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Author Archives: Nicholas Croston

The 2017 Extinct List

The 2017 Extinct List

Well, that time has finally come again. We all hate the big stuff, but it’s the small stuff that gets sweated. We like to tell everyone to take chill pills and to not sweat the small stuff, but we can’t really avoid doing so, can we? It’s the small stuff that assaults us every day of our lives. If it weren’t for the small stuff, we might not get so easily triggered about the big stuff, to the point where we get set off in spurts of outrage at points where keeping a cool head might help us prevail. Thus, this list. A list of the little things that have been driving everyone – but mostly me – absolutely bonkers in the last year. And so, without further ado, I give you the 2017 Extinct List, the list of all the small things that drive us (but mostly me) nuts to the point where we (I) need to see them driven to extinction.

Bad Traffic Mergers

Maybe you’re lucky. Maybe you don’t live in a place where the definition of traffic means a two-hour, bumper-to-bumper drive 15 miles to and from work with a crowd of surrounding drivers who can’t drive in the rain, which is supposed to be their element! Traffic always sucks, doubly so if there’s a lot of it, and our seeming inability to merge causes it to be worse. Bad mergers are usually the ones holding everyone up in spots which are hypothetically fast-moving, but where the delays have a habit of hitting us the hardest. You wonder why that glorious 60-MPH freeway is moving so slow at rush hour? Bad mergers are the usual culprit. Perhaps the worst aspect of bad mergers is the fact that in order to survive, you may end up turning into one yourself. I know there’s a way to merge without slowing down traffic, but it seems pointless now.

Limited Release Movies

Maybe that’s not the best term – I’m thinking more along the lines of movies that you’re dying to see only to find out they haven’t been released in any theaters close to you. That kind of nullifies the whole point of advertising or reviewing the movie, doesn’t it? It sort of tells the interested audience, “Here it is! You can’t see it. We only intend it to be seen by a very specific class of people, and, ah, you’re NOT that class. No, we don’t care if the people we’re appealing to are movie nuts or not. We are haughty assholes.” It’s one thing when this happens with an independent flick – those guys don’t have a lot of money, so they can’t be all that concerned with trying to reach people in the boondocks. But even insiders with connections have taken on the habit of doing this to show off how cool they are with the hipster crowd. Cool or not to the hipsters, though, the people who make you famous will think you’re an asshole.

Taxpayer-Funded Sports Stadiums

So, here’s the logic of the right wing, so much as I can tell: Those huge-ass tax cuts? They’re for LE PEOPLE! Except that the people aren’t actually having their taxes cut. The people getting their taxes cut are the rich people, who create all those jobs overseas. Or something? Well, sports stadium logic operates pretty much the same way: Give your sports owners money, and they’ll use it to build a new stadium for their team, and give them more money, and something about community investment? Yeah, this is right wing bullshit. The billionaires can build stadiums all by themselves, but they won’t, but they’ll take all our money and skip town anyway if we don’t do it for them. Because that’s how conservatives think. They’re all about self-sufficiency and pulling themselves up, long as someone else does all of it for them. Yet, when asked to produce proof of any public-funded sports stadium ever coming up with a profit for a city or any civic improvements, everyone has come up short.

Overly Expensive Sandwiches

Somebody please tell me when we all became rich. Unless we’re going into a national fast food giant that specializes in food with quotation marks, we’re paying upwards of five bucks for a sandwich made with bread and ordinary ingredients we find at the grocery store. For the price we pay at the local cafe for one sandwich, a lot of the time, we could just buy all the stuff the sandwich is made from and eat for a week. There’s such a thing as a good money-to-food ratio. I hate to tell people this, but the quality of big chain restaurants isn’t the only thing forcing millennials to learn how to cook.

Anti-Millennial Raging

People seem to be of two minds about us Millennials. First, they whine about us spending money on smartphones. Then they turn right around and scream about how we’re NOT wasting money on the following things: Diamonds, which are nothing but large, sparkly rocks made at the expense of slave labor and made expensive by falsified scarcity and made into essential marriage tradition by a 1930’s ad campaign from De Beers; the golf industry, which means we waste money on sets of metal sticks which are used for nothing but hitting small white balls – which we also paid for – very long distances in large private organizations for which we pay and arm and a leg; napkins, which are smaller, more bittle versions of paper towels; and gambling, for which we pay very large sums of money for nothing in return. In the meantime, we can’t afford to do much of anything on the meager salaries people bitching about us pay us. Then they whine about how we stagnate the economy. Just so we’re clear.

Sega Classic Game Collections

I guess I’m not quite finished with these things yet after all. Pay $20, you get a collection of 40 games, which is pretty reasonable. Pay $70 for a mini-version of the Genesis with over 80 classic Genesis games… Except nearly 30 are shovelware games, around 15 are Game Gear and Master System games, and the remaining 40 are mostly found on the $20 collection I just mentioned. Folks, those of us in the know about video games call this a scam.

Early Christmas

The morons on the right want you to think there’s some sort of war against Christmas. And they’re playing limitless Christmas music starting in October now, putting up the decorations right alongside the Halloween decorations.

Novelty Flavored Spirits

I just don’t like them.

Long Coffee Shop Lines

When we’re in a hurry, there’s no need to discern between roasts and beans. Coffee, after all, is a medical necessity – we get up and we don’t really function without it. But getting it does present us with the problem of having to wait in line much of the time, which is bad enough in and of itself. Then there’s that one bastard right in front of you who fancies themself a professional taster and expert. They ask where the beans are from, how they’re roasted, and they’ll go out of their way to personally take the coffee cup and write down the recipe, telling the barista what to do. In the meantime, there you are, late for the bus, waiting around while this fucker argues about the price and the exact amount of double skim milk going into his coppa latte. And all you want is your basic drip. Black.

National Chain Pizzas

Has ANYONE ever had one of these that was any good? There’s a reason these places are constantly getting attacked – the pizza tastes like cardboard. It’s pretty much inedible. For some reason, though, no one seems to be able to help reaching for their phone numbers at the earliest inconvenience. It’s not like the small places that are good don’t deliver. It seems to be that people are just too lazy to do the simple Google research that would enable them to find out what is and isn’t worth their money. And so we get A-grade junk like Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesar’s ruling over the pizza racket with an iron fist in far too many places.

 

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Sega’s Posterity Crap: Sega Games Gamers Hate and are Sick of

Sega’s Posterity Crap: Sega Games Gamers Hate and are Sick of

Maybe it’s starting to look like I’m beating on a dead horse, but I’m just really fucking pissed off with Sega. I’ve been a staunch champion for them going on nearly three solid decades. When the Sega Genesis Flashback was announced, I was excited. Maybe it’s just the young 16-bit Era gamer inside me, but I wanted a good Genesis classic console which would give me a chance to own and play many of the hard-to-find games that I was never able to get my scuzzy little paws on during the Golden Era proper. You know, the very thing NINTENDO IS OFFERING ON ITS MINI-CONSOLES! And what did Sega come up with? The same damned routine Genesis collection available on every other Genesis compilation ever, along with about 30 shitty shovelware games that anyone with a social life could play on their phones during a bus ride! Way to fucking go, Sega. I’m outright cheering for the Sega Genesis Flashback to bomb.

No one is even trying with Genesis collections anymore. They’re all poorly-emulated rehashes. Once in every seven blue moons or so, we get a new port of a great Genesis title, but Sega keeps giving us the same old, same old. I’ll grant that the same old for Sega can still build a hell of a classics collection, but for a mini-Genesis to reach the demand of one of Nintendo’s little brother collections, Sega needs to start eliminating its filler. And holy shit, does Sega LOVE its filler! That’s part of the problem: It loves its filler more than it loves its good games! Next mini-Genesis, it could stand to eliminate the following titles.

Altered Beast

Yes, I get that Altered Beast was so insanely popular as an arcade game that Sega had to throw it into the original Genesis box as the pack-in. But as the people old enough to remember playing Altered Beast in the arcade got older, they started to realize something: Altered Beast just isn’t a good game. It’s a game revolving entirely around a singular gimmick – and one which isn’t inventive. The reason we all loved it was because we were all mesmerized by getting to play as the weredragon in the second level. But the game as a whole hasn’t just aged badly; it was never a good game to begin with. The character design was good, but the action was slow and clunky and marred by the fact that the game used forced scrolling to push players ahead. Also, you had limited chances to collect the power-up balls, which put you in a sticky situation because if you got to the boss without being the were-animal of the level, the boss was literally impossible to beat.

Alien Storm

Anyone who’s gotten around to playing this on one of Sega’s earlier nostalgia packs has noticed a more-than-passing resemblance to a Sega classic which people actually loved: Golden Axe. This game is basically the exact same premise, in fact, only the fantasy setting everyone loved about Golden Axe is thrown out in favor of a modern day alien invasion motif. Although Alien Storm does add the innovation of a bunch of short sections which can be roughly described as first-person shooting scenes, you have no control of anything during them save a moving target cross. The vast majority of the game, though, is the same kind of beat-’em-up action, but without the attack variety, without a jump button, and without a few other little gimmicks the beat-’em-up genre is known for. And speaking of Golden Axe…

Golden Axe

Golden Axe was one of Sega’s original killer apps. It’s remembered fondly as one of the early arcade conversions that helped push the Genesis. The appeal of the game was that it took hold of the traditional beat-’em-up and plopped it into a fantasy land teeming with creative attacks and weapons, excellent character design, and creative and colorful level design. It was the rebel alternative to the popular Double Dragon, and it had much smoother controls. Unfortunately, all of that was by the standards of the time. Age came and walloped Golden Axe, especially once the beat-’em-up formula was revolutionized and streamlined by the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Both of those series still play beautifully today. Now Golden Axe feels more like a popcorn game that was shoved out by a developer looking for a quick couple of million; it’s comparatively short and clunky and doesn’t even hold up well when compared to later 16-bit brawlers.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle

Yes, I know Alex Kidd was the closest thing Sega had to its own version of Mario during the Master System years. But there’s a reason Sega let him go, and it’s more than just the appearance of Sonic the Hedgehog: Alex Kidd is just not a good character, his games are HARD, and a lot of that difficulty is due to fundamental gameplay issues. His only outing on the Genesis was plagued by aquaplane-like sliding, atrocious hit detection, a control interface which could never seem to decide when Alex was or wasn’t in the middle of a midair kick, and graphics which never bothered to differentiate between the foreground and background. Not everyone could relate to Alex’s sickly cutesiness, either.

Revenge of Shinobi

Another one of the early Genesis pushers, Revenge of Shinobi continues to eke out a life as the defining title of its series. But the trouble with this one is that it doesn’t even feel as modern as the other games in its own series. Shinobi has long been a series where the developers have torn down their work and rebuilt everything from scratch with every new sequel, and so Revenge of Shinobi comes off as slow and stilted compared to the two games that came afterward. Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master both offer better level design and more gameplay depth. They also both offer better gameplay mechanics, which don’t necessitate resource sacrifice against your better interests in order to see anything beyond the first two levels.

Columns

This was supposed to be Sega’s response to the timeless Tetris, but from the smaller playing field to the sudden speed and difficulty surge that hits once you’ve been playing long enough, it comes off as nothing more than a pale wannabe. More to the point is that Tetris is now the most-downloaded and most-played video game of all time, so Columns is out of selling points with the real thing so readily available.

Sonic Spinball

Sonic the Hedgehog going into a pinball-style fortress to act as the pinball. It’s not quite as good in practice as it is in theory, which is saying something because it doesn’t sound like a great idea in theory. Sonic Spinball took everything we loved about the Blue Blur and yanked it out of the game. So here we are, left with a Sonic game in which Sonic can’t get a good run going, set in a closed environment which leaves no room for any exploration, and that’s without even bringing up the worst pinball physics on Earth, floaty gameplay, and clunky controls. Sonic has endured one of the hardest falls from grace ever seen in video games. We like to keep saying his transition to 3D is the culprit, but it can be traced all the way back to this game, which just preceded Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

Sonic 3D Blast

This was the game that technically made Sonic into a 3D hero. It was made under a different developer than Sonic Team, and you have to give them credit where it’s due: Sonic 3D Blast is REALLY well-made. It also recognized the fact that a lot of Sonic’s appeal was in exploring the expansive levels in the core series. But it was also a combination of a fetch quest and an escort mission, which is sin enough as it is, and the isometric presentation made all of Sonic’s signature abilities nearly useless. Even the loops Sonic runs through were forced into the game.

Super Thunder Blade

This sucker goes WAY back – it was one of the Genesis’s launch titles, but that’s about the only thing that warrants its continued posterity. It was there to show off the console’s wonder technology and that’s it. There are only four levels in Super Thunder Blade, presented in a third-person behind-the-chopper view. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the Genesis never did mode-7 scaling as well as the Super NES, so this game’s fast pace is betrayed by its clunkiness. It’s too hard to move, too hard to get a straight shot at anything, too hard to avoid crashing into the scenery, and battered by its age to boot. It can’t even be written off as a relic of its era, because Space Harrier II was also out there.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Well, okay, Sonic’s spinoff puzzle game is more original than Dr. Mario. It’s also deeply frustrating and unfair if you’re trying to go through the story mode.

Virtua Fighter 2

Yes, I get that this was where the 3D fighter really caught on, and I aso get that it was Sega’s baby. The Super NES got a scaled-down version of Killer Instinct, and it was a lot of fun. This was meant to be a response to that. But where Killer Instinct and Virtua Fighter differed was in the fact that Killer Instinct’s primary strength was in its over-the-top dark humor, its accessible gameplay interface, and its easy Street Fighter II-like control scheme. Killer Instinct was still a 2D fighter no matter how much power it was packing, so the Super NES scaleback didn’t deprive the little version of its big personality. Virtua Fighter 2 Genesis took the godfather of 3D fighters and axed one of the defining features of the game, as well as the two new characters introduced in the game, Shun and Lion. So what the Genesis version of Virtua Fighter 2 was left with was an uninteresting block fighter with zero identifying markers are ways to stand out from the crowd – or ways to stand apart from the original Virtua Fighter. Why did Sega place this on its nostalgia packs instead of Eternal Champions?

Genesis Classic: A Game Collection People Would Actually Want

Genesis Classic: A Game Collection People Would Actually Want

Well, I’ve decided I’m not yet finished laying waste to Sega. If you didn’t hear, they recently gave a developer called AtGames permission to launch one of those mini classic consoles that were recently made all the rage by Nintendo. The result was the Sega Genesis Flashback, which will go down in gaming history as a ripoff, a gouging attempt, a typically bad Sega release strategy, and the work of a bullshit artist. I can’t say the Flashback sucks, because I haven’t yet played it. But I do know what the game list looks like, and that’s all I need to not only know I’m not interested, but to tell you everything Sega and AtGames fucked up about the thing.

Now, I want the mini Super NES Classic so badly that I consider the 80 percent markup price I’ve seen private collectors selling them for perfectly reasonable. I don’t want anything to do with the Flashback. Maybe things would be different if I didn’t already own a couple of different versions of the Flashback; the main problem with the Flashback is that almost every game on it was released multiple times in the past on Genesis compilation collections. And most of those collections have more impressive games than the Flashback. I own Genesis collections for the Playstation 2 and Xbox 360, and between the two of them, the Flashback is totally useless. The reason the NES minis caught on was because they included libraries of hard-to-find classics that get sold in used game stores for three figures. They also contain a wide variety of different games which includes work from second and third party developers. And since Nintendo is still in the hardware market, they haven’t released 700 different compilations of their old games. What has Sega done? Release compilation after compilation of the same games until you hate your Genesis favorites. They don’t bother with their third party classics or their rarities. Plus, they loaded up the Flashback with app games you play in the dentist’s waiting room. You want to know what games Sega SHOULD be putting onto a mini Genesis to make it as desirable as the Super NES Classic? Here is a sizable list of what Sega keeps missing – games that SHOULD be going onto a mini Genesis. (Here’s a quick note: For this list, I’m sticking with only the Genesis, not the Sega CD or the 32X, basically going by Sega’s unwritten rule and also to show how badly gamers are getting screwed.)

Toejam and Earl

Weird, wild, fun as hell, and coming with an option for a random world in which no two games would ever be the same, Toejam and Earl was like nothing else ever released. The story of two funky aliens looking to repair their spaceship, this game gave us two characters who could have been among the 16-bit Era’s strongest. Toejam and Earl as more or less an early sandbox game – it gave gamers complete control to go in any direction as far as the literal edge of the world. It had characters like Cupid, a talking carrot, giant hamster wheels, and wizards. It had weird power-ups and an incredible in-90’s vibe. The lad characters had franchise potential written all over them. What’s more, this game is hard to find now, and Sega hasn’t seen it fit to release on a classic collection.

Earthworm Jim

While an outstanding and memorable game on both the Genesis and Super NES, the Genesis version is the quintessential version because it contains a whole extra level. As for the game itself, much of what I just said about Toejam and Earl applies to Earthworm Jim: Weird, wild, fun as hell, strong lead character. We can also expand that list to include: White-knuckle, manic, intense, and hard as fucking rocks. Earthworm Jim’s challenge is infamous. By the second level, you’re in the depths of hell. The third level runs you through one of the most painful underwater levels of all time. Later in the game, you get to be the escort of a happy-go-lucky pooch that turns into a hulked-out beast if it falls into a pit, slug it out with a piece of snot in a bungie contest, and the game climaxes in a brutal spike-laden level called Buttville.

Contra: Hard Corps

Castlevania Bloodlines

By the time the Genesis came out, Contra and Castlevania were already popular commodities on the NES and Super NES. These two games were the Genesis entrants in both series, released to both audience and critical acclaim. It was the point where Genesis fans could tell their Super NES peers, “Yeah, how nice. We got one of those too!”

NHL ‘94

The Genesis was THE go-to console for sports games during its time, and NHL ‘94 holds a particularly high perch among the bunch. Gamers nowadays can afford to take their sports games for granted, but among gamers of my own generation, there are two sports games held almost sacred: One is Tecmo Bowl for the NES. The other is NHL ‘94 for the Genesis. The exalted status is held less for the accuracy than the sheer amount of unlimited fun we had exposing the game-breaking glitches and overpowered players. Tecmo Bowl had invincible Bo Jackson. NHL ‘94 had unstoppable Jeremy Roenick. NHL ‘94 also had goalies who could nearly kill players just by standing around, rowdy audience animations, the ability to score a goal by shooting while just skating by the goalie almost every time… Well, few sports games have reached this level of arcadey accessibility since. Hell, the entire sports genre doesn’t get there these days. The only post-16-bit game that approaches this level is ESPN NFL 2K5.

Gunstar Heroes

Here’s a hardcore action run and gun title that most people who played it would gladly dump Contra for.

Landstalker

Let’s be honest: The Legend of Zelda will always be THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. Always replicated, never duplicated. That didn’t keep anyone associated with Sega from trying, though, and reaping the fruits of their labors brought adventure RPG’s as deep and rewarding as any of Link’s games. The Genesis managed to produce a few gems in that area, most notably Landstalker and Beyond Oasis. Both of those games are amazing, but Landstalker is getting the nod here because Sega DID manage to find a brain for a minute and place Beyond Oasis on a compilation. While the triangular plane can take some growing used to, Landstalker was every bit as capable of bending minds as A Link to the Past.

Herzog Zwei

This is considered one of the forefathers of the real-time strategy genre. Are you into Starcraft? Fire Emblem? Advance Wars? Of course you are. And this is where the genre found its legs. (Well, this and Military Madness, if you owned a TurboGrafx-16.)

Disney’s Aladdin

Yes, it’s the funniest thing a game like Aladdin could be included on a list like this, especially if you know the reputation of movies turned into video games during the 16-bit Era. But Aladdin not only bucked the odds, but managed to turn into one of the Genesis’s iconic titles and one of the era’s great action platformers. With animation worthy of the movie itself (this game was animated by the same people who animated the movie), all your favorite tunes from the film, a level that took place inside Genie’s lamp, a sense of humor, and some of the tightest controls a gamer could ask for, and there’s a game which is not only fun, but far better-made than a game based on a movie has any right to be.

Eternal Champions

Sega’s attempt to go into fighting games isn’t going to make anyone forget about Street Fighter. Truth be told, I didn’t think Eternal Champions was great – the combo-free interface will probably put off a few purists. But a lot of people seem to love this game, and there are a lot of good reasons to love it. There’s a measure of internal strength which adds an element of strategy that makes up for the lack of combos, and you can’t press two buttons at the same time without running into a special move. The characters have some of the best designs in fighting games, ever; they all look like comic book heroes. But the thing that really pushed Eternal Champions above and beyond in the minds of most gamers is the training room and the option to create a level, complete with obstacles, all of your own.

Shadowrun

A dark horse title which people seemed to love or hate, Shadowrun offered a lot of open-world exploration along with a dark cyberpunk atmosphere.

Super Street Fighter II

We need to include the fighting game to end all fighting games in this collection. I know Special Champion Edition has its fans (myself included), but I’m going to go with the uber edition of this classic, which included four new characters.

Road Rash III

Today, driving games are all the rage because the technology makes it easy for designers maximize a console’s engine and provide plenty of tracks and cars for dedicated gamers to collect and drive. Back in the 16-bit years, though, driving games were a lot more hit or miss… Okay, well, let’s be honest: They were misses. Road Rash was one of the few series which managed to create a fun formula which got the most out of the Genesis, and it did so by adding a simple twist: It made a motorcycle race into a street brawl. A good way to let off steam, a good number of iconic driving titles these days owe a debt to Road Rash.

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

This game was a title for those who wanted to enjoy sports games without the pesky trouble of the actual sports. NBA Jam took basketball and stripped it down to the bare essentials. Giving us a two-on-two game, it took all the fast action of a basketball game and gave it concepts like hot spots, power-ups, exaggerated dunks, secret celebrity players, and being On Fire. The controls used an arcade setup which included a turbo button and quick release shooting to maximize accessibility, and the Tournament Edition included better music than its predecessor and an option to include four players.

Thunder Force III

MUSHA

Air Buster

Although the Genesis is probably more celebrated for its contributions to sports gaming, it holds a dear spot in the hearts of shooter fans as well. The pantheon of available shooting games for the Genesis is second only to that of the shooter library on the TurboGrafx-16, so we need to include a set of shooting games made to show it off. Although the Super NES had better technological specs overall, Nintendo’s dirty little secret is that it had a slower processor than the Genesis, so shooting games on the Super NES would get marred with slowdown while the Genesis counterparts in the genre were smooth and uninhibited for a faster, more intense experience. There are three acclaimed titles which give a taste of what the Genesis can do with such a genre.

College Football USA ‘96

Yes, yes, everyone is keen on the Madden series, for reasons I will never begin to understand. And the Joe Montana Sports Talk series was a breakthrough in play by play. But if it’s football you want, you don’t necessarily have to settle for the NFL. You can go back to college and pretty much have your way with available teams and playbooks. This game was one of the first to really show the grand spectacle that is college football, with an offering of 108 teams, and if we’re trying to give away a sample of what the Genesis could do with sports titles, this one is more indispensable than anything a developer could do with an NFL license.

Rocket Knight Adventures

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2

A pair of beloved and acclaimed platformers starring a possum named Sparkster who wore a knight’s armor and flew with a jetpack, these games have plenty of fans.

World Series Baseball

Before Sega went third party and started making the greatest NBA games on the planet, it had baseball locked up with this series. The dramatic view from the catcher’s eyes was a big deal at the time, and it still looks great today.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors

An outstanding variation of a shooting game, this one is another open-world setting where you get to wander wherever the world lets you go, shooting up everything in sight while keeping your neighbors safe from an unending zombie horde. Zombies Ate My Neighbors has the sensibilities of any B-movie, and it takes itself about as seriously.

Notably, I haven’t played all of these, but they’ve all reached cult status in the hearts of 16-bit gamers. But here we have it: A good collection of breakthrough games and scarce games that Sega has seen it fit to ignore in the hopes that it can cash in on Sonic the Hedgehog re-releases for fucking ever. If Sega wants in on the mini-console gravy train, it would do well to take a page from Nintendo’s book and ask itself what its fans might have the most difficulty finding, and what games are really worth preserving for posterity.

Sega’s Complaint

Sega’s Complaint

The newest rage in the world of video games seems to be miniaturized classic consoles with a grand selection of their greatest games downloaded into them. After the success of the NES Classic and the subsequent follow-up with the Super NES Classic, you had to know Sega would hop on the mini train at some point. Unfortunately, Sega’s way of getting in on this trend was to hand a blessing to AtGames, which gave the world the Sega Genesis Flashback. And at first glance, the Flashback looks like a delivery from the silicon heavens; it has a whopping 85 games packed into it! That’s four times as good as that lame Super NES Classic and the mere 21 games programmed into it, right?

(Sucking air through teeth…) Well… Yeah, you know how Sega managed to keep shooting itself in the foot and doesn’t produce consoles anymore because of its famously stupid release strategies? Some bad habits are just that hard to snap. That list of “85 Classic Games” is an insult to Sega, the Genesis, and anyone who knows anything about the classic games of the 16-bit Golden Era. The game list includes a list of 28 unofficial, unlicensed games like Air Hockey, Chess, Hangman, Snake, and Wall-Breaking. That means 28 games on the Sega Genesis Flashback are smartphone games you play in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. What’s more forgivable is the inclusion of a handful of difficult-to-find games from the Master System and Game Gear; the Master System selection includes three Alex Kidd games (Alex Kidd held Sega’s official mascot spot until Yuji Naka churned out Sonic the Hedgehog) and the first Phantasy Star game, while the Game Gear selection includes Sonic Chaos and Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble. But when you get to the crux of the Flashback – AKA the Genesis classics, AKA The Entire Damn Reason You’re Buying the Thing – the collection is sorely lacking. Yes, it has a few offbeat choices like Sword of Vermilion, The Ooze, and Chakan: The Forever Man. Yes, it has the Mortal Kombat games. But the whole collection of games that are classics on the Genesis doesn’t give you anything that hasn’t already been made available on any other large-scale collection of classic Genesis games. Hell, you can go out and buy Sonic’s Ultimate Sega Genesis Collection for the Playstation or Xbox for a selection of games that’s better than this. What’s really notable are some of the games that aren’t here: Where the hell is Ecco the Dolphin? What about the notable action RPGs: Landstalker, Light Crusader, and especially Beyond Oasis? In the early, pre-Sonic days of the Genesis, Sega built its 16-bit brand on the strength of its sports game lineup. So where are all of them? Where are the third party exclusives?

Yes, we all give Sega their proper disrespects for nuking their own hardware division. But we overlook all the little mistakes Sega kept making which caused interested gamers to support Nintendo over Sega. We can complain about Nintendo’s family-friendly reputation or the way they keep leaning on their established franchises, but come on! In Nintendo’s case, those are nothing complaints. Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid are at the forefront of Nintendo’s game collections because they’re incredible franchises which have earned premier spots in the hearts of gamers everywhere. It kills gamers that Sega was close to being the juggernaut that Nintendo is. Sega had everything Nintendo did, they stole Nintendo’s market share for a little while, and industry dominance was within their grasp. When you fall from grace as hard as Sega has, though, bad hardware releases are only part of a much bigger problem. Here are some of my own educated ideas about why Sega, with the entire video game world almost theirs, blew it all to hell.

The Genesis Controller

Okay, the Genesis controller looked like Sega was preparing for a leap in game design back when the console was released; it had three action buttons and a concave d-pad, which proved to be forward thinking when games started getting more complex. But Nintendo eventually followed that by including a controller with six action buttons with the Super NES. Now, I hate the Super NES controller with a flaming vengeance, but that’s only because the action button placements – which introduced shoulder buttons – made the thing so uncomfortable for me to hold with my deformed hand. (Sony rescued my ability to play games one console generation later when it introduced the pistol grip.) Nintendo may have been late to the game, but the influence of the Super NES controller can’t be denied. Shoulder buttons are everywhere because Nintendo had an early vision of gaming with six buttons, and the Super NES caught fire just when fighting games started coming into vogue. Most fighting games require more than three buttons – the reigning king of the genre, Street Fighter, needs six, and its close peer Mortal Kombat started out needing five. So mainstream gamers who liked fighting games latched on to Nintendo. While Sega quickly got to work producing a six-button version of its primary controller, they never got around to packing it in with the Genesis. That means if you liked fighting games, you either fought with the clunky three-button layout or plonked down an extra $30 for a single six-button controller. The Genesis versions of Street Fighter II and the original Mortal Kombat may have been superior, but that meant little when they were barely playable with the pack-in controller.

Potential Franchise Abandonment

Real old school Genesis fans might remember Toejam and Earl. The two funky dudes from Funkotron starred in one of the key Genesis exclusives from the early days of the console – it came out just a few months after the first Sonic game. The game was quirky, fun as hell, and came with some of the console generation’s best character design. It was also very unique, and we haven’t seen anything quite like it since. And the characters themselves had designs and attitudes all of their own – they were strong characters. Even making exemption for Sonic’s recent appearance, there was no reason for Sega to avoid pressing ToeJam and Earl as representative characters to their brand; the duo even got a sequel in 1993. And then that was it! Although the two of them were a true 90’s duo – they sported sunglasses and backwards baseball hats – Sega avoided making anything new until launching them on the Xbox in 2002, and there’s been a fourth game in the rumor mill ever since. Much of the same story happened with Vectorman. Vectorman got two action games which are considered among the era’s best. Sega even timed the games to match up with Nintendo’s revival and subsequent reboot of Donkey Kong as a good guy. Like Nintendo, Sega used Vectorman to introduce a new graphic technique. But Donkey Kong got a ton of exposure on his way to becoming an indispensible part of Nintendo’s canon while Sega kept both its awesome new character and beautifully fluid new graphic technique under wraps, and Vectorman was never heard from again unless you count a cancelled Playstation 2 reboot which destroyed everything gamers loved about the originals. RiStar was a star-shaped, long-limbed character developed by Sonic Team who got one of the best platformers of the era before disappearing until showing up in the nostalgia packs. If ANY character was screaming for a mascot role, it was him. Even some of Sega’s tried-and-true characters got shafted. Anyone want to tell me why Shinobi didn’t show up on the Dreamcast after a popular arcade game and three brilliant and beloved Genesis carts? Holy shit, Sega.

Where the Cool Third Parties at?

One of Nintendo’s most infamous and public fuckups with the Nintendo 64 could have been avoided had they only paid more attention to Sega: The failure to secure any good third party exclusives early on. I’m not saying the Genesis didn’t have any amazing third party exclusives, but the ones that could have come in and created a buzz for Sega – like Castlevania Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps – didn’t come in until later in the console’s lifespan. By then, it was getting to the point where everyone who had to go with one console or the other had made up their minds, and the ones partial to both owned both. And Sega wasn’t exactly partial to highlighting the third party games that would have helped their cause. Gunstar Heroes may be a beloved classic now, but almost everyone missed it because no one knew it was there. And you have to look at some of these exclusives: F-22 Interceptor? That was a flight sim where you flew a VERY preliminary version of the jet fighter that eventually became the F-22 Raptor. Toughman Contest was a first-person boxing game in the mold of Punch-Out. Some of these third party games were truly excellent, of course; they helped make the Sega Genesis into the SEGA GENESIS. But they didn’t stand by anything that would have created any franchise recognition.

I Want My RPG

Okay, so when Sega started creating RPGs, they had the deck stacked against them already – Nintendo had Enix and Squaresoft signed as second party developers, and they had delivered Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy on the NES. The Super NES gave fans two more Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger, widely considered the greatest RPG ever made. But Sega didn’t exactly start off the RPG standoff from a great deficit; after all, they created Phantasy Star, and for three games, Phantasy Star was able to fight blow for blow with Final Fantasy for 16-bit RPG supremacy. (With hindsight, this looks pretty silly because Phantasy Star – while it acquits itself rather nicely in the bigger picture – hasn’t aged nearly as well as Final Fantasy.) Sega also created the Shining series, a very good series of strategic RPGs which became beloved by its fans. Then Sega took things to the next level… By creating the Sega CD and shoving almost every piece of RPG-related software onto it! I guess Sega figured they were going to get some extra Sega CD sales by placing a genre with hardcore cult fans onto it, but hardcore doesn’t mean stupid. If anyone was stupid, it was Sega for thinking anyone was going to pay the $300 for the Sega CD – more than the Genesis itself – to play a single genre of games. So the Genesis didn’t attract any RPG players, even though Lunar: Eternal Blue, Popful Mail, Vay, and other games were on it because Sega went out of their way to price gamers out. Speaking of the Sega CD…

That Damn CD Player

It cost $300. Was it worth it? Well, RPG players didn’t exactly take to it, even though their favorite genre’s output from Sega was almost exclusively there. The selection of other games on the Sega CD were FMV games which were barely interactive and a list of games ported from having been on the Genesis already, in some cases for months or even years in advance. Yes, the Sega CD had Sonic CD, which is frequently considered Sonic the Hedgehog’s best game (and that’s NOT an opinion I concur with). It had better ports of games that were already classics on the Genesis, like Eternal Champions, Ecco the Dolphin, and Earthworm Jim. But Sonic CD wasn’t worth a $300 add-on and anyone who wanted those classics was already happy playing them on the Genesis. So no, it wasn’t fucking worth it. Not even close.

Taking the Sonic Out of Sonic Team

It’s pointless to prattle on about how Sonic the Hedgehog’s transition to three dimensions ruined him – every other game writer of my generation has covered that at length. I’m going to point out that Sonic’s fall started right out on the Genesis, and that it should have been obvious right from the start. Sonic’s final outing on the Genesis was Sonic 3D Blast, which was primarily done by Traveller’s Tales. Now, we have to note a couple of things about Sonic 3D Blast: First, the game is a technical marvel, and Traveller’s Tales made an obvious herculean effort to get it right. Second, they understood the true appeal of Sonic’s core games: Exploration. Speed was a big part of it, but the real fun was in launching Sonic in a random direction and seeing where he would end up. The trouble happened because exploring was an option in the core games, and if you hated a level, you could always run Sonic out of it as fast as possible. Sonic 3D Blast didn’t have that option. It not only required exploration – a bad enough sin as it was – but it also turned the best part of Sonic into a combination fetch quest/escort mission. Can you think of a worse combination of genres to put together? And to top it off, they threw it all into an isometric view which rendered a lot of Sonic’s signature abilities useless. There’s a safe argument to be made that every sin committed by the 3D titles was some sort of effort to right the wrongs started in Sonic 3D Blast. There’s another safe argument to be made that everything Sonic did wrong since started here.

The Selections on those Classics Collections

You would think that, somewhere along the line, Sega would have learned a few useful lessons. Well, you have to give them credit for a couple of things, anyway: They DID learn lessons. But they didn’t seem to learn the RIGHT lessons. Even now, having made the switch to third party development, they don’t seem to understand much of their own appeal. Look at the numerous collections of Genesis classics they’ve been offering since the Dreamcast days: Toejam and Earl and Sub-Terrania haven’t shown up on any of them! Yet Sega is intent on shoving Golden Axe and Altered Beast down our throats at every turn. Golden Axe is fairly forgivable because of the mix of beat-’em-up gameplay and a strict fantasy setting. But Altered Beast? Look, I know it was a hit and people liked it at the time, but if any popular video game was like pop music, Altered Beast is it. It’s a guilty pleasure that people hate themselves for once loving. It’s more of a gimmick than a game, and not a particularly unique one these days. No one cares about it. On their newest collections, instead of rectifying this situation, Sega threw Alien Storm at us. NOBODY GIVES A FUCK ABOUT ALIEN STORM! We barely give a shit about Golden Axe, and Alien Storm is just a slightly deeper version of Golden Axe with a sci-fi slant! Meanwhile, Beyond Oasis has shown up once, Dynamite Headdy has shown up once, Toejam and Earl and Landstalker and Light Crusader have all been absent, Shining in the Darkness has shown up once, RiStar has shown up twice, and where the fuck is MUSHA?! Iconic third party games are gone. Furthermore, every game they release was available for the Genesis. A few games from the Sega CD would be nice inclusions. Sonic CD, as mentioned, is still widely considered the best Sonic game ever made. The FMV games – especially Night Trap, which was mentioned in congressional hearings – should be included for posterity’s sake. And, again, they’re not placing any third party games on these things, so iconic titles like Aladdin and Castlevania Bloodlines still aren’t available to 16-bit fans who never owned them. Yeah, Sega seems hell-bent on applying its shitty console release strategies to its classic collections.

Where are the 32-Bit Classics?

I guess Sega’s 32-bit failures have given them the impression that no one cares about their offerings from that doomed era, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Chaotix, Clockwork Knight, the Virtua Fighter games, Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon, Nights, Shinobi Legions, and a grab bag of other games are not only remembered, but loved. So where have they been hiding?

The Coolest Part of Sonic and Knuckles

Sega had a dream when it released the first Sonic the Hedgehog game: Being able to hook it up to a cartridge of a future game in the series. And by the time Sonic the Hedgehog 2 rolled around, it wasn’t a dream anymore; Sega was well aware of the fact that they could do it. And they designed a few areas of Sonic 2 with that whole concept in mind. Sonic 3 came in and went, and Sega did the same thing. Then came the fourth game in the series, Sonic and Knuckles, and the concept came to fruition. You could physically hook Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 up to Sonic and Knuckles to play through both of those games as Knuckles and open up new areas. The concept was taken to a new length in Sonic 3, where Knuckles had access to places which felt like an entirely different game, and which also offered the option of playing through Sonic and Knuckles as Tails. Then the nostalgia packs came out with every Sonic game on them, and this whole concept was entirely absent. That’s leaving chunks of all three of those games closed off to exploratory players. (And it also begs the question: Why did Sega use that technology only that one time?)

 

The Worst Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

The Worst Video Game Controller Buttons Ever

If you’ve ever spent a lot of time playing video games, you’ve certainly noted the fact that not every controller is created equal. I can go on to amend that by saying that not every button on a controller is created equal, either. You would think that as game controllers and games themselves got to be more complex, designers would figure out how to make use of auxiliary buttons better. And, well, they did, but that doesn’t mean every button on a controller is going to be used well. And even with games allowing gamers the freedom to change up the control schemes in ways that are best suited to their tastes, some designers just still have trouble assigning decent uses to perfectly good controller buttons.

You know what? You can just blame the popular gaming blog Kotaku for this one. It was one of their famous unspecified lists. I read it, liked the idea, and decided to create my own, but with explanations! So here’s my list of the worst controller buttons ever, with undefined and haphazard qualifications!

10 – D-pad, All Directions

Nintendo 64 Controller

I’m one of the very few people who gave a wholehearted, enthusiastic endorsement to the much-hated Nintendo 64 controller. That, however, was based more on the comfort I enjoyed while I held it, the analog joystick, and the cool Z button. But let’s be honest: The detractors have some solid arguments, and they start with its deadweight of a d-pad. The question about this thing is, WHY?! Why is it there? Why did Nintendo even bother? There wasn’t much of a point, because nearly all the d-pad’s functionality was outsourced to the analog stick – even menu screens used it. And despite gamers widely complaining about getting stuck using the analog stick – you have to remember that this was the very early days of 3D games, and gamers back then had never used analog sticks before – Nintendo forced it onto everyone. Few, if any, games came with an option to use the d-pad, and so it just sat there being useless.

9 – Select Button

NES Controller

The original NES controller is the defining video game controller of all time. Every controller today is based on its interface: D-pad on the left, action buttons on the right, selection buttons in the middle. That being said, one wonders why so few people can still manage to find a valid function for the Select button. Yes, designers have been getting better about it, but the original Select button was damn near useless. It sits there, taking up space, being forgotten. The Konami code didn’t require it. When Sega designed the Genesis controller, it didn’t even see fit to include some form of it, opting instead for a single menu button – a Start button – and three action buttons. When NEC cranked out the TurboGrafx-16 and almost carbon-copied the NES controller, it tried to be a bit more inventive – the way to reset most Turbo games is to press its Select and Run (the Turbo’s Start) buttons at the same time, but it still didn’t give poor Select a real function. In just about every form, Select sits, inconspicuous in its form, limited in its function, and you get the feeling that in 99 parallel dimensions, it doesn’t exist at all. As opposed to this dimension, where it just might as well not exist.

8 – D-pad, Left

Various Controllers in the 8- and 16-Bit Eras

We can argue about the real origins of the side-scrolling adventure game until the cows come home. But what will never, ever change is that fact that Super Mario Bros. is the inarguable point where games started to model themselves on it. What did the game do? Scroll. Where did Mario start? On the left. Where did he go? To the right. Thus, a permanent template was created, and video game characters forevermore started on the left and moved to the right. This mindset enveloped games so much that, if you’ve ever gotten ahold of one of the very rare games that does it the other way around – or, hell, if you’ve even played a game that so much as offered a single level that does it – it feels completely unnatural. So where does that leave the poor left button on the d-pad? Well, there’s no denying that it has a lot of importance. After all, a gamer needs to have room to dodge, set up defense and counterattack, and weave. But there is a whole genre of game where the characters can’t even turn left! There are a lot of other games where gamers aren’t allowed to backtrack, including the original Super Mario Bros. itself. So how’s left as a useful controller button? Of course, this has been dying out since games started going 3D, but gamers around my age remember when there was one direction to move in, and it was the right.

7 – Z Button

Gamecube Controller

The thing about influential inventors and innovators is that we tend to only look at their successes. We ignore their failures completely. And everyone who ever invented anything has failed a lot more than they’ve succeeded. Nintendo, for all their influence, has made a lot of controller shit. You would be amazed how many people think their greatest work is the Gamecube controller. While a comfortable controller, it contains a LOT of obvious blights. None are worse than that Z button. Almost certainly crammed onto the Gamecube controller purely as an afterthought, the Z button sits tucked near the R button as nothing more than an auxiliary menu button. It feels like a weird outcropping on the controller rather than a real button, and to press it feels like making it click.

6 – Left Analog Stick, All Directions

All Xbox Controllers

It’s a universally accepted fact that the original Xbox controller was just a really bad idea, but even with the compact model that quickly became Microsoft’s norm, people tend to ignore the unnatural thumb alignments. The now-standard Xbox controller is basically a knockoff of the Playstation’s Dual Shock, which would be just fine if not for the unusual placement of the left analog: It sits above the d-pad rather than below it, while the right analog is distal to the d-pad. This setup takes a little bit of practice before your thumbs manage to adjust to it, and even when they do, it never seems to develop into anything natural. Now, this isn’t so bad in a lot of games because the double analog setup usually doesn’t mean very much – the sticks are used to perform two different functions. But if you’re into fighters or first-person shooters, THEN it gets to be an annoyance. The problem is more muted in fighting games because you only need a single d-pad to play them, and the proper d-pad is often an option, but nothing feels right about quarter-circle or double-tap motions with the analog so far away from the grip. In first-person shooters, it gets pervasive because you need both sticks for basic controls, and nothing about the movement/viewpoint setup feels right.

5 – Buttons L and R

Saturn Controller

Sega had led a wave of innovation with the Genesis and the Dreamcast, but it seems like they were playing catch-up during every phase in between. After gaming evolution wrecked the original Genesis controller (as well as the ability to play fighting games on the Genesis), Sega knew it couldn’t go on with anything less than six buttons… Which it included on the Saturn controller as buttons A, B, C, X, Y, and Z. You might notice that this means the Saturn controller HAD six buttons WITHOUT adding L and R! So in its attempt to keep up with the Joneses – the Joneses in this case being Sony and Nintendo, both of whom adopted shoulder buttons – it added a couple of plastic shells to the Saturn controller which it placed on top and referred to as “buttons.” They were there as replacements for the Mode button on the Mega Drive, which is video-game-ese for, “they didn’t do jack shit.” Basically, Sega put a pair of keep-up buttons on a controller strictly for decoration.

4 – D-pad, All Directions

Gamecube Controller

It would be pretty easy for me to make this argument by just copying and pasting my entry for the Nintendo 64 controller up there. But, to reiterate, the damn thing is useless. And the Gamecube controller comes with the added bonus of being far too small for it to be comfortable to use. The thing is about the size of the Game Boy Advance d-pad; not something that one would expect a real, adult-sized hand to fight with on a big boy video game controller.

3 – Buttons L3 and R3

Playstation and Xbox Controllers

No one thinks of these buttons, and there’s a good reason why: They tend to be obscured by being hidden inside the analog sticks. You press them by pressing down on the sticks; I don’t mean hitting the directional stick in the down direction, I mean it in the sense of applying pressure to the stick. Imagine trying to crush it between your thumb and your hand. This is one of those “break glass in case of emergency buttons,” to be used in case there’s no other place to put a weird, offhand function. Useful functions placed inside the sticks feel like they’re being forced there, so designers compensate by trying to hide optional, offhand junk functions into them. The sirens in the Grand Theft Auto games were put into the L3 and R3 buttons. There’s a reason why these buttons do such weird things: They’re impractical and they don’t press easily. Even the engineers at Sony and Microsoft think they’re jokes; there are gamers who have owned those consoles for years without ever figuring out these buttons even exist.

2 – C-stick, All Directions

Gamecube Controller

This was another result of a Nintendo attempt to drag gaming evolution in a direction it clearly wasn’t going to go in. This had its origin in the Nintendo 64 controller, which had four singular buttons pointing in four directions referred to C Up, C Down, C Left, and C Right. Those were intended to be camera buttons, but they ultimately functioned as the action buttons they were destined to be. The C-Stick is sort of just… There. It just sits, innocuously, not doing anything one way or the other because it’s another instance of designers – including Nintendo itself – not knowing what to do with it half the time. Now, the idea wasn’t a bad one – it placed an increasingly common function into a controller device set aside strictly for it. But it would have been a huge help had anyone been able to figure that out. There were a lot of games in which the C-Stick just wasn’t functional. (Are you sensing a theme yet?) Many other games just outsourced them to the shoulder buttons, which was the common thing to do at the time. What the C-Stick DID do was give FPS buffs a way to finally play their shooters the way they were meant to be played, with one stick to move and the other to look, so I guess it did serve as a camera stick in that capacity, at the least.

1 – L Button

Nintendo 64 Controller

Wow, what a blunder this sucker was. Now, when Nintendo made the Nintendo 64 controller, it did so with the idea of offering control options to gamers. As we’ve already seen, though, those options never, ever came into fruition. The L Button from the Nintendo 64 controller was supposed to be used in conjunction with the action buttons, the R Button, and the Z Trigger (which, by the way, looks like it will make my list of greatest video game buttons). But forget a controller that intimidates people who have all ten fingers – the Nintendo 64 Controller required three hands, or at least it would if the entire left side wasn’t so flaccid. The L Button’s work on the Nintendo 64 Controller was outsourced to the Z Trigger. When the Nintendo 64 was introduced, the Z Trigger was already a lively button – the hand-form pistol grip made it easy to reach and keep your index finger on at all times, and that made it useful for a handful of its own functions. It changed the way we look at first-person shooters. But all of the usual L Button functions were also automatically handed over to the Z Trigger too. Few games offered options, and even in the very few games in which the d-pad was at least usable in SOME way – such as a menu screen – the L button just sat there, outcast to the point where it should have come equipped with its own little anarchy sign.

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

When I moved to Chicago, the Buffalo Bills hadn’t yet reached irrelevance. In fact, despite their record for the previous year being 5-11, they still seemed like a fairly safe option to get behind. Drew Bledsoe had spent three years in Buffalo and led the Bills to the edge of contention in two of them. He was unceremoniously shoved out the door after the 2004 season to make room for 2004 Draft pick JP Losman, and the team had also dug up Lee Evans and Willis McGahee, respectively a receiver and running back. Both of them were oozing with talent. So if anything, 2005 could have been written off as a growing pain year. But it still panned out in what has since been acknowledged as typical Bills fashion: The Bills not looking bad early in the season, with a 3-3 start after the first six games, only to win just two of the remaining ten.

In Chicago, the Bears appeared to be undergoing the long-promised resurgence. Their record was the mirror opposite of the Bills’ record, and that 11-5 was enough for them to claim the division crown. Their offense wasn’t good, but as any follower of the Bears will tell you, proper Bears football was never about putting points on the board; its always been about keeping points off the board. In that respect, the Bears delivered, and their 202 total points against was enough to lead the NFL. The Bears had even gone the opposite of the Bills in delivering their record; with a 1-3 record after the first four games which looked like another one of the team’s endless post-1985 write-offs, the Bears tore off on an eight-game winning streak before a 2-2 split in their last four games. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton (whom the Bills once yanked out of retirement to lead them to their second winning season this century) pulled just enough decent plays out of his ass to let the Bears fall back on their defense after slated starter Rex Grossman was injured. First round Draft pick Cedric Benson, a running back, suffered a similar fate and had a contract dispute which kept him away from training camp. He was replaced by journeyman Thomas Jones.

I expected to be spending much longer living in Chicago than I did, so I did what my mother did when she moved to Buffalo: I adopted the local teams but held on to my original loyalties. It seemed to be the natural thing to do, even though I didn’t feel a natural draw to most of the local teams. Most of them were pretty easy to talk myself into, though, because there’s little I respect more than a good history, and Chicago’s teams had those in spades. The Cubs and White Sox were both originals teams in the NL and AL for baseball; the Blackhawks were a member of the Original Six; and the Fire had been one of the most stable and consistent teams in MLS since the league was created. The Bulls were a relative baby – they were an expansion team from the late 60’s, some 20 years after the NBA’s formation and the failure of other professional basketball teams to take off in Chicago.

The Bears were one of the founding members of the NFL, and over the course of their history, they accumulated more wins than any other team any more titles than every team except the Green Bay Packers. Every amateur football historian knows that. Every football fan knows the Superfans and the Super Bowl Shuffle. I arrived in Chicago just weeks after the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, which meant I got to spend the summer updating myself on Bears history, and there were some pretty cool things to learn: The 1940 NFL Championship, with the Bears winning a 73-0 squeaker over Washington. It set records for points and point differential. (Gee, ya think?) The Sneakers Game, the dynasty of the 1940’s. But my brain started telling me something was slightly amiss because all the Bears writings and paraphernalia emphasized one thing: 1985. I learned more about the 1985 Chicago Bears than I did about any other era in NFL history because it was the only thing Chicagoans seemed to care about.

I ignored that weird feeling, though, because in 2006, the Bears hit a high they hadn’t attained since 1985. They paced the league at 13-3 and finally made their return to the Super Bowl. Even though they were decisively waxed by the Colts, they won me over on account of the fact that they made football FUN again. The 2006 Bears were third in points against and – absolutely fucking incredibly – second in points scored. Rex Grossman was healthy the whole season. Thomas Jones set the tone on the ground. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs made countless big plays on defense. Kick returner Devin Hester became the team’s secret weapon, running seemingly every other kick into the endzone. The Bears started the season by beating Green Bay 26-0; it was the first time Packers quarterback Brett Favre had been shut out since high school. In week six, they posted an incredible comeback win over the Cardinals, returning from a 20-0 deficit without scoring a single offensive touchdown. Eight of their players showed up in the Pro Bowl. After a 40-7 hammering of the Bills, the first thing I said to my mother was, “40-7?! Please explain that.”

Chicago fans have a national reputation for being rabid and knowledgeable, and during 2006, they were living up to it. In the buildup leading to the Super Bowl, it was impossible to not see anyone or anything decked out in their colors, but the excitement was still a bit restrained. The Bears were going to be facing the Colts, after all, and if there was one name away from 1985 that Chicago knew, it was that of Indianapolis star quarterback Peyton Manning. I developed a respect for the fans because even though they were hoping for the good outcome, they were still tempered with the realization that this was going to be Manning’s year. That should have done the trick.

The euphoria surrounding the Super Bowl didn’t even last through the offseason, and my perception of Bears “fans” was put to the test in the first regular season game of 2007. I asked a co-worker what he thought about the Bears’ odds of beating their first opponent, the San Diego Chargers, and his response was just, “Huh?! Oh, I dunno. DA BEARS.” The Bears lost the game 14-3. During the season, it became apparent that 2006 was an anomaly that came from hitting an early peak and playing two patsy divisions (the NFC West and AFC East) during a time when the NFC was going through a power void. The better AFC West and NFC East were both on the schedule in 2007, and while the Bears acquitted themselves well, they still lost too many key matchups against pushovers and finished 7-9.

2007 was the season that set the tone for my years failing to support the Bears. The team turned from a contender into an indifferent nonentity. Nothing symbolized that more than a running back controversy between Jones and Cedric Benson. While Benson was a first round pick, he wasn’t as good as Jones in any of the ways that matter in his position. The Bears dumped Jones anyway, and that lopping – which turned out to be as bad as every football fan said it would be – gave fans the excuse they needed to spend the year at lunch. The team was facing an uphill battle in the hearts of Chicagoans anyway; the Cubs had hired Lou Piniella as their manager that year and come out on the top of an exciting division race with the Milwaukee Brewers. For all intents and purposes, they looked ready to contend.

The 2007 season ran by inconspicuously. The Bears reversed their record to end the following year at 9-7, but good luck finding anyone who remembers anything that happened. Okay, well, fans knew two things: Rex Grossman sucked and needed to be replaced, and Matt Forte needed to be the new featured back. If we throw in the constant comparisons to the 1985 Bears, that makes three things. Basically, a Super Bowl euphoria was followed with two seasons of blah before the coming of Jay Cutler. The Bears had needed a good quarterback since Sid Luckman back in the 1940’s so badly that fans managed to talk themselves into thinking Jim McMahon was good. Cutler’s first season was maddening. After watching Rex Grossman’s power bombs from 2006 (he’ll always have that one year), Cutler played remedial football. It was routine for the Bears to hang 48 on the Lions in one game, then lose 10-6 to the 49ers in another. They lost 45-10 against Cincinnati but hammered Cleveland 30-6. As often as there were dazzling performances from Cutler, there were weeks when I could have outplayed him, and I can barely throw a football.

The Bears, in short, were not an endearing team to watch. Their style was as boring as it was outmoded. A bad team can still be fun, but a boring team commits the ultimate crime of sports. What really got to me, though, was the constant harkening back to 1985. Buffalo lost the closest Super Bowl in history because of a missed last-second field goal, but the fans managed to let it go. In Chicago, the Bears WON the fucking game 30 years before, and the fans were convinced that crew of brainless headhunters played the most modern version of football possible. They lionized Mike Ditka, a bad coach lucky enough to ride a good defensive coordinator with a load of talent, and one of the loudest stupid people in sports. 

It was in 2010 that I decided something was badly amiss. The 2010 Bears went 11-5 and won their division, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were, well, good. Racking up wins is one thing, but for a team to be legitimate, it has to be beating opponents in some very specific ways. The first game of 2010 was the famous Calvin Johnson Rule game, where Calvin Johnson was robbed of a touchdown because of an obscure and inexplicable rule about “completing the process.” (That was the official term used in the rules.) The touchdown happened right as time ran out, and it would have won the game for Detroit. That was the setting for a season in which the Bears somehow caught all the lucky bounces. A contender doesn’t win with luck; they beat bad teams decisively and take what they need from the good teams. That wasn’t the Bears of 2010. The Bears took very few chances while nature fell in their favor.

When the fans started endorsing the way the Bears were playing, I stopped trying to wrap my mind around them. The way the fans thought was that hey, the Bears were in first, they must be good! Never mind the fact that the Bears barely beat a 4-12 Bills team in Toronto by only three points, or that they got whomped by two teams with losing records, or that they couldn’t take a game from the eventual Super Bowl winner despite holding them to just ten points. When Green Bay exposed the Bears for what they were in the NFC Championship, fans were flabbergasted. Jay Cutler was removed during the game because his knee was visibly out of place, and every fan in Chicago told him to toughen up. Then they bitched about how much better the current backup was.

2010 was my last football season living in Chicago. Since m time in Chicago had been such a huge game-changer, I tried to remain loyal to my adopted teams, but ultimately the Blackhawks and White Sox were the only ones that made it out with me. I never took to the Cubs, and I dumped the Fire almost immediately. The Bulls held out a bit longer, but after some time being a Buffalo sports fan again, I realized that I was frequently finding solace in watching the New York Knicks rather than the Bulls, and the Knicks finally became my official team. As for the Bears, they proved to be my ultimate holdout, and my slip on them was gradual. As I got adjusted to watching the Bills every week again, I just got more into the games than I ever did following the Bears. In Chicago, I was always eager to learn the Bills scores. I never felt any pull to the Bears, and in one Monday Night Football game where they were dominating the other team, I realized that I just didn’t care. I should have been euphoric, but I didn’t feel much of anything aside from my brain telling me to jump up and down screaming my lungs out.

And that was pretty much it. The final nail in the coffin was coming out to Seattle and finding a huge pocket of raging football fans who knew their team and loved their sport. I chatted up a playoff game one night at work that the Seahawks lost, despite making a stirring near-comeback. When I told my co-worker that it would have been the second-greatest comeback in league history, he knew what the biggest one was. The fans were so good that they were the first thing I latched on to in order to find some semblance of familiarity. The Seahawks also offer a lot more than the Bears – a fleet young quarterback in Russell Wilson, a dynamic running back in Marshawn Lynch, and a dominant group of defensive backs known collectively as the Legion of Boom. Within a few months, I had embraced the Seahawks. The Bears were dead to me.

Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Sports Fandom Lessons from My Mother

Football season is now here, and you know what that means: It’s time for those of us in real civilization to unleash our inner beasts! We’ll get drunk at the oddest hours of the day, get in drunken fights for no reason, and refer to specific teams in the first person as if we have anything to do with their success on the gridiron. At least it certainly seems that way. The truth is, there are good and bad ways to be a decent fan, and the people who get highlighted in news reports just happen to be on the animalistic side of things.

Football was one of those personal hand-me-downs from my mother to me. She was the true football fan in the family, and the one who taught me how to be a good fan. Here are some of the things I learned about being a good sports fan that came from her.

1 – Your love for a team should spring from a love for the sport itself. Sports are ultimately entertainment, so your civic pride doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re forcing yourself through a sport you think is a screaming bore.

2 – Yes, it’s perfectly okay to be loyal to more than one team. In fact, it’s the far more sane option if one of your teams is going through a rough patch. It doesn’t matter which team it is, either; mom was loyal to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets for her whole life, as a Long Island native who settled in Buffalo. Just make sure you abide by that key word: Loyalty. No stopping your fandom for one just because they’re bad, and no adding the team of the moment just because they’re good.

3 – It’s okay to skip a game if you don’t think it’s going to be much of a contest. In fact, this is another great way to keep ahold of your head during a rough patch. At the very least, you can find another game to watch which will hopefully be better.

4 – Along those same lines, it’s okay to flip off your own team’s game and do something else altogether if the contest gets out of control. If the game is boring, or over after ten minutes, or both, what’s the point in trying to sweat it out and endure? My mother admitted to having a soft spot for the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago because, “They’re the one team I’ve never seen give up in a game.”

5 – Even if you hate a team with every fiber of your being, if they’re truly good, show them a little respect. This goes back to the previous rule about loving the sport more than the team. Really, it’s what fans will sometimes say about hating players, but loving them if they’re on their team.

6 – Watch the game with a sense of objectivity. Really, there’s little in sports fandom than having the mindset that the league is against your team. A lot of blown calls by the “refs against your team” are in reality the result of your team blowing a play. Much we all hate to admit it, football fans all know The Forward Lateral was simply a lateral and that it was the result of piss-poor kickoff coverage. I’m MUCH harder on the No Goal fiasco of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, but even I’ll admit that Brett Hull makes a few points in its defense.

7 – Tempting as it may sometimes be, don’t hold grudges for bad things other teams did to yours ten years ago. That’s just immature. (Mom never quite got over the Wide Right game, but she never held it against the Giants, either.)

8 – Perplexing as it may be, other people might not necessarily be fans of the same team that you are. Although I myself am of the idea that opposing fans should not be allowed to get too settled in at your team’s stadium, that doesn’t mean they should ever be personally assaulted. As a corollary, they should be treated like guests again once the game is over.