As a game filled with legendary beings and mythical monsters that has tantalized the imaginations of millions for two decades, its no surprise that the Pokémon franchise has become the source of many mysterious myths and tales. Some fall in to the category of plausible fan theories, such as the Pokémon Gengar being the dark shadow of the lighter Clefable Pokémon, or that Cubone was initially intended to evolve in to Kangaskhan, but was deemed too dark by designers, as the skull Cubone uses as a mask is said to be its mother’s. Far more unsettling than this category of myth are the urban legends that have seeped in to the real world, sinister stories about suicide-inducing sounds and corrupted, cursed cartridges. Listen as I recount some of my favorite terrifying tales surrounding the original Pokémon games, but be warned! These are the eerie legends that provide perfect fodder for nightmares, a delicacy to dream eaters such as Gengar. Even the bravest of us may have to sleep with a Lunar Wing under our pillow after hearing these shiver-inducing stories!
The most infamous of all Pokémon urban legends concerns Lavender Town and its haunting, spine-tingling tune. It’s a testament to the the lasting impact of this truly remarkable soundtrack that evocative themes such as Lavender Town’s generate such a powerful ambiance, perfectly matching the mood and atmosphere of the scene in game, that they remain with players over a decade later and escaped into stories to chill to the core the children who grew up playing Pokémon. Here is a link, so you can experience this spooky, somber song for yourself. For a truly harrowing experience, I encourage you to leave the song playing in the background while you read the rest of the article, as it perfectly sets the eerie atmosphere for our tale. You may want to leave the light on though….
The story goes that in some copies of Pokémon Red and Green, the original Pokémon games released in Japan in 1996, there was a harmful frequency in the Lavender Town theme that drove several Japanese children insane, ultimately leading them to commit suicide. Specifics on the story vary with different tellings. In some it is a simple, yet sinister syndrome, called Lavender Town Syndrome, that when the frequencies of the song meet certain types of developing minds, the only result could be a violent ending of life. In others narratives, in-game text is said to have somehow developed into a channel for the dead to communicate with the living, and children who had recently experienced a tragic loss, being suddenly reunited with a loved one and eager to be with them forever, sought to kill themselves. Regardless of how the yarn unravels, the constants tend to be children violently killing themselves through hanging, or leaping from great heights, burning themselves alive, and other excruciating methods, and the almost otherworldly quality of Lavender Town’s theme.
Its only (super)natural that Lavender Town would be utilized as the source location for scary stories out-of-game considering the nature of what happens in-game. Lavender Town stories employ the only macabre moment in Pokémon Red and Blue Version (or Red and Green in Japan), where trainers arrive in Lavender Town, which houses the Pokémon Tower, a place where other trainers bury their deceased Pokémon. This more mature moment in the game’s narrative provided players a reminder of the inescapable reality of death, even in such a cheerful world, and informed them that even Pokémon can die. The Pokémon Tower is also the only area in the game where players can encounter Ghost-type Pokémon, and where, within the game’s story, they are called upon to exorcise the angry ghost of a Pokémon, the lingering remnant of a deceased Marowak. It’s no surprise then that Lavender Town would pass on from its digital setting to haunt and plague players in reality as well.
It could also be that the urban legend was informed or inspired by reality. While the Lavender Town story’s foreign setting does veil specifics and make actual information challenging to come by, the reality of localization is full of horror stories of its own that are relatively common knowledge. In one well-known instance, an episode of the Pokémon anime caused many young viewers in Japan to seize and convulse as a result of its bright colors and flashing lights, and consequently never aired outside of Japan. Its entirely possible that an actual instance in which a piece of media harmed its audience was somehow misconstrued as something far more tragic and horrifying. In either case, the scary story itself preys upon the familiar idea of the impact of media on children, the fear of death within the childish hearts of us all, and the fear that harm will befall our children and that we as adults will remain powerless and unaffected, making the myth’s longevity conceivable. Not to mention that it is paired with a truly unnerving song, making for an unsettling and memorable experience.
Another urban legend that surrounds Pokémon that seems to have spawned from Creepypasta is a myth concerning a mysterious copy of the game Pokémon Red, a copy now commonly known as Pokémon Black, or Creepy Black, that was first rumored well before the actual and unrelated game Pokémon Black became a reality. I reencountered the legend of Pokémon Black the day Pokémon Black and White were first announced, and I was dying for some more information on the fifth generation of Pokémon. I stumbled upon a webpage which recounted the Pokémon Creepy Black story and shared some of its lasting impact. The page played the Lavender Town theme as you read, just as it’s playing now (right?), providing the proper primer for a scary story. That story goes something like this…
Presumably, a collector of hacked versions of Pokémon found what he assumed was a hacked version of Pokémon Red. Instead of the typical red cartridge, it had a black cartridge with no picture, just a black label. “Black” started up exactly the same as Red did, until the start screen appeared, at which point the trainer Red was featured alone with no Pokémon cycling through, and it read “Black Version” below the title. Everything was as expected once more until just after the player selected a starter Pokémon, at which point a new Pokémon named “GHOST” could also be found in the party. When inspected, it was level one and shared the same sprite as the ghosts encountered in the Pokémon Tower before the player has the Sliph Scope. It also had an attack that didn’t exist until after the first generation, Curse, only this move operated a little different in the most horrifying way. Defending Pokémon couldn’t attack GHOST- the screen read that they were too scared to move. When GHOST used curse on them, the screen would go dark, and the Pokémon’s cry was heard only in a lower pitch. When the screen brightened once more, the defending Pokémon would be gone. If used in battle against a trainer, the Pokéball icon representing the opponent’s Pokémon would disappear. One can’t help but insinuate that the Pokémon had died.
The player could go through the entire game virtually untouchable. After the Elite Four, however, the player’s sprite would become that of an old man in an empty overworld. There are said to be no Pokémon in the player’s party, and no NPCs; just a lone figure walking among tombstones where NPCs once stood, and the Lavender Town tune drifting through the air. That is, until “GHOST” reappears, this time to challenge the player. Suddenly the player would be assaulted with image after image, sprite after sprite, of all of the Pokémon they had used Curse on and all of the trainers who’d lost Pokémon. Finally, the sprite of GHOST would reappear and use Curse on the player, ending the game and resetting the save data.
While I enjoy the eerie nature of this alleged hack, what I enjoy even more are the countless other stories it has inspired and variations on the tale itself. Later stories such as “Lost Silver” provide a similarly surreal situation to the second generation Pokémon games, and another I’ve encountered concerns a conscious, self-aware Red trapped forever in his game. For all comparable tales, Creepy Black seems to have been the first creepy cartridge story, the open-ended nature of which lends itself well to sequels, as the original teller claims to have lost the cartridge. The original source through which I heard the story insinuated further that the cartridge wasn’t hacked, but was actually cursed, and that players who held on to the cursed, black cartridge too long would go mysteriously missing, or start to see strange shadows looming ever closer until they finally passed the cartridge on. Perhaps these are all just fun tales to add an unhealthy dose of dark and disturbing to a child-friendly game. On the other hand, some twisted, talented soul may have made this horrifying hack to startle unwitting players. Or maybe, just maybe, the teller of the second tale narrowly missed a curse of their own from an all-too-familiar sinister source. After two decades, who knows? And what untold stories might still lurk in the shadows about cursed cartridges, murderous melodies, and digital ghosts waiting to capture the thoughts of the reader or listener? Let me know if you’ve heard any Pokemyths or horror stories perhaps I haven’t. Keep checking Goomba Stomp for all things Pokémon, creepy otherwise. Oh, and pleasant dreams!
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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