Saturday Summaries 2018-11-17: Simpsons GIF-OTY Edition

Hey gang, I just wanted to try something fun this week, so I've taken ten games released this year that I've been looking forward to playing and tied them to germane Simpsons screenshots and .gifs, courtesy of Frinkiac. I realize there's a Twitter account that does something similar, but it's kind of half-assed about attaching the games to the clips in question. (Personally, my "Simpsons gifs repurposed" twitter account of choice is WeebSimpsons.) Absolutely feel free to make your own in the comments below, especially if I didn't include a 2018 game you enjoyed or are psyched to play.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft)
Assassin's Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft)
The Bard's Tale IV (InXile Entertainment)
The Bard's Tale IV (InXile Entertainment)
God of War (Sony Interactive Entertainment Santa Monica)
God of War (Sony Interactive Entertainment Santa Monica)
Celeste (Matt Makes Games)
Celeste (Matt Makes Games)
Donut County (Ben Esposito)
Donut County (Ben Esposito)
Hitman 2 (IO Interactive)
Hitman 2 (IO Interactive)
Marvel's Spider-Man (Insomniac Games)
Marvel's Spider-Man (Insomniac Games)
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (Level-5)
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (Level-5)
The Return of the Obra Dinn (Lucas Pope)
The Return of the Obra Dinn (Lucas Pope)
Super Smash Bros Ultimate (Nintendo/HAL)
Super Smash Bros Ultimate (Nintendo/HAL)

I don't have any shorts for you to consume, though I do have plenty of hot takes:

  • The Indie Game of the Week was Poi, a 3D platformer made back in 2015 where that genre had little to zero representation in the Indie space. It feels a bit primitive now, in comparison to the more elaborate and better-budgeted games of the same type that have appeared since, but its evident devotion to Super Mario 64 means its heart is in the right place. The developers also made the wise choice to focus on fluid controls that could carry its protagonist through any challenges the game thought up. While lacking in spots and rough in others, it's a fine game that was a worthy vanguard for the genre resurgence to come.
  • Our alternating Tuesday slot checked back in with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and its less celebrated library, with Episode XXIII: The Marvelous and Mystical highlighting perhaps the best first-party Nintendo game we in the west never saw, and a maligned Final Fantasy game that was the only game of its series that we in the west (or Europe, at least) actually did see. Marvelous certainly lives up to its name, and there's enough highlights in the hopelessly basic Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest to make it worthy of consideration.

Addenda

TV: Castlevania (Season 2)

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I wasn't quite sure where season 2 of last year's brief but satisfying anime-styled retelling of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse could go, beyond finally visiting the titular shapeshifting structure, but it's taken on a sort of The Hobbit wider-mythos stance, drawing in lore and characters from other games in the series. I was most surprised to see the introduction of Hector and Isaac - human alchemist "forgemasters" who serve the Lord of Vampires - as I didn't think Curse of Darkness was all that well-regarded or even remembered. It's the attention to detail that I appreciate most with this adaptation; an evident deep knowledge and appreciation for the series.

On the other hand, it still feels as flat and lifeless as ever. There's not a huge amount of animation, even during the action scenes, and the pacing of episodes can be on the slow side. With eight episodes this season instead of last year's four, there's clearly no rush to establish all of the show's players on either side of the war for humanity's survival, and while it's entertaining to have Peter Stomare show up as an impatient and boorish vampire Viking trash-talking the more quietly scheming members of Dracula's war council, the scenes in Castlevania itself can drag at times. (The season definitely picks up speed around the end, though.)

So it's still a show I'm ambivalent about. I love that Warren Ellis and Adi Shankar thought to make it and was afforded the means and an outlet to do so, I love that a video game franchise can find new life that plays to the source material's strengths while filling out the otherwise paper-thin narratives, I love that it's as deeply referential as it is rather than some dispassionate adaptation of something that was popular with the kids (see the Angry Birds movie, or really almost any other video game adaptation). I just wish it animated better, or had better pacing, or engaged with the franchise's silliness some more instead of only finding brief levity in a vampire Viking yelling his own name while killing people or Trevor wistfully saying goodbye to a tree (though please keep up with those too). If any more seasons are made, I'll be sure to keep watching, hoping for improvements but revelling in the fact that it exists at all.

Movie: Argo (2012)

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Man, was this a disappointing movie. I heard it was this incredible 1970s sci-fi epic with wonky sets and dubious make-up, but instead it was just a bunch of nervous guys getting shuffled through a Middle-Eastern airport. All right, in all seriousness Argo's one of the (very) few Best Picture Academy Award winners that I'd pencilled in to see this year, as a true story thriller surrounding a fake movie and a tense series of near-misses (which may or may not have been quite so close in real-life) that actually sounded exciting to watch, rather than some dull coming-of-age drama or a less-dull movie where someone fucks a fish. I don't really get on with the Oscars and those they select for best picture - that they feel the need to separate crowd-pleaser rabble from the somber bullshit that normally wins is telling on many levels - but there are times when I can see the nominees and who won and think "Yeah, I probably agree with that." After seeing Argo, I totally understood why it won.

Argo's the tale of six US consulate employees who impulsively leave the embassy compound just as it is invaded by a mob of Iranian activists angry that the US is harboring their former Shah, whom the new theocratic ruling body of Iran believes has lead the nation to ruin and moral decay. The six need exfiltrating from the country with viable false identities, and the best Ben Affleck's CIA expert can come up with is a fake movie that is aping the recent hit Star Wars. He is to fly in, pretend to be a producer, train the six luckless Americans to pass themselves off as a Canadian film crew, and get out before the Iranian military cottons onto what they're doing.

What made the movie was both the suffocating tension in every other scene, and the strength of the ensemble cast. It was fun to spot Tate Donovan and Clea DuVall in the group of six, but more fun to see John Goodman and Alan Arkin go at it as wiseacre Hollywood types applying their expertise at bullshitting to a covert operation that could save lives. Likewise, Bryan Cranston does a fine job as Affleck's no-nonsense boss and Victor Garber as the courageous Canadian ambassador who was able to successfully hide the six Americans for many weeks before they were extracted. Affleck, himself, of course does a great job of carrying the movie, his pride co-mingling with his desire to do something his estranged family would be proud of, though he'd never be able to tell them he did it until the case was declassified many years later.

Period biopics are rarely my thing, and the last thing I needed as a sufferer of bureaucratic-borne anxiety was a movie that does for airport security what Jaws did for great white sharks, but I still enjoyed the movie a lot. Excellent performances and 70s costume work all round.

Game: Tales of Berseria

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All right, I know I said last time was the last time I'd talk shop about Berseria, but even though I completed the main story on Tuesday night there was plenty of post-game content to sink my teeth into. Right now I'm tackling the bonus dungeon, taking care of some superbosses, and preparing for a potentially high-speed NG+ run with as many boons as I can afford via the tried-and-tested Tales GRADE system. I figured I'd go into a little bit on each to draw my Berseria coverage to a close.

Actually, this is really more about Tales as a franchise than Berseria in particular, because the post-game content in these games are all fairly similar. The GRADE shop, for instance, allows you to purchase various boons for subsequent runs to make them easier (or harder, if that's your jam, though you're better off just setting the difficulty slider higher in-game to compensate and earn better rewards in the process) based on a currency earned by performing well in battles. This GRADE can buy you experience and money boosters, twice the storage capacity for healing items, higher drop rates, or lets you retain almost everything from your previous playthrough bar character levels and key items. It's not only a great way to inject some extra longevity into the game - someday you might want to revisit that story, and when you do you'll be able to breeze through the game and skip the grindy parts - but it also puts you on far better footing for some of the more challenging achievements. The trophy for collecting all items, for instance, becomes a lot easier when you can farm those rare items with a NG+ item drop rate increase.

Berseria's bonus dungeon is familiar too: a partially-randomized gauntlet that recycles level design assets from earlier in the game. It's the home to all the best equipment that can be found, however, and you'll need to pop in there for a few of the completionist achievements. Berseria went a little kinder with it than they have in the past: you can buy warps so you don't lose any progress, and if you die you just get unceremoniously kicked out in the state you were in before that last battle (that is, you still have all the experience and items you found). Combined, the last dungeon can be a breeze, especially if you keep exiting and entering until the procgen tosses you a room full of treasure chests instead of the usual monster gauntlets. I'm farming drops so it's taking a little longer than anticipated, but it won't take much longer to beat and then I'll be done with Berseria for a while at least.

The superbosses, meanwhile, include a couple of superpowered joke characters - think the Baal Prinny from the Disgaea games: cute and small but oh so deadly - and the requisite "cameo battle". Cameo battles are a Tales staple almost as old as the franchise itself - a chance for the new guys to test their mettle against characters from the prior Tales games. Berseria only has a couple of cameo characters, but they're fought both independently and together, with the latter fight easily one of the most difficult in the entire game. Most of the actual references to previous Tales games comes courtesy of the "Character Cards" mini-game, which repurposes the rules (specifically the "yaku", or the hands that earn you points based on the difficulty/rarity of earning them, like how a full house in poker is worth more than a flush) of the classic hanafuda card game Koi-Koi to rely on the player's esoteric knowledge of past Tales games and their protagonists.

It's going to take another playthrough and a whole lot of grinding to sweep up the last of the trophies, and I'm not that platinum-thirsty these days especially with how my backlog's expanded quite a bit since I started playing (I had a birthday somewhere between when I started Berseria and now). So this is - no foolin' this time - the absolute last I'll be writing about Berseria. Well, besides in the "Games Beaten in 2018" list. And maybe during GOTY if it wins the "best 2017 game of 2018" award. And maybe when I eventually replay it.

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