Mid-Aughts Meltdown #2 – Fuzion Frenzy

Hello and welcome to the second entry in Lily “Lovely Bones” Ryan’s series on video game history. This week we’ll be exploring the ongoing struggle for anybody to compete in the party game genre against the terrifying colossus that is Mario Party, through the particular prism of two Microsoft-published titles for the Original Xbox: November 2001 launch title Fuzion Frenzy, and 2002’s Whacked! Are Catholic doctrine and a Running Man esque dystopia good venues for multiplayer children’s games? Let’s find out!

Information on these bizarre discoveries is not easy to find. This article would not be possible without sources including the official websites of Blitz Games Studios and Presto Studios, and Jeff Gerstmann’s GameSpot Whacked! review. This series cites all sources for quotes and imagery used for factual, demonstrative, and transformative purposes, and these sources will be linked throughout. This article comes with a warning for an extended discussion of very emotional and personal things that might also be pretty pretentious.

Please consider supporting MobyGames, as their staff tirelessly catalogs key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium. Credit to Singing Brakeman on that statement, and credit for the header image goes to recently defunct(?) game news site RealGameMedia and Microsoft as the owner of this concept art.

Look at Blinx there, just lurking in the corner, haunting me forever. Credit: Myself


I’ve regaled some other readers with a variation on this tale before, but it bears repeating, especially to a wider audience: Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Party 4 were my definitive introductions to the Nintendo universe, and functionally exclusive ones for many years, barring the relatively brief presence of SSB Brawl and Mario Party 8 later on in my youth. My family got a Gamecube in the summer of 2004 for my eighth birthday, seven or eight months after getting the original Xbox for Christmas the year before. My family had and largely continued to have fairly strict rules on how much money could be spent on video games, but the Gamecube was an acceptable investment given how much cheaper it had already gotten two and a half years into its lifespan, and as the Xbox was still primarily my brother’s console.1 Melee and Mario Party 4 were the first two games we had for the Gamecube, perfect for me to play with my neighbor friends for hours at a time, and my goodness did we.

The cover of 1998/1999’s Mario Party for the N64. Let it be known that searching for this confused me for some time because I thought the dice block’s 3 was meant to indicate this was Mario Party 3. Credit: Super Mario Wiki

I remember one morning in the mid-2000s, I was still in elementary school, and I woke up early one Saturday morning, brimming with excitement. I immediately went out to our upstairs living room and sat down to play Melee against the AIs on my Gamecube. I don’t remember who I typically played as in Melee,2 but I think it might have been Donkey Kong. I had a particular fondness for him back then, and as such he was my ‘main’ in Mario Party at least, if not Smash Bros. Eventually my mom came up to tell me that it was actually Wednesday and I needed to get ready for school. My capacity for abruptly forgetting which day of the week it was aside, I truly loved these two games and played them consistently for years whenever the opportunity arose, even as they somehow did not inspire me to try checking out the various other major Nintendo games I could have played with a Gamecube and later a Wii, such as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker or Twilight Princess, or Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy.

Sonic and a party game?! Surprisingly enough, I never actually played this. Credit: MobyGames

Mario spinoffs like the Mario Party series and various Mario Sports entries are rather infamous for their sudden dovetails into charmingly bizarre and narratively ambitious territory, and no, I don’t mean how the early sports games had a sort of sports anime underdog hero story arc going on. Consider such examples as Mario Power Tennis for the Gamecube, in which Bowser forces Wario and Waluigi into torture devices straight out of Saw III in order to make them better at sport, or the N64’s Mario Party 2 (AKA the one whose cover features Mario in a cowboy hat) which opens on the line “One day, Mario and friends created a new world.” The cast proceeds to compete over who is the most important, who is the big enough Super Star, to be deemed worthy of this new world being named after them. The game continues as per usual and the notion of the spontaneous creation of new worlds is overlooked with no further details. These kinds of bizarrely abrupt developments carried their own sort of appeal in how they took what’s became known as standard spinoff-fare and found avenues for expressing creativity anyway despite said expression ultimately existing for ‘justifying’ their existence and continued perpetuation.

One of the games that (eventually) started it all for my love affair with Nintendo and Mario. Credit: Mario Party Wiki

You might notice how at the top of the menu screen for Mario Party 4, there are five distinct renditions of common entities within the Mario universe: a Goomba, a Shy Guy, a Boo, a Koopa, and a Toad. In the opening sequence for this game, these five appear out of nowhere on a massive, mysterious flying cube (the one that they’re standing on) and invite the standard Mario Party cast as established by the third entry to join them for their wonderful, magical games. Within gameplay, each hosts and provides the theme for one of the five playable boards: a fairly basic midway/carnival from Toad, a casino with a massive central roulette table from Goomba, a haunted manor from Boo, a trap-ridden Indiana Jones jungle adventure from Shy Guy, and a coastal resort with real-estate management (???) from Koopa. The boards as properly experienced with such unique and less generic themes and with each player exploring different corners of said board is such a beloved part of this series for its fans that it successfully willed itself back into existence for last year’s Super Mario Party after multiple games’ worth of the much-derided ‘car mechanic’ and level theming more on the lines of a New Super Mario Bros. game.

Consider this as a first specific impression of the Mario universe, given the fairly basic state of the Mario stages in Melee and the disorienting variety surrounding them. I thought of these five major recurring species within this universe not as such, but as distinguished characters with personality quirks and gameplay defined by said personalities. Given the presentation in the opening, perhaps they were even entirely new to the series and might see even more expansion going forward from those halcyon early 2000s days.3 It creates expectations that one might not find satisfied or reflected in a lot of the major Mario games, and perhaps primed me more for a Mario RPG than most of the platformers, even as a I held and hold great affection for that genre, as discussed previously.

As we continue to establish the bizarre and conflicting framework Mario and Nintendo more generally were held in for me as a child in relation to the overall strange place and influence that games had on my youth, I reach the point at which I realize that I’m as much trying to express that in all its complexity as I am communicating something much simpler. Party games held, in some ways and for whatever reason, as much of a formative role in my gaming experiences and tastes as platformers. Because we’re dealing with a pair of games that are even more insubstantial and more of a blip on the radar of media history than Blinx, the true subject of this article is that relationship, and the goal is to answer the why of party games, of all game genres, having such a role in my life. Whacked! and Fuzion Frenzy are merely a framework for something that’s far stranger and more personal, so be prepared for that, but to explore that connection, we must first know the backgrounds from which these games were produced.

Presto Studios’ Logo. Credit: GiantBomb profile page

The History

Twin brothers Andrew Nicholas Oliver and Philip Edward Oliver began independently coding and developing games while they were still in primary education in the early 1980s. They took hold of a major role for game development within the UK, leading to a publishing deal with Codemasters and the creation of the Dizzy puzzle-platform series. Their time as developers in the 1980s have given them the world record, as awarded by Guinness World Records in September 2018,  for most prolific individual 8-bit developer with somewhere between 26 and 49 commercially released games. In 1990, at the age of 22, they started a staffed development studio known as Interactive Studios, which later rebranded into Blitz Game Studios and divided into several teams, each devoted to a specific field such as family entertainment, mature titles such as the 2006 Reservoir Dogs game and Dead to Rights: Retribution, and educational games including medical training programs. The most prominent and prolific of these was the family game sector Blitz Games, for which the company was ultimately renamed, and it would be under that Blitz Games banner that Fuzion Frenzy was developed and released in November 2001 as an Xbox launch title, alongside Halo, Cel Damage, Dead or Alive 3, the legendarily panned Kabuki Warriors, and a variety of sports and racing games, with ports of Silent Hill 2 and The Sims following in December. 

October 1999 Shoot Magazine Advertisement, featuring Glover. Credit: MobyGames

Those of you reading this that might best be described as 90s kids might recognize the name of Interactive Studios, who developed platformers such as the Nintendo 64’s Glover and Zapper: One Wicked Cricket. They would go on to primarily make numerous licensed titles under the Blitz moniker throughout the 2000s, including Taz: Wanted, which will be featured later in this series, the infamous Burger King Trilogy, and Epic Mickey 2, until they became defunct in 2013 due to running out of money to support any more projects. The Oliver Twins almost immediately founded a new developer, Radiant Worlds, recruiting dozens of former staff from the previous studio, and were contracted by South Korean publisher Smilegate, creator of the online shooter CrossFire, to develop a free-to-play MMORPG entitled SkySaga: Infinite Isles. Smilegate canceled SkySaga in 2017, leaving the Olivers and their employees once again in severe financial straits, until they were bought out by and merged with another British company, Rebellion Developments, creator of the Sniper Elite series.

Myst: Masterpiece Edition Save File Screen. Credit: MobyGames

Presto Studios was a computer game developer founded in 1991 by Michel Kripliani and a tight group of associates in California, which quickly became a cult favorite for their award-winning adventure game series The Journeyman Project, which in turn led to being briefly hired to work on the Myst series, about which you can learn more at that Franchise Festival entry! Presto started with 2000’s Masterpiece Edition of the first game, and continued with Myst III: Exile, whose overall disappointing performance led to Ubisoft severing their relationship with Presto and developing the next series entry internally. This had a severe impact on the studio, who delayed the fourth main entry in the Journeyman Project series to focus on Myst III, and were then forced to cancel the former game entirely. Upon the completion of their first and last project for console release, the aforementioned Xbox title Whacked!, Presto’s Greg Uhler announced in August 2002, two months before that game’s release, that they were discontinuing software development and closing the company entirely.4

The Presto Studios Archives and the Journeyman Project site were updated5 and developed in the years after this closure and have been maintained ever since by fans and some former Presto employees, providing extensive but effusively phrased coverage of both their company’s history and games and their efforts to port entries in the Journeyman series to modern computing hardware and modern outlets like GOG and Steam. I highly recommend reading the historical pages on the former website for yourself as their own words will provide clearer insight than I ever could into this tight-knit group of programmers who stepped out of the limelight early. Both these individuals and the Oliver brothers are admirable as homegrown, independent developers while also seeming to have more troublesome qualities, being insular, self-aggrandizing, and irresponsible towards those they work with. In general, they all fit certain profiles of who was making games in the West in the early years of video games, the kind of people6 that benefited from where game development was starting and equally hit the same wall as many others did before independent development could flourish again in the fractured 2010s. Let’s consider their works for all they are worth.

The Game

What these two games have in common is their central gameplay genre, their four-player multiplayer, the possession of distinctive visual/tonal styles, and not much else. Because I have far greater first-hand experience with Fuzion Frenzy, there’s simply more to say about it, so we’ll be discussing Whacked! first. This game centers on a “Game show gone wrong!” featuring a cast of cartoon characters even less likable, and a sense of humor more edgy and juvenile, than those of Cel Damage, a different childhood obsession that I still play to this day. We’ll probably be discussing that one some day soon.

Anyway, Whacked!‘s cast features: a viciously greedy young girl with the ironic name of Charity and a manic grin that’ll haunt your nightmares; an oil-eating orange science experiment of a monster named Toof; a furious red rabbit called Lucky who wants all his feet back from those that cut them off; a green penguin(?) named Eugene who envies birds that can fly and happy people in general; Lucy, who alternates between a flimsy plastic dress and a heavily promoted, rather infamous set of censor bars over her naked body; (sigh)7 the strange, pale being known as Otto, who constantly sleeps and suppresses the living chair he sits in, the chair being madly in love with Lucy (and vice versa); and the massively vain purple lion Lance. These seven characters are designed to exemplify the cardinal or seven deadly sins, and the game show they compete in is ultimately revealed to be a torture room in Hell controlled by Satan in disguise as their Elvis-esque host Van Tastic. In the brief single-player campaign, he must be defeated in order for the player character to truly receive their heart’s desire.

The Fullmetal Homunculi of gaming, if you will. I’ll take them over the cast of EA’s Dante’s Inferno, at least.            Credit: Whacked Wiki

The basic gameplay model of Whacked! entails four of the cast being placed in one of several cramped environments and wielding a large variety of weapons and power-ups both typical and cartoony8 in order to eliminate all of your competition for a handful of motivations or game modes, which are usually set against a timer, are distinct from each other but very familiar, and include King of the Hill, basic deathmatch/killcount, and collecting a certain amount of stars before anyone else. None of the characters play differently from each other. They have jump, base attack, and ground-pound buttons, and they aren’t affected differently by any of the weapons or power-ups. It’s a deeply shallow and repetitive gameplay model that might be exciting when you’re at the right age and only have access to a brief taste of it, like myself circa 2004, but doesn’t really warrant extensive coverage in the same way as the depths of frustration I experienced with our last game, or the effort of purchasing and playing through it like some of our next subjects.

This game began life as a tech demo for Presto’s first real-time game engine, compatible with Xbox hardware due to its overlap with Windows, which the developers chose to expand into a full game on a whim. Microsoft was attracted to the project and contracted publishing rights on the basis that it would be beneficial to the beta testing and launch of their Xbox Live online service, which occurred in November 2002, a whole month after the game’s release. They ensured that the demo for this game, the only form of it that I’ve experienced first-hand, was online multiplayer enabled so as to advertise the primary hook of the game as widely as possible. Demos as promotion, often featured on mainline game discs themselves, were a big part of the 2000s games market, and Microsoft leaned especially heavily on this in their early early days, most notably with the Xbox Exhibition series that ran from late 2002 to late 2004 with seven entries, each featuring between 7 and 9 game demos. My family owned two or three of these and I treasured them heavily as a way to access a large variety of games and genres without any need to purchase any of them, a definite backfire of the overall purpose of the series, which was retired in anticipation of the Xbox 360’s release the next year due to its Xbox Live Marketplace being able to distribute demos far more easily.

Host Van Tastic in his human disguise, as shown off at E3 2002. Credit: MobyGames

Whacked! failed to perform critically or commercially and its promise of online multiplayer was easily overshadowed by both more technically impressive online games releasing shortly afterward, and anticipation for the Halo series’ introduction of it as created by Halo 2‘s first trailer, released one month before Whacked!. Despite the aforementioned claims of other motivations, Presto’s pre-emptive closure was most likely for the best given the streak they were on at this time, much like where Blitz would be later in the 21st century, simply reaching a point where nobody would be willing to hire them anymore. This game was much like Blinx for me as an unattained childhood dream, but was more smoothly grown out of and left behind without the disappointment of spending more money and time on it. That leaves us with little left to say about Whacked!, other than acknowledging the rare moment where the humor can still land in retrospect, namely the ending of Lucy’s story mode, where her reward is that she can sit on the living chair that she loves. …Yeah. It’s time to move over to the diverse sci fi hip hopera that is Fuzion Frenzy.

The entirety of the exposition featured. The game really never matches the tone of this opening text ever again, to the extent that there is a tone. Credit: MobyGames

Fuzion Frenzy is a multiplayer minigame centered party game in the same vein as Mario Party and Whacked!, but it trades the Mario universe or an edgy game show in for a sort of cyberpunk dystopian future that likely takes heavy influence from The Matrix and features a genuinely bopping, albeit very repetitive9, hip hop and funk adjacent soundtrack as filtered through being commissioned by white British people. The details of this game’s world are kept extremely vague, only being actively discussed in the intro screen’s expository text, as pictured above, and otherwise gleaned entirely by the player by observing the environments portrayed and explicating from there.10 One gets the impression that the developers want to broadly evoke 80s and 90s sci fi action movies like Robocop, Demolition Man, and the aforementioned Running Man and Matrix, without forcing the players to actively consider the darker implications and dangers typical of those settings and stories, lest they be distracted from viciously competing with their friends in silly and repetitive minigames.

The only other place besides that opening text where one sees the possibility that this is a truly dark and dangerous world is in the endgame sequence, wherein each of the four players is placed on ranked industrial pedestals between first and last place, based their on overall performance. There is a lot of overt melodrama in the animation for this scene, as all of the losers express varying degrees of notable upset, my favorite being that Samson falls to his knees, non-audibly screams and smashes his fists on the platform that he’s standing on. If this truly is just a friendly competition, that seems like quite the overreaction, especially considering that he was in second place!11 This is the closest the game will ever take us to the suggestion that the stakes are much higher and perhaps even survival is on the line, something warranting such extreme responses from the characters.

This is…severely hazardous, is it not? Credit: MobyGames

In the context of a simplistic party game, that approach of incorporating a genre aesthetic while avoiding the implications that come with said genre works well enough in a brief enough playthrough, and it benefits particularly from certain aesthetic choices. Luckily for both us and kids of the era, the attempt to ape those sci fi films does not prevent this game from featuring a genuinely, if intermittently, varied and colorful visual palette. It doesn’t exclusively fall victim to the infamous 2000s “real is brown” aesthetic that dominated Xbox in particular for some time, but rather invokes the same kind of 90s fluorescent vibe as Splatoon. There are positives that come from design choices in the characters as well, even as I certainly understand why they would be rather ugly to someone overall. I mean, look at that header art. Much like with Whacked!, an ensemble of original characters are available to choose and play as, in this case there being six in total: Jet, Geena, Dub, Naomi, Samson, and Zak, as pictured in said header image from left to right.

This group represents a spiritual choice reflective of a broader vision for setting Microsoft, their new console, and this game apart from their Nintendo competition. This game chooses to not only derive from a particular cinematic genre in place of pre-established gaming franchises and mascots, and as such feature realistically proportioned human characters rather than the cartoon characters of Sega and Nintendo and by extension party games up to this point, but in the process also provide a racially inclusive and representative vision of the future. With the majority of the playable cast visibly being people of color as black and brown (and possibly East Asian)12 this choice is easy to appreciate in hindsight from a time where culture wars dominate all media fronts and facets of life. Even as one could easily and cynically ascribe mercenarily commercial motivations for this choice, in light of the 90s trend-chasing surroundings in the game and Microsoft’s early catalogue more broadly, it is still a choice that creates the ultimate positive impact of children of color being able to see and play as themselves, a choice that a massive number of games in this industry still find themselves apparently unable to make.

But what else puts this game apart from its competition in this genre? Aesthetic and character are always meaningful and worthy of discussion, but gameplay is still part of the question as well. The developers at Blitz at least made somewhat of an effort to provide a distinction in gameplay that is noticeable from the upfront. There is no navigable over-world bridging each of the minigames, nothing akin to the so-beloved board game worlds featured in Mario Party. This absence is considered to be in response to contemporary criticisms of these over-worlds, such as hampering the pacing or bringing too much unpredictability and luck factor into the proceedings.  Of course, that fails to take into account a number of factors, most notably that unpredictability and what is described as luck by detractors and strategy by proponents are major appeals for this genre’s fans. In addition: this game incorporates those elements anyway as will be seen in the gameplay section; the pacing is still hampered by over-long timers and intro cutscenes for minigames; and a continuous world being moved around in rather than a disconnected series of small environments can be more visually stimulating depending on one’s tastes.

The caption at this image’s source even refers to Tron and its lightbikes. So hey, at least they were mixing up the sci fi influences a little more. Credit: MobyGames

There are only two main modes, Tournament and Minigame Frenzy, the latter of which generously provides the abilities to select which minigames are played and not adhere to the demands of the Tournament mode’s three different presets and the amount of games required by each. There’s a basic minigame that serves as the climax to each three-round stage of Tournament mode and the skeleton for many of the other minigames, aptly named Fuzion Frenzy. It’s a standard battle/collection game13 not too dissimilar from Whacked!‘s basic gameplay model, only without the various weapons provided by Whacked!. Fuzion Frenzy occurs on one of six different stages, each corresponding to one of the six Zone maps that make up the game’s setting, and it plays roughly the same on every stage, barring the occasional environmental hazard unique to that Zone, such as a torrent of rising water that repeatedly, temporarily prevents access to parts of the stage.

The game features 45 minigames across these six Zones (excluding the 6 iterations of Fuzion Frenzy), meaning there are nine minigames per Zone. This tracks to the Cube animation displayed for the minigame being randomly selected in Tournament mode. The main respective themes of each Zone’s minigames are described as follows from Fuzion Frenzy Wiki, or the entertainingly titled CanYouWinAgain Wiki.

  • Colosseum – Rolling Ball and Ice Car mini-games.
  • Downtown – Fireworks and Music mini-games.
  • Outlands – Demolition and Tail-bone mini-games.
  • Military Base – Pod and Tank mini-games.
  • Power Station – Hopper and Splat mini-games.
  • Waterfront – Jetboat and Orb mini-games.
15 years later, possibly  still my favorite minigame of the bunch. Credit: MobyGames

Of the few dozen games available, some are outright unplayable (there’s a waterboat racing one in particular that handles abysmally), and most are satisfying enough in short bursts, but again, simplistic and repetitive. Typically, ones that stood out to me in youth are still reasonably enjoyable, such as a few variations of Hot Potato, one that is very reminiscent of the lightbike sequences from Tron, some obstacle dodging, and Sumo, which the developers believed strongly enough in to put on the cover of the game, coming probably the closest this series will ever get to iconography. All of the players are in massive, grated steel balls, moving around a platform hanging over water, trying to survive and push each other off while the platform gradually shrinks by dropping the outermost layer into the water. It’s great, highly competitive fun,14 but even it derives from games that could be seen in Mario Party first, and would persist in that series after this one’s demise. After all, who can forget:

Footage from Mario Party 2, the originator of Luigi Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing. Credit: Gfycat

That’s the ultimate limitation of this game, much like Whacked! and checks notes Shrek Super Party after it, it still derives too much from the paragon it is challenging while also being unable to recreate its sheer variety of game and world design that makes continued replays palatable. Like naked Celtics bouncing off some mighty city’s walls, all challengers to the throne held by Nintendo’s second best performing Mario spin-off series have eventually fallen. Fuzion Frenzy 2 would go on to release on Xbox 360 probably far too late after the original game, with a shiny new chrome aesthetic to go with a shiny and white new console, and its predecessor’s audience comfortably left this new, unfamiliar entry behind in the dust, rendering the series neglected and forgotten much like fellow Microsoft property Blinx.15 And now that I have finally run out of things to say about the direct content of these very shallow 16-18 year old games, I return to the question that opened this piece: What did these sorts of crazed multiplayer games mean to me as a child that I still think of the genre in vague fondness?

Look upon the face of evil, and tremble. Credit: Lukiegames

The Life

As much as I like to make a big deal about the role of narrative in my relationship to gaming, I doubt it was these two games’ vague gestures towards the concept of it that have made them meaningful to me. I wasn’t invested in them enough even at the time to interrogate the basic questions of Fuzion Frenzy‘s world as I do now, or to have learned about the Hell plot twist in Whacked! at any time prior to the start of my research for this article. These deeply silly games are emblematic not only of a somewhat foreign and long-ago time in my life in general, but a very specific piece of it, namely the young male social life that casts a long, complicated shadow on my life leading up to my transition. The experience of playing Fuzion Frenzy, along with many other social experience of these times like other multiplayer games (Halo, Gears of War, etc.), my several years’ worth of attending regular martial arts sessions, is inextricably tied up in those I played it with and the memories of them, the young neighbor boys and various other young men of childhood, not all of whom were utterly bad people or at least constantly bad, but all of whom nonetheless did contribute to an overall atmosphere and internal sensation of hostility and discomfort for me that would take me many years to fully grasp.

My time in karate probably still defines the overall troubles I faced in Texas more so than any one video game I played with the neighbor boys, but this game is representative of a broader experience that is a major nexus of my troubled relationship with men and masculinity, my struggles with a world that socialized me as both male and female all at once and rejected me for not fitting their narrow confines of either. As I’ve said, not every young man I dealt with before college was a social climber who would comfortably drop their isolated friend at the drop of a hat, a violent homophobe who only liked me when I wasn’t honest about who I am and I was only able to get to leave me alone by knocking his tooth clean out, or one of the many randos who harassed me for various interlocking reasons including being a “traitor to men”.

Clearly I’ve had an entire pile of overtly bad experiences, but in spite of that I’ve developed positive relationships with men in my life, even a small number of whom I met back in those days. There are some I look back on fondly and figure I might still get along with them if I ever met them again,16 and some who are dearly important to me today, not least of whom is my elder brother.

The thing about these various young male social groups that was so difficult even on the best of days and with the best of people was the aggressive competition of it all. I had to prove myself and keep up in numerous ways all the time, instilling a lot of frustration, a lot of dissonant sensations of changing who I was and how I acted to just endure, let alone fit in, and in particular a whole hell of a lot of continuous anger which I had to teach myself to control over time and still struggle with now. When I replayed Fuzion Frenzy, something came flooding back regarding what should be an utterly stupid, overly familiar and minor part of a gaming experience. Every character has a tiny handful of endlessly repeating, obnoxious, and bravado-ridden victory taunts, but the character by the name of Zak’s are by far the most dreadful. Zak is by far the most childish looking of the characters, a white boy with blue hair and a screeching voice. I did not identify with Zak, but I aligned myself with him as part of adapting to my social surroundings, proudly and utterly without self-awareness spouting his taunts to assert that I, too, could be strong and victorious. That’s not the soft and open-hearted person I aspired to be as a child and have done so again in recent years. This one dimensional party game teen character is bizarrely at the heart of my relationship with my identity.

The changes I went through trying to survive in Texas by and large did not make me a better person. I was eventually confronted by that repeatedly in high school and that was when I first began to really work on developing better self-awareness and changing for the better, in some severe fits and starts. Knowing that I was hurting people and that I wanted to stop hurting people was needed to start a gradual transformation, but fully grasping who I was and wanted to be beyond “better” was needed to truly energize that transformation. I would not come out as trans to myself or anyone else until roughly the middle of my time at college, years after that process first started, my experience with being conscious of being a bad person and being pursuant of being a better person is nonetheless inextricable to my transition, to my gradual understanding of my deeply fluid, nonbinary, trans, and womanly identity. Not strictly in any way because thinking I was a man made me be or act or think I was worse.

It’s all obviously a whole lot messier than that, and as I’ve said, I had role models in my life to demonstrate that “Men are still good” long before that was proclaimed by an actor with a history of sexual harassment in a deeply shitty and morally ugly movie that’s now almost three years old. How time flies. My point is that knowing who I am helped me to finally and fully access what will make me happy, what I want for myself and how I want to accomplish it, rather than continue to be ruled by what I think others think I am or want from me, endlessly comparing myself to impossible standards set by myself and my inaccurate perceptions of those around me as much as all the toxic external cultural bullshit that informs those perceptions and standards.

So what party games mean to this girl, in some outsized and melodramatic way, is that they represent not only a part of who I am, but the why of who I am, how I became who I am today, and how I still strive to continue that path of transformation every day. I still have arrogant, competitive, and even cruel instincts, and a consistent internal well of anger, all of which I have to put a lot of energy into reining in on the regular. But every day, it gets a little easier, and it can for you too.

The Wrap-Up

Revisiting these games dredged up a lot of memories that made this writing far more challenging than I expected, in whole new ways from simply best expressing all the exact details of just how badly designed a game starring a time traveling cat can be, and all I could really do was attempt to communicate that in-real-time experience as best I can to all of you lovely folk. I don’t expect to return to these games again, even as Fuzion Frenzy as a game is far from the heights of unpleasant experiences that I’ve already faced and will continue to face for this series. Life finds a way to make even the simplest and stupidest of games a puzzle piece in a grander, messy narrative that I will continue to attempt to unfold when confronted by it.


A whole lot of time and the occasional small financial expense goes into making this series possible. Please show your support however you can to help keep this going, whether that means sharing these articles wherever and to whomever there might be interest, or for those able to, donating to my Patreon dedicated specifically to these writings, which is linked here: https://www.patreon.com/lilytina

Thank you to Dramus18, Singing Brakeman, DW, and Prestidigitis for your financial support of this project. Thank you everyone for your reading, your encouragement, your time, and for putting up with both my delays and my navel-gazing.


Our next articles will be kickstarting a sister series entitled Legacy of Adventure, focused on my journey through major entries in Nintendo’s catalogue, to continue exploring adventure and platformer games, their history, and their design. The first article will explore my long-term relationship with the original Pikmin as the bridge to future Nintendo games, while the second will focus on Super Mario Galaxy. Then we’ll be returning to Mid-Aughts Meltdown with a deep dive into a 3D platformer so bad that it helped kill a major gaming publisher!