Donkey Kong Country's Godly Promotional Tape

A fine game indeed
Donkey Kong Country has become a whipping boy over the years with the fallout and hard feelings that arose from Nintendo and Rare's ugly break-up. What was graphically the most important game in the 16-bit era, with a nice solid mascot platformer stapled to it, has been taking a beating for its sometimes "grotesque" character designs, "average" gameplay and its "collectathon"  mentality. Did the game have the same sublime control and tightness as Super Mario World? Not so much, but it made up for that with competent controls combined with a greater variety in gameplay with mine cart levels and animal friend "vehicles" and such. Was it a "collectathon"? It was in some sense, but that sense was essentially the same as Mario or Sonic, i.e. collecting things gave you more lives and perhaps could unlock mini-games but wasn't something you had to do. That's a complaint that should be made about Donkey Kong 64 and other latter Rare Nintendo products. And the character art? Well.... I guess the haters got me there Candy Kong and other characters created by Rare for this game are the stuff that breeds nightmares and probably secretly causes schizophrenia. Donkey Kong and Diddy were designed decently enough, and thats what counts...I guess.
Dear God, NO! NO! NO! NO!

The reason why I've brought up the subject is that Donkey Kong Country is the game I was most excited about playing when I was a kid. Even in the hard days of the N64, when Zelda OoT was the only shining beacon that sustained me while my friends were playing Final Fantasy VII, that level of excitement could never match DKC. That was for one simple reason. I had the Rare behind the scenes promotional video. That video was perhaps the most brilliant piece of advertising I've ever come across in my life. Donkey Kong Country, at the time, was the game that graphically set the SNES apart from the genesis. While some valid complaints can be made about the Rare cartoony style of art, the game itself was so beautiful. The backgrounds were so lush and Donkey Kong and Diddy looked so good running through that first level in that old VHS tape. The game was the one game that really turned the heads of the average audience, I don't think that any console game had that impact again until Mario 64 and Tomb Raider.

These Characters were fine
The best thing about the tape was that the marketing people knew what the best level was, the first mine cart level. Seeing that a level like that could exist on my SNES made my little head explode, I wanted to play that level soooooo badly that I always rewind the tape to look at it 3-4 times before I could continue on to the other stuff. The tape also did a nice job of introducing all of the secrets and making me excited about exploring every part of every world to find cool items and mini-games. I don't think the game ever fully lived up to my sky high expectations, but it was pretty close. That mine cart level was just as good as advertised, though the later ones didn't quite have the same charm. Donkey Kong Country deserves to remembered as one of the great platformers of the 16-bit era. Though perhaps not as adept gameplay wise as some of the Sonic and Mario games of the time, it was a great deal better then the other fare we were getting with Mascot platformers like Aero the Acro-bat and Bubsy. Now if you excuse me I've got an old VHS tape I need to become reacquainted with.     

Overthinking Final Fantasy VII

Stirring the flames of passion within the Final Fantasy legion has quickly become one of my favorite pastimes. It's just so much fun!  Moving on from my disjointed primer on Final Fantasy Fandom, I've decided to do something more focused, direct and something that sometimes is down right spiteful. The time has come to spit in the eye of the cyclops. To face the ecclesiastical faithful and deny their Shepard, their prophet. To go toe for toe against the most beloved Final Fantasy of them all! I hate Final Fantasy VII, and so can you!

Midgar was a great jumping off point

My major beef with the game pertains to its pacing and story. The first six hours of the game are perhaps the best RPG ever made. Midgar is an interesting and unique world in miniature. The pacing and direction within the Midgar arc of the story is comprehensible, engrossing and its steam-punk dystopia styling was a revelation for the genre. The story slides downhill from these dizzying heights once the characters escape from Midgar. When the veil that covered the world is lifted and a greater horizon is revealed, the world that emerges from the other side is rather sparse and dull by comparison. The game put a great first step forward, but didn't flesh out the world outside of Midgar very well.

Cloud's motivations and purpose throughout the march to Northern Crater are garbled and confusing as well. The man is clearly going insane and losing control of his psyche as they draw nearer to Sephiroth. Yet, no one in the party seems to notice or care. The story is further hurt by an atrocious localization job done by SCEA. Read the dialog for yourself, it simply does not hold up to the test of time.

Very important parts of the stories are also left unexplained and ill-defined. A fine example is the fact that Sephiroth, yeah is actually kind of a lazy bastard. He spends the entirty of the game hanging out in his strange cocoon in Northern Crater. Every time you see Sephiroth before you reach the center of the Crater was just Jenova pretending to be him because Sephiroth was telepathically controlling pieces of Jenova from afar. Buh? If you want to have a better idea of what actually happened in Final Fantasy VII check out Falsehead's well written plot analysis, reading that piece made think about the story for FFVII and made me realize how bat-shit insane the story was. Though to be kind to the game the localization was so porous that it's possible the actual story is brilliant, but its so swamped down by SCEA's amateurish that I may never know.
Really? This was your vision for the Final Fantasy VII Universe?

Cloud's character is also a causality of his time. Cloud was the first of many RPG characters created in a post Neon Genesis Evangelion world. Final Fantasy VII established the precedent for the main characters in jrpg's to be jerks with major physiological problems. His surliness and psychoses were were interesting and unique for the time, but his example would haunt avid jrpg players for years.

Gameplay wise Final Fantasy is probably the most shallow in the main series. The materia system makes all the characters interchangeable. By the middle point of the game the only difference between the characters other than their materia is there limit breaks and sometimes their weapons (on a side note Cloud's Nail Bat is great, that Bat with a nail in is the most awesome weapon in any game ever). Every Final Fantasy before and since tried very hard to make the characters distinct in their abilities or reward the player for creating a balanced differentiated squad of heroes. Final Fantasy VII lost sight of that goal as soon as the character left Midgar. Strong and powerful materia could be found on the ground or in the shop like candy. The characters quickly become the materia they are wearing and cease to be unique, Yuffie and Tifa are almost exactly by the time you reach Nibelheim if you give them the same materia. Final Fantasy VII materia system just can't hold a candle to the other character development systems that Square has used in other iterations of the series. 

Wings! Wings! Angel Wings Everywhere!
Too be serious for a moment, most of this blog is a major retro con job on my part. Final Fantasy VII was the game that made me buy a PlayStation. The graphics, presentation and gameplay drew me in hook line and sinker. Most of the problems previously mention melted away as I became lost in the experience. It's important to remember that no game is above reproach, no game should be above criticism. Final Fantasy VII was a game that changed my life and made me more interested in RPG's and games in general. The greatest thing about Final Fantasy VII for me was that it made me play more games, that it made me want to experience similar games. Too be truthful this blog is just my own attempt at Kojima-esk meta tom-fuckery. To give the boards a post that they probably didn't need or want just because I could. Aren't I a rascal?

The things that I mentioned are what make it such a great game in the first place. It tried a lot of new things in the genre, not every idea was a winner to be sure, but touchstone games often rise above the sum of their parts. I think Final Fantasy VII is one of those games, it's very easy to pick it apart by disassembling the whole, but doing so makes you lose the whole picture, makes one subservient to the wiles of the mind at the expense of the heart. It makes you a troll, something I could only stand doing for about 30 minutes before I felt dirty and felt the need to retract and give an actual genuine appendix to this piece. 

Games should be enjoyed and not over thought too much, I think Final Fantasy VII was a game that had a lot of heart, the makers succeeded in finally making the type of game that they wanted to make. Unlike the points I made, Final Fantasy is perhaps the most genuine game in the franchise. Midgar especially was the realization of something that Sakaguchi and company had always wanted to achieve in games like Final Fantasy VI but didn't have the graphical chutzpah to turn into reality (Vector was pretty cool, but it didn't have the same gloomy weight and gravity that Midgar did). I think heart is one of the things that is missing from critical reviews today. Is the subjectively evaluating a game based out its genuineness and heart perhaps a bit bias? Yeah, probably, but it's a whole lot better then just roboticly listing perceived pros and cons.

Was I a disingenuous dick for writing the first few paragraphs dick for writing the first few paragraphs of this blog? No doubt, but I think I have a new found appreciation for Final Fantasy VII and other games as a result. Let me catch my breath and remember that I play video games because their fun and engaging, not so I can prove the length of my critical penis on the Internet. Keep on trucking Final Fantasy VII and FFVII fans, don't lose heart and let trollish snobs berate your game of choice. This blog was a lot of fun to write, but it made me feel all icky inside after I realized how venomous and devoid of taste and humor. Like Doctor Frankenstein I have looked at my creation, found it inadequate and a pox upon my character and am washing my hands of the affair. Boy do I feel cleansed. It was a strange and crazy trip to come to this conclusion, but I think it was worth it

Chris Redfield is taking Steroids!

Chris Redfield right after beating a Grizzly Bear in an arm wrestling competition
With the media explosion that followed the leak that Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees had taken a performance enhancing substance between 2001-2003 MLB and its players have been forced to face an incredible amount of media and public scrutiny over the subject of steroids and other performance enhancer use over the last two decades. "Steroid culture" in baseball has systematically tarnished the image of America's pastime and made the nation question the validity of the baseball records that fans hold so dear. Yet, Football and other sports seem to get a free pass with the issue. Living in San Diego I can say from experience that our two best Linebackers, Shawn Merriman and Stephan Cooper, were both caught and suspended using substances they shouldn't have been using. Neither has had to face a great amount of scrutiny after they had finished their suspensions. I think that a lot of Video Game characters now are getting the same pass as our NFL players, their jacking up on the steroids to make themselves killing machines right in front of our children! Though I'm certainly approaching this subject with a great deal of facetiousness, it is interesting to look at how our video game champions have changed, umm, build wise over the years.

Chris Redfield before having Jill inject steroids into his ass.
The natural finger to point to is Gears of War. The sheer body dimensions of Marcus Phoenix and his crew put NFL juicers to shame. But, within the context of the game, I don't think it;s that big of a deal. I mean, if the world is going to shit and there are multiple grotesques races of monstrosities trying to destroy the human race, I think I would personally turn a blind eye. Whatever it takes to make our super soldiers more easily lance locusts would be fine with me.

The worse offender, in my mind, is having a character start out life as a normal looking human being, and then having them show up jacked up in the sequel. In this case I think that Resident Evil 5 is the one game that would have been brought forward to the house judiciary committee to be brought to task on poisoning our youth, if game characters were taken as seriously as Baseball players in combating steroid use that is. Chris Redfield is clearly on the juice! His transformation from well built special ops agent to a Hulkish muscle bound turret is dramatic to say the least. Trust your eyes, and you'll see that Chris Redfield isn't just scarfing down herbs to keep himself fit. Should gamers care that the characters in our game would have to be on massive steroids programs to achieve their bulk? Probably not, but it's food for thought when your precisely decapitating  infected villagers in Resident Evil 5 with your pistol.  

Why Not to Play the Games from Your Childhood

Unemployment and poverty are rapidly on the rise in this nation again, a generation of youth will have to learn what its like to grow up during hard financial times and live with the inherent tough decisions that families must make to come out successful and prosperous on the other side. From 1988-1994 my family struggled with the collapse if the Art industry in California and a general recession that forced us to make a lot of changes once our house was foreclosed. Being very young I found innovative ways to make up for our families lack of cash flow and vagabond life style by investing a lot of myself into the few video games that my family did have. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the one game I was most invested in.

My love for all things Ninja Turtle was at its epoch of power at this time. In 1989 the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle commercial empire was quickly spreading its vast tentacles into millions of television screens with the wildly popular cartoon, invaded toy stores with their action figures and launched a Trilogy of movies. In a very hard time in my life, the world the Turtles lived in and kicked serious butt was great escapism for me. That is why I ritualistically played TMNT for my NES every single day for a year. My gaming palette was not very sophisticated at this point, four and five years olds rarely do have very high standards on entertainment, but I remember always having fun, always enjoying my romps into Ultra Games (aka Konami secretly releasing games under a made up label) vision of the TMNT universe.

Alas, I have become old, decrepit and jaded in the ensuing years. My rosy tinted glasses removed, I recently pushed past the fog of nostalgia and took TMNT out for another spin. This was a poor decision. Some things should always remain in the past. Should always be maintained in your memory where your mind has the ability to craft truth in its own particular manner.

TMNT was a platform action game that did not take notes on the other great games that were occurring within its vicinity. The gameplay in TMNT is very similar to Castlevania, the player is given control of one of the aforementioned Ninja Turtles and can switch between the four brothers at any time and can pickup various side weaponry, such as ninja stars or boomerangs.  Similar games such as Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden were markedly better than TMNT in gamplay, because each of those games had logical physics, had characters whose movements and jumps that were infinitely repeatable and easy to comprehend. The turtles though were unwieldy Mexican jumping beams, their jumps were floaty and they jumped so high that it became an ordeal to land them properly.

The game is plagued with glitchy infinitely spawning enemies. While I was able to come to an eventual understanding of the logic of Ninja Gaiden's constantly spawning baddies, TMNT seems to work beyond any set logical frame. Enemies will simply appear, disappear and perhaps even never appear at random. Looking at the game with a more mature and pessimistic eye the game was poorly coded and is ripe with bugs. In a game that required a lot of memorization it was quite off putting.

The turtles themselves had the same problem that they had in the multiple arcade iterations of the series. Leonardo and Donatello were simply more useful then their two brothers. The range of Michelangelo and Raphael’s weapons were miniscule compared to that of Leo's swords and Don's long Bo. The Turtles weren't different in any other regard either; they controlled exactly the same and had the same access to various side weapons. Even as a Five-year-old Raphael and his stumpy daggers were relegated to serving as a sacrificial lamb, health bar wise, for the Dam sequence.

Not Fun!
The Dam sequence in TMNT is probably the most infamous portion of the game. While the gameplay of TMNT is not strong, it is playable game and the ramp up in difficulty from the first level to the second level prior to the Dam is relatively fair. The Dam, however, committed numerous gameplay sins that cause players to quit a game in frustration. In the Dam level the player is: given a new set of underwater controls that are hard to master, tasked with a hard to achieve time limit that requires immediate mastery of a new gameplay variant and the dam level itself is infested with annoying electrified seaweed that quickly kills your character unless you have memorized exactly when to press the swim button. For a modern gamer is impenetrable, it's a by gone joust of wills that to the nihilistic mind to have been made crafted purely to frustrate, purely for malice. In retrospect its far less sinister though, just a mishap of the time that confused varying gameplay and mini games as fun.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES is not a very good game. I was able to struggle through it in childhood and due to a lack of other options had convinced myself that what I was doing was great, that somehow fun was being had. It's good to remember that sometimes the past should remain just that, a memory, and an experience you have internalized and moved on from. A sad way to end a blog, but this was a sad time for me, and TMNT was one of the things that gave me solace, gave me a brighter outlook on life. I marred my great youthful experiences bringing my grownup modern gamer sensibilities. A sad way to end a blog, but a nice warning to kids whose families are going through rough times and enjoying playing Iron Man for the Wii. Enjoy the game in the present as much as you can't, but please don’t play it again in 20 years. That path just leads to tears and second guessing.


Comics that Shockingly have no Video Game: Hellsing

Hellsing is a little manga that was created by Kouta Hirano is published for Young King Ours magazine and began in 1997. The most important thing you need to know about this series is that its about Dracula fighting genetically engineered German Nazi Vampires. The sheer awesomeness of the premise can not be understated, there is a seriously large amount of Nazi Vampires and Warewolves getting their cummuffons. I don't really think its to big a spoiler to come out and that Alucard is Dracula in Hellsing, I mean its Dracula spelled backwards and thats an old ploy Symphony of the Night used, but it makes sense that a comic about vampires would feature the Grand Daddy of all vampires center stage as the main character.

It should also be stated that the comic and the anime are well known for being extremely graphic, having disturbing imagery and for playing essentially mad libs with the Bible, making it kind of a cross-breed between Ninja Gaiden 2 and Xenogears. But again, I think that the truly great thing that Hirano did with the comic was creating the perfect enemy to kill. Who could object to the mass slaughter of terrible montrous Vampire Nazi's that eat people? This series is seriously a  Devil May Cry game waiting to happen. I don't think theres anything that could be more satisfying then mowing down legions of Nazi Vampire Super Men. Did I mention that these Vampire Nazi's are depicted eating babies in the comic. Babies! I don't think there has ever been an enemy created in a game that I would have less sympathy in killing then a Nazi Vampire. Much more satisfying than those silly puppets you tore to shreds in the first Devil May Cry, to be sure.

Shooting Nazi Vampires is the logical evolution from shooting Nazi Zombies

The other shocking revelation is that Kouta Hirano clearly has an interest in video games, or at least one of his editors does. It appears as though he spent so much time thinking of unique ways for me to enjoy Alucard and friends rip Nazi Vampires apart that he simply could not be bothered to come up with original titles for his chapters. So he naturally just took the names of various popular video games that sounded like they could fit with the story and slapped them on. Final Fantasy, Ogre Battle, Wizardry, Castlevania and even lesser known titles like D are all referenced in various chapter titles throughout the series. It seems almost scandalous to me that a popular comic that has multiple dark and violent super human characters, the perfect enemy to kill, major battles that could easily translate over to Boss fights, an author who appears to be a gamer and is a series that is relatively popular outside of Japan hasn't had its day in a video game developers hands. It even makes sense for the property to just outright copy already established series like Castlevania or Devil May Cry, which both draw heavily upon the same well of reference material. And thats if the developers were just lazy, the action in the series would supply a solid base for a good developer to be creative and come up with something new and awesome.

Graphic Gore is Hellsing's middle name
Are there any other comics that people can think of that could/should be made into a game? It seems like a lot of the best ones have already been made into games so it'd be interesting to see if there are any forgotten properties that could make a nice transition into being a video game. Though they really should get cracking on that Hellsing game first, its only fair, my blog my rules. :)


"Mature" Content in the FPS Genre

The most recent episode of Rebel FM had a very interesting discussion about mature content in video games. With the recent revelation that GTA: IV The Lost and Damned features a few racy seconds of male junk on your television screen, the crew attempted to shed some light on the subject of maturity in all of its forms. It's a good listen and I'd recommend anyone interested in the current trajectory of the industry to give it a listen. This spawned a conversation that tried to establish what should be considered "mature" content and the differences between material in a game being "mature" in the violence tolerance and sexual definition of the word or "mature" in the sense of being a concept or theme that may be inappropriate, disturbing or present subject that intellectually goes over the head of younger gamers. This discussion ignited my passions, forcing me try to deeply consider maturity in the latter sense. The Rebel FM podcast quickly turned toward the discussion of maturity in various FPS and Gears of War style games, which inspired me to conceptually think about how these type of games have matured and whether the more cerebral effects that a game has on a player reached the same level as with the ability to project realistic battle situations and graphic fidelity.

My hypothesis for this piece is that the FPS genre, with a few shining exceptions, is still stymied in a state pre-pubescence conceptually and theme wise. I think though that its is only fair that I reveal my own biases. I strongly believe that placing a player in a first person perspective in innately the most visceral and effective method for a game to put the player into the shoes of their avatar, the type of game that best translates the will of player onto the game world through a avatar.

A fine example of this type of gameplay would be when Scientists are babbling their psudo-science at Gordan Freeman while I'm playing Half-Life 2 I feel like I have complete control of my avatar and that his actions are my actions because I always have control over him and see the world through his eyes. When I'm crowbarring the scientists while they talk it's because I'm a jerk and made the personal decision that I don't really care what their saying. My jerkiness is translated fairly well into the game and makes me feel like I have a lot of control over his destiny as a character. This is I think the one aspect of an FPS that separates it from third person perspective games. The character is an extension of the character rathar than a avatar that I'm controlling like a puppet with my controller. I think there is one degree less of separation when playing a first person perspective game.

CoD: 4 is a title that does a great job of placing you into realistic adrenaline pumping situations that are relatively akin to being in a battle that takes place in a relevant and culturally important local. A lot of FPS titles are able to pull this off, I think that we have reached a point in the Genre where most games can produce graphics and moments in battles that are a mature and realistic facsimile of what occurs on a battle field. The sound, the weapons, the blood, the guts, the machines of war and societal strife. Games like the CoD series for real world scenarios and Halo for Science-Fiction style shooters have set bars of quality that most games are able to attain, the actual gun play and mechanics of these games are fun, utilitarian and show a high level of maturity for the genre in the areas of level design structure. These evolutionary process has resulted I think in the FPS genre, especially in the case of console shooters, being in the grand scheme establishing a highly playable and engrossing paradigm. These successes are mitigated by the lack of "impact" that many of these games have and by the lack of ingenuity in the genre when it come to exploring new themes.

Halo is partially to blame for this phenomenon I believe. This statement is not an attempt to sully the name of Halo in any sense, but a recognition of the impact that Halo had on how FPS games are now designed. Halo was the first huge unqualified success for the FPS on the console scene, controls and gameplay have a lot to do with this fact but perhaps the most enduring lineage that has come from this series is the idea of "pushing" the player forward. Halo and Halo 2 really cemented the idea that a FPS should push the player toward objectives and goals. They tried to eliminate the ability to backtrack or to get lost. The games are specifically designed to funnel the player from one moment, one battle to another. This gives the player direction, lessens the chances of players becoming frustrated and allows the developer to very finely tune and mold a players experience. Games like Halo for the home console and Half Life for the PC have given the industry blueprints for creating FPS experiences that allow for a high level of design and give the developers a lot of control in dictating the pace and frequency of action. This "pushing" mechanism that currently keeps most modern generation FPS games on track pacing and gameplay wise I think is having the opposite effect when it comes to physiological impact. While the gameplay has improved greatly, the decisions that your avatar make have not. Because the game is pushing the player to
achieve certain tasks and errands in the name of structure, many games forget that battlefields don't have structure. Many of these games lack fluidity, lack elements of give and take that are native to war zone situations. Kill Zone 2 was a nice step in the right direction in that it eventually presents the idea of the bleakness of war, that when fighting a war theres a chance your side could lose and that there really aren't too many super soldiers out there who can change the tide. I also give kudos to Kill Zone 2 for not glorifying your side of the conflict, even seemingly altruistic nations fighting a horrifying Fascist regime is capable of atrocities and of perpetuating seemingly endless blood shed.

Where the game fell short for me as far as maturity for the genre was that constant pushing, even though the themes that were touched were very thought provoking and mature intellectually, the gameplay and pacing rarely reflected that bleakness. The game doesn't explore the concepts of an army being forced to retreat, an army slogging through the same territory again to conquer a hill or city they had won and then lost again in a week, the dialog is very macho and mature in the expletive sense, but does not explore the impending bleakness of the war that is depicted while your playing. Kill Zone 2 may be a better, more playable game exploring the major mature themes of the game visually, rather than with gameplay or pacing. I do not fault them for making the choice as the things I wanted from the game could have been disastrous if poorly implemented, but it made me feel like Kill Zone 2 didn't really exceed other games from the genre in exploring mature content and themes.

I guess for me the hallmark game that showed the highest level of intellectual that I've seen from the genre would be the popular choice for pushing this genre forward, Bioshock. Bioshock explored a theme that was unique for the genre, rather than harping on the same WWII, modern warfare or futuristic science fiction tropes the game explores a very crystallized vision of utopianism prevalent in the 1950's. The setting was informed by a consistent and original back drop that didn't just explore the trials of war or societal strife but on the darker side of utopianism and the loss of humanity. The game utilized more of a Metroid Prime vision of exploration and pacing, the player is allowed to explore and complete tasks in the order they wish, but there are a few important road blocks that filter how the game progresses. Lastly, the most important thing that separated the games from its peer was the moral quandary with the Big Daddies and Little Sisters. The game hands the moral ball into your hands, will you harvest the Little Sisters for their essence and take down their benevolent protectors and reap the gameplay rewards, or will you choose the higher moral path be the kind of savior that Rapture so sorely needed. The game does not tell you which is the right choice but the presentation of the characters and the sheer power divide between your character and the Little Sisters informs the gamer that this is an important decision, a decision that shapes your character and what he stands for. This also compliments the gameplay as they mutations and augmentations that you receive are slowly dehumanizing you and dragging you down to the level of degeneration as the frenzied insane enemies you encounter, these powers are a necessity but also change who and what you are. All of these aspects are integrated into a very cohesive and well spun tale that I really can't go into too much as its something that shouldn't be spoiled.

CoD: 4 should also be applauded for how its methodology in creating a mature and impacting experience. It produced moments that went beyond just the battlefield, it made you question what it means to die in a game and that wars and battles don't just proceed forward in a very determinable way. The game is very "pushy" in its pace but does a nice job of exploring these other aspects of modern warfare that illustrate what it really means to be a soldier or civilian in a war zone.

Though I have a very dour and pessimistic view of the genre at this time, I still do enjoy the gameplay advances that I have seen and just hope that in the future it is possible to integrate more mature themes such as the horrors of nuclear war, guerrilla warfare, trench warfare, unending wars, colonization and other very important, very relevant themes that exist in our world. I really hope that devlopers can expand from their focus on recreating WWII, modern war and sci-fi settings in favor of different conflicts that had their own particularities. I am still waiting for a game that really explores the bleakness and the dread of World War I in an entertaining fashion. Kill Zone 2 is an interesting near-future setting allegory on World War II but the themes and purposes of that war have been beaten to death.

Well, this was a long and rambling rant. I guess it now comes to the question that I'm putting to the community. Are my opinions valid? Should maturity in the genre be defined in this way and head in that direction? What type of themes, setting and conceptions would you like FPS games to explore?

Note: This blog is so freakin long that its going to be only partially edited for a bit, I'll get back to gussying it up and making it intelligible after I take a break


Games You've Played That Redeemed a Series: Legend of Kage

The Legend of Kage was a terrible video game. Straight up, it was an action platformer that was released for the NES in 1986 and it was garbage. As a young lad my tolerance for bad gameplay and poor controls was relatively high. As someone who somehow butted their head incessantly into the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles till I beat it I think that my aptitude for pain was relatively high. The purchasing of a video game was a big deal in my household, a huge investment that I was expected to get the most out of, lest I cause the ruin of our finances with my wuss-itude. The Legend of Kage was the one game that I bought or rented during the golden years of the NES that was just too terrible for me to beat, let alone give the time of day to.

Having loved the sublime but tough as nails gameplay of Ninja Gaiden and as a kid who was situated very deeply in the Pro-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles consumerism camp, I simply had to have more games that involved or touched on the theme of Ninjas doing awesome things. Suffice to say there are numerous cute but damning Halloween photos of me stalking my pray as a ninja master to substantiate my love for all things ninja. The Legend of Kage was the thumb-tack that let the air out of my Ninja loving balloon, the moment that I realized that not all video games were these crazy radically awesome entities. The game is unassailable, its a recalcitrant game that is uninterested in such gaming staples as "Level design" and "Controllability" and throws a fit anytime you attempt to accurately navigate your ninja. The first damning characteristic of the game is that Kage simply jumps too high to be controllable. As anyone who has played TMNT or Mighty Bombjack knows, when characters can jump incredibly high and the developer and has no conception of the affect of gravity and physics the player is ultimately the loser. One of the reasons why Super Mario Bros. is such a great game is its impeccable physics. Every movement, every jump has a certain logic to it, a measurable amount of acceleration thats is very easy to learn and intuit. Legend of Kage unfortunately missed that logic train. When attempting to jump and ultimately avoid enemies controlling Kage is like trying to get a handle of a fish flopping on a trampling. It was ugly, it was merciless, it was garbage.
In my 5 year old mind this cart was awesome

The Legend of Kage 2 for the DS was Taito's letter of apology, a playable realization of what the Legend of Kage could have been back in the day. This second major game in this series is not going to rock anyones world. It's a competent, well thought out action platformer where Kage actually responds to the commands given to him. The first game I think was trying to give the player a sense of speed and super human ability, something that was beyond the teams abillities as these aspects made Kage well nigh uncontrollable. The Legend of Kage also had the problem that it was not originally designed for Famicom, it was an arcade game first. While Castlevania, Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden showed that it was possible to bring an arcade game to the Famicom or NES, those games dramatically changed the gameplay in many cases over their arcade iterations to make them fun on the hardware. The Legend of Kage? Not so much. The Legend of Kage 2 succeeds in this measure, the length of the levels, the difficulty level and endless continues make the game very playable in short distinct chunks. Taito put a lot of thought in the creation of the second game, and it shows.

Now on to the question at hand. Is there any game that you've played that redeemed a series for you? A game that makes up for the previous transgressions of the previous games of the series, even if only a little.



Bad Voice Work in Games: Mega Man 8

Mega Man and Rush in a scene where Mega Man is fortunately not talking
Mega Man has always fought for everlasting peace, so many times, in fact, that I have developed a morose pessimistic perspective whenever I hear a new title has been given the Mega Man moniker. My love affair for the series soon became an abusive relationship when Capcom force fed me Mega Man 5, 6 and worst of all Mega Man 7. By Mega Man 7 the game had taken away everything that was interesting and intuitive in the series. Mega Man was now a big unwieldy sprite, one that felt far too floaty on jumps and was no where near as precise as Mega Man had been on the NES. The weapons you acquired were derivative and boring, the story juvenile and far too visible. If not for Capcom's spin off series, Mega Man X, I may have retired my Mega Man playing days, riding into the sunset sullenly cursing the Mega Man name under my breath. Frankly, I'd been burned too many times, I'd lost the faith.

The box art was pretty damn sweet, but also a painful reminder that Mega Man was pretty mediocre for a number of those years

Mega Man 8 was the game that rehabilitated me back into the franchise. The game does habe a few too many of the elements I had seen from Mega Man 7, but on the whole was able to properly satiate my overall desires. The gameplay and weapons were a nice fusion of Mega Man 4 and Mega Man X. The jumping felt a little floaty, but the game is fairly lenient on allowing you to land on the other side of instant death pits, something I'm all for. Thankfully the Mega Man sprite is the right size, its small enough and controls well enough to retain the same feel as the game had during its golden age (Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3). Mega Man 8 isn't the best Mega Man game, the schizophrenic auto-scrolling stages assures this as they range the gambit from cake to Mind Numbingly Hard, but it was the kind of redemption that could bring me back into the Mega Man fandom flock. It was not the series revival that Mega Man sorely needed, but was still a fine game.

Interestingly, the biggest innovation for the series in Mega Man 8 was the inclusion of voice work and anime style cartoon cut scenes into the game. Innovations that varied in greatly in quality. While the hand drawn cartoon cut scenes were a competent representation of the Mega Man universe with a nice coforting late 90's anime vogue, the voice work was atrocious in almost every sense. The delivery, the choice of actors and the dubbing were a tour-de-force in ineptitude. I don't know about you, but Dr. Light shouldn't sound like Elmer Fudd. Also, the Mega Man that I had imagined playing as sounded, you know, maybe kind of Man-ish, I don't know. Instead what we got was a Mega Man that sounded like he was voiced by an eight year old girl, no offense to eight year old girls of course, they just shouldn't be voicing my favorite little blue bomber. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all was that I loved every second of it! Mega Man 8's overall charm for me comes partially from the ineptitudes of the voice work. Like Capcom's other big PlayStation release Resident Evil, the voice work is so tragically horrendous that it wraps back around to good. I know, I have horrible tastes, but I can't help it, earnestly done voice over flops just make me feel warm and giggly inside.

But while Resident Evil, Zero Wing, The Legend of Zelda's and other games often funny translations into the English Language are rather played out and well known by now, Mega Man 8's horridness lies dormant, hidden from the collective conscience it seems. Since the 32bit era the standards for voice work and translations have been greatly raised, what used to be a plentiful field of hilariously awful localization has become a rarity. Perhaps its an odd thing to pine for, an odd thing that I probably wouldn't want to actually come true, but I do miss games that failed so spectacularly with their voice work. Then again, Virtua Fighter is single handedly carrying the torch I guess.

Mega Man 8 is my favorite awesomely bad voice work in a video game! Anyone else have any favorites that deserve to be eulogized or perhaps even crucified for their plenitude of ineptitudes? Behold the brilliance, if you dare!        

Einhander: When Square Experimented

Ever since the massive, colossal failure that was Square's one and only expedition into the film world "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" in 2001 the company has been extremely conservative and gun-shy when it comes to the games they develop and distribute. Anyone who is fairly well read on the state of Square-Enix and its release schedule will know of the lack of titles that do not feature the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest names or do not have RPG placed somewhere within its genre label. But, back in the Hey-day of the PlayStation, before Sakaguchi convinced the Square board to flush their funds down the drain, they were actually an experimental company.

Parasite Eve and Parasite Eve II were an rpg and survival-horror game that were really trying to be American, they took place in America and at least attempted to make a game that American's could identify with. Bushido Blade had a lot of playability issues, but was one of the first attempts at a fighting game that had realistic damage parameters. Was it annoying to have your head chopped off and lose a battle in one move? Perhaps, but it was an interesting take on the fighting genre and made it distinct from similar games like Soul Edge. Einhander is my favorite of Square's various dabbling in non-rpg genres. Einhander is a R-Type style shooter, a vertical shooter that had very dramatic camera angle changes and a clean polygonal style. The game may not be as sublime and exhilarating as games like Thunder Force V, but it was a solid shooter with an intriguing steam-punky dystopian style that was grimy and bleak, something I had rarely seen from the genre previously. Einhander is not the worlds greatest vertical shooter, but it represented a nice step by Square into that genre and was a nice diversification of their catalog.

Which goes onto my major question for everyone. What kind of games do you think SE should be making right now? Should they just stick to strip-mining their base with their most popular franchises or should they experiment and try to make games like Einhander, Bushido Blade and yes, even games like The Bouncer? Does the possible purchase of Eidos and their revamping of the Taito brand make my point mute? I ere on the side of maximum creativity, but then again I don't pay the bills at SE.

I Challenge you, to Retro!

Retro Game Challenge was my major purchase for the month; it is by far the best game that I have played this year. I tried to play through my friends copy of the Japanese game but soon gave up on Star Prince as figuring out the exact nature of every challenge was beyond my Japanese ability. Could I have translated it or looked it up online? Sure, but why do that when I can just play Dragon Quest IV and enjoy its cute and quirky localization instead?

Since I have already played a large portion of the game, playing a few of the challenges I felt like I was just going through the motions to get to where I had been in the Japanese version. The localization has been the real star for me so far. The game is perhaps the best ode to EGM that I have seen yet; the GameFan magazine in the game is a really interesting amalgamated sense of the gaming magazine scene in general. I'm half sure they used Dan "Shoe" Hsu's photo likeness with the ubiquitously name "Dan Sock." I am also really enjoying the nostalgic feeling that I get playing the game in English. Little Arino does remind me of a lot of the friends I had when I was playing through NES games. How big secrets and rumors were, how cool you felt when you showed your friend the Konomi code or trying to convince your friend how cool your Power Glove was (Note: It wasn't). The English translation was able to really take me back and get that same feeling, that same excitement that I got out of playing games in that era, something that wasn't able to click in the Japanese version for me. Xseed did an amazing job and I know I'll be singing their praises for quite sometime.

Also, this is a nice respite from the avalanche of RPG content that is collapsing on the game industry in the next 3 months. I really should boycott some of these titles for a little while so I can get some more variety in my life, maybe play a shooter like Star Prince or an action game like Haggleman, but we shall see. I have a way of playing lame rpgs before much better games from other genres, a character trait that I need to work on. Oh well, now I have Guardia Quest in front of me, yet another old school style jrpg to take up too much of my time. Now, excuse me while I play some DQIV, still got a few hours till I beat that one and I need to get ready for DQV. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I'm addicted! Hook the Dragon Quest style gameplay to my veins.

Any who, is anyone else playing this game right now, or am I just jerking off to this game by myself when I should be on a date for Valentines day? C'mon, a little old school gaming can't hurt ya.


Dan Sock and Dan Hsu have nothing in common, one is pure good and one is pure evil, which is which? The World is still waiting to find out!

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