Underappreciated Video Game Characters #2: Gooey

I’m Watch Da Birdie and this is the second installment of Underappreciated Video Game Characters, a reoccurring segment of my blog where I take a look at a minor character from a popular video game series who never got the love they deserve:

A Gooey Draws Near!
A Gooey Draws Near!

Today’s U.V.G.C. is Gooey from the Kirby series who made his debut in Kirby’s Dreamland 2 as a minor character followed by becoming the secondary player character in Kirby’s Dreamland 3 before disappearing off the face of the earth. Why did this happen? Well, this story involves two men that we have to talk about first…

Have you ever made a game?
Have you ever made a game?

This is Masahiro Sakurai, who probably needs no introduction—he’s the “Super Smash Bros. guy”, the man who’s either responsible for giving your favorite classic Nintendo character a boost in popularity or destroying their legacy. Sometimes he does this simultaneously, as could be argued for Captain Falcon’s portrayal post-Smash Bros. being heavily influenced by his fighting game role with his role as an F-Zero pilot basically serving as dressing for the memetic martial artist he’s become.

Looking a little pale there, Kirby.
Looking a little pale there, Kirby.

But before he became “the Super Smash Bros. guy” Sakurai was responsible for the creation of Kirby, one of Nintendo’s most memorable mascots. Despite being the creator of Kirby Sakurai isn’t as involved with the series as you might think, his only major contributions mainly occurring at the onset of the franchise as the director of the original Kirby’s Dream Land, the follow-up Kirby’s Adventure which established Kirby’s trademark pinkness and copy ability, Kirby Super Star, which many consider to be the height of the franchise, and the spin-off Kirby Air Ride, a game that ultimately led to Sakurai growing tired of the sequel-based industry and leaving HAL Laboratory. He contributed a bit to other Kirby games, such as lending his voice to Kirby 64 and helping direct the GBA remake of Kirby’s Adventure, but ultimately those first four games can be considered his career with Kirby.

Clearly the pink shirt signifies his involvement with Kirby!
Clearly the pink shirt signifies his involvement with Kirby!

And this is Shinichi Shimomura. He’s not as well known as Sakurai, but he’s just as important to the Kirby franchise as he served as the map designer for various games, Super Star includedbefore going on to direct the “Dark Matter Trilogy” of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, Kirby’s Dreamland 3, and Kirby 64. But I lied, because the Shinichi Shimomura pictured here is not OUR Shinichi Shimomura. He’s a different Shinichi Shimomura who opened up a company called PARK DESIGN in 2007. As far as I know there’s no picture of Nintendo’s Shinichi Shimomura anywhere online, and information on him is bizarrely sparse.

What happened to him? Well, for a while it was rumored he retired to become a park designer, the Shinichi Shimomura seen here, but the timeline doesn’t make sense as the online profile for this man lists his birth as 1976, meaning he would’ve been working for HAL Laboratory on Kirby’s Adventure when he was in High School. Unless this man has for some reason decided to completely hide any involvement with Kirby by lying about his date of birth, or he was secretly a child prodigy, this isn’t our Shinichi Shimomura.

The other popular rumor is that he died in 2003, explaining why he never was credited in any game ever again and everything he brought to the Kirby series—including Gooey—was more or less retired suddenly without any explanation. Speaking of which, what did Shinichi Shimomura bring to the table anyway? Well, let’s talk about the Kirby games he was mainly known for—the “Dark Matter Trilogy”.

!?
!?

The “Dark Matter Trilogy” is a fan moniker given to the trio of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, 3, and Kirby 64, all of which involve the dark space entity known as Dark Matter who repeatedly tries to take over Popstar, and later Ripple Star, by consuming it in darkness and possessing various characters such as King DeDeDe. Why it does this is unknown, its popularity probably stems from the fact it’s such an enigmatic villain and one could say it inspired future Kirby games to feature unsettling boss monsters in an otherwise saccharine series. Dark Matter itself hasn’t appeared since 64 in a major role, though other games have implied it may have lived on.

Pictured: Jigglypuff and Hamtaro try to outrun Boss Bass
Pictured: Jigglypuff and Hamtaro try to outrun Boss Bass

The first game in the series, Kirby’s Dreamland 2, was released for the Game Boy in 1995 and was Shimomura’s first role as Kirby’s director. From my understanding this title was an attempt to take Kirby back to his roots before re-inventing him for Super Star, and thus it’s a rather simple platformer with not a lot of flair. It’s not particularly difficult and Kirby only has seven primary Copy Abilities this time around to utilize. Furthermore said Copy Abilities only have one basic function as opposed to the movesets they’d later get in Super Star.

Getter 1! 2! 3! Scramble!
Getter 1! 2! 3! Scramble!

A way around this limited selection comes in the form of Animal Friends, which Kirby can ride. Each Animal Friend has its own passive ability, with Rick the Hamster running fast, Coo the Owl flying fast and allowing Kirby to inhale in the air, and Kine the Sunfish swimming fast and allowing Kirby to inhale in the water, thus making certain levels easier or harder depending on the Animal Friend you select. Furthermore when Kirby is riding an Animal Friend they change his currently Copy Ability to a different variation, and thus instead of seven measly Copy Abilities you technically have twenty-one.

Kirby Dreamland 2, or a Pennsylvania frat party?
Kirby Dreamland 2, or a Pennsylvanian frat party?

Gooey makes his first appearance here though in an extremely minor role. If you already have the Animal Friend from a previous level that a room would normally give you, Gooey instead appears and heals you. Not much explanation is given about Gooey beyond the fact he’s a “good” piece of Dark Matter. On occasion a female Gooey will instead appear and give you a 1UP, but she’s not canon—she replaces a character from a Japanese-only game in the original.

American Kirby before he went hardcore.
American Kirby before he went hardcore.

The next game, Kirby Dreamland 3, wasn’t released till 1997 in American and then didn’t hit Japan till 1998—and everyone else didn’t get it till it was re-released on the Virtual Console in 2009. This game didn’t get a lot of love due to following up Super Star, and being released during the N64-era, and that’s a shame because it’s a very solid game and my personal favorite. It’s slower than Super Star, and isn’t as immediately as nice looking though graphically it’s pretty powerful for the Super Nintendo, plus it lacks the insane amount of Copy Abilities introduced in Super Star making it come across as a bit archaic.

On the other hand I enjoy the slower style a bit as I feel the game is a bit harder than Super Star, due to how Kirby is far more vulnerable and lacks the amount of tools available to him he had in Super Star, and going for the Heart Stars for 100% completion introduces a fair amount of challenge with some probably requiring a guide. I’m not a fan of the mini-games though, especially the one where you have to memorize a sound which I find extremely difficult, but otherwise I’d say give this game a shot if you have the Wii or Wii U.

I miss these guys.
I miss these guys.

Though Dreamland 3 only introduces one measly new power in the form of Clean involving Kirby using a broom—though to be honest I love this power and want it to return—there are three additional Animal Friends introduced in the form of Nago the Cat, Pitch the Bird, and Chuchu the Octopus(?). Nago can perform a triple-jump and rolls Kirby along like a ball, Pitch is a weak flyer but his small size leads to some pretty creative moves, and Chuchu sits atop Kirby like a hat and can hover as well as cling to ceilings. They’re just as fun as the original three and they introduce their own variations of Copy Abilities, giving the game a grand total of forty-eight variants. And many of them, while gimmicky, are quite fun to mess around with such as Pitch turning into an R.C. Plane and Chuchu flying on a broom like a witch.

Best Friends Forever---yeah, right.
Best Friends Forever—yeah, right.

The other big addition to Dreamland 3 is of course the topic of this post, Gooey! No longer a minor character Gooey was promoted to full-on playable status as either a CPU-controlled ally or Player 2. Gooey is near identical to Kirby except for the fact he can use his tongue instead of sucking in foes meaning he can eat enemies underwater unlike Kirby, though he can’t eat multiple foes. He has the same Copy Abilities as Kirby, and can pair up with Animal Friends, though with the latter only one character can at a time.

RERORERORERO~
RERORERORERO~

While the idea of Partners were introduced in Kirby Super Star, the gameplay was asymmetrical as the Partners didn’t have access to the same skills as Kirby and were ultimately under his control, able to be called away at an instant or changed into another form without their control. Gooey, on the other hand, introduces a neat form of symmetrical gameplay that feels like an early version of the co-op/competitive style that later Nintendo games would utilize where the second player can either be a helper or hindrance. He can summon himself from Kirby’s health, putting Kirby in a dangerous situation; he can steal Copy Abilities that Kirby was going after, or Animal Friends; he can ruin certain Heart Star objectives, and to call him back Kirby must chase him and devour him. There’s a certain amount of mischief to be have when playing as Gooey, and multiplayer in this game is a lot of fun. As I said before though the CPU can also control Gooey, but he comes across as a big hindrance most of the time and might not be worth it. You can repeatedly absorb him and summon him to keep your life bar at one bar infinitely as long as you don’t get hit while doing so, which is a fun little trick.

Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing

Oh, and there’s also Ado, the only humanoid character introduced like ever in the Kirby series and a fan favorite despite her (or his?) limited appearances. In Dreamland 3 he appears as a possessed boss who summons various enemies, some new, some classic, for Kirby to fight. Though this character only makes one more major appearance, the style of her fight would be re-used in other Kirby games with different bosses.

Cute Boxart + Lack of Positive Reception = Hardcore American Kirby?
Cute Boxart + Lack of Positive Reception = Hardcore American Kirby?

And finally the Dark Matter Trilogy ended with Kirby 64, Shimomura’s penultimate game (he was involved with the remake of Kirby’s Adventure for the GBA alongside Sakurai as co-director, but the full extent of his contribution is unclear) before seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth. Like Dreamland 3 it’s a slower and simpler game than Super Star, and only features seven Copy Abilities with one basic move apiece. Thankfully Kirby can now combine each power with another, doubling one power included, for a total of forty-nine variants and many of them are pretty creative such as “Darth Maul Kirby” and “Golem Kirby”, though with many of them being gimmicky.

I don’t like 64 as much as Dreamland 3, and once more it came out pretty late in its console’s life-cycle that it felt archaic, but it’s a solid game that every Kirby fan should try out once. Though the game does feature the return of Dark Matter, the Animal Friends were exorcised (since they basically are made redundant by the Fused Copy Abilities) as was poor Gooey with no multi-player mode outside of various mini-games which is a shame. You do get to “ride” on DeDeDe at certain parts of the game which is pretty fun, and Waddle Dee lends a hand as well, but I miss the extended cast from Dreamland 3.

"Punished" Ado
“Punished” Ado

One oddity though is that there’s a seemingly new painter introduced named Adeleine who may or may not be Ado—they’re virtually the same character bar some visual differences, though all the characters have a slight re-design here, and many speculate that “Ado” is a translation issue due to limited text space in 3 and that her name was always intended to be Adeleine (“Ado” coming from the Japanese pronunciation) and they’re the same character. Others view Ado as a guy, and Adeleine as his female counterpart. Adeleine is the only character referenced nowadays in official sources so it seems they are one-in-the-same, though this is still a source of much controversy among Kirby fans.

The Dream Land is dead.
The Dream Land is dead.

After the Dark Matter Trilogy Kirby suffered a bit of growing pains as the series relied on spin-offs and “lesser” handheld titles as all the 3D games planned ended up in development hell for one reason or another. It was during this time Shimomura “died” and with him most of his original characters were written off, possibly out of respect or simply because they didn’t fit the canon the series began to establish. In recent years there’s been a slow revival of various elements of the Dark Matter Trilogy, such as the original three Animal Friends making cameos alongside Adeleine, but poor Gooey hasn’t been heard of since Super Smash Bros. Melee included him as a trophy and a recent appearance as a sticker in Planet Robobot.

#Gooey4Switch
#Gooey4Switch

And that’s unfortunate because while I thought Return to Dreamland had a fun concept for multiplayer, the lack of Gooey was quite disappointing to me since he was a fun little counterpart to Kirby. The Luigi/Diddy Kong of the Kirby series basically, and while I have nothing against DeDeDe, Waddle Dee, or Meta Knight none of them have the same charm as Gooey to me. I’ve heard that he was a requested character for Smash Bros. back during the 64-era and I think it’d be amazing if Sakurai included him as a “clone” of Kirby, though I’ve heard rumors he’s apparently disdainful of anything introduced to Kirby that he wasn’t involved with. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sounds plausible since Kirby’s representation in Smash Brothers is heavily weighed towards the games he was involved with, Smash 4 notably lacking a Kirby stage inspired by any of the new mainline games that have been released.

So, I’ll end this post by saying I hate Super Star. But that’s another lie because it’s an amazing game and could be considered Sakurai’s magnum opus. I hate though how it’s become the only Kirby game that matters, the game that all the new mainline games borrow from. The crazy movesets and multitude of Copy Abilities have gotten stale after four games (if you count Super Star Ultra) in a row and I’d love to see a return to the slower style of Dream Land with a smaller selection of powers paired with a unique combination system, preferably the return of the Animal Friends. And, of course, a haphazardly fun multiplayer mode featuring the return of Gooey.

 

 

Gamer’s Birdwatching Guide Issue 1

I’m Watch Da Birdie and this is Gamer’s Birdwatching Guide, a reoccurring segment on my blog where I talk about birds in gaming! I hope to eventually make this the most comprehensive guide to videogame birds available—then again, I doubt anyone has ever done this.

Each post will introduce three gaming birds from various series—no bird Pokemon though since I already covered them in-depth—and I’ll give my thoughts on them as well as bits of trivia and such. I’ll also tell you their status, as some gaming birds are doing quite well, others appear only now and then, and some of them are deader than the dodo. I won’t be covering every instance of a bird in gaming, obviously, just birds that are notable and aren’t just a random background bird that are common in modern, realistic games.

Finally each post will end with a “migratory gaming bird”—a bird that has appeared in a game but originates from another media such as a cartoon or anime.

coo

Coo
Species: Owl
First sighted: Kirby’s Dream Land 2 (1995; Game Boy)
Status: Critically endangered

Released in 1995 Kirby’s Dream Land 2 gave Kirby three new Animal Friends, since that was all the rage at the time, in the form of Rick the Hamster, Kine the Fish, and Coo the Owl.

Though Kirby is capable of unlimited flight already in Dream Land 2, Coo proved to be far faster than the pink puffball and made mid-air navigation easier since Kirby was rather floaty and quite vulnerable when in the air as he couldn’t inhale. With Coo, though, Kirby can inhale enemies in the air. Furthermore Kirby would gain new variations of his Copy Ability when paired with an Animal Friend, such as Coo + Burning turning the pair into a flaming meteor and Coo + Spark causing a giant bolt of lightning to strike unsuspecting foes. Coo reappeared in Kirby’s Dream Land 3 working much the same way, with a new Copy Ability combination in Clean that turned him into a feather duster.

Unfortunately following Kirby’s Dream Land 3 Coo, and the Animal Friends in general, were basically written out of the series—the original three make quick cameos here and there, the most prominent recently being in Triple Deluxe’s Kirby Fighters Z mini-game, but the others have disappeared. The Super Star formula that the modern games use give Kirby a ton of versatility as it is, thus rendering the Animal Friends redundant.

Birdie’s Notes: I got into the Dream Land series with 3 so I always found Pitch to be the cooler bird-based Animal Friend, but Coo was equally sweet since quickly flying around is always pretty fun in games. The Burning, Lightning, and Parasol Ability combination attacks are his coolest, the rest, especially Needle and Stone, aren’t anything special though.

toki

Toki Tori
Species: Chicken
First sighted: Toki Tori (2001; Game Boy Color)
Status: Making a comeback

Toki Tori is the star of the 2001 Game Boy Color game of the same name published by Capcom and developed by Two Tribes. A lot of gamers overlooked this puzzle-platformer due to being by an unknown developer and coming out when the Game Boy Advance had hit the scene, but it may be the best case of “don’t judge a book by its cover” among gaming—it’s apparently a very good game. It’s been ported to a variety of systems now with updated graphics, but the original is available on the 3DS Virtual Console.

Toki Tori (phonetically similar to how you’d say “Time Bird” in Japanese, but coincidental according to the developers) is a young chicken who sets out to rescue his unhatched siblings after they’re swept away. Despite being just a chicken, he gains all sorts of unique items to use as he journeys to rescue the eggs such as a freeze ray and a bridge-building machine. He can also teleport too. The gimmick of the game is each level limits how many times you can use the items you’re given for that level, so careful thinking is necessary or you can render a level unwinnable.

Toki Tori is a spiritual sequel to Eggbert, also a puzzle game starring a chicken, for the MSX 2 released by developer Fony—staff from that company later went on form Two Tribes. A sequel, Toki Tori 2, was recently released for the Wii-U, PC, and PS4 and received positive reviews for being just as charming and challenging as the original. Check out this video of Game Maker’s Toolkit by Mark Brown showing how the game may be one of the best designed Metroidvania titles:

Birdie’s Notes: I saw Toki Tori all the time at game stores when it first came out and had no interest in it—and when all those remakes were being released a couple of years ago I thought it was some cheap mobile title. I was very surprised to discover it was actually a good game, and I really need to get around to playing the original on the 3DS and the sequel on the Wii U. I’m not too skilled at puzzle games, though, but I should give them a shot.

epsiloneagle

Epsilon Eagle
Species: Artificial Parasitic Eagle
First sighted: Alien Soldier (1995; Mega Drive)
Status: Deader than the dodo

At the end of the Mega Drive’s life cycle, and the 16-bit generation in general, Treasure producer Hideyuki Suganami went crazy and decided to create the ultimate Mega Drive game that would surpass Gunstar Heroes. The result was Alien Soldier, a fast-paced action shooter that’s like nothing else. Suganami wasn’t able to meet his vision completely, and ended up requiring help as the deadline approached, but the game still turned out pretty great all things considered.

Epsilon Eagle is the protagonist of the game, the titular alien soldier. So, Suganami apparently had a lot of ideas when it came to the plot of this game but ultimately the plot ended up being restricted to a bizarre summary given at the beginning of the game which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Epsilon Eagle is a genetically altered parasitic being who is the leader of a terrorist organization known as Scarlet who is oppressing “A-Humans” on “A-Earth”. During a battle with rebels Epsilon Eagle is thrown into the time-space continuum allowing Xi-Tiger to rise as the new leader of Scarlet.

Anyway turns out Xi-Tiger is way worse than Epsilon Eagle so everyone wants him back. Epsilon was living within the body of a boy with psychic powers and the two end up merging (“A Bird-Man with steel wings took over the boy’s will”) creating a “good Epsilon”, though a “bad Epsilon” is also split off at the same time or something. Both want to kill Xi-Tiger. Yeah, the plot is pretty bizarre and I don’t know if it would’ve been any better had Suganami finished it, but nobody really cares though as the game is pretty sweet.

Epsilon has a ton of abilities such as being able to double jump, hover in air, switch gravity, utilize six different weapons in both fixed-fire and free-moving styles, counter bullets and turn them into health, and use “Phoenix Force” to blaze across the screen. You’re gonna need to master these as the game is all about taking down tons of tough bosses! Japan and PAL got this game back in the day, but us Americans could only get it through the limited “Sega Channel” online distribution service which I never heard of when I was a kid. Thankfully it’s available everywhere for the Wii’s Virtual Console and is also on Steam.

Birdie’s Notes: This guy is such a crazy looking character who has equally crazy abilities. I’ve never played Alien Soldier myself but discovered him a few years ago when looking through Sega characters while thinking of ideas for what a Sega-based Smash Brothers would be like. Needless to say, though he isn’t first-party, this guy would have to be included. Everyone in this game sounds like a rejected Mega Man X villain though.

petshop

Migratory Bird – Pet Shop
Species: Falcon
Originated in: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders (Manga – 1989)
First sighted: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Heritage for the Future (1999 ;Arcade)
Status: Making a comeback

A few years ago JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was a somewhat obscure manga series that had a strong cult following in certain circles, but to the mainstream audience outside of Japan it was virtually unknown. Viz’s attempts to localize the series, starting with Part 3: Stardust Crusaders, never quite took off and it wasn’t till the anime series began to air in 2012 that the franchise took off globally and now you can’t go a day without seeing it referenced on social media. I’ve been a fan of JoJo since reading the entire series (at the time Parts 1 through 6) back around 2008 so seeing it so popular now is kind of weird, much like how I feel being a long time Pokemon fan and seeing the Pokemon Go craze bring it back to the spotlight.

But before the anime began to air outside of Japan, and before even the manga was localized, Capcom created a cult classic arcade fighter based on Part 3: Stardust Crusaders known as simply JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, though originally the English version of the arcade game went by the name JoJo’s Venture. An updated version with additional characters known as Heritage for the Future was later created in 1999 and ported to the PlayStation and Dreamcast, where many North American players first played the game and experienced the JoJo franchise—if they even knew it was based on a comic book. I had no clue about JoJo back in 2000 when the game was released and remember seeing it in a magazine, my first thought when hearing “JoJo” at the time was that old Disney show JoJo’s Circus. I never saw that game anywhere outside of the magazine so never played it for myself until it was re-released in 2012 for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade.

Pet Shop (or Animal Shop, as he’s now called in the localized anime) was added to Heritage of the Future and is one of the oddest fighting game characters ever since he’s basically a normal bird in appearance and form allowing him to fly around the stage without an issue, but thanks to the power of his Stand (basically his super-powered summon spirit) Horus he can bombard the opponent with powerful ice crystals. He’s considered the most broken character in the game—possibly in any Capcom fighter ever—due to how easy it is to win with him without needing to even understand the complexities of the game. He’s hard to hit and can hit hard with ease, his ice crystals trapping the opponent in infinite combos. Any official tournament will ban him, and using him will earn you some nasty looks from your friends.

2012 saw the release of the first major JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure game (there were two forgettable titles released earlier based on Part 5 and Part 1, but nobody talks about them) known as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle for the PS3 by CyberConnect 2. The game contains a ton of fanservice to the JoJo franchise, featuring characters from every single part of the manga, but Pet Shop was absent from the roster. Though a fighting game in theory, compared to the classic Capcom fighter All Star Battle was more style over substance so Pet Shop’s crazy brokeness would’ve fit right in. 2015 saw a pseudo-sequel of sorts in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Eyes of Heaven which changed gears to a rather funky arena fighter while bringing back almost everyone from the original plus a few new characters, a lot of them from Part 3, the most popular part globally. This included Pet Shop (now known as Animal Shop outside of Japan due to copyright) who basically plays like he does in his classic appearance, flying all around the stage and shooting icicles, but the game lacks any particular depth and isn’t tournament-ready by any means so it’s not as noticeable.

So if you haven’t read the manga or watched the anime adaptation, Pet Shop is the loyal pet of Dio, an immortal vampire who serves as the main antagonist of Part 1 and Part 3 and influences every Part in some fashion. Part 3 introduces the concept of Stands, basically summons that grant the user special powers, and while these get extremely bizarre and abstract as the series continues Part 3’s Stands were mainly simple powers such as “punch really fast”, or control over an element. Pet Shop controlled ice and proved to be extremely lethal, animals with Stands being implied to have increased intelligence in addition to their heightened animal senses, and may have defeated the entire main cast like his “what-if” ending in Heritage of the Future shows. Thankfully the unlikeliest member of the Stardust Crusaders, Iggy the dog, managed to defeat him before that happened with his sand-based Stand The Fool. But Pet Shop put up one hell of the fight and may be the fiercest Stand user in the franchise.

Birdie’s Notes: Stardust Crusaders is actually rather humorous, with most of the enemies the heroes face ending up being embarrassed and suffering darkly-funny injuries. Pet Shop is unique in that there’s nothing comical about him and even when Iggy wins the sense of “yeah, the heroes won!” is basically nowhere to be found as Iggy is pretty beaten up. It’s definitely the highest point of Stardust Crusaders possibly outside of the climax with Dio. Anyway, I’m not a good fighting game player but I can tell when a character is overpowered and just watching videos of Pet Shop in Heritage of the Future get that point across. I was a bit upset to see him in Eyes of Heaven as that game had far too many minor Part 3 characters included at the cost of more deserving characters from other parts such as Abbacchio from Part 5 and Foo Fighters from Part 6, who were major allies instead of a one-shot foe.

Happy birdwatching, gamers!

-Birdie <<(*>*)

 

Gaming Memories: The Legend of the Shiny Dusclops

I’m Watch Da Birdie and this is the first installment of Gaming Memories, a reoccurring segment on my blog where I talk about a childhood memory and how it relates to gaming. Some will be funny, some will be sad, but I hope you enjoy them and think about the effects gaming has had on your everyday life in unexpected ways.

Today’s memory is what I call The Legend of the Shiny Dusclops. If you’re not a Pokemon fan let me explain what “Shiny Pokemon”, or “alternate colored Pokemon” as they were previously called, are. Basically in every Pokemon game starting with Gold and Silver you have an extremely small chance of encountering a Pokemon with a different color scheme than usual accompanied by a sparkling effect which earned them the name “Shiny Pokemon”. Actually there’s one Shiny Pokemon that everyone will encounter in Gold and Silver, and that’s the Red Gyarados as part of the central plot, but the chances of encountering another Shiny Pokemon in the game was roughly 1/8192. Needless to say many players probably didn’t realize Shiny Pokemon were a thing (though the anime highlighted it through Ash receiving a Shiny Noctowl), and may not have obtained any no matter how long they played.

 

Game Freak occasionally offer Shiny Pokemon as Events. A Shiny Beldum was given out to those who played ORAS in the first few months.
Game Freak occasionally giveaway Shiny Pokemon such as Shiny Beldum in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

In 2016 Shiny Pokemon aren’t as rare as they once were since there’s various tricks one can use now to increase the odds of obtaining one, and that’s not even considering how easily they can be hacked into the game now, but in my opinion it’s still an amazing feeling encountering one unexpectedly in the wild as opposed to going out and spending hours purposefully breeding for one. In truth Shiny Pokemon aren’t different from the regular Pokemon beyond a unique color, and using one nowadays is almost cliched especially if it also happens to be a popular Pokemon to begin with. And if you use Shiny Legendaries, well, most people probably are gonna assume you hacked those and they’re probably right.

Some Shiny designs are...questionable.
Some Shiny designs are…questionable.

Back to the topic at hand though Shiny Pokemon are fun to encounter, though it’s also possible for you to encounter them under extremely unfortunate circumstances. I’ve seen stories of a Shiny Pokemon appearing in the World of Pokemon segment before the game begins, Shiny Pokemon appearing during the tutorial where a NPC teaches you how to catch a Pokemon, and recently a Shiny Pokemon appearing in the Sun and Moon demo that couldn’t be transferred to the actual game. I was one of those unfortunate souls to run into my first Shiny Pokemon in an area where it was uncatchable, and that was in the Battle Pike in Pokemon Emerald.

The Battle Pike from Pokemon Emerald shaped like Seviper.
The Battle Pike from Pokemon Emerald shaped like Seviper.

The Battle Pike was a battle facility located in the post-game Battle Frontier in Pokemon Emerald, a theme park of sorts where players could have fun battling against the CPU under a variety of conditions and while it could be cheap at times, it was far more challenging than anything else in the series at that point in time. For those of us who didn’t have a lot of friends around to play with, and this was before WiFi of course, the Battle Frontier was the first time we really experienced some of the higher level strategies that Pokemon hides behind its deceptively simple battle system. It was one of the best new additions of Emerald and its absence in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire still remains a sore point for many Pokemon fans.

The Battle Pike is one of the odder battle facilities and also probably the easiest, as you don’t have to fight that many Trainers. You go through different doors as you travel through the tube and behind each door is a randomized room where you’ll either fight a Trainer, fight two Trainers in a Double Battle, fight a Trainer followed by your Pokemon getting healed, fight Wild Pokemon who live in the room, be inflicted with a negative status effect, or just run into a friendly NPC that will let you pass without posing as an obstacle. It’s the luck-based facility (though all of them involve some luck) and thus even if your Pokemon aren’t perfectly trained it’s easy enough to stumble through. You earn silver and gold symbols based on how many times in a row you clear each facility and two clears of the Pike earned you silver while ten clears were required for gold, though at the end of the second and tenth rounds you had to fight the Pike Queen Lucy. I only managed to get silver, and that was the only Battle Frontier symbol I ever earned, but I was satisfied.

Pike Queen Lucy. Seviper is one of my favorite Pokemon so I love her design. Fierce!
Cynthia who?

Luck was not on my side though when during one playthrough of the Battle Pike, I believe the playthrough where I managed to defeat the leader of the Battle Pike Lucy for the silver symbol, upon entering one of the Wild Pokemon rooms I ran into my first ever Shiny Pokemon—Shiny Duclops! Sure, I technically had a few Shiny Pokemon I grabbed using an Action Replay, but this was the first legit Shiny Pokemon I ever encountered and I just had to have it since I liked Dusclops. But, that’s not possible in the Battle Pike as you can’t use items thus I had nothing to catch it with. I had to faint it unfortunately, and that was pretty upsetting.

Now so far this post has been all about Pokemon, but there’s another part of this story which is a bit more personal—this event occurred the weekend my aunt died. It was the first major death of someone close to me, previously I had lost a great grandma but I was too young to really comprehend it, and I had trouble processing it. As a kid I was somewhat shy and awkward and often hid behind my Game Boy in many social situations, such as when visiting relatives or out at a restaurant. Nowadays doing that seems extremely rude, and perhaps because I got that out of my system as a kid I don’t whip my phone out when I’m out with family and friends now, but as a kid it seemed natural and my parents never really punished me for it.

I didn’t bring my Game Boy Advance to the funeral or anything like that, but I remember playing it whenever we visited my aunt at her house when she was suffering from cancer. I’d talk to her of course, but while the adults talked about depressing matters I used video games as a way to distract myself from the fact I was likely going to lose her. Looking back I feel horrible for all the times I took her for granted, especially as my brother and I thought of her as the cool aunt because she always brought gifts with her, and thus here’s a situation where games both comforted me during tough times yet I feel guilty for using them for that purpose.

Regardless of how I feel about it now, playing Pokemon Emerald that weekend whenever I had downtime between all the funeral services and such was sort of my way of dealing with death. And though I was disappointed at losing that Shiny Dusclops, at the same time it was a moment of levity for me—a minor loss in a week filled with loss—and in a way that event cheered me up. “Life goes on” was the takeaway message for me, and though I still have issues accepting death I feel that was a moment of growth for me.

That’s not to sound callous about the whole affair, like I care more about a piece of data than my family, rather I just think it helped me see things in a better perspective. I may have lost my aunt, and it’s natural to be upset about that, but I still had all my other relatives. It was around that time I quit playing video games as often in public and became more social, and that may be because I realized how I needed to spend more time with the people around me while I still could.

I really like how she looks.
Oooh, shiny!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering it was in 2011 when I finally found another Shiny Pokemon, a Shiny Leavanny in Pokemon White, and managed to catch it. It later gave birth to a Shiny Sewaddle, and not long after that I caught a Shiny Ferroseed. I found a Shiny Spritzee and Shiny Rhyhorn recently in Pokemon Y, so I now have five Shiny Pokemon to call my own. Not going to lie though I hope to run into that Shiny Dusclops again one day…

-Birdie <<(*>*)

Underappreciated Video Game Characters #1: Ninji

I’m Watch Da Birdie and this is the first installment of Underappreciated Video Game Characters, a reoccurring segment on my blog where I take a look at a minor character from a popular video game series who never got the love they deserved…

ninji_smb2

Today’s U.V.G.C. is Ninji from the Super Mario Bros. series. Ninji was one of the many enemies who debuted in the NES title Super Mario Bros. 2, though by now I assume you know the full story concerning this game and its place in the Mario canon.

Doki Doki Panic
Doki Doki Panic

If not, and if you’re reading this blog I’m honestly surprised you don’t, the Super Mario Bros. 2 that we got here in the U.S., and basically everywhere else outside of Japan, was actually a modified version of a Japanese Famicom Disc System game known as Yume Koujou: Doki Doki Panic. I won’t go into too much detail here about this game, because plenty of other sites have covered it in-depth, but the important thing to know is that the game originally starred an Arabian nuclear family who were replaced by Mario and friends when it was transformed into a Mario title.

Doki Doki Panic was a joint-project between Nintendo and Fuji Television.
Doki Doki Panic was a joint-project between Nintendo and Fuji Television.

But while some people argue that this game isn’t a true Mario title because of its origins, that’s not necessarily true—from my understanding Shigeru Miyamoto was heavily involved with its development, more so than he was with the “true” Super Mario Bros. 2 Japan got, and Japan eventually saw the modified version of Doki Doki Panic released as Super Mario USA so it is, indeed, ultimately what I’d consider to be a canon entry in the Super Mario series. Though it isn’t referenced as often as the original Super Mario Bros. and 3 are, many elements from it have become iconic such as being the first game to give Mario and Luigi different attributes which is now a series mainstay in almost every title featuring the two as playable characters.

Anyway, what younger players may not know when they play this game—and it’s widely available through the Virtual Console, with both the original NES version and the GBA remake offered on the Wii U—was that Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach were the only Mario characters really added to the game. Sure, a decent amount of graphics from Doki Doki Panic were switched out for recognizable Mario elements like the classic mushroom, star, and shell (thankfully replacing a blackface sprite) but it’s not like they replaced every single enemy in the game with a Mario one.

In fact, quite a few enemies introduced in this game would go on to become Mario mainstays—four in particular standout:

birdoSMB2
Known originally as “Birdette”.

First is of course Birdo, who might be one of Nintendo’s oddest yet simultaneously greatest characters of all time. There’s been plenty written about this character around the net, and I honestly think she deserves her own book examining her history and what that says about gaming’s use of gender, so I won’t go too in-depth about her here. Birdo began as a reoccurring Mini-Boss in Doki Doki Panic before disappearing for a while till being brought back into the spotlight during the N64-era as a counterpart to Yoshi, one could even say a “love interest”, in the various spin-off titles. Her appearance in recent years in other games, such as the Japanese-only Captain Rainbow and the various Mario RPG titles, have been a bit subversive in the fact they reference the mystery concerning Birdo’s “gender”, a topic which I think is quite tricky to talk about so I’ll save that for another time. Birdo’s an awesome character regardless and is surprisingly popular despite her odd origins and somewhat off-putting design—she doesn’t seem to have the same “hatedom” as Waluigi and Tingle do at the very least.

shyguysmb2
Shy Guy is known as “Heihou” in Japan—thus why it says “Hei ho!” in its voiced appearances.

Then there’s Shy Guy, who acted as the central goon of Doki Doki Panic—the “Goomba”, if you will—which fit since “masks” were a big motif in the original version. The reason for this was to tie into a Fuji TV event that had a Rio De Janeiro Carnival theme going on (no clue why there’s also the whole Arabian motif too), but when it was turned into a Mario title most of the mask elements were exorcised in favor of the more fitting mushroom blocks with only Shy Guy and Phanto really remaining. Shy Guy disappeared for a bit like Birdo, being absent from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario Bros. World, but returned in Yoshi’s Island once more as the central goon. Some people joke that its appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2, which takes place in a dream world, is due to childhood trauma experienced by Baby Mario. Shy Guy went on to become primarily associated with the Yoshi series but since then has gained more and more prominent roles in titles not featuring Yoshi, and has become a popular playable character in the spin-off titles such as Mario Kart. Mario Kart 7 marked his first fully playable appearance in the Mario Kart series and featured a stage heavily inspired by Doki Doki Panic. He’s pretty much the best Mario Kart character ever.

bobombsmb2
I’m kind of surprised in a post-9/11 world Nintendo still has a walking bomb as a mascot.

Next is Bob-omb, who technically has appeared far more than the other two combined—and may be one of the most prolific Mario enemies of all time—but never really gained the same following as they did. This is probably due to the fact that it’s more of a living item than a character in many instances and very rarely do playable ones appear outside of the Paper Mario series, so it’s harder to identify with it. Bob-omb’s role as an enemy or item is pretty obvious just by looking at it, it explodes of course, and so it’s become an iconic design that even those unfamiliar with Mario would probably recognize. While Birdo and Shy Guy took a break after Doki Doki Panic, Bob-omb was quickly brought back for Super Mario Bros. 3 and played a fairly major role in Mario’s first foray into 3D as both an ally and a foe in Super Mario 64. It has since basically appeared in every Mario title in some form. Despite this, it wasn’t till I watched Scott Pilgrim that I realized its name was “Bob-omb”, and not “Bomb-omb”. The latter is far more catchy and rolls off the tongue easier if you ask me.

pokeysmb2
Pokey, man.

Finally there’s Pokey, who is the odd-one-out since nobody really loves this character—most players probably forget about him unless they’re playing a game where he appears—yet he’s surprisingly prolific. In Doki Doki Panic he appeared as an enemy who could have his individual segments separated, either by throwing them at you or by picking them off one-by-one (isn’t it a bit odd you can stand on the cactus enemy?), and that’s remained his key attribute in future titles. He missed out on Super Mario Bros. 3 but was back for World in a small role and has appeared in basically every main game since, though he’s usually limited to the desert levels. Due to his body shape he’s never had a playable role in a spin-off though, and none of the RPGs really had a well-written Pokey character, so despite appearing frequently he’s yet to gain a following.

Beyond these four the rest of the enemies introduced in Doki Doki Panic have either entirely disappeared, or have very few appearances elsewhere. But there was one enemy who appeared in Doki Doki Panic who had a lot of promise, and seemed like he was destined for bigger things, but never quite became a Mario star…

ninjismb2
Na na na na na na na na~

And that’s of course the actual topic of this blog, Ninji. Known as “Hakkun” in Japan (presumably named for famous ninja Hattori Hanzo, or so most people seem to believe), he appeared in Doki Doki Panic as a minor enemy with two variants: one Ninji would simply jump in place, and thus could be used to reach higher ground, while the other would run at you before jumping suddenly to catch you off guard. Mechanically he wasn’t as interesting as Birdo, Bob-omb, or Pokey, who each used the “pick-up” mechanic of Doki Doki Panic in a unique way, but he was quite cute and seemed a nice fit for the Mario-verse.

While nowadays we identify Ninji as, well, a ninja, it seems originally there was some miscommunication going on with the creators of the game and the people responsible for marketing it as Ninji’s official art seen above which appeared in both the Doki Doki Panic manual and the Super Mario Bros. 2 manual makes him resemble some kind of strange bat, his buttons switched out for fangs. The manuals also refer to him as a “lesser demon” or “little devil” (oddly enough the U.S. one uses “devil” despite it being taboo at the time) who haunts the dreams of boys who play Nintendo games.

This is the most recent official art of Ninji from the early 2000s.
This is the most recent official art of Ninji from the early 2000s.

I can’t say for sure what the original intent was behind the design, but since then Ninji has been commonly depicted as a cute bunny-like creature wearing the traditional ninja garb, sometimes black, sometimes purple, which is interesting if you’re into both ninja and Mario lore. It’s said that the outfit ninjas are commonly depicted wearing in popular media is based on the outfit puppet handlers wore to blend into the background of bunraku theater, and Miyamoto has said before that each Mario title, Super Mario Bros. 3 in particular, are basically like a show the characters are putting on. Maybe Ninji is responsible for moving the stage elements around behind the scenes?

Ninji as seen in Super Mario All-Stars, Doki Doki Panic/Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario World and Paper Mario.
Ninji as seen in Super Mario All-Stars, Doki Doki Panic/Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario World and Paper Mario.

Following Doki Doki Panic Ninji made an appearance in Super Mario World, but an appearance that was quite odd—he only appears in two rooms, within the “Front Door” and “Back Door” of Bowser’s Castle, and all he does is jump around in the darkness. The game also re-uses his original Doki Doki Panic sprite without updating it, note Pokey also appeared infrequently in World yet got a whole new sprite, and he’s absent from the credits of the game showing off the majority of enemies. Was he a last minute addition? Super Mario All-Stars released a couple of years later updated his sprite for the SNES remake of Super Mario Bros. 2, turning him a bright purple that made many of us 90’s kids think he looked like Gengar, but beyond that Ninji disappeared from the main Mario series for good.

A decade later Ninji made his return to the Mario series after being absent from even the spin-offs (bar Hotel Mario, oddly enough) as NPCs in Paper Mario. It would’ve been amazing to have seen Ninji as a playable character, and it’s a shame the only new pre-existing Mario enemy the sequel used was a Squeek, but sadly Paper Mario didn’t even make them enemies you could fight. They’re just minor NPCs who appear as the Star Kids’ guardians—I guess this is because they’re somewhat star-shaped themselves, but using what is basically a demon-ninja for this role was an odd choice. After Paper Mario Ninji once more disappeared, apart from a minor role in Mario vs. Donkey Kong (and the localization forgot it was called Ninji outside of Japan!) and Mario Party Advance, the latter featuring quite a wide assortment of obscure Mario characters. Oh, and the GBA remake of Super Mario Bros. 2 but that doesn’t quite count—though it did introduce a “Giant Ninji”.

Go Ninji, Go Ninji Go!
Go Ninji!

Things have started to look up for Ninji though as he recently appeared in Paper Mario: Sticker StarMario & Luigi: Paper Jam, and Paper Mario: Color Splash as an enemy once again instead of simply an NPC. Regardless of how you feel about the quality of these titles I was quite excited when I encountered Ninji in Sticker Star and loved seeing that Nintendo was having more fun with its ninja motif, with it doing stuff like using camouflage, substitution jutsu, and turning itself into a throwing star. At the same time it was such a missed opportunity he wasn’t in Super Mario 3D World despite that game using the Super Mario Bros. 2 character system and featuring a Japanese-style temple level that he’d be absolutely perfect for and I’m still eagerly awaiting his transition into 3D. Hopefully “Super Mario Switch” finally grants my wish and Ninji becomes popular enough that he gets to appear in Mario Kart next.

DEEPEST LORE!

By the way, you ever notice Nabbit kind of looks a bit like Ninji?

Imajin, Lina, Mama, and Papa.
Imajin, Lina, Mama, and Papa.

Oh, and when it comes to Doki Doki Panic I’d like to add that I would love to see the Arabian family from the original appear in a Mario title, like as secret characters or something along those lines, but that probably won’t happen. While basically everything else in Doki Doki Panic, Wart included, appear to be owned by Nintendo Imajin (the son character who became Mario) and his family I believe are owned by Fuji TV as they appeared in the following television spot aired to promote the Yume Koujou event the game was made for:

This video was discovered by Nintendo Era who has done a fair bit of research into the Fuji TV event that inspired Doki Doki Panic, a very interesting topic. Props to the Super Mario Wiki as well for the manual scans of Doki Doki Panic as well as other images and keeping track of the appearances of every Mario enemy, no matter how small. I applaud the individual who played Hotel Mario long enough to realize Ninji was included in the game.

-Birdie <<(*>*)