Sinister Penguin

I.

Evil, wicked penguin!
Why did you steal the Eskimo’s
only beer?
The beer for which he traveled
so long and hard on a sled
of huskies?
You, evil penguin, have caused
the Eskimo to melt his
igloo in a sober rage!
He needed that beer,
Satan’s servant,
and you have robbed him of it!
But, hark, what is this?
The penguin has sipped the beer!
How can this be?  Penguins can’t fly!
Yet here, the intoxicated mammal
flaps its wings and flies to
scenic Harlem.
How can this be?
He is a drunken penguin,
and all things are possible.

II.

There is a bulldozer where the
penguin lands, and with one small
claw it turns the key.
The penguin has turned the key!
“That sounds like a drunken penguin
operating heavy machinery,” a nearby
officer states as he draws his weapon
to stop that which cannot be stopped.
He fires in vain at the bulldozer,
knowing the penguin’s rage cannot be stopped!
The end is near for Harlem
and the world!
The penguin is a demonic force
of beer-stealing fury as
it sings, “Doo Be Doo Be Doo!”
Nothing can satiate a drunken penguin.

III.

The next day is one of confusion as
the evil penguin finds himself in a bed.
On him, a navel uniform.
Next to him, a cheap prostitute.
In a drunken stupor the wicked
penguin joined the U.S. Navy!
A proposition came to him
and he accepted.
The prostitute, after a night of penguin
pleasures, wanted twenty dollars in return.
How can he pay?
He’s only a penguin!

– From An Old Man’s Nocturnal Emissions
Randall Malus, c. 2001

TBT #1 – This Week in Wii: Sega’s Fantasy Zone 2 comes to the Virtual Console

Originally published at Examiner.com on July 2, 2009.

In the last week of June 2009, I applied to be the “Classic Video Games Examiner” for Cleveland, OH.  I hadn’t written for awhile, and though I was primarily a fiction writer, I thought that perhaps it would be good to keep my skills sharpened with a few articles.  The background I submitted displayed, I’d hoped, my talents and personality:

[Randall Malus] graduated from Saint Ignatius High School (located in Cleveland, Ohio) in 2001, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English from John Carroll University (located in University Heights, Ohio) in 2005–two facts which should explain his behavior perfectly. Video games have been a big part of [Randall’s] life since as far back as he can remember, and his intolerance towards change (coupled with his unhealthy love of the Atari and Nintendo Entertainment System) make him the perfect candidate to tackle the subject of “classic video games”. Above all else, [Randall] fancies himself a humorist of sorts and seeks to put an unconventional (yet deeply thought-provoking) spin on life, the universe, and everything (42) as they relate to classic video games.

Within a few days, I was accepted, and my background became my profile.  As soon as I was able, I started posting articles.

This article was the first I’d written for Examiner.com, and was my “audition” piece–which means there wasn’t a lot of me in it yet.  It was also originally intended to be part of a series called “This Week in Wii”, which would have taken a closer look at the classic gaming releases to the Virtual Console of the Nintendo Wii in that month. 

This isn’t my favorite article, and certainly not my best–though it is probably my most straight-forward.  Unfortunately, the original pictures were removed when the Examiner staff unpublished the article, but I’ve approximated the originals as best I could.

– Randall Malus, 09/24/2015


fz3I feel like I just fell into John Lennon’s acid trip.


This week’s Wii Virtual Console release is a game for the Sega Master System called Fantasy Zone 2 – The Tears of Opa-Opa.  A shoot-em-up (or “shmup”) from Sega’s early 8-bit console days, Fantasy Zone 2 follows its cult-classic predecessor by combining game play elements from other popular shmups of the day with upbeat music, psychedelic backgrounds, and surreal enemies.  Truly, many of the game’s antagonists (both basic enemies and bosses alike) are more likely to be at home in a Looney Tunes animated short than a side-scrolling video game.


fz2Like all good shmups, the story only rears its ugly head during the prologue and ending.


The storyline itself is just as zany as the level design and adversaries.  The player assumes the role of Opa-Opa, a sentient spaceship who freed a group of planets (the titular “Fantasy Zone”) from malevolent invaders led by Opa-Opa’s father in the “Space Year 6216”.  Ten years later (in this game’s present), the Fantasy Zone has once again fallen prey to an attack by invaders from the planet “Nenon”.  Determined to put an end to this new threat and uncover the mastermind behind this most recent evil plot, Opa-Opa speeds off toward the Fantasy Zone once more.  It’s all quite melodramatic and a good primer for the game itself.


fz1It’s like Salvatore Dali had one too many Pixie Sticks.


And what of the “game itself”?  For the most part, the levels are as free-roaming as a game from 1987 can allow; the player can move both left and right along an infinitely looping background, similar to the original game.  Like the original game, enemies, when defeated, drop money which can be used to purchase weapons and ship upgrades in shops hidden at key points in each level.  In order to advance to the boss of each stage, as in the original game, the player must destroy all enemy “bases” scattered throughout the area.  A new feature found in Fantasy Zone 2 is the sheer size of each level.  Indeed, all levels in the game are broken into three sub-stages (connected loosely by warp zones), with each containing its own unique background and set of enemy bases.  Another change from the first game is found in the boss battles.  Instead of facing each boss and shooting somewhat aimlessly as in Fantasy Zone, every boss in Fantasy Zone 2 has a specific pattern, weakness, or series of obstacles setting it apart from the other bosses in the game.  The basic enemy flying and shooting patterns have also been enhanced, making the game more difficult and, ultimately, more rewarding.

So, is this game worth the 500 Wii Point price tag?  While it shares much in common with its predecessor (perhaps too much for some), Fantasy Zone 2 takes the best elements of the original game and gives the player more.  Whether it’s the challenging bosses, wacky scenery, or classic shmup action, casual gamers and hardcore shoot-em-up fans alike will find something that makes Fantasy Zone 2 – The Tears of Opa-Opa seem like a steal at its current price.


-LINKS-

The Myth of Hope

Who here knows the myth of Pandora’s box?

It’s a Greek myth, and its sort of kind of their version of the Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve.  While I don’t remember all of the specifics, I remember the important parts:

Pandora is a woman who is ordered to guard a box said to be filled with nothing but evil.  Up until this point in time, evil did not exist in the world because it was kept locked away in said box.  Under no circumstances was she to let anyone open the box, lest evil would be released and the world would suffer for it.  Well, sure enough, the very first moment she’s left alone, curiosity takes hold of her and she opens the box just for a peek at what’s inside.  Guess what happens?  All the evil in the box escapes and enters the world.

Thanks, Pandora.

But that’s not how the story ends.  The story doesn’t end with Pandora despairing because she let suffering into the world.  Instead, though she does despair, she looks into the empty box and finds something remaining at the bottom: Hope.

Normally, the moral of the story is that one can find hope even in the midst of evil and suffering, and I suppose that’s valid.  But I see two potential messages that are equally sarcastic.

  1. Hope is empty.  It’s a fabrication.  Pandora discovers it at the bottom of an empty box.  There’s nothing left inside, except for hope–which is meaningless, because it’s nothing.
  2. Hope is an evil in and of itself.  It’s the last thing found in a box filled with evil because it belongs in the box.  Just consider all those who believe in a better tomorrow, only to die miserable and alone.  Consider those parents whose children are missing, hoping to one day see them alive and well, only to discover days, weeks, months, or years later that their loved one is gone (and was taken in a terrible way).  Hope is all that keeps them going…like a machine that refuses to allow a fatally sick person to die, despite the lacking quality of life.  Hope raises people higher just so the landing when they fall hurts that much more.  Hope is an evil in and of itself.

And that’s the myth of Hope.

Examiner News and Announcement

WARNING: INCOMING RANT

So, back in 2009, I became the Cleveland Retro Gaming Examiner for Examiner.com, a news site populated by up-and-coming would-be journalists and writers who, in many cases, can barely read themselves and can’t string two words together coherently without sounding like third-graders.

Bitter?  Yes, I am.  Why?  Because in recent years, there’s been a shift in management at Examiner.com and the staff has started arbitrarily labeling posts from writers as “not newsworthy” and has taken to “unpublishing” them, basically keeping them away from the public eye.

My review I posted of the 1980 arcade classic Pac-Man isn’t newsworthy?  Thank goodness for editor Goebbels at Examiner.com, because I had no idea!

When you’re reviewing retro games, calling your article “not newsworthy” is the ultimate in understatement.  Even so, it’s the principle of the thing.  And while I’ve never really been all that in love with these articles, others seem to have been amused by them, so I’d rather not have them disappear.

That said, while it looks like my articles (which were perfectly fine before) are no longer welcomed on Examiner.com, they’re obviously welcomed on my own blog.  So, for the next several weeks, it looks like I will have pretty consistent updates.  Every Thursday from now probably the end of the year (or near to it) will be Examiner Thursday, in which I will repost to this blog an article from my time at the Examiner.  Look forward to it in the coming weeks.

Updates & Coming Attractions: Volume 1, Issue 4

So, apparently I’ve misjudged my deadline.  Originally I was under the impression that I had more time in November before the release of SPECTRE, but as it turns out, someone didn’t do quite enough research and recently discovered that the film is to be released six days after the start of the month instead of twenty-one.  Not a big deal.

What is a big deal is that the novella is in need of heavy restructuring–the editor in me can see that already.  And “heavy” means just that–heavy.  The concept as initially devised isn’t working.  It can work, but it isn’t right now.  Not with the direction I’ve taken.  So, time to go back to the drawing board.

The bad news is that this most likely means I will miss the deadline.  At the same time, this is also good news.  The initial plan was to release the novella on November 10, allowing for folks to read the thing before the 21st release date of SPECTRE.  But, since SPECTRE isn’t coming out until November 6, releasing the novella on the 10th was no good.  So what about October 26?  That, too, is no good, because of a little holiday called Halloween–and I don’t want my novella to get buried by the hundreds of horror stories that are bound to be released up until the 31st of October.  Thus, the novella would need to be released, at the earliest, November 1.  This is hardly enough time.

So what do I do?  Well, if I’m not having fun with it, the reader won’t, either.  As I’m having problems with the thing anyway, I will simply shelve it for the moment.  I’ll relegate the problems I’m having with it to my subconscious, and allow the meat-computer I call a brain to work on unraveling the knot in the background.

And instead I work on something else to be released around roughly the same time.  Something of equal length, because damn it, not every movie needs to be three hours long and not every book needs to be over five hundred pages.

So what do I work on?  I’ll let you know when I’ve worked on it.  Stay tuned.

EDIT (09/19/2015): You know what?  Part of living life is overcoming adversity.  With apologies to Johnny Depp, I’m an AmeriCAN, not an AmeriCAN’TAll In On Dead will release on November 1, 2015.

Super Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U – Rock the Vote

So, I think I’ve done an adequate job of explaining my conclusion that this is a game that’s more about good old nostalgia than about Nintendo characters beating the hell out of each other.  With this in mind, I would like to parlay that argument into an endorsement of sorts.

I mentioned in the last post that you can help bring Simon Belmont from Konami’s Castlevania to Super Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U.  How can this be done?  A few months ago, Nintendo released to the public a ballot by which you–yes, you–can write-in a suggestion for an upcoming DLC character.  You can vote for any video game character, as long as they originated in video games (so voting for, like, Batman or Doctor Who is just going to waste your time and throw your vote away).  Obviously, any video game character with a Nintendo history will get preference–so while many of us would like to see Halo’s Master Chief in this game (many of us–but not me), voting for him would be wasting one’s time, as well.

Here’s the link:

https://cp.nintendo.co.jp/us/

Because your vote will likely matter more here than it would in a general election presidential vote (the options are more diverse, and the voting population is likely significantly smaller), I urge everyone reading this to vote–and vote for Simon Belmont, from Konami’s Castlevania.

Why vote for a Konami character at all?

A few reasons.

  • In a game where nostalgia is the majority rule, Konami is the only big name classic developer not represented thus far.  Capcom, Namco, Sega, SquareSoft’s spirit-animal Monolith Soft, even Atari (through a Nintendo-specific lense–the Pong assist trophy mentioned in the last post) have found representation.  Even newer kids on the block like UbiSoft, and indie developers like Choice Provisions/Gaijin Games and Yacht Club Games (Yacht Club GameS?  More on this in the next post) have found their way to this game.  It’s a Nintendo past-present-and-future party–but Konami is conspicuously absent.  Moreso than any other company not yet included, Konami simply deserves to be a part of this game.
  • Why Konami, though?  “I’ve never heard of Konami,” you scream at me through your computer screen before trashing your room/apartment/house in a blind rage.  “Oh yeah?” I reply, slyly.  Ever hear of Silent Hill?  Konami property–yes, the movies, too.  How about up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start?  That’s called the Konami code, because it was a cheat code included often in Konami games–and if you claim you’ve never heard it, seen it, or encountered it anywhere, you’re either a damn liar or you’ve been locked inside a cage without any contact whatsoever with the outside world for the last three decades, because it’s been referenced in countless shows, movies, and media all over the place.  Konami has become culturally significant, and it is (or, at least, was until like six months ago) no joke.
  • The precedent for Konami’s involvement is already established.  Like Sega, Konami had a representative in Super Smash Bros. Brawl–and, like Sega, they should be invited back.

Okay, so Konami is important.  But why vote for Simon Belmont from the Castlevania series?

  • Castlevania is a series that’s been around since 1986, and is thus a firmly-rooted classic.  What is Castlevania?  It’s a series of games that sees a singular hero traverse a castle filled with monsters (usually taken from folklore, classic movies, etc.) to slay Dracula and free the land from his supernatural evil.  Like Capcom’s Mega Man, a number of games in the series–by my quick mental count, nineteen (not a typo…one-nine, or 19) unique entries–have been featured on Nintendo consoles and handhelds (I will list them below after the conclusion of this section, just for the sake of reference).  Castlevania, therefore, is no joke itself when it comes to video game history–nor to Nintendo’s history.
  • Simon Belmont, while not the only hero featured across the totality of these games, is certainly the most famous, and is considered often to be the mascot of the Castlevania series.
  • Simon Belmont’s main weapon is a magical whip, and sub-weapons from his game include exploding vials of holy water, boomerangs in the shape of crosses, throwing axes, and daggers.  These weapons would give Simon a moveset that’s extremely unique among the others in the roster.
  • Castlevania, like Mega Man, was a series that, while not produced by Nintendo, made almost every kid who played it but didn’t already own an NES pester their parents to buy one.  Simon’s popularity at the time of the NES’s dominance in the console market was even acknowledged by Nintendo–a mid-to-late 1980s cartoon show known as “Captain N” featured Simon Belmont as a regular character, alongside Capcom’s Mega Man and several licensed Nintendo characters (specifically, hero Kid Icarus–who is playable in Smash Bros. as “Pit”–and villains King Hippo and Mother Brain).  Like Mega Man, Castlevania (and Simon Belmont) is as Nintendo as a series can get without being produced specifically by Nintendo.

So, you may consider these to be some good points (one would hope), but things change, and I acknowledge that.  Castlevania’s popularity at Konami has dwindled over the years, all in favor of the Metal Gear series (from whence Solid Snake, Konami’s representative in Brawl, comes).  Konami itself isn’t doing so well these days, and Metal Gear Solid V for the Sony Playstation 4–an obvious console competitor of the Nintendo Wii U–is the only Konami console release on their schedule.  But this is why the vote becomes so important.  Actually, there are three reasons.

  1. The current presumption is that Konami’s days in console gaming are numbered.  Though they had a license to print money for a couple of decades, the decline in output (and varied output) may mean that it’s a long time before they revisit console gaming–if ever.  Because Metal Gear Solid V might very well be their console swansong, they may not be all that into the idea of adding their classic IP (Intellectual Property, referring here to characters specifically) to a console game later on.  Time is not on our side in this case…so if we CAN get a Konami character in this game, we should take advantage of that opportunity.  We may not get another.
  2. It’s entirely possible that this game is the swansong for Super Smash Bros.  The game has gone to great lengths thus far to make itself the best game in the short series–and by all accounts, the last game, Brawl, was supposed to have been the last.  Perhaps the push towards nostalgia is because this Smash Bros. is the series finale.  What an atrocity it would be if Konami were not represented at all–or, similarly, if the main connection between Konami and Nintendo (the Castlevania series) isn’t represented.
  3. Even if there is another Smash Bros., the likelihood of it being bigger than this game right now is not good.  There’s a reason why we don’t see several game companies coming together and putting their IPs into a game like this every single day.  The legal implications are staggering.  We won’t see this happen again…not for a very long time, if ever.

We need to make the most of this opportunity.  Konami needs to be represented, and Castlevania is the only series that makes sense when it comes to Konami’s representation.

Why not vote for other Konami characters instead?

  • Solid Snake, from Metal Gear.  I personally like Snake.  I loved him in Brawl.  And there’s no denying that the Metal Gear series is popular, and is currently Konami’s flagship series.  Each game is a blockbuster.  The problem is that this wasn’t always the case, and especially wasn’t the case on the NES.  In actuality, the most successful Metal Gear entries in the franchise have been on Sony platforms–and continue to avoid Nintendo platforms.  Any entries Nintendo might get are simply retreads of games that have already been released elsewhere (thinking specifically of GameCube’s The Twin Snakes–a retelling of the original Playstation’s Metal Gear Solid, and Snake Eater 3DS–a port of the Playstation 2’s Metal Gear Solid 3 but released like seven years later).  When placed side-by-side, Castlevania has more of a history with Nintendo than Metal Gear–and it’s been a more lucrative history overall.
  • Bomberman, from the Bomberman series.  Now this one is closer to the bulls-eye.  He’s a classic character (1986) from a dead company (Hudson) that was bought out by Konami who has had at least one game on every Nintendo console since the days of the NES.  His design is whimsical, so he fits in with the other video game characters.  The only problem is that his moveset is limited (though his bombs have different effects, they are all bombs), and there is no kid on earth who played Bomberman at a friend’s house in the mid-to-late 1980s and said, “Damn, I have to get an NES!”  Still, like Simon, he fits the criteria of having a long history with Nintendo–but unlike Simon, that doesn’t mean much, because his games never reached the popularity or acclaim of Castlevania.
  • Bill Rizer, from the Contra series.  Contra is about shirtless commandos running through the jungle gunning down aliens.  They don’t do much else.  Even newer incarnations are all about armored commandos running through cities or space stations gunning down aliens.  I love Contra because it’s an interactive action movie, but Bill Rizer’s problem is the same as Bomberman’s–except replace “bombs” with “guns”.  So right there, there’s a moveset problem.  There’s also the issue that Contra isn’t as big a series as Castlevania (in terms of entries), and hasn’t been touched since, like, 2009.  The last Castlevania entry was 2013.  Overall, a good assist trophy maybe, but not much else.
  • Goemon, from the Mystical Ninja Goemon series.  He would be a good addition like Bomberman or Snake, except no one outside of Japan (and a select few Konami fanboys) knows who the fuck he is–nor should they care.  So he loses the popularity vote right there.  Also, his legacy is…lacking-to-non-existent.  Again, a better assist trophy or collectible trophy cameo than anything.

The only logical first choice for a Konami character who both represents a legendary, critically acclaimed series for which Konami is famous AND who represents a strong, long, deep, and satisfying (all intentionally chosen adjectives) history with Nintendo across an impressive and significant number of consoles is Simon Mother Fucking Belmont.

Why not vote for another character?

  • King K. Rool, from Donkey Kong Country.  He’s the main crocodilian bad guy from Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Country series, which was developed by second-party company Rare until Rare fled to Microsoft (where they currently sit)…so that’s the first reason.  The second reason is because he’s not compelling.  He’s essentially Bowser, King of the Koopas but without the shell or ability to breathe fire.  He’s also so popular a character that I feel like if Nintendo thought he would be compelling, he would be in the game already.  Why waste a vote on him when Simon’s much older, more potentially diverse in moves and weapons, a lot more fun to play as (and against–I’m looking at you, Mega Man!), and represents a significant milestone (perhaps the most significant–the NES) in Nintendo console history?
  • Geno, from Super Mario RPG.  No.  Why?  First, because he’s probably partially owned by SquareSoft/Square-Enix.  Second, because he’s just Pinnochio with a wizard’s hat–in which case we should just vote for Kamek.  Third, he’s been in two games: one as a playable character, and the other as a cameo appearance.  Fourth, no legacy, no history.
  • Ryu Hayabusa, from the Ninja Gaiden series.  If Konami’s a mess right now, Tecmo has been a complete disaster for a little under a decade.  First, though the Ninja Gaiden trilogy was pretty successful for the NES, I do wonder how many systems it actually sold for Nintendo.  Second, the trilogy on the NES was pretty much the only Ninja Gaiden we got on Nintendo until the DS handheld was released (“Ninja Gaiden Trilogy” on the Super NES doesn’t count, because no one was able to find it and those who did discovered that it wasn’t really worth the price of admission).  He has a similar Nintendo-publishing history to Konami’s Solid Snake, but Tecmo…Tecmo is and was no Konami.
  • Bayonetta, from Bayonetta.  No storied history, period–let alone with Nintendo.
  • Shatae, from the Shantae series.  Similar to Bayonetta, but with an actual history–it’s just not storied.
  • Rayman, from the Rayman series.  Like Bomberman, Rayman does fit in terms of aesthetic, moves, and history with Nintendo–but like Bomberman, Rayman can’t compare to Simon in terms of popularity.
  • Banjo, from Banjo-Kazooie.  Another Rare character.  Though Rare has publicly been open to working with Nintendo on putting the platforming bear in this game, let’s not forget that Rare is currently in the pocket of Microsoft.  Public image is one thing; reality is another.
  • Shovel Knight, from Shovel Knight.  Possibly the single most famous indie developer character at the moment.  You can vote for him if you want, but I think you’re throwing your vote away…I have reason to believe he’s already in the game.  More on this in the next post.

Why couldn’t Castlevania be represented with a Mii costume, or a level instead of a character?

Because fuck you, that’s why.  This suggestion is akin to eating in front of someone who’s starving, then throwing the wrapper to them and saying, “Here you go.  Hope the wrapper tastes great.”  It’s an empty gesture.  It’s meaningless.  Pointless.  If you’re going to go through all the trouble of making a Mii costume (which doesn’t make sense, because none of the Mii Fighters can use a whip) or level for Castlevania, why not throw in a real character to play as?  It just doesn’t compute.  I mean, Snake would be a better Mii costume, as there actually is such a thing as a Mii gun-user…but Simon?  No.  It’s all or nothing.

Closing Statement

Konami as represented by Castlevania’s Simon Belmont is the only logical choice.  He has it all.  History (both with Nintendo and in general).  Status (as a mover of Nintendo consoles back in the day, and as a stalwart contributor to video game history).  Popularity (Castlevania has so many entries and has been around for so long that almost every gamer knows of it, if they haven’t actually played a game from the series).  Nostalgia (classic character like Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Mario, and, again, nostalgia is the point of this game).  No other third-party games, save those of the Mega Man series, can boast a similar resume.

Vote Simon Belmont, from Konami’s Castlevania series.

NEXT: Cloud Strife


FYI: Unique Games in the Castlevania Series appearing on Nintendo systems:

  1. Castlevania (NES)
  2. Castlevania 2 – Simon’s Quest (NES)
  3. Castlevania 3 – Dracula’s Curse (NES)
  4. The Castlevania Adventure (GameBoy)
  5. Castlevania Adventure 2 – Belmont’s Revenge (GameBoy)
  6. Castlevania Legends (GameBoy)
  7. Super Castlevania IV (Super NES)
  8. Castlevania – Dracula X (Super NES)
  9. Castlevania 64 (N64)
  10. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (N64 – both a prequel to Castlevania 64 and a retelling of Castlevania 64)
  11. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GameBoy Advance)
  12. Casltevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GameBoy Advance)
  13. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GameBoy Advance)
  14. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
  15. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (DS)
  16. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS)
  17. Castlevania Judgment (Wii)
  18. Castlevania Adventure: Rebirth (Wii)
  19. Castlevania – Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate (3DS)

This list does not take into consideration Castlevania games appearing on other consoles in the past that later wound up on the Ninteno Wii and Wii U’s virtual consoles (such as Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, originally on the PC Engine, and Castlevania: Bloodlines, originally on the Sega Genesis).

Super Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U – A Case for (De?)Evolution

So, lizards like iguanas are actually newer in terms of evolutionary jump than alligators (which are still quite like their prehistoric ancestors)–so I suppose when I say that the new Smash Bros. is an alligator among the other lizards of the series, I perhaps would be more apt to say that there’s a de-evolution of the concept than an evolution of the original’s concept.  How?  Well, let’s examine that.

I agree with those negative Nancies who say that this game isn’t another instance of Nintendo digitally masturbating–but if it’s not “Nintendo All-Stars Super Fighter”, then just what is it?  What’s the game…”about”, insofar as a fighting game can be about anything?  I’m glad you asked.

SSB 3DS/Wii U is not meant to be a celebration of Nintendo’s history, but rather a celebration of video game history with a concentration on Nintendo’s place in it.

What’s my evidence for making this claim?

Article 1: The Roster

The first three games were obviously meant to be a sort of “Nintendo All-Stars Battle Royale” sort of wankfest type of kinda thing, and they achieved that in spades–indeed, even the the roster in SSB 3DS/Wii U is filled to bursting with Nintendo characters.  But the inclusion of Sonic and Solid Snake in Brawl opened up the playing field to any character and any company that has a history with Nintendo, and fans clamored for more than what they ultimately got in Brawl.  In Brawl, only two playable characters–one from Sega, one from Konami–were from third-party developers, one of whom (Sega) had a history of rivalry with Nintendo until it got out of the console market in the late 1990s/early 2000s.  In SSB 3DS/Wii U, four playable characters are owned by third-parties, and costumes for several more (through Mii customization) are available.  But who are these playable third-party characters?  From whence do they come?  How are they significant, and why shouldn’t I personally bitch about the Super Smash Bros. series no longer being “pure” in its “Nintendo Power”?

Well, they’re all characters who either have a place in video game history, or a place in video game history with regards to Nintendo.

  1. Sonic the Hedgehog, from Sega.  Mario’s rival mascot is back.  I’ve explained enough who Sega is, so I’ll skip to the next character.
  2. Mega Man, from Capcom.  Back in the days of the NES (roughly 1985 through 1991), there were two non-Nintendo video games that were immensely popular to the point of making kids in your neighborhood say, “I need to buy this system myself!”  One of them was Capcom’s Mega Man.  Since 1987, the Mega Man series and its various spin-offs have made a home on Nintendo consoles and handheld systems.
  3. Pac-Man, from Namco.  This character is Namco’s mascot and has been since 1980, but let’s face it, he might as well be the mascot for video games in general.  Pong may have been the first truly popular commercial video game, but Pac-Man was the first truly popular video game character, and one that survived the Great Video Game Crash.  Without Pac-Man, there likely would be no Mario.
  4. Ryu, from Capcom (the Mega Man guys).  Ryu is the mascot for a fighting game series known as Street Fighter.  Though Street Fighter hasn’t really been all that Nintendo-centric or Nintendo-friendly in terms of console releases, his inclusion is elementary when you consider three things.  First, that fighting games are an extremely popular genre in video gaming.  Second, that Capcom’s Street Fighter II is often credited with being the reason why fighting games are as popular today as they are (in the early 1990s, it took a concept that was previously dismal and unfun and made it into something worth playing).  Three, that the Super Smash Bros. series is a series of fighting games.

In addition to those third-party characters, we have the following historically-significant playable characters:

  1. Shulk, from Monolith Soft.  Shulk is a character from the XenoBlade series.  While Monolith Soft is a first-party developer (they were bought outright by Nintendo), and thus that makes Shulk technically a Nintendo character, it is to be noted that he looks like a knock-off SquareSoft/Square-Enix character–like he could have jumped out of Kingdom Hearts, or any one of the post-2D Final Fantasy games.  This is because Monolith Soft is comprised of former SquareSoft/Square-Enix employees, many of whom worked on Final Fantasy games up to and including Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX.  Thus, Shulk is indeed a sort of knock-off, and so the 3D video game revolution brought about in the late 1990s by games like Final Fantasy VII are present in him–if in spirit only.
  2. Duck Hunt, from Nintendo.  Technically, this playable character is a pairing of the dog from Duck Hunt and a duck from Duck Hunt.  Why is this significant?  Neither character has been seen or heard from since about 1986.  This classic character from Nintendo’s past utilizes attacks that reference various NES zapper games released around the same time, like Hogan’s Alley and Wild Gunmen.
  3. R.O.B. the Robot, from Nintendo.  Though debuting as a fighter in Brawl, he’s been brought back to fight again in SSB 3DS/Wii U.  A peripheral for the NES packaged with the system way back in 1985, the iconic robot was only compatible with two games, and was pretty much swept under the rug UNTIL Brawl.

Article 2: A Particular Assist Trophy

While some might consider this circumstantial evidence, let’s consider it in conjunction with what I’ve mentioned already and with what I am about to mention.

In SSB 3DS/Wii U, you can utilize assist trophies (described above) as you could in Brawl.  One such assist trophy introduced in this game is “Nintendo Color TV-Game 6”, which is based on a vintage console released by Nintendo between 1977 and 1980.  When a player gets this assist trophy, two white lines appear on the sides of the screen, and a small white square “ball” is batted between them whilst blocky white numerals keep score above.

The assist trophy…is the first commercially viable video game ever released (thanks, Atari!).  It’s Pong.

Still not convinced that this game is supposed to be about history moreso than pure self-aggrandizement on Nintendo’s part?

Article 3: All-Star Mode

One of the game modes a person can play in single player is All-Star Mode.  This is a gauntlet of fights that put the player up against the entire roster (minus alternate costumes and custom characters), one at a time, through a number of rounds whereby the player must dispatch with each.  The order of the opponents never changes.

How are they ordered?  But the year in which they first appeared–from Pac-Man in 1980, all the way through Greninja (a Pokemon character) in 2013.  Years.  History.

Article 4: Collectible Trophies

Though each third-party character comes with their own set of collectible trophies (some of which depict in 3D other characters from their respective companies or game series), there are two shout-outs to companies and characters that don’t have a role in the game proper via such collectible trophies.  The first is a character known as Rayman, from publisher Ubisoft, and he is the star of several games that have been predominantly on Nintendo platforms (Rayman was created during the early-to-mid 1990s Super NES era).  The second is a character called CommanderVideo, from indie developer Choice Provisions (formerly Gaijin Games).  He’s one of the new kids on the video game block, with his series debuting on the Nintendo Wii in 2009 (before eventually being released elsewhere).  Though he’s not a “classic character” from Nintendo’s deep past, he’s certainly part of Nintendo’s recent past, and may well be a part of Nintendo’s future–as is the indie scene in general.  He also happens to be extremely popular and visible, as he’s already made several cameos (both playable and not) in other recent indie games (Super Meat Boy, Team Indie, etc.).  I’ll return to the significance of indie games in a moment.

Article End: End of Evidence

So, again, there are a fair number of people bitching about how this isn’t so much a Nintendo game anymore as it is a “whoever we damn well feel like putting in” game.  Hopefully, though, my conclusion is clear: this isn’t meant to be just a Nintendo All-Stars game like the previous entries, and each third-party character has a good reason for being in the game as related to the theme of “historical significance”.  This is pure nostalgia–a looking back, with occasional looks forward.  Evolution through de-evolution of concept, or an alligator among lizards.  If you still don’t like it, then I’m sorry for that, but at least realize that the point of the game (this game in particular) is different than the point you thought existed originally.

That said, something is missing from this great melting pot of (still mostly Nintendo-centric) video game history.

Remember when I said in the Mega Man section above that there were two non-Nintendo video games that made kids want to purchase NES systems back in the late 1980s and early 1990s?  Capcom’s Mega Man was one.  The second one…was Konami’s Castlevania.

Konami representation, specifically in the form of the Castlevania main character and mascot Simon Belmont, is missing from this game.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

YOU, dear reader, can help BRING Simon Belmont HOME–TO SMASH BROS.!!

NEXT: Rock the Vote

Super Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U – Laying the (Back)Groundwork

So, I’ve decided to take a break from my novella(s) to fulfill one promise from around the time of E3–specifically because we’re nearing October (why this is important will become apparent later) and recent updates concerning the game have caught my attention.  This isn’t going to be one post, but a series of three or four, so bear with me–updates will be fast and furious.

Some quick definitions so you know what the fuck I’m talking about (skip this if you already know the lingo):

  • Second-party (developer): A subsidiary of a larger developer, usually comprised of programmers separate from but beholden to a larger parent company and must produce games for that parent company’s chosen platform (console).  While a second-party developer can become independent of the parent company at some point (I’m thinking of Rare specifically), this doesn’t happen often.  In most cases, creations of the subsidiary are owned by the parent company.  An example of this would be Hal Labs and the Kirby series of video games.
  • Third-party (developer): A wholly independent developer who just so happens to occasionally produce and develop games for another company’s platform.  Unlike a second-party developer, a third-party developer is not beholden to the parent company, and may contractually publish software for any platform it sees fit.  Two examples of third-party developers are Capcom (who have produced a literal ton of Mega Man games across various consoles and platforms, not all produced by Nintendo) and Konami (see Capcom, but replace “Mega Man” with “Castlevania”).
  • DLC: Downloadable content.  Often, this is content that is released after the final version of the game is released and sold to consumers, acting as a way to expand the original game’s playability long after its release.  Some notable DLC includes additional game modes (ways of playing the game), characters, costumes, and levels/arenas.  Of course, DLC is not often free.
  • Amiibo: A collectible plastic figurine licensed and produced by Nintendo in the likeness of a video game character (often associated in some way with Nintendo) that can produce via internal microchip real effects within certain compatible games (through a chip scanner/reader in the Wii U wii-pad controller, and through a dedicated scanner/reader peripheral sold separately for the 3DS handheld).  They are hard as hell to find in stores and expensive as fuck on the aftermarket.

Now, a summary of what the hell Super Smash Bros. is–in about a paragraph (skip this if you already know your ass from a hole in the ground):

Super Smash Bros. is a video game series created and published by Nintendo (technically, with second-party company Hal for the first two iterations, second-party company Sora for the third, and both Sora and third-party company Namco Bandai for most recent installment).  It is, specifically, a series of fighting games, whereby a player may take control of a character to beat the living snot out of a competitor’s character.  This competitor may be the computer or a second (or third, or fifth, or eighth) player.  There are four games in this series to date, with the most recent being shared between two platforms: the Wii U console, and the 3DS handheld.  These games are, in the broad strokes, meant to celebrate Nintendo’s video game history and heritage.

I say “in the broad strokes” because it is my belief that Super Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U is a bit of a different animal–still a reptile, but where the other games were lizards, this one is an alligator.  To illustrate my point, a summary of the progression of the series by briefly explaining each individual game is necessary (don’t skip this, as this is where I start to make my point):

  1. The first game in the series, aptly titled “Super Smash Bros.” and released for the N64 console, was a showcase of Nintendo characters.  Flagship franchises like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Metroid, and the Legend of Zelda–among others–were represented via playable characters, and players were able to fight either the computer or a friend (or four) using familiar franchise-based characters in familiar franchise-based arenas while familiar franchise-based tunes played in the background. The roster included 12 characters, all from games developed by Nintendo (or by second-party company Hal).
  2. The next installment, “Super Smash Bros. Melee” for the Gamecube, was an evolution of the first game.  The fundamentals were the same: fight each other using Nintendo (or Hal) characters in Nintendo (or Hal) arenas while familiar Nintendo (or Hal) tunes play in the background.  The differences were few, but significant: better graphics, faster movements, more furious gameplay, and a roster increase from 12 to 26.  While some of the additional characters were clones of existing characters (i.e. Doctor Mario, Young Link), several were unique, and a few (like Mr. Game-and-Watch and the Ice Climbers) were characters unused by Nintendo is decades.  As an added reason to play through the game multiple times, a player could collect “trophies” while playing, which unlocked 3D models of characters from throughout Nintendo’s history (a sort of cameo appearance for characters deemed not popular enough or versatile enough to make it into the roster-proper).  A similar element was involved in the first game, but it was rudimentary and unworthy of note.  Melee is where this concept really started to find its footing.
  3. “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” for the Wii has been seen as both a step forward and a step backwards.  While the game increased the roster from Melee’s 26 to 37, it eliminated some fan-favorite clone characters from Melee (bye, Doctor Mario).  It slowed the action down considerably, and at times feels sluggish.  There’s a single-player story mode now, but it’s mostly superfluous–a nice attempt, but people buy these games to play with friends or to challenge themselves.  In addition to trophy collection, one could collect stickers for basic character customization–but this felt like busy-work and wasn’t much fun.  Brawl did do some interesting things, though.  First, it introduced a concept known as the “assist trophy”, which was an item that could be picked up and used instantly.  Such trophies would feature a non-playable character (in a cameo appearance), doing something to either help the player or hinder them (the helper character to appear is random).  Second, it introduced to the predominantly Nintendo-centric roster two third-party characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, from Nintendo’s longtime business rival Sega, and Solid Snake, a character from Konami’s Metal Gear series (predominantly featured on the Sony Playstation and its various evolutions).

That brings us to SSB 3DS/Wii U.  The roster is now huge: where Brawl featured 37 playable characters, this game boasts a whopping 53, and growing monthly via DLC–more if you count alternate costumes and move-sets, which sometimes change the name and appearance of the playable characters to someone else entirely.  The game has been sped up again, and sits somewhere between Brawl and Melee.  Some favorite clones are back (hello again, Doctor Mario), as well are collectible trophies and assist trophies, and it introduces a customization process that is more fun than it was in Brawl (now a person can insert a Mii, or a super-deformed cutesy version of themselves or someone else, into the game, and create their moveset from a static set of moves available).

But some Super Smash Bros. players (rather vocal and negative blokes) have seen this game as an abomination, an outlier in the series.  While I agree, I don’t see this as a bad thing.

So, why do I think it’s an alligator among lizards?  Because it evolves the concept of the series beyond its original purpose.

NEXT: A Case for Evolution