I owe a lot to Phoenix Wright. If I hadn’t played Ace Attorney when I did, it’s very possible my life would have gone in a totally different direction. I can’t give Ace Attorney full credit for my decision to become a lawyer, yet it undeniably sparked an interest that led me down that path. Ace Attorney, and the character of Phoenix Wright specifically, turned the idea of practicing law from some foreign concept into an exciting prospect for the future. Investigating cases, uncovering lies, calling parrots as witnesses…it seemed like a good fit for me – or maybe to be more accurate, the person I wanted to be. Experiencing Phoenix’s trials inspired me to dig deeper into what lawyering was like in real life and pushed me to become the person I am now.
I’m a few years into the real thing at this point, so what Ace Attorney meant to me back then differs from what it means to me now. It probably goes without saying that Ace Attorney takes some liberties with the lawyering experience. Hearing testimony from animals occurs less often than I was led to believe. You’re not supposed to slam the tables, either. Still, even after reaching the destination that Phoenix Wright pointed me towards, I continue to draw inspiration from his games. Rather than seeing Phoenix Wright as an occupational goal, he now represents an ideal: one that no matter how much the legal system hurts or frustrates me, is one worth striving for.
Practicing law can be painful. Legal systems ground themselves in laws, theoretically objective measures that when applied properly to a situation, should get you the “correct” result. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Read this or I will perform a Babality on myself and cry
Blood. Gore. Fatalities. Ratings Boards. Whatever. You’ve heard all of that stuff about Mortal Kombat before. Everyone knows how important death is to Mortal Kombat, but to me, Mortal Kombat is just as much about life as it is death. The Mortal Kombat games were among the first to convince me that a world lived within the cartridge of the game. That world crossed beyond the fictional story, beyond the game mechanics, and into reality itself. Mortal Kombat’s world lives on to this day. You can’t kill Mortal Kombat, it’s immortal, so let’s dive into what I believe to be the source of its immortality: mystery.
Mortal Kombat integrates mystery into every aspect of itself, and I’m not just talking about its reputation for secrets. The story is mysterious, the characters are mysterious, the backgrounds are mysterious, even aspects of simply playing the game are mysterious. The many mysteries of the games creates a version of Mortal Kombat that lives within everyone that plays it. You can’t get much more immortal than that.
Did you know Rockman games have subtitles? Check 'em out!
Although the immediate future of Mega Man will one day be revealed (well probably, right?), the question of what the next Mega Man game should be will perpetually linger. This question will always rely on context: long-running series are shaped by their past just as much as the present market landscape. Each prior game helps shape what the next game could be. That’s why today, I’m taking a look at the two Mega Man games that I believe demonstrate this idea the most clearly: Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 11. Both games spawned from the context they were created in, and despite their base similarities, they arrived at almost opposite results by every other metric. By comparing the different paths they took, we can glean what makes Mega Man special as a platformer and what is important to carry into the future.
I love both games I’m discussing today. This is less of a no-holds-barred deathmatch and more of a respectful Gentle Man’s (distinct from gentlemen) duel that highlights how the games differ and the strengths of each. My apologies to anyone expecting blood and circuits here.
With that said, let’s talk about context a bit more. The common question that arises with any new game in a long running series is “how can we differentiate this one from the rest?” Mega Man has answered this concern with dramatic changes in the form of subseries that move in to different genres, as well as with more incremental solutions found in the more traditional platformers. Even if the changes are small, however, when made over a long period of time, they eventually add up. That buildup creates a lot of historical context, which guided both of today’s subjects towards their respective destinations.
Here's the drill
Drills make holes in things. I extensively researched drills in order to come to this conclusion and am now an expert on the subject. Today, however, I will defy all laws of science and observable reality by proposing a new theory: drills can build things, too, particularly in Drill Dozer. True to its title, Drill Dozer burrows deep into the art of drilling, tying it directly into virtually every aspect of its game design. This approach results in several creative mechanics that thoroughly explore what it means to drill. While that involves plenty of demolition, Drill Dozer is particularly notable for how it uses its tool of destruction to build.
The biggest thing Drill Dozer builds is momentum. I mean that in a pacing sense, but momentum is also important for real-life drilling. Spinning a drill around involves angular momentum that can then be used to create the force needed to break things apart. Just like a real drill, momentum is key in Drill Dozer.
Get a load of this!
A quick note for this feature: normally when I write an article “celebrating” a game, I try to keep any actual plot developments vague. I see Sonic Adventure as a game primarily about its different characters and their arcs, however, and so I feel the best way to talk about it would be to go in-depth with one of those arcs. That being the case, the latter half of this article contains spoilers for a relatively small part of a 20+ year old game. If you haven’t played Sonic Adventure before, you should! It’s cool!
Sonic means a lot of things to a lot of people. His creators crafted him to have meaning from the outset; he had to embody universal values as a mascot, he had to express “coolness,” and his actions carry a message of environmentalism. What Sonic means to any one individual, however, likely varies based on the Sonic experience that impacted them the most.
For me, defining the “Sonic experience” isn’t just about Sonic. No game demonstrates that better than Sonic Adventure, which gives you glimpses into the lives of Sonic’s extended cast that in their own ways, explore what Sonic as a series is all about. E-102 Gamma’s episode reflects the Sonic experience in unconventional yet meaningful ways. Gamma holds the key to unlocking the hearts of both Sonic Adventure and the Sonic series itself.
I bet you can guess my favorite turtle from the screenshots
Don’t be shell-shocked: since I’m writing a review on a collection, I figure I need to one-up it by writing my own collection. To that end, I’ll start by covering the collection itself and then move onto sharing thoughts on some select games within it. Be careful not to stub your toe or fall into a manhole while moving from essay to essay!
A Museum of Mutations - The Cowabunga Collection (Switch)
The most consistent trait of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is their inconsistency. Whether you want to call them mutations or adaptations, as the Turtles hop from comics to cartoons to movies to games, you’re rarely seeing the same exact Turtles as the last time you saw them. Makes sense – each new project involves different creative teams, so you’re bound to end up with differences in interpretations. Few properties benefit from this process quite like the TMNT, however. There’s something about TMNT’s chain of interpretations that have continually built them up into an enduring mainstay of culture. That’s particularly true for their presence in video games.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection collects all the instrumental moments that would go onto define the TMNT in video games. To be more specific, it contains the entire initial run of Konami-developed TMNT games from the 1980s and 90s – every game and every version of those games. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird may have created the property and the cartoon may have launched it into mainstream recognizability, but the developers at Konami played their own pivotal role in defining (or at least mutating) the characters.
I can't stop writing this game's title as "Power & Fighters"
Ports are adaptations, an approximation of another game recreated on different hardware. Porting a game from one hardware to another requires technical solutions as well as artistic ones. Ideally the ported game closely reflects the original experience, but other times significant changes must be made, sometimes to the point that it results in a completely different game altogether.
Exploring the nature of ports now seems particularly appropriate due to the recent Nintendo Switch release of Mega Man Battle & Fighters, which is essentially a faithful port of a port. Battle & Fighters itself blurs the scenarios outlined above together, resulting in something in between faithful and different. It is a testament to the creative deviations made in the porting process and what they can result in. Battle & Fighters adapts games that take advantage of the legacy of Mega Man and retrofits them into something that presents that legacy in a distinct way.
Shocking Developments Abound
Change can be difficult to accept. It comes whether you want it to or not, and often when you least expect it. You might be happy with how things are going; let’s say, for example, you’ve had a successful career as an electricity-empowered superhuman who shoots guys with darts and zaps them. You go to sleep for a while. When you wake up, decades have passed and you’re feeling a little off. You’re a dog now.
Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 embraces that sudden, disorienting sense of change. Change can bring good things and bad things – it rarely satisfies someone in every possible way. On some level, Gunvolt 3 appears to accept that. It chooses to move forward anyway, looking back only to further justify its advancement. As a longtime fan, Gunvolt 3 does not cover every base I was hoping for it to. It arguably doesn’t do what you might traditionally expect from a sequel at all. Instead, it offers something different, something surprising, and most importantly something that is satisfying in its own way.
"Ouendan!" ...oh they didn't come to help me with a subtitle
Times may change and cultures may differ, but there are universal elements of the human experience that tie everyone together. Those universal values allow us to empathize and relate with each other, even without speaking the same language.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have an older brother who introduced me to a lot of unusual games, particularly ones imported from Japan. Playing import games taught me just how universal games can be – so many are completely playable without being able to read a single word of text in them. One game taught me that better than any other: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan transcends cultural barriers by providing a game that anyone can enjoy and relate to.
Please send me a quarter for each section of this you read
Collections occupy a difficult space to discuss in the video game landscape. They are essentially the closest thing to pure products that exist on the market – they repackage older creative efforts in a way that’s hopefully well-done and faithful, and usually there isn’t much more to say about it than that. On that level, I can say that Capcom Arcade Stadium, and now this second round of it, competently presents dozens of great classic Capcom titles.
There are far too many options available for playing many of these games to say that this collection is the definitive way to play them. Playing these games on modern hardware inherently comes with caveats like increased input lag or minor emulation bugs. Capcom has altered or outright removed some in-game graphics present in the original versions of some games for what I assume are global market and ratings sensibilities. English versions of select games aren’t available for what may be licensing or legal reasons. These are unfortunate realities that follow with the inevitable passage of time.
I suspect most players will find these caveats acceptable. At the very least, I do. If 2nd Stadium isn’t the definitive way to play these games, it is certainly the most convenient way to do it on modern game consoles. If there are specific games you want to revisit or you just want to casually experience some video game history, the Capcom Arcade Stadium collections are great ways to do it.
It would not be fair to end things there, though. There are sparks of inspiration present in this collection that elevate it beyond just a product. So while we’re inspired, I figure what better way to capture the spirit of a collection than to provide my own collection to talk about it.
We’ll chat more about the Arcade Stadium itself at the end of this article. For now, I want to dive into the games included. Not all of the games, there’s 32 in all and I recognize there’s a limit on how much any human being can tolerate my writing, but a good chunk of them. Capcom largely inspired my love for games, so I’d like to share a little bit of what I take from their catalog so that maybe you can draw some inspiration from them too.
Once you read the 1,000th word you can start singing
Time for a shocking confession. When Azure Striker Gunvolt was first revealed, the first thing that came to my mind, and probably almost everyone else’s, was “this looks like a lot like Mega Man”. That was a mistake, and I’m not talking about the typo. I’m sorry. If you are almost everyone else, you should apologize too.
Now that almost everyone has been forgiven, it’s Gunvolt’s turn. Gunvolt rose to prominence in Mega Man’s absence, which cast a shadow over the franchise. Living in Mega Man’s shadow has both helped and hurt Gunvolt. The original Azure Striker Gunvolt grabbed people’s interest at the perfect time, and its relative financial success owes a lot to its abstract connection to Mega Man.
Unfortunately, I continually witness the same tragedy unfold: someone plays a Gunvolt game because someone told them something along the lines of “it’s like Mega Man.” That unsuspecting person then plays Gunvolt expecting it to replace Mega Man, to fill the robot platformer void in their soul, and comes away disappointed when it doesn’t do the job. Hard to imagine something as devastating as someone not liking a game as much as you do, but I assure you it does happen.
The time has come to shine a light on the shadow over Gunvolt. We are four games into the Gunvolt series and on the cusp of the fifth – at this point he clearly stands on his own merits. More importantly, he has been taking steps away from Mega Man’s shadow since day one.
Not exactly a cold case, but...
Mysteries and video games have a special kind of relationship. You might say they are the Romeo and Juliet of broadly defined concepts. They share many similarities (my pal Sherlock tells me that mysteries are a kind of game) yet are frequently kept apart by forces outside their control. People, at least in-game, also always seem to die horribly whenever they come together. An infallible analogy, I know.
That separation aspect often leads to mystery games challenging the notion of what someone might consider a video game at all. Some include mini games that interpret the mystery solving into something more traditional, while others prefer to be novels that lean on audio and visuals to enhance the experience. The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story resides somewhere in the gap between. You are not excluded from the mystery-solving process here, it simply keeps you at arm’s length.
Fair warning: Wario is my role model for life
When it comes to WarioWare, the word that reflexively kicks to the front of my mind is “unique.” The more I think about it, however, the less sense it makes to describe it that way. “Unique” only identifies a vague concept. It only scratches the surface. WarioWare sticks with me less because it is unique, and more because of why it is unique. If you really dig into the core of WarioWare, what makes these games interesting is how they rely on and push the individual to the forefront. You, me, the developers, the cast of the game, and especially Wario. Perhaps we are all Wario, in our own way.
Yeah, I know. Finally, some existential writing about Wario.
Looking for a new perspective?
When you break video games down to their most abstract, they are essentially sets of rules. You interact with the game by abiding by and eventually mastering the rules in a way that lets you progress or otherwise have fun. Toodee and Topdee pushes that abstract nature of video games to the forefront by combining two styles of games into one, bringing with it all the rules and conventions that come with each. Ultimately, the game represents the nature of making games and the experimental ideas that spring from it. Much like any two-headed chimera born of forbidden science, the experiment largely succeeds, even if it comes with some resulting identity issues.
It's like some kind of Battle Revolution!
Blasting defines Custom Robo. In fact, Custom Robo takes blasting to a level beyond the literal and possibly beyond reason. It integrates blasting into its identity on a philosophical level. Custom Robo always aims its sights on the next thing to blast, resulting in a game that constantly blindsides you from around the corner, trapping you in its frenetic pace.
It’s fun to say the word blast over and over, but what I mean by this in normal human terms is that the game consistently assaults you with the next thing: from robot battles to plot developments. That aspect of the game stood out to me even as a child. I vividly recall spending an entire weekend playing the game almost non-stop until it was over. It simply never felt like there was a good time to take a break.
Tons of free time and no real responsibilities played supporting roles here, but even then games rarely ensnared me to that degree. As a kid you don’t really want to finish games that fast, you know? Yet something, perhaps everything, about these customizable robots compelled me to keep playing.