Out in the real world, BAKOON is a California based artist named Oliver Leach. One time he and Alex ate a hamburger together. Not the same hamburger. They each had different hamburgers that they ate while sitting at the same table. True story.
Not joking when I say this game should be taught in color theory classes. The good folks in charge of this one made it so your central driving goal (beyond the standard arcade game point urge) is unlocking what I found to be increasingly startling/interesting new color palettes for the game’s minimal look. Some eye melting and some soothing to the point of being detrimental to the keyed-up, combo-eyed monster you need to be to get deep on down in there. It is so damn good.
In 1994, American tourist Michael P. Fay was caned by the government for trying to make his own Mario level. It was strictly illegal. Now Mario has been opened up to the world like a cheerful Italian oyster and it is beautiful. I have been waiting for Nintendo to go back to the Mario Paint well in some fashion for a long damn time and this is a good and unexpected payoff. The fact that people have now weaponized the concept of Mario, making these horrible clockwork monstrosities to torture their friends and strangers, speaks more to the darkness at the heart of man than any darkness at the heart of the Mario.
This game made me an anxious mess, but so does life. As someone who spent a good part of their teenage years alone in a darkroom hunched over a wheezing old enlarger, a lot of this game (teenage photographer caught in a spiral of regret and bad decisions after developing the ability to move backwards in time to change her actions) rings true, beyond the supernatural elements. No other game has ever addressed anything like this, so that alone is notable in my eye. Teenage emotional turmoil leaking out into the world in the form of beached whales, eclipses, snow, and time travel.
They made me play baseball in high school. One time during a game I took a nap in the right field where they put me, using the ball catching glove for a pillow. It was really nice. Woke up to yelling, unpleasant. It is weird to me that I enjoyed something so much that has the mouthfeel of sport. The act of playing it was exciting and unnexpected every match, and Choro-Q-esque tiny action cars are much more interesting than the adult men in other sport games. I eventually stopped playing when other people starting to get better, and then much better, and then dunking on me endlessly. People are still scraping at the skill ceiling in their rocket cars.
I want to go play it right now instead of typing this. My brain is itching and angry about being forced to think about this game without being able to play it. I can see myself playing it as soon as I’m done writing this. I’m this little triangle with a golden machine gun making a mess of big nasty apocalypse maggots. It has the snappiness, explodiness and precision of Spelunky while being actually fun to play; and it has gameplay hooks of building up a little monster that you get in Binding of Isaac without having the aesthetic approach of a shithead 10th grader's textbook marginalia. It is obtuse in its info doled out to the player like Isaac is as well, but it feels fun in this instance and not obnoxious.
The game’s humor is Not Great and Kind of Incessant but everything else outweighs it by far, god damn. I am more of a super robot (your Mazingers and Getter Robos) than a boring robot (Gundam [besides GGundam (the G stands for “Good”)], Patlabor, whatever all else) kind of guy and this is the first game since maybe Robot Alchemic Drive (R.A.D.!!) for the PS2 to make me feel like this fist of mine was glowing red. I was only able to get through the last episode by playing the theme songs to '70s robot heroics. Fantastic experience.
A much lonelier and quieter I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, SOMA is far and away the Frictional Games (makers of Amnesia and Penumbra) title that I have enjoyed the most. I’ve always found transhumanists and their concept of uploading your consciousness to some sort of device to be kind of intrinsically horrifying and this game digs deep into that. It is at times genuinely offputting, upsetting beyond the level of jump scare (which it does have, but I believe they are earned). In a year of interesting horror media this was one of my favorites.
3. Until Dawn
I really loved Heavy Rain, more than probably a lot of you. It reminded me of an early (and really quite good) Nicolas Refn film called Fear X. It starred John Turturro as a mall security guard losing himself in the search for the potential murderer of his pregnant wife. Like Heavy Rain it is cold, extremely bleak, strangely paced, and set in a non-America that only exists in the heads of their respective European creators. Taken as a movie Heavy Rain is kind of fascinating, but as a game it wasn’t really a fun experience to go through. Until Dawn plays essentially the same (loosely modular Choose Your Own Adventure where you control different characters from sequence to sequence) but in this instance the type of film you are taking control of is a lot more suited to the concept. It is a surprisingly well done modular teen horror film (which i am assuming is due to the involvement of excellent weirdo Larry Fessenden). It’s the most successful iteration of the interactive movie thing, probably since Wirehead on Sega CD. They ate Larry Cage’s damn lunch. He is a French guy, his lunch was probably awesome.
When I beat the game and the credits finished I started up a new story immediately. I had to see If I could save these awful teens.
I’m sure plenty else has been said about this astounding thing by other folks this year so I’ll keep it short. It feels like Gus van Sant, Paul Verhoeven, a balloon fetishist, and David Cronenberg got together to make a war boys TV series. The only negative thing I can think to say about it that you can feel the dark creeping hand of some dicknose or another at Konami trying to monetize a brilliant man’s masturbatory meditative action experience. It is somber and hilarious and bizarre. I am excited to see what he does next now that he doesn’t have to make another one of these.
1A. Fallout 4
So I get back from overseas in Korea where I was chopping off dudes' heads with a chainsaw sword under orders from Uncle Sam and my wife and I decide to make a little thing that looks like a baby. Then we had to run down the block and get inside these tubes. Some stuff happened with my wife and whatever but then I got to punch so many guys, punch them until their bodies explode. I am a cheerful sociopath who is in a bit of a hurry so could you finish up whatever you are telling me to do, filthy idiot wastelander, so I can go punch some drug addicts to death with my robot punching fist. I am lugging around a big sack full of typewriters, liquor, and toy cars, and I will murder anyone who looks at me wrong.
1B. Trojan (NES)
The music is so good. The map screen and oh man, listen to that.
Happy New year, everybody.