Sundry Sunday: Sonic History Lesson for Future Aliens

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

From Newgrounds, that hotbed of gaming stuff for twenty-eight years now, which suggests to me that it might be better called Oldgrounds by now, but that is not here, there, nor anywhere. This video, from user PoultrygeistGame (I have not checked if that is on their driver’s license, if they have one), is about Sonic the Hedgehog fandom, and how difficult it is to properly deduce the general opinion of that fandom of its series just from the content. Here is the video, for which I have to try using a new form of embed in order to present here, since Newgrounds embedding isn’t as automated as is with the Tube of You. Note: contains profanity, if that is of concern. Also alludes to certain unhealthy aspects of online culture. You’ll see.

AsumSaus Relates the Story of aMSa, Player of Yoshi

Yep, we link a lot of videos. Sadly a lot of gaming stuff now takes the form of videos. Text is my preference, but it’s where the content is right now.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve linked to AsumSaus, whose beat is the competitive Smash Melee scene. There’s lots of Youpotatoes out there, but AsumSaus appeals to me greatly. His videos aren’t edited into a confusing mess, they don’t sound like morning zoo radio hosts on crack, there aren’t lots of swishy objects moving around. It’s surprising how many Youtubers spend so much effort making their videos unwatchable, but AsumSaus isn’t one of them. They’re accessible, entertaining, interesting, and sane. All around, great.

Most of AsumSaus’ videos are around 10 minutes long, but this time we have a long-form video, at 54 minutes it’s almost movie-length, but it’s worth it. It’s the story of aMSa, a Japanese player of Super Smash Bros Melee. It turns out Japan is not a great scene for competitive Smash Melee, the best players are widely considered to be in the US and Europe. Not only that, but for much of his career professional Melee was only a side-gig for him, he held down a demanding day job in his home country, and had to travel to tournament events when he could.

But none of those things are the most surprising thing about aMSa. The most surprising thing is that aMSa plays Yoshi. He’s the only top-tier Melee player who does.

When he began, Yoshi was considered F-Tier. To explain to those not familiar with competitive fighting game terminology, the community around games tends to sort the characters into “tiers,” each containing characters considered to be of roughly equivalent strength. Usually these are rated alphabetically, with “S” given an honorary place at the top of the list, according to gaming custom. So, S-tier characters are the best, A-tier characters are second best, and so on down. Usually the worst at F-tier, or even a little lower. Sometimes, if one character really rules, they might be rated SS-tier, or even potentially SSS-tier.

In 2010, the tier list for Smash Melee characters was considered to be this:

At the top of the heap are Fox, whose positive Melee attributes have been a meme for many years now, Falco (who plays very similarly to Fox), Jigglypuff (the best floater in Melee, and who also has Pound for extra saves and Rest for instant kills), and Sheik, who is almost as fast as Fox. In Melee, Sheik could turn into Zelda with a move. No one does this though, because Zelda is way down in Tier F. Tier F characters are widely considered to suck. But, another character in tier F is Yoshi.

Why is Yoshi rated so badly? The obvious reasons (well, obvious to people familiar with Smash Bros) are: Yoshi doesn’t have an up+B save move (it throws an egg instead of serving as a third jump); and, Yoshi’s shield is unusual, encasing them in an egg instead of providing the usual bubble-shield, and Yoshi can’t jump immediately out of it. Yoshi has positive aspects too, but those two are pretty huge.

More recent tier lists for Melee all rate Yoshi much more highly. But it’s not because a lot of players have achieved a good rate of success with Yoshi. It’s entirely because of aMSa. One player, out of hundreds, is the reason Yoshi was rated at B+ tier in 2021, and that’s aMSa.

I don’t want to give away the ending of AsumSaus’ video. aMSa doesn’t win every match, in fact they lose a great many, because in tournaments they play against the very best in the world. But they do experience a lot of success, and beyond that, they seem to be genuinely a good person. aMSa is almost always smiling after a match, win or lose, because they’re having a great time. They’re always gracious to their opponent. It’s easy to get on their side. Crowds love them too.

Here, then, is the journey of aMSa, and their red Yoshi. A top-level professional Smash Melee player, with the least likely character. And be sure to stick around for the very end, as AsumSaus picked the best-possible ending music for the video.

aMSa: The Only Yoshi (who could do it) (Youtube, 54 minutes)

Romhack(ish) Thursday: 21st Century Roguelike Pac-Man

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

It’s another romhack post that’s really not a romhack, but kind of pretends to be one. Gridlock’s 21st Century Roguelike Pac-Man (which I’m going to call 21CRPM) at first looks a lot like the arcade classic, but then becomes something really, really different.

It becomes so different that the game it most brings to mind isn’t Pac-Man but Frog Fractions. It keeps piling on the play mechanics, in a way that the game makes apparent is meant to be humorous, but also sort of, kind of works. I mean of course it’s me saying this, ๐–ณ๐—๐–พ ๐–ฏ๐–พ๐—‹๐—Œ๐—ˆ๐—‡ ๐–ถ๐—ˆ๐— ๐–ช๐–พ๐—‰๐— ๐–ก๐–บ๐—‡๐—€๐—‚๐—‡๐—€ ๐–ฎ๐—‡ ๐– ๐–ป๐—ˆ๐—Ž๐— ๐–ฑ๐—ˆ๐—€๐—Ž๐–พ๐—…๐—‚๐—„๐–พ๐—Œ, so maybe I just like that sort of thing. Although the way it’s the most like roguelikes, permadeath, making you start completely over after losing, is possibly the weakest part of it. I had to start over a lot.

You start in the middle of the normal Pac-Man board, in a field of dots, and the ghosts roaming around as usual. It’s not exactly like classic Pac-Man; ghosts can catch you much more easily on corners (you’ll get caught this way frequently times before you adjust), and the AI is a little different. The Red monster, Blinky/Shadow/Akabei/Oikake, can actually turn right after coming out of the box, and move up through the paths above it.

Also, eating the Energizers in the corners doesn’t make the ghosts vulnerable. Instead, Pac-Man can shoot the dots he eats at the ghosts to defeat them, and while an Energizer is active his shots are stronger. Pac-Man must be facing into a corridor in order to fire, meaning he must often be running directly towards a ghost before he can shoot it. The Red ghost has the least health, and can often be gunned down even without an Energizer, while the Orange ghost has a lot of health, and usually must be shot while it’s traveling away down a long corridor. Fortunately, he’s not any smarter than he was in the arcade game.

A big difference is the Hunger meter at the side of the screen. It constantly runs down, at an alarming rate, as you play. If it runs completely out, the game ends immediately, regardless of how many lives you have left! You have to make sure to keep tabs on your hunger. And dots and ghosts don’t refill it, only fruit does, and only a bit of it. What Pac-Man can do, however, is save it for later: he has an inventory now, and grabbed fruit go right into it. You press the X button to bring up a menu, and can then pick out the fruit and munch it on down.

If you had to rely on the fruit from the center of the board though you’d starve pretty fast, so now Pac-Man has the ability to plant fruit in the maze. If you plant it, of course, then you can’t eat it, but it doesn’t take long for it to sprout and start generating new fruit of its own. You’ll soon have to start relying on this to survive.

When you clear the board of dots, the monster box opens up and when you go inside you get this screen:

This somewhat sarcastic screen appears to suggest that there’s more to the game than the starting screen. And it’s right.

Once you clear the board of dots, the game doesn’t end. Ooooh no, you’re just getting started. No, the board you start in is the “home” location in a much larger maze, accessed through the tunnels on the sides of the screen. As you explore this maze, new locations will be filled in on a map in the lower-left corner. The borders of this map aren’t the ultimate edges either. This greater map is created anew with each play; sometimes you’ll have tricky situations right near outside the starting board, and sometimes it’ll be fairly easy going. There are ghosts and dots and fruit in these boards too, and sometimes more Energizers, but there are no regeneration boxes. Ghosts you defeat out there turn into eyes, but have no way to turn back into ghosts, and eventually just fly away.

Out there in the maze there’s a lot of weird things to find. Like shops.

And quest givers:

And locked treasure rooms:

And areas of solid stone, and ore, that must be dug through Minecraft-style with a Pick (go into the Tools section of the menu to use it):

And a whole Pokemon-themed area:

And there’s crafting! And you can spend Galaxians you find to enhance stats! And boss ghosts to defeat! And probably more! I keep finding new parts to the game as I play. The game’s itch.io page even claims there’s a final boss to defeat, in the form of an evil version of Pac-Man, but I haven’t found it.

You can save your game, but in roguelike style, your session ends when you do it, and its deleted when you resume. Your game ends either when you run out of lives or your Hunger meter depletes, and both are way too easy to have happen. I find it helps to plant at least one fruit on each screen, but don’t carry around too many: if you’re holding too many things you become “Encumbered” and slow way down!

It’s an enjoyable game, for awhile at least. Pac-Man’s movement speed quickly feel much too slow for exploring the huge over-maze. His movement speed is one of the things you can upgrade by spending Galaxians, but I’ve only just recently even found one of those in the maze, and it was in a locked treasure room. It feels like there’s a lot more to the game than the permadeath feature allows me to see, but I’m still trying.

It is true that, ultimately, 21CRPM is a joke game, and the point is that Pac-Man doesn’t need elaboration upon, and the extra mechanics exist mostly to feel tacked on. There may not even be a real point to them. But neither is there a point to video games in general, and it’s still fun to explore them, for a while.

One of those boss ghosts you can receive a quest to defeat. They take a lot of damage, speed up as you deplete it, and can even fire back at you. You might want to craft a shield before taking one on, out of three Iron Bars (made from ore) and a piece of Wood (bought in a shop or acquired from using the Pick on a tree). You might be able to use a Sword on one, but they break quickly and I haven’t tried it yet.

21st Century Roguelike Pac-Man (itch.io, $0)

A Video on Nintendo Manga

I’m working on something big for you all, but it’ll take some time to get ready. So to free up time for working on that, here’s something I’ve been saving, a Youtube video exploring manga based on Nintendo characters, from the account of S Class Anime. Enjoy!

Exploring the World of Nintendo Manga (Youtube, 20 minutes)

The Digital Antiquarian on Rogue and Successors

[EDIT: link fixed, thanks to the Grogpod Roguelike Podcast for pointing it out!]

I’ve been thinking about doing more @Play lately, but in the meantime, please read this mostly nice, lengthy article from The Digital Antiquarian on Rogue and its legacy. I say mostly because there are a few minor points I disagree with. Maybe I’ve played too much of it, but experienced players tend to view vanilla Nethack as maybe a bit too easy. There’s a ton to learn, but once you’ve internalized it all, you come to realize that most situations have counters, and it comes down to knowing what they are, and not pushing your luck too far. Ah! I’ve not said much on Nethack for years now! I should get back to doing that….

A screen of Amiga Rogue, from the linked article

The Digital Antiquarian: Going Rogue

More on the Terribleness of NES Strider’s Programming

A while ago Displaced Gamers, as part of their great Behind The Code series, did a video about how awful NES Strider’s sprite updating was. Arcade Strider was huge hit and outright masterpiece, a great arcade platformer released right before fighting games took over game rooms around the world, but NES Strider was a wretched thing, full of big ideas but with code woefully unable to live up to them. Imagine a puppy trying to do your taxes. It might put up an adorable effort, but it’s just not going to get the job done.

We linked to their last video examining its malformed construction. Well, Strider is the well of crap that keeps on gushing, and so Displaced Gamers has another video on the subject of the flaws in its programming, this time about its player physics. Walking into walls causes Strider Hiryu to shudder in place; jumping beneath a low ceiling causes him to bump his head repeatedly as his jump continues even though there’s no room to ascent; and his infamous “triangle” wall jump is so wonky that it literally requires a frame-perfect input to pull off, and not even the right frame. You have to jump the frame before you contact the wall!

Here is the new video, which explicates the entire cruddy system. It goes into exquisite/excruciating detail, including tracing the code and examining Hiryu’s X and Y coordinates on a frame-by-frame basis. It’s the kind of deep geekery that I just know you love/hate! Enjoy/despair!

The Physics Nightmare and Bizarre Jumping of Strider (NES) – Behind The Code (19 minutes)