Any Port in a Storm: A PC Gaming Field Guide

I’ll be honest, I originally meant to write this as a small piece for my own personal sideblog. I kept putting off writing it – mainly because a lot of my attention was focused on Retronaissance and usually I only end up writing stuff on my sideblog when I’m feeling particularly passionate, a feeling that fades quickly. It didn’t help that the concept seemed to fit equally well with both forums: the topic did revolve around topics I’d long since discussed on Retronaissance, but I felt more comfortable discussing it with much less tact than I typically employ on here. It doesn’t help that I feel like I spend enough time talking about PC ports on here in the first place, with my various wishlists – finally figured out the subject of August’s, by the way – providing the bulk of my discussion on the subject. After all, superstition or not, a lot of the games I’ve listed have managed to make their way on PC, in one way or another.  I ended up discussing the topic with other contributors to this blog, who were in favor of me putting it here, but my indecision gave me cold feet, which led me to avoid writing the article altogether. Eventually, the concept began to grow – I thought up various other ideas that I decided to add to the original concept – and by that point, it became clear: Any Port in a Storm had become a perfect candidate for an article on Retronaissance. Just keep in mind that my more refined writing style might fall by the wayside at times.

While I’ll admit that I have pretty much had an on-again, off-again relationship with PC gaming from the time I first got into video games, my love of console-focused games has meant that I’ve had a nearly equally long interest in the concept of PC ports. Even from the beginning, the concept of “bad ports” (Street Fighter II) and “good ports” (the first 3 Mortal Kombat games and X-Men: Children of the Atom) were something I could at least acknowledge, albeit starting with a mere gut feeling as opposed to something I could quantify objectively. PC ports have, by and large, come a long way from the 1990s, but even today, there’s no way to guarantee a port’s quality. Some ports manage to exceed the quality of the original source material, creating a truly definitive version of the game, while others are NIS America’s PC port of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana: disasters at launch that may or may not ever be fixed to the point of working properly.

Of course, these days, it’s much easier to find quality ports in an ever-declining sea of garbage. Resources like the PC Gaming Wiki not only point out which games are quality ports, they also make recommendations for fixes on both older and poorly-made games which makes it a truly indispensable resource for PC gamers, especially those new to the medium. The real problem is still quantifying the quality of the ports themselves. As I said, some great games are maligned with terrible ports to this day, while games ranging from mediocre to outright bad will end up with amazing ports that even manage to fix problems with the original releases themselves, effectively enshrining a piece of kusoge in a fashion befitting a masterpiece.

In the end, I’ve decided to use a much-maligned concept long associated with the ills of gaming journalism for my own purposes: the “four-point scale”, a means of rating games from good to excellent. I’ll keep my criticisms on this scale brief: it’s effectively turned any score below a 9 into a dire insult and had the unfortunate consequence of causing certain people (myself, for example) to seek out games that manage to break the scale, earning scores of 6 and below, whether out of curiosity, bile fascination or some inconsequential way of “sticking it to the man”. You know, by paying some other “the man” to play crappy games. Could that have been their plan all along?

The thing is, when it comes to PC ports, the four-point scale works out perfectly. There is a definite base level of quality that people should expect in their ports, a bar that has risen continuously throughout the years. Better still, the types of ports that would receive 7s and 8s would easily have the most discerning PC gamers turning up their noses in disgust, so the unintended consequence of diluting the perceived quality of these grades would be a feature, not a bug. After all, if you don’t like these ports, well… that’s what good’s for.

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Duke Phillips: the first modern games journalist.

7.0 – Console Parity (or Is It Parody?)

Let’s start with the bottom of the barrel and work our way up, shall we? If there’s one good thing about ports that fall into the 7 score, it’s that these days, they’re rare. Clearly many developers, porting companies and especially publishers have learned that ports of that caliber are no longer acceptable to most consumers. The only real question is, why was they ever considered worthy of release in the first place.

At this point in time, the majority of the ports I’d classify as 7s came out at least a decade ago but considering the fact that so many of them are still available for purchase on Steam and various other digital storefronts, I think it’s still fair to make reference to them. At one point, ports in this style would’ve been considered the cream of the crop, but when you look at the history of PC ports overall, it’s understandable. If we were to consider the history of console games ported to PC like an evolutionary line, then the 7’s closest equivalent would clearly be either the Cro Magnon or the Neanderthal compared to the other scores’ Modern Man. When they first appeared on the scene, they were clearly impressive and best suited for survival, but at this point, they’re clearly too primitive to be considered a quality product.

But enough stalling, what defines a 7 on my little four-point scale? Quite simply, a perfect 1:1 port of the console version. Now you’re probably thinking, “But Icepick! Isn’t that what a port is supposed to be?” To which I say, feh! The problem stems from the hardware itself. Despite my posturing about how most modern consoles are just crippled PCs in the first place, their underlying operating systems are still different from one another. Consoles generally focus most (if not all) of their resources into games, while PCs run various other processes in the background at all times. As such, most console games are designed to take advantage of this focus, effectively pushing the entire platform’s resources into the game itself. Try that on a PC and you end up with a port with ridiculously high minimum specifications. Not to mention the recommended specs needed to play the game properly.

That’s to say nothing of the lack of features that PC gamers have come to take for granted these days. Fully-programmable controls, not to mention mouse and keyboard support – I’m not going to judge, but there are more than a small number of PC gamers who swear by them for literally any type of game – future-proofed support for higher resolutions, graphical filters, adjustable frame rates and the ability to switch between full-screen and windowed mode easily. Quite simply, 7-ranked ports completely lack the scalability associated with PC games, forcing a concrete cut-off on the kind of hardware capable of running the games themselves, drawing a very distinct line in the sand.

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Believe it or not, this was an actual PC port, not an emulator. No, really.

Aside from that, 7 ports are generally good ports. Not simply “good” in the scale from good to excellent, but rather they are proper approximations of the original experience. In the end, they have potential. Fixes, whether official or fan-made, can easily rectify many of the issues involved in these “low-grade” ports. One such example would be Inti Creates’ Azure Striker Gunvolt. When the game was first ported to Steam, it was in an incredibly rough state, but now? It’s on par with the recent Switch release as of an update that came out of the blue last month. This is why they fall at the far end of my four-point scale for PC ports that are acceptable. Clearly, they have their issues, but they are still generally competent to perhaps the most important degree of an PC port: recreating the console game accurately. Having said that, most if not all PC gamers at this point would turn their noses up at a modern port of this caliber. Unless I’m absolutely desperate to play the game in question, I’d be equally dissuaded from picking it up. Buyer beware and all that.

Supplement: 7.5 – Pick Your Poison

Of course, that’s not to say that the spirit of 7-grade ports doesn’t live on to this day. Their modern-day equivalents are clearly superior to true 7s, but they still find themselves slacking against the competition. I’ll just refer to them as “7.5s” to make things simpler: after all, they’re better than a 7, but still not quite on par with an 8.

There are two major differences between 7s and 7.5s. First, while 7s aren’t optimized at all, 7.5s are generally just poorly optimized. Not exactly significant, but it’s a step forward. On top of that, 7.5s also usually include at least a few of those expected features I mentioned earlier. Not all of them make it – generally most companies tend to aim for at least partial keyboard support and windowed mode – but a few core features are still better than none.

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For all its problems, at least MK9’s PC version had keyboard support.

With that being said, 7.5s are generally held to the same standard as their ancestors. Examples of 7.5s that I’m personally familiar with include Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition and Injustice: Gods Among Us – both handled by High Voltage Studios, a company which should set off alarm bells in any knowledgeable PC gamer’s head until proven otherwise. These ports are poorly optimized, effectively requiring specs twice as strong as recommended to run them properly and have their fair share of issues, but all-in-all, they’re effectively reasonable facsimiles of the original console versions. Their Mortal Kombat X port managed to be even worse than those two, to the extent where Warner Bros. had to hire the good people at QLOC to fix it for the XL update.

8.0 – The Bare Minimum

Now I can probably guess what’s going through your mind when you’re looking at this header. “But Icepick! You were saying that 8 were so much better than 7s and 7s were the lowest score you’d consider! How can 8s be ‘the bare minimum’?” Well, I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader. Put simply, to the majority of PC gamers, a port that would score an 8 on this scale is quite literally, the bare minimum of what would be expected in a PC port. 7s are detritus that should, in all honesty, never occur again. 7.5s are outright abominations. But an 8? Well, all but the most discerning PC gamers – which, to be fair, is still probably half of them altogether – would at least consider these ports. The 8 is quite simply a bronze medal, the third-place award – compared to the participant ribbons that I’d associate with 7s and 7.5s. In a perfect world, every company working on a PC port should be aiming for a solid 8.

If there’s any point where the four-point scale metaphor begins to falter, it would have to be on 8. Considering the whole Twilight Princess debacle – for the handful of people reading this who don’t know what I’m talking about, the game scored an 8.8 out of 10 on Gamespot and it started a major backlash – 8s are generally considered bad scores, by the virtue of being lower than a 9. Personally, I tend to gravitate more towards 8s and 9s when it comes to review scores: 10s just often feel too good to be true. Then again, maybe that’s just me. I’m the kind of person who enjoys eating at Taco Bell, because I consider it “Tex-Mex-themed fast food” as opposed to “authentic Mexican cuisine”, which honestly has to be near the top of my personal list of the 10 stupidest opinions in all of human history. A game that scores an 8 has the chance to impress me by surprise, but a perfect score rarely lives up to its own lofty expectations in my eyes. Blame it on my susceptibility to hype backlash and the fact that my tastes don’t often align with critics in general.

Basically, the main thing elevating an 8-grade port over its inferiors is the fact that it feels much more like a PC game. The game is properly optimized to some extent, effectively meaning that current-gen games will run on systems with equivalent specs, as opposed to requiring top-of-the-line components. Keyboard and mouse support is a given and graphical options allow weaker PCs to run the game, while more powerful computers can enhance their experiences with filters and other improvements. Put simply, all of those features that I said were missing from ports I’d score at 7? All present and accounted for in the prototypical 8 port, and with no impact on the quality of the port itself.

Of course, you’re probably thinking “But Icepick! Why is this so low on the scale? This sounds like exactly what you’d want in the first place!” And honestly, that’s a fair assertion. The weakness regarding a port that scores an 8 is admittedly petty, but still relatively practical. 8s generally take all of their assets directly from the console version with no improvements. Now that sounds excellent on the surface, but the problem is that 8 ports aren’t entirely future proof. As time goes on, computers will come out with higher graphical resolutions, improved audio quality and more powerful processors: it’s an inevitability. Remember how great SNES and Genesis games looked at the time? Think about how they look when played at modern resolutions. They either take up a minute fraction of the screen or get blown up to the extent where you can easily count every individual pixel on the screen. A similar fate awaits ports that score an 8 at some undetermined point in the future. It’s nothing personal, they’re just the consequences of the continued march of time. Fortunately, in many cases, enterprising fans have found workarounds that will keep ports of this quality looking good for years to come.

The main example I can think of when it comes to an 8 port would have to be XSEED’s recent PC port of Ys SEVEN. The game was severely hampered by the fact that it was only released on the PlayStation Portable previously. XSEED wanted to keep the various art assets as close to the originals as possible, but due to the small resolution on the game’s textures, the game is locked at a relatively low maximum resolution compared to most games that were released around the same time.

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It’s a little blurry, but this version runs at 60 FPS. And in the end, isn’t that all that matters?

Supplement: Late Ports, Buggy Ports and Both

This section right here? It’s what convinced me to turn this article into more than a simple blogpost. Now it only seems fair to cite my inspirations for this particular aside: NIS America’s disasterpiece of a PC port for Falcom’s exquisite Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. After being delayed multiple times over the course of seven months, when Ys VIII finally launched on PC, the port was an absolute mess. It was so bad, that it was the first Falcom game to not receive a Positive review score on Steam – and it’s not even the first release to come from a company other than fan favorite XSEED. Originally the backlash was so severe, its overall review score was at an unprecedented “Mostly Negative”, but since then it’s settled on “Mixed”.

Why did this happen? Honestly, seeing anything lower than a Mixed score is rare on Steam in general, but why exactly did things drop so low in the first place? To properly understand how this backlash worked, you have to understand the common viewpoint of how PC gamers view two specific types of release issues when it comes to ports. Specifically, ports that launch significantly later than their console counterparts and ports that launch in such a buggy state, that they’re literally unplayable.

When it comes to late ports, PC gamers are generally understanding. I’d liken it to waking up with a dry, scratchy throat or clogged sinuses – unpleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. Hell, I’ve written a whole series of posts outright begging for ports that couldn’t be anything but late. To misuse some baseball terminology, a late port is effectively like a foul ball: it’s a strike against the game’s reception but not one that will outright dismiss it. It all depends on various factors. For starters, how long the gap between the initial release and the PC port is. I’d say that if it launches within three months of the original – and the time between releases was spent properly optimizing the game and fixing bugs instead of, oh I don’t know, adding in intrusive DRM that actively sabotages the game’s performance at the last minute – it’s generally fine. Don’t think I forgot about what you did to Sonic Mania, Sega. I’ll never forget.

If it takes longer than that to release the game on PC, there are other ways to sweeten the pot. Release the game at a mild discount: most console games are generally sold at a discount after a few months anyway. Failing that, include any DLC that has come out in the base package. Honestly, I welcome late ports when they do this: it’s like getting a “Game of the Year” edition from the start! As long as you’re not selling the base game at the launch price six months after the fact, you should be golden.

Ports that are buggy at launch are a different story. Generally, if they come out at the same time as their console counterparts, bugs are expected but not welcome. Going back to the baseball metaphor, a bug-ridden port is a strike, swing and a miss, pure and simple. Launching in an unplayable state is a far worse blow to a game’s reputation than running late – feel free to add in that overused Miyamoto quote if you need to – but the thing about a buggy release is that, the bugs can be fixed. If the developers behind the port remain vigilant and try to iron out all of the game’s issues, its reputation can rebound. Lowering the price (even temporarily) in conjunction with the overhaul doesn’t hurt either.

Which brings us to the ultimate question: what happens when a late port is unplayable on a significant number of systems? Well, widespread backlash. The only acceptable reason for late ports to begin with is to allow for proper bugfixes. Take that promise away and replace it with a port that doesn’t even work and you’d have to wonder what compelled them to release it in that state to begin with. It’s a complete erosion of any and all good will and it will take time to repair the damage done to a company’s reputation when they decide to release something in such a rough state without a quick release to justify it.

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I forget: is quality job one or job none?

As I mentioned before, Ys VIII’s troubled PC version was what inspired me to think about this in the first place. Since then, NISA’s been slowly but surely improving the quality of the port, but it’s still far from acceptable: only those who decided to sacrifice their hard-earned money and kept their barely functional copies of Ys VIII act as the canary in the coalmine, while most of Falcom’s more discerning PC fanbase are waiting for the all-clear. Me personally? I never played the previous game – Memories of Celceta – and since that’s had a PC port announced for release sometime this summer, I’m content to wait for the all-clear. I have to wonder: is NIS America fixing up this port in an effort to repair their disastrous first effort or did the Japanese games media’s reports on this whole debacle send Falcom back into action, like they did with the game’s initial translation? I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

9.0 – The Gold Standard

Ideally, every PC port should end up with roughly a 9 score. Unfortunately, making a 9-caliber PC port isn’t quite as practical as aiming for an 8, especially with older games. In fact, despite their perceived gulf in quality, the difference from 8s to 9s aren’t nearly as different as 7s (and 7.5s) to 8s.

I’m not going to lie though, this is where things might get a little tricky. While I said that 8s were more akin to bronze medals in the grand scheme of things, I’ve also designated 9s as “the gold standard”. This begs the question: what would count as a silver-class port? I’d argue that in terms of my own personal scale, 8s would act as a silver ranking, compared to 7/7.5’s bronze. However, when talking about the general reception of ports by the PC gaming community at large, 8s would certainly be considered a bronze, while 7s are nothing more than cautionary relics of bygone eras and 7.5s are abominations that have no reason to exist at all. I suppose silver is redundant when considering PC ports, which are generally either categorized as “good” or “bad” in the first place.  7.5s and anything lower would be considered bad, 8s are merely “acceptable” – effectively serving as a border – and 9s would easily make up the bulk of the “good” category.

But what differentiates an 8 from a 9 in the first place? Remember how I mentioned earlier that a 8-scored port is susceptible to becoming outdated in lieu of advances in gaming technology? 9s are essentially future-proofed in that regard. Using higher-quality graphical and audio assets compared to the original console releases, 9s would no longer be tethered to the limitations of the original work. In that sense, ports of this quality wouldn’t even feel like ports, they’d feel like games that were originally designed for the PC in the first place. On top of that, ports of this quality generally allow for specifications not yet possible on a majority of systems, effectively allowing for screen resolutions that are either rare or non-existent when the port is first released. Likewise, these ports would also be capable of running on weaker systems, effectively allowing for the entire experience to be perfectly scaled for a majority of current PCs.

To put it in terms that console gamers may more easily understand, imagine a game that you could play on both models of the PS4, the PS3 and the Vita – each with their own unique framerates, resolutions and other flourishes to allow each version to produce a definitive experience, while allowing the more powerful consoles to showcase their additional power compared to older models. Sure, crossplay makes this sound outright mundane, but imagine if it were possible with a single download, as opposed to multiple unique versions, each designed from the ground up with their distinct platform in mind. Hell, in some cases, you’re able to play recent games using PCs with specs on par with the PlayStation 2. Imagine playing a brand-new PS4 game on a system from 2000!

Put simply, ports I’d categorize as 9s are essentially perfect. You’re probably wonder what separates them from 10s. To be honest, it’s far too difficult for me to discuss what ports that would be categorized as 9s lack compared to one that would score a perfect 10 in my eyes. It’ll be much easier to describe in the context of talking about 10s in general. As for examples, XSEED’s recent Trails of Cold Steel ports were considered an extreme improvement over the original PS3 versions. Likewise, Sega and Platinum’s recent ports of Bayonetta and Vanquish are considered the definitive versions.

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This is the best looking Metal Slug game I’ve ever seen.

Thesis: The GOG Equation

One last quick aside before I discuss my take on what defines a perfect score. Frankly, I’ve been falling more and more in love with Good Old Games since I wrote that wishlist last August. Turns out I’m not alone: after a debacle which has left the future of several games on Steam in question, MangaGamer has partnered with GOG to finally bring various high-profile visual novels to their service.

It’s baffled me just how little support GOG seems to receive from a lot of major publishers. While my main prong of attack has been on focusing on making wishlists for old ports to resurface on their service, I’ve also found it kind of weird that a lot of companies seem to drag their feet on releasing more contemporary titles on the service. The weirdest part is when some companies release a few modern games on GOG, but not their entire library. The most notable example of this I can think of is Capcom who, as of right now, have only released their old PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 from 1997 and 2016’s PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen on GOG so far. To make matters weirder, Dragon’s Dogma was released at about the same time as the Steam release.

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GOG even makes a big deal about every single new release on their service. When’s the last time Valve did anything remotely like this on Steam?

It just strikes me as weird that so many companies refuse to support GOG, which is essentially the second biggest digital marketplace for PC games, simply based on the fact that they’re the only major one that doesn’t sell Steam keys. There’s a significant demographic of PC gamers that refuse to buy games with any form of DRM – and as beneficial as it has been, Steam is still DRM software – that generally buy games from GOG and other DRM-free stores for that reason. Meanwhile, you’ll see games sold at extreme discounts – I’ve seen games sell at 80% off the standard price – regularly on Steam. It doesn’t hurt that GOG boasts about having “crossplay” with various Steamworks games.

It honestly occurred to me at random one day, that there ought to be some sort of equation for determining when a company should just swallow their pride and release their game on GOG – and Humble Store, I guess, but mostly GOG. I think I’ve come up with a fairly reasonable way to look at it. If a publisher decides to sell one of their games with at least a 50% discount on a regular basis (let’s say, every time there’s a major sale), then I think it’s time to consider dropping Steam exclusivity and making the game available on other marketplaces. The same could be said for games that are sold at a 75% or higher discount – that is, a quarter of the standard price – even once. At that point, it just seems like publishers are desperate to make sales in the first place, so selling to the niche-within-a-niche market that buys exclusively on GOG – or even weirder, the people who are willing to buy games a second time on there – seems like a sure bet to make some extra money.

I understand the argument that a lot of people tend to make: that DRM-free sites encourage piracy. But honestly? Steam’s DRM is easy enough to crack and any additional forms of DRM – even the supposed piracy-killer Denuvo – just seem to act more as a challenge for pirates instead of a deterrent, effectively punishing paying customers more than the people cracking the game for free. Couple that with the fact that the EU withheld a study that proved that piracy doesn’t actually hurt media sales (aside from movie tickets) and there’s really no justification to avoid selling stuff on GOG, unless Valve paid for some kind of exclusivity, which would honestly impress me, considering the hands-off approach they’ve seemed to take running Steam for the past five or so years.

The Perfect 10 – An Abstract Concept

I mentioned earlier that I have an innate distrust of perfect scores. Frankly, the idea of perfection just seems like it should be reserved for purely objective observations, quite the opposite from any and all reviews. When it comes to media, my apprehension becomes a little more pronounced. By definition, a perfect game – even a game simply considered the perfect representation of its genre – should be one that can never be surpassed. The ideal game, a game which should sate any gamer for the rest of their days. No game that has scored perfect 10s across the board has come even remotely close to engrossing me to that extent. As such, I don’t really trust the concept in general: no game – not even one that scores a perfect 10 in every publication, past, present and future – can be perfect.

Which begs the question: what differentiates a 9-grade PC port from a perfect 10? Objectively, absolutely nothing. I already pointed out that a PC port that would score a 9.0 is the gold standard, a port that improves upon its source material, effectively creating a definitive release. As the entire concept of a perfect score is even more subjective than the scale it inhabits, it only seems fair that my take on what consists a perfect score should be equally as subjective.

Enough stalling, my criteria for what separates the crème de la crème is actually fairly subjective. Essentially, a perfect 10 PC port would be of a quality so recognizable, that console gamers effectively want that version ported back to consoles down the line. Or, better still, a case where a PC port works out so well, that publishers themselves decide that it’s worth using said PC version as the basis for any and all re-releases down the line. At the very least, the next batch would be based on the PC port.

I understand just how petty and small that comes across, that for a PC port to be considered ideal, its quality must be recognized outside our niche. However, all things considered, I can’t think of a better criterion of quality than acknowledgement from outside our own field. When you think about it, internal rankings all fall victim to some measure of subjectivity. We all play favorites. But the green-eyed pining of console gamers, hissing jealously at our long-awaited prize, a shinier toy than the one they’ve had for so long? That’s an objective measure: only the most short-sighted console gamers – so, again, roughly half – would even bother caring about a PC port unless it was clearly superior to their version. As for the publishers themselves, PC versions may be easier to port back to consoles again down the line (especially these days), but usually they’ll add some attempt at new flourishes from generation to generation. If it’s a straight port of the existing PC version though, that implies that they’ve perfected their craft.

Thus far, I’ve tried giving you an example of what I would consider a perfect example of each of these ports and I don’t intend to fail you on the perfect 10. Ultra Street Fighter IV started with a rocky release – mainly owed to switching their online matchmaking from using the defunct Games for Windows Live service to Steamworks – but eventually managed to become the definitive version, serving as the basis for a subsequent re-release on the PS4 (which itself had unrelated issues with optimization for months). QLOC outdid themselves on USF4 and have essentially earned their place as my pick for the best PC porting studio of all-time. If someone from any company stumbles upon this article and takes one thing away from it, hire QLOC to port your games to PC. You won’t regret it.

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It even has a benchmark, for cryin’ out loud!

So that brings us to the end of this little experiment. I’ll be honest, as much as I claim to have amassed a great deal of knowledge about PC gaming since migrating back to it around the end of the last console generation, I still consider myself a journeyman. It seems like every day, I learn something new about this platform. Ports and original games I missed out on in my early days of PC gaming and during my time on consoles, releases that were once considered abominations being polished to perfection, even new mods for games that I wouldn’t have expected mods on in the first place. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve taken to PC gaming again as much as I have: it’s such a vast environment, it’s pretty much got something for everyone. And for those of you that love my little wishlists: don’t worry, August’s not that far away.

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Turn Based #6: X’ed Out

Professor Icepick: Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. While our last article tackled the epic struggle between gaming on PCs and consoles, this time we’ll be discussing a much simpler topic. Since late 2001, Microsoft decided to expand its scope from mere PCs to taking over the living rooms of homes all over the world with their first Xbox home console.

Since then, they’ve met with mixed success, ranging from the dizzying heights of the Xbox 360 to the current nadir that is the confusingly-named “Xbox One”. The question we are posing today is should the Xbox line continue? Does it offer anything to console games as a whole and if so, is it enough to justify its continued existence? I’ll let KI start with his argument.

SNES Master KI: To be honest, I never thought we really needed Xbox that badly. I’ve been happy with my Nintendo and Sony systems for the past few generations, the only Xbox incarnation I own is a 360 that I purchased in 2014, and even that triggered our running joke curse where the games I wanted the system for quickly went to Nintendo and/or Sony once I actually got a 360. In the past, however, there was at least an argument to be made that there was no reason for Sony’s primarily third party supported systems to be in control. This was especially true in the early seventh generation, when Sony made their biggest console blunder and got PlayStation 3 off to a very rough start, giving the Xbox 360 a huge amount of popularity and momentum.

However, things have changed since then. Microsoft went off the rails in 2013, introducing their third system, the Xbox One, as an online mandatory, anti-used games entertainment hub. The backlash was massive, and Microsoft backpedaled (but not before letting Sony win E3 2013 by announcing that PlayStation 4 could automatically play used games), removing the worst features of the XB1. But not only had the bad publicity left its mark, this left us with a system that seemed to have no purpose. I think the original incarnation of the Xbox One was Microsoft’s master plan all along, an entertainment hub that relied on online services. When the backlash destroyed that vision, Xbox One was left as a weaker, more expensive PlayStation 4 that Microsoft barely supported with either first-party games or paid for third-party exclusives.

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This should not be an E3 winning announcement.

Icepick: Before I was the PC die-hard you see before you, I was an adherent to what was called “Wii60”. I believed that you only really needed a Nintendo console and one of the two “HD Twins”, and I chose Microsoft. During the fifth and sixth console generations — especially the sixth, stay tuned — Sony forced more than its fair share of paradigm shifts that poisoned the well of console gaming for me and sent me into a self-imposed exile, relying on a steady diet of retro games and whatever handhelds existed at the time.

However, even when the PS2’s dominance was all but assured, Microsoft’s little behemoth that could managed to make strides in the industry. It brought online gaming to the mainstream. The Xbox 360 found a home for the smaller and 2D experiences that made me fall in love with video games in the first place with its Xbox Live Arcade. Even today, the Xbox One is trying to keep the concept of backwards compatibility alive in a world where even Nintendo has all but abandoned it. Microsoft is the least powerful entity in the console space, but some of their decisions have ultimately sent shockwaves through the industry. Some for the worse, but some for the better.

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A perfect metaphor for my feelings toward console gaming, circa 2002. Guess who PS2 is.

KI: The issue is, almost all of those things are in the past. You can also make just as many arguments for Xbox hurting gaming with microtransactions, the first paid online, a non-functioning D-pad, and trying to make games a subscription service with Game Pass. And that’s just what they actually got to do, the original version of Xbox One could have done irreparable damage to console gaming if it was successful. Microsoft was also the worst at backwards compatibility in the seventh generation and is only ahead now because it is physically impossible to do on Switch. PlayStation 5 and Super Switch could very well bring it back in full.

I also have to say that it sounds more like you’re angry at Sony than have any real reason to support Xbox, which segues nicely into another point. You hate Sony, I hate Steam… but we both are always aware of their existence. We care about them, even if it’s in a negative way. Xbox… we pretty much forget it exists a lot of the time. At this point no one in our group of friends cares enough about it to even consider it a threat and therefore an object of hostility. That is not a good position for a system to be in.

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Dislike at least requires acknowledgement.

Icepick: While I clearly have a bias against Sony, Microsoft is important to their continued development. While the PS2 was king, Sony got complacent and lazy. The one-two punch of the Xbox 360’s head start and the PS3’s underwhelming package managed to sucker punch them into working hard to create a much better follow-up in the PS4.

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If you looked up the definition of the word “hubris” in the dictionary, you’d find a bunch of words. But this works too.

Like it or not, Sony needs direct competition to bring out their A-game. Nintendo’s given up on fighting them directly, trotting out more and more unorthodox experiences for each new console. Sony relies a lot on more conservative experiences and without a Microsoft (or some other rival) propping them up, we could witness a significant brain drain in terms of traditional console experiences.

KI: Well, as ironic as this is, I feel like Sony does at this point have a direct rival besides Microsoft. As you may remember from the last Turn Based, I feel that PC has given up its own identity and has barely any exclusive left, especially among AAA budget games. However, as I also said in that discussion, it has made significant strides in getting the majority of multi-platform console games. Even some that wouldn’t be multi-platform if it weren’t for PC.

So yes, despite how I feel about PC, I think it has become an effective rival for the traditional consoles. I don’t think we need two nearly identical systems to keep things in balance. While Sony would have to go to extreme measures to make me go for Steam over PlayStation, I don’t think the mass market feels quite as strongly about that as I do. If PS4 and PC share 90% of their library, and Nintendo regains some third party support even if it’s unlikely to completely match Sony, I think Sony has enough motivation to try and not cause massive damage to consoles.

Icepick: Maybe PC could act as a proper rival to the PlayStation brand, but I don’t think Sony views them that way. The sheer amount of collaboration Sony has done with PC the past two generations has been absolutely staggering. Even Street Fighter V — a game Sony personally funded — appeared on PC. And with crossplay. Considering the fact that Sony had to blatantly lie about being worried about the welfare of children to avoid crossplay with Microsoft and even Nintendo, it’s clear that Sony isn’t remotely worried about PC, Steam or otherwise.

KI: They don’t view them as a rival right now, but situations can change. They may not ever get as petty as they did with Microsoft, but Sony is very reactive to other game platforms. Remember the Six Axis? The touch pad? Move? I’ve also heard some convincing arguments that some of PS3’s early problems may have been caused by competing with Microsoft. If Microsoft hadn’t released a nearly identical system, it’s possible Sony would have been willing to wait a bit longer and avoid the $599 fiasco.

I’ll concede that Sony doesn’t seem to view PC as a rival, but that raises another question: how much longer will they view Xbox One as a rival? Playstation 4 is pounding Xbox One pretty badly, Switch’s success is the main reason we aren’t seeing a repeat of the sixth generation’s Sony dominance. Even if Sony needs a rival, is there any reason that has to be Xbox, and is Xbox even going to act as a functional rival much longer? Microsoft really doesn’t seem to care much about it, would Xbox 2001 (or whatever confusing name the fourth one gets) get the effort necessary to challenge PlayStation 5? I’d say a functional Steambox or Nintendo system that could run AAA third party games without issue would be more effective rivals going forward.

Icepick: Steam Machines is pretty much a dead end: even Valve seems to have given up on the concept, having recently taken listings for them off the Steam store. Nintendo seems to have doubled-down on their old “lateral thinking with withered technology”, so the idea that they’ll ever be able to run contemporary AAA games at full power feels like a pipe dream.

While Microsoft does come across as a lame rival these days, there’s absolutely no other company that comes to mind that could afford to risk entering the console market in this day and age. We’ve seen the utter failure that was the Ouya and a variety of other attempts at creating new consoles using the Android OS as a base.

Meanwhile, there’s also been rumblings about Microsoft selling off the Xbox brand to another company or spinning it off into its own separate entity. I think that’s a much more viable solution to everyone’s problems: if the Xbox brand were put under the same pressure as Sony (who basically relies on PlayStation for survival), we might see them step up their game.

KI: Well, it’s not like I hate the name Xbox itself with a burning passion. If someone else can do it better, that’s fine, but I’m not sure how much benefit buying the name would have at this point. After losing so much momentum and fan support, I feel like changing companies could just be a nail in the coffin for the Xbox brand. Especially since even if we agreed that the Xbox brand was necessary to keep Sony on guard, that’s going to be a very tough sell from the company perspective. Would you want to release a system that was probably going to lose just to make your rival give their consumers a better experience?

But aside from that, I think our main point of contention is whether Sony needs to have a rival that is nearly identical to them to keep the industry healthy. If we had Nintendo, Sony, and Steam then each platform would offer something unique. As it is now, Xbox really isn’t providing a reason that we need it. If they can’t make good exclusives or compete with Sony as a third party console, what’s the point? If Microsoft really wants to turn this around, and doesn’t do anything that threatens console gaming as a whole like the 2013 incident, then more power to them (Ironically, I think I still have more intention of eventually buying an Xbox One than you do. I want to play Cuphead someday…). However, as it is now, I feel like Microsoft is just going through the motions and they might as well just wrap it up and let me play Cuphead and Killer Instinct on my consoles of choice. I really think the fact that the main argument for keeping it around is “Sony needs a rival, it doesn’t matter who” says it all.

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Someday…

Icepick: I guess part of the reason I’m so protective of Microsoft is that, technically, they are the last remaining vestige of Sega’s console legacy. The Dreamcast ran a modified version of Windows CE and the original Xbox aped a lot of design traits from the last Sega console. Not to mention all of the exclusive Sega games early in the Xbox’s lifespan. As such, from my point of view, Sega’s consoles will die with the Xbox line’s end — even if both companies aren’t on the best of terms these days. It’s not the most logical reason, but that’s just how I feel.

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Can’t you see the family resemblance?

In the end, even if they’re outnumbered by PlayStation fanboys, there are still people out there who remain faithful to Microsoft’s big black box. While the Xbox brand has seen better days, I think there’s still some untapped potential just waiting to be explored. But what about you? Do you think Microsoft should just trash the Xbox or can it be redeemed into a Sony killer? Sound off in the comments below.

Top 10 Games I Want Ported FROM PC III: Beyond Thunderdome

It’s that time of year again. It’s funny: I originally intended these lists as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the recurring PC port lists I did years back, yet they’ve become one of my favorite traditions on this site, right up there with the collaborative wishlists we do here at the end of the year. I think part of what I like about these lists stems from the fact that it’s my way of sharing the wonders of games currently exclusive to PC with SNES Master KI, a man who would sooner gnaw an arm off than consider gaming on PC regularly. I don’t know what’s going on here, but these lists of mine seem to have some kind of mojo – for crying out loud, Double Dragon Neon was announced on Steam literally days before my first list came out – so it feels good to share the love, even a little bit.

Before we get to this year’s list, I might as well go through what’s been announced since December. The PC-to-console front has been pretty quiet as of late. The only major gain that’s been made is Streets of Red: Devil’s Dare Deluxe, which appears to be an expanded port of the rogue-like beat-‘em-up Devil’s Dare. It was released on both PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch just a couple of days ago. There was also the recent announcement that GameMaker Studio 2 was going to be compatible with the Nintendo Switch, which was preceded by the announcement of Undertale on Switch. Granted, Undertale was already released on PS4 and Vita before that, but it’s good to see it reach a wider audience. Since then, Hyper Light Drifter has also been announced for Switch, but again – it was already available on consoles.

The PC ports fared way better these past four months. First, there was the announcement of Devil May Cry HD Collection back in late December – less than a week after my last article went up – though it’s also coming to Xbox One and PS4. Then a few days later, they announced that the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection would be coming to all four major platforms this May. I bring this up simply because it includes Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (with online play!) – thus essentially giving us Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition on PC. Of course, between this and the upcoming MegaMan X re-releases, I think that kills off any chance of those older conversions from my GOG wishlist – particularly Eurocom’s classic release of Super Street Fighter II Turbo and those old MegaMan X PC ports – being re-released, unless Capcom decides it’s worth the effort to try to exploit the few of us willing to double-dip, either out of nostalgia or curiosity.

After that, February brought us Puyo Puyo Tetris on PC. March brought us Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash and the announcement that Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy would be coming to PC (as well as Switch and Xbox One). Speaking of exclusives, Super Bomberman R – arguably the Switch’s break-out third-party launch game – will be coming to Steam (as well as PS4 and Xbox One) this June, with a nifty little P-Body (from Portal 2) Bomber as exclusive content. XSEED also announced that Ys: Memories of Celceta – my #1 most anticipated PC port from last year’s overall list – will be coming to PC (via Steam, GOG and the Humble Store) sometime this summer. In fact, the same day they announced Celceta on PC, DualShockers released an interview with XSEED’s Executive Vice President Ken Berry, focusing on their recent round of PC ports. Berry said that XSEED wanted to bring as many titles as possible to PC due to the ease of releasing a game worldwide and the lifecycle of PC games lasting much longer than consoles. He also hinted that the gap between console releases and PC ports will continue to shrink as time goes on.

Now that I’ve sufficiently patted myself on the back, it’s time to go over the rules I hold myself to when writing these lists. I’ll be sticking to games that were released on PC during the seventh and eighth generations – so pretty much from 2006 onward – that have not appeared on home consoles or portables by the time this article has been released. I’ll also list the platforms I think would be the best fit for each one, in the case that a game becomes exclusive to a single platform.

Spark the Electric Jester

I’ve always been a fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, but for years, Sega has struggled to recreate the magic of the Genesis-era 2D platformers in the modern day. While Sonic Mania – a game that was a collaboration between the creators of some of the most beloved Sonic fan games – managed to finally score Sega some acclaim last year, there have also been some attempts at recreating the style of the 16-bit Sonic games’ magic with various new IPs. Freedom Planet made it to the Wii U and PS4 in recent years, but one game that hasn’t been so lucky is Spark the Electric Jester.

In what I can only summarize as the love child of Sonic the Hedgehog and Kirby raised by MegaMan X, Spark the Electric Jester was developed by Felipe “LakeFeperd” Riberio Daneluz, the man behind such acclaimed Sonic fan games as Sonic Before the Sequel, Sonic After the Sequel and Sonic Chrono Adventure. The game itself skates the line of clearly taking inspiration from Sonic without feeling like a knockoff. Spark came out a few months before Sonic Mania did and felt like a good buffer game while waiting for Freedom Planet 2 – which was pushed back to 2019 at the beginning of the year.

Best Platform: Unfortunately, support for Spark has been discontinued by LakeFeperd, as he’s moved onto new projects, including a 3D sequel Fark the Electric Jester, which is clearly inspired by the Sonic Adventure games. The game was built in Clickteam Fusion 2.5 – the same engine used for the original Freedom Planet. Since it looks like there’s an (admittedly convoluted) way to port games from that engine onto all three modern platforms, it seems possible that it could make it to anything.

My money’s on Switch though, as Freedom Planet’s first console port was on the Wii U. Nintendo seems like the kind of company that would throw money at getting a game like this on consoles.

OmniBus

Weird and wacky games spawn on PC all the time, but it seems like there’s a decent market for them on consoles as well. Goat Simulator, I am Bread and Surgeon Simulator all seemed to do pretty well on PS4 and even the licensed Rick and Morty game Virtual Rick-ality is making its way to PlayStation VR later this month. So why not Omnibus? It’s a game that looks like a PS1 throwback – honestly, some of the models remind me of MegaMan Legends – where players take control of a bus and perform various tasks, mostly involving flipping the bus into the air and crashing through anything in sight. It’s stupid, but it’s fun stupid.

Honestly, I’m kind of surprised this one isn’t already on consoles. The game’s built in Unity; it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux and it was published by Devolver Digital of all companies.

Best Platform: PlayStation 4, hands down. The visuals look distinctly like something out of an early-to-mid PS1 game and Sony’s the main company taking risks with more bizarre PC games. I could see it coming to other platforms later on, but Sony would definitely insist on at least a timed-exclusive.

Super Star Path

For some reason, I’ve always felt like shoot-‘em-ups and puzzle games are a match made in heaven. Ikaruga and Zoop were two games that seemed to blend some elements from one genre into the other, though neither went far enough. Enter Super Star Path: a perfect combination of the two. Players are tasked with blasting through waves of alien enemies and when one enemy is hit, all adjacent enemies of the same color are also destroyed, while enemies of different colors essentially get turned into “garbage blocks” that block the path through the level. Super Star Path is a game that relies on quick thinking and quick reflexes.

Best Platform: Unfortunately, the game’s developer has yet to release any of their games on consoles. The game was built in GameMaker Studio, so it’s easy enough to port to any of the current three consoles. In fact, because of that, I’ll probably go with the Switch, simply because they seem to be making a big deal about how it’s compatible with the GameMaker engine now.

Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection

With a heavy heart, this will probably be the last Falcom game I can actually include on these lists, unless XSEED manages to pull off some kind of miracle and gets their hands on a Falcom game that’s extremely old and PC exclusive. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection – née Zwei II – was the second and final entry in Falcom’s obscure action-RPG series and the last game they developed on the PC, both as an exclusive and overall. The franchise’s primary gimmick involves constantly swapping between two characters: one that focuses on physical attacks, while the other focuses on magic, hence the name (“Zwei” is German for “two”). I’m actually surprised that Zwei II didn’t receive any sort of console ports, especially considering the fact that many of Falcom’s Windows games were ported to the PSP when they pivoted to console development.

You’re probably wondering why I’m only doing the second Zwei game and not the first (subtitled “The Arges Adventure” in the West). For starters, the game was technically ported to consoles in Japan, with Taito handling the 2004 PS2 port and Falcom porting the game to the PSP themselves in 2008. Of course, those were Japan-exclusive releases, but considering the sheer number of hoops XSEED had to go through the get the game working on modern OSes, not to mention several PC-only features that aren’t viable on consoles, it would be easier to base a port of the first game on the existing console versions as opposed to the current Western release.

Best Platform: PlayStation 4 and the Vita are the obvious choices here. Even if you discount the fact that the game likely wouldn’t be ported by Falcom themselves and handed off to a partner, Falcom still tends to primarily focus on the Sony brand, as that’s where they think most of the domestic audience is. Having said that, I wouldn’t count out a Switch port down the line, if Falcom decides to revisit the series on consoles.

Verdict Guilty – 유죄 평결

When Street Fighter II ruled arcades back in the early 90s, it spawned numerous imitators – ranging from great to terrible. In fact, there was practically an entire subgenre of mediocre fighting games available on the Super Famicom, both licensed games and original properties. Verdict Guilty feels like a love letter to these games. In the near future, Neo Seoul has been hit with countless terrorist attacks and a massive crime wave, with few police officers willing to protect the people. Players can choose between 4 cops and 4 criminals in their search to unmask the crime lord responsible for the mayhem.

Verdict Guilty may be based on bad games, but it elevates the wonky mechanics of its inspirations into an artform. The game prides itself on being “easy to pick-up and play” with various interesting mechanics that make for a poorly balanced but still extremely fun game.

Best Platform: This is a difficult one. Verdict Guilty was coded from scratch in C++, the developer hasn’t released anything on consoles before and while the game has a clear SNES aesthetic, I’m not sure who would want exclusivity if any. I guess the Switch wins based on that last point alone.

Rosenkreuzstilette/Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel

Admittedly, I wouldn’t have considered either of these games for console release – just due to the fact that I’d be concerned about whether they would be considered original releases or fan games, given its material – but if the games are allowed for sale on both Playism and Steam, then I think the game’s safe for consoles.

While the rebirth of MegaMan is nigh, the original Rosenkreuzstilette was actually released back in 2007, before the Blue Bomber went into hibernation. Both games are essentially love letters to not only the MegaMan series, but include references to various other Japanese retro games like Castlevania, Bomberman and even Super Mario Bros. Both games are among the best MegaMan tributes of all time and the fact that they both managed to get official English releases last year was amazing.

Best Platform: Playism is the games’ English publisher, so my pick would probably be PlayStation 4. While Playism has also published games on the Xbox One and the Switch, most of their console output has been on the PS4, so that just seems like the most obvious release platform, at least at this point.

Odallus: The Dark Call

Speaking of spiritual successors, Odallus: The Dark Call is a game built from the ground up to pay homage to the Castlevania series, mixing elements from Metroidvania and Classicvania to form an experience that’s both new and familiar. Developed by one of my favorite indie developers, JoyMasher – the same people who brought us Oniken – Odallus has been called “the best Castlevania game in years”, acting almost as a Shovel Knight to the franchise. While I hope Bloodstained doesn’t meet the same fate as Mighty No. 9, Odallus has certainly kept us busy while waiting for a “true” successor.

Best Platform: JoyMasher hasn’t released any of their games on console at this point and the game was made in Clickteam Fusion, so if I had to hazard a guess, my money would have been on the Switch. Danilo Dias seems to take a lot of his inspiration from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming, so I was sure he’d favor Nintendo over Sony or Microsoft.

However, seeing that JoyMasher’s upcoming game, Blazing Chrome – a love letter to the best Contra game, Hard Corps for the Sega Genesis – is being published by DotEmu’s new publishing arm, known as The Arcade Crew, I have to say that PlayStation 4 has become a lot more likely. While no platforms have been confirmed for this new game, DotEmu tends to favor the PlayStation brand when it comes to consoles. If Blazing Chrome does well, I could see them doing something similar with JoyMasher’s previous games.

Them’s Fighting Herds

In most lists, I’d consider this game to be a dark horse, but considering the sheer amount of off-the-wall choices I’ve made so far, I think it’s got a decent shot. Originally conceived as a fighting game starring the mane cast of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Them’s Fighting Herds received a complete overhaul after a cease and desist came from Hasbro. Entirely new designs were conceived by Lauren Faust and Lab Zero licensed them their proprietary “Z-Engine” to improve on the game’s design. The game’s recently entered Steam Early Access – due to issues with implementing the story mode, something Skullgirls fans should remember quite well – but the game should launch in full sometime this year.

Best Platform: Another difficult choice. Humble Bundle is the game’s publisher and as far as I know, they don’t have any preferences regarding platforms. The Z-Engine doesn’t help matters: Indivisible is set to debut on all three modern consoles this year. My gut tells me that Switch would be more likely, simply because of the sheer number of fighting games already available on PS4. TFH’s quadruped gimmick might help it stand out there, but not in a positive way.

River City Ransom: Underground

Developed by Conatus Creative Inc., a Canadian team, River City Ransom: Underground is a game that managed to be released despite having the entire world against it. After managing to receive a license from Million (the successor of RCR originator Technos Japan), all of Technos’ IPs would end up in the hands of Arc System Works. Fortunately, ASW signed off on the game anyway. While other modern River City games have merely felt like extensions of the NES classic, Underground feels like a true sequel. Taking place years after the original game, there’s an entire new generation of fighters waiting for players – each with their own unique fighting style. With four-player co-op, an arena mode for head-to-head fights and a total of 44 fighters to unlock, RCR:U takes the Kunio-kun franchise to new heights.

Best Platform: I’m torn between two extremes here. While the River City games seem to be released more reliably on Nintendo platforms, the PlayStation line is clearly the platform of choice for Arc System Works. What really complicates matters is the fact that the game itself was programmed using Microsoft’s XNA game engine, using the open source FNA for the Mac and Linux ports. Fortunately, all three platforms can use MonoGame, an engine that’s compatible with XNA games, so there are no hardware limitations.

In the end, I’d give the edge to the Switch. The game’s emphasis on co-op and the series’ history with Nintendo makes it seem like the much more logical choice.

Aliens Go Home Run!

I think the best way to describe the game is written on the store page itself: it’s a cross between Breakout, a shoot-‘em-up and baseball. Aliens Go Home Run! is an arcade-style game with less emphasis on branching storylines and more emphasis on clearing stages. It’s a game that’s clearly evocative of a simpler time and looks like a lost NeoGeo game. That’s really all I have to say about it.

Best Platform: This one easily goes to the Switch.  ANIM・ACE hasn’t released any games on console as of now, but considering their mission statement involves releasing games in the style of “Sega, Taito, Namco, Treasure and Nintendo”, it seems like the Big N is the safest bet.

Thus concludes another list of 10 PC games I’d like to see ported to consoles. As with last time, I own every game on this list – which makes sense because I’m recommending that they be made available to a larger audience. Doing lists like this is actually pretty fun: since I’ve already got the games in question, there’s less stress about choosing specific games. Clearly if I own them, I already enjoy them on some level, right? The only real limitations I have are choosing from the increasingly shrinking number of PC exclusives. However, as long as there are hobbyists and small independent developers, with budgets far too small to cough up the licensing fees to work on consoles from the beginning, there will always be games exclusive to PC. Whether they stay that way for good is anyone’s guess.

Turn Based #5: Losing Steam with Console Woes

Professor Icepick: Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. Considering that this is our fifth article in this series, it seems only fitting that we tackle a topic of the utmost importance. For years, a war has been brewing within the medium of video games as a whole. One that goes well above and beyond the petty console wars of our childhood. One which both KI and I actually have personal stakes in. I speak, of course, about the schism between PC and console gaming.

Can one of our classic arguments finally settle which platform is superior once and for all? …I wouldn’t count on it, we’ll probably just end with another stalemate. Regardless, it’s a topic that is still worth exploring. With that being said, KI will start arguing his preference for console gaming.

SNES Master KI: Consoles simply work better for gaming, their dedication to gaming (yes, I know they can do other things now, but those are afterthoughts and things that take less effort than running games) results in many direct and indirect benefits. These range from the simplicity and guaranteed function of standardized hardware to the motivation for companies like Nintendo to make so many great games to support their consoles. The game library and quality of life advantages of consoles are completely overwhelming from my perspective.

Icepick: The problem with that is that the advantages that consoles once held over PCs have begun to fade with time. During the seventh generation of video game consoles — the days of the Wii, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 — consoles have become less and less “plug-and-play” devices, relying on internet connections to patch firmware and software regularly. Unfortunately, the process is hampered by the traditional “walled garden” approach that consoles have adopted since their inception.

With the current generation of consoles doubling-down on constant updates and upgrades that no longer work right out of the box, you’re probably expecting me to argue that the PC is a much more stable platform. You would be wrong. In fact, this has been how the PC gaming landscape has looked for nearly 2 decades now. The major difference lies in the more open source nature of PC gaming. Updates to games that would take weeks or even months for companies like Sony and Nintendo to approve and implement can literally be in gamers’ hands within minutes. Steam upgrades games automatically — both games that are already installed and those that have yet to be downloaded — and most other services (even GOG via their Galaxy client) offer similar user-friendly services. The PlayStation 3 and 4, at least in my experience, relied on gamers to open games before it would even consider updating them.

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Plus we don’t have to pay for cloud saves.

KI: The pick up and play potential may have been diminished, but that doesn’t change that the standardization of consoles means that playing the games once everything is set comes with far fewer issues. It’s also not all bad, although games shipping in a perfect state would be ideal, patches can often be very useful for removing glitches or fixing stupid, simple design issues in otherwise great games. If I start a new console game, there may be a wait for something to download, but once it does I know it will run and my controller will work for it as intended. And for the record, PlayStation 4 and Switch will download patches for games you have installed/in your play history even if you don’t start the game or have the physical disc/cart inserted. Xbox One may do the same, but I can’t confirm that from experience.

Icepick: The point is that consoles have moved onto providing non-gaming experiences as well as traditional gaming, and in that regard, consoles are definitely outgunned, due to their reliance on the walled garden.

Having said that, I guess it’s time to discuss some of the more objective advantages that PC gaming has over home consoles: library size. For the sake of discussion, I’ll stick to “legitimate” games — so no talk of emulators and whatnot — but even in that case, the sheer amount of content available on PC is staggering. Best of all is the sheer amount of old content available. While many consoles have essentially given up on the concept of backwards compatibility, services like Good Old Games and DOSbox allow gamers to play their favorite games of yesteryear with very little hassle. This makes the PC the ideal platform for retro gaming in general.

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Eat your heart out, Virtual Console.

We’ve also seen the rising popularity of indie games on consoles, but PC is where that revolution started and there are still many hidden gems exclusive to the platform. The sheer amount of content available on PC absolutely dwarfs all current consoles (even handhelds) combined. Gamers of all stripes can find something to enjoy on PC, which isn’t always the case on each console.

KI: Well, lots to address. Consoles are certainly outgunned in non-gaming purposes, but that’s completely expected, the non-gaming functions of consoles are a bonus. Although I’ll point out that if I actually did intend to use PC as a gaming platform, that multi-functionality would create complications since I need a PC for work/communication/general internet functions. I can’t just leave it hooked up to a TV in an area where I would want to game.

For backwards compatibility, it comes down to what you prioritize in convenience. Consoles don’t disappear when their generation is over, as my name attests you can keep and continue playing old consoles for decades, and there’s no need to mess with DOSbox to make the game run correctly. Backwards compatibility may also very well be about to make steps forward/recover for consoles, Sony and Microsoft’s more standardized system architecture could make PlayStation 5 and Xbox 2001 or whatever confusing name they give it easily backwards compatible. Nintendo was great with backwards compatibility until Switch’s hardware made it physically impossible (no dual screen set up or disc drive), I think it will come back when Switch gets a successor.

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25+ years and still working.

For sheer amount of games, PC of course wins, but when both sides number in the thousands total quantity isn’t that important, no one could possibly play everything and the vast majority of games on both sides aren’t worth playing. Consoles have made great strides in picking up the prominent indie games that were once PC’s exclusive domain, and while PC has certainly made a lot of progress in getting the big budget third-party games that used to stick to consoles, it seems to have come at the expense of PC exclusive big budget releases. And of course, there’s the old quantity versus quality argument. I think Nintendo alone more than makes up for the quality indie games that fall through the cracks and don’t make it to consoles.

Icepick: Fair point. Nintendo consoles are worth buying for their first-party games alone.

Another advantage I’d claim that PC has is a much more balanced relationship between consumers and content providers. On consoles, players have to essentially accept whatever terms first-party publishers set without question. On PC, everything’s a lot more open to discussion. While Steam controls a majority of the modern PC market, there are alternatives that offer exclusive titles (Origin, Windows Store) or other features (GOG, Humble).

This also applies to online gaming. While even Nintendo is preparing to succumb to charging for online play this year, the entire prospect of charging PC gamers for online play is genuinely considered a fool’s errand. When Microsoft launched Games for Windows Live — a sister service to Xbox Live — they intended to charge players the same price for online play. PC gamers protested that and Microsoft dropped the paid component, while keeping every other feature, including crossplay with Xbox 360.

Then you’ve got the modding community. While many of them are associated with various cosmetic mods, they also have a tendency of fixing games that are either broken at launch or incompatible with newer systems. It’s gotten to the point where fan-programmed patches have even been implemented into official releases of games. Content is much more community driven on PC and that works to the advantage of everyone. While Xbox One and PS4 has begun to experiment with the ability to download mods, it just pales in comparison: they’re strictly limited to cosmetic stuff, meaning that console gamers are generally reliant on official patches, which as I said earlier, tend to be released slower than molasses in January.

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One of my favorite mods of all time.

KI: I interpret the relationship between the platform and gamers differently. You can view consoles manufacturers as having more control over gamers, but they also have more obligation to us. One of the core reasons I don’t game on PC is because I can’t stand paying for something and then basically being told I’m on my own to make it work. If I buy a console game and it for some reason doesn’t work, that’s on the company and they have to fix it, and it very rarely comes to that. Aside from making sure I’m not putting an Xbox One disc into my PS4, I don’t have to think about whether I will be able to play the game that I buy, there’s no fear that I’ll come up short in a spec related area and not be able to play the game with no solution besides spending more money and putting in the effort to upgrade my computer. I view the “control” console manufactuers have over me as more of a contract, and it’s one I’d much rather sign than be on my own and have more control.

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The most complicated system requirements I have to deal with.

As for paying for online, I acknowledge that probably isn’t necessary and it would be better if it wasn’t required, but I will say that the perks that come with PSN+ do a good job of mitigating it for me. The amount of (conditionally) free games I get for $60 a year usually satisfies me, and with Nintendo’s much cheaper price I don’t think they’ll have any issues making me feel okay paying $20 a year.

Icepick: Yeah, but the PS+ games on offer generally lean more on the lame side most of the time. This month had some good stuff, but I think they only did that to cushion the blow of retiring PS3 and Vita games next year.

KI: Well, if they were all great, it would be way too fantastic a value for any company to agree to, I’d be saving around $1,000 a year if I actually intended to buy every game they offered. But I think it’s time for me to go on the offensive. One of my first points was that consoles cultivated an ecosystem where exclusives from the first parties are highly valued. For some reason, PC did the exact opposite. When Valve rose to become basically the first party leader of PC gaming, they all but gave up on making their own games. Jokes about Gabe being afraid of the number 3 aside, it’s more that they just make barely any new games. Steam seems to have drained Valve as a developer, while companies like Nintendo and formerly Sega put way more effort into making games when they have their own console, and Sony and Microsoft at least fund a large amount of games (well, you can argue about Microsoft, but that’s literally a topic for another time).

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Even the less supported ones made it to three games.

So my main point in this is that the state of PC exclusives is not good. In the fourth and fifth generations, PCs weren’t making the types of games I personally wanted, but there were genres PC dominated and PC exclusives that were beloved classics. This seems to have all but died off, the best PC exclusive games seem almost accidental at this point, an indie developer makes a hidden gem that never quite gets the attention and funding needed to bring it to console. In the 90s Doom 1 and 2 were out on PC first and the console versions were vastly inferior, while Doom 2016 came out on consoles the same day as PC. For all the strides PC has made in getting console games, I feel like it traded its exclusives to do so, and ultimately it’s all about the games.

Icepick: I’ll admit, Valve has definitely fallen down as an actual game developer. While they’ve recently claimed that they’re still making new games, no one believes them. At this point, they’ve transitioned into more of a PC gaming advocate, cultivating an environment that will allow for more games to reach the platform. While there are still those clamoring for new Valve games — I personally want a third Left 4 Dead or Portal much more than Half-Life 3 — most PC gamers have accepted that Valve’s days as a developer are… numbered?

I understand your concern about PC exclusives and while content in that field is clearly limited compared to the 90s and even the early 2000s, there are still PC exclusive games in the pipeline. For example, I remember you being quite distraught that Quake Champions, a class-based FPS, was going to be a PC exclusive. The Total War series offers solid real-time strategy combat. Divinity: Original Sin II is a turn-based RPG that is both critically acclaimed and massively popular, which is currently only available on PC.

Original Sin II relied on crowdfunding, which is a pretty big source of modern PC games, both exclusive and otherwise. I remember your general apprehension towards the concept, but many crowdfunded games list PC as their sole initial platform and many more list it among multiple launch platforms. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the platform still holds weight with developers of all sizes. A Hat in Time was originally intended to be a PC-exclusive — launching on the platform first — before PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were added due to the game’s popularity. It wasn’t the first crowdfunder that got released on other platforms after being pitched as a PC exclusive and it certainly won’t be the last. You’ve made the claim that PC relies on consoles for new games, but I’d argue that it goes both ways.

KI: For Quake Champions, I was mainly upset by their hypocritical reasoning for it not being on consoles (claiming it needed to be 120 FPS to be playable, but then assuring PC gamers with less powerful rigs that it would play fine on their systems). Honestly, id making a multiplayer focused game after Doom 2016 made such strides for single-player focused FPSes probably would have annoyed me even if it was on consoles. I know there are still some quality PC exclusives (although still in genres I don’t personally play), but I think consoles are still demonstrating a pretty massive advantage in that area.

 

As for which system relies on which for games, I don’t really care that much. Indie games need PC’s lower entry fee, big budget games need sales from console gamers to survive, what ultimately matters is what games your platform of choice gets. The issue is that consoles have games made specifically to be exclusives, and I think those give it a very clear edge in library.

Icepick: I guess that’s all there is to it. We’ve got different priorities. You tend to prefer the simplicity of a console — an advantage which I’d argue is slowly but surely eroding with each generation — while I prefer the freedom offered by PC. Still, with many more companies beginning to embrace PC, the future seems bright.

KI: Well, I’d generally say that my arguments for consoles have two main points, the functionality guarantee and the much larger number of exclusive games on them that appeal to me. After several years of pessimism applied to console gaming, I think Nintendo’s resurgence, the other consoles exiting the growing pains of the early eighth generation, and the ever-growing indie presence on consoles (“Perfect for Switch” may be a meme, but indie games really do sell amazingly on it) that the sun has risen for console gaming.

And as expected, the discussion has once again ended in a stalemate. But the arguments were elaborated on, and no one was called an elitist, peasant, Nazi, or iOS supporter. What about you, are you changing chairs to play something after this, or just switching windows? Tell us in the comments, and remember that no matter how much you disagree on a topic, you can always fake civility in text form.

The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting to do this article for a long time. Over a year and a half ago, I made a ranked list of what I consider the ten most overrated video games of all time. Due to having limited freedom in what my articles could be about at the time and then constantly feeling like I was doing too many lists after returning to Retronaissance, it has taken until now to finally give this list the articles I always wanted to. But the waiting hasn’t been for nothing, I recently (well, it was recently when I started this article, then I got sidetracked yet again) came up with a gimmick for this list: in addition to listing overrated games, I will also be including an antidote, a game that is similar to the game on the list but fixes my issues with it. So, with 20 games to cover, let’s get right to it!

Number 10: Super Mario 64

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As controversial as this choice is, I can’t help but feel that it also acts as a personal safeguard. Starting with an entry from my favorite publisher in my favorite series (on my least favorite console they made, but let’s save that for another time) seems like a pretty good shield against accusations of bias when we get to non-Nintendo choices on my list (although I promise this isn’t a token Nintendo entry, more are coming…). But while this is easily my favorite game on the list, hence it being number 10, it’s still a genuine pick. Super Mario 64 may have been a gigantic leap forward for 3D games, but damn it, it is not retroactively the sole arbiter of a “true” Mario game. It does not get to make linear Mario games a bad thing or deviation. It also isn’t an avant-garde work of horror that later Mario games ruined with their “kiddiness.” The eel isn’t trying to scare you, it just doesn’t have a lot of polygons to work with. And this isn’t even getting into the control and camera improvements that later 3D Marios made. It may sound like I hate this game, but I really don’t, it has just been given a sacred status that went way too far, even if a lot of it is earned. It’s overrated mainly in comparison to other Mario games, which is why it’s only number 10.

Instead You Should Play: Super Mario Odyssey

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While I may prefer linear style Mario games, I’m not going to use this category as a bludgeon against non-linear ones. After a decade of complaining, Nintendo made another sandbox style Mario game (sandbox Mario games coming from the timeline initiated in the Autumn World ending from Super Mario World, while the linear ones came from its normal overworld palette) and while it wasn’t my first choice, they did such a good job with Super Mario Odyssey that it was the first game I felt my old level of hype and excitement for in years. Super Mario Odyssey improves on Super Mario 64 in every conceivable way, with more jumping tricks to exploit, more actual platforming, and way, way more to do and find in its levels. 120 stars? Odyssey has 880 moons. No, not every moon matches the main stars, but SMO is still going to take much, much longer to fully complete. Super Mario Odyssey also makes exploring more pleasant by not forcing you back to the start of the level after almost every star/moon, and it is filled with the brilliant platforming that Super Mario 64 often came up short in. Odyssey may not quite be my favorite Mario, but it gives me hope that an even better direct sequel could make a style of Mario game that fully satisfies fans of both linear and sandbox style, which is not a hope that Super Mario 64 ever gave me.

Number 9: Final Fight

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I don’t really have as much to say about this as the previous entry, although I’m just now realizing it could be considered something of an inverse. While Super Mario 64’s status as the supposed unquestioned best 3D platformer of all time leads to an absurd level of worship for it, Final Fight’s status as the most iconic beat-‘em-up of all time leads to the genre as a whole being thrown under the bus. Brave journalists who want a controversial opinion that no one will get mad at them for often announce that they consider the entire beat-‘em-up genre an outdated relic that was never that good in the first place. The claims that go with this, that they are repetitive button mashers, do apply fairly well to Final Fight in my opinion. Overly large, not very mobile characters fighting a few main enemy types over and over again in levels that are mostly window dressing without much technique in combat. Final Fight isn’t a terrible game, but it just doesn’t hold my interest very well and doesn’t deserve to be considered the main representative of its genre. Sure, some people would say the Genesis’s Streets of Rage series deserves that title, but I have a different choice for the SNES’s champion in that contest…

Instead You Should Play: TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

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Now take every complaint I had about Final Fight and reverse it. Reasonably sized, fast characters with jumps that could handle most Mario levels and lots of moves which almost all have their own purpose. Tons of enemy types and level obstacles. And instead of having a watered down SNES version, the home version obliterates the arcade game with more levels, bosses, and greatly improved controls. Turtles in Time is what a classic style beat-‘em-up has the potential to be, and the greatest argument for their value. I’ve loved this game for almost all of my life, but it was relatively recently that I realized just how much it excelled compared to other beat-‘em-ups even if you completely ignore TMNT nostalgia. Turtles in Time will be just as fun as it ever was in 2020: Neon Night-Riders and beyond.

Number 8: Bioshock

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This is the game on the list that I made the least progress in. While I beat most of the overrated category games on this list and made a lot of progress in the couple others I didn’t, I just couldn’t make myself keep playing Bioshock. Yes, the story and atmosphere are good, but it had been generations since I played an FPS with such clunky control and poor hit detection. I felt like I was playing one of those action-RPGs I can’t stand where you essentially have to trade hits (yeah, stay tuned, we’ll get to one of those later). Regardless, I’m sure I could have beaten it if I really wanted to, thanks to its checkpoint system. Really, if it wasn’t for that checkpoint system, I’d almost file this game under “just not my thing” and leave it off the list. But that checkpoint system, not only do I hate it with a burning passion, it spread into and poisoned other FPSes. In its default mode (turning off this feature will result in unfairly huge gaps between checkpoints) dying in Bioshock will make you spawn at a checkpoint equivalent. However, everything except your health meter will be exactly as it was when you died. Enemies stay dead/injured, ammo and consumables you used are still gone, you just have to walk back to where you were. So, the penalty for dying is now tedium, solely tedium. Sorry, no amount of men, oceans, and lighthouses can make up for that.

Instead You Should Play: Metroid Prime

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This is probably the antidote game that’s the most different from its counterpart, but I think there are still enough similarities to justify my choice. Metroid Prime is an atmospheric, lore heavy, varied mix of weapons and abilities sort of-FPS, like Bioshock. While it trades an emphasis on direct story for puzzles and platforming, Metroid Prime shows that gameplay doesn’t have to be sacrificed for atmosphere, and that’s why I picked it as the antidote. Metroid Prime is a faithful recreation of Super Metroid’s formula in 3D, and it pulls off everything it tries expertly. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it since, again, this is more different than its counterpart than would be ideal, but if I get an itch for the type of experience everyone describes Bioshock as, Metroid Prime is my first choice for scratching it.

Number 7: Strider

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Now what could I dislike about this legendary action game with great, buttery smooth control and a high but always fair difficulty level? I guess the biggest issue would be the fact that I have no idea what game everyone praising it is playing. I’ve played both the arcade and very faithful Genesis versions of Strider, and neither one matches the game everyone else apparently played. Strider’s controls are as stiff as the original Castlevania, and the level design is definitely not built around them to the extent that it is in that game. Strider is also among the most prominent examples of one of my biggest gaming pet peeves, your character is way too big and it makes dodging even more difficult. I can’t make any progress in the game without tedious memorization to compensate for how big, slow, and clunky the title character is. That is not my idea of a well-designed action platformer, and unlike with Bioshock, this is a genre I definitely have enough familiarity with to judge. I genuinely don’t understand the disconnect I have with everyone else when it comes to this game, but it’s huge and I have to put Strider on this list.

Instead You Should Play: Hagane: The Final Conflict

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This is the most obscure antidote game on the list, but it’s also one of the most perfectly fitting. Hagane was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, and sadly it is currently only available in that form and at an absurdly high price. Regardless, it is the game everyone seems to be describing when they talk about Strider. A very hard but always fair melee-focused action platformer, Hagane is everything you could want from this type of game. I feel like the agile ninja that everyone says Strider is when I’m slashing through enemies and dodging projectiles in Hagane. This is one of the best hidden gems of the 4th generation, and it deserves the praise and great 2014 revival game that Strider got.

Number 6: Sonic Adventure 2

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There’s a third of a good game in here. The Sonic and Shadow levels are some of the best examples of 3D Sonic platforming even to this day, but they are only a third of the game. For the other two-thirds, you get two play styles from the original Sonic Adventure, but for some mind-baffling reason they’ve been made worse. The shooter levels have become mindless and tedious thanks to your reasonably agile robot from Sonic Adventure being replaced by clunky, slow walkers. And the treasure hunting levels… someday I’m going to play Sonic 2006 just so I can justify saying they are the worst thing ever in a 3D Sonic game. Wandering around levels with a horrific camera that was not designed for any kind of backtracking, possibly walking right by a buried master emerald shard because the radar will only track one shard at a time for absolutely no reason. I don’t care how much you love the music or how you think this is the only game ever made where Shadow is cool instead of an edgelord, two-thirds of this game ranging from boring to atrocious means it doesn’t deserve to have praise heaped on it. Also, I hate the Chao Garden with a burning passion.

Instead You Should Play: Sonic Adventure

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As I mentioned, the worst crime Sonic Adventure 2 committed was making two of the gameplay styles from the original Sonic Adventure worse in every way. So it’s pretty easy to see why I’d recommend just playing the original. Sonic Adventure has the same amount of Sonic style levels, much more enjoyable versions of the other level types from Sonic Adventure 2, two other styles that are pretty fun, and one level type that is poorly executed but represents a much smaller portion of the game and can be breezed through instead of the drawn-out torture of the SA2 hunting levels. The open adventure fields aren’t great, but they’re mostly simple and painless, much better than what Sonic Adventure 2 makes you go through for the majority of its duration. The music is at least as good as SA2 and the story is similar in quality, just make sure to pick up the DX version so that you don’t have to deal with unskippable cinemas showing the same scenes in different characters’ stories. I still hate the Chao Garden, however.

Well, I finally did it, halfway there and ready to post the first part of this article. Writing about games higher up on my lists is usually easier for me, so hopefully it won’t be that long until we get to Part 2, stay tuned!

Of Axioms and Idioms: Best but Not Least

Well, it certainly has been awhile since I’ve written in this series. The funny thing about this article is that the concept behind it was originally completely different from what I’ll be writing about today: in fact, the original concept was going to be the third article in this series, but eventually, I just ended up discussing the bulk of the content in other articles. There was still some facet of the earlier iteration that I hadn’t explored, so I decided to change my approach to this whole concept and workshopped it into an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, my brain waits for no idea – I was originally going to write this up back in November but came up with an entirely new topic instead – so it just ended up sitting in my drafts folder, as I was working on other projects up until now. I just hope it was worth the wait.

It’s still difficult to articulate my thought process here, but I’ll try to summarize.  Put simply, this article’s topic is about how my favorite games in a particular series generally aren’t the ones I would consider the best. I think the most prominent example I have of this is the comparison between the second and third MegaMan games. For years, I’ve had difficulty explaining my exact feelings on the subject: the most accurate take I’d been able to articulate is that “while MM2 was a better NES game, MM3 was a better ‘MegaMan’ game”. A bold, ham-fisted statement, yes, but still the best I could do until recently. These days, I’ve got a much better handle on my thought process – my favorite game in a series and the “best” game are two distinct concepts that have been intertwined for far too long, so it’s just better to handle both of these indicators separately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always held preferences that aren’t particularly mainstream. When asked if I wanted Coke or Pepsi, I asked for Sprite – or more accurately, Lemon-Lime Slice. When it came to pizza toppings, I generally shied away from the standards of cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I’m not sure if it stemmed from a need to be different, rebel against the status quo or what have you, but I’d always pick things I enjoyed – even if it wasn’t on the menu. The thing is, this wasn’t just limited to food choices: I felt the same way about media. If there was ever anything resembling a consensus about the best entry in any fictional series I enjoy, chances are I’ll end up disagreeing. I never liked the seventh Friday the 13th film; my take on The Simpsons’ “dark age” is totally out-of-whack with the general consensus and I think Sonic Lost World may have been the best 3D Sonic since the first Sonic Adventure. At the same time, I’ve always acknowledged any widespread agreement on any such topic, albeit with varying levels of contempt. If I’m going to be honest, agreeing with it has always been something of an uncomfortable realization – even when default opinions shift with time – to this day, I feel strange whenever my personal favorite ends up being “the best”.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this distinction is by defining both terms I’ve been using so far. Let’s start with the simpler of the two: “favorite”. It’s the pinnacle of subjectivity: my personal choice for what I like the most. Given the fact that what I personally consider best can vary based on anything from my mood to seemingly random criteria at any moment – if you could see how many drafts any top ten list I’ve written has gone through, your head would spin – in my case, the concept’s far more nebulous than subjective most of the time. As such, “favorite” lives and dies by personal preference. It’s strictly a personal opinion, one that varies from person to person, one that shouldn’t need to be defended or even explained (but this world is far from perfect). In the end, it’s useless with regards to objectivity – but that’s not the point.

Conversely, the concept of being the “best game” is much harder to define. It’s safe to say that it’s a much more objective concept than being a mere favorite, but that’s a gross oversimplification. In my eyes, the title of best game doesn’t depend on things like personal preference or any sort of quality that can be concretely proven. Instead, it relies on a general consensus – and one that is outright agreed upon by those familiar with the series at large. Going beyond that, this opinion must be stated out loud, repeatedly to the extent that it essentially becomes a “meme” – of course, I’m referring to the original definition (a cultural item transmitted repeated, similar to the biological transmission of one’s genetic code) as opposed to the more commonly-known one (running jokes on the internet). For all I know, there could be a widespread silent minority that considered the second Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy VIII or even (God forbid) MegaMan X6 to be the most beloved games in their respective series, but the deafening silence surrounding such opinions disqualifies them from being considered the “best game” of their franchises.

Of course, I personally disagree with this concept, but this is my gut reaction when describing a “best game”. However, this isn’t the only way to characterize this idea. In fact, there is a much more simplistic way to look at things that doesn’t revolve around the mob mentality of my original definition, but in most cases would lead to the same results, if not choices that are much more representative of each intellectual property in question. At this point in time, the most accurate definition I have for describing the “best game” in a series would the one that you would recommend to a complete newcomer that would give them the best representation of the series as a whole. But more specifically, they serve as the best example of what you – or I or anyone, for that matter – like about the games in question regarding their core concepts. Once again, this isn’t a perfect answer to the question at hand, but it’s the best that I’ve been able to come up with when properly defining the concept at large. At this point, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, the best way to define this entire concept is by, as usual, going through various examples from my own questions. When it comes to the Ys series, the fanbase generally recognizes three distinct “flavors” – Classic (the games that use the bump mechanic, along with black sheep Wanderers from Ys); the “3D” games (utilizing the hack-and-slash Napishtim engine with pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds) and “modern” (which utilize a party system – switching between up to 3 characters on the fly – and incorporate 3D models into the game’s themselves). While there’s a recurring joke about “every Ys game being the best game of the series”, the most vocal segments of the fanbase swear by those Napishtim engine games, specifically the second game: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third game. Personally? I prefer Ys Origin, a far-flung prequel to the first two games and the last game to make use of the engine. That being said, due to the sheer amount of references to the first two games in Origin, I’d generally recommend Felghana to people interested in finding out about the series. There are other cases that just boil down to preference. For example, while it’s safe to argue that both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are among the best representations for 2D Mario games as a whole, I always find myself gravitating more towards SMB2 (or Super Mario USA, as the Japanese know it). The unique game mechanics just make it that much more enjoyable for me, but it’s probably the worst representation of the Mario series as a whole. This also manages to skew my views on even the most niche titles. Of the Darkstalkers games, I will always prefer playing Night Warriors over its more-lauded sequel, Vampire Savior – even while acknowledging that the latter has some much more interesting game mechanics.

The weird thing about this entire concept is just how much it ends up helping me understand some of my own opinions and biases. Separating my personal favorites from a much more objective ranking of things has been pretty helpful in the long run, keeping me from twisting myself into intellectual knots in order to just why I’d acknowledge other things as being better than my personal favorites. Having struggled with articulating the concept for well over a decade, it’s honestly relaxing to be done with the mental gymnastics I’d often associated with trying to justify why I liked certain games more than ones that were often considered “the best”, but the added benefits of being able to apply this to other opinions I’ve had that are out of the ordinary is a significant bonus. Thanks to this new perspective – that personal preference and widespread consensus can exist separately and simultaneously – I’ve honestly become a bit less defensive about my own opinions. Who knows, maybe the same could be true of anyone who shares this perspective. If this article causes anyone to reconsider these two concepts as being separate rather than identical, then I think it was worth the wait.

Bad Portsmanship?

Recently there has been quite a bit of derision directed towards the practice of “portbegging.” The idea that people asking for a game to be made available on their system of choice are at best pathetic and at worst a species of parasite that video game websites must actively suppress has become a strongly-held belief by some influential members of the gaming community, and as you can probably guess from my word choice thus far, I disagree. There’s a fair amount of nuance involved in this issue, but as a whole I think the title of this article more often applies to those against so-called “portbegging”.

Portbegging can be simply defined as asking for or demanding that a game which is coming to at least one other platform be released on your system or one of your systems of choice. Now that right there sums up the crux of why I think many condemnations of portbegging are unfair: they lump together asking for a game and demanding a game. There are very few circumstances where I would consider asking for a game to come to your system worthy of derision, as long as you are willing to take no for an answer given a reasonable explanation. Someone genuinely doesn’t know Nintendo owns Mario? Then I’m not going to throw a tantrum if they ask for Super Mario Odyssey on PS4, as long as they accept it not happening upon having the situation explained to them.

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No, this isn’t precedent.

This segues nicely into something I want to discuss. As you may be aware, Bayonetta 2 and 3 being Nintendo exclusive is the greatest injustice of the modern era, and Nintendo funding (or very likely funding in Bayonetta 3’s case) them is no excuse for the games not being released on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Vita, and 3DO. This is a rallying point for people who take the acceptance of portbegging to its illogical extreme, and needs to be addressed so that my argument does not appear contradictory. It really isn’t that complicated: there’s a difference between wanting a completely third-party game (especially if it’s already on systems from multiple companies) to be released on your platform of choice, and demanding a game owned or funded by a first-party publisher be released on competing systems.

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Coming to PS4 any day now for the last five years.

This is so obvious that I’m skeptical that many people truly don’t understand it, I think this false equivalency is more likely to be a bad faith argument used by people who are bitter that a game isn’t coming to a system they own. The idea that Nintendo is holding a game that only exists because of them “hostage” by making it exclusive to their systems, or that Nintendo fans have no right to complain if a third-party game is on every platform except Nintendo’s because they won’t “share” Bayonetta, is blatantly ridiculous. For the record, I completely understand that games like Cuphead will not come to Switch or PS4 unless Microsoft decides to allow it, and am not angry at Microsoft or those games for the situation. And again, if someone doesn’t understand the Bayonetta situation and asks for it on their system of choice, they’ve done nothing wrong as long as they accept the explanation for why that won’t happen.

So, moving on from the clear-cut exception of games that are made or owned by first-party publishers, what else determines when it becomes reasonable to be upset at an answer of no when you ask for a game on your system? One thing I consider a major factor is exclusive versus excluded. Of the four major gaming platform brands (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Steam), I find it much harder to justify a game being on only three of those than just one of them. If a company can only afford (at least for now) to release a game on one of those, or even if one of the companies made a deal for exclusivity, I think that is often understandable. Now there are exceptions to that, mainly when it comes to sequels. If an indie game was successful on consoles but only the PC version gets a sequel, I’m much less likely to accept “well we could only afford to make a PC version” as a justification. (I’m still furious at ScrewAttack for what happened with the AVGN Adventures sequel) Likewise, paying to make a sequel to a multi-platform game exclusive to your system (not funding that game existing in the first place like Bayonetta 2) is a dick move. But for the most part, if a game is only available on one platform (or two in the case of Microsoft’s decision to release all of their Xbox One games on PC as well, which I think is a strategically bad move but one they have every ethical right to make) I consider demanding that it come to other systems to be bad portsmanship.

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I’m not angrily demanding this on Switch or PS4. That means I’m better than PC gamers and they should put it on my systems, right?

With all those exceptions, when do I actually think portbegging is unfairly maligned? When the game isn’t exclusive, but excluded. If a company refuses to release games on PC for no apparent reason or excludes Switch from a collection of classic games that it could unquestionably run perfectly (Capcom was guilty of this, but got better), while the other three platforms get it, I think asking for the game to come to the one platform that is missing out is a completely reasonable request. Does seeing “Can we have this game on Switch?” or “Is there any reason you can’t put this on Steam?” on a forum really ruin a game for you? Why is wanting your system to get every multi-platform game a sign of greed, isn’t that the entire point of games being multi-platform? The fact that at least one major message board would ban people on sight for asking for a game on a system it wasn’t announced for shows just how bad this anti-portbegging hysteria has gotten. It seems like it’s just a repackaged version of spending recess bragging that your system got a game and that loser’s system didn’t, only even more obnoxious since you’re acting like you’re the victim of having to see… *clutches pearls* portbegging!

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Never forget. Never.

So not too much more to say about this topic. There are times when demanding a game on your system is clearly unreasonable, but this does not apply to simply asking and, in some circumstances, even demanding it isn’t that unreasonable. If seeing someone ask for a game that isn’t even exclusive to your favorite system get one more version is really that upsetting to you, maybe you’re the one with the problem.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 3]

Mega_man_logo

Welcome back once again to my retrospective look back at the Classic MegaMan franchise. The first two articles looked back at MegaMan’s glory days during the 8-bit era. While the Blue Bomber began to lose his luster during the second half of his appearances on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all of the games are generally recognized as memorable. However, MegaMan had yet to face his greatest challenge: staying relevant for two more generations. The 16-bit era saw consoles that made huge technical leaps from the previous generation. By extension, video games themselves becoming more complex than when NES reigned supreme. Yet this was child’s play compared to the horrors that awaited the Blue Bomber in the 32-bit era: 3D games were considered the wave of the future and anything 2D was deemed passé, especially in the West. To make matters worse, the Blue Bomber had to contend with two completely different successors, each falling more in line with the evolving tastes of the marketplace. I also discussed various spin-offs and licensed games in previous articles and I’m happy to say I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve got a few more left to discuss, including MegaMan’s two major arcade outings, the most baffling sequel ever devised and what may very well be the worst game in the franchise’s history.

MegaMan 7

MegaMan 7 is generally considered one of the worst mainline games in the MegaMan franchise. It was also a game that had a lot going against it. For starters, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System had already seen the release of both MegaMan X – a modernized take on the franchise – by the time MegaMan 7 had entered development. Worse yet, its release was literally sandwiched between X2 and X3, further games in the X series that used the special CX4 chip, allowing the SNES to display rudimentary wireframe effects, generally considered a technical marvel when both games were released. MegaMan 7, therefore, had two options upon its release: be an outdated retread of the NES games or completely ape its successors, diluting any chance of a unique standalone identity from the X series. MM7 chose a third option, though how well it worked is still up for debate.

I remember my two main introductions to MM7, and neither of them came in the form of actually playing the game. The first was a comprehensive guide for how to play through the game, including various hidden secrets and how the weapons functioned, in a magazine I owned during childhood – the only other things I recall about it was that the issue in question was an “end of the year” special, and I’m almost certain that the publication was Tips & Tricks magazine. The other came from my introduction to the MegaMan online community, when I first started browsing the internet itself. Back then, a lot of people were using MegaMan 7’s sprite work for a lot of their iconography and as a child, I fell in love with those character designs. Despite the valid criticism levelled against MM7,  it was the newest game available in the Classic series around the time I was exposed to the series again and for that reason, I’ve got an irrational love for the game.

MM7-03

More than two decades later, I think this game looks gorgeous.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about MegaMan 7’s development cycle was its length: the game spent a mere three months in development, due to what Keiji Inafune only referred to as “bad timing”. Regardless, the team said that morale remained high while working on the game. Designer Yoshihisa Tsuda compared the game to a “sports team camp” and said that his only regret was that they didn’t have at least one more month to work on it. Personally, I found the game’s quality impressive considering how little time was spent on its creation: I’ve played worse MegaMan games with longer development cycles and some of them even came from Capcom themselves. Inafune designed one of the game’s new characters, Auto, having based him on stereotypical toy robots he remembered from his childhood. He also came up with the original concepts for Bass and Treble – then referred to as “Baroque” and “Crush” respectively – before handing the designs off to Hayato Kaji, who refined them into their final designs. The game’s infamously difficult final boss fight was also a conscious decision from the development staff: they wanted something “insanely hard” and “something that cannot be defeated without the use of an Energy Tank”. For this game, Capcom received roughly 220,000 boss character submissions – impressive considered they’d scaled back to Japanese entries only. One last interesting bit of trivia: Capcom originally completed the game in Summer of 1994, but decided not to release it. The resulting fan backlash forced their hand, with the game eventually seeing release on March 24, 1995 in Japan. It seems odd that they’d just leave the game hanging around for that amount of time without trying to improve it.

After his past six attempts at taking over the world, Dr. Wily has finally been brought to justice. At the end of the Robot Master Tournament, MegaMan finally apprehended the mad scientist and he stood trial, where he was sentenced to a long stint in jail. However, the not-so-good doctor lives up to his name: he built four Robot Masters and put them in storage as a failsafe in case he was ever incarcerated. After six months with no word from their creator, these new robots awoke from stasis and attacked the city, leaving it in ruins. This ended up being a distraction, allowing them to attack the prison holding Dr. Wily, freeing him and allowing him to return to his megalomaniacal schemes. While MegaMan was unable to stop Wily from escaping, he does manage to meet two new robots, Bass and his robotic wolf partner, Treble. They inform him that they were also assigned to battle Wily before leaving to chase after him. MegaMan is confused, but also optimistic that with the help of his mysterious new allies Wily will be back behind bars in no time.

MM7-01

Meet the new guys.

One odd criticism I’ve heard about MegaMan 7 is that it takes pretty much absolutely nothing from the first 2 X games, which came out before this game. Instead, this game was built from scratch to best try to emulate the original games on the NES in terms of base game mechanics. I feel like this was a conscious choice on the development team’s part, in order to get differentiate this new entry in the Classic series from the aforementioned X series, which enjoyed significant popularity due to bringing the franchise to the 16-bit generation. I think the game was essentially built from scratch rather than building on the existing MMX engine in order to make the game as different from the new series as possible, therefore justifying the continued existence of the Classic series in light of the new spinoff. MegaMan’s slide and chargeable Mega Buster both return from MM6. However, more than anything, MegaMan 7 actually feels more like a “MegaMan VI” – that is, it feels like it takes far more of its elements from the later Game Boy games than it does from the NES games. There are various story cutscenes in gameplay, far more than any of the Game Boy games had. It gets to the point where there are even cutscenes after defeating each Robot Master where MegaMan and Dr. Light discuss the possible applications of the Blue Bomber’s new weapon. The shop system returns from MMIV and MMV, replacing the “P Chip” currency with “bolts”, allowing MegaMan to buy various power-ups and enhancements – most importantly, E-Tanks, Weapon Tanks and the ever-useful Super Tank. The inclusion in MM7 would make the shop mechanic an integral part of the Classic series’ identity, appearing in every mainline game (and even a few spinoffs) from that point on. Of course, most of the power-ups are actually hidden in stages themselves, much like the various items in the last two Game Boy games. They can also be purchased for a substantial number of bolts, encouraging players to search levels thoroughly to save bolts for much-needed Energy Tanks. Finally, the Robot Masters are separated into two sets of four, much like the Game Boy games, though all eight can be accessed from the beginning when using a special password. Interestingly, despite all this, MM7’s Robot Masters do have a full weakness cycle, due in no small part to the fact that two of the Robot Masters – Burstman and Slashman, from the first and second set respectively – both have two weaknesses, which they share.

MM7-02

I’ll never stop loving the animations associated with boss weaknesses.

MegaMan 7 does incorporate a few elements from the X series. For example, MegaMan does gain the ability to exit stages that have already been completed, though much like the Energy Balancer, it’s only available through a power-up that can either be found in a stage or purchased from the shop. Some have criticized this addition due to being locked behind a power-up, but it does seem to follow the Classic series’ conventions. MM7 also adds the ability to switch weapons in-game with the L and R buttons, much like the X series. Unfortunately, these are limited to the Special Weapons themselves – equipping support items still requires the pause menu. Likewise, MM7 incorporates a short introduction stage, much like the X games, as well as bringing back the “intermission” stage from some of the Game Boy games, taking place between the two sets of Robot Masters. Of course, both of these stages are quite short – the intro stage is particularly shorter than those found in the X series – but these are both firsts in the mainline Classic series. Put simply, the game itself appears to be attempting to take elements from the NES games, the Game Boy games and even a few minor elements from the X games to forge a unique identity for the Classic series moving forward. Whether it succeeded or failed is strictly a matter of opinion. MegaMan 7 also had a unique unlockable mode that allowed two players to fight in a Street Fighter-style battle – allowing players to choose between MegaMan and Bass – armed with only the standard Busters and some unique special moves. This mode was actually hidden behind a special password, obtained at the end of the credits. Inputting the password and pressing start while holding the L and R buttons unlocks the mode – entering the password normally simply sends players to the final Wily stage with maxed-out items.

Of course, many have criticized the base gameplay of the game, which is a fair assessment. Even when compared to the original MegaMan game on the NES, something about MM7’s gameplay just feels …off. MegaMan seems to move slower and his jumping ability has been severely limited, which manages to make jumps that would be completely simple in any other game in the series feel nearly impossible at times. I’ve seen a lot of people in my time blame this on the game’s graphical style: specifically, the large character sprites that even manage to dwarf those of the X series. Unfortunately, this theory falls apart under scrutiny. The Game Boy games had much less visual space to work with compared to its console counterparts, leading to a relatively gigantic MegaMan dominating the tiny pea-green screen, yet they made far less concessions when it came to the Blue Bomber’s mobility. Personally, I think the game’s short development cycle is likely what led to the game’s odd mechanics and therefore, with some additional work, the game would have likely ended up with solid controls that would have lived up to its pedigree. Of course, if I were a paranoid man – and I am – I’d also hazard a guess that the controls were made sluggish on purpose: meant as a deliberate scathing parody of the NES games when compared to the new X games. Considering all I’ve got to go on with regards to this theory is just a feeling in my gut, it’s likely nonsense.

MM7-05

Seriously, absolutely gorgeous.

Compared to previous entries in the series, MegaMan 7 has an obscene amount of support items. Unlike previous mainline Classic games – and ironically, much more like the Game Boy and X games – most of them aren’t tied to defeating bosses, this time they’re hidden in various stages or can be purchased with bolts. MegaMan starts with his trusty Rush Coil, but that’s about it. The Rush Jet power-up returns as well, hidden in Junkman’s stage. There’s also the new Rush Search ability, which summons Rush to dig around for items (you know, like a dog would) alongside the new Escape Unit, which allows players to exit from stages they’ve already completed at any time. In fact, the Escape Unit actually needs to be dug up by Rush in order to find it. There’s also the new Rush Super Adapter, which essentially combines the Rush Jet and Power Armors from MM6 with the Mega Arm from MMV to create something that makes the game significantly more playable, though again, this comes at the cost of sliding. This can be further upgraded with the PU Fist hidden in Turboman’s stage, which gives the Super Adapter’s charge shot homing capabilities. Beat returns, being held captive in a birdcage in Slashman’s stage. This time, instead of providing offensive support, Beat actually rescues Rock from falling into pitfalls, depending on whether or not the player has any whistles remaining. Springman’s stage hides the Hyper Bolt, an item that when given to Auto reduces the cost of every item in the shop by half and allows Dr. Light’s mechanical protégé to create brand-new items as well. The Energy Balancer also returns from MM6, hidden in Shademan’s stage. There’s also a hidden boss fight with Protoman there, but only if you encounter him in two other locations first. If he can be defeated, he gives MegaMan his Proto Shield. When equipped, it allows MegaMan to reflect energy shots while standing still.

MegaMan 7 also managed to find a way to make the Special Weapons feel useful again. While the X series allowed for weapons to be charged with a special Buster power-up, the developers of MM7 decided to go in a different direction. Most of the weapons have secondary uses, usually dealing with the various stage environments, allowing for rudimentary puzzle solving. While the original MMX toyed with the concept, both MegaMan 7 and X2 provided much more emphasis on using weapons strategically, to navigate obstacles and access alternative paths. For example, the electric weapon can power various pieces of inactive technology, the ice weapon can affect weather patterns and freeze heat-based obstacles and the fire weapon can burn down obstacles and even light candles, allowing for better visibility. On top of that, most of the weapons are more fun to use compared to the previous game. Ironically, compared to the previous two games, MegaMan 7 suffers from the opposite issue with regards to weapons: with power-ups like the Rush Super Adapter and more useful special weapons, the standard Mega Buster feels kind of useless by comparison. Unfortunately, 2 weapons are pretty much lifted directly from the original MegaMan X, alongside the return of a “Leaf Shield”-style weapon. Fortunately, the rest of the weapons are fairly unique.

MM7-04

Certain bosses are also strong against specific weapons. Who’d thunk zapping Springman with Thunder Bolt would turn him into an electromagnet?

As per usual, I’ll be ranking the weapons in order of how much I like them. My top choice would have to be Shademan’s Noise Crush, a standard shot with a unique charging property: when fired into a wall, it reflects and if MegaMan catches it, he starts flashing as if he’s charging a buster shot. When MegaMan fires in this state, a more powerful shot that no longer reflects comes out. Next would be the Junk Shield, fittingly taken from Junkman. It’s a shield weapon, not unlike the Leaf Shield, but unlike the ones found in the last 3 games, the Junk Shield actually improves on its predecessor. Each piece of junk provides several hits of cover but hitting the fire button a second time, shoots off the pieces of junk in multiple directions – allowing for a widespread attack. Third favorite would have to be Burstman’s Danger Wrap, which is probably the most unique weapon in the game. MegaMan fires off a bubble filled with an explosive that floats up and explodes after a brief period. The bubble can engulf smaller enemies or explode automatically when coming into contact with something larger. Holding down on the D-Pad while firing off the Danger Wrap allows MegaMan to just place the explosive in front of him sans bubble. Not particularly useful in the grand scheme of things, but too fun to ignore. Number four would have to be the Thunder Bolt, obtained by defeating Cloudman. Essentially a retread of Spark Mandrill’s Electric Spark from the first MegaMan X, this weapon fires off a bolt of electricity which splits and travels both up and down on impact. Then there’s Freezeman’s Freeze Cracker, a knockoff of Chill Penguin’s Shotgun Ice from MMX. MegaMan fires off a giant snowflake that bursts into a spread shot in the opposite direction when it comes into contact with a wall. Number six is the Slash Claw, obviously taken from the bestial Slashman – it’s a short-range swipe that deals decent damage in general. Seventh is Turboman’s Scorch Wheel. An odd take on a shield weapon, MegaMan summons four fireballs in a wheel-like formation, which eventually flies off. It can be aimed and deals heavy damage, but it’s tricky to use. The clear worst weapon in the game would be the Wild Coil, taken from the perennial joke that is Springman. MegaMan throws two springs that bounce around, both in front of him and behind him. This attack can also be charged to change the springs’ bounce arcs, effectively giving them a higher bounce. Unfortunately, no matter what trajectory is used, the Wild Coil is extremely awkward to aim, making it effectively worthless in any real in-game situation.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan 7’s graphics have long been a sore point for fans, due to the long-standing belief that the large character sprites had a detrimental effect on gameplay. I also mentioned that as I was first discovering the plethora of MegaMan games I’d missed out on, MM7’s artstyle resonated with me. To this day, I think this game’s artstyle may be my favorite official take on the Classic franchise. Everything just looks right to me: the size differentials between MegaMan and the various enemy robots – particularly the Robot Masters – have never seemed so concise as they were in this game. While most people are still the most enamored with the 8-bit era graphical style and some believe that the later 32-bit sprites were superior by the sheer nature of being made later, I think Capcom knocked it out of the park on this one. The characters have never seemed so expressive and this was the first time in the Classic series where Robot Masters visually react to being hit with their weaknesses – a hallmark of the X series. However, while the first two X games downplayed these reactions, MM7 exaggerated things. Turboman has a seizure when he’s hit with Noise Crush, Junkman’s body falls apart when hit with the Thunder Bolt, and both Slashman and Burstman alternatively freeze or burn up depending on whether they’re hit with the Freeze Cracker or Scorch Wheel. In fact, despite stepping away from the series’ super-deformed roots, everything in general just feels more exaggerated. The level designs are also significantly more ornate than those found in the 8-bit games – an obvious side effect of moving onto more powerful hardware. More than ever before, the theming of each Robot Master’s stage becomes completely obvious: Shademan inhabits a haunted castle, Springman invaded a toy factory and Freezeman’s tundra hideout contains dinosaur bones frozen in glaciers.

MM7-06

Rush Super Adaptor: clearly the most useful power-up in the entire game.

The game’s sound design is interesting. Some of the sound effects actually manage to sound more artificial and “video gamey” than those found in the 8-bit titles, which is just outright weird. The game’s soundtrack, on the other hand, is put together pretty well. Unlike previous games in the series that typically maxed out at 2 composers, MegaMan 7 had a full sound team of 10 composers behind it. This leads to an overall less cohesive soundtrack than previous games had, but considering some of the talent behind it, there are definitely some amazing tracks in there. Some of the more recognizable members of the MM7 Sound Team include Yuko “Yuk” Takehara, who composed MegaMan 6 and “Ippo” Yamada, who would later go on to provide the compositions for the MegaMan Zero and ZX series, as well as acting as the sound director for MegaMan 9 and 10. A couple composers that worked on the original MegaMan X – Toshihiko “Krsk” Horiyama and Makoto “V-Tomozoh” Tomozawa – also worked on the game. MM7 was also the last known project with one of Capcom’s most prolific SNES sound designers, Tatsuya “T. “Anie” .N” Nishimura, a man who previously worked on the original Breath of Fire and even the SNES version of both Street Fighter II and Street Fighter II Turbo. It was Noriko “Apple Z” Ando’s first project with the company, though he was generally associated with the Resident evil and Dino Crisis series.  Atsushi “More Rich” Mori and Nariyuki “Narinari” Nobuyama also worked on the game. The last composer is mired in mystery, referred to only as “Kan”.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about the MegaMan 7 soundtrack was a fact that I only realized years later: much like how MM2’s introduction was based on the ending to the original MegaMan, the song that plays at the beginning of MM7’s opening cinematic is based on the credits theme to MegaMan 6. It’s a far subtler reference than the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts easter egg in Shademan’s stage. Then you’ve got the Robot Museum intermission stage, which takes musical cues from Snakeman, Gutsman and Heatman’s themes. Aside from those references, the music of MM7 in general appears to be attempting to distance itself from both the 8-bit sounds of the previous games, while also avoiding the heavy metal influences of the X series. Having said that, the odd sound design finds its way into the game’s composition: I generally preferred the Genesis’s sound chip over the SNES and while most games had their own unique sound hardware installed, there’s just something unusual about the instrumentation in MM7. Having said that, the composition is still top-notch. It may sound different from most of the other games in the series, but MM7’s music lives up to the series’ reputation of great music. It’s honestly hard for me to choose specific tracks that are my favorite. The intro stage, Bass’s theme, Turboman and Burstman’s stages, the standard boss fight theme, the second and third Wily stage themes and the credits theme would have to be my favorite tracks overall.

In the end, it would be a lie to pretend that MegaMan 7 isn’t an imperfect game. However, it feels like it came far too late to make any sort of meaningful impact. Given the Classic series’ stubborn insistence on staying with the NES long after the Super Nintendo had been released and the X games’ outright “reinvention” of the franchise’s gameplay, not to mention the game’s incredibly short development cycle, there was too much working against this game from the beginning. Having said all of that, MM7 is by no means a terrible game. Certainly a weak point when compared to the rest of its pedigree, but still well above the curve when it comes to the SNES’s library. All the same, it just doesn’t live up to its Japanese subtitle, “Destiny’s Greatest Battle”. I just wonder what would have happened if the game had managed to have a more substantial development cycle. Could MM7 have exceeded MegaMan X? Probably not, but it would’ve likely trounced the other X games on SNES – fancy graphics chip or no. For a long time, I’ve honestly wanted Capcom to “remake” some of their MegaMan games in the same fashion that Sega redid Sonic CD some years back: keep all of the art and sound assets, but readjust the gameplay. Considering the release of the second MegaMan Legacy Collection, I think it’s safe to say this dream is dead. However, there was a Japanese fan remake Rockman 7 FC which reimagined the game in the style of its predecessors, and that fangame is living proof that MM7 was filled with untapped potential.

MegaMan 8

If MegaMan 7 went out of its way to recreate the Classic MegaMan gameplay on a modern platform, then MegaMan 8 tried its hardest to evolve the formula into something viable for years to come. Perhaps the most experimental game in the entire franchise, MegaMan 8 was the last mainline Classic game that would see release outside of Asia for over half a decade – a fact that could be taken as proof that the game failed to reinvent the original MegaMan style in a meaningful way. However, it isn’t a bad game by any means: truthfully, I’d say that it exceeds both 6 and 7 in terms of overall quality. However, because the X series continued – fulfilling the demand for a proper 2D MegaMan platformer – and the brand-new 3D MegaMan Legends series made its way onto the scene during the fifth generation, MM8 clearly lost out and the Classic series itself went into hibernation for the most part, at least in the West. Ironically enough, this was the first undeniable example of a problem that would plague the MegaMan franchise in its later years: oversaturation.

After a long, long hiatus from the series, MegaMan 8 was the third mainline Classic game I managed to get my hands on. At the time, a Blockbuster Video had opened within walking distance of my house and they were renting out video game consoles. At the time, they had 2 or 3 PlayStations available for rental, and a decent selection of games. Among the first games I rented for the console was MegaMan 8. I remembered enjoying the first two games when I was younger and decided this new one was worth a shot. At the time, I was completely floored – my enjoyment only hampered by the lack of a Memory Card, which made whatever progress I made meaningless. MM8 was among the few games that enticed me into getting a PlayStation of my home, my first true home console. When picking up the thing, I wanted to grab MegaMan 8 as my first game, but alas, the store itself was out, so I settled for MegaMan Legends instead. I would eventually get MegaMan 8 and though my memory’s a bit hazy, it was either the first or second MegaMan game I was able to beat on my own: MegaMan II for the Game Boy was the only other game I could’ve beaten beforehand. While there was a brief period in my fandom where I despised the game for being too easy – after all, it was the first mainline MegaMan I’d been able to beat – I’ve otherwise felt a close connection to the game.

MM8-01

Seriously, this intro always gives me shivers.

MegaMan 8’s development has an interesting story behind it. For starters, it was the first mainline MegaMan game that didn’t receive a release in any form on a Nintendo platform at launch. Originally developed as a Sega Saturn exclusive, the game would also make its way to the PlayStation as well, in spite of Sony of America’s strict anti-2D policies at that point. Each version has their own unique quirks – more on that later. Most people are familiar with the PlayStation version of the game, due to the platform’s popularity and the fact that this is the only version that has been re-released since, most recently in MegaMan Legacy Collection 2. MM8 was also the first game in the series where Keiji Inafune would act as producer, allowing him to bring a unique perspective to the game’s development. The game’s creation wasn’t without its hardships though: coordinating releases on two different platforms as well as allowing for full-motion video anime cutscenes often caused the development team to feel overwhelmed. Anime cutscenes were apparently something Inafune had wanted to include since the first game and he was pleased with the results.

The new character Duo was originally designed to be a creation of Dr. Cossack – explaining the Russian influences in his design. Ironically, Duo first appeared in MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters – more on that later – but MegaMan 8 was meant to introduce the character in-universe. Considering the fact that both MegaMan and Duo work together to stop the evil machinations of an evil energy-fueled Dr. Wily from about halfway through the game on, “Metal Heroes” was a fitting choice for the game’s Japanese subtitle. Capcom held their standard Robot Master design contest for MegaMan 8, though there were a few differences. For starters, two robot bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were already designed by Capcom staff prior to the contest. As an added caveat, Capcom also provided three skeletons for potential robot masters for entrants to design around: one with a giant sword and a separated body (which would eventually become Swordman), a robot with two heads (Searchman) and one with really long arms (Clownman). In the end, Capcom received roughly 110,000 entries for MM8’s boss design contest and the development team actually loved looking at all of the submissions. Some of the rejected designs and original drawings that led to the final robot designs actually managed to make their way into MM8’s credits, owing to the much stronger hardware of the 32-bit systems.

 

In the year 20XX, two powerful robots are fighting in outer space. As they collide into one another, a victor is decided, but both begin to fall toward Earth. Meanwhile, Bass is once again antagonizing MegaMan, goading him into a fight to prove that he is the superior robot. MegaMan is able to defeat him when Roll arrives with a message from Dr. Light. He tells MegaMan that a strange meteor with a strange energy reading has fallen on a deserted island and he wants to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, that island just so happens to be Dr. Wily’s new base and the mad scientist manages to escape with the extraterrestrial energy in hand. However, MegaMan finds a heavily-damaged robot in the meteor crater, sending it back to Dr. Light for repairs before setting off to stop Wily’s latest scheme.

MM8-05

I guess Hi-Tech Expressions was ahead of their time.

Despite the leap to 32-bit systems, MegaMan 8 is undeniably a MegaMan game. The Blue Bomber maintains his abilities to jump, slide, fire charged and standard shots and steal weapons from the eight Robot Masters. As in the previous game, the Robot Masters have been split into two sets of four – each with their own weaknesses. The introductory and intermission stages before each set of bosses respectively also return from the previous game, as well as the Shop and the standard 4 Wily Fortress stages at the end of the game. The game also makes use of both the Saturn and PlayStation’s shoulder buttons to allow MegaMan to switch weapons on the fly, as in MM7 and the X games. Interestingly, MM8’s stage select is split across two separate screens: the first includes the first four bosses (Tenguman, Frostman, Clownman and Grenademan), Dr. Light’s Shop and the Intro stage, while the second contains the other four bosses (Astroman, Aquaman, Searchman and Swordman), the intermission stage and Wily Tower.

Of course, that’s the least of the game’s changes. For starters, Robot Master stages are now split into two segments – with a continue point mechanic that allows players to continue from the second part after a game over. Some stages use a mid-boss to separate the two points, but in other cases, there’s simply a transitional area, generally with some kind of special hazard. For example, Tenguman’s stage transitions into a shoot-‘em-up style section where MegaMan rides the Rush Jet and can summon Eddie, Beat and Auto to act as “options” to assist him. And who could forget the infamous snowboarding sections in Frostman’s stage? Jump, jump, slide, slide and all that. Another interesting quirk is that the game uses the two sets of Robot Masters to its advantage. The second batch of stages incorporate obstacles that require the first set of weapons to avoid. The best example of this would have to be Swordman’s stage. The first half of the stage includes four chambers, each associated with one of the four Special Weapons MegaMan would have to have obtained before reaching the stage. I wish more games in the series had exploited this kind of mechanic, but MegaMan 8 certainly explored the concept to a great extent.

MM8-03

Seriously, the effect on level design was worth it.

Another change that I’d consider an improvement is that MegaMan now has access to his Mega Buster even when Special Weapons are equipped. I’m surprised they didn’t implement that into MegaMan 7 or even the SNES X games, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t appear in later Classic games. MegaMan no longer “space jumps” in water, he now swims in water instead, allowing for new puzzles and obstacles. While the shop returns from MM7, it’s balanced differently in MegaMan 8. For starters, there are a limited number of Bolts hidden throughout the game, essentially acting as collectables. As such, it is impossible to buy every single item from the shop in the game. Instead of selling 1-Ups and Tanks as in the previous games, MM8’s shop focuses more on persistent power-ups that can be equipped from a sub-screen on the pause menu. The shop starts with 7 items at the beginning of the game, but once the second set of bosses is unlocked, 8 more items become available for purchase. These include such things as the Escape Unit, the Energy Balancer (and similar items that affect energy management), various Buster upgrades that change its charge shot properties (I swear by the Laser shot, personally) and even stat-boosting items that speed up MegaMan’s slide, automatically refills extra lives after leaving a stage and allow MegaMan to have five standard Buster shots on-screen at the same time instead of the typical 3. Of course, the store no longer sells E-Tanks or the like, because they no longer exist in this game. Fortunately, the difficulty has been balanced around this fact, but considering that E-Cans were considered a series staple since the second game, their omission in MM8 was always a bit of a surprise.

Likewise, the support items have been completely overhauled from previous games. No Rush Super Adapter, no Rush Jet, not even the Rush Coil, they’ve all been removed. In fact, the only support item that resembles the previous ones is the Mega Ball, which MegaMan is given less than halfway through the intro stage. Even then, the Mega Ball is unique. MegaMan fires a small ball, that falls at his feet. He can then either kick it by hitting the attack button again or jumping on it to gain extra height. It’s most useful in very specific situations but it’s at least a unique weapon which is always a good thing in my eyes. The other four support items work differently. They’re accessed from the pause menu sub-screen, much like the shop upgrades and each of them is unlocked after beating one of the four mid-bosses found in specific Robot Master stages. Each of these support items only allow one use at a time and require some time to replenish. Beating the mid-boss in Grenademan’s stage unlocks the Rush Cycle, which allows Rush to transform into a motorcycle for a brief period of time. This renders MegaMan invincible, though the cycle takes damage, which reduces the remaining time. Rush can also fire missiles out of his mouth. Rush Surprise comes from Clownman’s mid-boss and summons Rush to drop a random item, not unlike Eddie from the later NES MegaMan games. Rush Bomber is unlocked by defeating the midboss in Swordman and summons Rush to fly around in Rush Jet form, dropping missiles and bombs on enemies from a brief period of time. Beating the miniboss in Aquaman’s stage unlocks the Rush Charger, which is similar to the Rush Bomber only he drops health and weapon energy power-ups instead.

MM8-02

The Mega Ball is so ridiculous, I can’t help but love it.

MegaMan 8’s special weapons take the puzzle solving elements of the weapons from the previous game and essentially ramp them up to their logical conclusion. Most of the weapons in this game have secondary uses that become necessary as the game goes on. The fact that the game is essentially separated into 3 sets of 4 – not including the introduction and intermission stages – allows for more thorough planning when it comes to some of the levels being designed around weapon utilities. Even more important is the fact that the weapons in this game are the most fun to use since MM5. My favorite weapon in the game is easily Grenademan’s Flash Bomb. It’s a straight shot that leaves an explosive flash in its wake for a few seconds after colliding with a wall or enemy that deals additional damage. It can also light up darkened areas. Next is the Tornado Hold, taken from Tenguman. It generates a tornado in place that MegaMan can jump onto, which raises him into the air. Third would be Swordman’s Flame Sword: a short-range slash attack that can light fuses and set certain objects on fire. Then there’s the Ice Wave, obtained after defeating Frostman. It sends forth a wave of ice – hence the name – that can freeze enemies in its path, destroying them instantly. Number 5 would be Clownman’s Thunder Claw: a short-range beam of lightning that MegaMan can use to grapple and swing from specific hooks found in various levels. The Thunder Claw isn’t much of an offensive weapon, but its secondary uses put it higher on the list. The Homing Sniper from Searchman is the next on the list. It’s essentially an improved version of the Dive Missile from MegaMan 4, only this time there are reticles that depict the missile’s target. The weapon can even be charged to tag multiple targets at the same time. The seventh best weapon is easily Astroman’s Astro Crush. It’s a devastating full-screen meteor shower that destroys all minor enemies on-screen as well as some obstacles. It also renders MegaMan totally invincible for a short time and locks him into position, even while jumping. Unfortunately, it consumes a great deal of energy – a full weapon bar only allows for 4 uses, not even enough to destroy the Robot Master weak to it. Finally, there’s Aquaman’s Water Balloon, which fires a ball of water at a low arc. Of course, there’s no limit to how many Water Balloons can be on-screen at a time, but it just doesn’t do that much damage in general and its angle makes it awkward to aim.

Even though the game was released around the same time on both the PlayStation and Saturn, both versions have a few differences. Personally, I’ve only been able to play the PlayStation version, but from what I can tell, the Saturn version is superior, many have even speculated that it’s the closest to Capcom’s original concept. The PlayStation version has improved graphics – displaying the animated cutscenes in their native MPEG format and capable of displaying true transparency effects, while the Saturn version utilized dithering. In pretty much every other aspect, the Saturn version is superior. The Saturn version utilized PCM audio for its music, while players on PlayStation had to settle with its onboard MIDI synthesizer. One odd change is that both versions have different music for Tenguman’s stage – I’ve never seen any information as to why. It also includes a bonus sound test, allowing players to listen to both the game’s music and sound clips at their leisure. The best enhancement the Saturn version has to offer are two exclusive hidden boss fights: MM1’s Cutman and MM2’s Woodman, which are hidden in the intermission level and Searchman’s stage respectively. They even receive MM8-flavored remixes of their classic stage themes for their respective boss fights. Defeating each of these special opponents nabs MegaMan a bolt –in the PlayStation version, they just lie out in the open. Alas, due to the difficulty of emulating the Saturn’s hardware, this version will likely remain impossible to re-release in any legitimate form for years to come, if ever, but it is interesting to discuss.

MM8-06

What, were you expecting Frostman’s stage? How cliché.

 

MegaMan 8’s graphics are probably the best in the entire franchise, for obvious reasons: the 32-bit era consoles were the strongest hardware to depict a MegaMan games with 2D sprites without trying to emulate an older style. The character sprites are vibrant and detailed. More importantly, unlike MegaMan 7 and the Game Boy games, they take up a reasonable portion of the screen – stressing visibility over clarity, but not really sacrificing the latter in the process. There’s much more animation in the game as well: MegaMan even takes on a new stance when he’s low on health, cradling his arm while breathing heavily – effectively simulating being hurt like a person would. It’s a nice visual cue that’s appreciated. The backgrounds are the real stars though, with environments ranging from a frozen city, a virtual reality maze, an amusement park and a thick jungle, the details of the various stages have never been made so clear. The user interface has also undergone a bit of an overhaul as well. The energy meters are no longer signified with individual units, but rather displayed as one solid bar. To compensate, there are additional icons on screen, signifying the amount of extra lives remaining and how many uses the special weapon currently equipped has left. The presentation’s real star would have to be the game’s full motion video cutscenes, animated by anime company Xebec. To this day, watching the opening cutscene still gives me chills. Having said that, the presentation all meshes together so well that nothing really looks out of place – I distinctly remember one review from when MegaMan 8 originally came out that praised its artstyle as resembling “a Saturday Morning cartoon you could play” and despite the relatively low resolutions compared to what can be displayed on modern consoles and computers, I’d say the comparison still holds up.

In most of these retrospectives, I’ve kind of glossed over the sound design, choosing instead to focus on the game’s famous musical compositions. After all, there’s only so much that can be said about the minute differences between the beeps and boops that the Nintendo Entertainment System’s sound chip were capable of, and the Super NES was hardly any more advanced. MegaMan 8 is a rare case where there’s actually a fair amount to say about the sound effects. After all, both the PlayStation and the Saturn were capable of playing back actual audio recordings at a reasonable quality and that ability had an effect on how the game sounded. As such, the game’s sound effects are, to put it simply, more realistic. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a positive: for example, whenever MegaMan lands, he makes this squeaking noise. I guess I just never thought of what MegaMan should sound like, but I certainly never thought he was made of dog toys. I suppose the credit for that interesting choice should go to the man behind the sound effects, Shinji Amagishi.

Even more important would be the game’s use of voice acting: MegaMan 8 was the first game in the Classic series to have voice acting and the only mainline game to make use of them. Now, the voice acting’s poor reputation is generally associated with the abysmal performance of Dr. Light, who sounded more like Elmer Fudd than a kindly roboticist rocking a Santa beard. Aside from that anomaly, I’d say that the voice acting is actually pretty good considering the time of the game’s release. Personally, I wish more people paid attention to the Robot Masters’ voiceovers. They really add a lot of personality to them and frankly, I think they hold up even to this day. From Astroman’s paranoid whining and Aquaman’s bizarre flamboyance to Clownman’s snarky jester persona and the big popsicle-loving lug known as Frostman, the voices really help flesh out the bosses in this game in a way that nothing else could. It makes me wish that more games in the series could’ve gotten this treatment.

MM8-04

Honestly, I wish I could’ve just posted an audio recording here instead of a screenshot.

MegaMan 8’s soundtrack is also affected by the new technology available to Capcom. The fifth generation marked a decided shift away from chiptune-style music, with most compositions leaning more towards actual instrumentation, thanks in part to the new platforms’ ability to utilize both CD audio and far more advanced synthesizers than the sound chips found in previous generations. MM8 scaled back to having a single composer: Shusaku Uchiyama, generally associated with the Resident Evil games. As the game’s music was handled by the onboard synthesizers, rather than the CD audio, Tomoyuki “T.K, NY” Kawakami acts as the sound programmer. The Japanese version had songs for the opening cutscene and the game’s credit performed by J-Pop group GANASIA. The international releases replaced these songs with original instrumental pieces: both are good, though I prefer the upbeat tones of “ELECTRICAL COMMUNICATION” over the piece made for the Western version’s intro. MegaMan 8’s soundtrack appears to go for a more electronica-inspired sound. Considering that’s one of my favorite musical genres, I may be a little biased but I think the music in MM8 lives up to the series’ pedigree. My favorite tracks in the game are the stage select, the tracks from Clownman, Frostman, Searchman and Aquaman’s stages, the standard boss battle music (not to mention the catchy tune that plays when the bosses introduce themselves), the Got Weapon jingle and the second, third and fourth Wily Tower stage themes. Honorable mentions go to the Grenademan and Astroman stage themes and the remix of Bass’s theme – they’re definitely good tracks, but declaring them among “my favorites” feels like overkill.

Looking back at MegaMan 8 is an exercise in melancholy. Despite all of the changes that were made compared to the earlier games in the series, Capcom managed to stumble upon a style that was able to stay true to the roots of the Classic MegaMan series, while streamlining a few aspects for modern audiences, succeeding in many ways where MegaMan 7 had failed. In fact, much like MM7, I wished that Capcom had done a touch-up on MM8: just add the Saturn-exclusive content back into the game and tighten up some of the more blatant issues. Likewise, there’s another fan-made remake in progress that reimagines it as an NES game.  MegaMan 8 certainly wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the potential was clearly there. Future sequels could’ve smoothed out the odd idiosyncrasies that didn’t quite work.  But that was it. At least in the West, Classic MegaMan wouldn’t receive a new title for roughly six years after the eighth game in the franchise – and even then, the new game had been released in Asia years prior. Whether you blame it on the fact that video games were moving more towards 3D – something I still don’t think the 2D MegaMan platformers could easily translate to – or the fact that by the end of the PlayStation era, the franchise had 3 separate brands associated with it, the point is that the original Blue Bomber would be relegated to cameo appearances in other games for many years. Of course, in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Classic series still had one game left up its sleeve…

MegaMan & Bass

Rockman & Forte – or MegaMan & Bass, as it was called in its delayed Western release – is an interesting title with an interesting history. Developed soon after the eighth MegaMan game, it was the last game to be released in the Classic series for several years. Odder still, it was developed on the Super Famicom, well after the PlayStation had been released. At the same time, Westerners would generally refer to it as “MegaMan 9”. While many people have dismissed MM&B as nothing more than a glorified spinoff, personally I’ve always considered it a mainline entry in the series. Considering the fact that Capcom actually referenced it in the actual MM9, I think they feel the same way. While perhaps even more experimental than its predecessor, MegaMan & Bass managed to refine many of the problems faced by the last attempt at creating a Classic game for the Super Nintendo.

MM&B-02

Demoted to the introduction stage. How humiliating.

According to Keiji Inafune, MegaMan & Bass was intended for younger fans who still owned a Super Famicom and didn’t have one of the newer systems. The design team consisted of several new employees, as well as several staff members from previous MegaMan games and Inafune required them to make a game that was “as hardcore as possible”, lending to MM&B’s infamous difficulty. The staff claimed that they were attempting to create a game that avoided the tried and true formula of the series, trying to avoid stagnation. That fact, coupled with the fact that the stages were clearly designed with Bass in mind – to the extent where the only advantages MegaMan has over him that some collectables are only reachable by MM’s slide and the fact that his default Buster shots can pass through walls – has led many to speculate that the game was originally envisioned as a spinoff with MegaMan’s rival as the sole character. I couldn’t find any evidence confirming or denying this theory, but it is fun to speculate on it. One interesting find regarding the game is that the header data refers to the game as “ROCK8.5”, implying that the game was always considered a spinoff rather than a ninth Classic game. The Japanese release didn’t even have the usual subtitle associated with Japanese releases.

The game was originally only released in Japan, as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was essentially dead when the game came out in 1998. However, when Capcom ported MM&B to the Game Boy Advance in 2002, it was finally officially released in the West the following year. Given the disadvantages that the GBA version had – a smaller screen resolution and less buttons than the SNES controller – as well as a poor-quality translation, I’d generally recommend the original Super Famicom version. There was even a fan-made English translation patch for the original version. It’s admittedly more literal than the official one, leading to some interesting dialogue choices that may seem a bit out of place for a “MegaMan” game, but it’s still far more coherent than the official version released by Capcom.

MM&B-03

The Treble Boost: the most broken power-up since the original Rush Jet.

While two of the bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were recycled from MegaMan 8, the other six were created by three manga artists, all of whom worked on various MegaMan mangas: Yoshihiro Iwamoto (Rockman X-X4) designed Magicman and Groundman; Coldman and Pirateman were created by Koji Izuki (Rockman 8, Rockman & Forte) and Hitoshi Ariga (Rockman MegaMix/GigaMix) created Burnerman and Dynamoman. In fact, some of the Robot Masters were renamed during the game’s development: Burnerman was “Blastman”, Coldman was “Freezerman” and Dynamoman was “Coilman” – while Groundman was originally designated as “Drillman”, despite there already being one back in MegaMan 4. An interesting shift from the standard Boss Design contests that had been held since the second game in the series, but considering the fact that this was a spinoff game and the previous game had two Capcom-designed Robot Masters, I guess it wasn’t that much of a stretch that Capcom would commissioned professional artists to design bosses.

It’s been roughly one year since the events of MegaMan 8 and the devious Dr. Wily is still missing, leaving the world in relative peace. But as the malevolent mechanist was preparing a new assault on the world, a new robot going by the name King appears. Declaring his plans to conquer the Earth, King asserted that robots were superior to humanity and therefore should rule the Earth, rather than acting as servants. King deposed Wily from his new castle and stole data from six new Robot Masters, as well as using two of Wily’s older creations to begin building his army. His next target: the Robot Museum, which contains the data of many of the world’s most powerful robots. Dr. Light sends MegaMan to stop this new threat, but surprisingly, Bass – MegaMan’s rival and Dr. Wily’s greatest creation – also arrives on the scene, seeking to prove his superiority. After King fells Protoman and escapes from the museum, the two decide to form an uneasy alliance to stop this new automated autocrat.

MM&B-04

Meanwhile, Rock gets the Rush Search again. Totally fair trade-off.

The most obvious difference from previous games in the Classic series is the fact that players are allowed to choose between two characters, rather than simply playing as the Blue Bomber. Upon starting a new game, players are asked to choose between MegaMan and Bass in a similar fashion to the way that they chose between X and Zero in MegaMan X4. This decision is permanent – players can’t switch between characters at any point during that playthrough. MegaMan is essentially unchanged from MegaMan 7 & 8: he still retains his slide and charge shot. Of course, Bass is the game’s real star attraction. He has a MMX-style dash and a double jump. His most unique difference would have to be the Bass Buster: it acts as a rapid fire gun that Bass can aim in 7 directions – everything but straight down. This comes at the cost of his mobility: Bass can only jump while firing, he’s unable to walk or dash. Also, unlike MegaMan’s shots, the Bass Buster can’t shoot through walls by default. The best comparison I can think of would be the Fixed Shot from Gunstar Heroes. Still, he’s definitely the better choice for this game due to his unique abilities. Few stages are really centered around MegaMan’s moveset, which puts him at a bit of a disadvantage, but that’s honestly part of the fun. Having a game where using the series’ traditional character is essentially the game’s “hard mode” is a pretty unique concept that I’d love to see more games in general tackle.

Like I mentioned earlier, MegaMan & Bass deviates from most of the mainline MegaMan games in some pretty extreme ways. Perhaps the most evident change comes from the stage select menu. Instead of being allowed to select from all eight Robot Masters from the beginning or from four bosses at a time, MM&B handled things in a unique way. After clearing the game’s introductory stage, players are allowed to select from one of three Robot Masters: Coldman, Groundman and Astroman. Clearing each of these bosses open up paths to additional bosses. Defeating Coldman unlocks Burnerman and Pirateman, Groundman opens the way to Tenguman and Magicman, while a showdown with Dynamoman is the reward for toppling Astroman. The only real downsides to this method is that it ends up making most of the boss weaknesses even more obvious than usual and that it limits the order the bosses can be fought in. At the end of each “path”, is the entrance to King’s Castle, which is locked off by eight seals, each accessible by a teleporter pad. Each seal can only be unlocked by using one of the Special Weapons obtained from each boss and destroying a seal nets the player a significant amount of bolts (or screws, as they were renamed) – more on those later. After all eight seals are destroyed, players are then allowed to enter King’s Fortress, containing 3 stages in total. The fact that the Fortress in MegaMan & Bass only has three levels may sound short, but believe me, that is not the case. The second and third stages have several boss fights – the third level even forces players to undergo a gauntlet of all 8 Robot Masters similar to the first MegaMan game before the final showdown with Wily – of course he was behind it, what were you expecting?

MM&B-01

The ability to aim shots makes the weaker damage totally worth it.

Throughout the game, there are 100 CDs hidden throughout the various stages. These contain data profiles on various characters from the MegaMan games, particularly the Robot Masters, but also some human characters like Dr. Light. The way they’re arranged, some can only be collected by MegaMan and others can only be collected by Bass, generally relying on some of their unique abilities. Fortunately, many CDs can be collected by either character, though some are very well-hidden. The game also makes use of save files as opposed to passwords, using a battery back-up save on the game cartridge. There are four save files available in total, though the CDs that are collected are retained across saves. Fortunately, for those who want to find them all over again, there is a special code that erases the CD collection data.

The shop system from the previous two games returns in MegaMan & Bass as well. The collectable screws that are used for currency take on the same mechanics as those in MM7: there are an infinite amount of screws to find throughout stages, allowing completionists to buy every item in the shop. The shop itself effectively better resembles that of MegaMan 8 in terms of its offerings. Aside from extra lives, everything that can be bought from Auto’s Shop is a power-up. Some are temporary, like the shock Guard which prevents death when touching spikes once, the Item Present, which causes a random item to drop at some point during the next stage (kind of like Eddie in MM4 and 5). There are also plenty of permanent items, like the Exit Unit, Energy Balancer, an Energy Saver that reduces the energy cost for Special Weapons, Cost Energy which doubles attack power when the character is near-death and Super Recover, which increases the amount of energy recovered by power-ups. There’s even a Com System that allows the player to ask hints from Roll, which can be further upgraded with other items like the CD Counter or the Enemy Analyzer, that allow her to count the remaining CDs and strategies to take out bosses respectively.

Each character also has their own unique power-ups as well. For MegaMan, the Rush Search returns from MM7; Eddie who drops a few power-ups before leaving; Beat who gives off a shield that renders MegaMan invincible temporarily; Auto Charge, which sets the Mega Buster to charge automatically; Auto Recover, which allows MegaMan to recover his health one unit at a time by standing still and the High-Speed Buster, which speeds up the charge time for the Mega Buster. Bass, on the other hand, gets the Treble Boost, which acts sort of like the Rush Super Adapter from MM7, allowing Bass to fly for a limited amount of time; High-Speed Dash, which increases his dash’s speed; the Step Booster, which speeds up his ability to climb ladders; the Hyper Blast, which allows the Bass Buster’s shots to travel through walls; and my personal favorite, the Super Blast, which doubles the Bass Buster’s attack strength.

Of course, as far as MegaMan & Bass strayed from the basic MegaMan formula, it still retained the ability to obtain Special Weapons from defeating each of the game’s eight Robot Masters. The interesting thing about them is that while the weapons retain the same functionality for both characters, their appearances – particularly the colors MegaMan and Bass take on while using them – are wildly different. As per usual, I’ve decided to rank MM&B’s weapons from best to worst, though to be honest, the weapons in this game are more interesting than useful overall. My favorite weapon in MM&B would probably be Pirateman’s Remote Mine –  a mine which can be manipulated until it attached to the first object it collides with. Hit the fire button a second time, at any point, and it detonates with a decent blast radius. Number 2 would be the Ice Wall from Coldman. It generates a literal wall of ice, that can be used as a platform or a shield. Better still, walk up against it and it can be pushed, allowing MegaMan or Bass to ride across obstacles like spike pits. It’s probably one of the best utility Special Weapons in the entire MegaMan series. Tenguman’s Tengu Blade is easily my third favorite. It’s essentially two weapons in one: dashing or sliding allows it to work like an improved version of the Charge Kick from MM5, firing it normally shoots off a swirling slash that vaguely resembles a Sonic Boom and can bounce off walls. Next up would have to be the Spread Drill, obtained after defeating Groundman. It starts out as a giant drill that moves slowly and quickly loses altitude when left to its own devices. Press the fire button again and it splits into two smaller drills that move slightly faster, pressing it a third time and they split again into four tiny but quick drills. Then there’s Magicman’s Magic Card: a boomerang-style weapon that can be aimed either straight forward or straight up. Not really that useful in terms of attack power, but the fact that it can grab power-up items and recover them is a pretty nice bonus. The fact that it allows MegaMan to aim straight up is a plus, as well. The sixth best weapon would probably be the Lightning Bolt, taken from Dynamoman. Effectively an Astro Crush knockoff themed around a lightning storm, the energy cost is slightly lower, allowing for more uses, which gives it a slight edge over its predecessor. Number 7 is Burnerman’s Wave Burner. Effectively a complete ripoff of the Flame Mammoth’s Fire Wave from the original MegaMan X, it sprays a constant wave of flames for a short distance, while rendering the character motionless. It’s not particularly useful, but it does decent damage all things considered. Finally, there’s the Copy Vision, taken from Astroman – effectively one of the worst weapons in the entire series. It generates a holographic duplicate of the player character that fires off a slow but steady cascade of standard shots at a rate slower than Bass’s standard rapid fire. I’ve never encountered a situation where it’s not easier to just use the standard Buster.

MM&B-05

Oh yeah, that’s way better than dropping a literal meteor shower.

MegaMan & Bass’s graphics were standard for the end of the SNES’s lifespan, effectively experimenting with techniques in order to get the best graphics possible from the dying system. In this game’s case, Capcom effectively used the artstyle from MegaMan 8, recycling some existing graphics and creating new ones in the same style. Of course, it doesn’t turn out quite as well as it did on the 32-bit platforms – SNES had some severe limitations – but compared to other late-era Capcom games (Street Fighter Alpha 2 comes to mind), it turns out much better with very little in the way of outright compression. I’d almost liken it to the use of pre-rendered graphics in the Donkey Kong Country games: nothing particularly amazing by today’s standards, but the fact that they were able to so closely resemble graphics found on the PlayStation with very little compromise is impressive. The game’s presentation is also quite unique in many ways: the stage select takes on a more map-like appearance, with a mug shot of the enemy appearing in the bottom-left corner, as well as a preview of the stage in the bottom-right. The demos that play after selecting a stage also deviate from the previous games, going for a more ornate look. Instead of just showcasing each Robot Master’s entrance from the beginning of each boss fight, MM&B also includes a more-detailed profile shot of each boss. Most interesting of all would have to be the “map screen” for King’s Castle: instead of doing the traditional simple map that the series has been using since MegaMan 2, there are three rows of graphics, each giving a preview of what to expect from each fortress stage.

If there’s one area where MegaMan & Bass definitely doesn’t stray from the series’ roots, it would have to be the music. Toshihiko “Kirikiri-chan” Horiyama returns as one of MM&B’s composers, alongside Naoshi Mizuta – who composed music for the original Street Fighter Alpha and Vampire Savior – as well as Akari Kaida, who worked on the original Resident Evil, Night Warriors, Cyberbots and would go onto working on Breath of Fire III among others. The Game Boy Advance port would also credit Chiriro “T.Arisaka” Arisaka for reprogramming the sound on Nintendo’s handheld, as she would on many other ports of older Capcom games. All the same, MM&B made far better use of the SNES’s sound capabilities than MM7, going for a much cleaner sound. Maybe it’s because the game’s staff was far smaller or simply because they had more experience working with the Super Nintendo’s hardware at this point, but the music just sounds more cohesive this time around. As with most SNES-to-GBA ports, the music suffers a bit in the portable release due to the weaker sound hardware, but is still left mostly intact. Compared to the previous two games, MegaMan & Bass’s music sounds like a more modernized version of the 8-bit MegaMan music. It’s honestly hard to choose favorites this time around. The Robot Museum theme is generally considered a classic, I love Tenguman’s theme – I’d say it’s the best of the three he’s had by far – as well as the songs from Coldman, Groundman, Pirateman and Magicman’s levels. The music from the first two stages of King’s Fortress is also great, along with the standard boss battle theme, the Got Weapon jingle and the song plays in Auto’s Shop.

MM&B-06

Seriously, it’s like they made Bass way cooler on purpose or something.

For a brief period, I would’ve said that MegaMan & Bass was my favorite of the three post 8-bit MegaMan Classic games, but I’d say that MM8 has regained its dominance since then. All the same, I’d call MM&B the best Classic MegaMan on the Super Nintendo. While it suffers from the same zoomed-in graphics as its predecessor – to the extent where the character sprites take up more of the screen than those of MM7 – the control manages to feel more fluid and responsive. I’ve seen quite a few people who consider MM&B to be the worst of the Classic series, which I’ve never understood. Sure, MegaMan’s inclusion is generally considered to be an afterthought and the game is definitely among the most difficult in the entire franchise, but I’d consider the latter the plus and the choice of including two different characters with totally different abilities allowed the stage designs to really branch out and experiment. I was sad to hear that this game was left off the second MegaMan Legacy Collection that came out earlier this year, but some have speculated that we may be receiving a third compilation down the line. Saving a traditional console MegaMan platformer to include with whatever else Capcom picks from their archives is definitely a smart idea and MM&B would definitely add some value to a proposed MMLC3, especially if it means getting a new and improved English translation of the original Super Famicom version in the process.

“The Best of” Mega Man (Game Gear)

Remember how I said North America got its own exclusive MegaMan game on a Sega console way back in part 1? This is it, and trust me, we Americans definitely got the raw end of the deal on this one. Originally advertised under the name “The Best of Mega Man” – a title I can only imagine was meant to be seeping with sarcasm and irony – I remember wanting this game as a child. You have to remember, when I was a kid, I was a Sega fanboy and the Game Gear was my first system. Considering that the game came out in 1995, I would’ve been around 7 years old at the time. Now imagine you told a six-year-old boy that one of his favorite video game series of all time was coming to the first video game system he had ever owned. That’d be one excited six-year-old. I missed out on the game at the time and as it would turn out, that was honestly for the best. I’d happen upon the game years later and I was absolutely horrified with what I’d found. It’s a good thing they decided not to go with “The Best of Mega Man” as the title, it would’ve been the most open-and-shut case of false advertising in American history.

This is another licensed game, published by British company U.S. Gold – don’t ask, I don’t understand it either. That’s right, the same company that brought MegaMan to the Game Gear also brought us such “classics” as Strider Returns and OutRun Europa. As per usual, U.S. Gold farmed out development to an English company, Freestyle Software Limited. Their only other credits involved a few other ports – including an Amiga port of Super Street Fighter II – as well as various sports trivia and card games. Exactly the kind of people you want in charge of a port of one of the most beloved Japanese platformers of all-time, right?

MMGG-01

Believe it or not, there’s a pit of spikes just out of frame.

The game has really little in terms of backstory. MegaMan is fighting Dr. Wily – who is using robots from MegaMan 4 and 5 once again. There’s really very little else to say here: it’s kind of funny that the game’s manual says that Dr. Wily has been MegaMan’s arch enemy since 1985. The difficulty setting from the Western release of MegaMan 2 on the NES returns, but it’s somewhat different from the previous game. The game starts off with the choice of four Robot Masters: Stoneman, Napalmman and Starman from MM5, alongside Brightman from MM4. After that, it’s on to Dr. Wily’s Fortress – which is Dr. Cossack’s Citadel for reasons I don’t entirely understand – where the first stage involves a fight with Waveman from MM5. While those playing on the Difficult setting make a brief stopover against Toadman, both players end up finishing off the game with two levels before a final encounter with Dr. Wily.

Considering the fact that this game literally came out a year after the spectacular MegaMan V on the Game Boy, expectations were pretty high for this one. The Classic MegaMan formula had been perfected across two platforms by this point and expectations were high, considering Sega had scored one of Nintendo’s third-party jewels. This was the first portable MegaMan game in full color! Unfortunately, the game failed to live up to even the most meager of expectations, delivering an experience that made MegaMan II look like MegaMan 2 – I know what I said. The controls are particularly sluggish and the physics are a bit off: the most noticeable differences are that MegaMan can only have two shots onscreen at the same time and bosses have the same amount of hit-invincibility as the Blue Bomber himself. The most detrimental change was a deliberate change on the part of the developers. Deciding to keep the graphics the same size as the NES version on the Game Gear’s smaller screen forced the game’s field of vision to shrink significantly, making even the most obvious obstacles from the original games into leaps of faith, where only perfect muscle memory can guarantee success. To make up for that, the game added vertical scrolling locked to MegaMan’s movement, essentially making the game disorienting to even look at. The devs did put in the option to manipulate the vertical scroll manually – but it required moving the camera with the D-Pad while holding down the jump button. Another terrible change to the game is that there are absolutely no continues. That’s right, Game Over is taken quite literally in this game. Better keep those passwords handy, though they’ll only get you about halfway through the game as best.

MMGG-02

By the way, this is as far as any password will take you. Have fun!

While many people mistakenly assumed that the Game Boy MegaMan games simply recycled the levels from the NES game, the Game Gear more or less delivers on that lazy promise. Each of the six Robot Masters inhabit their stages from their respective NES games, with a few minor tweaks – for example, Eddie no longer appears in the game, so he’s often replaced some form of an energy power-up. The weapons also return unaltered – aside from being rechristened with such imaginative names as “Bomb Weapon” and “Stone Weapon” – alongside MegaMan 5’s take on the Rush Coil. The Wily stages fare even more bizarrely: the first is literally just Quickman’s stage from MM2 with no boss fight at the end, while the second and final stage is a corridor leading to a teleporter that sends MegaMan directly to the final fight with Wily: nothing more than a simple fight with the now-traditional Wily Capsule.

MMGG-03

No, seriously.

The graphic style is somewhat evocative of The Wily Wars, focusing on sprites that are essentially the same as the NES games with expanded color palettes. Unfortunately, they were handled far worse in this game – some of the game’s graphics just end up looking weird, either due to the different aspect ratio of the smaller screen or just through poor redrawing in general. One example that can’t help but stand out to me is MegaMan himself: for some reason, his helmet looks too small and it looks like he’s got an off-center cyan mohawk on top. The backgrounds end up looking pretty good, like enhanced versions of the NES originals, but as I said before, the entire game is hampered by the zoomed-in camera, which just makes everything look worse.

The game’s music is a cacophony. While MegaMan II on the Game Boy had original compositions and a sound programmer unfamiliar with the system’s hardware, MegaMan for Game Gear doesn’t have quite as many excuses. The game’s music was rearranged by one “Dr. Mike Ash, PhD”: a composer that worked on various other British video games. One such game that I managed to find the soundtrack for was the Game Gear version of Marko’s Magic Football – same system, same composer. I listened to it for comparison’s sake and found that it had much better composition than Mega Man and even came out the year before, so there’s really no excuse for the game’s horrid instrumentation. Perhaps the weirdest part of the game’s composition is how some of the music is used. Most of the stage themes are pretty much what you’d expect – though Waveman was given Gravityman’s theme for reasons I don’t entirely understand – the boss music and the final Wily stage are taken from MM4, while the stage select is taken from 5. The other music is also taken from older games, but used in unusual contexts. For starters, the opening cutscene is MM5’s password and the title screen is MM5’s introduction with the title screen theme tacked onto the end. The jingles for both the stage selected and got weapon screens are two different rearrangements of the map theme from Dr. Cossack’s Citadel from MM4, the game’s ending is one of the Dr. Cossack fortress level themes and perhaps most interesting of all, the Game Over tune is Waveman’s theme… in its entirety. I don’t understand these choices, but they fall in line with many of the other baffling decisions that caused this game to take shape, so it’s hard to argue them.

MMGG-04

It’s weird seeing Toadman put up this much of a fight.

I actually think that the Game Gear’s Mega Man may be my least favorite game in the entire series, even more than the supposedly inferior PC duology from Hi-Tech Expressions and Rozner Labs. The thing about the DOS games is that while they are substantially worse at recreating Capcom’s games – in appearance, sound and even gameplay – they attempted to create their own unique scenarios, no matter how misguided. Likewise, the games themselves honestly looked more like amateurish fan works, something that most people would take one look at the screenshots on the back of the box and immediately realize that they’d been ripped off. U.S. Gold’s take on the franchise just comes across as far more insidious: lifting entire levels from the NES games, but breaking them with minor but game-breaking modifications to the game’s engine. Worse yet, they also showcase graphics that, at first glance, appear to be superior to the originals, but lead to even greater concessions in terms of presentation. The Game Gear game feels lazy at best and is an outright scam at worst. So yes, while the Game Gear Mega Man may have emulated the actual games more closely than the PC games, they offer absolutely nothing of worth – at least the Hi-Tech games had some original (albeit half-baked) concepts. Just ignore the Game Gear game with extreme prejudice, even MegaMan II on the Game Boy would be better.

MegaMan: The Power Battle & MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters

MegaMan: The Power Battle and its direct sequel, MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters were interesting games based on an obvious concept. The MegaMan series was among the first of Capcom’s success stories within the console market, but what had really made them a household name was their arcade fighting games. With Street Fighter II propelling them into the spotlight, much of Capcom’s focus during the 90s was on 2D fighting games, coming up with other franchises such as Darkstalkers, their licensed games with Marvel and the crossover games pitting their characters against other companies, both within and without the video game industry. Combining the two seemed like a natural fit, taking the MegaMan franchise’s trademark boss fights and streamlining them into a fighting game, so in 1995 and 1996, both games were released in Arcades.

While the Japanese versions are generally the most common, there were also rarer English releases released in North America. In fact, when I was a child, I managed to encounter Power Battle during a family trip on the Big Red Boat cruise line. I became obsessed with the game for my short stay, attempting to beat the game any time and any way I could. Come to think of it, this was the first time I remember being introduced to Bass – who I’d always choose when I could. In fact, tying back to MegaMan & Bass, I remember being irritated with Bass’s new attack style: in Power Battle (and by extension, its sequel), Bass had a charge shot just like MegaMan and ProtoMan. It ticked me off when I was a kid, but these days the aimable rapid fire is definitely my preference.

MM-TPB

It’s weird just how much content was taken directly from MegaMan 7.

While both games have their own unique characteristics, the base gameplay mechanics remain the same. Players are asked to choose between MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass – with Duo acting as a fourth playable character in Power Fighters – before choosing their “course”. Both games have three courses apiece, each with six Robot Masters to fight. After defeating them, it’s off to Wily’s Fortress for two boss fights, the latter against the mad doctor himself, capped off with a Wily Capsule bonus round. As with most fighting games, there’s the option for one or two players to play, but this time around, it’s cooperative play. Likewise, it’s impossible for both players to pick the same character: after all, with the MegaMan series’ emphasis on palette swapping in general, alternate colors would be a nightmare to manage. As this is an arcade game, there are also some unique quirks: for example, health is maintained between fights and each credit only grants a player a single life. The game’s controls consist of a joystick for movement, as well as three buttons: fire, jump and change weapon, which cycles through the weapons in a continuous loop. Likewise, when a Special Weapon is out of ammo, it defaults back to the standard attack.

Despite being released only a year apart, there are actually several differences between Battle and Fighters. Perhaps the most obvious is Duo. While both games include MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass as playable characters, Power Fighters added Duo as a stealth advertisement for the then-upcoming MegaMan 8. While the other three characters are interchangeable for the most part, Duo is far more reliant on short-range attacks, stretching out his larger arm as his primary attack, but can also deal damage with his dash attack. His charge shot allows for greater distance, but also moves far more slowly than the other three. Of course, like the others, he can still use the Special Weapons, which brings me to the next major difference. In The Power Battle, defeating Robot Masters earns both characters each Special Weapon. Power Fighters, on the other hand, has each Robot Master drop an orb containing their weapon – along with health and score power-ups. Whoever picks up the orb gets the weapon. This also applies to a single-player run: no orb, no weapon. It definitely adds more of a competitive aspect to the game which makes the game more interesting when playing it in two-player: some could split the weapon amicably in order to allow for decent load-outs between both players, while other could simply race to see who gets each weapon first.

MM2-TPF

Of course, it makes perfect sense to fight Stoneman in the Egypt-themed area, especially with the giant Sphinx in the background with Pharoahman’s face on it.

Both games offer a choice of three “courses”, each with their own sets of bosses. Both games handle their courses differently. PB separates its Robot Masters by game – resulting in MegaMan 1-2, MegaMan 3-6 and MegaMan 7, which was the newest release at that point in time. PF, on the other hand, separates them into “missions”: “Search for Wily!” has players looking for Wily’s new base, “Rescue Roll!” has a Wily robot kidnap MegaMan’s sister, while “Recover parts!” has one stealing parts for an experimental device. These goals are generally associated with one of the six Robot Masters – chosen at random – and clearing it boosts the character’s abilities. Even the stage select works differently in both games: while Power Fighters allowed players to choose the stage manually, Power Battle went for a weird roulette system where it would cycle between remaining areas and stops on a button press. Both games also have different rosters of bosses: while many are shared between games, The Power Battle had a significant focus on MM7, while Fighters has a more balanced roster. The Power Fighters also adds Eddie as a random encounter during fights, dropping a limited time power-up that varies depending on which character picks it up: MegaMan and Bass get back-up from Rush and Treble respectively – who charge at enemies when charge shots are fired – while ProtoMan and Duo get a shield from Beat that renders them invincible. These power-ups render the player unable to use the Special Weapons until they wear off,

While all of the Robot Masters in both games were essentially recycled from the first seven games in the mainline series, that doesn’t mean that all of the weapons are ripped directly from them. For starters, there are cases where existing weapons have been modified – sometimes to the extent where they almost act like entirely new weapons. For example, the Super Arm now allows MegaMan et al to fire boulders at enemies at will, as opposed to grabbing giant blocks and throwing them. The Crash Bomb now attaches to the ground and fires off multiple small explosions, while the Atomic Fire becomes an arc shot that results in a pillar of flames. Airman’s Air Shooter now only fires off a single tornado while increasing its speed. Some bosses end up giving out different Special Weapons. For example, while Stone Man’s Power Stone has the same name as his original weapon from MM5, it acts completely different: causing a giant stone hand to sail across the bottom of the screen. It’s way better than the original. Likewise, Pharoahman and Centaurman get entirely new weapons: the Pharoah Wave and Centaur Arrow. The Pharoah Wave fires off two energy waves, one in front of MegaMan, the other behind. The Centaur Arrow fires off an arrow-shaped energy burst either straight forward or up-forward diagonally. While the Centaur Arrow is a slight improvement over the Centaur Flash, the Pharoah Wave only appears to have been modified because the Pharoah Shot was little more than a slightly improved Mega Buster.

The games share an artstyle that is clearly inspired by that of MegaMan 7. In fact, it looks like MegaMan, ProtoMan, Bass and the MM7 Robot Masters were all at least based on their sprites from the SNES game, albeit with some weird ratio alterations that just make them look wider, causing them to suffer a bit upon close inspection. The sprites drawn specifically for Power Battle look stupendous: I’ve mentioned that I’ve always had a bit of a preference for MegaMan 7’s spritework and this game is definitely a major factor in my love for the artstyle. You can get a sense for the size of each Robot Master in a way that most games – especially those in the 8-bit style – just simply can’t match. The added budget from being an arcade game also improved the animation budget: the Yellow Devil and its liquid body are a prime highlight of what the spriting artisans of Capcom were capable of back in the mid-90s. The new sprites made for The Power Fighters are a bit less consistent. While most of them actually look even better than those from the previous game – Stoneman, Pharoahman and Airman are great examples – others, like Elecman and Duo, just come across as cheaply-made and not at all consistent with the rest of the game’s spritework. Still, that’s just a small criticism overall – after all, PF upped the ante by adding special animations when bosses are hit with their weaknesses.

The music and sound receive a similar upgrade: Capcom’s CPS-2 arcade hardware typically used QSound to achieve its unique instrumentation. Regardless, Capcom’s arcade games were renowned for their audio clarity and the MegaMan arcade duology was no exception. Sound effects in general sounded akin to a fighting game and quite unlike any MegaMan game that came before (or after) it. Likewise, the games made use of Japanese voice acting. While some of it was removed from the international releases of The Power Battle, it was left completely intact for Fighters. The games’ music was mostly recycled from earlier games in the MegaMan series and rearranged by Setsuo Yamamoto and Hideki Okugawa. The Power Battle actually had less compositions in general – forcing the bosses in the MegaMan 1-2 and MegaMan 3-6 courses to share music, while the MM7 bosses all had their own unique songs, Shademan’s Ghouls ‘n Ghosts Easter Egg even returns. The Power Fighters, on the other hand, took great care to make sure that every boss had their own unique themes, even the Fortress sub-bosses. Unfortunately, even with all that love and care put into the games’ soundtracks, there are still some odd quirks. For example, Turboman has the theme from MM7’s introduction stage in Power Battle, while Plantman, Quickman and Centaurman have Crashman’s theme, the MM2 boss music and Junkman’s themes respectively in Power Fighters. Aside from that, there’s little to complain about when it comes to the soundtrack – there was even an original song used in Power Battle for the first Fortress boss that returned in Power Fighters as the Yellow Devil’s unique boss theme. Considering the fact that much of the music was actually reused in the Rockman Complete Works’ arranged soundtracks, it’s clear that Capcom also recognized its quality.

rm-b&f

I seriously wish Capcom had actually pursued this art style on their own.

It wasn’t remotely uncommon for Capcom’s arcade games to receive home ports, especially if they were based around Capcom’s own intellectual properties rather than a license. The MegaMan arcade games were no exception, though their first trip home was unique to say the least. Rather than coming home on the PlayStation or even the Saturn, the first home release of Power Battle and Power Fighters was a Japanese-only release in 2000 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, a portable system designed by rival company SNK to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Color. Dubbed “Rockman Battle & Fighters”, the release was by no means arcade-perfect, but it was fascinating. While the game had to make sacrifices with regards to its graphics and especially its sound, the gameplay was left intact, more or less. The game’s soundtrack was diminished to roughly 3 Robot Master themes period, but they end up sounding pretty good on the NGPC’s sound chip. Perhaps the most interesting change came to the graphics. Essentially bridging the gap between the arcade games’ unique 16-bit style and the original NES games, Battle & Fighters had a unique look that I wish more games had emulated. It didn’t always work, but when it did, it looked gorgeous, given the NGPC’s limited capabilities. The best example would be the Blue Bomber himself: the juxtaposition of his classic 8-bit face with the posture and stance he had in  MM7 made for a unique look I wish more games had tried. B&F also had an information database, with profiles on all of the game’s Robot Masters, as well as the playable characters, Roll, Dr. Wily and Dr. Light. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants to have the definitive experience with these two games, but it is definitely a fascinating curiosity.

That’s not to say that there weren’t more traditional re-releases as well. In fact, one of the main selling points for the MegaMan Anniversary Collection was the inclusion of the two arcade games as unlockable bonus content. As such, Western gamers had access to them whether they owned a PS2, GameCube or even the Xbox. Japan, on the other hand, saw a completely different release, referred to as Rockman Power Battle Fighters. A PS2-exclusive, the release only contained the two arcade games in a collection that resembled most of the fighting game rerelease compilations on the Japanese PS2 at the time. It was pretty much arcade-perfect, but added a competitive Versus mode to both games, where two players could fight each other with each respective game’s full arsenal at their disposal. Definitely a nice bonus and I’d hope that if Capcom decides to re-release the arcade games again, they use this version for that new feature alone.

versus-mode

It’s broken, it’s stupid, but it’s pure fun.

As a whole, both MegaMan: The Power Battle and MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters are little more than a fun little diversion. They were designed as arcade fighting games, so expecting anything more would be insane. They’re probably either best played by people unfamiliar with the franchise or fans of the series in the mood for a quick play session with little time to spare. These aren’t really meant to be criticisms of the games, just statements that they’re probably not the best way to experience the Classic MegaMan series as a whole. While the boss fights are definitely one of the most memorable aspects of any MegaMan game, the stages that precede them are equally important to the franchise’s core identity. Still, it is impressive just how well MegaMan was able to transition into a fighting game without losing the key elements that make the series so unique in the first place. Best of all, it’s an all too rare example of a cooperative fighting game and that alone makes these games worth at least one playthrough.

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha – which roughly translates to “MegaMan & Bass: Challenge from the Future” and commonly referred to by fans as either “Rockman & Forte WonderSwan” or “Rockman & Forte 2” – is most likely the best officially-licensed MegaMan game in existence. This sentence, while true, is also a prime example of a “back-handed compliment”. That’s not meant to be a dig at the game itself, but given the other games Capcom licensed from other companies, it’s also not really that big of an achievement either. Released in 1999, it is one of the most well-known games for Bandai’s Japan-exclusive handheld, the WonderSwan, and honestly, in terms of quality, I’d say that while it’s still a step down from even MegaMan II on the Game Boy – which it actually references in its storyline – it’s still probably the best MegaMan game Capcom didn’t personally oversee. Of course, there are conflicting reports regarding whether Rockman & Forte WS was actually published by Capcom themselves, speculation that was probably fueled by the game’s quality.

Taking place in the year 200X – though I’m sure they meant 20XX, considering Forte didn’t exist at that point – a mysterious group of robots from “the future” known simply as the Dimensions attacked Symphony City, a place where people and robots lived in harmony. It was said that this new gang of robots was led by a mysterious and powerful robot that resembled Rockman himself. Referring to himself as Rockman Shadow, the robot resembled Quint and claimed that he wouldn’t forgive anyone who wouldn’t obey him. Rockman and Forte decide to put their differences aside to face this new threat. Not the most involved story, but it’s on par with most of the stories in the Game Boy games.

Forte

Seriously, isn’t that the butterfly robot from Sonic & Knuckles?

Challenger from the Future’s gameplay is pretty much a low-rent version of its SNES predecessor. Players are able to choose between Rockman and Forte, each with their own separate abilities – though now Forte’s dash allows him to duck under obstacles, like Rockman’s slide. The game starts with an introduction stage, capped off with a boss fight against the Grey Devil. After that, players are allowed to choose between 4 of the Dimensions: Danganman, Konroman, Airconman and Komusoman – four Robot Masters based on a bullet, a Japanese Stove, an air conditioner and a Japanese monk respectively. After they’ve been defeated, it leads to fights with the Clockmen – essentially a pair of robots with clocks in their torsos that fight as one – followed by Compassman, the one member of the Dimensions that doesn’t give up a Special Weapon upon its defeat. After that, there’s only the final showdown with Rockman Shadow himself. The stage designs are somewhat generic, but do follow MegaMan’s formula. The most interesting part of the stages would probably be the enemy selection: there’s the iconic Mettools and Battons, some old favorites like the Hammer Joes from MM3 and completely original enemies, most of them insectoid in form – there’s even a robotic butterfly that looks eerily close to the one in Sonic & Knuckles.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game comes into play with Airconman’s stage, which utilizes one of the WonderSwan’s unique gimmicks. The WonderSwan had two sets of buttons – the standard that allows the system to be played from a horizontal orientation and an alternate set of controls for playing the system vertically – and Airconman’s stage utilized the latter. Most of the game’s stages also have a mid-boss fight and Airconman’s is probably the most unique because of the gimmick associated with it. There’s a giant squid suspended at the top of the screen, too high for Rockman to shoot. To make matters worse, there are also platforms that shield it from attacks. While Forte can aim straight up to attack it, Rockman has to rely on one of the game’s more unique physics in order to damage it. There are Mettools on both sides of the room and in this game, when their hardhats deflect buster shots, they maintain their ability to damage enemies. Therefore, Rockman has to aim and time his shots in such a way that they collide with the squid in order to damage it. Another interesting quirk about Rockman & Forte WS is that the bosses have obscenely long health bars in this game – even managing to dwarf those from some of the later MegaMan X games. The upside is that they don’t have hit-invincibility this time around, meaning that players can just lay into them. Finally, the game also retains the save slots from the SNES and GBA versions, though there are 3 instead of 4.

Rock1

Probably the coolest part of the game. (No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.)

The shop system also returns in Rockman & Forte WS. Screws can still be found throughout stages, either as item pickups or by defeating enemies. Many of the items from the other versions return in this game, such as the Spare Body, the “Exit Parts” and the Energy Balancer. Rockman and Forte also have their own unique items, but there are some exclusive to the WonderSwan version. Rockman’s shop items are the Rush Coil, which is exactly what it sounds like; Beat, which is similar to the SNES version; Eddie, which calls Eddie to drop a random power-up and most interestingly, Tango returns from MegaMan V. Forte retains the Gospel Boost, Super Buster and Hyper Buster from the console version, but also gains Reggae, who drops a random item just like Eddie.

Of course, perhaps the most unique thing about this game is that Rockman and Forte actually have different weapons in the game. Sometimes it’s just the same weapon with a different name attached, but some Robot Masters give out completely different weapons based on which character defeats them. With that in mind, I’ll be ranking Rockman and Forte’s weapons separately. First, we’ll go with Rockman.  Defeating Komusoman grants him the Doppel Crash, an attack where that renders Rockman invincible as he charges at enemies, brandishing a blade at the end of his Rock Buster. The Flame Shower is Konroman’s weapon effectively a short-ranged flamethrower that emits from the Rock Buster for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, the flames shoot upward, still capable of damaging any enemies it touches. Danganman’s Rockn Vulcan is a bullet that splits into three – each moving in a separate direction, creating a spread shot pattern. Barrier Wind is obtained by defeating Airconman. It’s a gust of wind that can destroy multiple enemies, as well as specific walls. Finally, there’s the Clockmen’s Time Switch, which freezes time for four seconds and renders Rockman completely invulnerable to enemies and their attacks, at the cost of his ability to attack.

Forte2

Surprisingly, this is also an original boss fight.

That leaves us with Forte. The Doppler Attack (not to be confused with the weather radar or the doctor from X3) is Forte’s reward for defeating Komusoman and it splits him into four tiny duplicates of himself that are able to fly around the stage at will. Did I mention that they’re also invincible? Konroman’s Flame Mixer is a unique take on the traditional shield weapon: four flames surround Forte for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, they launch straight up. Forte Vulcan is taken from Danganman, and it’s a bullet that homes in on the nearest enemy, sort of like a better version of the Dive Missile. Meanwhile the Forte Cyclone and Time Bomb – taken from Airconman and Clockmen respectively – are identical to the weapons given to Rockman. Some pretty interesting weapons for both characters and some of them are even better than the real ones. Who wouldn’t rather have the Doppler Attack or the Doppel Crash instead of Copy Vision?

The game’s graphics are, in a word, weird. While later revisions of the WonderSwan would add color displays, the original was restricted to black-and-white monochromatic graphics, much like the original Game Boy. Despite this handicap, everything in the game is completely visible – put simply, the graphics are functional. It’s just that everything’s got weird body proportions. The spritework in general actually just ends up looking like one of those original Chinese bootleg NES games that were hitting store shelves in the 2000s. Worse still, most of the game’s graphics don’t look like they came from the same game – there really isn’t any cohesion to any of the designs. To make matters worse, Rockman and Forte – the player characters – are actually hit the hardest by both of these two problems. It’s almost as if their designs from Rockman & Forte WS were meant to bridge the gap between realistic proportions and super-deformed “chibi” style artwork, but they just ended up right in the middle of both artstyles, leading to an almost “uncanny valley” effect. Worse still, it’s not even limited to the in-game graphics: even in the game’s cutscenes they retain these weird proportions. There is one thing I really liked about the game’s artwork: after defeating a boss, their portrait changes from a serious mugshot to a comedic little picture of them having been defeated. It’s cute and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if actual mainline MegaMan games had adopted something like that.

The game’s music is essentially taken from the SNES version of the game. Not every song is used, but most of it is reused in similar contexts. The six Dimensions use various Robot Master stage themes that fit with some of their own gimmicks – for example, Airconman uses Coldman’s theme and Tenguman’s music plays during Komusoman’s level – Burnerman’s theme is used for a cutscene, leaving Magicman as the sole holdout. Rockman Shadow’s stage uses the theme from King’s Fortress, while the game’s ending uses the CD Database theme for a more somber feel than the upbeat song in the SNES version. WonderSwan’s sound chip had something of an 8-bit sound to it, and while most of the song arrangements in Rockman & Forte WS aren’t perfect, they get the job done. The sound effects are quirky – it’s odd hearing 8-bit sound effects in a MegaMan game that don’t try to emulate the ones from the NES games – but nothing really sounds out of place. Overall, Challenger from the Future’s sound design is serviceable, nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, Challenger from the Future almost feels like a companion piece to the DOS games – almost like their Japanese counterpart. They make use of their own unique characters, both clearly feel off when compared to the “legitimate” MegaMan games from Capcom (to different extents) and there’s even a weird fascination with them in their respective regions. In fact, the Dimensions have even made some random appearances in Capcom-sanctioned material. Elements from the games managed to make some minor appearances in Archie’s MegaMan comic, while Konroman actually made a cameo in a comic book in MegaMan ZX Advent. With that in mind, it’s hard to tell if Capcom actually owns the rights to the characters original to any of the licensed games. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dimensions or even the Robot Masters from the PC games make some kind of a cameo appearance in future titles and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Rock2

Seriously, you’re fighting a walking stove. This game is all sorts of wacky.

Thus, we come to the conclusion of the third part of this retrospective. While this era of the Classic MegaMan games was fairly experimental, it just simply couldn’t last. After a hiatus that began due to an oversaturation of the games in general, we’d see the sheer amount of sub-franchises under the MegaMan umbrella more than double – resulting in a total of 7 unique takes on the Blue Bomber. Indeed, Classic MegaMan would go into a state of suspended animation, living on in a compilation or two, until the end of the 2000s, when he would make his grand return in familiar form.

A Wishlist Named GOG

On the one hand, giving up on the PC ports articles helped me out with regards to the quality of my writing, at least in terms of the topics I’d cover. After all, they were effectively vanity pieces, where I would essentially just lay out a list of ten games I’d love to see ported to my current platform of choice, particularly via Valve’s Steam platform. Back in the early days, this was a much more viable endeavor: many companies (particularly those of Japanese origin) had just began looking at PC ports as a potential revenue stream and I simply wanted to make my voice heard, even against the backdrop of a little-known blog, echoing from the most obscure corner of the vast internet. Since then, I’ve gotten a significant dividend on my investments and at this point, it seems like more companies have adopted the PC as a secondary platform for Western releases, superseding the current incarnation of the Xbox, with many smaller Japanese companies considering the PC market as a viable place to invest in general. As such, I decided to focus my interests elsewhere – honestly, those lists about ports of PC-exclusive games to consoles have been fun to write – but at the same time, it feels empty. After all, what’s in it for me? I’ve been itching to write another list and despite the fact that I’ve decided to revive the original concept for one more go this holiday season, I wanted to do something a little different first.

Before we dive into this new list, I’ve clearly got some updates to right, on the acquisitions the PC platform has made since that last list back in April. Truth be told, this was one of the determining factors that all but assured that this list would become a reality: if I’d waited until December to write up on everything else, I probably could’ve written an entire article on all the new PC ports we’ve seen announced and released alone. First off, the first Bayonetta was ported to PC as expected, but it was soon followed by a second Sega/Platinum project, the oft-requested Vanquish. Both have been given an even further coat of paint from their original HD releases and as such, now the PC versions are generally considered the definitive releases. de Blob 2 has joined its predecessor on Steam, skipping out on console versions at this point for some strange reason. Glad to see both games have been re-released on PC – I always felt that they were a bit of a longshot – and I hope this means that THQ Nordic has plans to revive the series down the line as well. Then there were games I’d wanted that didn’t even get the chance to be put on this year’s upcoming list: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was confirmed for release tomorrow on Steam, GOG and Humble Store via XSEED, who confirmed that the second game in the trilogy would also be receiving a PC port later this year and is now apparently taking PC development far more seriously (more on that later); Natsume released their first PC game in the form of Wild Guns Reloaded last month; SNK finally granted my wish and released The King of Fighters XIV on PC, with the port being handled by Abstraction Games, the very company that handled Double Dragon Neon, my first successful request; and Raiden V: Director’s Cut, an enhanced release of the former Xbox One exclusive was announced for both PS4 and PC. Speaking of which, last year, I wrote up a top 10 list of the games that I’d mentioned in previous lists that I most wanted to see become a reality. I’m happy to say that not only did two of those entries become a reality, but they were my top 2 choices overall. MegaMan 9 and 10 are coming to PC (as well as PS4 and XBO) via the upcoming MegaMan Legacy Collection 2, with all of their DLC included. As an added bonus, MegaMans 7 & 8 will also be included: truth be told, I’d have paid the $20 asking price for MM9 and MM10 with their bonus content alone; including MM8 was just gravy. Even more amazing was the news from last month that Ys Seven would be coming to PC in the West, via a brand-new port commissioned by XSEED themselves. Coming to us with an improved translation, 60FPS gameplay and enhanced graphics, it’s looking to be the definitive version of the Ys franchise’s first fully-3D adventure. Better still, this means that now, none of my lists are complete failures: at least one game from every list I’ve written up has had at least one PC port listed made, so I’m absolutely ecstatic about it. What this means for Memories of Celceta, now the only modern game in the series missing from PC, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, especially in light of the information that Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo went on record saying that he wants “all of their games on Steam“. Of course, with my top two games on that cumulative list acquired, that may just mean I’ll have to write up a new one in December.

So with that gargantuan list of victories, let’s get to the topic at hand – what is the list going to be about this time around? Quite simply, I’m going to turn the entire concept on its head: instead of asking for games that are exclusive to consoles to receive brand-new ports, why not ask for some old PC games (ports or otherwise) to be re-released so that modern generations can enjoy them? If the title didn’t give it away, this wishlist is dedicated to the fine people over at GOG. Formerly known as “Good Old Games”, G-O-G – or “Gog” as I prefer to pronounce it, simply because it sounds like a caveman’s name. Since they generally deal in older PC games, it just seems fitting to me – is perhaps the second-most popular digital platform when it comes to PC games, and that’s probably due to their unorthodox strategies. If their original name didn’t make it obvious, GOG focuses mostly on providing digital re-releases of old games that are long since out of print. That is to say, the majority of their “new releases” are a bit of a misnomer.

I personally believe that GOG’s popularity is because it bucked the trend that many digital storefronts embraced: attempting to create a “Steam-killer”, seemingly going after an entirely different niche audience of PC gamers – a solid concept given their focus on “good, old games”. Of course, perhaps the most prominent way they’ve separated themselves from Valve’s nigh-monopoly is with their strict policy against DRM software. That essentially makes GOG one of the few digital storefronts where you can literally buy PC games. While that’s had the unfortunate consequence of making them the perfect source for PC game piracy, it’s still something that has earned them quite a few companies’ respect, not to mention a dedicated fanbase, especially among anti-DRM advocates. Likewise, while GOG traditionally works off their website, they’ve also built their own Steam-like client, GOG Galaxy, which allows for various quality of life features Steam is acclaimed for, such as in-game achievements, automatic updates and even online cross-platform play with Steam users.

GOG is the class valedictorian to Steam’s starting quarterback with really rich parents. Valve’s massive war chest has allowed them to become everyone’s favorite PC gaming service, effectively becoming the last man standing after the all-out war against the now-defunct Games for Windows Live. GOG’s focus and policies make them a far less popular choice for the majority of developers and especially publishers, but in return, they provide their customers with far better service. Perhaps the best illustration of this is by comparing the two stores’ refund policies: while Steam offers a strange 2 weeks owned/2 hours played policy, GOG offers a 30-day refund policy, no questions asked. Of course, many times when GOG goes out of their way to secure the re-release of an oft-requested title, it’ll often just show up Steam later on, usually after a particularly anemic exclusivity period. Seems a bit thankless to me, but I guess I understand it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about GOG would be their community wishlists. In my opinion, these are the ultimate proof of their dedication to provide their customers with the best possible service. GOG has wishlists for new features on the website, new features on their Galaxy client, new movies (yes, GOG offers digital video downloads as well), but the longest-running and my personal favorite would have to be their wishlist for new PC games. While there are quite a few cases of people completely missing the point of the service, I’ve upvoted quite a few of these and quite a few of these games have ended up emerging on the service. In fact, GOG’s community wishlist is what inspired this wishlist in the first place, both the concept and some of the entries on here. I’ll include links to those with entries on the community wishlist, in an effort to get them some support and, perhaps, one day, some of these games will find their way onto the service.

The rules are going to be a bit different this time around, just to make my life a bit easier. Chances are this will end up being a one-shot, so I’m not particularly worried with the changes. I’ll be keeping the concept of consolidating multiple games in a single series into one entry, simply to both save space and get as many games in as possible. As these are all existing PC games, there’s no point in separating series by platform, so it’s pretty much a free-for-all in that regard. I’m bumping the company limitations from 1 to 2 entries this time around, simply because there just aren’t as many companies with games I’d want. Likewise, much like previous “special” lists, I’ll be including an additional write-up, this time focusing on my thoughts on the likelihood of these games being released on GOG in the future. That seems like it might be good for a laugh.

The House of the Dead/The Typing of the Dead – Sega

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on several occasions that when I was young, my main outlets for gaming were the Game Gear, my ill-fated Nomads (never give a child with a temper a fragile, yet expensive handheld) and of course, the family computer. Sega was a constant presence on all three platforms. I was always a fan of the “Sega PC” line of games: it blew my mind to see Sonic 3 & Knuckles on my friend’s computer and I was equally blown away by the mere existence of Sonic CD. But there were many more games in there, and as time went on, Sega’s offerings improved. The Sega PC lineup was particularly strong during the Saturn days. Given the fact that the source code is long gone, I think Sega re-releasing the original House of the Dead’s PC port would be a good way to honor the franchise, especially given the fact that every other game in the franchise has been re-released in some form. Likewise, I’d love to see a re-release of the original Typing of the Dead, given how much I’m loving Overkill. Unfortunately, since The Typing of the Dead 2 was Japan-exclusive, I’m far less optimistic about that one seeing a re-release on GOG, unless Sega decides to include a translation.

Odds: Well, Sega has yet to release any games on the GOG platform, so that makes things kind of dicey. Still, given Sega of Europe’s recent shift towards PC ports and original development, I think there may be a chance that we could see some of these games pop up in the future with enough fan demand. (5/10)

Panzer Dragoon – Sega

It almost pains me to include this one, simply because there was another game I wanted from the Sega PC line-up. Alas, that game ended up below, in the honorable mentions, simply due to the importance of this game. Generally considered one of the best games for the Sega Saturn, not to mention one of the best games developed by Sega period, Panzer Dragoon only saw release on the Saturn, on the Japan-exclusive Sega Ages line and as a bonus feature in the Xbox’s Panzer Dragoon Orta. The Xbox version utilized the PC port as its basis – a not-at-all uncommon move for Sega with regards to many titles from around that era – which should speak to its quality. As such, I had to put my nostalgia aside and give Panzer Dragoon the nod: besides, I never really got to play it and I’ve been interested in the game for quite some time now.

Odds: I’d almost say that it’s on par with the HotD games, but honestly, given the sheer zealotry of Panzer Dragoon’s small but dedicated fanbase, I’d say that if any Sega PC game makes it onto GOG, it’s got to be Panzer Dragoon – though, hopefully, Sega doesn’t decide to stop at just one. (6/10)

Metal Gear Solid: Integral/Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – Konami

I guess it just sort of proves how dumb of a kid I was: I had no idea that either of these games had even received PC ports. Of course, given Konami’s history with the MSX, I guess it kind of makes sense. From what I can tell, both ports were fairly well done, and there were even mods that upscaled all of the textures and graphics to allow for HD gameplay, effectively giving the PC versions an edge over any other version. There was a rumor for quite some time that Konami was planning to port the MGS HD Collection to Steam, but frankly, I think I’d rather just see these ports of the first two games re-released instead.

Odds: Like Sega, Konami has absolutely no presence on GOG at the moment. To make matters worse, they’ve earned themselves a fairly poor reputation among gamers in recent years, both through many of their releases but mostly due to some of their managerial shenanigans. Unless Konami decides they want to win back gamers, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (2/10)

MegaMan Legends/MegaMan X3, X4, X5 & X8 – Capcom

The funny thing about MegaMan Legends is that, for quite some time, the only version you could buy new was the PC version. It was sold for quite some time on GameStop’s digital service, then just randomly vanished into the ether. I’m not sure if Capcom ordered them to take it down or if the game just stopped being compatible with current versions of Windows. Whatever the reason, it just disappeared. Considering the fact that Capcom was able to license a re-release of all three games as PS1 Classics, I’d kind of hope that they would be willing to swing a similar re-release of the PC version on GOG.

I also decided to include all of the MegaMan X games that came out in English-speaking regions, with the exception of the piss-poor port of the first game, handled by the folks at Rozner Labs. From what I can tell, all the ports I’ve mentioned are on par with their counterparts on PlayStation consoles (that includes X3), which is honestly fine by me. There were also ports of X6 and X7 (as well as Legends 2), but these were strictly made for the Asian market, and therefore, wouldn’t be available in English. From what I’ve heard, the port of Legends 2 was of poor quality anyway – and given how little I think of X6 in the first place, I’d be fine with just ignoring them. X8 was released exclusively in both Japan and Europe, so it gets a pass.

Odds: Well, for starters, Capcom has already released a couple games on GOG, namely the recent PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, but more importantly, their Windows PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2. This effectively makes them the first company I’ve mention that’s clearly aware of GOG’s existence. Having said that, I’d have to give Legends and the X games two separate scores here. While it’s unlikely that Capcom’s planning any major re-releases of the Legends games, it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a MMX-themed Legacy Collection down the line. While a release along those lines would technically bring those games back to the PC, it would still be cool to see those old ports re-released on GOG, if only for curiosity’s sake. (Legends: 5/10; X Games: 3/10)

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – Capcom

This may seem a bit redundant to many of you: after all, I included the HD version of Puzzle Fighter in one of my earlier wishlists. However, I think both versions offer me something different. While the HD version includes online play and the additional two modes that originated in the Dreamcast version, the existing PC port was based on the PS1 release, which means that it has one thing going for it that the HD version couldn’t possibly compete with: nostalgia. SPF2T was one of the earliest games I owned on the PS1, and it included both the original and arranged soundtracks, as well as Street Puzzle Mode. Street Puzzle Mode was among one of the first video game challenges that I found difficult, but managed to overcome after hours of practice and it left me feeling satisfied. Quite simply, Street Puzzle Mode taught me the joys of “gitting gud” at video games, and I can’t stop thanking it for that. While most people would probably just prefer the HD version to get a re-release, I’d personally love to see both: HD on Steam and the original port on GOG.

Odds: Honestly, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, re-releasing the old port would probably be easier than porting the newer version to PC. But given the fact that current platforms in general also lack Puzzle Fighter HD, it’s entirely possible that Capcom would just do it in an effort to keep bringing older games forward to the current generation of platforms. Like I said, I’d like to see both re-released, but something tells me Capcom wouldn’t be onboard with that. (4/10)

Jazz Jackrabbit series – Epic Megagames

It’s actually really surprising how many great platformers there were on PC back in the good ol’ days. I mainly remember Commander Keen and Duke Nukem, but they weren’t the only ones. Perhaps the most popular was Jazz Jackrabbit, who I mainly remember because I kept confusing him with Bucky O’Hare for reasons that…I’m honestly sure I don’t need to state. I never ended up playing the Jazz Jackrabbit games, but when I was young, I absolutely wanted to play them, and considering all of the good things I’ve heard about them, that interest definitely lives on.

Odds: Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a legal caveat here. Jazz Jackrabbit is co-owned by Epic Games and the series’ original creator, Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinski. Cliffy B departed from Epic awhile back and is currently puttering around on his own, and I’m not sure if the break-up was amicable enough to allow Jazz Jackrabbit re-releases to be licensed by anyone, let alone GOG. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but the odds don’t look too good. (1/10)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos/Croc 2 – Fox Interactive (Jeremy “Jez” San?)

I didn’t exactly adjust all that well when platformers made the shift from 2D to 3D. To this day, I’m still not fond of Super Mario 64, which is generally heralded as one of the greatest platformers of all time. I preferred games like the original Crash Bandicoot and Fox Interactive’s Croc. Croc has recently seen something of a resurgence in popularity lately, due to the alleged effect the game had on the development of Super Mario 64, and by extension, the 3D platforming genre. Even before I knew about any of that, I was just fine playing the game on PS1. Seeing the game revived would be a nice little treat in my opinion.

Odds: Another tricky one for rights issues, but for totally different reasons. With Argonaut – the game’s developer – shuttered and Fox Interactive having been closed down, it’s hard to pin down exactly who owns the rights to the Croc franchise. I’ve heard rumors that the whole shebang belongs to Argonaut founder Jeremy “Jez” San, and therefore any re-releases or new iterations of Croc may have to go directly through him, but considering the fact that he doesn’t seem to be quite as hands-on within the video game industry these days, that may make this pretty much impossible. (1/10)

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – Eidos (Square Enix)

I’ll be honest, in recent years, I’ve found myself interested in the Legacy of Kain series from …well, I guess at this point, it would be Square Enix Europe, wouldn’t it? But I’m a stickler for these kinds of things: especially when delving into series that are “newer” – namely, those that started well after I’d gotten into video games – I generally like to start at the very beginning and work my way forward. The original Blood Omen is the one game from the LoK series that hasn’t seen re-release on PCs, though the PlayStation version is available as a Classic on the PS3. I don’t know why, but I always find incomplete collections to be troubling and re-releasing the first game would be the perfect excuse for me to try getting into it.

Odds: Much like the previous two games, there are apparently some legal issues at hand here. I find this particularly baffling, considering that, as I mentioned earlier, the PS version is still currently available on both the PS3 and PSP. Apparently, Activision and Silicon Knights ported the game to PC, which is likely the source of the hang-up. The game’s been made available on Abandonia, an online repository for games that are considered “Abandonware” and has apparently seen no legal action from either Activision or Square Enix. Either way, the chances of an official re-release seem quite poor at this point. (1/10)

Mortal Kombat Trilogy/Mortal Kombat 4 – Midway (WB Games)

Growing up as a kid, I was in a tough spot: I was absolutely obsessed with fighting games, but generally limited to PC as my main outlet for gaming. Man, if only little Icepick could see the literal deluge of big-name fighting games available on PC nowadays! My main outlets for 2D fighters in my early years were the god-awful port of Street Fighter II, handled by the abomination known as Hi-Tech Expressions (even writing their name sends chills down my spine!) and the first 3 Mortal Kombat games. Sure, later on, I’d become enamored with the PC version of X-Men: Children of the Atom, but that’s a story for another time. Now, the Mortal Kombat ports were actually very well made, pretty much as good as their source material, and I loved these games growing up. Fortunately, GOG already has these games available on their service. What I didn’t know is that these weren’t the only MK PC ports made during this era. No, despite my beliefs that the series took a hiatus between 3 and the 2011 reboot, two more games actually made their way to Windows PC. While Trilogy and 4 weren’t the best games in the franchise – Trilogy was the true forerunner to MUGEN and MK4 was just another in a long line of games that were tarnished by the fifth generation’s obsession with 3D – I’ve got enough nostalgia attached to the previous games in the franchise to want to see just how well or poorly these games translated to the PC.

Odds: Like I said, WB Games already put the first 3 PC ports on GOG, they own the rights to the series and I’ve seen footage of both ports running on modern hardware. I think the only thing keeping these games off GOG is their relative lack of popularity compared to earlier games in the series. Seems pointless to keep them off otherwise. (7/10)

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits – Midway (WB Games)

I’m actually kind of ashamed that I had to make the wishlist entry for this one myself, but it is what it is. The Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits Collection on PC was one of my earliest introductions to retro video games, particularly those made before or around the time of my birth. Truth be told, I absolutely loved every game in this collection, even if I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. The first two Defenders, Joust, Robotron 2084, Bubbles and Sinistar – all great stuff. Since PC missed out on WB’s most recent slew of Midway/Williams Arcade re-releases, this would be the next best thing.

Odds: Well, if Midway Arcade Origins gives us anything to go by, it’s that WB Games owns the rights to all six of the games present in this collection, so clearly there are no legal issues. This may just be another case of WB not knowing what they’re sitting on. (7/10)

Honorable Mentions

Virtua Fighter PC/Virtua Fighter 2:  I actually had Virtua Fighter PC when I was a kid and that’s what made it so hard to leave it off the main list. I had no idea that its sequel also received a PC port, but considering the fact that I’d almost certainly prefer to see the version from Sega’s Model 2 Collection hit PC instead, I almost considered leaving it off. Still, it’s better to have options in general, so I figured why not?

Jill of the Jungle: This game actually almost made the list, but considering my lack of nostalgic love for the game and what I’ve seen of the gameplay, I decided to push it down to the honorable mentions instead. Still, it’s an important game when looking back at platforming games on the PC, so it deserves to be preserved in some form and enjoyed by modern audiences.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo: I really wish that I had known about this port when I was a kid: if only that SF2 port had been half this good, I would’ve been happy. By no means arcade-perfect, the game is still impressive in just how much they got right. Supplemented with an amazing arranged soundtrack, courtesy of Redbook audio, Gametek’s port of SSF2T should have gotten way more love than it got. I’ve seen its demo floating around on the Wayback Machine’s PC game archive, but I’d love to own the real deal – even just a digital copy.

Having the past of PC gaming available in the modern day is great. It shows you just how far PC gaming has come and what we’ve lost along the way. While I doubt I’ll have enough material to do a follow-up list for GOG in the future, I’m still happy I decided to write up this list. While I’ve got my clear favorites on this list, I’d love to see any of these hit the service in the near future. I’m not particularly optimistic about most of these games seeing re-release, but who knows, maybe by the time I write the next list, this one too will have borne fruit. I just wouldn’t expect any future lists on other services – I wouldn’t have any idea where to begin with Battle.Net, let alone Origin.

Of Axioms and Idioms: The New Sub-Standard

While I’ve been having fun revitalizing older series that I abandoned awhile back, it would be hypocritical of me to orphan my latest series. This time, it’s not so much a lack of topics that has caused me to forgo writing Of Axioms and Idioms, it’s more a lack of time. I’ve got so many ideas for new articles that I’ve managed to leave a good number of worthwhile topics on the back-burner for quite some time. It doesn’t help that I seem to be coming up with more new ideas quicker than I can write the existing ones. Worst of all is the fact that I tend to find my newest ideas the most intriguing, which pushes things back even further in many cases. Still, it’s been roughly half a year since the last time I wrote an article in this series, so it seems like it’s the right time to bring it back.

This one’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for quite some time, yet ironically, it’s also the latest topic I’ve managed to come up with for this series. Basically, there’s something of a stigma when it comes to long-running series. Specifically, when it comes to their latest iterations. The issue isn’t specifically liking the current games in an old series, that seems to be alright by most accounts. Rather, considering the most recent entry in well-established franchises to be the best that said franchise has to offer seems to be frowned upon among die-hard fans. Likewise, when a more or less “objective” best game is chosen, it’s generally a relatively early title in the series’ history.

To show you just how long this idea has been sitting around, the original example that inspired this topic is no longer relevant. Tekken Tag Tournament 2, while still currently my favorite game in the Tekken franchise – ironically, I’ve yet to pick up Tekken 7 – is no longer the latest game in the franchise. Still, I felt a little ashamed to acknowledge that the latest entry in the series had become my favorite, simply because I was a long-time fan and therefore, was familiar with the earlier games in the series. Meanwhile, ask the average Tekken fan and chances are they’ll name a much earlier game as their favorite: specifically, Tekken 3. If you’ve read my Tekken retrospective from earlier this year, you’d know that I was never really quite as enamored with the game as the majority of the Tekken fanbase, even if I did recognize its quality.

Another slightly more relevant example would relate to MegaMan, specifically the Classic series. Personally, I think the tenth game in the franchise – which has been the most recent game for a whopping 7 years at this point – is the best that the series has to offer. Most of the Classic faithful, on the other hand, are still hung up on MegaMan 2. Honestly, I don’t even think MM2 is the best of the NES games, let alone the best in its entire series. MegaMan 2 made the most significant improvements over its predecessor, but the franchise still had room to grow. What I find especially ironic is that MegaMan 9 – a game that was essentially built to perfectly emulate an MM2 ROM hack – received much greater acclaim, despite having weaker level designs. Worst of all, it seems like if you don’t accept 2 as the “one true Classic MegaMan game”, you’re bound to be accused of being a contrarian, or worse still, a hipster. Don’t get me wrong: MM2 is a great game, I just think that some of the later games in the series made vast improvements to the formula, but they’re generally cast aside as inferior copies. As a side note, I think it’s a crying shame that the Game Boy games (namely IV and especially V) don’t receive as much attention as they deserve: I think both of those games blew MM2 out of the water, in spite of their hardware limitations.

A slightly less relevant example would be the near-deification of Super Mario 64 among the 3D Mario platformers. Sure, people recognize the quality of both Galaxy games – to at least some extent – but for whatever reason, 64 is still somehow the golden standard to which all future Mario games of that type are held against. I’ll never understand it: honestly, I never thought SM64 was that good in the first place and I think every other game of that type in the Mario series surpassed it in some way, even the abomination/cult classic Super Mario Sunshine. To make matters worse, I actually consider 3D World to be my favorite in that particular batch of games, though I’ve seen more than a few people dismiss it as an inferior knockoff of 3D Land which was, ironically, my previous favorite. I’d argue that the 3D Marios keep improving with each game and that makes 64 the worst by default. Yet it is still the clear favorite for some reason.

Of course, perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon is the fan reaction to the Legend of Zelda games. While both A Link Between Worlds and especially Breath of the Wild have seemingly put it to rest, the so-called “Zelda cycle” is, by and large, the most prevalent and observable example of this mentality I’ve seen on the internet. The Zelda cycle, as I understand it, can be broken down thusly: after enough time has passed since the release of the latest Zelda game, the fanbase begins its backlash against the game itself, deeming it terrible. This, in turn, allows the previous game in the franchise – the one that was previously dubbed the worst the franchise had to offer – to be viewed as an acceptable game for the series. The game that came before that will then usually take its place at the series favorite, the stated “gold standard” for what the next Zelda game should attempt to be. The former “gold standard” is then considered to be overrated (but still good) and everything before that seems to just fade into the ether, effectively just becoming acceptable in general but not a major focal point for the franchise. A safe choice, considered “good for their time” and generally otherwise ignored.

As for a counterpoint to this particular attitude, the best I’ve really been able to observe would have to be within the Ys fanbase. Put simply, “every Ys is best Ys”. Given the fact that the series has gone through at least two major gameplay shifts in its 30-year existence, it only makes sense that most of the fanbase would generally be pretty chill about liking the newest games in the franchise, as Falcom always seems to strive to improve upon mistakes made in the previous games and avoids change strictly for its own sake, rather only fundamentally shifting the gameplay style once they’ve reached the limits of their current format. Of course, this isn’t a perfect example by any means: there’s a distinct faction that considers The Oath in Felghana (and to a far lesser extent, Origin) as the one true Ys game(s), disavowing anything that came after and, bafflingly enough, before. I guess there are problem children in every fanbase.

Then there’s the Sonic fanbase, which I supposed also acts both as an example and a counter-balance to this perspective. There are essentially three major camps contained within the Sonic fanbase: those who enjoy the original Genesis-era games and feel that this is the best direction for the franchise moving forward, those who cut their teeth on the series during the Adventure games and want the games to go back to that style (in spite of the fact that Sega already tried to recreate said formula twice and ended up with the games generally considered the worst in the entire franchise in the process) and finally, fans of the modern games who consider any references to older titles to be meaningless pandering to a bygone era. If it’s not obvious, the former two camps clearly act in support of my theory, while the third and final camp appears to be its Bizarro doppelganger rather than a nuanced reaction. Of course, these three factions don’t encompass the entire Sonic fandom – there is room for nuance elsewhere – but they definitely make things difficult for Sega moving forward.

Of course, there is a certain level of forgiveness allowed when it comes to committing the grave sin of liking the latest game in a long-running series in general. This is generally reserved for those new to the series. After all, you always remember your first and as they’re new to the series, they have time to learn the “right way” to consider the series. Older fans, on the other hand, generally aren’t afforded the same level of leeway. They’re already familiar with the franchise and its history, so the entire concept of long-time fans disagreeing with the status quo is inconceivable to the hiveminds generally associated with these fanbases. It’s almost like to prefer a game that was intended as an improvement to earlier games in the series is to completely discount the series’ entire history in one fell swoop.

So what exactly is the cause for this animosity towards the most recent games in a franchise? An obvious culprit would be the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t necessarily follow: if nostalgia were to blame, then every fan would generally consider the first game they played to be the best in the franchise, which would be a particularly difficult move for those who had been playing games in the series since its inception. Not to mention the fact that if the first game in a franchise is its best, then there’s really no point in continuing to produce them, diminishing returns and all that. Likewise, given the fact that many video game franchises tend to have one or two games that are considered the best at large, that would also imply that most of the fanbase started playing the series upon the release of that specific game, which seems a bit farfetched if you ask me. So clearly there’s more at work here than simple nostalgia.

A much more likely explanation is equally simple: credibility as a fan. With well-established series – regardless of medium – knowledge of the series’ origins has a tendency to give the impression of legitimacy with regards to any particular fan’s adoration for the works in the general. The same could be said for general consensus: as with most group dynamics, a lack of dissention among the ranks has a tendency of creating a much stronger sense of community, an element that fandoms require to thrive at any stage in their life cycles, from their humble beginnings on. Whether or not this means that most fans legitimately believe that the designated best game in the franchise is their actual favorite, they’re simply giving the game lip service to fit in or that they’ve been essentially railroaded into considering said game to be the best in order to align themselves properly within the group tends to vary – all are clear and distinct possibilities, though I’d consider the former two to be the most likely.

This leads to a much more pertinent question: why is there such resistance to the idea that modern entries of an existing series could potentially surpass their forebearers? I mean, it just seems logical to me that games should constantly strive to improve over what came before them, so maybe I’m missing something. Does acknowledging the strength of newer games make the older ones retroactively worse? Is one’s credibility at stake if they acknowledge improvements made to an existing formula if they just happen to be implemented to close to current year? I’m at a bit of a loss here.

Maybe newer games are just being held to a higher standard in general. After all, they do have years of experience to fall back on, so I can’t argue that they should be held to a higher standard than the games of old. However, there is also the potential to take things way too far in this regard: while nostalgia isn’t completely to blame, they can generally build classic games up to be better in fans’ memories than the reality – take a look at how well various re-releases for more obscure games have been received. Put both the overinflated quality of older games with an expectation for every game to exceed the previous entries in their series to an obscene degree, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I mostly wrote this article to essentially dispel any shame, perceived or otherwise, I’ve felt when liking the latest games in series I’ve been following for quite some time. The sheer sense of elitism when it comes to long-time fans vis-à-vis newer entries has always just struck me as weird. I suppose that this was more of an exercise in trying to justify my own preferences to myself. Of course, this is a fitting use of the “Of Axioms and Idioms” banner, as they’re generally meant to explore my various opinions, unorthodox or otherwise. But what do you think? Do you think I’m completely off-base or am I on to something? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.