Experiments in Anachronic Storytelling

We got that anachronic, son.

A big clock. To symbolize time. (Like all British people, I know Big Ben personally.)

By which I mean, we have a number of games these days that, joining various other examples from other mediums, are testing the limits of anachronic storytelling devices. Anachronic, from what I've been able to ascertain from online dictionaries while checking to see if "achronological" is a word, is when a story is told out of chronological order. There's numerous reasons why an author might want to go this route: maybe they want to build around a twist that happens fairly early in the tale, and reshuffling the events of the story allows them to put that twist closer towards the end where it'll have the most punch; you want to start on an exciting "heroes in peril" hook, in media res, before rewinding the clock to see how our heroes got into this fine mess to begin with; or it's just a cool and/or memorable way to mess with the viewers, stealthily prodding them to be more focused in the story you're telling in order to suss out the puzzle behind the atypical narrative.

In video games, though, there are some unique opportunities for this format that wouldn't be applicable to any other storytelling medium, largely because the player would be dictating the order of the events they wish to see to some extent. Or, as we'll see, this order isn't so much defined by their conscious choices as determined by external factors that nonetheless allow the player to feel like they're in control. It's a powerful illusion, to hand off one's narrative flow to the player while maintaining just enough editorial control to guide it in the desired fashion. In these cases, you can't stop the player from discovering the big twists early, but you can convince them to keep digging in order to give those twists a lot of necessary context.

I'm going to explore how three games in particular play around with anachronic storytelling, including the recently released Her Story. I'll throw in a few broader/borderline examples of video gaming's penchant for anachronic storytelling as well, if only to demonstrate how prevalent this format can be and how much further down the rabbit hole it is possible to go with the three headline games.


Anachronic storytelling is actually a more widespread facet of video game narratives than you might expect, and the following bulletpoint list is a testament to that. These are all common enough cases of anachronic storytelling, so common in fact that I'm going to briefly go through them all and move onto the three more distinctive takes on the idea.

  • In Media Res: A Latin phrase that means "in the middle of things", referring to how stories begin halfway through the story and backtrack a little. So common a storytelling device that it's scarcely worth the bother describing it in more detail, or digging up the hundreds of video games that employ it (my personal favorite is Final Fantasy Tactics, because of that "abilitease" opening fight). It is, however, the most frequent case of a story using an anachronic narrative.
  • Anachronic Series: Just any video game series that goes backwards and forwards in time a lot with its sequels (or prequels, as the case may be). Metal Gear Solid in particular has a lot of fun with this idea, dropping back to the 20th century every so often to see how Pops is getting on before jumping back to the near-present to join his identical clone son mid-box concealment. Kojima likes to believe that going back to the era of Big Boss is necessary to understand the circumstances of what's happening in the modern day, such as why everyone's alway trying to create "Outer Heaven", but I suspect it's because he thinks its cool. Dunno why I'd have that impression of the guy... (Mento Gear Solid 4: Puns of the Patriots, coming soon!) The Metroid and Tomb Raider franchises are two other examples, going back to fill in the backstories of their respective heroines (maladroitly in the case of Metroid).
  • Legend of Zelda: Similar to the above, but only in you believe in that specific interpretation of the Legend of Zelda as a series of identical heroes called Link and identical princesses called Zelda being reborn every so many generations, and that the series drops into random points in Hyrule's history where another Link is fighting Ganon. Myself, I prefer to think of it as separate retellings of the same legend from different narrators, each adding their own elements and ideas of what Hyrule might've looked like. They'd all have to be "told" several hundred years after the games' events originally occurred to account for the huge discrepencies between each version, and of course you'd have to except direct sequels like The Phantom Hourglass or The Adventure of Link. It's a working theory for now, but one I prefer to trying to explain why Kakariko Village jumped halfway across Hyrule between Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time to be closer to the mountains instead of the forest.
  • Dead or Alive 5: I'm only mentioning this because while I'm aware its story mode jumps around in time, I have absolutely no idea how it makes sense to use that format or if it's even supposed to make sense. I haven't played the game or any of its enhanced rereleases myself (I've lived vicariously through Jeff's retelling of the saga of Fame Douglas and his fighting tournament enough times, though), so I wouldn't be equipped to deconstruct it regardless.

Her Story

(Though I've avoided explicit spoilers for the most part, you may wish to skip this one until you've had a chance to play the game. It's one of those cases where consuming any information, no matter how carefully it avoids specific events in the game, might end up detracting from the overall experience. Also, shout outs to @omghisam for gifting me this one. Duder's got mad deep pockets, I'm guessing.)

Yesterday, I blitzed through the recent FMV-focused, Sam Barlow-penned Her Story in a few hours not only because I tend to approach every game this way but because I wanted all the various video snippets, their facts, their subtextual clues and their overt confessions to percolate in one big morass of information that my unconscious mind could sort out as I was sleeping. That's a rare and precious thing with video game stories.

The game centers around several hours of old archived footage of a series of police interviews taken over a number of days. The game tells you nothing of who the woman in the video is, why she is being interviewed, what might have happened to get the police involved. You don't even know anyone's names until you come across them. The only means of finding the clips is by using keywords; the data is organized so that each video is linked to every word spoken in that particular clip. The default is "MURDER" which, honestly, might be giving away too much information early on. It's possible to enter in any common word associated with the case - "blood", "death", "police", "house" - and receive enough important proper nouns, like the name of the victim, to move on from there. However, the writer of the game has no way of knowing just where the player might go first: there's no "preferred keywords" that the game proffers, beyond the default "murder", and the player might come across one or more of the truly incriminating video clips almost immediately depending on where their mind is at. The story does have one defense against the player finding the more incriminating clips, which occur in the later interviews: every search term can spit back anywhere between zero and a hundred clips, but you'll only see the first five chronologically. Inputting a common English word like "the" or "and" will result in too many search items. In this sense, you're less likely to find one of the clips from the later interviews unless you're being a little more specific with your search terms. Even so, it's still surprisingly easy to stumble on one or more of Her Story's big twists within a few minutes of playing.

That's where the game's primary storytelling focus comes in useful: context. Even if you're watching some major turning point in the police detective's case unfold, you might need to go back to earlier clips for the necessary context leading up to that moment. Visiting older clips will also allow you to see them in a new light, with the information you've gleaned since then. Skipping right to the denouement, as it were, is small potatoes when it comes to putting together the bigger picture: you need to see a good portion of the overall clips to get a decent idea of what's actually going on, whether it regards the psychology and personality of the woman in the video or the exact events and circumstances leading up to the murder the case is focused upon.

In this regard, Barlow has found a way to tell a story that is not only anachronically delivered to the player by the player - a level of narrative freedom usually only reserved for games where the player determines the story's outcome via a series of choices, rather than stories that have already been written in stone - but has also found a way to mitigate the deleterious affects of skipping ahead to the end and learning too much too quickly. The nature of the clips you're watching, and why you're watching them, become the most important factors in the end.

Forbidden Siren

With the first Forbidden Siren game (known simply as "Siren" in the US and Japan), Silent Hill creator Keiichiro Toyama clearly wanted to get even more obtuse and take even more power away from the player. Continuing to define the tenets of Japanese Survival Horror, long after Resident Evil had evolved into more overtly action fare, the Siren games followed spiritual predecessor Clock Tower in creating scenarios where the villains were invincible, omnipresent and too terrifying to deal with face-to-face.

However, more so than that, it tells a fractured story from many vantage points, and while each individual character in the story is confused and vulnerable, the player can slowly piece together the overall plot from the trajectories for each of the playable characters and what they independently discover. Once again the player is privy to more information than the in-game characters receive, but this in turn does nothing to alleviate the dangers and horrors of playing the game.

Siren begins with the disruption of a sacrificial ritual that drops the entire rural village of Hanuda into a netherworld dimension as a result. This netherworld is completely surrounded by red water, every dead person returns to life as a "Shibito" - a wandering corpse with just enough sentience to give anyone who gets near them the heebie-jeebies - and to the outside world the village appears to vanish under a landslide. Every character who happens to be in Hanuda for one reason or another - and there's an unusual number of outsiders - suddenly finds themselves trapped in a world of nightmares and confusion.

The player, while playing as a number of "key" characters, eventually discovers exactly what happened to Hanuda and why it happened, collecting useful bits of information about the folklore and legends about the village and talking to the characters central to this recurring ritual to appease whatever supernatural being was ultimately responsible. For the vast majority of the "less vital" playable characters, however? They get very few answers. Most are driven insane or are butchered by the Shibito, unable to process the horrors around them without the context the player is receiving elsewhere. It's fascinating to jump around from character to character, forwards and backwards through time, either slowly gathering vital information as one of the major story characters or simply surviving as one of the others who are out of the loop and terrified out of their minds. It's so effective because you aren't just treating secondary characters as monster food or Jason bait; each has their own distinct personalities and reasons for being in Hanuda, and the time they spend in the spotlight is more than enough for players to understand their respective plights and sympathize with them, though most are still highly unlikely to survive the ordeal with their humanity intact. One of the best slow-burn moments is how it slowly dawns on the player that the reason every playable character can "sightjack" the Shibito - to see through their eyes, which informs the player of their patrol routes and thus how best to avoid these invincible muttering zombies - is because they're all in the process of transforming into Shibito themselves and joining some great (and awful) eldritch hivemind.

Even though Siren's disjointed and anachronical narrative can be off-putting to newcomers in its abstruseness and lack of story cohesion, it's essential for setting the atmosphere and revealing the right information to the player at the right time. It uses anachronical storytelling in almost the exact opposite way Her Story does: the game's director is full control of the narrative flow, and going back and forth through time as different characters is necessary for delivering information in an order of the director's choosing. Even so, there are many bonus objectives that open up other parts of the story, and it's down to the player whether they choose to pursue these supplemental chapters or not.

I'd be remiss in not pointing out that Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem does something very similar, moving forwards and backwards through time to depict the adventures of various heroes who have no idea what's going on individually, but allow protagonist Alex Roivas to piece together the full story from their disparate tales. Then you run into anachronistic issues like how characters in the past will acquire spells learned by characters from the future, as well as seeing their statues inside the Tome of Eternal Darkness despite the fact that they won't be born for another few hundred years, but then the game actually has an excuse for it and it's essentially eldritch Elder God magic. Gah, that's how they explain away everything in Lovecraftian fiction: "Cthulhu did it."

Majora's Mask

I've often spoken of the bizarre genius of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and how many of its ideas are wasted on a Zelda game, for as absurd a statement as that might sound. I simply mean that, in terms of player expectations, a new Legend of Zelda always brings with it some very specific assumptions pertaining to how the game will operate and what the player will be required to do. When you toy with those expectations, it leads to a lot of dissatisfaction and blowback, which is partly why the Zelda series has been in a sorry state of stagnation for so long. Every time Nintendo tries something different with Zelda, the resulting feedback is negative; yet every time they produce a cookie-cutter sequel, the reception is never a whole lot better. I can certainly appreciate their frustration.

But with Majora's Mask, there were a number of extenuating circumstances. The tone of the game is considerably darker and stranger, playing against the more optimistic and colorful Ocarina of Time; this is only exacerbated further by the otherwise extremely similar nature of the two games, from the polygonal graphics to the way they controlled. If Majora's Mask was going to borrow a lot of Ocarina of Time's assets, it needed some way to distinguish itself, and it opted to do so with a macabre tale of death and rebirth and some uncommon gimmickry. Majora's Mask is the Bogus Journey to Ocarina's Excellent Adventure, is how I've always put it, and some will always tell you that Bogus Journey/Majora's Mask is an abject failure due to how weird and off-message it is compared to its predecessor. I've always claimed differently, for Bogus Journey and Majora's Mask both.

Because Majora's Mask simply retells the events of a three day period over and over, the player can discover many little sub-plots happening around Termina (the self-contained world of Majora's Mask). Frequently, they'll discover one of these sub-plots midway through its telling or as it's about to conclude unhappily, due to coming across it late in the game's three day cycle. By paying attention to the conclusion of one of these side-quests, the player can go back in time and find out how it begins, and in the process figure out just how and when to turn the story around and let it end happily, or as happily as the imminent end of the world via scary moon can allow. Like in the final act of the movie Groundhog Day, a particularly benevolent player can spend some time popping around the world to fix everyone's problems before resolving the circumstances causing the time loop and finally letting the world move on.

It's easy to let one's vitriol of the game's pervasive sense of crushing despair, the tedium of collecting masks and the scheduling micromanagement hell of always being in the right place at the right time get in the way of appreciating just what a distinctive and important game Majora's Mask really is. I'll be the first to admit that it isn't the perfect Zelda experience. However, I am and will always be very thankful that it exists and, just like how every weird experimental art game that didn't quite pan out manages to enrich the world of video games as a whole, Majora's Mask serves to enrich the entire Zelda series with its uniqueness.

Anyway, that's should be enough examples of anachronic storytelling for you all to mull over. Be sure to tell me in the comments of any other prominent examples, or that "anachronic storytelling" isn't actually a real statement, or that my butt is stupid. All (most) feedback is welcome.


ST-urday #002: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Welcome to another ST-urday, everyone. The original intent after last week was to focus on games made specifically for the Atari ST (and its Shelbyville-esque rival the Commodore Amiga, with which it shares about 95% of its library), but I've only just realized the potential for themed episodes to coincide with movie releases and/or some other sequel/reboot of a franchise old enough to have seen an Atari ST adaptation. Another chance to make fun of a terrible licensed game, essentially. I swear I'll get to some better mouse-driven stuff in the weeks to come; after all, I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him. I'm sure that's how that quote goes.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

No, there's no free T-shirt with this LP.

The movie in question is Terminator: Genisys. It's the newest attempt to reboot a sci-fi franchise by undoing most of its chronology, a tactic that mostly worked with the semi-recent Star Trek reboot. I haven't heard great things about this new Terminator flick, honestly, but at the very least it's given people an excuse to go back and watch the first two movies. Whether you're into the cold, brutal murder of Cameron's original, or the family funtimes of pubescent John Connor and "Uncle Bob", those two films stand as some of the greatest action sci-fi movies ever created. With movies so widely acclaimed, there's bound to be a few video game adaptations, right?

"A few" is right. If we're taking just T2 on its own, there's approximately six adaptations that were released shortly after one another. It's such a mess that I've had to carve up and move around a few of the wiki pages (as, of course, all these games share the same name as the movie), and we still don't have it completely right yet. For a quick rundown, we have: the Arcade game, which is an on-rails shooter that saw a lot of home versions; the 8-bit version for NES, Game Gear, Game Boy and Master System; the 16-bit version for Genesis and SNES; a pinball table, which I guess sort of still counts; a chess game, which... who even knows why that exists; and this version for computers, which is either 8-bit or 16-bit depending on whether we're talking about the C64 version or the Atari ST/Amiga version. While the 8-bit, 16-bit and computer versions are all similar - they involve side-scrolling brawling/shooting stages, driving stages, and they closely follow the events of the movie - they're all disparate in exactly how they're built. It's a mystery why LJN and Ocean would do such a thing, but maybe it was a case of wanting to give everyone a distinctive product in lieu of spending all that development time and money to create a single game that was actually half-decent. That falls in line with my other theory: that LJN and Ocean were never operated by humans at any point.

You might recognize this version. Or, more likely, you'll recognize that it's a bad T2 game with driving bits and shooting bits, but not necessarily the bad T2 game with driving bits and shooting bits that you remember.

Two names you can trust. Also, while I dig that we're sticking with this blue/black Terminator color scheme, it's not doing LJN's rainbow any favors.
The intro screen dramatically pans up this model of the T-800 Endoskeleton: one of the most efficient killing machines ever made, sent back in time from a future that is both doomed and inevitable. Truly, a machine built by demons from the very depths of H-
"Hey guyth? Anyone theen my juithbocth? I can't finith this Algebra homework without it."
Welcome to Terminator 2: Judgment Day! If you're wondering, Carolco is the film studio that created the movie, as well as Total Recall and the first three Rambos. They would later be bankrupted by Cutthroat Island. Some bad decisions were made.
Speaking of bad decisions, it's time to start the game. While the game doesn't look half bad, it controls like molasses on a cold day. Fun fact: though made completely of metal, the T-800 Endoskeleton weighs approximately the same as a human due to its futuristic alloys. It's meant to be an infiltration cyborg, after all. There's no reason at all for it to inch across the screen like it weighed three tons.
This fight, if you don't recognize it, takes place in the Galleria where the two robots converge on John Connor at the Arcade. I guess the vending machine is supposed to give that away?
The way this, and each subsequent T-1000 fight, goes is that you have to outdraw the T-1000 and then run in to beat it up once the gun runs out of ammo. The T-1000 gets faster over time, and starts adding morphing abilities to his combos.
Impressively, the game has these little video clips from the movie. They've got Sega CD-level compression, and are only a couple seconds long, but it's definitely something for a game made in 1992.
This would be the bike chase scene that occurs immediately after finding John at the Galleria. You carry your health over after every level, which means that I practically start dead here.
Doesn't help that it's super hard to avoid any of the potholes and obstacles in the road. Figures the game would decide to speed up here. Anyway, I go crunch, and it's back to that initial T-1000 fight. Crunching is bad, is what I'm discovering.
I feel like the "face peels off to reveal skull underneath as a health gauge" is a concept that occurs often enough for a concept page. It was especially common in the early 90s. I remember Catacomb 3D having it.
Oh man, it's that off-model T-800 again. He sort of looks like he's in that The Lonely Island "Jizz In My Pants" video.
I finally figured out how to survive the chase level. It requires a lot of perseverance, memorization, split-second timing and looking up a level-skip cheat on the internet. One of those things more than the others, admittedly.
Next level is, naturally enough, a sliding blocks puzzle game. I know, you were wondering how this game could get worse, right? You just lacked the imagination for terrible ideas that LJN does. Look at them down there, smug in the knowledge that they make calamitous game design decisions as easily as we make breakfast cereal choices.
As timed sliding blocks puzzles go, though, this isn't too bad. You're supposed to match the image on the bottom right, and moving pieces into place just involves dragging them into place, rather than shifting other blocks around to make room. Even better, the pieces will light up once they're in the right position. It's also entirely optional: if you complete the puzzle in time, you get a bunch of points and your health is restored.
Also, as soon as you complete a line, the fingers in the hand start wiggling. It's a little off-putting, but the animation is excellent.
No problemo is right. Could've been a lot worse?
Like having to do this fight again, for instance. It's the asylum where Sarah Connor was committed, but it sure does look the same as the last place.
Remember when I said we should be glad that the previous puzzle wasn't the usual annoying sliding block puzzle? Boom. LJN, you old dog.
Approaching CyberDyne Systems now (we wisely skipped the entirety of Mexico) with the game's sole shooting stage. Despite holding what looks like a grenade launcher, we're simply machine-gunning every police goon that shows up. They collectively represent the health meter on the bottom right. Love how that dude's just resting on the wall, like he's about to philosophize with Charlie Brown about some unfortunate aspect of growing up.
I'm going to guess this is the motorcycle leaping out of the Cyberdyne building to elude the T-1000 in the helicopter. Or it could be one of those slow-motion shots of a bullet going through a can of Coke, or maybe a Rorschach test.
We have to protect Sarah Connor in this chase level, but she's not just a damsel in distress: she's also firing on the helicopter throughout. That's her at the back of the police van.
I'd tell you how many times I shot at the helicopter, but I lost count after the first hundred. Level skip cheat to the rescue!
The game culminates in one last battle with the T-1000 at the steel mill. Arnold starts busted up, as per the movie, so it's a difficult fight regardless of how much health you have left after all those other stages. Which can't be a whole lot, if you've been playing this game properly.
With the final defeat of Gumby, we're home free. Judgment Day has been averted. Well, it's been postponed for a few years so Edward Furlong can grow up to be Nick Stahl. It's a small victory.

I had originally planned on playing the Atari ST adaptation of Predator, but figured the lateral switch to T2 made more sense given the circumstances this week. Either way, it's a predictably shoddy quickie cash-in license game, but it's curious that there's so many different variations of a game based on the same movie from the same developers/publishers. It's not like they built this one to specifically play to the Atari ST's strengths, either: though it's graphically superior to the NES game (and even the eventual SNES/Genesis game, released in 1993), it doesn't the format a whole lot of justice. Maybe we'd have been better off with a port of the Arcade game; at least that could've used the mouse. To leave you off, I'll point you towards Super Best Friends Play, who recently covered the Genesis/SNES game as part of their Terminator Week. Just in case you were mistaken in thinking there was a good T2 game out there.

I'll be back.

(On July 11th, I mean. With something a lot better.)

< Back to ST-urday #001.


The Comic Commish: NiGHTS into Dreams...

It's been a crazy June, between E3 and a week-long Atari ST daily series or two, but I'm ready for a nice relaxed July of digging into some of the games I bought during the Steam Summer Sale, checking out the new additions with the Terraria 1.3v patch, and barely staying conscious in the Summer heat. It's about to hit 80°F where I am in the North of England, which is probably small potatoes to most of you (both the temperature and the geographical location) but for me it's a significant shift from the unusually cold Spring. For some reason the weather in the UK seems to regulate temperatures the same way faulty showers do.

Anyway, we're not here to listen to an old man complain about the weather; we're here to watch him get utterly perplexed by another gag gift courtesy of a magnanimous pal of his. A time-honored tradition, buying gag gifts for your Steam friends during the sales is a way of communicating to them that while they're important to you, it's equally important (and fun) to watch them struggle in bemused discomfort in an effort to make a show of appreciating said gift. Like giving someone a sweater with arm holes that you've surreptitiously sewn closed. Or, I dunno, poison in their coffee. There's a reason I stopped trying to prank people with practical jokes turns out. A court-mandated one, even.

Harvester - Long Live the Queen - Luftrausers - Papers, Please. (I'm going to make it a habit of linking back to previous Commishes. If nothing else, I want to track just how many of these gifts appear to have been given in good faith.) (Let it be said that I still appreciate all and any gifts. In spite of my... well, spite.)

NiGHTS Into Dreams...

NiGHTS Into Dreams showed up on Steam around the same time as the Ultimate Genesis Collection (which was helpfully carved up into smaller bundles to make Sega more money) and the updated Dreamcast Collection which included such bangers as Sonic Adventure and a version of Crazy Taxi without the licensed music. It's the rare circumstance of a Saturn game getting some love, something that rarely occurred even when the system was still active, though one has to wonder if the nostalgia goggles aren't at least a little bit responsible. I hesitate to poke fun because I personally didn't grow up with the Saturn - I bought it long after the fact, like most of my Sega consoles - and I've been known to vouch for some very questionable N64 games in the past, which was the Saturn's contemporary both chronologically and in terms of its critical reception.

NiGHTS boils down to what is essentially a flying Sonic game. (Which is to say a Tails game?) The player, as one of two sleeping children, must team-up with the eponymous heel-turned-face agent of a nightmare-spewing mage in order to stop him from destroying the world of dreams, Nightopia. He's stolen a bunch of "Ideya" orbs, and the children and NiGHTS have to recover them all from their cages by whizzing around landscapes at high speed collecting things and being stylish within a strict time limit. I didn't want to read much more than that going into it: if it's as good as people say, that would mean the controls and goal targets are at least somewhat intuitive and logical, right?

Knowing exactly how certain staff members feel about this game, and how many others have felt differently in the past, I wanted to go into NiGHTS with an open mind. I refuse to sink (or rise (or loop-de-loop)) to Jeff's level with wholesale snark, but I wouldn't expect a particularly glowing report either. Whatever, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Don't mind me, just setting a precedent.
Welcome to NiGHTS into Dreams...! Is this the only game with an ellipsis in the title? Probably not, with games like Steins;Gate around. Screw punctuation marks and their intended purpose!
Here's a dilemma. Do I want to preserve the game as-is by sticking with the original Saturn version, or should I play the enhanced version? I'm not going to be able to recreate the feeling of playing this for the first time in 1996, but the enhanced version might get me a little closer.
Well, Claris? Have the lambs stopped screaming?
I mean, sure. That's a subtitle that makes sense. I'm getting Rez vibes already.
So almost immediately I transform into NiGHTS here. The controls are fairly simple to get the hang of, as the game is sensible enough to stick to a fixed 2D plane. It diverts and twists automatically, like the first Klonoa game, but all the player really has to worry about is the horizontal and vertical axes.
Most of the flying sequences appear to involve flying through hoops. I recall that being a big thing with video game mechanics in the 90s. Da hoop gawd.
Our true goal is to collect a bunch of blue spheres and use them to deactivate these squid-like (they actually remind me of the bosses from the first stage of Sega's Fantasy Zone, which was probably deliberate) cages for the "Ideyas" - orbs that represent positive traits. We need five of them to finish the stage, and start with one automatically (the red "Ideya of Courage", which is innate to the human duo and is why they're able to merge with NiGHTS).
There's also enemies, and the game moves too quick to notice them a lot of the time. The weird Porky Pig thing there is apparently an ally, but I've no idea how I summoned him or what he does. I played enough of this game to figure out most of it, but some elements still perplex (and perturb) me. I'll just assume they boost the score in some way, since it's important.
Occasionally, the action slows down and you have a trailing golden line behind you. At this point you're expected to do tricks - loop de loops mostly - in order to earn a bunch of score boosts. I obviously had no idea what was going on; a state I maintained for much of my early playthrough.
This red thing I could barely see just grabbed my legs and is wasting my precious time (both in-game and out). Most of the enemies seem to either hurt you (which takes seconds off the timer) or will allow you to get a speed burst, depending on how adroitly you handle the encounter.
You're scored after every "mare" or wave, depending on how much time you spent, how many bonus orbs you found after recovering the Ideya and other score items and points made from performing tricks. A C rank is, from what I can tell, the lowest you can get while still qualifying for the final stage. Hooray for just scraping through!
Each zone also ends in a boss fight. In this one I just spin around in a circle contemplating this multicolored Disney monster.
Turns out approaching it anywhere where it has spikes is deleterious. It is, alas, entirely covered head to tail in spikes.
Except for the top of its head, I guess. Maybe those were pointy ears instead of spikes. Every hit makes the wyrm a little shorter, but not to the extent that you'd expect (or hope). Looks like I need to whack it about a dozen times.
Which, yeah, doesn't happen with the amount of time required to figure this boss out. Ah well, at least we'll reload to just before the fight and I can have another spin at it.
Or the game could go all the way back to the start of the level, because we've established by now that this is literally a nightmare world.
Curiously, the human Claris can reach a few of the power-ups just ambling around the landscape on foot. There's no timer for these parts, so theoretically I could get a bunch of free points/orbs that are close enough to the ground. It certainly sounds thrilling, but I think I'll backtrack to where NiGHTS is.
Or I could spare you all (and myself) from repeating the last fifteen minutes and try the other kid for a change. I'm getting the hang of this by now, at least. Still not getting used to these ridiculous intro screens.
If you do loop-de-loops outside of those trick-performing sequences, you'll suck up all the balls (AMA about sucking up balls) in the near vicinity. As half of these marbles are just out of reach due to the game's insistence on fixed 2D planes, it's the only way to actually reach them.
This stage is a lot more interesting than Claris's one. For instance, these water bubbles won't let you move up or down once you've entered one, so you have to pick your trajectory through them carefully.
This part goes all top-down on us, like the mazes in Banjo Kazooie. Unlike those mazes, it's almost impossible to see where you're going because the camera's still zoomed in so close. At least there's more loops down here.
Oddly enough, these underwater sequences control exactly the same as the flying ones do, suggesting that in this dream world the properties of air and water are less rigidly determined than they are in the waking world. So what's with the bubbles?
Here's the boss of this area, a cross between Jynx from Pokemon and Bowser's Clown Copter.
I'll say this much: these bosses have been fairly imaginative. The goal with this one is to push her through various destructible barriers to the end of the stage. You can charge at her from a distance, or get in close for this grab attack that lets you pick which direction you want to fire her in. Also maybe I should've stated "NSFW" somewhere before starting this.
Finally, the spherical seductress is safely ensconced behind whatever this is, and the first world is finally complete!
Suck it, Sonic. I wasn't aware that Sonic had his extended posse at this point in time, but there's Amy's name below Sonic, Knuckles and the one character from the early Sonic games that could actually fly. I guess Amy must've debuted in 1993's Sonic 3D, huh.

That's enough flying through the sky so fancy-free for now. I feel like I got the gist of the game fairly quickly, though a lot of aspects still elude me. I'd imagine that's a natural part of getting better at the game, however: the game's progression is built like a number of shoot 'em ups I can think of, which makes sense given that you've moving a flying character around a 2D screen in a style similar to a Vic Viper or a Pentarou. The core growth mechanic of a shoot 'em up (and NiGHTS by extension) is entirely on the player rather than the game; it comes through practice, memorization, learning how the deeper scoring mechanics function and having enough skill to recover from the occasional mistake. That the game is heavily focused on earning high scores would corroborate with this assessment.

As someone who doesn't care for flying through hoops sequences in action-adventure games, or for the whole shoot 'em up genre, I'm not sure NiGHTS is the game for me. I can certainly appreciate how this wowed people back in 1996 though. At the time, there were still only a handful of console games that had taken to polygonal graphics, and most of those featured ambulatory colored blocks of Plasticine attempting to perform poses in grotesque mockeries of human locomotion. However, given how often Sega games were developed with an Arcade mindset, I wonder just how much longevity a game like this can really purport to have.

But hey, I did a loop-de-loop and got an A, so I guess we're all done here. Thanks for stopping by, and watch out for some more articles later in the week. (And thanks again to @teflonbilly for the gift, regardless of any ill intention.)

Start the Conversation

ST-urday #001: Bubble Bobble

You thought I was done after a week? Turns out there's a hell of a lot more I have yet to say about the platform that was my introduction to the world of video games. Well, perhaps not regarding the device itself, but certainly for the wild and varied games that it would host in its tenure. My intent is to stick to a weekly schedule from here until (hopefully) the end of this year, looking at a new Atari ST game every Saturday. I want to keep things varied, so we'll be looking at console/Arcade ports, CRPGs, graphic adventure games, bizarre homebrew system exclusives and other oddities from the European home computer market. A mix of the familiar and the alien for our American friends.

As this is the first ST-urday ("sturdy"? It sounded better in my head) I'll start a list of everything we've covered below:

  1. Dungeon Master [Brief Jaunt]
  2. Captive [Brief Jaunt]
  3. Fantasy World Dizzy [An Estival Festival]
  4. Wizball [An Estival Festival]
  5. Elite [An Estival Festival]
  6. Double Dragon & Double Dragon 2 [An Estival Festival]
  7. Space Crusade [An Estival Festival]
  8. Buggy Boy & Chase HQ [An Estival Festival]
  9. Knightmare [An Estival Festival]
  10. Bubble Bobble [001]
  11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day [002]

Bubble Bobble

I figured for the first episode of ST-urday that we'd start on something simple. Taito's Bubble Bobble is a revered Arcade single-screen platformer classic that most people know best as an NES game. Two bubble-shooting dinosaurs Bub and Bob enter a cave of monsters to rescue their girlfriends and restore their human forms. That's all the plot we needed in the 80s.

While the original Arcade version was released in 1986 and the NES version in 1988, the Atari ST version sits between the two with a release date somewhere in 1987. The imaginatively-titled Software Creations handled the development of the computer conversions - a British developer that had quite the run producing various games and ports for the UK market until they were eventually bought out by Acclaim in the 2000s and followed them into bankruptcy shortly thereafter. Bubble Bobble is the first game they worked on, according to GameFAQs, but they'd go on to create many others: the ST versions of Renegade, Ghouls N' Ghosts and Gauntlet III, along with personal Nintendo console favorites like Solstice and Plok. Firebird, who popped up a number of times during the Estival Festival, was the publisher.

What's important is that Software Creations were actually competent at this whole "Arcade to home computer" conversion business, though one struggles to conceive of how you could mess up Bubble Bobble. After the disaster that was the Atari ST's Double Dragon, I figured I should start accentuating the positive a little more. (Don't worry, we'll have more crappy Arcade ports to come as well.)

Welcome to Bubble Bobble! Look at those adorable little dinos with their pink, mole-like hands and feet. I almost want to click that @ in the corner to see what would happen.
The classic Bubble Bobble intro. Fantastic story indeed. Actually, both the Atari ST and NES versions word it a little differently from the Arcade. I'm not sure why that is.
You'll notice that this looks more or less Arcade-perfect. The colors are a little less bright, and the information is relayed in a side-bar instead of in the corner of the playing field, but those are minor adjustments.
The game features all the usual Bubble Bobble accoutrements: food and snack score items, E.X.T.E.N.D. letter power-ups, angry looking Frankenstein dealies. Those guys are actually called Bonzo in the UK version (in the US, it's Bubble Buster).
It's not until Round 6 that we start seeing those annoying fireball-shooting wizzrobe guys. Boris in the UK, Stoner in the US. Honestly, these US names are leaving a lot to be desired.
Bubble Bobble's also known for these elemental bubbles, which produce different effects depending on their element.
Popping a water bubble produces a flood that follows the contours of the platforms to the bottom of the screen, sweeping up enemies (and yourself) along the way.
Bubble Bobble also has a hundred different random items that pop up while playing. Most are score items, but there's a few like this lamp that provide a benefit: in this case, eliminating all the enemies on the screen.
They even get turned into diamonds, which are worth a lot more than the usual drops from those enemies. While playing for a high score isn't necessarily a draw for a modern gaming audience, it's worth noting that you get extra lives for certain milestones. It's a good idea to find ways to earn as much score as possible (taking out multiple enemies at once is another good system).
And now we have the Blubbas (or Belugas, in the US version). Easily the most annoying enemy, at least early on, these guys fly around the screen quickly at diagonal angles.
But they're nothing compared to Baron Von Blubba, the skeletal fellow in the top right. He'll appear if you've wasted too much time on a stage and pursue you endlessly until you've moved on. All the enemies pick up speed after this warning too (and the music gets faster).
Heck yeah! Getting all the letters of EXTEND gives you an extra life and also skips the present stage.
Aw. Happy Valentine's Da-
Well, that was fun. One Arino Special coming up.

Yeah, I realize this was kind of a softball with which introduce this new weekly feature, but it's best to start simple and work our way up to the headier stuff. That I'm suggesting a game where dinosaurs shoot bubbles at Frankensteins is a comparatively sane game to some of the material I have lined up is saying something. One day I hope to look at the equally great Atari ST ports of Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars (the successors to Bubble Bobble), but for now we'd best pop off.


Nier to One's Heart (Or: Why Should Anyone Care About Nier?)

Hello friends. When I started writing for (well, *on*, if we're being technical) this website five years ago, one of my earliest "experimental" pieces was an incredulous list of observations (man, how times have changed) based on a recent playthrough of Cavia Inc.'s Nier. Nier's an interesting game for a great many reasons - you can choose to interpret my selection of that particular adjective however you wish - and I found myself quite nonplussed at the multiple directions Nier was pulling me. One moment it angered me, or disappointed me, or bored me (that was more than one moment), while at other times I was either surprised or impressed by a stylistic or gameplay decision it chose to make. I've long ranked Nier with the likes of Psychonauts or Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines or Deadly Premonition (though I only played those last two relatively recently) as the type of unique if flawed game that any video game fan who considers themselves patrons of the medium ought to check out, for educational purposes if nothing else.

During E3, we were met with the announcement that a new Nier was in production. There were a number of surprised reactions, and with good cause: The original developers Cavia had shut down since Nier, and Nier was pretty much the game that killed the studio; the last post-Cavia game based on a Cavia property, Drakengard 3, failed to set the world aflame with dragonfire; who the fuck even played Nier?; and why announce something this niche at the US-focused E3 rather than wait until the much more amenable Tokyo Game Show in three months' time? Sure, it could be Square Enix being Square Enix and just tossing out everything they're cooking up to fill time in their increasingly irrelevant conference, but there's gotta be something going on if they think a Nier 2 teaser is a big deal for the US market.

Which, of course, leaves the many folk who have no idea what Nier is in the dark, their general knowledge beginning and ending with "It has a good soundtrack", "It is sad", "don't fish here, fish there" and "Moon face?". What is Nier, really? Why should anyone care that a sequel is being produced? Well, I'm here to elucidate, as best as I am able.

So Nier and Yet So Far: I Try to Explain What Nier Is

Nier is an action RPG. For the most part. The eponymous protagonist runs across various overworlds and through dungeons in pursuit of his kidnapped daughter and most of the gameplay is similar to something you'd find in, say, Dragon Age: Inquisition or Final Fantasy XII, only not quite as tactical due to there being only a single playable character. Nier has a standard assortment of combos that rely on light attacks and heavy attacks, and he'll acquire new spells that help clear rooms of enemies for those moments when they start to swarm him. While the overworlds are fairly open, the dungeons have a mostly linear layout that funnels you through puzzles and the boss fights.

The boss fights are where the game can often deviate a little from the mold. Many boss attacks resemble a third-person variant of a bullet hell shooter, firing multiple glowy balls in every direction. The player, true to the shoot 'em up genre, has to weave through the things and look for an opening to attack. It's an odd variation on the "wait for your moment" boss fight conceit, though it works fairly well if you don't think about it too much.

Then you have what I consider the game's "detours". Nier's not content with sticking to its chosen genre the entire game, and will find ways to subvert the gaming experience for sequences that are deliberately meant to be a little discombobulating for the hero. An extended sequence where Nier explores a mansion to look for a biological superweapon, for instance, is a deliberate Resident Evil homage with key puzzles and fixed dramatic camera perspectives. A "choose your own" text adventure fills in for a dream sequence, told abstractly with descriptions and occasional interjections of your fellow party members. It's these aberrations that people tend to remember most fondly about the game; while the core action RPG gameplay is adequate, it can also be a little underwhelming and repetitive.

There's also the cast of characters: The gruff Nier is a protagonist that's single-minded to a fault in his attempt to find a cure for his daughter (and then the subsequent pursuit when she is abducted). It becomes a major plot point that the game continues to expand on; Grimoire Weiss is a talking book that offers the lion's share of the game's sardonic quips and exposition, to counter Nier's stoic reticence; Kainé, an extremely hostile (and profane) young woman who follows Nier around despite the duo's equally standoffish demeanors; Emil, a compassionate young boy cursed with a petrifying gaze that wears a blindfold and lives secluded in a mansion with other similarly afflicted children; and Yonah, Nier's daughter and the most important person in his life, who is dying from the "black scrawl" - a disease with no known cure.

Nier and Dear: Nier's Strengths A.K.A. Why Any of This Matters

Nier had some core structural problems, but what persists long after the dull "standard mode" gameplay and the overemphasis on fetch quests and grinding weapon experience for the "true ending" (a carryover from Drakengard that no-one asked for) are the game's myriad strengths as a truly creative (if partly insane) singular experience. I'll list a few of these below (and I've spoiler-blocked a few that deal with how the game concludes):

The game's music. The game's most prominent feature to the general gaming public, whether they actually played the game or not, is its mellifluous, melodic, melancholy soundtrack. Not just your usual assortment of JRPG violins and orchestral scores, each song in Nier received an incredible amount of attention, with each sporting a fictitious singing language that is part-romance language, part-Gaelic and all-wonderful. It effectively punctuates the dramatic scenes, the sad scenes and the quiet scenes and gives the game a gravitas it perhaps wouldn't otherwise deserve, given the amount of tonal shift from one scene to the next. I'm sure everyone's familiar with it already, but here's a sampling: Hills of Radiant Winds, Song of the Ancients, Shadowlord, Kainé Salvation, Grandma. Heck, just go listen to the whole thing.

The game's originality. Bouncing between genres and homages, twisting and subverting the archetypal "hero looks for kidnapped girl" plot, the way the game subtly messes with the player's expectations throughout. The developers never had any intention of creating a straightforward action RPG, as evinced by the bullet hell bosses and the detours into other genres. Drakengard, conversely, was a game that was structurally very rigid; though it certainly didn't have a cohesive plot, the game would jump between Dynasty Warriors style hack-and-slash and Panzer Dragoon shoot 'em up stages and stick to those two models closely throughout the game's runtime, with the exception of the very final boss. With Nier, it felt like Cavia wanted to expand on what they did with that irregular final boss fight by creating a game that was just as narratively wild as Drakengard but also structurally disparate as well. This perceived "statement of intent" might also explain why Nier chooses to follow the very non-canonical ending to Drakengard that occurs after the aforementioned abnormal boss encounter. It's odd to think of a thirty hour long JRPG produced by Square Enix as also being an experimental game of the sort the Indie market is always producing, but that's essentially what Nier is. It's a kick in the pants the JRPG genre sorely needs to reinvent itself, or at the very least a demonstration that possibilities exist outside of the hoary tropes of androgynous teenagers and anime boob jokes, even if what you get is a confused mess in many respects.

The game's storytelling devices. [We'll be getting spoiler-heavy here, because it deals with the game's original ending and the subsequent playthroughs that lead to the various other endings.]

The game reveals that the "shadow" enemies that Nier has been fighting are actually the souls of human beings who were separated from their bodies shortly after the cataclysm that wiped out almost all sentient life in a modern day version of Earth (which is actually the result of one of the stranger endings from the first Drakengard). The "replicants" - cloned human bodies created specifically to be immune to the toxic (to humans) atmosphere - were intended to one day house the separated souls (or "gestalts") once the atmosphere became liveable again, except the replicants took on a sentience of their own after thousands of years of non-sapient complacency.

What this essentially leads to is a tacit understanding by the end of the first playthrough that every major enemy, who speaks in a language Nier and the others don't understand, was actually a human spirit driven insane after having spent years extracted from their physical body. Each one has a sad tale to tell, and are driven to fight Nier by their desperation, their hopelessness and their pain. The second playthrough makes the incredible decision to allow the player to understand what these spirits are saying, but still leaves the in-game characters in the dark, leading to a lot of boss fights that you're way less eager about completing the second time around (and not just because of the repetition).

The game's true coup is developing the character of Nier over each of these playthroughs, switching the focus from rescuing Yonah to the suffering of Kainé, including her backstory and the malevolent spirit that managed to possess her at a young age (which, of course, you can now hear from the second playthrough onwards). Nier finally acknowledges someone other than himself and Yonah, and sacrifices his very existence to save Kainé in an ultimate act of compassion. This has the affect of eliminating every save game, every scrap of data, every iota of progress attached to the player's account, which gets wiped before their eyes in a display of meta narration that I've yet to see before or since from a video game. The game even refuses to let the player create a new profile with the same name. Nier vanishes entirely from the world, but Yonah and Kainé both survive and continue living on with the uneasy feeling that they're forgetting someone important to them. It's a heartbreaking and unforgettable way to complete a game utterly and entirely - though the steps to get there might be a little too much for any non-completionist player.

In the Nier Future: What This Sequel Should Do, If Square-Enix Has Any Sense

It's hard to say where Square Enix will go with this new one. The veil's long been lifted on what Cavia were secretly attempting to pull off, as Nier's been given many years with which to garner enough cult appeal to facilitate a sequel in the first place, and when you're attempting to follow a game this avant garde with a follow up there's some inherent difficulties with capturing that same sense of pioneer spirit a second time around. You can't invent the wheel twice (though maybe "invent the pet rock twice" would be a slightly less hyperbolic way to phrase that sentiment).

The Nier sequel should surprise us. It should use the advantage it has over its forebear with all this extra promotional steam and kudos to raise the bar with its narrative and gameplay revelations, reaching heights the original could only dream of demonstrating. It could also use some significant restructuring for its core game; whether the dull, repetitive nature of the gameplay was all part of the game's later subversions is essentially moot, because you should never expect a larger audience to want to suffer low quality gameplay for the sake of it being germane to the narrative. Fix that side of it up and make it more palatable, ideally by leaning more heavily either into the character action aspect (more combos, more distinction between weapon types, more speed) or the RPG aspect (more strategy, more equipment, more skill trees or some other way to customize closer to one's preferred playstyle). It goes without saying that the soundtrack should be as equally fantastic, but given that the same composers are behind it that's probably a safe bet.

I have a lot of expectations for this sequel. Nier felt like it could've been a true trailblazing masterpiece with a little more polish, instead of the bizarre, cultish curio it ultimately became. There's room to grow with a sequel, but only if they manage to nail that gonzo spirit again. While a bigger budget might result in a more competent action RPG, that money might also force Square Enix to temper the game with "safer" decisions governing its structure. I can't imagine the resulting product would please anyone.

Fingers crossed, eh?


Mento's Alternative to E3 2015: Day 3

We're now on the final day of E3, and things are starting to wind down at last. We have all the trailers that are fit to show, we have all the news that's fit to print, and we continue to have all the late-night shows that are probably not fit to air. Whether you've seen too much E3 to last a year or have managed to avoid as much of the annual industry hype machine as possible, you are very welcome to enjoy this Alternative to E3.

This year's theme has been 3D platformers for the N64, one of those historical time-and-place genres that is of great sentimental value to me. This culminated in a recent seven-part rundown of the game design genius of Super Mario 64, and I've been in a "never say never" sort of mood about creating a sequel with some other N64 platforming paragon. However, while there are some 3D platformers for the N64 that I cherish dearly, I can appreciate that they won't take to a long-form analysis as readily as Super Mario 64 did. Instead, those games are getting their due here and now during 2015's E3 week. Please feel free to check out the table at the end of this blog to see what else I covered in this four-day period, and talk about your own N64 guilty pleasures in the comments below. I'll even take in Yoshi's Story and Hybrid Heaven degenerates proponents: all are safe here.

And now... it's finally here, performing for you:

Donkey Kong 64

My beloved Donkey Kong 64. The most divisive of the N64 Rareware platformer quartet, DK64 reintroduces the world of Rare's SNES Donkey Kong Country series in a new 3D format, taking what the developers had learned from developing the first Banjo-Kazooie game to make the "ultimate" 3D platformer with Nintendo's simian sparkplug and his primate posse. They may have overdone it, however. Just a little.

Donkey Kong 64's tepid reputation goes beyond a certain opening musical number, focusing more on the game's overabundance of moving parts. There's five separate ape protagonists, each with their own abilities, collectibles and ape-specific interactive stage elements, and there's numerous collectibles beyond simply the coins (bananas) and stars (bigger bananas) equivalents with you completing tasks for numerous goons in return for useful upgrades, special bonuses, the core progression collectible (the aforementioned bigger bananas), or necessary progress of a different sort. Exacerbating this cornucopia of collcetible crap are the grenades, five different types of weapon ammunition and health pick-ups and the stages become so filled with little bouncing/spinning gewgaws that there's scarcely any room for the puzzles and platforming - the ostensible gameplay core of the genre to which DK64 belongs. DK64 sometimes feels more like a modern open-world game, where you're given a huge environment with very little level design variation and tasked with collecting several hundred knick-knacks from every nook and cranny of this enormous world: except DK64's world is not as big, and the collecting is the primary goal rather than some incidental activity that might unlock an upgrade or concept art or something. It's telling that Banjo-Tooie and Conker's Bad Fur Day would greatly dial back the number of collectibles (to almost zero, in CBFD's case) almost assuredly due to DK64's reception.

Still, though, I can accept that collect-a-thons aren't everyone's cup of tea, and while I still adore this game for indulging the very habitual, casual form of enjoyment that is finishing collections of random objects - sort of like how moreish those hidden object games are for the iOS/Android crowd - I can at least recognize, in my kleptomaniac reverie, that the actual gameplay aspects of DK64 are far too busy (and occasionally surface-level rudimentary) to be deserving of a deeper analysis. Maybe an analysis of what went wrong would be a better way to frame a longer piece on Donkey Kong 64, but considering I'm of the mindset that believes this game is amazing I would probably not be the ideal choice to write such an article.

Yeah, we're just going to skip this.
Welcome to Donkey Kong 64! I'm not sure where they got the idea for this "DK TV" vignette for the attract mode, but I guess it makes sense for the context.
DK Island. Rather than lush, tropical paradise, it's just DK's enormous head. The tropical plants are all on the inside, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but then they wanted this hub world to not be overly confusing to navigate. The logical consistency of a setting is just one of the many sacrifices you make on the altar of pragmatic game design.
Not that K.Rool's new hoverboat mountain hideout is necessarily a more rational construct. You know what? These two deserve each other.
K.Rool's in full Dr. Claw mode in this game, talking ominously about the fate of Donkey Kong and his flea-bitten monkeys (a phrase also uttered by Cranky Kong, which makes me wonder if they shouldn't invest in some collars). It's odd to consider that Rare would go back on forth with voice acting for their N64 games: Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie didn't bother, sticking with some bastard Simlish made of two or three noises endlessly repeated, but both DK64 and CBFD did. Goldeneye: Nope, Perfect Dark: Yep.
Anyway, DK slept through the whole island dreadnought attack and is soon found by Squawks (or... one of several Squawks. The intro was a little ambiguous as to how many identical green parrots live on this island). The banana hoard is gone and so are DK's four friends, three of which we've never seen before. Clearly quite close, then.
Cranky might know more about it. He once again serves a support role, in a very loose sense of the word. He's far more helpful than he's been in the past due to his potions: these unlock the special ape-specific powers for the five characters.
Of course, he wants us to do these tutorial stages first. Nothing too exciting, and they're unfortunately not skippable, but if you're familiar with the controls they're designed to be deliberately quick and easy to get through.
This one just teaches you how to swing on vines, switching direction and climbing up and down for different exit trajectories. I'm obviously making vine-swinging sound more complicated than it actually is.
For whatever reason, each potion/ability has a Roadrunner/Wile E Coyote-style pseudo-Latin taxonomy. It doesn't really make much sense when applied to special moves instead of species, but I guess we needed to squeeze in more butt jokes somewhere.
Subtly, the rest of the game has been closed off by this switch that needs a DK butt slam, making all of the previous palaver absolutely necessary (unless there's some speedrunning trick to get past it all, and I'm sure there is). You'll notice that this switch has DK's face on it: a lot of switches like this can only be pressed by a specific Kong.
Some more basic mechanics introduced in this game: these translucent numbered pads are teleporters, but in order for them to work the player has to walk over both corresponding pads. They'll only take you to the corresponding numbered pad, as well. It's a little inelegant to stick another ten things on the floor in every stage, but I guess it's better than having to go through the circuit until you're at the right place.
The floating barrel on the last screenshot lets you switch your playable character. There isn't just a dedicated button to switch characters like there is with Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, unfortunately, as the level has to load-in and load-out the various Kong-specific collectibles so the right ones aren't opaque. It's kind of what I mean about how the number of moving parts gets in the way of the game's flow, leading to more legwork on the player's part than the game should really allow.
The only available location initially is K.Lumsy's cage here. Though the size of Godzilla, K. Lumsy is far too docile and pacifistic to be K. Rool's sentient wrecking ball, and he's been imprisoned to "toughen him up".
The player can find a key to his cage, and getting one step closer to freedom causes K. Lumsy to dance around like a loon. This has the affect of shaking loose various obstacles around the island, allowing the player to proceed. Visiting K. Lumsy regularly is therefore a necessity.
He managed to unblock this passageway, leaving behind one of the game's big banana collectibles.
Which are necessary to get past B. Locker here, a living breathing broken bridge. I love that Rare even anthropomorphizes those annoying "have you found enough collectibles yet?" barriers.
Jungle Japes is the first of eight worlds, and is fairly straightforward. The eight worlds of DK64 are roughly analogous to the commonly recurring stages in Donkey Kong Country, like an industrial Fear Factory world and one filled with ice caves.
You'll see this frequently in the early worlds: gates that are impossible to get past without making progress in later worlds. In this case we only need Diddy and his peanut gun, both of which will become accessible before the end of this world, but a lot of each world is closed off to specific Kongs. It's all due to how the progress mechanic works: there's five big bananas for each Kong in each world, for a total of 200. (Well... 201.)
There's also these giant K. Rool pads that take you to battle arenas. The goal is to survive for the length of the timer as enemies continue to spawn in.
Presented without comment.
Funky Kong, like many hippies in their later years, has pulled a 180 and become a Republican gun nut. He's also your supplier for guns and gun upgrades, as if there weren't enough systems to keep track of. Seriously, this game is like the 3D platformer equivalent of an Arc System Works fighter.
Despite being called the Coconut Gun in the DK Rap, the Coconut Shooter is a mid-range assault rifle and, like DK himself, an all-rounder weapon for range, rate of fire and damage. It has a modified grip and a custom gun barrel, insofar as someone drilled a big hole through a log and put coconuts and gunpowder into it and called it a day.
The guns even have a scope mode, if you wanted to be a filthy casual.
After acquiring some firepower, we discover Diddy Kong is trapped inside a Vietnamese bamboo cage and can only be freed by shooting down targets across the jungle. It's First Blood Part 3: Rhesus Positive.
Once freed, the apes teleport out and become accessible in any swap barrel. The worlds also populate with that respective ape's colored bananas (DK's are yellow, Diddy's are red), so you'll find a lot of the later areas will have more ghost bananas than Matt Kessler's local greengrocer.
The three coconut targets I had to hit, all of which were above gates, now open their respective gates opening up the rest of the world. There's only so much more DK will be able to do on his own, however: the goal now is to collect what you can with DK and Diddy and move onto the next world to find another captured catarrhini. Eventually, you'll be scouring each world of its collectibles five times over, but we'll mercifully cut this LP short before that happens.

I still think Donkey Kong 64 is one of the better Rare games for the platform, but we've discussed my unfortunate proclivities enough already. Well, at least the ones pertaining to this particular video game. I said pretty much all I wanted to before the screenshots appeared, so instead I'll wish you all a happy E3 (what's left of it) and will consider my options moving forward for a N64 platformer I might actually want to cover more in-depth. Banjo-Kazooie seems like the obvious choice. There's also the matter of Yooka-Laylee, which I hope to see next year, and the upcoming Indie throwback A Hat in Time, about which I'm hoping for great things. Grow Home proved that there was some life to the genre, if you know how to approach it, so I don't think we're quite done with games like these just yet.

That's it for Alternative to E3 this year! Cranky, take it to the fridge!

Day 0: Chameleon TwistDay 1: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Day 2: Space Station Silicon ValleyDay 3: Donkey Kong 64

Mento's Alternative to E3 2015: Day 2

The E3 machine rages on, with even more night shows and trailers and first impressions, but we here at Alternative to E3 are hiding under the bedcovers with a flashlight and a beloved childhood novel instead. Well, beloved childhood video game console. I guess it'd project its own light if you brought a small CRT in under there with you. Maybe people did that as kids in the late 90s, I'm not sure where my wistful nostalgia imagery is really at these days.

While I take this analogy out behind the corncrib to put it out of its misery, I'd like you all to recall the theme of Alt-E3 this year: N64 3D platformers that, while of high quality (or sentimental value, in the case of Chameleon Twist), don't really suit a proper in-depth stage-by-stage analysis of the sort Super Mario 64 received from me a few weeks back. Today's game is a little more in the realm of possibility, because it's so endlessly inventive and goofy, but I'll explain why I'm relegating it to a one-and-done brief jaunt here.

There, there, earlier bedcovers analogy. Close your eyes. Your suffering will soon be over.

Space Station Silicon Valley

While the N64 saw a moderate amount of support from western developers, there were two in particular - both British - that invested a considerable amount of time and effort into producing off-beat and well-acclaimed games for the system. Rare, of course, is the more famous of the two; along with their highly regarded FPS games GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, they produced a bevvy of 3D platformers that are considered by many to be on the same tier as Super Mario 64 in terms of establishing the parameters of the 3D platformer genre to all those that might follow. The other is DMA Design, the original creators of Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings, who later eclipsed Rare's fame and fortune in their current incarnation as Rockstar North.

DMA Design had a long and troubled history with Nintendo, working with them to produce sci-fi TPS Body Harvest and today's game, Space Station Silicon Valley, before they eventually broke off their "arrangement" with Nintendo to produce games for their cartridge-based system as second-party developers. They were also bought out by Rockstar Games around this time, keeping their Edinburgh-based studio and becoming Rockstar North. The team behind this game in particular would go on to use what they learned in building 3D environments filled with independent AI to create Grand Theft Auto III, and the

So while Space Station Silicon Valley might seem like an extremely odd and inconsequential little 3D platformer-puzzle game, an also-ran in the library of great platformers the system would see, it actually has a great deal of significance in the grand scheme of things. GTA V might never have happened without this game as a stepping zone. Just keep that tidbit in mind while I'm driving around a racecourse as a remote-controlled robot mouse.

Welcome to Space Station Silicon Valley! The game gives off a lot of 50s B-Movie vibes, but it's as intrinsically British as Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon was intrinsically Japanese. Maybe closer to a Wallace and Gromit ambience.
Here are our (for cheap) heroes for hire, Dan Danger and his trusty sidekick EVO the robot.
Like any bespectacled Dan, Mr. Danger is very fond of specific types of music and won't tolerate an uppity android changing the radio station. One assumes this hip music for groovy cats involves fighting or liquor.
Long-time partners, EVO and Dan have a relaxed, harmonious working relationship.
As expected, this triggers a collision with an asteroid that sends them hurtling towards Space Station Silicon Valley.
SSSV, in the fiction, disappeared for a thousand years and came back just recently. It's on a collision course with the Earth, which is why we're here. Fortunately, we aren't dealing with Event Horizon demons but rather a robot animal uprising: the various zoo creatures and lab rats of this massive laboratory have now taken over the asylum, as it were.
It's taken some time for the artificial creatures in their artificial environments to establish an ecoystem of sorts, which we're of course completely destroying with our less-than-subtle approach.
The elicit and probably forbidden burgeoning relationship between a robot dog and a robot sheep is unceremoniously cut short when we crash right into poor RoboRover.
EVO, equally, does not fare so well after the crash. Its parts get spread across the rest of the station, leaving only the microchip brain (that is still able to walk around on its little circuit legs, adorably). Fortunately, EVO is compatible with the robot animals.
And this is essentially the crux of the game: finding mechanical animals, shorting them out (usually by beating them up), taking them over and completing the tasks each level sets out. It's platformer-ish, but there's a significant puzzle/adventure element. Hence, why an in-depth analysis wouldn't work: too much of the game's appeal is in figuring each stage out.
One of the tasks to inhabit a sheep, so I might as well kill the one that was just trying to romance the dog I'm in. A Robeo and J-Ewe-liet scenario. (No amount of terrible puns will exonerate how messed up this is.)
Each new animal you inhabit gets one of these cute T-800 readouts. What's nuts is that every single one of these stats is actually significant to the gameplay in some respect. Water resistance tells you if a robot can swim, armor/strength is for health and even intelligence tells you how hard their AI is to outwit. Of special import are the two skills: they're mapped to the two face buttons and tell you what each animal can do. The baa! is essentially pointless Magikarp Frolics, but the floaty hop is a Princess Peach hover jump that makes platforming easier as a sheep.
To go over the items briefly: the blue fuzzy electric thing in the background is energy, as in a health refill, and the purple orb in the foreground is a collectible. I believe they factor into the ending some way, and there's fifteen per stage. Again, many 3D platformers were simply following Super Mario 64's example: while most of them would add on mechanics of their own, the "basics" would stay the same, and that included semi-optional collectibles that the game would track.
Finding some energy and acquiring a sheep robot shell - two simple tasks meant to introduce the game's core progression - opens the teleporter to the next stage. You can either stick around to collect those 15 purple doodads, or just move on.
Oh yeah, you can talk to Dan too. Dan, if you hadn't figured it out, only serves a support role. Well, rather he barks commands to EVO to do all the work while he remains stuck napping in his ship. "Support" is probably too strong a word for it. (If you talk to him, the stage's theme is replaced with Dan's "hip music" that EVO hated. Dude is a colossal jerk.)
Probably not easy to make out but there's four "worlds" and just over thirty stages total. The first world, "Europe", has a few more stages than most due to its tutorial nature.
Oi! This course makes no sense, and neither does its name. Much of this game's inexplicable weirdness has to be tolerated to get to the good stuff, like figuring out how to do those things. A mouse with wheels, huh.
I feel like I saw this in Banjo-Kazooie somewhere. Maybe I'm imagining it. I'm just including this here, in case people didn't think it was very platformer-y.
Important to note: the racing mouse has wheels for racing, and will short-circuit if you drop it in water. It's not an all-terrain racing mouse, after all.
You can get into a little race with a wheeled dog if you happen to drive close to that checkered finishing line. The game absolutely does not hint this anywhere; like the blue coins of Super Mario Sunshine, a lot of these hidden tasks need to be intuited from contextual hints.
I managed to win a gold trophy for beating that dog in a two lap race around the lake. There's one of these "souvenirs" in every stage, but you're never explicitly told how to get them. They tend to involve a lot of trial and error experimentation (or looking up a FAQ, realistically). It's actually reminding me of Chantelise a bit.
The sheep aren't difficult to round up if you find a dog robot, since they'll automatically run from you, but you can also be a sheep and round them up with your baa!s, which causes them to follow you. Alternatively, you can just kill them all, occupy them and walk them over. The game's fairly good at presenting multiple paths to a solution.
And with that the second stage, and this LP, comes to a close.

Space Station Silicon Valley is one of those games that defined the N64 for me, more so than many of the system's biggest sellers. It broke new ground in creating 3D environments that were far more focused on exploiting player resourcefulness and perspicacity than on platformer traversal and combat, though there's plenty of those as well. Like Super Mario 64 there's definitely a sense of the pioneer spirit to this one, even if it's a little rough in many other areas. It was originally released in late 1998 to give you some context: a month before The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but a month after the seminal Buck Bumble.

As stated, though, simply discussing a number of puzzle stages and their solutions wouldn't make for a great analysis, and spoiling all that would end up being far more of a disservice to someone who might wish to play the game someday than dissecting the anatomy of Tick Tock Clock and its clockface puzzle would be.

Come back again tomorrow as we celebrate the end of another E3 and its embarrassment of gaming riches with something else that frequently gives into overindulgence and awkward opening presentations. Let's just say that... this time, I'm in the mood. (No, not for that.)

Day 0: Chameleon TwistDay 1: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Day 2: Space Station Silicon ValleyDay 3: Donkey Kong 64
Start the Conversation

Mento's Alternative to E3 2015: Day 1

We've reached the end of the daily conferences (except for whatever that weird PC Gaming one's about (probably PC gaming)) so now we can settle into a series of nightly shows and wondering how many of these announced games are going to end up delayed. But that's E3, and this is the Alternative to E3, so let's just forget that first sentence ever happened. Spin around three times and clap your hands: Poof! It no longer exists. It got poofed away. Don't go back to check.

Over here I'm still looking at N64 games, and especially those of a 3D platforming persuasion. I'm not sure if I'll ever get as in-depth with another platformer as I was with Super Mario 64, because that game really had no end of weird ideas, but I'm sure I'll do something with the other prominent staples. These Alternative to E3 subjects aren't precisely staples themselves, but I still consider all four of them important/fun enough to comment on in a one-off fashion. For the prior (and, eventually, subsequent) Alternative to E3 2015 entries, just check the table at the bottom of the page. Thanks, and continue to enjoy E3 or enjoy ignoring E3.

Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was a fantastic Super Nintendo game: actually the third (or fourth, or even eighth depending on the metric you want to use) in the Ganbare! Goemon series, it balanced top-down exploration, side-scrolling action and that Konami sense of humor that was distinctively, almost overwhelmingly Japanese. Repurposing the Goemon Ishikawa legend for a rudimentary Kabuki-themed Arcade game, Konami would decide to inject some humor into the world of one of Japan's oldest folklore heroes and continue pushing the envelope with each subsequent Goemon game, heaping all sorts of non-sequiturs and anachronistic absurdities on top of a solid bedrock of action-platformer gameplay.

These facets culminated, at least in the West where we only saw a handful of Goemon localizations, with 1997's Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (addressing the main character by his proper name, rather than the egregious appellation of "Kid Ying"). This game... is so goddamn weird. I suppose I'd be better off demonstrating:

I didn't screencap the entire intro, because it's too good for still images with no musical accompaniment. It's way too serious and rousing for the game (well, besides for Ebisumaru chowing down on onigiri). I've included a link at the end.
Welcome to Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon!
It's another peaceful day in Oedo Town, until...
...Local heroes/criminal elements Goemon and Ebisumaru get thrown out of a general goods store.
The reason soon becomes apparent. No shirt, no geta, no service.
Ebisumaru, incidentally, is the best part about this or any Mystical Ninja game.
Goemon, you just don't understand art.
Talking of which, a giant flying peach airship suddenly looms overhead.
Ominous forces are afoot within...
Scary flamboyant Team Rocket is behind everything! (By the way, this guy is called Spring Breeze Dancin'. With the apostrophe and everything.)
They fire the Peach Mountain's beam at Oedo Castle. That's a sentence.
Meanwhile, the Lord is simply maxin' and relaxin'. You know how it is when you live in a five layer pagoda.
Of course, he's not too happy about the fact that this random beam has transformed his castle, inside and out, into a picturesque European castle. I mean, I can understand why.
Goemon decides this is the start of another crazy adventure, and goes home so Ebisumaru can put some damn clothes on.
So here's why I don't feel like I'll be covering this game in-depth: It's a story-driven adventure/RPG with a whole lot of Zelda style puzzle dungeons (and using upgrades to get to new areas) and Mario style platforming. The story nature of the game, and the fact that there's a lot of hilarious (if occasionally poorly translated) NPC chatter means it's not really a screenshot LP type of game. You need to see this in action to get the full benefit, preferably with some funny commentators.
The game gates you off from the rest of the map, just to ensure that you don't skip town before dealing with the Lord's little problem. However, the castle itself is also inaccessible right now. What to do?
This is where the NPCs come in. Many give you hints among the non-sequitur bon mots. We also know from a previous NPC hint that Mokubei has moved to the top of Mt. Fuji. Not exactly convenient.
There's more than just NPC homes in town. You can also find coffee shops (good for exposition), restaurants (buy items to restore health), inns (restore health instantaneously), general stores (to buy single-use consumables, and a few permanent upgrades) and Plasma Man.
Plasma Man, you ask? Well, that would be this fellow. Did I mention this game is a little strange?
Plasma Man will prognosticate Goemon's path, essentially telling him where to go next. Because the game is an action-adventure, which during that time was an unusual combination, the developers clearly decided that providing a hint system would alleviate the frustration of those who wish to focus on the action parts.
This process is extremely scientific, of course. Clinical, even.
Anyway, his tip was "just walk past my house, dawg" and sure enough, the Kai Highway is through a door. This will take us directly to Mt. Fuji where we can upgrade my pipe into a grappling hook and get into the transformed Oedo Castle. Just to catch you all up.
This guy simply gives us a map after we impress him with our moxie.
The map isn't super useful in terms of seeing collectibles or anything, but it does give you a sense of which direction you should be heading. A bit like the Ocarina of Time map, in fact.
No, it's totally the biggest, for real. Like totally.
Collecting four of these Lucky Cats (a maneki-neko to your or I) gives you a free heart container. Sound familiar? What if I told you this game came out a whole year before Ocarina of Time? (Though that still gives them plenty of time to borrow this upgrade mechanic from Link to the Past, I guess.)
Mt. Fuji is more or less a demo dungeon: not exactly a tutorial, because the game doesn't explain its mechanics much, but a sort of training obstacle course that'll ingrain the basics. If you fall off, you'll simply drop to an earlier part of the course. There's not a whole lot of hassle, and you can go back to recover if need be.
Mt. Fuji also has an interior. Were it not for the giant angry accordion, it would remind me of Lethal Lava Land.
Reached the top! And I turned into Ebisumaru. I forgot you can do that: each of the four playable characters (we have two for now) have their own skills, so you'll need to switch often to get past obstacles or find valuables. I've always loved games that do this.
Yeah, thanks for moving to the summit of Mt. Fuji, dude. How the hell do you get groceries?
Anyway, we get what we came for (with a little victory fanfare, as if we needed more Zelda allusions), and can head back to Oedo Castle for the game's first serious dungeon.
No faster way down Mt. Fuji than to leap off. Unlike Super Mario 64, there's no fall damage I'm aware of. I am riding down the side of a mountain on my stomach, though, so there's no way that might be painful.

I think I'd better leave it there, before I get into any more trouble posting all these giant screenshots while the site's already taking the strain of everything E3-related. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is easily one of my favorite games for the system, and though its merger of action, adventure, RPG and platformer elements doesn't always mesh perfectly, the game's one of the funniest and weirdest that the US and Europe ever saw officially for the N64. It's a testament to the popularity of the original SNES game, I suppose, but then it's not like we saw hide nor hair of the subsequent four (!) Super Famicom games in this franchise. I guess it was more a decision borne of necessity: the system was lacking for early third-party support overseas, with most of the industry producing games for the PlayStation, so anything that wasn't shogi or mahjong was probably considered for localization.

Anyway, I highly recommend this one, though I'm sure you can all appreciate that I can't give this the same treatment that I did with Super Mario 64. It's weird, but in more of a stylistic/narrative way than Super Mario 64's many odd mechanical gimmicks and ideas. The open-world nature of it means I'll probably have to skip much of the gameplay, grabbing shots only for plot-integral moments and cutscenes - both of which lose a lot in staid screenshot form, including not least of all the amazing soundtrack.

That's right, I promised a few videos: Here's the intro to the game - Here's the catchy music that plays in Kai Highway and elsewhere - Here's one of the better dungeon themes - And another one (love how it builds up!). Finally, here's the overwrought superhero theme for Impact: Goemon's giant attack robot. (Oh, and SGDQ's speedrun from last year.)

This game is amazing, you guys.

Day 0: Chameleon TwistDay 1: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Day 2: Space Station Silicon ValleyDay 3: Donkey Kong 64

Mento's Alternative to E3 2015: Day 0

Welcome all, to the newest series of "Mento's Alternative to E3", a series which is an alternate to... you know what, today's been long enough with all these conferences for me to toss a bunch of tautology your way. Let's cut to the chase and say that I always put these things together to give people something to read that doesn't involve investing time and effort in the news and hype coming from E3. All those announcements and teasers can be a little much after a while.

Beginning with last year's Legend Entertainment look-ins, I'm now building this four-day series around a unifying theme. This year, I'm going to look at a few N64 platformers that, like almost any 3D platformer, followed Super Mario 64's trendsetting example. I covered Super Mario 64 to a comprehensive, almost-worrying extent a few weeks ago and will probably follow it up with some additional unabridged examinations of other paragons of the genre as we all wait with bated breath for the eventual Yooka-Laylee release. (It's an SEO thing.) The four games I'm going to cover this week, though... well, they're all fine games from a certain point of view, but perhaps not the sort of thing I'd be willing to go over with a fine-tooth comb to the same degree as Super Mario 64. Still, never say never.

Instead, we're giving these four games little LP/Brief Jaunt doodads, as has been my custom for the last year or so. Hope you enjoy, and that it helps keep that noisy E3 palaver out of your heads for a little while.

Chameleon Twist

While extraordinarily rough to look at these days, Chameleon Twist is one of the games that followed Super Mario 64 that was almost able to match its pioneer spirit, if not its generally high quality gameplay and presentation. SunSoft published the game in the US and Europe and is the big name attached to it, but the developers were actually the obscure Japan System Supply - a mundane name that betrays nothing of their one noteworthy game's creativity. In fact, their only other US-published game is Power Quest: a robot brawler for the GBC that resembles Custom Robo or Gotcha Force.

Yet, even though the game has its issues, there's something inherently unique to it that captured the spirit of the N64 age and would be endemic to what seems to occur to every Nintendo console since: that they would never see again the sort of third-party presence the Nintendo and Super Nintendo all but monopolized, but still saw its fair share of bizarre curios that helped establish each console's eccentric personality and cultish appeal.

Welcome to Chameleon Twist! The stuff of nightmares already.
There's four "colors" to choose from, but they're exactly that: simply colored reskins. Fred here looks a little morose, so I'm going to pick him to cheer him up. Feel better about yourself already, monstrosity!
I took a random image from the game's intro cutscene (which I mention in case people thought it was the homework of a first year graphic design student). Essentially, a regular chameleon follows the White Rabbit into Wonderland because what else does a chameleon have on its schedule? "Eat bugs and vaguely resemble logs"?
It sure did. It looks like a Hong Kong Mewtwo bootleg with a Gene Simmons tongue.
But it's not just for show and for unfortunate jokes about lingus, the chameleon's tongue is used for most of the game's traversal mechanics, which the game is kind enough to unlock all at once right at the start. It's a short game, so they can't mete these out: rather, they create scenarios in which you have to press every button to progress.
An advanced technique, you can hit the jump button after hooking onto a pole to spin around it. This lets you reach platforms that are equidistant from the hook point you're shooting at. It's hard to time, but it's useful for a lot of collectibles.
Enemies show up in packs a lot, and the chameleon can use the tongue to hook up and eat a large number at once. Once inhaled, they can be spat out. It's fairly basic as combat goes, but combat is rarely as simple as simply spitting at things until they die.
You know, I don't want to disparage the game's appearance too much. Chameleon Twist came out in late 1997, about a year after the original release for the console. 1997 also saw a lot of early hits for the system: Blast Corps, Turok, Lylat Wars, Goldeneye and Diddy Kong Racing, to name a few. They're all a little graphically underwhelming, but it's clear the developers had an idea of what they wanted from the system and the new possibilities it presented. That, I feel, was the message Super Mario 64 ultimately presented to them: "Pull out every idea you ever had but could never make happen for the SNES, and see what you can make happen here."
The chameleon also has a high jump, mapped to the same button (Z) that Super Mario 64 used. Rather than a crouching super jump, it's more of a little pole vault with the tongue.
The first world, Jungle World, suddenly decides to go underground for Temple of Doom shenanigans.
These spiders are endlessly shot out of these white sac-like spawners. The spawners all drop crowns: the collectible that appears on each of Chameleon Twist's six worlds. The game also saw the merit of Super Mario 64's collectible system as a means to extend longevity: we're already long past the point where losing all your lives no longer meant having to start over, so jumping back into completed stages for collectibles you missed made sense for increasing a game's replayability value.
These rock guys are sub-bosses that move slowly and seem deliberately simple to bring down. It simply amounts to swallowing the smaller spider enemies (which endlessly spawn) and spitting them at the larger targets.
For whatever reason, this room had a bunch of spinning rings. I suspect they just thought it looked cool, and didn't require a whole lot of difficult polygon crafting.
You know, I'll defend this game's graphical quality, but only to a point. This would be that point.
The big ape with Goku hair can't be defeated by simply spitting minions at him, but at the right angle you can knock him off the cliff in his boss arena. Not the most challenging fight, but this world's more of a tutorial anyway.
And this is the rest of the game, pretty much. The game gives you a branching path here, though I suspect you still need to beat both lands to unlock the next couple. You can also see how many crowns you managed to find, going back to previously beaten levels to attempt to find the rest. When you only have six worlds, you gotta find a way to convince players to revisit old pastures.

Anyway, that's Chameleon Twist in a nutshell. It sort of blows its wad early, figuratively speaking, by introducing all the game's mechanics in its first world and simply having every subsequent world require the player to use those same abilities to overcome increasingly challenging scenarios. We know how to use the tongue and a grapple point to swing around to a far platform, for instance, so now the game will find ways to make using that technique more precarious/precise. It's a compact game, by necessity, but it's also no pushover. There's also the matter of the other bosses too; all of which have their own special rules for defeating them.

Chameleon Twist is, as stated, the sort of game that would go on to exemplify not only the N64 but the Nintendo systems that followed. Games like Chibi-Robo, or Elebits, or Zack & Wiki: that kind of specifically and unapologetically Japanese game with a family-friendly cutesy aesthetic meshed with utterly bizarre mechanics and/or premise that governs its gameplay. More importantly: while it borrowed a few elements, it wasn't simply another Super Mario 64. In fact, with the exception of its sequel, there really isn't anything else like it.

Day 0: Chameleon TwistDay 1: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Day 2: Space Station Silicon ValleyDay 3: Donkey Kong 64

An Estival ST Festival: Knightmare

We bring this week of Atari ST games to a close with a game that I've always been curious about. I'll admit that I've only played a demo of this game previously, but it's one of those games that you swear is real despite all evidence to the contrary. The sort of game that is regularly the subject of vague descriptions in the "Can't remember the name of this game" thread, followed by "...but I'm not even sure this game exists".

It's another dungeon crawler, and one where Dungeon Master and Captive is more prevalent a comparison than ever. Wish I'd brought up the Brief Jaunts I made for those two today instead of yesterday, but I never was one for timing. I guess that'll become clearer with all my awful 90s-reference goofs today.

I'd like to thank everyone who has been reading these, and would like some consumer input for this feature going forward: Would you like to see more weird Atari ST games/ports, as a mostly North American audience unused to this platform? If so, would you prefer I stuck to bizarre European games exclusive to the Amiga/ST, or keep showing off how funny-bad the Arcade ports were? Thanks for any feedback you might provide. I've certainly enjoyed dropping back into my childhood to see what my pre-teen self was playing, though I probably shouldn't make a habit out of it. Dwelling in nostalgia can do terrible things. (Like pledging money towards a Shaq Fu Kickstarter. For instance.)


This will require some lead-in. In the late 1980s and early 90s, a British TV show aired on CITV: a block on the ITV channel (our third, of (then) four, terrestrial channels in the UK). It featured a medieval fantasy theme and was built around challenging young people to think creatively by placing them in a D&D-like adventure where puzzle-solving and reflexes, rather than combat, were the keys to success. However, to effectively do this, one player would put on the vision-obscuring "Helmet of Justice" and be the designated "dungeoneer" - the person interacting with the world, talking to NPCs and using objects. The world, in this case, was a series of greenscreen rooms filled with actors in period costumes and props. The Dungeoneer's team of "advisors" remained back at the crystal ball (accompanied by Treguard, the cryptic dungeon master, played by Hugo Myatt going fully Shakespearean), directing the Dungeoneer and keeping track of hints and other bits of relevant information. For more on the show, check its Wikipedia article or search YouTube for some episodes. And yes, a long-running game show about LARPing and D&D(ish) existed.

To say this show, Knightmare, was on the surreal side would be an understatement, but it worked surprisingly well and many children of the era - myself included - were hooked. Especially as a decent team would continue to stay alive from one show to the next, sometimes even for weeks, and you'd get more and more invested in their success as they kept going.

As for the 1991 computer game adaptation, well, it's our old friends Mindscape creating another first-person dungeoncrawling RPG. It's the same genre as Dungeon Master or Captive (which is why I brought those two up again) or, as a couple of modern examples, Legend of Grimrock or Might and Magic X: Legacy. Mindscape previously developed Captive, which is why a lot of elements - especially visual, like fonts - are similar. They were also more heavily influenced by Dungeon Master in particular this time, borrowing the way that game's leveling system works: you go up levels in classes by using items/spells associated to that class over and over, such as swords for warriors and healing spells for priests. Any character can go up in any class if they have the right equipment, though you're usually best sticking with the class you assigned to them initially as they'll start off semi-proficient at it. The game's plot is concerned with finding four mystical items of rulership from four separate dungeons connected by an immense hub forest, in a nutshell. Let's try to make sense of this thing:

Haha I completely forgot that the studio that created Knightmare was called Broadsword Television. Why aren't they behind Game of Thrones?
Before we begin, we have to "define team". It's the basic create-a-character system.
Can you believe the OJ trial was twenty years ago? AV Club's been writing a few articles about it. (If you're wondering why there's samurais in this medieval fantasy game, there might be a few Wizardry influences too.)
This guy had the perfect title, but just needed a more relevant first name.
Ghoul is a playable race? "Hey guys? You goin' to the third floor?"
No idea what sort of class "genie" is, besides probably a magic-user, but we're going to Shantae this game up regardless.
You know, I remember thinking at the time how realistic this game looked. Turns out it was because of its dull brown and grey color scheme. I guess the AAA industry really did have it right last-gen.
This is actually Treguard from the TV show. In this game, he serves as some sort of elaborate hint master. In Dungeon Master (and most every game ever), your hints were usually written on walls or in scrolls, so this is extra fancy.
The game saw fit to give us balls. These actually look like baseballs, what the heck?
For whatever reason, the next thing you do in this game is take a minecart ride to the other side of the forest.
Well isn't this humiliating. Our first opponent is a rabbit and its kicking our ass. Actually, these little guys don't pose much of a threat and are the earliest and most reliable source of food. That's if you can catch them; they tend to run away from you a lot. Like real rabbits, then.
These little elf guys, however, mean business. Despite what his unfortunate sartorial choices might suggest.
I also found this thing near a pile of clothes. I have no idea what it is, but it seems to be really enjoying punching my samurai in the face.
I have lost my breakfast. Why would someone design a creature this hideous? Despite being high-octane nightmare fuel, these guys are friendly enough and practically invincible: they guard the entrances to the various dungeons, and you need to solve their riddle to get past them.
Some more mechanics stuff: the character screen lets you equip armor, store items you don't need right this moment and let you see how their stats are doing in numerical form. Health and magic are self-explanatory, but stamina is a separate stat that drops whenever the character is being active. By standing still or sleeping, it will recover quickly (it also helps not to overdo the encumbrance).
Now this is a neat addition that's lacking in most games of this type: you can "assign" a type of attack to one of your hands, and then when you use that hand it'll automatically use whatever you assigned without pulling you back into this menu each time (and you can always reset it). It makes the combat far more expedient. A hand with an assigned action has those little red triangles under them.
I found a door after wandering for minutes in this dense forest. I don't have the key to it though, naturally. I guess I'll keep searching... (It'd be nice if this game had a map. That's a way later innovation for this genre, however.)
What the flying fu-
Ah, finally. The twig I was swinging around was the solution to one of the tree-beast riddles ("I have lost my children") and now we enter the first dungeon of the game. I swear I didn't look anything up. (I really didn't this time.) (The internet knows fuck all about this game, so don't think I didn't check.)
The ragdolls aren't wearing tasteful tubetops; rather, this blue/purple gauge tells you how hungry you are. It's easy to overlook (at least there's no thirst meter too). I wondered why I kept finding rabbit pies.
This is the sprig of life. Yeah, I thought it was a monster at first too. I mean, it's actually moving (well, not in this image). Throwing a deceased character's remains into the sprig resurrects that person. Handy!
He's not kidding. There's a lever right next to this hint porthole that summons a fireball that wipes out your whole party. So... save regularly? Because this game was made by jerks?
The Dungeon Master comparisons continue: I can totally trap this guy in a door, doing constant damage. In fact, added to Space Crusade from a couple days ago, I think I spent a lot of time as a kid squishing monsters in doors. Probably not healthy.
Take my penknife, my good man. How am I supposed to kill a dragon with a boxcutter?
If you walk over this grate it makes a different sound. It's nice bit of attention to detail. You know what else would've been some good attention to detail? A goddamn map. I'm so lost.
And I keep getting popped by Snap and Crackle here, too. I'm sure they never gave penknives to kids and directed them to slash at little people in Keebler Elf costumes. I'm calling into question the accuracy of this game as a tie-in.

That's probably enough screenshots. Knightmare is a little weaker (and a lot uglier) than Captive, which had a great many more innovations as well as a more appealing setting. However, this has to be one of the most inexplicable games to ever exist in a legitimate fashion: a Dungeon Master clone loosely based on a TV show that featured kids in big viking helmets wandering around greenscreen fantasy worlds trying not to get eaten by wall monsters. It's fair to say that I wanted to end this feature on one of the many weird and wonderful games that made their way to the Atari ST over the years. (Also, I didn't even touch the eccentric output from France: I'll have to do a proper retrospective on Delphine, Silmarils, Loriciels or Coktel Vision one of these days.)

Thanks again for stopping by for this week's series of self-indulgent LPs (watch out for the next season!). The Atari ST will probably remain a big question mark outside of Europe for the foreseeable future, but if a self-avowed fan like myself wasn't going to celebrate its thirtieth birthday, who was? (Probably the hundreds of Atari ST fan forums I'm unaware of, I guess. I keep forgetting how big the internet is.)

< Back to Day One