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 -
1 Comments

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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A Minor Primer: Japanese Adventure Games

Welcome to a series on things I generally don't understand but have picked up enough information about them to apparently be confident enough to write an edifying guide about them? This week it's Japanese adventure games, and next week it'll be "stringing a sentence together".

A giant rat, you say? Looks more like a wireframe Jabba the Hutt. Ahh, so nostalgic.

Japanese adventure games are like JRPGs, in that both genres began at the same origin point for both East and West video game design but quickly diverged and evolved in completely different directions. If I wanted to pull an example from RPGs: Both Eastern and Western RPG fandom began with early games like Wizardry and Akalabeth and Temple of Apshai: Real basic, graphically primitive, no-frills D&D adaptations from the early 80s that paved the way for the similarly fantasy-focused RPGs to come. In the West's case, these evolved to complex CRPGs like Ultima and eventually stuff like Baldur's Gate - D&D has consistently been a big deal in the sort of circles to which computer RPGs cater, and it wasn't until relatively recently that CRPGs kind of broke off from that venerable table-top ruleset (or one like it, like Germany's The Dark Eye) to be their own independent game-by-game thing. Japanese RPGs, of course, took the Wizardry template and added more slimes and dudes with big hair to the constantly-shifting formula, creating Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy and all those crazy tales about saving the world from fetus bosses and Christian mechas and eggbears that came thereafter.

As with RPGs, Adventure games share a similar "Indo-European" primordial origin, in that the earliest adventure games were entirely text-driven types like Zork that could be easily understood and created by fiction-writing developers on either side of the cultural divide. Westerners kind of went from text adventures to stuff like the mouse-driven ICOM MacVentures, those games in which you forget to put on your pants and press buttons knowing full well that it'll kill you, and eventually to the point-and-click graphic adventures that made Sierra and LucasFilm the [> TALK] of the town.

Japanese adventure games, though, went in an almost entirely separate direction:

Beginnings

After moving past text adventures on early computers with typically robotic names like PC-8801 and FM-7, most Japanese adventure games kind of became these menu-driven things in which you had a list of options to choose from ("talk", "look" and the like, sort of like the early SCUMM stuff) and a little window with graphics in it and you basically tried all of the options provided until the game let you continue. There was less emphasis on inventory puzzles and more on paying attention to what NPCs were telling you and relaying it at a future point in the story. This aspect was enforced by how frequently these early adventure games were detective whodunnits, in which clues and information were as valuable as some screwdriver you found in a drawer or a rubber chicken with a pulley in it ("poulet" is french for chicken meat, you know. I wonder how that gag played in the French language version?).

Unfortunately, these games never had a "quip" command after discovering a body. How is this anything like real police work?

The most notable of which would probably be Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken. Penned by Dragon Quest head honcho Yuji Horii, it was the first big adventure game hit for the Famicom (that's the NES to us) and became one of the four "classic models" of Famicom game from which all others purportedly sprang. Sprung? Spreng? It helps Horii's case that he was a guy who knew what he was doing that he's actually responsible for two of those four models: Dragon Quest (JRPGs) and Portopia - and it's also probably no surprise that ol' Shiggy Miyamoto was responsible for the other two: Mario (side-scrolling platformers) and Zelda (top-down action-adventure games). If you were to look at the output for the Famicom, excluding American games (which tended to be more fist- and gun-based action fare) and arcade ports, any given game will almost certainly have been derived from one of those four exemplars.

Digressions aside, Portopia basically set the standard for Famicom adventure games. Though the West received relatively few - they were probably only slightly more common than Mahjong and Go games, possibly due to the amount of text that would need to be translated - we did get the occasional one like Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom. Anyone who played that game can attest to the amount of trial and error guesswork and superfluous 3D maze sequences that were commonplace in Japanese adventure games at the time. Fortunately, with the miraculous future being what it is, many of these old Famicom adventure games have been translated, either by professional developers (as is the case with that Jake Hunter DS game a while back, which included enhanced ports of many of the Detective Saburou Jinguuji Famicom games) or by magnanimous (and/or unemployed) fan translators. They're generally primitive stuff, but an obvious antecedent to the adventure games from that region that we see today. Talking of which:

Endings (or Currentings?)

Japanese adventure games would divert into two types around this point: The classic whodunnit games that required a bit of guesswork from the player, and visual novels in which the player was basically a passive participant but for a few multiple choice decisions. The latter was clearly intended to reach people who perhaps don't play a lot of games but do enjoy fiction. The whole "Choose Your Own Adventure" angle is one that's old as dirt, but also unusually rare for video games at the time.

Hotel Dusk could've easily been called "Getting Too Old For This Shit: The Game". Good thing Kyle has his Bourbon.

While we had visual novels going on, there were also more games with hard-boiled detectives in them in which the player had to poke at dead bodies and wring information out of witnesses and track down the dames what done them wrong. This eventually gave way to deliberately throwback modern Japanese adventure games like Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk: Room 215: Oft-times a game over resulted from simply not following the clues correctly, getting something wrong and finding oneself in a dead-end with the investigation, as opposed to the rather more visceral game overs that used to be limited to getting whomped on the head by an ogre or falling off a cliff or touching absolutely anything on an alien planet in Space Quest.

Chances are, if you were to pick up an adventure game made in Japan, it would either be one of those visual novels (which may or may not include naked people hugging each other) or a whodunnit mystery game with a bit more interactivity to it. Maybe a combination of both, like Phoenix Wright - it's kind of clever about how it does that: The investigations are the "classic" Famicom adventure games with all the examining and item-finding, while the court scenes are more like visual novels in which the player is expected to answer questions correctly to move the plot forward.

There's probably far more nuance in games in this genre then I'm giving them credit for, but the primary focus of any Japanese adventure game is to tell a story. How often these games deign to allow the player in on all this story-telling and decision-making is dependent on the game in question.

Conclusion

Man, this all reminds me that I need to play 999 already. Can't believe how tricky it is to track down a reasonably priced copy. Hasn't Nintendo ever heard of digital distribution? Rasslefrasslegrumblegrumble...

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The Comic Commish - February '13

You all know the drill: Got a sponsor for Gold membership, making comics to thank and the GB crew, ideas about new premium features that probably should never be, blah de blah de blah de blee. If you want to see more, check out these earlier editions back when I still had fresh ideas: October, November, December, January.

Premium Content For Your Premium Contempt

"Trash Champions" or "Kusoge KO" or "Defend Your Game" (they're all terrible names)

Since we're getting polls with the new chat client, I tried to figure out a new premium content feature that could use it. The idea I hit upon, by which I mean the idea I shamelessly ripped off of Screened, is that two of the crew pick games that the rest of the group perhaps doesn't like or think too highly thereof, and play them on a live feed while defending their strengths. The users watching can vouch for which game they prefer initially, before any cases are made, and the polls are then relaunched once Player 1 has put their game forward and defended it and once again when Player 2 has done the same with their title. Depending on how much the poll has skewed each time, we'll get some results on which of the two players made a better case and which of the two games is just better-received by the community overall.

"Skylander Sculptor"

When I picture everyone building their ideal Skylander in a competition, I can only see Jeff having any enthusiasm for it. Jeff will have constructed a super elaborate combination of a giraffe and a podracer with its own catchy name and element. For everyone else, it'll be like the Jurassic Park dioramas from that one last Happy Hour only filled with way more passive-aggressive insults about Jeff, the Skylanders franchise and being forced to make arts and crafts when they're supposed to be reviewing video games.

"The Gaming of the Dead"

Don't mind me, just being a dick. For those of you just joining us, I always do something deliberately insulting like this for the third entry. It's like my own little running gag for this feature.

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Resolution Check-Up: February

Just a minor update to keep myself on the up and up regarding those resolutions I made a month back. This isn't my official blog for this week (I think it might end up being one of three, in fact) so I'm not going to publish this to forums. Curious to see how I'm doing? I know I am, and a readership of one is enough for me:

A refresher then. The whole blog was back here, but I'm just going to summarize:

  1. Beat a Turbografx-16 game per month. Big ol' check on that. So far.
  2. Focus on Downloadable/Indie games. Of the eight games I played, three were Indie games. One was even free. It'll pay to be frugal this year, what with my source of free rental games entering administration.
  3. Review every game I beat, with stipulations. Following said stipulations, I reviewed three of those eight. Including Barkley, Shut Up and Jam Gaiden, which was kind of a ridiculous thing to do. Even so, I should try to do better than reviewing just short of half of what I play.
  4. Complete the wiki entries of the entire FDS library. Slow progress here, but the Famicom Rome System wasn't built in a day. A majority of the remaining pages that are only missing a few things - images or some overview text, usually. There's about a third without a page whatsoever though, so I ought to get on that. At some point.
  5. Continue blog features. Check. Gotta do February's Premium Feature comics this week, can't forget.
  6. Beat three PS2 games. Ah. Well. I'm getting to them. Maybe I'll dedicate a quiet month to getting through some of that backlog?
  7. Beat three Wii games. Hey, guess what? I actually knocked out two from the Wii pile already. That included Fragile Dreams, which was the big one I wanted to complete.
  8. Beat three adventure games. I could count Fragile Dreams here, but I'll be good and except it (it's really more of an action RPG). I'm actually almost done with Hotel Dusk: Room 215, which is as point-and-clicky as they come. That'll be the first, with Gemini Rue and The Longest Journey hopefully following shortly thereafter. Actually, I might just move directly onto Hotel Dusk's sequel Last Window. I'm enjoying the adventures of that grumpy ol' souse Kyle Hyde quite a bit.
  9. Beat three other games on my pile of shame. Of the eight games I beat so far this year, not including the Wii games, four of them were on my Pile of Shame for 2013. With the Wii games that makes six. So yeah, done and done. Now for the rest of that 30-strong pile. Man, if I was actually accomplishing anything of note here, I'd almost be proud of myself.
  10. Play games without shooting other people. About this one...

The no shooting people thing turned out to be a horrible failure, because I either couldn't avoid it or just didn't notice I had done so until after the fact. I'm not sure which option is more worrying. I've decided to nip that particular one in the bud because it's not working out, but I will keep a mental note of which games caused me to break it. So far they include: Barkley, Shut Up & Jam Gaiden (Hoopz uses guns exclusively and there are a few human bosses), Spelunky (shotgunned down a shopkeeper, you know how it is in that game), Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (several characters use guns, most notably Radec and Nathan Drake) and Hotline Miami (which is violent enough in general to render this whole exercise moot). I'll also continue to avoid FPS/TPS games, probably finding a way to justify to myself that Dead Space 3 doesn't count somehow. Bah, I'm way more interested in Sly Cooper 4 next week. A new entry in the greatest non-plumber platformer series? Hell yes indeed, madam.

So that's it for now. Making headway with some of these, though once I get my hands on Ni no Kuni I suspect I'll be slowing down quite a bit. From all accounts, that game is loooong. More comics and words later in the week.

Oh wait, before I sign out or sign off or in fact do nothing of the sort because I'll have to just sign in again: I'm writing a new list this week with the oddly specific theme of gigantic chains. Something I got hit with when playing Pandora's Tower is how often I see JRPG characters jogging along or smashing up enormous linked chains: It happened towards the end of Final Fantasy 8, I'm fairly sure I remember one in Chrono Trigger and they were a common sight in Infinite Undiscovery. I've also tentatively added the ones from God of War III and Assassin's Creed Revelations (which wasn't giant but still pretty big). If anyone reading this knows of any more occurrences, hit me with them in the comments.

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The TurboMento-12: Ninja Spirit

You thought I forgot, didn't you? Or, perhaps more accurately, you didn't remember me saying anything about doing TG16 games or weren't aware in the first place. Well, I stated in my 2013 Resolutions blog that I would break out and beat a Turbografx-16 game every month this year for a bit of retro Turbo action as a way to address my unfortunate unfamiliarity with NEC's 8/16-bit hybrid console, since it skipped Europe entirely back in its heyday. I've mentioned the site a few times, but the very excellent internet documentary/entertainment series Chrontendo has been experimenting with a spin-off feature called Chronturbo that details the early games and history of the maligned console and I've rediscovered an interest in going back and playing a few of its best received titles.

For the record, I've been purchasing these games for the Wii's Virtual Console with all these free points I get for Club Nintendo from buying new games (though my new copy of Pandora's Tower didn't seem to come with a scratchcard Club Nintendo slip, so maybe they've stopped doing the points thing over here?). I'm still holding out for an official TG16 compilation though, possibly like the ones for Mega Drive games on Steam since that'll make it way easier to capture screenshots. Let's pretend we all live in that world, so I don't have to explain where all these pictures came from. Yes? Agreed.

My first game for this feature, tentatively dubbed TurboMento-12 (because, you know, twelve months in a year), is: Ninja Spirit, Irem's Arcade game answer to Ninja Gaiden which received its best home version on the TG16. It got a few releases on home computers too, but we all know how ass those tend to be. I know I do; I owned a damn Atari ST. Try playing anything originally from the Arcades on that business and see how much fun they are (N.B. The Amiga/Atari ST had a lot of strong points, don't get me wrong, it's just Arcade ports were not one of them).

Anyway, enough digressions. I'ma briefly take you through the entire game just below. It's... it's not a particularly long game. The Ninja Spirit that burns twice as bright burns for half as long, or something.

C'mon, Give This Feature a Chance! Where's Your Christmas Ninja Spirit?

So this is how it starts: Not with a bark, but a whimper. Or rather, not with a whimper, but a howl? Anyway, the dog is the player character. We just assume the form of Corpsey McHeapenstein over there, since he's our deceased master and we're kind of pissed about him getting ghost murdered out of nowhere.
This is what you'll be spending most of the game doing: Running in a straight line and tearing shit up with sweet ninja powers. Currently, I have one shadow clone (like the ones introduced in Ninja Gaiden 2) and an upgraded katana that fires those blue circles that block projectiles. It's mostly a defensive weapon, so it's good for beginners.
Here's the first boss: Asura. He's friggin' enormous, but those energy shots can be easily deflected with the upgraded sword. My Protip is to just jump up there and keep slashing his face. Sometimes the subtle path is not the correct one.
Where's your Wrath now, explodey Hindu deity person? Ya Burst ain't shit, son.
Here I am on the second stage rocking two shadow clones and the shuriken: Shurikens are the surest way to kill absolutely everything that pops up, since they fire in three directions when upgraded and that means nine shurikens per toss with two clones. It's like the Spread shot from Contra, only even more insanely OP.
Second boss is this tree-climbing Wolverine mofo. He moves quickly and unpredictably, but at least he doesn't take up the entire screen.
By the way, everything explodes in this game. Welcome to the late 80s/early 90s.
I skipped most of the third level but you can see what it's like here: Gigantic crescent moon, cool field of long grass waving in the wind. The third boss is a one of those slow-moving but hard to avoid fellows. I have no idea how a 10-foot tall ninja conceals himself, exactly.
What I do know is that 10-foot tall ninjas explode spectacularly. Best tactic is to jump over him and hammer him with projectiles as you arc over.
It's such a ninja feeling, when you're bisecting dudes on the ceiling.
These purple assholes are the worst. A little elaboration on how health works in this game: For each life, you have five hit points (seen at the top right). Hits from enemies reduce them by one, usually, except in rare cases like this chain-whip-wielding purple perp here who will simply insta-kill you instead. Also, there's hundreds of them and they ninja teleport in without any warning. It's one of the few cases in this game where you stop effortlessly killing everything in your path and need to use a little more caution. Ninja caution.
Bombs are your best friends here: Though they don't spread out like shuriken, upgraded bombs are thrown very quickly and the explosions take out enemies just out of reach, like those black ninjas in the rafters or the little pokey guys who appear below.
Even with the bamboo spike traps down here, it's a darn sight easier when there aren't purple chain ninjas insta-shanking you.
Then the game throws a Double Dragon "Fuck you!" your way with this entirely incongruous descending ceiling trap. Stopping for anything gets you squished. I mean... obviously. What is this, the Cube?
No, these are the Cubes. These sentient Ninja dice (citation needed?) will try to crush you between themselves and the wall, so they become slightly easier to read once you figure this out. Bombs make short work of them, but you need to destroy all four weak points on both of them.
Apparently those things were powered with something explosive. Who knew? The ways of the ninja are mysterious indeed.
This next stage forces you to ascend this cliff vertically, which is a neat touch. I mean, this was in Ninja Gaiden as well, but it's a nice change of pace. Except when you miss a platform and fall gently to the bottom, that's when you start pining for the horizontal once more.
Get to the top of the cliff and OH GOD KITE NINJAS.
You know what happens when a kite gets struck by shuriken? Same thing that happens to everything else: They explode. Also Ben Franklin discovers electricity. Ninja electricity.
Some sweet parallax scrolling here. True fax: The Turbografx-16 was the first console capable of true parallax scrolling. The NES faked it and the Genesis came out an entire year later in Japan.
The boss of this stage is this creepy zombie character. Or rather, it's fifteen of these creepy zombie characters one after the other (and occasionally simultaneously). They move slow, but they strike suddenly and, of course, a single slash is enough to kill you. Fortunately, you can just jump on this rock and fire downwards. Hey, I didn't say I was an honorable ninja. Fuck that, I'm a dog, what do you even want from me?
The seventh and last level is this suitably creepy cave dungeon, but despite some odious gas erupting from the walls, it's nothing too bad.
The bad part is this descent into the underworld. In a The Sorrow-type twist, the souls of dead enemy ninja pop up and insta-kill you as you fall. You've got to pick the right path past them all as you fall at terminal velocity for something like 30 seconds straight. And there's more than a handful of these guys, let's just say. Hell, I probably went through a couple hundred of them on the way here.
Persevere with that horrible trial (in all honesty, it took me like 15 minutes, so it wasn't exactly a Sisyphean exercise) and you'll face this mummified Buddha type fellow here, which I seem to recall was named Daisoujou in the SMT games. It's probably the same guy: How many different pointy-hat mummies in the lotus position could there possibly be? (Though, curiously, Buddhist monks who mummify themselves in this way are basically that religion's equivalent of Catholic saints, so why this one hated a ninja enough to kill it during the opening cinema is anyone's guess.)
Anyway, what they don't tell you about the human body after it undergoes the mummification process is that all your organs turn into plastic explosives. It's why pyramid tour guides always look so nervous.

After Mummies Alive! is comprehensively turned into Mummies Not Alive!, the dog (or wolf, I guess) changes back to its animal form, its task complete. His ninja master is avenged and only half a million other ninjas had to die in the process.

That's Ninja Spirit: It's a lot of fun, and hasn't aged to become this hard-as-nails completely inaccessible 8-bit game like so many others of its era. You have infinite continues (one of the few Arcade games to graciously leave that part in instead of imposing a hard limit) and its more difficult sequences just take a bit of trial and error, or luck. Sometimes it's as simple as trying a different weapon or not just wading through everything with your clones. Overall the game took about an hour to complete, so maybe don't rush out and spend $30 on it (though if anyone out there is actually charging that much, you can feel free to kick them in the teeth) but it's a worthy purchase consideration for the Wii Virtual Console or that aforementioned hypothetical Steam compilation I hope someone gets around to.

What is Irem even doing these days? Oh, they've gone back into full-time Pachinko machine production. Figures. Well, you have my assurance that at the very least this particular Irem product isn't completely balls.

The TurboMento-12
January - Ninja SpiritApril - NeutopiaJuly -October -
February - Dungeon ExplorerMay -August -November -
March - The Legendary AxeJune -September -December -
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Wonderful Wii Wiirdness 2: The Wiiquel

Around this time last year I wrote a blog about a quintet of Wii games that, I felt, exemplified the Wii's occasional diversions into the inexplicable and unexplainable: Games that seem to defy any cut-and-dry genre definition or elevator pitch premise. People point to Nintendo's first-party staples, such as the Zeldas and the Marios and the Metroids and the Kirbys, as the chief reason to purchase any given new Nintendo system (and they're generally correct) but neglect to mention the innumerable eccentric titles from various tiny and obscure studios that really help to define the character and charm of the Japanese giant's consoles more comprehensively than their once-or-twice-per-console big names are capable of doing.

In fact, I made this pie chart last time that cogently points out how prevalent that sort of game is in the Wii's library:

I just wanted to wheel out that FFT joke again.

So if all this pre-amble hadn't clued you in, I've got another five games I want to showcase as the sun continues to set on Nintendo's most profitable if most contentious console since... I dunno, didn't the Game Boy Advance do rather well? I should go look at some of those figures. While I'm doing that, here's some Wonderful Wii Wiirdness for you all to enjoy:

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon

"Fragile Dreams" is a reference to a line from a Keats poem. I know that because of that Christian Bale Matrix gun-kata movie. Who says I'm not cultured? Besides my parole officer?

The full title of this game alone should give you some idea of how weird I'm prepared to go with this blog. Fragile Dreams, from the studio that brought you that Chopin's saccharine TB fever nightmare JRPG, is a gentle and emotional story about the end of the world and all its corpses, ghosts, broken down ruins of a once-bustling civilization, robots that think they're human and innumerable cats that love to be played with. Seto, the protagonist and only immediately evident survivor of some initially unexplained catastrophe that robbed the entirety of mankind of their existence, pokes around a series of ruins in and around the borders of Tokyo. In the process of exploring underground malls, sewers, theme parks, hotels, and, yes, even a hospital of sorts, he encounters a series of oddball characters and cries a lot. I mean, his friends keep dying on him and all, but he sure gets melancholic over the slightest things. Adding to this oppressive air of depression are the memory items: Random objects Seto can find that will reveal to him the thoughts and conversations of diverse members of the human populace shortly before they succumbed to their collective apocalyptic fate. Because this is the sort of game this is, every human being was apparently aware of their inevitable demise and spent plenty of time pondering their regrets and sorrows.

Yet it's also a super bright and cheery game, as perhaps might be anticipated from a tri-Crescendo joint, with every character looking like an overdressed mannequin from a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music video, being all amazed at colorful marbles and blithely skipping through scenes of abject desolation. This is especially true of the waifish waifu Ren, the enigmatic silver-haired girl that Seto spends most of the game searching for after an early meet-cute. Even some of the ghosts are adorable, like the early jellyfish enemies with smiley faces. The crying Sadako-esque female ghosts with needles in their backs that open the skin to reveal giant, bloodshot eyes are perhaps less cute, but you can't begrudge (so to speak) the developers for wanting a multifarious bestiary. More like multinefarious, am I right? All right, fine.

Anyway, a slightly more in-depth exploration of the game can be found with this user review I wrote. If you've ever wanted to know more about that weird chicken head guy keeps posting in his blogs, go check it out. I knocked it down to three stars for its pacing problems, but if you're a patient sort and really enjoy death and sadness and apocalyptic despair, I'd recommend it.

Deadly Creatures

The snake in this game is a really persistent asshole. Until you blow it up, that is.

Deadly Creatures is one of those games that has perhaps justifiably hidden under a rock since its release. Giant Bomb filmed a memorable Quick Look of the game which had plenty of fun at the expense of Jeff's arachnophobia (which any arachno-expert will tell you includes a fear of spiders and a fear of scorpions) but only the merest hint of the game's odd sensibilities. There are, for extended periods, sequences where the player spider is holding onto a wall and watching the world from a horizontal perspective. Vertiginous doesn't even begin to describe the game and its disorientating viewpoints. This alone makes it a curio, beyond simply "hey the player controls a bunch of bugs fighting other bugs", which might as well have been the byline to some deservedly long-forgotten N64 fighter. But fighting there is and it actually has its own in-depth system of combos, ducking and weaving enemy attacks and timing-based counters and Wii-Remote gesturing finishing moves. There's giant terrors to avoid, or at least that's what a rattlesnake and a Gila monster would appear to be to a three-inch-high scorpion, and a whole oddly addicting side-quest of eating every insect grub you can find, even if it involves crawling into tight enclosed spaces (like Jeff's shoes) or exploring the ceilings like 1980s Lionel Richie was wont to do when he wasn't being horrified by clay homunculi of himself.

The presentation will, at times, leave a lot to be desired. There are two human characters that the game occasionally announces the presence of by indirect means such as their booming voices and loud stomping, rather than you actually catching many glimpses of them - it initially feels like a clever Cloverfield reversal, where it stays its hand for as long as possible with revealing the largest of the antagonists you'll face, but you'll wonder just how deliberate that decision was when you finally do see them during a climactic battle with one of their crotches: It turns out they don't look so great, even with the Wii's limited means. But since most of the game involves fighting insects (which seem quite well-realised, down to their insect-like motions, which was one of the many things that unnerved Jeff in that Quick Look) and trotting around cool environments full of discarded trash and knick-knacks made to seem much larger to a humble bug, it's more or less effective at what it tries to do. Perhaps the weirdest part of all this is that the two humans are voiced by Dennis Hopper (his penultimate role, it would turn out) and Billy Bob Thornton and are embroiled in an entirely ancillary plot about betraying each other over a pile of found money, which has little bearing on the small-scale missions of the two playable characters, who just seem to want to kill each other for the heck of it. I guess you could draw parallels between their story and yours, but it's a stretch.

It's an interesting game, all told. Hell, it wouldn't be on this list if it wasn't. Give it a try if you aren't grossed out by creepy crawlies.

A Boy and His Blob

If you decide to buy this game, don't confuse it with "2 Boys, 1 Blob". That's... something else entirely.

A Boy and His Blob is from the increasingly more renowned WayForward Technologies - developers of the recent Adventure Time game, Aliens: Infestation, that Double Dragon thing and the Shantae games - who have come a long way from their halcyon days of creating forgettable (and occasionally regrettable) license games. A Boy and His Blob was one of their early efforts that demonstrated the type of creative aspirations they had beyond dropping SpongeBob into another wacky adventure involving collectibles and jumping over spikes. Clearly inspired by the David Crane (inventor of Pitfall, lest we forget) NES cult classic of the same name, Boy and His Blob is a platformer-slash-puzzle game in which the player has to use a selection of jellybeans to transform his amorphous companion into shapes necessary to move past a series of obstacles, traps and enemies. The game begins gently enough, explicating on the various jellybeans and their effects in a breezy first world of ten mostly tutorial-based stages. The second world and beyond is where the game chooses to take the training wheels off and replace them with jet engines, requiring some precise jellybean action and a superlative control over the non-shapeshifting Boy as the duo parachute and trampoline through the worst the pleasant, hand-drawn world has to offer.

Actually, watching the footage of Ni No Kuni reminded me of this game a great deal, and not just because both feature a young boy, a tiny magical creature and some exquisite art direction. The atmosphere of both games seems geared towards a younger audience, but without compromising an older audience who is perhaps a little younger at heart. It's not afraid to get scary, or difficult, or thought-provoking, since the respective development studios responsible have had enough experience with writing for children and know not to look down on their ability to comprehend or enjoy slightly more challenging material. They're both games I was initially excited to get into, but it'll probably be the case that I will play through both years after their release (Ni No Kuni seems a bit pricey right now).

Any game based on a 20-year old concept is going to be a little odd, and that aspect is exacerbated further if that 20-year-old concept was weird to begin with, but there's a lot to recommend here. I wrote a little more about it back with this blog about shapeshifters, so go take a gander at that (and its Quick Look) to see if it's something you'd be into. As with WayForward's other recent platformers, it's a bright and colorful game that certainly doesn't pull any punches in spite of its easygoing demeanor.

Disaster: Day of Crisis

Earthquakes? Volcanos? No, a true disaster is when a Wii game comes out in Europe but not the States. Shocking, I know.

I feel a little bad adding this to the list, since it's currently the only game on here that doesn't seem to be receiving a US release. I suppose I could buy the Fatal Frame 2 remake and add that here too, but why be even more of a jerk? So I'll just include it in case the Operation Rainfall co-ordinators, still pumped up from their recent successes, decide to delve back into the Wii's back catalog for more Europe and Japan exclusives to champion. As I'll explain in a minute, it might be worth the struggle.

Disaster: Day of Crisis comes from a long line of natural disaster-based survival action games from Japan, something they unfortunately lost their taste for after the tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Crisis a couple years back. It's a shame, because it's a sub-genre that has a few ideas that you don't often see in the more established genres we have over here. So while not exactly as genre-defying as the other games on this list, it belongs to a genre we have very little exposure with beyond other similarly cultish games like Raw Danger and Disaster Report.

Day of Crisis is, well, sort of like a mini-game collection combined with a light gun shooter. Sounds like the two most over-abused shovelware Wii game genres meshed together, but it works better than it sounds. Well, at least some of the time. Therefore, it's safe to say the core draw for this game is its completely ludicrous plot and movie presentation: It plays like a trite Roland Emmerich disaster movie crossed with the dumbest and most explodiest Michael Bay action fare. The game focuses on ex-Rescue Team and ex-Marine depressed layabout Ray who quit after dropping his best friend into a volcano (oh hey there Cliffhanger), called back into service to stop a disgruntled but noble-intentioned armed forces bigwig from detonating a weapon of mass destruction over a major city (oh hey there The Rock) all the while avoiding - in this order - an earthquake, a fire tornado, a tsunami, a volcano, a massive flood and a potential nuclear explosion. As all this is happening around him, he has to foil an entire legion's worth of mercenary troops including their helicopters, tanks and what appears to be a Metal Gear. An imminent meteor strike is even hinted for the next game, though to be fair there's really nowhere left they could take a sequel. Wouldn't be surprised if the Four Horsemen showed up. It's not like Vigil's using them (too soon? Yeah, sorry).

It's perhaps not worth tracking this game down, considering it has more than a couple of faults of which its really awesomely farfetched movie aspirations can only absolve so much. I wrote a bit more about it in this review I did (and boy I sure am throwing a lot of links around) so if any further elaboration is desired, go clicky. Maybe just wait for Operation Rainfall's more outspoken proponents to set up a similar Operation Debrisfall and see if it bears fruit?

Pandora's Tower

I also like that this is the only Wii game here with a black case. (Though apparently all "mature themed" games have black cases in Japan).

Talking of Operation Rainfall, perhaps it's time to take a close look at the third and final game of that campaign to earn its North American release: Pandora's Tower. What little people seem to know about this game is that A) you feed a poor girl monster meat (not a euphemism) and B) it's not as good as the other two Operation Rainfall games.

That perhaps isn't quite fair since it feels completely detached from those two. I mean, sure, it does have a blond, ruffle-haired protagonist pining for a love interest just beyond his reach, but Pandora's Tower is more like a 3D Castlevania or a Zelda, in that each chapter of the game focuses on a single tower-like dungeon with a boss at the top. The goal is invariably to find a way to reach that boss, kill it and take its flesh back to the deuteragonist to dispel her curse. In a Majora-esque twist, this curse will continue to work its fatal magics for as long as you're dungeoneering in the towers, adding something of a ticking clock to these jaunts into monster-infested territories. While this time limit is fairly generous - a hour in real time roughly speaking, about the same time it takes for Majora's Mask three-day march towards certain moony doom - the player is beholden to make the occasional return trip every now and again to jam some raw, gooey Steak monstartare down that poor girl's gullet so she doesn't have to suffer the painful intermediate effects of her curse which involve slowly turning her into some sort of purple tentacle monster. The quality of the ending is apparently (I say that because I'm not quite there yet) based on how much you've bothered to grow the affinity between the two main characters, which is increased with gifts, talking to her about her problems (WOMEN AM I RIGHT) and, oh yeah, not letting her turn into a hideous monster lady. That really puts her in a foul mood for whatever reason.

As much as this back-and-forth balancing act sounds like a pain, the game is carefully crafted to make it far less so. As towers are generally a vertical affair, the player can find ways to knock down ladders and make short-cuts wherever they go, and their first concern with any given tower is to remove the chains barring the boss's door which stay gone once those chains are destroyed. So like Majora's Mask, any progress you make in a dungeon is likely to carry over onto your subsequent visit, lessening any annoying incidents of having to repeat everything you just did. Likewise, the game throws even more bones at you by replenishing all the breakable items and a few of the environmental treasures lying about the place thereby creating a sort of Roguelike atmosphere, implementing some useful crafting and upgrading mechanics and including a handy (if dubious) shopkeeper back at home base to sell junk to that'll ensure that there's always a means to become stronger and better equipped if you're struggling with any given dungeon or boss.

I'll have more (I didn't even cover the cool mechanics of the primary chain weapon) when I review it next week but here's the skinny: It's not a perfect game by any stretch - I'll agree with the dissenters that it's easily the worst of the three Operation Rainfall games, though I say this as someone who adored The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles - but it's as interesting and nuanced as any of the Wii's best indefinable games. Another five of which I've hopefully convinced a few of you to try out with this 'ere verbose screed what you just peeped. To paraphrase site fixture

Pandora's Tower

As close as they are, you have to expect some passive-aggressiveness after those damn towers.
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