I seem to be getting a lot of traffic from my last post. A lot of controversy was generated! Will a post on a game about collecting magic cards for Ronald McDonald be as controversial? We shall see.
There are a few truths that are generally accepted. The sky is blue, nachos are awesome, Dark Side of the Moon may be a perfect album, and licensed games suck. And yet, as universal as those truths are, they can be contradicted. The sky turns many different colors throughout the day, On the Run isn’t quite as interesting as the rest of the album outside of a historical context, and nachos can be prepared… ugh… California-style. And licensed games? Well, every once in a while a developer will make one that isn’t completely abysmal. And I’m not just talking about Goldeneye; there are great games that are based on way lamer franchises than that. Case in point:
M.C. Kids (NES, 1992, Virgin Interactive)
“A McDonalds game? They made a game based on McDonalds?”
Actually, they made two. But let’s not talk about the second one.
M.C. Kids is the story of 2 kids, one who is white, and one who is Buckwheat from the Little Rascals, who get sucked into a book they’re reading, which is apparently about McDonalds. I like to think that the kids live in a future dystopian corporatocracy, wherein all forms of entertainment are just advertising for major businesses. I like to think this, because, as depressing as that dark vision of the future is, it’s way less depressing than the idea that kids would just be reading a story about Ronald McDonald in their spare time. The kids find out that the Hamburglar has stolen Ronald McDonald’s magic bag! Fuck! Now it’s up to them to get Ronald’s magic bag back. Ronald would get it himself, but I mean, you know, he has stuff to do.
Furthermore, Ronald asks that you obtain some of his puzzle cards for him, which he has hidden throughout the levels. These are required in order to finish the worlds, but not the individual levels. In other words, Ronald has basically decided to make your quest to get his magic bag back as difficult as possible. In fact, it would probably be easier to just forgo Ronald’s requests and just go after the magic bag yourself. Why do I need to get a bunch of cards for Ronald, just so he can tell me how to get his goddamned magic bag back? If I have to work for his help in doing him a favor he can just go fuck himself. I’ll go hang out with Grimace. We’ll drink juice boxes and play on the special kids’ see-saw all day.
Yeah, the setting and story are retarded, but the game is fucking good. It’s easily one of the best and most creative platformers of its time. It contains some puzzle aspects, and even uses a lot of physics-based platforming; for example, sometimes you see little spinners at the end of a platform. If you run over them while going fast enough, you’ll flip upside down, and gravity changes. Instead of falling to the ground, you “fall” up toward the ceiling. Often a level would have an entirely different style while you were flipped. Instead of avoiding enemies, you might be avoiding arrows that launch you all the way back to the beginning of the level, or trying to find a block you can hold on to to launch yourself even further with a trampoline, thus getting you further in the level.
The music is another high point. It’s very obviously designed by Europeans, because all European game composers insist on making the sound fidelity similar to a Commodore 64, even long after the technology could do better. Despite this, the music is extremely memorable, and is just begging to be remixed.
Graphically, the game is fairly pretty, with lots of well-contrasted colors, although the design of the characters is lacking. Your characters smile blankly, with no features other than large, dark, soulless voids for eyes. They seem almost as though they stare past you, beckoning you to come into their own personal hell, where you will be tormented by Fry Guys forever. Don’t believe me?
Look at them. They’re not reading. They’re looking at you. They’re looking past you. They’re looking through you.
Jurassic Park (SNES, 1993, Ocean)
The Jurassic Park games always got a bad rap, but some of them were actually pretty good. The SNES one was the best, although the first-person segments, while genuinely frightening at times, were clunky and slow. The really weird thing about the games, though, is that they usually wouldn’t let you kill dinosaurs, which you think would be a pretty integral part of a game about killing dinosaurs. Instead, you were allowed to “stun” the dinosaurs, which looked a hell of a lot like killing them. Just look at this screenshot:
Those have to be dead. And the best part is that Dr. Grant is standing among their corpses as though to show the remaining dinosaurs who’s gonna be running this Jurassic bullshit from now on. I can’t imagine him not screaming the lyrics to a Dio song and firing his lightning gun up in the air. Dude’s gotta have a dick the size of a water slide.
Jurassic Park may not be an award-winning masterpiece, but it’s pretty entertaining for a few hours, if for no other reason than to see how many dinosaurs you can murder with lightning.
DuckTales (NES, 1990, Capcom)
DuckTales was always one of my favorite shows as a kid. This was back in the day when the Disney Afternoon was the single greatest thing you could watch on TV. TaleSpin, Gummi Bears, Rescue Rangers, and DuckTales? Insanity. If I’m not mistaken, in the early 90s it was the longest period of time you could sit without someone trying to teach you something. And the best part is that, with the exception of Gummi Bears, those were all turned into spectacular games.
The DuckTales game, however, was a clear cut above the rest, just like the show. Excluding first-party games, I don’t think there’s an NES game that I would rank higher than it except the Mega Man games, and it’s no wonder: they were produced by the exact same team. DuckTales perfectly captured everything that made the show fun, like the adventure, characters, and landscapes, but also managed to be a creative, involving platformer, the kind that acted as the bridge between games as entertaining diversions and games as storytelling art. It just goes to show that not only are licensed games sometimes “not shitty,” they can even sometimes be better than most non-licensed games.
I know, I hand out perfect scores like they’re Skittles and I’m the unpopular kid whose parents give him money every day to buy candy. But DuckTales really deserves it. The game is nothing short of perfect. The level design is inventive and rewards exploration (just like in the show), the gameplay and controls are tight, the graphics are some of the best of the 8-bit era, and the music is nothing short of amazing. It’s by far one of my fondest memories of the NES era.
DuckTales is very visibly designed by Capcom. In addition to their characteristically perfect controls and gameplay, as well as the easily identifiable music of Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (who I spoke about at length a while back), the graphic design looks very similar to Mega Man. Check it out:
Although nearly every element of this game was great, the single thing that probably stands out the most to gamers of a certain age (like myself) is the theme music for the Moon level. While I’ve written about it previously, I just can’t understate what a big deal this song is to gamers who grew up playing games in the early 90s. It encapsulates everything that has ever been great about video game music.
I’m just going to leave you with this:
The video game cover genre that has erupted in the last few years is a really strange phenomenon. It very quickly changed from a novelty mostly enjoyed by nerds (like myself) and hipster douchebags that just go to yell “YEAHHH! I IRONICALLY REMEMBER SUPER ZELDA BROTHERS!” (hipsters can be killed only by fire and destruction of the head, should you ever want to kill one; believe me, you will) into a legitimate genre of arranged music, performed by incredibly talented musicians and respected even by those outside of the gaming community. There are three things that I think contributed to this: nostalgia, artistry, and musicianship. Nostalgia, of course, is going to be core to attracting new listeners to a band performing songs from the past, just like with, say, an 80s cover band, but it’s really the artistry and musicianship involved that have really pushed the genre over the top. There are so many phenomenally talented musicians, spanning many, many different instruments, and many of them are also very skilled at arrangement. They take the genre far beyond the simple novelty that it could be and bring it into the realm of serious music. Unfortunately, some bands don’t understand this, and because of this, we’re left with some groups that are jokes at best, and pretentious horseshit at worst. Here’s some reviews of some of my best loved – and most hated – groups.
The Black Mages
Although they’re renowned for many reasons, the Black Mages are probably best known for actually having Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu in the band. He rocks the hell out of pianos, organs, and keyboards along with Kenichiro Fukui (an awesome composer in his own right, having worked on Sunset Riders, Lethal Enforcers, and the tragically underrated Einhänder, as well as arranging the soundtrack for the DS version of Final Fantasy IV with Junya Nakano), backed by Tsuyoshi Sekito (who did the soundtracks for Brave Fencer Musashi and The Last Remnant) and Michio Okamiya (Square publicity) on guitar, Keiji Kawamori (who arranged Final Fantasy III DS with Tsuyoshi Sekito) on bass, and Arata Hanyuda (also from Square Publicity) on drums. They sound like if Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer had an instrumental love child, which I suppose is appropriate since Uematsu has mentioned both bands as a huge influence. Actually, now that I think about it, pretty much every video game composer has mentioned ELP as an influence at some point. They’re one of those bands like Dream Theater who you can rock out to like crazy but still feel smart because of the classical influences. You can thoughtfully headbang, possibly while wearing a monocle and smoking a pipe.
Matoya’s Cave (The Black Mages II: The Skies Above)
I was so happy that someone did a cover of my favorite song from the original Final Fantasy that I wouldn’t have cared what it sounded like, but the fact that it’s arguably the most beautifully arranged track the band has ever done really puts it over the top. I admit I’m a sucker for classical guitar arrangements of video game songs, but this one is probably the best I’ve ever heard. Plus the extended rock out section in the middle is really fun to watch live (on their DVD anyway, I’m not cool enough to have seen them in person).
Opening ~ Bombing Mission (The Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight)
Ok, this probably should have went to the epic and amazing version of the ENTIRE OPERA (!) from Final Fantasy III/VI, but as good as that track is, I really enjoy listening to this one more. This is probably because of nostalgia, but regardless of the reason, I love this song. It evokes really powerful memories of the Christmas I got FF7, and even though I didn’t have a memory card yet, I sat and played the shit out of it. I remember it’s the first time I ever saw swearing in a game, mostly because my parents saw it. Fortunately, my parents didn’t really mind, because they knew I was mature enough to handle it, and I credit my appreciation for intellectual pursuits (like this dick joke-filled website) to that lax parenting. Hell, my dad took me to see Starship Troopers when I was 9, which I think led to my lifelong appreciation of popcorn sci-fi and also tits. Anyway, yeah, if you’ve heard the original track (which you have if you’ve played the game, since it’s the first track you hear), there’s really not a whole lot to say about this cover, other than that it’s completely awesome. I don’t know what else you could want.
Dancing Mad (The Black Mages)
Dancing Mad, the theme song for the greatest video game villain of all time, is one of the most epic songs I’ve ever heard a band do. Any band, not just a video game band. It’s such a tremendous, powerful song, and it ranges from desperate to furious to soaring in such a way that evokes all the images of that final boss fight better than the original track did. The best part of the song, and the reason the arrangement is so much better than the original, is because the end of the track features the greatest solo of all time. Period. Listen to the whole track, and when get to that solo at the end, just try not to scream “FUUUUUUUUUCK YEEEEEESSSSSSSS” along with the guitar. I don’t want to have to be the one to say so, but if you don’t, the fact is you are a giraffe rapist.
The OneUps are pretty much the opposite of the Black Mages in every way except talent. They’re a little harder to define, because they don’t really stick to one genre, but are generally a little softer and more laid-back and groovy. A lot of their work hovers around light jazz, but never stays pinned down for too long. It’s really refreshing, since so many bands stay around the “here are some Nintendo songs exactly as they sounded originally, but we play them with really crunchy guitars, and we laugh about it too so you can’t laugh at us” mold that the Minibosses created (and perfected, and became the only band capable of doing without being obnoxious or insulting to gamers). They’re really closer to a collective than anything else (although I hate using that term since every untalented, pretentious-ass indie fuck likes to use that term for their shitty bands just because they occasionally have guest musicians), and their lineup changes pretty often. However, one of the constant members who has been with the band since the beginning is famous OCRemix member Mustin. He’s probably my favorite individual arranger in the video game fan community, and he has a huge catalog of work outside of the OneUps (if you can hunt it out, get The Mustin Collection; it’s fantastic). Another constant member is Dale North, who you may know as the news editor of Destructoid. His work is pretty good as well, especially his version of Pollyanna from Bound Together, the other other best song on the album, after the OneUps track and Ailsean’s version of the drugstore theme (as detailed below).
Summers (Bound Together)
Bound Together is probably my favorite video game tribute album of all time. I admit that part of the reason for that is because Earthbound is probably my favorite video game of all time, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Bound Together was the first album that showed me there’s a lot more to the fan-made game music tribute scene than bland, generic techno and abrasive, shitty hardcore (the only kind of hardcore). Bound Together spans all kinds of different genres, from jazz to rock to techno to ambient to new age. It’s a perfect tribute; it’s eclectic, strange, humorous, mindful, and touching, just like the game it was inspired by. The OneUps version of the town theme of Summers is maybe my favorite track (although Ailsean’s excellently jazzy guitar rendition of the drugstore theme, The Drugstore Sells Sparks!, is a strong contender). The instrumentation is great, and it really showcases the excellent sax work that makes so many OneUps tunes so awesome. It sounds exactly like what the original track was supposed to sound like; groovy, laid-back, relaxing-in-the-sun beach music.
Green Hill Zone (The OneUps Volume 2)
This track, the first world theme from Sonic the Hedgehog, is probably my favorite track on any Sega system, and the OneUps tear it up. As I said before, the sax work is a big part of what makes their music so good, and this song really shows it off. The guitar work is particularly great, too. It also features a great little electric piano solo. The electric piano is probably my favorite instrument (except possibly the fretless bass), so this is a big plus for me. It’s almost evocative of the 70s work of Bob James, most famous for Angela, the theme song from Taxi, and that may be why I like it so much.
Aquatic Ambiance (The OneUps Volume 1)
This is pretty much the epitome of what a video game cover should be. It pays tribute to the original track while expanding on it creatively, using magnificent instrumentation and arrangement to not only capture the essence of the original track and the atmosphere of the game but to have an atmosphere all its own, making a track that may be better than the original.
Unfortunately, there are bands that aren’t quite this good. There are also bands that completely fucking suck. Here’s are examples of both:
EDITED: This generated a ton of controversy, partly because of a few factual errors in the original article. I’ve fixed this up, and tried to make my arguments a little clearer. I’m not used to having to be fair, mostly since I’m used to being the only one really reading my articles. And yes, that was a joke.
I don’t think the Protomen are a good band. Despite being educated at one of the best schools in the country for music, their production sounds amateurish at times (and not in a good way), and I don’t really care for their music. but they have their moments of rock. It’s not really so much that the Protomen are a bad band, though, so much as it is that, despite their marketing, they aren’t a video game band in any way, shape, or form. “Now, wait a minute,” you say, “that’s not fair, just because they don’t play songs from video games doesn’t mean they aren’t a video game band! They play music based on video games!” (Jesus you talk a lot. This is my fucking article, and anyway, how is that even possible?) To this I say, in what way? Yeah, they used Dr. Wily, Mega Man, Proto Man, Proto Man’s hat, and the concept of robots. That’s like saying Lost is based on John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government because it has a character named John Locke in it. Most of the acclaim for the Protomen revolves around their narrative, and don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad story. It’s just that it’s not fucking Mega Man’s story, which means they aren’t a fucking Mega Man band. “Well, at least they’re doing something original,” you bray. Well, that’s true, except for the fact that it isn’t. You see, there’s a band called The Megas which has been around since 2004. They’re more talented musicians, and producers, and they play songs that are actually from Mega Man. They are a video game band. Moreover, their lyrics follow a storyline. A storyline about Dr. Wily. A storyline about Dr. Wily using his robots to take over the world. A storyline that is a whole fucking lot like the Protomen’s, only related to Mega Man. Now, I’m not saying that the Protomen ripped them off, obviously they didn’t. I’m just saying that this isn’t something that has never been done. Furthermore, how original is the idea of a robot dystopia? Are you saying you’ve never heard of a story about a robot dystopia? “Ok, maybe it’s not original, but they have a great stage show!” Yeah, maybe when they give a shit, they do. Unfortunately, when I saw them in concert, they really didn’t seem to give a shit. They apparently got to the show late, and then took a fucking hour and a half to set their equipment up. They had a few keyboards, a guitar, a bass, a drum kit, and a couple of amps. Most of the sound was already run, because the venue had a sound system. This should have taken 20 fucking minutes, or even less, to set up, judging by the equipment they used (which, yes, I am familiar with). The worst part is that after all this work, they played one song which didn’t work right. Then, after about 10 more minutes of messing with their equipment, when the supposedly “legendary” stage show started, they hit a piece of metal with a hammer. I didn’t know the in-depth story or anything, but I’m a sucker for theatrics. After that, though, it was about 30 minutes of playing normally, albeit in hats and makeup, at a volume sufficient to make the poorly mixed sound irrelevant. Then, they played an admittedly awesome version of Total Eclipse of the Heart, and packed up and left town. That was it. Honestly, at first I only went to see them because my friend’s band Midnight Radio was there (they rocked the house), but by the day of the show, I had started to get excited about seeing the Protomen. But they really came off like a bunch of cocky assholes that think they’re bigger than they are, and like they could really give a shit less about people who are willing to support them unless they can personally benefit from them. I felt really let down. This is really my biggest problem with the band: their attitude. I’ll admit that from a songwriting standpoint, yeah, they generally know what they’re doing, better than some bands, anyway. They have a couple of tightly written songs. I’ve listened to both their albums about 10 times through, if only because I was trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. But I don’t care how talented a group is if they treat a show like it doesn’t matter just because there aren’t enough people there, and I become actively pissed when they try to act like “video game band” is a pejorative. Most of their fanbase is made of video game fans, they play a lot of video game conventions, and they’re supposedly “inspired” by video games. So why would they be embarrassed of being called a video game band? Like I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with playing video game music or being associated with the culture, and it’s insulting to act like you’re better than your fans. So, to reiterate, they’ve made some decent albums. I just can’t say anything positive about them outside of that, except that maybe that the research for this article led me to discover and fall in love with The Megas. <3 you guys.
HORSE the Band
HORSE the Band is possibly the worst band, of any kind, that I’ve ever heard. They are a fucking joke. That’s all I can say about them.
My wife, though, has this to say: “More like HORSESHIT!”
Well, ok, any of you who know me know I can’t shut up about things I hate until I’ve exhausted every possible negative point. Listen to this musical abortion. Like most hardcore, it’s the musical equivalent of a Michael Bay movie, a lot of distracting musical explosions with no real talent or direction behind it. Playing it in the midst of a battle would constitute a war crime. Furthermore, they refer to their sound as “Nintendo-core,” a name as obnoxious as it is laughably inaccurate. Owning a synthesizer does not make you a fucking video game band. I guess if that’s the only way you can promote your band, though, more power to you! Unless your band causes Ear AIDS, like HORSE the Band. REAL TALK.
I’ve always had a really hard time keeping a steady list of my favorite things. Which of a series of things is my favorite is often decided by a number of factors, but, as sad as this is, the most constant one is which one I happen to be using at the time. For example, if you asked me at a time when I’m not listening to music, I’d probably cite Jellyfish, Puffy Amiyumi, or Steely Dan as my favorite band. But, if you caught me while I was listening to, say, Miles Davis or Pink Floyd, I could just as easily name them as my favorite. I’m especially bad about that with games. My favorite Final Fantasy jumps from IV to VI constantly, with occasional jumps to V or VII. Likewise, I think I’ve named every Zelda game except Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess as my favorite at some point.
So why would I even attempt to make a list of the Mario games I think are the best, which can be a very contentious issue? Because I love to make lists. I make them compulsively, in fact. I have a spiral notebook with many, many lists in it, counting everything from favorite snack cakes to favorite cartoons. This, coupled with my terrible handwriting, leads most people to think the lists were made by a surprisingly sophisticated 6-year-old, and these people are usually a bit worried when they find that a 22-year-old man has a list of his favorite spaceships. Nonetheless, I find making these lists a lot of fun, and that spills over into this site quite a bit.
Anyway, let’s get started. (Keep in mind these are in no particular order.)
Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996, Nintendo)
Super Mario 64 marked an absolute landmark moment in gaming history. Just like with Super Mario Bros. before it, it marked a turning point in the industry, and marked the moment when 3D games really reached the “next generation” we’d been promised for so long. It’s impossible to overstate what a massive impact this game had on the industry. After it came out, every 3D platformer had to control tightly and allow you control over the camera, or else it would end up like Bubsy 3D, the shitting-room floor of the outhouse of bad 90s 3D platformers.
But none of this really matters if you’re reviewing the game itself. So how does the game stand up if you review only on its merits as a game?
Pretty fucking well. There have been quite a few games I loved in my adolescence that I have recently returned to playing. Some, like Mario Kart 64 and Wave Race 64, are (naturally) exactly as fun as I remembered. Others, like Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball and Doom 64, simply don’t hold up as well as I remember. But Super Mario 64 manages to still inspire the exact same level of fascination and wonder that it did the first time I played it, craning my neck to look at a screen 4feet above me at a Wal-Mart kiosk, trying to use all 5 fingers to control the thumbstick.
But this isn’t just nostalgia; every single element of this game still holds up. The music, the sound, the graphics, the level design, the controls, all of it is still absolutely stunning, although perhaps not technically so. The graphics look jagged sometimes and there’s a lot of clipping problems, but despite that, the game still looks quite impressive. Although a lot of later N64 games, particularly platformers, had a lot of problems with color contrast (my wife still has trouble playing a lot of games she loves just because the colors give her such a headache), Mario 64 had a beautifully lush palette and a lot of really well-designed characters that manage to be every bit as iconic and recognizable as characters in previous Mario games. The same goes for the sound; I love the music in all the Mario games, but I would say hands down the best song in the series, if not necessarily the most iconic or important, is the Dire Dire Docks theme from SM64. I never really noticed it when I first played the game, but when I started listening to game music as a genre, I really noticed how spectacular this song was. It’s incredibly atmospheric, and there’s something that is just indescribably beautiful about it.
Probably the biggest key to SM64′s success, however, is how incredibly fun it is to control Mario. To this day there has never been a game more fun to control than this one. The controls were just tight enough, and the range of moves Mario had was just big enough to allow you an extreme degree of freedom of movement without feeling too complicated. Honestly, I’m not sure there will ever be a game that will be more of a blast to play than this one.
Also, I just realized that not a single thing I just said was funny. So, in lieu of my own comedy, here’s some made with Super Mario 64. Mario sliding backwards at 90 miles an hour up those stairs is maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever seen:
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES, 1996, Nintendo/Squaresoft)
God, 1996 was so awesome.
Super Mario RPG was far, far more than just Mario in a Squaresoft RPG. In fact, in terms of gameplay, it’s probably the most innovative RPG to come out since, well, Dragon Warrior. For some reason, it’s also one of my absolute clearest memories of purchasing a game. I remember my grandmother (who also really likes RPGs) brought me to Wal-Mart on the way home from her house to my parents’, and had me go ahead and pick it up. Then, I finally got home, and found that my parents weren’t home, and I had no key. So, I ended up having to wait for what felt like hours riding around with my grandparents waiting for them to get home. I don’t know why I remember that so clearly, but I can remember every second of it, everything that was on our deck while I was waiting, what was in my grandmother’s car, everything. I don’t even remember my first girlfriend as well as that. Mostly because she was a bitch.
I know it seems like I’m giving out perfect scores like candy, but I really think it’s justified here. SMRPG is one of the most unique games ever made, in terms of gameplay, story, and even the way it interprets Mario canon. It’s also a very fun game, and it has a surprising amount of depth and replay value.
One thing that really stands out to me about the game is how entertaining the characters are. The characters created specifically for the game are very entertaining (and are graphically really well-designed SMRPG has given me some of my personal favorite characters ever, like Booster, Belome and Jonathan Jones, and even the minor characters, like Croco and Punchinello, are very memorable. The Mario series characters are given new twists that manage to both fit in with the characters’ established personalities and provide endearing new twists to the characters – for example, Bowser’s hidden emotional side. This is another high point about the game: it’s hilarious. It’s actually genuinely funny, on purpose, which is still really rare in games. The story is also really entertaining, despite its (on the surface) generic “collect the 7 somethings” storyline.
One big thing that made the game so memorable and enjoyable to me that never seems to be mentioned by most reviewers is the absolutely spectacular music. Yoko Shimomura is really underrated. She’s done great work, especially with Capcom (where she worked on Breath of Fire, Street Fighter II, and several classic Capcom beat-em-ups), but Super Mario RPG is probably my favorite thing she ever did. She really brings Koji Kondo’s music from the Mario games to new heights as an arranger and goes far beyond just remixing them. These arranged tracks, combined with her original music, really brings together the atmosphere of the game – fun, upbeat, and entertaining.
The gameplay, though, is what sets the game apart for most people. SMRPG is a perfect example of how fresh you can make a traditional JRPG seem without utilizing confusing, over-complicated, or just downright shitty battle systems. Mario doesn’t just veeeeeery sloooooowly walk 1 tile at a time from conversation to conversation; you jump, run, dodge, and interact with everything around you. You even get to do the slide-under-the-block trick from level 1-2 of Super Mario Bros. in the Pipe Maze section. The battles are also really entertaining, retaining the fight-magic-item system from traditional JRPGs, but involving you in the battle via “timed hits.” This simple timed-press trick makes it very fun to fight, and finding a new weapon or learning a new spell refreshes the battles before they have a chance to get stale.
SMRPG is charming, innovative, unique, and just a blast to play; in short, everything an RPG based on the Mario series should be.
Super Mario World (SNES, 1991, Nintendo)
It was a tough decision between this and Mario Kart 64, but SMW won out by a small margin.
I know that everybody considers SMB3 to be the best of the 2D platformers, and I understand why. It’s phenomenal. It’s such an incredible game and really presaged the future of games, arguably more than the original. There are few games that bring more pure, unadulterated fun directly to your face.
I said “few” for a reason. SMW is, in my opinion (which admittedly is a bit off from the rest of the world) anyway, more fun than SMB3. As great as SMB3 was, SMW controlled better, had superior level design, and had even more depth than its predecessor.
Funny story about SMW: Shigeru Miyamoto was disappointed with it at the time. He felt that it was incomplete and that he didn’t get to do everything with it he wanted to, which was apparently a recurring theme with the early Mario games (for example, he had wanted to add Yoshi ever since the original SMB). That’s right – Shigeru Miyamoto was disappointed with what is generally considered to be one of the absolute greatest games of all time. Kind of like how John Lennon threw away songs that were better than anything most bands spent their entire lives on; that’s why Miyamoto is one of the greatest creators of our time, and why I favor just giving him the Moon, as a gift. Seriously. I’ll present it to him; I’ll be like “This is for Mario. And Zelda. Seriously! You can keep it.”
That’s right; three ten out of tens. And honestly, there are probably several more games in the series I would give a perfect score in this series.
Super Mario World is just one of those games that did everything right. It’s still one of the prettiest 2D games ever. The graphic design is top-notch, and undoubtedly influenced the look of many other games from the same time, and even now. The music did the same, and really showed off Koji Kondo’s skills as an arranger as well as a composer; nearly all of the music in the game is a variation on one tune, and most people I know don’t notice that until I tell them. Having bongo drums added to the music while you’re riding Yoshi was a neat touch as well. SMW is also one of the biggest Mario games, and has a mind-boggling amount of things to do, especially if you consider that the concept of having so much to do in a platform game was nearly unprecedented at the time. It’s also just a tightly made platformer; I still don’t think there’s ever been a game in the genre that controls so well and encourages so much exploration of the physics and momentum of the game. As an example, check out this awesome fucking video. It’s made entirely with sounds and objects in the game (although they’re arranged with a level designer, which just hacks up the ROM as it exists with no modifications). It doesn’t really make my point very well, but isn’t it fucking awesome?!?
- Good evening! I can’t help but notice you’re quite handsome.
- Thank you, I hear that in every interview.
- I see why! So, this “Facebook.” What the hell is it?
- Well, it’s a social networking site that brutally violates your privacy.
- I see. Well-
- Seriously, it just, like, REAMS your privacy. It sees your privacy at the bar, and it’s like, “Man, I want some of that sweet advertising action.” So it hits on your privacy all night and it keeps turning Facebook down, so it drugs your privacy’s drink, takes it home, rapes it, and steals all of its identifiable information and sells it to its advertiser friends. Then it-
- Right, right. If it’s that bad, though, why are you on it?
- I love money. Like, a lot. And I’d like to have some of it. Plus, I could use the exposure to make myself more popular, thereby building my demagogue up enough to form a militia and… well, you know.
- That’s a great idea! I think everyone should follow your every word and start stockpiling weapons to use in your name! So what kind of content can we expect on this Facebook page?
- Well, you should be able to find most of the content from my Twitter page. Redundancy is key to social media. Also, you’ll see various updates and messages from me from time to time, plus you’ll be able to interact with me directly!
- Like your users already can via email, comments, Twitter, and instant messaging?
- Why am I trying to sabotage myself via this interview?
- Because of your crippling mental disabilities that leave you arguing with yourself on the internet!
- Right! I had forgotten about that already. Go to the new page!
I see you sitting in the corner there. I know what you’re planning to do. You’re planning to do a flash kick, aren’t you? It’s pretty obvious. I mean, you only have two moves. You might as well come over here and try that cheap-ass double sweep kick, because I’m not stupid enough to walk right into a flash kick. That shit hurts. Hell, look at me; I’m sitting here writing you a letter. I’ve got time. I don’t have a fireball or anything, so I can’t hit you from afar. All I can do is sit here and wait. I’ve got to wait. Dammit I can’t wait anymore. I’m going over there. And I -
Goddamn you Guile. Goddamn you and your fucking flash kick.
“Dear Dead or Alive characters:
Your fighting game fucking sucks. It’s not even fighting. It’s fucking defending and then reversing attacks. Please make more beach volleyball games. We likey cleavage.
The Street Fighter Gang”
Why aren’t you getting in on this? It’s legal ass-busting. Seriously! I beat the crap out of some Chinese chick and they didn’t even call the police! And that’s a good thing, because I’m still dressed in a striped convict outfit with shackles on my hands and feet. Come down here and kick some ass with me!
“Vega, buddy. Seriously. At first when we started teasing you and saying you were gay, it was a joke. But we took note of how offended you were and stopped. You said you weren’t, and that was good enough for us. But then more and more evidence kept coming up. Now we found this picture of you on a men’s dating board:
I know you’re probably going through a lot of things. It’s really stressful to hide stuff like that. But you can talk to us. This is a safe place, and you’re with friends. We won’t judge you. We didn’t judge Blanka. Just be honest with yourself, and you can be honest with us.
Love (the hetero kind, not, you know, gay)
Your friends at Shadaloo
P.S.: Zangief thinks you’re cute.”
We here at Sears understand your participation in the World Warrior tournament is a point of great pride for you. It is for us too; that’s why we decided to sponsor you. However, we feel that the requirement that you wear more than your fighting uniform to meet and greets and other Sears-sponsored events was implicit in your endorsement agreement. We feel that the remarkably skimpy outfit you wore to our Sears KidsNOW! event goes beyond the limits of good taste into the territory of potential legal action by the parents of the children who attended. We would appreciate it if you used more common sense in the future.
Sears PR Manager”
“To All My Fellow Street Fighters:
- Love, Ken”
One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that if something I’m doing doesn’t have a story, I’ll make one up. Usually, it’s ridiculous, and obviously not what the developers. For example, in E-Swat, I like to imagine that I’m a hard-bitten cop who has gone insane, shooting every skateboarder and jaywalker I see.
I really enjoy the first couple of levels, where I’m just a regular cop, and become less interested in it as the game becomes more fantastic, revolving around a cyborg cop shooting robots and such. It’s still a pretty good game, it’s just not as interesting, although there is something to be said about the logical question of why, upon being sieged by evil robots, the best thing the city can muster is a beat cop. That’s a big reason why I play so many terrible games: I can just make up my own insane motivations for what I’m doing. Granted, most of these plots I’ve come up with could easily be used in a court of law to demonstrate why I shouldn’t be allowed custody of my own children, but hopefully you’ll find them as funny as I do. Let’s start with:
I used to play Super Off-Road all the time, and I remember doing quite well at it. However, I must have been cheating, because when I went back and played it for my article on it the other day, I found that holy shit, Ivan “Ironman” Stewart is a fucking dick. You have to tune up your truck over time after winning races, but Ivan “Ironman” Stewart? He’s already got a nice truck, a way nicer truck than you have, pissant. It goes 8 times faster than yours, it looks nicer, and it has a 3-supermodel minimum. You would be lucky to have a milk jug full of Astroglide in your truck to have sex with. Ivan “Ironman” Stewart has 70 nitro boosts at all time. How many do you have? Oh, 10? That’s cool, I guess you don’t like to go fast.
You manage to keep up with Ivan “Ironman” Stewart on the big-time off-road circuit, even if you can’t quite beat him. But little do you know that Ivan “Ironman” Stewart hides a terrible secret. Behind that facade of an alpha dog off-road racer beats the cold, mechanical heart of a monster. You see, when you finally beat Ivan “Ironman” Stewart in a race, he becomes enraged. He transforms into his sinister second form: a 70-foot-tall truck-eating cyberdevil.
Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s new form, Iron “Ivan Stewart” Man (no relation to any of the other Iron Men, including the superhero and 6-time men’s Ironman Triathlon winner Dave “The Man” Scott), rampages throughout the American southwest, destroying all he comes upon. It’s up to you, the anonymous off-road driver, to stop him. And unfortunately, you’re just a generic truck racer who looks like a roadie for Aerosmith.
Saturday, I posted a list of games that really need sequels. I tried really hard to keep it exclusively to games that never received sequels, but in the course of research for the article (I.E. sitting in my pajamas playing video games), most of the games I came across that really needed sequels were parts of established franchises that had already had at least one sequel. This goes back to what I was saying about good games deserving sequels; obviously, these were games that worked the first couple of times, and, given the chance, would probably work again. Games like…
Battletoads (NES, 1991, Rare)
Battletoads was a really popular game, which is why it’s so weird it hasn’t been revisited since 1994. Nowadays Rare is more popular for their fucking unprecedented run of incredible games for the SNES and N64 from the mid-90s to the late 2000s, but, as my European fans (if any) will know, they’ve been kicking ass since 1982, when they were founded as Ultimate Play the Game, possibly the most obtuse name ever for any kind of company.
Battletoads was partly an attempt at aping the popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was so popular at the time that it was actually elected governor of Connecticut for 2 terms. It actually even had a spin-off cartoon, which had 1 pilot episode produced. It was aired on Fox, but it never got picked up. Being that I was lucky enough to have picked up a VHS with the episode in the bargain bin at Walmart when I was little, I can’t really figure out why. I mean, it wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t going to be the new G.I. Joe or anything, but it probably could have been reasonably successful. When that failed, they seemed to give up on making it a media franchise, but it wasn’t lost on anyone that this was one of the best beat-em-ups ever made.
Rare has joked about a sequel to Battletoads for years, even going as far as to fuck with people who thought, upon seeing Banjo-Kazooie resurrected for the 360, that other Rare franchise updates were inevitable. And yet they fail to deliver, despite a huge demand from fans. Teh 4ch0ns actually called Gamestop, over and over, for several days demanding to preorder it. Of course that was more of a joke than anything else, but Gamestop isn’t smart enough to figure that out. A current-gen 2D version of Battletoads would be awesome if done correctly. Something along the lines of Castle Crashers, but hopefully a little less repetitive and with more replay value. Actually, now that I think about it, it would be fucking awesome if The Behemoth handled it. It would fit well with their style.
Battletoads is fun as fuck. But it’s hard. It’s unreasonably hard. Most people who hear how hard it is tend to play the first level and think “I don’t know what everybody is talking about, this isn’t that bad.” Then they play a little bit into the second level, where you rappel down a tunnel, and they run into those fucking crows that snip your cable and kill you before you can do anything about it, and they think “Wow, that’s obnoxious, but it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” Then they reach the third level. The vehicle level.
You shoot around at absurdly high speeds dodging obstacles that appear in front of you less than a second before you have to jump over them. And if you don’t? You lose a life, and you have a maximum of 9. The worst part is that, to lull you into a sense of safety, there’s a secret warp you can hit that takes you to another level. “Thank god,” our first-time players say. “I only had 1 life left.” At this point, Battletoads can barely contain its laughter as you walk forward and jump on a goddammed surfboard. That’s right. Another vehicle level. And this one’s even harder than the first. And when you beat it? You fight a ridiculously powerful boss that can kill you in 2 hits. And if you beat him? Well…
You go to the snake level.
God was mocking you with the vehicle levels. Perhaps He had another bet with Satan that His followers would have trust in Him no matter what He did. But with the snakes, God isn’t mocking you. This isn’t his sense of humor. This is the vengeance of an angry god. I actually saw a man die while playing this level once. And it wasn’t a fast death, either. I won’t go into a details, but suffice to say his testicles fell off before it was over.
So I guess my point is that, as great as Battletoads is, it’s a murderer. And that’s worth at least a point or two off.
Killer Instinct (SNES/Arcade, 1994, Rare)
Here we have another Rare franchise, which is equally renowned by those who remember it. Killer Instinct was one of the best 2D fighters of its day, and like most fighting games of its time, it was CHOCK FULL OF OVER THE TOP ACTION! ~ Gamefan Magazine. KI, however, was over the top in a different way than its competitors. Instead of going crazy with the violence and brutality, Killer Instinct just got really, really excited about the combos you were doing. Really excited. For example, in Super Street Fighter II, when you do a combo, all you see is a little pop-up that says how many hits you got in. With Mortal Kombat, you get a pat on the back from Shao Khan, a small “outstanding!” or something. But in Killer Instinct, everything is a cause for celebration. Did you get an 8-hit combo? Fuck no you didn’t, you got a SUPER HYPER MEGA ULTRA COMBOOOOOO! And when you stop someone in the middle of a combo, the announcer is so shocked that he can’t even speak. He stutters out “C-C-C-C-COMBOOOOO BREAKERRRRRRR!!!!!!!” Presumably he can’t talk because he was so shocked that it gave him a brain hemorrhage.
Rare has been even more of a cocktease about a sequel to KI than it has been about Battletoads. Not only are there references in actual games, employees even directly talk about how awesome it would be to make a sequel. Ken Lobb of Rare (who I know from Nintendo of America through countless hours of reading Nintendo Power as a kid, and who you may know as the namesake of the Klobb gun from Goldeneye and Perfect Dark) has expressed interest in doing it several times, as has Rare head Mark Betteridge. Lobb even went as far as to say it “will happen someday.” The only thing that worries me is that one rumor that Betteridge instigated was that KI3 would be coming out… for fucking Natal. I would love more than anything to see a KI3, but I really couldn’t possibly give a shit less about Microsoft’s goddammed EyeToy. I’m not going to buy one, and I really would like to see a version of KI3 that doesn’t involve me flailing my arms to swat away Fulgore. I’m not on fucking Nick Arcade, and my Xbox isn’t named Phil Moore. Not anymore anyway.
Other gamers be dammed; I fucking love Killer Instinct. Most people have a bias against non-Capcom 2D fighters, and it’s easy to see why; SF games are not only great games, they created the genre and were responsible for nearly every innovation in fighting game history. But, just like with SNK’s amazing fighting games, like Samurai Showdown and King of Fighters, the Mortal Kombat series, and even Capcom’s own Darkstalkers games, Killer Instinct is a smooth, well-designed, downright fun fighter that got the short end of the stick just for not being Street Fighter. KI is every bit as good as MK, and is even better in some ways. Plus, it had a lot of character, and it-
River City Ransom (NES, 1990, Technos Japan)
Everybody knows River City Ransom by now. It’s the Beyond Good and Evil of its day, the game that everyone who actually bothered to buy it worships, and that everybody else discovered long after it mattered. Emulation has made it famous, and now everybody realizes that they should have been mailing envelopes full of money to Technos in the 90s.
In Japan, RCR is part of a huge franchise known as Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, or Downtown Hot-Blooded Story. For some reason the internet doesn’t seem to know how many games are in the series, but rest assured there are dozens of them. While this was the one of only two parts of the main series (the other being the mediocre Renegade) that was released in America, a few tertiary games, like Super Dodge Ball, Crash n’ The Boys: Street Challenge, and Nintendo World Cup, did see a release here. The franchise was revisited briefly in 2004, but all that really came out of it was a remake of the original for the Game Boy Advance. I think that it could benefit from the same kind of treatment Final Fight received last month, playing upon the strengths of the original game while improving the graphics. However, if they choose to do it this way, they should add a lot more areas and shops. The RPG elements of the original are a lot of what made it so fun, and the quirky charm of the shops could be greatly expanded upon.
This is pretty much the perfect beat-em-up. Limitless replay value, solid mechanics, and a remarkable amount of depth (compared to other games in the genre). Plus you can eat 100 hamburgers and become more powerful, which is pretty much the opposite of what happens in real life.
Actraiser (SNES, 1991, Enix)
I know I already talked about Actraiser a few days ago, but hey, now I’m doing it again. That other article sucked anyway.
Actraiser was a pretty big hit at the time it was released, as far as I can tell. It’s very fondly remembered, and it’s most people’s go-to example of how you can blend two diametrically opposed genres to make something great. But for some reason, after the somewhat disappointing sequel, which was fun but dropped the sim elements that made the original unique, the series dropped off the face of the planet.
This is unfortunate, because a new Actraiser would be phenomenal. I would happy with a 3D third-person action section (as long as it’s nothing like the “mash the X button until the game ends” mechanics of God of War) melded with a more intricate sim section. One thought, although I can’t fully decide how much I would like this, would be for a more RTS-influenced sim section. When I envision this, I see something like Genesis cult classic Herzog Zwei. You have your main angel unit, which can build stuff, carry units where they need to go, and also directly intervene as an offensive unit. You construct squads to go in and fight demons back to their lair, which you can have a special unit seal, thus killing off all the remaining monsters. You earn resources by killing demons off. Maybe that wouldn’t be the best direction to go in from a commercial point of view, but I think it would be fun. And isn’t that what’s truly important? Me?
I love Actraiser so much. It’s one of the first SNES games I had, and I used to play it all the time, even though I didn’t fully understand exactly what I was supposed to be doing in the sim sections. I figured it out pretty fast though, which I’m kinda proud of, since I was like 4 at the time.
I also need to note how amazing the music is. It’s one of the best soundtracks Yuzo Koshiro ever did. Koshiro is a grossly underrated composer. He’s in the same league as composers like Yasunori Shiono and Yoko Shimomura, in that he should really be regarded on the same level as composers like Nobuo Uematsu. The games he wrote for unfortunately weren’t as popular as a Final Fantasy or a Zelda, but the soundtrack is just as good. He also did the soundtracks for the Ys and Streets of Rage series, among other things. His work on Streets of Rage 2 is some of the most solid and atmospheric game music this side of Metroid.
The platforming sections are fun, although the controls are a little bit clunky. It’s forgivable for the most part, but it’s kind of irritating when you jump, bump into something, and fall into a pit of lava. They get really difficult in the later levels, and the new magic you earn in the sim sections add a bit of customization to the game.
The sim sections are where the game really shines, though. There’s never really been a sim game like it. It blends a shoot-em-up-style method of attack with an extremely simplified version of the city building you see in RTSs. It doesn’t sound like much, but it actually gets rather intense in later levels. It’s difficult to balance directing the building of an area with killing monsters before they can kill your villagers. It never gets frustrating though, which makes it pretty much the only sim game I’ve never had to rage quit out of. This is because I am kind of a bitch at RTS games. I mean, hell, I can’t even get a Zerg rush to work properly (kekeke).
Super Off-Road (Arcade/Several Consoles, 1989, Leland Corporation)
This is going to be quick, because there really isn’t much to say. Remember this game? Even if you don’t remember the name, if you went to a pizza place or a gas station between 1989 and 1994 you played this at least once. It’s a classic arcade cabinet. 3 steering wheels, placed awkwardly sticking out in the middle (I guess because they thought only 4-feet tall kids would be playing it).
Ordinarily I would pitch an idea for a new Super Off-Road game, but there’s really not anything terribly new that they could do. It pretty much has to be a top-down racing game. I suppose they could add in some stunts and expand the awesome truck customization, but other than that, there’s really not any way they could do it any differently than the original and make it the same game. I know this, because there were 3 sequels to the game that didn’t have anything in common with it except for the presence of trucks.
Super Off-Road was great at the time. There’s not a whole lot else to say. There weren’t a whole lot of games like it, and it was especially fun if you managed to round up a couple of friends to play with, although unfortunately no one gets to play as the silver truck. That’s Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. The game carried his endorsement, and, as is always the case with racing games, the endorser was granted superhuman abilities. It’s just like with Gran Turismo and its continued insistence (even when they promise to stop) that their licensed cars cannot be harmed in any way. Ironman drives 6 times faster than everyone else, has complete metaphysical control over his truck, and is probably sleeping with your girlfriend.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve missed putting up an article here recently. I promise I’m working on a long one. But this week has been particularly stressful, what with finals and work and all. I deserve a couple of days of playing Wave Race 64 and sleeping until noon. But I promise I’ll be back with a vengeance soon. And I’ll bring some special surprises. Just stay in tune. Key of C and whatnot.
Remember Nester? Probably not. He’s this guy:
This cocky motherfucker appeared in Nintendo Power until the end of 1993. He was the co-star of Howard & Nester, the epic comic adventures of Howard Phillips, Nintendo spokesectuive. Howard and Nester got into various problems (all of them caused by Nester being an overly self-assured dick) which inevitably led to them somehow being inside of a Nintendo. Then Howard would completely obliterate Nester at something. They were awesome, especially to kids, and they were a big part of making NP feel so personal. Eventually, when the real Howard Phillips left Nintendo (for JVC. Seriously?), the comic became Nester’s Adventures, and Nester went kind of crazy without Howard’s fatherly influence. For the most part, the comic kept its greatness.
However, some of them were completely insane, and that’s saying something for a comic about a 3 foot tall balding teenager with a perfectly circular head and Cloud Strife hair with schizophrenia. Just look at this one from issue 30:
Wouldn’t it be funny if this were the whole comic? I should just leave it out of context.
Here, we have Nester, who is apparently now a spiteful, murderous box car derby driver, destroying other kids’ cars for no particular reason other than that he takes sadistic pleasure in it. Not many kids would be tried as an adult for something they did in a box car derby, but I think this would be enough to convince a judge that the only place Nester is safe is in a cell guarded by 4 of the ass-whompingest guards the state has to offer. I swear, he’s supposed to be the hero of this comic. But look at the expression on his face in that last panel! He clearly takes very sick pleasure in watching these kids’ dreams go out in a storm of fire and shattered soap box.
Here we see the twist to the story, where the referee hits the “F-Zero Virtual Reality” button all homemade wooden cars have, Nester sees himself competing in the F-Zero tournament. Because logically, the best thing to do when you have a kid with violent tendencies is put him in an environment where he sees the cars he’s ramming as evil space aliens to defeat by ramming, with support and bonus tips on murder from a superhero. By the time his car is completely destroyed, the referee finally comes to his senses and realizes that he needs to get Nester into police hands now before he goes on a shooting spree in a shopping mall.
As crazy as this makes him look, Nester was still totally awesome. The comic ended in 1994, but Nester continued to crop up for years, in a couple of one-shot comics in Nintendo Power, disguised as “Lark” for some reason in Pilotwings 64, and even in his own game for the Virtual Boy, Nester’s Funky Bowling. It was, uh, funky.
I’d love to see Nester make a comeback. I know it’ll never happen, because honestly I don’t see any way it would work, but I’d love it if for absolutely no reason the comic began appearing in NP again and Nester started appearing in Chinatown Wars and Madworld. Judging from this comic, he’d be right at home.
WARNING: This paragraph contains an absurd amount of semicolons.
Whether we admit it or not, gamers love sequels. Even though we so frequently complain about the “sequelitus” that is supposedly destroying our hobby, we all wait with bated breath for the sequels to our favorite games, whether they’re somewhat unlikely, like Crackdown or Just Cause, or inevitable even though the original was shit to begin with, like God of War or Assassins Creed. Sometimes they fix everything that was wrong with the original (that was the case with both Just Cause and Assassins Creed), and other times they just ruin something beautiful (like every Prince of Persia game released since Sands of Time). And, of course, sometimes companies just churn out the same bullshit over and over, which I think is the only real problem with sequels (God of War, I’m looking in your direction). But on the whole, if a game is good, it deserves a sequel; to say a company should always abandon a (commercially or critically) successful concept in favor of trying something “fresh” is ludicrously idealistic. Sequels don’t even have to be uncreative redos of the originals; plenty of sequels have been able to build upon the concepts of their predecessors to the point of practically being new genres without losing the feel of the original. Just look at Half-Life 2, Ocarina of Time, and Sonic Adventure, for Christ’s sake. And even if a sequel is a shitty rehash, there’s no reason the incoming funds from the brain-dead hicks who will buy anything with the God of War name on it (just kidding, I know some intelligent people who love GOW, for some reason) can’t go toward something great; using that example, Sony’s success with GOW and other games led to the creation of LittleBigPlanet and Uncharted, which were completely fresh and innovated the genres of social game creation and fight-two-people-then-jump-from-ledge-to-ledge-for-45-minutes (again, I’m kidding, sort of, although the sheer amount and frequency of ledge jumping in that game took the dramatic tension of hanging on a ledge from “nail-biting” to “this is more mundane than riding the bus” in like 1 level), respectively.
But, as far as I’m concerned, the only thing worse than when a terrible game franchise shits out a completely uninspired sequel is when a deserving game never gets a sequel. In that vein, here’s a trio of games that desperately need a sequel:
Comix Zone (Genesis, 1994, Sega)
When most people think of beat-em-ups, their order of thinking goes like this:
Final Fight-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-Streets of Rage-Final Fight (again)-random arcade beat-em-up-Turtles in Time
But I consider myself somewhat of a beat-em-up connoisseur. Me and my friends will sit around and play various obscure beat-em-ups, discussing the finer points of them just as the pretentious do with wine, except that we’re actually able to determine differences between beat-em-ups. And yet, with all the beat-em-ups I’ve played, I’ve still yet to see one like Comix Zone.
Comix Zone tells the tale of a man named Sketch Turner. If 10-year-olds could vote, Sketch would have been elected president of the 90s. He’s a struggling comic artist/hard rock musician with a bad haircut and weird sunglasses. He’s the epitome of everything kids thought was cool at the time. He even owned a pet rat named Roadkill. To be honest I wouldn’t have been surprised if the twist ending of the game revealed he was actually a 5th grader. Sketch creates a comic book, then gets transported into it during a lightning storm.
This brings me to a mystery I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now. I understand why people though you could get superpowers from nuclear radiation. Obviously it’s just going to give you lymphoma in real life, but in comics and movies it makes sense, because we don’t have any contact with radiation on a day-to-day basis. But lightning? We understand lightning. We see it all the time. I’ve personally never been brought back to life or traveled through time because of lightning. Why would I think it would send a comic book artist into his own creation? They could have at least made it, like, a wizard lightning storm or something.
Regardless of the shaky logic behind the premise, Comix Zone is a fucking classic. It’s probably the best beat-em-up for the Genesis (except Streets of Rage 2), and the visual design perfectly captured the then-current anti-hero-centric comics the mid-90s were so famous for. It’s been getting a lot more attention lately, but it was tragically ignored for the first 10 or so years after it was released. Recently it’s been released on the Virtual Console, XBLA, and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, and the Game Boy Advance saw a really shitty port that only got released in Europe (for some reason, publisher branches in Europe love to fuck the whole continent over as much as possible with awful retitles, terrible ads, and only the worst exclusive releases that weren’t good enough to see release anywhere else). Hopefully this current… hmm, I hesitate to call it momentum… vague notoriety that Comix Zone has will lead to interest in a sequel. It’s such a simple concept that it could be feasible on just about any system. It could be a 2D platformer, a 3D 3rd-person action game, a throwback retro sequel, a new-generation reimagining, just about anything.
And now that I’ve said that, they’ll probably release a “dark” adaptation of the game where Sketch is a badass anti-hero space marine. The industry loves to fuck me over. Especially when they can do it with space marines.
Sküljagger – Revolt of the Westicans (SNES, 1992, Realtime Associates)
There will never, ever, ever be a sequel for this game.
It’s a damn shame, too, because this is one of the best, and weirdest, platformers the SNES ever saw. Sküljagger finally combined all the elements of great stories you’ve been waiting to see together for so long: skeleton pirates, magic bubblegum, evil bugs… Sküljagger had it all. It was developed by Realtime Associates, which isn’t really involved with the industry in a traditional sense anymore, mostly producing “serious games,” games with purposes like teaching kids not to jump in front of moving vehicles and teaching soldiers not to shoot innocent people (guess which one of those is harder to teach). That’s admirable, but honestly, they were never really involved with the industry all that much to begin with. Sküljagger is pretty much the sole game of note they did. Other than that they were mostly in charge of Game Gear ports and Sega Pico educational games. The weird thing is, even though they never really did anything else, they had at least one luminary among their ranks: Doug fucking TenNapel, who 2 years later shot to superstardom with the creation of Earthworm Jim.
Sküljagger is the story of you, some guy, who somehow steals a sword from a pirate/dictator, possibly named Sküljagger, who is also a skeleton for some reason, to fight for his freedom, or his nation’s independence, or something. The game isn’t entirely clear on most aspects of the story, but it is clear on one thing. That fucking skeleton hates you, and he may or may not be sending giant evil insects to kill you. You have to use magic bubblegum, which for some reason looks exactly like fruit, to kill the evil bugs, and possibly go to find Sküljagger and kill/defeat/usurp him!
Sküljagger is fun as fuck. But for whatever reason, it’s absurdly obscure. The only reason I know about the game is because the name stood out from when I saw codes for it in the Classified Information section of an old Nintendo Power. I’ve never seen an actual copy of the game, and apparently it’s so obscure it doesn’t even get a Wikipedia page. To give you some perspective on that, BlaZeon: The Bio-Cyborg Challenge has a Wikipedia page, and I think I may have just made that title up. The game is a mess of disparate elements, but somehow it all works out in the end. Kind of like a train wreck between a shipment of chocolate and peanut butter, only with less coal and fewer dead bodies.
Captain Skyhawk (NES, 1990, Rare)
If I had to declare my favorite airplane-based shooter, I would probably say U.N. Squadron. But Captain Skyhawk would be really, really fucking close.
Yet again I have no clue what the fuck the game is about, but it seems to be about a man who flies an airplane across space into plain, monochromatic landscapes shooting all of the bizarre, sometimes abstract enemies he saw, including sentient sphinx statues, RC cars, and the All-Seeing Eye. It’s an early work by Rare, who seems to be the master of making great games then forgetting about the for 20 years (see: Battletoads, Killer Instinct, about 10 other games), and features a really underrated soundtrack by David Wise, the greatest non-Japanese game composer of all time.
Ok, I admit, this game is getting a little extra love from me due to the fact that it’s the very first game I ever picked out for myself. Remember when Toys R Us had the big glass case with all the games in it? I do, and I was only 2, so you have no excuse. I absolutely hated it at first because my plane would just fall out of the sky for no reason sometimes. Fortunately my parents somehow figured out that, in the most baffling game design choice ever, you have to hold down on the D-pad the entire time you played it.
Besides the fact that the soundtrack is phenomenal, the story was somewhat intriguing, and the game was fun as all fuck, Captain Skyhawk deserves a remake for this reason alone: someone needs to rectify the choice of making you hold the down button the entire fucking time. Rare has made an absurd amount of great games, but the fact that they made this one completely incomprehensible mistake bugs me.
There are plenty of reasons to make a sequel to this game, but they’re all kind of hard to explain, so here’s the ROM for the game. Don’t say I never gave you anything, even if it is something that is remarkably easy to access all over the internet.