Possibly the most Japanese blog I've written in a while.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Well, this certainly is an....interesting game. Oh, that's not a backhanded compliment or an attempt on my part to insult the game. I mean, there's certainly something appealing in Project X Zone. The game looks absolutely goddamn amazing, and that whole "crossover" setup results in some entertaining antics among the enormous cast. But Project X Zone doesn't do a good enough job of justifying itself as a game. It's almost like Project X Zone forgets that it's a game and not a collection of flashy graphical effects, and while the game eventually realizes this, it may be too late for some players.

Still, that shouldn't disparage all the things that Project X Zone gets absolutely right. Like the graphics. Where do I even begin? Well, the best way I could describe it is "video game-y". All the characters are 2D sprites, and the camera's pulled in close enough that you can see every last pixel on Juri's assless chaps. (There are 3D backgrounds and special effects, but they only exist to accentuate the 2D visuals, really.) Project X Zone absolutely wants you to know that it's a video game.

The girls are shocked that T-elos can stretch that far. Sanger's having absolutely none of it.

Fortunately, this feels less like a crutch and more like a chance for the game to explore just how far it can take this art style. Who knew how much this art style was truly capable of? Everything's just so fluid and striking and rendered with the utmost detail that it just demands your attention. Even after 40 or so hours with the game, I can't take my eyes off it. The game just looks that amazing. True, the game sometimes looks less like a glorious spectacle and more like a confusing pixel art orgy of confusion, but for the most part, it strikes a satisfying balance between chaos and craft. Besides, when a game looks this amazing, I'm pretty sure it's earned the right to brag.

(The music's also pretty good, as it incorporates a wide selection of styles yet consistently keeps you pumped for what's to come, somehow. But what do you honestly think is worth mentioning more: this or that exact same link with your eyes closed?)

If only I could say the same for the plot. Oh, sure, the premise sounds interesting enough: a billion separate universes (including a universe of genitriloquists) begin crossing over, and it's up to some detective ninja clan or whatever to figure out why. Unfortunately, the reasons for this crossing over only even vaguely reveal themselves toward the end of the story. What happens until then? The story frantically jumps from plotline to plotline, desperately in search of purpose and direction. Characters enter the plot when they damn well please (as do a couple plot points), nobody can stay in any one place for longer than it takes to make a .hack reference, and I have no goddamn clue how the chronology of anything is supposed to work. You never really feel like you're making any meaningful progress. It's like the the game doesn't know what to do and is wasting your time until it figures something out. At least in terms of the plot. It feels disjointed, honestly. Maybe the game spread itself too thin to do anything other than simply jump from event to event with no real commitment. Maybe it's best to look at each chapter as its own event instead of as part of a greater whole.

Spoiler alert: the only Valkyria Chronicles characters in this game come from the one that wasn't released outside Japan.

Or maybe the focus is on the characters instead of the plot. That would explain why the game introduces so many characters apropos of nothing: it needs material for the wacky antics to come. With so many characters to work with, you get just as many personalities to manage. Where do I even start? Well, there's moe incarnate Neneko; the ever aloof Yuri Lowell; the scarily detached Ulala; something called a Deathsatan; and so much more! Naturally, these personalities lend themselves well to fun and entertaining situations, which probably explains why there are so many to find in Project X Zone. It also helps that the game is perfectly aware of its own idiocy. Granted, with a cast larger than a small nation, it's easy for a lot of them to fade into obscurity for much of the story, and that's certainly a problem with Project X Zone. Fortunately, it's not much of a problem. The game does the best it can to keep these characters relevant throughout, giving them a tiny role in conversations to remind you that they still exist. They might not be explored in any real depth, but the game's still remembering to use them.

Unfortunately, for some of the ladies, this means being used as sex objects. What? Don't give me that look; give the game that look. A good portion of the female characters are drawn in such a way that you're encouraged to view them as mere sexual objects. Their postures prominently stress the ass and titties, always at a perfectly lustful viewing angle. For some characters, this is perfectly fine. Morrigan's a succubus, so I've no qualms with the camera slowly glazing over her chest and ass whenever it gets the chance. Where that justification for a princess like Kaguya is, though, I have no goddamn idea. Tron Bonne's metal crotch plate probably doesn't help, either. The source material could have been to blame if not for the original female protagonist of this game looking like she specifically chose an outfit that looked like she just got out of bed. And the game designs her like this for....OK, it doesn't do this with all the ladies (but none of the men, as far as I can tell), but when it does, it's incredibly uncomfortable. Why does this game want to give me an erection? What possible function could this serve other than to put me on edge?

I've only just now realized that this is probably Japan's answer to Family Guy. (Either this game or this screenshot. Either one works.)

And why have I spent so long talking about things that weren't the gameplay? Oh....I can actually answer that one. Like I mentioned before, there's something strange about the gameplay in Project X Zone. Not so much in the set-up; that part's easy to understand. It's a strategy RPG from the Tactics Ogre school of that thing: one character acts, then another, then another, and this is repeated until somebody yells "Turn End" with a thick Japanese accent. When it's one of your characters acting, you can use items or "kill a bunch of guys" attacks, but you're gonna find the real meat of the game once you use a normal attack. Now things are looking a bit more fighting-game-y. Instead of worrying about troop placement and ranges of attack, now you have to deal with building up combos and learning the timings on all your moves. So far, so good. We've got some complex systems with reasonable depth, and the game's demanding a wide range of skill sets on your p-

And there's the problem with the game: it doesn't actually test your skills. There's no real challenge to speak of. But the strange thing is that when I try to explain why, it's hard to find any good reasons for this lack of challenge. The conditions for a challenging game are certainly there. A lot of the maps are heavily populated with enemies (especially toward the end of the game), so there's something to fight against. In theory. In practice, the odds are weighed overwhelmingly in your favor. You can wipe out many enemies in a single move with one pair of characters, whereas they have to take potshots at you over several moves. Numbers might be on their side if not for that "cast larger than a small nation" thing from before. Nothing is ever a threat, and it's harder to lose than it is to win. In fact, I only ever failed a chapter two times in the game. The first time was because I simply forgot one of the fail states the game had presented me with; had I remembered, I probably would've beaten that chapter. The second instance, though, I did remember, but still made a stupid decision and lost because of it. So out of two failures, only one of them could possibly be because of the game's challenge.

I have absolutely no idea what's going on in this game, and that's part of why I love it.

That's probably why I shouldn't be looking at this game in terms of challenge. Instead, it's best to look at Project X Zone through the magic of 機能美. Now for those of you who were utterly confused when I used it in my Darwinia blog, that was the whole point. I'm an asshole. Anyway, 機能美* is pretty much beauty in efficiency. It's that good feeling you get from knowing that nothing's going to waste and all components of a system are being put to maximum use. For a 機能美 game, the fun's all in accomplishing goals with as few resources used or effort exerted as possible. Hell, you don't even really need challenge; just the threat of doing things in the least efficient manner. To ground all this in some sort of reality, Darwinia and Final Fantasy XII could be considered 機能美 games.

That, and Project X Zone. With this new idea, Project X Zone is given life once more. Before 機能美, there was little real motivation to try and become better at the game. Why bother when the game's not gonna put up a fight? Now, there's a reason: because you'll waste so much if you don't know what you're doing. You'll waste moves if you don't know what timings max out damage, items as you heal damage you could've avoided, your special meter if you don't know when to use it for what, etc. Your fun and your level of skill are directly tied to one another, is what I'm getting at. Finally, Project X Zone has justified itself as a game.

But is this justification on time? It took me a good portion of the game to discover the 機能美, and I'm pretty sure it would take you guys about as long. Does that make this a bad game? I honestly have no clue. If you want a gorgeous looking game with funny (if disjointed) scenarios, then yea, I'd recommend Project X Zone. I'd recommend the hell out of it. But as a game where you push buttons and things happen? That's....harder to recommend. If you're pati-wait, Sega was involved with this, right? Does that mean Sonic's in it? No? What the fuck!? OK, screw everything I just said: it isn't worth it.

Review Synopsis

  • FUCKING LOOK AT THIS.
  • Surprisingly, Project X Zone is a better Family Guy game than most Family Guy games.
  • Should you play this game? I don't know.

Not safe for work. Probably.

You ever play a game for your blog, only to find out it's completely irrelevant to what you're writing? No? Well, it's happening here, alright? I thought Valkyrie's appearance in this game would tie it to Project X Zone, but alas, cameos don't count.

Anyway, Marvel Land. It's a game of absolutely no significance to anything, probably because it's exactly like every platformer released in the early 90s. By that, I mean it's merely OK. Not outstanding or terrible, but simply OK. Marvel Land gives you some wide open spaces to explore, and that's really all you need to feel relatively engaged for the length of this tiny game. Not much to complain about, really. Marvel Land's only real flaw is that it doesn't know what works and what doesn't, so it just throws a bunch of ancillary shit on top in the hopes it all works out.

An appropriately obscure reference for an equally obscure video game

Like the story! Now I'm not gonna go into too much detail about the story, simply because it's all ad-libbed and makes no sense. The rat king's captured the fairies of the amusement park kingdom, and the dragon prince must rescue them all? What does that even mean? And how is that relevant to the actual game? As best as I can figure it out, only the amusement park aspect really improves the quality of the game. Many of the levels are simply amusement park rides that you jump through, and the ends up working in the game's favor. Amusement parks are supposed to connote fun and excitement, and that's exactly what these levels deliver on. It's a lot of fun to zip around on a roller coaster, collecting everything in sight, or to swing from a grappling point and into a giant target. (Disney Land does that, right?)

Of course, that might have more to do with what you're doing rather than where you're doing it. I mean, yea, exploring an amusement park is certainly enjoyable, but Marvel Land's fun mostly for the exploration. The levels are little more than winding obstacle courses, but that's OK. They offer enough fun thrills to keep you engaged for a while. Do you want to speed through a level on slippery controls? Because you can do that. How about glide about on dragon wings for some reason? Because that's in here, too. Want to hop all about a level in search of a warp zone? That one happens a lot. I'm surprised all those warps didn't break spacetime itself. And the game continues on like this, offering you decent enough reasons to push on and excavate every last nook and cranny, for about four more worlds. True, those worlds are plain, but that doesn't get in the way of what makes Marvel Land as good as it is.

"The name of the game? Racism."

The boss battles do, though, largely because they're such a departure from what the rest of the game is. Instead of pure platforming pfun, you get some random-mini-game-boss-battles whatever. That's right: to save the princess and the fairies, you're gonna have to play rock/paper/scissors! Or a matching game! Or musical chairs? Are you seeing a pattern between any of these? Because I'm not. These boss battles just feel abrupt and random, like the scraps of some other game Namco might've been developing. That probably explains why these moments don't mesh well with the rest of the game. When I'm up against one of these guys, I don't feel like the game's engaging my time; I feel like it's wasting it.

It doesn't help that the game never explains the rules all that well. For instance, should you win a round of rock/paper/scissors, your opponent screams that you've cheated. At least that's what I determined after the fact. In-game, everybody shares the same word bubble, so I thought that the person explaining the rules was chastising me for some unexplained rule. Now I was left with absolutely no idea how to progress through the game. That's not exactly conducive to an enjoyable game. Then again, not much about the boss battles is. Why was any of this included? What does it any of it add to the game? In the game's defense, this could have been the only feasible option. The story demands boss battles, and designing bosses around particular levels would be wildly impractical. Marvel Land could claim this if the final level didn't prove otherwise. Look at how exciting and fun that level is! Why couldn't the rest of the game be like that?

Wait a minute....it is like that. This makes things more complicated. Do I say that the game's good because you can jump through amusement park rides for some mild platforming fun? Or do I say that it sucks because the boss battles feel rushed and don't fit in with the rest of the game?.....How about both? I mean, the game's not particularly good, but it's not particularly bad, either. Hooray for compromise!

Review Synopsis

  • Wow! These levels are sort-of fun!
  • But these boss battles absolutely aren't!
  • Also, something about rats taking over Disney Land? I don't know.

*I will always write 機能美 in kanji instead of Latin letters. THERE'S NO CHANGING ME.

26 Comments

I just had to end it on a Half-Life 2 reference.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

......Do I count this as modern or old school? Well, either way, I'm finally tackling Episode Two (after years of anticipation!), and I have to say that it's.....not that good. Now, I'm not saying that it's a bad game.....actually, let's go with that. For whatever reason, the game embraces first person shooting mechanics when it absolutely shouldn't. Features that could once stand on their own feel out of place or at odds with each other, and there's not much hope that Episode Two can recover from such mistakes.

I see that you have already prepared your nooses and pitchforks. But hold off on that for a second, because I'm gonna start things off by listing a feature that I actually like: the world design. I'm not even completely sure what I like about it so much. That's not an insult against the game, but more a comment on how difficult it is to pin down what makes the environments work. Is it the vague hints of a supernatural, spiritual ethos permeating the atmosphere? Or maybe it's the dead, industrial forest motif going on? Again, I don't know what exactly it is; all I do know is that it works. The world looks absolutely gorgeous, and I just want to explore every nook and cranny, see every little thing that the world has to offer me. It's a great way to ensure that I stay through to the end.

Pictured: the level of trust the designers have toward the player.

And the story is.....problematic. Actually, that's misrepresenting the situation. The story does some interesting things. We pick up immediately after Episode One, wherein Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance blew up a giant tower or something. Unfortunately, said tower-blowing-up has created an evil portal or something, and it's up to the two heroes to close said portal once and for all. Well, until a Hunter rips Alyx's guts out that is. Although an early plot twist, it's handled really well, conveying just enough emotion to matter, but not so much that it's imposing. But that's not important. What is important, however, is that the story now shifts away from the Combine and more toward the relationship between Alyx and Gordon. Of course, being mute, Gordon can't directly express his character through dialogue, but all the stuff he does to save her should prove just how much she means to him. It's an interesting look at how to characterize somebody through actions rather than through words.

Until the game puts a gun in your hand, that is. Did I not mention that? Episode Two's a first person shooter. You look at things and shoot them. Why? I'm not quite sure. It's an awkward fit, to say the least. You spend much of the game saving Alyx from a large wound in her stomach, not a giant turtle king that's captured her for his own amusement. What place does shooting have in this world? I'm not even certain the game knows itself. Most of the weapons Gordon finds in the game are just that: found. They're lying around for him to pick up, as if the game couldn't figure out how to give him these murder tools in a way that mesh well with the story it was telling. It's almost like Valve felt obligated to work shooting elements into the game somehow, and the larger experience suffers because of it.

Where most men see a horrifyingly gruesome tragedy, Gordon Freeman sees a new toy to throw around.

I believe we can establish this by looking at just what you're fighting over the course of the game. For a good half of Episode Two, it's nothing but antlions and zombies. Both enemy choices situate you as the bad guy. Those zombies can't aggress; they have no free will to do so. They're screaming in pain, and only attack out of desperation. Your response? Gun the ever loving crap out of them and don't look back. Well, that's worrying. Maybe the antlions are better? I mean, at least they can aggress. In fact, they do, and I'm pretty sure it's related to the fact that the people of this world essentially built their houses on the poor things' nesting grounds. Knowingly, I might add; one of your Vortigaunt buddies mentions how his kind are skilled in antlion eugenics, and have been for many a generation. This knowledge presumably carries with it the knowledge of what pisses them off, and I have to imagine tearing down their homes and replacing it all with noisy, disruptive machinery ranks up there as one of the better ways to get on their bad side.

Now, all of this could be ameliorated if the game acknowledged this and somehow worked that moral dissonance into the storyline. Unfortunately, that isn't really the case. I can't remember any point in the game where anything remotely like that happens. Yes, the writing characterizes some of your allies as idiots, but it does so for reasons completely removed from what I've been discussing. I'd say that their decision to build next to a goddamn antlion nest might as well be their smartest decision, but Episode Two doesn't even bring up said decision as a topic of discussion. It doesn't even encourage you to ask why the antlions attack you with such malice. In fact, they might as well be meaty targets who only exist for your own amusement. (The sick guitar licks certainly aren't helping.) The poor little guys are just defending their homes and their children from a small group of guys mercilessly killing their friends, family, neighbors, and who knows what else. What possible justification could the game give for any of this?

I will never tire of dumb physics exploits. (Or at least this one.)

Well, to be fair, you do eventually fight an organized military force that knowingly and intentionally attacks you without much pretense for self defense (or at least not as much). But man, does the game take its sweet time bringing them out. It takes almost half the game before Episode Two's ready to acknowledge them, and when it does, it feels reluctant to do so. This much is evident as soon as said military force enters the picture. Alyx has just recovered from her horrific injuries (I guess), meaning she and Gordon can finally resume their journey to White Castle Forest. As they exit the caves, they spot a Combine battleship flying across the sky. As players, we finally have a clear antagonistic force to work against. Seconds later, you're shooting down the same antlions you've been shooting for the previous 50% of the game. Guess the game isn't quite ready to commit to an unambiguous bad guy, is it?

I feel I should also mention that Gordon Freeman occupies no space within this world. Granted, that's one of the less important problems the game has to deal with, but it's a problem nonetheless. The Freeman does not walk upon the Earth, like you or I would, but glides ever so slightly above it, presumably with the power of his mind. That power's also how he interacts with the world around him, because I can't think of any other explanation as to how he can reload a shotgun while turning a valve. That one's a lot harder to ignore, since a good percentage of the game is nothing but turning valves. It's jarring, to say the least. (The lack of presence, although the high number of valves also leaves me worried.) It only serves to remind me that I'm playing a video game; exactly what Episode Two doesn't need. For a game whose greatest strength is the world it crafts, it sure does a lot to make you feel removed from it.

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!?

You can find one particularly egregious example just by looking down and walking forward. You don't see any feet moving down there, but you can hear footsteps being made. Hell, different sounds play depending on what you're walking on. Normally, that would be a fine attention to detail, but without any feet, this implies some very worrying things. It means that somebody on the development team was assigned to produce various footstep sound effects, and another person was assigned to make sure they play under very specific conditions, but nobody thought to animate or even model the damn feet that actually make these noises. What a worryingly strange dedication to (a lack of) detail.

How did Valve....OK, I think I'm getting it. Don't you see? It's all making sense now. The ten or so rockslides preventing me from exploring anything outside the immediate path; the boulders that fail to elicit a response from Alyx when they're Gravity Gun'd into her brain; the series of caverns I explored in search of vital medicine (that I could've reached via the elevator I used to exit said caverns); that stupid helicopter chase sequence where you're being attacked with explosions and rock music; the inexplicably weak second half of the story, forgetting about a newly introduced plot element until it's needed for a cheap twist at the end of the game....this is a dumb action movie. Thematic implications and creating a cohesive world mean nothing when you can just shoot to your heart's delight.

Of course, even under these standards, the game falters. It doesn't fail, mind you; the shooting can be quite decent. The frantic, hurried, chaotic pace to each encounter mixes quite well with the similarly hurried pace running through both of the major story arcs AND it's pretty damn fun. Unfortunately, said sense of fun is usually balanced with plodding shoot-outs that feel less like a triumphant bang and more like an impotent squib, so the shooting's a wash, overall. The puzzles aren't much better, often sufficing with simple physics puzzles or plugging things in (to fix short circuits, strangely enough); not exactly the most engaging material the game can muster. It's painful, really, typing out all these sentences utterly lambasting Episode Two. I mean, the ingredients are there for a good game. Or maybe for good games. It's the BioShock Infinite problem all over again: decent enough components when examined separately, but when you look at them in the context of each other, it's hard to ignore the mess it becomes. Tell me, reader, if you can. This game sucks so much. What is it, exactly, that makes it worth playing? Can you name even one thing?...I thought not.

Review Synopsis

  • Just shoot shit up, man. Ignore the myriad story problems with this set up.
  • And the far less significant mechanical problems.
  • At least the world's interesting (although if we're going that route, I'd probably cut out the middle man and recommend Dear Esther instead).

I think we'd ALL like Twilight Princess a bit more if it was just Ganondorf licking everything in sight.

OK, so what's the story behind this decision? The word "episode". That's it. Both of these games have the word "episode" in their titles. But strangely, things worked out fine in the end, because both of these Episodes share very similar problems. Much like Half-Life 2: Episode Two before it, The Phantom Menace can't quite get its story and its gameplay in perfect agreement. What should have been a space-hopping epic topped off with tales of political intrigue ends up a clumsy, plodding mess of an experience.

Of course, the traditional narrative (for lack of better phrasing) isn't completely off the hook, despite its initial promise. It all begins with the greedy Trade Federation (not my words) blocking trade with the planet of Naboo. The Galactic Republic, pissed that they're no longer able to buy swamp roots or whatever the hell the planet produces, decides to send in some Jedi Knights to muscle away the problem. So far, so good. We've got the promise of some tense political maneuvering to look forward to, along with monks whacking things with their laser swords in case the former becomes too boring. How are we gonna deliver on that?

What makes this especially confusing is the music video you can watch from the title screen. Not its existence, mind you, but how it uses actual footage from the movie. I have to wonder why the developers decided to render these CGIsores.

Well, if you're The Phantom Menace, you focus most of your energy on dull, boring subplots. Jar Jar Binks readily comes to mind, and while I agree with you that he sucks a bag of racist dicks (the dicks are all wearing Klan hoods), I personally see Anakin as more corrosive to the story. Once he enters the picture, both of the appeals I listed before are thrown right out the window, which is a lot worse than you're probably thinking, since this is the Star Wars universe and everything. Anyway, the story moves away from that other stuff and towards pod races and freeing the boy from his slave life.

All because Qui-Gon Jinn needs some spare parts for his ship. What an underwhelming motivation, especially given how this ordeal comprises pretty much the entire second act. If you're gonna devote so much attention to some kid you introduce a third of the way through the story, he'd better play an absolutely vital role to what's happening in the story. Sadly, that's not the case; he's freed, mentioned as the chosen one (mentioned because he kind of disappears after being freed), and overall does nothing to justify the level of importance placed upon him. Is that really why people want to play this game? For a little kid who just sort of exists? What about the robots pursuing the Queen (who happens to be Princess Azula, for some reason)? Don't they deserve some development?

Translation: "Our plan's not gonna work. The Supreme Chancellor's a pussy, and the Senate doesn't deal with bitch bait."

So far, I've only talked about how the.....I still don't have decent phrasing. How about we talk about the gameplay? Specifically, the level design, largely because it doesn't do the story any favors. First, the dead space. You're gonna spend a lot of time in these levels simply wandering around, looking for some purpose that the developers forgot to implement. This brings the pace to a screeching halt. The lack of (otherwise outstanding) music certainly doesn't help. What was once exciting becomes prolonged, and what was once prolonged becomes torturously awful.

But perhaps more importantly, the level design renders the world ridiculous. Most of the levels force you to jump between ledges, push boxes, collect pass keys, and engage in every other staple of early 3D game design. It's about as fun as you'd expect, but to look at it in terms of fun would be to miss the point entirely: how does any of this fit into the world? I mean, without all that other stuff, the worlds are amazing. They're just so intricate and thoughtfully designed. The worlds you explore just breathe life and personality, almost as though people actually live in these worlds and conduct their daily business in them. That is, when they're not pushing blocks to fetch their car keys (which, for whatever reason, are hanging off a support beam) or removing their groceries from their secret-activated cabinets to make room for medkits or the errant grenade. You see the problem here, right? It's exactly what happened with Episode Two before/after it: I'm reminded that I'm playing a game. No longer am I Qui-Gon Jinn, confusingly named Jedi Master, effortlessly slashing my way through the droid armies; now I'm just some schmuck pushing buttons to make things happen. Of course, The Phantom Menace doesn't fare much better when it's trying to create atmosphere (fucking Mos Espa), but game-centric design isn't the way to go, either.

"A chance to pet those adorable ponies."

This even holds true under fun conditions. By which I mean light saber battles. Because it's impossible not to have fun with a light saber, especially when you're using it to slash bullets instead of people. (You also get to fight using guns and grenades and stuff, but why a magic space knight would use any of that is beyond me.) Yes, actually bouncing those bullets back is awkward and takes getting used to. They reflect back based on where you're facing, but the precision means that a laser can hit you right on and be reflected 90 degrees into the next star system. For many, that may be too precise, and while I agree with you, I add the caveat that such precision brings with it a new layer of skill in learning how these systems work. Think of it like the cherry atop the true appeal to be found in the combat. That appeal, of course, is watching a group of droids open fire on you and somehow manage only to kill themselves.

But let's flip this around and look at the combat in terms of the story. You're supposedly playing as some of the top Jedi in the universe on a mission of the utmost importance, so it's safe to say that they know what they're doing. Why, then, do all their fights come across as clumsy drunken slapstick? Seriously, it's hard to name a single fight that didn't end with the Jedi recklessly swinging their sabers about and hoping something happened. A major military conflict is not the place to reenact your favorite Three Stooges sketches, guys.

And have I mentioned how easy it is to clip through the boundaries in some areas? Because that's sometimes an option.

Darth Maul gets it the worst. In the movie that I don't know if I've ever seen, I have to imagine he fulfills some sort of role as this super ominous bad guy who has a reason to exist. What that reason is, the game doesn't make clear. The guy introduces himself by pushing over some rocks and then slapping you about for no explained purpose. He continues to do this until you chuck him down a giant hole on a completely different planet. In short, Darth Maul's less a foreboding villain who connotes dread and more an insane nuisance you have to deal with every now and again. Hard to take the story seriously when this is the closest thing we have to a clear antagonist, isn't it? I'd also mention how Queen Azula can survive an entire belt of ammunition to the face yet collapses dead when her escort walks 50 yards away from her, but I feel I've made my point by now.

Simply put, this game's crap. Or, perhaps more specifically, this is crap because it's a game. The combat and the levels mi....OK, there's no chance they would've worked in any other game, but they especially don't work here. The Phantom Menace has an agenda, and block puzzles don't fit anywhere into it. There might have been a way to make a good game based on The Phantom Menace (I seem to remember that pod racer game being pretty good), but this certainly wasn't it. Tell me, re-wait, I've already used that one......I'm gonna need a bit more time to come up with a decent Half-Life 2 reference. In the meantime, this is where I get off.

Review Synopsis

  • Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute. But let's ignore that in favor of some ultimately inconsequential pod races.
  • Apparently, "a galaxy far, far away" doesn't preclude Mars. (That's supposed to be a Doom joke. Because of all the colored keycards.......*ahem*)
  • I have to admit, though, that the game is extremely faithful to the highly visceral fight between Darth Maul and the two Jedi.
38 Comments

Girl power! (Isn't very good, it turns out.)

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Man, even I don't know who this game's supposed to appeal to. Now I'm not saying that this is a bad game, but rather that the game doesn't offer any compelling reasons why you should spend time with it. Oh, it tries (maybe), but it never really excels at anything. The characters have only half-defined personalities; the plot's not that enticing; and the gameplay's so thin that the game feels more like a proof of concept than it does something you'd want to play for a significant length of time.

In fact, why don't we start there? Most of the game's dedicated to exploring the world of...I don't think it ever gets a name (not counting the Nipopo Mirror World or whatever). But who cares about names when the world's offering you so much already? I mean, you get all these cool areas like frog bath houses and mysteriously Jewish caves, and they all sort of bleed into each other, creating a feeling of interconnectedness and progress throughout the game. Plus you get to fly on a broom with child-like glee! What else could you want? Well, besides a reason to explore all of it. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. Akazukin doesn't so much offer you these areas to explore as force you into them over the course of the game. The world's only barely larger than a thimble and ferries you from event to event with alarming rapidity, so exploration for its own sake is out of the question. And for reasons that I hope will soon become clear, there aren't any real significant rewards for going off the beaten path. The game ends up feeling like a chore; like you're simply going through the motions to get to its better parts.

He's supposed to be near the verge of death, drowning in the river; instead, he looks like he's taking a relaxing riverside bath. Now, admittedly, that WOULD be in character for this guy, but it probably wouldn't make a lot of sense, anyway, given what happens earlier in the plot. (Dog boy gets the shit zapped out of him.)

By the way, what are those better parts? I don't know; I'm here to talk about the combat. Occasionally, the game will take a break from aimless wandering around and instead let you mercilessly beat another living being to within an inch of its life. You get to fight! You get to use magic! You get to....wait, that's pretty much it. In fact, that's probably the greatest weakness the battle system has: its simplicity. Sometimes, it works out. For instance, the clear bars for HP and MP and the face buttons being used for battle actions (perhaps it's best just to see) make battles very user friendly and incredibly easy to jump into. But then you look at what you're actually doing in battle and realize that it's not worth your time. There's no variation in the battles at all. You're simply applying stat boosts to all your guys before throwing everything else you have at the enemy. No reason to think things out or try alternate strategies; win one battle, and you've essentially won them all. If there's any incentive to trying different things in battle, I have yet to find it. Most of your attacks are equally effective and the game unfailingly upgrades your strength at pre-determined intervals, so your very first fight is going to be exactly as easy as your last. Again, it feels like the game's wasting your time rather than engaging it.

Strange, then, that there are only a few battles in Akazukin Chacha, and that almost all of them come at the end of a chapter. (By the way, this game has chapters.) This suggests two things to me. First, the developers probably weren't aware that, by reducing the number of times I entered battle, they were actually drawing attention to their own flaws. But more importantly, I think these battles were intended as some sort of reward; as a climax to whatever story arc you've been bumbled your way through. This blows my mind in so many ways. What am I supposed to find rewarding about these experiences? How can these battles claim a sense of gravitas when they're all equally easy? Why would you end major parts of the game on such weak notes? Why would a game starring an eight year old girl even have a ba-

Akazukin Chacha in a nutshell.

Oh, yea, that reminds me: you're probably not supposed to play this game for the story. Or, more importantly, the characters, because that's really what the game's all about. You get Chacha, the...actually, I can't really remember any of the characters' disparate personalities, Riiya's idiocy aside. It's nothing to do with the quality of the writing. I mean, yea, it's just as simple as the rest of the game, but this doesn't harm the game like it normally would. Zany antics and ritualistic squirrel baby sacrifice see fit to that. No, the weak characterization has more to do with presentation. (A little with the writing, as well, but mostly the presentation.) Because of the SNES' technical limitations, characters can really only express themselves by moving around, hitting each other a little bit, and maybe even showing a facial expression. That may not sound like a big problem, but it certainly becomes one when the game's relying on this expression to establish personality. It's almost sad, really. The story could've been at least a little entertaining if the characters were more capable of expressing emotion. But alas, it seems that two or three expressions are not enough, and the game as a whole feels flat, uninteresting, dry, and unentertaining.

Actually, now that I think about it, those three words sum up the game really well. Think about it: the battle system is flat, eschewing complexity and challenge in favor of absolutely nothing; the world is dry, not giving you any decent motivation to stray from the beaten path; and the story is uninteresting, largely because of how limiting the presentation can be. It's like the game's too simple for its own good; like it has all these potentially neat ideas that it's too lazy to flesh out into something worth your time. So are there any reasons why anybody should play Akazukin Chacha? There's always one: because I say so. And I am a cruel, horribly indifferent monarch. SO SAYETH THE KING.

Review Synopsis

  • No, I think I summed it up rather well in that last paragraph.

I believe this next video explains itself.

You know, I'm starting to think that maybe playing games based on old and esoteric animes probably isn't a good idea. In fact, I think I'm starting to notice a few similarities between these two games. Remember how Akazukin Chacha was an overly simple game that didn't know how to tell an entertaining story? If you do, then you sort of have my opinion of Wonder Momo. (Incidentally, you should probably see a doctor if you don't remember. You've just read the damn thing.) The only difference between the two is that Wonder Momo has some pretty good ideas deep down somewhere. It's just that it never really cares enough to expand on them.

Or, rather, it has one good idea: framing the game as a play.....sort of like Akazukin Chacha, now that I think about it. But whereas that was mostly window dressing that had little effect on what you were doing, here, it's impossible to ignore. Each sta-er, act, opens with the curtain rising, the audience ready to see Momo materialize out of thin air (actors do that, right?) to assume her role as the hero of this story. Her fellow actors enter stage left so that she may high kick them out of existence. Repeat that a few more times, maybe with some asshole blinding Momo with the flash on his camera, and then.....scene. Pretty cool concept, right? It's like you're acting out a story!

It's like Tatsunoko made a Sonic the Hedgehog anime, and it wasn't especially good.

What story would that be? I've no goddamn clue! And herein we encounter Wonder Momo's amazing lack of effort. This whole theater idea requires narrative context or some sort of planning on the designers' parts if it's gonna work, and Wonder Momo has neither. It makes no attempt to explain just what the hell's going on, instead simply dropping you into the latest pointless skirmish. It doesn't even have to explain what's going on through words, either, although Wonder Momo does have them (more on that later). It could subtly create context by carefully planning out how and when enemies appear on stage. Or maybe it could've changed the backdrops to signal where Momo is in the story. Hell, Wonder Momo could've been a perfect example of telling a story through gameplay and level design rather than through direct narration.

Instead, the game eschews such conventions in favor of the innovative strategy of doing absolutely nothing. Enemies jump on scene apropos of nothing, and none of the enemies are specific to any one level. Hell, an ice pillar could rise up out of the beach and the game wouldn't bat an eye. But that may be because that actually happens. Oh, and speaking of beaches, that's about one half of the levels you'll be playing through. Just beaches and mountains the whole time. No rhyme or reason or story explaining why you're exploring these areas. Just beaches and mountains. In fact, the most sense I could make of the game was the following: Momo is the town alcoholic, drunkenly kicking the shit out of anybody with the audacity to socialize at the many beaches and mountains. Somehow, this leads to Momo toppling a secret military organization. And then the play just ends. Is it because that's where the story ends, or because the audience has long since stopped caring and left the building? I believe that's for us to decide. And I decide that it sucks.

Nobody puts Momo in the corner!

But at least the game has a back-up plan, right? Actually, I'm pretty sure that was the back-up plan. They probably thought that if the game's set-up went perfectly, then I probably wouldn't notice how shallow and repetitive the gameplay behind it really is. Alas, the theater motif has fallen flat on its face, and now, every last mechanical fault stares me directly in the face. The enemies, lurching onto the stage in boring and predictable patterns; the stage design, limiting you to flat expanses of nothing for twelve whole levels; the controls, preventing you from kicking and turning at the same time without the main character suffering an epileptic seizure; the transformations into Wonder Momo herself, leaving the gameplay completely unchanged; I can appreciate the suck in them, one and all. True, there's some fun to be had in grabbing a power-up and watching Momo spin in place like a maniac, but that's not really enough to compensate for all the shortcomings the game has, is it?

Oh, and did I mention that sometimes, the game likes to break up the action just to show you pictures of Momo? Possibly with some commentary on her part that I didn't bother reading? Well, it does, and it's disturbing, to say the least. The pictures get more and more sexual over time, from her just sitting in a field (and erasing the lower half of her body) to what you see above. Why does the game give you these images? Why do they expose more and more of Momo as time goes on? Who the hell can say? I'd guess that it's supposed to be for the sexual thrill if not for the lack of sexuality elsewhere and the lack of any actual nudity anywhere in the game. Maybe it's a look into the "actress's" personal life off the stage? I have no idea. It really just takes you out of the moment and makes you feel needlessly perverted.

But in the grand scheme of things, that's probably the least of Wonder Momo's problems. We still have to deal with much larger problems like the complete lack of a story, the shallow gameplay, the....no, wait, that's about it. Still, those are some severe problems to deal with. As it is, Wonder Momo feels horribly empty and does little to justify its otherwise good ideas. Yes, it can be fun to do things because you're playing for an audience, but that idea alone isn't enough for a strong game. If you want me to stick around, you need to do something with those ideas; something to engage my time and make me feel like what I'm doing actually matters. And no, almost naked teenagers don't count. They never count. Never.

Review Synopsis

  • The Thousand Year Door proved how fun playing for an audience can be; how can it go wrong here?
  • Well, how about forgetting to include a story to make sense of what the hell you're doing?
  • And forgetting to make your mechanics more complex than "kick dudes until there are no more dudes to kick"?
6 Comments

The screenshot ballad of Heartbreakin' Hisao Nakai. Episode 3: Tears in the Rain.

Part the 一番目
← To Episode 2: Poor Parental CabbageTo Episode 4: Takin' it to Harlem→

And so the G-Man has returned. Why here? Why now? Again, things weren't gonna work out. It's at this point that Hisao asks some questions of the G-Man. Why is he taking such an interest in Hisao's love life? What profit could possibly be reaped from it? Why does he let these relationships go on for so long if he knows whether or not they're going to work out? The G-Man gives him a look that says "I can send you back to that winter day again". Hisao promptly shuts his gob. Pleased, the G-Man decides to send him to the beginning of Yamaku, with these words of advice: "You really need to get past the Lilly girl. It can't be good for you to obssess over her so much. Think about your health."

Anyway, Emi's route. If you're a first time player and managed to avoid the rooftop confrontation with Kenji, chances are you're dating Emi. You really only need to trip one flag to get with her (a few other choices notwithstanding), so she's the easiest girl to get with. How's it feel, Emi? How's it feel, being the easiest girl at Yamaku? Let's find out!

"I'll give it a rest this time. All I have to talk about is the damn gate, anyway."
Couldn't keep the unintelligible noise going, could you? I've been there.
"I don't remember Shizune using the n-word this much last time."
Good fucking luck.
He asks her in sign language, just to fuck with her beyond belief.
"Can I meet your mom sometime?"
[Why's he looking at us like that? Do you think he knows what we're saying?] "Don't be ridiculous, Shicchan! How could he know what we're saying?" [I guess you're right. So we strike as soon as she leaves the dorms, right?] "She won't know what hit her!"
"Instead, I'm going to gut her with something gutless."
That's right, I forgot: there's no way you can win this game. Makes my manipulative efforts in the Shizune thread a little pointless, in retrospect.
[What? You thought you were gonna win against all this? YOU THOUGHT WRONG!]
"Should we stitch him back up, Shicchan?" [Nah, I'm not in the mood. Maybe he can reach the nurse in time. Maybe.]
Remember. This. (Because I probably won't.)
Shizune's rap name.
The less time he spends with Misha Man and Reverse Psychology, the better.
("There's no chance in hell that's gonna happen, but there's no chance I'd tell them that, either.")
And it was here that I realized he never beats her at Risk at any point in the game. There was much uproarious laughter.
"How did you even know about that, Hicchan? You c......you're just s......I've.....I've gotta go."
"............................Why do I keep doing this to myself?"
HANAKO IS CUTE IN ALL TIMELINES.
Finally! He's taken a step!
"I touch her shoulder."
"She spends the rest of the class absolutely frozen in place, slowly shivering in terror. Job well done."
"NOT AGAIN!"
"That's the Shizune I know: vindictive, without the slightest hint of mercy."
It's kind of like Superman ripping open his shirt. Hell, the scar even sort of looks like the letter S.
"This time, I'm smart enough just to walk out of the room." "You can't hide it forever! Or maybe you can." "...............Goddamn it."
[Did he just say he has a hard-on for her?] "Yes. I have a hard-on for every girl in this room. Stop misinterpreting my words." [.................................]
What you can't see is Misha ripping his legs apart.
"I'd better keep an eye on h-and she threw that sword at me, anyway. How could I have been so naive to think that would stop her?"
Nice to see that he's going to fuck with them OUTSIDE my dumb little jokes.
"I'm still not certain how she makes sign language echo."
"Finally, a nice change of pace from a-"
"Aw, shit."
And then we see Rin's corpse overlooking the wreckage of Yamaku. End of thread.
"................" "...............How many times have you said that to a girl?"
Glad to see that you're just as insane as Rin is.
"Anybody in there?"
I SHIT YOU NOT. This is the very next screnshot after that last one: one of abject disappointment. I think we all know why.
"Oh, is that it? Did I scare it away? Are we getting six more weeks of winter?"
"Guess that makes one of us."

115 Comments

Duck racism ahoy! (Apparently, I'm on a boat, for some reason.)

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Ducktales.

Wait, that's not how it goes. But who gives a shit? It's DuckTales, and it's been remastered! Or maybe it's been unmastered. It's difficult to say, largely because of the unique position this game occupies. I'm honestly having a hard time thinking of any game quite like DuckTales Remastered. And that's not necessarily a good thing. This game may very well be the only fun game I've played that isn't very good. Strange, right? How can a game with such dense levels and that stupidly fun pogo feature not be good? Well, how about contextualizing that with all the horrors of colonialism, and then completely ignoring the word "horrors"? Because that usually does it.

To be fair, I can at least understand what they were going for. WayForward was trying to make this game feel as much like the cartoon as they could, and in a lot of ways, it works out for the best. I mean, just look at the game. You see that squishy, non-threatening, cartoony art style? It brings so much life to the game. It gives the characters so much personality. Well, at least when they're not moving or generally interacting with each other. Otherwise, things tend to get wonky. Not because of the writing or the voice work or-actually, yea, the voice work's part of the problem. Not the quality, mind you (it's actually really, really good), but more in how it doesn't sync up to the characters' mouth movements. Instead, you just see Scrooge stare daggers at Launchpad and then hear Scrooge's voice berate him, like he's thinking really loudly in his direction. And then his line ends, and he's contended for as long as he isn't speaking, because animations don't persist between lines. It's a little jarring, to say the least. Fortunately, you get used to the canned animations over time, so they don't do a whole lot to fuck up that Saturday morning cartoon atmosphere that works out so damn well.

"I'M COKED OUT OF ME GODDAMN'D MIND, LADS!" - Scrooge McDuck on another one of his vacations.

Sadly, it doesn't work out in the one place that counts: the actual story. The year is...I don't know. The place? Apparently, an America where everybody's morphed into animals, somehow. Herein we find Scrooge McDuck, an obscenely rich duck who, after being robbed of pretty much nothing, decides to roam the world in search of shit to steal. And that's pretty much the entire story: Scrooge swiping every jewel in sight because he's a greedy asshole. The game never punishes him for these actions, or even points them out as wrong. I'd say that's out of ignorance, but if anything, it's more out of a sense of approval. Perfect example: the Amazon. I'll go into more detail later, but the gameplay involves pogo-jumping through jungles until that begins generating profit. Somehow, this results in Scrooge leveling an entire goddamn city. The people living in the area surround the bastard, and...start thanking him for it? And in eloquent British accents? What? Are we just going to ignore the environmental destruction we've caused? Apparently, because the level ends after that, and nobody pays any of this a second thought.

So let's review, class. What is the game telling us? That it's perfectly fine to invade a foreign land and rob them of their natural resources just because you want more power, even if you're already quite powerful and don't necessarily need any more. And don't you worry about the people living in these areas, because they don't mind at all. They hold no value toward the things you're taking from them. In fact, they'd be more than grateful if you could just turn their thriving home land into a dangerous mine (or just completely level it and the land all around it). Now isn't that the kind of lesson you want to teach your kids? Of course not! What a horrible world view for a game to espouse! It doesn't get much better, either, since all the principal characters are white. And the title implies that DuckTales is a fugitive slave who has been returned to a life of horrible slavery. And there's a dog butler called Ducksworth (he probably didn't pick that name himself, did he?).

Those animals look like they're simultaneously breaking out into song and deciding that Scrooge must die a painful death. Oddly enough, that's probably the best way I could sum up this game.

Of course, for all the bad associated with the story, it does serve at least one important function: giving meaning to the gameplay. But let me get this out of the way first: yes, you can swim in the vault. Anyway, most of the gameplay revolves around finding treasure hidden all about the level to increase your score. Why would you want to increase your score? Other than leaderboards and maybe some weak unlockables, I don't know. This is where the story comes in. No longer am I collecting shiny bits because I'm an easily distracted idiot; now I'm doing it because it's what the character I'm controlling would've done anyway. I know it sounds like a minor thing, but that's precisely why it works: the game gets even the little things right. Hooray for consistent world design!

Not that I necessarily needed motivation to dig out all that treasure; it's fun enough on its own. Those diamonds and rubies aren't.....OK, they are left out in the open. Sort of. DuckTales does make an attempt to hide the treasure, but it doesn't take very long for you to figure out where the goodies are. Usually, it's in the space before you move onto the next screen or in a tiny square alcove you wouldn't go to otherwise or something like that. Then again, this doesn't change how much you'll be exploring these levels. You're still gonna comb over every last inch of the area, searching out money and figuring out the most efficient way to make a ton of cash. Without said cash, you'd probably just rush straight to the end of the level, and that's no fun, is it? OK, pogo-cane make it fun, but not as fun as it would be otherwise. With treasures abound, there's a level of purpose and strategy and meaningful interaction that wouldn't otherwise be in the game.

I can't find a single screenshot of the Moon level. What is wrong with you people?

The boss battles would come pretty close, though. Holy shit, do they come close. Remember that part about the treasure being hidden in plain sight? Well, the boss patterns tend to be simple and easily predicted! If it's not a preset pattern you can figure out on the first try, it's a lightly randomized attack you've some time to react to. But remember how that predictability didn't negatively impact the overall quality of the experience for the treasure? Same thing with the boss battles. They're still gonna demand a lot of your attention and they're still pretty challenging. Strange how it feels like the developers took the easy way out, but you feel like your time's well spent, regardless. Let that stand as a testament to the overall quality of the gameplay.

So overall, DuckTales is a fun experience. But is it a good one? Well, that depends. If you can ignore the set-up and focus on the frantic yet almost methodical gameplay, then sure, I'd heartily recommend this game. Then again, it's incredibly difficult to ignore the story when it enables so much about the gameplay. I like that the story contextualizes what is essentially a score-based system, but not if that context is "cartoon Congo". Maybe WayForward should've rebooted DarkWing Duck instead. At least that game isn't a colonial nightmare. Just an existential one.

Review Synopsis

  • What could be more fun than bouncing around levels in search of cash?
  • How about those boss battles?....OK, not really. They're still good, though.
  • Just so long as you ignore the part where the rich guy invades countries to steal their material wealth for pretty much no reason.

Well, that settles it: ducks are assholes.

Well, this is thoroughly confusing, isn't it? Maui Mallard is the result of....I'm not even sure, really. Disney decided that they should....something, and then this game appeared. Then it disappeared just as quickly, leaving in its wake a veritable litany of unaddressed questions. What were the thought processes that birthed this entity? What are my goals in this game? Why does the Bridal March play during the ending? What's the connection between ducks, ninjas, and vague voodoo whatevers? And does any of this interfere with the solid (if slow) platformer that's lying underneath?

I imagine part of that has to do with how hard the game makes it to figure out just what's going on. It all starts with a title screen that looks like somebody hacked Magnum PI together with The Great Gatsby. Let that preface just what the fuck we're dealing with. We then cut to Donald Duck exploring a haunted mansion before he decides that decrepit ruins are worth more of his time. Also, he's a ninja. For some unexplained reason. Are you getting a feel for what kind of game this is? Because I sure as hell didn't. There's little in the way of a cohesive atmosphere and world design other than the random ideas it decided to combine together, and, again, this only opens up a lot of questions that the game fails to answer. It only serves to distract from the game's more notable accomplishments.

OH DEAR SHIT WHAT THE SHIT IS THAT THING!?

Like the...weird nature of the game? OK, so I've already established that it doesn't work out that well from a narrative perspective, but once you actually start playing through these oddities, it's the complete opposite. Rather than try to piece things together so that they make sense, you're just waiting in anticipation of whatever new experience the game has to offer you. Why are you shooting a frog to kill enemies when you have a gun that's easily capable of doing the same thing? Who cares about the logic that brought you here when you're playing through a self-inflicted game of cat and mouse? And who cares if a witch doctor shrunk you down just for the hell of it, or if you're now engaged in gladiatorial combat? You're gonna want to keep playing this game just to see what other dumb shit the game has to offer you.

Of course, those are only small incidents within the larger game. How does the larger game hold up? OK, I guess. Outside those strange little episodes, you get some very thoughtful, deliberate level design. It's never really a lot; usually, the game provides you with a skill of some type (like "navigate this bouncy rope passage), and you're just supposed to do it. Still, the game's designed with some appreciable respect for the player and you feel like you're accomplishing something with these challenges. (There are also some goofy-fun bonus stages, but I can't give them too much credit, since the reward's just the passwords you need, anyway.) I really only have two complaints. First, the controls could be better. They feel imprecise and sticky, meaning it takes time to get used to controlling Donald Duck.

As opposed to the duckman who just stands in place all day?

More important, though, is the pacing. All that cool, crazy stuff I mentioned before? All the slow and purposeful level design? That's not happening for a while. If you want any of that, you're just gonna have to grit your teeth and endure some mundane levels first. And it's not like there are many other redeeming factors to carry you through those dull levels. Combat? Ha! You only get a gun with useless upgrades and a staff that's reminiscent more of a sloppy bar fight than of precise ninjutsu. The graphics?.....OK, I'll give you that. The game's an absolute joy to look at, whether it's the richly detailed levels or the richly detailed animations.

But is that enough to balance out the problems that Maui Mallard opens up with? Well, that depends on what kind of person you are. If you're pressed for time and want that good game hit as soon as possible, scroll up for the game that will sate your gaming addictions. But if you're like me and willing to wade through mediocrity in search of a well thought out, underappreciated gem, then you'll probably find something to enjoy about this strange SNES platformer. Also, you're probably trying to figure out whether you should start dating cat ladies or finally give MMOs a try, but that's neither here nor there.

Review Synopsis

  • This game really knows what made platformers from that era work so well.
  • Too bad it took so long to figure that out.
  • Until then, hope you enjoy maui duck ninja zombie flapper pasta.

16 Comments

A list of reasons never to let me near children. EVER.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Do you guys know what the best game in the world is? Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu?....OK, yes, but after that....After Katawa Shoujo....After Fragile Dreams....Aft-look, it's parenthood, alright? It's gotta be up there, and do you know why? Because there all of your actions carry extraordinary consequences. This is real life we're talking about. This isn't like any other game, where I feed girls raw monster flesh as an aphrodisiac or perpetuate the slave trade for my own material benefit. This is a child we're talking about! So instead of a more traditional review, how about I just tell you all the things I've learned as a parent? For example:

The parent/child bond is the strongest one in nature.

This is perhaps the most important lesson any potential parent would do well to learn, and it's also the earliest lesson in the game. I mean, it just hits you as soon as you start naming this girl. For me, it was too much. I was deciding every aspect of this person's existence, and she had no choice in the matter. From her name to her birthday to her blood type, every aspect of her very being was fixed without her knowing it. (Except her birth year. I guess that's one part I have no control over.) That's a scary prospect to consider, one that the inevitable march of time only makes more terrifying. I only barely felt that I was ready to handle such a large responsibility. Even before I knew my little Tsukiko Kinian, I was developing this profound emotional bond with her. It's truly amazing just how much emotional stress these very simple acts could put on me. That said...

Child labor is awesome!

I'm well aware of how utterly cruel and inhuman this sounds, but you want the best for your little girl, don't you? You want her to get the best education there is, right? Well, that costs money, and a lot of it. A week of religious studies alone will drain your already meager pockets. If you want to provide for this girl, you're gonna have to put her to work. For some reason. You'd think somebody who lives in an illustrious mansion and who can afford a butler's services (which I've never seen him being paid for, strangely enough) would be more than equipped to rear a child in relative financial comfort, especially given how the game only covers eight years out of this girl's 18 year life. But you'd be dead wrong. No employment for you, the busy single parent.

I've always found that Ksitigarbha makes the best babysitter.

Instead, all the responsibility for your daughter's education falls squarely on her own shoulders. You decide what job she's gonna work and then watch (literally) as she's forced to do what you say. Who cares if she's utterly miserable at these jobs, accumulating stress instead of skills? Who cares if the earliest jobs pay next to nothing and do nothing to keep you out of debt? Who cares if this lack of skill actually prevents her from being paid, meaning that you've put your ten year old daughter through hard menial labor for absolutely no reason? A girls' gotta learn, doesn't she?

The best child labor, of course, will always be the kind that conforms to gender stereotypes. I mean that in the most literal sense possible. The best jobs in the game are often things like cutting hair, making dresses, cooking food, and tutoring children. No wonder my daughter grew up to become a housewife (and nothing else). Of course, once your daughter hits the age of consent, stabbing people becomes far more profitable, but that's too stressful for a fine young woman like her. Best to let her take on the less stressful job of monitoring a child smaller than herself and making sure they're educated in every subject matter known to man. But not science, because that shit makes a woman unattractive. If your daughter objects, too bad! For you see...

Children will accept almost anything you throw their way.

One of the best things about being a parent is that your children can never say "no". Yes, I'm aware that I alluded to it somewhat with my daughter's labor history, but it goes so much deeper than that. You decide what your girl studies in school, true, but you also decide what she eats, what she wears, what friends she has at the castle, and even what size breasts she has. Not based on any of her wants and desires, mind you, but based on what you specifically want to see out of this girl. I mean, why bother taking the time to make sure they're living a comfortable life when you can just feed them on $80 a month (Mr. Big Spender, you) and make them wear the same clothes for eight years straight? You know, despite the abundantly clear evidence that she's outgrowing these clothes on a regular basis. Oh, sure, you can talk to your child once a month (AND ONLY ONCE A MONTH) to find out what she thinks about everything you've been doing for her, but who says you have to act on any of that? You can completely ignore her pleas to study theology or to wear warmer clothes amidst the torturous summer heat waves, and she'll just take it all in stride with a genuine smile.

What better way to work off the stress of growing up than with gladiatorial combat?

Of course, if she ever does display a negative emotion, there will always be those four words you can tell her to make sure she's gonna be alright: "You'll get over it." It's really amazing how quickly your daughter can move on past even the lowest moments of her young life. For example, did you forget to buy something for her birthday? The same birthday where she was puking her guts out from all the stress you put her through at the salon? Just give her a week of rest and she'll get over that severe emotional trauma right quick. There are no long lasting psychological scars in the world of Princess Maker. Just easily fixed tizzy fits. If she's really angry with you, she'll simply run away for a month. No big deal, really. Nothing to contact the police over or anything. Just give her a week's relaxation at the end of the month (you can only plan activities on a semi-weekly basis), and she'll completely forget what a stringent, terrible parent you've been to her. In time - in a week's time, perhaps - she'll be ready to learn the most important lesson a mature young woman can learn.

Card games are serious goddamn business.

What? Card games are a major milestone in every father/daughter relationship. You know how it is: you take your daughter out into the wilderness one week and let her brutally murder brigands and cat people (I think there were cat people) for little discernible reason. Normal father/daughter bonding. At least, that's the only reason I can think of for going out on these "camping expeditions", because good luck finding anything else. None of it's very fun (hell, God himself disapproves of this shit), and the tangible awards are pretty much non-existent. All you really accomplish is giving your child a sick, unquenchable bloodlust that will follow her for years to come. And this isn't even getting into the pugnacious attitude your daughter adopts when she realizes that somebody in town might share her talents.

Now I'm aware that some of you may find this material objectionable. Hell, some of you may consider me a monster for raising my little girl in such a lax, hands off manner; sending her off to work jobs she is barely equipped to perform properly; calculating her every action in terms of a set of numbers, like some cold parental calculus. In fact, some of you may readily assert that beneath the saccharine veneer of Princess Maker lies a cold, heartless game focused on crafting another living being according to your own whims, turning their emotional well being into a vexing obstacle rather than a goal in its own right. Well, to that, I say....................uh..........

As bad as this is, it can't possibly compare against what's to come.

Let that preface what nightmares may come. How do I even come upon this shit? Probably by the same method this game was made: gallons of alcohol and regret. And much like an encounter with me, an encounter with this game will leave you confused, disgusted, and slightly aroused. Don't let the cute and innocent art of man milk lies a dark and psychotic game. It blankly asserts that life is an absolute hell, jumping from one chaotic moment to the next. And it doesn't even know it's saying that.

But, as I just said, Daibakushou doesn't initially look that way. At first, it's just a simple board game. You spin the spinner, move forward a few spaces, and repeat that over the course of a few boards until the game ends. You can also buy items to mess around with other players or put yourself at an advantage. Sure, that sounds flat and a little uninteresting, but what's so offensive about that? How about framing the game with an allegory for life? That's what the game is really about: living your life how you want to, or, to be more precise, according to whatever the game throws your way. Think about it: this game is suggesting that you have absolutely no control over your life. None whatsoever. You just spin the wheel, hope you get lucky, and go forward exactly that number of spaces. You can't plan for anything or choose your own path in life; it's all decided for you in advance. Your only choice is the occasional branching path that convenes on the same goal. How utterly nihilistic. Certainly doesn't help that God's there to give his seal of approval to all this.

"You have just learned how to poorly animate your legs. Have some charm, why don't ya?" (By the way, this is an actual event in the game. I didn't make it up for the sake of this blog.)

Oh, but it gets worse from there. It gets so much worse. Just about any time you land on a space, it increases one of three stats: health, charm/looks, and luck. Let's ignore the fact that luck as a number in games has always been a really fucking stupid idea, because there's something more important about that set-up. Namely, did you happen to notice anything missing from that framework? Maybe happiness or fulfillment? Apparently, those aren't even important enough to consider over the course of your life. Instead, it's all about the....what's the focus in Daibakushou Jinsei Gekijou, again? I've played two sessions of it, and I'm still not terribly clear on how it works. I don't even know how you win at this game. Whichever stat is the highest wins? Except maybe money has something to do with it? I honestly have no clue. I'd say it's all luck, but I didn't manage to win with that stat, so I don't even know what to think anymore.

And it's not like the game itself is fun enough to compensate for these shortcomings, either. Then again, that much should've been obvious from my descriptions. What about "roll the dice, move forward without any tactical consideration" sounds fun or enticing to you? To be fair, though, there are items you can buy at shop spaces strewn across the board, and they can lend a sense of chaos that actually works in the game's advantage. Are you behind the rest of your peers because you transformed into whatever the fuck this happens to be? Just bust out some lightning so that they can't move for a turn, and then get on an airplane so you move three extra spaces (which, in this game, is a lot). It's just the type of asshole party fun that a game like this thrives on. Of course, you can only get these items from shops, and getting to those shops is a matter of pure luck, so it's a tad difficult to hold items in the game's favor.

Not like the "fun" moments (like Ol' Man Milk up there) the game throws your way. They appear much more frequently, and....no, it's still really hard to hold them in the game's favor. Most of them place your character into some weird situation like watching old people drown or fulfilling some poor hippo's wildest sexual fantasies. Unfortunately, they're not outrageously weird; just mildly dumb. Entertaining for the first few seconds you see it, and maybe for a short time after that as you try in vain to put the pieces together, but not funny enough to keep you playing for very long. So what will keep you playing this game for very long? Not a whole lot, honestly. Even if you can look past all the terrible implications in its premise, you're still left with a shallow, simplistic board game that's only going to last an hour of your life. At best, the game's mildly entertaining; at worst, it's flat and misanthropic. Of course, I could've just posted that Bro Breastfeeding picture and let you come to your own conclusions, but.......why didn't I do that?

Review Synopsis

  • Hey! Do you want a game that reminds you of how cruel and indifferent life can be, and how nothing you can do will ever change that fact? Well, here's this thing.
  • Of course, learning that lesson involves essentially rolling dice until you die of old age. Somehow, somebody considered that to be fun.
  • Also, the art style's mediocre.
2 Comments

The King's Cooking Corner! (Egotism sold separately.)

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Just when you thought I couldn't get anymore obscure, I manage to blindside you with a game about mayonnaise. I realize that's only more confusing, so allow me to explain. Long ago, Japan realized the untapped potential of the gaming market. "They'll buy anything", they said. "They'll buy fucking mayo if you slap a game cartridge on it!" That's not a joke. My best guess is that the game was supposed to inform players of the....musky?...yea, let's go with that; musky taste of Ajinomoto Mayonnaise, all while teaching them a slew of tasty, easy to prepare recipes. Now how could you possibly fuck that up? I have to imagine layering some nonsense contextualization would wang it up just fine. Or I don't, because that's exactly what happens with Wonder Kitchen.

Oh, sure, it starts off simple enough. A somewhat competently drawn woman asks you to gather her missing recipes or whatever, and it's your job to do just that. Then you find a penis-nosed witch sleeping beneath your sink, her broom ripe for the stealing. I know what you're thinking: a billion disparate questions, each one trying to make sense out of this scenario. Right now, I think it's best we ignore those questions, because the game gets crazier from there. Hot air balloons transform into apples, lions hide circuses in their mouths (or maybe their mouths are time travel machines to these circuses, somehow), eggs give way to miniature elephants that sing La Cucaracha before they disappear, and already I feel like words fail to describe just what the hell is going on. If any of this sounds charming and appealing in a childhood sort of way, rest assured that it isn't. If anything, it just gets in the way of what you're supposed to do. Remember: I'm supposed to be gathering ingredients for a fruit salad or whatever. Why do I have to jump through so many hoops to achieve what would otherwise be a very simple goal?

And here's what that same dish looks like after being covered in disgusting chunks of mayonnaise. Dig in, you fucking pig.

There's also the problem of the game not making any damn sense. I know that sounds repetitive, but go back to those examples and see if you can find any sort of consistent logic between them. There isn't any. You're not supposed to figure any of that out. Hell, because the game only advances once you've found everything on screen, there aren't any consequences for failing to figure things out. It's all just pandering busy work. It's a pop-up book where you simply click all about the screen until the game decides that it's had enough, gets bored, and then moves onto whatever other random nonsense it can make up as it goes. Doesn't that sound like fun? Hold up a second: why does a game like this even need to be fun? What would the point of it be? All this game had to do was give me some hands on instructions on how to make food or whatever, and it managed to screw that up. Wonderful.

And it's not even like the recipes are that good. Now to be fair, it's difficult to say that when I haven't even bothered preparing these meals, but in my defense, the game doesn't do a good job of telling me how to do that. Don't be fooled by the admittedly comprehensive and hands-on preparation sequences, because they leave out some very important and very basic information. Want to know how long it takes to cook the food or boil water? Well, I've only seen that happen once. The rest of the time, you're presumably supposed to guess based on....I don't know. Again, the game didn't give me any hints as to what I should be watching for when preparing food. Or hell, even amounts. That may not sound like a big problem when you're explicitly provided the number of vegetables you need, but what happens when you're asked to salt your meals while making them? You'd better be psychic or enjoy very salty tomato bowls, because those are your only two options in the Kitchen of Wonders.

Oh, and mayo. Tons of mayo. Have I mentioned that yet? Because no matter the recipe, the game will ask you to just glob mayonnaise on your carefully prepared dishes. Even if the recipe had already asked you to use mayonnaise, it will still ask you to dump buckets of mayonnaise on at the end. What kind of person would find an omelette (essentially eggs and liquid) drenched in mayonnaise (essentially more eggs and a different liquid)? And what kind of salad asks you to boil cabbage and then cover it with raw fish? After all this, I'm honestly surprised that the food looks as good as it does. If I prepared it according to what the game told me, there's a very good chance my food would end up looking like this. So we've firmly established that the game spends more time spouting off whatever pops into its mind than it does teaching you how to make food, and even manages to screw that up, too. So just what is this Wonder Kitchen even any good for?....Mayonnaise history, I guess?....Yea, fuck this game.

Review Synopsis

And then...mayonnaise.

Remember when I said that I'd play this last? (Back in my Pandora's Tower blog?) I told the truth. No, this isn't a semi-esoteric Commando reference, but Grill Off With Ultra Hand!, the latest in Nintendo's line of games you can only get through Club Nintendo. Seems a bit silly to review a game under those conditions, but, well, I've done stupider, haven't I? I mean, look at the last game I blogged about. But back to Grill Off With Ultra Hand!. It has some issues (mostly some really confusing ones with the motion controls), but overall, it's a fun little toy to mess around with for maybe a brief afternoon.

Well, at least if you ignore the existential nightmares surrounding it. The game's light on detail, but much like a fine Hemingway short story, the beauty's in what's not said. From what I can tell, you're some type of invisible ghost chef recruited into some sort of strange 70s era game show. Your goal is to pick meat off the grill when it's just right (the game's own words) and feed it to the infinite crowd of ravenous eaters lying just off the edge of the screen. This is your life; it is the only life you know. Also, these are apparently some very complacent eaters, since they all request that their food be prepared in the exact same fashion, without any spices or condiments or anything on top of it. Just prepared as is: dropped via helicopter onto a flimsy grill, cooked ten feet away from you, the cook, and brought to their face holes via a (most likely grease-drenched) children's toy. All in a back yard whose fences periodically explode for absolutely no reason.

"You've just eaten twelve steaks. How are you still this hungry?" "Tapeworm bulimia!"

Speaking of no reason, that's exactly the level of relevance that last paragraph has to actually playing the game. The only part that actually holds importance is the "picking up patties" part, since that's what you're going to do for the entire game. Sound simple? Well, that's because it is. There's nothing to Grill Off With Ultra Hand! beyond that basic premise. Still, it manages to achieve quite a bit with such limited tools. Slabs of meat drop down in almost pre-defined patterns, so it's really easy to fall into a fun rhythm as you jump from patty to patty in just the right manner. Think Bit.Trip Runner, and then stop thinking it, because these are the only similarities that the two games share. Then again, that perfect rhythm can also fuck you up big time if you pick up a patty at the wrong time, since you're now locked into the exact beat you don't need and it's really hard to get out of it.

And then on top of that, you have to deal with the motion controls. They...I'm not entirely sure what they do to the game. I mean, on the one hand, the motion controls are what enable so much of the game's fun in the first place. Without exaggerated motions on your part, the game might feel flat and repetitive. With them, though, you get this great adrenaline rush that firmly locks you into the action on screen AND a tangible sense of accomplishment from flipping patties. That's more than you could ask for in real life. Wow. Perhaps the only thing more depressing than that grim truth is how loose and flippant the motion controls are. (OK, it isn't, but leave me my transitions.) The game's alright about picking up when you're extended and when you're not, but the majority of the game's going to be spent in between those two positions, usually at rapid speeds. This is most assuredly a recipe for dirt meat, and nobody likes dirt meat. Except the game, of course, because it has one other trick for dirtying up your meat: calibration. If the game ever asks you to recalibrate your Wii-mote's position, YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE.

But the question remains: do these controls get in the way of enjoying the game? Not so much that it matters. Yes, wonky controls stealing a potential great game from you certainly hurts the game's quality, but it's still a good game, motion controls be damned. It gives you one minor idea, develops enough on it so you feel like you've actually gotten something out of the experience, and then just stops right there. I'd recommend that you go out and get Grill Off with Ultra Hand!, but, well, it's only available through Club Nintendo, so that's something of a moot point. You know, I should start reviewing more games nobody has any real chance of getting. Tune in next time when I blog about Polybius! Only on Renegade Ego.

Review Synopsis

  • What could be more fun than flipping patties?.....That was supposed to be a compliment.
  • Who knew that the Wii-mote wouldn't make a very good spatula?
  • And as long as I'm asking questions, why has my life been reduced to meticulously and exactly preparing food for a perpetually greedy crowd I do not know, never once allowing me to taste the fruit meat of my labors?
2 Comments

Renegade Fairy Tale.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Wait, that's for another blog I'm writing.

That's better. Well, better in terms of what I want to discuss......Anyway, Napple Tale. Remember when Sega was a real creative powerhouse in the industry? Well, I do, and Napple Tale is a product of that era. No, wait, it was actually ahead of its time. Thirteen years before sexism debates embroiled the gaming landscape, Sega decided to publish a game made without the help of a single Y chromosome. And man, did it pay off. What we have here is one of the more polished and underappreciated platformers of the late Dreamcast era. Sure, the writers probably weren't aware of how scarily schizophrenic the mood is, but there are some sincerely sweet and sentimental moments, all wrapped up in a delightfully playful platforming adventure.

Before I actually talk about the game, though, I feel I should mention that since this game was never released or even really discussed that much outside Japan, I'm going to pull most of the names from either secondary sources or straight out of my ass.

But of course, you still have to get past the deeply unsettling aspects of the game. Like the basic premise! A young girl by the name of Poach attends a summer festival with very bad compression quality and ends up being led to her death. I'm not making that part up; the game begins with her dying because of mistaken identity and meeting an angel of death. But don't worry! She can come back to life if she collects her life petals and restores the seasons to the in-between world of Napple Town! Wait a minute: the seasons have been missing from this place? Does that mean that the citizens of Napple Town have been frozen in a nothingness-time, unable to conduct a large portion of the daily business they need to survive? (Don't tell me I'm grasping at straws; that damn milk bar runs on a seasonal basis.) Is this some Final Fantasy V shit where Napple Town will slowly rot into an arid ball of nothing? Aw, hell. Listen, Napple Tale: you know I love your fairy tale atmosphere, but the child deaths and philosophical fuckmares make it incredibly difficult for me to get in the mood you want me to be in. I'm gonna be on edge a lot of the time, knowing you've got some crazy shit up your sleeve.

This is what happens when you're not paying attention when you take funny screenshots for the game.

And I think the worst part is that the game itself doesn't know. OK, yes, I'm pretty sure somebody knew that this goddamn thing is the fevered nightmare of a madman, but it's the less obvious stuff that grabs my attention, paradoxically enough. For example, early in the story, Poach is tasked with getting a scared little girl to go to sleep. Now doesn't that seem all sweet and saccharine and what the fuck is that music playing over this scene? Has her mother been singing to her the lullaby of the damned? No wonder she can't go to bed; she probably feels like somebody's gonna slowly choke the breath out of her while she sleeps. I also have something in my notes about "blood red Oni dreams". That I can't remember what I was talking about should tell you just how malefic that must have been. If the developers were actually aware of how horrifying these moments were, then they might have been able to mitigate their terror or even work it into the story more efficiently. But alas, such does not transpire. No, you're simply expected to gaze in horror, only understanding that this is not to be understood.

So what does it say about the craft that went into this game that it actually does create a fantastic fairy tale ambiance in spite of those difficulties? Part of that's because of the occasional narration that makes you feel like you're playing through a story book with pimp dragon accountants, but a lot more of it is because of that second thing I listed: the characters. There are just so many colorful and vibrant characters you get to meet over the course of the game, and a lot of the best moments in the game come from simply getting involved with their daily lives. I could mention the clitoris-nosed Little Manet or the Cinderella-esque Cecil, but I think looking at the two main characters will serve us best. That's right, I'm talking about Poach and Strennup. One's a strong and assertive girl who takes no shit but makes questionable fashion choices; the other's a photobombing middle-aged fairy who can only speak in exposition, ellipses and です. Poach especially is fun to be around for the slight frustration she feels regarding the crap that gets thrown at her, but both characters play off each other's personalities well enough to make for some really enjoyable moments. But more importantly, they both grow to appreciate the time they spend together and Poach learns something valuable from the time she spends in Napple World. You know, like in any good fairy tale.

Do I really need to explain?

But the greatest thread tying this ethos together would have to be the music. I know that sounds like a strange thing to say after linking you to the eternal lullaby of the damned, but that was just an exception. Most of the music is actually really ornate and elegant and lilly-ish. It really does a lot to melt the cockles of your heart. Combine it with a vivid, intricate aesthetic, and you have the perfect recipe for a highly sincere and whimsical fairy tale.

I've just now remembered that this is a video game and not just a bullet point on Hans Christian Andersen's resume. So just what do you do in Arsia's daydream? A lot of jumping, usually on some sort of two-dimensional plane. Now to get there in the first place, you usually have to talk to various townspeople, figure out what their problems are, and what level is going to solve them. It's got this nice psychological puzzle quality to it, but the real fun lies (quite obviously) in the levels. This is partially because of how simple everything is. You can really only jump and attack, and none of the levels ever ask too much out of you. You don't have to invest too much of yourself into the game to get a rewarding experience out of it.

"Out-dated lexicons are all the rage these days, right?" - Whoever wrote this script.

A much larger reason, though, is that you're always doing something in these levels. There's never any dead air, but you don't feel like the game's needlessly rushing you, either. Spring time may have you jumping around windmills in search of the Moon Princess (or whatever the plot to Klonoa was), while winter may have you racing down a roller coaster track collecting coins. My favorite level would probably have to be the last one, because without spoiling anything, there's just something about the design that connote both urgency and permanence, both of which go very well with what's going on in the story. Even outside that, though, there's a lot of variety over the course of the game and always something to keep you going forward.

Curiously, that same sentence could apply to all the non-platforming elements the game has to offer...sort of. The first part is true, but sadly, I'm not sure the bells and whistles attached to this hold up all that well. What? You thought that this was just a platformer? Oh, how wrong you are. There's a whole dull, empty, lifeless, uninteresting Napple town to explore, man! You can also collect recipes and disassemble junk to get new items and other such things, but I found the whole ordeal just far too obtuse to be of any real value.

そう…とあるアルカナがこう示した…心の奥から響く声なき声…それに耳を傾ける意義を

The only reason you'd even do any of this is for the Paffets, these cute little creatures who help you out in your journeys and give me serious Flint the Time Detective vibes. Now there's nothing wrong with these guys on their own; they're cute as all hell and I imagine their abilities would be very useful. But that's the problem: I can only imagine the use of their abilities because I never found any situations that necessitated their use. The navigation focus of the game means you won't be using them for combat all that often, and aside from a few times when you need to summon a platform to jump higher or something, you can get around the levels just fine on your own. If the game was more difficult, I could see myself using them more often, but as it is, they're just an easily ignored luxury rather than an integral part of the game. You know, I could probably say that about half the non-platforming features, boss battles not included. There's just no way I can diss pimp dragon accountants.

But hey, why am I even focusing on this side crap in the first place? It's not like any of it's necessary toward the game's success, and those parts that are necessary already work well enough. The platforming parts of the game are simple but still demonstrate a fine understanding of how the hell you're supposed to design a level; there's a sweet and charming (if a bit terrifying in certain areas) fairy tale story framing it all; and that music.....oh, that music. Of all the games that I've played for my Japanese learning, this is perhaps the first one that I'd actively and heartily recommend. Then again, given what it's up against, that may not be saying a lot.

Review Synopsis

And what became of Sega, you ask?

.....It's best that you don't know.

Well, would you look at that? Turns out there's another game of pedigree in this blog. This isn't your ordinary case of me playing a Japan-only SNES game; this is a Japan-only SNES game that was almost released outside Japan. What happened? I think Sega bought out the developer or something and decided against releasing games for their competitor.

Notice how I didn't say anything about good games specifically. That's because in Psycho Dream's case, it's not a good game. But it's not a bad game, either. Hell, Psycho Dream doesn't care if it's good or bad. It's caught halfway between quality and mediocrity, and it simply doesn't give much of a fuck to decide on either one for a good period of time. What you get is a sort of recommendable platformer in the vein of Valis. Except, you know, without those eyes.

And then....subway fetus.

And one of the games clearly looks better. Which one? I'll give you a hint: it begins with a P and is this game. As you progress through the streets of.....I just realized that I don't know what the story is. Something about rescuing a schoolgirl from demons or her dreams or something? I don't remember, and frankly, I don't care. It's largely just an excuse for me to see an almost demonic, almost magical energy take over a modern city. I know that doesn't sound like the most glowing endorsement in the world, but these two art styles really mesh together really well. The city part's all dark and gritty and unpleasant, but not in an overbearing way that draws a lot of attention to itself. It feels like a place people could live in (albeit not as a first choice). So what happens when you layer atop it a slimy, gross and just barely fanciful fantasy atmosphere? You make all that magical invasion stuff that much more meaningful to the experience! Oh, and I guess there's music there, too, but really, it's all about that oddly thought out art style.

I mean, it certainly isn't about the gameplay. That part's odd, alright, but it isn't thought out. Allow me to explain: your quest to....something....will entail walking through a series of very straight lines. That's not the interesting part. The interesting part is that sometimes, the game will reward you for your line-walking abilities by letting you upgrade your weapons. You get two weapons (a whip and a gun), but can only use one at a time, and this is where things get interesting: the worse weapon is the more fun one to use. I'm aware of how strange that sounds, but the gun becomes overpowered pretty fast, and that's saying something when its starting version allows you kill enemies from all the way across the screen.

("That girl's outfit looks ridiculous. School uniform? The hell's she thinking?")

Compare this to your S&M whip, which can only be used when you're so close to the enemy that it legally counts as sex. But guess what? The game's better this way. There's actual challenge and skill involved in getting through the levels like this. No more can you coast by on spread guns! Now you can take pride in your ability to slash your way through the enemy-infested hallways of the city! Huzzahs are in order! And then you collect a power-up that transforms you into Strennup, fairy angel of death, and spam auto-lock-on bullets all about the screen that kill both enemies and engagement. What does this say about the game's quality that it considers the removal of fun to be rewarding?

And what else does the game have after that? Certainly not level design. Half the levels are alright, I suppose, in that they actually have you doing something. But then there's the other half of the levels. The half that are just straight hallways that spam enemies at you like crazy. No thought. No rhyme. No reason. Just a prolonged period of time where the game asks you to hold forward and sometimes press the attack button. It's like the game simply ran out of ideas at some point, which is rather worrying when you realize how early that point is. And speaking further of points, I feel it is as this point that I should remind you that none of these criticisms make the game outright bad. I mean, you still have that art style to look forward to, and the game's actually pretty good if you play it in a specific way. But ask yourself this: is it worth it to handicap yourself playing through a middling platformer just to get a taste of some accidentally good art? This would be the part where I'd say no, but I think my decision to play Toilet Kids just for some petty, misleading word play disqualifies me from making that judgment.

Review Synopsis

  • I must admit: this is a particularly psycho dream. (Does that even mean anything? Well, it does now.)
  • "The fairies are too powerful. They must be taken down a notch." - @video_game_king
  • Walking in a straight line can be fun, you know. It's just that Psycho Dream lacks the elements that make it fun.

8 Comments

The screenshot ballad of Heartbreakin' Hisao Nakai. Episode 2: Poor Parental Cabbage.

Part the 一番目
← To Episode 1: Sugar MilkTo Episode 3: Tears in the Rain→

Right. You guys are probably wondering what the hell was up with the ending to the last Katawa Shoujo thread. You see, the G-Man's investors have encouraged him to diversify his investments, and he sees great potential in the Young Nakai. But things were not going so well with Lilly. It wasn't wise, in the long run. It wouldn't have worked out. So, in his generous mercy, he's going to send Hisao back in time, and give him another chance. He'll be there to steer Hisao in the right direction if things are getting too out of hand, but otherwise, he's gonna give Hisao a considerable degree of freedom.

"Do not disappoint me, Young Nakai."

Anyway, Shizune's route. I know it seems odd to be upfront this time when I held back in the last thread, but, well, it's going to become obvious fairly quickly, anyway, so why bother hiding it? Hell, she's got the only unique intro in the game (in that she doesn't share it with Emi or Hanako or whatever). And as long as I'm listing off Katrivwa.....Katravi....Katawa Shoujo Trivia, there are other two things unique about Shizune's route: first, this is the only route in the game where Miki doesn't show up. No Miki whatsoever. (Or the Nurse, come to think of it.) But more importantly, only one choice in Shizune's route, and it's a big one. Let's hope Babyface makes the right decision.

"Why I chose to come out here in the mi-oh, no. Oh, please tell me this isn't happening again."
"YOU SON OF A BITCH!"
Time fuckery will do that to a man.
"Guess I'm dating Shizune."
He's not making the same mistake twice.
"What's the worst that could happen?"
Or maybe he will make the same mistake twice. Stranger things have happened.
"Uh-huh, nice to meet you. Have fun with your shitty Scottish family." ".............I........uh......."
You know better than this. Don't you fucking do it.
Maybe he doesn't know better.
But she does. She knows all too well.
YA THINK!?
"It was prophecied unto me on a dark autumn night. They shall bring about a new world in a radiant glory."
"I'd better look at her some more. Just to be certain."
Like, literally quivering. Doesn't capture well in a screenshot, which is why I made this GIF just yesterday.
"I continue looking at her for any signs of discomfort."
Not yet. Hanako comes later.
Well, at least this time, it's not because he looked at her too much. That's a step. I guess.
Yea, that's it (even if the second set of quotes is fucked up).
In all timelines, Hanako is cute. DO NOT FIGHT FATE.
Oh, eat a dick.
"You hear that, Shizune? This man has no plans. You hold on to him f-" [I didn't hear that. You know I didn't.]
These things take time, Hisao. It takes a long while before a girl will stop opening fire on you.
Gun in hand.
I don't know. Watching Shizune and Misha communicate in tandem DOES remind me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXrEropmsoI
I assume this is a step up from puppy.
Shizune's not a big fan of horrific scars, as she's made clear to poor Hanako.
"Wait, it's the Shanghai........Screw it. I've got nothing better to do."
Well, she aimed AWAY from the heart, if that counts for anything.
Then just be thankful you didn't date Hanako.
[You have conquered gravity. This deserves applause.]
He isn't. Don't you dare fuck with me, Babyface.
"Besides, randomly hopping to express emotions is Misha's thing."
Is this racist or just kind of stupid? Wait, it's a Chinese-themed restaurant; I'm going with racist.
"Amazing that she still works here in this alternate timeline."
The only route where this isn't applicable is pretty much Shizune's. How not-really-that-ironic.
[You will be the first to die.]
"Good thing Shizune didn't hear th-oh, right. Misha's going to sign it to her, anyway."
[On second thought, him. He's going to die first.]
What a complex narrative.

Oh, this isn't relevant to anything. I just wanted to post this for no particular reason.

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All must follow the Code of Tomato.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

How crazy is it that somebody managed to finish that Princess Crown translation after all this time? Probably not as crazy as me beating the game in a coke-fueled frenzy lasting 36 hours. But still, i.....oh, wait, this is Code of Princess, a completely different game unrelated to Princess Crown. Too bad. I was hoping for some proto-Vanillaware action. Instead, we're gonna have to deal with a beat-em-up that's more concerned with being funny than it is with actually being fun.

And it's not even that good at the whole "funny" part, either. I mean, that isn't to say that the game can't be funny, because clearly, it can. On your quest to ignore the genocidal implications of your quest (and restore peace to the Kingdom, I guess), you'll come across a wide array of colorful characters, like the vastly incompetent princess Solange or the androgynous "I honestly had to look up her gender" Ali or the annoying "he's a rock star magician because why the fuck not" Allegro. My personal favorite has to be Juppongi, if only for the antisemitic levels of ham in his performance. None of the other cast can reach such ham levels, but the levels they do reach are quite good on their own. Everybody plays off each other very well and they each have good comedic chemistry, leading to some funny scenarios here and there. Well, at least I think they're funny. I imagine they'd have to be if they weren't in this game.

I believe this screenshot translates to "In the name of the Moon, we will tear the fourth wall asunder!"

No, I don't mean that in the BioShock Infinite sense, but more in the sense that Code of Princess sucks as a game, and the writing isn't funny enough to hide that fact. Sometimes, it feels like humor's used as a cheap excuse for bad writing. Why bother writing non-expository dialogue or giving your characters proper motivations to beat things up when you can simply ignore all that and say it's funny that you ignored all that? Worse yet, the humor can also bring those flaws to the surface for all to see. Perfect example: remember Allegro from before? There's this recurring joke of his about being a few experience points shy of becoming a sage. Now while Code of Princess does have an experience system, it doesn't have any type of class system (at least not any that I know of), so the joke only calls attention to the fact that it doesn't make any damn sense. And for that matter, if there are only two races in the world, then what the fuck are Allegro and Zozo? Do elves and the undead still count as human? And why does this guy only speak in grunts when he introduces himself with full sentences? And don't get me started on all the contrived end-game plot twists that create more questions than answers.

Mainly because I'm gonna talk about the gameplay now. Not the core beat-em-up gameplay, though, because that isn't very good. Instead, I'm gonna talk about the RPG frills that somehow manage to be much better than anything else. Not perfect, mind you, but certainly better than what the rest of the game's offering you. The multiple characters come to mind easily enough. I know I mentioned their distinct personalities before, but it goes so much deeper than that. From the ridiculously fast Ali to the magic-spamming Allegro, each character has their own unique play style to fuck about with. Rather appropriately, I stuck with the only two characters I mentioned specifically because the others were heavy and unwieldy messes. Granted, they could have become more than that had I bothered to use them more, but why I would continue using a character I didn't enjoy using is completely beyond me, especially when I had those two other characters I could always fall back on.

Approximately half the game, summarized in one screenshot.

Wait, what was that about them becoming more than that? Oh, right, I forgot to mention all the cool customization the game throws your way. The various weapons you get are neat to experiment around with, if only for the myriad strategies they open up, but I'm more interested in the leveling system. After every level, whatever character you happened to be playing as jumps up about twelve quadrillion levels. Hell, this even applies to the tutorial levels that aren't even a part of the main game. While this may seem to devalue the act of gaining a level, that's only because it does. But it's OK, because the real value comes from your new found ability to customize your character any way you damn well please. Do you want the princess' defense to shoot through the roof? You can do that. How about a rocking elf sage who can one-shot anything in his path? Because that's possible, too. Maybe you're in the mood for a character who can move faster than time itself (like I ended up making)? What the hell's stopping you? You You can make whatever the hell you want in Code of Princess. Within these RPG systems, the sky's the limit.

But at its core, Code of Princess isn't an RPG, but a beat-em-up. A really mediocre beat-em-up. There isn't a lot of variety, and the game doesn't do much to actively draw you in or engage you. The game just drops you into an arena with some baddies and then asks you to press A and B a bunch of times until you're the only one left standing. That's all there is to it; there are no other types of challenges to be found in the game. I know that sounds reductive, but there really isn't much else to get other than that. Oh, sure, there are some other mechanics to spice things up, but rarely did I find them necessary. Who needs to use magic or more than one plane when simply mashing buttons in a frenzied madness will get the job done 80% of the time? This isn't strong enough to carry an entire game. Maybe short bursts, but definitely not the few hours of your life the game asks you to invest.

That's not even my biggest problem with the combat, though. No, that honor has to go toward just how chaotic everything feels. Most of the time, I have absolutely no goddamn clue what's going on. The character I happen to have chosen will do some moves that I guess are tied to the buttons I pressed (it's never entirely clear that they are), and the screen will explode with action, along with explosions. Enemies fly all over the place, and my character has suddenly ended up somewhere completely against my knowledge. All the while, I'll just stare dumbfounded, wondering what I'm supposed to do with this. And so we come to the one issue at the very heart of Code of Princess: there's no real role for the player. The game doesn't really care about you. Not in a cruel sense, mind you, but in more of an apathetic sense. It can't be bothered to learn of or even acknowledge your existence, and the result is the repetitive, pell-mell mess I've just described for your. But at least it's funny. Sort of.

Review Synopsis

  • An at least somewhat humorous story...
  • ...and some decent RPG mechanics...
  • ...can't mask the flimsy gameplay lying beneath it all.

Guys, I have something to tell you: hedgehogs on motorcycles.

I really have to stop choosing games based on whatever stupid pun I can make with their titles. That's how I ended up with Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom. Some of you may be looking at this game right now, unable to comprehend why I'm getting so worked up over it. What's so bad about this game? It's just a cutesy little adventure game for the kid folk, right? Oh, how wrong you are. With no consistent logic and a story more concerned with mediocre humor than it is with actually making sense, Princess Tomato somehow manages to be one of those rare games that doesn't warrant the amount of attention it's garnered over the years. And with most of you not knowing just what the hell this game is, that's saying something.

Of course, not knowing anything about the game, you'd assume there was more to it than the title. There isn't. It's nothing more than a structureless mess that makes shit up as it goes along. Hell, look at the basic premise: You are in the Salad Kingdom, there's a Princess Tomato who has been captured by the evil Minister Pumpkin. You're supposed to rescue her. That's pretty much the whole story. Not much more development of the world or the political situation or why such a squishy game is dealing with the incredibly dark themes of political betrayal, terrorism, and glory holes. It's just a vague quest to rescue a princess and even vaguer, more spurious means of accomplishing that goal. It's all terribly confusing, and without any organization or even charm to make up for that, I feel like the game's simply wasting my time. What of value is this game supposed to impart unto me?

This is actually something you can do in the game. It doesn't advance the game in any way, so I can only assume that the developers hate women as much as they hate logic.

A billion vegetables references and puns? Joy. I guess it's supposed to be lighthearted and whimsical, but it honestly comes across as the very definition of gimmicky. I may be harping on this (if I'm not now, I will be soon), but there's no real logic or reason why the characters are named after vegetables. Few of the characters are definitively tied to their vegetables, since the game can't decide if the characters are actually vegetables or just humans that are vaguely vegetable themed (it doesn't help that there are actual humans in the game (and whatever the hell this is)); and there's no readily available logic for why a certain character is named after a certain vegetable, so it just looks like the game's pulling it all from the deepest corners of its monstrous rectum. For example, that Princess Tomato in the title? Her father is broccoli. Wrap your head around that one.

OK, so the story can't be bothered to try, and the vegetable motif makes no real sense. That can only mean the gameplay is strong enough to make you ignore all that, right? Precisely, and by "precisely", I mean "not in the slightest". Your quest to save the Princess involves choosing among five trillion useless options to solve puzzles that will advance the story. You're usually limited to a small handful of areas, each only having a few things to do in any of them. While that may sound limiting, you'll soon learn that you're going to need every advantage you can get, because these puzzles make absolutely no sense. Because isn't that what you want in a game that tests your reasoning abilities and problem solving skills? Puzzles where you're forced to brute force your way through the story until you "figure out" what the developers expected of you?

Did I mention that there's a rock/paper/scissors fighting mechanic you sometimes have to mess around with? And did I mention that it doesn't make a lot of sense, either?

The reasons for this failure are numerous. Many of the puzzles require you to act on knowledge that you possibly couldn't have known until after you solved the puzzle, like when you find out that you can trade an umbrella for water wings after you've already done so. Why would trading an umbrella get you water wings? Because how else are you supposed to catch the sewer fish most of the puzzles establish absolutely no link between action and consequence. Perfect example: you're tasked with escaping a police station, and you need a lamp to disguise yourself. (It gets stupider.) Search as you might, there isn't a lamp to be found anywhere in the station. Until you enter a room with an on-duty cop who had just moments before trapped you in a torture room. Somehow, this magically spawns a lamp in a storage room that was utterly bereft of lamps just before. How were you supposed to know the game stocked that room with lamps? You weren't, especially since the game had explicitly warned you against doing the very thing you need to do to advance the game.

And you know what? Amazingly, it gets worse from there. Some of the puzzles don't even make any damn sense from....well, any perspective, really. For instance, early in the game, you encounter this book shop guy. It is your job to beat the shit out of him, steal his property (in this case, a key), and then get thrown in jail for it all. Why did you grab the key? Because it opens the door to the torture room that your jailers eventually throw you into, duh! Why did the book store owner have this key? And why did the police let you keep this key (and your aspirin and trash donut)? Nobody knows. Apparently, the fine people at Hudson were too busy listing off vegetables to be bothered to think any of this through. Still, it could always be worse. You could always hold onto grape juice for three chapters just to give it to a person whom you never knew and who never serves any purpose in the narrative after you give him the juice. You know, like what happens almost immediately after the key incident.

Oh, but the suck gets worse from there. It gets far, far worse. Do you like having to select the same option over and over again to get anything done in the game, the game not even bothering to meaningfully engage your time or mental faculties? Because that's a heavily recurring element in the epic that is Princess Tomato and the Salad Kingdom. Or what about when your useless sidekick dumps items out of your inventory arbitrarily (only so the game can make you collect them all over again)? Those of you thinking to utter the phrase "narrative value" to defend such horrible crimes must remember that this is a story where our hero tries to evade enemy attention by focusing it on himself. If pressed to find something positive about the game, I'd probably fail miserably. That's because the only thing I could think of was the instrumentation. Not the music, mind you; I can only call that "peppy", which isn't saying much. Instead, I can really only very vaguely compliment the instrumentation. Man, you know your game sucks when that's the best it has to offer. You also know it sucks when it has a simplistic art style that would make MS Paint proud, absolutely no consistent logic in either its story or its progression, and half the mechanics rely on sheer dumb luck. Sometimes, I have to stop and ask myself why I feel obligated to restore these games from the obscurity they'd previously enjoyed.

I'd have ended this with a picture from the game, but instead decided to go with something that's actually worth your time.

Review Synopsis

  • Hark, brave hero! The princess calls for your aid! But first, here are a bunch of vegetable references.
  • Also, can you find a connection between a scorpion and a broom? Fuck it; we'll make it work.
  • Oh, and something about rock/paper/scissors. Guess what? It sucks, too.
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