Tag Archives: xbox x/s

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 #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!

Zzzzzap

FGC #633 Sonic CD

Truly, he must go fastThe future ain’t what it used to be.

Here in the present, we are looking at Sonic CD. Sonic CD is the chronological sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog that was released shortly after Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It started its existence as a port of Sonic 2 for the brand-new Sega CD hardware, but evolved during development into something wholly unique in the Sonic the Hedgehog canon. But, as a result of being tied to finnicky hardware and not being rereleased nearly as often as its contemporaries, Sonic CD has become something of the black sheep of the 2-D Sonic family. While some claim Sonic CD is the pinnacle of 16(ish)-bit platformers, many more shuffle Sonic CD into the “don’t bother” pile with the Master System games and Knuckles Chaotix. In short, a lot of professed Sonic fans will tell you not to waste your time.

And that is a shame, because Sonic CD is all about time. Superficially, Sonic CD’s plot and setting are based on a magical island where the past, present, and future are a little bit more accessible than elsewhere on Mobius, and this grants the hedgehog and his most hated scientist buddy the opportunity to wage war across different epochs. Most worlds start in a pleasant present, but Sonic can easily travel to the future to see a world where Robotnik has conquered the (little) planet, or zoom back to the past to repel the egg army before it ever got going. And how does one save the world from the past? Well, it requires searching over the whole of the current zone, and finding/destroying two of Eggman’s “traps” (the animal/plant containment unit is understandable, but a projector of Metal Sonic somehow changing the shape of destiny raises questions). And the important part of that? The searching. Whereas general “secrets” have always been a part of the Sonic formula, Sonic CD dedicatedly hides two “essential” secrets in two distinct locations in every zone. This is not a situation wherein you simply push against every wall to find a giant ring transporter or two, this is an open invitation to learn the maps of these zones, and devote yourself to finding their specific minutiae. This is a “gotta go fast” Sonic the Hedgehog title, but the player is also all but told they will be more successful if they take their time.

But all is not lost if you absolutely want to play a Sonic the Hedgehog game like a hyperactive omnivore. There are two routes to the good ending: you can either explore every level and find (/destroy) every collectible, or you can conquer the special stages at the end of each level, and obtain all the Time Stones. Apparently claiming the Time Stones guarantees that Eggman will never find these precious rocks, and this will create the same eternally happy ending for everyone on Little Planet. And regardless of method, how do you know you obtained said happy ending? Well, you will see a happy little message at the end of every zone like so…

GOOD END

And fun fact? I am pretty sure that message triggered some kind of PTSD in my soul.

Mainly because I finally put my library back together after a year (home improvements! Oh boy!), I have been reading some “classic” comics recently. It has been mostly stuff from the 90’s heyday of the immediate aftermath of the likes of Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman setting the funny papers ablaze a few years earlier. And the amusing thing about reading comics from this nebulous 90’s-or-so era? There are always excuses to peek at the far-off future of a few decades down the line, and it is not uncommon for their future to be literally now. 2015 or 2020 seems to be the exact point that a lot of authors of the time settled on for “the future”, and, while it is always fun to mock a random writer’s attempts at guessing the trends of the future (where is my jetpack fuetcha, you monsters?!), there is another pervasive trend in predicting the future: it is bad. And that is okay! Because these are fictional works starring heroes and heroines trying to make the world a better place. It is only natural that they would witness a “bad future” so they can be reminded what they are fighting for and/or against. A good future is bad! It’s boring! A future where your girlfriend has been transformed into a snake monster, and your best friend is missing all the fun appendages gives you something to struggle against. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? Keep reading to find out!

Away we goBut there is a bit of an issue with the persistent use of the “bad future” trope. As someone currently living in the revolutionary future of 2022, I can confirm that we never saw half this “bad” coming. There is an international plague, and the biggest reason it spreads is the economy would be really inconvenienced if Sneezin’ Harold didn’t come in today to properly stock the Chex Mix. Our politicians are not necessarily overly corrupt ghouls, but they are almost universally old enough to base their decisions on opinions formed roughly around the fall of disco. And let’s not overlook the fact that an entire generation seems to have been brainwashed by online services initially created for the purpose of distributing silly cat pictures. Which generation am I talking about? Could be a few choices there! And the scary thing about all this? I wouldn’t even call this present-future bad. It’s not like we have to worry about dictators with alien, orange skin ascending to illegitimate power or something. Things can’t be all that bad! Nobody I know has cybernetic arms!

And it kind of scares me that we could be living in the exact bad future we have been warned of by fiction going back the last hundred years… and we just… got used to it? Sonic CD has a clear bad future: it is the future where Dr. Robotnik has conquered the planet. But do the happy little animals that have not been robotocized in that “future” still go about their daily lives? Are they still doing the same things they have always done, just with a few more badniks around? Sonic can save Amy Rose and “beat the game” without ever once creating a good future. Does that mean Sonic is okay with all of this? Just so long as the people close to him are safe, Sonic is totally cool with whatever the future brings? That is very zen of you, you monster.

I played trumpetBah! I’m overanalyzing a game about a hedgehog trying to stop a robot hedgehog from kidnapping a pink hedgehog. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Sonic CD was never intended as a social commentary on the world that would exist three decades after its release. These are just the musings of a writer that has experience an unusual amount of trauma in the last few years (and months and weeks and days). Things feel bad, and you are now reading these anxieties given written flesh and marginally viable metaphors. No badniks are currently littering the streets.

But there is something we can learn from Sonic CD. Sonic might not have to create good futures, but he can, and it just takes a little effort. Maybe it is through careful exploration, maybe through conquering special stages, but Sonic does have the ability to change the course of history. And we do, too. Are we living in a bad future? Maybe. But there is still more future ahead of us, and we can change that. Bad things have happened. Horrible decisions have been made. But it is not all over yet, and we can still put in the effort, and fish out whatever Time Stones are going to fix the mess.

You can make a good future (at least in zone 2).

FGC #633 Sonic CD

  • Here we go!System: Would you believe this was initially available on the Sega CD? It’s true! It seems there was also a standalone port on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC around 2011, and it was part of the Sonic Gems Collection on Playstation 2 and Gamecube. It most recently was available as part of the Sonic Origins compilation on Playstation 4/5, Xbox X/S, and Nintendo Switch (no slash).
  • Number of players: If there is a two player racing mode or something here, we are not acknowledging it.
  • Port O Call: As you have likely guessed, most screenshots in this article are from the Sonic Origins version of Sonic CD. What has changed from the original release? I have no idea! I mean, it is widescreen, there is no such thing as “lives”, there is the “drop dash”, you can retry special stages repeatedly; we all know those changes are in there. But the little things? Other than the fact that they dropped Sonic’s “I’m out of here” voice, I have no clue about the little things that have been changed. Let’s assume the fact that I played this a lot more intently than the Sonic Gems version is a simple matter of the ergonomics of the Nintendo Switch, and not because they made sweeping changes.
  • Favorite Boss: The Egg Conveyer is a deadly treadmill meant to trap Sonic in an endless loop of running… but the weakness of the Egg Conveyer is the very treadmill Sonic will inevitably run upon. So, basically, Robotnik built a machine that is weak to its own purpose. This is why you always fail, Ivo.
  • Favorite Zone: Stardust Speedway joins Sonic the Hedgehog’s Star Light Zone as another star-themed zone that is my absolute favorite. And, hey, I dislike Tidal Tempest as much as Labyrinth Zone! This really should have been the “first” sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I played through Sonic CD once before, but apparently it did not stick in my mind, as I totally forgot Sonic Mania’s Metallic Madness first appeared as the final zone of Sonic CD. I thought the shrink ray and “tetris spikes” were original to Mania!
  • Watch it, Buddy: In honor of the release of Sonic Origins, BEAT was going to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles on the stream. But he get held up for a week, so I was forced to play Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) instead. I am not going to play that again for the FGC, so here is the stream:

    Please enjoy watching how long it takes for me to get a ball in a hole.
  • Did you know? Every bad future theme on the Japanese soundtrack has lyrics/singing except Tidal Tempest. I do not know why bad futures gets vocal tracks, and what Tidal Tempest did to avoid such a fate, but here we are.
  • Would I play again: Count me as someone who finds Sonic CD to be more of a forgotten gem than a stain on Sonic’s good name. That said, I would still probably play one of the Sega Genesis CD-less titles first. Maybe I will get to this one again on its inevitable next rerelease.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Martial Champion! Never heard of it? I’m not surprised! Come back next week, and learn something new! Please look forward to it!

Look out!

FGC #630 Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, a game released within the last year. It is not really a plot-based game, but if you would like to go into the experience completely untainted by knowing the final (incredibly telegraphed) twist of the adventure, do not read this article. If this does not bother you, go ahead and read on…

Not Wonder LandThere is no other way to say this, so I’m just going to be out with it from the start: Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, which is maybe the 3,000th indie Metroidvania released in 2021, nearly made me cry.

I am going to talk about why.

Bah… I guess I should talk about the game for a hot second before getting into the details of my own anime-based psychological problems. RoLW:DiWL is, as previously stated, a Metroidvania. It specifically is a Metroidvania in the style of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and by “in the style of” I mean “Konami might need to hire a few more lawyers, but not too many lawyers, because man is it obvious what is happening here”. To say this game feels like Symphony of the Night is an understatement, and the minute-to-minute seems more like that seminal title than some later games made by the exact same guy who made Symphony of the Night in the first place (and, yes, I am talking about Bloodstained here). And, to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing for any franchises that may currently exist, as IGA already made Symphony of the Night, he did not have to do it again. Meanwhile, Team Ladybug clearly wanted to make a game that was “Symphony of the Night, but with an immortal elf instead of an immortal dhampir”, and then they went ahead and did it. And they did it well! RoLLW:DiWL is a phenomenal Metroidvania all on its own, and, if Symphony of the Night inspired much of it (right down to the protagonist’s persistant and unnecessary/radical shadow), then it is simply a testament to how SotN had amazing bones to begin with, and any fleshy homunculus built around it would be astounding.

Is it hot in here?But this is not to say that Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth does not have its own identity. For one thing, there is a surprisingly complex “color system” that influences every piece of gameplay. Deedlit has the ability to switch between wind and fire spirits through nearly the entirety of her adventure. When in wind mode, Deedlit can hover and boost a jump or too, and fire allows her to perform an invincible, flaming slide. This means you are frequently presented with rooms, monsters, and bosses that necessitate using one element or another. Or perhaps you will find that a certain “pattern” is tremendously more surmountable if you stop trying to jump with wind and start sliding with fire. Additionally, as one would expect in this kind of situation, different monsters are vulnerable to different elements, so if that fire dragon is withstanding a dozen fiery slashes, switch over to the windy side and blow that beast away. And everything from basic mooks to giant bosses seems to use at least one attack that is elementally themed, so turning on your fire element when facing down a blaze means you’ll take zero damage and absorb some extra mana to boot. We have seen “switching” mechanics in games before, in everything from Silhouette Mirage to Devil May Cry, but RoLW:DiWL makes it a gameplay feature both welcome and wonderful. And the simple way it is implemented without frequent menu finagling feels a lot better than at least one of its Metroidvania sisters.

So if you are looking for a great Metroidvania, look no further than Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. If you enjoyed Symphony of the Night, you will enjoy this. If you want to see some marginal improvement on the formula, you will enjoy the switching system involved. If you want most anything else new, you will not find much (the arrows work in fascinating ways… but do feel kind of like a vestigial gimmick, and the “magic spells” are absolutely vestigial), but what is there is solid gold. It is hard to imagine any reason anyone else would be tempted to play this Record of Lodoss War game.

Oh, wait, right. The whole “Record of Lodoss War” thing. That’s where things get… sentimental.

No EarthSo, for those of you that are unaware (which is anyone who is not a giant nerd very specifically between the ages of 35 and 50), Record of Lodoss War was a novel series and Japanese manga published between 1988 and 1993. It was also had an OVA (original video animation: essentially the “limited series event” of anime) that was finished in 1991, and a 27-episode anime in 1998. In its time, it was very popular. But, unfortunately, “its time” was before anime really made a foothold in the West (I personally blame Pokémon for that), and Record of Lodoss War was already looking pretty long in the tooth before Cowboy Bebop and G Gundam offered their stylish alternatives. And, while it is a shame that Record of Lodoss War seems to be forgotten by the nerd populace at large for anything more than being the anime that makes you say “well, you’d probably like Slayers more”, it is not a surprising end. Ultimately, Record of Lodoss War is incredibly dry by practically any epoch’s standards. It is the typical tale of swords and sorcery in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, and very little gives it that essential “twist” that separates it from the myriad of books, comics, and cartoons that have dominated the “fantasy genre” since Tolkien first decided to put hobbit to paper. It is a story of knights, wizards, elves, and dwarves, and if you have seen even one dragon slaying, you have heard it all before.

The good kind of bouncyBut it is hard not to have affection for these knights, wizard, elves, and dwarves. Record of Lodoss War is a banal story, but there is familiarity in the mundane. Parn is every young adventurer who grows to become a gallant knight over the course of his escapades. Etoh is the noble priest and Parn’s steady friend. Slayn the sensible wizard is similarly reliable and often a makeshift mentor figure. Ghim the dwarf is everything you expect from a dwarf willing to die to save another. Woodchuck the rogue is just as trustworthy as his archetype will allow (which isn’t very much). And Deedlit (the titular star of the game that I am pretty sure this article is still about) is the high elf that wants to learn about the “human” world outside of the insular community of elves she has always known. Put it all together, and we are looking at every tabletop roleplaying gang ever played. Yes, you might have had more unique players in your own Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun (look, an elf is an elf, dammit) games, but the wizened wizard or the reliable cleric is a trope for a reason: it just works. And if you are into that nonsense, it is hard not to see Slayn being similar to your friend Steve, or Woodchuck bearing more than a passing resemblance to your buddy Fruitbat (example nicknames will not be explained).

And that puts a little bit of a different spin on this adventure when you find out that Deedlit…