Tecmo Super Bowl
Nintendo Entertainment System
Sports videogames often exist in their own bubble. With the exception of entries that take liberties with the realism of the sport, such as “NFL Blitz” and “NBA Jam”, most sports games are only relevant as long as the team rosters remain accurate. Very rarely does any sports game rise past this ceiling, let alone one that takes a “simulation” route as opposed to an “arcade” style of gameplay. Today, we're looking at a game that does all that and then some. And with the Super Bowl coming up in just a few days (as well as the recent announcement of the XFL revival.....OK, not so much that...), it's only fitting we discuss our game today. Make no mistake about it folks, “Tecmo Super Bowl” transcends the “Best Sports Game on the NES” discussion and enters the pantheon of not only being considered the “Best Sports Game of All-Time”, but rightfully deserves mention in the discussion of the best game on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
It's worth mentioning that getting to “Tecmo Super Bowl” was a process. “Tecmo Super Bowl” arrived at a time when, outside of the original “Tecmo Bowl”, a true NFL football game with the actual teams and players hadn't even been done at all, let alone done well. Some games just used their own original teams and rosters, such as the archaic and slow black box NES title “10-Yard Fight”. Others had the NFL team rights but not only would fail to use the actual players, but in the case of LJN's “NFL Football”, make players select a pre-made roster, making the use of the real teams moot. The original “Tecmo Bowl” would actually have a “Players Association” license, allowing the use of the real life players, but without a proper NFL license, this limited the players to play for mascot-less, figurehead-less teams named just by the city they're in with no use of logos or even the full roster of NFL teams (“Tecmo Bowl” only included 12 teams).
The gameplay in these titles were all over the grid as well; “10-Yard Fight” and LJN's “NFL Football” were excrutiatingly slow and boring. “NFL Football”, in a strange move, stored the playbook within the instruction booklet and having players enter a key combination to select plays; if you don't have the instructions or have/want to bother with an FAQ, this renders “NFL Football” nigh unplayable. And while “Tecmo Bowl” played arguably (though, good luck arguing against it) the best game of football on the NES up to that point, the fact that the game carried a limited number of teams, 9-on-9 football gameplay, having the only single-player mode be a gauntlet-style ladder through all teams and other questionable design decisions (literally all passes resulted in a completion or interception, for example) left room to improve.
Enter “Tecmo Super Bowl”, the first NES football game to include both an NFL and “Player's Association” license. On top of that, it was the first to include all 28 NFL teams. So finally, after numerous football games, we finally had proper NFL representation. But the bright spots of “Tecmo Super Bowl” shine much brighter than mere authenticity.
The gameplay is so simple, at first glance it might seem too much so. Each team has an offensive playbook of 8 plays; 4 passes and 4 runs. While playbooks can be edited before a game starts (another TSB innovation), the balance of 4 passes and 4 runs can't be altered. This includes runs to the left and right, handoffs up the middle, and even a QB run in some cases. Pass plays include regular and shotgun formation passes, and even include long bomb passes and flea flicker handoffs. Defenses actually have no playbook at all. Instead, the defense must try to pick the play they believe the offense will pick. If the defense picks the right type of play but not the precisely correct play, they'll be in formation to make a stop but can still be beat if the player on offense executes the play well. If the defense picks the correct play exactly, the line will fail to block the oncoming defense, resulting in a likely loss of yards or a sack. If the defense picks the wrong type of play outright (predicts a pass play when the offense calls a run), it'll leave them out of position, resulting in a likely large gain or a wide open receiver. This style of playcalling is vital to “Tecmo Super Bowl”, and lends to some of the fun. If you have a talented enough running back (we'll get to that in a second), it might be worth a shot to call a run on 3rd and long, a decision that wouldn't make much sense in an actual football game but has a decent shot of working if the opponent thinks in a conventional football sense and guesses a pass play. It might hurt to those gamers looking for realism, but it makes for a very fun strategic experience to say the least.
With Tecmo also being responsible for Ninja Gaiden, it's no surprise they'd work cutscenes into their football game. And they're always awesome.
And that's all before you get into the in-action gameplay itself. And man, oh man, does “Tecmo Super Bowl” deliver. The sprites for the players are fairly simple, and there is some flickering once the game gets going. However, this is done to prevent slowdown and you'll forget about it quickly. It's a necessary caveat to having proper 11-on-11 football and having each player move independently. There are other graphical questionmarks; the most notable (though hilarious) is having players run into or get shoved into the crowd. But this adds to the charm of the game and doesn't take away from the gameplay, which, like any other truly amazing videogame, is worthy of prime time.
The flickering eventually becomes a non-factor the more you play, but it is a little jarring for first-time players. Rest assured, it's a function of the game needed to make true 11-on-11 work, not a faulty cart.
Everything moves fast in this game. Players move fast, the ball is thrown fast, hell, even the clock is quicker than normal cadence (something first-timers will have to get used to quickly). You cannot afford to take your eyes off the action for a second. On pass plays, you simply flip through your receivers with the A button and pass it with the B button. If given enough time (usually when the opponent calls a run defense on a pass play) you can attempt to launch incredibly long passes. A good handful of these will miss, but it's worth it to try a couple per game as they are successful enough from time to time, especially if you have a QB with a cannon for an arm like the Miami Dolphins or a talented receiver corp like the Raiders (or both, as is the case with the 49ers).
Add to this the fact that it's actually fun to run the ball as well (something Madden games didn't figure out how to pull off until the PS2 era). Many runners in the game at least have enough speed to burst through the d-line if you steer them on the correct path (as in “you paid attention to the play call”) and assuming the defense doesn't shut the door. Some can run to the outside and gain a burst of speed. In what was once seen as an exploit but eventually became “part of the game” (ala Mario Kart's “snaking” and vanilla Street Fighter II's combo system), running in a zigzag pattern can counteract the “rubberband” speed defenders receive in order to catch up to a ballcarrier. It's features like this that have made videogaming gods out of names such as “Christian Okoye” and of course “Bo Jackson”, whose speed burst and agility is so much higher than anyone elses, it's possible to run out entire quarters in one play (though very difficult, and likely not possible with a second player out to stop him). Hell, even the act of making/breaking tackles becomes a fast-paced test, as mashing the A button when tangled with an opposing player (ballcarrier or blocker) will either get you free or bring them down. A well-aimed dive tackle will bring any ball carrier down regardless, including if they're already tangled with another defensive player, so the battle for a ballcarrier becomes not just getting free but getting free quick enough to create space from other tacklers.
Fun side note: One other player with fast running speed is actually a QB, who is strangely named “QB Eagles” and wearing the number 0. Three players actually didn't sign off on their Player's Association deals, meaning Tecmo either had to receive individual permission from these players or just give them generic details while having their in-game attributes reflect the real life counterparts. Therefore, Randall Cunningham, Bernie Kosar, and Jim Kelly became “QB Eagles”, “QB Browns” and “QB Bills”, respectively, all while rocking #0 on their jerseys.
Now, I've mentioned a few exploits to the game up to this point. The passing game can be exploited if you have a team that rules at it, and certain running backs can carry entire ballgames on their backs. However, it's this metagame that has formed its own tier of competitiveness amongst longtime “Tecmo Super Bowl” players. Two players that know these fairly simple tips and tricks can bring the competition to a whole new level. Because of this, and because of the sharp, fast, easy to pick up but well-nuanced gameplay, that the NES edition of “Tecmo Super Bowl” continues to be a hit even today. Many tournaments are still held for this game yearly, and there's even fansites that create roster updates that host all 32 teams that are released not only in ROM form but can also be obtained on an NES cart and played in an actual NES (though whether they work in clone systems is a dice roll). Could you imagine if a randomly numbered Madden game from the mid 2000s had any semblance of a tournament scene in 2018? And yet, here's an early 90s NES game that is still finding new audiences, updates, and tournaments. NFL 2K5 is the only non-arcade sports game I can come up with that is even remotely close to the iconic status “Tecmo Super Bowl” holds.
And I've mentioned all of this while simply covering the single-game exhibition mode. “Tecmo Super Bowl” also includes a full 17 week season mode along with playoffs, a first for NFL games. On top of that, it includes full season stat tracking and record keeping. It even runs for 3 seasons, allowing for you to defend your Super Bowl title or even attempt a “dynasty” and win the title 3 times over. And it all saves on battery back-up (it's worth it to make sure the battery on your cart is working, trust me on this). Another neat feature is that you can control multiple teams in season mode, something that even Madden today can't get right. And I don't mean just one or two or four teams. If you wanted to, you and 31 of your closest friends could control all 32 teams yourselves! Or if you want to skip the messing around, there's a “Pro Bowl” option that pits the best in the league in an AFC vs. NFC showdown. In fact, you can even edit the rosters for these teams before you play, so you can assemble your own dream team as long as you stay within the conference boundaries. If you play against the CPU in season mode, the difficulty is slightly raised and goes even higher as you get to the playoffs and finally the Super Bowl championship (there is no difficulty selection in this game), so it's a good idea to be sure to at least learn the game before you tackle a full season. Season mode also includes injuries, something the exhibition mode avoids outright. This is a smart idea; you don't want someone using the excuse “QB Eagles got injured on the 2nd play of the game!”, as if that changes the fact they let you run for 300+ yards as the Chiefs.
Add on iconic music that never gets repetitive due to how focused and fast the gameplay is, additional play modes including a “coach mode” which allows you to call the plays while the CPU executes them, and even a “CPU vs. CPU” mode that allows you to kick back and watch a game unfold (which...I must admit, is more fun in the roster updates to see who'd win upcoming matches), and all of the customizable aspects to the game such as adjusting starting lineups (which can actually boost some teams, depending on the play style you prefer), the aforementioned changing of the playbooks, etc. It's stunning how much of a jump Tecmo took to go from a very good 9-on-9 football game with no season mode and no stat tracking to an amazing, full 11-on-11 football classic with season modes, customization and a crazy amount of statistics.
Is “Tecmo Super Bowl” the greatest football game on the Nintendo Entertainment System? Absolutely! Is it the best sports game on the Nintendo Entertainment System? I haven't played “RBI Baseball” since I was a little kid, and I hear “Baseball Stars” is awesome too, but I feel pretty comfortable in arguing “yes”. “Tecmo Super Bowl” is one of the greatest sports videogames of all-time, untouched on the NES, and still going strong today. If you own an NES, sports fan or not, this is a game you have to add to your collection. If you see this for a single-digit price at a flea market and just dismiss it as a basic sports game, you've passed on not just a great sports game, but a masterpiece that's every bit as super as Mario and every bit as legendary as Zelda. Currently running at $24 on average on eBay, it's worth that with ease. My own Complete-in-Box copy might be my favorite piece in my entire gaming collection, not just for being complete, but for being the greatest sports videogame of all-time as well as one of the greatest games on one of the greatest consoles of all-time.
Rating – 5 out of 5
Welcome back to Part 2 of the teneightep.com Christmas Celebration. Last week, I took a look at two Christmas themed videogame cartoons. However, this week I'll get more “traditional” and talk about a Christmas themed videogame...sortof.
“Christmas Nights into Dreams” (though I will refer to it by the shorter name, “Christmas Nights” for the rest of this post) for the Sega Saturn is a strange little piece of Sega history. It was originally part of a Christmas themed Sega Saturn bundle in Japan, and was given away with certain Saturn games in America as well as being bundled in issues of Sega Saturn Magazine. The copy I will be using for this post is a Japanese copy that belongs to my good friend Sam of “Sam's Song of the Day” blog. So a big thank you to him for spotting me a copy for this post.
Christmas Nights, at its core, is essentially a demo disc for the full “Nights into Dreams” game with some neat little bonuses thrown in (more on those later). Because of this, I will not be giving this a review score. But what I will discuss is what the demo consists of, my thoughts playing through it, and the bonuses that are contained within that make it a little more than just a simple demo disc.
DO NOT MIND! that this post is a few days late. Just don't. :P
For those not familiar with Nights into Dreams, let me explain the game (especially since playing through this was the very first time I'd ever played any game in the Nights franchise at any real length). You play as the title character, Nights, who must eliminate the evil Wizeman who is trying to conquer the “dream world” where Nights resides, which would allow Wizeman to enter and conquer the real world as well. Nights is accompanied by two teenagers named Claris and Elliot. Depending on the character you pick at the start of the original Nights game, the levels and story will slightly change. In fact, the playable level in this demo is a rendition of the first level in the game, but provides a unique route from the original game. The story is also altered into trying to find a Christmas Star in order to bring the Christmas spirit to Claris and Elliot's hometown, though it's really just glossed over in a quick intro which, if you own the American version, includes some very unenthused voice acting:
The gameplay heavily revolves around the concept of flight, which was the major goal of Sonic Team even when they first began conceptualizing the game shortly after completing Sonic 3 and Knuckles. Nights can fly around the stage in a 2.5D manner; actual turning left and right is done on a “course”, but the elevation can be controlled freely by the player. This allows the player to do loops and spins very fluidly. In fact, the game demands the player do this in order to defeat certain enemies and gather items. While you can just pick them up or “spin attack” into them, learning the more complex method of “looping” the items and enemies will allow the player to keep their momentum going and result in faster times and higher scores.
Because of this method of controlling Nights, the method of controlling the game must be mentioned. I'm a fan of using the Sega Saturn controller in a 2D space. I grew up with a Sega Genesis as my console of choice, and I adored the 6-button controller that came with it (I still own that very controller to this day), and no matter which model of 6-button controller you use on the Saturn, it provides a natural evolution to the Genesis controller. That being said, your thumb will be begging for mercy in short order trying to use the D-pad on this thing in either Nights into Dreams or Christmas Nights. Constantly changing directions and making loops will be a painful experience, even just in this short demo.
The original Nights into Dreams was also available in a bundle containing the “3D Controller”, a large spaceship-like controller that is much different from the Sega controllers of the past and actually served as a blueprint for the base Dreamcast controller (which itself inspired future X-Box controllers). It included an analog control stick, which is a necessity for this game. I say this with all sincerity in my heart, if you don't have a 3D controller for Nights into Dreams, you're not going to enjoy it. The turns are much more crisp and natural, and your digits will thank you too. And it's also just a nice controller to have around. If you're even remotely serious about the Saturn as a console, the going price for it is a little steeper at about $35-40 (with some sellers asking for more or bundling it with Nights into Dreams to drive up the price), but it's worth having at least one around. Even if you're just playing Christmas Nights, your experience will be much better with it than without.
The only stage available is a Christmas themed recreation of the first level, in which the only real enemy I had was the time limit. There are enemies within the level, but I was never damaged by them, to the point I wondered (other than point fodder) what purpose they really served. To clear the stage, you're required to pick up bells (known in the original Nights game as “chips”) and deliver them to a point within the level (known as the “Ideya Capture” in the original game, but resembling a Christmas Tree in this one), and then return to the start of the stage to enter the next phase of the level. Each phase has the same goal, but with a different route to take through the stage. It's easier to wrap your mind around the concept of this if you think of it like a “race course”, sometimes needing more than one “lap” to complete the objectives, and the course changing whenever you accomplish the tasks at hand.
Looping is something you better wrap your mind around pretty quickly, be it here or in the full game.
There are also stars in the level that provide points, and as stated before, “looping” around stars/bells/enemies will gather more points than just touching them, and there are also hoops to fly through which can add a ton of points if you can complete the sequence or “link” the gathering of bells or defeating enemies. The loops around enemies/items have to be fairly sharp however, there isn't a lot of room for error. This takes some getting used to, as sometimes the limit can seem lenient and other times it can seem...not so much (again, the 3D controller is a major ally). Once you learn it, you get more used to what your limitations are, but a first-time player will likely not want to mess with it and just want to be more “direct” as they learn the game.
Once you figure out his weakness, the most dangerous part about this battle is the repetition.
There are also two boss battles within the demo. While we will get to the second one later, the first boss is a re-skinned version of the first boss in the original Nights. Once you learn the strategy to defeating him, it's ridiculously easy to defeat to the point that your most dangerous enemy will be your own impatience as you try to defeat him quicker and quicker and take damage. And while the game does not have a lifebar, getting hurt by an enemy does cut your time limit down. If you're on a normal stage, hitting this time limit will force Nights to turn back into Claris or Elliot, causing the player to run back to the central shrine to turn back into Nights. This will cut into their score and rating at the end of the stage. On a boss level, however, it results in a proper Game Over. Defeating this boss will award you a final score/rating and end the demo.
This isn't where Christmas Nights ends, however. Upon completing the demo, you'll be given a “matching game” where you can unlock extra content. This content is actually saved to memory (yes, a demo disc with a save function). While some of the content is simply bonus material for the original Nights game, such as an art gallery and a (much appreciated) music player, other bonuses are included. Two of these are Time Attack and Link Attack. These modes keep track of your best time through the game's single stage and your best “link” (or best chain of collecting/defeating enemies/flying through hoops).
The biggest bonus mode worth mentioning is unlocking Sonic the Hedgehog as a playable character. Unfortunately, due to a memory issue with my Sega Saturn (not sure if it's my Action Replay cartridge or a faulty system battery), I was unable to retain a save file long enough to eventually collect this bonus. Many players see this little easter egg as a precursor to what would have been “Sonic X-treme”, the canceled Sonic the Hedgehog title for the Sega Saturn. Using Sonic in this game also results in a different boss battle, a re-skinned version of another Nights into Dreams boss, this time appearing to look like Dr. Robotnik.
The last item worth mentioning is based on the date/time system in the game. Despite the fact that this game goes by the title “Christmas Nights into Dreams”, playing the game on a different time of year will result in a transformed demo. Playing the game in November or January will simply result in the game being “Winter Nights”, where Christmas items will still be included but the boss battle will be disabled and no mention of a “Christmas story” is included. If the game is played any other time of year, it'll appear as a simple “Nights into Dreams” demo, with no altered graphics or music. There are also little easter eggs depending on the time of day you play as well as the day you play it, including a Lunar Eclipse if you play the game at 3:00 AM, or unlocking Reala (a major antagonist in the full Nights game) as a playable character if played on April Fools day. Some of these bonuses (such as Reala) can be saved and used freely once unlocked.
If you're looking to score a copy of this for yourself, a U.S. copy on eBay goes for around $50 at this time. If you're a big fan of Sega or even just the Saturn, $50 for a fairly neat piece of merch that screams “this is what Sega was all about” isn't taking too much of a hit I suppose, and I don't see a scenario where it'll fall in price as time goes on (unless the entire videogame collecting market takes a fall). Besides, if you're even remotely serious about collecting for the Saturn, and you think $50 is too much, you shouldn't be collecting for the Saturn.
But I'd only recommend chasing it down if you're focused on those types of things. For the general game collector such as myself, $50 for a demo disc is asking WAY too much. Though maybe there's a decent chance you can run into it cheap; someone without knowledge of the game might just see it as a demo disc and think nothing of it. As for a Japanese import copy, they only go on eBay for around $14-15, and most of the text is in English, so there isn't much difficulty in playing it (my only struggle was understanding the intro, which is all in spoken Japanese). So if you have the means to play imported Saturn games (hint: Action Replay cart...that's literally it) and just wanna try it, that'd be the way to go. Another route includes importing a PS2 copy of “Nights into Dreams”, which includes “Christmas Nights” as a hidden unlockable, and while it doesn't include many of the bonuses of the Saturn version (the most jarring being the lack of Sonic as an unlockable), it does unlock bonuses within the full Nights game. So if you have the means to play imported PS2 games and don't wanna bother tracking down a Saturn 3D controller, that option is also on the table.
And with that, I want to wish everyone Happy Holidays, be safe, and enjoy yourselves and the company of others this Holiday season!
Welcome back to teneightep.com for a second go-round. I'm excited to be back for another year of retro-gaming goodness. I plan on blowing Season 1 out of the water with all-new content of various kinds and maybe...just maybe...we'll break that five-star mark.
But most importanty for today, welcome to Part 1 of my very first “Christmas” celebration here on the site. Today's post will be the first of two Christmas themed posts. This week, as the title implies, I will be taking a look at Mario and Sonic's renditions of “Christmas specials” by taking a look at the Sonic cartoon “Sonic Christmas Blast” as well as a look at the Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode “Koopa Klaus”.
Now, while this was the only Sonic related Christmas cartoon I could find (and it's not like Sega didn't appreciate Christmas...we'll get to that next time), I had multiple Mario episodes to pick from. However, with the Super Show being arguably the most well-known animated rendition of the Super Mario Bros. as well as both episodes being similar in a set of ways (Robotnik hijacking Christmas for his own gain, King Koopa trying to hijack Christmas for the Grinch-y reason of “he doesn't like it”), I think that makes for the more fair comparison, even with the time gap between episodes.
“Sonic Christmas Blast” was released in 1996 and is widely considered to be the final episode of the “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” cartoon, even though that series had already wrapped up beforehand. It was originally titled “An X-Tremely Sonic Christmas”, to coincide with the release of the Sega Saturn title, “Sonic X-treme”. However, a large delay (and eventual cancellation) of the game forced a title change to coincide with the Genesis/Saturn title, "Sonic 3D Blast". Although most of the characters are borrowed from the “Adventures...” cartoon, cameos from Princess Sally (though with no speaking role) and SWATBots from ABC's Saturday morning rendition of “Sonic the Hedgehog” are included.
The episode begins with a town gathered around a television for a major announcement. What appears to be Santa announces his retirement, much to the dismay of the people. Santa also announces that his new replacement will be Robotnik Claus, or Dr. Robotnik in a much-too-small Santa costume. This causes a change in the reason for the season, as Robotnik Claus is now demanding that people bring him gifts and presents, even leading to a scene where Robotnik channels his inner mall Santa and asks kids what they're gonna give him. One particular child decides that it's a smart idea to punch Robotnik Claus in the gut upon hearing this news, and is carried off and taken prisoner by Robotnik cohorts Scratch and Grounder.
Any given frame of Robotnik in these old cartoons always shift between either totally goofy or downright creepy...sometimes both.
Meanwhile, Sonic is meeting up with his best friend Tails after a very brief conversation with Princess Sally. One issue I need to address is whether Sally was supposed to have a line of dialogue in this show or not, as even though she makes a couple of appearances, she never speaks a line of dialogue whatsoever. Regardless, it is somewhat jarring to see a character cross over from another Sonic series, appear to be about to speak, and then the scene just goes on to something else. And it's not done in some clever way to “tease” it, it simply seems like they forgot to clip that part of the cartoon out and just left it there to function as a tease.
Regardless, Tails points out the ring Sonic received last Christmas from Sally which has a special inscription within it, which unless you're some 6 year old kid (which is probably the intended audience for this......tis the problem with a full-grown adult reviewing a cartoon for kids), you know this ring will pretty much be the ex machina that will save Christmas in its darkest hour.
Sonic and Tails arrive at the Robotropolis Mall (not sure I'd go Christmas shopping at the mall of my arch nemesis, but maybe that's just me...some people go to crazy lengths for Christmas shopping). But to Sonic and Tails' dismay, every store he arrives at is literally cleaned out. Sonic is then confronted by the child who was supposed to be imprisoned, but he somehow escaped without any explaination (no time for relaxation...don't worry if you don't get it, I wish I didn't), and explains how Robotnik has taken over Christmas and how they need to convince Santa to change his mind. On cue, Scratch and Grounder arrive to provide unnecessary amounts of exposition (what was the point of showing off the fake robotic Santa?!?) and try to take down Sonic and company but are taken out in short order, as per the “Adventures...” usual.
Gotta admit though, Scratch and Grounder do make for a good duo of bumbling underlings.
Sonic and Tails begin their search for where Santa Claus is being held captive and eventually are able to free him, but with Robotnik still in possession of “every Christmas present in the entire world” (my Blitz 99 machine I asked for every year as a pre-teen must be in there somewhere). However, Santa recognizes the inscription on Sonic's ring and takes him to an ancient cave located conveniently close to where he was held captive and reveals the ring is the key to unlocking “ultimate velocity”. However, Sonic is required to pass three tests of skill, which include the ancient arts of snowboarding down a montain and bicycling through a dangerous forest.
I wonder how Sonic would do in SSX 3
Note to self-Gotta review the SSX games at some point...
Sonic passes these tests despite interference from Scratch and Grounder, but again the fear is that it's all too little too late, as it's almost Christmas and they still need to obtain all of Robotnik's presents and distribute them throughout the world. But Sonic still gives it a try anyway, and using his new “ultimate velocity”, is able to obtain the stolen presents as well as Robotnik Claus' suit without any explaination (no time for relaxat...sorry) and deliver them all across Mobius. The episode ends with Santa being so impressed that he legitimately announces his retirement and hands the mantle of “Santa Claus” over to Sonic the Hedgehog.
In the end, this episode is quite the throwaway, and I hate to think that this was the big sendoff of the “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” series. While some discount it as goofy and not very serious, it always seemed more authentic to Sonic than the ABC Saturday morning series that I always thought tried way too hard to make something fun seem “dark” and serious. While giving Jaleel White a decent sendoff (for the time being) as Sonic as well as the legendary Long John Baldry (who will always be the definitive voice of Dr. Robotnik to me), they tried to jam too much into this and sometimes the exposition goes beyond just exposition and turns into a convenience to the plot. If the kid doesn't free himself (which makes me question the point of the mall santa scene) and Scratch and Grounder didn't wanna brag about the fake Santa, the next steps don't happen. I know I'm looking critically at a cartoon made for kids, but I feel there's no excuse for a lack of logic or reason, even by dumb characters. Overall, it's not HORRIBLE, but I'm fine with the episode being limited to a small handful of TV appearances and a small VHS/DVD release.
The “Koopa Klaus” episode of "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show" was ran halfway through the first and only season of the Super Show, which ran for 65 episodes. On Fridays, a Legend of Zelda cartoon would play in place of a Mario one, making for 52 Mario episodes to 13 Zelda ones. While many people still give guff at the Mario cartoon (and the following SMB3 and World cartoon series), the Zelda cartoon has gained a decent cult following for being an alright adaptation of the Legend of Zelda game, including an alright rendition of Ganon and a brave and powerful Princess Zelda the likes of which would pretty much not be seen in the videogames until arguably "The Legend of Zelda; Wind Waker" on the GameCube. However, this all comes at the cost of a Link character that likes to deliver one-liners and mack on Zelda whenever he gets a chance, a far cry from the symbol of bravery and strength the games cast him in.
Another questionable aspect of this show pertains to the live-action segment for this particular episode. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show had segments shot in a studio with professional wrestler Captain Lou Albano playing Mario and Danny Wells playing Luigi. Personally, I find these segments to at least be fun to watch, though my former love for pro wrestling (of which Captain Lou is rightfully considered a legend in large part to his talking/promo ability) might have a hand in it. I find them decently entertaining, assuming you don't take portrayals of Mario and his universe very seriously.
But the live-action segment in this episode has nothing to do with Christmas, instead focusing on a child who has ran away from home that ends on a rather immoral message with the kid realizing his parents "will have more fun without him", and he can't have that (though Mario and Luigi clearly show a willingness to just take the win, as he is heading home all the same). I'll leave my discussion of this segment to a minimum for that reason. But I will say that I find most of these live segments to be pretty interesting to watch, if even just to sate curiosity. It's fun to see how Nintendo imagined Mario before they would establish a real “Mario” with a voice and distinct attitude from Super Mario 64 onwards. Though the idea of Captain Lou at this point in his life being acrobatic and powerful enough to topple Bowser and his minions is comical.
What's truly odd about using a non-Christmas segment with the Christmas cartoon is that in an episode near the end of the season, there is a live-action segment where Santa (under a disguise) visits Mario Bros. Plumbing and the Mario Bros. are constantly questioning whether it's Santa Claus or not. This episode would be tied into a Mario cartoon that had zero to do with Christmas whatsoever, and actually ran at the end of November, when Christmas specials first begin popping up. Why they would run a Christmas-themed cartoon (which takes up the majority of the run-time) outside of the Holiday season and then run a Christmas-themed live-action segment during the Holiday season baffles me. The stories between the two segments don't cross over each other, one doesn't affect the outcome of the other, so the decision is totally baffling.
On one hand, Robotnik Claus had pants, but Koopa Klaus' outfit actually fits him. So, I'm conflicted.
But let's get back to the actual episode itself here. Similar to “Sonic's Christmas Blast”, the story begins with King Koopa (not Bowser, which might be a source of irritation for Mario fans) having captured Santa Claus. However, Bowser's plan turns into simply busting up all of the toys in Santa's workshop. He rants about his hatred of Christmas with such thought-provoking dialogue as “I hate gifts”, “I hate Christmas”, and “Bah Humkoop”. Tryclyde, a SMB2 boss, appears in...what I guess is supposed to be a reindeer costume...my first thought was it was a tricycle considering the name. The decorations look like tricycle handles. The scene ends with Koopa taking off in a sleigh.
Where's this Mario outfit in Odyssey?
Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach arrive in the North Pole, believing they were on the path to “Hawaii Land”. The fact they popped up out of the ground at random (no pipe or anything) makes this scene channel an old Bugs Bunny “left turn at Albuquerque”, just not as well executed. Toad remarks that while they're there, they should go visit Santa, leaving Mario and company to wonder if that was Toad's plan from the start of the vacation as he was the one with the map. However, with it being so close to Christmas, Princess Toadstool (as with Bowser, deviating from the “Peach” name from the games). On the way to Santa's Workshop, all Toad can think about is receiving presents and wondering what Santa will have for him. The Princess decides to give him an early gift, a snowboard, and Toad begins playing with it.
Suddenly, Koopa Klaus arrives and begins attacking the gang with a flurry of Bob-ombs. Everyone is able to dodge the attack, except for Toad, whose wrecks on his snowboard and demeans Koopa Klaus for possibly damaging his new gift, completely ignoring the safety of Mario, Lougi and the Princess, much to their dismay. They figure Koopa is heading towards Santa's Workshop (which makes the start of the episode somewhat confusing, since he already possessed a large amount of Santa's toys within a workshop of some kind). Upon arriving, they find the Workshop is frozen solid from an Ice Bomb barrage (guess we're in “Bomberman Hero” now...hmmm...I might get around to reviewing that one) and Koopa already riding off with a captive Santa in tow. The crew vows to save Santa, though again, Toad is more concerned about him never receiving presents again than for Santa's own safety or for other people who wouldn't receive presents either. This makes about 3 or 4 examples of Toad's selfishness that I've kept tabs on, and if you haven't figured it out yet, this will add up to a pivotal moment later.
Selfish freakin' Toad
Before Koopa is able to escape, Mario and Luigi are able to use some of the tools within the workshop to knock Koopa and Santa from the sleigh. Koopa is able to float down using an empty bag as a parachute, while holding on to Santa. Koopa is able to bring Santa to a nearby cave, and the Mario Bros. follow suit. Upon remarking on how dark the cave is (with Peach delivering one of the sappiest lines in cartoon history about how “dark the world will be without Christmas”), they make it to the end of the cave and end up stumbling into a snowbank out the other end of the cave. Koopa emerges from the cave and threatens to drop Santa into a lake of water below.
The Princess tries to make amends with Koopa and his desire to ruin Christmas. Koopa loudly proclaims Christmas as a “Bah Humkoop” which causes an avalanche. Mario tells the crew to run for the cave and that he'll try to save Santa using his plumber's snake. I'm not sure if this was a common, show-exclusive element to the show or if it was limited to this episode. I just find it interesting how much these cartoons used to play up Mario as a “plumber”, whereas the games just use subtle nods and winks to the profession. Mario uses the plumber's snake as a lasso and is able to get Santa away from the avalanche. Koopa is left to plunge into the water to avoid the avalanche. He climbs up onto an iceberg in the lake, inhabited by an angry polar bear.
Safely back at Santa's Workshop, the crew is left to lament the fact that the workshop is still frozen and it seems as if Christmas is ruined. Toad doesn't seem phased as he already had received his snowboard gift from before. Peach then reminds Toad that nobody else will receive their present this year (even though Santa didn't actually give Toad the snowboard). Toad then gives Santa the snowboard, so he'll have at least one present to give. In the one moment that bothered me most in this episode, Santa proclaims he's never seen anyone exemplify the Christmas spirit better than Toad, even though all the way up until LITERALLY a moment ago, Toad had been the raw spirit of selfishness given life, not even caring about the well-being of other people in light of his snowboard.
Toad realizes he might not get any more gifts in the future and decides he better make nice with Santa over Christmas being ruined......makes as much sense as what really happens in this episode.
So of course, this causes “the spirit of Christmas” to “touch everything” and melt the ice in Santa's workshop, thus saving Christmas. The episode ends with them loading the sleigh up, with Mario and crew going along with Santa to help deliver gifts, and Santa wishing everyone a “Mario Christmas”.
Ignoring all the animation glitches throughout the cartoon (of which this series is infamous for), the writing of this episode totally kills me. Credit is due (I guess) for trying to milk the emotions of Christmas and the fear of “not having one” a little more than the Sonic cartoon did. But Toad saving the season by his spirit of last-second unselfishness just seems like a copout. I can't stand “on/off switch” changes of heart with no leadup or progressive change. Toad is selfish all the way up to the end, then just “isn't”.
So anyway, that's my look at these two Christmas specials. And at least in this battle, I have to give the nod to Sonic. Though neither one of these cartoons are worth a view beyond mere curiousity, the Sonic cartoon is the better animated and better written show in my opinion. I also liked Robotnik's plan to essentially hijack Christmas for himself as opposed to simply “ruining Christmas”. Even then, I'd still put them both on a tier of viewing one time, then calling it done. I'm in no hurry to make either of these toons a family tradition.
So, in this war of Christmas cartoon attrition, Sonic gets the W.
This is only part 1 of my Christmas celebration. Come back on Monday, December 18th as I take a look at the Sega Saturn anomaly “Christmas Nights”. See ya next time!
Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha - (PlayStation)
So as I wind down my first “season” of this blog, it dawns on me that I have done a great disservice to not only a large genre of videogames, but a genre I have always been a big fan of. I remember fighting games being among the first games I truly enjoyed. On the day I got my Sega Genesis (the first console that was ever exclusively my own), I received “Mortal Kombat” and played it and “Sonic 2” pretty equally. I would rent Street Fighter II all the time from the local Hometown Video and run through it...on the 1-star difficulty...I hated losing. The Dreamcast was a fighting game fan's paradise, with many arcade fighters being ported to it, many of which were 1:1 with their arcade counterparts with additional features to boot.
It could be argued that the Sony Playstation didn't have the same amount of truly great fighters. Many of the ports to both Playstation and Saturn gave the advantage to the Saturn, its more 2D-friendly architecture, and its more fighter friendly controller. This would continue once the Dreamcast hit, as the Playstation would receive some of the same ports the Dreamcast had; “Street Fighter Alpha 3”, “Marvel vs. Capcom”, “Capcom vs. SNK”, but the resolution and animation stuttered in order for them to run on the Playstation and it also included more and longer load times, whereas the Dreamcast versions ran with little/no consolation, faster and fewer loading screens, and in some cases the sound quality was noticeably better.
This isn't to say the Playstation was a slouch for fighting games. In fact, in the grand scheme of the history of videogames, I'd say the original Playstation has a claim for being one of the better systems for fighting games. The obvious example is the Tekken series. Hell, I'll just put it out there, “Tekken 3” makes a strong case for the bar-none best game on the entire Playstation console. “Soul Blade” didn't receive as much attention, but provided a strong foundation for what would eventually become the legendary “Soul Caliber” series. And Capcom did give the Playstation plenty of fighting game love. The “Street Fighter Alpha” series might have played better on Sega's console, but the fact it's much easier to find a copy of the Alpha games on Playstation than Sega's system shows which system had the advantage when it came to the bottom line. Capcom also had not one, but two “Street Fighter Collection” compilations for the Playstation (hint: first one is worth a spin, not so much the second).
But the piece of Street Fighter history we're discussing today is “Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha”. This was the first time a Street Fighter game went beyond 2D sprites and moved into 3D polygonal models for their fighters. They would explore this again for two more sequels, but wouldn't return to this style for Street Fighter until “Street Fighter IV”. And as it turns out, that highly-regarded entry in the Street Fighter franchise would carry some extra innovations as well. And while it is heavily flawed, it's definitely worth a spin for fighting game fans if you can find it at a decent price.
The 3D character models are what Capcom and Arika most wanted to stand out in this game. And while they are impressive by 1997 PS1 standards, their jagged flaws are plain to see.
So let's stay on the graphics as, on the surface, that's what sets this game apart from the other games in the Street Fighter franchise. Of course, in late 2017, such blocky models look outdated and jagged. But compared to other 3D fighters on the system, they look around the same level as the early Tekken games. “Tekken 3” looks unquestionably better, but “Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha” is no slouch. Capcom seemed really proud of this effort, as the game includes a “watch” option with multiple camera angles to view a fight. Some of these camera angles include first-person perspectives and an ariel view which, for some reason, reveals how far the stage barrier actually stretches out before it just fades into the static backdrops (each stage stretches out infinitely, with no walls or barriers). The backgrounds are varied, with some actually looking pretty neat. Noteworthy are the carnival, Japanese shrine, and forest (seen above) stages. The only stage that I would say includes any special elements is the sewer stage, with a layer of water that doesn't affect the action, but provides more visual effect than a floor and a backdrop.
I feel it's fair at this point that I mention that I'm about as hardcore a fighting game player can be while still being just a casual player. I've never had it in me to try to execute complex combos, know frame data, and have exact match-up charts figured out (though I can often theorize when I can dominate someone with my main character and when I'll need to change my ballgame around). There's an old YouTube video of a “hardcore Smash Bros. fan” that had played casually on-and-off vs. a professional Melee player, with the professional thrashing the fan from the word “go”. I stand in the light of the former. If someone doesn't have a clue about a fighting game I'm playing, I'll make quick work of them. If I go up against someone who knows the complexities of the specific fighter I'm playing, I'll look like a joke. I can watch the stuff at the EVO fighting game tournaments and know what's going on, but not how to execute that myself.
I feel this needs to be mentioned before I get into the gameplay of SFEX+A (sheesh, even the acronym is tedious to type out). The base gameplay is pretty on-point on the surface. Jumps feel somewhat floaty, but all 3D fighters were struggling with this aspect at the time, and to Capcom's credit, it's nothing near what Virtua Fighter and early Tekken games were doing (Tekken 3 would eventually get this right by my standards). Hadokens and Shoryukens can be performed with similar controls to the 2D editions, but in a strange move, the Shoto (fighters like Ryu and Ken that use a form of projectile and an anti-air uppercut) staple “Hurricane Kick” has been modified. This strongly affects how those characters are used, as the modified kick's slower speed and less points of contact change the utility of a move once relied upon to close distance in a relatively safe manner. There are other similar tweaks to familiar fighters, such as Chun-Li and Guile. Some fighters, like Sakura and Zangief, actually receive new abilities that improve upon how they fight compared to their 2D editions.
Even characters like final boss M. Bison have been tweaked from their 2D renditions, with original Arika-made characters bringing a unique (though not always welcome) approach.
The newer characters also add a unique spin to the game. Arika (a company probably best known today as the developers of a speed-running staple in the “Tetris; The Grand Master” series) had free reign to create some characters of their own for this project. Because of this, many characters in this game became fan favorites, but due to Arika owning the rights to them (and actually making more fighting games of their own starring them in Japan), many of these will likely never be seen in an American release again unless Arika wants to port their original fighters over themselves (which is strongly being hinted at with their upcoming untitled fighter for PS4). Some of these original characters come off as clones of more traditional characters; Allen Snyder and Kairi seem like Arika's answer to a Shoto character with their own fireballs and uppercuts that serve similar functions (in the EX sequels, Kairi would also receive an Akuma-esque demon form). Darun Mister is a pro wrestler that has some unique moves of his own, but the Zangief inspiration is totally undeniable. Some characters feel right at home while being one-of-a-kind; fan favorite Skullomania flies all over the stage while often showboating and grandstanding during and after his moves, while Garuda's spiked-armor gives him a unique set of moves unlike anything from a Street Fighter game. Unfortunately, a few fighters feel out of place; D. Dark throws bombs and uses a tripwire that can send an electric bolt or reel in a fighter when an opponent is trapped, but the pace of doing so is slow to the point that if you're using him and haven't learned him inside and out, the pace of a fight slows to a crawl. Two hidden characters include Cycloid Beta and Gamma, who simply rob select moves from other characters. While Capcom would cash in on this again with Street Fighter IV antagonist Seth, the movelists of the Cycloids seem a lot more haphazard and don't flow as well as Seth does in SF IV.
Another feature that echos something that would eventually be seen in Street Fighter IV is the “guard break” system. By hitting the two “medium attack” buttons (default is triangle and circle, though you can set it as a one-button command in the options), your character will execute an attack that will not only break through a character's block (done by holding back when a character is attacking), but it will leave the opponent in a stunned state, allowing an excellent opportunity to follow-up with a special attack, a super move, or a combo. This would eventually evolve into the “focus attack” of Street Fighter IV. However, after playing a good bunch of Street Fighter IV, where the focus attack could be done without using a segment of the “super meter” (a three-tier meter that builds during the match, allowing for use of “super moves”) as well as adding an “armor” aspect where the attack would go through even when attacked, the Guard Break requires a super bar segment to even attempt the move, and one attack will knock you out of it. That's a ton of cost for getting that free shot.
There are a few other weird design choices. As mentioned before, there are hidden characters in this game. But, there are only 4 of them (and while they are hidden away in the arcade mode's selection screen, they can be seen though not selected in any other mode). On top of that, two of them are simply revised versions of other characters (“Bloody Hakuto” and “Evil Ryu”), while the other two are strangely-textured droids that have no original moves of their own (the previously mentioned “Cycloids”). But it gets even stranger. A player would naturally think these characters are unlocked by playing through the arcade mode with enough characters, or someone specific, or doing well enough in a run to face a hidden opponent (which is present in the game, but offers no more a reward than bragging rights). Instead, you must enter the game's training mode, select the “expert mode” which gives you a set of trials for each character based on landing special moves and combos to fill an “unlock bar”. As progress continues, you will eventually unlock these characters. And I would understand this if it was unlocked by 100% completing this list. But in my experience, I was able to unlock all 4 characters by just doing the basic special moves of each character and the crudest two/three hit combo trials. It just feels like a timesink. I'm a guy who prefers unlocking hidden characters by playing through the main game, so having them only unlockable by a training mode feature is pretty lame. And yes, they can be unlocked with a cheat code, but that doesn't save.
The idea of hiding the proper method of unlocking hidden characters behind a training mode feature is rather questionable as well.
Lastly, the sound design is another aspect of the game that's all over the place. On the positive, I am convinced the soundtrack is dynamite. It is kinda outdated, with some synth-y aspects that haven't aged the best, but I have a soft spot for tracks like that. “Precious Heart” is a standout commonly cited by fighting game fans, but “Cold Pipe” and “Spinning Bird” are among some of the best tracks in any Street Fighter game as well. Some of the other tracks are more jazz inspired, and while I love me some good jazz music, some of them are to the point I don't feel like they fit in well with the action. Songs like “Under Tube” and most of “Strange Sunset” (which takes so long to kick in that there's a decent chance the fight'll be over before it does, and then it cools off shortly after anyway) sound great, but seem like they were cut from a Pilotwings game or something more relaxing and less intense. On top of that, some of the voices of familiar characters sound a little strange here. Guile is easily the most jarring, with his “Sonic Boom” proclamation sounding much different than any version of him before or since. Some sound on the money though, Akuma and Sakura are almost 1:1 from their 2D editions, making me wonder if Capcom only brought in certain VAs for this game.
In the end, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha is an entertaining side-venture for fighting game fans that tried a lot of different things while keeping many staples intact. And while I think some of those risks paid off, the ones that miss, especially with the roster and the fighting system, prevent me from recommending it to anyone as their first Street Fighter game (that distinction would belong to Super SF II, Alpha 3, or 3rd Strike) or something for them to use to learn the finer elements of a fighting game. And unfortunately, at its current going rate in stores, it's hard to recommend to anyone that isn't already a big Street Fighter fan and wants to add an interesting piece of trivia to their collection. Now, by all means, if you see it at a garage sale for a couple bucks or at a thrift store for around $10, I'd easily recommend it at that price. And if you're willing/able to import the game, the going rate on the Japanese edition is dirt cheap. It's unique enough and has enough going for it to be plenty of fun. But when things like the Anniversary Collection exist on PS2 (which includes the aforementioned 3rd Strike) as well as plenty of ways to play Alpha 3, $30-40 CiB for something that isn't the quintessential Street Fighter experience is pretty steep.
And that's not getting into the even rarer SF EX2, or the strangely dirt-common EX3, two more entries that would also try new things to varying degrees of success. But we'll cross those bridges when we get to them.
RATING – 3 out of 5
I've been born, raised, and living in North Kansas City for the vast majority of my life. In that time, I always thought arcades were an amazing luxury experience. I'd sometimes literally dream of some gigantic super-arcade. And I'm not talking something like the Galloping Ghost Arcade in Chicago that has 500+ machines (amazing place though, I've been there myself and plan on going back). I always imagine that 90s setup; laced with neon lights, loud colors, and machines turned on loud. And my arcade growing up was a place that filled that quota and then some. Even better, it was contained inside of a mall I loved so much that I wrote about the mall for my “Professional Writing” final in college.
This is my experience with the Fun Factory in Metro North Mall.
For me, arcades always seemed like super-consoles. I first got into videogames when the SNES and Genesis arrived on the gaming scene. During this time, many of the best selling 3rd party games were ports of successful arcade games; "Mortal Kombat", "NBA Jam", "Street Fighter II", "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"/"Turtles in Time", etc. Hell, Sega created a special chip just for an arcade port of their hit title “Virtua Racing” and sold the game at a triple digit price. As time went on, a major focal point for many a console maker was to be as close to arcade perfect as possible. The PS1 ports of "Tekken" would get pretty damn close and tack on enough extra features to easily pick up the slack. And while Sega would never blow the trumpet too loud, their Saturn and Dreamcast consoles were often made to match the production specs of their arcade hardware at those times, which led to games that finally closed the gap in many gamers' eyes and earned the title “arcade perfect”. Even a few years ago when Capcom re-released their hit, high-demand fighter “Marvel vs. Capcom 2”, a main selling point was that it was built on the foundation of the Dreamcast edition and not the ports for the more popular, more recent PS2 and X-Box consoles.
But until that gap was closed, the arcade versions of games always seemed like the premium versions of those games. Sure, playing "Mortal Kombat" at home at the totally-appropriate-age of 6 was a treat, but playing the arcade version was louder and more colorful. The sounds were better, the graphics were better, the tried-and-true stick and buttons control was better. It was as if you were training up at home for the day, whenever it may come (and when I was younger, I'd only go to Fun Factory maybe once or twice a year) you were face-to-face with the cabinet and whether you took on somebody walking up to the machine or you were left alone for an entire session, your skills were tested. And boy did it take the piss out of you to go down in the first match, but it was also sweet validated victory if you could win in the arcade. It was one thing to beat Johnny Cage at home a million billion times, but it was invigorating to KO him on the grandstage.
Lil' ol' me having a go at "Mortal Kombat"...probably getting smacked by Sonya Blade. That's how all of my experiences with the original MK went in the arcade.
Fun Factory in Metro North Mall was the place where all of this unfolded for me. It's a shame so many people remember the Metro North Mall as more of a punchline of sunken business, but it had a hell of a prime. It's also a shame not so many people share these memories of the Fun Factory arcade (or at least, not enough to have much photographic evidence the place still exists. In the mid-late 90s, I'd only go a couple of times a year but it was memorable every time. The games I remember best from that time were an authentic "Street Fighter II" dedicab (arcade cabinets designed specifically for a game, as opposed to a machine made for a previous game with the circuitry swapped out to support a different game), a large-screen cabinet running the original "Mortal Kombat" (I bet that made the parents really happy), and a full-motion video shooting game consisting of nothing but wild west duels. I went years believing it was "Mad Dog McCree", but it was exclusively made of these quick-draw duels and scolded the player and took a life from them if they drew the gun too early. It even included a video of an actor, in full wild west getup, demonstrating on an actual arcade cabinet to keep the gun holstered. Little kid me would never listen to this and just wanted to get to blasting. It took my dad helping me out with the game, telling me when to draw the gun. I've never seen a cabinet of this game since, and I'd love to give it another go, just to exercise an old gaming demon. That Namco shooting gallery game with the exploding coffee cup is fun and all, but I'd love to take on the genuine FMV article.
When my time with the Fun Factory hit its peak was in the turn of the new millennium. This is when my gaming skills, interest, and disposable income were at their peak. On top of this, I also had more access to the mall, as we had business in Gladstone multiple times per week, and my mom would often just drop me off at the mall and have me meet her at a given time.
This was in the aforementioned age where many home consoles were starting to get close to “arcade perfect”; the Dreamcast architecture was based on Sega's NAOMI arcade hardware and made making/porting games from arcade to home without minimal compromise easy. Capcom approached what I consider to be their golden age of fighting games, with a slew of quality fighters that were first introduced in arcades (along with many obscure fighters that are highly sought by collectors, such as the "Rival Schools" series). King amongst these were the “vs.” games, be it "Marvel vs. Capcom" (1 or 2), or "Capcom vs. SNK" (which really hit its stride both critically and financially with the 2nd game), all 3 of the aforementioned were contained in the Fun Factory.
Midway's sports series was sortof on the way down, but the big screen, 4-player "NFL Blitz 99" was a dream to me. The home release of the prior year's "NFL Blitz" contained a playbook creator, and in the N64 edition, you could bring your memory card to an "NFL Blitz 99" machine and use your created plays. Looking back, it seems very shoddy and unnecessary that it only let you use created plays (in a game series known for rubberband AI, no less) and never unlocked any extra content within either game or let you port your win/loss record. But to 13 year old me, hot diggidy damn was this the coolest thing! Not only was this a hidden feature that few had access to, I WAS PART OF THAT FEW!
It was also neat that the game included the same codes that the home console Blitz had, though one of the updates of this game included “counter-codes”. If you put in the infinite turbo code at the “Tonight's Match-Up” screen, the CPU would instantly put in that code too. If you put in fast turbo running (a code that, when combined with the infinite turbo code, could rip the AI to shreds), the CPU would enter “Powerup Defense”, which boosted ALL aspects of their defense. The only way out of this conundrum would be to enter the tournament mode cheat, which disabled all codes and powerups (including your own). In the original "NFL Blitz", whether console or arcade, it was possible to abuse these codes and get easy games out of the machine, a rare oversight of Midway's rubberband A.I.
Of course I could never mention an arcade without teeing off on the light gun games. Fun Factory had a handful of well-known light gun shooters. Many of them were simple, like "Virtua Cop" and "CarnEvil" (though I thought the idea of an antagonist named “Professor Von Tokentaker” was so on-the-nose it was hilarious). The Time Crisis games with their foot pedal for ducking out of cover bothered me when I was younger (“You gotta hold down a button to shoot enemies? That's stupid!”), but it became so second nature to me when I got older that I'd try to use a foot pedal in shooting games that never had it. I was more used to "Time Crisis 3" than any other; to this day I can still snooze my way through Stage 1, knowing the exact order of the stage and which weapons to swap to at which points in the stage. While Fun Factory never carried this version, I still played plenty of "Time Crisis 2". They also had two "Silent Scope" machines. The tech in those always impressed me, as looking into the scope of the rifle on the cabinet provided a second screen which zoomed in on the action. I'd often look off-scope to find targets quicker, which I always thought was a cheap trick but now I think might have been the intended "pro strat".
Fun Factory never carried anything real classic by those day's standards; no Donkey Kong, no Namco classics, not even one of those "Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga" duo machine that became popular around that time. The oldest game the arcade had was "Sega's Title Fight", a boxing game with a special controller setup and dual monitors. The controls were two sets of grips (one for each player) and a monitor for each player as well. Moving the grips in a certain direction provided you a variety of punches and dodges, but anyone who was anyone just jabbed and spun the grips as fast and randomly as possible and assumed this was the key to winning (even though just the 2nd CPU opponent would put you in your place for doing that). It definitely made for frantic 2-player action though, that was certain.
Curse my photographic memory, I'm pretty damn sure I'm getting ripped apart by Ryu. I had NO answer for him spamming fireballs back in the day.
And I'd be remiss to not mention racing games. Fun Factory had those in spades as well, with many multi-cab games that allowed 2 players or more. I remember when I was younger they'd have "Virtua Racing" right next to "Daytona USA" along the back wall, which made for quite the sight when playing something else. Eventually, they whittled it down to just "Daytona USA", but would also carry "Crusin' USA" (and eventually "World"), and my favorite arcade racer at the time, "San Francisco Rush". The jumps and ramps in the game made that game straight-up crazy to play in the arcade, compared to the grounded Daytona USA and low-ramp Crusin' games. What I never understood was that the Fun Factory would eventually carry "Rush; The Rock", which was a revised version of the original game. But then, not long after, it regressed back to the original SF Rush cabinet. They also had a 4-player "Suzuka 8 Hours" cabinet for the longest time, which would often sit in the back corner idle. I don't think I ever saw anybody play that game in its closing years.
And eventually, as much of Metro North Mall did, the arcade eventually shut down around 2003. They started to present a wider variety of machines, but once the “for sale” signs with price estimations appeared over on each machine, that spelled out the end. I still remember the final time I visited, I put my last tokens into a "Street Fighter Alpha 3" machine, a game I owned on the Dreamcast and knew well enough to have confidence that my session would last awhile. Choosing Rolento and the A-ISM (my preferred character and “setup” of choice), I ran through the arcade mode in short order, all the way up to M. Bison. And no matter how close I got, he stuffed every super I threw and I fell victim to his Super Psycho Crusher, a move limited to this final boss rendition of M. Bison and couldn't be used by a player just picking M. Bison. I lamented that what was surely my final game ended without a victory, but looking back, that was always the nature of arcade games. To beat an arcade game was to always beat the system. The entire point was to get you to drop more tokens into the machine while still dangling the carrot in front of you that this next session would be the one that got you over the hump. So, as well-versed as I was in "Street Fighter Alpha 3" (I'd just played the hell out of it at home hours before, knowing I'd likely give the game a good run), the arcade needed one last victim of its greedy ways.
After this, the arcade was cleaned out and gated shut, with only the carpet, wallpaper and the outlines of the neon lights left. Eventually, the arcade was walled over, as if the place was never there. There was still a window right outside, showing some evidence the place existed. But otherwise, just as Metro North Mall is now, the Fun Factory is no more than a memory...unless you live in Hawaii, where the franchise is still going, but has no intentions of leaving its Hawaiian roots again.