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.
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.
Oh, this isn't relevant to anything. I just wanted to post this for no particular reason.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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 allover 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.
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.
At last, I can be done with the CD-i. Yes, I'm aware of Zelda's Adventure, but as the game hangs when I try to move to another screen (perhaps warning me of my horrible decision), it's safe to say we can end things on Hotel Mario. And what a game to leave the system on. Oh, I don't mean that in a "this game's horrific" sense, but more in a "I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent with this game" sense. DID I JUST TURN YOUR WORLD UPSIDE DOWN?
I know what you're thinking, somehow: how can a game about opening and closing doors possibly be any fun? Fortunately, Hotel Mario isn't actually about opening and closing doors. Your world just keeps spinning, doesn't it? Yes, you're opening and closing doors, but it's more complicated than that. Jumping into enemy taint will kill Mario on the spot, but getting a face full of monetary genitalia is just fine; elevators defy spacetime itself at the sound of the bell; power-ups are hidden behind certain doors and thin-air. There's a lot of shit going on at one time, and you have to be one step ahead of it all if you want to come out victorious.
And therein lies the charm behind Hotel Mario. There's a very loose, puzzle-like quality behind each stage as you try to manage these various elements, and it's really fun to outsmart the designers and finally finish one of their levels. This only becomes more apparent when considering each hotel's unique quirks, like ice floors or ludicrously huge ghosts. None of that may sound fun, but trust me: it is. Granted, I used the term "loose" because half the time, the puzzle-like quality feels like an accidental result of exploding enemies out of every orifice the game could find, but whatever, results are results. Especially so when most of the levels are short enough that you don't have to invest much into them to get said results. Besides, for those of you utterly beholden to Mario canon (did I seriously just type those last two words?), this game still has those classic Mario mainstays we've all come to know and love. I saw a Starman once, and if you play your cards right, you can get your hands upon the utterly game-breaking fire flower. What more could you want out of a game?
How about ball-busting difficulty? Oh, did I not mention that? Come Hotel 6, prepare to die a lot. Enemies leave their rooms more often and open doors at the least convenient time; loose hit detection allows enemies to kill you by being hit; coins, rather than giving life, now cruelly take it away at the laugh of a cruel trickster god; that same trickster god now switches the elevators around at his arbitrary behest; and, perhaps worst of all, all the levels are now twice as long. Why? Who thought this was a good idea? This adds nothing to the game but time, not just in the sense that the levels are twice as long, but also in the sense that I'm more likely to die and have to replay the now-needlessly-elongated level. And unlike the previous paragraph, this doesn't feel legitimate or enjoyable. It's lacking the sense of control and planning that all those previous levels managed to fake. The game just throws a billion enemies at you at the worst possible times and thinks that's a smart challenge. It isn't. It's crowded and annoying. Infinite continues help, but not by much, especially when you have to reject them in order to save your game. Also, you can't pause. What the fuck?
Speaking of what the fuck: the story. What the fuck? Before Princess Peach was inviting plumbers over to her house for cake, she was inviting them over for spaghetti (presumably). Unfortunately, Bowser captures her ass so he can replace the Mushroom Kingdom with a corporate empire of his own. Only an obsessive-compulsive maniac and his psychotic racist brother can save the Princess now. Thoroughly confused? Well, that's because the story isn't the main appeal of the....story. Look, I'm trying to say that the game looks good, OK? Sure, the technical limitations shine through (especially on poor Peach), but the art style still accomplishes a lot within those limitations. It's vibrant, colorful, festive, upbeat, and a bunch of other words that you'd normally associate with a good cartoon. Overall, a very good reason to check this game out if all that gameplay stuff before wasn't. It's not a bad game, you guys. What else has the gaming community been hiding from me for all these years? Maybe I should check out another "traditionally" bad game to see if the trend holds.
Hooray for quick puzzle-y action!
Boo for stupidly difficult final levels!
I am still undecided on the spaghetti (or lack thereof).
I'm only just now discovering that there were hidden cutscenes (probably depending on what doors you entered or something like that)?
Written by Richard Wagner, after an extensive two minutes experience with the game:
Spoiler alert: it fucking didn't. Who knew that the general opinion of a game nobody's played could be right for once? Usually, these "bad" games either turn out to be alright (as was the case with Hotel Mario) or at least have something vaguely worthwhile teeming amid the mediocrity (the ZeldaCD-i stuff, Sonic Shuffle, etc.). This game, however, is unrepentant crap. Bubsy II has absolutely no aspirations for being a good game. It's more interested in doing everything in its power to grab my attention than it is in actually providing reasons why I should pay attention in the first place.
For instance: the story. I have absolutely no clue what it is. Our titular bobcat's just wandering around levels doing things, he fights a robot pig, and then the game ends. The only thing I know for certain is that it takes place in a museum, and I had to look that part up after the fact. You guys don't have to be the next Sophocles, but you still have to give me some context so I know just what the hell is going on. But instead, the developers chose to focus on puns and attitude (which, coincidentally, is the name of my upcoming autobiography). The attitude explains itself: it's whacky and trying far too hard to grab your attention. What's more interesting are the puns, if only for how far they miss the mark. They're not funny and they’re very rarely relevant to the situation. For example, one of the plane levels in the game is titled "The Great Goatsby". This is despite the fact that there isn't a single plane anywhere in The Great Gatsby, and the level doesn't feature goats at a greater rate than other levels. The only reason somebody wrote this was because they thought the letter O was hilarious. And that's all with a pun I could understand. Happen upon a reference to something you haven't experienced? Tough shit, because there's more where that came from.
Now for some good news: the worst the game has to offer is behind us. The bad news? What it's offering still isn't good, even if the premise itself isn't offensive. It's just a regular platformer where you stomp enemy brains in until you happen upon the exit. Hell, you even get some non-linear level design, which is exactly the game's problem. Half the time, I have no idea where I'm going. Most of the levels look exactly the same, and the game doesn't point m-OK, to be fair, it does give you an idea of where to go from time to time, but given how often the visual cues lie to you (I once saw two nearby arrow signs pointing me in opposite directions), this still hasn't solved our problem. I still don't have any clear sense of direction within a level. I still end up wandering for far too long in a level, traveling in circles in search of progress. It's like I have no control over the situation and it's entirely dependent on luck whether or not I find the exit. It's clumsy, at best, and many mean words at worst.
Speaking of mean words, the controls! I have a lot of mean words for them. Loose would be one of them. Others would include slow, sluggish, unresponsive, imprecise, slippery, unenjoyable, unfair, hindrance, dense, slutty, moronic, I think you get the point. Now as it is, these various elements are simply bad. What makes them truly awful are the game's focus on speed. Speed without precision is a recipe for repeatedly crashing into enemies and walls. Take note of how both those elements abruptly interrupt the flow and thus completely prevent the speed from actually working. The occasionally wonky collision detection doesn't help, either. But does this game focus on fixing those problems, or even acknowledging them? Not at all. Its time is (apparently) better spent making every little thing in the level animate and make a noise and hold your attention at all costs. Under better conditions, it might sound charming, but after spastically jumping about a level in search of purpose, it quickly becomes grating. Doesn't mean the game's gonna stop, though.
And so we come to the issue central to all the game's problems: it doesn't care about you. Bubsy couldn't give less of a shit about your own existence. It's only interested in forcing its clearly brilliant jokes and scenarios upon you, thinking they're gonna be strong enough to carry the rest of the game. Obviously, they aren't. They aren't enough to make me forget about my complete lack of goals, context, or control throughout the game. If anything, they only amplify whatever animosity I'd already held for them. The only genuinely kind things I can say are that the mini-games are a marginally fun distraction and that the whimsical circus music is alright. Those aren't exactly compelling reasons to play a game, now, are they?
I have no idea what's going on.
No, seriously, I have no idea what's going on.
There's also this feature where you essentially play the game twice over for no evident reason.
Surprisingly, this isn't a direct-to-video Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie. Instead, it's an early Dreamcast-era beat-em-up....which might as well be a direct-to-video Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie. I'm not saying that simply because both genres involve a thousand punches to the face. Like any given action movie, Dynamite Cop explodes substance out the window so it can focus all its attention on the spectacle. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Yes, the "flash over substance" approach applies to the gameplay, as well. While I think there are multiple gameplay modes (what I've read hasn't been entirely clear about that), there's really only one that matters: the main story, which is all about punching. Just punch the shit and various other excrements out of everybody in the room, and move on to other rooms and repeat the process. Sometimes, you'll kick, and there may even be a grab you can only semi-reliably execute, but....well, they call it fisticuffs for a reason. Just from a purely mechanical standpoint, things don't get more complex than this. Other than weapons (IE just about every object in a level) and maybe one power-up, you're gonna be pressing the same button a whole lot in the hour it takes to complete this game. Sounds like the recipe for a shallow and repetitive game, right?
If it is, I sure as hell didn't notice, because all the absurd tasks the game throws your way do a good job masking that fact. On your journey to rescue the president's daughter from a briefcase (no, seriously; a briefcase) held by a hideous mutant thing, you'll beat up a chef for no real reason, fight a giant octopus for no real reason, and fuck up some shamans while searching for reasons to do so. As amazing as all that is, though, that's not even the best part of Dynamite Cop. No, that honor belongs to the nonchalant presentation of all this. It's hard to explain. It's almost like the game knows how ridiculous everything is, but goes out of its way not to draw attention to anything. Like it's perfectly normal to treat the president's daughter like Princess Peach, and I'm the weird one for pointing this out. Somehow, that just makes everything so much funnier than it ever would be otherwise. I believe the only exception was this one Quick Time Event that demanded me to press to the punch button and rewarded that with a kick. Then again, who said exceptions had to be a bad thing?
The animations also do a lot for the game's fun factor. It's hard to describe them as anything but wacky. There's just something very humorous and entertaining about Nicolas Cage slapping a dude in the face far more times than is ever necessary, which, now that I think about it, is a perfect way to summarize this game. Just imagine Nicolas Cage slapping the piss out of some mook for an hour, and you have the Dynamite Cop experience. Sure, it's incredibly shallow and easy to beat (I think I might have accidentally played on easy mode, because my credits only started running out near the end of the game), but do you honestly believe that thought would ever cross your mind during a shirtless fist fight with a wolf-skin wearing man?.........Exactly.
The game's completely and utterly detached from its own ludicrous stupidity. In fact, I feel like I have to come up with a new word to describe this game: stupicrous.
As of writing this blog, I have not watched this video. But tell me: how can you see the premise of this video and NOT develop an urge to share it with others?
This was supposed to be an entirely different video game. That game? Hotel Mario. Unfortunately, severe late game difficulty issues have delayed affairs so much that I've been forced to put it off to the side for now in favor of a game that doesn't expect the impossible out of me. That game? Hotel Mario Donald Duck: Goin' Quackers. Out of left field, huh? Yes, but that's the entire spirit of this blog: find games nobody has ever heard of and highlight the cool stuff everybody has missed. And that's exactly what Goin' Quackers is: a fun little platformer whose levels strike a good balance between involvement and rhythm.
Normally, this would be where I talk about the story, but since I have absolutely nothing to say about the story (Daisy gets captured, Donald has to rescue her; woo), I think we can move onto more important matters, like how great this game looks. It's hard to explain, but there's this palpable cartoony atmosphere to the levels that just brings the game to life. Everything's vibrant and well-defined, and there's a lot of visual action goin' on at any one time. Not so much that you're overwhelmed with sensory overload, mind you; just enough to harbor a playful sense of urgency. The only real complaint I have is that 3D might not have been the best choice here. It really hinders what the visuals are capable of, and not just in the "did somebody shove Wallace and Gromit in the microwave" CGI. As vivid as everything looks, you still have to deal with sharp character models and their stilted animations. Things are just awkward, and for as good as the aesthetic can be, I feel like it could've been notably stronger from a 2D perspective.
Of course, I still haven't figured out how that would work when half the levels have you running away from the screen, but just trust me on th-Hold on, I think I forgot to explain that part. Goin' Quackers is sort of two games in one: you get some side-scrolling platformy action and some Crash Bandicoot-esque platforming action. Each one only really gives you a jump and an attack button, and fortunately, that's all you really need. Who needs complexity or "parts where you aren't just holding up on the D-pad" when you have a strong sense of rhythm and flow? I don't even really know how to put it. There's just something enjoyable about jumping from event to event in this perfect chain without losing your sense of momentum. Why did you think the cartoony style works so well with this game? All that visual variety's a really good motivator for blasting through a level as quickly as possible. It's especially strong in the Crash Bandicoot stuff, although that's not to say the side-scrolling levels don't get their share of the action. Just compare a Goin' Quackers level to its Bit.Trip Runner counterpart, and this becomes clear oh so quickly. Granted, you only see it in bits and pieces in that video, so all of this may depend on just how you approach the game.
Or maybe different levels simply dictate different approaches. For every one level that has you angrily barreling through the streets of Duckburg, there's another that asks you to slow down and take your time. (These are usually the side scrolling levels, since Donald Duck turns corners with all the grace and precision of a Hennessy kegger.) This ends up working in the game's favor, oddly enough. Rather than stepping on the faster parts' feet or simply not being good, they engage your mind and reward careful gameplay, and the game's more well-balanced as a result. And then you're collecting teddy-bears and roller-skates for some reason. Have no idea what the hell that's about. There's also......no, wait, that's really it for Goin' Quackers, but do you really need much else? The different platforming flavors on display are already good enough, and at only about 20 levels long, it's no more complex than it needs to be. What more could you want out of this? Other than Donald Duck sprouting four more wings and battling Mickey on the Moon?
Part of me says this game looks good. Part of me says it doesn't. I'm gonna leave a knife between them and see which one comes out the victor.
Remember the ABCs of gaming: Asura's Wrath, Bit.Trip Runner, Crash Bandicoot. And Donald Duck.
And teddy-bears. Still don't know what they're doing here.
Now that's more like it. For those of you confused as to just what the hell I'm talking about, refer to last week's blog wherein I lamented all the crap I seem to have been stumbling into recently. Well, this week seems to break that trend with a game I unabashedly like. (I would have preferred a game I unabashedly love, but I'll take what I can get.) What did it take to break me out of my rut? A pure button-mashy combat system combined with off the walls insanity. Asexpected.
It also helps that the game looks amazing. I know that's a strange thing to start with, considering how I usually start with the story, but given how crazy that aspect of the game is, I think I should start with something I can actually understand. Now if there are two things that Killer is Dead loves, they'd be unicorns and mescaline; moving down the list, we eventually come to cel-shading and lighting, both of which you're going to be seeing a lot of. Half the time, you feel like Suda 51's pen exploded on all the cutscenes and he had to tell everybody that he meant to do that. (Not that I'd put it past the guy.) Surprisingly, this works in the game's favor. It all creates this very sleazy, slimy atmosphere that meshes really well with the suave, sophisticated ambiance you see in so many other areas. I don't know how these two polar opposites mesh, but rest assured, they mesh. Not vague enough for you? Well what if I told you that this art style is also very striking and simply will not let go of your attention? It's almost like you're playing a comic book. An incredibly scummy comic book.
That just so happens to make no goddamn sense whatsoever. Have I mentioned that already? I can't even divulge too many concrete details regarding the plot, not for fear of spoiling it, but because I don't have a good idea of what was going on. All I know is that there's this suave, robot-armed assassin for hire named Mondo, and he's usually tasked with killing the most insane shit possible, like a baby MODOK thing or samurai tiger Ansem. He also has a super genki schoolgirl sidekick who only seems to exist to be as annoying as hell, but I think it best we completely ignore her.
I mean, everything else in the game seems to have some kind of purpose. It may not like it at first, though, what with.....I'm not sure I can pick out an example that does this game any real justice. Anyway, as crazy as the game looks, there's still a perceptible logic underneath all the symbolism, so the game's not just being random for the sake of being random. It manages to strike a really nice balance (well, at least when it isn't taking itself too seriously for what it is), giving you one of two options: either you sit back and just soak in whatever happens to be assaulting your eyes at this very moment, or you try to figure it all out (and most likely fail).
This is very similar to what the combat's like, except for the part where they're complete opposites. In fact, allow me to describe pretty much every combat scenario in the game: bash the shit out of the enemy with the X button, throw a couple of dodges in there from time to time, and, if you're feeling particularly randy, press the Y button to make stuff happen. Not terribly complex, but then again, it doesn't have to be. It's fun as it is. The fighting is fast paced, but somehow, it's very easy to feel the weight of each behind each swing of the sword, so you end up feeling stylish and powerful at the same time. Most of the time, at least. It could just be me, but there were times where I felt like Mondo lingered around too much after a certain move and got an unfair smack to the face because of it. Now normally, this would be the part where I try to mitigate that flaw by saying it doesn't show up terribly often, but in this case, it does. Not enough to completely sour me on the combat, but definitely enough to make me at least a little more wary of it.
Same goes for all the other stuff that the developers layered on top of the combat, for some reason. Like the shooting! Not the Devil May Cry "just press a button to maintain your combo" style, but the Resident Evil 4 "manually aim and dick around" style. You know, the kind that's hard to implement without noticeably breaking the flow of combat? Especially when the aiming controls are kind of sluggish? There's also a minor experience point system that upgrades your health and blood levels periodically, but given how small these upgrades tend to be, it's hard to say just what impact any of it has on the game. Though strangely enough, that's the exact reason why all these extra bits aren't that big a problem for the game. So what if, say, the shooting isn't good? It's not like it's integral to the combat or anything. While there are times when I have to use it, they aren't exactly frequent, so it's easy to focus more on the stuff the game gets right.
Like anything not listed in this paragraph. For instance, there's a series of quickly repetitive side missions where you stare at a woman's tits when she isn't looking. The only reason I ever really bothered with them was for the side weapons which I never used, so I'm ultimately confused as to how this feature made it in here. My best guess is that the developers saw that this game was only seven hours long and decided that they were gonna need a lot more padding if they were going to justify a retail release, like they weren't that confident in what was already on display. Given what I've spent far too long saying, I can see where they're coming from. The combat could be a little bit more refined and the game is batshit fucking crazy, but neither of those things completely overshadow what the game gets right. After all, you're still playing an oddly stylish and fast-paced action game, and things are still completely batshit crazy. What's not to like about that? Especially given how many times I've seenit before.
Somebody forgot to tell Suda 51 that symbolism is supposed to work within a story that makes sense. We all thank you, Mysterious Forgetful Person.
The fighting mechanics aren't perfect, but it's hard to complain when it still allows you to slash things up like crazy. (Killer is Dead crazy.)
Oh, and something about sneaking a peak at some tits.
You know, I'm pretty sure you could replace Maria with Shrek and change absolutely nothing about Sonic the Hedgehog canon.
And that's largely because of the romance angle that dominates the game. Our story deals with three penguins in particular: a girl penguin I think is named Penta, a pimp penguin who I refuse to identify by anything other than Pimp Penguin, and the main character, who might as well be called Gunther. Pimp Penguin's an asshole and decides to date Penta behind Gunther's back, by which I mean his front. Clearly angry, our chubby little hero decides he's gonna win Penta's love and....never does, honestly. That's pretty much the entire story: Gunther tries to win Penta's love (usually by complying with unreasonable demands she makes (like flying)), only to find out she's still dating that Pimp Asshole Penguin. Depressing, isn't it?
Maybe all that horrific relationship nonsense simply disappears once you jump into the actual gameplay. Oh, if only video games were that idyllic. Sadly, it only gets worse, and from the most unexpected of sources: fat. For whatever reason, Konami decided to make fat a gameplay mechanic by making your penguin gain and lose weight over the course of the level, and strangely enough, that's not the depressing part. At least not yet, it isn't. Each weight rank changes how Gunther controls and what he can do, ranging from plodding belly fat Gunther to Parodius-esque ポイ-firing (at least I think it was ポイ) slim Gunther. It's pretty fun to switch between each one over the course of a level.
You know what's not fun? Imposed body dysmoprhia. See, before each level, Penta rings up Gunther and tells him specifically how much weight he needs to lose before she'll even consider getting near him. This could be a friendly reminder to eat healthy and get plenty of exercise, but then she just asks that he lose more and more weight with each level. That may sound like an extremely dangerous thing to ask of your potential lover (and, in fact, it is), but I think the bigger problem is that Gunther just keeps putting the weight back on time and time again. Presumably, Penta knows this (since she keeps asking him to lose the weight he just put on), so wouldn't it make more sense for her to convince Gunther to seek medical treatment for his problems?
And then, when you see healthy foods like apples causing weight gain that can only be mitigated with mystery bottles...only then do you discover what's truly going on. Those bottles? Pure ipecac. Don't you see what's going on? She doesn't care about him. She's only doing this because she gets some sort of sick thrill out of watching him puke his guts out for her affection. To her, it's just another source of entertainment in her dull life, especially since she can start the cycle anew simply by rejecting him entirely and then waiting for him to shovel enough Häagen-Dazs into his face until his obesity is morbid enough to lose even more weight than before. And she can't even hold herself to these same impossibly high standards. Fucking bitch.
Oh, right. The actual game. Fatty fat fatness aside, two things come to mind when I think about Akumu Penguin Monogatari: jumping and shooting. Those aren't so much gameplay mechanics as they are the two types of levels you'll encounter. They're two polar opposites, but amazingly, there's a very consistent level of quality between the two. The platforming is delightful and fun, the shooting is relaxed and leisurely, and neither one definitively wins over the other. I think part of that is because of the length of the game. You only get six levels of gameplay, meaning any inconsistency in the game's quality is gonna stick out like a sore thumb. This also means that the mechanics will tend to be simple, forcing the developers to focus on making the very few elements present in the game work. And guess what? They did. Except for the bulimic story, of course. I'd say that I'm surprised somebody would think that bulimia would be a strong foundation for an enjoyable game, but, well, I've definitely seen weirder.
So it's finally come to this. From that fateful day I posted my first Persona 3 FES screenshot to the site, we all knew it would eventually end with me revisiting Katawa Shoujo. Well, except for those of who have no idea what a Katawa Shoujo is. Allow me to bring you up to speed:
Katawa Shoujo? What are these words and why do they scare me at night?
I cannot understand your night terrors. However, Katawa Shoujo is a 2012 visual novel whose title loosely translates to "Disability Girls". Said title refers to the girls that our protagonist, Hisao Nakai, comes to know. Each one has their own physical disability, but there's far more to each girl than the mere fact that one of them doesn't have any arms. So very much more.
So there are multipe cha-
Yes, there's nudity, but we won't be seeing any of it. Ne'er a nipple nor 'nad will make its way into this thread. If one of the little bastards tries to sneak its way in, I'll slap a Misha head on it. (We'll learn what a Misha is soon enough.) For example:
But, with a little Photoshop magic...
Of course, if that proves insufficient, I have other strategies on the ready.
Actually, I was asking about the characters.
Oh.....Of course you were......How 'bout I just introduce you to some of them? (This isn't all of them, but since this game has more characters than Romance of the Three Fucking Kingdoms, I'm gonna keep it limited to the most important characters.)
The protagonist of our story, he has been cursed with arrythmia, a painful affliction that completely destroys your rhymes and flow. Despite this, he can still be described as fly, so I see no problem in letting ShadyVox do his voice. He would've been voiced by whoever did the Katawa Seiyuu voice for Hisao if that didn't completely fucking suck.
Oldest of the shoujos, but also the youngest looking of them all. Don't say that to her face, though. She's the type of girl who'd beat the shit out of you for saying that. Or anything, really. Doesn't take a lot to set Emi off. Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. Actually, you know what? Since she's a pig-tailed teenager with a friend named Rin and her legs are artificial, Emi's gonna be voiced by Hatsune Miku. SO I DECREE.
Lost her parents to firebenders at a young age, permanently scarring her face and convincing her that we must rid the world of benders. Or maybe she just developed social anxeity. Can't quite remember the right story. At first, I thought Katey Segal should voice her, but since I can't find any decent Turanga Leela clips on YouTube, I decided on Karen Strassman, instead.
The more artsy girl among the potential Shoujos. What she lacks in arms she makes up for in her lack of arms. Voiced by Tara Strong.
Yearly winner of "Yamaku's Thickest Goddamn Eyebrows Competition". I'd say she's the team mom, given how prim and proper and above everything she is, but most people don't want to fuck their moms. Following that awkward note, she's voiced by Hynden Welch.
I have no idea why her left arm is fading into the darkness.
Anyway, My Parents are Assholes. The head of the student council, she rules with an iron fist. None will stand in the way of her ruthless conquest. NONE! I'd find it fitting to have Tara Platt voice her, but Shizune's deaf/mute, so that's not happening. Instead, she'll be voiced by Ellen McLain.
(Actually, there's something I have to tell you about Shizune. She speaks entirely in brackets, because that's how sign language works. This isn't a joke on my part; it's actually something in the game. Yea, premature spoilers, but it's just easier to get this out of the way. Anyway, brackets in the thread, too.)
..........Shit. Shizune's interpreter, she compensates for Shizune's silence by being as loud as humanly possible. (Also, her genitals smell of cabbage. Probably.) Therefore, I find it appropriate that she will be voiced by Amber Nash.
I only know two things about this girl: she's on the running team, and she's missing a hand. (Presumably, the two events are related.) Unfortunately, she doesn't get her own route. Hell, as of writing this, she doesn't even have her own page on the site. What the fuck!? All she really gets is a speaking role in Hanako's route. Yes, Hanako's. I have absolutely no clue why. Voiced by Patric Zimmerman.
Too bad, too. I'm sure you guys would've loved her.
Imagine if Dale Gribble traveled to Japan and decided to fuck a Doctor Who cardboard cutout, and you have a pretty good idea of what Kenji is like. (What's Doctor Who doing in Japan? FEMINIST CONSPIRACY!) Voiced by Billy West. Obviously.
OK, honestly. What could I tell you about this guy that you can't glean from his name? He's really only relevant in Emi's route, making the scant cameo in every other route. (Except Shizune's, for some reason.) Voiced by Eric Stuart.
One of two teachers in the entire game, he teaches Hisao the arts of sci-wait, I think I had this guy as my college professor. Let's just give him Justin Roiland's voice and move right along.
The extremely nervous librarian and restaurant hostess. Given my trend of referencing previous blogs, she's probably going to date a ghastly beast of a man very soon. Or maybe she's dating a demon. Or maybe she works for demons. Or maybe she is a demon. Who can say? Voiced by Steve Little.
Lilly's older sibling. Works as a lawyer. Sort of like Phoenix Wright if he had a great set of tits. That's right: this lawyer's all woman. As such, she will be voiced by whoever the hell voiced Naoto Shirogane. Oh, fuck it. Laura Bailey.
I've heard that this game features multiple routes and endings, too. Will you introduce some unnecessarily strange time travel element to tie them all together into one cohesive narrative thread?
You bet your ass I will!
One cohesive forum thread, too?
Oddly enough, no. This thing is going to be massive, and collecting it all in one thread would destroy browsers the world over. Instead, I'm going to split things up based on route. New route, new thread.
I should also mention that I'm going to be going double speed. That might negate the browser thing from before, but it's for the best. I don't want to spend twelve updates doting on Rin peeling an orange.
Oh. Well, do we at least get to choose what order you go through the game?
Sadly, no. This mess of a feature is only going to make sense if I go through it a certain way, and that way I shall go. (It's not the order I put in the banner or the character table, by the way. I'm not that obvious.) Besides, since when did Kings support democracy? Come on, you guys.
Fuck you, man! I'm gonna make my own screenshot thread! With blackjack, and hookers!
Oh god. This is the third straight week of crap. For three straight weeks, it's been nothing but mediocrity and averageness. When shall I be freed of this crap? WHEN!? But at least this time, I get some potentially redeemable crap. Now don't get me wrong; this game still has a lot of issues it needs to deal with. Yet underlying all those issues are some genuinely good ideas that I could see working in another game. Of course, on top of all those good ideas are some baffling design decisions that knowingly transform the overall product into an unenjoyable mess. This is almost like the Zelda CD-i games, except....no, that's pretty much it.
Right down to my ability to count this game's budget on a single finger. This one, to be specific. Every single element in this game's design feels completely cheap and heartless and just unappealing. For instance, listen to the music. Can you feel the lack of effort put into that song? Assuming this song makes you feel anything, that is? I have to imagine the composer spent more time listening to that song than he did actually writing it. And this is a track I can remember, which should tell you just what impressions the other tracks left on me. But at least the music left an impression on me, which is more than I can (or will) say for the mediocre voice work.
Fortunately, there's always the option to mute the TV and avoid that altogether, an option that you won't have with the graphics. If you thought the music sounded cheap, just look at the game. No, seriously, look at it. I've seen origami with more organic design than that. It doesn't look much better in motion, either. If you're not seeing a canned animation with little relevance to the situation, you're seeing a character flap their mouth open and shut while their puppet-master talks about dreams or whatever. Put it all together, and you get an inexpressive, completely dead looking game that doesn't mesh well with the fun board game vibes you see in other parts of the game. The occasional CG cutscenes are better, even if it isn't by much. They never find a perfect balance between 2D and 3D imagery, so they just end up looking awkward.
But perhaps it's the story that suffers the most from such a lack of investment. Yes, this game has a story, because somehow, you need to explain why Sonic and his friends are running around an exploding airplane. Surprisingly, the story fails so horribly on that account that it actually makes this situation less clear than it would have been otherwise. We start off with Sonic and friends being abducted into another dimension by FOX Kids cartoon reject Lumina Flowlight. She must save her world and reunite the Precioustones, and I guess she needs help from the Sonic Universe. I said "I guess" because they have to introduce themselves to her, implying that she just captured four people at random to help fight her war. And nobody's even remotely angry or bothered by this.
And this is all before the game actually begins. Once story meets game, it all falls violently apart. Perfect example: the entire goddamn premise. Each map has our four intrepid heroes competing against each other to....I'm not sure why. They're just dropped into the world and told to have at it, really. Then again, Lumina clearly knows where the Precioustones are (she points you right to them) and there's not much stopping her from grabbing them herself, so she could simply be an asshole. And speaking of assholes, Dr. Robotnik's here. Did he get pulled in to this alternate dimension, too? Is he gonna harvest the power of the Precioustones for his own nefarious purposes? Who gives a shit about pressing questions like that? We've got some boring, shallow, and ultimately meaningless platitudes about dreams or whatever to launch at you. Man, did the developers even bother with this game?
Yes, they did. The strange twist, though, is that the game's best ideas are what cause so many of its problems. Of course, by ideas, I pretty much only mean one: card-based movement. Each player chooses a card to determine just how far they move, and while everybody's drawing from a common pool, you can only see your personal collection of cards at any one time. For now, at least, this works in the game's favor. It brings a sense of competition and strategy, both of which allow for some fun moments. I mean, it's not much, but it's still enough to make the game entertaining. And it only gets better when you're using those same cards to battle for the Precioustones. Something about a competitive community feeling; I don't know. On the other hand, a lot of this only applies to multiplayer. In single player, your cards are always on display for everybody to see. Combine this with AI that doesn't bother hiding what a cheating bastard it is, and the feature feels designed specifically to screw you over.
However, there are much larger problems that the cards bring to this game, such as a really goddamn boring sense of order. A good board game often has a sense of unpredictability to keep the game exciting and ensure that no two sessions are completely alike; Sonic Shuffle fails on both accounts. Remember that card movement from before? Turns out it loses some appeal when you start every player on the exact same space. What's to prevent everybody from just making a beeline straight for the Precioustone? What's to stop the game from becoming completely flat and one-dimensional? Map design? At one point, that might have been a legitimizing factor if the maps didn't feel so....similar, and the unique elements on each map aren't important enough to change this. Honestly, time seems like the best thing that can happen for the game. Over the course of a single game, the sense of order slowly dissolves and chaos has its day, but the key word in that last clause is "slowly". I doubt a lot of players are going to have the patience to slog through a boring first half for the promise of a more exciting second half.
There are also mini-games to consider, but they jump too far toward the other extreme. The overwhelming majority of them feel like they boil down to luck, yet very rarely because of some design flaw. Sure, control and perspective and explanation issues certainly make the mini-games harder to enjoy, but.......what was my point, again? All I know is that most of the mini-games are luck-based by design. Perfect example: a mini-game where Eggman shakes up a can of soda (did I mention he's a petty asshole?) and places it alongside non-shaken cans everybody has to pick from (did I mention that the characters are fucking idiots?). That's all there is to it: pick a can and let the game declare a winner. Joy.
But there's more to the mini-games than this. To be fair, there are some that let you control your fate and require an actual degree of skill. Then again, a lot more are just fucking tag. You know what, though? You don't see these mini-games as often as you'd think, so it's not like they completely diminish this game's value. It's perfectly easy to ignore them while you're watching chunky Sonic characters dash straight toward the exact same spot on the board, all set against a story that makes things more confusing than they ever needed to be.....This game has a lot more to fix than I'd previously imagined.
This game's aesthetic is so cheap..........Oh, I don't have a joke to close that off. I just want you to know that it's really cheap.
"Quick! We must save Maginaryworld from the evil forces of Void. But first, could you tell me your names? Hopefully while you're all fighting each other?"
But at least there's the game to look forward to.....sort of......not really......
Well, we have the indiscriminate mouth flapping and the mediocre story part down. All that's separating this video and Sonic Shuffle is a scene where Sonic is hanging out with his own super-self, somehow.
It's not gonna be this week. Maybe next week, but not this one. Now before I actually explain what makes the game bad, I should point out that, being the lonely bastard I am, I didn't even bother with the multiplayer, so this game might actually be worth playing if you're around other people. On your own, though? This game could hardly give a shit about your pathetic existence. It won't even make the slightest effort to engage you or make sure you're having a good time.
Although to be fair, I can't imagine the characters in the game are having much fun, either. Those of you familiar with the game are probably confused and wasting your time reading about games you've already played. After all, the game's just about collecting random bric-a-brac that fell from the sky. What's so bad about that? So very much. So very goddamn much. For instance, half the characters are very obviously gambling addicts. You don't even know them in any other context than that. So as the hero, your job is to help them overcome this addiction, right? Nope. It's actually to exploit it for your own personal gain and leave them in shambles. What do you care that they're now forced to live in a refrigerator box? It's not like you have to pay for your crimes or anything. The police require your help to solve every case that comes their way; they're completely powerless to arrest you for your horrible crimes.
That includes sending other to die in your place. Did I fail to mention that? You'll encounter many a character willing to duel you, but none of them ever fight you personally. Instead, they get somebody else to fight in their place. These are often the most violent mini-games in the bunch, so I can only assume this is a Roman gladiator-esque scenario, where the rich enslave the poor (usually Luigi) so they can die for their own amusement. Bowser has this particular atrocity down to an art, as some mini-games require you to murder a set number of his children. A number he himself set. How did Mario get to be such a thoroughly depressing experience? Hell, even the game's tagline is depressing. "Party on the Go"? What kind of hectic, coked out life are you leading that you can't even settle down for a few minutes and party in one place? Would a person who "parties on the go" even have a home in which they could safely party?
Maybe I'm just reading that line wrong. Maybe it means the party itself is on the go, as in "it is no longer present in this game." At least that's the impression I got from the single player mode. Mario Party Advance has could not care less whether or not you were enjoying the game. Its idea of engagement is sending you from location to location with only the occasional mini-game. I know that sounds offensively reductive, but that's really all there is to the quest structure. I'd say that it wastes time, but that implies that somebody could tease a purpose out of this. It's nothing but meaningless, menial busy work. The actual quests in particular really illustrate this point. I know I mentioned half of them simply ferrying you around the map while the game tries to think of something enjoyable, but that's only half the story. The other half is the game testing your basic math and reasoning skills, and I do mean basic. Most of the questions might as well be "What's 1+1" or "What color is red". You know, the insultingly simple kind of crap that doesn't even remotely bother to challenge or entertain you. And this goes on for 50 goddamn quests. How? Why?
Well, at least the mini-games are decent enough. Yes, they're usually very simple, but unlike before, this is a good thing. It means that I can jump straight into a mini-game relatively quickly and effortlessly. Yet more importantly, that simplicity doesn't prevent the mini-games from actually grabbing my attention. They still require some level of skill on my part, and there's enough meaningful variety throughout to make me actually want to play these mini-games rather than simply put up with them. I guess the vibrant, whimsical charm throughout is a cherry on top of the sundae. Of course, said sundae is itself a cherry atop a grilled cheese sandwich that hasn't even been grilled. So if you're thinking of playing this game, maybe you should ask yourself this question: "Would I eat a cheese sandwich after somebody poured some ice cream on it?" If your answer was "Yes", then you're probably five years old and shouldn't be reading this blog.
"Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle! Caving a man's skull in with a baseball bat while Chain Chomp watches in approval........."
"But before you go, could you remind me what comes after the letter A?"
And then this is the part where I play a mini-game instead.
Well, Onimusha proves that it doesn't mesh well with action game mechanics, either. Unless you happen to be Devil May Cry.....or Resident Evil 4. But those games worked because of how heavy they were on the action mechanics. If you're Onimusha, you hedge a lot closer to the Resident Evil formula than those other games ever did, introducing concepts that have no Earthly/Moonly business being anywhere close to a combat-heavy action game.
And B movie corniness. Have I mentioned that? Our story begins with a pervasive bug fetish that's never quite explained. Moving right along, we find out that a princess has been captured by demons. Or Nobunaga. Or maybe both. Who's to say? Now it's up to you, bland samurai Samanosuke, to rescue her from evil. Oh, and some fire demons give you a magic gauntlet early on for barely explored reasons, and all the demons have European names despite being in a Japanese setting. Are you getting a sense for what the story's like? If not, let me spell it out clearly: it's ridiculous, over the top, and probably not doing any of that on purpose. Every time I was confronted with a dumb flaw in this game, it felt less like Capcom capitalizing on Onimusha's potential campiness and more like the result of incompetent design. For instance, Samanosuke reading somebody else's lines.
Also, the horrible lip syncing. I'm not even convinced the animators were even trying to match the voice work. From what I remember, characters would flap their mouths open when words were being spoken, but would make no attempt to match those flaps to their vocalizations. (I'm aware that my emulating this might have something to do with it, but it perform much better on an actual console, for what it's worth.) Now this could possibly be redeemed if placed in a comedic context, maybe by noticeably drawing attention to itself or by dragging out the flaps long past the characters speaking (or long before, too). You know, just one little thing that would let me know the developers meant to include this in the game. If it's in there, I didn't see it. I only saw characters performing mouth exercises while telepathically communicating their poorly translated messages.
Oh, did I mention the translation? Turns out it isn't good. Half the time, the script reads like the translators went out of their way to screw things up. Take this linevery early in the game. She's not asking that somebody try to understand something; she's acknowledging that she understands something. From what little I understand of English, the proper term would be "understood". The same as it would be in Japanese. This isn't the type of thing that gets lost in translation; it's the type of thing that's left alone in the unfamiliar woods during translation. Of course, this is only the bottom of the barrel. The rest of the time, the incompetence is the result of unintended mistakes. Other people may find some value in said mistakes, but I sure as hell certainly didn't.
Normally, this would be the part where I transition into something positive about the game. But first, I need to get the puzzles out of the way, for two reasons. First, they're absolutely everywhere. While there were parts of the game where I wasn't fighting demons, there was nary a time when I wasn't solving a puzzle. They're (presumably) Onimusha's pride and joy, something that is much harder to understand when you consider reason the second: they have no good reason for existing. Half of them amount to "go grab this item from somewhere" (one of them being a load of misleading tripe), and the other half are insanely cryptic nonsense that make no effort to integrate themselves into the world. Not the most engaging material, is it? How did these puzzles even come to be? Demons clearly can't be responsible, as I doubt demons would refurbish an entire building with arcane locks and number puzzles. I'd doubt the Japanese people living there, too, but, well, they did design the puzzles in this game.
Although to be fair, that may be the result of this game very clearly aping Resident Evil than the result of its own design. It's just a thoroughly awkward fit that even drags down systems that otherwise might have been satisfactory. Like the combat. The first thing I noticed about it was perhaps its most important aspect. No analog controls. OK, there are analog controls when aiming the bow you get later in the game, but if you want to move, it's just the tank controls of the D-pad. How clumsy and ill fit for combat. But don't worry! The game will sort of automatically lock on to enemies for you, making precise movement less necessary than it would have been otherwise. Granted, this makes it a little difficult to interact with enemies you're not locked onto, but....wait, what's the redeeming factor, again? This auto lock-on only flattens the combat and robs it of depth it might otherwise have. Why bother with combos or involved enemy patterns when most of them fall to a sluggish "bash, bash, bash"? Why even have those features in the first place? Now they may not have worked in lieu of Onimusha's other design choices, but that should probably tell you when something isn't a good idea.
But that's not to say that the game has no good ideas. You get a few weapons to switch out during combat, all of them playing very similarly........Bad example. A much better example would be the magic tied to those weapons. These actually are noticeably different, with their own individual quirks, so there's at least some strategy in using them. The story also has brief periods where you switch from Samanosuke to his poorly translated partner Kaede, so at least there's that to keep things from becoming too repetitive. Yet is any of this enough to alleviate any of the game's much larger problems? Of course it isn't! This is still an action game jammed into a format that won't ever allow action games. Who even thought this was a good idea in the first place?
Thank you Samanosuke! But our princess is in...the exact same castle, really.
She's just hidden behind a ton of bullshit puzzles.
And combat that could be much better than it ends up being.
Fun fact: Onimusha loosely translates to something like "Demon Warrior". Man, how I wish the title was Insect Warrior, instead.
Note to self: play Space Channel 5 one of these days. And remember to make a Pingas joke during it.
Maybe I should've been nostalgic for seven days ago after all. This is essentially my last blog in reverse and also upside down. I begin with a bad samurai game and wrap things up with a fairly good ninja game...sort of. If we're looking at Ninja Spirit in terms of gameplay, then it would only fare somewhat better than Onimusha up there. But this isn't "Compelling Gameplay Spirit", is it? This is "Ninja Spirit", and damn you if you don't feel the spirit of a ninja flowing through your very being as you play this game.
But it won't be because you're playing the game, if that makes any sense. At its best, the game is competent; at its worst, it's wonky and lacking depth. I think this is best explained with your ninja jump. You know how a lot of fiction depicts the deadly ninja leaping through the air with the utmost grace and control? Throw that shit out the window right now, because the particular ninja you're controlling is a finicky little bastard who stubbornly resists your every attempt to control his jumps. Oh, he'll move in another direction mid-jump, but only very little and after thinking about it over a cup of tea. It can be annoying in the game's tenser situations, like the boss battles, but not by enough to hold it against the game too much. Besides, how can you hold the jumping against Ninja Spirit when you can leap twelve times your own height? Who wouldn't love something that ludicrous? There's also combat, but what do I even say about it? You can slash with reasonable accuracy, and there a few decent power-ups to mess around with. Basic stuff, really, like an extra hit or a more powerful attack or ninja clo-wait, those are amazing. But ninja clones and their madness aside, the combat's simply OK. Not bad, but not outstanding, either.
This is most unlike the game's application of its own mechanics, which hedge more toward the "not outstanding" clause. The vast majority of the game's seven-ish levels amount to moving forward and slashing enemies. Sometimes, you get an enemy that can withstand multiple hits and must be avoided, but for the most part, you'll plow through both enemies and levels relatively quickly. That's probably why I feel so disconnected from the levels: there's not much to them other than running to the finish line. This isn't enough material for an entire game, so it's no surprise that it eventually becomes repetitive. (Not as fast as you'd imagine, mind you, but still, it gets there.) If this is sounding overly reductive, blame the game's utterly random layouts. They just make it so hard to be anything but reductive. Discounting a few areas near the end, the levels simply drop enemies around you on a whim. No rhyme or reason to any of it; just baddies to kill for their own sake. Of course, "for their own sake" becomes a weak explanation when emerging the victor amounts to pressing button 2, so I feel less like I'm accomplishing something and more like I'm simply occupying time.
Until we throw ninja elements into the mix, that is. Turns out a game's a lot more fun when you buy into the whole "ninja" thing. The graphics are partly responsible for this. The way they announce their presence and draw attention to themselves makes it easy to get in the mood. However, I'd say a lot more of it's simply down to the scenarios you're flying through. Remember what I said about the levels just being flat expanses of nothing that throw enemies at you for no reason? Set that in a forest you can jump around, and suddenly, it all makes sense. Ninjas besetting you upon all sides, jumping from tree to tree and slashing just as often, it's all just very easy to enjoy. And that's just one level. Imagine what kind of ninja trickery the others throw you into. Hell, it even gets some stuff right that I never knew I wanted. I don't think anybody can say that they ever anticipated Werewolf Ninja, but that's the game's whole premise. A ninja dies and then presumably becomes a werewolf. Could you ever ask for anything more?
With Fire Emblem completely out of the way, where do my 3DS adventures go from here? Well, if the graphics haven't fallen back onto their compulsive lying habits, then I begin my journey into the unknown with Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword. So we move from a war story populated with wacky characters and tactical brilliance to a game all about slashing people up. Joy. I have to admit, though, that in some key areas, Sakura Samurai is the perfect portable game. It's not that hard to jump into, but hard to develop skill in, and it's so short that its length can only be measured in Planck Time.
That probably explains why I don't remember much about the story. Then again, since we're dealing with Super Mario Bros. levels of narrative complexity, I may just have a shit memory. And I'm completely serious about that Mario joke. Your goal, as the Sakura Samurai (I know, just go with it), is to venture to a castle, find out the princess you're supposed to save is not there, and then repeat the process until you've secured the royalty in question. The only difference is five. It's a simple story, but as all of the elements at least function the way they should, it's hard to take offense with said story. What's easier to take offense with is the graphical quality of the game. I get that it's trying to go for a storybook feel, but it doesn't work in the game's favor. Enemy forces aside, all the characters are constructed of very simple, blocky shapes, but it ends up looking exaggerated and unappealing and just plain ugly. It's almost like the game is using this art style to hide its own technical limitations. Of course, I say "almost" because it doesn't succeed in that goal.
Instead, it's more focused on dodging attacks every few seconds. I'd elaborate more on this topic, but what more is there to say? You dodge things when the game tells you and slash because the game didn't know what to include after dodging. Repeat for the length of the game. Now that may sound simple and repetitive, but it's surprising just how much mileage this game gets out of that one mechanic. It starts off rather easy, attacks being telegraphed with all the subtlety of a car alarm, but once you step out of that introductory world, the difficulty shoots up into the stratosphere. Enemy tells become more subtle, they're far more willing to psyche you out with each attack, and you'll bump into the invisible walls of the arena more often than before. Rather predictably, this is also where the game becomes significantly more enjoyable, specifically for those reasons (invisible walls notwithstanding). It's a mind game, of sorts, that you have to figure out at least somewhat quickly, the majority of the fun lying in spotting tells and using that to get the edge on the enemy. This is even more applicable to the few boss battles the game throws your way, which are far more willing to trip you up than any other part of the game. All in all, it's an effective combination of instant gratification and rewarding the development of skill.
And then there's the Precision Point system. Wait, is that meant to be a positive or negative transition? It could go either way. I mean, on the one hand, it's an easy way to reward skill. Money for not getting hit a set number of times? What's wrong with that? Only one thing, really: it's your only reliable source of income. Yes, enemies drop gold, sometimes, but certainly not enough to buy the whetstones and rice balls and frogs that you're going to need to get through the game. To buy all that, you're going to need to be good at the game, which is something I can appreciate. Yet all the grinding necessary to get those precision points is going to drag out the game far longer than it can possibly sustain itself. I'm pretty sure half my time with the game was spent preparing for the final boss. (The other half, of course, was spent dying to said final boss.) That's far too much time spent doing the exact same things again and again. Still, given how little time all of this occupies, it's hard to get too mad at any of this. I'd recommend picking up this game on the cheap if you want something to burn time on the bus, but that's about it, really.
Once upon a time, an ugly samurai had to rescue Starfire from some other ugly samurai.
And grind a lot because this samurai was dirt poor.
But then came in the twitch-based gameplay, so everything's alright in the end.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when Robotnik gave no fucks? Well, between then and now, he has not yet found any fucks to give. Selfish bastard. SPREAD THE FUCKS AROUND, EGGMAN!
Though that's not to say that these are the only problems the game has. For example, a horribly, horribly told story. A story so poorly told, in fact, that I couldn't tell you just what the hell it's about. All I know is that there's a princess that needs rescuing at some point, and something about a rival clan of ninjas who might also be demons. Or something. Each level exists in its own separate narrative bubble, thus hindering any serious story development, and the only context you get for your missions are ludicrously dry lectures on Japanese history, economic policies, and so many other boring topics delivered with predictably low levels of enthusiasm. Coincidentally, this applies equally well to the in-level voice acting. The voice actors don't act so much as read their scripts, sometimes with inflection. It's boring and does little to draw me into the world of Tenchu, awkward humor be damned. When the people involved in making your game couldn't give two shits about what's going on, why should you expect me, the player, to feel invested in anything?
To be fair, while the story doesn't even bother to engage, the gameplay is sort of successful, I guess? I mean, it still fails miserably, but at least here, it's trying. In case you haven't picked up on it, yet, you spend the entire game playing as a ninja doing ninja things. You know, sneaking around, killing from the shadows, marking your path with technicolor rice, the usual. If it sounds like a slow game, it is. Yes, the somewhat small levels bring it all into focus (especially later in the game), but you're still going to spend a lot of time doing nothing, just waiting. Therein lies the fun. It's all a thinking game, carefully observing enemy movements and patterns and waiting for just the right moment to dash past them in the most elegant and efficient manner possible. You know, like a real ninja, probably. Sure, some of the punishments can feel super strict (I swear, those guards still managed to track me down even after I killed them), but that only makes a successful mission feel that much more rewarding when done properly.
When the challenge is legitimate, of course. How often is that? Poor design guarantees that this isn't a frequent occurrence. Take, for instance, the enemy distance marker thing. It tells you how far you are from the closest enemy, and it's pretty much your only way of knowing where the bastards are. See any problems with this? Because I certainly do. What if you're dealing with multiple enemies? You may handle one just fine, but I doubt his friend is going to react to your brutal murders all that well. Not that you need multiple enemies for problems to arise. You're still not going to know what direction the enemy's facing. You could maybe glean that from distance becoming greater between you two, but two things: first, the enemy AI is sporadic. They prefer fidgeting about and looking over their shoulders to definite patterns, throwing something of a monkey wrench into the planning appeal from before. Second, a lot of them stand perfectly still while on guard duty. Makes it pretty hard to tell whether or not they're going to see you, doesn't it?
And yes, I know what you're thinking: "Why don't I just look at the enemy?" Oh, if only it were that simple. And so we arrive at the game's biggest problem: the graphics. Around every corner, they conspire against your success. No, literally around every corner. For the most part, the camera's glued to whatever direction you happen to be facing and will put up the biggest fight in going where you'd like it to go, such as pointing toward an enemy you're trying to get around. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. We're assuming that you can see the enemy in the first place, which isn't the case most of the time. Usually, the enemy will be hiding behind the black cloak of the draw distance. Behind this veil, you cannot see them, even if the distance marker alerts you to their presence. Oh, but they can see you. They can see you just fine. So if you're going into this game, prepare to get caught a billion times by an enemy you couldn't see because they were off camera and out of your field of vision.
Oh, and the controls feel stiff and sluggish in a lot of areas (basically any area that isn't forward), but I think we can agree that this game has much larger issues to deal with first. Namely, this game expects way too much of the player. Just about every system in Tenchu is designed to obscure its more redeemable aspects. Want to feel like you're part of something exciting? These twelve economic ministers or whatever should easily put an end to that, as should critical graphical problems. Yes, Tenchu, you were right to make a game about the joys of sneaking through feudal Japan, and adding a level of challenge to that could make sense. You just forgot to do any of that on purpose.
You know what people like in their action games? Slow, scrolling blocks of Japanese text with dry English narration.
Somebody get Ayame some glasses so she can see more than ten feet in front of her.
Oh, and the music's pretty good, if out of place for a game like this.
Didn't I just do this game? Close; I covered Wand of Gamelon a couple of weeks ago, promised that I'd cover this game, and kept true to my word. Buuuut since these games are so damn similar, I fail to see the point in writing what would essentially be the same review. So instead, I'm simply going to review another game in place of this one, post all the Zelda CD-i videos I have saved up for future blogs, and put this behind me once and for all.
And what better way to put it all behind me than with a game that's its polar opposite? After all, where Faces of Evil lives up to its name in all the wrong ways, Vagrant Story features faces that look and emote like actual human faces. Where Wand of Gamelon couldn't get past the first act of the three act structure, Vagrant Story clearly knows what the hell it's doing when it comes to narratives. And....OK, you get it. I really like this game, alright?
It all begins with a billion cutscenes, all of them looking like something out of a medieval heist movie. Soon, our badass villain, Edward Elric, drops a dragon on our protagonist and promptly leaves town. Now it is up to the utterly generic Ashley Riot to descend upon the magical city of Lea Monde and end Sydney's games for good. However, the city's less "happy fun adventure time" magical and more "darkness earthquakes create a million zombies and yet more Shakespeare references" magical, a fact that works in the game's favor. You only find this out slowly over the course of the game, so there's a sense of intrigue and mystery surrounding the city, and it's enough to make you want to push forward and figure out just what the hell's up with the city. The constant political gambits the various characters play against each other only amplifies said feelings, even if they can be hard to follow at times. Still, though, if I was to recommend Vagrant Story on one factor alone, it would probably be this one.
In some cases, it's even enough to carry the weaker aspects of the game. Aspects like our protagonist. I know I mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: this is a generic bastard. His defining personality trait, as far as I can tell, is that he exists. Later on, he gets some fleshing out, but not in terms of personality, as that remains as anemic as ever. No, we get development of his juicy, juicy back story. All we really know is that he's now part of the Valendia Knights because of something regarding a family that may or may not be his and may or may not have ever existed. It's the exact same appeal as the story behind Lea Monde. The only real difference I can note is that while you get some clear answers with the city, Ashley never gets that clarity. Now that may piss off those looking for something less ambiguous, but I don't find it too much a problem. I mean, the game's already playing around with ideas of the thin limits between reality and fantasy (what with there being a fantasy creature to slice in half every ten feet), and I don't think definite conclusions would fit well into that schema.
So let it be known that I really love the story in this game. Yet I must give credit where credit is due: to the writers graphics. What? Can't graphics play their part in telling a story? For as much as I love the slowly eked out past of Lea Monde, I have to imagine the richly detailed environments contribute just as well to the game's setting. And that's nothing compared to how expressive these characters are. They blink, they smirk, they spit (sometimes), and they even move their mouths to form words! That exclamation mark makes a lot more sense when you realize that there's no voice acting in this game, meaning Square had no reason to make the characters' mouths move. But they did, anyway, and it goes a long way toward establishing their presence in the world. They almost feel like actual people instead of, say, actors reading a script. I could go on, but by now, I'm sure we're in agreement on how amazing this game looks. Hell, I'm having a hard time remembering anything I didn't like about it. I think the only significant fault is that the frame rate chugs in a few areas, but that's only because the PlayStation simply can't handle how real this game is.
All that, and we still haven't gotten to how the game plays. I swear, my language is just as flowery and dense as the game I'm covering. Anywho, the actual game. A lot of it's based on exploration, for reasons I can't really comprehend. The environments themselves don't provide any motivation for serious exploration. For every one awesome level like anything set in the actual city of Lea Monde, you get crap ones like the Lost Woods and mines with really bad block puzzles and whatever else the developers carried over from late 90s game design. Oh, and a billion brown caves. But maybe the material rewards are enough to balance out the visual monotony, except they aren't. It's pretty much all equipment, which, in itself, isn't terribly bad.
This does, however, come with a lot of baggage, a lot of it in the form of an oddly complex range of weaknesses. You have to worry about weapon type weaknesses, species weaknesses, elemental weaknesses, and maybe some other stuff that I stopped paying attention to long ago because all of my weapons seemed to do the same amount of damage, anyway. But there are also the menus upon menus to consider. While there is a quick menu you can pull up any time mid-battle, you can't equip weapons from it, making the previously discussed weapon angle that much harder a sell. Then again, this may be just me. Who knows? One of you might enjoy wandering through Dirt Alley (or, as the game probably calls it, "The Weak Suffer the Chickens") to obtain a new weapon that requires twelve menus to equip and will most likely alter your rhythm in combat.
You are a dangerous individual not fit to live in civilized society.
For the sane individual, there is the combat, which is somewhat hard to explain. It's an action RPG, but it isn't? There are a lot of systems to cover, and it's not easy figuring out where to begin. But begin I shall. Combat happens in real time until you decide to initiate an attack, at which point you get to choose which part of the enemy's body is most deserving of death's cold embrace. Fortunately, the enemies are various enough in focus and often resilient enough that this is a meaningful choice on your part. And here we come to the key strength of the combat system: the strategy. There are just so many systems to keep track of at any one time, each one having a significant effect on where things go. You have the aforementioned VATS system, the status-destroying Chain Attacks, the appropriately named Risk system, the shitty shit weaknesses sucking all kinds of ass, and so on. It sounds like a lot to manage, but weaknesses aside, it's all surprisingly easy to manage, striking a good balance between depth and accessibility.
And yet for all the consideration you have to give toward the systems I just described, just as much effort goes into the execution as does the planning, so there's some real skill involved and, consequentially, an appropriate sense of accomplishment accompanying it. But that's not what....OK, that's actually a very good reason why you should play Vagrant Story. Whatever. I was trying to say that the story's an even greater motivation (with the graphics trailing behind both). I'm just not very good at saying these things.
Actually, just taking a quick glance at it, I can probably understand why somebody would look this over. It's just another cute (if extremely good looking) platformer, of which there were a billion already, right? HOW CAN A HYPOTHETICAL PERSON BE SO WRONG!? I'd say that there's one thing separating Pulseman from other platformers, but the truth is that there are several things, the most prominent among them being the electricity. Walk around for a bit, and you build up a charge, which allows you to shoot energy beams, bounce around like an electric pinball (a band name I've already reserved), and do this one move that seems to make the screen flip the eff out. It's that second one we're interested in, though. I mean, yea, energy bolts are useful, but how do they even compare to shooting about the world on electric wings? That feature gives the game the chaotic sense of speed that makes it so fun in the first place. Sometimes, that feature backfires miserably, like anything to do with the finicky electric wire, but fortunately, those tend to be exceptions to the rule.
I have to imagine a lot of that is because of the sense of control Pulseman maintains. As off-the-walls crazy as the ability to literally bounce off walls sounds, most of the levels are designed with this feature in mind, so you're having fun within limits. And for every one part dedicated to this pinball-esque insanity, there's a more traditional, far slower paced platforming section around the corner. Now this may sound like an odd mix, but this pairing is completely necessary for the game to stay at its level of quality. Neither idea can completely carry this game. The Arkanoid electric madness (got that bad name, too) would inevitably become stale over the seven levels that you traverse, and while the slower portions are reasonably challenging, their design is perhaps too plain to bear the weight of the entire experience. But as Pulseman strikes a good balance between the two, this never becomes a problem.
Speaking of problems, maybe it's time I actually speak of this game's problems instead of dishing out blind praise. For one, the bosses aren't that hard. Usually, the difficulty lies in figuring out their patterns rather than in acting on that, and given how most bosses only have two to three moves, these aren't the hardest patterns to crack. More damning for the game are the control issues. Everything's very momentum based, which works out OK when you're simply running around. Jumping, though, is more of a pain. If you were moving forward while you were jumping, you're gonna move forward while falling. Straightforward, yes, but it reduces jumping precision and results either in me finicking about with the left and right buttons or Pulseman plunging foot first to a horrible death. The game doesn't even have a good justification for this. The physics in the game are largely rigid and set in stone, so that angle's out. Challenge might also explain these control choices, since, well, they make the game more challenging. Not in a good way, though. More in a "fighting against the game" sort of way. OK, less a fight and more a minor spat, but whatever. I think you understand.
Oh, and maybe I should mention the story premise at some point. There's this doctor person, and, this being a work of fiction, he's super duper evil. In enters Power Ranger Pulseman to put an end to his cartoonish ways. And I do mean cartoonish (or, rather, cartoony). The atmosphere's reminiscent of a Japanese cartoon circa 1974, with its squishy, non-threatening character designs, lending the game a lighthearted sense of urgency that feels right at home in the world of Pulseman. Man, now I want an HD remake of this game so damn bad. And this game is so deserving of it, too. Nobody really played it in its heyday, and can you imagine those trippy electric levels with glorious HD graphics? I think what I'm getting at is that I want Pulseman to enter the modern world with a thick Scottish accent. Then again, don't we all?
When most people think "pinball platformer", they probably think of Sonic Spinball. Show them this and they will understand the error of their ways.