Final Fantasy Adventure – Game Boy

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I’m pretty sure we’re looking at Skynet in his punk adolescent years.

Nineteen Eighty-Nine, bitches! Now you’re playing with power! Portable power! Nintendo successfully shoved all eight bits of their classic system into the ridiculously oversized pockets of your soon-to-be outdated parachute pants. This was so awesome, that virtually nobody cared that the green-on-green color scheme looked like someone had puked on a jungle commando in Vietnam, and that you could only see it under the noonday sun in death valley, if the batteries lasted longer than the drive to Radio Shack to buy new batteries. This was portable fuckin’ power! By which I assume they mean either the power to strengthen your wrist to Popeye proportions as you held up the game with the required lighting attachments, or the power to turn your anti-video game mom into a hardened criminal who swipes your copy of Tetris for long plane rides.

Hillary_Rodham_Clinton_playing_a_Nintendo_Game_Boy_video_game_on_the_flight_from_Austin_en_route_to_Washington,_DC

“If you put it just really simply, these violent video games are stealing the innocence of our children…” Which is why I have to steal my daughter’s Game Boy to play Tetris. Forget Benghazzi. This is the real crime. Lock her up!

Nintendo has a long history of innovation which usually lead the world into the realm of science-fiction ten or fifteen years down the road, but in the mean time they usually just induce stress fractures to your neck while staring at a rage-inducing red screen, require importing the cool stuff from Japan, or make you waggle a stick until the game enjoys itself more than you do. And even though we tend to remember the Game Boy more fondly than our first hand-job, I have to be honest to say that, like aforementioned hand-job, the fun was a little rough around the edges. Cartridges were a fraction of the size that NES games were, and with all that games had to be cut down, mangled and stuffed into cramped spaces, the offices at Nintendo probably resembled the aftermath of a game of Truth or Dare played by serial killers.

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She doesn’t like it when you come into her mouth without telling her.

Enter Final Fantasy Adventure, which as best I can tell is Final Fantasy’s sixth installment in its own series while simultaneously the first game in their second spinoff which ended up being either the first Seiken Densetsu game or the prequel to the Mana series, depending on how you want to look at it. (However you look at it, this game is striking evidence in my theory that Japan numbers their sequels using a dyslexic idiot savant in the throes of a grand mal seizure induced by a cocaine overdose). This game provides an interesting example of how a Game Boy game can be both amazingly good and simultaneously more gaunt and emaciated than an anorexic greyhound with a heroine addiction.

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Dr. Bowwow reveals his cyborg chocobo. This game isn’t weird at all.

Gameplay resembles something Koichi Ishii scribbled out on a cocktail napkin after downing three bottles of sake before sobering up to make Secret of Mana. The player wanders through an expansive world that stretches as far as the eye can see (or until they run out of unique ID numbers represented by an eight-digit binary code. Whichever comes first). The map is split into grids, with each of the 256 areas being roughly the size of an airplane bathroom. As per usual, the goal is to traverse through hidden dungeons and towers clearly designed by a single bored architect who knew he had a monopoly on the construction market, so he drew a square room with doors exactly in the center of the wall, pumped out about 256 photocopies, sold the designs, and took all his GP and skedaddled to some colorful, tropical island likely on the Game Gear.

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…I’m not sure that’s how that works.

Also present in nascent form are most Secret of Mana enemies, system of casting spells—albeit without adorable elemental sidekicks—and the concept of switching weapons to progress. As in the Seiken Densetsu series proper, the hero wields not just a sword, but axes, spears, whips, chains (and various assorted leathers and novelty condoms), sickles, turkey basters, weed wackers, enema bags, croûtons, medical malpractice attorneys, cocker spaniels and…you get the picture. Long list of irrelevant objects. Haha. Moving on. Your axe can cut down trees while the sickle can cut grass, and whips let you swing like Pitfall Harry over chasms and rivers. You know there’s a problem coming, right? See, the weapons don’t level up with you, and I’ve seen blind guys operate touch screens on drive-through ATMs with more fluid ease than Final Fantasy Adventure’s menu system, so occasionally the game all but forces you to fight with whatever weapon you need to cross barriers. You could look like Fabio and Arnold Schwarzenegger joined together Voltron style, but the instant the batteries fall out of your plastic Sword of Omens, even the cute little duck with bowl-cut hair is going to laugh at you. You get stronger and stronger weapons right up to the final boss fight, but once you get the morning star, that lets you harm magical enemies as well as break through walls that would otherwise require a special item, any stronger weapons you find only serve to mock you with their muscle-bound impotence.

Final Fantasy Adventure-170621-093725The game is unfortunately obtuse when it comes to objectives, directions, or puzzles. For a game that traps you in an area of no more than 8 squares at a time, methods to progress are harder to find than the Ark of the Covenant…and no one thought for an instant that Indy would blow that thing up. Here, I think I did drop key items by accident at least once or twice. Some doors can only be opened if you backtrack halfway across Antarctica to find one merchant who sells a specific item that you didn’t know you need. Some switches activate when you step on them, when you stand on them, or occasionally only when you turn an enemy into a snowman and push them onto the switch, as though your lean 80kg of muscle is no match for their 160kg of Mackinac Island Fudge. In the final dungeon I passed the point of no return and realized I hadn’t brought any keys with me. Far from being stuck, FF Adventure just expected me to find the one low-level enemy wandering the tower that dropped the keys, and that if I just left one of them alive before leaving the room, they wouldn’t vanish into oblivion like a dead parrot. Easy. I long for the days when I could just get lost in a labyrinth of rooms that all looked identical.

Final Fantasy Adventure-170621-110021And yet I made it through, though being holed up in the woods of Northern Michigan on vacation, I really tested my data plan’s limits in digging up walkthroughs and maps. Somehow I survived the repetition and the unintuitive puzzles and the inventory system that lets you keep fewer items on your person than Joliet Prison. The game did throw some fairly interesting boss fights my way, but wandering around aimlessly does tend to pack on a few extra levels, and with a side character who heals you whenever you ask, Final Fantasy Adventure tends to lean toward the easy side.

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As opposed to other plants that crave electrolytes.

Spoiler alert: the hero is the ghost from the beginning of Secret of Mana, and his girlfriend is the Mana Tree. Which means somewhere behind the scenes, these two stripped off their green-on-green armor and tuned up their mana weapons to level up their 8-bits into the hero from the SNES game. I’m tempted to say, “At least Squaresoft had the good taste not to show that,” but since Custer’s Revenge still has more views than any other article on my blog, I think I’m obligated to express disappointment in the lack of pixel porn in the game.

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Dr. Mario – NES, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Arcade, SNES (with Tetris)…

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I’ve spent my life trying to discover something I could do during my days to play nice with society, while still leaving plenty of free time to pursue things that make me not want to hurl myself into the blades of an industrial snowblower. So I decided to rank, from least time-consuming to the most, some positions I’ve held in the last ten years.

1. Substitute Teacher
2. Part-time undergraduate student
3. Public school teacher in Korea
4. Graduate student
5. University instructor (3 classes)
6. Full time Undergraduate student
578,903. Private school teacher in Korea during public school summer/winter vacations

Oddly enough, you’d expect stress levels to go down as amount of time went up, but no. It bottoms out around “Graduate Student” and hits a critical limit as “Private School: Korea” and “Substitute Teacher,” both of which exceed “hurl into snowblower” for things I wouldn’t want to do. Anyway, to get to the point of this rant, I’ve currently spent the last semester as #6 on this list, with two more of those hoops to jump through before I can legally hold a full-time job at a public school. Unless my novel suddenly takes off and becomes a best selling, direct-to-kindle, science-fiction…yeah that’s not happening. So video games, unfortunately, have to take a back seat for a while. And to that end, expect to see a lot of games I can finish in a few hours.

Despite a relatively minor infection, the patient suffers more from the side-effects of the treatment. How best to minimize these problems? Use more of the same drugs!

Despite a relatively minor infection, the patient suffers more from the side-effects of the treatment. How best to minimize these problems? Use more of the same drugs!

Doctor Mario! Because the only logical career path (as opposed to the career path outlined above) for a tradesman goes Carpenter → Plumber → Medical Practitioner. I guess rooting through all those pipes qualifies him for gynaecology. I don’t know, though. I’d really like to see his credentials, along with Dr. Dre and Dr. Pepper. Maybe ask Dr. Evil and Dr. Horrible to review the accreditation. But legally licensed or not, Dr. Mario solved one of Nintendo’s biggest problems: how they can make money off of Tetris when everyone and their pet wildebeest had cloned and/or ported the game to any device with a power cord or at least two batteries. So they took the idea of chucking blocks made up of smaller blocks into a jar for the purpose of reducing the amount of blocks in the jar, changed one or two things, and released Dr. Mario. Or, rather, Tetris with shorter line requirements that lets you build them vertically as well as horizontally.

For those of you who haven’t played the game and find your eyes spinning at my rant, imagine that the Tetris playing field got sick. The game starts with viruses of three different colors–red, yellow and blue–chilling in a jar. Mario, deciding to fight fire with fire, chucks in pills containing a combination of two types of medicine–red, yellow and blue, one block on each side of the pill. If you get four of the same color in a row of any combination of pill blocks and viruses–the whole row disappears. Let me point this out to you: one virus takes three doses of medicine to cure, while two viruses together only take two.

Pushed by Big Pharma to prescribe yellow drugs for a patient not even inflicted by yellow, Mario now faces a major malpractice lawsuit from the family of the survivor.

Pushed by Big Pharma to prescribe yellow drugs for a patient not even inflicted by yellow, Mario now faces a major malpractice lawsuit from the family of the survivor.

The major problem in the game revolves around Mario’s aforementioned medical training: namely, he doesn’t have any. So instead of carefully diagnosing the disease and measuring out the correct doses needed to properly treat the patient, he just lobs whatever he finds lying around the pharmacy like the patient were a carnival game who if Mario filled up with drugs faster than anyone else, he’d win a Sonic the Hedgehog keychain. No, strike that. Considering the fact that you can’t actually treat viruses with medicine, Mario works exactly like an E.R. doctor, prescribing whatever medicine won’t outright kill the patient, but will give them enough side effects for a good placebo effect to kick in, preventing a lawsuit from an angry patient upset that they couldn’t get “that drug that House takes” to treat the funny looking spot on their back shaped like a lemur.

Coming soon to an iPhone near you...

Coming soon to an iPhone near you…

However, other than the cheerful implication that every level failed means a dead patient, usually from overdosing on irrelevant medication rather than the actual viral infection, I’ve spent a lot of time with Dr. Mario. Tetris gets boring after having constant access to it on every game console, home computer, digital watch, graphing calculator, exercise bike, car dashboard, DVD menu, dehumidifier, wood chipper, coffee maker and pet iguana made since 1984. So what do you do when you don’t have the free time of a part-time undergrad, but more free time than a grad student? Do what I did: play Dr. Mario non-stop between classes in Korea.

Paperboy – Arcade, NES, Sega Master System, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, DOS, etc.

Yea, though I bike through the suburbs of death...

Yea, though I bike through the suburbs of death…

By a show of hands…or comments, I guess…how many of you had a paper route as a kid? Any of you slip through the cracks of child labor laws that somehow determined that riding a bike around town during the pre-dawn hours didn’t constitute any form of endangerment or deprivation of education? Because if I wanted to strut through the fifth grade flashing huge bankrolls (usually dimes or quarters) the only options I had as a pre-teen involved walking the streets delivering our small town gazette riddled with spelling errors, inaccuracies, and menial events passing off as news, or I could lug bags full of steel clubs through a field dodging little white balls careening towards my head at 290 kilometers an hour (180 mph for my American readers). But alas, I never had a paper route. So ironically, instead of having a job to enable my horrible video game addiction, I played a video game to simulate the experience of having a job.

Include this under "signs you don't have a large enough news market to sustain a newspaper."

Include this under “signs you don’t have a large enough news market to sustain a newspaper.”

Released for the arcade in 1985, Paperboy faithfully re-creates all the obstacles and challenges of delivering newspapers, including urban terrain, rabid dogs, careless motorists, swarms of bees, runaway lawnmowers, zombies, and the specter of death. As the paperboy, the game tasks you with never stopping your bike–the newspaper doesn’t pay you to lallygag, after all–and chucking your papers at everything that does or does not move. For every bundle of papers you pick up, you may toss one or two at someone’s doorstep–or extra points for their mailbox–but the rest you need to take down zombies, stop lawnmowers in their tracks, and threatening and vandalizing anyone with the audacity to not subscribe to the Daily Sun. That last note raises a point of interest, since all the Sun headlines revolve around the paperboy himself–thus rendering it only slightly more interesting than my hometown’s Mining Gazette–usually commenting on either his failure to deliver papers or his attempts at vandalism. I’d think, given the scenario, non-subscribers probably wouldn’t feel all that compelled to spend money to learn about the destruction of their own property, and any subscriber who failed to receive a paper wouldn’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to figure out the content of anything they missed.

Accurately simulating all the targets, ramps, moving jumps, and mechanical spikes you'll encounter in your chosen profession as a delivery boy.

Accurately simulating all the targets, ramps, moving jumps, and mechanical spikes you’ll encounter in your chosen profession as a delivery boy.

At the end of each day’s route, you navigate through a training course, a testament to the 30-year vintage of the game, since no employer in 2015 would dare pay to ensure quality and competence in their employees. On the other hand, wasting money on newspapers for the purpose of cluttering up people’s yards and smashing windows to extort subscription money sounds exactly like current business practices. Still, the thought of putting money into researching a throwable paper with the power to stop a Model-A dead in its tracks sounds both wonderfully progressive and about as useless as a Jehova’s Witness knocking on St. Peter’s Basilica. But I guess all these little inconsistencies just help to make Paperboy a timeless classic.

All right! Just a few more customers to piss off and I won't have to lift a finger anymore!

All right! Just a few more customers to piss off and I won’t have to lift a finger anymore!

The game doesn’t pull any punches. Essentially an eclectic obstacle course, you have to correctly identify customers’ homes and place the papers precisely on their doorsteps or mailboxes. Just a bit off, though, and you’ll ensure the tunnel-visioned morons will never find the papers, and you’ll lose them as customers. Also, they’ll cancel their subscription if you break one of their windows, or just miss their house entirely. You can earn new customers by making perfect deliveries for one day. Allegedly. Developed for the arcade, Paperboy aimed to take your money from you as fast as you could throw papers to earn it, so you have about as much chance at making a perfect delivery as you have of finding a girl on an Internet dating site who doesn’t want to you to sign up for her webcam subscription.

Just a guy with his jack hammer out pounding the side walk. Completely innocent.

Just a guy with his jack hammer out pounding the side walk. Completely innocent.

Parents worried about violent games never even stopped to consider the vicious cycle in Paperboy–you play a paper-throwing simulator, thus compelling you to chuck newspapers like you brought a wheelbarrow full of rocks to an Old Testament stoning, only to earn more money to throw away at the arcade. Don’t you miss the 1980s? (Keep an eye on the skies…Doc Brown should show up with his DeLorean soon, if you want the chance to steal it) But as much as I enjoy Paperboy (with the arcade version slightly beating out the NES version), I don’t really like bikes much at all. My hometown–as well as my current town–both grew out of hillsides. So half the time I tried riding a bike, I’d either careen downhill in a sonic boom of panic, or slowly trudge uphill in a slow painful, slog, like a slave rowing a viking longboat. That might also explain why my local paper eventually replaced the traditional paper boy with a middle-aged woman with three teeth and an SUV, who would drive right up onto people’s lawns so she didn’t have to get out of the car to stick the papers in the mailboxes. So to celebrate my hatred of a transportation method that requires me to balance all my weight on a hard rubber knob under my testicles, next week I’d like to turn to a historically more traditional and far less painful mount: the ostrich.

Final Fantasy Legend (SaGa) II – Game Boy

1991: Discouraged from invading real countries, the Axis powers reunite to invade fantasy characters' digestive tracts.

1991: Discouraged from invading real countries, the Axis powers reunite to invade fantasy characters’ digestive tracts.

Let’s talk gun control. I don’t like living in a world full of guns and bombs and drones. I never had. Ever since…fourth grade, why not?…I’ve dreamed up method after method that humanity could adopt in order to rid the planet of high tech weaponry. And then replace them with swords, spears, and bows. As a kid, swords fascinated me. No one ever considered me angry, or aggressive, and I don’t think I ever once played soldier.  I didn’t even play pretend in the Middle Ages. I just liked the idea of a fantasy world with magic and dragons and heroes. Heroes, of course, who always wielded a legendary sword, enchanted by some wizard or possessed by the spirits of nature. I lusted for fantasy combat, adventures, traveling long distances and sleeping on the ground. I had a hero’s soul. I needed to live a hero’s life! Of course, two decades later I realize that yearning for a medieval lifestyle requires a fondness for poverty, war, plague, dysentery, and a government that hands out tortures and executions like speeding tickets, and I now consider myself a hero if I can leave a comment on Facebook without igniting a flame war.

And their grammar grades lost by 20. Hopefully they won't receive too many damages.

And their grammar grades lost by 20. Hopefully they won’t receive too many damages.

But, of course, any excuse to pick up a sword and fight evil would do for childhood Jake, and I suspect that early video game RPGs owe their success to that phenomenon. In retrospect, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest play as well as children suffering from polio and severe brain trauma, but with no other kids in town they must have seemed agile and imaginative by lack of comparison. But take the aforementioned kid, then add a raging hemophilia and an angry pet hedgehog, and you’ve got the perfect metaphor for Final Fantasy Legend II, a sluggish, bland, poorly translated, glitch-ridden little weevil for the game boy that somehow has garnered high reviews in the 20+ years since it came to the U.S.

"Any distinguishing features?"  "Well, he had a hat."

“Any distinguishing features?”
“Well, he had a hat.”

The second installment of the SaGa series–renamed to FF Legend as a marketing scheme–shares the same inbred genetics of other RPGs at the time. For starters, sometime in the late 1980s, Japan leased out the room full of monkeys trying to reproduce Shakespeare, and instead of waiting for the huge payoff, simply took the coherent shreds of text and built games around that. One particular monkey hammered out the word “magi,” which Squaresoft executives looked at and agreed it resembled the word “magic.” Thus, FF Legend II tells the story of a generic hero character with a human father no matter what race you choose, who has to collect magi from the nine worlds in order to kick evil’s ass. The game chucks a decent number of macguffins at you to keep you moving with little or no explanation–as any early RPG should–and any claims elsewhere that praise the game’s character development have clearly confused “dynamic character with a complex personality altered in a significant way by the events of the story” with “forceful, repetitive combat to simultaneous grind your level up and the buttons on your game boy down.”

Uh, as per California state law, I'll require positive verbal consent before this level.

Uh, as per California state law, I’ll require positive verbal consent before this level.

Final Fantasy Legend II doesn’t really have characters. They have text to tell you what to do next, but they really emphasize combat above all else. I would complain that the extremely high rate of random encounters sends me into battle on a single step away from my previous battle, but two or three times I finished fighting monsters, then without moving I hit the menu button, only to immediately get sucked into another battle. Again, as fits the style of the time, characters fall drastically short of effective combat stats, and the groups of monsters often more than 10 at a time regularly pose a risk of slaughtering your party. Upon death, Odin will appear and offer you the opportunity to repeat the fatal battle as often as necessary, but except for once or twice, but often the cause of my demise hinged on the size of the enemy hoard preventing any chance of victory, so I’d take up Odin on his offer only to run from the monsters when I could.

...can I politely decline to receive the Rhino's meat? That sounds painful.

…can I politely decline to receive the Rhino’s meat? That sounds painful.

As if wading through a world filled elbow-deep with enemies like a claw crane machine didn’t slow down the pacing enough, characters don’t earn experience or level up in a traditional sense. The best I can determine, the game awards stat bonuses based on actions in battle, like in Final Fantasy II (NES). However, you select your party from a list of humans, mutants, robots and monsters, and only the humans and mutants seem to get these stat bonuses. The robots improve states based on equipment–as one might expect a robot to do–and the monsters transform into other monsters by devouring the corpses of your fallen foes. So after hours of grinding, I had a human who could deal formidable damage at a reasonable speed, a mutant who could sometimes pick off a few enemies if he lasted long enough, and a robot and a monster who only contributed to the battle by presenting themselves as targets.

Each item even more elixier than the last!

Each item even more elixier than the last!

If you ever suspected yourself of having a trace of OCD, avoid this game for its menus. Characters can equip a set number of weapons, magic or items, but as many as they want of each. Except for armor. And certain spells which seem character specific. And a few abilities that don’t seem to do anything. Oh, and the monster can’t equip anything, which limits how much your party can carry. Once again as usual for this era of RPGs, the game treats healing items and spells like novelty trinkets, dropping them here and there when it thinks you might have some cash to spare, and kindly exiting the menu after a single use. How much did you heal, 30 HP? That should easily get you through the next dozen battles with 15 monsters apiece, each holding fully automatic rifles and a belt made from the thumbs of previously defeated players.  But apparently Square felt they needed to make the game just a little harder, so the equipment degrades with each use.

Now, I’ve seen equipment degradation done right. Well, maybe “well enough,” would more accurately describe it. I mostly worked in Fallout, although I did get tired of lugging around a half dozen suits of power armor as spare parts. Here, I can understand how combat might reduce the strength of a sword over time. I can even picture a shield, dented beyond use. However, when merely raising the shield in front of you reduces its life span, I have to wonder whether a material that degrades in a slight breeze would effectively block so much as an angry butterfly, let alone any potential enemy attacks.

After days of grinding, I finally have the stats to...what the hell? Five?

After days of grinding, I finally have the stats to…what the hell? Five?

For all its faults, I would have slogged through this all the way. I did finish all the main-series Final Fantasy games, as well as both Dragon Quest games I’ve played. And I could see how a hand-held level grinder might have some value on a long car trip with a family you’d much rather ignore. However, the game has glitches. Fatal glitches. For instance, if a character runs out of viable options for use in battle, the other characters, apparently not wanting him to feel bad, will stop doing damage to enemies with their own attacks. I did pick up two items marked “power,” but can’t tell you what they do since using them freezes the game upon exiting the menu. However, most fun of all the glitches, somehow I triggered one that resets the game as you attempt to open a passage leading to the next area of the story. I’ve respectfully gone through games that I didn’t want to play after a little while, but I’ve never played a game so rude that it didn’t want me to play it. Maybe now I can find the FF game boy game that spawned the Seiken Densetsu (Secret of Mana) series.

(NOTE: A remastered edition of this game exists for the NDS. It probably has worked out the glitches; however to play it in English you’d have to find the fan-translated ROM hack, as they never released the game outside of Japan)

Mario (Galaxy – Wii) vs Wario (Land – Game Boy) – An alternative Prospective

Sorry guys, but I’m taking this week off. Hey, some games just take more than a week to play! Give me some time. Anyway, Anne agreed to take over, and since I don’t share the world’s love of Mario, she came up with a few thoughts on the subject. Enjoy.

I find it difficult to believe that this planet could support an apex predator of this size.

I find it difficult to believe that this planet could support an apex predator of this size.

Some games don’t need a long synopsis to help the player grasp the concept of the game play or the progression of the story. These games tend to change only minimally since the beginning of their series. When someone says they’ve been playing Mega Man you may feel the need to clarify, “classic, X or Zero series?” But regardless of their response, your mind probably fills with images of 8 boss levels of varying themes and everyone’s favorite tiny robotic hero and his blue spandex codpiece. The same goes, if not more so, for the Mario franchise. No, don’t start pulling up your emails to send me an angry rant pointing out Mario RPG’s originality or Mario’s cameo appearance in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. We both know that the main series has changed only superficially since its 2D NES days.

Dude, he won't take the hint. Just tell him she's on another planet.


Dude, he won’t take the hint. Just tell him she’s on another planet.

So no, I won’t bore you with a long and tedious description of how the story of Mario Galaxy progresses or spend time lavishing praise over the colorful and creative level designs. For those few of you who have taken up hermitage since before the release of the Nintendo Wii and have only just come down off your mountains: Bowser once more kidnaps Princess Peach, this time into space, and Mario, still unable to take a hint, flies off to her rescue. This of course requires him to traverse the corners of the universe in order to save the least protected ruler of all time. He does this through using changes in the physics of the levels to his advantage as well as turning into the requisite Mario franchise creatures; in this case a ghost and a bee.

Princess Peach meets Jessica Rabbit

Princess Peach meets Jessica Rabbit

With that out of the way, we can get to the more important topic; why the hell doesn’t Mario just forget about Peach and take up with Rosalina? Kidding of course. The real question is, are we sure that Mario really is the hero of this franchise? I mean, we all assume that since the basis of the games’ quite limited storyline is always Mario saving the princess that he must therefore be a valiant and selfless figure, but many people on the Internet have theorized that Mario is in fact a rather morally ambiguous figure. To mention only a few examples, he murders helpless goombas who pose no threat to him unless he stupidly walks straight into them of his own free will, and in games like Mario Kart he shows his disdain for even his own brother. For more examples I will point you in the direction of the Game Theorist on YouTube and his Vlog article entitled ‘Why Mario is Mental’.

But that then begs the further consideration that, if Mario is not the hero but rather the villain of the tale then how can he have an evil doppleganger. I am of course speaking of Wario, the apparent anti-hero to mirror Mario’s supposedly altruistic persona. I would like to make the argument that perhaps Wario is, in reality, a hero in his own right and that we have been judging him through the colored lens of our belief in Mario’s goodness, and in that he looks like what we expect a villainous version of our protagonist to look like, cue all the jokes about profiling ever. But consider this, when we first meet Wario he is shown stealing Mario’s castle, which leads everyone’s favorite excrement clearer to start a journey to get it back. Yet, what if Wario was taking over for a good reason; what if, in fact, he really was leading a revolution in order to depose the tyrannical despot that has previously been ruling in order to give less understood creatures like the goomba and koopas a chance to thrive right along side their cuter, yet no more threatening counterparts, the Toads? The revolution is upon us, comrades! The proletariat will rise and shed the mushrooms and question mark blocks of our oppressors!

IdLBwLoI would like to direct your attention to the original Wario Land series for the Gameboy where Wario does the exact same things that Mario does in all of his games; punching baddies, dropping through tubes, and more importantly collecting coins. He does this in order to purchase his own castle. Note: PURCHASE, not steal. Yes, he loots ancient treasures but if we as a society are willing to call Indiana Jones and Lara Croft heroes when they do the same thing, then we might be setting a bit of a double standard by villainizing Wario for that behavior. At the end of the first game he comes upon a young woman who has a genie that she orders to murder him. When this doesn’t work out she disappears, and Wario uses his wish, not to get back at Mario or anyone else who has slighted him–including the would-be murderess–but instead wishes for a castle. The size of the prize is dependent on the amount of money and treasure the player has collected to this point in the game (I’m not admitting that I have rarely gotten above the absolute base hovel in most play-throughs so I don’t want to hear any snicker in the back row. That means you!). This clearly shows the connection of his hard work paying off rather than him being given status based on what brainless royal he is currently dating.

I believe that Wario is not the monster portrayed by Nintendo’s over dramatized story-telling but rather the victim of a vicious smear campaign, perpetrated in order to hide the much more dastardly actions of his counterpart, namely everyone’s golden boy: Mario.

Dear God! He's gone full chia! Abandon planet!

Dear God! He’s gone full chia! Abandon planet!

Also, if you need further proof that Mario isn’t exactly the poster child for positive messages, just think about the underlying themes of Mario Galaxy, if not all of his earlier games. The viewer is expected to believe the Mario just happened to come into town on a star-themed festival day that also just so happened to coincide with the newest abduction attempt of his spiky antagonist and then goes rocketing off into space-sans helmet- in order to save his love interest. In the course of this trip he turns into animals, leaves his physical body to become a spirit, rockets around between a rainbow plethora of psychedelic planets with bizarre and often impossible gravity changes. I would like to present this theory to the reader: Mario is not out saving the damsel in a daring space adventure but rather tripping out on Reindeer Mushrooms that he picked up at the star festival and ingested.

Can you believe the earth looked like this when it first formed?

Can you believe the earth looked like this when it first formed?

First, a science lesson: Amanita muscaria, most known by gamers as the red and white Mario mushroom is, in real life a highly toxic mushroom found all around the world. In addition to its poisonous nature this mushroom also has another fun trick up its sleeve in the form of its ability to cause extreme and prolonged hallucinations. Reindeer that eat them in northern climates have been known to chase and even ram cars while hopped up on the effects of these diminutive fungi.

Doesn’t it then, seem much more likely that after seeing all of the star paraphernalia from the festival, ingests some of the country’s most common cuisine (do we really see any other edible foliage throughout the Mario series?) and spends the afternoon tripping out about the one thing he knows best: saving the princess. He even goes so far as to throw in an even hotter love interest and gives himself the power to ignore the laws of space and time. Now I don’t know about you but that sounds like a psychedelic trip to me.

I leave it to you to make up your mind about the accusations laid before you today but keep in mind, if we keep standing behind this possibly psychopathic drug addict we may have no one else to blame when he names himself the unquestioned tyrannical ruler of all.

Metroid II: Return of Samus – Game Boy

RetroArch-0305-133132After the events of the original Metroid, the Galactic Federation decided the Space Pirates had gone too far! Perhaps they damaged relations by attacking galaxy cargo and transport ships.  They may have even ruffled a few feathers in wiping out the entire race of Chozo.  The galaxy may have thought about issuing a stern warning when they killed off Samus’ family. But damn it! Now they’ve gone too far. The Federation had no alternative but to…eliminate the entire species of metroids. I can see the activists lining up now–signs that read “Metroids don’t kill people: Space Pirates kill people!” Bribery and lobbying from “Big Metroid” must not have measured up against the prices offered by the Space Pirates. I may come off as cynical, but I can’t help but think that any government who would consider apprehending and prosecuting known criminals as a less-favorable alternative to wiping out the apex predator of an entire planet’s ecosystem must suffer from a fair amount of corruption.

Beats hunting them by their droppings

Beats hunting them by their droppings

The idea of writing about a Metroid game has me bashing my head against the same wall I bash against for Mega Man. What can I really say that doesn’t already apply to all the other games in the series? Samus rolls up like a hedgehog.  Samus finds items like Link and jumps around like Mario. Samus fights monsters. Freeze the metroids, then blast them with missiles. Metroid really doesn’t innovate too much. While the original frustrates me on account of having no map and exceedingly large rooms that all somehow look identical to each other, and Prime annoyed me on account of Samus’ power suit not including the feature to see your feet as you leap from rocky precipice to rocky precipice (I hear that feature cost extra, and she preferred to go with the cup holders), I really can’t point out any significant difference in quality from one game to another.

Well, they hired me to kill you, but...just this once.

Well, they hired me to kill you, but…just this once.

As other games in the series tend to roughly follow the plot of the Alien movies, Metroid II: Return of Samus calls upon a character to invade a planet and wipe out an entire species, a request by a group of people collectively too dumb to read a job description. As a bounty hunter, I imagine Samus’ passion and skills fall in the area of tracking space criminals who have skipped out on their space court dates, receiving their space bail money as payment for her services. Or by a more archaic definition, capturing runaway space slaves who have liberated themselves from oppressive space plantations where their space masters whip them if they don’t grow enough space tobacco or pick enough space cotton. Apparently, though, that profession only lies one step away from “Orkin Man,” as the galaxy seems to have contracted her as an exterminator. So tired from her last mission and grumbling about the nature of this one, Samus lands her ship on the dark side of SR-388 with an inaccurate list of metroids to kill.

Remember: they mostly come out at night. Mostly.

How did these guys get everywhere in the galaxy? Bad tourist policies? "Take only photographs. Leave only chozo statues."

How did these guys get everywhere in the galaxy? Bad tourist policies? “Take only photographs. Leave only chozo statues.”

While I don’t usually consider graphics vital for a good game experience, Metroid II makes them significant. On the tiny, dimly-lit game boy screen, the lack of color offsets the background design, meaning that I spent as much time wandering around SR-388 looking for a gas station to ask directions as I did in the original game.   Unlike Mega Man II, the Samus’ size-to-screen ration doesn’t leave her burrowing through the map like a ferret, leaving plenty of room for her to roll, space jump, or bounce like a rubber ball.  In fact, quite the opposite; sometimes the game encourages hefty upward climbs with nary a ledge to stand on, requiring long chains of space jumping.  Unfortunately since the controls demand the clockwork input of a hungry toddler, one slip-up can send Samus plummeting back to the start.  Sometimes the spider ball tool helps out, but sitting too close to a bomb, getting hit by a monster, or just nudging the wrong button at the wrong moment can likewise invalidate your efforts. Item management has taken a downgrade from the original, as beam weapons no longer stack effects, and with no menu system (as in Super Metroid), if you want to switch between weapons, you have to backtrack to the last place you found that particular item. Because the Game Boy only had four buttons and a D-pad to work with, some of the ways to activate tools come off as clunky and random as the tools themselves. The spider ball commits this offense more than anything, and it doesn’t help that in spider-ball form, Samus moves more like a lazy tarantula when I’d prefer her to move like the spiders I nearly step on in my bathtub, yet like bathtub spiders she seems to have no qualms about randomly dropping from the ceiling.

So if we watch them hatch and view them through every stage of their life...when do they turn into the jellyfish things?

So if we watch them hatch and view them through every stage of their life…when do they turn into the jellyfish things?

I mostly maintain a Mega Man-esque appreciation for Metroid; the original concept worked, more or less, and as long as the game doesn’t tweak that too much, I can enjoy running and rolling through 2-D subterranean tunnels, murdering local wildlife and opening doors with a gun. If I needed to raise serious complaints about the game, I’d have to express a mild frustration that they’ve traded off challenging, unique boss fights like Ridley and Kraid, for simple, straightforward metroid battles, and while they included a lot of them, it takes less firepower to kill each one than a Northern Michigan mosquito–about five missiles.

Beatiful scenery, well designed textures, a wonderful, distinct world and...oh shit. Spikes.

Beatiful scenery, well designed textures, a wonderful, distinct world and…oh shit. Spikes.

While not nearly off-the-wall enough to merit inclusion in my WTF category, the Metroid II map deserves honorable mention.  The original map infuriated me to no end, but at least they programmed it all on a single grid. So if you traveled in a circle, they at least had the decency to drop you back to where you started. Not so in Metroid II, as entire regions overlap–imagine finding that gas station I mentioned before, only to find that the cashier gives directions entirely in Shakespearean sonnets. It might get you from place to place, but you can’t help but wonder if a more direct approach would have worked better.

Still, fans of the series should invest some time into this game. You won’t miss any story if you don’t, since Nintendo still included the plot entirely in the instruction book and they give you all of it in the opening of Super Metroid, but you’ll at least get another subterranean gauntlet to run around, fight monsters and….wait, what? You don’t get to open doors with a gun? Well, forget it then.

I have a busy week, but look for upcoming articles on Resident Evil: Deadly Silence and Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria. Thanks to my regular readers for following me, and to those who just found your way here because of the BDSM tags in my Shadow Hearts and Custer’s Revenge articles, I offer my apologies.

Mega Man II – Game Boy

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What can I say about Mega Man that no one has ever said before? “Mega Man accurately predicted the use of drone strikes against Pakistani citizens.” “Mega Man takes his roots from an Indo-European god who would absorb other deities’ attributes after conquering them in battle.”  “Mega Man sits in the tum-tum tree of life, burbling in the tulgy wood of post-modern philosophy, calling philosophical jabberwocks to examine the nature of his soul with their eyes of flame.” It turns out, I can say a lot of things.  If you want something valuable, something worth saying, that might take a little extra thought.

While clearly a beloved series, no one will accuse Capcom of great innovation.  Consider the minute differences between the core series and Mega Man X (i.e. new end boss, upgradeable armor, and different stage select screen layout): now realize that Capcom considers those different franchises. These games epitomize the “if it ain’t broke” philosophy.  With minor exceptions from game to game, if you’ve played one, you really have played them all.

While Capcom ran all their old games through a meat grinder, spitting back the same ground chuck in a new package, injected with colorful dyes to make it look fresher and tastier, they also silently spit out the intestines, giblets, and other dubious parts of their creativity, crammed it into a small cartridge and sold it to us for the Game Boy.

Did these guys creep out anyone else?

Did these guys creep out anyone else?

I don’t entirely know what to make of the Game Boy.  I didn’t enjoy it much when I owned one, but I only had three Mario games, Tetris, and Kirby’s Dream Land–not exactly USDA choice. On one hand, it seemed to offer an experimental system to figure out how to make better sequels, flush out series with side stories, or work more with less technical space.  On the other hand, they could also simply port games from the NES, package them as portable, and rake in the dough.  In the case of Mega Man, I’d put my money on the latter.

Capcom blew their budget for this game by hiring Salvador Dali

Capcom blew their budget for this game by hiring Salvador Dali

For the game boy Mega Man series, Capcom phoned it in.  Literally.  They called in other developers to take over their flagship franchise, the character they would love, adore, and pamper like a rich, young, trophy wife (at least until Resident Evil started making eyes at them, offering more money, a younger series, and more realistic breasts…sorry, Roll.).  So what exactly happens when they pimp out a favorite game? Not much, it turns out. Following the formula for the Game Boy franchise, Mega Man II takes four robot masters from the NES Mega Man II, followed by four from the NES Mega Man III.  For the most part, each enemy’s weakness remains the same, making boss battles about as fun as playing rock-paper-scissors with someone who believes that if he keeps picking scissors, you’ll eventually fall into his trap, pick paper, and he’ll emerge victorious (sorry, Cut Man).

Psst! Rock, can you step out of the picture? You make it look less like an imposing fortress and more like an ugly SUV.

Psst! Rock, can you step out of the picture? You make it look less like an imposing fortress and more like an ugly SUV.

After progressing through Dr. Wily’s castle…er….space station, you encounter Quint, the mysterious character who appears before you to challenge you, a la Protoman in Mega Man III.  According to the additional material for the game, in the future, Dr. Wily reprogrammed Mega Man, named him Quint, and set him back in time to fight you, here, in this game. Here, the half-life of logic drops to mere seconds, like the artificial elements scientists spend thousands of dollars to create, only for them to exist for an infinitesimally small fraction of a second.  Apparently, after years upon years of Mega Man pounding Dr. Wily and an army of robot masters armed with the deadliest weapons ever devised using nothing more than the blaster grafted onto his arm, Dr. Wily thought he could finally emerge victorious….by replacing the blaster with a jack hammer.  I guess in the future, Mega Man really let himself go.  Lost his job as defender of humanity.  Maybe threw out his back.  Eventually only a 2-bit road construction company would take him in, and every morning after downing a box of donuts, he throws his gut, swollen from drinking a six-pack of E-tanks every day, over the handles of the only tool he’s capable of picking up anymore, and starts ripping away at the road. I like to think Guts Man comes out of a nearby trailer every so often to supervise.

"Sakugarne? It's not in the dictionary!" "Just run it through Babel Fish!"

“Sakugarne? It’s not in the dictionary!” “Just run it through Babel Fish!”

Anyway, not only does the jack hammer feel slightly outclassed by an energy blaster, but after defeating Quint and adding his weapon to your stash like a serial killer claiming a trophy, you only fight one more enemy: Dr. Wily. Sorry, but even lazy, witless, beer-gut Mega Man won’t take too long to figure out what weapon to use on the final boss.  And that means that the one weapon Wily thought he could use against a weapon-adaptable super-robot…also deals the most damage to Wily himself.  When Capcom named him after Einstein, I didn’t realize they meant that in the sarcastic-colloquial sense.

You closed your eyes! Great, now I have to take the picture again.

You closed your eyes! Great, now I have to take the picture again.

Because the Game Boy doesn’t offer much in the way of Real Estate on such a tiny screen, levels feel claustrophobic.  Level designs seem simpler, character sprites appear larger than they do on the NES, and as a result, less stuff can happen.  A great deal of the challenge in the NES games required you to make snap decisions based on multiple threats attacking at once, requiring quick attacks, evasive action, or clever use of a weapon. Nope! Not here.  I shot through the game in less than forty minutes on my first play-through. The game didn’t label which teleporters took you to the last four robot masters…that kinda added some challenge.  Also, your weapons don’t refill between stages at that point.  But really, I think this game shows Dr. Wily’s age.  No longer full of fiery hatred towards Dr. Light and Mega Man, he steals robots and attacks humanity just to go through the motions because he doesn’t know what else to do.  Really, if you think about it that way, Mega Man II for the Game Boy, rather than presenting a fun and interesting challenge, merely provides a scathing indictment of our prison system and their failure to rehabilitate offenders.  And I bet that no one has ever said that about Mega Man before.