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The Biggest Problem with Pokémon X/Y: Team Flare

After Pokémon Black and Pokémon White were released, it seemed like Nintendo and Game Freak wanted to put some more thought and depth into the series to make it a more believable, living world.

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After Pokémon Black and Pokémon White were released, it seemed like Nintendo and Game Freak wanted to put some more thought and depth into the series to make it a more believable, living world. 

What we saw in Black/White was Game Freak spinning a slightly more mature narrative within their Pokémon games, telling a tale which actually made you think about the world as it exists in the game. It made players put some thought into the world they inhabited and maybe the relationship between Pokémon and their trainers wasn’t all Solrocks and Roselias after all.

What Team Plasma do right

While Team Plasma’s goals of Pokémon equality did eventually turn out to be a ruse formulated by the teams real leader,  thus making their message null and void, it still did give us the character of N. A character who, while he had been manipulated by Team Plasma, did honestly believe that battling Pokémon and confining them in Pokéballs was an act of cruelty. And although the game did end with N being the one to concede his point of view, while never putting the player character in any moral grey area (thus leaving the player’s hands clean in the whole affair), the whole game’s narrative was based around the actions of the villainous team rather than them being an interlude on the player’s quest to be the very best (like no one ever was).

After this I was very much hoping that this trend would continue in the recently released 6th Pokémon generation in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, however it seemed it was never to be, and my hopes of a heavier focus on developing the Pokémon world and a stronger narrative for the more mature fan were sadly unfounded.

team-plasma-n1

N with Team Plasma

To follow Team Plasma, we got to enjoy the antics of a brand new group of bad guys named Team Flare, named so not only because they wear red and have strange flame inspired hairstyles, but because they’re all obsessed with looking good and fashion (Flare, it’s like Flair. Get it?). Now I’m going to say right now, I love the new Pokémon games, I’ve been playing my 3DS nearly non stop since release, and at this point I have finished the game and am neck deep in post ending content. So I’m rather confident I got everything I could out of the game’s narrative at this point, and it’s the narrative I felt was the game’s only real failing.

In Black and White, the player bumped into Team Plasma a lot, they factored into the events of nearly every town the player visits, masquerading as a Pokémon rights group that feel Pokémon, as living things, should be afforded the same freedoms as humanity and forcing them into servitude and then into combat is cruel treatment. While it became obvious that the average Plasma Grunt was a moron and failed to see the hypocrisy in everything they did, it was their leader N that was the real thinking point of the game, looking like he could be a player character himself and his unfaltering stance in his beliefs.

It’s during the game’s ending that Plasma’s true leader is revealed and that the team’s stated goals have all been a ruse and even N was being manipulated by the team and taken advantage of. The final fight of the game is the most satisfying since the early days when you got to beat the snot out of your rival who has been dogging you since your journey began. It works because you want to take this guy down, not only because he is a total scumbag, but because he had everyone fooled, including you.

Team Flare, however, takes a step back from the previous game and rather than give us another creative and engaging story, it slips back into familiar ground providing nothing all too different from what was seen in the third and fourth generations with Team Magma/Aqua and Team Galactic. The thing that makes Team Flare worse than those previous teams in my mind is that they try to pull it off with the same sincerity behind their leader’s actions as N had, rather than him being the cartoon super villain that Maxie, Archie and Cyrus were previously.

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Natural Harmonia Gropius, or ‘N’

What Team Flare do badly

Right, from here there are going to be massive spoilers about the new Pokémon games X & Y, so if you care even remotely, come back later when you’re done.

The main problem with Team Flare is their leader Lysandre (like anyone couldn’t see that  plot twist coming). He is established as a billionaire and a philanthropist who wants to see the world become a better place. He believes the world is full of bad people who leech on those exceptional few, he states how the future is bleak and if things continue the way they do there will be nothing but disaster, from overpopulation or stagnation. He states that he has poured much of his fortune into trying to remedy this problem, but to no avail, thus he forms Team Flare and begins to go about a much more extreme method of solving this perceived problem with the world.

Notice how I said perceived problem back then, that’s because the problem is entirely that, it’s inside his head. Lysandre talks about how the world is getting worse, how people are selfish and aren’t contributing to the greater good and progress as halted. Now as a social commentary about the current state of the real world, I can see what Game Freak are talking about, drawing parallels between their story in the game and the problems we face in reality, or war and overpopulation, as well as sustainability. That’s fine, my problem is that within the Pokémon universe it makes absolutely no sense.

Team_Flare_screenshot_EN

Team Flare

Think about any Pokémon game you’ve ever played, now think about the size of the towns and cities, now think of how much open space there is. This is especially true of this newer game, which makes the most of its new graphics to show us beautiful views and landscapes of rolling hills, mountain ranges and forests. Now think of basically any NPC you talk to, they all spout the same inane drivel about how they love Pokémon and Pokémon this and Pokémon that. There is no strife, no earnest fighting and nobody is suffering, the only people who cause any of this at all in X and Y are Team Flare themselves. Lysandre’s ideas of a the world going to crap have no basis in (the game’s) reality, none at all. And so what’s his plan? his final solution? Genocide, I’m not even kidding.

Lysandre plans to use an ancient death machine to kill not only every human in existence, but also wipe all Pokémon from existence too, rendering them extinct. This is where Lysandre goes from being the well meaning guy that’s been pushed too far, to being a cartoon super villain. But the worst thing about all of this, the thing that tops this all off and really makes me shake my head at the whole thing is that it is all played totally straight.

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Lysandre is never treated like a madman nor does anyone point out any of these points I’ve made to him, they act as though his goals are noble and it’s only his methods that are questionable. Even after his attempt at genocide is thwarted and he gets buried in his base along with his machine the other characters express nothing but pity over the fact that ‘they couldn’t see things the same way’. Just because he was well meaning, it tries to make him a tragic character, when in fact there was nothing tragic about him, he was just totally insane.

Let me give yet another example, let’s say Lysandre’s plan worked and he killed everyone except for himself and his Team Flare grunts, what kind of beginning would this be to the brave new world? Other than Lysandre himself, every other member of Team Flare is played up for laughs, they’re all idiots, petty criminals, thugs or all of the above. Not only that but there are a few references to membership costing people extortionate amounts of money (amounts the player can never physically afford within the game), so now I’m confused. What type of world is Lysandre trying to create here? I mean that money isn’t going to mean a thing after you’ve killed 99% of the world’s population.

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Higher in Rank, no more developed

How it could have been better

The whole thing could have been handled so much better if Game Freak had treated Team Flare with the same respect and given them the same kind of humanity that they did with Team Plasma. Rather than make them the outlandish cartoon villains, if every member of the team did seem like they were once good people who were being forced to extreme behaviour because they either came to the same conclusions themselves or because he was a charismatic leader than talked them around to his point of view, then we might have had a much better and compelling story about a group of extremists with was a believably noble cause.

If throughout the events of the game Team Flare always showed up genuinely trying to do a ‘good thing’ but their methods were always what raised the player character’s ire with them, then we could have built up to a much more compelling ending with a man at wits end doing something he had been pushed to because of the player’s actions, well meaning or not. Instead, we don’t really learn Lysandre’s final plan until minutes before his eventual downfall, if references to the ultimate threat was hinted at throughout the game then the player would have felt some real desperation to stop him.

Pokemon-X-and-Y-Lysandre-Labs-6-515x282

They say the best villains are those that believe themselves to be the hero. If this had been the running theme throughout X and Y, questioning whether or not the player was doing the right thing by fighting Team Flare, maybe their end does justify their means, then we’d have a game that was was too dark to be sold to the market that Pokemon is aimed towards, but we’d also have one hell of a great story to go with one hell of a great game.

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If flip flopping the line between cynicism and enthusiasm was an illness then I would have a nifty obscure disease named after me, but seeing as how it has yet to be diagnosed, I'll settle with just being inconsistent.

Features

2K teaches EA a lesson in Nintendo Switch game pricing

The upcoming ports of Bioshock, Borderlands, and Burnout Paradise show how two big publishers are getting Nintendo Switch pricing right and wrong.

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Bioshock and Burnout Paradise - Nintendo Switch
Thumbsticks / 2K / EA

The upcoming ports of Bioshock, Borderlands and Burnout Paradise show how two big publishers are getting Nintendo Switch pricing right and wrong.

The dark art of Nintendo Switch pricing has long been a source of frustration for players, with games often costing more than their PS4 and Xbox One equivalents.

There are a few – not wholly convincing – reasons for this. Firstly, if a game is released physically and digitally, Nintendo dictates that the digital version of the game has to have price parity with the physical release. Due to the apparent high production costs of Switch game cards, this can lead to games costing more than disc-based alternatives at retail, and therefore bumping up the digital price on the Nintendo eShop price. Tequila Works’ Rime was a notable early example, and although the issue is not as prevalent as it once was, it still happens.

Secondly, publishers set their own prices. And while Switch owners are seeming happy to pay these premiums to get portable versions of games, publishers are equally happy to charge them. One example is Capcom’s iterative release of the first three Devil May Cry games, rather than the full HD trilogy seen on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

All this is to say that the Switch is generally not as competitive on game pricing as other platforms.

This is particularly true for third-party releases from big publishers, and a crop of upcoming remasters shows how 2K and Electronic Arts are taking decidedly different approaches

At the end of the month, 2K is bringing three new collections to Switch. The Borderlands Legendary Collection features the first two games in the series and the Pre-Sequel. The Bioshock Collection includes all three games and a wealth of DLC. The XCOM 2 Collection features the base game, the War of the Chosen expansion, and four DLC packs. Each release is priced at $49.99 in the US and £39.99 in the UK.

Your appetite may vary when it comes to last-gen Switch ports, but there’s no arguing about the generous amount of content in each of these collections. Using the Bioshock pack as an example, the Switch release compares favourably with the PS4 version’s launch price of $59.99.

Meanwhile, EA and Stellar Entertainment are putting the finishing touches to the Switch release of Burnout Paradise, one of the best racing games of the last fifteen years and a game I’ve wanted on Switch for years.

The game’s Xbox One and PS4 remaster launched in 2018 at $39.99/£29.99, and is currently less than $20. When the game arrives on Switch in June it will be priced at an eye-watering $49.99/£44.99.

We don’t know the development cost of these remasters – and all publishers are entitled to make a profit – but when you compare with their PS4 and Xbox One counterparts, it’s hard to shake the feeling that EA is only interested chasing a quick buck with Burnout Paradise. In contrast, 2K is releasing three value-packed compilations at a friendlier – and I would say more appropriate – price, given the vintage of the games in question.

For players of my age, revisiting last-gen experiences on Switch is a peculiar pleasure. It’s my favourite console generation, and I’d love nothing more than to build up a library of old gems that I can play on the go. If a publisher can position a port or remaster as an impulse purchase, I’ll happily hit the buy button for a trip down memory lane. And that’s what 2K is doing with Bioshock, Borderlands and XCOM.

EA’s history with the Nintendo Switch is hardly a history at all. It’s just a handful of second-tier FIFA games and some EA originals. But, in the company’s last earnings call, it confirmed that “multiple titles” are coming to the Switch in 2020. It’s a welcome change of direction, and even if it only results of ports of Peggle and the Mass Effect trilogy, I’ll probably be happy.

Ultimately, EA needs to make better decisions on pricing if it wants these games to be a success on Nintendo Switch. It certainly wouldn’t do the perenially unpopular publisher any harm, winning back some goodwill from the game-buying public.

Perhaps, when this is all done, EA may just learn a thing or two from 2K’s upcoming remasters. Maybe. Stranger things have happened.


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Is Gears Tactics worth playing?

Gears Tactics is a new turn-based tactics game from Splash Damage and The Coalition.

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Gears Tactics
The Coalition

Gears Tactics is a new turn-based tactics game from Splash Damage and The Coalition. Like Halo Wars before it, the game attempts to transfer a franchise known for its visceral action into a whole new genre.

You can’t read about Gears Tactics and avoid the spectre of XCOM. Comparisons between the game and the beloved Firaxis franchise are numerous, but also favourable. Critics across the board are mostly positive about the game, which wears its influences proudly.

Gears’ trademark cover-based combat appears to be better suited to turn-based tactical gameplay than Halo‘s FPS mechanics are to real-time strategy. The game’s Executions system is also widely praised for bringing something new to the tactical party.

In summary, Gears Tactics is a welcome and worthy addition to a consistently strong series. Here’s our pick of the game’s reviews.

Gears Tactics review round-up

PC Gamer

“While it first looks an awful lot like XCOM, which has inspired a wave of strategy games this decade, Gears Tactics plays differently. Every turn in XCOM is about the tension of how few moves you can make, the dramatic risk of missing a single shot and scrambling for a backup plan. Gears is more freeform, giving each of the four soldiers you take into a mission three actions per turn; any combination of moving, shooting, and special abilities you want. Every time one of your soldiers performs an execution move on a near-death enemy, the rest of the squad gets an extra action point for the turn, the game design equivalent of a platoon shouting Hooah!”

83/100 – Review by Wes Fenlon

Eurogamer

“There are moments in which Tactics does manage to be the successful marriage between Gears of War and XCOM that you might have hoped for, but as a whole package, I’m not convinced it’s ever quite as good as that. I applaud it for experimenting with some brand new ideas, as well as providing another solid entry point into the turn-based strategy genre for those who’ve not been convinced in the past. But with the likes of Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 having paved the way before this, Tactics had some big shoes to fill and not even Sid Redburn (who looks to be a size 16, at least) could quite manage it for me.”

No scored – Review by Chris Bratt

Polygon

“The fundamentals of Gears Tactics work, but Gears 5 did much more than just work. It pushed the formula forward. Moving and shooting and cutting up Locusts is a good time, even in a turn-based system, but that’s not enough to sustain an entire game. Every other element of the game — from the class system to the perks, to the way that missions and UI elements are designed — needs more refinement and care.

This is a near miss, but as anyone who has ever played a turn-based game will tell you, a near miss can be all the enemy needs to take you out. This is an interesting, but hardly essential, addition to the Gears family. ”

No scored – Review by Charlie Hall

GameSpot

“Nearly every single mechanic and system from the core series appears in a turn-based form, and most of them fit remarkably well. Downing enemies (then executing them) becomes vital, as it awards your squaddies extra actions. Rushing in with the Lancer chainsaw is an aggressive way to clear a path through an enemy, but only if you can reach them without taking overwatch fire. Not only do the mechanics and stylistic flourishes of the Gears series make sense in a turn-based environment, but you can build strategies around them.”

8/10 – Review by Mike Epstein

IGN

“No matter where you move or what you do, Gears Tactics really does look spectacular – nearly up to par with Gears 5 itself. Character models are fantastically detailed and the ruined, mostly urban environments of the planet Sera are elaborate. Animations are top-notch as well; coming from XCOM 2, I was impressed to never see anybody appearing to fire in the wrong direction or hover in the air for a moment before moving. Virtually everything looks and sounds like you’d expect a flashy Gears game to, including gory Lancer chainsaw kills that leave both chunks of Locust and blood splatter on the environment. Occasional cinematic camera shots zoom in on a wall with textures that don’t bear scrutiny up close, but other than that Gears Tactics is polished to a thrilling shine.”

8/10 – Review by Dan Stapleton

Destructoid

“There’s a smart experience here, one that feels both authentically Gears and tactics. That’s the best possible outcome. Gears Tactics is a great Gears game and a great tactics game. This 90% doesn’t miss.”

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9/10 – Review by Brett Makedonski

USGamer

“I’ve played a number of games that have come for XCOM‘s throne over the years, from Phoenix Point to The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics. To me, Gears Tactics is the best of the bunch so far. It’s a fantastic-looking title that not only gives the tactics genre a slightly different focus, but stays true to its origins in a way that Halo Wars, for all its strengths, does not.”

4/5 Review by Mike Williams

RockPaperShotgun

“You’re always massively outnumbered by your enemies, with the locust horde coming at you by the dozen, and there’s an increasingly punishing array of enemy classes mixed in as the game goes on, from scampering bomb-creatures that move closer when you miss a shot at them, to anvil-faced priests who make the troops around them nearly invulnerable. But you never feel bullied, for lack of a better word. I’ve come across a few missions that stopped me in my tracks repeatedly, but I never got to the point of swearing at my screen, or throwing my hands up in appeal to an invisible referee.”

RPS Bestest Bests Review by Nate Crowley

Kotaku

“The mission loop is fine at first but is a little tedious by the end. Each chapter consists of a half dozen or so missions and side missions, though there’s little variety to them. About halfway through the game, I stopped encountering new types of missions and new areas. By the end, you’ve done a lot of the same type of missions. I started to feel burned out on guarding supply drops or blowing up Locust stockpiles. Thankfully, the combat is so good that this wasn’t a dealbreaker.”

No scored – Review by Zack Zwiezen


Title: Gears Tactics
Developer: Splash Damage, The Coalition
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Release date: April 28, 2020 (PC), TBC (Xbox One)
Platform:  PC, Xbox One


Visit our new releases section for more on this week’s new video games.

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We ranked every fictional video game in The Simpsons

We ranked every fictional video game featured in The Simpsons. Why? Because lockdown does funny things. It changes you.

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fictional video games in The Simpsons
Disney / Thumbsticks

We ranked every fictional video game featured in The Simpsons. Why? Because lockdown does funny things. It changes you.

From the over-the-top 80s action of McBain movies to the legitimately brilliant Planet of the Apes – the musical, not the planet – The Simpsons has parodied a wide array of 20th/21st century pop culture. But as you can (hopefully) tell by the name and content of the site, we’re here to talk games.

There has been a lot of video game-related stuff on the show over the years, from parodies to completely fictional games – check out some great Nintendo references here – but what if these fictional games were real? What if we had access to a certain slipper-wearing Professor from the year 3000’s fabled ‘What If’ machine?

We’ve scoured 31 years of history to bring you a ranking of every fictional game in The Simpsons.

Disclaimer: Only games that have clear footage and a name have been included. That sadly means no Nuke Canada, no Assassins Creed Summer of Love, or the retro game Bart plays with Grandpa. Zii Sports and Dance Dance Evolution weren’t included either as they are too close to their real-world counterparts.

So join us as we rank the various fictional games in The Simpsons as if they were real.

40. Billy Graham’s Bible Blaster

A fun retro curiosity, but considering this deposited some cash into Billy Graham’s heavenly bank account, let’s just move on.

39. Word Jammers

Take my word for it, this game is definitely not your jam.

38. Astro Blast

It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to work out that this game is a ripoff of Asteroids.

37. Kevin Costner’s Waterworld

More like Dull-as-Dishwaterworld and a rip-off to boot. A game to avoid.

36. Bowling 2000

Having 2000 in the title doesn’t do much for this mediocre Game Boy bowling game.

35. Frosty The Hitman

The only hit you’ll get with this game is the road.

34. Mixed Martian Arts

This game doesn’t have anything positive to say about it to warrant the “mixed Martian bag” joke I so desperately wanted to say.

33. Grand Theft Walrus

I am the egg man. They are the egg men. I am the Grand Theft Walrus (an insignificant game not worth remembering). Amazing how many of these titles are built purely around a pun, isn’t it?

32. Low-Blow Boxing

As entertaining as giving yourself a low blow. Maybe less so.

31. Fruit Shoot

A simplistic light gun game that’s not worth one of your five a day.

30. Rocky III vs Clara Peller

Why does this game exist? The only adequate answer I can come up with is so that I could write the following sentence: Clara Peller found her beef… and it’s with Sylvester Stallone.

29. Baby Blast

Nintendo tried to nuke this unlicensed baby boomer from orbit, but alas failed. It lives on through various Gameboy emulators.

28. The Iceman Killeth

Met with an icy reception when it released on the Xbox 360, it’s best to give this abominable snowman FPS the cold shoulder and move on.

27. Marching Band

After the success of Guitar Hero and Rockband, Activision stumped the world with Marching Band. The E3 reveal is still one of the most baffling moments of the trade shows history, up there with Mr Caffeine and the vitality sensor.

26. Dash Dingo

Dash Dingo ate my Crystal Baby. That’s all you need to know about this average 3D platformer that belongs with the rest of the Z-list heroes from the fifth generation. Maybe in an upside-down Downunderverse, Dash was as successful as his bandicoot brethren, but sadly, not in our world.

25. Tandem Bike Ride With Your Mum

Released on the ill-fated Gizmondo handheld console – and if you can get past the just passable gameplay – Tandem Bike Ride With Your Mum earns some respect for including a mother into a medium that favours fathers.

24. Stickball

The old arcade game Stickball would be a good candidate for a modern-day remake. Imagine a fully realised downtown New York that replicates the feeling of playing street baseball with a ragtag selection of neighbourhood kids.

23. Plague Station 3

Much like how the 2003 third-person shooter Armed and Dangerous is only remembered for the gun that shoots land sharks, Plague Station 3 will only be remembered for the gun that shoots monkeys that claw at the enemies face.

22. Waltz Waltz Revolution

Although not very successful, the using of a dance mat to teach actual dancing was a novel idea.

21. Bar Brawl 4: Final Fracas

The only memorable aspect of Bar Brawl 4 is that it introduced a slipping mechanic into a fighting game a full year before Super Smash Bros Brawl would do the same. Was Sakurai inspired by this game? Anything is possible.

20. Halloween Hit & Run

Halloween Hit & Run is what happens when you take the infamous hit and run scene from Troma’s Toxic Avenger and make a whole game out of it. Not to be confused with the Halloween level from the not-in-universe Simpsons Hit and Run.

19. Cat Fight

In spite of all the stereotypes this game perpetuates (and some rather questionable language) it contains far less sexualisation of women than your typical fighting game, and as a result, must be commended.

18. Virtual Doctor

Released for PC in 2000, Virtual Doctor was a passion project of Yuji Hori, the creator of Dragon Quest. Unfortunately for Hori, Virtual Doctor was a huge failure and coupled with the delays of Dragon Quest VII and later Dragon Quest Monsters 2, left publisher Enix badly bruised. Thankfully, the merger with Square Soft in 2003 allowed Enix to recover – just what the (virtual) doctor ordered.

17. Earthland Realms

Unless someone asks you for a much better alternative, the MMORPG Earthland Realms will not make you say “wow.”

16. Cereal Killer

Have you ever felt the need to take out your anger on a bunch of whimsical breakfast cereal mascots? If so, then Cereal Killer is the game for you. It’s also the only FPS (out of barely 20) on Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance that lets you wield two weapons at the same time. How’s that for going against the grain?

15. Triangle Wars

An ingenious blend of Asteroids and Tetris, Triangle Wars had a surprisingly deep plot. The three warring factions of the Isosceles, the Equilateral and the Scalene all attempting to reach the furthest point of the Euclidean Galaxy to ascend to the realm of higher dimensional beings, the Simplex.

14. Death Kill City II: Death Kill Stories

Usually abbreviated as DKC (and confused with a certain Nintendo 2D platformer series) Death Kill Stories II is known for its shocking plot twist. In an attempt to out edgy its rivals, the first level in DKC II destroys all life on earth. A race of vampiric robo-mutants arise from the depths of the ruined earth and become your next target. Considering the first DKC was simply a GTA clone, this new post-apocalyptic setting was a nice change of pace.

13. Hockey Dad

Probably the only hockey/fighting game hybrid in existence, Hockey Dad should be applauded for its genre-defying antics – oh and introducing drunken dad Chuck Shadowski into the pantheon of great games characters.

12. Guts of War II: Entrails of Intestinox

After God of War 2 director Cory Balrog left Santa Monica Studio to hone his craft on his creative walkabout, he was asked to work on the sequel to Guts of War. Originally hesitant to work on a franchise so similar to his previous work, he came to the conclusion that the intestinal weapons of Guts of War protagonist, Kranus, were different enough to give the game its own personality. Entrails of Intestinox was fairly well-received but criticised for its notorious short length and for allegations of a strenuous crunch period the developers went through.

11. Escape from Grandma’s House

It’s rumoured that Escape From Grandma’s House was the inspiration behind Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis. Capcom has yet to confirm this.

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10. Yard Work Simulator

The original plans for Yard Work Simulator included far more controllers than the final product’s garden shears and rake controllers. One can only imagine what the planned wheelbarrow, garden hose and long-handled spade shovel controllers would’ve brought to this fairly simple virtual reality experiment. (And how much landfill they would’ve produced, like so many Wii peripherals and plastic guitars.)

9. Panamanian Strongman

A peculiar arcade game where you try to keep balance on top of a skyscraper whilst fending off the US Military’s fighter planes. Kojima, take note: This is how you integrate a fun balance mechanic into your game.

8. Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge

Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge was one of the few games to have its cartridge enhanced by the 3F07 chip. This allowed the game to have an abundance of digitised voice clips recorded by Lee Carvallo himself. By no means the best golf game of this era, it was unique in that it felt like Carvallo was right there in your living room, helping you perfect your swing with his insightful suggestions.

What seemed like a death knell – releasing at the same time as the mighty Bonestorm – was actually a surprising boon. Many a parent opted for Carvallo as a runner-up prize when they realised that Bonestorm would be sold out long through the Christmas period.

7. Larry the Looter

Before Grand Theft Auto, there was Larry the Looter. A fairly difficult arcade loot ‘em up, you’ll have to have fast reactions to avoid the shotgun blasts of the poor shopkeepers protecting their property. The genius of Larry the Looter though, was it’s lack of exposition; it never bores the player with an explanation of why Larry’s world was tormented by mass riots and instead leaves this to the player’s imagination. You dropped into this mad world as your primal instincts kick in and force you to stick it to the man.

6. Disembowler IV

Much like how Luigi’s Mansion originally started out as a fishing game prototype, so too did Disembowler IV. After the success of Doom and Mortal Kombat in the early 90s, many companies tried to cash in on this violent video game craze, and Disembowler IV was born. The eponymous rusty hooks that the cast of convicted criminals use are a callback to the game’s origin. Don’t be fooled by the sneaky Roman numerals, however – there was no Disembowler I, II and III. This was merely a marketing gimmick that actually led to significant sales.

5. Touch of Death

Initiate the dreaded ‘Touch of Death’ and exorcise the ghost from your beaten enemies corpse in this classic arcade fighter. Touch of Death’s popularity was due to it’s simple yet accessible control scheme with its three attack buttons – oh, and ninjas. Everyone loves ninjas. Although Touch of Death has a reputation as a Mortal Kombat klone, it actually released two years before the first Mortal Kombat.

4. Super Slugfest

In a lot of ways, Super Slugfest was superior to Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! – just take one look at the graphics – but a lack of celebrity endorsement meant it was always second fiddle. Mike Tyson carried Punch-Out!! to incredible success, which was a shame for Super Slugfest as it had a highly entertaining multiplayer mode that its Nintendo counterpart lacked.

3. My Dinner with Andre

The phrase “ahead of its time” has been overused aplenty, but the licensed video game adaptation of Louis Malle’s 1981 classic My Dinner with Andre is undoubtedly ahead of its time. In an era where a film would translate into a 2D run-and-gun or beat ‘em up, the ambitious developers of My Dinner With Andre explored new territory with this interactive dialogue pioneer that predates Mass Effect, Telltale, games and various immersive and dating sims. “Tell me more” indeed.

2. Escape From Death Row

It should come as no surprise that Escape From Death Row was made by the same developers as Larry the Looter. You can see their anti-establishment DNA all over Death Row, from the prison escape scenario to a conservative judge as an antagonist you must overcome. Although the platforming was fairly weak compared to its contemporaries, the ‘change of venue’ system was an interesting mechanic that gave the player a risky last-ditch effort if they felt there time was nearly up.

1. Bonestorm

The iconic fighting game that sent many a parent/guardian to hell with its boisterous “Buy me Bonestorm or go to Hell!” marketing campaign, Bonestorm led to a gory Christmas for many in 1995. As the name suggests, Bonestorm is a cacophony of blood and guts and probably the best Mortal Kombat klone in existence (sorry, Killer Instinct). The only blemish on this ultra-violent fighting game is the archaic eight-letter limit for choosing a name.


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The Final Fantasy VII Remake steals its best ideas

The Final Fantasy VII Remake is a magpie of ideas, pilfering the best bits of four generations of 3D RPGs. (And that’s precisely why it works so well.)

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Final Fantasy VII Remake Cloud Jessie
Square Enix

The Final Fantasy VII Remake is a magpie of ideas, pilfering the best bits of four generations of 3D RPGs. (And that’s precisely why it works so well.)

Remaking Final Fantasy VII, the beloved PlayStation roleplaying game from 1997, is an unenviable task. It’s almost a zero-sum game, where the best you can hope for is not to besmirch the memory of a classic. And the worst? Well, it rolls downhill from there.

Then there’s the logistics of how you actually do it.

Luckily, Square Enix has had the visual template sorted for years, at least. Gone are the super-deformed homunculi of the original, replaced with the ultra-high resolution characters from the Anthology of Final Fantasy VII, from the PSP prequel, Crisis Core, to the aftermath CGI movie, Advent Children. It’s astonishing to think that the realtime-rendered, gameplay graphics of the Final Fantasy VII Remake are superior to a pre-rendered movie.

Final Fantasy VII Remake sector 1

There’s no need for “not in-game footage” disclaimers on trailers for the Final Fantasy VII Remake, that’s for sure.

That astonishing increase in detail doesn’t just apply to the visuals. It also shows in the scale of the environments and the scope of the game’s story. It’s hard to understand how a seven-hour stretch of the original game could translate into a 30-hour remake until you experience it for yourself. Then every segment of the story, with some details fleshed out and other gaps filled in, is given lashings of care and attention.

On the mechanical front, however, things become trickier. Compared to modern gameplay sensibilities, the original Final Fantasy VII – with its side-on, semi turn-based combat – feels more like massive ships firing cannons at one another broadside until someone sinks. That’s not a criticism. I unironically love classic J-RPGs. But general tastes have changed and Final Fantasy as a series has changed, too.

Over the years, Square Enix has picked up a few tricks. Its development teams have learned what works and – at great cost as games were cancelled, delayed, and repurposed into something new – what doesn’t work.

This shared experience, from different development teams across two decades of RPGs, is woven into the fabric of the Final Fantasy VII Remake. The game works so well because the magpies behind it have stolen all the best bits from other Final Fantasy games. It’s like a supercut of the best systems, all killer, no filler.

But which bits of the previous games have been begged, borrowed, and stolen to make the mechanical mosaic in the Final Fantasy VII Remake?

Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Final Fantasy VII scorpion

Duh. Obviously the biggest influence on the Final Fantasy VII Remake is the original game it reimagines. Let’s do a totally non-exhaustive, whistlestop tour of the key bits:

  • The setting (Midgar, of course, but the rest of the world will follow in subsequent parts)
  • The storyline (generally, though with more fleshing out to suit the extended runtime)
  • The goofy (yet charming) dialogue
  • The characters
  • The monsters
  • The really bonkers enemy designs (you know the ones)
  • The (even more bonkers) sidequests and minigames
  • The weapons and equipment
  • The Materia system (for magic)
  • The ATB system (in a fashion)
  • The Limit Break system (even if some of the limits themselves are a little different)

That’s quite a comprehensive list for a game that many – Thumbsticks included – worried wouldn’t be faithful to the original. You can’t pinch ideas from the game you’re remaking, though. That’s just, er, remaking it. That’s where the rest of the series comes in.

Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

The Final Fantasy VII Remake doesn’t borrow all that many ideas from the eighth instalment in the series, but the one it does – the idea of fighting summon monsters to recruit them – is a good one. It makes for some impressive boss-level battles outside of the regular story flow. (Even if it does mean you have to spend more time talking to Chadley, the insufferable wiener.)

Final Fantasy IX (2000)

Like the game that preceded it chronologically, it’s only a small mechanic that’s pilfered from Final Fantasy IX. In the ninth instalment, characters can use abilities of weapons only when they’re equipped. But if you use the weapon for long enough and build up enough experience with it – that’s Ability Points in IX, or Proficiency in VII Remake – you can permanently learn the ability and continue to use it, even if you no longer equip the weapon.

Final Fantasy X (2001)

Final Fantasy X sunset

We can’t think of anything in the Final Fantasy VII Remake that’s borrowed from Final Fantasy X. Sorry, Blitzball fans.

Final Fantasy XII (2006)

The final PS2-era Final Fantasy game was a big departure for the series. It didn’t feature a traditional overworld map, which felt weird. Its Gambit “programming” system was interesting, if a bit flawed. But most importantly, it introduced a system for additional side-quests that would feel more at home in an MMO or a Bethesda game than a J-RPG. Final Fantasy XII features a series of hubs, complete with factions and radiant quests, which you’ll find replicated in the expanded slum areas of the Final Fantasy VII Remake.

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Final Fantasy XIII (2009)

Final Fantasy XIII is not looked upon fondly by most fans of the series. Yes, it gets better once it opens up from a series of interconnected corridors, but most people got bored before then. And yes, it’s very pretty, but it’s also fatuous and overblown.

But there’s one key system from Final Fantasy XIII that’s been stolen by the Final Fantasy VII Remake: the Stagger system. If you hit an enemy with enough damage in a short period of time, particularly if you target its weaknesses, it will be stunned. This makes it more vulnerable to damage and will stop it from fighting back. You’ve got the 13th instalment to thank for that system.

Oh, and the weapon upgrade system in VII Remake looks remarkably like the character upgrade system in XIII.

Final Fantasy XV (2016)

Final Fantasy XV the boys

We were all worried about Final Fantasy XV: Crusin’ With the Boys, especially given that it was built out of an abandoned Final Fantasy XIII sequel. But like the Final Fantasy VII Remake, it actually turned out pretty great.

The recent remake borrows a lot from Final Fantasy XV: Lads on Tour, but it’s not all entirely unique. That’s perhaps a sign of the iteration that went into that game, as well. The questing system is a further expansion on Final Fantasy XII’s, but spread across a large, open world. It also features a Stagger system, but it’s more based on defence than attack. These ideas weren’t born in XV, but they were developed upon further in the Final Fantasy VII Remake.

But it’s the action-based combat, with the ability to leverage different character abilities and playstyles, that’s the biggest bridge between the two games.

The summoning system – where summon monsters dramatically “arrive” towards the later stages of particularly difficult battles, like the arrival of Gandalf at Helm’s Deep – is also featured in the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Giant godlike monsters arriving to save you is a very literal interpretation of deus ex machina – if anything, it’s a bit on the nose – but it works.

Bonus: Kingdom Hearts

Depending on who you’re playing as in the Final Fantasy VII Remake, it changes the feel of the combat. If you’ve got Barret or Aerith selected, for instance, then it plays more like Final Fantasy XV, with a simple, press-and-hold to attack. And if you’re playing as Cloud? It’s just like Kingdom Hearts.

But instead of hitting things with a massive key, it’s a massive sword. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.


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The 10 greatest Nintendo references in The Simpsons

Here’s a list of the 10 most perfectly cromulent Nintendo references In The Simpsons. We hope it embiggens your spirit in these dark times.

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8 best Nintendo references in The Simpsons
Disney / Thumbsticks

Here’s a list of the 10 most perfectly cromulent Nintendo references in The Simpsons. We hope it embiggens your spirit in these dark times.

Although Nintendo has been around since the time of your great grandparents, it was the late ’80s when the company as we know it today really took off. Less of the Hanafuda cards, taxi rides and love hotels (no, really) of the past, and more of the Italian plumbers, tunic-wearing heroes and intergalactic bounty hunters that defined them.

It was during the golden age of NES, SNES and N64 that a certain four-fingered family with what seemed like a severe case of jaundice took over the world. The Simpsons and Nintendo; a match made in ’90s kids heaven.

So join us as we head to the planet Nintendu 64 – sorry, wrong Matt Groening franchise – and delve in the best Nintendo references in The Simpsons. To preface, I must apologise to golden era Simpsons fans for including a few picks from the series’ less-than-stellar later seasons. But rest assured, the business end of the list features some classic Simpsons episodes.

10. Mario vs Homer (Kong)

The writers of season 16’s Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass sadly didn’t do their homework as Mario is seen arriving on a bus for ‘Italians Touring America’. Mario is Italian American, not Italian Italian. Or is he from The Mushroom Kingdom? It’s unclear. At least the parody of the arcade Donkey Kong scene where Homer throws garbage cans at Mario is funny.

9. Gameboy Advance cameo

The Gameboy Advance made its first and only appearance in the season 20 episode, Dangerous Curves, which happened to be seven years after the handheld released. Talk about late. But the best part was the game Bart happened to be playing: the can-someone-please-make-this FPS, Cereal Killer, where you take down a bunch of bright-eyed breakfast cereal mascots. A game that would most certainly be loved by kids (and probably not approved by their parents).

8. Human Super Mario Bros.

A quick blink and you’ll miss it in the season 23 episode A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again reveals a fun cruise activity titled ‘Human Super Mario Bros’. Now working out what this activity entails is certainly a conundrum. Is this a game of Super Mario Bros. where real people act out your inputs as you press a button? Or is this some kind demented stomping ground free-for-all where you crush your enemies (literally) by jumping on them?

We’ll never know for sure. The itinerary also includes ‘Xbox with PS3 controllers’, which makes more sense, and ‘Real-life Tetris’, which is just as confusing as ‘Human Super Mario Bros.’ to be honest. Maybe even more so.

7. Bart watching Digibots

As Bart attempts to do some homework in season 21’s Postcards from the Wedge, distraction kicks in and he watches an episode of Digibots, a show that sounds like Digimon but looks suspiciously like Pokémon. In the episode, we see both Ash Ketchum and Pikachu on-screen, while Bart ponders to himself, “Wow, how does this show stay so fresh?”

6. Funtendo Zii Zu

The Wii was a phenomenon. We were bound to see parodies of it. But The Simpsons deserves credit for following up its Wii parody with the Funtendo Zii Zu. To see the severely underrated Wii U recognised by something so mainstream is nothing short of a miracle. Sadly we only saw a quick glimpse of it being unveiled at the E4 expo in season 23’s The Food Wife, meaning we didn’t get to look at the Zii Zu’s launch titles, Funtendo Land and ZombiZu.

5. Milhouse will kick your butt… at Nintendo

In the downright radical Lemon of Troy, Milhouse threatens his Shelbyville doppelgänger to “Step over this line and say that! I’ll kick your butt! …at Nintendo.”

Although hilarious – and a great influence on how I conduct my threats – it made me think of Patrick H Willem’s great analysis video, where he discusses how this episode is basically about masculine insecurity. Funny and thematically appropriate? This episode was well ahead of its time.

4. Coconut Nintendo System

“Martin, draw up plans for a coconut radio and, if possible, a coconut Nintendo system.”

You can’t deny Bart’s leadership prowess with his main priority a radio for help escaping a deserted island, and only then, a coconut Nintendo system for their entertainment while being stranded on said island. Das Bus, The Simpson’s take on Lord of the Flies, originally aired in 1998. The question is: which Nintendo system is Bart talking about? As the N64 released in 1996, it’s likely that’s the console Bart is referring to, but for some reason (Mandela effect?) I’ve always had the image of a coconut SNES in my head.

Quite frankly, I’m shocked and appalled there isn’t even as little as an image of this alluring Coconut Nintendo System on the internet. For shame internet. For shame. [Maybe with some Donkey Konga bongos? – Ed.]

3. Donkey Kong’s still got it

He’s the leader of the bunch, you know him well and he’s finally back to kick some tail in season 8’s X-Files mashup, The Springfield Files. You’d think an opportunity to meet Donkey Kong in person would be a fascinating prospect, but no one turned up to the Noiseland Arcade to meet him.

The sarcastic clerk bemoans the fact that the cranky looking DK has lost his draw only for DK to throw a barrel at him arcade style. It just goes to show that no matter what, DK is always a barrel of laughs.

2. Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Lee Carvallo and Sonic

Four of gaming’s most legendary icons (and Sonic) join forces to influence a ten-year-old to steal the thrill(house)ing videogame Bonestorm in season 8’s Marge Be Not Proud. Try and save yourself from not laughing at the gloriously dopey Yogi Bear-like Donkey Kong voice and what seems like a hyper-caffeinated Sonic.

Fun Fact: the hilariously off-putting Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge is based on an actual NES/arcade game called Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf.

1. Super Nintendo Chalmers

“Hi, Lisa. Hi, Super Nintendo Chalmers.”

Season 10’s Lisa Gets an A gave us one of the best and most memorable jokes in the history of The Simpsons – Ralph Wiggum mistakenly calling Superintendent Chalmers “Super Nintendo Chalmers”. But it doesn’t stop there – it also gave us another cheeky video game reference in Dash Dingo, a blatant nod to Crash Bandicoot, and Homer’s pet lobster, Pinchy.

There’s really no explaining why Super Nintendo Chalmers is quite so funny, but it makes me chuckle every time I hear it.


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Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.


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