Dynamite Ducks......Wait a minute, that's an actual game!

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

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?

Guy must be one hell of a psychic, since his body's like this for the entire game.

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.

Review Synopsis

  • 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.

Have I mentioned that Donald Duck can defy gravity with sheer anger? That's kind of important.

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?

Review Synopsis

  • 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.

8 Comments

Killer is Penguin.

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

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. As expected.

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.

So I guess this means Killer is Dead is actually an alternate Teen Titans timeline where Starfire cuts Robin's arm off and Slade is always letting his junk hang out.

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 isn't BioShock, Mondo. That drill's completely useless.

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 seen it before.

Review Synopsis

  • 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.

Wait a minute, this isn't that Hideo Kojima penguin game! (That's not something I made up for the sake of an introduction; Kojima's first game was actually about penguins.) Now this blog isn't gonna make any sense. Actually.....yea, this could still work. After all, you guys probably know Killer is Dead exclusively as a batshit crazy game, and if anybody knew batshit crazy, it was 90s Konami. This game is no exception, although it is considerably more terrifying than anything I've linked so far.

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?

Somewhere, somebody is fapping to this image.

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?

You know, that'd be about my reaction to this, too.

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.

Review Synopsis

14 Comments

The screenshot ballad of Heartbreakin' Hisao Nakai. Episode 1: Sugar Milk.

Part the 一番目
←To Episode 0: The Tokimeki thread, I guess?To Episode 2: Poor Parental Cabbage→

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:

Oh, gross! I am seriously offended by this!

But, with a little Photoshop magic...

Safe for family consumption!

Hmmmmmmm.............

I HAD TO.

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.)

Hisao "Babyface" Nikai

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.

Emi "Deckard" Ibarazaki

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.

Hanako "Harlem" Ikezawa

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.

Rin "Happy Ending" Tezuka

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.

Lilly "Sugartits" Satou

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.

Shizune "My Parents are Assholes" Hakamichi

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.)

Shiina "Misha" Mikado

..........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.

Miki "Shalashaska" Miura

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.

Debora "Sir Not Appearing in this Thread" Ludman
Too bad, too. I'm sure you guys would've loved her.
Kenji "I Am The Tropes" Setou

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.

The Nurse

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.

Professor Mutou

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.

Yuuko

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.

Akira Satou

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!

Go ahead. The game's a free download. Or you can stay here and watch an expert do it.

Also, I think I've hit my quota for Futurama references today. Let's get this party started.

"Why I chose to come out here in the middle of winter is beyond me."
"Really beginning to question why I'm out here."
With a U...even if that doesn't make a lot of sense.
That's what we in the biz call "foreshadowing".
You've GOT to work on your pick-up lines, man.
That's going to explain a lot.
Then why is this introduction so loquacious?
Iwanako gets a lightning bolt in the chest in 3, 2...
"......I knew I should've chosen another vessel for Grima."
"And I'm still face down in the snow."
Good to know.
You know, I probably should've mentioned his serious heart condition at some point. I guess I forgot when I saw that heavy reading tires him out.
You get it?
*breaks out in horribly cruel laughter* The best part? The game freezes on this exact shot, so you can appreciate it in all its glory.
Pissier than a diuretic? You better believe it!
I give him three updates, tops.
He spends about four lines on this gate. That's too long for gates.
That smug fucking gate. Why can't you leave Babyface alone?
First update in, and the characters already know they're in a screenshot thread. This is going swimmingly.
"I collapsed in tears when confronted with that painting. Again."
I'm highly skeptical of any situation where Haru-he Suzumiya is considered "normal".
Gang signs.
Tell them about the gate. They'll fucking eat it up.
Hisao flashed actual gang signs at her. Awkwardness ensued.
"Vegan food? WHAT THE HELL'S THIS BULLSHIT!?" (Also, Super Mario All Stars voices echo throughout the cafeteria, for some reason.)
You know, the normal questions to ask when you go to a new school.
It's 1 in the afternoon. That's FAR too early to be hitting the bottle.
Natural reaction.
I'm imagining something like Dead or Alive Xtreme if over half the characters were extremely uncomfortable being there.
That includes Shizune.
And have I mentioned how uncomfortable I am in this guy's introduction? See if you can spot why.
I'm already starting to miss Tokimeki High.
Maybe not. You'd better not be related to demons, Bespectacled Boy.
But I can't see him, and he still looks stupid.
Only one of those is in this screenshot.
Hicchan? Isn't that Misha's nickname for Hisao?.....I don't want to think about it.
"Where did I put that porn? I know I packed i....Oh no. Mom and Dad found it while they were unpacking, didn't they? I suddenly realize what a long semester I'm in for."
Hisao Nakai: put him in your mouth.
And then he died. The end.

101 Comments

A Mario Party where nobody gets laid.

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

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.

"Her righteous fury will cleanse this land of all the filthy sinners. BATHE US IN YOUR GLORIOUS FLAME!"

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.

There's also the Sonic Room to mess around with, in case you thought this franchise wasn't enough Hitchcock for your tastes.

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.

Oh, trust me: it doesn't make any more sense as time goes on.

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.

Review Synopsis

  • 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.

And that's not even getting into Peach's absolutely disturbing bloodlust.

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.

Review Synopsis

  • "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.
16 Comments

Japanese, but in essentially the same way.

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

I haven't even begun writing this blog, and already, I'm getting severe nostalgia pangs. Not for my last blog; that would be premature. Instead, my nostalgia is taking me back to my Koudelka blog from a couple of months ago. Remember how that game proved that Resident Evil-style gameplay doesn't mesh well with RPG mechanics?

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.

She's reading this review and realizing she's a part of it.

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.

It's hard to tell if this is racist or just mediocre visual design, so why not split the difference?

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 line very 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.

"When a man and a woman both get each other VERY drunk..."

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?

You've gotta be shitting me.

Review Synopsis

  • 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.

I'm pretty sure this is all the story the game gives you, and you really only see it for about all of half a second. Let that tell you just where this game's priorities lie.

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?

Review Synopsis

  • Mother
  • fucking
  • ninja. That is all.
24 Comments

Japanese, but in a different way.

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

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.

"I AM GOING TO SWING MY SWORD NOW. IS THAT OK WITH YOU, O SAKURA SAMURAI?"

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.

Review Synopsis

  • 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!

I thought it appropriate that in a blog covering ugly samurai, I might as well cover ugly ninja while we're at it. Granted, the word "ninja" doesn't actually appear in the title (because the title is concerned with more powerful words), but whatever. Ninjas are in it, so it gets a pass. Now if only I could say that about the gameplay. Sneaking your way through a ninja compound and killing from the shadows? What's not to like about that? Well, how about a whole host of technical and mechanical problems that completely prevent that idea from being all that it can be?

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?

Coincidentally, the final boss is a fat naked Armenian man.

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?

Sadly, as I later found out, this game doesn't allow ninjas to walk on water. This water just happened to be frozen or shallow or something like that.

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.

Review Synopsis

  • 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.

5 Comments

Three of the games here look amazing. Only two of them play amazing.

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

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.

"Let me hold you in my loving embrace."

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.

I should also mention that this game has a ton of cool bosses. Perhaps on another screenshot, because this isn't one of them.

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.

"A recollection of facts or previously experienced events?" "Fucking smartass."

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.

Review Synopsis

  • Reyn and a resident Giant Bomb user are dropped into the land of Ivalice. Somehow, they emerge with a fantastic story.
  • Reyn emerges after about ten to fifteen hours of navigating more brown rooms than his contemporary Raziel.
  • Fortunately, the combat's there to spice things up.

As I said, here are all the Zelda CD-i videos that I've been wanting to post. Warning: there are a lot of (fucking weird) videos following this text.

I told you they were weird.

If ever my blog had a clear purpose, it would probably be something like "I review whatever obscure-ass game I happen upon". But if I had a much clearer purpose, it would probably be to reveal obscure games that are criminally underappreciated, a purpose into which Pulseman fits perfectly. This game's about a superhero who bounces around levels pinball style as an orb of pure electric energy. Why don't more people know about this game? (I bet it's that whole "extremely limited release" shtick.)

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.

Have I mentioned how absolutely amazing this game looks? Especially with some of the crazier electric backgrounds (which are clearly not pictured here in any manner whatsoever)?

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?

Review Synopsis

  • When most people think "pinball platformer", they probably think of Sonic Spinball. Show them this and they will understand the error of their ways.
71 Comments

Fire Emblem's in the toilet, kids.

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

How long has it been since I've covered a Fire Emblem game in one of these things? Depending on who you ask, it could range from "nearly one and a half years" to "I don't think that counts". Anyway, looking at those two reviews, you'd probably guess that I find Fire Emblem: Awakening to be an awesome goddamn game. And you'd be right, if a little mundane in your guessing. For something a little more informative, I'd say this game hedges closer toward Tear Ring Saga than it does Path of Radiance.

Part of that is because the quality of the story (or at least the plot) leans more toward the former's "I can't remember the middle half of the story" than the latter's tightly crafted greatness. It all begins at the near end of the game, where one protagonist kills another. That massive amount of foreshadowing out of the way, we then cut to the usual Fire Emblem affair: slitting brigand throats for a little while before slowly moving onto a greater, world-threatening conspiracy. And in this case, I do mean "slowly"...sort of. Looking back on it, the time it took for the plot to develop wasn't terribly long (only eight chapters out of twelve billion), but it certainly feels like it takes a long time. Not a whole lot of major things happen in those early chapters, and those that do are either forgotten or constantly feel like they're building up to something.

Just an ordinary soldier with glowing red eyes.

And that building up aspect legitimately takes forever to change. There are a lot of cool moments in the narrative, but somehow, they don't feel connected very strongly. For example, after Chrom (he's the one who was getting killed earlier) topples one of the major villains early in the story, he waits around a year before deciding to go on another (oddly similar) adventure on a completely different continent. This leads to some cool places and events (like fighting a Spanish mustache), but it seems an abrupt transition that could've been worked in a bit better. Maybe make said continent a known entity from the beginning and allude to its political situation over the course of the main plot so that it doesn't come out of nowhere. But that's really just a band-aid wouldn't work for the much larger problem of events happening in isolation rather than as part of some cohesive whole. You gotta have something to tie everything together, Fire Emblem?

What's that? You do? Oh, right, the themes. How could I forget about them?....I'm coming across as a facetious asshole, aren't I? Rest assured that I actually really love what the game is doing thematically. I might as well start with the more traditional reason of "it really fucking thinks things through". The theme of this game is "you can fight fate (within limits)", and anybody with passing knowledge of this game can tell you just how pervasive that message is. A lot of the more significant moments in the plot make this point the focus and, more importantly, do so in a thought out, effective manner. This is most evident those few times when you're presented with a huge choice out of absolutely nowhere. All of them involve somebody dying; that should give you an idea as to how weighty and urgent these choices are. But, as far as I can remember, I don't think any of them affect the plot. Emmeryn's still gonna die, and your avatar buddy is still gonna survive to kill Chrom. Remember: there are limits as to how well you can fight your fate.

Naoto? What are you doing in the Fire Emblem universe? Does Charlie know about this?

But what about the less mundane reason I alluded to previously? For the curious among you, that would be the theme's ability to act as a makeshift adhesive for the plot to make sense. Remember that "jump across continents to fight bad guys" plot point from before, and how ill-suited it seemed for the rest of the story? Well, in lieu of these themes, it works a lot better: if the characters are reliving what are essentially the same events, then it stands to reason that they're better prepared to handle them and fight back against their "inevitable" fates. Hell, it even justifies some of the less plausible plot twists the game throws at you later in the game.

But Awakening's real strengths lie in its myriad of distinctive, fleshed out characters. How have I gone this long without mentioning the characters? There are just so many of the fuckers to mention. Just to name a few, we have Owain the walking Fire Emblem encyclopedia, Frederick, who would stab a beggar asking for change because said beggar was probably packing heat, maybe, and Panne, who, despite being the last of her race of magical bunny people, somehow doesn't go all Last of the Mohicans on us. (Although I think part of that is because a man in this universe would risk getting a Falchion through the gut if he dressed up as a bear.) I could go on, and the amazing thing is that I don't think I'd run into a character I'd find lacking in detail. Maybe hard to like, yes, but never under-developed or weak in character. Hell, even the character you create, the one who should have a generic identity so as to match any possible player, has a clearly defined character to him.The only exceptions I can remember were, sadly, the villains, whose motivations and characterizations can best be summed up like so.

He's gonna transform into a giant snake and stuff Lucina into a slowly filling hourglass by the end of this, isn't he?

This may be because the villains don't have a support conversation to their name? Oh, did I not tell you about support conversations? I probably should, since I've gone 1000 words without even vaguely referencing a gameplay concept. They're just conversations between two characters who have spent a lot of time standing next to each other. I've already addressed the character aspect (it's really, really good), but it also opens up a lot of gameplay avenues for the game. First up, it's the reason I reset the game whenever one of my characters died. I've gotten to know their personalities, watched them grow, even helped them find love! You're asking me to throw that all out? Bullshit! I'm making sure all my soldiers survive so they can tell their children of my greatness! Oh, that reminds me: you can make characters fuck in this game. It has some cool story benefits, but really, it only exists to let you create horrible super-powered monster children. I had a bunny person go into battle with an insta-kill death move, and he was supported by a vampire dragon girl. What more need I say?

Maybe something about the basic gameplay mechanics. Allow me to correct that: you have a map, populated with a bunch of guys you control in battle against another bunch of guys to kill. For most of the maps, your goal is simply to kill every last one of them, but there are enough of them with different goals to keep the game from being too repetitive. This is especially true of the puzzle-like Paralogues, little side chapters that require Chrom and his Shepherds (did I mention that they call themselves that for some of the plot?) ignore this whole rebellion thing so they can jump halfway across the world for some assorted pastries, I assume. Anyway, you take a turn fighting guys, they take a turn fighting guys, and this goes on until you've met the victory conditions or they kill your leader.

"So THAT'S where the title comes from!" "No, it isn't. Chrom, can we just murder this guy and get on with our lives?"

Now that's a lot of words for something that's actually very simple to pick up. Now there are some other mechanics and nuances that I haven't elaborated upon, like the various weapons or the cost/benefit analysis of letting characters fight together or all the branching class promotions, but the core gameplay that I have described is pretty damn easy to pick up. The game's not hiding anything from you; everything you need to know is laid out before you in the first hours of the game. Thus the game is made very approachable and easy to pick up, and the difficulty, well, less difficult to deal with.

Because have I mentioned how balls hard the game is, at least if you play it on Hard like I did? (Those empty maps at the beginning felt like taunts.) If you leave even one insignificant opening in your placements, the enemy will home in on it and mercilessly eviscerate you. And at least at first, you can't grind your way out of it; the only reliable way to get more enemies on the map is by using a Reeking Box, which initially eat up 90% of your war funds. And even later, when you can grind more reliably, strength can only get you so far. Ah, but therein lies the beauty of Awakening's difficulty: its legitimate nature. It's like the exact opposite of Tear Ring Saga: everybody has excellent growths, but you're still going to get your ass kicked more than an amateur foot fetishist. It's gonna take some actual thinking and adaptation to get through these chapters, and out-maneuvering and out-thinking the enemy feels like a real accomplishment because of it. It's not entirely perfect, as the random number generator can attest to on multiple occasions, but as these issues don't come up too often, they're minor problems within a very well crafted system.

Speaking of well crafted, the graphics......OK, I think you understand what my opinion of Fire Emblem: Awakening is by now. If you don't, let me re-iterate: it's a highly refined, well thought out game flexible enough to adapt to your play style while rewarding carefully, intelligent gameplay. Sure, the plot's lacking in cohesion, but the characters are more than willing to pick up the slack. And the graphics looks really, really good, if you're still curious about that.

Review Synopsis

  • On the one hand, the actual events in the game could be better connected.
  • On the other hand, the characters are strong enough that I shouldn't really give a shit.
  • Screw it; let's go with that timeless Fire Emblem gameplay taken from Thracia 776!
  • Let's just hope that I got to use this link at some point in the blog, somehow.

Dr. Robotnik simply does not give a fuck.

Yes, I played this game just for the inflammatory title it would grant me. I am just that petty, much like the game itself. Its only goal was to see how many crass toilet puns it could cram into a single Hu Card. The difference between this game and my blog, though, is that the latter has substance (no matter how much you will undoubtedly vehemently deny in the comments).

Whereas Toilet Kids is obsessed with one thing: cheap poo jokes. Hell, it doesn't even care about the premise to get there. Some kid gets launched up via a rush of toilet water, and now he's shooting people, for some reason. Also, underpants god. And it's not like the jokes are there to pick up the slack. Toilet Kids can only do so much with poo jokes before they stop making sense altogether. Why are those ancient Egyptians holding poo? And why does this whale have shit eyes? Am I missing some cultural in-jokes or language puns or something? Because it feels more like fecal matter was sprayed on everything in sight in the hopes that it would end up funny. That's not how jokes work, guys. Poop isn't intrinsically funny; you have to do something with it to make it funny. Preferably, something that makes sense. Hell, you even get urine-farting skunks (and urine-farting other things) and poo-flinging toilets. The only people who will find this funny are ten year old boys, and that's just because they don't know how penises work yet.

Why am I shooting at flying baby penises? Who the fucking hell can say?

But there's more to Toilet Kids than mere toilet humor. Not a lot more, and it still isn't very good, but definitely more. You shoot enemies, and....that's it, really. There are power-ups to fuck around with, but as far as I could tell, you only get them in the last level, which makes you question why you'd bother including them. But hey, you don't need power-ups for a good shooter as long as the level design's decent, right? If that excuse didn't work for the poo jokes, I don't see it working too well for the level design. Most of the enemies come in predictable waves of three or five or some different form of five, and even then, I'm making it sound more complicated than it actually is. You see those flying baby dicks, for instances? That's the only formation they appear in, as far as I can remember. While this doesn't make the enemies easy to deal with, it certainly nudges the game toward repetition and simplicity, which isn't doing this game any favors.

Granted, that's only four levels of simple repetition, but four levels of crap is still crap. Now normally, I'd consider ending the blog after the crap pun quota has been met, but I want to say at least one positive thing about the game: bombing things works well. The reticle will lock onto targets in the near vicinity of where you're aiming, so 100% precision isn't necessary. Makes managing two levels of shooting rather easy. That good enough? OK, now I'm ending the blog.

Review Synopsis

  • This game thinks girls pee out of their butts.
  • It also thinks it can get away with having no power-ups and the same enemy formations repeated too many times for comfort.
25 Comments

The Triforce of Wisdom promises an abundance of explosions.

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

I'm really torn on what to think about this game. I honestly don't think I could place it on a scale of good or bad because it waffles between the two so damn much. On the one hand, it's a dumb action movie that glorifies war; on the other hand, it's a dumb action movie that glorifies war. All we can know for certain is that it's an action movie, alright. Take that as you will, because I didn't know how.

I'd say it's best to start with the story, but given its fondness for jumping all over the timeline, this may not be such a good idea. This isn't confusing or hard to follow, mind you, but it does make the story difficult to explain at first. Eventually, though, a clear, summarizable story emerges: the US military has severely pissed off Raul Menendez, Jesus Christ of YouTube (as in "Jesus Christ, are they serious about this YouTube popularity plot point?"), and it is now up to them to put a stop to his terrorist plans. Say, what did they do to piss him off? Call his sister a whore and burn them both alive, among other things. Now this may sound somewhat petty, but that's only because I suck at explaining things. In reality, the game does an amazing job of making you empathize with what he's suffered, at least when it wants them to. Sure, he's been doing some shady shit for the entire story, but at least in the beginning, he's doing it for his sister. And then to see that completely wrenched away from him and go absolutely insane with rage.....and then see things get worse from there.....It may not be a lot in terms of focus, but in terms of raw execution, it's certainly more than enough to make him a good, fleshed out villain.

You thought I was being cute with that Saladin joke, didn't you?

This might even be a very poignant criticism of the ravages of war if Black Ops 2 had any interest in those words. Instead, war is portrayed as all kinds of badass and glorious and all around awesome. Our story begins with a Vietnam war vet reminiscing about his escapades at least somewhat casually, moves into you valiantly riding atop horseback into battle against Saladin's knights, and ends with....to be fair, it does tone it down a bit by the end, but the general message remains. It's just hard to take this message seriously when you get to personally see the most horrible parts of war. One of the first levels starts with you watching a man fucking burn to death before the general you're cooperating with drags you off to participate in all the glory that war brings. I'd say that about sums up the levels of self-awareness present if this wasn't a first person game. I know that sounds like a petty complaint to make, but it really did make the experience that much more harder to deal with emotionally. It's one thing to see somebody far off on the battlefield die because the character I was controlling shot them; it's another to see the life ebb out of their eyes because I personally blew their brains out. It's incredibly uncomfortable, and I don't think that's what the game was going for.

Then again, I probably shouldn't be thinking while playing Call of Duty. This game doesn't exactly mix well with heavy critical thinking, and I don't mean that in a condescending, dickish way. The game's all about the explosions and spectacle and generally just moving from set piece to set piece. In this regard, it sort of knows what it's doing. I mean, at least it gets the pacing right. No matter where you are in the story, there's going to be some tense action sequence there to grab your attention. Maybe it's running through a burning mansion or maybe it's dragging your buddy to safety as his head clips through the grass or maybe it's whatever the fuck this is.

Hold on a second: is that Baird in the back of this screenshot? Did he make a cameo in Black Ops 2 that I'm unaware of?

Wait, I think I spotted the main problem with the cinematics in that last sentence: they don't effectively prevent me from questioning what's going on. Granted, the example I used is nit-picky as hell, but there are more jarring incidents sprinkled throughout the adventure, like when the camera switches from your personal view to a zoom-in on the bad guy with no fade or transition of any kind. Or when the game doesn't let me play through some moments that would be cool to play through, but lets me play through mundane shit for no other reason than to acknowledge that I exist. Or when the subtitles call a guy "CIA nerd". Each example shakes me out of the moment, makes me aware that I'm playing a game, and ultimately prevents the game from working its magic. If its magic is to be worked, you're gonna have to put some effort into shutting off your brain and simply accepting the various cinematic set pieces the game throws at you.

The same goes for the interactive set pieces: great variety coupled with mediocre execution. Again, the amount of variety at play works in the game's favor, since it keeps things consistently exciting. However, consistency isn't a word I'd apply to the game mechanics on display. Shooting aside, you only play through a lot of cool moments for a couple minutes, tops, most likely in the hopes that you won't notice that each one has its own significant problem. The airplane sequence near the end, for instance, plays like a very strict rail shooter that only begrudgingly lets you steer. This is going to result in you drunkenly careening into the exact number of buildings needed to warrant a court martial. A similar problem occurs with the horse sequence I mentioned before, sans buildings and (sadly) flying.

"Are you going to move into position any time soon, Mason, or is that game of Frozen Synapse more important than our national security?"

But I felt this the hardest with the Strike Force feature, mainly because it's such a cool part of the game in theory. Imagine a first person shooter that lets you switch to a tactical view to command different squads and stuff in real time. Now go play Sanctum because that game probably delivers better on that concept than Strike Force does. I never did get the hang of controlling all those squads, and while I'm willing to take the blame for some of that (I didn't spend a ton of time with it), I can't imagine the inability to split up squads or command individual units would help its case. Or maybe it would've been better served as a short downloadable PC title instead of a diversion in a much larger game.

Speaking of much larger games, why haven't I mentioned the main gameplay systems in this blog? Because at some point in this discussion, the shooting simply becomes irrelevant. I'm not enjoying the game because the mechanics of shooting a person feel particularly compelling, but because of all the situations built around them. Though that's not to say the shooting is bad. Enemies die when shot, hiding for a bit allows your body to digest the bullets littering your unarmored arms (how else regenerative health is explained, I don't know), and the many guns you're provided each feel different enough to justify their existence. However, I think it says a lot about Black Ops 2 that even though each mission gave me the opportunity to choose my initial arsenal, I barely used said feature. I come to these games for a low-brow action movie that could potentially double as a US Army advertisement. The shooting elements are merely in service of that.

Review Synopsis

  • Does Black Ops realize that most people are uncomfortable killing other people?
  • Maybe that's the price to pay for all the explosions and chaos.
  • Oh, and shooting and stuff or whatever.

Yes, this is essentially the same as my last blog's video, but it's the intro song that really stands out.

Oh yes I fucking did. How could I pass up such an amazing opportunity for riffing material, especially when it gives me a rare opportunity only one person I know of has taken? I speak, of course, about being fair toward the game. You see, most of you would probably watch one of the millions of YouTube Poops of this game, write it off as trash, and call it a day. But I wanted to dig deeper, and dug deep I did, and lying in Wand of Gamelon is a genuinely good game. It's just buried under mountains of poor game design that are absolutely impossible to ignore.

And it's not like the story's there to hold the extra weight, either. (Why anybody even remotely thought that is beyond my understanding.) It all begins with King No I'm Not Typing That taking one of his country's most valued treasures into battle with him, only to get captured for such rampant idiocy. Link tries to save him, but somehow, gets trapped in a mirror doing so. Now it's up to Zelda to....help people with their menial problems. That's the weird thing about the story: there really isn't any. You tend to stumble into the more plot important moments, and they don't have any connection to what you're doing. The gameplay has you fetching eggs for some lonely girl to get a flute that I don't remember once using, while the cutscenes depict.....well, pretty much that, but sometimes, Impa decides to move the plot forward because I guess it has to. It's all really surreal and would make for some decent riffing material if not for the game surrounding it.

"You think it's a crime to speak in mad rhymes? Rap or die!" *double lightning*

Speaking of riffing material, I know what you really want to read about: that awful animation. What can I even say that you don't already know? Half the characters are utterly lacking in detail, while the other half are horribly grotesque monsters. They less resemble actual people and more resemble spider webs a witch has cursed to speak. And that's not even getting into the over-animation problems. Hell, Yumimi Mix has better animation than this dreck, and that was a game I glowingly recommended as being "like you're playing a manga while twelve year old girls yell shit in your ears." The actual game is better, though, with pumped up 90s music and some rather detailed level backgrounds.

Too detailed, perhaps. Or maybe not detailed enough. All I know is that detail plays some role in the navigation issues. A lot of the backgrounds can't settle between a super-imposed 2D world or a multi-layered 3D one, so they waffle between both. Needless to say, this is confusing as hell, especially when the game is so insistent on the one path it created that it will kill you for trying to take other paths that make just as much sense. Mapping jump to the up button doesn't help matters, nor does thinking the Xbox 360 has a good D-pad in the first place, like I did. But the worst part about this is that the ingredients for a cool Metroidvania-esque action adventure game are lost underneath all this shit. The beginning of the game kinda dumps you onto a directionless overworld and expects you to figure things out for yourself. Surprisingly, this works in the game's favor. You get some cool power-ups to mess around with, like an invincibility cloak and a glitchy lantern, and there's something to be said for adjusting to the flow of quests. There's a sense of accomplishment and progress as you watch all the pieces perfectly fall into place in your quest to rescue the King. Yes, it's a sense of accomplishment that's significantly marred by technical flaws, but it's a sense of accomplishment nonetheless.

What sweet hell have I stumbled upon here.

I mean, that's more than I can say about the combat. I don't have anything at all nice to say about it. There is absolutely no mercy invincibility in this game, so if you want even a hope of surviving, you're gonna need a decent ranged attack. Unfortunately, for a significant portion of the game, you're stuck with a dinky little butter knife of a sword and very expensive bombs. It takes even longer for ranged attacks to mean anything, and never for Zelda to learn how to handle enemies coming at her on a soft incline. Combine this all together, and you end up with a frustrating experience lacking in progress because you're fighting against the mechanics instead of what the game has laid out for you. Yet for whatever reason, the developers thought it a good idea to make this a grind-heavy game. Joy.

Speaking of joy, that word has no place in describing what I'd generously call the boss battles. Here's how each one goes down: they personally introduce themselves through some exceedingly stupid cinematic (like this one, for instance), you whack them once with the item du jour, and they collapse into a puddle of sadness and despair. Repeat until you get a completely mellow ending. Now what was that I said about potentially liking the game, again? Kinda hard to do that when you have unfair combat, unintuitive level graphics, and those cutscenes. The only thing more off-putting than this game is the knowledge that I'm gonna have to cover Faces of Evil, too.

Review Synopsis

  • You know how The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack has some scary artwork? Well, this game looks bad.
  • Conceptually, I'm all behind a Metroid-style game set in the Zelda universe.
  • In practice, I'm not up for shady level design and thoroughly unenjoyable combat.
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Demons are out. Zombies are in.

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

Not again. It's way too early to be writing the same blog again. Hell, it was just last week; shouldn't there be more time between blogs so eerily similar?.....Allow me to explain. Remember how I criticized Gears 3 for having no sense of risk and a cast whose emotions range from "angry" to "ANGRY"? Replace the words "Gears 3" with "Dead Island: Riptide", and you have this review in a nutshell.

I'd say that the only difference is that Gears 3 integrates itself better into its own franchise better than this, but there are actually several differences between these games and that's a shitty difference. Anyway, it's been one second since the end of the first Dead Island game (which the game helpfully recaps as soon as you jump in) when all the characters are forced back onto the islands they spent 20-30 hours trying to escape. Now they have to do just that again, something I don't have too much of a problem with. Cheap narrative tools and potential pacing/focus issues aside, the plot goes in some mildly interesting directions regarding the protagonists' immunity to the virus and their constantly being fucking angry.

Did I mention that this is the boss battle where you can set zombies on fire with steam? Because once you model something like this, physics is more a suggestion than anything else.

Actually, scratch that. I'm not so much a fan of that last one. Everybody's a raging asshole, and not in the fun "burning rectums set a zombie island aflame" manner (missed the chance to work "Riptide" into the game, there, Techland Random Letters), but more in a "I wish they'd all die in a sea of flames" manner. This much is evident from the very beginning of the game, with the narrator being overly casual about the zombie apocalypse and overly aggressive about every other little thing. Sadly, it doesn't get any better as time goes on; the plot-important NPCs all come to the conclusion that those immune to the virus should be locked away in special camps, and the protagonists (who happen to be immune) counter that argument by being really pissed off at everything all the time. And as I mentioned before, rather than trying to make the characters more likable, the writers simply turn their anger into a plot point, which is a lot like fixing a broken rib cage with a dab of ointment. It does nothing to make the characters more endearing, which is something a game like this desperately needs. If I don't give two shits about the characters I'm controlling, what's supposed to keep me playing the game?

This probably explains why I simply blasted through the story, something I clearly shouldn't have done. The story quests are repetitive (either "venture out and grab this thing for us" or the occasional "defend this area from zombie hordes"), the default options literally tell you where to go to complete quests (as in "here's the line you need to follow"), and about halfway through, the game simply rushes you through the damn things, like it's as fed up with them as I am. Instead, the main focus of Riptide is in exploring the vast world that is Banoi Island, which is an odd choice when you realize how the game never makes a strong enough case for why I should be doing this. In theory, there are tons of sidequests that should get the ball rolling on that exploration aspect, but putting the vast majority of them in the hub du jour defeats the purpose, doesn't it? Why should I bother actually setting foot outside the camp if I never really need to do so to initiate anything? The only non-hub quests that I can remember stumbling into were rescuing some helpless fool from the zombie hordes and....no, that's pretty much it. Not much in the way of variety, and given the last paragraph about how abrasive the characters are, I don't think the idea held much water in the first place. What other reasons are there to explore this zombified hellhole?

I should point out that I found this image in the Screenshots gallery on the page's wiki, because this is very clearly a real-time screenshot of actual gameplay.

Material rewards? Like better weapons and stuff? That's only relevant after the fact, isn't it? Combat? OK, yea, I can see an argument for that. There's a wide variety of weapons and approaches to combat to fuck around with, and they're all different enough that you have good motivation to try each one out. For the record, I chose the cutlery because that's what was on my original Dead Island save and I'm unbelievably lazy. But if given the choice fresh, I still would've gone with the slicing weapons, but not because of the actual slicing. You can only really slice off arms, thus significantly weakening the tactical element that acts as the appeal behind choosing what to slice off in the first place. Not to worry, though; the act of actually slicing through those arms is still redeemable. There's something very rhythmic and appealing about the act of bashing a zombie in the shoulder and then jumping back before they have the opportunity to bite your face off, like a delicate dance. Pump up the Tchaikovsky, and not just because of the shitty rap music. And that's just with a single theoretical zombie. So what happens when it's a billion actual zombies instead of just the one that's almost never real?

Absolutely goddamn nothing. And so we come to the main problem plaguing Dead Island: Riptide: absolutely no sense of risk or consequence. Oh, sure, there are always a billion zombies hiding in the shadows, just waiting to kill you, and yea, you're going to die a lot, but that death doesn't mean shit. Again, the beginning of the game is a very good example. You're on a boat where the captain's gone zombie Ahab on you and is at severe risk of crashing the ship into the white....actually, I'm not quite sure why I made the Moby Dick joke. Anyway, the ships about to crash and you have to stop it from crashing. Or at least that's what the various characters tell you. In terms of gameplay, you have all the time in the world to clumsily bash the captain's skull in, because there are no circumstances under which that vessel will sink. Should you die, you only get a few bucks taken away and have to sit things out for five seconds.

Looking around corners isn't a gameplay feature I remember from this game. Let's just pretend this is a happy coincidence.

And the entire game is like this, even though these punishments are completely meaningless in this game. Time-outs are obvious, since they don't impede your progress at all, but the money penalty is gonna need some more explanation. First off, the actual deductions are pitiful. At around $2000, I only got $19 of that taken away. I'd make a joke here if that wasn't so horribly depressing. But even if that number was higher, I still don't think it would mean anything. How is taking away money a punishment in a game where I don't need money for most of the experience. Most of my arsenal was made up of weapons I scavenged from the environment. While this is good for the atmosphere, notice how money never enters that equation. Sure, you can use that money to repair those weapons (not even with other people or supplies; just throw the money at a weapon until it remembers how to do damage), but again: the game's pretty much handing you most of your weapons, anyway. Being able to repair them is more a convenience than a necessity.

So with death meaning nothing, what value does the gameplay have? Without an option for failure, there's not much of a sense of accomplishment, either. And it's not like you can salvage much narrative value from this situation, either (although I'm not sure why anybody thought that would even be an option). You being an immortal super-god, the zombies cease being a threat and simply transform into six-foot tall houseflies you periodically swat. They're more an annoyance than something to be scared of. I have to imagine this is even worse when you have three other people helping you slash up zombies, as the game rather forcefully recommends. So with all this going against the games, on what grounds can I recommend it?......Aussie girls killing you with magical chainsaws?

Review Synopsis

  • I have to imagine that the characters in this game would be just as hard to root for if the title was "Perfectly Normal Island".
  • Wait, how do zombies in this universe exist when there's no possible way for anybody to die?
  • I will admit, though, that the combat systems are good. It's just that they're surrounded by so much that isn't.

Have you ever wanted to see Sonic the Hedgehog die a diabetes death? No? Well, somebody did, because this ROM hack exists.

Just when I thought I got the demons out of this blog. I'm not even going out of my way to play these demon-centric games. I decide to play a game and then later find out that there's a very large focus on unholy monsters. But unlike the other times this has happened, I'm willing to take full responsibility in this situation. After all, I should have known what I was getting with the word "Castlevania" slapped on the title: a Dracula that must be killed with some comprehensive castle coverage. Unsurprisingly, that's exactly what Aria of Sorrow is.

Only add a dollop of fucking insanity. The year is 203......5, and Japanese youth Soma Cruz is spending his day watching the solar eclipse. Then, he's in Dracula's castle. It makes absolutely no sense, and the explanation makes even less: Dracula's castle is inside the solar eclipse itself. Not the sun, mind you, but the solar eclipse somehow. Completely ignoring the fact that putting a vampire anywhere near the sun is a monumentally stupid idea on its own, why couldn't Soma just be visiting Europe and then stumble upon Castlevania? No idea. I'm aware that this is a minor thing to get worked up over, but it's not like the game offers me much else to comment on. Story development only happens sparingly, so most of the time that I'm exploring, my one thought on the story always returns to "Seriously? A solar eclipse castle?". And the story isn't good enough or bad enough to overpower this sentiment; just vampire pimps trying to revive Dracula and Soma following them out of the room after every cutscene for reasons I never quite grasped. It gets the job done of getting me through the castle, sure, but not the job of making me forget th-

"HOW CAN YOU BE TRANSGENDER!?" ".....You're kidding."

OK, I'm gonna stop it there. This is way too negative; it's time to move onto something I actually like about Aria of Sorrow. Like the soul gathering system, for instance. Killing a specific type of enemy enough times may prevent them from moving on to the afterlife simply because you want to throw katanas. Of course, the most obvious use is simply to provide variety to the combat that's at least somewhat in need of it. It's not bad, but it is limiting, like how Soma refuses to move while attacking and for a short second after, or how you can't aim your attacks up because up and attack activates your katana-throwing abilities. My point is that you're going to enjoy this more because you're fighting laser skeletons with your own Dr. Octopus laser beams than any of the mechanics that make this possible. I, however, am going to enjoy the soul gathering whatevers because of the sense of unity it brings to the package. As you'd expect from what I just said, I'd normally skip a lot of the combat. But not with souls on the line. These things directly impact my ability to navigate the castle, and killing everything's really the only way to get those cool souls. So to get to the better parts of the game, ruthlessly murder I must.

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I replaced their eyes with eagles. Those who haven't incurred my strange wrath might have noticed me ranking the exploration as the best part of the game. If I want to waste an entire day just fucking about in the castle, going wherever I damn please, I can do that. If, however, I wish to make some progress toward killing Solar Eclipse Dracula or whatever, then it turns out I've already been doing that the entire time. Aria of Sorrow was guiding me to my objectives the entire time and I simply had no idea until I'd stumbled upon something important. The soul catching side of things only complements this sense of freedom the game gives me by adding a sense of motivation. I mean, what other reasons would there be other than the sheer fun of it? Upgrades? Other than the souls, the only things you'll find are occasional pieces of equipment and no, that's really it. Visual va-OK, that's something Aria of Sorrow has in droves. Spacious watery catacombs. Libraries with huge axes in the background for reasons unexplained. Those confusing floating gardens. What more could you want? Sure, you don't get a lot of time to experience all this cool shit, but it's still rather amazing how Konami packed so much into so small a space.

Review Synopsis

  • I still can't get over "Dracula lives in the solar eclipse" plot point. Ugh.
  • The soul catching system helps, though.
  • As does the huge castle I get to explore.
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