereas previous Rocket Knight titles locked their best endings behind difficulty levels (old school!), now you are going to have to find a hidden sword in each stage (and never skip the intro level) if you want to see “Golden Sparkster” conquer this latest threat. And, while the powered up yellow possum is highly reminiscent of Super Sonic, this is a much less useful hyper mode, as it is impossible to obtain before the absolute final battle. Couple this with some sprawling stages that require a lot more exploration than previous titles (and, by “exploration”, we mean “it is entirely possible you will get lost going up and down the same stupid pipes in that same stupid airship stage”), and it seems like the directors of Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 wanted more than another straightforward action game. Unfortunately, when “straightforward action game” is the reason you’re playing the game in the first place…

But this is still a great game! The final boss fight includes one of the greatest gimmicks that has ever existed in an action game (you and the main villain “swap brains”), and, while it may not immediately lend itself to other climaxes, it is surprising and a curious way to play the game. Similarly, the giant robot boss fight of the first Sparkster has now been expanded to a giant robot level, and I cannot be the only person that was begging for such a thing after getting a taste of it in the first title. And, again, this is still a Sparkster game, so even when you are stuck trying to find the right way out of a pyramid, it is fun to play. Sparkster still sparks around… just he might be better suited to his earlier adventures.

Rocket Knight
2010
Xbox 360 / Playstation 3
The Modern Remake

Do not touchAfter a little over fifteen years, Sparkster returned to us via a downloadable title created by Konami fans that were now firmly established on Konami’s payroll. Rocket Knight is a very different animal from its forebears (well, still a possum), as the “charging” system for causing this knight to rocket around has been dramatically altered. The ABC rule of “always be charging” has now been forsaken for something slightly less active, and it does create a slightly more leisurely feel. However, once you get past that change, this is definitely Rocket Knight like you remember it, with enough ricocheting to make a Hanna-Barbera rabbit blush. And new innovations like projectile reflection or drilling add just enough new gameplay variety to make your average wolf/pig encounter more remarkable than in the 16-bit days.

Unfortunately, some of those innovations just make you long for what may have been. Rocket Knight feels like the definition of a 2010 videogame download title (“Xbox Live Arcade Title”). It is amazing! But it is quick! There are basically four worlds here, and a whole quarter of that count is given over to a few stages that are very much glorified tutorials. By the time we are hitting the interesting stuff (like an icy world that freezes your jetpack or a thrilling escape from an exploding factory), we are already practically done. While Rocket Knight seems to be about the same length as its predecessors, it still feels like it ends just when it was getting exciting.

Oh, and there are plenty of giant robots to fight, but not a single one that you get to ride. I could take that giant pig-bot out for a spin, but noooooo…

But one way or another, this is the end of the Rocket Knight franchise. Will we ever see that possum ever again? Maybe! But at least he flew away on a high note that left us wanting more.

Even if we still need a guide to determine which game was which..

FGC #635 Rocket Knight

  • A bit chilly hereSystem: Xbox 360 to start, with Playstation 3 and PC following shortly thereafter. Full disclosure: this whole article was inspired by purchasing an Xbox Series X, and discovering to my delight that Rocket Knight was fully backwards compatible and waiting for me on the new system.
  • Number of players: One of these days that princess is going to have to suit up and be player two. Until then, we are sticking with one rocket knight.
  • Favorite Level: I cannot emphasize enough how the gimmick of the ice level freezing Sparkster’s rocket pack makes for simultaneously new/exciting gameplay and makes perfect, in-plot sense. A miraculous combination of gameplay and setting. Really makes me beg for a universe where this title had a little room to stretch its legs.
  • Favorite Boss: I generally do not like the final boss, as it spends way too much of its existence in something of an invincible/unhittable state. That said, he is a giant, golden pig robot… so I kind of have a hard time getting mad at the guy.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: Rocket Knight returns to the 2-D, horizontal scrolling shoot ‘em up levels of the original adventure. However, it would not be incorrect to state that these levels are much more robust than anything that appeared back in the 90’s, and flying around with this possum leads to some of the best experiences in the game. So what I’m saying is can we finally get a modern Gradius from the same team? Please?
  • Pow powGotta Collect ‘Em All: Rocket Knight now has collectathon elements, as a ranking on each level is based on finding every last gem and doodad throughout the level. A number of these items are “normal”, and would be found easily through traditional level traversal. Unfortunately, there seem to be a couple in every stage that require some dedicated searching or jump-blast coordination, and… Can we not? Can we just have fun zooming around, and not worrying if a 1-Up is hidden in that little alcove over there? This was the worst part of Rocket Knight Adventures 2…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Like Mega Man 9, this is one of the first titles I bought as “digital only”, and did not simply wait for a physical release like I had for every other title. It seems appropriate that it used to require “modern update on retro franchise” to get me to go outside my comfort zone.
  • Did you know? Rocket Knight was a free “games with gold” title for Xbox in November of 2021, eleven years after its release. So if you were waiting for a “sale” for over a decade, have I got a deal for you! That expired!
  • Would I play again: Probably… albeit in another few years. Even with all the baubles to collect, there isn’t much to this game. It is there, it is fun, and then it ends. I have no great drive to immediately return… but I know it will happen eventually. Thus is the magnetic pull of such an excellent possum.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64! We’re going from the squeaky clean knight to the belligerent squirrel. Please look forward to it!

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