The Comic Commish - April '13

For a bit of a change with this month's three premium feature comics - my monthly thanks to gold membership sponsor @omghisam and the fine gents who run this establishment - I put MS Paint away and brought out Adobe Illustrator, with its vast array of graphic utilities and filters for the budding internet artisans of today. Though the following comics might appear to be the same old chicken scratches as usual, rest assured that they of a far higher quality. In fact, the quality boost is so pronounced, it might be too high-res for the human eye to even... you aren't buying any of this, are you? Well, feel free do your own side-by-side comparisons with these past entries: Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb and Mar. I just hope your monitors can support 4k, is all.

Premium Content For Your Premium Contempt

"User Suggestion Week"

This is inspired in part by Patrick's peregrinations to the weirder parts of this larger fandom of ours, where he has deliberately chosen to leave the safe confines of what he's used to and tried out games as diverse as Etrian Odyssey, Virtue's Last Reward and, of course, Monster Hunter. The guys are fairly knowledgeable about games in general, but it's clear they all have their blind spots too given the surprised reactions to how generally OK all these niche games actually are, and this is where a massive userbase can come in handy: What this premium feature is, is that we wait until a slow week in the release schedule and all put our heads together to come up with games members of the Bomb Crew might've unwisely ignored, or simply give them something unusual to sink their teeth into for a change of pace. Obviously, as a system prone to trolling and populism, it would need some curating, but it'd be neat to have a semi-official platform to recommend them weird-ass games. At least one that won't end with "...for the next Endurance Run!"

"To Infinity, and Vignocchi!"

I'm probably way off base here: both on how Disney Infinity will work with its incremental piecemeal "playset" and figurine approach, as well as how often Johnny V would be willing to make the trip up to San Francisco each time one came out, but I'd love a regular feature where they allow him to explain what's going on with whichever licensed property has recently entered the Infinity family. If only because of discussions like the hypothetical one above.

"The Ghost and Mr. Muir"

I'm just being silly again. Silly old Mento. You can stop reading now.

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The TurboMento-12: The Legendary Axe

Hey all, it's the end of March which means it's time for another one of these TG-16 features. What better way to celebrate Easter Sunday than with a caveman who hits people with axes? Probably a lot of ways.

The Legendary Axe was Aicom's first game for the TurbGrafx-16 and is considered one of the better games for the system, at least out of the ones that made it the US. It's a fairly primitive (no pun intended) Castlevania-style side-scrolling action game, but it's got responsive controls, an occasionally brutal but rewarding difficulty curve and looks amazing for a game made in 1988 for a home console. The TG-16 had a short amount of time to leverage its 16-bit graphics to sell units before the Mega Drive and SNES would completely overtake it, and The Legendary Axe could've been its best foot forward had it been bundled with the TG-16 instead of Keith frickin' Courage (which I'll probably be playing for this feature regardless).

More fun facts: The game had a sequel, the innovatively named The Legendary Axe II, and was the primary influence for Aicom's later Arcade/NES hit Astyanax. We were chopping mad for axes back then, yo.

How Is It Legendary? Don't Axe Me

Welcome to the Legendary Axe! Let us push onward with this run with "Push Run". (I neglected to mention this was published by Victor Musical Industries. Given their track record at this time (and that of Aicom, for that matter), it's anyone's guess why this game turned out as well as it did.)
This is what most of the game looks like - you move left to right, killing monsters with your axe. Each monster's got their own pattern though, so it's often a bit more strategic than most mindless hack-n-slashers.
Take for instance the first mid-boss, who you meet approximately 20 seconds into the game by falling into a pit. It's a spider that will actually lose legs the more damage you do to it. Defeating it provides us with the first Axe Upgrade.
This is the game's ace in the hole: Each Axe Upgrade gives you an additional quarter of your power-up bar, which automatically fills after each attack given or received, replenishing quickly after a successful strike and slowly after you get hurt. The trick is to give it a few moments to fully charge before attacking: Doing so will cause more damage to enemies. Many of the fights to come will be predicated on avoiding enemies until the gauge is filled and then counter-attacking at max strength. If you've played Secrets of Mana and/or Evermore, you might be familiar with the system.
Anyhoo, the first real boss is this goofy pair of upright bears. They don't hit hard, but it's the first case where enemies come at you from both sides and you're having to tactically find a way to avoid them surrounding you.
We get this "do your best!" message about Flare after each zone. She's actually your kidnapped girlfriend, rather than some sinister boss waiting at the end. I do believe The Legendary Axe is one of the rare cases of an action game where the goal is to rescue a helpless female companion.
Zone 2 is a subterranean level and is really where the game starts to double-down on its insta-kill pitfall traps. As with Castlevania, you have a formidable amount of health and a fair number of opportunities to recover it, but a single knock-back can send you careening off ledges to your death. It's fun like that.
What's even more fun are these giant sentient rocks that follow you around. They're very damaging and take more than a few blows to take out, but at the same time... they're rocks. Just avoid them, dummy!
The third zone has two parts to it: A and B. A's mostly this outdoorsy mountainous area full of asshole eagles. B's not much better.
"Boogidy-boogidy! I'll scare your dad!"
If you've ever played the original Castlevania(s), you'll probably get the same involuntary shudders from waterfall levels as I do. Niagara Falls, more like Neander Falls! But seriously, I died an awful lot here.
This is a neat little moment that the game never repeats: The third Axe Upgrade is behind this waterfall you uncover by finding a nearby key.
The third world's boss is a whole bunch of these gnarly furry demon things. They move fast and are pretty deadly in packs, so the best bet is to duck, let the gauge fill and try and take one of them out while they aren't all swarming above your head.
Zone 4 starts a bit weird: You have a mini-boss encounter with two difficult regular enemies, and then immediately enter another subterranean level through this elaborate wooden gate.
That grey block up there is a stone golem in disguise. It'll wake up and knock you off the small ledge as soon as you jump over there. This is a dick move by the game developers and it killed me quite a few times. Thanks Aicom!
It's not as brutal as these two though. They have a lot of health, come at you from both sides and each of those pokes takes off two and a half health whatsits (those little red things in the upper left). Worst of all is that the reach with their spears is slightly longer than your's is with with your axe, so it's occasionally impossible to avoid being hit as you close in to attacking distance.
The biggest screwjob however is the entire fifth zone: You fight a few enemies and enter this large mansion type area - each room is a short sub-zone with a few tough enemies, but will occasionally end with either a well to jump down or another door to pass through. One of those two will bump you back a few rooms while the other lets you move forward, but there's no way to tell which is which. It's like that Bowser's Castle level in the original Mario Bros that forces you to find the right path through trial and error. I'd say it was the one part of this game that really lets it down.
You think I'm kidding? This is Zone 5's boss in room 5R. Which means I had to pass through almost 20 of those labyrinthine rooms to get here. Anyway, this is the shaman dude from the title screen. He's a pain because he keeps shooting fireballs that circle around the screen, and once you have three or four of those things floating around it's hard to avoid them.
Zone 6 just has the final boss in it, which is this handsome fellow. Unlike many of the game's battles, this is a simple war of attrition: It's hard to avoid a damaging kick move he does every time he jumps, but he moves very slowly. It simply comes down to hitting him as many times as possible and hoping you outlast him.
But sure enough, good triumphs over beardies and Gogan and his ladyfriend Flare get to read the poorly localized credits side-by-side. Awww. I kind of made it look like she was kneeing him in the torso, though, which isn't quite what happens. This isn't Karateka.

Overall, this is a pretty solid game given its age. It's very difficult, but also kind of short, so it shouldn't keep anyone frustrated for too long. Oddly enough, it never received the Virtual Console treatment, despite being one of the more fondly remembered games for the system. Which might cause one to wonder where all these screenshots came from. That's a good question! The way tha-

So if you're a fan (or can at least tolerate how cheap they can be) of the older Castlevania games, before they went all Metroid-y and long before they went all Zobek-y, The Legendary Axe is a solid game of that ilk. The way it asks for a little caution from its axe-wielding barbarian, while also making the charged-up attacks super satisfying to pull off, raises it above most of the dreck as far as I'm concerned. I'll almost certainly be checking its sequel out at some point further down the line.

If you have an axe to grind with this game, or just want to bury the hatchet, feel free to post in the comments below. I'm just going to recharge my meter for a bit before I start on next month's Premium Feature comics.

The TurboMento-12
January - Ninja SpiritMay -September -
February - Dungeon ExplorerJune -October -
March - The Legendary AxeJuly -November -
April - NeutopiaAugust -December -
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J'accuse, Yakuza

What the above image signifies, besides the fact that I need a better camera (seriously, the 3DS camera is garbage), is that I recently completed a perfect game of Yakuza 2. Albeit a perfect game that took some 80+ hours to obtain. Subsequently I have little else to talk about this week, so here's yet another blog based entirely around the second Ryu ga Gotoku game, why not.

I've thought about structuring this blog as an "Anatomy of a S-Rank" sort of affair (as with my similarly obsessive Tales of Vesperia run), but Yakuza 2 doesn't actually have achievements. I mean, it has stuff for you to do, and there is a false sense of achievement from doing that stuff I suppose, but beyond that there's only the categories listed above on that screenshot you can barely see. Therein lies the meat of Yakuza 2, though, so I'm just going to go through each one and give you some idea of what it means to fully complete this game, and why it took so goshdarn long.

I Have a Serious Problem

Food & Drink

So one of the neat things about Yakuza is that, for the sake of realism, the game features a lot of actual places - the game's primary Tokyo setting of Kamurocho is a fictionalized but otherwise structurally identical take on Shinjuku's red-light district, for instance. This also extends to specific stores, restaurants and various edibles and beverages you might come across. I mean, sure, you can decry it all as a flagrant sponsor-fest, but the game's only purpose for including these elements is for verisimilitude; there's no giant splash ads for Suntory anywhere, nor does C.C. Lemon's mascot barge into fights to toss you a refreshing citrus soda to give you the energy to continue shoving yakuza faces into lampposts for hours to come, but if you had the wherewithal to enter one of the many nightlife locations in the game, sidle up to the bar and check the menu, you'll see several Suntory drinks interspersed among Carlsberg, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig and a dozen other branded liquors. You get some lavishly elaborate descriptions for each one, of course, but it's presented in such a way that it feels more like the bartender is desperately trying to sell the main character on some quality high-priced spirits than any sort of untoward meta advertising. (Even so, I kind of like how grown-up a game makes me feel when it discusses the comparative virtues of bourbons and scotches.)

This is where the "Food" and "Drink" completion stats come in: It basically involves eating the entire menu of each restaurant (133 items in all) and drinking each of the 35 alcoholic beverages of each bar found throughout the game's three urban settings. With the exception of the real-life Matsuya chain of restaurants, the restaurants are all invented establishments that each serve a specific type of cuisine: You have imported American fast food institutions like the Smile Burger, hoity-toity European cafes like Café Alps, sushi restaurants, okonomiyaki (Kansai-style savory pancakes?), ramen, fugu (like fancier sushi that can kill you), takoyaki (octopus!), a restaurant that serves nothing but fried offal and one that's entirely cuisine from Kyoto, which I believe is more fish. It's all part and parcel of Yakuza's fantastic attention to detail as it applies to day-to-day living in Japan. I mean, you're also punching tigers in the face and fighting on top of moving trucks (more on that in a moment), but it's really the emphasis on the little things that make the Yakuza games the sort of immersive affairs in which one could potentially lose more than three entire days' worth of time. Hypothetically speaking.

Side-Missions

This is where the vast majority of that play time duration was spent. Side-missions are, true to their moniker, ancillary incidents that Kazuma can choose to get himself involved in. They generally involve helping out the less fortunate, taking down the more overtly criminal elements of the Japanese underworld or pulling off some impressive feat to keep the legendary reputation of the Dragon of Dojima alive. Often there's no gain besides an item or two and an experience point boost, but there'll be instances where you might befriend various locals (which occasionally pays off in battles) or obtain new skills and passive abilities. However, it's unfortunately quite easy to fail these missions by selecting the wrong option: Say, for instance, you get hassled by a pregnant woman into paying her child support for knocking her up. Kazuma's never met this woman, of course, but there's an option to acquiesce with her scam simply to shut her up. Doing so will fail the side-mission and cost a considerable amount of money besides, while calling her out on her scam will cause a heavy to appear out of nowhere and "do the right thing" by beating you up for being a deadbeat father. Or he'll try to, anyway. It's amazing how often this seems to happen to Kazuma, and equally amazing how his reputation as an epic ass-kicker never seems to precede him.

Anyway, the side-missions are often the best part of any Yakuza game. It's where the game can afford to be silly and let its hair down a bit, since the main story is often a little too po-faced for its own good. I mean, it's a traditional Yakuza story with all the pathos and drama that comes from living in a world full of revenge and remorse, but Kazuma can only seem to crack a smile when he's wryly accepting the grim realities of life, which hardly counts as levity. So instead we have side-missions where an American Major Leagues pitcher bets his Japanese girlfriend against your ability to score home-runs off pitches that would leave Christopher "you are already dead struck out" Robin aghast; a Yakuza underboss that gets his jollies from autonepiophilia (yeah, feel free to Google that) and gets so unreasonably angry with Kazuma when the latter chooses not to get freaky with him that he and his cronies throw down in nothing but diapers and bonnets; running a hostess club; being a host; finding a Ringu video; getting involved with insider trading; and beating a guy at a fictional version of Virtua Fighter, causing him to get so mad at you he comes at you with a lightsaber. It's not quite the level of inspired insanity of something like Saints Row, but there's an admirable amount of sheer stupid fun to be had if you're dedicated enough to seek it all out.

But it has its dark side too. In fact, I believe I wrote quite the screed about this last week. Go read up on it and try and figure out what's wrong with me; you'll be saving me a fortune in therapy sessions.

Hostesses

A.k.a. the more overt dating sim aspects of the game. Hostesses are an entirely Japanese construction; a modern-day equivalent to geishas where a man (or, indeed, a woman) can pay to spend time with attractive members of either gender just jabbing and drinking socially. It's a cross between an escort and joining an exclusive dating ring and kind of hard to describe in a way that doesn't make it sound like the shadiest, most licentious and socially regressive thing in the world.

It really isn't. You have friendly conversations with pretty ladies and if they like you, they ask you out on perfectly innocuous dates to restaurants and bowling alleys. Presumably most of the clients that aren't 6' smoldering, broody powerhouses like Kazuma rarely reach the "getting asked out for reals" part of the hostess experience, but beyond the inherent ickiness most people would have with spending money to talk to an attractive person where said attractive person is then contractually obligated to pretend to enjoy your company while shilling the most expensive libations they think you can afford, it can be almost kind of cute at times.

There are larger issues with the dating sim in general that make the whole genre feel a bit off to me, specifically how interacting with real women is rarely analogous to a multiple choice exam that you can memorize the right answers to, but it's surprisingly inoffensive given how embarrassing you'd think the hostess sections must be if Sega had to step in and scrap the whole feature from subsequent Yakuza localizations. I mean, it is a little gross, but it's certainly no Otomedius Excellent, Gal Gun or IGDA after-party. I'm not saying it excuses a minor misogynist thing by comparing it to major misogynist things, but I think it's perfectly okay to depict human sexuality in games if you remember to include a little tact and empathy towards crafting the female component in those relationships. Whatever, that's part of a much longer and more serious blog that isn't about what some loser did to achieve 100% on a video game where you beat up goons with an ashtray.

Hell, I'm sure site-favorite Katawa Shoujo is more overtly scurrilous. Back me up @video_game_king?

Coliseum

Oh good lord, the Coliseum. This is perhaps where the game got the most unfortunately grindy, my run-in with the Eastern game of tiles excepted. The Underground Coliseum of Purgatory - which it itself already an underground city, thus rendering the official name of the coliseum a tautology - is a series of contests where Kazuma must fight three opponents in a row of ascending difficulty while only recovering a third of his total health between each bout. Each contest has its own specific rules: No throwing, no "groundwork" (i.e. no stomping on a dude while he's lying on the ground), no kicks, etc. There are also contests held in arenas that are lined with barbed wire, or flame traps, or the fence is electrified. You know, basic Kumite unsanctioned underworld death fight stuff. (Kind of an amusing aside: I was listening to one of my favorite movie podcasts We Hate Movies while hashing this stuff out, and it just so happened to be covering Best of the Best 2: A movie based around an unsanctioned underground death fight arena. Go figure, huh?)

The problem comes with this side-quest's "gotta catch 'em all" aspect, where to unlock the top tier fights you have to repeat lesser contests a set number of times to open them up. To fight the two most difficult opponents, you have to face a set percentage of the 49 other combatants before they'll appear. This set percentage is 100%, incidentally. While it's fun to fight a bunch of diverse badasses such as a fat guy in clown make-up ostentatiously named "Don Carpaccio", a Brazilian kick-boxer, an elderly Judo expert, a European giant holding an enormous battleaxe, a fat otaku who comes at you hard with kali sticks, a mob boss in a suit and lucha mask and a Chinese master chef, it's less fun when you're having to repeat fights to find the one guy who only appears in that particular contest sometimes. This is exacerbated by the fact that these are some of the toughest fights in the game, often require some weird conditions before they'll appear (such as completing a contest that only unlocks way later) and loads you up with so many crappy "prizes" that you find yourself with constant inventory management problems that it's almost not worth the trouble.

I say almost not worth the trouble, because the most powerful Coliseum opponent in the game happens to be prolific VGM composer Akira Yamaoka wearing Michael Jackson's outfit from the Smooth Criminal video. I... yeah.

Locker

Actually, there's not much to say about this one. Locker keys can be found lying around all over the place and each one will unlock one of the coin lockers in the middle of town. Each locker has a reward. That's basically it: A series of hard-to-spot collectibles (they're little dots that sparkle intermittently, like the treasures in Uncharted 2) that at the very least grant you actual benefits, rather than a few pieces of concept art or a 3D model of some facsimile of an Etruscan urn. Best to sweep them all up using a walkthrough as soon as you're free to wander around town and then move onto the fun stuff.

HEAT Actions

Talking of fun stuff, HEAT (yep, all caps) actions are essentially what the Yakuza battle system is predicated on. While it's spiffy and all to rely entirely on Kazuma's mastery of the martial arts, these are street fights you're getting involved in and that means employing whatever improvised weapons and environmental take-downs are handy. Honestly, who ever heard of a street fighting game where most of the combatants only use their fists and feet?

When blocking attacks, taunting or hitting opponents hard enough to send them flying, Kazuma is building up a gauge that will allow him to perform particularly damaging attacks. I know, stop me if you've heard this one before. However, what the game registers as "particularly damaging attacks" are cases where Kazuma might roughly lift a combatant and hurl him into the freezing cold Dōtonbori canal (oh sorry, Sotenbori canal) from twenty feet up or pick up a guy by his ankles and spin him into a car's windshield. And that's just the environmental stuff. There's a HEAT action attached to every item and weapon in the game (though many perform double duties): Baseball bats, golf clubs, staves, swords, tonfas, salt shakers, portable stoves, pliers (yeah, that's a good one; if you get squeamish about amateur dentistry, look away now...), signboards and a mysterious syringe left in a car park filled with who knows what. I realize that environmental kills and brutal melee animations have become so ubiquitous in action games in the past few years that their impact here would be inevitably lessened somewhat, but it's still the #1 reason anyone should play a Yakuza game. Outside of something like the Arkham games or Sleeping Dogs, which really has a lot to answer for regarding its "influencer-influenceé" relationship with Yakuza, there's no better brawler combat system out there.

Of course, finding all the HEAT actions is no picnic. Some are unfortunately linked to one-off fights, like one where you slide a guy across the bar, breaking every glass and bottle with his face and sending him head first into the wall at the end: While a lot of fun, there are only two fights in the game that take place in a bar. Likewise, certain objects are hard to get a hold of, and since everything in the game has a durability stat it's generally a good idea to put stuff away until the HEAT gauge is filled and ready to go. It's not overly aggravating, but is definitely one of those things along with locker keys and side-mission responses for which you need a browser displaying GameFAQs at your beck and call if you're hoping for that elusive 100%. There's a pretty good spoiler-free FAQ by HeeroXXXG-01W I could recommend, even.

But yeah, 83 hours I'll never see again later, and I find myself with a perfect ranking and a whole heap o' regrets. But don't let me put you off from trying a Yakuza game for yourselves; provided you don't go completely insane with it like I did, it should be a lot of fun (this is similar to the advice I gave for Xenoblade Chronicles too). See you all next time for more spirit-lifting tales of obsessive video game playthroughs, either here on the GB forums or on an episode of A&E's Intervention. Could go either way at this point, frankly.

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A Night On The Tiles: My Mahjong Song

I'm writing a blog about my pain in order to rise above it. But I'm getting ahead of myself; allow me to start at the beginning, since that's usually the place to go for starting things.

The Dragon of Dojima. No, not Nanako.

Yakuza 2 is a game from Amusement Vision, a subsidiary of Sega that has been through a few name changes, as in-house Sega development studios tend to do. You all might know the series from the odd advertising campaign surrounding its third entry involving Pizza Hut and the George Foreman Grill, but failing that the studio has also been behind the original (i.e. good) batch of Super Monkey Ball games, Binary Domain and some of the more recent Shining RPGs (which is a series I've been paying close attention to for the past month).

Anyway, Yakuza 2 probably doesn't need much more of an introduction than that. It has a wiki page to save me the effort. What matters here is that it is a game with a hell of a lot of content beyond simply the main plot, which involves quite a lot of cutscenes told in a very well-established sub-genre of Japanese narrative fiction involving their particular brand of organized crime for which the game is named. I'd be doing the game's otherwise competent storytelling a disservice by comparing the genre to America's Godfather/Goodfellas/Scarface stable of similarly themed criminal underworld movies, but then video game adaptations of those tend to fall way short of their movie equivalents too. I'd say the Yakuza games acquit themselves quite well in comparison.

So let's not worry about that. Let's worry about the various mini-games the game offers, in a similar manner to open-world games of the west (though to a far greater extent, it feels): You can bowl, you can golf, you can swing a bat in a batting cage. These three simply give you more options for their respective items (that would be a bowling ball, a golf club and a baseball bat) in combat by mastering the mini-game, which while difficult isn't beyond the realm of possibility for anyone with decent reaction speeds that bothered to learn how they tick (or read a FAQ, which I'd also advise for a game like this, simply due to its vast amount of missable content).

What this long pre-amble is leading to are the other two major mini-games of Yakuza 2, both of which have a considerably more Eastern flair: Shogi and Mahjong. Shogi... I couldn't even begin to explain how that works. It's chess, but not? That's all you're getting out of me in that regard. However, before playing Yakuza 2 I knew how to play Mahjong, or at least had the basics of it down pat. Hell, my blog writing can't seem to include enough overlong edifying today, so why don't I explain said basics? It'll help you all understand my position. Which would be shit creek without a riichi, for anyone who missed the hint in the opening paragraph (or simply forgot, since it was so many damn words ago).

Mahjong, as she is played

This is the only picture on the site relating to Mahjong, it would seem. Also, this guy has a much better hand than I usually have.

All right, so the basics of Mahjong are thus: You and your three opponents have a hand of tiles. Which is like a hand of cards, but with tiles. These hands are thirteen pieces long, or fourteen in the middle of a turn. Each turn you collect a piece (bringing it to fourteen) and then discard a piece. The idea is you want a winning hand, which is comprised of four sets and a pair of whatever you want. A set is a trio of tiles that either follow in a run (which is a chow) or are three of the same tile (which is a pung). The tiles comprise of three suits - Characters, Bamboo and Circles - and two special suits called Dragons (of Green, White and Red varieties) and Winds (of the four cardinal directions). If you have a winning hand, you declare either ron or tsumo and you rake in a variable amount of cash from the other players. Simple, right?

All right, so here's where it gets more complicated: When collecting a tile for your turn, you can elect to pick from the many leftover tiles that weren't dealt out which comprises the wall around the center of the board (though we can just say "the deck" for simplicity's sake), or you can collect a piece one of your opponents just discarded. Crafting a set with a discarded tile makes that set "visible", and is subsequently worth less points. If you happen to be given the right piece from the deck, you can keep that set to yourself to earn more from it at the end of the game. So, with this in mind, a winning hand is called a ron when you use a discarded tile to complete it and a tsumo for when you just come upon the right piece - the latter is worth more than the former.

COMPOUNDING THIS FURTHER are the other scoring rules. These are legion and vary from game to game, much like poker. It is here where I start to lose focus, because this is the sort of byzantine ruleset professional players have to introduce to alleviate the fact that their stupid psuedo-sport card game is mostly based on luck. In most games of Mahjong, you can only score points with sets of Dragons or Winds (which are like face cards, only you can't include them in straights i.e. you can't have three different dragons in a row, they have to be three-of-a-kind only) and pungs made of "terminal" tiles, which is 1 or 9 of the other three suits. There are also dora tiles, randomly assigned when the tiles are dealt, which give you bonus points and are all but hidden until the end of the game. There's also kangs, which are four-of-a-kinds which have their own weird-ass rules - you always have to declare them (i.e. make them visible) and they add extra dora tiles for a potential bigger payout. Then there's the riichi rule, where if you need a single, specific tile to complete your hand, you can place a gambling chit down and earn more points if that piece should happen to turn up - the downside is that this gambling chit costs an investment from your pool and you're no longer able to change your hand; the game basically goes into automatic mode until you or someone else wins. Following so far? No? Well, let's keep going then.

I've added so many of these damn Mahjong games to the wiki. The Famicom was lousy with them.

Now we have all the additional point modifiers: These include having specific matching sets, such as finishing a hand with nothing but pungs or making a set of three Wind tiles that just happen to be the same direction as you are. You can work out your Wind by your position in relation to the dealer, who is always East. So if he's on your right, you're South, for instance. There's also the fact that all of the Character tiles are depicted in kanji, as are the Winds, so you kind of have to memorize which represents what if you can't read kanji symbols since the game's not going to tell you what they mean. There are literally dozens of these special winning hands, and each score modifier (called a fan) doubles your winnings: If you start compounding these with a particularly amazing hand, you can basically win the game in a single round. Of course, there are far too many of these modifiers to memorize, so your best bet is to just aim for a winning hand and hope it's worth something. There may in fact be a reason why Sega excised the Mahjong game from the international versions of Yakuzas 3 and 4.

Now that that's all been made crystal clear

We now come to the specific side-quest in Yakuza 2 that pertains to this Mahjong mini-game. Each of Yakuza 2's mini-games has one, and in each the standard rules have been changed to be even more difficult than usual, but the payoff is that you get some award (usually money, sometimes a special move for combat) and a little boost in your completionism percentages. You've all played a GTA game, presumably, so you know what the deal is there. In Mahjong's case, the narrative of the side-quest is that some poor kid got hustled by some thuggish professional players, lost most of his buy-in and tried to split before getting caught at the door. You can choose to step in and help the kid out by assuming the game from where it left off, which involves having far less money than they do to gamble with. So here we have a game that is largely based on luck (shush, it is) played against three expert AI players with a considerable malus.

I've been trying to beat this single goddamn game of Mahjong for ten hours.

The thing that becomes clear, quite early on in fact, is that when a designer with his back against the wall must ramp up the difficulty of a game based on luck the only course of action is to make the AI opponents preternaturally fortuitous. In words of less than four syllables: They cheat. I'm not even sure why I'm fixated on winning a rigged game that I barely understand, since this is a PS2 game that doesn't include achievements of any kind (and a wiser sort might've waited for the international HD PS3 rereleases with trophy support before unleashing one's inner-Caravella). Like the Terminator, I'm simply running on pure obstinate malice at this point. I refuse to let this game beat me, despite knowing just too little about Mahjong and just too much about ludology to understand that such a goal is untenable.

But this is where Yakuza 2 really starts to twist the proverbial tanto.

On many occasions, the game has ended with me coming in second place. This is in spite of the fact I began with 10,000 to their 25,000 buy-in, meaning second place is more than respectable. However, since the win condition of the side-quest is that you have to come in first, the scripted "lose" event occurs as soon as the game ends and the whole table derides your terrible Mahjong skills, despite the fact that two thirds of said table really ought to shut their fat mouths. Furthermore, to buy back into the game for a second chance requires two items that are extremely expensive to purchase, meaning this is more of a "save first, reset later" save-scumming scenario, which after several dozen resets must not be doing my aged PS2 any favors. Furthermost, I've noticed an unsettling tendency of the CPU players to start dumping all their eggs in one basket as soon as the accursed human starts doing well: Essentially, once you reach first or second place, a specific CPU player (randomly assigned; ostensibly they draw lots before you get there) will keep winning hands until they've completely trounced you, leading to the aforementioned second place humiliation conga. The one time I finished first after the fixed number of rounds had passed? The game asked me if I wanted to quit. I thought I accidentally hit the button for quitting the match early and would forfeit the game by hitting "yes", so I selected "no" and the game continued for another round, after which a CPU player managed to edge ahead in points and the match ended as usual with me in second place.

This game is infuriating.

Readers of a blog I wrote about a year ago about a particularly ill-conceived set of achievements for the otherwise excellent Tales of Vesperia might be aware of my specific vein of venomous vehemence. It's not really made itself known too often in the months since I wrote that article, but man if these Japanese games bring it out of me sometimes. I wonder if it's because they're created specifically to be way more unfair (given Dark Souls, it seems likely) or if I simply care more about helping Kazuma Kiryu win a dumb Mahjong game to get some overwhelmed youngster out of a jam than I do about something like helping Kratos avenge his murdered family with more murder or assisting the interchangeable gruff-accented bowling balls of Gears of War in taking back their planet of Waisthighwallia. Given what I just wrote, there might be some inherent snobbery in play as well; in which case I probably deserve this self-inflicted Tartarus.

The happiest of endings

After so many innumerable hours and last second defeats snatched from the jaws of victory, I finally won a game. And not just by a little bit either. Truly the random tile Gods shined down on my plight or at the very least started worrying about my mental health. Next, I explore the hostess portions of this game in another side-quest extravaganza. See you then? Perhaps? Maybe not. It might get licentious. (That sub-title certainly doesn't help.)

Let us talk of other things, other things that aren't Mahjong

CAW Gabe Newell on a ring-ruining rampage.

Jeff got me hooked on VGCW recently, thanks to some choice tweets of his before the March 12th showing. I missed most of last night's episode, because I only ever seem to neglect my Twitter feed when it would be beneficial to pay attention to it, but I have been watching the archives for most of this week. It's really fun to watch peripherally if - just hypothetically speaking here - you're playing the same goddamn hour of a video game over and over. Jeff wrote a recent article about it with links to tell you everything you need to know to get started on watching it, though I'd advise skipping the lengthy Twitch archives and head to a channel on YouTube run by VGCWClem. Any further back, you can peruse their official wiki for match info and story beats. Watch a few to see if it's worth this much investment first, of course, but it's oddly captivating and I say this as someone who has never been a particular fan of professional wrestling. I guess there's something about how the artificiality of the pseudo-sport combined with the inherent artificiality of video game characters makes it work. Or maybe it's just dumb fun that I'm reading too much into. Anyway, the last episode's stinger hinted at a Kefka reveal so I am 100% on board for next week's show. Come to their Twitch chatroom during the next live stream and yell SON OF A SUBMARINER alongside me, why don't you?

Oh yeah, I watched Wreck-It Ralph too. It's only tangentially video-game related, but it's one of the better non-Pixar CGI movies I've seen and that's not even factoring in the bonus kudos that comes about setting one's movie around old video games. I'd also highly recommend a bonus mockumentary made either to promote the movie or as a Blu-Ray extra about a King of Kong style attempt at the Fix-It Felix Jr. (the movie's fictional arcade game and home of two of its main characters) world record, as well as the song Buckner and Garcia specially wrote for said fictional arcade game around the time that they sold out with a promo for some website or other.

BONUS COMIC

Yakuza 2

"The Vinny Punchline". Which is to say a line of video game people getting punched by Vinny.

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The Comic Commish - March '13

Welcome to a particularly psychotic episode of the Comic Commish, my monthly tribute to my gold membership sponsor @omghisam and the fine folk who run this website that we're on right now. I've been told it's never healthy to stew in one's own insanity for too long. But I'll show them. I'll show them all.

I think I'm actually at the half-way point. Sweet! I'm sure I have another 18 ideas in me. Here are the past commisheses: October, November, December, January, February.

Premium Content For Your Premium Contempt

"Giant Bomb's Hall of (Hotdog) Meat"

Now, this isn't to suggest they actually turf Patrick off of CBSi HQ, which is probably inadvisable regardless of how many mattresses are placed down, but rather play Skate 3's infamous injury-causing mode in order to recreate the fracture that put our newshound out of commission for a time. Points are awarded for collarbone breaks and deducted for breaking any other part of the body. I figure the best way to get over ailments is to laugh at them, right? Broken bones, terminal diseases, nitrous oxide addictions: Laughter is the best medicine, after all.

"Sponsored Shrink Shack Shenanigans"

With this whole adblock kerfuffle going on right now, between professional website reviewers who are rightly aggrieved by people who block their chief source of revenue and visitors to said websites who are rightly aggrieved by having to sit through ads when they can get impressions of a game for free on YouTube or a thousand other places, Jeff's been talking about his plans to somehow integrate commercials into Giant Bomb's content in a fun, informal way without it feeling gross. I want to say the best example I've seen of this sort of thing of recent are the Extreme Restraints segments of My Brother, My Brother and Me: Germane to the content, informative of the product and very, very funny. Of course, very few businesses outside of online vendors of sexual aids would be down for such ribaldry, but I guess it's something companies with products to sell and content producers with an audience to sell to are going to have to see eye-to-eye on more often.

I may have gone too far with this one.

I do think they could use a JRPG guy, given how many players there are out there that haven't yet given up on them. Or better yet, some manner of a collective entity made up of pro-JRPG community users who can write reviews and have the particularly well-written ones presented as Giant Bomb's semi-official stance on the games in question, rather than the current fully-official stance of "meh". Similar case could be made for MMOs as well, I suppose, since those things are constantly in flux and would require a full-time presence that would be unfeasible to ask of the finite numbers of the Bomb Crew... as it would be to ask them to review a 60-hour long JRPG, I'll begrudgingly concede.

Then again, we probably won't have much of a content-producing community left by the time the engineers finally restore the various utilities we had for keeping tabs on each other's output. Grouse, grouse, grouse; I know, it's all I seem to do these days.

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A Rorie Collie Palace: The Dog Blog

Ahoy-hoy Bombinos, welcome to another blog to be cast into the phantom zone, from whence no man, woman or entity might be able to see it. At least until I tell @ZombiePie about it, anyway. All this grousing about the missing site features that once supported the blogging community is going to seem really dated in a week or so. I hope.

But that's not why we're here today. Today I'm looking at video games that not only contain dogs, but make them central playable characters. Because dogs are usually thought to be insentient and unable to comprehend the sort of motivations, ministrations and machinations of the human world that normally comprise a story with depth and layers to it of the sort we'd wish video games would really start adopting as standard already, they're severely restricted in how much they can affect the plot, which is kind of instrumental for the protagonist's role. They generally can't talk either, but I guess that never hurt Crono or Gordon Freeman.

In spite of this, there are several games with playable canines that find one way or another of circumventing what would seem to be a golden rule of making the hero a person who is capable of knowing what's going on. Some of these instances start heading deep into Technicality Country (which is, strictly speaking, a sovereign state), so I'll start with the "purest" (in terms of doggy fidelity at least, if not in wholesome content) and work my way outwards.

Dog's Life

Do we have a concept page for "box art where the characters stand in a stark white void" yet? I'm sure I see this everywhere.

Like a great many of you with premium accounts and nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon (or a Friday middle of the night, in my case), I was captivated by a recent game covered by GB's Unprofessional Fridays. Enraptured, even. Dog's Life - which is actually from the same British studio that developed the sequels to Frontier, which in turn was the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, so that's kind of weird - is an action-adventure game (sort of?) that stars Jake the Dog (unfortunately not the magical one) as he attempts to track down the dognappers that stole his beloved paramour Daisy.

The gist of the game was fairly well elaborated upon in the Unprofessional Fridays section that brought it to this site's collective consciousness, but essentially the game is all about collecting a core currency (in this case bones) which in turn somehow makes Jake stronger, allowing him to defeat certain roadblocks between him and the end of the game. These obstacles are invariably other dogs, and the dogcatcher's Rottweiler Killer in particular, with whom the player competes with in various contests involving tugs of war, competitive territory marking (with pee, naturally), hole digging and races. On top of that, many bones are found by helping humans with their problems (often requiring some adventure game-esque puzzles, filling in the "adventure" part of "action-adventure") and simply exploring the surroundings for errant ulnas. It's somehow far more involved than the usual plot coupon currency games that are the 3D platformers I generally cherish, so I can't really fault the game for its core gameplay. Pretty much every aspect outside the gameplay cannot be afforded the same protection, however, but hey, the game's practically a decade old so maybe I can forgive a few ugly models and some truly dubious voicework.

"Did you just bring that guy shit?"

Somehow the game gets even more in-depth with its first-person "Smellovision" view. A cute mechanic, the world is considerably desaturated but is enhanced in turn by the visibility of color-specific scents of humans and other dogs, as well as telltale orange glows that indicate nearby bones and loose enduring scents that make up the various other collectibles of the game. Collecting all of a specific-colored scent in an area will unlock one of the aforementioned dog challenges, while the purple, area-constant 50 scents (which doesn't include "blood in the sand" or "sick-ass skulls" among them, sadly) take the role of the sort of extended series of scavenger hunts that Banjo Kazooie et al were predicated on.

It's an oddly decent game, though one obviously meant for children given its general lack of challenge. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's mostly bodily function gags and obnoxious Marmaduke-brand dog jokes, since both are far better represented than anyone could possibly hope or want, but it's a goofy, off-beat curio that the universe was apparently happy to let slip by unnoticed. Well, until someone on GB's staff dug it out from its obscurity like the figurative beef cutlet in a trash can.

Okami

The life of a creation Goddess isn't all flames, wings and IGN watermarks. It's a dog eat God world out there.

So here's where we sort of depart from the core dog model here. Jake was capable of human-like thought processes, albeit ones far more focused on pissing everywhere, but was otherwise as Canis lupus familiaris as they get. Amaterasu, despite appearing as a regular white wolf to most of the characters of Okami, has a plethora of supernatural abilities at her disposal, due mostly to her status as a creator Goddess. In this sense she is far more than simply a dog (or a wolf I guess, but why argue semantics?). Even so, much of the game's narrative beats and script is built around her canine presence, with characters simply thinking aloud whenever she's nearby because it's not talking to yourself like a loon if a doggy deity's in earshot. She also has Issun, a flea-sized artist, to translate her barks and howls to anyone who cares to listen (like us players, for instance) as well as act as a necessary audience surrogate in other, more subtle ways. In fact, Issun does so much of the talking that it sometimes feels like Ammy's taking a far more passive role in the proceedings. Doesn't help that she's always yawning during cutscenes - though given how long and numerous they are, it's sometimes hard to fault her.

Okami makes the best use of its animal heroine with the way she fights: She employs a series of "divine instruments", each with their own reach, combos and advantages, and swings them around in her mouth while agilely leaping around the various encounters of the game, random or otherwise. As Dog's Life also ably demonstrates, taking a dog's natural inclination for jumping and running and employing them in a genre like the platforming action-adventure where such abilities can shine is maybe the best course of action if your game happens to star a dog. I'm not saying you can't have, say, a survival horror game or a city-building sim with a dog protagonist, it's just that it'll have far more restrictions than is perhaps desirable.

Why the hell did I have to bring up an idea like Dog SimCity? I've made myself sad because it doesn't exist. Giant vacuum cleaners used for disasters... arcologies shaped like fire hydrants... all lost, like urination in rain.

Discworld Noir

The inimitable Josh Kirby did the box art here, as he did with many of the covers for early Discworld novels. This was one of his last pieces.

Mostly ignored even by Discworld fans, the CGI-heavy third installment of the Discworld series of point-and-click adventure games featured an original character, Lewton, who would've been an incongruously modern construct (a classic trenchcoat and fedora-sporting detective) had Ankh-Morpork had anything resembling a consistent sense of time or place. Terry Pratchett's world is full of idiosyncrasies which, as with the sci-fi universe of his contemporary Douglas Adams, served mostly to humorously draw parallels and satirize the real world than be a separate entity with a strict internal logic of its own. That said, with dozens of novels set in that world by the time this game came out, Pratchett's Discworld had been fleshed out sufficiently that fans more or less knew its most famous city inside and out: From the magically ramshackle Unseen University, where wizards ostensibly go to learn their craft but in actuality are finding ways to escape real jobs for as long as possible (what did I say about satire?) to the stern palatial holdings of Lord Vetinari the Patrician, a man only as evilly Machiavellian as he needs to be to keep Ankh-Morpork in one piece, which is about as benevolent a leader as the city could hope for.

Discworld Noir presents itself as a classic film noir story in a city that just so happens to feature giant rocky troll bouncers and goons, vampiric pianists, a sardonic Grim Reaper who flat-out refuses to be a murder witness despite technically witnessing every murder that has ever happened and, as would later become vitally important to the mystery, a werewolf or two. While much of Lewton's adventuring is of good old-fashioned interrogation and observation detective work, at one point in the story he is assaulted and turned by a werewolf and is able to adopt its form to solve scent-based puzzles. Similar to Dog's Life's Smellovision, they essentially boil down to Lewton figuring out the scent of a particular person of interest, dropping into his wolf-form and sniffing them out.

It's a very witty game (as would be expected of anything Discworld), packed with as many film noir references as it is with characters and settings from the Discworld books, and the scent puzzles gel neatly with the rest of the adventure game elements. Everyone in the city treats a noirish detective in a fantasy city with the same level of incredulity that the player initially might, which never gets old, and while the models are as blocky as was sadly inescapable in late-90s CGI games, they're only really apparent in the cutscenes: The rest of the game uses pre-rendered characters and backdrops that represent perhaps the most detailed depictions of the Discworld outside of the TV shows. Though not yet on GOG, it is one of their more heavily requested titles, so fans of pre-collapse era adventure games hopefully won't have to wait too long to try it.

Other Notables

As always, I've waffled on too long. Here's but a smattering of playable dog characters of note that I didn't cover:

  • First and foremost are all the RPG dog characters that can get away with the usual doggy issues by simply being part of an ensemble and thus entirely ancillary in terms of plot significance. These include the Mabari War Hound of Dragon Age, Repede of Tales of Vesperia, Blanca of Shadow Hearts: Covenant, the player-named Dog of Secret of Evermore, Red XIII depending on whether you consider him a coyote or some kind of jaguar, Koromaru of Persona 3 and last but definitely least, the completely ineffectual King of EarthBound.
  • Missile, everyone's favorite undead Pomeranian (unless you were a huge fan of that vampire one in Blade Trinity), is introduced early in the excellent Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective as simply one of many chapter-specific characters the hero Sissel needs to save from a premature demise. However, Missile would go on to have a much bigger part to play. Ghost Trick is kind of incredible, and Missile is a large part of why that is.
  • Link's wolf-form in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Though not utilized quite as effectively as the examples above, it is a form that both restricts certain actions Link is able to perform while simultaneously introducing new ones. Beyond that, I'm not sure why the game didn't just do what A Link to the Past did and make Link's dark world form a pink bunny rabbit. Perhaps that would've spoiled the moody atmosphere the game was trying to engender?

As a final note, I hope to all that is good and grand that puppy patron Matthew @Rorie can find more work. To be made redundant so soon into this new job makes me wonder if there isn't some vengeful Gypsy pup out there that Rorie petted too hard one day. Hang in there! (Which, given, is a message more closely associated with determined kittens, but then I never claimed this blog would be 100% dogs, you guys.)

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Shining, Sweeping & Satirizing

Shining in the Darkness

(Why does all this seem a little... off?) Hey friends. Being the beloved moon monarch of this site seems like it's all fun and games (as many as two per week, you might even say) but actual video game kings rarely have it as easy. Take King Drake of the Kingdom of Thornwood: His ancestors thought it would be best to set up their Kingdom yards away from a foreboding ancient labyrinth full of monsters. A lack of forethought you might think, but Kings can do whatever they wish and frequently do. What good is hubris if it only engenders sensible decisions that ensure a prosperous and safe future for your progeny? No good at all is the answer to that. Trust me, I'm a King.

It'd be a short game if I didn't.

So in comes the hero, who is as bereft of a name as he is of a personality (no seriously, if he has any opinion about anything, we don't get to hear about it). We'll go with Sexywald Bus- oh, there's only room for five letters? Might as well stick with "Mento". It's nothing special as names go, but somehow it fits for a brutish fighter with more Weapon Points than sense. This now-named hero is brought before the King and told to spelunk the aforementioned hole in the ground full of evil to rescue his wayward daughter Princess Jessa. Sounds simple enough. Oh, except for all the monsters. Fortunately, the King's loyal Minister gives the hero enough cash to fill his inventory with only the shiniest of... wait, 200 gold? Let me check the conversion for gold pieces to moon dollars... carry the one... the moon dollar's strong right now, so... Ah.

And from that auspicious start, when the region's governance accidentally gives the hero knight less money than what is contained in the castle's apprentice janitor's weekly paycheck (to be fair, when Dark Lords are crashing through the ceiling every five minutes, he's definitely earning his stripes after clearing all that rubble so quickly) to take out an entire den of evil, we begin Shining in the Darkness, SEGA's answer to Wizardry and the various old-school dungeon crawlers that PC gamers in the West never seemed to be in short supply of in the early 90s.

This image is courtesy of an excellent LP of the game over on lparchive.com. It's informative and amusing, like me. Sort of.

Does it hold up? Absolutely, provided you have a high tolerance for obfuscating dungeon crawls and a random encounter rate only slightly less malicious than Skies of Arcadia's. Sega's oddly whimsical world of Shining, generally better represented by the Shining Force strategy games, has a sort of guileless and timeless fairytale quality to it. It's also not like this genre ever became particularly prevalent on consoles, at least not in the West, which sets it apart somewhat from what most NES RPGs were doing at the time. There is an element of "no passage until you've increased your numbers to be similar to the numbers of the monsters" stymieing going on that can be a little aggrieving, but generally it's an intelligent - in terms of puzzles, at least. Narratively it's about as complex as these early RPGs inevitably tend to be, which is to say not very - and surprisingly well-preserved RPG. Considering Etrian Odyssey 4 just came out this week thereby proving that someone somewhere must surely still care about these first-person dungeon delvers, it might be worth visiting if you've never done so before now. Just be in the mood for some grinding. And a bad case of crabs. No, I won't elaborate. Let's move on.

Review Synopsis

  • Did I mention the grinding? Get to level 3 before you even try to venture beyond the first few corridors of the dungeon. Trust me, it'll save you a lot of heartbreak.
  • The hero can never learn magic, in contrast to his two best friends Pyra and Milo, making him one of the few RPG protagonists less complex than his followers. Wait, what am I saying? They're all less complex than their followers. Most protagonists don't even speak, do they?
  • It's a handful of loose change on Steam right now. In fact, it costs so little that the hero might've been able to afford it with that hand-out from the minister. So yeah, hardly anything.

Oh Hell, where does that VGK fellow find his marvellous YouTubes? I mean, beyond sticking some mixture of "vocaloid", "video games", "abominations against nature" and "SpongeBob" into a search engine. Hopefully this ought to suffice:

Mamono Sweeper

(I don't even know if he covers browser games. I'm the worst parodier ever) Our own Brad Shoemaker is currently deep in his tireless quest for more iOS games to cover (the first iOS Quick Look should be here any day now!) as some sort of penance for the many lost years in which he roundly ignored that much vaunted bastion of video gaming excellence that is the smart phone. He mentioned (or Patrick did, I'm having trouble telling them apart in this regard) a game named Dungelot, said to be a "cross between Minesweeper and a Dungeon Crawler". Well, I've played Dungelot, and it falls way short on delivering a fulfilling experience of either. But you know what free browser game (perhaps the only medium that garners even less respect than mobile phone games) totally does bring the minesweeper monster-bashing goodness? Mamono Sweeper from Hojomaka Games.

I think that I shall never see, a monster as fearsome as a "3". (Though now I've thought about it more, it ain't as scary as a "4".)

It's easy enough to pick up the basics: Enemies each have their own level, and the player can only safely defeat enemies of his own level or lower. Use logic to decipher which of the hidden enemies are safe enough to engage and which are too tough, marking those which fall into the latter group for later so you can deal with them after you've levelled a bit. The numbers on each square tell you the total levels of all the monsters that surround it, and you can use it to extrapolate the locations of said foes and their respective strength levels, so it requires a minor bit of mental arithmetic on top of everything else. I know, I know, no game was ever made better with math. Except perhaps Donkey Kong Jr. (but not Frog Fractions - I'll save my nonconforming disappointment with that game for a future blog).

Egad! Have I displeased you all in some way?! (NB: This is just what happens when you win. Everyone celebrates by bouncing.)

There's not much more to it than that. It has a few modes, including a rather terrifying mode where the player character doesn't level up and all you can do is mark where all the enemies are hidden without engaging a single one. On the whole it's considerably more addictive and involving than Minesweeper, but at the same time very much follows a similar cadence of cautious exploration, logical deduction and a minimalist yet effective presentation. Also - it's a free game, dammit. Go click that link, try it out and see if it doesn't become a fixture whenever you have a moment to spare.

Review Synopsis

  • It's free and available on any browser, including the one you're presumably using to read this. I don't think it requires any of this usual pros and cons hemming-and-hawing.
  • Instead, I'll use this space to apologise profusely to @Video_Game_King, whose blog format I've purloined here for reasons I'll go into in the next bullet point. Just... wait until then, okay? Only a little bit longer to go.
  • OK, so here it is: The duder just posted his 300th blog. It's quite a milestone, to put it mildly, and I figured the least I could do to celebrate it was to parody the heck out of the guy. I have so many people skills it's crazy.
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The TurboMento-12: Dungeon Explorer

Time again for another cursory look at a Turbografx-16 classic. I'm going quite far back this time with Atlus' 1989 Action RPG Dungeon Explorer, thought to be the first good Atlus game to be released in the West, thus begetting that long relationship of "man, I hope Atlus bothers to translate this game for us, it looks amazing" between us and them that persists to this day.

Dungeon Explorer, for the uninitiated, is a game that takes more than a leaf or two out of Atari's playbook, being as it focused on Gauntlet style, well, gauntlets against traps and enemy spawners. The player must descend into the depths of dungeons (exploring them, if you will) while trying to stay alive long enough through the many hordes of spawning enemies to reach a boss at the end and defeat it. Though players can collect items to boost their stats (strength, speed, defence and the like), they are only temporary and vanish once the player loses one of their finite lives: Only by defeating bosses (and the occasional mini-boss) can the player level up and earn permanent boosts to their health and stats.

That's the gist of it, but the TurboMento-12 is more than just words: You get pictures too! Nothing but the best in Web 1.0 presentation for my dear readers.

What Am I To Do With All These Dungeons?

Welcome to Dungeon Explorer! The attract screen handily tells you what all the items are, if not the slightly more vital information of what they do. In short, the two magics are one-use spells, the following five items temporarily boost a specific stat, the next two add weapon effects and the last two are healing items. No, you don't have to remember all that for later.
Since this is a JRPG made in the 80s, the first thing to do is talk to the local monarch. He gives you directions to a dungeon to the south of the city. We're on an adventure!
Hey Judas! You seem trustworthy. (He's not kidding about the Bullbeast though, about its proximity or its emotional state.) This screen also helpfully summarizes the entire game: The dark red circle in the center is a portal, from which monsters endlessly spawn until it's destroyed. You just do that until you reach the next set of stairs and try not to die, basically.
This is the Bullbeast, the first boss of the game. He runs around and occasionally fires axe things at you diagonally. As long as you stay horizontal or vertical from the guy, he's not so bad. Also, be prepared for a lot of these bosses calling you a fool. It will eventually be less hurtful.
After killing a boss, you get one of these spinning CD things. Like the post-boss Heart Containers of Zelda, they're a permanent boost to your health and a specific stat based on which color it was flashing when you pick it up. The password also updates (more on this in just a moment).
Man, it's one thing after another around here. I neglected to capture the Gutworm fight, but let me tell you: It certainly was a gooey worm boss.
Christ, I hate these things. As well as monster spawners, the other big nuisance throughout the game are these flame traps. Most can be destroyed, but usually it's easier to just hop between the bursts.
The blonde Princess with a Japanese name is trapped in this jail cell that just so happens to sit between you and the rest of the game. I guess we're going to go defeat Grimrose, then. Boy, I love optional side-quests.
So yeah, this is a difficult game from Atlus, the developers of the Shin Megami Tensei series. Who'd have guessed? You have two options here: You can copy the password that appears once you die, which takes you back to the main castle at whatever experience level you had after defeating the last boss (currently the Gutworm) and walk all the way back, or you just cheat with the code on the right. I am a weak man.
This is Grimrose. He's a grim rose. I know, you were expecting a dragon zombie. He's one of those "fires inordinate amounts of bullets while staying in one spot" type bosses.
Grimrose may have had its thorns, but now it sings a sad, sad song, and thus is the way clear. The princess leaves us a neat code that allows the player to begin a new game with her as the protagonist. Can't get enough pro-active princesses in these games.
Another boss, this one was Sent to Impede you.
I liked my pun better, Judas. Also, screw you.
Off to the Water Castle next (presumably named for that small puddle next to the entrance) and the Tigerbeast. This is a fun boss fight, as he will constantly chase you. The trick is to turn and shoot during the brief periods he slows down. This fight would later be immortalized in the Oscar nominated Life of Pi. References!
Alexis is up next, and as well as her "lethal beauty" she has some powerful magic attacks and a propensity to turn real ugly real fast. The one thing she cannot do, however, is eat 100 nugs in one sitting.
I'm going to speed through the rest of these bosses. Cyclopus chases you around with pitchforks and will occasionally vanish and reappear elsewhere, making him a slightly more challenging version of the Bullbeast. The Reaper of Death does the old fake-out clone boss routine, creating three identical clones with very little health as decoys. Best thing to do is whittle the clones down to just one and pound on the real spook, otherwise he'll just summon more. Less getting surrounded that way.
Judas continues to be a dick.
Here's the Splatter Slime and Gargon. Splatter's main course of attack is to drop slime enemies wherever he goes, which quickly add up if you ignore them. Gargon's another boss that wishes he was in a shoot-em-up.
I neglected to mention something here: Occasionally you'll loop back around to the main town and get more directions from the King. These are helpful, because the game always restarts in the main city after each game over. Should you manage to reach each of these points and die, at least there'll be less walking to be done.
Final pic is of the final two regular bosses: Octopolus is a Zelda refugee that surrounds itself with weaker enemies to block your attacks. It'll eventually send them after you, at which point the core is exposed. Halatos is a monster with terrible breath attacks, but is pretty much the same as that other dragon. But, you know, just with more heads. Defeating him allows the player to finally recover this ORA Stone McGuffin everyone keeps talking about, and...

...and I'm going to stop there. Because I don't want to spoil the game's ending? Nope, because the image limit has apparently been lowered from 25 to 20 on the new site without my knowledge. Great.

As for the game, well, I'm not entirely sure it's aged gracefully. It is a well-designed game for its era - the way the passwords and lives work give you something of a fighting chance, even if the game itself can be rather difficult at times. The levels aren't particularly different in terms of how you're supposed to progress through them (protip: find the damn stairs) but visually and musically there's quite a bit of variance. The bosses are the best part, which is why I elected to show them off instead of the dungeons leading up to them.

As for cheating one's way through the game: It's probably a huge disservice, considering how easier it makes everything, but the game would be far more ponderous without it. I mean, I died a lot. It's kind of inescapable. Really, it's a bit like Dark Souls in that you want to get far enough to do some damage before your inevitable demise so you won't have to backtrack quite so far the next time through.

Overall, if you keep in mind its age and want to see some classic-ass Atlus before they got way into Jack Frosts, young detectives and alien zombie cancer, I'd say try it out. It's available on the Wii Shop last I heard. Um, which of course I know because that's the legal version I totally have and I totally got all these screenshots from. Uh, hmm, it's such a nice day I think I'll go out the window.

The TurboMento-12
January - Ninja SpiritApril - NeutopiaJuly -October -
February - Dungeon ExplorerMay -August -November -
March - The Legendary AxeJune -September -December -
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Watch, As I Brazenly Equate the PS4 Reveal to this Site's Relaunch

Hey folks, apologies for the lack of... well, anything, from me last week. I've kind of been a little demotivated from writing new content here because of the way the site's redesign has kind of put a kibosh on having a vibrant community of bloggers by seemingly isolating all of us. Through fault or design, I've been feeling very disconnected from my bloggy brothers with the lack of friend streams, a most recent blogs side-bar and a notification system that's on the blink and I'm certainly not the only one who's feeling a tad alienated by all this. But it's not really a fair complaint to make if one were writing here for a better reason than attention, which I ostensibly am, nor do I feel like it'll be a problem that will last any longer than Dave et al will allow, once they've finished ensuring the site doesn't implode due to stability issues. This site knows its audience: It's the reason Giant Bomb's persisted as long as it has, after all, while sites like 1-Up fall to the wayside (which is also unfair, since there's a probably a litany of other factors behind that closure, but hey I'm trying to be sensationalist here).

I realised all this while I was reading some of the complaints about the PS4 reveal - that rather than being a beacon of hope for the future of game consoles, it had the opposite effect for a discouraging percentage of its audience - and how that reaction had more than a few things in common with my misgivings with the new site, and how petty they might end up becoming in retrospect should we elect to dismiss an organization that has proven itself capable on many an occasion of engendering our trust and respect. I mean, Giant Bomb never potentially gave all our credit details to hackers, as far as I'm aware, but the comparison is more or less apt.

The PS4 Conference

Just going to collate my thoughts on this PS4 (sort of) revealing and how that console will, more than likely, become a fixture in my life for the next half-decade. I didn't particularly care that we didn't see it in the (plastic) flesh - as several more astute and pragmatic industry types have already said, to paraphrase, "it'll probably be a black rectangle that fits on a shelf" - nor was I particularly engaged by the smattering of system specs that we received. I did, in fact, appreciate that the conference was geared more towards presenting the games we could expect to see. Unfortunately, they didn't really pick a group of games I have any particular interest in.

Knack seemed cool. I always like a character-driven platformer game, even though it looked a bit more like a big stompy action-adventure thing. It actually reminded me a little of Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, though there was nothing to suggest that game's Ghibli-esque partnership between a young human and an immortal, magical being would be represented here. It at least looked interesting and new, which is more than I could say about most of the others on display. Killzone: Sky Shadow Fall I have zero interest in. DriveClub I have less than zero interest in, somehow. InFamous lost me after the lackluster second game and though I'm not counting it out entirely, the whole "Big Brother" angle seemed a tad trite (not to mention more than a little uncomfortable given its presenter): Why not go with something like the X-Men's Age of Apocalypse instead? A powerful mutant controlling a fascist state with the few rebel superheroes that hadn't yet been captured and "processed" leading the revolt? It's not like inFamous has taken any major steps in the past to separate itself from its Marvel/DC roots. Deep Down could potentially be interesting, but only if it had a fraction of the interminable walking around Dragon's Dogma did. If it's all underground, perhaps I'll get that wish. Watch_Dogs is still Watch_Dogs, that weird Arabic Square-Enix RPG is still that weird Arabic Square-Enix RPG, Diablo III is almost certainly still Diablo III (though I guess this means we'll have Torchlight II on the PS4's PSN to keep things interesting?) and Jonathan Blow has still - still - only created a single game of any note, which I only sort of liked, so there's really no precedent for how The Witness will turn out. Maybe it'll be great. Maybe it'll be another Indie puzzle game with Layton-esque Mensa brainteasers to join Machinarium, Puzzle Agent and the rest. Who can say? I mean, he's made a single puzzle-platformer with an artistically novel aesthetic, so who knows where else that boundless innovation could lead. But now I'm just being uncouth.

Despite all this, I have high hopes for the next Sony console. I won't be able to afford it for a year or so, but I'm sure the games will get there eventually, as was the case with the PS2 and PS3 both. The PS3's been the non-portable home for my beloved JRPG genre for the most part and as much as PlayStation All-Stars did to put me off Sony's back catalogue, I still feel Sony's only second to Nintendo in terms of legacy characters and franchises. Hell, if we go by the Japanese release of the PS1, we're coming up to 20 years of Sony consoles. That'd be impressive if it wasn't also such a bummer that we're all so old now.

The New Site

I'm not going to spend a lot of time grousing here. No-one is more acutely aware of the work that needs to be done to improve the site, or at least bring it back to a functional level equatable with the old site, than the very engineers currently busy working on it day and night. I appreciate their work, truly. So all I'm doing here is putting a list of features I'd like to see come back presently. I'm sure everyone has different priorities for different areas to improve, but no-one said I couldn't have my two cents - as long as I appreciate that those two cents will probably be roundly ignored. I'm aware of this site's negative stance on pennies, Jeff's aberrant views notwithstanding.

  1. Fix the Friend Activity feed on the profile page. Until recently I saw the little inactive tab for it there, so I know it's a priority.
  2. Fix the Notifications - currently only @ "call outs" are supported. I'd love to know if people responded to anything I wrote, for instance.
  3. Bring back the "Followed User's Blogs" sidebar on the profile page. Dunno where you'd put it, but man did I take that thing for granted.
  4. Bring back the Forum Overview thing on the front page. I don't post in forums nearly as much as I used to without it.
  5. Don't restrict lists to 40 per page - Honestly, I'm probably one of a handful of people with more than 40 lists, but it seems odd that the lists are parsed this way when there are less restrictions on displaying the number of items within a list.
  6. Give blogs the same kind of coverage as lists - Currently, we can see which lists are the most viewed, most recommended and most recent of the current week (though, curiously, we've lost the ability to view the highest rated lists of all time). I'd like something similar for blogs some day, with perhaps "most viewed, most commented and most recent" as the search modifiers.
  7. Still hoping for a prominent, permanent front page location for ZombiePie's most recent Community Spotlight. I've mentioned before that the center square of the current 3x3 grid of Community Highlights would be a good spot for it.
  8. Change that goshdarn typeface all ready. It looks awful when bolded at smaller font sizes. Go with a nice sans serif instead (like the one for regular text, here): It would feel better suited to a site predicated on being informative and informal.
  9. All right, this isn't really a valid request, but allow more users to have access to that wiki page banner background image thing. It's so much fun, but I only have two pages that I can edit in that way. Maybe restrict a global ability to use that function to users with ~10-50k wiki points - it would provide something worth chasing after once that 5k "changes no longer need to go through moderation" target has been hit.
  10. Free up Dave so he can do Random PC Games and Flight Club again. At this point I'm being Agnes Skinner in that one Simpsons gag where she wants the bag boy to put all the groceries in one bag but not make it heavy, since they obviously can't do this and all of the above, but I figure once requests 1-9 are sorted Dave is free to bumble his way across Neo Los Angeles again.

Okay, that's enough of my unwarranted sense of entitlement for one day. I'm sure there's a dozen other venues on this site for anything pertaining to the PS4 conference and the site relaunch, and it's not like this'll be visible to anyone anyway since it's going unpublished, but feel free to add your views on anything discussed above in the comments yonder.

I will have a less gripey blog later this week, rest assured. Still have part two of TurboMento to complete before March 1st, after all.

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Meteor, Meet Eeyore

All right, so I'm just doing a short blog (but is probably going to be really long, because that's what always happens when I say something like this) this week to test out the new blogging tools. The site has too many kinks in it right now to commit to anything too elaborate or extensive. You know, because these always have so much effort put into them normally.

So since meteors on everyone's minds after what went down in Russia yesterday, I'm going to write a bit about them. Everyone loves inanimate space rocks, right?

I Keep Wanting To Type Urals as Urinals

Chelyabinsk more like Chel-ya-been-screwed, Russian duders. By meteors.

The meteors striking the Urals region of Russia is truly outstanding to watch, if one were to peruse the various YouTube clips coming from the area. It's perhaps even more outstanding to listen to, with those massive booming noises followed closely by windows shattering and pets freaking the fuck out. It's almost a little unreal, in fact.

We don't really know what to expect from a massive asteroid collision with the Earth. We have historical samples, from which we can extrapolate the precise level of devastation such impacts caused in the past. We have the best scientific minds using this information to make accurate (one would expect) hypotheses of what would happen if rocks of various sizes, of various mineral compositions and travelling at various speeds hit various spots around the globe. It's sort of crucially important to know what to expect should we ever be faced with such a scenario, because ducking and covering can only do so much. Of course, there are all the trashy Emmerich and Bay movies that bombastically over-sell fictional asteroid collisions for the sake of box office revenue and seeing what their fancy million-dollar CGI technology is capable of, but even then it's hard to fault their accuracy when we as a species have only lived through a scant few asteroid crashes of any note, and fewer still that we've managed to record for posterity's sake. Shit may, indeed, get that real for all we know.

It's probably not healthy to be too fascinated with, or fixated on, extinction-level events. Like, just in general. Meteors are a collective bunch of entirely inert and unfeeling Swords of Damocles that hang over our heads and could annihilate us at any time, with whatever brief warnings our best telescopes and telescope engineers (engiseers?) can garner in time. Even so, it creates a vivid depiction of how the human race as a whole might kick the bucket some day, and games are savvy enough to explore anything that might give us the jibblies.

Meteors Bring Death

No, no, wrong white-haired meteor summoning dude.

One of my most favorite regular occurrences on Twitter, that oft-maligned micro-blogging website that really doesn't need a double-comma digression to explain anymore, is reading @mattbodega explain/complain about what's currently happening in his utterly inexplicable "Final Fantasy VII is a cornerstone of literature" class in whatever his video game media course might be, a no-doubt expensive college program that will be rendered entirely superfluous by the greater accomplishment that is interning (twice!) for the best video game website on the planet. It's worth following the erstwhile Kingtern in his travails, partly because they're funny, but mostly because it shows just how ineffective academia is at structuring a course around what is an increasingly relevant artistic medium that could really use the influx of creative and well-informed writing talent that I can't see classes that pull shit like this or this really engendering. It sounds every bit as awful as the course I took, and that no educational progress has been made in a decade is something of a troubling issue as far as video games are concerned. As is the fact that it's been almost a decade since I graduated. Wait, seriously? FFFFU-

But anyway, when Final Fantasy VII isn't being the be-all and end-all of the maturity and complexity possible of narrative fiction in a cutting-edge modern medium and how it symbolically reflects societal mores of the era, it's also a big dumb fairytale about a guy with silly hair who doesn't remember who he is, but has to stop another guy with silly hair from crashing a big rock into the Earth because of mommy issues. Meteors have been a big part of JRPGs before now - Lavos of Chrono Trigger and Dark Gaia of Illusion of Gaia, for instance, but also as the usual (presumably economic class) method of travel for dimension-hoppers in Final Fantasy V, an earlier example from the same series - but in Final Fantasy VII we get a more realistic portrayal of the world in peril from an apparently inescapable meteoric fate. The party and Shinra's upper management are aware that there's a silver-haired goon at the source of this incoming strife from the clouds, but for all the rest of the world knows this is a random meteor that will cause the end of all things. It helps focus the final act of the game, where the protagonist finally shakes himself out his game-long stupor and a united party works in tandem to end a much more overtly cataclysmic threat.

Standard stuff, but then no-one said Final Fantasy VII was art. Besides Kessler's professor. The Kessfessor? Dude needs to chase his PhD after this so I can start calling him that. I imagine all he needs to do is write a 20,000 word thesis explaining the plot of Final Fantasy 8. Godspeed, buddy!

Meteors Bring Life

Innately psychic sentient mushrooms, no less.

Another popular sci-fi trope, one that extends beyond the scope of video games but doesn't exclude them, is how a meteor might carry with it some green (or occasionally purple) glowing alien goop that causes all manner of strange mutations down on Earth. It might be a little bit of a cop-out to introduce some magical junk from space to kick-start whatever "X comes to life" story you have in mind, but science hasn't actually entirely discounted the idea that all life on Earth began the same way. I mean, the origin of life is still one of the big mysteries we've yet to fully explain. We can probably discount colossal bearded dudes who just got bored one day, or giant bald albino aliens who disintegrate themselves after leaving us co-ordinates to deadly biological weapon facilities, but there's no telling where our true origins lie. Yet.

In Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars, this is precisely what occurs. A meteor lands, bringing with it a glowing phlebotinum that causes all fungi to gain sentience and apparently everything else to go irrevocably insane. The player moves through the colonies of various mushroom life, such as the friendly Boletes, the brutish Morels, the imperial Amanita, the samurai-esque Shiitake (because that joke wasn't too easy) and one particularly malevolent Lepiota that serves as the chief antagonist. It's yet another Wii game with a lot of personality and imagination, and like its contemporary Deadly Creatures depicts the grim and gruesome world from the tiny perspective of a lifeform beneath the notice of us haughty, enormous humans.

Just to throw a few more examples out there: The two lifeforms I mentioned earlier, Lavos and Dark Gaia, which caused many lifeforms on their respective new homes to evolve faster and in unusual ways. There's the Phazon meteors of the Metroid Prime series, which also created new lifeforms and in Metroid Prime 2's case, caused the formation of an entirely separate "dark" version of the planet of Aether.

Meteors Bring... Talk Shows?

"Ugh, the meteor only ever comes on these things to plug his new book. Dude really needs to come down to earth."

As previously implied, the "glowing green meteor causing mutations" is something that's existed in sci-fi for decades. It's become something of a nostalgic cliché among sci-fi fans, their affection for which brings up cases like Maniac Mansion, in which the culprit and the entity pulling the strings of the Edison family is none other than a malevolent purple meteor, who becomes oddly preoccupied with Dave's cheerleader girlfriend Sandy and the other women of whatever familiar everytown berg Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnock pieced together from their beloved B-movies.

Presuming the player isn't stupid enough to microwave radioactive pool water or incur the berserker wrath of Weird Ed and find one of the few premature game over screens (or, to be more exact, an eternal stalemate state in which everyone is dead and buried and no longer accepts the player's commands), they can arrive at one of the game's many endings, based on how much they've discovered about the mansion and its inhabitants and who they chose to bring with them at the start of the game. While the regular ending has Dave and the others summon "the meteor police" to take the calculating, recalcitrant calcite into custody, you can also give it a book publishing contract and let it earn its fortune in a manner that's more legal than kidnapping nubile young women though every bit as inexplicable. Or you can do both, and let it be hauled away in the middle of a talk show to its eternal chagrin. Have I ever mentioned how good LucasArts was in its heyday? "Like a thousand times," you say? Pfft, fine.

The One Little Bear That Can Save Us All

Finally, even though I've spent a lot of time talking about our inevitable demise from a catastrophe from the stars, I want to end this blog on a note of hope. For there is one creature on this Earth capable of sending a meteor back where it came from with a mighty swing of a Louisville and that creature is, of course, Winnie the Pooh.

Though old news as far as the internet's concerned, this Winnie the Pooh baseball flash game from the diabolical pits of Disney of Japan starts simple enough but ratchets up the difficulty in a manner that at first seems to ask for some absurdly precise reaction speeds beyond most preschoolers, and then manages to ratchet it even further by having certain characters break down the goddamn walls of reality itself and pitch balls that curve unnaturally through the air, undulate wildly in a manner not of this plane of existence or just become invisible partway through its journey to Pooh's waiting bat because why the fuck wouldn't that happen in a Winnie the Pooh baseball game meant for children. If this is a regular day on the diamond for the honey-loving bear, then seeing an enormous meteor bearing down on him would not elicit even the briefest of "bother!"s out of the unmoved ursine.

Compared to the destructive power of the pitches of Christopher Robin (or, perhaps more accurately, the eldritch entity that has assumed its form), the Chicxulub meteor is a mere pebble.

Bonus Banner?!

This is just something I cooked up for Unprofessional Fridays. You know, should they want a background image for their Coming Up box. And had temporarily lost their senses.

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