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FGC #639 Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

Welcome to CastletonEven if you bury it under a pile of bad ideas, a good idea can shine through.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was the second Castlevania title released on the Playstation 2. Opposite a time when traditional, Symphony of the Night-like 2-D Castlevania titles were annually appearing on the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS, Konami attempted a pair of “next gen” Castlevania titles on the Playstation 2 (and Xbox, if you’re nasty). The first, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, was an effort to stick a conventional Belmont into a 3-D battle castle. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. So the promise of the franchise iterating on that experience two years later with Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was encouraging. This could be more than a simple “Belmont with a whip” game. It could be the “modern” Castlevania, where a super-powered dude (why is it always a dude?) with a host of magical abilities and a seemingly infinite menagerie of esoteric weapons stomps through the Castlevania countryside. And… Oh! What’s this? We all had so much fun with Soma Cruz and his ability to manipulate Dracula’s powers that we are getting a whole new Castlevania concept: A Devil Forgemaster. The protagonist for Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is someone who previously “forged” the armies of Dracula. That sounds interesting!

In fact, the concept of a “Devil Forgemaster” hits all the buttons you need on a Castlevania game. First of all, it is just plain good lore to, after decades of vampire slaying, finally reveal why Dracula has a castle hopping with infinite fleamen. Previously, we were forced to conclude that the Lord of the Night went off and recruited an army of frogmen during some Belmont downtime. Now we know the real story: all those devils were forged by one or two adepts in Dracula’s employ. Dracula is royalty! Of course he subcontracts! But even more important than the story implications are the gameplay possibilities. A Devil Forgemaster should be able to draw on all the powers of those little devils, right? So you can immediately unleash the stony gaze of Medusa? The endurance of Frankenstein? The strangely kung-fu-based abilities of the Werewolf? And a host of special abilities means a number of different ways to keep a new castle appealing. The devil army can do more than double jump and break open walls, so more powers mean more ways to traverse the eponymous Dracula’s castle. When the biggest problem with Lament of Innocence was that the castle was exactly as boring as twenty different hallways sewn together (throw in a bathroom somewhere, guys), the mere mention of a Devil Forgemaster immediately ups the potential ante.

Rip and tearUnfortunately, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was not to be the (vampire) savior of the franchise. Hector is certainly the Devil Forgemaster that was advertised, but it turns out that such a position does not confer all the abilities that could be imagined. Hector gets a double jump and a host of (forgeable!) weapons, but beyond that, the “Devil Forgemaster” conceit is reserved exclusively for a system that looks a lot like Symphony of the Night’s seven-year-old familiar system. There are five required innocent devils (and a bonus sixth one if you feel like playing with a pumpkin again), and they all come with abilities of varying utility. The bird-type devil helps you to glide over a pit, while the faerie devil opens treasure chests that are (for the first time in the franchise) locked. Unfortunately, aside from the devil’s ability to sink into the floor, none of these abilities are new or even remotely stimulating. What’s more, these innocent devils are maddeningly generic, so whereas “golem” is a Castlevania mainstay, your Magmard companion looks like it could have originated from Final Fantasy as equally as Castlevania. And that is definitely the problem when it comes to the black mage-looking mage-type devil. But even if you are happy with these designs, those abilities are still lackluster, and the environments of the castle match that lack of creativity. So, yes, get ready for another endless series of battles in boring hallways, but with the “upgrade” of now there is a skeleton bird flapping around behind you. And, lamentably, a skeleton bird can carry only so much on its bony wings.

Good rock pileHowever, beneath the muck of a boring Castlevania adventure, there was apparently a story worth saving. When presented in 2005, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness had the most generic Castlevania plot outside of “Belmont slays Dracula”. In the grand tradition of Shaft and his plan to pit two vampire hunters against each other, there are two Devil Forgemasters, and Dracula’s ultimate goal is to possess one of them to return to menace Trevor Belmont. So, in being manipulated into this goal by Death, Hector gathers strength across the area to eventually face Isaac, who thinks he is the puppet master influencing his former comrade. Isaac was responsible for the death of Hector’s wife, at least! Regardless, these two parallel Devil Forgemasters have a simple yin and yang dichotomy, as Hector left Dracula’s employ years earlier in defense of the human race, and Isaac stuck around because he is some kind of sadist (and possibly masochist! Check out that outfit!). In the end, it is an extremely cliched retelling of the same old IGAvania story, complete with a persistent villain that is supposed to be ultimately sympathetic despite a body count climbing up over the hundreds. At least he is not as bad Dracula! That dude eats people!

But the allure of the Devil Forgemaster was just too much…

Up we goThirteen years later, the Castlevania Netflix series premiered its second season. Whereas the first season was little more than an expanded movie meant to introduce the main players of Castlevania 3, the second season of Castlevania is where the animated series became a proper series. A cast of supporting characters appeared in Dracula’s castle, and among them were two vaguely familiar faces. Hector returns looking much the same, and continues his job as a guy who makes monsters for a living while being weirdly fond of the people about to be eaten by his monsters. But Isaac is changed dramatically, shifting from a red-haired friend of Voldo to a solemn African man that holds a quiet grudge against humanity for his childhood enslavement. And while the details of being a Forgemaster are different in this iteration of Castlevania, both men are still filling the same general role of filling Dracula’s ranks only to later strike off on general missions of mayhem/salvation/revenge. In fact, as the show proceeds through another two seasons, these two Forgemasters become prominent characters in their own rights, often overshadowing the more popular heroes’ adventures in punishing priests and participating in twincest.

And Gogglebob.com is not going to officially recognize the Castlevania Animated Series as the best thing since sliced skeletons, but it is an entertaining, original take on the Castlevania franchise. It has its share of problems (not the least of which that every character in a Warren Ellis-based universe must be an asshole at all times or they crumble to dust), but you cannot say it was not unique. And unique is exactly what Hector and the whole concept of Devil Forgemasters deserved. In a franchise that has been languidly heisting mythological and movie monsters since its inception, the distinctive idea of a Devil Forgemaster deserved Lad?a similarly distinctive story. And the tales that are told of Hector and Isaac in Netflix Castlevania are nothing if not exceptional (at least one narrative includes a floating ball of corpses! You don’t see stories like that in dusty old books!). Somebody finally waded through the boring game of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (or at least its Wikipedia page), and sifted out the best concept that experience had to offer.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was a middling Castlevania title, but, over a decade later, it was forged into something worthwhile.

FGC #639 Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

  • System: Playstation 2 globally, and Xbox if you were in the USA. I wonder if Japanese collectors jockey on eBay for that rare “American” version of Curse of Darkness.
  • Number of players: A Trevor mode may be eventually unlocked, but you won’t see the ability to play as two characters during this Castlevania.
  • Say something nice: I am a sucker for monster breeding, so I will admit that I enjoy the whole “evolution” aspect of the Innocent Devils. I like using a spear over and over again to see if that will change my golem into, like, a different golem. It is the little things in life that make castles worth storming.
  • Take what you can get: There is a complete “material/crafting” system here. There are scads of stupid doodads to pick up if you want to forge the more interesting weapons, and there is even a “steal” system so you have the ability to nab even more items from opponents. And it all adds up to a fat lot of nothing, as it is the same endless arsenal as other Castlevania titles, just now with extra steps. Boo.
  • Feeling better?Favorite Innocent Devil: Oh give me a home, where the hulking golem roam, and the skies are not darkened all day.
  • An end: The trigger for Hector’s quest is that Isaac is responsible for executing Hector’s wife. Over the course of the adventure, Hector is aided by Julia, who is eventually revealed to be Isaac’s sister. At the close of the story, Isaac has ultimately been killed (or turned into an innocent devil?… He isn’t Isaac anymore, at least), and Hector is anxious to rest with his forged monster buddies. Julia offers Hector sanctuary, and it appears they are going to have a deeper relationship from there. So, in summary, Isaac killed Hector’s wife, so now Hector is going to bone Isaac’s sister.
  • It’s about time: This is also the Castlevania that introduces Saint Germain. Saint Germain is a time traveler, and seems to be part of that time travel plot that was teased across multiple Castlevania titles. Either because of the reboot and/or because Koji Igarashi never really knew where he was going with all this, all of these random time travelers across the Castlevania franchise never really added up to anything. Maybe they were meant to retcon any continuity errors? Or offer an excuse as to why you can always nab a pocket watch that defies space and time? Whatever. At least Saint Germain has a dapper outfit.
  • Did you know? Appropriate for a guy that looks like he might be a carnival barker, Saint Germain is the only character so far in the Castlevania franchise to break the fourth wall and directly speak to the player. Or the camera just didn’t pan around, and he was actually babbling on to a particularly attentive skeleton warrior…
  • Would I play again: I will be honest, I started playing this game again when I got the Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play going (as I was testing capturing directly from my Playstation 2 with different looking games), and it took me months of playing off and on to actually complete the thing. It is a slog! And not the good kind of slog (that would be Slogra, who does appear in this game). So, no, I am likely to play literally any other Castlevania again before getting back to this one.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Resident Evil 4! Let’s stop by a quaint Spanish village and see how the local populace is dealing with the current economic crisis. Please look forward to it!

It was the best part
Oh! This happened in the show!

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 #634 Martial Champion

So many fighting gamesNot all fighting games are created equal. For every Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, or even Clayfighter, there are a bevvy of games that seem to have been forgotten by all but the most dedicated of fighting game enthusiasts. But that does not mean we can’t learn from these “lost” fighting games! Every fighting game, no matter why they were forgotten, has something to offer. Let’s take a look at some forgotten fighting games, and see why they deserve at least a cursory glance…

King of the Monsters
1991

RAWRWhat is going on here: One of the best games to take place in the far-flung future of 1996, King of the Monsters is the story of what happens when six or twelve legally distinct monsters all decide to rumble and see who will be the titular King of the Monsters. This is bad news for anyone that lives in the future-past Japan that is their battleground, but great for anyone that has ever wanted to see a rock giant fight a snot ghost.

Best Character: Is Astro Guy really a monster? He looks like Ultraman, and there is Beetle Mania over there to be his trademark inexplicable giant bug opponent. Astro Guy wins, as he may be a copy like every other monster, but at least he is the kind of monster that didn’t already appear in Rampage.

What can we learn: King of Monsters was released before “fighting games” became codified with Street Fighter 2 (dropped that same year), so King of Monsters almost feels like a “wrestling game”. It has turnbuckle attacks, an emphasis on grabs, and, most importantly, you have to pin your opponent for three seconds to score a win. And that can be fun! An empty life bar is not a loss in King of Monsters, it just means it will be more difficult to get up when Rocky the Moai power dives on your monster. Extending the match a little longer is great in a game with a scant six playable characters, and it is nice to see the potential for a turnaround despite a theoretical impending loss. Let’s see some last-minute grappling from modern games!

Dino Rex
1992

Big boys starting this offWhat is going on here: Like Primal Rage, this is a 2-D fighter featuring dinosaurs battling for supremacy. Also like Primal Rage, this game absolutely sucks. You’ve got three attack buttons, special moves, combos, and the ability to “charge meter” via shouting, but… Oh man. The central conceit here is that you are technically playing as a scantily clad man controlling a dinosaur via whip, and it sure feels like you have only a whip’s worth of control over your chosen dinosaur.

Best Character: All the humans in this game are generic prehistoric dudes (though, if a match ends in a draw, you can play as one of the dudes, and they curiously have Ryu’s moveset), so we presumably must pick a favorite dinosaur here. And is it possible to pick a dinosaur that is not the mighty Tyrannosaurus? It might be purple again, but it is still a goddamned t-rex.

What can we learn: Dino Rex is a bad fighting game for the fact that you are very likely to lose because it is difficult to confirm whether your controller is working at all, but sometimes it feels good to get your ass kicked, because it also kicks everyone else’s asses. The storyline for Dino Rex posits this is an annual dinosaur fighting tournament to win the hand of an Amazon Queen, so there are spectators, and an arena built up for this yearly battle. And, since dinosaurs are fighting, it gets absolutely wrecked. It is fun to watch the surrounding area get destroyed by careless dinosaurs! And someone on staff evidently noticed, as the bonus stage is controlling your dinosaur in a “dream sequence” that sees a modern city getting similarly smashed. So if you’re going to make a bad fighting game, at least let us destroy everything in it.

Martial Champion
1993

What is going on here: One of Konami’s rare, early fighting games (they were more into beat ‘em ups), this is a pretty obvious Street Fighter 2 clone where a bunch of international weirdos are all punching and kicking in an effort to become… I don’t know… some kind of Martial Arts Champion or something. Your attack options are limited to three buttons (high, mid, low), and there are a total of ten selectable characters (and one unplayable boss).

Best Character: Avu is a tempting choice, as he is basically Karnov (he’s even got fire breath!), but I’m going to choose Bobby. Not only does he have the best name, but he seems to exist as an obvious example of “Well, Guile looks kinda American, but is there any way we can crank that up to ten million?”

What can we learn: Martial Champion has a variable weapon system! Kinda! Some fighters have weapons, and said weapons can be knocked out of a fighter’s hands. And the opponent can retrieve these weapons! And… maybe do nothing? If a fighter doesn’t have a weapon to begin with, it seems they do not have any abilities with any weapons. But! Even if you can’t use it, playing keep away with a weapon is good fun. Thought you had increased range with that scimitar before, loser? Now you’re not getting it back until a knock down. Good luck!

Now let’s talk about Shaq-Fu…

FGC #590 Final Fight: Streetwise

Today’s article contains one (arguably) graphic GIF of Playstation 2 quality. The image is basically the point of this essay, but if you are squeamish around such a thing, please be aware of its presence beyond the “read more” link du jour. Probably nothing you haven’t seen before, but, ya know, it bothered me, which brings us to today’s topic…

That logo is hotWhere is your videogame uncanny valley threshold?

Today’s game is Final Fight: Streetwise. As many people know, this was Final Fight’s attempt to enter the 21st Century with a Playstation 2 game that upgraded/marginally rebooted the original arcade classic. And, given Final Fight was always a handful of baseball bats away from just being The Warriors, this could have worked out well. Fight weirdos in strange costumes across a generally grungy city? Tale as old as time! And, while Final Fight: Streetwise maintained the concept of “beat ‘em all up”, it went a little off the rails when it decided to start aping the wrong crowd.

The blitheringly obvious greatest influence on Final Fight: Streetwise? Grand Theft Auto 3.

And this was not a good thing.

It is easy to see what happened here. Grand Theft Auto 3 was possibly the most popular and influential videogame of the era. And, to be clear, “influential” in this case absolutely means “there were 10,000 games all trying to get a piece of that sweet, sweet GTA3 pie”. This was the epoch when “sandbox gameplay” became a bullet point on every game cover from Final Fantasy to Hitman. Some of these copies were net goods, though. Spider-Man went from having “levels” to gaining the sprawling cities he always needed, and we likely would have never seen something like Fable without it being pitched as a “medieval GTA”. But, on the other end of the spectrum, we had any number of titles that wanted to make a claim at “gigantic, open worlds” without putting in the effort to actually design said worlds. And thus did we play through a number of games that would have been simple, progress from level to level affairs a few years earlier, but now had to have “hub cities” that were about as densely populated as Lost Springs, Wyoming (look it up!). And now you were forced to putter around for hours between missions and maybe the best you could hope for was some kind of collectible scavenger hunt. Apparently, the lesson so many game designers took from GTA3 was not that it had a fun, varied world where you were constantly learning you could do new things (God, I could write an article just about the exhilaration of finding a car jump ramp for the first time in GTA3), but simply that it was “big”, and you could walk around at your leisure. Oh, and GTA has a lot of “maturity”. Maybe we should shoehorn some cusses into our games, too…

FIGHT!Final Fight: Streetwise decided to chase the gameplay concepts and maturity of Grand Theft Auto 3 like a Japanophile running down a katana collection. FF:S takes place in a largeish (by PS2 standards) world with distinct neighborhoods, shops, and citizenry. There is the main plot, and a variety of “side quests” that can be distributed by assorted townsfolk/drug dealers. There are quests, both required and optional, that allow for the player to experience an escalation of regular gameplay, or more “minigame”-like fare. And, while Final Fight has always been a “street” franchise that included mature themes (the boss of Level 3 is a corrupt cop! You can eat his gum!) and roaming, malevolent gangs, the decision was clearly made at some point to make Final Fight: Streetwise feature characters that could be immediately described as “hardcore”. The central problem of this story is not a princess kidnapping, but a new drug on the streets. Our current hero is battling in an underground fight club to make ends meet, and all the previous protagonists are all suffering from various states of decay and corruption. And the new characters are all either morally compromised, or clearly too good to survive the whole of this adventure. This is a real story about real people in a real mean neighborhood.

And, unfortunately, you are not at all prepared for how this game is blitheringly, rock stupid from top to bottom.

You can read a game summary, Final Fight wiki article, or even the previous paragraph and think to yourself, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” You may be like me, and imagine a game that indulges in that “grim ‘n gritty” style, but, even if it’s not your thing, it can still be good. It has happened before, right? It doesn’t have to be bad! This is a Capcom game! They know what they’re doing!

This happens all the timeWell, bad news, folks, Final Fight: Streetwise is an aggressively stupid game. There is no other way to describe it! This is a story where the featured characters are all idiots that always choose the single stupidest move possible. “This guy tried to kill me once, but maybe if I be polite, things will be better… whoops, got tricked, now he tried to kill me again.” That’s a plot point! It is meant to be a surprise when the mafioso that initially threw the protagonist into a deadly pit fight then again tries to kill the hero through an immediate bout of arson even though he was being so polite. And, granted, “being polite” should be rewarded for Kyle Travers, as his default mode is just cursing and punching people. I am not just talking about during gameplay, either! Kyle immediately resorts to fighting literally everyone he encounters. With a deft hand, a writer could portray Kyle as a man that knows he is in a rough situation, and immediately reacts to even the slightest kindness with inversely reciprocal brutality. But this is not a story written by a deft hand. This is a story about solving every problem with punching, and being rewarded for punching as hard as possible. And this translates to the gameplay, as literally everything in this world, from the sidequests to the gyms where you can spend your rewards, exists exclusively to power Kyle’s punches. And, again, this is a videogame, that could work. But, unfortunately, it all works to make this Final Fight world seem entirely too small to support the kind of game that could be happening here. It makes every corner of Kyle’s quest feel… stupid. This is a stupid hero doing stupid things in a stupid world.

A meeting of the mindsBut it is still a world. And it is a world that, with its “streetwise” aesthetics, tries to be realistic. The voice acting and graphics are great (by a Playstation 2 standard), and, if you are willing to forgive a number of (stupid) limiting choices in the game, you could easily see this as more of a “real world” than the cartoon world where you frequently see a dude in a gi tossing fireballs out of his hands. The venues in Final Fight: Streetwise are like those from the original Final Fight: subways, fighting rings, and the mean streets. And, while there are a few fantastic special moves as Kyle levels up, the majority of the fighting is based on traditional punches, kicks, and grapples. It is easy to slide into the simple comfort of playing this generally mundane game, and imagine you are controlling a real character in a real world.

And then you bash a sleeping dog with a baseball bat.

Here comes a GIF of that thing I just said